Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Twenty-nine and a half years ago, a tall skinny blond guy walked in the door of the apartment I was living in - he was the cousin of a roommate - and the moment I saw him I thought, "That's the man I'm going to marry." Oddly, I was dating someone else at the time, but the heart, or mine at any rate, pays no attention to such things. Unfortunately, his did. After pining for him (and even breaking up with the boyfriend!) to no avail, I filed my odd little first thought about him sadly away in the circular file marked 'Idiotic thoughts and dreams I've had.' It's a big file and very full.

After some ascetic years for me spent in the serious pursuit of art (in artfully paint-spattered clothes of course), and some seriously misguided relationships for him (he dated a sorority girl! They had nothing in common. Go figure!), the wisdom of the heart prevailed. Four and a half years later, dear reader, I married him.

That was twenty-five years ago today. Looking back now, it seems like we were babies who hardly knew each other. But I know him now, and I'd do it again.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ms. Muddle

"My dear, I am worried about you. It seems to me that you are in a muddle... Take an old man's word; there's nothing worse than a muddle in all the world. It is easy to face Death and Fate, and the things that sound so dreadful. It is on my muddles that I look back with horror--on the things that I might have avoided. We can help one another but little. I used to think I could teach young people the whole of life, but I know better now, and all my teaching of George has come down to this: beware of muddle."
(Mr. Emerson to Lucy Honeychurch in A Room With a View.)

I haven't been writing here much lately because, honestly, I'm in something of a muddle. I thought I'd sort things out, get through it, and be able to start writing sensible and thoughtful posts again, but it seems to be a fairly big muddle I'm in. The kind of muddle that is so deep that getting out of it changes who you are. So here, because you are all so sweet and deserve an explanation, are the basic issues I'm trying, inadequately, to sort out:

1. Lately, my husband has been more fatigued than is normal for him. Finally (after much hounding from me) he went for a check up. The doctor said that his liver function is somewhat compromised because of lack of circulation. Which means that, down the pike, we may be facing a liver transplant. When K. was first ill, we spent a lot of time in the transplant clinic, in waiting rooms full of transplant patients. Most of them were either desperately sick from organ rejection or bizarrely bloated from steroids. It's not a road I want to go down, but of course I will if I have to.

In three days we will have been married for twenty-five years. He is the pillar that holds up my sky, and all I want is another twenty-five years with him.

2. My mother is, it's clear to me, in the earliest stages of alzheimer's. She is still functioning pretty well, but I see that in the not-too-distant future she won't be able to live independently and will need to come an live with us. Which is as I want it to be, but it's a big change, the idea of caring for the parent who always cared for you.

3. My special-needs daughter is going through a seriously rough patch, crying and screaming a lot. She's gone through worse, and she always comes out of them, but it's exhausting when you're in the middle of it.

There I am in a nutshell (emphasis on the word nut). So if I'm writing less, calling less, visiting you and/or your blogs less, and am just generally not my usual peppy and voluble self, I hope you'll understand that it's not you. It's me and my muddle.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

An utterly enchanting film!

I just saw this film, The Beaches of Agnes, by and about Agnes Varda, a well-known French Nouvelle Vague filmmaker. I can't recommend it enough! It's brilliant, tender, and very funny. Go see it if it comes to your area!

Friday, December 18, 2009


I've been a very bad blogger lately. Let's blame it on the holidays and their various distractions, joyous and otherwise. For us as a family, one of the joys will be that my mother is coming for Christmas. My kids simply adore her. And I mean that they adore her in a pure and simple way I can't anymore.

So for me, one of the 'otherwises' will be that my mother will be coming for the holidays. I do really love her to pieces. But Laws-a-mercy (as my grandmother used to say) she makes me crazy as a loon. She inevitably comes out with a corker of some kind. Some of her recent winners are:
"If I hadn't married your father and had you children, I could have been a Virginia Woolf Scholar." And, on hearing that a fortune teller said I'd be famous "It will probably be because one of your children is famous."

But if she has a misguided head (and mouth) she does have a very loving heart, and for that I forgive all the rest. So I'm reading Deborah Tannen's book about the messages and metamessages of mother/daughter talk and I will try very hard to hear what she means and not what she says. And I will try very hard not to smack her upside the head. Really.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Me and my BFF

I got an email from Oprah today (yeah, we email and "LOL" at each other like crazy). She wrote "Fifteen years ago, I wrote in my journal that one day I would create a television network...." Girlfriend, you too? Actually, fifteen years ago, my twins were babies and, if memory serves, I wrote in my journal, "One day I hope to create enough time in my life to watch a television network that doesn't feature a purple dinosaur." Anyway, like Oprah, I have achieved my goal. Why some nights I'm able to watch Law and Order on a couple of different channels! Hmmm.... Note to self, must have better goals to write in my journal.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why I love the internet

Today, because my youngest is home sick (again) with possible mono, I wasted spent more time than usual on the interwebs. And here's what I learned. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," by that famous stoner Samuel Taylor Coleridge, can be sung to the tune of the "Gilligan's Island" theme song! Oh, if only I'd known this in college!

Sooooo try it! You'll be glad you did. (And people say poetry is boring.)

(From "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner")

Water, water, everywhere
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere
Not any drop to drink.

The very deep did rot: Oh Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.


Ah! Wel-a-day! What evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the albatross
About my neck was hung.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Elizabeth in Wonderland

I lived in a lot of "exotic" places in my childhood - Laos, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Taiwan. Growing up, water buffaloes routinely wandered into our front yard, poinsettia bushes grew six feet high and pale green luna moths floated through them. It wasn't all ineffable beauty, though. You could find your way to market with your eyes closed by following the smell of dead fish. Birds nested in the venetian blinds. Termites swarmed in through the windows. Wild, and sometimes rabid, dogs roamed the streets in packs. There were coup d'etats every so often and gunfire sometimes at night. And all of it - the beauty, the wildness - was entirely normal to me. It was just the place that I lived, the place that everyone I knew lived. In retrospect my time there seems amazing, but when I was little it was just home.

There was one place I lived, however, that was entirely different and, to me, wildly exotic. It was a place straight out of the storybooks and fairytales I read. It was ... Michigan. We lived there for one year, when I was five, when my father was at the University of Michigan getting a masters degree. We lived in a stone house. Stone! Like castles were made of. We had a stone fireplace - or "chimney corner" as I called it - like the one Cinderella got her cinders from. I used to pose by it and imagine myself as an oppressed heroine of my own fairy tale involving ogerish older brothers. Me at play in Wonderland.
There was a field behind our house where I used to wander, with my four-year-old boyfriend Keithie, and pick wildflowers, and we never once had to run away from rabid dogs. Instead, there were tadpoles and frogs in a pond. In winter, the pond froze and I was thrilled at the prospect of ice skating. I went to that pond, got my wide learner skates on, and posed, one foot on the ice, one leg bent at the knee, like all the pictures that I'd seen of ice skaters. I expected to simply start floating across the ice because I'd never actually seen a person skating so I didn't know you actually had to move your legs to make it work. It was all so thrillingly new and strange.

After my father finished his masters, we moved back to the tropics - to seasons that went from hot and dry to hot and rainy; to mango and tamarind trees in the back yard; to running wild on dirt roads and getting every parasite known to man - to what was home for me.

I've lived in the States for thirty years now. I bitch about the cold, never ice skate because of a bum knee, and grumble when it snows. I've even been back to a place called Michigan. But it wasn't my Michigan - that place between the world that was home but wasn't mine, and the place that was mine but has never really felt like home - that Wonderland.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A bad day

It's been one of those days. First I woke up to the fifth straight day and several consecutive weeks home with a sick child. Not the same sick child all the time. They've been taking turns, bless their pointed little heads. So I began the day at the end of my rope, and I very shortly fell completely off it (the rope, that is). My special-needs daughter, who was the one home this week, lost it in the bathtub, soaking me and the floor. I got angry enough to almost lose it myself. It was all I could do not to yell at her. We never yell at any of our kids, but especially not at her; it's counterproductive. We stay calm and explain consequences clearly. But somehow today I couldn't manage. I sent her to her room and then went downstairs and cried because I felt so awful about it.

The wonderful husband came home early so I could get a break. I decided to get out of the house, so i went to my community-garden plot, which is in a local cemetery. I thought a couple of hours of physical exertion, outside and with no kids anywhere near me, would set me back on my normal roll-with-the-punches track. But when I got there, this is what I found:

My little garden plot, which is fenced and gated to keep out deer, had been vandalized. The gate, which is never locked (because deer don't have opposable thumbs), was broken and knocked over. Fence posts were bent, things were strewn around. I was pretty upset, so I walked around the cemetery to calm myself down, get a little perspective on things. Which I did, but not in the way I had planned because I saw several headstones that had been knocked over. Worse and worse. So I decided to go back home, which was by then, seeming like a better choice because there, at least, I know and love the people who (occasionally) make me cry.

Then on the way home I heard about the second mass shooting in two days...

What sends us over the edge and into irrational, destructive, or violent behavior? For me today, why was this the day I couldn't manage what I normally manage without even thinking about it? What was it (liquor? drugs? hormones?) that made someone decide to destroy my sweet and harmless little garden or knock over somebody's mother's headstone? And what pushes a person who has never shot or killed anyone to suddenly open fire on strangers? I have no answers for any of this, but I do know that I hope tomorrow will be a better day for me, for you, for all of us.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I desperately want a new(er) living room rug, so cruising craigslist the other day, I saw a promising one being sold by a woman who was "moving to Austin to start my music career!" I pictured a 20 or 30 something, fed up with the grind, setting off to pursue her dream. We arranged a time for me to come by and I was surprised to hear that she lived in a well-to-do suburban neighborhood. When I got there, I was even more surprised to see a gleaming silver Porsche in the driveway. And when I rang the bell and the front door opened, I was absolutely flabbergasted when a woman who was about my age and looked slightly less natural than Donatella Versace answered the door.

She was wearing artfully (by which I mean expensively) ripped bright red leggings, a tight low-cut tank top (it was 45 degrees out), and a cowboy hat. It was all I could do to keep my chin from dragging on the pavement. I mean, this is Pittsburgh! The only "work" people have done on themselves here are Steelers tattoos or organ transplants. Anyway, thank God for my Diplomatic Corps training! I held myself together and followed her into the house. I didn't buy the rug, but I did look around looking at other stuff and we got to talking. After a while, being me (by which I mean being nosy) she'd told me her life story.

It was a sad one. Her handsome, successful tennis-pro and professional photographer husband had died. They had no kids. Their big fancy house was empty and loveless and reminded her only of what she had lost. I bought some books and a bike rack but, though she had nice things, it would have been too painful to bring anything that reminded me of her home. Not because she'd lost so much, but because she was so clearly running as fast as she could from so much. I mean, I understand; she's a middle-aged, heartbroken woman, with, possibly, her best times behind her in a society that completely devalues normal looking older women who aren't "cougars."

It was a weird and interesting evening. I'm not usually a very judgmental person, but I walked in there judging the Hell out of her for her Porsche and her face and her gratuitously top-of-the-line everything. But I left there hoping she would find a little bit of peace and happiness, and imagining her on stage - with her guitar, her bleached-blond hair, her bad-girl ripped leggings, her cowboy hat - singing her alt-rock heart out, in front of an audience that will only remember her for that ruinous caricature of a young woman's face that she wears in place of her own.

I also left there wishing I'd had the nerve to tell her "Honey,you're a sweet woman and you really need to stop having work done on your face. It's starting to get scary."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The good (mommy), the bad (mommy), and the H1N1.

I put he youngest to bed at 9:00 last night. I had my feet up and was really looking forward to a few heavenly hours to myself. Then, at 9:15 I heard the heavy-sigh inducing, personality-splitting sound of her feet creaking down the stairs. Bad mommy reared her ugly head and snipped at her, "What's going on?" My daughter said "Mommy, my chest hurts." Now she really does have H1N1, but she's also a complete hypochondriac, so while bad mommy wanted to say 'Oh for heaven's sake! Just go to SLEEP!', good mommy said "Come lie down on the couch and let's see what we can do about it..."

Two hours of nonstop chest pain and several chats with the on-call doctor later, good mommy got in the car and took her to the ER...

Everyone in the ER had masks on - receptionists, nurses, kids, parents - everyone.

Friday night at Children's Hospital smack in the middle of an H1N1 epidemic. Good times. Every room was full. The hallways echoed with the sound of crying children. We were there for hours.

Anyway, it turns out that people's immune systems are fighting the H1N1 virus so hard that it leaves other parts of them undefended, and doctors are seeing lots of opportunistic secondary infections. So my little hypochondriac actually had an inflammation and infection of her chest wall. Just before we left the hospital (at 4 am) they gave her a dose of antibiotics. By the time we got home, her chest had stopped hurting.

Good mommy and bad mommy were both glad they'd taken her to the ER were very grateful for the miracle of antibiotics. And bad mommy was reminded that just because someone's a hypochondriac, it doesn't mean they're not really sick. She's learned her lesson. And now that a third child is getting a cough, bad mommy will no doubt have to learn it again. Bad mommy hates learning lessons.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

H1N1 hits home

Two of the four girls have probable cases of H1N1. When I took the youngest to the doctor today, they met us in the parking lot, gave us masks to wear, and whisked us in the back way. The youngest seems to have a mild case. Can't tell yet with the middle child. But I'm keeping a hawk eye on them, and hoping for the best.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I shoulda seen it coming....

So yesterday my twins (you know, the ones who came out) said, "Mom, can you take us shopping. We need to buy some flannel shirts." Seriously guys, did one of you send them that "Now that you're a lesbian!" book?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fixing Lizzy's heart

I made this to cheer up a friend with a broken heart. So now you all know that if you need your heart put back together or just someone's ass kicked, call Middle-Aged Super Mom! She'll make it all better.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I'm alive

It wasn't a great summer for writing and me. The kids, those ever useful excuses to not get anything done, were all home and, try as I might to ignore them, well, I couldn't entirely. And my mom is on facebook. And my novel was seeming utterly intractable. And etc. ad infinitum. So many excuses, so very boring. Even for me.

Well now school is in session and my excuses are all gone eight hours a day. I'm taking on the novel again, and I hope to be a better and more entertaining correspondent. (But not with my mom on FB. That just too weird.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pittsburgh welcomes the world and then is REALLY glad when the world leaves.

Well, we made it through the G20 mostly intact. A sad little group of self-styled "anarchists" did show up and misbehave enough to get tear gassed. The little nitwits broke the windows of evil capitalist giants like Pamela's Diner, an independent and lesbian-owned and operated local business. Good going anarchists. Everyone knows that those lesbians, with their Birkenstocks, flannel shirts, and pancakes, are out to take over the world! The protesters also broke the windows of a Boston Market that is right next to a major cancer-treatment facility, terrorizing the already traumatized families of cancer patients. Nice work kids!

Which makes me wonder, when did I get to be such a fuddy duddy? Oh, I know, it was when I had to stop living life theoretically and had to start living it for real. I've actually sat in that very Boston Market with a friend whose husband was getting cancer treatments. Yeah, the food is corporate and mediocre, but it serves food your kids will eat (which is a huge mercy when you're going through a life crisis) and it's a brief haven from the misery of the hospital. It makes me sad to think of those poor families sitting huddled in their booths - just trying to gather themselves together before they go back to the hospital where they have to be strong again - suddenly having shards of glass rain down on them. And it confirms my belief that it's never, ever a good thing when ideology trumps our humanity.

I'll stop grumping now, and here, for your amusement, is a link to my favorite photo from the G20. It's of a cute little anarchist trying to get reception on his corporation-owned and operated cell phone!

So having recently been through a town-brawl meeting with right-wing extremists and now the G20 with left-wing nut jobs, it makes me want to toss them all in a padded cell and lock the door!

Monday, September 14, 2009

My husband has finally given birth!

Afer twenty-five years of pregnant thought and six years of writing and rewriting, my husband's magnum opus is finally out! It really is brilliant. But don't take my word for it. Read what the reviewers say:

“No one does art history and the history of memory as sublimely as Kirk Savage. In this book of extraordinary research and widely accessible prose, Savage brilliantly shows how America's most sacred and visible public space has evolved.” (David W. Blight)

“Monument Wars is the best single work I've read on the idea of the ‘monument’ in American culture, the best single analysis and history of Washington's shrines.” (James E. Young)

"Now maybe he will stop dragging us to monuments all the time!" (Our kids)

Here's the website:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Vanilla Rice

As you know, one of our daughters is autistic. She's very bright, but has a really difficult time getting her words out. We've spent lots and lots of time carefully modeling speech for her, and teaching her what to say and when to say it.

Today my husband was making dinner and as he was getting the rice on, my super intellectual book-writing Ph.D. of a husband was riffing on the old Vanilla Ice hit and singing "I'm making rice, rice, baby. (Boom ba da boom boom ba dum) Rice, rice, baby." When dinner was ready, my autistic daughter comes into the kitchen and says "I want Rice Rice Baby!"

I'm really hoping that, at the school cafeteria, she'll rock it out to the lunch ladies and ask for "Rice, rice, baby."

Friday, August 28, 2009


When I first met my twins, they were six months old, in an orphanage in Vietnam. They had inflamed eczema on their faces and, on their shaved heads, a two-day growth of spiky black hair poking up through the infected scabs covering the tops of their heads. You'd press on their little crusty scalps and puss would ooze out. I remember holding them proudly in our arms on the plane to the US and telling the stewardesses brightly "We just adopted them!" while they looked back at us with pasted-on smiles and deep pity in their eyes. Those babies were truly and seriously funky looking. And when we got home, we were told again and again how lucky they were - because they were a different race, from a third-world country, had been in an orphanage, and were, admittedly, kind of grungey at first. But I'd been trying to have babies for for a few years, had some miscarriages, and to me they were the instant cure for my broken heart, the happy ending to all my tears, splotchy infected little miracles, and I knew I was the lucky one.

They cleaned up pretty nice, didn't they?

They started talking (English) at seven months old, shortly after they arrived in the states. They learned to read and write very young, they draw astonishingly well, play the guitar with talent and flair, make mostly A's in school, and they're gay. Because of this last little detail, a lot of people have been telling me, once again, how lucky they are to have me as a mother. Yesterday was my birthday and, in a card she'd drawn herself, one of my twins wrote, "I owe you for everything I am today. I'll love you always." She was so embarrassed she had to run and hide while I read it. She is sixteen after all. But when I was sixteen, I think the deepest thing I had to say to my parents was "I'm going out. Can I have some money?" or "You just don't understand!" (It was the 70s. We had a generation gap to maintain.)

So I just wanted to say what a privilege it is for me to be the mother of these lovely, talented, kind young women. Just as it has been a privilege for me to know all the gay men and women I've known over the years. Because people who know that shit happens - that life doesn't always follow the script we're handed when we're kids, that "normal" is a myth - are the very best kind of people to have at your side through the ups and downs of life. They're the ones who don't get scared when things are rough, who stay with you every step of the way. Having people like that in your life, however they come to you, now that's lucky.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

You'll laugh that hanky right off your ass

I don't usually do this, but I have found the most hysterical updating of the gay man's Hanky Code and thought you'd get a kick out of it. Here's the link:
Hanky Code update
It's at a blog called Another Little Disappointment, which I now plan to follow religiously, or irreligiously as the case may be!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Summer's end

What an odd summer it's been. Because of the husband's broken foot we didn't do anything especially summery or vacationy, so it feels like nothing happened. But as I think about it, a lot was going on beneath the boring every-day surface of our lives.

In theory the biggest thing that happened was the teens "coming out." But really it was just a confirmation of what I've long suspected. I've got pretty hi-def gaydar, but even if I had been totally clueless, my lesbian friends (who, ever since the girls were in kindergarden, were saying 'You know, you might have some dykes on your hands there...') would have clued me in. So it's been less of an "event" and more a simple and welcome clarification.

The husband made full professor and an advance copy of his second book (more on that in another post) is in our hands, but that's what I've always known he could and would do. In a way, the biggest deal about it for me is that he lived to accomplish these things.

Which brings me to what, for me, the summer was really about - mortality. My mother is starting to fade - her memory is dimming and this woman who spent her life traveling the globe gets flustered now in new environments. My teens are growing into young women - they're falling in love, having girlfriends, and starting to think about college. They're almost fully cooked and ready to come out of the oven and make their own mistakes without me to cosset and guide them. And my husband, of course, still has his freaky incurable blood disease. So I see these fixed stars of my life - my mother, my husband, my children - as suddenly shifting, orbiting away from me. It makes me metaphysically dizzy. I went to talk to a therapist about it all and his advice was "You have to trick yourself into believing in the illusion of immortality again." Which I understand. You can't live each moment of your life in paralyzing fear that it will end. But Buddhism looks at the same set of circumstances and advises us to realize that impermanence is the true state of all things and that we should try to embrace it and find peace in the acceptance of that truth.

Honestly, I'm not doing very well at either approach. And since I am, as my husband tells me, "completely incapable of compartmentalizing," I've been grappling like Hell with all this. Which is why I've been less than normally communicative these past months. (Which is also a long-way about of apologizing for not commenting on your blogs as much lately!)

So what do you think? Does one try to dive back into the lulling youthful illusion of immortality, or does one look steely eyed at the passing away of all things and follow the stony path of non-attachment? Any advice or experience would be appreciated!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Town-brawl meeting

Apparently Betsey Ross is against health-care reform. Who knew?

My friends and I did have a few allies in the crowd.

As you know from my previous post, I'm really concerned about how the national health-care debate is being hijacked by the right-wing fear mongers. So I made my little posters and did what I thought was my civic duty and went to a town-hall meeting. Or rather, I stood in the parking lot outside a town-hall meeting. The meeting was at 3:00 PM and, apparently, people were lining up to get in at 7 AM!

So my friends and I stood in the parking lot simply showing our signs. I was yelled at, called names, followed, and harassed. I walked by holding my little sign and people yelled "Get a job!" (as if it is the mere laziness of the uninsured that causes their pitiful condition). I was told I was naive, deluded, and too sensitive (go figure!!!) and that our democratically elected president was a "clown" and a "tool" of variously "the communists," "Wall Street," and "Zeke Emanuel" (Rahm's brother). I also witnessed a white crowd blocking a bus full of black people, taunting them. When the police finally intervened so that the bus could leave, the white crowd shouted "Don't come back! Don't come back!" I have never been so ashamed of my country.

There were some funny (in a sort of WTF way) moments. At one point a man I was talking to said something about "Communist countries like Canada." I said, "Wait a minute! Canada's not communist." To which he replied, as if he was making a brilliant point, "But Cuba is!" Oh my country, my silly silly country.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Show your support for health-care reform!

I really believe that the scare-mongers are taking over the national conversation we are having on health-care-reform. If you want to show your support for reform, please feel free to print out on of these posters (or make your own!) and put it up in your window, your car, your cubicle, anywhere! We need to take control of this conversation and get real health-care reform for this country!

Monday, August 10, 2009

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a brief rant.

I was at a store recently, shopping for clothes for my kids - my four daughters. And these are are what I found. Now, I have a healthy sense of humor, and am even not averse to sexual innuendo. But some of these shirts were the right size for my ten-year-old daughter, the one who still makes fairy houses in the back yard. The one who writes poems like this:

Barbie Meets Acid Rain

Barbie was walking in the grass
Knowing nothing about the Earth's mass.
Acid rain started falling down
And soaked her purse, body, and gown.

And she melted.

So this is what American Eagle Outfitters and Abercrombie and Fitch want her to grow up and into? Someone who flaunts sexuality before she's anywhere near ready to "Get Lei'd?" Someone who thinks school is a drag and being a "class cutter" is cool? They don't want her to have a broad mind and a tight argument, they want her to be a broad with a "tight end" and "tiny bikini" which she pulls off on Girls Gone Wild. Sigh.

So is it possible that these a**holes at American Eagle and Abercrombie don't have mothers/daughters/nieces/sisters? No, of course not. But clearly the value of a dollar trumps the value of their families.

OK. I'm done now.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Even though it has crappy pizza (Yeah, I said it!) I really do ♥ New York.

(Image from Jello Kitty)
I just got back from a trip to New York to meet my newest niece. The baby was adorable, the new parents were smitten with her, and New York was itself - full of people, noise, smells (it was summer), and the buzzing energy it's always had. New York is one of the few places in my life that I've been able to return to again and again and gotten to know deeply over time. I've seen a lot of different sides of it and seen its changes over the years.

I first visited the city in the early 60s with my grandmother and saw it as a fairy-tale place of privilege. The ladies in that world all wore minks and pearls. We whisked around in cavernous Checker cabs, stayed in my Aunt's Park Avenue apartment, went to see Mary Martin fly over our heads in Peter Pan on Broadway, and had hot chocolate at (the now sadly closed) Rumpelmayer's in the Saint Moritz hotel.

The next era I remember was the mid/late 70s, when I was in college. New York was getting scuzzier by then, or more precisely, the scuzziness of it was spreading beyond the areas it was supposed to stay in. And I was hanging around places that my grandmother, in her mink and pearls, would never have dreamed of going. Like the subway, which at that time, was unairconditioned, wildly graffitied, stinking of urine, and full of hoi poloi. Oooh, the danger and excitement of breaking away from your family: of going to downtown galleries and clubs; of sleeping on someone else's dorm-room floor; of not taking cabs! I was young, intellectual, and living on the edge (when I wasn't safely ensconced in my Ivy-League college, that is).

Oh my darlings, then came the disco days! I had left the Ivy League, with it's inscrutable (to me anyway) preppies and its revolting winters, far behind. I moved to San Francisco and in short order fell in love with a sitar-playing poet, stopped being an intellectual (because he was more talented than me, or at least that's what he told me), started wearing peasant skirts, got my heart broken, stopped wearing peasant skirts, and became a fag hag. Somehow one summer, we hags and fags all went East and met up in Manhattan at (shall the circle be unbroken?) someone's father's Park Avenue apartment. Not a pearl, fur, or pump in sight though. I remember I wore a black slit-leg skirt and a gauzy, almost-but-not-quite-see-through top. I looked gorgeous, as we all did. It was our hobby, our defense, our gang insignia, and it was the 80s so we all (boys and girls) had to look like Brian Ferry's back-up singers. Soon Daddy's limo came to get us. Poppers came out and were sniffed. We pulled up to Studio 54 and, because we came in a limo, the bouncer pulled aside the velvet rope and let us in. It was the absolute height of Studio 54's fame. We were all desperately excited about who we might see, but no one famous was there. My friends told me about all the famous people they had seen on other nights - Mick, Bianca, Liza, Andy - but not that night. I did, however, manage to get propositioned for a three way, but even though I said no (they weren't that cute), I remember the fact of it fondly.

Then, in the late 80s, I moved to New York and went to grad school on the upper west side. It was the height of the crack wars. I lived right across the street from Morningside park and I never stepped foot in once. Two crack-dealing gangs were warring over it and we were always hearing gunfire from the shadowy depths below the leaf canopy. In the 80s New York, every time I went outside I had to harden my heart against panhandlers. Walking a few blocks down Broadway to get groceries was an exercise in psychological warfare - them trying to get, and me trying to limit what I gave because we were broke. But there were museums (Yes I am paying just one penny to get into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, thank you!), free festivals, free music, good street food, and such amazing things - some incredibly surreal - to take in just walking through the city. One cold winter night walking home on Broadway, we saw a gleaming black grand piano on the sidewalk. No one was paying any attention to it. It was as if it had just popped out of Lincoln Center at the intermission to get a breath of fresh air or catch a smoke.

Now the panhandlers, bums, and squeegee men are gone. (Where did they go? Are they all in jail? Or in New Jersey?) Morningside Park is being used by all and sundry as a park(!). Washington Square Park isn't full of ganja dealers, there's a Target and an Applebee's in the Bronx, and the only meat in the Meat-Packing district is the expensive organic, grass-fed kind the waiter serves you on a plate. Weird, amazing, and a little bit sad. But that's just pointless nostalgia. Because, really, all those parts of New York - the ladies in mink, the bums in rags, the middle-class families scraping by, the drugs, the dirt, the art, the pretty boys and girls, the excitement - are still there, just in different shapes, different places. And unlike London or Paris, the geographical facts of New York, the huge population crammed within its tiny boundaries, makes it a place where all those parts of the city get shoved, willy nilly, together. It makes for friction, unease, exhaustion, and unexpected beauty and inspiration. It's what made me go there, it's what made me want to stay, it's what made me leave.

God I'm glad to be home in a calm quiet city where I don't have to pay more than the monthly mortgage on my house to rent a cramped one-bedroom apartment. God I want to go back.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Where the hell have I been?

When I was a kid I lived for summer: long days lying on the sofa, with a stack of Nancy Drew novels next to me, and just reading reading reading; biking the neighborhood streets with my friends and without helmets or rules; running through the sprinkler then drying off by sashaying through the neighborhood in my swimsuit; playing day-long games of Monopoly or Canasta. My father went off, in his stifling suit and tie, to the office. My mother ignored us as much as possible. How I loved the slow, hot boredom and freedom of it.

And now I'm on the other side of it. I'm the mother and: I don't let my ten-year old bike without helmets and rules; I worry if my kids disappear for too long; I try to organize "enrichment" activities for them and, when I don't, I feel guilty. And my husband still has a broken toe and my washing machine broke. I can't wait for summer to end.

Monday, June 22, 2009

And now for some comic relief!

I've been posting some SERIOUS stuff lately, so I thought I'd give us all a break and take you along with me on my day yesterday at a classic old American amusement park. It ain't pretty.

Damn illegal aliens taking jobs from Americans! Why don't they stay in Roswell like they're supposed to!

                                             One of the rides. Don't ask me!

                     The old carousel.   Queen Elizabeth or a jester in drag?

                                                She moves and laughs maniacally. 
                                          The stuff of little children's nightmares.

                                           I think I saw Elvis in line here.

                                       Honey, I've told you a million times,
                                        those cowboys will break your heart.

                             Oh My!  (Photoshopped for the boys on the blog.)

                          A cheap shot I know, but I never said I wasn't cheap.

           And finally, we might be trash, but by God, we're patriotic trash!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Requiem for a cool girl

When I was fourteen, my family moved to Taiwan. At the time, Taipei had a huge US military base which supported an entire suburb of families and a school. My father was a diplomat, though, so we lived in Taipei proper, far away from most other Americans, and each day I took a long bus ride to and from school. At first I sat alone dreaming out the window at this new place called home. But at some point during that first year, an older girl started sitting behind me and talking to me. I don't know why she chose me. I wasn't cool. I was a fourteen-year old nobody. But perhaps that's exactly why she talked to me. Being a nobody in the social hierarchy of school, I was unable to judge or harm her. I was safe.

Her name was Anya Phillips. She was Eurasian and had a slight tendency toward chubbiness. She was not remarkably beautiful or remarkably ugly, or really, remarkable in any way. She was two years ahead of me in school, and way ahead of me in all other ways. She smoked, did drugs, though that was no big deal in our school. Taipei was an R & R (Rest and Recreation) base for the GIs fighting in Vietnam, and they brought lots and lots of recreation with them. Heroin, acid, pot, hash, were consumed like candy at my school, and if that wasn't enough, you could walk in to any drug store and buy speed or downers without a prescription. Only the Jesus freaks or the new kids like me didn't do drugs of some sort. So Anya was just following along with the crowd, trying to be hip. Unsurprisingly, she never talked to me in school, and never called me at home. But on the bus - that demilitarized zone between the worlds that mattered to her - she talked to me about all kinds of things - gripes about her family, music, boys she thought were hot, things she thought were cool. She wanted desperately to be cool. She wasn't quite. Because in high school there were limits on what you could do for the sake of coolness; school dress codes that had to be adhered to, parents who held purse strings and had to be kept mollified.

When the next year started, she took her place behind me on the bus and her confessional monologues began again. That year, for me though, things began to change. My friends and I began to dabble with drugs. Anya was dealing by then, and about half way through the year, she offered to sell and I bought. A few weeks later I received my one and only phone call at home from Anya. She called to tell me she had been caught dealing by the MPs (military police). Then she said, "They said they wouldn't prosecute me if I told them who I sold to, so I gave them your name because you were less popular than the others." As I said, there was nothing more important to her than being cool, and even upset and frightened as I was at the time, I understood the emptiness and self loathing behind what she'd just said and done.

Things changed, of course, after that. My father was a diplomat so I had immunity. But I got scared straight and stopped doing drugs completely and forever. Anya was suspended from school and, when she came back, I stayed away from her. And so, she faded from my life, though not from my mind. I dined out on the pitiful story of her ratting me out for years: "Can you believe she actually said to me...!" And, more seriously, Anya gave me the story I told my teens when we had our talks about drugs; "I bought drugs and got caught and if I hadn't been lucky enough to have diplomatic immunity, I might not have been able to get into college, get a good job, adopt you." It packed a wallop, that little story. So, in a weird way, her bald, craven need for social approval and her lack of loyalty to anything but that need, changed my life for the better. You don't forget people who - for good or bad - change your life.

Well, today I was in a bookstore, leafing idly through a book on the New York punk scene, and there, in grainy black and white, was Anya. It was a night shot of her and a group of punk No Wavers - Lydia Lunch of Teen Age Jesus and the Jerks, and some others. "Girls," I yelled across the store to my daughters, "here's the woman who ratted me out for buying drugs because I wasn't popular enough!" They ran over and were fascinated. When I got home, I googled her. She had been big in the New York punk scene, hung out with Debbie Harry, helped found the Mudd Club, worked as an exotic dancer and an S & M dominatrix, and dealt and did heroin. She died in 1981 from cancer. On a computer chat group full of old and former punks, I found a thread about her. One of them wrote, "I went to the hospital [to visit her] once...but was unable to handle it and quickly ran out to get another bag [of heroin]." Just for the record, Anya, I would have stayed ....

So Anya, you finally made it to cool, babe. You were always cooler than me, but that was easy. In the end, though, you out-cooled everyone: all those boys who wouldn't date you in high school; who you wouldn't rat on to the MPs; who wouldn't give you the time of day even after that. While in life, there was always a sad eagerness for approval about you, but In death you've finally achieved elusiveness, that necessary ingredient for cool. In the pictures from that time, you are thin, smoking, dressed in black, and self-consciously, painfully chic and posed. Strangers see those pictures now and make comments like, "Coolest girl ever!" The beautiful sculptured shell you gave up so much for is all that's left of you now. But in my mind you're still a real and unremarkable girl, riding on the purgatory of that bus, that space between the Hell of home and the unreachable Heaven of popularity in school. You sit, forever, on a seat of cracked green vinyl. But now I'm the one that leans over the dull gray metal of the seat back to whisper in your ear something like a prayer. And this is what I it is. Anya, I truly hope that, somewhere there, in the brief, white-hot heart of New York heroin-chic, wearing your own dreamed-up leather-bondage fashions, doing Chinese white, thrashing to the loud music, you found the antidote you needed to fill your emptiness, to slake your endless aching thirst for love.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Suffer the little children

I am the mother of some obviously "different" kids. My twins are Asian, adopted when they were six months old. Another daughter is noticeably autistic. We get a lot of stares, questions, double takes, but I've worked hard to make sure we mostly live in a little protective bubble of a world that enthusiastically embraces the many differences we humans have from one another. I've also tried to talk about how the world treats and mistreats difference, and that it's not all goodness and light, but luckily for us these talks are mostly theoretical. To this end, however, when we were invited to a play called "Anne and Emmet," an imagined dialog between Anne Frank and Emmet Till, we decided to take the twins with us. It would be a cultural experience and good opportunity to broaden their knowledge of the world, but at a safe historical distance. The play was to take place at the Holocaust Museum in Washington on Wednesday. We drove to DC that day, arriving in the late afternoon. We were tired from the drive and, though my mother was urging us to leave immediately for the Mall, we dawdled and delayed. Finally, we got ourselves organized to go but, as we were about to leave, we got a call saying a white extremist had come into the Holocaust Museum and shot and killed a black guard. Had we left early to avoid DC rush hour, as my mother was urging us to do, my beautiful brown-skinned daughters might have been in the sights of a man who would have seen them, because of the simple fact of having extra pigmentation in their skin, as a threat to his idea of what America should be.

I can't express how grateful I am that my daughters were spared the violence, bloodshed, and trauma of being there. I tried my best to distract them from the shock that a man had been murdered that day, at a place we had been about to go to, for the crime of having brown skin, like theirs. I took them shopping, swimming, out for ice cream. But everywhere we turned, TVs and radios were blaring this man's twisted and hate-filled vision of the world or the tragic image of the man his hatred killed. The twins are level-headed girls and, having been abandoned at birth by their biological mother, having spent the first six months of their lives in an orphanage, they know that hard shit happens in this life. But this was different.

When they were little, they used to ask me, "What would you do to keep us safe?" And then they would proceed to make up scenarios that included all my worst phobias. "Would you bungee jump naked from the Empire State building?" And I would say "Yes, even though I would throw up, wet my pants, and faint if I did that, I would do it to keep you safe." And I would. And I'm sure that the mothers of Anne Frank and Emmet Till - those now no longer so safely historical object lessons - would have too. As would the mother of Stephen Tyrone Johns, the guard who died Wednesday and who lived, as do we all, in a world that, heartbreakingly, we cannot keep safe for our children.

(My husband was asked to write an opinion piece in the Washington Post putting the shooting in the context of the history of the Mall. Here's the link if you're interested:
Outlook op ed )

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Coming out, 21st century style

My teen-aged twin daughters came out to me today. Here's how it went:

(Mother and daughter sitting on the front porch on a quiet summer morning. Off stage the sound of an occasional car going by. Sun shines through a tall rhododendron, which screens them from the street.)
Me: "So, are you and N. dating?"
R: "Yeah. I was going to tell you...."
Me: "And you know that's totally fine with us, right?"
R: "Yeah. I know."
Me: "Good. What about Z? I haven't seen her for a while."
R: "She's on vacation. She and S. are.... I don't know."
Me: (Nodding) "When are you guys going out shopping today?"

Not exactly high drama, right? Which is as it should be, I guess. Honestly, I've been ready to join PFLAG since they were four and S. announced to me, "I don't want to ever get married, ever get pregnant, ever wear a dress again, or ever have breasts!" (To which I replied, "That's all fine with me, but you ARE going to have breasts. They'll be small though, since you're Asian.") And I have to admit that I suspected something was up before that, when they went through a phase of drawing pictures of themselves with penises. They would draw those cute circle bodies with eyes, nose, mouth, stick arms, and a little stick penis, then show me the picture saying, "This is me, with a penis!"
I remember saying, "But S., you don't have a penis. You could draw yourself with a vagina...."
"But I WANT to draw myself with a penis!"
No, Mr. Freud, it's not what you think.

The funny thing is that after (or because of?) all this emotional prepping and gearing up to be the MOST supportive parent ever!!!!!!!, I don't think they'll want me to join PFLAG. They're low-key girls who don't like making a big deal about much of anything. I'll ask them, but my guess is that they'll say, "Ummm... no...."

So welcome to the 21st century. We're here and we're queer, but we don't really want to make a big deal about it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I had to change the title of this post because some weird website in China kept adding dirty links to it!

I have seven kinds of old-fashioned roses blooming in my garden now. Seven! As I write this, the scent of Zephirine Drouhin is wafting in the open front window. Darlings, I might not be much of a housekeeper, but I do like to dig around in the dirt and plant things. And if you wait long enough, those little spindly leggy shoots turn into gorgeous blousey bombshells! Va va va voom!

The Grand Dames of the garden, two decades-old 10' x 10' beauties I call Big Pink:

A David Austin Yellow rose, a wild little pink climer and a big-pink bud:

A tiny pink sweetheart rose:

Zephirine Drouhin up close:

Zephirine Drouhin as it climbs up the trellis on my front porch: