The Pain of the Referendum, When Will it End?

“The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers’ differing choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt.” ~Tim Kreider

Kreider's Referendum

Tim Kreider’s always got it right. A few years ago when I was in … hmm, someplace. A bookstore in the DC area, possibly? I picked up The Pain–When Will it End and poured over it. That’s probably why I don’t remember where I was, because after I tucked in, I was only in Kreider’s world. I wanted to have penned those cartoons. I yearned for his talent not just to draw but to also get to the heart of things. Illustration was invented for Tim Kreider to divine my thoughts, illustrate them, and compile them for me. I wish someone would do that with other things I’d like to accomplish…like pay my bills and clean the house.

But, on to my point. I was just turned on to a blogger by KC (in the comments of the Bolin post, if you’re following along…thanks, KC), who in turn had a link to this Kreider article in the New York Times. (Whew. I know, that’s a lot of links to get to the point. But apparently credit is a thing that matters to most people.)

So, anyway, in this article, Kreider talks about what he calls The Referendum (see quote at the top of this post), which is basically our tendency to justify our own life choices by demeaning the choices of our peers while no-so-secretly wondering if those pastures are indeed greener. It’s as wise and thoughtful and revealing as any of his cartoons. And the comments are a trip…oh, the people who insist on “winning.” They just don’t get it.

I’d like to ramble on about how I’m OK and you’re OK, but I live a fabulously exciting and exotic existence that I have to get back to. Just wanted to share the Kreider with you.
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Have You Seen this Guy? Or Where’s Bolin?

“Indulged in the development he has achieved, man is in fact digging his own grave with his greed. To bury oneself in human society is by no means a simple way out that can permit one to be worldly wise and play safe. The concept of man meets denial. Instead of playing an active role in a dominant position, man, in the form of concept, characterizes his existence with gradual and self-incurred disintegration.” ~Liu Bolin

Liu Bolin paints himself into the scenery and takes a photo of it. No photoshopping. Cool, right? And, typical artist, he’s encouraging us to think about something … the disintegration of individuality … the nature of our relationship to our environment / culture. He’s a man with a message and he’s hiding in front of your face until you get it.

I’m not sure if our individuality is challenged so much by greed as it is by anything else … religion, nationalism, hobbies, fads, football. Doesn’t identifying with anything popular challenge individuality … make you just like everyone else who likes that thing? But, we’re not unique. Ask marketers. Ask Chuck Palahniuk: “We are not special. We are not crap or trash, either.”

We can’t help it. We’re groupers. It’s a survival thing. You want to be different? Then you find your own protection and food and if the group wants your food, they’ll overpower you and take it. Easier to join. Even if we’re not all the same … you’re a goth and she’s a vamp and he’s emo … it’s human nature for people on the outside to lump you all together as “those kids who wear black and dye their hair.” We just naturally seek patterns. Again, another survival thing. It’s why we’re scared of snakes, because some of them are poisonous. So, our primitive minds lump them all together so we’ll live.

Bolin is often called “the invisible man” (do a search on him and you’ll see), but he’s not saying we’re invisible. He’s saying we’re just indistinguishable from the stuff we surround ourselves with (“the indistinguishable man?” Not so catchy). We overidentify with our titles, our roles, our cars, our education, our pets, our towns, our countries, our gender, our square footage, our jobs, our families, our clothes, our possessions. We’re storage facilities, scenery for our stuff, hangers for our clothes … just like everyone else who’s managed to stay alive.

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I Scream, You Scream. Leave it at That.

“Depending on the type, up to 50 percent of algae is oil.” ~Ben Stuart

Chondrus Crispus

Breyers ice cream had a commercial once where they were talking about the unnatural ingredients in other brands. They were like, our ice cream is made from simple ingredients. Just milk, cream, sugar. Our competitors ice cream is made from words we can’t even pronounce. Carrageenan? What the hell is carrageenan?

I’m paraphrasing.

OK, so this commercial doesn’t mention carrageenan. I’m sure one of them did. This commercial does mention sodium alginate and locust beans, which I’ll get to in a minute.

I went on the Breyers website to get the actual ingredients for their Vanilla Bean ice cream and encountered allergy alert announcing a recall of some tubs of ice cream that were tainted with wheat. So, good job. Well done.

Anyway, here are the ingredients for Breyers Natural Vanilla with real vanilla bean specks:

Milk, cream, sugar, natural vanilla flavor, natural tara gum (and in some cases…traces of wheat, I guess)

I’m pretty sure tara gum was added after these commercials were made. Someone at A Daily Scoop Ice Cream Reviews wrote about tara gum pretty thoroughly, if you’re interested in knowing why your favorite all-natural ice cream tastes different (euphemism for gross). I just thought it was because I wasn’t a kid anymore. I see the crappy ice cream my sister’s kids eat and remember that my palette wasn’t as refined as it is now (although, Pez is still delicious). But now I know it’s the tara gum they put in it to make it creamier. Oh, tara gum, curse you for making New Breyers inedible.

In my search for carrageenan, I looked up Dreyer’s Grand Vanilla Bean. That has:

Milk, cream, sugar, skim milk, corn syrup, natural flavor, cellulose gum, mono and diglycerides, ground vanilla beans, guar gum, carrageenan, dextrose

Why so many years later did I wonder what carrageenan is, I can never tell you. I think my brain was waiting for the internet, storing up questions that weren’t important enough to research in the library until it was easier. And now it’s sifting through them. There’s a logjam, believe me.

So, if you ever wondered what the heck carageenan is anyway, I’ll tell ya. It’s a thickener and stabilizer derived from Chondrus crispus, or Irish moss, a red algae that’s processed into a thick gelatinous liquid. And it’s in tons of stuff including beer and some toiletries. So, really, it’s gross, but not any more so than taking baby cow food and processing it into cream.

Speaking of cream … during processing, thickening and stabilizing agents are added including carrageenan and / or sodium alginate (see commercial above for Breyer’s opinion on sodium alginate [it’s derived from brown algae]).  These ingredients don’t necessarily have to be declared on the packaging depending on where you live.

So, there you go. Carrageenan is probably in the “all natural ingredient” of cream. But technically, carrageenan is a natural ingredient. As natural as sodium alginate or tara gum, I guess (which is similar to locust bean gum…another ingredient Breyers demonized). Whatever, I’m sticking to my homemade Pinkberry rip-off because bacteria and lactic acid are so delicious.

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Reborning Reborn Reborns

“There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.” ~Douglas H. Everett

Real Doll Christina Ricci

In 2007, I was deeply fascinated by Real Dolls. I watched a documentary called Guys and Dolls and talked about it forever. It was around when Lars and the Real Girl came out, so I watched that too. Good stuff, but the documentary was way better because no matter how good an actor you are, you can’t quite capture the expression a real man gets on his face when he looks at his Real fake Doll. Or fake Real Doll. Whatever. It’s complicated love.

But, as it goes with most things I’m captured by, I eventually lose interest and go on my merry way. Sometimes in my quest for dubious knowledge, I find other things I want to get back to, and I save them in my drafts. They usually to get lost in the torrent of crap I save and never look at again. I have every intention of revisiting those drafts and once in a while I even do half-heartedly sift through them. But then I just wonder why I cared about President’s Park or Jack Torrence’s book. Actually, yeah, I’m still into President’s Park. If I’m ever in the Black Hills of South Dakota, I’m totally going there. And you can page through Jack’s book on Blurb (where another great book is.)

Today I found something I don’t even remember saving but it must have been when I was into the Real Dolls and I must have repressed it. They’re Reborn Babies (only $478.85 on ebay…so way cheaper than a real baby)! They’re Real Dolls in baby form. With just a little research, I’ve discovered that it’s an art form to reborn dolls. That’s right. I used reborn as a verb. I expect to see a movie any day about someone pretending their reborn doll is real. I probably won’t go see it.

I just thought you’d want to know this exists. You might even want to sift through your Christmas cards to see if any of those so-called newborns your friends sent pictures of look suspiciously like any of these reborns:

Oh, my.

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Merry Agnostic Christmas (Agnosticmas?)

“Well, the whole affair is about as real as Kwanza, or uh, the ‘Wookie’s Life Day,’ but I find it charming.” ~Dr. Orpheus

St. Nick: Voyeur

I’m reading a compilation of old fairy tales–Fairy Tales Every Child Should Know–introduced by Hamilton Wright Mabie (1905) with:

“The fairy tale is a poetic recording of the facts of life, an interpretation by the imagination of its hard conditions, an effort to reconcile the spirit which loves freedom and goodness and beauty with its harsh, bare and disappointing conditions.”

Around this time of year, I’m prone to thinking about the hard work our imaginations do. I believe this idea … that fairy / folk tales help us understand human nature, order our world, and reconcile the ideals of freedom, goodness, and beauty with harsh, bare, and disappointing realities of life. So, as I’m reading these tales, I’m thinking about our brain development. I appreciate that when we’re children we have a greater capacity to imagine and a lesser capacity to reason. So, instead of saying, “sometimes people are jealous of the beautiful and are wicked to the good. So, be vigilant” we say “mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all.”

As it often happens, while I was milling this thought, I was sent a link to an excellent post about Christmas (thanks, Rach). The author of the post, Laura, talks about the light and dark sides of Christmas. Like many (all?) folk and fairy tales, there is a dark side that makes the light shine brighter. There had to be someone to say there was no room at the inn, just to make the birth story more dangerous and exciting.

Christmas folklore is abundant with danger … whipping, kidnapping, deportation … coal (the most terrifying of all the fuel sources). The Belsnickel or Krampus demons accompany St. Nicholas in Germany and Austria (and other European countries) to  scare children into being good … or to beat and scare the sins out of them before Christmas, depending on where you are. Le Père Fouettard or Hanstrapp whips the French children. Black Peter or Zwarte Pieten is the Dutch trickster counterpart to good old Sinterklaas. He’ll tease you and threaten to deport you back to Spain in an old sack if you’re bad. (On the subject, and if you haven’t read it yet, here’s a link to Six to Eight Black Men by David Sedaris.)

I learned about Black Peter when I was in second grade and fell madly in love with him. Naturally, when it came time to getting parts for the Christmas play, I was all over Black Peter. Sadly, there were other fans …  5, as I recall. Two of them bowed out gracefully and took other parts leaving three of us to duke it out. My teacher, who I thought was really groovy, came up with an equitable solution. We would pick a number from 1 to 10 and the closest to the number she was thinking would win. She whispered it to a student and we picked. You’re thinking it’s game over, right? Well, you’re wrong.

What happened next seemed perfectly normal at the time. The teacher asked us if we were sure we wanted those numbers. Isn’t it psychological torture to give people time to second guess themselves? I think the one kid changed his number right away. I didn’t see what difference it would make to change my number. It would just upset me if I changed it to something that made me lose. So, I was standing firm. Still, having the choice and not taking it was shaking me. And my teacher kept it up for a pretty long time, going to each of us one by one, goading us … “you can still change your number,” “this is your last chance,” “are you sure?” It was very tense.

In her final appeal, my teacher said, “you can change your number to anything between one and ten.” She started counting slowly, “ooone … twoooo … threeeee … fooour … fiiive … siiix … seeeven … eiiiight … … … … … nine, ten.” Her eyes flashed at her mistake. She tried to cover. “Any of those numbers.” My hand shot up and I said, “I wanna change my number.” She revealed her hand and I saw it. I said, “eight.” She asked me if I was sure, but the game was over. Her torture couldn’t touch me. She was definitely disappointed. I always mistook her expression as disappointment in me. Like, I shouldn’t have taken advantage of her mistake and the other kids who didn’t catch it. But now that I think of it, she was probably just having an “oh crap” moment because she’d blown the game.

Well, whatever. I got to be Black Peter, which gave me both pleasure and guilt, which I should have loved since that’s sort-of what Black Peter is all about. I mean, we’re not all good inside. We just hide enough of our darkness for people to see our merit, love us, and give us gifts once a year while we play out a folk tale and steep ourselves in pleasure and guilt, light and dark, surprise and control. And that’s why it’s magical. Because, as Hamilton Wright Mabie said, “It is … a spontaneous and instinctive endeavor to shape the facts of the world to meet the needs of the imagination, the cravings of the heart.” Of our light and dark hearts.
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Sparks Controversy Sparks Controversy!

“This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.” ~Dorothy Parker

Sun Maid 1.0

I just read “Sun-Maid Girl Makeover Sparks Controversy” at Yahoo! Finance. First off, Yahoo!, do you really need the exclamation point? No one uses it anyway. We’re not out here saying, “I read it on Yahoo! news.” You’re just like any other brand name. Drop the punctuation, already.

Next up: The phrase “sparks controversy” is over. Done. Headline writers of the world stop. Please! Think before you ever type this phrase again. Just so you don’t go jumping down the throats of the journalist who write the articles that sit under these headlines, they aren’t responsible (usually). People who want to sell papers and get clicks to articles write the headlines.

Ok, so on to the Sun-Maid story. Brand images change. And if your brand image is a person, that person’s appearance changes to reflect the times. The writer of the Sun-Maid article (Brett Michael Dykes, who wrote a perfectly fine article) mentioned Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth. I was thinking about the Columbia Pictures “Torch Lady” who has gone through 5 incarnations since 1924. She started as:

Torch Lady 1924

And is now this 1993 version:

Torch Lady 1993

Oh, how I remember the controversy this sparked! Some academic pointed it out in my Advertising class and we talked about how this woman represented the ideal female form. Everyone agreed that a slim, A-cup woman in a toga with a nondescript hairstyle was da bomb. (Not.)

Here’s the so-called controversy about Sun Maid 2.0 from the Yahoo article:

Sun Maid 2.0

Naturally, the revamped look hasn’t gone unnoticed, rankling both ends of the political spectrum. The blog for conservative magazine The Weekly Standard noted that the new Sun-Maid girl looks “as if Julia Roberts decided to don a red bonnet and start picking grapes,” while the feminist website remarked that it looks as if she’s had “some implants.”

This isn’t a controversy. Maybe these people are indeed rankled. I don’t know. I do know that I’m rankled right now, but not about the crappy, weird-looking makeover of the Sun-Maid raisin logo.To be honest, I never liked the look of the Sun Maid. And I still don’t. It’s probably some sort-of self-hatred … dark long curls, pale face … yeah, I’ve got that.

But this new Sun Maid has a tan, which only makes me think of her increased risk of skin cancer. How did she get a tan with that bonnet anyway? Oh, wait … it’s the bonnet. That’s what I dislike about the Sun Maid. This is a fashion accessory that has never cycled back around. Bonnets are so bad, they’re worse than acid washed jeans (which are in style again, but only for people who didn’t wear them the first time around. ) Yes, that’s it. I judge her for her bonnet. I’m shallow, like Jude Law in “I Heart Huckabees.” Damn. I hate it when I realize I’m shallow. (Sigh.) I’m flawed.

What I happen to be rankled about is that the support of Women’s Rights is still considered to be a far left political ideal. This kills me. I mean, yes, I’m proud to align myself with the sort of progressive thinkers who lead egalitarian social change. And progressive social thought and liberal ideals are often enmeshed. But, once an idea is out there and its logic is sound, doesn’t everyone adopt it as an ideology? You would think that women who are fiscal conservatives would also want to earn equal pay for equal work. But, I don’t know. Like I said, I’m rankled. All I know is if you call the Sun-Maid woman a “girl” again, it’s going to spark a controversy over here.
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Offering Signed First Edition Copies of My Novel

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson


Hey Blog Readers,

To celebrate the second printing (2) of my first novel (1), I’m selling first edition signed copies (trade paperbacks) for three dollars (3) plus shipping (3) while there are still some left in the box in my basement! (Only $6 each!)

Email me ( your address and I’ll send you The Hard Way (Forge, 2008) – my unanimously praised novel-in-stories (like early Nick Hornby but with a female protagonist).

Here’s a link to my paypal account.

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It’s Alive

“The good thing about being Dr. Frankenstein is that you can always make new friends.” ~Aaron Allston

Luongo's Monster

Luongo's Monster

I planted the seed that grew this pumpkin then carved* it into this jack-o-lantern monster.** He’s been franken staring at me ever since.*** I’m like, “go out and meet people. There’s a little girl down the road who I’m sure would like to play with you.”**** But he just stares. We’re still bonding, I guess.

I wanted to submit my monster to A Patchwork of Flesh, but I’d have to make it into a 2.5 x 3.5 artist’s trading card and send it to him … and what are the chances I’ll get around to that? Still, I highly recommend his site if you’re a fan of Frankenstein’s Monster. Great stuff. Enjoy and Happy Franken Halloween.

(*Thanks to D for the carving set.)

(**Thanks to Mary Shelley for inventing it.)

(***Thanks to messiestsobjects’ for this joke.)

(****Thanks to James Whale’s version of Frankenstein in 1931 for this image.)
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Hey, Adam Duritz, Put Away the DDT

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot, with a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swinging hot spot. Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

I was listening to the radio in my car because

  1. I drive a car made in 1999 that doesn’t have a CD player built in.
  2. The external CD player I have in the car, the kind that adapts with a cassette tape on a wire, doesn’t have great sound and the little buttons make it so I almost wreck whenever I get to fooling around with it. I’m already a bad enough driver. Did I mention I backed into a tree in my own driveway and crushed my rear tail light? Yeah, I did that.
  3. I like to flip through the stations and see what’s playing. Radio music is mostly crap, but sometime I like pop music. Kelly Clarkson has crazy range.

OK, so that admission out of the way, I’ll get to the point. Some songs need never be remade. Joni Mitchell wrote it and should be the only one to ever sing it. Big Yellow Taxi. She owns it. She even pwns it.

Artist who have mangled include Amy Grant, Counting Crows with and without Vanessa Carlton, Sandi Thom, Kaya, Pinhead Gunpowder, Paul Tillotson, Moya Brennan, Keb Mo, Chris Thomas King, Keren Ann, Toxic Audio, and Bob Dylan. Indigo Girls, Jewel, Sarah McLachlan and Meredith Brooks covered it at the Lilith Fair. Who care, right? I’m just dropping wiki knowledge here.

It’s the Counting Crows with Vanessa Carlton version that raised my ire. It’s the most popular version of the song ever. Grr. Oh, the dramatic irony that a great song, perfect the way it is, has gotten popular in this bastardized version. It is paradise paved and synthesized and “ooo bop bop bopped” then run through a production studio, spit out into a dumb movie, then played and overplayed. It’s making me want to scream. Someone is to blame!

I doubt it’s Adam Duritz or Vanessa Carlton, and yet I feel compelled to tell them that Big Yellow Taxi is a criticism of taking stuff that’s great and turning it into crap. It’s not advocating it! They might have missed that point. It’s Jive…Jive Talking, even (OK, I had to shoehorn that in because I wanted to post this guy dancing to the Bee Gees. He writes: “I can’t dance, I can’t talk, only thing about me is the way my jello gut jiggles under that apron.”:)

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You Might Want To Wipe That Off Before You Drink From It

“He who distributes the milk of human kindness cannot help but spill a little on himself.” ~James Matthew Barrie

The Milkmaid by Vermeer

The Milkmaid by Vermeer

I’ve always been particularly skeeved by the idea of wet nursing. It’s probably because it brings to mind upper crusty women who couldn’t be bothered nursing because they were too engaged in being playthings to their important husbands and staving off melancholy with alcohol while their hearty and appropriately cowed maids (milk maids?) kept lactating long after their own children were weaned. Lazy, classist bitches can’t even feed their own kids. (I blame books for this bias.)

Also, the term. Wet nursing. It’s like “wet work” to describe killing missions. Gah. Go and ruin the word wet for me. I guess I wasn’t all that fond of it. But really, nursing wasn’t descriptive enough? Had to add wet to it? I really don’t think anyone would have been confused if Mrs. Haversham said, “Sally nursed baby Charles until he was out of diapers.” Nursing does the work, and context picks up the slack.

Of course I know that women giving milk to other people’s babies is probably more common in those tight, matriarchal-type communities where women clatch together and work and play and raise kids while the men do what they do (smoke and fart and hunt?) with their own kind. I get that it’s natural and practical… so are holes in the ground for pooping. But, whatever. I don’t come across a lot of references to wet nursing in my life. I don’t raise kids and only hunt in the grocery store. I don’t talk about baby feeding with my friends who have babies. As far as I know they’re cross-nursing and baking placenta although I doubt it…er, I hope not.

I bring it up because a while back a Chinese policewoman breastfed a bunch of kids after an earthquake (May, 2009). She was on the scene, her body was in the lactating way, and she eventually ended up nursing 9 babies whose mothers were too traumatized to give milk. (The kids were in a shelter without milk, powdered or otherwise). She probably saved their lives. Or at least prevented severe malnutrition. She was given all sorts of commendations and a promotion to Vice Commissioner of the Public Security Bureau. So, you know, another woman got a promotion because of her boobs. (Bah-dum-dum. Sorry. I didn’t know that’s where this was going when I wrote it.)

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