Saturday, November 29, 2008

Spring Break in November

Dr. Fiancé and I are, as I write this, on our way to Cancun. Cancun, Mexico, wet t-shirt contest capital of the world.

To explain, Dr. Fiancé had a free companion ticket, this is the airline’s one “international” destination, the fiancé gets twitchy if he hasn’t left the country in a while—especially during the Bush administration, it’s November, we live in Seattle, and he’s a doctor. This is the kind of thing doctors do, apparently, especially when they have fiancées who aren’t inclined towards “rugged adventure”—fiancées who don’t own hiking boots, (don’t want to own hiking boots because that would mean they’d have to hike), don’t own a proper backpack, (see previous), and don’t believe that a vacation should have to involve any sort of training or conditioning other than maybe learning the Spanish for, “Can you point me to a soft place to lay down and rest for a bit?”

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Technosexual Thanksgiving

Dr. Fiancé and I flew down to LA today for Thanksgiving weekend. Again, it’s weird (and by “weird” I mostly mean “guilt-inducing”) to travel anywhere other than Iowa to visit my mom, but we made these (nonrefundable) plans long ago, and my mom seems to be doing quite well, thank you very much—no side effects from the radiation, and she has my brother around to shovel the driveway and drive her to doctor’s appointments from now until New Years. (You hear that, guilt? She’s fine! And she'll continue to be fine for the next 10 days while Dr. Fiancé and I take a much-needed, much-anticipated, much-long-ago-planned trip to Mexico!)

Ah, Thanksgiving. A time to enjoy the bounty of the season, to gather with loved ones, to reflect on Thanksgivings past, like last year's, which I spent in the bathroom of my grandparents’ assisted-living apartment unit sipping vodka from a flask my cousin—who had been there before—thoughtfully brought along while my parents and uncle and cousins played Bingo with my 83-year-old grandmother who kept asking my mom who I was and my buttoned-down white-bread some might say uptight 83-year-old retired junior high math teacher grandfather announcing that he would really like to watch When Harry Met Sally because he loves that scene in the restaurant where the blond woman sits at a booth eating her salad and pretends to have an orgasm.

And, oh yes, the year I'd just been dumped by a man I'd contemplated marrying and boldly accepted a “nontraditional Thanksgiving” invitation from some people I barely knew—friends of my second cousin who I met at his wedding the previous year. “No families, no stress, no formality,” they advertised. What they did not advertise was that they’d be sitting around in t-shirts that said “Technosexual: A New Kind of Sexy” watching robots providing running commentary on sci-fi movies (thank you, Mystery Science Theater 3000). They also didn’t advertise that they wouldn’t gracefully accept “no” as an answer to, “Would you like to pose... for some pictures... in the studio?” “I was nervous at first,” one of the women confided, trying to pull me toward the darkened doorway, “but once I got naked it was really fun—and totally empowering” [shove, shove]. If I'm going to pose for porn photos, I'm sure as hell not going to do it for a photographer who fantasizes about having sex with robots. I mean, a girl's got to have rules.

And the Thanksgiving with the Lutheran social service volunteers! The mismatched plastic dishware! The cards at each place setting providing a brief, bloody history of American imperialism! The tape recording of Native American music punctuated by people saying things like, “I’m thankful for smallpox blankets.”!

Tomorrow's Thanksgiving will be my first as a child-of-divorce by-proxy. Originally Dr. Fiancé and his family had planned to continue their tradition of the past twenty years of having two Thanksgivings—two turkeys, two stuffings, two pumpkin pies, two days of self-medicating with Jack Daniels, like so many modern families—but a few weeks ago my Future Brother-in-Law proposed inviting everybody to one central celebration instead. And, much to Dr. Fiancé’s anxiousness, everyone agreed. Fingers crossed, we’re heading to the farmer’s market for fresh produce—the one (and until I met Dr. Fiancé the only) thing I’ve always liked about LA.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Band Names

I came across the word “soup” on a scrap of paper earlier today, written next to the name “Debra Mayhew.” I haven’t been feeling culinarily inspired lately—and by “lately” I mean for the past two or three years—but when I saw Ms. Mayhew’s soup cookbook at a friend’s house a few weeks ago I felt myself almost wanting to make some of the recipes in the “autumn” section—those rich, creamy mushroom soups and thick, orange squash purees... I looked the book up on the library’s on-line catalog this afternoon, and it said that it could not find any results for “Debra Mayhew”—was I perhaps trying to search for “zebra mayhem”? So I searched for “zebra mayhem.” I was pretty disappointed when I got zero results for that, too.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

New Glory

I've lived in liberal places my entire life. The town I grew up in was nicknamed “The People’s Republic of Johnson County” and provided a happy home—complete with a seat on the city council—to a prominent member of the Socialist party throughout my childhood. I got my undergraduate education at Swarthmore “Where Women Will Shave Their Heads But Not Their Legs” College, where campus Republicans numbered twelve. Then I spent two years in Madison, Wisconsin, happy home of The Progressive and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. And I'm sure you've heard about Seattle's organic-produce-eating, WTO-protesting, gay-rights-marching, church-shunning, tofu-friendly, compulsively recycling populace.

When I returned to Iowa City for graduate school in my mid-twenties, I told the guy I was dating I was thinking about moving to Seattle after I got my degree. “You can’t just flit from one liberal hotbed to the next,” said the man who had left the liberal—and beautiful—Oregon coastal college town of his youth for Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home of General Mill's and Quaker Oat's stinky cereal mills and Cargill's even stinkier corn wet-milling plant. (Cedar Rapids gave itself the nickname “the City of Five Seasons”—the traditional four plus a fifth season: Time to enjoy the other four. But growing up downwind, we said the fifth season was the smell.) “This is real life,” my Gender-Studies professor boyfriend argued, right before hopping in the car to drive 25 miles to Iowa City for organic carrots and soy milk and a copy of the latest issue of Granta from Prairie Lights bookstore where Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, and e e cummings used to try out their newest work on Iowans.

Was he right? Is there something wrong with hopping from one liberal town to the next? Am I elitist? rigid? self-limiting? Is that a problem? Will I lose touch with The People? Have I ever been in touch with them? When George W. Bush’s approval rating soared to 90% in the days shortly after September 11th—the highest approval rating ever recorded for any president—I looked around at my Bush-hating creative writing graduate student colleagues and wondered—frequently out loud—about that 90%. “Who are those people?” Every person I knew was in the other camp, the 10% camp—well, everyone but one uncle in Texas who is not a blood relation.

Yesterday (and in the early voting days leading up to yesterday), 52% of the nation voted for an urban, Harvard-educated, blue-state African-American liberal. Hallelujah, praise Jesus, and hot damn! In the People's Republic of Johnson County and the county surrounding Seattle, 70% of people voted for him. Everyone I know voted for Obama—including the not-related-by-blood Texas uncle who twice voted for Bush and the now-infamous white southern couple who, when asked by a reporter, said they were voting for "the nigger."

So I'm wondering, on this post-election day, this glorious antidote to the one four years ago when we donned our mourning clothes (or at least the dramatic among us did) and stumbled about in an incredulous and horrified haze, is it maybe possible that perhaps, ever so slowly, "Real" America is becoming a teensy, tinesy bit more like the liberal make-believe lands where I myself have always felt so at home? Might every American one day drink organic, antibiotic- and rBGH-free milk and recycle even their smallest paper scraps?

Today, as I troop though three airports on my way from the liberal hotbed of my youth to the liberal hotbed of my adulthood, a small American flag sticks out of my handbag, a token of my glee, my hopefulness, my pride.

Yes. Today, I am proud to be an American.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Yes we can! Yes we did! Yes, yes, yes!

Into the Fold

My Future Mother-in-Law got a taste of Iowa politics yesterday morning when the three of us joined fifty or so other Democrats in a rally for Barack Obama at a local pizza parlor. We had front-row bar-stool seats and got to shake hands with the region’s congressman, the lieutenant governor, the governor, and longstanding senator Tom Harkin, plus all their spouses.

The whole affair made me nostalgic for my politically active days—back in the early nineties before I was old enough to vote. It's definitely not heaven, but there is something about this place... or maybe it's just that I grew up here—and that’s why I care about ethanol and hog lots and river contamination from farm run-off to a degree I can’t seem to reach in Seattle? I care about logging and shipyards and Boeing—just not enough to want to get involved. When I’m in Iowa, I can see myself running for office. In Seattle, I can see myself... voting on a fairly regular basis. Should I move back? Raise my kids here? Show them how to live passionately connected, involved lives? Teach them the value of hard work via mowing and raking and shoveling and then mowing again? Would Dr. Fiancé and I go insane in a town of 60,000 people that never gets any good movies and where the best coffee is (I'm sorry, but you try living in Seattle for six years and see if you don't become a coffee snob) Starbucks? Or would we live in—god help us—Des Moines, a town of 194,000 that never gets any good movies and where the best coffee is (again, apologies) Starbucks?

My Future Mother-in-Law called from her hotel this morning to ask if we’d seen the college paper? She’d gone to the market for a copy of the New York Times and got distracted by the Daily Iowan. There on the front page, sitting on bar stools and smiling up at Iowa's favorite senator were Dr. Fiancé, his mom, and me, tightly clutching paper cups of not-strong-enough coffee, but other than that, blending quite nicely with the locals. In town for 36 hours and already on the front page of the local paper. God, I love Iowa—especially when I'm just visiting.