Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Best Years of Our Lives

The Jewish new year races in on dark autumn clouds and I'm cleaning house: throwing ballast, the rubbish and old rain boots, the matchless socks and phone bills from a number long erased, electric bills of an apartment that now holds the life of strangers; lidless burned out pots and pans, the clocks that stopped forever.

Reaching up to dust the shelves, I find again the journals, a row of frayed black sketchbooks filled with three decades of my story.

It's extraordinary to be able to look back in this way, as a historian examines primary source material. Grand themes in the pages: loves, lost and found, sex, marriage, birth, death. The world seen through the eyes of a schoolgirl, the growing up years, the years of uncertainty, dreams, desire, and loss, the quest for love and acceptance. My parents and grandparents are in there, all my family, from that precious time when I could still refer to them in passing, as we met often in the hall and I was always on my way to somewhere else, not really knowing how quickly things change and people leave, and that I should have stopped for a moment to listen and hear while I still had the chance; the new dress on its hanger was in no rush to be worn, and the boy could wait, slouching at my door. I could still refer to the dear ones dismissively, peripherally, when everyone was still together and alive and could be taken for granted.

There are empty spaces here and there: it is 1996 and then, all of a sudden, 1998: "...Alex and I have been married two years now!"

There are periods of garrulous, compulsive recounting: years of pages filled to the margins with tiny detail of wardrobe and crush, the things said, eaten, music of the moment and books read, little obsessions. Parties are vivid here, the little toy favors of childhood birthdays, and, later, those innocent debauches when the Brooklyn cops came, impatient and preoccupied, to spare the neighbors. Mementoes fall into my hands: last remaining petal from a rose tossed to me, by the Rev Al Green, at a concert in the park. Photo booth strip of young me and Alex, black-and-white looks between us so tender that they animate the static frames. And a tiny secret note from the eight-year-old daughter of a roommate I had in graduate school, slipped into my hand as she brushed by: "you are the best friend I evar had and I hope you new that."

In all those pages I'm there, as a child as a teenager a young adult as I am now. My flaws and faults are clear: vain, proud, arrogant, anxious, hot-headed, distractible. I like to talk about myself, I like clothes and shoes a bit too much. I retreat from people, sometimes, when I'm needed.

But there's something else too, a certain recapitulated variation on a theme. Through it all, through the very hard times and the very good times, I can count on the fact, as surely as I can count on rain and sun and day and night, that I will never tire of the clamor of life: its steady routine and its exigencies, the profane dreams and the clean sheets, the bittersweet flow of days and years, mad and sane, troubled or peaceful, all its variation and endless possibility.

photo of a stack of my old journals

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rejected Post Topics Part 3

My mind is traveling here and there without fully alighting anywhere. So here, in relaxing list format, are some post topics I've considered and then rejected:

1. My romantic dream about Adrian Monk

2. Lesson that should've been learned from Valley of the Dolls: pills and vodka do not mix, my friend. Not even one pill and one vodka shot, not even in a moment of frivolity.

3. Before you lambast the NYPD, consider this: the nature of their jobs and the fact that, while you are hiding in your vestibule, or behind a bush, cheerfully hurling accusations of racism and police brutality into your camera phone while sipping cocoa and peeking out at the scene through double-paned glass or thick shrubbery, they must actively engage with it.

4. The grumpiness of tweens and how sometimes an offer of a cookie and a hug will diffuse that. Just like when they were three!

5. Too bad the focus was taken away from (creepy I'll admit) Michele Bachmann's initial take-down of Perry's mandatory HPV vaccine. And since when did hard science or objective evaluation research findings EVER STOP monomaniacal lobbyists on either side of the political spectrum?!

6. I propose that we employ a law enforcement staff who will serve the sole purpose of lurking around adolescents on dates and then holding them down to forcibly strap on rubbers at the moment of sexual contact. And if said law enforcement were kitted out in mirrored sunglasses and leather boots, I suppose they could serve as a Third! And let's call them The Rubber Squad. And fund them with tax dollars.

7. While we're at it, Mayor Bloomberg, let's use tax dollars to fund an attractive band of yoga instructors who will roam the city, knocking cigarettes and Cokes out of our hands, pin us down between their yoga thighs, and stroke our brows with calming flower essence. Yes, let's!

8. Department of Transportation public service ads importuning the NYC bicyclist: "don't be a jerk!" Suggests too many NYC bicyclists are being jerks. Doesn't help their public cause...maybe a private mail campaign sent only to jerks?

9. pumpkin-flavored food items celebrating autumn: do we like them or are we wary?

10. Although women certainly don't ask to be raped, unless they're into role-playing B and D, it is to say the least ill-advised to stumble off from your group of girlfriends, at 2 a.m., heavily drunk and a walking bullseye. Harden your target, ladies!

11. Men who take up women's causes and then argue with women over women's causes are immediately suspect. I call it the New Sexism.

12. Pounding three shots of espresso wakes you up but then gives you the shakes: cost-benefit analysis?

13. Telling military men and women that you support them but not their job is like telling your mom that you love and respect her even though she sucks as a parent and well actually now that you have considered it, you don't love or respect her that much after all.

14. For the love of god, think before you hit send on that email.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ad Astra

These rocket thrusters, photographed at NASA in Houston, Texas, were some of the most hauntingly beautiful things I've ever seen: the inner rounds of them like whorls on a massive seashell, like things found in nature, realized in metal.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New Boots

I've been trying to figure out what one does with a commentless blog, because I am so used to blogging with an eye to receiving comments.

I had another rant planned, but I was too busy to indulge myself today, so instead, I'm posting a photo of my new boots.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Two Lights above the Sea

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea--

(from 'Ars Poetica' by Archibald MacLeish; photo of the twin tower memorial lights taken outside my house in Brooklyn)

Friday, September 2, 2011

What Do I Tell My Daughter about September 11?

My daughter is the child of a 9/11 First Responder, and at ten-going-on-eleven, she's finally beginning to ask questions.

In the last 10 years, like so many children her age, she's held onto the specter of apocalypse, of falling skyscrapers, dust plumes that billowed as high as buildings. Daddy ran out of the house that morning to do his job, but wasn't missed during those long 3 days of absence by a baby who knew nothing of life but nursing and the cardboard block tower she built and wrecked over and over, in unwitting metaphor. In these last years, the threat was as dim as the threat of volcanoes learned in lower-school science unit, or a long-ago hurricane tempered by a funny anecdote of Daddy, in its quiet eye, asking to go out for ice pops promised in the heat of a South Texas afternoon.

We are a family that likes to keep memories. Writers, journal-keepers, recounters of stories--we keep history in words and telling. I knew once a generation of soldiers, back from the war, many of whom kept their secrets to themselves--Grandpa Ozzy, a tall, kind, and taciturn man, crawled the beach at Normandy on D-Day, amidst the bodies, dead or screaming, the sand and blood under his nails, the radio pack on his back slowing him down like the worst anxiety dream. He returned from the war quite deaf from the explosions all around him, and very very quiet on the subject, an anomaly in a family of Chroniclers. His memories were never told, and died with him.

As a child, I knew, and wondered, and knew not to ask him.

And now Elanor wonders, and, as we are consummate Tellers, we'll tell. Even Daddy, who is the chief memory-keeper of this particular bad dream, the one who, when the light hits him just right, is covered still in ghostly remnant of toxic dust and all the sights and sounds, even Daddy will tell.

But tell what, and how much? What details to tell, what to keep?

It is always said of children that they like an ordered, safe, predictable world. They like a hint of danger; to build pillow forts against it; to keep a tin of snacks and a flashlight for the tiny apocalypse or the little storm--but they want to believe in their own bodily integrity, and that life will move on smoothly, that bedtime will come, and after it the boring school day.

So there is a choice now. What to tell? The falling bodies of those who committed suicide rather than burn alive, or suffocate. Nightmare unending dusk, when Daddy and his comrades paced the unpeopled city, protectors of a mass grave. The fear that seizes us when we know real chaos and dust, blood and sand, noise and finally the silence of the low road.

Or the idea of a bravery so profound that it sent people down in an airplane to crash and die, knowing they would crash and die, knowing they were being used as a missile and choosing not to be that missile, choosing to die instead and spare others?

I started to tell her the story of that plane, and in doing so hoped, in my usual grand but well-meaning style, that I was telling her the whole history of great and terrible acts of human courage. But my story caught and stopped, and though not crying, I couldn't go on.

Well, perhaps another day. For I have to believe we have all the time in the world.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone