Wednesday, July 30, 2014

One of the -- if not the -- hardest books ever written in the English language (topped sometimes by Finnegans Wake but many don't consider that to be written in English and thereby discount it). The hardest (I'm told? I hope?) professor at Fordham for this condensed summer course. Kids with stomach viruses home when supposed to be not home. Late nights, early mornings, lots of time to read and write and so luxurious the green quiet of the campus enchants me a throwback to many many years ago or even just three years ago the idealist fair asking - what do I want to do with my life (held, I believe it was, at the Lincoln Center Fordham campus) and the now cliche aphorism (you don't say cliche and aphorism, one or the other, too late, too many words, too much post-structuralist post feminist marxist jargon--maybe apophthem?) Henry David Thoreau was it or Emerson the high-school yearbook quote I saw yesterday on the side of a bookbag in the store where one day I used to work (not in the store itself but in the publishing house that supplied the store with its material texts): it was really a slightly edited version to be fair "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams...live the life you imagined" and I thought--that always sounded so exhilarating but really it can be so - wow - tiring and kind of awkward and hard - but exhilarating, yes, even though but day to day it's trudging home on the D train swarmed to overflowing at Yankee Stadium at 10:30 carrying far too many books and wondering if there will be anything left at home to eat for dinner and how early I'll wake up to those loud, energetic voices and thinking - what? what? Signature of all things I am here to read...for how much longer, tonight.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Recycling Bin Split-Second Symphony

When I dropped the recycling into the bin downstairs the bottles made the sound of the opening drums of “Just like Heaven. So I came upstairs and put on The Cure and that to me is so senior spring from High School, fresh cut grass, our parents' cars, slipping out during study hall to Philip's Coffee even though we didn't drink coffee, blasting The Cure out the car windows, so many promises at the end of high school, in love on Fridays, alone above the raging sea.

That's what made me come here to write, a recycling bin split-second symphony, the only way back into the fantasy world of my blog, a one-time-record of the interrupted life, madly, wildly interrupted in a different way from when I started writing it. Now I am entrenched more seriously in my freelance work, preparing to start grad school in two weeks with a James Joyce summer course, wading through the River Liffey, slipping into Viconian cycles. I have gotten away from writing and reading and thinking about parenting. It’s a topic that I realized sometimes drains me. It means that when you’re not actively taking care of your kids, you are reading about how to do a better job at taking care of your kids. It’s like you’re constantly putting out for others, with nothing filling you back up.

Just over a month ago I put Petra in three day a week daycare, which makes getting into this other stuff somewhat possible if still a bit implausible. I have even been able to wake up before the kids some days and turn to Dublin mid June 1904 with a text that cannot be rushed, cannot be skimmed, summarized, shrunk or scanned in any way. There is no way to condense it, no reward for an attempt to read through and “get the gist of” the single unremarkable day in an unremarkable man’s life that takes up nearly 900 pages in the Modern Library edition my parents sent me. There is only one way to read it and possibly enjoy it: line by inscrutable line.  

The garden too—so much to update, I’m sorry I didn’t record the events of it here because a little garden patch in the city has fulfilled some deep-seated Last American Childhood-like desire held since I first wished here for a patch of dirt and shovel for Wally—has proven unyielding to efforts to hurry it along.

Poetry, all writing, is the same. You have to give it time. Nothing meaningful will come from it otherwise.

Today, returned to the apartment after dropping off both kids to the smell of coffee and fresh cut grass. I am reading Alicia Ostriker who was born in 1937 in Brooklyn the birds are chirping and I think I could spend all day slipping into her dream of springtime.

There are many mornings like this, where I rush in with a surge of energy, newly light, sun poring in and the voices in my head not drowned out by any other demands at least for the walk home. It feels like the hint of another time, another life, where a morning could be spent indulging in whatever that smell of fresh-cut grass and coffee conjures up…a cafĂ©, a journal open on the table, years before I ever drank coffee. Now I run to pull out a book of Billy Collin poems as I find myself:

"buzzing around the house on espresso— 
maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins—
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,

dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,"

But then eventually I go to the computer to confront the daily massive reality of real life in all its bite-size minutiae. Within an instant I’m sunk. Sunk into PTA staff appreciation day, whether Alex can leave work early Thursday to get Wally, health forms I need to send, photos for an ID I need to upload, a rental car I need to reserve, birthday presents I have to buy, a glance at “Fan of Whitney Houston buys her ‘80s mansion” which had “long been vacant”. And then there is the guy who randomly called EvalPros (one of the many names my dad and I have used for our nonprofit consulting work). He is a disabled vet involved in a court case. It has been bobbing around on my to do list, to call him back, but what can we do? That’s not what we do? How can we help him?

But that’s not even accurate, to suggest I am only lost by going into that outer world, because the inner is equally labyrinthine, more so. For example today, four hours after waking up, three train rides and many, many stairs, (both “schools” are at the top of steep flights of them) many head nods and little bits of small talk on the walk back home, wondering about “Tanya” the name on coffee cup in the garbage can on 26th street, whooshing home full of energy, songs or poetry, even a chance rhythm of glass bottles falling into the recycling bin, the voices harmonious, and telling myself I can have just a half hour to write. Okay, here I am, reminding myself of Natalie Goldberg. At my desk, keeping the internet closed, just taking in the smell of fresh cut grass and coffee.

First I think of Edie, a young woman who worked at Wally’s school last year who was suddenly not there for months. In her absence I neglected even to ask about her only half noticing if at all that day after day she wasn’t there. She was not in his classroom, just one of many kind people who worked there. She always said hi and often swooped Wally up in her arms when she saw him. When I did see her again after months of not realizing I hadn’t seen her, she said she’d been in a horrible car crash and almost died now she could not smell or taste. By that time I guess the brush with death had receded far enough into the past that this relatively minor concern had risen to the surface; that was what she focused on. That is what I think first today, when I do even allow myself the luxury of the blank page. Edie, whom I hardly know, with shining black eyes and I think a niece Wally’s age, who cannot smell coffee or freshly cut grass. She is not usually on my mind. But recently someone mentioned Gray Gardens. There is an Edie there, I think the daughter?

Now the sound of the lawnmower outside …which barely registers above the din of the city…din, a word hanging on the wall in Mr. McInerney’s 5th grade class. The lawnmower drove me nuts that sound when I lived in Drummer Farms and otherwise all was quiet on a summer morning. After school was over it seemed to me early and reasonable to get up at 9 and I resented being woken any earlier by that horrible sound.

I want to stay in that spell of "Just Like Heaven", thinking about spring mornings 20 years ago. It's I guess obvious why. I’m setting off once again for immersion in academia, or at least as much immersion as is possible with the school supply list already for next year, the demanding neighbors, the laundry scattered on the floor. I’m not going anywhere, except into my own magic treehouse full to overflowing with books to jump into, no car to blast music out of, but about to disconnect from one world and rush headlong into another.


It was cutting edge for Dartmouth in the fall of 1994, twenty years ago, to require all incoming freshmen to purchase a computer. Here I sit at mine, critical of all the virtual connection it has to offer, yet continuing to find something of value in it, engaged now in a practical search of the most mundane kind, not to read the dour (someone called him that, perfect) but insightful Stuart Gilbert’s thoughts on cosmology and the esoteric in the Proteus episode of Ulysses, but for dinner tonight. I am pleased to see someone in Irvine, California once had the same question as me: Can you peel and cut potatoes and get them ready ahead of time?



Friday, June 20, 2014

Still haven't gotten a chance to write. Better now at making sure I "Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past." (And reading Ulysses.)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The End of March

Tonight I am turning down Fordham University's offer to join their English Masters program. I am picturing myself a year and a half ago on the back porch at my parents' house pregnant, cracking open a book on Cracking the GRE, making mental pictures to remember words like kappellmeister and palimpsest. Then fast forward to taking the test, even more pregnant, to writing the Statement of Intent, anxiously asking for recommendations. Then finding out last year that the program I wanted was being suspended. Re-applying this January for a new program. And now, after all that, here I am turning it down. 

And listening to this song, over and over.

Alex says, "Isn't there any way you can go? Can you get a loan? Will it help you get a job?"

"No. Yes. No."

Yes, I suppose I could take out a loan and go. But it's ludicrously ill-advised. It was ill-advised back when I was 22. Then it would have been possible to justify. But now, I'll be content with getting the chance, even if I have to turn it down.

Every once in a while I hear a song, and I for some reason think of my blog, and just posting the song there and telling everyone to listen and saying, "That." That's what I'm trying to say. Not the words, necessarily. But the feeling. What I tried to say myself through music for many years. What I tried to say through novels, poems, short stories, blog posts, songs, late-night wine-soaked conversations, hoarse throats, dirty hands, stained clothes and trains no longer running. Or even way before, high school at the rainy Arboretum, not a drop of liquor anywhere near us, conversations that went on to infinity, impossible euphoria at moments of insight and all the rest of the time vastly disconnected, trying to define our ideals, trying to decide which way to go, which experience more authentically lived up to the image we had of ourselves, which one would bring me closer to my imagined life by the sea, one I never really lived except in summers in a cottage given up many many years ago now, in the one I haven't stepped foot in since before I had children, since I was a wanna be rock star and the furthest thing from a mom. I wasn't a mom at that time. How can that be? The role that I inhabit now that takes up every inch of me most days I think, the preoccupations, the PTA fundraisers, the piles of hand-me-down clothes, playground meetups, the wills I still have never signed, the floor covered with plant-based BPA free recycled plastic toys. There was a time that meant so much before I became a mom. And I think to how started my blog - wondering about all these moms around me and if they were anybody other than moms because as even though I myself was one as moms alone I could not relate to them, felt no there there, no substance, no somebody that I didn't used to know. But I was somebody I used to know and it's so hard sometimes to remember or find that or feel that but when I listen to certain songs I used to love way way back it comes swelling back and sometimes it rises up from a new song I never heard before but is there wired somewhere in deep recesses like you have heard it though you know you never had. It's full to breaking with nostalgia somehow. And that's how it is for this one.

This song I only found out about from Girls, which itself is so terribly inauthentic and very uncool. Also who knows what feeling you'll have listening to the song. I can't just assume anyone else will have the same one that slams into me. It does help though, to remember why I chose to be a kappellmeister for all those years in my 20s when going to grad school would have been feasible if still really ill-advised. And now it's time to pull out the palimpsest, forget what's been scraped out, scratched out, made invisible, and start writing, again. 



Monday, April 28, 2014

You Don't Really Need to Know All You Learn in Kindergarten

Wally used to love to write stories. I always have notebooks lying around for him to pick up whenever he feels like writing. I may not be a good model of coping with frustration or choosing fruit for dessert but I do model writing. (Try to balance out Alex's tablet habit at least a little bit.) My only complaint about Wally's writing was that his stories were too long. He would come up with some outlandish idea that it had to be 42 pages and then set to work drawing and writing then crumple up into a teary ball if he didn't have time to finish before dinner. 

Fast forward from last summer to now, and you have a six-year old who can no longer stand to pick up his journal. He hates writing. Why? Because he does it for an hour a day every day in school. That is on top of reading, math, and other sit-down, academic work. And it's not that he's struggling. He's reading and writing incredibly well. It's just that he's got a lot of energy and his mind is racing, and he is not meant to sit at a desk for an hour writing every day. They do have wonderful art and music programs, but outside of a 20-minute recess, if they are lucky and nothing else squeezes it out, they have a 25-minute "choice time" (play time) at the end of each day. That's it as far as playing goes during their 6-hour Kindergarten day. Less than an hour. They have too much else they "need" to learn.

I was thinking about Robert Fulghum's famous book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. When it came out it seemed genius in its simplicity. So right and so true that you think upon reading that Kindergarten teachings apply to life on a broad scale from how to get along with others to accepting the life cycle. One of those ideas that's so dead on that once you hear it, you think, how could I not have thought of this? 

Fulghum must have gone to Kindergarten in about 1942, so things had presumably changed a bit by the time he published the book in 1989. Yet at that time, nearly half a century after he learned what he learned in Kindergarten, what he wrote about still appeared to be entirely on point. You did learn to share (toys). To clean up your own mess (fingerpaints). You were likely to be given cookies for snack. You took a nap! You learned your first word. But reading the list now, it would come across as charmingly anachronistic, quaint even, if it wasn't so painful a reminder of what's missing from kindergarten today.  

Here from The Washington Post today: 

Nap time has been cancelled. A follow-up letter to career-ready kindergarteners

Thankfully it's a satire, but not too far off from the real story here