Friday, December 02, 2011

a little dose of fashion absurdity

Once grading season ends I hope to find more time to write. I've decided there's little in my life crueler than the following combination of facts: 1) I have a million things I want to write about, 2) I just don't have the time right now, and 3) I've been spending hours and hours of my precious time lately editing / grading / suffering through poor writing. No fair.

I do have to post a new entry in my growing collection of Absurd Memento Mori Clothing Items for Children. (You can see other examples here and here.)  This may be my favorite one yet.

It calls to mind the bit about starving pandas in the children's book I mentioned a long time ago. I have since seen other editions of that book, by the way, and they fixed the panda page so it's more cheerful. Now we just need to work on the twisted shirt designers who thought it was cute to do the skull and crossbones treatment on our endangered little fuzzy friend here.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Shopping Cart Ethics 2.0

Both these conundrums are from my trip to the grocery store this week. I honestly want to hear what you, gentle readers, think about these issues. I’m torn.

1. When you pull a gallon of milk out of the dairy cooler, do you look for the one with the latest date? I do. I figure I’m the consumer, I’m paying for this milk, I get to choose whichever one I want, even if it means reaching into the back of the milk line-up to get the date furthest away. But I always feel a bit strange, even guilty, about this. I mean, it’s not like we run the risk of ever passing the expiration date, at the rate we go through milk in our house (when Ethan is around we average a gallon a day; when Ethan was gone to scout camp this summer, I only made one trip to the store for milk that week. Spooky!).

I suspect the milk all tastes the same, regardless of the date stamp. Shouldn’t I just pick a milk that has the closest date and leave the newer one for the nice old lady behind me who lives alone and is somewhat lactose intolerant but always keeps a gallon milk in her fridge to serve with cookies when the grandkids visit, which is only once in a while, so the milk tends to get old before it’s all gone, but she’s on a tight social security check budget and won’t be able to buy another one until the day after it expires and even then only if it smells bad? (And yes, this old lady haunts my grocery trips; I worry about her every time. She's probably not even nice.)

2. Grapes were on sale this week. The lady next to me picked a green grape from a bunch and popped it in her mouth. Then she sampled a purple grape. I don’t think I even noted which kind she ended up choosing, surprised as I was with her snacking. I was not audacious enough to follow her lead. I bought some of each just to be safe.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I really do hate it when I bring home a big bag of grapes and they are all disappointingly sour. What a waste. I suppose I could take them back to the store, but who has that kind of time? It seems only fair to be able to know what you’re paying for in advance. Then again, we don’t get to peel the oranges first, so they’re always a gamble. (Same goes for melons; all the thumping and sniffing and navel pressing in the world can’t guarantee a good one). Isn't boldly partaking of the unknown part of the produce department quest? Isn't it kind of cheating to peek?

And more to the ethical point, isn’t it dishonest to eat food you aren’t paying for? If you’re going to be eating the groceries, maybe they should weigh you on your way into the store and again on your way out and make you pay the difference? (You thought airport security was invasive!)

So. Advice anyone? (Please?)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Spiral Jetty, take 4

The sunflowers are new. I swear they were not here the last three times I made the trip. Now they’re everywhere, a small-faced variety but perky and bright yellow, as if planted along the roads to welcome visitors and compensate for the long ride and parched landscape. Everything seems different this time, especially the last 16-mile stretch of unpaved road. It should beat at you through the washboard sections and loosen your fillings. It should take an eternity to crawl and bounce through the last mile, the gauntlet of basalt boulders, extracted giants’ teeth. But Box Elder County has leveled it all, hauled out some kind of insanely tough earth-moving equipment to slice through the rocks, built up a road bed and covered it in pea-gravel. I can’t explain why I’m disappointed by this. I should be grateful. But it seems that the trek is diminished by the added degree of comfort. It’s as if someone at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela installed escalators up the steps, the ones you’re supposed to take on your knees.

The students don’t know they are missing anything. They’re likely pleased that the trip has taken 2 hours 25 minutes as opposed to the 3 hours I promised them. As our two rented vans near Rozel Point, we can see the Great Salt Lake in full sun. It sparkles like the surface of a sugar egg. This part, at least, has not changed.

The newly leveled road cuts gently across the slope of the hill and ends in a parking lot (!) (what next, a gift shop?). I have never seen this many people here at once. This explains part of my disappointment. Once you make the pilgrimage less daunting, everyone will come. Not that I begrudge them the chance to visit the jetty. But how serious are they, really? Do they—these pampered tourists in sedans—care about the jetty like those who were willing to eat dust and slam their heads on the roofs of high-clearance vehicles for its sake?

My students pour out of the vans. There are eighteen in our group this time. I suggest we hike the hill first to get a good view. From the top we see the pink water and, in the distance, the baffling section where it scallops from pink to blue for no reason. From the shore, the Spiral Jetty curls in a counter-clockwise direction, slowly receding under the surface. The rocks that cut above the water hit against the small ripples of current and form jet trails. The jetty looks like it is plowing along through the lake, moving south.

We scramble down the hill (I note that there is an unmistakable trail—or more to the point, two or three trails to choose from—that were not here last time, and then I decide to stop grinding my teeth about the increased traffic. It’s not like the jetty belongs to me). The students change their shoes, a few keep on their flip flops (ya gotta love these kids) despite my previous warnings that the water level was high this year and they’d need swim trunks and good shoes to make it to the center of the spiral. I pull out my secret weapon: my husband’s fishing waders. They reach all the way up my legs and I tuck the straps into my belt. I’m prepared. I know the routine. I’ve walked the spiral before. I’ve been checking the lake levels online for weeks.

Note to arrogant self: fishing waders prove effective as long as you keep the tops above the water. If you were to, say, slip on a rock because the path you are following is nothing but a walkway of slippery, mostly submerged rocks, and you begin to fall and make the split-second decision (and a wise one) to put all your ebbing sense of balance into holding your expensive camera above your head rather than catch yourself, it is likely that as you lie horizontal in the water with one arm perpendicular—camera aloft—like a pyrrhic victory salute, the boots will in fact fill with water, your jeans will be saturated, and when you rise, you will be forced to carry gallons of extra lake water with you as you attempt to schlump, schlump, schlump, all dignity gone, around the spiral.

The students are good sports and despite the deep water and perilous rocks (soon they’ll have the ankle scrapes to prove it) they trudge around the coils to the center where they pose and laugh and congratulate themselves. The water is thick and rose colored. One student says it’s like wading through Kool-Aid. I could not have ordered a more glorious sky. It’s bright blue and dry-brushed with a few lines of pure white clouds. It was worth sacrificing myself for the camera to take these pictures.

We emerge from the lake, all coated in a thin layer of salt, the hair on our arms frosted with a crystalized mist. My jeans are starting to stiffen. I peel the boots off and dump them out. I tip and pour and the water just keeps coming; the moment is like something out of a cartoon.

The water level made it challenging this year, but I’m smug about the fact that of all the visitors who overlapped with our group at the jetty, we were the only ones who actually walked the spiral. This makes up for the crowd and the parking lot and the conditioned road. The others saw the jetty. We did the jetty. I think it’s a work of art that cannot be fully appreciated from a distance, just like it can’t be bought or sold or hung on a gallery wall in front of a velvet bench; it has to be experienced. I love that it’s never the same experience twice. And I love that it takes effort to get there and I love that to finish the trip you have to walk (or wade or schlump) your way to the center of the spiral. I think most art is a gift. But the jetty? This one you have to earn.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I’ve written about Gabie on this blog many times. But believe me when I say I have failed to do justice to his single most defining characteristic: his intensity. By intensity I mean an abundant mix of stubbornness, obsessiveness and pathos. When Gabie puts his mind to something, he’s a bulldog who has latched on and will not let go. He’s the one-noted cricket. He’s a cow with its cud. He’s a horsefly who…well, you get the idea. And it doesn’t sound nice when I put it in those terms, but seriously, you have no idea how far he can take things. His persistence makes you want to pull your hair out and laugh with exhaustion at the same time.

The hard part is that I never know what’s going to set him off. Will it be the bear he saw at Yellowstone that will spark a month of obsessive ramblings about bears? (No) Or will it be the wolf he did not see at Yellowstone that launches a holy crusade against the endangerment of wolves, heartbreaking cries all the way home from Yellowstone about how we have to go back next week to see the wolves (and if not Yellowstone, then—once he has read cover to cover the book about wolves we bought to pacify him—Alaska, Montana, and various Canadian provinces), rants against cattle ranchers, and eternal enmity for all authors who have unjustly vilified wolves for centuries (Yes, oh save us, yes).

This week, he has moved on to chickens. Monday morning, I suggested that since we had eggs for breakfast, we should visit our neighbors’ chickens for a field trip. (I’ve been homeschooling Gabie; a short fieldtrip seemed like a great writing prompt for his journal-writing time.) And I’ll confess here that I have been wanting to see our neighbors’ chickens for a long time. And also I would really like to have chickens of our own. And, okay, I’ve begged Ken to let me get chickens for years. But we got a dog instead, which is nowhere near a chicken, but that’s another story.

Anyway, we saw the chickens. Two of them. Super cute, as far as chicken cuteness goes. They clucked softly. They staccatoed around. They even had two eggs waiting for us: one perfectly smooth, the shade of chocolate milk, the other speckled. But if I could go back in time, I would tell Julie of the past to, at all costs, avoid making any statements to my neighbor—in Gabie’s presence—to the effect of “We’ve talked about someday getting chickens ourselves” or “This setup doesn’t look that complicated. Maybe we can really do it.” And I would certainly tackle to the grass the Julie who, on her way home pointed out to Gabie that we have a chunk of unused space in our side yard that, with a bit of work and a new fence, would fit a chicken pen rather nicely. To any sane observer, these were the comments of a dreamer who knows that the chances of finally getting chickens are pretty remote. To Gabriel, they were promissory notes. He went from eating an egg for breakfast to guaranteed chicken ownership in under an hour.

For the next three days, every time I have turned around, Gabie has been on my computer with sixteen different tabs open to As of this morning, he has 1) selected the chicks we will order (two Barred Plymouth Rocks and an Easter Egg Bantam), 2) surveyed every member of the household numerous times about their preferences on egg colors, 3) calculated the price of 4 chicks ($23.25) and all the equipment (heating lamps, etc) we will need to raise them (all written up on a sticky note which he affixed to my desk), 4) planned the chicken coop structure in detail, begged his father numerous times to build it and even offered to build it himself, and most importantly 5) talked of NOTHING ELSE for the past 72 hours. You may think I exaggerate, but I have witnesses. Go ahead. Ask Gabie’s siblings or father when we will be getting our chickens and you’ll see their heads explode.

To say Gabie has a one-track mind is putting it mildly. In the course of a day, while the world is spinning around him and every other person in his life has passed from one task to another and had handfuls of conversations regarding a myriad of topics, Gabie has suspended these chickens—and nothing else—on a rotating pedestal in his head. He’ll pop into any conversation with a chicken-related remark. Actual examples of dialogue:

“Gabie, find your socks. We have to go.”
“Hey mom?”
“What do you think we should make the fence out of?”


“Gabie, do you want jam or honey with the peanut butter?”
“Hey mom?”
“On Easter, can we give them extra food since it’s like their holiday? I heard if chickens are happy, they’ll be more likely to lay eggs.”

And when I’m working at my computer:

“Hey mom?”
Heavy sigh. “Yes, Gabriel?”
“We’ll need to get the red heat lamp because the baby chicks will be able to sleep better… And if you notice they are huddled in a pile, that means they are too cold and if they’re spread all over, they are too hot.”

Plus random interjections at the dinner table like: “Would October 6 be good day for us to have the chickens arrive?”

Or, when I told him that *in the distant future, when we might possibly, if we’re lucky, get around to ordering chickens* we’d only get three and he wanted to know what we’d do with the fourth chick since the minimum order at was four and I told him maybe my friend Meg could use another chicken, I got questions for the next hour like: “How good of a friend is this Meg?...Could you call her today?”

And this one today while I’m driving McKay to his clarinet lesson:

“Hey mom? One thing I’ve noticed is their combs function on the same principle as a canid’s pointy ears. They shed heat. They’ve have adapted this way.”

I could type dozens of such non sequiturs and still fall short of the Gabie effect. His is the persistence of those rivers that wear down mountains or plateaus over the course of centuries. He’s the Grand Canyon of chicken lovers. It got so bad Monday night that Ken banned him from saying the word chicken for the rest of the day. (That evening during family night, Gabie played the martyr: “Yeah, I have something to say for family council, but I’m not allowed to say the “c” word anymore, so I can’t tell you.”) The next morning he picked up again talking about nothing but kickens, which he explained started with a “k” so it didn’t count.

Now before you conclude that I lack sympathy for the poor child, I have to clarify that I would like nothing more than to make Gabie happy 24/7. He’s an amazing child and I adore him. I even want chickens. But the problem is that we don’t have the money right now to buy them or the time to build the fence to accommodate them. This is where the pathos comes in. As excited as Gabie gets about his latest obsession, he gets equally devastated when he cannot realize it immediately. Last night he was moping around tossing out phrases like, “Do you ever feel that your life is not worth living?” And, when he heard for the tenth time that we weren’t going to build a chicken coup and order chicks right this second, he says, “You know what this is like? It’s like getting news that you’ve gotten a $2,000 payment, and then an hour later, you get a message saying, “Oh, we made a miscalculation. It’s only $2. Sorry.” Or maybe it’s like you’ve been looking for a job for a long time and someone says, we like you, we’d like to hire you and then they say, we changed our minds…we like this other guy better!”

So I worry that he’s on the brink of serious damage to his poor 9-year-old psyche from the depths of his emotional swings. I worry that when he grows up he’ll hurt himself while steering his Greenpeace boat between the harpoon and the whale. I worry that someday he’ll fall in love hard and do irrational things (I once had a coworker in Pennsylvania who fell for a con-woman; nothing we could say to him about how she was obviously lying to him with her various stories of being kidnapped in New York and needing ransom money swayed his affections; by the time he woke up, he had lost his entire life savings, his home and finally his job). I worry simply that Gabie is sad more than any child should be because he takes things so personally and we (meaning I) don’t have the patience to give him all that he needs.

The paintings running through my mind as I worry about the psychology of obsession (and try not to think about chickens anymore) are the Monomaniac series by Gericault. This was the 19th century and doctors were, for the first time, exploring different types of insanity. Gericault’s friend, Dr. Georget did studies in madhouses of people with certain acute sensitivities, people who had fixated on one thing to the point of total meltdown. Gericault painted these patients with honesty, but also with an aim for showing how their psychoses were supposedly written in their features and expressions. You decide if he succeeded.

This is his Portrait of a Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy.
And Man with Delusions of Military Command.

It seems to me that these patients are all staring off the edge of the canvas; they never look directly at us. They’ve been frozen forever in time in the midst the exact kind of intense focus that has destroyed all their periphery vision or logic or sanity.

Not that Gabie has gone this far or needs a shrink yet. I’m just saying he has this scary personality trait. I even hope that his tenacity (from tenere, “to hold” and related to “tenet,” a thing held to be true) will serve him well someday. He’ll be the teenager who refuses to go with the flow. He’ll be the ultra-loyal husband. If he does end up as a doctor (and lately he wants to be a doctor AND work for the National Park Service as a wolf specialist AND own a bunch of chickens) he’ll be an intensely focused doctor, which sounds like a good thing. My goal is to help him see the value of balance. And help him understand that life rarely delivers instant gratification and it wouldn’t hurt to develop some patience.

And then I need to work on my own tendency to obsess about my children and hover over them and worry about their every move like a mother hen.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


And then, after dinner, she pulled out the giant box of slides from her family's recent trip to Yellowstone and for the next two hours it was just one fuzzy bison shot after another.

"And as you can see from their delighted faces in this photo," she said while slowly pressing the button to advance the next slide, "the kids had a terrific time."

But seriously, our Yellowstone trip was wonderful. The scenery surreal. The kids amazingly happy campers (when they weren't really sick of having their pictures taken). Here's the summary, by the numbers...

Amount of times I thought We should really do this more often: at least a dozen (which is saying something, considering there was not a good-night's sleep to be found in the entire five-days.)

Number of times Nora begged us to adopt her cousin Rachel as a sister: I lost track. Cousins are the greatest thing evah.

Number of grizzly bears in this photo: one. Can you find him without a pair of binoculars and a huge traffic jam and ranger pulled over to alert you to his presence? We never would have.

We had better luck with the smaller, rodent-family wildlife. Percentage of her own lunch that Nora actually ate the day we set up our picnic in the middle of a pot gut colony: 25%

And we had the best luck in our favorite hunt of all, spotting the Prius in its natural habitat, the National Park. Total number of Prii we counted in Yellowstone and Grand Teton: 68.

Number of photos I took just like this one of colorful bacterial muck that if it had been growing in my home would have gotten the bleach treatment pronto: three dozen.

Waterfalls viewed: at least 10. (Number of times I made my kids pose with their backs to the waterfalls: do I have to count?)

Number of mosquitoes in Yellowstone: a gazillion. Amount of carcinogenic DEET I exposed myself and my children to over the week: toxic levels. Amount of mosquito bites I got in Yellowstone park: zero. Amount of mosquito bites I got while taking this photo in a gorgeous alpine meadow as we paused for a few minutes from our drive over the Bear Tooth Highway in Montana: five.

Number of computer games played, movies watched or episodes of Avatar consumed by my kids all week: zero.

Times I made Ethan pose against orange backdrops the day he wore his funky tie-dyed shirt: "ah Mom! Again?"

Number of teeth lost by Gabie while eating sandwiches: one. Amount of "woe is me!...look I'm still bleeding" mileage gained by said loss of tooth from said child: nearly a full day's worth.

Amount of time we spent slowed or parked in traffic in Yellowstone (usually at the mercy of bison wandering on the road, the big oafs): ...

... : less than the amount of time spent in the presence of sublime forces of nature.

Number of times where I held my breath at the surreal scenery in front of me or laughed out loud as Ethan narrated his own personal wildlife documentary plus amount of times I found it hard to believe I had ever resisted coming: enough that it might be easier for Ken to talk me into next year's camping trip.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Details and photos from our lovely Yellowstone trip to follow in another post. But in the meantime, some semi-deep thoughts.

Thanks to Semiotic theory, I can no longer take for granted the relationship between the meaning of things and how that meaning is being conveyed. In other words, I can't just assume the vehicle of language is only about getting me where I want to go. We all have to stop and look closely at the vehicle itself. Monster truck or Porche? It makes a difference.

Just a couple of examples because, yeah, none of us have the time for a real lecture today:

I told my students in class the other day that Magritte's Treason of Images was the first time an artist had inserted words right into his painting. The more I've thought about it, the more I was wrong (sorry guys). Maybe Magritte's piece has been treated as revolutionary because it's the first painting to really throw down the semiotic gauntlet* and make us question our assumption about the relationship between art, language and reality (and pipes, I guess). But he was not the first to use words to convey meaning along with imagery.

*I'm wondering what a semiotic gauntlet looks like. Twisted and symbolic and really hard to understand? Definitely French.

This kind of Annunciation scene comes to mind:

I love that it's not possible to say "Hail Mary" etc. without an elaborate banner to go with it. The Angel Gabriel drives a Mercedes.

And a counter example:

I saw this sign on a pole in my neighborhood last week. Now the intended message is, I can only assume, "call me and I'll get you out from under your mortgage quickly." But the real message is another story entirely. Seriously, would you trust your home, your money, your credit rating to some strange dude who scribbled his phone number on a piece of cardstock and tied it illegally to a stop sign? (And then, I think, he drove away in a beat-up Geo Metro with a missing tail light.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011


It really is unfortunate that my week has been outrageously busy with school issues (my class winding down, the kids’ winding up) because I’ve been meaning to write about necks. This seemed timely when I hurt my neck on Sunday. But now here we are on Thursday with my neck finally feeling better and the topic just seems stale.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in years of (sporadic) blogging it’s this: if there really is a blog police, they are far too understaffed and overworked to swoop down on my little blog and say, “Hey, Miss Julie Q....if that is your real name...the neck business is old news. You’re not allowed to write about it.”

Thus, in defiance of the blog police, a post about necks, my own and other more famous ones through art.

When I tweaked my neck on Sunday, I was almost amused by the truly bizarre coincidence that I had just barely, earlier that morning, learned how to say “stiffnecked” in Greek. Stiffnecked in Greek, if you care to know (and I do encourage you to slip this into casual conversations), is sklerotrachelos. It sounds like a dinosaur, I know, but it makes a whole lot of sense when you break the word in half and see sklero (hard) and trachelos (neck). Sklerotrachelos occurs only once in the New Testament, in Acts chapter 7 which was part of the readings for the Gospel Doctrine lesson I had been preparing on Sunday morning. What are the odds that I would then have cause to whine about my stiffneck in bilingual fashion for the next few days?

Ken says I’m the only one he knows who is capable of seriously injuring her neck while taking a shower. He knows me well and you might also recall that I once broke my foot in multiple places while making bread. So the shower/neck thing? Not a big surprise. And I don’t want you to think I slipped in dramatic fashion and fell in the shower to acquire this injury because that would be entirely too rational. I was merely lifting my arms to wash my hair when a spasm shot through my neck for no earthly reason whatsoever other than the fact that I am getting old and my body is betraying me one component at a time. For days after this shower, I walked around like an escaped whack-a-mole mole. It even hurt to tip my head back far enough to swallow.

Thank goodness I’m feeling better today and I can find the humor again in the strangeness of it all. I also can see two advantages to this injury.

1. I have now been able to fulfill a lifelong dream of using the words tweak and spasm in the same blog post. I like tweak and spasm because they make terrific, awkward-sounding onomatopoeias. I also think if you tweaked the word spasm and took away its only vowel, it would take a mouth-spsm to say it which would make it all the more onomatopoeia-esque.

2. I now have an only-slightly stale excuse to discuss famous necks in art. I once posted about second toes. Maybe this will become a running blog meme for me. Bodypart Thursdays, we can call it.

I was first introduced to the neck of Marie de’ Medici in a biology book. Marie was the queen of France and the proud owner of a very thick neck. I say proud because Marie made it fashionable to sport thick necks and all the ladies of the court wanted one.

Unfortunately, Marie was in my Biology text because it seems her neck was likely swollen by a goiter caused by the deficiency of iodine.

On to another unfortunate French queen: Marie Antoinette. This portrait of Marie and her children by Vigee Lebrun was especially unlucky. Marie wanted this painting to save her much maligned reputation by showing her as a doting mother. Sadly, one of her children, Princess Sophie, had been painted in the cradle but had to be painted out when she died. The absence of jewelry around Marie’s famously long and beautiful Austrian neck was especially important given her involvement in a certain affair of the diamond necklace. The painting failed to save Marie’s public image and had to be removed from its place of prominence at that year’s Salon, the year being 1789 (queue tolling of bells).

So of course, the story ends with Marie on her way to the guillotine not long after for the removal of head from said neck, where she was sketched by J.L. David, who in addition to being the most famous artist in France was a member of the revolutionary National Convention who had voted for the Queen’s execution.

 No proper list of famous necks in art would be complete without Parmigianino’s Madonna of the long neck. The title says it all. We could wonder about what Parmigianino had in mind when he stretched Mary’s neck to extremes, but it’s more fun to compare her with other similarly necked beauties.

Botticelli’s Venus (indeed the very neck and pose filched by Parmigianino).

One of El Greco’s many ethereal Madonnas. 


And...Barbie (how odd that her neck is out of proportion since the rest of her body has such natural anatomy)

Francis Bacon said, "There is no excellent beauty which hath not some strangeness in the proportion." Those of us with ordinary necks might wish for more strangeness. I remember the scene in the movie version of Sense and Sensibility where Marianne sees Willoughby’s new fiancé, Miss Grey. And even though, like Marianne, we only see Miss Grey from a distance across a crowded ballroom, I’m thinking, who cares about her £50,000 a year, what a neck! How could even Kate Winslet possibly compete? Imagine the casting call for Miss Grey’s role. “No you won’t have any lines so don’t bother reading anything. Just tilt your head back please and look imperious.”

Of course if, like me, you’re left feeling less elegant than all these swanlike beauties, you can always take comfort in the opinion of Steve Martin: “I like a woman with a head on her shoulders. I hate necks.”

Thursday, August 04, 2011

good grief

I saw this shirt at Savers today and just had to share it as a follow-up to yesterday's post.

Memento mori meets girly-girl fashion.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Shopping Cart Ethics 1.0

For years I’ve wanted to start a regular segment on my blog called Shopping Cart Ethics where I would cover topics like this: “You’ve arrived at the grocery store and you start backing a shopping cart away from the cart line-up when you realize it has a bum wheel. You can a) exchange it for another cart, leaving the lame cart for the next shopper or b) keep the lame cart and push it through the whole store because if you don’t take it, someone else will have to and you feel strangely responsible, as if the timing of you walking into the store at the very moment this cart was available mandates that you take your turn. Discuss.

Unfortunately, the ideas for this segment usually occur to me at inopportune moments (i.e. naturally while shopping) so I tend to mentally pocket them. Even more unfortunately, the pockets in my brain have many holes and thus any ideas poured into the tops flow out the bottoms like sand out the back of a de-icing truck. To cope, I’ve taken to storing pictures on my cell phone of shopping-related ethical issues. And yes, bewildered Shopko employee, this is why you saw me engaged in an impromptu photo shoot in the boys’ clothes department the other day. Thank you for not fetching your manager. You thought I was odd, I know. But there are odder things than me out there in the world of consumer culture. Case in point, the pajamas you were selling in your store.

Where do we begin? I can only assume pajama manufacturers personally know children who would enjoy crawling into these pajamas before slipping between the sheets for a night of pleasant dreams. But I’m having difficulty picturing these children. Do they poison neighborhood cats before church? Or maybe these kids just have no idea what a skull and crossbones represent. Perhaps they’re thinking “pirates” and nothing more. And they’re thinking the kind of pirates who attend birthday parties with fake eye-patches and go around saying arrr! a lot, not the pirates who fly the Jolly Roger to let their victims know they take no prisoners alive.

What I’m thinking is “why would I want to bundle my child in memento mori imagery before tucking them into bed?” Do I need another reminder that life is precious, my children may not outlive me and we are all, in the words of Samuel Beckett, born astride a grave?

Pieter Claesz, Vanitas Still Life, 1630

Memento mori symbols show up constantly in art, especially after the 17th century when it became positively trendy in Northern Europe to crowd paintings with skulls, hourglasses, burned out candles and cut flowers as reminders of the frailty of life and our limited allotment of time on this earth.

You can see where the Grateful Dead have latched onto this image, bringing the memento mori theme into the 20th century in true 20th century fashion: by turning it into a marketable graphic design.

Just for the record, I also wouldn’t hang a Grateful Dead poster above my child’s bed.

So I found these pajamas to be slightly disturbing and worth discussing in a tone of consternation to launch Shopping Cart Ethics episode 1.0. If you are keeping track, I have conveniently forgotten to check my own blog archives for any signs of hypocrisy. Fortunately, in times like these, my holey mental pockets allow me to continue feeling holier than others.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

I miss my blog -- what’s left of it.

It's a good thing blogs (and hopefully blog friends) don't disappear if abandoned for months at a time. I'm terribly flakey when it comes to maintaining things, even if they are things that matter to me.

It's a good thing my husband takes care of the cars. And the garden. And the bills.

It's also a good thing I only have houseplants that can go weeks between waterings. Of course, this is because any houseplants I've ever owned that were incapable of surviving this kind of neglect have been thinned from the herd through natural selection, but who wants needy houseplants?

I really have no excuse for my long absence. Except maybe that writing for an audience (even if that audience has dwindled to one: hi mom!) is not easy for me. I tend to take it all way too seriously. I tend to take life way too seriously most of the time, which is why I need my kids. They hardly ever take me seriously. They also remind me that nothing is really as big a deal as I think it is....even posting my personal thoughts in such a way that anyone can stumble across them on their way to searching for a great recipe for cream horns (And I have to say it's odd that my cream horn post is by far the most popular thing I have written to date. It's odd because this is not a food blog and I am not a chef. I have made cream horns exactly twice in my entire life because they are such a serious pain to make. I can only assume my version of the cream horns ranks high on google because I'm the only one amateurish enough to think it's spelled "cream" rather than "crème.") And she's off on a tangent already. It's like she was never gone.

What I really wanted to say was I have some great art worth posting today. Nora is a brilliant artist (and I don't mean brilliant for a five year old, I mean brilliant like Picasso as a five year old). As proof, I offer you her latest piece, at least seven minutes in the making, graphite on folded paper, a fusion of minimalist treatment of space and subtle rendering of natural forms. She calls it "sheep." I call it pure genius. Those ears slay me.