Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Best Birthday Ever

It started a month ago: What do you want for your birthday, mom? It's kind of a joke actually, because every year for every holiday I ask for exactly the same thing.
A Clean House.
My mom got savvy a while back and started booking our old housekeeper to come in every year for my birthday and for the winter holidays. It's easy and always the right color and fit.

The sad thing is, I am serious. It IS what I really want. Its hard enough for me to figure out what I want, when the family has so many needs. And I certainly don't usually dare ask for what I want. Not getting it hurts too much. Still when I look in my heart, what I really want is a clean house. A clean house means I am free to read a book or do something interesting. A house already put together means I can move on, and not be weighed down by the the Awful Should Do's. Every week I finish a full week at work and have to come home and put in another 20 hours just keeping our house from being a health hazard.

But this year, something was different. Maybe this birthday is a big enough number that I can hear the clock ticking. I know the show does not go on forever. And maybe this year, I don't just want a clean house, I NEED a clean house. My world, organized.

And so I asked. But I didn't ask my family. I framed up a little email request, and I asked my dearest girl friends to help me. It was really really hard to ask-- I had the thing on my computer for weeks before I dared to mail it. I am not the one who needs things--I have spent a lifetime in the counter role: the one who rescues and fixes.

I have no problem accessing professional help when I need it. But asking a friend for a favor is really hard for me. Perhaps it is the pioneer stock, the midwestern ethic--it is a mark of one's strength to go it alone. But for my birthday I gave myself the gift of asking.

And so they arrived, in sweats and jeans, ready to roll up their sleeves, and roll em up they did. After 3 hours, I called them off, and we ate lasagna with a celebratory glass of wine, and surveyed their gift: a completely reorganized and decluttered front room, and a kitchen wall of appliances suitable for a photo in a lifestyle magazine. I felt lighter than air, happy, as I took the garbage bags to the trash and loaded the cast offs into the Amvets donation box. A morning of work did not give me an entire house, but it started a process of paring down, of unblocking my chi, of lightening my load, and this process is long overdue in my life.

As this birthday is solidly in middle age, I come to grips with all the things I might not have time for, but there are many things I chose not to have time for: toxic people, stuff that no longer serves me, and patterns that hold me down. The gift of time that my friends gave me was so precious and will last forever--and it will never need dusting.

At the end of my birthday weekend, my youngest daughter asked me, as I ask each of my children each year on their special day, Was it a Good Birthday? It was, it was.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wearin' O The Green

My people are more Celtic Scottish than Irish, and in the end, if I felt like forking over the bucks for DNA analysis, probably more Ancient Russian tribal with its Asian roots and Teutonic embellishments, but on St. Pat's everyone within striking distance of Chicago is Irish. And so we wear our glowing green, and I paint on Shamrocks and don my ridiculous hats. And I sip a Jameson and read some McCourt in a quiet place.

I have been to the Emerald Isle thrice. It always feels like home. I feel like I am on a very long road to get back to a flat in Galway, or a cottage on the western coast, where fairies might live amid the moss, and the lilt of the speech and the sadness of the tunes gets into my very bones and feels like my own heartbeat. The Irish are a race of tale tellers, and there is something quite old and tribally, limnally very human about them.

So lift a glass to me homeys today.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Last week, on facebook, my neighbor found out she had lost an entire branch of her family tree in a fiery crash on a highway in Israel. I am not certain that is the best use of social media, but I also understand the impulse of wanting to get the inconceivable horrible piece of information out as painlessly as possible, and not wanting to tell the horror over and over again. My friend is still stunned. How could this happen--how could your cousin put his wife and two young kids on a plane to visit family and just never come back. In an instant, in an instant, three generations gone. What do you DO with that kind of a loss? I lost my father that way--in the seventh grade, I went off to school, he went off to work, peck on the cheek,and he dropped dead of a heart attack. Gone. I never said goodbye. I never told him how very much I loved him. And still, every day I miss him. Life is that fragile. We don't think about it every moment of the day, because we would go mad, but in a sense, we remain aware of this tragic fact of existence. We live, we die, and sometimes the transition happens in a second, and there is no time for proper passage.

I attended a class of sixth graders this week introduced to the poetic form: Elegy. It was clear that the poem read as an example of the form got to the kids in a way that a typical educational level lecture never could.

And it was equally clear, that many of these children had sustained significant losses. It is not possible to live as a human on this planet for more than a couple of years without suffering painful, altering loss--whether it is to lose your grandmother, a family pet, or your favorite stuffed animal. One of my children has sobbed over growing out of a favorite shirt---I am losing my childhood! I was told. How many mamas miss the babies we once held--bewildered by the grown people they become? Our existences will be marked by loss. Gain as well, but also irreversible loss. My daughter always becomes very distant and cold towards her pets when they get older---if you call her on it she breaks down racked by crying----she doesn't want to love them so much because they are going to die.

Pets can be especially hard,since their lifespans can be short. I did the same exercise that the students in the class did, and wrote this:

The Last Dog

We ran so many forests
Woody and I.
His golden coat shimmering
In afternoon dappled light.
His big grin and tongue lolling.

Now the trees do not call me so much any more,
Without his peppy bark
Urging me onward.

There are other dogs running with me now,
Butterscotch and chocolate brutes

But not retrievers.

I love them also,
But I have not forgotten
My feathered golden friend with deep sad eyes
My boon companion

The thing I have been unable to convince my daughter is that to hold back love is to miss the good part of the tragedy of our fragile and always too short lives. That the loving itself is the payoff, and the compensation for the pain of the loss. You
lose the experience of the person in your daily life but you never lose the memory of having loved.

Be sure to speak that love to those in your life, because you never know when the ongoing narrative of a life will come suddenly to an end. Just make sure the story is as filled with love as it can be and SAY that love. For those left behind,
especially if there is no chance to say goodbye, it is the gift that we are left with.

And remember. They have not died until the last person who remembers them has died.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Some poems

Ode to my aging technology

My poor mobile phone
Held together with duct tape
Old enough to be obsolete,
Pre Blue Tooth,
A Dinosaur in my pocket--
Hands free is a quest on Ebay.
But, it works.
And in these days when I squeeze each nickel
Into a thin dime,
A newer phone
Is stubbornly
Out of My Price Range.

Alas, the hands free lobby has triumphed again,
forcing purchases in the name of Safety
They have rendered my phone illegal for much of my day.
Those who pass these ridiculous,
confusing, patronizing laws
Have never juggled three children, six activities, a strictly limited budget
And a traffic jam.
They sit upon their priviledged thrones,
Issuing edicts for us peasants.

Response to the National Arts Index

Transformation takes time.
And Marination.
Being moved
May happen in a lightening bolt
or like True Love
and dig in
Embellish and tangle
Over years.

Trust the process.

On the coming of spring

I am reborn
At the tipping point
Each Equinox
A New Year
The fog lifts
The abyss recedes.

I am Gandalf
After White
Blue eyes, sharp, renewed,
And with powers
Not Witnessed
In my grey

Ideas pop
Connections swirl
As if the
Inner Physics
A Quantum Level

Days grow longer
Sun is golden
Melting the blue
of Ice
Too long
Earth bound.
Soon Green
Soon Warm
Soon, Spring.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Damnation of Faust

Why you need to see this opera. For ME. Way back another life time ago, I created work that did not necessarily have a narrative through line. I used the best music I could find. I would throw imagery out there--striking imagery made with human bodies. Some of that imagery was drawn from media, because at the end of the last century, and now surely in this one, as a people we have developed a common vocabulary of images that serve as a kind of shorthand to narratives: the line of coffins, a soldier with a weapon. A pregnant woman clasping the flag folded from her beloved's coffin. In my case, it was a woman crumpling to her knees, sob emanating. It was her scream from the floor. Or the other one: people in mist filled boxes pushed around by robots.I would repeat the images, a leitmotif as it were. And I would leave the audience to find meaning--which would frustrate more conventional consumers. I trust audiences. I have always found that our minds will pull it all together and find a story that somehow intersects with who we are and what we care about. We can be moved by a story that cannot be told in words.

To move us, and force us to see the world in a new way--that is the job of a contemporary art work, be it a photo, a painting, a happening in a loft, or in this case, an opera. It is refreshing and wonderful that in a time where we all feel depleted, weighted down with what a friend calls poverty mind, that a so called bastion of the status quo takes a risk, and pulls out the playbook from the most contemporary performance work there is, and puts it out there to resonate. There are some traditionalists out there having a problem with a beetlejuice Brander--but I see a man decayed by his lifestyle. That vision drills into my brain. And come on, those Rat Dancers, it brings something sleazy and depraved and exploitive into the mix, even if you are not sure what it is. This show has to sit with you a while. The music will rock your socks off and I giggled to see it listed in a hip publication next to totally au courant music choices like ticketmaster Uber Concerts. This show could totally play BAM, and I love that it could draw a new generation into the hallowed halls of Wacker Drive. But go, spend the money and get a ticket. Because this show is going to stick in your eyeballs. You are going to think about it for years. You are going to find yourself downloading the tunes. This show takes my venerable beloved grandma and puts her in my daughter's generation.

And we need to get out there and support LIVE ART. Just like we need to spend more for REAL food, we need to put our money and our bottoms where our belief system lies. If you want there to be a place where your body can vibrate to the vocal and artistic equivalent of the Olympics, you have to support it with your presence.

Don't miss this show.