29 August 2010

Eleven Into Fifty Minus Seven Equals FOUR

Four months to go.

1. I did read some more of Gödel, Escher, Bach - and it traveled all the way to Canada and back in the glovebox of the car - taunting me every time I looked for something in there.

7. I took the knitting bag to Canada and picked the brains of two different people as to thus and such. I'm read to start the sweater for the girl; now to knit a swatch for gauge.

9. O Canada! We did leave the country temporarily, and did meet two Maritime bloggers: we had lunch with Bon at an oyster bar/pub and lunch with Sue at her house. I wish they both lived down the street from me. Or vice versa. It was great to hang out with each of them.

More about the journey soonish, after decompression and laundry and, oh yeah, I have to go back to work.

26 August 2010

Guest Post #4: Any Other Name

One night during the BlogHer conference, I went out to dinner with Sarah and Emily and Niobe. At one point, Emily turned to Niobe and said "you're really smart" in a wondering, admiring tone. Niobe replied "it's one of my salient characteristics". It is indeed. I remember precisely when she found my blog. She left a comment that was so oddly provocative that I dove into SiteMeter to try and figure who she was and where she came from. IP addresses being an imperfect methodology, I got it all wrong, but eventually we did meet. In fact, she shared a hotel room with me at BlogHer, and shot the photo below out our window.

* * * * * * * *

Any Other Name

crystal cityWhen my mother was born, her father was out of the country, stationed overseas somewhere remote and inaccessible. Which gave my mother’s mother completely free rein in naming her only daughter – a situation she took full advantage of.

My mother’s mother was a grade school English teacher whose tastes ran toward red silk kimonos festooned with dragons and silverware embellished with acanthus leaves. She spent the last days of her pregnancy reviewing Shakespeare’s plays, searching for the perfect literary reference, a name so old-fashioned and obscure that no one else would even think of using it.

And she pretty much succeeded. According to the statistics compiled by the Social Security Administration, the year my mother was born there were only about 60 other girls given that name in the entire United States.

By way of comparison, that same year saw the arrival of more than 50,000 Marys and nearly 15,000 Dorothys (not to mention 400 Dorthys, 350 Dorotheas and 150 Dorethas). Even names that sound a trifle, well, quaint, to our ears were orders of magnitude more popular than my mother’s name, as evidenced by the 4,000 Mildreds, 2500 Thelmas and 1600 Berthas.

Predictably, my mother grew up with a decided preference for the plain and unadorned -- Danish modern furniture and Ryijy rugs. And, of course, she detested her strange, recherché name.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering: so, Niobe, what exactly was this bizarre, bookish, Elizabethan-era name, anyway?

Well, as a matter of fact, it was, um, Jessica.

Which just goes to show that it’s difficult to make predictions. Especially about the future.

Magpie will be back soon. But, in the meantime, amuse yourself by seeing how popular your name was the year you were born.

Plus, if, like me, you’re a dyed-in-the-wool name enthusiast, you absolutely must download this file, which, while rather bulky, contains the stats for every single name given to at least five babies in the US for every single year since 1880.

And, finally, how do you feel about your own name? Do you think it’s kinda meh or totally awesome?

Or, like my poor mother, do you hate it with a passion that burns like the heat of a thousand suns?

23 August 2010

Guest Post #3: The Big Three-Nine

S. is, I think, the first blogger I ever met, like in the flesh. She came to my house one day, and sat in my living room knitting a huge beautiful dark green afghan. Her blogging has gotten seriously sporadic, but when I asked her if she wanted to guest-post, she was all over it. Maybe this will be her jump start.

* * * * * * * *

The Big Three-Nine

Like Magpie, I frontload before big birthdays. When I turned 30, 9.33 years ago, my birthday fell on a Saturday—on Shabbat, that is—and I decided to spend the two years before that milestone buying a house, getting my first post-grad-school job, and preparing for my adult bat mitzvah. I also spent a lot of the year I was 29 listening to my biological clock. I was single then, and couldn't look away from the sense of lagging behind: my mother had finished her childbearing by the time she was 30, I hadn't started. Coming to terms with that took up a lot of emotional energy that year, but that was also the year I partnered off with A.

I'm making my way through my fortieth year now, and I'm not planning on doing anything so dramatic as a bat mitzvah to mark the turn of the next decade, but I do have a bit of the same sense that I'm not where I wanted to be by the time this number was looming, mostly because it's not as easy for me to pay my bills as I thought it would be. If my 20's were about meeting the expectations of my family and social class--college, grad school, job, home, partner--my 30's have been about coming to the end of those scripts and saying "oh, shit, NOW what?"

I married, I had the kid, sure. I put down roots. I also weathered a wave of friends leaving town for jobs elsewhere, took up a career that I never expected, decided the kid was going to be the only kid (rather than the first of several), and discovered that marriage is, well, complicated. A. and I are certain of our commitment, but there have been far more twists to these first ten years together than either of us could have guessed.

The years since Z. was born have turned our connection inside out, though, and I don't think we're alone in that. It's the thing about modern marriage none of us talk about enough: we expect our marriages to be egalitarian, or at least those of us who claim feminism do. When A. and I started dating, we earned roughly the same paycheck, but as with a lot of couples, when kids come along too many things had to give all at once.

A. and I have a much clearer understanding of how we balance each other now than we had before Z., and parenting together is the core of it, but the question of financial dependence has haunted our partnership since Z. came--I feel my dependence far more than A. does, which is too her credit, but that makes my awareness that there is a price to parenting that I'm paying in independence, and A. is not. And of course, parenting together doesn't mean parenting equally. I'm paying a price in time, too, as I'm working part-time hours putting in sweat equity to a business that is thriving and growing. Sweat equity, right: I still bring home no pay at all, while A. has a secure teaching job that provides us all with health insurance. There are many things to be grateful for, but during the summer, when A. is home and taking on the primary-parent role, I realize how cramped I feel the other 10 months out of the year.

Z. is five and starting kindergarten in the Fall, so I'll have a few more hours in my week to work. Even though she's been in day care since she was six months old, this feels like a new chapter for us. I don't expect to be paying myself before I turn 40, but I'd be okay if some of the extra space of the summer stuck around.

I'm not sure where the next decade will take me--if nothing else, my 30's have hammered that point home. You never know what's around the corner. But I'm glad I'll still be following Magpie on the journey!

19 August 2010

Guest Post #2: The 10:50 to Pittsburgh

Sarah's some kind of sibling, one of those people who you meet in adulthood and think "we were sisters in another life". There are eerie coincidences in our lives: our mothers were similar, we married a day apart and had the same lemon-buttercream-with-raspberry-filling cake, and we're both children of divorce. She's been to my house; we've communed in New York City, by phone, at BlogHer. For now, she's hung up her blogging hat - but she's still in my reader because I know that a post will pop up one day.

* * * * * * * *

The 10:50 to Pittsburgh

The train pulled away from Penn Station not long ago. It’s just rising up and out of the tunnel into August’s haze when the conductor announces that he’ll be collecting tickets shortly. His voice is so obviously weary. A black man in his seventies with a more-salt-than-pepper beard, he looks too frail to be doing this job. He should have retired by now, but I imagine that life has not treated him well enough to allow him to rest in any sort of sustained way. Other passengers must sense what I do, because they forsake mere politeness for the nervous, friendly chatter that often overtakes people visiting hospital patients. “Good morning!,” my seatmate says brightly to the conductor as he tears off the receipt from her ticket. He nods in acknowledgment but offers her nothing more. She looks disappointed. I think that she must come from a small town where there aren’t many blacks, that she may have been hoping for affirmation of her enlightened attitude towards races other than her own. She got none.

I haven’t been on a train in years. The last time I traveled by rail was when I was still a student. Those rides were heady, suffused with the energy of new relationships, amorous or otherwise, and the expectant hope and reckless candor afforded by alcohol. Once, when I was riding a different train, one heading east, not west like this one, a boy in my Poli Sci class massaged my hand for a good long while. Back then, everything was infused with eroticism, even when it wasn’t.

One of the truths of being in my forties is that I am as invisible as I care to be. This wasn’t so in my twenties, and most of the time I relish the freedom I have now to watch my fellow passengers and guess at their stories. Everyone has a story, I counseled my eight-year-old son the other day. He’d been complaining that his life wasn’t very exciting, at least not to an outsider. I added, You just haven’t discovered yours yet. He looked skeptical. So I proceeded to tell him my story of him, which of course had little to do with his story of himself. Still. His eyes widened as I talked. When I concluded my little tale, I heard him sigh with satisfaction. You made me sound interesting, he said, a smile curving one corner of his mouth. I liked that.

But it’s not a secret. Everyone’s interesting. In the row behind me sits a businessman. He’s been abusing his cell phone on this trip. He’s from Scotland, I suspect, and his accent is truly lovely. I haven’t seen his face, and I don’t think I’ll turn around to investigate its contours. It’s enough for me to listen to the music his larynx is making.

In front of me is an elderly woman, and she is perched stiffly, properly, a lady even here on a train. She smells of rosewater-scented powder. She is describing her grown children to her captive seatmate. My youngest, she confides, is the strong one. She’s the one I worry least about, she’s the one I share all the secrets with. I wonder about her youngest, who may well be close to my age. Does she mind her mother’s perception of her? Is it a burden? Does she wish sometimes that she weren’t so strong? Is she even strong, or did her mother simply assign her the role?

By now the conductor is nearing the back end of the car I’m riding. I’d like to make my way over to him, place my hand on his arm, offer him my seat, tell him that I’ll walk up and down the aisles collecting people’s tickets, and their stories, too, add that I’ll come back to him, after, and place all the stories in his lap for his perusal, once he’s napped awhile.

And when he’s good and ready, I’ll collect his story, and I’ll take all its adjectives of hurt and verbs of pain and punch holes in them until each incident, each wrong he may have experienced, is no more to him than the paper confetti so insubstantial that I don’t mind leaving it scattered about on the floor of the Pennsylvanian #43 bound for Pittsburgh.

17 August 2010

Six Bits

It's my father's 75th birthday. Here he is as a young 'un, with the smallest fish ever photographed. Happy birthday, Pop - even though you don't even own a computer.

16 August 2010

Guest Post #1: In The Dark

I think Teresa found me first, found me through Jo(e). One day a comment from "YourFireAnt" turned up on my blog. Your Fire Ant? I still don't know what that means. Teresa's a poet, who blogs in fits and starts. And she's been naked on the intertubes in a post in which Jo(e) monikered her as "Often Erotic Sometimes Blogging Friend". Teresa and I have had lunch, fully clothed, a couple of times. The last time we had lunch, I sent her north to Madison Square Park, camera in hand, to see the naked bronze men.

* * * * * * * *

[After walking through Madison Square last month with its dozens of naked man sculptures and thinking about a recent post wherein Magpie said that everyone pretty much looks the same when naked, I resurrected a favorite fantasy.]

In the dark

I’ve often wished there was a class in blindfold sculpture of the human body. Don’t you think it’d be fun working the clay in bandanna-ed darkness, running your hands over the bare flesh of the model ? Imagine him shivering on his dais, one leg crossed over the other, trying for a pose without the artist’s direction, his skin, horripilated, sheened with sweat.

I imagine smacking clay into a mound I can work with and needing to touch the model’s flesh to see. To find the way into the piece I envision. My voluntary blindness, my carelessly placed hands on his bare thighs causing a shiver, his skin sprouting little bumps all over as he squirmed into a less vulnerable position. His closed body, my groping hands in the reddened darkness of a silk hood I’ve pulled over my head. Dropping into a crouch I pry his thighs apart to find the crevices and dips in flesh alive with movement, opening each hand, finger by finger, I move closer, breathe him in.

Then, a tea break. Hot cranberry and ginger to warm up so I can put my hands on him without so much jumping and startling. I rinse them in tepid water, dry them on a towel, then reach up and braille the fine half circles, dents, and curves, curling rounded shapes and tufts of hair, the secret bumps and softnesses of his face. A gentle hand to round off edges, reaching to grasp each ear and tug a little, humming as I work him over, memorizing as I go lower…. to jaw and throat, out-jutting adam’s apple, clavicles, one in each hand, pinched between thumb and index finger . . . . a meditation on how sound gets into bones.

Could I translate all this to a mound of clay? Turn warm sweaty hairy, flesh into something of what I had in mind? Or would I need to sing? I’ve noticed singing sometimes relaxes, easing an awkward situation, helps the work go smoothly. If I got him to sing a duet with me, he might not cringe away from my gritty fingers every time I touch him. If only the clay wasn’t so cold. or the warmth from a hot mug lasted longer.

What if I took my own clothes off? Distract him from the icy seeking hands frisking his inner thighs and down behind his knees, my nosy hands that so delight in finding out what makes this guy tick. I could place his hands in the mud too, let him touch himself to see how I’ve translated him.

We could both be blindfolded. Neither one of us knowing the exact moment of impact of cold snaking fingers on naked skin, both suspended in an agony of anticipation. I could work with him standing, me working my way up from the delicate cords running from each toe, bony ankles, on up the muscle-y calves, the almost-sharp shin bones, knob of knees with their mysterious moving plates, the cartilaginous clicks and pops, and softer widening-out of thighs, flare of hip, bones like clenched fists turning this way and that. And then another break. To rinse my hands in hot water before reaching around to grip a handful of each buttock, hear his yelp. Surprise at the little stabs of fingernail into flesh, then quick upward slide along his spine, and then hands off while I go over to the hotplate and turn off the heat.

Later on, after tea and a sandwich or peach, maybe some dusky merlot, we go back into the dark. My hands are warm from the mug, from running them over bare flesh, I’m down on the floor in a half squat for one more exploration before getting on with the work of shaping clay and making it stand on its own.

Taking his hand, I lead him to the table, where he stands with arms outstretched as if conducting a symphony, [or maybe just hanging at his sides]. The light’s off as we are both in hoods now, neither one quite knowing what will happen next. I plunge my hands into a bucket of rinse water and run them over the clay pile, punching in, squeezing hard in places. Mud splatters and runs down my front, the sounds in the room exquisitely clear--water slosh, little sighs and breathing, knock of ancient radiator, old floorboard creak, the wind outside tall windows, now and then a slap against flank sound that reminds me of horseback riding.

Gradually my fingers stiffen till I can barely work the cold clay and I ache to touch warm flesh again. It’s all I want at this moment, in the darkness where I am poised between the thing I make and the heat of human contact. I reach toward the comfort of his body, at the same time itching to take my own life in my hands. To make a living work of art, a thing of beauty bigger than myself, something I can leave behind in the room, that I’ve created in hundreds of afternoons and evenings laboring in the dark, never quite knowing what will come of it, if anyone else will ever see what I see in the dark.

14 August 2010

Guest Posters

I have succumbed to the venerable tradition of coercing friends into blog sitting whilst I am on vacation, and so, over the next couple of weeks, there will be a handful of posts by others. All of them are by women, all of them are women I have met in person, all of them are women who I wouldn't have met if not for blogging, each of them is wicked smart, and they all have blogs in various states of dormancy.


And see you in a couple of weeks.

13 August 2010

Cranky About Chase Again

Remember how ornery I got back in December when Chase launched that Community Giving contest on Facebook?

Well, last month I got all cranky again. I opened my New York Times on Thursday, July 29, 2010 and found a full page ad from Chase, congratulating all thirteen winners from New York State. Seeing as I live in New York State, I work in not-for-profit, and I’d never heard of any of them, I decided to do a little poking around. This wasn’t the original contest; this was Chase’s second round – open only to small non-profits with annual operating expenses of under $1,000,000.

From Chase's Facebook page:

2.5 million people came together to give back in a big way!
Thank you for being part of the second Chase Community Giving! Because of what we did, 200 local charities will share in $5 million of donations!
By voting, inviting friends, and sharing your enthusiasm, you've helped communities all across the country! Together, we've shown the world what two and a half million people can do when they unite to do something amazing.
With a new focus on charities that serve their local communities, Chase Community Giving came back strong for Summer 2010. With another $5 million in donations, we're helping over 200 charities. 195 charities are receiving $20,000 each and four runners-up are receiving $100,000 each. The winning charity, HP Alliance of Somerville, MA is receiving $250,000. On top of that, the charities selected by our Advisory Board in the coming weeks will split an additional $500,000.
Chase Community Giving will be back soon. Keep coming back so we can do it again!

Out of pique, I made a spreadsheet of all of the 13 NYS winners, each of which got $20,000. The chart here shows how many votes each organization got, along with the expenses reported on their last tax return (and the date of the last tax return). [I got the tax returns, a/k/a 990s, via Guidestar - a great resource for information about charities and foundations. Guidestar gets the 990s directly from the IRS.]

Note that two organizations have not been filing tax returns - and therefore, because there's no return posted to Guidestar, there's no way to check the expense size of the organization. Of the 11 remaining that have been filing, four have reported expenses of under $100,000 - and one of those shows an expense budget of $17,853 - or less than the $20,000 Chase grant. That means that only seven out of thirteen have an expense budget in excess of $100,000. A $20,000 grant to an organization with annual operating expenses of under $100,000 is a distortion, and it's not sustainable - what are they going to do when they don't get that $20,000 next year?

Remember what I said in December?

But the problem is that it’s a popularity contest that rewards those organizations with the greatest social networking savvy and not those with the greatest impact and/or efficiency of operations. Arguably, a small organization with terrific grassroots skills but mediocre delivery of a dubious service could win a million bucks - and then fritter it away on pizza and airplane tickets. There's no vetting, no due diligence.

I'm not making judgments as to the worthiness of any of the winners - they may well be doing great work. But there's no evaluation as to fiscal responsibility or organizational stability, good governance and sound management. All they've proven is that they're good at getting their "friends" to vote for them on Facebook.

12 August 2010

Ode To Forgetfullness

One thing led to another, and there I was at the Museum of Modern Art, entranced in front of a wall of fabric panels, pages from a book by Louise Bourgeois. A book! A fabric book! And by Louise Bourgeois - the spider lady! Made from bits and pieces of her clothes, her linens, the embroidered napkins she received as wedding presents. Each panel with a line of button-holes along the left margin, where straps thread through to bind the pages of the book.

It's silly to walk into MoMA and say "I can do that" - because I can't. But quilting, incorporating bits of this dress and that shirt into a new object, isn't far off. Bourgeois put together her fabric scraps into a textured, sculptural, graphic book - I can capture my memories otherly. But the book? That book inspired lust.

If you'd like to see more pictures of it, the Peter Blum gallery has a slideshow of all the pages - and as you click through, you see the facing page, i.e. the back of the preceding page, where the stitching shows through. A blog post by Joanne Mattera has some other photos, including details of the binding edge.

10 August 2010

BlogHer: The Stuff

In between hanging out with the people, you wander around and collect stuff, more stuff than anyone needs.

I recycled a fair amount of stuff in the very excellent swag swap room, or I just didn't pick it up in the first place. I re-packed one of the (many) tote bags with a whole mess of stuff to give to my sister-in-law who had gotten me an awesome room at a cheaper rate than the Hilton, in a hotel far swankier than the Hilton (and with better elevators). But I carried enough stuff home to feel like I needed a sherpa.

Stuff that mystified me:
• An 8 ounce sample of interior latex eggshell paint from Martha Stewart, in "sultana". I mean, if I were thinking of painting something in my house, a sample size container of paint could be useful for color testing, but I'd like to choose the color myself. I think they'd have been better off handing out coupons for a free sample - paint's kind of idiosyncratic, in a way that dish detergent isn't.

Stuff that I loved:
• The paper punches from Martha Stewart - something that I'll love playing with and would never in a million years actually buy.

Stuff that my kid loved:
• The flashing ring.
• The HexBug and its corral.
• The pile of blank books.

Stuff that Niobe loved:
• The Demeter Play-Doh perfume.

Stuff that I totally needed:
• A box of tampons, because I was bleeding like a stuck pig, though I don't really understand why they need to be pH correcting - should I have been listening to the sales rep?
• More moisturizer with sunscreen because one can never have too much of a good thing.

Stuff that my kid will love when I surprise her with it later this week:
• The Nintendo DSi XL from the Brand About Town party.

Stuff that my husband loved:
• The box of chocolate covered mint oreos that he ate in one sitting.

Stuff that kind of irritated me:
• The iPhone charging receiver dock that doesn't work unless you have the PowerMat to go with it. Granted, I probably shouldn't have the dock thing anyway, because I inadvertently crashed a party and didn't get the swag bag which allegedly had the PowerMat in it because I wasn't on the list, but in my defense, there were two parties going on in the same general suite and I was invited to the other. How was I to know which was which?

Stuff that absolutely nobody needs:
• Mouse pads shaped like detergent bottles and alarm clocks with sausage on the dial.

Stuff that's going in the so-called gift closet for later this year (i.e. Christmas):
• I'm not telling, because my sister reads my blog.

09 August 2010

BlogHer: The People

It's what it's all about. The people. The people you've met before and can't wait to catch up with, like Sarah and Nora and Gwen and Niobe and Debbie and Amanda.

And Marinka and Julie and Emma and Becky and Jessica and Stimey and Aurelia and Cecily and Lori and another Jessica.

And people you've never met in person, like Alejna (who's just as I expected) and Gina (who told me she'd just found out she was pregnant) and Maggie (who has excellently spiky hair) and Stacey (and her entrancing red-headed baby).

And people you'd never even heard of before - but you shared cabs with them, and wandered around at MoMA with them, and swapped cards with them, and talked CSAs with them, and let them take your picture (even though your bra strap was showing).

And that's what it's all about. The people.

04 August 2010

Beware of All Enterprises That Require New Clothes

I had lunch today with my friend Martha. We met at the falafel shop, we walked to the park, we sat knee to knee on chairs without a table in between, we ate our falafel, she dribbled hot sauce on her white pants, and after awhile I said "Martha! Did you notice that I dyed my hair?"

And she looked straight at me and said "what?"

So I turned my head and she gasped.

Considering that it's cobalt blue, it's pretty subtle.

If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes.

I haven't painted my toenails, I haven't waxed my legs, I haven't invested in eye shadow, I haven't bought new clothes, and I certainly haven't bought a girdle. But I did dye my hair for BlogHer.

Would Thoreau approve?

02 August 2010

On Visiting New York

Tourists walk three abreast, really slowly, clogging up the sidewalks.

New Yorkers walk really fast.

Tourists wear shorts and fanny packs and white sneakers, and carry maps.

New Yorkers don’t.

Tourists swipe their Metrocards slowly and deliberately.

New Yorkers know you need to swipe them fast, so you don’t break stride going through the turnstile.

Tourists call it Avenue of the Americas.

New Yorkers know that it’s just Sixth Avenue.

If you’re coming to NY for BlogHer, remember that 20 north-south blocks is about a mile, in other words, a distance you can walk. Taxis take credit cards and you hail them on the street, but they’re expensive. The Hilton is located in midtown, which is boring boring boring. Go down to the Union Square area for the Greenmarket on Saturday morning, or wander around Madison Square Park to see the naked bronze sculptures, poised on the edges of buildings as if to jump. Or head way west, to 20th Street and Tenth Avenue and walk south down the High Line. If you want to see the City from the water, do a round trip on the Staten Island Ferry – it’s free, in both directions, though you do have to get off one ferry and back onto the next. And don’t forget about Central Park – it’s walking distance from the Hilton and there are snow leopards at the zoo there.

I am going to be at BlogHer, but because I waffled about where to sleep - at the Hilton? at a friend's Chelsea apartment? at home more than an hour away? - I'm not staying at the Hilton, but at another fine hotel more or less nearby. So, if you'll be there, and want to find me, DM me on Twitter, or email me for my cell phone number. See you later this week?

Edited to add two things:
1) Read the comments - there are some good tips and suggestions.
2) I have a blue streak in my hair. Cobalt blue. In case you're looking for me.