Not my type

“How about this one?” I hand my younger daughter a book. We are setting forth on a long weekend and she will need reading material. How could she have read all her books?

“No,” she says, without hesitation, “I don’t like books about animals who defend their territory.”

It was like a friend’s explanation, in college, of why she detested Sea World: I hate fish who do tricks.

“Oh,” my daughter says later when we are questioning her about this specific dislike. “It’s a whole category of books: cats, mice,” she sighs. “Animals fighting.”

How useful to have such a handy response.

“I don’t like U-boat movies,” is actually a phrase I have had cause to resort to. U-boats or submarines, any kind of underwater vessel. Or movies set in prisons. Or TV shows about tanks. I don’t like surrealist plays or minimalist sets. I would not go to a ballet about a political struggle.

“I don’t like animals that have,” my daughter struggles to hurdle the world, “civilizations.”

She would reject Animal Farm, a book I read multiple times at her age, and Watership Down, which I remember as really violent. Are peaceful civilizations okay? Is it a rejection of animals who talk or just animals who are involved in warfare? While a part of me totally gets what she means, another part of me realizes that I have no idea where these ideas come from or how they will develop.

When she was little, her rejecting word was “none.” None animals. None carrots. None shoes. Now she is more subtle. She prefaces her judgment with the words, “To tell you the truth.”

In the middle of writing this, my mother-in-law says she is in need of a Monet water lilies poster to hang on the wall in the upstairs bedroom of the house where we are spending the end of fall break. I Google this for her and one of my search results is a blog called Stuff White People Like, which gets us off task, but is funny. The site lists Banksy at #129.

In one window I can type Monet into the MoMA search box, and in another window I can read about the nuances of buying a Banksy coffee table book at Urban Outfitters. I can laugh about how museum gift shops are a virtual mall for those Art 105ers I mocked in college, how their budding conventionalism started with buying Impressionist posters at the college store. And in the other window, I can become one of them, as a favor. And then I can blog about it. And keep laughing.

Posters can be found under a category called Wall Art, as per the naming convention on the three online museum shops I visited. Is it because poster doesn’t cover small frameable prints and you can’t call posters art? I have a hunch this is an American thing, a simultaneous discomfort with culture and crassness. Neither the Tate nor the National Gallery shy away from the term poster.

I buy a T-shirt of Stuff White People Like, because it has a combination of things I like and combines self-mockery with self-satisfaction. Perhaps when I put it on my head will explode.

A little while later, the doorbell rings. It is the UPS man with a large package, a framed, abstract watercolor.

To tell you the truth, I like it better than the Monet. The serpentine shapes correspond to the floral stems of the wall paper and it has the same colors.

My husband asks his mother, “If I buy you a William Christenberry poster, will you hang that instead?”

Later that morning we go to a Native American festival. Cherokee dancing is scheduled to be happening so we head for the stage. We see a man dressed in a tunic, moccasins and buckskin leggings with a long, black braid. We ask him where the dancing is. “It’s this way,” he says. “I am one of the dancers.”

“Then we’ll follow you,” my husband says.

“Well,” he says, “Right now, I’m going to the restroom. But if you keep walking that way, it’s straight ahead.”

A youngish fit woman in stretchy black trousers and a plain white shirt and a large camera is hurrying alongside us. “Can I take your picture?” she asks the dancer.

“No,” he says, “but I’ll be performing in a few minutes.”

“But I’d really like to take your picture now,” she persists.


“With the children.”

Then: “It’s for a school project.”

He doesn’t break his stride, declines again, keeps moving, headed as he is to the restroom, leaving her indignant and maybe, offended, though not in the SWPL #101 sense of it, when all she is doing is attempting #20 (“Being an expert on YOUR culture”) and being a Good Mother.

Out on the field we notice a number of expensive strollers, toddlers with bags of tiny carrots and organic juice. A small girl with stripy tights and a golden afro is being spoken to in French. University professor families, we surmise. Too groovy for local, too well-equipped for graduate students. It could have been Queen’s Park, NW10.

A lot of people have thought to bring their own chairs (see previous post on the ubiquity and usefulness of the folding chair in Alabama) and it was a long way to the parking lot in the blazing sun. We actually do have a chair in our trunk, but it is a vintage one we had found at the flea market. It is too heavy for an ironic prop.

Chairless and hatless, after watching a family-friendly version of the bear dance, we retire to the cool gloom of the recently remodeled museum.

As my eyes adjust to the light, I notice the crowd inside. Men, women and children all dressed in crimson T-shirts and Bama caps. It is a game day. They wear their 2009 National Champions commemorative shirts tucked in. But there are other T-shirts in the mix, one on a grizzled bikerish white man with a tattoo-style scroll that says Trail of Tears, that I think is in questionable taste (#101, Being Offended). Another wears a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert T.

It is a strange cocktail of cultures and tribes: the Bama fans amid the interactive displays, against a backdrop of elaborate feather capes and ceremonial vessels. And behind it all the curved glass wall of the café and gift shop, the sound of the milk steamer, the books, the jewelry, the massage oil, polished stone animals.

Back out into the sun and the dust, the girls are loosed upon the craft market. We watch the hipsters in festival shirts and matching fuchsia hair; pale teen girls in black Bama gear with their parents; the earnest, hiking sandal shod. The lines have blurred. It’s like the windows I had open on my laptop that morning–one selling Wall Art, another doing a cultural deconstruction of the readership of art books–have multiplied and morphed and now everyone actively embraces and defies categorization and stereotypes.

It is good that my daughter knows her mind so well, but type means everything and nothing. Somewhere, already, there must be an animal who commands a territory that is worth defending and worth reading about.


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