Monday, October 30, 2006
When Emile Nolde painted these masks in 1911 he was following a popular trend. Picasso, Gauguin, Kirchner and other Modern painters were also fascinated with notions of the primitive and archetypal. Masks were the early 20th century artworld’s equivalent of Tommy Hilfiger jeans.
Halloween masks are currently banned from the local elementary schools. I’m not sure why. None of my kids have ever worn or plan to wear masks as part of their costumes, but I am curious about the rule nonetheless. Here are my theories:
a) Principals are worried about the kindergartners getting frightened, b) They are afraid the 6th graders, emboldened by a sense of anonymity, will tag the walls and stage an coup d’état, c) There are so many students in each classroom (I live in Utah remember) that the teachers have just barely gotten their names memorized. Throw a few obscured faces in the mix and the poor teachers will be hopelessly confused, d) Masks tend to limit one’s breathing and vision. Some child may crash into a tetherball pole out in the playground, fall to the ground crying and bleeding profusely, but their muffled cries will go unheard and no one will notice the real blood among all the fake wounds and fake oozing eyeball sockets.
The Richard Chamberlain version of Man in the Iron Mask is far superior to the Leonardo DiCaprio remake. The jury is still out on the 1929 Douglas Fairbanks version, the low-budget 1998 version, the 1939, 1968, and 1985 versions and the French, German, Italian and Korean versions as the jury is busy sewing a Yoda costume and has not seen these yet.
In addition to iron ones being used to torture and hide the identity of twin brothers of French monarchs, masks have historically been worn in the following contexts: Greek tragedy, Japanese Noh drama, Sri Lankan devil dance rituals, Central American street theater, African ancestor ceremonies, baseball/hockey/fencing matches, surgery, welding, scuba diving, and criminal exploits.
The word for mascara comes from the same root as mask and masquerade. I find this to be incredibly appropriate and I’ve been thinking about the times I wear mascara versus the times I do not.
Julie does not wear mascara when: hanging out at home with her husband and kids, exercising, going to family parties involving her siblings and parents, shopping for groceries on Saturday night.
Julie wears mascara when: teaching a class, attending church, going to a party involving extended family or in-laws, shopping at any store where she fears she may see someone she knows but not well enough to reveal the awful fact that she has pale eyelashes. See any pattern here?
Tags: masks, art, Halloween, mascara.
Friday, October 27, 2006
I wish that I were a talented enough writer to publish a book because maybe then I would also have the skills to paint a portrait in words of the man that is my father. I’m afraid of sounding sentimental if I write about the smell of his Old Spice cologne and the way I can always guarantee he’ll be carrying a fingernail clipper and a real handkerchief in his pants pocket. I could use clichés to talk about his silvery grey hair, but how do I explain that I remember when his hair was dark, have watched it gradually lighten, and know that some of those grey hairs have my name on them? I don’t think I could account for the fact that as a child I feared his disapproval and now am jealous of my children because their grandpa is far mellower than my father was. I also can’t describe how it feels to watch a man who once set a blistering pace as he led a wife, 9 kids and 40 college students through every major cathedral and museum in Europe now wince as he goes down stairs.
I owe a great debt to my father. I have inherited from him much more than my blue eyes and a love of Snickers bars. I’m afraid once I get started listing the lessons I’ve learned from my father, I may be typing all day, but I’ll try to limit my list to a few of the most significant.
Lessons I’ve learned from my father
Life is tough
My father grew up during the depression and I suspect always regretted the fact that his kids had it too easy. To compensate for our lives of relative luxury he created opportunities for us to learn the value of hard work – things like rising at 5am to pick corn and haul hay on Grandpa’s farm or spending a Saturday afternoon picking fruit at the church welfare orchard. I cannot stress enough the fact that I hated every moment of these outings. I did not learn to love the bounties of nature or how to make a job fun by whistling while you work or other such plucky drivel. But I did learn that life requires effort and that (despite my bleary-eyed protests to the contrary) getting up early will not in fact kill me.
How to be a teacher
I once took a class from my father. I did not at the time intend to follow in his footsteps and be a college professor (I wanted to be a news anchor which seemed like a good short-cut to celebrity status). But his energy and enthusiasm made a big impression on me. He could make anything meaningful and exciting – even conjugating Spanish verbs into the past perfect subjunctive tense. I think if you ask my students today, they’d tell you I’m also enthusiastic (perhaps even “willing to make a fool of herself for the cause”). I tend to flail my arms around while describing my favorite paintings and I get all blubbery when I play Beethoven’s 9th symphony.
How to be a student
A few years ago, my dad took one of my classes. He was the best student I ever had and never once corrected my pronunciation on the titles of French, German, Italian or Spanish paintings even though he speaks all of those languages far better than I do.
There is no such thing as a short answer to a quick homework question
I’ll leave it at that.
Never stop learning
My father’s so called “retirement” currently consists of serving a full-time mission working on a new translation of the Bible. He has an unbounded passion for learning new things. If I walk into my parents’ house any random evening, there’s a pretty high likelihood I’ll find my dad in the midst of reading something. My brother was right when he once called Dad an omnivorous reader. He reads everything – newspapers, magazines, fiction, non-fiction, children’s literature, assorted pieces of paper left on the couch, anything in print. The rule in our house was never walk away from a book if you're still in the middle of reading it. If you do, Dad will pick it up and then you'll have a tough time getting it back.
My father has always loved peonies but for some reason has had trouble getting them to grow in his yard. One summer he planted several small peony plants along the back fence and babied them for weeks. They were scraggly little things but were showing signs that they might actually someday produce some blooms. One day, I was watching him as he trimmed the tall grass growing by the fence. He accidentally got a bit too close with the weed whacker and suddenly the long spinning wire severed the peonies down to little stumps. “My peonies!” Dad cried. Oh, it was awful. My heart still drops when I remember the look on his face. After all these years, it’s almost a funny story. But not quite.
I hope it’s obvious that I love my Dad and could go on forever with my list. But I’ll try to save a few for Father’s Day. I’ll wrap things up with Picasso’s sketch of Don Quixote because not only was my father the first person to give me an appreciation for Spanish art, but he’s also the only person I know who has read to the very end of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. The unabridged version. In the original language. Many times.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Thirteen things that really scare me
1. The fact that The Scream was stolen in the first place. In broad daylight. By two scrawny guys who lifted the painting off the wall and walked out the door with it. Is nothing safe these days? Next thing you know they’ll be using a flat bed truck and a crane to swipe a 2-ton Henry Moore sculpture. Oh wait, that's been done already.
2. My boys are fearless. This scares me. I have tried my best to instill in them a healthy mix of timidity, paranoia, and the phobias that have served me well, but they insist on facing life with childish exuberance and daring. Where have I gone wrong?
3. You want to know what truly scares the b’geebers out of me? Two words: SECOND MORTGAGE.
4. Oh, and three more words: VARIABLE INTEREST RATE. See, my heart is pounding just from typing it.
5. Black cats. Slinking away from our sandbox. With guilty expressions on their little whiskered faces.
6. Go right ahead and skate your fingernails all over the chalkboard. What really makes my skin scrawl is the unmistakable sound of a giant box of Lego being dumped out onto the carpet.
7. My little baby sister likes to B.A.S.E. jump for fun (and I suspect B.A.S.E. stands for Barreling off Any Stupidly-high Elevation). Her favorites are bridges and 3,000 foot high cliffs in Norway. I’m afraid that one of these days her parachute may not open. I’m afraid that the crazy gene might run in the family. And now I’m afraid that when she’s done with law school next spring she’ll sue me for libel. I love you Anne! *big hug*
[*EEEEK!* I just did a search to see how high the cliffs in Norway really are and the first dozen Google entries are about how the pioneer of B.A.S.E. jumping died this week jumping off a bridge. Are you listening Anne?]
8. It’s entirely possible that J.K. Rowling could be hit by a bus before completing the last book in the series. And then we’ll never know what happens to Harry. (cue loud suspenseful chords)
9. Strains of bacteria are becoming increasingly immune to antibiotics.
10. My 4 year old is becoming increasingly immune to threats of “I’m gonna count to five…”
11. I have been driving a car for 20 years. Why do I still get nervous when I have to merge onto the freeway? How ridiculous is that? I mean how scary could it be to thread a lethal hunk of steel on wheels in between other lethal hunks of steel while accelerating to a speed of 65 miles per hour? Piece of cake you big wuss.
12. I can save up food storage and 72-hour kits for a catastrophe, practice family fire drills, teach my kids to fear strangers, and smear on the sunscreen. But what about those perils too big and too random for me to control? Global warming, drunk drivers, school shootings, international terrorism, packaged spinach – to me, these are the scariest things of all. Unfortunately, my parenting strategy of choice (never let them leave the house™) has been vetoed by my husband. Darn pragmatist.
13. What if my writing sucks? What if tomorrow I can’t think of anything to write about? (You’re only as good as your last blog you know.) What if I’m not nearly as funny as I think I am and what if the people who say nice things on my blog just do it because I visited their blog and now they feel obligated? How come my family members never post comments anymore? Are they embarrassed by / for me? What if *gasp* I have an annoying tendency to get…way…too…DRAMATIC?!!! *pant pant*
Excuse me. I think I need to go breathe into a paper bag.
View More Thursday Thirteen Participants
Tags: scary things, Munch’s scream, motherhood, Thursday thirteen
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Long before he got to the famous finger-of-God-touching-Adam part, Michelangelo painted a scene of the great flood on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The scene is cluttered and full of figures because it was one of the first that Michelangelo painted. As he went along, his scenes got less and less complicated until he arrived at the last one – God separating the light from the dark – which he painted in only one day. (If you’ve read my blog for a while, you may see a similar pattern here. Looking back at my first posts I think, “Sheesh, get an editor already.” By the time I’ve been blogging for a year I’ll be writing: “I have kids. Art is cool.”)
Meanwhile back at the flood. I’ve always thought it odd that the story is supposedly about Noah, but in Michelangelo’s fresco, Noah is a very minor character and the furthest detail away from our viewpoint. His tiny upper body is barely visible (and would never have been visible from 60 feet below) hanging out of a window in the ark waving goodbye. So what is the fresco about if it isn’t Noah? See all those naked people doomed to drown – the poor suckers who literally “missed the boat?” I think the painting is really about them.
Genesis describes the people left behind as wicked sinners whose every thought was “only evil continually.” But in Michelangelo’s fresco, they don’t look all that bad. In fact they seem rather compassionate – some are even reaching out to help each other out of the water. The only clue to their corruption lies in the fact that in the midst of the catastrophe, they care so much about their possessions that they cart them along on their backs. “The flood is rising and we are about to die an ignominious watery death, but dude, don’t forget the kitchen table.”
Learning the perils of materialism the hard (and fatal) way, Noah’s flood-ees never got to benefit from lessons learned. I, on the other hand, am finally coming to my senses after a few hard (and thankfully not fatal) lessons of my own. The most significant has been that of the million dollar chair.
Ken and I searched for many months for the perfect chair. One fateful day we stepped into a store that we had no business stepping into. This was a store for the rich and famous – of which we are neither. Lured by the smell of imported leather, carved mahogany and complimentary chocolate chip cookies, we fell under the spell of the merchandise and our own sense of entitlement. By the time we came to our senses, we had ordered a custom-made chair to end all chairs. And while it didn’t exactly cost a million dollars, it would take us a year to pay off the bill.
For 8 weeks, while we waited for the chair elves to make our chair I tried to blot out the price tag and envision instead how my life would be altered by this new purchase. Our living room and our lives would finally be complete. I would cuddle more with my children in this chair. I would read the scriptures and countless self-help books in its overstuffed cushions. I would sit and think in the glow of the evening and solve the mysteries of the universe.
The chair arrived. It was huge. HUGE I say. It dwarfed the other furniture in our living room and looked out of place amid the casual yet frumpy theme we had going. Like a snob at the barbeque, the million dollar chair turned up its velvety nose(s) at our bargain sofa, laminate bookshelves, and scratched piano. We hardly dared sit on it for days.
Time has passed. The bill has been paid. The chair has been sat upon, lounged upon, bounced upon and spit-up upon. And the cushions have flattened just enough so that the first thing I think when I walk into the room is no longer, “Holy Crap that’s a big chair.” Most importantly, I have realized from the experience that my life was in no way improved by the purchase. Sure it’s a comfy chair, but it’s just a chair. And not worth the price we paid in money or emotional anguish.
There’s a spot in the Old Testament where the Children of Israel are being chastised for worshiping idols. The rebuke points out that they have lavished gold and silver and paid a goldsmith to make a god which just sits there and does nothing. In fact, not only does their idol fail to deliver them from captivity, ironically it becomes yet another burden: “They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he standeth” (Isaiah 46:7). That’s the deal with materialism. I thought the chair was going to carry us and instead we wound up carrying it.
So my new rule to help me measure the true value of something is the “Noah rule”. In the event of a flood, what would I be willing to carry on my back as I scramble to higher ground? The answer is obvious. Save the baby. Leave the chair behind.
Tags: Noah’s ark, Sistine chapel, Michelangelo, materialism
Monday, October 23, 2006
This led me and Ethan into a somewhat futile discussion about how one differentiates between hell the swear word and hell the it’s okay to say it since it’s a place where bad people go (and giggle because it feels like you’re getting away with something) word.
Ethan – who is hoping for a logical hard-fast rule, and is also currently reviewing parts of speech in school – asks, “So is it swearing if you use hell as a noun but not if it’s an adjective or adverb?”
“Well, no. Because some people say hell fire! and that’s swearing.”
“Okay. How about this one – it’s not swearing if you’re talking about the place called hell.”
“Sure. That sounds reasonable.”
But then Ethan discovers the loophole: “Hey, what about when people say Go to.…!”
“Oh, right.” I am as much baffled by the policy as he is.
In the end, my less-than-brilliant explanation was that if the sentence in which you are using “hell” would end with an exclamation point, it’s probably swearing. This may not win a prize in the logic hall of fame, but it worked for us.
Speaking of hell (*tee hee*), I’m surprised that it has taken me this long to return to Bosch. Always a delightfully bizarre fellow, he ought to provide me with a lifetime of blog material. Here’s the panel depicting hell from his painting Garden of Earthly Delights. Bosch includes all the familiar images of hell – the darkened sky, the smoking fire pits, the menacing figure of Satan who sits upon a throne eating sinners for lunch, the giant severed ears, the hollow-bodied tree man with plate and bagpipe on head, the really scary bunny rabbits, the people who vomit coins into cesspools. You know, the typical Biblical stuff.
I’ve always preferred the realism of Dante’s vision of hell. He wrote about the center of hell as a frozen wasteland. The worst sinners are submerged to their necks in a pitch-black lake of ice and tormented by winds so cold that their tears freeze to their cheeks. This is an appropriate hell to Dante since at the opposite end of the universe, heaven is full of light and warmth and the kinds of indescribable beauties that only come from closeness to the presence of God. Sure, I agree with Dante’s symbolism. I also think an icy hell is far more believable than a hot one. This is because (as my husband / opponent-of-the-thermostat-wars can attest) I really hate being cold. Given a choice between playing harps in the crispy climes of high-elevation clouds and roasting for eternity in a fiery pit, I’m afraid I’d say, "Save me a spot next to the bunny. And pass the marshmallows.”
Things that burn: hell, Bosch paintings, marshmallows, Dante
Saturday, October 21, 2006
10 weird things about me
1. I pride myself on being a good speller but I always get hung up on the word “weird.” I have a brain lapse and I can’t remember if it’s ie or ei. Every time. I usually wind up substituting some other word like odd or idiosyncratic or anomalous. Those I can spell.
2. I love the smell of diesel fumes. I go out to wave goodbye to the Junior High kids getting on at the bus stop and I linger. . . just long enough that they think I’m a bit strange. Especially since none of my own boys are old enough yet for Junior High.
3. In a trait that my husband calls freaky but I say is endearing, I sleep with one eye partly open. This week, I took a picture of my daughter sleeping to use with an earlier post and I noticed with great pride that she does the same thing. It’s like she needs to keep tabs on the world at all times.
That’s my girl.
4. I use a thesaurus when I write. I even keep it handy when posting comments on other people’s blogs. Why say LOL when you can write “I reacted with mirth to your droll anecdote.”
5. For some strange reason, people think I’m a snob.
6. I was born into the middle of a large family. In the very middle. The pattern is: two boys, two girls, ME, two boys, two girls. Once I had discovered that there was anything to be gained by it, I milked this unfortunate circumstance for all the sympathy it was worth. At least that’s what my sisters tell me.
7. I think cilantro is of the devil.
8. I am a terrible clutz. I have been known to break my baby toe while walking around a corner in my home. Okay so I’ve done that twice. Also I’ve stepped up into a moving ceiling fan. And broken two ribs playing with my kids at the playground. Oh, this is supposed to be weird things not stupid embarrassing things? Moving on.
9. I love art. I once drove all the way from Pennsylvania to Georgia to see a painting. This was obviously before we had children and back when gas cost like 25 cents a gallon.
10. I listen to classical music in the car with my kids and crank up the volume really really loud (“Jupiter” from Holst’s Planets is the best). We roll down the windows and pull up next to people at red lights just to see what they’ll do. Maybe we should get a low-rider kit for the minivan.
I tag Lara.
Tags: weird, meme, motherhood
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Anyway, Lara’s post gives me one more reason to write about a beautiful painting that has been on my mind this week: The Cradle by Berthe Morisot. In 1872, Morisot painted this portrait of her sister Edma and niece Blanche. When I was expecting my first baby I bought a copy of this print and had it framed. It has hung somewhere in my home ever since – through 3 moves and 4 kids.
My favorite part of the painting is the look on Edma’s face as she studies her sleeping baby. I wonder what is going through her mind. I get the impression from the way she rests her chin in her palm that she’s been sitting there for a long time – just staring and thinking. With her right hand, she slowly straightens the canopy of sheer fabric that surrounds Blanche in her cradle. The way Morisot paints it, the cradle is more than just a bed for the sleeping baby. Tucked within its giant white basket and beneath its tall white tent, the baby is sheltered and protected. She sleeps in a state of innocence, safe from the outer world that her mother – painted in darker colors and framed by the window to the outside – inhabits. It reminds me of a phrase in a Wordsworth poem: “Heaven lies about us in our infancy.”
Over the past 11 years I have spent plenty of time staring at my children while they slept. Every night I act out my ritual of checking in on each one, pulling up the covers, kissing damp foreheads, picking socks up off the floor on my way out. Only while they sleep do my kids stop moving long enough for me to really look at them. Only while they sleep, can I pause their turbo-growth for just a moment and reflect on the past and wonder what the future holds. I can whisper apologies and promise to do better tomorrow. I can study each child’s face and try to unlock their mysteries. I can suppress the irrational fears that I think haunt all mothers and embrace my good fortune. I can thank God for small miracles. Small, sweaty-headed, sleeping miracles.
Thoughts on: sleeping children, art history, Morisot, parenting
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
A Play in Two Acts
Inspired by a painting by Jacopo Bassano (1515-1592) and the conversation at dinner last night
Setting: An upper room in a house in Jerusalem. The lighting is subdued. Thirteen men are seated around a rectangular table.
Peter: What did he say? Something about one of us betraying him?
Judas: I didn’t hear anything.
Bartholomew: Aw, man. Lamb’s head for dinner again?
Matthew: Hey, there’s no plates. Who was supposed to bring the plates?
Philip: Not me. I brought the half empty bottle of wine and one glass.
Simon: I think James was supposed to bring plates.
James: Not me. Maybe the other James.
James (the other): I brought plates last week.
Thomas: I doubt it.
Andrew: Scoot over. Why is everybody squished onto one side of the table?
Philip: Who brought the dog?
John: Zzzzz….smarfl....leper....goat cheese….snort….zzzzz.
(Lights fade out.)
Setting: A kitchen in a suburban home somewhere in Utah. Two adults and three children are seated around an oval table. A fourth child (the baby) sits on her father’s lap and spends the scene trying to pull his plate onto the floor. A heavy cloud of garlic hangs in the air. The table is set for dinner with dishes of garlic chicken, baked potatoes and mixed vegetables.
Child #2: (inspecting the inch-thick layer of ranch dressing on his baked potato) I need more ranch dressing.
Father: I think you have enough already. It’s supposed to be a garnish.
Child #2: But I can still taste the potato.
Mother: So how do you guys all like my new chicken recipe? I thought it would be fun to try something different.
Child #1: (with desperation in his voice) Do I have to eat it?
Child #2: (dutifully) I tasted it, Mom.
Child #2: It was gross.
Child #3: Mine’s too hot.
Mother: Why don’t you eat your potato while it’s cooling off?
Child #3: Okay. Please pass the ranch dressing.
Mother / Pitiful Martyr: Why do I bother? Nobody likes my food.
Father: What about me? I had two pieces of chicken. I thought it was fine.
Mother: Thanks dear. But you’d eat anything I made, even if it were blackened to a crisp.
Baby: Gaaah…emmm…buh! (translation: Don’t lump me in with my ungrateful brothers. I am really looking forward to garlic flavored breastmilk tomorrow.)
Child #1: (having spent the scene peeling the skin off his potato, poking it with a fork and eating one baby carrot corn-on-the-cob style by nibbling around the outside edges and leaving a little vein behind) Can I be done now?
Child #3: (getting down from his seat for the 17th time to chase sparkly things or poke his sister) I’m done too.
Mother: But you haven’t even tried your chicken.
Child #3: It’s too cold.
Mother: (exasperated) Forget it! From now on I’m just going to cook Ramen Noodles for every meal!
Children: (in unison) Yeah!
(Mother keels over and dies from fatal heart wound.)
Tags: last supper, art, dinner table, parenting
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
According to these oh so scientific studies – involving rulers and a method of rating aggression which (I’m not making this up) measured how hard college students slammed down the phone after hearing rude comments – people with asymmetrical finger lengths, palm sizes, wrist diameters, elbow widths and ankle circumferences are likely to be violent phone slammers and thus a danger to society.
The article went on to say that “scientists have been measuring and comparing hands, feet, ears, limbs, etc. to see whether they provide clues to personality and behavior.” Here is where I immediately thought of Michelangelo’s feet. Well, not Michelangelo’s own feet, but the feet on some of his statues and painted figures. If you study these works, you’ll notice that the 2nd toe on each foot is longer than the first. Michelangelo stole this idea from the ancient Greeks who saw the long 2nd toe as an attribute of the gods. Ever since then, the toe has popped up (or out as the case may be) in various artworks as a sign of royalty, beauty, and intelligence.
So far so good. Thinking this would be fun to mention in my blog, I begin looking though my collections of images for a closeup of the feet on Michelangelo’s David statue. None of my slides really do the toes justice so I resort to a Google image search. My son Ethan, groggy and hunting for a box of cereal, walks by my computer just as the screen fills up with naked Davids. He gives me an odd look. “I’m doing some research,” I explain. “Oh, okay.” He sounds perfectly satisfied.
I find a 3D reproduction of David’s toes which will have to do. But now I begin to worry about credibility. My source for the whole “long toe = Greek god” theory is just a conversation I had several years ago with another professor in my department, so my academic conscience (the equivalent of Jiminy Cricket but with a red pencil and wearing a cap and gown) starts pestering me about verifying my facts before I go publishing hearsay. The other little voice in my head (the naughty one who never got his degree because he flunked out) says “hey, you dufus it’s just a blog.”
I listen to Jiminy because he’s much more annoying and besides I don’t want to turn into a donkey, which I learned from the Disney movie happens if you ignore the cricket voices in your head. I commence a highly academically-rigorous search. I go to Wikipedia.
Now you probably do internet searches regarding length of toes all the time, but this was a first for me. I learned enough for a whole seminar which I hope to someday teach called “Feet Throughout the History of Art.” In the meantime, I will share with you the highlights of my first lecture: "Everything you will ever need to know about long 2nd toes."
Many Ancient Greek and Roman statues sport longer 2nd toes, including the famous statue of Emperor Constantine (of which we only have a few fragments so no one has been able to compare elbow widths to test the agression theory).
The name for the longer 2nd toe condition is Morton’s foot after the podiatrist Dudley J. Morton who is most famous for describing it in the 1930s.
The Statue of Liberty has Morton’s feet.
Henry VIII chose his court advisors based in part on whether they had long toes. I’m thinking he may have been better off using other qualifications. Like their ability to give him good dating advice for example.
Morton’s foot, also known as pes valgus, is considered a disorder by doctors because the longer second metatarsal can lead to weak ankles and flattened arches. This explains why Zeus, Aphrodite and the Statue of Liberty all wear orthopedic sandals.
When you do a search for anything toe related, you’re going to learn more than you ever wanted to learn about foot fetishes. It’s beyond a little bit frightening. Do I dare click on a link that has both “podiatrist” and “sexy feet” in the html?
The Cinderella fairy tale has been forever ruined for me by one overzealous interpretation.
Roughly 20% of the population has longer 2nd toes. 70% have shorter 2nd toes and the other really freakish ones have toes of equal length. What? What’s that you say? My first two toes are exactly the same length? Dang. What the heck does that mean?
Saturday, October 14, 2006
SAT analogy of the day – Going to the library : Julie : : Going on an excursion to Bath : characters in Jane Austen stories.
I love the library. I love reading. I love books. I have been known to get a little high from the smell of a new paperback. When I was young, I would ride my bike to the library and spend hours sitting cross-legged on the floor between the shelves reading until my butt fell asleep. Then I would ride home with my death-defying trick of steering a bike while hauling a bag full of books and holding one open on the handlebars so I could read on the way.
One year for a little extra Christmas money I worked for the season in a bookstore. This was a mistake in the order of hiring a drug-addict to work in a pharmacy. Naturally, the majority of my paycheck never left the building. I wasn’t an ideal employee either since customers were a nuisance – forever interrupting my reading right in the middle of a good part. How rude.
I fail in many aspects of parenting (don’t make me list the ways…) but if I have done one thing right, I’m proud of instilling in my children a love of books. Our house is full of them (children and books) and despite the fact that we have bookshelves in every room, as I glance around right now, I see at least one book on every horizontal surface in sight, including several on the floor. But in my home, books do not qualify as clutter. They are accessories. Like an afghan draped casually across the coffee table or tasseled pillows on the sofa, books strewn about are chic accent pieces. My husband has yet to fully embrace this bold new decorating statement, but I’m working on him.
I love the tradition in Christian art of showing Mary reading a book. I like to think of Mary as a reader. Somebody had to teach Jesus to read and Joseph was probably too busy in the carpentry shop. One of Mary’s many titles is “Our Lady of the Book.” This impresses me, especially considering the fact that many of these paintings come from a time when women were not encouraged to read and books were still a rare and precious commodity. But there’s Mary, holding a book, or sitting with a book on her lap, or kneeling in front of a small lectern with an open book. Tradition states that Mary is reading the scriptural prophecies she herself is helping to fulfill. I wonder if she fully understood them.
Another secular variation on this theme is Fragonard’s Woman Reading a Book. Fragonard’s reader sits in profile as if she were just far too preoccupied to pose properly for the portrait. Everything in the painting strikes me as comfortable – the huge overstuffed cushion that serves as her backrest, the crumpled ribbons on her dress and upswept hair, the rosette of puffy sleeve that flows over the armrest, and the delicate way her fingers curl around the palm-sized book she holds. She is not a scholar pouring over a weighty tome. She is a leisure reader absorbed in her favorite pastime.
Some people predict that we will soon have a paper-less society. I say I hope I’m dead and long buried before then. You can keep your on-line archives and your e-books. My idea of heaven is miles of full bookshelves, an eternity of time, and no overdue fines.
Tags: library, art, books, Mary, Fragonard
Friday, October 13, 2006
Here’s the statistical report on our own – much less painful – dental visit.
Total number of teeth cleaned: 124
Number of cavities: 0 (wahoo!)
Number of children who will require extensive orthodontic work in the near future: 2
Anticipated expense of said orthodontic work: G.N.P. of small Central American country
Number of letters in each of the many words I wanted to utter upon hearing this news: 4
Number of different items in the dentist’s giant Box o’ Prizes from which my children all chose extremely noisy whistles: lots
Number of whistles not confiscated by Mom before the night was over: zero
Number of new Sponge Bob Square-Pants toothbrushes allowed to infiltrate our home: 1 (one too many)
Length of time we all enjoyed perfectly clean teeth before defiling them with pizza and rootbeer: 25 minutes.
Tags: dentist, art, Caravaggio, parenting
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Oldenburg uses modern materials like plastic, stainless steel, fiberglass and enamel to construct large-scale versions of everyday objects. I show a whole series of Oldenburg’s works in my class and we talk about his sense of humor as well as his wry commentary on the value we give to objects – the materialism of our culture. We laugh at the giant tube with toothpaste squeezed out of it, the upside-down flashlight, the balancing tools, the bridge made of a spoon with a cherry on top, and the colossal baseball bat in the middle of downtown Chicago.
Then I show this one and the room goes silent. I realize, with a keen mixture of smugness and the sensation of my own rapidly expiring mortality, that I am the only person in the room who knows what this object is. They all think it’s a 19 foot-tall piece of abstract art.
I try not to sound like my father describing the deprivations of the Great Depression as I explain that this nifty object came in handy back in the day of that other mechanical dinosaur – the typewriter. We used the rubber disk to erase mistakes off the page (and *grrrrr* scratch a cursed hole into the paper). The brush on top was for sweeping eraser bits out of the way…and into the keys and all over the desk. I share with my
In addition to the fact that my own children now start taking keyboarding classes in 2nd grade, I’ve noticed a fair bit of evidence to the generation gap in my own home.
When I was growing up, what did we yell when we were outside playing sardines and someone got hurt or Mom said it was time for dinner? We yelled, of course, the universally respected “Ollie Ollie in come free!” Where on earth it came from or why I always pictured a boy named Ollie rather than the word “All-ee” which really makes more sense is beyond me. But that was the procedure. What do my kids yell when they need to call a time-out to their game of tag? “Pause the game!” As in what you do to a DVD player or an X-Box.
Speaking of games, my sons play a decidedly post 9/11 variation on Cowboys and Indians called Parakeets and Terrorists. The boys play the good guys/parakeets who fend off the attacks of the terrorists – ruthless imaginary foes with names like Abdul and Frank. Don’t ask me why terrorists have a vendetta against parakeets. I have a hard enough time explaining to my kids why they hate Americans.
And the last sign that my own children are growing up on an entirely different planet from the one I remember, as left on the fridge yesterday by my 4-year old son:
Tags: generation gap, Oldenburg, parenting, typewriters
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
What I want to know is did the mother of Jonathan Buttall (a.k.a. “Blue Boy”) sit in the wings with a hairbrush while Gainsborough was painting this portrait? Was she at the ready to put any stray hairs back in place and straighten his collar? Was she poised to spit on her thumb and wipe the dried milk residue off the corners of his mouth? I’ll bet she was.
I was wishing I had been there the day they took my son McKay’s school picture last year because that picture now hangs on our kitchen wall, and every morning when I look at it, I have to stifle the urge to poke my finger through the glass and comb his hair.
Now the opportunity to replace the messy-hair portrait is upon us. As we were getting ready to go out the door this morning, I fortunately glanced at the calendar and saw that *eeek* it is school picture day. So I sent McKay in to change his shirt. He chose his favorite one – probably not coincidentally the only shirt he got this year brand new from Target rather than handed down from his older brother or the thrift store. The shirt has stripes and I paused for a moment to debate the whole “you should wear a solid color when posing for a photo” advice rattling around in my brain, but what the heck, at least it’s not his stained soccer T-shirt.
I wet down his hair and combed it to perfection and told him to go wash his face and brush his teeth while I got the baby ready. When McKay emerged from the bathroom, I saw (of course!) a big goober of toothpaste planted on his chest. As I went after the toothpaste with a wet paper towel, I noticed that the shirt was in fact quite wrinkled and the ends of the collar were curling up. I really didn’t want to face wrinkles and a funky collar on my kitchen wall every morning for another year so I suggested a change of clothes. I was met with sad puppy dog eyes. It was, after all, his holy striped shirt. Well okay, I could always iron it. I do own an iron. Somewhere…
So with freshly pressed clothes, McKay grabbed his backpack and put on his jacket and then pulled the hood up over his head. Aaaack, time to fix the hair again. Then I drove him to school and sent him to class while I checked in the office for a picture form because for some strange reason, one hadn’t been sent home with McKay. The secretary kindly handed me a form with the reminder that “Don’t forget – picture day is next week." D'oh!
Well at least I’ll have time to get the rest of the toothpaste out.
Tags: school pictures, art, parenting, art history.
I am apparently stuck on the theme of soup. I can’t resist the urge to claim the status of “published poet” by posting something I wrote in my teenage years. I think I was under some kind of personal dark cloud at the time, so to get the full effect, picture me reading it with great expression and wearing all black in a darkened café with candles. Plus I’m wearing a beret. I’m beginning to think I have always been a closet existentialist.
I am a saltine cracker crumb
afloat in a tomato sea.
Tell me – did I choose to come
and doggy-paddle endlessly?
Or did Evolution’s mighty thumb
disperse my fellow flakes and me
of human mediocrity?
Monday, October 09, 2006
Three girls walked past me – I would guess they were 12 or 13 years old but trying to look much older – and then they paused for no reason other than to look around and be looked at. The first one was wearing: heavy makeup, a choppy-straight hair cut, a halter top that wrapped around the slightest hint of a developing chest and exposed the rest of her shoulders and belly, acid-washed low-rider jeans, and 2-inch high heels. With slight variations in color scheme, the other two were wearing identical ensembles. The matching hair and outfits made me laugh. Then I noticed their matching postures and I just felt sad. They all stood with their arms tightly hugging their waists and one leg crossed in front of the other. They oozed insecurity with every little tilt of their heads and awkward tug on their skimpy clothes. Ah, puberty. I remember it well.
I have conducted a very scientific survey of family, friends, vague acquaintances, and total strangers in line at Target, and am convinced that no one on the planet actually enjoyed Junior High School. At best there may be a few who survived it, like someone survives a case of herpes I suppose. But at worst, most say – with a slight facial tic – it was a traumatic wasteland of emotional fallout from which it has taken them years and extensive therapy to recover. Why is this? I promise not to spew my own pitiful teen angst onto the screen for all to see because I’m saving that for my first novel, but I am going to wonder aloud at the causes of this phenomenon.
First of all, I am puzzled by the fact that for all the stories I’ve
“Weren’t we just so cool when we put a wet sponge on
When I think about Junior High, the thing that causes me the most pain is not the fact that I was on the receiving end of a few mean tricks, but that I cared. With pitiful desperation, I wanted to be accepted by the very group of girls who were being mean to me. Today, from my lofty adult perch, I look down on my 13 year old self and I want to shake her and tell her that in the end it makes absolutely no difference who she sat by in the cafeteria and it makes even less difference whether or not the cute boys left her standing there while they threw every other girl, protesting but not too much, into the snow. I look around at my life now – my beautiful kids, my awesome husband, my amazing teaching job – and I know that the Jr. High stuff totally doesn’t matter.
But the maddening thing is that it mattered at the time. I was unsure of who I was and so uncomfortable with finding out that I just wanted to be like everyone else. More to the point, I wanted to be liked by everyone else. For the price of an Izod and a pair of Levi courds, I could even look like everyone else. Why should I stand out when I could blend, blend, blend….
So here’s my tribute to Junior High: Andy Warhol’s 100 Soup Cans. In the 1960s Warhol made quite a few different versions of Campbell’s soup cans – single soup cans, soup cans with their wrappers coming off, stacks of cans, dresses made out of cans – but this one is my favorite. To Warhol, the image said something about the aspects of popular culture that had made Campbell’s soup an American icon, namely post-war consumerism, mass production, and the success of the advertising industry. To me, it says more about teen crowd mentality. It’s a metaphor for the two embarrassing years of my life when I aspired to a uniformity of packaging that devalued the unique in favor of the popular. . . and common.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
All of my scariest dreams – aside from the rare terrifying ones where something bad has happened to my kids – tend to have this theme: I am doing something for which I have no training, no preparation and no business doing. Last week I seriously woke up in a sweat because I had crashed the schoolbus I was driving. I also have those classic dreams where I am taking a final exam in a class I never attended, or, in what I guess is the college professor’s variation, I am lecturing on a topic which I know nothing about. I suspect these dreams are about the Last Judgment because everything so far on this blog is turning out to be about the Last Judgment. Or more likely they just mean that I feel under-qualified, unprepared and ill equipped for my role as a parent. But I don’t need a dream to tell me that.
So, the last thing I remember from last night’s dream is being backstage at a computer, desperately trying to google the lyrics to Goodnight My Someone and thinking “How am I going to print this without the audience hearing?”
I’m clearly spending too much time on the internet and am beginning to think it is the solution to all problems. Next up I’ll cure world hunger with a few right clicks.
Sigmund Freud had a lot of sound ideas – if you set aside the one where he says everything is about sex (and Freud also said that we project onto other people our own neurosis so that pretty much tells you all you need to know about Freud’s head). The ideas I like best from Freud are about dreams. He said that in our dreams we get to fulfill the desires that we ordinarily suppress. Like a child who is thirsty may dream that she is drinking a glass of water (or worse, that she has to pee...), adults live out their wishes while asleep. The problem is that if, even in our sleep, we unmasked our true thoughts, we would wake up in shock. So our unconscious mind distorts and disguises our most disturbing ideas and translates them into symbols and seemingly irrational events. In this way, dreams are the “guardians of sleep.”
In Freud’s theory, sometimes the most obscure elements of a dream are the most significant because they stand for something disturbing that your mind is trying to hide from you. The more confusing the dream, the more important it is. I take great comfort in this notion since I often have dreams that seem crystal clear at the time – “Mother Teresa, I’d like you to meet my Aunt Louise” – but then under the cruel light of day and the hot glare of logic, they wither into a mass of nonsense.
Any discussion about dreams, Freud, and irrationality naturally has no place to go but to Salvador Dali. He and Freud had a lot in common. They both thought everything was about sex. And, had they been properly analyzed and treated by the profession of psychology that hadn’t really been developed yet, they would both have been diagnosed as severely narcissistic. As proof, here’s my favorite Dali quote:
“Every morning when I wake up I experience an exquisite joy – the joy of being Salvador Dali – and I ask myself in rapture what wonderful things this Salvador Dali is going to accomplish today.”
Alrighty then. Good thing Dali was a fabulous artist. And apparently really good at dreaming too because his paintings are often illustrations of his own dreams. This one is my personal favorite:
I can totally relate to this scene because honestly how many times have I heard myself say “Good grief! Who left all these stupid drawers open?” The best part of the painting is the flaming giraffe in the corner. I mean who hasn’t had that dream? The one where the giraffe standing next to you and Mother Teresa suddenly self combusts. I hate it when that happens.
Tags: dreams, art, Freud, Dali
Thursday, October 05, 2006
1) gravity, 2) entropy, 3) the bizarre covalent bond that exists between children and any puddle of water within 10 feet, and 4) mommy guilt.
In Dante’s Divine Comedy there’s a special circle of purgatory reserved for the burning off of mommy guilt. I think it involves flaming piles of laundry and I expect to spend a few millennia there. Here are just a few of the reasons why.
Some things I’m feeling guilty about right now
1. I’m really good at remembering to take my vitamin every day, but really bad at remembering to make my kids take theirs. They are probably going to develop scurvy and goiters any day now.
2. I have been enjoying this blog thing so much that I tend to spend far too much time on it....when I should be doing about 20 million other things instead.
3. Helium balloons never last long in our house because after a day or two I bring about their untimely death with a pair of scissors. I do this partly because I just get sick of having the sad things following me around the house like ghost-heads and partly because eventually my husband is going to teach the kids his trick of inhaling helium to sound like Mickey Mouse and I’d like to postpone this as long as possible.
4. I try to read to my children every night, but sometimes I make them comb my hair while I’m reading to keep me awake.
5. I own a flour mill, a Bosch mixer and a 25 lb. bag of wheat but I can’t remember the last time I made whole wheat bread. Add to this the fact that I keep buying Granny’s Own Fluffy Pasty White bread at the store because the kids like it. Toasted with lots of butter and sugar and cinnamon. I can just hear the cavities forming.
6. I have been known to serve cold cereal for dinner. Forget serve. I basically just said “help yourselves and good luck finding a clean bowl.” In my own defense I’m sure I was having a stressful day and I’m sure I made a crockpot roast with vegetables and home made rolls the next night to atone for it. At least I think I did.
7. I eat my kids’ Halloween candy.
8. My mother did craft projects with us all the time. I’m sure I remember making flowers from tissue paper and painting on canvas with acrylic paint. My idea of a craft project lately is to put a few cups of playdough on the back porch with the instructions “Enjoy! And don't forget to clean it all up when you’re finished.”
9. Sometimes when faced with a pair of ultra filthy socks or poop-stained toddler underwear, I don’t get out the bleach and I don’t scrub them with hot water. I just throw them in the garbage.
This is me.
I know, you didn’t realize that Michelangelo put my portrait into his Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel but he did. Unfortunately I am on my way to hell and not looking my best, but I think Michelangelo captured the guilty expression pretty well, don’t you?
Tags: parenting, guilt, michelangelo, mommy
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
This is why yesterday's news from Lancaster shocked me. Why would anyone want to hurt these people? What could possibly have been going through this man’s head that would lead him to such an act? In fact, I ask these questions every time I read about people capable of extreme cruelty – suicide bombers, serial killers, child abusers. I struggle to wrap my brain around the kind of thinking that could motivate and justify these crimes. I guess that’s why we call it senseless violence.
I am far from figuring it all out, but I think it has something to do with the human capacity to lie and be lied to. I don’t mean the way people lie to each other – although judging from current politics, we’re mighty good at that too. I mean the way we lie to ourselves. I first got this idea from the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. According to Sartre, we are strangely capable of lying to ourselves in a process he calls “bad faith.” This self-deception allows us to say that we are not to blame for our own actions because we are acted upon. We are only victims of our circumstances. We are compelled to do what we do.
When on any given day my three boys have transformed from dear little snips and snails and puppy dog tails into typhoon gales and banshee wails, how do I cope? I’ll tell you how I cope. I think “must have chocolate!” You’d be amazed by the lies I then tell myself.
“Self,” I say, “you deserve this, you are entitled to this, and you really have no other choice but to eat this chocolate. Better yet, self, let’s make us a big batch of cookies. It’s on me.”
The irony is of course that the one doing the lying and the one being lied to are one and the same. I know that my excuses are not true but at the same time, I am thoroughly convinced by them. Why? Because otherwise I’d have to bother with painful things like pricks of conscience. I’d have to admit that chocolate has consequences and regardless of my upbringing, my environment, and the decibel level in my home, I am responsible for my own actions.
I think that, because it has the power to kill pain and dull the senses, bad faith is like a drug. Perhaps if a person allowed this kind of deceit to habitually poison his whole system of reasoning, he could eventually be capable of acts that otherwise would be considered unthinkable. This is the only explanation I have for how a person could ever shoot innocent children.
Coming up with a painting to go along with this topic was not easy. But here’s one I think fits: Falsehood by Giovanni Bellini.
It’s an odd painting – one that raises lots of immediate questions. Well, really just one big question: Why on earth are two guys carrying a shell with a nude snake charmer falling out of it? Here’s my interpretation.
To start with, the painting is an allegory, so to figure out which figure is meant to personify Falsehood, we’ll use Julie’s Foolproof Method for Decoding Allegories: “When in doubt, always go with the naked dude.” Yup. It’s pretty sophisticated, I know, but it usually works.
The naked dude (Falsehood) holds a serpent, a common symbol of deceit. He lives in a conch shell, which is a nice metaphor for both something that hides and something that spirals up gradually from a small point to a much larger opening – as lies often do. The most interesting aspect of the painting to me is that the men willingly carry this shell, despite the fact that it looks rather unwieldy and they could just put the silly thing down and walk away. And that’s the whole point. Lies cannot exist unless we willingly carry them. Like a virus that can only survive by being hosted and passed around, falsehood has no legs of its own and can only be transported by others.
The connection to “bad faith” comes when you see the painting’s companion piece, also an allegory, called Prudence. Prudence means the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason. Since Julie’s Foolproof Method for Decoding Allegories still applies, and Prudence is in this case a woman…..I’ll spare you the full view and focus in on the one detail that I consider the most applicable: the mirror she holds in her hand. To govern oneself requires reflection. To live a good life – a life of tough decisions and discipline – you have to face yourself frequently in the mirror. And then be honest about what you see.
Tags: parenting, art, Sartre, school shootings, Amish, bad faith,
Monday, October 02, 2006
I really hate my hair. I have always hated my hair, or should I say, my haircuts. I also hate spending money on my hair, which may explain things. But honestly, it doesn’t seem to matter if I drop $10 to spin the wheel at the you-might-get-a-great-stylist-or-you-might-get-a-barely-graduated-
from-beauty-college-by-the-veneers-of-her-teeth stylist place or if I go to the Eau de la Chosen People Salon where I’m in the capable hands of the guy with 3 earrings who insists he cut Madonna’s hair in the 80s. I will still hate my haircut. Hey, I may like it long enough to dutifully leave a tip on my way out. But then I will actually look in a mirror with my glasses on and curse.
Someday I may figure out why this is and perhaps I will also solve the timeless and weighty quandary of “to wear bangs or not to wear bangs,” but in the meantime, here are a few of the alternate hair styles I am considering.
Medusa certainly had that “natural wave” thing all figured out. Of course, she also had a mildly disturbing habit of turning people into stone, but fortunately she never had to leave a tip.
And winning in the category of People who Resemble their Dogs is the lovely Mrs. William Hallet, painted here by Gainsborough. We do need to give her some slack since she lived during the same period in history when the term pompadour – named after Madame du Pompadour who had a thing for really tall hair – was invented.
Here’s a picture of the pompadour in all its glory.
Apollo’s wavy locks aren’t bad in this sculpture by Bernini, but I’m really coveting Daphne’s hair. To get that look, she only had to be chased by a lust-crazed deity who was so not going to take no for an answer that Daphne had to beg the gods to turn her into a laurel tree which, I’ll admit, may be a high price to pay. Kind of like a bad permanent but it lasts forever.
Tags: hair, art, medusa, bad