Thursday, August 31, 2006

The fur flyeth

Gracious. It would seem that the incendiary controversy of declaring that 'Love is All There Is' has been soundly trumped by the vastly more incendiary controversy of Begging for Bucks. It would also seem that, wide-ranging as Pretty Lady's worldly experience seems to be, she still remains infinitely shockable.

First, let us get one thing straight. The definition of 'begging' is 'pleading for an unearned handout out of desperation, genuine or feigned.' You will never, never, never catch Pretty Lady begging for anything, nor will you catch anyone in her elite and hand-selected social circle doing so. We may all have Cash Flow problems, at times; we may suffer from recessions, natural disasters, or overly optimistic business projections. But we never beg. We state the truth of our financial circumstances without self-pity or shame, and then let the matter drop.

Secondly--when did Money become so tangled up with Morality? Is it our Puritan heritage? Is it Capitalism? Is it Anti-Communism? Is it a Ruling Class Plot? Or does it merely stem from buried playground experiences, regarding seeming trivialities like designer jeans, which so scarred our youthful psyches that the mere hint of a Financial Issue causes the vast majority of us to go all squirrelly and defensive?

The fact is, people, that money is not moral. It just is. It is energy, if you would like a useful metaphor. The only proof of its existence is its movement; it is not a physical thing at all. It is merely an idea.

Like all ideas, it can only be increased by being shared. A library under lock and key does nobody any good; neither does a physical lump of metal sitting in a physical vault. The idea of the lump of metal, however, causes real estate to be developed, research to be undertaken, and bombs to be detonated, depending upon how this idea is channelled.

Thus, as individuals and as societies, we channel our financial ideas according to our personal and cultural priorities. The 'morality' tag is simply a covert justification of a set of priorities which, if we were directly confronted with such, we might repudiate in shame and loathing.

For example. Although Pretty Lady has several occupations, her most financially remunerative one happens to be in the healing arts. In early 2002, she was making plans to move to New York City. At a party in rural Texas, she happened to mention these plans, with the addendum, "I think New York can use some healing, right about now."

An airline pilot retorted, "You would profit from that?"

As Pretty Lady's sister pointed out, the sane and appropriate response to this question is a calm and even-tempered 'yes.' It is not seemly to go into a diatribe about airline pilots who would never consider undertaking to steer a plane to Australia for free; it is gauche to paint a graphic picture of a healer who camps out in Central Park and goes through garbage cans to feed herself, all because it is unseemly and wrong to accept payment for helping people. Acerbic comments such as 'Evidently, it's only okay to profit from activities that harm people, or at the very least have an ethically debatable result,' would be out of line, particularly at her college friend's uncle's 60th birthday party. So Pretty Lady did not say any of these things. She merely replied, "It's about survival," and the gentleman thoughtfully conceded her point.

Pretty Lady points this out because she has often observed that, both as individuals and as a society, we think we are prioritizing certain things, whereas if you look at our collective checkbooks, they tell quite a different story. There have been many times in her life when she was far more confident of her ability to raise $40K of venture capital for a fundamentally foolish but glamorous-sounding enterprise, than of her ability to raise $2K for next month's living expenses. This is because, in our culture, we all carry a mental distinction between the notions of 'handout' and 'investment,' without seeing that this distinction is illusory and meaningless.

The fact is, when one channels one's money in a certain direction, one is investing energy in widening that channel; in increasing this particular idea in the world at large. The return flows back accordingly. Investment in real-estate development produces suburban sprawl. Investment in fear, rage and aggression produces bomb detonations. Investment in four hours of television-watching per capita, per evening, produces--well, Pretty Lady doesn't know what it produces, because she hasn't made that particular investment, but from hearsay she notes that it's a sorry state of affairs.

One can get a notion of the things that are low on our collective priority lists merely by observing whom we choose to humiliate, by terming our investment in their survival a 'handout,' and subjecting these unfortunates to the Desperation Quotient in their applications for funding. Pretty Lady can attest, through grim personal experience, that one of the primary qualification requirements for obtaining one of the very few fine arts grants available in this country is a taxable income of at least $10K below the poverty line, and no access to healthcare. It greatly improves an artist's chances of obtaining a grant if he or she is desperately ill as well; even so, the odds against receiving one are stiff.

And don't even get Pretty Lady started on how we treat our children.

Equally damaging, in Pretty Lady's view, is our knee-jerk contempt for, and suspicion of, arts patrons. There is some pervasive cultural feeling that these people are 'taking advantage' by happening to recognize and support a creative genius while this genius is still alive, instead of waiting until the person is safely famous and dead, and unfairly cashing in accordingly. Pretty Lady once had the inestimable good fortune to know a lovely lady artist who died, tragically, quite young. People still occasionally email her, wanting to know if she has any Margaret K.s for sale. Another friend of Margaret's groused, after the funeral, "It's all the collectors who are making money, now."

In Pretty Lady's view, the individuals with the sense and perspicacity to fund Margaret K.'s work while she was still alive to use the money are the good guys in this scenario. They may profit all they like; however, most of them are hanging on to the art because they actually like it.

Similarly, Pretty Lady has noted a pervasive social unwillingness to invest in even such a small thing as a musical disc, until the musician in question has been co-opted by an enormous industry, marketed exhaustively, molded and sucked dry by constant radio play. It as if most people are physically unable to hear a thing until it has undergone this process. They turn off their minds and their souls, and allow themselves to be spoon-fed by the very media complex that they purport to despise.

So. All this is a long-winded explanation of why Pretty Lady attempts to put her money where her soul is, and why she offers each and every one of you the opportunity to do the same. When Pretty Lady attends the live concert of an obscure musician and loves the music, she buys a CD with the last ten dollars in her bag. When she finds a piece of stellar artwork in her price range, she buys it; if she can't afford it, she toots it online and in conversation. And occasionally she even tips a blogger, or more frequently (due to cash flow issues) provides a free healing session, or some moral support. At her end of the financial scale, these things mean a lot.

Because art doesn't happen for free. Talent is one thing; discipline is quite another. The opportunity cost of artistic discipline is frequently a full-time paycheck. By shaming an artist for declaring that his or her work is worth something, we are starving our own creative selves.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Crass Vulgarity

Astute readers will note that Pretty Lady has added a Button to her sidebar, entitled 'Pretty Lady's Rent Fund.' This is the result of a fun experiment involving Photoshop, a Paypal account, and a suggestion from Bane. Consider it along the lines of a Tip Jar; donations are, regrettably, not tax-deductible, and will serve only to subsidize Phil the Neanderthal. Tangentially, they will keep Pretty Lady with a roof over her head, where she promises to keep scribbling away, to the utmost of her ability.

The Issue at Hand

Dear little MV did not quite understand me:

"Something to remember--the Issue at Hand is never the true issue. Know this, and compassion will blossom."

How do you mean? I find it difficult to have any compassion at all for these men who would like to see us chained to walls if they had their way.

Pretty Lady, characteristically, must digress yet again. There was once a time--there were many times in fact--that Pretty Lady was living in a Very Bad Neighborhood. The reasons she lived there were both economic and aesthetic--her house was a veritable and inexpensive Paradise in the midst of Chaos, and for the first year or two, she coped with the chaos by driving home, running up the steps, and locking the door behind her, much as though she were living in a suburb.

After awhile, though, she began to get curious, and perhaps even a bit cocky. She befriended a kindly grandmother junkie on the block, who kept her abreast of neighborhood gossip, such as that when the SWAT team stormed the house across the street, they didn't get the kingpins. Moreover, she discovered that against all accountability, there was actually a lovely State Preserve a few blocks away. Cockily, she began taking walks there.

Thus, when her Best Friend decided, one Saturday evening round 10 PM, that she'd like to go for a stroll, Pretty Lady's better judgment was temporarily numb. The two of them popped round to the park--two tasty blonde chicks in a howling urban wilderness.

Normally, Pretty Lady's technique for avoiding random assault is twofold. She prefers not to assume that someone's intentions are hostile until they conclusively prove otherwise, and thus she greets all comers with an aura of calm friendliness and gentle expectation. Additionally, she is tall, mesomorphic, alert, and carries her keys like a set of brass knuckles. If a person is wavering between whether to violently assault her, or nod and stroll on past, Pretty Lady does what she can to make the latter option the overwhelmingly attractive one.

Indeed, we realized later that we'd probably skimmed past two or three gang-bangs before the two Samoan fellows eventually jumped us. By the time these strapping young men burst out of the bushes and came toward us with purposeful, silent strides, we were only a block away from the nearest habitation. Both of us being regular runners, we made it down the length of this block before they caught us, which probably saved our lives.

Pretty Lady is not an experienced fighter, but she could tell that the man who targeted her was an expert. He had her down on the pavement before she was clear what was what, and slammed the back of her head into the asphalt, with the practiced intention of knocking her unconscious. Pretty Lady remembers thinking, 'wow, this doesn't hurt at all. How interesting. However I had better not allow it to continue.'

Then she was on her feet again, reeling somewhat; the other dude, obviously less-experienced, was attempting to subdue her Best Friend. Pretty Lady slammed him in the temple with her brass-knuckle keys, while her friend kicked him in the stomach (not being, even in this extreme situation, vicious enough to go for the groin.) This evidently surprised him. Little blonde chicks are not supposed to fight back.

However, things continued to spiral out of hand. Pretty Lady found herself down again, and up again, reeling worse than before. At this point, she was thinking, 'I had better not die, now. My family would be terribly upset.'

Then, suddenly, it was all over. There was a doorway, lights, and the police on the phone; the police were a bit exasperated. 'Don't take walks in this neighborhood after dark,' they said. Well, duh.

But what caused lovely Rose Weatherspoon to open her door when she heard screams was not the screams; she was too accustomed to routine domestic violence to pay much attention to that. What caused her to open her door was the ring of young black men in front of her house, yelling 'Kill the bitches.' Pretty Lady never saw or heard those men at all. She only knows about them from hearsay.

So what, you may ask, does this pretty little story have to do with 'compassion'?

People have occasionally asked Pretty Lady if she's angry at those men; if she even hates them. She admits that for about six months afterward, she was a little jittery when walking down the street. She spent a lot of time alone in gardens and on beaches. But rage? Hatred? No. You see, it was so clear that it wasn't personal.

(In fact, the people who were genuinely hard to forgive were not the violent criminals, but the so-called 'friends' who abruptly stopped returning phone calls immediately after the incident, as if trouble were catching. This was, of course, counterbalanced by the genuine friends who allowed Pretty Lady to live with them for three months; the occasional social-circle housecleaning is not a bad thing.)

The word 'compassion,' my dear MV, can be broken down into two parts; 'co', meaning 'with', and 'passion', meaning, well, passion. Or 'feeling,' if you prefer. 'Compassion: feeling with.'

I am sure, MV, that you know what it is to be beset by demons. Demons of rage, frustration, confusion, despair. Demons that come of not being seen, not being attended to; demons of feeling that you are not loved. And I am equally sure that when beset by these demons, on some level, they have caused you to Lash Out--at others, or at yourself. I am sure of this, dear MV, because I am sure that you are human.

Thus, lovely and earnest MV, is it not reasonable to conclude that when a person lashes out, for whatever purported reason, at whatever target, that this person in this moment believes, with sincere hopeless despair, that they are not loved?

Please feel free to challenge my reasoning.

Meanwhile, it appears to Pretty Lady that the only possible effective response, when she perceives someone lashing out, is to love them. Many times, in fact always, she is not capable of loving this person all by herself; then she must enlist the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit's voice is quiet, but it always speaks the truth. The Holy Spirit tells her what to say, and it will tell you, too.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Biological Differences

Pretty Lady's cuñado recently alerted her to a grave oversight in her oeuvre. Whilst the two of use were packing for the day's kayaking expedition, he casually declared, "I'm not hungry, now, so we won't pack any food. Okay?"

Well, no.

Pretty Lady declared, "I am a female person. I go into Low Blood Sugar, every four hours on the dot. We shall pack food. This is a central issue."

Her smart-aleck cuñado retorted, "Well, it must not be that central, because Pretty Lady hasn't written about it."

Horrors. She must rectify the situation at once.

Gentlemen. You must understand. The vast majority of ladies are not camels. We are not exclusively carniverous mammals, either. The tigerish habit of saving up our hunger for six or eight or twelve hours, then consuming two thousand calories all at once in a frenzy, does not suit our temperaments. If truth be told, it doesn't suit yours, either; but nevertheless, many of you seem determined to force it. Thinking that it's 'macho' or something.

Gentlemen, it is in your seriously vested interests to understand this simple fact. The vast majority of feminine snapping, snarking, carping, nagging, backseat-driving, headaches, rolling of eyeballs, and expelling one's breath loudly in a suppressed huff could be avoided, by the simple expedient of Stopping for Lunch. Now. Not in an hour and a half when we're closer to that Perfect Spot. Not in four hours when the famed stuffed pizza joint begins serving. Now. The stuffed pizza can wait.

This, gentlemen, is not a Weight Issue. Weight Issues are an irrelevant tangent; they are a scurrilous means for insecure persons to maintain an illusion of moral superiority. In fact, Pretty Lady has noticed that there is a direct connection between the person who responds to the statement, "I'm hungry," with "Oh, I never eat before two," and the person with a serious weight problem. People with weight problems never acknowledge hunger to be a valid issue, because they themselves have utterly separated the concepts of 'food' and 'hunger.' Food, to them, has become a means of covert control.

(This holds equally true for persons whose weight problems comprehend anorexia and bulimia. There is nothing at all more draining than attempting to share a meal with a recovering bulimic. Trust me, it leaves no room for civilized conversation.)

No, Low Blood Sugar is a pedestrian phenomenon, which happens to more or less all of us. It simply is. There is no moralizing to be done about it; there is simply the obtaining of Lunch. Which is cause, indeed, for celebration; not an onerous task at all.

Consumer feedback

Pretty Lady would never be so gauche as to actually write this letter herself, but she is privately glad that somebody else did. Condescension and vulgarity in product packaging has long been a phenomenon that she has unwillingly tolerated.

Dear Kotex,

I recently noticed that the peel-off strip of my pantiliner had a bunch of "Kotex Tips for Life" on it. Annoying advice such as:

*Staying active during your period can relieve cramps.
*Avoiding caffeine may help reduce cramps and headaches.
*Drink 6-8 glasses of water a day to keep you hydrated and feeling fresh.
*Try Kotex blah blah blah other products...

Obviously the individual behind this was someone who has never possessed a functioning set of ovaries. Go ahead and tell a menstruating woman that drinking 6-8 glasses of water will help keep her feeling fresh. Like we need more fluid inside our bloated bodies from hell...but go ahead...I triple-dog-friggen-dare-ya.. . See what happens and report back. I'll wait.

While you're at it, dump out the coffee at work and remove the chocolate from the vending machine. I garan-damn-tee you that the first responders will be females who just ovulated.

Staying active will relieve headaches & cramps...well guess what, the only activities that interest me is eating..sleeping...bitching or crying for no apparent reason...and oh...(my personal favorite) does ripping someone's head off count as a friggen' activity???? ?

Look, females don't need or want tips for living on their feminine hygiene products. Younger girls are already hearing "helpful" crap like that from elderly relatives. Veteran females have already concocted their own recipes for survival, many containing alcohol & barbiturates.

Printing out crap advice while sneaking in ads for the brand that was already purchased is just plain annoying, not to mention rude, and is enough to send a girl running to the Always brand.

It's not a fun time, but DO NOT try to cheer us up by adding smiley faces or bunnies or flowery cutesy crap to your products or the packaging. Put the crap in a plain brown wrapper so we can throw it in our carts discreetly and have it blend in among the wine and beer.

There is nothing more annoying than having a blinding pink package announcing your uterine state to everyone in the store. Why don't ya just add an in-store microphone to the damn package & announce that...helloooo, another female in the store is on the rag!!!!!

So take your tips for living and your cute bunnies & the smiley faces and shove them right up your a**!

P.S. How about adding a free sample of Pamprin & maybe a shot of Bourbon to your packages instead?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Best compliment ever

Pretty Lady's sister says that "Scrapyard Lullaby" by Chris Whitley reminds her of Pretty Lady.

Wake up running on the sacred ground
Searching the scrapyard for my dirty crown
I been walking a very long time

Baby child up on your momma's knee
Thirty-five angels looking after me
They been watching with eyes so wide

In a sea of steel I seen a golden glow
Screaming the message anyone could know
Like a walking translation on a street of lies
Singing this scrapyard lullaby

I'm gonna' take my time for her riches
Wait for the diamonds to ripen in the ditches of love around here
Things are never as they appear

Got a natural pearl in my calloused hand
Saved for the girl who could really understand what it takes to see
The gold from the alchemy

From a rusted hood I seen the stars fall about
Screaming the message anyone could find out
Like a walking translation down a street of lies
Singing this scrapyard lullaby

Hush now baby dream sweet things
Mama gonna' bring your anvil some wings
She will let it go, you won't even know

Cause the chrome do rust and the dust do shine
Broken could be golden in it's very own time
You can be sure, you won't even know what for

Now I'm down in the junk on a darkened day
Searching through the prizes others throw away
Like a walking translation on a street of lies
Singing this scrapyard lullaby
Wake up running on the sacred ground
Thirty-five angels leading her around
Like a walking translation down a street of lies
Singing the scrapyard lullaby
Singing the scrapyard lullaby

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Maine Tourist Information

1. The Bangor Folk Festival is where it's at.

Mainers are the cutest things. None of them can dance, and none of them know it. So cheerily enthusiastic! So bobbing-around! So droll! In their button-down shirts, long-sleeve cardigan pullovers, moccasins, dredlocks, and Gandalf beards!

Pretty Lady apologizes for all the toes she trampled, yesterday. It was quite impossible to avoid.

• Recommended: Grupo Fantasma. Utterly, irresistibly danceable. Pretty Lady is listening to them as we speak. Tra-la-la-la.

2. Water lilies grow wild.

Pretty Lady did not believe this was possible. Secretly she still suspects that the State of Maine sneaks around at night and plants water lilies in all the lakes and ponds. But her cuñado swears that they grow there all by themselves. Also the pitcher plants and sundews.

It gives one pause, however, to reflect that where carniverous plants grow thickly, there also must be the mosquitoes to feed them. Fortunately, today was mildly breezy and mildly chilly, just the day for a kayak round the bog.

3. Bald eagles still exist.

We saw one! Just actually today! Paddling through the water lilies, past the pitcher plants, cat-tails, cranberry bushes, and sundews! It was quite an overwhelming moment.

4. One does not ride in a kayak. One wears one.

It's rather like being a Monopod. There is a little thing you put on, called a 'splash skirt' (which is most dorky and unattractive.) Then you put on your kayak. You squeeze your hips into it, and adjust the little pedals to your leg-length, so that you can dip the whole kayak by twisting your hips. When you paddle, you are not moving it with your arms; you are holding your arms straight and pushing against the water with your latissimus dorsi. It is all very splendid, like being a different sort of creature altogether.

In fact, it has been quite a Dawn Treader day.

5. 'Cozification' is a survival skill.

Thus Pretty Lady's primary talents come into play. Here is the Library Loft she did for her little sister:

inspired, partly, by a work of literature which made a profound impression upon both of our psyches, at an early age.

For those of you unfamiliar with this great work of art--the mouse builds a feathery nest inside the jack-o'-lantern, the snow comes down, the pumpkin closes its eyes and the mouse is all snuggled up in a round orange room, asleep. This is the sort of thing that one thinks of, on those rare occasions when one is plagued with insomnia. Works better than drugs.

Pretty Lady apologizes for not getting photos of the lilies, the carniverous plants, or the bald eagle. Cameras and kayaks, sadly, do not mix. Now that it is raining, however, as it evidently does quite often here, perhaps she will snuggle down in her new Library Loft and do some scribbling. Or perhaps a nap.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Excellent marketing strategy

Pretty Lady has been remiss, once again. Months ago, she picked up a free CD in a charming little French café on 5th avenue and 11th street. Months later, she remembered to play it. Months later still, she is reporting that Clare Burson's music is quite lovely, well worth listening to, and not a bit like Tara's, for those of you who are still feeling violated and betrayed by Pretty Lady's rougher tastes.

(I had a boyfriend, Psychotic M., who felt the same way. He once broke in, uninvited and unwelcome, upon a longstanding, private chitchat date that Pretty Lady had with a Best Friend, acting very strangely. Twelve hours of tiresome tantrums later, it came to light that he had been to a Ramones concert. He hadn't liked it. He hadn't liked it at all, and the fact that Pretty Lady had casually mentioned that, failing the Best Friend date, she might like to drop in upon the Ramones, had deeply upset him. He felt that his Pretty Lady ought not to like that sort of thing. Breaking in on her date was his way of expressing his feeling that Pretty Lady should change her tastes, right then, so that his fragile psyche could regain its sense of stability in the universe.)

(Pretty Lady broke up with Psychotic M. shortly after this incident, and then the real trouble began.)

Anyhoo, if you go to Clare's site, I highly recommend starting with 'Love Me in the Morning' and then playing right on through. She is sweet and Celtic-sounding, in case you need a taste meter.

Standing on an island, desperately trying to hold back the rising tide of illiteracy

People. What gives?

The word 'vicious' meaning 'cruel; savage' is spelled VICIOUS. As in the rocker, 'Sid Vicious.' He wasn't born with that name, dears. He gave himself that name. He assumed it in order to impress upon his fans the savagery of his temperament. Poor Sid could not foresee that society would decline so steeply, after his spectacular demise, that his chosen last name would shortly be consistently mis-spelled upon the Internet, by hordes of people claiming to be functionally literate.

The word 'viscose' meaning 'having a heavy, gluey quality; glutinous' is spelled with an 's' in front of the 'c.' The word 'vicious' is not. Do you hear? It is NOT spelled with an 's' in front of the 'c.' 'S' before 'C' except after 'G' is NOT a grammar rule in any textbook.

This has been bothering Pretty Lady for months. Now back to our regularly scheduled vacation.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Oh, the irony

Dear Crom has a suggestion:

You should spend some time in Texas. Although - Austin does not count. Austin is a singular island of incongruous foppery in an ocean of normalcy. The denizens of Austin walk around in a constant state of high-iron terror that someone somewhere in New York might believe them to be backwoods hicks.

Once outside of Austin, you might be amazed to find people of culture, intelligence and taste here, albeit with a fierce independent streak. You might not be amazed to find an overwhelming dearth of high-voiced men in dresses desperate to get in touch with their feminine side.

Remember, brainpower is not geographically based, and be prepared to be astonished at the sharp intelligence in those bright blue eyes underneath that Stetson.

Well, Crom, now, bless yer heart.

Pretty Lady never ceases to wonder about the seemingly labyrinthine and mysterious, but somehow surprisingly symmetrical, patterns ordained by Fate. About once every six months she stays up until 2 AM, Googling every person she can ever remember meeting, just to find out What Happened.

What she finds, surprisingly, is that Intention is Everything. If her batshit-crazy co-collaborator in a quixotic artistic enterprise told her, in 1992, "We're going to be Really Famous," results of the Google search in the year 2000 seem to indicate that this person is, indeed, really famous, within the confines of her own particular esoteric community. If her friend Richard said, in 1985, "I'm going to be a philosophy professor. I'll probably have to live somewhere like Indiana, because tenured positions are hard to come by," lo and behold, search results indicate that he ended up philosophizing in Indiana. Head of the department, no less.

By the same token, those who had no direction, no goals, and no ambitions (wishful thinking does not count) have, seemingly, gone nowhere. Either Pretty Lady cannot track them down at all, or she hears via the grapevine that they are still working their nowhere job in their nowhere town, whining habitually.

What does this have to do with Texas? You may well ask.

Crom, Pretty Lady has a confession to make. All that stuff in her profile is a clever ruse. It is an attempt, however whimsical, to escape the inexorable dictates of Fate. It is Fanciful Fiction, with just enough truth thrown in to make it plausible. The fact is, Crom, Pretty Lady knows Texas like the back of her hand. She grew up there.

Yes, Pretty Lady is intimately familiar with the temperament, habits, virtues, and limitations of the native Texan. She has driven down I-35 at 3 AM, drunk off her ass, wearing one contact lense and holding a large unwieldy object tenuously strapped to the roof of her car with one hand, operating the stick shift with the other. She habitually checks her shoes for scorpions, and her picnic spot for fire ants. She has spent the night in ranch houses with forty-three animal heads festooning the walls, and firearms strapped to the undersides of all the tables. She has trolled the antique market in Canton, and stolen feather dusters from elite hotels in Dallas. She has waterskiied on Lake Granbury, and raided the town square for salt-water taffy afterward. She knows to watch for the speed trap outside of Cleburne. She has gotten her car stuck in the sand at Padre, engaged in tequila-consumption contests with the Hispanic boys from Corpus, and climbed onto the roof of Liberty Lunch during a Sonic Youth concert. She was shocked, once, when some Bay Area girls asked her to take them two-stepping, and not only did they not know how to two-step--when the Cotton-Eye Joe came on, they didn't know it.

So it seems, Crom, that on some level you have honed in on the ineradicable Texanity of Pretty Lady's soul, and called her bluff.

As with any place where one has endured the tribulations of adolescence, then, Pretty Lady has a love/hate relationship with Texas. She revels, as you say, in the independent-minded, no-nonsense, down-home shrewdness of the native Texan. She flees in horror, however, from the smugly ingenuous materialism of that same native Texan; that smugness betrayed, my darling Crom, by the phrase 'ocean of normalcy' in your opening paragraph.

The defects of Texans can be summed up, indeed, by pointing to that most egregious example of same, our own dear leader, Shrub. (Dubya to the rest of you.) Shrub is not a bad man; he is not even a stupid man. He is merely incapable of imagining that there are persons on the planet who do not think like Dubya. Or he imagines that there are such persons, and that these persons fall into two categories; the Evil, and the Batshit-Crazy.

Therefore if someone presents Shrub with some information that he does not understand, that does not fit into his world view, the immediate and charitable conclusion that he draws is that this person is Batshit-Crazy. Thus his generous, tolerant response to the information provided is to give an easygoing chuckle, crack a deprecating joke, and continue in his courses as though he had not heard. This is how a good Texan treats his batshit-crazy wife, and the ranch continues to function, so why would anyone do otherwise?

As you might have noticed, dear Crom, if you have been paying attention to Pretty Lady's occasional scribblings, she was blessed at birth with a certain quirkiness of personality and temperament--a certain flair, if you will. Additionally, she must confess that whenever she was induced to take one of those foolish and all-but-meaningless things, an intelligence test, her scores tended to fetch up against the extreme end of the bell curve--around 99th percentile or so.

These two factors, combined with voracious literary consumption, kinesthetic creativity, and a delight in pattern recognition and conceptual integration, mean that from a very early age, Pretty Lady has had the tendency to come out with spontaneous, puckish comments that the average Texan does not understand. Pretty Lady is not intending to be difficult; she is not attempting to draw an untoward amount of attention to herself. She is merely being friendly. And when she is friendly, the average Texan treats her like she's batshit-crazy.

This sort of thing inevitably creates despondency. Well she remembers, on innumerable occasions, being the recipient of the Look. That blank, open-mouthed Look that indicates, "Did the chair just speak? No, the chair could not possibly have spoken. I must be going batshit-crazy. I will pretend that nothing happened."

What does a person conclude, when every overture toward friendship on her part is met with such treatment? Naturally, she concludes that she is Not Normal. Pursuant to this discovery, she divines that she must be a Freak. So she moves to the Bay Area, where all the other freaks go; and, being basically a sensible Texan at heart, she finds that she's a freak there, too.

And, wearily, Pretty Lady becomes internationally peripatetic, seeking a place where she is Normal. She has many adventures; she meets many fascinating persons, and accomplishes wondrous things. She eradicates, so she thinks, her ignominous Past.

Only to find that, it seems, you can take the gal outta Texas, but you can't take Texas outta the gal. Pretty Lady has come to accept this; she has even come to be grateful for it. And she quite enjoys her yearly visits home, now.

But she ain't gonna marry no cowboy, no sir--not unless he treats her lak she's sane.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Star rising

Those of you who have been hanging with Pretty Lady for awhile now may perhaps remember her encounter, last March, with an unlikely star. She is now thrilled to report that Ms. Tara Lynne is steadily getting her act together. When Pretty Lady and her Japanese neighbor wandered into the Buttermilk Bar last Wednesday evening, intending to have a quiet good-bye chat, dear Tara was serendipitously headlining. With a poster! A big poster in the window, featuring Tara!

The turnout was substantial and attentive, and Tara has obviously been practicing. Her set was solid, with no klunkers and few trip-ups. Tara's rendition of 'Sara Smile' sent chills up and down Pretty Lady's spine; it is the mark of a true artist when one can discover hidden depth, drama and angst in Hall and Oates. Pretty Lady was disappointed to find that 'Sara Smile' was not included on the album, but concedes that this was probably a canny professional decision on Tara's part.

And indeed, Tara has an album! Pretty Lady happened to be in funds, due to the fact that at the last minute she called up a check-bouncing client and scolded him; unexpectedly he showed up with the cash. (It is shocking, the way a calculated temper tantrum can sometimes produce results when courtesy fails.) So two albums were purchased, one for Pretty Lady to take on the road, and one for Hiroko to play loudly in New York. It is an excellent first effort; it lacks the polish that would be provided by substantial capital investment in top-notch recording technology, but if Tara keeps up this hard work and relative sobriety, there's a good chance she will attract such investment in future.

Pretty Lady urges each and every one of you to hustle on over to Tara's site and listen, just listen, to the samples, particularly "I'm Leavin'." If they do not give you chills, either your speakers need replacing, or Pretty Lady will take up knitting and stay home from now on.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Bars, beers, and clueless characters

A Wiser Man Than I interrupts this bucolic idyll for a pressing question:

I don't wish to unduly bother you while you are down on the farm, but
an interesting thing happened over the weekend which begs your keen

As a student at an engineering school, most of my friends are men. We
were out bar-hopping last Saturday with a solitary--and
unattached--female in our group. At some point, an unsavory character
began to hone in on the lone female. After the barest amount of small talk,
he offered to buy her a drink. She refused, but upon his insistence
accepted a drink.

While he was at the bar, I told her to tell him I was her boyfriend,
lest things tend toward worse.

He continued to demonstrate his lack of charm, even going so far as to
asking, "You know why I bought you that drink, don't you?" and then
asking her out. She pointed me out as the "boyfriend" and we eventually shook
him as our game of darts mercifully finished.

Obviously this man needs PL's help, but anyone in his mid 40's--I'm
guessing--who thinks hitting on college girls is a good idea may beyond
even your powers.

However, my friend felt guilty for taking a free drink, though we all
told her not to worry about it. My question then, is what are the rules for
accepting a drink? Is there a minimal amount of conversation one must
engage in? Does this depend on the nature of the buyer--as
conversation could be shortened in the case of extreme creepiness?
I'd appreciate your thoughts.
Dear Wiser,

Pretty Lady's thoughts on such situations can generally be summed up very simply. 'Hmph. Typical,' is her short answer to your question. She can, furthermore, refer you to Cynthia Heimel on the topic: "Be careful when accepting drinks from strangers. In some parts of the country, they still think this means you are definitely going to sleep with them."

However, the essence of civilization is progress. And since you, a gentleman in progress, have had the grace to ask this question, Pretty Lady will elaborate upon the niceties and nuances of this typical social situation, which you have so kindly described in detail.

Your story, brief and sordid as it is, has nevertheless touched upon the heart of the labyrinthine social tangles which an unattached female must perpetually negotiate, whenever she leaves the house. Your rank-and-file clueless male, generally of the rougher social order, is psychologically incapable of accepting a lady's boundary, either stated or projected, unless it includes a prior commitment to another male. In other words, the only acceptable rebuttal to the question, implied or stated, "Hey, wanna fuck?" is "No, I'm married."

Never mind an independent lack of inclination upon the lady's part. Never mind that your teeth are rotting out of your head, you visibly lack education beyond sixth-grade special-ed and a stable source of income, not to mention your total ignorance of social graces. No, a Husband with a Gun is the only thing that prevents us wanton temptresses from falling into the arms of every random man who asks. Indeed, women are the source of all evil.

Sorry about that. Pretty Lady is still getting the industrial waste out of her lungs.

In this case, then, Pretty Lady must congratulate you. A Wiser Man is, truly, wise; you remind me of my dear friend Richard, who rescued me once in the dorm lobby just as Smarmy Ben was about to slobber all over my shoulder. Dear Richard ran interference just in time; although the two of us shared a strictly Platonic (intensely Platonic, in fact--Richard was, and is, a career philosopher) relationship, upon this one occasion Richard draped an arm round my imperilled shoulder, murmured into my ear 'hold my hand as you go toward the elevator. Smarm is on your tail', and escorted me safely to the elevator in question, apologizing quietly for this emergency violation of my personal space. Smarmy Ben leaped back in the manner of a puppy encountering an electric fence.

(This was only a temporary remedy, though--there were a couple of months there when my friends had to surround me, chattering, at all times, lest Smarmy Ben get a slobber in edgewise. I will forever blame Carin Knoop for this. Carin allowed him to sit next to her in History class; therefore I was civil to him, and spent the next three years regretting the error.)


As Pretty Lady was saying, she gives you full marks for your handling of the situation. Would that more gentlemen were so quick on the uptake. Pretty Lady once had to create a scene in a Mexican bar, despite the fact that several of her male 'friends' (I use this term loosely) had spent a number of minutes passively observing a drunken peasant urging her and her friend Elaine to provide him with free transport to the United States, and hospitality therein, with benefits. After she and Elaine had politely explained, several times, that they didn't speak Spanish and were not interested in continuing the conversation, the drunkard nevertheless dared to place his hand on Pretty Lady's shoulder. Her loud and fluent response, in Spanish, to this gross breach of etiquette shocked the entire bar into silence, and instantly caused the drunkard to evaporate, out of sheer craven humiliation.

Had any of her male 'friends' responded sooner, by forthrightly ordering the fool to leave the ladies alone, this debacle might have been avoided. It would have allowed everyone to save face; the social order would have been maintained. By allowing clueless pesterers to pester ladies unchallenged, such men are contributing to the decline of civilization.

However, this is all mere anecdotal rambling. What you really want to know is, "How does a lady handle the offer of a drink from a stranger, strings visibly attached or no?"

It is, of course, perfectly polite to accept a drink from anyone at any time, and perfectly scurrilous for the buyer of the drink to place any onus of obligation, sexual or otherwise, upon the drinker. If at all possible, it is polite to converse with the buyer of the drink for the amount of time it takes to drink it. However, as you say, if the drink-buyer demonstrates signs of extreme creepiness, it is also entirely correct to cut the conversation short.

In latter days, Pretty Lady has had excellent results with the phrase, "You know, you're acting kind of creepy. Please leave me alone." Clueless people do surprisingly well when things are spelled out thus explicitly.

In addition, Pretty Lady has realized that it was partly her training in genteel civility, within a good Christian home, that ironically subjected her to the worst of clueless sleazebags. By 'treating everyone with equal courtesy,' by smiling agreeably, by chatting with buyers of drinks, Pretty Lady was inadvertantly encouraging them. As she has grown older and wiser, she has developed a certain technique to counteract sleaziness in strangers, which seems rather effective.

This technique consists of a certain non-verbal queenliness of manner. It is akin to the technique she employed while working as a temporary secretary, to avoid abuse by insecure and tyrranical middle-managers. It involves a calm, gracious acquiescence to any reasonable request, accompanied by the subtle implication that one is doing the requester a favor.

Thus, when the tyrranical middle-manager orders you to obtain the Fluxus file without delay, you reply, graciously, "Sure!" and competently hand it over, in a friendly but disinterested manner. When a stranger offers to buy you a drink, you reply, "How very kind of you!" and proceed to interview this kind stranger as though the two of you were lone, stray travelers meeting in a dive bar in Shanghai. During this interview, you cultivate an interested, sexless detachment, which conveys the wordless but unmistakeable message, "I am Not Available."

If the sleazebag is sufficiently drunk or clueless to miss this message entirely (and, once you get it down, you will be surprised at how effective it is), you may then graduate to the raised eyebrow, the cold 'I beg your pardon?' and, as a last resort, the immortal 'Please Leave Me Alone.'

All of this is, of course, quite exhausting, the more so because kind gentlemen such as yourself have no inkling of the training we ladies go through to attain it. The world is a simpler place for gentlemen.

On Farm, With Sister

That hissing sound you hear is the sound of Pretty Lady's aura decompressing. She has planned, plotted and finagled her first long-term break from The City in two years. Words cannot describe her feelings upon this momentous occasion. Terms like 'farmhouse' and 'forest' and 'pond' and 'crickets' do not contain the necessary impact; they come across as common and cliché-ridden. So she will maintain a Zen silence on the subject of her immediate surroundings, except to say that they are very, very pretty.

Moreover, Pretty Lady's sister saved the fun jobs for her. This farmhouse has more rooms than Pretty Lady's sister knows what to do with; Pretty Lady has never in her life had such a problem. No sooner had her feet hit farmhouse floorboards than she began Nesting Ferociously. Of course she is not finished. Scarcely begun, in fact. Really she only popped in to say hello, and that she loves you, and that she will pop in again shortly.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

How to Leave a Loser

By this time, all of Pretty Lady's friends should need no convincing of her qualifications regarding the titular topic. Pretty Lady, sadly, is an increasingly renowned expert on Losers. The Losers she has known, moreover, are not a homogenous lot; nor do they resemble the garden-variety loser in superficials. You know the one I mean--the pot addict, the drunkard, the perennially unemployed, the spendthrift, the wife-beater. No, Pretty Lady's taste in Losers has historically been wide-ranging and exotic. This is partly the reason she has been able to convince herself that each successive Loser was not a Loser at all, but merely a misunderstood genius. Some of them were geniuses, in fact; this does not affect their essential Loser nature one jot.

So Pretty Lady believes it is best to start with the basics: how does one recognize a Loser, when one is entangled to the point where one's Loser radar is hopelessly snarled in a miasma of erotic enslavement, emotional attachment, intellectual fascination, and codependent rationalization?

The answer to this question is, realistically, one doesn't. Not until the time arrives. One's friends can point it out, one's family can complain, roll eyeballs, and disinherit all they like. A Loser-addicted lady will not even notice. She will regard it as her job to defend the Loser against his detractors at all costs; this is merely her duty as a Good Faithful Woman.

So let us re-frame the question. What does one do when the love and light of one's life, that misunderstood genius, that special individual that only You are capable of understanding truly, that flawed god in human form, is turning your life into a thoroughly ungrounded roller coaster of increasingly infrequent blissed-out highs, punctuated by ever-deepening troughs of screaming misery?

Now I've got your attention.

A hallmark of Loser-addiction is the circular nature of your interactions. Well Pretty Lady remembers those tequila-soaked 3 AMs, the maudlin renditions of "Take a Pebble," the angst-ridden confessions of hopeless attachment, the reconcilatory passions, the snuggling amongst a mound of blankets. Well she harks back upon those hung-over dawns, with Coke and lime, beef stew and tortillas for breakfast; after this the contemplative, healthful explorations of hidden Spanish ruins in the rain. Even better does she recall the sudden moments when her lover abruptly disappeared, because he was entertaining yet another woman Pretty Lady hadn't heard about. A new one, an old one, they were all the same in the end.

Or the surprise visits from the Zen monastery--no expense spared on ten-year-old whiskey, the healthful jogs on the beaches, the deep conversations on esoteric matters, the grocery shopping, the impromptu dinner parties, the hijinks in the bathtub--followed by months of enlightened Zen silence.

Or the mutually supportive, mutually beneficial partnership--the Friday evening dates at Home Depot, the renovations, the potting of plants, the mutual massages, the outdoing one another on maternal clucking and cooking of healthful meals, the sushi splurges, the relaxing weekends upstate, mutually worn out from such mutually harmonious hard work. If it weren't for those periodic, rage-filled, irrational, abusive rants upon the evils of marriage, the lobotomizing effects of spiritual practice, and the basic sexual undesirability of Pretty Lady, a mutually satisfying relationship might have continued indefinitely.

So then the question becomes--when one of the Losers described above has worn you to a hysterical shred, when you must break the cycle or die, but you are still hampered by the fog of irrational yet overwhelmingly compelling attachment, what do you do?

Leaving town is a good option. Seriously. Leaving the country is even better.

If this is not possible, remember this axiom: It is not possible to change another person. It is only possible to change oneself.

The one immutable characteristic of a dyed-in-the-wool Loser is that he cannot bear personal growth. He creates these cycles of artificial drama because they create the illusion that something is happening, while allowing him to remain mired in his own battered infancy of the spirit. Not only can he not countenance genuine change in himself, he cannot endure it in other people.

So if you, his adoring punching-bag, make the choice to become a healthier, happier, more functional person, the overwhelming likelihood is that he will make it easy for you to leave him, by leaving you first.

If you find yourself shackled to a Loser, then, you must start with a simple action geared to your own personal benefit. You may join a gym or sign up for a yoga class. You may join a book club; you may take an independent holiday. You might decide to spend four hours a day arbitrarily ignoring your Loser. You could clean the clutter out of the corners of your apartment.

Once you have gotten into a few of these habits, the balance between you and the Loser will have subtly shifted. You will have a glow about you; you will not be so susceptible to sudden yankings upon the heartstrings. The Loser will not like this. He will yank harder. He will pretend to capitulate to therapy; he will throw one of his bi-annual 'I'm-going-to-quit-smoking-tomorrow' parties. He will dramatically jettison one or two of the less-consequential Other Women. He will write a thoughtful letter from the monastery. Anything to lure you back into the cycle.

You will, of course, be lured. But you will not cease going to yoga class. Eventually you will become so balanced, healthy, and centered that you will calmly ask the Loser to stop treating you like a psychic spittoon.

It is then that the yoga will come most in handy, because this request will cause the Loser to lose his shit. He will claim that you are an irrational, hysterical mess. He will make dates with five women in one week. He will sign up for a six-month Zen intensive in the Mojave desert. He will, in effect, cast you into the deepest soul-wrenching trough of screaming misery that he has ever done.

And you will look around the trough, think, "This looks familiar. In fact, I'm getting sort of bored with it," and climb out.

So exciting

The Amorphophallus Titanum at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden is blooming!

This has not happened since 1939. Pretty Lady sees that she will have to make room in her busy pre-departure schedule to pop by the garden and see it, although perhaps she will have to bring along a lavender-soaked hankie. This flower's common nickname is the 'corpse flower,' due to its distinct odor of putrefaction.

For those of you who are not fortunate enough to live near the Garden, they have kindly set up a blog, a photo diary and a webcam, so that horticulture enthusiasts worldwide can track its progress. The pollination pictures are especially interesting.

Trivial Things

Twice during the last week, Pretty Lady has been approached in a parking lot by a gentleman who wishes to remove the dents from the body of her car. "I'll give ya a good price," they promise. When Pretty Lady declines their offer, they then offer to buy her car.

These gentlemen must think Pretty Lady is a fool.

The primary virtue of Pretty Lady's car is that it moves from one place to another, carrying large loads of stuff, when you put gas in it and press the accelerator. This was the reason she purchased the car, third-hand, after a great deal of research and study. Aesthetics carried no weight with her at all, except as an exciting bonus. "The leather is a little ripped on the driver's seat," the previous owner confessed.

"It has LEATHER SEATS? What an astonishing luxury!" Pretty Lady replied. It has a CD player, too. Blessings abound.

The fact that Pretty Lady's car moves from one place to another, however, is the important thing about it. This factor constitutes 99.99% of its value, in Pretty Lady's mind. The gulf between having a means to move large heavy objects long distances, quickly, at a moment's notice, and not having this means, is vast. We are talking an order of magnitude, here.

In contrast, the difference between owning a functional automobile with no dent in the rear, and owning one with a dent in the rear, is vanishingly small. Occasionally, Pretty Lady notices the dent, vaguely, in passing. She wonders when and how it might have happened; it certainly did not occur when she was driving the car, or she would have a story to tell. But this is New York. The dent appeared, and that was that.

In fact, she suspects a certain class of New York gentleman of the practice of causing such dents, late at night, with the view of accosting foolish ladies in gas stations during daylight, and making an easy buck.

But this is all by the way. These are the moments, Pretty Lady confesses, when she fetches up against the awareness of just how skewed the human psyche can become. It astonishes her that so few people have a clear understanding of functional priorities. They continually waste energy (money being nothing but energy to burn) on trivial considerations which do not affect the fundamentals of existence one jot.

However, Pretty Lady must confess, that after vacuuming her car in preparation for her upcoming vacation, she contemplated the driver's seat with new eyes. She noted that the seat was, indeed, shredded. Upon entering the auto supply shop to purchase a new right-signal lightbulb, she noticed that aut0 supply shops sell such things as 'racing seat covers.' Intoxicated by vacation anticipation, she actually bought one.

So, in fact, the theme of this essay falls to the ground. Long live the trivial, or at the very least, the frivolous.

(With apologies to Cynthia Heimel.)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Tech Lady

After a most exhausting afternoon, Pretty Lady is delighted to report that she has successfully Troubleshot her Browser Problem. The reason her browser was crashing, the reason the trouble did not show up on any commonplace, plebian diagnostic test, the reason the problem remained immune to re-installations, the jettisoning of every extension and plugin she has ever used, and a complete hard drive Software Restore, is that the problem was Fonts. Specifically, one of the three thousand exotic fonts obtained by her from a gallant hacker years ago, and discreetly placed in her Font folder, was confusing the heck out of Firefox whenever it went to map the bits, or whatever it does. Pretty Lady removed the Fonts, and Firefox functions once again.

Pretty Lady must say that she is feeling awfully clever. She found the crash log all by herself, deciphered the problem all by herself, and solved it, all by herself. And invented a new tongue twister, too.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Ties that Bind

Dear Cary Tennis confesses that he is undergoing some personal upheavals at the moment. Pretty Lady is certain that this is why he bombed a question from a heartbroken lady so terribly this week; none of us are at our best when our private realities are under renovation.

The lady's letter, moreover, touched a chord with Pretty Lady, who, not-so-coincidentally, has undergone similar experiences in the past:

...our relationship, I thought, was literally perfect. Every night we slept in each other's arms after laughing together all day long. Held hands, said "I love you," etc. So there wasn't enough sex, enough passion -- I was getting help.

I know I should probably feel like I deserve better than a man who didn't love me enough to put any work into our relationship, or to open up his mouth and communicate with me about our problems, which I deserved as his partner of so many years. But all I am is devastated, utterly hopeless, heartbroken, totally crushed.

Cary's response to this shattered lady was a mere rant upon the capriciousness of the gods. In Pretty Lady's view, the gods had little to do with it. She subscribes instead to the notion that the problem has more to do with a pervasive and legalistic misconception about the true nature of interpersonal passion in our culture.

Recently, Pretty Lady rented "Mrs. Harris," an HBO movie about the real-life killing of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor by his lover, Jean Harris. Thus she was already meditating upon the exigencies of sustained passion, when she encountered Cary's blooper. She noted some extreme similaries between the extinguished Dr. Tarnhower and several of her past lovers; the charisma, the intensity, the lack of mature personal integrity, and in particular, the habit of yanking on his beloved's heartstrings like so many rubber bands, and yo-yoing her psyche into the pavement.

It is no wonder that, weakened by fourteen years of passionate proposals and abrupt dismissals, idyllic interludes punctuated with casual betrayals, tender gestures accompanied by draconian threats, all bolstered by a regular influx of lover-prescribed drugs which masked the physiological and psychological symptoms of intolerable stress, Jean Harris snapped. It does not matter to Pretty Lady whether Mrs. Harris intended to shoot herself, Dr. Tarnhower, or both of them. Her actions were merely a predictable result of the attempt to sustain a self-destructive system. At that point, she and Dr. Tarnhower were no longer individual entities; they were a single, suicidal proposition.

You see, darlings, when two people fall in love, bonds are formed. I realize this comes across as a staggeringly obvious cliché. Please forgive me. The fact is that this is true, in a more profound sense than we fully understand. Bonds are formed which connect hearts, minds, throats and solar plexi; because these bonds are invisible to most people, we tend to think of them as metaphorical. They are not. They are emphatically, literally real, perhaps more real than the tabletop under Pretty Lady's computer. Disavowing these bonds does not cause them to vanish, any more than deciding to apply the term 'leg' to a cat's tail creates a five-legged cat.

Immature, selfish persons will refuse to acknowledge the reality of these bonds for a variety of reasons. The primary reason is a fear of responsibility, coupled with an unwillingness to grow. You see, our lovers act as reflections of ourselves; anything we dislike about ourselves will eventually surface in our mate as a seemingly intractable incompatibility. It is at this point that the integrity of each individual becomes crucial. Lazy, ignorant, or foolish persons will jettison the imperfect mate and start anew, running against the selfsame problem with the next person, a few years down the line. Only the wise and the consciously committed will seize the opportunity to grow in a deeper understanding of the nature of love.

It is for this reason that Pretty Lady recommends asking any potential mate the question, early on in the relationship, "Do you believe in commitment?" If the person says "no," flee instantly. There is no room for negotiation on this issue. Because commitments exist whether a person believes in them or not; what a person who 'doesn't believe in commitment' is really saying is that they do not accept responsibility for nurturing the commitments that they inevitably create.

From Pretty Lady's perspective, then, what happened to the unfortunate lady above is the spiritual equivalent of having one's limbs abruptly hacked off with a blunt axe. It is no wonder that the lady is feeling, not merely a little blue, but utterly incapacitated. Pretty Lady can only speculate as to what is going on, on a conscious level, with her scurrilous ex-partner; she imagines that he has anaesthetized his psyche with lies, denial, and fantasies about what 'true love' really is. He will most certainly muck around looking for it, only to perpetrate the same sort of devastation, 3.5 years later, when he comes smack up against his own unwillingness to grow once again.

Thus, this lady telling herself that her lover "didn't love me enough" to put any work into the relationship is, in itself, another lie and act of emotional violence toward herself. It is not that the man 'did not love her enough;' it is that he labors under a complete misconception as to what love actually entails. True love is a continuous series of actions, not an arbitrary feeling that exists until it ceases. Love is a willingness to embrace a truth larger than oneself. It is a process, frequently a difficult and painful one, but the only process worth undertaking.

Pretty Lady may be coming across today as unwontedly harsh. She means to do so. Because she has noticed that we constantly feed ourselves the lie and the assumption that if things are difficult, they must not be what God intended. Thus we get into the habit of blaming people for their struggles; we say that they must have given themselves cancer, they must have chased their husband away, they must have displeased God and that's why the Mongol hordes overran their village. In reality, the Mongol hordes may be an indication of God's favor, or at least a challenge on a higher order of difficulty, earned as a sort of graduation present--we have no way of knowing. To assume that it is even possible to 'curry favor' with God is hubris of a high degree. Scattering blame is an act of fear; it puts distance between us and the sufferer, as though suffering were a contagious disease, instead of a natural and integral part of life.

Copping out on 'love' the moment it ceases to be an effortless idyll is infantile and contemptible behavior. Modern society is far too lax on this sort of thing. It is time we, as a culture, stopped pretending that emotions are subject to re-negotiation according to whim. It is time we took responsibility for our whole selves, not merely the material portions.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Inner Seven

There is no reason why Pretty Lady should be Moping Round today. She has finally found what appears to be a reliable subletter, and will be shortly departing for a long-overdue, monthlong vacation in the country. The heat wave has broken, and the light has subtly shifted to that deeply shaded brilliance which presages autumn. The Brat has shown no signs of urinary difficulties, and nobly saved her from a potential wasp attack, yesterday evening.

Yet, still, Pretty Lady's tendency to episodes of mild melancholy has asserted itself once again. No doubt it is simply a matter of laziness. The remedy for this is, as Widespread Panic would have it, "Go! Put your work clothes on! Go and leave your mark!" But still, Pretty Lady is letting herself get too dark.

This is the time for reinforcements. This is the time to reach deep into one's closet, and put on clothes that remind one of being seven years old.

Seven, according to child psychologists, is a year of Mastery. It is the time when previously shrinking young girls become Bold and Forthright. Seven, Pretty Lady recalls, was a good year. It was the year she could confidently ride her bike past the end of the block, and swim in the deep end, and was given adult permission to do so freely. It was the year that other kids on the playground briefly called her "Pepper." It was a year of confidence, of freedom, well before she began to notice boys as a source of anything other than mild annoyance, when they stole her crayons and put their feet on her desk. It was the year she arbitrarily decided to pay attention in Geography class and do her homework regularly, with the result that she got an A++ on her final exam, and had her essay read aloud to the class.

(She remembers that her best friend, Adina Weisblatt, got a D-- on this same exam. Pretty Little Girl admired her for this. She felt that it took guts to get a D--; she was sure that Adina had done it on purpose, as an act of creative defiance in the face of the inanity of academia. She mused on the fact that it was no accident Adina was her best friend; she felt that there was a poetic symmetry in the bipolar extremity of their grades. In Pretty Little Girl's mind, A++ and D-- were precisely equivalent. She didn't understand why Adina seemed so mopey and out of sorts that afternoon.)

At seven, things are interesting, and they are simple, and there are no dark shadows of complexity, uncertainty and anguish lurking round the edges of the psyche. At least, there weren't for Pretty Little Girl. Those didn't really take shape until sixth grade. That is why Pretty Lady always has at least one outfit in her closet that says, emphatically, "SEVEN."

For example:

Keds. (Campers will do in a pinch; although they are still ridiculously trendy, they look enough like bowling shoes to pass for the true seven-year aesthetic.)

Too-small, pale-blue T-shirt that says 'Roller Angels," complete with a small hole and some desultory rhinestones, purchased at a yard sale.

Coney Island T-shirt.

Cut-off jeans which have been used over several seasons in which to paint houses, with the ragged bottoms rolled up.

Any cotton T-shirt with a zipper on it somewhere. (This is a fairly specific reference to Pretty Little Girl's favorite shirt, a hand-me-down from the big girls across the street; it had a blue torso, green sleeves, and a scooped yellow collar with a zipper and a ring on it. Pretty Little Girl wore this until it was forcibly seized, pulled apart, and added to the dustrag pile.)

Skirt with large pleats.

Pink jumper thing. (The one Pretty Lady donned today is linen, purchased in San Francisco as a factory second from some actual designer person; thus it does not fulfill the full-on seven-year-old code, 'cheap' and 'well-worn' being key qualities. Still, it is cheerful and sexless enough that it makes her feel like she's getting away with something.)

Cotton skirt with mushrooms and cherries printed on it, and loopy things on the bottom. (This was seriously and unjustifiably expensive, being purchased from a real live designer in her real live boutique on Fifth Avenue. But it fit so well, and was so seven, and the designer was so much like she imagines Mitzibel to be, in person (yes, Mitzibel, you. Pretty Lady does tend to get along with punked-out creative entrepreneurs) that she blew her year's clothing budget on it. She has not regretted it for a moment.

T-shirts with V-necks and cap sleeves that are raw and unhemmed, purchased from the selfsame designer.

Battered Tevas, not the sport-engineered ones, the relaxed feminine ones.

The cool-ass baseball cap.

It is Pretty Lady's fanciful notion that the more we can get in touch with our inner seven-year-old, the more effective and responsible grown-ups we will be. The archetypal seven-year-old has no need to judge, no need to impress, no interest in seduction or control. Seven-year-old clothes may be about self-expression, but they are definitely not about fashion or competition; they are simply themselves, comfortable and utilitarian. Wearing them, we may go forth to discover the world.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Pretty Lady's rapid weight-loss programme

Hello, Paula!

Paula, dear Paula, wise-and-mature-beyond-her-years Paula, believes that she has thirty pounds to lose. Pretty Lady is not entirely sure that such is the case. Pretty Lady, herself, in distant days, clung to the notion that if she just lost five more pounds, her hips would become boyish and slender. In latter days she came to accept her fate as a shapely female person, but occasionally, at dim moments, would grasp at the fantastic concept that losing fifteen pounds would eradicate her belly, and thigh dimples, and cause her commitment-phobic boyfriend to propose. Pretty Lady, unfortunately, has not been immune to the cultural brainwashing inflicted by a well-intentioned subscription to Seventeen magazine at a tender age.

Be this as it may, there was once a time when Pretty Lady lost twenty-five pounds, completely inadvertantly. This surprise weight loss occurred at a point in her life when she was utterly accepting of her own figure, no matter the poundage; she happened to be dating a man who simply loved women, as women, and not as machettes of twelve-year-old boys. Additionally, she made the post-ballet discovery that putting on a few pounds not only gave her a figure, but lessened the Jimmy Stewart horsiness of her face, inherited from her father's side of the family (dear Jimmy was a second cousin), and caused her to suddenly resemble her mother, a woman universally acknowledged to be uncommonly stunning.

However, for a few years Pretty Lady got lazy. She stopped going out dancing until three AM, and hung out in Valencia St. bars drinking pints of Red Hook ESB instead. She moved to a house which pretty much required the constant use of a car, being so far out in a dangerous neighborhood that taking the bus was tantamount to taking one's life in one's hands. One morning she woke up and realized she just felt blah.

So, purely in the interests of perking up in a spiritual sense, and not for any sexual-aesthetic reason, Pretty Lady discovered how to lose twenty-five pounds, more or less by accident. What follows are some general guidelines, which you may mix and match according to your temperament.

1. Do yoga.

Yoga, by and large, will not directly help a person lose weight. It does, however, gently balance and nourish the body as a whole, thus relieving pain, toning the system, helping to release toxins, and getting you in shape to tackle a more-rigorous workout.

If you are having trouble standing up out of chairs, if your back hurts constantly, and you cannot touch your toes, it is best to start with Basic Hatha. This will involve moving slowly into mildly contorted poses, and learning how to breathe. Select a teacher who explains things clearly, is anatomically knowledgeable, and does not shame you.

If you are already able to touch your toes, or if you do not suffer from chronic pain and are in relatively competant cardiovascular shape (i.e. you do not start puffing heavily while climbing two flights of stairs), you may start with Bikram. Bikram is the fabled Hot Yoga sequence, popularized by Madonna and Gwyneth. It is a series of twenty-four poses, performed in a sauna-temperature studio, which are designed to flush the entire body of toxins, stimulate each body system in turn, and take years off your age.

Pretty Lady can attest that it works. After her first class, she experienced quite a dramatic toxic--well, this does not bear description. After her first two weeks of classes, she looked five years younger. After her first six months of classes, she was bored silly. Pretty Lady is a dancer by temperament, and repeating the same damn series of poses every day drives her bananas.

So she moved on to Vinyasa. Vinyasa Yoga is basically Hatha, but a bit more challenging, rigorous, and movement-oriented. A good Vinyasa teacher will have you puffing and doing acrobatic stunts in no time.

2. Work out.

If a person is serious about shedding spiritual poundage, however, more than yoga is required. Once you have done enough yoga so that you can stand on one foot and pull the opposite ankle up to your behind without thinking much about it, you may move on to a more cardiovascular workout.

By far the cheapest and easiest of these is running. Running merely requires a good pair of shoes and a world to run in. If you are not enlightened yet, the world is in front of you; do not skimp on the shoes. Good arch supports are a must. Buy another pair of shoes every six months, whether you think you need them or not. Pretty Lady can attest to the horrors attendant upon working out in bad shoes.

Unfortunately, running is also the sport which causes the greatest amount of wear and tear on the limbs, as Pretty Lady can also attest. If you are over thirty, have flat feet, dicey knees, chronic back pain, or wish to avoid these things, take up biking instead. It doesn't give you either such a dependable endorphin high or quick physiological transformation, but in the long term it allows you to keep your ability to walk.

Speaking of walking: do it. Every day, at every decent opportunity. Take the stairs. Pop round to the corner store. Stroll up to the lake, or round the park. Visit the neighbors. Fie on this driveway-office-driveway-supermarket-driveway culture. Fie, I say.

It is important to discover a workout which gives you joy. If you love swimming, swim. If you love dancing, dance. If you love hiking, biking, fencing, kickboxing, tennis--well, there you go. If you love beating the shit out of people, there are innumerable martial arts studios springing up everywhere.

3. Watch what you eat.

Pretty Lady is not fond of the Denial attitude toward diet. Proscriptions are depressing and ultimately unsustainable. Surrounding your mental landscape with a forest of 'no's' is not, in her opinion, the best way to cultivate a sense of spiritual freedom, joy and possibility.

Instead, concentrate on adding healthy, wonderful, fresh, nutrious, organic foods to your diet. Focus on fresh organic vegetables, salads, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and fish. Go out of your way to use organic extra-virgin olive oil. Variety is key; get a Thai, Indian, or Chinese cookbook and start experimenting. Make French salads.

Pretty Lady must pause here and give her general guidelines for a French salad.

Take one each of: a green, a steamed or cooked or grated vegetable, a cheese, a fruit, and a nut.

Dress with a dressing made up of: extra-virgin olive oil, lemon or lime juice, balsamic, apple cider, or red-wine vinegar, herbes du provence, salt and pepper.

Suggested greens:
Boston lettuce
red or green leaf lettuce
kale (use plenty of lemon in the dressing for this.)

Suggested vegetables:
steamed sugar snap peas
haricots verts (or green beans are fine, sort of)
steamed asparagus
beets, boiled or grated raw
grated carrot
steamed or canned yellow corn
artichoke hearts

Suggested fruits:
dried cranberries
mandarin oranges

Suggested cheeses:

Suggested nuts:
toasted walnuts
sunflower seeds

Feel free to mix, match, add, and experiment to your heart's content. If you cannot find herbes du provence, get organo, basil, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary, and mix them together.

Also, substitute solid white albacore tuna for the cheese, or add anchovies to the dressing.

Once you have got in the habit of including at least one fruit, vegetable, whole grain, and lean protein in each meal, buttressed by modest amounts of olive oil, you will find that such things as chips, doughnuts, cake, cookies, white bread, deep-fried food, greasy meat, sodas, ice cream, and generally bad-for-you things do not disappear, but lose their central importance. You cannot ingest an entire bag of chocolate chip cookies when your system is already knawing on an exquisite French salad, perhaps with a bit of homemade bread, and an espresso for dessert. You may find the room for two or three cookies. But then your system will simply say, "no, thank you. I do not require more cookies. I am Content."

4. Love people, love what you do, love your life, love yourself.

Overeating and failing to exercise are symptoms of despair and self-hatred, in Pretty Lady's opinion. They are an attempt to fill a deep internal void with sweet greasy fluff. This is why the sight of an obese person makes Pretty Lady want to cry, rather than sneer. She has been there herself; most of us have. If you find yourself compulsively overeating, look critically at your life, and ask yourself, 'what do I need that I haven't got?' Be honest. Acknowledge the frustration, the rage, the loneliness, the misery, the humiliation. Forgive yourself for feeling these universal human emotions. Acknowledge that you are a child of the universe, and you have a right to be here.

Then get to work rectifying the real problem, and leave the doughnuts behind.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

And I thought I'd get Hermione

Which Harry Potter Character Are You?

You are GINNY WEASLEY. You are sensitive and artistic, but not without your own inner strength and power. You are older than your years, but you hide it from all but your closest comrades with an innocent face. Although you can be shy, you are not afraid to stand up for yourself or for those you care about.
Take this quiz!

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Friday, August 04, 2006

How to Stay Cool

For those of you who have noted the record heat wave sweeping New York City, rest assured that Pretty Lady is coping just fine. The water at Brighton Beach is the perfect temperature for spending half an hour in, half an hour out, all day long, and there is this little Ukranian place, just by the subway, which serves the most exquisite falafel.

But for those of you who are not within half an hour of Brighton Beach by subway, Pretty Lady has, additionally, discovered that there are these places called shopping malls. She generally disapproves of shopping malls; any attempt to structure one's waking life around mindless, obsessive consumption she views with grave distrust.

However, on one violently hot day this week, as she was visiting her convalescent hard drive in Queens, it occurred to her that shopping malls have air conditioning. Free air conditioning, if you don't count the three-fifty for parking. Three-fifty appeared to her to be a small price to pay, at this juncture, so she embarked upon the adventure.

Once inside the shopping mall, she discovered a wondrous thing. Victoria's Secret has very large, very comfortable dressing rooms. If one loads up one's shopping bag with frivolous, expensive items of lingerie which one has no intention of buying, one can spend as much time as one likes, trying it on in front of a flattering, full-length mirror, in a cool room with armchairs.

Of course, Victoria's Secret designers are making glacial progress toward designing frivolous lingerie that is actually worth the theoretical buck. Subtlety of color design is still, sadly, a closed book to Victoria's Secret. 'Lurid' is not too strong a word for the vast majority of allegedly sexy corset-thingies with ruffles and elaborate fastenings, and the occasional garter belt, festooning the walls. Once Pretty Lady had gotten herself into one of these fabulous objects, she had to laugh. She could not imagine any occasion, or any article of clothing she owns, which would actually be appropriate to cover such a creation. Frankly, it would be bound to Show Through, and not in a good way.

And Pretty Lady, despite appearances to the contrary, is not the sort of lady to habitually lounge around the apartment wearing nothing but a thong and a black lace corset thingy with hot pink ruffles projecting from the bosom. Sorry to disappoint you gentlemen.

However, Victoria's Secret has finally cottoned on to the notion that not every lady who wears a B or C cup necessarily wants padding in her push-up bra. Think about it; the size above C is D, and women with D cups are starting to be candidates for breast reductions, at least if they have more than a passing interest in jogging. So why would you ruin a perfectly good C cup with stupid little pillows? So frustrating.

Anyway, Pretty Lady tried on and approved several different no-padding push-ups, in black lace, black with pink lace, and burgundy with fearfully designed, modernistic wiring, complete with a brass button. She didn't buy them, of course, merely approved them.

So as not to offend anyone, she did pick up a bagful of panties-on-sale, all with designs and color schemes that rather remind her of Coney Island. Garish, perhaps, but in an innocently retro way. They have proven to be comfortable, flattering, and well worth the investment. Shall wonders never cease.

In case any Victoria's Secret designers are reading Pretty Lady, however, she has a few words to the wise: Dusty. Dusty rose, antique blue, lilac, sage green, ivory. Bronze taffeta. Pink silk satin. Brussels lace. Colors with some history, some ambiguity, some depth. Colors that could conceivably emerge from an organic entity, and were not obviously created via a highly toxic chemical process. Layers of openwork lace covering a subtly shiny satin backing. Foamy pale see-thru fluffy things. Nothing acrylic, nylon, or in any way obviously synthetic. Think 'life.' Fertility is about life, after all, not scratchy purple plastic netting.

Then you might actually sell Pretty Lady on a V.S. charge account. Perhaps. Although she is rather glad she is not so tempted.

Mass Hallucinations

The most ridiculous thing has allegedly occurred. Pretty Lady was walking down the street, and thought she saw her client approaching, in a wheelchair, being propelled by a poker-faced black woman in some sort of uniform. How absurd! Pretty Lady actually imagined that his arms were twisted and all but useless, his speech was halting, his eyes were sinking away from their inner light.

Moreover, those about her seemed to share this insane hallucination. Her client, the grim-faced nurse person, and Pretty Lady's friend all appeared to be in perfect agreement as to the whole wheelchair delusion. What is to be done with us?

For obviously, we must think that God is responsible for this sorry state of affairs. We are merely helpless victims of his cavalier whims. We didn't ask to be thrust into these vulnerable bodies, always sweating and breaking down, and catching Lou Gehrig's disease at the worst possible time. No, no. God is just mean. Mean and rotten and stupid. Pffffft.

Or, no! Perhaps it was Satan. There you go. Satan did it, in order to make us come over to his side, and not believe in God, and sin all the time, and have fun. Fun in a wheelchair with twisted limbs and in imminent danger of suffocating when one's lungs are ultimately paralyzed...yes, that makes perfect sense. That Satan is a smart one. He really knows his temptations.


Pretty Lady is sorry to say that, as much as Jesus has been patiently standing at her right shoulder and explaining that none of this is real, she hasn't really grasped it yet. Otherwise she would have had the presence of mind to josh her friend out of that silly wheelchair, instead of merely declaring that she loved him, and encouraging him to call at any time. But Pretty Lady can't be too hard on herself; after all, she's still convinced that she's living in this body, that one of these legs is slightly longer than the other, that the insteps are flat, and that after walking long distances, she feels all lopsided.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Coney Island Menace

Pretty Lady is abashed to report that she has been Making Trouble. It was not intentional; it is merely that there is an ethical line between Being Friendly and Leading Fellows On, which is nebulous at best, and of which she is inordinately sensitive to having crossed.

Perhaps it would be best, upon her visits to Brighton and Coney Island beaches, if she simply pretended not to speak Spanish. This would not be difficult. Pretty Lady doesn't look like the sort of person who speaks Spanish. She looks like a clueless gringita. This may, perhaps, be the reason she so enjoys startling lonely South American men who come to the beach alone, after work, and try, brokenly, to strike up an English conversation.

On Monday it was Daniél, from Peru. Daniél has been in New York City now since 2002, but unfortunately has little English to show for it. This is undoubtedly due to his shyness and fondness for soccer; he confesses that, what with working all day, studying in the evenings, and playing soccer all weekend, he doesn't have time for a wife, let alone a date. Nevertheless, by the end of the evening he was promising up, down and sideways to drop everything and board the train bearing all necessary ingredients for homemade ceviche, the moment Pretty Lady cares to pick up the phone and summon him.

Images of Daniél waiting by the phone are troubling Pretty Lady's sleep at night. But not enough for her to call him. What Daniél wants, what Daniél needs, is a nice wife who is still young and willing enough to bear five children, and live in Queens, neither of which criteria applies to Pretty Lady.

On Wednesday it was Raúl, from Ecuador. Raúl's English was so competent that he managed to carry on desultory conversation for almost twenty minutes before lapsing into Spanish. He was also a more insightful and observant soul. When Park Security beckoned the bathers out of the sea at sunset, and Pretty Lady unwillingly complied, he knowingly waited until Park Security had vanished over the horizon and instructed, "You should go back in."

Something about waves crashing violently over her head as she dives under them, makes Pretty Lady feel that she is at one with the Universe, and that trivial things like $900 auto mechanic bills and crashed hard drives and postponed vacations do not matter at all. Somehow, Raúl from Ecuador intuitively understood this. So Pretty Lady allowed Raúl to buy her a couple of beers, and dinner, and collect her cell phone number. She took care to inform him that she was going away for a month; she figured that by the end of the month, he would have forgotten all about her.

She did not allow for the basic tenacity of character that allows a person to immigrate from Ecuador, speaking no English, and wind up commuting to Brooklyn from New Jersey to wait tables in a German restaurant, because the money is good. Her cell phone has been inundated with polite text messages, and discreet inquiries as to her availability in the coming weeks. Raúl will go far, she can see that. She still doesn't want to marry him, and she very much fears that this is what Raúl has in mind.

This, I suppose, is the basic difference between men and women. Any fellow who had managed to incidentally pick up two obviously smitten ladies in the course of three days would be feeling pretty cocky by now; he'd be thinking of himself as a sterling and irresistible character. Pretty Lady feels like a big jerk. She feels like warning all susceptible South American men away from tall blonde ladies in green-and-yellow swimsuits. She doesn't mean to trample the hearts of every Spanish-speaking gentleman she encounters; she just likes the beach at sunset.


Pretty Lady has just returned from her first Yankees game ever, and she does not understand the mystique. What fun can it be, pray tell, to support a team which is so obviously and infinitely superior to its competitors that there is no sense of suspense? No tension? No neck-and-neck drama?

Even Pretty Lady, with her knowledge of baseball gleaned primarily from nineteen-fifties Peanuts comic strips, could observe with no trouble that the Toronto pitcher was blatantly walking that fellow, I believe his name was Gianni, or something like that. True, the bases were loaded, the Yankees were up by five, and Gianni, or whoever, is evidently notorious for hitting them out of the park, as he later demonstrated. But purposely throwing four balls miles off the plate seemed to her to be contemptible behavior, cowardly and un-sporting. There was not even a pretence of giving Gianni a swing. Might as well crawl off the field on one's belly at once, and get to the bars before the thunderstorm hits.

Also, baseball fans have no sense of style. None. Pretty Lady finds it deeply offensive that hers was, by far, the coolest baseball cap in the stadium. This is morally wrong. Should not baseball fans pay greater attention to their signature element of apparel? Can they not care, at least this much? Must every single one of them sport the identical NY Yankees cap, polyester, blue with white logo, purchased at one of the blatantly opportunistic, shoddy little booths set up round the stadium?

Has no baseball fan in the history of the universe ever heard of Hills of New Zealand? With the deep brown, oiled, water-resistant exterior, the subtle plaid cotton lining? Pretty Lady has long been proud of her cool-ass baseball cap, always worn with the brim facing the rear, but heavens. Surely hers cannot be the coolest ass of all, without even trying.