BIRTHDAY BURN (BABY, BURN)

Another birthday…yet another year…and as I get older, I become more and more thankful for the one thing I can, without fail, count on, day in and day out, through thick and thin, good times and bad…I, of course, am talking about Facebook, without which I would surely not have the courage–the unwavering conviction–to get up each and every day and face the aging world with the grace and humility that comes with believing…truly believing…that I am more loved and “liked” than I actually, in reality, most likely am.  Perhaps it is with this indomitable sense of self, renewed daily–or hourly–or, sometimes quarter hourly even–through a surreptitious yet almost constant connection to social media that I embark with ease of mind and lightness of step on that end of summer pre-first-day of school scramble, that ritual rite of passage, familiar to suburban moms everywhere:  packing for the week-long trip (no pun intended) deep into the dust of the Nevada desert to attend Burning Man.

Yes, I know I am far from alone.  This convenient way to (ditch my family for a week) embrace my own life, nourish my own heart, understand the self I am, am becoming, will become, was once, then wasn’t, will be again (or something like that; it’s a bit confusing, actually) so that I may return to those who need and depend on me as the very best (albeit unwashed and apparently quite high alkaline sandy) version of myself: recharged, relaxed, and renewed.  If truth be told, I am going more for them than I am for me.  Did I already mention that I will be traveling solo?

In the last month or so, and then again tonight (over a bottle of birthday champagne and a few shots of tequila, but well before the post-Poptarts-and-Lucky Charms-snifter of scotch), I find myself marveling at the vast and varied array of reactions and responses that just the mention of Burning Man inspires. Indulge me, dear reader, on this anniversary of my birth, as I share just a few:

Husband: “Are you going to walk around naked at Burning Man? I mean it’s OK if you do; I want you to enjoy yourself and really let loose, so that this experience is absolutely everything that you want it to be. Of course, most people your age won’t be walking around naked…for obvious reasons…um, very obvious reasons…but this is your time to shine…so whatever you decide, I accept and support you.”

Nephew:  “Aunt Leanne is a hippie FREAK.  Oh, sorry, Aunt Leanne.”

Friend:  “So, I looked up Burning Man…I mean are you going to stay in a hotel and drive to that place in the desert every morning?  I mean…have you looked up any Burning Man lodging reviews on Travelocity?”

Another Friend:  “I will be burning right there with you, baby…right there on the beach…by the ocean…my own private Burning Man…”

College Friend:  “too commercialized for me…the end of August, I will be attempting to track down the mostly isolated Sentinelese tribe, who live their righteous unadulterated lives on an Island, between India and Thailand. I plan to learn their hunting and gathering ways, man, and leave this commercialized plugged-in life behind…I mean why watch it if you can live it…you know what I am saying? If I don’t come back, just know that my animal spirit has found its true home, and imagine me as I imagine myself, collecting coconuts and having sex…lots and lots of sex…with the island natives…”

Husband: “You are not really going to walk around naked at Burning Man, are you? I mean, if you do, that is fine…more than fine…it is so totally up to you. The important thing is that you get out of this experience what you need to get out of it…if you can do that fully clothed, well…great! If you need to remove, say, an article of clothing or two, I applaud your boldness…I mean, when in Rome…though the Romans were generally modest in public…I am sure your c-section scar is barely even noticeable at this point, and even if it is noticeable–let’s say very noticeable, for argument’s sake…who cares, right?  You just go girl….”

Husband: “Bring sunscreen. A LOT of sunscreen. I just read a startling statistic concerning skin rarely exposed to the sun, upon first and even minimal exposure…I don’t want to scare you or anything, I just thought I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the, well, frightening fact that I just read…regarding rarely exposed skin…to the sun…especially, it seems, the desert sun…”

Husband: “I will know if you get naked…don’t ask me how–I will just know…”

Billy Bragg:  (who probably summarized the year best:)

“Whoops, there goes another year                                                                               Whoops, there goes another pint of beer”

STOP THE VIOLENCE!

http://rockford1.tumblr.com/post/92772333644/jedavu-jewish-and-arab-people-posing-together

Only peace will bring peace
In light of recent events between Palestinians and Israelis, along with voices that call out for revenge and voices that call out for peace and consolation, we the members of Habonim Dror Camp Moshava call upon the masses to advocate for peace.
We believe that breaking the cycle of revenge and hatred in the conflict is the only way to ensure that peace will be reached and that there would be no more bloodshed on all sides.
We’re calling you to raise awareness for our idea that only peace will bring peace and end this conflict. We encourage you to share this idea and to find creative peaceful ways to take action!
Also you can help spread the word by sharing a photo of you with the sign “Only peace will bring peace” along with this message! Use the hashtag #OnlyPeaceWillBringPeace!

ALWAYS IN THE WAY | Palestinians and the Jewish Conscience. Ari Paul, in Friday’s Souciant http://bit.ly/1r7S5hY

http://www.kveller.com/mayim-bialik/mayim-bialik-its-hard-to-write-anything-with-israel-on-my-mind/#more-5657

PUGS JUST WANT TO READ BOOKS…ALL SUMMER LONG…ON A SUNNY AFTERNOON…AND THROUGHOUT UH OH THOSE SUMMER NIGHTS

Pugs by any other name are still, well, pugs..Spoiler Alert:  this post will be about as original as the parental relief felt on the last of school and/or the visceral parental panic experienced after that first schedule-free day of summer…BUT the pictures are cute, and the title is oh so musical, so work with me here, as I have backpacks to empty, boys to feed, books to read, and my pugs-with-books-and-pithy-captions pictures to reblog from Bookporn, where I posted them first.  Enjoy, and happy summer (with–hopefully–lots and lots of books:)

pugpowerandglory

“Hope was an instinct only the reasoning human mind could kill. An animal never knew despair.”                                                                                                                                              —-Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory

 

pug updikeUpdike gets me every time…                                                                                                —–John Updike, The Maple Stories

 

dogandboy

A dog and his BOY…                                                                                                         —-Roald Dahl, Boy

pugpic

 Broken Hallelujah: notes from a marriage…best summer read EVER!

THE SIXTIES (family style)…CNN SERIES(ly)

60candyphotoTHE SIXTIES…Bob Dylan certainly captured the anarchic mood of that tumultuous era rather well:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

I for one was so enamored with the radical promise of that decade, having–you know– been born smack in the middle of that explosive experimental time.  Of course my birth and first seventeen years of life took place a wee bit outside society’s fraying and expansive center (like in the epitome of suburbia), but my parents were known to indulge in the occasional joint, so I figured I was entitled to consider myself part of the radical hood.  In fact, Lauren–salacious protagonist of Broken Hallelujah: notes from a marriage and something of my own personal alter ego–details her own brush with the frenzied forces of student driven political and social change, in BH’s chapter, Vanity.  Her “sixties” actually took place in the eighties, but hey, it was in Berkeley, California after all, so, well…anyway…

Fast forward to last Thursday night, May 29, 2014, when CNN premiered its original series, The Sixties.  What an opportunity, I had mused excitedly to myself, to share the cultural and political significance of such an important decade with my three history savvy and book smart sons.  The bonding we would do…the discussions we would have…I was almost giddy with the possibilities!  To make the occasion even more special, even more relevant to that which truly inspires them, I stocked up on nostalgic candy of that very era…Candy Buttons, Fizzies, Bit-O-Honey, and Mallo Cups were all honest to goodness relics of that bygone time, and by goodness my boys were going to indulge while we, as a family, witnessed history (that had been filmed, edited, and padded with lots and lots of commercials) in the making!  I provide for you here, dear reader, a window into the living room of a family–any family, really–experiencing that cherished modern ritual so accurately dubbed “family time”:

Oldest Son–14 (OS):  “Why do you and dad get the comfortable chairs?”

Middle Son–12 (MS):  “I have my computer, in case we need to look anything up…”

Youngest Son-10 (YS):  “Do the Mallo Cups have gelatin in them?  You know I don’t eat gelatin.”

OS:  “You are such a freak–why don’t you eat gelatin?”

YS:  “Because I am a vegetarian, and YOU are a freak.”

OS:  “Well, they do have gelatin.  I am positive, so I will eat yours.”

YS (reading the ingredient list on the Mallo Cup package): “I don’t see gelatin…”

MS (opening his laptop):  “I have my computer, so I can look it up…”

Me:  “Boys, boys…you are missing the show…look, they are showing some of the television programs which your father and I watched when we were your age.”

OS (as if just remembering his parents were in the room):  “Why do you and dad get the comfortable chairs?  It is so not fair.”

MS: “Nope, no gelatin, so you can eat the Mallo Cups.  Does anyone want to trade my blue Candy Dots for yellow ones?  I don’t like the blue ones.”

Me:  “Boys…you are not even watching…look there’s Tiny Tim being interviewed on The Tonight Show!”

YS (tentatively nibbling at the corner of a Mallo Cup):  “Are you ABSOLUTELY SURE they don’t have gelatin???”

OS (exasperated):  “You are a freak.  If you don’t want it, don’t eat it.”

MS:  “Who played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol?”

Me (not quite understanding):  “The movie of the Charles Dickens’ novel?”

MS:  “Yes.”

Me:  “You know it’s not the same Tiny Tim, right….why are you asking?”

MS:  “Oh, I know.  It’s just that we are learning about Charles Dickens in my English class, and I was kind of curious.”

Me:  “Come on, guys…I am trying to watch…”

MS:  “Good thing I have my computer; I can just look it up!”

OS:  “Who cares who played Tiny Tim…you are such a freak!”

Me:  “Shhhhh….”

OS (rolling his eyes):  “Well, perhaps if I were sitting in a comfortable chair, I could sit quietly and watch.”

YS (excitedly pointing to a commercial for the newly released movie, Jersey Boys):  “Oh, I so want to see that movie!”

All Three Boys (staring at the television in rapt attention for the duration of the ad):………. …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

MS (turning back to his computer screen after the Jersey Boy ad is over):  “Terry Kilburn played Tiny Tim.  Blue Dots for yellow Dots…last chance…”

OS:  “We don’t want to trade Dots.  What a freak…”

Me:  “OK, boys, enough…please really focus on the second half…your father and I have been waiting to see this…”

MS:  “Look!  Dad’s asleep!”

YS (loudly–in his father’s direction):  “Dad!  You are supposed to be watching…”

Dad: “ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzz….”

OS (quite satisfied with himself):  “See…that’s what happens when you sit in a comfortable chair!”

YS:  “Do you mind if I go read in bed?  I am tired.  This was great–thanks, mom!!  Good night…”

MS:  “Wait, I’ll come with you.  After we brush our teeth, we can look up on my computer where Jersey Boys is playing.”

Me:  “Goodnight boys.  That was, um, fun…?”

OS:  “Yeah, I  am going to bed too…good night.  Next week I call sitting in a comfortable chair.”

Ah, Bob Dylan, perhaps your inimitable words ring as true today as they did back then, in THE SIXTIES, the only difference being in the way one defines unrest:

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

Ah, Weekend (with pug:)

My latest published post on the Tumblr site, Bookporn, has me relishing the weekend by relaxing in my favorite chair and enjoying a favorite activity, reading (with my ever loyal companion: Pikachu Pug:)  In this photo I am pretty certain that I am in the final heart wrenching pages of Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter, the third novel I have completed in my quest to read just about everything that this conflicted, debauched, emotionally engaged literary genius has written (I like him; can you tell?:)

 Ah, weekend…

AND my latest book review on Amazon (well, second of two, actually:), is for my long-time friend, Sunshine’s, wonderful new memoir, When my Boyfriend was a Girl.  So, as we approach the weekend, why not plan some chair time, some book time, some pug time…and, if not in the mood for Graham Greene, why not plan to enjoy some Sunshine (sorry, Sunshine, I couldn’t resist:)…

When my Boyfriend was a Girl: a memoir

Sunshine Mugrabi

41e+y5iZEKL._SS300_

I have known Sunshine since we were housemates over twenty years ago in Berkeley, California. While I have not seen her in a number of years, her new memoir, When my Boyfriend was a Girl, made me feel as if I were back in our familiar living room on Ward street listening to her tell the tale of her latest love affair or heartache. She is one of the most genuine, humane, compassionate, and funny–yes, extremely funny–people I have ever known, and all of these qualities are present in this lovely book. The story she tells, in excellent fast-paced prose, is a story with which we, as human beings, are all familiar. The emotional trajectory of her relationship with Leor is one that most of us will recognize as our own. While her experience of loving someone undergoing a gender change is uniquely hers, the reality of wanting, needing, and making that human connection belongs to all of us. When my Boyfriend was a Girl is thoroughly engaging…a must-read!

 

IT TAKES A(N) (EAST) VILLAGE

My brother-in-law, mild mannered mainstream arbiter of all things real (estate law) and who may or may not be the inspiration for Broken Hallelujah: notes from a marriage’s quite funny–as I have been told–character, Spencer, has managed for the entire fifteen or so years I have known him to somehow NOT share with me the fact that he just so happens to be pretty closely related to a couple of well-regarded super cool and in fact downright famous people.  For starters, there is Julian Schnabel, the multiple award winning artist and filmmaker extraordinaire, who in 1996 wrote and directed one of my favorite biopics of all times, Basquiat; he, it seems, is my brother-in-law’s second cousin.  BUT, I didn’t get to meet him on our recent spring break trip to New York City, so let’s move on…

Next on our familial walk of fame, is Kenneth Goldsmith, the supremely talented, artistically authentic, and fabulously (albeit uniquely) dressed poet, who I did have the honor to not only meet, but to talk with, AND to hear read from his latest work, Seven American Deaths and Disasters, at The Stone–an honest to goodness “art space”–in the East Village.  He had been invited to read as part of, well, this:  THE WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS CENTENNIAL:  As part of a month long celebration of William Burroughs in the East Village, The Stone presents a special two week program of music, film and poetry inspired by and/or dedicated to the work of this radical American genius.  And Goldsmith is a radical American genius in his own right, not so much writing his poems as transcribing them from relevant sources, such as news broadcasts, traffic reports, and his own everyday conversations and experiences. His work is as much about who, what, and how we exist in the world, in the space(s) we occupy, as it is a bridge back to the material of ourselves as we are, on an ongoing basis, being constructed (and deconstructed?)…

And speaking of bridges (Kenneth Goldsmith reading poetry at the White House):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMSvrIPhA4

And he is the current (and first) Poet Laureate at MoMA…

And I sent him a copy of Broken Hallelujah: notes from a marriage in the mail, which he remarked “looks delicious.”  So, in addition to all of his other accomplishments, he is–as it turns out–kind…

As for you, my less than effusive brother-in-law, when once I thought of you as:

elmer fudd jpeg

 

 

I now realize that you in fact are:

superman jpeg

And that, dear readers, is the superpower of POETRY!

 

 

 

 

 

STANDARDIZED HELL BY ANY OTHER NAME IS SOL

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

T.S. Elliot so eloquently wrote in The Waste Land, his words describing how the promise of April is subverted through acute and seemingly irreconcilable tensions, and one can’t help but wonder if the possibly prescient Thomas Stearns could have fathomed just how applicable his opening stanza would be to the April that we, heedless participants in our great and at times schizophrenic country’s system of education, must endure.  Welcome, my friends, young and old, elementary through senior high, to the month–rife with memory (or, more accurately, memorization) and desire (for it to end, to please just end)–of relentless standardized testing.

Don’t get me wrong, I most certainly am not suggesting that I am anything less than grateful to have such finely honed and reliable learning assessment tools right at arms’ reach.  I mean if it weren’t for the careful administration and scoring of yearly standardized achievement and aptitude tests, we–as a society, as a community, and, frankly, even as a family– would never be able to accurately separate the really stupid sub-par kids from the ones worthy of our time, attention, and focus.  In addition, the public, and even many private, schools would have no idea at what point in the year to stop channeling their efforts into the dissemination and memorization of information, and instead use the vast array of resources at their disposal to better diagnose the disruptive boys–I mean children–with ADHD.  But I digress…

Because I have such a vested interest in the outcome of such testing–being the ever loving and often cranky mother of three energetic boys–I knew that shock and more shock was the only appropriate response to my middle son’s–self-proclaimed math and science geek–perfect score of 600 on his writing SOL.  In fact my unwavering though to this point non-committal belief in the entire education system was seriously, and perhaps irrevocably, shaken.  The child couldn’t write…really…

“So,” I asked him, nonchalantly, not wanting to seem skeptical of that which had become a source of pride, and confusion, but mostly pride, for him, “what was the SOL writing prompt?”

“I had to describe a time I was responsible,” he responded, seriously.

“Oh, that’s a good prompt,” I encouraged, “what did you write about?”

“I wrote about how I have to take care of my little brother,” he responded, eager to recount the tale that had earned him such a coveted accolade.  “I described how, you know, when you are in the bathroom, I have to play with A, and how when you lock us out of the house and tell us to play outside, I entertain him even when he wants to go inside, and I included the time that we both came in covered in mud, and how you screamed at us because you had just cleaned the floor where we dropped our muddy clothes.  Oh yeah, I got a bit carried away and wrote about how I feed A lunch and dinner when you don’t feel like giving us food,”  he finished, proudly.

I wondered how long before Child Protective Services would come a knock, knock, knocking at our door.

“Um,” I began, trying to think of an appropriate response, “did you also mention how your parents disappear for weeks at a time, and how you have figured out how to drive the family car, so you can take your little brother to preschool?” I asked, hopefully getting my extremely literal middle son to see his story through my eyes.

“No one would believe that,” he laughed.  “And the essay was 468 words long; when I began to run out of space, I wrote really, really small, so I could fit it all in.”

I couldn’t help but think of how Hank, my college boyfriend and eponymous hero of a chapter in Broken Hallelujah:  notes from a marriage, once remarked that standardized tests merely measure the extent to which one could be controlled.  I had always enjoyed thinking that there was perhaps some truth to his theory, but now my son’s stellar performance in a subject that, shall we say, had never been a strong one disproved that appealing notion for me once and for all.  “Maybe,” my insightful sister had suggested, “they felt bad for him because of his, you know, the home life he presented, and the test scorers wanted to give him something, some shred of hope, that something good could come from his burden.”  Uh, yes, perhaps…

And, so, my test weary friends, we find ourselves once again, in the cruelest of all months, “like a patient etherized upon a table, ” but that is another T.S. Elliot poem entirely.