Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cincinnati Chili (not soup you barbarian)

From correspondence:

Cincinnati chili is not soup you barbarian. It's this amazingly flavorful chili, involving cinnamon! and chocolate! as ingredients! that's fine enough to function as a sort of spaghetti sauce, as in you serve it over actual spaghetti! And then it has fixings of course, you have a bowl of raw onion on the table and you have a bowl of shredded cheddar, and if you're a reasonable human being you pile both on top of the chili and that's called having a three-way, because Cincinnati chili appeals most deeply to our innocent guts, the parts of us that responded to the appalled/delighted wave of AwwwwwwwwwwwwwWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!! that crests through grade-school children in response to anything remotely romantic and/or risque. It was perfect [when I had some last night], it's always perfect. [Ouslandish-E] promises that if I kidnap her she will develop Stockholm syndrome and make it for me every day.

Once she made Cincinnati chili while we were on vacation and then the next morning I made the best hashbrowns I've ever made and we combined them, it was probably the best breakfast anyone ever had, it probably resounded backwards and forwards through my life and through the lives of those in a 10-mile radius, providing succor in times of distress, like invisible angels on thankless, unnoticed tasks, with chili in their wings and potatoes on their silent feet.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pretty Little Liars (Log of Basic Parenting Functions)

Many condescending, path-of-least-resistance experts agree that shows about teenage girls are silly and shallow and frivolous and that their only purpose is to show off unreasonable fashions and make real girls hate their bodies/parents/common sense. What should be obvious to the entire universe is that, at the present time, we are making shows about teenage girls because it is the only format to showcase scorched-earth warfare amongst rooms upon rooms full of sociopaths that can be broadcast anywhere except for HBO or, like, the History Channel. Shows about teenage girls are often rife with social commentary, wit (ranging from dark to high), and a jarring combination of wrath and vulnerability - some of the most important parts of the spectrum of human people feelings - that is allowable because that's what little girls are made of, especially the ones trapped in the land between autonomy and tyranny: the development stage of the superpowers of sexuality and adulthood. Now if you know me (and you do, dear reader), you know that I have crowned Gossip Girl (especially season one Gossip Girl) the prince of all teen girl shows of this type. But you may not know that I've recently started watching Pretty Little Liars, which is like... a duke or something.

Now I have like a billion things I could say about PLL, and I probably will eventually, but the thing I'm going to talk about today is the awesome knack the show has for targeting basic parenting functions and describing them via negative space, rather than touching on them directly. If you've ever been a teenager, you know that the world at that point is defined by blanks, and you spend all your time trying to fill them in or not being aware that they exist or some horror-story combination of those things. PLL knows this too. The show is clearly written by grownups who know the importance of basic parenting, but also know the power of tangents and of source material (PLL was once books).

So you have all these amazingly terrible parenting calls that are never called out. Like OK you know in most shows where parenting exists, and a parent does something fail-based, there's a Special Full House Moment where the parent realizes effing up has occurred and Makes It Right/Resolves to Never Again Fail. Now, I'm not saying PLL is entirely devoid of those moments, but for the most part, the realization never happens. Nor does any other plot device make it clear to Girl X that her parental unit has effed up but hardcore. They just let it sit there, this terrible parenting choice that caused 30% of the show's creepy plot, skating tangent to a huge black hole.

I love it. The part of the show that actually hooked me was this scene where Former Fat Girl/Current Beauty Queen Hanna is sitting in her kitchen, being miserable because she is having issues with her boyfriend and some thin girl has been driving him to school (since our girl Hanna fully wrecked his car on purpose). The mom comes home from fancy dinner, bearing lamb chops. Hanna explains the situation, the terrible shame of having allowed skinny girl to drive boyfriend to school. Mom gives Hanna the lamb chops. Hanna is fully like, "Why are you feeding me when I allowed this to happen?!"

In any other show, this is where we would address Hanna's eating disorder. The mom would make a concerned face, realizing that she, in her obsession with beauty and being taken care of by men, has effed up her daughter to the point that a) food is only allowed on good behavior days, b) one should feel personally ashamed if one's man-property is allowed in the vicinity of c) girls who are thin and therefore irresistibly superior to girls who are less thin, and d) one should feel more ashamed of this than, say, the actual act of destroying the property of a significant other. Or, it's possible that she wouldn't, but somebody else towards the end of the episode would address all this stuff, possibly to Hanna or possibly to Hanna's mom. But on PLL, this realization never happens, and you learn more about good parenting by the scary vacuum made by bad parenting.

So, OK, here's my list of Basic Parenting Shit, per the black holes in Pretty Little Liars:
  1. It is not OK to force your child to be in the same living situation as someone who frightens her/him. This is never ever cool. Your whole basic job as a parent is to keep your kid from getting murdered. If your kid is convinced that she is about to be murdered, her word is law, whether you believe her or not. I mean, barring a history of psychological illness that manifests as paranoid delusions. Because like best case scenario, you're teaching your child that her fear instinct is to be ignored for the sake of courtesy, and later on in life she will ignore it right into a stranger's car and get assaulted. Plus, you give her the psychological damage of having an unsafe home environment. And, like, worst case, she is right and she gets murdered and you let that happen.
  2. Don't over-respect your child's privacy. Your job, again, is to keep her from getting murdered. It's important to know about the people and things in her life, so you know about what might murder her. Or statutory rape her.
  3. If you have decided to cheat on your spouse, besides the obvious stuff of just don't do that, you should also not draw your child into that shit. If she finds out about it, it's time to come clean, immediately, to the whole world, so that it stays your malfunction and doesn't become hers. Under no circumstances should you blackmail her, emotionally or otherwise, into a secret-keeper role. Under no circumstances should you pretend like you didn't do anything wrong, or that the wrongness is in the past so why is she holding onto this. Under no circumstances should you try to get her OK on your behavior, because her ethics are still under construction, and what you convince her to be OK with will be part of their foundation. Plus like generally you should not be treating your child as your partner over your spouse because that way lies creepiness and confusion.
  4.  If you get weird about the basic stuff of your child's sexuality (i.e. she should have none, or her orientation is wrong, or stuff like that) you may well forfeit the parental right/obligation to talk about all other parts of the ongoing sex conversation, because she now recognizes instinctively that you are an unreliable governor of that stuff and every official statement on that front is called into question. Like, you can no longer say, "It is inappropriate to study up in your room on your bed with your significant other who has a drug problem," because this reasonable truth is now undercut by your weirdness about the significant other being a same-sex significant other.
  5. Introduce change gradually. Teenagers are all born revolutionaries just waiting for the call to arms. If you pull a regime change (divorce, remarriage, sleeping with cops to get your child out of shoplifting fines, inviting murderers to live in the guest house) too suddenly, they will go super-crazy until they are like... twenty-five years old.
Next time, we talk about all the things wrong with statutory rape. Or possibly why teenage girls get so weird in their support of same-sex couples.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Lady's Toilette (Babel)

It is widely regarded that women* are too devoted to their toilette. This is particularly true in conjunction with the related theory many experts have advanced, which suggests that the feminine grooming regimen is frequently both unnecessarily cumbersome and rife with frivolity.

It's a matter of even more debate than your average no-frills abstainer might believe -- a subject of both internal and external conflict. Women are given a thousand reasons to love and hate their style.** A thousand million jillion reasons to feel soft and weak or pert and sassy for embracing a regimen of attraction, for spending money on ornament, for devoting time and pain and frustration to a curl in the hair and a clean sweet brow. For their obsession with the waistline. But as one of the shackled, I propose that it doesn't insult anyone to recognize style for what it is - one of the more precious and ephemeral arts granted to those of us trying to become or express something beyond us. 

Dear reader, I imagine I'm not alone when I wonder why I care so much about the fussier aspects of personal presentation. I wasn't raised that way; my mom talked about makeup and clothes as though they were at best an illusion demanded by an unconscionable world that fails, constantly, to see the spirit in the eyes or the laughter in the mouth. I was raised to comb my hair and keep my clothes neat, but not to devote myself to them. Certainly I'm aware that all these extras aren't necessary to function in the world, that they at times hold a person back in certain aspects of her life. So when I get caught up in lipstick or shoes or any of that hellish paraphenelia, or when that sudden nauseating wave of perfectionism sweeps over me in the morning and I can't leave the room because of the failure to be what I imagine, I feel guilty. Sad, even. Because sometimes I've had trouble addressing the real issue at hand, the real question that validates any practice:

What do we hope to achieve?

Money/wealth/attention? Fame/desire? Is it really an anthropological condition? To make a display of our shall-we-call-them-virtues, of our wealth so that the universe knows that we're to be taken care of? I don't think that's the case anymore. For some, maybe - for people who don't understand what's best about themselves, or who adhere to an outdated blueprint of how to build oneself as a women. But for the most part, for most thoughtful people and for most thoughtless people too, I think that religion is old, done for, if we examine it. That god isn't real.

But on the other hand, neither is it vestigial. Instead, the art/religion*** has evolved. 

It's easy to understand style as an art form from the outside. For instance, in like every single makeover movie ever, there's a moment of presentation, where the new version of the heroine is presented. Say, descending a spiral staircase and a spiraling soundtrack. We understand this as a frame. What we tend not to acknowledge is what is being communicated within that frame. That a woman's careful choice of clothing and hair and all that is meant to say something more serious than we've given it credit for. Women, like all people, struggle with the constant awareness of something invisible and better, something that definitely needs to be explained beyond the limits of vocabulary. In this effort, we've been afforded -- maybe not kindly, but at least happily -- the exciting toolbox that is the human presentation. 

This is why I do what I do in the morning, or before I go out. This is the base level of why we do anything right now - it's not about survival or breeding. It's about trying to craft yourself into a discrete and temporary note that passes with and in the click of our own heels, meant not just to exist but also to communicate. Each of us is a tiny Babel, designed and erected, propped up even, home to the unified language of appearance.

Laughing at women's hourly struggle with this expression is cruel and far more frivolous than any shade of nail polish. Because of every medium, anywhere, there's no finer instrument of dreams than the human form. Maybe we should feel lucky instead of dismissive that there are a hundred artists passing each of us every day; it's not wrong, as a member of the transient audience, to feel vulnerable to them. 

*The author understands that men undergo varying amounts of personal prep-work, too. However, the demons that topic wrestles with are often otherwise focused, and are certainly divergent enough to require their own later review.

**Today we're dealing with style rather than beauty.

***A blurry line that probably won't be reviewed on account of where are the experts who agree on that?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Facebook Friends - How many is too many?

Having many Facebook friends is widely regarded to be preferable to having few Facebook friends. This is incorrect, and I will endeavor to explain why.

First, allow me to clear up a common misconception. I am not a misanthrope. In real life, I enjoy having many friends and meeting new people. I am even amenable to small talk with strangers I will never see or hear from again in all likelihood. People are wonderful.

However, Facebook friends are not people. They are content providers, and Facebook is the content portal. Just like you would not add every available module to My Yahoo or iGoogle, you should not accept every friend request that is sent to you.

There are a few important questions that should be asked before accepting a friend request.

1) Do I know this person? Or, based on their profile picture, would I like to?
2) Do I want to know what this person is up to on a regular basis?
3) Is this person likely to post interesting content, such as pictures of me?
4) Does accepting this request obligate me to accept requests from other people (The High School Conundrum)?
5) Will my other friends be impressed that I know this person?

Even after you have chosen to accept a friend request, your work may not be done. It may turn out that someone who otherwise seemed like a normal, stable person is the type of Facebooker to update their status every 3 seconds or post pictures of their cat wearing antlers. As painful as it may be, your only option is to defriend this person. Your best bet is to wait until their status clearly shows them distracted, such as "OMG the Bahamas are AWSUM!", which will reduce the likelihood they will notice the change in their Friend count.

You may be asking yourself, "what's the harm in just ignoring their updates?" Well, dear reader, the problem is the opportunity cost. Their is a limited amount of real estate on your Facebook updates page, and I am quite sure you have a limited amount of time to read. Heaven forbid you should miss a hilarious picture of yourself in your best 80's garb because some so-called friend has decided to post the same Youtube video you've seen 100 times.

Now, Facebook does have many options for limiting profile access, changing update frequency for certain people, etc... but this is an outrageous imposition on your time and should be avoided at all costs. The only people to go to these great lenghts for are your mother (For God's sake, she spent 18 hours in labor and you're not going to take two seconds to click "see less from this person"? What kind of a monster are you?"), mentally unstable people, or anyone who might be both.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In Review: Cinnamon Toast Crunch, the best cereal ever

It is widely regarded that Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal is the best cereal ever.

Each piece of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal is handcrafted painstakingly by not one, not two, but THREE tiny pastry chefs. Head Chef, Wendell, with well over 20 years experience, oversees the cereal production quality control. His assistants specialize in using spoons and juggling spice shakers, their skills combining artfully to create "taste you can see."

Unlike the nefarious elf-chefs of rivaling Rice Krispies cereal, the Cinnamon Toast Crunch trio does not require the use of magic or the dark arts to aid in cereal production. Additionally, Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal can be eaten in situations when "crackle pop" distractions are discouraged. For this reason, CTC is the number one choice of cereals to be eaten at movie theatres, doctors offices, and Buddhist monasteries.

While one could argue in favor of the famed 'Rice Krispies Treat,' I posit that CTC can stand alone, content and divine without the addition of marshmallow fluff. Truly, CTC is more than just a cereal. Crumbled, it is a lovely addition to vanilla ice cream, but can also be used as an exfoliating facial scrub. Its superior milk by-product is delicious alone or used in recipes.

Many health benefits have been linked to Cinnamon Toast Crunch such as increased levels of Sweet Dreams and Joyfulness, and a 97% reduction in the occurrence of shark attacks. Studies have shown a direct correlation between CTC and stable marriages.*

*citation verification required

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Naps (counterpoint)

Many experts agree that Ouslandish-E is the foremost authority on naps, and would prefer to wait for her to address this subject before hearing any comments from my peanut-gallery self. However, I'm about as patient as I am likely to hop into the flatbed of David Sedaris' boil-and-barfmobile, so we'll just move on to my review of naps. Which at least has controversy on its side.

Because, gentle readers? I hate naps.

It's unnatural, I know! In many theories, on many papers, I love naps. Often I find myself thinking, Gosh, how great would a nap be right now, and maybe a juice box? And then MACARONI PICTURES!!! And naps are more than childlike whimsy and they're more than respite from whatever it is that's driven you to read or write blogs like this. Overall, naps are representative of freedom, of control over one's own actions. The concept of naps are beautiful, because we live in a tyrannical world.

I'm just saying that the idea of naps is too beautiful for the nap itself to measure up. Do you know what happens when I take a nap in the middle of the day? I half-wake up in the claws of some meaningless dream, sweaty, with prickles in my skin and hate in my throat. It's really more like waking down. Down into some fuzzy sub-state, with one's body tied up and pushed down a well but still simultaneously wandering around the kitchen or outdoors (places where life is served but sadly not rebirth). And I linger there for the rest of the day, unable to shake it until I finally fall asleep again, which - sleep is a lot more difficult a destination when you're navigating from the bottom of a well rather than from the usual port of sleepy-but-awake.

Now, I used to be worse and it used to be all the time. So I'm willing to admit that some of my anti-nap bias may be personal in nature. But I have other points up my sleeve.

  • No one will ever convince me that dreaming is as good as the real thing. Sure, better or stranger or more exciting things happen in dreams. I'm not saying we should get rid of dreams. But if I had to do with only one or the other, I'd rather not miss what happens on this linear side, for the same reason that I eventually get sick of video games and romance novels and . And I'd give up nap-dreams happily before I gave up anything else. They are always weird and somehow half-wakeful.

  • I don't care how tired The Man makes me, I will not dignify those tactics with little snips of my consciousness.

  • There's a lot to be said for staying awake. If you go to sleep you might miss something vital. Or other people might miss your vitality. It is widely regarded that kids often fight against naps for just this reason (chemistry aside) - they're always ready for something awesome to happen.

  • Man, I don't always feel down even with just going to sleep at night like a normal person. This sort of has to do with the previous point, sort of not. There's something about expectations that flourishes the longer you stay up. Like, when you say you're going to stay up all night, you don't really mean that you're going to stay awake until it's daytime again. When you stay awake that long, you're not hoping for dawn. You're hoping for something new. You're hoping that if you keep your eyes open, you won't have to go through the door between a night and the next day like it will just keep getting later... and later... and then who knows. This is a great reason to stay awake through naps. Staying awake through naps is the beginning of this exploration. Staying up all day is the beginning of exploring the other side of night.

So. It's not that naps are unequivically evil or nothin'. For some people they may even be necessary, like how I have low iron and therefore think chicken livers are top drawer! It's just, be careful. Sleep is just as impossible as wakefulness, and works against your evolution.

Friday, January 9, 2009

David Sedaris (Vampire)

Many experts agree that the jerk David Sedaris is some kind of notable writer with worth and contribution and cleverness. But he makes me sad, gentle reader, because I also have been a gentle reader and his work is representative of the ugly ungentling the published world is trying to sell us as the new style. Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of bitterness and of humor amidst squalor and all that but seriously David Sedaris, we should fight someday in my Fight Club Ladies Auxiliary that I am not talking about.

I have a similar antipathy for Six Feet Under. I don't care how prettily it is directed or how cleverly it's written (which honestly? really? is clever the word we're using?) or what the scene means, it is just shy of nauseating for me to watch people sit around being jerks for whatever reason. And Augusten Burroughs' Running with Scissors memoir! What a jerk! I mean, this is embarrassing, the level of assiness that has to go into feeding the exrement of one's life to people. There's nothing in these stories to nourish or inspire or even amuse, really, beyond that kind of horrified amusement you get when people make dead baby jokes (though this would maybe be more along the lines of people making dead baby jokes about their own dead babies), which of course isn't even really amusement, just shock-laughter.

That kind of laughter isn't a genuine measure of appreciation so much as it's a defense mechanism. And defense against what? Against the total absence of goodness. The talent or art or fun or quality that comes from stories/shows/jokes like these is never good. Things that seem good are really just awfulness twisted into a surprising shape. It's absence. I think we've had enough absence. I think it's gross, that people should stop trying to tell me that deliberate ugliness is the same thing as awesomeness. I don't want to see cripples in gruesome fights with each other. I think we are past that and I think that in this time of all times that kind of baloney passing as potable is really really bad for the world. I was born far away from the colosseums, and this is not entertainment.

Per the terms of my man Augustine, the absence of good is evil. I for one have had enough of the Devil. Now I'm not saying we should burn David Sedaris' books any more than we should pretend that the Devil won't pee in the pool, nor am I saying that all our books should be all Whos and no Grinches, or that there shouldn't be stories where the bad guy wins or where life is dark and cruel. I'm just saying David Sedaris writes books are variations on the theme of an ugly nothing, and his books were designed to scoop us out like melons. And I do not need that business on my morning commute, so, you know...

Get thee behind me, Sedaris.
Edit: After reflection and minus the gut-reaction haze, I've decided that I might have been overly vehement. Sedaris' endgame is a touching and tender theme. I just choke on the gross every single time, way too much to enjoy things. And there's an insidiousness to that, too - like, does one start to wonder if this is what tenderness is about? That all the value in life comes down to the unspoken or the subtextual or the brief in a series of foulnesses? It's a backwards sort of definition to me, and I refuse to find it attractive. I can see, though, that there could be an appeal. If your life is already filled with jerks. Also, I have to admit that I have never ever in my life been into stories of survival against all odds. Because while the story is thematically about survival, it is actually about the odds, which are oppressive. (Like, I've never gotten anything but redundant misery from a book about immigrant Holocaust survivors, though that's partly because I find they blur out and undermine the individuals involved even as they attempt to do the opposite, but that's a subject for later wide review.)