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.