Tag Archives: parenting

Love Is the Infinity of Now

She came and sat at the other end of the bed and we gazed at each other. I could not remember that I had looked at anyone in quite that way before: when one is all vision and the other face enters into one’s own. I was aware too of a bodily feeling which was not exactly desire but was rather something to do with time, a sense of the present being infinitely large.
– Iris Murdoch, The Italian Girl (168)


Close to Updike on the stacks was The Italian Girl by Iris Murdoch. I thought I might read it as the only thing I really have in my head concerning Murdoch is the face of Judy Dench.  It’s a strange little book. Or I read it on a strange little day, but I’m not sure I was entirely convinced of it.

The story is a brief period in the lives of two brothers, Edmond and Otto. Edmund returns to his childhood home where Otto’s wife, daughter, an Italian maid, an apprentice to Otto, and the apprentice’s sister all live. Anyone whom has experienced a little of this wonder we call life will not be surprised by reading in this story the lengths to which people go to complicate relationships and repress past traumas. This deranged family reunion is due to the death of Lydia, Edmund and Otto’s mother.

Perhaps Murdoch felt that the reader would not be interested to understand why the mother of the protagonists was such a monster, instead she focuses her story on the effects of Lydia’s depraved mothering instinct. And maybe that is where I lost a little something. Perhaps I have to disagree with Tolstoy- all unhappy families are alike as well. Certainly there is a greater diversity of action and reactions, but we all know that emotional pain is a sickness, and when a mother or a father is the cause, some sort of great violence or cataclysmic event is required to root it out. Or, we wither away into ourselves (which doesn’t always make great fiction).

Initially that is the path Edmund has chosen. He lives alone. He is alone. He is loath to face the demon of his mother. His experience in the present tense is a litany of what he does not like: “I detest smoking.” “I don’t like drinking,” I can’t abide that smell, or color, or feeling, or whatever it is. There is a lot he doesn’t like.

But he has his moments. Those lovely moments.

The extreme beauty of the scene put me into an instant trance. It was always a trick of my nature to be subject to these sudden enchantments of the visible world, when a particular scene would become so radiant with form and reality as to snatch me out of myself and make me oblivious of all my purposes. Beauty is such self-forgetting.

That last line: beauty is such self-forgetting, is extraordinary. It’s just…I would have liked to know a little more about Lydia. I would have liked to know – why? I always think of healthy babies coming into the world hard-wired to love and adore their parents. One really does have to be quite awful to make it such a horror show. Is it just a banal truth – simply a matter of selfishness? Narcissism?

Going through life forced into wanting to be loved, craving the timeless truth and purity of what was your inherent nature as a human from the start, well, it makes for a difficult experience. It is very hard to process the Lydias of the world. Edmund and Otto take opposite approaches, but both end up at the same place – which is back at the start.

I am in the truth now. And this is a moment for following the truth to whatever folly.(151)

The Tao and Grammar of Augustus

My 10 year old son came to me with a serious problem- he wanted to know why there was no punctuation for the opposite of an exclamation point. I sympathized. I asked him for an example of what he meant and he gave me a sentence  spoken with an acute underwhelmed emphasis:
And it kept on going
I told him that I usually put three periods at the end of a sentence like that:
And it kept on going…
but he was rightly and righteously dissatisfied. He suggested this:
And it kept on going .

His unenthusiastic interjection will be a period under a line- it is less than...less than a period. Minus the finality, surety and seriousness of a full stop. A perfect indication of the all important tone of sarcasm. He is correct, as usual. I wish there was a body of grammatical overseers that I could forward his complaint and remedy to, but I only have you.

Trite and True

handle with care

I found this Robin’s egg shell on a walk the other day and carried it home to show my boys.
The jet stream of my pace was a constant threat: I had to hold it in such a way so that I didn’t crush it in an effort to keep it safe or let the force of the air take it from me and smash it mercilessly on the ground by too loose a hold.
This beautiful little shell became a sort of analogy of parenting, relationships to others, to one’s self.
That is until my own reductive peusdo profundity struck me and I just about crushed the thing from laughing. Ah yes, life in an eggshell. Walking on eggshells, a good egg, a rotten egg, you have to break an egg to make an omelette, huevos rancheros…well maybe not that last one, but if you can’t eat philosophy when you’re done with it – what good is it?

Kasbah Around Your Heart

“When you pluck a flower, the branch springs back into place. This is not true of the heart’s affections.” -Balthazar, Lawrence Durrell

painting by Eric J. Ryan

I took a small sojourn away from Les Misérables to read the second of the Alexandria Quartet series by Lawrence Durrell. Once I was forced to renew the book before I had even opened it up: well, the pressure set in. I had plenty of time to read too, after I was driven back into my car by a mother screaming inane and absurdly obvious instructions to her child as we watched our children play Lacrosse. She repetitively and loudly yelled such pearls of wisdom as “Pick the ball up!” and, “Shoot the ball.”  I just had to leave when she came out with: “On target!” Oh, really? Why, Thank you Obi Wan. Afterward my son said the next time he hears a parent yell “On target” he is going to to stop mid field and loudly whisper, “Shhhhhh! Don’t tell the other team that that is what we are trying to do!” Subterfuge people! Come on. Don’t give away all of our team’s trade secrets.
At any rate, having advantageously parked alongside the field I filled the minutes when my son was not playing with Durrell.

“I am making every attempt to be matter of fact….”Balthazar

There is more humor in Balthazar than in Justine (the first in the series, Mountolive and Clea are the others). Its main theme seems to emphasize sex more than love or the sort of angst and thwarted love that comprised the bulk of Justine. It is all the same characters, but told from a different perspective. What more than perspective exposes the truth for the elusive slippery fish it is? I suppose it’s the raison d’être for these little books. I found the character of Pursewarden very appealing in a sort of dry English way. The cynical tone, place in time and atmosphere of the environment permeate, but it’s the examination of the fortresses we build up that are at the heart and…well, it’s why we read I suppose.

” No, she did not mean the words, for vulgar as the idea sounded, she knew that she was right by the terms of her intuition since the thing she proposed is really, for women, the vital touchstone to a man’s being; the knowledge, not of his qualities which can be analysed or inferred, but of the very flavour of his personality. Nothing except the act of physical love tells us this truth about one another. She bitterly regretted his unwisdom in denying her a concrete chance to see for herself what underlay his beauty and persuasion. Yet how could one insist?”

Perhaps this sort of speaking makes men shy and insecure but there is a truth to it that, while going against societal expectations of what women are suppose to be concerning themselves with, is important to understand: on both sides. It’s the all important moment of yes or no.

In the book Pursewarden is friends with D.H. Lawrence which I find highly amusing, if you’ve been following along, you might recall that he has been calling out to me lately: his book Women in Love patiently sits on my desk, awaiting my attention. Seems Pursewarden and I have a mutual friend.
We love to love or love to hate characters in novels, but sometimes it’s wonderful when you know that a character would be your dear friend and you can’t wait to get his or her opinion on all matters large and small, or just laugh together -without a yes or no getting in the way.

“but to fall in love renders one ridiculous in society.” –Balthazar

The Tao of Augustus

The Philosopher is in

My nine year old son and I were sitting at the table doing homework. He asked me what I was reading,
“Philosophy” I answered.
“What’s that?”
“Metaphysics, questions about being, why are we here, what’s the meaning or purpose of life, is there a God, how can we be happy…”
“I can answer those questions. Ask me.” He eagerly offered.
“Okay. Does God exist?” I start with a big one.
“I can prove that God exists and I can prove that he does not.”
“Well, how can you prove God exists?”
“We all talk – that didn’t come from nowhere. We have a language, otherwise we couldn’t talk about God.”
“And that God doesn’t exist?”
“Well you can’t see him. You can’t say, ‘here’s God.'”
“So does God exist or not?”
“Okay,” I say moving on, “What is our purpose, what is the meaning of life?”
I look at him expectantly, so he enunciates the words to make it simple for me,
“Have fun, be happy, live. l.o.v.e.”
“But Augie, what if something really sad happens and you are unhappy?”
“Kill yourself.” he says simply.
I wasn’t expecting that….“What if I’m really unhappy and I kill myself?”
He does not hesitate, “Then I’ll kill myself.”
I look at him quizzically, but he anticipates me,
“Don’t worry, there’s lots of people.” he adds reassuringly.
“Anything else?” he asks.
“What happens when we die?”
“Nothing. It’s over, we go back into the earth – Oh, mom: can I use a calculator to check my math answers?”

Alimentary Algebra

My version of a traditional Sicilian Cassata

My middle son and I attend college together. I kind of forced him to take Intermediate Algebra this term as I wanted to make use of the textbook that I had purchased for myself in the fall. It nearly cost as much as the class. Possibly I love the idea of this more than he does, except as I have recently taken the class, I turn out to be an excellent private tutor for him. We have class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We go early to work on homework in the library and then at noon we head to the cafeteria to have lunch together. I am aware that this is a unique and (for me) wonderful way to spend two days a week. I regal him with all of my “don’t do that” moments of math stupidity, but there is always some mental deficiency to rail against on our drive home.

I have to admit to liking Algebra, an arabic word meaning restoration or, my favorite: reunion of broken parts. A method of reduction and balance is one description I read that appeals to my sense of beauty. I derive a childish pleasure out of reducing, eliminating and balancing the equations. My pencil swiftly crossing out and rewriting with abandon.

Although my son and I are a lot alike, I can see that he “gets” the math more than I do. Sometimes when it gets complicated he wants to, and can, understand the why. I’m interested, but am satisfied in being able to simply apply the rules or formula. This is more revealing of my own limitations than anything else. I try to explain to him my feeling for math: It’s like cooking, I expound, anyone can follow a recipe and if they are literate, get a good result. That is my level of math. But I know that there is a higher level- like when you can simulate a recipe in your mouth before you even cook it, when you know that omitting x and adding y will improve the end result. The improvisational aspects that I can grasp in cooking: I am not there mathematically. I am not saying, if I was so inclined, that I could not get there. I’m sure I could, but these things take time. It took me years to learn to cook at the level of letting the ingredients rather than the recipes lead. I’ll probably never be Emilie du Chatelet, but then again, although I make a mean cassata,  I’m not Jacques Torres either. I’m just trying to press up against the edges of my own mediocrity.

You Are What You See

Depth Mine with Sharks by Malcolm Morley

After spending the morning in back to back dental appointments, I took my two youngest boys to an exhibition of Malcolm Morley at the Yale School of Art’s gallery. I parked the car and we browsed about in a bookstore as the gallery was not yet open. My 13 year old Luke was underwhelmed by my method of killing time but soon got lost in a book by Banksy. Augie occupied himself by bringing me books whose images or text he wanted me to decipher. He wanted me to ask someone behind the counter how to get to the gallery. But I resisted.

I had a vague idea of how to get there. We walked a few blocks. It was cold and we were seemingly walking into a slum, so we went into a Dunkin Donuts to ask the employees how to get to Edgewood Ave. Apparently they were all teleported to work that day because no one had any idea of the surrounding streets. We continued.  We asked a lady on the street. She was very nice, possible strung out, but very nice. She named 5 to 6 streets that we would have to pass until we came to the right one at which point we were to turn right and Edgewood would be the next street. As we followed her instructions I wondered why we couldn’t just turn right now. Luke was cold and apprehensive. “I’m just walking!” Augie announced happily. Finally we came to the correct street, turned, got to Edgewood and sure enough walked back 5 or 6 blocks to the gallery.

The gallery was a large bright rectangular room. The paintings were joyful, boyishly enthusiastic works of (mostly) World War II imagery: airplanes, airplane parts, airplanes crashing, submarines, ocean liners. Morley was a boy in London during the war and his vivid and kind-of innocent renderings are wonderful. We also really liked a hawk that he had built out of cut and painted paper clutching a fish as it emerged from an oil painting. It was really beautiful. The kind man sitting in a chair against the wall in the middle of the room told us that the artists got a lot of his ideas from his dreams. Augie wanted to know why the sinking ship in the above painting was named ERIKA, but he did not know.

We made our way around the perimeter. Augie noticed that the the wall ended and on the other side was a ramp leading down to another level. There was a small lone painting on this wall. It was so close to the edge of the wall that when you stood looking at it you could see the paintings on the opposite wall.

“Oh look, another painting” I said, wondering why it was tucked away in this manner.

“It’s a smaller version of that one,” Luke observed. We all looked at the large painting of a red airplane on the opposite wall.

“You’re right.” I answered.

“No, it’s a smaller version of both of them,” Augie declared. We all looked at the large painting of the blue airplane next to the large painting of the red plane. I sheepishly looked back to the small painting of…the red plane colliding with the blue plane.

Is this how it is going to be? I sighed. As we age we lose the ability to just see what we are looking at without thinking about what we are seeing. At least I managed to find a direct route back to the car.
I will take my accomplishments where I can, thank you very much.

The Multidivison of Love

“It’s like he was dropped down from another planet” Augie’s teacher

My son: The Little Prince?

Tis’ the Reason

This year it seems I have escaped the Christmas hysteria. Working in the public school system is like a holiday area 51: occasional slips, but no actual evidence of suspicious activity. I can’t say I mind; I think this year I’d rather sleep through it all. This last weekend my children were looking for a gift and thought it would be a good idea to stop at ABC Carpet in New York on our way out of the city so that my youngest son could see Santa. The older ones had fond memories of the unusually thin primordial man in an appropriately ancient crushed velvet Santa suit that passed out strange trinkets like skulls and little hearts on colored string. When we got there we found a line for Santa that wrapped around the building. I told everyone to go inside and look around, while I waited in the line. My daughter came out a few minutes later having seen the impostor posing as Santa (a stereotypical fat and jolly man) giving out – candycanes. She was outraged and hastened out to spare me the long wait in the cold. Candycanes: really.

Inside the store it was a covet-a-thon. I fantasized about the simple beautiful glass cups stacked in rows across a table: I could see myself carefully drying them and putting them away on my imaginary shelf. I don’t really want any more stuff. I’m traumatized by the accumulation of possessions that have already occurred in my life, but there are a few lovely things I don’t mind thinking about. I have had a perfect bowl in my mind. Something that would suit the granola I make. The size and weight is very important, and in this era of supersize, that perfect object of my fancy is not easily come upon. True, I’m not really looking, but I have it in my head if I stumble across it some day.

The entrance of the store was a confused jumble of people: screaming children recovering from the awkward sit on Santa’s lap, and masses of shoppers. I turned amidst all the shine, glitter and sparkle that is ABC Carpet and there it was: the bowl. It was small, footed, the clay turned to an impossibly thin diameter. Around the circumference 1/2 an inch from the top was a row of embossed dots, ever so delicate,  it was glazed in a semi opaque white allowing some of the reddish clay to peak through intermittently. It was sublime.  I wasn’t going to buy it, but it pleased me to know that some day I might. It exists! I turned it over to see how much it cost. Eighty dollars. A bowl? I searched the sticker for some sign of reality; perhaps it was 4 for eighty? 2 for eighty even, I’d take 2 for eighty…not really. I gently put it down, looked around to see if other shoppers were experiencing sticker shock. Everyone seemed oblivious. I know it’s ABC Carpet, and I have an unfortunate tendency to always pick the simple yet deceptively most expensive item, but come on.

I found my young son and decided to take a guerrilla style photograph of him standing “next to” Santa, I had him stand in such a way as to make it look like he was right next to Santa’s lap even though he was 15 feet away. I wasn’t going to leave empty handed, damn it!

competitive chess, a foray: from the front lines

Fail #1. Make sure you do not register your child during a freak snow storm as they may not have received it.
Success #1. I miraculously had $40 in my wallet to register him on site.
Fail #2. Apparently chess and soccer use  a DIFFERENT nomenclature wherein U1000 does not mean under 10, it means under 1000 points ranking.
Fail #3. When you tell the teenager registering you that you don’t even know what it means to be ranked, do not assume that they will take upon themselves to suggest that perhaps your son is in the wrong division.
Fail #4. When your son sits down across from a teenage girl do not simply muse to yourself,”Gee, she doesn’t look under 10.”
Fail#5. Always bring a pillow as your ass will start to ache around the 4th hour of sitting in the cafeteria waiting for the games to finish and the next rounds to begin.
Success #2. I had plenty of reading material, nearly read an entire 300 page book: The Language Wars and intermittently indulged in Beware of Pity (my new favorite author, Stefan Zweig)
Success#3. Young female opponent of round 1 reports that your son did quite well against her, even had the upper hand for a moment in the beginning.
Success#4. I did not murder the infuriatingly self indulgent event organizer who dragged the medal ceremony out as long as humanly possible.