A Crooked Tune
~ Saturday, August 30, 2003
I've moved over to TypePad. I'm a gal who likes categories.
Here's the new URL:
~ Friday, August 29, 2003
Then I read old favorites that I found cheap at a secondhand bookstore:
Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk
A while back, I read an author's interview at the Powell's bookstore Web site where an author said that when she was young, she read Marjorie Morningstar. Then she said she realized that there was only so much time in life and after that she devoted herself to the classics.
I remember reading that and thinking, "Yes, someday, I do need to read literature. After all, I majored in English in school." I remember thinking how fraudulent that degree felt now. What classics did I actually study? Apparently none that I absorbed. Then I thought, "Gee, I'd really like to read Marjorie Morningstar again."
So I found it in this musty old store and I started it that very afternoon, marvelling at how much I remembered now reading it with adult eyes. (How old was I when I first read this book? Maybe 12. How many times did I read it? Maybe four.) Anyway, I consumed that book in a day. Now I would say that from this reading, I would say the political references don't work. This is Marjorie Morningstar for God's sake, and to bring in Hitler and the growth of Naziism just seemed like the inherent wrong note for this type of book. And I wish it wasn't so incredibly important that Majorie was so beautiful. But Wouk understood character development. A writer could learn something by studying his descriptions of Noel in this story.
Then I tried reading Dominick Dunne's Season of Purgatory. He used to be one of my favorite writers. I've been disappointed with his work ever since he became more of a society writer for Vanity Fair. Lately, he's written more about crime, but I haven't been interested in the cases he's selected (with the exception of Robert Blake) and I believed there was something new in his tone that kept me from falling into the story. To my dismay, when I picked up this book, I had the same problem with it. The tone was too pointed, the story too weighted in one opinion to make me want to continue. After so many pages, I gave up. There are really too many books to read.
I then read Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler, another author I've always enjoyed, a great writer for a precocious reader as her stories are written in the beautiful simple style of a fairy tale. No one is ever too coarse in her books. People do sleep together, but somehow the sheer sensuality of that eludes the page. In this book, Tyler sidesteps being precious by explaining that her main character, now in her 40's, feels as if she's reverted back to her high school days. Her potential lover also tells her that she's rather childlike in the way she approached this affair. I remained charmed by her work.
(c) 2003 Wendy Ledger
~ Thursday, August 28, 2003
After that, I read a series of what I call “girly books”:
Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner
Bad Heir Day by Wendy Holden
Stately Affairs (I think that's the title) and the last name of the author I believe was Fford. Amazon doesn't believe me.
I wanted mind candy, stories that would go down easily while I traveled. And I found I liked all these books, although this time, the general arc of the story disturbed me. In each book, the story begins with the heroine hooked up to the wrong guy. He then unceremoniously dumps her, and she spends a good two-thirds of the book acting like a total loser. Then she finds a satisfying career and a good man and the book ends on a happy note.
On this vacation, this fairytale bothered me. Why couldn’t she just be alone for a while? Why couldn’t she choose to be alone? Why couldn’t she have a string of lovers? Why couldn’t she have a boring job? Why couldn’t it be more like real life?
Out of the three, I liked Good in Bed best. It had some great descriptions of what it would be like to work as a journalist. These details interested me more than anything else in these books.
Then on a bus to New Jersey, I read “Ramona the Pest” to my niece. I was happy that she wanted to hear large chunks of the story on this trip, as I found that I still solidly loved this book. Ramona had been one of my favorite characters as a child. I identified with this girl, often perceived by adults to be a thorn in the side. Reading it now, I could appreciate how Beverly Cleary told the story so we could understand Ramona’s point of view in the situation, but also see the impact her actions had on others. She was strongwilled and imaginative, a joy to be around, and also a handful with her intelligence and her sense of how things should be done.
I also read some Encyclopedia Brown and Berenstain Bears to her on this trip. Then I gladly returned to Beverly Cleary, a woman who truly knows how to write.
(c) 2003 Wendy Ledger
~ Wednesday, August 27, 2003
A Big Storm Knocked it Over
In the beginning of the month, when I went back East to visit my family, I read numerous books. None of them were new. I knew I was going to be reading a bagful of books, and I didn’t want to spend the money on the volume that I intended to read. Many I had read before. It seemed time to revisit old favorites. At the time, I took notes on them and planned to write about it when I returned, but events conspired to take my brain away from books and on to other things. So, the rest of the week, I’ll write about things I read.
In the airport, I began to read Laurie Colwin’s A Big Storm Knocked it Over
The New York Times, describing Laurie Colwin’s work, said, “She is utterly fearless in writing about happiness.” That’s the beauty of Colwin’s work as a whole and this book in particular. She writes about characters who are good to each other.
This is a deceptively big book written about little things—the sublime taste of foods, the beauty of simple flatware, the wonder of fabric. In a quintessential Colwin scene, the two couples in this book go on a ski trip together. At first, they just huddle in their rooms and freeze, but then they go downstairs for dinner where they’re greeted by guests and friends of the proprietors and sit down to a literal feast. Afterwards, they skate on the pond. At the end of the night, the proprietress carries a tray of hot chocolate and sugar cookies, the kind that melt into your mouth, on to the ice. These are the kinds of moments that populate Colwin’s books.
In another scene I loved, Jane Louise and Edie leave their babies behind with their husbands who want to spend a Saturday with their children alone. Edie is grateful for the time away. Jane Louise misses her baby terribly. At one point, walking alone through the park, Jane Louise breaks down. An older man pauses to talk to her:
“Are you okay,” he said.
“I was just thinking about my child going to college,” Jane Louise said.
“How old is your child?” the man asked gently.
“Just five months old,” said Jane Louise, and she began to sob. “You must think I’m a nut.”
The man looked at her thoughtfully. “When my kid went away to sleepaway camp for the first time, I wanted to lie down in the driveway and eat dirt,” he said.
Jane Louise looked up at him. He filled her vision entirely. The hazy sunshine swirled around them. She grabbed his wrist and kissed his hand. He was wearing a beautiful gold watch.
“Thank you,” she said. “Oh, thank you.”
Then she collected herself. The man picked up his suitcases.
“It’ll be all right,” he said. “You’ll grow into it.”
“Thank you,” said Jane Louise again, and she began to almost run in the direction of home.
It is this simple language, this direct heartfulness that made Laurie Colwin books so wonderful.
(c) 2003 Wendy Ledger
~ Tuesday, August 26, 2003
I went to see this movie with my friend, Miriam, last Sunday in San Francisco. It was late afternoon. We walked to the theatre. There was one other person in our cinema room when we sat down, and no one else came. It was one of those heavenly kind of experiences.
“Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns)” is the story of the rock duo, They Might Be Giants, a band that I knew that I’ve heard before, but I couldn’t remember any of their songs. But I knew they featured an accordion, one of those profoundly underdog instruments that someday I want to play (I’ll be wearing a short skirt, a lowcut shirt, and red lipstick, and my shoulders will be much stronger than they are now), and I had read a profile about them in the New Yorker where they talked about dial-a-song, a thing they do where you can call a number and hear a song each day. That intrigued me. So, when Miriam asked me if I wanted to see the movie, I said yes.
At first I wondered about it. It started out slow with sound bites that didn’t say much. The filmmakers didn’t seem to know how to make a proper introduction. It was as if I joined the activities mid-party, one of those really boring affairs where I meander around strangers, where the most intriguing snacks are pretzels, trying to find a conversation that’s engaging.
When did I get interested? I think when they talked about dial-a-song, and placing the ad in the Village Voice, and John F. said that personal ads were free and business ads expensive, so he kept telling the Voice that this was just his own pet project, nothing to do with a commercial venture. And people talked about checking in each day to hear the song. And throughout the movie they would play snippets of songs, and they were about all sorts of things that songs aren’t usually about—like President Polk or was it Buchanan? And the songs were melodically wonderful, and they looked so happy performing, and they’ve had such an interesting career—their debut homemade tape reviewed in People magazine, videos on MTV in its early stages, signed to a major record label then dropped, then all this independent work where they were the first to use the Internet to sell their music, where they wrote the theme song for “Malcolm in the Middle” and music for the Austin Powers sequel, and they wrote and performed for the radio show, “This American Life.” They had a clip of them performing on September 10, 2001, a midnight show at Tower Records in New York, the two Johns, one on accordion, the other on guitar, and a crowd of people in store bopping up and down and generally looking entranced. Throughout it all, they kept their good humor, they kept writing songs, and they maintained their integrity. It was one of my favorite movies I’ve seen this year.
(c) 2003 Wendy Ledger
~ Monday, August 25, 2003
More disjointed notes on a Monday morning while Jewel rests, thwarted in her effort to play with play baby mice at 6:30 in the morning. If we lived in a house instead of an apartment building, I would not have put the toys away. They will come out again once I go to work. Meanwhile, the neighbors will have some chance to sleep without a cat racing over their heads.
Last night, I woke up in the early morning hours to find Jewel sleeping near me, her paws extended so she could touch my hands. She is different from Pumpkin, a cat who slept solidly against me. Jewel is not a lap cat, at least not yet, and maybe never will be. She sees me at this point as a human bridge, something to cross over quickly to get somewhere else. She has her limits. This distance works. This is too close. When I woke up and realized what she was doing, she abandoned it quickly, and resumed her sleep on a chair.
I solved a mystery yesterday. When I brought Jewel home on Wednesday night, there was a bad smell in the apartment, as if, I thought, an animal had died here, as if the ghost of my cat, angry that another cat had moved in at all, furious that it had happened so quickly, had transported her stinking carcass to my home so I could be reminded exactly what happened, as if I could ever forget. So, there was this smell in the kitchen, and I cleaned and searched and sprayed scents in the air to combat the smell, and came up with a theory that perhaps my refrigerator had died, and resolved that Sunday, I would defrost it and throw what little food was in there out, and clean it further, and just basically figure it out.
On Sunday morning, I walked into the kitchen, and I noticed an opened can of wet cat food on the top of the microwave. It was a typical place for me to put food when Pumpkin was alive. I would give her half of something and then place the other half there for later, but this time there was no later, and it had just stayed out there and rotted. It was such a logical candidate for the smell and literally right under my nose, but it took me four days to see it, and that, I thought as I bagged it and threw it away in the outside dumpster, is an indication of how my mind is currently working. That is a sign of how tired I am. And I threw that smelly food out and cried. Just one more indication of a chapter of life ending, even though it was rotten and disturbing and seemingly out of my control, and now we can live in a place that doesn't smell like death.
I think of Holly Hunter in "Broadcast News," where every morning she would take a few minutes and cry and then she would continue on with her life. I think of Pumpkin when I walk by myself or when I'm caught in a traffic jam or taking a long drive. I think of her slow, deliberate walk during her illness, before the final days when she grew jelly-legged, and how even when she was sick, she would muster something up in herself to make that walk, to gaze fully in my face, to keep a connection with me. I think of the length of time that I knew her, thirteen years, and how sometimes I would feel lonely while she was there, and how strange that seems now. I think of that while I walk down to the drugstore with a roll of film in my backpack that needs to be developed. I took some pictures of Pumpkin the day before she died, not knowing that was true then, just taking some pictures of my cat on an afternoon when she was happy. And I've taken some pictures of Jewel since she's been here. I walked and thought how fortunate I was to have encountered two such remarkable cats, different but both speaking to me, both seeming so right for me to know, both insisting on their time and their place with me.
(c) 2003 Wendy Ledger
~ Friday, August 22, 2003
Here are some things I’ve learned from this experience:
Adopting a new cat will not take away the grief. The new cat cannot be the old cat. Jewel has no interest in snuggling. Pumpkin was a lap cat. Pumpkin greeted me at the door each day. She drank water from the sink. She slept up near my head. She sat over my heart while I read before I went to sleep.
Jewel has taken over a pillow that just happened to be at the foot of the bed. She sits on it like a throne. She likes my rickety old computer chair, a place Pumpkin never sat, even when she was healthy. During her illness, she made sure to stay clear of this chair, because I always sat here when I gave her pills. But Jewel has made it one of her places. She likes to jump from this chair on to the bed. The chair often rocks like an old ship while she takes off, but she’s young and doesn’t care.
More information is both helpful and hurts. This morning, before work, I went to the acupuncturist. I hadn’t seen her since May, when Pumpkin became ill. It turns out she knows a lot about cats. She had a cat who had hepatitis as well, and when her vets weren’t helpful, she invested in medical books to understand the situation herself. So, she told me what happens to a cat when they lose half their body weight, facts that I no longer can remember because they were just too upsetting to me to hold on to long term. But I do remember her saying that one of the symptoms was headaches. And I thought of my cat sitting on the bed staring at the wall with a drawn in look about her, and I thought that’s probably what was going on.
There’s a part about having a new pet that’s wonderful. My cat was on the Internet on the SPCA postings for cat adoptions, and so at work today, I could call up her picture and introduce her to my co-workers. (I would post the link here, but it's no longer up. Those SPCA people are efficient.) But so far, each evening, at some point I’ve gone to take a walk where I can cry and recall my old cat. It’s all bittersweet.
(c) 2003 Wendy Ledger