I am a pug elevator and Mr. Demo is a hoarder

The transition is now officially official. We are well and truly settled into the new house, and I have accepted my role as a pug elevator. The treads on the stairs are very high, and Harry can’t make them on his own. Which means that I cart him up and down the stairs about 20 times a day. We joked about installing a little elevator for him on the side of the stairs. Who needs it when I’m there? Also, I think the mechanics of it all might be a little beyond his mental abilities.

Anyway, the officially part of the official is that we have also finally rented out the old place. Apparently, there’s a rental shortage in Seattle. Within three days of listing it on Craig’s List, I had more than 20 responses–and had already rented it out. The big surprise is that we were right on schedule; our plan was to have it listed by July 1 and rented out by August 1. Well, really, we listed it by July 8, and had it rented out by July 26. Woo!

And it was a lot of work. Aside from the cleaning, electrical, painting, patching, power washing, and all the stuff, there was the question of Steve’s stuff.

Make that STUFF, all capped.

I knew he had a lot of STUFF, but I hadn’t realized how much. And I also hadn’t realized how dangerously hoarder-like he is. Don’t get me wrong: I applaud the waste-not-want-not mentality. But there’s a limit. Here is a typical conversation:

Me, pointing to a weird very heavy metal thing: What’s this?
Steve: Oh, that’s really cool. It came off job xxx. You put it into a wall, and then you can mount a bench on it.
Me: Are you planning on using it somewhere?
Steve: Ummm, well …. nooooo.
Me: Can we give it to Goodwill?
Steve: NO, it’s worth something.
Me: Can we sell it on Craig’s List?
Steve: Eh, I don’t think anyone would want it.

Multiply this conversation by 1,000, and you have the dilemma. And that was just the tool/building/construction stash. Even more problematic was the gear stash.

Me, after dealing with trying to get him to get rid of three canoes and two windsurfers, which would leave him two of each: I found your ski stash.
Steve: Oops.
Me: Yes. Well. I have one set of cross country skis. You have three sets of cross country and two downhills. Can we get rid of two cross countries? XXX gave them to you, and they’re too long. Remember? That’s why you bought the third set.
Steve: No, I might need them someday.
Me: Why?
Steve: Because.
Me: Hmph. Okay, well let’s talk about the downhill skis. You haven’t been downhill skiing since we’ve been together and that’s 12 years. Can we get rid of these?
Steve: No, because I might take it up again.
Me: You won’t.
Steve: You don’t know that.
Me: Okay, well, can we get rid of one pair? How about this pair?
Steve: No, because those are super cool. They’re, like, SO FAST.
Me: Okay, how about this other pair.
Steve: No, I need those, because the other pair is too fast for my skill level.

But, it’s all over now — and we have a huge basement to put it all. Sigh.

The big news: we moved

Steve and I weren’t sure about staying in Seattle. It’s the weather. Which, around about February, makes it dangerous to keep sharp objects in the house. We dithered for a couple of years. Should we move? Where do we go? What about work? What do we want? I was pushing going overseas somewhere; Steve resisted. Inaction is its own decision, and so we went nowhere. But at some point last fall, we made the active choice not only to stay, but to buy a bigger house.

South Seattle is a vastly underrated area. It’s diverse and interesting–and in a city known for eight-way stops and no straight way from getting from Point A to Point B, it’s also surprisingly easy to get anywhere you need to go from where we are. In other words, we wanted to stay in the general vicinity. I called up Serena, our realtor, and we started looking. One night, after about three weeks of looking, we were sitting in the living room, me glued to my monitor, and I pulled up recent listings.

And there was the house across the street and two houses down–the Craftsman-y remodeled thing that I had dubbed the view stealer’s house when we moved in because it was so tall that it obscured the view we would have had of Lake Washington.

Here’s the short version of the news: We moved across the street.

Here’s the slightly longer version: I am not religious or given to portents, but I still think this house was meant to be. We got in the next day, it was a short sale and we put in an offer, and the sale went through in two months, which is, apparently, shockingly fast.

So here we are.

Here are some pics from a couple of months ago. Things look slightly different now–some furniture has been rearranged, and my mother and I roadtripped a bunch of stuff up here several weeks ago. But it gives you a general idea.

Foodist Literacy … or Literate Foodism … or something

A recentish New York Times opinion piece mused on the fact that food has replaced culture. “Foodism has taken on the sociological characteristics of what used to be known … as culture,” says William Deresiewizc. “It is costly. It requires knowledge and connoisseurship, which are themselves costly to develop. It is a badge of membership in the higher classes ….”

Oh the guilt.

To be sure, I’m a rather boring cook, but I do tend to wax incessantly about how vast hordes of Americans don’t cook anymore and sniff that I make everything from scratch. This evening, for instance, I made beet soup: sautee onions and a whiff of celery and garlic in butter, add turkey stock from the tail end of the soup I simmered on and off for three days, chop up roasted beets and whizbang with a stick blender. Having replenished the spice drawer at PFI this weekend and feeling adventurous, a few crushed juniper berries and some anise wended their way into the pot too.

In my defense, however, it wasn’t served in blindingly white ironstone a la food blog to showcase its beety red glory; Steve wasn’t hungry so I slurped it out of a chipped blue and white rice bowl at my desk, where I watched a 20 year old documentary about an inner city public school, and let the spoon, which was too big, tip out of the bowl at the end. We like to think we’re all different, but we’re not. Dirty dishes are always just dirty, in the end. And our schools haven’t gotten better in the past 20 years either.

Aside from this one piece, I have grown tired of newspapers, so I cancelled my kindle subscription to the NYT for now. On the phone a few days ago, my mother confessed that she had resubscribed to The New Yorker. “All my friends take it and want to talk about the articles,” she explained, “so I succumbed.”

“You can subscribe on your kindle,” I told her. (I gave her one for Christmas last year.) But she had gotten one of those special offers in the mail, and had already sent it off, and misery loves company so I succumbed too. And oh, serendipity, how we love thee, apparently the current issue, the one I downloaded this morning is … get it … the Food Issue. Tina Brown has a lot to answer for when it comes to The New Yorker, and the themed issue is one of them. Themed issues are just one step above books of quotations.

Nevertheless, a lot of the writing is really good. I haven’t finished yet, but Daniel Mueenuddin’s Sameer and the Samosas was fantastic. There’s hope yet; what have I missed? It made me nostalgic for the Mount Holyoke library; one winter, I spent long days in the stacks reading old bound New Yorkers sitting cross-legged between bookcases. There were timers on the end of each row and every so often, I had to get up and crank the timer back up to 30 minutes. Or was it 45 minutes, or an hour? I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that seeming expanse of time, no ping of email, nobody else around, just lots and lots of pages that I could never in a million years get through and the sense that it didn’t really matter.

There are lots of ways I’m ambivalent about the kindle (and I won’t enumerate them here), but lately, I’ve been wondering whether the kindle is changing the way I read. I have less patience. I often have this niggling sense that there’s other stuff I should be reading, and hey, look, just clicking the home button will take me there. Or I get caught up in reading the Amazon reviews because they can be vastly entertaining. In other words, I wonder whether the kindle is shrinking my own attention span. The next thing you know, I’ll be embracing the themed issue.

Or reading nothing but cookbooks.

A great Harper’s–and where the stimulus money has gone.

Instead of reading the NYTimes on my Kindle this morning in the bathtub, I reached for the latest Harper’s instead. It was a great one. There was a fantastic article on election rigging (I am amply vindicated in my conviction that Bush may not have won–either time), another great article about why austerity doesn’t work (that, sadly, Faux News won’t read or probably even understand if they did because it includes–gasp!–numbers), and a piece on writing amidst the homeless in the downtown Seattle library (which, despite its undeniable architectural creativity and yes, even genius, is sadly antithetical to my notions of what a library should be).

But one thing that really struck me was a fantastic piece about stimulus money and where it’s gone. Apparently, most of us see its effects every day–we just don’t know they were funded by stimulus money. Check out the Recovery web site, insert your zip code, and see what projects have been funded around you.

It turns out my zip has received nearly 2.5 million in funding. To be fair, the descriptions are a little opaque, but they seem to be about public works: the community center, some land remediation, some other stuff that makes no sense to me. But still, I promptly emailed the site to my mother, who lives in the woefully conservative town of Julian, CA. (Put it this way: her neighbors have a huge sign that says Buck Ofama that is an ongoing bone of contention). I thought it would be a great topic for her weekly column in the Julian News.

“Did you know that Julian received 1.5 million in funds?” she zinged back. The local public school received a million. There was some brush clearing–great for one of those places that keeps burning to the ground. And the (this is one of the places that keeps burning). And the water district received a good chunk too. Not bad for a town with a population of 1,500.

In which I bemoan the state of literature

Lately, it feels my reading has become dilettantish. I read mysteries, historical novels. As always, I read plenty of trashy novels, my guilty pleasure (but increasingly put them down three pages in because of horrific writing). It’s been ages since I posted a book review. And part of it is that good books—really good books—seem to be harder and harder to come by.

I long for the leisurely sprawl of narrative. Instead of paragraph after paragraph of sentences with each word chosen like a gem, I want plot. Instead of prose that drives the attention downward into meaning (okay, naval-gazing), I want something that drives the attention forward. Gone is the overall chronicling of a character’s journey, the white space of their interior landscape. Gone is the idea of narrative, in which there is a point.

Here’s a narrative for you.

About a year and a half ago, I visited my dear friend Maureen in Atlanta. I saw nothing of Atlanta, except the inside of a brew pub and her neighborhood association’s pool, mainly because we stayed up until three and four in the morning bemoaning the state of the world.

Maureen is a fierce person and I mean that as a compliment. She is more savagely intelligent than anyone I know. Wiry and lean, a fast runner, her mind works the same way. She is gloriously prickly. I am fatter and slower—a lot fatter, not much slower. We are both literary curmudgeons; in between savaging Republicans, stupid people, lemmings, and all the people a liberal arts education has trained us to look down on, we whined about the modern novel.

“Therapy has killed the novel,” I said portentously. “Everything is acceptable. There’s no external conflict, or at least nothing overt. The landscape shifts from external to internal, and unless it’s well done, all you can think is that the protagonist needs therapy.”

“And what’s with all the dog novels and memoirs?” she asked. “There’s a whole genre of literature these days around people’s relationships with their pets. What does that say about our society?”

“And it’s so … ugh,” I shuddered. “I don’t know. Vapid.”

“No, you know what the problem is?” she asked. “The problem is that no one knows how to sustain a narrative anymore. “

All of a sudden, light bulbs started going off, even though it was something like two in the morning and we were sitting outside on the deck, everything dark around us except for the dim glow of lights in the kitchen. Crickets chirped. I had just finished reading Michael Cunningham’s latest, and what had struck me most was how old-fashioned the novel had felt. One character, his voice, his journey. The character arc of self-discovery.

“Seriously,” she continued. “Look at all these novels that shift POVs each chapter.”

I don’t know whether Maureen pointing this out was a blessing or a curse. She mentioned it; now I see it everywhere. So will you (blame Maureen). It drives the story forward, but in the most superficial of ways.

And it’s interesting, because the books that do sustain a narrative are almost all genre fiction. Romance, mysteries, historical novels (I’m including them as genre here because what I am talking about above is the novel set in our present), science fiction, fantasy. And oh, all the dystopian novels that are so popular these days.

(I need to insert a fast little rant here: What is with this new term “fiction book”?)

Here’s what I think: Technology has made writing the modern novel harder.

There’s the practical sense, in that technology is changing so rapidly and to insert the devices, sites, and so on that we use daily dates the book almost immediately. Do you have a character talk about a Facebook post? Does he whip out his iPhone? We have a fractious relationship with technology; on the one hand, we rely on it. On the other, we’re just waiting for it to get better. What part of this fast-moving trajectory do we immortalize on paper?

But there’s also a larger, more encompassing sense, too. I think technology is changing the way we think. I try to remind myself that this is not necessarily a bad thing—but the fact remains that there’s so much. So much information, so many voices. So much to wade through. It can be daunting. When we’re online, we don’t read as much as we skim. Friends are on Facebook; we communicate through Twitter. Every news article has a feedback section. There’s a glorious sense of being connected to the entire world, one in which anything is possible. Yet our relationship to all these things and people in the ether are, in many ways, more superficial. And because there’s so damn much of it to get through, those relationships are fractured.

That fracture is evident in the modern novel.

A couple of months ago, I picked up Teju Cole’s Open City after reading stellar reviews. I just couldn’t do it. All I kept thinking was that this is Facebook and its status updates in literary form, self-aggrandizing—and yes, fractured. There are people I respect who loved it. But I, well, I just wanted a story.

It made me feel like a dilettante; apparently, I can’t hang with the big boys. I reread Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai to make myself feel better. Then I reread Norman Rush’s Mating to see if literature is just getting worse. God, that’s a fantastic book.

The other day, I checked out Mark Haddon’s latest. (Confession: Yes it was on my Kindle, which I love.) I didn’t think the curious night in the incident of the dog whatever book was all that great—but it wasn’t bad, and I needed something to read. I just about poked my eyeballs out with a fork 10 percent in. (Bad thing about the Kindle: Can no longer say 20 pages in.) It was paragraph after paragraph of verbless description and one had to guess which of about eight characters it was coming from. You want fractured? There you go. And there I am, just wanting a damn story.

So I reread The Age of Innocence, and then found Love Slave by Jennifer Spiegal, which I thought was really good—but of course it was set in the mid-90s, which in terms of technology was back in the dark ages.

One could, of course, make the argument that art imitates life and that the style of writing reflects the style of our thinking. Yeah, OK, I can go there. But reflecting it in the prose is different than reflecting it in the theme.
And this is what is really interesting to me. What are our themes? Disconnectedness despite on-steroids “connections”? Disillusion with consumerism as we place an order for the latest iPad? An increasing reliance on technology as we subconsciously wait for it to fail?

Yes, all of these things, these paradoxical jumblings, the threaded promise of more, better, faster that wind us to a place we cannot fathom. We do not know where we’re going. We cannot trust that we’ll be okay. Will we be living on a different planet because we’ve ravaged the earth and have too many people? Will machines be running our lives rendering humanity obsolete? No wonder all these dystopian novels are so popular. The only future that most of us can envision—from Margaret Atwood on down—is dire.

Knowing this, how can anyone possibly write about the present meaningfully?

Oh yeah, and we’re all getting dumber and we don’t teach kids how to write.

More post-debate ponderings

I couldn’t help it. I watched the second debate. And boy, was I bored. Romney didn’t answer any questions, but hey, it was an opportunity to get his paternalistic little smirk in front of thousands. Obama repeated the same old trite phrases and talked to the points he no doubt rehearsed in debate camp or prep or whatever.

To be fair, there was a moment in which Obama got fired up. Sadly, my Spider Solitaire game required a bit of tricky card maneuvering, so I missed it.

And once again, at the end (and after I won the game), I had to see what the headlines were.

“Crackling debate”
“Turning up the tension”
“Candidates tangle in fractious debate”

I don’t know what debate these people were watching, but it clearly wasn’t the same one I was. I sure wish I could have tuned into theirs; it sounds far more interesting. Next time, I will be sure to stream live coverage from WGB Wishful Thinking.

There are two things that seem to characterize the Republican Party. The first is the sheer genius of convincing poor, uneducated people to defend a lifestyle they will never have. The second is occupying an alternate reality and convincing themselves it’s real. Austerity works–despite the facts. Creationism is a valid theory–despite the facts. Global warming doesn’t exist–despite the facts.

Well, you get the picture.

The problem is that we liberals have become complicit in this alternate reality world. By not calling them out on their crazy shit, we have basically said, okay, fine, let’s argue that. Or more to the point, let’s NOT argue it because how do you argue with crazy? It’s a little bit like running into someone who is disfigured and being “polite,” we look the other way. And now we’re in this very weird position of running against disfigured ideologies.

Let’s take the environment for example. Romney calls Obama out on not having an aggressive drill baby drill mentality. Obama says, well actually, I have done x, y, and z. I wish–I really, really wish–hehad said something like, “You know, you keep talking about passing the deficit down to our children. But you’re okay handing down a ravaged planet? Just because we CAN do something, doesn’t mean we SHOULD.”

And that right there would get to the heart of the matter. I would rather hear them debate about global warming that repeating the same talking points. I would rather hear a DEBATE. This wasn’t a debate. It was a PowerPoint presentation in a two-person format.

God, I love Biden

Though, really, I still question whether debates are really useful. Most of us have made up our minds and we’re going to view what our party says as having “won.” I think Ryan is a smarmy little liar who never outgrew his Ayn Rand phase (as most normal people do). Everything he said, or didn’t say reinfornces that. Ditto on the opposite side. As for the great undecided, the problem is that the punditry seems to evaluate showmanship rather than content. And I’m not even sure how you can make it this far and still be undecided.

We’re all so filter bubbled, both online and off. It depresses me utterly. At the end of the first presidential debate, I didn’t have this sense that Obama “lost.” The next morning, I was a little shocked to see all my fellow Dems slamming Obama. Would everyone have had the same reaction if they weren’t told over and over he lost, all the pundits repeating ad nauseum what a disappointment he was? I’m not saying he was electrifying–clearly, he wasn’t. But he made his points. He was a gentleman and didn’t outright call Romney a liar. He met accusations and falsehoods with reason. And yet there, splashed all over the interwebz was he lost, he lost, he lost.

What I think is that we’ve all lost. We’ve lost the ability to think for ourselves. We’ve lost the ability to digest information that isn’t presented as a zinging soundbyte. And we’ve lost the notion that we should evaluate information based on content and context. I wish the punditry would just go away; peddling facile insights as breaking news has cheapened journalism. And it gets in the way of people thinking for themselves.

Not, you understand, that I think thinking is a strength of a large percentage of Republican voters. I am still trying to figure out how the Republican party has managed to get a whole group of people to defend a lifestyle they don’t have–and how to get them to back policy that ensures they never will.

All this post debate nattering

Let me first say that Youtube is a wonderful wonderful thing, and I have wasted far too much time in the past couple of weeks watching past debates–starting with Carter/Reagan. It’s really interesting to see how the debates have evolved over time. Is it my imagination, or have the questions gotten dumbed down in the past 30 years?

And is it just me, or is all this post debate “analysis” just ridiculously silly? Before we closed out the CNN window, I think I actually heard someone say, “Well, Obama may need to think about his debate style. He tries to put things in context too much.”

Oh, the horror. Context and rational thought? How will we ever survive?

And perhaps more to the point, I’m not sure how all these people are coming up with a verdict of “Romney crushed it.” Crushed what, pray tell? Because I thought he was as insincere, dishonest, flipfloppy, and smarmy as ever.

Why I’ve been MIA for so long

In the 466 days since I last posted an entry on the blog, I have received countless emails from very nice readers asking whatever happened to my posts. Several people I know have asked if the blog is officially dead. Even my mother, who rarely checked in, has asked whether I will ever revive the blog.

The simplest answer is that I’ve just become lazy. Posting blog entries has just felt like work for the longest time. And the longer one goes, the harder it is to catch one up. Like the latest on my vitiligo, for instance. It got horrible this year, all over my face, face is now repigmented, but arms and hands are bad, trying to solve this through diet–oh, and my fabulous doctor tested me for the MTHFR gene, and it turns out that I don’t properly methylate folate. There’s the brief rundown, but the problem is that I really don’t want to talk about it. And I feel like I should, just because by far the most hits on this site come from people with vitiligo looking for answers.

In other words, somewhere along the line the blog started to feel like an obligation. It stopped being fun.

But there’s something more, too. I started this thing at the tail end of 2004. While I am by no means a blogging pioneer, it’s fair to say that I was an early adopter. There was something magical about hitting POST at the end of a piece and watching it go live instantly. One didn’t know anything beyond basic stats. Who was reading it? Did anyone really care? It didn’t matter; that was, to me, part of the magic. It was about having a voice that was there for anyone who wanted to hear it.

These days, the interwebz is teeming with voices. They assault you when you land on a badly written eHow page looking for information. They attack you with completely meaningless information in status updates. They repeatedly punch you in the nose with the regularity of machine gunfire–TWEET! TWEET! TWEET!
I’m not discounting the incredible things that thoughtfully-used technology can do (like wikipedia, harnessing crowdsourcing to search for the tomb of Genghis Khan, and a whole host of other things). Information is great. The problem is that there’s far too much unedited information out there. And I started wondering how much I was contributing to it.

The simple fact is that blogging is an exercise in narcissism. I’m okay with that. In fact, I would argue that this narcissism is essential to the arts in general. You can’t create and disseminate without overcoming self-consciousness. Actually, I struggle with this in my own writing: For me, it’s not so much a question of, “Is it good enough?”–though that of course is always present–as it is of asking, “Does anyone really care?” And with traditional forms of self-expression designed for a mass audience, there’s an external check. An opinion piece sent to the local paper is published–or not. A call in to an NPR radio program is accepted by the screener–or not. A novel sent in to a publisher is purchased–or not. A blog post, a tweet, a Facebook update … none of those have external checks. It’s all ranked at the same level. And as a result, we’re drowing in a sea of opinions and worthless information.

Mine included.

Now this is not to say that I might not start blogging again. I just might.

Goodbye Facebook. Again.

This post pretty much says it all.

Okay, maybe it doesn’t because I feel compelled to add:

I had signed up for another Facebook account because there were people I wanted to get back in touch with. But you know, reconnecting and Farmtown (yes, Farmtown, isn’t that pathetic?) just aren’t enough to make me want to deal with Facebook anymore. I’m pretty easy to find and don’t really need more ways to procrastinate.

I don’t want to have to fiddle with my privacy settings all the time. I’m tired of people I know who just happen to be conservative suggest I join the “Stop giving welfare to illegal immigrants” group. And I really don’t care what someone had for breakfast/lunch/dinner and how delish/yummy/nom nom it was. No offense. I know, I know, it’s a great way to connect, share pictures, blah blah. I just can’t find enough oomph to care. The fact is, all this social networking weirds me out a bit, and it’s pretty ironic that the bigger a reach my blog has (that wordpress-twitter-facebook integration), the more constrained I feel about posting anything real–i.e., not about chickens.

So for all those facebookers out there, enjoy it and have fun. You know where to find me.