Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Saga of Laurence

I first ran into Laurence1 at the playground about a week ago. He is a bright, happy, eight year old, and unusually friendly. He seemed to connect to my daughter, and to me as well, and told me all about his loves (basketball, his little brother) and hates (swimming class, third grade testing) and peppered me with questions ("how old are you? thirty? forty? fifty? Are you a photographer? Are you Japanese?") and about Aki, who he called Hockey, no matter how much I tried to correct him.

He seemed sweet, if a little annoying, very hyper but otherwise okay.  Before we left, he asked how often I came to the playground, and I mentioned that we usually came in the mornings. He asked if we could start coming on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and I demurred. Soon after that we took off.

This morning Aki and I headed to the playground, and who should we see on our way there, but Laurence and his little brother. He immediately ran up and said hi. He looked like he was about to jump into my arms, so I took a step back. "Hello Laurence, it's good to see you."

"You came! I didn't think I'd see you again, but you came!" he shouted. He then began filling me in on his week, and running around us, until his nanny finally found him, and without looking at me, shoed him off in the direction of the playground.

Aki and I made our way there, and when we arrived, Laurence was at the gate, waiting to meet us. I have to say that his enthusiasm made me a little uncomfortable. I turned down all of his offers to pick Aki up, or to carry her anywhere. But otherwise, I let Laurence, and eventually his little brother (who is six) play with, and around Aki. He told me a little about his mom, and nothing about his dad (I didn't ask) and it seemed to me that, whatever his home situation, he was clearly desperate for some adult male to talk to. So we chatted, and I kept an eye on Aki.

Eventually his nanny came nearby, and again without looking at or talking to me, called him over in an angry tone and began chastising him in Spanish. I could guess what she was saying by his posture and the tone of her voice.

Eventually he came by again. "I'm not supposed to talk to you anymore, because my nanny says you're a stranger."

"Well, she's right," I said. "I don't know your parents."

"Well, I'll still talk to you. I don't care," he said, and then his younger brother told me his mom's name, and their address, and his birthday. I continued to keep an eye on Aki, and speak to Lawrence or his brother when they snuck over to talk to me, but I also reminded them that their nanny wanted them to be safe. At one point I took some photos of Aki playing in the fountain. "Do you want to take pictures of me?" Lawrence asked. I told him that under no circumstances would I, or could I take any pictures of any of the other kids at the playground, because I don't have his or their parents' permission. I hoped he understood that that's not right, and not something an adult should do.

I do wish the nanny had come over to speak to me. I didn't feel like I had much right, or authority to approach her, given that none of this interest was coming from my side. After about half an hour, she decided they needed to leave, and gestured at Lawrence and his brother from about 20 feet away. Lawrence told me that this was his last day coming to the playground -- he only came after swim lessons at the nearby pool. They had just ended, and so he wouldn't be back until next summer.

"Next time I see Hockey, she'll be two!" he said. "See you then!" and ran off.


The quandary here, of course, is that on the one hand I'm a perfectly nice guy. There's no way that I would do anything to harm Lawrence. And he clearly wants/needs some adult companionship beyond his mom and his nanny. I was happy to chat with him and be friends while hanging out at the park.  Even for just a little while he seemed to relish having a grownup to talk to and to take him seriously. And I have no evidence, but I suspect if I was a SAHM instead of a SAHD, the nanny wouldn't have a problem with us hanging out.

On the other hand, I don't necessarily disagree with her. Lawrence probably shouldn't be nearly jumping into the arms of strange men that hang around the playground, regardless of how perfectly nice one or most of them may be. I don't want Aki to be that super-friendly with anyone I haven't met when she's eight. I absolutely get that.

Maybe if I'd been thinking it through I would have gone to the nanny, regardless of how awkward the situation, and suggested that Lawrence join a Big Brothers mentoring program. He clearly would love it. As it stands, I'll have to wait until next summer to bring it up. I hope he stays safe.

1. Not his real name, of course.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Other Ocean

It's picture time. K and The Cuteness and I visited K's sister who lives in L.A. We stayed right near Venice Beach, in Marina Del Rey. There were sea lions yelping all night outside our window, which K described as looking like a pile of wet overcoats. The Cuteness spent some time playing in the surf and eating sand. We watched the surfers do their thing, and ate at an Umami Burger, which I must say those Los Angeleans, for all their healthful aspirations, do up some pretty mean junk food.

And that West Coast light does The Cuteness some good -- she looks extra glow-y to me, in these shots.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Well The Cuteness has begun accepting offerings. This fan was given to her, along with a pretty high-quality umbrella, by a stranger on the subway. When I demurred (we already have an umbrella) the woman insisted in a Russian-inflected accent: No. You take. It is raining, and she knows everything.

Hard to argue with that.

Friday, August 03, 2012

In Which I Learn What I Am Worth

I bought the computer I'm currently typing this on, in May of 2006. It's a very-first-generation Macbook Pro. I was hoping to get seven years out of it. I'm glad to have gotten nearly that. I bought it when I was in grad school at Miami University of Ohio, and I used a generous school loan to pay for it — the cost got rolled up into my other student loans.

It still works, though it's becoming apparent that I'm going to need to update very soon. The latches that keep the computer closed (a feature they did away with in the next iteration) are bent, making it hard to open. The computer hasn't accepted power from a battery for more than two years; it shuts down a minute or two after the power cord is removed. These are livable problems: the killer is that it's hard to keep more than one or two programs open without the computer becoming almost unbearably slow, and as I make a little bit of money using photo editing software and doing web building, I need a computer that doesn't stall or crash, which it's started doing.

So it's time to buy a new computer. Since we don't have a lot of money saved up, I decided to finance it. I looked at Apple's financing program, but figured I could do better. I went to where we bank — Chase — and saw that they were offering credit cards with much more competitive offers. The application was so easy, and I was so delighted to get immediate approval, that I wrote this funny little piece on Facebook right after (you can skip if you've read it):

Lately whenever I open up my computer, it puts one hand on its knee, and holds up a finger while breathing heavily for a couple minutes. Since it seems the average computer has the life span of a gerbil, and mine's been spinning the ol' internet-wheel for seven (auspicious) years now, it's more or less time to put it out to digital pasture and give one of those glorious newfangled things with the decimal place moved over on all the numbers a shot. 
"But!" says the barely audible voice that maintains mental track of my finances, "you don't, as Chris B. says, got the scrilla." 
"This is America," I say. "We play with other people's money 'round these parts." So I go hunting around for a good zero-apr-for-many-months kind of thing to let me make a major purchase and pay it all off before I accidentally owe somebody something (I LISTEN to that quiet voice. It's just quiet is all. Quiet is a fine way to be sometimes)...
... and I find a good looking card that's all slick because the front's designed by like i.m. pei or something and the words are sideways, but it also has the right numbers in tiny font at the bottom of the screen, and I go ahead and click "apply." Now, it's been a short while since I've applied for a credit card. I was younger then. Banks maintained some level of discernment. I remember having to give hair and blood samples. I know things got easier for a bit, but I heard that crashed the economy, so I was expecting it would be something of a process. Instead it went like this: 
Credit Card Application: Hi There! We'd LOVE to put some of our money in your pocket! Can you answer a few questions?
Me: Sure.
CCA: Do you seem like a nice enough guy?
Me: I do seem like a nice enough guy.
CCA: You live somewhere, right?
Me: In a place, with a child and a wife.
CCA: You work?
Me: Nope. But my child is mighty cute.
CCA: Good enough! Have fun with all the things you are about to have! 
... All right then, America. Tomorrow may be a wall of fire, but tonight we shall dance. 

Ah, how wrong I was. When the card came, it had a credit limit of $300. I actually thought it was a typo. I haven't had a limit so low since I was in high school, if then. But when I looked at the fine print, it mentioned that my credit score was a full 150 points lower than it had been last year. I went online to check my credit scores and found that the agency Chase used had listed one of my other credit cards as closed, when it wasn't. I filed a dispute. Clearly, this was all just a big misunderstanding. I called Chase to explain and see if they could raise my credit to something that would allow me to make an actual purchase.

It was during my phone call with Chase when it began to dawn on me that there weren't any misunderstandings. The first thing the woman on the phone did was ask what my last year's income was. I explained that I'm a homemaker, but my wife — she cut me off. "I just need your income, not your wife's."

"But, well, you see, I'm a stay-at-home dad. So it's our household income that pays all the bills," I said.

"Well, we need to know that you'll be able to cover any bills in the event that.. well..."

"Are you saying that Chase Bank is worried that I won't be married soon?" I asked, astounded.

"We don't like to put it that way, but… yes." I didn't know what to say. The woman put me on hold and must have checked with a supervisor, because she came back and said they'd accept the household income. I was shaken. When my request for a higher credit limit was processed, they raised it from $300 to $500. That's it. There was nothing more they were willing to do. I hung up the phone.

I then went to my old credit card at Bank of America, the one that I thought had mistakenly been listed as closed. This one had a less-decent APR, but it also had a $10,000 line of credit on it. When I spoke to a rep I discovered that it had indeed been closed as of early July. Without notice. In fact, the website still showed it as open. This was a credit card that I'd had for at least ten years. So when they closed it, it just killed my credit score. It turned out that low score Chase was looking at was accurate. In desperation, I went to Apple's website and applied for their financing.

I was, of course, denied.

In all three of these instances of applying for credit, I had to tell the representative my occupation. In the little drop-down menu box of options, the technical term for what I do, apparently, is "homemaker." Saying this on the phone was always followed by a moment of awkward silence. It's clear this doesn't make credit card companies feel very secure about my ability to pay my debts, despite the fact that I am exceedingly good about paying on time, often above the minimum due, and have been for years. Until a year ago I enjoyed excellent credit. In fact BOA closed my account without stating a reason (the representative said it was listed as "at the bank's discretion"). If I had to guess, it was because I didn't use it enough. The last month that I carried a balance on it was April.

Part of what is hard about this, for me, is that it represents a very literal, if not a very figurative estimation of my current worth. As a "homemaker," I can see that I have lost exactly $9,500 in hard-currency worth. This was worth I started building when I was a non-profit manager, and continued to enjoy while I was a graduate student and a Fulbright scholar. I no longer have access to it.

Now, there are several things I should be clear about: I realize that no one denied me credit because I am a homemaker. If anything, it was because I refused to be in debt often enough. And whether the banks know it, I know that none of this has anything to do with my ability to make regular payments. This is temporary. Karen has put a card in my name, and I will use it regularly to make small purchases, pay them off, and will rebuild my credit rating as a homemaker.  But right now, being technically jobless makes it much harder for me to get a line of credit on my own. I'm confident that $300 is far below what an employed person with even with my current credit rating would have been offered. Which is an incredibly frustrating side effect of being a stay-at-home dad. More frustrating even, than potty training.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

An open letter to Mayor Bloomberg, about the cuts to library funding

The city of New York is looking to cut the budgets of its Public Library systems by up to a third. The following is an open letter to Mayor Bloomberg on the subject:

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

This is a real letter.

My daughter is 19 months old, and we go to the library once or twice a month. We pick up books for her, and books for myself, and we take them home and read them, and then bring them back. These books are helping her learn to speak, and to recognize colors and shapes. They will eventually help her to learn stories, and to read. We visit three different branches near our house -- the Sunset Park branch, the Borough Park branch, and the Windsor Terrace branch.

The Brooklyn Public Library system isn't the best in the country. Ohio Public Libraries, where I went to high school, were much better. The public library in Princeton NJ, where my wife grew up, is fantastic. Even Brooklyn's main branch, which is both beautiful and impressive, doesn't come close to offering the range of books, videos and cds that those other two library systems have.

And the BPL and NYPL systems are expensive to run, I'm very sure. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people use them. We must churn through a lot of books, to say nothing of magazines, cds, etc. So I'm not saying there aren't very just reasons that these library systems aren't the best. I'm sure it's costly to have a library that serves such a huge concentration of people.

But there's no doubt that these libraries are vital, to me personally, but also to this bright, vibrant city. Really, really vital. The library system here is an example of some of the best ideas that America has had about itself: that it is a place where everyone can come to learn, and to succeed. Everyone can and should have access to books, to knowledge, to information and entertainment, and most importantly to the entire ecosystem of ideas, from the dull to the dangerous. Because who knows who our next Tesla will be, or where s/he'll come from?

So New York's libraries shouldn't just be sufficient. They should be, like the rest of New York, the best in the nation. They should set examples for the rest of the country. They should be amazing, like the parks, the bridges, the police, the fire fighters.

I hear budget numbers and I'm not nearly informed enough to know what they mean, or how they fit into the history of the Brooklyn and New York Public Library systems. And I have no idea if BPL or NYPL can survive, or continue to meet the needs of its patrons with the new budget. I'm sure you think they can, and I'm sure they think they can't.

But I'm also sure that cutting the budget represents a serious lack of faith in the mission of the library systems, and a lack of will to see these libraries be the best. Which is a lack of faith in the people of New York City to be their best. For a mayor who, it seems, has prided himself on making the city a better place to live and grow (which in many ways, he's done), this seems to be sadly short-sighted.

My daughter will learn to read, even if the libraries shrivel up and die. But she won't learn that the government, or the city, believes in her. And she'll be that much less likely to believe in it back. What a shame.


Christopher Michel

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Oh, Crap.

Well, we're potty training.

For the most part, when it comes to figuring out how to do all this stuff that we've never done before, we've referred to just a handful of books, one of them being our pediatrician's guidebook, The New Basics. What I like about this particular book is that it's pretty laissez-faire. Michel Cohen, who wrote the book, is French and his advice basically boils down to "don't worry so much." I like that.

The book's been super useful. When Aki started getting picky about eating, and we were worried that we'd be down to hot dogs and ketchup in no time, I picked up the book and looked up picky eating. It said "The best reasons for a toddler to eat are hunger and pleasure." When it's time to eat, you put the food you made in front of her. If she eats, great, if she pushes it away or starts throwing it, no problem. Take it away, wait until the next meal time, and serve it again.  No praise or pressure for either choice: you choose what she eats, and she chooses how much. She'll eat as much as she's hungry for, when she's hungry. And it worked like a charm. We had one rough meal, where she went to sleep without dinner because she didn't want it. And she woke up very hungry the next morning. And she saw the dinner. And she was very very sad. Then she got over it and started eating. Booya.

So when it came time for the potty training, I went back to the book, and looked up what to do.

You should read that link. You really, really should read it. In fact, here, I'll just repost it for you:

Okay, get ready for this. No matter what you may have heard or read, toilet training is unnecessary. Children learn to move on from diapers, not because they are run through drills but because they become sensitive to the increasing  discomfort of marinating in their own dirty diapers. Just like any other milestone, this occurs naturally as a normal part of a child’s development, and it does not require training. 
Oddly, modern technology delays the process somewhat; today’s diapers, which are super-absorbent and designed to fit perfectly, don’t cause the same discomfort that diapers did in years past. I bet one of the reasons you’re toilet trained is that you grew tired of walking around with a soggy, stinky diaper around your waist. Nowadays, children are less motivated to graduate from this phase as quickly. This delay may make you wonder if Jimmy is ever going to be out of his diapers. Compounding the issue, day-care centers and preschools often impose toilet-training ultimatums for enrolling children, not so much for your child’s benefit as for their own convenience 
The truth is that all children will be done with diapers eventually, some earlier than average, some later. But the child-care industry and certain behavioral psychologists have conspired to create a huge amount of pressure for children and parents alike. I recommend that you merely help Jimmy decide when he wants to be clean and offer a little assistance along the way. My laissez-faire toilet training method, scientifically tested on my own three children, goes something like this: 
  1. Once Jimmy becomes aware of his daily waste production, around eighteen months of age, he’ll start to let you know when his diaper is full. This is a fine time to start the process.
  2. Buy a potty, and set it on the floor in the bathroom next to the adult toilet. There’s no need to discuss the function of this new piece of furniture.
  3. Let him run around naked as often as you can and wherever it’s practical. Not only is this the best way to prevent diaper rashes, it will make him much more conscious of what comes out of him. Unless you have expensive carpeting, it makes little difference whether you swab the floor or swab his butt.
  4. Now let him go about his normal business. Occasionally, he’ll stop playing to go number one or two. The first few times, he’ll be surprised to see what comes out of him and may even enjoy the novelty, but that will wear off quickly when he slips in his own urine. Soon enough, when he feels the urge, he’ll look around for a place to satisfy his needs where he won’t be bothered by them later. That’s when he’ll remember the new piece of furniture.
  5. Because Jimmy vaguely remembers seeing you—his role model—sit on the toilet, he’ll mimic you.
  6. Before he has fully mastered his potty, he might ask you for a diaper when he feels the urge. Oblige without comment. This is just as good as going to the potty.
  7. If the process becomes too messy or starts to drag on, you may have started too early. Give it a few weeks and try again.
  • Don’t pressure Jimmy. Pressure can be as subtle as a suggestion. It is at best pointless and at worst can delay the process and even lead to stool retention, a dramatic situation wherein kids withhold their stools intentionally [See: Stool Retention]. If your child’s day-care center or preschool pressures you, just pay your tuition on time, tell the director that Jimmy’s almost there, and stand by him supportively.
  • Don’t reward or bribe him because he went to the potty. Jimmy is definitely smarter than a pet and will figure out that you have a major stake in his bladder and bowel elimination. As part of the toddler exploration stage, he’ll try to reverse the circuit and figure out what happens when he does not use the potty. Also, rewards become a form of pressure, because he will start to feel punished without them.
  • Don’t make him watch toilet-training videos or read toilet-training books. They are boring and unproductive.
  • Don’t suggest that Jimmy sit on the potty when he’s not feeling the urge. He won’t understand what he is doing there if he does not have the need.
  • Don’t rush him onto the potty if he starts urinating or defecating elsewhere in the house. You probably won’t get him there in time, and these mad dashes will introduce unnecessary commotion.
  • Don’t worry if he suffers occasional setbacks after achieving some control. It’s not always a perfect process. 
If you stick to this method, most kids will naturally achieve control between the second and the third years, first with urine and then with defecation. When they are comfortable with the potty, the transition to a real toilet happens relatively slowly but spontaneously. 

...Okay. So that stopped me in my tracks for a bit. Letting Aki shit on the floor felt a little too laissez-faire. I was half wondering if Cohen was playing a big joke on parents, and when we went in for our 18 month checkup, we'd get the real dirt (ahem) on how to potty train. But nope: the pediatrician asked if we were going diaper-less yet, and mentioned that since it's getting nice out, we should take the potty out to the park for a few hours and try it there. 

Well, hmm I thought. Maybe this is where I start losing my cool-parent cred. I'm okay with that. I bought a potty book with reward stickers (it's really insipid. You know a book is bad when there's no author) and I started putting Aki on the potty and reading it to her over and over, promising stickers if she pooped. I looked at her face for clues that she was pooping, and would rush her diaper off and then toss her onto the potty. She sat, compliant enough, listening to the potty book until she got bored, then she'd get up, and I'd put her diaper back on, and a few minutes later she'd poop.

Finally, earlier this week, we packed up the last two rugs in the bedroom and living room, and this morning, we took off her diaper, put the potty in the living room, and let her run around. She peed. Onto the floor. Three times. The third time she got upset about it, and I put her on the potty. But cleaning it up wasn't terrible. Our floors are a very resistant bamboo, and are very cleanable. But she also hasn't pooped yet.

Am I crazy for doing this? I don't know. I hope it works. We'll give it maybe a week and then try again later, I expect. It's weirdly nerve-wracking. But I think it's better than making her feel pressure to poop or pee, and I'm confident that she's smart enough to figure this out. So who knows. Maybe we'll be buying big-girl underwear this weekend. Maybe just an extra bottle of Murphy's.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Anything is Possible

I've been performing magic tricks for Aki. Not good ones: standard kooky uncle fare: "grabbing" a small toy with one hand, and making it appear in another hand, juggling a little, making things appear from behind her ears. I do the wavy trick with a wooden spoon, where it looks like it's bending.

The thing is, this doesn't surprise her in the least. Why should it? She's eighteen months old. She recently began trying out three- and four-syllable words (she's got, like, 80% of "Happy Birthday" and it was momentous). She says there's no poo in her pants when there is clearly poo in her pants.

What I mean is she's still a long ways from the incessant "why" phase, which will be when she starts understanding what things should be. And that will be when she can be surprised by something that shouldn't be. But I have fun doing them, mostly because I like watching her reactions, or her non-reactions. Why shouldn't spoons be bendy? Why shouldn't toys hang in the air sometimes? The more I think about Aki, and what she's going through, and try to remember what my experiences were like when I was very young, what strikes me is how much growing is essentially a loss of magic. Not the bad-uncle magic (though that too), but the actual magic. The anything-is-possible kind. Growing up is understanding. It's having experiences, and using those experiences to form a sense of what is possible, and what is not. And hopefully it's buttressing those experiences with other people's experiences through books and radio and yes, even a little television.

Right now, eighteen months in, Aki has just started to figure out that some sounds mean things and others don't. She can walk, and she trusts that she won't fall off the planet when she goes down the slide. And she's trying lots of things out — grabbing them, tasting them, smelling them, banging them on other things. But the solidity of everything is still an open question. It's equally possible that I can juggle, and that I can make toys appear and disappear, or that a spoon is hard sometimes and bendy other times.

When I was five, I had an imaginary friend named Mr. Muckluck, who was from Alaska. When I was nine or ten, I read a book about a guy who walks on water because he believes he can walk on water. I spent months, every night, in my bathtub, trying to believe hard enough to walk on water too. When I was fourteen I still liked to bust clouds on nice days, because it worked often enough that I could still believe it.  Much of my childhood was spent interacting with magic, those kinds and other kinds. But slowly I learned what did and didn't work in terms of my world, if not always, at least most of the time.

It feels like growing up has been a long process of differentiating the possible from the impossible. And if my world feels surer, it's also that much less exciting because of what I understand.

But here's Aki. As I'm writing this, she just tried to stick her stuffed rabbit to the wall. It didn't work, but the sticker next to it stuck. So who knows. Anything is still possible.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Why We're Raising Our Kid Without TV

The short answer:

We're probably hippies I don't know.

The longer answer:

When people ask, and the short answer doesn't suffice, I tell them that Karen went to grade school in the Waldorf system, which has some great ideas, and some kind of loopy ones, but one of which was no television for kids. And we're considering sending Aki to Waldorf (which I'm not sure is even true, but we say it) and we like it and it works for us. So, hooray!

Which usually suffices. But that's not the whole truth. Generally, I avoid the whole truth, because I want to avoid sounding (or even being) judgmental. And TV is one of those weirdly hot-button issues, where every time it comes up, I get either the guilty-parent whisper: "I-know-it's-not-great-but-I-wouldn't-get-a-shower-otherwise-or-a-goddamn-half-second-to-myself-without-Dora." ...or I get the huffy stare and the unspoken reference to the short answer above. Once, when she thought I was out of earshot, I heard another mother exclaim "Well what is that poor child going talk to other kids about on the playground? How will she even know what a Pilgrim looks like?" (yeah. that one left me speechless).

But let me be clear: I am NOT making a judgment call for anyone else's kids. I think it's fine, (fine! really!) if you want to let your kids watch TV. Really. Raising a kid is tough. You do what you have to to get by. So I'm not pointing any fingers.


We're not being über-strict about this: we don't hiss like vampires when a screen is on in her presence. She skypes with godparents and grandparents. We've eaten in diners with the TVs on. We even have a TV in our house (which goes on after she goes to bed). But here's where I draw the line: no half hour of Sesame Street. No Nick Jr. Not even the kids' stuff we love. It's not a part of our day. We play with toys, read books, visit the park... and when I need her to play quietly by herself (to write this post for instance), I surround her with blocks and dolls, and let her go wild.


The American Pediatrics's Association recommends against it.  But I don't consult with them on other ways to raise my kid (maybe I should!), so that's more a matter of them agreeing with me (or at least us both agreeing) than me agreeing with them. And I'm not kidding about the Waldorf thing — it plays a part. I grew up with lots of television (albeit intermittent attempts to limit and control it by my parents) and Karen grew up sneaking TV at friends' houses, and not really participating in mass culture until middle or high school. Karen has a much better-developed ability to focus and work long-term on tasks, and while that's not the only difference between us, I think the limited tv during her formative years helped, or at least didn't hurt any.

Years and years ago, when I was in high school, I found and read a book by an author, whose actual name is, delightfully, Jerry Mander. If he's known at all, it's for his book, the Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. That book went the furthest to convince me that tv -- not the content, but the medium is fundamentally troublesome. I don't want Aki to participate in it until she can at least understand some of the major complications (which is a whole separate post) with the way TV works at conveying information.

But most of all, maybe more than anything, I want Aki to have a fully developed imagination as early as possible. And TV is a storytelling device that we like because it does all the work -- it provides sound and image, narration and picture and noise all together. You don't have to imagine anything except, perhaps, how things smell or taste. 90% of the work is done, which limits the brain's need to develop its own imagination. Instead she'll get stories, and dolls, and blocks, and will have to make her own things up.  At least for a few years, she'll just have to imagine her own Pilgrims.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

May your poems never rest, Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich.  I have her Twenty Four Love Poems and A Wild Patience Has Taken Me Thus Far on my shelf -- two books that I bought when I was young enough to love a poetry (or a poet, or anything, for that matter) without hesitation or interest in codifying or pacifying that love.

I haven't read her books in years. Mostly I've been afraid to open them up and find that they are merely, as NPR so classily put it, Feminist.  But I think I know better.

I saw her read in Middlebury way back when. Even then her skin was papery and see-through, covered in a net of wrinkles. I thought she must be the oldest person I'd ever seen. She was probably in her early 70s, or late 60s. She was also beautiful.

Over at AVClub, Steve Hyden has been musing philosophical about what it means to be a fan: "you end up forming a weird, sacred, and irrational bond that’s entirely one-sided and exists only in your mind." It's true. I loved Adrienne Rich with the full understanding that I didn't know or necessarily understand her. It was complicated even more by the fact that I was (and still am) male -- which would have made any actual interaction with her tense, I suspect (at one point she was banning men from attending her readings. A professor I had once told me he stood outside the room just to hear her).

But her poems made me want to be a better person, and they made me want a better world, and more importantly, they made me love her and love language.

It's customary to wish that the dead have a peaceful rest. I don't know where Adrienne Rich is, now, or if she is. I don't know if she exists enough to rest. But I don't really know her anyway -- I know her poems. And I hope they don't rest. I hope they keep affecting and infecting readers for a long, long time.