Friday, May 30, 2008

Spelling bees, words, childish anger, with a bit of art thrown in at the end



This evening, having the terribly exciting life that I do, I am sitting in the dark watching the National Spelling Bee finals. I am having a very good time watching these children spell words that less than one percent of the population (probably) know. The highlight of the evening was the word "numnah" (A pad that goes under the saddle to keep the saddle clean and to cushion the horse's or pony's back), which the young boy thought was numbnut, didn't believe it could be, asked for clarification and got right.

Hey, this is live blogging at its most exciting! There are three kids left. I'm typing during the commercials. Do I feel stupid? No! I haven't been studying etymology for years with a couple of supportive parents at my side (yes, it appears all these children have two parents).

If things had been different for me in pre-adolescence, I could have been one of these kids. Dick doesn't believe that. He says "those kids have IQs of 180!", but I know differently. No, I don't believe I have an IQ that high, but I also do not agree that one needs to in order to spell well. Okay, (in a hushed tone), it's back on!

There's still three kids left. I'm playing along. I got sinicize (even though my spell checker didn't) and I goofed on aptyalism, which has a silent P (oh, that kid is good!)

This is really exciting to me because I am a nerd. I love words. I have always loved words, not necessarily sentences, but just words. I have been told that I could read at the age of two, but no one thought much of it. I still look at words the same way: I love encountering words that I don't know and trying to figure them out. We didn't have the best dictionary in our house when I was a kid. We had a 19th century dictionary, which was beautiful and smelled great, but it was missing many a word.

Cut off mid-thought - it's all over now. Sameer Mishra wins it with two easy words, esclandre and guerdon. Poor Siddharth Chand got prosopopoeia and missed the I, of all the letters to miss, poor boy must have been nervous. I missed the O. He also had the word aptyalism, which has a silent P. He was cheated for he had much harder words, hands down.

For pictures of these kids, click here. They are my heroes for the evening, and perhaps for days to come (though I'm obsessed with Russell Brand at the moment, but more on that in another post).

I suppose I must supply you with the definitions of the winning words:
Esclandre: My spell check doesn't recognize this word, nor does any online dictionary. I found it in a legal dictionary:
[Anglo-French esclandre, from Old French escandle esclandre scandal, from Late Latin scandalum moral stumbling block, disgrace, from Greek skandalon, literally, snare, trap]
1 : defamation of a person by unprivileged oral communication made to a third party
also
: defamatory oral statements

Guerdon: guer·don (gûrdn)
n.
A reward; recompense.
tr.v. guer·doned, guer·don·ing, guer·dons
To reward.

Prosopopeia (yet another word the spell check thinks is wrong)
n.
1. A figure of speech in which an absent or imaginary person is represented as speaking.
2. See personification.

and lastly:

Aptyalism :
n.
: absence of or deficiency in secretion of saliva

Oh, I forgot:

Sinicize:
transitive and intransitive verb
make or become like Chinese: to acquire a Chinese idiom, form, or cultural trait, or give somebody or something a Chinese idiom, form, or cultural trait

Well, now that we've learned words it's doubtful we'll ever use, we can move on. But I'm not entirely moving on, for I'm still stuck on the fact that Dick doesn't believe I could have been one of those kids. Am I insulted? Yes. Is it because he thinks I'm stupid? No. But he doesn't think I'm that smart. Really, this isn't about being smart. It's about being obsessed. Loving words is a hobby like any other. No one thinks a person who has memorized all the baseball stats for the every single world series is a genius, do they? No, they're just an obsessed person, a bit of crackpot who ought to get out more.

Obsession with spelling is the same thing. Sure, some of these kids may know many languages, but learning language, especially while very young, is not difficult. Once you know a few, they start getting easier. As a lover of words, and a kid who refused to use a dictionary until she was totally stumped, I started to see that words had similar beginnings and endings and discovered the concept of derivation. This lead me to try to read French, Italian and Spanish without studying anything. And surprisingly, I discovered I could, though what tense I was reading was always a mystery. I wasn't that self motivated!

When I was in the seventh grade, Latin was offered and I was all excited. Here's where I get whiney about my childhood (as per usual). For some unknown reason, one needed permission from ones parents to study Latin. Why? Did one learn dirty words or something? I have no idea why this was the case and am still pissed off to this day. My mother absolutely refused to sign the permission form for Latin. "Why do you want to learn a dead language", she asked me. I was aghast! My mother loved words, too. She and I used to play "pretend French" where we spoke in words that seemed to be French but had no idea what we were saying. We had a French-English dictionary and sometimes we'd look up the nonsense we'd said and find that some words were indeed real. I learned quite a bit of French this way, and those words are now part of my vocabulary (see? learning foreign language is fun and easy!)

Well, my mother had other plans for me (or rather, for herself, for she didn't make much of a distinction, poor woman). She said, "Don't you want to go to Paris and speak French? Or how about Barcelona, it's a great city! If you knew Spanish, it'd be even better!" No, I wanted to learn Latin and I was disappointed that ancient Greek wasn't on offer, too. They both are in English schools! What's wrong with this country??!!

No, my mother would not sign. So, I picked the most useless language that you could learn without a parental note: Russian. I do not remember cyrillic to this day and only know how to say "put the pencil on the table" and "you go to Siberia". Any other Russian I know comes from reading and watching A Clockwork Orange one too many times.

Urgh. Childhood disappointments. They are many.

Art note: Cy Twombly "Roman Notes IV" 1970 Lithograph 34.1x27.4 Currently being offered at auction in France. Estimated price: $50,000

I like Cy Twombly. The first time I saw one of his paintings, at the Museum of Modern Art, I believe, I fell in love. It was a bewildering experience, for I had no idea why I felt this way. I still do not. I do not understand abstract expressionism intellectually. It's a wonder I went to art school. I have no words to express my feelings about Twombly. I'm just like any imbecile who says, "I may not know a thing about art, but I know what I like." Now, most folks who say this are referring to someone like Norman Rockwell (no offense to those who do, or go ahead and take offense, for I am a snob and don't give a toss, really).

I react to art in exactly the same manner that I react to music (though I actually may know more about music). I have to feel it in my gut. It's visceral. I can not like something because it's "important". I can appreciate something because it has had an impact on what was to come or how people see (or hear) things or because it's making a good statement, but I don't really care for such things. I find most installation and conceptual work a complete sham. If you've something political to say, write it down or run for office.

Let me tell you this: I dropped out of art school because of this kind of thing. I was consistently being told that my art work was facile but lacked meaning. I liked to draw. I loved the beauty of a good line. I enjoyed still life and nudes; I strived to capture as much as possible with the least amount of fuss. Sketching, to me, was a dirty word.

I also liked to draw tools, for they had interesting shapes. I was also told, over and over again, that I was mimicking Jim Dine. The truth is, I didn't know who he was! Finally, I saw his work and was shattered: it was true, though completely innocent. My paintings looked like near-duplicates of his.

So, I was pushed. Do something that expresses your self, I was told.

I had some boxes of plaster impregnated bandage (I have no idea why). So, one day I took them and made a mold of my tenement bathroom. After it dried, I took a box cutter and cut it into manageable sizes and dragged them into my studio at school. "Ah", said my instructor, "Now you're getting somewhere." Utter bullshit, thought I. I was just messing about.

It made me quite angry, really. So, I decided to push it. I called a friend with a camera and asked him to stand in front of the school. I also asked him to clear the sidewalk. This was 23rd Street in New York City so that was no mean feat, but he did it.
Then, I threw the bunch of plaster bathroom crap out of the window of School of Visual Art's 7th floor studio.

My instructor was in heaven. I then ran down the stairs with two buckets of paint. I poured red paint on the mess. Cllck. Click. Cameras taking pictures. Artist at work! I poured black paint on the mess. More pictures. A crowd!

Then I threw the lot in the dumpster and went home.

At the end of the semester we had a review of work. I took the contact sheet pictures and cut them up. Then, I pinned all the pictures of the "event" around the huge room. The students gazed upon them, walking in awed silence. I sat there, dressed in my pre-goth finery, probably staring at the floor with a look of utter disdain on my face. I was asked questions, many of them, to which I said "no comment".

I got an A+ from the instructor who thought I had a promising career as a performance or installation artist. Fat chance. I quit school on the spot. I can not tolerate bullshit. This is why I am a complete failure.

Now, spelling words is an honest thing to do. You are either right or you are wrong. End of story.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

In search of God and a half pound of chopped meat


Being an atheist is not easy. We are only 4% of the population, for one thing.

I've felt a bit more comfortable since the spate of books about atheism that we've seen in the last few years. There's Sam Harris, whom I love having on "my side" with his "The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" and his willingness to engage in debate with people totally opposed to him and stay in good cheer. There's Dawkins, a noted scientist, who wrote "The God Delusion", which appeals to a different set, is English, and somewhat more serious in tone. And then there's Christopher Hitchins, who came out with "Why God is Not Great: How Religion Spoils Everything", another crankier than thou piece of writing by this perennially obnoxious writer.

But still, I'm glad it's there. Anyway, every point of view needs a smattering of curmudgeons, snobs and other disagreeable sorts.

I was incredibly surprised, when on a layover stop at the Atlanta airport, the "God Delusion" was a featured book at the small bookstore where I sat and had a coffee. Somehow, just seeing this unabashedly atheist statement sitting high up on the stacks, with its "Featured Title - 30% Off" sign made me feel a bit more hopeful about the fate of mankind (at least for twenty minutes or so).

I have never believed in god. I wasn't brought up with religion, so the concept of a god was never instilled into my once quite malleable brain.

Oh, I wanted to believe, even desperately at times. I looked around at other people, my street, my town, my country, the entire world, and it appeared that every one else believed in some god or another. What was wrong with my family? I wanted to belong and I did not.

When school was out because of a religious holiday, I would feel at wit's end. We would do nothing, like any other Sunday when we didn't go to church (or Saturdays that we didn't go to a synagogue).

I went to Mass with my Catholic neighbors for years. I didn't believe a word the Priest said. Again, I yearned to believe, but it all seemed too ridiculous to me. Yet, I kept going. At one point, I got it in my head that if I took communion I would be convinced or at least have some kind of epiphany (though I doubt I knew that word at the time). I waited in line to accept the wafer and a sip of wine, all the while accompanied by my anxious 9 year old friend, whose anxiety was mounting and mounting as she whispered different things to me like, "You can't take communion 'cause you weren't baptised" or "You haven't been confirmed" (confirmed as what?) I waited. I was anxious, too, for I wanted it so badly. Perhaps there would be thunder in the sky, a bolt of lightening, something, anything, just to let me believe for once and for all that there might be a possibility of a god, and that I could stop feeling alienated from the rest of humanity. But I never got that wafer or that wine, for when I was about to kneel beneath the Priest, my friend yelled out "Stop. She's Jewish!"

I suppose she thought there could be lighting or thunder, too, but it wouldn't be a good thing, only a sign from her god that she was going to hell in a handbasket.

In retrospect, I think it would have been the right thing for that Priest to have given me communion, in spite of the rules and the rituals. I mean, how many ten year old kids are that hungry for the experience? What would have been the harm, really?

But no, it wasn't done and so I stopped going. I was bored there after the novelty of the rituals wore off and my communion was denied. I even wanted to go to confession. It seemed like a wonderful idea, especially to a kid who was milk fed on guilt every day. What a fantastic thing: you feel bad about something. You tell the priest (who doesn't even see you!) You say a certain amount of Hail Marys or Our Fathers and it's over and done with. No residual guilt. No nothing. You slate is clean. Great idea. They should have 'em on street corners of bad neighborhoods.

But my brush with Catholicism was over. Protestants had all sorts of variations and I thought I'd try 'em all.

The first thing I realized I needed was a bible. Being as ignorant as I was, I didn't think you could buy one in a bookstore. They were religious objects, sacred, very special. It never occurred to me that you could get one in a big drug store or alongside romance novels and magazines.

So, I went to a church and asked for a bible. Oh, that minister was as pleased as punch! He most happily gave this young girl her first bible. He also told me, that yes, I could have gotten one at a bookstore, but coming to the church showed how serious I was and that it was "god's will". Seriously, once I found out that I could have chosen from dozens of translations, I thought it was more a question of my own ignorance than any will of a supernatural being, but I let that happy minister believe what he liked. I was getting a free bible, after all.

Parenthetically, this reminds me of a story, totally unrelated: One christmas, when I was 18 or 19 (and I looked all of 12), I went to the supermarket to get some chopped meat to make myself a hamburger. All the packages were just too big for one little me and so I asked if they'd make me up a half pound package. I waited a bit and this woman came out with a 10 pound slab of chopped meat. On it was a sticker that said "Special" in bright red. The price was the same as half a pound of chuck.

I was puzzled. I asked for a half a pound and I got ten. I had no where to put it for I had one of those little refrigerators with enough room in the freezer for two ice cube trays and a perhaps one box of frozen spinach if one bothered to manually defrost it (which I did not).

I said there must be some mistake but the butcher pushed that big package at me and said, "Take this, dear, back to your family. I know no one likes charity, but it's Christmas time. Give it to your mother and say Merry Christmas." I started to explain, "But no, I live alone. . ." I could see she could not believe me, did not want to believe and needed to believe that she was doing this very good deed. So, I took the chopped meat home with me. I made a hamburger. I have no idea what happened to the other nine and a half pounds of meat.

Back in those days, I got a lot of free food. I looked like a waif. And I was poor, and so, when I looked at a menu in a restaurant and asked, oh, "Is it possible to get a half portion of pancakes?" I'd usually wind up with a double portion at half the price. It got to be a regular thing with me (and no, I'm not proud). One day my brother suggested I was scamming people, which I was (though making them feel good in the process) and he shamed me sufficiently to make me stop this charade.

What does this have to do with believing in God? Oh, nothing much, except for the fact that that Minister was delighted to have a kid show up at his church asking for a bible. I was always keenly aware of other peoples' desire to do good works, as deluded as they might be.

I've tried to believe in god. I've gotten down on my knees and prayed and I've prayed hard and I prayed for years. But there was always a resounding silence. Absolutely nothing convinced me that there was a shred of evidence for the existence of god, or for heaven or hell or the devil or any of the other faith-based ideas, places, dates and events.

And if there was a god, what kind of monster was he? He let good people perish while others lied, cheated, stole, murdered and raped? For what purpose? He asked Abraham to kill his first born son? He let his son die on a cross?

If he was so powerful, why was he so insecure and jealous? I mean, he's god, for god's sake: he could kill you with a flick of his wrist (or whatever) if you even thought a naughty thought! Why was he so keen on having humans prove their devotion?

These were my childish thoughts, but they aren't so far from what I believe today. Perhaps today, my feelings are more nuanced, but they are essentially the same.

It saddens me, in a way, that it seemingly takes a lot of guts to admit to being an atheist. People are scared of admitting it. It's abnormal. It's suspect. So, it seems to me, most folks say they're agnostic. Perhaps they are agnostic and are hedging their bets. I mean, if I really wasn't sure, I would be afraid of going to hell. And a part of me says "Hey, maybe you are!" But really, show me where hell is or where heaven is, when we've explored space, been to the moon and sent probes even further. Where is it? Is it in a parallel universe? Where are the fiery pits that hold the trillions of damned people?

If someone could point these two places out to me on a map, maybe I'd be an agnostic, but only then.

Painting Note:William-Adolphe Bougereau's Dante and Virgil in Hell, 1850
This, depending on the viewer, may either look like heaven or something one would go to hell for, not indulge in once there.

Blah blah blah blah blah


I am intellectually lazy. I don't try to find the exact right word. If I find that I can't reach a conclusion, I'll stop writing and say "oh, I think I'll end it here". Most days I think it's a-okay, that's me, take it or leave it, so what. I never said I was a Writer (with a capital W no less). No, I never did and I don't. My writing is me talking in my head, talking to you, my imaginary readers, and is just an exercise in self indulgence (which to be very good for my mental health).

Once in a while I dearly want to express an idea but i find it hard, and so, I have many drafts that are left in the dust, abandoned, never to be finished and never to be read. And I wonder if these poor abandoned potential posts might contain the best stuff.

See, I don't want to write the word stuff, but i can't think of anything else, and I can't be bothered to tax my brain enough to find another.

As usual, this is but a preface to what I want to write about. First I make excuses, hem and haw, explain, apologize, ruminate, or any other tactic to obfuscate the fact that I can't get straight to the point, state my position, back it up and then come to a conclusion. I was going to write, "see, I'd never be a good debater" (and I did, in fact, just write that). But no, I am a fairly good debater, but when people start raising their voices, I walk away, or if I am cornered I'll say "Oh, I really don't know much about this anyway. You're right." Blogging is a good remedy for that. If you disagree with me, I don't have to hear the tone of your voice and I can walk away from a topic at any point without some else saying, "Hey wait, I wasn't finished yet!".

Well. Let's get to the subject, now, shall we?

Earlier tonight I was thinking about the connection between creativity and depression or other "mental illnesses". I've been in a very good mood lately, and I find that when I am, I have less of a desire or need to write. I don't even know what to write about. I could write about politics, but I realize that even though I'm nearly obsessed with this particular political season, I have nothing really new to say, and as I've written before, there are hundreds of professional talking heads to write about this topic. I have some perfumes I'd like to write about, but my thoughts on them are not much more than reviews, so why bother? I've been knitting more than usual, but I have nothing to say about my knitting (well, that may not be true, so I'll hold off on that).

What remains is a question that has been asked over and over again: If people could rid themselves of mental anguish, would they be as creative? If no one had a lousy childhood or faced hardships, would the arts die out? Think about it: there's art as protest, art as catharsis, art as redemption, art as revenge. . .(ah, see how I trail off. . .)

How important is art about beauty? The notion, of art expressing beauty, is practically archaic. Can you imagine a Whitney biennial full of "romantic" art that is not tongue-in-cheek? Or rock and roll that is truly about lasting, enduring and possibly universal love (without any shmaltz?) Or poetry and novels where people are not struggling in some way?

I can't.

I wonder sometimes if my inordinate appreciation for the tiny things in life is intense mostly due to its contrast to the times in which I find the world bleak, miserable and unbearable. If I didn't find such joy in the plants, the birds, the way the light comes in the windows at a certain angle just so, the smell of a new miniscule vial of perfume, I would be near suicidal. I must, absolutely must, stop and notice. I can not afford to not slow down and appreciate this stuff (there's that word again). When I do, I fall apart. Completely. The world becomes bleaker and bleaker until all I see is a kind of horror and futility. The days drag on with purposelessness. People seem distant, as if I'm separated from them by a thick dirty window. I only see what's bad (and there's plenty of it) until I find myself hiding under the covers, wishing for obliteration.

My moods are like weather. If I stay alert, take it slow, watch and notice, I may not see the storm coming, or if I do, I may not be able to keep it at bay (for who can control the weather?) but I can sit back and watch it pass, wreak its havoc and then clean up afterwards.

In truth, I love the weather after a good storm. And as with the real weather, the weather of my moods, the days that have gone black, are always followed by an intense parting of the clouds, with bright light illuminating something new, always something new. New ideas are hatched, the dead and fallen wood of the received ideas I carry around with me gets thrown away (though there's always more where that came from) and I arise, feeling radiant, refreshed, cleaner and more alive.

I remember when Kramer's "Listening to Prozac" came out, back in 1993. In it, Kramer worried about the lessening of creativity when some of his patients took this new SSRI. And some of his patients, indeed, felt like their creative selves had somehow been diminished. Others felt freed, at long last!, from their demons and depressions and could work well and happily in the world. It was a hodgepodge, an interesting hodgepodge.

I do not remember his conclusions (though I remembered that I asked my doctor for Prozac, so they must not have been too forceful against the drug). Perhaps I should re-visit the book, which has been revised and has a new preface entitled "The Landmark Book About Antidepressants and the Remaking of the Self".

The re-making of the Self? That's a pretty scary thought.

I like my self. I don't want to re-make it! I even like the things that are "wrong with me" (well, on good days, at least). Really really normal people are boring.

A friend of mine and I watched some clips of Russell Brand, an English comedian/actor/TV show host/media whore (oh, sorry about that) last night. The guy is a lunatic! I'm jealous of him! He blathers on and on about nothing and everything. If he censors himself, it doesn't show. He'll tell another man he wants to have sex with him (even though he's straight), 'cause he's cute. He says heroin is lovely (though he doesn't do it anymore) and, besides, who describes heroin as lovely? Well, only an English person; "Oh, dahling, I'd like a dime bag of heroin and a crumpet. Pass me a lump of sugar, there's a dear. Thank you oh so very much."

Who wants to watch normal people talking to each other, anyway? How boring would that be? Y'know, I realized Adam Sandler was not a funny guy when I saw Russell Brand interview him. He's just a shade more smart seeming than the character he's played over and over again and epitomized in "Billy Madison". Oh dear. He's so american.

We are so ambivalent in this country. Be weird, but just enough to entertain us. That's a very fine line. Dean blew his chances at the presidential nomination because he screamed way too out-of-control. Leaving his Scientology aside (which is a bit hard to do) what's his name (what IS his name??!!) ruined his career by jumping up and down on an interview sofa. Britney shaved her head. I could go on and on.

The only thing that ever saves people who go over this edge is coming back redeemed. They have to publicly denounce or renounce their behavior (usually chalking it up to some addiction or another), basically confess their sins in public, and then show how normal they really are, or are working towards (one day at a time, in most cases).

But no, in other places in the world, being eccentric or even flat out crazy is perfectly fine as long as you don't hurt yourself or others. In fact, you may be a shaman or, at the very least, someone others would like to have lunch with.

Okay: here is where I stop arbitrarily. Do you know how long I could go on like this? This isn't one of my finer writing moments, but I'm going to leave it, just the way it is, overlong, absurdly rambling and without an obvious thesis and conclusion. Make of it what you will(and if you've reached the end here, I congratulate you on your stamina).

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Why you should not get a tattoo


I take requests for posts and one of them was to write about why one should get a tattoo and/or why one shouldn't. As a generality, I think there's no reason not to get a tattoo if you want one, but for fun, I thought it would be more amusing to write about why you should not.

You should not get a tattoo if you're planning on putting it on your lower back, to look cute with a bikini or above your jeans. If you are a man, I might say this is okay, but at this point, that placement of a tattoo is just another "tramp stamp" or the lovely "trailer trash tail light". If you feel inordinately proud of being white trash, go ahead and do it. Please consider the stretch factor of this placement, for it will look completely different depending upon what position you are in. A wolf's head might look fine when you are standing up but will be completely distorted when you bend over. The same with a sun, which seems to be a popular choice for this body placement. You can't see it, but it looks like crap when you aren't stock straight. If you want a butterfly with black tribal work around the edges, your tattooist will think very little of you, for he or she has done this one or two many times. Please do not bring in decals that you bought at Hot Topic. Four hundred people before you have done the same thing and they are way too small to tattoo properly anyway.

Do not get a tattoo in any place that can be seen by others. You may not live to regret it, but you probably will. It may be true that tattoos are more acceptable these days, but they are still a liability when you apply for most jobs.

Do not get a tattoo if you have any personality trait that leans towards perfectionism, or if you do, go to the best, most expensive tattoo artist you can find, and make sure that s/he does work that you admire. Otherwise, you will live with a tattoo that you will be constantly judging for the rest of your life. This rule also applies to you if you are an artist.

Do not get a tattoo immediately upon finding out bad news about anything. Memorializing bad memories is not good for your mental health.

Do not get a tattoo of anyone's name. You have heard this one before, I'm sure, but you'd be surprised at how most people think they are exceptions to the rule and that their particular love story will last forever. I'm sorry, but if you need to tattoo that special someone's name on you, you probably have a smaller chance than normal of staying together. Additionally, do not get a tattoo for anyone else, even if it does not include their name. If the request is prefaced by the words, "If you really loved me. . ." head for the hills, forget the tattoo and reconsider who you are dating (or are married to).

Do not get a tattoo to prove something. If you are a man, unless you are in a gang and it's mandatory, do not get a tattoo that is supposed to make you seem more macho. If you are a woman, do not get a tattoo that flaunts your anger at gender specific imagery (like getting a typically macho tattoo). I should know about this last one. I have not one "feminine" tattoo and when I see a woman with a full sleeve that's filled with beautiful flowers, I really wish I had the money for laser removal. My left arm is totally covered with stylized flames (and a bunch of other crap, like most tattooists).

Do not get a small tattoo on a large area unless you are absolutely sure you will never want another tattoo. People who want their arms sleeved usually have a bunch of garbage that tattooists have to work around or cover up. Also, if you are a man and you have a tiny tattoo on a big body part, you might as well be wearing a sign that reads "I am a wimp."

Do not get a tattoo to show that you are a unique individual, for if you do, you are doing the same thing as a lot of other unique individuals, thus proving you are not. If you are hell bent on pursuing this line of reasoning, "I have a tattoo, therefore I am unique", look through all the tattoo magazines, the photos in tattoo shops and ask your tattooist if they've done your oh-so-very individual tattoo before. If they say yes, think of something else. If you can't. walk away.

Similarly, do not get a tattoo because you want the world to know how much you like something. Go get a t-shirt. That way, when you're sick of Godsmack or cute fairies, you can stop wearing them and move on to whatever your new interest is, if any.

Do not get a tattoo for any reason. What the hell is the point? If you want to memorialize a moment in your life, you have many other options, like writing it down, taking a photograph or the least work of any option: just remembering it.

If you are getting a tattoo because you like the artists' work, buy a painting. If you get sick of it, you can take it down.

The truth is, if you do get a tattoo, you will stop noticing that it is on you very quickly, so none of the reasons not to do it matter much except for other peoples' judgments. If you really want to do it, go right ahead. Please be smart and pick a tattoo artist well. Make sure you see photographs of their work (and that they are indeed photos of their work and not cut from a magazine). Better yet, go to someone whose work you've seen in person. Do not try to convince a tattooist to do something that they advise against or have any objections to, especially if they've told you it is ugly or say they've being doing an awful lot of the same thing lately. Drive, take a bus or fly to someone whose work you admire. Remember, you are not getting a haircut. This is permanent, so spending the extra time or money to go a long distance for your tattoo makes sense. Think of it like heart surgery. If you lived in a small town that had only the local doctor, would you go to him for heart surgery because you don't want to expend the time or energy to go elsewhere? I think not.

But really, why are you getting a tattoo, anyway? As a heavily tattooed person and an ex-tattooist, I have forgotten the reasons why it once seemed important. And now I can't wear flowered shirts because they clash with my left arm.

Image note: Tattoo flash, artist unknown, circa 1940. This reminds me that about half of the drawings of the American flag have the colors of the stripes in the wrong order. The stripe that is underneath the stars should be white. I found this out the hard way. I did a large tattoo on a man's forearm that was of an eagle with a big, tattered flag fluttering in the wind behind it. This man was ex-military and even brought in a flag for me to look at (did he think I was from another country or something?) Anyway, the flag in the image was very confusing, for it had many folds and was all ripped up, so I took a permanent marker and put a big red R in every stripe that was to be red. I asked the man to double check it himself, to be absolutely sure that I had it right. The thing about tattoos is that I couldn't put the red in right there and then, because you need to put the black in first so you don't muddy up the colors.

Well, four hours later the tattoo was finished and it looked great. I bandaged him up, got paid and thought I'd had a good day. Twenty four hours later or so I got a call from this guy. He sounded distraught. He didn't come right out and say what he was upset by, but instead asked me, "Can you cover up red with white ink?" I answered him, "No, it just comes out pink." Then he started to half cry, half yell at me. The stripes were not in the right order. There was a red stripe under the stars. But we had marked the stripes! Nonetheless, he started talking about the possibilities of laser surgery and I got nervous. That's quite an expense and I didn't want the bill. So, I offered to give him his money back, of course (though many tattooists would not have) and apologized. I added, "If you don't point it out to people, they will not notice." But he didn't think so, especially around his military friends.

I really felt for this guy. It was his only tattoo and it was screwed up. I was curious, however, as to how much of my flash had it right. It turned out that about 55% percent of it was wrong. So, I started asking military people, when they came in, to look at flags and tell me if they looked okay. Not one person ever identified the flags with the incorrect stripes. I think back on that man, who sounded like he was going to cry, and hope that he hasn't spent all these years pointing out the mistake to others. It was a good tattoo and people just don't look that closely or even know. Ask someone and see if they know the answer.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Anosmia, perfume snobs and olfactory ignorance


Anosmia is the inability to smell. It can be partial or full. I wonder if many people have partial anosmia and do not know it or if there is such a thing as smelling too much or too well. I know of one man who became so sensitive to smell that he went to live in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, for it was the only place where he wasn't miserable. But he had a distorted sense of smell. To him, everything except the smell of pine trees smelled like garbage.

I discovered, once again, a few nights ago, that I have a more acute sense of smell than most others. The setting for this re-discovery was quite unexpected. I was at a knitting shop with a group of women, doing what we were there to do, which was to knit (and tell the occasionally bawdy story).

The owner of the shop asked me if I'd tried the new lace needles she's been selling and I said I hadn't, so she gave me a set to try. I looked at them and thought "oooh" because they were noticeably more pointy than a regular knitting needle and so, they were indeed better for knitting lace.

While I was knitting with the new needles, I started to sense a smell that I did not like. It was really bothering me and the only thing it could be was the needles. I lifted my knitting to my nose and there it was: it smelled like dirty change, the kind with a lot of old pennies in it. This is not a smell I like at all.

I looked to the left and to the right and saw that three of my fellow knitters were using the new needles. Did they smell it, too? I asked the woman to the left of me, for she is a doctor and for some reason I thought she might be more sensitive to things like this (why, I don't know). No, she did not smell a thing. Nor did the other woman. Or the third. So, I said out loud to the woman who owns the store, "These needles are great but I can't use them because they smell like copper." My fingers reeked of the scent. She laughed (of course) and said that no one had mentioned a thing about this to her, ever.

This bothered me and so I leaned over to another woman and said, "Smell my knitting and my fingers." Yes, I know that's a weird invitation, but I just had to do it. She did comply, but her response was, "Your fingers smell like baby powder." Ah, it was the remains of Bulgari Black that she was smelling. She could not smell the copper. No one could except for me.

It figures. I want to use those lace knitting needles. But I just can't. The smell of copper makes me feel nearly ill. Dick made a bunch of interesting models out of copper and I must wash my hands well after handling (if I even deign to touch the dreaded things). He asked me last night if I could smell his aluminum models. No, I can't smell them. They are just fine. Can someone else smell aluminum? I don't know but I think it would be interesting if someone could (and please leave me a message if you do!)

There's a little spot on the sofa I'm sitting on that smells just awful. I have no idea what the smell is, to be honest, but it's loathsome. There's no telltale stain, no nothing.

So, the question is this: are these other people somewhat anosmic or am I overly sensitive to smell?

I had another olfactory experience this week which ties in to perfume snobbery, but I prefer to think of it as olfactory ignorance. Snobbery is when you like something just because it is perceived as better, but is not necessarily so. Snobbery, in terms of perfume, is when you value a scent because it's hard to find, terribly expensive or unheard of by the common rabble. True snobbery has nothing to do with whether a scent is actually better than another. True snobbery has everything to do with impressing others with an aim towards letting those poor ignorant smucks know exactly how ignorant they are.

I will say this, however, others may perceive you to be a snob if you know more, even if you don't lord it over others (and this is a terribly American problem, I think). Snobbery is akin to elitism, that currently horrible dirty word that has been attributed to Barack Obama. Is saying Shakespeare is better than daytime soap operas being a snob? No. But if one looks down on the soap opera watchers, I suppose it can be. But I digress (of course).

This week I was in a meeting with a few other women. One woman, who was dressed quite well, was wearing an absolutely wretched perfume. I do not know what it was, for I'm not very familiar with current department store fragrances (does that make me a snob?). I looked at her and thought that I'd be doing her a big favor by informing her that there were better perfumes out there. I did not judge her. I figured she was just ignorant, like a person who only reads books that one can get at the Rite Aid (where her perfume may have come from).

At one point, we were in the women's bathroom together and it was enormously tempting to say something to her. Oh, how I wanted to! But no, I thought better of it. One just doesn't tell a stranger, "Gee, your perfume is disgusting. Let me tell you about some better ones." But, really, wouldn't I have been doing her a favor?

As mentioned before, Dick is enjoying wearing scent now, and is still in love with the Hermes Jardin sur le Nil. He hasn't gone so far as to pull it out of the box himself yet, but when he sees me applying scent, he always asks. He said it was like discovering the world of wild birds. One day you are blind to something (or anosmic) and the next you are not.

There are worlds and worlds of different experience. The more we know about something, the better we can perceive it. And because everything is connected, the more we know about one thing, this informs the others and so on. Ha, I originally only meant to write about scent and snobbery, but instead am making a pitch for the old concept of the "liberal arts". Learn as much as possible about everything: art, poetry, science, scent, cooking, car mechanics, birds, computers, history. . .ah, yes: Everything is Interesting.

Painting note: Hasegawa Tohaku, 1539 - 1610 "Pine Trees"

And even more purple



No comment.

See the word purple in the list of past posts.

Addendum: As I sat outside for a few moments, watching the woodpeckers at the suet feeders, I was thinking about this video. The song is entitled "Start wearing purple" yet I saw no purple in the entire clip. It was then that the phrase "purple prose" came into my mind. Follow the link and I believe you'll discover why the word purple (and not just the color) has come to carry so much baggage.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Some things are illuminated


As I watched the old man nod his head, a wan smile crossing his face, I knew he knew, too, that there are 400 words for schmuck in Yiddish. And in that moment, listening to some of these words; schmuck, putz, schlamazel, schlamiel, a wry smile crossed my face, too. Some things were illuminated, like why I didn't get good ol' american rock n' roll, rockabilly or shockabilly, until I had lived here in the boondocks, amongst the goyim (yes, I said that) for almost twenty years.*

When I went to the Dunstable Tattoo Convention in England I met an Israeli tattoo artist who was desperately looking for work in Europe. He was spit upon outside of his shop, for tattoos are frowned upon by Jews. The bible's laws pertaining to making permanent marks upon or in the skin are hazy at best. The injunction is mostly against making marks which are akin to idolatry. Interestingly, this would make all the religious tattoos the worst offenses. But this Levitican law became more intense after the holocaust, because of the tattooing of inmates in the concentration camps.

So, I was in England and hit it off with this Israeli tattoo artist. I said I was Jewish, too. Being a Jewish tattooist is not so common (though I have no statistics for this!) When I first opened my studio ten years ago, I got a tourist from Seattle who came to me simply because he heard I was Jewish. His grandfather, he said, would be rolling over in his grave if he knew he was getting a tattoo. His grandfather had opened the first bagel shop in Seattle. I wish I knew what it was called.

Another time I did a cover-up on a guy who had a swastika on his back. He had been a neo-Nazi when he was young and disavowed it. I have no idea what I covered it with, but I did a nice job and we engaged in pleasant conversation. When I was done, while bandaging him up, I said "My dead ancestors would be happy that I've done this." When he asked why, I told him I was Jewish. He blanched and said, "Why didn't you hurt me more?" I laugh as I think of this. I had not occurred to me to do anything of the sort.

One very late night a fellow came in and asked me if I did touch-ups. Sure I did. He rolled up his sleeve and there I saw a big swastika with some words about white supremacy under it in a banner. I thought I misheard him. "Oh, you want a cover-up, not a touch-up" said I. "Hell no" was his reply, "I want it to be better." When I told him I wouldn't do it he stepped back and looked me in the eye, saying, "Are you some kind of Jew or something?" I stared back at him and said only one word: "Yes."

That man looked like he was thinking about what manner in which he might kill me and whether to do it on the spot or at a later date. Obviously, he did nothing but turn on his booted heel and leave. I was foolish, no doubt, but I have a nasty habit of speaking the truth.

But what truth is this? What makes me Jewish? I have no belief in god. I didn't grow up with any religion. Even my grandparents did not practice Judaism. But some piece of paper somewhere said that my mother was Jewish and her mother before her, and therefore, in the eyes of Israel, I am a Jew. I could go live there and become a citizen (not that I would). But this fact amazes me (and also bothers) me.

What makes me say I'm Jewish, when I don't believe in race or religion or identity politics and would prefer to think of myself as just a human being like everyone else? It has always been this: if I disavowed my Jewish heritage I would be killing off another Jew, as marginally Jewish as I am. It would be like one more person was put in the ovens. So many were killed (and not just in the holocaust).

I heard stories when I was a kid. My family, both sides, came to this country before the turn of the century. But they, too, were running away from horrors. One relative said he was the only survivor of his village at the Western edge of Russia. He said, in a steady tone, that when he was a boy, he returned from a trip to another village and as he was coming over a hill, he could see his small town burning. These were the pogroms, where whole towns and villages of Jews were being systematically killed all over Eastern Europe and Russia. The German's holocaust was nothing new.

I decided when I was sixteen to say I was Jewish only if someone said something anti-semitic, for without that, it meant nothing to me at all. In a sense, a sense that I've always hated, it has been anti-semitism, the pogroms, Hitler, neo-nazis and ignorance that has kept me from saying I am an atheist, practicing buddhist american. Being defined by negatives is not pleasing to me, but I feel obligated.

I have no idea what I would have done if I had had children. What would I have told them? And what if they had embraced Judaism? I shudder at the thought. There is nothing in this religion that speaks to me in the least. That's the worst part about my dilemma (and it is a dilemma).

I suppose I am what people call a secular or cultural Jew. I use Yiddish words, Yiddish inflections and have a Yiddish sense of humor. I like traditional "Jewish food" and know how to cook some: matzoh ball soup, tsimmes, latkes and the noodle casserole whose name I've forgotten. But that ain't much of an identity. People who have no Jewish backgrounds use as much or more Yiddish than I do or cook more eastern European food.

This post was directly caused by my watching a movie tonight (see footnote). Afterwards, I realized that it is precise to say that the major reason I did not get along with the Cramps was because I was a "New York Jew". Period. I did not have the cultural references to have fun with amerikan kulture. When I went on tour with them, i was excited, for I'd seen very little of this country. I'd been to Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut (passing through), London and Amsterdam. The idea of seeing Akron, Ohio really excited me. I had no idea what middle america was all about.

Since I write off the top of my head, I don't know where my posts are going to wind up. Well, this one isn't going to wind up anywhere. It has no conclusion. I'm stopping dead. More on this to come, I'm sure.

*These are some of my reactions to watching the film, "Everything is Illuminated", the funniest "heavy" movie I've ever seen. And the word goyim means non-Jewish people. Goy is the singular. See if you get this joke:

So, a goy calls up his mother and says "I can't make it to dinner this sunday". His mother says, "That's okay."

Photo note: A scene from "Everything is illuminated". I won't give away what it's about.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Two bit has been starts to tell all



No, I'm not the tall, dripping with dirty sex blonde bombshell. If you don't know who that is, it's Poison Ivy Rorschach. This is the Cramps, performing at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in August of 1980. I am the other guitarist, the short and rather boring one.

I finally admit to it. Yep, that's me.

Oddly enough, when I joined them on tour, I was not a fan of theirs. They must have been desperate for a guitarist 'cause I plainly said that I hadn't even listened to their song "Human Fly", which was huge in New York at the time. I wasn't into rockabilly, shockabilly or any other kind of 'billy, 'cause I was too urban and too young.

Now I get it, but I'm old. Just as I thought they were at the time. Gasp! Lux Interior was thirty six years old in 1980 (and I wonder if he'd dispute that, but I saw his papers at the Canadian border). Who knew that by the turn of the century 60 year old rockers would still be going strong?

Video note: This is an out take from the movie "Urgh: A Music War". Why it was called that I have no idea.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In which I pick up the gauntlet


Two posts back, I asked my readers (all half dozen of you, I presume) to pick a topic for me to write about. Being me, I proceeded to post something that didn't address any of the suggested topics and instead wrote about the color purple once again.

But now I return to accept the challenge of somehow writing about Obama, Bvlgari Black, L'artisan's Dzing! and birdwatching all in the same post. Can I do it? I think so, but I can't promise that any of these topics will coalesce into one theme. Oh, I suppose I could make that happen, but not without a comedic stretch that I'm just not capable of tonight (or tomorrow either, I'm sure).

I do wonder if any of the candidates wear fragrance. I am sure that McCain's wife does. I must admit that I think she looks fantastic. She reminds me a bit of the character "Seven of Nine" from Star Trek Voyager. Seven of Nine, played by Jeri Ryan, was a Borg separated from the collective. She was drop-dead gorgeous and as cold as steel.

There is a bizarre connection between Jeri Ryan and Barack Obama. Jack Ryan was a Republican State Senator in Illinois. When Barack Obama ran against him in 2004, Ryan pulled out of the race due to the rumors (that turned out to be true) that one of the reasons for his divorce from his wife Jeri is that he asked her to go to sex clubs with him.

How did I find this out? Well, one can google it easily, but why would one, at random? I did, because I was making a joke about Obama sometimes reminding me of the character Tuvok from the same Star Trek series.

Sheesh, talk about six degrees of separation. In this case, it even weaves in and out of fantasy-land.*

So, how do I segue into talking about Bvlgari Black? That's simple. Jeri Ryan is a fetish object. Oh, yes, she's a real living woman, but take a look at her (especially as Seven of Nine). Bvlgari Black? It's an in-joke for rubber fetishists, smelling as it does of rubber and baby powder.

I find the scent of Black to be utterly intoxicating. Its "rubbery" smell is not overpowering in the least and fades somewhat quickly, leaving one to smell rather like a freshly changed, bathed and powdered baby. With all the giggling behind the in-joke of this fragrance being the stuff of fetishists, it's rather ironic that its ultimate feeling is one of such innocence.

Not so with Dzing! which is "supposed" to smell fun in some way. It is decidedly not fun, though its analysis may be. I have worn it a number of times now and still can't decide how I feel about it. I wouldn't want to wear it out of my house, that's for sure. But it is most interesting, to say the least.

There's something truly repulsive about it, but both myself and others have noted that one doesn't want to wash it off even while one is wrinkling their nose in disgust. It's so elusive - what are those smells? Turin says it's lignin, which should smell like paper, but I've never smelled paper like this.

No, my first reaction, my partner's first reaction and a friend's first reaction were all "Rubber? Plastic?" Dick said "burnt break pads", I think. Lisa said "hot asphalt" and I agreed whole-heartedly.

So, in the war for the rubber scents, I pick Black, hands down.

Now, as for the birds, they may get fairly short shrift. I can tell you this: birding while wearing perfume is not a good idea. I tried it yesterday (unintentionally) and got eaten alive by black flies and mosquitoes, even while wearing Ben's bug dope.

I do wonder if wearing fragrance might mask my human scent enough to aid in being closer to birds, but somehow I think their sense of smell may be better than that. Otherwise, how could the Orioles suddenly show up when I put out the first oranges of the spring?

If you know the answer to this one, please leave me a message.

Okay, I'm tired and I've done it. Wrote about Obama, Bvlgari Black, L'artisan's Dzing! and birdwatching all in one post. Successfully? Nah. But it's time for the sandman to take me away. . .

*This is not fantasy-land for many. There are some who speculate Obama is an alien being. No kidding. I won't do the work for you: google it yourself and find out!

Photo note: That's Seven of Nine when she was rescued from the Borg collective and afterwards, when the Doctor had removed as much of her implants as possible (yes, I'm a bit of a Trekkie). The second picture is of Cindy McCain, presumably fully human but obviously hiding something beneath those shades. Does she have an implant above on eyebrow?

Do I get extra points for including another subject (the Ryan thing) or do I lose points for being so all over the map?

More purple


In a recent post I reported that I've had a lifelong hatred of the color purple. Today, as I was gazing out the window onto my garden, I realized I was dead wrong. Cascades of beautiful purple flowers are blooming profusely around my deck and down the side of the stones that separate my perennials from the grass. This same flower, Dead Nettle (lamium maculatum) grows crazy wild around the sloppy compost piles at the edge of the woods, beyond any areas where I try to tame nature. It's a gorgeous plant that blooms both in the early spring and in the fall. But be careful if you use it. Saying it's invasive would be an understatement. Thankfully, it's shallow rooted and easy to remove (and transplant).

I adore purple flowers. In fact, I love purple flowers so much that I have to force myself, when considering new plants, to keep from buying more purple ones. Right now, lilacs are starting to bloom all over Maine (though I haven't seen any as short and manicured as in this photograph.)


I have dreamt of lavender fields after seeing photographs such as this (Grasse, France):


I can not even begin to imagine what it smells like to stand in this field.

Clematis is another stunner which comes in many shades of purple (though I've had no luck at all growing it):


How could I even think I hated purple?

Somehow, taking purple out of the garden ruined the color for me, to the point that I didn't even think of the lilacs, lavenders, salvias, catmint, hardy geraniums, (the list goes on and on) as purple.

Consider this story: My mother owned a clothing store. It was knd of "hippie-ish" or "artsy", depending on how you saw it. In 1984, after her death, I took over the store. I considered, seriously, the discontinuation of selling any purple clothes. But the women who worked there before I came along stopped me. In fact, they cautioned me that there were customers who came in specifically for purple clothes. One of them we called "the purple lady".

This woman was a schoolteacher. Everything she wore was purple. Everything. Always. She must have worked hard to find all this purple stuff. Besides her sweaters, skirts, pants, blouses and dresses, she wore purple shoes and stockings (and of course, scarves, hats and any other accessories that don't immediately come to mind). She wore purple eyeliner, eyeshadow, lipstick and nail color. She carried a purple bag which held a purple checkbook with, you guessed it, purple checks. And she signed those checks with a purple pen. She had a purple car (of what make and model I have no idea). And so, whenever anything whatsoever arrived with the UPS truck that was purple, we would give her a call.

One time she came in with her teenage daughter. They shopped and the daughter whined, "Oh no, Mom, not that! It's purple!" I felt for her, being the daughter of the Purple Lady. I tried not to think of what the interior of her home looked like. What a way to grow up (though of course, there are worse upbringings than being subjected to a single color palette).

She was a kook who was defined by a color. And everything in me, at the age of twenty six, wanted to put an end to this nonsense by stopping the supply of purple clothes. It was tempting, but I did not do it.

The truth is, I was once rather afraid of any color at all. Once I gave up using crayons, I stuck with pencil and pen and left colors behind. When I got to art school, I did not know how to paint. It had never interested me for it involved color (though a more imaginative me might have endeavored to use a black and white palette). I had such trouble in my first year of painting simply because I was overwhelmed by it. There were too many! The tubes of paint were endless - how could I pick even that, never mind paint with them?!

I wound up in a remedial painting class (not their description, but it was apt). We used a limited palette: Black, white and the three primary colors. Somehow mixing my own made me less nervous.

In the garden, nowadays, I have to treat purple like I once treated black. Use less of it. See, I'm actually a purple freak! Last year I planted the first yellow flowers ever. I started, tentatively, with some white ones (wow, how terribly daring of me!) I've thrown in some pinks, dusky reds and magentas. I'm near to a full spectrum of color. But the predominant one is purple. Ha!

Photo note:My desktop is filled with photographs of purple flowers and I could post hundreds. For more, visit Wayside Gardens or any number of gardening sites.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

In which I find myself inarticulate


Since the 18th of May I have written five posts that may stay in my drafts folder forever. There's too much on my mind. I feel inarticulate, at a loss for the right words.

Just now I deleted two sentences. Nothing seems right.

Here's a list of subjects that I've been writing about:
Obama
Clinton
birdwatching
Hermes' 24 Faubourg
Bvlgari Black vs. L'artisan's Dzing!
cynicism vs. optimism
scary clowns
my grandmother's earrings
the beauty standard
symmetry vs. non-symmetry
my first real kiss

So, help me out. What would you like to read about? Suggestions are not limited to the above!

Photo note: This photo of the Hussey's General Store sign has absolutely nothing to do with this post, but since this post was about nothing, I thought "time for the sign!!!" This sign sums up the Maine the tourists do not see.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Way


When I noticed that my last post included various forms of the word hate, I figured it was time to re-post another entry from my abandoned blog:

The Great Way is not difficult

for those who have no preferences.

When love and hate are both absent

everything becomes clear and undisguised.

Make the smallest distinction, however,

and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

- from the Faith in Mind Sutra

I was looking over my posts and noticed that I use the expressions "I hate" and "I love" an awful lot. It's interesting to notice it. One other thing I notice is that as some of my notions of what I "love and hate" fall away, I am getting more creative. For instance, there was a time I would have not, absolutely not, put glitz or fringe on anything. Period. I "hated that kind of thing". Well, now I just make stuff and see what happens. Funny what places one finds Zen. Everywhere, actually. Not just on the cushion, that's for sure. And lately for me, that's the last place I'm finding it!

Photo note: You may have asked yourself, "what does this bunch of beads have to do with Zen?" Nothing, except I made it (a necklace) last Spring, when I started allowing myself to try things I've always thought weren't "me", as mentioned above.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The color purple


A few years ago I started knitting a purple sweater (and I've yet to finish it, but that's another story). It was a breakthrough of sorts. I have had a prejudice against this color (almost) my entire life.

My mother loved purple. The clothing store that she owned had walls covered with yards and yards of purple cloth. She also seemed to carry more than the usual amount of purple clothes. I hated those walls and I hated purple clothing. Until a few years ago I wouldn't have worn purple or owned anything purple unless one paid me a good deal of money.

I hate that poem that starts with the line, "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple. . ."
Yes, it's just great to finally realize that what others think of you isn't all that important and one is more free than one thinks. But is it always an invitation to be a kook?

I used that word in the last post and I use it again, for the entire concept of being a kook just gets under my skin. It assumes a type of normalcy that is drab and boring and a type of non-normalcy that is "colorful" (a synonym for kook) and fun.

There are plenty of non-normative people who wear gray suits or jeans and a tee shirt. Are they just repressing their inner kook? I think not!

So, I refused to wear purple. Just because other people think I'm weird doesn't mean I have to wear purple. What makes me weird, anyway?

My nine year old neighbor told me I was weird because I wasn't interested in trying a four-wheeler. I said "I don't like being outdoors in things that make a lot of noise" and she said "You're weird". When I was nine myself, all the other kids said I was weird, but there wasn't anything as obvious as not liking noisy outdoor activities. It was subtle and I still don't know what it was (or is).

I did notice today, in a room full of other women, that I was indeed the most colorfully dressed person there. Right now I'm wearing red socks, a red headband, and a red turtleneck with a flowing sweater of red, pinks and orange designs. My watchband is red, too. However, I do have a pair of jeans and brown shoes on. My hair is a terrible mess, which I happen to like. Is this "my purple"? Hmmm.

For years I only wore black, or blue jeans and white, black or blue t-shirts with denim jackets or shirts over them (except for work or dressy occasions). Is my preoccupation with what I'm wearing when it's so ordinary a sign of weirdness?

Hold on - I'm going to look up the word weird. It's rather bugging me that I am sure that it is not what it seems (or I've forgotten its real meaning). Here, from Merriam Webster's Dictionary:

weird (wîrd)
adj. weird·er, weird·est
1. Of, relating to, or suggestive of the preternatural or supernatural.
2. Of a strikingly odd or unusual character; strange.
3. Archaic Of or relating to fate or the Fates.

That didn't help much. Strikingly odd is a bit much. I also thought weird just meant different. As in "I like four wheelers and so do my friends and family. If you don't, you must be weird."

Purple is the color that tells others "I'm weird and I'm proud." I hate that. There's something so ordinary about picking the same color as every other weirdo. What's more, it's conformist.

And how 'bout the "sick and weird", those people who like purple and clowns?

I am going to try to reign myself in here. The subject of conformity is one that I have much to say about and my thoughts are quite scattered this evening. But I figured I'd start the dialog on weirdness and introduce conformity (hey, pleased to me you, conformity!). What other things besides the color purple denote weirdness? There are many. If you can think of one, leave a comment.

Photo note: I now enjoy purple quite a bit, especially since I enjoy dyeing wool. This photo is from my abandoned blog and under it is this paragraph:

"In an earlier entry, I mentioned that I used to abhor purple. I don't think I owned anything purple until a few years ago. I finally got over my prejudice. Because it's a secondary color it's got a zillion possibilities. Anyway, I am finally starting to do something besides crochet bags. Here's some yarn I dyed up this winter; purples, lilacs, blues and mauves. Oh, you can see that, can't you? Silly me!"

Ah, I'm still struggling with this color, aren't I?

Mad Pride and clowns


I have just looked at the "Mad Pride" site and was more than somewhat disappointed. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but what I found was a bit distressing.

This group, called Mind Freedom, advocates for what are normally called "mentally ill" people and it's grand that they are searching for alternatives to that awful expression. But some of their tactics, well, they reinforce stereotypes that just irk me.

For instance, they do street theater where they dress in clown suits and carry rubber chickens while doing what are called "normality screenings". I'm sorry, but what the hell do clown suits and rubber chickens have to do with the distress of being diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder? In addition, the folks in the clown suits ask people to do things like cluck like a duck and jump up and down, do silly walks and other assorted shenanigans.

These kinds of behaviors are the stuff of television shows and bad movies. Yes, I saw the "crazy homeless lady" on CSI last week who wore a suit made out of aluminum foil because she thought it would keep "them" from getting into her brain. Yes, there are people who do have these kinds of delusions and "dress funny", but the majority of people in the psychiatric wards are, well, pretty normal. They're just miserable (just?)

Are people who are in the grips of psychosis happy? Do they cheer when they wake up in the morning to voices telling them what to do (like going out and getting a clown suit and some rubber chickens or wear tin foil)? Not very likely.

Most people who have psychiatric diagnoses are not enjoying themselves. Why do you think it's called depression? I have never met anyone who has told me, "Gee. I love feeling suicidal. It's exhilarating!" NO. Being depressed, anxiety ridden or being on the roller coaster of bipolar illness are not generally a whole lot of fun.

I may be overreacting to this because I have hated clowns since I was a child. I remember thinking they were very sad adults and it was plainly obvious. This scared me. It didn't scare me because I was afraid of the "mentally ill", but because I think pretending to be happy when one is not just plain stinks. I thought that as a child of clowns (and myself) and I still think that today.

I would prefer society being more tolerant of neuro-diversity. Absolutely. But just because I am neuro-diverse (supposedly) I am not a kook. Why does it have to be this either/or proposition?

I have wished to be so-called normal most of my life and, thankfully, I've given that up (but for what, I'm not sure). I do not know what normal is. I'm not so sure that I'm not and I'm not so sure that all these so-called normal folks are.

I would prefer we chuck the word normal out of our vocabulary and substitute it with the word average. This may cause a bit of jealousy amongst the average folks, but, as they say, turnabout is fair play.

Photo note: I obtained this from the Clowns of the World website. I'm glad I found it soon, for searching through Google's image results was an awful five minutes or so. I truly, absolutely, completely, and unabashedly hate modern clowns. I probably would have hated non-modern clowns if I lived in another time period.

There is a word for the fear of clowns: coulrophobia. More on this later (because I can't get the image of John Wayne Gacy's clown drawings and other things out of my mind and need to do something distracting!) For an interesting gallery show entitled "Coulrophobia", click here. If you hate clowns, don't do it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A little whine


What with the ridiculous amount of R&D that goes into skin care products, you'd think they'd get it right most of the time. Not so! I bought a new product last week - Befine exfoliating cleanser (with brown sugar, sweet almond and oats). All of their products say "Food Skin Care" under the word Befine. The tube of product even has a photograph of an almond on it.

So, being a lifelong fan of Kiehl's Milk, Almond and honey scrub, the Befine product sounded good. Imagine my surprise as I brought the first nicely thick cleanser to my face: it smells like mint! Mint? It was an olfactory shock!

Seriously, if you put all those food items on your tube and a picture of an almond, you'd at the very least expect to smell some almond. Smelling mint caused a feeling of disorientation. It just wasn't right. It was like biting into a nut only to taste spearmint.

I don't care if this product "works" or not. Befine: you have lovely new displays and a nice website, but I fear you are doomed to fail for creating sensory incongruity. How could they have gotten it so wrong?

As for Kiehl's, I love their scrub, but consistently forget that one can now order their products on-line. I used to shop at their original store when it looked like a pharmacy. After I moved to Maine, I would either have visitors pick me up some of this cleanser or get it myself when I was down in New York City. Somehow, I can't bring myself to obtain it any other way. Maybe it's pure nostalgia. I do not like the new Kiehl's, with its pretension (and busy store). I miss being the only customer in the shop, to tell you the truth. Ah well. Nothing stays the same. . .

Art note: Van Gogh's "Blossoming Almond Tree"

Shirt renovation


If you look to the right, in the links section, there's my abandoned blog. It has many photographs of various projects I've done. This is but one of them.

I call it the "shirt renovation" for what I did was buy a huge men's chambray shirt (one dollar), removed the cuffs, put a new collar on, and added some design elements and three huge pockets in front.

Nothing snarky or funny about this post. Just sharing something I enjoyed making. If you'd like to see the whole project as it progressed, please leave a message on this post. I have detailed instructions.

Now, is this chic? Nah. But if you live in a very rural area, like I do, it's nicer than the average apparel I see on other women. Why do so many people wear pastel sweatshirts with awful "artwork" on them?

Note: Google "country sweatshirts" and you'll find lots of horrible stuff.

Polyphagia


Next time I eat too much, I'm gonna say, "Boy, I was really suffering from a case of polyphagia". And if my stomach hurts afterwards, I will proclaim, "Darn, now I've got gastralgia!" After a second night of polyghagic eating, I will grumble, "Ooh, this is a case of gastrodynia."

Well, those are just your plain ol' stomach aches, but the actual disturbance of digestion is called dyspepsia, which I always thought meant having an acid stomach. However, that's indigestion resulting from hyperchlorhydria! Pyrosis is the term for that burning sensation which originates in the epigastric region of the abdomen. Not the stomach, mind you. The stomach is a very specific organ with some fascinating functions.

The stomach has these folds called RUGAE which unfold when food enters. I don't know why, but this sounds nice to me, like the rugae are some lovely velvet curtains on a stage. Enter: food!

The food mixes with hydrochloric acid and pepsin to break it down into something called CHYME! Never heard of chyme before, but I believe it'll stick in my head, for it's another lovely word. Enter: food! Exit: Chyme! Ding! Ding!

And out the chyme goes. . passing through the pyloric sphincter and into the small intestine. . .

ps. I thought perhaps I have made up the adjective from of the word polyphagia, but it is indeed a word. However, hyperphagic might be more suitable. Overly hungry! Insatiable. Voracious. I AM hungry right now, but I don't think I'm hyperphagic. I'm just hungry. I may be orexic, as opposed to anorexic, which, incidentally, means NOT HUNGRY, not starving to death 'cause I want to look like a supermodel.

pps. There is no such word as orexic.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Anorexia


I was anorexic for a couple of years. I had no idea. Seriously. I've certainly heard the expression "denial" but I always thought it was a bunch of nonsense. How could alcoholics, drug addicts, anorexics (and all the other "obvious" problem behaviors like these) be unknown to the person engaging in them?

I did not know. Sure, I had some people asking me if I was sick, but I chalked that up to living in Maine. No one in New York City asked me if I was sick! Now, the fisherman whom I worked with, well, they said things like "no man wants to ride an ironing board" and "the more the merrier". Being fat, in Downeast Maine, is not a liability in the least. Being skinny was. Somehow I was suspect, and I imagine that part of that was due to xenophobia. After all, everybody knows that they like 'em skinny in New York and other places that are "away".

I worked in a tattoo shop and because of this, I could wear what I wanted. Since I was already quite "other", I played it up. I wore too much makeup, shaved my head and tended towards wearing latex and other non-breathable materials (all in black, of course). What did everyone else wear? Sweats and the occasional hawaiian shirt.

I wore stiletto boots or Doc Martens. And not only was I blind to my anorexia but blind to the effect that wearing these types of clothes had on people. I was asked many a time if my services as a dominatrix were available. I was also mistaken for being a very strange type of lesbian. Looking back, I think many people projected their sexual fantasies upon me. It didn't help that I have a voice that is low and seems to lull people into relaxation (or submission, depending on how you look at it).

I hardly ate a thing. Generally, I'd drink diet Coke and smoke cigarettes all day. I'd eat one meal a day and it consisted of one of two things: cup o' noodles or an egg and cheese sandwich. My refrigerator held only seltzer water and ice cubes. A friend of mine once commented "Your refrigerator looks like a junkie bachelor lives here".

I wasn't insulted. I was positively delighted! I had finally conquered the need for food! This is what all anorexics think.

It hurt to sit for long periods because I had lost my butt. My hip bones stuck out so far that I had permanent bruises on them. Who cared? Everything I wore looked good on me (or so I thought). And when I went shopping, I could say out loud to a salesperson (with righteous indignation), "Don't you have a size 0?"

I had struggled with being chubby my entire life (and my father warned me that when I became middle aged, I'd develop a huge ass just like his sisters, so I better start dieting early).

Occasionally, I'd overeat to the point of craziness. But I was not bulimic. I couldn't fathom making myself throw up. The truth is, I love food. So, when confronted with good food, I would eat, and eat until there was not a speck left. Once, I went out with a large group of people (where, I can't remember). I do remember I was wearing a sleeveless latex top and a corset and a friend's teenage daughter said to me, "Are you really going into the restaurant dressed like that?!" Yes, I was and I did.

I ordered some kind of beef stew. The portion was enormous. I adore meat and I ate that like a starving women (which, I suppose I was). I probably even licked the plate. I realized that everyone was looking at me with shock in their eyes. "Where did you put that?", someone said, with the afterthought, "Aren't you full??!"

I probably couldn't tell whether I was full or not. When you're anorexic, you lose the ability to tell these things. You may be hungry or you may not be. "Officially" you still are hungry (and I just got that question wrong on a Pathology test in school). I don't remember being hungry at all.

My doctor said to me that she thought I should gain a few pounds. I was quite startled. How had it come to this? I had been to Weight Watchers twice in my life and never even reached my goal weight. I was at least thirty pounds less than that when my doctor said something.

Slowly, I started eating again. And now I am overweight and everything looks like crap on me. I think, "I should go on a diet", but the idea of it is horrendous. I don't want to make weight any kind of issue. I want to learn to love this body just the way it is. I have no idea if this is possible. But I'm trying.

Art note: Peter Paul Rubens "The Three Graces"

Addendum: Rubens would love me now, but I don't know what he'd make of the weird jester faces tattooed under my knee caps. They would clash with all that classical imagery, don't ya think?

In which I admit I'm a hypocrite of sorts


Last night, as I was half heartedly watching television (Two and a Half Men, so kill me!) I was doodling at the same time. Besides liking to draw shoes, I love drawing pin-up girls, women with bald heads or crazy hair and clothes.

If I was a fashion designer, I'm absolutely sure I'd design clothes that look great on impossibly skinny tall women. These women are walking clothes hangers. That's why the stuff looks good on them. Bubble dresses, tons of material - it drapes nicely on this form, and because of that, it's not going away any time soon, even with the anti-anorexia campaign.

If I was a fashion designer, I'm absolutely sure that I'd design many things that are impossible for the average person to wear. Can you imagine a nurse or a school teacher wearing this Amy Winehouse-esque hairdo? Not a chance! But it's so much fun to draw! What's a designer (or doodler) to do?

If I was a fashion designer, however, I would not use bright yellow or chartreuse. Well, maybe a bit of chartreuse. But it doesn't matter, for I design imaginary product. Truth is, so do the real designers, for the most part.

Design note: Hair sticks: Black wood with rubber ball ends. Blouse: Creamy white linen/silk blend with antique abalone buttons. Skirt: Raw silk in black and creamy white. Tight to above the knee with center back slit that comes up just a tad too high for good taste. Can be closed partway with optional silk frog closure. Guaranteed to be sewn by hardworking women in some third world country.

Nothing new



I don't know if I'd label this one "bad taste" or just some sort of accident. The truth is, women have been wearing huge plaid coats in Maine (and other cold climates in the U.S.) for ages.

I bought a huge beat-up coat at the Salvation Army for one dollar. And I have been known, on occasion, to throw it on over nothing instead of a bathrobe. However, it doesn't look all that chic on this five foot tall woman.

I'm not sure it looks all that chic on this model either, but I'll leave that for you to decide. I doubt it costs a buck, though.

And really, those boots do not work with this at all. I would say the same for the bare pale legs (which inspire me to want to say to her, "Aw, sweetie, aren't you cold?) She needs a pair of Muck Boots and some wool tights or stockings.

Photo note: Preen - Fall 2008 from Elle's Top Ten New York Fashion Week Trends

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bad taste


This will be quick:

Have you seen those ads for Pizza Hut pasta? The one where they show people in New York City (where everyone has good taste, of course) eating in a fancy Italian restaurant?

Those people were eating Pizza Hut pasta and they didn't even know it! Hey, they thought it was great! This proves that Pizza Hut pasta is really, really good.

No.

Just like those old ads for Folger's instant coffee (which took place in a similar looking restaurant) those well dressed diners are only proving one thing: most people have no taste.

All you need to do is tell them it's good and they'll believe you.

And conversely, I'd wager that if you served the finest chef in the world's food at Pizza Hut, snooty people who had to go to a fast food joint (slumming, perhaps) would think it wasn't so hot.

In fact, there's a scientific study about this phenomenon which I'll find for you, just in case you don't believe me. Later.*

Photo note: This is from Elle magazine's coverage of the "Costume Museum's Gala".
Copy: Zac Posen and Kate Mara, in a dress by the designer with Fred Leighton jewels.
Is he supposed to be ironic in this suit? And I'm sorry, but there is nobody who could pull off this dress (and her breasts (if they are indeed hers, look like they are going to explode at any moment). That much yellow is frightening. This is but two examples of truly hideous "fashion". I looked at much of the couture lines for Fall '08 and a good deal of it is wonderful, but off the runway, you just see a lot of crap.

*Okay, it's later. I found many articles about the cost of wine and its packaging determining whether a person perceives it as good or not. Here's an excerpt from one article, found here:

"The researchers scanned the brains of 21 volunteer wine novices as they administered tiny tastes of wine, measuring sensations in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain where flavor responses apparently register. The subjects were told only the price of the wines. Without their knowledge, they tasted one wine twice, and were given two different prices for that wine. Invariably they preferred the one they thought was more expensive."

Case closed.