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Archive for the ‘Pontification’ Category

So, I figure if California can issue 28,750 IOU’s worth $53.3 million dollars, then I–on a holiday weekend when I’m a million miles away from home and all I’ve got is sky and church lady pie and firecrackers and road and family and a little baby who gives kisses and smells like pears and wants to swim in the pool and a mother-in-law I need to steal secrets from and a husband who just flew in from London and a tupperware dish filled with banana pudding and old friends who are getting divorced and need to tip champagne glasses and other friends who have fallen in love or seen Hawaii or gotten new jobs or degrees or just gotten (happily and a bit to their surprise) through another day; when it’s all crickets and fireflies and sitting on the porch; when the heat’s so thick, your mind swims and your limbs hang limp; when your mother keeps calling from the other room, calling and calling, and you remember all the times she called for you, the lilt of her voice, and you can’t tell if you’re ten again or a hundred, and the door swings open, and Get off the computer, she says. Come on in for some coffee–well, then,  I can issue an IOU too.

Dear Reader, IOU. I can’t promise my word is any better than California’s, but, heck, at least it’s summer, and if I don’t pull through, you can drown your sorrows in lemonade and call it all a midnight dream. Happy, happy Fourth!!! May you make it to Monday with your appendages intact and your debts all paid.

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I often talk to my NYU students about the “I” they create in their essays. Your “writerly I,” I tell them, has to be your very best I. She‘s the one with the clean home, with fresh roses on the counter, with the husband who kisses her “right there” (and here she points to that pale tender spot behind the ear) every morning before he leaves for work. Your “writerly I,” I say, has to be infinitely more interesting than you could ever be. At the very basic level, she shouldn’t go to Weight Watchers, and if she does, she shouldn’t talk about “points” (12 in a King-Sized Snickers!!!).

There are other things she should also keep under wraps–say, letting a baby “cry” while she finishes a sentence; or her habit of sucking on bird feathers and long strands of hair when she was a child; or, uhm, her terrible, crazed love for “The Bachelorette” (Can you BELIEVE Jillian let Jake go?). But sometimes our I’s get the better of us, and we end up writing the whole sentence, or with a mouthful of feathers, or worse, watching the entire episode of “The Bachelorette,” even as the train comes to a halt and lets poor Robby-the-Bartender out in the middle of the Canadian wilderness.

But this isn’t about “The Bachelorette,” it’s about the news, and everywhere this week, there’s news. We’ve got Jon & Kate & their 8, and even though I have no idea who they are, I find myself clicking on the link when it says “Jon ‘hurt’ by Kate’s remarks about ‘activities.'” If that isn’t bad enough, there’s South Carolina governor Mark Sanford who told his staff he was “going to hike the Appalachian trail,” but ended up flying to Argentina to see his mistress. (Perhaps a good move for a “writerly I” but a very bad move for a married governor.)

Everywhere we look: train wrecks. And as badly as we might want to look away, we’re still staring. The week began with the commuter rail crash in Washington D.C., and then it kept crashing and crashing, and suddenly, not only were Jon & Kate calling it quits, but Ed McMahon was dead (and right after that horrible TV commercial about the gold!), and then Farrah–who, as a girl, I dreamed I may someday become–was dead too.

Now this: Michael Jackson, King of Pop, dead. Legend, train wreck, legendary train wreck. This is the man who turned his “I” into just about the freakiest (though oddly sweet) “I” the world has ever seen–he’s PYT; he’s DOA; he’s gone.

So…it’s one of those weeks when I’m not quite sure what to make of the world, not quite sure how to avert my eyes. Perhaps, my husband will come home–with fistfuls of roses–and kiss me, just there, where my rubberneck meets my ear. Until then, it’s all just Human Nature, and I‘m just a Tabloid Junkie.

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I’ll never forget the first time I stayed up late enough to watch Johnny Carson. I must have been eight or so, and it must have been summer so I must have smelled like watermelon and bug spray and stuck-on chlorine. There in the TV-blue of the night, I watched as Johnny rolled out walls on wheels, and on the walls: giant ears; then more walls with noses, eyes, chins. My mom laughed, so I laughed too. The walls have ears, she said, and I laughed again. And noses, I said. But then she explained to me that it was a saying. Oh, I said, the walls have ears!!!

These days the walls don’t just have ears; they have lawyers too. An article in this week’s Time magazine devotes itself entirely to the sticky topic of Facebook and divorce. Apparently, lawyers around the country are monitoring various social networking sites and bringing the information they find to trial. These lawyers have a clear message: if you’re going to claim you’re “broke,” don’t post pictures of yourself on your new Harley, and if you’re leaving your man, try to refrain from telling the world that you’re “free at last (!!!) and gonna get every penny I can from that sorry son of a…” Well, you know what I mean.

And I completely see where they’re coming from. I’m often wowed by how much information people give on Facebook. Just last week, I met up with two friends for lunch, and one–before we even looked at the menu–said to the other, “Okay, spill it! I saw your Facebook status. What’s going on?” And things were going on, big things. And when I got home and pulled up her Profile page, it was there, clear as day, word for word.

But, at the same time, there’s this gulf–this ginormous gulf–between what’s really going on and what we’re writing on our walls. Right now, if I click on my Facebook tab (not that I’m looking at Facebook when I should be writing!), I find that one ‘friend’ is “meow, meow, meowing;” one is “chillin in chilly New Jersey;” one is “getting her drink on after the babies go to bed,” and I guess I’m left feeling the gulf even more; I’m left thinking that just because at any given moment I can find out what my ‘friends’ are “doing,” I still don’t know them any better than I did months ago, before I joined Facebook, before my summer nights were lit by the white of my computer screen.

I guess, though, there aren’t any answers. Unless, of course, we can make the wall have legs and those legs can walk on over here, and then, make it have hands, and in the hands, a good bottle of wine, and then slap a big, pretty mouth smack in the center of the wall, and after that, we can sit out back and talk all night long. Until then, I think I’ll turn off the computer and do whatever it is people do when they’re not sitting around trying to figure out the writing on the walls.

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There’s a poem by the late poet Jane Kenyon that runs through my mind on mornings like these. “I got out of bed/on two strong legs,” Kenyon writes. “It might have been/ otherwise.” She goes on to write of flawless peach and birch wood, of laying down for a noontime nap with her love, of having dinner together at a table with silver candlesticks, and finally acknowledges how one day—in spite of her plans and the dreams she has in her bed in a room with paintings hanging on its walls—it “will be otherwise.”

I first read the poem in the late-90’s when I was a graduate student and teaching poetry at Goldwater Hospital. It was the first time I had been around so many people with physical disabilities, and the presence of all those disabilities unnerved me. My first months working there, I often found myself on subway platforms walking in tight circles and being fully aware of the strength of my legs, of the tightening and lengthening of my hamstrings and quadriceps, of the give of my calf and the arch of my foot. “Two strong legs,” I would mumble to myself, over and over, disappointed that for so many years I had taken those legs for granted.

It was around this same time that I traveled down to Washington D.C. to visit a friend and went for my first and only time to the Holocaust Museum. We had walked around the city for hours and hours, and we made it to the museum just before closing time, allowing ourselves not nearly enough time to take it all in, or maybe it was just enough time; maybe all the time in the world would not have been enough, would have been too much. The museum’s impact was heart-wrenching, so heart-wrenching, in fact, that I still find myself caught off-guard—my breath catching in my throat—when I think about it.

It is the shoes that have stayed with me, thousands of them, shoes from the Nazi’s victims—piles and piles, large and small, ornate and simple, men’s and women’s and children’s, leather, cloth, hardly worn, worn through the soles—and I remember standing in the empty place between the piles and thinking of all the feet that had been in those shoes; feet that had blistered, that had been rubbed by a lover; feet that had kicked balls and had turned back home; feet that had soaked in the tub and walked through strange streets and gotten damp from puddles; feet that had danced; feet that belonged to legs; feet that had bones with marrow, that had veins with blood pumped from a heart.

And that is where it always ends for me: the heart.

On Wednesday, Stephen Tyrone Jones, a security officer at the museum, went to hold the door open for an elderly man. The 88-year-old, James W. von Brunn, who as a self-proclaimed white supremacist had a history of anti-Semitic efforts, then opened fire on the museum, fatally wounding Jones. A photograph outside the museum depicts the inadequacy of mourning: a few lilies stuffed inside a water bottle, their petals already falling. I think of those who will walk by that water bottle today, think of the legs that will carry them, of the breakfasts they ate, of the rooms they sleep in.

My husband kissed me when he left for the office just a bit ago; my daughter is napping; my hands are lemon-y from the sponge I used to wipe the counter; and now, like Jane Kenyon, like Stephen Jones, I do the work I love. These days—especially with the death of a dear friend’s husband a couple of months ago—I am more aware than ever that it will some day be “otherwise,” but it makes my heart sick to think that sometimes that happens because of the sheer disregard for human life displayed by von Brunn and far too many before him.

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Vegetable Garden with Donkey, 1918, Joan Miró

Vegetable Garden with Donkey, 1918, Joan Miró

Slowly unpacking from a weekend trip to Tuscaloosa, I had iTunes play an On The Media interview with the New Yorker’s Sasha Frere-Jones and my browser on a Slate article worrying that JD Salinger might have been writing all this time and, worse, might be getting ready to burn it all.   I sat down to a piece of cheese toast and browsed Ron Rosenbaum’s article while SFJ explained his use of jargon and allusion in various publications and formats.  Salinger had a right, like Nabokov, to keep us from reading what he considered to be unworthy of the public, according to RR.  If we didn’t want to encounter phrases we didn’t know, we shouldn’t follow SFJ’s tweets.  The microwaved cheese had over-softened the toast—no toaster oven.  Where is my phone charger?  Maybe still in the wall below the Glade plug-in.  RR went to Salinger’s house once, just stood in the driveway.  Once, a New Yorker editor wasn’t sure if enough people knew about Echo and the Bunnyband. Sic–that’s the kind of joke you get if you’re as worldly as SFJ.  He sat in a Denny’s down the road and wrote the author a confessional letter, then went back to the driveway and slipped it in with the mail.  The green underwear with the gray band: I hadn’t worn them, but they’d acquired a bad smell packed next to my running socks.  I got up to get a sharp knife for the rubbery toast.  What is it that has always hardened my heart against Frere-Jones?  That note of pride in his voice confirms whatever it was.  The dog cowered under the coffee table as I dug in the bag; I was planning to leave him behind this time, wasn’t I?  Too many people misreading Catcher: that’s why he had retreated into Live Free or Die obscurity.  Twitter, and a New Yorker article for that matter, they’re instruments, and he wants to see what they can do.  He wants some cheese too, I see, as he licks his chops sheepishly, ears turned down to a driver’s ed ten and two.  What did Emerson say? That there’s no worse feeling than finding your great idea in print under someone else’s byline?  Is it the same thing, or some sort of opposite, discovering a shared love for the wrong reasons?  Don’t tell me what to like and how to like it if that’s why you wrote that. Have a bite, boy. This cheese isn’t that great anyway.  Nabokov, he was a perfectionist, sure, but at least he published eventually.  Pharoah Monch: you couldn’t expect anyone to remember him decades hence, and isn’t it delicious to know what that means in the mean time.  Maybe it’s his knowingness, his eagerness to avail us of his definitive empiricism.  And about what?  A mash-up of a song that wasn’t punk rock enough to begin with?  Maybe it’s seeing what you hope isn’t your reflection extended into a landscape of cheesiness itself overlayed upon a real place with too many important particulars, some gray leaf-strewn driveway on a gray near-winter afternoon.  Who writes that letter?  Who writes about writing it twice?  Some version of me?  If I don’t write my version, I’ll comfortably never know.  Maybe if you write as much as Emerson you have that feeling seldom enough that you can steel yourself against it, instead of letting it bombard you with the bone-softening recognition that you do not really yet know how to talk to the imagined many because you talk to yourself so much about yourself.  Enough.  That’s enough, boy.  Don’t whine.  This bag is just to go to the coffee shop so I can work on a new chapter.  Where are the keys?  I’ll sort the laundry later.

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As I remember it: first there was God, and then there was Oprah. Then for maybe a week or two there was Dr. Phil, but Oprah from her very, very high place in the blue, blue sky saw she had created a beast (think: fallen angel), and so finally, there was just Oprah again.

And she was the Word.

And no one questioned the Word because the Word was powerful and fun–spunky even!–and when we thought about it, we’d love to have the Word over for coffee (we’d serve it from a silver urn!), and if the Word wanted to stay for lunch maybe her chefs would come over and whip up some sort of deliciousness (truffled egg salad on multigrain!), and if lunch bent into evening, and the Word wanted a white wine spritzer, who were we to question the Word?

Word?

Well, questioning the Word is exactly what’s happening. Newsweek‘s latest cover story claims that the Word abuses her influence to spread wild health claims. Don’t want to age? Take these 60 daily supplements recommended by the eternally young Suzanne Somers. Don’t want your child to be autistic? Just say no to the life-saving vaccinations your doctor is forcing on him. And–possibly my favorite–are you fat? Well, woman, it’s because of a thyroid dysfunction caused by a lifetime of “swallowing” the words you’re aching to say!

(Frankly, the only words standing in my way of being skinny are a polite “No, Thank you” when the waiter offers the dessert menu. But that’s a whole nother post…)

I guess our only hope for redemption is Angelina Jolie who just yesterday stripped the crown from Oprah and now reigns as “Forbes Most Powerful Celebrity in the World.” If only Jolie could do for the lit mag world what Oprah did for the novel. Can’t you see it: the masses reading PBQ on the subway? Start: here. Or here.  Or here.

Ah, Words. What do you think, reader? Oprah: Word or Wash? Jolie: Capable of filling such big, mythic shoes or will she go the way of…the way of…well…of…far too many words?

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When my parents got divorced, my brother and I were still young enough to believe that there might be something we could do to bring them back together. We spent the summer of ’77 coming up with one elaborate plan after the next, hoping that they would fall back into each other’s arms. The most elaborate of those scams involved playing dead. We arranged ourselves on the floor—arms and legs at chalk-outline angles—and waited to be discovered. The fantasy ended the way all of our fantasies ended: the four of us at IHOP feasting on pancakes and the waitress bringing free helpings of extra whipped cream.

The other scams—equally as earnest and proving to be just as ineffective—involved broken washing machines, bizarre mall abductions, missed phone calls and official letters from the government. But as wild as our young imaginations were, we never—not once!—ended up at Disney World. I mean, to end up at Disney World, the land of magic and make-believe and Goofy and sunshine, well, that would just be too idealistic, too silly, too much.

Philadelphia mom, Bonnie Sweeten, it seems would beg to differ. While our fairy tale didn’t end at Disney World, Sweeten’s fairy tale did: with her in handcuffs. Not exactly what you dream of as a child–from Mickey’s wonderland to the Orange County Jail–but Sweeten had come upon tough times, and based on the recent embezzlement discovery by her employer, times were about to get tougher.

The story began on Tuesday when Sweeten called 9-1-1 from what she claimed was the trunk of an SUV driven by two otherwise nondescript “black men.” The whole thing just got more bizarre: Sweeten had “borrowed” her friend’s ID to get onto the plane; had left her 8 month-old at home; had withdrawn $12,000 from local banks to fund her escape. $12,000. That’s it. I’d imagine after a few Big Gulps and the price of admission, Sweeten didn’t have much of her booty left.

But it’s got me wondering about how–if I knew my days outside of the clinker were numbered–I’d like to spend my time. This isn’t about disappearing; it’s about living it up. Sweeten chose Disney World; I might choose Rio with its pulsing life or all those canals of Amsterdam  or Paris with its Moules Frites and tiny cafes. How about you? Ah reader, do tell.

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