dimanche 29 novembre 2009

So you think you're suffering from Bored Housewife Syndrome? Read this and your problems will be solved!

I actually read this on a blog of some sort. Here it is in its entire glory, comments included. (My annotations are in parentheses and in italics.):

Many women choose to remain (remain where? on earth?) as a housewife to take care of their children. Some may have given up lucrative careers. Others turn housewives (turn into housewives? like turning into pumpkins at the stroke of midnight?) immediately after leaving school (due to lack of lucrative career options? boredom?). Whatever said and done(when all is said and done? whatever is said and done?), they have to spend time at home (there is just no escaping that one is there?). Initially, it may be exciting and very romantic (such are the dreams of the everyday housewife,who gave up the good life...). But in (the?) course of time, with children coming along, the responsibilities increase (don't you just hate that?). A routine life sets (in?). One may just get bored as a housewife (but there is so much to do!). How to make life interesting in such a situation?

How to Overcome the Bored Housewife Syndrome?

•One must avoid following the same routine day-in-day out (and out too). A change in household chores helps (like deciding not to do them or deciding to do them all wrong - this will wake the family from its inconsiderate slumber)
•Try to be an interior decorator. Change the style of the house whenever you feel bored. Set up a theme. Work on it. It will excite you and make you want to innovate things (for example, change the furniture around every day; put the bed in the kitchen, for example, the phone in the oven and the television in the back yard). New decorations add glamor to the house (and keep the economy going)
•Play games, both indoor and outdoor with your husband and children (see above, about changing the furniture around daily; you can also put clean clothes in the wrong rooms and drawers). This will improve your relationship with them (though it could also backfire and annoy them, especially if the game entails moving furniture around). At the same time you will have something interesting to do
•Go in for blog writing. Vent your feelings. You can improve your writing skills also (why, just look at how well written this blog entry is!)
•Organize regular parties and invite friends over. It is an occasion to socialize and exchange views (bitch about husband and children)with others. It is always better to interact with others apart from your immediate family (just don't get too drunk during the week)
•Do not take your husband for granted. Always make an effort to keep the relationship alive and interesting. Maybe an outing with him, away from the regular routine will help. Also getaway from the children for a while. Spend time on yourself and your husband. Relive your romantic days again
•Exercise and diet. Keep good health. Be energetic. Boredom can get to you and you may feel lethargic. Avoid this. One must be physically and mentally active (keep moving, never look back, don't sit still)
•Go on a trip with your family. Travel refreshes the mind. Let the trip be exotic. Choose a place that interests you (never mind what works for others)
•Read. Keep abreast with what is happening around the world. The mind does not get stagnated (huh?)
•Learn new things. Cook something new or read the latest novel in the market (in the novel market?). Keeping in touch with what is happening around you makes you feel part of your surroundings. You will not get lost in drudgery of household chores (unless you move the furniture as I have suggested)
•Communicate frequently with your children. You can learn a lot from them. You remain in touch with the outside world (is being a housewife like serving a prison sentence?)
Being a housewife can also be interesting (I see). One need not get bored of life. One can continue to be innovative and creative. Do not get bogged down with household chores. Have a gala time (a gay old time? a yabba dabba do time?) with your family.


Comments
4 Responses to “Overcome Bored Housewife Syndrome”
1.reena Says:
July 22nd, 2009 at 8:52 am
sorry not a single point can help me out from this boredom as my hubby is busy in work and kids in theie studies they dunnt have time to communicate no time for outing we cannt change routine as it effects children
how many times we can change decoration yess i can cook new things but nobody has time to taste or to praise i dunnt thing any of ur points are practical (but the blogging as a way to improve communication skills couldn't hurt)

2.Monica Says:
July 29th, 2009 at 12:06 am
Redecorating the house? Humm that sounds like more of a chore than fun…besides I’ve already done that, there is only so much decorating one woman can do! I understand you are trying to be helpful, but really, your suggestions are not helpful! (how about having a gala time with your family?)

3.This article is ridiculous Says:
August 18th, 2009 at 2:33 am
Are you crazy? How can you go out with your husband and have a romantic life when you have no family to watch the kids and can’t afford a babysitter?! Your suggestions are completely ridiculous! Don’t you think we wouldn’t be lonely housewives if we could get a date night out?!?!??!! (whoa! time for another martini!)

Go on a trip? Does money grow on trees? I would give anything to go on a trip. Any trip. Even go to a movie. Wanna come watch my kids so I can follow your advice?! HA!

Do not take my husband for granted? Excuse me? On his days off he goes to ballgames and goes hunting. Why should I not take him for granted when I’m busting my behind every day and I never get a break. (Can this marriage be saved?)

4.Marisa Says:
September 4th, 2009 at 11:06 pm
I hear ya Reena!!!


Wow, this is a tough crowd! How about rethinking the whole housewife thing if it is making y'all this miserable?

vendredi 27 novembre 2009

La maison où j'ai grandi




My mom sold her house. It comes as no surprise that the buyer is an architect. Our house was built by a team of architects in the mid-1960s, and was considered to be radically modern at the time. Built partly on stilts, it overlooks a steep and wild ravine and Puget Sound. It has five decks, a partially open plan and a spiral staircase made of huge planks of burnt wood. It originally had a fireplace platform made out of these same planks of burnt wood, but unfortunately that got removed at some point. Many of the inside walls are made of stained wood. It is a really, really cool house. Apparently, many potential buyers were worried about it from a safety point of view for small children. My mother raised six kids in this house, and not one of her nine grandchildren nor her great-grandson has ever been injured, fallen down the stairs or fallen off one of the decks. Once I fell down the stairs. I was carrying a basket of laundry and could not see my feet. I was fine.

Now my mom lives with her husband Ron in a condo that overlooks the Ballard locks from the Magnolia side. It has a swimming pool. We tried to get her to sell her house for years and move into a condo, but she resisted. She liked her neighbors, she said. But now it is done. I'm happy for my mom. I'm happy that she has a full and happy life with many friends and lots of interests. She is part of a theater group and has been in the same book club for a million years. She plays tennis and swims. She misses her house and her neighbors, but not enough to remain stuck in the past. I'm happy for our old house in Fentonwood too. It found the right buyer. He and his wife sent my mom two dozen orchids when the deal closed and invited her to come and visit once they are settled in. They said they really liked the neighbors too.

My older brother Charlie wrote a note and hid it in the house. I know where it is hidden and my lips are sealed. But some day, someone may find this note and the two photos he included with it. Here's what the note says:

Hello. We are the Ganongs. This was our home from 1965 until 2009. Jim, our dad, worked at Westside Ford, and later had a jewelry shop in the West Seattle Junction. He liked to read books, and even wrote one.

Sally, our mom, made 12,960 school lunches for us over the years—without once using a Zip-lock baggie. We didn’t care. Each one was made with love. She was also a librarian, counselor, yoga teacher and a hundred other things mothers do. She married Ron in 2009 and motored happily off into the Lake Cavanaugh sunset—driving the boat, even.

That’s me as a senior in high school in the flattering overalls. What was I thinking! I guess I didn’t have time to change for the photo. I’m amazed we all managed to stand still long enough for it to be taken. Wonders never cease!

Next to me are my twin sisters, Peggy and Cathy. Cathy has her arm around Carl. “Baby Tow,” we called him—until he got big enough to sock people. That’s Janie on the right—the “middle child.” Or was that “meddle child?” Just kidding. And baby Carolyn, what a joy! How cute the way she cut her own bangs—already training for her future profession.

Well, that’s us. Or, that was us. Nothing and nobody stay the same: we’ve grown up, moved out and moved on, and must finally let go of this place we once called home. We hope you like it here, and create as many fond memories as we have taken with us.

Oh, and if you ever put up a basketball hoop over the carport: be prepared to spend a lot of time on the roof.
Here's Charlie, with his grandson William

jeudi 26 novembre 2009

Il n'y a pas de Gainsbourg sans fumée


This advertising poster/billboard for Joann Sfar's upcoming film about Serge Gainsbourg has been banned from the corridors of the Paris métro system (le RATP)because it appears to show Gainsbourg as he absolutely was in life: en train de fumer une clope. Among other things, the Loi Evin (named for Claude Evin, who was ministre de la santé when it was passed in 1991) places severe limitations on the use of cigarettes (and booze) in advertising.

Ceci n'est pas une clope

The funny thing is that the poster does not even feature a cigarette, a conscious decision that was made to comply with the law in question, according to the film's director in an interview with L'Express: "Nous avons créé cette affiche avec une équipe d'artistes et nous avons mis un point d'honneur à respecter les consignes sur le tabac. Dans l'affiche, ni cigarette, ni mégot ne sont visibles. Il y a juste de la fumée (...) Je trouve qu'interdire la fumée de sa clope c'est une façon d'infantiliser le public."

However, I'm not sure the director has correctly interpreted the law. In fact, it prohibits all direct or indirect advertising that promotes the use of tobacco. Where there is cigarette smoke, there is probably a cigarette.

Don't get me wrong. I think the non-smoking world has gone way overboard in its attempt to rid the world of the faintest hint of cigarettes. But I think the poster does violate French law as it currently stands. On verra bien!

mercredi 25 novembre 2009

Gluttony and Sloth scheduling nightmare



Otto Dix - les sept péchés capitaux

I like Dante Alighieri's version of the seven capital sins, from The Divine Comedy:

1.luxuria (extravagance)
2.gula (gluttony)
3.avaritia (avarice/greed)
4.acedia (acedia/discouragement)
5.ira (wrath)
6.invidia (envy)
7.superbia (pride)

Nowadays, we talk about lust instead of luxuria or extravagance, and sloth instead of acedia.

The seven deadly sins are inter-related and form a nice little vicious circle once you get going. But has anyone ever noticed the particularly tight relationship between gluttony and sloth? I always notice it at this time of year. This week is the kick-off for an onslaught of gluttony and sloth that will culminate, as in years past, on December 31, with a wicked hangover for many and a set of resolutions. Burp!

Let's talk about the traditionally heaving table laden with Thanksgiving food. It is a starch fest. Stuffing AND mashed potatoes AND dinner rolls AND pie crust, just in case you were worried about getting enough slow-burning carbs. The Thanksgiving meal is not one of my favorites by a long shot. I don't really like turkey much (but boy do I love a good capon or goose), unless it is smoked, in which case it is tolerable.

The stuffing thing has always bothered me too. I don't like croutons either. It all tastes like stove-top stuffing to me. Except for one recipe, which calls for dried apricots and grand marnier. I used to make that one alot when I lived in France. Speaking of, I much prefer a good French farce, which tends to be heavier on minced veggies, meats and fines herbes and generally devoid of bread. Once I made a turkey with truffes, which I sliced real thin and placed under the skin. The truffe cost about a million dollars and came in a tiny jar. I felt like I had the crown jewels, or one of them, in my grocery bag.

Inevitably, after eating a meal like this, all you really want to do is unbutton your pants (some people wear sweats with an elastic waistband so they don't even have to spend a hard-earned calorie on the task of unbuttoning) and lie on the sofa. Some people fall asleep right away; others say the triptophane in the turkey keeps them awake. Some say it puts them to sleep. I say that all of them are in thrall to a kind of temporary diabetic coma or near coma.

Sometimes gluttony and sloth feel good. It is nice on occasion to eat too much and then sit around digesting. I would just choose different food, for the most part. For example, roast duck. I made a great one last weekend. It was moist and flavorful. I put an apple in the cavity, along with salt and pepper. The secret is in scoring the duck so that it renders all that nice duck fat during the roasting process. We made a gratin de pommes de terre (also known as pommes dauphinoises)and spicy sautéed greens (chard, kale and mustard greens). As an appetizer, we roasted some figs and served them with a balsamic reduction, marcona almonds, parmesan cheese and good bread from Bakery Nouveau. Thanks for the idea, Tom Douglas. I think the tastiest dish was the carmelized shallots. I just sauté the shallots in a little unsalted butter and then add some brown sugar and some apple cider vinigar. Don't ask for proportions. Anyone who has ever cooked with me knows that I don't generally measure anything. This may be why I don't make desserts. We skipped the salad (it would have been arugula, pears, dried cranberries and gorgonzola) and moved directly on to dessert. Naturally, it was pumpkin pie. I am not a fan of PP and never have been. But this one was good. I have just never understood the appeal. I would rather eat pumpkin soup.

After this delicious meal, we went for a ten-mile walk on the beach. Did you believe me, even for a second? Actually, we played a very rousing game of Scrabble. There were winners and losers, tears were shed, challenges were issued, names were called. And someone really regrets challenging me on the word "ecu". (Don't you, someone?) Dahli brought her Scrabble dictionary, which is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. I always make fun of it. But it did contain the word ecu, so I was happy to have it on the table.

I am thankful for many things, and thankful for them every day. Being alive is something to be thankful for. Having work is another. Having friends is another. Having animals is a source of unending joy. Having love is the best damn thing of all.

I am thankful for duck fat, which is the upside of having duck.
I am not sure about duck farts, which are definitely on the downside. And you don't want to be downwind from someone who is processing them.

vendredi 20 novembre 2009

The Man Who Came to Dinner



The clip is from the 1942 film version starring Monty Woolley and Bette Davis. Here are Jimmy Durante and Mary Wickes as Banjo (based on Harpo Marx) and Nurse Preen, respectively.

A professional contact and friend of Walt's named Gordon played the lead role last night in the Edmonds Community College production of this wonderful play, co-written by George S. Kauffman and Moss Hart. The cast is very good, with Gordon in the title role kind of directing his young ensemble from the stage. Gordon is a graduate of the Yale Drama School, so he knows his stuff. He is a delightful actor and person.

Nabokov famously hated live theater. He said it was because the actors seem to have more fun than the audience. Sadly, this is often true. Not so with this play and this staging. Perhaps because of the intimacy of the setting (the seats end where the stage begins and the front row is on the same level as the stage), the audience is part of the fun. The dialogue is sharp and fast and funny.

Support community theater. Go and see this play tonight, tomorrow or Sunday. You will be surprised at how much fun it is.

lundi 16 novembre 2009

Hey! Guess what? Sarah Palin has a new book out!

Just remember you heard it here first. Huh? What do you mean you have already heard that Sarah Palin has a book to promote and that Oprah agreed to give her a leg up in exchange for the straight scoop on Levi Johnston and Katie Couric?



I love this clip from some ABC talking head/punditry program. David Brooks calls Sarah a potential talk-show host; Gwen Eiful refers to her as a bright shiny thing like the balloon boy; George Will likens her - disparagingly, of course - to three-time loser William Jennings Bryan.

And someone - I forget who - notes that this country has serious concerns that merit its attention, and that Sarah is not one of them. She has traded in maverickness for rogueness. Think about the term rogue nation and what it means. Who wants a rogue politician and a bloomin' dingbat, with a laugh that is as awful in its way as Jeff Bezos's, to lead America anywhere? Someone else noted that her appeal to the world's nobodies - the Mr. And Mrs. Joe Sixpacks of American - should not be underestimated or ignored. That's a scary thought.

Anyway, when I heard that laugh of hers, I wanted to run screaming from the room. It was when Oprah asked Sarah if Levi was coming over for Thanksgiving dinner. Or maybe it was when Oprah asked her about the Katie Couric interview. I forget which. You know why? Because I was not really paying attention to what she was saying, or to what Oprah was saying. Because in my book, and in my bookclub, Oprah is just a big fat joke. Powerful, yes. An empire builder, yes. But a big fat joke nonetheless.

Carmina Burana and the Dahlia Lounge



Even if the words "Carmina Burana" mean nothing to you, you will be familiar with O Fortuna, the music that begins and ends Carl Orff's masterpiece, Carmina Burana. This is the best version of it I could find on the Internet -- having rejected the version with Michael Jackson visuals and the version with still photos of Hitler -- and was conducted by Seizi Ozawa. It is quite impressive. But Seattle's own symphony, with Gerard Schwarz holding la baguette and backed by its chorale and two guest ensembles, did a wonderful job.

So what is Carmina Burana exactly? And who is Carl Orff? Let's start with Orff who, as fate would have, it shares my birthday, July 10. But he was born in the late 19th century, in Munich. Orff's genius lies in taking a manuscript that was found in a medieval Benedictine monestary in Germany in 1803 and turning it into a complete work of art spectacle. One of the most amazing things about the manuscript is that it was not a religious document at all, but a collection of 12th and 13th century songs, many of them drinkings songs. Some of the songs mock the clergy, others are about love and lust. They were written in a mélange of Old French, Middle-High German and Latin, probably by a variety of "authors". I use the term "authors" tentatively because authors did not really exist at the time these songs were written down, and they probably were not written down by their creators. Moreover, the scribes who did actually write things down had a tendency to make changes. Setting aside this problem and getting back to Orff, he put them all together in a monumental show that is hard to resist. I'm not one for bucket lists of any kind, but if I were, seeing Carmina performed live would have been on the list. Now I can tick that one off and move on. I just wish my hubby could have come along. He was home watching reruns of Law & Order, under doctor's orders to stay in bed until the nasty swine-flu like thing had run its course. I made him a kick-ass vegetable soup with lentils and tomatoes and several grilled cheese sandwiches, and also bought a jug of Welch's grape juice, always useful in a medical emergency. He's doing much better.

He also missed Tom and Jackie Douglas's twentieth anniversary party for the Dahlia Lounge. Too bad for him! Dahli and I went and stuffed our little faces with amazingly delicious things. Dahli knocked back a few special cocktails, which had pomegranate in them, while I stuck to red wine. I was driving. We sampled blinis with succulent duck, plum sauce, pickled cucumbers and cilantro, miso with spinach and sesame seeds, salmon with roasted vegetables (I spied florets of caulflower), roasted figs with chunks of flagship cheese and delightful bread from the Dahlia Bakery, crab and fresh oysters.... Dessert consisted of beignets served in paper cones and miniature coconut cream pies (that's a Tom Douglas specialty). And how could I forget, speaking of paper cones, the servers walking around with paper cones filled with pommes frites and some kind of mustardy sauce. Delicious! We got gift bags too, and they contained Tom Douglas turkey rub, a bottle of red wine created for the anniversary and a calendar. Thank you, Dahli! Thank you, Tom and Jackie! After stuffing ourselves, Dahli and I went out into the rainy night in search of my car. We agreed it was near Blanchard, but that's about it. So we wandered around for awhile - 30 minutes or so - playing with various options. Well, one, which was to call my ailing hubby and have him come and pick us up. It was actually good to get out and walk after all that food. Tom prepared a special box just for Walt, who loves coconut cream pies more than baseball.

samedi 14 novembre 2009

On Armistice Day...


Heidi's bronze relief work

Neko's dirty face

A splendid late fall day

Red Heidi, posing not too far from Red Square
On November 11, the University of Washington held a ceremony to honor war veterans and also to commemorate the Medal of Honor Monument that my friend Heidi Wastweet had been working on for three years. In addition to being a red red redhead, Heidi is an amazingly talented, self-taught maker of sculptures and medals. Here are a few photos taken on November 11, which turned out to be a splendid fall day in spite of what had been forecast. Neko marked the occasion in her own way, furiously digging a hole in the ground.

My sister Carolyn did Heidi's hair just before the event, turning her back into the vibrant redhead she is deep down. Notice how great her hair looks with her cool red suede coat and against the remaining fall leaves and red brick building.

I was amazed at the turnout, as well as at the number of VIPs in attendance. Washington's own Governor Grinch was there. I actually like our governor, who ran circles around that dolt Dino Rossi in their gubernatorial campaign debates. She is super smart. But there is no denying it: she looks like The Grinch.

The day before the event, as I scurried across campus in the pouring rain, cursing the wind and hoping I would make it to my 1:30 class without losing my cheap H&M umbrella, the VIP seating section and stage were being set up. I was having second thoughts about attending, but wanted to be there for Heidi's big moment. I breathed a sigh of relief when the sun rose the next morning on a clear day.

The ceremony itself was quite moving, as these types of event tend to be. War and killing always put a lump in people's throats, don't they? November 11 is a much bigger deal in Europe, at least in France, where it is a bona fide holiday that commemorates the Armistice that ended the First World War. The ceremony in Paris, repeated on a much smaller scale throughout France, is always solemn and well attended. Part of what makes it so moving is the relighting of the flame of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And because each year sees a diminishing number of "poilus", the name given to French combattants in WWI. The last living poilu died last year, at the age of 110. This year, for the first time, a representative of the country that France defeated in 1918 -- Germany -- was present at the ceremony in Paris. More amazing still, this year's commemoration came on the heels of the one marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. And the head of state standing by Nicolas Sarkozy's side, Angela Merkel, is from the "other" side of that Wall. The Prime Minister who came in from the cold.

So why is the 11 novembre such a big deal for Europeans? Well, for starters, the war was fought on their soil and divided them bitterly. In the space of four years, more than 10 million people died and more than 20 million became disabled. Empires fell, nations realigned, the precursor to the UN was created in a futile attempt to prevent future wars on this scale. Less than 20 years later, Europe was once again plunged into the dark night of war. The reticence of most European nations to resort to arms as a way of settling conflict needs to be understood in light of this experience. And sadly, it all too often is not understood over here, where we still tend to romanticize war and the call to arms from a very safe distance. For us, war is "over there". And we are "over here".

mercredi 4 novembre 2009

The passage of time




Last night we went to see John Irving talk about the craft of writing and read a short passage from his just-published novel, Last Night in Twisted River. As the Seattle Times book reviewer set the stage for his entrance, from where we sat I could see him off to the side of the stage. It is remarkable how little he has changed with the passage of time. When I last saw John Irving, Monday through Friday for the length of a college quarter, we were both 34 years younger. He was, and still is, a small and compact man, who looks exactly like you would expect a wrestler to look.

In 1975, he and I began our respective careers at Mount Holyoke College. I was a wide-eyed, terrified sophomore transfer student from Occidental College; he was a published author (with 3 novels already under his belt but virtually no name recognition), hired at the assistant-professor level to teach English at Mount Holyoke, one of the Seven Sisters and one of the few that has held out as a women's only institution. I was struck last night by how much he hasn't changed: as a teacher, he was often funny, in a dry and sometimes withering way, but he seldom laughed or smiled. There was something almost grim about him, or so it seemed to me. In fact, he was just deadly serious about literature and about the writer's craft. I nearly laughed out loud last night when he evoked the names of his nineteenth century masters - Dickens, Hardy, Melville, Hawthorne - remembering how passionately and eloquently he spoke of them to a group of young women who were miles behind him and struggling to keep up. I also laughed when he mentioned being a stickler for punctuation; I believe he reinforced in me a tendency that was already well-developed; to anyone who claims - as many have - that I overuse the comma, the semi-colon or the colon (not to mention dashes and parentheses), I have only one comment: fuck you! Kierkegaard wrote about "punctuating" reality: how can you capture it if you fail to use these marks, whose appearance in print is both conditioned by and the condition of silent reading (along with spaces between words, which predates the invention of print)? But I digress.

John Irving the teacher was demanding but fair. He expected students to come to class prepared and ran an efficient classroom. He was not all that approachable, which I now understand to be related to his need to carve out and defend two hours a day for his writing. He was working on The World According to Garp, the novel that would make him a household name in America, a writer of international stature and independently wealthy. One night, he was scheduled to give a reading and made it clear we should be there. We went. To a packed house in the tiny Western Mass town of South Hadley, he read what would become the first chapter of that novel. What I remember from that reading was, first of all, how he peered out at the audience almost combatively, and second, how his reading of that chapter made the crowd laugh out loud. We read his first three novels, either as part of the coursework or just because he asked us to - I don't remember now. They were (and are) amusing and full of promise; Garp, however, was on a different level altogether, and I think John Irving knew it as well, way back in 1975, when the novel was in its early stages. It was published in 1978; I was back in Seattle by then. I bought a hardbound edition, and tremember the thrill of reading the first chapter silently, hearing his voice, seeing that room at MHC, imagining the lights, the podium, and the feisty yet calm man behind it, reading his own prose to the delight of his audience.

One of the things I most appreciated about John Irving the teacher was that he did not suffer fools. I don't think this has changed. Last night, he did not open up the floor to a question and answer session and did not make himself available to sign his book or any book. I usually leave when authors or experts allow the audience to ask questions. I am not there to hear what they think, and everyone knows what inevitably happens when a microphone is made available: fools rush in and bores step up to deliver windy, self-important and often rambling statements or personal manifestos, only casually ending with a question mark inflection to signal that they are paying lip service to the rules of the game. Instead of putting himself through this tedious exercise that everyone secretly despises except the foolish bores (or boorish fools, take your pick), he asked that the audience submit written questions. Most of them he looked at quickly and brushed aside. He let us know that they were lame questions; but he did so in a way that made each person in the audience feel as if he was mocking someone else -- not you, not me, but someone else.

Before Irving began to speak, I was tapped on the shoulder by a woman who was standing behind me. Her gesture suggested she had mistaken me for a waitress or bookstore staffer. She nudged me and thrust an index card and pencil in my hand when I turned around, telling me to give it to whoever was collecting questions. At first I was confused, since no one anywhere near me was collecting questions and I was not sitting anywhere near the aisle. My bulky coat was folded on my lap and I had a coffee cup in my hand. It would have been just as easy, if not easier, for her to submit her question. In terms of distance from the question collector, we were about even and she was already standing up. I looked at her in disbelief; she glared right back at me. So I looked at her question ("What are you reading now?") and then back at her. Her face was contorted in anger. How dare you not get up and submit my question she seemed to say. And I hope she read my look, which meant: You want me to get up and walk halfway up the aisle to submit this lame question? And no, John Irving neither answered nor even bothered to dismiss her lame question. I was tempted, as a joke, to write a question of my own. I would have written this question, beginning with a self-important utterance: "I was your student in 1975 at Mount Holyoke College. Do you remember me?" It would have been funny to submit it like that, unsigned. And then not say anything.

But John Irving has a complicated relationship with his readers, in part because he has attracted the kind of fan base that he so aptly described for one of his fictional characters in Garp. He understands the creepy side of this kind of obsession, and I bet this is the subject of one of his fear zones. He talked about the relationship between his deepest fears and writing last night. It was actually a very intimate moment of self-disclosure, delivered from behind the mask of the writer. So I'm glad I decided not to write that smart-ass comment/question on an index card. I also felt it was quite brave of him - in America, no less - to simply state that he is not religious, in reply to the moderator's question about fate and whether he believes in it.

Many readers have noted the recurrence of certain themes in Irving's fiction, and the wikipedia article about him even presents a table of overlapping themes. Incest, sex between a younger boy and an older woman, absent father, the writer's life, etc.

When Irving's previous and most straightforwardly autobiographical novel to date was published, the reading public learned more about his most private past. Irving's biological father divorced his mother and signed away all visitation rights when John was 2 years old. His mother remarried four years later, and Irving was quite enamored of his step-dad. "My life got better from the moment he came into it," he has said. He never really forgot about his father, though, and hoped that he was watching him. The plot of Until I Find You is partly driven by this fantasy.

When John Irving divorced his first wife (in 1981), his mother apparently gave him a bunch of letters that his father had sent her during World War II. In those letters, he explained why he had decided to end the marriage but also expressed the hope and expectation that his soon-to-be ex-wife would allow him to maintain contact with his son. Apparently, this request was denied. Irving was perplexed by both his mother's refusal and his father's acceptance of it.

What is most amazing to me is how he manages to weave these biographical facts into his fiction like variations on a theme (or set of themes) that never gets old. The best writers repeat themselves, he noted last night, citing another writer. They can't help it. I remember him telling us, his students at Mount Holyoke, that getting at the truth required exaggeration. I remember writing that down in my notebook and putting a big dreamy circle around it.

Not everyone who took his class that term liked him. In fact, my roommate loathed him and his books. Why is he making us read this crap?, she would say, puffing on a Virginia Slim. She was from a veh-ry wealthy San Francisco family -- indeed, I cannot reveal the name without violating her privacy -- and spent most of her time lost in the binge/purge cycle or on the phone with her therapist. She had the SF Chronicle delivered daily to our room. She would read the society pages and comment on the antics of the people in them -- her friends, or so she said. Débutante balls and so on. One day, she said of Patty Hearst, who had been kidnapped a year earier and who had apparently joined forces with her aggressors, that she had never really liked Patty anyway. She wanted to be an actress, but lied to her theater professor to avoid taking a mid-term by saying that her beloved grandfather (whose family has tons of stuff named after them in SF) was on his death bed. This was pure invention. I wonder how she felt two days later when he suddenly died of a heart attack. Unbelievable but true. Actually, I remember how she felt. She announced the news to me one evening when I returned to our shared room, falling back onto her bed and moaning But what will become of the estate at Woodside? In case you don't know, Woodside is south of San Francisco and one of the wealthiest communities in the world. Yes, the world. I often thought she must be joking, but in truth I fear that she never was. In addition to drama, she was addicted to valium, and this turned her into two of the seven dwarves for the first six hours after waking: Grumpy and Sleepy. That's why she never went to class and why she had to invent death agony for her beloved grandfather to avoid an exam.

Before heading home to SF for the holidays, she decided that she needed to lose 20 pounds in a hurry and that she needed my help to stay on this diet she had tried before with success (or so she said). It was simple. It involved drinking a bitter mixture of molasses and lemon juice and hot water three times a day. That's all. No food. I agreed to do it with her. Within a week, I felt and looked like a ghost. But she was struggling to lose a few pounds. That's because, though I didn't know it at the time, she was hoarding food and eating it in the dead of night, then throwing up.

After I moved back to Seattle, I lost touch with her. She drifted back to San Francisco. One day, out of the blue, I got a call from XXXXX. She chatted me up for a few minutes and then asked if I remembered the exact proportions of the lemon juice and molasses in that old diet. I said you're not going to try that again are you? And she said, yes, because I might have a small role on a Norman Lear sitcom and I need to lose 20 pounds in a hurry. I rolled my eyes, wished her well and hung up. The next day at work I was telling my fellow cocktail waitress Carol about the strange phone call I had gotten from my old Mount Holyoke roommate. At some point, reminiscing about how weird she was, I mentioned her first name. Carol, who was from San Francisco and about ten years older than me, gasped and said: "Did you say XXXXX? Not XXXXX YYYYYYYYYYY?!"
When I replied in the affirmative, Carol nearly lost it. I used to be her governess, she said. John Irving could not have invented a more implausible plot twist.

lundi 2 novembre 2009

Daylight savings time memo


Apparently Pushkin and Munchkin cannot tell time, and/or they did not get the memo about Daylight Savings. You know, the whole spring forward and fall back thing. In the morning, they eat at between 5 am and 6 am. But in the evening, 5 pm is the sacred hour. They prepare for this auspicious moment by following me everywhere from about 4 pm on. If I am in my office, they just sit and stare at me. Their concentration and devotion are such that they often remind me of the animals gathered round Baby Jesus in the manger. Today, I had to feed them at 4 pm. They refused to listen to any explanations about the benefits of Daylight Savings Time and scoffed at my suggestion that they get used to it. When Munchkin started in with the self-mutilation bit, I resisted, even when I heard her head hit something hard, which I believe was the corner of a wooden table. But when I heard a crash in the kitchen, I knew I would have to give in. This bowl -- former bowl, I guess -- is made entirely of recycled plastic. I'm sure I paid too much for it, because I bought it at Metropolitan Market. It was on sale, I hasten to add. What appealed to me was the size and the total plastic-ness of it. Perfect for those occasions when you go to someone else's for a meal and they ask you to bring a salad. I found some really great pistachio-colored tongs to go with it, also entirely plastic.
I don't know what Pushy was trying to prove. But I resent her lack of remorse, which is evident in the first photo. I picked up every shard of broken plastic and put the broken bowl on the table. I'm not sure my purpose was to shame Pushy. But it was not to encourage her to go and sit next to the desolated object with that look of absolute contentment, mingled with defiance.