Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Art of Hattitude

“I have a hat. It is graceful and feminine and gives me a certain dignity, as if I were attending a state funeral or something. Someday I may get up enough courage to wear it, instead of carrying it.”

—Erma Bombeck

“Live your life, do your work, then take your hat.”
— Henry David Thoreau

Miss O’ wearing the first hat she purchased from 
millinery magic person Wendy Carrington, 
Sugar Loaf Craft Fair, Manassas, Virginia, ca. 1995
(photo by Andrew Quinn, 12/1/12)

Mourning Wear

The other morning, Miss O’s publishing colleague (and eBook creator) Magda, a designer, artist, and aspiring hat-maker, asked where I got the hat you see pictured, and I told her (see caption). As we chatted at my desk, I also told her that when I moved to New York, one of the first things I did was find Wendy Carrington’s shop, Hattitude, located on Reade Street in Tribeca. Wendy had to close the shop two years after 9-11 (“I don’t want to think about why we lost 90% of our business,” she told me when I visited the shop in the fall of 2003 as she was preparing to close), and so they were moving over to the Dumbo section of Brooklyn (DUMBO stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass” and it’s really a faux “section” of the city, very trendy). I found her again when I searched online a couple of years later, intending to visit her shop in its new location, but shortly after that, around 2006 or ’07, her website was no longer up. I have searched periodically, wondering what happened to her and her marvelous hats. Possibly she’d retired, but she couldn’t have been more than 60 by then, if that. Her skin, as I remember, was luminous.

“Oh, why don’t I Google her again?” I said to Magda. And this is what I found.


CARRINGTON--Wendy. Remembered by Daisy, Bob and Pat, owner of Hattitude in Tribeca. Memorial today at 6pm, 1157 Lexington Ave.

Published in The New York Times on February 25, 2010

“Oh my god,” I said.  I pointed to the screen. That was it. All I could locate was this paid notice from 2010. Beyond that, I couldn’t find another thing about Wendy except a few eBay sales of her hats, a few images of hats here and there, and she deserves so much more than that. And here it is, as best as I can offer.

In Memoriam: Wendy Carrington

Miss O’s winter hat collection by Wendy Carrington of Hattitude, NYC
(Photo by Miss O')

The first Wendy hat I bought, technically, was also at a Sugar Loaf Craft Fair the year before the top pictured one, but it was sold to me by two 20-something super-enthusiastic employees, and lovely though the hat is (it’s the purple velvet one; the gold ribbon band is a gift from Luxor Tavella of Paracelsco in SoHo—a story for another time), it’s not really me, and Wendy herself, had she been able to be there, would never have sold it to me. (What makes a hat "you" and "not you" is often subtle.) Wendy, as I learned the following year, would snatch right off your head the hat you were trying on if she saw that it didn’t suit you. “No,” she would explain in her clipped but rich English accent, reminiscent in tone to Vanessa Redgrave’s but more aggressive—in fact, she looked like a 5’1” version of that great actress—declaring, “You can’t have that one—it's all wrong for you.” She would then toss it back onto the table, search furtively, and in a matter of seconds pull another one off the rack and place it, firmly and finally, on your head. “This one,” she would say. And you would turn to look in the handy hanging mirror, and (if you really looked and took in what you saw) you might feel then the sting of tears in your eyes: Hattitude gratitude.

Wendy’s gift—even beyond her ability to choose three fabrics of varying textures and patterns and weaves to combine into hats of wide brims, medium brims, and cloches, with high crowns and low with a craftsmanship touched of God (all complemented with a scarf to tie around the crown, chosen from a box, right there in the moment)—was the certainty with which she assessed your best fit, best style, and true hat self all in one moment of meeting. She was open to colors—we all know the coats we own—but also pushy in terms of rightness. “That red really isn’t your best color,” I heard her tell a customer. “Try this,” and the “this” was more orange. The woman insisted that she preferred red, but had to admit that, in accord with both Wendy and the mirror, the orangier hat really looked more delicious on her. I watched this process many times over many craft fairs. It was like watching a magician.

And once the right hat was found, then would come your nervousness: You would have to live up to the expectations of that hat, you see. You might have to buy a new coat. Rethink your scarves. Reconsider in what direction your wardrobe—nay, your life—was going. The choice of a hat is perhaps one of a human being’s most difficult decisions, fraught with greater anxieties than we might first imagine. “It’s just a hat,” we tell ourselves, standing in the department store or in the sporting goods shop. Then after ten or fifteen minutes of total indecisiveness and increasingly static-attracting locks, we realize—now on the verge of rage—that we’ll have to find a hat another day. “But…it’s cold outside, goddammit, and I need a fucking hat now,” we scream inside our own heads (one hopes only there), and we return again to the stacks and hooks of headwear. Often we choose wrongly. It’s worn once or twice, this wrong hat, and lost onto the closet floor for years after, or discarded after we finally find one that will do for us, if not exactly enhance us.

Hat as Personality Indicator

A person’s choice of hat is more than telling: It’s defining, especially as seen in winter in New York City on the streets and subways during the rush of rush hours. In life (if we are honest) we more often than not are as Wendy was during a hat sale—we size up a person quickly, and we may find the hat they’re wearing to be just right or “all wrong for you,” causing us to have a sudden urge to walk over, whip the hat off that person’s head, and say, “No, you can’t have that one.” And Wendy was simply not wrong, and chances are you are not wrong, either (if you are honest and not projecting your own movie onto someone because of, you know, hat trauma when you were four, or something).

As a lover of millinery and student of human nature, I study the wearers of hats. Should you find this interesting, I offer this quick rundown of personality types as defined by hats as gleaned during Miss O’s limited life experience. As of today, anyway—and listen: If any one of these hats is paired with a startling scarf, coat, or intriguing facial hair, or surprising optical wear (or is anything other than clean)…well, all bets are off. People are people, for crying out loud. But hats, if not being exactly windows to our souls, surely offer chimney access. I suspect we notice a person’s hat before we notice anything else about them. (Test this for yourself.) 

And so, to hats!

Baseball caps, sports team-related or "generic": No muss, no fuss, everyday hard-working guys who like to watch the game, have a beer, take their kids to soccer practice or (if single) take in a little Internet porn at bedtime because chances are they don’t date much if they are wearing baseball hats like this and are still single over the age of 30.

Baseball hats sporting store or brand logo: Fashion-statement types who have a personal and not unattractive (necessarily) vanity when it comes to a “look”; will spend hours in front of a mirror. Warning: Follow a polished, trendy, labeled baseball hat, and find gold chains around a neck. Possibly this turns you on.

English Driving Caps or Tam o'shanters: Adorable men, gay or straight, who like to do things, go places, and chat with strangers as well as friends. These guys are one of two sorts: 1) comfortable with themselves and others; or 2) self-absorbed clothes horses. If 1: Not flashy, but nor are they the sort to wear a baseball cap, if you know what I mean, and blue jeans are probably not a wardrobe staple. If 2: I have known some real jerks who wear these hats, and I mean JERKS. So while hat cuteness is no guarantee of who they are, the hat does invite a person to really look, which is something. (NOTE: Friend George just asked me about men who wear berets. I fear that I find I cannot look upon them, not the black ones, not for long, anyway. I start to feel kind of ooky. And why is that, I wonder? Knitted ones are jaunty and functional and cute, usually like the fellow wearing them. Talk about personal taste: I have no other explanation.)

Small (so-called “new era”) fedora-style hats: Gay, or, if around age 25 (30, tops), musicians or artsy types (gay or straight), very skinny or very fat—it’s usually an extreme that is drawn to this hat, in my observation, so the wearers are either sort of full of self-importance, or else enjoy total whimsy and ease. (Miss O’ doesn’t usually like these guys at all, and she is not quite sure why.)

Cowboy hats: Exactly what you’d think. Pick a country song.

Greek Fisherman’s hats: Sea dreamers. Old-country type guys. Possibly life has let them down. I find these hats sad, if charming. I think these men must drink a great deal to make up for the dreams they did not fulfill.

Knitted skull caps in solid, basic colors: Not much to say here—these wearers—any age, any body type, any profession—could be, literally, anybody, and apparently being “anybody” is exactly what they want to appear to be. They aren’t feeling particularly original, or at least they feel no need to express themselves through what they wear (Caveat: See notes in intro), and yet at least have the balls to admit it's freezing out. They are hidden, these men, and you have to decide whether or not you’d want to work to find out what’s underneath.

Knitted hats of more than one color or with a pattern: Slightly more accessible than the guys mentioned above.

Knitted hats (any color) with a pom-pom on top: Fun. Sense of humor. Out there. Can include you or not in whatever they are doing. They ski, climb rocks, takes risks, but usually in a physical way rather than in an artistic way UNLESS the hat has the added feature of long ties that hang down, with the little tassels at the finish. Then who knows?

Animal hats: Jesus. Unless you are six and your aunt bought it, what the fuck is the matter with you?

Renaissance Faire court jester hats, etc.: Ren Faire folk are a breed apart, and you are either of that world or you are not. But nonetheless, who doesn’t enjoy tearing at the occasional fine turkey leg while sauntering through a glade? Or hearing the tinkling of bells off a multi-pointed felt cap?

Brimmed hats, wide and medium, or other hats that can be worn at a jaunty angle: They want you to think they are interesting, these men. They aren’t. Or, more generously, I’d say one in five are really deserving of such a hat, live up to it, and do so without trying to look self-consciously “cool.” In other words, a fellow wants to wear the hat, not have the hat wear him, if you see what I mean.

No hat: 1) Business types who put hair vanity and the appearance of “cool” above warmth and weather acknowledgement—they OWN the world; 2) Guys who just really hate hats, which means they are probably really, really particular about a lot of other stuff, e.g. my dad; 3) Guys who think that wearing sports ear-warmers will make them look less “gay” than if they wore a hat, which means they are probably, uh, gay.


You can break down female hat-wearers into the same categories, but there’s different information being sent out, whatever equality issues one might bring up. While women wear hats for a variety of reasons, the reasons are both simpler and more complicated than they are for men.

Above all, a woman wants a hat that flatters her features, her body, her hairstyle. It’s a cosmetic decision, the choice of hat. Many of us women will “like” a hat that we don’t have the distance to understand looks terrible on us, but is something we would enjoy looking at. One needs a friend to tell us the difference, and Wendy Carrington was just such a friend. (Another such friend who understands this distinction is my friend Rebecca. This past June, Becca sent me a package in the mail containing a muted burnt orange mohair blazer and a complementary peach-colored raw silk scarf with burnt orange/brown/black felt appliques, both items gorgeous, and in really daring colors for me, and yet I have dared. She sent the blazer because she had tried it on in a vintage clothing store, loved it, realized it was too big for her and the color was all wrong for her, but couldn’t part with it because she wanted to have a way to look at it again, and thought, “Lisa!” The scarf was an accident, spotted in yet another vintage store, and it looked made for the jacket, so she had to buy that, too. Wasn't that sweet?)

Miss O' sports the gifts of vintage blazer and scarf, 
courtesy Rebecca Cummins.
(Photo by Frances Storey, October 2012)

The Way You Wear Your Hat

In trying to live up to the expectations of Wendy Carrington's hats, I have made bolder choices all around in my life. I'm convinced of it. Wearing her hats, I have no doubt, helped prepare me to move to New York and make a success of the move. And to try to make it with integrity.

Wendy’s integrity as an artist is evident in the hats themselves, but, in addition, her true nature as an artist gave her salesmanship an integrity I also admired: She would rather have lost a sale than see you leave with a hat that was wrong for you. Her declaration of “You can’t have that” meant something. “It’s all wrong for you” told you that most likely you will wear the hat once, if ever, but you will surely never wear it again, and her gorgeous milliner’s art will languish in a hat box in your closet. And what would be the point? Waste of your money, waste of her art. It's how any artist should feel (knowing, too, that still one must eat, and then, c'est le chapeau.)

  Summer hats by Wendy Carrington, ca. 2001
(Photo by Miss O')

I bought one of Wendy's hats each year over six years, or so. One spring I purchased two—summer hats, which I’d never bought. Of the ones I tried on that day, these (pictured above) were the best, and I had to choose (I've always lived within my means, however extravagant my soul’s desires); Wendy, however, couldn’t bear for me to leave without taking both of them—"They are gorgeous on you; you must have them both"— so she gave me a nice deal on the pair. I’ve never had occasion to wear the see-through pale mauve one, and so am waiting for the outdoor summer wedding reception to which someone will certainly someday invite me; in the meantime it is the only one of her hats I merely take out to look at (however well I wear it), lacking only an occasion.

I would like to think that my telling you about Wendy Carrington might encourage you to try some daring hat experiments, which could lead you to risk discovering something new and bold in yourself through the fun of millinery, or, at least, bring you to a recognition of how your own hat collection is an outward expression of  yourself in the world—your own hattitude.

Sadly, I cannot find a photo of Wendy, wearing one of her marvelous creations or otherwise, search on Google though I may, nor can I get one of her hat labels to photograph in a way that shows up, so often-worn are her creations. So I leave you with Miss O’s hat and scarf wall in its current incarnation in her Queens apartment, from which view I enjoy them all in full each night.

Miss O's hat and scarf wall, NYC, 2012
(Photo by Miss O')

And this, one last memory: Once in her craft stall, Wendy removed her own ever-present hat to give her head some relief from the heat. It was the first and only time I had seen her hair, which was white, thin, and wispy, gathered into a loose top knot; she saw me notice it, and she seemed for once a bit fearful. “When you wear hats, you cannot care about your hair,” she said, and then she asked, “Do you care about your hair like that?” I confessed that "hat hair" had never really bothered me, because my hair had never been able to be tamed to begin with. “Exactly,” she said; “Wear the hat!” she said. It was a moment of conspiracy and communion between us, this eschewing of hair vanity in favor of artful display. We put on our hats. (I watched once as a dithering potential buyer, looking at herself in the mirror and wearing the perfect hat, said aloud to her friend, “I don’t know.” I looked over her shoulder and said, “Buy it. And WEAR it.” But I knew it was no use. I saw by the way she fussed over her hair that she would never have the courage of her hat, at least not that day.) 

Wendy’s hat art has made not only my wardrobe, but also my life (and the lives of the people who get to look at these hats), richer, especially in winter. 

The way you wear your hat, the memory of all that: In the words of the Gershwin song, They can't take that away from me.

Thank you, Wendy. I tip my hat(s) to you.

 Miss O' offers a tip of the hat to Wendy Carrington 
of Hattitude, NYC, who died in February of 2010.
(Photo by Andrew Quinn, December 2012)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

That Holiday Feeling

All I Want for Christmas

 Christmas Comes to Queens, 2012

Over sips of coffee in my apartment, which now has water after a day of pipe replacement in the building (running water: so underrated), your Miss O' was considering what sort of deeply political, incendiary post she could offer today, but all she can think about are her nephew Cullen’s two big, new front teeth. While his little face and great, gently sloping dark brown eyes framed by camel-style black eyelashes—and even that head of cowlick-riddled wild golden hair—have been ever as they are, since he was a tiny baby, really, and he’s heightened, of course, it's those two front teeth that tell the real story. This year, after 5 years of annual Thanksgiving visits, I found my nephew greeting me not with a grin of flashing tiny baby teeth, but instead with a grin of surprising largeness, right there in the center beneath his upper lip. Gaps in the baby teeth on the bottom row are evidence of the continuing process of growth, and all that stuff that is both the purpose of life, and which also serves as the creator of moments that cause us to say, foolishly, “And now you are just right. Don’t ever change.”

And yet it all changes, and all very recently, it seems. Richard wept when he and John filmed the twins graduating out of cribs and into new big girl and big boy beds; a young student friend of George and Jean's died yesterday; Mom O' had to have a knee replacement this week; and during my trip out to Columbus, Ohio, brother Pat brought out his yearbook from Rippon Middle School (where everyone who signs it writes, "Don't ever change") to show me people he’d recently reconnected with through Facebook, because this was the last time he’d seen some of them. And, just so, this blog changes: This morning, for example, I had no idea what to write, and there was nothing on this page, and now there is something, and there will be something else, and then I will revise it. The thing about writing is, it’s never, “Don’t ever change,” but rather, “If I change this ONE thing—this phrasing, or this word, or this comma—then it will be perfect.” And then the rereading….and one more change, two more changes…and now it is perfect. And then it isn’t. Not by a long shot.

And then it is. Again. Sort of. For one brief, shining…shit. Gone.

“We the People, in order to form a more perfect union….” More perfect. Ongoing attempts at perfection, one Spielberg movie at a time. If writing has taught me anything—if theater (and any other creative act) has taught me anything—it is to trust the process.  Parents know this: As cute as Cullen has been through the years, as delightful and precocious as he is, he has also known his share of childish outbursts and the occasional tantrum, the meltdown that comes when too many people have been in his holiday house for too many days and nights; though really he is such a good little guy, so he has grown into the holiday ebb and flow, you see, and can anticipate arrivals and is assuaged in any feeling of suffocation by an awareness of the coming departures. (On Wednesday, Cullen asked his mom, Traci, “When is everyone going?” And Traci gave him the rundown: “Aunt Lisa is going to the airport Friday morning, and Aunt Kelli and Uncle Charlie and Chris are leaving Friday, too. Uncle Bob and Aunt Cheryl and Camille are leaving Saturday morning, and Kayla leaves Saturday afternoon.” As she spoke, Cullen looked at each person in turn, and prepared himself to miss people (especially his much older cousins, Chris and Kayla), and also to reassure himself that soon his home would be his own again.) And then, as quickly as the awareness comes, it goes, and the fun resumes.

I look at Cullen as through a window into my own growing up, and I think of my parents as I watch my brother and his wife parent their son. The process is such a mystery, whatever we try to do to be better at it. To our parents, we kids are only ever as we ever were—whenever that was. Cullen’s cousin, Chris, who is in college in Boston, said, grinning at something his mother just told him, that his mom and stepdad seem to forget he is 21 now. I told Chris that when I was in my thirties, I guess it was, my mom told me my views on some issue—I can’t remember what it was—and I looked at her. “Mom, I don’t feel that way.” She said, forcefully, that I did. “Mom,” I explained, “when I said that, I was, what, FIFTEEN?” She was unmoved. For her, I am ever only what I WAS. I hope Chris found this reassuring, but I suspect he saw the deeper truth: There is no point in arguing with our parents when it comes to who we are. They have too much memory of us back then. And they always get to pick the then. And then is never now. Dammit anyway.

But these are small annoyances for us, the kids and our parents, as long as we are living. What is unbearable for parents is the loss of children before their time, before the parents go. A few years ago, Cullen lost a cousin, Jamie, who was only 7, to encephalitis. Just yesterday, I learned, a young woman, Jennifer Brune, a dear friend and former student of George and Jeannie’s, died of the cancer that she’d been battling for years now. (As long as I’d seen Jenn, she walked a sloped walk, sporting a bandana to cover her hairless head; all I really knew of her (for I only ever saw her at a few poetry readings in New Jersey, the first when she was still in a wheelchair and not expected to last a month—and that was four or five years ago, I think) was a sly smile; she had, too, a slanted kind of light coming out of her eyes, knowingness and uncertainty all at once. Pain and humor.) How does any parent cope with such a loss—of will be, of now?

(Black and) Blue Christmas

This holiday season, I am thinking of essentials, is what I’m saying, past and present, and wondering about the future. But that ol' fucker, American Corporate Capitalism, tries to foil me at every click and turn.

I actually saw this headline today, and I wish I were making it up: “What to Tell Your Child about Black Friday.” As if gluttonous bargain hunting has the weight of teen sex. Or a pet's death. "Macy's to the Max: My First Time."

Today on Facebook—in the spirit of Black Friday existentialism, apparently—a friend shared his disgust with Oprah’s show My Favorite Things, as she gives away loads of material goods to a screaming audience of material people. The goods are luxury items, and she’s giving these things to people who already have, you know, stuff, and ways of getting stuff (such as transportation to get to her show) and this friend cannot help thinking of people in NEED—you know, Hurricane Sandy victims, for example, who still don’t have access to shelter, heat, a working toilet, or clean water, or any way to get to work. How about she gives away materials or pays more contractors to fix stuff faster? I think it would make great television, wouldn’t it? We do already have a forum for those in need, what with TV’s Bill O’Reilly and his rant about poor people, whom he despises for “wanting things”—things, you know, such as shelter. For their children. Whom he would not allow the poor to abort before they become poor children. But I digress into pesky politics again, all from the televised want of compassion from a fucker like Bill O'Reilly, who makes more money than God for telling us we are suckers for not being Bill O'Reilly.

Let’s get back to shopping, Americans’ blood sport, when they aren’t doing mass shootings (and no sooner typed than I read: two shot outside a Walmart in Florida on Black Friday—greedy for all of it at once, I guess. Excuse me while I throw up.). Today, Saturday, November 24, is Shop Small Day, er, Small Business Saturday, encouraging people to support local businesses, and I hope it works in all the ways intended. I was really proud of the Walmart strikers and got enraged by shoppers who would cross that picket line. I actually read that someone said that it’s “unfair” of the workers to deny the people a chance to shop for bargains, and that if the workers want to strike, they should do it on a "regular" shopping day. 

You know who says shit like that? Someone who has never had to fight for a goddamned thing, not ever. Or actually WORKED retail at Christmas. (And I firmly believe that no one in America should get to run for public office unless she or he has taught public high school for one year and has had to work a retail job at Christmas, because THAT, my friends, I$ America, god help us. $$$.)

The CEO of Walmart makes over $8,000/hour (I’d supply the link with the chart to prove it, but goddammit, try a little Google search, won’t you?) and yet pays his employees so little they can only get by by supplementing their paycheck with assistance from food stamps and Medicaid. Another CEO, John Schnatter of Papa John’s, groused that he would either have to raise the price of pizza 14¢ in order to give his employees health care benefits, or else (absorb that cost out of his own massive salary? no...) close his business. And then he took it back (JK! Please buy my pizza, even though I think health care for everyone is me). (Miss O’ would rather buy her pizza from little independent Marabella up the block, thanks—um, did I just see Tony Soprano collecting an envelope?—even as your giant PAPA JOHN'S neon sign glares at me from across the street.)

You know what’s really unfair, Papa John? A hurricane that wipes out your entire world. Cancer attacking a girl when she is only a teen and killing her before she can finish college. These things are never okay, but they feel especially rotten at Thanksgiving. So that’s MY fourteen cents. Ass.

Sleighbells Ring. ARE YOU LISTENING?

America: What in the name of Rockefeller, Mom, fried peach pie, and iShit do you actually, really value? Because I must tell you, if nothing else happens for me this entire holiday season, I had the chance to listen to my serious, sweet-voiced nephew as he told me the entire story of Brave even as we watched the movie ("This is where I started crying"), and to stare into his face as he concentrated on tying his shoe laces, as taught to him by his dad, who got practice teaching our brothers Jeff and Mike, using a Dapper Dan doll, which we reminisced about while walking Cullen home from school on Tuesday; I also studied my brother and his wife as they cuddled with their son in the big chair during a Redskins football game, where the 'skins actually beat Dallas to win the thing; marveled as football-scholarship student Chris threw for 50+ yards to his softball-scholarship sister Kayla, who in turn threw for 50 yards, and then threw again, gently, for an easy five yards as she told the little receiver, her cousin Cullen, “Good catch, buddy”; giggled when friend Bob heard the song “Dizzy” from Uncle Charlie's iPod and felt compelled to reenact his 7th grade “dance” and lip-sync to that song, prompting Cullen to jump up and stand in front of Uncle Bob and mimic the dance, his big front teeth over the bottom lip, little fists balled up under his chin, body bobbing lamely—The Bob, we called it (and for the rest of the week: "Hey, Cullen, Cullendo The Bob," and he would); toasted as a laughing roomful of family and friends drank each other’s health over a feast we all helped to create (even though that giant of a dear man, Great Uncle Tom, could only manage mashed potatoes and some sweet potatoes, relearning to swallow since the radiation for the tumor in his throat—though he will still be playing Santa this year for the charity he started years ago); joined my brother in calling our mom to wish her Happy Thanksgiving in the hospital after her surgery, as she lay in recovery in a bed in a room that would let our dad sleep there, too—and the comfort of knowing brother Jeff is living at home to take care of them. Life could be so much worse, is what I’m saying, and it will be. It’s only a matter of time.

Listen—Cullen’s mom is whispering into your ear. Her arms enfold you from behind, pressing you to her chest, and she’s telling you, as gently as she can, her cheek against yours, how everyone will be leaving us, eventually, since you asked, though not everyone does this on a schedule, so we won’t know exactly when that will be, the leave taking, but it may be sooner than we think, is the safest guess (my friend JC's old black dog, Hansel, who if he'd been a man I would have married him, had to be put down the other week, as I learned in an email with the subject, "sad news," and so it is, sometimes).

It’s occurred to you, their leaving—and you don’t know when you’ll have this chance again. So you look at each of them, one by one in their turn, think of their stories, where they’ve been and who they are now, and you wonder for how long you’ll be seeing them. And then something else happens, as life does, and you’re doing that. Even if it's only shopping.

It’s been so nice seeing you here. Hope you’ll visit often. I’m humbled by your continued reading of this thing, what with the swearing, and the unrelenting politics, and all, to say nothing of the sudden swings into, and away from, sentimental feeling. We enjoy the process, it seems to me. Don't ever change.

Until next time, 

Happy holidays and love from Miss O’

P.S. At the risk of getting caught up in the game of good old-fashioned American self-promotion (is my hypocrisy showing?), I share this retail news: Inspired in part by your unreasonable encouragement, Readers, Miss O’s first book, Easier to Live Here: Miss O’ in New York City, will be coming out at the beginning of December (as an eBook for Kindle and Nook) just in time for Christmas shopping, and I hope you’ll take a look at Miss O’s looking about her, and the paragraphs that ensued. The art, by Lisa DiPetto, is worth the price of the book. And then some, really, since the thing will only cost $1.99. Color it a stocking stuffer! (Look out, Amazon shopping STAMPEDE! An eBook Bestseller: The true meaning of Christmas.) Details forthcoming on Facebook. Kisses.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What Is the Story You Tell Yourself? The Election Blog

Who Were You When You Woke Up Wednesday Morning?

It's been quite a week. Quite a couple of weeks, what with election outcomes and a hurricane and a nor'easter and the locusts. I feel as if, in all this, we've drifted apart, you and I. Forget Wednesday. Forget Tuesday. Think about now, and who you are at this moment. If you were to describe yourself to your Miss O', what would be the first five items on your Self List? Go ahead and take a moment to compile it. I’ll wait here. (As long as there's whiskey, I'm never alone.)

In these post-election days and nights, Miss O’ has been thinking about how we define ourselves, and wondering about the story we tell others about ourselves, as the results of election week settle in. I'll start. Here are the first five things Miss O’ says about herself, just now, as I type:

Five Things from Miss O's Story of Herself

·      The apostrophe is both the bane of my existence and my most defining characteristic: From bank accounts to billing questions, I must forever have the receptionist (or teller or tech support person of the moment) type in or else delete the apostrophe, after which gesture I will hear, “Oh, there you are!” (According to the Wiki, my last name has this origin: O'Hara is an Anglicized form of the Irish name Ó hEaghra. The apostrophe indicates possession, some say, as in “son of” or “family of,” but I can’t find any real evidence of that in all the searching I’ve done.) In addition to serving as a mark in my name (though seen as #ph%39 or something like that on Firefox, for example), the apostrophe also indicates missing letters, as seen in contractions. Possibly my apostrophe indicates something in me is missing. What I do know is that when I started writing my initials many years ago, I wrote “LO’H” instead of “LLO.” Even my ol’ bartender at Mustang Harry’s, George, called me L-O-Haitch, without me ever sharing my way of writing my initials, so I think there is something defining in my apostrophe even to those apart from myself.

·      My life is defined by the cast of characters who inhabit it, and within seconds of meeting another person, that person will learn about some player in The Miss O’ Show, including family members, friends, and colleagues, with first and last names and defining characteristics, revealed through the narrative arc of a story. The result is immediate intimacy with strangers, and in fact I am as comfortable with strangers as with people I know and love well.

·      I love language, preferring to speak through it rather than merely speak it, if you see what I mean, and storytelling is the way I make my way in the world.

·      Laughter—being made to laugh and being a source of laughter for others (either as a wit or the butt of a joke)—feeds my soul.

·      Passionate connection to all of life—the personal, the political, the planetary, and the picayune—to say nothing of the potent potables—more or less pours out of my pores, along with copious amounts of perspiration in the warm months. (As you might guess, I p(ee) a lot, too.)

In sum, I’m a flagrant, physical, unfettered fucker of a storyteller. Did I say storyteller? I meant truth seeker. And I just can’t seem to stop my mouth or my typing fingers from keeping to that path, much as I’d like to abandon it most times and just dance naked in deep woods beneath the bright, full moon, screaming like a blotto banshee.

Instead I blog, which may amount to the same thing, now that I think about it.

Fear of Truth: The Stories The Republicans Told Themselves

Following the decisive re-election of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden—a win projected in nearly every poll, and distilled clearly using sturdy, real math by statistician Nate Silver in his blog Five Thirty Eight (which is the total number of votes in the Electoral College) in the months leading up to election night—right wing pundits, voters, and politicans were falling all over themselves at 11:15 PM Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning wondering what could have happened. For example, in a segment on MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell program called “Your Moment of Gloat,” O’Donnell showed this montage of clips from Fox “News” showing myriad moments of pure, unadulterated delusion leading up to election day:

The other story behind that story is the story that the Republican media pundits have been telling their American viewers and listeners, that Obama is the antichrist, that the nation will be in burning ruins because of his victory, even as the President stands there with his beautiful family, smiling and waving, and as he goes on to deliver a gracious victory speech that mentions including Gov. Romney in discussions on America's future. It’s like watching middle school bullies at the lockers after having been bested by the bright, funny kids: The bullies suddenly look pathetic, silly, and toothless.

Satirical site The Daily Currant imagined pundit Pat Buchanan’s response to the election, discussed with disgraced politico and latter day lunatic radio host G. Gordon Liddy, and it was epic:

PB: "White America died last night. Obama's reelection killed it. Our 200 plus year history as a Western nation is over. We're a Socialist Latin American country now. Venezuela without the oil."

GGL: "With what you just said right there...You seem to imply that white people are better than other people. That's not really what you're saying is it?"

PB: "Of course that's what I'm saying. Isn't it obvious? Anything worth doing on this Earth was done first by white people. Who landed on the moon? White people. Who climbed Mount Everest? White people.  Who invented the transistor? White people. Who invented paper? White people. Who discovered algebra? White people. And don't give me all this nonsense about Martin Luther King and civil rights and all that. Who do you think freed the slaves? Abraham Lincoln. A white guy!"

We can imagine this to be a true recording (Miss O' took it seriously, and thanks for the catch, Shawna!), because we hear actual conversations like this on TV all the time. (The Onion has practically nothing to top it lately.) The Whites did it all! (Tell it to the Chinese, the Japanese, the Southeast Asians, the Arabs, the Indians, the Africans, the Native Peoples of Earth. Because it just makes so much sense.)

The Romney Revelation: Against Is Not as Powerful as For

Here’s a response I wrote to a friend’s post on Facebook, concerned as she was about the sudden tide of long, vitriolic commentary and anti-Obama screed-writing that occurred on the walls of right wingers in the days following Obama’s re-election, or, for them, Romney’s stolen opportunity, a.k.a. defeat:

Curiously, the Romney voters among my friends saved all their personal FB posting energy for defeat. Some were gracious, some the height of melodrama. It's telling. After months of random pre-fab anti-Obama posters, a weekly "like" on the Romney page, and lots of photos of cute puppies and kitties, only in defeat did they have anything to say, all of it negative toward Obama and Dems--nothing about how Romney would have lifted the nation, for example. I would so much rather fight for and post about and share the ideas of a candidate I truly believe in than pound my chest because an opponent won--and won honestly by majority vote. It's what democracy is, what voting is for. I'm sincerely grateful for the way the election turned out, was gracious in the win--because I read and researched and posted, and fought and battled to the end. It was thrilling.

Even former Bush speechwriter David Frum has had it with them. Here are some excerpted remarks from the conservative chat show Morning Joe on Saturday morning: :

Since the loss of the election, we have heard an enormous amount of discussion from Republicans on television and newspaper columns about immigration as an issue...but all of us who are allowed to participate in this conversation, we all have health insurance. And the fact that millions of Americans don't have health insurance, they don't get to be on television. And it is maybe a symptom of a broader problem, not just the Republican problem, that the economic anxieties of so many Americans are just not part of the national discussion at all. I mean, we have not yet emerged from the greatest national catastrophe, the greatest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. And what are we talking about? The deficit and the debt. And these are important problems, but they're a lot easier to worry about if you are wealthier than you were in 2008, which most of the people on television now are again, if you are securely employed, which most of the people on television now are. But that's not true for 80% of America. And the Republican Party, the opposition party, needed to find some way to give voice to real urgent economic concerns held by middle class Americans. Latinos, yes, but Americans of all ethnicities.

This is the story the right wing tells itself about the rest of the United States—that is, the story about what the white, older, male (and some female) segment of the population has been taught to fear to the point of mouth-foaming, which is to say, all humans of color, of the female gender, of homosexual bent, of college-level education, of high social consciousness, of scientific persuasion, or in impoverished circumstances. It’s a horrifying story called, in all caps, naturally, “KNOWLEDGE EVIL, MONEY GOOD.” How many times has Miss O’ said that it’s a story as old as Eve, as old as Midas? If Fox and its money-hoarding fear-mongers were to go off the air for one entire month, the nation might begin recovering. As it certainly will never go off the air, we have to ask ourselves why we as a nation allow any television network to define our beliefs and tell us who we are supposed to be. I thought the Vatican was supposed to do that.

(P.S. My Republican cousin Bill’s final response to all my posts, celebrations, and gracious amounts of informed context: “Down girl!” And there, in one pithy retort, is the capsule of Republican political irrelevance in America in 2012. Thanks, Bill.)

Real Time: Reality as It Really Is, with Rachel Maddow

Miss O’ can’t really add anything to what the most trusted name in American news, Rachel Maddow, had to say on her Wednesday night show. Here is the link:

And here is her summary statement about the outcome of the November 6 election:

"Ohio really did go to President Obama. And he really did win. And he really was born in Hawaii. And he really is, legitimately, President of the United States. Again. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics did not make up a fake unemployment rate. And the Congressional Research Service really can find no evidence that cutting taxes on rich people grows the economy. And the polls were not skewed to oversample Democrats. And Nate Silver was not making up fake projections about the election to make Conservatives feel bad. Nate Silver was doing Math. And Climate Change is Real. And rape really does cause pregnancy sometimes. And Evolution is a Thing. And Benghazi was an attack ON us, it was not a scandal BY us. And nobody is taking away anyone’s guns. And taxes have not gone up. And the deficit is dropping, actually, and Saddam Hussein did not have Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the moon landing was
real, and FEMA is not building concentration camps, and UN Election Observers are not taking over Texas, and moderate reforms on the regulations in the insurance industry in this country are not the same things as Communism…[but] if the Republican Party and the Conservative Movement and the Conservative Media are stuck in a vacuum-sealed, door-locked spin cycle of telling each other what makes them feel good, and denying the factual, lived truth of the world, then we are all deprived as a nation of the constructive debate between competing, feasible ideas about real problems. Last night, the Republicans got shellacked. And they had no idea it was coming. And we saw them in real, humiliating time, not believe it even as it was happening to them. And unless they are going to secede, they are going to have to pop the factual bubble they have been so happy living inside if they do not want to get shellacked again. And that will be a painful process for them, I’m sure. But it will be good for the whole country, left, right and center. You guys, we’re counting on you. Wake up. There are real problems in the world. There are real, knowable facts in the world. Let’s accept those, and talk about how we might approach our problems differently. Let’s move on from there.” — Rachel Maddow, 11/07/12

[Update November 14, 2012: Perhaps you're one of those Red State people who wants nothing more than to secede. Miss O' has been fascinated by the petitions for secession, signed by tens of thousands of citizens in 30 states, fueled by years of histrionic, ratings-boosting lies and delusional ravings on Fox "News," grandstanding by Texas Gov. Rick Perry (who has distanced himself entirely from this latest movement) in 2010, and general Southern anger over the loss of the War of Northern Aggression back in 1865. Forgive me if this is the only thing that comes to mind as I read of the Right's pain and suffering at the election of a decent, capable, caring politician with real integrity, a model husband and father, too, who is trying to stop corporations and the rich from destroying the lives of the vast masses of American people, the way a good parent would put the breaks on an unruly child:]

Norman Rockwell, The Runaway, Sept 20, 1958,  from The Saturday Evening Post

And Finally...

Allow me to add to your reading the brilliant analysis of Frank Rich in New York magazine:
Frank Rich’s Closer:

"For all the hand-wringing about Washington’s chronic dysfunction and lack of bipartisanship, it may be the wholesale denial of reality by the opposition and its fellow travelers that is the biggest obstacle to our country moving forward under a much-empowered Barack Obama in his second term. If truth can’t command a mandate, no one can."

The Biggest Loser: Big Money (a poem for the occasion)

The whitest of old white men
And their wads of cold, hard cash
Invested into SuperPACs
In a cross-the-nation dash

To spend those wads in every state
To buy the votes they’ve earned
By making hoards of capital
When a business overturned

To hemorrhage liquidated assets;
From the equity compounded—
And from laid-off workers’ livelihoods
Came big bonuses, unbounded!

By contrast, an election
Seemed an easy thing to steal;
The networks, owned, told story one:
“The Dems give no good deal:

“Our man Mitt Romney is the guy,
The shapeless leader none foresaw—
He’s entitled. Do you hear us?
(This voting’s so bourgeois.)

“O! Fuck! O! Fuck! The votes are in—
The black man won the day!
O! Hellfire! O! Damnation!
Blood money pissed away!

“The billion dollars spent to save
More money for us rich—
Was stolen by—spit—voters.
Each gay and every bitch—

“STOLE the nation, TOOK IT,
GOD, O, FUCK! The end is near!”
(All true—
Unless you’re filled with human love,
Perspective, and a beer.)

The Biggest Winner: Truth

Integrity counts. Honesty matters. Honor is stronger than dishonor. Shame is still a viable concept, whether or not people most in need of feeling ashamed are capable of it. (There is nothing more dangerous than a human being who does not experience healthy shame. For example, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have no idea what I am talking about.) (Note: Humiliation is not the same thing: That emotion is driven by wounded ego, not by a recognition of having been unethical or immoral and being called out on it, which is shame. There is something to ponder in the way people use those terms.)

That said, there’s a hell of a lot of too much denial out there—denial of actual, real problems that must be solved for life to continue and to improve. We all have to look in the mirror. We’re not as young as we used to be. We’re going wrong, we’re gaining weight; we’re sleeping long and far too late, as Billy Joel has reminded us. Perhaps you’ve loved these days, but Miss O’ has been exhausted by them.

That said, there’s no time to lose. It’s time to get up and at ‘em, time to do this thing, move this nation, this world, forward. What about reinstating the Fairness Doctrine in American news?
Remember the days when, if you called yourself a "news" organization, you had to give equal time to all sides of the issue? Those were the days when we valued learning stuff about stuff. And when you look at what Rupert Murdoch has done world wide to tell HIS side of every story, you might want to think about it:

So: Who are YOU in all this? What do you love? What do you believe? What matters to you? If you hear what I’m asking about your story—what I don’t want to know about is what you hate, or what you fear, or why you are full of rage. But if that is your story, if it's all that comes to mind when you define yourself this week, you might want to turn off the TV for a while and take a nice, long walk in the woods. It’s November, now: Wear blaze orange. And maybe, this time, find a new path to take as you head back home.