Friday, February 12, 2016

So on point.

Instead of hammers, though, my dad talks about knives.  "No one ever talks about how dangerous knives are, no one's trying to ban knives! Do you know how messy a knife wound is? My friend the cop said he's more afraid of being stabbed than being shot! People die faster from knife wounds because they bleed out too quickly!"  It's called derailing, and the first sign that you've won an argument is when someone starts to do it.

I'd like to send this to him, but I want my inheritance.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Attn: World

Friday, December 25, 2015

Thanks, Gram(s).

I recently read that the reverberations of life experiences can be passed from generation to generation.  That the effects of traumas suffered by recent ancestors can rear up in your own life, can explain subtle lingering tendencies, anxieties, fears and problems.  The abuse or sufferings of the great-grandparent can apparently manifest in the 21st century descendant, but how?  In what ways.

It seems so fascinating, shocking, yet obvious.  It's a scientific confirmation of something we've always sensed - that nothing is ever really forgotten, as much as we wish it to be, and that each experience lives on in a new form.

I hate that.  A deeply self-conscious person for most of my life, the only comfort that I could ever accept was that no one would remember the interactions or experiences I regretted.  And maybe they won't.  But those childhood pangs and young adult anguish could live in the strands of my being for the rest of my life, and in the psyche of a child.

But that's a terrible example.  Consider the shadow that may live on behind the eyes of the grandchildren of holocaust survivors, of any victim of a cruel and unimaginable violation or torture.

I scanned back through the last few sets of my ancestors and could think of nothing so extreme.  Most of my great-great grandparents dealt with the stress and upheaval of a transatlantic voyage, of leaving their homeland and their native language for a land of commercial brutality.  But everything worked out in the end and they all experienced some prosperity and safety within their lifetimes as a reward for their courage.  Bad marriages, dead children, economic strife, it could all be in there in the cords of my DNA, but how does that compare to what they carried themselves, from their own ancestors?  Starvation and true poverty, uncountable generations spent in subsistence in the mud of some crevice of Europe, now known by another name.  Poor Irish, Italian peasants, German laborers.  Uneducated people linked by twining strands of bad experiences bound together through generation after generation like held hands.

If the experiences do carry through, how long do they last?  Long enough for you to create one for your own descendants?  Do the stains of the far flung past fade or remain, diluted but carrying potential, waiting for their activation?

Conversely, the positives do carry forward as well.  Perhaps these are easier to see.  The tender upbringing, the positive home environment, the lack of desperation can all make for more stable grandchildren.  In my family, going back to a time when it wasn't so easily attained, there was an inclination to formal or autodidactic education.  When my great-aunt led me on a tour of the farmhouse my grandma was born in, she took us down the stairs to a dank basement and clapped her hand on an old chalkboard.  She said my great-grandfather brought this home when the local schoolhouse upgraded to a bigger one.  On it, he taught his children, boys and girls, basic arithmetic to reinforce what they learned in the classic one room schoolhouse of Percival.  It was long enough ago that it was uncommon to educate daughters, because there was no point - she didn't need to know the rivers of the world to raise a baby adequately.

I know those things matter.  And I know they carry forward from generation to generation.  I'll spare the tender examples, but my grandmother spent her entire life in the casual pursuit of knowledge and so has my dad.  And their examples and teachings have led me to do the same.  I think much of this is an innate desire, but is it really?  If an example isn't made, do you know the option is there?  I've known many naturally sharp people who lack completely the intellectual spirit of the pursuit of knowledge for pleasure.  They have the raw material, but it's never quite realized into something coherent or refined enough to do much with.  Is that a shitty qualification of the various types of intelligence?  Probably.  Call the police.

Although the beginning of this thought seems fucking depressing - that we are possibly saddled with the residue of our ancestors' experiences, isn't that somewhat of a comfort?  It either explains heretofore inexplicable tendencies, or it lends some gravity to the things prior generations experienced.  Because isn't it kind of disgusting that generations of your predecessors had to spend their lives fumbling in the dirt so that you could drop pizza on yourself on the couch while proclaiming that today is the worst day in history because the Seahawks lost?

You know?  (I tried to use an example outside of myself for fun. Did it work? My example would be "because Matthew died on Downton Abbey" or something. SPOILER, but as I always say: if you found out after me, you're on your own)

Isn't it terrifying that we don't really know what even happened 50 years ago, not to mention 350 years ago?  The hardscrabble lives and lack of choices?  If we can't remember cognizantly, then we can remember subconsciously, celluarly.  Because I think it's diminishing and unfair to forget that lifestyles that we would consider worse than death were entirely normal once, and that you are made of the victory against nature that was survival, once.

So anyway, everyone's fucked because everyone suffered a while back.  Kind of takes the pressure off, though, does it?

Saturday, December 12, 2015


I made a satanic tree skirt.  Actually, I made two, but the first one turned out kind of gentle, far more pagan than satanic.

The first one was for me.  White fur with a glittery pentacle, fringed in red pom poms.  I stand behind it.  All of my new friends in Austin are pretty establishment, so when they see my house or the way I dress on my own time, and certainly the crafts I engage in, I feel distinctly reminded of my mother's gentle disapproval.  I still love you, but I don't like this.

So they didn't really get the tree skirt.

But I love it.  I smile every time I see it.  Although my taste is that of a spinster aunt in 1967, I feel very happy to know what I like.  I will never struggle to decorate a house.  I will never be unsure what image I wish to project.  I will never be unsure of what I want to surround myself with for the rest of my life.

The only thing that inhibits me is lack of space, and my student loans.

I've struggled with Christmas in my adult life.  It's hard to preserve the childhood magic of a holiday when you scorn the way other people celebrate it, and when you hate religion.  But winter has always been a welcome, happy time for me, and I like to observe the way the year turns.  I like to see different things in the house, and in my familiar landscape.  I like a sense of occasion and ritual.  I love to buy presents for other people, and I'm very good at it.  So what to do?

Just do it.  I was too cool and noncompliant to celebrate anything from holidays to birthdays in my mid 20s, I was like an atheist Jehovah's Witness, but now I just don't give a fuck.  I go there.  I have a pink tree decorated with antique German glass ornaments.  Don't you know holidays are just another way to amass interesting shit?

After I made my tacky pagan tree skirt, I received a request for the gag gift of an unapologetically satanic tree skirt.  Christmas is hard for atheists, I think they feel guilty celebrating something so heavily knitted together with Christianity.  But when you throw in a tree skirt emblazoned with a baphomet, it feels a little bit easier.

I don't want to show it completely yet because I'm not finished, but I'm very happy with it.

A baphomet made of sequins.  There will be pom poms.  It may be the greatest thing I've ever created.

I hesitated when the girl at the fabric store eyed my armload of black felt and blood red pom poms.  "Whatcha...makin?" she asked.  Oh, nothing...

I think this theme combines well with my interest in the overblown tackiness of Hollywood Regency and late 60s ultra lush absurdity.  Although Anton LaVey was a silly fool, he cultivated a finely articulated aesthetic that still appeals today.  A mix of the medieval and the swinging 60s, with lush velvets, skulls, knives, altars, black candles, topless "witches" with big hair, fake blood, ancient books, bejeweled goblets, I could go on.

I never really bought into his philosophy, because it's for men - ridiculous men.  It's all plagiarized from Ragnar Redbeard's 1890 publication "Might is Right," which basically espouses a hedonistic "fuck all y'all" attitude, but which does ring true on some topics, such as how it's ok to reject the contemporary flow of society when you know it to be wrong, even when it means ostracization, because you must be strong enough to withstand the slings of smaller people and smart enough to know they will come.  Subtler souls prefer Nietzsche.

LaVey does make unique recommendations for women, which you can read in his book, "The Satanic Witch," and which are pathetic and condescending and all about fashioning sexual snares.  His ideas about female beauty really show his age and plebian tastes, too.  He may have made his bones in the late 60s, but he was already a bit old then, and his tastes seem so stodgy.  He's all about garters and brown pantyhose, bad blonde dye jobs and blue eyeshadow.  The ideal woman he described seemed to belong in a bingo hall to me.  Truly, only idiots idolize LaVey, but he is a fun character, and I do like that he organized all of these ideas into a formal "religion", recognized as tax exempt by the US government.  It's all a fun joke that may bring the attention of young people to ideas they should think about.

And therefore, satanic Christmas tree skirt.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I told you no

And you did it anyway.

Sometimes I feel self-conscious talking about my cat in the same way people at work talk about their small children, but now I DGAF.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Strange Magic

I've been in a Virgin Suicides kind of mood lately.  A sort of ELO, Carpenters, gold microphone, bad hair mood.  A dreamy middle child in a 1970s suburban development mood.

This is basically the last of the walls to fall when it comes to my ideas about things I will and will not do.  I don't care!

A few years ago, a friend and I decided to start a band.  I told her we should start a Chad & Jeremy and/or Peter & Gordon cover band called Brittany & Anita.  She was game - she had a maraca - and we eagerly planned to really annoyingly explore this development during a long winter weekend at her place in New Mexico.

So on a beautifully cold November weekend at the feet of the Sandias, I queued a playlist and told her, Here's the shit you gotta learn to play, bro.

I played "I Go to Pieces" or something, and she froze.  Then screamed, "Oldies? I HATE OLDIES!"  WHAT, I screamed back, hands flying around my face in horror.  "That's what Chad & Jeremy is!"  "I didn't know!" she screamed.  We just stared at each other in silent remonstrance, both disappointed.

And as amused as I am by her wild hatred of "oldies" and all sentimental music, I dissolved the band.

So I'm not going to send this playlist to her, because somehow I feel this is so much worse in her book than the Everlys or Peter & Gordon could ever be.

This Todd Rundgren song is one of my mom's favorite songs of all time, and ELO is probably her actual favorite band of all time.

I finally kind of get it.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

I'm pretty immune to typical Texas stuff because I hate Christianity and conservatives, but I went to an event in Houston the other week that took me right back to my childhood, a time full of horses and dirt and country music, and I loved it.

Everyone talks about how shitty country got after 1981 or whatever, but I actually secretly really love 90s country.  I don't care, some of it is excellent!

Austin isn't very country.  I know everyone's experience is different and that Phoenix is about as city as it gets with miles of concrete and malls, but in the 90s, my family spent our weekends in Cave Creek or Casa Grande to visit our horses and go to rodeos.  I was the only kid in this group, so it was a little lonely for me, but I was surrounded by old cowboys and country women with work-gnarled hands and dogs and frogs and the smell of horse shit, which isn't so bad.

I felt like I was so fucking in love with George Strait then.  It made me want to cry.

One year, I would guess 1992, we spent the fourth of July at our extended family's little ranch in Casa Grande.  Again, the only child around on a drinking holiday, I wandered out to the paddocks by myself and took my horse out.  I wanted to ride her, but she was a wild card and I knew I was inexperienced, so I put her in the round pen, where she couldn't get away.  My greatest fear was losing the damn horse.  I put a bridle on her and walked her out without a saddle, pulled her up next to the fence and used it to climb on her bare back.  We walked around the pen aimlessly for a while until the fireworks started.  I stopped trying to move her around and she just stood for what seemed like forever while I held a handful of her mane with the reins and watched the sky.  I felt that it was a very American thing to be a child sitting on a horse alone watching fireworks on the fourth of July while my parents laughed indoors.  It felt like a commercial about wholesomeness.  I put her away and thought about how no one would know that that moment had ever happened but me.

So anyway, I went to a fancy event out in Houston held at a polo club.  Even though the place is meant for elites, it still smelled like horse shit and the faint dirt kicked up by hooves still floated in the breeze and still smelled the same.  The horsey musk emanating from the clean, white paddocks paired with an endless playlist of 90s country hits took me all of the way back home.  Arizona's more country and western than Texas no matter what some a Texan will tell you, but you wouldn't know it in Houston.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

1933 Party

It's raining all over Texas, filling the creeks and roads with flood waters.  After this storm passes, the broken rains of Patricia will follow.

It's inadvisable to be out in Austin at times like this.  Road deaths are constant and flash floods really are flash floods.  Several people still haven't been found after 40 feet of water came crashing down the Comal River last May, pulling vacation houses into the water and snapping 500 year old Cypresses in half.

Better to open the house to the wet, Bay area style fog, bake, embroider, and listen to hits of the 20s and 30s.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Ruined by Jesus: The Trials of Estate Shopping

Estate sales can be awkward.  It's uncomfortable to paw through the belongings of someone's dead grandmother as the family watches, listlessly attaching price stickers to obsolete serveware and Porter Wagoner cassettes.

I'm hyper-aware of everything that's wrong within certain discomforting scenarios, so I kind of hate estate sales, but I also absolutely love them because they are treasure troves of amazing, mint vintage being sold for change by people who can't believe anyone would ever buy this shit.

Today I bought an armload of 1960s nightgowns, from the carefully handmade cotton variety to flouncy pink chiffon with embroidered rosettes, and even a buttery smooth nylon gown that clothiers stopped making 50 years ago because of their extreme flammability.  If you fell asleep with a cigarette in bed, as people were apparently wont to do regularly, you would be quickly engulfed in flames in one of these gowns.  And now I have one of my own!

This was excellent luck, as I've recently become interested in vintage nightgowns and have wasted endless time searching the internet for new pieces made in antique patterns of the Edwardian and Georgian variety.  Let me save some time for you: THEY'RE NOT OUT THERE.  So this dearly departed old Texas woman has saved the day for me, although she's lent me an evening fashion that is less Lady Mary and more Priscilla Presley.  I'm ok with it.

It felt so strange and wrong to be standing in another woman's closet, shrewdly inspecting the state of her clothes, holding things up to myself, and debating on whether I could pull off her things even in jest.  I know she was very old because she had a large collection of hats and gloves, and not only that, she kept them.  She had polyester pantsuits, pencil skirts cut to a 1950s length, chiffon and silk scarves, and dressing gowns with matching housecoats that were too old ladyish, even for me.  They made me recall my great-grandmother, old Italian mother Marian English, and her rigid observation of outdated fashion practices.  Curlers, nightgowns, polyester, and bags that matched your shoes.

My great-grandmother wore a nightgown to bed every night, and put a silk housecoat on over it if she was still up and about the house.  For years, I spent Friday nights at her house, and I remember when she tried to give me a nightgown and housecoat of my own.  I was around 10 years old, and this was too much for me to handle.  We had clashed many times as persons of different eras, and with a diplomacy reserved only for her, I'd usually back down.  I'd eat her bran muffins instead of doughnuts and let her serve me a bowl of frozen grapes as a "treat" instead of candy.  I'd let her listen to Dr. Bob Martin at a deafening volume all day on the radio without complaint.  I followed her instructions on etiquette when it came to answering the phone.  I'd let her force me to wash my face at night even though I for some reason hated to do it, but the nightgown was where I put my foot down.

I looked at this thing made of slimy pink satin, tattered and moth eaten from literal decades of wear, and threw a fit.  I couldn't stand the sight of myself in it.  Something about it repelled me.  It was the opposite of the image I wanted, and I cringed at the thought of my friends somehow seeing me in it.  This went on for a few weeks until she couldn't take it anymore and doubled down on me: I could not wear my dirty clothes to bed on her watch.  I gave in and put it on.  She handed me the matching housecoat - another layer, this time of lace, with floppy rosettes sewn to all the edges.  She had won.

Today's old Texan grandmother also had linens for me, which I purchased for impending projects, a collection of stories by Dashiell Hammett, and various pieces of Limoges porcelain dishes.  She had a collection of dish cloths from the 70s, which I loved, until I unfolded them and found they were all covered with religious art.  More perfectly fine items ruined by Jesus!  The perils of estate shopping in the bible belt.

The grizzly old guy at the cashbox reviewed my items, shaking the nighties and the linens out one by one, and leveled a googly eye at me: You want all this stuff?  Yeah! I shouted defensively.  He laughed and said, "Uh, five bucks I guess."  He doesn't know what a pink chiffon nightgown goes for on Etsy.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Late Summer Turning

I get a twinge each year around September.  A muted voice inside of my bones says the season will be changing soon.  I'm not sure why it's telling me.  It seems that a couple of hundred years or more spent indoors in an industrialized culture might be long enough to make the inner consciousness of your physical body forget about seasonal preparations.  Or maybe a handful of generations in modernity isn't enough to kill the internal calendar composed by thousands of years of agronomic ancestry.

The middle of Arizona is like a glass bowl full of dust placed under a heat lamp.  There's no reason to be worrying about fall in September when living on the cracked earth of one of the hottest deserts in the world.  Still, every year I anticipated a subtle turn that never came.  The feeling would make its way to my thoughts and, for an unconscious moment, I'd allow myself expect it: autumn.  Cold mornings, dark windows behind jarring alarm clocks, changing leaves, and that feeling one gets when it's cold outside but warm inside.  

The summer is long in Texas, too, but it's not that long - the sudden tapering of summer that I sensed a couple of weeks ago when first attempting to write this is real now.  A cool breeze drifts through the hot sunshine, and mornings are not quite cool, but they're no longer warm.  It'll take another month for it to get here, but it's coming.

I guess I just don't like warm weather, because over the past couple of months, I've slunk into something closely resembling the seasonal affective disorder I joked about when living in Arizona.  I really did sleep longer and do less over the summer.  I kept the blinds drawn and the television on.  Texas' summer is far less punishing overall, but in place of the soul-evaporating, dry heat is a constant, pervasive steam.  Mere moments spent outdoors will warrant a shower.  The air will stand and thicken, breezeless, so that you can feel the water vapor as you pass through it, and it lays sticky on your skin.  All movement is exhausting.  The lethargy and physical pain I experienced after exertion had me worried at first.  Had my metabolism simply ended at 32?  Was I dying of something?  Had I somehow gained hundreds of pounds of weight and not noticed it?  I felt like crawling up the stairs to my apartment after leisurely evening walks in my neighborhood.  I hadn't yet researched the great imposition humidity wreaks on the body, particularly when one is used to humid conditions of 8%.  In Austin, a nice day is under 50%.

I began to view the city differently.  To turn, unmoved, from beautiful views that I'm still not quite used to.  Although the creeks are dry and the toads are gone (dead? or moved), the trees and grasses are lush and the greenery hasn't vanished.  Still, the film of humidity smears the beauty of the city, and I began to complain openly of everything that isn't good.  The traffic, the housing market, the obsession with barbecue, my hatred of random live music and ironic mustaches.  Everything was wrong, wrong!  I began my research for a move to upstate NY.

As soon as the heat was cut through with the first cool breezes of autumn, barely recognizable but making all the difference, my mood changed.  The first coolness of the season is thrilling to me, and fills me with a sense of awe and potential.  Driving with the windows down, or leaving the door open for the cat to roll in a patch of cool sun make incredible differences in my quality of life.  Fall in Texas looks like any other time in Texas, but it feels different already.  Everything feels more beautiful, more charming.  Bluejays wing around while deer cavort in tiny preserves tucked unexpectedly around the city.  It's a bit like when Snow White woke up.

Enduring a new summer has given me perspective on my ideal landscape.  If I still believed in reincarnation, I'd think I was looking for something I lost: mountains and forests, and not the kind you find west of the Mississippi.  Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York feel like a return for me.