Monday, March 30, 2009

More getting out of the house

These are from Friday, when nice weather coincided with neither of us feeling terrible. I took these using an 85mm lens that I've had for a while but is finally fun now that Auletta is moving around and I can take pictures at some distance from her. As you can see, her favorite thing to collect is sticks, and her favorite activity is doing stuff with leaves and dirt.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Eric Carle Museum, or getting out of the house

Auletta came down with a cold this week that Justin and I have also picked up. So despite being back in town, I've had to hold Auletta back from our usual toddler activities, which I hate to do because it's so nice to have something to structure our schedule around. (I forgot until yesterday that storytime was canceled this week anyway, so at least we weren't missing that.) But yesterday the three of us made a field trip to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA, about an hour and a half away. I don't know if Auletta appreciated the pictures, but there's a large open area at the entrance that she loved to explore while checking out the few other kids who were there, and their bookstore is amazing. It's not a huge museum, so it's a good place to take someone with a short attention span, like an 18-month-old, or her mom (I have been to a lot of museums but I always tire of them before I've seen everything).

A photo taken in the museum, with reluctance on a certain person's part:

Outside the museum, with (I think) scenic Hampshire College student housing in the background:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why I argue

As I'm sure everyone who knows me outside this blog knows, I am not a confrontational or argumentative person. I am shy. I like everyone to like me, so I try to anticipate and smooth over any possible conflict (which might be a positive spin on a passive-aggressive tendency that drives Justin insane, but fortunately for the rest of you, nobody else is married to me). I try to be nice, if only because I like people to be nice to me back.

On the other hand, I like to write, I like to craft arguments (much more for extracurricular topics than for papers, go figure), and therefore I like to go onto other people's blogs and argue with them. I don't go to the Democratic Underground (or for that matter Free Republic, to argue about whatever I disagree with them about, like illegal immigration or Obama being the antichrist, I haven't checked lately), because that would be an exercise in futility. I go to blogs by people who disagree with me but who might listen to what I say (or the commenters on those blogs, if they're there for the political debate and not just because they're friends with the blogger, in which case it seems to me to be crass to debate them. I mean, I don't want strangers picking fights with any of my friends who might post controversial comments on my blog, so I imagine the same would go for other bloggers, right?).

Today I read something on one of those blogs that made me wonder if the blogger had really been paying attention to anything I'd said, because it was such a mischaracterization of a belief I hold and have debated at length on that blog, making that generalization about everyone with whom that blogger disagrees. So I composed an elaborate response, which I had planned to email. But right now it's moldering in the purgatory of draftdom, because I'm wondering, why do I argue?

I'm not going to change anyone's mind. I think everyone who argues, or writes anything provocative, is certain their mind is not going to be changed substantially. I know I don't expect mine to be. So the point is either 1. to pick at each other without changing anyone's mind, which is the tone of political discourse currently (and probably always has been) and may be cathartic but in the end is basically pointless, a masturbatory sort of pleasure at best, or 2. to persuade your opponent not necessarily to agree with you, which is unlikely, but at least to understand why you believe what you believe. For example, I am opposed to abortion (in a moral if not in a legal sense) because of my deeply held beliefs about what life is and when it begins, not because I want to oppress women or have been bamboozled by the patriarchy into a false consciousness that makes me want to oppress women. Now it is possible, I suppose, that the latter reason really is why I oppose abortion, but it's condescending to assume that when I have given other reasons for my beliefs, not to mention that I resent the whole false consciousness business, which I think is just other women trying to replace the patriarchy with their own particular matriarchy whose terms they (conveniently) dictate, but never mind that. I won't beat one of my favorite dead horses right now.

In short: my point in arguing is to communicate clearly what I think and to convince them that I mean it. The point of doing so, I like to point out, is that however easy it may be to argue against what you would like your opponent's opinions and motivations to be, your argument will be a lot stronger, and more likely to persuade, if you argue against what those opinions and motives actually are.

But then, is it disingenuous of me to claim that I want my opponent's arguments to be stronger? Then they might win. The result, actually, is that I and my side will have to develop stronger arguments in response. And so on, ad infinitum? There is something about an infinite dialectic that appeals to me intellectually, like the infinite glosses and commentaries on scripture in Judaism and Christianity, but sometimes it would be nice for the subject to be closed. As with abortion. It would be really nice (from my perspective) if there were no more abortions, which would come about (but quite imperfectly, which ultimately is why I am reluctantly pro-choice in a pragmatic sense) if abortion were illegal, or if there were a way to persuade every woman with an unexpected pregnancy to carry to term and to provide homes for those infants (there are already homes for, um, healthy white infants, which nods at another one of my bugaboos), or if, hey, every woman had the self-confidence and self-control not to sleep with anyone who didn't want and trust to be the father of her children, and if every man knew the same expectation and the same sense of shame (shame is not always a bad thing!) that every women who is pregnant and alone undergoes, and had to account for what happened to his sperm after it left his body--an expectation to which they are rarely held, even by feminists, who long ago relinquished any sexual accountability they might have expected from men (yet again, another post) as long as that sex is consensual. Wow, there's a wild idea?

But you can gather from my sarcasm, and (I'll admit) the judgmental tone that now I am veering into territory where maybe I do in fact want to control people, in that I have a sexual ethic which is pretty narrow by today's standards, and my justification for it--that, religion aside, people in general and especially women would be a lot happier and better off if they followed it--probably depends at least somewhat on my own sense of self-righteousness. That's a fault to which religious people are prone, but so is everyone else, I've noticed. I have gotten by in life by behaving pretty well, being pretty intelligent, and being fairly decent to people, but those things usually come easily to me, which is not to brag, only to say that I can't really take credit for them, or expect everyone to do as I do.

But where was I? Before becoming distracted, I claimed that my objective in arguing was to strengthen my opponent's arguments, which I might or might not want in a direct sense, but it has the effect of 1. elevating the debate, one hopes, to a more refined and possibly productive level, at least angling toward closure even if we never reach it and 2. imprinting on the other side, and I hope also on mine, the belief that individuals, no matter how much we may disagree with them, have innate human dignity (you may guess I use this phrase for the same reason I hold my other beliefs) which demands that we listen to them and respond to what they are saying, not what we would like them to be saying, in which case we do not treat them as humans but merely foils to our own pontifications. Which is tempting to do anyway; I am always more interested in what I have to say than in listening to what the other side has to say. I devote much of my thought process to formulating what I am about to say in response to what I am not devoting as much attention to. (At least when you write, you can listen, then think; when you're debating in person you don't have that luxury. That's one reason marriage is hard.)

And in all this I haven't even mentioned the problems that plague most arguing on the Internet--the namecalling, ad hominem (ad mulierem?) attacks, et cetera. I would like to think I don't go there, but on occasion I'm sure I do, because I am always doing it in my head. About 90% of what I type never gets posted, because I am always editing out the inappropriate parts, and there are a lot of them. They tend to fall into the trap I've already discussed, convenient psychoanalyses of the person I'm debating, who would only say or believe such things because of various pathologies that, you know, I'm obviously not qualified to diagnose because 1. I'm not a psychiatrist and 2. I don't know them.

Every person is a mystery. I also don't think it's just religious people who are prone to dogmatism and absolute conviction of their beliefs that force the rest of the world to conform to the narrative they've already written, so that the person with whom you argue is no more than a character in your solipsistic universe. I mean, I have arguments in my mind with people who haven't even started them yet! But, but, but. Every person is a mystery. I discuss all these topics with Justin, whom I've known intimately for nearly seven years, and he still says things that surprise me. How do any of us know anyone else we only know through inflectionless words in 10 point Courier?

And perhaps I should end there. I haven't really come to a conclusion yet. I think I might just need to take a break from arguing for a while.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The bluest skies, sometimes

For reasons I won't go into here, I always have really mixed feelings about visiting Seattle, which I do about twice a year. I moved at the right time in my life and don't expect to move back, although that is always a possibility. I miss certain things about it, not least my family and friends, but at the same time living here again, like visiting, would be good with a generous dollop of weird.

I took Auletta to Northgate Mall--which has changed so much! And Alderwood--virtually unrecognizable. But, anyway, Auletta threw a tantrum, fortunately just as the mall was opening and the only people there were seniors getting their exercise where it was dry, and no doubt many of them have had their own children who had public tantrums, as two ladies assured me. I'm sure I did. And it's possible my dad did too, since he was a toddler when Northgate opened. Does this make me feel old, or young?

I went into work with my sister today so I could take her car for the day. Auletta fell asleep in the car, so I sat for a while after we got home. Listened to the birds. How there is a symphony of Northwestern birds (nondescript brown things when you look at them) that makes this place sound different from anywhere else I've ever lived, where bugs shout in summer and winters are eerily silent.

It snowed early one morning and the flakes were enormous. I have never seen them that big, but here it happens often, with the temperature barely freezing. Snowflakes roll together into little cotton balls in the sky and drift downward, making snowfall appear more substantial in the air than on the warm ground, although this winter there was a lot of snow.

The P-I printed its final paper. What will happen to the globe? So little history here, and yet we cling to these pieces of it, the R on the Rainier Brewery, the glue pot that started the fire. I remember the Bubblator; someone's using it as a greenhouse now.

Every time we drive past the Ida Culver house on Greenwood, where my grandmother spent the last few years of her life, I feel like we should stop. My life in this city lacks something at its center, with my grandparents gone. I looked up their house on Google Earth and got down to street level; it's been entirely renovated and looks nothing like the retro-but-modern 1949 building my great-aunt designed. Seattle came of age at an awkward stage for the country in general, but something in me loves the Space Needle and my grandparents' house and other things that seem quaintly non-postmodern modern now. Modernity without the sense of irony that I cultivated growing up in Seattle a couple of decades later.

My great-great-grandfather moved to the Northwest in the late nineteenth century, which means my ancestors have lived here for most of the time that there have been whites here at all. My great-grandmother was the first of four generations in our family to attend the university. When the campus on Montlake was first established, the bookstore was in a coat closet in Denny Hall. The bookstore! I went there with Justin for the first time in years. I have gone there for as long as I can remember. I remember I used to peel the glue off the price tags and roll it into sticky little balls. Hmm, I was kind of a gross kid. You can't do that with price tags they've used at least since I was in college; I've tried. I haven't ventured on campus, I mean east of 15th, on this trip. I'm afraid my head would explode. I don't know how I can spend a total of seven years, plus lots of childhood excursions, in that place, and never go now. But I don't know how I can spend the first 26 years of my life in a city that I now visit so rarely.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Well at least there is a place for her on Sproul Plaza

Perhaps she has another word. Whether intentionally or not, Auletta's been chanting what sounds like "happy, happy, happy" for the past few days, in a tone of voice that indicates she is, more or less. Which reminds me of this guy:

If she becomes a Hare Krishna then I will have no reason at all to miss Berkeley.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

More about Auletta

So it's the beginning of March and we're bracing for what will probably be the worst snowstorm of the winter. Blargh. After this, two winters down and one to go (and don't even suggest that we could end up living in the Northeast after Justin finishes law school or I'll cry).

Anyway. Auletta is coming up on 17 months. A lot's been happening the past month or so. We used to think she really liked it when we read to her, and then she started crawling and we realized she had just sat still for books because she couldn't move. Now she is back to sitting still for books, so we read to her a lot more. She often wants to read the same book over and over and over...and it's odd books too, like The Story of Abraham Lincoln and Good Night, Seattle, which aren't the good old Eric Carle and Margaret Wise Brown books we raised her on, back when she didn't have opinions. But I am happy just to have her enjoying books, and she certainly likes to play with them, pile them on top of me and Justin when we're all in bed together, etc.

She is also fascinated with shoes and attempts to put on any shoe she can find, whether it's her size or not. She has a pair of crocs that will fit her perfectly this summer; they're a little big on her right now, and she's very good at putting them on by herself (not always on the right feet, of course). She also finally decided she will consent to wear hats and even have me put hats (yes, plural) on her, so hopefully that means I will no longer be that horrible mother who lets her child go out in the cold or sun without a hat, a topic on which I have received unsolicited advice from strangers in the past.

Her receptive language is also coming along nicely. She follows simple instructions (at least sometimes, and when she feels like it), and she can identify numerous body parts (again, when she feels like it)--nose, ear, hair, hand, fingers, belly button, knees, feet.

We are still a little worried about her speech. She says "yes," "no," "boo" (really more like "ba!"), and that's about it, as far as I can tell. She has a really sophisticated jargon we call Blurt (sounds better than Aulettish), which she often speaks to other babies, although apparently her Blurt and their Blurt are mutually unintelligible. So she has no trouble understanding English, or forming all sorts of phonemes in her own language, but she doesn't really seem interested in imitating English words. Her pediatrician said we could discuss this at her eighteen-month appointment if it continued to be an issue, and that's coming up in mid-April, so hopefully she will be speaking words by then, but if not at least hopefully we can start dealing with whatever speech issues she has (and maybe there isn't really an issue, but Justin and I have high expectations) sooner rather than later.