Thursday, September 18, 2008

my mother's shoes

I am wearing a pair of my mother's shoes that I recovered from her closet in Sydney this August. She bought these edouard jerrold wedges in 1975, when I was four years old. The pair pictured here are on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. My mother's pair have brown, pink, turquoise and cream stripes.
I look at my feet and flash back to being four, to my mother in flares with a bandanna in a triangle over her hair. She had not worn the shoes in at least 25 years, if not 30, but she loved them. She ocassionally pulled them out of the closet -- checking that they still fit, not quite offering to give them away to one fashion-obsessed teenager or another.
In sorting through all of her stuff, it was hard to give things away or throw them out. I certainly was not going to throw out this iconic pair of shoes.
They are a little dingy -- how does one clean velvet shoes? I had them repaired (the glue holding the uppers on the sole was crumbling). So now I can wear them. They don't even look out of place, considering the cyclical world of fashion.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

the weekend of the dog

Iz has decided to be a dog. This does not involve barking or even walking on all fours. It involves nudity, peeing outside with one leg raised, and pooping outside. (The last I consider so nasty -- he has done this only once, without warning -- I hope to avoid a repeat.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I love clothes

I love clothes. Rather, I love the right clothes. For me. Not sure how to describe my style. Not bohemian. Not punk. Definitely not preppy or trendy. I usually don't find my favorite pieces in a mainstream store. But I do have some favorite labels -- the current one is Free People. (I admit Free People is not necessarily out of the mainstream. But it is no GAP.)

As a teenager, I found much of my clothing in vintage stores, such as Alice's Underground in the West 70s and Love Saves the Day near St. Mark's Place. I don't the patience to look through $5 bins in a vintage store; nor do such stores have the same feel or prices that they did in the 1980s. But I am drawn to that type of style -- vintage and singular (even though it might not actually be singular).

Two movies have made me examine my relationship with clothing and fashion. I do not love clothing in a "Sex and the City" way. What do I care about outrageously expensive designer clothes? Yet I am a New Yorker (or ex-pat New Yorker, if you prefer). But my New York was never that kind of New York. (What "my kind of New York" is remains a tangential question here.) Now, I have not seen the movie, and I only saw one episode of the TV show (with my mother-in-law, very uncomfortable). But what topic comes up in reviews and discussions of the movie? The designer clothes. And I certainly have seen enough pictures. I have nothing against the movie. I may even see it down the line. I would define the "Sex and the City" approach to clothes is extravagant and upper class. Nothing necessarily wrong with it.

But that is not me.

The movie that exactly describes how I feel about clothes is "Desperately Seeking Susan," which seems to be on TV a lot these days. I am not a Madonna wanna-be -- though I may have had my guilty moments when I was 14 and the movie came out in 1985 (wearing boxers into a swimming pool is a memorable moment). The way the movie handles clothes is my way.

Susan (Madonna) has a skull suitcase (more a large hatbox with a handle) that contains her few possessions, including some particular items of clothing (a green sequined vintage dress comes to mind). She also wears a distinctive jacket with a pyramid embroidered on the back. It is this jacket that drives the plot. The way that Susan and Roberta (the woman who inadvertantly assumes Susan's identity) handle the clothes in that box is how I feel about my clothes. I enjoy the weight of the material and the colors. I love mixing and matching and layering to make things look different and new. No matter the implications, my clothes are part of my identity.
(And back to the "my New York City" question: "Desperately Seeking Susan" is also set in NYC and even has the store Love Saves the Day playing a pivotal role.)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

the same way

Iz pretends in exactly the same way I used to. He is a rat this morning. He began with simple pretending, crawling on the floor and insisting that he cannot eat with a fork: "Rats eat just with their mouths." (I so need to cut his hair.)

He then asked to watch the animated movie "Ratatouille." Now he is pretending to be in the movie. He does not recite the lines of the movie, but adds his own lines and his own rat character. I used to do this -- though I was more private about it, at least when I reached the age of 8, 9 or 10. And my pretending went on even beyond those years.

Could this be in his nature (as opposed to from his nurturing)? He cannot have learned this behavior from me -- I don't do it anymore. I even tried when I saw "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (Indiana Jones movies were a perfect vehicle when I was doing such pretending). Too bad, it was a great way to escape into a different life, a different world.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Children of Heaven

This may not seem like a Mother's Day post, but it is.

"Children of Heaven" is a movie my mother repeatedly recommended to me. For years. I didn't resist -- I just never got around to it. She wanted me to watch it for the running. I just watched it -- for Mother's Day. It was amazing.

Two Iranian children -- a boy, around nine years old, and his younger sister, maybe seven -- come from a very poor family. The film opens with the sister's shoes being repaired -- very worn pink mary-janes. The brother loses the shoes on the way home. So the two share his very worn white sneakers and never tell their parents. They could not afford a new pair. The boy's solution to the lost shoes: He enters a road race for school boys -- a 4K -- for which the third place prize is a pair of sneakers, which he promises to trade in for a girl's pair. The road race takes up a scant 5-10 minutes of film time.

The film is visually stunning and captures the nuances well -- like a good novel would: showing, not telling. The race was perfectly captured: quiet, with only some panting and soft music (no "Chariots of Fire" loudness -- though that has its place). The hills! The scrum of runners! The course markings! The race officials! The finish line! My body reacted as if I were running a race. I felt my adrenaline surge, my focus hone in on the runners and the road (though small on the screen). Such an odd feeling, especially since I was lying down with my 11-month-old. The context was completely off.

I loved the movie. Please rent it. Even if you don't often watch foreign films.

But why does this have anything, really, to do with Mother's Day? This is my first Mother's Day without my own mother. I am her only child. We were very close. I have been reading and gathering books she gave me in one place. The time had come to watch the movie she always wanted me to see. Thank you, Mum. Happy Mother's Day.

Monday, May 05, 2008

childhood home

I found this 1908 description of my childhood home on the New York Public Library online archives.

Here’s what I picture:

  • Two padlocked closets full of almost junk (sorry, Mom, I exaggerate with the word “junk”), the pots and pans and plates and linens my mother kept aside for her stays in the New York City apartment. Much of it from the bargain store on 109th and Broadway. Inexpensive and functional, not meant to last a lifetime.
  • A few boxes of her novels, which I must and want to keep.
  • Well-worn furniture to go to the Salvation Army or to Big Trash day (on Fridays – if memory serves).
I said to my mom, “I’m tired of makeshift.” She did makeshift well – putting those old milk crates and coffee tins to almost elegant use. But it bugged me when I was young – I went to a private school where some peers who had lots of money (yet denied being “rich”) had nothing makeshift. I also said it as I got older – but then it was less a criticism, more of a desire for the streamlined, the fresh, the solid.

I have four total days allotted to clearing out my childhood home at 404 West 116th Street. I think that is reasonable. But I also know it will be tough in many ways: I grew up there; my mother’s habits and life have left imprints there; and it will be my longest time away from my 4-year-old Iz. (I am taking 10-month-old Az with me – he is still breastfeeding, and I’ll need some family company – though he can’t help with any heavy lifting, he will be a comfort.)
I want someone to take over, plan for me, make decisions. I feel almost incapable – and alone. Yet I don’t want to have to ask for help – organize that help. So I go on feeling lonely in the midst.

I don't mean this as a total "pity party" post! But I am dreading the coming months – May, clearing the NYC apartment; June and July, the chaos of juggling work and a trip to Maine; August, to Sydney to clear my mom’s other apartment (which has all the important stuff – not “almost junk”). Maybe in September I will emerge from the fog. Wish me luck!

Friday, May 02, 2008

the boy code

My cover boy in The Gazette – our local newspaper. He is so not even trying to write the number on that calendar. I can tell by the way he holds the marker and that “I don’t want to perform for the camera” look on his face. He’s just letting Mrs. McGuirk guide his hand. But he looks good, right? I believe he is wearing a firefighter hat.

My non-performer. I so understand him – he’s a mini me. But he is such a boy, too. And already adhering to that stupid (yes, stupid) boy code. Recently, he has been physically bullied (perhaps “bullied” is an exaggeration and not an exact enough word – but for lack of a better one…). One incident: Another boy hit him on the head with a hard plastic drumstick. Now, none of us adults actually saw it happen. But the other boy quickly said, “He hit his head on that table,” while holding a drumstick aloft. Iz went along with it. Even though he was not near the table. Abraham, while comforting him, quietly asked if the other boy had hit him. He whispered, “Yes.” But that was all he would say.

Another incident: A boy at school scratched him badly on his right temple (notice you only see his left in this photo) – it was more than an inch long and bleeding – really red (I am not one to fuss over minor scratches and bumps). Iz would not talk about it – as if he was in trouble. He is not a big talker (see “non-performer” reference above) – and avoids talking about anything stressful.

I worry. I wish I could explain that he does not have to adhere to the boy code – but he won’t talk about it.

Friday, April 18, 2008

dream runs

When my alarm woke me at 5am this morning, I considered my running options. I thought, “Why don’t I add that loop I used to run to my run this morning?” Then I realized that loop didn’t exist in reality, only in my mind. I had never thought of this before: I have dream running routes – not idealized running routes, but ones that exist in my dreams.

As I ran my real 7-mile run, I considered these alternate runs. There are only two, but I run them in my dreams, repeatedly (though nothing like every night) – as one would any real running route.

The first route I have not “run” for a while. It is a city park-style run – not quite Central Park, not quite Rock Creek, but that type. I remember one hill – a lovely gradual hill – which required some effort, but I always felt strong on it. It came after a split in the road – a wide island of very tall leafy trees separated one side of the road from the other. While, in theory, there would be one-way traffic on each side, there were never any cars.

The second route is a suburban town style run – on winding roads with light traffic, lined by houses and trees, with loops that can be added on a whim to add a half mile, a mile, to make that 6-plus-mile run happen. It had hills, like my town does. But none of those roads exist in Cheverly.

I feel odd – recognizing that I have had these recurring dreams – having never done so before. And they seem to be about nothing but running – my dream self getting out for some exercise.

Friday, April 04, 2008


Iz's new game: "taking care" of his baby doll. The game consists of one dangerous situation after another in which Iz promises to help, "I won't let go," but then drops the baby.

"I'll help you!"


"Oh, no! You're falling!"


Some displaced desire to hurt his own baby brother? Maybe. Should I stop him playing like this? I usually just let him go. I am, however, quickly annoyed with the repeated sound of plastic baby skull hitting the ground. And Iz knows he's not supposed to throw toys. But maybe it is good (dare I say it?) for him to take his angst out on a baby that he can't hurt.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

health food?

I have convinced myself that dark chocolate peanut M&Ms are good for me. I don't just mean for my spirits. Though that argument has some merit.

Even though I know that they are full of sugar and fat -- and that the "dark" chocolate probably does not have significant, real cacao content -- I argue to myself that they are almost a health food.

They have peanuts -- some nut protein. The dark chocolate may have some benefit -- "low class" as it may be. They are like trail mix, right? (Trail mix also can have a ton of fat and calories... my argument is breaking down.)

I run and exercise enough that I am just breaking even -- not gaining, not losing. But I probably could be rid of my remaining baby belly (which is really not so bad, considered) if I stopped eating dark chocolate peanut M&Ms.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

this mom thing

Not sure how I'm feeling about this mom thing lately. Where are the perks for me? Sure, the neck hugs from my 9-month-old are sweet. But are they enough? My (almost) 4-year-old says "thank you" without prompting (and I didn't even train him to do it!). But that is not enough. I love them more than anything, yes. But, again, enough?

Az -- the 9-month-old -- had slept through the night for two weeks (amazing -- his brother Iz didn't even consider it until 18 months -- and, as with the "thank you" mentioned above, we did no sleep training). But the past three nights, he has decided he is unable to sleep without me by his side (now this I recognize -- Iz had a monitoring system -- a foot, a hand, that would sense any movement away from him). Az does not want to breastfeed (which is what Iz wanted); he just wants to lie next to me on the "guest" bed in his room and sleep. Like a mini, peachfuzzy, diapered boyfriend.

And last night, he decided to wake up at 3:30am and be "playful" -- coo, gurgle, scratch my cheek, stick his fingers up my nose (I've got to cut those fingernails), and pull my hair. This went on for an hour. I thought it went on longer, but it turns out I was then dreaming about trying to get him to sleep by jiggling his butt. I figured that out when my alarm went off at 5am.

So what is in it for me, huh?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

yes, a word cloud

I wish I could keep a permanent one up on my blog -- but I am not savvy enough to figure that out (nor do I have the time to figure it out).

(Thanks to crumbs for the link.)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

made me think

"With a few big exceptions, I don't much care for abreactive or confessional memoirs. I'm not sure how to explain this. There is probably a sound, serious argument to be made about the popularity of confessional memoirs as a symptom of something especially sick and narcissistic/voyeuristic about U.S. culture right now. About certain deep connections between narcissism and voyeurism and the mediated psyche. But this isn't it. I think the real reason is that I just don't trust them. Memoirs/confessionals, I mean. Not so much their factual truth as their agenda. The sense I get from a lot of contemporary memoirs is that they have an unconscious and unacknowledged project, which is to make the memoirist seem as endlessly fascinating and important to the reader as they are to themselves. I find them sad in a way that I don't think their authors intend." (David Foster Wallace, Introduction, The Best American Essays 2007)

Since I am thinking about writing (and beginning to write, really!) that memoir/novel, this opinion struck me. Am I being narcissistic? Is narcissism always necessary to write a memoir? It would be about me after all. Of course, I am not writing some over-the-top thing because, honestly, my life was and isn't over the top (with drugs, crime, family drama, whatever, you know what I mean). But there is a story there. So I think I want to write a good story, whatever form it takes. But I don't think it is about saying, "Look at me! I'm endlessly fascinating and important!" Yeah, that's so me (sarcasm -- I am a rather shy individual.). I know Wallace is not blasting all memoirs, but his harsh words made me think.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

mothers, babies

I exaggerate a bit, but these days I am only driven to write when thinking of my mother. It is what it is, right?

So here is the paragraph in Dancing on Coral that got to me:

"As she closed the door, the baby woke up and began to cry. For a moment, Lark rested her head against the door, then went in to her little girl. "You woke up," she said softly, taking the soft, happy baby in her arms and kissing her."

My mother is not fully Lark (Dancing on Coral as autobiographical elements, but is certainly not an autobiography). But, damn it, I am that baby. Yes, I am in this novel, crying, a baby, much like my own little 8-month-old Az (who is asleep as I write -- not crying). (See, I can write about my baby, too. Ha!)

So there are some words from my mother, "You woke up." And a kiss.

Sometimes I feel warm and fuzzy when my baby wakes up crying. Sometimes I think "Oh, damn." Sometimes I want to run screaming from the house. I'm sure my mother felt all these about me as a baby. But she preserved the sweet. I needed that. Oh, and it made me cry.

Friday, February 22, 2008

dream of my mother

I dreamt about my mother last night. Only my second about her since she died on July 11, 2007. I crave these dreams -- as if they were some kind of real contact (which I don't think I believe).

I was standing near a wall with mirrors of all different sizes and shapes. My profile was to the mirrors, and I was talking to someone (don't recall to whom) about nothing important. I turned to face a mirror, a medium-sized square one. I saw my face full on, and it slowly turned into my mother's face, bit by bit. Cheekbones, eyes and all. I looked away quickly. I looked into a different mirror and my face was my own. I didn't think I looked like my mother, I thought. Then I stepped back to face the first mirror, and my face again turned into my mother's.

I turned my back to the mirror. and found myself looking out the familiar French doors of my childhood New York City apartment. It was night. And there was my mother, with huge angel's wings, flying outside the doors (five floors up). She waved and smiled. We didn't talk.

In the other dream, which I had months ago now, she also didn't talk. She was sitting on a hospital bed in one of her blue and white, Asian-style cotton weave robes. She looked like herself, alert, full of face, hair present in her short, layered bob haircut. (Not what she must have looked like at the end -- gaunt, without hair, lying down -- I did not see her at the end; I was in the States with a newborn; she was in Sydney, Australia.) She just smiled at me. I wanted her to talk.

I suppose I don't know what she would say -- and these are my dreams. That is what I crave -- some words from her, even if they are of my subconsciousness's creation.

You know, those French doors and the wrought iron balcony outside figured in another visitation from the dead dream. My cat Clark, who died when I was 17, came out of what appeared to be a tunnel with an opening in the middle of the wrought iron. He did talk, but I cannot recall what he said. I used to believe he looked out for me. I wish I could believe my mother has joined him.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

that novel...

...that I've been planning to write. Intending to write. I know it will be fantastic! A work of art! A bestseller!

Okay, how many people who maintain blogs are novel-writers to be? Millions, I'm sure. Makes me feel less special.

The inspiration for my memoir/novel thing (oh, I am so clear on what I am doing here, no?) is my mother's novel, The Tempest of Clemenza. Before my mother died, even before she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I have been jotting things down. But her death -- and her wishes for me to write -- have compelled me to do more.

I re-read The Tempest of Clemenza, my favorite of her novels, soon after she died. It is fiction, but the frame story is about a single mother and her only daughter, Clemenza, who is 13 and has some unnamed terminal illness. Clemenza has a lot of me in her, my fashion sense (wearing gold, high-heeled sandals on a hike) and my stories (that friend who lost her virginity in a sandbox in Washington Square Park). And I am the only child of my single mother.

The mother-daugher relationship has inspired me. Though my memoir will be about much more, that relationship will be my frame. The idea that my mother knew me better than anyone, while I ran around trying to define myself (I still run around trying to define myself), is the one I want to carry through (without being too heavy-handed about it, of course).

All very concrete, right?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

be a grown up

I was on a business call today -- about the editing I do. And I was afraid of geting in trouble. Of all things! I'm 36 years old!

"Be a grown up!" I wrote in the middle of my notes as I sat on the conference call.

And I wasn't in trouble anyway. But what the hell is up with my childish nervousness? Even the phrase "in trouble" is juvenile. I'm no different from when I was 16.

So "be a grown up" is my mantra for the day.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Travel section

The Travel section of the newspaper is taunting me. It often goes straight to recycling. After all, where am I going?

My mother would remind me, "Look for good fares, cheap fares." To Sydney.

And I used to read it for destinations with medieval history (because that was my bachelor's and master's focus).

Now I don't.

Yesterday I "saved" a page with tiny advertisements for cheap international fares (though Abraham may have already recycled it) -- to Sydney for less than $1,00o round trip (excluding undetermined "taxes" and a "Sept. 11 security fee").

Again, where am I going? With a preschooler and an infant? With a very modest income?

I want to be the international person I was raised as. The half-Australian. The one with family and friend connections in France and Italy. I have people to see! Even places to stay!

Without my mother, will I ever again be compelled to travel around the world?

I want to re-learn French. That might be a start.