Monthly Archives: December 2012

the twixt-finger squishiness of papier-mâché


This may sound a bit hypocritical, given that I’m writing to you on a phone over a wireless signal in a darkened bedroom, but – my Christmas and non-denominational wish for all of you is this: take a holiday from social media. That means Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all of it.

I realize some of you are very good at it, receive an enormous amount of affirmation, feel “connected” with your greater tribe, and that’s awesome. But don’t forget the “medium” part of social media, which is a beast that we have all been powering with our own sweat equity for 5 years now. Just. Take. A. Break.

I’m not even going to ask you in an interesting way, nor am I even going to put a random image on this entry in order to guarantee FB click-throughs. I’m just going to politely suggest actually looking at the people next to you, your kin, the smells of a skipped shower, the arch of a single eyebrow across a table, the tone of voice that says a word in a funny yet sad, yet also defensive, and somehow self-knowing way.

Tammy wrote something fascinating the other day, a phrase we learned in middle internet history but always forget: if you are paying nothing for a service, you are the product. My generation has spoken precious little in the great American conversation so far, but we’ve always been sensitive to being sold, and that instinct shouldn’t leave us now that we need it most.

Remember those art teachers we had as kids, the ones we made fun of, but secretly loved, with their paper plates, rubber cement and dry elbow macaroni? They accidentally got it right; the brilliant conversation over a secondary activity. I plan on making some messy stuff with my daughter and her cousins over the next five days, and I hope you will have a wonderful holiday and join us in spirit.

explic the inexplicable


Ian, Tessa and Lucy sit at Real Food Daily, a restaurant in Santa Monica on Sunday night. It has been two days since the shootings in Newtown, CT, and the two parents had agreed to talk about it before school started the next day.

Lucy has just finished her piano recital and is making slurping noises with her straw.

TESSA: So, sweetie, we wanted to talk to you about something that happened in the news-

IAN: -before you hear anything about it at school.

LUCY: Was it a really bad thing?


LUCY: Was it about someone who had guns and stuff and killed a lot of people?

Ian and Tessa glance at each other with a “what the fuck? how the hell-” look

IAN: Wait, you know about it already?

LUCY: Yes.

TESSA: How? Did somebody say something at the party yesterday?

LUCY (nonchalantly): Yeah. CeeCee said that someone started shooting everyone with a gun and there were kids and it was just awful.

Ian and Tessa glance at each other again, now with a “this is EXACTLY what we were trying to avoid” look

TESSA: What else did she say?

LUCY: That’s it. What really happened?

TESSA: Well, a 20-year-old guy went into a school, and started shooting people.

LUCY: Were there kids?

TESSA (solemnly): Yes.

LUCY: What happened to the guy?

TESSA: He died.

LUCY: The police shot him?

IAN: He shot himself before they could.

Ian immediately regrets this slightly, as they have purposely not covered suicide in the List of Things People Do.

LUCY: Were the kids older or younger?

IAN: Than you?

TESSA: A little bit younger.

Both parents know this to be only barely true.

LUCY: If he had come into our school with those guns, someone would have tackled him down.

TESSA: That’s right, sweetie.

LUCY: We would have seen that he was a stranger, and hidden away where he couldn’t find anybody.

TESSA: Absolutely.

IAN: That would be a great plan.

LUCY: Why did he do it?

TESSA (pause): He was – not right. He was an upset guy. He wasn’t normal and didn’t see the world the right way.

IAN: But the important thing is this – we wanted to tell you what happened. Any information you get from someone in class-

TESSA: -or at recess…

IAN: …or at recess-

TESSA: Because you might discuss it in class, with the teachers, and that’s okay.

IAN: Right. But when these things happen, there’s always a lot of rumors and we want you to come to us if there’s anything you want to know.

Lucy looks out the window, makes more noise with her straw.

IAN: The three of us, we’ve lived through history, right? Some pieces of history have been great, like when we all went to Washington D.C. to see Barack Obama become President. Some things were hard to understand, like when they captured Osama bin Laden.

LUCY: Obama and Osama sound the same. Obama. Osama. It’s only one letter different.

TESSA: That’s true.

IAN: But this is a really bad bit of history. There’s all kinds of history, and when we can tell you, we want you to know what’s going on.

LUCY: Yeah.

IAN: Here are two important things to know about what happened in Connecticut. Number one-

LUCY: Number one is guns are horrible and awful and terrible and they should all be destroyed forever.

IAN (pause): Okay, so make that three things. You thought of the first. But the second thing to know is that events like this are really, really rare.

TESSA: It’s not something you need to worry about.

IAN: It’s like “supernova in the sky” rare. (pause) The third thing is this… this event might actually make the country change for the better. We might get to make new laws.

TESSA: Barack Obama even got on TV and said that something like this should never happen again.

IAN: So now we can pass some laws that will make it so it never happens again.

Both Tessa and Ian know that “never” is impossible, but a tragedy this horrible needs some closure, some sense that this kind of madness is finite

TESSA: How are you feeling, sweetie?

LUCY: Good. But I have a question.

TESSA: What is it, my darling girl?

Lucy takes a long, long pause.

LUCY: Are we getting dessert?

Ian and Tessa glance at each other with a look they’ve employed hundreds of times over the last seven years: “well, that’s about the best we can do here for now.”



at our most tender


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my brother Sean and my wife Tessa at 6 years old

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my nephew Lucas, and my bro-in-law Jon at 6

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my brother Kent at 6; my dad at 6


Barnaby, who turned 6 on Saturday

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my sister Michelle and my nephew Sean Patrick at 6

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my brother Steve at 6; me at 6

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my mom at 6; my daughter Lucy at 6

We are all of us, a group of 6-year-olds who somehow made it. We stand together against a culture that allows something like this to happen to someone our age, and our hearts go out to the ones who don’t get to go on any further.

If you have one, post a picture of you – or yours – at six, because we were all there, and our most vulnerable parts never leave us.

[And now, more… Send them to me (by email or FB) and they’ll join us here! – ed.]


Caitlin and Milena at 6


the lovely Kate’s Will and cousin Justin discussing being 6


from Lara: Mia at 3 joins Mallory at 6


Rebecca D’s triplets(!) at 6 for Late Night with Roy(!)


Sean M. padded for adventure at 6


my wonderful old friend Nicole at 6

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Nick and Julia at 6, courtesy of Shannon V.


oh my god! Chip at 6!


Sharon F. at 6 – that clown painting gave me nightmares in middle school!

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Sharon’s Benjamin, Lilah and Noah, all at 6


Heath’s daughter Leah at 6 years old

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aha! Jody at 6 – not to be confused with daughter Mischa at 6


Hi Liz Mann! your Sarah at 6

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KSA’s trifecta: Ella, Hannah and Charlie, all at 6


Rebecca and Matthew’s Henry at 6 – go redheads

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…and their Sarah and Ethan, also at 6

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Michelle H., then her daughter Hayley at 6


let us not forget NC’s own Alvis D. at 6

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commenting fave JJE at 6, and her son mid-pool at 6


my Purple Housemate Matt’s son Max at 6


photographer Deb A. herself pictured at 6


sparring partner Matt H. at 6, holding sister

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Julie SP’s Jake loses a tooth, and Alex cheers for Carolina at 6 years old

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Bridget takes time off cheering for Franco Harris and Mean Joe Green; Keely rocks a peacock, both at 6 years old


Emma at 6…

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…then her Mary Emma and Frederick at 6

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Diana F’s Alexandra and Matthew at 6 (don’t us redheads look like royalty?)

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Salem’s li’l Lillie-Anne at 6 (I believe I was at this event!) – and our Neva gives us Eden at 6


hey, it’s Lisa in Maui at age 6!


fans of Charlotte W. simply must enjoy her en quatrième ouverte à six ans


one of my favorite directors Amy RS gives us Ronen at 6

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Erik F. swingin’ at 6; Carey F’s son just shy of 6

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6-year-old equestrienne Katie (SLS) and her son Ben at 6

i want the one with kung-fu grip and eagle eye


Hey, what do you want for Christmas?

I’m not promising anything, but I just might get one of you something you ask for.

Why? WHY NOT? Consider it a mitzvah. Or a raffle. Or a slightly creepy, oddly-controlling, yet ultimately fun act of random oblation.

You’re much more likely to be the winner if it’s something really cool, bizarrely interesting, or if it’s something that I might want to play with too.

Go for it! It’s the season for getting!


[UPDATE: okay, the real reason is that I found $27 that wasn’t mine, so I gave online to the Hurricane Sandy relief effort but still have the cash, so I thought it’d be an additional little fun Xmas tiding… but MAN some of these ideas are cool! – ed.]

the cramps greatest hits


If there was a bigger day for our family in recent history, I can’t imagine what it was, for here on 12/12/12, my sister gave birth to Alexander Steven Williams-Vaden on our mom’s 81st birthday!!!


I know Facebook takes all the timely thunder out of such things (remember when you had to read someone’s blog to get breaking news?) however, you must remember, status updates disappear into the internet’s toilet – but these pages? These pages are forever, baby!

Congrats to my bro-in-law Jon Vaden and my little sister Michelle… as well as newly-minted older brother Andrew Ian Williams-Vaden. And happy birthday Grandma! Lucy, Tessa and I send all our cousinly aunt-and-uncle love!

used to laugh and call him names


My brother Steve turned me on to the best general-knowledge podcast I’ve yet come across: In Our Time hosted by Melvyn Bragg. The topics range from the obvious (The Moon) to the arcane (Neoplatonism), but they’re always bizarrely compelling, and they’ve made Los Angeles traffic bearable for me. Each episode features three experts on any given subject. You’ll come for the learnin’, but stay for the accents: Northumberland shut-ins, Liverpudlian quark theorists with Asperger’s, German scientists who learned English in rural Scotland… I love them all.

If I had my own esoteric thinking-man’s podcast, I’d jack up the bass on my voice like an NPR poetry reviewer, settle into a comfy Eames chair, and call it “Let’s Dive Deeper Into… With Ian Williams”.

Today, Let’s Dive Deeper Into… Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Yes, the outcast that finds redemption in his most-maligned feature has been a staple of holiday lore since his introduction in a 1939 Montgomery Ward flyer. But is his story safe for kids?


At first blush, his tale is classic underdog-achieves-victory, roughly analogous to the “geeks” and “nerds” of yesteryear who have found social success in a new world reliant on technology. But while a modern meritocracy rewards good ideas and hard work, Rudolph is merely rewarded for a genetic quirk he had no control over.

Worse yet, the trait is physical, the way a woman would receive undue attention because of her chest. In essence, the nose was a solution waiting for a problem, one that inevitably came on “one foggy Christmas Eve”; surely it was only a matter of time before a light source like Rudolph’s was put to good use.

(As a side note, red would literally be the last color Santa would want to guide his sleigh; used in photographic darkrooms for a century due to its long wavelength and low energy, St. Nicholas’ team might be seen by other passing aircraft, but almost none of their forward progress would be illuminated.)

Study after study has shown that children who are praised for their hard work do better in school, and in fact, continue striving for excellence later in life. Those who are praised for being “smart”, or given kudos for a trait they supposedly possess, however, routinely struggle with academics and have higher rates of depression later on.

The key here is choice: one can always choose to work harder and more intelligently; but when a child is labeled and/or defined as “intelligent”, they start at a deficit. They’d rather give up than be rebranded a failure, or worse yet, a fraud.

This is the ultimate fate of Rudolph, who knows his worth lasts only as long as his nose does. He may already begin to suspect his fame will not “go down in history” as the song implies, but rather it will dim with time. After all, the lyrics do not mention Santa saying “Rudolph with your nose so weakly illuminated, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

And what of these other fair-weather reindeer friends? The Rudolph song is a study in swift plot movement; our protagonist finds mockery, a test, and victory all within a verse, a bridge, and a verse. It’s all too easy, the court of public opinion suddenly reversing itself to “then all the reindeer loved him”.

Life to Rudolph, as it may seem to most kids in the thrall of this carol, is a pretty fickle beast. How long will it be until they are all denied the reindeer games once more? One can hope that kids across the globe will join a better-integrated Rudolph, when they paraphrase the legions of women who deal with the lingering male gaze on a chest-high eyeline: “When will you, at long last, see past my parts – and see me?


thus bad begins, and worse remains behind


I am going to state one simple fact, and then you can be on your way. When I first heard this fact, I was sure I’d misheard it, because it doesn’t compute with anything I understand about our country. Here it is:

If you are convicted of a drug felony in the United States, you are banned FOR LIFE from receiving any food stamps, public housing, or monetary assistance.

Bear with me here. That means that even after you serve your ten years for selling marijuana, you are driven to a bus station, dropped off, and you can’t receive assistance for food and shelter for the rest of your fucking life.

That bit of punitive, cruel, sadistic bullshit was shoehorned into the 1996 Welform Reform Act under Clinton by Republicans who wouldn’t let it pass without it. If any of you think conservative savagery is a recent invention, you weren’t paying attention. I know I wasn’t.

This bit of barbarism is hard on everybody without bootstraps to pull up, but it’s especially brutal for African American women getting out of prison, who have NOTHING and NO HOPE WHATSOEVER. I mean, I thought “serving your time” meant that once you served your time, you served your time. Doesn’t this law just march people back to prison?

Enter Susan Burton. She started A New Way of Life Reentry Project, which is basically a group of houses where women can go after they’ve served their sentences, to regroup, look for work, and survive. And for those of you asking what Tessa has been doing lately, here you go.

She and Emma Hewitt have been trekking down to South Central LA to shoot a documentary about Susan for WIGS, the #1 channel for scripted drama on YouTube, all featuring female leads. Last night was a red carpet gala for the whole enterprise, and it was pretty smashing.



above, Emma and Tessa at the benefit; below, with Susan being interviewed by MTVu

I don’t think I’ve ever asked for charitable giving on this blog, because it’s not the place for it, and I don’t like telling anybody what to do. All I can say is that we sure as hell are giving to them, because Tessa has first-hand experience about where every dollar goes.

And if you’ve got a few minutes to spare, please watch Emma and Tessa’s documentary – and leave comments both here and on YouTube. Because this is the difference between me and my wife: I hear some injustice like this, and I get furious; she hears it, and makes a movie.

it’ll be just like a picture print


There are a few reasons we’ve been listening to an assload of Christmas music lately:

a) Tessa rediscovered the Sirius XM radio in her car and has it tuned to channels 4, 17, and 75

b) The Apple TV also has Xmas radio stations (although you have to wade through the “Religion” section to get them)

c) there’s an app called Christmas RADIO that has a pretty good worldwide selection of holiday music feeds.

As such, I will not bore you with the usual kvetching or fawning over certain songs, but simply add these thoughts to the conversation:

1. There’s more to “O Holy Night” than you might think. Bombastic, eye-rollingly over-the-top, and served up perfectly by “South Park”:

And yet, there I was at Lucy’s choral Christmas show, trying to force back tears as the entire chorus stood up at the precise moment they got to “Fall on your knees…” I suppose some drama is just unavoidable.

This song wasn’t allowed in French churches for decades because the writer of the original French lyrics actually disavowed Christianity and this song in particular. When I told that to Tessa (who loves this carol), she said “That makes sense – it was far too emotional to last.”

2. Depending on the version, “The Little Drummer Boy” is both the best and worst Christmas song there is. Whenever any normal version of TLDB comes on, I will find a way to change channels or mute the fuck out of it – my dad couldn’t stand it, and I can’t either. It’s just so goddamn twee, and brilliantly recalled in “Raising Arizona” when Evelle tells Gale, “He smiled at me!”

But the duet between David Bowie and Bing Crosby show you what a counterpoint melody and a bridge can do to an otherwise dreary ballad:

Just for kicks, here’s a picture of Tessa’s dad Blakey after a round of golf with Bing:


3. The best instrumental Christmas song arrangement is still the same. It’s the Camilli String Quartet’s version of Ah, Bleak and Chill the Wintry Wind and nothing comes close to its beauty.

4. The best instrumental Christmas song that had words grafted onto it later? It’s still the original Sleigh Ride from the Boston Pops Orchestra from 1949. Words were added a year later, and you can tell by the weird cadence of “These wonderful things are the things we remember all through our lives.” It’s a little like Bill Murray singing “Star wars, nothing but Star Wars…”

5. I think I like Amy Grant. I said it. It’s right here. I can no longer back away. I may have always liked her. Does that negate a year of Rumplemintz shots?


theoretically heroic


By now, many of you have already seen (or heard about) the picture of a man desperately trying to hoist himself out of the way of an oncoming New York subway train. His last few seconds were captured by a freelance photographer and splashed – of course – onto the front page of The New York Post with the headline “DOOMED”.

I’m not going to display it on my blog, but you can see the newspaper cover here. The photographer and the Post itself have been doubling down defending the picture, but I don’t know why the Post would bother – after all, they’ve been classless, racist, and beneath contempt for decades.

Perhaps discussing what is essentially a pre-snuff film is not helping things, but the picture does ask the immediate question: why didn’t the photographer help the guy up? R. Umar Abbasi said he was wearing too much gear, was too far away, wasn’t strong enough, and instead used his flash bulbs to warn the oncoming train. If you look at the picture, it seems like he was awfully close, but lenses and angles can be deceptive.

22 seconds passed between the time 58-year-old Ki-Suck Han was pushed onto the tracks and the train hit him. That is a fucking eternity in the heat of an adrenalized moment. If you were there, with the crazy homeless fucker still marauding about, and the train coming ever closer, what would you have done?

This incident strikes a chord with me for several reasons. The man was hit by the Q train, which was my train, on the southbound platform where Tessa and I stood every week on the way home from pre-marriage kickin’-the-tires couples therapy. I know that platform intimately, and used to watch the rats dodge the rodenticide boxes along the tracks.

The photograph freezes that moment in time when you can swoop in and save that poor man. It allows you the luxury of armchair quarterbacking those 22 seconds as you see fit, and it also recalls other moments in New York when you might have made a life-or-death decision.

Tessa swears that if I’d been working in the World Trade Center on 9/11, I would have ignored the intercom warnings to stay put, and gotten the fuck out of there. As it was, I’d worked across the street from the WTC until a few weeks before the attack, and was weirdly familiar with that environment as well.



the view out my office window, the day of the ticker-tape parade for the Yankees (blech) Nov 6, 2000

If I’d been in the 2nd tower, I’d like to think I’d have bolted during those 17 minutes before the 2nd plane hit. If there had been some massive explosion in the other tower, with debris and shit everywhere, and if I’d been up pretty high, the chances of me following the directions of a guy on an intercom would have been decidedly low.

I actually worked on the highest floor in the main part of the Woolworth Building, which afforded an “almost halfway up” view of the WTC towers a block away that was almost nauseatingly vertiginous. We were high enough up to feel somewhat celestial, but the towers were massively higher still. You cannot imagine how vulnerable it felt when you pressed your head against the window.

There is no way I would have stayed at my desk. Then again, there’s no way I would have been at my desk, because I would have been at least fifteen minutes late to work.

But this is all conjecture, an alternate reality where you get to bend space and time, and control all variables. We all want to think we would have made perfect decisions, because it gives us control over a fickle universe. It’s a childish response, without nuance, to suggest you would have done everything just right.

And this picture of a ill-omened man clawing to life at the edge of a subway platform brings up the same response. But man oh fucking man, it plays in my head right now, us standing on that same Q platform like we did every Tuesday, and like hell if I don’t see Tessa punching the crazy homeless fucker in the jaw while I hoist the man out of the trench just in goddamn time.


the smoochability of the attached earlobe



Hey, I was wondering: how many of you have little weird or recessive genetic quirks? Anything odd but non-life-threatening? Any weird part of your system that you know is rare?

You can be anonymous, if you wish. “Genetically, my boobs are awesome” – though very nice – will not be counted. Quirk away!