Friday, May 31, 2019

Maria and Tony, Fosse/Verdon, Artifice and Pleasure

Randy's Mother's Day gift to me was family matinee tickets to the Lyric Opera's West Side Story, a full production with 40 piece orchestra and exquisitely sung leads. Thank you, dear Randy, for the wonder, the beauty and the tears, so many tears! and for the sight of Mia and Nora's engrossed faces when I dragged my attention away for a second from the stage to sneak a peek at their reactions.

I've loved the movie forever, (who doesn't?) but seeing it on stage this time I appreciate even more the mirroring of the musical's source material: "Tonight" for its celestial imagery, "The world is full of light/With suns and moons all over the place;" a glorious "One Hand, One Heart" bringing back "Oh then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do/They pray; grant thou, lest faith turn to despair" and the minor-keyed omen song "Something's Coming," torquing the dread of "My mind misgives some consequence yet hanging in the stars" into pure longing and excitement.


(How we revel with this innocent Tony! even knowing precisely the tragedy on its way. That is what's wondrous about these beloved tragedies, isn't it, that we can be double minded, knowing what we know and still entertaining hope with these gorgeous young adult characters. It's the pleasure of illusion, the joyous buoyancy of disbelief suspended, the charm of a cunning set with visible edges, artifice embraced.)



Carol Lawrence rehearsing the Cha Cha with Jerome Robbins


The musical, this most American of art forms, is a hybrid of the arts and of course, this most perfect of American musicals was created by an epic collaboration, a dream team of playwright Arthur Laurents, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, choreographer Jerome Robbins and composer Leonard Bernstein. This time around for me, it's all about Bernstein and that score, my god, that score. Themes, repetitions, variations, contrapuntal lines combined, the paradox of  "my only love sprung from my only hate!" and "O brawling love, O loving hate/O anything of nothing first created!" created in musical composition. Listen to the way the crazy carousel theme of the failed circle dance at the gym returns to interrupt quietly, then insistently, the fantasy world of Tony and Maria's first tender dance. That's the world crashing in on them and despite the sweet longing of "Somewhere," there is nothing they can do to stop it. Listen to those final notes of the show, the three repetitions of the strings calling "Somewhere! Somewhere! Somewhere!" while the kettle drum pounds out a death knell. 






I needed the sweetness of the Lyric's show to balance the large dose of bitter from my other May obsession: the series Fosse/Verdon on the FX network.

Fosse/Verdon is a slog of a show, a backstage expose of the unsurprising ugly truth that the charming and adorable Broadway sensation Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams) was largely miserable in the intimate working relationship with husband and director/choreographer Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell).




It's the most familiar of show biz tropes, that sunny smiles for the crowd disguise private horrors. (See Judy Garland's life, see Judy as Mrs. Norman Maine in A Star is Born, see Judy's daughter Liza's life, see Liza at Sally Bowles in Cabaret, Et Cetera, Et Cetera, Et Cetera.)

But the original musical numbers re-enacted in Fosse/Verdon are so stunningly great that you stay for the ride. We see the two greats meeting for the first time in a power play of an audition working out the choreography of "Whatever Lola Wants" from Damn Yankees, a number that would become indelibly attached to Verdon.


"What's that?" asks Fosse when Verdon pauses a coquettish approach to rub her calf with the other foot.


"She's got an itch," Broadway's greatest dancer replies, understanding dawns on Fosse's face, and you sense great minds recognizing brilliance in each other.


Jump forward to 1972, the two are back in a rehearsal studio, sparring in whispers while Fosse rehearses a dance for the show Pippin. Even as the background of the argument, the dancers' simple, yet precise movements are spell-binding and it takes me a few clicks to see this is no ordinary soft shoe; this is the epic Manson Trio, an eerie bit of precise mechanical doll moves, the dancers' smiles mocking the violent bloodshed elsewhere on stage.


Ben Vereen in the Manson Trio
There's a glorious version of "Glory" full of gold and glitz (oh! Ahmad Simmons-currently-on-Broadway-in-Hadestown as Ben Vereen! ) in a fantasy sequence where Verdon is urging Fosse to kill himself (oy!), a bitter note that is then redeemed by Fosse's young daughter singing a disarmingly unadorned "I Guess I'll Miss the Man" at his imagined funeral.
Okay, and there were plenty of other pleasures too, from every word uttered by Norbert Leo Butz as Paddy Chayefsky, to the surprise (squeal!) cameo of Lin-Manuel Miranda in Roy Scheider's devilish goatee and tight disco shirt.

I am grateful to be spurred to rewatch and love all over again Cabaret and All That Jazz, but honestly, when I return to this series, I'll be fast-forwarding past the backstage sturm und drang straight to the escapist pleasures of the song and dance.


More:
https://www.classicfm.com/composers/bernstein-l/bernstein-west-side-story-tritone/

https://www.fromscoretostage.com/single-post/2017/05/17/West-Side-Story-The-Tritone-and-the-7th

https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/fosse-verdon-musical-numbers-explained

https://www.vulture.com/2019/05/michelle-williams-gwen-verdon-voice-accent.html

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Summer School


I'll be teaching three weeks of summer school in July. Juniors. Not the kids who want to cram in a required course so they can open up their fall schedule for more electives, no, this will be the kids who failed the course and need a second chance before their senior year, hopefully so they can graduate on time. I'm excited and nervous in equal measure, waking up early with syllabus plans spinning in my head.


The course is mine to design, but for a multiple choice final exam that is heavy on comma mechanics and parsimony. We'll do a week on the theme of Identity with Alice Walker's The Color Purple, John Ford's Stagecoach, poetry of Langston Hughes and Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The second week's theme will be Community through Lorraine Hainsbery's Raisin in the Sun and excerpts from David Lynch's The Straight Story and Sandra Cisnero's The House on Mango Street. The third week will explore our American Journeys through When the Emperor Was Divine and photography of Dorothea Lange.



Sunday, March 24, 2019

Bernadette's Scrapbook, Denoument

The world was kind to me yesterday, and understanding. Randy took the girls downtown for the night; they went to Comic Con and saw Us on opening weekend -- they had to sit in the front row because the theater was so packed and Mia said the audience reactions were hilarious. Randy took them to buy new bathing suits for our trip to Akumal tomorrow.

So I spent the day with Bernadette's scrapbook, but at noon, total coincidence, Hope Edelman, author of Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss and Motherless Mothers: How Losing a Mother Shapes the Parent You Become and Mother of My Mother: The Intricate Bond Between Generations and Mothering Motherness: Mommyhood's Motherliness (that last one I just made up ha ha but it almost belongs, right?) anyway, Hope Edelman had this conference call (four hundred people listening in, she said) specifically to discuss the challenge of loss anniversaries and she said some very helpful things.

I'll spend some time considering her news that grief counselors are now encouraging "affirming a connection to those who died" and "renegotiating your concept of your younger self" and "recognizing and honoring the biological emotion of grief." Her idea that rituals "give a structure and turn an absence into a presence" was easy on my mind. Also, "recognizing and acknowledging an emotion helps reduce its intensity." And the new book Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief  by Clair Bidwell Smith sounds interesting. I mostly loved the feeling of connection and acceptance with her gentle voice over the phone.

And then there was this essay in the New Yorker by James Marcus  about the death of his scientist father that I happened to read yesterday. 

"Our notions of emotional proximity don't really apply to our parents. They are simply too large, too looming--planetary presences that defy our puny tools of measurement."

"We were a religious sect consisting of two people, and now half the congregation was gone. There would be closure, no healing. I would simply adjust myself to a new and severely depleted reality. The world would come to an end, as it always does, one world at a time."

But.

"'Aaron, your uncle died fifty years ago,' (the scientist's wife) said.

"'I know,' he said. 'But nonetheless.' 

"There, in a single word, is the best argument on behalf of the afterlife that I have ever heard. The dead may walk among us simply because we insist that they do. They just keep circulating, those beloved, resented, lamented figures, our better selves and interlocutors of choice, with whom the conversation never ends."

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Bernadette's Scrapbook, Part 2

The fiftieth anniversary of my parents' deaths is this week. They had been married 10 years and one month. I want to remember and honor, but the wedding album is not exactly where I can go to do so -- the happy faces on that sunny day, the pretty white snow piled around the sidewalk borders of the church, these are complicated images that stir complicated emotions.

So I go downstairs to the basement and emerge with a different album, one I've stumbled across, the pages browned and crumbling with age.  Not the keepsake of her wedding, but a memento of ten years before.

Bernadette Seraponas, granddaughter of Lithuanian immigrants, daughter of Amelia and Tony, older sister of Joan, denizen of Clarendon Hills, Illinois, eighth grader and then ninth grader, kept a scrapbook.
 
It is, believe it or not, a piece of my history whose path into my hands I cannot trace. It may have been one that made the journey with us to Kansas City, tucked away for the decades, then sent back to me by Ruth when we moved to Wilmette, or it may have always been with Bernadette's mother Amelia, then stayed in the house that Amelia shared with her sister Julia after their husbands passed away and returned to me via Aunt Julie's granddaughter. I don't know its journey or how I came to have it.

So I examine its pages with new eyes. And let me tell you, my mother had a doozy of a year.


Handwritten invitations on petite personalized stationary, fuzzy athletic letters ("N" for Nazareth Academy), party favors and my mother's neat notations on every page offer a peek into her busy days and nights. Lovely, happy girl. What a delight to spend time with her. 



She played second violin in the school band; later, she would take up the trombone.  





Here's a glorious photo of Bernadette's younger sister Joan, with her attendants at her crowning ceremony at St. Joseph's Church in Downer's Grove in May of 1949. I cannot get enough of the flowery hats and the excited faces. Precious.

Bernie's Freshman grades were Cs and Bs, but for the As in Glee Club and Phys. Ed. She received "well developed" scores for cooperation, sociability, obedience and respect. A massive addition project added to Nazareth that year was a source of great excitement.


 
Taken by Bernard Nesbit 5/49 during an outing.

On May 24th of 1949, Bernard Nesbit took Bernadette to her first prom at St. Pat's Boys School and wrote his name on an honest-to-god actual dance card inside a diminutive keepsake book with metallic green and sparkly silver cover. She went by the nickname "Bernie." I wonder if Bernard did too.

Here's Bernard, in a self-assured self-portrait:



 
Bernard was not alone in his wooing, apparently.


On this side Bruce Ford...on this side Cecil Johnston



But never fear, Bernie was no fool for love. Her heart belonged to her pup.


My true love "Whitey"



Well, she did fall for one boy. Bernadette writes, "Elmer Louis Busch, soph. Started going with Joan and then with me, 9/10/49. Nice personality and good Football and Track star. Real Cute! Broke up 2/17/50."



This is Elmer on Sunday, November 6, 1949, in the Seraponas's Hudson Avenue front yard, before the elms grew tall, before the other houses filled this bit of country and turned it into a neighborhood.





The day before, playing for Hinsdale in the Homecoming game, Elmer scored two touchdowns against LaGrange, including a 20 yard catch in the end zone with one minute, fifteen seconds to go. With a final score of Hinsdale 26, L.T. 24, the win was the first time in 22 games that the LaGrange Soph-Freshman team had been beaten and the first time Hinsdale had beat them in 13 years. Elmer and Bernie went to the Homecoming dance that night. "Nice dance," writes Bernie.

Playbills for school productions of Joan of Arc and Our Hearts Were Young, a Sweet Sixteen corsage from Barbara Bentley on the 9th of December, a formal with Elmer on the 19th and dinner at the Chicken Basket after, "Loads of fun!!




December 29. "Invite from Ellen Rudd for a brunch. Had lots of fun talking with kids. Liz Bunker, Pat Healy, Robin Boldenweck. Peggy Pratt, Donna Allen, Alice Cox and others stayed after and Mrs. Rudd did the Charleston. Just a Panic! Lots of fun.

"Elm was mad but we straightened it all out. Bonny's a doll. Fuzzy's going away after New Year's."



That same night, Mari Jo Engrstrom's slumber party. "Had loads of fun--didn't sleep until 5:30 AM to 6:15 AM. Party before slumber party. Elm came over and we fooled around."

On the next page, "My first card from a College Man. Tom Cox -- darling fella, at the present going with Judy Boldenweck. That's how I met him. Danced with him once --Divine."



Tom flirts: "Hi Bernie! Sorry you didn't get this before Christmas, but I was trying to find a card pretty enough to suit you, and couldn't do it --so I settled for this one, OK? We should get to know each other better because we're both equally crazy. My best wishes to you both for a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. Be good, Bernie, and sometime we'll get together again, huh? Always, Tom.

In February, Bernie attended "a lovely wedding." The invitation from Cecelia Vrtis was handwritten. Donna Stewart went to Europe and sent a postcard of the Cunard White Star ship "Queen Mary." Bernie's sophomore English class wrote a scandal sheet including this cute bit: "BERNIE SERAPONAS and ROBIN BOLDENWICK have been helping the Soph. treasury along! How? Bernie plays a wonderful game of poker and Robin is an old hand at Canasta.

Sister Joan Marie hosted a Canasta party on the 17th, "about 20 girls came and everyone had more fun." Bernie writes nothing about breaking up with Elmer that day.

On February 26th, the family celebrated the Golden Wedding Anniversary of Bernie and Joan's Uncle Victor's parents, Petronella and Stanislovas. Bernie calls Petronella "Grandma Litwinovich;" Grandpa Stan had died and Grandma would pass away five years later. Uncle Victor was the husband of Bernie and Joan's mother's sister Aunt Julie Litwin. The last name seemed to have gone through as least two iterations; Petronella and Stan may have originally gone by the name Litvinavicus when they came from Lithuania. To add to the name confusion, Uncle Victor had a son Victor (who later had a son he named Victor -- my cousin.) Victor the Second ("Vicky" in the pic below) was a dear friend to Bernie and Joan, frequently squiring my mother to dances.



Vicky, Bruce F. and Cecil J.

Joanie, Bernie and two other girls went bowling on March 11 and there were lots of plays to see that month: a program about St. John Fontbonne and a "Television Party" in the refectory eighth period on St. Patrick's Day ("Had lots of fun") and at Hinsdale Township High School, Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Sorcerer" and a production of Heaven Can Wait on the 10th where Bernie saw Ernie with the new girl he was going steady with, Susie Taylor, a junior.



"Elmer Busch. 1st Steady (last too, I bet.) Started going together Sept. 10, 1949. Broke up Feb. 17, 1950. Elmer was a swell fellow, very nice, very funny and considerate."

There's an entire page of reverie and tribute to her track and football-star ex, including snippets of song lyrics: "Why is it you came into my life and made it complete?" 

But Bernie bounced back, did you have any doubt?

Ticket stubs (80 cents) from the Twin Open-Air Theater at 87th and South Cicero Avenue, Bernie's first date with Tom Bomkamp. "Went to Drive-In; before that went bowling. Swell time Tripled with Martha Tee--Bernard Hisky and Ray Bomkamp--Jean ? 3/26/50"

Three days later was a CSO radio concert with Barb Bentley at the Eighth Street Theater in Chicago. Student Council elections followed in May with my mother winning Sophomore class president. The class of '52 gifted her and the other class officers with a Spiritual Bouquet -- inside a card signed by 42 girls in the class was notification that the officers would received 500 Masses and 500 Rosaries.

In June, she received "my 'First Telegram' from (Hot Lips) Pat Moore." The Western Union paper reads: ARRIVED MILWAUKEE MEN CLAMORING DATES FOR NEXT SEASON. LIVING UP TO NICKNAME. PAT



Bernard Nesbit graduated that spring from St. Pat's. I giggle to see how Mom labeled his commencement announcement: 
"From Never-Say-Die B.N."

Summer brought double dates with Herbie Fingerhut at the Ricardo Restaurant (Our Dishes Are Sterilized) and the Oh Henry at 8900 Archer Road in Willow Springs. Herbie, Darrell Pallard and Irene Lazansky signed the back of the red paper Oh Henry menu for Bernie. It is noted inside that the three of them drank 75 cent champagne cocktails while Bernie had a .20 orange soda. "Heaps of fun!"




On August 9, Herbie and Bernie doubled with Mary Ann and Rip (Hernan Ripley) to the Aragon Ballroom. The postcard keepsake reads, "HE WHO HAS NOT BEEN AT ARAGON KNOWS NOT WHAT A PARADISE IT IS."

August 20, the foursome went to the Museum of Science and Industry and Chinatown where my mother stole a white cloth napkin embroidered in red from Guey Sam's restaurant. Unrepentant, "This is all I got!"

In a penciled box: "Today is September 10, 1950. One year ago I had my first date with Elmer Busch. My 1st steady boy friend."

Then, also boxed off: "Today is Sept. 17, 1950." The sentences below that are scribbled out. Mother!

 A Sweet Sixteen Party at the VFW hall. "Fine Party and had lots of fun!"

 
 Four nights in October, performances of "Valiant in God's Service: A Choric Pageant" for the Golden Jubilee of the Sisters of St. Joseph. There were Choral Readers and Pageant Scenes with Flower Girls, Jailers, Widows and Indians, and Dances with French Frontier Peasants and The Call of Virgins. Pat Healy played the Blessed Virgin and Bernadette was St. Joseph. "All of us worked real hard!"

A "Coketail Party" on Halloween at Pat Healy's, then a Nazareth dance sponsored by the Announcer newspaper staff of which Bernie was Vice-President and writer. She went with Donnie Stewart ("Riot!") but noted "Had fun before and after but not during the dance."

Pat threw Bernie a surprise party for her 17th birthday in December.




On the 27th my mother went to the Nazareth Academy Snowball winter dance with Don Carel ("real nice"), tripling with Robin Boldenwick, Martha Vrtis and their dates. "Lost my dance program!" Danced with Phil (Mary Ann's steady, "Slurp"), Tom, Tony (P. Healy's date) and Dan.



And then there is a last page: "This is Dec. 31, 1950. The last day of the old year 1950 and with the closing of this old year I will close this scrapbook. It has been wonderful keeping a scrapbook and remembering all the swell times I've had. Good-by, Bernie."

Thanks, Mom. I loved spending the day with you.





 On the back of this photo, yes, it says "To Bernie from Bernie."







Monday, March 18, 2019

Bernadette's Scrapbook, Part 1

It's a sad season; the sixtieth anniversary of my parents' wedding was last month and the fiftieth anniversary of their deaths is this week. I find solace where I can, so an internet meme moves me like an answer to a prayer I didn't know I had said. The pretty graphic asks, "Grieving?" then states with bracing confidence ("Wow!" I think,  "Someone actually knows how to do this?"):  Perform a Ceremony. 

Which I prefer ten thousand times to sitting in my gentle therapist's office so I do. Or as least I try. 

I go downstairs to the basement, not to the finished part of the basement with its clean drywall, but further back to the dark part by the furnace with the exposed low beams overhead and raw walls, to find the boxes Aunt Ruth meticulously cataloged and organized and sent to me from Kansas City when my girls were little. They are full of photo albums and letters and church business and bank statements and other ephemera that traveled with me and my siblings when we moved in with Ruth and Phil's family. (My favorite notation of hers is the one that accompanies a packet of letters to my mother from boys who did not become my father: "You may want to keep this separate." Oh dear beloved pious, cautious and fastidious Aunt Ruth, we are so different.)

My intention diving into the wreck of old boxes is to unearth the photos of the crash site. Two years after the borrowed plane disappeared, after the states-wide hunt that strangely uncovered the wreckage of another plane crash, months after the insurance investigation... Two of my father's brothers traveled to...

Full stop.

Later. Just trying to write about the crash photos stymies me. I stutter at the keyboard, I sink into reverie, I can't put on paper what seems clear in my head. Please understand, my slowing to a stop at the keys does not feel like incapacitating grief or the fatigue of depression. I know these pictures; they are not gruesome or graphic -- two years had passed and the leaves....The wreckage is settled onto the ground among the fallen brown leaves and the narrow tree trunks of the hillside in Tennessee. The flat hunks of crushed aluminum are difficult to recognize as the pieces of what was once a small red airplane.

Full stop.

Later. I'm not crying, I'm not emotional, I feel like nothing close to confusion, but words fail me. I stop trying to write about it, know that I'll return later.
Later. The world helps me, though, probably as a reward for my continued search for answers. The world likes searchers and the grateful and those who continue to hope, right? 

At school, I scribble, "Word work is world-defining, reality making" in a margin of chapter 6 of The Great Gatsby, the chapter where poor Midwesterner Jimmy Gantz, "no comfortable family standing behind him," reinvents himself into the Great Jay Gatsby.

My pleasure re-reading this book for the third time is part awe at Fitzgerald's gorgeous language and his devastating psychological understanding, part wincing self-recognition in Gatsby's dream-striving, part joy in the feeling of getting my mind blown, but a large part gratitude.

I am so grateful for the dawning that I will never ever understand my loss and I will never ever stop trying to understand.

Later. And the world helps me again: Back in December Randy gave me earbuds for Christmas, yay! that have transformed my workouts from dutiful slogs around the park district indoor track to Podcast Vacations! Whee!  

Nancy Mades-Byrde on the Salem Witch Trials, Jim DeRogotis and Greg Kot's Sound Opinions for music criticism, Rachael Maddow's Bag Man about Nixon's crooked and unrepentant vice-president Spiro Agnew, a bit of Slow Burn about Watergate and then dear colleague Ashley suggested I try Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History, a podcast about "things overlooked or misunderstood." I thought Brown v. Board of Ed was one thing; oh no, reveals Gladwell, it is something else altogether. 

Revisionist History had an amazing theory about country music's lyrical specificity and a couple of episodes defending faulty memory, and then I came across one, the last in season three, about a Freudian explanation for why Elvis kept on messing up the spoken bridge of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" when he performed it live. 

"Parapraxis" is Freud's word for mishearings, misreadings, faulty or abnormal speech acts. We call them "Freudian slips," the greater point being that there is always meaning in these errors.  

Michele Press, of the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute describes them in this way: "unconscious ideas that are trying to find expression but because they are unacceptable, they may emerge when one is unguarded."

We listen on the podcast as Nashville singer songwriter Kaci Bolls struggles to remember a song she wrote about her mother. Gladwell admits to his embarrassment as Bolls stutters and stumbles, then comes to the realization that parapraxis is a gift. "Mistakes reveal our vulnerabilities. They are the way the world understands us."

Of course it's hard for me to write about this. Of course I can't. Of course I keep trying.

This is William Styron's Nat Turner after the death of the young girl he loved: "For how long I aimlessly circled her body--prowled around the corners of the field in haphazard quest for nothing, like some roaming dog--how long this went on I do not recollect....I arose again and resumed my meaningless and ordained circuit of her body, not near it yet ever within sight as if that crumpled blue were the center of an orbit around whose path I must make a ceaseless pilgrimage."

I've been trying to write about my ceremony all month and writing about anything but. Even though my Saturday moments sitting on the living room floor with an eighth grader's scrapbook in my lap were an entire pleasure with revelations delightful, and not at all painful. She's a real doll, my Bernadette is, let me tell you. I want to tell you. And, believe me, dear reader, I will.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Terribly Moving

Brandi Carlile visiting women at the Washington Corrections Center as part of her Looking Out Foundation, performing her utterly real and beautiful poem, "The Mother." The women in the audience laugh at the line, "the first thing that she took from me were selfishness and sleep" and again, at the line about her daughter trashing her car, but the poignancy of these mothers separated by the state from their children is palpable. 




These are Carlile's lines that slay me, every time:

And they've still got their morning paper and their coffee and their time
And they still enjoy their evenings with the skeptics and the wine
Oh, but all the wonders I have seen, I will see a second time
From inside of the ages through your eyes




Bill Hader having dinner with Tobias Wolff and George Saunders. "I was so nervous I don't think I ever stopped talking, sabotaging myself by flooding the conversation." The New Yorker profile of Hader goes on to note that George Saunders had a different recollection of the night: "I woke up that night thinking I was having a heart attack, but it was only a back cramp, caused by having laughed so much at dinner."



Jordan Baker, taking her leave of Nick Carroway in the denouement of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby:

"Do you remember...a conversation we had once about driving a car?"
"Why--not exactly."
"You said a bad driver was only safe until she met another bad driver? Well, I met another bad driver, didn't I?"

Yes, she's privileged and white and selfish and careless but the girl has feelings and she nails Nick, nails him to the wall. He's no innocent either.


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

George Does It Again

Image result for the very persistent gappers of frip

"She thought of her mother, and while thinking of her mother she seemed to hear her mother's voice, saying: Honey if you need help, ask for help, you're not alone in the world, you sweet little goof."



Thursday, January 31, 2019

Of Cold Fries

You know that moment when you rediscover the french fry that you lost an hour ago in the car while driving the little 'un to an appointment because you've got to feed the kids every day, right? Even though you're sure you fed them yesterday? And when you have finished the meeting and are standing to go and that dear little lost fry decides to take that perfect moment to take leave out of some cozy corner of your scarf or some scenic byway of your coat and fly out and land onto the conference table before you? And in that moment when the kind new acquaintances with whom you are meeting decide not to acknowledge your reunion, do you dare admit to yourself the impulse to put that fry into your mouth? No, no, you do not, that would be gross and ridiculous, so you grab it and put it, where? where? in your POCKET and finish the paperwork and thank the kind pair who are still looking you right in the eye and have said nothing although sometimes I am the sort to cry out to my daughter's chagrin, "Oh look! My fry!" But not tonight.

2019 Plans

Bunco night for the Ronald McDonald House with Aimee
Anderson Japanese Garden with Christina the last week of May
Take Mia for college visits to Madison, Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Champaign
Bake a caramel cake
Host a Mah Jong party
End of the year department cocktails party in our new kitchen
Run
Raise our girls to honorable womanhood
Resist
Reduce
Reuse
Recycle
Read all the books.
Review another book for Literary Mama.
Tulum!
Evan Hanson!
Book groups for Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility and The Guide for White Women who Teach Black Boys
See Julie and Bobby at Martyr's
Embroidery

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Cycles upon Cycles

Over lunch with Uncle Sid earlier in the fall, such a relief to be able to talk about Aunt Ruth and how hard my visit was in September. He said he had been talking with his son about the whole situation and my cousin said, rightly, "What a disaster."

And Uncle Sid told him, "No, son, it's not a disaster, it's just life. And there's stuff to do."

A shifting of perception that has carried me through so much. Non-judgmental, detached and concrete.

On nights where sleep did not return, I called back to those words, and also those of my friend Kerry consoling me gently, but insistent, "There are some problems that are unsolveable." The words help.

To sleep I also tried breathing out longer than I breath in, counting up to four as I do so, or counting backwards by seven from a random three digit number, or picturing myself in a small cave or in a more comfortable bed, picturing a long walk down a gentle stair or hill or wooded path, breathing slowly through the syllables "Om. Man. Ee. Pad. Me. Hum," picturing a giant light switch that I turn off, letting go of words and letting only pictures unspool in my head.

My doctor laughed as I reeled off this list. She offered magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, shots of b12 and okayed my St. John's Wort idea. Sure, they may be helping, can't hurt, right? and I'm a strong believer in the benefits of placebos.

I have done what I can do. That does not mean I cannot do more, and I will, but I have done what I can do. Ruth has some help now and my brother Ron has some help and I'm sleeping at night.



There's still so much to sing and dance about here. Dear Mia caught the three of us girls on her phone on a typical night this tough fall: Post Modern Jukebox's version of "The Heart Will Go On" had hooked me up in the beat and the sweet balm of "you are safe in my heart and my heart will go on" and even though the house was at sixes and sevens for the kitchen reno/first floor painting/asbestos remediation, plastic sheeting everywhere, I still had to jump out of my seat and shimmy because my heart will go on and on and I still get some time with these two amazing girl people. We were all chewing carrots and they were playing on their phones; Nora, thirteen and unimpressed with my moves, says, "I am moving out of this house."



Hope springs eternal and late December (yay, Christmas is done!) and fresh snow and early January (yay! friendly kale and glistening grapefruit!) and the prospect of spring all conspire to nurture that persevering light. Happy New Year and best of luck, dear reader, thanks for being here.

Just one more thing: On Christmas Eve, we went over to Mike and Christina's, peppermint fudge, candied sweet potatoes, arugula-pomagranate-goat cheese salad (it's red, green and white, you see), and Pavlova in tow. Mike complimented the last with, "This is like the kind of dessert they would serve at a Renaissance table" and Steve chimed in, "With peacocks on the table," and I was so pleased though in Midwest fashion, you must admit the flaws and I had to tell how the egg whites mysteriously took an hour to whip to stiff peaks rather than the 8-10 minutes predicted by the recipe and how I had slow-baked the meringue to a gorgeous white snowbank but then I forgot it was in the oven where it had dried overnight and when I turned on the heat for the sweet potatoes, the snowbank cracked and browned a bit, like a toasted marshmallow. But that was just modesty because the cranberry curd was a dream, the whipped cream held on the way over to their house and the blood orange supremes were so pretty. No gooseberries like in the picture, but some halved kumquats might have been cool. Next time.





Christina and I laughed and laughed over the last time we had been together at their house Thanksgiving weekend. Serena and Brent were still here and the three of us women were in a chatting cluster while Serena told us about her plans to work with people in Seattle, helping and counseling and doing energy work and Christina and I nodded and then looked at each other and I replied "But Trump Trump Trump Trump!" in a flurry of outrage and frustration and Christina replied, "And Trump Trump Trump Trump!" in a neighboring match of anxiety, two Americans trying to explain the state of America to the placid Mexico. Much funnier a few weeks later, when we retold it to Randy and Mike.

I was so grateful for Serena and Brent's visit, I was, although we have all changed and I do feel the need to keep apologizing for my bitchiness over our last visit but I don't and then there's more bitchiness I don't apologize for but they stayed, Brent and Serena chose to stay here with us, nestled in our cluster of the couches, next to our plywood island, even though we had got the condo for them, they would rather have been with us and our mess. That made me happy and made me feel forgiven. I showed them how my extroverted introversion makes me feel after a few hours with people, and I fell to the floor and squeezed between the ottoman and the couch, tucking in my head as a rabbit in its hole may, if the shy and exhausted rabbit were moved and able to protect its neck duck-and-cover style.

And now it's the long break with days of baking and movies and working out and then long nights of rest. Nora is working hours at Kinko's making photocopies of a journalist's journals and Mia plays videogames until I cajole her to read a few more pages of The Help and The Color Purple. She'll take three days of drawing and painting at the Evanston Art Center later this week while Nora tries some tennis. Each day flies by but there is still that great pleasure at seeing how many are left. I am keeping this Christmas break feeling for the years ahead, too. It's precious, these few years we have left together before the girls go off to school. And these precious few years of work left, too. Look at what fun we've had! And look what riches we have left before us to enjoy!