Kate Leth’s #simpofriends is Joy

Growing up I had a love for The Simpsons that was greatly fueled by the fact that it was not allowed in our house. (I’d say “banned”, but can you really ban something that syndicates in the slice of time when your children are home from school but you’re still at work before parental locks existed? No, you can’t.) I never became the huge fan that some of my friends were, but there’s no denying that some of those episodes that aired during my childhood were some of the best things I’ve ever seen. (“Summer of 4 ft. 2” particularly spoke to me in a way that television, on a whole, never had before, in a way that 10-year-old me could not articulate.)

Since the 90s I’ve dropped and picked up the show, losing some love during some bad episodes, coming back for the HD, loving or at least being amused by newer jokes, falling in the nostalgia hole when FXX does its days-long marathons.

All of this intro is to talk about how Kate Leth, one of my favorite comic artists and Internet people, has been putting up goofy comics riffing on The Simpsons all summer, #simpofriends. it’s a bunch of simple line art done on actual lined yellow paper. It kind of makes fun of the show (“The bad father has arrived.” “Oh no.”) and kind of honors it, it’s goofy (Milhouse is a vampire?) and straightforward (Homer hates his sisters-in-law, they don’t care), and it’s a little dumb and kind of smart. Basically simpofriends is great and perfect, and my day lights up whenever a new one pops up on my Instagram feed. I don’t know how long Kate Leth plans on doing this, but I hope it’s basically forever, or at least another year.

Old Familiar Brown Bear

Each time I go to the library with my daughter, I show her books. “This one’s got dogs!” “Look, a duck!” But she sits in the rocker, or chews on a train, or presses her snotting nose against the glass of a papier mache Charlotte’s Web display.

Then we’re in the picture books. She sees one, and she points, excited. Finally, I think, a book she wants. And I go to grab it…

…and it’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

“What? We own this book.”

“Ehn!”

“It’s sitting on our bookshelf.”

“Ehn!”

“I read it four times yesterday!”

She looks at me as if to say, What part of “Ehn!” don’t you understand?

“Fine.”

I plop her on the carpet. I place the book between us, and open the first page. And for the first time since I brought her inside, she sits still.

“Brown Bear, Brown bear, what do you see…”

Movies My Daughter Has Watched: Quick Review

Here are some movies my daughter has been obsessed with.

Secret Life of Pets. Cute jokes about pets, but by the 500th viewing you start to realize that the plot makes little sense and you can’t understand how the characters move around. What is the rabbit’s actual goal? How did that guinea pig stuck in the vents make it into a different building? Why didn’t Katie properly introduce two strange dogs before leaving them alone together for what has to be the longest workday I’ve ever seen? According to my toddler, though, this movie has everything: it has dogs, it’s got, well…more dogs. She is in. To. It.

Trolls. I’m going to admit — I enjoyed this. I liked the songs, I liked that everything looks like it’s made out of felt, I even liked the crazy story. It was just fun. There’s been no big demand from miss baby, though, so we haven’t rewatched yet.

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Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Baby’s first anime! I wanted to watch it, and I put it on thinking she’d ignore it. Instead she pointed excitedly at the screen whenever a cat or some other animal showed up, and in between seemed like she was actually watching the movie. Mama’s little girl is an anime fan; guess the apple really doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

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Moana. Songs: check. Beautiful water: check. Adorable pig: double check. My daughter claps when the end title slams on the screen, as if in appreciation, and she’s made a enough lilting sounds during the musical numbers to convince me she’s trying to sing.

Quick Look: Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

I recently joined in with my coworkers in reading a book from the Great American Read, and began reading Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a lengthy paperback I picked up, over 500 pages, a size I’ve been avoiding for the most part with the limited reading time a needy toddler gives to me. But as I started reading it while my daughter fell asleep on my shoulder one afternoon, I turned the pages, faster and faster, and though I still have half a book to go I am chomping my way through Adichie’s book faster than I would have thought.

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I look at the way Americanah is written, and I should not find it so appealing. So much narrative summary, going quickly over the lives of Ifemelu and Obinze, should leaving me feeling separate, distant from the characters. Instead Adichie’s words and sentences coil around me deeper and deeper into their thoughts, their worlds, until I am enmeshed in the story of a girl who grew up poor, who moved to America and was so disheartened with the path her life was taking she shut out the person she loved the most; the story of a boy who grew up comparatively privileged but enters adulthood to find life so much harder than he thought it should have been, every dream he had suddenly unreachable. There is so much history to the she writes about, and I’m impressed by this writing that is so different from what I write, from what I thought I would want to read.

I didn’t mark a particular passage that I can quote now, and when I flip back through the pages I can’t find the one line to illustrate what I mean. It’s the whole thing, the cadence of the sentences strung together, and I am pulled deeply in before I even realize what has happened.

Most of the Way to Sleep

I finish nursing her for the night. Sleepily she reaches for her pacifier. I help her plug it in her mouth, and she settles in my arm as I open Llama Llama Red Pajama for the hundredth, three-hundredth time.

I read, but I’ve memorized the book, so I also watch her. She tugs gently, purposefully at her curls. Her eyes close, but she isn’t quite asleep. She shifts a little at each page turn, and when I finish and bring her to my shoulder, she lifts her head and looks at me. I finish a song, kiss her face, and place her in her bed as she reaches for it, milk and words already lulling her most of the way to sleep.

Quick Look :: Being Understood in Pops by Michael Chabon

In Michael Chabon’s essay “Little Man”, found in his collection Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces, Chabon talks about following his son Abe around fashion week in Paris. It was something he didn’t enjoy, something he wasn’t able to connect with his son over a mutual love. In fact, he realizes towards the end, his very presence may have impeded his son’s full enjoyment of the event.

I had been only his minder. I was a drag to have around a fashion show, and because I could not enter fully into the spirit of the occasion, neither could he.

The time his son was truly able to feel comfortable in the event, was when his father pulled back and didn’t take part in the event, and Chabon realized his son had found people.

You are born into a family and those are your people, and they know you and they love you, and if you are lucky, they even on occasion manage to understand you. And that ought to be enough. But it is never enough. … [My son] was not flying his freak flag, he was sending up a flare, hoping for rescue, for company in the solitude of his passion.

This reminded me of when I first started going to anime conventions, all those many years ago. (Seriously, half my life ago, oh my god, augh.) The first few times, my mom actually took me and my friends. Now, I’m pretty sure my mother had no idea why I liked anime so much. She spent a lot of time trying to convince me to stop spending all of my expendable income on DVDs and posable figures. But she booked a hotel, drove us into the city, stood in line with me while we waited for the dealer’s room to open. Even before that, she took me to the fabric store and watched me wrap duct tape around a giant cardboard spatula for my costume.

Like Michael Chabon to his son, my mother was my “minder” for the weekend. But she also stepped back, left me to my own devices, and allowed me to have my fun. I wouldn’t have been able to scream and freak out and sink down in this pool of nerds if she’d been on my all the time.

This was an occasion in which I was understood–at least enough to be seen that this was important to me, that I had found my people, that I wasn’t “flying my freak flag” but finally, comfortably, fitting in.

When I Found Anthony Bourdain

In college my boyfriend (now husband) had on an episode of No Reservations for background noise. I didn’t appreciate the beauty of food shows then; I actually found the Food Network wholly boring, over all. This was a guy going to restaurants — a food show — so I ignored it, loafing around his room…

…until the host started quoting Kubla Khan (one of my favorite poems), and he did it to emphasize how much he enjoyed eating roasted pig. (Something about the “dome of pleasure”, if I’m remembering correctly.)

Then I knew, I wasn’t watching a food show. I was watching a fantastic show.

This was how I was introduced to Anthony Bourdain. I watched his show through my early post-college years, and liked catching his new show on CNN. I’ve fallen out of watching him so heavily the last few years, but he was still a celebrity who brought me joy. It hasn’t hit me yet, that he isn’t out there making new documentaries, quoting Romantic poetry as he digs into a new favorite food.

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Just Write About Whatever :: Writing Problems

This week I had a couple of reminders that I don’t need to overthink this blogging thing too much.

On Wheezy Waiter, Craig Benzine commemorated spending 11 years making videos by talking about how he manages to keep up with making so much content: by not worrying about being perfect. You have an idea? Do it. It might be crap? Probably, but still: DO IT.

I honestly don’t spend as much time as I could proofreading my posts, but I always feel like I can’t post unless I have something specific to talk about, be it my latest writing failures or examining a potent quote from a book. If I want to keep up with doing this, I need to be willing to write up ideas and put them out there, even if they’re not great.

One thing is I always feel like my little stories here need to have a major point — but that’s another thing I’ve learned from some recent videos doesn’t have to be the case. Hank Green told a story on his own YouTube Channel about finding a donut he’d placed in the trash in the alley, and there was no conclusion. John Green’s recent vlogbrother’s video is just him trying to figure out where he put his copy of the Norton Anthology of Poetry he wants to read a poem from.

I can write about snips of my life, post the beginnings of an idea that’s been poking at my brain. I can write about whatever I want. It doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Go Get Gardening

Every year I like to put a tremendous amount of effort into growing vegetables only to inevitably watch half of them die, or go to rot because I don’t pick them fast enough, or be overcome by weeds that grow back like hydra heads when I pluck them. It’s fun (?) for me. Out in the sun, earbuds in, digging holes and getting lost in myself for a little bit.

Except…

Now I look up at every small sound from the toddler a few feet away. I pat the ground with my shovel as small hands come up beside me and do the same. I shift her small body around, keeping those tiny, unknowingly careless feet from crushing a small plant, only to cause her to fall back in frustration and crush something else entirely.

Even if I wait for her to sleep, I’m constantly checking the monitor, making sure she doesn’t need me, that I didn’t miss something while I did this thing for myself.

Choosing my plants has shifted too. Cucumbers and tomatoes made it into my cart like always, but I also picked watermelons, and peppers, which I do not like, but my daughter does. She’ll get to see them grow, and pick them for herself.

My head is too full of her, and even gardening isn’t something I can do entirely alone anymore. Like so much else of my life it has changed, shifted–but certainly not into anything bad.

Bonus Content: John Green also just made a video about gardening, and after an amusingly roundabout way of saying gardens don’t save any money, declared that he highly recommends it.

Salamanders and Podcasts :: Some Favorite Things

Here are a few of my favorite things from this week.

Raised by TV. A very funny podcast where Lauren Lapkus and Jon Gabrus talk about television they watched as kids. It’s like being in a conversation with my favorite friends, which is fantastic, though it’s hard when you’re trying to surreptitiously listen to a podcast at work, and Lauren Lapkus saying “One time the computer turned on by itself at school and I thought it was a leprechaun” makes you choke-laugh.

Axolotls. I already knew about this animal, but I processed a children’s book on these little Mexican salamander things this week and I was reminded how adorable they are.

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My writing group. I was just mentioning offhand a problem I was having with a story, and they managed to convince me to keep trying, and got me excited to start working on it again. Proof that it’s always, always good to get a group of writers in your corner.