three things: the American West, dancing in the living room, and Mexican literature

FEED: Since the new government seems intent on destroying the physical world, I need to remember this:

View of Valley from Mountain, “Canyon de Chelly” National Monument, Arizona (Ansel Adams)

I have camped in that canyon and gotten horribly, blistery sunburned riding mountain bikes over a Fourth of July holiday weekend, but the place was gorgeous. There was a new moon, so the vast, black night skies were filled with the Milky Way and I will never forget lying there watching it wheel through the enormous sky. The world can be so so beautiful, and it’s definitely worth fighting for.

SEED: Yesterday was a cold, brilliant day. Even though he has a terrible cold, Marc thought it was important enough to add another body to the crowd that he joined me at the LGBT Rally at the Stonewall Monument in the West Village. After the rally, I made a big pot of Moroccan chickpea soup, and while I was tending to it, this song came up on my playlist (“Only Love,” by k.d. lang — give it a play while you’re here, it’s such a beautiful song):

Although I’m not a very good dancer at all, I love to dance and do it at home when I’m alone. My first husband used to dance with me in the living room and I’ve missed that because Marc will not dance. Not ever, not anywhere. But there’s something so sweet about just dancing with your husband in the midst of your home. I understand Marc; like me, he is a very socially anxious person and in fact he’s much more socially anxious than I am. This is a place we can connect with each other. But the day had been so lovely, and the soup smelled so good, and so I grabbed him and dragged him up, put one earbud in his ear and one in mine and put my arms around him and told him we were going to dance. “All you have to do is just hang on to me and sway to the music a little.” He felt anxious, I could feel it in him, but I closed my eyes and held on tight and felt the music and cried.

Maybe, slowly, with patience, I can help him grow a little. That’s what it’s really about, spending a life with someone.

READ: In this time of nationalism and closing of borders (and not just in this now-insane country, of course) it’s time to read translations. I love reading translations, and some of my favorite books are translated, but how is it that I’ve never read a Mexican writer? Lithub posted a list of 15 books by Mexican writers and nope, haven’t read a one. Have you read any of them? Or another one that’s not on the list? I’d love to get a recommendation if you have one.

Foreign films, watch those too. My friend Jeff is on a Pedro Almodovar spree (I need to get on that spree too and rewatch them all….). So, while we’re at it, do you have a favorite Mexican director? Actor?

I’ll say one thing about this time of fear and insanity. I feel very much alive. I feel very connected to other people. I hate the cause, but love this specific effect. Happy Sunday, y’all. <3

three things: 12/23/16

1)  I’m just going to launch right in: I have more self-conversations (out loud and just in thought) about poop every day than you might ever dream. PLEASE tell me you’re this way, please. It’s a strangely big part of my life; women with my kind of history of sexual trauma are significantly more likely to have IBS and to get cancers of organs in the pelvis compared to women without this history, a fact that always punches me right in the intestines. Like having to go through all that in the first place wasn’t bad enough? And yet of course it also makes sense in a body-mind way. My siblings and I had severe problems pooping as children; I always said that mother scared the shit into us. So it’s always been a complicated thing for me, I just couldn’t do it. Two or three times a month only, that kind of thing (no exaggeration). It got a lot better for me when I changed to a vegetarian diet and started having a green smoothie every morning 2.5 years ago, but it still shocks me when I go nearly every day. Shocks me. I almost always comment on it out loud, a kind of cheering myself on, the kind of praise you give little ones when they’re toilet training. “Good job! Look at you!” And I always wonder why there is no weight loss after a particularly big one. 🙂 Come on. I don’t mess with a thing that works; my morning smoothie has been exactly the same for 2.5 years now: a banana, almond milk, two giant handfuls of fresh spinach, and a bunch of frozen unsweetened peaches. Oh my is that good. I never ever tire of it. And then I go poop.

2)  La La Land. Gosh, I loved it so much. I just loved it. Of course I am always hoping people around me break into song and dance, so that’s an important thing — if you don’t, and if you don’t love the old musicals, you might not like it. But I really did, and every single time they started dancing I started smile-crying. Every time Emma Stone’s wide, large eyes were gazing at Ryan Gosling, every time either of them were excitedly talking about their dreams and plans, my hand rested over my heart or on my throat and my eyes filled with tears. It’s about dreams, and love, and the intersection of those, and thank God there are young people in the world dreaming their dreams. Thank God for that. I hope the change in US politics won’t squash them in its meanness.

When I was driving home afterwards, feeling all cracked open and tender, I happened to listen to the podcast Song Exploder and the composer of the main song was talking about the process of creating and performing the song. It was the most beautiful coda to seeing the movie. Here you go:

3)  It’s so very hard to feel any holiday spirit, mainly because of the incoming “president” and all that unfolds in his hideous wake every single day already. It’s like getting hit by a nuclear hammer of fear and loathing and dread throughout the day. I didn’t set up my Christmas tree this year since I’m leaving on Christmas Day for NYC. But I have been having such beautiful one-on-one time with friends, brunch with Cindy yesterday, lunch with Nancy today, coffee with Deb the other day, time just to spend with people I love. And I’m making all kinds of good stuff to give those people: lemon cakes for Nancy, today, and a pecan cream cake and those yummy roasted butternut squash and caramelized onion galettes to take to Katie’s house tomorrow for our Christmas Eve dinner. I love making food for people, and while I’m cooking and baking I’m trying to leave space for my heart to open up to a holiday feeling, but it’s just so flat and squashed by the hideousness of our politics, it’s hard. I’m trying. I’m trying. I’m an inconsistent cook, even though my trying is always the same; sometimes I’m really very good, and other times it just doesn’t work the way it should, but I know that people love and appreciate the effort so I don’t worry too much. When anyone cooks for me, I am dazzled by it.

Happy eve of Christmas Eve everyone. <3 <3 <3

three things: 12/19/16

a gorgeous scene from the movie Moonlight, one that made me cry

1)  For someone who really loves movies, I don’t get to see too many. My taste in movies is extremely different from Marc’s (I like foreign/subtitled, subtle, slow doesn’t bother me, etc., and since he is profoundly dyslexic he can’t do subtitled, and he likes a movie that “holds his attention” which means not slow or subtle), so in NYC I never go see movies. When I’m in Austin, I’ll occasionally see a movie, but I’m so busy trying to fit in time with my people that my rare spare time is spent with friends and family. Still, I did see Moonlight and absolutely loved it, and I’ll see La La Land one way or another, ditto Hell or High Water and Manchester By the Sea.  Here are some lists — have you seen any of these?

  • NYTimes — and Moonlight is on all the reviewers’ lists, here.
  • Esquire — but hmm, they ranked The Lobster first, and boy did I hate that movie.
  • AV Club — good ones on this list
  • Washington Post — again, Moonlight makes it to #1. It’s SO GOOD, y’all.

2)  I love my bed — do you love yours? My bed in Austin is the best bed I’ve ever had. I chose every detail of it, concerned only with what I wanted, for the first time in my life (and I had enough money that I didn’t have to make-do with the cheapest thing I could possibly find, as I’d had to do my whole life). The mattress is exactly what I want. The bedding, soft white sheets, the pillows exactly the soft/firm I wanted. A beautiful piece of furniture with a big headboard and a low footboard. And since I sleep all alone in Austin, I can sleep exactly as I wish, too. In New York, Marc sleeps tucked right up against my back so I only really sleep on my right side and don’t have much option to move around. In Austin, though, I have pillows on both sides, so I can roll around and always have a pillow for between my knees, and cozy covers, and always always my kindle in bed with me. I read all night long, every single time I wake up.

my kindle is in an orange cover so I can spot it easily

Beds are so personal, so intimate, such a quiet space where so much happens even when we sleep alone, as I do. We cry there, feel lonely there, we think there, we dream there, we make plans, we rest, we are sick, we read and watch television and movies, we luxuriate there. I adore my bed, it’s my favorite place in my house and the place I can’t wait to get back to, every time I return to Austin. I make my bed every single morning after I finish my coffee, just because I want the pleasure of pulling back the covers at night, to rearranging my bed for the night.

In New York, our bed doesn’t have a sheet, just a comforter, and I don’t like that at all—it’s Marc’s preference. When he sleeps in Austin with me, he pulls the top sheet out from the bottom so it’s not tucked in, and moves it all over towards me — such an important detail to him, and to me, the presence of a top sheet. In Austin I always wear my nightgown (which is really just a long t-shirt) because I feel most comfortable that way, but in New York he sleeps naked and wants me to, too, so I do. It’s not my favorite. People have such definite opinions about how they sleep, which is fascinating if you think about it.

3)  Being a mother to my grown daughters, who are mothers themselves, is very important to me. Since I didn’t have a mother, and often longed to have one especially after I had my kids, I want to give that to my kids. If you’ve read this blog for long, you know this, I write about it a lot. But the girls don’t seem to have the same thoughts or feelings about it and I struggle with this. I’d hoped they would ask me for advice, ask me questions, be glad that I was there for them, and it doesn’t really go like that. They ask everyone but me. They trust everyone else’s thoughts, even strangers in Facebook groups. They acknowledge help from everyone else but me, in private and in public. It’s hard, it hurts, it makes me sad. Sometimes I think maybe I just need to pull back and not knock myself out, since it doesn’t matter to them — and in fact this is my deal, not theirs!

I’ve heard other grandmothers say the same thing, so I know it’s not just me. Maybe this is something about this generation of young mothers, maybe with all the resources they have available to them, online groups and all the information they could ever want at their fingertips, maybe they just don’t need the kind of help we used to need. Or maybe I did a good job and raised daughters who are self-sufficient and know how to take care of things, who know how to manage themselves and their lives. And anyway, what is it I’m wanting? Thanks? (well, yes….sometimes) Acknowledgement? (well, yes….sometimes) This is a painful thing for me and I’m trying to find my way through it. It’s bigger than this, it’s also about disentangling my identity and self as Lori from my identity as mother, and maybe few of us ever really get that done to our satisfaction.

a beautiful way to shift your experience

My friend Deb and I saw Moonlight the other day as an effort at distracting ourselves from our grief and pain, and just in case you haven’t heard about the movie, here’s the trailer. It’s AMAZING:

This is going to sound like one of those idiotic things white people say, but honestly I didn’t quite realize that there are no white people in the movie until I read that in a review, the day after I saw the movie. The world of the movie is so compelling, so rich, and the photography and direction is so encompassing, you’re just in the story before you even realize it, and then along for the ride.

a gorgeous scene from the movie, one that made me cry
a gorgeous scene from the movie, one that made me cry

The movie is in thirds — three stages of the main character’s life. Chiron as a young boy, as a high school kid, and as a man. All three actors who play him are just out of the blue wonderful. It’s inspired by a play called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, and that note shows up at least three times in the movie, beginning middle and in the last breathtakingly beautiful scene. I can’t recommend it enough. Deb and I both agreed that we’ll see it a couple more times, at least. If you’re into reviews, here is the Atlantic‘s, and the NYTimes‘ and the New Yorker‘s. They all rave and praise the movie, and say that it should win all the awards. To which I agree.

I used to go out to see a movie once a week, at least, but I rarely see movies in the theater any more, and I miss that. But between people wearing perfume (which will drop me like that), and people yakking throughout the movie and infuriating me — unless I’m in Alamo Drafthouse, which has a great no-yakking and no-texting policy — and between the cycle that happens when you don’t see movies and hence you don’t see trailers for the new movies and you end up out of the loop, I just rarely get to theaters. There was a trailer for a movie I’m dying to see, 20th Century Women, with Annette Bening:

Dang. She just seems great in the movie, and I like the honesty of her relationship to her son. I definitely want to see that one.

As long as we’re at it with the distract-me-from-my-pain-a-little-bit thing, seen any good movies lately?

(Lest it seem like I’m just flippant and “back to normal” [that’s gone, y’all], here’s what I said on Facebook:

Like so many of us who were grossly offended by the campaign of hate and divisiveness shouted forth by Trump, I have been thrown back by what my country has done. This is not about “my candidate lost wah wah wah” or “but I like *my* party best wah wah wah.” This is about a shift to a climate that goes against every. single. value I have lived by.

But I am finished crying and grieving. I’m not going to be doing that here anymore. Instead, I’m WORKING. I’m dedicating my anger and grief to fighting back. So if you voted for him, just know that I am dedicated to resisting the values and consequences of your vote. If you are in any of the many, many groups that are already being harmed by the hate he gave a megaphone to, COUNT ON ME. I’m your ally.

I belong to a number of enormous groups of people mobilizing to fight back, and fight back HARD. I probably won’t talk about it on my wall anymore, but don’t mistake that silence for compliance, or acceptance. Don’t feel abandoned, if you are gay or trans, or a person of color, or of a non-Christian religion, or if you are brown, or a woman. I’ve got your back.

And now, back to poetry and photographs and book reviews and pictures of my beautiful grandchildren, to whom I also dedicate the work I’ll be doing. Love trumps hate, YO.

So in addition to the “seen any good movies lately” question, I’ll add “know any solid activist groups that are forming”?

it’s why they call it “feelings”

Yesterday I saw Richard Linklater’s stunning new movie, Boyhood. If you’ve ever believed me about anything, believe me about this: go see it. Here’s the NYTimes review of it, and it deserves every glowing word written about it, every superlative lavished on it. I think it helps that the actor in the main role of Mason is so compelling to watch, so quiet and charismatic in his watching way, and so beautiful as you watch him age over twelve years.

here he is at age 18 -- so beautiful and vulnerable and open to the world
here he is at age 18 — so beautiful and vulnerable and open to the world
upstairs at Antone's, for you Austin folk
upstairs at Antone’s, for you Austin folk

The movie caused me so much pain, it kind of tore down the scaffolding around my heart, because the actor reminded me so much of my son Will. That’s too painful to write about here and now, so I’ll just comment on a couple of things from the movie. Near the end, when Mason has just graduated from high school and is hanging out with his dad in the scene there in that picture, he asks his dad the “what’s the point of it” question. His dad kind of laughs and says he doesn’t know, no one knows, we’re all just winging it. And then he looked at Mason and said something like, “But you feel things, and that’s good. Feel them. When you get older, your skin gets thick.” I guess generally speaking that’s true? It certainly isn’t true for me. But even though the feeling I walked out of the theater with was like open heart surgery without anesthesia, even though I had to sit in the car and sob — ugly sobbing, too — even though I cried the whole drive home, and ran into my house and fell on the bed sobbing, even though I miss Will so very much, even though it feels like this ripped off all the plasters that had been holding my heart together, I am so glad I get to feel it. I’d rather not have the occasion to have this feeling obviously but feeling all the feelings is so huge and important for me, it’s an essential part of my happiness, that I can feel the feelings, and so I am glad I can be open in the face of this pain. Feelings are meant to be felt, it’s the experience of being alive.

Another scene that struck me was when Mason was getting ready to leave for college, and his mom put her face in her hands and was crying. She had been left with the two kids when they were very little, and remarried and went back to school and he was a brutal alcoholic and she left him and struggled and raised the kids and remarried and got a teaching job as a psychology professor and she loved her kids. So Mason is leaving for college and she said, “This is it? My life has been a series of milestones, kids and remarriage and school and divorce and school and kids in high school and a job and one kid gone to college and now the second kid gone to college. What milestone is left for me . . . my funeral. This is it? I thought there would be more.”

I thought there would be more.

Coincidentally, Saturday night I watched the movie about wonderful Elaine Stritch called Shoot Me (streaming on Netflix, NYTimes review here). Stritch is so vulnerable in the documentary, and shows the ravages of her aging, her ongoing battle not to drink, her memory losses, what it takes to entertain and what entertaining means to her. She talks about her husband, whom she loved dearly and who died at a relatively young age of brain cancer. She definitely rages against the dying of the light, rages at it. She seemed to feel all the feelings too. I’ll bet when she died the other day she wasn’t thinking that she thought there would be more.

I feel both of those things. I thought there would be more, and I am going to eat as much of life as I can, all the way to the very end. With spoons in both hands, my passport in my pocket, my children in my mind and heart, and with great joy in my heart, alongside all the feelings.

 

scattered

A scattered post, like my scattered mind:

  • What I wouldn’t give for too much free time to the point where I felt a little bored. What I wouldn’t give for that. Although I don’t know that I have ever felt bored. There’s always so much to do, so much fun stuff I want to do and there’s never enough time for it all even when I do have free time. Which is almost never. It seems. I am tired.
  • I hate moving the clocks ahead. It really sucks.
  • me and Meg
    me and Meg

    What’re you reading these days? Anything so good you’re grabbing people and telling them they just have to read it? I’m enjoying The Interestings (review here, on Amazon here) by Meg Wolitzer. I know her sister Nancy, and met her at the Texas Book Festival last year. It’s a great book, I’m enjoying it so much. The characters are so real, I find myself wondering what they’re up to during the day and then I remember they’re characters in a book. The book explores jealousy of friends, whether being the special one makes you happy (and how long you keep pursuing that), and becoming happy with what you have instead of trying to get what you think will make you happy. Mainly I’m enjoying it because the characters are so realistic and fleshed-out and not constantly ironic, which annoys me. There is an earnestness about them that is realistic and similar to so many of the people I know.

  • I’m thinking about growing my hair out long again.
  • The Yale Writer’s Conference has a Facebook page that we were asked to join. So I see the other attendees, who they present themselves to be on their personal Facebook pages, and read their posts on the Conference wall. I have not made a single post, and I’m sure there are others have not either, but some have. And those who have are posting links to this thing they wrote that was published here, that thing they wrote that was published there, oh and here’s my latest. I have not had a minute to do any writing in more than a week, and the longer I go without doing any writing, the more wobbly I feel about it all. The more I feel like a faker, like the one attendee who should not be there.  This week I need to do some writing. Note to myself.
  • Are you going to see Wes Anderson’s new movie The Grand Budapest I broke up with him after Moonrise Kingdom and swore we were done forever. His movies are so airless, so big on aesthetic and short on anything-new-at-all. Another fatherless boy, another collection of incredibly strange people, another movie that’s interesting to look at but always the same in some way.  But I don’t know, maybe I’ll give him one more chance:

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  • Today is Katie’s baby shower. Yesterday I got to hold my hand over Oliver’s little hiccuping body a couple of times. It’s so thrilling to feel him through her tummy — and boy is he getting big — and boy is Oliver’s mommy getting tired. I remember those weeks, impossible to sleep comfortably, tiring to carry that big tummy, various aches and pains. I feel such tenderness toward my daughter, it’s a whole new phase of life we’re all about to enter. Me as Pete, Katie as mommy with a baby in her arms, Trey as daddy, Marnie as aunt, Tom as uncle. A new person in this world.

Well y’all, enjoy your Sunday whatever you’re doing. It’s rainy here again today, a good day to curl up on the couch and spend the day reading if you have that chance. Pick up The Interestings if you’re looking for a new book!

an itinerant marriage

at Nobu after our wedding.
at Nobu after our wedding.

My life is complicated. Blah blah blah, so is yours, so is everyone’s. The way mine is complicated relates most pointedly to my marriage, which has been thrown up in the air. I moved to Texas in November 2012 because my husband and I were planning to divorce, and my heart was so thoroughly broken. I didn’t want to find someone else, I didn’t want to date for fun, I was just starting a new version of my life without a partner and that was that, and that was always going to be that. In the first few months we tried a couple of different things that didn’t work, we tried letting each other go, and the letting-go didn’t work, either. And so we arrive at my complicated life: I visit him 11 days/month, but I live in Texas the rest of the month.  My real life is in Texas, my residence is there, my bills are there, my tax burden is there, my heart is there. More or less. When Oliver is born in a few weeks I’ll stay Texas-side for a prolonged period, but after we get back from Greece I’ll stay in New York until the Yale gig starts.

I miss him terribly when we are apart, though I have such a rich and wonderful life in Texas and I love it with all my heart. I love my life in Austin. I love my friends, I love my poetry group, and my book club. I love all of that. I love being so close to family, especially since Katie will be having her baby soon. I’m glad to be near her and Trey, I’m glad to be here for Oliver’s birth, and I’m glad I’ll be close to him while he grows up. I wish that could be true for all my children, because my family matters the most to me. I wish I could also live right down the road from Marnie and Tom, and I wish Will would be part of our lives. But I am near Katie and Trey, and I feel so grateful for that.

When my husband and I are together, because we have missed each other so terribly, and because our time is precious, we really just focus on each other and want to spend the time we have together, while we have it. We make plans, we do things, we decide not to do them after all, we change plans, we do nothing, we sleep in, we relish the pleasure of touching feet at night, of sleeping spine-to-spine, or spine to tummy, the pleasure of knowing we’re there, the pleasure of talking in the night if we wake up, the pleasure of being there if the other has a nightmare. Those little pleasures are not ours to take for granted anymore, because we do not live together.**

And so my time with people gets compartmentalized, though it kind of suits my temperament anyway. I’ve always preferred to spend time with people one-on-one, or one-on-two (three is a max, for me). I’ve never been a big-gang person, a big party person (ok, like not at ALL), and for the most part when I’m with you, you have my undivided attention. I want to soak you up too. I want that vivid space between us to vibrate, I want to be real with you there and have you be real with me there, too.

For my real-life friends, here and there, I miss you when I am not seeing you and when I am seeing you I am SO so happy to be seeing you. I’m sorry for my away time wherever I am, and I hope you can accept this aspect of me and my life because it’s just kind of fundamental, even as it is exaggerated now because of my itinerant marriage.

**and to continue the complicatedness, and to be perfectly human about it, I also really relish getting back to my own little place where I live alone, and to being alone in it again so that when I go in the bathroom whaddya know, the seat is down because I left it that way. And it may be lonely at times but it is also all mine and the way I want it and I like it that way too. Why is life so hard.  🙂 When my life fell completely apart in November 2012, if you’d told me I would LOVE living alone so very much I’d have argued with you as hard as I could.

A quick rundown on some recs for you:

BOOKS

  • I read Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala, which is a memoir of the devastating loss of her entire family — parents, husband, two young sons — in the tsunami that hit the southern coast of Sri Lanka on Dec 26, 2004. It’s a killing memoir, crushing, shattering, and if you have ever experienced the kind of grief that you aren’t sure you’ll survive, you’ll appreciate it very much (here it is on Amazon).
  • I’m thrilled to start reading Lorrie Moore’s new collection of short stories (!!!) titled Bark the moment it publishes on Tuesday.  (order/pre-order it here!) Between her and George Saunders (and Alice Munro) I could read short stories the rest of my life. If you’ve never read any Lorrie Moore, start anywhere but I completely loved Birds of America and read it over and over again, always with surprise.

MOVIES

  • Watch All is Lost as soon as you can. It’s the Robert Redford movie — by which I mean he is the only actor in the movie, and just about the only sound is the boat and the various storms he encounters. There is so little dialogue as to be inconsequential, although what there is is great. We watched it on Valentine’s Day and I am still kind of haunted by it. It’s about the existential experience of being entirely alone in the face of the universe and facing death, but it’s SO much better than Gravity. So much better. (Although the cinematography in Gravity was good, I absolutely give them that.) As the NYTimes review says, “An opera thunders in the silence.” My husband doesn’t like slow movies, doesn’t like character studies, and this movie completely captivated his attention from beginning to end.

Watch something big and good. Read something big and good. Think about something big and good. Talk to someone about something big and good. Involve yourself in a big and good meal, all the way. I always love it when that is possible.

xo

encounter

I am not vain, as you would agree if you observed me without my knowledge. Since I work at home, all alone, I often don’t get dressed. And since my work involves sitting in a chair, I sometimes wear the exact same thing for a couple of days running. OK, fine. But I go to the grocery store like that too, and in my fleece-lined moccasins. And often without remembering to brush my hair. And almost never with make-up. So I’m really not vain, that’s not what this is about.

absolutely unretouched, straight out of the camera. When did that happen to the skin around my eyes? And my throat, so unfamiliar.
absolutely unretouched, straight out of the camera. When did that happen to the skin around my eyes? And my throat, so unfamiliar.

Increasingly, when I look at photos of myself I’m shocked by the changes to my face and throat. Increasingly, it takes a dozen or more photos before I see one I can bear to show the light of day, and even that one will surprise me. Really? That’s how I am looking? When I see the skin on my arms it reminds me of my grandmother’s, kind of crepe.

It’s like having a very precious treasure, priceless even, in a cardboard box. And you carry the box around, you move it a bunch of times, ship it in the mail, accidentally bump it, perhaps even drop it a time or two. Over time, the box is going to show all of that — the corners will be rounded, it’ll be scuffed and dusty, it might be dented in one spot, it’ll just look as old as it is. But the very precious treasure inside is still exactly the same. It’s been protected by the box all those years, so it is pristine, still.

Yeah. That’s what it’s like. Inside me is every young woman I’ve ever been, and my mind’s eye seems to take some kind of average of them. It isn’t that I’m expecting to see myself at 23, or 30, or 40 when I look in the mirror or see a photograph. My encounters with my face have at least shifted that average up to the last dozen years, maybe. But the image I do hold doesn’t look like the face I now encounter.

And it’s not about feeling terrible about what I see (well, maybe a little bit but not more). It’s more the shock of it, that my box looks like that, because I am the treasure inside. That is the being you interact with, sit across the table from, laugh with, walk with. And if you love me, it is the treasure inside that you are seeing, I know that. I see yours too. But if you are a stranger and see me passing by, you see an aging woman (who is clearly not vain or she’d have put on real shoes and brushed her hair).

So the thing about it is it shows me — every single time I look in the mirror or see a photo — that my time is passing. I cherish and value the ways I’ve grown inside because of my time passing, but my time is passing and I need to do SO many things.  Of course I’m not ready to call it a day, far from it (I hope!), but my body, my container, it is getting old.

I do not want to be like my Aunt Charlotte. She died at home, in bed, clutching the sheets and yelling I’m not ready, I’m not ready, I’m not ready, no, no. That’s excruciating, and the worst natural death I’m aware of. I do not want to be like that, so I guess this will be one of my big projects over the next few decades, reconciling myself and accepting that the box doesn’t match the treasure.

This post was stimulated by a scene from one of my favorite movies, The Trip. I watched it last night, a comfort movie, and there’s a scene where Steve Coogan looks in the mirror at his actual face, stretches it back a little, drops his hands and just looks. And the look on his face is exquisite in its perfection. I know exactly how you feel, Steve. Watch The Trip — it’s available streaming on Netflix, and it’s charming and wistful and sad and funny, quotable lines, and extremely moving. Here’s the trailer:

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Happy Sunday, I hope you enjoy your day and make something meaningful out of it. xox

lots of good stuff

Well, dear friends, I know I’ve been away for a while and here I am just sharing some links, but I want to share these with you! So much good stuff, and I hope some of it appeals to you. Since it’s coming from me, it’s about books and movies and poetry:

BOOKS

MOVIES & TV

POETRY

MISC

Winding down 2013, looking ahead to 2014 — arbitrary divisions, but they still feeling meaningful. Much love to you all……xo

gravity

The best thing about going to the movies in Austin is the Alamo Drafthouse. (My New York friends, there’s a Drafthouse in Yonkers, but they’re going to be opening one on the UWS, watch for it!) Basically, it’s a great theater where you can order dinner, snacks, ice cream, beer, wine, all kinds of stuff, at your seat in the theater. The location nearest my house actually has decent food; they make the hamburger buns and pizza dough by hand in the theater. Huge lists of beers (one location has a brewpub on site), nice wine list. It’s an event. They also organize themes, like a whole day marathon of The Lord of the Rings movies with theme meals provided throughout, that go with the movie. They play sing-a-long movies; Marc and Anna and I went to an ABBA sing-a-long a few years ago and the audience was standing up, singing along and dancing. It was really such fun.

Before they show the previews, they show all kinds of old clips that go with the movie. So, for instance, before Gravity they played old clips of space movies, astronaut movies, some super hilarious ones. Then they showed all kinds of little clips of people falling — oh, that crazy gravity! It’s really fun. And my favorite thing is that they are serious about people turning off their phones and not talking. Take my word on that.

GRAVITYLast night I saw Gravity. I was eager to see it — visually it looked amazing, and I loved the music in the trailer because it’s one of my favorite pieces (Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt, the link goes to YouTube. If you don’t know Pärt’s music, consider this a beautiful introduction.).

So I was eager. Visually stunning, beautiful music, and the concept. Or rather, the bit of the concept I inferred from the clip — what would it be like to be adrift and alone in space? The absolute aloneness of that, the vastness, and just you? My mind can’t really present me with anything, I go blank and silent. But I love to be put in that story and encounter the possibilities.

I’m no huge fan of Sandra Bullock (a travesty for an Austinite! We talk about going to “Sandra’s restaurant;” she and her sister own a couple of popular places here in town, and she lives here). I’ve never found her to be a subtle actress, she’s fine just not my favorite. And Clooney, I knew he’d be Clooney. And he was, down to every twinkle and rapscallion tale.

Visually it was stunning. The first half hour or so I sat there with tears streaming down my face. That scale, it’s just the most beautiful thing there is. I looked at our beautiful planet and thought about how utterly tiny my little troubles are. I’m somewhere invisibly down there, twisting and turning, flailing and feeling terrified, and it’s nothing. It’s just nothing.  The entire span of my life is just nothing. The world is unbearably beautiful and it goes on and on and it follows its orbit on and on and it’s just a nothing too, in our little galaxy which is a nothing in our universe.  And visually it made me feel just a tiny little whiff of what it would be like to be lost up there. I couldn’t breathe easily, I felt terror and a bit of horror. The first part is a single shot, unbelievable, the cinematography is breathtaking. I can’t say enough about the first part of the movie. It sets up the question.

There was a scene in the movie that made me cry for the story part of it — a scene where Bullock’s character believes she is facing her death and speaks of her fear, knowing that she will die that day. And who will mourn her, and who will pray for her? Will anyone? (That’s not a spoiler, by the way….it’s just a scene along the way.) It was a very honest scene, and it got to the nub of it as I expected from the movie. I cried throughout the scene, not because I wonder if anyone will mourn me, I believe people love me and would mourn me, but because I know someone who is so isolated and this is his agony. He thinks no one will even come to his funeral when he dies. It’s heart wrenching. But also it made me cry because it focused all the preciousness of life on that moment, the fear of facing that last moment and knowing it’s the last moment. Oooooof the air leaves me.

It was an OK movie; the part that set up the question was amazing, but the part that answered the question was not so great, in my opinion. It won’t be a classic like 2001, it will probably do well enough, I won’t want to see it again ever, it was flawed enough to miss the very best mark, but it was OK. It was worth it for the first half hour alone. See it in 3D, and on the biggest screen you can. It’s showing here at an IMAX theater in 3D and I’ll bet that’s pretty cool, but I wanted to go to Alamo.

I’d kind of cooled off about the movie on the way home, and as I sat to write this post. But then Marc called and I was telling him about it and got entirely swept up again by the images and the question, by the power of that opening. It’s amazing. Do see it.

And here, in case you didn’t click that link to Spiegel im Spiegel, I’ll give you the video to make it easy. It’s really a gorgeous piece of music. Happy Saturday, my darling friends. xo

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Marnie and stuff

Marnie and Tom last summer I think
Marnie and Tom last summer I think

Well, today is my daughter Marnie’s birthday — 28 years old, how did that happen. Her sweet husband Tom is making her day so special, up north in Chicago, as he always does and that gives me some comfort since I can’t be there to do it myself. It’s been a magnificent year for her, and I can’t wait to see what she makes happen in the year to come. Marnie calls me every week and those conversations are one of the best gifts of my whole life. She has been my ardent supporter, and I watch her closely to figure out how to be, when I finally grow up. Happy birthday, Marnie Elizabeth, my darling girl.

Yesterday I got to spend the afternoon with my dear friend Kelly, which was great on so many levels. It was a fabulous conversation with someone I’m crazy about, and all those levels of pleasure and inspiration aside, it was also just wonderful to finally connect with someone I already know. My social interactions have so far been with my precious daughter Katie and her kind husband Trey, or with total strangers (I’m getting to know them a little bit, but not personally yet). Since I’ve been kind of pulled inward getting myself together, I haven’t sought out my old Austin, my old connections. I haven’t been able to bear the whole “yeah, here’s what happened to me” conversation but I didn’t have to do that with Kelly.

lemmonAlso, yesterday I somehow watched three Jack Lemmon movies — Some Like it Hot, one of my family’s favorites, then The Apartment, one of my favorites, and then The Days of Wine and Roses, utterly wrenching in some ways, although it landed on me differently with this watching. I think if you grew up with a hard-core alcoholic it’s like watching a documentary, in a way. Yep, the destruction, check. Oh yeah, the lack of caring about anything but getting more booze, yep been there. Yes, boy did they nail the way an alcoholic looks and walks and talks and behaves. Since my husband has been in recovery since 1991, and since he was a consultant to Hazelden and a good part of his practice involved addicts, I learned a lot about AA. I’d never had any doings with AA before and in fact had some hard feelings about it. Watching The Days of Wine and Roses now, it seemed almost like a movie-length advertisement for AA, so many of the catchphrases were woven in (“other people can drink and they’re not alcoholics” “YET,” says the AA member in response), with Lee Remick standing in for the white knucklers, speaking for the hazards of thinking you can just do it with willpower—and see what happened to her? But however my feelings about the movie may have shifted, I’m still and always in awe of the performances. I read that Jack Lemmon was so caught up in the straightjacket scene he actually became hysterical, and the crew had to work hard to calm him afterward. I also read that he was an alcoholic in the 1960s; the movie was made in the early 1960s, so maybe he was already in it and that helped inform his performance.

Also, yesterday I read Brain On Fire, by Susannah Cahalan. Cahalan was a young reporter for the New York Post and essentially her body attacked her brain and she went absolutely mad for a month and might have died except for a brilliant neurologist who knew of a newly discovered autoimmune disease. The progression of her illness was fast and terrifying, and it’s quite a strong story. It’s easy to read (the science is encapsulated in a couple of chapters, and written simply enough to understand) and a page-turner because you just can’t believe how fast and terrible this thing happened to her, but I thought it was poorly written. Still, it’s one of those stories where what’s happening is so incredible it doesn’t even matter how well (or not) it’s written. Even though she recovered from the illness, there is still something changed inside her and she and others know it, and that is just fascinating. Some essence of who she was has been broken even though she is again her “old self.” And her trust in her perception has been changed too. She sees something run past, out of the corner of her eye, and is desperate to know if her boyfriend saw it too. Because maybe it’s just her, maybe the illness is returning. That is fascinating to me.

Late this afternoon I’m going to hear the Mundi Quintet, which should be great fun, but before then I’m getting out on my patio to do some flowerbed work; it’s going to be 76 today, blue sunny skies, a great day for playing in the dirt. I’ve got something on my mind, something I’m trying to figure out, but it’s kind of subtle and twined up in all kinds of things I need to think through so I’m not quite ready to write about it yet but probably tomorrow, a thoughty post. I just made up that word. 🙂

Happy March 3, 3/3, forever and always Marnie’s day. Once more: HAPPY BIRTHDAY my sweet little girl! xoxo

Friday collection of goodies

So this morning I’m off to get my hair cut, and then I have back-to-back calls for work. It’s a busy day, and I have a very busy weekend ahead. I’ve once again collected a whole bunch of open tabs that I can’t seem to close — “I’ll read them later,” but later hasn’t come, so I’ll stash them here and maybe you’ll like one or two, too!

Twilight

All day he works at his cousin’s mill,

so when he gets home at night, he always sits at this one window,

sees one time of day, twilight.

There should be more time like this, to sit and dream.

It’s as his cousin says:

Living— living takes you away from sitting.

In the window, not the world but a squared-off landscape

representing the world. The seasons change,

each visible only a few hours a day.

Green things followed by golden things followed by whiteness—

abstractions from which come intense pleasures,

like the figs on the table.

At dusk, the sun goes down in a haze of red fire between two poplars.

It goes down late in summer—sometimes it’s hard to stay awake.

Then everything falls away.

The world for a little longer

is something to see, then only something to hear,

crickets, cicadas.

Or to smell sometimes, aroma of lemon trees, of orange trees.

Then sleep takes this away also.

But it’s easy to give things up like this, experimentally,

for a matter of hours.

I open my fingers—

I let everything go.

Visual world, language,

rustling of leaves in the night,

smell of high grass, of woodsmoke.

I let it go, then I light the candle.

~ from Louise Glück A Village Life (Ferrar, Straus and  Giroux, 2009)

  • And finally, here is an absolutely lovely video of a beautiful, beautiful song, Mad World:

Happy Friday, everyone! I have such a busy weekend of things to do, fun things, a bit of work, a lovely lovely weekend. I hope it’s the same for you!

good thing of the day: It’s raining! And the promise of a new start that a hair cut brings, small but (potentially, anyway) uplifting. 

things I have learned

  • Living alone is extraordinarily different from living with someone who is gone for a bit, leaving you alone. Even if they’re gone for a week, a month, longer than that. The whole “someone is coming back” deal makes quite a difference. It is as great as I imagined it would be, but it also is very much not.
  • When you go through a big wrenching change, get new music. Maybe just dig through your own library for the stuff you never listened to, because any of the old stuff with associations can rip your heart out. Especially to be avoided: music you listened to as an emotional teenager, music you listened to with the person who is gone, music that just has an overall sad tone, Coldplay (except Viva La Vida), and music you ever listened to during any relationship, because those spots get soft again. Music to seek: upbeat music, world music, salsa music. Disco, if you’re my age. 
  • Cooking for one isn’t bad at all. It’s the eating of the food for one that’s not so great. I started off eating at my beautiful dining table every night, but couldn’t figure out how to do that without feeling too lonely. Now I eat in my chair, or at my coffee table. But the cooking part is just fine. I don’t really know how to cook for one, so I end up with several meals from one meal cooked, but how is that bad? I’ll tell you how: it’s bad if you just keep eating that same one thing until it’s gone. What happens is this — spaghetti every night for a week; chicken noodle soup every night for a week; curry every night for a week.

  • It’s possible to have very long conversations with inanimate objects, and occasionally you find yourself doing strange old people things, like calling people by the makes of their cars. “Oh sure, Mr. Oldsmobile, pull right out in front of me, that’s OK you’re the most important person in the world.” A person needs someone to talk to or else they start talking out loud to the chest of drawers. “Oh, who put this in here? Yeah, how did this get in this drawer, I wonder? Hmmmm? Well it couldn’t have been anyone else now, could it.” This is especially true for people like me who also work at home, alone. I can have days in a row pass without any human contact, if I’m not careful.

  • If you get an invitation to do some disco dancing, TAKE IT. Always. Just make that a policy. I’ll be doing the boogaloo and the hustle (assuming I can remember how!) Saturday night the 12th, at a place called Sherlock’s. I’m just going to pretend I’m going to my friend Sherlock’s house. I no longer have the necessary “boogie down tonight” clothes or the white girl afro (sigh), but I hope enthusiasm makes up for my blue jeans and Converse sneakers.
  • A big story like Les Miserables teaches you the power of a good story, and here’s why. I first read the book when I was nine, and I fell completely in love with it. I’d already decided Victor Hugo was my favorite writer in the world, because of Notre Dame de Paris, which saved me (another story another time, my identification with Quasimodo). But Les Miserables, as a girl I was so connected to Valjean’s unfair punishment, oh how I understood that. His nobility in the face of suffering, that meant a lot to me. Then, when I was a young mother, it was Fantine’s story that moved me so much. The things she endured out of love for her daughter. Her abandonment by Cosette’s father, leaving her to her fate. I have seen every single adaptation of it for film, and I saw it on Broadway, and last night I saw the new movie. Another thing I’ve learned is that boy I can be so wrong in my snap judgments. Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, nah, don’t like ’em. Lightweights. HA! HA! HA! WHAT A MAROON! Let me just eat those words right here, in public, without even salt. Those two actors were so utterly spectacular they broke my heart — the actors, not even their roles. When Jackman is singing Jean Valjean’s despair in the church, in an early scene after the priest saves him and he’s crying out to God, how can he turn away from hate . . . the tiny little movements of his cheek muscles, his forehead, the utter despair in his big eyes and fully formed in his body, oh my god. I have to go see it again, just to watch that scene. And Fantine’s degradation, when she sings about her lost dreams for her life, Hathaway was so brilliant I’ll always remember her. And Eddie Redmayne, as Marius; when he’s singing about his dead friends, he broke my heart. It was the tiniest little things they did, the whole giving-over of themselves to it, it was incredible. [Russell Crowe, on the other hand, all the world’s thumbs down for him. Geez.] This time, at age 54, the thing that moved me most in the story was when Jean Valjean — who did not want to lose his daughter — saw Marius at the barricades and shifted to tenderness for him, saw him and who he was, and wanted him to survive, was willing to sacrifice everything to help him survive. It’s the perspective of aging, the shift to seeing the next generation and feeling so soft, so protective, and realizing that your time is moving away, now. The movie was kind of long, some of the scenes dragged on, but then again: Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers, Master of the House, were such a delight every time they were on the screen. Anyway: powerful story no matter what age you are; I was a real dope about Jackman and Hathaway; and go see the movie.

  • Learning something new is a good thing to do when you’re feeling lost and alone. It requires focus, it fills time, and you get something good from the time. On New Year’s Eve, I spent some time with my new dulcimer and learned how to tune it, and learned how to play — slowly and simply, without any fancy moves — my favorite old hymn, Softly and Tenderly. That song always made me cry when I was a little girl at church. Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling. Calling for you and for me. See at the portal he’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me. Come home, come home, ye who are weary come home…..who doesn’t want someone welcoming you home when you’re tired. I know I long for that.

Day one of the new year down! So far so good, y’all!

good thing of the day: going to the very movie you want to see and being so satisfied by it. Les Miserables was awesome, made me cry, made me think, and left me with so much feeling.

the script

So much of our experience follows standard scripts — there’s the “restaurant patron” script, for example, that has you (the patron) walk into the restaurant, approach the hostess and say how many are in your party, then you’re seated and handed a menu, someone brings water and bread perhaps, then a waiter tells the specials and eventually takes your order. You know that one. You have subscripts for “fancy restaurant” and “fast food restaurant,” and if the script is violated then that’s really weird.

When my first marriage ended and I found myself a single mother of three very young kids, there was that “newly divorced woman returns to college and triumphs!” script in the air. I wanted to go to school (no “returning,” more like “starting”) and I considered not going just because I didn’t want to be that cliche. Luckily, I wasn’t that stupid and I went to school despite my fears of being a cliche. That turned out OK.

Now, here I am a newly-single 54-year-old woman. It’s quite scary, facing the rest of my life on my own. There’s an associated script that goes something like this, I’ll bet you’ve seen the Lifetime movie:

Plucky older woman bravely starts over, her voice wobbly. She makes a new home, thrilling herself with a life with herself at the center, finally. She wears dramatic scarves and jewelry, creates a new vision for herself. It’s so exciting! Her voice still wobbles but she raises her index finger in the air….yes! I will be fine! She drinks a little too much wine some evenings and lies awake in the middle of the night an awful lot, and finds herself humming old Helen Reddy tunes because she is of a certain age. But she is brave! Plucky! No one notices the wobbles are pretty deep, she’s plucky! She seems to be doing well!

And then one night / one weekend / one month one too many disappointments befall her and she crashes. [There are many ways the crash scene can play out here, from mild to dramatic to terminal.] Eventually, though [assuming she survives the crash], she arises from the ashes, dons another dramatic scarf and opens her door to her waiting friends.

I find myself thinking again and again of Jill Clayburgh movies in the 1970s, including An Unmarried Woman (trailer here, oh-so-1970s!). There are two scenes I remember from that movie; in the first, she’s leaving lunch with her husband, where he told her he’d found someone else. She staggers down the street and lurches into an alley and throws up. I remember the throwing up. And there was another scene where she was dancing around an apartment in her underwear. Plucky!

Yesterday I realized that this script was in my head because I was wondering what my crash will be like. Will I sink into depression? Will I drink too much? Will I laugh like crazy with friends one night but go home wanting to die? What will it be like? As if the crash is inevitableI hadn’t realized just how firmly that script was in my head until that moment.

That’s right. I’m a plucky older woman, and I wear scarves. That’s right, I’ve bravely started a new life. That’s right, I have. And that’s right, I’ll have blue periods, and low nights, and bleak moments because I’m a human being and this is what happens to us. They don’t mean that what happens next in the script will or must happen. Note to self here. Note to self.

edit: A friend posted this on my facebook wall and it is so hilarious, I share it here with you so you can get a laugh too:

fangrrl

Is that right, “fangrrl”?? I’ve heard the kids say that word (but maybe it was several years ago, I am officially fuddy-duddying here).

I can’t quite tell if I’m smitten with Lincoln or Daniel Day-Lewis, probably both. A few years ago I got on a jag of reading books about the early presidents — a great book about Washington (His Excellency: George Washington, by Joseph Ellis, which I adored), and Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which I also adored. At the time I read them, we were suffering through the sheer agonies of GWB, and I felt such keening despair that we had fallen so far, from men like that to a nincompoop, which is a much kinder word than I usually use to describe GWB. I was especially glad to read the Lincoln book, which required careful attention because the issues were subtler than just “slavery bad,” and “end Civil War.”

Before I say anything about Lincoln and Daniel Day-Lewis, I confess a very strong bias. I think Spielberg is a really crappy director, right up there with Ron Howard. The two of them are so cliched in their approaches, in their framing of scenes, and schmaltzy?! OH MY, schmaltz wouldn’t melt in their mouths, The opening scene in Lincoln was just so trite and corny I was having to make myself stay in my seat, but oh I’m so glad I did.

Daniel Day-Lewis was . . . hyperbole doesn’t begin to get him. Stunning. Genius. Brilliant. I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t in the presence of Abraham Lincoln, and his performance left me wishing so much that I could’ve been. As an actor, he has so much intelligence in his eyes all the time, so he was a good choice for Lincoln in that regard. But boy he just inhabited Lincoln so fully. There were a couple of scenes when Lincoln was walking away from the camera, and the very particular way he lifted and put down his feet left me wondering how he knew to do that, because it felt like surely that’s how Lincoln walked. The way he held his body, moved the tiniest muscles in his face, the subtlety of his choices added up to Give That Man an Oscar Right Now. Right away, I want to go back and watch every movie he’s ever made, even the bad one(s) (were there any?).

So basically, the bits that were about direction: stinker. The bits that were about Daniel Day-Lews/Lincoln: genius.

Also, it was a costume drama and I always have a hard time getting past that. All of a sudden there’s James Spader doing that same thing he always does with his mouth, but this time he’s wearing a waistcoat and chomping a cigar and he has that goofy mustache of the time, kind of curled up on the ends. And Tim Blake Nelson, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Sally Field (who was better than I worried she’d be), and the woman who played Jeanie Boulet in the early seasons of ER, and that guy who’s always in some episode of Law and Order, and the other guy who plays the bad guy so often, and Tommie Lee Jones in a purposely bad wig, and S. Epatha Merkerson. The only persons not in the movie, I think, were Tom Hanks (surprise!! I was so surprised!) and Meryl Streep. Somehow, though, Daniel Day-Lewis never looked like he was wearing a costume.

Lincoln is revered for good reason. He had a brilliant and subtle mind and he knew what he wanted, and why. But I was so struck, during the movie, by the importance of story, for him. He was a big old storyteller (and joke teller, and funny ones at that), and used story to bring people along. In an argument with someone, he’d be articulating his position and then he’d launch into a seemingly unrelated story, sometimes long and complicated, and the listener wouldn’t quite see what it had to do with the argument. BUT IT DID. It always did, and when he finished helping the guy see how the story related, the argument was essentially won. And he just had such an incisive mind (and he listened); he could cut through the emotional mess in a loud debate and pull out the center of it, clear as a bell.

It’s a wonderful movie because of the main performance, which is just so powerful the rest doesn’t even matter. It’s long, two and a half hours (more testament to Spielberg’s bad directing, because it just didn’t have to be that long), but I wanted more and more and more of seeing Lincoln move and talk. I left feeling inspired that he lived, sick to my heart and stomach that he was assassinated, disappointed that our politics are what they are now (and I like Obama, it’s not that), and sad that I didn’t get to keep watching that performance. I won’t go see it a second time, but I’ll watch it again when it comes out on DVD.

I see why Doris Kearns Goodwin has such a huge crush on Lincoln. Now I do too.