It’s a little past eight o’clock in the morning on the day before Thanksgiving. Doctor Dash and Devil Baby are still asleep. Saint James and Supergirl have joined me in the sun room. They each shuffled in separately in their pajamas, books tucked under their arms. It’s quiet, warm and sunny. This could last 5 minutes, but I’m thankful for it.
The question of what makes you happy is a good one to ask and answer for yourself. The question itself kind of makes me happy because it’s a reminder that yes, we have some control over this. And frankly, half the battle is simply reminding yourself to look and then knowing where to look. It’s all around us – begging to be noticed so it can work its magic on our souls.
It’s the Jewish New Year and it’s also the new school year, so in celebration of new beginnings, here are some of mine in no particular order:
1. Loud music
3. Feeding my family
4. Watching my dog romp with another dog
5. Soccer goals
6. My book club
7. A great pair of boots or jeans
8. Knowing that my siblings are finding their loves
9. When cousins get to hang out
10. Doctor Dash making pizza in a frilly apron
11. Two for one bloody marys and the ladies that go with them
12. The change of seasons
13. Children singing
15. Tiny dancing
16. Cool graffiti/street art
17. Salty cured meats
18. When Saint James roams for hours on his bike with his buddies . . and then comes home, winded and happy.
video via Cup of Jo
Now that many of us are finding the time to actually have a thought . . .
Dessa wrote an insightful, smart op-ed piece in the Strib a few days ago, and though I’ve long known that she’s wise beyond her years, I have to admit I was chastened and a little humbled to read what she wrote.
Dessa takes on misogyny in rap – she challenges the pervasive attitude that disrespect to women is part of the genre and that if you don’t like it, you aren’t hip hop. She’s measured and reasonable, by her own admittance no girl scout in the profanity department, and she knows of what she speaks. She’s a rapper.
Reading, I realized that I have been way too cavalier about some of the music I let into my house and my excuses are vast.
1. My kids can’t really hear the lyrics and if they do, they don’t understand. This is ceasing to be the case, at a breathtaking clip. I know this.
2. The songs are “tall tales” – hyperbolic work that’s not meant to be taken seriously. Some of this stuff is so over the top, so gross, it’s funny. I’m not a prude (about words), I swear like a trucker, I appreciate a clever turn of phrase, a naughty line. Is this any different than some of the stuff Martin Amis writes? Charles Bukowski? Bret Eason Ellis? Norman Mailer? (This list really could be never-ending.) Just because you write it, does it mean you mean it? What of fiction in music? Well, arguably, if your audience is young and impressionable, it doesn’t matter if you really mean it. And in hip hop, it’s not really presented as fiction. Or is it?
3. The women being objectified aren’t real women – they’re somehow made-up women, hip-hop mannequins. So vastly different is their experience from mine, I was missing our basic glaring commonality: that we’re women. And more importantly, that my daughters will some day be women. And debasing any woman, debases all women.
4. The beats are just so good. That’s how they get me. Every. Time.
So am I going to stop listening to hip hop? No. Will I make my kids stop listening? No. Will I be more thoughtful about it? Yes. Will I point them in the direction of better, truer, hip hop – songs with stories and heart? I have and I will continue to do so. That’s easy, with neighbors like Doomtree and Rhymesayers.
Thanks Dessa, for the reminder. Nothing like learning from your minors.
I’m kind of the queen of buying gifts for people that I really want for myself. This Saturday night we’re going to an overnight dinner party at Gigi the Animal Whisperer and Ten Gallon’s “farm” with two other families. In addition to bringing fixings for the fanciest salad I can come up with (I’m thinking arugula with shaved fennel and apple, slivers of proscuitto and a champagne vinaigrette), I wanted to give Gigi and Ten Gallon a little token of thanks for hosting so many teens and children when what they were really after was us grown-ups! As they are the parents of three hungry adolescent boys, I stopped in my tracks when I spotted this book at Cooks of Crocus Hill. I couldn’t resist paging through it when I got home and the recipes look abso fabu. Big on flavor, big on heartiness, low on fuss. My kind of cooking. I love what Lucinda Scala Quinn says in her introduction about feeding the men and boys in her life.
Boys and men who grow up eating flavorful home-cooked food are more likely to cook for themselves. A man who knows how to cook is more self-sufficient, is a better roommate, boyfriend, father, and son. And as any wife knows, a husband who can cook is like one who can dance – the deluxe package. Huzzah!!!
Obviously, this holds true for girls too and like this author, feeding my family is one of my life’s great pleasures. It’s a way to be busy with my hands so I can listen to music and think. It’s a way to feel productive when I may be procrastinating figuring out what I’m going to be when I grow up. It’s a way to nourish and teach and share. It’s a way to show my love. And it’s a way for me to stack the deck in favor of ending up with a brood who will enjoy eating the way I do. If it is something we have always done together, it is something we can always do together. As my mother-in-law would say, bon appetit!
Oh, my. It has been a great while since I’ve felt this swept away by a film, by a book. Saint James, Supergirl and I had all read it prior to settling into our seats, so we were absolutely brimming with anticipation of what was to come. The book, a clever combination of drawings and writing, is fabulous. It has all the elements of a gripping story: a loss, a puzzle, a quest, a love. It is a perfect story, presented with tenderness and a generous allowance for sadness. The movie, by Martin Scorsese, not only does this book justice, I’d argue it tucks it onto a pair of wings and makes it soar. Twinkly 1930’s Paris, with these characters is exactly where you want to escape to this time of year for a couple hours, so do it. With kids or without, having read the book or not, this movie is magic. Go see it. Alors, vite!
I just finished Tina Fey’s autobiography, Bossypants, and it did nothing to dissuade me from my prior opinion that she’s hilarious. And smart. And cool. And hilarious. It was a perfect quick summer read and follow-up to the phenomenal yet heartwrenching Beloved by Toni Morrison, which we’re reading in book club. (Damn, ladies. What in the HELL? Counting the days till Wednesday night!)
Back to Tina (yes, I feel we’re on a first name basis now). Tina made me laugh over and over, and while I can’t relate to her sexy comedy and television life, I can sure as hell relate to coming up as a “brunette” in the seventies and eighties. She writes: “Let me start off by saying that at the University of Virginia in 1990, I was Mexican. I looked Mexican, that is, next to my fifteen thousand blond and blue-eyed classmates, most of whom owned horses, or at least resembled them. I had grown up the “whitest” girl in a very Greek neighborhood, but in the eyes of my new classmates, I was Frida Kahlo in leggings.”
She proceeds to talk about how she was inevitably drawn to super “Caucasian” guys, as was I. Such is the curse of a dark girl. My first TV crushes were blond (Bo Duke, Ricky Shroder, and Alice’s son, Tommy) and my first two boyfriend were blond Johns. And oh, how I coveted Cindy’s golden ringlets and Farah’s fabulous feathered do. I tried to get my formidable head of hair cut into feathers and it was so thick and heavy (and untouched by a curling iron – who knew you had to style it?) that I looked like Dorothy Hamil’s younger, retarded cousin who had accidentally injested copious amounts of Miracle Grow in an unsupervised gardening episode. Seriously, it was a bowl cut on steroids, voluminous and shiny, like a majestic, fecund mushroom – only it shrouded most of my face, which, in retrospect, is probably for the best.
I too was the frequent victim of mistaken ethnic identity. My middle school bus driver assumed that since I had dark hair and was at the same bus stop as the three Cho brothers, I must be their sister. It’s no wonder, considering my bus driver was an overweight, middle aged, BLOND Michigander by the name of Tanya. Why would Tanya need to distinguish between an Argentine girl and three Chinese boys? Aren’t they all the same? Those . . . brunettes? Only I had no idea I had been lumped into their family until one day I was getting off the bus and she yelled after me in her Midwest corn chip accent: Be sure to tell yer mother about yer brother’s nose bleed now. I stopped and turned around. Her arm jiggled as she pulled the lever. The bus door closed with a hiss.
Not that it’s a big deal. It’s not. So people think I’m Chinese (those three Chinese brother can be very misleading). Or Greek (I was in Greece). Or Arab (I did live in suburban Detroit). Or Indian (I used to get very very tan in Florida). So what? But when you’re young and you just want to fit in, it is kind of a big deal. At least Tina’s name was Tina. Try Gabriela. In Michigan. In the seventies. Oh, how I longed to be named Kim. Or Nancy. Sigh. I LOVED the name Nancy. It sure was prettier than Garbage-ella. Kids can be cruel. Clever, admittedly, but cruel.
Being a brunette or ethnic or whatever you want to call it certainly doesn’t kill you. Or even maim you. I like to think that the sense of being different, of being apart gives you the requisite space you need to observe. You aren’t splashing around having chicken fights in the pond; you’re standing on the shore, watching. And you can actually see better standing on the shore. At least until you’re old enough to beat it on out of there and get your ass to an ocean.
Atticus to Scout:
“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view -”
“- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
We just read (or re-read, in most cases) To Kill a Mockingbird in book club. When we picked it a few months ago, I knew I would go to the third floor of my house and find the ragged paperback I had read when I was in sixth grade. This book has survived countless moves across the country and more importantly, my periodic book purgings. The pages are yellow, the spine is cracked, there is a piece of tape over the inside cover page and it is filled with highlighted passages and my little twelve year old notes, penciled in bubbly letters. Inside the front cover, my name is crossed out and Maestro de Bife’s name written below, he having read my copy when I was away at college. I had no idea my book had been in such peril, in the hands of my adolescent brother. He is either kind to books, or didn’t read it.
I’ve been reading the book for a couple weeks, sort of taking my time with it and savoring it. My little notes are distracting in a very sweet way. It’s hard not to stop and read the definitions I had so earnestly written in the margins: for protruded: thrust out, for tirade, long outburst, for viscous, thick, for druthers, choice. It was the first novel we read in Language Arts class and the first time I wielded a highlighter. I remember wrinkling my nose at my friend Sweet Sue drawing a rectangle around a passage and coloring the whole thing in with her highlighter. Surely, line by line was the proper way to highlight. There are even a few spots with liquid paper carefully dabbed on the pages where I had changed my mind about something I wrote.
This book has lived vividly in my imagination as much because of the beautiful, compelling and humorous work of literature that it is, as for its symbolic position of being the book that really taught me how to read. I had been a bookworm for a long time, chewing through books at breakneck speed, but this is the first book I remember reading in the active sense: carefully, with attention and some sense of rigor.
Reading it again, holding that same copy in my hands, I felt like I had slipped into some secret tunnel straight back to my youth. At one point we were talking about Maycomb and the freedom that Jem and Scout had to roam around the town. Lady Crow Call said, You guys, it was just so fun to be a kid! We all remember that feeling of running around our “perimeter”, knowing like the back of our hand the best climbing trees and hiding spots, the dark spots (Boo Radley’s house), the light spots (Miss Maudie’s house) and all the well worn paths in between.
All you really needed for an adventure was to open your back door and find your best neighborhood friend standing there, barefoot and ready to go. The freedom, both physical and psychic, that we all had as children, allowed us to rub up against the edges, dip our toes into the scary stuff. And if it wasn’t really scary, we made it scary. I wonder now, if part of the magic of our childhoods might have had something to do with the fact that they were laced with a small amount of fear, that delicious frisson of the dark and unknown. (Of course, I’m not talking about real fear stemming from abuse, war or other atrocities that some children face – that’s a whole other ball of wax and there is nothing magical or redeeming about those situations.)
For me, and for Scout, mundane terrors loomed large. A highly active and colorful imagination and an early penchant for calamatizing kept me on my toes – running up the basement steps, checking under the bed at night, holding my breath as I passed cemeteries in the car. I was afraid of being embarrassed, carrying my lunch tray like it was the holy grail, so sure was I that I would die of shame if I ever dropped it. I was afraid of our neighbor named Hank and his giant dog, who I was convinced would maul us to bloody bits. I was afraid of the infirm woman who lived behind us and used to conduct stake-outs from atop our swingset, waiting for her to pass by a window or, horror of horrors, come out into the yard. My biggest fear was that my mother would die, like ALL the mothers in ALL the shows we watched in the seventies (seriously, what is up with that? Think about it! Eight is Enough, The Love Boat, The Brady Bunch, Nanny and the Professor, My Three Sons, Family Affair, Diff’rent Strokes!)
I felt a twinge of compassion for my younger self as I was reading this book, for the innocent, ignorant, impressionable and scared little girl I was. I remember the pit in my stomach and the anxiety, but I’m pretty sure my parents didn’t know. By all accounts, I was normal, if kind of mouthy and moody. I don’t think anyone knew when I was scared. That was me, but a different me and until I re-read this book, kind of a forgotten me. I think children carry around a significant amount of fear, just by virtue of being children and not entirely in control of their destinies. To remember that, to climb into the skin of a child and walk around, as Atticus would say, is a really lovely thing to do, especially when that child was yourself.
Photo by Devil Baby
I have been thinking a lot about happiness and hope lately. I think people think I’m much more of an optimist than I really am. I’m not. I’m actually quite cynical. Once, I stumbled upon the term “a Russian soul” and I had a shiver of recognition. I’m not Russian, but I’ve read enough Russian literature to know: I’ve got a Russian soul. Subject to melancholy, a worrier, glass half empty, prone to fits of pique. You know the type. Maybe you are the type. But I don’t want to be the type, hence the perpetual noodling.
Life is short and a failure to see the beauty and count your blessings is actually, when you think about it, a careless act of cruelty. To yourself. But it’s so hard to be positive and present, right? And therein lies the rub. It’s kind of emblematic of the human condition. Or maybe that’s too sweeping. It’s emblematic of my condition – let’s leave it at that. We’ve talked about this before, many times. It’s a preoccupation of mine because despite my Russian soul, I want to be happy. I try to be happy. Every day, I start over, and my level of success is sketchy, at best.
At book club, during an intense and difficult discussion of The Road, the Ladies wondered how the protagonist was able to keep going, or why he bothered to keep going when nothing he could perceive with his senses or imagine with his rational mind would lead him to believe that there was anything worth living for. Quite the contrary, the danger to which he was exposing himself and, more poignantly for our book club, his son, should have outweighed any naive spark of hope he had stoking in his heart. And yet he continued on. When many others had chosen not to, he did. Is it a defining characteristic of a person to have this hope, this will to push forward, whatever the cost? Why did some, quite understandably given the circumstances, choose to opt out of the devastation, the evil, the horror that the world had become? We wondered about ourselves, what would we have done? It’s impossible to know, from the comfort of Lady Pretty Twigs’ warm and comfy living room.
On Friday night I went out with Creeper Bud and Hot Breeches to see Jamie Lidell at the Cedar. (He deserves a separate gushing music post and I will do it if I have time, but for now, suffice it to say that this vaguely nerdy British white boy has seriously got it going on.) Our night was the best kind of sandwich: a wildly entertaining soulful and booty shaking concert stuffed between two great meandering beery chats. At one point after the show we were talking about global warming and the general “hell in a handbasket” status quo (ya, I know, why, right?) and how it’s hard not to feel completely dejected about everything. Hot Breeches nodded knowingly and said, Ya, but you just can’t let yourself go there. And it’s true, we can’t. We’ve got children to care for and lunches to make. We’ve got lives to live.
I realized then and I said to my sweet companions that I think that I gravitate toward things that are beautiful or funny or whimsical or enlightening as a reaction to the dark. When I see something that strikes a happiness chord in my chest, I go after it, like a dog after a squirrel. I chase and dig and bark. I find out more about it, take a picture and put it on my blog. It is my attempt to fight the part of myself that sits, legs dangling, over a chasm of despair. These are some bad times, environmentally, economically, morally, religiously (Catholic church, I’m looking at you!), and I don’t see enough evidence that the things that need to happen to make things better are happening. But on a micro level, in day to day life, there is plenty that gives me hope. I just have to keep my eyes open.
I took this picture a couple weeks ago. I saw this sign on my walk and went back with my camera later because I was so touched by it. I was struck not only by how lucky we are to live in a city where 1. people are actually around and 2. people will actually help, but also by this individual’s need to reach out and offer his or her thanks to those people; enough to compose a letter, print it out, cover it in plastic, put it on a stick and stake it firmly in the grass. It gave me hope.
This blog, Peevish Mama, started out as a place to bitch, to vent, to put my mommy angst. I wanted to redirect my frustration and ire away from my brood and into the ether. But when I look at my “peeves” category versus my “pleasures” category, I’m surprised by the difference. You want to know the score? Peeves: 24 Pleasures: 86. Not bad for a peevish mama with a Russian soul. I guess.
And now for a bit of happiness, here’s a little Jamie Lidell for your viewing pleasure.
photo by Stacy Schwartz
Last night Dash and I went to see Arcade Fire with Lady Tabouli and Mr. Lady Tabouli and again, at the risk of sounding like an undiscerning gusher (don’t I always do this when I see live music? I know I do), they knocked our socks off! In fact, not only did our eight collective socks get knocked off, they got blown out of the auditorium, down the corridors, out the door and are dangling from high wires outside of Roy Wilkins. Socks fully and completely knocked off. We are sockless. As often happens, a couple factors coalesced to make the show one of the best I’ve ever seen in my life, not the least of which is simply: this band rocks. For real.
I had just finished reading The Road earlier in the afternoon, although the word afternoon seems like a fake cheery cardboard cut-out word for what it really was: dark, sad hours wrapped around the last eighth of a book that left me sobbing, empty, tired. The Road is a post-apocalyptic novel about a father and son’s journey at at time when the world as we know it and all that we recognize as goodness, humanity and hope has been burned, raped, pillaged and left to blow about in a wasteland of gray ash. The book is devastating and beautiful and it stays with you, seeping deep into your skin, changing the color, the taste, the smell of everything around you. Like that ash. It’s incredible. And awful.
So, fast forward thru a cold water splash on the face, dinner and smooches for the kids, a cup of steaming green tea, a chatty minivan ride with our pals, burgers and cocktails, a hilarious three block dash through the rain until finally we bust onto the spectacle that was Arcade Fire. Keep in mind, I’m still wiggy from The Road – I’ve got it weighing on my chest through the giggling and leaping over puddles, and then all of a sudden, my jaw drops and all I see is this huge band (8 of them!) with this HUGE sound, and all I can think is: Perfection. It’s fucking perfection.
We are swallowed up whole.
They look like Mad Max meets thrift store meets Project Runway. Survivors and journeymen, championing beauty with powerful music and haphazard sartorial flourishes. Glittery dresses and combat boots, navy gas station jumpsuits bedazzled with red lightening, tight button down shirts that read as military rock-a-billy, savagely shorn hair and sweat. Sweat every where. Five men and three women going nuts, letting their freak flags fly, holding nothing back and giving us the FULL DRAMA.
They sound like nothing I have ever heard before, singing in strangely uplifting harmonies and running around changing instruments between songs like its musical chairs. Two of the women play electric violins and look like wild fairies as they work their bows and voices into a frenzy. And not for nothing, who gets to sing AND play violin at the same time? Is that even allowed? They were screaming! All of them were. The third woman, Regine Chassagne, a Haitian beauty, was like an angel in a sparkly gold dress and jeweled fingerless gloves singing in her haunting, gorgeously imperfect voice one minute, then wailing on drums, on piano, and killing an accordion the next. The lead singer, Win Butler, sings himself raw, lurching, kicking, climbing and clamboring all over the stage. But what a voice, a voice kind of like Bono’s, a voice that by its limits, by its humanity and earnestness grabs you by the throat and forces you to open your mouth and contribute.
It sounds freaky and it WAS, but make no mistake. These guys are a big stadium rock band. Their songs are anthemic, swelling and crashing like giant waves. Arcade Fire makes you sing and scream and clap your hands. They give you the blood sweat and tears, the blood guts and glory, but it’s smart, breathtakingly technical, complicated, textured and completely modern music. Post modern even. Beyond that, maybe even, dare I say it? Post-apocalyptic! Nah, that’s just me and my Road-tinted glasses, but, man, if there was ever a right band at the right time. For me. My God. There’s a piercing frantic joy that sort of cuts out of these dark and moody chords in their music and it felt so right. Just right. (For real information, like the playlist and an actual musical analysis, go here.)
And speaking of modern, Janelle Monae at First Ave. tonight. Finally!!!! I may swoon, my head may explode. I’m so excited to see her. I have been waiting a long time. A long long time. More gushing tomorrow, I’m sure.
A couple weeks ago when we chatted about minutiae and what we remember, I said I haven’t figured out any rhyme or reason for what sticks. Days later as I finished up our book club selection, July, July by Tim O’Brien, I came across the following passage, a post-coital tête-à-tête between Paulette and Billy:
“They agreed that a human life mostly erased itself at the instant that it was lived. They agreed, too, that out of their combined time on earth, which amounted to more than a century, only a scant few hours survived in memory. ‘It’s what we decide that sticks,’ Paulette said. ‘When we say yes, when we say no. Those over-the-cliff choices we make . . . That’s what makes a life a life, because you lose everything else – peeing, soap operas, scabs, vacations, almost every phone conversation you ever had. Huge chunks of time. Like you never used your own life.’” p. 292
Fancy that! After I had just chewed on this very thing, I stumble upon this passage. And it was after our actual book club meeting because I wasn’t quite finished when we met. Books are amazing that way. I feel like when we read, we do so through our own personal filter, so we each experience a book in an organic and completely unique way. Maybe the beginning of the book planted the seeds for this passage, surely it did, which in the deep wrinkles of my unconscious got me thinking about memory, which led to my post. Any way you look at it, the act of reading fiction is a dance between art and life and you never quite know how it’s going to turn out – the book or your life. It’s as if a book has the potential to unfurl in a completely different way depending on whose hands crack the spine.
Having said that, I’m not sure I agree with what O’Brien proposes here. I think we do remember the choices we make, but just as often we remember the exact sound of the school bell, the feel of the mesh cots for napping in kindergarten, the withering sensation when an older boy walked in on you pretending to be a ballerina with a tutu pulled up over your corduroys. There are things that make an impression precisely because you don’t get to pick them.
I am, however, flattened by O’Brien’s hubris in putting actual temporal parameters on how much we remember. To say that mere hours survive out of more than a hundred years of lived lives is staggering. Almost cruel. I can’t say I disagree, but I can’t say I like it.
post script: if you’ve never read Tim O’Brien, do, but don’t read July, July. The Things They Carried is much better. More Vietnam, less mopey baby boomers.
Last night as I shampooed Devil Baby’s hair, my thoughts kept straying to my weekend away with the book club ladies. Mere hours before, I had been sitting in one of the various roving sloppy circles of the weekend (in front of the windows with the view of the lake, in front of the fire place, around the wooden farm table, on two benches in the sun at the tip of Stout’s Island) surrounded by a near constant flow of words and laughter, maybe a few tears and quiet moments. Devil Baby didn’t want me to wash her hair and as she whined and resisted, I thought about the women who let me say what I needed to say, without judgment, with nods and murmurs of understanding, with stories of their own. I felt physically exhausted (more on that in a second), but mentally alert – almost limber. The way you’d feel after one of those rare classes in college where you felt like you cracked through to some greater truths, some deeper understanding of whatever topic you were discussing.
I’ve said it before, but these book club ladies are super analytical. They are processors and thinkers. They’re also highly verbal people. So you sit in enough circles with them and you’re going to hear really nuanced and insightful explanations or theories about the stuff that’s on their minds. They are also lyrical and romantic and curious. Lady Shutterbug has this completely endearing habit of saying “O.K., I’ve got a question for you guys . . .” and throwing out some juicy dilemma or a giant octopus of a topic. The word soulful came up a few times over the weekend – it’s what we look for in a yoga teacher, in a book, in a song, in a friend. But to be soulful, I think you must be honest. And to be honest, you must be brave. And the ladies are brave. (Not that you’d know it, judging by our mini frights over the course of the weekend: country folk on snowmobiles with night vision goggles, cat burglars, cracking ice, grandpa poltergeists). I think my take-away from the weekend, the reason I feel so clear in my head (despite all the wine, etcetera) is that I got to speak and hear the truth for hours and hours and hours. A mother’s truth. A wife’s truth. A woman’s truth.
I wasn’t privvy to every single conversation, but as we meandered through the thicket of our lives right now – motherhood, sex, food, balance, friendship, botox (just talking, just talking), work, non-work, house work, clothes, husbands, art, faith, bras, meditation, moods, yoga, books – I felt like there was so much disclosure, so much sharing, but equally as much listening and mental note taking. We are not old, but we are not young. As such, I think we’re aware that we’re learning a few things along the way. The tricks, tips, and shortcuts. The surefire cures, the hit recipes, the best this or that, the worse this or that. I’m a huge fan of a “hot tip” and I feel like I was scurrying around, gathering the ladies’ hot tips like falling leaves. On the topic of food alone, I can’t wait to make Lady Pretty Twigs’ green goddess dressing, Lady Doctah K’s oven ribs and mushroom barley soup, Lady Tabouli’s kugel, Lady Shutterbug’s eggbake, Lady Homeslice’s chocolate mousse cake, and Lady Peace’s salad with stir fried veggies. And Lady Doctah Poodle, her fruit was fab, but what I really can’t stop thinking about is something she said right before I left: that perhaps it’s not a question of being a good mother or a bad mother, but of being an authentic mother. This is a really beautiful way to look at this job we have now and will have for the rest of our lives. It allows for imperfections and yet the standard is lofty, one worth calling to mind again and again, like a mantra.
But the weekend wasn’t all talk. There might have been a little drinking. There might have been a little dancing. There might have been a little singing. And there might have been some shrieking and laughing. And some of that might have happened indoors. But it all might have happened out on the white expanse of the frozen lake under a full moon, too. I must say, the ladies went a little crazy. A little really crazy. They cut loose. Soooooper loose. They even indulged me and my ridiculous notions and took turns with my cushy headphones and did a little tiny dancing. OH, TINY DANCING, HOW I LOVE AND ADORE YOU! We gave those country folk in their icehouses an eyeful and an earful, I’m afraid. The image of my friends, running, spinning, swaying, singing, falling onto their backs and gaping up at the moon is something I’ll not soon forget. And I suspect the same goes for the country folk cowering in those ice houses.
Lady Doctah K and Doctor Mister Lady Doctah K throw a lovely holiday party every year. It is elegant and pretty, warm and inviting. There are beautiful flower arrangements, delicious food, lovely wines and a well stocked bar. And. And there is always a gaggle of loud rowdy women from book club who storm in lookin’ all fancy with bemused partners in tow, get their hands on a cocktail within seconds and start to surf the waves of shrieks and cackles that crash through the house for the duration of the fest. I describe this as if I am nothing more than a detached observer to the phenomenon, a curious sociologist scribbling notes, when truth be told I may actually, kind of, sort of be in the midst of the ruckus. This year Doctor Dash was on-call and Lady Shutterbug was also stag, which I think upped the ante a little bit. Without the calming influences of our well behaved hubbies, we went in fast and hard on the gin and tonics and ended up staying until two a.m. Although this hardly explains Lady Homeslice’s behavior, as Mister Lady Homeslice was in da house and she still managed to titillate a group of innocent fireside sitters with her silver panted gyrations. Twice! Oh, it was beautiful. By the end of the night my bookish sisters were screaming and dancing to Tom Petty, getting their sequins all tangled up and laughing. Laughing and laughing.
I can’t even figure out why we laugh so much. Half the time no one has even said anything and there we are, eyes locked on one another, horse faces in full neigh (OK, maybe that’s just me), the hysterics bubbling forth like a shaken bottle of champagne. There’s a piece of it that’s purely and joyfully auditory. Every one in the book club has an uh, umm, uhhh, robust laugh. So if one person starts, it’s hard not to follow. This month we’re reading Foxfire by Joyce Carol Oates who describes Goldie, one of the members of the girl gang, as follows: “(she was) famous for her hyena laugh which had the unnerving power to draw your laughter with it whether it was your wish to laugh or not or whether there was logic to such laughter or not . . . ” So there’s a bit of that, except everyone’s a Goddamn Goldie, so you can imagine. Also, I think that because month after month we delve into all sorts of difficult issues through our books, the emotional barriers between us are gauzy, stretched almost to the point of transparency. When you talk about books, you’re really talking about yourself a lot of the time. I feel like I’m always right there at the surface with these guys, hence the hair trigger tipping into laughter. And finally, but most simply, there’s the obvious fact that being as smart as they are, these ladies are funny – plain and simple. They just say and do funny things. They crack my ass up. Alas, Lady Doctah Poodle and Lady Peace had left by the time Lady Shutterbug unearthed her camera and some of the other ladies were MIA, but, hey, there’s always next year (or next month).
In the post mortem flurry of emails, Lady Tabouli wrote something to the effect of: Did you ever think you’d meet women who would make you laugh like this in your late thirties and forties? The answer for me is a resounding no. I never thought I would. But I have. And I thank my lucky stars for the giggly gift of them.
We’re reading I Married a Communist by Philip Roth for book club this month, and while I shouldn’t be surprised that I had one of those reading moments when you stop, exhale, raise your eyebrows, go back and read the passage again, I was sort of surprised that it happened on the first page.
We read American Pastoral last year and it was a giant octopus of a book. Sometimes it thrashed in countless directions, in anger and fear. Sometimes it swam along as graceful and smooth as can be. And it went deep. (Hmm, this metaphor has legs! Ho!) It was gorgeous and challenging and we wrestled with it – on our own, reading it – at book club, dissecting it and putting it back together, or trying to anyway. That book club meeting was about a week after my knee surgery. I was on crutches, my injuries still felt fresh, personal. My mom was in town to help out, so I brought her with me so she could have a glass of wine, meet my book club ladies, and understand why it is such a source of joy in my life. I read American Pastoral under duress. I was frantically preparing to be on crutches for six weeks, gingerly probing worse case scenarios like a tongue returning to a sore tooth. Desperate to lose myself, it was rich and thick, the perfect book to take up the whole of my mind. I was a ball of angst, agitation and worry and American Pastoral is nothing if not a monument to angst, agitation and worry. Maybe that’s why it resonated so much with me.
Or maybe, it was just that good.
We’ve been back to school for a couple of weeks. Saint James seems muted about it. I’m not sure what to make of it. I’m not sure what he needs. What exactly does he expect to be doing with his time right now? He can’t very well hunt for creatures in the bushes and play soccer all day long. Maybe it’s too much to expect him to be excited about school – being a fourth grader is essentially his job. How many people do we know who are excited by their jobs? And yet, I wish he was. I wish he was fired up, tingling, hungry.
So the passage that stopped me cold? It’s Roth simply introducing a character – that of Murray Ringold, a teacher. And in his muscular prose, Roth brings him to life and makes me want him for my son. To light that fire.
“His passion was to explain, to clarify, to make us understand, with the result that every last subject we talked about he broke down into its principal elements no less meticulously than he diagrammed sentences on the blackboard. His special talent was for dramatizing inquiry, for casting a strong narrative spell even when he was being strictly analytic and scrutinizing aloud, in his clear cut way, what we read and wrote.
Along with the brawn and the conspicuous braininess, Mr. Ringold brought with him into the classroom a charge of visceral spontaneity that was a revelation to tamed, respectablized kids who were yet to comprehend that obeying a teacher’s rules of decorum had nothing to do with mental development. There was more importance than perhaps even he imagined in his winning predilection for heaving a blackboard eraser in your direction when the answer you gave didn’t hit the mark. Or maybe there wasn’t. Maybe Mr. Ringold knew very well that what boys like me needed to learn was not only how to express themselves with precision and acquire a more discerning response to words, but how to be rambunctious without being stupid, how not to be too well concealed or too well behaved, how to begin to release the masculine intensities from the institutional rectitude that intimidated bright kids the most.”
Holy smokes, Philip Roth. Is it mere coincidence that twice now, your words feed me precisely what I’m craving?
Or are you just that good?