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

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

Live and Let Die

Well, we’ve turned the clocks back, the days are shorter, and I certainly hope that I will be writing more often. I always say that, but as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” Speaking of Lennon, I have intended to write a post about Paul McCartney. About a month or so ago I was listening to the radio – as I have mentioned before – I regularly listen to a local high school radio station which is well-produced. That day, I happened upon two students, Riley and Jack, sister and brother respectively, who were relating that they had just seen Paul McCartney in concert.

Their account was exciting, visual and effusive. I was charmed by their enthusiasm and pleasure. I tuned in while they were talking about McCartney’s performance of “Live and Let Die” which, as they noted, was the theme song (and title) of the James Bond movie — from 1973! According to Riley and Jack the “graphics were awesome and so were the pyrotechnics” during the song. They played audio of the crowd going wild. I re-listened to the song and it is great – it’s both sweet and cynical: “When you were young and your heart/Was an open book/You used to say live and let live…But in this ever changin’ world/In which we live in/Makes you give in and cry/Say live and let die…Good stuff.

The pair remarked about the “awesome vibe” throughout the concert. Then unannounced, Bruce Springsteen came out and he and McCartney did an old Beatles song, “I Saw Her Standing There.” More crowd going wild. McCartney ended the show with the song “Golden Slumbers” from the Abbey Road album – a year before the Beatles broke up.

I enjoyed listening to them and was thrilled and a little envious – it did sound like an amazing experience. As I thought about it during the day, the envy dissipated and I was delighted to think that in that concert hall were Riley and Jack,  maybe 15 years old or so, along with people of every age — up to McCartney’s contemporaries who are in their 70s. How great is that – to be able to pull that thread of energy and magnetism through nearly five decades?

I follow McCartney’s daughter, Stella McCartney, on Twitter. I’ve been a fan of hers for some time, watching her amazing career as a fashion designer and so much more. She is another woman (see my Tina Fey articles) who I hold in awe. Talented, complete, a spokesperson for many great causes, funny, quirky, cultured – the whole package. Or, the real deal as a friend of mine says. Married with four children, and very much her father’s daughter – and her mother’s daughter too. She often and fondly Tweets about her. Greatness definitely did not skip a generation. Her love for her dad and frequent Tweets about him led me to follow Paul McCartney on Twitter as well.

I am so very glad I caught Riley’s and Jack’s show that day, otherwise, knowing me, I would have missed the whole thing. They reminded me of the continuity of things, the long and winding road (if you will), the endless stream of time and connected-ness – not little isolated parcels as some seem to see it.

Legends – how nice to be a part and a participant in them.

Clare Irwin

P.S. On a lighter note, but in that vein, is also the impossibly enduring staying power of the James Bond franchise.

The Fey Effect

When I wrote the post below, “A Touch of Fey,” last Tuesday I didn’t know that SNL was doing a summer edition of Weekend Update, or that Tina Fey was going to make a surprise stellar appearance eating sheet cake! So this warrants more than a coda, and I see that on Twitter and Facebook her coping advice for weathering the current turmoil is “trending” big time. As media savvy people say, her appearance received a lot of “buzz” and went “viral.” It was courageous, funny, and her trademark razor sharp authentic humor, as always, was in fine form.

When I went to look for the video of her “stress eating” I saw several articles from venerable periodicals like The Washington Post and The Atlantic ruminating of what has been labeled “The Fey Effect.” Apparently this dates back to 2012 (how do I miss these things?). The Atlantic defines it as follows: “Fey’s jokes,…had proven comedy’s power, especially in times of question and perhaps also in times of crisis, to shape people’s sense of the world. The jokes had woven themselves into the workings of American democracy. The researchers called it the Fey Effect.” In other words, she’s funny and people talk about it over the literal and virtual “water cooler.”

I suppose not all of this is news to most, but it was to me, and I felt somewhat pleased with myself that I had my own uninfluenced take on Tina’s power. And, the SNL appearance validated “A Touch of Fey” all the more. Yard sale Barbie….That’s a good one. Jealous? No, not at all – we dearly need to laugh and eat cake.

Clare Irwin

P.S. Relevant to nothing, when Fey was still doing Weekend Update, she made a hilarious (and so true) slightly off color joke about Colin Farrell and his head being in the way. I’ve never been able to watch anything with Farrell in it without thinking of that joke. Took the air right out of him. Look it up! 

A Touch of Fey

Over the past few years I have become intrigued by –okay obsessed, maybe infatuated — with women of accomplishment. Is this a new phase? Girl crushes? Certainly, I have had my fair share of boy/man crushes, so change is good, right? There are a number of women whom I greatly admire, and I think I will start with Tina Fey. Recently I watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix, and I am re-watching 30 Rock. I loved Kimmy Schmidt and was happy to see that it received five Emmy nominations for this season, and numerous other nominations in past seasons.

Reading Tina Fey’s bio on Wikipedia and other sites is beyond remarkable. Over the past two decades her rise has been amazing, and it seems to gather more and more momentum as the years pass. She has broken some glass ceilings for women in a business that is often less than kind to them, and even at the zenith levels, pays women less. Her CV reads as a list of firsts – notably the first female head writer for SNL at the age of 29. Her helmsmanship of SNL produced wonderful talent and cast, and great characters like Debbie Downer (Rachel Dratch), and Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken in “More Cowbell” – I’ll stop there because there are too many actors and characters to mention.

If that wasn’t enough there’s her movies like Mean Girls and Baby Mama, and her book Bossypants…the list seems endless and it is entirely intimidating. Jealous? No, not at all  — what Fey has given us is a tremendous gift. Although, I do find that by comparison (I know! Don’t compare! And to Tina Fey! Am I out of my mind? Certinaly my league!) her ability to do SO much and SO many things is where I have a feeling of utter inadequacy.

How does she do it? If I get three things accomplished in a day that’s a small miracle. Admittedly, I can kill time with the best of them, and I would guess this is not a quality that Tina Fey has, or would condone. I bet she gets more things done in a day – with complete success – than I do….never? I would say that from birth to the age of ten, I made some great strides. You know, going from not being able to sit up or lift my head to walking, talking, going to school, doing sports, and having friends. That was my most meteorite trajectory. Not to say that there haven’t been other good things, but that lightening speed thing; it’s not the same.

What I also admire, and in awe of, is her ability to get super handsome men, and great actors, to act like idiots and look less like matinee idols. Her most recent “volunteer” is Jon Hamm as the sinister and stupid cult leader Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (that name!). Of course, there’s her long time colleague Alec Baldwin. Last week while channel surfing, I happened to see Alec Baldwin hosting The Essentials on TCM, and there beside him was Tina Fey as the special guest host. Seriously?

Tina Fey’s output and its quality makes me feel that I need to do some serious reevaluating. And, she has young children and a husband, and probably three scripts in the works, writing another book maybe, writing the next season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and who knows what else – but I bet it will be great, entertaining, and award-winning. The Indefatigable Tina Fey.

Jealous? No, not at all. I hope her house is messy. 

Clare Irwin

Next up…at some point – Stella McCartney

 

 

Take Me to Your Queen

Okay, I have been more than remiss in blogging regularly, and I offer a thousand apologies. What can I say? I feel terrible about it, yet the summer has been exceptionally beautiful and the lure of being outside and doing outdoor activities has trumped being home. I must make the promise to you, my readers, and to myself, to resume my practice of writing at least two or three posts a month. No excuses!

Speaking of excuses, I mention the lovely weather and time of year, but I also blame Netflix. It’s too addictive. Are there 12 Step programs for Netflix obsession? So many choices, so many seasons, so little time! Compounded to the endless streaming of entertainment, I blame my good friend Will who finds lots of great shows and movies and then texts me his list or calls me up. He’s not the only one, but he is my most consistent provider of suggestions.

Yesterday, Will had some new discoveries: Honeymoon, Viral – both movies, and a show called I, Zombie. There were two others, and while we were texting back and forth the messages sort of crisscrossed each other. For some spaced-out reason I couldn’t find I, Zombie and Will was trying to explain where to find it  – via text, with no punctuation, capitalization, etc. – expediency was the higher purpose. I received a text that read, “I’ll talk to you tomorrow and all but add take me to your queen it’s a comedy with an epic ending.” Okay, so I go and look for that title and I find nothing. I picked up the phone and called him to say I couldn’t find Take Me to Your Queen. Will bursts out laughing and says, “I meant take me to your queue!” I don’t know but I thought this was hilarious and we had a good laugh. But, I was also disappointed that there wasn’t such a movie.

Then today while I was doing whatever, I thought, that’s a really good title – a fresh version of the old “Take me to your leader” that aliens would say in 1950s movies about invading hostiles from other planets. I continued to muse over what you could do with that title, what story you could devise. Or maybe, in my completely ignorant view of how Hollywood works, you can go knock on the door of Disney or Universal or Columbia and just pitch the title. That’s it! Then, they give you a credit that lasts in perpetuity, handfuls of money and happy days.

Realistically I can’t imagine it works that way, In any event, I’d settle for a T-shirt with “Take Me to Your Queen” on it.

Happy Trails…or should I say Trials?

Clare Irwin