Monday, March 02, 2009

It's STILL raining...a good, deep, soaking rain. This has to make a difference in the drought. It rained all weekend and C worked on the in-law which is sparkling like a gem. New plumbing. he installed all the fixtures we bought last summer--the new, low-flush toilet (Okay, you know you are middle-aged when you get excited about a new toilet. It is one of the ten warning signs.) New brushed-chrome faucets, new lights. We still have to get curtain rods, and clean the place up and there are a few possibly-leaky spots, but otherwise...I'm afraid to even say it out loud...the project may be FINISHED!!

I sat on the couch and worked on Love Shack. I can't quite believe how quickly this book came together. Less than four months from conception to what feels (today) like finished.

Friday night I performed with Wing It! Phil asked me to improvise a poem and I did one about my mother. the theme of the show was To Tell The Truth. I don't talk about my mother in Wing It much. that is, I don't tell stories about her. I don't know how to convey her. A thousand specific details wouldn't do it.

She loved Latin and the etymology of words. She corrected people's grammar and their approximations of time constantly: it wouldn't do to say "It's a quarter to two," if it was really twenty till. You couldn't get away with saying you were fifty--you were fifty and a half. She ate her food by even numbers: four Oreo cookies, six almonds. She was scared that when she died she wouldn't really be dead and would be buried alive. She loved the theatre and took me to see plays. She loved storytelling and was fiercely anti-war yet she enraged me by remarking wistfully of Barbara Bush Sr: "At least all her children come home for the holidays."

She seemed to me always to be hiding something: her true self. Maybe she was, or maybe, as my father said, "This is her true self." I never believed his version. I thought it was a case of she had hidden it so well from others that when she needed it, she couldn't find it.

She worked hard. Baskets of laundry washed and folded, casseroles defrosted, children taught. In her heyday, she was thin, strong, efficient, beautiful without make-up or fashion, and a little forbidding. Her dark curly hair was cut short. She had large dark eyes, a luminous smile, and beautiful legs. She used to say "Energy begets energy."

She didn't get her driver's licence until she was forty, and she was never a good driver. I remember being in the car with her when she stepped on the gas instead of the brake and we plowed into the car ahead of us. It was at a stop light and no one was going very fast.

She got herself out of Brooklyn and into a house into the green suburbs where she was busy and lonely. When I was an adolescent I blamed her for her loneliness and isolation. I thought it was her fault for being untrusting and needing to be better than everyone. Now that I am middle-aged and lonely myself with some of the same tendencies, I understand better.

Her marriage to my father worked for a long time and then it didn't. they stayed together anyway. He was loyal when she got sick with M.S.--not a saint, but loyal and responsible. She was difficult. She had an inner flame, a radiance, that drew people to her, strangers. All the policemen in town knew her, all the waitors in Chinese restaurants, all the shop clerks. She was a bit of a minor celebrity in Lexington, and also a character. She'd go cruising down in her wheelchair wearing the floppy blue sun hat I gave her, to Walgreen's where she would torture the clerks with a fistfull of coupons.

She had a habit of buying things and then returning them. A good friend of hers said "She had a whim of iron." A great description of her.

Justice was important to her. She had a chldlike quality and always wanted things to be fair. She played no favorites among her four children, although some of us were easier for her to raise than others. After she had had us, after we had grown up and turned into the real people that we are, she could not quite believe we were hers. Maybe all parents feel this way, I don't know. It is a miracle. but in her there was also a radical detachment. This helped her in some ways; it also hurt her.

I never really felt like her daughter. the closest we ever came was one night when we were supposed to go to the movies together and ended up in the car, talking about hour relationship. She confessed that she had not felt like my mother either. It was as if both were playing a part. It was the closest I ever felt to her because it was honest. Later, she denied it.

So Friday night I told some little tiny piece of this in a poem. Theron played the flute and he anchored me with tender eye contact. And there were dancers. Afterwards, people sighed. I felt quite raw. I felt like it had been a terrible downer of a poem.

After the show, several people told me it was one of their favorite parts of the evening. Cynthia just wrote me to tell me she lloved that piece. It's one more lesson in the never-ending curriculum that what I think of my work--or my life, or myself--is not what other people see. I am always the harshest critic, especially when it comes to intimacy. I wish I could change that. I wish I could realize that it is okay to tell the truth. As it is I tell the truth and then suffer emeotional fall-out afterwards. Not so much from the outside world--although sometimes--but mostly from myself. Nevertheless, I keep telling it.


Anonymous said...

The audience was a lucky group. And we are lucky readers.


Carla Zilbersmith said...

a great tribute to her - the truth as you know it - who could ask for more.

(At this point I envision Alison stating "My mom, that's who!)