Thirteen

Photo Credit: Pabak Sarkar
Photo Credit: Pabak Sarkar

I remember it all like it was yesterday.

Acne, drama, self-doubt. Excessive mooning about. A variety of binges and very bad decisions.

I behaved irrationally, irresponsibly, disrespectfully, and the one I treated the worst was me.

Yet having a teenager may be even more terrifying.

Still plagued by acne and self-doubt, my lingering woes are compounded by close proximity to this raw lump of developing human–one who wears her disdain, depression, euphoria, and ill-founded bravado at the very surface. Nothing I can say or do will serve as salve. It is what it is–a tough row to hoe.

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Beyond Bertie Bott’s: Jelly Beans That Will Never Be

Yep. That's what they call them in Oregon. Bad idea for a jelly bean flavor!  http://www.honeybucket.com
Yep. That’s what they call ’em in Oregon. Great name; bad idea for a jelly bean. From http://www.honeybucket.com

Thanks to J.K. Rowling…vomit, booger, sausage, and earwax-flavored jelly beans already exist. Having recently reread the Harry Potter books and visited the Jelly Belly Factory, I started wondering if there were flavors that could never be made into jelly beans. I know the box says “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans,” but surely there are lines which cannot be crossed. Continue reading Beyond Bertie Bott’s: Jelly Beans That Will Never Be

Strange bedfellows: Renaissance painting and indie music

A few months ago, I wrote a post responding to a video which I failed to embed properly. Apologies. I suppose it was inevitable that Zero to Hero would challenge me to figure out that mess. I went back and fixed the problem–I think.

For my month of blog fine-tuning–c.f.,  Zero to Hero–I’m supposed to write something which includes embedded media. In honor of this occasion, I have decided to share something that has snagged in the corner of my brain. It is not the usual Bad Parenting fare.

I’m being haunted by a music video.

I find the song mesmerizing. The lyrics are just inscrutable enough to tantalize my imagination. The melody is intoxicating, and the mix is perfect–complicated, well-balanced. What is bugging me is the video itself. I’m still trying to figure out what they were thinking.
The set and arrangement of characters were modeled after what is perhaps Raphael’s best-known painting, a fresco he did at the Vatican called The School of Athens.

School of Athens, from wikipedia.
School of Athens, from wikipedia.

This painting supposedly includes “every great Greek philosopher,” which means everyone from Socrates and Plato to Euclid and Pythagoras. I don’t know any contemporary Greek philosophers, but it doesn’t matter:  the painting was done in the 16th century, so I’m off the hook.

School of Athens was part of a series that was supposed to illustrate a progression from reason (Western philosophy) to revelation (Christianity), and to show how they worked  together–an idea that has been lost in these days of intelligent design vs. evolution.

But what characters has alt-J put in their video? These are not meant to be philosophers. And why did alt-J choose to put this particular cast in dialogue with art history and religion? After a very un-scientific search, the best I could find was an off-hand comment about wanting to set contemporary figures from a “lower socio-economic status” into Raphael’s famous work. Fine. But these are not “poor people,” per se; these are stereotypes from gangster culture:  the liquor in a paper bag, throwing dice, ferocious dogs, big earrings, wife beater t-shirts, heavy chains, spandex dresses. I look at pictures of members of the band and wonder:  what are these pasty white guys trying to say? Are they trying to offer commentary on class and culture? Or simply show off their liberal arts degrees from Leeds?

The lyrics have not helped illuminate this conundrum:

“Three guns and one goes off
One’s empty, one’s not quick enough
One burn, one red, one grin
Search the graves while the camera spins

Chunks of you will sink down to seals
Blubber rich in mourning, they’ll nosh you up
Yes, they’ll nosh the love away but it’s fair to say
You will still haunt me”

The video makes no sense to me, and borders on offensive. If this is what they think poverty looks like, I find it terribly condescending. Kind of like when Miley pops in a grill and acts out her impression of African Americans. Awkward, at best, but likely much, much worse.

At the same time, I can’t stop listening to the song or watching the video in question, so who am I to judge?

****

p.s. I did find out where they got the band name. Press alt-J on your keyboard and you’ll get ∆:  the triangle that appears in their video and as their logo. Triangles are their favorite shape.

What am I doing here?

From www.images.sodahead.com
From http://www.images.sodahead.com

I don’t remember why I started a blog.

I don’t even really know why I need to write. I just know that when I don’t, I get cranky.

When I do write, I feel fabulous–whether I end up posting or not. So why don’t I simply dump my thoughts in a journal and stick it on the shelf? Continue reading What am I doing here?

Another New Year, Another Chance to Aim Low

To really aim low, I could be zero AND a hero. From empowermm.com, whatever that is.
To really aim low, I could be zero AND a hero. Image from empowermm.com.

Gone are the days of resolving to “Achieve balance,” and then feeling crappity all year when I can’t do it. This year, I have decided once again to aim low, focusing on short-term, achievable goals. I will make reasonable monthly resolutions, and then emerge victorious. That is my plan.

For January, I’m participating in “Zero to Hero,” the embarrassingly titled 30-day plan for kick-starting or fine-tuning one’s blog. And though it sounds as if I need a cape, I will proceed without one.

For today’s assignment, I was supposed to introduce myself and consider my purpose and content. Well, I thought about it. I blog about everything from teaching to parenting to bad hair cuts to traveling, and I have no intention of narrowing my focus at this time. As for an introduction, I’ve been here a while, so I decided to rewrite my About page. It now reads as follows:

Likes:

  • snacks
  • the Oxford comma
  • snail mail
  • other great stuff

Dislikes:

  • raisins
  • parking
  • sciatica

Neither a morning person nor a night owl, I can be surprisingly productive between 10 and 2. I am awake for many, many other hours, though–mostly on purpose.

Additional fun facts:

After graduating from Carleton College with a degree in Sociology and Anthropology, I joined Teach for America, continuing to teach and administrate in urban public schools for twelve years. For my first mid-life crisis, I went on leave to study photography at California College of the Arts. I am currently raising two daughters, writing two blogs, teaching and photographing whenever possible.

Also, I am apparently a photo editor for an online magazine. This is exciting and terrifying, but I didn’t include that on the page because I don’t actually believe it yet.

Now. I am expected home in time for the bedtime routine. That is next on my list to achieve.

How my mom killed Santa

©2013 Beret Olsen
©2013 Beret Olsen

When I was little, I went to Prairie Market with my mother to do the month’s shopping. Prairie Market hawked groceries at a grossly reduced rate, leaving everything in shipping cartons in an unheated warehouse. Since it predated the days of ubiquitous scanners, we dug cans of soup out of the crates, and wrote the price on each one using a red wax pencil. I got to ride around on a platform hand truck instead of in a janky cart.

In a weird, frugal way, it was awesome.

On one fateful shopping trip, however, I looked up from my can-labeling extravaganza to see my mother sneaking Christmas candy into our pile of supplies. This might not seem like a big deal to you. Keep in mind that–except for a pack of Trident gum in the kitchen cupboard–we never had candy in the house. I came unhinged. I made a huge scene. Demanding to eat it then and there, I fussed and begged and whined until my beleaguered mother thrust a small, foil-wrapped Santa at me, allowing me one single bite.

She wrapped the chocolate back up neatly and paid for it with the rest of our haul.

Then…weeks later…

On a cold and jolly winter’s morning, I reached into my stocking and pulled out a half-eaten Santa.

What??!!

I immediately marched over to inform my siblings, two of whom offered feeble explanations; the last looked away, likely stifling a guffaw. What was this, I wondered? Could they not handle the truth? I squinted at them–perhaps with a bit of pity–not realizing the absurdity of the situation: a six-year-old unveiling life’s truth to a room full of teenagers.

*****

Cut to this year.

At around 10:30 pm on Christmas Eve, I was crouched on the floor beside the bed, reading my godforsaken, depressing book by headlamp, trying to stay awake without disturbing the spouse.

Must. Stay. Awake.

I know. That was pathetic, given the hour. It’s not like I had to make it through midnight mass or anything. But, after two weeks of insomnia and holiday hullabaloo, I was really ready to hit the hay.

Trouble was, one of my kids was on the couch in front of the stockings, holding some sort of vigil. Whenever I thought she must have dozed off, I would tiptoe to the top of the stairs and look down, only to witness her stirring, waiting, watching.

I was torn. Don’t my kids know who plays Santa, anyway? Wasn’t that the reason for her vigil, to have real proof beyond past year’s mistakes and discrepancies, such as:

How come this present is wrapped in paper we have in our office closet?

Why is my friend’s Santa so much more generous?

and

Why didn’t Santa bring what I really wanted:  an iPhone?

If I just bailed and went to bed, I’d be fresh for the morning. I could stick some gifts in the stockings after sunup, right? It’s the same stash, either way.

Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming sense of empathy for my mother, the Santa-killer. I was by far the youngest of four kids. She had been willing herself awake for eighteen Christmas Eves so that some imaginary person could take the credit for all of her thoughtful work. That woman was done.

Sigh.

I’ve only been at it half as long. I can’t yet bail in good conscience.

Ho, *#^%(!), ho.