Thursday, January 29, 2009

I thought about John Updike, who died two days ago, as I shoveled my walk yesterday morning. I thought, This is exactly what he would have written about—someone, in this case me, clearing the cold, wet snow from our walkways, stopping every few steps to bang the shovel on the ground to shake off the white clumps that stick to it, shoveling the snow from the path to the garbage cans only to uncover smeared grass and mud, and to realize that the path lay in a different direction.

Inside, the house smells like pancakes. John plays somewhere—I hope it's not with the dog, on whose head he likes to sit, and whose tail he holds as she tries to escape down the back stairs. He is so excited by her warmth and her fur that he needs to have her, to consume her in some way. Now my arm is tired, my elbow clicks, and I stop to rest and watch the snow fly from the front path, where Henry works quickly, more diligently than I do.

Updike’s character would have gotten the salt spreader from its spot under the overhang, as I did, carried it around the house, and started spreading, although I don’t know if he—it would have been a he—would have reached into the bottom of it, grabbed the clumps of melt that had stuck together there, and thrown them on the ground, stomping to break them up. His men were more precise workers, outdoors, than I am, and I wonder whether Updike would have attributed that to my interior, domestic, womanly heart? Would he have noted that I am careful in the kitchen, that in the kitchen I clean as I go, I wipe the counters down, I organize the dishwasher in a specific way, but out here I feel a freedom that is in fact the beginning of a kind of panic, a feeling that things are beyond my control, so I might as well not care?

Well. The rain comes down, then comes down harder. The snow melts beside the paths Henry and I cleared, and floods them with water. By late evening, everything is ice. David slips on the way inside, and goes out to spread more melt. It doesn’t matter. The morning is cold and everything, still, is ice.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Everything is wonderful. Not really. I’m just speaking for myself. Of course, everything is wonderful for me all the time, technically and also in the context of historical and prehistorical physical and social conditions, but sometimes that’s just not enough. What I am trying to say is, we had a long vacation, and I am happy. I am even happy that we went to Slava’s Snowshow, that misreviewed, philosophically misguided, mildly abusive, lazy, overpriced load of hokum, because, circularly enough, I was happy there. I was very bored, and I almost fell asleep a couple of times, and Henry didn’t like the beginning, and turned in the dark to stare at me, and silently transmit this thought into my brain, five or six times, and at the end John cried that balloons weren’t being hit to him, turned snarling on the little girl next to him to seize a balloon from her, then cried pitifully as we left the theater and I led him by the hand through Times Square to the subway, and it looked to other people that we were cruel, uncaring parents, when really we are the kind of parents who spend a small fortune to take our children to see clowns and snow (Boys, I said, boys, we’ve got tickets to Slava’s Snowshow! and they said, What’s that? And I said, Um, there’s clowns! and snow! You’ll love it! and they disagreed and I began to see their point, and to see that I had maybe made a mistake in purchasing the tickets) and are in other ways kind and loving. The night we saw the show, after the children were in bed and David and I were also in bed, the lights out, David said to me, Those were some Russian clowns, and I was happy that we could admit that the clowns had been too Russian, and in fact too much like clowns for our taste.

We were a model of happiness, and I find that happiness—isn’t this strange?—needs models, needs examples, needs memories you can attach it to, so you can find your way back to it, in the event that you and happiness ever drift gently apart.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

I'm going to keep posting here, capriciously, but I am also going to be posting more regularly at Full Constant Light. Take a look.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

This morning I took Daphne out and she ran around like crazy and then vomited up her breakfast and ate it, and David came downstairs and told me he is sick and would like me to take him to the doctor, and both of the boys had upset stomachs after breakfast and we were late to school. After I dropped off John I drove up the parkway to the vet, where I had to get Daphne her heartworm pill and some topical tick and flea treatment, and on the way, of course, I looked up at the trees, which are totally bare now—winter-time trees, pretty in their brown and skeletal way, but necessarily suggestive of a certain way of being, a certain mood, a certain pain, even, in my fingers and toes. I remembered only three weeks ago, when I drove up the highway and looked up at the same trees and saw them covered with red and gold leaves hanging on by little vegetal threads, and thought to myself, myself being, apparently, a mournful, desolate soul, how beautiful the leaves were, but how all this beauty would soon be gone, and winter, which I dread, would be upon us. This morning I was able to occupy both times, the time of beauty and dread, three weeks ago, and then this morning, when the sun shone on the bare curling branches. I thought, I didn’t want it to happen, but it happened anyway. Oh, well.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I remember the day my parents told me I would take tennis lessons. I was six or seven. They had been smoothing the way with a hot fudge sundae at the corner table in the back of the Old Fudge Shoppe or whatever it was called. Sun streamed through the windows into our booth, a mocking sun, for all was black. I cried. They looked to each other, some private exchange of information.

Tennis took time from reading and doing nothing on the couch. One day on the way to tennis I thought, I really don’t want to go to tennis, I really really really don’t want to go to tennis, I wish please God that I didn’t have to go to tennis—without believing, of course, in God—when suddenly, we had a flat tire and I couldn’t go! This was miraculous. I imagined that many things in life would take care of themselves with this kind of dispatch, and without me having to whine about them and fight with my mother.

I wasn’t a bad tennis player, in some ways. I hit the balls hard and in the court, often enough. I could win points. But I didn’t really care to. This meant either I lost or, if I were playing other people with similarly lackluster wills, that we played forever, into the twilight and then the dark, because no one could ever win two games in a row. That happened once, on an away game, in high school. The whole bus waited for us. I eventually lost.

My family belonged to a pool and tennis club at the end of our road with courts seemingly carved from stone croppings—they were set in the hills, with high walls around them, isolated. There we came on the weekend to play family doubles and fight and cry. So that my father could throw his racquet down in anger on the court.

After high school I took a hiatus from tennis. For a while I did no almost no athletic activity. I read and had boyfriends, instead. Once I ran through the bird sanctuary. That hurt. Then, in D.C. for a year, David and I played racquetball against each other. Do you know what David wanted to do? Crush me. Do you know what I wanted to do? Have close, fun games where it didn’t matter who won or lost. I lost, sometimes very badly, and was a poor sport about it.

The hiatus continued. I ran. I went to the gym, which was boring and made me fat. I swam. Swimming was interesting, in the sense that it was incredibly boring but after a long time you lost all sense of time and entered an altered state. And the pool had all kinds of rigmarole associated with it that I liked, including books of tickets and cabanas that you entered on one side in street clothes and exited on the other in a bathing suit. On the weekends they took out the lane dividers and as you began your lap it looked as if you and the people swimming beside you were alone in the pool. As you reached the halfway mark, however, an army of people swimming the other way emerged from the murk, and then you knew that there would be a great battle, and that only some of you would survive.

After Henry was born, I signed up for a season’s worth of hour-long lessons with Philippe. Philippe didn’t teach me how to love again, as this was not necessary, but he did teach me other things, like to reste cool and to remember, Eet’s posseebl, as I scrambled up the court after a ball. And he praised me and petted me. After that I played in the courts at Central Park, where the helicopters droned overhead and my sister threw tosses as long and meandering as Russian novels, before trying to serve off of them. Now we live in the suburbs, in a hotbed of tennis activity. This year maybe a hundred women tried out for the town teams, way too many for the teams to handle. Many, after several days of play, were cut. The first day I tried out the sky was very blue, the fields were very green, and children from the middle school ran over them in waves. At one point a white cloud moved over the sun and everything became dim. It was kind of beautiful, I thought, that all of these women, safe from want, no longer young, outwardly satisfied, were willing to risk embarrassment and rejection to play what is, after all, a game. Tennis is a silly game, played on a court, apart from the real, yet, in its own way, as real as anything else I’m likely to do.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

When Joe is older I will say, I remember the day you were born. It was the first cold day of the fall, and as I drove down into the city along the river all the pleasure boats were gone, but the work boats were out, hauling God knows what up and down the Hudson. The boats were red and black, enormous, you had to look and look back again to see the whole of them while keeping your car on the road. I drove my car down the highway next to these tugs and barges and I could imagine their metal insides, their dark stairways, the raised sills, the clanging noise their doors made when they swung shut. I could imagine what it was for the people on them to stand out on deck and look over the water in my direction and see people driving into the city, headed towards the mysterious things that we were all headed for, driving south that morning. Or maybe I wasn’t mysterious to them, maybe they could see me, in their mind’s eye, as I drove my car, parked my car, and walked down the street that first bright cold day of fall, as I stopped in the store to get your mother an egg and cheese sandwich. Maybe they could see—and why couldn’t they see this? They moved freight up and down the Hudson, so what couldn’t they do?—maybe they saw the man at security, the elevator, the sign that instructed me to press the button to get into the maternity ward. They could see your mother, tired, happy, lying on the bed in a pool of light, and your father, tired, happy, sitting in a chair. Could they see you, Joe, in the hat that wouldn’t stay on your head, eating your blanket, trying to eat your mom? Could they see anything as beautiful as you, Joe, on the boats that went up and down the Hudson that day?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

If you have a dog you must love your dog. You must love your dog and at the same time, you must build a can of coins to shake at your dog if she barks in the night. You must build the can of coins to shake at your dog if she barks in the middle of the night and when she barks in the middle of the night you must shake the can of coins at her and say, No barking!, and go back to bed, and in the morning you must feel, mixed with other feelings, relief it was your husband who rose early to take her out for a walk and found shit in her crate. You must feel this. You have no choice.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Henry and John, but really, for the time being, Henry, have a new computer through which he receives regular doses of Lego Star Wars. Lego Star Wars, like alcohol, is a drug that relaxes one’s inhibitions, without providing any additional insight, or even a profound but imaginary sense of insight. There are some deleterious effects on coherence, although less than you would think, and it is also, sadly, addictive. Still, as Henry’s current major inhibition is a reluctance to tell his mother and father any information about his life, and as Lego Star Wars significantly reduces that inhibition, I have been administering Lego Star Wars to him in judicious amounts. The questions I ask are not nefarious! I observe certain boundaries. And there is something nice, I think, about talking about math problems, and what happened on recess, and, gingerly, cautiously, whence he received his information about something recently referred to as “sexy moves,” while Henry blasts droids apart. Why did you do that? I asked him recently, after he killed a droid in a non-combat situation, i.e., for fun, and he said, The game doesn’t care.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Now that I have a dog I have to talk to my dog. I talk to my dog the way people talk to their dogs. It feels strange. One thing I’m focused on is that I don't want to say I'm her Mommy. That seems weird to me. So I tried using other referents for myself besides Mommy. Instead of, Mommy doesn’t want you to do that I said, Your female owner doesn’t want you to do that. Female to differentiate myself from David, her male owner. He is trying so hard to have a good relationship with the dog, and I didn’t want to sabotage it. You see how crazy it gets, right away. Anyway, I said, Your female owner doesn’t want you to do that and then it sounded so strange that I thought I needed to explain things to the dog, so I tried to explain my discomfort, to the dog, about being called her Mommy and then I just tried to walk a while without saying anything, which also seemed strange, and then I took her for too long a walk so I had to end it by carrying her home in my arms. I was worried about her.

She’s very beautiful. I think she’s very smart.

Mom called from Rome to ask about the dog and in passing noted that her dog is my dog’s uncle, which sounded fine until I figured out that this was because he is my brother. According to my Mom. So do you think that I don’t want to say that I’m the dog’s Mommy because I’m acting out some kind of Freudian drama? I don’t think so. I think I’m just being a jackass. I think it’s like the time I went to a small town in France for a wedding and there was some old tradition in the town having to do with cows and weddings that had, over time, become a tradition in which a plastic inflatable cow was brought onto the dance floor and people had to dance with it. I fled the dance floor but one American woman, trapped, danced the hell out of that cow. Sometimes committing oneself to idiocy is the only honorable thing to do.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

We saw whales. First we saw them from a distance. Then we saw them from a hundred yards away. Then we cut our engine and two whales surfaced close to us, and swam closer still. One dove so close to our boat that I could see the white spot by its eye grow dim under the water.

We had reached the summit of bliss. We had come very close to a very important thing. It was like a cathedral on the boat—we were awestruck, amazed. And now that this had happened and everyone felt that it had happened, as everyone had, and the sun was sliding down toward the water and the wind was whipping across the stern and bow, I expected we would head in. The Puget Sound, as I discovered the next day, when we went to a very beautiful beach in a lovely protected cove and dipped our toes in the water, is icy, icy cold, so cold that when you step into it you feel that it has grabbed hold of your foot and is squeezing as hard as it can. When the wind whips across it in the late afternoon, in the absence of a strong, vital sun, you freeze your tits off. I was totally inappropriately dressed, too, thanks to Captain Beau, who had told me that his happiness and the happiness of the other people on board, as well as the happiness of my younger son, who had asked very nicely for whales on this vacation and to whom I had promised them, depended on us leaving Vancouver in good time, choosing our lane at the border crossing wisely, catching the next ferry from Anacortes, and getting to the dock by 3.30. At which point he was late, but that didn’t matter, I was already out there in my skirt and sandals and very thin sweater.

But now we had seen the whales, and everyone had had a whale moment, and so we would go home. I went into the cabin, where it was warmer, and awaited the captain at his helm. Instead we stayed out on the water for another hour and saw more whales. Ninety whales were out in Juan de Fuca that day, and we saw them all, although I saw the balance of them from the cabin, through the window, and didn’t care. They were like wallpaper to me, the rest of the whales. They were lite music. People still walked around the boat saying, Whales! But I had seen whales. I had gotten what I wanted from them. I smiled. Whales. Wonderful. Whales. When are we going home?

It was very beautiful around me. I wasn’t going to die. But I must admit that as we followed the whale pods around Juan de Fuca, my thoughts grew dark, and I experienced dread and unhappiness. Then, at some point, as if it were nothing, Beau turned on the heat and everyone came inside and we shut the cabin doors. The engine roared and we turned back towards the shore. Everyone was happy. Everyone talked. When we stopped and pulled up the crab pots we’d dropped on the way out, they were full of crabs. The females and the small males had to be thrown back. Henry threw several overhand. Beau lobbed one but accidentally hit the fishing rods over his head and she fell, hard, on the running board next to David, who kicked her in with his foot. She’s fine! David said. She says she’s fine! and we all laughed, although later David told me that in the water she sank like a stone. We saw whales! They were magnificent.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Yesterday we went to see the puppy. She bit my hand and it bled. I sat on the ground, which turned out to be a disgusting idea, as the puppy made clear shortly into our visit, twice. I wanted to seem at ease with dogs, that I cared for dogs, that I was a natural. The trainer offered the boys chocolates and I let them take them without washing their hands. I was deep into my rôle.

All the way there and then all the way back and then all evening the boys battled each other and whined at me until I could not stand the sound of them. When John, towards the end of the evening, said he wouldn’t get in the bath because it was too slippery, I went into another room and stared out the window for a little while.

Then this morning I woke up and it was beautiful out and the boys were kind, so I called Tara and said we would take the dog.

Now we must name her. I had suggested Lu, for Lubitsch, but then lying in bed last night I decided it was a little overdetermined, Lu for Lubitsch, Lu for read, and then Lu-Bitch. Too much, although if the boys could agree on it I wouldn’t care. Henry likes Lu but thinks Lulu is horrible and John has agreed to Lu but will call her Lulu, and I don’t think I want a fight to start every time one of us calls the dog’s name. I don’t think that this is what I want. But I don’t know what I want, or why I want it. We’re getting a dog. We’re going to train her and raise her and spend sums of money on her care, and she will always be a dog and never be an adult person and will depend on me, when having people depend on me is something that sometimes I can’t stand. Do I want the dog because I want to change? Do I want the dog so that things will be different? Or do I want the dog merely because I want to do things and name things and extend my will?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Henry played summer league baseball this summer. David coached. Summer baseball is a break from the local gynocracy. Men, who are, weekdays, largely absent and irrelevant, assume positions of responsibility and leadership, while the women observe and judge. Some women coach, but these overprepared head coaches are assisted by the men, who are expected to get their asses home for this, get themselves out to the first-base line, and yell at the children.

Force at second! Make the relay! Run it out!

One woman had to tell her husband to take it easy. Afterwards I tried to comfort him by telling him that his yelling was useful. He went back to yelling, the next game or the game after.

There are some things everyone yelled. Nice job! Good work everyone! Nice playing! You know.

The smaller children ran amok, or squirmed on our laps. Then we would say to them, Run amok! John shared his gum beautifully and was hit in the shoulder by a tennis ball. Everyone told me they've never seen my children cry. This is crazy, but I accepted it as a complimentary statement about something else.

I sat, Coach’s wife, on the sidelines, and talked. About three games into the season I realized that while I thought that someday, or never, I would choose who my friends were, whom I would care about, whose children would be important to me, someone, possibly me, has already chosen for me. These are the people I know, whose lives are intertwined with mine, and they will be for at least the next fifteen years, unless we move away from here and try to live somewhere we don’t know anyone, again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Le Gaudron is closed. Well, it’s opened again, but it’s not the same. It’s better, which is worse. I don’t care. It’s nothing to me. I live 3,638 miles away from it. I didn’t even like it there. Flies circled lazily, the bread wasn’t very good, and one of the women who worked there, an enormous lady with a piggy face and blue eye shadow, hated me. But the case was filled with strange and beautiful pastries, miracles of sugar, and the banquette faced the case. I had a plan to eat one of each of the pastries before we left Brussels—I knew, always, my time was limited—as an experiment or task, but instead I just ate the éclairs. I think, in retrospect, that was wise of me.

One night I was the only person in the café, close to closing, and I heard one of the women working there say to the fat woman, So why don’t you close up? The fat woman inclined her bouffant head towards me and said, venomously, Elle est là. One of the first times, by the way, I understood someone else’s conversation in French. After that night the sign on the door advertising the hours was amended to note that table service ended a half an hour before the café closed. They meant me.

One day soon after we moved to Brussels, I couldn’t leave the apartment. I couldn’t work and I lay in the bed with the covers pulled up. David couldn’t get out of work yet, wouldn’t for a while. Eventually, I went to the Gaudron.

One evening everyone who came into the Gaudron had crutches, a cane, or a wheelchair, except me.

There were a lot of dogs at the Gaudron. I don’t know why, but once, watching the little white dog belonging to the table next to me scrounge around at the base of the table for pastry scraps, I was inspired. I thought, All you have to do is be that dog. Nothing came from this except for something I can't explain to anyone else, but that I find occasionally useful.

You would not believe how much a juice cost. Sometimes, but not from the fat lady, I would get a free cookie with my coffee. The ham sandwiches were passable. The chocolate, from a mix. Everyone smoked. I should find my notes from then, I should find what I wrote. I may have written that I was homesick, but that was a lie.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Yesterday I went to turn off the hose that was watering the magnolia tree, you remember the magnolia tree,that replaced the magnolia tree that replaced the old magnolia tree that was here but dead when we moved in? Long, boring story but anyway I went to turn off the hose and saw, lying on his side, a small mouse, breathing rapidly in the shade of the house. He didn’t move when I came near and when I accidentally dropped the hose end on the slab of stone he lay on he twitched but didn’t go anywhere. So I knew he was dying, and I wondered what I was supposed to do about it. I thought I could kill him with a shovel, or I could move him with a shovel, or I could do nothing.

I chose, of course, to do nothing, and now he is there, dead, today. There are cats that come over from the neighbor’s houses, but I don’t know that they’ll eat him when he’s already dead. Will the possum whom we used to feed, generously, on chicken bones and other items from our garbage, prior to our discovery of the bungee cords that now fasten the tops of the garbage cans firmly to the bottoms, come back and do us this service? David said, Won’t the squirrels take care of it? and I said, You mean the squirrels that eat nuts? but I have to admit that it really does seem like something that the squirrels should do. What do they do around here, anyway, except quarrel with each other and jump from the trees to the roof?

Friday, July 11, 2008

David and I finished watching Michael Winterbottom’s Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story last night. Based, of course, on Laurence Stern's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, which I haven’t read, the movie kind of tells the story of the life and birth, which it can barely get to, of Tristram Shandy. In the movie the story of the book is itself barely seen, as the story of the crew making the movie becomes increasingly important.

Appropriately enough, as the subject of the film is, in large part, digression, David and I had had to divide it in two, watching in the hour or so between Henry's bedtime and our own on Wednesday and then Thursday nights. I’m not going to now tell you about that intervening day, which was spent for me, anyway, in some frustration, from the point of view of work and potty training, because I’m not interested in digressing from my discussion of the movie to show you that I know the movie is about digression. Except unfortunately I am, as the movie understands, caught entirely in a web of digressions from which I vainly try to manufacture a linear life, and so I’ve digressed, and each word I write takes me a farther from what I started to say, and will continue to say, once I stop writing this.

I loved the movie and in fact spent part of the day after we saw the first part of the movie specifically in anticipation of seeing the second part of the movie. Thinking, I can't wait to see the end of the movie! But then, in the end, what is funny about the movie, apart from the funny parts, is that even though the movie builds to a conclusion, and in fact was conceived and built to make precisely the point that nothing in life or narrative is as satisfying as the lack of satisfaction one gets from the beginning of things—structure and closure and an ending being impossible, and shitty—even though the movie knew this, and planned on this, the ending still wasn’t satisfying. Intellectually, I was impressed. But I was not satisfied.

There's a connection, in my mind anyway, between Shandy and Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows: Both are concerned with the creation of story from no story. Melville's movie, about a band of French Resistance fighters, starts out sporadically, episodically, a series of scenes without direct links between them. As it continues, though, the links become clearer, and the story becomes, clearly, a story about how the life that seems episodic, scattered, based on chance, is in fact anything but that. The scenes become the story, and the story is that scenes add up, luck runs out, and everyone is killed.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

John had his first swimming lesson yesterday. Needless to say he wouldn’t go in. His excuse was that it was in the medium pool, and he never went in the medium pool. He had gone to his lesson with his babysitter, who called to me tell me this. When I got to the pool later with Henry, I found John at the baby pool, where he showed me two toys other children had brought, but that he was playing with. I stepped into the baby pool and said, John, let’s go into the medium pool together, and he got out of the baby pool and ran around the baby pool saying, No I’m not going in the medium pool I don’t want to, no, no, no, no, no. Then when I stepped out of the baby pool he reentered the baby pool and took up playing with the toys that other children had brought to the pool. When he heard another child say, Torpedo, he quietly moved, with the torpedo, to the other side of the pool.

I went to the big pool with Henry, where he secretly—this is against the rules—dropped quarters on the bottom and dove for them. Then he handed me the quarters, which someone else had lost, for safekeeping and rolled around in the water and pretended, when it was time to leave, that he couldn’t hear me because he was underwater. Each time I called his name he dove under, but I was able, eventually, to time shouting his name with his surfacing, and to make it clear that he had to get out. To get out he swam and walked slowly across the whole distance of the pool to the stairs.

Later John went into the medium pool with Henry, and they wouldn’t leave, and we temporarily but convincingly lost one set of car keys, and John wanted to take a rock from the parking lot home with him and I said he couldn’t, and he cried bitterly and lost his ice cream by not listening, although he will almost certainly have it tonight. We had a wonderful time at the pool yesterday. It was not nearly as crowded as it normally is. It was all there only for us.