life as understood

by jeff carr, master of the arts, -------------------------------------------------------------------------- presumably from a couch


on instananeous aging, and its effects

courtesy of Jeff |

When I lived in Russia, I became witness to a fascinating phenomenon which I like to call "babafication" (бабафикация). That's pronounced BOB-ification, from the word babushka (бабушка), which is one of the two Russian words you already know. Babafication describes the process by which this

becomes this.
Notable is the rate at which this process occurs among Russian women. The above change represents something like a week or two tops, during which time the women must stay inside their apartments, because to my knowledge, no one has ever witnessed this transition, or in fact, any true middle ground between the two varieties of women. On a side note, it is unknown whether or not a similar process applies to Russian men, since there are no Russian men over 55.

Over the years, I've conducted a long, informal study on both sides of the Pacific, and I have my theories about why Russians age the way they do. That's not the point here. What fascinates me is the fact that babafication is much more than just a dizzying natural metamorphosis. Much of it appears to be, to some degree, voluntary.

* * *

Adam watches from his stroller as the tiger sharks swim overhead. He doesn't watch closely. I want him to, but he's still too young to appreciate such a sight. I watch for him, hoping he'll get a sense, through me, that he's witnessing something special.

When we talk about Adam's future, snapshots flash of a young man my age, but without any clear distinguishing features. It's nearly impossible for me to picture my son in any state other than baby, and yet, he'll move on eventually. I stroke his tiny fingers as he grasps one of mine, and it floors me to think that these very same fingers will be big someday, and will belong to a man who goes on dates, gets promoted, and grows crippled, hunched over with the weight of the world. I can't equate the baby with the man, or even older child, that he'll become. I can't equate myself with either my past or my future, either. These fingers can't be the same ones. It doesn't make sense.

* * *

Those that have spent time in Russia know that being a babushka entails much more than just being old. Babushki (pl.) possess enormous cultural importance in the motherland, and have for centuries. They are the consummate representation of the past, the stubborn link to a folkloric time on the steppe that, without them, may have vanished generations ago. Babushki somehow embody the in-born instinct of the Russian soul--not 60 but suddenly 600 years old, complete with all the wisdom, reserve, and longing tediously gathered over such a span.

The universal babushka wardrobe, conversely, can be assembled almost instantaneously. It's as rigid as the bristles on the crooked brooms they scrape with. Regardless of the season, the standard-issue outdoor babushka get-up begins with several layers of multicolored sweaters and dresses peering out from under a drab, scratchy overcoat, and accompanied by a scarf, felt boots, and the shawls that have come to symbolize them almost as a distinct race.

The question I've wondered for years is this: when do babushki decide it's time to don the uniform? What spark causes them to set out shopping for felt boots? And do they hunch and snort on the way to the boot market, or does that not happen until the bus ride home? The differences between Maria Sharapova and the axe-wielding matriarch are enormous, but the time gap is razor thin--comicially so. One day, one direction, the next day, another. Generations, states of mind separated so clearly, it may as well be law.

* * *

Deeper down in the Aquarium by the Bay, after the tiger sharks, a man peers into a tank. He wears a red 49ers cap and has a red 49ers tattoo on his right bicep, which is visible thanks to the manual removal of the sleeves from his red 49ers shirt. The physical characteristics of his face escape me, but what I see on his face will remain etched in my mind for many days. As he puts his hands on the rail and looks into the blue, I think I witness the exact moment he advances a generation and becomes old. Maybe this moment has lasted a month or two for him, or maybe I truly am beholding a once-in-a-lifetime realization. Either way, I've never seen a face bearing two opposing forces--the young and the old--in such desperate struggle. He is carefree and immature and then suddenly wizened. Suddenly it's no longer ok to wear a sleeveless shirt to the aquarium. Now he'll be embarrassed when he leaves.

* * *

I have to admit I'm not sure what all this means, these two approaches to aging. Maybe Russian women have it figured out, and they can pinpoint when this transformational moment will come, and thus mentally prepare for the instinctual migration to the felt boot market. Why fight it like so many western women attempt to? To me, the idea of a foreordained babafication ritual seems more graceful than the forced metamorphosis I see at the aquarium. It also seems possible that the anticipation and cultural expectation contribute to the babushki aging so quickly all at once, though.

Back in Russia, tangled up in these very questions, I also looked into the possibility that babushki are, in fact, a distinct race, and that they're born in their present form, just slightly smaller. It almost makes more sense.

I hope Adam stays tiny forever.


searching for teen wolf

courtesy of Jeff |

For quite a while now, possibly my entire life, I've been trying to be awesome. I mean, most of us have. We know the actually awesome people are the ones that don't have to try, but that doesn't stop us. It just forces us to be sneakier -- to cover our tracks so it doesn't look like we're trying so hard.

Since among my generation, Facebook is the ultimate medium by which awesomeness is not only conveyed, but oftentimes created (and destroyed), I have naturally spent careful hours over the past years tweaking my Facebook profile in calculated efforts to elevate my own stature. The ultimate goal of this, of course, is that in the event of a time warp in which we're all transplanted back to high school, I'll have a greater immunity from dorkitude than I did the first time around.

The Facebook profiles of awesome people are often characterized by extreme terseness -- they don't say much. One might conclude that this technique lends an air of mysteriousness to the subject, which we all know is attractive. More importantly, and not unrelated, is that the technique of virtual anti-verbosity lends the impression that one spends little time on Facebook, which is, of course, the equivalent of "not trying." See how this works? In the Facebook realm, as in literature, economy of words equals awesomeness. Ergo, my own profile tweakings almost always take the form of trimming the fat.

Trimming the fat used to be easy to do on the sly. Every so often, I'd log on, delete an unnecessary line or two, and the casual viewer was none the wiser. Much to my dismay, however, I discovered yesterday that Facebook has changed things up. Now not only does it publish on my wall every tweak I make, but it has removed the "remove" option, which means each tweak now enters permanent public record as a damning testament to my repeated attempts at awesomeness augmentation, a heinous crime.

In the context of the "wistful" or "pensive period" that has defined my recent thoughts, yesterday's debilitating revelation seemed destined to cast me deeper into the stagnant tidepool of unawesomeness. Then something else happened which may prove to reverse my fortunes entirely: I watched that shining beacon of modern cinema, 1985's Teen Wolf.

In the film, young Scott Howard seeks fervently after awesomeness, and due to an unexplained genetic anomaly, not only does he find it, but in his words, it "lands on [his] face." After the happy event, the remainder of the film is an unabashed chronicling of his awesomeness, as sampled in the following clip: here it is in Spanish (this level of awesomeness requires no translation).

The lesson here is clear. If an awesomeness of this gut-wrenching magnitude is achievable for one who wanted it as publicly as did Scott Howard, it might be achievable even for me. Not that he hasn't set the bar high. Until I'm doing backflips on top of a moving truck that bears my likeness, I may never know whether or not I've arrived at a commensurate level of awesome. I also have the added disadvantage of being subject to logical transitions, a backstory, and a plot without holes, none of which burdened young Scott.

More importantly, the wistful period is over. It may have made for more vogue, publishable memoir, but heaven knows that's not awesome.