Thursday, February 11, 2016

Zoe vs. Cormac McCarthy

At first glance, Zoe has very little in common with Cormac McCarthy, author of All the Pretty Horses, The Road, and No Country for Old Men, among others. In truth, glances two through twenty-five would also yield few similarities. Yet, as it turns out, Zoe has more in common with Cormac McCarthy than I do.

Credit: Paul Catalano

McCarthy's novels are very concerned with male identity. They are set in the southwest, several in the midcentury, about cowboys and ranchers---fathers, sons, and brothers---who must come to grips with a changing world while facing the violence of nature as well as their fellow man. 
In contrast, I'm a gal from Queens, New York, now living in Brooklyn. I'm not the strong silent type you'd find in a Western. I'm more the quiet bookish type you'd find in a library or bookstore, my natural habitat. You certainly wouldn't find me on a farm or a ranch, where people live up close with animals. 
Another thing that sets me apart from McCarthy's characters: I'm afraid of cows. They're bigger than they should be, right?
And my only experience riding a horse was my seventh-grade trip to a dude ranch where they gave me, the shortest kid in class, the largest horse, and I needed a boost getting up, and then I rode for fifteen minutes wherein the horse went wherever the hell he wanted, and when I got down again, my shirt got caught on the saddle-horn-pommel thing, exposing my training bra to the whole class---much to my supposed best friend's merriment---and also, the horse smelled. 
One more thing, McCarthy's characters think nothing of sleeping outside. Under the stars. He's got super writer skillz so he makes that sound romantic. And yet I'm unconvinced. Three reasons: no plumbing, no cushy seating, no temperature control. Not to mention a dearth of snacks of a chocolatey persuasion. 
So I have little in common with Cormac, but what about Zoe? Does she share any of his bleak vision of humanity? How about a brooding focus on fate? Sudden brutal violence?
Definitely that last one if my rib cage is any judge.
McCarthy is obsessed with the big questions. Zoe somewhat. Sitting on the toilet last night before bath she asked, in rapid succession: Can I be absent from school tomorrow? How do we die? Why do we have nipples? I barely had time to react before she fired her next round.
Besides wrestling with big questions, in The Crossing, a character wrestles a wolf, something I wouldn't put past Zoe. Or maybe she is the wolf. It certainly seemed like that when I was breastfeeding her as an infant.
The Crossing is about boundaries---between countries, between family members, the living and the dead, good and evil, belief and unbelief---and speaking of, the whole breastfeeding thing probably gave Zoe the wrong impression about my own. 
As for characters who seek their own destruction, I've watched her play, and either held my breath or expelled it in a cliche: If you lose a leg, don't come running to me! And, like Billy Parham and his brother, Boyd, she can't escape her fate. Bedtime and bath are inevitable.
Mostly though, she is lawless. She is The Road. She is 1940s Mexico where a boy journeys to get his murdered parents' horses back. In fact, I now think this is exactly what McCarthy was getting at: Five-year-old girls as atavistic expressions of chaos.
Beneath the pigtails lies humanity in its multitude of concerns, from earth-shattering to mundane. The trick is to hold on for dear life, or until bedtime, and don't get bit.
Zoe: 126; Universe: 0

In my last post I said I'd announce which title Zoe would decide on for her next book. There were some great suggestions, and Mickey Mouse Fight Club won the vote, but the title Zoe liked the best was Our Mutual Enemy, suggested by Cassandra Delusion. Go check out the hilarious he said/she said blog she writes with her husband and partner, Momus, at The Next Delusion.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Zoe vs. 11 Famous Novels (and Vote for Her Next Book!)

Last week I gave you the blurbs praising Zoe's works. Since then people have been stopping me in the street, begging me to tell them more about the novels Zoe has written. Never one to deny the people what they want, that's my subject today.
First, you should know that minutes after Zoe was born, she handed me her Bucket List, and one of the items on it was that she planned to write a dozen novels before she turned six. Well, she's five and a half and she's written eleven books.
And now she's stuck, so she needs your help to get to twelve. At the end of this post I'll ask you to vote for some possible titles. Or add one of your own. Next week, I'll let you know which one she decided on.
Until then . . . Zoe's 11.


(As you might expect, Zoe is a devotee of the literary canon, and so all her titles take their cue from other famous works, if you're wondering why they all sound familiar.)

Zoe's First 11 Novels
1. Naked Lunch (and Breakfast and Dinner and Snacktime): About a hungry toddler who refuses to put on clothes, preferring to dine au naturel.
2. Call of the Child: She won't be controlled and she won't be quiet. Bring her some water, goddammit, and make it apple juice.
3. Of Lice and Phlegm: A toddler attends daycare and fights off various unpleasant parasites and infestations while simultaneously destroying whatever she touches with a terrible crushing love.
4. The Devil Wears Carters: She can be a recalcitrant little demon during daylight hours, but just wait till you get on her pajamas and tell her it's time for bed. Then the claws come out, accompanied by increasingly impossible demands.
5. The Grapefruit Juice of Wrath: She asked for apple juice, not grapefruit. Are you out of your ever-loving mind offering her this bitter swill from the Fruit Forgotten by God?
6. All the Pretty Horses Are Mine: Don't even look at them.
7. Suspiciously Quiet on the Western Front: A mother who hasn't heard any sounds from her child for several minutes goes to investigate. It was the not knowing that got to her. By the end she realizes she was better off not knowing.
8. As I Lay Crying: In the first part a child lies down on the floor of a Foodtown to have a tantrum, and the mother must carry her bodily from the store: down the produce aisle, out the front door, across the parking lot, and home in a journey that is equal parts comic and tragic. In part two, when the mother finally gets to bed that night she can't sleep as she relives her day. And cries.
9. One Hundred Years of Meals Unchewed: A mother spends endless hours preparing healthy meals for a child who will never eat them. As far as she ever gets is convincing the child to put an infinitesimal amount on her tongue before spitting it out. This goes on forever as people live and die, are assumed into heaven, and it rains upside down. No one eats. So why can't Mom lose weight?
10. Point Counter Point Counter Point Counter Point Counter Point: An argument with a four-year-old about nonsense that goes on forever while you pine for the sweet silence of death.
11. In Search of Lost Mittens: A ruminative seven-volume memoir/novel about each pair of mittens lost in time. Meanwhile promises of cookies go unfulfilled.
12. ???????

Now you can vote. Which title do you think Zoe should pick for her next novel? Or feel free to suggest one below in the comments.



Zoe: 125; Universe: 0
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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Zoe vs. "The Book Blurb"

When you're in a bookstore or even shopping online, how much attention do you pay to book blurbs? You know, those hyperbolic, sometimes pretentious, quotes on the backs of book jackets praising the book or the author as if they're the greatest thing since sliced bread, or the printing press, or, to combine the two, those toasters that can print selfies, a cause for celebration if I've ever heard one (though to be a true selfie for me the toaster would need to get my likeness on a piece of Wonder Bread while avoiding toasting the bread at all because I am WHITE).
What was I talking about? Book blurbs. I don't know how many people actually decide to read a book based on quotes from reviewers or other authors. I figure most people pick up a book because they already like the author, or a friend recommended it, or they're intrigued by the cover, and not because another author they might not have heard of said it was . . .
"A towering achievement! . . . Filled with words and sentences that are just, like, OMG. . . . You'll crap your lederhosen. For serious."
Anyway, recently I was thinking to myself: What if Zoe were a book? What would the quotes on her back say about her?



Depending on the phase of life she's in, her mood that day, or even minute, Zoe can seem like a mystery, other times, a suspense thriller. She's an ongoing coming-of-age story steeped in myth and fairy tale. A true-crime story with elements of magic realism. Some days Zoe can even seem like a science fiction creation or a scary book you won't want to read before bed if you need to get a good night's sleep.
Herewith some blurbs in praise of Zoe . . . and her works.

Praise for Potty Training: And Related Incidents and Accidents
"An experience that will linger long in one's mental landscape."
"Gritty. Volcanic."
"Shattering and unflinching!"
"Will make you jump from your chair."
"Have tissues nearby! Make that paper towels! The extra-absorbent kind."
"An intoxicating blend of majesty and wonder. Incandescent."
"Jet-propelled."
"Profound."
"Haunting."

Accolades for A Child's Tantrums
"A smashing tour de force."
"Mind-altering." 
"Pitch-perfect." 
"Brilliant, enthralling. Magnificently rendered."
"Full of terrible truths. Chilling in their implications."
"A resonant meditation on childhood and its persistent vision of a utopia filled with things that can only belong to her. Certainly not her mother or the downstairs neighbor."

Praise for Dear One's Nightly Avoidance of Bedtime
"Pervasively menacing."
"A masterwork from Brooklyn's literary enfant terrible."
"Nail-biting. Full of stomach-churning reversals."
"Edgy and dark."
"A sumptuous tapestry."
"Bonfire of the Vanities meets Hop on Pop."

Kudos for A Five-Year-Old's Lies (and Other Science Fiction)
"Audacious."
"In a word: jaw-dropping."
"A born storyteller."
"Brave and sublime. Transcendent."
"Luminous. A rare imagination."
"A future classic. Throws down the gauntlet in world-building. Brava!"

Praise for Playing with Zoe
"Hard-hitting. (Seriously. Your face will hurt.)"
"Violently comedic. Bleakly beautiful."
"Twisted."
"Demanding."
"Darkly magnificent."
"You won't be able (or allowed, really) to look away."
"Playing with Zoe is like opening a huge box of Legos, putting the model together blind, and then, in a burst of prescience, knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the smallest pieces will get lodged under your unsuspecting foot at 2 a.m."

Raves for Zoe's Life Thus Far
"It's been a long time since a work of art such as Zoe has come along to shatter pre-conceived notions not to mention items around the house. You'll sink to your knees in defeat and wonder at the sheer magnitude of her achievements."
"Potently contemplative."
"Important!"
"Necessary!"
"Jejune!"
"An exquisitely rendered kaleidoscopic work that anchors a floating postmodern world in pre-modern caissons of love, grief, and transcendent longing." *
"I thoroughly enjoyed it." **

*Actual pretentious quote from the Los Angeles Times on Michael Cunningham's The Hours.
**This one's Grandma.

Zoe: 124; Universe: 0

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Zoe vs. Harper's Index

There's no Harper in Zoe's class. The Harper I'm referring to in the title is the magazine, specifically, its long-running, monthly feature where numbers and figures are presented, in seemingly random order, and yet a general picture emerges.
Of what I'm not smart enough to know. I'm just smart enough to reference something smart-person adjacent. That's my level.
I had a roommate in grad school who subscribed to Harper's Magazine, and though I was too much of a low-brow to get through an article that would surely have elevated my aforementioned eyebrows, I always read the one-page index.


So I thought it would be fun to make a Zoe version, a view of her life thus far, by the numbers. Without further ado, I present:

Zoe's Index*
Age: 5 years, 5 months, 15 days
First word: Daddy
Second word: No
Tenth word: Mommy
First sentence: No, Mommy.
Number of diaper blowouts: 666
Number of staircases unnecessarily climbed as a toddler: 187
Estimated number of items put into mouth that were not food: 4,001
Number of times she's changed her favorite color: 8
Number of times she's changed my favorite color: 3
Number of times I read Ten Apples Up on Top during her second year: 3 million
Number of lies: 958
Times she was caught: 958
Number of times she caught me in a lie: 4 (But I had a good---chocolatey---excuse.)
Number of times she used my own logic against me: 27
Number of times she imitated me with devastating accuracy: 9
Number of colds and other ailments: 33
Bouts of pink eye: 14
Times she feigned a cold or other ailment to get something she wanted: 55
Trips to the ER: 1
Number of times I said don't touch that but she still touched that: 10,000
Number of outfits utterly destroyed after wearing them only once: 9
Times peed outside: 8
On purpose: 3
Number of meals she claimed to want but then changed her mind after I made it for her: 99
Percentage of baths taken where she got the floor wet: 98%
Number of times she pooped in the tub: 3
Official haircuts: 5
Times she had her bangs trimmed, badly, by her mother: 20
Number of times she resisted having her nose or mouth wiped: 2,678
Number of times she fought going to sleep: 1,192
Average number of questions asked per day: 459
Of these, number that were a delaying tactic at bedtime: 399
Times I woke up in the morning before she did: 5
Of those, without the aid of an alarm clock: 1
Notes home from teacher: 1 (for face-pinching)
Items lost: innumerable socks (kicked off her feet as an infant), 10 gloves (from different pairs), 8 hats, 4 toys, one umbrella (Frozen theme), one lunchbox (Frozen theme)
Personas adopted: 28
Including: the Good/Bad Queen, the Good/Bad Princess, The Hulk, Spider-Man, Queen Elsa, Superman, generic superheroes, and The Mommy
Number of times she must repeat a joke if it gets a laugh the first time: 278
Ratio of time it should take to get her home versus how much time it does take: 1:2
Average number of times she climbs the stairs of different houses on the way home and announces "I'm the King of Love": 5
Average number of times she's told no before she complies: 7
Number of snacks offered to her in devotion by boyfriend at school: 10
Items broken: 77
Hearts broken: countless
Smiles, hugs, and kisses: 500,000
Each of which feels like: 1,000,000
which is why . . .
Zoe: 123; Universe: 0

*Source: My observations. No actual math was suffered. However, hyperbole may have been engaged in.

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Zoe vs. 2016: A Look Ahead

Welcome to Zoe's third annual look ahead at the new year.


If you review Zoe's 14 resolutions for 2014 and 15 resolutions for 2015, you'll see that Zoe's come a long way. At five, she's now a far cry from that toddler whose favorite word was no.
Now, instead of saying no she comes up with complicated excuses to weasel her way out of things ("I don't like broccoli, it's too spicy."), pretends she didn't hear me ("Did you say something, Mommy?"), or out and out lies ("But I never had chocolate ice cream before." Well, technically, she means "today," history not existing before the present moment).
Folks, we couldn't be prouder.
Rereading her posts, besides appreciating what a riot the kid is---I mean, wow, five years old and already a comedic genius---I see Zoe kept a lot of her resolutions. Last year, she did indeed have a fifth birthday party, go trick or treating, and enroll in kindergarten!
I can only imagine how she will top these successes in 2016. So here are:

Zoe's 16 Resolutions for 2016
1. Get more toys. At Christmas I got a lot of stuff from Santa, from the Grandmas, and from the assorted aunts and uncles and cousins. I noticed, however, that I did not get anything from Mommy and Daddy. Hopefully I can leverage this criminal negligence into acquiring more goods and services. Cause I played with everything I got already.
2. Count to the highest number: one hundred million thousand, one hundred seventy-six. 
3. Grow as tall as the sky. Or Daddy.
4. Speaking of Daddy, get him to unlock the next level on the Go Thomas game so I can race Thomas and his Speed Boost against Toby and his Lightning Burst.
5. Convince the world I'm a robot. Beep-beep, boop. I. AM. A. ROBOT. I said that in a robot voice. I mean, my voice. Cause I'm a robot.
6. Insist on wearing a particular outfit and then change my mind at the last minute, a continuing trend since 2013. Why fix what ain't broke?
7. Have three sixth birthday parties. Since it wouldn't be fair to confine my celebrity to one hotspot, I'll have parties at Bounce U, Chuck E. Cheese, and that little gymnastic place, but not the little gymnastic place where I had my fifth birthday party, the one where my friend Olivia had her fifth birthday party.
8. Remember to add a pyramid to the end of every sentence. Zoe. Is. The. Best. Ever. Pyramid.
9. Get Daddy to unlock the next level on Go Thomas so I can race Toby and his Lightning Burst against James and his Turbo Boost.
10. Become Death, Destroyer of Worlds.
11. Learn to tie my shoes.
12. Avoid peeing on the toilet seat so that my butt doesn't get wet when I slide off.
13. Cover every inch of wall space, from the floor to four feet high, with my Art. Use an egregious amount of Scotch tape.
14. Eat a new food and then spit it out to make a point.
15. Eat a previously introduced food and spit it out without anyone noticing.
16. Get Daddy to unlock the next level on Go Thomas so I can race James and his Turbo Boost against Percy and his Track Jump. Pretend I don't hear Daddy when he mutters something about death by a thousand paper cuts. When you have smooth, unwrinkled, perfect skin, criticism rolls right off you.
Like a ball.
A large pink ball with glitter inside it. Like the one I saw at the toy store.
I don't have a large pink ball with glitter inside it.
Yet. The year, after all, is young.

Zoe: 122; Universe: 0


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