Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Empress's New Clothes: Who Is Lena Dunham?

Don't let the apparent exhibitionism take you by surprise. What makes Dunham's Not That Kind Of Girl so dull isn't just the vapidity.  Dunham's hiding the real story.
What made me buy her memoir--the stratospheric praise of Judy Blume and David Sedaris--had me flummoxed as soon as I'd read a paragraph. I closed the book again and read those blurbs: Sedaris says calls this a "fine, subversive book." Blume calls Dunham "always funny, sometimes wrenching," adding that Dunham is a "creative wonder." (Because Dunham reminds Blume of her fictional character, "Sheila the great?" And Sedaris--maybe it's fun for a brilliantly funny man to enjoy the company of someone trying to be as funny as he is? But here imagination fails me.)
Meanwhile, my revered book reviewer, Michiko Kakutani, with whom I cannot remember disagreeing, loves Dunham, comparing her to Dorothy Parker, Nora Ephron, and Helen Gurley Brown. To be fair, in her review, Kakutani quotes two or three snappy remarks of Dunham's but not snappy enough that they staple themselves to your thought processes, the way Dorothy Parker does. You'll never, ever, get Parker's  "Men seldom make passes/at girls who wear glasses" out of your head. Try it, you won't. 
Parker, Ephron and Brown sink in like chocolate melting in a crepe. But Dunham's more like a piece of Bazooka bubble gum: you're glad you found that childhood pleasure you remember, but now that you're no longer a child, the pink chew has lost its charm--the stuff is too sweet and loses its flavor. The gum's still wrapped in a waxy comic strip, but the comic strip's no longer funny. You can still blow a bubble or two. Big whoop. 
That's Dunham--a bubble or two.
 Surely Sedaris, Blume and Kakutani, whose writing delights because it's really about something--surely they don't genuinely believe that Lena Dunham is a talent? But clearly they do. They've said so, enthusiastically, in print. The evidence is out there that Dunham's got something: a show on HBO that's won golden globes, plus the honor of being parodied by Tina Fey,which you may see here. 
I like the Tina Fey version. I don't like the original. What has memoir come to? 
If you've read Maya Angelou, Maxine Hong Kingston, Edwidge Danticat, Mary Karr, Susannah Kaysen, Jeannette Walls, Cheryl Strayed--to name the first that come to mind--you've read tales of girls and women facing challenges and struggling to overcome them. The closest to Dunham in the exhibitionism department is probably Daphne Merkin--but Merkin is fascinating, readable. Merkin reveals--a cold, almost sadistic mother, a household of regimented, unloved children, a longing for love. 
Dunham doesn't. I find many hints--she hopes to find a mother in her psychotherapist, to whom she offers a portrait with "big Keane eyes" and a poem in which the therapist "will never be my mother." The comment that matters the most to Dunham--I'd bet my bank account on this--is her mother's. And here is what the mother says, via Amazon: 

“I’m surprised by how successful this was. I couldn’t finish it.”—Laurie Simmons

Maybe the two of them cooked up this blurb together--that's sadder. Either way: Dunham's mother is surprised at her daughter's success--and she does not want it. She does not want it so much that she won't finish reading the book. No wonder Dunham is a mess. Her father's paintings of penises and vaginas, with bodies and backgrounds as backdrops, established the narrative focus for his daughter.  No, he didn't show her his, but he might as well have done so. But the poor kid had no other interests. Her mother's art--photographs of women with strange, elongated eyes; selfies of her own vagina, doll house figures in kitchens--suggests disgust with all things domestic, or perhaps with all women who like domestic pleasures like cooking or cleaning. Mothers--who needs 'em? asks her art. 
Clearly her daughter needs one. But she won't write about that. Or will she? Have we yet to hear the real story from Dunham?
I wonder what Dunham would have been like with a passionate, all-consuming interest. What if she'd thrown herself into ballet or clarinet? Archery? Sculpting? Helping refugees? Working for a political campaign? 
There's still time, Lena. There's still time. 

P.S. Somebody get this girl to take "The Rules" seriously.
P.P.S. Or at least listen to Adelaide singing "Take back ya mink! Take back ya poils! What made you think that I was one of those goils . .  ."

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Christmas Eve Cha-Cha

Waiting for Santa
I got up to bake Christmas cookies around five this morning; by seven, my daughter was so eager to load them into cute red tins that one cookie leaped to the floor.
"Only one died, Mommy," she said.
"R.I.P. cookie, 2015-2015," intoned her brother.
She gave him a candy cane. It broke, so he gave it to their older brother, who crunched down on it, commenting: "I like my candy canes with a broken neck . . . just the way I like my brother."
Then in church, as I was singing "Gloooorrria, in excelsis deo!" my daughter asked if I were singing, "In egg-shells-is deo."
 My husband's cooking the goose, the aroma of which is making my stomach rumble. Yum. Raisin-apple stuffing. Dumplings. Red wine.
Christmas Goose, Bavarian dumplings, red cabbage, gravy, gravy, gravy . . .
It won't be a silent night--it will be lovely. 
We were amused by some of our presents: a certain relative re-gifted a 2015 weekly planner with her name on it in gold leaf--which she'd magic-markered out. But it doesn't even have the last few weeks of December 2015 . . .  

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Last of the Turkey

Since we didn't celebrate Thanksgiving until Saturday, November 28, our leftovers lasted until a few days ago. . . turkey sandwiches, lunch after lunch, but fortunately the boys love turkey sandwiches. We had an 11.73 kilo bird and when my eleven-year-old daughter saw it she remarked, "it's as big as me, mommy!" 


What I hadn't known, but which my bible, the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, confirms, is that a bigger bird takes less time to cook than a smaller one. If the turkey weighs sixteen pounds or less, it needs fifteen minutes per pound in the oven at 325ºF or 165ºC. If the bird's over sixteen pounds, and ours was closer to twenty-four, it needs twelve minutes per pound.  I was wondering if some physicist might tell me why that is so. Could it have been the bacon covering my turkey, the greater amount therefore of hot fat? I had a brand-new cooking thermometer that I found at our local TK Maxx.
I can't compete with Robert Benchley's wonderful recipe, which you may read about here--for one thing, I'd never be able to drink that much while preparing a turkey, although I do believe a cook should be "well-oiled." Makes you spontaneous. A little wine, but gee, Mr. Benchley, your capacity was amazing. And now for my recipe, which is considerably easier:

Rinse the bird in cold water. Pat dry. Then, depending upon your mood, do one of the following:

(1) Cover the bird with strips of bacon. You can stretch them a bit, and for a turkey over twelve pounds you'll definitely need more than one pack of bacon. Maybe two or three. Hardly any of the turkey skin should show--all should be covered in lovely bacon.  
(2) Gently--using a small knife if necessary--work your hand under the skin, creating a large pocket. Fill this pocket with thin slices of butter. Lots of them. Pat down. Rub more butter on the legs and any other part of the skin that has somehow failed to come into contact with it.

Then, salt and pepper the bird. Here's the stuffing I make: Let two bags of a very ordinary supermarket bread--Pepperidge Farm white bread, or even Wonderbread, if it still exists, dry slightly in an oven set on low heat. Load the slices into your food processor and make breadcrumbs. While the bread is being processed, melt a large amount of butter--at least two sticks (Germans, at least 250 grams) into a pot or pan. Wash and chop fine many stalks of celery. Add at least one onion, chopped fine. Let the celery and onion get soft in the heating butter, but don't turn the heat so high that the butter burns. You can't turn away from the pan for a nanosecond. Add breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, and combine all, mixing until it smells and tastes good.

If there's anything left over after you've stuffed the turkey, and there should be, put the leftovers in a separate baking dish. You'll bake it when it is almost time to take out the turkey. Now, the bird should be accompanied by the usual--see below: corn muffins (the dry, Fannie Farmer kind), cranberry sauce (an orange, some cranberries, some fresh ginger, a half cup of sugar, a dash of cinnamon go in your food processor) and the vegetables and gravy of your choice. Pies follow . . .  but here's the main course: