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Friday, December 24, 2010

Let it (gasp!) Snow.

My salute to the season must include a reflection of the white stuff because “The Holidays Thing” means only congested shops and too much food in our household.  We’re not the organized religion types but admire those who do indulge, whatever their proclivities. It also signals less light and the onset of our collective Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as S.A.D. when our family takes turns sitting in front of a light every morning to soak in rays we sadly, literally and figuratively, miss.

The diminishing light of day that comes with this season at one time in my life meant only one thing to a former paramour and I -- the attendant arrival of snow.  Our lives at that time, while others might have been building families or resume points or businesses, were consumed by our days on the slope. It commenced with short weekend trips in late fall to Stratton, Vermont; then Christmas week in Stowe, followed a late winter trip north to Canada and the season closed with an extended Spring visit out West or to Europe. On average, we spent at least 40 to 50 days a season in ski gear. While I spent many days on the slope during those years, I never became an expert skier; at best I was an emerging intermediate. 

My companion in those days approached skiing as a sport, I as a leisure time activity. This meant that for every hour we spent skiing together, we spent two skiing apart. He chose the slopes to challenge, I chose the slopes to daydream in a silence that only comes from a wide lonesome white trail surrounded by trees glistening in soft sunlight and the crisp clack of ski blades as you swayed from side to side.  It was hypnotic and peaceful and achieving a particular grace that drove me forward. 

This blissful state was like dancing alone to music only you can hear. I have had the good fortune to ski on some of the most beautiful mountains in the world under the most glorious conditions and for that I am eternally grateful.  But snow is a fickle mistress for she can change and alter her character in an instant and she is inconstant and can be cruel.

Not for the faint of heart.

The best example of her range of character was demonstrated by two remarkable experiences.  The first took place in Zermatt, Switzerland. Zermatt is a village high in the Swiss Alps at the foot of Switzerland’s highest Mountains and borders Italy.  If you take the bullet train or funicular railway followed by a gondola ride, which runs up and through the magnificent Matterhorn, you can actually ski into Italy for lunch and you need to carry your passport to get back into Switzerland.

Ya, Der Matterhorn is Incredible.
The village itself was something you might expect to see in Shirley Temple’s Heidi or imagine when reading The Snow Queen or at some imagined fabulous display from childhood at FAO Scwarz. Quaint chalet homes dot the base of the mountain, milk and food carts are wheeled around town, stores carry cuckoo clocks and watches, and the local residents speak German. When I vacationed there, the only mode of transportation was sleigh or foot. No cars or combustible engines of any sort were permitted. The old fashioned train from Bern (with two transfers) took you right into the center of this timeless village where a sleigh from the hotel loaded with blankets carried you off in style to your hotel. Today there are a few electric cars, which ferry visitors to the base of the slopes.

On this particular late morning, I had gotten completely turned around and found myself alone at the top of a double diamond trail. For the ski novitiate, that means an advanced expert trail. I was not at that point particularly thrilled by the actual ski conditions of Zermatt since it included Glacier warnings and snow that had the consistency of large pebbles made of ice. When you were a relatively flat-footed skier, (i.e. not advanced enough to consistently ski on edges) skiing down these trails was akin to riding in a little red wagon on an unpaved country road – yeah, not so much fun.  But there were stretches in wide basins of hard packed powder and the scenery was breathtaking.  Anyway, there I was alone on this expert trail marked with double diamonds because of the steep moguls, which dotted its descent. These moguls, or sharp crested hills, were taller than I and covered in ice. I inched slowly over to the tree line and noticed as I stretched my neck out precariously out and over the first cliff, were a slew of small white crosses dotting the hillside all along the tree line. Hmm. What the hell??

There was no turning back according to the map in fanny sack. This was it. So, I daintily removed my skis, hoisted them over my shoulder and spent the next two hours slipping, falling and sliding down the trail and crying and muttering under my breath in anticipation of my final life encounter with Herr Peepercorn. Herr P is a character from Thomas Mann’s, The Magic Mountain, (An amazing book requiring the patience of Job but well worth it…) the embodiment of Tragedy and Dionysian or our dark experiences of the world, both representing God and not.  For Hans, the protagonist in the novel, it is his final encounter, his choice to be healed or not. For me, what were these white crosses but markings of those who had died making this same journey as I in years past? Great, I thought, I’m going to die alone in the Alps with the miniature Nazis (the rudest little ones in the world) who spent the morning skiing across my skis while I stood on the lift lines, mocking my choice to ski on their mountain. Ju? Ya, Ju. 

As I made my way to the bottom of the trail, a fellow skier appeared and took pity on me. He picked up my skies and carried them down the trail, assisting as best he could in broken English and once safely on level ground pointed out a lovely chalet in the distance where he assured me, I could find some nice vino to calm my nerves.  I put my skies back on and skated across an ice-covered plain to one of the lovely chalet restaurants that dot the mountainside where I had some fresh pasta and half a bottle of red wine. My descent back to the village over a long bumpy uncomfortable stretch was completed in record time.  I kept my knees bent, my head tucked into my shoulders and shoulders forward. I made it to town, removed my skies, hiked back to my elegant hotel where I crawled under the down quilt in my sleigh bed in the fancy cherry paneled suite and did not move until it was time to dress for dinner. My conclusion: Only Nazis could love that mountain.

On the other hand, snow could provide a very different kind of oblivion, one that provided a state of bliss never experienced before or experienced again. It was a rare moment of self-submission when I allowed myself to trust in the unknown.  I was all-alone, skiing down a deep wide bowl in Aspen in late February. There is nothing like skiing in the West. It was a long and wide beginners trail and I just wanted to relax after a long day of challenges.  The trail was deserted in the low, late, afternoon sun, which flattened the landscape. That wonderful whoosh of my skis moving side to side against the silent gentle powder was glorious; the languid swaying side to side, like dancing. I was never a great athlete, but the forgiving nature of Western snow and the shear majesty of the trails emboldens the most timid of athletes.

Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen will spoil you for life.
All at one the sky was filled with snow.  I was unable to see even six inches in front of my nose. But rather than panic, a voice inside told me to press on.  I was experiencing my first white-out. I had been told about these experiences. It was extraordinary as each shimmering flake fell in and out of my field of vision and unending layers upon layers of magical frozen crystals fell from above, one replacing the next. It was all I could see.

There was no sound but a joy unlike any I had experienced before came from deep within.  I felt like I was being embraced in some Pantheistic rapture, smitten with a reckless abandon, sure I was safe in the fickle frozen arms of nature. It may have lasted three minutes or twenty. I don’t know, but it was a singular moment of perfect happiness. 

So, bring it on and let it snow.
And Happy Holidays to you and yours, no matter how you choose to celebrate.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Civility and Discourse

Sadly, not true for everyone. 

It’s Thursday and I’m back in a Special Ed self-contained Language Arts classroom starting my day off with three adorable ten-year-old children who struggle in varying degrees with reading.  It is fascinating to see words being read accurately but not being retained or processed, as though each had wings, which lift them off of the page once uttered. 

Recall always needs to be prompted, even when it is factual information on three or four pages with pictures and no more than four or five sentences on each page. What is it about these young minds that have inhibited their abilities to use their short-term memory skills effectively? 

There are many theories as to why particular children may suffer with this processing deficiency and there are no quick fixes. To work as a teacher with these children requires great patience, compassion and understanding.  It requires most of all, a great ability to listen.   There is little nuance, little passion in their renderings, no matter how remarkable the content.  I am saddened for their loss, for what they may never understand about words. 

Later today we will be playing a board game called FACT OR OPINION.  We have played it before.  I made a chart distinguishing the characteristics of facts from opinions to scaffold learning.  Sometimes they remember to refer to it, and sometimes not.  The children are eager to please and often call out an answer without reflecting. They are conditioned to treat learning as a competitive, as a race.  It’s hard not to fall into that trap but I try to encourage them by asking not only for their answers but their reasons as well.  This helps to slow them down to deliberate and consider. 

Is this necessary? 

I share this because I often wish our public discourse provided leaders who act as I must, who in the course of law making and breaking to consider, reflex and measure their words before they spoke instead of racing to the media microphone to be the first one to respond.  I would also like to know more about their processes of comprehension. Are they good, thorough readers?  How about their staff that must wade through the morass of legislation and paperwork and then advise their bosses?  Have they examined the facts vs. the opinions, which surround the legislation they create and uphold?  

Reading is the most difficult task we master.  It is not hard wired into our brain for our survival. There is no single part of the brain that helps us read.  We must go from learning to speak to learning to apply our language skills to a somewhat arbitrary collection of symbols for which there are more exceptions than rules.  Daunting when you think about it. 

In our home on Sundays we always try to watch The McLaughlin Group.  We used to call it The Yelling Show because this public affairs program, which has been on the air since 1982, features speakers from the left and the right with Dr. John McLaughlin in the middle.  He has a Ph.D. from Columbia, the School of Journalism, not the correspondence school of broadcasting.  He asks questions for which he has an opinion, frequently right of center and allows his panel to go at it.  It is unrehearsed and taped live and that makes for both lively conversation and frequent interruptions.   

If John feels the panelist has not adequately answered the question, he probes further acting as a kind of Socrates to his panelists, in pursuit of what he deems as truth, not necessarily reflecting his opinion per se.  His pronouncements and gravely voice and stentorian tone make for entertaining television.

His most recent participants include on the right, Pat Buchanan and Monica Crowley.  Both are also Ph.D.’s from Columbia.  Pat from the school of Journalism and Monica in International Relations.  Pat was also a presidential candidate in 1992, 1996 and 2000 in case you forgot.  He was also the Director of White House Communication for two years under Reagan and acted as an advisor to Nixon and Ford.  Monica, a Fox News Contributor and Radio Host, began her career as a young advisor to Nixon to whom she sent fan mail as a grad student.  Monica usually wears 6-inch heels and a short skirt. She is a blond and smirks.

On the left is Eleanor Clift, a contributing editor to Newsweek Magazine who covered the White House beat under Clinton as well as Hillary's run for the New York Senate.  Her first husband ( who died ) was the brother of actor Montgomery Clift -- in case any of you like your news delivered with a People Magazine Pop Culture sensibility as I frequently do. 
She worked her way up from the Secretarial pool at Newsweek, the first woman to do so and she is a good sport about the ribbing she frequently receives.  She’s the one in the sensible shoes.  

Most recently Mort Zuckerman is by her side.  Owner of the New York Daily News, Editor in Chief of US News and World Report and known for his philanthropic ways (He recently recommitted to make good the $30 million lost by investment with Mr. Madoff made by his local synagogue --  a mench one might say. ) Though sometimes The engaging Chicago columnist Clarence Page fills in on the left. 

Here’s the thing, first I’ve noticed a change in the timbre of the conversation.  It’s more civilized these days.  The panelists are more polite to one another and there’s more agreement about how to move forward.  I like it.  I need to listen to real conversations and not sound bites.  Now, I’m not suggesting that this single show is the end all.  Frequently the conversations barely scrape the surface but the platitudes and careless words seem to appear less than on other shows --even when I don’t agree and want to smack the smirk off of Monica’s face.  

Second, their two or three end of the year shows are the best conversations on Television.  John will ask for their candidates for the smartest politician or the one who went down in flames or the most original thinker of the year and always concludes with asking for predictions.  Even if you watch for the next two weekends, you’ll get the best without the mud slinging and designed for sound bite responses.  

The Death of Socrates
by Jacques Louis-David 
I hope our county’s leaders take some heed from this little weekly show.  We are in dire need of real conversation, of discussing the facts and moving away from opinion and partisan politics.  We must be able to count on our politicians to be good readers to be able to move forward into our new century with a clear vision for what might be.  

As Socrates said, 
“Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for.” 

In other words, read.  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Compassion or Charlie Brown, You’re a Good Man

How I loved them all.
We were ever hopeful.

In 1950 a shy guy from Minnesota by the name of Charles M. Schultz published a cartoon strip and rocked the daily cartoon world to its very core. For the first time a comic strip examined the interior lives of children who weren’t always happy in a world in which problems were not solved. This was no mischievous “Katzenjammer Kids” or “Little Orphan Annie” with her annoying endless pluck. “Peanuts” embodied by round-headed Charlie Brown, changed how we looked at children, ever after.

Lucy never stopped tormenting Charlie through his football.  In spite and in good measure perhaps, her pursuit of the temperamental musician Schroeder was never fulfilled. Fearful yet moral Linus couldn’t give up his security blanket. Snoopy used his Ace Pilot fantasy to fulfill his species-limited aspirations and Charlie Brown could never connect with his little red-haired girl. How fitting that Lucy set up court as the psychiatrist who didn’t help because she, pretending to be an adult, never listened. Rather than poke fun or belittle the hurts, fears and pains of childhood, Mr. Schultz honored them and in doing so, captured my heart and hearts of millions of baby boomers everywhere.  

The adults who populated this world in the charming television adaptations later produced by Mr. Schultz, were heard only as gibberish or honks to which the children responded to as sources of humiliation, rejection or exasperation.  They never helped.  

Those crazy Katzenjammers! 
There was a time in my life when I was not blessed with good health and as a part of my recovery process it was necessary for me to take a test, which measured my metabolism and was somewhat barbaric.  Over the course of about 9 months I went to the doctor’s office once every month in the morning and lay down on an examination table. The lights were then turned down low and I had to remain still for about an hour.  Once that time had passed, a large machine was wheeled into the room and I had to insert a breathing tube filled with fresh oxygen that had a rubber mouthpiece, which I wore for another 20 minutes or so and measured my metabolic rate.  I was 12 years old.  Today that test is long gone. There are much more efficient ways to determine if your thyroid is functioning properly.

It wasn’t invasive so much as disconcerting and uncomfortable and when the test was over I usually went to IHOP with my father, for he was assigned this task, for their Pancakes with boysenberry syrup.  I always felt rather fragile after the test and ravenously hungry.  On one of these occasions, instead of the IHOP in Millburn, my father took me to a coffee shop in South Orange Village.  I remember that he needed to pick something up from one of his business associates nearby. 

Death Eater Pose

We were seated in a booth by the window awaiting our food when an elderly gentleman entered. In some ways this character looked like a Death Eater from Harry Potter. His dark coat was tattered and hung off of his gaunt frame.  He wore a knit cap and he seemed to carry about his person a dark and undefined dusky aura. His face was bearded and surrounded by a wild white halo that looked evenly trimmed as with a scissor, but was much too long.  When he sat down at the counter of the coffee shop I was taken aback.  I had never seen an elderly person is such disarray or reflecting such a forlorn and poverty stricken position in life.  He took out a baby food jar from a pocket on the inside of his coat, twisted off the lid, and starting counting out coins, mostly quarters, on the counter.  The waitress came over and he began to order with gusto. He was directly in my line of vision and I gasped and started to cry.   My father noticed my tears and turned around to see what I was looking at.

He looked back at me and started to laugh. “Oh, I bet he’s getting some pancakes today too with all that money.  Looks like he’s loaded.”  And he continued to laugh, as though my compassion, my sorrow, was a silly thing. 

The waitress delivered our food and I was unable to eat. It just angered my father, the fact that I was wasting good food, wasting his money.   He told me to not be so damn sensitive. I did not yet know the term – “There but for the grace of God, go I”  --but I clearly felt it in that most fragile moment. I was just frightened by what I saw and did not know how to articulate those feelings but Charles M. Schultz did.  He understood how vulnerable and alone children felt when the adults around them didn’t know how to listen or help or chase away their fears. 

I am ever thankful for them

As we pass through this time of Thanksgiving, I cannot think of a better time to consider our own reality, how we could have walked the same path as those which we are so quick to judge and be thankful for all that we have been given, most especially Charlie Brown and friends.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Hippie Art! 
It swept across the country from Haight-Ashbury in the summer of 1967. Aretha called for Respect, Jim Morrison wanted his fire lit. And Van Morrison sang to me, his brown-eyed girl. No one was immune, the music was just too damn good and the truth was found to be lies. It was the summer I fell deeply, madly in love with a boy at our swim club. 

He was the son of a beautiful tall, bronzed brunette Italian mother with the ripe features of a Sophia Loren and a short Jewish father in the wholesale meat business who resembled a frog and not Kermit.  His older brother looked like the father and he, the object of my young obsession, took after his mother. He had dark blonde curly hair, an olive complexion, wide shoulders, a full sensuous mouth and he played the drums. (Collective sigh -- now.)  All that was missing were the flowers in his hair. I had seen him perform in a Battle of the Bands at the swim club junior dance and was from that moment, gone.  I was just 14 years old. He was 16. 

There was enough of an age gap at that time, compounded by my immaturity and his maturity, that the gulf between us was too wide. For two summers I just gazed with wonder at this fine specimen of young manhood with his beautiful clear skin, his sparkling golden eyes and sun bleached curls and felt absolutely worthless.  He was my Adonis. And in fact, might as well have lived on Mt. Olympus for all the interaction that took place between us -- precisely none.  

I was a big swimmer in those days at a swim club that held dances and parties and had a fantastic day camp we attended for years.  Monday through Saturday, Mothers with children in tow, came to the Club, had lunch and then delivered the children to the camp gates for the afternoon. The property was a rolling-hilled and rambling old dairy farm of about 300 acres and the youngest children all gathered in a huge red barn with a silo. Their camp area was fenced in with deep soft sandboxes filled with toys, a large toddler pool with a little fountain and wide wooden swings. There were large expanses of rolling grassy areas populated by ancient towering trees that provided ample shade.

The older children, the ones ready for competitive sports, had the run of the larger day camp area which was about 25 acres. Centrally located were 3 full-sized basketball courts surrounded on three sides by a grassy hill where groups of children sorted by age gathered with their counselors at the beginning and end of each day. There were freshly mowed fields on open acres for running and jumping and just being kids.  There were 4 softball/kickball fields, an Arts and Crafts dome, a Music Dome, a smaller swimming pool for daily lessons, covered areas for games in inclement weather, and for the oldest campers, a place for cookouts, when marshmallows were roasted in the lightening-bug filled twilight hours, when Color War activities extended our days.

While the children were in camp, weaving lanyards, playing sports, rehearsing the annual musical, and eating double stick ice pops that you could split and trade flavors with friends; the mothers played tennis or mahjong and watched fashion shows on the weekends where the models, strolled from cabana to cabana in the latest designer cruise and swimwear holding discrete tags with price information.

On the weekends the Fathers appeared and played paddleball and tennis or cards while the children and mothers baked at the pool and took their various lessons. Gracious members had small refrigerators in their cabanas stocked with ice and juices for mixing cocktails at their own bar. Drinks were served all day long. The club members were a tanned and fit, boisterous group of upper middle class Jews who were successful in a wide variety of businesses. This was not a collection of well-educated intellectuals though some were Doctors and Lawyers and most had attended or graduated from college; these were the young marrieds who were riding the crest of prosperity ushered in with the booming sixties. These were the sons of family owned businesses in the garment center, in the fur business, in the diamond district, and the manufacturing of auto parts and accessories.  They smoked and drank and enjoyed flirting with one another’s spouses.

My family had a large cabana with a private shower and dressing room in a row with families they spent every summer with. The club layout had 4 tiered and distinct areas with lockers and cabanas that were rented season after season by the same families.  The open area had another baby pool with a fountain and play park for infants, a large restaurant with great ice cream and burgers and fries that probably could seat 250 diners, 9 tennis courts, 9 paddle ball courts, 3 paddle tennis courts and teen area with a juke box and dance floor.

When you entered this wonderful club there was a huge raised slate patio used for Saturday night adult dances and Sunday family movie nights.  My first movie under the stars was a special screening of “Bye Bye Birdie” which we all watched eating ice cream cones in our pajamas.

The Hoff
But the true treasure, the greatest thing this club had was it’s amazing pool. It was a double Olympic sized pool with a low and high diving board, meticulously maintained by a large crew of zinc nosed lifeguards in red suits, long before Baywatch enshrined the look. They were perched in 6 elevated stations around the perimeter of this always shimmering, always perfect, always welcoming glorious pool. There was nowhere else in the world that made me happier. I would swim underwater the width, and eventually the length of this private wonderful world.  Down to the bottom and up again--sometimes tossing coins to retrieve, sometimes just pretending to do it, just for an excuse to be submerged in the warmth and sparkle of summer sunlight diffused by the subtle lap of the water.

Handsome, garrulous, tanned young men, home for the summer from good Northeastern colleges worked at the front gate parking cars and flirting with the prettiest girls. The next tier down on the social pecking order were the cabana boys, dressed in their blue and white club tee shirts and shorts, who swung their master keys and sat on deck chairs stationed throughout the club helping the little kids who would get locked out, or in, of their closet sized lockers and flirting with the mothers and their daughters as they emerged from their lockers in the latest swimwear.

I spent an entire summer in the company of a Dartmouth sophomore when I was 14, while the other mothers at the club clucked about it.  My own was oblivious. I even overheard them talking about me one day --- “Well if she had a proper role model” and “if her father just paid her the slightest attention, she wouldn’t be looking for approval from Bobby ”  -- my much too old for me, Cabana Boy.  Just thoughtless remarks made by thoughtless people and overheard by a much too sensitive girl. But what they didn’t understand was that he was my practice boyfriend and there was no danger of anything ever happening. My real boyfriend was the one with whom I never exchanged a word. It was after all, the Summer of Love.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ya gotta have friends, not Real Housewives.

My deepest wish is for good, honest, compassionate, loyal, clever, and empathetic friends for my offspring - is this too much to ask? Based on what I see on Reality Television and the participants on programs designed for teens, I am doubtful.  It seems the whole world has taken on entitlement and ignorance as their theme.  I find it maddening.

Soon to be Exes
What has particularly stuck in my craw this week is the whole Real Housewives Genre, if one can call it that.  I am specifically annoyed by the complaints of Mrs. Camille Grammer, soon to be former wife of Kelsey. I would like to confess that I have not actually seen any of these shows, will not watch them at anytime in the near future and nothing will convince me that they will provide anything my life is presently or will ever be missing.  But apparently someone is watching them, otherwise why would there be so many iterations?  (For the record, entering it’s 6th Season is Orange County, followed by New York City, Atlanta, New Jersey, D.C., Beverly Hills, and apparently the soon to be aired Miami version.) 

Let me also add that everything I am objecting to comes from what I have read on the internet or seen on the same in a variety of video clips. Me thinks the woman doth protesteth too much and should keepeth her mouth closed. 

Camille is a former Playboy model, Club MTV dancer and obvious recipient of silicone enhancements, none of which I object to but when she says she is a very private person and objects to the media spotlight shinning on her crumbling marriage, I gotta say “What the ?? “  So prancing around and being photographed NAKED is an attribute of those who seek privacy? 

So Camille, I ask you, having witnessed the crumbling of marriages exposed to the scrutiny of the television camera since Chicken-of-the-Sea Jessica -- didn’t give you a clue as to what might happen when you signed up for this “Real” gig?     

Is it Chicken Jessica
Kelsey has made a career by playing pompous, unsympathetic, narcissistic, pontificating, unactualized men since he sat on a bar stool in “Cheers”.  His latest role, on Broadway, in the very boring "La Cage aux Folles" is no different. He plays a gay man as conceived by this straight
Jerry & his Drag Queens
Mame & Dolly

man -- singing poorly, much like Rex Harrison's Henry Higgins without the charm -- the dullest collection of Jerry Herman songs ever written. Mr. Herman has had an astonishing career on Broadway creating shows about drag queens even when the parts were played by women. 

And now, poor Camille, calls him “needy” and  “a big baby”.  He’s an actor for gods’ sake! What did you expect?

I just wanna be
So Camille, you protest that Kelsey persuaded you that little Bravo* TV would be a great place to show off your "talents" ?  Bravo would be a good place to expose the fact that your two children have four nannies or to make public that you actually chose not to bear the children, but used a surrogate so as not to stretch yourself both literally and figuratively?  Don’t you think your children will be delighted that you will be sharing this with the world on the set of a Reality TV show?

*Readers, this is the network that lost “Project Runway” and tried to duplicate its success with the completely unwatchable “The Fashion Show” with the haughty Iman and drooling Isaac Mizrahi. Pu-lease!  Has anyone else tried to watch this cringe inducing nasty bitch fest? 

Oksana before the lips
were added
Snooki and her bumps

I know I'm not the only one who finds women like Camille embarrassing. Bimbos embarrass me. You, Camille make Oksana and Snooki look deep and soulful.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Living a Life Half Full

I'm feeling a bit of the mid-term election blues and have decided to repost one of my favorites and short and sweet musings.  I hope this helps.

The thoughtful Anne   
I have the distinction of sharing a birthday with Anne Frank, author of the best selling work of non-fiction in the world so my bar is set rather high on the successful writer meter. I'd like to think that Anne and I share more than birthdays, that we share an unchanging belief in the inherent goodness of people, in spite of the raw deals we may have been dealt; hers certainly more catastrophic than my own.

There is somehow a great responsibility levied with this common link and I am not alone in considering the birth date of June 12 as somehow significant.

The Thoughtful Phillip
Phillip Roth's life-long obsession with Ms. Frank was in some measure what drove his pursuit of Claire Bloom, another June 12 Jewess. Surely she, in spite of Mr. Roth's brilliantly documented proclivity to fester in the dark side, must have believed that underneath his embittered vowels and Jewish self-loathing; must be a spark of the joy that is life. Surely she was an optimist, like Anne, in spite of the mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Lovely Claire
If I examine my life on the world stage I am challenged to remain hopeful and positive. The relentless 24 hour News feed is enough to crush the spirits of the most blindly optimistic. Even reduced down to the small village raising my child, I have moments of despair. And yet in spite of those moments I chose to bring a child into this world.

I made this decision as a full-fledged adult of 40 in spite of not having the best role models (but who does?), to prepare me for this never-ending responsibility. This life-affirming step requires a belief in some kind of future, in some kind of ever-after.

Whether it is science or religion, Einstein famously opined that these two things were connected; each requiring a leap of faith, a leap into the unknowable. I would have included Parenthood as well. 

In choosing to become a parent are we not conveying a necessary optimism, a belief that our world is worth entering --- in spite of the mountains of evidence to the contrary?

PEN-Faulkner Award 

National Book Critics
Award Winner 
Pulitzer Prize Winner

Just a few of his little books…oh, to write just one. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Friday, November 5, 2010

You will read what you sow.

I will admit that my knowledge of Superheroes and Comic Heroes is both limited and relatively new.  Growing up, comic books were forbidden reading materials in our home except those Illustrated Classics Comics with titles like Arabian Nights, Prince Valiant, Hiawatha and Heidi, titles I am sure I would have rejected in any other format. After all they were “ featuring stories by the world’s greatest authors.” 

I remember knowing a little bit about Superman and Spiderman and reading a stray one or other at somebody else’s house. The irony is, had my mother known the ethnic roots of the comic book genre, she might have been welcoming of its inclusion in the myth-making of our childhood; she who was so approving of all that arrived stamped with “Jews were here.”       

The Madness of Gaines

 At some point, I was able to sneak Mad Magazines (also begun by a Jewish guy) in past this ever-watchful Gate Keeper and was enthralled by Spy vs. Spy and that awkwardly illustrated tri-fold back cover with the words that reconfigured to make some vaguely political statement that I mostly understood. To my young mind these magazines were the ultimate expression of subversive thinking.  Who didn’t love the clever cartoon parodies of popular movies and television shows?  What about the mini-cartoons that were done outside the lines! Weren’t these all just building the foundations of what would become the contemporary graphic novel, a genre with no limitations that continually astounds and astonishes when well done? 

I cannot resist a nod to WATCHMEN, a graphic novel that my 15 year old has read at least four times and his father and I have also read twice.  He even bought a copy for his 90 year old grandfather to read.  If you haven’t read it, you should.  It is remarkable.

Who says books have to be a certain thing? Clearly with all of the hubbub going on in publishing, with the advent of Ebooks and the very real possibility of books containing Advertisements to both defray costs and well as build brand loyalty within genres as well as support writers, there is much to consider. 

Just ponder the possibilities for a moment.  Think about your favorite writers.  Now pick a book.  What product would the reader of this book be likely to purchase?  For adult romance novels, what might be a better choice than a tip-in coupon for the Kleenex brand and perhaps a lovely sherry?  For Science Fiction books, Science and Natural History Museums promotions and a discounted subscription to Discovery Magazine? For Cookbooks, imagine a mini William-Sonoma catalog or Food magazine subscription solicitation.  In Westerns and International thrillers, we might find coupons for cigarettes and alcohol, even Dude Ranch vacations. In Historical Fiction, perhaps we would find Bombay Furniture brochures and local Antique Dealers Advertisements or packaged trips to visit locales mentioned in the book.

Books represent many things throughout our lives. And I remember in particular a pajama party at the home of my ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Hirschhorn.  She was a horsy-faced spinster, who invited a small group of girls to her home to welcome Evangeline, our Native American just-off-the-reservation exchange student, to the girls world of fuzzy slippers and baby doll pajamas toting hair dryers with inflatable bonnets in round pink suitcases.  Mrs. Hirshhorn was sharp tongued and opinionated and in her class we endlessly conjugated sentences, memorized the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner and how the boards did shrink, and listened to her chastise students who did not meet with her approval. 

She rather less than generously included me in the festivities, not for my attentive scholarly behavior I was informed, but rather that I seemed so well liked by the others which she found curious. Damned with faint praise and just beginning to understand the cruelty of adults, I packed my sleepover goodies nonetheless and attended.

According to another attendee, a bit of a rabble-rouser like myself, Mrs. Hirshhorm prepared chicken with a corn flake crust for dinner. I don’t remember that but I do remember wandering around the house after dinner with this same person and finding a copy of Jaqueline Susanne’s Valley of the Dolls, eagerly looking for the dirty parts and getting caught by Ms. Hirshhorn.  My mother certainly would not have approved of this, even written by the Jewess Jacqueline. 

This brings me to the subject of public schools and their current state of affairs.  Those who know me understand that I spend lots of hours in them and it’s really a conundrum to be an educator, parent of a public school student and a taxpayer. The solutions to the problems are not easy and are not just about money. But I think public schools are really missing the boat of the funding gravy train that so many others have figured out.

My simple answer to the financial shortcomings is corporate sponsorship.  Nike might underwrite Football and Basketball.  Nascar would sponsor the Driver Ed program. Apple would support Graphic Design courses. Microsoft could support the Engineering programs.  Goodyear would sponsor the school buses along with Geico Insurance or Progressive, thereby actually living up to their name.  The pharmaceutical companies would support the biology and chemistry classes.  It just seems limitless to me. Each Corporaton would decide what courses or programs they wanted to sponsor, draw up a budget and the funds would be distributed nationally based on the class subscription at the same rate per student.  Local taxes could come down, the corporate images would be enhanced and teachers might finally be paid a decent wage and be rewarded for their performance -- when merited.  Tenure can disappear because of competitive wages and rewards.

In the meantime, educational administrators could attend to the work of providing their beleaguered staff with more training for differentiation in the classroom and get the breathing room to restructure the system to fit the needs of our next century, which must include getting rid of the dinosaurs. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow.

I have recently spent too much time thinking about Hair, not the musical, but both those on my head and those found on other parts of my self.  My head hair needs a cutting and as much as I love the magic fingers of Anne Marie at Bangz, she’s recently raised her prices to $80 plus a tip and I’m feeling not so flush these days.  I will probably succumb anyway because she’s really great at her job and I could use some extra help.

It is at these hair raised times, about once every eight to ten weeks, that I confront my mortality in the form of the stray grays that keep emerging.  I have been blessed with the late gray gene from my mother and even at the age of 57 have predominantly dark brown in the mix.  Some days I feel that my grays are earned, slim badges of a life lived fully.  Other days, particularly after a sleepless night, I just see a reflection of an older much more tired me framed by those very same grays.  To color or not to color, that is the question.

Not a good look for anyone.
I’ve experimented from time to time with a variety of hair transformation products.  A few years ago I added gold highlights.  In retrospect, a decision made in a moment of weakness at a new salon, leaving me feeling and looking like Mrs. Roper…i.e. not a good choice.  I’ve used henna rinses in bold cranberry – a slick 70’s disco inspired look – as well as black – an 80’s ethnic inspired look – but never felt comfortable or ultimately more attractive either way.

Occasionally I’ll ask my husband if he thinks I should cover the gray but he’s grown too clever to fall into that trap, even when I say “ But you have to look at me, I don’t.”  He has learned that the only safe answer is “Whatever makes you happy, honey.”

For men, the hairstory is much more traumatic. They may morph form Justin Bieber to Uncle Fester by the time they hit 30.  These poor men never get to have their Silver Fox moment.  They are faced with the dismay found in the drain, that tangled unseemly mess left behind after morning rituals and a great hot shower.  Men’s hair may also transmigrate to other body parts choosing to relocate to more exotic locales like ear lobes and shoulder haunches.

Even we women may on occasion find a stray hair or two or three, as in the hair on your chinny chin chin.  There are also those charming moments when your innocent toddler may remark on these, including the adorable, “ Mommy, you have a spider coming out of your nose!” Thankfully said in private, now shared shamelessly with my readers.

But women are expected to do something about this irregularity using waxes and potions, painful and stinky to remind us of our own mortality as if the stray intruders weren’t reminders enough.

I googled Silver Fox
When I was younger and more unitoned, I had what I’ll call my hair-related trauma.  Being single through the Eighties had it’s advantages ---unencumbered by a partner’s needs or career fluctuations, baby’s poo or extended family dramas ( although my nuclear group had more than it’s fair share…) -- gave me a certain freedom and nonchalance.  I met lots of potential partners, enjoyed their company for a time and then moved on for reasons both real and imagined. 

One such coupling included a successful young man with a great apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and an insouciance brought on by the sale of his business to a Fortune 500 company for over $10 million dollars by the time he was 30.  He was quite a dashing character, tall dark and handsome and well groomed and mannered.  We had several enjoyable dinners together at wonderful restaurants and one night returned to his apartment to express our mutual admiration.  Sharing a chilled split of champagne on his terrace as the sun set behind the amazing Manhattan skyline, we snuggled and kissed in brisk Autumn air.  As our affections became more fully realized, we moved into his living room for both comfort and privacy’s sake.  At this point, disheveled, he excused himself to use the bathroom.  When he returned, he was missing something.  Yes, his hair was gone.  He had transformed from Alan Alda to Yul Brenner without so much as a by your leave. 

Now I am not typically left speechless or at a loss for words, as this blog frequently demonstrates, but I was Flabbergasted!  Dumbstruck! I think first because I had no idea that the hair was not his to begin with and second, my next thought was – what else is removable?   I readjusted my habiliments, stammered out an excuse about an early morning meeting I had forgotten about and hightailed it out of there.

Not because he was bald, in fact I find bald men attractive – always have – but what kind of person would just spring this on someone else?  Where did he keep it in the bathroom?  Did he have more than one?  How did he wash it?  My mind was aflutter with possibilities.

So on this Halloween Weekend, when little goblins and monsters are ringing for tricks and treats,   consider the hair raising adventures of this Pop Culture Diva living the single life in the Eighties in the city where everything is possible.