Saturday, December 31, 2011
Thursday, December 29, 2011
On the way out to the grocery store today in the late afternoon, we stopped to get the mail. One card was a picture and beautiful letter from a girl named Caitlin. When my sister and I were little, after we moved from Virginia but before we moved to Acton, Massachusetts, we lived for a year on the Connecticut coast, down the street from my grandparents' cottage by the beach. I don't remember much, if anything, from that year (I was Wally's age now when we moved further north), but I grew up staying friends with the four other kids in what was that day's version of a "playgroup".
My mom befriended two nearby young moms, Angela and Barbara, and the three hung out together with their kids, trading kid-watching duties and getting together all 10 of us, too. Angela's family stayed close by for a while, and we stayed friends with her kids. We mostly lost touch with Barbara's, saw them only every now and again. My mom would still see Barbara; she came to my sister's wedding in 2000. But they faded. Those old, original friendships, those morning playgroups with muffins and oj, those family walks by the beach, those holiday reunions, the yearly surprise at how much everyone had grown, the sense of tracing over some authentic, familial pattern each time we hung out even if we didn't know each other all that well, the way old neighbors do, people whose parents go to the same church as your grandparents, know the same pizza place, remember things you used to do as a toddler--those friendships remained somewhere in the sepia-toned distance. It's been years now since I've seen any of them.
Caitlin's mom Barbara died 8 years ago. After we read Caitlin's recent letter, my mom unearthed a collection of newsletters Barbara used to send, the precursor to blogs, those once-a-year updates, not every night, more real, but not real-time. Here, at the start of one, she quotes Theodor Roethke in a Christmas poem. "There is a hush, a Holy Pause." I am reading the letters now, looking back through pictures, feeling that hush.
Throughout there are vivid scenes that catch you not necessarily for what they mean, but just for what they are. "The girls sat relatively demurely at a candlelit table nibbling on pizza til Aron strolled in wearing his Halloween gorilla mask." There are black and white photographs photocopied into the letter. I suppose people could be of two minds when it comes to a newsletter (or blog) update --maybe thinking, Why do I care? And for some reason, caring. What is their daily life like? Like Hemingway wrote about the "greatest difficulty" he found in writing--"to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced." That is what blogs and newsletters are full of--or at least aim to be. What really happened in action. What the actual things were. We care not just because we care about the people --but presumably we do -- but because a picture of someone's daily life is revealing, it lets us in on a little hint -- a two-inch picture frame -- of what it's like to be alive.
In Our Town, after her death, the main character Emily goes back to her daily life, and she is so heart-broken by how everyone's too busy to look at her. Her mom's making a birthday cake I think, her dad's working like crazy. She implores them to stop but they can't. “Please anybody," she says, "just look at me. I don’t need the cake or the money. Please look at me.”
One year Barbara sent a postcard with the apology, "The economy makes our message briefer, but know you are always in our heart, on our lips, in our thoughts." She wrote my mom after my grandfather died, she continued to send pictures and updates about her children--one a teacher, one in the Peace Corps. And then a few years later, she died. Now Caitlin, her daughter, seems to be carrying on her mom's tradition of at least yearly updates. In one--though this, I see is from long ago, 2003, she writes, "I am my mother's daughter and so it seems, fun is always near at hand. There is so much to do, see, read-experience. I am happy." That must have been just a year or so after her mom died. At her brother's wedding that year, the "pinnacle of her year", she felt that her mom "was in her way, there."
I see from the address on the card my mom received today, that Caitlin lives in Brooklyn with her baby girl. Funny, she's just between my sister and I, and has been in New York for quite some time--a decade?--yet we haven't run into her. My first instinct lately is not to keep reaching out to people, past and future, to resist my impulse to connect--to say, the problem is that you are already so scattered, already so disconnected, don't fall into the paradoxical trap of seeking more connection only to undermine the ones you already have. And yet I think it is just my nature. I am always searching for that sense of shared history, of memories from childhood that resonate at the same frequency as one's own, I am always picking up the paper cup, listening, as Morning wrote today, for that jumbled message back.
I may or may not send a letter to the actual Caitlin, to the actual Brooklyn street so close to my own. Maybe I'll be content to read through her and her mother's letters, to think about the group of friends my mom had when I was little, and the ones -- moms and otherwise -- I have now. Content to stop making the birthday cake or worrying about money. Content to stare Emily right in the face.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
I am dragging myself to the computer tonight like a 9th-grader with a paper to write. Due tomorrow. It’s 10:36 PM and I haven’t started. Only it’s not a paper and I don't have to write it. It’s just sending a few notes out to the ether, picking up one end of a telephone made with paper cups and string. Listening to Arcade Fire and digging a tunnel, from my window to yours.
Monday, December 26, 2011
“I was trying to write then and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced.” (Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon)
Saturday, December 24, 2011
The champagne was a bust. It turned out not to be champagne. It was a sweet, sparkly after-dinner wine. Not a hit. Alex's Christmas pies were though, as was his mom's Christmas pave, which should never be compared to tiramisu, a rather non-event dessert, beccause it's so much better. Dara identified the central problem with tiramisu: tons of sweet stuff, none of them chocolate.
It's quiet now. Christmakah Eve is almost over. I read "The Night Before Christmas" to Wally for the first time tonight. My sister has it memorized but I always start to drift off around Mama in her kerchief. It's really a mouthful, dry leaves flying around before the hurricane, mounting to the sky. Wally wondered why the daddy is wearing dress pajamas. "Daddy's don't wear dress pajamas". Not anymore. A few astute readers drew attention to the whimsy of fashion on the post about Wally's adventures in lace, pointing out that emperors of the past and Scotsmen of today pranced or prance about in outfits far more flamboyant than Wally's purple ruffled skirt.
When I think about it, Jesus is never pictured in pants. Then again he wasn't blue eyed and blond-haired either, so perhaps his fabled garb should not be accepted as sancrosanct.
I was thinking about wandering after yesterday's post. Who wandered around in the desert? Jesus? The Israelites? ("Everybody in the Bible", Alex is saying, "It's all desert.") Mary and Joseph weren't wandering; they came to Bethlehem on purpose, to register for the census (Thanks Jeannine). Then of course there was no room at the inn (the only one in town, apparently), so they became drifters, squatting in the local stable. It turned out to be a rather cozy place.
The Shepherds in the nearby fields were alarmed by the angel of the Lord who came bearing news. The angel told them not to be afraid. A babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, would be their Savior. Then the multitudes were praising God, and hoping for peace for humanity.
In the song, "A little town in Bethlehem" why is it a dreamless sleep? In "A Night Before Christmas" dreams of sugar-plums fill their heads. If you can channel dreams into reality, imagination into history, fancy into wish-fulfillment, maybe the dreams find a different place to occupy. My favorite part in Clement Clarke Moore's poem is about settling down for a long winter's nap. Of course that's when the clatter arises; the dream of a long winter's nap fading to stardust.
No matter how old I get---no matter how hard it is to believe the things I wish I could---on Christmas Eve, something from that old dream endures. "The hopes and fears of all the year are met in thee tonight." It doesn't matter what we believe, with a story so embedded in our culture, fabric, way of acting, way of being, our hopes and fears will naturally converge upon it. Upon both what it is, and how we imagine it to be. On earth peace, and good will to men. Christmas still feels like it's about that heart-bursting-out-of-your-chest sense of hope. I can't think of something I'd hope for more.
Friday, December 23, 2011
Outside of my bizarre stint with a group of local Born-Agains in high school led by people who should maybe not have been born the first time*, I have never had a religious tradition. I’m half Jewish and half Catholic. I'm told you can’t be half of either one. You’re either Catholic or you’re not. Also, I'm Jewish on the wrong side (father). So that leaves me both and neither. On ethnic pie charts in high school still I insisted on those halves. I could technically have put 1/4 Russian, 1/4 Polish for the Jewish side, but my relatives felt no affinity for those countries, as clearly those countries felt no affinity for them.
** (deep breath)
That's just weird. Why don't sins matter? Yeah, you shouldn't beat yourself up every mistake, and you have to forgive yourself, and it's great to show mercy to yourself and others, but you should try to live according with your values. You can't just be that classroom menace who has perfected the art of the apology and can get away with anything.
theory. My dad doesn't agree (though he can't point to anything that suggests otherwise) but I think tThe Jewish faith to me is super-vague on the afterlife stuff, if there's a promise there, it's iffy. The emphasis is on how you live your life, here. The practice of Tzedakah (giving 10% of your income to charity) is fundamental. The word Tzedakah itself translates to justice.
**(another deep breath)
From John "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."
I have a long history of wandering. I've been wandering into the church, lately, feeling some greater purpose call me. Many accuse the occupiers of not having a point. Of wandering. Wandering Jews -- you just need one word or the other, not both. They're practically synonyms. (If you get kicked out of every place you ever go, save Hollywood and Florida, you don't have much of a choice.) But anyway, wandering suits me these days.
Not sure if it's the best idea to make changes to entries after I've already posted them. My most loyal readers are surely hitting "refresh" constantly, Mark Zuckerberg-style, so they're not likely to read the updated version, but rather the first, rough post, just after I impulsively hit "publish. "Oh well, I suppose that's the price of loyalty, and the price of my impatience, insistence on sending things immediately out into the universe, the one (there may be many) that is always sending so many things to me.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Wally and Alex are both asleep now. It's raining here on this island of Manhattan, raining on the blue and white Empire State Building, on the skeleton trees. It felt like spring today, and yet it was kind of okay and I couldn't figure out why. Not a creepy, global warming kind of warm day. It's supposed to rain tomorrow, too, high near 50. I'm trying to type quietly. Alex and Wally went to a neighbor's this afternoon so I could work on collecting nauseating facts for my gross-o-pedia. The world of horrifying insects is endless, not surprising since insects make up, hmmm, what is it, I should know this, 2/3 of the number of different species of life on earth? An article from this September in The Times reviewed a book talking about how the study of insects has significant relevance to the study of human psychology and in particular the nature vs. nurture question, which is of course endlessly fascinating to any (relatively) new parent. Elizabeth Royte writes, "...because insects are rarely cared for by their parents and live mostly solitary lives, they make a handy tool for looking at the potential genetic basis for adult behaviors." I'm only now beginning to trace what my adult behaviors are, let alone where they came from.
It's almost midnight. I don't have much time now to get this post out, to keep up with the challenge I took from citibank's gauntlet. (Funny, the most valuable advice they gave came after I left them on Bank Transfer Day. Maybe you can only look at something objectively when you're no longer dependent on it. Or maybe their ad campaigns just really got a boost.) Write your story, the citibank sign said.
Why though? Other than being held accountable to write, which is inherently a good thing. What is the point of writing every day? I don't need to answer that all in one sweep. I can do it little by little. That's what I'm realizing now, finally. I can immerse myself in the process. Commit myself to a daily practice. I can start where I am. "Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them."*
Will, along with his sister Moira and brother Charlie, are the teenagers who play with my sister’s kids and Wally at holidays now, like Dara and I were the teenagers who used to play with them. (Again, you’re describing the basic nature of time. It moves forward. You get older or die trying. There really isn’t any other choice.) Still, like the Twin Towers appearing in the wrong place in my timeline Rorschach test of memory*, when I think of Will, my first thought, for a split second, is of the little boy sitting on the porch of the Casino, swinging his legs and drinking grape juice.
There are certain people who are just landmarks of time, whose face, when they were born, you recognize immediately. Will is one of them. My older niece, Eliana, is another. They’re both the oldest in their families, and when I think about it, they each represented a major shift in family tradition. Will’s birth when I was 16 heralded the end to my sister and my reign as the kids in our extended family. Eliana’s birth, perhaps, signaled the end of young adult-hood. It is not surprising, then, that those two remain figures like in the Natalie Merchant song, “...frozen in my mind like the child that you never will be, will be again”. Who they are to me is who I am to myself. Their arrivals marked major turning points for me. To see them accurately, I have to first see myself that way. I think I’m beginning to. It feels like being free.
The truth above all. That's what I'm seeking. That's what I'm after, in writing every day.
I was moving beyond her, the way you’d feel about a best friend when you get together one day and she just want to play the same old games the same old way, and doesn’t want to hear about any of the new music or books or people that you met at camp and you realized that you were just kind of moving forward, and that she’s not. That you’re waving goodbye from a bus window and she doesn’t really know you’re waving, just thinks that you’re in a funny mood that day. But she’s getting smaller and smaller to where you can hardly even see her, and eventually you’ll get carsick if you don’t turn your head around and focus on the road up ahead.
I have to begin where I am. It feels like I'm finally here. Once I find it, Carl Sagan's "worthy goal" will keep me looking forward, even when--behind the scenes, instead of sleeping--I'm sorting through the past.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Back in September, Epicurious has included it on a back-to-school roundup.
And New York's own Metro paper ran a piece in October.
Monday, December 19, 2011
"...if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending -- something dead, cold, and lifeless." Bertrand Russell
I think I should start posting everyday. At least something everyday, though I don't want this to turn into one of those "wordless wednesday" blogs. The problem is I am always playing catch-up, I always have these old entries floating around on scraps of paper and in my head, these updates, like the one I posted last night, that are a month old, these pieces I feel I need to fill in before I can get on to what I really need to say. But maybe I can just toss those aside, or if I want to be symbolic--rip them up, or maybe burn them just for the spectacle. There is a reason they haven't been posted yet. Maybe they are not present enough, real enough, honest enough, or maybe too much so, and if that's the case, I don't want to give into avoidance patterns. But I really don't know. I just realized like a week ago that maybe I'm just classic ADD and can't string a coherent thought together or manage to keep multiple drafts of stories in any kind of order so it's clear which is the latest one. I resist because I keep thinking -- that's not where I'm at anymore, I don't believe that right now, that's really not obsessing me but if I wrote about it people would think that it was. But at the same time there's some kind of narrative arc I want to follow, and those pieces floating away are part of it. I never knew until the other night reading Bertrand Russell that it's as the solar system is dying that conditions become hospitable to life. So when we appeared, and when I say "we" I mean we in a very broad sense, organisms that breathe, let's say, things were already on their way down. But wait, a quarter-of-a-billion years ago almost all life on earth, save maybe 5%, died out. And then the dinosaurs came along. And then they died out. Then we came along. The dinosaurs roamed the earth for about 160 million years, and we've been here, even at a great outside estimates, only about 200,000 (which still begs the question, why did God wait so freakin' long to send Jesus down here)? But given these numbers, which are not under debate, maybe this is all unnecessarily catastrophic thinking indicative of a colossal narcissistic personality disorder.