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Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly. ---- Harry Lime

Parenting and Its Discontents

Went over to the ________ to talk up Will Yandik, Ed and Pat being two of the only real live registered Democrats in these parts. (Despite the fact that FDR is the major cottage industry, Hyde Park is heavy Republican territory.)

Ed was sitting in the backyard. “Welcome,” he said. “On this glorious June day, I am contemplating the perfection of the universe.”

I gave my spiel – Will Yandik, local boy, fourth generation farmer, far to the left on all issues except gun ownership – but he supports gun control and the Safe Act! Plus he spearheaded the successful campaign to prevent Albany from turning vast swathes of Columbia County into a power grid to supply the ever-increasing demands of computer-using hipsters, video game obsessives, and air-conditioning addicts far away in the Imperial City of Manhattan.

“Don’t get me wrong,” I said. “I like Zephry Teachout. And I’d love to see Hogwarts give her tenure! Thing is, though, she’s a carpetbagger! She has no idea what the issues are here in the 19th Congressional District. She wants to platform to national prominence; figured that since no incumbent is running in this election, it would be easier to win; and rented a house. She doesn’t have a clue what’s going on here, and I think she’ll get beat handily in November even if Hillary Clinton carries the district. She and Yandik have virtually point-by-point agreement on all the national issues except guns.”

“I’ll consider it,” Ed said, eying the shiny Yandik flier I’d presented him with. “How’s your younger son doing?”

I’d run into Ed shortly after the graduation debacle. And since I was still reeling from that, I’d given him the unfiltered account. Too much information, perhaps. Given the nature of my acquaintance with Ed.

But it was Ed who actually had one of the most perceptive insights into what might actually be going on with Robin. “The timing of his ‘acting out’ (as you call it) is interesting, don’t you think? I mean, most kids who flunk out do it in their first or second year. Robin did it the very last semester before he was due to graduate. What do you think could be going on there?”

Interesting! Because sometime during last year, RTT had actually started talking about staying an extra year so he could graduate with two majors –

He really does not want to leave school. He’s really anxious about whatever it is that’s supposed to happen next.

“Robin seems to be doing okay, I guess,” I told Ed. “I really can’t read Robin very well. He and his father seem to have slipped right back into their old codependant relationship, but there’s really nothing I can do about that. So…” I shrugged.

We started talking on a different level then. About our kids. About parenting.

I used to have a huge amount of guilt about Robin because I was mostly an absentee parent when he was growing up. Hey! Somebody had to support the family. And since Ben didn’t seem to have the slightest inclination to do so, that burden fell upon me. We did the role reversal thing: I was Daddy; Ben was Mommy.

Except Ben, to my way of looking at things, was not a very good Mommy. He didn’t impose any structure. He seemed not to understand the word, “No.”

“See, I think the world is an inherently scary place for kids,” I told Ed. “I think it's routines that give children the feeling of safety. Up to the age of around ten or so when they start exploring, start cobbling together their own definition of safety.

“Robin never had any bedtime routine. And that really bothered me. Bath, story, bed by 8:30. I believe in those things. And Ben would say, ‘But he’s not ready to go to sleep at 8:30!’ And I would say, ‘But that doesn’t matter!’ Part of it is about the kid, but part of it is about you, of course. Kids are supposed to go to bed at 8:30 so parents can enjoy some quality grownup time without them.”

I sighed. “Anyway, it’s interesting. Robin has said to me more than once, ‘I wish you’d told me no more often when I was a kid.’ Although whenever I did tell him, ‘No,’ we had these raging, screaming fights.”

“What do you think he was really saying when he said that?” Ed asked. “And when he says he wishes you would nag him more?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t nag people. I have a really libertarian personality. I think adult people should do whatever the hell they want. Although if someone asks me what I think they should do, I’ll tell them.”

“Well, I may be completely off the wall here and completely trespassing the bounds of polite conversation,” Ed said, “but to me it sounds like he’s looking for some sign that you love him. That nagging is love.”

Insightful again!

I think Ed may be right. Ben nags. And nags and nags and nags.

And Robin is absolutely certain that Ben loves him.

To me he says things like, “I don’t even feel like you’re my mother. You’re just this person on the periphery of my life.”

###

One day, about a month before I left Ithaca, Robin had somehow suckered me into driving him to some kind of job interview. It was close to 100 degrees out. And, of course, my car had no air-conditioning, and we had to drive with the windows down, which did not seem to cool the interior of the car down but only to suck the swelter into the car.

Robin started complaining that he hadn’t gotten enough high school graduation presents.

And I just totally lost it.

I can’t remember what I’d gotten him, but it was something, and something I’d had to work extra hours to afford at stuff I did not like to do. And his father had gotten him something, and his Uncle Lew, and even my first X-husband and his wife had sent $100. If Robin hadn’t gotten more, it was his own damn fault; it was because he’d made no effort whatsoever to stay in contact with any of the family members who might look upon his graduation as a joyous celebration.

I let Robin have it. “You got plenty of graduation gifts,” I snarled. “And you know what? You should be happy about them! You should be grateful instead of whining about how you’re entitled to more –“

Robin turned vicious then.

For five minutes, he sat in that car hurling insults and invective at me.

And I was paralyzed sitting there thinking, This is ironic. I had no plans whatsoever to be your chauffeur today, but I agreed to drive you here because I’m your mother and I want to be helpful –

Finally, Robin narrowed his eyes at me and said, “You just love playing the victim, don’t you? It’s all about what a victim you are all of the time.”

I was stunned.

All the things that had happened to me in the space of that one year. I lost my business. I lost my home. My husband walked out on me. I moved 3,500 miles away from anyone who cared whether I lived or died. I was a victim if it came to that. But I’d tried so hard to soldier on, to persevere, to do what needed to be done, which was basically to provide some kind of home for Robin and to make sure he graduated from high school.

There's a great moment in Broadcast News when Albert Brooks turns to Holly Hunter and asks: Wouldn’t this be a great world if neediness and desperation were attractive?

That was me in Ithaca. Nobody wanted to be my friend. It was like I was emanating great invisible waves of repulsiveness.

And my own kid was saying these things to me…

“Get out of my car,” I told him.

###

I must have seen Robin after that before I left Ithaca. At Ben’s bedside if nowhere else. When Ben was lying in the ICU in a hepatic encephalitic coma. When I really thought that Ben was going to die.

But I really don’t remember.

###

Back to the perfect universe on a perfect June day.

I sigh and shrug at Ed. “I love Robin. But it’s not the unconditional love that one might feel for a younger child, you know, and I’m no longer willing to jump through any kind of hoop for him to prove my love. I’m just not. I wouldn’t say we have a particularly good or close relationship. I’m open to improving it, but that impetus would have to come from him at this point. And frankly, I don’t think he’s at all interested.”

Mmmmmm. SEAWEED.

So, the UK votes to leave the European Union.

The results of the referendum shocked me, but didn’t necessarily displease me: I see globalism as a decidedly mixed blessing, at least in the U.S. – I can’t pretend to know very much about what’s going on in Europe.

Globalism has ushered in an unprecedented surge in prosperity, economists and politicians say. But I would ask, Prosperity for whom? And therein lies the essential dilemma.

In the U.S., globalism has benefited the corporate masters and certain urban dwellers. Not all urban dwellers – huge swathes of the once-great manufacturing cities are empty buildings with boarded up windows. But certainly, cities that count financial services among their biggest industries are doing well.

Except what exactly are financial services? Those credit default swaps that Michael Lewis describes so well in The Big Short? Similar maneuvers and betting games? And what exactly is money now that it’s increasingly uncoupled from labor? I would say that money is a consensually agreed upon construct designed to propagate primate dominance role-playing games on a massive scale. Money is imaginary. Money is a collective delusion. Money is just a fungible form of privilege.

Globalism’s effect on workers in this country is well documented. The biggest global market is the labor market, after all, and NAFTA resulted in the migration of millions of jobs away from the U.S., thus lowering the largest line item in most corporations’ operational budgets.

###

Fear played an incredibly important role in the referendum’s outcome, too, of course. And here again we’re up against another example of corporate schizophrenia. I mean, honestly, how can Big Media companies devote 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to terrorism programming and not expect people to get scared shitless about it? What do you do when the Bogeyman is moaning and slobbering at your front door? Well, you shut the front door, of course. And bolt it if you can.

###

A lot of the disarray we’ll be seeing in the next few weeks will have nothing to do with Brexit itself and everything to do with the Cameron government’s refusal to do any type of contingency strategizing in the event of a pro-Brexit vote. Whether this represents poor planning or an intentional effort to make things as difficult as possible, I really could not say.

Apparently, there is no legislation in place that describes the process the UK will use to effect its departure, and the referendum itself specified no timetable. Since Labor and Tories were apparently united in their opposition to a UK exit from the EU, it’s likely that whoever becomes Prime Minister in Cameron’s place will do whatever it takes to delay that exit as long as possible. And if they delay long enough, of course, another referendum can be launched! And the Powers That Be will make sure that this time, they win it.

###

How has globalism benefitted people like me? Poor folk in the United States?

There’s supposed to be a kind of trickle down effect: In general, when countries open up to trade, they tend to grow faster, which results in a rise in the standard of living.

But that’s very country-specific.

Way back in the Jurassic, I had a high school civics teacher who every year used to preside over this special lunch event: We were all given two tablespoons of rice and a couple of strands of seaweed and told, This would be your daily allotment of food if the world’s resources were divided up fairly!

This didn’t fill me with rage at the world’s injustices.

Rather, it made me very, very glad that the world’s resources were not divided up fairly and that I was on the receiving end of the largesse.

I’m perfectly aware that compared to, say, the average inhabitant of Lagos or Mumbai, I live like a fucking princess no matter how impoverished I may consider myself to be. That American citizenship is privilege in the sense that Max is always talking about.

But you know what?

I want more privilege.

And I also think there’d be plenty of privilege to go round as well as second – nay third – servings on the seaweed if the one-percenters didn’t have a complete lock on the economy. Mmmmm. Seaweed.

That Farmhouse. Those Purple Flowers.

Such an odd dream last night – it went on an on, empires rising and falling etc. In the very last part of the dream, I had parked my car on a street and forgotten where I’d parked it. And wondered what would happen: Was it actually possible that I would wander round and round forever looking for that car and never find it?

I was moving to a new house in the dream and also responsible for this huge tribe of misfit individuals – relatives? friends? children of mine? I dunno. But a guy with a Cuban accent was giving me a ride. I thought he was taking me out to look for the car, but it turned out that he was taking me to the new housebig favor, his car was loaded down with all my junk, and he was very jolly, infused with that Good Samaritan high!

But I was like, “Why didn’t you do what I asked you to do – which was to help me look for my car?”

I remembered that I had parked the car on a very busy boulevard. And had spent the night in this Gothic, brownstone monstrosity of a building – it looked like the Museum of Natural History – that was inhabited by the members of a Scientology-like cult. And it turned out that I was very important to the members of this cult – they all read my LJ! It wasn’t quite at the level of a holy scripture but close. And I was horrified! I thought, I really need to start locking my LJ…

The street behind the cult’s building was this beautiful, old-fashioned street that looked as though it ought to be in Prague. Part of its charm was that it was completely devoid of parked cars.

###

In fact I have been incredibly distracted this past five days or so. I used the restroom in a gas station the other day and started to get into what I thought was my car – silver anono-car at a gas pump, right? – only to find the car’s rightful owner staring at me in horror and alarm.

And I forgot what day of the week it was yesterday.

Alzheimer’s onset?

I’ve been feeling… off. Not depressed or anything. Just completely… without weather. No joy in Mudville.

Part of it is the money thang – I really want to go to New Mexico, but I also feel like I need to pay for RTT’s driving lessons; I’m not sure if I can do both.

Part of it is this immense frustration with my own writing process: I’m filling in the (gaping) holes of the June narrative and finding that the reason that they’re (gaping) holes is because I’m not awfully interested in writing them.

Now, I’ve been through this process often enough before to know what’s dreck in the rough draft can become good in the editing process. The critical thing is getting something, anything, down on paper or in computer RAM so that the story’s momentum can take you somewhere.

Part of it is that my day-by-day life is pretty mundane. Not unpleasant. And not lonely – I have any number of people to talk to but few people with whom I can have the kind of rapid-fire, far-ranging, allusive conversations that catalyze my mind and that I can plagiarize from in my fiction writing. It is awfully difficult to write dialogue; it’s so much easier to transpose banter and conversations I’ve participated in into my characters’ mouths.

###

Yesterday, I found myself driving through that valley south of the Ashokan Reservoir. Impossibly beautiful. Old Dutch farm country. I passed one old, old stone house besides a field of purple flowers – clover? lavender? Wished there’d been some place to pull off and take a photograph, but of course, photos don’t really give a place any more permanence than memory, however unreliable memory may be…

I chose this. I did. I must have had a reason.

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When We Were Poodles

Another thing, of course, is that writing about oneself is effortless and interesting and entertaining in a way that writing about someone else simply is not.

Could be that I just can’t write about other people.

Plus – a big issue – I generally exercise in the late-ish afternoon, and when I get home, I am exhausted. Physically exhausted. This is because I’m old.

In my own head, as soon as I discharged my responsibilities incumbent upon the youngest offspring as his live-in caretaker, I immediately reverted back to being 30 years old. (I was 34 before I became a parent for the first time.) But in reality, I am not 30 years old – I’m more than twice that age, the warranty on my various parts is expiring, and I lack stamina.

I’m gonna try to exercise early today. See if that makes any kind of difference.

###

When I got back from running yesterday – and man, that last hill was an ordeal – I was too braindead to do anything but watch movies.

Back to back: When Harry Met Sally and Broadcast News.

I am always surprised to see these two films categorized in various listing services as classic movies. No, dickwads – classic movies are movies that were made before I was born!

These two films derive from the late 80s. An era I remember very well indeed.

To me, they hold up surprisingly well – except for the poodle hair. Throughout Harry, Meg Ryan looks like a standard poodle whose neglectful owner has put off taking it to the groomer. Holly Hunter comes off rather better throughout because, of course, she’s supposed to be a frump. Except for the one scene at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner where she gets all dressed up and – yep: poodle-izes her hair.

Thank Gawd, I was a hippie back then! I thought.

I tried to watch Harry through the eyes of a Millennial. Through the eyes of Max, say. That made the movie fairly awful, a negative regurgitation of hoary gender tropes that served to reinforce sexist attitudes. (Can men and women really be friends! Who would ask something like that?)

So, sue me. I love it.

Broadcast News stands up a bit better to today’s political standards. In fact, except for its abysmal background music choices, it’s proto-Aaron Sorkin.

One thing – I’d totally forgotten Holly Hunter does this in the movie, but it’s something I used to do three or four times a day when I was working for ICM, that I still do every now and then: the two-minute cry! Yep. Not infrequently, when I’m alone, I will burst into tears for no apparent reason and then sob heartbrokenly for two minutes or so. And then I’ll stop.

It’s a great stress reliever.

David Sedaris and Dead Marilyn

I’ve been reading David Sedaris’s When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

Sedaris is primarily known as a humorist, so I was surprised at how brilliant his writing is. How simply and well the sentences are cobbled together. How striking his metaphors:

The houses looked like something a child might draw, a row of shaky squares with triangles on top. Add a door, add two windows. Think of putting a tree in the front yard, and then decide against it because branches aren’t worth the trouble.

For all sorts of reasons, this is a perfect description. It immediately conjures an image in the reader’s imagination.

(Landscape descriptions are typically the types of words that almost all readers skim over since they’re generally a predictable sequence of repetitive sentences, but for whatever reason, writers expend an inordinate amount of effort on them.)

The little brainteaser – the tree that is not there – functions as a kind of hook boring into the reader’s brain.

Sedaris also uses a framing technique in his long pieces that Lucius once described to me:

“Ya always gotta use something you wrote about in the very first paragraph in the very last sentence,” Lucius said.

Why?” I asked.

“Fuck if I know,” said Lucius. “But try it. You'll see. It works.”

Sedaris invariably brings those opening allusions around full circle. The effect is to make you think there was something in those opening sentences you should have been paying closer attention to.

Sedaris merits his classification as a humorist: He is very funny. But he’s also rather horrifying: It’s sort of as though in being dubbed a “humorist,” he’s been granted a Creative Commons license to describe those types of things that nobody else will touch – worms erupting out of open sores, sadistic baby sitters, peeling wallpaper, urine catheters, insanity and similar human grotesqueries.

Right. It doesn’t sound at all funny when it’s listed out like that.

But trust me. It is.

###

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing because it’s been a loooong time since I did any actual work in that department myself. June is still poised in the entranceway to that restaurant where she’ll meet up with Henry Miller and Emil Cohen, and Cohen will out her as a Jewess.

Yep. That's what they called us back in the 1920s. Jewesses.

I have no idea why I stopped writing there. I had other demands on my time – but then I always have other demands on my time. Really, the issue is that I got out of the habit of writing, and that I just haven’t forced myself to get back in it.

I write dreck for pay, you see, and usually, by the time I’ve reached my daily income goal, I’m too braindead to write anything else.

But really, that’s a kind of omnipresent reality with everything one does, no? I mean, most of it is dreck in some way, shape or form. Discipline is the ability to get past that.

###

Also, the deadline for this year’s Clarion Write-a-thon is June 21. Should I enter? I made a few bucks for Clarion last year with my young-Eleanor-Roosevelt-meets-ghoulish-ghost-of- Wernicke–Korsakoff-inflicted-father but the actual story wasn’t very good. It was meant to be kind of an homage to The Turn of the Screw.

Anyhoo, in Wisconsin I had this really odd dream about a police detective who channeled a kind of drag queen alter ego called Dead Marilyn who helped him solve crimes. I was thinking I might try to write something for Clarion using that. But I would need an actual plotline.

More Words

I've been entertaining myself today by playing around with the stuff I did for NaNoMo. I have no idea what, if anything, I'll do with it, but its voice is noticeably different from most of the stuff I write, so I'm intrigued. I think partly that's because if I'm writing about Henry Miller and June, then I channel Miller to some degree and some of these descriptions do feel very Miller-esque to me (although my mind was completely empty while I was writing.) Of course, I'm a big fan of paragraphs, and Henry Miller was not.

DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU'RE UNDER 18, OR YOU PREFER TO AVOID SEXUALLY EXPLICIT PROSE.

This isn't at all erotic, but it uses sexual imagery with that Miller-esque sense of the grotesque.

Hidden for lengthCollapse )
Still in the throes of relentless activity. Upside is that I feel just like Maria in West Side Story, twittering around on my toes; trilling, I feel pretty! slightly off-key. Downside is that I tend to lose purchase of my own thoughts if I don’t spend at least a couple of hours every day sitting in a corner with my eyes unfocused. Maybe that’s some metabolic equivalent of mediation? Dunno. Anyway, I can feel my attention span growing shorter and shorter and shorter.

I am having fun, though.

###

Like, for instance, I had a totally terrific birthday weekend. L took me out for lunch at CIA’s excellent French restaurant where I had one of the most fabulous meals I’ve ever eaten: deconstructed pineapple upside down cake and BLTs as amuses bouches; a chestnut soup; a grilled dorade that actually, yes, melted in my mouth; Mimosas with mint; and a deconstructed lemon bar, which the restaurant comped (without being asked.)



Afterwards, I drove out to Rhinebeck and wandered around that quaint little town for an hour or so. Carmel on the Hudson, right? Scored a trio of exotic eaux de Cologne at a little tchatche shoppe that was going out of business plus a remaindered copy of Little Failure at the surprisingly good indie bookstore. (I’m a beeeg Gary Shteyngart fan.) Went to see Noah Baumback’s While We’re Young. (Five-word review: All About Eve Meets Williamsburg.)

Next day, accompanied Seraphina to Harlem for Ayana’s Natural Hair Expo. Almost bailed on that ‘cause you know – natural hair, not a White Girl thing. Plus my eyes needed unfocusing.

Very glad I didn’t, though, because I had the best time, not necessarily at the Expo itself (which was very badly organized though I walked away with an enormous number of samples, which now, of course, White Girl Hair or no White Girl Hair, I’ve got to try) but just hanging out with Seraphina in Harlem on a glorious, glorious day.



We sat on a stoop in the radiant sunlight waiting for the fashion show to begin and just gabbed about everything – childhoods, families, hopes and dreams. Talk fest continued over lunch at Sylvia’s and after the show, when we spent several hours shopping along 125th Street.

Back in my day, 125th Street – particularly its intersection with Lenox Avenue a/k/a Malcolm X Boulevard – was the heart of the riot zone.

Today, though, it’s one huge shopping mall.

Seraphina is looking to get out of the social services business and into the hair business, so after the fashion show, she carted me into half a dozen or so of the hair emporiums lining the Ave, and I scored five boxes of that cheap, cheap, cheap Revlon 112 Colorsilk Luminista, which is the only hair dye evah to turn my locks the deep aubergine I adore, and which, sadly, is not being manufactured anymore, so whenever I go anywhere, one of my quests – like finding the Holy Grail or that winning Lotto ticket – is to hit up every pharmacy in a five-mile radius in the hopes of hunting down a single box.

On the Metro-North ride home, we were surrounded by all sorts of bizarre people having bizarre conversations, which drove us into absolute hysterics. Don’t think I’ve lost it that hard since Susan and I got booted out of a Tai Kwon Do dojo 30 or so years ago for laughing hysterically through Master Bliss’s lecture on rising chi.

So much fun.

###

This is the final week of taxes, so I’m doing a lot of work in the Tax-Aide brigade, too.

Yesterday, for example, I had this client who brought in an oversized Manila envelope bursting at the seams with receipts, which he obviously expected me to organize. I mean, no shit – there were at least 200 of them. And they were all donations to Brother Parsley Jack’s Christian Brigade or Sister Amy Lordpraiser’s Hallelujah Life Mission. The absolute dregs of the TV evangelical channels, in other words.

He was a sweet little guy who obviously meant well, which is why I didn’t tell him to organize the damn things himself. He’d retired from some state job – probably as a janitor at some high school or something – and that pension combined with his Social Security gave him a rather substantial retirement income for a single man living alone in a mobile home park.

Took me an hour and a half to organize his receipts. They totaled something like $14,000.

At first, I was outraged. Wondered if I should call the Dutchess County Social Services hotline and report this as elder abuse.

Then I thought, Hey! It’s no business of yours how this gentleman chooses to spend his money.

Are these nonprofits to which he’s donating money complete scams?

Sure.

But then, so’s Hillary Clinton’s contribution pitch webpage.

Of course, I would prefer it if he was donating $14,000 to cancer research.

But, you know. I don’t get to make decisions for other people on how they spend their money.

###

I’ve also been reading RTT’s novel-in-progress. He sent me the first 120 pages.

It’s good. The kid has a natural sense of rhythm, momentum. That’s something you can’t be taught – you’re either born with it, or you’re not. Sure, it has issues. It’s gonna require a lot of line editing and some serious plot tweaking and reorganization of the info flow to the reader if RTT wants to snag an agent. But that’s stuff that can be fixed in a subsequent draft.

A rhythm problem can’t be fixed, ever. A rhythm problem means the person writing what you’re reading doesn’t know how to tell a story.

I was gonna tell RTT how great it was regardless of how great it was – I am his Mom, after all – but I was very happy that I could say it and mean it. I was really impressed.

So You Wanna Be a LAWYER!

In exciting meine DNA über alles news, Max has now gotten into five law schools and has cracked U.S. News & World Report's much-vaunted Top Ten.

He is going to be able to put me into a very expensive Home For Embarrassing Mothers.

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End of the Year Meme

1. What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before?

Attended the Coney Island Mermaid parade.

Began collecting my various retirement trust funds. Should keep the pusskers in Friskies and me in goofy socks for the next 25 years or so – God willin’ and inflation don’t rise. (It will, of course.)

Visited an uncle I never knew I had. Tremendously nice guy. But there came that moment when I told him the story of Ted’s life and Ted’s kids, and he literally flinched because his father had been a very good father to him, but, of course, his father’s mistreatment of Ted turned Ted into a sociopath, ruined eight lives, you might say. It was a lot for a tremendously nice guy to take in.

2. Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year? 2014's Resolutions:

Never make New Years’ resolutions.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Nope.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Yes. Lucius in March; Rik – in October some time?

Neither death was unexpected. Both men had been in ill health for quite some time.

I was out of touch with both when they died. That didn’t matter. Long ago, they’d both been elected to permanent seats on the Advisory Board deep in my corpus callosum.

Initially, Lucius was one of my instructors at Clarion West. A very, very brilliant writer who never lived up to his promise: in part, because he never had the patience to tackle long-form fiction; in part, because there was such a huge disconnect between his writerly persona and his everyday life personality. If you met him, you might think he was one of the Duck Dynasty. His best known works are probably Life During Wartime and the Dragon Griaule cycle.

His best piece of writerly advice to me? “You always wanna bring it full circle, repeat the shit you say in the first paragraphs in the last paragraphs, you know? I don’t know why, but that always knocks ‘em dead.”

Sometime in the ‘90s, when Lucius was having serious IRS troubles, I invited him to move in with my family. This turned into a year and a half residency – rather longer than I had anticipated. Hijinks ensued. I should write about them some day.

We fell out during a 2007 trip to Europe. Lucius apparently had been nurturing a crush on me for many years; I won’t pretend I didn’t know about the crush and didn’t play to it on occasion when my ego needed bolstering. But I had no intention of sleeping with him, and he got really pissed at me as a result.

He was tremendously supportive of me as a writer, was constantly exhorting me to abandon my marriage and children and just do it. “You must be cruel-l-l-l,” he’d cackle, trilling his R’s.

He also shared my obsession with reality TV, so we spent many hours in deep telephonic communion together, annotating Survivor cycles – me from my bed in Monterey, him from his desk in Washington. Sadly, future generations of anthropologists will not have access to our hilarious discourse unless they learn to decode electrical signals that even now are wafting their way to Alpha Centauri.

Rik was Annie’s husband, and the only person in the House of Usher who actually saw what my childhood was doing to me and tried to make amends. They divorced, but Rik was very conscientious about maintaining the relationship.

Rik is the reason I went to college. If it had been up to my blood relatives, I would have dropped out of high school, and that would have been that. I would have spent some years living in a trailer park. Maybe my scientific aptitude would have found some expression in efforts at methamphetamine production, though not at the Walter White level. I’m pretty sure I’d be dead now.

Of course, I had a crush on Rik – he was extraordinarily beautiful in his younger days with eyes the exact color of the ocean on a day when the marine layer hangs at a thousand feet reach. He may have harbored some incestuous fantasies of his own. When he was a young assistant professor, he serially dated a number of my female friends.

His most important piece of advice to me? “In every situation, you have three options. You can say yes, you can say no, or you can simply walk away.”

I got married for the first time in the backyard of Rik’s Spruce Street house. On Rik’s advice, Bill and I eschewed lawyers for our divorce, and I didn’t ask for child support. Instead, I told Bill to fly Max down to Tustin once a month so that they could continue to maintain a real father/son relationship and to cover Max’s college costs. Since Max ended up getting a free ride at Deep Springs and a lot of financial support from Stanford, I’d say Bill ended up getting the best of that particular deal.

Rik’s father Jacinto was a high-ranking scientific muckety muck during World War II, so in some essential sense, Rik was living in the long shadow of his father – a fact that I didn’t realize until I was middle-aged. Jay was demented when I knew him – Alzheimer’s or some such. Jay had been such a bastard when his faculties were intact that his various caretakers – Rik and his wife Hazel – delighted in being caustic toward him (though they never actually mistreated him.)

The dementia turned out to be hereditary. Rik was finally officially diagnosed with it a couple of years ago.

We fell out over a number of different things. At a certain point, Rik became tired of functioning in loco parentis -- the age difference between us wasn’t actually all that great. He disapproved of a number of decisions I made (starting with hooking up with Ben), and, of course, he was right: They were horrifyingly bad decisions. At one time, we’d been quite intimate, but we gradually drifted apart.

Rik was finally diagnosed after he began behaving inappropriately in various public and private places. I loaned Max out to Alicia and Janet (Rik’s second wife) to help corral Rik upon occasion.

The final fissure came about as a result of my mother’s will. She’d made Rik her executor. In 2012, eleven years after her death, Robin turned 18 and it came time to distribute her bequest to him. Robin needed this as part of his college money. Robin was being his usual un-diligent self in following up on this, so I wrote to Alicia’s husband – who was managing the account – to try and expedite the process. Rik wrote me a scathing letter back, accusing me of trying to steal Robin’s college money. I was justifiably outraged.

I didn’t give a fuck when Rik died. Truth be told? I still don’t give a fuck. Burn in hell, Rik! I think to myself. However… The more enlightened part of me realizes that (a) I owe a great deal to Rik and (b) that awful letter was probably written by Rik’s dementia. So I’m going to go to Rik’s memorial service in California this coming May.


5. What countries did you visit?

None.

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

A completed manuscript. Or two.

7. What date from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

November 27. Thanksgiving Day! Which I spent with my two boys in New Mexico.



8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Shedding the angst. I’m quite content with my little life these days.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Well, the Vista residency crashed and burned. Entirely not my fault.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

That thing that happened with my wrist a week or so back. My wrist is back to normal now. I still don’t know how that happened, though, and I’m curious abut it.

My ongoing autoimmune disease, which makes me feel like a leper in the warmer months.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

The car.


12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

Max. As always.

Linda.

BB (who is just the world’s most terrific friend.)

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

Nobody’s, really.

14. Where did most of your money go?

In addition to the usual upkeep and maintenance expenses incurred by housing, food, phone, and transportation? Robin, I’d have to say. And I was happy to be in a financial situation where I could give him that support.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Nothing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

16. What song will always remind you of 2010?

Fiona Apple’s Container:

I was screaming into the canyon
At the moment of my death
The echo I created
Outlasted my last breath
My voice it made an avalanche
And buried a man I never knew
And when he died his widowed bride
Met your daddy and they made you

I have only one thing to do and that’s
To be the wave that I am and then
Sink back into the ocean
Sink back into the ocean
Sink back into the ocean

17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

Happier.

ii. thinner or fatter?

Fatter!

iii. richer or poorer?

Richer!

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Serious writing. Exercising.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Wasting time.

20. How will you be spending New Years?

Still trying to drum up plans for New Years Eve. New Years Day, I’m going to an open house.

22. Did you fall in love in 2010?

I don’t think I’m capable of falling in love anymore. It takes a certain willing suspension of disbelief, you know?

23. What was your favorite TV program?

I really, really liked Black Mirror. Foyle’s War – which takes on such a nice LeCarre spin after V-Day. Oh, and of course, the ever kinky-and-yet-corny Criminal Minds.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

Nope.

25. What was the best book you read?

Well, I’d have to say the book I enjoyed the most – but I wouldn’t describe it necessarily as a good book – was Nancy Horan’s Under the Wide and Starry Sky.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Fiona Apple.

27. What did you want and get?

A car.

28. What did you want and not get?

A surprisingly fulfilling year, so I’d have to answer N/A.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?

John Michael McDonagh's Calvary.

Distant runners up: Birdman, What Maisie Knew.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 62. Can’t remember what I did.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

My year was pretty satisfying. Discovering some relative I never knew I had had died and left me a huge portfolio of high-performing tech stocks might have made it more satisfying. I’m not sure.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?

Bag Lady. Let’s face it. Despite having worked in the fashion industry, fashion has always been a foreign concept to me. I'm happiest in uniforms.

33. What kept you sane?

Having an independent income.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Hmmmm… Maybe Bruce Willis? But only Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys and The Sixth Sense.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?

Student loans.

36. Who did you miss?

Susan. Marybeth. Abe. Oddly enough, Lucius.

37. Who was the best new person you met?

Linda.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.

Money isn’t important. Unless you don’t have any.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

See Fiona Apple above.

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