Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Thank you for being my friends and for giving me all the things I have wished for you.
Friday, December 19, 2008
(Thanks for all the candles and good thoughts.)
Sunday, December 14, 2008
The twins are in a penis stage. They've started drawing figuratively - circle bodies with eyes, nose, mouth, stick arms and legs, and usually a penis. S. showed me her picture today and said, "This is me with a penis." I said, "But S., you don't HAVE a penis. You could draw yourself with a vagina...." To which she replied, "But I want to draw myself with a penis!" Oh that damn Freud.
I was gossiping with a friend today about an acquaintance who's a neat freak. I said, "Her house is so CLEAN!"
R. who was nearby said, "And our house is so, so, dirty!"
I was sitting with R & S on the sofa and R (R always brings these things up while S just listens and absorbs) said, "Miss D. is my birth mother, right? So what are you?" I answered that I was her "mother by law," which sounded to her like mother-in-law. i tried hard to explain the concept of law and what it had to do with moms and kids and love, but finally I just gave up.
At bed time, as I hugged and kissed R. goodnight, she sighed and said, "Whoever you are, I love you."
As I was out walking with R & S up the little commercial area in our neighborhood, I noticed out loud that the local gun shop had been replaced with a hotdog & beer shop. The girls asked if the old store had sold "real guns?"
"Yes, real guns," I said.
R said, "Well that's good, because hotdogs are better than guns."
I agreed. Then she added, "And beer is better than guns."
I agreed again. The S chimed in, "And getting drunk is better than getting killed!"
Sunday, December 7, 2008
(From froggyboggler's flickr file.)
Just a quick update. The husband's foot/health problems continue, and continue to worry me. And i got the nicest rejection letter ever from an agent. She said:
"...the plot is very unique and fully imagined, and I love the fact that Dorrie was able to create a loving and unconventional family for herself. I also think you did a really great job of grounding the manuscript in the Castro District – I always love when the setting is so vivid and three-dimensional that it feels almost like a character. I completely admire your imagination, and I can also tell that you have a love for San Francisco and for Asian culture – it informs the narrative and provides a nice sense of familiarity for the reader."
Anyway, what with hubby-related stress topped with publishing-related stress, I probably won't be writing much for a bit. But I did want to let you all know.
Monday, December 1, 2008
It's World AIDS day, and, as I often do even without this official marking of our losses, I'm thinking of all the friends I've lost to AIDS. Above is the section of the AIDS quilt that has my friend Micah Sabraw's name on it. He was an early death, and his was one of the first names on the AIDS quilt. But before that, he was small, lithe, and beautiful - with dark eyes and dark curly hair. He had perfect manners- writing thank you notes after any little thing you did for him - and a tender, generous heart. I was a devastated stray straight girl at the shattered end of a poisonous relationship. He took me under his wing, took me to clubs where I could dance my grief away with gorgeous men who would never hurt me. I felt so cossetted and cared for, so safe. I wish that it had been as safe for him. But how could anyone, in those heady days in San Francisco, know what was coming, what was already there? I remember standing with him at the top of Castro Street one evening. He turned to me and said, "Poor thing, you have to worry about getting pregnant when you have sex. I don't have to worry about anything!" He was a gleeful child set free in a candy shop, in love with his amazing luck at being a lovely man in that time and that place.
I like to imagine him, now, as an old married man. Perhaps he finally settled down with that hunky French flight attendant he had the on-again-off-again relationship with. They'd live in Paris (Micah spoke beautiful French), but have a pied-a-terre in San Francisco. We would have drifted, because of geography, into only intermitent touch. But I would have visited him on my recent trip to Paris. He would have had me over to his gorgeous apartment in the Marais, for a coffee, with pastries which he bought at the "best little patisserie in Paris." I would have showed him pictures of my kids. He'd have a little dog. And we'd say things like, "Do you remember that time that silly boy got us into Studio 54 by driving us all up in his daddy's limo and yelling to the bouncer, 'We came in a limo! We came in a limo!" He'd say, "Darling, feminism is great but I'm so glad you finally threw in the towel and dyed your hair! The grey made you look ancient." He'd still look almost exactly the way he did thirty years ago. Me, not so much. But, in the way of old friends, when he saw me, he'd see the young, messed up, lovely girl I was so long ago, and I'd see the young man, off his leash in a world where he was accepted fully for the first time, and full to the brim with the drama and bliss of it all. We'd carry each other in memory through time. Instead, I carry us both, alone. So Micah, this is In Adorium (adoring memorium) to you. I wish we were dancing still. xoxoxo
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Not the easiest Thanksgiving due to husband-induced anxiety, but today I'm grateful that:
1. I had a calm happy day with my children and husband safe around me.
2. No one was hospitalized and my husband's foot didn't explode or otherwise act up any wildly dramatic fashion.
3. My husband has tenure so we don't have to worry about losing job, house, or medical insurance.
4. There is such a thing as Tofurkey so that my newly, but not deeply, vegetarian teens could have something approaching the regular old Thanksgiving dinner that they wanted.
5. All the food, including the turkey and the Tofurkey, got done at the same time so we could all sit down together to eat. Often we're not that well organized and synchronized.
6. My teens seem to be growing out of their hormonally insane phase and were actually really nice company today. They even played cards with their younger sister during the day and hung out and chatted with their dad after dinner (while the youngest and I waltzed around the living room to Christmas music).
So, a good day.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Remember that game, Whack-a-mole, where you smack down one mole with a mallet and another pops up nearby? Ah, my husband, my husband, my husband - love of my life and a veritable whack-a-mole of new and mysterious symptoms. Before his recent surgery he had headaches. Every day. For a year. ("Stress," he told me. "Just stress.") He had massages, physical therapy, practically everything but an exorcism. Till he had a ten-hour surgery which solved the headaches.
Now his foot is hurting. And he's been to physical therapy, to a podiatrist, and a doctor of orthotics. Yesterday the pain was so bad that couldn't stand on it. So I took him to the hospital where he had a jillion tests, including a nuclear (!) bone scan. So after a day of post-traumatic stressing out (which I treated with the nonmedical version of valium - Hagen Daaz), I'm a little calmer and waiting, once again, for test results. If it was anyone else it would be arthritis or gout. With him, who knows? I just hope they don't amputate. I kid. Sort of.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
(Image from marcoa84's wonderful flickr file.)
In fantasy and science fiction, one of the classic back drops is of parallel universes colliding. Parallel universes, for those of you not familiar with the genre, are created when there's a crisis in the life of a person or planet. The different possible outcomes create different universes. Well, I collided with my own parallel universe recently. I spent last weekend with my mother, helping her sort through things in her storeroom so she could downsize (thank you Bush et al. for demolishing her investment account). As we were working, she casually said what a shame it was about the drinking water in south east Virginia having been tainted when I lived there and causing all those miscarriages. I was absolutely stunned. It turns out that the water in the area where I lived when I had my multiple miscarriages had extremely high levels trihalomethanes, a byproduct of over chlorination. They have been found to cause "fetal deaths [and] spontaneous abortions --pregnancies that terminate spontaneously before the end of the 20th week of gestation." The article I found added dryly, but not incorrectly that "In addition, of course, many of these 30,000 fetal deaths precipitated a personal crisis for the parents." I'll say. (For more on that see my earlier posting Selina says. But a quick list of the effects of miscarriage on me, at least, would include inexpressible grief, depression, anxiety during all further pregnancies, sense of inadequacy as a woman.)
So there, in that storeroom, fittingly filled with junk from my past, I had a vision of the woman I would have been had I not lived in that place, drunk that water (the pregnancy books tell you not to drink juice because you'll gain too much weight, but do drink LOTS of water ladies!), and had those miscarriages. Who would she have been, that woman that I'm not? She would have had babies easily, as I expected to, as you're supposed to. She would have felt that her body worked rather than feeling, yet again, like a failure. She would have been a good mother, as I am, but she would have been less afraid to let her children roam free because she wouldn't have had that tiny hidden part that was always afraid they'd be taken from her. She would have been more complacent than I am, but she would have been nice, someone I would have liked but always felt a little separate from.
Of course, each significant event in our lives builds the base that supports and shapes everything that follows it. So the person I am now is unimaginable without the many things, good and bad, that followed from those miscarriages - the adoption of my twins, the diagnosis of my daughter's autism, the nervous breakdown that followed that, the birth of my youngest. It would be a betrayal of myself and everything that I've learned, of the children that I have and love so very much, to wish my life were different. And I don't. I like who I am now. I'm a complex, compassionate person, and a good friend who is not afraid of anyone's pain or grief. But I can't help thinking about that woman that I didn't get to be, and wondering what those babies I didn't get to have would have been like as they grew. Without ever having known them, I miss them and, like a phantom limb that aches untouchably, that life I never had.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Gather 'round my children, while I tell you a fairy tale with a happy and a sad ending. Long ago, in 1978, when I was a dewey-eyed young haglet, there was a proposition on the California ballot that would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in California's schools. Harvey Milk was a city supervisor then, and campaigned actively against it. After Prop 6 was defeated, jubilant crowds gathered at the San Francisco civic center where Harvey and Mayor Moscone gave speeches. Mayor Moscone said, “This is your night. No on 6 will be emblazoned upon the principles of San Francisco, liberty and freedom for all, forever.” There's the happy ending. The sad ending, of course, is that, not long after that happy night, a right-winger, threatened by this triumph of good sense and humanity, shot and killed both Harvey Milk and the mayor in their offices.
I'm not the first or the last to wish that Harvey could have been alive this year - he would have been the grand old gay of the Castro - to campaign against prop 8 and help defeat it. But I do believe that someday this silly nation will come to its senses and realize that it is very simply wrong to legislate who and how we choose to love. There is little enough of that precious commodity in our world, that to restrict and repress it makes us all poorer.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
When I was a girl, living in Laos, I couldn't distinguish between the sound of thunder and the sound of gunfire. This was because the general who was sometimes in control of the government lived behind us and, every now and then, his house would be surrounded by men with guns, fighting would break out, and he'd be out of power in a coup d'etat. Cutting off the head - that's what coup d'etat means - of the body politic. So I have personal experience of the transfer of political power being brought about by guns, and I was remembering this as I stood in line to vote today. The sidewalk was lined with all stripes of political signs - Obama, McCain, and even that fruitcake Nader - and it made me extraordinarily proud to be living in a country where we fight it out with signs and words. Now I know that this country is far from perfect. But I also know that, at the end of this Fall day - under clear blue skies and lacey red and yellow leaves - power will change hands. Yet no one in line with me held a gun. No one was shot. Everyone was calm and civil. I voted freely for the candidate of my choice - the party not in power - and walked safely home. What a very wonderful day.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Apologies to those of you who aren't Americans. We are a nation obsessed and, like a bad dinner guest, our conversation will - until Tuesday - return over and over to our tedious monomania. That being said, here I go!
Pundits are saying that Western Pennsylvania, where I live, is going to be a bellwether area in the election. So yesterday, when I went into town to get some more Obama signs (because, really, one sign on your front lawn isn't clear enough, is it?) I walked past the local McCain office. It was CLOSED - empty and locked up tight, not even one lonely volunteer answering the phones. On the weekend before the election. The Obama office, however, was packed with volunteers who were working the phones and organizing the push to get-out-the-vote.
This doesn't mean I'm feeling complacent. Any Democrat who hasn't been on a continuous Valium drip for the past eight years won't have a shred of complacency in them till the last vote is nailed down and John McCain gives his concession speech. But this did cheer me up immensely.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Enough with all the seriousness and election fever! Here, for your amusement (at my expense, of course), is the first in what I know will be an ongoing (and on and on and on) series of my worst parenting moments.
First let me say that we don't drink much here at casa d'elizabeth. We both have serious alcoholics in our families, and by serious I mean falling-down, black-out, puke-on-yourself everyday alcoholics, not those fun lost-weekend party ones. The husband doesn't drink at all because of his blood condition. I have the occasional social or stress-induced drink. So last night I was exhausted and frazzled and, since we didn't have anything else to drink, I made myself a gin and tonic with some old, flat tonic I'd scrounged from way back in the fridge. Being utterly fizzless and limeless, it wasn't the best G & T I'd ever had, so I sipped at it without much enthusiasm. By the end of the evening, I'd only drunk half of it. Before I went to bed, I cleared my dishes, putting them by the sink as usual.
So this morning, I came downstairs to find my autistic daughter sitting at the breakfast table with my melted gin and tonic in her hand. To her it must have looked just like a glass of water set out just for her convenience. I snatched it away and dumped it in the sink. It looked as if she'd only had a sip or two, just enough to give her a really nice mellow feeling before going off to school.
What can I say? My great granddaddy was a moonshiner (and a revenuer, but that's another story). You might be a redneck if ... your kids start their day with a slug of gin. These are the moments - once they're skated past safely - that make me proud.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
A friend I hadn't seen in a long time was telling me, today, about her family troubles. Her three sons are all in various stages of drug addiction or recovery from it. One of her sons is in jail. All three of them are bipolar. I felt so, so sorry for her and was trying my best just to listen and be supportive of her. And then she said, "But it's not as hard as what you've had to go through." It took me a minute to realize she was talking about my middle daughter, who is autistic. People have said things like this to me before. What they mean is, 'Whatever trouble I'm having with my kid, even if it's addiction, jail, mental illness, there's still the possibility of hope for my kid. But your daughter is really, really autistic and there's no hope for her.' And I even get it.
Now, of course, that's not how I think about my life. I think of myself as the mother of four kids: my twins, adopted from Vietnam when they were babies, who are straight-A students and incredibly talented artists; my nine-year old who came downstairs the other day and said, "Mommy, I've been reading Shakespeare!" And she had; and my middle girl who is autistic, yes, but who is also funny and loving and silly. And I think of myself as a person who somehow chose both wisely and well in love; I'm married to a man who has been, for twenty-four years, my best friend and intellectual partner.
Which is why there's always a moment of disconnect for me when people tell me that they know their problems don't amount to much compared to mine. But when I do figure out what they mean, I don't mind it. In fact, I'm happy to be a yardstick by which they measure their life and find it, surprisingly, better than they thought. There's a scene in one of my favorite movies of all time "Truly, Madly, Deeply," in which Alan Rickman talks about a little girl who has died. He says:
"There's a little girl .... She was knocked over and she died. Her parents, and family, and friends from kindergarten... She used to go to this playground. See, they made an area in the park. Gave 'em money for swings, and little wooden animals, and there are these plaques on the sides of the swing, bottom of the horse: 'From Alice's mom and dad. In Memory of Alice, who used to play here'... And when you see the parents take their child from the swing, and see the sign... They hold on to their son and daughter, so tightly, clinging on for dear life."
Everyone I know has some deep heartache, some hard rows to hoe. We all need those signs, to remind us to cling tightly to what is good in our lives. So if my friend was thinking, today, 'Maybe my kids are addicted, bipolar, in jail. But at least I can hope that they'll go to rehab and someday live clean, normal, independent lives,' then I've been able to give her some real comfort by reminding her what she does have. And she's done the same for me.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
"I had rather be any kind o'thing than a fool,
yet I would not be thee, nuncle;
I am a fool, thou art nothing." (I. iv.)
When I was in middle school, my mother was a high school English teacher. Each year she took her classes to a play and took me - the only one of her children receptive to her culture-vulture tastes - along with them. The year I was eleven, the play was King Lear and I went to see it seven times. I remember watching it each time with queasy fascination as, over the course of the play, the old king dismantled and destroyed his life. It's the same way I feel now when I watch John McCain on TV.
When John McCain ran for president in 2000 I actually liked him. It's hard to believe now, but those were the days before the straight-talk express had veered off the road entirely. Even though I disagreed with a lot of his policies, he seemed candid and (for a politician) reasonable. So to see him now, using not only the same hateful techniques that were once used against him, but also hiring the very people who whispered and lied about him then, is both repellant and pitiful.
Lear is manipulated by his own vanity and desires into rejecting those around him who speak the truth (think Colin Powell), while those around him who want power betray each other and him and leave him to wander alone in the wastes (think of poor McCain wandering on that stage in the second debate). In the end, all Lear's children are dead and he has lost everything.
I won't belabor the similarities, but if all goes as I hope it will on election day, a once good (enough) man will have betrayed his own principles, his own experience, his own reputation, to no end but his own destruction. It's foolish of me to hope that he will realize his folly before it's completely over. But I do. And he won't.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
This image of all four candidates as Warhol Marilyns just made me smile. And in this toxic political climate don't we all need that? I think Joe Biden might be my favorite.
(Go see more of The Wooster Collective's wonderful images of street art!)
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
To cheer myself up, while I wait to hear from the publishing company (they've been sitting on my novel for seven @#$%ing months! A month ago they told me they'd let me know in a couple of weeks....), I've been reading rejection letters that were sent to famous writers. Here are a few of my favs.
Emily Dickinson for a poetry collection - "Queer - the rhymes were all wrong."
Collette for "Claudine in School" - "I wouldn't be able to sell 10 copies."
Marcel Proust for "Swan's Way" - "My dear fellow, I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can't see why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep."
Tony Hillerman for "The Blessing Way" - "If you insist on rewriting this, get rid of all that Indian stuff."
Dr. Seuss for "To think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street" - "Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling."
"The Diary of Ann Frank" - "The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift it above the "curiosity" level."
and finally the best/worst rejection ever (though not for a writer I care deeply about)
Harry Crews for a short story collection - "Burn it, son, burn it. Fire is a great refiner."
Anyway, it's good at least to know that, if it doesn't get accepted, I'll be in not only good company, but the best company. But it does wear a girl down.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
I'm know. I'm bad. But, really, it's these small joys that make motherhood so fulfilling.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
As you may or may not remember, my maternal grandmother was not my favorite person on Earth. She neglected and criticized my mother, her youngest child, and, by the time I really knew her, she was an alcoholic, drinking sherry out of tea cups in the morning because it looked like tea. (My, what odd smelling Darjeeling you have Granny!) She was also a country-club, debutant-ball Southern woman with all the ugly classism and racism that goes with that territory.
But there was also a lot that people loved and admired about her. She was an early and vociferous champion of women's rights, starting with working to get them the right to vote. Toward the end of her life she was a supporter of the equal rights amendment. She knew Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and worked tirelessly for the Democratic party. My grandfather once sent her a telegram that read: "Gladys -STOP- I loaned, not gave, you to the Democratic Party. STOP Come home. STOP Charlie STOP" And she was a "snappy" (to use her word) dresser with a snappier sense of humor and charm.
And, yes, I did just organize a yardsale/fundraiser and raise $620 for Obama. And, yes, I am aware that I am not entirely unlike her, said the pot about the kettle.
But, despite all my mixed feelings about her, there was one wonderful thing she did that, for me, almost makes up for it all. In 1961, President Kennedy appointed her to the U.N. as Commissioner for Women's rights. There was to be a small induction ceremony in the oval office where she was sworn in by the president. She was asked if she wanted to bring anyone. "Why yes!" she replied. She sent them a guest list that included her entire extended family - children, grandchildren, cousins, in-laws - all of us! And the Whitehouse swallowed their surprise and let us all come. Of course, we were excited and nervous, and the way my mother and I expressed that was to focus on what we would wear. Much fussing about was done, but eventually it was settled that I would wear a fairly sedate kelly green dress with a full, petticoated skirt, a bow in the back, a peter-pan collar, and - fabulosity alert! - appliqued - and stuffed for three dimensionality - tam-'o-shanters! Oh, how I loved that dress. I remember wearing it and joyfully petting those surprising little hats.
I also remember being in the oval office with my great crowd of cousins. There are times when it's a good thing to be the littlest person in the room, and that was one of them. I got to stand in front while the bigger ones had to squeeze in behind. Here we all are. My grandmother is the older woman in the suit on the right of President Kennedy. (Click on the picture to enlarge it.)
I'm sure my grandmother was duly sworn in, though I remember nothing about that. What I do remember is waiting as the president gravely shook hands with one and all. Finally he stood in front of me and my dress. He seemed about forty feet tall, and I remember him, as if in slow motion, bending waaaaaayyy down toward me, reaching out, and solemnly shaking my hand. For me, the ceremony ended there and memory stops. But I treasure this photo of it and, folded away in a box in my basement, I still have the green dress that took me to the White House to meet a president.
Let me add, in memory of my grandmother with all her imperfections and passions, that I write this now, in part, as a talisman of hope that another young, charismatic senator who is running for office against an old, experienced Republican, will win the presidency and inspire generations to come.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Last night, as I made my pre-bedtime rounds to check on, cover, and kiss sleeping children, I closed every window in the house for the first time since Spring. My sunflowers have withered and my remaining tomatoes will stay green on the vines. I hate winter. I try very hard not to think about my life in terms of sacrifices I have made, things I have given up. I prefer to embrace, in a whole-hearted way, the choices I have made and the hand I have been dealt. But having grown up in the tropics, winter's a tough one for me. Every winter a small cold cranky part of me thinks, 'Damn it! If it wasn't for this man I love beyond all things who is also my best friend and who I would gladly die for, I'd be living someplace warm and sunny!' Hmmm..... Love or good weather? Tough choice.
But winter here is really rotten. The sky is continuously grey. Any snow on the ground very quickly gets piled to the curb where it sits for months and quickly goes from white to grey to black from exhaust fumes. No sparkly winter wonderland for us. In the coming months I'll try not to bitch about it too much, but I want you all to know that I'm being very very stoic and brave.
Not surprisingly, every year around this time, I revisit Keats's "Ode to Autumn," my favorite of all his odes. He wrote it when he already had tuberculosis (which he caught from lovingly nursing his brother Tom, who died young of TB) and knew that he, too, was headed for early death. [Aside: God I love John Keats! He was exactly my height, 5'2", nursed his younger brother, was unrequitedly in love with Fanny, and wrote gorgeous and, to my mind, really sexy poems! Sigh.... He puts the "romantic" in "Romantic Poetry."] Anyway, here's a link to the whole poem, and I'll let him end this post with the final stanza of that brilliant poem. Remember that the shadows are lengthening around him too. He knows he will most likely die, as his brother did, young and never reaching his full ripeness.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue,
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river shallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies,
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn,
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
I was going through some old files and found this little piece I'd written years ago - after one of my miscarriages. It has some qualities, so I thought I'd share it here.
Selina says her husband held their stillborn son for two whole hours, and would not let the nurses take him. He crooned, "You have to learn to share your toys. You cannot always have your way. Eat your spinach. Don't drink and drive." The baby lay quiet, perfectly formed, perfectly behaved. Selina has a picture taken at the end of his eight months of humming, watery life. With his tiny triangle mouth ajar, his eyes closed, his minute fingers curled, and the scant wisps of wet black hair dappling his skull, he looks just like a baby newly fed and sleeping. He wears a sky blue gown dotted with clouds. It is the gown the hospital keeps only for dead babies so their parents can remember them as clean, clothed, sleeping photos of the living babies they should have been.
Selina believes her son lives with his grandmother in Heaven. That he watches, an anxious angel, over the fetus growing in her now. Belief does not keep her from weeping before me. Belief, it seems, is like her womb - both empty and full, consoling nothing.
I do not know where my child went. It was a ten-week clump of chromosomes and blood, not technically faceless or sexless, but so deeply mysterious an existence that it seems to me now I held it only in feeling and on faith. In the recovery room they sent a nun to stop me crying. Her face was pale and rumpled as an old soft rag. She held her crystal tear-shaped rosary beads against her starched black dress with one mottled white hand. Her other hand gripped mine. Nervous but fervent, she said, "Your baby is with Jesus now. Your baby never knew pain, never knew grief. Thank you Jesus." And I said, "Leave me alone." I knew she didn't know.
Selina believes that Satan took her son, but God received him. Selina says she goes alone to her baby's grave each day at lunch. Afterwards she sits in the muffling capsule of her car and talks to him and weeps. Her husband will not go. He tells her, "I have to live my life now," leaving Selina alone to hold on to her son's.
I do not speak to my child. Where would I reach her? What would I say but, endlessly, come back, to the endlessly silent presence of her absence.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Two of the four kids started school today. The other two start next week. The husband's medical leave ended officially yesterday too. He returned to work and taught his first class since the surgery. Which leads me to ask myself the inevitable question:
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED THIS SUMMER?
My intentions for the Summer:
1. I was going to go to yoga four times a week.
2. I was going to finish rough illustrations for both of the children's books I want to illustrate.
3. The teens were going to plow through a reading list of worthy books we chose together and take a photography or film-making class.
4. The youngest was going to go to lots of fun camps and have swimming lessons so that, instead of just doing the dog paddle, she could learn actual swimming strokes (What can I say, she's the fourth child.)
5. A publisher was going to have accepted my novel by now.
What actually happened this Summer:
1. I went to yoga once a week till my studio membership ended and then I stopped going altogether while trying to find a studio I like better.
2. I painted one picture (but received almost 100,000 hits on flickr).
3. The teens read Brave New World ("It was boring," was their summary.) and all the Gossip Girl series (not boring). They also watched all of seasons 1 & 2 of Ugly Betty with me, went to Falling Water, and took some photos of themselves and their friends. That's creative, right?
4. The youngest did take lots of fun camps.
5. Novel is still languishing in an in box at publisher #2.
6. My husband gained 15 of the pounds he lost when he was sick.
7. I failed to lose 15 pounds (which isn't surprising, since I wasn't trying. But a girl can always hope ....)
8. I got over being furious at my husband for being so cavalier about his health and ignoring all my warnings that getting headaches every day is not normal.
9. I was once again proven to be always right about everything. (When will he finally give up having his own opinions and just do everything I tell him to do?)
So it looks like very little got done this summer. But it also looks like we all made it through alive and without major psychic scarring. I guess there's something to be said for that. And now that the kids are going to be out of the house, I'm sure I'll get a ton of stuff done. I'm already making a list.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I'm a messy person. In my family, I was always the one everyone shook their heads about; that Elizabeth, so much emotion, so many interests, and going in so many different directions.... Tsk, tsk. Did you know that she dropped out of college? Did you meet that horrible poet she's living with? When i visited her, she took me to a party full of gay men and one of them hit on me!
My oldest brother knew, from the age of two, that he wanted to be a scientist. And he is. My middle brother was the kind of sunny fellow who could be successful and happy where ever he landed. And he is, as a highly paid, much sought-after wine maker. And then there's me. I once asked a fortune teller what I would be when I grew up and she searched and searched and found.... no answer. Even though I don't believe in such things, it was a little unsettling because if she'd been a charlatan, she would have just made something up. Instead, she looked very abashed and said, "I don't see anything clearly." It always stuck with me, somehow.
Anyway, this afternoon I took three of my daughters out for a mother/daughter end-of-the-summer shopping date at the mall. The husband (very sensibly) hates the mall, which gives these trips a giddy feeling of just-us-girls closeness and naughtiness. We wandered the cavernous fluorescent halls, window shopped, actually shopped, and finally, in that greatest indulgence of all, ate dinner at the food court. (Oh great bounty of unhealthy food! Oh thrilling lack of responsible parent urging good nutrition!) In short, we had a relaxed and unusually pleasant and cohesive time. Which led to an unusual amount of conversation. So at one point during the meal, my youngest turned to me and asked, "Mommy, if you could be anything in the world, what would you be?" Without thinking, I said, "An artist and novelist." Her eyes widened. Thunderstruck, she whispered, "Mommy, that's what you ARE!" I pondered that for a moment, surprised. It seemed she was right. I hadn't said "published novelist," (though I think that's what I meant). I'd just said "novelist." And I've written a novel. And I make art, and I even sell it.
I was quite taken aback.
Then, to compound the strange feeling that if I looked behind me I might see - instead of the branches and brambles I'm used to - a path that I, myself, had bushwhacked, my youngest said, "That's what I want to be! An artist and a writer!" Now, not only was I a person who was doing what I wanted to do, I was also a role model. Let's just say that I'm much more used to being a cautionary kind of example. Stunned, I turned to my older girls and asked, "What would you want to be, if you could be anything?" "An artist," said one. "Me too," said the other, matter-of-factly.
The conversation wandered away in a different direction. I ate bemusedly. After all these years of stumbling through the seemingly pathless wood of who I am and what I want to be, it seemed I might have to reevaluate who I think I am and how I got here. Very odd.
The only way to process all of this, of course, was to shop some more. So we did. The youngest got a really cute pair of Vans with stars all over them, and the twins each got two of the current de-rigeur tee-shirts (which look, to me, exactly like the old de-rigeur tee-shirts, but what do I know?). And on sale of course. Because, in the midst of change, there are certain immutable truths we can cling to. One of which is that I am, as I always have been, a truly gifted shopper. I still don't know what I think about the bigger question of who and what I am. But I do know that my daughters are going to look absolutely adorable when they go back to school.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
He also has wonderful flickr groups:
Handsome Hair Models on Parade
and one of my greatest sources of flickr merriment
Life's Railway to Heaven - Wholesome Gospel Family Record Covers
He's also just started a new blog A Thousand Shades of Twilightwhich expresses, in words, everything I found in his pictures.
As you all know, this summer hasn't been an easy one for me. I've spent a lot of it weary and worried. Someone mentioned Proust's magic lantern to me today and it clarified something up for me. When Marcel Proust was a boy he was confined to his room frequently. He wrote, "Far from my mother and grandmother, my bedroom became the fixed point on which my melancholy and anxious thoughts were centered. Someone had had the happy idea of giving me, to distract me on evenings when I seemed abnormally wretched, a magic lantern ... it substituted for the opaqueness of my walls an impalpable iridescence, supernatural phenomena of many colours, in which legends were depicted, as on a shifting and transitory window." The computer (that terrible instrument of depersonalization!) has been my own magic lantern this Summer. Through it I've received support from amazing people all over the world, and through it I've escaped my anxieties and gone to places as varied as Italy and West Texas. And now, with great pleasure, to Australia with 1000 shades of Twilight/Lets Look Up and Smile. I hope you'll all visit his blog.
Mr. Twilight, I hope you know how much happiness I've gotten from getting to know you and how you've cheered me at the end of some very weary days. After all, how could I not smile seeing a found photo like this?
Or this vintage book cover?
Dear, you're the first person I think of when I see a really tacky record cover or a sad clown. And since I'm at the thrifts all the time, well, in my mind at least, you're often right there with me.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Normally I'm overflowing with words. I talk a lot. I write a lot. I remember the lyrics of practically every song I've ever heard and I remember the exact wording of everything you ever said so don't argue with me. (Yes, it is annoying. Even to me.) So I guess it's not entirely surprising that the two times my husband- the rock of my life, the pillar that holds up my sky - has gone under the knife, my post operative stress reaction has been to go flat, lose my stuffing, lose my words. Since his surgery, I haven't been able to work on my writing projects, have had a hard time coming up with things to blog about, and don't have much energy to gab on the phone with people.
Instead, I've been aching for a vacation. A long quiet vacation in a warm place where I don't have to talk much because I don't know the language. Or at the ocean, because the ocean roars over, washes away, speech. But the husband is still weak and hunched and he tires easily. So here we stay. Which, really, in the scheme of what could have been, is fine. But still....
So today, in a thrift shop, I pulled a slim volume of poetry out from its hiding place between a door-stopper Grisham thriller and a self-help tome. it was "The Art of Drowning" by Billy Collins. I opened it. It was signed, "Cheers, Billy Collins." Then I opened to a random poem. It was one called "Consolation." It's a wonderful poem, and I recommend you read the whole thing. But here I'll only quote the first strophe:
How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer,
wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hill towns.
How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets,
fully grasping the meaning of every roadsign and billboard
and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots.
It was like getting a message in a bottle, through an ocean of detritus and words, from Billy just to me. "Cheers," he tells me. And here, dear. Here is consolation. It was perfect.
Here's a link to the whole poem, if you'd like to read it.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
So I've decided to put my two cyber worlds together, and introduce you lovely people to my other lovely people. So any of you who feel like it, jump on over to my flickr file HERE.
On it you'll see my collection of oddities such as this photo from the Mime Alphabet Book:
Or, more recently, this peculiar 1959 ad for Hanes:
You'll meet a lot of smart, funny people who make you, quite literally, laugh out loud with their brilliantly silly remarks. Hope to see you all at my other cyber home.
Tomorrow: Favorite Flickr funsters (a phrase I ripped off shamelessly and without permission from one of my favorite flickr funsters who inhabits this dimension as A Thousand Shades of Twilight.)
Thursday, July 24, 2008
I spent last weekend with one of my dearest friends. I’ve known her since the day I turned fourteen. I was a quiet insecure girl on my first day at a new school, desperate to leave behind six miserable years at an elite private school where I was excluded for being middle class, chubby, and dreamy. At the time I met her, I had no sense of myself beyond wanting to please people and to be liked. She, on the other hand, seemed to be impossibly confident. She was extremely smart and made deservedly great grades – in ninth grade Social Studies she did a report on apartheid while everyone else did idiot reports on pop bands and food fads. She knew who she was and wasn’t afraid to be herself – she had a long mouthful of a name but wouldn’t answer to anyone who shortened it, while I was pathetically thrilled to answer to anything anyone called me. She was original and funny – once a truck crashed into the wall around her house and afterwards she orchestrated a photo shoot with the two of us posed as victims under the rubble. In short, she was everything I wasn’t and I was totally enchanted. I was a shy Ethel to her Lucy, which was fine with me. I was just happy to be with her on the show.
We’ve been friends – off and on, up and down – ever since. In the past decades, we’ve both been through some rough stuff – as anyone who’s faced life rather than running away from it has. I know it’s been a hard time for her in the past several years, and she’s been weighed down by fatigue and worry. And I know there’s nothing I can do to take away her cares. But what I didn’t say over the weekend, what I want to say now, is that when I’m with her, I still see the bright, entirely original, stubborn, enchanting girl she was that first day I met her. That she contains within her still, that girl and all the promise and potential in her, only deepened now and made more beautiful by the strength she’s gained in carrying her burdens, by the compassion she’s gained under their weight. She is still, and always will be, Lucy, the funny, rubber-faced, brilliant star in the sit com of my life. And if I’m any less the shy Ethel now, it’s because, at the beginning of my journey, she showed me the way forward.
I hope she knows that I will love her forever.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
It turns out to be a signed lithograph called "Marchande de Fleurs au Perou" by a French artist named Eliane Thiollier. It's not the greatest litho in the world, but considering that I bought it for $2.99 and It's listed on-line as worth over $300, I'm pretty happy. Hello ebay!
Saturday, July 12, 2008
It's true Summer at last. Sunflowers and zinnias are blooming in my garden. Tomatoes are still just green ping-pong balls on the vine, but growing toward the time when we'll have so many tomato sandwiches, so much gazpacho, that we get sick of fresh warm tomatoes and give them away. The windows are open wide and I can hear my neighbor's lives. The insane-lawn-care man who lives in the big, fancy house across the street,and who we don't know, is watering his driveway. That's how he washes every last speck of dirt off it. I think his middle name is Sisyphus. My neighbor two doors down, who has a Mrs. Rochester-like schizophrenic wife we never see, is out tending his roses, which grow in happy, predictable perfection. Sometimes in the evening, I hear him and his wife in the back yard, under the rose bowers, talking. His voice is always tender and loving. Hers sometimes matches his, sometimes flies away into keening madness.
Our neighbors hear us too. Our autistic daughter goes out on the swing in the back yard and talks/sings to herself. "Hi angel," she croons. "You are my angel." I'm always so glad we don't cuss at her because, if we did, she'd be crooning obscenities instead. The teens go in and out in their whispering, giggling, independent orbit. In the cooling evening, I work on the front yard, while the youngest one plays up and down the sidewalk. Other neighbors emerge with their babies and toddlers. We chat and I fuss over the babies and beg to hold them.
I love Summer - the profligate messy abundance of it. I love that the walls and fences that contain our lives thin in Summer, allowing us to hear and see and know each other with more depth and compassion. (Or, in the case of the lawn-care man, with self-congratulatory eye rolling, because it's always fun to congratulate yourself every now and then.) But mostly I love the restful enforced boredom of these days when it's too hot to cook, too hot to go outside, too hot to do anything but lie on the sofa and read while the ceiling fan goes around and around.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Yesterday I was taking my nine-year old daughter shopping for summer clothes. This is the child who couldn't choose a decent-looking outfit if it was dancing up and down in front of her. This is the child who I have to send back up to her room nine (school) mornings out of ten because whatever she's thrown on looks so hideous that I'm afraid she'll be beaten to a pulp by bullies the moment she walks out the front door. And this is my last little one, the last one who looks at me with utter adoration and still thinks I do everything right. Anyway, we were shopping and I was doing what I have always done, which is to choose stuff for her, hold it up for her to look at (just to be polite), and say "This will be good for you," then buy it. So there I was, barging along, grabbing this, rejecting that, filling the cart with whatever I liked. Finally I got to the perfunctory hold-em-up-for-her part. I showed her a pair of white capri pants - perfect for the playground because your legs don't get slide burn, perfect for summer because they're knee-length. She looked. I refrained from rolling my eyes at her and tossing them in the buy pile. She pondered them deeply. "Well?" I said impatiently. Finally she shook her head and said, "Mom, I'm just not feeling 'em."
They grow up. It's what they're supposed to do. It's what we examine our hearts and tear our hair out to help them do. Still, it surprises me every time.
Monday, June 30, 2008
Image from wallyspam
Since my husband is an academic, I don't go to fancy representational functions very much these days. And I can't say that I miss them. But as a child of the diplomatic corps, representation was one of the few constants in our nomadic life. Before I went out - whether it was for a simple walk or out to an embassy party - my parents often told me, "You are a representative of the United States of America. Everything you do reflects on our country." And the thing is, I took it very seriously and, till my teens, moved through these places with decorous care, like a girl practicing posture by walking with books on her head.
Well, last night, I went with my husband to a swank museum-show opening. His department had loaned a painting to the exhibit which was why we, the poor country mice, were invited to this open-bar, sit-down-dinner, very monied extravaganza. And, before I go on, let me just say that it is a sin and a shame that people who have hideous taste in clothes should be allowed to have buckets of money. There was a man there, a very wide man, in a bright coral-pink jacket and blue-and-white striped seersucker pants, and no he was not gay or being purposely arch and loud. The rich have no excuse for being tacky. Sorry, had to vent.
In any case, it was very odd, because, as we drove up to the party I was still just me - the silly, loud, mother of four, with a (pretty) second-hand-store shirt. But the moment the valet parker opened my car door and said, "Good evening ma'am," I became Representational Lady. I smiled enchantingly, introduced myself to numerous strangers, casually mentioned my husband's job title, pushed him forward to chat once introductions were complete, and just generally worked the crowd very vigorously. And it was as natural to me as breathing. At the end of the party, as I was making sure to say a warm goodbye to every single person I had spoken to that evening ("SO nice to meet you, Martha. Yes we MUST get together for lunch soon. We'd so love to see your husband's collection."), one of the men I'd spoken to leaned over to me and said, "You are dynamite, just dynamite!" Yes, it was kind of creepy, but it was also funny and enlightening. Because, until that moment, I hadn't realized I was being that old "dynamite" uber-representational me.
As we drove home in our rented Korean pumpkin (the insurance company has still not processed our claim), and I slipped back into my tatty everyday skin, I realized that I could easily, and fairly happily, have led a very different life. Normally I'm a say-it-as-I-see-it kind of gal, and killer-charm diplomacy is not what you you think of when you think of me. So it's strange to discover this talent I'd forgotten that I had and that I don't have any use for. Strange, but also fun to discover that, unlike most of my old clothes, the silly pretty gown and the ridiculous glass slippers still fit, and I can still do the dance, though I choose not to.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
which will join us in a week and which my husband chose and will obsess about (I think this is as close to a mid-life-crisis and the attendant car as this excessively sensible man will ever get)! And after a Spring like the one we've just had, what's a little more consumer debt, in the face of an adorable, fuel-efficient, RED car?
Friday, June 20, 2008
By way of explaining why I haven't posted in forever and ever, let me just say, it's been a really sucky Spring. All of you know about the Knuckleheaded husband's health problems and surgery. But what I didn't tell you about because it was so quickly superseded by the husband's illness, was that my YA novel was rejected by Scholastic. Which, given that it's in part about the Castro in 1979, is not entirely surprising. Still, it was disappointing. It's moved on to the next publishing house, but I'm defensively preparing myself for another no. The common wisdom is that getting published is not so much a reflection of talent as it is a reflection of persistence. So I'll try to be brave about rejection and persistent even when I don't feel brave, none of which I'm very good at.
And then, on top of all that, this happened -
The crumpled thing in the back is what used to be our minivan before a drunk going over 100 mph smashed it and four other cars, including a police cruiser. But no one, including the drunk or the cop, were seriously injured. So rather than feeling like Mrs. Job counting up her tribulations ("Oy, Job, my mother always said I should have married that dentist in Sodom!"), I'd like to try to pick myself up off the floor and stand back up so I can see the blessings I still have around me.
So, if anyone is still there, I'll be trying to post here more often.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
From my flickr file.
(Apologies to Sageweb.) I Found this ad in a McCalls magazine from 1952, and I couldn't resist. It seemed so eerily timely!
It appears that his stomach and esophagus have begun to work again. He's still on meds to force them to work, but has forgotten the meds a couple of times recently, and the food went down happily. So now he has to try and get his weight back up - to go from concentration-camp skinny to regular-old-him skinny. So, after all I've been through, this poor middle-aged woman has to endure watching him force himself to eat ice cream, buttered toast, cookies, whole milk.... The illness, the ten-hour surgery, the ICU vigil, I could manage. But this .... is torture.
He gets on the scale every day and comes downstairs bitching about how hard it is to gain weight. Well that's what happens when you send a man in to do a woman's job. I can gain weight on a moving tread mill. I can gain weight with my eyes closed AND my mouth closed. I'm that gifted at it.
So you can see that the world is slowly settling back on it's axis and my priorities are slipping back toward self absorption. I still feel like one of those stuffed animals our dog disembowels all over the living room carpet; floppy with just a little bit of fluff left inside. I haven't had anything remotely resembling a deep thought in ages. Don't want to think. Just want to garden and watch things grow during the day, and pursue escapist piffle at night. In the words of the immortal John Lennon, "Whatever gets you through the night." Right?
Sunday, May 18, 2008
1..Pick up the nearest book.
2.Open to page 123.
3.Locate the fifth sentence.
4.Post the next three sentences on your blog and in so doing...
5.Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged me.
So, the book nearest at hand (well, the book nearest me that has a 123rd page. LOTS of kids books around.) is Pride and Predjudice by Jane Austen. Here's the text. (The speaker is Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth Bennett's best friend, who is about to marry a complete boob.)
"I am not romantic you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable
home; and considering Mr. Collins's character, connections,
and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness....
(Oh Charlotte, how can you? He's such an utter nincompoop!) MY GOD, I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!! I've read it countless times, seen every movie of it (a pox on the Keira Knightly version), and it never grows stale. Time for me to get off the soap box and start tagging. I'll tag Doralong, Miss Janey, Sageweb, Yellowdog Granny, and Susan at One Woman show. Ladies, simply ignore this tag if you want to, or play, if you like! (It's easy and actually kinda fun.)
Thursday, May 15, 2008
"Hmmm...." I said, noncommitally, basically ignoring her.
Then she said, "So that person's a veterinarian?"
I said, "I don't know. Why?"
"Well, that's what it says... Vietnam Vet."
Vietnam Veterinarian. It's been making me smile for days. Don't you wish we lived in a world where hoards of young men and women were trained as veterinarians and sent abroad to heal other country's ailing animals? I think we might actually have achieved peace in the Middle East by now if, in Iraq and Afganistan, we had squads of people going house to house saying, "Open up! We hear you're harboring a sick goat in there! We're here to help!"
Friday, May 9, 2008
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
I guess I'm just worn out. I know, this too shall pass, and I hope some of you will still be there when I remember how much I love words and how fun they are to put together into sentences. Till then, much love to all of you.
Monday, April 21, 2008
These images are from a 1944 Democratic Digest magazine that I found recently. The woman in the first photo is my grandmother who was the assistant chair of the Democratic National Committee. My grandmother was lots of things: an active feminist, an unconscious bigot, an active, dedicated Democrat, as well as smart, charming, pragmatic, and a pain in the ass . I've thought a lot about her during this primary race wondered who she would have supported. She was born in 1900(ish), and fought for women to get the vote. I think she would have loved to see a woman become president, and might have been a Hilary supporter. But she also liked winners. She supported JFK early in the primaries, when most people assumed he could never win. So she might have seen a winner in Obama's charm, ease, and obvious intelligence. There's no way of knowing. But I know she'd be excited by the contest and the fervor it's stirring up.
Here, in Pittsburgh, Obama supporters are out in force, going door-to-door, lobbying for him. Last week, I was in a thrift shop I haunt and a young black man approached me. Now, I'm a lovely person and all, but I'm long past the age when cute young men of any race chat me up. As if just casually conversing, he asked me, "So, you registered to vote?" I said, "Oh yeah. I've been registered forever." He went on, "Well, who you gonna vote for?" I told him, "Obama," and he visibly relaxed and we had a nice long chat about our guy. After it was over, I realized that this middle-aged white woman must have looked, to him, like the bullseye of Hilary's target demographic, and he thought he'd check things out and see which way I was leaning. A sort of casual poll. I hope I made his day. Anyway, as most of you know, I've been an Obama mama since the beginning, even though I liked Hilary well enough. But right off the bat, Obama seemed like a leader to me, someone who could talk and coax the country into a better future. And it's possible my grandmother might have responded to that too. She liked a smart persuasive people, being one herself. So, tomorrow I'll vote and cross my fingers that Pennsylvania leads the country out of the past of Clintons and Bushes and ugly divisive politics.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
I'm weary and, after hustling around all day to get the kids to and from their lives and the husband to and from his doctor, have very little brain left at the end of the day. But things are gradually easing up. I was able to spend a couple of hours in my garden yesterday, and after mucking around in dirt, planting and weeding, I began to feel that it might actually really be Spring.
Friday, April 11, 2008
As for me, I'm busy, tired, and emotionally drained. No surprise, and this too shall pass. Thanks for all the notes, good wishes, and cyber hugs. xoxo
Sunday, April 6, 2008
Saturday, April 5, 2008
THE MAN WHO SAT IN FRONT OF ME FOR TEN HOURS IN THE SURGERY WAITING ROOM (HAD EYES IN THE BACK OF HIS HEAD)
HOSPITAL SIGNS (OR THE USES OF PUNCTUATION) - "IMPORTANT VALVE HANDLE." THE OTHERS ARE ALL UNIMPORTANT.
HOSPITAL SIGNS - "LET US HELP YOU STOP"
HOSPITAL SIGNS - "ENDURE 420" IN A PLACE LIKE THIS YOU HAVE TO ENDURE MORE THAN 365....
URBAN WASTELAND - THREE HUMANS, NO HUMAN INTERACTION
SPRING GREEN PARKING CONE