Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Part I: Successful Launch - Part II: Letters

Part I

Today is my daughter's twentieth birthday, and it seems to me that this is about the point where the anniversary of her birth becomes as much about me as it is about her. We're both adults now, so we're just equal participants in the world; I'm no longer responsible for orchestrating her experiences.

I'm sure that this is true because she is now established in her own apartment, a thousand miles away, and I can't even get her on the phone to wish her a happy birthday, so she must be independent and able to take care of herself. [Note to daughter, who will be one of the few people reading this: "Hi, Sweetie! Happy Birthday!"]

Twenty years ago, that was one hot, pregnant summer, in Hallandale, Florida. I was working at the post office, riding my bike about two miles each way. I usually went in pretty early, 6 a.m. or so, which meant I would be getting home in the hottest part of the day. Thank goodness for the small manmade lake behind our house: I would come home, throw on my bathing suit, jump in, and swim to the end and back--thereby getting my exercise and cooling off at the same time. Towards the end of the pregnancy, I could definitely sense that the baby was enjoying the swims. And after she was born, she did turn out to be a water-loving kid.

I quit work two weeks before my official due date, and then the baby was two weeks late so I had a whole month to sit around and eat nectarines--that's what I remember, and we went to the beach a lot, too. All that sitting around and eating probably had something to do with our dainty little girl coming into the world at 9 pounds 2 ounces.

Labor was long and hard -- 40 hours -- and then they kept us in the hospital for longer than normal because of some nonsense about blood sugar levels. I enjoyed the opportunity to rest, though, and the food was good. Every morning they would bring around the sheet to order the day's meals and you could check portion size--small, medium or large. I requested large portions on everything, three meals a day, and I still went home weighing 45 pounds less than I did when I went in. That's what I call a good week. Also, I spent a lot of time reading: I read Lady Chatterley's Lover, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Almost a whole week of leisure. And then, on duty 24/7 for the next two years. That was fun, too, though.

* * * *

Part II

This article about paper had me meditating about the value and meaning of handwritten letters.
My letter-writing history goes way back. I have letters that came back to me when my grandmother died, thank you letters I wrote to her from age 5 onward. In elementary school my friends and I wrote notes to each other constantly. I still have a whole pile of notes from my friend June, at my parents' house. They are an interesting window into a time long ago.

My mom recently sent me all the letters I wrote to her during my first year away at college. Hillary Clinton's college letters illustrate her journey from Republican to Democrat. Mine clearly document that I subscribed to The Militant newspaper on my very first trip to Harvard Square, and joined the Young Socialist Alliance soon after. They also record my voting record, however: straight ticket Democrat.

Here's an excerpt from a first semester letter home, looking back at a glimpse of the future:
October 30, 1976

Last night I ate dinner with Kurt Hackenburg--he's one of our R.A.'s -- maybe you remember that his letters to the freshmen were typed and Xeroxed--anyway, he had something to do at the computer center and he talked me into going there to see it. They have a deal where you can "talk" to other people who are using the system. There was a kid using a teletype terminal at his house. Kurt has "talked" to him before--he's 12 years old and is the son of one of the psychology profs here. Anyway, this may not be too clear, but we had a 3-way conversation going through the computer. It was very interesting. The way it works is that you type the message and it appears on the other 2 screens. Kurt is trying to talk me into taking a computer course. Maybe I will, but not next semester. I really want to take math, and kind of need to take biology and physics, and all these courses just don't fit into a double-major schedule. I might end up dropping the French major, but I don't know. I'll discuss it with my advisor next semester.
Aside from their historical value, I think handwritten letters are very important, now more than ever. All kinds of information comes through in a letter that you can't convey in email. The choice of paper and pen, the handwriting, the format, the pheromones--there's even DNA being transferred, and there's a heck of a lot of information in that. You might think that message doesn't get through, but who knows? As time goes on and letters become more rare, they will become more valuable. I predict I'll be writing letters until the end of my life.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

South Florida Boodlefest*

*Boodlefest, from "boodle," an Achenblog term, see definitions here.

Yesterday was a fun vacation day with two of my (formerly) imaginary friends, people I would not have known if not for the comments section of Achenblog, which we call the "boodle." Since it's an on-line forum, most people don't use their real names. Since this is also a public blog, I will just use our boodle names; the out of town visitors were "mo" and "mo's mom," they live in the DC area. The rest of the party consisted of my daughter, "Artist Alice" and myself, "kbertocci."

Mo is famous for wearing only black. Her mom doesn't thoroughly approve of the blackness, and she dressed all in white to balance it. Alice likes to dress creatively; her outfit was kind of pirate wench/biker/goth. Me, I generally dress to blend, so I wore beige pants and in deference to the prevailing gothic theme, a black t-shirt. The clothing is all terribly significant.

We met at Las Olas Riverfront, in downtown Fort Lauderdale, arriving simultaneously despite having started at points 40 miles apart and in opposite directions from there. The weather was sunny and hot. Alice headed directly for the frozen lemonade stand while the rest of us took refuge in whatever shade we could find and later in an air-conditioned gift shop.

We took an hour-long narrated water taxi ride to Beach Place. The scenery along the river is pretty much limited to mansions and yachts, although we did see some iguanas and a few birds. We dined on "authentic cajun cuisine" at Lulu's Bait Shack, passing up the alligator appetizers in favor of crawfish etouffée and shrimp and lobster--a good meal that we finished just after the live music started, so the timing was excellent. We got to talk all through lunch and then hear two songs and then it was time to go.

We walked along the world-famous Fort Lauderdale beach, which was teeming with scantily clad people. We crossed the street for a closer view of the waves, but it seemed that even fully clothed we were man-magnets (it's a good thing we weren't wearing our bikinis) and so we had to leave after a short visit.

Escaping our admirers on the beach, we checked out some more souvenir stores (embalmed baby shark, anyone? Or maybe you'd rather pay $3 for a tablespoon of sand enclosed in a plastic keychain?) found a pirate store that mo and Alice were thrilled to explore, and then headed back to the boat.

The water taxi delivered us back to our starting point in time for mo and mom to head off for the rental car return. It was a great day--just like being on vacation for me, except without having to take off my shoes and put my belongings through an x-ray machine. Thank you very much, mo and mo's mom, for sharing your Florida vacation!
*And fellow-boodlers, don't worry, we only said nice things about you, in case your collective ears were burning yesterday.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Random things that made me laugh this week

Rhymes With Orange by 8-4-07

Mike Peters 8-4-07

The Best and the Wittiest by Jimmy Margulies 8-4-07

Onion Headlines: