Pish Tosh

Tuesday, August 23

You'll be on my mind.

It has been a good week for us.

But it has been a terrible week for our friends.

Somebody drowned. Somebody moved out. Sombebody had a heart attack.

It is a very bittersweet end of summer.

I breathe. I plan. I bake.

Always I am aware of the pain of loved ones.

Tuesday, August 16


In our refrigerator we have a big piece of leftover wedding cake. It rests on its cardboard dais -- a footprint far too large for our fridge, really -- and it is covered by a plastic dome that is the inverted bowl of my salad spinner. The cake looks okay, but the frosting no longer looks appetizing: the couple of flowers on it are kind of pitted and runny.

We have not touched the cake for the entire two weeks it's been in the refrigerator, which suggests we're unlikely to eat it (which is probably all the healthier a way for it to be). But I'm not sure I'm up to throwing it away.

The frosting is my favorite part... it was a white cake, with all these crazy colored flowers. Last week we had also in our refrigerator an additional container with already cut pieces of cake. My husband ATE ALL THE CAKE PARTS out of the frosting, leaving all these frosting husks. And yeah, I couldn't throw the frosting away, I'd loved it so much and hadn't even taken a picture of it,* so for a week or more we had a container in our refrigerator with all these sad little pieces of frosting, no cake.

So really there's no reason to keep the cake. If we ate all that sugar ourselves, we would probably die, and the cake is really in no condition to serve to friends.

Also, I have to take my laptop into the shop. It could be the logic board, the same problem that plagued the previous generation of iBooks. If so I will have to buy a new one with my credit card, or with Student Loan Money perhaps. My husband is astounded that such a major sort of problem would hurt my brand loyalty not a bit.

*Fortunately other people did.

Sunday, August 14

Fighting the Good Fight on the Home Front

Two weeks ago at my wedding reception, my youngest brother, who had turned 15 the day before, requested the Beastie Boys' “Fight For Your Right to Party.” For reasons that will become clear if I ever get around to writing about the reception, I couldn’t play the song for him, but what I did do was go onto Amazon last week and order as a belated birthday present for him the three Beastie Boys albums with the most widely recognized hits, like “Sabatoge.” My rationale was: he requested the one, maybe he’ll like or come to like the others; if he doesn’t like them, he can send them back and get something else.

I also had a pedagogical reason: the Beastie Boys are a lot more cosmopolitan than the groups my brother has requested in the past.* My brother, who at some point in the past year, upon being told that the people to which he was referring weren’t actually from Mexico, said “We call all the brown people Mexicans”; who made my OTHER brother, the one who actually taught in a ghetto for two years, cringe when he said “Word. My friends and I like to talk all ‘ghetto,’” at which point he made a hideous crossed-arm gesture which not only was culturally imperialist but also so inept it probably would have gotten him laughed off any dance floor not located in a high school cafeteria. Yeah. So I was thinking he could only be helped by a little infusion of punk, jazz, clever samples, Bodhisattva Vow and Free Tibet.

Yesterday, my mother called chattily to let me know the albums had arrived. One of them, she noted, had the song he wanted on it. (This is of course the misogynist jock rock classic License to Ill, which she’s perfectly happy to share a household with.) Also one of the others came with a Parental Advisory sticker so she’d confiscated it. At which point I went ballistic.

Actually, at first I was merely dismissive: Oh, whatever, mom, it’s no big deal, the album just has some swear words on it, I hadn’t even thought about it having an Explicit Lyrics warning on it. I guess I thought that when I explained that I was familiar with the album and could assure her that the Beastie Boys weren’t harmful and were in fact more often called “preachy,” she’d realize her mistake and relent. Instead, she went all High Horse or something, upholding the creed of Parental Advisory. Censorship is a hot button issue for me and I totally lost my shit. The conversation was heated and confused, with me raving about Tipper Gore and “have you read about the founding of the Explicit Lyrics sticker?”** and “I hate this culture of repression, this is exactly why students show up in my classroom and are total dumbasses” (yep, that’s an excellent way to argue with your mother), as well as reminding her that when they took away our Jane’s Addiction tape when I was in high school (“our,” because it was one of a dozen tapes jointly owned by me and my then-seventh-grade brother), they (read: dad) gave it back, recognizing our right to listen to stuff that, as my dad put it, “wasn’t art.” (Though actually? It was.)

For her part, she insisted on her absolute authority to control her son, asserted “they put those stickers on there for a REASON,” and alleged that I could not possibly understand this issue and was not allowed to talk to her about it (?) until I had a teenage son of my own, because apparently there’s something about giving birth THROUGH YOUR OWN VAGINA to a being with a penis that will override 12 years of higher education, an entire PhD program, and an MFA program to boot, making me totally change my mind about all my most passionately-held beliefs about culture.***

Here’s a highlight that brought adolescence (which existentially began for me at about age eight) screaming back to me. I tried to switch from the general question to the specific album at hand. I tried to say that the “explicit labels” too often were arbitrary because they didn’t control ideological content (I did not use the word ideological), but instead merely monitored swear words. I asked: “How is Little Brother going to be harmed by listening to a couple of swear words?” And I kept asking this question, trying to force her to answer, as she tried to wiggle out of answering by impugning my childlessness. But what she finally answered was: “You have to respect me. You are not allowed to ask me that. You are not allowed to ask why. You are not allowed to ask about the reasons for my decision.”

I mean: wow. That shit about “I am the Ultimate Authority and I do not have to engage you on the level of reason” did not work for me when I was eight, and it sure as hell doesn’t work when I am twenty-nine, and when we are in fact talking about my own little brother, who I want in my own way to protect and educate. I can recognize that what she “heard” in our conversation was not the passionate protest of an experienced college professor and a skilled cultural critic, but was instead the angry storming of a daughter who’s been raging at her to EXPLAIN YOUR RATIONALE for years. However: child being father of the man, the very fact that I was that eight year old asking her WHY explains a lot about how I got into the business of analysis, which you might see as raging EXPLAIN YOUR RATIONALE for a living.

It seems really sad that I’ve gained no ground in this war. I am sad/mad that my mother (still) views disagreement with her as “disrespect,” without recognizing that in refusing to allow me to try to offer her more or different information, she is very much not respecting MY education, abilities, learning, compassion. I am sad/mad that when pressed, I have to admit that I DO think that I know more about this issue (defined as the censorship of musical lyrics) than she does, have a broader and more ethically realized conception: it’s uncomfortable to come face to face with your own snobbishness about your education.

As I approach the age where I can actually remember my mother at my age, I understand a bit more what her life has been like. I’m heir to the anxiety and to feelings of being totally unable to deal, and it seems to me that the stance of Ultimate Authority might begin as a way of addressing these feelings. Wanting the children to feel protected, she assumes this crisp and definitive approach, and to have a precocious little kid demanding WHY all the time has got to totally strain the thin veneer of Keeping It Together that is so hard won. What’s less clear though is why she STILL relies on Ultimate Authority, talking down to my kid brother and alienating me.****

In less than three years, my little brother could possibly be drafted, sent off to maim and kill (be maimed or killed) in the name of the country my mother finally adopted as her own only after September 11 engaged her tender heartstrings. Preventing his access to lyrics like “put my dick in the mashed potatoes” is not going to change this, nor is it going to protect him from any of the various deaths that potentially await teenage boys when they get their licenses. Though perhaps giving him access to artists who use their swear words in Protest Songs will at least give him an inkling that he can THINK DIFFERENTLY about things than that small town party line goes, if he wants to.

As for the conversation about the Beastie Boys, my little brother had the last word. As I was talking to him after the argument with our mother, he said – in a delivery that bodes well for his sense of irony – “well, I’m off to watch a Rated R movie they bought for me.”

*Think: N’Sync and the lesser well remembered Boy Bands.

**"The RIAA initiated this system without providing record companies with any standards, criteria or guidelines for determining what albums should be labeled. That decision is left completely up to the companies, which have chosen to label only selected rock and rap albums and not recordings of country music, opera or musical comedy that may also contain controversial material." It's probably also worth pointing out that the album Kid Brother requested to replace Ill Communication with was something called Getting Away with Murder. It doesn't appear to bear a warning sticker, so I'm sure it's a wholesome, fun-loving record.

***In looking back on it, this was one of the most offensive points about what my mother said. Essentially she said, your book learning means nothing and I am not even willing to listen to you as you try to sketch some of the rationale for your position. On the other hand, one of the SILLIEST points was when I said dad always let me read whatever I wanted, and she said but did you read pornography? And I, thinking of Myra Breckinridge, said YES, and she said, but was it pornography ALL THE WAY THROUGH?

****Argumentative know-it-all that I am, I am considering treating HER like a rational adult who can possibly be persuaded to think differently, and sending her some lightly edited blog entries on censorship, in spite of the fact that I have a long-standing aversion to showing my parents anything I write, an aversion which may in fact stem from her long-standing habit of coming into my bedroom to read my journals and look for condoms.

Wednesday, August 10


Those weird flowers on those unidentified plants we got from our hat-wearing and basset-owning neighbors, and which grew enormous in our little garden, dwarfing all the herbs and peppers and which we feared might be weeds?

Actually we just consulted the internet and they're tomatillos, key ingredient in one of my favorite salsas, Salsa Verde.

Two Thoughts

1. Insomniacs beware: it's not a good idea to look up Peak Oil just before bed. This is the reason I read books about the chemistry of sauces and the molecular composition of eggs: when the crash happens, I want to know how to make as many foods as possible FROM SCRATCH, meaning from ingredients that I myself can raise.

2. Though I adore all our wedding gifts, one of the best we recieved -- if you judge by the amount of time I spend gazing at it admiringly, and paging through it before bed -- is one I didn't even register for: the enormous yellow Gourmet cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl, whose oevre will probably appear in my dissertation which seems hellbent on analyzing food memoirs. If you follow the link to Amazon, you find that some peopel are all like "well James Pepin gave ADDITIONAL steps about omelets which Aldon Brown SECONDED and there's no Waldorf salad and there's only a shortish chapter on BREADS," but, whatever. I'm here to tell you: it's both spare and comprehensive, with plenty enough of recipes new (or newly formulated) to me to make me happy, and sexy enough (attentive to various peppers and other cooking trends) to fill in gaps in my already-extensive vegetarian cooking shelf. Plus: three DIFFERENT recipes for scalloped potatoes or "potatoes Anna," which give me something to cook in my adorable Le Crueset Tarte Tatin pan, another wedding gift (though one I picked out).

In the week-and-a-half since our reception, I haven't managed to write the thank you cards, but I have cooked:
1. Egglplant with cilantro-lemon vinaigrette
2. Flourless peanut-butter cookies (this partly to prove a point: K. didn't believe it could be done, even though it's the cookie we most commonly baked at my house, from a weird kid's cookbook I had; this recipe is a bit different and makes tiny bite-sized cookies)
3. Today, I am cooking Summer Vegetable Succotash, which calls for edamame instead of lima beans, and pattypan squash (I had to go with a different kind of yellow squash) and little Yukon potatoes.

Yes. I am a little brand-namey right now. Sorry.

Sunday, August 7

Quick Thoughts B4 Six Feet Under

I owe the internets some updates. Hello, internets!

In a bit less than an hour, we'll head off to our friend's house to watch one of the last-ever episodes of Six Feet Under. (A few salient facts on friend: 1. Has Tivo and cable and therefore will sometimes supply us with DVDs of Deadwood or Robot Chicken to get us through our not-cable-having time. 2. Is writing sure-to-be-excellent dissertation on Don Quixote which is VERY CLOSE TO BEING DONE 3. Won lots o' money in a quiz show some years ago such that they have to pay him quiz show money for, like, the next 20 years, how cool is that?)

Those of you who follow: as you know, Nate reinvented himself as MORE of an asshole this season, had sex with a Quaker (cheating on his pregnant wife the former sex addict who is now trying to be sane and healthy with a career!), then dropped to the ground, briefly to recover last episode before dying again at the end of the last epidsoe and we're pretty sure he's actually dead this time because the series is now nearly over, we know some important character's supposed to die, and WE HATE HIM FOR CHEATING ON BRENDA AND WE ARE QUITE WILLING FOR HIM TO BE DEAD.

What I want to write about, as the above paragraph perhaps suggests, is the extent to which we (I, I mean) become emotionally inolved with a TV show. I have the usual skepticisms and stopgaps, but the thing is that in spite of this my emotions are weirdly bound up on this show. I doubt I'll cry... as my adorable husband K. does EVERY SINGLE TIME HE REWATCHES THAT EPISODE WHERE BUFFY'S MOM DIES, but I do tend to get testy and -- and this what you might call my thesis for this post -- I tend to judge REAL people by the behavior of these CHARACTERS. For a long while, the important iffy couple was the white "he's the woman" David and his hot black ManMuffin Keith. My adorable brother, who is white and is man enough to admit that he, like me, is the stereotypical girl, seemed to go through a period where, if Keith and David were seeming like they were going to break up, would feel huge tension with his own adorable black ManMuffin. But then when Keith and David were getting along great, my brother would feel optimistic about his own relationship. It happens for me, too: I have to admit that what with how FABULOUS Keith and David are doing this season, and how great they're doing with those adopted boys and all... I feel terrific about my brother's new move halfway across the country to resettle in a new city with his boyfriend. (Also, since my brother once asked if I would be the surrogate mother for his and his partner's child, and I was like NO FUCKING WAY, we thought the episode where David asks Claire to have Keith's baby was really funny. Also, speaking of Buffy, don't you totally think that the "embarrassing secret" Keith will discover tonight is that Michelle Trachtenberg had his interracial baby? Oops!)

So the gay interracial relationship is ONE measure by which I assess actual persons I know. The other has to do with Nate, who is Hot, but for the last couple seasons Really Really Annoying. Obviously, the character with which I most identify is Brenda, because she is brunette and smart and Neurotic, but you can tell how most of her neuroses are reasonable, in their own way. She meditates, she's trying to get herself a career. And she decided to settle down and to take a gamble on Nate, just as I, after my "wild" (okay, semi-wild) early twenties, decided to risk settling down with a set-in-his-ways former Bad Boy.

An interesting thing for me this season is to note JUST HOW MAD I get at Nate, when he doesn't settle down a BIT into marriage because MARRIAGE IS HARD BUT YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE WILLING TO WORK ON IT, and because I too just got married and I want marriages to WORK. Also, he beat a bird to DEATH this season which I really didn't like. But what's really weird is how Nate's behavior (all season he's been giving cow eyes to Maggie, which has really gotten on my last nerve and made me go from liking her to wishing she'd leave, doesn't she have a job or something?) has made me testy with my OWN husband, as if the fictional character, Nate, just PROVES that men can't be trusted. I caught myself announcing in ALL CAPS after one recent episode viewing that HUSBANDS CAN'T BE TRUSTED, and thinking evil thoughts about my husband's friendship with an old ex who he hasn't seen in more than a year.

I realize that this is crazy. But it is also interesting to me, that this happens. After the episode two episodes ago, in which Nate Sleeps With Maggie/Collapses to the Floor, I was so agitated that I had to stay up for two or three hours and read all the Six Feet Under related discussion forums I could find. I was SO PISSED at him for cheating on Brenda -- so much that I yelled GOOD! when he collapsed... and yet I still LIKE Nate even though I've been mad at him all season , so I also felt disappointed that his life story wasn't working out like I wanted.

I'm not the only person who has overly emotional identifications with these characters. The boards were evenly split between people who were SO MAD AT HIM and who said mean things about Maggie, and others, who clearly wanted to marry him, who just couldn't accept that the Six Feet Under writers would kill Nate off.

That they would kill him off is in fact the brilliant thing, and that they would make him a jerk this season both so that you can accept his being killed off and also so that you can feel totally full of regret that he didn't have a chance to pull himself together (or so that Brenda doesn't have a chance to punch him/make him regret his decision) is the other brilliant thing. WE CAN'T CONTROL THE STORYLINE, just like we can't control people who we really WANT to like but who just won't let us. Nate was awake long enough to tell Brenda that he wanted a divorce, which is both HORRIFYING and satisfying... better than if she'd never gotten to confront him about knowing he cheated (after just a couple episodes claiming I'M NOT GOING ANYWHERE) to her. If the storyline had continued and he'd ACTUALLY been at peace with Maggie, I could have been reconciled, but as it is now it's just so much more affirmation of my assumption that he's a jerk becuase, really. He's gonna be happy with Maggie FOREVER? I think not.

The more I watch TV (which I have to do mostly via Tivo and DVDs, which means I get to watch each episode more times), the more I like it and kind of wish I'd arranged to write for it. Yet it's still weird. I'm getting the wires crossed between my Bakhtin and my Lukacs, those important Theorists of Novels, yet I think what one calls Competing Discourses and the other attributes to something filtered through the unconscious of the Writer, is going on here. It's always given me pause, about fiction, that the characters aren't Real People but are made up out of the bundle of prejudices and mistaken assumptions that are part of the author's worldview. I've always been really reluctant to say yeah, it's good that readers would be asked to LEARN from that what to think about the REAL world.

And yet here I have totally fallen for it, admitted I measure "real life" by these fictional characters. Even though I supposedly have an advanced degree in it, it's clear I still don't understand fiction, at all. If I'm so skeptical of it's very fiction, yet at the same time so susceptible to it.

Now I have to quickly scan for spoilers, just like I had to do at the end of Buffy. I need to be PREPARED to accept the horrors I might see. LIFE should have such a cheat sheet. Which I guess makes me feel differently about that question, would you want to know when you will die? I used to think now, but now, I think, yes.

KNOWING allows you to work out the narrative around it, to figure out once and for all what you can live with calling the Motives and the Reasons and the Triumphs and the Shortfalls.