Joan Didion mourning a middle-aged child

My kids are old enough, I mentioned in a conversation with a friend, that increasingly I see my job as just getting out of their way. Each generation rides roughshod over the bones of the dead. Let's hope this won't happen for several more decades, but eventually I'll be among the peat caught in a younger generation's tank treads.

And with the deaths of acquaintances, family, friends, and celebrities — reaching the midpoint of life will mean that more people I know of will have died than are still living. Cheery? No. But practical, and helps keep the ego in check that maybe a late order in a restaurant isn't the hugest matter in the world.

 Joan Didion, from an interview on NPR's Fresh Air. Click on the photo to listen.

Joan Didion, from an interview on NPR's Fresh Air. Click on the photo to listen.

Flipping that, what's it like to outlive your child? Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking writes about the death of her spouse. Just a few weeks before the publication of that book, Didion's daughter died at the age of 39. She wrote about the experience in Blue Nights. A poem excerpt from the book:

Vanish.

Pass into nothingness: the Keats line that frightened her.

Fade as the blue nights fade, go as the brightness goes.

Go back into the blue.

I myself placed her ashes in the wall.

I myself saw the cathedral doors locked at six.

I know what it is I am now experiencing.

I know what the frailty is, I know what the fear is.

The fear is not for what is lost.

What is lost is already in the wall.

What is lost is already behind the locked doors.

The fear is for what is still to be lost.

You may see nothing still to be lost.

Yet there is no day in her life on which I do not see her.

To my daughter, a new teenager

Today you turn 13, though you have been a teenager in spirit for a while now. Tall, smart, increasingly savvy, curious, reflective, sensing your awareness of the world and of yourself is changing and growing. Unsure what form your mind will eventually take, which can be frustrating, as many changes in your mind and feelings are not in ways you can choose.

Sometimes your parents and brother are on the ball, other times none of us seem to get you.

I like seeing the glimpses of the different personas you try on like hats to see what suits you, or makes you laugh, or might make your friends laugh. I know as you grow more independent, and the natural shift happens where your friends' thoughts matter more than your parents' thoughts, that you will be less and less my toddling daughter of many years ago. You don't need me to refill a sippy cup or fetch a snack. You are less dependent on me the more time goes on.

But that's why, my increasingly grown-up daughter, when you choose to hangout with me, with so many other choices before you, it matters all the more. And you're good company. I delight in seeing and hearing you joke, experimenting. Some jokes are misses, but when they hit the target they THUNK like an arrow hitting a bullseye. High-fives all around, fully amused as all of us in the room laugh.

You are clever. I delight in seeing you find new outlets of expression, and build on the ones you have had for years. I delight in thinking of the baby you were, the child you were not too long ago, and marveling at the impressive human being you are now. Happy birthday, my darling daughter.

Love always, Papa.

Daughter taking a photo of "Untitled (To Donna) II" by Dan Flavin.

Christmas Krampus, friend/menace to children/parents

ATTENTION PARENTS: On Christmas Eve, the Krampus, evil companion of Santa, continues his rounds to stuff naughty children into his bag and take them down to Hell. Many of you saying goodnight to your kids may want to say goodbye instead. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krampus

I know MY kids aren't going to Hell. I presume yours are not, either. Please don't ask me how to contact the Krampus to make requests. I don't want to know about it.

I keep hearing "black widdle baby" instead of "black widow, baby".

"Black Widow" seems about 14 minutes long. But only recently did I discover it goes "I'm a black widow, baby." not "I'm a black widdle baby."

It had mystified me slightly why such a slinky, repetitive song was sung from the first person perspective of a little baby, let alone a specific skin color. Most pop songs are about grown-ups, common themes: "You do/did this to me", "I feel this way", "Let's do this thing", on an on. It's about time that another song emerged from a baby's perspective. An odd choice, lazily delivered, but okay. Whatever.

For that matter, why would a baby singing on behalf of herself (assuming this from the female voice), clearly capable of speech, use the phrase "widdle" for "little"? Was it parroting the baby talk the adults engage in around the baby? Maybe (realize I had only spent a dozen or so seconds contemplating the song before changing the station), this baby was mocking the adults around her for being so patronizing?

Finally, I saw a song title on a Top 10 list somewhere, and put together there was a popular song named "Black Widow", and I heard it wrong. After finally listening to it all the way through, to my disappointment it's another boastful song from a grown-up first-person perspective about one's prowess in mating and exacting some degree of emotional satisfaction. *yawn*

The baby hip-hop/dance genre remains woefully unexplored. To my knowledge, the only legitimate entry remains "Dur Dur d'être bébé!" by Jordy, a French novelty song in 1992. Get on this, babies with a story, and stop horsing around!

"My Mother" by Frieda Hughes, a daughter's love & fury

"[My mother] wasted nothing of what she felt" — Frieda Hughes, daughter of poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

I'm reading Ariel: The Restored Edition by Sylvia Plath. Published in 2004, it presents the full set of poems that Sylvia Plath intended for her collection Ariel. Initially, Sylvia Plath's widower, poet Ted Hughes, had removed 12 poems from Ariel when published in 1965, two years after Plath's suicide, mostly because they were directed at particular family members and friends that would have been hurtful. He selected 12 other poems and an introduction by poet Robert Lowell. The Restored Edition removes the 12 Ted Hughes added and restores the 12 Plath left in a black notebook with her manuscript.

This book has a facsimile of her manuscript with several edits by Plath. It's interesting to look at her notations and process.

Ted Hughes & Sylvia Plath

Some people who project themselves into Sylvia Plath's poetry and biography have long viewed Hughes as a misogynistic villain looking to suppress his gifted wife. Frieda Hughes, one of Plath & Hughes' daughters, defends her father throughout the Forward:

In considering Ariel for publication my father had faced a dilemma. He was well aware of the extreme ferocity with which some of my mother's poems dismembered those close to her — her husband, her mother, her father, and my father's uncle Walter, even neighbors and acquaintances. He wished to give the book a broader perspective in order to make it more acceptable to readers, rather than alienate them. He felt that some of the nineteen late poems, written after the manuscript was completed, should be represented. "I simply wanted to make the best book I could," he told me.

All of the poems Ted Hughes removed showed up in Plath's Collected Poems, published in 1981 and edited by Ted Hughes. In that book, Ted Hughes listed the original poems in Ariel that Plath had left in her manuscript.

My father had a profound respect for my mother's work in spite of being one of the subjects of its fury. For him the work was the thing, and he saw the care of it as a means of tribute and a responsibility.

Frieda Hughes then becomes devastating toward family interlopers. It took me a long time to read Sylvia Plath because oa cult of possession and preciousness got in the way of my ability to value the work (and I struggle with poetry anyway — and, okay, this silly-ass reason, too). But this section provided a direct connection where she sums up people who attack her father and reshape her mentally imbalanced and astonishingly talented mother into a golem:

But the point of anguish at which my mother killed herself was taken over by strangers, possessed and reshaped by them. The collection of Ariel poems became symbolic to me of this possession of my mother and of the wider vilification of my father. It was as if the clay from her poetic energy was taken up and versions of my mother made out of it, invented to reflect only the inventors, as if they could possess my real, actual mother

The Forward is fascinating. With thought and care it fans away the fog of melodrama. It tethered me from a person still living to passionate, caring, flawed people. On the role of her father, Frieda Hughes sums up:

When she died leaving Ariel as her last book, she was caught in the act of revenge, in a voice that had been honed and practiced for years, latterly with the help of my father. Though he became a victim of it, ultimately he did not shy away from its mastery.

Frieda Hughes, a painter and a writer with several volumes, maintains that she did not read either parent's poetry until she was 35, save for a few instances where her father read children's verse to her or played recordings. She wanted to establish her own identity away from her parents' work. Intellectually, avoiding your famous parents' poems is possible. When they came up as a subject of study, Frieda says she was able to develop another course of study with her tutors. Bad marks would be devastating, good marks would lead to her being thought as having an advantage. Though, Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence howls at this claim at decades-long avoidance. Frieda Hughes in a speech also describes holding her mother's books in bookstores, presumably without opening them, thinking of what if her mother had lived, and setting the books down and leaving.

Frieda Hughes wrote the furious poem "My Mother" on the verge of the movie Sylvia, a BBC production starring Gwyneth Paltrow released in 2003. Frieda Hughes, her mother's literary executor after the death of her father in 1998, denied the use of her mother's poetry in the film. Biography can add color to art, but there's a balance to be struck between sublime absorption and ghoulishness.

MY MOTHER

by Frieda Hughes

They are killing her again.
She said she did it
One year in every ten,
But they do it annually, or weekly,
Some even do it daily,
Carrying her death around in their heads
And practising it. She saves them
The trouble of their own;
They can die through her
Without ever making
The decision. My buried mother
Is up-dug for repeat performances.

Now they want to make a film
For anyone lacking the ability
To imagine the body, head in oven,
Orphaning children. Then
It can be rewound
So they can watch her die
Right from the beginning again.

The peanut eaters, entertained
At my mother’s death, will go home,
Each carrying their memory of her,
Lifeless – a souvenir.
Maybe they’ll buy the video.

Watching someone on TV
Means all they have to do
Is press ‘pause’
If they want to boil a kettle,
While my mother holds her breath on screen
To finish dying after tea.
The filmmakers have collected
The body parts,
They want me to see.
They require dressings to cover the joins
And disguise the prosthetics
In their remake of my mother.
They want to use her poetry
As stitching and sutures
To give it credibility.
They think I should love it –
Having her back again, they think
I should give them my mother’s words
To fill the mouth of their monster,
Their Sylvia Suicide Doll,
Who will walk and talk
And die at will,
And die, and die
And forever be dying.

Published in The Stonepicker and The Book of Mirrors

What is Easter? Traditions of fertility/death replaced by NOM NOM

Coopted image does not link to any discountsBewildered by a chain of tradition from a pagan rite of spring...

to celebrating god killing OTHER people's firstborn...

to THAT god's firstborn rising after being dead for three days...

to a rabbit that hides eggs and candy all over the place...

but I'm down with that last phase when it involves spending time with family, and collateral candy.

Mr. Rogers: "Your thoughts and your feelings are your own."

Read an excellent post at The A.V. Club about Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood to start the day. Fred Rogers is a wise, serene presence. A role model in many ways. I don't know if it's a state possible (or worth) maintaining at all times. As humans we are wired for conflict and strife with our large adrenal glands. But Rogers' demeanor is worth recalling when needing a model for calm.

The Lady Elaine puppet scared me as a kid. There. Got it out. Shaking it off my arms now. Better.

The A.V. Club article linked to a segment where Rogers chatted with Jeff, a child in a wheelchair who explains his medical condition, challenges, that he gets frustrated like other kids, and they sing together.

When Rogers was inducted to the T.V. Hall of Fame, a grown-up Jeff was there to present the award. Rogers is surprised and genuinely moved. Then he commands the room of hardened showbiz professionals, telling them to do better (the Presbyterian minister in him comes out). It's quite a spectacle.

I believe human beings need coarse spectacles and entertainments and catharsis of a nature Rogers may not like. But his points are food for thought.

Switching from outdoor loafers to indoor sneakers, then back again when heading out, is still a trip.

Movie/social critic "poisoning nation's soul"

Caught a link to this pernicious, hand-wringing article by Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Violent media poisoning nation's soul"

Photo linked to the awful article, read at your moral peril!It's ignorant, muddled, terrible, and awful.

I understand some people feel there is a correlation between violent media and violent actions, and believe in the free choice people have to not see violent entertainment. Hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. take in these entertainments and do not behave violently.

Watching violence is cathartic, whether in theater, song, movies, video games. They are scapegoats for our fantasies, and for opportunistic politicians not wanting to look at true root causes. We're not far from the days of blaming Catcher in the Rye or Ozzy Osbourne or Marilyn Manson for the acts of people who have severe mental breakdowns or illnesses. In our Western history we had public executions, hangings, and gladiatorial combat as everyday occurrences. Shall we talk about human-written magic books promising eternal bliss to suicide bombers? No? Video games are easier political points? Uhm, yeah, okay.

The author compares marketers targeting the young male demographic to what the Taliban does. He pretends to be pro-free expression, but this section speculating on how a movie reviewer may soft-pedal a scene with a movie theater massacre smacks of Carry Nation hysterics:

And so the critic would end up writing something like this: "The movie contains a disturbing yet highly effective scene of violence transpiring at a movie theater." Forget any mention of the insidiousness of inserting such poison into the national mind, of the morality or decency of feeding audiences crack.

Barf. Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds had a movie theater massacre as its climax. It was a fantasy piece about mowing down Nazis and the power of cinema. Jewish soldiers got to kill Hitler and other Nazi leaders years ahead of time. A hail of gunfire and a blazing inferno and it felt shocking and great. To my knowledge, no one tried to replicate that in real life. It was not treated as poison in the national mind. Art should not be required to have a moral or social obligation. When it does, people become tightly wound and societies get even more twisted and weird. Catharsis is necessary, imagination is necessary, otherwise we get sick inside.

I recently rewatched the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine, which tries to get at why the U.S. seems to have so many more violent gun deaths compared to other nations. The film doesn't get into per capita statistics, but other things I've read still show the U.S. as significantly higher per capita, even though gun ownership rates are comparable in Canada. The movie throws a bunch of ideas into the air for consideration, fair enough as there aren't any tidy solutions, but compellingly speculates that heightened social anxiety drummed up by the news media may be a factor. Overrepresentation in the news of crimes by minorities, especially compared to white collar/corporate crimes and environmental crimes, makes us fear incipient personal criminal attack from the mysterious Other.

My feeling (the truth may be different) is that there's something to the movie's point about the news media. I make a distinction between social violence in the news portrayed as "real life" resonating differently with people and how those same people engage with art/entertainment, something they know is fake and not an imminent threat.

Growing up I remember adult media debate over whether television should air violent cartoons like Bugs Bunny and Road Runner on Saturday mornings. I don't recall anyone I knew ever dropping anvils in real life, or playing with dynamite, or running off a cliff to see whether flapping their arms could hold them up in the air. However the news media has recently flapped its arms over the "fiscal cliff crisis" as a real thing we all need to be concerned about and panic over. And we did.

Snapshots of "Paparazzi"

Driving with the kids for about two hours today, we listened to Lady Gaga and Adele. Putting them on means the kids keep the headphones off. We shifted to 'West Side Story' in the last 20 minutes.

"Paparazzi" came on, and I visualized (while still driving safely) the three moments in the video I like the most.

1.) Malady-afflicted celebrity bravely and stylishly taking to the red (okay, lavender) carpet on crutches (2:54 mark):

2.) The Mickey Mouse ensemble with plastic/wax lips she has when poisoning her attempted murderer (5:45 mark):

3.) Dishevelled sass when getting her mugshots at the police station (7:16 mark):

The full video for your convenience (all about saving you the keystrokes in a search engine):

Stop recruiting my children to your succulent chicken-eating lifestyle.

If you CHOOSE to eat chicken, do it in private. But stop putting your chicken-eating in my face all the time. And don't, in any way, try to lure MY CHILDREN into your lifestyle.

Anytime there's a restaurant scene on t.v. or in the movies, I have to shield my children's eyes. Didn't have to worry about that only a few years ago. Now HOLLYWOOD makes it seem like choosing to eat chicken is an entirely natural thing that doesn't bring the wrath of vengeance upon us all. It totally does! Did Hurricane Katrina happen in a non-chicken-eating country? Case closed.

Nothing angers me more than when a leader I voted for or gave money to for his moral stance on not letting chicken-eaters marry or teach ends up getting caught eating turducken. Happens too often to count.

Our nation's morals and marriages are in the toilet. Stop eating chicken. Stop trying to get my kids to eat chicken. Back off. Eat more cows. They have got it coming. Book of Angus 4:21 "Consume not the flesh of fowl, for it is effeminancy and an abomination."

And enough with the chicken pride parades. Do that stuff at home (at the peril of your immortal soul) but get your plumage and clucking off MY streets that MY tax dollars pay for.