Pandora

You’re probably thinking I’m going to lay another Greek myth on you. Not exactly. Well maybe…I’m not sure where this is going. The Pandora of which I speak is the music streaming company. I forgot it was installed on a bedroom TV. I had it for my father who lived with us in the last years of his life. So, the stations are his, and as I have been listening to them these last weeks, I think of my dad and what an amazing person he was. Since it’s his selection of music, I feel him with me even more – music is one powerful force. I love how nothing is by accident, and by mere happenstance (not really), I just read an article on how music affects the brain. Even if you’ve heard a song hundreds of times, the anticipation, the frisson, is as strong as ever, and dopamine and other happy chemicals are emitted by the brain. Then, I was listening to a show on YouTube about essentially the same thing – that music is good for you, and if you want to listen to your favorite songs for the 1,000th time: go for it!

Perhaps I did open Pandora’s box –  actually in the versions of the myth it’s a jar. Nevertheless, what was released for me were not plagues and evils, but beloved memories. I was impressed by the variety of music my father enjoyed: classical – Cecelia Bartoli, Shostakovich, Brahms, Schubert, Mahler, – Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday (he adored her), Louis Armstrong (I think “What a Wonderful World” was my dad’s personal anthem), Bob Marley, Wilson Pickett, Milton Nascimento, Big Band orchestras, Jo Stafford, The Beach Boys, the Beatles, Charlie Parker, and here’s a few I found amusing: The Go-Go’s, R.E.M., ABBA and Cyndi Lauper. Where the hell did he come up with those? There’s many more – I”ll stop grocery listing – but they are indeed intriguing and genuinely eclectic.

Dad’s Pandora stations reaffirm for me his marvelous ease and joy of life, his open-mindedness, his embracing of all, his massive capacity to love, to forgive, and to endure. I’m not canonizing him, he was a beautiful wonderful flawed human being like the rest of us, but I must say that he did have an extra dazzle and sparkle that was a joy. He was a true gentleman, to the marrow, and women seemed to intuit this because they all loved him – often to my mother’s dismay. His humor and wit were superlative, and even when life threw him cataclysmic losses – they had no dominion over him. He remained the glorious generous person he always was.

Pandora in the ancient Greek means all-giving, I had forgotten that. How appropriate. It sums my father up – it is also what music does. At the end of Pandora’s story, the only thing left in the jar is Hope. Among the scholars and philosophers, Hope is another evil, a mixed bag at best. Much debate abounds – even drilling down to the meaning of the ancient Greek word, which is ambivalent at best.

Well shoot, it’s a sunny day, I’m in a good mood, and I need to wrap this up, so I’m going to go with the Pollyanna view which is hope is good thing. Hmm…isn’t that from The Shawshank Redemption?

So…Rock Out?

Clare Irwin

Rider on the Rain

I declared today a snow day. It’s more a sleet and rain mess, but I needed at-home time. I was channel surfing and caught Shopgirl with Claire Danes and Steve Martin – Martin also wrote the screenplay and novella. Danes is wonderful as the quiet and sad young woman named Mirabelle. Shopgirl is touching and lovingly human; everyone is broken in a forgiving way. A gem. Shopgirl got me thinking of other movies that may or may not be well-known, but don’t get the same amount of play, or buzz, as let’s say. The Shape of Water which I am looking forward to seeing – friends say it’s great. In that vein, Sally Hawkins, who I love, has a lot of gems. From earlier in her career, Happy-Go-Lucky, directed by Mike Leigh, is worth seeing.

This is an unorganized stream of movies that are on my mind but not on everyone’s lips. Watching all the madness in the news, I thought about King of Hearts with Alan Bates. Bates plays a Scottish soldier in France during World War I who finds himself in a French village where all who remain are the residents of the local asylum. Marvelous!

The film that started this thought process is Rider on the Rain. I originally saw it on TCM (air it again, please). It stars Charles Bronson, whose body of work, I would imagine, doesn’t come up on most top ten lists, but he has good ones (e.g.,The Magnificent Seven), and Rider on the Rain is another – at least for me. It’s from 1970 – with fun fashion as a bonus. And, it’s creepy. When I looked it up, I was pleasantly surprised that Rider on the Rain was directed by Rene Clement (Purple Noon, Forbidden Games). I found a Guardian article that described it as a, “cool, stylish, demented Hitchcockian thriller” – yup. Rider on the Rain has all five food groups: a woman in peril (named Melancolie!) , a maniac stalker/rapist, murder, a body dump, and a semi-sadistic hero.

I think I’ll end. Time to curl up and troll for more treasures. All seem content with our at-home day; there’s something baking in the oven, music is on, and the cat – to her delight – has been fed twice. More movies are clamoring in my head – I could always do a Part II – but I would much rather hear about your favorite “unsung” movies.

Delight in Discovering

Clare Irwin

Portable Magic – Part II

What to read…what to read first? I visited my local libraries and the displays were vast and tantalizing. I will enjoy reading their new books recommendations in the near future, but too many choices tend to baffle me.

So I return to the “classics” – ones I never read, and ones that deserve to be read again.The first work I picked up was a collection of Washington Irving’s short stories. I wanted to reread “The Legend of Sleep Hollow,” and while I was thumbing through the table of contents I noticed how many of Irving’s stories are part of the American lexicon, particularly Rip Van Winkle, and of course Icabod Crane and his Headless Hessian Horseman. In the introduction, I read about Irving’s life which was quite fascinating: he spent 17 years living abroad, and was highly prolific in all genres: histories, biographies, travelogues, etc. While in England he visited Walter Scott, whom Irving revered, and Scott was an admirer of Irving’s History of New York. Irving took posts with the Navy and accepted numerous diplomatic positions. Upon his return to America, Irving was nominated by Tammany Hall as mayor of New York – a position he declined. He traveled to the Oklahoma Territory which yielded A Tour of the Prairies. At 52 Irving bought the property which would later be known as Sunnyside – his home near to the locale of his famous tale. Irving is distinctly old New York: the early Dutch heritage, and the mystery and beauty of the Hudson Valley north of Manhattan island. Irving Place in Manhattan is named after him, and his family home there has enjoyed an distinguished provenance of creative people.

While thoroughly enjoying Irving’s marvelous tale and description of life in Sleepy Hollow, a memory from my childhood returned to me – of a trip my mother and I took to see Washington Irving’s home, which is open to the public. My mother planned special trips with each of us on our own with her. Irving’s home is in Irvington, and I recall the weather was beautiful. It was a wonderful day – a special day – the house was delightful and the docents were dressed in clothes of the time. At the end of the tour the kind ladies invited the visitors to a spread of tea things, lemonade and ginger spice cookies – which were excellent. The docents offered the recipe on elegant cards…in green ink and a pretty William Morris-like pattern border. It’s a sweet memory.

When I decided to write about Irving and promised the recipe, I was gripped with anxiety. How was I going to find it amid all the recipes and papers and “stuff” I inherited from my faithful departed? I pulled out the accordion file aptly labeled “cookies” and the recipe gods smiled on me: I found it right away. It’s not the original green ink card, it looks like a 5th generation xerox copy. But it is the recipe with notes from my mother – it’s both comforting and jarring to see a loved one’s handwriting – there’s an intimacy about it that reconnects me to the person. Here it is. My mother used to make the cookies at Christmastime, but the recipe is suitable anytime of year. They are not too ginger-y: they are just right. 

So Washington Irving, his lanky schoolmaster and the quiet town where people tarry, brings me to my memories – all supplied by a bite of a ginger cookie.

Enjoy!

Clare Irwin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postscript: If anyone can’t read the recipe and would like it, I would be delighted to post it in more legible form.

Post Postscript: In the introduction of Irving’s collection of stories, Charles Neider, the editor, writes: “‘Rip Van Winkle’ is a fairy tale of bewitchment and a story of the magical changes wrought by Time. It has been insufficiently stressed that Time is one of Irving’s chief characters…he was endlessly fascinated by the effects of Time. It was an artist’s fascination.” I wonder if that is why, unconsciously, I was drawn to Irving first; for Time plays a significant role in this blog – it is the thread I hope, at least, that I weave into the fabric of the writing.

Portable Magic – Part I

There’s a hash tag on Twitter entitled Shakespeare Sunday. Today, I tweeted a quote from The Tempest  – Prospero speaks wistfully of the worthiness of books: “Knowing I loved my books, he furnish’d me/From mine own library with volumes that/I prize above my dukedom.”  I come from a family of voracious readers, the house teemed with books: in the library – my father’s and the family’s, in everyone’s rooms, left on side tables, and of course huge piles next to one’s bed. I think my mother’s was the highest of all. Looking back, I am so grateful that I came from a family of readers – it’s a wonderful gift. I still read, but less than in past  years – I am busy with work, like most of us, in the nice weather I am outdoors, I started this blog – and I am drawn to the competing force of legion television/movie availability. We have Netflix and a fairly loaded cable package which needs to go. Our local provider raises their rates monthly, and we’ve reached the point of whether it’s a little luxury or a huge bill. Even at the risk of missing something EVERYONE will be talking about, and will eventually be aired somewhere, I think we shall reduce.

The startling revelation came to me that if I wasn’t doing so much viewing I would be doing more reading (duh!). I’ve started again – mostly catching up on past issues of The London Review of Books, The Guardian and The New Yorker which is still a standard of fine writing. In a past issue there’s an article on Julian Assange and Protest Theory – both deserve a look wherever you fall on these issues. I also love how once you delve in, the author leads you somewhere else. The Assange article mentioned Philip Dick’s book The Man in the High Castle which reminded me of Dick’s other prescient works that inspired blockbuster movies: Blade Runner, The Adjustment Bureau, Total RecallThe Minority Report et al.

I am delighted for the return of that gemutlich feeling reading elicits. There’s more I could mention from these three issues – but I’ll end here. With a little bit of time management (ha!), I will post Part II in a few days which starts with a memory, a book in the overall, and includes a recipe! Imagine that!

Happy Exploring

Clare Irwin

N.B. The title of this post is taken from Stephen King’s widely well-known book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

Be True To Your School

I heard The Beach Boys song of the same title this morning. Upbeat, it’s endearing and anachronistic. Coincidentally, I had just received one of my schools’ quarterly magazines. The magazine is designed and edited with exquisite taste, and the thick paper stock makes it tactilely satisfying. Like all my reading material, it was placed on the ever-growing teetering pile.

I finally got to it. As usual I am filled with bursting pride of all the accomplishments and truly unique endeavors the alumni of this matrix produces. For a small house of education it churns out an inordinate amount of famous and successful people. At the same time as experiencing pride, I feel a sense of gross inadequacy – not of self, but in “notable” yardstick achievements. It’s a confusing dichotomy of emotions. A fellow alum and I have discussed this, proposing the idea of creating the anti-version, or the “Un-version,” of this periodical of success. I guess we would fall into the “late bloomer” category.

What I find amusing is that the school itself has no school spirit, nor encourages it. It doesn’t attract that sort of person.Thinking back I don’t remember anyone expressing much interest in esprit de corps. Sure, we played field hockey, soccer, softball and all that, but for the most part it was because we enjoyed it, and didn’t care about whether we advanced, or if it would look good on our college application.

One of my set’s mothers talked us into joining the tennis team. I don’t think we ever set foot on the court. I do know we spent “practice” at Trader Vic’s having neon blue drinks in carved-out coconuts with parasols and plastic swords skewered with maraschino cherries and miscellaneous fruits. I think we drove our coach to the brink; I remember her shaking with anger and anxiety having to deal with us. And, we thought it was hysterical. There’s nothing more ruthless than a teenage girl.

Brian Wilson, the driving force behind The Beach Boys was 21 when he wrote the song. Apparently, it’s a tribute to his Hawthorne High, and the B-side of the hit single was the polar opposite in sentiment: “In My Room.” Wilson grew up with an abusive father, and battled depression and mental issues his whole life. I wonder if at 21 Wilson was already looking back and cognizant of the duality of his reality – the happy, everyone is popular, idealization of school days, and the private aspect where “through a glass darkly” one battles demons and isolation – real and imagined. 21 is a tender age to understand this. Possibly, Wilson knew he was letting go of carefree childhood, and on the flip side, leaving sanctuary. Both songs have an undying appeal – it’s that frisson of nostalgia – homecoming and ache.

So whether you’re teeming with school spirit, or couldn’t care less, as a friend of mine says: “It’s all good.” So pick up your pom-poms or ignore the whole thing, chances are, not terribly far into the future, you’ll feel the pain.

 

It’s a good one.

Clare Irwin

Metamorphoses

The word narcissist has been bandied about a good deal recently. It is a disorder of the personality, and  unlike other psychological disorders, there is no cure, no psycho-pharmacological remedy. I’ve known quite a few narcissists in my time: men, women, young, old, different walks of life and histories. It is democratic in that regard.

I don’t think that I need to contribute to the amount of oxygen being consumed by the current discussion, but it did get me thinking about the ancient myth from which the moniker is coined. As my classics professor would always tell us, “Go to the source!” I remember translating, from the Latin, Ovid’s interpretation from his Metamorphoses, or “Books of Transformations.” I  also recall the versions provided by Edith Hamilton and Bulfinch’s Mythology. It’s a tragic, cruel story – and as is their wont the Gods of Olympus get involved. Echo was a wood nymph favored by Artemis, and Narcissus, a mortal, was the most beautiful youth of all. Echo pines for him and he rejects her relentlessly until she fades away and there is nothing left of her but her voice. Ted Hughes, the English poet, translated Echo’s plight: “From that day/Like a hurt lynx, for her/Any cave was a good home./But love was fixed in her body/Like a barbed arrow./There it festered/With his rejection.”

Narcissus’s end isn’t much better; he falls in love with his reflection when he sees it in a pool of water, and unceasingly gazes upon himself until he dies. The nymphs – they were a kindhearted lot – forgivingly commence to bury him, but when they go to his body: he is gone. What is left is a flower, in one account purple within with white petals  – the description varies. However, what is consistent is that the flower is commonly found by the side of a brook or stream.

How wise were the ancients! They got it right long ago. I have witnessed, among friends and others, that in the dynamic with a narcissist, the one bestowing love – it’s completely depleting and self-annihilating. As for the narcissist – they are pitiful creatures – they are all together alone as they too wither and go. They don’t leave a lot of happy memories behind. 

To be sure, many narcissists are extremely charming, charismatic, captivating, enchanting – all that sort of thing. They draw people to them, and once the masque is removed, one is in way too deep.

All the current Sturm und Drang aside, I would say why not delve into some of the classics? There are some marvelous tales of transformation from good old Ovid, and many myths and legends found in other tomes. The experience, shall we say, may be transformative?

Happy reading

Clare Irwin

The Year Got Rung

I woke up the morning of January 1, thrilled to be on this beautiful earth, and so grateful that 2017 was a fine year and looking forward to 2018 being the best year yet. Happily I was having my coffee, looking out onto the frigid yet beautiful view from where I write…musing…”God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world!…” You’d think, right?

Well, it was true until a couple of people in my life, not necessarily close people, but people I must deal with, started to infiltrate my euphoria…the buzz kill was about to begin. And, in the time in which we now find ourselves, always plugged in, the invasion is that much harder to stave off. Do I have to end up like the guy in The Omen who shuts off his electricity, wallpapers his apartment with newspaper clippings, and seals himself in?

I don’t know, maybe it’s the full moon. But part of the day was vexing. Inconsiderate behavior — one of my least favorite things. By early afternoon I had put the matter in the proper perspective, and pretty much didn’t care anymore. Blithely, I went about the remainder of my day.

Until about 9:15 the next morning. It’s all minor stuff, but I’m territorial when it comes to my peace being disturbed. I was contacted by email by same persons. When I tried to call them: unreachable, can’t talk, in meetings all day, yada, yada, yada. Sure. I consulted a friend who gave me good input, and moved on to other things. Later, I realized I hadn’t addressed the issue. So I started to compose an email that would be fair, polite, balanced – whatever, because God forbid anyone’s feelings gets hurt! I found myself agonizing over word choice and I stopped. I thought,  “Why do I even care about this?” I hopped over to here – Phantom Noise –  and slammed this out. My inclination is to not do anything, which is usually the best course of inaction. I am fairly sure I’m never going to be right with these people anyway.

That’s it. The big drama. A friend of mine says, “The smaller the stakes, the bigger the drama.” How true. So instead of thinking this is the tone of 2018, I’m decreeing it was annoying, and if that’s the worst – then I’ll take it and we got it out of the way.

Happy 2018! For real.

Clare Irwin

Remembrance of Things Past – The School by the Park

I hope everyone is having a merry time visiting family, traveling and relaxing, as we round the turn to the closing of the year. I too have been enjoying this time. Simultaneously, I can’t help but think about all the people I love – family, friends, loves – who are not gathering around my table any longer. I do miss them but I am blessed to have the memory of these exceptional souls.

This feeling was solidified when I was searching The New Yorker website for an article, and accidentally came upon a wonderful piece by Muriel Spark. She was the Scottish writer best known for the novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The essay is entitled “The School on the Links,” and it is a non-fiction look back at the girls school and teacher who inspired Spark’s book. Like all her work it is flawlessly executed, beautiful, funny, poignant and wise. It’s definitely worth reading. Spark describes the school and her friends, recalling the thrill of learning new things, and the fascination and speculation of her teachers’ private lives, particularly her exhilarating Miss Kay on whom Jean Brodie is based. 

I went to a small private girls school, eons after Muriel Spark and it wasn’t in Scotland, but here in the States. It also wasn’t on the links, but it did face an exquisite historic park. Even so, there are elements in common that are eternally true: school “chums,” everything and everyone seeming, to us, to have a sex appeal charge. Most importantly, the appreciation, even while young, of the “grown-ups” in our lives and their endearing qualities. I think of what was once my somewhat large family: high-spirited, vital, courageous, trail blazers, smart, funny, and dare I say it – quite glamorous. Of course none were perfect, not by a long shot. But I do know this, the world isn’t as interesting with them not in it. They all added more than a splash of sparkle to the world. I think too of my one true love, the love of my life – my immortal beloved who left this world too soon. One by one they passed over, some way too young, some after long illnesses, and some at a good old age.

A number of years ago, at that point it was just my father and I who remained. I remember we were outside in a parking lot or someplace random. I think we had run into each other (we lived in adjoining towns), and we were chatting about this and that. I think I adored my father most of all – he had such lovely ways about him. As the conversation, which I cannot remember, wound down my father was laughing and shrugging his shoulders, wearing his sweet shy smile that was completely disarming. And then he said, “Let’s face it Clare, you’re the last of the Mohicans.” I thought it was amusing, and now, at this vantage point, those words echo often in my mind and I see how true and how right he was. 

Ram Dass says, “We’re all just walking each other home.” I like that. But as I look at the road forward, I can’t help but at times look back. Over the past few years my memories have taken on an appropriate hue, and I can think about all that was and smile, laugh and be so deeply grateful for the knowing of them all. What I owe the ones I love is beyond evaluation.

In The New Yorker article, Spark wraps up her story, “It was sixty years ago. The average age of those high-spirited and intelligent men and woman who taught us were about forty; they were in their prime. I cannot believe that they are all gone, all past and over, gone to their graves, so vivid are they in my memory, one and all.”

Clare Irwin

Holiday Wishes! & I’m Just Wild about Harry!

Yuletide wishes & happy festivities to everyone! I hope your holiday is full of love and joy and peace. Now and always.

I was on Twitter this morning, composing a holiday greeting, and on my feed I saw a sweet tweet from a gentleman in England: Harry Leslie Smith. The tweet read: 

“Happy Christmas to all my friends and followers. Love will triumph even in this darkness, if we show the courage of compassion to our fellow travelers. All the best, Harry.” I went to his home page and learned that Harry is a remarkable man. Nearly 95, he has decided that, “I’m spending the last years of my life touring the refugee hot spots of the world to find a solution to this crisis…” How fantastic is that? Harry’s profile reads: “Survivor of the Great Depression, RAF veteran Activist for the Welfare State Author of Harry’s Last Stand Love Among the Ruins, 1923 & The Empress of Australia…”

I hope I’m like that if I make it to 95 – but why wait? I think I will take a leaf out of Harry’s book and start…now. All that courage, concern, heart, resilience and joy. It’s admirable stuff. I remember that The New Yorker magazine used to have mini-columns (maybe it still does), that were usually at the end of an article where some space needed to be filled. There was: “Block that Metaphor!” and “There’ll Always Be an England.” Of course they were clever and funny, and I am thinking of Harry, but more in connection to the song,”There’ll Always Be an England,” which I vaguely know. It embodies British pluck and courage even in the midst of the “darkness” to which Harry refers.

So dear friends, have a happy and raise a glass to Harry, to yourselves, your loved ones, and to bravery. 

Cheers!

Clare Irwin

“Go West, Young Man, Go West”

Greeting and Salutations, it’s the Christmas, or holiday, season. Either way you know it the minute you head out on the road, which is traffic jammed and full of people who seem to be in a shopping delirium. After the last impatient person blew their horn at me, I started having unkind thoughts that the herd really needs some thinning.Or, it’s time to move on. Here where I live, which could be any suburb suffering from afflulenza, I find it perplexing that these same horn honkers are usually driving a huge SUV that is almost large enough to require union membership in the Teamsters. The Chevy Suburban, I think it is, reminds me of a hearse. It’s a gloomy and aggressive looking machine. I know, to each his own, but oddly enough I never see more than one person in these vehicles, and often notice that these same people are rabid about separating the plastic from the paper but drive a car that gets 20 feet to a gallon.

I’m digressing. Lately I’ve been spending time with an friend who is working hard at breaking the shackles of suburbia. It’s a fight — more like a prison break than a shedding of mores. I admire him greatly and his journey has been both blessed and arduous. But he’s doing it. Leaving in two months and heading west. Wyoming, to be more precise. I’m a little envious, but at the same time I am grateful that he may be an example that I could follow and speed my own plow to find my “West.” Wyoming is beautiful. I’ve driven cross country twice – something I would strongly recommend – and the summer trip took me to the big country of Wyoming and the Black Hills of the Dakotas — all that purple mountain majesty. But I’m not a winter person, the winters there would kill me. So my west will have to be more southern and warmer. I could do summers up there. I’ve always wanted to see a buffalo wallow. I remember when I was a kid reading a book about a girl growing up in the Dakota territory and she comes upon a buffalo wallow filled with wild violets. It’s a lovely image and it’s on my to-do list.

I’ll get there, it may take me a little longer. Not too long I hope. Living in the hustle and bustle has become too much – I am seeking a quieter more serene daily existence. I have it to a large degree in the way I live my life, for which I am most grateful, but I’m out of sync with everything around me. And that is okay, but it is enervating. When I looked up this old quote, “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country,” credited to Horace Greeley in the 19th Century, it was written in the context of America’s expansion westward. Now in the 21st Century, within the context of my friend’s and my own desires, are we longing to escape all that has been built? Are we looking for a new frontier that eschews “opportunity” in exchange for the freedom to live our lives the way we wish? 

I don’t know. This raises a lot more questions than I intended. Not sure where I’m going with all this. I’ve been thinking about my friend and going through all my post ideas that I keep on the WordPress dashboard – 28 pending at last count! Not to mention the ideas on Post-its on the actual dashboard of my car. My 20 year old marketing adviser/whiz kid tells me I have to write more and often. He is absolutely correct and I know it.

So this is what I have after a Sunday of battling the consumer mania.

Happy Delirium!

Clare Irwin