Thursday, May 31, 2012
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Memorial Day has come and gone, but I wanted to put up some pictures from the weekend before it was too much gone. I spent the four-day weekend with my brother Michael and his family at the summerhouse near Ocean City. We saw horseshoe crabs along the Delaware Bay, we looked up at kites whipping above the Wildwood boardwalk. We went to Revel. I started a new story, while Michael and my niece kayaked yards away from me in the lagoon. But maybe the most memorable part of the holiday was the most traumatic. We were in the house for all of two minutes when we saw three squirrels, dead obviously, on the living room floor. They looked so placid as to be dog toys. Later, Tillie, my brother's dog, would help to find the opening where they chewed through the drywall into the bedroom, but days later I'm still thinking about our reactions. Michael and Sandy started cleaning, with drawn faces; I wondered whether we should pray for the squirrels so that their confusion and suffering would not harm the mood of the house (this elicited eye rolls); Jordan started laughing and turning her horror into a kind a song. Later, she would go to You Tube and laugh at videos of dead squirrels as a way to deal. My guess is that she felt it more than any of us. But she wasn't afraid to stay in the house, while the adults went out for Thai food, nervously bringing up squirrels every so often at the dinner table, so as not to keep them buried down deep in our psyches.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Five of us followed the guy in orange onto the Logan tarmac. Smell of sea, whine of jet engine, and three tiny planes, parked parallel to one another, pointing--east? We climbed the steps into the plane. I fell into a seat two seats back from the pilot. I hadn't slept all night, after having taken a late night train from Philly to Boston. The pilot asked me to move forward, just to balance out the weight. The pilot shifted a gear, and his elbow bumped my knee. Maybe it was that bump. Maybe it was inside a vehicle about to do an outlandish thing, something not quite right. The experience of being inside a jet takes a lot of the intimacy away. You are up so high that the earth below looks like an abstraction, and that's less threatening. Not so in a little plane. Maybe that's why I felt something shift inside me, and my eyes filled. Or maybe it was because I was suddenly back in my old Provincetown life, thirteen years before, when I took that plane so many times--when it was cheap enough to do that, before 9/11--that I took those trips for granted. What is Time? An old question, but I felt it crack through me.
Then we were up in the air, out over the water. No higher above the bay, I swear, than my 21st story apartment above the dinge of Philadelphia. So low you could practically smell it. Someone said there might be whales out there, and sure enough I saw a humpback, a long, brown island poised between two whale watch boats, as if three vehicles were conspiring on the performance. Then the golden hook of Long Point, studded with pine. Then the little strip of bleached asphalt. Down, down, bump of wheel on airstrip, plane jerks to one side, gets on track again, forward, slower, round the corner to the terminal, where my old friends Polly and Oren happened to be inside--and maybe I was just dreaming this, after having been up all night--but I swear they said, yay!
(More soon--I apologize for the dearth of posts. I've been writing a lot, which feels like the right thing right now.)
Sunday, May 13, 2012
The last two weeks have been an adventure, especially when it comes to reading. The day after Alison Bechdel's event (see post below) I started in on Are you My Mother? There's no other way to say it: I couldn't put it down. It wasn't just the dialogue between image and text, the way those images make poetry out of abstraction. And it wasn't just its constellation of references: Freud, Virginia Woolf, D.W. Winnicott, Stephen Sondheim. I know my attraction has a lot to do with its candor, its associative structure, the ways it thinks about attachment theory through one specific mother and child. The subject and the object. Destruction and survival. But that's only the broad brush of it. Every once in a while one comes across something life-changing, and I already can tell that my engagement with the book (which goes on and on) is going to change my work.
How to feed that on and on? I really want to be reading Winnicott, even if I know Freud's the better place to start. So I've been reading The Interpretation of Dreams alongside Jeannette Winterson's memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? I'm too much inside these other two books to report on them yet, but it feels huge to be reading them more or less simultaneously.
You can probably tell that school is out...
Here, a passage from the Winterson:
Still, I was excited about the Apocalypse because Mrs Winterson made it exciting, but I secretly hoped that life would go on until I could be grown up and find out more about it.
The one good thing about being shut in a coal-hole is that it prompts reflection.
Read on its own that is an absurd sentence. But as I try and understand how life works -- and why some people cope better than others with adversity -- I come back to something to do with saying yes to life, which is love of life, however inadequate, and love for the self, however found. Not in the me-first way that is the opposite of life and love, but with a salmon-like determination to swim upstream, however choppy upstream is, because this is your stream...
Which brings me back to happiness and a quick look at the word.
Our primary meaning now is the feeling of pleasure and contentment; a buzz, a zestiness, the tummy upwards feel of good and right and relaxed and alive...you know...
But earlier meanings build in the hap -- in the Middle English, that is 'happ', in Old English, 'gehapp' -- the chance or fortune, good or bad, that falls to you. Hap is your lot in life, the hand you are given to play.
How you meet your 'hap' will determine whether or not you can be 'happy.'
What the Americans, in their constitution, call 'the right to the pursuit of happiness' (please note, not 'the right to happiness'), is the right to swim upstream, salmon-wise.
Happy Mother's Day to all. Here's my mother, with my brothers and me out on one of those artificial islands along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. We miss her.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
I couldn't have known that when I became single again last summer I'd be breaking up again and again throughout the year. By that I mean, having to tell people that Mark and I aren't together anymore. It's a bit of an existentialist narrative, perhaps something Camus might have liked to write. At least once a day, I get emails that reference the two of us, reflecting the assumption that we're together, that we'll always be together. I've pretty much learned how to process those. I take a breath; I feel my eyes do a funny thing. Those messages no longer hurt ten months into my new life. But sometimes I'll have to confront those assumptions face-to-face, say, at a public event, a literary event. "How's Mark?" To which I'll have to say: "Oh, we're not together any more." "I'm sorry," the person will inevitably say, with shock and a little regret in the eyes. "How are you doing?" And I'll say, "I'm doing all right, " and say, "and I can say that now, ten months into it, without saying it with a sense of sorrow and shame, which is a good thing, right?" And I'll catch my face sliding into sorrow and shame, and laughing a little to cover it up, to make it easier for the two of us: me, the recipient. There's the slightest urge to take care of the recipient, which strikes me as the wrong reaction, and maybe that's why, in part, I'm writing this down, as I don't want to break up one more time.
Anyway: three great things in the last three days.
First thing? I talked at Don DeLillo last night. At a dinner party, in Washington, DC. One of the great moments of my life. I told him how much I loved his short novels, and we talked about Joy Williams's work.
|My lyric essay workshop out on the town, in Philadelphia, on Wednesday night|
|Alison Bechdel's sketch of me on a napkin. I saw Alison on Thursday at her reading in Philadelphia. I was going to see her last night in DC, but she needed to get some sleep, so her friends sent me this. :-)|