Sep 27, 2008

Crickets, crickets everywhere

Last night, when all humans in the house were sleeping, Timmy the cat knocked the cricket house off the bookshelf next to Billy Bob's cage (when you keep a pet tarantula, you also have to keep its feed alive, don't ask), and they all escaped. So now six crickets are at large on the ground floor of our house, and they're all chirping at the same time since the sun went down. It's utter pandemonium over here.

Sep 24, 2008

What's your name?

If you go to the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator web site at
you can see what your name would have been if you'd been born the offspring of Sarah and the First Dude.
You type in your name and the computer generates two random words for your new moniker. I'm Fire Patriot, which was a little upsetting. Not the patriot part, but the fire part, since we here in Topanga aren't all that keen on fires. Also, I thought Hope was a pretty darn good name to have right about now.
My friend Sky (Soup Landmine) sympathized with me and hastily christened me with a new name: Peace Rainstick. Much, much better.
My middle name, Iris, came back as Trowel Ogre, but let's not go there.

Sep 17, 2008

Lightning Rods

If writers and artists truly are the lightning rods for the culture, it might explain why so many of us are feeling so low. The anger and contempt flying around right now, as both sides of the election duke it out, is more venomous than any time I can recall in my adult life. David Foster Wallace's suicide on Friday weighs on a lot of us heavily right now. I'd never met him personally, but we'd traveled in some of the same orbits. I've heard he'd been depressed for a long time, but still, the timing of it makes me wonder if given the current circumstances that surround us all, it just became too much too bear. If outrage turned to deep despair, and was then unable to be synthesized into hope and action.

My suggestion to everyone at the moment is to avoid internet message boards at the end of online political articles, at all costs. You will see so much fury and hatred there, so much intolerance and desperation and ignorance. You will see the country split exactly in half, and you will see the vastness of the gulf between both sides. You will wonder what country you just woke up in, because certainly this can't be the one you were raised to be proud of and love, not this one where people regurgitate propaganda and spew hate at anonymous fellow citizens. It's like everyone's frustration and despair gets packed into tight little balls they're hurling at each other at 150 mph, forgetting what we have in common in favor of what drives us apart. You will see how the internet allows people the freedom, late at night when they're alone, to reveal their lowest selves without threat of retribution. It's amazing what comes out under those circumstances, how ugly and mean and little both sides can be. And maybe, like me, and like the writer Anne Lamott (see below; god bless that woman for putting it into words) you will be moved to try to make a difference these next six weeks by trying to counterbalance these evil impulses with arbitrary and indiscriminate kindness. For the past week, everywhere I go I try to smile at everyone I see. To remember to say, "Have a good day" to every checkout clerk. To smile and wave at every acquaintance I pass, even the ones I know support McCain. To say hello to strangers. To model warmth instead of distance. Is this a small thing or a large thing? I don't know. Some days it feels small and inconsequential, other days it feels there is no more important way to be living. If enough of us did it, it would be huge. That much I know.

Annie Lamott wrote an article for Salon a few days ago that my friend Leslie sent to me. It captured my feelings exactly when she wrote about having to walk out of church on Sunday because the pastor was not about "bearing up under desperate circumstances, when you feel like you're going crazy because something is being perpetrated against your country that is so obscene you can't believe it is happening."

It's a fabulous article. By an unparalleled writer. She even manages to provide some humor, which we can always use. Especially now. Here's the link:

Sep 15, 2008

Billy Bob's New Skin

Our pet tarantula, Billy Bob, molted yesterday, and it was one of the weirdest things ever witnessed in this house. We got Billy Bob back in early May, not long after I returned from Belize, and have been waiting for him to molt ever since.

First, a couple of words about Billy Bob. He is one freaky little dude. He's a Chilean Rose Hair, easy to find at any PetCo--kind of the Toyota Corolla of tarantulas. He lives in an aquarium in our TV room and eats live crickets, enough said about that. Most of the time he moves very s-l-o-w-l-y, flexing his hairy legs one at a time, until a cricket walks over to him and then he goes phoom! so fast you don't even see him grab it. My friend's son took care of him over the summer while we were away, and we though for sure he would molt then. But no.

For the past couple of days he seemed kind of down. He wasn't moving much, had a dull color, and wasn't eating any crickets. I kept saying, "Maybe he's going to molt," as if I knew what I was talking about. Then yesterday morning he made a small web and flipped over in the middle of it and spread his legs out wide. Maya thought he was dead. I said to give him a while. We read online that tarantulas flip like that when they molt, but he didn't move at all for a couple of hours and I started thinking he might be dead too. Apparently, some spiders don't survive their molts. But by the time we got home later in the evening he was out of his old skin, which is now lying curled up in the back of the cage like a huge, crumpled spider. We'll take it out in a day or two; in the meantime, we're supposed to leave Billy Bob alone for a couple of days while his new skin hardens up. He already looks about 10-15 percent bigger than he was.

I'd post a photo, but we're not supposed to make loud noises or disturb them during this sensitive time, and the flash might bother him. So I'll post a picture of him shortly after we got him.

I'm very proud of the freaky little guy. He had a big day yesterday, and he did well.

Sep 12, 2008

Another random thought

Just about the only good thing I can see about Sarah Palin's nomination and the way her instant celebrity has hijacked the election from talk about issues is this: Mothers in Los Angeles are finally starting to have intelligent, engaged conversations about something more important than their childrens' schools.

Sep 9, 2008

Middle School, the Big Yawn

So Maya started middle school yesterday, after months of anticipation and planning. I dropped her off and watched her head toward her homeroom, which doubles as her English class. She already knows most of the kids in her class from the Orientation, so there weren't going to be any big surprises. And it's the same school she went to last year, although on a new campus. Still, I was expecting some kind of big update when she got home in the afternoon. Instead, she flopped herself down at the kitchen counter and dramatically announced, "Mom, I already feel like I've been in middle school forever."

Sep 6, 2008

Deepak Chopra weighs in

Obama and The Palin Effect
From: Deepak Chopra | Posted: September 4th, 2008

Sometimes politics has the uncanny effect of mirroring the national psyche even when nobody intended to do that. This is perfectly illustrated by the rousing effect that Gov. Sarah Palin had on the Republican convention in Minneapolis this week. On the surface, she outdoes former Vice President Dan Quayle as an unlikely choice, given her negligent parochial expertise in the complex affairs of governing. Her state of Alaska has less than 700,000 residents, which reduces the job of governor to the scale of running one-tenth of New York City. By comparison, Rudy Giuliani is a towering international figure. Palin's pluck has been admired, and her forthrightness, but her real appeal goes deeper.

She is the reverse of Barack Obama, in essence his shadow, deriding his idealism and exhorting people to obey their worst impulses. In psychological terms the shadow is that part of the psyche that hides out of sight, countering our aspirations, virtue, and vision with qualities we are ashamed to face: anger, fear, revenge, violence, selfishness, and suspicion of 'the other.' For millions of Americans, Obama triggers those feelings, but they don't want to express them. He is calling for us to reach for our higher selves, and frankly, that stirs up hidden reactions of an unsavory kind. (Just to be perfectly clear, I am not making a verbal play out of the fact that Sen. Obama is black. The shadow is a metaphor widely in use before his arrival on the scene.)

I recognize that psychological analysis of politics is usually not welcome by the public, but I believe such a perspective can be helpful here to understand Palinʼs message. In her acceptance speech Gov. Palin sent a rousing call to those who want to celebrate their resistance to change and a higher vision.

Look at what she stands for:

--Small town values -- a denial of America's global role, a return to petty, small-minded parochialism.

--Ignorance of world affairs -- a repudiation of the need to repair America's image abroad.

--Family values -- a code for walling out anybody who makes a claim for social justice. Such strangers, being outside the family, don't need to be heeded.

--Rigid stands on guns and abortion -- a scornful repudiation that these issues can be negotiated with those who disagree.

--Patriotism -- the usual fallback in a failed war.

--'Reform' -- an italicized term, since in addition to cleaning out corruption and excessive spending, one also throws out anyone who doesn't fit your ideology.

Palin reinforces the overall message of the reactionary right, which has been in play since 1980, that social justice is liberal-radical, that minorities and immigrants, being different from 'us' pure American types, can be ignored, that progressivism takes too much effort and globalism is a foreign threat. The radical right marches under the banners of 'I'm all right, Jack,' and 'Why change? Everything's OK as it is.' The irony, of course, is that Gov. Palin is a woman and a reactionary at the same time. She can add mom to apple pie on her resume, while blithely reversing forty years of feminist progress. The irony is superficial; there are millions of women who stand on the side of conservatism, however obviously they are voting against their own good. The Republicans have won multiple national elections by raising shadow issues based on fear, rejection, hostility to change, and narrow-mindedness.

Obama's call for higher ideals in politics can't be seen in a vacuum. The shadow is real; it was bound to respond. Not just conservatives possess a shadow -- we all do. So what comes next is a contest between the two forces of progress and inertia. Will the shadow win again, or has its furtive appeal become exhausted? No one can predict. The best thing about Gov. Palin is that she brought this conflict to light, which makes the upcoming debate honest. It would be a shame to elect another Reagan, whose smiling persona was a stalking horse for the reactionary forces that have brought us to the demoralized state we are in. We deserve to see what we are getting, without disguise.

A random thought

Why do all the discussions about prohibiting abortion even in the cases of incest and rape always assume it will happen to "our daughters" or other teenaged girls? Can't a 30-year-old woman be raped? Can't a 40-year-old woman give birth? Why isn't anyone talking about the devastation such a policy would create in existing families--not just to a woman, but also to her husband and her children conceived by choice--if a married mother were forced to give birth to a child conceived by rape?

Rant du Jour

So I was standing outside the Topanga Homegrown clothing and gift store the other day, in downtown small-town Topanga, talking to my friend R. as I picked up her 11-year-old daughter for the day, and we were lamenting how the national emphasis on "family values" is messing up our own families' values. Since Palin's nomination the issues of teen pregnancy and abortion have saturated the news, to the extent that my kids are starting to ask questions I wasn't planning to be answering yet. Maya's still just 10, and the other day she asked, "What's abortion?" She'd heard kids talking about it at school vis a vis this election. I'd been hoping to hold off on that one for a while, like maybe until both my kids were old enough to spell "reproduction."

Eden was in the car, too, which means my audience had an average age of 8. I could have defaulted into a lame response like, "We'll talk about it when you're older" but I really hate saying that to kids. I think it insults whatever level of intelligence they have. What it really means is, "I can't figure out a good way to explain it in a way I think your limited intelligence can understand." Except this time what it would have meant was, "I don't want to have to explain it to you until I feel you're emotionally mature enough to really absorb and understand the complexity of the situation." It would have been an honest and legitimate response from a pro-choice mother in this case, but it probably would have invited Maya to go back and ask her friends to explain it instead. Sorry to use such pat rhetoric here, but I value my family too much to send my kids off to get an answer elsewhere when they've come to me for it first. So I did the best I could with explaining what it means to end a pregnancy, and why a woman might need to do that, to my 10- and 6-year-old daughters in a way that wouldn't confuse or upset them. But it really pissed me off that I had to.

Sep 5, 2008

Can't Stay Quiet Any More

Well, I started this blog back in April with the very best intentions of posting regularly, then became swept up in the chaos of a book deadline, the end of the school year, and preparation for two teaching workshops in Iowa. So I missed writing about a slew of family news, including Maya's fifth-grade graduation; the arrival of our pet tarantula, Billy Bob; the 500-year flood in Iowa City; and our July in Iowa. I was starting to worry that I'd abandoned the blog as just another good idea I once dabbled with. But the events of the past week have pulled me out of silence. Even with a book deadline pressing on me, I feel there is no more important time than right now for women to speak out against the hypocrisy and danger represented by the Republican Party, through the selection of Sarah Palin for vice president.

I realize I risk angering or alienating some of my readers with the posts that are about to follow, so if you don't agree with my points of view, you might want to stop reading. Because I've got some pretty strong opinions about what's going on in this country right now, and I'm going to be posting them. Frequently, and with passion.

I was at the gym after dropping the kids at camp, just about to leave for my office, when I saw Fox News (the gym's choice, not mine) on the overhead television announcing Sarah Palin's nomination. Like everyone else in the gym, and nearly everyone else in America, my first reaction was, "Who?" I felt an initial twinge of excitement to see a woman had been chosen. Pretty much the first thing we learned about her was that she was a mother of five, with a four-month-old infant who had Downs Syndrome. It was hard for me to get past the inherent dissoance there--a special needs infant, with a mother running for national office?--but I figured well, women make different choices, whatever. Then the flood of information about her so-called experience, and the blatant manipulation involved in McCain's decision to choose her, started coming our way. Yesterday, I received an email asking all the women in America who object to Palin's policies on sex education, reproductive freedom, creationism in the schools, and environmental opinions--as well as her blatant disregard for the Constitution's mandate to keep church and state separate and provide religious freedom to all--to post their own opinions on a new blog called Women Against Sarah Palin. You can send your own submissions to

I thought a good place to start would be with posting the submission I sent in tonight. Here it is:

Of all the objectionable points that can be made about Sarah Palin's nomination, and this past week has given us plenty to object to, the point I find most offensive is this: the way the far right and Palin herself, without much else to go on, are trying to use "mother of five" as a legitimate qualification for holding the second-highest executive position in America. That's what's supposed to convince us she's the best candidate for the job? That she's a mother, "just like us!"?

I watched two hosts on "The View" last week gush over how exciting Palin's nomination was and, when pressed to explain why, shouted, "She's a mother of five!" And I had to wonder, what country did I just wake up in? Do Republicans really think women are such idiots we can be treated as if we can't distinguish between the complexities of managing a household and the complexities of managing a world power? Yes, mothers do hard, honest work every day; yes, we rely on a set of skills shared by many executives and CEOs. I've been balancing work and motherhood for almost 11 years: you don't have to sell me on the superior organization and nearly inhuman personal discipline this requires. But my dominion is over a handful of individuals who are smaller, weaker, and biologically primed to adore me. To imply that women don't know this, or to try to dupe us into delusions of self-grandeur, is the worst kind of anti-feminism possible. It's a deception that's designed to appeal to the most dissatisfied and narcissistic parts of us, the parts that need to be reassured that the work we do isn't just worthy, but that it has the potential for national greatness. The most troubling part of this is that in a society that routinely devalues the work of mothers, this tactic will actually pull some women in by making them believe Sarah Palin is just a slightly more experienced version of them. This is pure deception, and trickery, and a complete insult to any mother with a brain. It reeks of patriarchy. It shows us exactly what Republicans think of mothers' intelligence. A tactic like this doesn't foster sisterhood among women. It mocks it.

Hope Edelman, 44
Los Angeles, CA