December 30, 2008 § Leave a comment
I’ve been sleeping all afternoon, still sick; I don’t want to get on a plane tomorrow. I’ve gotten over the feeling that I should leave because my brother did–it’s quieter now. I could read and write and spend time with my mother. I have to start planning longer trips, like the Victorians did, staying a month or so and keeping on with one’s business. Not that they had a lot of business (the women),but. I could. Or maybe it’s just the pain talking, the desire to not have to face crowds and security and coughing on others and a cold wait in the taxi line. My mother’s talking to herself in the other room. That low murmur is so soothing. As as child, it made me know what she was thinking–that it was nothing harmful or strange, only what she was doing or had to do–now it makes me think she’s not lonely, which is probably untrue. When I told her Charles said he was lonely, she said that’s what books are for. Actually, he said he was lonely for me, so I guess that’s what my books are for, or would be if I could write day and night. We talked about Dickens. Nobody wrote or writes as wonderfully as Dickens. “When he dines alone in chambers, as he has dined today, and has his bit of fish and steak or chicken brought in from the coffee house, he descends with a candle to the regions below his deserted mansion, and, heralded by a remote reverberation of thundering doors, comes gravely back, encircled by an earthy atmosphere, and carrying a bottle from which he pours a radiant nectar, two score and ten yeras old, that blushes in the glass to find itself so famous, and fills the whole room withthe fragrance of southern grapes.” I could go on quoting for pages, but will not. Read it yourself. Bleak House. Dickens cures the ills contemporary culture inflicts, though it helps if you’ve spent some large part of childhood and youth in like company. If the style is too unfamiliar it may not help, but for me it brings back everything that made me excited about being alive, conscious, possessed of language and sympathy.
December 28, 2008 § Leave a comment
Sick as a dog in Lompoc, CA, post-Christmas, drinking peppermint tea and reading my haul of nasty-Bush-era-politics books. Somehow the books do the opposite of what they are intended to–I find the wealth of detail makes it all seem less horrible and frightening. I can’t blame the authors for humanizing the actors because they don’t, much: the personality sketches are perfunctory and I don’t feel sympathy for the devils. They just don’t seem like devils. Is this because of Obama’s win, or is it a quality of the writing? Or of my cold-fogged brain? My mother and brother murmur in the other room, at work on a series of projects. The main one is scanning boxes of family photos–Mom in her glamorous middle age, my grandmother in love, Daddy doing his Don Draper imitation. The past will always be seductive, never more so when I’m ill and unable to work or even think about working. Does that statement make sense without a gloss? I spent too many years doing not enough to find idleness (which I can’t afford but even if I could) romantic; I may long for it when I’m tired and feel stupid but never think it will equal the idleness of youth when time and the world were vast and gorgeous and could be ignored for awhile or two. I like hearing my family’s voices. I feel profoundly safe. As I went to sleep last night I thought I would be happy living with these two, even if it was a dwindling-world kind of happiness, but realized that in fact I wouldn’t, not as time passed, that this was a fugitive pleasure to be enjoyed and let go of. Johnny and my mother are arguing about whether ’emend’ is a word just as I am wondering whether it is my writer’s history of constant revision that makes it seem that it is, that it should be possible, to go back and change one or two little things, that nobody would notice (and the image I have is the not-quite-dark of a house at night, me on tiptoe going into a corner with a needle, picking up or pulling out a stitch)…
December 23, 2008 § Leave a comment
The poodle stands at the bottom of the bed, waiting for me to be more fun. He looks like topiary. Charles has gone to buy a toilet plunger. While we ate breakfast and my mother and husband talked, trading familiar stories, I watched the garden emerge from darkness: the sage green of dawn and the glow of aging, spread roses. It’s magical to be in nature again, but my feelings are timid and stiff. I don’t want to get too used to it. I don’t want to start dreaming of flowers, garden centers, the smell of dirt in the sun. Last night we arrived when it was already dark, and after months in New York and hours on an airplane, it was vaguely shocking to be in a house this large, this crammed with stuff. When we dined in the dining room off old china and silver, using napkins that were part of my grandmother’s wedding haul, and my mother talked about population as part of environmental pressure she seemed like a class enemy: one woman in an eight room house when I and most people I know live far more modestly. I can’t remember when it first started seeming odd to me, how she lived. Probably when I sold my own house, which was much more humble and decrepit than this one, but still a luxury: a country house for a Manhattanite, a house with several rooms I could wander through alone, sinking into books and nature, the nature often coming inside for visits. Vines flattening themselves to reach through the gaps around the upstairs windows, making a pretty drapery above the inside sill, snakes exploring the not-quite-finished parts of the downstairs, their looping mud-brown bodies like the exposed electrical cables come to life. It’s only been three years since I sold that house, but life in two rooms has altered my perspective in ways I’m not aware of until I do something like visit my mother. It’s as if the layout of my brain resembles the layout of my living space—and I know this is no mere metaphor, that our brains do change all the time to reflect our surroundings, expand and contract, sprout and wither. It makes me wonder how much the need to create and the nature of what’s created is affected by what’s there and what’s not there, and whether, as I hope, having known intimately many generous houses with character, and now being confined in a small space yet awash in the luxuriant density and detail of Manhattan streets and public spaces, I have all the tools necessary to make vivid imaginary worlds. I’m writing a fantasy now and nothing can be taken for granted, not the animals or the weather or the food people eat: it’s daunting and I love it. I’m just sorry it took me so long—that I had to prove something to myself about being ‘literary’ and, perhaps more profoundly, about having a knowledge of the real world sufficient to convince others that I was indeed one of them, a human being, an insider. This is old childhood stuff: nice to live long enough to shed a bit of it, and to return to the childhood stuff I actually enjoyed…wandering through the glorious world of the back yard, and down the long halls of a house of a kind they used to call a ‘white elephant’—before everyone who could afford it (or not) wanted miles of extra space—spinning tales of my imaginary friends.
December 20, 2008 § Leave a comment
On TV last night, Pat Buchanan said Afghanistan was where empires go to die. Obama made promises we can’t keep. I think we have the answer in Bernie Madoff. A name change, a little cosmetic surgery, and we could send him over to swindle the poppy growers out of their wealth, along with the Saudis, the Syrians and a few others. No money, no weapons. No weapons, no influence.Obama has shown a taste and ability for subtle political machination. If he can work with Rick Warren, why not Bernie Madoff? Lots of laid off financial sector professionals who could play the Jack Nicholson part from The Last Detail, escorting and keeping an eye on the slippery ‘family man.’ And the money harvested could bail out the bailout, removing some part of a zero from the national debt. Meanwhile the auto industry, in thanks for its rescue, would send every registered voter a $2000 voucher toward a new (hybrid) car, redeemable in 2012; AIG would provide free health insurance to artists and the unemployed; and Citibank, Chase and the rest would send us more credit card offers…0 % for the lifetime of the loan, guaranteed to last longer than your lifetime, and to be cancelled upon your death. The god of money and death, Pluto, in his guise as a planet, entered Capricorn on Nov. 26, for the first time since the American Revolution. According to astrologers, this means dramatic change in the direction of hard work , hard times, necessity and playing by the rules. You knew that already? Yeah, but you didn’t know it was Pluto, did you? Cold little bastard. Having a number of important planets in Capricorn, I’m supposed to feel an inner gladness at the triumph of the reality-based community, and in fact I do. I’ll pull myself out of trouble, I will. I’ll make my own fortune, yessir. It’s growing dark out, this evening before the winter solstice, Satchmo is singing “(I’ll be glad when you’re dead)You Rascal You,” on an LP Philip found today in the Spence-Chapin thrift shop, and I’m ruining my stomach lining with coffee to have the wit to write anything at all after a night of cabernet, fettucine with venison, ceasar salad and christmas cookies, sambuca, espresso, bourbon, rum and cigarettes. Not really as bad as it sounds; I’m not hungover, merely languid. This is the best way to be while contemplating 16 years of Pluto in Capricorn, the Taskmaster. This morning we went out to the Crawford Doyle bookstore and Maison de Chocolat and in both places Philip said, “Get whatever you want.” He hadn’t bought me any Christmas presents yet. It was one of those moments—I could almost feel my child self widening her eyes in wonder: a bookstore! A candy store! Get whatever you want! It reminded me of a story about my father, told by my cousins to my sister. They were little children, in the local candy store, with maybe a few nickels to spend, or maybe nothing and this handsome man in a suit comes in and tells them they can have whatever they want. Whatever they want. (That probably did not refer to quantity, however.) He buys them all candy and disappears. Later, at home, the stranger is at the dinner table and they discover he’s their uncle, whom they’ve never met before. That’s my daddy alright. Charmed strangers all to hell. He could be like that with us too, sometimes. Anyway, this bookstore, Crawford Doyle on 81st and Madison, is not the same store but is in the same location as the bookstore I went to several times a week in the two years we lived on 79th st, when I was 11 and 12. I bought my first adult (as in non-children’s)books there and also my first ‘adult’ books. Actualy I didn’t buy the ‘adult’ books because it would only have embarassed both me and the kindly bookseller if I had tried. I stole them.Two or three, maybe four. Two I remember vividly. They were utterly perverted, even by today’s standards, but also, somehow, sweet. I don’t think anyone could write like that now. I wasn’t frightened or put off by the revelation of the male sexual imagination (greedy and without boundary) but rather consoled. These guys were way ahead of me, and I was happy to be their student. Every afternoon after school, I read under the covers, masturbated and ate chocolates . Pounds of chocolates. Many orgasms. —Now Philip interrupts me to tell me Ring Lardner’s rewrite of the lyrics of “Night and Day”: “Night and day/under the bark of me/oh such a load of microbes making a park of me”—as I was saying, it was not that bookstore but almost that bookstore and not Fanny Farmer but Maison de Chocolat–and given free rein, I was restrained, 3 slim books, a quarter pound of chocolate covered ginger, a few truffles…and I think I need some of that chocolate now. Chocolate and kisses.
December 19, 2008 § Leave a comment
Wet snow and sleet in New York; Philip is sleeping to the lullaby of Chris Matthews talking about the Franken recount: there’s no accounting for taste. It’s too warm in here, and the boyfriend snores…if I turn off the TV, he will wake. He has a big window–sliding doors to a terrace actually–with a classic New York view of lit up buildings. It reminds me of the city 40 years ago, when I was 12 and living close to here, on E. 79th St, absorbing the city as if it were the only New York, as if all the bus-drivers, newsstand owners, doormen, had been those things forever, eternal, as were the urine-scented streets, sweltering subways, and predatory loiterers in Times Square. When I was bit older and had read more, I envied those who knew New York in the 30’s and 40’s and 50’s. Now I can say I knew it in the 60’s and 70’s. I like holding all that history inside me; being a person so relentlesly interior, more disconnected than most from the public or external world, it’s nice to have enough memory piled up so that I can feel like a citizen of the world. Meanwhile my nieces are so confident of THEIR New York, the one that isn’t nearly as dangerous as their mother fears. To hear them talk, hear their claiming the city as their own, for now and the future, is startling and pleasing. It gives me a stronger grip on the city–as my parents’ years here fade in everyone’s memory, Ramona and Delilah are just beginning to make a mark. I, of course, feel as if I’ve written in snow, not just as in *writing*, but in living, my experiences here intense and deep but not broad. What’s happened to me here? I was molested (in a small way) at 11. I took LSD and went the movies, spending most of the film in the bathroom, playing with the sink facuets. I met my first drag queen. I went to great performances (Barishnykov, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Bates) and got drunk in lots of bars. I published my first and subsequent books and went to my friends’ book parties. I got sober in AA and heard the incredibly messy and fascinating details of hundreds of people’s lives, not quite stranger than fiction, but possibly more diverse. I endured 7 years of open-heart psycho-therapy. I cooked dinner for my husband in a glorified closet and put a Christmas tree on the coffee table, sometimes we were happy. When we weren’t anymore, we went to couples therapy , first to a woman on the Upper West Side who had decorated her office walls with vintage evening bags–the beaded or embroidered kind–which freaked my bushand out so we quit her, then tried a man who met us in the room where he also led groups, so that the 3 of us were surrounded by 7 or 8 empty chairs. This freaked my husband out so much he moved to Florida. (OK, that isn’t true, he moved for a job and also because I was having an afair. But I have something in common with those shrinks. Let’s embellish. ) I went on the Interent to meet men; had sordid and ridiculous and sexy sexual encounters; I fell in love. I spent 9 hours at a Tribeca cafe with my lover’s wife, held in place by a force of personality that explained quite a few years of strange boyfriend behavior. Lots of stuff has happened, and I’m not even talking about 9/11—nothing I went through that day was any different from anyone else. What I mean is, this is my city. Yet I don’t know many people here and never have. I just watch them. Sometimes want to sneak into the brain of a person on the street, and take a mind-print; sometimes I want to knock on the door of a brownstone with a lighted window; and sometimes want to find a giant broom and sweep everyone away.
December 18, 2008 § Leave a comment
Last night coming home from dinner, there was snow on the roofs of the cars, a few flakes in the air, and I began to feel winter yearning. Fields of snow, silence, crisp blue air, air the way it was in New Hampshire when I was 18, and a walk across a snow-covered golf course with a boy was full of meaning packed tight…the kind you don’t unravel for years, and maybe shouldn’t at all. It’s not hard for me to feel sorry for myself (in my teens I saw it as a gift, that I could do for myself what I couldn’t ask others for), but now I feel there was a kind of luck in being so lonely. Connection of any sort was astonishing. Moments of intimacy were like stars that I hoarded in memory, wanting to share their brilliance but never knowing how. And once I did become able to talk about them, talk with all the words I knew to someone who wanted to listen, I found that what for me seemed so rare was to other people not uncommon, that they weren’t moved to tears by the idea of a long night’s more and more honest conversation, by the ability to reveal something new.
My nieces have nets of friends such as I couldn’t imagine in youth. I wanted a gang, a group—which many people had—but what exists today seems closer to what I would have asked for, had there been a deity encouraging me to expound on my desire. Friendships with boys and girls, with people from other countries, individuals flitting in and out, around each other like dancers on a stage. I’m not envious of them for being happier: I doubt they are. Happier than I was, maybe—that’s a low bar. But not happier in general. Sex, for one thing, has gotten worse: it’s a competitive sport. How well do you perform? Have you shaved your crotch today? Philip Larkin has a famous poem that begins “Sexual intercourse began in 1963/Which was rather late for me”—1963 being when the pill came out. Larkin was brilliant at self-pity; he turned it into art without making it utterly comic, which is hard to do. In his poem he goes on to muse on how maybe his father had the same envy of his generation, because they weren’t afraid of God and hell. And reading that at 22, I wondered if I would envy the young of the future their newer freedoms. I don’t. It’s not about freedom now. I marvel at their friendships. Even so, given a choice I’d rather be young again in 1975. I miss my dinosaur era, the slowness and silences. Maps you had to draw yourself and nobody at dinner with a telephone. Not that it matters, but I think I’ve made progress: I’ve fully accepted that I’ll never be young in Paris in 1921, that I won’t know everyone great and peculiar and interesting, that my life is and will be more hedged in than I ever imagined. Hardly surprising—I wanted to live in books. They’re not really large enough for a person. I kept not getting that. They seemed large. And now it seems small and sad that I don’t want to live in books anymore, barely even remember what it felt like to want that. I want to live writing books, which is entirely different. It may be that you only become mature as a writer when you can’t live in anyone’s books but your own. You have no choice then. They have to be good.
December 17, 2008 § Leave a comment
Well, I like my new habit of writing fast and not re-reading, except that I make so many typos. Sorry. My typing gets worse every year. I think my mother has cast a spell to keep her young; the devil neglected to tell her he was taking the juice from me. But I’m used to falling apart. I might even be getting used to terror, although so far I’ve only tested that thesis at home. I’m dreading Christmas because my brother will want to talk seriously and often about my mother’s finances and mine are so much worse it makes me feel like I’m on a planet with double earth gravity and I’ve eaten something funny and am getting hives. (This just from the phone calls.) But I don’t want to make him worry about me too. Not yet. He keeps talking about how we’ll end up living in our mother’s house and I’m beginning to think he half means it. When I was 11 and first lived in New York I was so lonely, I longed for my siblings’ company but their doors were closed, and I had to barge in and Johnny got locks and now this idea of us living together in the maternal home is awakening an idea–sort of like an Anne Tyler novel–of aging oddballs riding out the storm, one foot in the womb, one foot in the grave. Nice image, isn’t it? It’s hard to keep your balance in that situation, the womb all slippery and the grave 6 feet under.
Philip told me tonight his boss has told him they’re firing his # 2 person ( a man he recruited, respects, likes, who has worked very hard ) at the end of January and the fellow and his wife are spending big bucks trying to get her pregnant. Knowing the ax is falling on this guy, unable to stop it, unable to give warning. Philip kept saying, “I want to shoot myself.” He has other reasons for that sentiment, but still. I had to stroke his warm hand that always reminds me of a gingerbread man puffed up from the oven.
Why the fuck can’t I go to bed earlier so I will have more sunlight? And why, now that I’m asking unanswerable questions, do I always feel, returning home, that there will be an animal waiting for me when I haven’t had a pet in 25 years?