Tuesday, April 25, 2006

My Little Rock Star



Get out of his way, he has stuff to do, he doesn't have time for you and your sunblock. If the sun is out, it will just have to avoid burning him. Doesn't the sun understand he is a busy man?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Transitions

Jugi wrote a piece on his blog about the genius transitions (or, perhaps we should call it, exponential growth) exhibited by certain musicians from one album to the next and he requested I weigh in on this topic with a list of my own. Of course I cannot resist an opportunity to make a list, especially a list of music.

Before I write out my list, I want to clarify that I don't entirely agree with Eric's parameters. For one thing, if a band makes an excellent album and then makes another excellent album which is musically entirely different from the previous one, isn't taht transition every bit as fascinating as one from excellent to "genius"? If an album is a musical culmination of what the musician had been doing for years, can we really call that a transition from mere excellence to genius? And, let's remember, this is all so very very very subjective.

So, here is my somewhat anotated list of records wherein the band or artist seemed to make a significant evolution in their sound which could, perhaps, be called genius:
  • Aztec Camera: Love to Stray
  • Roddy Frame: The North Star to Surf
  • U2: The Joshua Tree to Achtung Baby
  • Robyn Hitchcock: Globe of Frogs to Queen Elvis
  • John Wesley Harding: Why We Fight to John Wesley Harding's New Deal
  • David Bowie: Space Oddity to The Man Who Sold The World; Young Americans to Station to Station; Scary Monsters to Let's Dance
  • The Church: Heyday to Starfish
  • The Cocteau Twins: The Moon and The Melodies (though that was technically a collaboration with Harold Budd, it was their last album...and they released a lot of EPs in 1985 and 1986 which would make calling Victorialand their last album only technically correct, but I think inaccurate for the purposes of this list) to Blue Bell Knoll
  • Pulp: This is Hardcore to We Love Life
  • Bob Dylan: Planet Waves (also a collaboration, but really, it doesn't matter, Blood on the Tracks was so transcendent it really doesn't matter what came before it or how good it whatever came before it happened to be (in addition to Planet Waves, there was Flood (live and a collaboration) and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (soundtrack)) to Blood on the Tracks

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Past and The Present


I have been thinking more about AJ and her amazing memory. She told NPR that around the age of 10 she became aware that she was "hoarding memories" and how the memories would buzz around in her head until she wrote them down, at which point they would rest. For her, literacy was her lifeline. Had she not had the ability to write down all the stuff floating in her head, she most likely would have been driven mad. So it was lucky for her that she was born in the time and place in which she was. What would have happened to her if she had been born 500, 1000, 2000, 8000 years ago? How would she have handled this phenomenal gift if she had been born in a time and a place that did not encourage mass literacy? What outlet would she have found? If she had lived in another time, another place, would AJ have been called a prophet? A saint? A god enfleshed? Or would she have been persecuted for possessing something so terrifyingly impossible? How many other people have lived who, like her, posses some extraordinary ability which exists beyond the reach of the rest of humanity, which almost doesn't seem possible and the ramifications of which no one else may comprehend?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Persistence of Memory


I heard an interview with AJ, the woman with hyperthymestic syndrome, on Morning Edition this morning. She has nearly perfect recall of what she was doing on any given date and other details (i.e. what day of the week it was, what was going on in the world at the time.) Her friends and family call her "the human calendar."

I find this intriguing for a variety of reasons. For starters, there is the obvious fascination which we all feel when we are exposed to some extreme human ability we had previously never considered possible. Hearing about her memory abilities was like seeing the Mongolian contortionists in Cirque de Soleil. It's hard not to be slightly envious of someone who can wrap their legs around their neck when one spends one's time in yoga class struggling to maintain a split. And, of course, when I heard about AJ, I got a little twinge. Because, while I know I have a good memory, that is like saying I have good flexibility--while it may be better than the average person's, it isn't that astounding and no group of scientists will be studying me. And while I know that superior flexibility or superior memory means nothing in and of itself, I imagine all the amazing things I could do with it, if it were mine, like be a better dancer or ace the SATs--alright, the things I would do aren't all that impressive. (For what it's worth, AJ mentioned she hadn't used her fabulous memory to cure cancer or do anything important. She said that while she wouldn't trade it because it made her who she is, it has been a burden.)

But then I heard more. Although she has an astounding memory, it didn't do much for her in school because she was not terribly good at rote memorization.

This struck a chord.

For years I have told people that I have a fly paper brain, that my ability to recall information is inversely proportional to the importance of the information; so while I have difficulty remembering important details about Japanese culture, details which are in the thesis I wrote 13 years ago, I have no problem recalling the words to Duran Duran's The Chauffeur, a song I have not listened to since I was 13.

I once told a director, in an audition situation, that I had photographic short term memory when they are stunned that I remember copy "word for word." Of course, it wasn't true, I was just lucky. I don't really have photographic memory of any sort, I didn't even believe such a thing existed, and I was always was a little annoyed when people told me they possessed one because it sounded like they were bragging (it was always in an academic situation.)

But it appears that AJ does possess a photographic memory. She describes it as being like taking a video of every day and having access to that video at all times. She remembers every event, every breakup, every pain, and every joy in perfect detail as if it happened just yesterday. While she has time to give her distance, she does not have the luxury of forgetting. For her, the jagged rocks of experience remain forever jagged because, for some reason, her brain will not allow them to erode. Of course, she also has the ability to recall moments of joy with perfect accuracy, so while she is a prisoner of her memories, the prison isn't always unpleasant.

I wonder how this ability of hers has affected the story of herself which she tells herself. We are all the protagonists of our own great epic tale and we are continually writing the story. We think we are accurate, we think we know what really happened to us, but our past is forever changing. For most of us, how we see our past depends upon where we are in the present and what we want to see. To quote Milan Kundera, "The past is cloaked in multicolored taffeta and every time we look at it we see a different hue." And since this accumulation of experience forms the bulk of our personal narrative, what we remember about ourselves (and what we forget) defines who we are. How does one's story differ from another's if one's memory is exceedingly accurate?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Magical Age of Appearance

A few months ago, I read an article in Allure which asserted the age at which women reach their physical peak, in terms of beauty and appearance, is 36. The article looked at classic beauties like Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Catherine Deneuve. I found the article heartening in that I have a couple of years left before I reach six squared. However, the women they mentioned, in addition to being incredibly beautiful, were from an era which respected adulthood and maturity. Women aspired to look like women and have bodies of women, bodies which had sex and bore children and looked great in a bathing suit, but in a realistic way, and they were comfortable in their own skin (or at least, appeared to be so.) Today, it seems we all aspire to have the impossibly rail thin figures of the preadolescent, bodies which are forever youthful and detached from the realities of adult life, our skin drawn across our bones and our eyes filled with fear and the knowledge that the battle we are fighting is a losing one because we cannot stop the clock. It doesn't matter how beautiful you are, there is always someone out there who is just as beautiful who is also younger. Given the obsession with youth which currently permeates our culture, I wonder if true beauty even matters.

But the idea that we reach out peak at 36 is an interesting idea. One wonders what is so special about 36. A woman's fertility continues the decline which began around the age of 26 and, in this country, a woman with child at 36 is considered high risk. At 36, a woman has spent exactly half her life as an adult (if you consider the age of 18 to be the line which separates the child from the grown up.) Perhaps it is because at 36, a woman would have all the knowledge she has gained over the years and the confidence which comes with this knowledge, but has not yet developed many of the physical signs which we associate with aging.

Of course, I say this as someone who still is plagued with boughts of self-loathing, has had gray hair since she was 19 and who only started getting acne seriously at the age of 24. I am so obsessed with my own physical appearance I neglect to notice key features of other's and I constantly fail to accurately guess another woman's age.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Overwhelmed

It's amazing how one minute, it feels like I am on top of everything and the next, it feels like my life is spiraling out of control. Of course, it all doesn't happen in a vacuum, a catalyst of some sort is required to propel me into panic and distress. When I try to look at circumstances rationally, I know that whatever it is that causes me to freak out and feel like a complete failure as a mother is not related remotely to motherhood in any way. Today, I can't find my keys and spent an hour searching for them to no avail. People who know me are asking, "How is that different from before you had a child?" and they are right. It is true. I have a reputation for misplacing my keys which extends back to the Reagan administration. Nothing has changed now that I have a child. Except. In the past, I could be reasonably sure that my keys were someplace I had left them. Now, well, I am sitting here wondering if the keys were thrown into the garbage or flushed down the toilet. Intellectually, I know that my inability to keep track of items is probably not related to my success or failure as a mother. However, emotionally, it's just one more thing to worry about. That and we are locked out of the house right now and must wait until Fred comes home to get back in.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Spring

The sun is shining and the temperature is forecast to be in the seventies. So what am I doing sitting at my computer? I must admit that it is impossible for the weather to be nice without me feeling a deep sense of guilt at not being out capering in the sunshine. I blame my mother ("How can you be in bed on such a glorious day?") That isn't fair though. Really, it is Chicago's fault. I mean, everyone knows Chicago has terrible weather. If it isn't snowing or freezing or raining, then it is hot and humid. How many truly pleasant days do we get? Who knows? It doesn't matter, really, because we all perceive that there are relatively few nice days in Chicago so we have to enjoy every single one to the fullest. Can't spend that time writing on your blog or toiling away at a job, there is fresh air to be breathed and a lake front bike path to conquer.

Of course, right now, I can't go anywhere because Julian is taking a nap.

I read Bridget Jones Diary this weekend-all in all, a lot more entertaining than the film, though I find it cool that the only two actors mentioned by name in the book were cast in the film as the romantic foils and Salman Rushdie made an appearance in the film, which he did not in the book. What I hadn't realized (although a character being called Darcy is a mighty big tip off) is how much of a modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice it is. Except, of course, Bridget is no where near as sensible or appealing as Elizabeth, more like Pride and Prejudice if Lydia were the main character and somehow caught Mr. Darcy's eye.

I am always overwhelmed when reading these so-called chick lit books at how completely insensible (or, to be brutally honest, mentally disabled) the intelligent single girl seems to be. I know that I have no idea about this, as I have been with the same person for twelve years and did not spend my twenties looking for Mr. Right, but how can any woman look at Bridget going on to Daniel about wanting to take a "mini-break" and not think "you pathetic whiny cow"? Yes, she can be witty about her circumstances, but isn't it distressing that she is so obsessed with the idea of having a boyfriend and getting married and comparatively disinterested in the realities of having an adult relationship with another human being? These characters in novels (who women around the world seem to feel are reflections of themselves, and positive ones at that) seem to have the same view of relationships as the average twelve year old.

What all the chick lit books do get right is the very real phenomenon that rejection makes the heart grow fonder. We all have experienced it. The way we find the person who shows us no interest so much more appealing than the one who does and how a suitor's ardor seems to cool once the object of affection has stirrings of affection in return. I witnessed this on the playground yesterday. Julian wanted nothing to do with this very cute little girl who was also there playing. He would push her away whenever she got close (which had me yelping and asking him to apologize, pleas which he ignored.) But instead of deciding that Julian is not a good playmate and should perhaps be avoided, this little girl started running after him with a gigantic smile on her face. I wanted to pick her up and say, "no, you are worth more than that. You don't need someone who rejects you. He is in the wrong here." So I just chased after them, hoping that Julian wouldn't do anything to make her cry. Eventually, another little boy came along and she lost interest in my little monster. Which is for the best because he needs to learn that being mean to people results in them not liking him and not waning to play with him. I know, it isn't true, because (as demonstrated by yesterday's playground experience, the dating experiences of almost everyone I know, and the heroines of chick lit books) we all want what we think we can't have. Perhaps the human condition would bet be described as being in a state of perpetual, but low grade covetousness.

It is only eleven o'clock and I already worry that I am allowing the lovely day to go to waste. The sun is shining and I imagine that life will be so much better out there than it is in here. To quote Helen Fielding, "The more the sun shines, the more obvious it seems that others are making fuller, better use of it elsewhere."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

All Hail Omnicef!

I am considering forming a cult dedicated to this lovely blue and purple pill. I imagine that this cephalosporin may require blood sacrifice, and I am not unwilling to climb to my roof at the solstice to smack mosquitos if that is what it will take to show my gratitude. Where just yesterday I was trapped on my sofa watching West Wing reruns with no energy or inclination to move and unable to swallow my own saliva without wincing in pain, today I have taken Julian to Gymboree where he frolicked atop bridges which seemed terribly precarious from my vantage point and I can swallow solid food with abandon. So much progress in less than twenty four hours. I have only taken three doses so far (eleven more to go.) Screw the concerns regarding antibiotic resistance, I think I need a permanent supply of this stuff if anyone expects me to make it through Julian's childhood with my tonsils intact.

I'll admit, my photo does not do this beautiful pill justice.

And you thought avoiding the moldy bits of cheese and bread was the healthy thing to do.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Opposite of Well


The view from my window (not the current view, mind you, but a view nevertheless.)


The view from my sofa.

I don't have the energy to write today. Which is a shame because the one thing that being sick provides is lots of time. Unfortunately too weak to care for the child also means too weak to construct witty prose. The sickness becomes all encompassing and even the symptoms cease to have meaning; it really doesn't matter that it hurts to swallow or that this is the fifth day in a row in which my body temperature has soared to unacceptable heights, it just matters that I am sick.

When I was twenty-one, I backpacked around Europe. When I got to Switzerland, I already was feeling a bit under the weather, and this feeling blossomed once I got to my friend Alex's in Zurich. On one hand, it was great to be sick at a friend's house because there was someone to take care of me who actually cared about me. On the other, it was terribly awkward because he lived with his aunt and uncle, who hated Americans, and he had a girlfriend, Rosalia, who was terribly jealous of any woman with whom Alex was friends. Perhaps with good reason as Alex had a history of infidelity. However, she suggested I was pretending to be sick. Right, because a dangerously high fever and bowel incontinence are so very sexy. Alex defended me, pointing out to her that even if I wanted to seduce him after all the years of friendship, he wasn't sure how I could possibly fake my symptoms. As I type this, I realize how much I miss Alex and wish there was a way to contact him beyond sending a letter to his parent's house (I have tried google searching him and while I can find information about him, none of it includes a current address.)

Anyway, I was stuck in Alex's aunt and uncle's Zurich apartment for over a week, under doctor's orders not to eat very much. After a while, I began to feel like I had no past or future, that my entire life had been spent in this apartment, cut off from everyone except a dear friend and his sweet, but very unhappy and jealous, girlfriend (luckily, Alex's aunt and uncle, whose names I am not sure I ever knew, went to some film festival in another country, so I was spared their anti-American sentiments for most of my convalescence.)

I am beginning to have the same sensation, that my life has forever been spent within the four walls of this apartment. Admittedly, it is a little less strange when the apartment you are having the sensation in is your own.