Thursday, October 4, 2007


After reading my blog, a friend checked out Thorpe from the library. Busy working mom that she is, she needed to renew it, only to discover that the book is on hold!

Now, this is a book that has sat in obscurity for decades and suddenly, there's a waiting list at the library! Could it be me?

I can't decide what is more exciting--that people are reading Thorpe (the name I nearly gave to Scarlett, I love the book so) or that my writing actually engendered action.

Demeanors, Cheerful and Otherwise

A couple of years ago, one of my neighbors had her first child at an age of distinction, somewhere over the big 4 - 0. Now, that's a big deal for the body, let alone the life style. To top it all off, this really rather fabulous neighbor went through an arduous labor and birth---that's her story to tell, but suffice it to say, by the time the new parents and baby came home, everyone could've used a break rather than the regime of a newborn.

An aside: this is why when I had my third and final at 40, I treated my hospital stay like a salon, gulping sleeping pills and handing my baby off to anyone wearing white. Are there support groups for women recovering from Attachment Parenting?

Anyway, while I was organizing meals for this new, exhausted mom, one of our elderly neighbors (who will never read this blog) politely declined and made a philosophical point. "I know you'll think I'm mean," she said firmly, "But you have to make these mothers get up and work. She can't get used to this kind of treatment. We're coddling her. Let her cook. "

Think you're mean? Satan has a new friend! George Bush can go home from his play date. Whew. Just when things were getting lonely in the inferno.

Now, the really important part of this story is that I have clung to this outrage and, because we never really go as far as hate, HUGE dislike for said neighbor all this time--for nearly two years! Clung to would be kind. I've taken this nugget of anger and really enjoyed it, allowing myself all kinds of words for 'mean' when I walk by her house, most of them unprintable here (because I promise myself no undue swearing -- I'll save profanity for something important). I've learned that it's particularly pleasing to imagine things exploding -- that adorable little house pops like a Bruce Willis movie--just boom. There's strange satisfaction. Of course, no one is in the house when it goes. Well, hopefully.

Last Saturday I went to a memorial service for my cousin's partner's mother. You get the picture -- an elderly woman I had only met once, a distant connection. But I love my cousin and her partner, and I went for them, knowing that once you're pushing ninety, not many people are left to come to your wake. Imagine my shock at the 200 plus at this memorial. I've never seen so many parked walkers. But young people too --whole families and not just those related to this woman.

My attitude: in and out, daydream during the service, home by lunchtime. Instead, my weeping dried out my contacts entirely; I had to throw them away and revert to glasses. The woman who died had been the wife of a minister--who himself is now 95 and steering one of those walkers. This woman had genuinely subsumed her self in service to others, her entire life. And from all perspectives, it wasn't that she was selfless or self-sacrificial in that icky sort of way. No, she organically and joyfully built a strong, happy and fulfilled self through serving others. It's that tricky sort of thing that nearly every religion demands of us, if we are thinking clearly.

Just when I couldn't possibly be more emotionally spent, her widower --the 95 year old minister--pushed his walker to the front to sing. "Great is Thy Faithfulness" isn't in my iPod but no doubt, no one has sung this as it was sung last weekend. A stunning, strong and absolutely pitch-perfect voice exploded from that failing, shaking body as he swept up and soared, then dropped to a whisper--face full of emotion.

I immediately regressed to my 10 year old Catholic self and promised God (even though I'm a self-proclaimed Buddhist) to be a better person, more like HER--a lot less like me! Driving home, I called John and told him I loved him ( I did!). Like Scrooge, all those ghosts and regrets sat on my shoulder as I compared myself to the ideal of myself that I far, far prefer. I took a stark and realistic assessment and swore that a more altruistic self would emerge. She's in there.

And still--even in the muck: guilt, existential angst, regret, repentance and redemption--I managed to drive by said neighbor's house and imagine it explode, with only the tiniest twinge of self-contradiction.

Never say no to a meal for a new mother, for heaven's sake!!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Life on-line

Yes - I would love this blog to turn into one big conversation but absolutely don't expect anyone to comment unless the spirit moves you and courage descends. Most people aren't as effusive and self-absorbed as I am (but self-absorbed in a very interesting way) so I'm genuinely going into this for the thrill of having readers (which is what every writer--no matter who hurried and harried --wants). My inbox is littered with wit: your observations, critique, support, ideas for more! The list staggers. So many thanks to everyone for enjoying and tuning in, even if yours is the email I haven't quite found the time to return yet.

That mysterious and wise friend who told me about Israel and Syria also spoke about the perils of life on-line. Why? What do you say? How much do you expose?

Thank God I didn't think these things through thoroughly before I began or I probably wouldn't have. But being of explanatory bent by nature, here goes.

Why? I like to write and am actually, yes, self-absorbed. All writers need readers and blogging seems like an interesting and untested (at least by me) vehicle. I also have these octopus-like community building impulses that demand tentacles out in every which way. A blog seems like one lovely way to grab more-- uh, connect.

What do you say? We'll see, I guess. But my inclination is to follow the advice that I give my own students: if you write about yourself, make it relevant to someone else. Yes, I may think that anecdote about Merrick eating all his spicy noodle soup adorable (good boy! what an eater! ), why should anyone else care? But if that noodle soup fest can be made universal, revealing, or somehow relevant to the great big world, well then, maybe that's fodder.

How much to expose? I won't be mean to my friends or tell anyone's secrets. Writing about the self isn't the same as reproducing the self, of course. The autobiographical I is necessarily a construct, an "I" that I create. I imagine the on-line I to function much as the one who hosts a big party--tossing out that story, railing against the world, starting a conversation, listening to a friend. One big conversationalist.

Israel Bombs Syria

Got your attention, hmm? And yes, Israel bombed Syria, way back in early September. Here's a line from the reliable British site, Telegraph: "A US official has confirmed that Israeli warplanes carried out an air strike "deep inside" Syria, escalating tensions between the two countries."

I haven't done much legwork on this yet, but here are a couple of links (Telegraph and Reuters) if you're curious:

Now, a friend mentioned this to me at lunch and I just about choked on my tofu. Why wasn't this front page news? I consider myself informed, if not 'well' informed. Instead of music, I jog to MPR--the news station. But I don't remember a thing about this.

Am I alone or did everyone else hear about this story as it broke? Or, are certain news stories invisible to us here in the USA. Oh, is that a rhetorical question?

French philosopher Michel Foucualt asked "why do we ask one question and not the other? Why do we see exhibit A and not exhibit B?" He contends that the piece of information we're missing is the one we really need.

The next time someone quibbles about the 'left wing' media, shall we ask said quibbler if s/he knows the names of the corporations that own the free press?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Put these words to music

Scarlett and I pull into the garage, after 10 pm on a rainy Sunday night, fresh off a performance, when I remember the wild kittens in the shed.

And, I make a loud frustrated moaning sound. You know, the wifely kind.

Scarlett. "What?"

Me. "Nothing. Just that I bet Daddy forgot to feed the kittens. Forget I said that."

Scarlett. "Of course he forgot. He always forgets. Look, the outside light isn't on, either."

Me. "Really -- never mind. I don't want my image of Daddy always forgetting things to shift down to you children."

Scarlett. (to "Chain of Fools"). "Shift, shift, shift."

Speaking of Theater

At Cub Foods the other day, I watched a cashier treat a customer with genuine disdain -- really a thoughtful and precise disregard for a customer who appeared to be interrupting the cashier's personal phone call. The customer was elderly and sort professorial, complete with rumpled shirt and shuffling gait. The exchange -- reproduced when she treated me as so much drain muck, too -- made me think again about how art and intelligence walk among us and we never notice!! That cashier could've been giving Saul Bellows change.

Sometimes when I'm an angry driver (okay -- every day), I feel a pang of regret and worry about the person who just heard my horn. Maybe she sat at the red light for two extra seconds because her mother just died. Or this person on the bike is a poet and that's why he's on the wrong side of the road - just dreaming. This is sort of the flip side of the self-important pomp who might say, "do you know who I am!" when faced with lack of respect. Maybe we should assume that the person we're standing next to in the elevator or on the street possesses talents and intelligence that benefit the planet (even if this means we're routinely disappointed).

I was thinking about this because I recently learned something about John, a young man who works in sort of a 'gopher' job at Steppingstone Theatre: he answers the phone, gives opening remarks to groups of school children, sells tickets. For the year that I've been involved with Steppingstone, I've not thought much about John except to note that he's a nice enough and has shown inordinate kindness to my children. Mostly, I've liked him for the latter.

Turns out that John is one of those people feeding the planet ambition and art! In addition to working full time at Steppingstone, he's one of three people who've launched a fledging theater: Walking Shadow Theatre Company. The company writes and stages original, local scripts with a global focus. Mostly, I marveled that the guy who gives kids their tickets at Steppingstone is an accomplished playwright and dedicated artist. Who knew! If we could all spend our evenings this way. I'll never be able to call Steppingstone again without asking John about his real work, inquiring if he's tired from a late night or working on a difficult character.

Anyway. . . don't forget that the guy who bags your groceries may indeed have the next best-selling novel on his laptop. I know, I know. I said there would be routine disappointments. But just maybe.