Wednesday, September 27, 2006

the nail in the coffin of childhood

Not long ago, we lived in a simpler, more innocent time when the phrases "Screech from Saved by the Bell" and "Dirty Sanchez" lived far, far away from one another.

God, I miss that time.

There's a Violet Bickerstaff/Lisa Turtle joke in here somewhere, but I'm too queasy to flesh it out right now. Maybe once I stop clawing at my own face from SHEER TERROR. Right now I feel a lot like I did when I heard that Jonathan Brandis, my very first adolescent crush, had committed suicide. I was in New York on a business trip and was wearing a suit and watching C-SPAN when my roommate called to tell me. In that moment, I felt that childhood was officially, finally over.

"Nope, EJ-- it takes my own special brand of Perv to finish off the innocence of youth!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

listening to you, i get the music

Yesterday at V Festival I heard The Who play "Baba O'Riley" and a 20-minute medley from Tommy. I don't know how to explain this to someone who was not raised on The Who, for whom Live at Leeds (along with Sweet Baby James and the theme music to "All Things Considered") was not the soundtrack to childhood, but it was monumental. As soon as Roger Daltrey began singing "See me, feel me" I whipped out my cell phone, called my dad and held up the receiver to the air as soon as the call connected without even saying hello first. When The Who were done and we raced over to the second stage to catch the end of Scissor Sisters set, I called him back to make sure he'd be able to hear it. I could hear the grin in his voice as he told me he could, and that he and my mom had sung along with Daltrey as they listened from Indiana, and thank you for thinking of them at such a moment.

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I am a fucking awesome daughter.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

step away from the pre-packaged salad and no one gets hurt

Apparently, today is sorority Bid Day at the Education Corporation that I work for.

I say "apparently" because all of the clustering, squealing and hugging made it kind of difficult to understand exactly what was going on. Still, when the teeny brunette girl with the Long Island accent spilled chicken soup all over my arm in Au Bon Pain, she was shrieking about SDTs. It sounded like happy shrieking, so I'm going to assume that she's a new sorority pledge and not afflicted with both dyslexia and syphilis.

I will however, have to ask all undergraduates to restrict their celebrating to the entrances of restaurants that I don't frequent for lunch. Acceptable places they may block the entrances of are: Chick Fil-A, the sketchy pizza place by the World Bank, any Quizno's in the metro-DC area and Jamba Juice. I'm an old fart now, so I would like to get in, get my lunch and quickly get back to the office without being trapped behind endless blocks of clustered gossiping youth.

And yo, Long Island, it's swell that you're so happy, but if you burn my arm with your food again we are totally going to rumble. Since you're you're a lowly pledge, your sisters are totally going to see my expression and ditch you to go buy big sunglasses while you face my wrath alone.

Luv ya! Bye!

Monday, September 18, 2006


After the happy hour on Friday (nice to see you all, forgive me for not individually linking back to you; am even more wrapped in myself than usual today), Hey Pretty and I went to our friend's birthday party at Peyote. The drinks were flowing, the people were good, the karaoke was... not. I'm told that at one point the birthday boy and I performed "Poison." There are many things I should never attempt, and rapping in public is one of them. However, I am a good singer and do remember doing a pretty fierce cover of "Oops, I Did It Again."

If an English teacher was discussing this, now would be when she would write "Foreshadowing" on the chalkboard.

I'm not too eager to get into the details of what followed, mostly because I've been trying to wrap my head around them ever since. You think you're done with someone, that even though it was really, really bad for a while there, you're cool now. You've made peace with the fact that you're supposed to Just Be Friends and are even genuinely not minding seeing him happy with other people because hey, friends are happy when their friends are happy. You've moved on. You've had other relationships. You've figured out what you wanted from love and life, and been through the wringer enough to understand that getting it doesn't always come easy.

In short, you have your shit together.

And then a drunken text message turns into yelling in an alley in Adams Morgan, which ends in a hang-up line so biting that nearby strangers applaud you. And then somehow it turns into IMing, which turns into the phone again, which turns into coming over, which turns into a completely out-of-nowhere suggestion that no one can quite bring themselves to really ask in the form of a question.

Oops, indeed.

But to do it again?

*Sigh.* Who even knows anymore?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

on certainty and gratitude

Appropriation of memory for gain is nothing new. As a student of history, I have to acknowledge that there is nothing particularly unique about the way the current administration has co-opted tragedy for its own agenda.
American history is full of the powerful co-opting public fear for an unrelated agenda. Massachusets farmers cried out their neighbors for witchery so that they might take their land. The lesser-known second half of "Remember the Maine!" was "To Hell with Spain!" The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that expanded Johnson's powers and led to the Vietnam War was based on faulty intelligence, but was enabled by a popular knowledge that fully believed in the Domino Theory and was convinced of its moral imperative to stop Communism before it took over the world. There is nothing new under the sun.

As a historian in training, I also have an obligation to put aside my own feelings and look for motivations for their decisions that are more sophisticated than a mere Machivellian lust for power. I am obligated to approach their choices from their vantage point, in an attempt to make sense of the course we are now on.

Luckily, I don't have to agree with it. Having fulfilled an obligation to examine a situation from a variety of viewpoints, I am also free to speak against both those viewpoints and the situation itself. Because there is a tradition and a pattern does not mean that I, as a historian or as an American, have to subscribe to it.

Tonight we saw Ken Burns speak on September 11th and the meeting of memory, history and film at the National Press Club. He's a terrific public speaker, quite the opposite of the film nerd who hides behind a camera, and I jotted down several of his comments. The one that hit me the most, though, was when he quoted this speech by Lincoln entirely from memory:

"At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years. At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."

After more discussion, Burns was asked to elaborate on this quote- what did he think would be our downfall? He responded "The only thing that will destory us is our certainty. That will be our suicide."

To be so convinced of a moral imperative that we will destroy ourselves in pursuit of it. To be so set in our ways, to fear change even for the sake of progress, because the devil we know is better than the one we don't. To be one hundred percent certain of our moral superiority so that we alienate those who would be our friends. To be unable to defeat those who would hurt us because we are too busy demonizing them to get inside their heads and figure out why they hate us. To trade in absolutes. To reduce someone who is willing to die for a cause, to calculate and plan such levels of cold-blooded terror as to inspire fear far beyond the tangible damage they inflict, to someone who merely "hates freedom."

To use Biblical language of Good and Evil. Of You're With Us or Against Us. Of Lover or Hater of Freedom. Of black and white.

To leave no room for flexibility. For mistakes. For learning. For healing. For that which makes America unique in the world-- the ability to improvise and quest for self-betterment.

Bush spoke tonight of the moral imperative to stay the course in Iraq, that we are in a "struggle to preserve civilization." I don't doubt that a struggle exists, but I do doubt the wisdom of importing democracy at the riflepoint of a Marine. I deeply doubt a leader who tells us that we have no choice but to stay the floundering course and beat the drums of war, though we have no indication that we know how to fix what we have already done or even know where that course leads us. There are always choices, however unpalatable some may find them. That ability to pursue choice is what I cling to as others co-opt tragedy for their own agenda. It boils my blood that there are people who have won elections on a platform of protecting people like me, only to use their office to attack the very beliefs I hold most dear.

But I don't have to agree with them.

Walking home from the Metro tonight, I paused in the boulevard on Pennslyvania Avenue and stared down the street at the Capitol dome lit up against the inky sky over the Mall. I feel squeamish about using the word "patriotic," because it too has been co-opted for uses I don't agree with, but I felt a profound wave of gratitude. I felt grateful it was still there.

I felt grateful that I had just come from an event where I was able to ask one of the greatest historians in the country what he thought of this day. I felt grateful that tomorrow I will use a voting machine for the first time in my life. Grateful that I am a woman allowed to pursue an education, have a career, live alone and enjoy an incredible amount of personal freedom. Grateful, even, for this little corner of the Internet where I have complete control to write whatever I want and am bound by nothing but my own sense of propriety and responsibility.

And above all, grateful that I was free to disagree with it all.

Monday, September 11, 2006

catching up on my correspondence

Dear Guy I Went to College With Who Is Really Bad at Life and so We Ignore One Another Whenever We Happen To Be In The Same Place, Especially When There Is Alcohol Involved Because I Just Know That One Of These Days I'm Going To Drunkenly Call Him "PT Cruiser" To His Face,

Nice to not talk to you at Snow Patrol last night! I really dug how you spent the entire set squirting in drops in your eye. Granted, the smoke machine operator was somewhat over-enthusiastic, but seriously. Visine? That's like, the opposite of rock and roll. Why not just slap on some Dentu-Grip and call it a day?

Love, EJ

PS: You're still funny-looking. Normally I'd feel bad about telling the Internet, but you're also not a very nice person.

Dear Gary Lightbody,

So, how's about you and me have a lot of sex and then talk marriage and babies? How does that sound?

Thanks for smiling while playing your awesome set last night. I like it when my bands look like they're enjoying themselves onstage, as opposed to having bamboo stalks driven under their toenails. "Rock star" is a fun job, after all.

But really, you're hot. And you should know, I didn't think that "Chasing Cars" was that great until I saw you play it live last night, and am now pretty sure that last night was the only time I've ever been moved to tears at a concert.

I am so going to regret this entry in about two years when you've ascended to the Brandon Flowers Pantheon of Musicians Who Are Both Sellouts and Pretentious Jerks, but you know what? I love you. I don't care.

In lust,


Dear Ben Affleck,

Wow. I did not see that coming. You were amazing. Seriously, you gave a truly great performance in Hollywoodland. I think we may be ready to move past that whole Surviving Christmas debacle. You seem to have learned that getting thwacked on the head by James Gandolfini's snow shovel does not a decent motion picture make. I applaud your progress.

With renewed admiration,


Dear Every Single Newspaper, Movie Studio, Television News Program, Magazine, Online Magazine, Political Blog and Talking Head,

Of course we can Never Forget. You won't let us. You keep showing us planes running into the towers and FLOOD the TV with your "edited for dramatic license" re-enactments and movies of the week that no one wants to see because my God, people, we are doing exactly what you told us we should be doing and getting on with our lives.

Here's what. Today is a big deal because it happens to be five years after 9/11. That is it. No more, no less. So could you please stop coordinating your commercials for the new fall series around 8:46 AM or promoting your films that aren't technically insensitive war-profiteering because they just show the shadow of the plane, not the actual plane, and therefore it's artistic interpretation, to coincide with the morning newscasts, so that I can get up and shower and drink a cup of coffee without seeing your artistic interpretations of mass murder?

Yours in frustration,


Monday, September 04, 2006

rub me the right way

I've never been a big beauty treatment person. It's the midwesterner in me; there is something about paying another person to rub, polish, wax or otherwise alter my body that is somehow off-putting. We are big on boundaries and personal space. On appearances, but not on making public the indignities that go into maintaining them. Michiganders, especially the ones from elitist hippie enclaves, are not supposed to indulge themselves in such a frivolous way. I do recall buying a lot of artisinal soaps and lotions as a teenager, but the were usually purchased from the sustainable development shop at my church, were made by Nicaraguan peasants, smelled funky and made my skin both gungy and squeaky.

Also, I can never justify the cost of fancy beauty crap. I'll glady spend hundreds of dollars on a Kenneth Cole handbag that I can carry for five years, and do plop eighty bucks plus tip on a haircut once every two months. But those things, they last! They are investments. Spending a chunk of that money on a pedicure that will be ruined in two weeks or giving a stranger the equivalent of a DirecTV bill to rip hair from my ladybits when I can do it myself, thankyouverymuch, just rubs me the wrong way. So to speak.

I do ascribe this approach to beauty to my upbringing, but not to my family. My sister has been a nailbiter since childhood and took a decidedly laissez-faire approach to dental care, but still has a flawless smile and a bank account bruised by the purchase of insane amounts of eyeshadow and toning cleaners. My mother, who just moved to another state for her new job, cried twice during her last week: once when she said goodbye to my father, and once when she said goodbye to Vi, her manicurist. Seriously.

But while a pre-puberty Jenny purchased body-hair minimizing lotion and our mother littered the house with her Mary Kay samples, I did my own hair for prom and got my first manicure the week of college graduation. I learned how to apply makeup when I was eight, but only because I did a lot of community theater. There was a very unfortunate period of perms in the early nineties, but I blame the influence of the Baby-Sitters Club books for that (remember Stacey McGill? She was cool! She had a perm! She was from New York! I always said Kristy Thomas was my favorite because she was a loud brunette like me, but I secretly wanted to be Stacey McGill). Even as I finally accepted that Kool-Aid was not an acceptable hair dye and even embraced the Zen art of plucking one's eyebrows, I always found better ways to spend my money than on beauty services. Like, say, purses. Or vodka.

This last week was just brutal at work, and the stress of the big event I was in charge of plus the cruddiness of my third-hand mattress had taken a nasty toll on my back. As a reward for getting through the week (plus, I was waking up in the middle of the night with lower back pain), I booked myself a massage for Saturday. Like most things that are designed to make one's life better-- email, huge grocery stores, the demand for equal orgasms-- it only stressed me out even more. First I gave myself a guilt trip for spending fifty-five dollars on someone rubbing my shoulders. Then I overslept and was rushing around, eventually leaving the house wearing the ancient, cat-hair-covered gaucho pants that I vowed never to sport in public because it was suddenly cold and rainy and I'd not unpacked any winter clothes. THEN, I wound up having a driveway moment listening to This American Life and was ten minutes late. I was apologizing to the massuese as I was signing in, as I got changed and as I lay down on the table. As she oiled up her hands and asked me if I had any problems spots or medical conditions, I replied "My neck, no medical conditions, and again, I'm so sorry."

She smiled and told me not to worry and got to work on my poor aching back. And may I just say MLAAAAAAAH. An hour later when I managed to lift myself off of the table, I reached up and felt my shoulder and my finger just kept going. It wasn't instantly stopped by a hard knot of muscle! Incredible. I felt lighter, more able to hold my head up. Better yet, for the first time in weeks, my head wasn't filled with millions of little details of visas and certifications and nametags and catering. I felt cleansed and wrung out, like my body could be poured into a glass.

I may never be the kind of girl who bonds with her manicurist, or who has opinions about brands of mascara. I can almost promise that I will never get plastic surgery or inject my face with poison to halt the aging process. But finally taking my mind off of work AND fixing my aching back? THAT is beautiful.