28.5.08

The Good Sentence

"A good modern sentence proceeds evenly, loosely joined by commas, and its feel is hypothetical, approximate, unstructured, and always aiming at an impossible exactness which it knows it will not achieve." -- A. S. Byatt, "True Stories and Facts in Fiction"

We Do Good Breakfasts

This morning's breakfast conversation began with Jane's question: Why did we go to Iceland if we are not Icelandic?

From there followed a consideration of language, culture and history, culminating in readings from Layamon's Brut. We touched on the Norman Conquest, the Vikings, and why "medieval" does not mean purgatory or, "middle evil." We did not, alas, get to Dante. My wonderful professor Elizabeth Bryan would smile, and cringe -- in the funny way that she has, where she just does manage to do both at once -- at the damage done by the years to my pronunciation of Rather Olde English. Oh well. The point was not to impart information so much as simply to be enthusiastic. I love this kind of conversation, the sort that sends me running to the library, plucking books off the shelf. Making discoveries.

I may not be the world's greatest soccer mom, but all that time I spent in school has certain advantages. As a wise person once told me: Play to your strengths, y'all.

Aside: When Jane plays concentration and she flips the same card over and over, she says, "That card is my Waterloo." To which I can only say, yes, that's our kid.

27.5.08

On the Other Hand

Of the dozen rose bushes I planted earlier this spring, eleven have "taken." Each has or promises to have four or five big buds, which -- I know, I shouldn't count my roses before they've bloomed -- means perhaps forty blossoms. Yay.

The basil, cilantro, lavender and thyme are coming along. The daisies, likewise. Hostas, irises, even the first-year peonies are all doing wonderfully. Still no shoots from the three sisters patch, but I'm hopeful.

Better Words

Sadly, depressingly, ironically -- how could it be otherwise? -- the official vocabulary of mood disorder is rather skim-milkish, thin, revolting: low self-esteem, hopelessness, anhedonia, pervasive low mood. The demotic is not better: feeling down, having the blues. It would be so much better to have words that actually expressed something. Everything is all fucked up! for instance, instead of "hopelessness." Or Today, I suck, for transient low self-esteem, and in general, I suck for the pervasive kind. You suck would indicate, oh, I don't know, irritability... Must be time for the midday Zoloft.

16.5.08

The Discreet Charm of the Schizophrenic?

In today's NYT, Dr. Elyssa Ely discovers that schizophrenia ain't all bad, at least not when you've got late-stage metastatic lung cancer. Paranoid? Psychotic? Poorly medicated? Oh well, look on the bright side! At least you can have nice delusions while you're getting your MRIs.

Why, oh why, is it still possible to write so patronizingly about this particular form of mental illness? A schizophrenic in the grip of a delusion is suffering, not cute. When Dr. Ely succumbs to a patient's charming hallucination, I have to wonder to whom the real delusion belongs.

I suspect-- having watched my mother suffer with this for all my life -- that the flat affect and other negative symptoms of schizophrenia may actually tend to elicit such unempathic responses from caregivers. (Which is not to blame the victim.) Poor caregiver response creates paranoid (or perhaps merely justified) poor responses from the patient, including dangerous noncompliance when it comes to medication. Undermedicated, the paranoid noncompliance just gets worse. And then, as they say, we are off to the races...

15.5.08

A Londonish Day


from a John Virtue painting
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Why is a fire truck parked outside my window? I am quite sure the house is not on fire, although now that the coffee maker has stopped glugging, I really should pour myself a cup before I manage to turn the stuff into wormwood as usual. And then I should turn off the heating element. No fires here.

Everything seems so strange today, odd but uninteresting. I ought to go see about the fire truck, but instead I sit and type at the window. It's one of those days.

One of my favorite London poets, Aidan Dun, now has a website. He also wrote a wonderfully wry, elaborate, and pleasingly though not intrusively Derridean "Ode to a Postbox".

The world shall write a love letter to itself and entrust it to the poet
who will place it in the postal system at the earliest visitation of his
first class muse.


The black and white picture is a detail from a painting by John Virtue, part of his London series. Saw the real thing three years ago in London -- the paintings at the Tate, drawings at the Courtauld -- last time I was there. I think of Virtue as a depressive's painter par excellence -- he uses only black, white, and shellac. Color, he says, is a distraction. From what? Let me tell you: seeing the world as it is. Realistically.

Overstatement? Maybe. But if you walk out of the National Gallery on any bog-standard cloudy London day and stare at the sky, I think you'll agree that Virtue's urban landscapes, postmodern as they are, partake of a certain realism.


14.5.08

Molding Young Minds Before 9 AM

Jane's on a big Malvina Reynolds kick, which has opened the way for some interesting conversations. Take these lyrics, from "Little Boxes":


Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky
Little boxes all the same

[...]

And the people in the houses
All went to the university
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same


Jane likes this song a lot, but it confuses her, too. Obviously Malvina is not a big fan of "going to the university," but of course going to the university is something MJ and I hope that Jane will someday decide is a worthwhile thing to do.

So, this morning, it fell to me to explain.

"Conformity," I say, "is a bad thing. That when everyone has to do the same thing, say the same thing. That's what Malvina's getting at."

"Comformity," Jane says, in her irritated-at-her-stupid-mother tone.

It occurs to me that she knows exactly what she is doing.

"You got it in one, kiddo."

8.5.08

Cute Kid


kid
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
I have just bought a yarn share from the marvelous shepherds at Martha's Vineyard Fiber Farm. OMG, I can't tell you how happy this makes me. (But this picture might give an inkling.) In the fall, I will have more wonderful yarn than I know what to do with... Here are some pics of my future sweaters. (This link will also take you to photographs of goat bums and a sad story about the loss of one kid to the feeding trough or some such. Oh well, that's agriculture. You have been warned.)

If this post is a bit of a
cheese sandwich, all I can say is: hey, at least it's chevre.

6.5.08

Everything I Know About Parenting...

...I learned from the Hobans' Frances books.



"How much allowance does Gloria [the new baby] get?"

"She is too little to have an allowance. Only big girls like you get an allowance. Isn't it nice to be a big sister?"

"May I have a penny to go along with my nickel, now that I am a big sister?"

"Yes," said Father. "Now your allowance will be six cents a week because you are a big sister."

"Thank you," said Frances. "I know a girl who gets seventeen cents a week. She gets three nickels and two pennies."

"Well," said Father, "it's time for bed now."

-- From A Baby Sister for Frances (1976)

(Mother is in the other room, giggling.)

Boomer Lit!

Marysue Rucci, executive editor and vice president of Simon & Schuster, says that "the next step beyond chick lit and mommy lit may very well be boomer lit." More here.

5.5.08

Strange

Some years ago, Hillary Clinton had an audience with "the Ice Maiden of Mount Amparo," a mummy found in the Andes.



The image is iconic on so many levels. Archaeologists say she -- the mummy, the girl found on the mountain -- was sacrificed at the age of twelve or fourteen, to appease the gods of the mountain. (Which has tended to erupt.) I feel like there is something slightly wrong with Hillary's response, her excited awe and fascination. She is not sufficiently moved by the corpse.

Here's a link to the audio of the event.

2.5.08

The Language of Pingu

I note, with nervous amusement, that the language spoken by the characters in the Swiss claymation Pingu series is not babble -- that's merely what it sounds like -- but reflects a calculated decision on the part of Pingu's creators to make the show as distibution-friendly as possible. Pingu does not need to be translated.

Thus ... Pingu's Penguinese is a market-driven dream of a universal language. But when Jane listens to Pingu, she learns something else. If Pingu can speak his own language, which sounds like no other language on earth, then Jane is entitled to her own language, which she makes up as she goes along. (That's not so strange. How would YOU make up a language?) Unfortunately, I am required to converse with her in this new "Jane language," and alas, my linguistic talents are not up for it. She is happy to correct my mistakes, though.

Part of growing up is figuring out all the ways you might fit into a world that you didn't create and over which you have only limited control. Pingu is definitely not teaching any lessons in this regard. On the contrary! Pingu's creator, Silvio Mazzola, reflects on twenty years (!) of Pingu's development: "His adventures are still the same everyday stories and he has not learnt so much that he has had to change his character or his behaviour." In other words, Pingu is Pingu-Pan -- he never grows up. For that reason, he is infinitely merchandisable. Mazzola brags that "MIGROS, the largest retailer in Switzerland, has fallen in love with PINGU and is offering an incredible range of food and non-food products. Soon PINGU will be as famous as Swiss watches and Swiss cheese."

Well, there are some growing pains: "PINGU has reached a size that requires a lot of administration. The trademark has to be registered and protected, the partners have to be monitored, the proposed items have to be checked in a short space of time, the finance of the administration and the protection of the rights require high capacities." Hmm.

Later. Mazzola muses, "Perhaps PINGU will start to speak." By this, I think he means, perhaps Pingu will start to speak in a language someone else might understand. But frankly, I'm not optimistic. He reminds me of the wild boy of Aveyron. I hope Pingu is saving his money. He's going to need a lot of expensive psychotherapy.