People love to make fun of George Foreman because he named all his sons George Foreman. But former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger named all his sons Lawrence Eagleburger and nobody raises a peep! There’s no justice.
I really like talking with AB about arithmetic and her strategies for doing problems. All this Common Core stuff about breaking up into hundreds and tens and ones that people like to make fun of? That’s how she does things. She can describe her process a lot more articulately than most grownups can, because it’s less automatic for her. I learn a lot about how to teach math by watching her learn math.
Not gonna lie, AB is into talking about farts. She’s 5, she likes farts, that’s how it is. We have a new thing where she is the “farting princess” and whenever she farts I say
“Well done, your farting majesty!”
and if she farts again,
“All the farting kingdom is enjoying your royal fart!”
She also likes “The Monster Mash” so I wrote a fart-centered take on this song which she really enjoys. Lyrics follow.
One final word of encouragement to those of you who are cowardly, cry babies, and liars, as I was. These are extremely promising qualities for future writers. If you are a coward, you will probably spend more time at the library than you would ordinarily, and if you tell lies, it just shows that you have an imagination even if others don’t always appreciate it. Cry babies tend to be sensitive, which is also a plus for writers. When I grew up, I found that I had become a great expert on bullies, and my books are full of them.
So, don’t feel you have to be smart, beautiful, brave and popular to become a writer. Or even to be a good speller. Losers often grow up to be writers, which means we have the final word.
Her books are mostly for kids. Have you read them, parents? Some of the classics: Laura’s Luck (1965), my favorite alienated-kids-at-summer-camp book. The Fat Girl (1984), a truly creepy YA novel about brutal psychosexual guerilla war in high school. The Bear’s House (1972). I remember almost nothing about this but just hearing the title makes me choke up so I know it was really sad.
You know those other parents? The ones who drive their kid the four blocks to school in their SUV? The ones who sued the school district because their kid wasn’t labeled gifted? The ones whose children are scheduled every minute of every day? The ones who don’t let their kids watch Star Wars because they might find the violence upsetting? The ones who insist that school snacks are free of gluten, genetically modified organisms, and genetically modified gluten?
How are their kids going to turn out?
As emotionally able, as complex, as kind, as outgoing, as open to experience as our kids. That’s how.
I discovered yesterday, three nested directories down in my math department account, that I still had a bunch of files from my last desktop Mac, which retired in about 2003. And among those files were backups from my college Mac Plus, and among those files were backups from 3 1/4″ discs I used on the family IBM PC in the late 1980s. Which is to say I have readable text files of almost every piece of writing I produced from age 15 through about 25.
Very weird to encounter my prior self so directly. And surprising that so much of it is familiar to me, line by line. I can see, now, who I liked to rip off: Raymond Carver, a lot. Donald Barthelme. There’s one poem where I’m pretty sure I was going for “mid-80s Laurie Anderson lyrics.” Like everyone else back then I was really into worrying about nuclear war. I produced two issues of a very mild-mannered underground newspaper called “Ground Zero” with a big mushroom cloud on the front, for the purpose of which my pseudonym was “Bogus Librarian.” (I really liked Bill and Ted’s. Still do, actually.) Anyway, there’s a nuclear war story in this batch, which ends like this: “And the white fire came, and he wept no more.” Who is “he”? The President, natch.
But actually what I came here to include is the first thing I really remember writing, which is a play, called “Strawberries and Cream.” I wrote it for Harold White’s 9th grade English class. The first time I met Mr. White he said “Who’s your favorite author?” and I said “I don’t know, I don’t think I had one,” and he said, “Well, that’s terrible, everyone should have a favorite author,” and I probably should have felt bullied but instead felt rather adult and taken seriously.
A central element of his English class was writing imitations of writers, one in each genre. So I wrote an imitation John Cheever story, and I think an imitation Edna St. Vincent Millay poem (I can’t find this one, tragically.) But the thing Mr. White asked me to read that really sang to me was The Bald Soprano. Was it that obvious, from the outside, that it was mid-century Continental absurdism I was lacking? Or was it just a lucky guess?
Anyway: below the fold, please enjoy “Strawberries and Cream,” the imitation Eugene Ionesco play I wrote when I was 15.
From the New York Times, “Why You Should Tell Your Children How Much You Make”:
When Scott Parker wanted his six offspring to know more about the value of money, he decided to do something that many parents would consider radical: show them exactly what he earned.
One day, he stopped by his local Wells Fargo branch in Encinitas, Calif., and asked to withdraw his entire monthly salary in cash. In singles. It took 24 hours for the tellers to round up that many bills, so he returned the next day and took away the $100 stacks in a canvas bag.
His oldest son, Daniel, who was 15 at the time, remembers the moment his father walked into the house and dumped the $10,000 or so on a table. “It looked like he had robbed a bank,” he said.
Parker was trying to teach his kids a lesson about the value of money. But the lesson I would learn from this is “If somebody, like a bank teller, works in a service job, and makes a lot less money than I do, I can make them spend a full day of their life carrying out an incredibly tedious task without thinking about whether this is a reasonable way for them to spend their time.”
Obama flip-flops faster than I can blog! Prezzo has already walked back his proposal to change the 529 college-saving tax break, but I have a post about it queued up, and by gum I’m gonna publish it.
Here’s the plan that just got shelved. From now on, capital gains on contributions you stow in a 529 plan won’t be tax free anymore — they’ll just be tax-deferred, as with a retirement plan. In essence, it takes away a tax break whose benefit flows predominantly to high-income families (some 529 money is held by middle-income parents, but under Obama’s plan the $500 or so they’d lose on their 529 was more than offset by an AOTC expansion.)
OK, this Congress is as likely to roll back a tax break for high earners as they are to rename Reagan National Airport after Pete Seeger, so this isn’t actually happening, but I’m just saying, that’s the plan.
People are mad, and feel like they’ve been bait-and-switched. My FB feed, populated by dutiful savers like me, is full of ire. Mark Kantrowitz, in the New York Times:
He went as far as saying that the proposal could be characterized as a broken promise. “People saved money in 529 plans because of the expectation that the favorable tax treatment would continue,” he said.
But why does the New York Times let Mark Kantrowitz say this when it’s plainly not true? I saved money in a 529 plan. And the favorable tax treatment for that money will continue. When I take it out, I won’t pay a dime on any capital gains.
For money I put in later, it’s another story. But so what? If something’s on sale today, nobody’s breaking a promise to me when it’s not on sale tomorrow. I guess it’s strictly true that the proposal “could be characterized as a broken promise.” But it would be better to say it “could be characterized as a broken promise by people who don’t mind characterizing things as different things.”
A broken promise would look more like a state government defaulting on money it owes the thousands of middle-class taxpayers whose pensions it mismanaged.
Erin Clune, the feistiest blogger in Madison, goes off very satisfyingly on William Giraldi, who wrote in the Baffler about drinking away his paternity leave while his wife took care of their kid. Not in a “why am I such a worthless loser” kind of way. More of a “paternity leave is a scam because being a dad isn’t actually any work” kind of a way. Given his feelings, he doesn’t quite get why paternity leave exists, but he’s pretty sure it’s a scam, perpetrated by, you know, this kind of person:
I instantly pictured a phalanx of ultra-modern men parading down Commonwealth Avenue, jabbing placards that read “It’s My Seed, So Give Me Leave,” or some such slogan.
But never fear — William Giraldi is not one of those men! He is a real man. He knows what it’s all about. In another reflection on new fatherhood, he writes:
My best friend, a Boston story writer, married an Irish Catholic woman from Connecticut with two siblings, an older and younger brother, neither of whom she adored, and so now the diaper work and up-all-night obligations get split down the middle. Furthermore, his bride aspires to be a novelist of all things. His hair has gone grayer, and all those short stories canistered in his cranium stay in his cranium. I, on the other hand, married an Asian woman born in Taiwan who has an identical twin and three other siblings—two of them younger, adored brothers she tended to daily—and although she’s an artist with an aptitude that astonishes me— Katie crafted the mobiles above Ethan’s crib; they rotate and revolve with a perfection that would have impressed Johannes Kepler himself—all she ever wanted to be was a mother.
A novelist of all things! Didn’t she get the memo from her vagina that she wasn’t supposed to make art anymore? Or, if she did, that it should be for kids only? I’ll bet her novel totally sucks compared to Katie’s awesome mobiles. I’ll bet Kepler would not have been impressed with her novel at all. Taiwan, man, that’s where women are women. Which reminds me of an even more charming turn in this essay:
The birthing staff at Beth Israel: Nurse Linda and Nurse Sara, seraphs the both of them; Doctor Yum—Doctor Yummy—the preternaturally beautiful doctor on call (because our own preternaturally beautiful doctor was in Greece on a date (Ethan arrived two weeks early); and one other nurse who entered stage left rather late in the act.
Yep — Giraldi takes a little break to note the hotness of the Asian woman who’s in the process of delivering his child.
But what do I know? I’m a feminist and an academic. Giraldi doesn’t have much use for my kind. Here he goes again, in the Virginia Quarterly review complaining about smelly English professors and their theories:
These are politicizers who marshal literature in the name of an ideological agenda, who deface great books and rather prefer bad books because they bolster grievances born of their epidermis or gender or sexuality, or of the nation’s economy, or of cultural history, or of whatever manner of apprehension is currently in vogue.
But not William Giraldi! He is not one of those smelly people. He has no ideology, or if he does, he manfully wrestles it into submission because he is interested only in beauty. Of books, of Asian ob/gyns, whatever. That bit above is followed by many many paragraphs of complaint, which I can’t quite bring myself to reproduce. But you can read it yourself, or just cut and paste a few dozen randomly chosen sentences from any book about “political correctness” or “tenured radicals” written between 1990 and 1995, and you’ll get the general idea.
What really bugs Giraldi is that academics, in his view, can’t write.
But all too often you’ll be assailed by such shibboleths as historicize, canonicity, disciplinization, relationality, individuated, aggressivity, supererogatory, ethicalization, and verticality before you are mugged by talk of affective labor, gendered schema, sociably minded animism, the rhetorical orientation of a socially responsive and practical pedagogy, historical phenomenology of literariness, associationist psychology, hermeneutic procedures, the autonominization of art, an idiolect of personal affection, the hierarchy of munificent genius, and textual transactions, and then you’ll be insulted by such quotidian clichés as speak volumes, love-hate relationship, the long haul, short shrift, mixed feelings, and playing dumb. Why the needless redundancy “binding together”? Have you ever tried to bind something apart?
No, but then again, I’ve never encountered a cliché that wasn’t quotidian, either. As for “bound together,” it’s good enough for the Bible, which suggests that no man put asunder what God has etc. (“Joined together” is a more common rendering, but you can’t join things apart either.) All this stuff about quotidian cliché is a bit rich, anyway, from a guy who called somebody’s second novel a “sophomore effort.”
Those technical terms, well, some of them I know what they mean: “affective labor” is a real thing which as far as I know has no other short name, and “canonicity” means “the condition of being canonical” — would Giraldi really prefer “canonicalness”? “Idiolect” is a handsome and useful word too.
But I don’t think Giraldi cares that much whether a word is handsome, or expresses a piece of meaning precisely and swiftly, because here’s the thing: William Giraldi is a terrible, terrible writer. Some special, willful deafness to the music of English is needed to have written “epidermis” in that first paragraph above. Giraldi mentions “the significant struggle every good writer goes through in order to arrive at le mot juste,” but his own struggle always seems to end with a word he can admire himself for having typed. It is not the same thing. Again and again, until it kinds of hurts to read, he goes for the cheap ornament. His wife doesn’t make mobiles, she “crafts” them. His friend’s stories aren’t in his head, they’re in his “cranium.” It is not an apprehension that’s in vogue, or even a kind of apprehension, but a manner of apprehension. In that book review I mentioned, he refers to the title of the book, I kid you not, as its “moniker.” Better a hundred “gendered schemas” than launching a paragraph with “There has been much recent parley, in these pages and elsewhere…”
Reading Giraldi’s prose feels like sitting in an extra-fancy bathroom, with black and white tiles and gold trim everywhere and a fur-lined toilet, and no windows, into which someone has just sprayed a perfume whose label identifies it as “woodland fresh.” Or like listening to William F. Buckley on an off day. Or like listening to William F. Buckley on an off day in that bathroom.
Giraldi closes his book review with a reminder of “the moral obligation to write well, to choose self-assertion over mere self-expression, to raise words above the enervated ruck and make the world anew.” (So that’s what’s wrong with my ruck — it’s enervated!)
Look, I’m on board. But you have to actually do it, not make gaudy gestures in the direction of doing it. He should have looked at his essays with a slow cold eye and thrown out everything that did no work. It takes time and it’s not fun and it doesn’t help you settle your scores. But writing well requires it. Maybe that’s how he should have spent his paternity leave.
More notes from Walt Disney World: