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Friday, June 26, 2015

Summer Brain

Photo by Daniele Oberti
Remember that Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson, with the kid who raised his hand and asked the teacher if he could be excused from class because his brain was full?
That’s me.
Summer vacation started a week ago Friday at 12:26 p.m., and my brain waved a white flag with the desperation of a mouse dipped in tuna juice serving cocktail shrimp at a cat convention. I’ve been holding too much together for too long, and I’m too done. I’ve got nothing left.
Exhibit A: Guess who I didn’t call last Sunday on Father’s Day? My father. I didn’t forget about Father’s Day. I helped my kids celebrate their dad all day long. THEIR DAD, who is my husband. But it wasn’t Husband’s Day. It was FATHER’S DAY. I love my father. And I went to bed that night with nary a phone call, not an email, not even an, “Oh crap! I forgot.” Nope. Not till Dad called me Monday afternoon did it dawn on me what a sucky little ingrate he has for a daughter.
I’m sorry, Dad. My birthday’s coming up. You have my permission to blow it off. I won’t say a word.
Summer Brain. That’s got to be it.
Earlier this week my daughter and I failed to attend her dentist appointment. I just breezed right by it, sitting on the couch with an iced tea in one hand and a novel in the other. I never do that. I’m Lady Prompt with Bells On. When the doctor’s office tells me to arrive fifteen minutes early to fill out paperwork, I get there fifteen minutes earlier than that, with the papers downloaded from the website, filled out and notarized, insurance and ID cards in hand. I am on top of everything all the time. Best compliment I ever got was when I overheard a friend tell someone, “If Maria said she’ll do it, you know it’ll get done. You can completely count on her.”
Summer Brain.
I suspect my mind has actually mutinied. My cell phone’s calendar program used to send me alerts half an hour before appointments. But it stopped doing that this week. I don’t know if my phone has joined in on the Rebellion of Irresponsibility, or if one of my other split-personalities changed the app’s settings in order to sabotage me. Us.
(Everyone hears the voices sometimes, right?)
People fall asleep at the wheel when they have cheated themselves of so much rest that their bodies and minds can no longer function. I believe this is what’s happened here. I have spent the last nine months juggling five schedules, three volunteer positions, twenty-one meals a week, thirty-seven field trip forms (I counted), ninety-six weekly school folders, and enough emergent crises to make Patton curl up in a fetal position, suck his thumb, and weep.
This is my brain at the beginning of the school year:
Photo by Zach Zupancic
This is my brain by the end of the school year:
 
Photo by YuMaNuMa
I am well and fully fried, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
So if you need something from me, don’t hold your breath. Questions like, “What’s for dinner?” and “Have you seen my bike helmet?” make me shake and speak in tongues while my eye twitches as though the San Andreas fault line runs between the bridge of my nose and my jaw. I’ll sort through the mail when it overflows the box and the mailman starts stuffing it between the doors. And if my voice mailbox says it’s full, then take the hint and stop calling me. Even if I’m there, I’m not there.
Summer Brain. It’s a thing, and I have it. If anyone is aware of a support group for this, let me know.
Like I could actually get myself anywhere on time. Good one, Maria. You’re hilarious.
Oh crap. I think I left one of the kids at the park… yesterday.
      I knew it was too quiet around here.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Love Song for the Married


I’ve been listening to the Classic Rock station lately. Some might rightly chastise me for turning the tuner away from Christian music channels. I get it; you are what you eat, right? I should be feeding my soul with fare that actually nourishes it. But sometimes I just crave a hit of Hendrix, Zeppelin, or the Cars.
Maybe this reveals some tacit refusal to fully renounce the lost years of my misspent youth?
Whatever.
One of the things I’ve realized while listening to stuff like the Cardigans’ “Kiss Me”, and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, and the Bee Gees’ “Too Much Heaven” is that most of the love songs on the radio are about new love, infatuation, and youthful discovery of the mysterious and exciting Other.
That’s awesome and all that, but we need more love songs for the older set, the long-married, we who share a bathroom while dressing to go out, flossing our teeth and tweezing stray hairs and saying things that would’ve never crossed our minds or lips during our courting days. Things like, “Would you pop that zit in the middle of my back? I can’t reach it.”
So I decided to write such a love song. I’m not gifted enough musically to compose a tune for it, but if anyone out there wants to put this to a guitar or keyboard, I think we’d have a major hit on our hands. I’ll go halfsies with you on the profits.
Here’s my love song for the married.

Do, Baby, Do

(She sings) Baby, when I see you in the misty morning light,
Pillow creases ‘cross your cheek, and sleep-dust in your lashes,
I see the same Beloved with whom I said “I do” that night—
At least until I grope at the side table for my glasses.

Make me sigh, make me swoon, trip my heartstrings softly:
Get up first and feed the kids, then bring me back some coffee.
Do, baby, do.
Do, baby, do.
That’s all I really want from you.

(He sings) Honey, when you do that thing you do that makes me wild,
It doesn’t matter to me if you’ve gained a pound or thirty.
We used to do it all the time before we had a child,
Now “We’re going to clean the house” is what you mean by “Let’s get dirty”.

Make me crazy, make me weak, light me like a Roman candle,
But please wear something else to bed tonight instead of flannel.
Do, honey, do.
Do, honey, do.
That’s all I really want from you.

(She sings) Darlin’, I’ve done bills and spills and homework, hair, and hoagies,
By five o’clock my body, mind, and soul are in a funk.
Then you come home and do that thing that turns my passions smoky:
You curl that Hefty bag with those sweet biceps, you fine hunk.

Make me shiver, make me quiver, my composure you disturb
When you empty all my trashcans and convey them to the curb.
Do, darlin’, do.
Do, darlin’, do.
That’s all I really want from you.

(He sings) Sweetheart, you know I love you, and I do just what I said,
‘Cause I’m a man good to my word, I’ve told you more than once.
I promised you I’d clean and pitch and organize the shed.
So why you gotta nag me on it every eighteen months?

Make me happy, make me smile, trust me and relax!
Uh—what’s that Goodwill truck doing parked around out back?
Do, sweetheart, do.
Do, sweetheart, do—
Hey! You! Come back here with my lawn mower!

(They sing) Baby, our odometer’s been racking up the miles
but you’re still my favorite ride, though your chassis’ kind of rusty
and your tires are thin and balding and you’ve got some broken dials
and your leather’s peeled and here and there it feels a little crusty.

But you make me crazy, make me laugh, you make my life complete.
If you’d shut the toilet, toothpaste, windows, all would be so sweet.
Do, baby, do.
Do, baby, do.
Do, baby, do.
But I like them open!
Do, baby, do.
Why can’t you shut them?
Do, baby, do.
It’s not that big a deal!
Do, baby, do.
What if the toothpaste gets dropped in the toilet?
Would you think it’s no big deal then?
Do, baby, do.
How would the toothpaste ever get dropped in the toilet?
That’s ridiculous!
Do, baby, do.
Like this!
Do, baby, do.
Oh, that’s real mature. You’re fishing that out, you know.
Do, baby, do.
If you’d closed the lid on either one it wouldn’t be an issue!
Do, baby, do.
I’m going to close your lid.
Oh yeah?
Yeah.
Do, baby, do.
Let’s see you try.
Are you flirting now? Seriously?
Maybe.
Do, baby, do.
Now you’re getting all up on me, is that it?
You’re pretty cute when you’re mad.
Do, baby, do.
The kids are at school.
Yes, they are.
Do, baby, do.
What do you want to do?
What do you want to do?
Do, baby, do.
Come on, sweet cheeks.
Right behind you, honey buns.
Do, baby, do.

Interested record labels can reach me via the comments section below. Offers will be considered in the order they are received. Sign me now, while I’m still available.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Something Out of Nothing


Photo by NASA's Marshall Space Flight
My husband has spent the last fifteen years methodically transforming me into a geek. The disturbing scope of his success emerged one evening when he said, “Want to watch a documentary about supermassive black holes?” and I went, “Yeaaaah!”
And I was completely serious.
Supermassive Black Holes
Astronomers have discovered that black holes, once considered potentially mythological anomalies as rare as a Yeti riding a fire-breathing dragon taking the holy grail to Atlantis, actually exist at the center of most, if not all galaxies, our own Milky Way included. They can’t be seen, because they absorb light. One detects black holes by observing the behavior of the stuff around them: stars and dust and light and so forth.
One detects black holes by observing the behavior of the stuff around them. Hang onto that for a minute.
Previously assumed to be purely destructive entities, astrophysicists now believe that black holes are responsible for the entire genesis of the galaxies that surround them. A number of theories exist about how black holes initially form, but one thing seems clear: without them, the surrounding planets and stars and galactic matter could never have come into being.
As we watched this intriguing program I thought, “This is just begging for a supermassive, extended analogy about life.”
God-Shaped Holes
Plumb sings, “There’s a God-shaped hole in all of us,” describing the internal emptiness we spend our lives attempting to fill.
We amass money and all the things it can buy: houses, cars, jewelry, friends. Or we crave fame, celebrity, and status. Some collect experiences, like traveling, eating and drinking, or hits of adrenaline. Others ache for meaning, connection, spirituality, or self-actualization. But common to all these pursuits is the eventual realization that no amount of anything is ever enough. We can never satisfy the gaping black maws of need inside ourselves.
Never satisfied. Hmm.
Galactic black holes exist in two states: feeding (or accreting) and dormant. Astronomers explain that black holes absorb matter, or accrete, until they reach a size at which, combined with the movement of the material around them, they actually begin to repel things. Once their gravitational pull is no longer sufficient to suck stuff in, they fall dormant.
Fascinating.
So if I understand the mechanics here, this means that black holes never become full, or satisfied; they simply get too big and lose the ability to attract what they crave. So they become inert.
They give up?
Applied to the supermassive black hole inside of me, this explains so much.
The Needy, Greedy Pit of Me
My chow of choice is others’ favor. I have an insatiable appetite for approval and appreciation. It ushered me into a long career of people-pleasing. When asked to do or give something, I could never refuse, because I might anger or disappoint someone. Then I would not be thought well of, a fate worse than death by dismemberment via rusty soup spoon.
Needing to be noticed also turned me into an entertainer. Joking, telling stories, grabbing center stage became my modus operandi. I wasn’t so much a ham as a ham and fontina on toasted pumpernickel with pickles, tomatoes, and horseradish.
Pining for people’s approval made me insecure, jealous, and bitter. Why? Because there’s only so much favor to go around. If the boss commended another employee, it meant he wasn’t impressed with me. When someone else got the part for which I auditioned, it proved that I didn’t measure up in the director’s eyes. If my romantic interest preferred someone else, I took it as a rejection of my sum total value as a human being.
My black hole became increasingly supermassive the more I tried to feed it.
Wholly Holey
Remember that thought I asked you to hang onto? One detects black holes by observing the behavior of the stuff around them.
I hit a crisis point when I realized I was angry at just about everyone. “I’m sick of everything,” I wrote in my journal. “Life feels like one big, endless cycle of stuff I don’t like… My only value to anyone is in what I do for them… All I do is serve others, then get asked to serve even more. Nothing will ever be enough. No one will ever say, ‘You’ve fulfilled the requirements.’” The real lynchpin of my angst emerged in the final sentence I wrote that day: “I just want to be left alone.”
What did I most want? To go dormant. Because I’d discovered that I could never get enough of what I wanted from the stuff and people around me.
Something Out of Nothing
The Ecclesiastical Teacher contends that “All a man’s efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied” (Ecclesiastes 6:7).
So what’s the point of this hunger? This desire for whatever it is that we crave? Why must we even have this black hole inside us?
Because it points us to the fact that we will never be complete, or filled, or satisfied by anything inside or outside of us. That hole is the very thing that produced and now holds in balance everything else in our lives.
It’s only in recognizing that at our core we are vastly empty that we begin to grasp not only the profound vacuum of our own existence, but also the enormous creative power that can emerge as a function of that vacuum. Everything we do and create and produce, then, is evidence of the power of God working in and out of us. It’s an enigma and a paradox that out of the depths of our eternal emptiness can flow eternal substance.
When we accept that we are nothing, God then works in and through us to make real the truth that the end of all being is indeed the glory of God.
Because only God, after all, can make something out of nothing.

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Saturday, June 6, 2015

Before You Buy That Birkin Bag

The French luxury goods store Hermès has just opened a new boutique in CityCenterDC. This is the manufacturer of, among other things, the Birkin Bag, which can set your bank account back on the order of six figures.

Yes, savvy reader. It is a purse. And you decoded that sentence correctly: six figures.
Here’s a photo from the Washington Post of the dinner party that launched the luxury retailer.
 
The Washington Post
Heads in the clouds, that’s right. I won’t even go there, because it’s just too easy.
At first glance, paying $100,000.00 for a purse seems… let’s call it questionable. One might feel that by handing over that kind of money to obtain a handbag in which to tote your stuff, Birkin Bag retailers and consumers mock those who struggle to put enough food on the table, or who can’t educate their children because the family needs another breadwinner to keep them afloat, or who flee homes and belongings to subsist in resource-deficient tent cities in the hopes of evading martyrdom for their religion and/or ethnicity.
Rachana
Incidentally—not that this has anything at all to do with Hermès or the Birkin Bag—one can, for $35.00 per month, sponsor an impoverished child through Food for the Hungry International, "providing education, clean water, stable food, and access to medical help.” A single, mid-line Birkin Bag equals about 1,428 months of such care. It would sustain three at-risk (of illness, of being sold or kidnapped into work or sex slavery, of death) children for nine years each.
But maybe I’m being short-sighted. Shallow. An unsophisticated thinker.
Perhaps the Birkin Bag really does deserve its eye-popping price tag.
So let’s take a look at it.
It comes in calf leather (because full-grown cattle are just too gristly?), ostrich, crocodile, or lizard. The most expensive Birkin Bags sport salt water crocodile skin which, according to the Koorana Crocodile Farm in Central Queensland, Australia,  “makes the best and most durable leather in the world.” Koorana sells their own saltwater crocodile handbags, ranging in price from $850.00 to $2,990.00. Bargain!
The low-end Koorana bag only represents two years of sustenance for a child whose parents can’t care for him. But isn’t that what orphanages are for, anyway? After all, as many as 85% of children living in orphanages worldwide are there, not because they have no families, but because their families can’t afford to keep them. So we first-worlders needn’t concern ourselves; the third-world infrastructure clearly has adequate accommodations for these children. They don’t need love or bonding or individualized care. Rice and beans and a cot in a room with fifty other kids is more than enough until they turn 18 and get turned out into the world to make it on their own with no families, little education, and a million others just like them.
But back to the Birken Bag.
Unless the animal Hermès peeled was the last representative of a species of sacred cows whose lineage can be traced back to the Fertile Crescent, or was fed pure gold flake and Elysian ambrosia for the duration of its life, or was the lovechild of a unicorn/Pegasus union, it seems unlikely that the Birkin Bag’s fiber content justifies its cost.
The Birkin Bag’s metallic hardware comes in gold or palladium, with an optional diamond encrustation, and sports a lock with keys.
You would want that lock, I think, because there’s nothing like a spray of diamonds across your handbag to tell a would-be purse-snatcher that you’ve probably got more than $40.00 and a Capital One card in your wallet. And with the handy locking system, the thief would be utterly unable to penetrate the bag—because saltwater crocodile skin is impervious to machetes, rifles, and flamethrowers—and would be reduced to popping off the diamonds to hawk at a pawn shop.
At this writing gold and palladium are priced at about $1,190.00 and $771.00 per ounce, respectively, so unless the Birkin Bag's hardware is weighing in at several pounds, its precious metal components don’t seem poised to drive the price up to its whopping retail value.
Photo by Brian Harrington Spier
Diamonds, on the other hand, are a girl’s best friend, as they say, and their trade frequently funds the labyrinthine complex of wars, conflicts, and genocides in Africa and South America, where the bulk of diamonds are mined. Google "Does Kay Jewelers use ethically sourced diamonds?" and one of the top returns links to the retailer's conflict-free diamond policy, as with the same question posed of Zales and De Beers. Inserting the Hermès name into that search phrase brought back the equivalent of a googlenope: not one page in the top 50 made any reference to any Hermès diamond policy.
Finally, we must consider the craftsmanship that goes into the Hermès Birkin Bag. According to Wikipedia, “each bag is hand-sewn, buffed, painted, and polished, taking several days to finish. An average bag is created in 48 hours. Leathers are obtained from different tanners in France, resulting in varying smells and textures. The company justifies the cost of the Birkin Bag, compared to other bags, based on the meticulous craftsmanship and scarcity.”
If we’re generous, and assume that the materials for the Birkin Bag cost, say, $20,000.00, then we can conservatively appraise the craftsmen’s work around $40,000, at least. So that’s $20,000 per day, for a two-day job, at 24 hours in a day…
$833.00 an hour.
Holy handbags, Batman! I can wield a needle and pedal a sewing machine. I want a job making stuff for Hermès!
But let’s be honest. We all knew from the get-go that the price tag on Birkin Bags has absolutely nothing to do with the cost of materials, labor, or utility. It’s about luxury. Indulgence. Hubris, on a scale that makes President Snow’s Capitol look like a Spartan convent of self-abnegation.
Brands consultant Amy Shea says of Hermès that “‘luxury’ has been redefined — in Hermès’ favor — and it has nothing to do with price. ‘Expensive doesn’t equal luxury,’ Shea says. ‘Luxury equals rarity’.”
I disagree. In this case luxury equals excess: An excess of self-importance, arrogance, and hauteur; an excess of myopia, willful ignorance, and intentional egomania; an excess of the kind of affluence that says I deserve to be pampered and spoiled and envied, because my wealth-fueled whimsies are more important than the needs of an impoverished mother weeping helplessly as she watches her child starve to death.
Here’s that photo again.
 
One might justifiably claim that anyone willing to spend on a purse the equivalent of thirty years worth of food, clothing, and education for a child has his or her head stuck up in the clouds.
I disagree about that, too.
I’d say they have their heads stuck up a different place altogether.

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