nonBlog: July 2006

Click here for a possibly gratuitous explanation of why my blog is called "nonBlog" and my site is titled "Ceci n'est pas un blog."

A Hole New Sign of Aging—Monday, July 31, 2006

Here’s how ancient I am now: I have a daughter with pierced ears. If I were not some WASP chick from the east coast this would be meaningless, but in my universe parents don’t let daughters get their ears pierced until junior high school or so. It’s kind of a consolation prize for puberty: pimples, hormone swings—and earrings. My mom and dad made me wait until my 13th birthday, which felt agonizingly long. But Tom and I figured that 11 ½ is the new 13, so we took Olivia to get it done yesterday.

We didn’t warn her ahead of time because we didn’t want her to worry about the pain for more than five minutes. Tom herded Greta and Ava into Hello Kitty to distract them and I took Olivia into Claire’s boutique, teen paradise and ear-piercing mecca of malls everywhere. Olivia looked petrified and thrilled beyond speech. I was filled with unexpected thoughts about my dad, whom I suddenly remembered bought me my first pair of earrings—lovely little gold knots that cost, if memory serves, $13 at the Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington, Long Island. My dad was an artist when I was a kid, before he became disabled and lost the use of his hands, and he used to design stunning jewelry for my mother that he would have made by a local goldsmith.

Olivia held my hand tight while the Claire’s technician went to work. What’s this indentation in Olivia’s upper ear lobe? she wanted to know. I had to explain that it was an ear pit, and it was the birth mark they recorded on Olivia’s birth record so that if somebody tried to make off with her we would know she was ours. Telling the technician this and looking at Olivia’s near-adult face choked me up a bit, so I went silent while she finished the job, putting tiny white-gold studs into Olivia’s ears and rendering nearly invisible the ear pit of yore. Then we got home and found out that my father had a staph infection in his blood that had gone to his brain, and I was reminded yet again that when one generation advances all the others move into another stage too, and not all of them are good.

 

Escape from Alcatraz—Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Today I swam in the San Francisco Bay. Doubtless that sounds a little nutty. I did it for two reasons. The first is that Dr. Good News, my physiatrist who condemned me to a life without marathon running, suggested that I might find open-water swimming to be a fulfilling alternative (see blog from Tuesday, February 14th). The second is that I am reporting a story about Bay Area open-water swimmers for the SF Chronicle Magazine. It seemed like journalistic malpractice to write about people who swim in wicked-cold water without, well, you know.

One of my subjects says that when you swim in the Bay for the first time it feels like a thousand knives stabbing you everywhere at once, so when I waded in and the water felt very cold but not murderously cold I was relieved. I was okay until the moment when I put my face in the water, at which point I noticed I couldn’t breathe. The water had literally taken my breath away. So I stroked for a while with my head out and slowly I warmed up a bit and tried again to put my face in. This time I could swim more or less normally. The water was green and dark, the sky foggy again after days of record-breaking warm weather (just my luck). I didn’t bump into any dead bodies (Capone, for example). As I took the salt water into my mouth and expelled it again I did have a thought or two about PCB’s. And the current was messing with me, forcing me to correct my position over and over as I headed for the farthest buoy in Aquatic Cove. But finally I made it to the buoy and turned back toward the beach. I swam half a mile, and by the time I was done I felt so comfortable that I could have stayed in the water and played games with my kids, had they been present. I was feeling downright cocky. Me, an open-water swimmer. Me, the one who wears a jacket when it’s 70 degrees out, braving the frigid deep without a shiver.

I checked in with the South End Rowing Club’s Swim Commissioner and told him about my great success. He said, “Well, the water’s unusually warm after the heat wave. It’s when it’s a few degrees colder that people have trouble.” So much for that. Then he told me that my next swim should be from Alcatraz. Me, an Alcatraz swimmer. That doesn't sound so nutty after all.

 

Can't Take A Joke—Monday, July 24, 2006

On Friday I published a piece in The Huffington Post about my efforts to turn my 11-year-old daughter Olivia into a staunch Democrat. I think that brainwashing Olivia is my right and privilege, not to mention my duty, but let me simply say that many readers were not amused. One said she felt sorry for Olivia to have me as a mother and another said that my story was creepy and sad. That’s all he said. His entire comment was: “Creepy and sad.”

Friends are reminding me that political humor can be an oxymoron—one said, “Amazing how humor and politics sit in separate corners of the room for most people”—but I must admit that this is a problem I have had with all topics ever since I became a personal essayist. No matter how mercilessly I make fun of myself, no matter how self-deprecating my humor, readers miss it. I once wrote a long story for a climbing publication about a difficult moment in my marriage when I was being, how shall I put this, an ass. I was feeling my thirtysomething oats at a time when Tom was not in a happy place, and I went to Mt. Shasta for a climb and decided I would find the buff climbing dudes in the local bar and flirt with them. Of course I never found any climbers and the night was a disaster. And of course I realized what an ass I was and then wrote a whole story about my assininity. In the next issue what do I see but a letter spewing bile about me from a Mt. Shasta resident, including the following line: “We are certainly not sitting in bars like zoo animals waiting to indulge each and every yuppie who comes to town to try and slay the mountain with fake ambassadorship and regale them in trivia Q-and-A sessions.” Hello? It was a humor piece. At my expense. On purpose.

My first inclination is to conclude that I’m just not writing my essays well enough for some people to recognize that I’m making fun of myself, but Tom says that what we should conclude is that some people have no sense of humor. And my book partner Helaine Olen (yes, we now appear to have a book deal) says that people view female humorists with suspicion. So I suppose I should forge ahead with my mission to speak the comic truth, however thick my FBI file may become.

 

Aquamarines In the Afternoon—Monday, July 17, 2006

When people tell me what a great marriage I have—and I hesitate even to write that sentence because doing so will bring on a hubris-induced divorce about two weeks from Thursday—I tell them that the one brilliant thing I did was to marry my best girlfriend who happened to be a guy. And what Tom did on Friday, which was our 15th wedding anniversary, just proves it.

For several years I have been sans engagement ring because of a certain incident involving hand-washing in the ladies’ room of the Manchester, NH airport that we won’t get into right now. It was insured, so when the money came through I asked Tom to get me a nice diamond band instead, and I have been happily wearing it ever since. Once in a while it would occur to me to want a new engagement ring. After Tom made a little money in the dot-com boom it occurred to me to want an enormous new engagement ring. But every time Tom and I would come down to brass tacks, or carbon ones, I would tell him I really didn’t want the ring. And I meant it. To me, big diamond rings that you get after your husband makes some money have associations, mostly associations with middle-aged wifery and a certain lack of taste, which is what comes of having had an old-money grandmother who used to say things like, “A lady doesn’t wear diamonds or eyeshadow in the afternoon.” You can imagine what she would say about the crowd who wear their Chiclet-sized studs in their ears all day. I hesitate to think.

So this year I told Tom that after much deliberation I still didn’t want the big diamond. Frustrated and desirous of a gift befitting a 15th anniversary, he took himself to Metier in San Francisco, which sells my favorite Cathy Waterman jewelry, and bought me a flawless emerald-cut aquamarine with platinum and diamond thorns growing over it. I planted it on my left hand and imagined my old-money grandmother nodding with approval from the afterworld. And that’s the kind of thing your best girlfriend who happens to be your husband would figure out to do for you on your 15th anniversary.

 

A Real Redhead—Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Forget TV and the dread pacifier—I have discovered a new category of child-rearing choice that is subject to open disapproval from other mommies: hair dye.

I never thought I would write the phrase “hair dye” in the same sentence as “child-rearing,” but in my current anything-goes mode, anything went. It was time to get our 11-year-old daughter Olivia ready for Camp Winnarainbow, Wavy Gravy’s clown camp up in Laytonville. The kids bring along costumes, instruments, and cans of this horrible spray-on haircolor that is made with talc and rubs off onto absolutely everything. I cruised through the hair product aisles of local drugstores looking for an alternative and I found temporary bright-colored dyes that last 8-10 shampoos. I bought neon red.

We dyed only the ends of Olivia’s hair because the box said it can end up permanent on light blondes. But when Greta wanted to get in on the act we did her whole head without fear. She looked like an extremely short rock star. I thought this was about the most fun thing we’d done in a long time until Greta and I ventured out in public to find that people were not amused, especially other moms. They’d look at Greta, make a face, look at me, make a worse face, and then walk away. I guess they were assuming the color was permanent and that I had invented a new form of child abuse—turning your kid’s head into a red lightbulb. That is, until Greta walked into Summer Oaks, the camp at her new school, Live Oak. The kids seemed not to notice the change. The teachers squealed over how fabulous she looked. Clearly, we had come to the right place.

 

Fun Overdose—Wednesday, July 5, 2006

I’m writing this post while on a plane about 33,000 feet above Boise. I’ve had about the most jet-setty, I’ve-got-three-kids-but-that-don’t-slow-me-down-type month I can remember. The old me, the one I was just a few years ago, would be jealous. First I flew to Dartmouth for a five-day college reunion, complete with a hike up New Hampshire's Mt. Moosilauke. Then I went down to New York on book business. Then Tom and I drove to the Eastern Sierra to climb fourteeners. Then I flew back to New York for more book meetings. When I get home tonight it will be tomorrow, and we’re off for a week’s vacation in the woods up north. I sound like a trust fund kid, or maybe a trophy wife.

But the thing about becoming, the thing about finally figuring out who the hell you are and what the hell you want to do, is that once it happens you’d like to spend as much time doing it as possible. The first day or two I was at Dartmouth were fun, and I appreciated the time off from multiple mommydom. And I enjoyed the good stuff from all these trips: conversations with old friends; the time spent with my sister and my nieces; meals with my in-laws; being back “home” in Manhattan; hiking in alpine meadows; chatting with whole rooms full of editors and publicists and marketing people without being the least bit nervous. But ultimately, all of it—both the vacation and the business travel—feel like time away from what I really adore: sitting at my desk writing an essay about a topic that grooves me and hanging out at home with Tom and the kids afterwards. That’s the me that makes the current me jealous.

 

Conditions Are Grim; Wish You Were Here—Saturday, July 1, 2006

The funny thing about your well-being is that you’re sometimes unaware of lacking it. Before this week if you had asked me for a temperature check on mine I would have said, oh, nice and high. 98.6 even, couldn’t be better. But until I was hiking along the other day at 13,200 feet on White Mountain in the Eastern Sierra and feeling about as winded as I would strolling along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, I didn’t know how lukewarm my well-being has actually been lately.

Wednesday was the first day since I became pregnant with Ava that I felt like I was back at full strength. That’s really saying something—I got pregnant with her in April of 2004. I’m not one of those happy sappy pregnant ladies, the ones with cute little bellies who look pregnant only from the front. From the moment I conceive I sort of spread out, kind of like the Blob. And after I give birth I have this tendency to come down with repeated breast infections that put me on a first-name basis with the night nurses in the local emergency room. Then it takes me rather a long while to lose all the weight, say, ’til the kid starts preschool. Ava is 18 months old now and although I’m still fighting that last bunch of pounds I thought I was feeling more or less normal, my dress size aside. It’s ironic that I didn’t feel that sizzle of health and happiness again until I was trekking in freezing temperatures on a snowy mountain with a storm bearing down. All better now.

     
   

  • Story in the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine about English Channel swimmers who train in the Bay area.
  • KQED Radio Perspective about how Florida has gone into the bumper-sticker business with "Choose Life" license plates.
  • Eat the Press piece in The Huffington Post about Jon Krakauer's curious absence from Outside Magazine's 10th anniversary issue on the 1996 Everest disaster.
 
  • Double-top-secret book due out fall 2007
    from Adams Media.
  • Fame and fortune; date TBA

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