Friday, October 16, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

I went to see "Where the Wild Things Are" today, alone. I frequently see films by myself, and expected a large crowd for opening day, even a weekday at 11 am. What I honestly wasn't expecting, even in Manhattan, was to see class after class of young kids, tethered to teacher after teacher, filing in. They'd ditched school to see this picture on its first day. I wondered what their teachers were feeling, watching their students sit through the first desperately intense 20 minutes.
I'm an easy weeper, and so it was that my waterworks kicked in during the first few scenes (I related a little too easily to Max's mom's impatience over his totally typical boy behavior; I've been trying not to say "don't" every other sentence with a failure that leaves me ashamed). In these first scenes I was also tossed back into the confusion of childhood fears and loneliness; not the make believe kind found in perilous story books, but the real kind that being raised by a single mother in a foreign land brought to the doorstep of my young consciousness. When Catherine Keener, who plays Max's mom, flirts with her boyfriend, played by Mark Ruffalo, I watched Max feel the absence of his father. More than that, though, I wanted Max to be her number one boy again, and I felt that physical ache that the threat of being replaced brings.
It's amazing what Spike Jonze has created. This is a masterpiece: a beautiful, incredible, and maybe even faultess movie. I swooned at the vast spaces and the painterly treatment of the ship on the water, the staggering forts in the desert, the giant monsters looking humble against a giant sky.
But can I take my six year old to see it? It's taken me a few hours to process why I think not.
My son, who's incredibly sensitive and works hard to overcome his own emotional monsters with skills he's developed with a lot of help along the way like deep breathing, would undoubtedly appreciate the scenery and the wild rumpus and the boat ride and the music and Max being a king, and much of the rest of it. That said, the very thing that makes this a masterpiece is that Jonze (and his writing partner Dave Eggers) have so accurately captured a young boys' consciousness (their own?) and projected it onto the silver screen. It's right there, raw and yours for the taking. It might be too much to expect my six year old to process at this point. How can I ask Jamie to face his own emotional monsters in such a bared-out way before he's mastered them on his own? It's like asking him to understand himself while he's still laying out the very early foundation for all of his different parts. His development is a deliberate construction with its own series of volcanic eruptions; growing up isn't easy.
Max is confused, and each one of his new monster friends represents a different emotion. It is the ultimate command of these emotions that allows him the peace to return home. The thing is, Max is a good three years older than Jamie. My expectations of my kid are always pretty high. I, like any other mom, imagine their kid to be the brightest star among millions. Maybe that doesn't mean I need to rush him through the processing of his childhood, just because I liked the movie so much. Max has been around since 1963. He's not going anywhere, and neither is this newly born classic. We can wait awhile.
Meanwhile, I can say that perhaps seeing this film has made me a better parent. I read an article analyzing WTWTA (the book) as a disciplinary tool: send your wild kid to their room for a time away, not a time out, and let them sit in there until they're ready to join the family again. It might take some time for them to understand all of their anger and feelings; you might want to interrupt this process and you should not, the article warned. They might seem like they're just building or drawing or reading, but what they're really doing is creating their own forest and wild rumpus to assimilate their feelings and take control over them again. When they're in there, they're King. When they come back, they're once again boy, not out of control monster, and they're happy to be so.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Why I Love Mad Men.

There will be no Season 3 spoilers here, for any of you diehards. I'm only now finishing up Season 2, and probably won't pick up 3 until it's on DVD so I don't have to watch it on my sucky tiny computer screen.

These days Jim and I have Mad Men marathons. We sit glazed over and glued till midnight muttering after each episode "do you have another one in you?" Usually we do, and when there are no more, say, when Netflix owes us the next disc, we end our nightly race despondent and hungry for more. At first, the appeal for me was in the costumes and the sets. The endless waves of cocktails and cigarettes made me nostalgic for my first few years as an assistant at American Heritage magazine, where my boss Richard Snow swears he was handed a typewriter and an ashtray when he first graduated from the mailroom. For years, I typed his correspondence daily using carbon sheets! I kept the business of the office-- author payments, etc., organized in a metal rolodex file that my predecessors, first Peggy, and then Mimi, had kept up for two decades or more.

In Mad Men, Joan's curves thrilled me; there could be a meaty fox on TV after all who's not whippet-thin! Peggy's Bay Ridge Catholic upbringing makes way for hanky panky (of the adulterous sort!) and Don Draper... well... there are no words fitting the square clenched jaw anti-hero, whose smoldering blue eyes and daily defenses of His Girls when small offenses unheard of today are made with astonishing regularity. "Leave the girl alone" he tosses off, disgusted, before making his way out of the office for discreet 4 hour Beatnik Sex. Good Lord!

Those of you who know me, know I'm at home these days, often freelance writing, and often just hoping to be, or working to be. One one of these quieter mornings when I'd had all that I take of pitching for the day I decided to pop in a Season 2, disc 1 I believe, for a second viewing. This would be for background viewing only, of course. I sat on my own couch and looked around. I'd been laid off last November, and it's taken nearly that long to embrace the peace an organized apartment gives me: my house was clean. That morning, I'd pulled on my new uniform of stretch capris and a Hanes tanktop to greet the 7:30 schoolbus. Then I'd vaccumed and swept, made beds (something I've not done with regularity the whole of my life)... there was a soup in the crockpot... a fresh wall of paint sparkled at me with the promise of the carefully chosen Dill Pickle color, and a new cascade of casually but artfully arranged black and white framed photos looked out at me....

I had a hot cup of Earl Grey with milk and honey. A blue willow bowl to use for discarding my tea bag sat next to it; isn't that what people do with discarded tea bags? On the TV, Betty Draper sits alone at her table up in Westchester, chain smoking. Betty has a full-time empathetic maid to clean up her dust bunnies, but the sadness on her face evokes the typical housewife malaise and makes me wonder when they'll introduce The Feminine Mystique to the story line. I begin to cry, and then to sob. Am I simply watching my soap opera, the way my Grandma did? It's too quiet here and I've got hours to fill. My six year old son is off to school after a blissful month at home with me, being my perfect little friend. We trudged off to museums and zoos and parks together. We got to know each other again. I like who he's becoming.

When Joan gets to take a crack at reading scripts for the Broadcasting department at Sterling, she feels the new stir of intellectual self-importance. She's smart, and aside from cracking the office whip to the secretarial pool, she now knows she can make her way among the chain smoking and drinking Men. This she seems to do for about a week, until some young guy without a clue steps in and gets The Job. She will train him, "Of course!", for his new role, before stepping back into her Office Mistress shoes. There's a scene where she's mourning the death of Marilyn, her obvious muse. I think now that she's mourning the Marilyn who married Arthur Miller and read books and was quiet in her own life and sought to improve not just her Norma Jean station, but her mind.

I see Betty Draper getting fiercer by the episode. In her quiet days, she takes her time sitting on her Davenport, pouring over Kathryn Ann Porter, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I'm grateful that behind the new found order of my own hearth, some 40 years later, I can ditch my own malaise and get to work doing whatever it is I want to, without limitation imposed on me by men. By Mad Men.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Marshall Chess Club

I've long wondered if I'm going to suffer early Alzheimer's. I seem to have the selective memory that one has when they shut down their brain for lengthy chunks of life. And so it was that I became very surprised when a Facebook Friend and old schoolmate Jesse Kraai informed me that we had not actually been on the Capshaw Jr. High Chess Team in Santa Fe together, but that I had instead joined my nerdy friends at lunchtime in some sequestered room just to play the odd game. How could that be? In the Myth of Myself, I was on a chess team when I was in Junior High School, and would serve out my duty there on days that I wasn't required to report to my other important post as Secretary of the Student Council, having lost the President post to Jennifer Tomatitch, aka, Jennifer Ton of Tits.
Jesse never said goodbye to chess, and has admirably made his way to Grand Master. On the day I set forth to see him play at a tournament late this June, held at the Marshall Chess Club on West 10th Street against his Estonian nemesis, I brought my six year old son, a budding chess enthusiast in his own right. Before setting into the hallowed ground where "The Game of the Century" was played in 1956 between Donald Byrne and Bobby Fischer, I gave him many previews of "You must be quiet;  This is a big boy chess club; They're playing very important games that are being watched around the world", etc.
The time we could stay and watch was approximately one and a half minutes, and that doesn't include a split second of Jesse's game. Despite the fact that it was, for the most part, just men sitting across from one another playing in silence, it proved too exciting to be a child witness.
We weren't asked to make an exit, but rather a lovely portly man with a Russian accent was kind enough to set us up on their quiet garden patio at a table with a board and pieces. Jamie beat me, and off we were onto the street, blinking our way back into reality. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Rare Insomnia

A fresh cold is keeping me awake. I have Nyquil, but the last time I drank it I felt as though I were waking up next to the toilet after the most idiotic college party ever to be thrown, and so it shall remain tightly sealed on my bathroom's window ledge.
I haven't blogged for a few weeks. It's not that I have nothing to say, it's that I don't understand this part about blogging yet: how does one write without a theme? Were I to develop one, it might have to do with what I miss when I walk down the streets in New York. Day in and out, butcher paper slaps windows with the ubiquitous "lost our lease" or "retail space for rent" scrawls. These stories are well-documented and practically a cliche now. 
What they would read were I hanging them would be a different matter. "Jamie's best friend moved away from this huge apartment complex with the turtle sculpture in the playground." Or, "Sometimes I desperately miss the old people that are rapidly dying on my block." Hank, who showered Jamie with toys every holiday with money he didn't have to spend after dialysis. Marva, who brought Kayla to his third birthday party, in the rain, before any one else arrived. Maritza, who invited us to every party she threw and who used to lean out of her window and shout to me 'He's gonna be a football playah!', her love birds twittering away in the background. Little Sarah, who spent her entire life on the block, went to the Church of the Nativity every day, and pushed her own groceries till the ripe old age of 90-something. And most recently, Albert, the Cooper Square elevator operator whose smile lit up the whole block.
East 4th Street, between Bowery and 2nd Avenue,  is changing so quickly, and casual passers-by can't tell just by Lost Our Lease signs in the neighborhood. Goodnight, all. 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

I haven't had the longest attention span lately, certainly not for reading. I get like this for long stretches, and therefore become especially grateful to the book that knocks me out of these non -reading stupors.
Enter The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon. My dear old friend Cate Rowen recommended it to me, and it was a completely absorbing and elegant little book. I don't use the word little to diminish it's impact, but really it's short, and it's elegance [which is a word often overused in book reviews, I think] is a word I choose because the protagonist, Christopher Boone, is an autistic boy whose narrative voice is so clear and insightful that were he a grammatician I'd call him Mr. Strunk or White.
I've met my share of Asbergian children, and overall, when they're in a phase of being related socially, their intelligence is the first trait to push through-- emotion, not so much. I've long been fascinated by Aspergians because I believe I've friended several of them through my lifetime; all to my knowledge have remained undiagnosed, or simply choose not to talk about it. Quirky, particular, predictable... and loveable to me, to their deepest depths. Emotion is not worn on their sleeves, but expressed through actions. They show up when they say they will, they remember birthdays, they are the dearest of friends through series of thoughtful actions. They are emotional and devoted people, but they just show it differently, like Christopher Boone.  I have embraced their differences in my own life because to my chagrin I'm more of a chaotic, messy, forgetful type. In contrast, the order and loveliness of these stoic and orderly people has inspired me to consider clarity a virtue. Maybe things are as they appear, and that's the beauty of our mysterious world. It's not the mystery that is mysterious, but the glorious order of it all. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yesterday I needed a place to grade papers that was cheerful and away from my apartment which is littered with distractions everywhere I look. I'd been wanting to check out a diminutive cafe on 1st street between 1st and 2nd aves called Arlo & Esme, which from the street promised all marble, and an old wooden bar. The clientelle at 10 a.m. was "barely" and included three of us freelancers with laptops, and a mom which an incredibly cooperative little monkey who quietly drank hot cocoa and pushed a Thomas train back and forth across the table top.
That said,  I was momentarily nostalgic for the old Peacock Cafe on Greenwich Avenue. The Peacock was an ancient Italian espresso shop I used to go to in the early to mid-90s with a revolving tour of writer's groups that always started off with a bang and ended up flailing for dear life. If only those fledgling members had known the Peacock's days were numbered; they would have returned for sure, despite all the bad poetry and tortured first person pieces being workshopped.  The Peacock was a wild beatnik hangout in the 50s, and the reason I loved it forty years later was because the owner was an old mustached-guy who used to spin his favorite arias on an old turntable behind the bar, and you could sit undisturbed for ages without feeling like you had to push off. In my memory he played a Gramophone, but that could be romance bending reality. Mustached Sweetie always made a mean cappuccino and delivered it with one eyebrow raised.
Arlo & Esme was a welcoming corner of the neighborhood yesterday, and I managed to get a lot of work done despite the macabre 80s playlist which cut through the physical serenity of the space. I'll go back.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Prufrock Zeitgeist

I was at my lovely women's artist collective two nights ago giving myself permission to revive an interest in poetry. Why would I need to give myself permission? Could that reek anymore of insecurity? I think that having all of this laid-off time on my hands has opened up doors to some buried and beloved synapses. They're sluggish and sleepy still, but I'm trying to shine some light and give them space to come alive again. They never went anywhere, after all; but they need a tune up.
Strangely, not one or two, but rather three [of seven] of us at the group had read aloud to ourselves, or had thought of T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in the last week. There's a part of me that wants to sound more in touch with the modern world of poetry than to simply recall The Love Song which is taught in every high school sophomore English class. But what I've dusted off is an aching 18-year-old girl who thinks these are still some of the most beautiful words ever strewn together. Through the years I've gone back to Prufrock, and to The Waste Land in darker days (um, Burial of the Dead, anyone?). But I always go back. 
There are a few lines that have moved themselves so deeply into our culture that films have been named for them (I've Heard the Mermaids Singing), and others that have come to ubiquitously mark the unavoidable movement from one generation to the next (I've measured my life in coffee spoons, or I grow old, I grow old, I will wear my trowsers rolled). And there are other lines where when I reread them I feel like I've caught an old friend:   I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, and I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, And in short, I was afraid.
The last line above is something I referenced in my old Poetess days, so I've linked it to the Xeroxed, with a capital X, bookjacket of my Made at Kinko's chapbook. Hell, maybe some day I'll post some of those poems, but for today, let's read Prufrock.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Charlie Chaplin's "The Kid"

This weekend I was sitting in a lakehouse by a fireplace with my family, enjoying the last moments of winter coziness, watching old Charlie Chaplin movies. They're just what you'd expect--the little tramp has a cute waddle-walk, and slapstick abounds. I wasn't expecting to reflect on our economy, necessarily, even though Chaplin was created for the Depression generation.
My five year old son Jamie loved the bits where Charlie ducks from taking punches from a Strong Man archetypal character, and the music made him dance. But a lot of the jokes flew directly over his typically adroit little head.
For example: In once scene, Charlie is a farm hand and his "master" comes into his tiny bedroom to room to kick his lazy arse out of bed. Charlie leaps up, only to fall back into bed. This happens like fifty times. Jamie says Ha Ha Ha. When finally having been coerced up, Charlie must make Master breakfast. He puts fifty sugar cubes into his own cup of tea, and a comparatively meager few in Master's cup. When the tea is poured, Charlie's is visibly dense. Master shouts (silently, with dramatic music only,  of course) I Told You To Sweeten the Tea, Not Thicken the Tea! 
Charlie's response? He takes one of the stale pieces of bread off the top of the stack (because that's breakfast, of course) and smears his bread with his thick tea. 
Jamie's response? No five year old Ha Ha Ha; he just doesn't get the humor in wasted rations. Nor in the antics at the flophouse where Charlie had to smuggle a little orphan boy in order to have a place to sleep (played by the  pint-sized Jackie Coogan, who was in real life being looted by his parents during the Depression). In the end, Chaplin gets to keep the Kid, even after being scrutinized by child welfare after Kid takes Ill and a sad state of affairs is found at home. No wonder no more Five year old Ha Ha Ha.