(Needs a Title)

 

Lying in bed last night, he turned to ask what I was thinking about. “Vegetarians.”

I’ve been reading too much. I plunged headlong into JM Coetzee’s Disgrace earlier this week, spurred on by a friend’s disgust. This is generally a sure way to get me to do something. Say you hate it, I’ll hate it, the world must hate it – and I will love it to spite you, me, and the world. And that’s just what’s happened. I am sunk deep in this book. Coetzee has kept me up late, staring at the ceiling, considering vegetarianism. Cruelty and compassion. The many different meanings of the word ‘disgrace’.

This is how I drifted off to sleep.

And this is how I awoke, four hours later. I picked up Kirk Curnutt’s short stories thinking to shake off the solemnity. No idea why. I’ve read most of them already; they are not light-hearted. But I like them. In fact, I like each one better than the last. Kirk commented that they were dark and my first instinct was to disagree. They’re certainly not light though. What they are is thought-provoking. Hopefully Kirk won’t mind my reading some of Down in the Flood to you.

 

A dead man’s face tells you all you need to know about his life.              That’s what my dad told me the first time I was around to see the Chattahoochee bust the levee and drown up my hometown…

…I had to remind myself to keep my eyes on the water, not on her face. There was just something so exposed about her, though; I couldn’t help myself. I mean, I couldn’t get over the fact that here was someone I’d twice touched, once in life and once in death, and she’d brought out more in me now than she had then. I couldn’t figure why. Maybe death, even after you’re dead, can still strip you down one more layer of vulnerability…

…Some nights, the ones I can’t sleep, I find myself wondering what expression I’ll be wearing when I go. I even go so far as to practice. Silly as it sounds, I’ll purse my lips together and clamp my eyes shut, real stone like, or I’ll just lie back and try to let the most peaceful, relaxed feeling I know stretch out my skin. I do it, I guess, because I want to believe that whatever I’ve been through in my life can’t be summed up in a sentence or two. I want to think there’s a mystery to me that’s beyond observation, a meaning that can’t be reduced by a glance from a stanger’s eye. Maybe there’s not, I don’t know. But for now I’ll assume that there is, just so I don’t have to deal with knowing somebody’s going to claim to read me as I’ve claimed to have read so many others. My story’s mine, after all, and I’m taking my secrets with me.

 

Much as I’m enjoying Kirk’s stories and much as I’m fascinated by Coetzee’s ability to affect me, I need some fun. I remarked to a friend the other day that this is actually the kind of fun I like. Serious, cerebral. And that’s true. But sometimes just plain FUN fun is better for your soul. To be made light.

Walking alone at night in a foreign city I passed buskers on the sidewalk. The song made me pause and smile. I’d never heard it anywhere but on my own ipod. I swung round and called out “That’s my favorite song! How did you know?” and walked back to drop the last of my coins in a battered guitar case. I was delighted. They were delighted. We laughed and sang and that was about all they could do in English, but it was fun. Back in my hotel room I turned the TV on and was immediately treated to an advertisement for iplayer. The same song! It’s everyone’s favorite – Everywhere! I laughed at myself. Cavorting around the world, adventure after adventure, yet clearly I need to get out of my own head more often.

Tonight I turned the music up loud and watched my daughters dance. The boy shook his head and tried to cover his own enjoyment in watching them. He didn’t last long. I put down my book and made him dance with me.

Outlander

 

 

eilean-donan 

Last night I came home from book club, sat down with a cup of tea, began to type… and chickened out. The book? Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. A fellow reader’s favorite quote:

It was a “warm” Scottish day, meaning that the mist wasn’t quite heavy enough to qualify as a drizzle, but not far off, either. Suddenly the inn door opened, and the sun came out, in the person of James. If I was a radiant bride, the groom was positively resplendent. My mouth fell open and stayed that way.
A Highlander in full regalia is an impressive sight – any Highlander, no matter how old,  ill-favored, or crabbed up in appearance.  A tall, straight-bodied, and by no means ill-favored Highlander at close range is breath-taking.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read Outlander and I’d forgotten that passage. In truth, my favorite lines have nothing whatsoever to do with kilts. But I can assure you Diana knows what she’s talking about there. A tall, bekilted, and handsome Scotsman at close range is quite breath-taking. Yes. Quite…

Back to the book. I’m often ashamed to admit I’ve read – let alone loved – this book. I shouldn’t be. I’m a grown woman and can read what I want. I have no qualms about telling people I’m reading a 640 page book about Emerson, that I’ve read Mein Kampf,  that the biography of General Joshua L Chamberlain sent me into spasms of history geek happiness. And, believe me, I’ve gotten some strange looks when I’ve said those things. I don’t mind. This is different though. It’s… How shall I put this? Can I whisper it? Come closer.

(They enjoy one another. Thoroughly and at every opportunity.) (Extremely hot.)

This seems to bother some people.

Smut, they say. To which I shrug. I kind of like a little smut now and then. The dialect could be sprinkled less liberally as it is in later books of the series, but the characters are convincing, the historic aspects are well researched, and the whole thing gallops along with an energy that kept me rapt from beginning to end. The author doesn’t shy away from controversial subjects and that’s made for some great conversations with both men and women. With myself as well.

So take a wild romp across Scotland. Dare. Surrender and lose yourself in a story.

Eat the Yummy

 

Last night I phoned my stepmother from the bathroom. This is where I make my important calls. I block the door and turn on the fan to muffle sounds from the other side. Sometimes I go to the basement, but invariably the water pump will come on and the other person will say “What’s that noise? Where are you?” Besides, it’s cold. And we all know what’s down there. I am afraid of two things in this world: big, black spiders and hypodermic needles. Also crocodiles. And chat rooms. And dentists. And my daughter.

What would happen if you ate a box of Lactaid?

The whole box? Who would…

Guess.

Oh.

Lactaid is “a natural enzyme that breaks down lactose, a sugar found in milk, to help you digest dairy products without discomfort”. Because I had previously thought it was an actual drug not to be consumed in large quantities by four year-olds, the box was kept hidden on the very top shelf in a basket with things like razors, foot powder, and Tiger Balm. All the things the pixie had sampled before or I was afraid she would. The medicine cabinet may only contain things with childproof caps. Pixie-tested and Mother-approved. Another rule is that she is allowed no privacy – especially in bathrooms. It’s not that we don’t trust her. We just don’t trust her. The doors are not to be closed. She has filled the toothpaste tube with water, scrubbed the toilet with her toothbrush, bandaged her sister’s skinned knee with a feminine hygiene product, eaten my lipstick (yes, I said ‘eaten’), rubbed herself all over with IcyHot (after which she ran through the house howling in pain for the entertainment of dinner guests), covered the floor in foot powder, and painted the sink with nail polish. This is just in the bathroom. It’s not that we don’t trust her… but last week she tried to eat Krazy Glue.

I told my stepmother all this and more. I wailed.

I don’t deserve this.

silence

I don’t!

Are you sure?

What? No! Yes, I’m sure!

laughter

I took a quick inventory of things she might remember – vividly. Nope. Nothing of this caliber. I don’t think.

When I’d burst in on the pixie after two minutes with the bathroom door closed I took a suspicious look around. Nothing looked out of place. Not more than usual. I knew she’d done something; I’m her mother. I know that smile that pretends innocence. I invented it. A few hours later my suspicions were confirmed by the pile of empty Lactaid packets hidden behind the sink. I asked why she had eaten them and she shrugged. “They were yummy.” And how can you argue with that? I told a friend and he laughed. “Damn straight. Eat the yummy.”

Well. Luckily I’m not lactose intolerant. And luckily there are no narcotics in the house. And luckily some good things happened this past week.

 

Among them, I finished reading Logue’s War Music which was nothing short of magnificent. I tried to pick out a few passages to copy here for you, but it’s too hard to choose. I’d wind up transcribing the entire book and that would be silly. Go buy your own. If you have any interest in Homer, Greek history, poetry, or being moved by the music of well-crafted words – Do it now!

 

Page 1:

Picture the east Aegean sea by night,

And on a beach aslant its shimmering

Upwards of 50, 000 men

Asleep like spoons beside their lethal Fleet.

 

Now look along that beach, and see

Between the keels hatching its western dunes

A ten-foot-high reed wall faced with black clay

And split by a double-doored gate;

Then through the gate a naked man

Whose beauty’s silent power stops your heart

Fast walk, face wet with tears, out past its guard,

And having vanished from their sight

Run with what seems to break the speed of light

Across the dry, then damp, then sand invisible

Beneath inch-high waves that slide

Over each other’s luminescent panes;

Then kneel among those panes, beggar his arms, and say:

 

 

 

Magical Realism

 

wind-from-the-sea

 

Last Sunday morning I was pretending to write something of terrible importance here while furtively checking my e-mail. I drank my tea, picked out my password with two fingers of my right hand, and considered going to church. Then I found out about the Andrew Wyeth tribute at the Brandywine River Art Museum. ooooooh…

Not that the Brandywine River Museum normally highlights artists who aren’t Wyeths. This was something special though. Christina’s World was on loan for the weekend from the Museum of Modern Art. It rarely leaves New York City. This is not one of my favorite paintings honestly, but the chance to see such an icon of American art up close and personal in a setting as intimate as the Brandywine made me more than a little excited. I vibrated with it. And, of course, it’s Andrew Wyeth. I am a self-confessed Wyeth-ite. I know. What could be more obvious, right? A serious artist would eschew such rustic realism. This is not the stuff of great art. It’s too provincial. Too acceptable to the masses. But I do consider myself a serious artist and I love Wyeth’s work. It’s realistic, yes. There’s more to it than that though. There’s an element of mystery often that verges on mysticism. Something other-worldly and slightly surreal. Magic. And in Wyeth’s paintings there’s always a story unfolding. You have to look quietly, to listen with your eyes. Someone’s just left the room, there’s a breath taken, a pause…

“It’s a moment that I’m after, a fleeting moment, but not a frozen moment.”

That’s the quote that was next to his Snow Hill. Again, not a favorite of mine but I like the quote. I came across another quote paired with a painting and searched the room for someone with a pen. The man I spotted making notes of his own handed me his pen as if he had some choice in the matter. It was cute. He even tried a little small talk. He’s never been to a gallery with me.

“I do an awful lot of thinking and dreaming about things in the past and the future – the timelessness of the rocks and the hills – all the people who have existed there. I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.”

Although I don’t really prefer winter (At all! It’s cold!) to any other season, I read that and thought: Yes. Exactly. And then I remembered I’d drug four children and a husband along. Not hearing them made me nervous. But there they all were, admiring Christina’s World from a respectable distance, held back by stanchions and rope. The sight made me smile. My nine year-old and I had had a scholarly discussion of that very painting on the drive to the museum. There’s a print of it hanging in the art room at school and so she knew all about it. “Are you going to buy it, Mom?” she had asked. And there she was, reveling in the fact that she was standing within two feet of it. She could tell her teacher and say “My mom decided not to buy it”. She asked a lot of questions. This child has a gift for interrogation. She’s verbally interactive. Her mother frequently is not. But she’d hit my weak spot. I could have gabbed about texture techniques and negative space till they died of boredom. Catching my son’s eye I knew they were close to it. But they were good and as we walked he admired the realism of the water and assorted livestock. The nine year-old kept up the barrage of questions. “Who’s that? What happened to her? Is she naked? How did he get those pumpkins stacked like that? Is that dog asleep? It looks like he used white paint. I thought you said it wasn’t cool to use white paint in watercolor. Is this a watercolor? What’s egg tempera? It looks like white paint…”

sigh

We made our way through, wondering at an elderly man that painted motorcycles at stop lights and at the mastery of his last painting – aptly titled Goodbye. Then we visited his father, NC Wyeth. Left the white on white of the special exhibit gallery, filled with the seeming lightness of watercolor and egg tempera, and entered the dark, barnlike gallery of huge, heavy oils depicting shipwrecks and swordfights. My son stepped in and his eyes grew big. “Wow!” Scenes from Treasure Island, The Black Arrow, Last of the Mohicans, and more surrounded us, including my personal favorite, RL Stevenson’s Kidnapped. The pixie shouted “Is that guy dead?” and patted The Siege of the Round-House, a huge painting of a scene from Kidnapped. All five fingers and a palm. She leaned. Hard. The canvas sagged inward. I was twenty feet away and paralyzed by horror and – I’ll admit – awe. This child of mine has touched an NC Wyeth painting. Completely and totally touched it. Loved it without reservation, left her imprint upon it and made it her own. It’s a sight I hope I never forget. This is the way she lives. Fully. When I say to friends that I fear for the world for her sake, this is what I mean. There’s no moderation in her. She consumes life and everyone in it whole and all I can do is watch in horror and awe. This is the way NC Wyeth lived; The way Andrew Wyeth was raised. Beneath those fine fairy features she is brilliant, wild, genius, and I have to remember to rejoice, if tremblingly, in it.

 wyeth-collage