Proms and Debs – Or, Who Let the Dog Out?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time. The idea for it came in May of last year when high school students were getting ready for prom. Now it’s a year later, yet another prom, and I am watching 13 Reasons Why so I’m fully immersed in teen life. It’s time.

For the girls, the preoccupation with prom preparation is overwhelming. At least three days dedication is required. About a week ago I was talking to a 16 year old I know, and right in the middle of the conversation she just drifted off — into some fugue state. I said to her, “You know, there’s just no competing with prom. There just isn’t.” She wholeheartedly agreed. The getting ready part: eyebrows, hair, eyelashes, manicures, pedicures, dress fittings – it’s like a wedding. For the boys, of course, it’s much simpler; their moms get them a tux and they show up.

I was recounting this to someone at a dinner party who found it rather alien and amusing. He asked me if I went to prom. The school I went to was an all girls “fancy” prep school, so they weren’t called proms, there were balls and whatnot. A few of my classmates did something that, at least for some of them, was of greater import – making one’s debut. I know it sounds perfectly antiquated – though apparently the custom is still observed – but for girls who were going to make a career as socialites, this was the first step. It’s like being prom queen to the nth power.

Recalling this to my dinner partner led to the abandonment of the whole prom/ball chatter to a story of my best friend from that private school. She was the “bad girl”: defiant, disrespectful, a breaker of rules – in other words someone I would hang around with and get into trouble.

One summer she came up to see me at our place in the country, and both bored and unsupervised we started down the trouble road. Our nearest neighbors were this glamorous Magnificent Ambersons kind of family, chic, cold, blond, and talented. They had a German Shepard who had a large dog run on the side of the house. He had the dog run because the year before he had been hit or swiped by a car, and it was too dangerous to leave him out even though it was a quiet country road. My friend, let’s call her Maggie, decided that it was unfair to keep the dog enclosed all day in the hot shadeless run, and we should let him out so he could sit under a tree and have his freedom. I don’t know, but at the time it seemed like a sensible idea. So we let him out, played with him a little, lost interest and went on to other amusements.

Later in the day, my mother came home and picked up the scent that something was up, so she gave us the assignment of cleaning the garage. While we were sweeping the floor, like two little angels (right!), the son of the family who owned the dog came walking down the drive. Maggie whispered to me, “Remember you know nothing!” Now Tristan, yup that was his name, was handsome, confident, he drove a red convertible sports car at high speeds – he seemed ages older though he was probably 19 or 20. And, despite his crown of lovely curly blond hair, he was a bad boy, much worse than we, I am sure. At the same time, he could spot his own kind no problem. He reached the garage took in the whole “innocent” appearance and asked, “Did you girls let Brandy out?” “What? Who’s Brandy? Oh, you mean the dog, no we’ve been here all day…..” Complete stonewall. He didn’t believe us at all, but he had no proof, so what could he do? He chided us with the reminder that Brandy could have been hurt and went on his way.

Not much of a story, I know. However, the interesting coda is what happened to my friend. She was expelled from school under cloudy circumstances, and was sent to yet another toney boarding school. We lost touch, but some years later I ran into another classmate who asked me if I had heard about Maggie. No, what about Maggie? Well, Maggie must have changed course at boarding school, from excelling in juvenile delinquency to making the complete turn around and becoming not only a debutante, but the toast of the social season, and ensuring her family’s position, for another generation, in the exclusive Social Register. Hmmm…

Sounds like a lot of pressure. A prom in a high school gym seems simpler and more fun. At least there’s room for fashion violations, smeared mascara and goofy T-shirts under tuxedo jackets. And, let’s face it, the only thing that hasn’t changed and runs right across the board from overdone to casual: there’s always crying in the girl’s bathroom.

Have a great prom!

Clare Irwin

The House on the Hill

Last week I was getting books together for a friend who is ailing. I was in my office going through the bookcases, looking for things that might tempt her. Of course, I was distracted and started looking through the books; I found an old newspaper clipping of a book review, a five dollar bill, a note in someone’s hand I didn’t recognize, a bookmark from the Getty Museum – it’s curious what we leave behind. I came upon a copy of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and I stopped to thumb through it. I haven’t read it in ages, saw the movie (and the BBC miniseries) long ago, but I was struck by the first lines, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” It goes on to describe the narrator’s – the second Mrs. de Winter’s – dream of returning to her former home – a great house on the Cornish coast.

The dream sequence continues for several pages and I was riveted. It’s so well written and haunting and moody, but there was something more. I realized that I too have had a similar dream – of my old home where I grew up with my family. I would have the dream often, for years. As in Rebecca, I am on foot and it is twilight or dusk and the drive winds and winds until our home comes into view. In my dream sometimes the house is a combination of my family’s old home and my great grandmother’s wonderful stone house. Sometimes, I can walk in and pass through the rooms, other times all I can do is look through the windows. I am so thrilled to see it again, to recognize familiar things. Like the narrator, “I stood, my heart thumping in my breast, the strange prick of tears behind my eyes.” When I awaken, or the dream ends, I have an achy feeling in my heart, both elated and crestfallen.

I never mentioned the dream to anyone even though it occurred frequently. That is, until I was deeply involved in a romance of my own. I must have had the dream and it was weighing on me. The man, who was older than I and fairly intuitive about women, saw my distraction and prompted me to tell him. So I did. He listened carefully and intently. When I was done, he said, “You want to go back to the house on the hill.” He was right. The house, both of them in fact, were gone, yet the desire to return to the house on the hill remained. I do believe he understood, even though we were at that moment on another continent in another hemisphere, but I knew vaguely that there was a house on the hill for him as well. Entirely different, and not a house per se, but  a place and time no less powerful. If I had continued with this man I would have been a second Mrs. de Winter of a sort, and was keenly aware of living up to a memory of another woman who had died. The dream, the memory of my romance, the novel, images of my home and my great-grandmother’s were all shuffling through my mind. Then, I remembered that I had gone to a lecture at Princeton on The Odyssey and the speaker discussed the idea of the eternal returning – not just of Odysseus but of all life travelers. The need, the yearning, to come home. An ancient theme no doubt, it’s in Genesis as well, I think.

As I write this, I think of all us through those years: playing, running, throwing our bikes in the grass, catching fireflies — and the day ending as the lights would come on in the house. I can see my father in his study reading, my mother talking to one of our dogs or the cat while she readied dinner, one of my sisters at the piano, a thriving hive of activity and halcyon memory. Like Manderley ours is no longer, our Manderley is no more. Even so, as the narrator in Rebecca writes, “Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, not the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand.”

Clare Irwin

Stream of Consciousness Sunday

I haven’t posted anything new for over two weeks, and my only excuse is that I was sucked into the vortex of Twitter and Pinterest. Just got back, barely. Twitter and Pinterest are fun and intriguing, but suddenly I realize that I’m late for…everything. On Twitter, there’s a lot coming at the viewer – it’s about speed, I think. I do like the exercise of keeping it brief, but with an endless supply of new tweets and “news” items, my mind is jumping around from saving the oceans, to what British Vogue is recommending for an in-between weather coat, to Shakespeare Sunday, or whatever international day we are celebrating.

As I was driving on my appointed rounds today I was trying to compose a new blog post in my head. I then realized I had Twitter-itis – the inflammation of random thoughts bouncing around the various lobes of my brain. So I guess since that’s the best I could do, here is how it went:

I decided to listen to disco music, which I am not even sure I like, but the weather has been so gloomy and stormy I felt like I needed a dose of verve. Donna Summer was playing which reminded me of an old Saturday Night Live sketch about a fast food restaurant in the South where the employees are telling customers to “Simma down now!” (Cheri Oteri and Tobey Maguire were in it). That brought me to Pulp Fiction, which I have mentioned in a previous post, and the line Uma Thurman delivers when Vincent Vega comes to pick her up for their “date.” She’s directing him to the bar or the music and she says, “Warm. Warmer. — Disco.” I like that. Next, I thought of my friend’s son, James, (I have written about him in an earlier post), who despite his mother’s ironclad parental restrictions on cable, internet, TV, and movies, unearthed a website where he can watch all the things he shouldn’t. James has discovered Quentin Tarantino and especially likes Pulp Fiction. Thinking about James made me realize how much he’s changed since last summer, as boys his age are wont to do — he’s still funny and precocious. Now, he is also courtly and charming with the ladies, offering to carry my shopping bags and that sort of thing. James is more engaging in all sorts of inappropriate conversations which is a guilty pleasure we share. He’s retired the Pink Floyd T-shirt for the usual prep school gear that those of us who went to prep school give ourselves over to for a time. Soon he’ll be off to college, which then makes me think of the last two weeks and how I would like to get through a day without someone in my orbit crying. So, after the drama of the day, I do unplug, but come morning I am back on Twitter and Pinterest. Next is learning Facebook — so send out the search party.   

Facebook-plasia anyone?

Clare Irwin

P.S. The Pulp Fiction post “Son of a Preacher Man” can be found in Archives July 2016, and James’s post “Straight to the Heart of Fun” Archives August 2016.

 

Pink Slip

I have a delightful friend who is 93 years young. I know it’s a corny expression, but it’s accurate. Annie is a gracious and truly kind person. I met her a few years ago at a function, and at first I wasn’t quite sure what to make of her. That was my myopic error. Annie is funny, she’s still sexy, and she unabashedly loves men. But Annie is also a good friend and admirer of women — she finds good qualities in everyone. Maybe that’s what confused me.

We ran into each other a few months later, and we started talking. Her radiant smile and her beauty — which has not diminished – I found enchanting. Thus began a great friendship that continues to this day. Annie lived not too far from me. After her husband passed away she decided it was too much keeping up the place and living alone. So about a year ago, Annie moved into assisted living. It’s lovely and quite expensive — not gloomy. There are lawns, ponds, and walking trails. Annie has had some funny adventures navigating her way through this completely new experience. And of course, Annie, being Annie, has done so most successfully.

Annie has a busier social calendar than most people a quarter of her age, and she’s often off on day trips and adventures. And, she drives herself! On crazy scary giant-truck-infested highways! She’s gutsy. Since she no longer has the responsibility of taking care of a house and all, she has more time for reading. Not surprisingly, Annie likes romance novels, but the tamer ones. There’s a library where she lives and she regales me with plot summaries of what she’s reading. I enjoy her “reviews.” It’s a genre I am not greatly familiar, and I relish her excitement as she tells me about the latest tome.

Recently, she came upon a book that from the cover and title looked interesting. Now, I don’t know the book, but it really upset Annie – it was too raunchy and disrespectful — she didn’t like it at all. She felt it was corrupting and unworthy of reading. She was concerned for her fellow neighbors and staff laying eyes on it. Anything could happen! It had to go.

Annie ruminated on this on this for days – it was a project! First, she put it in the bottom of her garbage pail, but decided that wasn’t enough – someone could fish it out. Then she went to the dumpster of the facility and realized the same thing could happen there. So she did her best to rip it up and then scatter the book’s remains over various trash receptacles to insure that no one would be able to reassemble it. I found it funny her rigorous effort to save the world from a “dirty book,” and while she was telling me she started laughing too. To be sure, she is the most open-minded person, there is no Fahrenheit 451 aspect to her. The novel rattled her, and being a considerate person, she didn’t want anyone else unsettled.

Typical of Annie she made a quick recovery and continues to enjoy her less spicy romances – but with a watchful eye. Clare Irwin

N.b. As I am reviewing this I realize that the amazing David Sedaris wrote a hilarious essay on a similar experience. Much better and funnier than my post. You may find it in his book Naked entitled “Next of Kin.” Enjoy!

 

The Overflowing Fountain – My Friend Sebastian

I have had the privilege of getting to know Sebastian over the last few years. We spent many wintery Saturday afternoons hammering out an essay that would gain him entrance into an esteemed university. Sebastian, was, is, like an overflowing fountain: abundant, generous, and sparkling in sprit. Nothing is not interesting to him. We had wonderful conversations over those weeks and months. I, as a steadfast humanist, and he, as a passionate physicist, realized that we were talking and reaching for the same “pathway of return” as theologians and metaphysicists call it.

I came up with the name for this blog years ago and put it on the back burner. Life was happening and it had to sit there for a while. Then, during Sebastian’s and my talks about everything under the sun, I understood what the name meant to me. I don’t think it’s obvious yet, but the themes running through the posts coincide with the back idea. I hope too that in the organic nature of things, it will change and grow deeper. Simply put, Phantom Noise In Ordinary Time is where the humanistic and the metaphysic intersect, or where the ethereal and the empirical conjoin.

Phantom noise is a medical phenomenon, as well as a figurative one, when one hears or feels something that was once there, but is no longer, yet one still senses what was lost. Ordinary time, is how we humans measure time kronos, as opposed to God, or the universe, whose time is not really measurable to us – Kairos — a never ending continuum of cycle and pulse. It is a way we exist – the friction between the two and the merging of the two within ourselves. Our memory and our emotions don’t work linearly, and time is a mystery that we desperately attempt to measure. Memory of what has happened, or what is yet to happen, is another mystery we experience

I know I am way out of my wheelhouse here, but I hope in my attempt that this offers some explanation. I would like readers to decide for themselves what the name, the blog, the idea means. I offer this post as a tribute to my friend Sebastian who brought me closer to contemplating what is beyond understanding, and for his logical mind and awakened soul.

Clare Irwin

P.S. This blog owes much to Richard Rohr and his daily meditations, and the extraordinary work of the Center for Action and Contemplation.

P.P.S. For those who found this way too heavy or “out there” don’t worry I’ll go back to reporting on lighter fare.

 

 

The Enneagram

I was listening to the radio and happened upon a show that I follow when I can. It’s hosted by a psychotherapist who is smart, practical, engaging, and not seemingly insane. I’ve found that psychiatrists, and there have been a couple in my family, are just as nutty as the rest of us. The host was explaining in a clear and compelling way all nine personality types of the Enneagram model, what they mean, and what sort of childhood or family dynamic engenders each type. He also used as examples certain celebrities.

The psychiatrist and two of his acolytes started going through the types, not in order, or at least not in any order I could anticipate. I’m listening to the description of each personality, and how that personality emerges through early experience. I learn too that one can have sub-types. Maybe that’s like declaring a major and a minor in college. The odd thing is every type, I mean every type they describe, I exclaim (maybe some with more enthusiasm and assurance than others) That’s me! I’m like that! How can I be so many of them? And, the root causes — none of them are good. Well that’s not entirely correct, the Ego Fixation and the Basic Fear, these are not great, but the Holy Idea and the Virtue — those are attributes one could embrace. Am I a 3, a 6, a 7 or a 9? Help! Mommy! Wait…maybe not Mommy, did she having something to do with this?

Later that day I Googled the Enneagram test. Now this was also too much for me. I think depending on the day, or what is going at that moment, quite a few of these answers would change. Or maybe I’m missing the whole point. So in my noncommittal way I answer in the middle – a lot. The test comes with a proviso that more neutral answers will render a less accurate assessment. Some of the questions I found amusing like, “I am too relaxed for my own good” — maybe. Or, “I maintain my spaces in an orderly way” – not by a long shot. And, “I have been called or described as dopey” – I can’t remember that ever happening, but who knows what goes on behind my back? Do I want to know? No. Who would?

So considering I probably didn’t take the test properly, it turns out that I am a 6, 3 & 9: the Loyalist, the Achiever, and the Peacemaker. I can’t remember which was the main one and which were the sub-types. Apparently Jennifer Aniston and Alec Baldwin are 6, Madonna and Bill Clinton are 3, and Barak Obama and Beyoncé are 9. I’m good with that – all of them are fine company. There’s seems to be some controversy over what type Steve Jobs was – he will be enigmatic always, I guess.

The Enneagram is considered by some schools of thought to be “psychobabble” and not an accurate professional appraisal of an individual. To be sure, all generalizations are just that – general. In any event it was an entertaining exercise, listening to the analysis, taking the test, learning the origins of behavior. It’s both gratifying and self-affirming, and simultaneously alarming, upsetting and nightmare inducing. Good times!

Have fun finding yourself.

Clare Irwin

Josh Brolin, a Volvo Commerical & Walt Whitman

Okay, by now everyone knows what I am referring to – the Volvo commercial that is on all the time. My first exposure, which was a month or so ago, was while I was at my laptop and my back was to the TV, so I only heard the voice over. I immediately recognized the voice of Josh Brolin (what does that say of my intellectual life!), and the lyrical words sounded familiar. I thought initially that it was Jack Kerouac, but I knew that couldn’t be right – they were too good, too exultant. I’m not putting Kerouac down, I read On the Road and some of his other works, but Kerouac is sort of niche and before my time. The allure of heading west in a car with Dean Moriarty is a little passé.

My second guess was Walt Whitman. I checked online and also pulled out my copy of Leaves of Grass, and indeed it is he. “Song of the Open Road” is the poem. The words are captivating and memorable. I find it interesting that Whitman, who preceded Kerouac by almost 100 years, holds up — more than holds up — he has a gravitational pull. What also delights me is that my millennials – my 15-17 year olds — who watch television and movies and shows in entirely different nontraditional ways know this commercial, love it and love the words and want to know more about Whitman. Isn’t it marvelous that he is being discovered by a new generation? I think it is. I also like the fact that a car commercial is the delivery system for a poet’s discovery. Why not?

To be sure, Whitman has never been lost, he’s been popular and in print consistently – but what I hope is this new embrace is an indication of the temper of the time, or a rejection of it. I mean the free verse, the appreciation of self, the inclusivity, the reaching for transcendence is attractive to millennials — it dovetails with their sensibility. For the non-millennials he is a balm for the over-concentration on what is harsh and angry — fearful. Whitman completely turns us around, away from “ugly”, away from the status quo, and tells us to look over there — to what is beautiful, eternal, luminous.

Clare Irwin

NB, As I write this I remember that Whitman also makes a significant appearance in the extraordinary TV series, Breaking Bad. It is Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” that draws in Walter White, and it also leads to his and his family’s unraveling.

No Country For Old Men

It’s been a tumultuous 11 days for the nation, and for we, the people. I watch the news – things are happening quickly – there are many raw emotions: rancor, agitation and anxiety. Every time there’s a news development, I can’t get out of my head a particular movie and dialogue from it.

That movie is the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men with Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, et al. There are many memorable scenes, for me they all involve Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Sherriff Ed Tom Bell. His weathered-faced affect throughout is mesmerizing. It is his point of view that we as viewers watch events play out. There’s one scene where Bell goes to visit a good friend and colleague from law enforcement, Ellis, an old guy who is wheelchair bound. He had been shot in the line of duty years before. Ellis lives out in the middle of nowhere. Bell goes to see him to commiserate, as a touchstone to how things were and how they are now — to get a handle on things. The scene is deftly acted, written, and directed. It’s minimal which makes is so powerful. Bell and Ellis talk around things, or they touch upon them and pull away. Then, Ellis says, “This country is hard on people.”

That’s the line that keeps coming back to me. I am not sure why. It’s the way he says it; there’s deep meaning in those simple six words. For all the good, and there is, for all the freedom, and for all the rough edges — what Ellis says is true. He goes on to say, “You can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” He’s talking about that moment, trying to stop the relentless killing machine played by Bardem, but he’s also referring to “Life” — specifically here.

They talk about Bell’s imminent retirement, the winding down of things for him, while the past keeps thrusting itself into his present. The final scene is amazing. It is a domestic conversation between Bell and his wife Loretta (Tess Harper). Bell relates two dreams he had, both involving his father. The camera holds on him as he tells her the dreams, and he has that distant thousand-yard stare. The last line in the movie is, “And then I woke up.” The screen goes to black as we hear the kitchen clock ticking.

Clare Irwin

Adventures in Dog Walking

I started a blog post, on a completely different topic, over a week ago…to my chagrin I have yet to finish it. I’ve been busy and finding a block of time is not as easy as I thought. So, in the interim, I will rely on my trusted fallback topic — pets, and my trusted fallback source of information — my friend Will. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Will walks dogs in my beloved nearby coastal village. And, as I have also related before, this community is an affluent one, so not only do the people live well, so do the dogs. How nice for them, don’t you think? Will has one client who rescued a dog from Hurricane Katrina 10+ years ago, pretty neat.

Here are some of Will’s favorite dogs: Maverick (photo above), or Sir Maverick as Will refers to him, probably because he is a big Lab – over 125 lbs. Hard to tell from this photo how big he is, but what a sweetie! You’ve already met Frank (one of my favorites) in the post “Dogville,” and Freckles in the recent post “Cardinal Points.” Speaking of Freckles, Will and I were talking yesterday — he stopped by to see me, and he reached into his coat pocket for something and accidently pulled out this: What is this? Well it’s a fancy “poopy bag” from the pet store! Special baggies for the dog’s “business.” These cracked us up — first of all the hearts, like the dog cares! But also what do these cost? And you have to go to a special store to buy them…they are not just in the pet aisle at the supermarket! It’s all because we love them!

Here’s another sweetie pie that Will walks: his name is Dexter. He’s a little bit of an older fellow, and Will explained to me that he has a bit of a “backstory” too. Dexter had a herniated disk a couple of years ago, and sometimes his back legs give out and they go limp. Will says when that happens, “All you can do is be there for him emotionally and keep him still until his legs recover. And every time he greets me with his favorite toy: a purple octopus.” Adorable!

I think Will is really tuned into his clients. He’s like the intuitive Dog Whisperer. Another nice remark he made, “I love every dog I walk and I really know them, and they love me too.” Indeed, animals know who understands them. And loves them.

Clare Irwin