Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On My Shelf

Just finished something I'd recommend: The True Deceiver, by Tove Jansson. To anyone who's read the iconic Moomintroll series, or The Summer Book, it'll come as no surprise that this novel too is spare, atmospheric, unsettling, and bleakly lovely.

Here's hoping NYR brings out her other translated works in English, both because it's like coming upon a jewel (or a really good hot-cross bun, in my parlance) and because they did a particularly beautiful job with this edition. (Yes, that's the author's original cover art.)

In brief, it's the story of a small Finnish fishing village in the dead of winter, and the relationship between a reclusive aging children's-book author and a pragmatic outsider. If that makes it sound fuzzy, well, it's quite the opposite. It's very nearly cruel. But it sticks with you and sheds a lot of light on casual moral equivocations and that's all I'll say about that.

Braced for the cruelest month, kiddos? Me neither. But maybe it'll help to know that the figurine is actually titled "Kewpie Lawyers."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday: Lovely, lazy evening after a middling week: internet was on the fritz (or at least being used by half the hood - we can't lock it) and I had to work, kneeling, in the front hallway of our building, where the jack is. Some kinks to work out!

Since it's been grayish, I've been plying the "sun-box" my parents sent me, and I must say, I am feeling pretty jolly!

In addition, the week involved: two visits to Pies and Thighs, far too much time spent on Polyvore, a lovely takeout Indian dinner with friends and their baby, the sweetest 16-month-old in the whole world and, last night, The Nose at the Met.

The Nose is Shostakovitch's first opera, written when he was only 22, and based on Gogol's short story of the same name. Basically, a man wakes up without his nose. The nose is at large, running around the city and impersonating an officer. It's all very absurdist and, it must be said, extremely gruckimish! The production was very whimsical and busy, with Surrealist animations cut with Societe-era propaganda films and text and images and, of course, the silhouette of the giant nose cutting capers. I've been listening to the score all day which, as Slim says, wasn't even that atonal!

Monday, March 22, 2010

I hope everyone in the northeast enjoyed the weekend's weather as much as did we! I was euphoric, giddy, and couldn't stop grinning at everyone, although looking back I got next to nothing done in terms of either chores or culture or even the exploration of new restaurants and walks.

Oh, and I got a doozy of a migraine! I guess I wasn't quite prepared for Saturday's heat - and in any case I have a sort of aversion to rushing the season, both because I won't let nature play me for a fool and because I want my summer things to retain their specialness, what with for every thing there is a season etc. etc. In any case, I guess my denim shirtdress and red cotton cardi were a bit heavy, or I didn't drink enough water, but by the time I'd successfully received a haircut (with Bardot-ish blowout)and gone to meet M at the Strand, things were beginning to go bad. And by the time we'd finished a really great dinner at Bar Jamon (pan con tomate; skirt steak with onion marmalada and romesco; marinated brussels sprouts) it had sort of set it. Nevertheless, it seemed a good idea, rather than sleeping it off as usual, to get to the root of the problem, and so we repaired to Chinatown for a cheap back-rub. We found a respectable-looking spot full of tourists getting foot-rubs and I was led to a bed between two curtains and told to undress, which made me uneasy(although it soon became clear that the massuese was all business and there would be no suggestion of happy endings - despite the odd, Doughboy-like giggling of the southern-accented tourist in the next alcove.) I dutifully put face in hole, but despite a soundtrack that went from "Doe, A Deer" to "Bringing in the Sheaves" it wasn't terribly relaxing as my masseuse was forever shouting things to her colleagues and occasionally giggling to herself, which I might have minded more had I not been wearing a brand-new set of underthings, had freshly washed hair and known my hygiene to be beyond reproach. Maybe it was the band-aids on my feet? Whatever, I was in too much pain to care.

By the time we left, I was in a bad way and let me just say that if your migraines benefit from the smells of fish and festering garbage, of shouting frat-boys and squalling babies, of tweens who can express the thrill of being in a stretch limo only by sticking their heads out the windows and screeching "You Belong With Me" - then, my friend, get yourself to Chinatown. I, instead, threw up a lot and then went home to bed, aided and physically supported by the tirless and heroic Slim.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

3 Packages

Yesterday was a red-letter day, for not one, not two, but three packages were delivered to my door.

The first was an eagerly-anticipated shrunken-schoolboy blazer that, in the magical way of certain eBay purchases, fit just right.

The second was one of those UV lamps, courtesy of my dad. Now, you may wonder why he'd send this to me on the first 60-degree week of the year, but you must udnerstand that it was only this past Sunday that my folks saw a segment about SAD on CBS, and determined that it was the cause of all my problems. Very dear, of course, and as soon as I drag myself away from the real thing, I plan to bask regularly, even though I'm told the glare renders computers screens invisible.

The third was the oddest and requires a bit of dull background. Perhaps you'll recall that a few years ago, when we first started dating, Slim and I had a Big Misunderstanding. In essence, I thought it was tacitly understood that we were "exclusive," and he hadn't gotten the memo (ugh, two phrases I hate in one sentence!) It precipitated a break and much kowtowing and my lifetime supply of donuts from Peter Pan. Anyway, at the time, a couple of his friends were aware that he was seeing both me and the incredibly glamorous and stunning British fashion designer of whose existence I was not aware. Indeed, they hung out with her! They thought, like him, that I was "cool" with it, although anyone who knew me at all would have known I've never been cool with anything in my life, less that. As a result, after the fact, I've always found seeing these two friends of his about the most humiliating thing in the world, and they evoke a very unpleasant time for me and an irrational part of my mind always thinks they're snickering at me, even though that's silly. Which, in a way, is too bad, since we twice had a good time, once involving lard bread and once involving dancing at Home Sweet Home.

Apparently one of them, the one who works for a sock company, asked Slim, last week, why it is that I never come on their outings or join them for dinner. Slim, being an ass, told them frankly that it reminds me of being cuckholded and that I find the very sight of them humiliating. (This level of neurosis should really be classified information, except for the fact that I'm writing about it here.) So then, yesterday, arrived in the mail, with no explanation or note, a large box of women's socks. Which, presumably, is supposed to make me less uncomfortable. It kind of does the exact opposite. But don't get me wrong, I can use the socks.

Monday, March 8, 2010

My parents are selling their house. I went up there over the weekend to choose some things I'd like to have - mostly books, and a few kitchen implements - as my brother is (allegedly) going to sell the remainder on eBay.

While the fact of losing that home-base will surely hit home after the house is in the charge of some enterprising young family, I am excited for my parents to start a new chapter, even if the timing is not what they would have chosen. The truth is, the house was never exactly to my tastes, even at 3, and in some ways (yes, over 25 years) we never really settled in. My folks are many things, but homemakers is not one. Although the center of many wonderful family gatherings, it was not, in itself, the stuff of family lore.

By contrast, take my grandmother's legendary family home in Silver Spring, which words to this day are still spoken in hushed tones rendered rosy with nostalgia and quite at odds with that suburb's realities. My great-aunt, the family historian, just sent around some of the sorts of recollections to which I refer.
The James E. Benedict property, from the time the house was built in 1893?, was almost half of the block between Highland Drive and Grace Church Road, with the Henry Olds house built to its north, and the Edson B. Olds house on the diagnonally opposite corner of the block.
In addition to crabapples, plums, peaches, chestnuts, and other trees, and gooseberries, currants, black and red raspberries, grapes, strawberries, and other fruits, there were many plants and flowers. There were narcissus and daffodils lining the sidewalk to the front door, hydrangea, mock-orange, fragrant shrub, rose bushes, forsythia, and many other bushes. Grandad had a large vegetable garden.
The lawn, east of the house, was open to the street, from which everyone could view its north border of lilac trees. In front of the lilacs and curving to the east border next to the west side of the circular driveway to the garage, was the flower bed known as "Aunt Bess's," with almost every summer-blooming plant, lasting until the frost time.
Behind the lilac border, and sloping away to The Hollow, was an access road for oil tankers and a path along the south side of the two-story shop in which Charles J. Benedict, Sr.,, had his printing business. Between the access road and the path, was a trianguar-shaped garden tended by Aunt Ruth, fenced in and with a green carpet of grass. It contained a variety of rose bushes, and over the gate was an arbor of red rambler roses. The gate had a lock and the children were allowed in only when supervised by Aunt Ruth. It was like a private, little fairyland. In late winter there might be a crocus or snowdrop pushing through the snow.
When we moved across the intersection of Highland Drive and First Avenue, to the Leighton Place (which we called Old Oaks), we had hickory nuts, walnuts, and Concord grapes, the various berry bushes, and an apple orchard, as well as Dad's vegetable garden.
The north side of the property, on Highland Drive, extended from First to Second Avenues. It was unshaded and Dr. Clifford Waller, across the street, asked if he could plant dahlias along the fence. He was assistant US Surgeon General and often had important visitors who enjoyed sharing the sight of his prize-winning beauties. Dr. Waller reminded us that the flowers were to be admired, not touched, and in all our growing years, we never did touch them. He had faith that we would not and we did not.
Dad had his circular plot of bulb plants, including tulips and hyacinths, and along the driveway his favorite pansies. We never tired of looking at the faces of the pansies and comparing them with each other and they bloomed from early spring until October. There were lillies-of-the-valley just north of the front door. Dad spent his spare time working around the yard and welcomed our company as we trotted alongside him. There is a snapshot of Ruth Mary with him, as the inspiration for his poem, "Followin' Daddy 'Round."
MaMa (Elizabeth Junken Benedict), our grandmother, had many indoor plants in the bay window facing west in their parlor, and each summer moved them to the front porch, where she tended them with care.
Aunt Ruth also loved natural plants and went into the woods to find them for the area from the front porch of their house to the street, west of the sidewalk. There were ferns and Indian pipes, partridge berries, and many other plants, setting off the bird bath in the shade of the tree there.
All our relatives enjoyed Nature's contributions to our surroundings.

On A Happier Note

I am glad every day to "know" those of you kind enough to read this. I feel a real kinship with you, and I talk to you in my head sometimes. Creepy? Oh, yes.

I think at least half of my low mood comes from being between reads. Yes, I have read We Have Always Lived in the Castle and I absolutely love it, so if anyone can think of anything suitably Gothic and involving, do let me know. (I just read The 13th Tale too which, while lurid as all git-out, certainly provided a diversion a la Shadow of the Wind!)On second thought, maybe all this Gothic fiction is part of the problem...

And in AV: El. has strongly recommended The More the Merrier, so that's been added to the queue. I'd love a series, but sometimes I think there are no series in the world that will capture my imagination like the first viewings of The House of Eliott and Berkeley Square, respectively. How I envy people who have that treat in store! It must be like tasting sticky-toffee pudding for the first time.

Mood permitting, tomorrow M and I are going to see The Art of the Steal. Anyone seen it? I'm also interested in Lourdes and The Girl on the Train, but have a sneaking suspicion that I should wait until I'm in the clear, black dog-wise.
I tried, over the weekend, to really explain to my mom what depression - or being bipolar, or whatever - feels like. And I explained that it's more an absence, a void, than something definitive. There is no future; there is no access to happy memories; really, one becomes (I shouldn't generalize, this is how it is for me) unable to conceive of what being happy is. You lose all inner resources. Maybe it's what some would call the absence of God. When I am in this state, it's not that I want to commit suicide, exactly, because expending that kind of energy, and even feeling that intensity of emotion, is inconceivable. Rather, I wish to disappear, to evaporate, to go to sleep and not exist any more.

When I get better, it is hard to access these thoughts and feelings, which is why I am making an effort to get it down now. Indeed, in normal circumstances all this is unthinkable. Intellectually, it is repugnant to me. But self-disgust, at such times, is hardly helpful.

There is a good book on the subject, You Are Not Alone. I find its existence very comforting.

Perhaps it seems funny that I can continue to work, but having a series of small, achievable tasks to do is ideal, for me at least. It is not easy, and my work slows down, and sometimes I have to stop, but I think it's good to continue. It's very important to remember you are accountable to people, be they employers or doctors or whoever. I forgot an appointment with my psychiatrist today, which is the worst thing to do, but it's a bit of a catch-22 that way, since the will to treat oneself grows inversely with the illness.

M is wonderful to me. He brought me a carrot cupcake. He took me on a walk to a neighborhood in Queens to see an old house he likes. He read to me from a Robert Irwin book. And he made dinner of chard and leftover quiche and tomato-avocado salad. I can only resolve, in my mind, to make it up to him when I am able.

What I think of, all the time, is going to some kind of Magic Mountain-style sanitorium - pure mandated nothingness and rest and a total freedom from obligation. Can you imagine it? My mother says that's just running away. Of course it is: that's the whole point of the novel, after all, even if such places did still exist.

I always debate entries such as this since they are dreary and repetitive. But it's good to get it out, to put words to paper, and to stop the reflexive isolation I'm prone to. Besides, I always find reading such accounts comforting.
I went through a strange spate of sadness-induced madness the other day and untagged and erased all the Facebook photos of myself. Today, I put some of them back, so no one would think I was objecting to their photography.

The other night we went to a big party; I didn't wear my glasses for some reason and crashed into two drag queens, an otter and a bear. I thought I'd get the dancing started but no one else started dancing so then it was just me, dancing, by myself, in a jumpsuit. And then I didn't want the DJ's feelings to be hurt so I felt like I couldn't stop, and it all became very Red Shoes, or at least They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and wasn't really fun at all. At one point I varied things by dancing with a helium balloon, just to show you how bad it got.

This Is Neat