nonBlog: July 2006
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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,
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
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.