Monday, December 24, 2007

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."

Here’s something you don’t know: if you have commented here in the past year and have a blog, I’ve probably read it. I might not have read months’ worth; I might have only skimmed your journal of your trip to Saskatchewan but I have some sense of who you are. I’d like to think it’s the natural human curiosity to find out who is looking at me but I also suspect that avoiding writing the book helped create my newfound fascination. The blogs are far more interesting than scrubbing the bottoms of the copper pots -- another thing I do to avoid writing -- and blog-reading can be done more frequently than copper-polishing. That’s right; you are more interesting than scrubbing! Oh, aren’t I a silver-tongued devil. Perhaps I should try to repackage the book as Quinn Cummings Teaches You How to Give Compliments.

I am so humbled and amazed by what I read in these blogs. I write my little anecdotes of what a bumbling idiot I am, and then a comment links me to a blog and I find out she’s living in a situation whose pressures I can't even fathom. In the case of one reader, she just wrote recently about her excitement that her adoption dossier has reached a certain stage in the Chinese government. From this stage, she should only have another two years or so before she can bring her daughter home. I read this and reeled. She’s already been through years of fertility treatment and then American adoptions hoops, and now she’s looking at another two years? Personally, I’d take to my bed with a large bottle of vanilla extract mixed with Jack Daniels but she’s clearly a far better person than I am. She’s buying girl clothing when she sees something adorable, but she’s also writing about work, and vacations, and holiday plans. She’s waiting for a part of her life to begin, but she’s also insisting on having a life in the meanwhile.

There is something about the nature of a journal which makes it ideal for measuring and noting the time while you wait for something to happen, and so many of you are writing about, and living with, such challenging situations. My blog readers are living with cancer, infertility, sick parents and sick children. It’s not all bad. You are also living with new babies, new grandbabies, new marriages and new kitchens, all of which are also carefully recorded. Some days, things are good. Some days, they’re not. On the bad days, my readers of faith pray and write about their comfort from that. On the bad days, my readers of less-than-faith find their friends and their snack food of choice and write about their comfort from that.

But you blog-writers keep writing. You write in frustration on the days your teenage bipolar son has a bad reaction to his medication. You write on the days they put your mother into a nursing home. You write on the days they euthanize your beloved pet. You write in bad times, I suspect, for the same reasons I do: because it helps you think, and while you don’t want to slip completely under the warm water of self-pity, a few sympathetic words would feel awfully nice. And every time I see how many people are out there, sitting in their houses, reading the blogs of complete strangers and cheering them on, I realize again what a strangely disconnected and oddly intimate thing a blog is.

So, here’s my wish for my readers in this last blog of the year. Whatever good thing you are waiting for, I hope you get. I hope whatever thing you have struggled with this year improves. I hope you get your one-year chip, your remission, your baby, your house. If your wish is for a book deal, I hope you get that, along with a few copper-bottomed pots to scrub while you think.

Happy 2008 and peace to all people on earth.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

To The Teeth.

I know it’s a little early, but the Meanest Mother of 2007 nominations have been voted upon and a winner has been decided. It was an honor just to be nominated. Frankly, I was shocked when they called my name.

According to insiders, I was always in the Meanest Mother Top-Ten, but until last month I couldn’t expect anything better than fifth runner-up; possibly winning the talent competition in Vague Threats in Public. But then came China. With China came recalls and the magic word we kept hearing was “lead”. Lead, as we've all come to find out, is the navy-blue blazer of Chinese manufacturing: it goes with everything.

It goes with toys. It goes with baby bibs. It goes with children’s jewelry. It doesn’t go with children’s nightwear, however, because that’s where formaldehyde goes. I guess the upside is that our children will be stupid, but well-preserved. Luckily for us, so far Daughter has had no toys or do-dads on the list. However, I think this has less to do with our incredible luck and more to do with the amount of import inspectors having been cut drastically since 9/11. I suspect I am living in a fool’s paradise, which is kind of depressing because I had hoped my fool’s paradise would have nicer towels.

Which brings us to toothpaste. Earlier this year two lesser-known brands of toothpaste were recalled, owing to…yes, lead. Daughter’s favorite kinds of toothpaste are the kinds with names like “Super Straw-Nana-Lime”, well-known cartoon figures on the labels and complicated dispensers. In short, exactly the kinds which are made in China and produce that holographic affect when extruded on the brush with aid of recycled Napalm. For once, I decided to get ahead of my paranoia. Instead of waiting for the seriously understaffed Food and Drug Administrations inspectors to find out our toothpaste was tainted, I threw the iridescent pump-bottle of Hello Kitty Razz-Dazzle Sparkly Bubbli-Tastic Toothpaste and Grout Whitener into the Hazardous Waste bag and went in search of American-made toothpaste.

Which took me to Tom’s of Maine. At first, I was suspicious. “Of Maine,” I thought skeptically. “Sure, they are. City of Maine, Guangdong province, no doubt.” But unless their offers of factory tours in Sanford, Maine are just an incredible ruse to get me to part with four dollars, I imagine they are, in fact, an American-made product. Actually the web site does say their bar soaps are made in New England, the flossing ribbon is made in Pennsylvania and the liquid soap is made in Canada. I guess for complete disclosure the name should be “Tom’s of the Eastern Seaboard” but as long as you aren’t tainting my daughter’s brain, I’m willing to allow you a little artistic license. During my next trip to the grocery store, I bought Tom’s of Maine Cinnamint. The next morning, during the usual manic rush to school, I sent Daughter in to brush her teeth. Minutes later, having fed the pets some lesser meats of American origin, I raced in to the bathroom, to find her glaring at the tube. She waved it at me like an epee.

“This is new”, she said warningly.

I chose to ignore the tone and pretend that we all loved the new in my house.

“Yes, it’s Cinnamint. You love cinnamon, you love mint.”

We stared at one another.

“It’s from Maine!” I added unhelpfully.

“Where’s my Hello Kitty?” she asked suspiciously.

“Hello Kitty had…issues” I said, busying myself with brushing her hair, “Just try the new toothpaste.”

She stuck out her tongue and let a single taste bud get an inch or so from the toothbrush. She then commenced to gagging and flinging herself around the bathroom. From the gasped words barely issuing from her clenched teeth, I was led to understand that Tom’s of Maine Cinnamint was the spiciest and nastiest hell-rot ever forced into a recyclable tube, and that if I forced her to use it even once, the state would get involved. We spent several minutes negotiating a temporary DMZ. I would rinse nearly all of the vileness off of her innocent toothbrush. In return for which, she would brush her teeth with the barest scrapings of Cinnamint this morning and stop falling down on the ground and grabbing her throat. Before the evening brushing, I would find a Tom’s of Maine flavor which wasn’t designed by Satan.

Because I have nothing better to do with my time, I went back to another grocery store and found the Tom’s of Maine flavors for children. Erring on the side of caution, and not wishing to watch Daughter do her interpretive dance of anaphylactic shock again, I bought the strawberry flavor, because she usually voted for strawberry-like flavors. The nights’ brushing began with sniffing the toothpaste and then tentatively touching it with her finger before she allowed her tongue anywhere near it. It was like watching an Aboriginal tribe find their first empty Coke bottle. She tasted the air around the toothpaste and frowned.

“It doesn’t taste like my strawberry toothpaste”, she judged.

I tasted a bit. It was actually rather nice. It tasted not unlike strawberries.

“It tastes not unlike strawberries,” I wisely noted.

“Yes,” she agreed, in a tone which suggested that maybe I had sucked on a few lead-paint soaked toys in my time. “But strawberry toothpaste doesn’t taste like strawberries. I like the way the pretend strawberries taste. And this toothpaste doesn’t sparkle. I’m not going to use it.”

I finally lost what was left of my mind, my patience and my sense of humor. A free and frank exchange of views followed. My general meanness was discussed at some length. After the dog hid under the bed and a court-appointed mediator was brought in, we finally reached a compromise. When she is an adult and can drive, she will drive to the store and buy her own toothpaste. It will not only sparkle and taste like nothing in nature, it will have a half-life measured in minutes and cause her to spontaneously grow a fin every two years. She will buy it and use it and I won’t be able say anything because I will no longer be the boss of her. I am also very, very unpleasant, and many other friends of hers have nice mothers who let them pick out their own toothpaste and also let their daughters wear heels to school. This wasn’t completely on-topic, but I think she felt as long as we were discussing my many faults, she might as well get everything on record.

Fine by me. When you are the Meanest Mom in the world you don’t wear that title lightly. You earn it, and then you have to keep earning it, because mothers are competing for my title all the time. Somewhere out there is a mother refusing to buy a set of Pokemon cards. Somewhere out there another mother forcing a child to stop hitting her brother, even after he started making that noise in the back of this throat. Somewhere out there a woman is irrationally insisting a child wash both the backs and the fronts of his hands.

If I don’t force my child to brush her teeth with American-made poison twice a day, I might have to give back my tiara and sash.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Still stumped?

Yes, you read my blog about the horrors of consumption, and you and I are in total agreement, but you still need to get something for your daughter-in-law, cool office-friend, brother in Thailand where it's way too late to ship. Or, you want your child to participate in giving in a way that will be concrete to them. I found one for you:

What if there was a simple way to provide students with the books, technology, and supplies that they need to learn?

What if people from all walks of life could connect directly with public schools, learn about specific classroom needs, and choose how to help?

It's the same idea as, applied to low-income public schools in the United States. You get to choose your state, your specific area of interest, how much you want to donate, and then you click. It matters, and it changes lives.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Blind Faith.

(I must stay focused on the book, so we're in re-runs. If you like, you can consider this my sign of solidarity with the television writers.)

You find the weirdest things in other peoples’ blind spots.

At Gymnastics today, we Parents of Whirling Children were talking about TV shows we liked. I mentioned “30 Days”, the documentary series on FX by Morgan Spurlock, the guy who gave us “Super Size Me”.

I explained to the parents who hadn’t seen it that “Super Size Me” is a funny, horrible and fascinating look at what happens to the body of a documentary filmmaker (Spurlock) after eating only McDonald’s food -- breakfast, lunch and dinner -- for 30 days. This led to a conversation about what we fed our kids. One father was particularly emphatic about what we’re doing to our kids’ health in America:

“…Too much processed food! That’s why so many of them are fat. You go to places like France and China, you don’t see them eating so much fast food. It’s fresh, what they eat there. The body metabolizes fresh food better...”

Having never been to China or studied nutrition, I wasn’t prepared to agree or disagree; but at least he seemed to be genuinely concerned about what kids were eating. Up to that point, I had been talking with him without actually looking at him, being as I was distracted by the exercise Daughter was doing, which seemed to be titled Concussion in Three Easy Steps. Now, however, Daughter was waiting in line to break her neck in some new way, and my eye naturally followed my conversation buddy’s daughter as she ran over to her health-conscious father…

…and grabbed the bag of Doritos and Big Gulp he was holding for her.

She inhaled a handful of crunchy orange triangles and a mouthful of some brown liquid and headed back to class.

I winced in empathy, having been caught in moments of hypocrisy so many times myself. Then I stared off into space so he shouldn’t have to look directly at me while he explained…what? His daughter had a life threatening lack of cheese like powder in her body? There was only the slightest pause before he continued his tirade.

“…As I was saying, the European people have it right. How hard is it to feed your kids well?”

I goggled at him discreetly, probing his delivery for any possible tones of irony. Finding none, I flipped open a four-year-old gymnastics magazine so I could contemplate the Personal Blind Spot undistracted by further contradictions.

The PBS is that place where your decision-making abilities plummet downwards in inverse proportion to your sky-rocketing convictions. If you like your new perfume, that is not a Personal Blind Spot. If you refer to the scent as your “Signature fragrance” and you wear the perfume as a soap, body cream and cologne and in such quantities that swarms of bees follow you, that’s a Personal Blind Spot.

Any man who has ever grown out a single hair and created a comb-over of such complexity that it resembles a macramé hammock is suffering from a PBS.

The mother who informs me her fifteen year-old had cigarettes in her bedroom because “she confiscated them from her best friend” and had alcohol on her breath because she was “making chocolate chip cookies at a friend’s house and wanted to check the freshness of the vanilla” might actually keel over from her Personal Blind Spot.

There is a friend of my family who will tell you how, thanks to not eating white sugar, she hasn’t had a cold in twenty years. Two problems with this: 1) she eats white sugar nearly every day, but since each time is a “special occasion”, it doesn’t count, and 2) she gets a severe case of bronchitis or pneumonia every winter. Textbook PBS.

A person who refers to a finished basement with a DVD player in it as a Media Room, however, suffers not from PBS but from DOG -- Delusions of Grandeur – an entirely different disorder.

Of course, this all comes back to ME. I too have a Personal Blind Spot. I just don’t know what it is. There is something I do, say, wear or eat which has made friends of mine at some point look at one another and shrug in that expressive “I know, but are you going to tell her?” sort of way. The mere thought of this gives me the yips. I must know where my big delusion hides.

It can’t be my wardrobe. I’ve never said my clothing was attractive or flattering. I do believe it will keep me from being arrested for indecency. And if you remember my definition of Personal Blind Spot, the afflicted person has to believe deeply in it. Clothing becomes a PBS when you believe in the possibility of transformation:

“Nicole Kidman looks lovely in pink ruffles. I will wear pink ruffles, and people will confuse me for a woman fifteen years my junior and ten inches taller.”

“The horizontal stripes on these pants make my butt look smaller because the stripe is black, and black is thinning.”

“I wore a size eight comfortably for a week, ten years ago, right after my gall bladder surgery. Ergo, I am a size eight!”

In my case, realistic expectations of my closet pretty much assures me no place on any Best-dressed list. But I don’t make any major gaffes, either.

I think.

It could be the food, but I have discussed my weirdness before. Not only am I generally uninterested in food, I have virtually no sense of smell. This renders most culinary experiences, for me, mere variations on texture. I can eat the same meal three times a day for many days on end; you can’t be bored if you don’t care. Again, unlikely place for Personal Blind Spot.

And then, just while writing this, I found my Personal Blind Spot. I have had ten nails of approximately the same length for several days now, and have been treating them with the delicacy and attention you associate with breeding Pandas in captivity (I had a night-vision camera trained on my nails at night, while I slept, for security purposes). So imagine my rage when I looked down and saw a big fissure, left hand, ring finger. And right down near the quick, if you must know.

I ran and got an emery board and squared off the nail while railing against the gods “How did this happen? I’ve been keeping them buffed and polished. I use gloves when washing dishes. I… I…“

I stopped mid-thought and mid-file. I have lousy nails. They have the consistency of balsa wood and splinter if you raise your voice. Over my entire life, I have had ten long nails for ten short months: specifically, nine months of pregnancy and another thirty days spread over the remaining thirty-something years. I could start the Museum of Failed Nail-Care Products. And yet, somehow, I still believe devoutly I am meant to have long nails. I would swear to this in a court of law.

It’s irrational, it’s heartfelt, and it’s my Personal Blind Spot!

Unless, of course, my real Personal Blind Spot is using the nail issue as camouflage for my true demon...

I’m going to bed.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Give and Take.




QUINN: Hello?

CONSORT: Hi, it’s me.

QUINN: Hi, you two still at the grocery store?

CONSORT: No. Long story short, we were going in and she saw her best friend from school and her dad, and the other girl has to stay out of the house all afternoon because they’re refinishing their floors-

QUINN: This is the short version?

CONSORT: Anyway, we’re taking the kids to the park.

QUINN: Oh, nice.

CONSORT: So, keep writing. I just have one question. What are their names?

QUINN: You mean Rachel?

CONSORT: Rachel, right. And her father?

QUINN: We had dinner with them last month. You two talked for an hour.

CONSORT: Right, him. What’s his name?


CONSORT: And the little sister?

QUINN: Ruby.


QUINN: Jennifer. The mother’s name is Jennifer. If it comes up, their rat’s name is Hermione.

Because in my house, I keep the proper nouns. I know the name of the movie starring That Guy from That Show We Don’t Watch, I know the name of the neighbor Consort has talked to and I never have, I know the names of Daughter’s stuffed animals, which is no small feat, being as they change every eleven days or so. Consort can keep his mind of larger issues, because I remember names. What I don’t remember is faces. Correction: I remember nearly all the faces of actors of shows whom I will probably never meet, and can tell you every single time I’ve seen them on a television show, no matter how obscure. What I can’t do is remember certain peoples’ faces, no matter how many times I meet them. Sadly, they remember me:

QUINN: Hi, it’s nice to meet you.

COMPLETE STRANGER: Actually, Quinn, we’ve met before. Six times. We sat next to one another at a wedding and talked all evening.

QUINN: I’m so sorry, I just have the worst memory for faces.

I SWEAR, I’VE NEVER MET THIS PERSON BEFORE: Yes, I know. You’ve told me that the last three times we’ve met.

This is what could turn me into an agoraphobic. But if I stay home and never leave the house and never say something stupid to someone new who turns out to be someone I’ve shared a weekend house with, I’d have to listen to Consort tell me whose voice is on my television. In Consort, the part of the brain usually set aside for retaining names has been completely annexed by the auditory recognition sector. From no more than a single sentence in voice-over at the end of a commercial, Consort can recognize the actor. He’s insanely good at this, while I am bad at it and indifferent to being bad at it. What Consort keeps hoping will be a crackling volley of voice-identifying becomes nothing more than a tragic game of Solitaire:

TELEVISION: See your Los Angeles area Cadillac dealer now.

CONSORT: You have to know that one.

QUINN: No, I don’t.

CONSORT: Come on, it was easy.

QUINN: I don’t know.

CONSORT: I’ll give you a hint. She’s on that show.


QUINN: What show?


CONSORT: Oh, you know. That show about the White House and all those people were on it like that guy from the sitcom I never watched about the family.

[Owing to years of practice, I somehow know he means John Goodman.]

QUINN: That was Stockard Channing’s voice?

CONSORT (Delighted): YES! You can hear it now, right?

QUINN (Lying): Oh…yeah.

(Silence as a commercial plays.)

TELEVISION: Call your doctor about the little purple pill.

CONSORT: I know you know that one.

You see where I have to go out. But if I go out, I need a working car, and if I keep the nouns in my head, Consort keeps the car maintenance records in his. Yesterday, it rained for the first time this season. We who are tired of breathing smoke and despising arsonists are very grateful. Consort had gratitude, but Consort also had windshield wiper-replacements. He replaces them every winter. He does this because he loves me; I let him because I tried replacing the windshield-wipers once, in a fit of female empowerment, and the thought of it still makes me eat my own hair. I started to pull out of the garage yesterday, and Consort ran into the garage, waving a box at me. I stopped.

CONSORT: I need to replace the wipers.

QUINN: Sweetie, I’m running late. I’m sure it’s fine until tonight.

CONSORT: Pull out into the driveway and use the wipers in the rain.

(Quinn pulls out, hits wipers. Consort runs out and pokes his head in the passenger side of the car.)

CONSORT: Oh…no. Just come back into the garage for a second.

(Quinn pulls in. With a few deft moves, the windshield-wipers are off, and new ones are on. Consort gets into the passenger seat.)

CONSORT: Now, back into the rain again and then use the wipers.

(Quinn backs out, uses wipers. Consort relaxes.)

CONSORT: Much better, much safer. Isn’t it nice to be able to see without all that streaking?

QUINN: Why, sure!

Readers, please believe me when I say that nothing had changed. I moved the water around, he changed the blades, I moved the water around. The fine details of life escape me. If Consort is the princess whose sleep would be spoiled by a single pea, I am the peasant who can catch a good eight hours stretched out on a bed of sea anemones. But even we peasants appreciate a loving gesture, and we’re not unkind. So, yes, the new wipers made all the difference.

He got out and stood in the rain, smiling at my dazzlingly-wiped windows and I felt a surge of affection; he really is the kindest man, I thought. A public-service announcement came out of the car radio, suggesting we do something about Darfur. Feeling generous, I said to Consort, “That’s Paul Newman, right?”

He laughed in disbelief and said “That’s…the guy from the movie about the newscaster!”

“George Clooney?”



We kissed goodbye, confident in the knowledge that the other person couldn’t survive without us.