Thursday, February 4, 2016

Chanel Bags for Getting an A?! STOP

Open Letter to Parents ... Okay, Rant:

I'm struggling here, pleading, this bribing your kids with fancy stuff to get them to do their school work is making problems in my home.  I'm sure you're wonderful people, but this system does not seem conducive to raising healthy children who then go on to become responsible adults.

Though I've already parented one child through the LA haze/maze of the private school network, while there were pitfalls and rabbit holes and plenty of snubs because we were not on a first name basis with Steven Spielberg, the entire ordeal worked out fine. But the world seems to have changed since the last time I stepped into the hallways of a Middle School.

Arguably one could say nothing has changed, things have just amplified. But, nostalgia, my constant, dreamy companion will always illustrate otherwise.

Back to my point. I raised a boy. It's different than raising girls. At least for me. Most of them, well, mine that is, didn't care about clothes, fashion, cool cars, cliques, instead he focused on what he liked, academics, science, video games, hanging with his local friends and staying clear of the Westside where he attended posh school. Yes there were problems, but nothing compared to what I see coming.

Now I have 13-year old girls. Just getting them this far took Herculean effort. I should be dead.

The girls have so many interests, dance, music, art, cooking, design, sewing, fashion, Lego's, Marvel anything, collections of stuff...  anyway suffice to say everyday is school, activity, homework, friend drama, problems/complaints with my dinner menu; then everyone goes to their own private pod to engage in some pastime. I go to my bedroom, tiny slice heaven, to read, write, scribble notes, talk to myself, channel flip.

Now the girls are getting into more complicated issues. Stuff outside my wheelhouse. Like fashion, boys, make-up, designer shit, girl drama. Well, one twin anyway. Her sister doesn't care about any of this.

But E, she's the artist, idealistic, sparkly, she loves elegance and plush, knows designers, studies Youtube tutorials on fashion, hair and make-up. Her creativity has no bounds. She never stops. My house is an art gallery. The flourish of her paintbrush is also used on my face, I'm her subject. Everybody is her subject.

All of this is fine and dandy. She's also a good student and seems well adjusted. And my make-up never looked better.

But when it comes to schoolwork, my parenting style is pretty much hands off. They're on their own. They always have been. They know this. They like this. And it works. For us.

THEN Yesterday:

E:  Suzie Q gets a new designer handbag every time she gets an A in anything. She just got a Chanel for English.
Me: I can't listen to this. Who does this? Why not just work for the A, get it and feel good you earned it? Why a reward? She's 12 for chripes' sake!

I'm sure my rant was much worse, before launching into: 'My dad gave me a buck for every A at the end of a semester..." but she was already organizing her point.

E: Do you think I can get a Chanel bag at the end of the year when I make honor roll.

Which lead us into a conversation of, sure, you'll get some kind of reward for getting good grades. Which I don't have a problem with. For example last year I took the girls to Waffles when they got on the Dean's list. It's more of a small celebration for their hard work.

But they're upping the stakes. I'm not buying a 13- year old a Chanel bag! Ever! I don't care if one of them cures cancer. She can buy her own Chanel bag! Get me one while you're at it.

To me this is bribery, suggesting that education is merely a way to get "stuff" and if they work the system, which they can, they will get great "stuff." Alas, life does not work that way. The kid is being set up for disappointment and disaster. No employer is going to buy you a Chanel bag because you did your flipping job.

But I need support. As in PARENTS stop it! Read some articles or books on how this will backfire. As I've written so often before, they will fall apart in college. They will not be prepared.

I am not talking about the kid who works hard anyway and will do well no matter what the circumstances. I'm talking about the majority of kids who don't like school but will tolerate it if they are given material things.

Many studies conclude that paying kids to learn decreasing their intrinsic motivation to perform those activities, weakens their internal drive to learn, and removes their love, if any, for learning. Here is a good, short impactful article.

Instead of Gucci bags, Prada flats, BMW's or fifty dollar bills;

you might say, 'I have complete confidence in your abilities to achieve this task.'

I don't even say that, frankly. Maybe I'm fortunate, my kids like school, like to learn. Sure sometimes it's hard. Sure they'd rather play Mindcraft or watch Bethany Mota bubble on about her DIY "hauls."

But you know what they hate more than anything? Getting a C or god forbid a D! When that happens, they get upset with themselves, then figure it out. Sometimes I get involved, mostly not. What happens after that? They start getting B's, then A's. Along with the great satisfaction it was all their own doing.

It seems in this world, most of the kids I encounter have everything. Iphones, IPads, IAnything. Many get allowances (mine don't.) Many get shopping sprees. They want for little. SO, in addition, then get HIGHER end stuff if they get an A?

Bewildered. And I get a sense this is just going to escalate. Hello High School.

Just after posting, I was sent this great article, including a saying: "Punished by Rewards" excellent read. Perfect timing. Read here.

Rhonda Talbot weighing in on spoiled kids, overindulgence, Middle School, High School, Rewards for Nothing, Parenting, Bribery, Help.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Helicopter Parenting Destroying Entire Generations!

Newsflash: Doing your kids homework will never get them into a good school. If you buy their way in, they will fail anyway. Side note: Because these kids come in lacking in any self sufficiently, yet are pressured to do well by their parents, more than 30% load up on the Adderal. Just letting you know. Many of them become extremely depressed because they know they had every advantage and are still failing. "Lurking beneath of whatever thing needs to be handled is the student's inability to differentiate the self from the parent."  These kids can't problem solve, cope with minor setbacks, don't know what makes them happy and rarely know who they are.

I understand some parents do this to "protect" their kids and some others do this as an ego-extension of themselves. The bragging! And now social bragging. Endless. How much can we as a society tolerate? I don't care that your daughter won the gymnastic nationals, or she's doing print modeling in between piano recitals, or that your son has a 4.9 but working toward a perfect 5! I still don't respect you as a parent because your kid is miserable. 

I've written about this before but this is great article by an ex-Stanford dean who witnessed first hand the overprotected kids that enter college only to fall apart. Read here.  I see it all around me, and we see this in the media, flooded with pictures of celebrities and their over-indulged kids who will never understand what it feels like to actually earn something. Then these same parents are surprised when the kids flail at school, away from mom, dad, tutors, assistants, and so on.

Clearly I am against any of this hyper-parenting. I know where it comes from ("I wasn't really parented by my hippy-dippy mom and I will give Chuckles everything I never got") and also have seen where it goes ("Mom, tell me again how to work a subway because the cabs are ignoring me. I feel so rejected. Can you fly out here?")

I've been parenting for a while, and I suppose I'm what you call a "let them break an arm" parent. I told my daughters as much when they were age three:

"Girls, you need to understand I will not be a typical mother. In fact, consider me an aunt. You'll have to figure things out on your own." Guess what, they did. They're independent but also compassionate. They have weird hobbies like reptile collecting. They seem to find outlets for all of their various interests. My house is messy, but there you have it.

They have zero interest in my opinion on most matters, they trust their own. They wouldn't dream of me ever helping them with homework.

"Honey, do you need help with that math that makes zero sense to me? I can switch you back to old school in no time."

"How about never!"

They laugh. They run circles around me. They steal my phone and make movies. They think I'm lame. And I happen to think that's healthy. But we also all adore each other, we bake, shop, go on adventurous hikes, look for wild animals in hiding, snare stray cats, surf, (well they do) and Apples to Apples somehow never gets old.

Why on earth would parents NOT want their kids to learn from their mistakes, get disappointed, cry, bawl their eyes out, and learn to get over it; stumble, fall and be okay? To experience life? It's called balance and the kids will be fine. Let them get a damn D! Take the training wheels off before they are 12. How old is this kid?

In this in-between place, I never have to worry whether or not my kids are spoiled, over-pampered, lacking in confidence, or incapable of taking care of themselves. What I get in return is a life. Everybody wins.

It will be curious to see what happens to this next crop of extremely over- indulged kids. This is the generation following the ones already out there.

In my opinion one of the most loving things you can do for your children is let them grow up.

Rhonda Talbot on helicopter parenting insanity, parenthood, millennials, raising kids, college, independence.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

On The California Drought Crisis, Flashback, Marin County, Jerry Brown, Sam Shepard and Me

"The California I knew is gone, doesn't exist... little pockets, farm country....fresh produce stands with avocados and date palms. An artichoke for a buck. All wiped out now."

This post is not in any way to make light of our California drought situation. But it's impossible for me to not do the deja vu stumble.  I'm a product of the 1977 Marin County "Emergency" drought, where drastic measures had to be taken or the state would simply burn to the ground.

Jerry Brown was a younger, hipper Governor then. I was living with my mother in Tiburon, she was somehow an interior decorator and I was a kid plotting my move to anywhere else but Marin. For example, every morning, because my mother didn't believe in curtains I was forced to wake by sunlight at approximately 6:00am.

As a pre-teen, I thought this was bullshit. I needed that extra hour before school. Get curtains!

Mom: We are not shutting out the majestic glory we get to momentarily be part of.

She was already drinking coffee and drawing blueprints for some boutique. She never went to design or architectural colleges, so her money-earning ambitions remained a mystery.

Mom:  Honey, get up. The sun is out. Splendor awaits. Take a one minute shower, dash out, leave it running and I'll pop in.

During this time, the new water rules were: basically you couldn't use water. Which meant, you were not suppose to flush the toilet until five uses, one quick shower a week, there was the same 25% cut in water supply... or,

"The Family That Showers Together, Doesn't Go To Jail!"

The slogan might have been, "The Family That Showers Together Stays Together."  That is so perverse, even by the low moral standards of the Mariners, the locals quickly changed it.

Jerry Brown, 77, mandating the 25% ^ ^ ^ among other restrictions. ^ ^ ^ If you abused your water usage, not only were you fined, but potentially looking at 30 days in the slammer.  My mother took this all very seriously and would sometimes throw a nerf ball at my head if I showered too long. She also had a thing for Brown and a probable hook-up. Back then he was like Ryan Gosling. But in the power seat.

His water ration for the week.
People were concerned about the water, but not that much. Many would wash up in a San Rafael city fountain then go listen to Bonnie Raitt at Sweetwater in Mill Valley.  The older folks just went to bed.

The street signs kept going up, some were rather inappropriate using images from that book The Joy of Sex. Some trying to be clever.

I don't think Jerry Brown sanctioned these signs, but people posted them everywhere, all over Main Street and into other cities.

It appears he's using a similar handbook for our current crisis.  This is not a horrible thing, everyone needs to conserve and shut their fountains down. Over 80% of CA water goes to agriculture, but I suppose every drop helps. Other efforts, however, are mandatory. There needs to be a better long-term solution than short term regulations. Listen up engineers. Be a hero. Everyone get involved. There needs to be more talk about desalination.  Go here. 

Okay, back to 1977, Main Street sort of looks the same, ^ ^ ^ minus the fancy stores. Incidentally Mom created the interiors of nearly all those shops. Again, a mystery. She went on to become an unlicensed therapist with a decent book of clients.

Mom: It's amazing what people will tell their designers. Now I'm in a position to help them proper and get paid.

Of course no one was going to shower with their family, or not flush their toilets. But to do their part, everyone did carry around flasks of whiskey and sit in hot tubs. We all wanted a hot tub.

The restaurants did not put water on the table, unless you were Sam Shepard, because he's god. And was also a regular at Sam's, the local, well, watering hole.  He was an great guy, and I talked to him often because my mom would drag me there so she didn't have to drink alone.

Sam often saw me in a corner doing homework while he was writing Pulitzer winning plays. I didn't know who he was, just another sweet guy at Sam's. I was working on my college essay, yes early, but I was anxious to move on.

Sam told me I was off to a good start. He told me to figure out what I find curious, then mention in my letter both the subject of curiosity and the professor who would be teaching this to the Freshman. I would eventually do that and not on a napkin.

I would later find out that a very young Sam had a romance with Patti Smith (connection one) and he also has a musician son, Walker, whose band The Down Hill Strugglers, play "down home folk." There is a great scene in The Notebook with Sam Shepard, everyone is dancing to banjo/fiddle music, (connection two.) These connections are the majestic fabric of my life.

As a "teeny-bopper" I was curious why there was a water shortage at all given we were surrounded by so much.

My walkway to the bus every morning. ^ ^ ^

My mother explained the difference between salt and tap then offered she preferred wine, so she wasn't part of the problem anyway. All of our ferns had long died from neglect. We were winning.

Year later, here I am all grown up, explaining to my kids why we are installing drought resistant grass, but the kids seem to be armed with knowledge because I get yelled at the most.

"Turn off the faucet, Mom!"

When I tell my kids why there are no decent oranges or lemons, I sound exactly like my mother back in Tiburon. There have been subsequent droughts but I didn't have kids then. Somehow the impact isn't felt as much. Because well, pasta, laundry, long-haired twin girls.

If it gets to that point, of "The Family That Showers Together Doesn't Go to Jail!" just get yourself a hot tub.  Like these fellas.

Maybe stick to coconut water.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Mystery of Einstein

When I was eight years old, my mother handed me a slip of paper with an Einstein quote: “He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice.”

Why she gave this to me and not her other five children remains unclear. Perhaps she saw my disillusionment with the rat-a-tat, airless echo of school, the Catholic Church, the Sunday roast dinners and our predictable life. I had been punished a number of times for staring out the school window day-dreaming about who knows what, maybe stink bugs. Then came the thwack of the ruler, held by a tight-fisted, chalky nun who sent me off to kneel on the concrete hallway floor for two hours. I would later go home and draw pictures of nuns being kidnapped, held in dark closets, being starved, begging for mercy. I hid the stories under my bed, accompanying the other stacks, all concerning some level of inequality.

During this time, music and freedom called my mother to another place, a more hopeful existence where she wouldn’t be a “wife.” She was a hippy to my father’s buttoned-up businessman. My mother did not have many heroes, as they were fleeting and then dead: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Kennedys. But there was something about Einstein that settled into her very core, then mine.

A new life began and I took Albert along as a companion

In the early 70's, she had had enough. She confided in me: “We are leaving. Tell no one; your sisters won’t understand. Your father will return to an empty house, to complement his empty existence.”
Then: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Don’t forget that. Ever.”

Thus began my own obsession with Einstein. I tucked these quotes into my grandmother’s jewelry box, which she had given me just prior to her death.

Legions of people remain enamored by this brilliant man, not just for what he discovered, accomplished and how he radically changed the world, but because of his childlike innocence, his unlimited curiosity, great humility, a legacy of words that continue to endure. When you ask a complete stranger who defines genius, they might reply, “Oh, Einstein.”

And he was a rascal, with wild eyes, the mop of hair, his crumpled clothes. This made him real for the rest of us. I began to collect quotes and read about him in libraries. His humor brought me great comfort. He wasn’t some impervious man one couldn’t access. He didn’t believe in separating himself from others, and in fact loved sharing his ideas, while helping others expand on their own. He was approachable, both alive and dead.

Born with a kind of eternal intelligence, his curiosity about all things began to emerge at age four. While examining his father’s pocket compass, Einstein was baffled. What was causing the needle to move? The empty space made no sense to him. He began to build models and mechanical devices for fun. He wanted answers. Age 10, he met Max Talmey, a poor, Jewish medical student from Poland, who introduced him to science, math, philosophy, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Euclid’s Elements, which Einstein dubbed “the holy little geometry book.”

He was brilliant in his own way

As a boy, his father knew little Albert was gifted, and perhaps because the elder Einstein (an engineer) had failed at so many businesses, he insisted his son stay in school. He enrolled him in a school in Munich to pursue engineering, but Albert was frustrated with the educational system. He clashed repeatedly with the authorities, resented their teaching style and wrote about how schools were essentially killing the creative spirit and curiosity of its students. He was 15.

“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” When I read this in junior high school, I could finally relax. The simple statement brought along a universe of vindication because I simply could not understand the entire educational process of rote learning. It was too boxed in, too impersonal. I realized I would have to find my own way intellectually alongside the traditional, through books and lectures by Rollo May, Erich Fromm, B.F. Skinner, Timothy Leary and Marshall McLuhan.

I was no genius, simply curious and bored with school. Given the number of times my gypsy mother moved us, staying on track in class made me weary. Another school, another teacher, another set of young people I would have to navigate somehow.

Why has Einstein resonated so deeply with me and so many others? Among the world’s most brilliant minds, he continues to inspire. What of da Vinci, Tesla, Newton, Hawking, Aristotle, Edison, Cervantes? The list goes on. They too share not just powerful minds, but an endless pursuit through curiosity and instinct. They knew knowledge was important, had to be learned, but could only get them so far. The rest is mystery.

Einstein embodies the mystery. So many of his ideas, beyond his incredible discoveries in the world itself, which ultimately turned the world on its head, contain room, empty space, air to breathe. His equation, E = mc2, may be the most famous equation in physics, eventually setting the stage for the development of the atomic bomb and nuclear power plants. But had he known where this was going, he said, he should have become a watchmaker.

To this day, his theories inspire advances in science, astronomy and physics, as well as from philosophers. I keep a tip sheet of quotes tacked up near my computer and read one every day. It really doesn’t matter which one, as they all carry great meaning. With each read I come away with yet another interpretation.

Einstein would go on to fail countless exams when applying to higher learning institutions. Yet, he continued exploring, reading and taking great interest in other’s concepts and ideas. He did eventually get accepted into the Polytechnic in Zurich. He wanted more knowledge and continued developing his own theories and expanding others.

His instincts propelled him yet further
He never lost his ability to stay curious, intuitive and of course, humorous. Despite his apparent genius, upon graduation he could not get a job and landed at the patent office, only to be overlooked for a promotion because he had not managed to grasp machine technology. But it was there that the 26-year-old developed further radical notions in his spare time by analyzing various patents. And he never stopped writing about his findings.

Finally, with some recognition, he left the patent office, and by 1908 was considered as one of the world’s leading scientists. He went on to become a professor in Prague and Berlin, and ultimately became famous a few years later when his theory of relativity at last made a permanent impression on the world. Ten years later, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.

For many years after, he traveled the globe, lecturing. “Of all the people I have met, I like the Japanese the most, as they are modest, intelligent, considerate, and have a feel for art,” he wrote to one of his sons. This is the statement that captures the man himself. He maintained his own humility until the day he died. He was a genius, but also a gentleman, a humorist, altruist, artist and a great believer in love. “How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?”

The entire universe was Einstein’s canvas, and he made this world relatable to all of us. He said so many things and has been attributed for many as well.

Meanwhile, back in New Jersey

Of all the great brains, his would be the one cut into 240 pieces, kept in jars, cardboard boxes, often hidden, studied under microscopes. Bits of his grey matter still remain at Princeton University. All those years of cutting, probing and analyzing amounted to little new knowledge of the human mind.

The contradiction rattles the very jars into a pulpy mess, if only because it contradicts what Einstein tried to impress. Stay curious and questioning; love the mystery. Conventional knowledge, though essential, is finite. Imagination is not. This is what Einstein embraced. Perhaps the lore of his brain in a jar helps prolong the iconic myth. In his words: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and strand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

Recently, while driving my own ten-year-old girls to school, I said, “Remember, imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Through the rear view mirror, I watched them both roll their eyes in that “Please mom, just drive,” kind of way, as they said in unison, “OK, Einstein.”

Sunday, October 26, 2014

On Birdman, Illusions, Hope and I'm NOT 65!

There is always hope...

I’ve written more than once my reluctance to engage with convenience store cashiers, particularly at Rite-Aid. I don’t know if part of their job requirement is to engage but I don't like it This particular encounter was about MY need to engage. With a kid. Tides are changing.

Last night I was feeling friendly, open, had just seen Birdman with a close friend and we were all over the map in multiple conversations about life, ourselves, movies, kids, work, the world,  the meaning of life, technology, kosher gummy bears, the dangers of pork fat, preservatives and toxic friends. 

This is how we talk, lots of subjects overlapping but after 20 years we have rhythms and circles and understand exactly the other. If we hit on a particular subject of interest, we’ll stay there for a while, exhaust it, then move on. We were stuck on the kosher gummy thing.

KOSHER ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ 

Riley is my only friend I have this relationship with, that is, we both think so fast and are somehow on the same wave, our entire universe can be jammed into 30 minutes at Rite Aid.

Meanwhile, here I was at the checkout by myself with a young girl, perhaps 17. Riley had run off to grab another item, which I had predicted. The “I’m only running in for one thing!” girl.

Me: Oh, she always forgets something. But she has a mind like a steel trap. So smart, always thinking ahead.  Such a smart girl.

The checkout girl was grappling with the 20 pages of coupons Riley gave her.

Me: Can you believe this? I don’t know how she does it. Somehow finds, saves, then compartmentalizes coupons for the proper store on items that are already inexpensive. Where does she find the time?? What, with a huge job, runs her own company!  She’s raising an amazing son, travels the world, helps others, oversees the construction on her home, is kind, lovely and adorable and yet organizes coupons. See, this is why she has money and I don’t.

I toss my sponges and a Hershey’s bar onto the counter.

Checkout girl: Wow, you really raised her well. You must be so proud. 

Me: Excuse me?

Checkout girl: Your daughter. You raised her so well.
Me: You think I’m her mother?

She looked at me as though to confirm.

Checkout girl: Well, yeah. My mom brags about me too.

Of course I had to dig deeper because I love self-abuse.

Me: How old do you think I am?

Now, we all know this is basically a trick question and you get what you deserve, but I thought she might say 49… at the high end. She was already delusional.

Checkout girl:  Um… 65?

Me:  65? Are you serious? I look 65? Do you keep a gun under the counter?

Blank stare. This is what I think 65 looks like. ^^^^

This is what 65 looks like being fabulous.  Still, I feel I look at least 20 years younger than Susan. Seriously! This girl should get fired.

This is me on a sloppy day. I was in heels and pearls for cripes sake! I've gotten to where I'm okay with aging. I'm doing it gracefully. I take pride in that.

Riley comes rushing up, her long hair flowing all over the place, gorgeous face, all legs, then shoving tons of items she “forget” onto the counter.

She even looks like this girl ^^^ In fact it might be her.

Riley: Sorry, I couldn't find the toxic free paper towels. We need to stop at Trader Joes.
Me: Okay, get this. The cashier thinks I’m your mother.
Riley:  What?
Me: Because I raised you so well miss coupon collector.

You’d think the check out girl would show a little humiliation, maybe slight embarrassment, but no. Not even, “I’m not good with ages.”

Like I give any shits.   ^^^

I grabbed my sponges and chocolate.

“Just get me home so I can scrub the house and shame eat. Can you help me to the car, honey.”

We were laughing too hard to strip it all down but Riley, who truly does look 20, needed to try and shore me up.

Riley: It’s the hair. She didn’t even see my face.  We’re the same age!

Me: Who cares? She saw mine. 65? My mother doesn’t look 65 god rest her soul.

By now we are hysterical with laughter throwing perfume free toilet paper into the car. I gasped.

Me: What the hell is that?

I didn’t realize our windows were open.

Riley: Oh Jesus.

Basically Sasquatch was pacing in front of the car, wearing only tight underpants, his giant balls spilling out on either side.

Riley: Is that a girl?
Me: No, Riley. It has a dick. I need to get a picture and Instagram him.
Riley:  Hurry! 

I’m scrambling for my camera, then realized he was staring at us, our windows were down. Was I really just going to take a picture of a nearly naked mentally ill man? What was wrong with me?  We had just seen Birdman.  We were about to become the very people the film illuminates, forget reality, forget human emotion, but get the picture and make it go viral. 

Me:  Let’s go, this is crazy.
She was staring at her phone.
Riley:  Look at this, he's still in line!
Me: It’s a big deal, great actually. People wait for hours.
She had been keeping track of her son who was waiting for the over-the-top scary Hayride in Griffith Park.

As parents our children are now little red dots on our smartphones, we know where they are at all times. Soon we will be able to hear their conversations.

I had stopped counting birthdays after I turned 40, so oddly if you ask me my age; I just grab a number from the air.

Me: Why 65? Why not say, 80!
Riley: You know kids, They think everyone is old.
Me: That is true. My girls (11) think my son (25) is an old man.  I wonder if she thought I looked GOOD for 65.
Riley: You look amazing. Stop it.
Me: We’re so much more than our faces. Yet, wouldn’t it be great if there really was a fountain of youth? I’d be bathing in that business.

Riley: There’s one in Rome. I found them all.
Me: Unicorns. Ever notice how they are all water based? We are water? Theoretically we could just take a bath. I’d rather get a blood transfusion. I should drink more coconut water.
Riley: Do you think he died or flew?
Me: That’s the entire point of the movie, our interpretation.  He already flew into the sun. One of the recurring themes. He’s free. Finally. He says fuck you to the Birdman monster then controls his own fate. To me he integrated and ended it himself.
Riley: I want to believe he flew away to maybe a tropical island. I mean his daughter smiles and looks up.
Me: For me, they finally bonded; she was smiling because he was at peace. Why look at a crumpled, bloody body when she knows his spirit is soaring?

Riley: Yes but I want to believe he is off at some topical island, free that way.

Me: He'd drown himself. Anyway, this expands the point, that is if he flew away to someplace real, we as a society are being taken over by a viral reality, so soon there be no such thing as reality. May as well enjoy this one.  

Of course we are now both checking our cell phones.
Since age seven, I too have a  Birdman voice that enjoys reminding me I’m a loser, no talent, worthless, fat, ugly cow that has nothing to offer so really, why try.  

But you do.

One of the things I love about Riley is her honesty, and how she doesn’t give up. We are similar this way.  The self-doubt, the anxiety over our kids, and the impossibility of it all, then we end up laughing. The conclusion is we are humans in an insane world looking for good.  And if someone tells me I look 65, and I see a hairy fat man in his stained underpants smiling at me with a toothless grin, while contemplating the 25 layers of brilliance that is Birdman, I will call that a good day.

I finally arrive home, and settle into my comfy bed, channel flipped until Prisoners, a movie I love so much I can recite all the dialogue. I fall asleep eating my chocolate bar, so I’m guessing today I probably look 67.

Rhonda Talbot weighing in on brilliant Birdman, Michael Keaton, self-doubt, aging, life, humor, parenting, friendship, laughter, mirages and hope.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How Are We Alive? (A short story written by my mother, rediscovered after her death.)

Hello my friends, have been busy with work, kids, the eternal quest for summer activities, sensible vacations, etc.

I came across something my mother wrote in 1976, which I vaguely remember. This was published in the Detroit News, then quickly forgotten. Mom must have pulled it back out, reworked, and published again in a Washington State Lit Journal just before she passed away. She was an artist of many avenues, writing being one. She died before finishing her 2nd dissertation and sadly I have very little of her work.

Here is an excerpt of The Joy of Six, the only time I said yes to a "guest" blogger.

Mom a few years after we hit the road.^^

Of the daily challenges presented to a single mother of many children, none equal the energy expended in the perpetual search for money. A woman can either work two or three jobs at minimum wage or try to sell her body for a slightly higher scale of pay.  With the relatively sexless body of a nine-year old boy, I could not imagine anyone buying it. Since I lacked promiscuity, education, a base of salient skills, and had six children under ten, I began to realize I was nothing more than a target.  This particular target set out a few decades ago to find a job, become educated, and raise those kids alone. 

In a strange set of circumstances, due I am sure, to my physically overstressed, and deliriously stretched-out mentality I began to recognize the presence of more than just my own brood.  

There began to appear on a daily basis, metaphysical personifications with actual personalities distinguishable by their behavior. In spite of my intensified attention to their detailed intervention into my life, I found it strangely satisfying to attribute their unusual activities to that of my children. As such, I began to refer to them as "The Bodies"-- Nobody, Everybody, Somebody, and Anybody. 

While learning their names and idiosyncratic proclivities, I discovered my favorite among the strangely non-physical beings temporarily inhabiting my home. Nobody. Nobody loved vegetables.  Nobody completed assigned homework, and Nobody followed my organizational chart. Nobody was polite and cheerful and Nobody washed dishes. Nobody picked their clothes up from the floor and Nobody claimed ownership of the jeans thrown there. Nobody did everything.

In spite of my reasonable and pleasant nature, I was surprised by the specious presence of Somebody who lost my cashmere sweater, misplaced my opal ring, removed the covers and Down pillows from my bed, and in fact was a suspect in the loss of my favorite champagne flute, an elegant piece of crystal stem-ware I especially loved. 

I often envisioned a world in which I might own two of them, and regularly hid money in a sacrificial sugar bowl, hoping to find a duplicate. The bowl, the money, and the flute were simply missing. The rhetoric went something like this: 

"Somebody broke my champagne flute, ravished my sugar bowl, and absconded with $3.42!"  True, I was somewhat hysterical, and may have been screaming, however I demanded an immediate resolution. My eldest countered with her inherited ideological preference for non-biased accusations: 

"Why blame Somebody when it could have been Anybody?"  Daughters two and three agreed, arguing for the defense, insisting that Everybody had access to the cupboard, and Nobody may have actually been the culprit. 

"Nobody?" I was stunned. "How could it be Nobody?!" 

It was obvious to me that Somebody took these things because they were in fact gone, and perhaps had broken my one and only remnant of another, more promising life. For reasons beyond my control, the children blamed Anybody and Everybody, an outrageous accusation, however, I could imagine such an act of agrestic behavior by unscrupulous persons such as those referred to by my children. 

Since Everybody hung out at the mall, stayed out past midnight,  smoked cigarettes, talked incessantly on the telephone, and our home became a dance hall to all their friends, I could easily be swayed. There were, in fact, dozens of their pilfering pals whose fingerprints were wiped away daily. 

The miscreant might just be Anybody, a mysteriously vague personification, not entirely trustworthy. At the end of the investigation, Nobody claimed responsibility. 

Since Nobody confessed and with the evidence removed, we concluded that Nobody should be punished, however, when Nobody is liable, nothing gets done. When I confronted them, my children assured me that I was biased against Everybody, their favorite of the strangely iconoclastic representational bodies residing in our home. 

"Since, as you say, Everybody always behaves badly," daughter's two and three proclaimed, "and Anybody could be guilty as charged, Somebody might consider your conclusions slightly confusing". 

The clarity of my argument took a mercurial drop as my children turned it against me and I seemed to have lost another battle. Nobody seemed interested in the issues, and with Nobody as an ally, Everybody seemed to be satisfied. 

When our dog produced eight puppies, Nobody came to my aid and Everybody hid behind Anybody with an alibi. 

In a moment of unforeseen frustration, I ran screaming through the house in an unprofessional, albeit succinct, non-prejudicial rant.

"I'm throwing all of these blue jeans into the garbage!"  I stated further that, "Persons owning these jeans and those who knew the gender of that dog must be held liable for their actions."

Emboldened, I added, "People must ultimately be held responsible for their actions." 

Unbelievably, daughters, four and five engaged in a strategy that included youth and innocence as a viable defense against sexual knowledge.

Everybody said, 'It's your fault since we didn't know this stuff."

Everybody claimed a significant victory. As for the jeans, Nobody claimed them and I laundered them in silence. 

The dog, apparently a female, was named Gretchen as my children seemed to think she was a "Dutch Brady Terrier," a previously undiscovered breed, and bestowed upon her a fabricated pedigree. 

Gretchen, a dog with neurotic tendencies, was terrified by the presence of the children and slowly but surely, and unbeknownst to me, deposited all eight of her offspring under my bed. 

Also unbeknownst to me was that I was allergic to puppy dander. Everybody blamed my extreme bronchial distress to the fact that I worked in a bar eight hours a night, and spent eight hours a day in a "sick" office building. 

Somebody suggested I stay home, clean house and make cookies, an excellent, but thoroughly impractical solution. After much discussion, Everybody concluded we must remove the animals. Anybody could see the logic of it and although Nobody objected, the eldest daughter was sent out on her bicycle with a small lunch, a whicker basket, and eight "for-free" dogs. 

I was miraculously "cured," returned to work, and food was on the table again. 

When daughter number five began bizarre episodes of limping, and doctors suggested to me that her behavior was a production of symptoms associated with a psychoneurosis motivated by my neglect of her, I wondered if this child was emulating her sister who had also lost her ability to walk for a period of time. I pulled that one around in a red wagon because she said, "I can't walk anymore." 

That child was often found napping on the sidewalk by neighbors, who actually believed her and considered me an unfit parent. 

There was also a cat. When the cat ran into a speeding car, I was in a hospital attempting to manage the operation of daughter number four, a child who required screws in her thigh. 

The apparent theory for her slipping epiphysis was associated with a congenital factor however under sedation this child admitted to stomping aluminum cans into a kind of "shoe-heel," and stomped on them daily for fun. 

The doctor who performed the operation lost his son on the eve of the procedure due to a broken neck achieved while performing on a trampoline.  I had no money to pay the doctor and the doctor did not bill me. 

Upon our arrival back home, we placed the crutches for my daughter at the bottom of the stairs. The cat, with a broken leg, and also wearing a cast, sat quietly next to the rather large barrier, a sentinel perhaps. 

Visiting children came with their mothers and were amazed by the size of the crutches Tutu was given. She was a rare "Chocolate-Point" Siamese that no doubt was expensive in the past, but had fallen on hard times, landing on our doorstep and scooped up for play by daughter number five who dressed her in frilly doll's clothing and pushed her around in a broken stroller banging recklessly into the furnishings. 

Tutu disappeared the same day as Gretchen, her eight puppies, and a few turtles the kids collected from various streams.

Daughter number five then introduced a Great Dane to our family; a dog so large I thought it must be a horse.  I noticed it while painting the kitchen ceiling tomato soup red, a color that would work quite nicely with the yellow shag rug I had partly destroyed when attempting to create kinetic sculpture, ending in an explosive experiment. 

I snipped the "shag" down with manicure scissors believing that I might manufacture a kind of "short shag," or "golf-link-like, grassy carpet.”

The tomato-soup ceiling was almost a success but had a lumpy appearance, the result of the hardened acrylic thrown by the blast. While drying, pieces of pasta flung previously slipped a bit and created a bas-relief effect, creating an Art Deco over-all arrangement, an interesting almost sunburst look, useful perhaps in Xanadu. 

One of my jobs involved the completion of 8"x10" detailed ink renderings with copy, of fashions shown in local boutiques.  I hung the to-be-drawn clothing from the tomato-soup ceiling and often spent many sleepless nights engaged in the project.

While working off-premises, Somebody removed the expensive dresses leaving me with nothing to render and nothing to return. I was sued of course, but with no tactile resources, Nobody collected, reassuring me that of course Nobody would stand by me. 

In the meantime my children were adamant the Great Dane should live with us, an absurd notion given there was no money for food. Happily, that animal left through the back door a few days after he was dragged through the front.  

I began to look at these creatures as welcomed accidents, distractions to our otherwise impossible living situation. I liked them and remained positive in spite of the negative behavior I attributed to them. I also liked blaming them for unruly behavior as this would buffer further rage toward my children's own unruly behavior. 

With the Great Dane gone and no further incoming pests, real issues could no longer be ignored. 

“Everybody uses drugs. If anyone tells you different, they’re lying.”

This was an ongoing, circulator argument until daughter number one removed herself from the pharmaceutical infatuation. Nobody told her to quit and Nobody was amazed.

Because my children were collectively against anything I advocated, I used whatever measures were available to me to police their behavior, including constant juvenile hall threats.

Everybody was angry, no one was speaking then Somebody threw a basketball against a dining room canvas; strange behavior I found both interesting and annoying. 

A commissioned painting requires a specific result, unlike creative adventures, which allow for spontaneous reactions, say serendipity. In the unlikely event of a sponsor spending money on a painting created absent that sponsor's particular investment in the ideation, most artists are unpaid. That Somebody could enhance my work with this basketball is no more unrealistic than my own expectations. 

The big sale of the painting provided an unexpected opportunity to move three thousand miles from the strange and often misunderstood neighborhood in which we lived.  The patron, also the person I promised to marry, offered us an opportunity. Since we were about to be evicted, few decisions were made in less time. 

Not only did I sell every piece of furniture not nailed to the floor, I sold furnishings actually nailed to the floor, including every appliance and all the bathroom fixtures.

With an array of checks from an astounding number of accommodating neighbors, I found an agent of Cadillac who was happy to pay me to drive across the country in their slick, boat-like car, upon which I balanced two beautiful bicycles.

The experience will live forever in the minds of my children and I doubt anyone could ever reproduce such an event. I awakened my children at 3:00 am to see an extraordinary circumstance. In Salt Lake City, the sky created an umbrella of falling stars surrounding the available space with a spectacular show produced by the lack of artificial lights.  Pure magic, something my children would never again witness. 

The trip to California was a bit of an illusion; something an intelligent person would refer to as a fantasy, however, in 1976, all things seemed possible, including a home for my children.

Nobody led the way and ended our traveling at the northern-most corners of a place in Marin County. Somebody found a place to stay and Everybody loved it. The really strange part of the process began the following day. Nobody was able to cash the deposited checks, a rather positive experience since all of the purchases including the rent were based on that transaction, however, the checks could not be verified.

Since the bank was incapable of turning the deposits into cash, the account was in effect frozen, an operational, and strange effect of the deposited checks by persons who wrote them to me for the sale of items that did not all belong to me.

It was becoming increasing clear that I was about to become a criminal. Of what nature was unclear, but I suspected Nobody would come to my aid and in the end I would require the assistance of Somebody or in fact Anybody with a legal background. 

Further still, making the three thousand mile trek seemed to cool the professed ardor of my intended, and he simply disappeared leaving me free to wander for which I was grateful. 

Finding a home for the clan proved to be a challenge.  The home I chose to rent did not allow children, so I lied and said I had none. We moved in, all seven of us, along with our metaphysical recreations, three pillows and a coffee pot. The rent would of course become an issue due to the freeze on the account, and I was forced to sell the bicycles, my last hat trick.

In the meantime I found a waitress position, which allowed me to steal food and toilet paper. Nobody objected, and I continued to become a felon, a career objective that Somebody considered difficult to comprehend, and a course of action perceived by Anybody as unwise.

While slicing turkey one day I recognized the fact that Everybody was open to criminal behavior, and Nobody would protect them from prosecution. With my first paycheck I reimbursed my employer and begged to be forgiven.  Nobody was, as usual, there for me and I was fired. 

My landlord, an unwilling participant in an ongoing lawsuit against him for allowing children to live in that complex, caved under the pressure and forced me to leave. By the time I returned home on Christmas Eve, the children were all sitting outside on the grass, the eldest held the coffee pot and a string of tree lights. 

If Somebody had an idea Nobody was discussing it and if Everybody thought we were beaten by this we looked to Anybody with a solution.

I decided to hide the children once again and find a home, this time with no money at all, a delicate task, but not entirely impossible. The kids and I were gathered at a gas station when it occurred to me that the bank might finally have released the checks written for the stuff I sold. And there it was, $3000.00.

After renting a room at Howard Johnson for showers, clean sheets, and television, we snuggled into a discussion of room service. Somebody suggested that Everybody would benefit from a walk to the nearest fast-food joint, an option Nobody found satisfactory. In the end, the desire to eat actual food out-weighed all practical other-oriented solutions. 

Whatever happiness may be derived while raising children, the joy of feeding them trumps all others; the prospect of not feeding them is in fact the most deleterious. 

Sitting in the booth of a fancy restaurant with a serious claim to the best seafood in the world, my darlings ordered hamburgers with cheese. 

"We don't like fish," they proclaimed," especially fish with bones." 

Somebody suggested lobster, a fact Everybody agreed upon and Anybody could see that was the best choice. Nobody, once again came to my aid. 

"Lobster it is," I declared, and lobster it was for our re-entry into the world of normalcy. 

Albeit dinner blew a magnificent hole in our funds it also produced a significant burst of energy and emotional well-being. We found a very simple home; a small, fishy cottage, the kind some might describe as "shack-like", available however to mothers with children. 

By padding my resume with outrageous lies, I found a job, bought a car, and joined other working moms dropping their kids off at the school bus stop.

In the end, it was a simple project; a task devoted to the ordinary notion of keeping many children alive; an idea developed while skirting them through negotiations with an atypical parent and the evolution of an association with unrealistic and entirely imaginative personalities, all willing to support their creative endeavors, specific ideations, and loving pursuits. Through a prism of four decades past, I cannot see how it was done, but can only recall the joy of raising six children on my own.


Rhonda Talbot on a fictional version of how I was raised for a short time; told through the eyes of my mother.