Monday, October 31, 2005

Vanity Fair is not in Vain and Other Fall Musings

October was a slow blogging month, only three posts from the birthday gal (10/14 in case you missed it elsewhere)--though I thought of the Garden often, couldn't streamline my time.

Lots going on in my world. Major Libran indecision on whether to go to grad school, and if so, where? Why? Do I rate in any way as a writer? The downside of going back to school as an old, married broad is that I’m not mobile. I have pipe dreams about the Iowa Writers program, or University of Montana’s Mountain Writers program—but no can do, the husband is pretty much rooted in Portland.

My pseudo-mentor (pseudo only because she doesn’t know I’ve designated her as such), suggested to me the other day that I consider magazine work—that I maybe focus my goals on being a regular writer for some monthly journal (since she probably realizes that long-term focus, such as that needed to write a novel, is not my forte’). Upon which I began to daydream and think about my name on a byline at, oh, let’s just say “Harper’s” or “Atlantic Monthly,” or … dare I wish it, dare I dream this big? Vanity Fair, the hip-chick of commentary and social irony!!!

Vanity Fair has an unfortunate title, particularly for those who have never read Thackeray and are therefore not privy to the reference. VF is truly not frivolous at heart, regularly publishing well-written, well researched, long articles about current political issues (national and global), social issues, cultural trends that impact our daily lives, and yes, Dominique Dunne-style name-dropping, New York social-scene crap. And there’s a celebrity profile every month. It was quite apropos that October’s issue featured that representation of all that is wrong in America today, my personal buzzing gnat, annoying mosquito—Paris Hilton, as if to say, don’t forget, Pamela, we’ve gotta make a buck ... but you know, as well as we do, there's a subtext in all this.

Despite that, I think in many ways VF is a most intelligent mainstream publication. James Wolcott is probably my favorite VF writer. He’s got a
fabulous blog that I check weekly. It’s there on my sidebar. Recently he paid homage to the Village Voice’s 50th anniversary (can you believe that, 50 years of America’s youth/beat pulse gone by), and wrote a spot-on scalder about that yahoo Victor Davis Hanson. You know, the moron who had this to say about the vicious backlash from the frothing, extremist left (I just love that, the extremist left and their rhetoric of hate—does everyone in this administration have the same speechwriter?):

"George Bush also should begin addressing his most venomous critics at home, by condemning their current extremism. He must explain to the nation how a radical, vicious Left has more or less gotten a free pass in its rhetoric of hate, and has now passed the limits of accepted debate."

What did my man Wolcott respond with? Check him out:

“This will no doubt pass the limit of accepted debate, but allow me to part with the following sentiment: Fuck you, Victor Dave. The limits of accepted debate have already been trampled into mud and splinters by Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, David Horowitz, Michelle Malkin, and the Swift Boaters, among others, about whose rhetorical extremes you've never made a peep. Moreover, this conflating of Howard Dean Democrats with Islamofascist hate speech is McCarthyism at its most unrefined. Truth is, Democrats have been remarkably watery and ineffectual when it comes to the Iraq war, as Arianna has
lamented (and when a Greek goddess laments, it's like thunder from the mountaintop). "

Hanson's use of the phrase "the limits of accepted debate"--he probably meant acceptable debate--has the authoritarian ring we've become used to on The O'Reilly Factor and other Fox news shows, where the word "treason" is thrown at every sharp note of dissent.”
Love him, love VF and their mutual adherence to a position that caused them an elitist uproar from a good segment of their readership.


Good-bye, October. In California you always meant hair whipped electric by a parched Santa Ana roaring through the valley and ripping off any misplaced deciduous leaves or the fabric of a thrown-together costume. A Halloween costume there didn’t have to be designed around an ability to ward off drench, as it does here in Portland, where rain has pattered for 6 days, and is predicted for 6 more (to date).

Sunday, October 16, 2005

New Millenium Prom Night

I remember my prom night. I went with Wayne B, a hunk who graduated a couple of years before me. Prior to prom, Wayne and I had exchanged maybe ten complete sentences. We arranged things at a party— the motivation for pairing up coming in the wake of my former short-term boyfriend reconciling with his ex. I bought a dress from a retail store called “Judy’s,” I think it cost $80, maybe $100 tops. I bought a pair of agonizing shoes from a cheap mall store, and my big extravagance was spending the time to tan and put mayonnaise in my hair (for shine). We drove in his El Camino, and ended up meeting some friends at the beach afterward. We were home by 4:00AM or so, and while there was some alcohol, and probably other minor recreation, it was pretty tame by today’s standards. Wayne and I didn’t hit it off in any kind of meaningful way.

Why am I reminiscing? An article about an
east-coast principal who cancelled “prom night” has caught my eye.

The principal cancelled the prom mainly in response to (and I love this) “the flaunting of affluence” that has come to characterize a large constituency of students who attend prom. Last year some students of this school in Long Island had pooled together a $10,000 down payment (total rental of $20,000) for a house in the Hamptons in which to host an after-prom party. What the f*@#$???? One student interviewed noted that it was not uncommon for $1,000 to be spent on a dress. This is a dress that for all intents and purposes is worn for one night. The principal noted in his letter to parents that students often arrived shnockered after being treated to booze-cruise rentals and fully-stocked limousine rides.

The principal noted that: "It is not primarily the sex/booze/drugs that surround this event, as problematic as they might be; it is rather the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake — in a word, financial decadence."

The backlash from the cancellation has made national news. What possesses the parents of these students? I think of the disasters that have plagued this year, the tsunami, Katrina, the recent earthquake in Pakistan. What about marking the rite of passage of a prom night by wearing a nice, but reasonably-priced outfit, meeting in a designated after-prom hall, and donating the atrocious party fund on some social action?

Some parents are indignant: “I don't think they have a right to judge what goes on after the prom,” says one. Others admire the principal’s perspective: “It's just what it's evolved into. It's not what it was 20, 30 or 40 years ago. It's turned into something it wasn't originally intended to be."

I admire the principal and what he is trying to say to the community. American education is funded by tax dollars (a flawed system based on property taxes and assessments), and I don’t think conspicuous consumption, hierarchal displays and a culture of waste should be underwritten by an institution that is so maligned by today’s parents. I’ve heard a number of adults complain today that “the teachers just don’t teach,” or “if I had as low a success rate in my job as teachers do with their students, I’d be fired.” And yet one looks at today’s youth, and the undeniable focus on image … the necessary “gadgets” like cell phones (the teeny, expensive, camera ones with color display), iPods, portable DVDs and laptops, clothes from Nordstrom or J. Crew, and you wonder what we’re formulating in the minds of our youth.

Is consumerism the only mark of “cool” these days? Hey, I haven’t forgotten the stress of fitting in, or wearing the right clothes, but the ante has been upped exponentially. The saying goes that children learn what they live … what is being lived in America’s homes?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Wiley's Got it Going On

Wiley lives in a cabin up in the Angeles Crest foothills right off of Cheney Trail. He can stalk the chipmunks and lizards that dart in and out of stones that line a small creek. He's often petted by friendly strangers who are picnicking or hiking up to a small set of waterfalls.

He's unaware of most everything except the bliss of a cat-shaped container. Wiley isn't really wiley, he's that elusive thing we signify with the word content.