Thursday, April 30, 2009

Free To Be You and Me

Oh yeah, I got it for my kids, and today I played it for the second time and they both loved the title song and my daughter loved the stories and dancing around to "Brothers and Sisters" with her I got all choked up. The first time I played the CD, I got choked up a few bars into the title song, so there's progress, of a sort. I just hope the other kids on their bus will know the words, too.

The University

A million years ago (or so it feels) I was a graduate student in a doctoral program. For two years, the year I applied to grad school and my first year in it, I was absolutely sure of what I wanted to do. In my second year, my dedication began to waver. By the third, I knew that while I liked what I was doing fine most days, I didn't like it enough on enough days to do it forever and to live anywhere I might get a job. So I left. Periodically, The New York Times runs and article about the lack of jobs in the academy or some Op Ed about something in the university and it reminds me I did the right thing, for me. Today I read on Op Ed from a few days ago that reminded me once again. It's aptly titled The End of the University As We Know It, and it's mixture of critical diagnosis, mixed-bag recommendations and breezy arrogance put me right back in grad school. Not in a classroom, but at a party where some guy is talking something about hermeneutics and the idea of the self, maybe in immigrant communities.

Still, the Op-Ed is well worth reading, and I'm all for that Water discipline the author (Mark Taylor) recommends, but something about the tone of it put me off. Or maybe it's his boasting that he doesn't have his students write papers but "develop analytic treatments in formats from hypertext and Web sites to films and video games." What does that mean anyway? That students don't have to organize their analytic treatments into a cohesive essay because they're using hypertext? When I do get nostalgic for grad school, I like to remember the projects I got lost in, no hypertext required. Then again, I'm so old school.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Specter of Specter

“I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate — not prepared to have that record decided by that jury.”
Arlen Specter as quoted in The New York Times

Putting what it might mean for major Obama initiatives aside, is there anyone more cynical than a politician who does not wish to have the constituents he himself has represented for twenty-nine years decide whether or not he may continue to hold a seat representing them?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What Model You Lookin' At?

Yesterday I saw my dear friend Elizabeth, a home birth midwife and acupuncturist who lives in LA. Since she lives in LA, she needs a car. And she doesn't just have a car, she has a decked out, souped-up, leather-steering-wheeled, top of the line Prius. It's a 2007. (She got a deal, in 2007.) She's already investigating the 2010s. I know all of this because I mentioned that should my husband and I ever buy a car, we'd buy a Prius and when she heard this her whole face lit up and said "What model are you thinking about?" I didn't even know there were models, but Elizabeth, she's been to Prius chat rooms.

Of course, if my husband and I were to buy a Prius, we'd buy the totally stripped down, bargain basement, late in the year model and we'd keep in for ten years, easy. And we'd both be glad. She'll zoom down the freeway in her souped up Prius with its GPS and bluetooth already installed. And me, I'll poke along the Jersey turnpike, grateful when I screw up the courage to change radio stations and lanes in a five mile stretch, imagining Lizzie, and we'd both be laughing the whole time.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Make or Buy?

A huge thank-you to Carolyn for sending this article in Slate my way. In it, Jennifer Reese investigates whether it's cheaper and/or better to make various pantry staples at home. Now that I've read it, I'm definitely going to make homemade granola (Melissa's been urging me to do it for years), I may very well give yogurt a go, but I draw the line at bagels. Reese swears homemade are better than store bought, but living where I live now, two blocks from Absolute Bagels (aka absolutely the best bagel you'll ever have especially if you choose everything bagels), I'm buying. Maybe if I leave this neighborhood I'll bake my own, but for now, the store bought bagel wins.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Putting Down the Book

The first time I remember thinking I must always, always finish a book is when I read The Last of the Mohicans. I think I was finishing up the seventh grade, and I don't think I understood almost any of most of the book. Then came the last fifty pages and I read them one night sitting with my knees pulled up to my chest at the kitchen table, in tears. I closed the book, sobbing, convinced I needed to get through to the end because if I didn't, I might miss out on something like what I'd just read.

So, that was then, this is now. Now, I don't always have time to slog through to the end. Now, I sometimes red fifty, one hundred pages and think, "I've got it. I get it." And even though I don't know the whole story, I feel like the surprises in it won't be worth it, not when there's a stack of books falling over on my bedside, books I'm desperate to get to, not to mention the books I don't have that I'm pining for. Which is to say that I've put down this book (Doctors and Nurses) before it was done and have started another one (Pnin). I believe this is a good decision. I guess I'll only really know if I go back and finish Doctors and Nurses. It could be another Mohicans, but it also could be I'll never know.....

Friday, April 24, 2009


This morning, I opened an old Vanity Fair to a full page picture of Gabriel Byrne leaving over on his knees and looking intently into the camera. The caption, a little more than half-way down, said "Talk To Me." I saw that and said, almost out loud: Yes!

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Following Sue and Roni's advice, I went for the good stuff and ordered tea from Upton. Assam, green, and my favorite Red Rooibos, which is hard to get without vanilla or some fragrant something added. It's all good, the green is my favorite --so far and away superior to anything you'd get in a bag -- and yet, and yet, first thing in the morning, that first meeting of assam tea in mug to mouth, it's just not coffee. I'm not going to drink coffee, mind oyu, but if I could just have that one first slurp, that's all I miss.

The Right on Trials

Here's a quote (via Sullivan, 'natch) from an editorial in The Weekly Standard on the necessity of trials for those at the highest levels of the Bush administration. Full disclosure: I really, really wanted to read the editorial before posting this, but I'm pressed for time. Isn't that pathetic? So it goes. We all have good weeks and bad weeks when it comes to time management--this week for me is offering up many teaching moments in that department.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In a Tizzy!

It's turning into yet another hectic week, and blogging is a little tricky, never mind reading the newspaper. Between the economy and torture I'm as depressed by the news this year as I was riveted by it last. It's amazing to think that just a year ago the Hillary-Obama contest was all we could think about. There was so much hope! And now, there's so much clean up. It's like a morning at preschool -- there's work (play) time, and then there's the time to put away childish things. It's hard to put away childish things.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Is It Thirtysomethng Yet?

A good friend of mine turned forty today, and here's what she said about it. She said, "I can't believe I'm turning forty and I'm not fighting against having a thirtysomething life. When am I going to have that life when I have a big kitchen and people drop by all the time even when I don't want them to and I can't believe this is actually my life?"

Part of me thinks this is a New York thing, because until you settle into a certain kind of living situation in New York, everything feels provisional. You're never quite sure what the next move will be, or what will happen with schools, or how you'll make it all work out. Then again, life is uncertain everywhere, and if I remember correctly, I think that's what the show was about, uncertainty draped in secure domesticity. That's mostly what I remember about it -- that and Hope's cheekbones and that I had one friend whose mom -- a very serious and tough-minded lawyer -- referred to the characters on thirtysomething as her "friends."

All this to say, I kind of miss TV shows like that, and I, too, wonder when, or if, I'm ever going to live one. Well, maybe there's still time for that. You know what they say: Fortysomething is the new thirtysomething.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

After the Week

This past week turned out to be fairly intense on most fronts -- family, work, friends, stuff. Right now, I feel like this best expresses my state of mind. It's a strange little thing, viewed millions of times. Amazing what you can find on you tube.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dreams of Susan Boyle

Last night, my husband played the Susan Boyle clip from You Tube. I hadn't heard of Susan Boyle, and, of course, I wept. What a thing, what a dream. Of course, as Andrew Sullivan pointed out today with a link to a Roy Blount article on tone deafness in The Atlantic in 1982, hers is not a dream some of us can dare to dream. Because some of us can't and won't ever be able to sing. And, honestly, not only can't I sing, I can't really stay awake much past eleven o'clock at night. Even when I was young(er) I couldn't. You can't really be a singer if you can't stay up past eleven. No matter how good you are, there will be a late set. And then there might be some other kind of something after the late set, "jamming," I've heard it called in bio-pics. Jamming. I'm always much too tired for that.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Who Is Responsible

This long post from Andrew Sullivan on torture is important and worth reading. I have yet to read the memos or any of the most recent news reporting on this but I'm interested that Sullivan agrees with Obama about whom and when to prosecute, because we are at war. And yet, I can't help but wonder at not prosecuting the "professionals" in the room- the medical professionals and those performing the torture. They were following orders and read memos convincing them of the legality and ethics of the acts they were performing. Sure. But, putting aside from the whole "following orders" thing, Jane Mayer makes clear in her excellent book The Dark Side that performing these acts can create some kind of sadist-power thrill. It feeds on itself. I guess from a legal perspective, just because someone likes their job of torturing doesn't mean they are any more responsible for it -- or does it? If they didn't like it so much, would they have balked? Even with the memos? Would they have drawn the line and walked out? Told someone? I read The Dark Side last summer, so I'd have to brush up on details to write any more specifically, and of course those in charge, those with the most power and those who reshaped the law according to their own ideas are the most culpable, but I can't help but think that the culpability of those in the highest offices doesn't mean that the guy in the "rank and file" who actually poured water on someone's mouth and nose is free of responsibility. If that guy didn't want to be prosecuted for a crime against humanity, that guy should have walked out of the room.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Salted Caramel Ice Cream

I just read about Salted Caramel Ice Cream, and now I want some. How is it that I live in New York City and I can't get Salted Caramel Ice Cream? It feels like some kind of crime. This is what the financial crisis has done to this town. I swear, it's all Wall Street's fault.


It's been a big, strange, good week. One of my closest friends had a baby, which remains a wonderful and humbling thing for me to witness. Walking into the hospital, I got all worked up imagining my friend and her husband and their baby and remembering when Melissa had her baby at the same hospital just six months ago and when my friend Dorothy had her daughter four years ago, and thinking about when I had my babies four and a half years ago.

Then there's the new Playmobil in our lives. It arrived today, and I can't even begin to tell you what it means, I can only tell you it's the only reason I could blog.

Of course, there's also the release of the torture memos. I haven't read enough about that to be able to say much, but this is good.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Need for Transparency

Andrew Sullivan makes a good, strong case for why Obama and his administration need to make public Bush-Cheney memos describing torture techniques. Sullivan's argument is worth reading. The reckoning would be painful for all of us, but how else do we as a civil society rebuild our laws and confirm our ability to protect basic human rights, not to mention our commitment to the Geneva Convention?

"Green" Tea

Back in the day when I drank coffee (two weeks ago), every time I'd buy a cup, I'd think to myself, "I really should bring one of those travel mugs from home." I'd think it before I left the house, and I'd think it standing in line at the coffee counter, but I never once brought one. The truth of the matter was, no matter how green it would be to drink coffee from a travel mug, the thought made my heart sink. I couldn't bear it. For some reason, coffee in a travel mug tasted different. I wanted either the thick edge of a mug or the curled corner of a paper cup. Without either, the coffee went all watery.

But now that I'm drinking tea, I not only bring my own bag, I bring the travel mug, happily. Maybe it's because I've never fetishized tea in the way I did coffee. I've never yearned for that very first sip off a steaming mug of tea. But coffee, is there anything so rich in the mouth, so full of flavor, so completely satisfying as that first taste of coffee? In a way, I'm glad to be done with it. All that anticipation, all that need loaded into one slurping mouthful. And now, I'm so green and thrifty what with my travel mug and take along tea! (Will anyone ever be able to say teabag again with a straight face?) And if I don't compare the two sets of benefits, I'm AOK.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

You Call This Spring Break?

My kids have off from school this week, it being the week after Easter, the week of Spring break. Tuesdays I'm usually pretty tied up with them, so today wasn't so different from any other Tuesday, except for this: It was freezing. Not bone-numbing freezing, just damp and colder than you'd want it to be if you were tromping through Central Park to get to the Carousel, as we were. Colder than you'd want it to be if you were climbing up the great big rock next to the Carousel as we did. Actually, it wasn't exactly cold as much as damp. If the temperature had been what it was purported to be (in the low fifties) and if it had been sunny, I'm sure we all would have been so excited about the weather. As it was, we endured it. And, frankly, it seems like all we do these days is endure the weather. I'm so tired of it. Could someone please send a memo to the weather gods alerting them that March actually ended a few weeks ago? I even got in a fight with my husband the other day when I insisted that it was April that came in like a lion and left like a lamb. But lion, lamb or otherwise, this April is just so cruel.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Barbie Situation

Last week, on my brother's advice, I got a Rapunzel Barbie for my niece for her birthday. At first, I didn't want to buy it because at $36.95, it seemed pretty pricey. I wondered if all Barbie's were equally expensive these days and searched for an African American Barbie -- Louis, my brother, had mentioned he and his wife were interested in adding some diversity to the Barbie collection and I figured if I was going to spend that much, I might as well meet the wishes of the whole family. Well, much to my surprise, all Barbies are not priced equally. The African American Rapunzel Barbie, with all the same attachments, cost something like $24.95.

On the one hand, I was glad not to spend thirty-seven bucks on a Barbie. On the other, that price difference is seriously weird. I don't quite know what to say about it in a blog post without more research and serious thought, so I'm sticking with the simple original. Weird. It's really weird.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunday Lessons

So today I learned that if, in your gut, you don't think the cake looks done, it probably isn't, no matter what the cake tester says. If it comes out clean but the cake looks kind of shiny, test again.

I also learned that if you go two weeks with no coffee and no black tea and then you have a cup of black tea, you'll feel like a million bucks, in spite of a cake fiasco. The last time I felt this good was a week ago Friday when I had coffee ice cream in my friend Natalie's stupendous new kitchen. I'm not sure if it was the coffee in the ice cream or the jaw dropping beauty of the room, either way, having ice cream there was, literally, the best thing since sliced bread.

Finally, I learned that Wall Street bankers are even grosser than I'd imagined and when it comes to Larry Summers, ugh.

There it is. Sunday.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Vera Drake

Tonight, my husband and I finally got to watch Vera Drake, which had been waiting patiently for us to pop it into the DVD player for who knows how long. If you missed it or don't remember, the Mike Leigh movie tells the story of a loving working-class woman in England circa 1950 who performs abortions. It was a crime to do so, and things don't go well for Vera because they didn't go well for one of the women she tried to help out. But the film highlights the impossible situations women found themselves in without easy access to reliable contraception or legal abortions.

Throughout the film, I kept thinking of a review essay by Caitlin Flanagan from a while back in The Atlantic. If I remember correctly, the essay is typical Flangan -- beautifully written, well-argued, with some kind of weird flash of the knife at the end, but it's worth reading. It covers two books, one called The Girls Who Went Away and the other called The Choices We Made, about women who had abortions before they were legal. The abortion stories Flanagan re-tells are from the perspective of women who ended pregnancies and they're awful. Vera Drake's story as a provider is one of understanding. She sees herself as helping those in need, women who find themselves in an untenable situation.

Most of the women in the movie who are not among those ending pregnancies share a secret if whispered code. They understand how in a flash everything can go wrong, and Vera Drake is found and steps in to help. It's dangerous, her help, non-medical abortions put women at grave risk, but her story reminded me of how close in time we remain to such extreme medical marginalization. For so long, the kind of help Vera could offer was all many women could afford. The film showed how viscerally some women get the risks of sex and the ways others bury those risks in condescension and judgment. Turning off the TV, all I can say is it's a good thing safe abortions are now legal; as for the judgment of others, good thing Obama will be appointing our next set of Supreme Court justices.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Devil in the Texts, A Roofer's Persepctive

George Packer's post on his roofer's problems with "the texting class" is fascinating and awful. Here's a quote:

"It’s like they’re afraid of me! So they hire a guy who’s more comfortable dealing with a masculine-type person. I stand there and talk to the customer, and the customer doesn’t talk to me or look at me, he talks to the intermediary, and the intermediary talks to me. It’s the yuppie buffer.” He wasn’t slurring gay men—he described these customers as mainly “metrosexuals”—nor was the problem all yuppies, some of whom had been his customers for years. It was a new group who had moved from Manhattan in the past few years, and who could not detach themselves from their communications devices long enough to look someone in the eye or notice the source of a leak."

The Problem of Evil

So here's the thing about a seder. If you read any of the haggadah, the traditional prayer-story-guide book for the seder, you read about the ten plagues. And unless you make it into a huge play and then your kids forget about them except for the fun part, it's hard to make sense of the ten plagues. Our own seder was a bit of fiasco, but the plagues were discussed and this morning my son asked to hear about "the bad stuff" that was in the haggadah. After some very dramatic reading of the ten plagues -- a reading, I would add, that left off any mention of God hardening Pharoh's heart after each plague (I dare you to explain that to a four-year-old), my daughter turned to me and said, "Why is God so mean?"

What could I say but "Oy!" On the inside, out loud I think I just stammered. And when I came up with something about how hard it is to be free and how mean the Pharoh was, Helen said, "No, mommy, I have to understand it for myself." At least I didn't have to answer the question.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Obama's Numbers

The Daily Kos has a long breakdown of the continuing support for President Obama. There's some very interesting and (if you're a Democrat) encouraging stuff in there. And I can't make this connect, but if you missed it, the other night Jon Stewart said Fox News can blather on about Democratic hegemony, or they can just accept that they lost. It's worth watching.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Barak Obama Is So Cool

He's having a seder at the White House.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Long Day's Night

Until I have kids, I didn't really get the idea of a long day's night. But now, after a 1 AM wake up that ended with me blowing up an air mattress at 3:30 to find a place to sleep (long story, fairly boring), I have some idea what the phrase could, or should, mean. And tomorrow, of course, I'm hosting a Passover seder for the very first time, which will be low key and should be quite fun, but a seder means details and right now I'm not so good at the details. And Friday is Good Friday, which turns out to be a holiday for a lot of people. Which is to say the blogging will be a little off this week. I'll try my best. So, happy holidays everyone! Here's to Spring's renewal and our President's approval ratings.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Screen and The Book

OK, I admit that I could only skim this article about the "Vook", a new device that folds video and multi-media content into books, because it made me want to throw up. It's not that I'm opposed to the Kindle or electronic reading devices per se, I'm not. I'm nervous about them because it means more screen time and for me, at least, screens don't always invite the closest reading (see admission, skimming). But, I do object, vigorously, to the idea that books have to do more than offer themselves up to be read.

Sara Nelson, the former editor of Publisher's Weekly and now a publishing consultant is quoted as saying: “Publishers are going to be confronted with the idea that either the words on the page have to be completely compelling on their own, or they have to figure out a way to create new sorts of subliminal draws in the new medium.” You know what I say to Sara Nelson? No.

Should I even bother with all the things wrong with this? Words on a page can be compelling, they can be boring, they can be intriguing, they can be tedious, but it is not the job of the person who put them there to interpret what they are. A writer or an editor or a video producer cannot and should not control how her work is read or experienced. A reader or watcher or interacter does that all on his own. And as a reader, I'm grateful for the experience of reading, privately, at my own pace, and sharing as I wish. I mean, to me the long passages about Russian peasants in Anna Karenina are deadly boring. Would I want it gone? No. Ditto the politics in Middlemarch.

And Mr. Inman who's hard at work on the Vook says this: “I don’t think we are compromising the written word,” says Mr. Inman at Vook. “People will to continue to read, just in new ways. Books are finally coming online but they are very one-dimensional. I think we can experiment and do this better.”

Sure, books are one dimensional on the screen (or on a page for that matter), but not in your mind. There is nothing one dimensional about reading. I don't think I have to list it's joys here, but what the heck! Here are a few: There's the beautiful paragraph in a novel, or a heart-thumping response to a tightly argued article, or that feeling of being suspended all though perfectly taut short story. Those reading experiences come to us without make up, without special effects, without a catering truck involved in their production. They're fantastic and in a way humanizing in their demand that we imagine a connection to another person or world or perspective. They should be left to live independently, without subliminal messages or other dimensions added, thank you.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Grating for Farfel Muffins

This afternoon, I made my mother's signature seder side dish: Vegetable farfel muffins. (Farfel is mashed up matzah you can buy in a box in the store.) As a child, I used to beg to help her make these. "Sure," she'd say, "you can grate the carrots." No fool, my mother. I grated so many carrots that today, while grating, I reflected that nothing says "Passover" to me quite like grating. Which is all well in good when it comes to my childhood memories, but for my adult cooking I wish I knew more about actually making the muffins. There's a lot of draining that has to happen, but, since I never saw my mom actually draining any of the ingredients, I had no idea of the consistency I should have been striving for. Plus, there were egg whites. Who knew? I mean, my mom always said they were a hassle to make, but I never would have guessed the hassle-factor reached the level of stiff egg whites. All this to say the muffins taste pretty good, but they look all wrong. No doubt it will take me at least ten years of making them and letting my kids do the grating to get them right, if I'm lucky.

Throwing the Baby Out with the Breast Pump

In her April 2 blog post, Judith Warner weighs in on Hanna Rosin's anti-breastfeeding article and podcast on the Atlantic web site. To describe her reaction to Rosin's description of how bad the breast pump sucks Warner writes: "Hallelujah, I all but shouted at the computer, desperate to join in the conversation with these newfound sure-to-be best friends."

And that says it all. Because the rest of the post shows Warner desperate to be in with the cool girls. To get in, she says what she has to -- that she breastfed her daughters and wouldn't give up that experience for the world, but she didn't breastfeed exclusively, as she claims the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends doing for six months, because she was in France, where everything is so much better and so much more civilized. We should just get rid of the "horrible" pump already and then women will be free to experience the wonder of breastfeeding not-exclusively. Now will you be friends with me Hanna?

So, first, the business: Many pediatricians I've spoken to, including one of my closest friends, only recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months if severe allergies run in your family. If not, six weeks to three months are great, give some cereal at four to five months, figure out what works for you, they say, find the balance, they recommend. It's so reassuring, that advice. So, I don't know, professional.

Now on to the whole damning and banning of the pump. No one likes pumping; I can say that categorically. But, sometimes you have to do it. I had to do it to build up my milk supply. A friend had to do it because one of her breasts was engorged. Another does it because she needs other people to feed her baby when she works. Saying 'breastfeed and just get rid of the pump' is a little bit like saying 'I love my lover and now that I've gotten rid of my beloved's bad breath everything is perfect.' You can't do it. No experience is perfect. Everything we do, especially as parents, is nuanced and textured and tinged with a little something we'd rather not have around. But you deal with it. If Rosin's and Warner's goal is simply to promote the idea that a little formula never hurt anyone, can't they just say that? Do they have to go to such extremes? As Ceridwen Morris and Rebecca Odes write over at The New Mom: " Is it necessary to take down breastfeeding to make it okay to not do it some of the time?" Warner's categorical dismissal of the pump is, like Rosin's article, reductive and distracting from the real work of making parenthood a feasible, manageable and affordable state for everyone who enters into it.

In writing for big players in mainstream media, Rosin and Warner get to shape what we talk about and the way we talk about. That they're choosing to mostly talk to each other in the broad strokes best left to dinner parties shows a kind of smallness of purpose. From their platforms of authority they can challenge cultural orthodoxy. It'd be nice if they were a good bit more challenging and a good bit less preening when they choose to do so.

Michelle Obama's Achievement

There's something about this video clip of Michelle Obama's trip to a school in London that makes me uncomfortable. Sure, I got choked up watching it, but when Obama says that nothing in her background prepared her to be the first African American First Lady, I paused and winced, just a little. Because on the one hand, I do not doubt that Michelle Obama was a major contributor to her husband's campaign, not to mention life. On the other, by saying she worked hard in life and that led her to become First Lady, she's saying, in a sense, you work hard, get yourself to the best schools you can, work hard when you're there, get a good job, and then you meet an accomplished and ambitious man from the same great school you went to and marry him. I understand that it's her job to say this, but I don't like it. Obama is an example of so much that's good for and about women and girls. I wish she could or would talk about her achievements beyond her marriage. Maybe she'll get to in the second term. A girl can hope.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Book for the List and the Problem of Time

Over on My Life and Thoughts, a blog by Elif Batuman, Batuman tells us he's working on a new book. Unfortunately, working on the book will mean he'll have less (or no) time to blog, but the working title is terrific, (The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them) so maybe it's worth the no-blogging. Of course I haven't read so many Russian books, even if Anna Karenina is my favorite novel ever, it's been a long time. But that's not the point. I didn't know that I had a point other than to mention the book, but my new point is that I sympathize, deeply, on the time management front. Why even now, writing this, I just want to get to bed to read a few pages (of Diary of a Nobody) and drift off to sleep, but I didn't get to blog earlier because I was away from my computer all day so now I'm doing this. You see, there's not always enough time to do things the way they should be done (witness this post), but it's good to have lead time for books one wants to read.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Delights of the Garden

Sue Dickman from A Life Divided has a lovely essay in the Christian Science Monitor about the gardens and gardening books of Beverly Nichols. I was thinking about garden writing today because of that personal essay in the Times' Homes section about a guy starting his own garden. For some reason, I found that essay boring and insufferable. All it made me want to do was offer up a prayer of thanks to Farm Markets for making any personal attempts at a kitchen garden obsolete. This is especially lucky since I live in New York City and have zero access to soil. There's not even a community garden nearby. But Sue's essay (I hope it's OK if I go by her first name!) is just the kind of gardening piece that makes me dream it would be just wonderful to garden. That I'd love digging my hands into the soil and tending to my wee tomato plants. That figuring out what bush belonged where would inspire a very particular kind of creativity and connection with my home that I wouldn't otherwise have. And that come the end of the season I'd can my full-grown tomatoes and snip fresh herbs and think doing all that was normal, just what you do. At night I'd read the charming books of Beverly Nichols and I'd know my own garden might be a simple and slapdash, if well-loved, affair but still part of a wide and deep web of cultivation.

Meanwhile, I'm never going to have that garden, even when I have a yard. Maybe I'll have an herb box, but not that garden. I know the dailiness of it will make me want to nap. But still, a girl can dream, and it seems like maybe Nichols' books can give shape to those dreams.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Say It Ain't So

One thing about reading all the ink that's being spilled over the Geithner bank bailout won't-you-please-come-play-with-us plan is I don't come away from any of the articles with an overwhelming sense of confidence. The New Yorker has two pieces on the plan, one by Nicholas Lemann and the other by James Surowiecki. I can't tell you much about the details of either one, but I can tell you I finished them and thought, "Jeez, those guys are mostly crossing their fingers hoping Obama can pull this off. That's not so good." Then there was Joseph Stiglitz's great big Op-Ed in the Times. I read that and thought, "Forget about those AIG bonuses, this is the reason to be outraged." Because Stiglitz explained, very clearly and in no uncertain terms, just what happens when you have to make a deal so sweet because the people who can play don't really have to. They have to be made to want to. In the end, someone will get the sour, and guess what? The folks who get it are not the taxpayers in the Hickey Freeman suits.

Surowieki wrote that the administration is trying to fix the economy first so it can then get to the underlying problems in the banking system itself. But I don't know that any policy can get at the only-meism that has seemed (from an outsider's perspective) to run Wall Street since, as Michael Lewis might posit, investment banks started going public in the eighties. How do you undo a system in which any sense of honor or decency can be (must be?) sacrificed for quarterly results and big fat payouts to numero uno (in a Hickey Freeman suit)? It might be that Geithner's plan comes at an in-between moment in the zeitgeist when we're shifting from the spawn of Gordon Gekko to I-don't-know-what but something more responsible than that. I just hope there's a whole lot of well-reasoned geist pushing the I-don't-know-what. Know what I mean?