Saturday, September 20, 2008

A List of Meaningful Kisses

My oldest daughter is ten years old. She has reached the age where she feels obligated to gently rebel against her parents in order to assert her nascent independence, like any normal, healthy child. To my dismay, her tool for testing the waters of adolescence has been to forbid me from kissing her. Our family has had a good-night ritual for most of the years she and her sister have been alive. We read together as a family, and then each of us, my husband and I, tote one of the girls to bed (this part is optional now because Katie does, after all, weigh 70 pounds!), we tuck them in, give them a hug and a kiss, and then pass each other in the hall as we repeat the ceremony with the other child.

At some point, Katie made it known to me that the kiss portion of this routine was no longer allowed. I would thereafter be invited to carry her (ha!), tuck her in, hug her goodnight - even share a quiet conversation about the day just passed or the next to come - but I was prohibited from kissing her sweet curly head as I enclosed her in my arms. Being a creature of habit, and lulled by her lovely daughterliness, I sometimes forgot the cruel rule. Burying my face in the hair on top of her head during our good-night hug, the small smacking press of my lips in the dark gave me away. My punishment would be no hug the next night.

At one point, I was carrying a balance of 21 nights without hugs because of my petulant insistence on kissing her. Somehow, I could not draw forth the required discipline. My lips were right there, next to her soft, apple cheek. I couldn't resist.

The human lips are said to have more nerve endings than any other part of the body. Within the brain, they are connected with both the language and emotional centers and with the part that controls the fingertips, thus combining communication, inspiration and discovery in a way no other part of the body does. No wonder kissing is such a phenomenon.

During a particularly jaded time during my college years, I considered romantic kissing between a man and a woman as a way for the man to commandeer the woman's attention, distract her, and block her vision long enough for him to remove a few pieces of her clothing. While this may actually be true for many fraternity boys, I also remember the overwhelming wonder I experienced as a girl, passing my lips over the smooth, warm face of my high-school sweetheart. More delicate than fingers brushing aside his hair and more intimate than cheeks touching during the slow song at the high school dance, I unabashedly explored him from ear to ear and from chin to eyelid with soft, inquiring lips. Regardless that we were standing in the parking lot of Winchell's Donut Shop in broad daylight with cars coming and going all around us, I thought it was the most romantic thing I had even experienced.

My first actual kiss, however, was a terrible disappointment. I was 13. I had a wild crush on Martin. It was Halloween and we were much too old to be out trick-or-treating. But, being at the age where one tries desperately to have his cake and eat it too, we were children for the free candy, but adult enough to foray into the world of sexual relationships. Or at least he was, and he brought me along.

Martin had invited his two buddies, and my sisters also came out with us. On one of the darker, shadowy streets, Martin's friends suddenly seemed to rush ahead, driving the girls forward at a quick step, but Martin slowed down to a snail's pace. We must have been holding hands, because I was already embarrassed, but suddenly he stopped and turned towards me. My heart was racing. I was dressed as a street-walker or some other terribly inappropriate costume for a girl who had just started menstruating maybe a month before. This boy was the most exciting and lovely boy in the school as far as I was concerned. He was intriguing, smart, sassy, tough and scrawny in a totally sexy way. He had heard I had a crush on him. He and his friends had devised this plan. He was kissing me! Through the thick makeup and around the tacky jewelry, his lips were touching mine. His tongue was reaching inside my unpractised mouth. And all I could think about was...slugs!

I had had a often-repeated nightmare about slugs, millions of them crawling over every square inch of space, coming over the fence at my grandmother's house, slowly teeming like a swarm of locusts, moving at a snail's (ha ha) pace! It was a terrifying dream. And the underside of a tongue - the part visible when you lift it up to touch the tip of your nose - looks like a slug. Or at least I imagined it so at that moment.

So, as his tongue swished around between my tight jaws, I relived the childhood nightmare. The slugs had made it past the fence, past the apple tree and I was frozen, riveted to the ground as they slimed their way up my body and into my mouth. Poor Martin. He might have been a good kisser - I couldn't say.

There have been a number of uncomfortable kisses in my life. The old, lecherous, great-uncle, obviously enjoying himself far more than acceptable as he kissed my ten-year-old cheek and patted my young rump. The out-of-touch stepfather who thought it was funny to slip in a little tongue once in awhile as a surprise. Even the most important kiss of my life - my wedding day "You May Kiss the Bride" kiss - was performed in front of an audience of 200. My husband and I felt called upon to make it intimate, yet fit for public consumption, poignant, but not too sloppy. I think we rehearsed it beforehand.

Kissing might seem like a modern cultural invention. No one imagines cavemen and cavewomen kissing like Rhett Butler and Scarlet O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. But passionate, erotic kissing can feel instinctual and animalistic - like eating, consuming, inhaling. You want to inhabit your lover's body, sustain it, feed it and be fed by it. During lovemaking, kissing connects and attaches you to your lover above, just as below. Highly sensitive lips touching and exploring during emotionally charged moments makes perfect sense, even before homo sapiens and their social rules got so complicated (poor Scarlet).

Even kissing babies is instinctual. What mother doesn't nuzzle her young? Cows do it, cats do it, even kangaroos and rats do it. Pushing ones lips against a small, warm, soft body that you are hormonally programmed to love is a natural proclivity. That spot right under the baby's ear and right above her neck - the spot vampires also gravitate towards - is like a bullseye for mothers, aunties and grandmas. I have kissed, snuggled and caressed this spot with my mothering lips too many times to count. What joy it brings!

Growing up, I don't remember a lot of kissing in my family. It always kind of grossed me out to see other teenagers' mothers kissing them (especially on the lips - a custom that still gives me the willies). But now that I am a mother myself, I can't imagine NOT kissing and hugging my girls. That is why Katie's ban on kissing was such a blow. I enjoy kissing her. It demonstrates my affection for her and my willingness to support her emotionally. And it just feels good.

I toed the line for 3 months. I respected the proclamation. I followed her rule (sometimes I negotiated a kiss before she slept over at a friend's house to make up for the hug I would miss that night). And then, one night, I heard it - the sound of smacking lips! A kiss!

My husband, tucking Katie in, said goodnight, hugged her and... gave her a kiss!

I said, "Wait a minute!"

"What?" said Katie.

"How come Daddy gets to kiss you and I don't?" My voice was booming with mock anger. "What kind of a trick have you been playing on me? All these months I haven't been allowed, but Daddy has? That's not fair!"

The silence seemed to indicate that I had gained an advantage. I decided to make my own proclamation: "From now on, since Daddy gets to kiss you, I get to kiss you too!"

And she didn't argue.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Just Like in the Movies!

My husband and I just got back from a double-feature at the local, second-run theater up the street, where they charge $3 to get in, and serve beer and pizza. I am not sure if it was officially a double-feature, but we hung out in the bathroom long enough to not be sitting there when they cleared the theater between shows. We bought enough pizza and beer to justify seeing each movie for a mere $1.50, and enjoyed a rare, long night out without the usual time constraints brought on by the babysitter's bedtime or our dogs' bladder capacity.

We watched Hancock with Will Smith, Charlize Theron and Justin Bateman, and followed it up with HellBoy 2 with Ron Perlman and a string of actors not talented enough to mention here. While I enjoyed Will's acting (and just looking at him), you might guess from my previous comment that I only tolerated HellBoy 2. One movie pleased me; the other left me disappointed.

As I was leaving the theater, it hit me that what makes a satisfying movie-going experience is similar to what makes voters happy. Will Smith is good to look at, 10 points. Will Smith is a good actor, 20 more points. Great supporting cast (one academy award winner!), 30 points. Hancock had a familiar, but still interesting story to tell, 30 points.

Hellboy 2: Ron Perlman - not terribly sexy, but cute in his own roguish way - 5 points. Acting skills - 9 points. The supporting cast consisted of a stoned-looking Selma Blair, who had nothing much to say, but got all hot and fiery with emotion (drawn in with CGI to make up for her inability to emote with her actual face), a bunch of actors in costumes so thick and immobile that they should have been CGI (it would have been cheaper), and some great martial artists that were so slick and fast the camera couldn't follow their moves. Supporting cast - 11 points. Storyline: far too familiar. In fact it brought to mind Saturday morning cartoons with Tom and Jerry when I was a kid. Tom chasing Jerry. Tom trying to eat Jerry. Jerry miraculously escaping all harm. Tom getting hit in the head with a frying pan. Storyline - 18 points.

Let's apply these standards to our politicians.

Good Looks
Although it is truly sad that we care about the way our elected officials look, it is true that people don't vote for poorly-dressed nerds with highwaters and spinach in their teeth. I think politicians have figured this one out, but some get extra points just for their genes (although age is also a determining factor).

Looks - Obama: 10 points, McCain: 3 points

Acting Skills
Some politicians just exude confidence and authority. They make you feel in your bones the direness of a situation. They light a fire in your belly. Call it what you will, I call it acting. I am not saying this in a derogatory way - not at all. We all have to act as part of our daily lives. I act one way in front of my children, a different way at work, and yet a different way when my grandma is in the room (grandma doesn't approve of fart jokes).

We are all just individual people. Authority is not within us, but given to us based on our ability to act like leaders. Leaders don't have nervous ticks. They stand up straight and look you in the eye. Leaders use their faces and their bodies to add impact to their words for the benefit of the audience, which is you and me. If Will Smith were running against Selma Blair, guess who would win? Turn the sound off the next time you watch the presidential candidates speak.

Acting - Obama: 18, McCain: 10

Supporting Cast
No president can run the country by him or herself. When one tries, cries of impeachment are not far off. No, a presidential nominee needs a strong supporting cast. There has to be the preferably strong female interest (assuming the candidate is a male) to create chemistry and emotion; and the good guy/best friend trying to get by or maybe make a difference in the world. A "Professor" is always a plus, too, with cool gadgets and inventions to perk us up.

Now a Presidential nominee can choose to play his cast like the sad, out-of-touch comedy troop from Gilligan's Island. The three stereotypes of womanhood are represented: Mrs Howell - the rich bitch, Ginger - the sexpot, and MaryAnn - the girl we all wish we would have married before we ended up with Mrs. Howell (but little did we know MaryAnn was a Valium addict, with those glazed eyes...). The only problem with this approach is that real women are nowhere to be seen. Woman as equal, as protagonist, moving the conversation (or the plot line) forward, does not exist. Even Gilligan, representing the best friend, is abused and his efforts for a better life are ridiculed. Like on TV, the only keeper in this political staff is the Professor (but then again, he was the only cute male on the show - 5 points).

McCain has selected a rabid Mrs. Howell as his running mate. Palin is obviously a strong woman, as required for a film that aims to captivate watchers. But she is unsympathetic to viewers. She does not accentuate McCain's role, nor does she serve as a model for women to identify with. She could be construed as "everywoman" to those who live in small towns and have extreme, out of touch views about science, but that is a minority among women today. Believe it or not, most women agree with most men that evolution and global warming are true. Her presence, however, certainly moves the story forward. Paradoxically, McCain and Mrs. Howell (I mean Palin) together have ridiculed the everyman in Gilligan, and I don't see any Professors on their slate.

Another approach to casting for the presidential campaign is to treat your actors with respect, providing human depth and complexities that most movie-goers appreciate. While McCain's bleach-blond wife prefers to take a "traditional, symbolic" role in the White House, Obama has a real woman (although she looks like a Ginger) in his wife Michelle. This is the role model most women prefer. Strong, sexy and smart. And her role compliments Obama, for a compelling reason to watch this film to its conclusion.

Biden was selected, I am sure, for his ability to win votes in his home state. But he also happens to be a respected and experienced senator who would bring added benefit to the White House. I don't know enough about Biden to say for sure, but he looks a little like the Professor to me.

So, while McCain has selected cast members that give him a big bang for his buck, Obama is hoping his audience will make it past the previews and dig into the heart of the matter.

Supporting Cast - McCain 20, Obama 15

There is a reason why action flicks primarily fascinated with gun fights and explosions don't win academy awards. But they often make a lot of money! The conundrum for the presidential nominees is finding a story that excites the masses, but also offers a wonderful story worthy of repeat viewings. McCain has gone with the tried and true. He is remaking the classic "Shoot-em-Up" film with his campaign by pushing abortion into the center of the conversation. The shots are flying as this highly emotional issue is paraded up main street in an effort to mobilize people who would have ignored him otherwise. Unfortunately for him, this mobilizes both those passionate for and against. McCain knows, however, that those passionately for abortion rights are already voting for his opponent.

The problem with this approach, in all of its manifestations, is that it depends on voters to determine their president based on their immediate anger and fears. McCain is relying on various shock factors for his platform, and that requires an unbroken stream of reasons to be mad and scared. Can he "keep it up" through November? Not a very feel-good movie if you ask me.

Obama's previews show his candidacy to be "Schindler's List" or "The English Patient" - thought-provoking stories of hope and - I'm embarrassed to say it - love. The love of mankind, including those who are dying in the war in Iraq. The love of the earth and trying to slow the devastating effects of our lifestyles. Pretty sappy, huh? What real man votes based on hope and love? Well, I think the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (5,800 actors and film industry representatives who determine Oscar winners each year) is made up primarily of men...

The storyline for the two candidates couldn't be more different. Do you over-stimulate people's synapses so they stay seated (with mouths agape) for four years of meaningless, high-speed car chases, or do you promise captivating plot twists and in-depth character development for all who cast their vote?

Storyline: Obama - 32, McCain 20

Obviously there is more to getting votes than this! Let's hope that the American voters can see past these surface elements to what really makes a movie great. "The unifying idea that is a recurrent element in an artistic work" is the theme. Car crashes and sappy kisses aside, voters need to look at the substance of each candidate and vote for what will make this country a better place, and maybe even win us an Academy Award, perhaps for "Most Improved Nation."


Totals: Hancock - 90, Obama - 75, McCain - 53, HellBoy 2 - 41

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Beginning

Guess What!? I live in Portland. No, not THAT Portland, the cool Portland - Portland, Oregon. This is my first post on my first blog. The topic of the day? Something about Portland no doubt!

I could start with the heavy topics on everyone's mind right now (politics!), but let's start out slow and warm up to that later, shall we? How about something that Portlanders are proud of - our coffee!

I actually hate coffee. My husband, a self-proclaimed coffee-addict (he packs the campfire espresso maker on back-country hiking trips), tries to get me hooked every chance he can, but I like to think that I have prevailed. I don't have those throbbing headaches he gets if he goes a day without the customary 3 cups. I don't get grumpy and bite people's heads off if I haven't found a coffee shop in any of the small towns we pass through while vacationing in Central Oregon, Alaska or Sweden. However, I am frequently guilty of spending $4 for a cup full of hot milk and sugar, flavored with espresso. And worse yet (according to some of my friends), I usually buy it at Starbucks.

This leads us to two questions: How can a person hate coffee but enjoy espresso? And how can a person live in liberal SE Portland and patronize Starbucks, the evil corporate coffee-shop-takeover king?

To answer the first question, I guess I just love milk and sugar and will stop at nothing to get some (I love cereal too!). I especially like that a whole-milk latte - or better yet, a caramel, whole-milk latte, or better still, a whole-milk caramel mocha - is an accepted accompaniment to any activity at any time of day. It's versatile! It fills you up, boosts your morale (yes, I still get that "happy" feeling when I imbibe caffeine), and best yet, it doesn't have to "count" as a meal! But it can be a simple, any-day solution to the "what to get for lunch" dilemma and an apparently reasonably-priced fallback when everything else seems too "fast food" or too expensive.

Your office-mates don't look at you funny when you drag a 4,000 calorie, syrup-laden coffee drink around with you everywhere you go, not like they do when you eat a bowlful of Peanut Butter Cap't Crunch during the company safety meeting. (Maybe it's the spoon that makes them stare...) I guess I could try hiding my Capt' Crunch in a coffee cup.

As for the Starbucks question, well, somehow I manage to live with myself. I was appalled when I heard that Starbucks had bought the lease out from under a number of local coffee shops, without actually buying out the businesses themselves. I was dismayed that both Torrefazione and Seattle's Best Coffee succumbed to the irresistible (I imagine it was literally so) offer by Starbucks Corporate to dissolve their enterprises so that Starbucks wouldn't have any competitors nearby.

Some people hate Starbucks for their aggressive capitalistic ways. I guess I am a wimp. Because I like consistency and availability. Although I frequent a few local coffee shops that produce a better or comparable coffee drink, I am loathe to try anybody new for fear of disappointment.

Did I mention that I am very picky? I have turned my nose up at more coffee drinks than people twice my age and income level (luckily, my husband doesn't mind slurping up my discards). So, despite Starbucks' glaring example of "Might equals right" (I despairingly call it "The American Way"), I appreciate the product. The same Caramel Macciato can be found in almost every airport and main street of every moderate-sized town I visit.

There is nothing worse than looking forward to a tasty, hand-warming cup of sweet comfort, and finding that it falls far short of my hopes and expectations. Except maybe neglecting my duty to put my money where my mouth is.