Category Archives: Zeitgeist

I Wanna Rock With You: The Michael Jackson memory filter

I never had my own pair of roller skates with hand-made pink baby pom-pons draped over the laces. I don’t remember wanting them. The scuffed gray rentals with faded red stoppers on the toes were good enough. United Skates of America (USA) was a dim place, and the nuclear orange, black-lit flames of the “Disco Inferno” balcony where couples would go and look down at the skaters were far more mesmerizing than anything you could wear on your feet.

We were a displaced, split-up family, displacing our cousins out of having their own bedrooms for a summer while mom looked for a job and a place where she, my brother and I could live in Ohio. The chance to live with our cousins seemed like a dream come true for my brother and I, but it was as hard as it was fun. We became a house of five kids and three adults who sang a lot of “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge and “Boogie Oogie Oogie” by a Taste of Honey in the living room. We drew chest hair on brown grocery bags, wore them like tank tops and danced to “Macho Man” by the Village People for our parents, who laughed hysterically with their hands over their faces. We all fought about stupid things. My mom left my brother and I there for a couple of weeks while she packed up our childhood house on the Jersey shore because she didn’t think we should see it empty. I got in trouble for putting my fingers too close to the electric egg beater when my aunt made a cake. We made massive forts out of bar stools and blankets. I turned 9. We put shoes on our knees and sang “Short People” by Randy Newman (really, what kid didn’t in 1979?).

We got to go roller skating at USA, where it seemed like nighttime no matter what time it actually was. We did laps together, holding hands in a line when Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” came on. We were too young to care about boyfriends and girlfriends so when couples ironically paired off under the disco ball lights during “She’s Out of My Life” my cousins and I skated into the island in the middle of the rink and pretended to sob along with Michael. My aunt or uncle bought “Off the Wall” on vinyl and it gave us a new crop of summer anthems to dance to until my mom started a job and found us a brick house with a lime green master bedroom and a neighbor dog named Thor.

My brother had the jacket from the “Beat It” video and he made awesome, tough-guy faces when he wore it. I remember MTV (and therefore my girlfriends and I being 13 or so) treating the time Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire during a video shoot like the most important breaking news story of our time. I remember watching him moonwalk for the first time on the Motown tribute show and feeling like it looked way more magical than anything Doug Henning had ever mustered. I joined a record club without my mom’s permission soon after that so I could have the 4-record 25 years of Motown collection and boy, I got in some big time trouble but boy, do I still love that music.

I remember thinking “We Are the World” meant that celebrities were good, generous people. And seeing the weird Captain EO movie at Epcot when I was 16 and at Disneyworld for the first time. And pretending that “Man in the Mirror” would inspire my friends and I to march on Washington in college. And thinking that the King of Pop was tragic. And thinking he was crazy. That he was a jerk when I read about how he bought the rights to the Beatles catalog out from under Paul McCartney. And how much I loved his face on the cover of “Off the Wall” and wished that he did too.

In the mid-90s, I was the only female among a bunch of reporters that showed up at a strip bar where his sister LaToya lip-synched to a recording of herself, singing his hits and some kind of Casio-driven medley of Edith Piaf songs. The entire audience was press because it was also the night of the NCAA finals, except for some kids in the parking lot who begged the police officers there to get an autograph for them. The cops obliged, which was kind of dear but also weird. Being that one degree from Michael seemed like the real thrill the kids were seeking.

I was surprised how sad I felt when I heard about MJ’s untimely demise today. I had just watched my son spend the afternoon with his cousins – hugging, swimming, laughing hysterically, sneaking candy and having important arguments over whether “good guy” balls made out of wool felt should be flushed down a fake toilet (also made of wool felt, and actually a bowl) or not. I drove him home just before a chain of thunderstorms hit the house, hugged his dad, cranked up “I Wanna Rock With You,” on the stereo and danced with them the way I did when I had fake chest hair in my cousins’ living room.

[dailymotion id=x1a243_michael-jackson-rock-with-you_music&related=1]
Michael Jackson – Rock with you
Uploaded by Discodandan. – See the latest featured music videos.

What do your memories look like when you see them through the Michael Jackson filter?

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The art of being a kid

We cracked two eggs a few weeks ago, separated the yolks into two bowls and added green food coloring to one, purple to another. Declan swirled a paintbrush in each and went wildly at a sheet of watercolor paper two-handed.

“You’re like Giotto,” I told him. “Hundreds of years ago, most painters used eggs.”

The cacophony of swirls on his paper was the planet Jupiter, he told me. We hung it on the fridge and admired the shininess of the paint even after it dried.

Last week, we went through several of his paintings from home and school to choose one to frame for KidzArtz, a local event put on by Mother Artists at Work. We have a whole series of wild ones called “The Big Bang” and several named after a variety of nebulae. Lately, he’s been making pictures with unpredictable names like “Saturn Falling Apart” and “A Comet Raising Into an O.” He chose the eggy Jupiter.

I’m grateful to have an event like KidzArtz in our community. The only criteria for entering a work of art to exhibit was to be a kid, be registered and pay $1 per piece, so we submitted three. When we dropped off “Just Jupiter,” the painting, as well as two framed photo series: “Arrow, Dinosaur, Take a Picture of Your Foot,” and “Look at yourself in the glass, Daddy and Megan and the City,” the mother artists oohed and aahed over his submissions and listened to him talk about them a little.

At the event, all of the kids got a strip of stickers to show their appreciation for other kids’ art. It was a great mechanism for getting Declan to contemplate someone else’s work – he had already pulled off a snake sticker and tacked it onto the panel next to a painting called “Two Suns” before we realized it was made by a good 4-year-old friend. That surprise discovery – of liking something before you even realized you knew its creator – was so exciting to him, I think he ended up showing more people his friend’s paintings than his own.

He waited patiently for a very long time in three-year-old terms to get his face painted exactly the way he wanted it (very David Bowie circa Aladdin Sane, his dad and I thought). He put on a hat and stethoscope and held an inflatable guitar to have pictures taken by GroovyDoodle, whose proprietors wisely brought all kinds of stuff for kids to put on and ham in front of the camera with. But when we tried to watch some of the kids performances, he wept inconsolably, crying “but I wanted to perform,” which I honestly didn’t see coming at all.

I don’t suppose there’s much risk that Declan will grow up without an appreciation for the arts – he was born into a family full of people that perpetually write about, teach, consume, create and actively think about these things. But I can’t understate the value of having a place, even for just one day a year, where he is able to be appreciated for his creative mind by peers (and some adults who actually know how to listen to kids), without the structure of a contest, marketing formula or some other imposed standards.

I wish more children’s events were like this one. Thank you, Mother Artists at Work!

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I watched the news move in waves through Twitter and blog feeds last night and this morning, that this spirited little girl with wide, silent movie star eyes didn’t make it through yesterday. And with every word of condolence, every prayer, every request for a donation in her name, I can’t escape the feeling that nothing can possibly be enough.

Rest in peace Madeline Alice Spohr. Although, like so many of us, connected through cyberspace, I only knew you in pixels as a visitor of your mother’s blog, your short life was clearly celebrated tenderly, daily by your loving family.

The family is asking for donations to the March of Dimes in her name. There is also a Paypal account set up for the family for any further expenses. Visit here to find out more.

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Awesome thing my son said, #11,987

A few weeks ago, he met a little girl named Lucy on the playground. He looked at her wide-eyed, then leaned over to me and asked:

“Mommy… she’s not the one in the sky with diamonds, is she?”

(He loves Sgt. Pepper. He used to ask me to sit and cuddle him while he listened to “She’s Leaving Home.” He’d hang his head sadly and say “Mommy, the baby is gone!”)

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I laughed at this

I’m a bit off today, so I’m going to phone it in with this post. I loved this SNL sketch last weekend. It may be the last time I laugh at anything on SNL this season, but this was just too, too good for you to miss if you didn’t see it.

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The possibilities of a painting


My brother and I grew up looking at this painting. I remember laying on the shag carpet in the family room when I was a kid, staring up at it. It informed the ways that we each made our first pieces of art. I remember sculpting and drawing people that looked like these for as long as I could draw. My brother has, at different points, asked if we could share it, if it could live with him for a while. His wife has told me she’d rather we didn’t. She’s very content to see at my house and not hers. My husband wouldn’t mind if we saw it at theirs. I guess having an affinity for it must be genetic.

Declan was looking at it this morning. He decided the pink circle must be the moon. I asked him what else he saw in the painting.

“I don’t know, what is it?” he asked.

“Well, this a painting. A painting can have whatever you see in it,” I said. “There’s no right or wrong.”

My son, who has a touch of perfectionism that makes him want the right answer most of the time, seemed freed by this. He started pointing at different things, explaining what they could be. (I put several of his comments in notes of the image on flickr. If you click through, you can see how he describes it.)

In fact, this painting was made by a nun. It depicts her survival of sexual abuse. I never saw this in it. It never felt that menacing or sad to me. I was much older when I learned its origin, and still, I find a sense of strength and joy in it.

I’ve got to make sure I get my son to look at art more often. It’s liberating.

Copyright Tracy Zollinger Turner,, 2009.

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A poignant, uncomfortable prayer

This opening prayer for the inaugural festivities, given by Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, was left out of the broadcast yesterday, apparently due to a miscommunication between Obama’s planning committee and HBO. To make up for the mistake, it will be rebroadcast before tomorrow’s ceremonies (at least for the couple million people who are at the event).

In case they don’t share it on the networks tomorrow or you miss it, here’s the YouTube version. It’s a sobering, poignant and uncomfortable prayer:


And here’s something precious to think about on this National Day of Service: 30 Things I Believe by a little boy named Tarak McLain who has already become quite a community activist at age seven. I recommend listening to the brief broadcast so you can hear his voice.

I hope you’ve had a wonderful Martin Luther King Day. Here’s a look back at a little mural in an urban Columbus neighborhood that shines a little light on the hopes that Dr. King and our new President have inspired.

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Aspiration: Read more, read well

I produce and ingest hearty portions of all of the major Internet food groups daily: tweets, shared items and updates on Facebook, a wide variety of blogs and news aggregators. From any of those starting points, the web can go on and on and on. Sometimes that leads to the sublime or the merely entertaining, but sometimes it gives me the same feeling I invariably get if I dare to visit the snack counter at the movie theater. When there’s too much junk in what I read, I see it in what I write, and how I feel – sort of intellectually bloated and greasy, with way more butter than I was expecting.

One of the easiest tasks I’ve assigned myself on the quest for imperfection in 2009 is to walk away from the chutes and ladders of the web and over to a chair and ottoman that I’ve cleared off for myself, where I can read actual books with pages and ink beneath the glow of a warmly shaded lamp. And especially books that aren’t carved into multiple essays, which have been the ones I’ve had the most hope of finishing in the last year or two. I can be enormously popular in my house, thereby often unable to complete my own sentences, let alone read anyone else’s.

So I’m trying to find things that are nourishing – not necessarily new or topical or even about things that I’m interested in. What I want to read is good writing that glides and bounces and pivots and moves. If the most lyrical book that I can find is about slime mold, then I will read about slime mold.

I’ve started with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, which is open and friendly and airy, and has been a nice transition from erratic essay reading, since she’s written it as though it was a string of prayer beads from a Meditation Mala. And it’s about a woman in her 30s on a quest for self-discovery, therefore not really remote to me (like slime mold) at all.

But I have a stack of three books that have been nagging me to read them for years – books that I couldn’t bring myself to look at as a pregnant woman or a new mom. I already felt vulnerable in a way that made me cry at insurance commercials and unable to read too far beyond headlines for a long time after the 2004 election. I didn’t want cynicism or anger or fear in the placenta or the breast milk, so I went cold turkey on my news junkie ways. I turned away from violent movies and shows and stories. Sad ones too.

Besides, I worked as an observer in a couple of the district’s poorest urban high schools during these years. My child was nearly lead poisoned. My very kind and loving dog went through miserable pain with bone cancer before we had to make the awful decision to let him go. My husband lost his business of 20 years to little more than greed. There has been plenty of death and illness in our family, and a few deaths among friends, particularly those who couldn’t beat the demons of substance abuse. So… reading tales of loss and tragedy hasn’t seemed like it would be particularly appealing or cathartic or helpful, no matter how compelling the narrative.

But now my boy is a preschooler and we know how much of nothing and everything that we are in the face of the universe. And we have a new president coming in who wants to steer us away from oblivion instead of into it headlong. And so I can be brave again in the face of literature, particularly the non-fiction variety that I tend to prefer.

I can read By Her Own Hand by Signe Hammer – the memoir of a woman whose mother inexplicably killed herself. I read an excerpt of the book a few years back and the imagery and rhythm of the prose startled me – not in its pain, but its buoyant childhood images. And I can read Newjack by Ted Conover, who worked undercover as a prison guard at Sing Sing for a year, and whose New Yorker essay “Trucking through the AIDS belt” has been haunting me for years, because of one person he drew vividly in that story, and the choppy rhythm of those African roads.

And then, most frighteningly, I may read The Disappearance: A Primer of Loss, by Genevieve Jurgensen, who had two daughters that were killed instantly in a car accident in 1980. I heard her read an excerpt from the book on public radio (maybe on This American Life?) soon after becoming a mother myself and I nearly threw up, so I think I need to read it.

I’m also piecing through Mark Bittman’s Food Matters because I read that it was the most practical book about environmentally conscious food buying and preparation out there. And I plan to read a few of the stories in the traditional Blue Fairy Book to remind myself what fairy tales were to me as a girl, because they didn’t always have happy endings or clear-cut heroes and villains. I may reread A Wrinkle in Time because it’s been 25-30 years since the last time and I don’t remember it so well. And chances are good that I’ll use one of my next coupons on one of James Morrow’s book, because I love me some complicated religious science fiction/humor.

And so, if, by any chance, you’ve made it all the way through this long-winded post, tell me: What book(s) have you read, whether it was last week or twenty years ago, that had a profound influence on your sense of language? If you had to pick a couple of the books that most made you want to write (or to read more), what would they be? Have you ever met a book with a subject that you thought would bore you, but instead, it ended up making you turn off your phone so that you could read it in peace?

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My brain hurts

Last night, Dan and I went out to see Citizen Cope. Since we were told (on what we thought was good authority) when the show would start, we thought we had everything taken care of for our first time out alone together to see live music in ages.

We arrived to a nightclub door still sealed over an hour after it was supposed to be opened, froze in line a for several minutes behind a smoking guy and a spitting guy. (What gives, spitting guy? You didn’t seem to be chewing tobacco, just spitting every 45 seconds.) We got in and looked around at the crowd. Five years ago, at a show like this, we would have known gobs of people. This time, it was two people. We just stared at boys in knit hats and the $70(!) sweatshirts for sale and the malingering guy with the Lowe’s race car jacket. We leaned on the embossed, cracked, gold-painted plaster behind us and shaded our eyes from the illuminated advertisements all over the room.

About an hour and forty minutes later than we were told the show would start, it started. So we stayed for about forty-five minutes and left, having heard several songs we like, save one (sun is misspelled on the playlist – it’s meant to be son):

The bass was too loud. The neighbors were nice enough to babysit, but they have jobs & can’t stay up all night on a Sunday. I know there are people who could tell us stories about the times that shows didn’t start when they expected at my old man’s old live music joint, but he would have apologized. Mostly, I’m old.

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