Thursday, August 2, 2012

(Almost) Everybody Loves Pop Music.

It all started innocently enough. As I herded my girls into the car, ready for another (long) day of chauffeuring their lucky behinds to various summer camps and sports/music practices, I announced that I had downloaded a new song onto my iPod. This is a fairly unusual event, because I am pretty lost when it comes to new music. I just recently realized that I kind of like Kings of Leon. They are probably broken up by now. At least I actually have an iPod, and not just a Walkman (although I do still own boxes and boxes of tapes.) I was very excited about my new musical acquisition, and couldn't wait to share.

N: You downloaded a song? Really? What song? 
D: You better not have used the iTunes cards we got for our birthday.

After assuring them that no, I bought the song WITH MY OWN MONEY, thank you very much, I turned up the volume.

N: YOU DOWNLOADED THIS SONG???? WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU? ARE YOU TWELVE?? (No, and you aren't twelve either. Not for another two years.)

D: MOM! UGH! Turn it off!!! It's too...bouncy! UGH! STOP!!!

And on. And on.

The offending song would not be a surprise to anyone that knows me well. (Ok, ok. I will admit it. "One Thing" by One Direction. Happy? Yes! Laugh! I'm used to it.) What can I say? I am an enigma. I gravitate toward darkness. I cried through The Dark Knight Rises. I YouTube the saddest parts of my favorite (sad) movies when I need catharsis (Look! It's Katherine dying in a cave while the Count walks across the desert, trying to save her! It's Harry, besieged by the spirits of loved ones who perished trying to save his ass! It's Viola saying goodbye to Will  before she is shipped off to the Americas!). A lot of times, the music I like induces suicidal ideation. I really do like a lot of different things, and am partial to moody singer/songwriters, loud rock, and Motown. But! The music I truly love, more than anything in the world, is pop (with a special place in my heart for boy bands.)

I don't know why. I can't explain it. Anyone who scrolls through my iPod is usually horrified ("Debbie Gibson?? WTF!???!!). I don't care. I really don't. It is cheesy, and horrible, and absolutely wonderful. My cooler friends shake their heads, perplexed. One of my younger brothers, an architect who gets to spend a lot of time discovering new music WHILE WORKING, is  thoroughly disgusted by me. "You don't even try!!" he laments. (Ok, Mr. Bel Biv Devoe. You weren't always listening to obscure Icelandic bands.)

Pop music, particularly recent stuff, is pretty formulaic. Just ask the Spanish National Research Council, which, in a recent study,  discovered the genre was too loud and all sounded the same. If that's what their scientists are working on, no wonder the Spanish economy is in the toilet. But I digress. "One Thing" does sound just like the 90's staple "I Want it That Way" by Backstreet Boys. But there is something comforting about that formula to me, something never-endingly endearing about the inane lyrics and catchy beats, something to while away the time and make you forget, just for a moment, that wars are being fought, most of us will never have the body of an Olympic athlete, and that people are using fried chicken as a metaphorical symbol of the decline of western civilization (Chicken as Text. As if I don't have anything else to worry about.) 

So I will soldier on. I'm counting on my children to introduce me to new musical horizons, eventually. I only hope they won't disown me before then. No matter. Juice Newton will comfort me in my perpetual state of uncoolness. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Lagom (I Just Can Get Enough).

Taken at The Study Hotel, New Haven CT

Ah, these endless summer nights. And days. I know that I promised to be more prolific, but so many things have been calling for my attention, it has been nearly impossible. Business first. I would like to thank my dearest Blighty for honoring me with an award! The Liebster! Look!

I am sorry it has taken me so long to claim it! I know that I have to pass it on, and I promise I will, soon...please don't overwhelm me! But Blighty....XOXOXOXOXOXO!

Also: A big THANK YOU to Lily Tequila at Wishbone Soup for this:

I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy! But I will work on it.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

I've just discovered that I am Swedish at heart. No, I don't really like herring, and lack of darkness would make me ill (want to know what a Swedish midnight looks like?? It looks like noon.) It is the Swedish concept, nay, LIFE MOTTO, that I feel a great kinship to. Lagom. Here is a good description of it, from LexioPhiles.

In Sweden it is a commonly understood and often discussed topic that the citizens are striving to achieve a state of “lagom.” Lagom can be defined as normal or in moderate balance, but it also has an undertone of “not too much or too little” as well as “just right” or “just enough,” meaning one is standardized to the central norms of a society. Swedes are very proud of this term that has become so fundamentally integrated into the Swedish culture and cannot easily be translated. All example translations have either a positive or negative undertone, while lagom has none. It is a completely neutral word, which connotation is decided by the user. Lagom is neither being excessive nor sparse but looking/feeling/being at the perfect equilibrium right in between.
In one word, lagom describes the essential and elementary basis of the Swedish national psyche, which is one of consensus and equality. It is still widely considered ideal to be modest and avoid extremes. The concept of lagom is similar to that of the Middle Path in Eastern philosophy, and Aristotle's "golden mean" of moderation in Western philosophy. Swedes generally consider their lagom ideology as a good thing, although sometimes the saying ‘lagom och svensk’ (lagom and Swedish) implies drab, colorless and perhaps boring; while ‘lagom är bäst’ (lagom is best) means moderation, balance and the wisdom of defining the best possible course of action between two extremes.

Nice, right? I was first introduced to the idea of lagom while preparing for a trip to Stockholm six years ago. It wasn't until I arrived in the city (one of the most beautiful places I have so far had the honor of visiting) that I really began to sense what was meant. Everything - the architecture, the food, the actions of people, the way food was arranged in the market - somehow was perfect. This perfection was the culmination of nothing more than knowing when to stop. 
I want to try to incorporate the philosophy into my life a bit more, and especially in the lives of my children. I think just knowing when to say when, now more than ever, is critical. Whether it is in talking about religion or politics (especially in an election year), writing a blog post, eating cookies, taking a shower, walking the dog, it is important to do everything in moderation. As is being thankful for what we have, when so many have nothing. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Sir Laurence Olivier as Hamlet

I am often accused of being a pessimist. I am not, really. I prefer to think of myself as a realist. Like my buddy Tommy Hobbes (we go way back, Tommy and I), I tend tend to believe that life is "nasty, brutish, and short".  I also agree with his assessment that

"The condition of man is a condition of war of everyone against everyone; in which case everyone is governed by his own reason; and there is nothing he can make use of , that may not be a help unto him, in preserving his life against his enemies." Leviathan 

I know. Kind of pessimistic. I also think that life is also quite full of beauty and wonder, and that sometimes people rise up to help each other in the most extraordinary ways, so he and I aren't soul mates or anything.

Now, one man I DO feel is my true twin (or at least the twin of my deepest, darkest, most pessimistic self) is  my dear Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. When I am so low as to think there can be no bottom to the abyss, I turn to him and realize, well,  yeah, it can get a lot worse. A LOT. And it makes me feel oh so much better.

We all have our gurus or saints, talismans and charms, mentors and gods. When I am truly bereft, I pray to THE GOD OF ABRAHAM ISAAC AND JACOB (That makes Him sound kind of official, doesn't it?). But there are other times I don't want to bother The Man Upstairs. And there are times I not only don't want to bother Him, but hope He is looking the other way, as well. In those circumstances, I turn to The Great Dane to extract me from life's dilemmas. I have also coined a mantra in his honor: What Would Hamlet Do (Or Not Do)?  (A big thanks to Suze over at Analog Breakfast for the "Or Not Do" part. That was kind of genius.)

When I am faced with a bag of Oreos at 1 am, and the house is quiet and there is no threat of little ones mewling "MOM!! YOU SAID NO SWEETS UNLESS IT'S AFTER WE'VE EATEN REAL FOOD!!" (They totally don't get that the rules are different for grownups, duh) I think: What Would Hamlet Do (Or Not Do)? He would stuff his freaking Danish face, is what. Waiting up late nights for Daddy's ghost to show up takes ENERGY. And who wants to chew on a mutton chop that late? Indigestion!

Some other scenarios where WWHD (OND)? could come in handy:

1. Drivers that cut you off in the fast lane, only to step on the brakes immediately thereafter: This is easy. Hamlet would revenge. 'Cause that's he rolls! (Of course, he'd give a soliloquy first, and by that time, the driver may have changed lanes yet again...)

2. Should I go the movies this weekend? Again, so easy! Of COURSE! Hamlet shows there is nothing like a nice bit of entertainment. For extra points, if you want to break up with someone/propose/have them admit a terrible secret, take them to a film that has your preferred result in mind. Bingo! If it worked to out Claudius as a conniving incestuous murderer, well, it can work for you, too!

3. Should I show my true feelings? Well, here we are split. Sometimes, Hamlet's pretty good at playing his cards close to the vest ("But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue") and other times, he's kind of a rat bastard (erm, what's up, Ophelia?). The takeaway here is to regard the situation, and act appropriately.

I only hope when it comes time for flights of angels to sing me to my rest, I get enough time to say all that I have to say in a long-winded speech where I can spout stuff like "I die" and "I am dead" a thousand times, in case nobody gets the hint. Goblets of wine and swords that have been tainted with poison would be a bonus. Then I'll know I picked the best mentor I could have. (Well, if that happens, I guess Thomas Hobbes would have been right about the state of humanity after all. Awkward.)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Dream Is A Wish (Your Heart Makes).


What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?

   We know dreams are powerful. Literature and history and music and art are all brimming with themes dedicated to the raising of hope and the shuttering away of doubt. I first realized the hold that dreams can have through one of my favorite stories as a child, "The Little Match Girl" by Hans Christian Andersen. If you are not familiar with it, and you may not be, because you prefer bright sunshiney tales that feature unicorns and rainbows and pots of gold, it is sad. (Sad things and I go together like dubstep and hipsters in Park Slope.) Because I am lazy, I offer this, from Wikipedia:

On a cold New Year’s Eve, a poor girl tries to sell matches in the street. She is freezing badly, but she is afraid to go home because her father will beat her for not selling any matches. She takes shelter in a nook and lights the matches to warm herself. In their glow, she sees several lovely visions including a Christmas tree and a holiday feast. The girl looks skyward, sees a shooting star, and remembers her deceased grandmother saying that such a falling star means someone died and is going into Heaven. As she lights her next match, she sees a vision of her grandmother, the only person to have treated her with love and kindness. She strikes one match after another to keep the vision of her grandmother nearby for as long as she can. The child dies and her grandmother carries her soul to Heaven. The next morning, passers-by find the dead child in the nook. 

Nice, right? I know, I'm stretching here; it's not so much as a dream as vivid hallucinations brought on by hypothermia. The point is, The Little Match Girl held hope in her sooty little head, even if it was a false one, and it comforted her.
But when does a dream become a burden? The June 2012 issue of Psychology Today features a wonderfully biting article by Augusten Burroughs titled, "How To Ditch a Dream".  Burroughs says:

"...(T)here are many, many people who do not need to be told to cling to their dreams; they need to have those fantasies wrenched from their little fists before they waste their entire lives trying to achieve them. 

I am one such person."

I laughed heartily at his familiar self-depreciating humor (thankfully, the article was free of his other hallmark: shockingly lurid descriptions of past abuses suffered at the hands of...oh, everyone) then stopped short. HE'S RIGHT!  I panicked. You are now reading a blog post, so chances are, dear reader, you are familiar with the internet, and the phenomenon known as YouTube. Or Facebook. Or, actually, Blogger. The internet is FULL of people who think they have talent (ahem, all kinds of talent, or so I hear from anecdotal evidence). You know that this is not so. Their talents are greatly exaggerated. Except for that one guy who...never mind. You understand. So what if I AM ONE OF THEM? (This, incidentally, is partially the reason for my departure from the blog. Not that one guy - the fear that I am a no-talent hack showing off.) But I digress.

When do we give up on our dreams? The real ones. The ones that keep us warm at night like the poor Little Match Girl, and the hopes that raise us afloat during the day, promising better tomorrows and ever afters? And how do we keep living when all hope seems lost? It's not in me to give up. So I won't. But I will always wonder if I'm doing the right thing.

(PS sorry I called you "dear reader". The only thing I dislike more that that is "What say you?" I will try to refrain heretofore.)