Friday, January 31, 2014

Snowden's Snow Job?

Was Carl Orff a lousy composer because he appeared to sympathize with Nazis--even though he had a Jewish grandfather who'd converted to Catholicism?  The Nazis loved his music--they loved Wagner's music too, and Wagner wrote stuff that might be construed as anti-Semitic, if you can get through his prose that could be cut with a machete (try reading the proprietary lease to your coop, and then try reading Wagner, and then decide which is more difficult to understand).   Was Benjamin Franklin a lousy statesman because he tormented and then threw in jail his only son?  Did you know that the author of Poor Richard's Almanac also wrote Fart Proudly?  (Because that's what he was "really" thinking).

I love to listen to Carmina Burana.  I like "The Ride of the Valkyries" sections of Wagner.  I don't have to live with either of these guys, just their music, because I choose to do so.  

Was Clinton a lousy president because he enjoyed an illicit extra-marital fling with a thong-twanging nineteen-year-old nonentity?  (Why is anyone shocked that a guy with the balls to run for president has balls?)  If you knew what Dr. Seuss was "really" thinking when he wrote The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, or One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish--that the Japanese were bad people from whom Americans should be protected, and that they belonged in those interment camps in the desert because they were all traitors--would you read these childhood classics to your kids?

Yes, Dr. Seuss did write stuff that would curl your hair:  

But right now, when the Japs are planting their hatchets in our skulls, it seems like a hell of a time for us to smile and warble: "Brothers!" It is a rather flabby battle cry. If we want to win, we've got to kill Japs . . .

Because my grandfather was a pedophile--and he really was--does that mean I don't like his paintings?   Sargent would have been flattered, looking at them. I find, glancing at Wikipedia, that Sargent was said to be a "frenzied bugger."  Because Edward Snowden "really" thinks all those juvenile things he apparently wrote in chat rooms under the name "TheTrueHOOHA,"  if you follow Sean Wilentz, in his article for The New Republic, then Snowden must be snowing us all, out for fun and trouble and what-all.  So here's what renders Wilentz nearly incoherent with indignation:

<TheTrueHOOHA> save money? cut this social security bullshit
<User 11> hahahayes
<User 18> Yeah! Fuck old people!
<User 11> social security is bullshit
<User 11> let’s just toss old people out in the street
<User 18> Old people could move in with [User11].
<User 11> NOOO
<User 11> they smell funny
<TheTrueHOOHA> Somehow, our society managed to make it hundreds of years without social security just fine
<TheTrueHOOHA> you fucking retards

Now, plowing through Wilentz's article--now up on my website with a few ripostes from other publications--I found poor writing and inconsistency, but the biggest fault of all seems a lack of historic, psychological and indeed artistic understanding.  Talented people, our heroes, our beloved writers, our admired politicians, tend to have large ambitions and larger appetites.  Remember when Dumbledore admits that because he's a man of large talents, his mistakes tend to be large as well?  Want another example?  How about David Petraeus.  Look was he was "really" thinking when he was solving military problems?  If I were his wife, I'd tear off the top of his head.  But does the public really want to do that?  They don't have to live with him either, just benefit from his brainpower.

Creative, talented people get their ideas partly from regressing (yes, acting like a two year old).   Try Freud, "Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming," in which the writer is complared to the child at play.  Remember Keats's idea of negative capability:   "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason"

That state of mind can produce good ideas.  And a lot of bad ones you have to go through in order to get to the good ones.  Sometimes even bad behavior.  The NSA could stop their irritable reaching after fact.   The aftermath of September 11--suspicion, the suspension of Habeas Corpus, the ruined lives, the young people so wounded that they turn to terror--is worse than the attack.   I think Snowden wants to counter this American fantasy that a virtual panopticon prevents terror, and worse--the fantasy that we can control and prevent every bad event.  Religion, philosophy, art, are all there to help when things go wildly wrong.  
But hey--would you read Goethe if you knew he was really thinking those scatalogical thoughts expressed in the poem about the guy who'd have lived longer if he'd had a good shit?  (see another post for gory details).

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Critical Mom's Stomach Flu

We've all gone down like ninepins with a flu not as bad as last year's:  then, I couldn't sit up.  Now,  I have the energy to watch You-Tube videos on Nureyev and on The Hunger Games and on Ten Children's Books You Didn't Know Were Racist (but no surprises there) and on anything that popped up on the screen before I stopped myself and said, "What the heck am I doing?"  If I have the energy to sit up I've got to martial it to do the stuff I'm paid to do.  But I'm so tired, after days of holding bowls for vomiting children and washing sheets that got vomited on.  Swabbing floors for the same reason.  Then that day when the washing machine went on the fritz just in time for the projectile vomiting of the younger son, and everything had to be stored in a bathtub for too long.  I'm just plumb wore out and meanwhile, back in Manhattan the wolves are sinking their highly sharpened fangs into my little co-op apartment, the one I've held onto with my fingernails ever since I took up residence in Deutschland.  Dear Reader, should you find yourself to be of a legal turn of mind and also friendly to the concerns of responsible co-op owners who want responsible caretakers in their beloved small one-bedrooms, the ones to which they return with joy whenever possible, caretakers who are also shareholders themselves and grew up in the building, well then this is your chance to advise me.  I'm up the proverbial creek without the fabled paddle, and I want to save that apartment for my kids. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Critical Mom's Hair Disaster

So I returned, the requisite eight weeks having more than elapsed, to get my hair cut before the Winter Semester break ended and I had to go in and teach.  The perfect hairdresser--as depicted in an earlier post--had evaporated, and a very kind, sweet young woman who remembered me and my family and had cut my daughter's hair appeared:  she had "always" wanted to cut my hair because she'd seen the two guys who used to work there cut it and she was sure she could do better.  Nervously, I announced that I wanted exactly the same cut as before, just a little shorter.  
"Yes," she breathed, "but with a few layers, it will look really good."  Did I blow dry my hair?  No I did not, I told her.  Almost never, that is.  Only when it's freezing cold outside--but I don't style it.  Never, not almost never, but never, never, never.  She found this very hard to believe and wanted to show me how very easy it was to have a great hairstyle--just "a few minutes."  By the end of the fifteen minutes that she considered to be "few," my hair looked spectacular.  
And all I had to do was buy a curling iron for about 170 euros or a styling brush and really, it was easy.  I went over to my office to pick up a few things and everybody noticed how great my hair looked.  And I have to admit it did look good, although I didn't look anything like myself.  My hair was bizarrely straight, helmet-like in fact.  And it looked so neat, too.  The hairdresser seemed as happy as I was dubious, since I was already wondering when I would ever have fifteen minutes to spend on my hair, or why I would want to.  I told myself it didn't have to be fifteen minutes and I didn't have to buy the dang curling iron; I could probably manage with that hair product she sold me and a nanosecond of blow drying and a regular brush.
This belief--entirely unfounded--got me through this morning, until I had to wash my hair and tried to flatten the bouncing, all-over-the place waves with the hair dryer.  I gave up.  I couldn't afford to be twenty minutes late to work.  So now, even my unbelievably tactful daughter says, "you know, it looks like of weird, Mommy," and to me it looks like a haystack.  With a few fences, broken ones, sticking out in weird places.  When it grows out, and oh, God, let it be soon!  Let it be soon!  I am going to find a hairdresser who understands that I don't have fifteen minutes to spend on--of all things--hair.  I just spent slightly less than that writing this.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

It's the Night Before School and All Through the House the Critical Mom is Finding Things To Do

I'm upstairs in the study trying and failing to decipher the instructions on the wart freeze-off medicine for the nine-year-old when I finally break down and ask my husband . . . and find that my difficulties with the German language were not the only, or even the main, obstacle.  (I'm sure you're all aware that on those multilingual Ikea instructions, the German ones seem much longer, or advise you to call the electrician).  Meanwhile, while we're puzzling out the gizmo you insert in the little wart can to get the freezy stuff out, I hear from downstairs,

"uhhh! Ahhh, OOOOHM!  OHM!  OHMMY!" and realized I'm being paged, and that it's urgent, and that whoever is paging me has lost the use of his lips.  Which can mean only one thing.

My husband, who has turned away from his own urgent, overdue essay to help me, patiently waits while I say, "waitasec a kid is screaming,"

He smiles.  "Isn't it romantic?" he asks.

And as I am barreling down the stairs to the kid--who has just wrested his very loose tooth from his gums, Henry Huggins style--I think, "Yes, it is.  It really, really is."

So then I provide the kid with paper towels, then ice wrapped in paper towels, and since we have all just, yesterday, watched Julie Andrews dueling Dwane Johnson in The Tooth Fairy, we're really prepared.  And I have a lot more to say about all kinds of things, but the rice cooker just popped, the kid and I are about to start a new Rick Riordan book, various emails are overdue, and . . . stay tuned.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Critical Mom and the German Ballet Class

In another life the Critical Mom, before her momhood, went to ballet class every day.  Sometimes she just went to a barre, then skipped across town to the Ailey school for a Jazz dance class.  New York had classes all the time, everywhere, and you could just fit them into your busy schedule.   You could smell a dance class before you stepped in--not just that comfortably steamy, sweaty atmosphere but also the Tiger Balm.  Or sometimes the peppermint oil.  Tiger Balm (menthol, camphor, mint, cloves) is the best thing in the world for sore muscles, with peppermint oil a close second.  Once my mother was on the bus en route from dance to home, and some guy asked, "What's that perfume?"  Since she never wore anything but Yardley Lavender, she told him it must be that.  He backed away.  

In our small city, ballet classes are as rare as hen's teeth.  The only good one near our house lasts only an hour, (should be at least half an hour longer than that) and the teacher has stopped doing grand pliés--maybe he's afraid the adult beginners will sue him.   Or he's overcautious, thinking they'll injure themselves since they only come once a week, or less.  So I do my pliés before class, holding on to the doorframe.

When I discovered a ten-day Tanztage offered in a neighboring city, I went four days in a row.  By the fourth day I was very sore, and rubbed some Tiger Balm into my aching back.

The owner of the studio appeared.  Did I want to poison them all?  She flung open windows. "You must want a lot of room at the barre," she cracked.

There is no greater torture, when you are trying to warm up for a ballet class, than an open window in mid-Winter, but these Germans love their Frische Luft.  And from the look on her face,  you'd think I'd have passed a lot of gas. (What actually did stink in the room was her husband's cigarette--he was taking attendance and accepting cash payments while chain-smoking.)   She sprayed a floral air freshener all around the room, consenting to close the window only after I begged her to do so and promised never to wear Tiger Balm again.

Here's what the Germans need to know about ballet class:  Fresh air is for mountain climbing, not dance studios.  Inhale that Tiger Balm and get back to work.  

You know, I've actually seen young German  dancers spraying on underarm deodorant before class.  Also, they all wear underpants.  Under their leotards.  Yuck.   How uncomfortable.

Sweating, they believe, is good for you in a sauna.  But they need to know that it's good for you in a ballet class.  It lubricates your muscles, enabling you to stretch and jump.  

Someday, when I run the world, I'll have a big ballet studio.  I'll never allow any chilling breezes to assault the sweating bodies of the dancers.   And we will all smear Tiger Balm all over ourselves.   The radiator will be on in Winter.  No air conditioners ever, except the kind used to dehumidify.  The room must remain warm.