There's a theory I have about having been tertiary to this event, this day in history. You got your primary experiencers who are part of a group and among that group they know what they know, either staying quiet or protesting something, depending, all the rest of their lives. They are part of a terrible invisible club no one should want to belong to. I can’t speak as one of them, and would never try to. I honor their forbearance toward the rest of us as we tried to figure out how we fit into the picture.
You got your secondaries, in this case, people like me who were external witnesses in some way, and it affected us immediately in a number of areas, but not quite painfully, and we wouldn't think of laying claim to more than our share, because we could see the pain in and for others, right there in front of us. We stood on the beach in little groups and stared across the harbor at the blackened skyline, looking for flames. We rode the train to the city for the first time afterwards in some trepidation, not sure what we'd find. We watched planes circle overhead for weeks, and we attended memorials for the dead in our townships; "bedroom communities" for people with Manhattan offices. But as I said, we did all this just as external witnesses, nothing more. All we experienced during that day and those months afterwards was sometimes scary, sometimes frustrating, sometimes touching. We have stories. Yet we could always go home and scrub it from our skin and move on with our typically mundane lives.
If you were tertiary, you read about it, bumped into aspects of it, and wanted to embrace it because it was really, really big, but you didn't know how to fully connect. You simply weren’t there. So you flew your little car flags til they were raggedy, played Six Degrees of Separation from Tragedy, and cried “Never Forget" ensuring you’d always have something to remember and nod your head over. You discussed it online, compared Degrees, theories, solutions. All of this is completely understandable. We didn’t know back then what might happen next, you didn’t know if it could happen to you. But of course, it didn’t. Instead of still trying to lay claim to part of a huge tragedy after all this time, you get to be glad you didn’t have to.
I miss New York. It literally (literally) throbs with life. Something I will never forget is the first time I walked up the steps out of Penn Station onto 7th Avenue, and felt the air breathe around me. It was palpable, and it has stayed with me for fifteen years. I catch my breath as I write about it. It’s chaotic and it smells bad at night when they put the garbage out, and the public restrooms, if you can find them, are really lousy. But it is a living, breathing city like no other, and I will always be glad for the time I have spent there, even if I am never to go back. It’s been four years since I was an 80 minute train ride away. Yet my time there helped shape who I am now. New York taught me to embrace texture, pattern, and the juxtaposition between, oh, just anything and everything. You should go, if ever you can. Not so you can touch a part of history, but so you can experience everywhere on the planet drawn together into one neat crowded rectangle of humanity. It’ll be something awe-inspiring for you to embrace.
Here, first, I know some of you become excited when you see this sort of thing.
This is how dogwoods do in fall.
And by the way, I don't care that some of you don't say fall. Like, whatever. We do. It's short for a very old expression, "fall of the leaves." It's nice.
It's thundering out, but we don't expect much rain. If we have some, it'll be all right because we're no longer continually overcome by it. True September weather is expected to begin around the 10th, and I'm so thankful for the reprieve. Last summer was kind of cold, and this one was mostly just wet and then not very hot until this past weekend. We are to have heat all week, and I am soaking it in.
Here are memories Facebook showed me for one year ago yesterday.
No point in your trying to friend me there. You can find me easily and better at Google Plus or Twitter.
I haven't painted anything this summer, but learning to properly sew with the machine has been fun. Back when Mom knew me, I suppose she couldn't have imagined my favorite hobbies besides reading would be sewing, painting, and gardening. Cooking she might have guessed. But she didn't teach me everything she made in time, and I had to figure out some of it on my own. I was awkward as a young person, and as things came easily to her, I think she found me confusing.
Yesterday when I was watering the pointless watermelon vines, and the peas and beans, I got to thinking about how it would be if I knew her all along up to now. It is a certainty I would not have my second child if my mother had not died when she did, and also I would not have endured some scary painful events. But I wouldn't trade second kid for the knowledge life would hurt less. It all came as sort of a weird package deal. Am I saying I wouldn't trade kid for Mom? That's too complex and silly to bother thinking through. What is, is.
I think Mom, still alive, would have passed through her very extreme religious era into something more...peaceable and open. It isn't wishful thinking; there'd be no point in that. It's just how she was, how many people are.
Big fat raindrops are drumming along the skylight now.
I think I'll make the olives tomorrow. I finally have it down pretty well after all these years.
Season's changing in the front, but in the back it's still summer for a little while longer.
The other day I was watching The Wild Bunch while coloring my hair. It isn't a favorite movie; a lot of violence and shouting, and the marginally likeable people all die. But it's a great film in many ways, and showed people the reality of mayhem in undeclared war, which previous westerns had either avoided or just touched on.
One concept that wasn't new but was just taking firm hold was the idea that sometimes the bad guys are more moral than the good guys. Sometime let's start to take up the difference between ethics and morality, and then change the subject for more shallow territory. Anyway. Holden's bunch certainly didn't have ethics on their side, but the groups of people working against them were largely immoral.
Oh, dear, please don't tell me in a Google Plus reply about how I did not perfectly state this because of some math that you know or something. I just couldn't bear it this week. Take my meaning, instead. In fact, always do that. I'm fingerpainting here; it's what I do.
The "anti-hero" was my hero from the moment I discovered him. Yes, him. They were all male, and at the time, it made sense that they were. They were mostly late 19th-early 20th century mavericks who bucked increasingly systemized thought and the people who used those systems to take advantage of weakness in others.
So many people relate to those characters and (often sheepishly) look up to them, yet in everyday life, and in what passes for the democratic process, they remain lazy or contented to let the hand-rubbing money barons run things for them. I've never understood that. It upsets me greatly, so I'm going to change the subject, only slightly.
I loved playing sheriff and also holding up the bank that was also my tree where later I talked to Jesus after I had First Communion and felt like a direct line should be established. When I was sheriff, I wore a denim vest with a tin star pinned to it that my mother made from layers of aluminum foil. But a neighbor complained there was nothing under the vest, and though I was five, this was apparently terrible.
Let's pause for a moment and reflect on a (very) large rural yard in 1970. If you are part of the always online generation, you can't begin to understand about that, and I want you to pay attention. It was a sweet wholesome life for a little kid. There were probably about as many nutballs per 100 as ever there have been, but they very rarely counted in our lives, because we did not have the world wide web telling us they were everyone except ourselves. What could you see beneath my vest in 1970? A narrow bit of skin between the two sides. And arms. Far, far less than any typical bathing suit of the time would display. But this person perceived something more. And what I want you to understand is that the person with the perception was the one I needed protection against. People who think five year-olds in play vests are on sexual display are akin to fundamentalists who never let siblings see a baby undressed. They have creepy attitudes about humanity and you should never pander to them.
But Mom didn't let me wear the vest alone anymore, and I've always hated layers, feeling trapped by sleeves and fabric clinging to my neck except during a brief Annie Hall fashion obsession a few years later, so I became a full time bank robber for awhile. I had money bags with fake bills in them of tremendous denominations, and six shooters with caps to stop anyone who tried to catch me. People who interfere with other people's happiness and dignity easily stood in for the bad good guys, and I tended to picture them like Jackie Gleason, which is nicely prescient toward Smokey and the Bandit, I do think. Or like Hamilton Burger, the D.A. in Perry Mason. He wasn't bad, but he was totally annoying, always assuming rotten motivations based on superficialities.
I'd build escalating stories in my head about someone who was in trouble for being misunderstood, and being taken advantage of because of it, and I'd rescue them between bank jobs, and give them some of the money.
There's no point to any of this, in case you've been looking for one. I just wanted you to know I haven't really ever changed much. When I was younger, I was usually filled with some sort of moral outrage toward people who behaved either from selfish motivations, or from lazy assessments of something without regard for the bigger picture, and whatever lies beneath their first glance. People who thought how they felt about something mattered more than whatever was actually there. Now, I'm just weary of it all.
Hey, as a sort of aside, are you a fairly clever person, but kind of linear, (which is okay, but I mean, balance, and so forth,) and you make a sort of joke or half-serious statement perhaps to make a point, and someone like me replies in a way that takes you off balance and so your initial assumption because you took (me) literally is that (I) didn't understand what you meant, and so you explain the joke, kind of ruining the whole thing for both of "us?" I'm sorry I never really get that about you, and I'll try harder to match my communication style to yours sometimes, be less oblique, etc., but also, I think you should be aware that this makes it seem like you think you are smarter than everyone, and that simply cannot be true, especially on the internet, where everyone's IQ is either 132 or 146, and also, there's maybe a pinhole in your intellect where lateral thinking resides. Just food for thought. You could maybe just put your finger over it.
For a number of years, I’ve followed this online book discussion through once or twice a day email digests of the posts. From time to time, the seemingly only male member of the group will compare something being talked of to something to do with porn. Make no mistake; the books discussed have no sexual content at all. But in discussing one theme or another, he’ll find a way to lump together as porn some other type of content women, specifically, enjoy.
Ooh, cupcakes, right?
After one such reference, another member took him to task, saying that casual use of the word waters down the actual meaning of it. He argued that the word is wholly subjective and can be substituted, in essence, for stuff people greedily gobble up. In other words, now that people call pictures of their breakfast food porn, he can use the word however he likes. The other person tried and failed to get across to him her view that by assigning the term to something he merely finds silly or shallow, he’s really saying something else about it, and being dismissive of a whole lot of people at large. It all ended up nowhere.
Recently, he used the word again, this time applying it to stories which include lovemaking scenes. He’s mentioned this before; clearly, if there’s any description of sex, it’s all lumped together in his mind as unclean. And the person responding attempted to say that municipalities and governments try to give the word objective meaning, a community standard to go by, which the material he objects to in no way meets.
Yesterday, or early this morning, he tried again to say it’s subjective, and people can use the word for whatever they find objectionable.
you may choose from among 70 of these.
As it happens, the person willing to carry on this discussion with him when all others are probably covering their heads and wincing, is an author of a certain degree of popularity, who writes steamy historical romances. It’s clear he thinks she writes porn. It’s clear she objects because of how her books are largely story and character-driven, which mostly porn is not. She’s tried again to get through to him that the definition of “porn” isn’t whatever he’s either dismissive of or finds icky, not least because what he finds icky is any description of sex at all.
And for all he’s in a book discussion about female-driven stories written by a female author, I’m beginning to sense there’s something about his view of women in this, which is disturbing.
On a somewhat parallel note to that, I know a man (okay, actually, I’ve known a number of them (in this sense, I mean)) who loves to look at scantily-clad models and actresses, but finds it disturbing if a woman he knows is dressed revealingly. That’s more easily explained even if it’s not real cool: women at a distance can be one thing. Women up close ought to be another…
It used to be easier for men like the one in the discussion, when women didn’t seem to be interested in looking at or reading sexy things. He could divide them into “women like that,” and “women not like that.” But it seems that “women like that” didn’t just mean women who talked about sex, but also women who hung posters of shirtless Patrick Swayze on their laundry room door. Women who thought about more than side hugs or a kiss at the end of a funny book.
Save it for the locker room, ladies...
Regardless, I think he (as a stand in for a loosely-defined they) should stop tossing around the word “porn” whenever he’s either making fun of something a group of people like, or to mean more intimacy exposed on the page than he likes to read.
Isn't Juliet meant to be played by a boy? This is not traditional!
That’s probably why the “food porn” idea bugged me from the start. Sometimes an idea is cute or funny the first time it’s expressed. But if we are in this current era reshaping our language so swiftly, I think we ought to take a bit more care with it. You aren’t literally equating bacon with a blow job at the office (or if you are, I’m so sorry that’s how life is for you, but it’s another topic,) but by appearing to do so, you’ve led this guy and undoubtedly others to also equate it to the (Earl in disguise) pirate and the (orphaned baron’s daughter) wench tasting each others’ tongues for the first time, and to VH-1 reality TV, as well as to young people being taken advantage of by older ones, but our language is really big enough and broad enough to handle all of that individually, instead. Let's all continue to try to do better, for a little while longer.
I could be called a taoist, but only if pressed on the issue. Being taoist does not preclude either physics or metaphysics. You can’t file it in a drawer. It just is what is. I enjoy the sincerity of true faith seekers, and the history of various ritual paths, but it all came to me in a tree one day in 1973 shortly after I received First Communion; that is to say, all I needed to be going on with. I'm not a real big questioner or answerer. What I am is what I am.
The defining idea that drives me, that has always “driven” me, is that people are people. The world is the New Jersey Transit waiting area at Penn Station. Everything to be seen in humanity can be found there. Sitting on the floor, playing the will it be track 6 or 8 or 1 or 2? waiting game, all the hearts and minds, inner thoughts and outer expressions, worries and fears and elations, they’re all there. Will I silently or vocally judge it all, making comparisons and drawing conclusions, or will I marvel at the whole of the universe, both always changing and always the same, with tiny hearts and big hearts and uncertain minds, the awkward mixture of youthful self-consciousness and pride, the sometimes desperate need to both stand out from the crowd and blend into it, star stuff glowing and reflected in the faces of people whose ancestors walked every area of populated earth?
How can I witness all that, and witness the rise of tulips in spring, and the rise of the first A struck by a concertmaster, and then waste my time arguing over which version of the God story is correct, who gets to make love to whom, or what people seek to pleasure themselves with in the comfort of their own home? In this big beautiful world, there are people drinking dirty water or worrying they won’t have any at all, women making less money than men for the same jobs or no job at all, and a whole swath of the globe in which people have killed each other over the same piece of inert land since time began, and in your own much smaller world there are people around you every day who do not tell you they fed their cat last night instead of themselves, or that they discovered a spot growing on their neck or that their spouse screamed in anger and struck out with an open hand or a fist over something most anyone else would find so trivial as to hardly be noticed.
If you believe this day represents Jesus dying for you and for your sins, “that all may seek the Kingdom of God,” does it motivate you to fear others, to judge them, or to love them as Jesus is said to have done, “that your joy may be full?” John wrote that stuff, so they say.
Matthew is said to have written this bit. “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you.”
It’s a balanced statement. The measure matters as much as the judgment. Are you meting in generous measure without also judging? To love your neighbor as yourself, (which is the least you should do according to the words of Jesus as written by Mark, equal to your respect for God,) your giving must be unconditional. It’s for the God you profess to obey to decide on the aftermath.
Religiously driven or not, if you let go of fear of others, of judgment of others, of control over what others do, you will have so much more space in your heart and mind to set toward people you can love and things you can help repair. Easter Sunday represents renewed life and hope, just as the more ancient practices did, in their reverence for the return of spring. You weren’t given this life merely to count down the days until the next, gnashing your teeth at others along the way. If you believe there’s light and beauty inside you, let other people see it, too, and watch it grow and spread, overtaking the thorny weeds you’ve allowed yourself to stumble over in the past.
If you aren’t certain all that great stuff is built into you because you don’t take comfort in old books, take comfort in new ones, instead. We now know that a chain of chemical reactions which began in the center of a multitude of ancient stars ultimately resulted in the formation of the planets, of Earth, and of us. All of us, and all of everything we can see, touch, smell, and taste. People can say a God did that if they like, and what a super cool God that would be. Either way, it’s what we are now, and what we should make sure others can see in us. A reflection of all of the best of creation. Think on it, and act.
(edited to reflect an updated lyric.) Could you write this song now instead of the 40s (50s, 60s, 70s?) No, not with the same cheeky sense of fun. (Which is why, I suppose, people like me cling so fervently to the nice parts of the past.) And of course that might not be a bad thing in our world in which people must be suspicious of each other at all times, but it doesn’t make the meaning of it as it was created in the past no good now. Judging the hundreds of people who've recorded this song as if they've got no sense until you come along and straighten them out is just foolish.
This has upset me so much because it means much more than just getting it technically wrong. It means all of our recent past is subject to revision, to the point where everything I knew growing up is now “for all intensive purposes” to someone who doesn't see it in perspective.
We are better at a lot of stuff than they were 80 years ago when this song was written, yet that doesn’t mean they didn’t know how life worked. We can do Earth and universal goodwill and women getting great jobs in a way they didn’t do just then. But to take what they made and enjoyed and interpret it as something different now is doing them a disservice. You can never understand any history if you look at it only through your own current view. History revisionists are all on the wrong sides of things; don’t be one of them.
People who have no solid view of history, perspective, context, or songwriting style are interpreting this song as he says/she says, and also don’t even know how people used to talk before the 90s. But it isn’t like that. Each pair of lines works together.
(I really can't stay) But, baby, it's cold outside (I've got to go away) But, baby, it's cold outside (This evening has been) Been hoping that you'd drop in (So very nice) I'll hold your hands they're just like ice
This verse means she went to the man’s apartment and has been having a good time. Now it’s both a little late and getting on toward clutch time. You probably don’t remember life before Britney and Justin were briefly a couple, but back when our parents (your grandparents) were young, and he’d just gotten back from his tour in Germany or Korea, they were celebrating the free world like you didn’t know they knew how.
(My mother will start to worry) Beautiful, what's your hurry (My father will be pacing the floor) Listen to the fireplace roar (So really I'd better scurry) Beautiful, please don't hurry (Well, maybe just half a drink more) Put some records on while I pour
Look at what’s been going on. They’ve been sitting here talking in front of the fireplace. You might not remember that, either, unless you live in a cool old building, but apartments had fireplaces if they were big enough and in the north. She sat and watched while he made one, or maybe she made the first round of drinks, only her round was a little weak, because it’s maybe 1949, and she’s a girl like that. Why would she sit and watch him build a fire? Is she stupid and doesn’t know he’s setting a comfortable scene? No, people born before you knew the score. They just liked to pretend they didn’t. So now he’s freshened her drink, and she has put on a record. It was probably a ten inch long-playing record; twelve-inchers ended up taking over, but not just yet. Know how I can say that? Because I know stuff about before now that I didn’t get from a CBS crime procedural marathon or a Tumblr page. All these details add up to a more complete picture than the one you've got in your head.
(The neighbors might think) Baby, it's bad out there (Say what's in this drink) No cabs to be had out there (I wish I knew how) Your eyes are like starlight now (To break this spell) I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell
Are you thinking she’s been sitting there in front of the fire with her second drink but has a woolen toque on her head like she’s about to fight with the storm? No. It’s a cute hat perched on her head to match her outfit. Her coat might have had a big hood that fit over it, or it might have been super impractical in order to look nice. (You might have wondered why hoods on women’s coats were and sometimes are still gigantic. It was to accommodate hairstyles and hats.) And all she notices about the drink is that the bourbon to soda ratio is narrower than hers was. It was a running joke before it got ruined by a few creepers. Not just women to men, but any old body takes a drink and says, “Wow, what’d you put in here? Everything?” That kind of thing. Maybe she set it down, maybe she kept sipping. We don’t know, but we also know the next line wasn’t “Shh, I demand you toss it back.” But did you think she never had a drink before? That’s no good, either. This isn’t the watered-wine and rataffia era, after all.
(I ought to say no, no, no, sir) Mind if I move in closer (At least I'm gonna say that I tried) What's the sense of hurting my pride (I really can't stay) Baby, don't hold out [Both] Baby, it's cold outside
Her hat is now off. Know how I know? Because she isn’t saying no. She’s saying “she ought to.” People say ought to about things they really don’t want to do. “I really ought to get on that, clean that up, make that call, get to bed.” They’re trying to talk themselves into doing something when they would rather not just now, thanks. It’s a way of appearing diligent without having to be so, like if you see your neighbor is coming over and you haven’t cleaned yet, so you set the vacuum cleaner in the hallway. At the same time, she’s feeling him out. Will he give her a good reason to not have to say no?
Know how I know that? Because it’s basic human nature, and I’ve lived long enough and seen enough to know that. She’s going to say she tried? Not really, but if she did, nobody would be screaming at her that he took advantage of her. They’re gonna shake their heads a little, grinning, and saying things like, “Sister, what are you up to?”
And then both of them sing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” together, because they are in this together. She doesn’t want to go out there yet, but is keeping up a pretense because she’s supposed to, and so he’ll know they can carry on, but maybe not all the way. It’s code, which people have always used, only it’s a little different in each era.
(I simply must go) Baby, it's cold outside (The answer is no) Baby, it's cold outside (The welcome has been) How lucky that you dropped in (So nice and warm) Look out the window at the storm
Now here she says no, but it’s the kind of no he understands, not the kind you’re thinking of. She’s set a boundary. He was going too fast. But does she get up? No. She’s pressed up against him, that’s why, still performing her ought tos. She doesn’t stand up so he’ll stop kissing her, and he hasn’t pinned her down so she can’t move, because they are singing this thing together. Remember, this was written by a married couple, who performed it at a party for their friends. Their friends laughed because they understood it like you don’t. They knew the score.
(My sister will be suspicious) Gosh your lips look delicious (My brother will be there at the door) Waves upon a tropical shore (My maiden aunt's mind is vicious) Gosh your lips are delicious (But maybe just a cigarette more) Never such a blizzard before
This is the verse that tells you the truth you don’t wish to know. He moves in for a kiss. She’s murmuring at this point, as their faces meet, and then when they do kiss, she decides maybe she can hang around a little longer, timing it with however long it takes to smoke an unfiltered cigarette. The cigarette was important, even though it seems really grosstastic now. She can sit up and he’ll light one, but at the same time, she can let him know that kiss was so good, she’ll be around for a few more. It’s another piece of cultural code. And the sister, the brother, the aunt? Now she’s just making up stuff. It isn’t a firmer defense, it’s a weaker one, but she is required to make it in this game.
(I got to get home) But, baby, you'd freeze out there (Say lend me a comb) It's up to your knees out there (You've really been grand) I thrill when you touch my hand (But don't you see) How can you do this thing to me
Do you borrow a comb* from a man who creeps you out? And she put her hand on his when she asked. Why is she touching him and asking to put something in her hair that he has had in his hair? Because she likes him, that’s why, not because rohypnol is taking over.
*It isn't coat, it's comb. Her hair got messy while they were "necking," which they were totally doing.
She knows he knows she’s into him, and he also knows she’s not taking him too seriously, and so he’ll ask again, because she’s not offended, she’s just going by the rules she’s set for herself, which are more about pacing than anything else. She’s indicating to him that she’s got people looking out for her, but at the same time, is making her own choice about what position she is taking with him on the couch.
(There's bound to be talk tomorrow) Think of my life long sorrow (At least there will be plenty implied) If you caught pneumonia and died (I really can't stay) Get over that old doubt [Both] Baby, it's cold [Both] Baby, it's cold outside (Sung together again)
That was the truth about 1949 or so, and is sometimes still the truth now. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You draw your own line, but everyone else reads it according to their own, though sometimes they’re hypocrites about it, making their own decisions while judging others for making the same one.
You know how “they” say everyone thinks they’re an above-average driver? It is a truth not universally acknowledged that people think everyone else but them is dumber and needs life explained to them. The internet has made this worse. You Google a thing and learn a few talking points, and it never crosses your mind that the person you’re explaining it all to has maybe actually read whole books on the subject or has first-hand experience at it. Your insular confirmation bias bubble leads you to believe you’re the one who uncovered the truth, only actually, not only has it been there a lot longer than you knew, you have only a few pieces of the picture in the frame, and not the whole thing. Sometimes you don't even understand the frame, like when I first saw Impressionist paintings in a museum, and wondered why they were in big ornate gilded things, until someone explained to me that those frames were correct for the period, even though they didn't match the new painting style. That taught me something.
People take old texts like the Bible, and they translate them into modern languages. But they can’t make direct one-to-one translations without knowing what the writers meant by certain words (and phrases, since a word could mean something different when used with another,) because they aren’t what they mean now. Shakespeare is the same way. People who study the language of Shakespeare must decode it according to how he used words and how they’d be taken then, not how they wish for them to be taken now. We put on a play with Shakespeare’s intent, by understanding the context in which he wrote. We don't say, "Sorry, Hamlet doesn't get to mean that anymore; we changed what his words meant."
We can play with it a little, though, without ruining it.
Every year during NaNoWriMo I do a few of the same things. There's always an Italian restaurant scene. Always some people sitting around drinking expensive whiskey and reminiscing. And always one day when I just write some memory from my past. That's what this is. I hope you know I'm not offering it as a great piece of writing. I just wanted to share. It's about 2000 words, which is about four minutes for the average reader.
Mary came into the studio half covered in paint. Violet was there that afternoon, and she made cocoa for herself and Mary. They sat and talked awhile, as Jack was downstairs in the theatre, consulting with someone about lights.
Mary said, “I sometimes forget to change my clothes before I paint. At home, I just take off most of them, and paint in my underwear, but obviously I can’t do that at the shop. She grinned. “So at first I worried people would think I just never clean myself up, and then I decided they could see it as decoration, instead.”
Violet said, “That seems really satisfying to me. And if you’re wearing a blue top, but have a bit of emerald between your fingers or something, you’re actually pretty well coordinated.”
Mary said, “Exactly.” And they both smiled in contentment.
“Although,” Violet went on, “I expect there are people who do not actually cover themselves with the paint they are brushing onto a canvas…”
“Ah, but that’s just the thing,” Mary answered. “Most of the time, I don’t actually use brushes!”
She and Violet laughed again as Jack came in, and Mary said, “Yes, we were talking about you, in case you were wondering.” Then she whispered in a loud dramatic tone to Violet, “DON’T WORRY, I’LL NEVER TELL HIM YOU SAID THAT.”
Mary rarely shows a serious side to anyone but Kathy, her boss, and one or two close friends, and her children. Some people think she’s being serious at times when she’s having a laugh, which confuses her, but she’s mostly reconciled herself to it. She operates best under the banner of “quietly eccentric.”
Jack rolled his eyes. He asked Mary to sit on the stool he now had set up with a full microphone stand, and cautioned Violet to be silent. “None of your fussing around. Come over here and sit down, as a matter of fact.”
Violet obeyed with a smile, taking a seat on the luxurious Danish leather couch opposite the recording equipment.
Mary asked, “How many Danes were killed to upholster that couch?”
Jack answered, “Eleven, I believe.”
She grinned and said, “Okay, I’m ready when you are.”
“I heard this song the other day, which I had not heard in just years and years, and it’s been rolling through my head ever since. But my memories of it have come back slowly, like a stage at a time. I expect there’s more still, that I’ve forgotten and that might never come back.
“I tried so hard to be an ordinary kid. The fact is, I really was, but somehow never felt like other people saw me as one. I listened to the radio stations, wore the clothes, bought the teen fan magazines, went to the skating rink on Friday nights, and made sure Mom got the trendy snacks for my lunchbox at school. I collected Lip Smackers, gauze blouses, pukka shell necklaces, and toe socks. I watched the right TV shows. I don’t know, though, mostly I was alone. There weren’t a lot of other kids nearby, and maybe that made the difference. Maybe if I knew them at home, they’d have known me at school.
“It seemed to me that practically every kid in my class could have been a star athlete. They were all shiny and glossy and could run fast in their expensive tennis shoes. I felt dull and flat and slow by comparison. And I was really, really skinny. Strangely, this led people to believe that I, too, had athletic ability, but that was laughable. Every year we had a series of fitness tests we had to perform, and the only one I was really good at was sit-ups. For some reason, I could do an astounding number of sit-ups in a minute. But I was a slow runner, and could never climb the rope, and when I threw a softball to measure how far it would go, my gym teacher said “You throw like a fat girl, what’s wrong with you?”
Violet gasped. Jack stopped the recording. Mary nodded. “He was special, Mr. Repp was. I remember this very nice and talented girl in my class named Michelle. She was one of those girls who seemed perfect, but was also so kind and polite, you could never be jealous of her, just sort of happy that she was herself. And I remember that more than once, he picked her up and carried her around the gymnasium on his shoulders when we were in 4th grade. I have always wondered what she thought about that. He called her ‘Tiger,’ too.”
Violet said, “That sounds repulsive!”
Jack said, “Maybe he was actually her uncle, or something.”
Mary and Violet just stared at him. Violet said, “I have occasionally wondered how he ended up. Maybe he was just super clueless, like, to give him the benefit of the doubt, you know?”
Violet said, “Yes, but the fat girl thing. You can’t have been the only girl he insulted, besides which, just, ugh, I don’t know.”
“There was a fat girl in our class. Not like it is now, with so many people struggling. We all knew someone who was just built large, or who fought their weight, but it wasn’t common. Which probably made it extra hard. Shawna was in our class, and I wondered if she heard him and how she felt. It angered me so much. But I just couldn’t throw a ball very far. I could roll one! I was often kickball pitcher for both recess teams, because I was lousy, otherwise, and other kids wanted to kick and run the bases, anyway.”
Jack said, “Hey, you must have always been a good bowler!”
Mary answered, “Actually, I was awful. I was just awful at everything until I was about 19, and then I bloomed or whatever they always said I’d do.” She smiled happily.
Jack started recording again.
“So then I went to junior high, and we had a girl’s gym class, and I was terrible at all the sports, and the girls were shocked that I didn’t have a bra yet, so my aunt gave me one my cousin had outgrown, because she and my mom were utterly clueless about these things somehow, and it had red piping on it, so then they made fun of that. And all the girls got leather clogs with wooden heels, but when I went to get mine, they didn’t have the right size. Instead, I picked out a pair of stack-heeled loafers which were actually very sharp, but they weren’t clogs, you know, so they were wrong.” Mary sighed, but rolled her eyes with a smile.
“At that point, I started to figure a few things out. I took charge of my style, and also my fitness. I had a frustrating year barely passing all the gym tests, and so the next year, I started jogging with my dog, figuring I could get stronger that way. I wore what I liked, worked on being a little bit avant garde, and ignored the girls who seemed to need to judge me for that.” Mary looked over at Violet, who grinned and nodded. She knew that same experience very well, though in her case, it stemmed from very different reasons.
“In eighth grade, we had to take this fitness test in the fall and again in the spring. I didn’t do so well in the fall, taking over two and a half minutes to run a quarter mile, but I ran around with my dog all winter, and rode my bike everywhere, and then when it was much warmer out, I put on jogging shorts and took off up an old road past our elementary school, sometimes running three or four miles at a time, at what was a pretty serious pace for me. I had read in a magazine about how important it was to keep a good rhythm while you run, so I used to play songs in my head like a radio. The song “You” by Rita Coolidge had come out, and it might have sounded sad at the time, but for me, that song was about my dog, whose name was Monty Python. We’d gotten him two years earlier, thinking he’d be a good companion for my older brother, but he bonded with me, and stuck by my side for five years, until he was killed in an accident. At age two, he could have kept up with me, though, for as far as I could run.
“And so I’d run, to that disco beat or to another, doing intervals, though I didn’t know that’s what they were. Every time that song played when I wasn’t running, I’d see Monty and I, breezing along in the sunshine together. When I heard it the other day, I remembered that, all in a flash.” She stopped and closed her eyes just then. Violet and Jack watched her, as she shook her head and began again.
“When the spring fitness tests came, I was so excited. I just knew I’d do better, and I told my teacher, Mrs. Bryan, about how hard I’d been working at it. She told me she expected good things from me. Well, what do you know, I was running next to the girl from elementary school, Michelle, who was very fast. She ran that quarter mile in about a minute and a half, or a little less, and set a record. But I ran it in under two minutes! I’d shaved an entire minute off my fall performance. I was giddy with success. Mrs. Bryan said that if I’d worked as hard as I said I did, I should have done better. She was just like that, I guess, and I tried not to let her make me feel bad. And I did receive a good grade for my effort.”
Mary saw the looks on Violet and Jack’s faces, and said, “You guys, this is a happy story! It was a victory, and I owed it to my dog, for whom the song ‘You’ could have been written.”
She went on, “But here’s an epilogue for you. My senior year in high school I was at a different school, and we had to run a mile to pass our one mandatory year of gym. I’d chosen a fitness class, too, because it taught us how to work on a weight machine, and aerobic exercise, and lots of other things, without ever having to be on a team. I wore fun Flashdance- and Fame-style clothes, and was one of the best in the class, blazing through sit-ups, and running the mile in about eight minutes, which is not even a little bit fast, but pretty good alongside all these girls who were lazy and walked half of it, barely finishing in the maximum fifteen.
“Plus! This is why I paint. I was also always surrounded by all these people with loads of artistic talent, and I couldn’t even paint an owl on a rock for Mother’s Day in Girl Scouts. But it turns out, all the messes I made as a child, cutting and gluing and painting things that didn’t look like they were meant to really brought me a lot of joy. So I determined that when I grew up, I’d do something to help people enjoy whatever they love without judgment or grades, or competition. I teach people to bowl and to paint, and to grow tomatoes and peppers, and you do not have to be great at any of these things in order to take real pleasure from them. Maybe I’d have never known that if I hadn’t been so frustrated by how others perceived my efforts when I was a kid.”
I get the notion behind renaming Columbus Day Indigenous People's Day, but I don't think it's quite the right idea. Turning it into a day of mourning won't be more meaningful to most people; the ones with righteous indignation will always have that, and the rest will go on same as usual. And we all know by now that everywhere in the world was or is a group of people turned out by old time Europeans, or sometimes someone rather closer at hand. People did that to each other on a regular basis. It has shaped our world, and it is a history lesson that everyone should learn, lest it again be repeated. But turning Columbus Day into an annual acknowledgement of the people he hurt is not the way to teach that lesson.
I feel sort of bad for the people who like their Italian-American parades, as they're connected to the figure now known to have done so much harm to the regions he explored. Are any of the known world explorers worthy of national celebration anywhere? Probably not. I don't think ethics was a high priority on any of their codes of behavior. But exploration itself is still something to celebrate or acknowledge generally. So I'd rather see the day, if there must be one, be a celebration of something positive for everyone, rather than a shaming of something negative that most of us can't grasp as a part of ourselves, though we must keep telling future generations that no one culture has autonomy over the others.
I'd like to see something conjured like Melting Pot Day. Independence Day celebrates the founding of the United States, but it wasn't so many generations ago that only a certain number of various ethnicities were allowed in. Chinese men could come work, but they couldn't bring wives and make more Chinese. At one point people were worried about too many Italians, too many Irish, too many Jews, and of course, too many Mexicans. But immigrants are what most of our ancestors were, and immigrants built the foundations on which we make our way. We like to say we're a quarter this and a quarter that, because when we are honest, we like this about ourselves, that "world travel" made us who we are. That's something we could do positive arts and crafts and church dinners for. Italian-Americans and people with indigenous backgrounds could have their parades, and we'd eat each other's favorite recipes from Grandma, or just a whole lot of what they call "hotdish" in the upper midwest.
We'd celebrate the blending of it all, rather than dissect it for measurement and comparison.
Some great albums were released in 1989. It was one of the music years we can really call special. And there've been a number of fine ones since then, but the album itself seems to finally have turned a corner; a concept now reserved for a few distinct genres of music, maybe, but then, maybe it was always meant to be, and people were just kidding themselves about it for awhile.
All manner of famous people we loved together have died since then. First there was Irene Dunne, and since then, Myrna Loy, Gregory Peck, Jimmy Stewart. There's practically no one left. But the great thing is that now we have nearly complete access to all their films, almost too great, because it's very easy to leave the "real world" behind and just immerse yourself in them. They are preserved, though, and that's important.
They don't make the Taco Light anymore. There's no more Berlin Wall. Some very tall buildings were built and then came down. Every religious figure to whom you might have written a hopeful check was caught with his hand in one type of cookie jar or another.
Lately, I've been developing your figure, softening all over, a middle-aged layer determined and settling in to stay. Asthma and a touch of arthritis make it difficult to stave it off, but there, too, I have advantages you missed out on, which keep me from advancing to double digit dresses. The size spectrum is broader, and people at the extreme ends were doing battle with each other for awhile, but the rest of us somewhere in the vast middle are enjoying better foundations, a relaxation of the need to follow trends, a refostering of the pride and care women in their best natures offer each other.
I like to think so, anyway. I prefer to see the nicest sides of people. But there is still the media, taunting and teasing as always.
You once (or twice) went on a strange diet that involved a lot of black coffee and grapefruit. As I like neither of those things, I have no intention of ever following suit. I did and do, however, admire your ability to stick to a plan, a routine, determined that there should be an outcome at the end of it. When I couldn't have sugar, you worked hard to see I wasn't miserable over it. The outcome was good, if short-lived for my part.
The way I cook is so different. I can make all the same foods, but it's easier than you could ever have imagined to recreate tastes and scents without resorting to either a series of canned ingredients or a long trip to the one grocery store where the real thing is available. Everyone who remembers you remembers your cookies, though, and I recreate them all faithfully at Christmas time for my group of young adults who never had a grandma.
I look back and I remember mostly good stuff, perfectly willing to gloss over whatever wasn't. Turns out that's more about me than you, because I have all these kids, and some of them are the same way, while a couple others are determined that every wrong thing should be worn as part of a permanent cloak. Maybe they'll have kids of their own, and maybe they'll be perfect at it, but of course none of us is. I just wish for them the best of it all, in ways they have yet to understand.
If I still, after 25 years, carried with me the baggage of our last few strange years together, I'd hardly be able to move. It just wouldn't be worth it. I've even nearly gotten to the point where I can eat a fresh peach without a profound sense of loss. Well, I was told to revel in them, to think of the peach as a sort of tender connection, and that I cannot do. They come to me in little paper bags, you see. I know you would see, and so that makes it all right. However, I'm not the person you once knew. It's doubtful you knew me at all, and I'm sorry for that now, but I don't live there, back in that space where you existed. If there is one best thing about all that you taught me, though, it is that the grandeur and pain of real deep abiding love go hand in hand, and cannot be separated. You were better at demonstrating it than I am, but I feel it with every bit as much intensity.
Anyway, so a lot's happened. Mostly it happened to me or around me, or off somewhere in the distance, and I remained a pawn on someone's chessboard or an observer of the larger game, but not much of a player, not much in charge of anything except where the drinks go in the refrigerator and what should be done with the dirty laundry. When you were just about my age, you had this idea of going out and being something that both intrigued and horrified me. I wish now I could tell you to go live this dream, go be this person you thought you ought to be, without the fear that prevented you from succeeding or at least from making a damned good and earnest effort. I don't have the same dreams at all, yet I do seem to have some of the same fears. I hope that I have the opportunity to revisit this topic in another 25 years, and come to some better conclusions, having a sense of satisfaction at having moved some of the chess pieces myself, redistributing the middle.
But also along the way, eating peaches, singing songs in new places with new people, and making life happen wherever I am. You did do all that in your short life, and it's the best part of you for anyone to remember.
To shake all this off, here's a song, it's okay to admit you liked the "naughty" version best, and if I could ask you anything at all, it'd be why didn't you name me Lena or Elena after Grandma? But I forgive you, having taken another name for myself you'd probably like pretty well.
Last night on Google Plus, some people were discussing 80s love songs they like. Most of them were from the stations I didn't enjoy, but I was familiar with many. But one person said the love songs then were all cheesy power ballads.
I understand that was a thing. I was there. In fact, musically, I was there in a way only a person born right in the middle of a decade can be; at ages 15-24. Those formative "becoming independent and finding your own way" years were the entire decade of the 1980s for me.
However, I can name all the power ballads I'd have been familiar with back then on one hand and have a couple fingers leftover. If that's all you thought you could hear without slipping back into time, you were not trying at all. I barely tried to not hear them and had no trouble with it.
The point of this isn't whether you thought Whitesnake poorly defined love songs of that era, which they did not at all, because the 80s began before 1987, the point is that people won't give up working really hard at being narrow of thought and action. And smug about their narrowness, a lot of the time.
You miss so much good stuff that way! And you miss it if you too readily define it as something you are certain belongs in a group of things you disdain, and you miss it if you stay locked onto one channel because everyone around you is and you don't want them to judge you.
Music, listening to and loving music, should never ever be about what other people will say about you, and it is not best heard from a lofty position of superiority, or from the one channel they played in the shake shop after school. Or what MTV was during the Tiffany years. I knew that in 1980 when I was 15, and worked so hard to find more, but it was not until 1989 when I was 24, that some of my now-favorite artists of all time were fully revealed to me, by someone who had grown up with a better college radio station than me. It was a decade of searching, for me.
I still had plenty else to choose from besides the MTV rotation, largely because I didn't even have cable TV yet. When I did get it, I found the best videos were on BET. I told someone at work and she was all, "but isn't that the black TV station?"
Well, yes, however, you weren't required to submit a DNA test in order to watch it. And also, they didn't only play "black videos." I saw "Genius of Love" on there first. For one example. And also, what? It was the beginning of the Benetton era, if you were paying attention.
We have the internet now, and we get to look around so easily and see more stuff than we ever imagined existed. But plenty of it, most of it, was already there. If you sum up an entire era by what you remember during two or three years of it, you are, to me, like the person who just asks for 7s over and over again while playing "Go Fish." Be better. I'm certain you can be.
I went to the record store and book store and listened to what they were playing. I watched late night talk and entertainment shows that introduced new bands, and listened to what older people found to listen to. And because I grew up listening to old music, I knew there had to be more to new music. I was really worried classical music would go away, however, John Williams brought it back to the forefront and now I know that there are people who always have to be creating music in their heads and will always challenge themselves to incorporate sounds in new ways, try new and old things with instruments, and find other like-minded people to do this with. When people look back on this period of time, they'll have a dozen American composers to call the orchestral influences of the day, post-Bernstein, Copland, Gershwin, and there are certainly more in other places, as well.
Back to love songs. I thought I didn't like love songs before I was a teenager, and thought I didn't like many then, but now I know that I'm just not really very fond of a few certain sounds that seem useful only for lament. And I like my lament prepared other ways.
When I named the 80s love songs I liked last night, mostly what I thought of were songs about making love. It makes sense, in a way, as 15-24 are visceral years for most human beings.
Looking back, this list defines my 1980s pretty much in a large nutshell, although as I said, I was always seeking out other channels of sound. Sorry that it's Buzzfeed. There are a few love songs on it I could have named last night instead of my R&B list. (And thus, here's a secondary faster-to-load list to more fully round out my personal 80s "pop" experience, though it leaves out "Wishing Well" and "Stay With Me Tonight.") But to name a favorite I'd be willing to claim now, I'd compare it to how I feel now when I hear Frank Sinatra sing "Witchcraft." Okay, such a thing is not possible. Still, back then, it'd have been "Ain't Nobody," by Chaka Khan. Tell me this isn't a great song.
But I also remember how I felt when I heard (the slightly cheesy now) "Hold Me Now" by the Thompson Twins, and how I felt when the person I loved turned out not to like it at all. Which should have been a warning, however, let's not digress.
This. Years later, this is the one. For me, this is a love song.
Only, it was me. I saw the whole of the moon. At least, I always tried to.