Lost Art of the Mixtape

Kind of like Lost Wax casting, only not really at all. I was waxing (ha!) nostalgic to my teenage students the other day about mixtapes, and realized I was totally dating myself* when they didn't get it at all. "But you just make a playlist, it's so easy!" Exactly. It's so easy. And therefore it loses something. Yes, you still have to choose just the right songs, and can work on making the perfect cover, but it's not quite the same. Making a mixtape was a big deal. You had to spend hours cuing up the tapes and knowing exactly how long the songs were and waiting to hit stop at just the right moment. And all that came after poring through your music and your friends' music, tapes scattered on the floor all around, popping them in and out of the player to hear the songs, and hear if the transitions worked... There was that in-between period, of using cd's to make a mixtape, before you could burn it onto a new cd, which wasn't quite as involved but was still a very hands-on kind of process. Something about the tangibility of it all was magical. It meant something.

Mixtapes were the love letters of my youth.

That said, I totally dig the easy access to music these days, and those same students make me cd's, which is a great way to hear new stuff, and the internet brings its own magic. But I still miss the true mixtape.

*I love myself, I think I'm grand. When I go to the movies, I hold my hand. I put my arm around my waist, and if I get fresh, I slap my face. --Ogden Nash

UPDATE: a couple days after I wrote this I was reading Sherman Alexie's new collection, War Dances, which includes the poem "Ode to Mix Tapes." "...the last track/ Was the vessel that contained/ The most devotion and pain/ And made promises that you couldn't take back." As always, it's a book that hits you where it matters. He is such a powerful writer.


Twinkle Twinkle Little Vagina

So you know how every language has its hilarious faux pas, leading to mortified teenagers who grow up with the same funny story to tell? In French, if you say "Je suis pleine," meaning literally "I am full," you have just announced that you are pregnant. Ha ha! Or in Spanish, similarly - "embarazada" means pregnant, not embarrassed, though you will certainly be blushing if you make that mistake.

Well, I just learned about one in sign language that tops those. I was at a "Babies in the Library" group (for the first time, and possibly the last, because: chaos! And the hormones that make me care about my baby crying don't work for other babies, so they're just loud and annoying) and we were learning to sign some stories and songs. We made it through "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" with no problems, but when we got to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," one of the women stopped the lady teaching us (who teaches baby sign, so oops - how embarazada for her! But this other woman works with deaf kids and actually uses ASL, so she wins). She was trying to be gentle about it, all "doesn't that have another meaning?" Blank response. She had to lay it out: "I'm pretty sure it means vagina."

There we were, more than a dozen men and women holding our thumbs and fingers together in a diamond shape, waving our vagina hands above our babies as we sang to them. It was fabulous.

It's true that baby signs are often simplified, because they can't quite manage the grownup version - just like when they talk, they simplify words - but that's a far cry from mixing up diamond and vagina. Although kind of funny if you think about all those ads for diamond rings being swapped out. They're irritating enough with their message that men can buy forgiveness and love because all women are so shallow that they only care about the bling. But now I'm getting sidetracked.

And yes, we are starting to use some basic signs with the boy, in the hopes that he'll learn to recognize them and start using them in a couple months. We'll see how it goes, but I'm all for expanding our communication.

Also, my title was kind of misleading, so here's how the new version of the song really goes:
Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high
Like a vagina in the sky...

Try it, it's fun!


Happy Meat

(oh dear, I now have an image of Kermit tap-dancing around hanging sides of beef, joined by some cheerful sheep and the odd goat; chickens to perform their own foot-scratching sensation later, perhaps even juggling their eggs with a flourish...)

So anyway. I've been trying these past couple of years to eat in a way that makes me feel good about myself, not so much for my physical health but the health of my soul. Mostly this has meant avoiding meat from the industrial agricultural behemoth, and looking for local/sustainable/organic/humane flesh. What it comes down to is that I finally cannot ignore the images of cows standing in rivers of their own shit as they are injected with all kinds of drugs and fed a mix of grains and offal, or pigs with their tails cut off so they won't be chewed on by the other pigs, or chickens with Dolly Parton breasts, unable to support their own weight, or any of the other horrible things going on in the world of meat.

There are lots of compelling arguments for eating the good kind of meat: healthier, tastes better, works in harmony with the environment, and so on. All positive, but just kind of the silver lining for me. I am driven by the hope that the animal I'm eating lived a happy life. Guilt (as the Jews and the Catholics know) is a powerful motivator, and if I am going to eat meat at all, I need to find a way to feel good about it. Yes, I realize that in the end they die, no getting around that, but I'm actually ok with that part of things - assuming the slaughtering is also done as humanely as possible. (I do think you have to face that fact, and we actually learned how to slaughter and butcher a chicken a couple years ago, and may do a lamb or buffalo at some point.) Even the big guns (McDonald's et al) are a lot better about that than they used to be (thanks in large part to Temple Grandin), but that's still just the end of their life - which they wouldn't have at all if we weren't raising them to be eaten - and I want to know the rest of it was good, too. You know, visions of the happy farm animals we give to children in coloring books. Sunshine and flowers, cows with big brown eyes and long raspy tongues finding the delicious clover, pigs rooting in the forest for acorns, chickens picking fat juicy bugs out of the grass... Meanwhile, the system takes care of itself, working together as nature intended (more or less). Can't you just hear the hopeful and triumphant soundtrack? I mean, they don't have to play Mozart and massage the beasts, but a certain amount of carefree frolicking would be nice.

These days, with the omni/locavore movements picking up speed, it's becoming easier to do that and easier to explain to people (just mention Michael Pollan and the farmer's market). Where I live, it's even fairly easy to find happy meat at restaurants. Granted, when I travel, I have to decide how much of my principles I'm willing to put on hold (and how many images of suffering animals I'm willing to watch dance through my head - is the pepperoni pizza really worth it? Probably the pig wouldn't think so...) but I have hope that these ideas will spread and people will begin to make choices that will ultimately change the industry.

For our part, we've joined a meat CSA with a local ranch. We get 5 pounds of frozen meat a month - cow, pig, chicken, lamb, and/or goat - and emails with little updates of how the animals are doing (springtime brings babies!). It feels good and tastes good and is good for our local economy and the environment. Everybody wins. One of these days we'll get out there for a visit and meet the meat.


Operating Instructions

I am finally getting around to reading this book by Anne Lamott, which is a journal of her son's first year, and I am totally entranced. She captures the ecstasy and agony of motherhood so perfectly, even though her situation was fairly different from mine. I have to make myself put the book down so I can savor her entries, and I'm already thinking about reading it again. Maybe even right away. Which is fairly unheard of, for me. This may be a keeper; one I'll buy as soon as I've returned this copy to the library.

I've been journaling about the boy off and on, more off than on, which often makes me disappointed in myself. I know there's no "supposed to" with journals, but I can't help feeling that mine won't be what I want, years from now. And, oddly enough, I find that I self-censor what I write (which Lamott decidedly does not) - maybe because I do intend to read it again, or pass it on to the kid, and am already constructing the memories I want and sweeping others under that proverbial rug? Not willing to admit the really hard stuff, or at least glossing over the truth with a throwaway line, a joke about being tired, or papa earning points to do fun things? Contrast that to Lamott, who readily admits to calling her son a little shit and understanding child abuse (though not ever hurting him). Most of my entries end up in the second person, so it seems I am addressing the boy's future self, though I'm not sure that was initially my intent. Who knows if he would ever even want to read this stuff? It's so hard to imagine what he'll be like as he grows, though I talk to him about it all the time. We've agreed that he won't play football, though most other forms of activity are fair game. And he has to be gentle with the hearts he's sure to break. [aside: I can't quite call him "my son," sort of like I couldn't quite say "my husband" for a while. It's just too weird.] Maybe I need a second secret journal, with a heart-shaped lock and key, like my childhood diaries. Of course, those keys were always the same as the ones for cheap luggage locks, so really anyone could have opened them, but it felt more private. That didn't stop me from hiding it, nor did it stop my older brother from finding it and reading it. Oh, the laughter (his), the tears (mine), one more battle in the sibling wars. Actually, we got along quite well, but you just can't escape some things. [another aside: do you think all those gruff TSA folks spend their breaks reading little girls' diaries?]

I don't know if I would have appreciated this book before starting this whole kid adventure, but I highly recommend it. Certainly for anyone in the throes of babyhood now, but not only. It is brilliant, beautiful, funny, painful, and most of all, true.