Sunday, December 27, 2009

Child Anecdote

Not quite the usual kind.

We are at the Brooklyn Museum of Art to see James Tissot's Life Of Christ watercolors. The tour guide gives a brief account of Tissot's life, mentioning that he left his native France and lived with a woman named Kathleen Newton and her two children in London for eight years. She then died of tuberculosis (Wikipedia says suicide in the late stages of consumption) and he returned to Paris. Years later he experienced a religious vision in the church of Saint Sulpice and began his ten-year project of researching and depicting the life of Christ.

She will be showing us some highlights of the collection, the guide explains, and if we have any questions she'll be glad M. is raising her hand already. "Yes?" says the guide, "do you have a question?"

M: Yes. What happened to the two children?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Look out!

I may post again one day, but meanwhile this fall is shaping up to be the rampiest ramp ever. When I went to high school all I had to do was show up. R. has to go to Open Houses, and fill out applications, and take tests, and...decide things!

And speaking of The Ramp, how am I ever going to deal with college admissions?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The 39 Steps

I'm two days late on my birthday rubric, but here goes:

25 Years Ago
I was fourteen. I hate to say this, but I think I messed up last year in my eagerness to tell my Tina Turner tale. I think that was my fourteenth birthday. For my thirteenth birthday, I had a slumber party, about which I remember four things:

Inspired by Martha Plimpton in her Calvin Klein ad, I had just had all of my ill-advised perm cut off in an edgy short haircut.

I wanted to get one of those packages of individual cereal boxes for breakfast, but my mother felt that the other mothers would judge her for serving cereal and made pancakes instead.

I was wearing black and white dolphin shorts and a white sleeveless top with lots of complicated flaps and lacing.

The next day there was a picnic for the town's 60th anniversary, which helped me place this memory more accurately.

Half My Life Ago
I was nineteen and a half. I had just had one of the worst days of my life--on which I did not get into the eating club of my choice--followed by one of the best, on which I was "sung into" my beloved a capella group. I did eventually become a member of that club, although the question in retrospect is, was it the club of my choice? In January of 1990 I started dating a boy, a much sought-after and very nice boy. My relationship with him caused me to expend a lot of energy every day pretending to be someone I was not. I did this for his benefit, but he was not usually around to see it. Yes, my boyfriend was very busy, so busy that I had dinner with R. almost every night during this period. And luckily, R. was also in Eating Club of Choice and that's The Rest of the Story.

That semester I took a course in British Women's Fiction. When it came time to write a paper I met with Professor Deborah Nord and told her I wanted to write about Story Of An African Farm by Olive Schreiner. She suggested that I compare it to Doris Lessing's Martha Quest*, and I told her that I hated Martha Quest. In the paper, I explained why Martha Quest was a totally unbelievable and unsympathetic character because of her ability to believe mutually exclusive things about herself and her life simultaneously (whereas Lyndall in SOAAF believes in nothing). A few weeks later my boyfriend broke up with me and I realized Martha, c'est moi.**

*Incidentally, why do teachers and professors do this? My junior year high school English teacher made me change my term paper topic and then commented on the final draft that I didn't seem very excited about my subject.

**After the breakup, my mother commented, "I'm so relieved. I thought you were going to marry him, take a menial job to support him through medical school, and then end up divorced."

Thursday, August 06, 2009

RIP John Hughes

Like Michael Jackson, he entertained my generation, and his work will live in our memories. Unlike Michael Jackson, he doesn't seem to need to be defended. And unlike Michael Jackson, he won't garner days and weeks of breathless news coverage.

I chose this clip not only because I think it is the greatest movie kiss of all time, but also because the extras on my Some Kind of Wonderful DVD include an interview of John Hughes (by Kevin Bacon!) in which he says that the character of Keith was essentially a self-portrait.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Hospital Sketches--with apologies to Louisa May Alcott

One of the many joys of parenting hospitalized children is the "chair" that turns into a "bed." In the dark days before the Simpsons, Matt Groening published collections of his Life In Hell comics. "School Is Hell" included a comic entitled "Fun Science Facts" such as "Ringworm is not ringed, nor is it a worm. It is a fungus. A puff adder is not a puff, nor can it add. It is a snake...A fish stick is not fish, nor is it a stick. It is a fungus." The chair bed is not a chair, nor is it a bed. It is a fungus.

Accordingly, I was delighted to observe that T.'s hospital room featured not only a crib and two fungi, but also a real bed--and that we had the room to ourselves. I asked the nurse if I could sleep in the bed and she treated the idea as something incredibly transgressive, but ultimately probably okay. My back thanks me, but my thighs were repeatedly bitten by something in the night. Bitten by an insect that lives in a hospital. I'm trying not to freak out about the possibility of African sleeping sickness, Hanta virus, or MRSA.

It was one of our better hospital stays--but the best day at the hospital is still worse than the worst day at the beach.

T. managed to--in short order--completely remove not one but two intricately wrapped and taped gauze caps designed to prevent him from ripping off the electrodes on his head. We are very proud. Luckily when the tech asked "is he active?" I answered "very active" and thus she attached his electrodes with glue.

Residents on rounds do, in fact, answer questions with the false bravado followed by squirming qualification that one sees on Grey's Anatomy.

I know more about infantile spasms than neurology residents do.

T. is well and has started taking medication. Thanks to all the kind commenters--and to those who had kind thoughts but did not comment--and welcome to new readers.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In There

I'm afraid I'm going to end up hating Infinite Jest.

Not because of its length--I'm tripping along slightly ahead of schedule, although I always feel vaguely that I should either be farther ahead or staying with the pack--or its lengthy sentences.

Not because the math--especially the math+politics+game recipe of the Eschaton scene--makes me betray the sisterhood, go all Barbie and squeal "Ew! Boy stuff!"

Not even because I can't bear to see Hal shut down, although that comes close.

It's because of what's going on in my life this summer, which I will forever associate with Infinite Jest. I cannot go to the Olive Garden because when my first college boyfriend broke up with me, we had plans with another couple at the OG that night, and he felt that we should still go and pretend to be still together. I cannot drink vodka or banana-orange juice because...well, I suspect you know why. I hate the smell of hospital receiving blankets because they bring back the stress of T.'s hospitalization.

This summer I found out that my beautiful baby boy T. is blind. It's hard to get this across to health professionals sensitive to the continuum of "visually impaired," etc. but I think one expressive term would be "pretty darn blind." As in, please stop waving that thing around, he really really cannot see it.

And later this summer, this week, I found out that T. is having seizures. Seizures that are highly correlated not only with mental retardation, but also severe behavioral problems in the years to come. The neurologist tells me that quick diagnosis--for which, I think, in his cold doctory way he is trying to give me some credit--and prompt treatment makes for a better prognosis.

I keep thinking about Hal and his "I am in here." I know, with certainty, that T. is in there. Whatever happens, I intend to devote myself to assuring him that we, who love him, know he is in there.

When I go to the hospital today and see my little sweetheart hooked up to the forty-some wires of the EEG, I will be grateful to have a big book to read. I love Hal, and Pemulis, and Mario, and Joelle, and Gately, and I actually kind of like the endnotes, and Eschaton seems like something R. would love even though I can't get into it myself, and I kind of identify with Avril...but I won't want to read this book again.

Friday, June 26, 2009

RIP Michael Jackson: Joining The Cavalcade

Today the blogosphere will be choked with posts in memory of Michael Jackson. Since I started blogging I've eulogized Wendy Wasserstein, Madeleine L'Engle, Dan Fogelberg, William F. Buckley, and Paul Scofield. They--especially the first two--were perhaps more personally significant to me, but I think this death stands out as the first one to really rattle my whole generation.

The subtext or the supertext of every shared video, every status update, seems to be this: let's not be so cynical. It occurs to me, rather guiltily, that we have been cynical about Michael Jackson for a very long time, long before the abuse allegations and the increasingly bizarre behavior. I seem to recall a strange glee, a laughing behind hands, after his hair caught on fire in 1984--not unrelated to the glee John Dickerson observed around Mark Sanford's downfall.

Michael Jackson was an incredibly talented singer and dancer. I have been watching and listening for hours now and his performances as a child fronting the Jackson 5--in days when technology made vocal talent much harder to fake--are nothing less than phenomenal. His dancing--as evidenced in the moonwalking clip above, or in the "Black Or White" video--was also phenomenal. He may have been a triple threat, because for all we know, he was acting for every moment of his public life.

My father watched my twin entry into adolescence and pop culture with interest, so he was right there with me when Thriller burst on the scene, a sign and a wonder. I remember his comparing Jackson to Fred Astaire. We taped the "Billie Jean," "Beat It," and "Thriller" videos onto our new VCR so we could watch them over and over again. I also remember my father talking about Jackson with a kind of tenderness. Jackson's vulnerability was apparent even when he was on top of the world, and my father compared him to other over-the-top performers--Judy Garland, Dolly Parton, Cher. We should cherish them, he explained, because their ultimate motivation is to entertain--to give. Sometimes they give too much.

My school shoes for freshman year of high school were black penny loafers, and my best pair of socks were silver lamé. I practiced moonwalking for hours. "Thriller" showed us what a video could be. "Beat It" made Al Yankovic's "Eat It" possible. I watched the premiere of the "Black Or White" video at my eating club in a jam-packed TV room. We had the luxury of sneering at it a little; we thought we were past Michael Jackson. Now I watch it and think, the dancing! The rap! The beat! "Man In The Mirror" makes me cry every time I listen to it, key change, gospel choir, and every other heart-tugging trick, because it's true: that's where we all have to start.

So I'm starting with the woman in the mirror and asking her to be a little more childlike in her appreciation of the great entertainers in life. To focus on the moonwalk instead of the feet of clay.

And with respect to the elephant in the room, I'll just say this: Michael Jackson was found not guilty in a court of law.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I'm Still Still Still Here

When I was in college, I had to take two semesters of science, and I consciously shopped among the guts. Except professors don't like it when their courses get a gut reputation, so while "Physics For Poets" was pretty much as advertised,* "Rocks For Jocks" had been tweaked to be less walk in the park, more trudge through the desert. Maybe it would have helped if I had been a jock. Anyway, one of the questions on the final exam was "What is the single most significant way in which man has altered the earth's history?" I chose agriculture and wrote a chewy little essay about it. When I went to pick up my blue book with its rather sad grade written on the front, I leafed through the other exams waiting in the box (I wonder if that activity still exists?) and noticed that a) the professors were just kidding about the "single most" part, and the other students all somehow knew this** and b) some people had written their answers in bullet point form, and gotten better grades than I.***

As it turns out, that has very little to do with this post. The conceit of this post is that I have traveled into the future and retrieved a "What I Did Last Summer" essay, but because my future self is even lazier and less organized than my present self, it is in bullet point form.

  • Read Infinite Jest
  • Got the baby on a real schedule which included an afternoon nap at the beach
  • Finished my book, after surveying the two vast-wastelandish shelves of teen fiction at Barnes and Noble and vowing, once again, that I could do better
  • Cooked delicious local fresh food, despite the disappointing provisions from the CSA
  • Wrote a review of Walter Kirn's Lost In The Meritocracy
  • Blogged weekly
  • Gave up on the poetry podcast. Mostly.
*Well, it was easy, but not designed to appeal to the poetic temperament, if I may be presumed to have that. It's funny, just lately I've been noticing the ways that math applies to daily life--and I don't mean like making change, I mean like the wildly varying rate of banana consumption in our house, which as Johnny Falschgedank**** pointed out, must have a limit. Would I like calculus if I took it now?

**Johnny Falschgedank tells me that if I had gone to see the professor in office hours, or gone to any extra study sessions provided, I would have known that too. Things you learn when you go back to school in adulthood.

***I fear my Zeligesque style is already being affected by David Foster Wallace.

****Johnny, whatever happened to your blog?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Five Words

Almost two months ago, Jay did a post riffing on five words that describe her, and offered to provide five words to any readers who would like to try the same exercise. Here, at long last, is my post--and the same deal applies, any of my readers who want words need only ask. Just as a teaser, Umami Girl would clearly draw "pizza," Ergo "quirky," and C-Belle "perverse."

1. Fear. When I first saw this word, I was afraid that Jay thinks I am ruled by fear. I was afraid that I talk too much about my fears, or that I am in fact ruled by them.

All joking aside, this word knocked me for a loop. Once I recovered, I realized that I have been living with pretty steady fear for seven years. In March of 2002 M.'s heart condition was diagnosed. In July of 2005 R.'s diabetes came to light. And since August of last year I have lived with fear as a constant companion, to one chest-clutching degree or another. It makes me think of two things: 1) Anne Lamott said that after she had her son her loose belly lay on the bed next to her, "like a puppy" 2) In "Falsettos" Whizzer sings of Death that he's "a funny pal with a weird sort of talent. He puts his arms around my neck and walks me to the bed. He pins me up against the wall and kisses me like crazy." We have these undesirable companions in life that we learn to live with. I'm not fond of Fear, but if he ever goes away he'll leave a space in my life that I may have to work to fill.

2. Faith is a gift that was given to me by two people (in addition to God): my grandmother and my husband. Grammie taught me my Sunday school songs and Bible stories, made me say my prayers at bedtime and modeled an uncomplicated and unshaken belief in God. In college R. showed me that Catholic Intellectual was not an oxymoron, as I had previously been led to believe. After we were married, I got to know many wonderful men and women who helped me to understand the nature of the Eucharist, which of course is what brought me to the Church; but they also introduced me to my personal favorite thing about Catholicism, which is the Blessed Mother. Mary and the feminine principle are shunted aside like something embarrassing in most Protestant theology (which is one of many reasons the disingenuous blather of The Da Vinci Code is so infuriating), but in my faith she has pride of place. I love having her to hear my prayers. I have a "cradle Catholic" friend who told me she has trouble with this--"It's like, why would you talk to the nurse when you could go to the doctor?"--and it made me wonder if she has ever met a doctor, or perhaps I should be going to her doctor...but that's another post.

3. Family. My parents taught me that family is everything, and it is.

4. Voice. This my favorite. I have a new job, a tiny little job doing voice overs for business-to-business podcasts. It's a very satisfying use of two God-given gifts (a pleasant-sounding voice and the ability to read ahead a little) and a few learned skills (breath control, modulation, expression); it only takes a few minutes at a time and I can do it whenever my parents are available to watch the baby, which is almost always. Perhaps the best thing about this job, though, is that it caused my mother to have a revelation: "I was telling P___ [her hairdresser] that this voiceover job is an outgrowth of the one thing you did in life without our input, the one thing that was not our idea, and we didn't really support: acting." She's half right, or a third right: it's a magical combination of acting, singing and reading. They are all about using my voice, or listening to someone else's.

Because yes, I make very little distinction between oral voices and written ones. I have not given up on this whole published-writer thing. Before I bailed on the creative writing program at supersecret college (to which, let me marvel, I had applied and been accepted, but still felt unworthy to stick with. Sorry, a lot of prepositions there.), my professor told us to write an Ars Poetica. Mine began, "My greatest fear? That I could lose my voice." My masters thesis? Song and birdsong as ars poetica in the poems of Emily Dickinson.

"I love to talk, I nearly live to sing," that poem also said.

5. Water. My sister- and brother-in-law are going to Fiji next month, and I am not jealous. Why? Because, as M. so memorably said to a nice old lady last year in Barbados, "I like my ocean better." And my rivers, and my streams and creeks. Do I like where I live because it's close to the beach, or do I like the beach because it's close to where I live? Hard to say, because as with singing and writing, I have "home" and "water" mixed up. It was a wrench for me to go live in DC for four years after I got married, and yes I am aware of the Potomac. I like my rivers better. I wrote a poem about this too. It was perhaps the last poem I wrote, because I am not a genius and thus cannot write good poems when I'm happy. The gist of it was that I had to have the reception on the water, so I could show R. to the river as proof that he was worth going away for.

Now I have both R. and water, and I can look at the intricate beauty of the river and submit to the awesome power of the sea. I know few better ways to bolster my faith.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Let This Be a Sign

Almost fourteen years ago, when I was seven months pregnant with not-so-little-R., R. and I went to San Francisco for a job interview. The job wouldn't involve moving--R. was one of the earliest telecommuters we knew--but the company was there and we flew out for a sort of weekend-long vetting. Part of the weekend was spent at the company's retreat house near the Russian River. If I had multiple lives to live, one of them would be modeled on life at that house. It contained a looong refectory table, a multitude of twin beds, a multitude of rocking chairs, and very little else. There were two sheep and a hammock out in the yard, and by the kitchen door, a rosemary bush. For dinner we ate sausage that the butcher had made from the meat of a wild boar shot by our host, and it was seasoned with some of that fresh rosemary.

I can't entertain rotating hordes of spiritually-minded guests and I suspect there are very few boar running around our nearest woods, but I thought I would like to have a rosemary bush by my back door. Let us draw a veil over the intervening years, in which I spent much money, time and heartache on rosemary plants of various sizes and varieties, which never over-wintered and sometimes died before they were planted.

But now I have rosemary that has survived enough winters to achieve shrubbery status. It snuggles up against the back wall of the house, and scents the breeze by the patio. This spring, for the first time, it has blue flowers.

Ophelia said rosemary was for remembrance, but this year I am taking it for hope.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thinking Alike, Great Minds Or Not

Why I Love My Son

Not-so-little-R: walks into the kitchen. So there's this movie that's going to be on TVland, and it looks pretty good. In the ad, a guy says, "Tom, while being a very nice guy, is the devil."
MV: "Broadcast News."
Later, we watch my rapidly decaying VHS copy. He sighs with pleasure at all my favorite parts, like when Aaron sings and reads at the same time. And at this part--

Paul Moore: It must be nice to always believe you know better, to always think you're the smartest person in the room.
Jane Craig: No. It's awful.

--he turns to me and says, " It is awful!"

Why I Love My Father

At a Rufus Wainwright concert
Daddy: with trepidation Does he dress like Judy Garland when he does the Judy Garland material?
MV: He said on the radio that he wasn't doing any Judy Garland material tonight. He does allude to her in his regular songs--what's the movie when she sings "The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe?"
Daddy: "Meet Me In St. Louis."
MV: Really? No, this is different...The Gatling Girls? The Gilroy Girls?
Daddy: "The Harvey Girls"!
MV: That's it. I was thinking G, but it was H, right next to G.
Daddy: Of course.
MV: I've never seen that movie.
Daddy: Nor have I.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Wednesday Poetry Podcast--Guess This Is How It's Going To Be

Workshop Gems

Click on the link above to download the mp3. Just under seven minutes.

Poets: Rilke, Akhmatova, Lowell

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wednesday Poetry Podcast--I'm Full of Surprises

Bright Blue Weather for a Snowy Day

Click on the link above for the podcast--it's about five minutes long.

Poets: Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Cullen Bryant, Helen Hunt Jackson, Thomas Hood.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I'm Still Still Here

I'm having a sort of existential blog crisis, though. I got out of the habit of blogging while all the bad stuff with my pregnancy and baby T. was going on (he's doing very well now, by the way). Now I've been caught up in Facebook and I begin to wonder: was I blogging just because I wanted people to pay attention to me? Because so far the lure of putting all my best stuff up for the whole world to see and getting 12 readers a day, 11 of whom were searching for "Charlie Brown argh" or "my memory has just been sold," pales in comparison to posting about my television habits and getting five sparkling responses from people I know.

What's more, I've been inspired by Umami Girl, who has a blog with a more focused subject and is committed to a year of...well, read about it here, because I think I know what she means but I can't describe it. Some of my friends experienced the birth of a baby as an attack on their identity as an individual. I never felt that way--at least, not to the point of resenting it--but Umami Girl and I both have new babies, and there's nothing like a baby to make you think "Who am I, besides Mommy?" Or maybe, on a more practical note, a baby makes you think, "In my five spare seconds a day, what can I do that makes me feel like myself?"

So what's my thing? Remember when Dylan chose Kelly over Brenda on 90210 and he said, "It's you. It's always been you."? No? Well, anyway, it's writing; it's always been writing. So here's what I'm going to do:
  • I'm going to commit to revising my book for a certain period of time each day. I wish I could pick a particular time of day, but there's a young gentleman here who, as Anne Lamott so memorably said, is like a clock radio set to go off at random times playing heavy metal.
  • I'll return to posting a Thursday poetry podcast, and that's about all the blogging I'm going to do right now.
  • I will write one poem a week, so when New Criterion and TLS have their contests later this year, I have something to enter that isn't 18 years old.
One more thing: I don't believe in blaming one's parents for one's life. But today I was telling my mother what I had learned about one of my high school classmates (via Facebook, natch), who seems to lead an idyllic existence doing what she has always wanted to do. I observed that it must be nice to be artistic in the absence of academic pretensions, so you can hit the ground running instead of spending eight-plus years worrying about your grades in absolutely everything. She countered that the hypothetical person in question must also be single-minded in pursuit of her art. But, but...who did everything they could to deflect me from any single-mindedness I might possibly have had, and tried to steer me toward something safe? And can I now pursue single-mindedness when my life as a mother and a housewife is so...generalized?

What do you think, those readers who did not come here in search of J. Geils Band lyrics? Discuss.