Monday, December 31, 2012
Top Five Books #2: The Family Fang: A Novel
So, I'm an unabashed book snob and refuse to read crap. When I have read crap -- Danielle Steele, let's say, or Dan Brown, or those hideous best-selling pseudo-porn novels whose titles I refuse to type, the one where the young woman had only to bite her lip to drive the man into a frenzy and whose writer had her character bite her lip at least five thousand times in the first book alone -- I'm brought down. I'm brought down -- not to some lower intellectual level -- but down to the depths, the depths of depression and despair. Yes, this is hyperbole, this equating of bad writing to fear and trembling, but it's how I feel, damn it, so there you go. I know crap is subjective, and there was a period of time in my early teens when I belonged to the Harlequin Romance Club and relished every single bodice-ripper that came in the mail each month, but I'm well-read enough and snobby enough to know what's crap and what isn't. This might suggest that reading for me isn't just about entertainment, but that it's mood-altering, and if I can continue with the hyperbole, near life-sustaining.
Reading is the only constant in my life.
So, The Family Fang: A Novel by Kevin Wilson isn't The Brothers Karamazov or As I Lay Dying or To the Lighthouse or Middlemarch, some of my favorite novels. However, The Family Fang isn't crap either, is very clever, very weird and very entertaining. It is well-written and reminded me, a bit, of a Wes Anderson movie. I've noticed that people either love Wes Anderson movies or hate them. I love them, and I loved this book. It was what I read on my phone as I waited in the carpool line at my sons' schools, and it made me laugh out loud in the Los Angeles sunshine.
Atop a Ferris wheel, Orson Welles told Joseph Cotten how Italy's thirty years of war and terror and bloodshed had produced the Renaissance and Michelangelo, and how Switzerland's five hundred years of democracy and peace had produced, goddamn, only the cuckoo clock.
Kevin Wilson, The Family Fang: A Novel
Sunday, December 30, 2012
Top Five Books #1: The Hare with Amber Eyes
|Author Edmund de Waal with his inherited netsuke|
My uber-bookstore friend, Liz, told me early in the year that I had to read The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss. When I read what the book was about -- tiny Japanese figurines called netsuke, a famous Jewish banking dynasty, Vienna and the Second World War -- I hesitated. Non-fiction and written by a British ceramist, it just didn't interest me, particularly the netsuke. I trust Liz, though, and bought the book anyway, and let me tell you that this was probably the best read of the year for me -- a powerful true story, beautifully written and filled with suspense, art and tragedy.
Stories are a kind of thing, too. Stories and objects share something, a patina. I thought I had this clear, two years ago before I started, but I am no longer sure how this works. Perhaps a patina is a process of rubbing back so that the essential is revealed, the way that a striated stone tumbled in a river feels irreducible, the way that this netsuke of a fox has become little more than a memory of a nose and a tail. But it also seems additive, in the way that a piece of oak furniture gains over years and years of polishing, and the way the leaves of my medlar shine.
Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss
Saturday, December 29, 2012
|Ansel Adams, Yosemite Park, 1942|
We're off to the most beautiful and holy place in the country. We've been many times to Yosemite in the summer but never in the winter and look forward to a cozy week with friends. It's the first time The Husband and I, as well as all three kids, have gone on a vacation together in years! Sophie is coming along, and our only worry is how the altitude will affect her. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for only sleepiness!
In lieu of daily blog updates, I'll be posting mini reviews of my top five book picks of 2012, in no particular order. The books I read this year are posted on the sidebar to the right and below and don't include the magnificent essays and writing I've read on your blogs as well as the poetry that I grab when I run to the hills. And if I know you -- from blog-land or otherwise, and I read your book this year, I'm not going to include it in my top five or review it!
See you in 2013, and Happy New Year to each of your beloved selves!
The books I read in 2013
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
- How to Think More About Sex by Alain De Botton
- The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
- One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
- The Island of Second Sight by Albert Vigoleis Thelen
- Where'd You Go, Bernadette: A Novel by Maria Semple
- Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector
- The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
- Too Good To Be True by Benjamin Anastas
- Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
- The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen
- The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evision
- In One Person by John Irving
- The Book of Mormon Girl by Joanna Brooks
- How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti
- The Receptionist by Janet Groth
- Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
- There's a Road to Everywhere Except Where You Came From by Bryan Charles
- Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar by Michelle O'Neill
- By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir of Disaster and Love by Joe Blair
- Canada by Richard Ford
- The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn
- Modigliani: Man and Myth by Jeanne Modigliani
- Use Your Words by Kate Hopper
- Vanessa and Virginia by Susan Sellers
- The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliot
- Distant Waves by Suzanne Weyn
- Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? by Jeannette Winterson
- Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielson
- Because of Katie by Karen Gerstenberger
- The Guardians by Sarah Manguso
- Restoration by Olaf Olafsson
- The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
- Life Sentences by William H. Gass
- Three Stages of Amazement by Carol Edgarian
- The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal
- Love and Shame and Love by Peter Orner
Friday, December 28, 2012
God-talk and other matters
I've written over and over here about my religious or spiritual beliefs, how I've largely discarded the Catholic faith of my childhood and delved more seriously and intently into Buddhism and the more mystical sides of Christianity. If you were to ask me what I believe and whether I believe in God, I might say very inadequately that I perceive God to be Love and that this Love infuses everything and everyone in the universe, that there is no end to this Love and that life is eternal, that we are all connected to one another and to all things animate and inanimate.
World without end, amen.
I have also mentioned here that god-talk makes me squirmy and that evangelism and fundamentalism -- any kind -- makes me nearly nauseous, and that when I begin to read it, I stop. When I hear it, I can quite effectively put on a bland face, shut down my mind and go elsewhere -- the poetry of Emily Dickinson, perhaps, or the lyrics of a Bob Dylan song. I recently became uncomfortable when I read a blog of someone who lives in Newtown who called for more God in schools, so uncomfortable that I removed the blog from my blogroll and decided that I couldn't read it anymore, couldn't stomach it, really. I don't know what the deep psychological underpinnings of this discomfort might be, but the older I get the more I yearn for light, for the lightness that comes with authenticity, and the older I get the more confident I feel in recognizing this authenticity. Sometimes reading and listening to god-talk is like drowning in a murky river, slick weed tendrils wrapped around you, errant branches scraping your flesh, the light above only occasionally piercing through.
A bit of that light pierced through today when I read a blog post of an 86-year old man, a retired minister and father of another friend of mine. The title of his blog is Singing the Hymns and I am grateful for this authentic blessing and so look forward to reading more of this man's thoughts and words.
Thursday, December 27, 2012
Post Christmas conversations
Our mother hates us.
That's the comment I got when I asked The Brothers to vacuum the living room and sweep the dead leaves from the porch and front walkway.
I thrive on hatred, I told them. Don't let my peacenik ways delude you of my real intentions. You might have to turn over those iPhones, iPod Touches, tightropes, horse heads and skateboards in exchange for a childhood of indentured servitude if you don't get busy right this second.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Just so you don't think we're "ordinary,"
Some of my oldest friends, Mary Beth and John, are Oliver's godparents. They unfortunately moved away from Los Angeles about eleven years ago, and while we've missed them terribly, we've stayed in touch, and they've sent Oliver birthday and Christmas presents each year. This year, they gave him a horse's head and if you can believe it, I had bought Henry one, not knowing their intentions.
Great minds think alike, they say.
Here is Henry the horse using his new iPhone:
And here are my two guys horsing around on the tightrope:
And if you dig the still photos and want to see Henry the Horse playing lacrosse, here's another one:
And, finally, here's Oliver the Horse, just being -- well -- ordinary:
The day after
The Patience of Ordinary Things
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they're supposed to be.
I've been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?
I'm loving this today, too -- John Donne, beautiful music, balance --
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Monday, December 24, 2012
Merry Christmas Eve!
(in a Monday mustache)
The Savior must have been a docile gentleman (1487)
The Savior must have been
A docile Gentleman -
To come so far so cold a Day
For little Fellowmen -
The road to Bethlehem
Since He and I were boys
Was leveled, but for that 'twould be
A rugged Billion Miles -
Sunday, December 23, 2012
My father and I have agreed on something political for the first time in a very long time. This is call for celebration. I'll honor the first man I've loved (and continue to love) with this Christmas carol by Mario Lanza. Whenever I hear these songs, I think of my Dad and how much I love him.
Merry Christmas Eve eve!
Merry Christmas Eve eve!
For my conservative friends and family and yada yada for the rest of you
|via Cara Scissoria|
There is just no reason civilians need to own assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Gun enthusiasts can still have their venison chili, shoot for sport and competition, and make a home invader flee for his life without pretending they are a part of the SEAL team that took out Osama bin Laden.It speaks horribly of the public discourse in this country that talking about gun reform in the wake of a mass shooting is regarded as inappropriate or as politicizing the tragedy. But such a conversation is political only to those who are ideologically predisposed to see regulation of any kind as the creep of tyranny. And it is inappropriate only to those delusional enough to believe it would disrespect the victims of gun violence to do anything other than sit around and mourn their passing. Mourning is important, but so is decisive action.Congress must reinstate and toughen the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.from The conservative case for an assault weapons ban, Judge Larry Alan Burns
Who of you -- my conservative lurkers -- agree? Speak up! Speak your truth! Who doesn't agree? Speak up! Speak your truth!
Lincoln, Medical Marijuana and Gun Control
This morning, I announced at the breakfast table as The Husband took the plastic wrap off the newspaper and separated the wheat from the chaff as he does every morning in a nearly ritualistic manner, In the second week of the New Year I'm going to visit a medical marijuana place and buy Sophie some liquid marijuana.
Oliver, wearing The Husband's reading glasses, pounded his fist on the table and said, Do it! Just do it right now, woman!
I said, I will! During the second week of the New Year!
Oliver said, NO! NOW! Like Lincoln said NOW!
The Husband said, NOW! Like Obama should do something NOW about gun control. NOW! (I should add that The Husband is a sharp shooter from Switzerland, where every man is issued a gun and ammunition but where gun control is of the strictest order and where healthcare is equal and whose people have been listed as some of the most content and happy in the world but whose snow and cold makes me hesitant to just up and move).
On the eve of Christmas Eve, I'm thinking NOW.
Saturday, December 22, 2012
As you all know, we're still here.
Groaning with sweets and champagne, true, but we're still -- gloriously -- here.
Our menu for last night included the following:
Eggnog Cupcakes with Pink Buttercream
Gingerbread Cake with Coffee Glaze
Buche de Noel (chocolate cake with ganache)
Vacherin with Cranberries and Raspberries
Traditional Swiss Christmas Cookies
Cheesecake with Christmas Candy Top
Cheese Board with Chutneys and Fig
Winter Wonderland Red Velvet Cake
Pear Frangipane Tart
We had a much smaller party than we'd had in the past, so please come over for leftover sweets and champagne!
Friday, December 21, 2012
End of the World Dessert and Champagne Party Preview
|Genoise for Buche de Noel|
|Swiss Christmas Cookies|
|Pecan Puffs and Red Velvet Cake|
|Red Velvet Winter Wonderland Cake|
|Gingerbread Cake with Coffee Glaze|
|Eggnog Cupcakes with Pink Buttercream|
|Citrus Salad Makings|
The Husband and I haven't worked together in over five years, but we're producing, ya'll! I'll be back tomorrow with more pics.
Vesuvius and I
I thought that Skeeter was going to be my End of the World post, but this morning I woke up to howling, and for a split second, I thought it was here. The room was dark and for a few moments, I lay in bed and listened, carefully, as the howl began and stopped and then I realized that it was Sophie so I sat upright and then called out and The Husband, who was sleeping with Sophie, said it's all right, she's having a seizure, and by the time I walked the few short paces to her room, she'd stopped howling and just lay quietly. I left The Husband lying next to her and went back to bed, but about a half an hour later, it happened again, more howls, another seizure, a pale face, drawn turned sideways, her hands clammy, nearly wet, her limbs jerking, then loose, our hearts beating rapidly. That's it for today, I said quietly, willing it to be. It was time for the boys to get up, for the last day of school, and it wasn't the end of the world. I wasn't going to write anything this morning, but the writing calms me, the words out, the fear dispelled. Did you know that I fear my child's death each and every day and each and every day I dispel it through writing? Fear, confronted head on, acknowledgement, is a wisp then, a returning to earth, to dirt, to cloud and to sky.
I read Vesuvius this morning (no pressure, dear friend and fellow writer) and felt my fears dissipate into the cold blue sky Los Angeles morning.
May the long time sun shine upon you.
All love surround you.
And the clear light within you
Guide your way on. Guide your way on.
That's it for today. And it's not the end of the world.
Skeeter and the End of the World
The hairdo is what's so end times, no? Freaking awesome, right?
Thursday, December 20, 2012
The End of Non-Time
And I would like to say that according to the Mayan calendar the 21 of December is the end of the non-time and the beginning of time. It is the end of the Macha and the beginning of the Pacha, the end of selfishness and the beginning of brotherhood, it is the end of individualism and the beginning of collectivism – 21 of December this year. The scientists know very well that this marks the end of an anthropocentric life and the beginning of a bio-centric life. It is the end of hatred and the beginning of love, the end of lies and beginning of truth. It is the end of sadness and the beginning of happiness, it is the end of division and the beginning of unity, and this is a theme to be developed. That is why we invite all of you, those of you who bet on mankind, we invite those who want to share their experiences for the benefit of mankind.
Evo Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president
If you're feeling at all anxious about tomorrow, or frankly, about anything, read the rest of Morales' thoughts here.
Evo Morales is a socialist, though, so if you're more scared of that than the end of the world, I advise you to not read it and get back down on your knees to ready yourself for judgement.
Evo Morales is a socialist, though, so if you're more scared of that than the end of the world, I advise you to not read it and get back down on your knees to ready yourself for judgement.
Joan of Arc, Drug Mules, and Guns
|Joan of Arc at Prayer, John Everett Millais, 1865|
Some say that Joan of Arc, or Saint Joan, received her visions directly from God. Others say that Joan of Arc might have had temporal lobe epilepsy and with it came the intense and revelatory hallucinations that directed and guided her to save her people. I don't know, but I imagine that in every way, Joan of Arc was guided by Love, a godly Love -- something divine and certainly other-directed. I was thinking about Joan of Arc and her visions and her epilepsy while I was taking a shower this morning. I was also thinking about the little card I got in the mail the other day along with the letter to Anthem Blue Cross from The Neurologist. The card was a discount card from the manufacturer of clobazam, the drug that The Friend Who Loves Jane Austen recently ferried across the great Canadian-American border for me. The letter is part of a larger grievance against Anthem to add the drug to Sophie's covered formulary so that it's affordable. The little card gives the user a $50 discount monthly up to a year for the drug, and I wondered whether the drug manufacturer thought itself kindly or cooperative in making this gesture. I thought how the nearly $1,000/month price it charges in the United States compared to the $63/month price it charges in Canada suggested that only the proverbial 1% could afford the drug. The rest of us are supposed to be grateful for the discount. When I stepped out of the shower, the aroma of the gingerbread cake I'd put into the oven wafted through the steam in the bathroom, and as I toweled off, I thought of Joan and her visions and her epilepsy and her zeal. I thought of the families, again, in Newtown, one of whom is dear to me, and I thought of the people who have rushed, with zeal and fear, to buy up guns much like the ones used to slaughter little children, before they are, perhaps, out of reach.
Guns, I thought, for the free and the brave.
Quelle rackette, Joan of Arc might have said, as she climbed on her horse and drew her sword, her eyes directed outward, her brain's marvelous mapping obedient to the Divine.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Contradictions in a day
I went to the grocery store early this morning feeling overwhelmed about nearly everything. I sat in my car and did a ten minute meditation, a prayer for mercy, for light, for wisdom. I know there shouldn't be a for when you meditate, but it was the best I could do. When I walked into the store, that very good looking and sort of ugly actor with the diabolical name who stars in Homeland walked out. At least I think it was him. And when I got home, this car was parked in front of my house. Fantasies abound.
I had to take Sophie to the orthopedist this afternoon for a general exam and to get authorization for those $1500 orthotics. The orthopedist's office is in Santa Monica, along Wilshire, and it took me nearly forty-five minutes to travel about six miles west for a $140, fifteen minute appointment that included a hip x-ray, and then I was back in the car, heading east to pick up the boys at their school in Koreatown which took more than an hour. Sophie hummed the entire way. But, Sophie's hips and spine looked perfect, said the orthopedist, so there's that. And I listened to Gone Girl in the car the entire ride despite the fact that it was wildly inappropriate for Sophie's ears. Or maybe not, given that she is nearly eighteen years old (good god almighty!).
|$1500 Orthotics in Tom's|
I argued with Henry on the phone, begging him to get a ride home. He is The Student Body President and needed to stay at school to help prepare for the winter dance this Friday which meant that after driving for over two hours (to Santa Monica and then Koreatown and then home), I'd have to go back out to pick him up. He got a ride home. Here's a random photo of Henry, a repeat of the other day, because it makes me laugh so hard. I love him, even if he does think of me as The Chauffeur.
I got home, unloaded the car of Sophie and her wheelchair and Oliver and his backpack and listened politely to The Man Up the Street who was inquiring about the boys who were ding-dong ditching just then at his house. It wasn't my boys, I said politely, We just got home. I pushed the wheelchair and cleared my throat. I brought Sophie inside and thought how much I'd like to forego dinner and just drink some Newton's Folly. Have ya'll tried that?
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
|La Brea Blvd., Los Angeles|
I was travelling south with Oliver this afternoon as the sun went down, and when we looked up we saw the most magnificent dragon cloud floating by. I read that the depiction of a dragon with clouds combines two of the most potent Chinese symbols. I also read that a dragon image in the clouds in a more modern interpretation represents freedom.
I heard Bob Dylan's plaintive voice, too, and I remembered a time long ago. Dragon clouds so high above, I've only known careless love.
Here's a different version of You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.
It all sort of fits, right?
The Regimen of Our Barbarous Ancestors
I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
Thomas Jefferson, as quoted and inscribed on the Jefferson Memorial,
How many more children have to die?
As a child psychiatrist and parent, I regard the Newtown horrific mass murder of elementary age children as a final wake up call so that we will never again ask, “How many more children have to die?” Nothing can justify this preventable tragedy to the parents and families of their murdered beloved ones. The time has come to halt the unrelentless chipping away of our mental health care services and quality of care for mental illness, to educate the community about severe mental illness, and to implement strict controls on access to firearms.
Dr. Rochelle Caplan, UCLA Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and past Director the UCLA Pediatric Neuropsychiatry Program
I met Dr. Caplan many years ago when I first began working in healthcare as a parent co-chair of a national collaborative that worked to improve the quality of and access to healthcare for children with special healthcare needs, specifically epilepsy. I can still remember the talk that she gave at a plenary session during one of our large collaborative meetings, when nearly a hundred professionals -- neurologists, pediatricians, hospital administrators, family leaders, social workers and community and government officials -- gathered together to solve some of the most intractable problems that children with epilepsy and their families face. During that talk, Rochelle spelled out some grim statistics about the effects of epilepsy on mothers and siblings of children with seizures, statistics that were at once alarming to me and affirming, albeit in a strange way. I remember having to take a break from the subsequent meetings at the conference so I could go upstairs to my hotel room, where I lay on my back staring at the ceiling, absorbing the fact that yes, what I was doing was incredibly difficult and traumatic. I wasn't not coping but rather doing something very, very difficult. That acknowledgement, coupled with the statistics, was enormously helpful to me in countless ways, including psychic, and I was fortunate to become friends with the doctor as we lived not far from one another in Los Angeles.
I recently saw Rochelle again after a period of a few years, and we had the chance to catch up -- both personally and professionally, when I learned that she had just co-authored a book titled "How Many More Questions: Techniques for Clinical Interviews for Young, Medically Ill Children." I so look forward to reading her book but was very impressed by her impassioned plea following the massacre in Connecticut and spelled out in the linked article.
Please feel free to spread this article around, and I look forward to a great discussion here.
Monday, December 17, 2012
This morning, I woke the boys up and got them ready for school before leaving to attend a mass at our neighborhood church, the church that our friends the Phelps attended before they moved to Newtown a couple of years ago. I haven't been to church in probably years, but I went today because Laura is a devout Catholic, and this is what she wanted. I sat in the dim church and only vaguely listened to the words of the mass, my lips moving automatically in prayer by habit, but the murmuring lulled me into a meditation and my mind went blank as it will when grace steps in and our grasping for control slips away.
Standing in the parking lot afterward, the few of us there who know one another and who know Laura, her husband Nick and their four children, two of whom attended Sandy Hook, spoke indignantly of everything that had happened. We wondered how they would cope, how their children would cope, how the town would cope. We spoke of the resilience of children and the necessity of living, truly, one day at a time. We were angry and incredulous at those who would continue to argue about the necessity of guns. I was surprised that some had not listened to nor seen President Obama's speech last night at the interfaith vigil in Newtown. Despite the lovely and profound thoughts of each person there, and all faiths were represented, it wasn't until the President spoke that I felt, finally, comforted. I felt led, actually, by someone deeply spiritual and deeply empathetic and profoundly powerful.
I hope that you will listen to his speech despite your saturation in media or antipathy toward our president's politics. You can do so here.
And here is an excerpt that I found particularly compelling and powerful in its resolve:
This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.
And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?
Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?
Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?
Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?
I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change. Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.
And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose -- much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.
Christmas Goofballs, a Post in Pictures Only
Henry as Gnome
He was supposed to be wearing his elf hat.
Just put it on!!! we screamed.
The Children in our Home that is now a Christmas Curio Shop
Mrs. Santa in her workshop
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