Category Archives: Motherland

The Housework Problem


The other day I was looking disdainfully at a mishmash of playthings that were covering our living room floor (as they so often are) and I asked my children to pick them up and put them away (as I so often do).

If they didn’t do it, I continued, maybe I’d have to throw them away.

Child abuse? Hardly. The look of wild horror that suddenly crossed my five-year-old daughter’s face meant that just the hint of a threat was totally sufficient to get the job done. I wouldn’t have to throw anything away for real. Continue reading

Violating Vonnegut


Kurt Vonnegut Jr.  Just the name is enough to present a picture of a man at odds with the modern world–in it but not of it, confused and angered by its propensity for greed and violence, and howling his rage between puffs on an ever present cigarette and belly laughs at dirty jokes and puns and clever turns of phrases. Vonnegut was, in many ways, the updated version of Mark Twain.

By the time of his death, however, Vonnegut’s only good writing was being done in the short polemical style published semi-regularly in Chicago-based political magazine In These Times. Some of these often hilarious rants were collected in his last bestseller, A Man Without a Country, published in 2005 (Vonnegut died in 2007).

In the papers left behind at his death were, among many other things, two novellas written forty years apart. Perhaps that tenuous connection between the two pieces of writing was enough for Da Capo to bite at the possibility of publishing it. We Are What We Pretend To Be: The First and Last Works (161 pages, $12.99)

Vonnegut’s “last” work here, “If God Were Alive Today,” was left unfinished at his death. It should have been left where it was found, hidden inside a box or frozen inside a computer hard drive. It is a confusing mess about a standup comedian named Gil Berman who, frankly, isn’t the least bit funny and is probably insane. Berman dropped out of Columbia University to “be a clown for our generation,” but…and here’s where I get lost. Reading it is like being trapped on a runaway subway train with a well-educated crazy man. The result is a random series of vaguely related paragraphs that is ultimately heartbreaking to read not for the dystopian message Vonnegut apparently wanted to convey but because it’s so godawful bad. Vonnegut was such a decent guy, a real earnest soul, not unlike the cracked comedian in this story./novella, but he would not have wanted to go out with this as his swan song. That’s why he left it unfinished at his death, for crying out loud!

As for the “first” work in the book, “Basic Training,” it at least has the benefit of making sense. Other than that, it’s a slight coming of age story that shows traces of the wild tangents that would define Vonnegut at his greatest only five years later (Player Piano, Mother Night, Cat’s Cradle, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Slaughterhouse-5).

The best part of this book is the short but emotional opening commentary by Vonnegut’s daughter, Nanette. She captures the combination of gentleness and irascibility that were his trademarks and makes us yearn for the memoir about her dad that she surely has inside her. In fact, if I had a publishing house, I would be signing Nanette Vonnegut to a book contract before this sentence comes to an en…..


From Charles Dickens to Paul Ryan


“We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”-Rep. Paul Ryan, House Budget Committee chair and wannabe U.S. president.

Dear Mr. Ryan,

From the perspective of my complacent hammock, I send you greetings, sir! You are to be commended for advocating the taking of food from the mouths of babies, the elderly, the disabled and even those who are already working two shitty, service-industry jobs and yet still can’t feed their families. Slashing the SNAP (aka Food Stamps) funds by 17 percent takes the cake right out of Marie Antoinette‘s mouth! Until you began this campaign to “snap” the dregs out of babies’ sippy cups and the crumbs from granny’s tea saucer, I had not believed that the modern world could produce real-life characters to rival those created by Charles Dickens. But there you are, sir. You proved me wrong.

This only occurred to me while I was recently watching the BBC mini-series adaptation of Dickens’ novel Little Dorrit. You should watch it, Mr. Ryan, it might even thaw the ice from your power pack, I had an epiphany. That is, I found a character in Dickens who perfectly embodies your ethic. By “you,” I mean the vast majority of the Republican Party as it exists today, including your partner Mr. Mitt “47 percent of Americans Will Not Take Personal Responsibility” Romney, or that grotesque from South Dakota, the odious “evangelical” Rep. Kevin “Cram It” Cramer, who recently scolded the hungry and unemployed with a misquote, or a quote out of context, from the Bible (“If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat”) and so on down the slippery slope into the tar pits. That Dickens character can be found in Little Dorrit, and he is named Mr. Christopher Casby.

Google Mr. Casby, Mr. Ryan. You’d like him. He’s a slumlord who sends out goons to squeeze the rent from his desperately poor tenants by any means necessary, all the while strolling through the streets pretending to be a champion of the downtrodden. Though a minor character in the Dickens cosmology, Mr. Casby is as unctuous and haughty as any ever created in world fiction.

I shall never doubt again the Republicans’ ability to transcend even fiction’s ability to describe them. I shall never doubt again the Republicans’ abilities to descend to a level that I did not think they could reach.

But there you are, sir. You’ve proven me wrong.


Now, That’s a Good Kid’s Song

Before having them, one of the things that most scared me about kids was all the annoying trappings of childhood. I hate toy stores. Cartoons make me insane. And children’s music? The worst offender, no question.

I like music a lot, and while I’m not a music expert by any means, I’m definitely a decent fan of of genres and artists I like. And I am a decent hater of the music I hate. Which includes a lot of music made for children. I don’t have specific rules or guidelines dictating my distaste, per se; sometimes the music is simply too precious; sometimes it’s too loud; sometimes it makes me want to drive off a high, high cliff. You know, just in general.

But – as we parents so often do after actually living with children for some years – I’ve tempered my opinions. While I once stood by a rule that NO music shall be played in Mommy’s car EVER, I now allow it in certain circumstances. Like, when my two-year-old dropped the peanut butter toast we’d taken to-go on the car floor, and I decided I hadn’t yet had enough coffee to suffer his cries proclaiming utter tragedy from the backseat.

So I turned on the Pandora station I created around the children’s artist Raffi (who, believe it or not, I do really like) and one of the songs that came on was “3 Is A Magic Number” from the 1970′s series “Schoolhouse Rock.”

And guys, not only was it passable. It was great. Kind of reminiscent of John Sebastian or Fred Neil. I think I liked it better than my two-year-old. But he did stop crying, at least.


3 Is A Magic Number

Terror and Tragedy Revisited in New Britain

Graydon Parrish

When Graydon Parrish’s mural-sized painting The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy, September 11, 2001 was unveiled at the New Britain Museum of American Art in 2006, a few conservative critics cried foul. How dare an American artist NOT dabble in forgettable clichés and heroic imagery when depicting a national tragedy?! Instead, Parrish—commissioned by the museum’s director Douglas Hyland to create a work in honor of Scott O’Brien, a New Britain native who died in the 9/11 attacks—went deep inside the event to create something timeless and deeply moving. Yes, Parrish uses Classical Realism and yes, the imagery is complex and perhaps even difficult to decipher. However, all visitors have to do is step back and take in the full effect of the work. It is as overwhelming as the Thomas Hart Benton murals in the adjoining room, or the Walton Ford watercolor in the front of the same gallery. You don’t have to “get” every little nuance in the 18-foot-long work to feel this. You know you are in the presence of something grand, and perfectly suited to the event it depicts.

The outcry over Parrish’s painting was not unlike what occurred when Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial was unveiled in 1982 on the Mall in Washington D.C. At the time, it was viciously attacked by conservatives and other armchair patriots for somehow besmirching the legacy of the Vietnam War. Since that time, however, Lin’s memorial has been accepted and even embraced as one of the most powerful works of public art in the nation’s capital and is now  visited by 3 million people each year, most of whom find the experience unforgettable and moving.

Likewise, every year since The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy’s installation in New Britain, the painting has accrued the same sort of power and acceptance, winning over the visitors with its classical style and allegorical treatment of the tragedy. And every year since then, Parrish himself has returned to the museum each Sept. 11th to talk about his painting. This year, he will talk to visitors in front of his painting inside the upstairs gallery where it hangs, offering a hands-on “tour” of the work and taking questions from the audience.

If you have never seen The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy in person, this would be the perfect time to do so. It is as powerful and provocative in its own way as Picasso’s Guernica.

Parrish will be at the museum on Wed., Sept. 11, at 1 p.m.

New Britain Museum of American Art, 56 Lexington Street, New Britain, CT, 860-229-0257,




Since 1988, when it was founded by Keith White and Thomas “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” Frank, The Baffler has shone a light on America’s various and sundry delusions, myths, legends and “buncombe.” Once published sporadically and now—since hooking up with MIT Press—on a more regular basis, this journal is essential reading as an antidote to the conventional wisdom spoon-fed to us by the corporate state in all of its diffuse manifestations. The latest issue (No. 23) is as good as any the collective bafflers have published, offering a buffet of provocative finger foods, entrees and desserts all underscoring the issue’s theme, “A Carnival of Buncombe.” Continue reading

The woman problem

A guest post by Michelle Morgan.


Had an interesting conversation with The BFF and one of The Hens today about the perception of women here  in 2013. We all sorta agreed that it sucks. But it sucks because WE suck. Hillary Clinton may in fact be a total  ball-busting beyotch, but guess what, Ladies? The reason she catches so much crap for it is totally our fault.

Here’s the lineup of key offenders.

The SanctiMommy.  She’s AWESOME, isn’t she? Say what you want about the Knuckle-Dragging Establishment out there keeping us barefoot and pregnant, SHE’S the real threat. Her sneaky self-promotion of the perfect wife, mother and global citizen is designed to ONLY make us feel like crap in disposable diapers. There’s nothing worse than a stay at home mother clucking her tongue at my parenting choices…like the one to not throw away four years at an expensive private college and fifteen years building a career just because I came down with a case of The Mommys.  You bet. My kid went to daycare and currently attends summer camp, public school and after-care. He drank from a bottle that had formula in it before the age of two.  And if all that abuse and neglect and shame isn’t enough, my kid has a dad in one state and a mom in another. But he hasn’t set the cat’s tail on fire. Yet. And if/when he does, we’ll put it out. Like all the other fires I put out every day.

The Stiletto (back)Stabber. This lovely creature is worthy of some real colorful language. Now, I’m a sucker. I know this. I really like to help people and want them to like me. (More on this later). Early on in my career there was a sweet intern at a company where I freelanced. I used to have her come in on weekends with me to get some hands-on experience on my projects. I did this without the knowledge of my superiors…it was a fun little conspiracy between me and her. Just me trying to be awesome. One day, as a surprise for her, I let something she worked to get published. I told my bosses that I let her contribute to the project and I was proud of what she did. She thanked me by taking more credit than was due…and eventually my gig…for less money. A LOT less money. So much for doin’ a sista’ a solid. She didn’t even end up pursuing a career through the door I so earnestly put her stylish shoe in, which is even more offensive.

The Gossip.  Women are fiercely competitive with each other. We’re only up when someone else is down. We hate each other, actually.  The end.

Thus concludes the Not My Fault portion of today’s homily.  Now let’s take a look inward, shall we?

I’m sorry, but…

If you have EVER started a sentence with these words in a professional context, you suck. Why are you sorry?  Is the person with The Stupidest Idea Ever sitting across from you sorry for being such an asshat?

Cut it out and grow a pair.

If you do this with your children, please stop NOW.  Did you seriously just apologize to your 5 year old son for not letting him have a candy bar at the check out? Congratulations! You just taught your son his first lesson in putting women down. Your son now knows that even when you’re right, you’re wrong. He has more power in this situation than you, a grown woman…Oh, wait.. we’re looking inward here, aren’t we? I should be congratulating me, a 43 year old, college-educated single mother and business owner child apologist, sorry for doing the right thing. If I can’t stand behind a simple childcare decision without the words “I’m sorry”, why would any one give me a raise? Or more responsibility? Or That Big Contract?

Dear Me, Cut it out and grow a pair.

You like me, you really like me!

I’ll probably never lick this one. I’m nice. Except when I’m a psycho, but that’s what makes me sexy.


But for the most part, I’m nice. I loooveeee to make people happy.  It turns out, people pleasing isn’t the best policy when it comes to getting your needs met, personally and professionally…and parentally. How many successful men got there by subverting their needs just to make someone else happy.  I’m guessing Bill Gates STILL doesn’t have a ton of friends. We KNOW Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t… real ones, at least.  And lest you think this is just a man’s game… Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo sure as Hell didn’t make many friends by ordering everyone back to work.

It’s hard. And scary.

Yea. It is. On the rare occasion that I know my worth in any given situation, it feels like I’m the only one who got the memo…Because I never sent the memo. It’s in that place on my email client where I keep all the feisty, well-written emails I compose to give That So and So a piece of my mind, but never have the balls to send.

There’s exactly one person in my life who I can truly tell to go to Hell, and that’s The BFF. Why?  My Bestie is the only one who I believe actually thinks I’m worth anything.  And if I’m worth something, how can it be difficult or scary to truly speak my mind. And I know this is true for Bestie too. It will likely cause a fight, feelings will be hurt, but we’ll emerge better for it. Because when you are honest and confident nothing can harm you. In the case of The BFF, respect and  love are the currency. The challenge is to channel that confidence to the outside world.

And so, I end today’s sermon with some words from the Gospel according to Sheryl Sandberg…

Quit yer whinin’ and Lean In, Bitch.