Friday, February 12, 2016

Raggedy Ann

The last time I was single, I was 19 years old.

I look at that number and can't make it real. I don't know how to wrap my head around the different person I was. At 19 I lived in 4 rooms and slept on a mattress on the floor. Everything I owned was a hand-me-down. The only things that I own now that I also owned then are Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy.

When a marriage lasts as long as mine did–and I'm going to count the 9 years we were together before we got married–one really does cleave unto the other. You become one flesh, from sheer attrition. A long marriage is a unit, Plato's half-spirits joined.

It isn't that from the start. At the start it's just an experiment: sex and a fight over whether it matters that you never screw the toothpaste cap back on, or make the bed. At ten years it's a really long date. At 20 it's comfort. At 40 years you don't exist without the other. I don't mean that in a bad way, or that one personality is subsumed into the other. It's that the shared experience is of such long duration that it becomes a single memory. I'm more a widow than a divorcée-- half my memory is gone.

Raggedy Ann has been sitting on my shelf for almost 60 years, but Raggedy Andy had gone missing. While I was spring cleaning the house this year I found him. They sit on my shelf, together again like they were when I was 19.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Thanksgiving Post

This year, the kids did Thanksgiving.

My guess is that it will be one of those markers for them-- the year they did a grown-up thing, making Thanksgiving dinner for the family. For me, that was making a dentist appointment without prompting. Which is pretty funny, since I was dumped head first into "grown up" at 22 when my mother died. Somehow getting an apartment, cooking Thanksgiving, moving to the big city, didn't register as grown up. But making a dentist appointment was a grown-up thing to do.

The kids potlucked it, like normal people. My sister-in-law, many years ago and against SOP, decreed that the host family had to cook the whole meal. This was not something we had ever done, but suddenly it was the correct "etiquette". She does this sometimes-- decides we're the royal family and have to follow entirely invented rules of proper behavior.

But the kids broke past this, because they don't have the equipment or cooking skill to make an entire meal; in fact, when they expressed amazement at the amount of work it was just to make a turkey, stuffing, and potatoes, I pointed out that I used to make the entire meal by myself. They were suitably contrite.

They did a great job--turkey was moist and delicious, side dishes were appropriate and traditional (brought by me), dessert was amazing (brought by SIL). Nga's new boyfriend fit in nicely. Seng's girlfriend was at her parents, but there were hints of them hosting next year.

Wei did not come. He wanted to bring Sparky. Kids said no, so he took his ball and went home.

Which is what it felt like. Selfish, narcissistic, dense.

Here's what I thought at the time: Sparky was about to be alone on Thanksgiving for the first time, and he didn't feel right about having dinner with the family that won't accept her. The problem is we are really nice people; we might have relented if we'd known the story. I wonder what the pressure on me would have been, if he'd just told them, or me, this-- she's going to be alone, please don't make me choose.

Here's what I think now, after a long conversation with him the day before the divorce decree went through: he thinks it's unfair that he has to always be "tripping over his ex" (direct quote) at family events. He thinks I'm not a family member anymore.

It wasn't about him choosing at all. It was about me just getting out of his way. It was about the family letting him have his way.

Based on our history, I'm afraid that in the end, he will.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Things I learned from Jack

How to walk on stilts (well, to be honest, he tried to get me on the stilts, but I never got up the courage)

If you want it, build it. (Code? What code?)

Being an artist is not about how many museums you are in, or how fashionable you are, or what the reviews say. Being an artist is about getting up every day and making art.

Workshop food won't kill you.

Never throw anything away.  (That one might have come from Lynn)

Jill went to Harvard.

Where to send my kids to grade school.

War stories.

Some people are just born with a beautiful soul.

To do with your life what you want to do.

To pass the gift along.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The neat nest

I'm neat.

As in, I put things away.

It wasn't always so. In grade school they used to call me Templeton, after the pack rat in Charlotte's Web. My mother was the inventor of the rule "there must be a clear path to the door in case of fire" which I passed on to my children. When I would drop stuff willy-nilly wherever I happened to be standing, I'd tell her I was leaving little reminders of myself. To which she replied, "you're just afraid we'll forget you if you don't leave your crap all over."

Ah, the wisdom of mothers.

Mom was not too far off-- now that I have no one I need to remind of my existence I find things go where they belong as soon as I'm done with them. It's effortless, really. Cleaning becomes actually cleaning, not just putting stuff away.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

17 + 40

I remember high school in two groups-- the wild ones and the responsible ones. Freaks and jocks.

There isn't much wildness left after 40 years, but there is satisfaction and wisdom and a kind of underlying joy at lives, if not absent disappointment or brimming with success, at least appreciated and understood. Which I suppose is what we mean by "wisdom."

I suspect that some of the wilder ones just don't do things like high school reunions, but they're missing something precious. They are missing learning, finally, that the things that bind us are more important than the things that separate us. They don't get to see, in stutters spaced 5 years apart, the girl shining out through the woman, or the gentleness in the boy's eyes that you mistook for indifference or weakness, before you learned to be wise.

Monday, October 7, 2013


Tears are like breadcrumbs
Impossible to follow
when you want to go home

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Someone else's war

The war against Iraq was launched on the eve of my son Seng Lim's 17th birthday.

He has grown to manhood while men his age trained and fought and died for an evil and illegal policy whose aim was the personal enrichment of a politically connected elite.

He never had to think about it.

Seng graduated high school, and went to college. He actually went overseas for six months.

On a cruise ship, playing piano for British vacationers while his compatriots, all men born within 5 years of him, sweltered and died in the desert heat.

I don't blame him, and I'm speechlessly thankful that I never had to worry about him dying, or losing a limb, or his intellect, or his mind. But it isn't right.

Just like in "my" war, Viet Nam, the children of the elite (that's me, and probably you as well), did not have to worry about dying overseas. And more than my war, where there at least was the fiction of the draft, he and his peers did not even have to think about it. There was literally no chance that any of them would ever pick up a gun, much less a uniform except by personal choice. As far as I know, none of them did.

I believe that this has broken our society. Young men and women should be asked, in fact should be compelled, to serve their country in uniform-- as teachers, in community service, and yes, in military service. I'm willing to bet that, like Viet Nam, if more of the college girls and boys had had to serve, fewer of all of the ones who went-- the ones without the choices or the cultural excuse to stay home-- would have died.