Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Parameters of Irony

Pretty Lady feels that she must clarify a certain Very Small Issue, for certain of her dear friends who seem to have misunderstood.

Astute readers will note that Pretty Lady is an affectionate person. Indeed, this snoogly tendency often gets Out Of Hand, and Over The Top. It threatens to tend into the area of a Compulsive Tic, her habit of scattering 'dears' and 'darlings' with profligate promiscuity.

Thus it is with a certain abashed tone that Pretty Lady must confess that every time she overuses a diminutive endearment, she is entirely serious. She means it. Sincerely and without irony or sarcasm of any kind.

Pretty Lady has no excuse for herself at all. It Came Of Itself, this unfortunate habit of liking people. No matter whether she agrees with their opinions or not, whether she finds them of notable intelligence or a bit of a fool, she is still genuinely fond of just about everyone.

Thus, it pains her when people respond to her tone with Hostile Suspicion, as though they were being made fun of. It pains her infinitely more deeply when other people acquire her tic without the impetus; when they, all unconscious, apply the snoogly diminutive only in such cases where they are not-so-covertly cutting the person down.

Pretty Lady can only helplessly say, darlings, that that is not what she meant, at all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sociological Observations

Pretty Lady may just mention that her interest in online dating is, at this point and for the foreseeable future, purely academic. She has been through the trenches, collected both scalps and war stories, and is now thoroughly Over It. Thus it would be both self-indulgent and redundant of her to offer any actual advice to would-be online daters, particularly as Miss Rachel has done such a splendid job of it.

However, there is one Staring Observation she would like to make, after shaking her head in wonder at the psychological delusions of folk, lo these many years. And that is, when posting to an online dating site, people have a large tendency to forget that however you frame the interaction, those are still people out there.

Thus it seems to her a bit quixotic of some of them to fill out a laundry list of requirements which ignore this obvious fact. They treat the personals as though it were just one more online shop, where they can custom-order a Fantasy Partner to fit, no matter that such a person has never existed since the beginning of time. Moreover, they assume that the dictates of civil social intercourse are, by nature of the medium, suspended; they think nothing of going boldly ahead with the sort of behavior which would get them forcibly ejected from any in-person interaction, even an in-person interaction in the sleaziest of dive bars.

Pretty Lady is by no means suggesting that these people alter their attitudes in any way. Why should they, when they are making the screening process so simple for their would-be victims? Pretty Lady holds no lasting grudges against the legions of males who bombarded her with petitions for 'discreet' affairs, multi-racial threesomes, and anonymous sex in doorways with partners she met ten minutes ago. She amused herself greatly by informing these individuals that she is about as 'discreet' as a twelve-year-old boy on typewriter fluid, and left it at that.

For there is something about the pseud0-anonymity of online interactions that causes people to believe that they can Get Away With Something; that 'being honest' about one's baser instincts will finally be okay, that a person can be as selfish, inconsiderate, rude and unrealistic as he or she likes, and things will magically turn out for the best. That the Lady in the Computer will be the perfect goddess who absolves a person for stating, forthrightly, "I'm looking to cheat on my spouse without any consequences, okay? And I don't want to be considerate of your needs or anything, so don't go getting clingy on me."

Pretty Lady supposes that this sort of thing will die down eventually, once people get shot down a few hundred billion times. Meanwhile, they may continue in their courses unadmonished by Pretty Lady, who is far too pleased with Life right now to bother with them.

The Brat's Big Adventure

Pretty Lady was awakened at an achingly early hour this morning, by the Voice of a Feline In Distress.

This is not an unusual occurrence. Pretty Lady, quite frankly, prefers to ignore feline distress before a certain hour of the AM, because said distress is generally linked to the empty state of the cat food dish. Her felines, not being either neglected or vegan, can generally avoid death from starvation until a civilized hour. So Pretty Lady usually puts her head under the pillow and goes back to sleep.

However, this AM, there was something a bit unusual about the Voice. It was sustained, monotonous, unwavering, and determined. It was also Distant. A hungry feline usually prefers to make his case for early feeding Up Close and Personally.

So Pretty Lady groggily got up to investigate.

Here, we have a photo of the Scene of the Crime. Pretty Lady allows that it is not an interesting photo. You will have to Simply Imagine the missing portion of the photo, which is the figure of the Brat, clinging to the outside of the security bars, behind the screen, with his back feet precariously tapping the extreme edge of the window ledge, four floors above the ground.

What had evidently occurred was that when Pretty Lady closed the window to the fire escape garden before retiring, the Brat was on the other side of it. The Brat has spent more than one night locked onto the fire escape; he doesn't enjoy it, but the weather this time of year is Balmy, and the fire escape may not be sybaritic, but he is not in any great danger of falling unless he puts his mind to it.

However, the Brat was not content to wait. Brilliantly, he observed that the other window was open; not so brilliantly, he failed to observe the impenetrable Screen Barrier. By the time he had committed himself, it was impossible to turn back.

Lord knows how long he had been hanging there.

Pretty Lady mildly regrets having hacked open the screen, but it stuck; she regrets not having a photo or witnesses, but she didn't know how much front-paw strength the Brat retained. It would have been truly tragic if his last ounce of courage had failed while she was pointing the camera, or fiddling with the screen. So you will just have to imagine it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Tacky, tacky

Pretty Lady thinks this Time Out NY quiz is Simply Dreadful. It is rude, it is unkind, it violates the privacy of innocent ladies who commit the crime of walking around New York in the summertime, outside, dressed.

Naturally she read the entire thing, and studied the results with avid interest.

She was interested to note a few things: that evidently, Words Written on one's Curves are almost universally viewed as 'skanky,' no matter what those words might say. Flowing hair and dresses, on the other hand, are generally 'sexy.'

Pretty Lady thought that all the ladies were sexy, except of course for the lingerie mannequin, and was deeply, deeply offended by the fact that older women dressed to chill were assessed in a negative fashion. What are older women supposed to do, stay indoors, or wear caftans? Hmph.

What Faith Is Not

Pretty Lady has always understood, more or less, why a significant percentage of rational humans get all squirrelly and uncomfortable when she discusses Faith. That is because what passes for Faith in many echelons of society, up to and including, most unfortunately, the current executive administration, is a form of narcissistic magical thinking.

Joe Biden was telling a story, a story about the president. ''I was in the Oval Office a few months after we swept into Baghdad,'' he began, ''and I was telling the president of my many concerns'' -- concerns about growing problems winning the peace, the explosive mix of Shiite and Sunni, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and problems securing the oil fields. Bush, Biden recalled, just looked at him, unflappably sure that the United States was on the right course and that all was well. '''Mr. President,' I finally said, 'How can you be so sure when you know you don't know the facts?'''

Biden said that Bush stood up and put his hand on the senator's shoulder. ''My instincts,'' he said. ''My instincts.''

Biden paused and shook his head, recalling it all as the room grew quiet. ''I said, 'Mr. President, your instincts aren't good enough!'''
All of this -- the ''gut'' and ''instincts,'' the certainty and religiosity -connects to a single word, ''faith,'' and faith asserts its hold ever more on debates in this country and abroad. That a deep Christian faith illuminated the personal journey of George W. Bush is common knowledge. But faith has also shaped his presidency in profound, nonreligious ways. The president has demanded unquestioning faith from his followers, his staff, his senior aides and his kindred in the Republican Party. Once he makes a decision -- often swiftly, based on a creed or moral position -- he expects complete faith in its rightness.
Pretty Lady must make it crystal clear that when she discusses Faith, this is NOT WHAT SHE MEANS. This is NOT IT. At all. Ever. This sort of 'faith' is nothing but childish, abusive stupidity. It is the rantings of an Alpha ape who believes that he should be in charge, not merely because he happens to find himself in charge, but because God ordained it.

No no no no no.

Faith, in the way Pretty Lady means it, is an anchor with an infinitely long rope. That is all. It does not dismiss or reject the notion of Facts. It is strong enough, not to override the Facts, but to look the worst of them in the eye unblinking and accept them, integrate them, and move forward, encompassing them.

Because if one is to assume that God created all, that means that he created Facts as well. He created the Shiites, and the Sunnis, and rational thinking. When a person purports to trust God for 'protection' against God's creation, that person is not faithful, that person is insane. This person is purporting to accept God as he simultaneously rejects Him, which is, of course, impossible.

True faith then requires an exceptionally strong mind, and an exceptionally strong stomach. True faith is not pretty, nor is it simple.

That very issue is what Jim Wallis wishes he could sit and talk about with George W. Bush. That's impossible now, he says. He is no longer invited to the White House.

''Faith can cut in so many ways,'' he said. ''If you're penitent and not triumphal, it can move us to repentance and accountability and help us reach for something higher than ourselves. That can be a powerful thing, a thing that moves us beyond politics as usual, like Martin Luther King did. But when it's designed to certify our righteousness -- that can be a dangerous thing. Then it pushes self-criticism aside. There's no reflection.

''Where people often get lost is on this very point,'' he said after a moment of thought. ''Real faith, you see, leads us to deeper reflection and not -- not ever -- to the thing we as humans so very much want.''

And what is that?

''Easy certainty.''

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Smoking Gun


WHEN Crown Shakur died of starvation, he was 6 weeks old and weighed 3.5 pounds. His vegan parents, who fed him mainly soy milk and apple juice, were convicted in Atlanta recently of murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty.
Indigenous cuisines offer clues about what humans, naturally omnivorous, need to survive, reproduce and grow: traditional vegetarian diets, as in India, invariably include dairy and eggs for complete protein, essential fats and vitamins. There are no vegan societies for a simple reason: a vegan diet is not adequate in the long run.
Pretty Lady is, shamefully, glad to find that the New York Times has now published an op-ed (opinion? She thinks not. The information has the unmistakable ring of fact) which justifies her gut-level loathing of vegans. She has long intuited that vegans are sadomasochists at heart. She invariably comes away from their dinner parties with a gaseous, knawing sensation in her belly, and the irresistable urge to stop at the nearest diner for a hamburger.

In her experience, vegans are six times more likely than the average human to spew insincere, disengaged platitudes during times of strife and exigency; they are four times more likely to commit acts of emotional and social blackmail. And now, it seems, they starve their babies to death, too.

Pretty Lady is not at all surprised.

UPDATE: After doing some wider research on the baby-starving case, Pretty Lady is rather taken aback at the universality and intransigence of the vitriol that it has aroused in the hearts of the populace. From what she can glean of the facts, it seems to her that these people are definitely, extraordinarily, criminally stupid. It does not, however, necessarily follow that they acted with Wilful Malice, as claimed by the prosecution, and the consensus of the commentariat.

Or does it? Is there in your minds, dear friends (if Pretty Lady still HAS any friends...) a causal link between Base Stupidity and Intentional Malice? How so, and why so?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Efficiency in Problem-Solving

Pretty Lady is feeling pretty darn pleased with herself. She will go so far as to say that she is feeling Smug. She just 1) scored a bicycle off of Craigslist, suited to her specifications, for $100 cash (instead of the $500+ retail for a lightweight hybrid 12-speed, her steed of choice); 2) ordered The Swimsuit from J. Crew, at half-price (she had to be flexible as to color, but she got the St. Tropez! With the bamboo ring!); 3) discovered that, perhaps for the first time in her life, she made a transposition error in her checkbook last March which resulted in her being $900 to the good, instead of Not Quite Scraping By, as she had previously thought.

Which means she will be able to renew her yoga class card, bike to the beach all summer, and generally Romp Around, instead of bloating up whitely indoors, due to Extreme Poverty.

Thus buoyed by a sense of Good Health and Plenty, she will bravely tackle the seemingly intractable problem, presented to her by her bad-ass buddy, JWYW:

Bullying was a finely honed weapon. There were many emotional casualties. Those that could fight, did, by any means possible. Those that could not did not have their parents, nor the school administration behind them....PL- can parents without those skills really help their children? It seems those without enablers to sue their way out of the school system are doomed to fight or flight, just as when I was younger.
Pretty Lady has a bit of experience with attempting to teach and mentor inner-city Youth At Risk, who were besieged by Horrible Problems on every side. She failed miserably. Pretty Lady is now the first to admit that she is not equipped to deal with situations like this; she simply hasn't the background, the credentials, or the attitude. At this point she has pinpointed a certain brand of cynical, evil sadism in the Powers that Be, who take the best and the brightest of sweet, sheltered, idealistic, bright and enthusiastic young college graduates and lure them unsuspectingly into such travesties as the New York Teaching Fellows program, where they get eaten alive.

For idealism, energy, intelligence and Good Intentions are simply not sufficient to overcome the gargantuan problems facing the underclass of our society. When you take a core group of idealists, provide them with minimal training and hurl them into the most incorrigible, underfunded classrooms in the Bronx, the ones that the professionals will not touch with a barge pole, you may get a minor miracle or two, but mostly what you get are shell-shocked idealists, who morph quite rapidly into burnt-out cynics.

Ahem. So why is Pretty Lady addressing the issue at all, if all she has to offer is burnt-out cynicism?

Well, the fact is, that Pretty Lady is not in a Special Education classroom in the Bronx. She is comfortably in her Home Environment, where her Special Skills may shine. One of her Special Skills, as it happens, is that of a Librarian. And the one thing a Librarian knows is that if a person does not know the answer to a dilemma, that person can still do Research.

Yes! The secret to being an effective and efficient Librarian is to be as lazy as possible. One does not have to solve everything oneself; one does not have to Know All, Do All, or Be All. One merely has to know who to ask, or where to look.

So, even though Pretty Lady is pretty helpless when it comes to bullying, she offers a few generic steps to take, when confronted by a seemingly insoluble problem.

1) Identify the problem.

One primary skill any good Librarian must have is in getting the petitioner to state the issue which is actually concerning them. All too many people become stressed-out and confused when approaching the Lady Behind the Desk; they try to second-guess her, or play games, or leapfrog to a premature conclusion. When attempting to assist these people, Pretty Lady had to first patiently tweeze out the true nature of the problem, using such repetitive statements as, "What is your question? What is your concern? What do you need? What is the real problem? What are you trying to do?"

In the extreme example above, the Primary Concern is that the child get a good education, free of excessive bullying. This may seem obvious, but all too often, people lose sight of the Main Issue. They go off on wild tangents involving the expense of lawyers, self-defense training, or the evils of Administrative Stonewalling, without even thinking to check the phone book for other educational options in the vicinity.

2) Brainstorm about different angles to take in approaching this problem.

All too often, persons under stress fall into False Dichotomy mode, with the resultant spinning-in-circles and Hopeless Despair. "Well, I cannot do This, and That is completely out of the question, so I am Definitely Screwed," the petitioner is wont to state, stoically. The possibility that one of their options might very well be None Of The Above has never occurred to them.

3) Perform exploratory searches.

Oftentimes we don't know what we're looking for, because we have no idea what is out there. Getting a notion of what sort of resources exist, and how they are categorized, can often lead to a sudden insight as to a possible trajectory.

4) Network.

When you have a problem, tell everyone. You will have to fend off a great deal of useless advice, but there is always a possibility that one person, usually the least expected, will say something like, 'Oh, I have this friend who homeschools in exchange for yard work...would that be of any use?'

5) Sleep on the problem.

You do not have to fix it Right Now, usually. And many times, the best thing to do is nothing at all; then a week later, the solution descends in a blinding flash of light. The subconscious mind is an extraordinary thing, as are the workings of Grace, when it is allowed to tackle the task, unmolested by panicked attempts to control its methods.

6) A truly, truly insoluble problem is God's problem, not yours.

Pretty Lady is never one to advocate divesting oneself of Personal Responsibility. But when you have tried, and tried, and approached things from every angle, and gotten advice, and gotten help, and worked and tweaked and prodded and sewn, and studied, and trained, and advertised, and applied, and gone to therapy, and done yoga, and seen a doctor, and prayed--then you have done pretty much all you can do. If it is still not working out, that seems to her to be a clear indication that it is time to Let Go.

And Letting Go, Pretty Lady has it on good authority, is the thing which induces miracles.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Formation of Character

Darling Mitzibel has produced a remarkably perceptive piece about Possible Responses to Bullying; Pretty Lady is deeply impressed.

Because most of us geeks, those of us who were bullied and tossed around, eventually grow up to be some pretty nifty folks. Something about that isolation from the herd during a formative period teaches us that it's just fine to think our own thoughts and hold our own beliefs, and not need constant approval from our peers. It's liberating, if you survive it. And a suprisingly vast majority do.

So instead of having a youth of adversity overcome to look back on with a little pride, Benjamin is instead going to look back and see that he gave up without a fight, and that his reward is a long quiet life full of bland vanilla failure. He'll never have to leave his house, or talk to another person, or debate ideas, or have his character tested, or exchange witticisms over over-priced cocktails, or get in a barfight, or get some chick's number, or build sets for a play, or be inspired by a classmate, or find himself singing along with the music in the grocery store.
Pretty Lady herself never made a direct link between those unfortunate third-grade incidents in the back seat with the fingernails, and the fact that she currently suffers from no untoward psychological burdens imposed by Needing To Conform. But now that she considers it, the overall portrait rather hangs together.

This is not to say that Pretty Lady is in favor of throwing one's undersized, geeky or socially unskilled children to the wolves without backup. But teaching a few pragmatic skills, whether it be aikido or basic social interaction technique (eye contact and facial mirroring, ahem!) appears to her to be a better investment of one's parental resources than the filing of lawsuits.

The Illusion of Control

Pretty Lady was rather saddened by yesterday's Cary Tennis column; both by the question and by the Public Response to it. She was thrilled with Cary, of course. Her sadness was largely triggered by the fact that so few people appeared to agree with him.

I fear that this is a land mine in our relationship; one day we'll step on it and it will destroy our marriage. If I have the baby, I fear I would resent my husband and the child. I keep thinking about the 32 years of my life that would go to rearing children. I also fear that following through with the abortion would hurt the man I love, to whom I would give almost anything ... just not a child.

This is a different what if: What if two people could be imaginative enough, and flexible, disciplined and thoughtful enough, to create a plan that would make the wishes of all three participants come true -- and at this point I am indeed including this potential third being in the equation, for it is difficult to escape a feeling of awe at the miracle of pregnancy. A new life is beginning. It's nothing to sneeze at. It's worth giving some consideration to the possibilities.
And, again, not to be too mystical about it, but when life comes knocking, isn't it possible that it means something?
Pretty Lady, as I am certain you know, does believe that when life comes knocking, it means something. Moreover she believes that Love and Faith not only mean something, but are necessary tools with which to negotiate the uncontrollable chaos of this thing we call Life.

For it is clear to her that there are very few things in life which are under our control. This is a Fact. Pursuant to this fact, it has become clear to her that when we attempt to control our circumstances, our future, our relationships, particularly out of Fear, we tend to muck things up in far more mucky ways than Life can do all on its own.

And this letter points up the obvious fact that when we think that Life is under our control, it becomes Death. In our own bodies, this Life to Death by Control process is usually mysterious and alchemical; when expressed upon the bodies of others, it becomes all too drearily mechanical.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pretty Lady's Ontological Epistemology

It is extremely simple, darlings. Obvious, even; indeed, one of the greatest mysteries of Pretty Lady's life is how, or why, people cannot seem to comprehend such obviousness. But since many individuals persist in such staggering obtuseness as to question Pretty Lady's ontological views, no matter how simply she tries to state them, she will put them forth again, as plainly as possible.

First axiom: There is consciousness.

Pretty Lady arrives at this axiom by looking round. As she looks round, she notes that there appears to be a certain something which looks round, as well as things she looks round at. Furthermore, she intuits that whatever it is, that both looks round and notes the looking round, has a sort of integral cohesion, which transcends than the sum of all its parts. She names this integrated cohesivity 'consciousness.'

Is this simple enough?

Second axiom: There are other consciousnesses.

Pretty Lady realizes that she is taking a gigantic leap of faith, in stating this axiom. The nature of an axiom is that it is unprovable, of course; it is perfectly possible that Pretty Lady's consciousness has invented all those others, out of sheer desperate loneliness. But since Pretty Lady's consciousness doesn't like to be lonely, and she presupposes that whatever caused her consciousness to occur doesn't like it either, she will allow for the sake of argument that the overwhelming evidence gathered in her processes of looking round is genuine, and that all of you are, in fact, there.

First conclusion: Individual consciousnesses obtain different perspectives.

In nearly all of Pretty Lady's perceptions, she notes that she is here, and you are there. You are not looking out of her perceived eyes, and vice versa. If there is anyone who questions this, please write to her as soon as possible with corroborative evidentiary statements.

Pursuant logical extension of first conclusion: An individual consciousness in its ordinary state cannot obtain a universal perspective.

In plain terms, this means that Pretty Lady is not Fit to Decide. From her limited perspective, and her acceptance of the existence other perspectives, she cannot Know All. She cannot know the consequences of any action taken by her--its ultimate effects to the perceived benefit or detriment of other consciousnesses--because, quite simply, she is not in possession of All The Facts.

And nobody else is either, pending the arrival and verification of abovementioned evidence.

Unavoidable conclusion: Only a transcendent, or universal, consciousness is capable of establishing an effective set of directions for negotiating this labyrinth of multitudinous perspectives.

If anyone seriously disputes this, try biking from Staten Island to the Bronx without a map or prior experience, and without going through any bad neighborhoods, getting hit by any trucks, or falling into any bodies of water, and get back to Pretty Lady when you're done.

Third axiom: Pretty Lady did not create her own consciousness.

Well, how could she? If there was no Pretty Lady there to make the decision, what was the Assembling Factor? It boggles.

First Postulate: Something created Pretty Lady's consciousness.

And whatever did so must have been conscious; perhaps even was consciousness. For the sake of brevity, we shall call this entity 'God.'

Second Postulate: Whatever created PL's consciousness, created all the others too.

For the sake of simplicity.

Hunch: This creative force might very well be transcendent.

Here, we get into very murky waters indeed. Pretty Lady has grounds for her hunch; indeed, she has almost nothing BUT grounds for this hunch. To state her grounds would involve a very lengthy article indeed, and she has other responsibilities.

So let us merely be practical. If a transcendent consciousness exists, it necessarily includes Pretty Lady's, as well as all the others. Thus she should have a way of accessing it. Thus, accessing it is her only sure way of negotiating her world safely.

So: Dropping individual perspective leads one to God.

Which means she loves her neighbors as herself.

Any questions?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Holographic Discourse

Pretty Lady does too have female friends!

It is something, probably, about the sheer fun of an inherently non-competative artist to communicate with.

This is exactly it, dear Boysmom, and Pretty Lady cannot understand why so many people cannot conceive of this particular notion of Fun. For it seems as though the very notion of Conversation as Fun and Art is unknown to most individuals in Modern Society.

Pretty Lady, of course, blames television. This has been her view ever since the day she endured an interminable brunch with a person who subjected her to serial re-enactments of daytime sci-fi TV shows from the seventies, and punctuated her performance with the extraordinary statement, "But why don't YOU contribute to the conversation?"


Pretty Lady fears it is time to get back to the basics.
1) A conversation is not a performance, a monologue, or even an equal-time monologue swap.

2) Neither is a conversation a debate. Conversations do not have Winners and Losers. In fact, the essence of conversation is Win-Win, no matter how banal that phrase has become.

3) Neither is a conversation a mutual commiseration, whine- and blame-fest, with the conversees united in their disgust with the vile Powers that Be.

None of this will seem strange to Pretty Lady's friends, of course, but the sad fact is that Pretty Lady's friends are a rare and elite set of people, much as she strives for Universal Popularity. Because when these three verbal-interaction options are removed from the table, the overwhelming majority of Modern Folk seem to have nothing whatsoever to say.

In fact, most of them blow a mental gasket when Pretty Lady attempts a genuine conversation. Practioners of Non-Conversation Technique #1 are practically impossible to derail. They continue spouting inane jokes with an increasingly desperate gleam in their eye, and when Pretty Lady presents them with a direct question of a personal nature, such as "How have you been?" they issue some sort of meaningless wisecrack and scuttle away. It never, never, never occurs to these people to ask how Pretty Lady has been; she assumes that the subject of personal well-being terrifies them into complete mental paralysis. Such are the tragic results of being left at home during all of childhood with only a television for company.

Aficionados of Non-Conversation Technique #2 are mildly more interesting, but their company is ultimately brutal and nonconstructive. They are continually attempting to construct 'positions,' even entire 'identities,' not only for themselves, but for anyone else they find themselves exchanging words with. Their aim is to force their fellows into untenable 'positions' and inferior 'identities,' in order to demonstrate the untenability and inferiority of same, and thus establish themselves as both stable and superior.

Which is most tedious.

Pretty Lady needs not elaborate upon her feelings toward practitioners of NCT #3, as her views on Whining are extremely well-known, except to state that whenever she has confronted a career Whiner with their basic insupportability as a companion, said Whiner has been utterly, physically incapable of comprehending her statement. These people simply equate ritualistic complaint with Intimate Connection, and have never imagined anything else beyond it.

So, then, what IS beyond it?

Darlings, darlings all, EVERYTHING. Everything is beyond these three things; these NCTs are the prime obstacles to all the joy in the universe!

A genuine conversation is like a painting, a dance, and a hike up to the castle on the hill, all at the same time. It probes, it explores, it builds, it wanders. It experiments, tests, accepts, rejects. It speculates; it imagines; it reveals. It uncovers infinite reasons for allowing peace into one's soul. It is formed thusly by the meeting of minds which are both unique and perfect, it is the harmonious interference pattern which creates the hologram of the Universe.

One engages in such a joyful activity by 1) asking questions; 2) listening to the responses; 3) propounding notions; 4) allowing the other person to add, subtract, multiply or divide these notions as they see fit, depending upon their unique perspectives and experience. It is vital that no party be fixated on a particular outcome, i.e. convincing the other person of the rightness and unassailability of his or her position.

It is, of course, possible to arrive at desirable outcomes, such as solutions to problems, inner harmony, and Integrated Theories of Everything, via this process. The only requirements are that all parties involved be fully present, fully truthful, and fully willing to pay attention.

Retro theatre

It is perhaps ironically appropriate that Pretty Lady should find herself becoming good friends with a person who gets people to pay money to be sermonized in a cemetary.

On May 12, the ninth chapter of Melville’s “Moby-Dick” comes to life in the graveyard’s chapel with a performance of “Moby-Dick: The Sermon.” The interactive drama, in the last two performances of its nine-month run, is a joint effort by a new theater group, the Nimrods, and the Brooklyn Lyceum, the experimental Park Slope performance space.

“The chapel is not used as a location to sit to watch the action that happens on a stage — there is no stage,” Director Joe Rosato told GO Brooklyn. “The action happens around [the audience] as they enter the cemetery gates.” Upon entering the gates on Fifth Avenue, audience members are met by a lantern-wielding guide who will lead them through the dark to the cemetery’s chapel.

Once inside the chapel, the audience will get into the spirit by singing hymns before Father Mapple (pictured at right), played by various actors, takes the pulpit to spew his fire and brimstone: an ultra-dramatic take on the Old Testament’s story of Jonah.

What chiefly struck Pretty Lady, as she sat in the icy pews of a Gothic chapel, being hectored by a madman with Daddy-issues, is how much Rigor of Conscience has fallen by the wayside, in this latter century. We do not sit shivering in pews as a matter of Daily Penance, but as a sort of esoteric and slightly masochistic thrill.

Pretty Lady Heart Banksy

But not inordinately, you understand. The gentleman mainly seems possessed of a sense of humor coupled with a modicum of common sense; unfortunately, these qualities are passing rare in the world which calls itself 'art.'

I asked Unangst what more he could tell me about Banksy, and he replied, “The only thing I can say is he’s like everybody, but he’s like nobody.” And so began the koan of Banksy, whose own talents as an aphorist—“Never paint graffiti in a town where they still point at aeroplanes”; “Only when the last tree has been cut down and the last river has dried up will man realize that reciting red Indian proverbs makes you sound like a fucking muppet”—seem to inspire all who cross his path. Banksy has convinced nearly everyone who has ever met him that promulgating his image would amount to an unconscionable act of soul robbery.

“Banksy is a genius and a madman,” Unangst continued.

“He’s a guy from Bristol,” someone who knows him told me later.

“I’m not obliged to say more than I’m obliged to,” another loyalist said.


“I don’t think art is much of a spectator sport these days...“I don’t know how the art world gets away with it, it’s not like you hear songs on the radio that are just a mess of noise and then the d.j. says, ‘If you read the thesis that comes with this, it would make more sense.’ ”--Banksy

What does Pretty Lady think of Mr. Banksy's art? Well, it is cute, and there is a lot of it. But his invisibility does not interest her one jot, as every graffiti artist she has ever known has been equally invisible. The New Yorker culture editor needs to get with it.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Looky, Looky!

Pretty Lady is Beside Herself. k just Priority Mailed her a box of real live Florida mangoes. Pretty Lady is sticky, happy and a little buzzed. She wonders if certain types of mangoes might have a slightly psychotropic effect, when consumed exuberantly, after a mango-free five years in Brooklyn.

As a tribute, both to the generosity of this gift and to the temperament of k, Pretty Lady decided to photograph the mangoes (before consumption) on her humble Fire Escape.

You see that the mangoes, center, far eclipse the cluttered pots of baby gladioli, baby poppies, baby morning glories, and baby sweet peas.

Only Pretty Lady could really care about such babies. But since she has known them since they were little dry seeds in envelopes, she is infatuated with them, and has spent a lot of time on the fire escape recently, checking on them.

In the course of checking on her babies, it has been borne in upon Pretty Lady that the view from her fire escape is, perhaps not spectacular, but somewhat out of the common way. First, there is a church steeple directly ahead, backed by a glimpse of the Verrazano Bridge.

Farther along, beyond the freeway, one can glimpse the East River leading into the Gowanus Canal, various factories, interesting shipping contraptions that resemble things from Star Wars (Spielberg was a notorious ripper-off of shipyards), and the occasional tanker or cruise ship, passing to and fro. On less-hazy days, that big arched bridge leading somewhere heinous like New Jersey can be viewed in the background.

All the way to the right, there is a most interesting ancient grain factory, and a billboard above it which sports incendiary and non-permissional slogans, on occasion.

This may not seem like anything special, but when a person is sitting on her fire escape, sipping a brew and contemplating her babies, it is rather Nifty. Particularly on evenings when the sun is setting all pink and gold over the water, and the Queen Mary wanders by, and the factories exude steam, and the occasional excited emergency vehicle flashes past on the freeway. It makes one feel as though Life is Happening.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Pretty Lady Is Irate

James Lileks, shocking as it may seem, needs your help.

My column will end a week from this Friday. (There’s a series of pieces I can’t wait to write.) After that, it's just-the-facts-ma'am - and I'll no longer be telecommuting, either. This means I will start burning my share of hydrocarbons like a good American. Hell, I may leave the vehicle running all day outside the building just to make up for lost time. Maybe I will put a green roof on the car to balance things out. Some turf, some switchgrass. It's murder on the paint but we all must do our part.

Would it matter if you contacted the paper? It very well might. Here's the reader's rep's page.

My dear Star Tribune Reader Representative, whoever you may be:

I shall be brief. What on earth does the Star Tribune think it is doing, canning James Lileks? Are you all fools? Do you not understand that the columns of James Lileks are the one thing that may, possibly, in the misty reaches of time, earn the Star Tribune a place in the History of Journalism? That the rest of your paper is worthless, foolish, forgettable garbage in comparison with James Lileks' mastery of the wry, rambling, sardonic, neurotic, self-referential English Language?

And you would THROW THIS AWAY? Throw this away in favor of forcing this quixotic genius of a man to churn out bland, factual, banal journalistic prose like the rest of your Star Tribune drudges?

Let me tell you something. James Lileks will transcend this insane sabotage on the part of envious and shortsighted editors, oh yes, he will. It is not James Lileks I am worried about. It is you, and your karma, and your immortal soul. You are besmirching your characters to an extreme degree, by attempting to smother the incandescent glow of James Lilek's genius.

A word to the wise.

Seriously annoyed,

the Lady

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Myth of Frailty

Bobert labors under yet another misapprehension about Pretty Ladies:

Unless you are a lot stronger and bigger than your photo indicates, you're talking about raking gravel around.

Ever try to move--much less lift--a cubic foot of solid stone?
Bobert, Bobert, Bobert.

Pretty Lady has memories of the days when she was young and frail; in the sandbox days of art school, the days wherein she amused herself by picking up cubic feet of solid stone at a little-known marble shop in Oakland, transporting them to the yard outside the sculpture studio, and whacking away at them with mallet and chisels, cheerfully if inexpertly, stopping every now and then to contemplate the view of sunny Alcatraz.

The resultant sculptures made good doorstops, as early sculptures are wont to do. Such are the atrocities a youthful idealist inevitably perpetrates, in service to the Creative Process.

As Pretty Lady has mentioned, however, those were her days of demure, flowerlike Youth. Having subjected herself to twelve years of classical ballet training, at an academy whose main aesthetic influence was that of Balanchine, she had not yet achieved maximal upper-body development. George Balanchine was an odd fellow; he liked for his dancers to exude the illusion of sylphlike ethereality, even as they performed superhuman feats of athleticism with legs and feet. Thus, the formation of visible biceps was Frowned Upon. Fellow dancers would exchange secrets for rendering their bodies above the waist ever more skeletal, while maintaining the illusion of femininity onstage, with artificially painted cleavage-lines on their sunken chests.

Horrifying, indeed.

But those days are far, far in the past. For nearly a decade, Pretty Lady has been earning her living, quite literally, manually. She carries large, heavy, cumbersome objects cheerfully up and down three flights of stairs. She instructs people to undress, then pounds them into jelly. She has been known to cause career bodybuilders to whimper, and request that she lighten up a bit.

(To be fair, this is at least as much about Leverage as it is about Strength; also, it seems that it is always the strapping muscular dudes who have the lowest pain thresholds. The petite Filipina ladies eternally instruct her to 'bring it on, harder!')

To be certain, Pretty Lady herself has not completely adjusted to the notion of Self as Amazon; she is frequently amazed when she catches a glimpse of herself emerging from the shower, pectorals rippling. For she has never particularly focussed upon strength training as an aesthetic end in itself; it merely happened, as she went about this fascinating business of living.

For it seems to Pretty Lady that whatever a person's mind requires, the body will eventually deliver, within rational limits. If the mind is enthralled by the notion of marble caryatids, the biceps will come. She imagines that this is equally true with cobblestone pathways. A person only has to manipulate a single cobblestone at a time; what is so all-fired difficult about that?

Lady, with Power Saw

Friday, May 04, 2007

Speaking of Problem-Solving

There are three things that Democratic political candidates tend to do when talking with constituents: they display an impressive grasp of the minutiae of their constituents’ problems, particularly money problems; they rouse indignation by explaining how those problems are caused by powerful groups getting rich on the backs of ordinary people; and they present well-worked-out policy proposals that, if passed, would solve the problems and put the powerful groups in their place. Obama seldom does any of these things. He tends to underplay his knowledge, acting less informed than he is. He rarely accuses, preferring to talk about problems in the passive voice, as things that are amiss with us rather than as wrongs that have been perpetrated by them. And the solutions he offers generally sound small and local rather than deep-reaching and systemic.


Obama’s detachment, his calm, in such small venues, is less professorial than medical—like that of a doctor who, by listening to a patient’s story without emotional reaction, reassures the patient that the symptoms are familiar to him. It is also doctorly in the sense that Obama thinks about the body politic as a whole thing. If you are presenting a problem as something that they have perpetrated on us, then whipping up outrage is natural enough; but if you take unity seriously, as Obama does, then outrage does not make sense, any more than it would make sense for a doctor to express outrage that a patient’s kidney is causing pain in his back.
It has always seemed to Pretty Lady that the fundamental problem of politics is, well, politics. That is, the pitting of one side against another in an illusory dichotomy which requires that somebody lose in order for somebody else to win, regardless of the fact that everyone's perspectives contain both flaws and merit. It is this illusory dichotomy which leads to oversimplication of issues, distortions, outright lies, and vulgar rants of every flavor.

If, as the surgeon's experience suggests, the solutions to any problem are inherent in the problem, it seems to Pretty Lady that the best way to solve these problems is to calm down, ask questions, and listen to the answers. No matter whether the people answering the questions are Democrats, Republicans, or fringe-element nutcases. Propounding Forceful Solutions before a person has done this would then seem to be counterproductive; wholesale name-calling, even more so.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Caveat Emptor -or- How Not To Buy a House

3,500 Lbs. of Bat Guano Found in Attic

BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. — An upstate New York couple didn't think a few bats in the attic were much of a problem when they were buying a house last summer.

Months later, they found out how wrong they were when they discovered more than a ton and a half of bat droppings up there.

Nick LaBoda and Jenna Caputo say a home inspector informed them about the bats. They called an exterminator, who told them to wait a while before removing the bats because the babies were too young to fly.

Then they forgot about the bats until they smelled a foul odor in January. When they checked the attic, they found dead bats and piles of guano.

An exterminator says hundreds of bats had been living in the attic, leaving behind 3,500 pounds of droppings.

It cost $25,000 to clean up the mess, and the couple's insurance company wouldn't cover it. They're fighting it out in court.

Pretty Lady has no sympathy for these people at all. Because:

1) Who would buy a house without even glancing into the attic? Attics are Extremely Important! Pretty Lady herself would make a point of visiting the attic on her very first perusal of a potential homestead! Attics could contain trunks full of antique dresses, or Private Archives, or Chippendale furniture, or swords, or skeletons, or first editions, or hundreds of bats!

2) If the attic was large enough to sustain 3,500 lbs of bat guano without collapsing the ceiling, these people's incuriosity as to the contents of said attic was even more inexcusable. Such pedestrian minds do not DESERVE any attic at all, bats or no.

3) Who in their right minds would pay anyone $25,000 to remove bat guano from their attic? That, by Pretty Lady's calculations, is seven dollars a pound! For that kind of cash, Pretty Lady would have no trouble spending a couple of weeks with a shovel and a case of heavy-duty garbage bags.

4) Did these people not even think to contact a fertilizer company, or several, and auction off their guano to the highest bidder? Pretty Lady is willing to bet that whoever cleared it out is making more than a pretty penny on the transaction.

5) If these people knew they had bats in their attic, why did they not gather every evening at sunset, with a couple of lawn chairs and some beer, and watch the bats come out, first in ones and twos, in corkscrew flight configurations, then in a massive, eerie and awesome cloud? Pretty Lady has traveled to more than one exotic location and paid good money to do this.

In conclusion: These people are stupid and boring, and deserve whatever trouble comes to them.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Platitude Peddlers

A dear friend of Pretty Lady's once recommended to her that she obtain Paolo Coelho's 'The Alchemist' as literary fare for a long plane journey. Pretty Lady is still vaguely irritated. Not only was the text in question ridiculously inadequate to occupy her even halfway to Charles de Gaulle, the storyline was suspiciously familiar. It took a mildly exasperated New Yorker profiler to jog her memory; it was based on a story from 'A Thousand and One Nights,' which Pretty Lady first read at the age of six or seven. No wonder it seemed a bit clich├ęd.

Pretty Lady cannot really begrudge Mr. Coehlo his overwhelming Popular Success. He seems harmless enough. She is merely mildly disheartened, at the incontrovertible evidence that the vast majority of human minds are shallow, plebian, unimaginative, unoriginal, and not only satisfied with such pablum, but actually uplifted by it. The fact that these people are easily manipulated comes second, in her selfish opinion, to the fact that they are staggeringly boring conversationalists.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Well, there you go

More proof that in a degraded society, bad manners will land you in prison:

I had never before been in a prison of any kind, for any reason, let alone such a filthy, decrepit, Victorian heap of stone and sadism as the Scrubs. That I found myself there at all may be put down to a collision of intractable forces -- first, my own loudmouth pigheadedness, which has landed me in trouble before; second, a humorless and probably exhausted flight attendant; and, third, the heightened tension now common to air travel, thanks to real and imagined threats to public safety resulting from the worldwide "war on terror."


My sins, in brief: When the cabin crew refused to radio JFK to see if I'd left my laptop at the gate and also declined to move me to another seat, "an altercation ensued" -- not physical, but verbal, with the flight attendants becoming snootier by the minute and me becoming, well, let's say, more American. I behaved badly in-flight, yelling at the crew, "I am an American citizen! You are our lapdog ally!" and other remarks of a vulgar and unhelpful nature. Very vulgar, I'm afraid: At one point I called that tired stewardess the worst thing you can call a woman -- you all know what it is -- but by then I was in full-blown air rage, something the airlines used to understand but, on the evidence, no longer do.
Pretty Lady finds it oddly poetic, if not exactly comforting, that calling a British stewardess the c-word will land a person in a Deep Dark Dungeon for an indefinite period of time.

The Psychodynamics of Polarity

MikeT swings the wrong way:

I'm not sure if some of these feminists are actually people sometimes. They often come across as MIT-designed artificial intelligences because of their ability to craft superbly hypocritical content. No normal human can deplore something in others, see it in themselves, and then celebrate it when they're doing it the way they're doing it!
Mike, Mike, Mike. Such behavior is anything but artificial. It is deeply, deeply human.

You see, Mikey-poo, 'these feminists' that you are referencing are certainly people. The sad and unfortunate proof of this fact is that they are damaged people.

Pretty Lady has often noticed that the Most Radical members of any given social, political or religious movement are the most highly likely to be reeking of Unresolved Trauma. In throwing themselves into Activism, they are pursuing the time-honored tradition of 'making lemonade from lemons,' 'learning from the past,' and 'making sure that that Horrible Thing Does Not Happen To Anyone Else.' As such, Pretty Lady has nothing but compassion for them.

The fact that they often go much, much Too Far in their endeavors, get hold of the wrong end of the stick, or attempt to make an apple into an orange by making the Personal into the Political is, sadly, par for the course.

Once a person realizes how often this sort of thing is true, it tends to decrease her will for engaging in Matters Political at all, at all. Because a problem cannot be solved on a level other than at its source. If the problem is, indeed, Personal Damage, a Political Solution will not be forthcoming, and any attempt to argue politics with a damaged person is doomed to failure and frustration.

As a tangential, but perhaps relevant, matter, Pretty Lady read a splendid essay while standing in a bookstore this weekend, about problem-solving in backwards villages and in hospitals. It seems that whenever there is a problem with an obvious solution, that solution can never be effectively implemented by outsiders coming in and imposing it. For example, all efforts by well-meaning Westerners to march into Africa and tell them to curb the AIDS problem by using condoms have been abysmal failures; all attempt to curb the spread of disease in hospitals by urging doctors to wash their hands, similarly so.

However, if an outsider goes into a hospital, assembles the healthcare workers, and asks them, "How would you suggest we make it easier for you to wash your hands between every patient?" reams of Excellent Solutions pour forth, and are implemented.

The trick is, once these solutions are found, to go into the next hospital and ask the same question. Simply attempting to implement the successful solutions will not work.

So, MikeT and friends, the next time you hear someone declaiming thus irrationally and hypocritically, Pretty Lady suggests that before you confront them with their blatant hypocrisy, that you first STOP. Stop and ask them, "What's this about? What's the problem? What happened?"

Solutions may not be found, but you, MikeT, may learn something.

UPDATE: The book was called 'Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance' by Atul Gawande. It was good enough to read standing up, but was not yet out in paperback, so Pretty Lady didn't buy it.

The Female Gaze

Pretty Lady has commented before, in passing, on her impatience with those pusillanimous, victim-type females who quail, rant and whine about the objectifying and aggressive qualities of the Male Gaze. It is her firm opinion that those who are reduced to impotent fury by a mere rude gesture on the part of another are beyond any reasonable assistance, whatever Draconian Legislation or re-vamping of Societal Mores might take place as a result of their activities.

And seeing as how she has been on an Old Movie binge of late, she is delighted to discover that Anthony Lane agrees with her.

Film theory has dwelled, with justice, on what is called the objectifying male gaze—that is, the power of the camera to ogle and depersonalize, and to encourage the viewer to follow suit—without always remembering that, at Hollywood’s height, there were plenty of people who could take that gaze like a punch and throw it right back. Stanwyck, by her own account, had practiced the response long before she stared into a lens: she recalled meeting the playwright Willard Mack in New York and regarding him “with impudent assurance, just to keep from turning around and running away.” Master your own fear, in other words, and you end up frightening others.
Pretty Lady is no Barbara Stanwyck, to be sure. But she rather doubts she will ever again be seriously intimidated by Latino construction workers, Italian limosine drivers, or knots of callow adolescents who are inclined to express their appreciation of her person by hissing, whistling, or using coarse epithets. For she has never once experienced any negative consequences from the simple act of nodding courteously at her admirer and walking on; occasionally she will even bestow a smile or a wave on the fellow, which is deeply appreciated.

You see, ladies, it is paramount to understand that a vulgar male who behaves this way is not serious in his attentions toward yourself. It is, simply, Not About You, except in the most tangential way. He is attempting to prove his masculinity to his peers, express himself as a True Male in the world at large, and giving tongue to his inarticulable feelings about the female in general.

It is then entirely your choice as to how to receive this chance attention in passing. You may choose to rail against nature, biology, and the vagaries of social class; you may choose to engage on a social, political and emotional level with these immutable forces. You may get All Worked Up, and have your day ruined.

Or you could think, "Yes, that's right, I am the most gorgeous thing you've seen today," and leave it at that. Because in Pretty Lady's experience, it is statistically improbable that the vulgar fellow, thus encouraged, will chase you down and assault you. In fact, he is much more likely to be intimidated.