Saturday, August 29, 2009

advanced placement

Yesterday I hiked with Rachel and Alice, the girls who adopted Sequoia's sister. This is Alice's fall schedule (she turns 15 at the end of October):

1: world lit/tebbe. 2: ap chem/glimme. 3: honors algebra 2/henri. 4: spanish 5-6/castillo. 5: adv photo/daly. 6: world history/chodrow-reich.

I swiped her schedule from Facebook and she's a teenager, which is why nothing is capitalized. Don't ask me to explain further; all I know is that teenagers capitalize only upon threat of terrorist attack. Alice's sister Rachel is a senior and is taking ap calculus and ap physics and a bunch of other stuff I can't remember, as well as writing her college applications. After school they play soccer 3-4 times a week.

All this made me realize that I don't just lack a college education; I lack a high school education as well. They're such smart, capable, organized girls. And I'm super super happy that at least some of our future voters will understand basic concepts from science.

But it's still like pulling teeth to get Alice to execute a feminist analysis of a teen chick flick. (17 Again? You're really gonna tell girls not to use condoms?) In that sense, the schools are still failing their students.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

tech stuff

There's a line in Terminator (and yeah, it's my second favorite movie, what of it?) where Kyle Reese tries to describe the future to Sarah Connor. When she questions him about the details, he says, "I don't know tech stuff."

I know exactly how he feels.

I absolutely cannot stand people who can't remember their own phone number, can't give directions to their house, are unable to do simple math in order to make a quantitative decision, or who don't bother to follow clear instructions. And yet...

I have these blind spots. Like pretty much anything to do with television. I know that if I put any effort at all into learning this stuff, I'd start to pass for normal and my life would get that much easier. But I can't urge myself to care, and that's the problem.

Last week, Wendy came over to Melanie's house, where I was dogsitting in the lap of luxury, in order to watch the Project Runway premiere with me. So of course we turn on the TV at the last minute, although Wendy immediately began berating herself because, as she put it, "I told myself, it's Janet so let's give ourselves a half hour to figure out the TV." So anyway, we turn it on. And I don't know what the channel number is for Bravo. Wendy tells me (I think it was "44") but then there is no "44" on Melanie's TV.

So I tell Wendy, "I'm sorry. They don't get Bravo." Problem solved, right? Wendy took one look at the huge flat screen TV with all kinds of menus and gadgets and said, "Yes, they do. Go do a search for Project Runway. It just has a different channel number." I do this, and it works! It works like crazy!

Then Wendy makes me suffer through a whole conversation where she figures out, aloud, that AT&T has different channel numbers from ComCast, even though both Wendy's house and Melanie's are in Oakland, and then she laughs at me for telling her "DVR", in response to her question, "Do they have satellite?"

At the commercial, she makes me go back and tape the show and memorize the channel number (14? I think?). "But we're already watching the show." We can skip the commercials, oh, I hadn't thought of that. "But when will we ever need to know the channel number again?" At this point, Wendy sighs. "You always say that. And do you see how it always comes up again?"

Actually, no. That had seriously never occurred to me before. And yet...hey. Yeah. It always comes up again. Just like me not knowing the name of a single actor or director. Just like I still can't work a VCR even though the technology is now almost obsolete. In fact, similar to the confusing world of radio stations. This stuff always, always, always comes up again.

In fact, I was reminded of a conversation Wendy and I had a few weeks after we met.

Wendy: "My Dinner With Andre is on channel 9 tonight; you should watch it."
Me: (Pretending to go along like I always do, hoping the conversation will end quicker.) "Okay."
Next morning...
Wendy: "Hey, what did you think of My Dinner with Andre?"
Me: "Oh. Um, I didn't watch it. We don't get cable."

That's when she explained that channel 9 is not, in fact, cable. Just plain old public TV. Then, because she's Wendy, she questioned me exhaustively about why I had said I'd watch something I had no intention of watching. The TV was my roommate's, I didn't really know how to work it, and, well, conversations about TV channels make my brain implode.

Fast forward 20 years, and Wendy is still trying to fathom why I can't learn simple technological tasks. She made mincemeat out of the several plausible excuses I offered (among them that I didn't own a TV until, well, okay, my boyfriend owned a TV when were 27, but my very own TV...whatever, she crushed my argument). So although I can kinda figure out how I developed these particular incompetencies, I really can't justify continuing them.

Except. I just don't care. For example: when I was 37 I bought a car. I can't even remember why I bothered to tell anyone, but I think it came up in conversation at work because I had to go pick it up or something. And everyone started asking me what kind of car it was. The thing is, I didn't know. I didn't care. Someone helped me pick it out, it was used and cheap and practical, and I couldn't possibly begin to understand how anyone could make a conversation out of this.

It's the same with which cable company, which channel, which actor...I just want someone else to deal. Certain things I can analyze until the people I'm having a conversation with stab themselves in the eardrums with whatever nearby object they can fashion into a crude implement. But other topics just make my brain cringe -- it just shuts tight behind my eyes, waiting until these people can be distracted by some other less painful topic. I'm like the illiterate successful business owner, deflecting all situations that require literacy.

Except I'm not a successful business owner. And I badly need to watch Project Runway.

plan vs. scheme

I noticed something recently, and it's the difference between people who "plan" and people who "scheme." Plans usually take longer, accomplish less, and are worked on quietly and steadily, without fanfare. Schemes are far more intriguing and usually fail far more spectacularly.

I don't remember the (no doubt riveting) story of when I first noticed this -- I think I was wondering why something sounded preposterous and then comparing it to some long boring years of hard work that I had read about some successful person doing -- but realizing that there is a difference, that a difference exists, is key. Probably everyone in the world has secretly already known about this all along, but for me it's shiny and new.

I thought about it again last night while watching Julie & Julia. Julia Child spent years studying French cooking at the world's most famous cooking school. Then almost a decade more writing and testing recipes. Julie, on the other hand, spent a year following recipes. Both are awesome, but I would say that "I'll make 10 recipes a week for a year and blog about it" comes under the heading of "crazy and wonderful scheme" whereas, "I'll go to cooking school" would be more a "tediously dull plan."

The fact that a movie depicts the plan only incidentally to the scheme says pretty much everything about how much more we love schemes. I would very much like to say I'm into cultivating this "planning" thing. But I don't know; schemes are so deliciously tempting.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Yesterday, my sister sent me a photo of the house in Los Angeles where, in 1914, my father was born. It's so remodeled now that it doesn't even look like a house that could be that old. It's in a less-than-beautiful part of downtown L.A., of course. I think there wasn't much else to L.A. back then, other than downtown, so of course that's where it is.

This crazy boring now-stucco house really got to me. Because, first, I started wondering how many houses I've lived in that have had babies born in them. Then I started thinking about how comparatively sterile new houses are. No one (I'm not counting hippie kids) is born in a house built after, say 1950. But on the east coast there are houses that are 300 years old! Lots of time for babies to be born. It's weird that now almost all the births are concentrated in hospitals, whereas just a hundred years ago birth and life and death happened everywhere.

The houses I grew up in were built in the 50s and 60s, which means (in my newly formed opinion) that they were cold, inhuman places unblessed by the miracle of birth.

Anyway, I'm also thinking about my dad a lot because in six months I'll be how old he was when I was born. So when he was exactly my age now (and it's my birthday in two days) he already knew I potentially existed.

Okay, which brings up a whole host of other weirdnesses for me to think about, concerning the bizarre circumstances of my birth. Which I probably can't blog about, but suffice to say that I need to ask my mom a lot of questions about how stressed (or not, he was a singularly relaxed guy; I'm nothing like him) he was about her pregnancy.

There was a lot going on, and then on top of everything they were poor and he had just lost his job and they already had four children, one of whom was disabled. I was an utter, complete surprise. And then the birth was really difficult and my mom and I were, apparently (but I'm not sure how much to trust this information) very close to death. My dad came home at 6 am, woke up my 12 year old sister, and started crying. He told her all about how we almost died, but then, when she asked what my name was, he couldn't remember it.

Hey, I just thought of something -- that would've been a complete disaster if I'd been born at home. Maybe I should rethink the sterile 60s houses thing.

Okay, and now I should probably end here, but I keep thinking about what a strange and awful night that must've been for my parents. While my dad was home traumatizing his eldest daughter before the rest of his children awoke, my mom was at the hospital forcing herself to stay awake until sunrise, under some weird belief that if she allowed herself to fall asleep before daybreak, she would never wake up. (See, this is why it's hard to trust the "almost died" thing, although I guess she was in the midst of PTSD.)

Jesus Christ, I just looked up the condition online and yes, um, we both almost died. Plus she was still in big danger for a few hours after I was born, so note to self, don't diss my mom's intuition. But what we had (which I won't name here, because some people I know are hoping to become pregnant at some point) only affects .5% of births, and is much more easily monitored and treated now. Plus it all worked out fine for my mom and me.

It feels both neat and strange to be almost my dad's age when I knew him. I know the next eight years are going to be "wow, I'm now my dad's age when (insert childhood memory here) happened." Makes me feel a completely imaginary kinship toward him -- I mean, obviously I feel a real kinship toward him, but what does our age concordance have to do with anything? His era and life were so different from mine, I doubt finally being his age helps me imagine him accurately.

I hate blogging about something so serious, but perhaps it's obvious anyway, and it's so long ago and abstract -- but it strikes me, still, that the night I was born he grieved for me, and that after that I've lived almost my whole life grieving for him.

I guess we both had hard jobs.

Friday, August 14, 2009

you don't make lists anymore

Last night Lisa stopped by on her way home from San Francisco in order to listen to me complain about how an old boyfriend of mine "doesn't react enough" to my stories. Leading me to suspect (as I do on a regular basis) that I'm a horrible, terrible, really awful conversationalist.

That suspicion led to a whole host of others, most along the lines of the overwhelming evidence that exists to show that I'm bad person, but this train of reasoning was interrupted when Lisa asked, "In the past, have you asked him to hold his responses until the end?"

Long story here. Lisa's from NYC. And I don't think her brain ever moved west. She's maddeningly reactive, jumping in at any intake of breath to conjecture on the six ways you might end that next sentence. I've yelled at her and yelled at her to stop interrupting me, until last week when I finally yelled at her to react more. "Don't just nod! This is huge!" "Oh, sorry, I didn't think you were finished with the story." "I'm not!" It was just, um, lonely without her commentary. I want her interruptions back. Once again, the laugh's on me. Even more so because a few days ago someone criticized me for doing that exact same interrupting thing.

Anyway, no, I didn't ever train my old boyfriend not to interrupt, then forget and wish he'd interrupt more. That's the kind of thing I reserve for Lisa. With that settled, she thoughtfully remarked, "I notice you don't make those lists anymore."

It took me a minute to understand what she was talking about. Then I remembered: quite often I appear at, say, a coffee get-together with a friend, holding a small list of the conversational topics I plan to address. And before Lisa mentioned that I no longer do that, it never, ever hit me how superfreaky weird that is.

Jesus Christ, somebody butterfly net me now. Lists! Of stuff to talk about! And not because I'm worried that we won't think of anything to say. No, it's because I think we'll forget. I create little meeting agendas in order to make the conversation more fucking efficient. Seriously, how is this woman still hanging out with me?

What's even more hilarious is that she's just seen the tip of the iceberg. Those lists are drafted for phone conversations, emails, relatives, neighbors -- wherever there's more than two topics of conversation -- or even one if I have to keep track of it for a week -- a list finds its way into being. How did I become this person? More intriguingly, how did I stop?

I remember rushing to the entry table to retrieve my conversation list whenever Lisa stopped by. I even remember adding to the written agenda during the conversation itself. I just don't remember when it was I abandoned the ridiculously goofy practice.

Lisa told me that she kinda misses the lists. As for me, I miss the spontaneous, unconstrained reactions that lovingly say, "You're fascinating. Now tell me more about your recent discovery of Harry Potter fan porn. "

school's out

Summer school ended four hours ago, which means I'm officially a third of the way through school. The results of the past few months are:

1. I'm currently in a dysfunctional relationship with yet another twenty-something and will spend the rest of summer vacation plotting ways to extricate myself.

2. I think far more about Calvinism than I would wish on anyone, even a Calvinist.

3. My stomach hurts after I eat.

4. Still no progress on my unpainted dining room, let alone the giant hoarder stacks of unfiled papers. I can, however, recite minor Emily Dickinson poems from memory and provide you with obscure OED definitions for much of her vocabulary. (Did you know "disparage" can mean unequal marriage? And "cochineal" is made from crushed dead insects.)

5. If I hear one more teacher complain about the "smiley face" grading system in the California schools, I will definitely go into rampage mode despite my lack of any better weapon than a squirt gun.

To be fair, I only heard one teacher make the "smiley face" comment, but I've had to listen to her make it four times over the past six weeks.

O, to be a non-student who could rejoinder, "So. What have you published recently?" Instead I give her an actual, real-life smiley face in order to escape becoming any more of a target for the bitter emptiness that constitutes her soul.

Oh, yeah, and there are increasing amounts of caffeine and sleep aids in my life. Ah, bliss, summer vacation. School doesn't start again for...

...13 days. Or six, if I decide to take that programming class.