Having The Vapors

The May 14th issue of The New Yorker featured an article on vaping, specifically Juuling, offering an insight into the vape culture that has emerged and skyrocketed. During my high school/college graduation and talking to teens tour, I learned that this phenomenon is uniquely theirs. They have claimed it. I know two people who vape who are in their mid-20’s, but the core group is high school and college –  middle school as well.

The article was startling. More nicotine can be put into a pod than what is in one cigarette, in fact kids are putting the equivalent of one pack’s worth (20 cigarettes) of nicotine into a pod. That’s terrifying – it could stop the heart! They’re young and invincible, but most are still seeing a pediatrician – do they know whether they might have a heart condition – mild or otherwise? The flavors sound disgusting, and God knows what harm the chemicals that create, say, Creme Brulee or Cool Cucumber, will do long term. Also, the off brands are using formaldehyde and other additives that are in cigarettes. It’s expensive too, not exactly a cheaper alternative to smoking.

Juul of course is in the forefront. The other point of interest to my teens was how much money the inventors and company make. Tons. I have written that I do smoke, so I’m not judging here…well not too much. I entertained the idea of vaping as a method to quit smoking, but the article and my teens discouraged that idea.

All of this annoys me and gives me a feeling of evil glee. Smoking has had a bad rap for ages, and virtually the only place you can smoke is in the privacy of your home: like it’s some dirty little secret. But vaping you can do anywhere: in class, on a bus – vapers have the run of the place! Why aren’t they in Siberia shivering with the rest of the smokers I see huddled together in winter, or sweltering in the summer?

The glee comes in because now vaping is the new smoking. Also sitting is the new smoking, So is marijuana. All can kill you and possibly faster than smoking which takes about 30+ years. I know it’s all bad and terrible and we should just stop. But I am pleased that smoking moved down a couple of rungs.

Finally, from a cinematic POV, vaping doesn’t have the same allure. How would it have looked if Bogart had lit(?) Bacall’s pod? Or Paul Henreid firing up two pods before handing one to Bette Davis?

I am reminded of a line in Fight Club “The only people who smoke in movies now are foreigners and serial killers.” I’m not sure if I have it exact, but in that wonderful anarchic film everyone smokes.

“We’re consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession.”

Take the power back and let’s, including me, make smart choices?

 

Clare Irwin

 

American Horror Story: Catholic High School

I wrote in the previous post that I had spent time with teenagers on the cusp of their senior year and the world beyond. Three of these teens attend a private co-ed catholic

school. As they opened up, and saw they had a captivated audience in me, they let loose.

I don’t know much about private catholic schools, and the ones I have a brushing acquaintance with are posh and single sex. So, this is new to me. Also, the school is in suburbia – that strange land. The tuition is crazy expensive. The kids I spoke to, two girls and one boy, are smart, funny, adorable – terrific. But they are in a weird school.

I am proposing to FX that the next season of American Horror Story should be Catholic High School. Jessica Lange could return as a sadistic principal. The faculty at this school are lay teachers. There is a priest on staff who, along with his duty of hearing confessions, spends his time chiding the girls for wearing their uniforms too short in a shaming and long-winded way.

I also learned:

You can’t use the drinking fountains unless you want to get chlamydia, herpes or other social/viral/bacterial diseases.

When I was with these three teens, they were in the midst of writing a theology paper. Thomas Aquinas? St. Augustine? Nope. The paper was on abortion and how they feel about it. Talk about a rigged game! This is where I abandon hope for the future of education. Yeah, I know it’s a touchy subject. However, where better to learn to listen to opposing views in an intelligent and respectful manner and create thoughtful debate? In the venerable run down halls of this institution for a start. This trio hasn’t a full-formed opinion on abortion, but they do know the paper has to be against abortion. Which is fine. But, it’s also not. They are not thinking about the issue, only that they need to give “them” what “they” want – or face the consequences.

The Spanish language teacher is not from Spain – he was originally a history teacher. He spent one year in Spain during college and is a self-proclaimed Spaniard. From what I can tell he acts like a hysterical maniac. He singles out students he doesn’t like and gives out detentions generously. And, he lives with his mother. One of the girls had detention with him – alone in a classroom with this guy. She reached for a book to do homework and he shouted, “No! Eyes straight ahead!” For 90 minutes. Prayer or mediation are not sanctioned? Maybe one could silently pray that the police finally uncover the dead hookers he buried in his mother’s basement.

The young man is deeply engrossed in A.I. and is building a “better Alexa*” as he puts it. I asked him about colleges he is considering with his guidance counselor. I received a confusing answer – not because this young man is confused – he knows exactly what he wants. I’m guessing the explanation he was given was muddled. The guidance counselor thought he should get three letters of recommendation instead of the usual two. I asked why and he said, “I don’t really know, because he (the guidance counselor) began by saying, ‘Jesus would want you to.’ And that’s when I stopped listening.”

Two of the three are involved in school theater. The most recent production was the musical Guys and Dolls  – catholic school material? Gambling, burlesque, unmarried couples…There was an awards ceremony – county or catholic-wide – and the boy was nominated for three awards. One of the “leading ladies” (Lady Gaga?), who had been overlooked, was furious and said, “If you win an award, I’ll kill myself!” There’s much to parse here. First, she’s perfect for the acting profession with that level of hyperbole. And, where are the Catholic/Christian tenets of loving one another, turning the other cheek? And the suicide threat! Isn’t that a major moral sin? The tenets are not in evidence but the seven deadly/cardinal and moral sins are. Nice work!

I’m not worried about these three – they have great families and once they leave this asylum – they will be fine. I don’t doubt there will be a period of time where they may eschew Catholicism and attending church. Can one blame them? My greater concern is that they will be turned off from learning, which would be a shame.

Maybe there is Life on Mars after all……the best-selling show…

Clare Irwin

*Since we’ve thrown decorum out the window, I’ll mention that I tried to convince the young man to name his “Alexa” after a French prostitute. He wasn’t buying it.

You are Sixteen Going on Seventeen – Baby, It’s Time to Think

I haven’t posted for a month, and I am disappointed with myself. May was incredibly busy: work was overwhelming, and I was invited and attended a variety of graduations and commencements –  both high school and college.

I spent some delightful time with 16 and 17-year-olds, and heard their perspectives. These teenagers are pretty grounded. Practical are they, and fairly realistic. Yes, there is the occasional delusional one. They are facing major rites of passage: getting into college, leaving home for the first time, and trying to afford college. We had numerous conversations about all this, and I am appalled at what it costs to go to college in this country. And, there’s no guarantee that you come out knowing any more than when you entered.

Three of the kids were in the midst of taking their SATs, and they showed me the “new” SAT “book.” A revelation. There are no grammar or vocabulary sections as in the past, just endless, grindingly dull reading passages that are more an endurance test than any measure of…whatever this is supposed to measure. I read a few and there were questions that I wondered, and am still wondering, what in the name of God does this measure? I couldn’t find any scholarly or intellectual connection. I’m reaching the conclusion that it’s preparation – education be damned – to turn unsuspecting young people into industry fodder. Drones. If you can get through the test, probably take it numerous times, and if you don’t crack – you go to college and then get a job working for The Man where you spend the next many years paying off loans.

I also noticed a fair amount of propaganda in some of the SAT passages. I read one on fracking that implied that it’s a good thing, that there isn’t evidence yet to connect it to earthquakes in areas where they were never earthquakes, or with tap water that comes out in flames or dark brown. It’s all great! Another was on big pharma and GMOs and how much good they do. Jesus! These sweet kids receive these messages, and how are they to know there may be another point of view? Aside that this is all crap –  it isn’t even well-written mind control. There is one nod to literature: the first passage. That’s it! From what I can tell it is usually 19th Century: Dickens, Stevenson, Trollope, Shelley…none of whom these kids know.

I found all this unutterably discouraging and felt sincerely sorry for our future leaders. Plus they live in the suburbs which I am beginning to think is not as wonderful as one would think. It’s too sheltered and sanitized. How does one acquire any life skills? I am so grateful to my parents and our upbringing: we saw the world, we lived in it, and the thirst and love for knowledge was for knowledge’s sake. I see more and more how rare our experience was and how fortunate.

Okay, so not everyone gets to have that. Well, I would pick one of these kids who demonstrates a little gumption, and hand them a pile of money (how I would have the money is not a detail in this fantasy), say nearly a quarter of a million dollars, which is what I imagine the average cost would be for four years including travel, room and board, etc. I would put the pile of money into his/her hands and say, “Here, go travel the world, have meetings with remarkable people, have adventures, shed your middle class morality, spend time in Paris, Hong Kong, a brothel in Tangiers, kayak down a Tibetan gorge. Live!”

And then come back and question authority. Now that is an education.

“You are sixteen going on seventeen
Baby, you’re on the brink…”

Clare Irwin

 

 

 

 

Lyrics from The Sound of Music, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.

 

Is There Anybody Out There?

I caught a few minutes of Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony on Capitol Hill. I found curious that this titan of commerce is somewhat unimpressive to me. Maybe it’s his boyish face and voice, and the veiled petulant stance he took with his questioners. I never used Facebook. I tried for about two minutes – it was too busy and noisy. Not to say that Twitter isn’t a frenetic sphere, but I was able to “get” it.

What amuses me, and worries me, is the data collected on everyone who uses Facebook, and how that information is used. Certainly, it is of great concern, but I am vexed because I found myself tangled in a competitive streak. I wondered: with all this watching, why aren’t they (who are they?) looking at my blog?! According to my analytics, I’m lucky to have a dozen people a day visiting. I know I should return to the “I-don’t-care-that’s-not-why-I-am-writing-it” attitude with which I began. That would be the wiser course of action.

I was helping a 20-year-old with a college transfer essay which prompted her to write about her academic and career goals. She was stumped – blocked. So typically, I related it to my experience and said, “Well, when I was 20 my goal was world domination.” I was half-joking and she laughed. Then she looked at me and said, “I can see that.” She just met me! I decided to take it as a compliment, but her comment made me think: what the hell kind of vibe do I give off? To consider that people see you differently than you see yourself was a valuable reality check. Duh!

As I have mentioned, I attended a rigorous rarefied prep school*, which I, for the most part, loved. An acquaintance once said to me that the only thing my school was good for was “breeding competitive little bitches.” He was just jealous that he’d never look as cute in the uniform.

I ran into this young lady the next day and thanked her for the insight. She was great and said, “You could definitely beat those old white guys’ asses.” How’s that for a morale boost?

Data collection, big brother, old white guys, whatever…come on people! Read this competitive little bitch’s blog! 

 

 

 

 

 

Clare Irwin

 

*See January 2018 post: “Be True To Your School.”

Swami Mommy…or Spit It Out!

The holiday has nearly passed for two major world religions, and I tried, I really did try, to do my best in keeping my Lenten/Easter intention. I failed miserably. In fact, opposite to what I think is my fairly steady nature, I’ve been swinging from mindfulness and positivism to being a misery. All this occurs in my brain – which is a dangerous place at the best of times. I first named this post Swami Mommy because I was thinking of a childhood friend’s mother on whom I bestowed this moniker. She talks a good talk, but the walk…not there. My friend and I laugh about this because her mother is so unaware of the polarity in her personality. She’s skillful at preaching the glories of the universe – it’s a bit of  mishmash of Christianity, New Age, and now the Kabbalah. Simultaneously, she’s more than happy to let you know how inadequately short of the mark your own spirituality falls.

The amusing part is she then turns on a dime – doesn’t miss a breath –  and says something so petty and cruel that most people, the rest of us of the great unwashed, wouldn’t think – much less say. My favorite is her revisionist histories where she is the heroine in all the outcomes. When she’s not talking about the universe functioning as a cosmic ATM machine for her, she’s relating a story about someone she knows – and the criteria never deviates: how they look and how much money they make is the measurement, and all you learn. I and my friend started referring to her as Swami Mommy and not in a kind way. She had said, in complete seriousness, “You know, I’m so evolved that I’m not coming back.” I started laughing but stopped when I realized that she wasn’t kidding. She is such a superior being that she need not return. Where do such beings go, I wonder?

While I’m mentally critiquing this individual I realize how ridiculous I am in my attempt to achieve serenity. I have to say things are pretty good, but as one strives to go further, there are trips and falls along the way. That is happening now. I’m listening to Thich Nhat Hanh while I’m in the car. He is an incredible and inspiring individual, and I am enjoying his meditations. But as I’m breathing in and breathing out when the gong gongs (?), I manage to insert some evil thought in between. Pissed at the driver in front of me, waiting in line while somebody pays by check – what the hell? I remember to breathe, but I haven’t been able to detach from my annoyance.

The culmination of my awful behavior happened this past Saturday. I was meeting someone for coffee and pulled into a parking spot. I was rummaging through the back of the car to find a magazine I wanted to give my friend, and I hear a horn honk behind me. I turn around and there is the front of a vehicle about six inches from my legs. The driver sticks his head out the window and asks me to stop what I’m doing and pull up so he can park better. He couldn’t wait and there were a bunch of available spots – he had to have that one. I sighed, got back in the car, and pulled up. I returned to my rummaging and he gets out of the car. I should be more clear: it‘s a van, a panel van, like the ones you see in movies about serial killers or child molesters, and old – like from Zodiac killer movies. The guy himself: creepy, dirty, bad skin, teeth going in all directions, weird voice, and he starts to say something to me. I’m thinking, this should be good because my guess is he’s a last word freak – even though I haven’t said anything. Sure enough he starts to say what sounds like an apology, but I’m not really listening to him. However, I do catch the last sentence: “It’s not my fault!” I loved that! He can’t sort himself out teeth-wise, you know, brushing them? Or comb his hair. These basic skills are beyond him, but he has learned the non-accountability lesson which is depressingly prevalent. That he gets!

He walks away to spread more sunshine and I’m fuming. I don’t know why; this usually wouldn’t send me over the edge, but I’m getting more and more peeved. I think I should kick his van, and then something truly alarming happened. I spit on the hood of the van! I was appalled at myself. I have never ever done this in my life, but before I gained control of myself – I had. My mother, if she wasn’t already dead – that would have killed her. Right there on the spot. My father, he would not have approved, but he would have laughed because he liked a little moxie. I was horrified because even though I know it was inexcusable, indefensible, childish – I felt better.

I spent the rest of the day flagellating myself. Finally that evening I had had enough of the self-recrimination and called a friend to tell on me. She laughed and thought the story was great (I can hear my mother’s voice, “Don’t encourage her!”). I felt lighter after my confession and my good friend said, “The car probably needed to be washed anyway!”

Now, I have another very dear friend, one who reads this blog regularly who is an amazing person. She’s someone I aspire to be like, and one of a handful of people whose opinion and regard for me I hold in high esteem. So I’m apologizing in advance, and promise as I go through this metamorphosis that I will return to my rosy gaze and write a post that won’t require contrition.

Clare Irwin

 

The Girl Got Reasons

March has come in as a lion; I’m waiting for the lamb part. Like Demeter, I am anticipating Persephone’s return. Oh no, not another Greek myth! No worries.

I was chatting with a dear friend this morning, and mentioned it might be a day for writing. I asked if she had any requests: “something funny with a tinge of sarcasm!” I hope I can oblige her.

I put this post title in my drafts folder a while ago. I was pissed because I was listing in my head all the women/girls I know who have a lot of “rules.” Rules that must be accommodated for the privilege of their friendship. Some I totally get, but others…I can’t keep them straight. I have a male friend who broke up with a fiancee of four years and was looking – in vain – for insight from me. All I could do was empathize and say, “Look, I’m one of them and I don’t understand them!”

The rules vary a bit. They are mostly about control or not disturbing the status quo. The latter is tempting. The control part, that’s just banal, but shaking up the status quo – well there’s shock value to that. One biggie, and I know I’ll be in trouble for this, is the “c” word. Merely mentioning this issue draws reactions close to apoplexy or swooning. It doesn’t really bother me. As women we should be allowed to use it if we want – we know our own don’t we? The fact that men say it, well I don’t necessarily condone it, but what pink bubble of a cocoon do you have to live in to think that the “c” word isn’t used – by men?

I was fortunate to grow up in a family where censorship was not tolerated. No one used the “c” word that I can remember, but we lived in the real world, so we were exposed to all sorts of things and somehow survived. My mother was much more offended by “shut up” that an expletive. That was her thing. I hate shut up too. Much more than go “f” yourself. Or, “I don’t want to talk about it” – now there has to be context here. To be sure, there are topics that are too touchy, but I remember one instance when I was sincerely concerned about a friend’s welfare and that’s what she said. Okay. I think it was the tone which disappointed me, ungrateful, unpolished, uncouth. Is that enough un’s? It was like a slap. How about, “Thank you for your concern, Clare, but I don’t think I’m ready to talk about it.” Done! No problem!

Here’s this girl’s reasons: slamming of doors, not pushing in your chair, unintentional rudeness, not thinking for yourself, not having the courage of your convictions, not being a rufusenik, and the greatest transgression: not having a sense of humor. If you can’t laugh at life, at yourself – well you have my sympathy.

The world has a plethora of rules, maybe we should dial it back a little, not add more rules on top of rules, and be strong enough to be able to handle what’s coming at us. Sure have reasons, but let’s not be Draconian about it shall we?

Back to Demeter and Persephone. I know I can’t help myself. However, they are a fine example of girls with reasons: Demeter mourns the absence of her daughter Persephone so acutely she creates winter. Shouldn’t she be glad that her daughter has shown initiative, moved out of the house, and maybe even gotten her driver’s license? As far as Persephone goes, well she marries Hades, the god of the underworld. Not much new there. Who among us hasn’t fallen for the bad boy? She’s got a nifty arrangement, she spends six months with Hades (their version of Jupiter, Florida?), and returns to her mother and earth for the other six months. Having separate interests is healthy for a marriage. How clever is that?

Yes, they all got reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

    Clare Irwin

 

Family Values

I was relating to a friend of mine a visit to an acquaintance’s house. My friend has a wry wit and a high sense of irony and amusement. My little social expedition was inconsequential except for the inventory of decor that I took in while others were engaged in polite small talk. The house, once called ranch-style, had been to the best of its ability, turned into the ubiquitous, generic, expensive, uber-suburb home that is prevalent in my neck of the woods. The property was indisputably the best asset – beautiful, untouched and adjacent to a horse farm – how could you go wrong? If it were up to me, and of course it isn’t, I would declare this a tear-down, and build something in its place that folds gently into the landscape, has at least a modicum of originality and doesn’t have a size complex. Or, let ranch be ranch.

The interior was expensively appointed but something was off. The window treatments, a term I dislike, were baroque. The furniture and do-dads were – I need Oscar Wilde for this; critiquing interior design is not my area – too coordinated as well as nonsensical. I hold to the axiom that it’s all in the mix, but that’s not what was happening here. While I was sitting at the silver-brushed wood dining table(!), I remembered a line from a movie I had just watched: Addams Family Values: “These are beautiful things! They’re from catalogs!”

This line is delivered by Debbie, played to perfection by the amazing Joan Cusack. Debbie is the grasping, kitschy, sugary, black-widow murderess who marries Uncle Fester. My friend had not seen the movie, so the conversation moved from the house of too many curtains, to telling him about the movie: mostly about the character of Debbie. I suggested that we’ve all known a Debbie, and he quizzically gave this some thought. He said that he had worked with a women who would wear at least three designer logos in evidence on her person at all times. “And, the funny thing is,” said my friend, “I’m pretty sure her name was Debbie.”

In the movie, Debbie and the other characters have enviable lines. The writing is razor-sharp. The overarching sensibility from director Barry Sonnenfeld, who has a cameo as one of the parents at Camp Chippewa’s Thanksgiving recital, is in evidence here as it is in the Men in Black franchise, Get Shorty, RV, et al. Sonnenfeld is particularly unforgiving towards suburbia. There’s a scene where Raul Julia, as Gomez Addams, delivers a horrified reaction to just that.

In the end, Debbie has her comeuppance, but not before she has a great monologue on the origins of her psychotic self. Ballerina Barbie NOT Malibu Barbie!

There was no Debbie at the house of curtains, instead our rail thin nervous hostess was wearing a Harvard University sweatshirt and informing us on the challenges of raising a German Shepard puppy. Her four children didn’t factor into the conversation. That confused me further, why does a grown woman wear a school sweatshirt? And, you need to go to Harvard for this?

I know I’m being unkind. It’s all in fun, isn’t it? I would imagine that my invitations will dwindle and my social calendar diminish – who would want me over silently collecting material at their expense? Ironically, I was supposed to go to a Buddhist prayer/chant/discussion group this morning, and instead I have penned this. For real.

So I will close, repent, and petition for forgiveness. And, I will try to be nice.

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.

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