Frank is a Good Dog’s Name

February 26, 2009 § 1 Comment

My mother and Frank

My mother and Frank

I saw Michelle Obama on TV complaining about the names her daughters are considering for the new First Dog, a Portuguese Water Spaniel : Frank and Moose. I’m always in favor of kids having free rein with pets’ names, unless they name it something obscene or after their grandmother.

But the thing is, Frank. My mother had a dog named Frank. Her rule of thumb, learned from her father, is that a dog’s name must be one syllable so you can call it easily. My grandfather had hunting dogs, so this rule made sense for him. If you were ever part of a big family and experienced a parent try to call a bunch of kids inside, away from the cliff, out of the water, and mangling all the syllables in a frustrated snarl, you’ll get the point.

Frank loved my mother. When he was a young adult animal, she was a single woman in her midfifties, her kids out of the house. She wanted that devoted love, and a Doberman is a nothing if not a devoted, one-point-focus kind of animal. But she also wanted to be free to travel with her boyfriends. Particularly she wanted to accompany a rather unpleasant Australian man who took her all over France and Italy: the kind of leisurely car trip we all dream of, although not with him.

While she was gone, a young man named Greg looked after her house and Frank. Greg was a gay friend of my brother’s who didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life, and my mother had extra room, so he lived with her.  She always liked having a young person in the house, and was happiest when her children were of an age to provide her with needy cast-offs.

Frank missed my mother intensely. He mourned, as only a dog can, silent, stoic, not knowing if the beloved will return but holding hope alive steadfastly. I’ve always been inordinately sympathetic to the loneliness of dogs. It seemed a crime to me to inspire that degree of love and then depart with no way to explain or reassure, no possibility of postcards. On the other hand, in my mother’s place, I would have gone to Europe.

Greg told me that one night he came home from work—it was summer and still light out—and found Frank on the lawn, staring at a line-up of my mother’s shoes. My mother had 15 or 20 pairs of shoes, some quite old. Frank had taken one shoe from each pair out of her closet, down the stairs, across the hall, through the kitchen and outside. He had arranged them on the grass and then lain down in front of them, nose between his paws.

I was living in Berkeley then, reading Proust, Flaubert, Colette—all the masters of unrequited love—far too afraid of that kind of surrender, although I thought of myself as daring in matters of passion. And there was Frank, who could never take my mother to Italy, who didn’t own a car, couldn’t compete with a man who was far beneath him except for the small matter of species—Frank, who could only carry the shoes that held her scent out into the sunlight and look at them.

Maybe you don’t want this model for your daughters, Michelle. But I have to say, Frank was a good dog.

**

“The woman whose face we have before our eyes more constantly than light itself…this unique woman—we know quite well that it would have been another woman that would now be unique to us if we had been in another town than that in which we made her acquaintance, if we had explored other quarters of the town, if we had frequented the house of a different hostess. Unique, we suppose; she is innumerable. And yet she is compact, indestructible in our loving eyes, irreplaceable for a long time to come by any other.”

~Marcel Proust

“…And all wonder and a wild desire.”

February 24, 2009 § 6 Comments

Venus and Cupid, Lorenzo Lotto

Venus and Cupid, Lorenzo Lotto

I’d like to meet the man who invented sex and see what he’s working on now.
~ Author Unknown

My sex life has waned along with the economy. The correlation is obvious. Of all the turn-ons I’ve ever heard of, financial anxiety isn’t one of them. Escaping from anxiety is, of course, a classic motive for mindless fucking, but my lover and I seem to have worn out the escapist thing for the time being. “It is what it is,” he keeps saying. What he means is, “I’m finally ready to face what it is, even though the ‘is’ is a lot worse than a few years ago when I couldn’t.”

It’s okay to take a break. We have stuff to do. But just because my sex life is on pause, sex doesn’t go away; others are doing it; I have to stop and think why I’m not, and what’s left to want. I need to write about it to remind myself not to worry. Too much of my worrying happens when I’m not looking.

It’s a truism that people use sex to get lots of different needs met, and my greatest need when I was young was to know. Specifically, the longing to know about men was intense and overpowering. My father died when I was 10, a suicide who was scarcely more available when he was living. I wanted to experience the full range of men, to gather and categorize their glamour, and also, eventually, to dispel the excess. As the shrinks say, I needed to learn to self-regulate.

The laconic boys of my teenage years were such utter mysteries that every morsel of knowledge gained was a treasure. I regarded them with awe. Even the ones I deemed unattractive were more attractive than I wanted to admit. Many other girls had it easier—knew more boys, chatted and joked with more confidence because they didn’t see the opposite sex as beings of light and terror—but I also thought they didn’t know anything.

My first lesson was that sex (on the first, not-necessarily-date) zooms you past male defenses. It did so especially then, in the 1970’s. It surprised boys into intimacy in a way that being a ‘girlfriend’ wouldn’t have. For whatever reason, my willingness didn’t slot me into the category of slut, or not most of the time. Sex was my gift—offered freely, for my own pleasure and to see what would happen—and gifts evoke a whole different response than structured exchange.

In my 20’s, I had to deal with all the usual things sexual wanderlust brings—shame; the need to create a philosophical rationale for my behavior; and jealousy, mine and others’. It was exhilarating and then it was boring. I can understand how for some, tilting against or fitting oneself into social norms can be a source of lifetime intellectual fascination. But I was interested in special cases: as in, everybody is one.

I wanted to know secrets. Among women, that’s not usually too hard: sit patiently, ask questions, offer cake, withhold judgment and most will tell you the good stuff. Men are more of a problem. Often, they don’t know what the good stuff is and/or think it’s dangerous, so you have to fuck them silly.

But whatever you learn, there’s so much more beneath. And if you learn that, there’s twice as much.  I suspected this about people in general from a young age but preferred not to dwell on it except when I was writing fiction, when it was a technical problem.  But in matters of love, it’s the thing that pulls you under.

We want love to be difficult. There’s no possibility of romance if every door swings open. What do you do when it’s too difficult; how do you decide if you’ve reached that point? What scares me about myself is that though I’m a woman with many interests and identities—writer, friend, daughter, sister, stepmother, aunt—sexual or ‘partner’ love is my ground, my true north, the heat I would seek if I were a heat-seeking missile. And the men I love are not easy. Being in a many-partnered situation (adultery, polyamory, whatever—I hate all the words) insures that new levels of weirdness will appear. You wake up in the morning and there are seven extra floors in your brain, inhabited by invisible women and argument; and you have to take it in stride, make the coffee, get your work done. To do otherwise would be saying, all those passionate promises were nothing but sexual hysteria. Actually I can’t handle anything. Take your reality and shove it.

Life is hard now. There are uncertainties I can’t write about here, except to say they involve others’ pain and desperation, and cause me a different kind of desperation, and then there’s my financial loss, which, although I’ve been writing about it for months, I have yet to fully absorb. But I still value desire, still imagine it as the secret path away from the horrible and towards the true, as if the true were never horrible. The truth often is horrible, but desire is like water. When it evaporates, the seemingly vanished is in every breath you take. When it freezes, watch your step. And when spring comes, there no escaping it.

There is no remedy for love but to love more.
~Henry David Thoreau

O lyric Love, half angel and half bird, And all a wonder and a wild desire.

~Robert Browning

Posting Valentines

February 15, 2009 § 3 Comments

“— Sweet fiction, in which bravado and despair beckon from a cold panache in which the protected essential self suffers flashes of its existence to be immortalized by a writing self that is incapable of performing its actions without mixing our essence with what is false.”

This is Frank Bidart, from “Borges and I,” a poem in his book Desire.

What Bidart refers to in these particular lines* as falsity was to me the beauty, the world. To capture it and mix it with myself gave me shivers of power. I remember my first real novel, which was the first one published, the minor characters who had none of what I thought of as ‘myself’ in them were by far the most thrilling to me, though I knew they were not written with any great brilliance or insight. They were barely the real thing, but they were it; they existed and were not ‘me’; that was the power, with which nothing compares.

*He speaks of it in different ways throughout the long poem, which is an argument, a conversation, a man turning something around and around in his hand. I can’t do justice to his complex perspective.

Last night, Valentine’s Night, I wrote about my happiness and peace in regard to love, which was true when I wrote it. At the same time I knew or feared it wouldn’t be true later, or rather, wouldn’t be true any longer, therefore wouldn’t be able to be written about as a present containing many possibilities. A personal blog has a briefer shelf-life than fiction.

I wanted the story as it was. It was open. Its falsity was the kind that is an invitation.

Tonight I coil myself in words. I would like to keep doing it, page after page, like an autistic savant reciting prime numbers up beyond the budget deficit trillions, but I’ve done that before, and it leaves me with a hangover.

I will leave you with Bidart again, from Desire. The poem is called “If I Could Mourn Like a Mourning Dove” and this is the first part.

“It is what recurs that we believe,
your face not at one moment looking
sideways up at me anguished, or
elate, but the old words welling up…

Valentine’s Night

February 14, 2009 § Leave a comment

It’s Valentine’s night and Philip is with Christine. I’m alone in his apartment. I was lazy all day, reading a mystery novel and eating chocolate except for the couple of hours I spent cleaning his kitchen floor and tub and under the bed, where the dust lay in greasy tangles like clumps of human hair. Of course I thought how strange this would seem to others—cleaning while he dines the wife—and will seem to him when he gets home, but it felt fine to me.

I like being alone here. I like being alone, knowing he will come back. I like cleaning the apartment. Is this my way of claiming wife status while he’s with his real wife? That’s obvious and probably true, but it’s true in a way that’s not really or not only delusion or denial. I must be turning Mormon.

Next week I’ll go visit Charles, my husband, who lives in Florida, and I’ll cook and clean for him—lots of baking and waffles—and we’ll take a road trip, see more of that peculiar state. I’ll sink into our deep marriage groove, the comfort of repetition and time. All the things we remember that nobody else knows. I wish I remembered more.

They feel almost perfectly balanced now, Philip and Charles. I’m at peace for the moment. Tomorrow will change that. The Sunday shows that Philip must watch—what’s going on now? Oh, right, world panic. That. I’m part of it: my few hundred grand went up in smoke and now I have close to nothing and no job. No buyers for the novel I spent years writing because my agent won’t even send it out in this climate.

I have a lot to do fixing my life. It was strangely comforting for awhile that so many were in the same boat and I can’t say I’d be happy if everyone was still out spending like bunnies (you know what I mean), but the world panic stuff, governments toppling, planes crashing into houses—.

I don’t think I’m experiencing 9/11 flashbacks. This is different, but I do keep thinking of fire. “We have a hole in our economy” the President says, and I see a map a cigarette chewed through: the map is the familiar USA, but the Midwest is missing; and the paper is soft, thin, flaking around the burnt edges.

And now I’m thinking of the dead: Ann Beckerman, JJ, my father, my grandmother. My grandmother wore gold and pearls, face powder and perfume; she loved parties and men. She wouldn’t understand a black president, but she’d understand me, at least a little. She died when I was 13. Too soon.

I should have called my mother today. I was afraid of her loneliness. I have to get over that. It’s just there, like the panic. You can’t hide from it.

Warm Mushrooms

February 3, 2009 § 2 Comments

weddingdayportraitmc11

Charles and me, wedding day

I went to thenation.com to read about the banking rescue/ /givaway/gamble, got distracted by a poem by Tomaz Salamun, and wanted to paste it here but it’s subscription only so I don’t think I should. But here’s a little—

women want to be more than metaphor.
With their moist, round, soft skin, with their
drunken scent of warm mushrooms they drive me insane.

I love that last line, especially considering it’s a translation from Slovenian. It makes me remember evenings of drink, food, sex, the country, trees and night: youth, being driven insane. There was a time when the US was in financial crisis, the late 70’s, and I noticed and was affected, but not terribly; it was never as important as the night, wine and poetry (poetry was the closest thing to God I knew). Not as important as mushrooms wiped with a damp cloth and cooked fast in hot butter until almost black, then heaped in a bowl with a little salt and lemon, and eaten in bed after sex. Cooked after sex, I mean, naked in the kitchen together—what did we talk about, how did we touch? I don’t remember.

How much does  Charles, my dear, distant husband, remember? He’s flying this weekend to that same town in Virginia where neither of us has lived in 30 years. He’s visiting his girlfriend with whom he has wild, passionate sex. He doesn’t tell me details, but he says that much. I think I should be jealous but only feel blank. He deserves this. I’ve had my share of adulterous romance in the last several years. What we had that was precious, in bed, was so long ago; nostalgia touches it with wonder; it has nothing to do with today. At the same time, nothing can surpass those Charlottesville nights—when, mind you, I was unhappy because youth drove me insane—happiness and unhappiness threaded together so close, so glittering, sharp, blurred, gray and immense. Our rented house was in the middle of a 1,000 acre cattle farm, black angus; when we walked at night, we’d be among cows we could barely see, the dark shapes moving to let us pass, that strange almost-fear of their size jolting me now and then, as well as wonder at how docile they were, these large beasts waiting for slaughter.

Now I wait for slaughter (okay, not really. Big change.) I find poetry on the Web and it startles me. I have a few hundred books of the stuff and hardly ever open one. Youth is wise in what it refuses to know. I see my nieces holding up their shields—don’t interrupt me, I’m being young!—and applaud them. They’re hurting through this crisis, but not ready to sell a body part yet. I hope.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…

-Wordsworth

tomazsalamun.com

Sunday Morning

January 18, 2009 § 1 Comment

I’m trying to write and Philip is swearing at the TV again, this time at David Brooks for saying Bush’s freezing out of those who didn’t agree with him, “my lifestyle is better than your lifestyle” was what the ‘60’s were all about. “No, you cocksucker,” my sweetie said, “that’s what people who have money are all about.” Philip was hurt by what I wrote last week so now I have to describe his good qualities, like how much he hates Republicans, and how pretty his eyelashes are. I’ve have learned a lot from him about what it was like not to be a hippie in high school, and how to access one’s inner Rahm Emmanuel. But I also have to object to his assertion that wanting TV and music on at all times is recognizing one’s connectedness to humanity. This is how I connect to humanity, and I need silence to do it.

Which I have now because he’s in the bathroom and the TV is cavorting on mute. I fell in the bathroom last weekend when I was drunk, not hurting myself (God protects drunks and fools has always worked for me) and coming out of my stupor to feel him lightly slap my face—he couldn’t carry me to bed, alas, no one has done that since I was 5—and it was kind of a faux S/M moment, part of that tough love I seem to want, but once I get it feel energized to turn the toughie into a softie so we can play, childhood rough and tumble, tease and silliness until I explode in toddler giggles. It can never happen enough for me though both Philip and Charles are extremely good at being silly. I miss my husband, his unpredictable flights of fancy. Maybe I’m perverse, but I can’t help feeling happy for Diane whom he’s ‘in love’ with now—what a pleasure for her to receive that overflowing romantic spirit. I always felt that I got too much of the good stuff from Charles, that not enough other people experienced him at his best. Mostly I was sorry his kids didn’t. But the grandchildren are getting a good dose, and they need it.

Wacked

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.

Myles, William, Hannah

Myles, William, Hannah

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