A Brief Meditation on Mother’s Day

Good Mother’s Day to all! For those who have raised up their own children, for those who have raised the children of others, for those who have loved and cared and nurtured the young….and the old…for those who have taken loving care with loving kindness of those who need tending…I salute you and say a heartfelt thank you filled with love.

These beautiful tulips came yesterday in the arms of a sweet, shining, smiling young one who is on her way to great things. What a joy to see them get ready to fly.

I’ve been thinking a good deal about my mother these past days and weeks. Most likely because I have been clearing out closets, files and whatnot, and I come across her in many forms, paintings, photographs, notes, cards….We lost her too young, while we were too young. 

I am proud of my mother’s accomplishments as well, and her success in her career. In fact, I have been meaning to write — for some time — about my mother and her mother’s (my grandmother’s) marvelous achievements in the context of “feminism.” A word that both would eschew — and I as well — even though they were in every way “liberated” and did exactly what they wanted. And cheers to my dad and grandfather for being enlightened to appreciate them, to delight in their success, and to encourage them. 

Well, I suppose many people are out today taking their moms to lunch, dinner, a play or just kicking back and spending time with them. So to all, enjoy. To my mother, and the extraordinary women in my family, thank you for everything you gave me and for doing so with wit, wisdom, humor, strength, courage, and….quite a bit of glamour.

With Love,

Clare

 

 

 

 

Western Biological

OK! I’m way overdue in replenishing this site with fresh content. I can’t decide if it’s time for a rosy gaze, a bitchfest, or a middle ground. I’ve been rereading Cannery Row which is beguiling and wonderful — sort of a Western version of Damon Runyon’s denizens of the old Times Square. That area near Carmel and Monterey is long gone – too valuable a real estate to stay rusty. I remember the area when I was little – it was gone then too, but there was a lingering sense of the time that Steinbeck so gorgeously captures. 

The startling difference is the attitude. Hobos and ne’er-do-wells being pretty much okay with who they are. If you had some sort of roof over your head, food and drink – life was good. Now, nothing ever seems to be enough.

The writing is enviable. Two pages on how to repair a Ford Model T — even if you are not a car person it’s engrossing. Steinbeck’s treatment of his characters is forgiving and affectionate: we are all a little, or a lot, broken and that is perfectly okay. Then there is Doc – the somewhat mysterious marine biologist who likes classical music and his solitude. Doesn’t everybody want to know a Doc? I know I do. 

I read Cannery Row when I was a teenager and enjoyed it, but I think you have to be a bit older to fully appreciate it – and to have had some of life’s knocks to understand the characters’ skins. It makes me nostalgic…nostalgic for a time that I wasn’t alive for but can imagine…when the country was uncluttered, unpaved, unchained/unbig-box stored.

Reading Steinbeck had me thinking of a summer when I was 19. I met a friend in Denver and we rode a Honda Gold Wing motorcycle through the Badlands of the Dakotas and other points of interest. How different the landscape is on a bike! Yes, it’s terribly dangerous but I am so glad I did it – it is a beautiful memory. That part of the trip I didn’t share with my mother because she would have freaked out, even though my dad had an old Indian Scout motorcycle which was off limits. It sat in the garage looking beautiful and propping up skis and other paraphernalia. 

I’m sorry we didn’t drive the Pacific Coast Highway into Steinbeck country. I would do it now, this time not on a bike and I think even with the changes, I could catch a glimpse of Doc’s tide pool, the Palace Flophouse, Lee Chong’s emporium, and out of the corner of my eye see the flutter of a girl’s dress as she strolls back to the Bear Flag.

“It is the hour of the pearl – the interval between day and night when time stops and examines itself.”

Happy Reading and Dreaming,

 

Clare

Pâté for the Partay? Or, the Zen of Eddie

I have a cat who is 16 years old, which is 80 in cat years. Lizzie is still fairly active, still makes trouble, and inevitably messes with my head. That’s how I know she’s okay. She’s always been a picky eater and finding wet food that she likes is challenging. When I discover a flavor she will eat, stupidly I buy it again, and she looks at me like, “What the hell is this?” and walks away. A friend of mine, who has five cats, holds to the axiom: the stinkier the better – and that has been true for her royal highness who lives in my home.

The problem with the wise axiom is that we are in the era of “gourmet” “healthy” cat food. Stinky is hard to come by. Rachel Ray’s Nutrish line – phew…Lizzie isn’t having it. Finally out of desperation I went to PetSmart or Petco – I’m not sure. I found many aisles of fancy cat food, bowls, and more nonsense than you’d ever need. My eyes glazed over and I asked the cashier if someone could help me.

I was roaming the aisles when a tall elegantly turned-out older gentleman came walking towards me. I liked him immediately. He had a slightly amused smile and he put on Kelly green glasses to read the labels. He looked like a classical or jazz musician – menthol cool. How had he landed on planet pet store? I told him about my fussy eater and mentioned that she only eats pâté. Shredded, bits – no way. So, this nice gentleman and I looked for pâté in the various brands. He was enjoying the play on words and was saying “pâté for the partay” which was cute. We found one brand which had a picture of a cat wearing a bow tie and a black tuxedo…? I must be an advertiser’s nightmare because I don’t understand what I’m supposed to infer from the image. Is the cat James Bond or a maître d’? I pointed this out to my fellow explorer and we continued goofing on more words and pictures: “Hereinafter called The Pâté of the First Partay…!” We actually found a couple of cans that Lizzie ate. Isn’t it great when you randomly meet people who are enchanting?

I returned the following week to restock and hoped I would run into my new friend, but I did not. The third visit I saw him again and he was working the cash register. His name tag read: Eddie. Eddie was having a good time with the lady ahead of me, and when it was my turn, I reminded him that he helped me and we enjoyed more banter. Eddie definitely  marches to a different beat. Jealous? Sure I am! What is Eddie’s Zen secret? He’s present and enjoys the moment. I am hoping some of Eddie will rub off on me.

How do I know I don’t have Eddie’s Zen? A couple of days ago I was telling a friend about the “decor” that my neighbors “adorn” on and around their front door. This situation is worthy of its own post, at least for me, but I’ll leave it for now. I realized that I was ranting way too long, and my friend, Blanca, is just wonderfully calmly and understandingly listening. God bless tolerant friends! She is definitely closer to Eddie Zen than I.

For me, I have a long way to go.

Exhaling,

 

 

Clare

“Cat Yelp” cartoon by Paul Noth, The New Yorker. 2018

Cancel My Subscription

Greetings and salutations! Forgive the absence – November and December were a blur. I feel so rusty, and I’ve been indecisive on which topic to write. My folder is full of ideas, but I can’t get it together.

The last months were great – busy and productive, and the holidays were peaceful, non-materialistic, simple and not overindulgent. Amid feelings of bliss I am forced to encounter people who are…not happy…or confused?

Some incidents occurred, which at the time peeved me, but I had my outburst and it was over. Now, I am grateful because these nothings were so absurd, they offered up a treasure trove for me.

During my down time I caught the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. A line, from Larry, came up more than once: “I don’t subscribe to…” referring to a belief/custom/social norm – fill in the blank. The one I remember is he’s asked to take a house tour because Susie and Jeff move into a new home. Larry refuses. A screaming match ensues. Regarding house tours, I’m with Larry. Unless you’re showing me around Chatsworth or Highclere Castle, I’m not interested. We have to see the matching curtains and bedspreads – whatever (a major interior design violation in my book) in your daughter’s bedroom? What is the message we are supposed to receive – wow you have great stuff, you can recognize various hues of pink and put them together? What am I’m missing?

I wasn’t asked to take a house tour, but I’m citing Curb because I feel that the “I don’t subscribe to…” can fill a lot of ellipses in my observations of the world as I watch people go crazy or reveal some weird neurosis that is obnoxious.

Let’s start: “I don’t subscribe to your desperate need to be flattered, nor do I care how many people think you are amazing.” This is for an 86-year-old woman who is related to me by a misalliance of marriage.

“I don’t subscribe to baby talk or cutesy talk unless you are under the age of five.”

“I don’t subscribe to the use of the word ‘metrics’ in a sentence when talking about a person.”

“I don’t subscribe to complaints or bitching without a solution (no matter how half-baked), or trying to help (no matter how inept).”

“I don’t subscribe to your identity/victim don’t hurt me schtick, which you think is a hall pass for your shitty behavior.”

“I don’t subscribe to feigning interest in the description and explanation of your tattoos/piercings/Manic Panic hair color, etc.”

“I don’t subscribe to the notion that a person will have apoplexy or syncope if I say ‘fuck.'”

“I don’t subscribe to the contagion of business speak – speak in plain English!”

Example: “Utilize historical and predictive analysis to inform media decisions, develop media approach and strategic direction for various initiatives, define target audiences, create and execute plans designed to maximize efficiency and effectiveness, and use data and tech advancements to drive corporate and network goals. On-boarding new employees, training, growing and supporting direct reports and colleagues.”

I speak four languages aside from English, and I recognize the above words, but the arrangement baffles me. What does this MEAN?!!!

Maybe I don’t want to know. The list goes on, but I will end here and declare that I do subscribe to apologizing when required, while simultaneously encouraging the refusal to “buy in.”

Contritely,

Clare

PS. After writing the new post: “Pâté for the Partay…” I realize I have another “cancel.” I don’t subscribe to the “I’m a cat person,” or “I’m a dog person.” Why are humans so self-limiting? We have to chose sides? Can’t we love both…or better…all the lovely creatures?

Cleaning a House – My True Ghost Story – II

My second paranormal encounter happened years later, about two miles from where I saw the ghostly apparition on Halloween night. This patch of town is charged with stranger things. I had a friend, actually he and his mother were friends of my family for years. Not quite sure how they met, or what sustained the relationship because they were so unlike my parents. They were secretive, tightfisted, aggrieved. The mother, Eleanor, had a sense of humor, but her son Thomas, not Tom, always Thomas, was a bundle of ticks and neuroses. They were not unkind people just troubled. Part of the glue that held this friendship together was, I would guess, that they and my family were residents of the area for a long time. I’m harping on this, but the relationship between mother and son, I believe, is key to the creepy things to come.

Thomas’s mother passed away after a long illness, and I was living at my folk’s place sort of in-between things. By default, Thomas and I would occasionally go to a movie, meet for a meal. I think I felt sorry for him, he seemed so dissolute without his mother – they were uncommonly attached – and he had never lived on his own. He remained living with Eleanor. He never seemed to have a girlfriend, had never married. What he did with his time was a mystery. Eleanor was quite wealthy and the property spanned 40-50 acres of prime real estate. Neither worked yet they lived well, traveled extensively. There must have been a significant coffer from which money was drawn.

During my time of hanging out with Thomas he asked if I would house-sit for him. He was going to Paris, Zurich, and Turin – for “business.” He had four semi-feral cats, to whom, he was uncommonly attached as well. I agreed to house-sit. Dumb.

Thomas’s house was traditional – I don’t know the style – it was attractive and there was a cottage (unoccupied) on the property. The house was situated on a hill with a beautiful view. No neighbors in sight. It was decorated tastefully yet fussily, a lot of white and Biedermeier. During Eleanor’s reign, if you were allowed into the living room for tea or a drink, you couldn’t relax for fear of spilling on the white damask and brocade, wriggling under Eleanor’s hawkish gaze. Good times! What’s the point of having stuff if you don’t use or enjoy it. More often, to my relief, we would congregate in the kitchen which was the only room that had any degree of warmth. It was spacious with an oak table by a stone fireplace.

The house had a strange vibe. It was hollow and a little sad – devoid of personality. Thomas told me that there had been a fire years ago and most of the house was rebuilt. Thomas’s mother was gone nearly ten years, but he tentatively moved around the house and agonized over moving or changing anything. He was an only child and had inherited the lot, but acted like he still needed permission from mom.

I go to get instructions on the care and feeding of cats and house. After all this time of “knowing” the family I had only seen the first floor. Neither upstairs nor down. When I got the tour I was barely allowed to see the upstairs but did get a tour of the basement which should, had I been a sensible girl, have sent me running. It was unfinished and ramshackle with many stone and dirt creepy crawl spaces wherein the cats would mysteriously disappear. The basement was the truth – the main floor the lie, and I was to discover, the upstairs was the awful truth.

I was told to sleep in the guest room on the first floor. It was inexplicably freezing cold. Since watching movies and shows about the paranormal that was a sign: cold spots. Teeth-chattering shivering cold. Thomas called from Europe and I told him about the Ice Station Zebra problem. He hemmed and hawed and finally said I could sleep in his mother’s room. Hallowed ground! I knew this was a big concession and something he didn’t want to do. Thomas’s bedroom was also upstairs, which I was instructed not to go into, and by glancing from the open door why would I? It was pitch dark and full of junk. A black hole. Across the hall was Eleanor’s room which resembled a Golden Age Hollywood starlet’s bedroom combined with Rebecca’s bedroom from the movie. Ultra-opulent and feminine. Boudoir. Which was strange because Eleanor was none of those things and quite unattractive. That was sad too. So I slept there. One night. It was slightly less frigid than the room downstairs.

The following morning I woke up and was cold. I hadn’t brought enough warm things so I went into Eleanor’s walk-in closet/room hoping there may be an old sweater handy, and I jumped. Among the rows and rows of negligees and fancy slippers was a mannequin head with a red wig on it. Everything was as if Eleanor would walk in at any moment and need a peignoir to entertain guests. Now I’m thinking Norman Bates.

I had enough and went downstairs to make a cup of tea and devise an excuse to get out of my obligation. I was in the kitchen and the sun was pouring in. Another sign – the sun would come in but it didn’t warm or light the house in the normal fashion. As I turned from the stove holding the kettle I see – Eleanor. Dressed in flowing white – but not a shroud. She glances at me and moves through the swinging door into the dining room. I froze. I couldn’t believe it. I put down the kettle and followed her. The door was still swinging and I caught a glimpse of her back as she turned the corner and vanished.

I got into my car and drove to my dad’s house. I didn’t say anything but I did call the girl at the vet’s office (who was the backup plan) to go care for the cats. I planned to leave it at that, but I called my sister’s Wiccan friend, Helen – I wrote about her in an earlier essay – and told her. I had to tell somebody, and Helen would understand? I made her day because she was amped and told me, “Clare, you have to clean that house! Thomas is holding his mother there and she wants to leave!” How did she know? Helen also had some choice observations about Thomas and his cats, but I’ll leave it at that.

Why did I agree to this “plan?” On the surface it’s pretty stupid, but I was curious and wanted see what, if anything, would happen. I have to say that Helen knew her stuff, she rattled off a list of things I would need which took me a day and half to assemble. Including a trip to Home Depot and a sizable length of thin copper wire which a kindly salesclerk cut into 4″ lengths. He looked at my quizzically at one point and I said, “Don’t ask.”

The day of battle arrived. I drove to the house fully equipped and with Helen’s written instructions because this was complicated business – I won’t go into detail. The first thing she told me to do was to light a white candle in a silver candlestick holder – in the room where I saw Eleanor. I placed the candle and holder on the kitchen table and went to light it and realized I didn’t have matches. I walked to the other side of the kitchen where they were on a counter, and the candle flies out of the holder at me. Like someone whipped it – hard. This was the moment where I should have reevaluated the situation. I had goosebumps but I kept on. I put the candle back and proceeded. The interior cleaning took time because it had to be done exactly as Helen prescribed. After that process, where I could feel myself getting physically exhausted, I was to extinguish the candle, close the door to the house and start on the copper wire.

According to Helen, the copper wire is an energy conduit, and as I had “cleaned” the inside of the house I needed to create a route out for Eleanor. Luckily there was a water source at the end of the long drive, and I was pushing the wire into the soft earth from the house all the way down to the stream. As I was nearly finished, it was a sunny cold October day, I looked back at the house and I heard what sounded like many doors slamming violently. More goosebumps.

Helen told me not to reenter the house, to let it rest at least an hour before returning. No convincing needed! Happy to see the place in my rear-view mirror. Later, when I had to go back to get my things, I talked my father into coming with me. I told him nothing, not because he wouldn’t have believed me, but he would have shaken his head and thought that we – I, Helen, Thomas, Eleanor and the cats – this is what we had time for? So we go, and as we’re walking towards the house glancing at two inconsequential garage doors, my father, who was a marine and feared nothing said, “You know, this place gives me the creeps.” Validation! From a sane person!

As Helen predicted, the house was different – better – and the cats were upstairs. Had Helen’s recipe worked? Still I didn’t stay. The cats were attended to by the vet girl and I went home. When Thomas returned, he called to thank me for house-sitting and at the end of the conversation he asked, “By the way, what did you do to the house?” Nothing, I said, and he dropped it. My guess is that he was weird enough to conjure Eleanor back, but I never returned, so I can’t say.

I didn’t see Thomas much after that. A couple of years later we received a postcard with a picture of a renovated cottage and a charming apartment. Thomas had moved to Geneva, why I don’t know. Maybe they have scarier ghosts there, or in the spirit of Swiss neutrality, ghosts without an agenda? I heard through the grapevine that Thomas had subdivided his sizable landholdings, made millions, and leveled the house.

Shortly after my “white magic” encounter, I was in a bookstore that specialized in theology, New Age and crystals. Something for everybody. It was a delightful store and the staff was knowledgeable. One of the last privately-owned bookshops. I was at the register and the woman who was checking me out did a double take and said, “You just did some major housecleaning!” I was impressed. We became friends until she died suddenly and unexpectedly.

As I close, remembering the experience and Eleanor’s and Thomas’s unhappy backstory – which I had to leave out because of length, I feel uneasy and a little sad. All those people, for better and worse, are gone from my life and so is any semblance of where they inhabited. Even so, I wouldn’t have changed a thing and am grateful I was shown something….unusual? And, maybe in some small way I helped Thomas move on.

Happy Housecleaning,

Clare

 

My True Ghost Stories – I

I will describe, as best I can, two events that happened years apart which defy explanation. The common denominator is they both took place in a remote area of New England, in the same town, and they occurred in the month of October. One on Halloween night. It’s Native-American ground up there, you can sense it, and I don’t know if the town’s founding fathers respected that. I need to channel Stephen King; I cannot do it justice. He is the master. I’m thinking about the Mi’kmaq burial grounds in his writings. The names of places in my story are all Native-American. We would find arrowheads in the woods, which we gave to the historical society, or if a tribal elder was passing through or we had an address, what we found was returned.

I was not a child who was afraid of the dark or had any issue with ghosts or monsters or things under the bed, so I tend to trust that my memory is reliable, if not definitive. I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other about believing, or not, in the supernatural, I am open to the idea and certainly there are things in this crazy world that are mystifying.

The first encounter happened when I was around 10. I had come out to the town to visit a family I knew and Halloween fell during my stay, so I went trick or treating with my friend Sara, her little brother Eddie, and her older brother Andy as our “escort.” There was a fair distance between houses, no lights on the road and it was dark. Halloween began as one would expect, knocking on doors getting candy. Then the weirdness crept up gradually like a music crescendo. By the fourth house, which was rickety looking – the local gossip was that the older couple who lived there were a bit odd – an unearthly feeling fell. No one was home. Candy was left with a note on the porch, but everything was a mess like a creature had run riot. We surveyed the disarray and decided to leave without partaking, when we sensed that someone was watching us – that someone was home in the dark house staring. Even so, we shrugged it off and continued.

Next was a house we knew. A lovely restored barn owned by a glamorous couple who weren’t around much. Above the front door was a beautiful carved horse’s head – smooth and elegantly realistic. We were familiar with the aesthetic because the couple had a marvelous swing that went over a steep hill, and in the summer months we would play there. We rang the doorbell, there was no answer and the house was dark. All at once we looked up at the horse’s head which appeared to be looking at us and at something in the distance; the pale moonlight gave it an eerie cast. That was when we started to get jittery.

We set out to the next house which was far away. The back of the country club golf course was between us and our point of destination. We were walking on the side of the dark road where the soft hills of the golf course were and a fine mist was hovering. On the other side of the road was dense wood. Not a house in sight. We were walking, talking, goofing around. Simultaneously, it seemed, we all looked towards the golf course and saw a silvery tall and slender figure of a man in leather skins – in profile. I can still see the image – no color just the moiré effect of silver/grey that defined him. Andy yelled, “Run!” And we did. As we turned to look, the figure was running parallel to us with long strides and keeping up with ease. As this point we were frightened and we kept on running until we got to the next house (which was owned by a woman who locals claimed was a witch – I think that was because no one liked the family much and they had strange ways). When we approached the house, Eddie asked, “What was that?” No one answered him. As we reached the door it opened and spilled out a flood of light. We scrambled in and were greeted by the witch mom. She seemed to sense we were rattled and she had an slight smile at the corners of her mouth (did she know?). She made us welcome while Andy called their mom to come pick us up.

We never spoke of it. Ever. And we remained friends and in touch over many years, until our parents fell ill and passed. They moved away and started their adult lives. I often wonder what it was we saw. I am convinced it was not a person trying to mess with us, but what was it?

In the last couple of years, I have gone back to visit the town and other people I know there, and I hear from them and the local teenagers that there are still strange occurrences. One girl told me that due north, where the woods are even deeper and there are no houses at all, there is a “Suburban Legend” that has been around for a time. The land is owned by the state and there are reservoirs and nature preserves so it’s virtually uninhabited. Except for one abandoned house. The legend is that a family of “melon heads” lurk there. “What do you mean melon heads?” I asked. A head like a melon with no face, no eyes, nose, or mouth.

She was on the cheerleading squad and told me that they were heading to a game with one of the mothers driving a Suburban 10-seater on this stretch, and the car just stopped. Dead. For no apparent reason. Cell phone service there is spotty at best, but they survived unscathed. I can imagine the piercing screams and shrieks that were coming from the car as they were stuck there.

Now that would have scared off just about anything.

In respect to indigenous peoples, to the land they hold sacred, to the unknown, to the fact that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

Clare

Coming Soon – My True Ghost Story II – Housecleaning. And I don’t mean vacuuming!

1942 – The Penny Dropped & Stargazing

Over Labor Day weekend I stopped at our local coffee place one morning. I used the drive-through, and while I was waiting in line I watched the person ahead of me pay by phone. I thought to myself we don’t touch many things anymore – paper, money – everything is on a screen. When my turn came I paid by cash and was handed two pennies. I rarely look at coins, that too is of the past, but one of the pennies look old and worn from time. And it was – it was minted in 1942. Pretty amazing that it was still in circulation these 76 years. I started thinking and realized it was about then that the US entered World War II.

Such a long time ago, and hardly anyone left from that time. I put the penny on the console of my car and kept it, thinking about how far it had traveled and how many hands had exchanged it. I enjoy seeing it there, in its little place of honor, every morning when I get into my car.

A few days after I received my window into the past, I decided to do some stargazing. It was a prime time to see shooting stars and a number of planets were visible in the night sky. I was looking at them from my deck and the view was fine, but there is so much “light pollution” that it is hard to compete. The next clear night we took the truck and drove inland about 10+ miles to woods and fields. Off road we went and there it was – the glorious starry night sky. I couldn’t find the old binoculars which worked so well, so I used the zoom lens of my camera for a closer look. I saw shooting stars, and what I think was a dancing star. Not sure. I should read up on astronomy, and while I’m at it pick up an old telescope at a yard sale because now there’s an app to see stars.

About a day later, the penny dropped as the saying goes, and I made the connection between the penny and looking at the stars. I remember my father telling me about his grandaunt Celeste, which oddly enough means heaven in Latin. I vaguely remember her; she was very old when I met her and I was little, but I recall she was an incredibly loving, affectionate, welcoming person with a wonderful sense of humor. She died shortly after; I don’t know how old she was. The details are lost since there is no one left to ask.

I thought of my great-grandaunt Celeste, “Celia” for short, and remember her remarkable story. She was a young widow when the war was going on – perhaps in her mid-30s. Her husband had left her a farmhouse in Tuscany which was unoccupied. Celeste decided, to the shock of her family I would imagine, to leave her young daughter in the care of her sisters, and boarded a ship to Italy, traveled to Tuscany, opened the house and moved in. Right in the middle of the war. She had gone to help with the resistance, and she spent the ensuing years smuggling American soldiers on their way north to battle that would eventually end the war in Europe. It’s quite a story and all true. My father said at the end of the war she was bestowed with medals from General Eisenhower and General Montgomery of Britain.

After the war she sold the farmhouse, came home and resumed her life here. I have seen photos of her – a pretty woman with a mass of lovely hair and a beautiful smile. There are pictures of her with a shotgun on her shoulder – she had a lot of land in the country. There she lived out her days and passed away surrounded by the many friends and family and people who loved her. 

Why didn’t I write down the salient details of this story as it was told to me? Oh well, I’m afraid it’s gone, and my imagination will have to do. As I looked at the night sky I thought of her all those years ago – almost a century. How remote and isolated Tuscany must have been, no wealthy tourists buying up and renting out renovated farmhouses for the summer. She was alone in that house, waiting for friend or foe to arrive. I imagine her looking up at the night sky which must have been crystal clear in those days. Was she afraid? She was risking grave danger: possibly rape, torture, execution. And, as she looked at the sky and heard a branch snap or a rustle of leaves, did her heart skip a beat as she went to the door and saw the relieved and grateful face of a young soldier?

Alan Lightman’s book Einstein’s Dreams captivated me when I read it. There’s a chapter – and I know I’m getting this wrong – where all events in time are still occurring; we just can’t see or access them. So, when I look up at the stars and the heavens I think of Celia, young and idealistic, looking up at the same night sky, and I hope and pray that her spun silver courage, her sense of adventure, her belief in what is right, reaches into and lives in me.

In loving memory,

Clare

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boyhood, Girlhood – Childhood

It’s been an odd summer. I was informed that significant planetary activity – retrogrades, eclipses, blood moons – is contributing to “the time is out of joint feeling.” Shakespearean, isn’t it?

Weather-wise summer never quite hit the target. I was out by the water days before the 4th of July and needed a fleece hoodie. Then we crashed into scorching heat advisory weather and thunderstorms…it certainly curtailed outdoor time. The flowers suffered, most weren’t all what they should have been, others couldn’t cope at all. Now the summer is winding down, not entirely, we often have a long Indian summer, but the flurried fever of back-to-school is in the air.

I was talking to a friend who has three boys, and I was marveling at  how she manages to organize and track their myriad activities. I think she would need a board bigger than what Eisenhower used for D-Day. She was ruminating over the brevity of childhood now, and remarked, “Remember when you would just lay in the grass for hours and look at the clouds and feel the earth moving beneath you…?” As she said this I saw the image (above) from the movie Boyhood – then other images flashed of my childhood experience: looking for four-leaf clovers, catching fireflies, exploring woods and fields, finding old horseshoes, arrowheads, swimming in the local swimming hole which had a huge old tree with a knotted rope to jump off from.

In my email inbox was an affirmation: “Today, I reflect on positive memories with genuine gratitude.” I regarded this as a sign to pen this post. While I was down by the sea I saw a childhood ritual in keeping with the eternity of things. There’s a small bridge that connects the island to the village and it spans a saltwater bay. High tide brings kids for the joy of bridge jumping. No equipment needed – just a swimsuit and some nerve. On my way home I saw two girls selling lemonade. I was transported back to doing that myself with my best friend on a quiet country road. The first foray into “commerce.” Our dads and friends would stop and buy a glass from us.

My mother used to read us a poem, “Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity.” It beautifully captures that heavenly time of summer in childhood. I hadn’t thought about that poem for ages, I found it online and untarnished. Worth a read.

This afternoon, I returned to the lovely coastal setting because the weather gods relented and gave us some fine summer days. There was a girl blowing bubbles that traveled far in the sea breeze, and the kids were again at the bridge – fathers, sons, and daughters.

More memories came flooding back. Once the gate is open it is hard to close. I remember a boy I knew from summers out at my parent’s place. I have two lovely memories of him. We were leaving for Europe – gone for most of the summer  – and he had stopped my sister who was walking ahead of me. He was straddling his bike and I could only see his profile, but he was smiling and wishing us a good journey. Some years later, I ran into him at a train station – again in summer. He was all dewy and moist from rushing to catch the train. He had that high color and glow that only sweet youth doth make, and he was wearing a seersucker jacket. I found that charming. We started a friendship, a small romance, which was simply sweet. No tears, no recriminations, just ripe and happy that only the young can manage. I saw him once again five years later; he was the same pleasant intelligent person, and had newly become an attorney. I could still see the young flushed boy in him, yet something a little darker had claimed his spirit.

At the end of my reverie I stopped at the village shop where they make their own ice cream. While I was eating my Moose Tracks cone, I thought about all and more of summers past, and as happy as they are, for a moment, I break a little inside.

Let’s seize the day and enjoy the salty and sweet pleasures of summer – shut out the noise, listen to the cicadas, keep it simple, enjoy the ice cream. Sweet summer is there to grasp – the gossamer silk of now and then. As our older and younger selves, we look together up at the clouds and imagine.

Clare Irwin

 

 

 

N.B. The poem “Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle…” was written by John Tobias and is in an anthology of poems of the same title edited by Stephen Dunning et al.

Going to Costco with Eric Clapton

The idea for this essay came to me when I happened upon the documentary “Eric Clapton: A Life in 12 Bars” on Showtime. Then last week a friend took me to Costco which reminded me that I saved this idea in my drafts folder – involving both. I bet you’re wondering how I’ll manage to get Clapton and Costco to intersect. I’m wondering that myself. 

I re-watched the documentary last night. The first time I watched it I remember being engrossed in the story of this remarkable musician; at the same time, I felt annoyed and aggrieved, and totally overwhelmed by the gravitas of this man. I had to stop watching and it took three more attempts to finish it. Not because it wasn’t good, it was, but the level of intensity was more than I could handle in 135 minutes.

Forgive me if I am recapping what many people may already know, but most of this was new to me. Clapton’s life story is compelling and his childhood was deeply wounding. His talent emerged early; by 17 he was already part of the music scene in Britain, hanging out with members of emergent bands like the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, et al. What a Renaissance! This quiet skinny kid who could play the guitar was right in the eye of the hurricane. On first viewing I thought, yes terrible childhood but he had so much too. I thought of Frank McCourt’s line from the first page of Angela’s Ashes, “the happy childhood is hardly worth your while.”

Clapton’s anguish was mother-related (what else?), his grandmother and aunt had a hand as well, so trust issues abound as well as a confused idea of women. The woman who he thought was his sister was, in fact, his mother who after giving birth leaves for Canada and starts a new family. Abandonment, rejection, cruelty: it’s all there. From stills and home movies one can see how this betrayal impacted the unsmiling little boy.

I was puzzled by my conflicting impressions of Clapton’s story. Let’s fast forward through the meteoric rise and get to the part, where upon first viewing, was where I had to stop. Perhaps this is Clapton’s story arc as they say in Hollywood: falling in love with Pattie Boyd, George Harrison’s wife and Clapton’s best friend. Bit sticky. Clapton’s obsession with her bore out some of his greatest work. The song “Layla” took inspiration from a Persian tale that Clapton had read, involving Prince Majnun who loves, unsuccessfully, a beautiful girl – Layla. It all ends in tears with Majnun in the desert giving his soul up to Allah and dying alone. The album — which includes the song “Bell Bottom Blues” also about Pattie — is momentous.

While I’m watching this part, the first time, I’m thinking, “there are girls stupid enough to think this is so romantic: this man is writing songs about how much he loves her and how lucky she was….” Boyd appears to have a fairly qualified reaction to this in the documentary. She seems like a nice enough person and someone who let two men push her around. I thought, you know after a week of this guy it’s got to get old, or completely exhausting. How can anyone live up to the ideal he has in his mind? It’s impossible. The pressure alone would kill you. And when they finally “do it,” forget fireworks and waves crashing on the cliffs – nothing less than a supernova – the death of a star – will do.

It wasn’t lost on me that even in all this pain the men have all the fun and all the talent. Apparently, Boyd was a famous model in the ranks of Jean Shrimpton, whom I have heard of, but not Boyd. That’s all very nice but it’s not nearly as good as being in a legendary rock band. So, you’re an ornament, an ideal, the long-suffering wife of the unfaithful George, and the other rock star down the road, literally, is writing you love letters.

Where does Costco come in? Well, I was thinking that as an affair this could work for a short while, but long term, and Boyd and Clapton did get married, how can this sustain itself? The mundane tasks that need doing, or delegating, they kill the perfect picture. I don’t know why I thought of Costco, maybe because I have an allergic reaction to the place, so the question came to mind, how do you go to Costco with Eric Clapton? Every little thing, every moment, has to be so laden with meaning, so pregnant with profundity, so fraught with significance – what happens? Does everyone’s head explode?

While I was at Costco last week, which gave me nightmares, they had on display an entire living room and entertainment center, all appointed as if a family could just walk in and occupy it. I thought, unkindly, that Clapton could buy a new birth family, equipped with a proper mother, and all would be well. Or would it – the prevailing theory is art is born from pain.

And, more pain is waiting. Boyd and Clapton marry, during the depths of his severe alcoholism, and inevitably it doesn’t work out. There’s a long period of isolation and affairs which bore one daughter and one son, Conor. The tragic death of his 4-year-old son is horrifying. Clapton was in New York staying at a friend’s apartment and Conor falls from an open window. I then remembered that my sister’s friend, who was at school in New York at the time, told us that she was walking home up Lexington Avenue near The Armory and she sees a man running madly towards and past her. In the flash of him she realizes that he’s Eric Clapton, and not until she was home and saw the news, that she put it together.

Through Clapton’s grief he creates an album that is a tribute to Conor. All acoustic, it wins six Grammys. More creating, more successful collaborations, awards and honors – they are legion. In an early interview in the documentary, Clapton claims he doesn’t think he will live long. He’s outlived many/most of his friends and peers: Harrison, Hendrix, Duane Allman, B.B. King…

Quite a journey and in some ways a happy-ish ending for a man who, I am sure, does not believe in them. In 2001 he marries his current wife and now has three teenage girls. At 73 he is outnumbered by four women. I wonder if fate has lent a hand here. Without exception, all the fathers of houses of girls whom I have known, especially during their teenage years, just try to get through the day without having a heart attack. Maybe Clapton in his older age can see women for who they are – perhaps still mystifying but definitely human. 

Christ, I’m at 1100+ words and I’m getting annoyed again. This guy is still in my head. I’m sick of this whole subject and am returning to my initial mean-spirited feeling which was: wake up and realize how fortunate you are! You have it all! There are millions of people who have it so unspeakably worse, and nothing good happens, or if it does it’s not of this Olympian magnitude. What a lucky man you are.

And ladies, get your own rock band, career, something – don’t just sit in attendance and/or nursemaid these talented men. You know all those romantic songs about “their lady loves?” Well, they are more about them than you. Get over yourself, move on and get a life! Cautionary coda: Google Pattie Boyd now, take a look at her website and attending articles. At 73 she’s living in the past and swiftly approaching an eerie imitation of Miss Havisham. 

After all this hammering at the computer I wonder why I ever did this. Life is hard and it’s wonderful and for all the horrendous shit you go through – if you like yourself now, then it was all absolutely necessary.

 

So, Mr. Clapton, I bid you adieu. Try to be happy, be a good parent and give generously.

Clare Irwin

PS I never want to talk or write about this ever again!

Plastics!

As I wrap up my graduation tour I’ve had time to ponder the current state of affairs for those who are about to enter the job field. While I was listening to one commencement speech – which I was called upon to “script doctor” – my mind wandered away to my undergraduate commencement speech and speaker. It wasn’t that long ago, at least not by my reckoning, yet it seems that even in the last five to seven years “life” has changed drastically.

The speech I was not listening to, because I knew what was coming, was somewhat cliché and self-congratulatory. I did my best to eliminate the “reach-for-the-stars- follow-your-dreams-you-can-do-anything!” triteness, with marginal success. At the same time, it would not have worked if I turned my hand to it more, which would have resulted in the speech sounding like Evelyn Waugh and T.S. Eliot ghostwrote it.

Back to my graduation speaker. In my case the speaker was an alum of distinction. She came from a prominent American family of long pedigree, but she did not rest on those laurels. She has written seminal and acclaimed books on politics and history and has ventured into dangerous war zones to do so. Her words to us were powerful – they were only slightly congratulatory. This was a college that actually required hard work. All the more reason, in this woman’s estimation, that the privilege we had just been afforded required a greater responsibly. It was a rousing exhortation to all gathered that we had social, moral and ethical obligations to try in our way, large or small, to contribute in a worthwhile manner to the betterment of humanity and the earth. It was and is a tall order – a life-long duty and I applaud it.

Back to the present day where every “accomplishment,” however inconsequential, is celebrated. To be sure, there were many grads who did extraordinary work and overcame truly horrendous obstacles. Most are “dreamers” which is the only new word in the American lexicon that I like – amid all the ugly horrid ones. I’d like to think we are all dreamers. The word makes me think of the John Lennon song “Imagine.”

Of this current group of grads, as well as the teens I spoke to, their preeminent concern is getting a job after graduation. Teens are worried and they haven’t gotten there yet.  One reason, surely, is that college is so costly – even an organ donation won’t cover it – that the expectation must needs that employment immediately follow. This, sadly, turns college – in my view – into a technical school. Going to college to become educated, to have a “gentleman’s [or woman’s] education” is a luxury that is beyond most. When I talk about it people look at me like I’ve lost my mind.

Those grads who I know were fortunate to land jobs straightaway – all in STEM fields. Commendable to be sure, and I have no doubt they will do great things. But where, oh where, are our new crop of artists, poets, writers, dancers, musicians, sculptors, et al.? Will they be forced to forgo their creative bent and work for a Fortune 500 company that guarantees you some financial stability but kills your soul? Okay, that might be a bit much, but I’m campaigning for the “B-word” – Balance!!!

I had a professor, at this same college, who posited that the greatest ages were those where the sciences and the humanities were equal – e.g., the Renaissance, the 19th century. I suspect the 21st century will not be included on this list. The scale is tipped to science.

So, to recall a line from the enduring film The Graduate, plastics was the future. Fast forward 51(!) years, and we have this: 

Now the wave of the future is: Science, Technology, Engineering Math – STEM: the siren’s call to lucre, upward mobility, keeping up with the Jone’s, mortgages, 401Ks, debt. The American way.

Welcome to the machine.

 

 

 

 

Clare Irwin