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Archive for the ‘memories’ Category

Recently my brother reminded me of a humorous yet tricky situation that happened when my daughter was a preschooler. Like many preschoolers, she loved watching Elmo, especially the “Elmo’s World” segment. Indeed, Elmo’s world had a lot going for it: a pet goldfish; The Noodles – silly mimes who visited; lots of crayons; and, of course, curious, giggly Elmo himself.

Turned out my daughter wasn’t satisfied to just observe this world; she wanted a real-life piece of it and knew the proper protocol for such a request. She asked me to call Elmo’s mom to arrange a play date for her and Elmo.

Oh, boy. So. How can a parent navigate this one without bursting the bubble and revealing that Elmo is not real? Well, in the years since, I thought several good ways to approach it (for example, claim that Elmo lives across the country and can’t have play dates in the area). Yes, so many good approaches years later. At the time, being sleep deficient and therefore unable to turn on a dime, I was stumped. I went with the everlasting deferment. She asked multiple times if I had phoned Elmo’s mom yet, and I said I hadn’t.

I was a total chicken! She eventually gave up. I’m not sure if her attention had moved on to other things, or if she concluded that I was unreliable on this task. But it’s funny to think about parenting challenges at 4 vs. those at 12.

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random bits

Do you ever have random memories pop into your head?  she asked.

His smile was a response, she knows he does not.  Her question was not a real inquiry anyway but, rather, a polite intro to her own reverie.

“I was remembering a very hot August Sunday afternoon.  I was about 9, out on the small porch on my grandparents’ apartment in Revere, Massachusetts.  

The small portable radio is at my side and I am laying on a thin bath towel. on top of the splintery wood floor. When I look up the sky is fragmented into uneven bits by a criscross of  wires that look like they have been there as long as the sky, but that couldn’t be.

‘Love is higher than a mountain, love is thicker than water . . . heaven’s angel, devil’s daughter.’  (Two separate women?  two sides of the same woman?)  Do I never hear that song anymore because it is so awful, or because i have fabricated it?

I feel like the big girls, my cousins who sun themselves by their outdoor pool, who Drink Soda and Talk About Boys.  I like to pretend I am becoming indoctrinated and try to ignore niggling questions like “How do they lie there uncomplaining and baking for hours at a time like glossy game hens?”  and  “Does anyone actually find this fun or is this the modern day Emperor’s New Clothes?”

I am bored but I don’t have the energy to get up for a long time.  The sun erased my will.  Eventually I do go inside, away from the too-intense sunshine and too-friendly hornets.

My mother begins, ‘Don’t let the screen door…’

whump.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I understand why the older ladies start wearing shawls.  Once you are marginalized, no-one gives you their heat.  No-one wants to touch you any longer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He loved her for her quirks.  The way her sounds of pleasure were small questions (“Oh?  Oh?”).  But mostly, for the things she was not.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She looked at the flags and wreaths adorning the gravestones with a grimace – the popularity contest doesn’t even end with death!

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I went to 3 different grad schools (two for Comm. Sciences & Disorders programs, and one for Secondary Ed).  Only finished the 3rd one.  I’d explain, but it’s a long story plus I have sold the rights to the Lifetime channel, who will be making a t.v. movie of it starring Meredith Baxter-Birney, costarring Danielle Brisbois as the sassy neighbor.

But I digress.

One summer evening in 1997, I was glaring at application forms.  I was in the middle of round 2 of applying for grad school.  I’d done everything but the essays.  Oh lordy, the essays.  You’d think since I like to write I wouldn’t mind doing essays, but for academic purposes I very much do.  Mind it.  With multiple choice tests, you circle answers and, right or wrong, you’re done.  With an essay, when are you done?  Some might say you are never truly done with a piece of writing.  Yes, well, for something that will be assessed, I find that fact unsettling and unsatisfying.

So, glaring at the applications.  Deeply wishing that some deus ex machina would sweep in and write them, or at least provide a legitimate reason to procrastinate, when the phone rang.  Normally one to ignore a phone, I leapt for it.

The young man on the line said that he was with a marketing research firm conducting a survey about the upcoming feature film “Beautician and the Beast”, starring “The Nanny’s” Fran Drescher.  He said it would take about 20 minutes of my time.  I was needed, people.

I practically shouted, “I’d love to take your survey!”.  He’d obviously had no takers that day because he was very surprised, kept thanking me, and had to rummage around to locate the survey questions.

The takeaway here?  I think your average person is not motivated to take surveys by the chance to win a prize or help a cause.  The big motivator is an opportunity to avoid something worse than your survey.  These are the people to locate, Mr. and Ms. Survey Launcher.  The downside is, your population will be 100% procrastinators.  This would typically not be an issue, however, unless you are looking to gauge interest in, say, a book called, “Get Off Yer Duff and Take Care of That Thing Already.”

Oh, and – you may have trouble getting these folks off the line.  Me, after being barraged by questions about Fran Drescher, beauticians, movie ads, beasts, and who knows what else, had feelings of genuine disappointment when the surveyor was wrapping up.

“So . . . that’s all the questions, huh?” I asked, trying to sound casual.  “You folks researching any other films?”  I could practically hear his finger hovering above the disconnect button.

Fine, I thought.  Just you wait until you decide to apply for school, mister.

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On prisons

~~The other day I found something I wrote, from Sept 2012, that I wanted to share.  The kiddo was 7.~~

“When people are in prison, their family and friends still come to see them and visit with them?” she asked during tuck-in.

“Yes, they usually do. If someone goes to prison it doesn’t mean you stop loving them. You might be angry at them – maybe very angry – but you wouldn’t stop loving them,” I said.

“I think I probably won’t ever go to prison,” said this pixie with missing teeth, so earnestly.

I kissed the top of her head. “Well, I doubt you will either. But even if you did, I would still love you.”

“You’d be mad, though?” she checked.

“I might be mad if you made bad choices that got you there,” I said. “But I’d always love you. Mommies’ and Daddies’ love never goes away, ever.”

“Even if you’re dead?” she asked.

Nobody knows! I just don’t know, my agnostic mind shouted.

But, “Even then,” is what I said.

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I’m no scholar.

I have a B.S., yes, and an M. Ed.  I have taken courses in literature and read books about poetry as well as many books of poetry.   I do not allege I am any expert of poetry, therefore the following statement may merely be a show of my ignorance.

However –

I can’t help but notice that over the last couple of years, the poems I have read in The New Yorker sound more and more like those nonsense spam emails – the ones that must exist for something like luring people to “unsubscribe” from a list and unwittingly confirm an active email account.  To me the poems lately seem distant and cold, robocalls of poetic expression, and hella disjointed.  I feel like I could grab phrases from fortune cookies, Bazooka Joe wrappers and Monopoly game Chance cards and string them together to create something similar.

Here’s one I made up that I think could fit right in:

“Do we not strive for a ladder, the blue

cat will not say:

Is there a Chanel store in this hogs’ earth?

Breaking the sixth board is

difficult for everyone, anyone.

If the glass shatters on His Cake

He may not nearly hear the cock crow in the morning.”

It almost seems like there is a contest happening for who can be the most obscure.  Except no one has informed the “dear readers.”

But then, I wonder.

Because, other people at the local mall could see the hidden image in those Magic Eye pictures and I never could.  I blinked and winked and squinted, moved in and out, and finally would state that it was a hoax, like the Emperor’s clothes – none of you really see that sailboat; you just say you do so you don’t feel left out.

And because other people slowly move from one side of a Pollock dribble to another – they step closer, move back, hand on chin.  I watch them watching the splotches and cannot father what it is that I cannot fathom.

There are too many people who have explained to me a deep meaning in a seemingly random post-modern story, or nonsensical-sounding punk song, for me to disregard all seeming obscurity.  So I think there is more to many creations I’ve initially dismissed.  In fact, I am related to someone I consider an amazing “close-seer.”  When I have scoffed at seemingly superficial creations (“sure it’s fun, but what does it mean?”), my brother often explains it to me in very persuasive detail.  The guys knows how to support his assertions.  He’s a master analogist and the English teacher’s dream.

When I was in college I was in the Sondheim musical “Assassins.”  I liked to sing and dance but looking back I think I was a rather shallow sort of performer.  I had never trained well enough to find deep and personal connections to content and characters (or if someone had tried to train me to do so, it didn’t take).  I don’t think I really wanted to connect, anyway – I wanted to escape and pretend – that was the whole point, for me.  I didn’t want to find the Me within the part.  I wanted to stop being me while I was in a show.  So, that is how I came to play a major role in this musical without having done much soul-searching or plumbing the hows and whys of these various assassins, would-be assassins and political figures.

I saw a hummable pageant.  My brother, a highschooler at the time, came to the show, and saw something else.  I made an offhand remark about liking the tunes bit not really feeling like the show had much to say.  After having seen it the one time, he gave a compelling analysis of what he believed Sondheim had put forth in this work, that floored me.  Of course these many years later I cannot remember now what his thesis was, likely dystopias and anti-heroes were a part of it.  But I do remember I looked at the show very differently after that, for the remaining few performances.  And wished I had cared enough to not assume that a master creator like Sondheim would phone it in and put on a hummable pageant just because I hadn’t spent the time to figure out what he was saying.  Or wanting people to think over.

I do remember that I shared my brother’s thoughts with the play’s director that night.  She was similarly amazed by his sophisticated and thoughtful views of the show’s meaning.  She was not one to be speechless yet this had left her mute for a bit, that it had come from a highschooler.

It’d obvious he’s a master analyst, and yet I’m the one whose job title actually has the word “analyst” in it.  He’s a code breaker, a decipherer.  He’s an actor now.  A real actor, not a pageant giver or jazz hand waver.  And perhaps that’s what true soulful acting is, after all – not my world of pretend but rather the product of a master sign-reader interpreting a text for the rest of us, who are blinking and winking and hoping for the hidden sailboat to appear in the Magic Eye picture before it’s time for Mom to pick us up at the food court.

If I indulged my paranoid side – which I generally don’t – I could start to wonder if there may be some subculture of such hyper sign-readers – maybe ads and New Yorker poems are merely coded messages being traded back and forth.  But, probably not.

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The more I read about Buddhist-related concepts, the more I realize what a devil of a time I’ve had with anticipation.  Not that I think that people are meant to not anticipate events and changes – I don’t think that’s possible – but I do think it’s instructive to reflect on how you perceive it and what role it may play in your temperament and approaches to situations.

When I was a youngster, my mother generally worked 3:00-11:00pm shifts as a nurse at a local nursing home, every other weekend.  Compared to the full-time workweeks she and I both work these days, that does not feel like a large amount of time working outside of the home, you know?  But at the time I did not like her working those shifts.

I can’t say exactly why – was I jealous that she was taking care of those non-family members instead of my brother and me?  Was I frightened that some harm would come to her in the evening going to the parking lot alone?  Was it simply that she was usually in the house when I went to bed, so the difference felt creepy and alien?  We usually had fun with my Dad, he’d make sure there was something special like playing card games.  It was more like I was akin to a herding dog – it just didn’t feel right until the whole family was gathered up.

But here’s the odd thing:  I remember having a certain secret joy on the weekends she worked because I knew the NEXT weekend, she would be home.  And yet the weekends she didn’t work, I felt somewhat mopey, because the following weekend: working again.  It’s odd and twisted, thinking back on it.  The anticipation colored each weekend, in a way – cheered up the work weekends, and rained on the home weekends.

The other thing I did was to force myself to stay awake until she arrived home around 11:15.  Anticipated her arrival for hours.  Keeping awake wasn’t overly difficult; all I needed to do was conjure up all of the terrible things I thought may happen to her while she was not with us, and I was wide awake.

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Sometimes my friends and acquaintances will come out with a statement so unexpected and baffling that I’m not sure where to start in responding to it.

This morning I was thinking about one such proclamation a friend of mine made a few years ago.  I don’t remember what we were discussing but I recall that she shook her head and said bemusedly, “Yeah; lesbians LOVE whale watches.”  In a tone that implied: as we all know.  And also implied: those kooky whale-lovin gals.

The comment was only minimally relevant to the conversation so, firstly, it took me by surprise.  Secondly, my friend is heterosexual and had not been, to my knowledge, fervently studying the Recreational Habits of the North American Lesbian (or of any subset of our culture).  I became distracted – is this one of those pop culture tidbits that others seem to pick up so easily but that I somehow miss, until one day I’m in my thirties, embarrassed and pleading for someone on the GODDAMN ONLINE  KNITTING FORUM to PLEASE explain what a “swirly” is??  Or maybe “whale watch” is some hip euphemism for something? (and noted to self look up on urban dictionary)

What is her source, I began to wonder?  Has an important article been published on this in a psychiatric or leisure time journal and I missed it?  Has she been working on a large-scale survey of lesbians and their favorite pastimes?  How would such a survey operate?  Not every lesbian would necessarily want to be identified as such, nor want to give feedback on what they like to do for fun.  How would you know who to give the survey to?  It’s not like the draft, where folks are required to register.

By this time she was on to a new topic, like where should we go for dinner.  I never did try to dig deeper into her statement; wasn’t sure where to start.  I could only hope that it wouldn’t lodge itself in my brain and get spit back out as a legitimate fact, say, in a PowerPoint presentation at work or in a cab with strangers.

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