Sunday, January 30, 2011

Speakos (spoken typos)

Since her stroke, my mom has said the darnedest things. Sometimes they're quite startling. Sometimes they're just a little bit different from what she meant. She takes corrections of her speakos with good humor. This past week, when my son J was visiting her, she told him that she was "quite well endowed" when she was younger. She was five nine when she was younger. Now she's five two. The size of her bosom has not changed.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Farm ecology

My dad swears that growing up on the farm in Harrisburg, he used corncobs instead of toilet paper. He has little patience for my mother's alarm when the tissue supply runs low.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

More good news from the gloomy place

So I asked C if she had ever walked by the hotel we've booked for our visit to Copenhagen, and she
Skyped, "i havent passed it im sure its fine everything here is nice." It doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Good news from the gloomy place

Other and I were more than a little worried that when our very attached daughter left for her semester abroad in Copenhagen, we would get many homesick calls, even pleas to come get her. When we didn't hear from her for a couple days we didn't know what to make of it. Then came a startling e-mail: "I'm obsessed with this place. Need to find out how to become a citizen."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Days of smegma

There are days when New York looks as bedraggled as a broken umbrella. And these past few days have been like that. After weeks of deep freeze, the snow got drizzled into an oily black soup that turned every street corner into a cesspool with a clogged drain. Even the rich looked like homeless with their sodden spattered coats and their frizzled hair. I feel as if I were covered with smegma. And not in a good way

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Contradictions drive me crazy

I have been obsessed for four weeks with the question of whether my daughter, who is spending a semester abroad in Copenhagen, should pack her medications in her carry-on or in her checked baggage. One person with her program said, Definitely in her checked baggage. Another said, just as definitely, In her carry-on. So for weeks, I have pondered this question, trying to guess the ramifications of each course. Her medications are essential for her smooth operation. If they were confiscated for being in the wrong bag (she has six months' worth instead of the three-month limit, so a strict customs official could have been troublesome), life would become a little less bright for both of us.

The upshot: We put three months' worth in her carry-on and three months' worth in a checked bag—and neither bag was searched. So we'll never know which was the right alternative.

But these are the burning questions that have ruled my life this past month. I'm hoping that now that she has arrived safely, I can get some sleep. Though I still wonder ...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Reading, a waste of time?

A while ago my friend J said he considered reading a waste of time (I'm paraphrasing here).

I've been puzzling over that remark ever since. In my childhood home, my parents didn't talk with me and my brothers much or give us a lot in the way of explicit instruction in values, but it was understood that reading was an essential activity. Weekly trips to the library were as much a part of our family cultural regimen as sit-down meals (oh, the agony), rigorous school attendance (perfect plodding attendance, year after year), music practice (at 6 in the morning, with a flute, an exercise in dizzy-making, nauseating hyperventilation).

I went through the motions of reading the classics when I was still sounding out words. It didn't really matter that I didn't understand what I was reading. It was what we did. And compared with the other requirements of my family, it was relatively painless and eventually became an important pleasure, a way of getting lost, my first experience of getting high, really, and hallucinating (kind of).

My belief in the value of books has never before been challenged. So I was startled when J said (I think) that he considered them a form of entertainment, consumerism, a distraction from productive work.

TV, movies—yes, those it could be argued are "mere" entertainment. But books? He's right, of course. I used to love to eat candy corn as I read, one kernel at a time as I turned the pages. And when I read now, even though I don't eat junk food while I do it, I still feel full and a little overpleasured (my teeth don't hurt though). And yes, it does feel like a guilty pleasure. After all, a creative person should be making something rather than lying back and eating up someone else's creativity.

But does the world really need another thing—intellectual or material? There's so much "stuff" in the world already. Am I not doing my part by borrowing from the great stockpile and adding nothing? After all, when I read George Eliot, say, or Edith Wharton, the themes are as relevant today as they were when they were spelled out a century and more ago. Other people are updating them, in any case. Do I need to jump in too? What could I possibly add? Is it not hubris to want to "do" and "make" when so many others do it so well? Why can't I just read?

But why am I writing this stupid blog then?

Monday, January 10, 2011

I can't believe I ate the whole thing

All 10 episodes of season 2 of Party Down.

New York is a circus

A typical New York Sunday afternoon: A 10-block errand takes me by a truck with antique circus animals, parked off Union Square. Later I retrace my footsteps for another errand and come across thousands of young people in their underwear gathered in Union Square for a rally after participating in the No Pants Subway Ride, an annual event. It was 32 degrees. Sorry, folks, it was too dark by then to take a picture with my flashless iPod Touch.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Damn you, Kindle!

Even though I think of myself as a reader, I rarely buy books (too expensive), and I don't use the public library either (bedbugs, lice, germs).

I subscribe to the New Yorker, a weekly commitment to the written word, and one I take seriously.

I download pre-1923 classics from Project Gutenberg onto my iPod Touch. This is particularly convenient for works that in the real world are too heavy to transport comfortably but in the virtual world are weightless—Trollope, George Eliot—or that I don't want to read cover to cover but might like to sample on the subway or in the doctor's office—T.S. Eliot, yoga tracts.

For contemporary works, I rely partly on critics in my workplace who don't share my tastes and discard their review copies on the floor outside their office doors, but mostly on my friend B (and to some extent my friend A), who lends me the books she has pretested and found to be right up my alley. This has been a perfect system, at least for me. One hundred percent free on my end. All books screened for fatal cases of breast cancer or other unfortunate themes. Plus B's tastes and mine match up 99% of the time, so I am pretty much guaranteed that every book I read will be a pleasure.

But a fly has crept into that precious intellectual ointment: B was given a Kindle as a gift. It is the fatal flaw of electronic readers that they cannot be loaned without disadvantage to their owners. Her gain is most assuredly my loss.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Under the bamboo leaves

I named my blog for the stinkwood, or ailanthus, in honor of the species' weedy resilience—and in particular the hardy specimen overhanging my back 400 (sq. ft.). But today I was struck by the evergreen beauty of another plant, my potted bamboo, which looks dewy-fresh even in the bitter cold of today's snow.

Novelty item

Now here's a dilemma—and a solution—that people who've never had breast cancer are unfamiliar with. This morning I was getting dressed and couldn't find my boobs. Fortunately I have several pairs, so I'm wearing my denim ones (home-made, need I say?) today. And later I found the ones I was looking for—mislaid in the wrong drawer. If I'm late for work, I wonder if I should say, "I was looking for my boobs." Or not.

Horoscope harmony

I love my horoscope today—"There's one simple way to make the next few weeks of your life easier: Let go of all the things you can't control ..."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Distractions from the mat

Anyone who's taken a yoga class knows that in addition to the Sanskrit and the esoteric concepts, you have to be willing to accept a good deal of jargon. For the most part, the jargon resides in the preliminary patter and has to do with instructions like "Set your intention for the practice," and it has remained fairly consistent over time.

Lately, however, I've noticed a couple of new verbal tics that have crept into the vocabulary of more than one teacher, making me suspect that they're all drinking from the same chai.

A couple of my teachers have begun adding the intensifier "a lot," as in "Firm your outer arms in—a lot." And another trope that keeps popping up is "brighten," as in "Brighten your back leg" or "Brighten your stretch."

I certainly don't want the language of yoga to be dry and dead, and I enjoy a lively turn of phrase. But though there's nothing wrong with these self-conscious flourishes,  I find their iteration across classes somewhat distracting. They take my mind off the pose and set it to wondering about the interconnections in the yoga community. How do these little verbal fads develop and spread? Who's taking whose classes? Why is she using that precise figure of speech? Is there a special meaning I should be deriving from that instruction?

A well-wisher

I had such a sweet moment with my Astor Place hair cutter on New Year's Eve. Astor Place is one of the cheapest cuts in town, and I go there because with my short, short post-chemo hair, I need to get a cut every six weeks or my sparse locks part, revealing my pink scalp. Sad but true. So over the past four years or so, ever since I got some hair back, I've been going to Lenny, a Russian-speaking Brooklynite. We don't have a whole lot in common except that we get together 10 times a year to focus on the problem of my hair. And he performs his weird miracle: I leave with more hair than I came in with, even though the floor is thick with my gray locks.

This time when he was done, he looked me in the eye and said, "I have one wish for you, and I hope it comes true: I wish you health." It was so lovely and so sincere, it broke my heart (and my wallet, since it prompted a 100% tip), and I don't know whether he even knows my name.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Green blood

I know that red eye is caused by the camera flash illuminating blood vessels in the eye. But what causes green eye? Cats don't have green blood. Or do they?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

My big fat new year's resolution

In yoga class today, the teacher asked us to set our intention not just for the class but for the year, in other words to make a new year's resolution. So I decided that rather than make a resolution to change, I would resolve to accept things as they are.