Sunday, March 24, 2013

Typing Out Loud: Naivety v. Sophistication

Doe-eyed is usually a good way to get through a Disney movie, not so in real life.

For the purposes of this entry, I will start with the definitions of two polar opposite words:

1: deprived of native or original simplicity: as a : highly complicated or developed : complex b : having a refined knowledge of the ways of the world cultivated especially through wide experience

2: devoid of grossness: as a : finely experienced and aware b : intellectually appealing

1: marked by unaffected simplicity : artless, ingenuous

2a : deficient in worldly wisdom or informed judgment; especially : credulous

I've been over thinking these two qualities a lot lately in terms of personal, professional and national politics. And I'm not liking how it's turning out.

My worldview essentially is doing what's best for the whole. While that makes me a nice person, that's not the way of the world. That is naive of me. At its essence, it seems most people, and the most successful people, the ones at the top, are the ones who look out for their own best personal interest and in turn, mold those of us who are naive into believing that what they want for themselves is essentially better for everyone. These people are considered sophisticated.

I'm not sure where I land on the naive to sophisticated spectrum, but I fear it is a little too far to the side of rube. A year ago, I wondered in a similar entry about where my life would be if I had chosen door B instead of A. Now I wonder where I'd be if I had been a little more cut-throat, a little more willing to look out for number one.

But can you fight that kind of inner nature? Yesterday at this time, I firmly believed everyone believed in the common good. Today, I'm leaning more towards believing people are, at their base, selfish. And still, if I had one sandwich and my co-worker had none, anyone that knows me knows half that sandwich is being shared, no matter how hungry I am.

So... am I a schmuck, an easy target, the kind of girl at skating competitions the winners full embrace, knowing I pose no threat because I have no killer instinct? Or am I a good person who while I give receives it back tenfold because my behavior encourages others to respond in kind?

We are teaching Will how to share  and it's been a struggle to say the least. Maybe the kid is right and I'm wrong. I've said it before, I want to be the girl with the most cake, but chances are I passed it on so everyone has a bite. 

Yes, this is a true TOL, because I'm rambling with no clear resolution, no way of tying up my ideas neatly. I think I'm trying to sort it all out in my head, because that naive "people are basically good" is at the core of my basic human belief. And yet, thinking back to the Feb angst breakup posts from last February, when given the choice of reuniting with several exes, I did refuse them, not wishing to allow them to hurt me anymore. By Sex in the City standards, it is equivalent to Samantha telling Richard "I love you, but I love me more."

Maybe there is a touch of sophistication to this doe-eyed innocent.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What's Right in the World: Pancerz Family Portrait

All my greats as little kids.

I recently celebrated the life of my great aunt Ciocia Lottie (third from left, leaning against her father), the sister of my grandmother Bobbie (seated on porch above and behind her father, the brunette). It was at the luncheon after the funeral that my father's cousin Ron showed us the photograph above.

Stories of my grandmother's childhood and marriage were not discussed much. My great-grandfather, mustached, died far too young in the 30s, leaving my great-grandmother a widow with 10 children to raise, this picture taken before the arrival of Ciocia Stella and Ciocia Ona. My grandmother herself was a young widow, my grandfather passing at age 42 when my dad was 17. I think stories were just too hard to tell.

But throughout the years, the stories, however limited, have trickled in and photos like this a glimpse into the past and a hint at my heritage. Of course I entered their life late in the game, and while I see a glimpse of the adult in the faces of these kids, I only know a facet of their lives.

Ciocia Anna, the oldest in the print dress, I remember fresh churned butter and huge homemade pickles in stoneware crocks.

Ciocia Chi Chi, (first from left) who is still with us, I remember the best sloppy joes for lunch before she took us to the club to swim. Also her gentle nature and elegance. She got me hooked on Smokehouse Almonds, the preferred snack for family gatherings, typically graduation or communion parties.

Ciocia Lottie, I remember helping her pick vegetables before swimming at her pool. Also, I was one of her "crew" when she volunteered to work bingo at our church. She always loaded us up with candy and popcorn to go, along with an extra dollar or two.

Uncles Poncho, Splitty and Gene are a blur of men with face-splitting smiles, comb-overs and cigars who would gleefully send us kids up to the bar of any family party to get them a beer and inevitably slip us some money. They used to buy me all kinds of junk food when I would accompany  my dad for Tuesday night bowling. Wow, the 70s, where an 8 year old could saddle up to bar and order a beer for her uncle and be served without a blink of an eye.

Uncle Joe, the baby in the picture is someone I was particularly close to. Polka Joe was his nickname, in honor of his long-standing radio program "Polka Time with Joe and Lil." For a while there, he added "and Mo," since I was his "intern" for a number of years. I helped DJ the show from '87 to '89, allowing them to take a few vacations. He let me rewrite his radio commercials, which he never used. He taught me valuable lessons in the art of advertising. The first was truth in advertising, as he would never take a sponsor he felt was detrimental to the message of his show. Also, how important honest and real relationships are built with clients. His 30-second commercials typically turned into 3 minute yarns about having a tasty burger at Hankard Hills Golf Course after playing a round with my Uncle Splitty. You knew when he told those stories, they really happened, he patronized his patrons.

Ciocia Ona, real name Leona, alternate nickname Bubbles, is a firecracker of a woman who had 5 kids, a pool, a Mary in a bathtub shrine, a pond and a mini airstream trailer that we kids spent the night in. She also had an electric stove top - space age! - where she made pancakes while I sat at the counter creating puzzle games. As the youngest, she has had the burden of catering the luncheons for her siblings.

Ciocia Stella, the quietest of the sisters, is nonetheless one of the sweetest people on the planet. She and Ciocia Ona are a one-two punch of youthful tomboyishness who can cook a traditional Polish feast with a pound of hamburger and a few potatoes.

After taking a snap of the photo with my smart phone (ah, technology!), I found myself peering closely at the picture under the self-centered guise of seeing a glimpse of myself in the faces of the people who came before me. From my great-grandmother and grandmother, I see my nose and the shape of my mouth, but precious little else. But instead of mere physical features, I like to think I inherited things like tenacity, character, integrity as well as a sense of style since all my aunties love dressing up.

I love you all.

And as pure as art can be, this portrait has inspired my ambition to recreate it. I think I see a future project.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

March Playlist/Why Arts Matters: Madonna!

She's a boy toy! She's a Marilyn wannabe! And she's a cartoon!

My affection for Madonna is deeply personal. She debuted on the scene during my tender teenage years, and I'd like to think I learned a thing or two from the Material Girl.

While we are both Michigan girls, her world was completely different from mine. I was strictly small town, the stuff of Bob Seger songs and John Mellencamp videos. Yet through her, I learned about cultures, lifestyles, religion and beliefs other than my own. I learned about pushing my boundaries, little by little, and removing the blinders that made living in a small town safe, but limiting. I learned to scare myself, just a little.

For that, I love her.

So let me slip back to the days where I popped the collar of my neon yellow striped camp shirt, jangle my memory like so many jelly bracelets, and bend an ear in honor of the dynamic shape-shifter.

Borderline - craptastic boyfriend wants to ignore the newly successful M to play pool with his boys? Honey, you turn in your Keith Haring heels and march right over to that cute photographer, put that jaunty little beret on and show him who's boss. The HIM being both of them, of course.

Burnin' Up - It wasn't the song or the chorus so much as the bridge that I can quote with fervent enthusiasm "oh! do you want to see me down on my knees? I'm bending over backwards, now would you be pleased? Unlike the others I'll do anything. I'm not the same, I have no shame, I'm on.. FIRE!"

Love Don't Live Here Anymore - angst! Tonic to the lovelorn ears of a young teen! The original better than the '95 remake. Notable for the first time she performed with an orchestra.

Material Girl - what I loved about this was the fact the small-minded reactionary critics just didn't get it. The whole premise of the song was the fact she wasn't materialistic, backed up by the video. Loved her candy box pink dress in the video, I want it still. Guess that makes me a material girl.

Angel - light as air and frothy as a dream confection, this song instantly takes me back to 1984.

Get Into the Groove - from Desperately Seeking Susan, it's not about boys, it's just about dancing and having a good time.

Crazy for You - has been mentioned here in the past for a reason. Saturday night dances at school. Hanging out in the parking lot after work, swaying together but not exactly dancing.

Open Your Heart - I can remember the first time I heard it, with Eric and Maria. We were at Eric's house anticipating the debut of the new video and we exploded just like a gaggle of excited teens in an after school special.

Papa Don't Preach - I doodled swatch watch designs based on her "Italians Do It Better" look.

She never looked more beautiful. *sigh*

La Isla Bonita - my favorite song off the True Blue album, quite possibly one of my favorite songs ever. I tried for months to get the shoulder roll and knee sink down perfectly.

Causing a Commotion - from the movie Who's That Girl? Great animated opening by indie darling artist turned musician April March. She opened the Who's That Girl tour with this song, super fun. I wish I still had the concert tee, with it's eyeballs on each breast.

Like a Prayer, the album - I had to do it like this, because when I started line listing songs, I listed the whole thing. This album is a collection of bold statements, soul-baring ballads, odes to mom, confessions of spousal abuse, frothy love songs, sexy love songs, a child's tune and a bizarre confession of arguing with a hotel desk clerk. I can still smell the patchouli from the cassette case.  Deeply personal album for me, it saw me through some of the most tumultuous times in my life, romantic and otherwise.

Now I'm Following You - a cool mix of big band song samples from the soundtrack set to modern dance grooves, I STILL want to do a skating number to this song.

Vogue - badass.  

Justify My Love - It's Madonna in black and white writhing in lingerie, while Lenny Kravitz sings off camera somewhere. Ripe for parody, I remember one too many drunken nights sliding down a wall while declaring "I want to run naked in a rainstorm..."  She parodied it herself on SNL, with Wayne and Garth. Schwing!

Rain - Erotica was the first time a Madonna project made me pause and think "I don't think I can take this journey with you love." Rain, however, was a lush yet dark ballad that felt like a thunderstorm, a contradiction of dark and light.  

This Used to Be My Playground - a warm transition from the coldness of Erotica, this song comes from one of my favorite movies, A League of Their Own, in which M played All the Way Mae.  

Human Nature - a middle finger to her critics, M's rallying cry was loud and clear "express yourself, don't repress yourself." Point taken.  

Take a Bow - one of my all time favorite Madonna tunes. It's beautifully orchestrated, with a compelling storyline in the video. I don't think she has ever sounded better vocally.  

Bedtime Story - I've always thought this was Madonna at her Bjorkiest, and was delighted to see the crazy singer from Iceland actually wrote it for her. The video is trippy, and the vocals hypnotic.  

Ray of Light - a joyful tune reflected in the birth of Madonna's daughter and her worldview. A radical changed from the usual dance pop. Man, this thing exploded when it came out.  

Frozen -  creepy new-aged Madonna, a song that evokes Madonna as a goth, a cloak turning into black birds, and warring Russian ice dancers. No matter how long it has been, I will always associate Grishuk and Usova to this song, complete with hair pulling and drink throwing. Forget Basketball Wives, let's see a reality show around combative Olympic Ice Dancers. And, um, Maia and Pasha -- was Zhulin really worth it?

Candy Perfume Girl - Another song for her daughter, a song that while I don't recall any lyrics, the chorus and it's hypnotic chant is currently running on a loop in my head. Girl...boy...girl...boy.

Romp with an international man of mystery, yeah baby!

Beautiful Stranger -  M's contribution to the Austin Powers franchise, it's a little bit 60s mod, a little bit comedy, and a whole lot of fun. Went to see this with my friend Brian during those summer Friday half days at the Bulb. I think it was 106 degrees outside when we saw this.

Music - another instance where I thought maybe Madonna was following a trend instead of creating it, with the guest rappers, cowboy punk and bling. Catchy tune.   

Die Another Day - Madonna is a Bond Girl!  

Hung Up -  Disco Queen Madonna, complete with leotards, leg warmers and an ABBA sample. By this time, my interest in her output has completely waned, but at this point, it is beside the point. Her place in the annuals of pop music firmly in place, with a now-respectable member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and her influence reaching sublimely across the years through acts such as Adele