Monday, December 22, 2008
"I am in the home stretch here on the Queen Victoria, and with the end in sight the days are starting to drag even harder. I've already created countdowns on the calendar on my phone and the paper one in my room, and it helps to be able to see when I've passed certain markers— yesterday was the 20 days to go point.
"The past few days we have been in the Carribbean. It's been warm and relaxing, but after tomorrow we'll be gone again, back to England and more importantly, the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic crossing was surprisingly smooth, nothing compared to the Bay of Biscay—unfortunately, we will be passing through there at least one more time. We spent two days at the beginning of this cruise in the worst seas we've had in my time here, and after that nothing really affects me anymore. As I've mentioned before, I don't tend to get severely seasick, but two days of constant violent motion will get to anyone.
"I've gotten pretty good at this gig. My reading is pretty darn good now, and once I get back home and get my jazz chops back up I might be a pretty good piano player. The musical director here has come to regard me as capable and trustworthy . This is both flattering and annoying, since it means that any extra piano duties on the ship tend to fall on me. It's been interesting seeing the politics of music unfold here—for instance, the pianist in the dance band here is incredibly good. He's an amazing soloist with great ideas and chops to spare and most people say that even though he's a better piano player than me (which I agree with); but I'd have a better chance of getting a gig over him simply because I'm easier to be around. So my plan now is to continue trying to be nice and practice, practice, practice.
"I know everyone is very proud and excited, but this gig really does suck. I'm reluctant to say this, especially to Bahk (who is clearly the most jazzed about the whole thing), but after close to five months of trying my best to be positive about the whole experience I've got to say I don't like it very much. I may continue to work on ships, but I'll be looking strictly for fill-in gigs, one month long at the longest. This is a good way to make money, but it's terrible for making connections and developing creatively. I've come to realize this is the easy gig—good money, less challenging music, and everything is taken care of for you. If I prove to be an utter failure on land after a couple of decades, then maybe I'll be back, but I think I will try to avoid the sea in the future.
Have a great Christmas and New Year's, and say hello to everyone for me. I have gifts for everyone when I get back, so we'll have to schedule a nice dinner so I can pass them all out (Nora will have to wait for hers, I think). I miss the feeling and smell of Christmas in Chicago— 80 degrees and palm trees just does not feel right. I get to New York in 19 days, and I have changed my flights so I will return to Chicago on the 15th."
The skater promises a letter as well. Hers forthcoming.
Monday, December 15, 2008
It's the perfect phrase to describe one's empty nest. Even now, nearly five years after the first one left, nearly two with both of them gone, I find my radar sending out signals-- where are they? Are they safe?
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Perhaps it is easier for a writer. But for a painter the choice is clear—you cannot pick up a baby when your hands are covered in cadmium yellow. It is poison. You can switch to pastels, but then the baby is always Technicolor and anyway, who knows what’s in those as well? So you switch to charcoal, but now the baby looks like you let him crawl around on the cellar floor, which in fact you do, and oh my god what is he putting in his mouth.
So you put down the charcoal stick and take him to the park. And then you don’t pick up the stick again for 17 yea… well you never pick it up again.
I did finally get my family to understand that the portion of the cellar where I used to make my art cannot be used as a dumping ground. They cleared it out and now I have a nice unimpeded view of the unfinished portrait of my mother that I started in 1999.
Perhaps I am just weak or a willing patsy of the patriarchy or maybe I wasn’t talented enough or committed enough, but someone has to cook dinner and someone has to take the baby to get her shots and someone has to hold the “real” job that pays for the health insurance. And you get tired of having to spell out what you need when you have spent your whole life anticipating what everybody else needs and they don’t even know it.
So, what? Am I an idiot? Am I weak? A failure? Or am I missing the point? My feminist sisters say, just like the patriarchy does, that after all it’s my fault. I should just have blithely gone on painting like Jo March writing with her gaudy cap. Sign on the door—IF THE CAP IS ON THE FLOOR I AM IN ARTISTIC AGONY AND NOT TO BE DISTURBED. GET YOUR OWN DAMN DINNER. Right.
Personally I am exhausted just trying to maintain floor space in my unused studio, let alone actually paint.
The problem is not that the children are all the creativity I need to fulfill my artistic impulse, but that they are such a drain on creative energy that I have none left to give a sheet of blank paper.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
I'm kidding myself, though. Mostly, it's that Nga Jee is here. I've written about this phenomenon before. When the kids are around I don't write. When they were small, the art-making slowly petered off. Even when they are living in my world as lightly as Nga Jee is this round, my creative impulse directs itself to them and away from the interior workings of my own brain and artistic needs.
The children (hardly that anymore!) are the canvas, even if at this point it's just a matter of cleaning the paint off the brushes prior to putting them away.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
A mixed race black woman had an unusually-spelled African given name and a prosaic family name. Why? The immigration clerk didn't like the ethnic name. This woman's daughter wanted the ethnic name back. Mom's reaction? Fine, honey, but I'm not paying the legal fees. Her feeling-- I am not my name.
The hispanic bank manager to my left corrected our anglicized pronunciation of his name. He, in contrast, WAS his name, and wanted it recognized.
My children have names that reflect the mixed bag of their backgrounds-- Greek (Aspasia) and Swedish (Nelson) and Chinese (Chin, Seng-lim and Nga-jee) and Anglo (Julian and Nora). Perhaps we are not our names, but our names are our history. Everyone at the table had a story that used their names to illustrate something about themselves.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
My arms ache, my fingernails will never be clean again, but I’m smug and happy with the beauty I have coaxed, with all due respect to Mother Nature, out of this small plot of land. With my garden going on 20, I am continually amazed at both the new panaromas and new details that I find every day.
I’ve always thought of the garden as my canvas. Since I stopped making art for a living more than a decade ago, I have used the garden as a living work of art that is never done. Now for the first time I have both the perspective and the schedule to really treat it that way on an ongoing basis and I find myself going through very similar thoughts and actions in caring for and creating it.
Art happens in the garden much the way it happens in the studio. You have a plan and you execute it, but the result is never quite what you expect.
Kind of like rearing children.
Last time she was home for an extended period, she drove us crazy-- messy, disengaged, expecting to be catered to (at least emotionally), and frankly kind of mean to her mother (that would be me). It's too long to be considered a houseguest, and too short to really integrate her back into systems. She can be somewhat oblivious to her effect on those around her, but is generally charming and great to be around. I just don't want to have to either pick up her shit, or remind her to do so.
So I asked an on-line forum what to do, and the consensus was lay down the rules then chill out and get out of her way.
The best of the comments:
"She's an adult, who's been living "on her own" for about a year now. Expect a lot of frustration if you try to fit her back into the teen-child mold. Let her know you know she's an adult, but also let her know that as family, not a house-guest, she is expected to be responsible. Set guidelines and boundaries up front, in clear terms, without judgments expressed or implied. In terms of expectations in regards to messiness, I'd say let her deal with her own space, but set reasonable requirements for shared spaces, like the kitchen. Try to present your requirements as you would to a potential tenant, not as to a disobedient child."
Life can be so simple sometimes.
Monday, September 15, 2008
The internet gives you the ability, if not outright permission, to snoop. It lets you know what an ignoble person you are, because the ability to do this is irresistible. I never had trouble not snooping in my children's rooms or among their belongings. I've cleaned their rooms without ever feeling a need to find things or pass judgment on items that pass through my hands. I have never read their diaries.
Yet the internet offers a way to look without looking. Pop over to Facebook and see who's talking to them. Drop in at MySpace and check out the page hits. Since I feel sneaky and uncomfortable when I do this, clearly I'm in a morally unpleasant area, and should stop. And yet, who will know?
These last believe mostly in the new. "We left the old country and its myths behind". My mother, my grandmother, and my mother-in-law subscribed to the leave-it-be school of immigrant story-telling. We have no old-country stories from these women. All of the stories of the Samioses (Samii?) and the Chins are new land tales, about what happened here in the country that they chose, rather than there in the country that they left. The only thing that really came with them was the food, so Bill and I know nothing about our immigrant heritage except how to eat.
When you don't tell stories, it's hard to get the details to agree. Everyone involved in the original incident must agree-- I said this and you said that, then these things happened in this sequence. The collective must create the stories. The grise tells the mother tells the child, who carries that story at many removes into the future: "This is who we are, because this is who we were."
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
When we were young, we found these communities live, by creating cooperative efforts. Galleries, critique groups, activist efforts, community gardens, neighborhood associations, play groups. I wonder, given the ease of finding communities on line, and the safe barrier of anonymity, if people still do this to the same extent.
I find on line communities nearly addictive-- I know if I post a comment or make a journal entry or put up a picture here and here, someone who shares my interest in or love for this thing will see it, and maybe even tell me why they liked it. I don't need to hear from them directly; I can tell from the page views if people have looked at. An irresistible combination: love and statistics.
I think this is what motivates the near-frenzy of young people to get away from their parents. A parent's approval is suspect, and tainted. The approval and support does not spring from shared passion or understanding, but from the uncritical stance of love. It cannot help but feel belittling and condescending. Your parents' pride excludes them from your community.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
The concept of the matriarch, the crone, the wise old woman is very appealing. I am too young for this role, of course, and don't have enough of a satellite system, so to speak-- no young 'uns, and not much of an extended family. (Which brings up the other question of how large your tribe needs to be before it requires a matriarch.) I'm not sure people would really view me this way either. I suspect I am headed more towards Crazy Old Lady than Wise Old Lady.
The matriarch is the unanswerable Mother, the person with the final say. This is the appeal-- that someone can say- stop. Someone can say- do. That someone actually has the final answer and the right to an expectation of obedience, or at least compliance. It is this expectation that confers the power of the Matriarch, and by extension the wisdom. This is a feedback loop that reinforces the power-- if I give you power over me, I need to justify that with a belief in your wisdom, which gives you power over me.
Monday, August 4, 2008
I don't know the anniversary of their divorce. 1976? So my father has been not-married to my mother longer than he was married to her. What does that mean, when one life passage exceeds another, related one. I have been without my mother longer than I was with her. I have lived with Bill longer than I lived without him. I have known Bill longer than I knew my mother.
I don't know Robert and Marilyn's anniversary, but I know that they have been married 17 years. If my father lives to age 91, he has the potential for being married to Marilyn longer than to my mother; this bothers me. I want my mother to be the most important relationship in his life. Of course, I'm not really sure if that was true, even when it was on-going. So I suppose what I want is an understanding that our family was the most important relationship in his life.
It comes down to this: you should not know anyone longer than you know your mother. The family you create, with your spouse and your mutual children, should be the central one in your life. You cannot replace these relationships with new ones, because shreds of the old one linger.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
I grew my garden in lockstep with my family. We moved in to a vast expanse of grass in 1986 (actually a vast expanse of snow, since it was December). For a while the garden grew with the family—add a child, add a flower bed. Five pregnancies later I had a full garden (although only two children—the goddess was kinder to the yard than to the pregnancies).
As the children grew in complexity so did the garden, adding vegetables, trees, more flowers, patios and a pond. The children are grown and gone and the garden is grown yet comes back every year, a lovely metaphor on the nature of parenting adults.
Friday, July 25, 2008
What is the cause and effect, and how do you trace it. What is the provenance of Nga's heedlessness, or Seng Lim's lack of drive. Was Bill underambitious or just realistic? Did I sacrifice for my family or use them as a convenient excuse for my failure? Were we born like this, or are we victims of our parents' failings?
Sunday, July 20, 2008
If one partner is disabled or unavailable in some way, the other ought to be able to step in without request or instruction. Your cannot require of one partner the burden of knowledge while not accepting your equal responsibility to maintain that knowledge. Correspondingly, each partner must allow the other to create functionality in their own way. This means not only letting your partner achieve an outcome on their own, but also that you cannot insist that someone tell you how to do something.
The need for your partner to "be there for you" is primal, and I think for parents born of the knowledge that you will die and leave your children. Even as the parent of an adult I fear the idea of my children's lives without me. It is very hard to live without your parents, although it is everyone's fate. If my partner is not there for me, will he be there for my children? If my children and my partner don't understand how I do things, how will they learn to do things for themselves?
Sunday, July 13, 2008
My mother wanted us to learn self-reliance. She told me once how proud she was at the lack of connection between us-my father, my brother, her and me. She felt she had achieved her purpose in making us "just four people who happen to share a house."
But I did not learn self-reliance from this. I learned to hold with all my might to my family, whether they wanted to be held or not. I learned that I wanted to teach my children that loyalty to the family comes first, and that family is the most important thing in their lives.
But I don't think my children learned this. I think they learned that family is a stranglehold to be resisted. My son fears commitment will tie him to a life he doesn't want. He doesn't seem to feel, as I do, that commitment and lifestyle do not proceed in lockstep, but that one can inform and support the other. My daughter uses commitment as a bludgeon, a weapon, to get her way. "Thwart me and I will withhold myself."
Of course, these outcomes are my worst nightmare-- one child running as fast as he can from family commitment, and another threatening the same thing in order to make my own commitment stronger. Which is, of course, a pattern in my life, of loved ones and friends using my loyalty against me, and punishing me with their absence, physical or emotional, when I demand a return in love and loyalty.
Will my children punish me with distance, or reward with me with proximity? What price will I have to pay?
Monday, July 7, 2008
Being unable to move about freely; having easy daily tasks restricted day after day leads to a degree of boredom that is very nearly religious in its intensity. I have reached such a state of boredom that is not really relieved by doing something, because I know that once I finish whatever it is I will be plunged directly back into my original condition of Nothing. To. Do.
I never realized the extent to which hopping up to wash the dishes or pull weeds or dust or all the other small tasks of the day kept me going. I find that my creative abilities have diminished to the point where I cannot even initiate projects that I know I should, because I know that the small things I need to do (run up to Noyes, talk to Bridget, check a file, take a meeting) are inaccessible or undoable. The degree to which my job does not challenge me becomes apparent, because I find that I cannot initiate projects because of the degree of oversight and supervision that Bridget requires, not to mention that she hates doing anything different. It is pointless to spend time on new projects, since they won't go anywhere. Can't arrange new Retail Partners, because I can't get to a meeting. Can't write 2009 proposal template, because I don't know the season. Can't get to the mall or the library for books. By the time they get here from Amazon I'll be out of the cast, so it's pointless to spend the money. Daytime tv is a nightmare and watching tv does not solve my need to move around. Can't really "take time off" because the entire problem is that there is nothing to do.
I will be a screaming wreck after another week of this.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Well, here we are 2 1/2 months since the last entry. So the conclusion is, blogging is hard. Like any endeavor you have to commit to it. Interesting, what happened was, that life got in the way, inasmuch as "life" can be synonymous with "children." Nga Jee came home, Julian graduated from college, Nga Jee left, Julian left.
And this defines the rhythm of parenthood. When the kids are here it really is all about them. They syphon off emotional energy and actual time, sometimes without meaning to and sometimes through the sheer obliviousness of the pampered middle class child, for whom life has always centered on their needs. It is a difficult conceit to resist.
Now they are gone, and low and behold, I sit down and write.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Now Seng Lim, at the threshold of independence, is more unsure and less independent than he has ever been, while you have embraced the unknown with a joy and maturity that make me very proud. I have often felt that I coddled and protected you, while letting Seng Lim stretch his wings. But it is Seng Lim who has tried to stay safe, and you who have jumped off the cliff, trusting the wind drafts to keep you aloft.
Keep flying. If the wind fails, I am here to catch you.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
I found it yesterday. It has probably been there for 12 or 15 years. They leave, but their ghosts linger.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
The trick to dual locality is to learn what the offspring are doing without seeming to imply that you either have a right to know or that you're trying to control the activity. Cautious questioning, occasional visits, and expert between-the-lines reading are required, coupled with a healthy ability to visualize. It's hard to visualize Julian, because mostly what I seem to conjure is him unconscious well past noon. Perhaps because he is in a "safe" environment--small college town--and what he is doing is "normal" I haven't felt the need to lock onto him. I don't need to visualize what I already understand.
Nga Jee on the other hand is tricky-- I mostly visualize her sailing off some western cliff in a hideous bus crash; not conducive to trust in your grown child, or for that matter to a good night's sleep. Four days tracking her on a daily basis in situ as it were has helped hugely. I understand what she's doing and who she's doing it with. I am awed by her ability to function in this demanding world. I think that for Julian, college has delayed this for me. Next year I will need to learn to visualize him from scant clues, as he starts in on a life on his own, in a way that college doesn't offer.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
So in a blog about myself, written for my children, how much do I just let it hang out, and how much do I simply report? Is it boring to read what I've been doing all week, or is interesting? If not interesting, is it at least comforting-- to know from afar what your mother is doing? How much is a child aware of what their parent is doing even when they are living together. I think maybe this works only in one direction. As a parent of an infant, you are intensely aware of every second of that child's day, and it is the most difficult thing to give up when the children are adults-- this intimate knowledge of everything the child is doing. It's not about controlling the activity, or directing it, or even about approving or disapproving. It's about knowing what the child is doing. It's comforting to me to be able to visualize exactly where my kids are. I don't think they believe it, but it really isn't about what they are doing, it's simply for me to know what they are doing.
So here's what I've been doing: On Monday, Schuyler missed her lesson, so I skated and worked out. I made some housekeeping phone calls for the bank and hospital bills, and then finished the Light Opera Works 2007 sampler DVD. Took it in to LOW and then went to Winnetka to teach. Christian helped me out with my PSA test. Home for dinner. The subsequent day follow much the same pattern-- teach, skate, Light Opera Works either there or at home, teach, home (truth be told, home and hang out on MetaFilter). Thursday I had an infamous meeting with Bridget, with my ongoing attempt to get her to let me have some input, and her refusal and insistence that she is the top dog and I should get used to it. (Like I give a shit about being top dog.) Deposited 2007 IRA on Friday, went to the Mayor's annual luncheon, taught.
Saturday I went with Bill to his Children's Choir benefit. I schmoozed more this week than I want to in a year. Yuck. I really hate strangers. And now I'm telling you.
Do you care?
Sunday, February 17, 2008
I like to lie in bed in the early morning and listen to NPR. Sometimes I drift back to sleep and my dreams wrap themselves around whatever story my conscious mind is listening to. When I hear the story later on the rebroadcast I'll understand why I dreamed that.
Yesterday I woke up very early (5:40) so I could go observe the synchro rehearsal. I watch Christine and the older girls because I just can't race around after Kristen and the younger ones, too stressful (plus she spends all her time yelling, which I really dislike). What is it about synchro that attracts the nice girls? The mean girls never do synchro-- maybe they're too egotistical to submit to the group's needs.
After Synchro I went up to Light Opera Works and picked up my check, then went to the bank, then home. Back to the rink to teach Adorina at 12:30, and spent some time talking to Chris H. At home I finished our 2007 taxes, opened some especially obnoxious mail (a late notice for a bill that I know I paid, incomprehensible hospital bills, and an insurance statement averring that 2 cents of my claim was disallowed. They spent 41c to let me know that.) Spent the rest of the day on Metafilter, watched Star Trek, made dinner and watched a movie on tv with Bill.
Today I don't need to go anywhere, which is really good because it's 40 degrees outside and pouring rain. The worst kind of winter day. I listened to npr and read metafilter, and now I'm writing this. I need to do my laundry and I think I'll make cheese crackers and read some more of the Laurie King novel I bought. I have to make the final selections for Light Opera Works' 2007 sample DVD and organize my desk for tomorrow. Probably I should get all the LOW "little shit" out of the way. It's so strange having these long days with no outside jobs, gosh I guess they call them "weekends." Just like normal people.
I lead such an interesting life.
So should this "diary" be about the mundane details of my day? How much were the kids aware of that even while they were here? Should I philosophize? Should I bare my soul or reveal my inner dialog? I don't even like my inner dialog; if I revealed it to other people they'd put me on strong medication.