Category Archives: erudite discussion (or not)

you’re gonna miss this

Ever heard this song?

I listened to it on the radio the other evening, and I started thinking. Especially with all the recent changes in my life – house! moving! car! – it does invite reflection. Thinking about those days, the “little apartment” in the song. Initially I thought… whatever. Too simplistic, too cliché. There are so many things I DO NOT miss… about high school, about all those little cramped apartments. But then again. Hating it while I was there was certainly a waste of time. And there were things to be appreciated, sometimes even in (occasionally more-or-less) dire circumstances.

I was going to do a brief play-by-play of each place we’ve lived before now. But how about we go a little more in depth into one instead? Divine detail and all.

Like the second apartment we lived in. It was more or less the nadir of my adult life, in various ways. You know how we all talk about broke newlyweds, about the financial troubles of early married life? Like starving students, but with the added responsibility of marriage and kids? (Not meaning to one-up starving students, that’s a tough time as well.) Anyway, that was the Second Apartment, or rather the time there. Not the tiniest place we ever lived, but certainly the tiniest kitchen. That really was crazy – we’ve never had a lot of counter space (till now) but in that one – the only place to possibly put a microwave was the top of the frig. Had to use the stovetop for extra counter in preparing food. In total that kitchen was probably the size of a small walk-in closet, maybe 4×4 feet of floor? Bitty.

The real problem with that time was the dire employment and money stress we faced. Maybe you know it – when you can’t sleep, can hardly breathe because you don’t know how you’re going to buy food, how you’ll keep a roof over your heads. The depression, the worry, the humiliation of asking family members for money because you have absolutely no choice. All exacerbated by pregnancy at the time, nausea (to this day the sound of the DVD menu music on Lilo & Stitch makes my stomach feel queasy, my daughter watched it a lot then), anxiety, guilt, paralyzing depression, sitting as if pinned to the couch. As Anne Lamott says, the X-ray apron of depression settling over your chest.

I really don’t miss those things. There’s a phrase, “Come what may – and love it,” but I don’t know how to love those things. That part was mostly desperation and misery, and I don’t see why I should have to embrace them. They SUCKED, and I’m deeply grateful (like, every day) that I’m not still stuck in them.

But I won’t deny either that there were some valuable experiences I had at the time, perspective gained, happiness experienced too. My 18 month old daughter dancing like crazy around the living room. How much I appreciated the city library. My dear husband, helping in the kitchen as much as possible to alleviate my pregnancy smell-sensitivity.

Most of all, I remember one evening, sitting in the living room with my husband and my daughter and my pregnant belly, and seeing us as if in a drawing, close and happy together; even though all around us was a yawning pit of unknown and probable disaster. Still, I thought then, was impressed then, this IS what really matters. Right now, with these people I love more than anything. This is most important.

That’s what I wish I could tell my high school self, my young married self, my current self: “Don’t bother angsting about your weight, the mess, the tiny space. Even the big things. The worry, the distress, that’s the real waste. Either act to change it or don’t, but don’t spend one more minute in guilt or obligation or self-flagellation. All that energy can be much better used elsewhere. Where? I’m not sure, but I’m eager to find out.”

It’s a common thread through all the past times I thought about in conjunction with this song – I may not want everything back, I may not want to go back to it for all the rice in China, but I do treasure memories of the people I loved, some of the lessons learned.

The perspective of learning from our trials, of seeing the light rather than the dark, is what I want to take from that. Is anything more wasted than the energy I spend wishing now away?

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It's not hard to take action – please do

Have you heard about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (i.e. CPSIA)? It’s a piece of legislation initially prompted by all the problems with lead in toys over the past couple of years. The motives behind it are good, I think, but unfortunately the execution and wording of it is beyond ludicrous. Here is an excellent article in Forbes that summarizes the situation – go read it.

It would be awfully nice if people could think through potential consequences before passing a law. There’s definitely a reason that there’s a site called National Bankruptcy Day on this topic. It’s not just toys – it’s ANY product made for children under 12. Not to mention other unintended reprecussions: What about thrift and secondhand stores? As it stands they would be held liable for everything sell. Sure, maybe you don’t want to buy certain older toys secondhand anyway, but we’re also talking about all clothing, coats, shoes, etc. According to the law as it stands, it should all be thrown in the landfill, and we should all be forced to buy everything new. What about libraries? All those dangerous books for kids that haven’t been tested for lead!

I’m a mom. I was certainly disturbed, to say the least, by the lead in toys (mainly from China). One of my personal solutions to that was to buy mostly hand- or locally-made toys for my kids this Christmas, for example. To cut back on plastics and go for natural materials instead. However, my four year old son LOVES superheroes, which means I’m not entirely turning my back on toys made by big companies (which means made in China). So of course I want to be able to know that they’re safe.

BUT SURELY I CAN HAVE THAT ASSURANCE WITHOUT IT DRIVING SMALL TOY COMPANIES AND LOCAL CRAFTERS OUT OF BUSINESS. After all, I have friends (in real life, even, and more on the internet) who sell children’s products both online and off, who will be devestated by this law as it currently stands. I myself would like to eventually sell some toys on etsy and don’t want to have to commit a FELONY to do it. I believe the two things – keeping our kids safe and supporting small, often local, businesses – do NOT have to be mutually exclusive.

They can do better. And if they can’t, well, someone else should be doing it.

The CPSIA was supposed to go into effect on February 10th. I am happy to report that it has been postponed for another year, during which time we can hopefully FIX it (or else start all over, for crying out loud). But now that we have time to effect change, that is exactly when we need to push harder.

The Handmade Toy Alliance site has a page on how you can help with very convenient links for contacting your Congressperson and Senators. PLEASE go there, I promise it doesn’t take long, and tell them that they can do better on this.

Relevant links all in one spot (plus my sidebar button):

"I've just 'ad an apostraphe." "I think you mean an epiphany."

From dictionary.com:

e·piph·a·ny [i-pifuh-nee] –noun, plural -nies.

3. a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

I was debating whether it was really the right word, but this definition works for me.

For someone who keeps a blog, in some ways I don’t talk that much about myself or my life. There are huge swaths of things that I don’t discuss online. Which is fine. But every now and then I want to talk about something that I normally don’t. But it scares me. And even now I’m putting it under a cut, or more tag, or whatever that’s called.

Continue reading

PZ4s

First, and unrelated: this is a great post about toys, buying, making, all those concerns brought up by recalls lately. I know it’s old, but still good — and I wanted to save it on my blog. Read it.

***

[This post began as a comment on this post over at Kerflop. However, as is wont to happen, it started to get lengthy and I decided I needed to just move it on over here. And then, as is also wont to happen, it languished in the drafts for a while. (This is why I will never be a news reporter – not so good with the “timely” thing. Also because it is random and doesn’t really hold together.)]

I am a definite PZ4 — a term I first heard here, and I find it positively endearing, so dorky and intellectual and perfect — a fantasy/scifi fan. I read Lord of the Rings (including the appendices) for the first time in fifth or sixth grade, and then scores (possibly hundreds) of times after that. In eighth grade we had to make a newspaper (ah, the basically pre-computer days still, no desktop publishing programs, just cutting and pasting onto big sheets of paper — though I did include a few pixelated graphics/clipart) and mine was the Hobbiton Herald. It was awfully fun to do, too — making up ads for hobbit holes and wagons, lost and found classifieds, articles about arcane pieces of hobbit history (some of it from the appendices of the books, some that I made up myself).

So much in my sense of how-a-story-should-be, especially anything fantasy, was shaped by Lord of the Rings. For example, I can’t stand it when the pace is TOO fast, when the characters never get to eat or rest, ever. I don’t find it exciting, it just exhausts and unnerves me. Chalk it up to all the Tolkien in my formative years. In fact, in my early English literature class in college we read Beowulf in a prose translation. Something about it — not the story, but something — seemed so familiar to me. Eventually I figured out that it was the rhythm, the style of the language — it was just like Lord of the Rings. (Tolkien the tremendous Old English scholar, go figure.) And so when I took an Old English (the language) class my junior year, for the final translation project I was one of only two people in the class to choose to translate something in English into Old English — I picked various poems and riddles from the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. It was sort of almost easy.

(The other person was my friend John – remember John, in Ireland? – and he picked the harder task of translating Dr. Seuss’s book about the Sneetches into Old English. Because he’s cool like that.)

Kerflop talked a little in that entry above about finding Twilight et al more “believable” than most books of its genre, that maybe that was why she liked it. Now, just about all of the fantasy/scifi I read, I would say is “believable,” as far as characters experiencing a story goes. (Some of that is in how well it’s written, I suppose, and of course it varies depending on the book, just as it does in any genre, including “mainstream” or whatever the heck you want to call it. I like to think this means my taste is impeccable, though I suppose it could just mean my standards are low and I am easily drawn into a story. Not so much now though, now that I am a crochety adult.) Of course, the world they inhabit is not always (in fact, usually not) ours — and for most PZ4s that is a major part of the appeal, gradually discovering and finding out about the fantastical world. Maybe for those who aren’t usually “into” fantasy that’s why Harry Potter (and apparently these Twilight books) are more accessible, because they start in the “real” world? Even if later they basically segue into something completely different (the wizarding vs. Muggle world, etc). But maybe they can still refer to familiar reality as well, something that a lot of fantasy (Lord of the Rings for example) can’t. Hmm.

It’s funny actually, so many things, especially TV and movies, are now incorporating scifi or fantastic elements in them, that people are much more familiar with that sort of thing than they used to be. I am (not so?) woefully television-ally ignorant, so I’m hardly one to start making a list, but there’s the overtly fantasy shows (like Heroes) and those that are more subtly so (Pushing Daisies? ok, that’s pretty overt, or so it appeared from the five minutes I saw the other night; but LOST, there’s a good example). “Science fiction” is so often fantasy anyway, the magic is just done by pushing a button instead of by waving a wand. All stories are pretty much fantastic, more or less, I suppose that’s what makes them fiction (and yet we all know those true stories that are really stranger than fiction, that you would never accept in a movie without rolling your eyes, and yet they happen — what does THAT say?).

Finally, two quotes from fantasy writers, and then I must shut down my ridiculously laggy computer:

by Gene Wolfe:

Fantasy is the easiest thing to write, and one of the hardest to write well. It is hard because good fantasy, like good art, demands that we depict what we see.
          And not what we “know” to be “true.” I once put a witch and a private detective in the same book, and I have been told ever since that I am not to do that by people who will not see that the private detective and the witch often live in the same block.
          The universe is extensive, and time wider than any sea; it is our good fortune, Horatio, to live at a time and in a place vastly richer than most in those things that are not to be found in your philosophy.
          My editor says, and says truly, that he has become the man he wanted to be as a child. I, too, have been fortunate. As a child I wanted very badly to have adventures and go to Oz. I have had many and look forward to more; and on the tenth or it may have been the twentieth occasion that I watched Bert Lahr rescue Judy Garland from the pigs (the newspaper I read every day does not even know that pigs are dangerous) I realized that I was born here: Kansas is black-and-white, and that’s not where I live.
          Not so long ago I saw a magnificent German shepherd lunge from between two parked cars, held in check by a blonde who could have played first base in the National League. And it struck me that a fantastic adventure could have been filmed on the spot simply by hanging a skull about that woman’s neck and equipping her with a broadsword – but the woman and her dog are everything, while the skull and sword are nothing.
          Fantasy is life seen whole, and reading fantasy enables us to do it. (I will not say “only life seen whole,” because life includes all that is and is not.) We have heroes and heroines, castles and curses, seers and sorcerers, angels and alchemists, and invisible airplanes. We have that woman and her dog and a million more wonders, and all that is necessary for fantasy is a visitor from Kansas.

by Patricia C. Wrede:

Technically, all fiction is fantasy. It hasn’t happened in “real life”; it has been invented. But there is a divide between fantastic literature and other, more realistic fiction.
          Most fiction is like a pane of glass, a window that we look through to see another view of the world outside ourselves. It is not a tale of real events, but it looks real. Fantastic literature is not merely not-real, it is aggressively not-real. The events in a fantasy novel are not simply things that have not happened; they are things that cannot happen. Dragons and unicorns exist only as metaphors, and the daylight world suffers a serious shortage of magic swords and flying carpets.
          Thus, fantasy does something different from realistic mainstream and historical fiction. Fantasy takes the window and coats the outside with the silver of wondrous impossibilities – elves, dragons, wizards, magic. And the window becomes a mirror that reflects both ourselves and all the things in the shadows behind us, the things we have tried to turn our backs on. More: In the best tradition of magic mirrors, fantasy reflects not only ourselves and our shadows, but the truth of our hearts.
          I think this is one of the reasons some people fear fantasy.

"if I had a million dollars"

If I had a million dollars – if I had a million dollars
Well, I’d buy you a fur coat – but not a real fur coat, that’s cruel
And if I had a million dollars – if I had a million dollars
Well, I’d buy you an exotic pet – yep, like a llama or an emu

(You’ve heard the song by the Barenaked Ladies right? I love it love it love it. It just makes me happy to listen to it. I was living in Canada when it was first out and big, so it was on the radio all the time. And I never got tired of it.)

So… what if you had a million dollars? What would you do with it? [Please note, this is NOT a rhetorical question, okay?]

For me… Well, more or less right away I’d move – away from this oven of a state. And buy a house (not a mansion, just a house) (like a million dollars would buy a mansion, ha!), and a new (well, at least new to us) car. Minivan actually. I know, I’m the height of cool.

I’d probably spread some of the wealth around to family and friends. Invest some of course. Pay off our one credit card.

Of course I’d get a laptop (like, instantly). And some clothing purchases would be near the top of the list, both because of the moving thing and also because my kids have grown an inch and an inch and a half, respectively, since mid August. Good grief.

There would be a few things I would positively delight in doing — I’d get all our old family photos scanned (I might use this service, or one like it [oops, forgot link, added it in]), send out DVDs of them to all the family members. I might see what we could do to start a business that would let my husband work from home and my sibs and family live near me. (We’re dreaming, right?)

It’s fun to think of ways to help people, anonymously or not. We’ve struggled along in apartments for so long – it would be so easy to pay someone’s rent for a month. Shopping for baby clothes for new parents, and not so new parents for that matter. Putting together date packages for parents of new babies — gift certificates for delivered pizza and a rented movie, maybe (it was so hard to get out at first with a newborn). Of course, many worthy organizations to donate to.

If I had a million dollars
We wouldn’t have to walk to the store
If I had a million dollars
We’d take a limousine ’cause it costs more

It’s tempting to think, “Gosh, if I had a million dollars, my life would be so different. Surely my house would be suddenly clean and organized, I would be a better parent, more successful in my goals… Also lose all the excess weight, be in perfect shape and I would suddenly love exercise! Perhaps I would magically develop some fashion sense as well!” Very exclamatory.

If I had a million dollars
We wouldn’t have to eat Kraft Dinner
But we would eat Kraft Dinner. Of course we would, we’d just eat more…

But the truth is, a lot of things really wouldn’t change that much for me, and certainly not at first. My amazing husband and kids – a warm place to sleep and eat – lots of “toys” and talents – friends – family – faith. I’d have them then, I have them now, already.

And a lot of the things I mentioned here, are really things that are within my reach, even now (though, I admit, not always immediately within it). The reason I like to think about this topic, is when I really visualize it — I get a surge of hope, a sense of abundance, a feeling of power, of possibility, as well as being aware of how blessed I already am. If I had a million dollars, there would be a lot of possibilities, if mostly physical possibilities. When so much is possible, then you get to choose, and you have to choose carefully – because your time is all the more precious.

So much is possible now. My time is precious now. I always want to remember that.

If I had a million dollars – if I had a million dollars
Well, I’d buy you a monkey – haven’t you always wanted a monkey?
If I had a million dollars I’d buy your love…If I had a million dollars, if I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars, if I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars, I’d be rich

friendly musings

First, from Robin McKinley’s website, a favorite in-joke of mine (in with who, you ask? Well, mostly myself thus far…):

Here are the Best Ways NOT To Receive An [Email or Hardcopy] Answer from me: …
9. Tell me that you know me from reading my books. (Or, for that matter, from reading my web site, which, while absolutely truthful, to the best of my ability, in everything it does say, tells monster, privacy-retaining whoppers by omission.) This includes any explanation of how we’re just alike and have twin souls.

I think I rather hold back at times on this, my blog. (Some would probably say, NOT ENOUGH.) There’s just a lot of things I don’t talk much about. It’s funny, because I love reading “creative non-fiction,” personal essay type stuff (as evidenced by my freaking blog ADDICTION – if you could only see my feed reader list), and yet my own blog doesn’t often delve that far into my own life. Is it a privacy thing? I used to think, oh it’s because it’s the Internet, just being careful, blah blah, but now I’m not so sure. So I’m going to break the tradition today and talk a little about some of that. We’ll see where it goes. Also, it’s very much about me, not about anyone else, though some of the musings were spurred by recently meeting Jessica. Just to be clear.

It’s funny meeting someone you “know” from online. (There should be a word, but really. Interfriend, efriend, I’m not sure I’m all about those. Somebody coin something! Webfriend? Clearly my son’s love of Spiderman is getting to be too much for me.) Another blog I read had an entry a little about it a couple days ago. I like to think that I’m pretty good at recognizing how people’s whole lives are NOT reflected online, that we only see bits and pieces. (Why? perhaps long practice; I’ve been reading blogs since they were online journals, back in my Diaryland days, my oh my, in 2000. Maybe it’s just consciousness, as a writer, of how much I leave out myself, of how much is impossible to include, even if you wanted to.)

But ya gotta have friends…

It’s always so nice to talk to someone who I feel like I can really connect with. I do have friends, and some of them very close ones, with whom I did not instantly hit it off, where the closeness grew more over time. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with that, maybe a good deal right with it; but there’s just nothing like having that zing of connection, where it’s easy to talk right off the bat.

Though, also, it’s so easy to neurotically second guess yourself — oh, maybe I just didn’t see how awkward it really was; oh maybe she thought this or that; maybe she or her family resented me monopolizing too much time — on and on, it never stops. If I let it go on. I try to just trust that first impression, the glow of happiness on the way home. I get so pathologically afraid that I’m not good with people (this in spite of having been told my whole life that I’m a good listener, told that people feel comfortable talking to me, etc), that I’m a bad friend, that I’m too needy or clingy. I don’t think I’m necessarily a one-friend-exclusive kind of person (though I do better in small groups or one on one at a time, for sure) — but I do have a tendency to be intense, perhaps. Want to talk a lot, hang out all day (though not every day; but still). I just don’t have that many friends (especially who live nearby) who get me, who I feel like I can talk with openly and not have them look at me like I’m a FREAK. The Internet is wonderful, yet cruel in a way — we “meet” all these awesome people, people we have things in common with, but we’re so FAR. Sometimes it feels like, what’s the use? That’s probably my own fault for not being a very good correspondant, too. (That’s been so my whole life — I blame it on being a military brat. Why bother writing people you’ll never see again? Then again, I do pretty poorly with family too, even though I will see them again, so maybe it’s something else. Like LAZINESS? Sheesh.) And also not looking around more locally. It’s all so much EFFORT now that we’re grown ups, out of school. No classes, no clubs to bring us together with people. And always that feeling that I need an excuse to talk to someone. What’s THAT about? Just wanting to isn’t enough of a reason?? Not a “legitimate” reason? Good grief.

And of course things ARE different once you’re older — and older is relative. I remember some of these questions coming up for me even when I was 5th or 6th grade; the feeling that you can’t just go up and join in, that you can’t just go knock on a door and say, Can you come out and play? And why not? Why does it have to be so COMPLICATED? It’s the overthinking that does me in, I know this, the wondering: does she really like me? And if so, why? (Why does there have to be a reason??) Am I just making a nuisance of myself? What do I have to offer here, that they would want to be my friend? (The answer to this is, I know, quit worrying about it, the nuisance is the angst, otherwise you’re just fine. Probably.)

And then the logistics are just more complicated when you’re an old married fogey, like I am now. Because now there’s the spouse and children, and they rightfully must come first, but we still need our other friendships. And it changes how friendships work, compared to the old days of singlehood, college, high school, whatever. No sleepovers. (Just the word brings back the rush of memories for me, of some of my friends in early high school. Good times, thoughtful times, with lots of lovely conversation.) Household duties to attend to (not that I hesitate to neglect them, goodness knows, but you can’t neglect them ALL the time), and if you’re over visiting someone while your kids play together, how to handle it — don’t want to cause too much disruption, too much neglect, so do you work together? I would say, ideally sure. I have no problem with talking while washing dishes or folding laundry or whatever, but that sort of thing kind of presupposes a level of comfort already. Not a “first playdate” kind of activity, normally. (And the word playdate, though I have been known to use it, rather irks me. When did it happen that playing together had to be so scheduled?)

Lemme ‘splain. No, there is too much…

Well, I have no big solutions, not even any neat or poetic summing up. I’m certainly open for insightful comments on the subject. (By the way, has anyone read this book?) I’m just at the end of my endurance for the moment, and done talking to the blank wall of the internet for now. I clearly need to get out more. Plus my boy is asleep, and the opportunity must be seized.

the moral universe of Harry Potter — spoiler alert

After I read a post by Orson Scott Card called The Moral Universe of Harry Potter (on a Beliefnet blog) I started writing a response, which grew to ridiculous lengths, and which I am therefore posting here instead of there.

What makes good good and evil evil in the Harry Potter books? Continue reading