Silent Film Party

30 Aug

Mad Question Asking is very pleased to announce that we will be hosting Not-So-Silent Cinema on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 7 pm.

Check out the Not-So-Silent Cinema website:  www.notsosilentcinema.com

Not-So-Silent Cinema is the project of Boston composer Brendan Cooney. Cooney pulls together different groups for each of his film projects, creating diverse mash-ups of musical personalities from different music scenes to create lively new platforms for interaction and creativity.

MQA is excited to have the opportunity to share Cooney’s tightly composed scores and bring live music and classic silent films into the living room.

Not-So-Silent Cinema will show us a program of Buster Keaton Shorts and the New River Ensemble will be the band for this performance.

Check out The New River Ensemble website: www.newriverensemble.com

Good food and drinks will be served. We are asking for a suggested donation of $5 to $25 for the event. If you’d like to attend, please RSVP ingrid@madquestionasking.com. See you soon!

© Mad Question Asking – 2013 All Rights Reserved

Magic

18 Aug photo-110

There are many reasons I like to hike. For one, I like being reminded that just when I think I have reached the end of the trail or the top of the mountain, I have not. I have to keep going to reach that summit. And that feels a lot like all of life. A lesson in patience there.

Another great thing about hiking is the surprise in finding mushrooms along the way. In Maine they seem to make their appearance in August. Some are so tiny, so wet and delicate, they are half the size of a dime. Some are hanging off a rock that is hanging off a mountain’s cliffside.

While mushroom hunting this morning with my kids I got to remind them to just look. To leave things alone and let them be. This lesson in respect, in not needing to touch and own everything that delights us, was well-taught with something as magical, strange, and beautiful as a mountain path’s wild mushrooms.

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© Mad Question Asking – 2013 All Rights Reserved

Pine Trees and Porcupines

13 Aug bigsky

Last summer, after driving the almost 600 miles to my mom’s house in Maine, I happily stretched my legs and walked into town that night to see what was going on. I took the old road, the one nobody drives or walks on anymore. Just as I rounded a corner something caught my eye and I slowed down, making very little noise as I came up to it.

It was a porcupine. A cute, pudgy, prickly thing, that once it turned to see me, decided to hide. It quickly shoved its head inside an old, rotten, half hallow, fallen pine that was right in front of it. Leaving three-quarters of its body exposed.

I kept my distance out of respect and awareness of the mighty quills, but I did laugh and spoke softly to the cutest thing I might have ever laid eyes on. “You know, I can still see you. You hide exactly like a three-year-old playing hide-and-go-seek.”

Growing up playing outdoors and doing things like building forts with my brother, or collecting buckets of acorns in solitude when he started school were the best parts of my childhood. Nobody was worried about me. No one helicoptered me. It was a different time I guess. The benefit from it, is that for me, nothing—no store-bought thing, no fancy dinner, no book or film, no amazing concert I ever saw—nothing, compares to just being in the woods.

Being in the woods is simple. I don’t buy things at REI or L.L. Bean to prepare. I just drink a big glass of water, put on my 20-year-old hiking boots and go. And I never know what I will find.

This summer, my friend Bob and I came across two beautiful owls, one adult, one young. The next day, we sat and watched four wild turkeys act like knuckleheads, chest bumping and chasing each other in a goofy circle. We watched them for maybe five minutes. But that ridiculous sight and sharing it with a good friend is one I will treasure long into life. It isn’t a memory easily forgotten.

Prize Find

Prize Find

A few summers back, I was walking through the woods and a coyote ran past me a couple of times. I honestly got a little scared and called my mom asking what to do. She, being the toughest lady I know, advised me well, “Just pick up a rock, and throw it if it gets too close. You have thumbs, animals don’t. Remember that.”

Good advice. I used it once when a male turkey, with his tail feathers spread wide, would not let me walk past him on the old road. He was courting some broad in the woods nearby. Every time I tried to pass he would make that horrible, guttural turkey sound and come at me. After trying to explain to him that, “Dude, I am not interested in her! Let me by!” I just picked up a rock and threw it towards his direction, obviously with no intention of hitting him. He scooted into the woods and I was on my way. That same walk produced the biggest buck horn I ever found. I was beaming for days at my prize.

Being in Maine for much of this summer has made me really happy, really peaceful. I have plans yet, to hike up three new mountains, each in my old hiking boots, with just water and a map I trust. My cares, worries and the reality of modern life—a reality that never feels real at all, compared to just being in the woods—all get left behind.

No one is helicoptering me here, in the woods I am free.

© Mad Question Asking – 2013 All Rights Reserved

Check Yo Self

8 Aug

I can be naughty. This is a life-long fact. I was born a trouble-maker, albeit mostly good-natured. With the wisdom of aging I learned it is much better to be good than bad, and to always try and take the high road. But… bad girls are never completely reformed and we can need some help along the way. I am blessed with a best friend who is the quiet watchtower of ethics and character. Meet Brooke.

Brooke is never going to lie or kiss your ass. She is the real deal. A great example is when she meets a newborn; she is not interested in kids or babies at all so when you gush about your baby, she says, “You must really love your baby!” That’s how clever she is. She doesn’t lie and say what she doesn’t think, like “Baby Johnny is so cute!”, just to be polite. She turns that shit around and you don’t even notice! Brooke is THE best person I have ever met. She doesn’t bullshit or ramble on like a loud-mouth like me, but when she does say something, it is always worth hearing. Her wisdom is simple, and always kind and true. In 20 years I have never seen her do the wrong thing. Not once.

Yin to my yang

Yin to my yang

I had my feelings hurt (well, obliterated really) by someone who I could only describe in the end as the type of person that would coyly wag a treat in a dog’s good-natured face, teasing the poor animal to come hither; and when the dog finally went for it, opened its mouth and reached for the treat, this person would kick the sweet dog as hard as he could in the face.

I recovered from the hit. I learned my lesson. I held my chin high while I healed. But the hurt, bad girl in me wanted revenge. All the hot-headed Italian blood running through my veins wanted it. I fought those feelings hard, feelings that thankfully only lasted for a few days. But in the end what really helped me was Brooke.

I sent her a text.
“Why is revenge wrong again?”
Her double reply:
“Because it just is.”
“Check yo self.”

Check yo self. Now those are some strong words to live by. I am being honest here, revealing an ugliness, veiled in clever metaphor, that I had to fight; I ultimately didn’t like how it made me feel. We all get feelings that we must fight, feelings that we know are petty, small, ugly, useless, unattractive…just wrong. And now, if in the future I find myself twisting away from the behaviors of grace and goodness I sincerely aspire to reach, I can always fall back on three little words.

Check yo self.

© Mad Question Asking – 2013 All Rights Reserved

Thank You

8 Jun

Last night my friend Donal and I drove down to Atlantic City to visit Karen. We brought with us two sofas, a bookcase, and a filing cabinet, all items that had been donated to her from our friends. We have been helping Karen repair her home since November, when her row home was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

Neither of us had seen the floors that were installed weeks ago, paid for with money donated by our friends and family. The floors looked great! When we placed the sofa where Karen wanted it, she and her son, Cy, sat down in their living room for the first time since before the storm. Eight months. It was very heartwarming to see their smiles, a light at the end of a long tunnel. This is Cy’s senior year of high school. He certainly hasn’t had an easy year to prepare for college and his future.

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We would have never been able to accomplish this goal without the help of the following people, and the priceless support and kind words from all of our friends and family. It means the world to me, and to Donal, to know that if we ask for help, we get it and that friends can come together to make things happen and get the job done!

Thank you to: Brooke, Maria, Matt, Natalie and Dave, Aidan, James, Joel, Kirk, Bethann, Tippy, Jakki and family, Jimmy, Dorothy and family, Barb, Barbara, Chris and Chris, Grace, Erin, Patty, Lisa and Albert, Anjali and Bob, Cecilia, Florinda, Mag, Tara, Kathy, Susie, Brian, Donna, Mundi, Gayle and Joe, Jeff, Dan, Mike and Jules, Jim, Jude, and The Parenti Family

© Mad Question Asking – 2013 All Rights Reserved

Last Friday Night

5 Jun IMG_6210

I really never know what to expect when I plan an MQA party; I simply do what needs to be done and just wait-and-see.

Planning Friday’s soirée, in celebration of Walt Whitman’s 194th birthday, required more from me than parties past; stringing 120 feet of lights to eight-foot bamboo stakes, with only a hammer as my assistant, hours before 50 guests arrived, was far from easy. At one point, I became terribly frustrated with a spot of hard ground that would not accept a stake deeper than 4 inches. I knelt to the ground in exhaustion and asked myself the question that is maybe the most human, honest and self-reflecting one of all time: “Why am I doing this?”

Kneeling in the 90 degree heat, my head buried in my hands, the thirsty grass digging a zig-zag pattern on my dehydrated knees, I let myself be a baby for five solid minutes. My thoughts drifted to my friends, 30 of whom agreed to come that evening, the friends who show up when I have sea captains talk in my living room about pollution and when I have parties for dead poets.

I got up, picked the grass off my knees and finished stringing the lights. Later, when my guests complimented my yard, saying sweet things like it was enchanting, I smiled proudly, rubbing the sore part of my right hand that was bruised from the hammer.

Rocky Wilson is a poet. He is well-known in these parts for talking to people via his stuffed puppet, Bongo. He can be seen having tea parties with Bongo and his other stuffed animals in the park across the street from his house, a house he bought in Camden from a vagabond priest for $1 over 30 years ago. Rocky has that attribute that my generation rarely has: he is convincing, authentic in his unconventional ways.

Rocky

Rocky

The first time I met Rocky he had an Emily Dickinson book and three of his puppets with him. Those four, plus Walt Whitman and Camden’s internationally renowned haiku poet, Nick Virgilio, appear to be Rocky’s constant heros. I had never seen him read any of his or Walt’s poetry before, but the many RSVP emails from his fans and friends, filled with gracious enthusiasm, made me eager to see him deliver.

The crowd gathered with their chairs and blankets on the well-lit lawn, drinks and food in hand, all facing Rocky. A chorus of birds sang in the woods behind him. I sat down on a blanket, the heat and frustration melting away from me as he began. Rocky was incredible. He was alive, robust, in his reading. His own poems, with which he began, and Walt’s, with which he ended, were beautiful. His depth and sincerity brought the words to life, leaving us, the listeners, with a feeling of perfect duality, placid and playful.

Life, the seasons, the frustrations and the most human of questions all seemed free from expectation that night. We all drank and ate and talked and laughed until 2 a.m., all the while the birds singing behind us.

© Mad Question Asking – 2013 All Rights Reserved

Spring Eternal

28 May peony

Spring in New Jersey is gorgeous. We are covered in a blanket of green, speckled by the colors of daffodils, tulips, forsythias, camellias, tulip magnolias, dogwoods, cherry trees, lilacs, irises and of course, rhododendrons and azaleas, each surprising me with their punctuality and loveliness. Driving down common suburban streets, past bright fuchsia azaleas—that are almost blindingly neon—I have to grin. I have to wonder how something so grand goes unnoticed all year, disguised as an ordinary shrub. Here the white azaleas grow the largest, reminding me of wedding cakes, huge, decadent.

I savor the gifts that spring sets down in my home state, for when the mosquitos come on with the heat, I leave NJ for Maine. Like most people who enjoy two very distinct locations, I cheat on one for the best of the other, getting enough distance from each place to never feel complacent or bored with my surroundings.

I have been up to my elbows in springtime adventures these past weeks, packing it all in before I exit north. In the past month I have put in no less than 80 hours working on my yard. I even used a chainsaw for the first time. That went ok, but as usual my left-handedness made the tool feel awkward in my hands, much like right-handed scissors. I made do though. In my yard the first peony bloomed last week, giving me the only type of cut flowers I truly enjoy, the ones I grow myself.

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Sugar

I met a horse named Sugar this spring. Sugar is beautiful, all white and ethereal; even the way the breeze moved through her mane seemed unearthly. She stared out her window as I watched her; the stoic longing of this horse to use her body and run and be free haunted me for days after. Her wealthy young owner does not ride her often from what I was told. Sugar seemed like a dreamer in a dream, a classic fairytale. This horse’s beauty and the power of her magnificent body wasted, enjoyed by no one. In contrast, watching a painted turtle—with all of its wild freedom—slowly cross my mother’s driveway a week later seemed unfair.

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The cows came a couple of weeks back. One came named Sandy, after the storm in which she was born. The cows live under the windmill next to the pond where I spent most of my early childhood playing alone. Weeks back, I tested out a 100-year-old canoe on that pond, and remembered the freedom and the lessons of solitude it gave me, how it shaped me, a wet shelter for all of the angst, curiosity and sadness I carried as a child, most of which I still haven’t shaken off. Distant thoughts of the eels I was so frightened by, frogs and their lily pads that I imagined as neighborhoods, the hundreds of imperfect figure-eights I practiced in the winter on my sister’s old skates while she was in school…all of those memories came flooding back when my brother pushed me out onto that pond in a leaky ancient canoe, he confidently handing me a hard rake to push myself around.

Spring tells me that I must never grow up. Never avoid and never question rain or tears; each brings growth, sometimes even flowers. Something that stagnant complacency never does.

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© Mad Question Asking – 2013 All Rights Reserved

Sell Out

22 May

My seven-year-old daughter was sent home from her weekly basic skills class with a homework assignment: to read a 95 word story in one minute. I was asked to return it with my signature the following week.

We read it together a few times, over a few days. I then started timing it on my phone, for 60 seconds each time. My daughter became progressively stressed out and, by the sixth time, was speed reading, apologizing and feeling like a failure for only being able to read 83 words in one minute. I told her to stop.

I told her speed reading was stupid, that she would never learn or understand anything by rushing.

Her eyes grew wide and she asked if she could tell her teacher that, that it was stupid. I said to go ahead, as I signed the paper, drew a large arrow indicating to turn the paper over and left the following note on the back.

“Training Lila to read ‘fast’ is not something I am impressed by. Slow readers tend to ingest what they read. This exercise, that you made me sign, makes me feel like my child is a dog that I am forcing to learn a trick, a trick in education that will help her to achieve your ‘teach to the test’ $$$ goals but not make her want to read or have a desire to learn at all. This is a disgrace. You should be ashamed of yourself, to be rushing a seven-year-old to read 95 words in a minute.”

I may just be a tiger mom, but in an alternative way.

I do not think drowning my children in drills to pass tests for funding is education. Nor am I going to keep quiet about it. Neither should teachers. Teachers should feel some weight, some responsibility to speak up themselves, stop the madness, look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are actual educators or just test pushers, afraid to lose their jobs, all the while pimping out whole generations to get their funding, their paychecks.

We have a big, complicated, multi-layered problem with education in this country. I worry about the actions of teachers—their hands apparently tied—and lazy parents alike, all of whom sign off on these practices that inhibit actual learning.

Reading is really one of the most magical things we learn to do. It should be treated as such. My daughter has been reading for less than a year of her very precious life. She will not be rushed into factory habits that make her perform tricks for administrators in cheap suits so she can grow up and get an equally lousy, unfulfilling job.

The note went back to school with my daughter yesterday morning. My phone rang one hour later. I picked up, expecting an unpleasant tone. I was shocked to instead hear Lila’s Basic Skills teacher being very friendly and kind; she said she was happy when parents got involved, even if they were upset, that it showed they were engaged. We spoke for 10 minutes, I explaining my displeasure with the assignment and the very idea that my seven-year-old has to meet any expectations. She explained that this practice is for proficiency not “teaching to the test.” I still disagreed, proficiency being a buzzword linked to all that I stand against. However, I chose not to throw any more dirt. In the end, which comes as no surprise, the heart of my message was still ignored.

I see I have a long road ahead of me, as my babies have only just begun their schooling. My proud, unconventional family will have to dance and balance, with one foot settled in our wacky American society and its messy, insecure public schools, and the other foot rooted deeply in a fierce, uncompromising passion to want to actually learn; and never let anyone, especially a teacher, sell us out.

© Mad Question Asking – 2013 All Rights Reserved

Austin Psych Fest

8 May

These are a collection of photos taken at the Austin Psych Fest I attended two weekends ago. My friend Kimia took most of these photos, all the really good ones. We had a fab time in Texas.

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Lost & Found

Lost & Found

Elevation Amphitheatre, Carson Creek

Elevation Amphitheatre, Carson Creek

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Tinariwen

Tinariwen

Black Mountain

Black Mountain

Babes & unicorn pants

Babes & unicorn pants

Roky Erikson

Roky Erikson

Country Life

Country Life

The King Khan & BBQ Show

King Khan & BBQ Show

Linda of Golden Animals

Linda of Golden Animals

Kimia

Kimia

Sonia

Sonia

Black Mountain

Black Mountain

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I wanna write rap lyrics! (ATL)

When I grow up, I’m gonna write rap lyrics (ATL)

© Mad Question Asking – 2013 All Rights Reserved

Emasculate Me

1 May

Both the probing questions and the ever-increasing interest in my single life, from well-meaning friends, can be annoying, much like newlyweds rudely being asked, over and over, when they are having a baby. The annoyance is that, in coming from so many directions, it becomes compounded, and I am forced to politely grimace and listen to advice on dating and men by women whose love life histories are neither forgotten nor admired by me; and when I’m asked things like, “Are you dating!?” or the startling and repulsively crass (even to a filthy mouth like mine), “Are you fucking anyone yet?”, I maintain that polite façade and refrain from replying with cruel reminders such as,

“Wow, it took [his-name-here] 10 years to finally, and unromantically pull the trigger on you, huh?”
or
“Too bad you really despise your boyfriend but are too afraid of being alone to do anything about it.”
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“Jeez, remember how bad dating was for you before you found that high school guy on Facebook?”

While in Texas this past weekend, my friend—who, unlike a lot of the other advice-givers, may sadly be right, even if I refuse to accept it—told me that if I wanted any guy at that music festival I could have him, but that I had to do all the work; that, in today’s world, no guy is going to just come up to me and sequester my Amazon loveliness; that men nowadays don’t do any of the work.

Sigh.

What happened to romance and pursuit? Where have all the men gone? Are all the men who wear wife-picked, wife-approved, wife-matching flip-flops, who stay at home raising babies, killing the dreamy male idol of old?

In my opinion, a man, that blessed beast that once was, who could detect the slight scent of lemons and hormones mingling on my soft female skin from a distance on 20 feet, may no longer exist. All the quiet, seductive, joyful female effort I put into my appearance, before I even leave my house, should be subtle enough to intoxicate a man-stranger in close proximity to me; to signal the very natural and deeply carnal desire to want to find out all of my mysteries.

I mean, a firm handshake along with a smile, direct eye contact and a simple, “Can I buy you a drink?” or “Where are you from?” or “What is your name?” should not, at the very very least, be asking too much. But, according to my extremely busy social life and most of my friends, I am. Asking too much.

I do not think that asking of the universe to be presented with a man—one who is so cock-fucking-sure of himself and feels an actual desire to find out things about me that he can’t keep himself from knowing, while not being an asshole—is really asking too much. Having some timid guy watch me for an hour, without making a move, is not attractive. Well, not to me anyway.

Plenty of modern women wear the pants in relationships. I like to wear skirts.

I have known a number of women who emasculate their boyfriends or husbands, even unabashedly doing so in public, unable to see that this makes every witness dreadfully uncomfortable, no matter how common such behavior has become. These fellas, who are as much to blame as their wives, are easy to identify by the fact that they never mention their wives in passing conversation. Ever. It would be simple and easy to think these weak souls want out, but are stuck with their ball and chain because of kids or finances; but, after watching so many seemingly dead marriages continue, I wonder if maybe this is a new world order of castrated and timid men who, ultimately, like being micromanaged, like being told what to do, or more importantly what they can’t do.

I am not the type of woman who decorates a man cave in a basement, or allots the spare bedroom for her beau, all the while hanging a watchful 8 x 10 photo of herself, square and neat, beside his computer screen; you know . . . just in case he gets any ideas about looking at porn (or sexy female bloggers who shamefully post every photo where said blogger looks like hot shit) while she’s out making the bacon; just so she can make sure that he feels totally emasculated by her image, an image that will immediately bring to mind the creepy, watchful 8 x 10s of people like JFK and various popes; just to drive home who is really in charge!

I have been told my entire adult life that I am intimidating to men. This is a lousy excuse for what men have allowed, and possibly liked, themselves to be turned into. I may be a giant in stature and personality, but I am petite inside, all girl. I want to be treated like a woman, a beautiful feminine object of desire, of love and of pleasure. I want to be treated like I am sincerely cared for, something those girls who marry and boss around their “best friend from college” usually don’t end up with. I don’t want to be friends. I have plenty of those. I want a man, and I want to treat him like one. I want a man who, at any distance, sees right through me, to the very best part of me, and can’t stop himself from getting to it.

© Mad Question Asking – 2013 All Rights Reserved

Impression

23 Apr

Saturday night I went to see Billy Bragg at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA. This is an odd concert venue, as it is in a very out-of-the-way suburb of Philadelphia. The upside of this hard to get to venue is that, for every show I have ever seen there, I always end up with the sweetest seats. This time we sat in seats CC 104 & 105, otherwise known as sixth row, center; I once saw Emmylou Harris there, and had similar seating. Each time, I marveled at my luck.

The show was very good. In-between old and new songs, Mr. Bragg ripped on the ambiguity of hipsters and their beards at SXSW, knocked on Nick Cave’s style, dissed Morrissey twice and, of course, talked about what his day was like when he woke to the news that Margaret Thatcher had passed. On that day he shopped for a wardrobe of pearl snap button western shirts and checked his email on his phone in a coffee shop, all the while sporting the same hipster beard he made fun of. He may be terribly more vain than he could ever recognize, as a great deal of what he spoke of related to what people or ideas “looked” like.

I spent some parts of the show being a silly girl, crying in row six, dead center of the stage. The apparent sincerity of songwriting and a new guitar for each song are exactly the ripest of conditions for me to unload some of my own heartache and angst, and a bit of the sadness I don’t know what to do with. No matter how much I carefully apply heavy black liquid eyeliner, wearing it like a precaution so I won’t cry, a seatbelt of sorts, I still do. Especially in dark concert halls.

He spoke about Woody Guthrie, how Woody never got to play an electric guitar before his death and how he, like me, dreams of alternate universes. In his, Buddy Holly never died and Woody did get to write his supersonic boogie on an electric guitar. That was when I really wished I had just packed a few tissues instead of trying to stop myself from feeling anything through thick eyeliner; because I do feel things. It is not ambiguous.

Throughout the show the smart phones were aglow, filming videos and taking photos of Billy. I certainly can be very guilty of this pandemic keeping-my-monkey-hands-busy-with-a-dumb-phone-nonstop-documentation myself. I even recently setup an Instagram account, doing so regardless of my feeling unsure about participating in yet another way to share, my instinct trying so hard to push her way through the distraction of another shallow sharing app to ask, “Why the need to share and view so much of the mundane, sweetheart?” But my dissing Instagram while owning and operating a blog is as laughable as Billy Bragg dissing hipsters. He is one, whether he realizes it or not.

Towards the end of the show, I watched this guy from the audience sneak up to the stage, in a hunched-over, burglar-style tiptoe, to take a few shots of his idol on his phone. It reminded me of the time I decided that I wasn’t going to take photos in front of monuments anymore. Well, only if I didn’t want to. I was in Italy with my ex-husband. I had been to Italy at least a half a dozen times before but only once to Rome. He and I were traveling with a good friend, visiting the lovely and less traveled Umbria before we spent this single perfect day walking through Rome. While in front of one of the Egyptian obelisks, I decided to end my lifelong façade as a polite, obliging tourist. I declined to have my photo taken. It wasn’t some big declaration; I wasn’t rude; I just didn’t need to have every single moment of this dreamy day documented like I was in a pack of crazed, Japanese tourists. I didn’t need to prove “I was here!” over and over and over again.

I just wanted to sit and look, really look at that obelisk. This object, like Billy Bragg, had been photographed by thousands of novice picture takers, as well as thousands of professional ones. I could just look it up in a book if I wanted to see it again. What I couldn’t do again was to sit on a bench, drenched in early October sunlight, and quietly study it, wondering about the men who carved it, and what their lives were like, what was going through their minds as they worked.

Why do we rush to take a photo of someone we admire, or of a monument we find ourselves in front of? Is it some type of ego-driven ownership, like a dog marking his territory? When we are face to face with greatness, why aren’t the impressions that form in our minds of any more substance than the urge to indulge in crappy photography?

I may never walk through Rome or see a Billy Bragg show again; or sit in the Keswick theatre, crying over all the spilled milk I wasn’t wise or careful enough to not knock over. I didn’t take any photos on my phone to upload that night. But my impression of him and his thoughts, and mostly of who I am in the middle-end of my thirties, is forever stored deep in my collected impressions.

© Mad Question Asking – 2013 All Rights Reserved

MQA Book Club Dinner & Backyard Soirée

19 Apr

Book four is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnman. Dinner will be served at 7 pm on Saturday, June 1st. The menu is undecided at this point due to the piggybacking of another MQA event that weekend.

MQA is hosting a beautiful backyard soirée with Camden’s poet, Rocky Wilson, in celebration of Walt Whitman’s 194th birthday on Friday, May 31 at 7 pm. For this, I plan to transform my big backyard into a lovely setting for a playful evening of poetry. I picture soft lights strung along the perimeter, a huge makeshift farmhouse table with pies, assorted cheeses and finger foods I love, like pigs in a blanket. I will be borrowing a galvanized water trough to fill with beer and wine. Bring your own blanket or chair and we can enjoy the poems and the spring night together.

Please RSVP to Ingrid@madquestionasking.com if you plan to attend either event. All are welcome.

Here is more on the book, which I just began reading. It is fantastic.

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You can purchase the book here at Amazon.

“Engaging the reader in a lively conversation about how we think, Kahneman reveals where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking. He offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives—and how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble. Winner of the National Academy of Sciences Best Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and selected byThe New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 2011, Thinking, Fast and Slow is destined to be a classic.”

“Brilliant . . . It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of Daniel Kahneman’s contribution to the understanding of the way we think and choose. He stands among the giants, a weaver of the threads of Charles Darwin, Adam Smith and Sigmund Freud. Arguably the most important psychologist in history, Kahneman has reshaped cognitive psychology, the analysis of rationality and reason, the understanding of risk and the study of happiness and well-being . . . A magisterial work, stunning in its ambition, infused with knowledge, laced with wisdom, informed by modesty and deeply humane. If you can read only one book this year, read this one.”— Janice Gross Stein, The Globe and Mail

“A sweeping, compelling tale of just how easily our brains are bamboozled, bringing in both his own research and that of numerous psychologists, economists, and other experts…Kahneman has a remarkable ability to take decades worth of research and distill from it what would be important and interesting for a lay audience…Thinking, Fast and Slow is an immensely important book. Many science books are uneven, with a useful or interesting chapter too often followed by a dull one. Not so here. With rare exceptions, the entire span of this weighty book is fascinating and applicable to day-to-day life. Everyone should readThinking, Fast and Slow.” —Jesse Singal, Boston Globe

© Mad Question Asking – 2013 All Rights Reserved

Dream Team

14 Apr

One week has passed since Donal and I visited Karen. And in that week five of our friends offered to come down today and help us paint. We covered the entire first floor with primer, each wall now ready for next weekend’s final days of painting. It is unbelievable what seven people can knock out in a single day.

Friends are what really make the world go ’round.

Thank you Maria, Matt, Natalie, Aidan, and James, for helping me and Donal today. I’ll never forget it.

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© Mad Question Asking – 2013 All Rights Reserved

Enough

7 Apr photo-7

It has been about two months since Donal and I have been to Karen’s house in Atlantic City. Both myself and Donal have been dealing with major surgeries in our families since we last saw Karen. We have been on overdrive, helping our families, caring for the children, waiting for phone calls of good news from the hospital, and watching slow painful recoveries of two of our dearest loved ones. This has kept us from what had been an every weekend project to get Karen’s house back together.

We drove to AC this morning to put the project back on track and assess what is left to be completed. What we found was heartbreaking.

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Karen lost everything on her first floor from the flooding of Hurricane Sandy in October, 2012. Her insurance did not cover content, so the water heater, the appliances in her kitchen and all of the belongings that occupied her first floor—and had made her house her home—were not replaceable with insurance money. She has been receiving assistance by way of volunteers from various churches, from Donal, myself and our friends, and from volunteers of the University of Delaware.

Driving down, I had imagined that Donal and I could walk in her house, assess the work which still needed to be done and apologize for our absence. I even suggested to Donal that we film a short interview and talk about what had happened. I pictured me and Karen standing on her stoop, talking about FEMA and her insurance company, the city of Atlantic City and Chris Christie and all the questions I have; I could then use that short film to ask my friends and family for donations to get her the money for her floors.

We knocked and Karen let us in. I immediately knew I wasn’t going to be making any films today; we could barely bear the weight of Karen’s despair. She broke into tears at the simple question “How have things been going?” She has been living without a first floor for six months now. She told us that her car died last week, that she can’t afford to replace it and now walks to work. Because of her brain injury (a trash can lid flew up on a windy day and knocked her to the ground, from which she now suffers daily) the 30 minute walk to work is adding a great strain to her already shaky equilibrium. To make things worse, she also told us that mold had grown on their mattresses, from wet personal items, crammed in already tiny bedrooms. So, she had to throw them out, and her family have been sleeping on mats donated by her son’s school.

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Karen is poor. She is the working poor. She sits at the very bottom of the American middle-class, just above the poverty line. She has never gotten a break in her whole life. Then this storm swept through her home and unraveled a life that she was proud enough to try and hold together. Sandy took everything.

Karen is a good person. She works full-time running a program for underprivileged women at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission. She has worked there for over 20 years. She has two sons and is the sole caretaker for her brother, a special needs case. She never complains or acts entitled. Today, I saw a person so low, so beyond despair, her tears rolling down her face as she said she can’t take it anymore. She kept repeating that she just needs a break. This was one of the saddest moments in my life, so sad that none of us could look at each other, look in each other’s eyes for lies, hope or answers. We stood in silence, in a dark room from which Sandy stole the electricity, with humble reverence to Karen’s life, with reverence to what it looks like when everything is really stacked up against you; what it looks like to be poor in the richest country in the world.

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Karen is, without a doubt, one of hundreds in Atlantic City with a similar story. She told me how neighbors were abandoning their homes, renters gone over night, leaving their soiled belongings to grow mold. I could ask questions about FEMA, The Red Cross, her family and culture, 12.12.12. concerts, and Chris Christie all day long, but that is not going to get Karen floors in her house so she can start living her life again.

Enough. The single word that kept answering all the questions running loose in my mind. None of it matters! Just get her what she needs.

I have a personal commitment to myself to help Karen. I never leave anything unfinished in my own life, and tend to buck up exactly in the 11th hour. I plan to do exactly that for this woman, one I barely know; everybody deserves a break, and I have had plenty of my own. I am going to ask every person I know for money, for a donation in any amount and pull the money together to get her floors so she can move on from this terrible chapter in her life.

The kitchen and most of the walls had been repaired. All Karen needs is floors, an electrician and her walls primed and painted, followed lastly by trim and baseboard. Then we can finally move in the sofas and furniture and all the other generous donations we’ve already secured for her.

If you would like to come to Atlantic City on Sunday April 14, Saturday April 20th, or Sunday April 21 to help paint and prime, please contact me at Ingrid@madquestionasking.com. If you would like to donate money to help reach our goal of $2500 to buy Karen floors, please contact me at Ingrid@madquestionasking.com.

Karen is a good person, she just needs a break, and if you can help, please try.

© Mad Question Asking – 2013 All Rights Reserved

Inside Joke

27 Mar

I was driving through the main street of a pretty suburban town a few years back. It was one of those sunny days when you could picture blue birds singing to each other, a gentle breeze kissing each tree. I slowed down to stop at a light and this woman walked by the side of my truck; she had this dazed, distant, somewhat vacant look in her eye; her gait was a zombie-like shuffle. I watched her and thought, “Man, what is this world coming to? So many people just look half-alive, they’ve got no life in them at all. This lady looks like she’s never seen a goddamn flower open or a blood orange sunrise.” Disgusted, I started driving and glanced in my side mirror for one last look at today’s example of how lackluster the world was.

She had a cane and a seeing eye dog.

I fell apart with laughter; at myself, at every bit of my high-and-mighty oh-Ingrid-LOVES-to-smell-the-fucking-roses bullshit that I spin in my head.

The universe can make such a fool of us, can’t it? Just when you feel so confident, so sure of yourself, in that split second can the gods slip their giant feet in front of you, and laugh in rolls of thunder, while you trip and fall in your mortal humiliation, somehow made worse by being the only living witness. Maybe life really is one big joke; and like all the best ones, it’s an inside joke, shared only between ourselves and our faulty beliefs.

Some of my fondest memories come from “making my own bed” but finding myself lying in a pile of cow shit. One of my very favorite examples of this is when I was in high school and I was voted female class non-conformist.

I never participated in anything in high school. Well, that’s not entirely true; I did run for student council treasurer one year. I even made a poster of a giant dollar sign with $15 worth of emerald-green glitter I stole from Woolworth’s. I think I won too; but this tiny prick of a teacher who ran the student council said this other kid, all pimples, with a slack jaw whose mouth never closed fully, had won. I knew for sure I’d won, but that teacher had the hots for that other kid and messed with the ballot (I was always really aware of which teachers wanted to sleep with which students. My keen sense of innuendo and stolen glances tipped me off; plus, I watched everyone like a hawk, whether they knew it or not). This tiny, homosexual teacher loved that kid, and hated me for being a female with five inches and 30 pounds on him, and for being such a smart-ass and a nuisance. In any case, I only wanted to be treasurer to steal the money, like I did the weekly homeroom donations made to the Catholic Charities. At 16, I believed that if somebody was dumb enough to give the Vatican money for more 24k gold toilet seats, then they deserved my stealing their money. So, as I strolled down to the main office each week, I pocketed the cash money, but never the coins. Then I would go and smoke a cigarette in the girl’s bathroom or use the pay phone to call my boyfriend or my mom.

At some point during senior year, my class, the class of 94, was asked to create a list of all those goofy awards, like Nicest Legs or Most Likely to Whatever. I’d tell you what all the awards were but I didn’t fill it out so I don’t know. I had a policy—I still do—that I would never fill out anything when asked. For example, there was an incident at a Pearle Vision a few years back; I was asked by a piece of paper if I had AIDS or had ever slept with someone who had. I was already in a mood and couldn’t for the life of me understand why Pearle Vision wanted to know if I had AIDS. I was under the impression there would be no sexual encounter between me and their employees that day, so when the receptionist came in the waiting area and said, “Ingrid? Are you ready to come back and see the doctor?” I looked at her quizzingly and asked, “I don’t know, am I? Do YOU have AIDS? Does Dr. Singer HAVE AIDS?” It really was a scene.

Back to the awards… somehow I ended up winning Female Class Non-Conformist my senior year. I was actually stunned, both that it was a category and that all those people, to whom I never gave the time of day, even knew what a non-conformist was. I don’t think I even knew what a non-conformist was. I wasn’t trying to, on purpose, not conform. Suddenly, this tiny moment of attention started to swell my almost non-existent ego. The fact that I won a category that was so much more exotic than great legs or prom queen was making me feel exactly how I envisioned the popular girls feeling, the ones who won greatest smile, the ones I tortured so ruthlessly, the ones I made cry when acne appeared and I loudly pointed it out by calling them things like pizza face. I watched myself go against my very nature and agreed to be photographed for the yearbook!

Our yearbook photo-op was scheduled after school on a Thursday. The male non-conformist, true to his newly assumed title, never showed up. I, on the other hand, went ahead and let them take my photo, seething inside at the embarrassing pleasure I took in receiving this ego-stroking, faux honor.

Seasons passed and the yearbook finally came out. I scoured through it looking for my picture, quickly passing by our senior portraits and cutesy remarks, stupid words like “I love LBI and golden retrievers and want to be forever young!” I had left mine blank. I wasn’t going to share my dreams with people I despised so deeply and have it published for all of eternity, any more than I’d get a tattoo and live to regret the lifetime reminder of something I liked for five minutes of my life.

I kept leafing through the pages and, without warning, there it was, the greatest inside joke of all: my photo, alone, under the heading “Most Likely To Be Late To Graduation!” What!!? What happened to Female Non-Conformist!? Had sitting for that photo-op ripped me of my true given title? I had no way to defend my non-conformist honor or make any correction without becoming even LESS of a non-conformist!

I knew nobody would ever care or even notice, certainly not all the people who intended to live forever young! Yet, I was forced to see that, despite being SO intent on differentiating myself from my peers and doing the opposite of whatever they did, I had, this one time, let my smug, dark guard down; the gods had tripped me and I fell right into a published pile of cow shit, an eternal, humble reminder that the jokes I make and the games I play, even the ones in earnest, will always turn on me, and that it is I who is the biggest ass of all.

© Mad Question Asking – 2013 All Rights Reserved

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