Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The red and the black

If you haven't ever sat bolt upright in a massage to say "Ow!" then, my friends, you haven't lived. Likewise if the massage doesn't leave you sore for the next couple of days and segue directly into a cold that keeps you from going into the office.

The woman who administered this stern treatment also scolded me, which is kind of fun. I liked her scolding better than that of the Stalinist relic who gave me my first ever massage, after I lost my job during the transit strike. "What did you major in?" barked the Cossack. Upon hearing my answer, she shook her head in disgust. "Oh no, you will never get job with that." She then advised me to find an older man to look out for me in my next office and not to trust other women, who will necessarily be back-stabby.

Anyway, this woman told me I wasn't taking good enough care of myself. My entire right side, she informed me, is screwed up. Her best efforts over 70 minutes hadn't really made a dent. (So she claimed. I felt dented all over.) She gave me a very disapproving look, to which I responded meekly. When I was leaving, I gave an elaborate tip.

It's always nice to be validated, even, or especially, in one's troubles. I didn't have time to explain, nor did she seem to care, *why* my body is dysfunctional. But I have a wild idea: It's because I don't know how to properly manage sadness and anger.

Over the past six months or so, I have been to four funerals / shiva calls and spent significant time at the bedside of dying people in two different hospice facilities. I've taken off work and traveled and helped bury the dead and eaten round things and listened to people cry. Where I should have felt sad, most of the time I was furious.

By contrast, a once-good friend has hurt me more deeply than I have been hurt in years. I should be justly enraged; I try to be. Thinking in strong words helps for a while ("How DARE you?"). Eventually, though, I keep sliding back into mystified whimpering ("how could she?").

Worst of all, there's nothing I can do about anything. I have had almost no agency in any of these situations. The stress of that might be worst of all.

Sadness is a liquid; anger is a solid. My poor body has been melting and freezing and melting again. Is there any wonder it's a mess?

Friday, March 19, 2010

This is not bragging

I'm just saying, publicly, that I feel I made the right decision in marrying the person I did.
Hey sweetie,

You now have an appointment for [time] tomorrow with Simone at the [place] on 5th Avenue in Brooklyn. It's Swedish massage, though she can do "deep work" if necessary. Just tell them that the class was purchased as part of a series under my name.

Does that work for you?

In a time when, apparently, people are spatting about their relationships on the You Face, it's got to be worth it to extend some gratitude on a blog. Right? Right.

Also, I love you and you and you and you and you. You, less so. (You know who you are.) And if any of you buy me an impromptu massage, I will bless you on the Internets too.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Contents are (marginally less) fragile

I knew Friday was going to be rough when I started off the morning by almost stepping on a cockroach in my bare feet.

Friday *was* rough, as expected. Even by the evening, when I abandoned all attempts to feign normalcy and instead went to the gym for an hour, I was faced with a Very Special Episode of "What Not to Wear" starring a cancer survivor who had lost both her breasts as well as ninety pounds. "Now that she has beaten cancer through sheer determination," said the voiceover, "she faces another challenge: how to dress her new body."

Luckily all my energy was going into propelling my body forward on the treadmill, so I had no strength with which to pummel the screen.

Yeah, Friday sucked, as did Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. There were bright spots! If you were with me on any of those days, you made them bearable, so thank you. Overall, though, I felt like a plucked chicken, and not even a tasty one.

Then, this morning, I woke up to a brilliant, sparkling sky. Suddenly I am sympathetic to all of God's children. I am nodding and smiling. I am identifying with everything I read, like this, via Finslippy:
I've been feeling ever since like I should wear a shirt that reads, "CONTENTS ARE FRAGILE," and actually that we should all wear that shirt, so that we can all remember to be kind to each other, because life can be so hard, and we're only here for a little while.
Yes, Alice, goddammit! Yes. I embrace you! Mwah!

And you, Morning News Tournament of Books! Come over here, you old so-and-so. You are almost making me weep with happiness. (At least so far. I cannot vouch for what will happen if Wolf Hall and other favorites of mine from 09 don't keep advancing.) Quotes like these made my morning:
Let's say that the standards that apply to people-—the basic character-defining requirements—=are that a person be funny, smart, and kind. This is my rubric and possibly yours. If a person is funny, smart, and kind (or two out of the three) any other flaw can be forgiven.

It has never occurred to me to apply the same standard to books, which have an aesthetic dimension not even touched in the funny-smart-kind paradigm. And yet ...
Yes, TOB! That is exactly right! Thank you.

You know what else is sublimely right? This chart matching famous writers with their day jobs. YES. I cheer for you, Lapham Quarterly. Hurrah!

Maybe Mr. Ben sprinkled MDMA on my Oatmeal Flakes this morning. After four days of Fester Gloom walking around (who has, to be honest, been making guest appearances in our apartment all month) I couldn't blame him.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


I just took an internet test to discover what gender my brain is. This test seemed reliable to me because a) it's British, and b) it's six parts.

Going in, my assumption was that my brain would be roughly 130% female because I'm told my body shape, baby-face, and negligible amounts of body hair correlate strongly with having more estrogen than a soybean field. There are other stereotypical reasons I would think so, too: I am hyper-verbal but scared of numbers; I am equally indifferent to cars and sports, unless there is a narrative to follow (or, failing that, something pretty to admire); and at times I hate myself, as female-type people are wont to do.

Speaking of which, I watched the Oscars Sunday night. The best parts of the ceremony, in order:

3) "George Clooney threw me into a pool."

2) The Horror montage, perfectly described by David Rees: "Kill Everyone with your Chainsaw … the Dolls are Alive … Dreaming of Murder … Blood and Gore Will Cleanse Your Soul … The Baby is Satan … I break your feet … eat a rat for dinner … big-ass freaky ears and eyes … Frankenstein wants a kiss … the Headless Horseman rides again … Alfred Hitchock’s “Too Many Birds” … screaming and yelling … people staring at each other …long hallways with kids in ‘em … I see dead people … bloody monsters that you have to kiss … blood coming out of elevators … rats and mucus … mouths and teeth … AND THAT, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, IS HORROR."

1) The fact that Bigelow won for Best Director and then got to win again for Best Picture. The audience understood the moment Barbara "Liberal Jewish Feminist" Streisand walked out to present the first of those awards that Bigelow was going down in history, but the second win was still a happy shock. As Dana Stevens put it,
it's unbelievably gratifying to see a woman who does fine, small-scale work triumphing over a man who erects massive monuments to his own vanity. Bigelow's victory makes it seem like hard work is worthwhile, because someday someone will recognize it, no matter how loudly that asshole at the center table is talking about himself.
I quibble with the idea that the Hurt Locker is "small-scale." Um, it's a war movie. It's about men and guns and battle and heat and exhaustion and explosions. Did I mention men? I don't think there is a single speaking woman in the whole thing. We're not exactly talking about a well-mannered Jane Austen adaptation here.

I do love the fact, though, that in two speeches Bigelow got around to thanking "firemen" (!) and still didn't slip in a reference Cameron, her ex-husband and co-front runner. Didn't you expect her to mention him, at least? To say some cursory "thank you" for ... I don't know, something? At least I would assume that would be the gracious, self-effacing, feminine thing to do.

Back to the point: how did I fare at the gender test?

Part I was a look at spatial understanding, something about lines and angles. "If you scored 18 - 20: You have more of a male brain [emphasis added]. On average, men outperform women in this task and those with more mathematical knowledge tend to score quite high as well. In past studies, 60 per cent of the people in this range were men."

Well, that's a shocker! But it may be an outlier. How about Part II, which is more about objects changing position? "If you scored between 0 - 33%: You may have more of a male brain. Scientists say men tend to under perform in this task. The corpus callosum, the part of the brain that links the right and left hemispheres, is a fifth larger in women. This means women can process visual and other signals at the same time more easily than men. There is also a theory that oestrogen levels in women give them an added advantage in spatial memory."

Sorry, test. I scored low because I was afraid to make a mistake (points were deducted for incorrect answers as well as awarded for correct ones). All of the things I guessed, however, were right. I played it safe. What's more female than that?

Still, it was kind of exciting to be seen as male for two questions. Then the test took a turn for the physiognomical: It wanted to me actually gauge my hands, which betrayed me. My empathy & sensitivity to emotion results, which came next, were off the charts. Though I have a better-than-average appreciation for systems (for a girl), I suck at mentally rotating shapes. I must have been asleep the day they covered that in school. Oh wait! Just kidding -- they never taught us how to do that. Is this one of those "innate" IQ things?

I screwed myself by knowing significantly more synonyms for given words than either men or women are supposed to know. Come on! The word for that is not "female," it's "dorky."

To add insult to injury, the test insinuated that I am a lesbian by pointing out I like men with "feminine" faces. (Ha!)

And so I ultimately come in exactly as "female" as the average woman taking the test. Go skew their results, would you, please? Man, it sucks to be average.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


On the way back from finally seeing Avatar, I hear a couple across the car from me discussing the Academy Awards and the meta-narrative of Cameron vs. Bigelow: Who Gets Custody of Oscar.

The conversation is very run-of-the-mill and I zone out, paying attention instead to the Daley article in the New Yorker. Then I hear the boy say something is "political." My antenna goes up.

GIRL: Really?
BOY: Of course it is. You remember that movie, Brokeback Mountain?
GIRL: Yeah.
BOY: That was nominated for Best Picture!
GIRL: Really?
BOY: Yes! And you know what it's about?
GIRL: Yeah.
BOY: And *that* was nominated for Best Picture! Even though it was about ... *that*! It's just 'cause it was politically correct. Now, if it was a good movie, I wouldn't mind ...
GIRL: I never saw it.
BOY: Me neither, but still ...

This reminds me of the time when I was about thirteen and my mother took me to the Algonquin hotel. I was a passionate devotee of Dorothy Parker's, and I sat where she had once held court soaking up the Vitamin D. At least, I did, until my reverie was broken by the sound of a man a couple tables away lecturing his female companion on my favorite author. And he was wrong! More wrong than a cat being thrown out into the snow.

My mother could tell how incensed I was. I glared and shook my head and snorted like a horse but the man kept talking in his pompous, Master of the Literary Universe kind of way. "Please can I go over there and correct him," I asked my mother. "He's pretending he knows all this stuff and he doesn't!"

In this case, I will content myself with saying to you, the Internets: that boy is a fool.

Of course, it is tempting to dismiss anything you find distasteful without feeling like you first have to sit through it. Especially in our digital age when we can easily access the proxy opinions of friends, or "Fox and Friends," why bother exposing yourself to something whose agenda you suspect you don't want to support?

A friend and I were recently discussing this in relation to, as it happens, Avatar: Is it fair to hate it without having seen it? Especially with an international blockbuster that seems to have been covered quite in depth by the media, it feels pretty easy to get a sense of whether you'll like it in advance. (Good questions to ask yourself: How did you feel about Titanic? Fern Gully? Cats? [The animal, not the Broadway show.] How do you feel about white male protagonists with one-syllable "J" names? Great. Lastly, mother-goddess worship. Is that a deal breaker for you?)

Well, I decided to take myself to see it, by myself, to decide in as much of a vacuum as possible how I felt about it. There are my primary reactions. *CAUTION: SPOILERS*

1) James Cameron can sure make movies. I found myself thinking like a film student a lot of the time: "Those two characters are going to kiss at this point. Wait, but will they? They're not human; why would they kiss? American audiences expect it even though it doesn't make sense in this context. I wonder what Cameron will -- oh, there they go! Well done."

Assuming that Titanic and Avatar are about equally long, I would give you excellent odds that the first kiss between the couples in both films happen at roughly the same time. Like, within five minutes of each other. Because there is a kind of science to this and Cameron knows how it works.

I also made mental notes of the characters who seemed marked as Dead Meat and, indeed, most of them bit it. In a couple of cases I was surprised, which is another Well Done for JC.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience. I was carried by the narrative. I was impressed with the visuals. At times I was moved and at times I laughed, though a couple of those chuckles came at the expense of particularly ham-handed lines of dialogue. The movie was long but I didn't get bored.


2) the story -- specifically the politics of it. Oy. I don't need to get into this; others, more prestigious and better suited to the task than I have done it already (here, there, and everywhere).

It should be noted that right-wingers think "Avatar" is a tree-hugging, socialist fantasy:
Writing in the Weekly Standard, conservative commentator John Podhoretz called the movie's clash between heavily armed humans and an indigenous tribe of aliens as "anti-American, anti-human." In an upcoming piece in Commentary magazine, Stephen Hunter writes that "the movie essentially decodes into a 1960s pseudo-intellectual's power-trip dream." A headline on a piece by John Nolte, editor of Andrew Breitbart's conservative Big Hollywood site, declared the movie wasn't for Heartland America: "'Avatar' Is a Big, Dull, America-Hating, PC Revenge ..."
Hee! I love conservative outrage. For more from the left, here's Dan Savage on the film's sexual politics. He's not happy either.

To all of that, I will only add that the film's gender politics do get points from me. Most mainstream movies pass the Ms. Test only on a technicality. JC gives us several interesting, active female characters. Even the warrior princess kicks ass, and not just once, like, when a maternal instinct helps her save a baby rabbit. She hunts and flies and fights; her dad gives her his huge bow and arrow. She doesn't need saving. Well, once, a bit, but then she does some excellent saving of her own.

In short, the women are just as developed as the men (which is to say, not much, but this is not a deep, character-driven flick). For an action movie, that's not nothing.

Here, however, is where JC falls short:

3) the tails. WTF, JC? You give these 10-feet-tall blue-skinned cat-people *tails* and then do nothing with them? Think of the possibilities! Think of the children! (We barely see the children. What are the little Na'vi doing all day? Plugging their braids into everything they can find?) Many people, including one of my favorite high school teachers, would kill to have a tail. That showed a lack of imagination, Mr. Cameron. I am disappointed in you.

Overall? I liked it better than I thought I would. It helped to have expectations set to virtually zero. And now I can feel even more morally superior to that little blond idiot on the subway than I would have felt already.