December 20, 2009 § Leave a comment
I woke up wanting to write about Joe Lieberman (let’s boycott Connecticut until they get rid of him), Christmas—should I send an e-card to all those I love, but haven’t contacted lately just because—when I decided to check out the paper, and got annoyed with Frank Rich’s choice of Tiger Woods to epitomize the falsity of the past year and decade.
My views of monogamy are well known to those who read this blog. Still, I wouldn’t want to be married to Tiger. Yet there’s an enormous difference between what he did and what the financiers and Bush administration did, and I refuse any facile connection.
Maybe it’s because my parents gave me a book of Greek myths when I was seven, a book whose size and pictures and even the look of the words I still remember. The stories of gods and mortals sunk deep into my imagination. There were also the Blue, Green, Red and Yellow Fairy Books and J.M. Barrie and C.S. Lewis to populate my inner world. I grew up rich with stories and characters, and the penchant for celebrity fetishizing never took hold. (Exception: The Beatles. But I was 9.)
Most everyone agrees that the crux of our current problems is people believing only what they want to believe, refusing all signs of danger if it means giving up pleasure, profit or comfort. The corollary to this is that, human-natural as this tendency is, it’s gotten worse.
Yes, no, maybe. We shouldn’t forget that the growth of systems of industry and finance follow their own evolutionary laws; that numbers matter; that much or our world is fueled by machines that can “think” much faster than we can. Our computers aren’t conscious or malevolent (yet), but they make individuals and more importantly, groups and segments of the population, able to do things bigger and faster than ever before. Think acceleration, exponential functions and speeding cars hitting patches of black ice.
This doesn’t explain Dick Cheney, but then nothing does.
Which brings me back to Christmas and the sound of snowplows outside. I want to walk in the new snow. I miss having a house I could throw a party in—miss the old days in Newcastle, N.H. when my mother would serve champagne with breakfast on Christmas morning while we opened the red velvet stockings decorated with handmade felt toys and the letters of our names, beautiful stockings with bells on the toes that she’d sewn for us years earlier. After the stockings and the blizzard of presents, we’d have eggnog made with whipped cream (more like zabaglione than anything else) and we’d all drink too much and spend the afternoon in bed. I was young and in love and bed was a very sweet place to be.
I do regret that my mother so often was left to cook the dinner by herself. But some years she had a lover too. She was the age I am now and she had a house big enough to throw a wedding in, with the Atlantic ocean just outside, and three not-too-bad kids.
Nobody had a computer and Joe Lieberman hadn’t been elected yet.
Listen with the night falling we are saying thank you we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings we are running out of the glass rooms with our mouths full of food to look at the sky and say thank you we are standing by the water thanking it smiling by the windows looking out in our directions back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging after funerals we are saying thank you after the news of the dead whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you over telephones we are saying thank you in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators remembering wars and the police at the door and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you in the banks we are saying thank you in the faces of the officials and the rich and of all who will never change we go on saying thank you thank you with the animals dying around us our lost feelings we are saying thank you with the forests falling faster than the minutes of our lives we are saying thank you with the words going out like cells of a brain with the cities growing over us we are saying thank you faster and faster with nobody listening we are saying thank you we are saying thank you and waving dark though it is --W.S. Merwin
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 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 16, 2008 § Leave a comment
One of those days where I had to do everything twice. Wrapped up the wrong necklace, got a brain tickle and remembered in time, opened it, realized I also had to re-string it, wrote up the new description for it and rewrapped it, forgetting to restring it so I had to unwrap it a third time…this is when I start wanting to run around and bite my tail like a dog withdrawing from Prozac. Then I lost files on my computer. Not anything of importance, just more grunt work. And was overcome by a wave of CFS, yes I still have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, the disease everyone loves to disbelieve in, after 24 years. Self pity smells like pine sap, don’t you think? A little Christmasy. I like it when it’s late and all my potential readers are asleep; I don’t feel self-conscious anymore but like one of the pre-dead.
My niece and I keep having a conversation about whether sentient robots would be a good thing. She says not because they’d be slaves. But I want one as a companion. Smarter than a cat, not as crazy as me. Is that too weird? Not quite Dr. Spock, but…Oh, I don’t know. I get lonely here in this decaying mousetrap of an apartment, but remember living with someone, how difficult that was. I love Charles so much more cleanly and sweetly now. If only I could figure out how to do that in regard to myself.
My friend Andree’s brother died and it’s made me very sad. For her, for him, for the old pain of brother-loss. She’s lost two. I can’t bear the idea of losing my siblings. Yet even so, feeling more family love than ever, sometimes I look at my nieces and think it’s been like a sadistic science experiment bringing them into our family. At first they were just Davis’s children…but now, as adults, they’re part of all of us, heirs to a past they’ll never understand (I’m not going to divulge all the bits I haven’t spilled yet), and of course going far beyond us but still…
I have to buy a Spiderman sleeping bag for Daniel because I’m not going to write a story. I need something for William. Hannah and Myles are taken care of —Shea stadium mementos, pretty clothes, great books. Jaden and Jack get books because I’m not sure they get read to enough and I haven’t seen them in so long…barely know them.
I’ll have another Christmas in late January for all my girlfriends. We’ll need it then.
December 11, 2008 § Leave a comment
It’s a little late, but I want to write a book for Daniel for Christmas. Whitney says he likes Spiderman and rocket ships. I went to amazon.com to look for toys and games and found the usual junk. He’s four. This may be his best Christmas. Shouldn’t he have his own book about a boy named Daniel taken up in a rocket ship by Spiderman to visit the weird creatures on a moon of Jupiter? I’m thinking he’d be interested in how astronauts deal with having to go to the bathroom. The recycling of urine: fascinating when you’re four, and still deep inside the mysteries of the body, your body, your one and only. (That sinuous, silky feel of being a child. Nimble, agile, balanced, low center of gravity!) He’s four, and sometimes life at home is a drag. Why not go up on a rocket ship with Spiderman? I would. I’d go with the aliens of our 1980’s mass fantasy—world peace or anal probes, adjust for type. At the time, I wouldn’t have (a little timid) but now? Now I’d go almost anywhere that’s unquestionably strange.
So I want to write a story for him, and I guess I won’t have time. I’d have to be utterly happy with it. I’d want it printed somehow, or at least handsomely bound. And I’m afraid if I started writing about Spiderman I’d make him too much my own. I’ve already got him living on the West coast of Mars (Jupiter is a little too far, chilly) with a talking cat who escaped from a top-secret lab, Count Chokula and Young Frankenstein, Sid Vicious and Mary Poppins.
I’d do better to stick with astronauts and recycled pee. But what about drifting in black space, held only by a slim tether while one fixes the that part of the warp drive that’s making a whimpering sound? Is that part of his fantasy? Or does he just like the explosion, take-off, the shimmery acceleration as the rocket splits open the sky?