Thursday, November 09, 2006

She Finally Gets to the Heart of It

I just finished reading Sue Miller's Lost In The Forest. While I wasn't really satisfied with how it ended, I found it a very interesting read. I have read several other Miller novels, The Good Mother, While I Was Gone, and The World Below, and enjoyed them all. What emerges when you think of her writing is the theme of something broken, or dysfunctional in the upbringing of a daughter, the result of which is sometimes disastrous, but the cause often invisible. I find that very interesting, indeed.

In Lost In The Forest the reader follows the development of the central character, Daisy, from 3 different viewpoints--her mother's, her father's and her own. Her near ruination, as well as her rescue. When the book ends, the reader is left with the sense that Daisy has entered adulthood a little bloodied, but definitely not bowed. That she and her family are putting the work in to make it so. This is somewhat unique for Sue Miller novels. The author normally relies more on flashbacks to show why the central female character is who she is--and that who is usually quite damaged. And there is usually no parental admission of fault. That there is in this novel, I find very refreshing.

Another interesting aspect to Sue Miller's female characters is how they use sex. They are both victimized and empowered by it. Daisy, in Lost, is exposed sex on several levels, though she doesn't really understand that until later in life. Her parents who divorced, her mother's remarriage, her older sister's experience. When her stepfather, John, dies, 14 year old Daisy is a bewildered gangly adolescent. John was the only person who really spoke to her. Wanted to know her opinions, completely and without judgment. He paid attention to her Daisy-ness. Daisy is bereft. No one is able to comfort her. Her mother is lost in her own grief, her father is emotionally unavailable. She and her sister have grown apart. Daisy is seen as difficult. Sullen. Distant. She acts out in insidious ways--stealing money from her mother's store. As she gets deeper into her adolescence, she hates her too tall body. Shaves her pubic hair. And finally, enters into an illicit affair with a much older man.

When she is caught stealing from her mother by Duncan, the 53 year old husband of her mother's best friend, he holds it over her for a long time. They engage in a sexual affair, which is never consummated per se, but that is a very powerful experience for Daisy. It is sexual abuse for sure, but in Daisy's mind, she holds the power. She is using Duncan to explore her sexual identity and its power, not yet understanding how it will affect her overall sexual development. He has no emotional attachment to her. She needs to know what she is to him, and he cannot or will not give her that.

I think what I find most interesting or disturbing is that Daisy is unable to express herself in any way other than sexually. She does write. But that is very private. She doesn't participate in her after school activities in order to go with Duncan to explore the world he opened up for her. A world in which nothing is really asked of her. All she has to do is take--and she is a very needy young woman. It isn't until Daisy's father overhears a very sexual conversation between Daisy and Duncan that affair is forcibly broken off. Her father steps in and actually does the fathering. Not particularly well, but I don't think Daisy needed it to be done well, just needed him to do it. To make her accountable. She needed a FATHER. Much is made of that, and rightfully so. A young woman feeling unvalued by her father will seek value in very bad places. Daisy needed her father give her to to know what she sought from Duncan--What am I to you? What do I mean to you?

I admire Sue Miller's ability to time and again come to this theme and develop it. It isn't easy reading, and it surely cannot be easy writing. To read or write these books is a continual poking at something that hurts, that you need to explore, to exorcise. My sister-in-law, in particular, criticizes Miller's women as weak--especially in The Good Mother. And to some extent, she is right. But they are not bad women. They have had some really difficult experiences that brought them to where they are, and to where they commit very damning sins. What I find compelling is how these women were failed, how they fail, and how they get back up and go on. This is not a sad read for me. I take from it the moving on. The work and courage in facing yourself and your background, and picking yourself up, trying again. It's the getting up. Gets me every time.

r.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Oh, Michael.

I am happily married to my husband of 16 years. I have a really neat 10 year old boy, a moderately successful career, and several really good friends. By contrast, college was a very rough time in my life. I had no idea how to be me, just could not get comfortable in my own skin. I left college behind for the most part. Thank GOD for my thirties! That said, I did register with classmates.com, and every so often check out the site to see who else has registered. This is how I learned that Michael Lawrence Maguire died. July 14, 2003. All these years later, why should this news bother me at all?

Over 20 years ago, when I was a 19 year old freshman at The University of Maine at Machias, I met a 26 year old senior named Michael Maguire. I think it was around late October, but I'm not sure anymore. He comforted me over a break up with a different guy. My hero. Fell head over heels in love with him. We went everywhere, did everything together, it seems. we rented an apartment (right next door to my Ecology professor) the summer after my freshman year, to the complete horror of my mother. He graduated midway though my sophomore year. It broke my heart, and I handled the separation, ahem, very poorly. Self medicated with wine and sex. We got back together, he visited me in NY, then the breakup was permanent. He left. No explanation, no goodbye, nothing. Just gone. I was 21 at the time.

Twice in the intervening years, once as recently as about 2 years ago, I thought sure I saw him. It stopped me in my tracks. He made such an impression on me. I remember how he held a pencil, his handwriting, what he ate (and sometimes drank) for breakfast, the way he walked, wore a baseball cap, the car he drove. My forty year old self mourns the loss of this man anew. But in a different way. Not the love sick idiot I was then, who couldn't handle a hangnail. But with a little more sight. He was a good man, with a good heart. Somewhat haunted. Clever. Smart. Funny. VERY Irish. An Alice McDermott novel waiting to be written. I hope he found some peace. I wish I could have said goodbye.

r.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

September 11th.

The anniversary of September 11th always finds me quiet, this year, even more so. For the whole of the day and the next, I have had a large, painful lump in my throat. Five years can seem such a long time and yet an instant. Anyone with children, or close to them, will relate. A lifetime, gone in a flash.

I didn't know any of those who perished, but knew of some near misses. But every morning on my way to work, for weeks, I could see the smoking wreckage from the platform of the Number 7 train at Queensboro Plaza. Some days, depending on the wind direction, I could smell it. And every day I offered up a prayer for those living and those not.

My sense of grief is more diffuse than those personally involved, to be certain. It is also tinged with a profound sense of regret. I was so completely stunned, I did nothing at all. Not a thing. I didn't join the thousands who expressed their gratitude or encouragement to first responders. I didn't donate socks or water. I didn't visit a firehouse. I didn't even visit the site until December of 2005 when out of town relatives wanted to see it. By then it was relatively antiseptic. The more powerful place to visit was St. Paul's Chapel, where the pews are still boot scuffed.

It wasn't because I didn't want to go downtown. I just couldn't face it by myself. My husband could not face it, period. With someone or alone, he just could not, and I had to honor that. He still has not actually gone down to the place where the towers stood. It truly breaks his heart.

This year, as last, I missed Peter Jennings’ commentary on September 11th. He brought it to me first. His voice and raw emotion that sometimes slipped through gave one to know the sheer magnitude of the day. So much grief. Such a huge sadness. Lives and innocence lost. That must be it. Things that are unrecoverable, that ring with such a finality, bring about the most profound grief. Some days it is shown as anger, fear, resentment or resignation. On the anniversary, though, we are reminded that what we are is simply bereft. That, perhaps, we have not yet cried the last tear for our beloved city, those beautiful towers, and every one of us changed.


r.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Having a Drink and Drankin'

RP at 230 Fifth AvenueMy girlfriend and I got together last Thursday night to meet a third friend who has recently moved into a new apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It was a spectacular afternoon in the city, and we had some time to kill.


First, we went to a roof-top bar in Manhattan that was just spectacular! 230 Fifth Avenue commands a stunning view of the Empire State Building, as well as the rest of the New York City skyline in a 360 degree view. And it don't come cheap!

We arrived early in the evening--around 5:45 or so. I would say this is the absolute outer limit of arrival time. While already crowded when we got there, by the time we left an hour later, the line to get in was all the way through the very deep lobby and snaking down the block.

We found a spot at the bar and ordered our favorite drinks--1 Stoli martini, straight up and dirty with 3 olives, and 1 Bombay, straight up with a twist. Total bill: 28 dollars! I think we were able to keep our jaws from actually hitting the floor before anyone noticed. At least it was a nice sized martini. And again, the view was stunning, and I am sure the Flatiron District rent is exorbitant. This is a place you take first time visitors or clients. It's where the beautiful people are.

Shelby at ESBWe then visited our friend and had a wonderful time. Caught up on mutual friends, noshed on light summer fare, and just enjoyed each other's company. Around 11 or so, we thought it time to go and bid our host and her roommate bon nuit.

Here's where the drankin' kicks in. We went around the corner to a favorite Irish pub, Snapper Creek. Great bartenders, a jungle gym for a bouncer, and a kick ass juke box! It's where you go to kick back with friends. And kick back we did. Talked, visited, flirted, played a really bad round of pool, and danced. And enjoyed drinks at last one third the price!

I was glad to have both experiences in the same night. It matches who most of us are as people. We put on our professional mask and go to work every day. 230 Fifth was an extension of that. Then we come home and let our selves just be. Snapper Creek definitely fits that facet of our lives. And to do both with one of my best friends was truly priceless.


r.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Conspiracy Theory

I was on the phone last night with a good friend of ours for over two hours. It wasn't unpleasant, but my ear was VERY grateful when I unstuck it from the phone! The major topic of conversation was various and sundry conspiracy theories. Everything from September 11th to healthcare to smoking. In the age of the Internet, especially blogs, this sort of information, or published conjecture, is rampant.

I am certain that the concept of conspiracy theory is as old as humanity itself. It is the nature of the human mind to question, and to have those questions answered. Equally necessary is the need to feel comfortable or satisfied with those answers. Where answers are viewed as insufficient, uncomfortable or incomplete, people fill in the blanks any way they can. And now, with the click of a mouse, anyone can publish their views, giving other questioning minds validation of their own conclusions.

One of the things that outrages my friend the most is the medical profession, specifically managed care and drug manufacturers. It is his view, and he has researched it extensively, that there is a vast conspiracy to keep Americans feeding at the pharmaceutical trough. This is why certain alternative treatments are not widely available, why our government banned publicly funded stem cell research, and why we as a nation are sicker than other developed nations. Maybe. But it may be something else all together: Maybe it isn't a pharmaceutical conspiracy, but yet another religion based control on human behavior. Stem cells can be obtained from spontaneously or medically induced aborted fetuses, as well as the umbilical cords of full term, healthy babies. The religious right is terrified that women will run out and have safe, legal abortions feeling good that at least they are contributing to medical advancement. Can't have that!! But maybe there is something else at play. I don't know.

And then there is the matter of September 11th. Flight 800. Weapons of mass destruction. Tobacco companies. Oil companies. Here's another one: The Homeland Defense Department issued an announcement on August 10th stating that everyone should download the latest security patches available from Microsoft, especially if they are running XP. Am I alone in thinking that the government and Microsoft could be in bed together to produce a "patch" for one of the most deeply penetrated Operating Systems on the planet in order to have PCs open to scrutiny by Big Brother? August 10th is the same day a so called plot to blow planes out of the sky over the Atlantic was broken up. The perpetrators are thought to be linked to Al Qaeda. But it is a rehash of a plot exposed in 1995. I could be wrong, but I don't think it likely that they would resurrect an idea that failed.

Questioning is not a bad thing. It is healthy. It is our civic responsibility, in some cases. But I think as un-omniscient beings, we at some point, must accept that we may never know the actual answers. And some of the ones we have come up with might be completely wrong. If you consider the fact that no one can ever know another person's core motivations on any given matter, it becomes an almost infinite array of who has what to gain by doing anything. Like statistics, you can make conspiracy theory fit whatever your given agenda is. Spend any time questioning "facts" and the possible "conspiracy" behind them, and you can easily loose your mind. Of course we should not bury our heads in the proverbial sand, but we should not forget to just live life. Awareness and intellectual exercise is great. Obsession is not.

r.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Family Time

Chris and Dad Last night was one I don't ever want to forget. Our small family had picnic down at Battery Park. We are still basking in the glow of reunion, and this was a great way to further enjoy its warmth.

My husband and son came from home to meet me in Manhattan after work, so that we could take a bus ride all the way down to the tip of the island. They brought with them light noshes for a warm evening: Nuts, cheese, crackers, berries, a yummy tofu salad, chips, and water. They also brought their good humor, and I brought the camera. Nothing fancy, just a few things from home.

It was a WARM evening, a little humid, with the threat of rain. They came anyway, and not a drop of rain fell. My husband could have taken a meeting to arrange a school function. I prevailed upon him not to, so he didn't.

On the bus ride downtown, Chris pulled a prank on Daddy that was priceless. He was playing games on my cell phone, when he asked me how to access Daddy's phone number. I showed him, the next thing you know, Brian's phone is ringing. Frantic search. Find the phone. Open it up to see MY phone number as the caller. A well executed prank by our 10 year-old that was rewarded with peals of laughter.

When we arrived at Battery Park, we walked down the paths along the waterside to the Jewish Heritage Museum, and had a picnic in a shady spot on the grass. Joining us for our feastlet were a whole host of sparrows, so we fed them bread and crackers. It was a lot of fun watching them fight over a heel of bread too big for them to fly off with.

How wonderful to see my family at the end day, and know we were going to go do something together, a bit removed from our usual routine. It just drove home that yes, we are a FAMILY unto ourselves. We were reminded to nourish those bonds, and just enjoy each other's company. The sound of combined laughter, instead of order issuing and complaining was music! Nothing about this was extraordinary. In fact, it's ordinariness almost makes it silly to mention, much less extol. But what a mark Monday night left on these 3 souls!

r.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Christopher's Excellent Adventure

My 10 year-old son just came home from a 3 week visit with his dad's side of the family. He flew to Ohio with Dad, and spent the first week there with him, and the second two weeks there by himself. He had a blast--until he needed to come home.

After dad flew home, my son was in the care of his 16 year old first cousin for about 3 days. Did I mention he is only 10?!? While I was completely freaked out, he was entirely comfortable. In fact, his biggest fear was that my husband and I would insist that come home for lack of adult supervision. I think he felt more grown up, trusted and independent than at any point in his life. He took a trip to the bowling alley with his cousin and his buddies, played games, had meals, etc., all without the help if a grown-up for the first time. I think it had a profound impact on him. He completely trusted his cousin to watch out for him. Whether or not we felt that trust was well placed was not the point.

But then he was ready to come home. Now. Please. Once he reached that point, there was absolutely no turning back. He enjoyed his time with his aunt and her family. His aunt always provides excellent adventure. Trips to the State Fair, amusement parks, fireworks stand, all kinds of fun things that he can't do at home. But he wanted either his house, his routine or maybe something as primal as his mom and dad. And he is still young enough to be unable to verbalize or articulate a big emotion in a completely appropriate way. Easier to act out, and throw up nonexistent obstacles than delve in, look for, find and express the truth of the matter.

[In that respect, he really isn't much different than a lot of adults. Myself included. It is sometimes much easier to latch onto something very superficial that you can attach all sorts of baggage to, rather than get down to the heart of the matter, but I digress.]

When he came home (4 or 5 days early), he was clearly happy. His whole being was bubbling over. His voice was happy, his face, everything. And Daddy was happy to have his buddy back. I was thrilled at his homecoming (I sorely missed him) and to see them both revel in each other's company. My little boy came home changed kid--a little more mature. Thoughtful. Articulate. And perhaps safe in the knowledge that we did respond to his need to come home. In his mind, that most important trust was well placed.

r.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Confessional

I like country music. There. I said it. But, like most music, there are subcategories within the genre that I dislike. I am not a fan of overusing the slide guitar. Bluegrass gets grating FAST--the exception being Alison Krauss. I don't like anything that twangy, whiny or nasal. But mainstream country music I do enjoy. And as I have gotten older, and the form become more mainstream and/or cross over, I find that I actually seek out country music radio stations. And I love the top 20 video count down on CMT as much as I enjoyed the VH1 rock and roll version 15 years ago.

Country music is one of the most universally relatable music forms out there. Who among us has not experienced love that won't wait, love gone wrong, love gone right, temptation, depression, love of nature and love of country (regardless of which boob is in the White House). Are there really people out there who sit still when hearing Charlie Daniel's "Devil Went Down to Georgia?!" And everyone loves Johnny Cash!

Country music is anthematic. So is my other favorite form, rock-n-roll, but rock anthems are usually anthems to rock. Or protest. Country anthems are anthems to every day life. Check out Gretchen Wilson's "Red Neck Woman." That song makes every woman living in rural America, or brought up lower middle class just stand up and cheer. And how about Sara Evans "Suds in the Bucket", a song about an 18 year old woman who takes off with her lover, leaving suds in the bucket, and clothes hanging out on the line. Her prince drove up in a white pick up truck. Love it!

Country artists SING. They don't scream. The music may express anger, but isn't angry. That is my problem with recent rock, alternative music, and definitely rap. Those artists may have very valid and interesting things to say. For me, the way they choose to convey those ideas is enough of a turn off that any potential message is lost.

Now, of course, you have your sellouts. Look no further than Brooks and Dunn. The biggest ass kissers of country music establishment there are! They win everything at every awards show. I can't stand them. Give me bad-ass Toby Keith any day of the week. That man thumbs his nose at EVERYTHING. Well, everything except his country. He is a red state in and of himself, and what he did to the Dixie Chicks is ridiculous, but I love the attitude present in his music. "Whiskey Girl" is great, and so is "Beer For My Horses."

So, guilty pleasure no more! I am going to stand up and be counted as the shit kicking, red neck, country music loving woman I am. Bring on your slings and arrows. There's probably a country song waiting to be born of just that.

r.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

On Turning 40

A month ago I celebrated my 40th birthday. And on that day, my son celebrated his 10th (more on him at a later time). Understandably, ten years ago I just didn't have the time to think about the significance of turning 30, as many of my peers did. With a brand new baby, such introspective thought is interrupted every 3 hours or so for feeding, changing, etc., or more likely, possible for the 5 seconds before exhaustion takes over, and swaddles you in blissful sleep.

Now that my only child no longer needs such minute to minute attention, I have much more time to reflect. As I contemplate 40, I know I have spent nearly ALL my years maturing. Learning to become comfortable with myself. Learning to understand my own motivations. Learning to understand how I am perceived, and how I perceive myself. And I'm not done, damnit!

As as child of 10 or 12, I thought that growing up had a finite end. That when I reached some magical age, 25 or 30 or 40, I would be done. I would be a full fledged adult, with problems solved, goals met, independence gained, self realized. Well. 33 days after my 40th birthday, I can tell you that is very much NOT the case. Maybe for others it is, but not me.

I think it has to do with passive vs. active living. As I child and young adult, I think I was simply biding my time until the process was over. Like waiting for a cake to finish baking. Completely glossed over the fact that PROCESS is not passive per se. Things have to be put in place to come together, yes? That cake might spend time in the oven, but not before ingredients are added the mixing bowl! There were moments of brilliance or blunder that I engineered, but mostly I waited.

Perhaps I have had my wake up call, or enough awareness to hear and heed it this time. I AM an adult. I have choices to make, within certain confines, of course. I have decided to take better care of myself. Of my self. I have decided to spend a little less time waiting. Patience is good. Martyrdom is not. I have decided to see myself as an adult, not a kid in an adult role. This is perhaps the hardest thing to do. To not allow myself to slip into either of two favored and oh, so comfortable, roles: Child Who Needs Tending, or Petulant Child Who Was Not Tended.

Since I plan to be around a few more decades, I have some time to polish my second act. Really how I see this part of my life. Birth to 40 as Act 1, Scenes i through xxxix in the books. Intermission over. Act 2 just now underway.

r.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Blogs!

Not sure I have anything particularly witty or important to say here. But once in a while I do wax eloquent, so thought this might serve as an outlet. I have recently read some interesting things on blogs, so hope I am up to the challenge. Also, back in 1999 (I think) a Central Park palm reader prognosticated that I would write a well received book by the time I am 50. Well. This might be a good place to start...only 10 years to go! So to those who happen upon this, thanks for reading!

r.