For the last two years, the only media I have been able to enjoy has been a low budget public television program in rerun: Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.
The show offered a grounded, civilized view of society; a sense of stability and community; escapism in the form of an imaginary world of puppets; and really interesting field trips to discover how shoes or fig cookies are made.
Mr. Rogers and his code of neighborly love offered the only tonic available to my little son when he thought bombs were going to fall on our house. I hope that the show stays on the air for years to come. We all need a little more decency in our lives.
Recently my daughter pointed to a group of teenagers and scoffed at their clothes.
I looked over and didn't see anything worth comment; they were fairly standard kids, with printed tshirts and wallet chains. What? I asked.
Plaid punks she replied they buy their revolution at the mall.
I blinked. What are we?
Gutter punks, she replied and then when I yelped added Okay, the sanitary, clean version.
She went on to describe at great length the division between people who look like they belong to a subculture and the people who actively ascribe to a set of philisophical principles. In her schematic, the kids wearing outfits from Hot Topic were worthy of scorn because they were not activists. She went on to say the kids at school who draw an A symbol on the walls are just hooligans, because anarchy isn't about defacement of free alternative schools, it is about living in and caring for a community.
My twelve year old daughter has figured out more about identity and activism than many adults I know.
I said Wow.
Being a parent offers many rewards, but seeing the way children evolve into their own unique selves is probably top on the list. My daughter is a rock and roll diva with attitude and opinions. I can't take credit for what she is - I think much of it is a genetic predisposition from the other side of the family - and even if I wanted to, the proof isn't in the pudding.
My son, raised in the same household, appears to be turning into an Edwardian English gentleman. His comments on life run more to I say, I could do with a spot of chess.
James is flying back to Tokyo this afternoon.
It seems like I've been at a nonstop party since November; looking at the calendar, that is pretty accurate. Between all the holiday events, family festivities, visitors, trips and etc., I don't think I've had more than forty-eight hours of strictly work time.
Next, my mother is taking me to Vegas for a week.
Maybe this is my cosmic reward for so many years of diligently taking care of other people. The entire decade of the nineties didn't offer as many adventures as the last few months.
This is not a sustainable lifestyle, but I'm trying to enjoy it while it lasts.
We drove to to have dinner with Stella and Al. They gave us a metal guard to protect our sink from stray spoons, and we sat on the floor eating pasta and salad and laughing. The conversation turned to volunteerism, and Al commented that he never felt very effective as a volunteer, and wondered what was different about the people who feel satisfied clocking in and out.
I replied that he is simply a different archetype. He laughed and asked me to clarify.
You are a singer-songwriter; you make work and perform it on your own terms.
He asked if I have the various categories worked out in my mind; I suppose that I do, in some sense. Or at least, I've studied organizational behavior and worked with groups for so long, I have an intuitive sense of where people fit in (and where they don't).
My first zine, in 1984, started from the theory Christine and I worked out that there was no beauty in our social environment. There were only different kinds of ugly. So we defined each category and circulated an underground expose.
On the way to the KAOS thirtieth birthday party we stopped in at The Brotherhood. When I visited the bar in the early nineties it was always in the company of indie rock boys who liked the legitimacy of the place: it was dirty, smokey, featuring old men with urine stains on their pants drooping in the booths.
Apparently the owners of Thekla purchased the bar. They painted the walls red and hung velvet toreador paintings on the walls. It is still smokey, but now the alcoholics drooping in the booths are well dressed and young.
Steve Fisk was supposed to close the show but he couldn't make it so Al finished the set at midnight, and we sat in the front row and felt like teenagers once again. Costumes and faces may change in Olympia, but the place is always the same.
I have a writer friend who says that there is no such thing as a true epiphany. I disagree; I have experienced moments of clarity, of insight and truth, in which I can feel the axis of my brain turning.
One of those moments happened in Stella's backyard a few years ago, when she gently pointed out that it is perfectly understandable that I have concerns about physical safety. She said just look at your history, at what has happened to your body.
Of course I knew my own history, could talk around the subject, tell funny and macabre stories. But I had never really allowed myself to see the history as real. To survive the horrible, it is necessary to turn facts to fiction, create parables and analogies, become Little Red Riding Hood. Or to forget. Stella made me think about my own life in an entirely new way, and I have been writing in response to that moment ever since.
I had another epiphany last night in Kristin's kitchen. She asked if I smelled something; I said that I lost most of my sense of smell long ago. The brief interchange of how and when is something I have rehearsed a thousand times: an accident, my fractured cheekbone. She said I don't really know what happened? and for the first time, in a civilized and social way, I was able to have a conversation about the car accident.
The facts are public record, and I have recited them over and over. I have always been able to state the obvious, to clarify and classify the experience. But last night I started with the collision, touched on being trapped in the car, on the disabling injuries we suffered, the lawsuits and product liability case. And then I admitted how much I cared.
The accident is the most important event of my life, the one thing that explains everything else. I learned more about the dark side of human nature and the impoverished state of my own soul on that day in 1988 than I have ever gleaned from any experience; not poverty, not parenthood or marriage, not even cancer. The accident is not a dominant or overwhelming theme. I do not dwell on it, or worry. I am not morbidly depressed or anxious. I simply acquired a profound knowledge that I will never be able to discard.
Kristin voiced shock and dismay at some of the parts of the story; she said that if she had been there, she would have comforted me. I believe her. I believe that all of my real-life friends would take care of me if I were hurt. But they were not present at the time. All of these current friendships exist because of that moment of epiphany, because of my need for safety, for community and nurture and love and fun.
I finished my story with a shrug and laughed before saying life sucks; the challenge is to make the best of it.
Today I sat in a coffee shop reading weekly newspapers. The baristas were playing a new wave mix tape, all the songs that showed up in Molly Ringwald movies or at the very bottom of the Casey Kasem countdown. My astrological tip was boring: the column basically said that I need to pursue pleasure. I went to Disneyland, isn't that enough? I need to get back to work now!
We went on a walk on Queen Anne and through the Seattle Center. There was a radical youth conference taking place, decorated with tricked out hot rods. We saw the girl the alternative weekly voted Sexiest Street Kid. We nodded at the Jesus Loves You busker. In front of the EMP we saw dozens of people lounging and smoking with their sleeping bags and backpacks, with French pop music blasting out of the speakers. Just then a bride in a long white gown and veil walked past, her groom holding her arm, a black backpack slung over his shoulder.
Happy Valentine's Day! If the commercial and romantic elements of the day seem tiresome, you can always contemplate saints and martyrs....
We went to Disneyland during a security alert. The front page of the newspaper each morning detailed the various threats and potential hazards; I folded it over and read the entertainment section. It isn't wise to share these things with either my mother or my son, unless you want to spend the day in a hotel room watching cartoons. The guards at the gate checked our bags as we entered the park, but not thoroughly - they just patted the outside and looked at the top layer of scarves and wallets. I saw men walking through the gate with holstered knives; I did not feel confident of our safety in the event that someone actually tried to target the park.
It is hard to sort out my impressions of the trip -- six days in California, five of them spent on Disney property from opening until closing. One dinner with long lost relatives. No time to myself, and absolutely no silence even in the middle of the night. It was a complete sensory overload and my one true love was practically whimpering at certain points; he feels bad music as a wound.
Going to a major family attraction underscores the truth that bad parenting crosses all socioeconomic barriers. I flinched every time I heard an adult say shut your mouth to an inquisitive child. I quivered in sympathy with the terrified infants forced to go on scary rides. I shook my head in sorrow at the parents saying I'm not going to carry you, now catch up! to tired toddlers. Strollers can be rented for $7.00. Easy solution - more people should take advantage. The worst moment of the day was around sunset; we called it spanking hour because the wails of the frustrated and punished would soar above the music.
My children were remarkably well behaved and the teenagers kept intoning I drove you six hundred miles for this, and now you are going to ruin it for everyone? and then giggling. One of the girls had blue hair, the other purple, and while this adornment wouldn't cause a second glance in Seattle, it was the source of much comment in the park. The mime in New Orleans square patted their heads and gave them mardi gras beads to match their hair. My small boy has overcome most of his latent fear from last year, and thoroughly enjoyed all apsects of the park. Just watching his face as he experienced a show was well worth the effort of the trip.
Some other random observations: Disney must be the number one career choice for high school dancers and first chair band kids who want to stay on that track. The live performances were amazing - and you don't really see adults doing that kind of thing anywhere else.
The best rides at the park are all old, most of them created under the direct supervision of Walt Disney. I love them not just because they are kitsch -- though that is a significant factor. I love these rides because they are beautiful, and represent a stunning level of innovation and imagination for their historical time period. My picks: The Enchanted Tiki Room, Peter Pan, The Pirates of the Carribean, The Haunted Mansion, and Small World.
My mother had a cane and a pass so we were given priority seating on all rides; Small World was especially thrilling when it did not require a long wait. I've wondered for a few years now who actually designed the ride - the colors and shapes look a lot like a show I saw at the Carnegie in NYC awhile back. Perhaps the ride was designed by the same fellow who did all those restaurants and airline collections, textiles and wallpaper; the one who gave his folk art collections to the museum in Santa Fe? Or at least, the ride was deeply influenced by that style.
I was the only woman in the park wearing a skirt without also wearing a kerchief. I thought I was dressed down, that I looked normal; I didn't realize that everyone in the whole world wears blue jeans now.
The fortune telling machine in the pirate store offered the following wisdom:
Cast overboard the doldrums that have plagued ye like the fever, matey, now that ye've sailed a steady course to the Magic Kingdom. Possessed ye be o' proper book larnin' and yer shipmates be impressed with yer intelligence. Pleasure be yer new cargo.
Each night I fell deeply asleep and had nightmares - vivid, horrible dreams. But they were so real I couldn't wake myself. One involved getting a haircut, and then regretting the choice and crying and crying. Another was a dream of a long, monotonous meeting with people I know and like, who can never agree on or execute plans.
I'm glad to be home.
From Al & with my full endorsement:
What if we didn't want this war?
What would we do then?
What if the millions of underground labels and bands and djs and singer-songwriters and puppeteers and perennial critics and punks and promoters and fanzines and hip mamas and filmmakers and indie seamstress designers and independent publishers and everyone else on the outskirts of culture - all of US, the natural enemies of oppression, of war, of propaganda and hypocrisy MADE AN ISSUE of our opposition? Most people or organizations doing public work keep a website going - what if we each used a corner of it to publicly declare our dissent and publicize alternative new sources and protest organizing activities?
So, here is The Proposition
1) That the pursuit of independent underground culture is inherently anti-fascist and anti-imperialist.
2) That the MAIN media is already minimizing the opposition to the upcoming war on Iraq and ALSO limiting information and discussion of a host of other things going down: secret trials, suspension of civil liberties, loosening of environmental protections, weakening of labor unions, tax giveaways to the super rich, etc etc etc. ad nauseum.
3) That it sure would be NICE to see labels, bands, venues and others people and groups on the inside of independent underground culture make the bridge from ABSTRACT OPPOSTION to PARTICULAR EDUCATION and ACTION.
There must be a bajillion ways to do this - and if any of us believed that ONE SIZE FITS ALL we wouldn't be here anyway - but one way, and the way we're suggesting for RIGHT NOW, is this:
PUT A NOTICE ON THE FRONT PAGE OF YOUR WEBSITE. Take as little or as much space as you want, include as much or as little of your own statements and analyses as you want, but at a MINIMUM tell your constituency that:
THERE WILL BE WORLDWIDE PROTESTS AGAINST US WAR ON IRAQ SATURDAY FEBRUARY 15th CLICK HERE FOR THE SITE NEAREST YOU
and provide a link to
Kristin offered to come over and feed spoons to the garbage disposal and play with the conga drums while we're gone, but we already have housesitters so I had to decline. She asked if she could do anything else for us, and after some thought I admitted that I need a babysitter for my existential crisis. I can't very well take it along to the happiest place on earth.
She agreed, but required tips because she isn't fretful by nature. I suggested that she focus on something entirely arbitrary and out of her control, and sit around gnashing her teeth. She asked for examples. The best I could offer were not very subtle - war, the economy, the airplane that fell on a house in my favorite Denver neighborhood? She didn't think she could get distressed over those.
I had to ponder and went to check my mail. Someone had sent a tear sheet of the Time interview I did last year. The article was quite favorable, the author said nice things about my book, and they used one of my comments as the pull quote.
One of the most disturbing aspects of my existential crisis is an inability to deal with compliments. I don't know where to look, or what to say. My friends have attempted to train me, have coaxed and instructed (sample: smile, make eye contact, and say thank you!). But I still find it all quite creepy. I think that it might be more normal to brag and squeal and jump about, but instead, I quiver and moan.
I told Kristin she could be upset about my positive reviews and she agreed to at least try.
I'm pleased to share that my dear friend Ariel has an excellent new book coming out:
My newspaper astrology reading this week points out that I value truth over popularity. As my daughter would say: well, duh.
I've always been fastidiously ethical. Trenchantly honest. Even when it would be in my best interest to participate in social charades, I trudge along, certain of my moral barometer. This is not an easy way to live.
Perhaps the newspaper columnist should consider tips on how to improve on my basic condition, instead of pointing out essential truths. Capricorns don't really need help sorting out reality. We need to learn how to avoid it on occasion.
Last week my daughter jumped off the bus and handed me a crumpled piece of paper. It was a list of supplies she needed for her camping trip. The next day.
She claimed that she absolutely had to have a variety of items and I sighed and opened the car door. As we started our epic quest, my son started to quarrel with his sister. He was upset at being dragged out shopping when he wanted to go home and play chess. He didn't understand why she had waited until the last second to prepare for her trip.
I adjusted the rear view mirror. She just isn't like us I said. She is like your dad; every time he goes to Europe he waits until the banks are closed and the stores are closing to decide he has to change money and buy socks. They don't plan ahead.
My son plans ahead. He has selected new shoes and worn them for a week to make sure they will work for the forthcoming family trip. He has picked which toys will accompany him to California, although he says he won't take them out of the hotel because they might get lost. He knows which clothes he wants to wear, and he reminded me that we will need to pack snacks for the airplane. He suggested that I bring my own coffee beans because he knows that I dislike the kind provided by the hotel.
Like my son, I have made preparations for the trip. I've even rehearsed my outfits-- the red polka dot dress will be my outfit for the plane because I wear the white petticoat with it; the black petticoat will be checked in luggage because it is held together with safety pins. I have new tights, new lipstick, and I've been wearing my new shoes for a week to make sure my feet will be comfortable. I have a book, a notebook, three pens, the cords for my laptop. My suitcase is half packed and my toiletries bag, of course, is always packed and ready.
I have arranged for people to stay in the house, notified all of my colleagues that I will be gone, made plans with cousins and friends who live in Los Angeles.
We are counting down days until we leave, and dreaming about missing the plane. If my son could read, he would join me in obsessively checking the dates and times on the itinerary. My husband and daughter figure they have days.... weeks... months to get ready! They make fun of our methodical approach to planning. They twirl their fingers next to their temples and laugh at us.
But when we get to California, after various dramatic scenes with taxis and luggage, they know that I'm the one who will provide the bandages, the extra socks, sunblock, and protein bars. The dad and daughter know they can drop their identification and wallets and wander about in a daze, because the mom and son will keep track of everything.
My son and I will hold hands and watch the other two dash off to ride the roller coaster.
We will be on the Dumbo ride.