Day 181: on gambolling

Scene: Friday evening, after dinner.

Younger: Mom, can I go play with the basketball outside with Olivia?

Me: Yes. [pause] BUT … if the ball goes into the street, what are you going to do?

Younger: [rolling eyes] I’m going to come in and ask you to help get it.

Me: That’s right, you’re going to come in and get one of us, and we will help you get it.

La Bonavita: Because otherwise you might be smushed by a car.

Elder: Or trampled by elephants.

Younger: Or crushed by pirate ships falling out of the sky.

[pause]

Elder: Uh, that’s not a thing.

Younger: [stubbornly, suddenly on verge of tears] it is a thing.

falling ship

From Baron Munchausen’s Narrative of His Marvellous Travels (1786)

As Baron Munchausen well knew, ships that rise and fall through the skies are actually a thing, and, generally speaking, you are far better off getting on top of them. Loiter underneath them, and you’ll be crushed. Hop aboard one, and you could well get stuck up a tree. And that’s just terribly awkward.

stuck in a tree

From Baron Munchausen’s Narrative of His Marvellous Travels (1786)

Crystal B. Lake and I concur with the Baron. You need to get out from under and otherwise extricate yourself from any looming ships. If you would like to read our recommendations for how to wriggle out from under the weight of the soul-crushing pirate ship of modernity, I suggest you read this, stat.

Or, you know, you can take your chances and possibly be crushed by pirate ships falling out of the sky.

It’s your call, of course, but, inveterate Humeian that I am (and bon anniversaire, by the way, le bon David!), I’d say don’t gamble on it.

Instead: gambol on over here, and find out why we’d rather be rambling.

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Day 180: the new nubbin

“Mom, do we have any baguette?”

I squint at the plastic wrapper that once contained a baguette, and which now lies limply on the kitchen counter like a snake’s shed skin.

I wrinkle my nose as I pick the bag up gingerly and peer inside.

“There’re just these two little nubbins, and they are rock hard.”

With just two heels of bread swaddled in its flimsy coils, it is hard to tell which is the wrapper’s open end. As I attempt to wrest the stale ends from their casing, they fall out the open end onto the floor.

“Also, they’ve been on the floor,” I add.

“So,” I continue, to sum up, “they are not only stale little nubbins, they are also stale little nubbins that have been on the floor.”

“I’ll take them,” the younger says.

I shrug and hand them over.

“Floor nubbin!” trills the elder, in his best ad jingle voice. “The new nubbin.”

“Now with extra floor!” I add.

 

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Day 179: smash the penguinarchy

“A. Room. Of. One’s? Own,”* the younger read haltingly.

“A room of one’s own,” she repeated.

“Yes, that’s right!” I said.

“But what does that mean?” she asked. “‘One’s own.’ Is that like at Dad’s house?”

It took me a second to reply because I instinctively bristled at the idea that “a room of one’s own” existed “at Dad’s house” but not at my house (I’m a Girtonion, for goodness’ sake! Woolf gave the lectures on which that essay is based at Girton!); but then I got it: of course, at their Dad’s house the children each have their own room; at my house they share one.

“Well …. yes,” I acknowledged, sheepishly. “Yes, like at Dad’s house. It means having your own room.”

“But why does it say that?”

“Well, it’s the title of a book. All these mugs, the words they have on them are book titles … and the mug is designed to look like the book cover. They are all books published by a company called “Penguin Books” and that’s why there’s this little penguin at the bottom.”

“I think we have some books at school with that penguin.”

“Yes, you probably do … and I have loads of Penguin books.”

“Why is it called ‘Penguin Books’?”

“Well … I don’t know, actually. I suppose whoever started the company liked penguins? Or …. maybe—but this seems unlikely—maybe the company was started by someone whose name was penguin? Mr or Mrs Penguin?”

“Or maybe …..” the younger said, in a mysterious tone.

“Maybe what?”

“Maybe it was started by a penguin.”

“You know, I honestly never considered that possibility until this very moment,” I say quite truthfully.

“Penguins are very intelligent,” she says authoritatively.

We have been watching a lot of Planet Earth recently.

“Are they?” I say.

“Yes,” she says. “But not as intelligent as dolphins.”

“Huh,” I say. “So it would be more likely to have been started by a dolphin.”

“A dolphin pretending to be a penguin?” she suggests, scrunching up her face the way she does when she’s really puzzling something out.

“Well, it’s a possibility,” I say, feeling that we are on the brink of unraveling a massive, decades-long, inter-species publishing conspiracy.

penguin

* Helen, I wrote this post several months ago and totally forgot about it; your mentioning A Room of One’s Own the other night reminded me of it, so I went rooting around in my giant Tupperware drawer of unposted blogs, and eventually found it at the bottom of the drawer … xoxo

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Day 178: contraddiction

Scene: we start off on our walk to school, and, as we do, the sun breaks through the clouds illuminating the sidewalks, which are slick and puddle-filled after an early morning rain shower.

Me: Ooh, it smells good after it rains.

A: It doesn’t smell good. It smells like dirt.

Me: I like the smell of wet dirt.

A: I don’t.

[A minute of silence follows]

Me: Look, the sun’s come out! I think that’s the last of the rain today!

A: [rolling her eyes] You don’t know that.

Me: [exasperated] I know I don’t know that. I’m just saying that’s what I think. [pause] I think your favorite thing is to contradict me.

A: What does “contradict” mean?

Me: It means say the opposite of what I say.

A: It means say the same.

Me: [like the sap I am]: no, it means say the opposite.

A: It means say the same.

Me: you’re contradicting me right now.

A: [triumphantly] I am NOT contradicting you right now.

contraddiction

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Day 177: on being enpeached

“What does ‘impeached’ mean, literally?” wonders La Bonavita aloud. “It sounds like what happened to James in the book,” he adds.

I think about this.

“No,” I say slowly, “no, James wasn’t impeached. He was enpeached. Because the –im prefix is a negation, like impolite, but the en prefix, is, like, being in something, like enfolded, or engulfed. Right?”

La Bonavita looks unconvinced.

I continue, “So, being enpeached is much, much better than being impeached.”

“In fact,” I say, warming to my theme, “you could even say they’re opposites. Because being impeached is being, like, slapped in the face, whereas being enpeached is … well, I mean obviously I don’t actually know,” I admit, sheepishly, “but from the book it sounds, you know, pretty amazing.”

enpeached

Illustration by Nancy Ekholm Burkert from the first edition of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach (1961)

 

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Day 176: believe in the wonder

I thought I had a psychotic break this morning.

Often, when it’s not one of my days with the kids, I will bolt out the door at the time when He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved usually walks the younger to school, so I can give her a hug on the way.

This morning I was a little late, and they had already passed by my front door, so I called her name and then ran, in my socked feet, along the sidewalk and through the dewy grass, my arms folded tight across my chest because I didn’t have a bra on under my T-shirt.

I felt slightly conspicuous, dodging the other families in my strange cross-armed run, like a particularly standoffish jogger.

The two of them stood, a little awkwardly, waiting for me to catch up. When I finally caught up to them, breathless and wet-footed, and knelt to hug her, I found that the face I nuzzled against was encased with a silky fringe: a beard.

“Awesome!” I exclaimed.

“Err, thanks,” she mumbled, sheepishly.

As I walked back home, arms still crossed, I looked to see if I saw any bearded or otherwise unusually adorned children en route to school—but no.

So I texted He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved when I got home.

“What’s the story with the fake beard?!”

His answer genuinely shocked me.

“What fake beard??”

I started and texted back, “She was wearing a beard! Am I going insane?”

I replayed the scene in my mind. I was running in my socks through the wet grass. I was wearing the black leggings and grey T-shirt I slept in last night—the T-shirt Brandy gave me that says “BELIEVE IN THE WONDER” on it. My arms were crossed over my chest, though, as if striking out those lines. The sun was shining. People were staring as I ran. I bent down to embrace my bearded child.

It did have the quality of dream.

Was it not a beard?

Had I not run through the wet grass?

But my wet socks were lying on the floor where I had discarded them!

I texted him again.

“What was that furry thing around her face?”

text 1

Was it some kind leonine halo? Some kind of ruff or fur collar? The prospect of my daughter wearing a fur collar, honestly, seemed much more implausible than the idea that she would be wearing a fake beard.

But I couldn’t rule out the leonine halo. For it seemed that I had indeed hallucinated that soft fringe. Was it possible that hair falls into that category of objects that Elaine Scarry, in Dreaming By the Book, says lends itself to the imagination—a category that includes objects like shadows and gauzy curtains?

Today, it was a bearded child; tomorrow might it be a shadow cat? Or perhaps an imaginary mosquito net canopying my bed?

So this is what madness feels like, I thought: the same as reality, but more interesting.

I remembered a quote from Winnicott. “We are poor indeed if we are only sane.” If my insanity consisted only in bestowing soft fringes upon the hairless—a beard here, a mustache there; perhaps a luxuriant tassel once in a while—perhaps it needn’t be the end of the world: I’d just be another, slightly downy, shade in the neurodiverse rainbow.

Then He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved texted back.

text 2

Later he told me that her first words upon waking up this morning were, “it’s beard day!”

Later still, when I picked her up from school, I heard the full story from the (still) bearded lady’s mouth.

And later still she asked, “Mom? I need to get something from Dad’s house before school tomorrow.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“My mustache,” she said.

Before bed, she wondered sleepily if we might make a pair of wings like Maleficent’s out of wire, paper, and feathers.

Bearded one day, mustachioed the next, bewinged tomorrow? Why not?

Believe in the wonder.

believe in the wonder

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Day 175: lost and found

It was in the wake of being felled, once more, by the bottomless pit that is—or rather, was—my drawer of mismatched Tupperware, that I first suspected that Crystal Lake and I might be a good team.

Until two weeks ago, my habitual dealings with this drawer were as follows.

  1. Rummage uselessly through the wreckage of mismatched containers and lids with increasing despair and crescendoing cursing.
  2. Smush contents of drawer down sufficiently to slam drawer shut—in manner of zipping up overstuffed suitcase, or gates of hell, or extremely tight jeans; retreat to sofa, and think malevolent thoughts about said drawer and its contents.
  3. Channel my despair into writing a sad little quip about my Tupperware drawer. To wit, “Dropped a tiny tablet of Adderall into the drawer of mismatched Tupperware this morning. Knew instantly it was lost forever, like a mortal soul in Hades.”
  4. Repeat.

Enter Crystal Lake, who broke the cycle with the following text:

a lof of thoughts

Reader, she had not only thoughts, but also a list of actionable items replete with links. All I had to do was click.

Sistema

glass containers

 

 

 

 

 

 

two centslike I said

Later, after my new containers had arrived from Amazon and La Bonavita had, in a truly saintly act, discarded all the old Tupperware and replaced them with my new food storage “schema,” I reflected on what had transpired.

My four-step plan yielded a measly line of run-of-the-mill snark and maintained a cycle of chronic food storage dysfunction; Crystal’s four-step plan implemented a complete Tupperware drawer makeover.

With my talent for losing things and procrastination and her talent for … everything else, oh, the things we could do, I thought.

All of which brings me to our joint venture: The Rambling (at the-rambling.com and on Twitter @RamblingC18). The Rambling aspires to do two things: 1) to serve as a hub for collegial, collaborative reading, writing, and thinking about the long, deep, wide eighteenth century, and 2) to publish new, experimental work in the field: work that is more personal, or polemical, or peripatetic than the kind you might publish in a traditional, peer-reviewed format.

We would like as wide a range of people as possible to read and write for The Rambling, so would you please share this information with your friends and followers? The Rambling is a hub, but we want it to be a roomy hub, a capacious hub, a commodious hub, as they might say in the eighteenth century, which is to say, conveniently and comfortably spacious.

But back to Tupperware.

The description of “goods and services” that appears alongside the 1959 trademark details for Tupperware is itself surprisingly capacious, conjuring a vision not only of beleaguered leftovers but also of domestic glamor:

MOLDED PLASTIC TUMBLERS, CANISTERS, [ PITCHERS, ] DISPENSERS; EMPTY CONDIMENT HOLDERS-NAMELY, SALT, PEPPER [ AND KETCHUP ] SHAKERS; [ EMPTY COMPACTS, ] CREAM AND SUGAR CONTAINERS [ AND DISPENSERS; ] [ EMPTY SOAP, HAIR MASSAGE AND TOOTH BRUSH BOXES; MASSAGE DISPENSERS, PLACE CARD HOLDERS, ] BOWLS, CUPS [ AND SAUCERS, ] STORAGE CONTAINERS, [ VACUUM JARS AND MIXERS, COCKTAIL AND BEVERAGE SHAKERS, RECIPE BOXES, ] BREAD BOXES AND TRAYS, [ CAKE BOXES AND TRAYS, BUTTER BOXES AND TRAYS, REFRIGERATOR BOXES,] PIE HOLDERS TO CONTAIN BAKED PIES, LUNCH BOXES, STATIONARY [ AND REVOLVING TRAYS, CAPSULES ]

Tupperware, in this vision, contain but also dispense (mostly condiments but also, uh, massages); they hold but they also shake; they can be stationary, but also revolving; they are molded but also molders; that is to say, they gather discrete elements in new combinations, whether gin and vermouth, humans, or their proxies (place cards) around a dining table. [1]

Could we say that the vision this trademark description offers is one in which Tupperware hold human parties? It’s a little too cute, I know, but I’m inspired less by Bruno Latour here than by my daughter’s Shopkins. If you don’t know Shopkins (and I envy, you slightly, if you don’t, for they populate my home like Gremlins), they are an anthropomorphized range of tiny household items, including bread bins, cookie jars, and soap dishes.

Shopkins happy home

All Shopkins come into the world with Betty Boop eyes and a relentlessly, aggressively cute attitude; they are therefore slightly terrifying, like the denizens of a twenty-first-century Cave of Spleen: “A Pipkin there like Homer’s Tripod walks; / Here sighs a jar, and there a Goose-pye talks” (Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock, Canto IV, l.51-2).

My own experience bears out this vision of the secret social life of Tupperware, although it’s not nearly so glamorous nor sinister. Even with my all-new food storage schema, my Tupperwares not only hold but also ramble—from drawer to backpack to He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved’s house—before eventually finding their way back home.

I hope The Rambling will likewise be able to both hold and to ramble, and to accommodate all preservers of history’s leftovers, wherever you may choose to wander.

 

Notes

[1] Here see Zoë Sofia’s critique of historian of technology Lewis Mumford’s distinction between “dynamic” technologies and “static” utensils. “Container Technologies.” Hypatia vol. 15, no. 2 (Spring 2000). 181-201. 190.

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Day 174: good-enough mothering

The children are perched up in the top bunk hitting each other rhythmically on the head with empty plastic mineral water bottles. As you do.

“Goo-goo, ga-ga, goo-goo, ga-ga,” they chant euphorically in time to the beat, as if this is a ritual gathering of Perrier guzzling cave-man-babies.

I am in the next room lying on my bed reading Playing and Reality by Donald Winnicott.

“Mom! Come hear our song!” they summon me.

“In a minute.”

I try, not particularly successfully, to tune out the chanting and continue reading.

“Mo-om! Come on!”

I sigh and dutifully shuffle next door.

The elder starts up the beat.

“Goo-goo, ga-ga, goo-goo, ga-ga,” they begin in unison.

“Is this it?” I ask.

The elder continues with the “goo-goo, ga-ga,” while the younger chants, “Suck on a frozen nipple, with a dead bird on the side.”

They both break into hysterical laughter and then re-commence chanting “goo-goo, ga-ga, goo-goo, ga-ga …”

“Cool,” I say. “Carry on.”

I go back to my room, pull the door almost closed, flop on the bed, and get back to Winnicott, whose works I’ve been devouring with a strange urgency in recent weeks. Although I’m nominally reading Winnicott “for work”—for a seminar on attachment theory and literature—his writing’s pull on me feels oddly primal. I also feel vaguely uneasy that my desire to read about raising children takes me away from the day-to-day business of … raising my children.

The concept in Winnicott’s work that especially compels me is that of the transitional object—that beloved object such as a stuffed animal or blanket that Winnicott says shepherds the infant’s initiation into the world of others. The object is “transitional” because the infant experiences it, Winnicott argues, as at once external and self-created.

Winnicott writes of the transitional object that “it is a matter of agreement between us and the baby that we will never ask the question: ‘Did you conceive of this or was it presented to you from without?’ The important point is that no decision on this point is expected. The question is not to be formulated” (From “Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena, in Playing and Reality, 12, italics in original).

What Winnicott means is that there is a tacit agreement between parent and infant not to ask the infant whether the object belongs to the world of imagination or the external world—in other words, not to ask the infant whether she found the object or whether she created it. For Winnicott, what the infant experiences is a marvelous convergence between their hallucination of the object and their experience of it as belonging to the external world.

As I flop back on the bed, I attempt to I pick up where I left off and to tune out the relentless chanting and drumming emanating from the next room.

“Responsible persons must be available when children play,” I read.

 Uh-oh, I think. Must they?

Winnicott continues: “but this does not mean that the responsible person need enter into the children’s playing. When the organizer must be involved in a managerial position then the implication is that the child or children are unable to play in the creative sense … (“Playing: A Theoretical Statement,” in Playing and Reality, 1971, p.50).

Did I find this moment of marvelous convergence or I did I create it?

As a warm glow washes over me to the strains of “goo-goo, ga-ga,” and the rhythm of plastic-bottle-meeting-head, I decide, with Winnicott, not to ask the question.

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Day 173: the rewards of middle age

The younger pinches the skin on the back of my hand.

“Awwwww,” she exclaims, marveling at the way my skin wrinkles in little creases like crepe paper. “It’s so soft and … flexible ……”

“Uh huh,” I acknowledge dourly.

“But why will yours do that? Look at mine—” she pinches the skin on the back of her own hand, skin so taut as to be barely pinchable.

I sigh.

“Why won’t mine do that???” she asks.

“Because you’re young,” I say glumly.

“So it’s tight?”

“Yep.”

“Huh.”

Now she looks glum but then her eyes widen as a thought strikes her.

“Man, I can’t wait to be your age, I’m just gonna pinch myself all day long!” she declares gleefully.

I smile grimly.

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Day 172: Eggs of Death

“You know how in zombie movies, zombies sometimes have chainsaws?” the younger asked me as we were walking to school.

“Er, I suppose so,” I said, wondering vaguely what movies my just-turned-seven-year old has seen featuring chainsaw-wielding zombies.

“Well, I have an idea for a movie called ‘Eggs of Death,’” she continued.

“Oh yes?” I said, feeling that I was missing something.

“Yes. The zombie disguises himself as a baker and instead of a chainsaw he has one of those egg-beaters, you know, the kind like this?” She motioned turning a rotary whisk with her hands.

“Right,” I said.

“And then he beats people with it.”

“Gosh!” I said.

I couldn’t help adding, “but why is it called “Eggs of Death”? I mean, it’s not the eggs that are causing death. Shouldn’t it really be “Egg-beaters of Death”?

She considered.

“No,” she said slowly, “because he also throws eggs at people. And the eggs are ACTUALLY BOMBS.”

“Ahh,” I said. “Well, in that case, the title makes perfect sense. And, in any case,” I added, feeling slightly rueful for questioning her title, “in any case, ‘Eggs of Death’ IS a really good title for a movie!”

She gave the slight shrug of someone who was not in the least concerned to receive external validation of what was so self-evidently true.

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