Monday, October 26, 2020

efficiency monster and her opposite

Earlier this month, AK's mom had a stroke. The good news is that she's recovered now to the point where you wouldn't know anything had happened, but we had/have some long-term stuff to figure out related to medication and the other complexities of getting old. In the weeks when AK was helping her sister care for their mom, I did a bunch of long days (even by pandemic standards) working and parenting simultaneously with no interludes. 

I think about how this time is changing my brain. I've become an efficiency monster; I use the phrase "radical pragmatism" a lot. I bark at my kid, I sigh loudly at him, I spend more time with him than I ever did. If I sit still, I think about things like the election and death, so I do laundry and corral kids and write things. I don't know if I like the new me or not. 

This is not the new me. This is Natalie Lima.

On Saturday, I had the house to myself for an afternoon while I participated in a humor writing workshop led by Natalie Lima for The Porch, a long-ago gift from AK. It was such a breath of fresh air. It's weird to say "Now I'm going to write something funny," because humor sort of needs to sneak up on you to work, but I'm nevertheless pasting the result of one of her prompts--write about a strange obsession--below. Even though it's more of a list poem. I've really cultivated some kind of poetic-trauma voice over the past several years, and it's nice to try something else. There's such a strong internet vibe of "If you're not sobbing/outraged, you're not paying attention," that humor can feel slightly dangerous. But Natalie pointed out that the most prominent humor writers now have "been through some shit." They lived to tell about it, which is the whole point.


Here are some things the Explore tab of Instagram thinks I might be interested in:

  1. Betty Broadbent, aka “The Tattooed Venus,” who is wearing, in this 1938 photo, bobby socks, silver kitten heels, and a short satin dress that displays the dozens of black-inked tattoos on her legs and arms
  2. A cake draped in blue fondant and decorated with smiling mushrooms and frogs
  3. A makeup tutorial by a woman with no arms
  4. The mom of quadruplets, posed with four babies draped across her body like nursing piglets; she describes her account as “sharing the reality of raising quadruplets,” a reality which includes dressing them in coordinated Toy Story costumes and pulling them in a wagon through an apple orchard. Her reality is quite well lit.

What we try to hide from the world, or even ourselves, the algorithm knows. It knows that I’ve been obsessed with circus freaks and their modern-day counterparts since childhood. It knows that when the day is over and my Zoom meetings are done and my kid is in his pajamas (top half: Woody from Toy Story, bottom half: Storm Trooper), I don’t have the mental capacity for narrative. I want a pastiche of images that are dark, shiny, or somehow both.

Do I want to see a lot of videos on how to braid hair that is completely unlike my hair?

Do I want to read some animal facts that will make me smile? (“Bees make a ‘whoop’ sound when they bump into each other.”)

Do I want to see creepy Victorian Halloween costumes?

What about 4,000 pictures of sea glass arranged in rainbow order?

Would I like to take a deep dive into the subculture of lifestyle bloggers with severely disabled children, who make sure their child’s ventilator matches their peach-tan-and-coffee color palette? 

Would I like to buy a hoodie that says “Going to therapy is cool?”

Did I know that you can make nails with bubble-wand tips? Well, not you, but someone.

Look, here is someone doing the middle splits.

Here is how to make pomegranate lemonade.

Here is someone taking a mallet to a giant chocolate heart. Inside there is candy and a new iPhone.

Here are some things that might be ads or clickbait or foreign election intervention.

Here is a montage of celebrities posing with their younger selves. Matt LeBlanc has aged well.

Here is an artist who makes sculptures out of bananas. 

Here is an opportunity to vote on who looks better dressed as Marilyn Monroe: Kylie Jenner, or Marilyn Monroe.

Who wore it best: Marilyn, Kylie, or this banana? (Artist: Stephan Brusche)

Would I like to watch a turtle eat watermelon? 

Do I want to know what’s happening at Ukrainian orphanages? No, not really, but I’ll click anyway. 

Do I want to see a comic-book/pop-art-style drawing of a man embracing a tearful woman, telling her “We’ll be okay. All of us”? Yes, I definitely do.