Monday, August 29, 2005

Hey, shut up.

This weekend, one of the last if not the last weekend of summer, my son remembered that he had to read a book for Honors English, and it had to be read before the term began, and he had to write an 800-word essay about it. We were in Idaho, where there are no bookstores (just kidding! but no bookstores within easy reach), so my husband, who happened to be driving up with my daughter and her husband a few hours from this belated realization, picked up a copy in Salt Lake.

The novel was The Chosen, by Chaim Potok in case you didn't know, a book I read when I was in my early college years. My husband started reading it on the way up and finished it on the way home (I'll let you guess how much my son "read," or perhaps you haven't met Spark Notes?). Anyway, between my husband's reading, and talking about it with him, which revived my own memory of the novel, and the conversation I had with my son as he was preparing to write his essay (oh, it can be done, and done well! I read the essay this morning--stellar performance), I have mulled over this question: what is the value of parental silence in raising children?

If you haven't read the novel, it's a father and son novel, with one son being raised by a radically orthodox Jewish father, the other being raised by an observant but less orthodox Jewish father. The two boys are friends. Anyway, the orthodox father, who is a rabbi, chooses to raise his son in silence, which means that he doesn't speak to the boy except when they are studying the Torah. He explains at the end of the novel that he knew his son had a brilliant mind but a heart and soul not capable of understanding suffering, and so, by raising the boy without conversation, he produces this suffering, which tempers the boy and makes him a more compassionate man.

Okay, on the face of it, this seems nuts and extreme. However, I found myself contemplating how much I have needed to learn to shut up as a parent. It's probably more along the pragmatic, "pick your battles," kind of silence, but I have learned (sometimes--other times, I'm sure I natter and nag on, accompanied by loud eye-rolling on the part of the relevant teen) to just be with the kid without talking. If the kid will let you be near, sometimes being near without saying much, or anything, is the best thing you can do.

For a variety of reasons, my son and I drove to Idaho alone, with the others coming a day later. We decided to pick several new CDs we wanted to hear and listen to them on the way up. It wasn't exactly silence, but the first disc on the Foo Fighter's In Your Honor gave us a lot to talk about, even though we barely said a word.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Desert Islands.

If you were on a desert island, what one [book] [movie] [food] [CD] [fingernail polish] [not that last one] would you take with you? This dinner table game, or some version thereof, seems endlessly amusing to my family, and even more amusing if you play it with a shifting cast of family characters. My brother and his family were here briefly this weekend, and after hearing my son sing a role in The Gondoliers (silly opera, magnificent son!), we sat around a big table at a Chinese restaurant and discussed this matter.

It does not pay to get philosophical with this game, I found, at least not with this group. My daughter, the pistol, basically disallowed all my choices. My desert island music? Keith Jarrett's recording of the Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues, a work and a performance that are endlessly beautiful and interesting. Desert island movie? I said Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, mainly because I think that its combination of inventive narrative structure and emotional directness would be something to contemplate for a long time. The spunky daughter argued that these were not, in fact, my favorites. And she's probably right--but maybe your favorites aren't what you want on a desert island, after all. Maybe what you want is something that your soul could rise to. Something that would, Old Testament style, give you a little lick of the refiner's fire. Are you really going to elect to listen to pop music, however great the pop music, on the desert island, whence you might never be rescued?

As you can see, my desert island is worlds away from my daughter's. So screw me--I can't even visit her island, as with my sad, overly philosophical choices, I would have "nothing to offer" her.

As for food, I wanted to say the green papaya salad at Thai Delight, but because I knew she would disallow this as well, I said pasta. With shrimp, garlic, and parmesan, which would be pretty good, too.

Monday, August 22, 2005


It's the end of the summer, and the reason I know this is that I spent the day at work, getting ready--fixing my website, working on syllabi, creating a new teaching blog, thinking about all the things I haven't done that I thought I would have done.

In this self-assessment mode, I note for the record that I spend a shocking amount of time reading material that by its very definition passes away quickly. Newspapers, magazines. (I save lots of it, too, but that's another syndrome.) Also television, which is another mode of consumption, equally ephemeral (though I tend to re-view things, the video version of saving clippings and articles, probably.)

As a result of buying a DVD set (Invader Zim, second season, v. funny, for my son) at Media Play, we became proud subscribers of both Sports Illustrated and Entertainment Weekly for some odd period of time--five months, maybe? Talk about a waste of paper, both of them. If you added together all the interesting, worthwhile articles in both publications for the subscription period, you'd probably have one fat issue--call it The Best of Entertainment Illustrated. Yet faithfully, weekly, I would read EW (actually, SI is only readable for me during b-ball season).

My daughter left yesterday to go up to college. [wistful silence.] As she was packing up, an old issue of EW surfaced, one with the crazy, post-Oprah couch-jumping Tom Cruise on it. I found myself reading it, thinking that perhaps I hadn't--but I had, and that's just how ephemeral it is. It treads so lightly on the brain that I couldn't even remember having encountered it--yet I allowed myself to spend my time on it. Twice.

In contrast, when my husband and I were in Idaho a couple of weeks ago, I finally finished Mao II and read a whole nother novel, My Russian, by Diedre McNamer. I also read in another book, Arts of Living, by Kurt Spellmeyer. I felt myself sinking into another kind of thinking. It's not like I didn't know this would happen--I hoped it would--but I find myself in my regular life anxiously living in the shallows and at the ready, like I'm waiting for a call that I'd better not miss.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Gender Difference Synchronicity.

In a curious coincidence, tonight I saw The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants with two of my daughters and one of their friends, and, at a separate locale, my youngest son and his pals also went.

It's a girl movie, okay, and there were flaws, some flaws, sure. But we all got a good cry out of it and felt affirmed in our female bonds.

So, my son trips in the house with his friend, full of hijinks and boy-wit at 1:15 a.m. I'm the kind of mom that can't sleep till the kids are home, if they're supposed to come home, so I'm making good use of my time by playing computer Free Cell. Jeez. Anyhow, they decided to see The Sisterhood instead of The Longest Yard, piece of garbage that that film is, because they will amuse themselves by making fun of the girl movie.

Say what you will about this practice of satiric movie watching. Here's what he had to say about the film:

"They're all, like, 'I can't believe these pants fit all of us! What should we do with the pants?' Uh, I don't know--buy them?"

or "So they're all making the rules, and that one girl said, 'No one else can unzip the pants,' and I turned to Dustin and said, 'Why?'"

and "I liked it! We should buy it, but we should wait for the special limited edition that comes with a pair of pants."

Dear readers, I am observing my son turn into a guy.

(By the way, I expect none of the congratulatory comments I read in other blogs about how I'm raising my kid right. I see my job here as keeping it real. Judge me if you must.)

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Saddest Music in the World.

Make that the oddest movie in the world, the one directed by that Guy Maddin from Canada. The title does, however, implicitly pose the question: what is the saddest music in the world?

I nominate Elliott Smith's eponymous album, the one with "Needle in the Hay" on it; Joni Mitchell, For the Roses; Jackson Browne, Late for the Sky. Also Tonight's the Night, by Neil Young; "Hallelujah," written by Leonard Cohen but sung by Jeff Buckley; "Little Wing," sad in all iterations; Rickie Lee Jones, Pirates and "Last Chance Texaco" (off her first album); Annie Lennox, "The Gift," "Two Grey Rooms" by Joni M.; Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here; "Human Nature," but only (so far) as sung by M. Jackson (may he RIP); "Don't Talk," the Beach Boys; Paul Simon, Hearts and Bones.

Does the sadness inhere in the music itself, or is it because of the sad stories we attach to the music? For instance, I find all Nirvana heartbreaking (a form of soft-headedness my son-in-law ruthlessly condemns). I'm pretty sure, however, that I'd find "Hallelujah" devastating even if Jeff Buckley hadn't fallen into the river.

I remember lying on my bed as a teenager listening to sad music just for the pleasure of feeling sad. Long before Oliver Stone used it in Platoon, I used to listen to an old monaural recording that once belonged to my dad of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," for its waves of emotion, like an unstoppable sob.

Friday, August 12, 2005


I use the term advisedly, as a feminist, but if you haven't listened to Blonde on Blonde recently, you better.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Car Music.

When you've never before had a car with a CD player in it, and you're about to hit the road in a rented SUVehicle because they upgraded you without even asking if you wanted an upgrade, here are 20 CDs you might put in your brand new CD wallet (since your past CD wallets have been coopted, along with many of your CDs, by your children):

Magnetic Fields, i
Bright Eyes, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
Nick Drake, Made to Love Magic
Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed
Richard Thompson, rumor and sigh
Sting, Ten Summoner's Tales
James Taylor, Flag
Elliott Smith, [eponymous]
The Strokes, Is This It
Carly Simon, Hotcakes
Radiohead, OK Computer
Me'Shell NdegeOcello, Plantation Lullabies
Joni Mitchell, Shadows and Light
Led Zeppelin, [symbols]
Keren Ann, Not Going Anywhere
Nellie McKay, Get Away From Me
Elton John, Honky Chateau
Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde
The Who, Who's Next
Jackson Browne, Late for the Sky


1. Summer School Update. My son finished his quarter-credit of Intermediate Algebra just fine. The mystery of it all: what makes math in summer school so much more do-able? Superior instructional design? More attractive, portable classroom accomodations? No formal instruction--just packets and your questions answered upon request? Fear that you won't be eligible to run cross country?

2. Another Job I Would Like To Have, and Might Be Qualified For. Personal chef.

3. Rental Car Upgrade. Once, when I was in Georgia visiting my kids who were living with their dad for a few months, I got a midnight upgrade from a mid-size to a convertible. It ended up as the equivalent of Disneyland in car form. The following story isn't quite as good as the convertible: as a result of the insane car mishaps we have undergone as a family, we decided to rent an economy car for the weeks prior to my daughter heading off to college (where she will have no car). So I got online, found a reasonably good deal, stopped off at the car rental counter at the airport when I got back from my reunion, signed the contract, and headed off to the lot. I handed over the paperwork, the woman checked it, handed me a key and said, "It's in slot 28." But there was an SUVehicle in slot 28--a Jeep Laredo, to be exact. I marched right back in and said, "But I rented an economy car!" She checked my paperwork again and said, "Oh yes, she was able to give you the upgrade!" As if I had requested an upgrade, and as if I wanted to drive an SUVehicle. Which is precisely what I'm doing, and I admit it's kind of cool. My son, as I was driving him to his last day of summer school, said, "So Mom, do you feel in charge when you're driving this car?" And I admit, I kind of do. I also realize that every second I'm in it, I feel like explaining to everyone--to people I don't know--that this isn't my car, it's just a rental, they upgraded it without asking me, no way in the world would I buy this car. On August 21, back to the rental people it goes, and I will return to driving the early nineties Chevy we bought after one of the wrecks, and which my daughter is driving now. I will be driving this car, that is, if she doesn't wreck it before she goes to college. Pray for us all.

4. Sublimely Beautiful Bamboo Floor. Wait for your invitation to the floor-warming in a few weeks.

5. The Bacon Exception. I've been a vegetarian, with some lapses, for most of my adult life. I also make exceptions. I eat some fish from time to time, and I'm not a vegan, though I try to take great care with any animal products I buy/eat. There are all kinds of rules to govern this consumption: organic dairy only, eggs with all the qualifiers (free-range, organic-fed, etc.). Only wild salmon from a vendor I trust, and then only in season. Despite all of this, I have never lost my taste--or, probably more precisely, my nose--for meat. At the farmer's market, on the corner of the square, someone grills meat for carne asada tacos. Occasionally, at Christmas, for instance, I will make some grand meaty dish, and I usually have a taste. The most insidious smell of all, however, is bacon. There are lots of reasons not to eat pork, which I won't detail here. But bacon smells sublime. Occasionally, therefore, I make a bacon exception. In San Francisco, for instance, I ate at a French bistro where I had the most wonderful salmon in a red wine reduction, which also included lardons of bacon. As the waiter said, "that sauce [pronounced sose] is delicious [pronounce each syllable separately, French-style]." And he was right. Today, in Wild Oats, at the meat counter, they had slices of a superb bacon fried up, rolled up, speared with toothpicks, under the heat lamp. I made the bacon exception today. Twice.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

It's All Happening.

So, today I learned a new use for a pry bar (old uses: to remove the hubcap when you're changing a tire; to use as a lever to move something heavy, like a rock; to hit someone over the head--saw this last one in a movie): you can remove the staples that once attached carpet padding to the subfloor in a jiffy. That's if you put your back into it, so to speak. After a while, I was back with my flat-head screwdriver and slipjoint pliers. Staple by staple. That's because the bamboo floor is, as we speak, being installed.

Last night, my husband, son and I removed about a half-ton of old carpet and padding, baseboard, tackless carpet strips, old dirt, and the unspeakable detritus of being. It was a project that lasted into the wee hours. I expected this project to involve some soul searching, and it did: we have a lot of stuff. To speak more precisely, I have a lot of stuff. Why so much stuff? is the basic form my soul searching took. I've given quite a bit away, and there's still a lot, and the always beckoning figure of more, and more desireable, stuff. I already know something about why--I have, after all, had some therapy--but knowing why doesn't discharge that whole circuit of desire. Mattea Harvey wrote a book of poems called Sad Little Breathing Machine, and I think my book should be Sad Little Wanting Machine.

Even so, the floor going down is a thing of beauty. The floor guy Mike and his son Alex are working upstairs--all the upstairs rooms are in play, floor installation-wise, so I'm holed up here in the basement with Bruiser and my son, who are both engaged in furious napping--and it's actually a pleasure to see people who know what they're doing when they do that thing. Moreover, all the rooms are empty of most of their stuff, so the floor actually has become the embodiment of a cleaner, more contemplative, less stuff-involved life. We've all agreed that we're not putting everything back just as it was--everything is up for grabs. I tried to be ruthless as I was moving things. I'm a scavenger, and love to pick things up when I'm walking--some beautiful large-ish twigs from some sort of willow-ish tree that twist in a poetic way; a large dried sunflower stem with the head of the flower intact. I tried to throw away the branches, nothing doing. Too poetic. The sunflower head, I thought I could part with. My husband, however, wanted to save it, even when I said I was trying to be ruthless. "You can be too ruthless, I think," he said. I'm pretty sure this is an emblem of why we found one another.

I am holding on to the hope that the new floor will create a new motive force, arguing by its sheer elegant plainness for simplicity.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

My Own Personal Film Festival.

Yesterday, when I got home from work meetings (in the summer! it's barbaric!), my son and his friends were having a superhero film festival. It started with X Men, continued to X Men 2, then I think pretty much stopped there, as they ran out of steam. (We went, my son, his friend, my daughter and me, last night to see Sky High, which was fun--my son's friend noted, however, that it couldn't be a truly great superhero movie, as no one was likely to die in it.)

I've always been taken by the idea of hosting a film festival, if only for an audience of myself. Once I hosted a birthday party for myself in which I made dinner for my friends, then had a short program of Diner and My Dinner With Andre. It's a marker of the dissatisfactions of my life at that point that hardly anyone could appreciate the wit of this conceit. I also thought, back in the day of Gallipoli and Mad Max and an underappreciated gem Mrs. Soffel, that I'd like to have a Mel Gibson film festival, an idea that seems quite a bit less appealing these days. Quentin Tarantino puts together a film festival in Austin, I think it is, every summer--usually the B-movies he treasures so much.

If I were putting on a film festival today, what would it be? I think it would be the Festival of the Melancholy Comedy, perhaps my favorite film genre (if it's not a genre, it should be). Or a Festival of Romantic Comedies (instances of really good ones are rare). Here are some films that should belong on some film festival program of my own devising: Songwriter (written by Alan Rudolph), Choose Me (an Alan Rudolph gem), Something Wild (Jonathan Demme), Lost in Translation, The Secret Lives of Dentists (hmm, an Alan Rudolph theme emerging--perhaps its own film festival?), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I [heart] Huckabees, Being Julia, Mr. 3000. Also, how about a great Sports Movies festival?


Related Posts with Thumbnails