Pina Bausch

June 30, 2009 § Leave a comment


from Bamboo Blues, by Pina Bausch

I just read that Pina Bausch, the great German choreographer, just died of cancer. I am very sad, selfishly so. I love her work and didn’t seen enough of it: enough meaning all. I saw several pieces maybe 12-15 years ago, and then this fall went to Bamboo Blues with my niece Ramona, who loves and practices dance.

I won’t try to write a critique because I don’t feel fluid in dance vocabulary but, briefly, her pieces were wonderfully funny and haunting, dreamlike, with lots of characters in enigmatic interactions (flirting, vamping, raping, dying; most interesting  to me, bodies as found objects for other bodies to play with). The ‘dance’ movements were interspersed with little dramatic bits like Cornell boxes (and not at all like them, but tiny and contained and surprising). She was famous for her sets: the stage covered with earth, leaves, flowers, still pools or cascading water. She was nothing if not lush, and I found her work consistently gorgeous. That it was also deeply intelligent only proves to me that abundance is always the smartest story. (I know this is a point that needs development. Later.)

If you know nothing of Bausch’swork, look on youtube. I don’t know what’s there, but certainly something is.

It’s strange how all this week I’ve felt so aloof from the frenzy over Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, feeling no more for them in death than I did in life. I am who I am, too late to change that, but I’m not smug anymore about being divorced from mass culture. I don’t want to join in or I would, but there’s a certain loneliness.

So, feeling that, trying to put it aside and get on with the pleasure/pain of work, I read about Pina Bausch. Nothing more coming out of that exquisite brain, ever.  I would have liked to know who she was at 85 and 90.

Just before I saw the headline, I was adding up all the books I might be able to write in my lifetime, if I live an average span, and remembered how the arc of writers’ careers used to fascinate and terrify me. The great were always great young. Some writers emerged in middle or old age, but only briefly, as if the shock of recognition was too much to handle. As if they didn’t have the muscle.

It’s only recently that I’ve begun not to care about that. As they say in the world of finance, past performance does not predict future returns. What’s wrong with an endloaded career? It would be kind of cool. Three books published by the age of 54—not too shabby, it always impresses those who haven’t published any—and then a torrent, novels, essays, poems, an erotic memoir, a stocking stuffer book about my cats—.

Yeah. Cool. I better get on with it.


A Miscellany of Sex and Cats

June 28, 2009 § Leave a comment




The Gay Pride parade is going on outside my window now. I’m not fond of parades, however important the cause, since I live so close to the park where they commence. This one has good energy, and the joy is infectious, which would make the noise easier to bear if the cats weren’t so disturbed.

They’re avoiding the windowsills, which are their usual daytime spots. They prowl and stare, wide-eyed, as the speeches and cries of the crowd wash over us. Fitzroy is asking for reassurance every two minutes. He’s inserted himself behind my laptop right now.

No, he’s heading for the window and the noise, then retreating and meowing. Mouchette sits quietly in the doorway, watching him, and then follows him to the bureau where they pause, looking around, on high alert.

In the Times Book Review today, there’s a review of Masters of Sex, by Thomas Maier, about Masters and Johnson. My friend Philip knows Maier from his college days; he also knows someone writing a play about Masters and Johnson. Statistically, it follows that there must be more literature in the works. I don’t believe the universe is steering them all towards Philip for some future destined event. I sure hope not.

It surprises me anyone is still interested in the duo. They were pioneers once, and they debunked the vaginal orgasm nonsense, but they also promoted the idea that women are naturally multi-orgasmic, which works well in soft-core porn romance novels, but has made a lot of us feel deprived. I can remember more than one man telling me he was going to make me come over and over, and I’d think good luck, buddy and feel sour. Not what you want in your mind while you’re taking your bra off.

Johnson is quoted as saying, “I had an active interest in sex, but never particularly to the men I was involved with.”

The way I hear this is probably not as it was intended: I never got to fuck the ones who turned me on. She and Masters married to promote their brand. It was titillating to America that a male and female scientist worked together on this risqué stuff, but it was their marriage that made it a satisfying story.

Apparently, they rarely had sex after marriage. But then, who does? (excuse-moi, dear husband. I know we did. Too often outdoors, in my opinion.)

Johnson said she considered the word ‘love’ to be “imprecise and inappropriate.” It’s not clear from the review if she was talking only about her own marriage or about all sexual relations. In any case, someone who has never experienced loving passion seems to me to be missing a big chunk of the subject. Sex without love is part of the human story and important to understand, but love is not a sentiment divorced from biological events. It certainly affects the way my body responds.

And what about mice? The New York Times says male mice sing to the ladies. When researchers played the recorded mouse mating song for female mice, the girls came to check it out—but only once. A song without a singer doesn’t appeal to the animal soul. They’re not likely to sit alone, drinking Gallo Hearty Burgundy and listening to Janis Joplin, stoking themselves with romantic self-pity because it just feels so bad.

Does that mean they don’t yearn? Who can say? Chimps may be the missing link. I know they get crushes (the females on male grad students especially). But I digress.

M&J wanted to be famous and were; they deserve their place in the  history of their era. But what’s going on outside my window is much more interesting. Gay culture has given us infinitely more information about sex, thanks to their penchant for experimenting and the fact that for the last few decades they won’t shut up.

More gays go into the arts. Their voices are amplified, and always have been, even when it was in code. It seems to me there is a lot more that could be written about that—not the obvious (who was gay and what that song/movie/novel was really about) but how much the rest of us have learned and assimilated.

I did a quick google search to see what has been written, and didn’t find what I was looking for, maybe because there are still too many deconstructionists in the universities. It’s all about discourse and how naming creates reality. I’m more interested in how reality creates reality. As they say in medical school, “see one, do one, teach one.” Oh, there are so many things I wish I’d seen and done.

Then I’d teach you. Promise.

Sung by the people of Faery over Diarmuid and Grania,
   in their bridal sleep under a Cromlech.

We who are old, old and gay,
O so old!
Thousands of years, thousands of years,
If all were told:
Give to these children, new from the world,
Silence and love;
And the long dew-dropping hours of the night,
And the stars above:
Give to these children, new from the world,
Rest far from men.
Is anything better, anything better?
Tell us it then:
Us who are old, old and gay,
O so old!
Thousands of years, thousands of years,
If all were told.

~William Butler Yeats

June Tune, Soon Done

June 26, 2009 § 2 Comments

anniversary_cakeYesterday was my wedding anniversary. Today is the anniversary of my first date with my lover.

This is not coincidental. Nine years ago—when my marriage was in tatters after a long buildup of anger neither of us had the tools to address, and my husband was unemployed, and I had confessed a brief affair with the brother of my recently deceased close friend Ann, who’d been dying of cancer all spring, and whose memorial I had just attended, a service my husband didn’t attend because of the brother—nine years ago, my wedding anniversary consisted of the two us eating spaghetti with bottled sauce and no grated cheese (why bother?) on our laps as we watched TV.

I think we remarked on how pathetic this meal was, but perhaps not. It didn’t seem to matter. We were too numb. I had begun to spin away.

The next day, I was scheduled to go to our country house for a week alone, but woke up so depressed I impulsively called the office number of a man I’d been chatting with online. He invited me to lunch. He told me how pretty I was. He said he’d like to touch me. I took his hands. We sat like that, a two-handed grip in the white tablecloth Italian restaurant, and if this were a romance novel I could say whole centuries passed and you’d get the point without fanfare.

Centuries didn’t pass and we didn’t know we’d found love, but something happened and soon my shoe was off and my foot in his crotch. (I was being a show-off, yes, but it was good.) He carried his astonishment and pleasure well, a slight adjustment of body and expression conveying a hard-earned sophistication. I was 45 and felt like every girl Sinatra’s referring to in the classic, It Was a Very Good Year. *

And then all the rest of it. Other days and nights, other years. Broken dates, broken hearts, marriages melted down and cast into strange new shapes. We each live apart from our spouses, but our spouses remain primary. My husband was just here from Florida and we celebrated both his birthday (a week late) and our anniversary (4 days early). We went to hear Junior Mance at Café Loup. Charles went up to Junior afterward and said, “I’ve been a fan of yours since the ‘50’s.” I felt like I was in a sci-fi movie though it’s only the ordinary passage of time. Charles is older than me by more than a decade, but still. I remember when the ‘50’s were 20 years ago.

After that we went to a bar and had too many drinks and the next day Fitzroy was upset because I didn’t get out of bed at the usual hour. He walked on my back, up and down, then settled between my shoulder-blades, meowing. Get up Mom. What do you mean, you have a hangover?  Moms don’t get hangovers.

I got up. Eventually.

Tonight I’m celebrating with Philip. I have 24 red roses on the bureau I’m trying to keep the cats from eating. I’m wondering if I should have taken over the restaurant planning. I’m thinking June is a bitch. But I don’t regret getting married, and I don’t regret that day nine years ago. Life is an unwieldy machine.

*It Was A Very Good Year

When I was seventeen
It was a very good year
It was a very good year for small town girls
And soft summer nights
We’d hide from the lights
On the village green
When I was seventeen

When I was twenty-one
It was a very good year
It was a very good year for city girls
Who lived up the stairs
With all that perfumed hair
And it came undone
When I was twenty-one

When I was thirty-five
It was a very good year
It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls
Of independent means
We’d ride in limousines
Their chauffeurs would drive
When I was thirty-five

But now the days grow short
I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
And it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year

–written by Ervin Drake in 1961 for the Kingston Trio. Sinatra’s version won him a Grammy in 1966 for Best Male Vocalist.

Father’s Day

June 21, 2009 § 5 Comments

daddyjimmypaperA handsome guy, isn’t he? In his boxers and tee shirt, baby in hand, beer bottles on the side: most likely a Sunday. Judging by the size of my brother, very possibly in June. 1951.

I can’t celebrate Father’s Day in the ordinary fashion because my father killed himself 44 years ago last Wednesday, when he was 44 years old. He was 44 and 6 months (exactly), so next December 16, he’ll be dead as long as he was alive. I suppose I should save the date.

I remember as a little kid suddenly putting together the father images from books and TV—strong and loving protector, befuddled nice guy—and the person I knew as Daddy: the snarl of a cornered animal inside the fence of a good suit. The stench of anger and unhappiness. The guy in the photo was still there, but emerged too rarely to do anything but gape at.

It was a weird mindfuck. I had a father and I didn’t. It was especially striking because my mother fit the storybook prototype so closely. She might dress up more and not cry as much as some, but many of my favorite books had mothers who were glamorous and stoic. I had no problem thinking of her as the ur-Mother against whom all others were measured. Daddy on the other hand…

When I remember that long-ago moment, what I see/feel is a whirl of emotion, hot and dark, spiraling down into the pit of my stomach. It was more than I could make sense of or handle—part of the reservoir of stuff usually hidden in that place Freud made us believe in, though he couldn’t get the map right. Something had broken a piece free and it popped into consciousness, vertiginous, only to be sucked down again quickly. I forgot but I remembered. The feelings were gone but I had a snapshot. Much later I made sense of that snapshot and had all sorts of questions for that little girl. Mostly this one:

Who did you think he was, then, before you understood that he was a father?

I knew he was attached to all of us inescapably, and that I wanted him as much as feared him. He was certainly vivid; he held the room when he was in it, if only with his silence. But he wasn’t real in the way my mother was. My mother was like breath or sleep. My father had violence going through him continually, from the boom of a thunderstorm to a quiver in his pulse, and I jumped back from that. I erased him.

I don’t mean I didn’t notice or have forgotten his presence, his personality, his insults, his threats (children running upstairs as the man shouts, “I’m going to brain you!” that southernism adding a layer of sci-fi gothic), but they were removed from me. He shouted; we fled. I never thought about why he did anything.

When I cut the cord with my mother, I was old enough to know I was doing it, and to keep my finger on the way back. With Daddy it took place so early I couldn’t quite place him. Even as he belonged, he was a stranger in the house.  His death cleaved me in two, but the aboveground part, the daily Margaret, was very relieved to live in a house with only family, even if we were all more than a little nuts.

My father embodied anger: anger as the flag of a country, as a deadly sin, a god.  I’ve met plenty of people as angry or angrier than he was—the world is full of them—but he was the only one of his breed that I’ve ever loved. Anyone else, if I get a hint of that kind of rage, my heart chills instantly. No matter what they’ve suffered, their excuses, I feel no sympathy for them.

Those are the people I can be cruel to without compunction. Though I try to talk myself out of it, on some level I think of them as having no souls. They rage; I wither.

I’m well aware that this is my anger, and that I indulge it. That I often feel very fond of it, that it’s why I have so many fantasies of killing in self-defense or in defense of a loved one or a child. I wonder if I would feel as utterly undisturbed by righteous killing as I imagine. Probably not. On the other hand—and this is an aside to my sister—I really don’t feel bad about killing mice.

I rarely lose my temper and I put a lot of thought into fairness. That’s how I keep my anger bound, how I balance it. That’s how I love my father.

There should be other parts to this, like buying him the new Philip Roth or a bottle of single malt, but so it goes. When your father kills himself a few days before Father’s Day, you kind of get the message there’s nothing he wants from you.

Beyond Coffee

June 20, 2009 § 1 Comment

brainxrayThere’s been a lot in the press lately about cognitive enhancement drugs, popular in the military, on college campuses, among cutting edge geeks, parents of kids with ADD, and—as of now, I would guess—reporters.

I’m familiar with one of these drugs: Provigil, aka Modafinal. My psychopharm gave it to me a few years ago for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome but the dose was too strong and I felt like I was on speed. It was great for the first few hours. I went to a session after taking it and the doc was so impressed with my new, bright, lively personality, full of urbane chat…no more mopey girl…he perked right up like a dog offered a treat. That was the woman I could be, with a little gene tweaking—someone capable of a spectacular, multi-faceted career. I try not to dwell on it. I collapsed like a cheap umbrella in late afternoon.

Recently, I tried again, cutting the pill in thirds. I was pleasantly surprised: less excitement, no outsize charm, but much less crash. It’s effective for writing. I become very focused and the words ribbon out smoothly, no better than my usual words, and sometimes not on point, because they come so quickly, right off the assembly line. But I can adjust that. Aim the stream to the left. It’s better than sitting limply in the chair thinking about chocolate, aging, and how much my ass hurts.

The drug gives a narrow window, 2-3 hours, before I get jittery. The jitters aren’t too bad— dinner or a snack or a glass of wine will soothe me. So I save the drug for afternoon, which is when I need it anyway. I’m still good for morning writing.

After the jitters pass, I feel relaxed, happier than usual, and tend to go to sleep early. I don’t know how this drug works to keep people awake all night. One of the best things about it for me is that the energy jolt has a long tranquilizing tail. I hope the military keeps in mind individual reactions. (Yes, I know, nobody like me ends up in the army. Still.)

Some reporters have been very enthused and/or apprehensive about these new drugs, seeing a world of brains on steroids, the poor falling further behind and the affluent users burning out or paying some hideous price down the line. 20 years of a dozen more IQ points, then your brain shrivels to the size of a ferret’s, and the government has to erect large wildlife preserves for the ex-middle class.  Addiction is a more immediate danger.

Modafinal works by blocking dopamine re-uptake in the brain, which is also what cocaine and crystal meth do. This has some scientists worried about addiction. Modafinal doesn’t work exactly the same—cocaine and meth not only slow the re-uptake of dopamine but also boost production, and whether that makes a longterm difference or only makes the addiction take root more slowly, nobody knows.

Brain researcher Karley Little said, “Normally, when something pleasurable happens, dopamine neurons pump the chemical into the gaps between themselves and related brain cells. ‘Dopamine finds its way to receptors on neighboring cells, triggering signals that help set off pathways to different feelings or sensations.” This means it ‘s used in lots of important brain functions, including the desire/reward system for eating, sex, and other necessary pleasures.

But unless it becomes criminalized, it will be used more and more widely.  I don’t feel smarter on Modafinal. I might be less smart. But I’m able to work at times when I couldn’t, and if that’s very tempting to me, it will be irresistible for many.

I can’t take Modafinal more than a couple of times a week, or I get fatigue hangovers. It’s also very expensive, and insurance won’t pay. When my stash runs out, I may try buying it online from Canada. The difference is $1.73 a pill for Canadian generic to $15-$20 a pill for American Provogil. (Maybe I should move to Canada. A little stone house outside of Montreal, near the mountains, with fruit trees and a garden; I’d winter in Florida. Remember how Canadians welcomed draft dodgers in the ‘60’s? Do you think they’ll do that for U.S. healthcare refugees? No, I don’t think so either.)

But Modafinal and Adderall and the rest of the Ritalin-type drugs are only the first wave. Let’s see what Pfizer, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline bring us in a dozen years. I’m hoping for a little wand, the size of a candy cigarette, that I could use to touch my skull at various points—adjusting the (something) to tell the navigation system whether to go deep or shallow—and sizzle up whatever region I want.

Language. Memory. Desire. The kind of desire I felt in 2000-2003, or 1973—that would be sweet. Or sleep. Sleep at the touch of a wand: we could put our elderly (a class my generation will soon slop over and swamp) in Sleeping Beauty cities, waiting, outside of time, for when time produces the right drugs and habitable planets for the baby boomers to continue their usurpation of the universe.


Is there a Doctor in the House?

June 12, 2009 § 1 Comment

Hippocrates statue, OxfordI am very angry about the AMA’s decision to come out against the Obama health care plan.  I know they don’t represent most doctors; that many of them have financial interests in insurance and pharmaceutical companies; I know that they’re only a few rungs above the NRA. Yet my cat has chosen this moment to interrupt me and he’s doing his bunny dance, reminding me of childhood Easters and the unutterable beauty and helplessness of domestic animals.  I can’t help but think: who will take care of him if I die from some illness I don’t have insurance for?

It’s not an idle question. I get my insurance through my husband, who could be laid off any day. He’s retirement age, so they probably wouldn’t even let him have cobra. Already I ignore the phone calls from the doctors. It’s been too long for any anomalous test results; any inquiries now have to do with insurance problems. Let them come to me. Many times. I’m in no hurry.

My dear friend Philip was talking today about how he now understands how in the 60’s and 70’s men like him could just suddenly decide to drop out, abandoning corporate jobs for quick pleasure and freedom and whatever might follow. I reminded him that many of the college-age hippies had fathers just like he is now; imprisoned in the corporate world, suffocated. They saw the future.

He’s not quite ready to forgive our generation’s hippies, whom he pigeonholes as  trust fund babies, though the great majority weren’t, but we both hope for a pervasive, across-the-board revulsion for the establishment. If it happens, it won’t be like the ‘60’s. It’ll be smarter, more focused and less pure, less experimental. It will be the 21st century response.

Like most people who didn’t suffer inordinately in prison camps, war zones or extreme poverty, I would not give up the era of my youth. My mother wouldn’t give up her era, and I suspect my grandmother would have felt the same. It’s like the Philip Larkin poem, “Sex began in 1963/ a little late for me” –a brilliantly bitter poem—which goes on to talk about how his father’s generation probably envied his for not being so hidebound by the church. There’s always more freedom and more loss.

Back to the AMA. I used to fear and dislike doctors. I’ve come to be very fond of the several I go to regularly (even when they don’t remember me) and the few I know socially or as family members. I’d like them to throw off their chains. For a segment of society that’s very well educated, bookwise and peoplewise, and still accorded great respect, and more than that is in the middle of one of the biggest policy decisions of our time, I think they could be more creative. Remember the Million Man March? Get it together, docs. Do something. You don’t have to agree on the details: Congress will assume control of them anyway. Work, parenthood, religion, science, art—whatever moves you, whatever makes you feel like a human being and a citizen, depends on health (and on the fear of illness kept to a quiet murmur in the head).

The ability to heal and prevent many diseases is the rare gift of our era. Gifts are more than the solutions they offer. Their power lies in their very existence: that we are blessed. Do we really want to destroy the awe-inspiring fact of that with squabbles over money made by those who never see a patient?

That’s what it’s come to. I read about advances in cancer treatment and diabetes, in malaria and AIDS, and it seems like none of it matters.  When you’re fifty-something with a few anomalies, on a handful of drugs, and the tests become unattainable, it feels like adolescence. Adolescence the way I experienced it, on the cusp of the 70’s. Anything could happen, and did. I didn’t expect to be saved by my mother, though I did expect to be housed and fed. The dangers, though, the dangers that were always there for a kid like me, testing boundaries (drugs, sex)—it feels like that now, except I have less choice. I’m out on my own with my body.  Illness will come or it won’t. I’ll be able to pay for doctors, or I won’t.

For that uncertainty I blame the AMA. The Republicans. The citizenry—the ignorant, the greedy, the shortsighted and the daft majority who thinks nothing has anything to do with them, until it does.

And I blame myself, but that’s another story. One I’m not going to write at 3 a.m


“One of the fundamental reasons why so many doctors become cynical and disillusioned is precisely because, when the abstract idealism has worn thin, they are uncertain about the value of the actual lives of the patients they are treating. This is not because they are callous or personally inhuman: it is because they live in and accept a society which is incapable of knowing what a human life is worth.”

~John Berger


June 10, 2009 § Leave a comment

yelloweyesThe little one is more at home now. She trots like a puppy, pokes her pointed head into my hand, sleeks her weasel body down low under my caress. Her fur is softer and shinier; she’s eating well. Her belly is taut and warm. Her motor thrums.

It makes Fitzroy angry. He stalks off to lie on the floor at a distance. I can’t blame him. It’s when he seems to forget the new regime and comes to me in the old way, eyes soft with cat-love and I receive him with delight, stroke the white feathery triangle under his chin and tell him he’s the most beautiful of cats, my best-beloved, that she eagerly arrives, purr already louder than his, to demand more than her share.

She’s a classic younger sister. The pair reminds me of my nieces. (I could say, my sister and myself, but I was a child then and saw things differently.) He certainly abuses her enough to fuel any kind of sibling war, pounding after her and heaving his bulk upon her scrap of a body, attempting impossible mating. It’s not clear if she knows what he’s after. It’s easy to see now that feminist attempts to either separate or conflate sex and aggression are hopeless.

She yowls and wails. She hisses like a snake. She steals his windowsill, his food, his place in my heart. No, not the last. But I can understand that he’d see it that way. I can understand how it might make itself true, if he continues to chill. I worry that I should have stopped at one, kept up that unbalanced romance, at the price of his loneliness.

Since I got him to ease my own loneliness, which had moved far into the red zone, to the place where sanity begins to melt like a soft metal, I couldn’t ignore his. The danger of anthropomorphism has always seemed to me less than the danger of using an animal as an object, paying no attention to obvious signs of distress.

He’s not lonely now, just angry. Dissatisfied in a different way. When she wreathes around my hand, having successfully evicted him from my bed, he hunches over the dry food bowl, crunching the chicken-lamb-rice-dried beet pulp morsels.

All his body language is different. His tail smacks the floor; he walks away when I caress him. I never see him perched on the top of the couch—in plain sight, in the middle of things, Cat to my Woman. Now he’s a just a cat. There are millions of them.

When I came home the other night and he was amorous in the old way, rubbing his cheeks against me and gently biting my chin, and she was nowhere in sight and didn’t appear, which is unusual, and this went on for awhile, I wondered if he’d killed her. Then I wondered how I’d feel if he had.

My passion surged darkly. I’d forgive him. He’s my firstborn.

Philip was shocked when I told him this. But Philip was too squeamish to read Sophie’s Choice. And in truth I’d be very disturbed if Fitzroy killed Mouchette. It’s out of character. He hasn’t hurt her. All he wants is to be dominant.

But she’s a wildling.


Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for June, 2009 at Mostly in the Afternoon.

%d bloggers like this: