Wednesday, September 30, 2009



For some reason, I tucked the camera in my pocket when I went out to walk the dogs. First I had to Xerox handouts for today's Photo I class since the office manager is out with a shoulder problem. Then, I had time for a walk near Targets. 

How is it possible that I found mushrooms like this in a little park near Targets?

I've never seen any like this before.

And right by Targets.

How lucky.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Philip Roth, "The Dying Animal."

Today, while I was yet again uselessly throwing away the stuff that piles up, I found something I must have clipped from the NY Times book review...Philip Roth, from "The Dying Animal."

"Kepesh's complaint.
     There's a distinction to be made between dying and death. It's not all uninterrupted dying. If one's healthy and feeling well, it's invisible dying. The end that is a certainty is not necessarily boldly announced. No, you can't understand. The only thing you understand about the old when you're not old is that they have been stamped by their time. But understanding only that freezes them in their time, and so amounts to no understanding at all. To those not yet old, being old means you've been. But being old also means that despite, in addition to, and in excess of your beenness, you still are. Your beenness is very much alive. You still are, and one is as haunted by the still-being and its fullness as by the having-already-been, by the pastness. Think of old age this way: it's just an everyday fact that one's life is at stake. One cannot evade knowing what shortly awaits one. The silence that will surround one forever. Otherwise it's all the same. Otherwise one is immortal for as long as one lives."

I have to admit to having read only one book by Philip Roth which I didn't like all that much. Very didactic. Can't even remember the name of it, but it was published in the last six or seven years. 

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Joycie was always beautiful, dynamic and opinionated. I used to sit on her couch in the tiny living room listening to the stories of what happened during her day, who said what, did what. Was that in 1972? Somewhere around there.

She's here visiting Orson and Jim. They went out, so while she was eating the rice and roast that Jim had heated up for her before he left, she told me stories about now, in her apartment in New York. And oddly, now was quite a bit like then. With many people coming to her door, sitting in the kitchen or living room, talking to her. Now it's the three women who come to do little things -- take her out, clean a bit, help her shower. One is from Africa, she forgets just where.  One is Spanish. The other is from somewhere else. Each has a story to tell, something about children, about families, about problems and difficulties. And there's a new tenant living across the hall who comes in to talk to her. He lost his job. He got another one. And the woman next door, a nurse, who used to do Joycie's laundry. And Joe who moved from 11th Street, but still comes by to see her. And there's the guy from Jamaica who scraped the pipe in her living room and painted it. And the new super who is very, very  nice. His grandchild comes with him sometimes and Joycie bought her a doll about this big.

She will be ninety on December 4th. When we met, I had no idea that we both would get old. I was just fascinated by her audacity, the way she juggled jobs to support her children, was determined to get them the best educations so that they could have opportunities she couldn't have had.  

There was a difficult period of time not all that long ago when she wasn't at all pleased about this aging process. But both of her children, Orson and Roma, managed it very well, supporting her with good help and calm care. It's just amazing to see the adjustment she's made.

And to still be listening to her stories.

And to hear how many people she's listening to and telling stories to.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Coveting Stories

When I tell Krissy a story, which I rarely do because she's the talker, I have to say, "I'll tell you this, but you can't use it." Sometimes I only get through the first few sentences and she starts jumping up and down, "Oh, no, I have to have that. I need that line for a monologue. I need it." Sometimes I have even better stuff to say after that, but she is still thinking about the perfect line, the perfect idea, that she can't use because I want to use it.We are scavengers, listening all the time for good stories. I will use the line she couldn't have and the rest of that material (which was really good) in a poem. She will undoubtedly use it in a play or a monologue or in something. Or she will tell people about this wonderful sentence her mother told her that she's not allowed to use, selfish mother, and someone else will use it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

This morning, Harry, a trainer who rides his horses, said, "In hard times, monkeys eat hot peppers" and "When I first started in this business, a trainer told me -- keep yourself in the best company and your horses in the worst company and you'll do alright." 

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Reunion and a Lesson About the Mechanics of Sex

So, Leo said that at dinner he'd tell us the story of how Melissa Shook introduced him to sex. But he couldn't wait. It was late afternoon, we were sitting in the sun, a slight chill, out on the porch (it was painfully apparent that we were in, near, around, later than our seventies, my god, why was I there?) and so he decided to tell the story then, not wait.

It took place in 3rd or 4th grade when he was in love with the beautiful Melissa Shook who he tried to visit as often as possible. When he got home one time, he asked his mother to explain how to have babies. She said, "If you stand very close to the one you love, the seed will pass." And so, he said, he followed me down the hall at Main Street School endlessly, but nothing happened.

I actually remember Leo coming over to my house which is quite amazing because I don't remember my mother or father from those years. But Leo came over and he broke his glasses and I felt really, really terrible. I remember feeling terrible. That this happened. I've always remembered this, counted it as one of the solid memories from those years I've forgotten before my mother died when I was twelve.

Leo doesn't remember breaking his glasses.

I have to say that being beautiful, if I was, was a hideous curse. It would have been far better to be plain, ignorable, and allowed to proceed on to learn something.

Monday, September 21, 2009

This was one really good thing that happened last weekend at the little reunion. I got to drive this golf cart up a rolling pasture and through the woods on a steep, rocky path. And have a touching conversation, interesting conversation while doing it. 

We were all heading toward a small meditation building on the top of a hill, or perhaps a low mountain. I am normally quite cranky when confronted with evidence of privilege. I take this to be a flaw because it leaves me without charity, but that's the problem -- if I knew just how much money a wealthy person was giving away for useful purposes, I'd be a lot nicer, or more charitable. But that's usually not information I have, so I'm just cranky.

I should have, given who I am, been cranky about all this -- the rolling meadow dotted with cows that Helen's friend calls outdoor art, the golf cart, and, most of all, the small building that was on top of that mountain, the exterior of which had been recently sealed by visiting sherpas. (Give me a break.)

But I  mellowed the instant I walked into the building, realizing that I might be able to sit there, to think, to write, wasn't it quite amazing? It wasn't the scene, mountains in the distance, that I wasn't interested in. (I'm biased against mountains, also.) Or the music. Or the carefully chosen books and objects. But some intangible sense of peace. I could almost ignore that a monied person owned it. 

And then, of course, there was the golf cart ride down. 
I don't know, can't really remember, who this person was, though I imagine that I had a fairly easy time imagining her script as I went along.

This must be the high school yearbook photograph. For four or five years, I'd been really sick with ulcerative colitis, terrible pain that made me double up, followed by a toilet bowl filled with fresh blood. 

Was it between my eighth and ninth grades that I'd landed in the hospital in Chicago? I had been taken there to summer with my step-mother and her second husband in his house on the river. There was a one-armed bandit in a bar a short distance away. Many tiny frogs. And a water macosin (spelling?) in what was once a fountain area in a neglected rock garden on his property. That was when I had to whisper mother and call her Lou out loud. I remember that the colitis stopped as soon as I was admitted to the hospital, but that didn't prevent them from giving me a transfusion because I'd lost so much blood. 

Perhaps I was in eleventh grade, when someone suggested a specialist who thought that all my problems came from a poor diet. He was doing a research paper on this, I think, or perhaps I imagined that I became one of his subjects because he was so interested in my case. His prescription for food lead my father to do the shopping, for bags of food to be brought into the house, and for me to start feeling better until my step-mother returned from a visit to her second husband in Chicago and I became just as sick as I'd ever been.

I imagine that, except for one very bad time when I lost twenty-five pounds, I looked pretty good, managing to say the lines I thought appropriate. I've forgotten so much of that time, but not the fact that I was sure that no one was going to help me.

My Stepmother's Family Reunion, 1980

I hadn't been collecting evidence, though I'd already become a photographer and been to a number of psychiatrists and therapists starting when I was nineteen.

I can't recall why I had the nerve to take this image of my father sleeping on the floor during Mari's family reunion. She was very protective of him, so perhaps she wasn't around or noticing. I imagine the scene, since I don't entirely remember the circumstances, with other people sitting around in the living room. But it could be that they were outside playing card and my father just wandered off and went to sleep on the floor.

At any rate, it was an entirely familiar to me, a sight I'd witnessed many times after he'd quietly drunk himself into the desire for sleep. Usually he was the host, pouring many large glasses of Scotch or whatever for guests. He was a great one for quietly insisting that everyone have another drink.

My stepmother, who adored my father, her first husband, her only husband, thought that the sun rose when he did which was quite early every morning. They had a remarkable relationship that started when each were in their mid-fifties and he met her again, perhaps slightly before he divorced my first stepmother.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Reunion

It took many phone calls from Jeanne to convince me to try out the reunion of a few folks from high school, most of whom I hadn't seen since 1957. She was very good about calling, speaking to me in a rather strict voice as if she would take no silliness,  but always conveying support and understanding. Her skills are considerable and I agreed.

And then I panicked and said I'd go for Thursday night when Helen and Ros would be there, when we'd stay at her house in Portland. This seemed safe enough. Ros and I had a number of interesting conversations before the 50 year class reunion which I skittered away from at the last minute. And I did remember Helen from high school and knew that she's been a midwife...surely there were good stories there. And married a musician, so she might know someone of the people I knew. Safe. But. I would leave Friday morning. More calls from Jeanne and I agreed to stay until Saturday because Helen was staying until then and could drive me back to the bus.
Now staying until Saturday was a big deal because as of Friday at noon, I'd be marooned and  couldn't escape from the lodge, where Jeanne and her husband were hosting us, unless I was driven a couple of hours to a bus station. I hate highways and didn't want to drive my car to Maine. What was worse? Highway driving? Or being stuck, trapped, unable to escape, until Saturday? I agreed to go this far, let me repeat, because Helen was going to drive me on Saturday. 

I'm not great on social gatherings. No, let's say that I get very anxious. I've been known to walk up to the door of a party given by friends and walk away again without ringing the bell. I'm a pain in the ass to get anywhere. And no amount of success in talking to strangers, once I'm forced to do that, has changed this initial internal panic. 

And high school was a wretched time when I played the part of the normal teenager while living with a father who often slept in the bathtub at night (turning on the hot water when he got cold as if pulling up a blanket from the bottom of the bed.) With a step-mother, the nurse who had brought my mother home from the hospital to die and immediately saw a good thing in my father and his large house, and who spent much of the six years they were married back in Chicago visiting her second husband who never knew she's married a third. When she was with us, I got terribly sick -- ulcerative colitis. And with my teatoatling (perhaps the spelling isn't correct, but believe me, the sentiment is there) grandmother lived with us for some of that time, lonely for her church-going Eastern Star friends in Ohio, coming out of her room only to watch Kate Smith and very occasionally to slowly, slowly scuffle up the stairs to hunt in my father's closet for his bottles of Scotch. I didn't know anyone who lived in similar chaotic conditions. Those were the days before anyone spoke easily of alcoholism or other forms of wretched family dysfunction. Nor was there much discussion about the effect the death of a mother has on a child.

How could I imagine that five of us in this little reunion had equal, if not greater, difficulties growing up? That they went through high school, that same Paul D. Schreiber High School where I spent so much time pretending and erasing/forgetting/detaching from what was happening? And assuming that I was terminally unique, a fine term used often in Alanon. It was a strange relief to realize that I wasn't, not that it matters fifty years later. And it was sad, too, since no one wishes disruptive, confusing childhoods on anyone.

It's not that the others in our small group hadn't experienced traumas. One had had polio, the only person in the collective grade schools of our small town to experience that frightening debilitating disease. And another was a refugee who had lived with another family while his parents were hidden away for safety during the Second World War. I have always been aware of these facts and was sorry about both of their hardships and was glad to find that both have had long, stable marriages, a  state of being that has eluded some of us who had lived with secret family disruption.

I know (as in deduce but not feel) I was nervous during the late afternoon and dinner on Friday because I would periodically escape to the kitchen for a brownie (chocolate works for me, my comfort under stress) that someone had made for desert. My attempt support from a glass of bubbly wine proved as ineffectual as always -- I just wanted to go upstairs and go to sleep. (My father's solution to social occasions was to drink quietly, make the rare, but wry and insightful, comment, and then go to sleep on the floor with his head on a sofa pillow while everyone else continued with the evening.) 

I was actually extremely glad that I went....  had many meaningful conversations. And I can't thank Jeanne enough for providing this opportunity for me. 

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Car Show

Last night, when I was over at Lorna and Warren's, having a hamburger and looking at the photographs Warren took during their trip to France, Kikay stopped by to tell them about the car show that was going to be near his restaurant and across from Market Basket starting at 10 this morning. 

We went. The noise was incredible, amped up so loud that you couldn't think.

Thinking is very over-rated.

Before that I worked on my handout for the Photo I class, trying to imagine how to compress what I've been doing in two hours and twenty minutes of class time down to an hour and a half.

I find it painful to be teaching part-time. I definitely need the money -- roof repair, exterminator, vet bill. But I shouldn't have retired and I wouldn't have if I'd known the economy would go to hell in a wheelbarrow. 

I didn't start saving until I was fifty and my pension was based on how long I was in the state system. Not that long. Twenty-three years. You have to be there for thirty-five before you get 80% of your salary and if you didn't start with that high a salary because that particular Chairman didn't like you, then you never catch up. And I don't get much of my social security because I was in the state system. That's thanks to Reagan who passed that bill about double dipping, the assumption being that state employees make a lot of money and shouldn't benefit from all the years they worked in the private system and had money taken out of their salary for social security.

So, I'm glad that I'm still teaching-part time because I need the money. But I wish I'd figured out a second act that didn't involve teaching and still earned money because seventy is just too young to stop working. I've worked since I was fourteen. I'm programmed to work, as in earn money, though I wasn't all that clever at that task.

However, I was lucky. And ended up with a job that actually has retirement benefit. 

So, the glass is half-full. It's just sort of luke warm. Not that I've ever expected Champagne.