Monday, January 24, 2011

Mother of Sorrows

Quite possibly pure genius!
Richard is currently teaching at VCFA but he is also the co-directer of the creative writing program at American University.
In an NPR Interview Richard said that it took him seventeen years to write this book which is about his mother and himself and his brother growing up in suburbia. Published as "fiction," Richard says he had worked on it as nonfiction up until it was time for the book to be published and his publisher decided to publish it as fiction, because Richard says, he omitted too much for it to be a memoir.
I attended his lecture at this Winter's VCFA residency, where he said "I think of myself as writing from life." He then quoted Rilke, "A work of art is good if it is sprung from necessity." MOS springs exactly from this place. He said at his lecture, "You must find re-entry into the scene you are writing about; you must double as both character and writer, therapist and patient." Which is exactly what he accomplishes in MOS.
His story "My Brother in the Basement" has one of the most amazing, startling, perfect endings I've ever read.
Here is just a tiny snippet from the book:

My brother, Davis, went to his room, where he listened to Radio Moscow on his shortwave. As for me: I cleared the table.

“Sit with me, son,” my mother said. “Let's pretend we're sitting this dance out.”

She told me I was her best friend. She said I had the heart to understand her. She was forty-six. I was nine.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

O Brother!

So here's the text I get from my brother Aden (17 y.o.) yesterday. It's ten thirty Minnesota time so I can't imagine what he's up to at school. Not that I should worry he's a 4.0 student who scores off the charts on standardized tests which seem to be the main show at public schools these days. It isn't the first time my brother has sent me a juvi-sexist commentary. A few months back he dropped an Aristotle quote on my FB page about women being the lower sex which spawned a rather hilarious uproar on my page, most likely the sought after response of little bro.

Aden's the baby of the family and I'm the oldest, because there are six kids and I'm thirteen years his senior, it would seem like we're worlds apart. Aden loves spending weekends at home, trotting out to the heated garage to shoot hoops, watching TV, texting and so on. My mom makes him lunch, special dinners of meat and potatoes, and loves him up as much as he'll allow. I, on the other hand, at the ripe old age of 17, wanted out. I was never home, I fought bitterly with my parents, I didn't follow the rules (either in the house or in the world) I didn't score well on any sort of standardized test and wasn't exactly raking in the As. However, Aden and I share one solid quality which I think has to do with our shared Astrological Moon in the sign of Leo. We both love to ham it up and our primary form of affection has to do with riffling feathers and poking good fun at our beloveds, hence in my opinion, the juvi-sexism my brother displays.

I call it “juvi-sexism” because I think its an unrealized, empty mouthing of influences—peers, parents, and for Aden, rappers. What I think lies behind it is merely the fact that the variables involved (women) remain for him and others, wildly unknown. Yet, the pressures in play are very real for him. A boy of his age must spend most of his time thinking about girls and wondering what his relationship to them is, will be, and so on. The less experience (God he would die if he read this), the more mysterious, and thus the more able he is to project fantasies and learned concepts onto the body of the mysterious, ever-sought after, Other. Still at this young age, women remain in opposition to him, they represent a space of “not-me.” Probably Aden will not be (unlike my husband) one of those sex crazed men that show boats a sensitive side as a way to connect and seal the deal with women. My husband is, I should add, extremely sensitive, for real, and not at all sex-crazed.

Still, let me reign it in a little here. Aden isn't some statistic, he isn't a pretend imagined in the grand explanation land of Emily-World. He's my little bro, and most importantly, he has five older sisters none of which are passive or reserved, all of which are wildly competitive, big-mouthed, and opinionated. Aden has a specific relationship with each sister, closer to some than others in all sorts of different ways. He has seen a deeper world through their eyes: marriage, painful breakups, college, graduate school, jobs, international travel, community activism, social justice worldviews, Religiosity, anger, sorrow, doubt, love, joy, and play. Unlike me, the oldest, the first, the one that sort of ran off in a state of confusion and unrest, Aden seems to me to be deeply and well prepared for the world at large. Having seen the dozens of doors opened and passed through by his sisters, Aden has a broader and more secure sense of possibility. Yet, Aden doesn't want to leave home. He thinks about a. working for the DNR so he doesn't have to drive to town to go to work (the family lives in the country) or b. becoming a lawyer like one of his sisters and joining her local practice.

For awhile I thought that Aden told me certain things having to do with say his friends behavior towards women or Aristotle's opinion, or the above text because he wanted me to confirm for him that this wasn't cool. I thought that perhaps our father didn't confirm that for him, perhaps our father reinforced a black and white world view where there are two categories of right and wrong, man and woman, no gray area. I fed him stats on how many women in America are raped, for example one in four, which means that statistically one of his sisters will suffer rape. I tell him that for most straight men their relationship with a woman partner will be the most significant relationship in their lives and what the culture at large teaches men only makes it virtually impossible for them to connect with women and have a successful relationship with a woman. I tell him that his sisters all make money and most of them actually make more money than their male partner, so no in fact that physics equation isn't true.

Later, my husband tells me about the text, he also got it. I ask him what he said. “I said that's funny but don't tell Emily I said that.”
“Nice. Asshole.”

But Josh doesn't mean to be harmful in any way. Josh responded like that because he knew that was how he could bond with my brother, by upholding the old standard rat-a-tat-tat about women that keeps men so close, and yet so far apart. Josh believes that being close with the people he loves is more important. I get that, I wish mostly that I could be more like him. But then I wonder how many more women need to be sacrificed for men to realize that even the small joke pitting men against women, making us the “other,” the mysterious, dark, netherworld of man's imagination, not only contributes to but upholds and maintains and generates violence against women.

I think about Aden's Leo Moon, remembering how sensitive it also makes him, emotionally in particular, and how hurt he will get by the world, and yes, by women as well as men. He will be let down, he will fear that he is unlovable or unloving, he will find bitterness and confusion in his relationships. What would I give him if I could give him one tiny thing to carry with him as he sets his sail to the wind?

Curiosity. I would give him a little Curious George to sit on his shoulder all the days of his youth. Just stay open, stay aware, observe, see, consider, remain curious, Aden. Be willing and ready to change your mind. Understand that the ability to change your mind in order to find out what you truly believe about the world, will be your greatest asset.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Work of Art


"A work of art is good if it comes from a place of necessity"
-Rilke

Monday, January 17, 2011

Good Ol' Gramps & the Winter Blues


It's January. Mid-January and I feel myself being sucked into the winter blues. I'm not unprepared. I'm armed with herbal teas, lentil recipes, vitamins (Vit D 5000!), a hot yoga 10-card pass, and a writing life to wrangle. Still, I can't help feeling blue, its just the way my Icelandic, Irish, English, German, Slovenian, etc. etc. genetics made me, that and a lot of excessive youth-induced indulgences I'll admit. But, I'm so fucking clean I squeak these days and still, I find the only peace that comes with my daily non-grind is walking in any kind of winter weather until my nose goes numb and my cheeks turn to cherries. I know, poor me, boo-hoo these are such luxury problems! Right now I have the thing I've always wanted most: Time, and its giving me the crazies--of the bat shit category.
So, after spending a short span of time cooking an extremely healthful dinner for 1 (my honey was at a meeting this evening) I sat down to slug through blogs as a way to cope and pass away the time until my husband returns with new episodes of Dexter or the clock gets to a place where it seems ok I hit the hay. After some time updating a Reading Blog a friend and I just started, then updated my Blog Roll a bit here, I started to feel genuinely better, more connected and lighter. Why Oh why? I remembered that the other day I got an FB email from a former VCFA workshopper and responding I felt like I was a better writer, a smarter writer a well connected one too. Hah. None of this is true of course, but if success is a state of mind so is joy, right or at least feeling "OKAY," which for me means not wanting to off myself, okay, I'm kidding a little. (More on this later perhaps)
So, feeling a bit lighter I started looking at photos on my phone from Christmas break and I came across the above shared: Picture of My dear old Grandpa Roger. What a guy! It was his birthday in that photo and he was turning something in the mid-eighties I think. It was my grandpa's last Christmas and Birthday at his home on Perch Lake in Northern MN, across the lake from my parents. He decided on his own to go into an Assisted Living facility twenty miles or so away from his home. The family (an enormous one--he and Honey had 7 kids) thinks he was getting lonely (and of course, forgetful).
Reflecting back, I'm not really sure when Grandpa went from the big guy I sort of ran from to the old softy he is today. More than ten years ago my grandma, his wife Honey, started to suffer from Alzheimer's. The disease took her quickly, but she is still alive today, though she can't speak anymore really and it doesn't seem that she knows us. My dad always says, "We don't know, she could, what if she can, as long as that chance exists I want to be there for her." I agree, but I don't visit her. In my mind she exists the way she was before the disease took her. In my mind she has been gone a long time and she hasn't been gone at all. I do stop in once a year or so when I'm in MN, but for the most part her seven kids and some of the dozen plus grand kids who live in the area, stop to see her, care for, and so on. Grandpa Rog, however, for a long time now has been visiting her daily and I'm sure he'll continue to do so even at his new place. He goes to the nursing home where she lives now and takes her to dinner. Sits with her and feeds her.
I miss the days of after school at Grandma Honey's watching the Brady Bunch and cartoons, eating Little Debbies, hiding from Grandpa when he got home from work at the family Pharmacy, afraid of his big gruff voice. It seems funny to arrive here in a tiny Vermont apartment married, writing, trying to kick the winter blues. Kisses Honey and Rog!