Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Goodbye, Ms. Fisher

I'm trying to find a way to express what I have been feeling since I learned of Carrie Fisher's death.

Pardon me while I wax philosophic about mass media space epics ...

Yesterday, I went to see Rogue One. I had avoided reviews and other spoilers, and yet I understood from early on that everyone would die. How could they not? It was harrowing to watch, and it was right. I was touched by Jyn's line, "Someone's out there," as the transmission of the Death Star plans was beamed out into the chaos. That felt like a summary of the whole film, and a message I want to receive in this era of resistance. Each of us does what we can and can only trust that someone else will be in position to make the next move. None of us can solve any of this on our own, and it is best we lay down our overweening sense of guilt that we cannot. Just do what you can and trust that someone's out there. And yet, at the same time, I was thinking, "Anyone can use this to justify their own 'rebellion.' Isn't that dangerous?"

And then the movie ended with Princess Leia's face filling the whole screen uttering the word "hope."

Of course it did. I was also not surprised by this. The whole movie pointed to this. And yet it got me, on multiple levels. The kid in me was giddy to go out and watch A New Hope again right away. The adult me felt pulled back into a reunion with my 7-year-old self, a little in love and thankful all over again for Leia's beautiful, funny, badassery. (Many people are writing about the legacy of this character for Gen X girls. I'll leave it to them to explain that in more detail. I actually wanted to be Han Solo, not Leia, but she was important to me too.) Part of me thought of the real world Carrie Fisher and how I had read a headline the night before that she was out of critical condition, and I hoped well for her. And, yes, part of me resonated with the contemporary political echoes of that word and the end of an era (and the beginning of something we cannot yet name).

I walked out of the theater into a bright, blue skyed afternoon, full of these thoughts. And in the car David told me what he had overheard in the lobby: Carrie Fisher had died. And I burst into tears.

I must be one of thousands of people who experienced a similar sequence yesterday. It would have been different if I had heard in the afternoon that she had died then went to see the movie at night. Her face on the screen would have been poignant, but the shock would have been different.

I don't remember if I cried when David Bowie died. I think I probably did. I barely cried when my own father-in-law died in February. Not for lack of feeling, but because I willingly allowed the need for action to and the primacy of other people's grief to put mine in the background. I'm not sure I've fully mourned him yet. I probably didn't cry when Prince or Gloria Naylor or Sharon Jones or Gwen Ifill or ...[fill in the blank] ...  died, but I was sobered and sad and said my own little prayer (me, a non-prayer). When George Michael died I was stunned and slightly bemused ... him too?! I'm not one who thinks that 2016 has been any more greedy for celebrity deaths than any other year. I'm firmly middle aged. The icons of my youth will die. I get it.

But 2016 has been hard to take in so many ways (well, and in one giant way). This wave of loss feels tied into that, even if it is not logical.

When Carrie Fisher had a heart attack last week, I did not pay more than passing attention to it. I hoped she would be OK, and I went back to my own life. Part of me trusted that she would be OK, because she was still so young, and had proven herself to be so resilient.

I am not the world's biggest Carrie Fisher fan. I am not the world's biggest Star Wars fan. Hell, I saw Return of the Jedi for the first time last year. (And allow me to say, it was much better than my peers have led me to believe.) And I haven't even seen episode 3 at all, I don't think, or maybe I have and I've smushed it together with #2.

Yet her death leaves me reeling. Because she was young. Because she was resilient. Because as a friend said, she was such a "scarred and beautiful woman." Because she was willing to show her scars to the world and not go quietly into has-been beauty mode. Because she was funny as fucking hell, and smart, and a feminist in her bones. Because she made big mistakes and kept going. Because she was a writer, and her writing is part of the redemption she crafted for herself. Because she came back as Leia last year in "The Force Awakens" and I was hoping to see her again on screen, and now I never will.

It is all the never-wills of 2016 that are getting me down. And the moments of hope dashed.

Her young face on screen moments before I learned of her death. That brief space of time early in the evening of November 8, when the election map on Talking Points Memo glitched and showed West Virginia going for Hillary, before the truth set in. (That haunts me daily.)

These moments frighten me, because they remind me that danger lurks all the time. Each blue sky might be followed by ... what? I've felt this way before. In 2001, my first child was stillborn 5 1/2 months before the towers fell, and I realized I had no control over anything. The best I could do was to make my bed each morning and be in the moment. (Surely, I've written about this somewhere, and I will link it later.)

If 2016 has done anything, it has challenged me to see how a false sense of rational narrative and personal control has crept back into my being. Yes, there are chains of cause and effect, but those tendrils are often untraceable until much later. We are each of us blind to our place in the bigger picture. We are equally susceptible to tragedy as to bliss. And, not to put too fine a point on it, at the end of the movie, we will all die.

In the meantime, it is worth it to believe that someone is out there. It is worth it to hope. Isn't it?


Thanks being such a beautiful, funny, badass, Ms. Fisher.

Sunday, January 4, 2015


Driving across town for the final installment of Christmas with my in-laws in Lakewood, we were all impressed with the appearance of the lake. The sky was a bright, milky mix of white and blue, but the water was a great expanse of shivering green. Grey-green, sage-green, sea-green, the green of lichen edging into moss on the dark side of a tree in a damp, cool forest. You might like to have a lover with eyes this color of green. The green was topped with a million tiny cuts of white as the cold swirled in from the northwest. 
Bunratty - green Telefon booth against grey stone and red brick building
Here is a picture of an Irish phone box that has nothing
 to do with anything, except the color is sort of right.*
On a side note, one of my great joys is that my kids have such big, varied families. My parents are so much different than David's, and yet both are terrific grandparents to have, especially in combination. When we got to Lakewood, O gave me a big hug and whispered to me, "You know why I like to come here? Because whenever I walk in this house I feel happy."

Bring on the polar vortex.

Reading: Books I got for Christmas:
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
The History of Rock-n-Roll in 10 Songs (inscribed to me) by Greil Marcus
The Republic of Imagination by Afar Nafizi

Also, bonus gift: I gave my mom a copy of The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, because I love Sarah Waters, but she had already read it, so now I have it!

I love getting books as gifts, but often people don't get them for me because they assume I have them already. Know now: if you are ever inspired to get me a book, go ahead and risk it.


Dinner: Latest pressure cooker experiment: Rice! Oh, and it is good, and yea, it is fast.

Topped with salmon and a combo of red kale and collard greens (recipe called for broccoli raab, but there was none at the store) braised with anchovies, onions, garlic, pine nuts, and raisins. The salmon was poached on top of the greens at the end of cooking. (From the small but mighty On Rice cookbook by Rick Rodgers.)

Might I say, I nailed that salmon?

Soundtrack: Sondheim. Particularly Z singing with great verve "Giants in the Sky" from Into the Woods. (Last night I dreamt the song was "Lions in the Sky.") But also, cast recordings of Company and West Side Story.

Random thing: My orange dog-cat has stopped liking to walk on a leash. He has done so for three and a half years, since he was a kitten (or is it four and a half?). He still comes bounding when I say the word "leash," but immediately runs back to the door when we go outside. He and O had a collision when they were out running in the fall, and I think it rattled him. Or maybe it is just the cold. I hope he gets over it. (He does still like to sit on my shoulder, thankfully, which has been doing most of the time I have been typing this.)

*Photo credit:© Copyright Joseph Mischyshyn and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Also, apologies for the lack of linkie-loos in this post. Time presses.

Guaranteed Personality

File:Planking in supermarket.jpg

Grocery shopping has a lot of emotional highs and lows for me. As the food-oriented individual that I am I wish I could say "marketing." I wish I went to farmer's markets more (I go approximately once a year), but I've never quite gotten my system of time to gibe with it. Someday perhaps I will. (I do, during the growing season, actively do City Fresh, a social-justice minded CSA. More on that when growing season begins again.)

But grocery shopping, in a modern American supermarket. What an historical anomaly. Sometimes it completely overwhelms me. I can lose time in a supermarket. Sometimes I text David for help, like holding a string in the minotaur's labyrinth. I have been known to cry. Once I stood in line at a Giant Eagle late at night and watched someone buy tomatoes and ground beef both package on black styrofoam trays and wrapped tight in plastic and I saw the doom of our civilization. Once I met a yogi from Australia (where they apparently have different food marketing) who spoke of being paralyzed in an American supermarket as he stood in front of the milk coolers, unable to decipher the enormous range of his options. Still, I am fond of this activity.

I have vivid memories of going to the A&P with my mom when I was a kid. Animal crackers and chrome detailed shelves and learning how to balance fully loaded brown paper bags on my hip. My friend Tim and I would sometimes hang out outside by the carts and the gumball machines while my mom shopped. Tim had long hair. I had shortish hair and as a liberated hippie kid had no problem running around shirtless (I was 7 or 8, let's say). We would laugh and laugh when the old guys in feed store hats would call me Sir and him Miss.

A&P was huge by the standard of the day with a wall of windows at the front. One of my primary sense memories of the place is the spacious brightness. When I moved to New York City I found the narrow aisled, high-stacked, cave like atmosphere of the local Gristede's distinctly exotic. In between Athens and NYC, I had the honor of being a somewhat regular customer of a Piggly Wiggly in Atlanta. (The A&P of my youth no longer stands. It has been replaced by ugly student condos. I get a weird squiggly visceral feeling when I drive past where it used to be.)

When David and I were first courting long distance from NYC to Cleveland, I had fantasies about picking out tomatoes together. When I moved here we did our shopping together a lot, and I still feel sad when we go to the store together and split up for efficiency.

OMG, there's a blog about old A&Ps.

When Z was a baby I would take her to the store in a front carrier and talk to her the whole way through the store. This is a cucumber. Which should I get, the penne or the rotini? Look at all the different canned beans. Have you ever seen such a thing?

Both the kids have been lifelong participants in the shopping (and the City Fresh experience), by both necessity and design. I want them to be aware of their food, of the choices made, of the on-the-fly price calculations, of how a week of food is planned and executed. Sometimes this is a pain in the ass. Sometimes a great joy. Usually a combination of the two.

Yesterday, ZandO and I stopped at the giant Texas-based, libertarian-owned emporium of utopian fantasy food choice wonders on our way home from soccer, intending to get perhaps 7 items we needed for the weekend. The first pain in the ass was that parking lot was so full I had to circle twice to find a spot. Really? The second was that O was in full distractable 9-year-old-boy mode (We could get this. Oh, what about that. Mom, mom, mom! Ohmigod, look how big those onions are. Mom! I like how there is mist all over the greens; it means you don't have to wash them as much when we get home. Mom, mom! You said we could get the fresh orange juice sometime. Mom,, mom, mom! Hey, mom! I'm going to go see what's in that sample case over there. Wait, what did you ask me to get?)

The great joy was that in the course of an hour (!!!) the three of us discussed, planned, and purchased the food for a week's worth of varied, easy, healthy dinners (of the partly convenience, partly fresh produce variety). Dinners they will help me make and will enjoy eating.

Reading: If you've never read John Updike's story "A&P", you should, and now's your chance. 

I don't really know why but I have become, in my leisure time, a very slow reader. Maybe this is a response to all the professional reading I have to do. I went away for the holidays with 3 books and the year-end double issue of the New Yorker. My goal was to read the whole damn issue, because when do I ever get to do that, and then read at least one of the books. I am currently two-thirds of the way through the magazine and break ends tomorrow. Part of the great slow down of '15 has to include more better reading habits.


Dinner: Spaghetti with oniony, garlicky marinara and a mixed greens salad with cuke, tomato, dressed with oil & vinegar and topped marinated "feta salsa" from the utopian food choice emporium.

You're welcome.

But what was really on deck yesterday was the soundtrack to Big Night (in the car) and an internet Classic Banjo Radio station (during family work/reading/dinner prep time).

Random thing: O told us the other night at dinner that when he was a toddler he "had a very narrow palate" and that is why he wouldn't eat anything. 1. This is false. He ate everything except peas and cabbage. (Cabbage he will now generally eat. Peas, no, unless they are fresh out of the pod.) 2. What the hell kind of a phrase is that for a 9 year old?

Friday, January 2, 2015

This is not my beautiful refrigerator.

Also not my moon. The moon is not full tonight. But it did sort of look like this at dusk.
(moon from here.)
The day was spent doing more appropriately beginning of the year things like cracking the whip while the children cleaned the (900-years-overdue-for-a-good-wipe-down) fridge and trudging through this pile of grading.

Trudge is a word I like for its sound. If it weren't so onomatopoetic I would wish it meant something else to fit my enthusiasm.

In the afternoon, I went out to do an hour's worth of erranding that took two hours, when I returned home the kids were out stalking around the house with Nerf weapons and their favorite college-aged x-babysitter. When I finally exhorted them to come in to finish the refrigerator project, Z's hands were bright red with cold, O was happy in his gym shorts, and the moon glowed with a huge orange penumbra.

Overall the day was a moderate success in the slow down project. Tea was made, children were conversed with, gifts were puttered into place, thank you notes were posted, the cat was walked, I managed to only sort of weirdly lurk on social media.

Reading: I love this piece about art making and found materials from today's NYT.

Writing: I read a lot of other people's (student) writing. I thought optimistically about writer's group.

Dinner: Pressure cooker project #2: pot roast with onions, garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, and carrots over mashed potatoes.

(Nancy wished for yesterday's white bean pasta sauce recipe. It was sort of like this, quantities liberally interpreted. I think mine had more garlic, more basil, and more beans. I mashed the beans with a potato masher. In the absence of fresh tomato, I used the dregs of some bruschetta sauce that was in the fridge to top it off, along with parm.)

Soundtrack: Mozart piano concertos, and stuff.

Random thing: Perusing the Best of 2014 stuff in the Times, I learned about Debbie Tucker Green's Generations, which is a play about AIDS across three-generations of a South African family framed as an argument about learning to cook. I really want to get my hands on this script because it completely gibes with a writing exercise I have students do about argument and subtext.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Languid Will

I will meditate on this image to further my aims
(photo thanks to Make:

2015, what will you be?

Over the past week of lounging and lolling at my mother's house I have thought about what intentions I would like to set for the new year. I have been dissatisfied with the options I present for myself. They are all so unmanageable. More, more, more. How can I do more of 10 different things when I can't even do enough of what I am already doing? Ok, then less. Less, less, less. I still feel tired. Less, as they say, is just another kind of more.

Last year, my intentions were about daily routines (this, I think was a kinder way of trying for the more, more, more). Over the course of 12 months I have done better and worse at them. And yoga. I am still straying off the path there. All I can say is I trust that yoga will still be there to receive me lovingly when I manage to return.

Yesterday, I caught a friend's Facebook post about celebrating a busy year by slowing down for New Year's Eve. This is a friend I might put in more than one "more column" - She is a person I would like to spend more time with, we sometimes talk about playing board games - more board games (actually that might be a really great resolution), we are partly connected through writing and also through food (more, more), and so on. Her post inspired me, though, to finally find the resolution I was looking for.

My wish for myself and for you for the year 2015 is to slow down. Slow down. That's it. On different days that will mean different things. Sometimes it will make for less. Fewer things on the schedule for a given day? Less anxiety? One hopes it will also mean more. Slowing down opens up space for the kinds of things I hope to grow -- walking, family time, good food, and always, writing.

Slow down and see what happens. (Didn't Thoreau say something like that? Also, this has nothing to do with the NYPD.)

Part of what I hope will happen is this blog will be rejuvenated as a document of slower living. I am going to step back from social media for a while. It is fast in a way that eats time and eats concentration, even though it brings me so many benefits (like the post that inspired me and friends I see only in the ether). In its absence I will, at a stately pace, try to return this blog to its original, observational, catching the shiny things, purpose.

We'll see how it goes.

Reading: I was excited to find an article in the current Writer's Chronicle title "Reading, Writing, Teaching, Time: a round-table discussion," and I was all ready to declaim how it helped to bolster my slow down philosophy. I read the first few pages and found that it was more about the crisis in the humanities (and how this phenomenon is not so new as we tend to think). This is a worthy topic, but not what I want now.

Dear reader, if you have anything to recommend that considers how to be a reader, writer, and teacher and cope with the limitations of space/time, please send it my way.

Writing: This.

Dinner: I got a pressure cooker for Christmas. Tonight I inaugurated it with white beans that I turned into a garlicky, creamy pasta sauce.

Soundtrack: Late 60s R&B.

Random thing: I found this delightful advocate for the slow: International Institute of Not Doing Much ( Hee.

Also, perhaps I will get around to reading this book, In Praise of Slowness.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Show this wicked town something beautiful and new.

I've reached the point where it feels like I do nothing but process things (paper, assignments, grades, words, ideas, references, editing marks, aesthetic philosophies, fears, egos, and dreams of the future, to name a few) for students. I may not actually be a human being myself. David does most of the cooking, I have a cursory relationship to my own children, I do not exercise, and I do not write. I do however watch the morning sky. That is something I do.

More than a week ago, I drove to school a bit late. It was nearly 7:30 and dawn was in full gear. Something about the post-rainstorm atmosphere made the sky a vibrant coral pink in every direction. I have never seen a sky like this before. The whole of the world glowed with this strange liquid light. It was like being inside a shell, the nacre alight with the filtered fire of the sun. When I got to school, swim practice was in full gear, the pool enclosure a glass cube of freakish aqua green within the orangey-pink air.

The next day, I drove 30 minutes earlier, and the sky was totally black. The air felt black, too, but there was the slightest mist in the air that amplified the intensity of artificial lights. The brake lights on cars, traffic lights, the store signs at the small shopping district were all brighter than bright. The early morning bus-stop-waiters, with their bags and headphones and cups of coffee, were thrown into sharp relief against the contrast of blackness and too-bright lights. It could have been midnight in Tokyo for all that.

Every day since, the morning sky has been a bit different. Dawn is a bit later every morning. Every morning there is a different bizarrely brilliant set of Maxfield Parrish clouds and heavens spread out over the gables and rosy bricks of the school. The combination of oranges and purples and greens and pinks is unique each morning and gone before I call my first class to order.

I've always loved clouds, but I've never thought of them the same since reading Annie Dillard's For the Time Being, in which she creates an extended meditative metaphor about the individuality of clouds and the fleeting nature of human life.

Reading: Would you believe I still have not finished the Donna Leon novel started a couple weeks ago? (Yes, inquiring readers, it is the first of hers I have read, and I do enjoy it quite a lot.)

Of course, student writing, some of it so good it makes me cry - tears of hilarity as much as tears of sadness, sometimes just tears of wonder.

And just yesterday, I finished a NYT Magazine article by Virginia Heffernan about the current crop of cookbooks extolling the virtues of family dinner and her complicated feminist mom take on them. I could, and probably already have, written an entire blog post ... magazine article ... book? ... about my own take on this and my own approach to family dinners. I disagree with Heffernan, and many others, that the new return to cooking real food (at least among certain bourgie sets, of which I am, I admit, a member) is some sort of retrograde, erosion of feminist advances, women-back-to-the-kitchen thing. (I am probably overstating her stance.) I will admit,  I am lucky - not lucky, it was by choice - I have the advantage of having a male partner who is an adept partner in the family meal business. Still, the puritanical tone of a lot of mom/family-advice books, complete as Heffernan outlines with conversion narratives, is a bit too far.

Writing: No comment.

Dinner: David (the adept partner in the family meal business) has been doing most of the cooking. I did make a really nice provencal veggie ragout this week (but I totally and completely screwed up the rice. I mean, it was pathetic.) And we collaborated on a beef and pumpkin picadillo.

Soundtrack: I've been listening to the soundtrack to the Neil Patrick Harris rendition of Hedwig and the Angry Inch in the car this week--my soundtrack to the clouds, I guess.

I'm most familiar with the soundtrack from the film version, with Hedwig creator John Cameron Mitchell singing. I also have the glorious local production with Dan Folino in embedded in my mind. The NPH Hedwig is different. His voice is different. His phrasing is different. Different is not a very descriptive word, I know. David pointed out that Mitchell is a trained B'way performer who then learned to sing rock for this show. NPH is an actor who has worked in his later career to become a singer. Mitchell pushes his voice to limits that NPH holds back from. There is something wry about NPH as a result, his Hedwig is vulnerable and raunchy but less raw. Maybe?

Is it contradictory to say sometimes this version is harder? The NPH version of "Sugar Daddy" for example, is more T. Rex than the whimsical countrified David Bowie of the original cut. Is that a distinction that even makes a difference? Here's NPH at the Tony's:

Do you not know Hedwig? If not, you must remedy that. (Here's the movie trailer.) I love this musical so hard. John Cameron Mitchell (book) and Steven Trask (music and lyrics, though I suspect Mitchell had a hand in the lyrics) are brilliantly caustic, wildly ridiculous romantic idealists, with a flair for good glam rock. When I first heard about this show in the run up to the off-broadway opening at the Jane Street Theatre (I've always wanted to live on Jane Stree, but that is a different blog post). I couldn't believe that there was any way a rock musical about someone with a botched sex-change operation could ever be anything but ridiculous camp. But I think this play is one of my 10 favorite works of art in any medium. I don't think I am exaggerating, but Hedwig is given to exaggeration, so maybe she is wearing off on me.

Random thing: One day this week, I saw Marjane Satrapi talk about art and self and curiosity in the morning and Lynda Barry and Dan Chaon read a truly bizarre tale that freaked my students out in the evening. I may not be human right now, but at least there is all this crazy wonderfulness to be had.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Comforters, philosophers, and lifelong mates!

Just a little check in to let you know I still live and there are still pretty objects.

These are my new kicks, purchased today with *last year's* birthday money from my
mama, along with new bras, tights, and undies! I know how to live. Thanks, Ma!

I went last night to see preview night of the chamber-sized production of Les Mis at a certain local theater. I've never seen this show before but I am familiar with the music. I spent a week or two in the summer of 1988 in between living in Atlanta and New York, hanging out at my friend Andrea's apartment listening and sometimes crazily dancing to songs from the cast album, along with my other bestie Brian. It was a funny soundtrack for us to have, not something I would have guessed this trio to gravitate toward. Brian and I were both theater geeks, but not so much musicals. I'm not sure what else I was listening to then. Varieties of punk & new wave, with some Patsy Cline and Billie Holiday thrown in. Andrea had been one of my punk rock mentors, but by this time she was more of a witch than a punk, and I'm not sure what else she was listening to. I feel like we also had the Dead Milkmen in heavy rotation, but that may have been another summer. But the improbability of it all made it all the more completely ours for that very brief time. After that summer, we all went off to the complexities of the rest of life. I didn't see and barely had contact with either of them again for more than 20 years, I think. I love them both so much. It is sweet to be reminded.

Reading: A lot of student writing, and Dressed for Death by Donna Leon, a Commisario Guido Brunetti mystery, given to me by my brother in law around the time he went to Venice a few years ago.

Writing: I've worked on an article in progress about pastured turkey (did you know that when mink attack they bite and suck the blood of their prey?), and I am trying to do the same writing assignments my students are doing.

Soundtrack: Right now? The Current streaming live into my living room all the way from St. Paul, Minnesotta. They're all, like, Nirvana, Black Keys, Hold Steady this evening. But I still have Les Mis tunes in my head, too.

Random thing: Yesterday a student told me the journal I make them keep was one of the most inspiring things she's ever done. That was a shiny moment.