Monday, January 31, 2011

how to elicit homicidal feelings

I was having a spectacularly bad day, a terrible, awful, horrible day, which was known to my life's companion, the Sober Husband. As I was having problems using a translation application on the iPad to try to communicate with the Chinese exchange student staying with us, the Sober Husband remarked cruelly, "Even a toddler can use an iPad."

He'll be lucky if he makes it through the next twenty-four hours without being maimed.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

drawing life

I take life drawing classes, where a room of artists (many of whom are extremely gifted) each week painstakingly and silently draw a naked model. The Sober Husband has perhaps not understood the seriousness of this venture, and recently called out to me as I left, "Have fun! I hope you get someone really good looking!"

"That's not what it's about," I corrected him loftily. "It's actually better if it's someone interesting looking, like once we had a fat person and everyone loved it. It was so much better than when we had the really gorgeous body builder."

In truth, the energy in the room had been terrible the time we had the handsome, perfectly toned gym-goer (who spent his break periods perusing a magazine which I swear was called "The Perfect Body"). Normally there's no creepy energy to be detected anywhere, but that time, the model himself seemed to be getting off on having us draw him, and it seemed, well, unwholesome. I felt almost exploited (and also I found it was surprisingly hard to draw true washboard abs without having the washboard-ness of it come out looking like wrinkles).

Last night I remembered that conversation, as I ended up having to eat my own words. I settled in happily at my easel, and I looked up to see the ugliest person I have ever seen naked (and I've been to nude beaches, people, as well as to leather events). My initial reaction, I am ashamed to admit, was "I don't want to see this." The model was a woman of indeterminate but far from young age, who had a small frame but was carrying a lot of excess weight. She had rolls and rolls of fat and horrible, draping, loose, crepey skin. And sadly, she wasn't the kind of fat person of whom they always say, "She has such a pretty face." Her face looked like a child's drawing of a witch: tiny, squinty eyes, a sharp nose, and thin, nearly nonexistent lips, and bags, such bags under her eyes. Her hair was wispy and thin and needed the roots touched up.

I quailed, and I hated myself for it. I reminded myself during the first short pose: "You're not the spring chicken you once were, either. You aren't the same size you were in your twenties, and you always go far too long before you touch up your own roots. You've got no right to be judgmental. " Then the model turned and bent over, presenting me and my companions on either side with a remarkably explicit view of her crotch. I wanted to flee. "I can't draw this," I thought to myself. "I don't want to look at this." I drew a leg only.

Our instructor was trying to teach us (or those of us who want to learn new techniques; many of the more accomplished artists prefer to follow their own lead) a new technique, "massing in", where we would shade in the bulk of a form, rather than drawing its outline. I tried to focus on that, and I made a lot of exuberant, bright, pastel sketches. They were slightly abstracted, and I liked that. Gradually I got caught up in the art, and I lost that horrible feeling of wanting to flee. I drew and drew, losing track of time. I admired the model for her bravery in presenting herself to us.

I challenged myself to find something beautiful about this model, and I did. Her small feet had the most delicate arches, so beautifully shaped. I drew the feet.

Towards the end of the class I was pleased with some of the work I'd done, and I felt I'd gotten a lot out of the "massing in" technique, which I resolved to use again. We reached my favorite part of the class, the longer poses. And then it went all bitter and unhappy for me. The model was facing me directly for a twenty minute pose, and she was watching my every pencil stroke. I was struggling with drawing her face, and I could see her looking at my awful, ugly, witch drawing. I erased the face and redrew it, and then erased it and re-redrew it. I could not stomach having her look at my ugly picture, and I tried hard to make it look more flattering. I felt awful.

After that, I tore off one of my most exuberant orange pastel sketches, one with the model's hair flying about and no face shown at all, to turn in to my instructor, and I left early. "There's another pose, Carole," the teacher said wheedlingly, but I said, as nicely as I could, "Gotta get home."

Monday, January 24, 2011

busy, busy

I've had a burst of energy lately, which has been mostly channeled into cooking. Here are two observations I have to share with you: first, the next time you make an upside-down cake, instead of melting butter and mixing in brown sugar, instead cook a quarter cup of honey until it is dark and slightly reduced. Add your fruit to that and proceed making your cake. You'll discover that caramelized honey is one of the most magnificent tastes in the world, and you'll wonder, "Caramelized honey? Why haven't I been eating that forever?" Secondly, if you make your own onion dip from scratch -- and I don't mean mixing powdered soup mix with sour cream, I mean cooking your own onions in butter until they're golden and soft, mincing them, and mixing them with sour cream, cream cheese, salt, and pepper -- the results will cause everyone who tastes it to go into a contemplative gobbling state. They will not want to stop eating that onion dip, even if you implore them to save some room because there are four other dishes coming.

As well as cooking, another hobby, reading, has been paying off of late. Thankfully my long, rough stretch of reading God-awful books came to an end, with the excellent "Blind Submission" by Debra Ginsberg. "Blind Submission" is the story of a young, aimless woman who winds up working for an extremely tightly wound boss, a boss who insinuates herself into all areas of her employees' lives and leaves their sanity on shaky ground. This reminded me very much of an over-the-top boss I had for a while when I was practicing law. My old boss used to try power ploys like trying to make us come in at six a.m. "My MUNI route doesn't start running until seven," I said acerbically. "Just roll out of bed and call a cab," said my boss airily. "I am not about to start taking a ten dollar taxi ride to work every day," I said firmly. "That's going to be fifty dollars a week!" But then my favorite colleague, who lived even further from the office than I do, agreed to come in at six. Our boss then decided to up the ante and by the end of the day had forced him to agree to show up at four thirty a.m. Meanwhile I was still scheduled to arrive hours later, after the 5 Fulton majestically began its route and leisurely conveyed me downtown. My friend looked haunted at the prospect of needing to be at the office by 4:30, and I chided him. "You've got to grow a backbone!" "I do have the backbone.. the backbone of a frog," he mourned.

After reading "Blind Submission", I had horrendous nightmares that I was back in that job. But perhaps the true nightmare is that a highly educated, talented person chooses to be unemployed, as though Betty Friedan had never written "The Feminine Mystique." My psychiatrist tried a few weeks ago to push me gently into going back into the law, but I"m resisting. "I can't face it, all that stress," I told him frankly. Maybe next time I'll tell him I'm still having nightmares about one of my hellish bosses from those days. But my psychiatrist thinks I'd be happier if I had people routinely appreciating my intelligence and paying me for my insights. Maybe he's right. After all, that's an occasional cause of strife in the home, my accusations of being treated like a dullard. Here's a cinematic treatment for you all:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

get the message

How I get messages left for me, regarding my volunteer work: "Some crazy cat lady called, wants you to take a crazy cat."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

the state of things

I have been in a deep funk since New Year's Eve, a depression which I haven't felt like talking about. I don't feel entitled to be depressed: I have a lovely life, truly. My immune system has never gotten back up to par after I had surgery last year, but I'm not in chronic pain any more, like I was before I had surgery. I don't want to whine. But yet I have no energy and no joy.

I have been cooking, though, making food that requires me to grind up four different kinds of seeds with my mortar and pestle and finally opening the dusty bottle of pomegranate molasses I'd bought ages ago. Today I bought a bottle of maraschino liqueur so I can make my own maraschino cherries for Manhattans, a good winter drink. Last week I bought a lovely, expensive whiskey on sale for Manhattans, and I couldn't get the fancy, sealed-in-wax cork out. I ended up running down the block in slippers, Lola trailing behind, seeking out the first gym-toned, gay neighbor I could find to extract the cork for me. "Manhattans? That's what my mom drinks," said my buff across-the-street neighbor. I felt humiliated by the matronly nature of my intended beverage and, trying to get my image restored as a sophisticate, confided that I was going to make my own maraschino cherries, before heading back across the street with the bottle in one hand and Lola's arm in the other.

Contributing to the funk, I hit a bad streak in reading, picking up one terrible, poorly written book after another. The only good book I've read over the past month was a terrifically depressing one, "The Good Soldiers" by David Finkel, telling the story of a particular battalion sent to Iraq. This incredibly engrossing and dark account led to a lot of contemplation about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the price paid by individual service members for our national policy aims, and the bizarre split between what is said in Washington, D.C. about the course of a war and what is said by the people who are waging it. It wasn't a pick-me-up, but I was glad I read it, and I pushed the Sober Husband into reading it as well.

The Sober Husband has been in a funk of his own of late, and Iris is perpetually looking on the dark side. Only Lola remains perky, laughing maniacally. Even so, she has become convinced that there is a yeti living on our block, a yeti which peers in the laundry room windows of an evening. I've taken her out to the yard and shone a light around, demonstrating that clearly no yeti lurks out there, but Lola remains convinced that the yeti is nimble and able to evade the beams of the flashlight.

Adding to our melancholic winter mood, we have a pathetic, undersocialized tortoiseshell cat living here. Iris, Lola and I are supposed to be working our magic on her, turning her into a loving, snuggly lapcat as we've done so many times before, but this cat is intractable. She has been here at least three weeks and still is very difficult to catch. I can't imagine anyone ever adopting this cat, which is a depressing thing to think about. She's sweet and, no matter how terrified, will not scratch, but no one wants a cat who lives under your bed and attempts to live without interacting with you whatsoever.

This cat is such a nonentity that even our own cats have not reacted to her presence. Normally our three resident cats, all former foster kittens themselves, hiss at any foster cat for a few days and then accept the visitor into their tribe, but this cat seems to be below them somehow, not important enough to be noticed. She was abandoned as a kitten in the projects, and I don't know what is going to become of her. For now, she's hiding under my bed, lurking about and avoiding the overtures of the depressed people who live here, and we're trying to have some hope for her.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

the latest craze

The latest craze around here is a game eleven year-old Iris uber Alles thought up. We have to be each other and stay in character (although Iris, the director of the game, allows herself to break out of character to rage at Lola for being out of character).

Iris's imitation of Lola is pretty much limited to braying "Hyunnh hyunnh hyunnh" nonstop, imitating her little sister's laugh. "Iris, you gotta swear if you're being Lola," I said (Lola has taken up recreational swearing in a big way lately, although I have urged her strongly to limit this to the home). Iris agreed. "Fuck the fuck on! Fuck the fuck on!" she shouted. "Lola says that in a sweet little happy voice," I criticized.

Lola had trouble getting into character at first, and I gave her too some helpful suggestions. "Remember to shout 'LUCY!!!' a lot. Also, you could say, 'I hate you!'"

They made me play the Sober Husband, and I turned on NPR. A voice droned about biochemicals, and I said firmly, "Be quiet. This is interesting. I'm trying to listen." I went easy on him, though, feeling that it would encourage disrespect on the part of the children if I ridiculed their father too much.

Evidently he felt no such compunctions. I was out much of the evening at my life drawing class, and later he said, "We played a new game all evening. I had to pretend to be you, and they were each other."

"Oh? What did you do?" I looked at him. He was shamefaced and unable to admit the hideous truth, although he did mumble something about saying "I need to play Warcraft now" in the game.