Tuesday, October 30, 2012

If They Don't Win It's a Shame

A question for you sports fans out there with a ruminative bent:

Why does baseball lend itself so easily to metaphor? Why do writers who don't always write about sports write about baseball?  What's different about it than other team sports?

In sum, baseball; what's up with that?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sound and Fury

I started talking when I was nine months old; my mother will swear I didn't stop until I left her house. This is not to say that I said anything of consequence. In fact, the more important something is, the less likely I am to mention it. This means I managed to get through my mother's entire run of chemotherapy for lymphoma without breathing a word of her illness. I did, however, drone on endlessly about my bangs during that time which, considering I was fourteen, might have actually been as important in my mind as my mother's brush with death and this anecdote might just be confirming I was the most self-absorbed teenager ever and maybe I should stop telling this story now.

Let's start over.

In February, I will have been writing this blog for eight years. Barring this family I've created, I've never been attached to anything that long. I've also written two books during that time and the occasional story for a magazine which caused strangers to hate me. I began it as someone who took great pleasure in telling stories, in relating her stupidity; that I could just sit down and blather for an hour or so and know that for all eternity someone might be able to share in the shame of my freezer. I still take great pleasure in knowing that (and for those of you who are now curious, I finally junked those blintzes but another box magically appeared to take their place). But it's the darndest thing; I appear to have run out of words. Right now, my head is quiet. Don't get me wrong, I'm still doing masses of stupid things (this week, while in line at Trader Joe's, I possibly inadvertently taught a small child an obscenity), I'm just lacking the impulse to move it on to the page. Actually, I appear to be sorely lacking in auditory words as well, as nearly anyone around me will tell you I'm quieter than I have ever been. A friend will call and run me through the details of her life and then ask "So, what's going on with you?" and I think of about twenty things but none sound terribly interesting and certainly not worth the energy of structuring into a story. I say honestly that I'm happy and busy and then ask my friend another question about her life. I am very relieved it appears I'm the only one in my social sphere who is going through a dormant phase because two of us in a room would be awkward.

Is it fall? Am I shedding my summer salad of sociability in preparation for the winter stew of self-reflection? Maybe. Is it having spent more time than usual this summer talking about myself while doing interviews for the book, which caused me to start to loathe the sound of my own anecdotes? A stronger maybe. Is it that I find my creative muse in silence and solitude and it's finally occurred to me after four years of home-schooling that I never actually get that? Well, let's not discount that possibility.

Or maybe part of it is that in this new world where anyone trying to make a living is encouraged to think of themselves as a brand, to set yourself apart from the herd of people scrambling for the smaller pool of money and jobs. And what does one do with a brand? One markets a brand. You could say one flogs a brand. And there are so many flog-venues. There's Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit, among scores of other platforms, plus the three new tools which sprung up since I sat down to start writing this, all of which are touted as the thing which will elevate the brand-flogger into the high-flyer. "Everyone is on there," you're told, "and you've got to be on there or you won't get anywhere." So you get on there, and some of it's kind of fun, but it's relentless and you start feeling like Alice in Wonderland, running faster and faster to stay in place. Then there comes a time when you start thinking your job is to accrue followers on social media and that takes your energy, your words and then you realize you aren't doing nearly enough with Instagram and OMG ALEC BALDWIN RETWEETED YOU! And you're talking talking talking talking and you don't notice you're getting a little metaphorically hoarse until one day you can't speak at all.

[Although I'm still a little gleeful about being retweeted by Alec Baldwin.]

What does this mean to you, the reader? I have no idea. I do know that in the latest book I wrote about several of my more irrational travel phobias, one of which is that a maniac is hiding in the hotel-room closet, which forces me to have to open the hotel closet at least once a day for the duration of my trip. Since the book has been published, I have travelled three times; not once in those trips did I open the closet with one shaking hand, the other hand holding a disposable razor. You know, for protection. It would appear that writing about that lunatic belief might possibly have exorcised it from my head. So maybe writing about how I don't feel like I have anything to say has broken through the log-jam in my head, poured honey and lemon on my strained literary vocal chords, told my psyche to walk it off, your metaphor goes here. Then again, I also wrote about how much I hate the act of flying and the person who sat next to me on the last flight would be more than happy to tell you that hasn't improved. Sometimes writing about something changes nothing.

But I'll tell you one thing; I do everything else online so that I can do this. After nearly eight years, I still feel a flash of joy when I click "Publish" on a blog, see that someone has put up a comment or, even better, writes "Oh my God, I thought I was the only one who felt that!" Social media might be making me antisocial, but writing makes me a better person and I won't let it go easily. Be a little patient with me and I promise I'll find my way home.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Tongue-tied and Twisted

Daughter was working on her Chinese homework online. To the best of my hearing, she appeared to be saying the same thing over and over again.

"Are you saying the same thing over and over again?" I asked. This was brave of me, because Chinese is a tonal language and Daughter is frequently reduced to tears of laughter when I cannot differentiate between "Shen-JA" and "Shen-JA."

"Yes," she answered absently, typing in Chinese.

I waited. She typed and then went back to repeating the phrase again. I finally broke and asked, "What are you saying?"

She turned in her chair, looked me in the eye and said brightly, "You are a businessman."



I needed to make this less weird.

"Is it a question? Could it be Are you a businessman?"

"No, it's a statement."

"Do they think he doesn't know?"

"Mom, I need to work."

In this class, there are hints there might be wider differences between our countries than language and one owning the other's debt. After six weeks, my daughter does not know the words for colors in Chinese. This fascinates me, because colors are where all language classes I've taken have begun; by the end of the first week, I learn how to say "Hello, my name is Quinn" and talk for a sentence or two about how green always cheers me up. But here in Chinese 1, it's a black and white world. Actually, not even that, because Daughter has no idea how to say black or white. She can, however, go on fairly eloquently about family relationships. Want someone to let the Chinese Ambassador know that this person standing next to you is your uncle's cousin? Hire the kid. She knows many words for the subtle variations of kinship; older siblings, younger siblings, maternal relatives versus paternal relatives. Just don't expect to commend the Ambassador on the color of his tie.

She's also not going to be much help if you want to talk about your home state. Unless, of course, you live in Beijing; that word, she knows. She could convey you are from America (I suspect the character is that of an empty wallet, being held upside-down), but nothing more specific than that. Perhaps this is because all states in America are now summed up by the word "A fully-owned subsidiary."

According to her textbook, all mothers in China are teachers and all fathers are either doctors or lawyers. This might cause a reader to ask why someone would need to learn the phrase "You are a businessman." Perhaps this is some code-phrase for the Chinese version of "To Catch a  Predator."

And finally and perhaps most critically for my constantly-starving daughter, as of yet in this class there is no food but mooncake. This is a delicacy the students were encouraged to find and eat to celebrate the Moon Festival. I have a picture of my daughter discovering the "Moon" in the middle is, in fact, a salted duck's egg.

I don't imagine she'll learn the Chinese words for what she said about that for at least another year.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

What Goes Around, Comes Around

My entire adult life:

Monday: "Look at how great smoky eyeliner looks on that famous person. I should use a smoky eyeliner!"

Tuesday: Trip to store.

Wednesday: "Why do I look like a tired gargoyle? I must have bought the wrong eyeliner."

Thursday: Trip to store.

Friday: "Maybe my eye needs to get used to me in smoky eyeliner."

Sunday: "Is it possible I have the flu?"

Monday: "Oh, screw it." (Sound of eyeliners being thrown into drawer with previous eyeliners.)

Six months later: "Look at how great smoky eyeliner looks on that famous person. I should use a smoky eyeliner!"

Six months and one day later: Trip to store. Flip through magazine in check-out line. "Her bangs are ADORABLE! Why did I ever grow mine out?"  

Monday, October 01, 2012

Strike a Pose, There's Nothing to It...

This weekend, Consort suddenly suggested I write about my feelings regarding the October issue of VOGUE.

"You enjoyed doing that last month," he noted. "And people seemed to like it."

What a brilliant idea. Let us all bask in my opinions. And golf claps to Consort who found a polite way to stop having to tune-out my musings on fat reduction using icy-cold wands by foisting me on you all.

October is not September. This is an inarguable statement if you're a fan of calendars but it's also a fashion fact. September VOGUE is a huge issue, offering mucho bang for the buck, because the editors long to draw in any and all suckers -- I mean, fans of the visual arts -- and also because September is the month magazines set their ad rates. It's the sweeps week of fashion publishing. More issues sold in September means GUESS will spends more money all next year for full-page advertisements of Claudia Schiffer designed to make us all feel terrible. I mean, the woman is forty-two years old and has three children; would it kill her to look at least twenty six?

But Claudia Schiffer's deal with Mephistopheles is not why we are here. We are here to decide how to dress ourselves and, as luck would have it, Anna Wintour and her minions have some ideas.

For example, you could buy pants which look like those exercise pants from the 80's which were supposed to take up to an inch off each thigh but, in fact, did nothing of the kind and just made your leg flesh resemble a frozen Thanksgiving turkey three hours into thawing.

Not that I ever bought those pants or anything.

And then you can wear these pants with shoes made of used Converse shoe laces, a bustier based on Tetris and gloves you borrowed from the second-best Michael Jackson impersonator in Branson, Missouri.

For those people who ever wondered what "Haute-Couture Amish" would look like, rest easy. VOGUE has you covered. 

Here's an exercise. Shut your eyes and think of James Brown in his heyday. Now, imagine his house. Now, imagine the guest bathroom in said house. Look closely at the wallpaper in that bathroom. Having done that, please scroll down and see what it would look like as a pantsuit.

Perhaps you don't want to resemble James Brown's guest bathroom's wallpaper. Fine. Not everyone is a visionary. Some people are more academically-minded and might wish to resemble a rhinovirus.

This coat is for yet another underserved fashion cohort: monkey-smugglers.
 From the look on this one's face, I can only assume the monkey tranquilizers have worn off.

Someone reading this just clucked their tongue in irritation and thought: This is all well and good, Quinn, but where is the SEMINAL look for this year? The look which will separate us from the ignorant hoi polloi who think clothing should be flattering and not cause babies to cry? In short, where is my Big Stupid Hat?

Why do you doubt me? More to the point, why do you doubt Anna Wintour? It's just hurtful, the way you think she's not going to offer us another Big Stupid Hat. In fact, just last week she had a meeting with the Big Stupid Hat Manufacturers Association (BSHMA) and told them firmly that you, the wearer of Big Stupid Hats,  needed to be fashionable and wearing a Big Stupid Hat while also enjoying the new hobby of the season: beekeeping.

Bet you feel foolish now.