Christoph Waltz explains his love, and mine, for Tarantino's dialogue

christophwaltz_big Christoph Waltz spoke to Terry Gross on Fresh Air on December 19, 2012, to talk about Tarantino's new movie, Django Unchained--which is the second of his films for Waltz. They talk about a lot of things, including Django, and how Tarantino finally found him, an actor who is fluent in English, French, and German, but also had the skills to deliver his signature dialogue. That delivery ability is what got him the part as the Jew Hunter in Inglourious Basterds, and it's what won him the Oscar for it, too, easily. If you haven't seen that movie, watch it for Waltz's performance alone. Seriously. And if you have seen it, go watch it again. And call me and I'll come watch with you.

In the meantime, read Waltz's answer to Terry's question, in which he perfectly explains Quentin Tarantino's insane ability to keep us totally enraptured by seemingly pointless moments in the lives of his characters. I could swim in his dialogue, and he clearly agrees.

TG: So when you had your audition for Inglorious Basterds, how well did you know Tarantino’s movies?

CW: I knew all of the movies.

TG: You’d already seen all--?

CW: I had seen all Tarantino movies as they came out, as they were released. Starting with Reservoir Dogs, and I even had seen Death Proof. So I knew them all.

TG: So you already had an ear for what he was doing [in terms of dialogue and delivery of Tarantino’s writing]?

CW: In a way, in a way. I had a fascination. You know, even in Death Proof, which is somewhat, you know, not as easily accessible, but somehow watching Death Proof, I understood something about the dialogue, because these girls were driving in a car and one had her legs out the window, and the other one was just bored and getting on with it somehow, and they were talking about nothing in particular, for a long time… and… I was mesmerized. And I always wondered, what is it that I’m so interested in? There’s nothing interesting. But why am I captured, why am I at the edge of my seat, even though nothing is happening other than two bored girls driving along?

Exactly! But we are. The first time I saw Pulp Fiction, it was only a portion of it, playing on cable television (which in retrospect seems a shockingly inadequate way to watch Pulp Fiction), and I kept watching out of pure intrigue, because I loved how the characters were talking. That was it. I wanted to listen to them talk to each other all day. It was the superfamous scene at Jackrabbit Slims, the retro restaurant Vince Vega takes his boss's (Mrs. Mia Wallace) wife to for dinner. I was in high school, maybe seventeen years old. I bought the dang DVD because I had to hear more, after I kept seeing only snippets when it aired on TV. Then over time, I devoured all his other movies. I even like Death Proof; yes, what is it about those girls that I'm so interested in, every time? But I cannot look away.

I would easily take Tarantino's dialogue over Shakespeare's any day. That is all.

Food for thought: working at McDonald's

Another gem from Girls. Hannah has basically been fired from her unpaid internship because the won't pay her and her parents have stopped supporting her. So she is discussing her situation with some friends.

Hannah: So I calculated, and I can last in New York for three and a half more days. Maybe seven if I don't eat lunch.

Jessa: I'm going to find you a job worthy of your talents.

Hannah: Well I appreciate that, but I don't know how you're going to find a job fast enough. I'm going to have to work at like, McDonald's.

Marnie: You're not gonna work at McDonald's.

Jay: What's wrong with McDonald's? You should work at McDonald's. It's great. Fucking incredible. You know how many people McDonald's feeds every day? You know how many people it employs around the world? Plus, they make an incredible product, okay? It tastes tremendous, it's affordable, it's fuckin' consistant. I can walk into a McDonald's in Nigeria, order chicken McNuggets, when I bite into them, you know what it's gonna taste like? It's gonna taste like home.

Hannah: Doesn't mean I have to work there. I went to college.

Jay: Yeah, I went to college too, you know where it left me? I have fifty thousand dollars in student loans, that's how deep in debt I am. I'm sorry, but watching this, this is like watching Clueless. 

 

 

"Well, when you get hungry enough, you're gonna figure it out"

The pilot episode of Girls speaks volumes about the lives of twenty-somethings who just haven't quite got everything in order just yet, and please give us some time, thank you very much. Case in point, the scene in the office of Hannah's (Lena Dunham's) unpaid internship at a publishing company, where she must ask for payment now that her parents have cut off their support of her, two years after she's finished college. Scene:

Boss: Hannah.

Hannah: Hello, Alister.

[Silence as he goes back to his work]

Hannah again: Hello.

Boss: You seem eager.

Hannah: As you know, I have been working here for over a year.

Boss: Has it been that long? Well, you are an invaluable part of our operation.

Hannah: Which, I recently learned, means very valuable, as opposed to not at all valuable. And I wanted to let you know that my circumstances have changed, and I can no longer afford to work for free.

Boss: Oh Hannah, I'm so sorry to lose you. I was just going to start you manning our Twitter--you have just the quippy voice for that.

Hannah: Oh, no no, I'm not quitting, I just um, I know that Joy Lin got hired after interning, so I thought that maybe--

Boss: Hannah, Joy Lin knows Photoshop. Now, in this economy, do you know how many internship requests I get everyday?

Hannah: I would assume, a lot.

Boss: Fifty. It's about fifty. I practically route them into my spam folder, so if you think you have just nothing left to learn from us--

Hannah: No, it is not that. Really. I just, you know, gotta eat.

Boss: Well... when you get hungry enough, you're gonna figure it out.

Hannah: Do you mean like physically hungry or like hungry for the job?

Boss: [with enthusiasm] I am really gonna miss your energy. I think this is going to be really good for you.

[He hugs her.]

Hannah: Uh, you mentioned that when I was finished with my book I could send it to you?

Boss: Uh, well, we wouldn't have you here to read it for us, would we?

The Life and Times of Things

I am absolutely fascinated by the relationship people have with things. I am fascinated by the meaning and value humans add to otherwise meaningless objects. I've written about it before: Why do we keep what we do, discard what we decide we do not want? How do we use things to celebrate and make meaning in holidays? And long after we are gone, what patterns do our consumptive and domestic habits leave behind about our lifestyles and value systems?

This is probably part of the reason I am drawn to working in museums with objects that have been selected to be kept, preserved, valued as historical in some way, and chosen to represent people, moments, and eras past, present, future.

That's also why I wish I had thought of this first.

The concept, the hypothesis, and the execution is brilliant. Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker were apparently pondering the regular, conventional assumption, that what gives an object value is somehow determined by laws of utility, supply and demand, or "qualities intrinsic to the object -- e.g., craftsmanship or design." No, there are more powerful, less explicable forces at work behind the irrational behavior of humans (I myself just finished reading Predictably Irrationaland its author Dan Ariely would agree here) and why and what we value. So they created the Significant Objects project, and drafted a hypothesis: "that regardless of of the thing's aesthetic or utilitarian properties, an object's value can be increased by way of the narrative attached to it."

They sough to find more evidence of this link between ordinary objects and extraordinary meaning.

Glenn and Walker thrift-store shopped for one hundred items, spending a total of $128.74 Then they asked one hundred authors (most pretty unknown names) to write a story about an object, so they would end up with one hundred objects and one hundred stories to match. Then, they listed them for sale on eBay, with the story in the item description (and a disclaimer that this was, in fact, a fictitious story).

When all the items were sold, the grand total of what people forked over for otherwise meaningless objects: $3,612.51. For tchotchkes.

They compiled their whole project and process in a beautiful little book that I purchased immediately after hearing Rob Walker talk about their project on Marketplace. They refer to this as a literary and economic experiment. After conducting three series of the experiments, three hundred items given invented meaning and then sold to interested parties online, they compiled the best 100 stories and their conclusions and thoughts into this book. It's part short story fiction, part economic enigma, part "in-your-face, logical economic thinking."

The experimenters, shall we call them, came up with these categories of significance, to try and determine if these kinds of factors play a part in determining what people might value, and how much they will value it (in an actual monetary amount). The short answer is, it's complicated. The shorter answer is, No; these distinctions don't matter overtly. Neither did the author who had penned the tale.

Neither, really, did the object type, which had been split into these categories: Novelty Item, House & Table, Figurine, Decoration, Kitchenware, Toy, Kitsch, Tool, Promotional Item.

It is befuddling, mysterious, and glorious to browse through the items in this series, examine the item, read the story that accompanies it, and marvel at much, or how little, it went for in the end, on the internet auction block. Sometimes a fantastical, or intriguing tale would only garner $20 from a buyer; other times, stories I thought were a bit throw-away (compared to some) brought in a cool $100 or more. Each item was, by their own rules, purchased for less than $4 originally.

What's also interesting is how now, precisely by being featured in a project like this, objects that had no meaning at all, tchotchkes and trash at best, again have a value and shelf-life, because you are unlikely to ever spot a second of these random, old, forgotten things elsewhere in the world. Pairs, brothers, additional copies produced long ago are now likely to have been long trashed, destroyed, abandoned, forgotten.

It speaks highly of the project creators, Walker and Glenn, that these pieces were so well-chosen and curated to begin with. They limited themselves, for example, from including "mid-century-through-1980s pop culture ephemera," and consciously did not include any furniture, clothing, books, or other things that were deemed to obviously "object-like."

What an entirely enigmatic project. I am so jealous to have not thought of this experiment first.

I spent a whole semester reading and discussing and researching topics in material culture, learning about British tea culture, eighteenth century American clothing culture, white and black spaces on the plantation homestead, hand embroidered crafts made by women living in refugee camps, Puerto Ricans' meaning in their homes and spaces on abandoned plots in New York City, and meaning in punk rock clothing and attitude, among other things. I spent a semester thinking about and researching, asking questions about meaning in quilts, for my own final project. We talked of tchotchkes and trinkets and souvenirs from trips far and near. I should have been thinking more deeply about the stories, the ones we create, the ones we forget, the ones that are passed down to us, the ones we make from our own life experiences.

Valueless objects take up lots of space in our lives, even when we consciously resist such a phenomenon. We can be upset that this occurs, and try our best to live simply. I agree. But I also think it is just a source of too much intrigue and love, sadness and grief, too much human drama for us to ignore those little trinkets that survive and speak to moments passed. That is what we do in museums all the time, after all, use objects to represent was once was, what stories have come before us, what things happened here. Who lived, and what they owned while they habited this earth.

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American Dream, sure, but also, Chinese Dream, French Dream: a changing reality

It is an oft-approached topic in college history classes: American exceptionalism. Especially when you get to the graduate level, you only discuss it more. Americans, throughout history, have touted themselves, their brand of government and social structure, their notions of upward mobility, and their presence in other nations as products of the fated "city on a hill," the America that was bound to be exceptional. And notice, we will discuss, how it is only us saying this.

With the very powerful notion (but largely myth) of American exceptionalism comes his brother, the American Dream. That idea that your lineage does not matter, you can be upwardly mobile no matter your humble beginnings, and you can dream of a better life for your children. Yesterday will be better than today. For the most part, this Dream is at least a decade deceased; it has been waning since the mythical, glorious, shiny post-war era of the 1950s. The pursuit of happiness that continued in earnest until we had filled out the entire North American continent, east to west, reaching the end of the American Frontier, is harder to seek in a world filled with limitations on that lusted-after open road and endless new beginnings. Starting over, a concept we still seek in earnest. People still show up in the United States every day hoping to do that same thing for their own lives and families. It is a testament to how strong that hope--that Dream concept--is that it still propels our lives hundreds of years after it began, and the thought of the hope (and then fear) new immigrants feel can sometimes bring me to tears. I sincerely hope we can deliver. I fear that often we don't, and cannot.

The lost and dying American Dream notion is so entrenched in the American psyche that most have a hard time believing its demise is even possible. But it takes no master of logic to understand that time is not a constant march uphill, humankind cannot possibly continue on an upward, constant positive, path of improvement. That's impossible. Also impossible is the hegemony of one nation to dominate the planet for any really long period of time. Nations fade. Not only is the demise of the American Dream possible, it is reality.

A recent article by Jon Meacham in Time magazine gets to this point, to the crucial difference we face as a nation today that was not present in previous times of recession and economic hardship: the rest of the planet. The article quotes author Jim Cullen, who wrote the 2003 book, The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea That Shaped a Nation:

In the 19th and 20th centuries, no one spoke of the French Dream of the Russian Dream, but in the 21st century, it probably is possible to speak of a Chinese Dream.

The article points out that, "strangely, it's now possible for the French to be more socially and economically mobile than Americans."

I don't intend to wax negative about the future of the United States, it just bothers me when so many of my fellow citizens have such unrealistic and idealistic notions about our nation as a whole, its success, its stability, and its future. Don't you knuckleheads know anything about the other empires of the past? Empires fade, and the people living in them readjust their expectations and lives around their new realities.

I still have great hope that we can contribute to the larger goals of a successful planet, in terms of innovation, technology, environmental sustainability, medicine, art, philosophy, education and other crucial areas. But our lifestyles and our concepts of what's normal and possible within our modern day will have to be taken down a few pegs. Certainly, there are billions of other ambitious people in other countries that now have opportunities they never dreamed possible, in their own nations. We have a lot of other people in the race with us, competing, inventing, influencing; our role in all of this has changed. Within that, our goals and ambitions and expectations have changed to--we just haven't adjusted well to them. But I hope we can.

 

Create in NYC, or: fabric that I love and other things

I got to visit Mood Fabrics on our visit to New York City, and it was overwhelming. (Really; I couldn't think of one project I'd even want to attempt with so many fabrics). Then we happened upon Purl Soho in the very last hours of our last day there, on the walk back to the hotel via a new route. In between, we also made it into a few great shops with quirky bits that I loved. Certainly this is a great city in which to seek and find creative inspiration.

Mannequins dressed in home dec fabrics adorn the windows of Mood Fabrics.

For all your mohair needs... they have every kind of material imaginable.

Stacks and stacks of leather, arranged by color and texture. Amazing.

I really love this fabric. I was struck with the immediate desire to buy a dozen yards ($25/yd) to bring home and slip cover my sofa. This is subtle enough but also bold enough to be an amazing living room statement. It's also very me.

The edge of the store... urban chic.

Swooning over midcentury lines and amazing textiles in a Henry Miller pop-up store in Soho. Can I have this?

I desperately want to make wool stuffed pigeons. So adorable! (At Henry Miller pop-up store)

I also adore these wooden people, each with his or her own quirks. But they were over $100 each; this picture was free.

I cannot remember the name of this clothing store, but every wall was lined in old sewing machines. I <3 industrial chic.

Wait, what the what?! It's Purl Soho! I must peek inside!

Yes...

Oh yes...

These quilts and hangings are some of the projects featured on the Purl Bee blog, in the flesh.

As are these delectable little fruit slices made of high-quality felt and hand-stitched. They are coasters.

Do you SEE how many Kona solids they have on that back wall? That's me in heaven. Heaven. I bought two shades of Kona for a [secret] project I am working on this fall. I also bought a ridiculous half-yard of oil cloth, purely because it was amazing and because oilcloth is so hard to find in anything other than picnic-table check.

So, so many things to file away in the inspiration file. Along with the whole entire city of New York.

I'll finish off Sunday night watching the season finale of Girls. Another NYC homage.

A collection [On National Geographic love, and deciding what to keep]

Since I began subscribing to National Geographic in 2004, as a  sophomore in high school, I have only paid for the issues that I get via my membership to the Society. But I acquired an enormous collection, every additional one having been gifted to me. That meant that a good friend would find a singular old copy in a thrift store and pick it up for seventy-five cents, or my Mom would buy me a few if were somewhere together where they were a decent price.

Twice it meant that a retired person was looking for a place to pass off their collection--decades of being a Society member and magazine recipient--once it had grown so massive.

I know exactly what they felt like.

Through these two sizable donations of magazines, I had a spotty collection of 1958 through about 1982 (with some years almost complete, others almost incomplete) as well as an impeccable, full-run of 1990 through 1999, packaged neatly in brown leather containers, two per year. My Mom and I trekked to Macon for that collection, answering an ad in the newspaper that anyone was welcome to the collection, no charge, if they came to get them. We drove. Add to that the years I have, uninterrupted, from 2004 to 2012.

Basically, this was a huge number, a massive group of famously dense and beautiful magazines. I had them stored for years in my parents' barn in Rubbermaid containers filled so high I could not even lift them. If I moved them, I had to solicite help from my brothers. No one tells you how unwieldy a collection can be, how cumbersome it can be to store, keep, and move giant colletions. I can see how old packrats would just never, ever move.

Well, my parents are mobile people, and we move a lot--my independent self included. In 2011, they sold their 4-bedroom home--finally empty-nesters--and downsized to a one-bedroom converted loft in an old brick building on Main Street in Dublin, Georgia, as part of their larger plan to move into the mission field in Europe.

This meant I was faced with the task that most adult children handle in the wake of their parents' deaths, weeding through everything they own to determine what you want to keep, what goes where, who gets what, and all those other, kind of difficult questions. Because we do have issues, as humans, with the stuff we have, the things we keep, the things we carry.

Do you keep the dolls you played with, so that in a decade or more your own daughter can play with them? That's a long time to keep dolls for an eventual purpose. Will your daughter even care to play with them? They take up a lot of space. (They are American Girl dolls, and yes, I kept them. They occupy a stuffed Rubbermaid in my coat closet now.)

What about sweaters hand-knitted by your grandmother? Dishes, quilts, paintings, the Christmas ornaments we made as kids, which are basically old faded construction paper and popsicle sticks, glue peeling off ... you can only say its sentimental so many times, before you are inundated with too much stuff. We had some difficult sessions. And my Mom kept those old Christmas ornaments, just some of the best ones that were still in mostly one piece, in a separate container with the Christmas stuff.

Anyway, I got rid of a huge amount of my National Geographic collection. There were just too many. I kept a few dozen of my favorites from the 1958 to 1982 collection, and then all of the 1990 - 1999 and 2004 to present collections. This is still, probably, far too many for me to have. But I'll see to that when I need to.

They went to a good home, a center that helps children in Dublin. They were certainly not fit for the trash, with so much knowledge, culture, history, science, perspective on the world, and beautiful, classic photography. I get nostalgic, but then I remember how many I can still see in my house right now. I guess that's why my tattoo is an homage to that yellow-bordered magazine, that opened up my high-school, teenage perspective to the world, deciding what my goals would be in life.

 

TV Show: on urban white girls in 2012

Last night I finally began watching a show I'd been reading about, and to be quite honest, sounded just like something made for me, whose characters I might love. Girls, on HBO, which premiered in April.

I love the characters. They are confused, they have both aim and absolutely no aim, they are figuring out men, career, life. I was crying laughing as we breezed through the first three episodes. Lena Dunham, creator, writer, and one of the stars of the show, is a 25-year-old, and she has captured perfectly many of the topics and issues of exactly this--my--generation. Out of college, mediocre economy and job market, living in the city... and from there, the story grows. The hilarious discourse on exactly life right now hit so many touchstones for me.

Hannah makes a ton of bad decisions, but man, how I love her already. She unabashedly tells her parents she thinks she is "the voice of her generation," and asks them to keep giving her money so that she can determinedly finish her memoir. "Or at least a voice of a generation," she adds. She also eats a cupcake in the bathtub (which I have been known to do), has the most spectacular tattoos, is perfectly not skinny, and has existential freak-outs about HIV/AIDS that are absolutely ridiculous and hilarious.

Today Lena Dunham talked about the show, and its discourse on twenty-somethings and all the mess of life, with Terry Gross on Fresh Air.

Terry Gross on why Girls has been striking a nerve with many:

I think women in particular are so hungry for a series or a movie, or movies, about young women who are kind of feminist--whether they describe themselves that way or not--and aren't just all about clothes and engagement rings, and who are trying to  really figure out who they are where they fit in in the world.

Full disclosure -- this is an HBO show. Be prepared for the sex scenes. A la Games of Thrones...

Expectant parents, back away from the baby-name books

I collect names. I love spotting a new one (my job working in naturalization records, etc. at the national archives means I get many opportunities to collect and find new muses), saying it, relishing the syllables and imaging what type of person is a Josefina or a Beryl or Basilia or Louise. But many of these names I will never have the chance to name a child, for the elemental reason that I won't have more than a few kids, and I have scores of names on my "short" list. The other major reason is that many of these names, though romantic and incredible in my mind and when I write them out in notebooks, are serious handles to put on infant babies that will have to wear them the rest of their lives. Some, like Francis/Frances, are harder to wear as they can sound dated. And some are just stupid (see here).

A recent article points out that as more and more names, variations, and spellings are used in our age, the name you give your cute little newborn does mean more, says more about you as a parent and your child's household, than it might have fifty years ago. According to Wattenburg, a name blogger and one of the article's sources:

According to Wattenberg, it took a list of six names to cover half of the population of children born in England in 1800 (U.S. Social Security Administration records don't begin until 1880). By 1950 in the United States, that number was up to 79. Today, it takes 546 names to cover half of the population of U.S. babies born.

What that means, Wattenberg said, is that names send more tailored messages now than in the days when there were significant numbers of little Johns and Marys running around.

This is an extraordinary increase in a short span of time. And we don't add this many names without handing at least a few kids some very heavy handles. As parents seek out that perfect name--unique, yet appealing--baby name books have swelled to include 14,000 of them (a number that includes many spelling variations). But baby names are the same as salad dressings and ice cream: more choices doesn't really help at all, and in fact is probably more detrimental.

And so, the buyer's remorse effects have also been increasing:

Some are frustrated because their unique baby name keeps getting mispronounced. Others learn of some distressing association with the name after they chose it and stamped it on Baby, she said. But most parents she hears from simply feel that another choice on their top 10 list would have fit their baby better.

Another effect? NAME HATRED. There are some names that absolutely make my skin crawl. I feel sorry for the generation who carry these monikers. There have been surveys of the most-hated names, and many include names with many spellings, like Caitlin (the traditional spelling) or Mackenzie.

The ones I loathe made the list, too. All the Jaydens, Braydens, Craydens, Aidens, and Kadens (what?!). Also still-hated are those kind of creepy ones like Heaven, Destiny, and Precious.

We weirdos who are fascinated by names spend time each year observing, reviewing, critiquing the names that wound up on the list of most popular baby names of the previous year. But I think it's healthy to look at lists on the other end--and to continue to make lists like this--of the most-hated, yet popular names, if to serve no other purpose than as forewarning for expecting parents. Beware the Jaydens!

No offense to anyone whose name is Jayden or Precious.

If you are the parent of someone named Jessyca, then please, take high offense by me. What on earth were you thinking, giving your poor daughter that name? If you don't want to give her a common name, go for Josefina or Basilia. But at least spell it right. (This is a real name, and a real pet peeve.)

On marriage, gender, income, babies, single ladies

In her recent book, comedian and writer Mindy Kaling makes a comment about those articles that come out every year or so that declare the end of marriage and convention, and cause the women reading them to vow to buck the conventional marriage set-up, and seek moving instead into one of those single convents, to perhaps cultivate relationships with fellow cat ladies, or continue rocking the career and the single life where she is. She brings this up as one of the "non-traumatic things that have made me cry." An article I just read, from November 2011's Atlantic magazine, is just one of those articles. I laughed at myself, thinking of Mindy, as I enjoyed every page, nodded my head at each argument, and added a mere two books on the institution of marriage to my Amazon wishlist (out of the many works referenced in her article). "All the Single Ladies," by Katie Bolick, is a highly fascinating romp through our perceptions of marriages, monogamy, childbearing, and the usual suspects, and how in flux the institution of marriages has been throughout history and continues to be. But, don't roll your eyes and walk away yet, she explores things far more interesting than that old rant. And Bolick is interesting even when she is saying things like that.

Her main argument is that while women have been improving their livelihoods and social statuses and are ready and seeking men of equal caliber, the men counterparts are simply not there in as many numbers. Any way I try to say this, it sounds like I'm elitist and theoretical and that I've been in grad school (and on a college campus) far too long. How to solve this? How about a nice historical reference. No? (I just think this is truly a fascinating piece of history, on life in the U.S. after the Civil War, but more interestingly, the life of single moms in post-revolutionary Russia):

EVERY SO OFTEN, society experiences a “crisis in gender” (as some academics have called it) that radically transforms the social landscape.

Take the years after the Civil War, when America reeled from the loss of close to 620,000 men, the majority of them from the South. An article published last year in The Journal of Southern History reported that in 1860, there were 104 marriageable white men for every 100 white women; in 1870, that number dropped to 87.5. A generation of Southern women found themselves facing a “marriage squeeze.” They could no longer assume that they would become wives and mothers—a terrifying prospect in an era when women relied on marriage for social acceptability and financial resources.

Instead, they were forced to ask themselves: Will I marry a man who has poor prospects (“marrying down,” in sociological parlance)? Will I marry a man much older, or much younger? Will I remain alone, a spinster? Diaries and letters from the period reveal a populace fraught with insecurity. As casualties mounted, expectations dropped, and women resigned themselves to lives without husbands, or simply lowered their standards. (In 1862, a Confederate nurse named Ada Bacot described in her diary the lamentable fashion “of a woman marring a man younger than herself.”) Their fears were not unfounded—the mean age at first marriage did rise—but in time, approximately 92 percent of these Southern-born white women found someone to partner with. The anxious climate, however, as well as the extremely high levels of widowhood—nearly one-third of Southern white women over the age of 40 were widows in 1880—persisted.

Or take 1940s Russia, which lost some 20 million men and 7 million women to World War II. In order to replenish the population, the state instituted an aggressive pro-natalist policy to support single mothers. Mie Nakachi, a historian at Hokkaido University, in Japan, has outlined its components: mothers were given generous subsidies and often put up in special sanatoria during pregnancy and childbirth; the state day-care system expanded to cover most children from infancy; and penalties were brandished for anyone who perpetuated the stigma against conceiving out of wedlock. In 1944, a new Family Law was passed, which essentially freed men from responsibility for illegitimate children; in effect, the state took on the role of “husband.” As a result of this policy—and of the general dearth of males—men moved at will from house to house, where they were expected to do nothing and were treated like kings; a generation of children were raised without reliable fathers, and women became the “responsible” gender. This family pattern was felt for decades after the war.

If you're still here, go read the article. She talks about the gender imbalance in the African American community, with so many single moms, and the same gender imbalance on college campuses, which has created "hook-up culture"--which is an enigma and myth all its own. Very interesting stuff. She touches on biology and babies, having them and not having them.

She also talks about "matrimania"--a myth which proclaims, "that the only route to happiness is finding and keeping one all-purpose, all-important partner who can meet our every emotional and social need. Those who don't have this are pitied. Those who don't want it are seen as threatening." As much as we buck this convention, claim it's not holding us to this, we are held to it, on some level, and I think it must get harder to live with these expectations the older you get without marrying. Sorry if I still haven't rid myself of the college-sociology-class aura, but I find this all truly fascinating. Ask any history major about race, class, and gender within any topics, and you will have a hard time getting us to shut up. By the time she was talking about what defines womanhood--to many, having or not having children, I was already hooked.

If you found everything I have said to be obnoxious, well then don't read her article either. I'm not crying, as perhaps Kaling might be. But I'm also more determined than ever to be published in time to have a really good reason to keep my maiden name, and not be dismissed as one of those people who read and love articles like this. ;)

1988: "History will record..."

The day I visited the AIDS Memorial Quilt, I went on Amazon and bought a used copy of Cleve Jones's memoir, Stitching a Revolution. Jones created the Quilt, with a small team, after having a vision of it during a memorial event for Harvey Milk in 1985--years after Milk's death but when the new virus was devastating gay communities--and hitting particularly hard in Jones's long-time home, the Castro district in San Francisco. He is a wonderful writer, and has survived when so many of his friends have not, and he seems to feel that burden, and it comes through in his continued activism, public speaking, and writing over the years. In 1988, the NAMES Project staff and an enormous group of volunteers brought the Quilt to the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. for the second time (a year after its first memorial display), and he gave a speak that can be found on YouTube--filled with emotion and setting much of responsibility for where we stood in 1988 on inaction from the government of the United States, the one country in the world with the most resources to act. The story behind the Quilt, its legacy, meaning, and growth--not to mention the hundreds of thousands of stories contained within its squares--are incredible. I thoroughly enjoyed reading of its provenance and meaning through Cleve's eyes.

But I will not share all of this here. I will share an excerpt from that 1988 speech.

We stand here tonight in the shadow of monuments, great structures of stone and metal created by the American people to honor our nation's dead to proclaim the principles of our democracy. Here we remember the soldiers of wars won and lost. Here we trace with our fingers the promises of justice and liberty etched deep by our ancestors in marble and bronze.

Today we have borne in our arms and on our shoulders a new monument to our nation's capital. It is not made of stone or metal and was not raised by engineers. Our monument was sewn of soft fabric and thread and was created in homes across America wherever friends and families gathered together to remember their loved ones lost to AIDS.

We bring a quilt. We bring it here today with shocked sorrow at its vastness and the speed by with its acreage redoubles. We bring it to this place, at this time, accompanied by our deepest hope: that the leaders of our nation will see the evidence of our labor and our love and that they will be moved.

We bring a quilt. We've carried this quilt to every part of our country, and we have seen that the American people know how to defeat AIDS. We have seen that the answers exist and that tens of thousands of Americans have already stepped forward to accept their share and more of this painful struggle. We have seen the compassion and skill with which the American people fight AIDS and care for people with AIDS. We have witnessed the loving dedication of volunteers, families, and friends and the extraordinary bravery of people with AIDS, themselves working beyond exhaustion. And everywhere in this land of ours we have seen death.

In the past fifteen months over twenty thousand Americans have been killed by AIDS. Fifteen months from now our new president will deliver his first state of the union address. And on that day, America will have lost more sons and daughters to AIDS than we lost fighting in Southeast Asia--those whose names we can read today from a polished black stone wall.

We bring a quilt. It grows day by day and night by night and yet its expanse does not begin to cover our grief, nor does its weight outweigh the heaviness within our hearts.

For we carry with us tonight a burdensome truth that must be simply spoken: History will record that in the last quarter of the twentieth century a new and deadly virus emerged and that the one nation on earth with the resources, knowledge, and institutions to respond to the new epidemic failed to do so. History will further record that our nation's failure was the result of ignorance, prejudice, greed, and fear. Not in the heartlands of America, but in the Oval Office and the halls of Congress.

The American people are ready and able to defeat AIDS. We know how it can be done and the people who will do it. It will take a lot of money, hard work, and national leadership. It will require us to understand there is no conflict between the scientific response and the compassionate response. No conflict between love and logic. Some will question us, asking how could that be. We will answer, How could it not?

We bring a quilt. We hope it will help people remember. We hope it will teach our leaders to act.

There are many, many things more I could share. There is so much meaning, lore, love, and anger contained in the Quilt. Over time, I will share more.

I have also learned so much more about Parnell Peterson and Craig Koller, the two men whose squares I visited, since writing about what I wish I knew and then about visiting their panels. In some way, over time, I would like to share that here, too. I must figure out how best I want to express it, share stories. For now, they are mine, held close, and written in the notebook I've dedicated to the stories I collect of their lives.

My Pop Art Series

This is part of the Living Atlanta street art series that was done by local artists in 2011, but I have only recently discovered this piece, very close to my office at 34 Peachtree Street. I absolutely love it. So I played with it in Lightroom to my heart's content, and this is the result. I can't have enough versions of this picture, it seems.