Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dear Abby's Hair and Me

Cover of The Best of Dear Abby"
When I was a kid, I used to read “Dear Abby.”

Who am I kidding? I still read it.

Back then, I would see Dear Abby’s swooping old-lady hair in her picture and I’d say to myself, “Self, don’t ever have, no matter how old you get, ‘Dear Abby’ hair.”


Dear Abby did her hair (or more likely, had her hairdresser do her hair in regular weekly appointments) in a bouffant. And that was old-fashioned … then.

But what’s old-fashioned now?

Jeans. Neither of my kids wear jeans. And I live in mine.

I can’t figure out how to work my own TV. (Granted, it has 5 frigging remotes.) I have to ask my son, who, as he’s turning it on and getting to the right “output,” always patiently shows me how to do it, but I have no intention of knowing how to do it next time either.

Phone calls. It absolutely never occurs to my kids to use their cell phones as phones. Text, text, text.

Printing things out on paper. Often, articles on websites and, especially, blogs aren’t even set up to be printed out on paper anymore. (If you aren’t careful, that cute little article will print out as 27 pages of gibberish.)

My kids, teenagers, use “snail mail” so rarely they still have to ask which side, left or right, the stamp goes on.

Checks. I am NOT the old lady paying for groceries in the supermarket line by check. However, I still do pay most bills that way, except for the ones that insist on being paid online. Are my payments like one of three that the companies get by paper check?

Lord, I’ll have spidery handwriting and be peering over my steering wheel before I know it.

I'm getting old, aren't I?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Impossible Things That Happen In Movies All The Time

You know cartoon physics? That’s when impossible things happen in cartoons cuz it’s funnier that way, like a character grabs the string to a single helium balloon and flies away or is perfectly fine after falling off a cliff or getting hit in the head with an anvil.

Well, there’s such a thing in movies too. There are certain stereotypical things that happen in movies all the time that never happen in real life …

People are always able to grab onto something as they fall, like a ledge.

They can then hang from said ledge forever by their fingertips.

And then, they can pull themselves up. Are you kidding? 99% of all Americans, me included, couldn’t do a single pull-up if their lives depended on it.

No one in movies can hit the broad side of a barn with a gun. A huge gun fight, dozens of people firing every which way, and no one gets hit, which is good since …

People in movies hide behind car doors from bullets. That doesn’t work in real life.

People constantly knock each other out cold in movies … and then the knocked-out person gets up and is fine.

When someone gets shot or stabbed, they keel over immediately, dead, OR they have time to give a long, eloquent speech before dying gracefully. No unsightly blood, shit or cries of agony.

Wonderful sex in shower or tub, often surrounded by hundreds of candles. (Who lit those?)

People have sex in movies with the blankets over their heads.

Also, they fall out of bed – and keep going.

No talk of contraception, ever.

Normal people live in spacious apartments in Manhattan. No.

Just as he’s about to kill someone and get away, the bad guy stops to explain and gets caught.

Monday, January 19, 2015

It's OK To Not Be A Morning Person

In our family, the door leading from our house to the outside world is known as “The Magic Portal.”*

It got its name when our kids were small and getting out the door in the morning was a real bear. Everybody, parents included, would be dragging our feet, grumpy and cranky, possibly crying, but once we actually passed the threshold, we would be OK.

What’s up with that?

It isn’t just the kids. And it isn’t just a matter of packing lunches and laying out clothes the night before, the advice you see in articles aimed at parents about morning routines. Efficiency tips are great, but they don’t get to the crux of the matter, which is there is a psychological obstacle to leaving the house in the morning.

No, it isn’t just me. Just google “getting started in the morning.” Magazines ranging from Fitness and Women’s Health to Forbes and Inc. to Reader’s Digest  have tackled the subject.

I don’t have any better advice than what’s in those magazine articles. I just think it helps to recognize that it isn’t easy getting out the door in the morning and that’s normal. Also, once you do get going, things will seem better.

*Incidentally, when I googled “magic portal,” I discovered it’s the name of one of the first “brickfilm” movies ever made. Brickfilms are stop-action films made using Legos – and they have a whole culture and community built around them.  The LEGO Movie, made in 2014, contains an allusion to The Magic Portal.

And do you know why I now know this? Because I didn’t have to jump up and run out the door this morning. Just sayin’.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Where Do You Stand on Pajamas?

Plaid robe, check
striped flannel pants, check
patterned t-shirt, check
fuzzy socks with pom-poms, check

People have definite opinions.

Some take it as a sign of the end times that people now wear pajamas in public. Other people do wear them in public, like the woman I saw in my supermarket, wearing a union suit, hers fuzzy and with feet. (My thought: when you get through walking all over, you are never going to get those feet clean.)

I know someone who once told me she felt, if she went to the supermarket in sweatpants, that she should apologize to the people who have to see her that way. (Ah, no, in my opinion, the appropriate response here would be: “Yeah? What you looking at?”) But I also know someone who considers regular clothes a foreign and uncomfortable irritation in her life. She will, immediately upon arriving home, change into ratty clothes she would never go out in. (Too much work, in my opinion. Now you have to change every time you want to leave the house.)

I don’t go the supermarket in my pajamas. However, I do go in my gym clothes, which are pretty damn close.

I like to hang around in my pajamas in the morning. To have to get up and jump into clothes – and out the door, like the jogger I saw this morning huffing and puffing in the cold and the dark – is just wrong.

And while I realize you can buy fancy pajamas, all matchy-matchy, made of silk and whatnot, I like my motley collection of pajama pants and t-shirts. (And I don’t get “sexy” pajamas, or lingerie. How does dressing like a baby doll make you feel sexy and not, say, stupid?)

When I get up, I “layer” too, adding a robe, usually, my husband’s tartan-plaid one, and fuzzy slippers.

And life is good.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Empress Dowager Cixi

I picked up a book, Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang, and I couldn't put it down.

I knew zip about Cixi, the last empress of China before the boy portrayed in the movie, The Last Emperor.

Controversy, apparently, swirls about her. She has long been described as having been ruthless and incompetent. Chang, using newly available historical documents, says Cixi's reputation was smeared because she was a woman.

It may be difficult to figure what Cixi did, since she had to rule through child emperors and even from behind a silk screen, to be invisible to men.

But if other historians vilified her more than was fair, Chang loves Cixi perhaps too much. She often appears to be making excuses for reprehensible behavior. She claims Cixi was humane, giving the example that, once, when she executed someone, she ordered, not “death by a thousand cuts,” which she did use on others, but by commanding the man to hang himself (by sending him a length of white silk, a message he obeyed). She also argues that while Cixi did have a eunuch throw a teenaged concubine down a well, she felt “contrite” about it afterwards. (OK, then?) At the end, Chang says Cixi's political killings "were no more than a few dozen."

BTW, eunuchs? Wow. And one father sends his daughter an empty food box, a message to starve herself, which she does.

Chang does convincingly quote many contemporaries, both European and Chinese, who were impressed by Cixi's leadership. They were also charmed by her sense of humor and thoughtfulness.

Maybe Cixi was both good and bad, both charming and ruthless. Which is fascinating, like when you meet someone with beautiful taste who’s nasty or learn the artist whose works touched you is actually a jerk.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Music To My Ears

Within my lifetime, what music I have been able to listen to, listen to easily,  has dramatically increased. From records and tapes to CDs and digital. From radio to MTV to videos at your fingertips. From stereos and boom boxes to Walkmans to iPods to music on your phone to Bluetooth.

Debate continues to rage within the music industry over who makes what money now. (Here's a good book about the music industry by David Byrne of the Talking Heads.)

Thanks to my music-geek husband, we listen to a premium streaming service. (We use Google Music: $10 a month and, in addition to listening to the service’s “radio stations,” you can call up pretty much whatever artist, album, song you want whenever you want.)

What we're exposed to has grown dramatically. For instance, my son heard a song, playing through a Google radio station in my car on the way to school, from a group called  Devil Makes Three:

Now, we listen to them all the time and my son bought an album of theirs through iTunes.

While I was at the gym, songs kept coming on that I really liked. It took me a little while to realize they were all the same guy, Dan Auerbach:

He's also one of The Black Keys:


New music doesn’t reach us only through streaming. My husband read a profile of Tinariwen, a group from northern Mali, in The New Yorker:

So cool.

We’ve bought their albums, as CDs, on iTunes, and we listen to them on Google Music. And follow them on Facebook.

Not looking to cheat anybody, but this is a great time to listen to music.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

When More Is More

Someone has the Christmas spirit.
I tend to be a “less is more” kind of person: restrained, held back, cautious.

However, there are times when less is definitely not more.

One Christmas, early on in our relationship, my husband complained, “Oh, are we always just going to do tasteful, little white lights?” He was right. Since then, our tree has been done up with colored lights, blinking lights, big and small lights, lights, lights, lights. As this fabulous house from our neighborhood shows, when it comes to Christmas lights, more is more.

Same with gift wrap. Shiny paper, tissue, ribbons, glitter, sparkle. More is more here. In fact, generally speaking, more is more in all aspects of gift-giving. You generally feel good about going all out when buying someone a gift, holding back, not so much.

"Derby Racer" by Larry Fuente
Art Car Museum, Houston
Cake frosting and other decorations on cakes and cupcakes: hard to imagine what too much would be. Ditto for things like the options on a make-your-own-sundae bar.

Bedazzling something. Not that I have ever done this, but if you are going to, then go ahead and go all out, like they do on the cars in Houston’s annual Art Car parade.

Flowers. Again, hard to imagine too many. Outside in flower beds, inside in vases. Hell, plants and trees of all types, inside and out. Can’t have too many.

Sometimes, it’s OK to go nuts.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Half-Century Mark

Gee, thanks, AARP.
I turn fifty today.

So far, to mark the occasion, AARP has sent me a membership application and ads for Cologuard, an at-home medical test which involves collecting a sample of your own poop, has been showing up on my Facebook page. Oh, hooray.

And this morning, my gastroenterologist-husband woke me up to tell me "Happy Birthday" and that he had made an appointment with one of his partners for my age-50 screening colonoscopy. Oh, double hooray, he didn’t – and probably won't – forget. (Incidentally, he says you really should get that colonoscopy and not try to depend on a test like Cologuard.)

In his defense, in addition to arranging my colonoscopy (how thoughtful), my husband is taking me on a birthday trip – I do not yet know the destination, though I have grilled our son, whom my husband told, the best way I knew how. He didn’t crack, the poor kid.

A half-century. Doesn’t seem like it.

On the one hand, I have developed the distressing habit of referring to anyone under the age of 35 as “a kid.” I went for a physical the other day and I swear the doctor was a 12-year-old girl trying hard to look serious.

On the other hand, every day, on my way to bring my son to his high school, I pass a senior-living, or "active-adult," apartment building. It’s for ages 55 and up. Wha? Not ready for that.

But I’ve read – in places like this – that people actually become happier as they get older. High point of happiness, according to one study: age 85. Makes sense when you think about it. I watch my kids worry over stuff that I worried over at their ages. I tell them they don’t need to, just like people told me. Guess what? They don’t, or can't, hear it, any more than I did.

Oh, well, live and learn.