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

 

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