Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Let's hear it for shopping malls!

Tomorrow I'm going to see a good friend of mine, who woke up one morning and found herself pregnant. She is pretty much the last female with a fully functioning set of ovaries that I ever expected to have a child, and I'm pretty sure that she would say the same for herself. This is not to say that she'll be anything but a fantastic mother, because she's going to rock (especially with my mentoring program), but just that this was not part of her five-year or ten-year plan or plan of any configuration. She may be going at this as a single mother - signs are pointing this way - but she has been very brave and forward-thinking about the whole thing. Pretty much like when she found out she was pregnant: her reaction was like, "Hmm. This was not what I was expecting, but what the hell? Bringing up a little feminist vegan hellraiser sounds kind of cool." (I don't think that she's going to need much of my mentoring after all.)

We're going to be meeting in a shopping mall in her town, a massive one, a mecca of unbridled consumption, and I'm going to have my son with me. When I first suggested meeting there, my friend was a little surprised.

"You want to meet in a shopping mall? I thought you rejected all that consumerism." She wasn't judging me, just surprised.

I explained to her that this shopping mall was really perfect, because, it being winter in Chicago, we'd be able to walk and talk, not worrying about being cold or having to break up our conversation every few minutes to duck into somewhere else. We also wouldn't have to be concerned about taking up a table for a couple of hours in a coffee shop and deal with my son when he would start to get bored. At an enclosed shopping mall, my son can run up and down the ramps and we can talk as we wander around. These are the sorts of things that never would have influenced my choices even five years ago; all that I needed was my coat and purse before bolting out the door, even less in the summer. Now that there is someone else, though, going places requires much more consideration. That first year of having a baby - and, oh, the two years after that of toddlerhood - was a challenge for someone who is spontaneous by nature. Did I have a pacifier? A back-up pacifier? Extra clothes? Extra diaper cover, just in case? A couple of toys to distract him with if he got upset and he wasn't tired or hungry? Sunblock? A sun hat? Snacks? A drink? I was not one of those mothers with a diaper bag big enough for penguin to comfortably reside in, but, still, I needed those things for our outings not to result in a disaster.

So my son will be spending tomorrow afternoon in a shopping mall. Despite my own misgivings - my disgust at the purveyors of clothing made by children in sweatships for children in wealthy nations, my distaste for the branding that is wrapping its tentacles around our children and their imaginations at such a young age - he will have a great time. I explained to my friend that he doesn't know Disney or most of that consumerist "stuff", and that doesn't matter to him: what matters to him is that he'll get to run up and down ramps and ride on escalators. I know that he is still going to be influenced by what he sees and that it will help shape his beliefs about consumption, but every day he is out of our carefully managed home environment, he is exposed to this world of materialism and consumption (of women, of animals, of junk). The best thing that I can do is try to raise a child with a healthy skepticism of mainstream values and strong convictions about the things that really matter to him: happiness, fairness, compassion and vegan cookies.

So I'm going to a shopping mall tomorrow with my son, and we're both going to be fine.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Okay, I'm not so sure how this works...

For someone as technologically unsavvy as I am, this blogging is going to be a steep learning curve, I think. Basically, my computer skills amount to knowing how to type [hunt-and-peck style, I think my typing teacher called it disdainfully (no, I'm not an octogenarian: they really had a mandatory typing class in high school in the 1980s - Go, Trevians!)] and save. I don't want to sell myself short, though: I can also copy-and-paste like a fiend.

I don't have much to say right now except that I will be going to my four-year-old son's preschool performance tonight, in the auditorium and everything. He'll be singing some song that I gather is titled "Oh Hey, Oh Hi, Hello!" from the singing he has been doing around the house. He has excellent pitch, I must say, (I read today that only one person in ten thousand has what is considered perfect pitch) as he is the spawn of at least one parent (me) who is practically tone-deaf. Which leads me to a horrible memory of my past: I went to New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL in the 1980s. That itself would be a nauseating memory - or one giant, ever-mutating blob of repressed teenaged tragedies - but I am speaking of one specific event.

When I was a freshman, (or, as my feminist cohorts in college would call a "first-year student", ever-eager to excise that 'man'), I took chorus because that was what was expected of us, and, back then, I did what was expected of me. Anyway, New Trier in the mid-80s practically wrote the handbook on preppy, snooty horridness. All the Christie Brinkley and Ken doll lookalikes with their four season tans (in the Chicago area, of course) and their Lacoste oxfords and penny loafers. Plus, the duck motif: it was everywhere. Insert one little ethnic girl with crazily curly hair and a second generation American lineage. One of these things was most decidely not like the other. I know that there were others like me who were not tall, blonde and of English-Irish-German descent, but during my first year in this petrie dish of hyper-competitive, airbrushed perfection, I felt pretty much like the goth girl who crashed homecoming.

Anyhoo, one day we were practicing some song in chorus and I was probably daydreaming about Morrissey when the teacher, a cranky, older woman with white, beehived hair, abruptly stopped playing the piano.

"Wait a minute. Someone is off pitch," she said.

We all sort of looked around, like, what were we supposed to do about it? She played the part again on piano and asked the altos, soprano twos (that's what they were called), and sopranos to sing a few lines again, one group at a time so as to isolate that naggingly wrong voice. Finally, it was my turn, as a soprano. I considered just miming the words as I feared that I was That Voice, but I was afraid that she would detect my deception. So I sang with the sopranos. She stopped playing the piano again, stood to face us, squinted and leaned her ear in like a bird dog, and had us sing a cappella so as to hone in on it. She put up her hand and the group hushed immediately.

"Ms. Rose. Please come up here."

I looked around the room with my best expression of nonchalance as she strode back to the piano bench. She started playing the piano again. "Sing again, please."

So I had to stand there alone, about fifty Heather-esque Ice Queens silently, most likely smirkingly, watching me as I tried to sing some show tune for this woman.

"Louder!" she commanded. "I can barely hear you."

I must have only been up there for fifteen seconds but it was truly one of the most wretched experiences of my life. If I could have disappeared right there by snapping my fingers, I absolutely would have. She finally, FINALLY, stopped playing the piano and my heart rate slowed down to about 350 beats a minute, my beet-red face returning to its former ghostly pallor.

"You are a soprano two," she declared. "Go sit with the twos."

Wasn't that horrible? You'd think that once she isolated the off-key voice to be mine, she would have had me sing a few bars after class. No. Why do that when a little humiliation (that still haunts me more than twenty years later) could do the trick? But I'm not bitter or anything.

I am home now from my son's concert and I am happy to report that he sang happily and unself-consciously, without interruption from his teacher. That's m' boy! He's breaking the cycle.

Tossing my hat in the ring...

A dozen good reasons to blog that are occurring to me as I write this:

1. A blog is the perfect place to rant and ramble about any topic I find of interest. I'm sure that I am the first one in the history of blogging who has conceived of such a novel application of this technology. Look for LOTS of posts about rainbows and unicorns and baking that perfect banana bread. Ha. Unless we're talking about a kickass double rainbow that alerted me (along with a few notes from a harpsichord) that a once-captive unicorn had been liberated from the sketchpad of a Disney storyboard drone AND incarnated so that I could feed the magical beast some fantastic banana bread (fair-trade, of course). Well, I would most certainly write about that, because I think that sort of a rainbow-unicorn-banana bread story would be neat. I'm not trying to be glib; I really do. Unless that happens, though, expect the rants and ramblings to be more in the line of a modern vegan, feminist mother and all that implies.

2. I don't have a lot of time, so writing in short bursts of passion is really a good outlet to offset any creative ruts I get into with the Big Project I'm currently working on, which threatens to suck me dry of true enjoyment I might otherwise get from writing. Or just suck, period.

3. Opinions? I've got plenty. Name your pick: I have opinions on Bush (entitled nimrod who would merely be pitiable if he weren't so damn despicable), Cheney (Darth Vader), Republicans (I'm thinking that the only excuse for voting Republican is because you're either ignorant or rich), strangers who criticize your parenting (they suck), Hillary Clinton (cannot form the words to describe my loathing for this woman, but suffice it to say that I think she is worse than a Republican, and I don't hold them in terribly high regard), Gary Francione (I think he rocks), PETA* (I loathe this organization, which has become, really, a mouthpiece for one person who embraces the exploitation of women as some ill-thought out and poorly executed "strategy" for ending cruelty to animals. Yeah, you try to wrap your brain around that one), sea lions (how cute are they?!) and more. I realize that I've got way more opinions about things that bug me than not. So sue me. Isn't that usually the way that opinions work?

4. I used to have a really cool website, in my humble opinion, called Vegan Street. We (my partner and I) started Vegan Street in 1998 as a way to help build a dynamic and creative vegan culture. For the most part, I think we succeeded: people still implore me to revitalize Vegan Street (it's been dormant since 2002). We also sold clothing, including a cute black camisole with the words of this blog on it (plus 'for peace', but that seemed too long for a URL), but that was more of an after-thought for us. We were too busy coming up with articles and ideas. I thoroughly enjoyed working on Vegan Street and I met sooooo many cool people through doing it. We may activate Vegan Street again, who knows what the future will bring, but for now, I'm thinking that my Big Project and this blogging are going to be my main creative pursuits.

5. I've read that keeping a blog is a useful thing to do if one wants to be published (this has NOTHING to do with my Big Project), just, 'cause, like, in the future, I might want to be published. Send all serious offers this way, big honcho o' publishing, where you light your cigars with hundred dollar bills and step on the homeless people as you hustle from your downtown office for the limo. I totally promise not to rag on you if the seats in your limo are leather. (If you find a 'Leather = Death' sticker on the seat, it must have fallen out of my bag and somehow adhered itself there.) Oh! I also should add that I self-published a book in 2004 called Marla's Vegan Guide to Chicago and the Universe, and it is two books in one. Literally, you flip the book over, and there's another book on the backside of essays and that sort of thing. For the ADD in all of us. Write to me if you want an out-of-date but entertaining restaurant guide for $15.00.

So it looks like I 'm about seven short of a dozen good reasons, but you'll have to accept this. I'm busy, people. What do you want from me? I'm really looking forward to this blog, though, I must say.

*Except for a couple of really cool, committed friends of mine who work there), I should say.