Monday, August 13, 2012

The Emperor Drinks Boxed Wine

Recently there was a show on one of the Discovery channels focusing on all the ways our subconscious minds fuck with us. In one segment a wine taste test was given to multiple targets. One poured from a box, one from a French wine bottle.

No surprises here, the targets swished and sniffed and twirled and declared this new French wine to be something fruity yet woodsy, fresh yet matured and simply elegant on the palate.

They shook their heads and rolled their eyes at the wine-in-a-box. They wrinkled their noses at just the sniff of it, as if to say, "I'll be a good sport and try it, but my accomplished olfactory already tells me this inadequate inebriate is of wino paper bag variety."

Of course, the twist ending was both wines were from the same cheap box.

Did they really believe the bottled stuff tasted better? Is it that they trusted so much in the price tag, set by experts, that their own taste buds were rendered completely numb? It is possible but I don't that's it.

The thing is; we lie to ourselves all the time, but we're not usually all that convincing when we do it.

I believe they saw this as a chance to feel superior to the masses. To finally look down from above at those box drinkers. With such an obvious - pick the dainty bottle over the cardboard box- password, to the super secret upper echelon club, who could refuse?

But why, why do we care? Why do we want so much to be a puffed-up compatriot of the preferential posh?

All of us are expert in something.

I don’t know shit about French wine.

I can only estimate the price afterwards; by degree of headache. I know the difference between a your and a you’re. Does that make me, by internet forum decree, better than someone who doesn’t know a there, from a their, from a they’re, but can reassembled a car’s engine with her eyes closed?

Why do we do this? Is this just basic tribalism? Is this desperate need to be accepted into something exclusive worse now than years ago when we were surrounded by a multi-generational family? Or maybe this is nothing new. Maybe this is just yet another off-shoot of royalty/celebratory worship.


Pink vs. Gray Vaginas

When my husband first started law school, we had a neighbor who attended art school. This was one of the top, and therefore one of the highest stress (think cut-throat business world intrigue, then up it a notch) art schools in the country.

My neighbor’s art was always some type of vagina. It was sometimes rainbowed, sometimes flashing, sometimes ethereal, but always, always, it was some type of vagina.

Despite her inspired passionate drive, she was never really in the art school in crowd. These were the people who would be chosen to 'make it' in the fast paced, who's who, latex wearing, world of art.

 Georgia O’Keeffe; subtlety was not her thang

For her senior project exhibition she created a covered walk-way, filled with neon light, you guessed it,    vaginas. The floor was granite tile and the effect was actually quite pleasing to the eye. The light reflected onto the floor making a delightful, flashing, twinkling vaginal reflection. People walking through commented on how pretty it was. They would stand with hands leaning against the very shiny, very pink archway wall opening and wonder aloud what it could all mean .  .  .

 Neon Virginia? Close enough

At the end of the second day's showing, our neighbor, reacting to the weight and constant pressure of her supervisors' disapproval and her peers' non-stop eye rolling at, what they considered, her unsophisticated display, broke down and, for lack of a better term, flipped her shit.

She purchased a gallon of gray paint and overnight, dumped it out and sloshed and smeared it all over the floor and structure of her cunt-cabana. It looked like mud, but more dreary.

The next day people could not get out of there fast enough.

The director of the department followed visitors around and listened to their comments as part of the grading assessment.

They all said how ugly it was, mostly "Eww, gross" and "OKaaay, that was weird."

Our neighbor was officially inducted into the in crowd that day.

The director congratulated her and told she had finally done it.

She had made people experience something they didn’t wish to experience and, in this, had embodied the true essence of an artist.


Is everyone full of shit?

It's examples like this that make one wonder, how much bluster and bullshit are the upper spheres of any area of society full of?

I suspect the answer is a lot.

Because all of us are knowledgeable in something, all of us have experienced a similar unveiling of the wizard. We have all witnessed the bona fide, recognized expert in our own area of knowledge buffoon his way through an appearance and talk out of his ass. It's no surprise but disappointing, all the same, to see that he really doesn't sport a giant green papier mâché head.

Maybe it's the anti-elitist in me, but while I have an interminable, boundless  faith in the power of the average person, who may or may not know a your from a you're, to achieve seemingly impossible heights, at the same time, I have a deeply ingrained suspicion when an expert claims to know better than the rest of us.

I leave you with a kind of long but, worth it, except from the autobiographical novel; Expecting Adam.

This ridiculous snippet made the email circuit at Yale, for obvious reasons, usually titled Faking it at Harvard (as if no one at Yale did the same).

And maybe I don't have an artist's eye but I still really think vaginas are better in pink.


From Expecting Adam by Martha Beck ;
It was mid-November and the few remaining leaves rattled on the trees. I welcomed the winter chill, since icy air helped keep my mind off the nausea. I breathed it carefully one day as I waddled over to William James Hall (known to the intelligentsia as Billy Jim) to attend a class. I arrived a few minutes early and decided to use the extra time to visit a friend in the Psychology Department, one floor above the Sociology Department, where my class was held. My friend was in her lab, conducting an experiment that consisted of implanting wires into the brains of live rats, then making the rats swim around in a tub of reconstituted dried milk. She told me why she was doing this, but I have no memory of what she said. Maybe she was making soup. Whatever the reason, she had put the rats and the milk in a children’s wading pool, the kind you fill up with a hose so that toddlers can splash around on a hot summer day. The tub was decorated with pictures of Smurfs. Smurfs, for those of you who are not culturally aware, are little blue people whose antics you may have observed on Saturday morning cartoons during the 1980s. I personally feel that the Smurfs were cloying, saccharine little monsters, but Katie adored them.
After chatting with my rat-molesting friend for a moment, I excused myself and headed downstairs for the seminar. There were seven or eight other graduate students in attendance, along with a couple of extra professors who had come to hear the latest twist on established theories. I felt the way I always did when I walked into a classroom at Harvard, that I had just entered a den of lions — not starving lions, perhaps, but lions who were feeling a little peckish. The people in the room were fearsomely brilliant, and I was always terrified that I would say just one completely idiotic thing, make one breathtakingly asinine comment that would expose me as a boorish, politically incorrect half-wit.
“Ah, Martha,” said the course instructor, “we’ve been waiting for you.” I blushed. I had stopped at the rest room to blow a few chunks, and had been hoping that the class would start a bit late. I did not want to be the focus of attention.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I was upstairs in the Psych lab, watching rats swim around in a Smurf pool.”
“I see,” said the instructor. “Yes, I believe I’ve read about that.”
A professor, one of the visiting dignitaries, chimed in. “How is Smurf’s work going?” he inquired. “I understand he’s had some remarkable findings.”"Yes,” said a graduate student. “I read his last article.”
There was a general murmur of agreement. It seemed that everyone in the room was familiar with Dr. Smurf, and his groundbreaking work with swimming rats. It took me a few discombobulated seconds to figure out that everyone at the seminar assumed a Smurf pool was named for some famous psychological theorist. I guess they thought it was like a Skinner box, the reinforcement chamber used by B.F. Skinner to develop the branch of psychological theory known as behaviorism. Comprehension blossomed in my brain like a lovely flower.
“I think,” I said solemnly, “that Smurf is going to change the whole direction of linguistic epistemology.”
They all agreed, nodding, saying things like “Oh, yes,” and “I wouldn’t doubt it.”
I beamed at them, struggling desperately not to laugh. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to mock these people. I was giddy with exhilaration, because after seven years at Harvard, I was just beginning to realize that I wasn’t the only one faking it.
                                                                -From Expecting Adam by Martha Beck

Monday, August 06, 2012

Joy After Loss

There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy -Mark Twain

I don't down own the copy-write to grief. If we are lucky enough to live long enough we lose those we love.

We just do. 

To experience loss is to experience the full palette of human emotion in all its vibrancy and darkness.

When it happens earlier in life it seems shocking. When it happens a little later in life we view it as a sort of phase. We realize we all must face these things at some point. Our friends and family are derailed by tragedies and we wait, watch and help while they go through it. When it happens toward the end of our lives, well, we view it as an inevitable part of the ride; another signal that our time is coming too.

If there is such a thing as scale of loss and I'm not sure there is, mine falls on the lower end. I did not know my baby as a little girl or as a teenager or as a young woman. I never heard her laugh or tucked her in at night. I don't have those memories of her to mourn.

I mourn the possibilities.

I stare at her little empty car seat and imagine buckling her in. I see the empty seat in my truck between my two youngest and visualize her in the middle. I see the empty table place and imagine her high chair there. 

While she is not physically here; she holds a window, a view of what might have been.

If there is a spectrum of grief I cannot begin to fathom the outer edge; losing a child whom I knew, one who colored my life beyond the eight months that I carried mine.  To lose her so young is such a very sad thing.  But is it any different from what we all must face at some point?

As a little girl I had seen such grief in my father, when my parents received a call that my 22 year old half sister had died. I could hear from the hall what sounded like laughter,  but not.  I was five at the time. I had never heard my dad cry. Peeking around the corner into my parent's room; I watched my dad hit his knees with his hands clasped out in front of him. I didn't know what happened but I knew it wasn't laughter I was hearing. The neighbors came by and picked me up “to play”. Hours later I learned what had happened from their kids. And while my father grieved his little girl, my 22 year old sister also had a little girl of her own whose life was upended in ways I cannot imagine.

So clearly I do not own grief. It is public domain. We all own a share.

But mostly what I want to talk about are the little oddities of the experience, the strange places where joy can be found even among such sadness.  I find my emotions don't always "match up" with the store bought variety. I suspect no one's grief squares with what it is "suppose" to be.

I find joy and peace in anything that proves she existed. And in anything that makes me feel she still exists in some way.

Anything that makes her feel real brings me great joy. The photos of us holding her and seeing her little plaster hand cast on the shelf bring me such serenity.  I dream of her at night and sometimes in the dreams she's alive for just a little while and I get to see her eyes. She looks right at me. You would think such a dream would be devastating but to see her looking back at me is such a beautiful experience that I smile when I wake up. It feels like I've been given a small sweet gift.

I have a habit of counting my kids when we're out and about. I do it so often that I don't really hear the numbers anymore. When I've mentally checked them all off, I go right back to what I was doing. If I don't get to the right number, I look to see who is missing and why and then I count again. Ever since the death and subsequent birth of my daughter my brain doesn't feel satisfied when I reach five. My mind rings the someone is missing bell so I start to count again. Mid-way through the second count I realize who is missing and why. 

This brings me joy, an odd bittersweet kind of joy.

It tells me that somewhere beneath the veil of consciousness, my mind  detects her. 

She was really here and somewhere, in some form, she still exists.

It tells me that the empty space  is not really as empty as it seems.  

                           Baby Sonora Rain with Mom, Dad and brothers and sisters