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Reading List 6 of 2017

May 18, 2017

Covers the period from 4.26.2017 through 5.17.17

I/we own 8 of these items. I saw 2 movies on Netflix/Amazon, 1 video on YouTube. Baltimore County Public Library system supplied 9 of the books and movies; libraries in other parts of Maryland, via Inter-Library Loan, supplied the other 18.

 

{71 days avoiding poetry collections ended 5.2.17.}

 

POETRY

Collections:

  1. The Abridged History of Rainfall by Jay Hopler
  2. The Captain of the Butterflies by Cees Nooteboom
  3. Dreadful Wind & Rain by Diane Gilliam [AROHO]
  4. Five Sextillion Atoms by Jayne Benjulian [AROHO]
  5. Here by Wislawa Szymborska, translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Barańczak
  6. In Praise of Mortality: Selections from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus, translated and edited by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
  7. On the Bus with Rosa Parks by Rita Dove
  8. Salt is for Curing by Sonya Vatomsky
  9. This is What Happened in Our Other Life by Achy Obejas
  10. Weweni by Margaret Noodin [Anishinaabe]
  11. What If What’s Imagined Were All True by Roz Kaveney

 

Anthologies:

  1. 11 More American Women Poets in the 21st Century, edited by Claudia Rankine and Lisa Sewell
  2. The Best American Poetry 2002, edited by Robert Creeley
  3. The Image of Black Women in 20th Century South American Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology, edited and translated by Ann Venture Young
  4. Letters to Poets: Conversations about Poetics, Politics, and Community, edited by Jennifer Firestone and Dana Teen Lomax
  5. Milk & Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry, edited by Julie R. Enszer
  6. Poetry Speaks Who I Am, edited by Elise Paschen
  7. Polish Poetry of the Last Two Decades of Communist Rule, edited and translated by Stanislaw Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh
  8. The Pushcart Prize #39, edited by Bill Henderson

 

=

 

Films:

  1. The Dressmaker, directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse
  2. A Man Called Ove, directed by Hannes Holm
  3. Jackie, directed by Pablo Larrain
  4. Snowden, directed by Oliver Stone

 

Asking big questions:

  1. Ancestors of Worthy Life: Plantation Slavery and Black Heritage at Mount Clare [Baltimore] by Teresa S. Moyer
  2. Cross Worlds: Transcultural Poetics, edited by Anne Waldman and Laura Wright
  3. The King of the Ants: Mythological Essays by Zbigniew Herbert, translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter
  4. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by K. Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool
  5. Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture by Diana Senechal

 

Biography:

  1. Growing Up Native American: An Anthology, edited by Patricia Riley
  2. The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency by Ellen Fitzpatrick {chapter on Shirley Chisholm only}
  3. The Sacred Threshold: A Life of Rainer Maria Rilke by J. F. Hendry

 

Memoir:

  1. One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry

 

Fiction:

  1. The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham
  2. Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof

 

Music:

  1. How to Play Cajon by Ross McCallum

 

 

RESEARCH

 

Poetry, published via CreateSpace:

  1. Asperous Artistry by Kondwani Fidel [Baltimore]
  2. Black Seeds: The Poetry and Reflections of Tariq Touré [Baltimore]
  3. Muse. [sic]: A Collection of Poetry and Prose by T. Danielle Walker [Baltimore]

 

+++

Dream: 4.28.2017

April 28, 2017

{Nightmare. I haven’t had a doozy like this one in a while. I wonder what set this one off?}

There are at least four timelines for this dream. It’s possible I woke up several times, but kept reentering it.

+++

There’s a big-screen TV at the far end of a large room, and a bunch people are sitting around watching it noisily. At the near end of the room, there’s a long desk. A woman who looks like Mackenzie Phillips is sitting behind the desk; my father is sitting across from her. I’m in a chair at the short end to Mackenzie’s right. Mackenzie and my father talking.

Suddenly my father turns to me and asks me what I know about Mackenzie Phillips. I’m confused. I say, “She’s right there, Dad, why don’t you ask her?” But he asks me to humor him, and I briefly wonder if they just look alike but aren’t the same person. It turns out I know a lot about Mackenzie Phillips, surprising even myself with my recollection — I tell my father I read a biography of hers.

I feel sad for how confusing and complicated her life is been, but I’m cautiously pleased that she seems to be doing well now.

At the end of it, she’s smiling at me, but doesn’t say anything. My father turns back to her and they start talking again.

=

I pick up a broadsheet lying around. Its title: “How to be your own therapist”. I think to myself, “well I know how to do that! I’ve been ‘counseling’ myself in between the 10 times I’ve been in therapy… since I was a kid really.”

Then I wonder if my father is in counseling, with Mackenzie? Or is our entire family somehow in counseling? Because why else is everyone here? The crowd at the TV includes Kendra and her mother, my mother’s sister. Why would they be here? Are they getting their own counseling? But then why do it at the same time as us? I’m confused.

=

There is some weird but playful hijinks with my brother Neal and one other person. In the moment it feels incongruous for me that Neal is actually acknowledging me, and acting? as if he wants to be there. Almost as if he likes me. But that can’t be right. I don’t pursue the thought.

=

{Here is where the endings split up.}

1.

Our family session completed, all of us are walking down a very long hallway, that turns at odd angles, with a sloped slippery floor. I’m upset with everyone else so I go on ahead, but there are some weird acoustics allowing me to still hear what they’re saying. Damon and Erynn are maybe talking to a third person, maybe my mother. They say, “if Mea talks to Kendra, Kendra will ruin everything. We, no you, should forbid her to talk to anyone in the extended family!”

In the hall ahead of them, I wonder if I will have to lie to them directly. If I lie to someone who means me harm, is it still wrong? Better yet, can I somehow avoid promising anything?

From a side hall, I see Kendra. I rush over to her. I ask her if she was in counseling? Are we all in counseling? What on earth is going on?

She looks confused, overwhelmed.

 

2.

{A very complicated and ominous set of circumstances, but I don’t remember any details. Perhaps thankfully.}

 

3.

I got to the end of the hallways, still alone. I step out the main doors. It’s dark night with lots of stars. It’s snowing, and bitterly cold. I realize I don’t have socks on, and the car is parked way across the parking lot.

I have the sense that if I get into the car, if I wait for my family to join me, then I won’t leave the car alive. Or I will, but I’ll never leave their house alive — I’ll be shut up in their basement, as something they want to hide, until I starve. Or worse.

I run back into the building. In the lobby there’s a small store: maybe they’ll have socks! My mother finds me as I’m looking at yellow fluffy socks. She’s annoyed, wants us to get going. I want her to buy me these socks (since I’ve realized I don’t have any money with me).

Later, I put the socks on and they are warm but I still don’t have shoes. I walk back outside, separate from the rest of my family. I look up at the stars and fantasize that I can fly, that I can escape them and never come back.

Then my mother comes up behind me…

 

4.

I want to know the truth once and for all.

I get all up in my mother’s face. I challengingly demand she tell me if she wishes I was dead. By the end, I’m screaming and crying, but I don’t let up on my question.

I’m making a huge scene, and everyone around is fixated watching us.

My mother wears this tight smile that I know only too well. It says, “I didn’t have to do anything! Now everyone around can see that she’s crazy! She did it to herself! This is perfect!”

My mother does not answer my question.

My mother does not say, “Hate you? ‘Wish you were dead’? Don’t be absurd! Of course I love you!” My mother says nothing, but keeps smiling.

=

{My body is shaking, and I dimly remember that there is a lot more. Scarier even. I don’t want to recall it. I’m afraid to.}

+++

NOTES:

Today my father has a milestone birthday. His brother, my uncle Joe — my father’s best friend all his life — died in 2015, a month before he reached this milestone.

=

A month ago I wrote to a friend that I know my mother has long wished that I was dead. That while I first became aware of it in 1985, I’ve only gotten more convinced of it over the years since.

Say my cousin the rapist had, in fact, managed to kill me while I was living in his parents’ house. That would have, quite neatly, solved a bunch of my mother’s problems: the weirdo kid who (clearly!) was never going to be able to take care of herself; the changeling child that nobody liked; the supersmart child that yearned to do Big Things, change the world — couldn’t she see no one would ever help her!

When I was a kid, my mother made ‘jokes’ about wishing she’d had guppies instead of children, because when guppies pissed you off (?!), you just flushed them down the toilet. Problem solved! This image only got more horrifying as I got older.

=

Last night I was thinking about something my mother had said to 6 y.o. me that had traumatized me. I had long given her credit for thinking she had said it to reassure me, but it backfired.

Last night I realized, she wasn’t thinking of me at all. Of course she wasn’t! She was terrified for herself. She was using magical thinking to inoculate herself against disaster.

I bet she never once thought what the effect would be on me. Six year old me.

Preparing herself for what she knew would be a hard birth of her last child — a process that might actually kill her, and possibly the baby as well — my mother assured me that “if something bad would happen to me, if I were to die, you and your younger siblings will each go to your godparents, and be raised among their children. You will be safe.”

Before that conversation, it had never occurred to me that a parent could die.

But once it had been brought to my attention, why wouldn’t we stay with my father? (Granted, the only food my father knew how to make was toast. He did no housekeeping whatsoever. I’m not even sure he liked children. Still.)

Unlike my sister, my godparents weren’t married to each other — lived hundreds of miles apart. My godfather (Uncle Joe) didn’t like me, but he and his family lived geographically closer.

Now I worried I would never see my siblings again. That we would become strangers to each other.

I worried I would never see my father again.

Prescient, all of it.

=

My mother did almost die when Neal was born. The doctor gave my father a choice: good Catholic that he was, my father chose the baby. Somehow the doctor was able to save both.

(I know the above, by the way, because my father told 20-something me, during a long car ride in which I wished I was anywhere else. Another trauma.)

=

I don’t know what to do with these feelings, these confused and jumbled feelings, about people who don’t care about me and never did.

People who just saw me as a BIG EAR. As a hole to be filled up with everything they feared and hated and wished could just disappear.

Reading List 5 of 2017

April 25, 2017

Covers the period from 4.1.2017 through 4.24.17

I/we own 2 of these items. Baltimore County Public Library system supplied 9 of the books and movies; libraries in other parts of Maryland, via Inter-Library Loan, supplied the other 20.

 

{Still no poetry.}

Women.

 

Films:

  1. Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity, directed by Catherine Gund
  2. Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed, directed by Shola Lynch
  3. Dancing The Big Apple: African-Americans Inspire a National Craze by Judy Pritchett
  4. Gypsy, directed by Mervyn LeRoy
  5. Hidden Figures, directed by Theodore Melfi
  6. Jimmy’s Hall, directed by Ken Loach
  7. Miss Sloane, directed by John Madden
  8. Southside with You, directed by Richard Tanne

 

Asking big questions:

  1. Breaking the Sequence: Women’s Experimental Fiction, edited by Ellen G. Friedman and Miriam Fuchs
  2. Mental and Moral Heredity in Royalty: A Statistical Study in History and Psychology by Frederick Adams Woods [1906 edition]
  3. Mind by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.
  4. Twelve Steps toward Political Revelation by Walter Mosley

 

Biography:

  1. African American Writers: Portraits and Visions by Lynda Koolish
  2. Black Women Writers (1950–1980), edited by Mari Evans
  3. Conversations with Octavia Butler, edited by Conseula Francis
  4. I Tell You Now: Autobiographical Essays by Native American Writers, edited by Brian Swann and Arnold Krupat
  5. Visible Women: New Essays on American Activism, edited by Nancy A. Hewitt and Suzanne Lebsock
  6. Women in American Indian Society by Rayna Green

 

 

Memoir:

  1. All the Lives I Want by Alana Massey
  2. Interior Landscapes: Autobiographical Myths and Metaphors by Gerald R. Vizenor [First Nations]
  3. Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
  4. Summer Dooways: A Memoir by W. S. Merwin
  5. Triangular Road by Paule Marshall

 

SFF:

  1. Ammonite by Nicola Griffith
  2. Cairo: A Graphic Novel, written by Willow Wilson, art by M. K. Perker
  3. On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis {autistic protagonist}
  4. Orsinian Tales by Ursula K. Le Guin
  5. Pegasus by Robin McKinley
  6. Shadows by Robin McKinley

 

Fiction:

  1. And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass
  2. The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera [AROHO]

 +++

 

Autism: what I see, what I feel

March 31, 2017

I’ve been immersing myself in visual culture lately: lots of books, lots of movies. Every time I watch something, I think about how I would’ve done it. Not so much the nitty-gritty of how would I have directed it, how would I have photographed it, but more… Shouldn’t something have been explained at the beginning? Why am I supposed to care about these people again?

How is the story organized?

How did the director, the screenwriter, come up with shooting these scenes? Editing them into this order?

=

Although I’d been reading since I was tiny, and then I began blogging in 2009, I didn’t start reading like a writer until late 2011, around the time I first did Nanowrimo.

I’ve also been watching movies all my life, but it’s not until the last 3 months maybe that I’ve been watching them while thinking like a visual writer.

I’ve been trying to make my poetry visual from the very beginning (2011), which was before I realized various schools of poetry had been doing the same things since at least the 1960s.

I’ve written prose that had visual elements. It’s hard enough to get right in poetry, where at least people might expect it; in my prose it didn’t seem to work at all.

=

I’ve been photographing since I was a teenager. My mother was a photographer, probably still is. But she did it for the reasons most people do: she recorded scenes of human life, family life. In all the time I knew her, I don’t remember her ever photographing natural scenes, or buildings, or the sky. I asked her once, why not? She said photographs without [human being] people in them were empty; there would be no reason to take a picture unless there were people in it.

I found that very strange.

I have around 1100 photos on my Instagram account. I think there’s probably… 10? 12? that have human beings in them. There are guys playing soccer in a nearby park (on my way to and from the public library). Occasionally there is Spouse.

My selfies generally occur when I’m amongst trees. I feel like a weird sort of tree. I don’t have leaves, I’m not green; I can move around. But when I’m with trees, I feel like I’m with my people. (To the extent that I can say I have ever thought that I had ‘people’.)

+

My life is really really solitary. That is, human-solitary.

I live with Spouse, but our lives don’t overlap that much. I often wonder if that would be different if I wasn’t autistic. But he has fewer human friends than I do, so maybe not.

He didn’t cut off contact with his family of origin like I did. He just doesn’t see them or talk to them very often.

I’ve known introverts before — I thought I was an introvert until I was well into my 40s — but even for an introvert, Spouse barely talks. He doesn’t listen much either, but maybe that’s being a guy more than temperament.

Maybe I’m just boring to be around.

+

I couldn’t concentrate on the movie yesterday afternoon. Before I sat down to watch it, I’d walked out to the mailbox to post two letters. It was colder than I expected — my phone said it was 47°, when I’d thought it would be 60° or so. I should’ve gone back to get my jacket, but I toughed it out. I hadn’t eaten yet, even though it was after 2 p.m. If I’d gone back to get my jacket, I should’ve eaten something too.

The walk was without incident until I returned to our building. I was already thinking about being inside and warming up, eating something, when… I tripped. I tripped up a stone step, fell forward and caught myself with my hands.

If I hadn’t been cold, hungry, and distracted, it wouldn’t have happened. Or I wouldn’t have fallen all the way. I would’ve caught myself.

It felt like I had a scrape on my right palm, but when I looked, the skin wasn’t broken, there was no blood.

I felt like I jammed the ring finger on my left hand. It didn’t hurt a lot, there was no swelling.

So I went back into the apartment, started up the movie.

I had trouble getting into it.

My left hand kept hurting. At some point I realized my ring finger was swelling. In a panic I ran to the bathroom, wetted my finger, wrestled my rings off. Realized I was shaking, that I’d forgotten to eat. Ate something.

Stopped the movie. Texted Spouse. He asked if I should go to Urgent Care just as I was realizing, yeah, I probably need an x-ray. But I don’t think I can drive — what if I bumped my finger further?

He said he would come home. Presumably to take me there, although he didn’t say that. By the time he got home 40 minutes or so later, I was very glad that I didn’t have to figure out how to drive myself there.

I thanked him. I knew this was an imposition: tomorrow, Friday, he had an important photo session scheduled. One that he’d been working hard on preparing for for weeks. I knew he would be distracted, and he was.

Not only did he not open the car door for me, it never seemed to occur to him that he should.

He did buckle my seatbelt both times.

As I checked in with Urgent Care, he watched me fumble with my wallet to get out my insurance card. He did point out that I was about to give the receptionist the wrong card. He watched me fumble with my credit card for the co-pay.

It was only when I was struggling to get the cards back in my wallet that he offered to help.

At no time, either before the appointment or after, did he say anything reassuring.

=

I fractured a bone in my finger, from one knuckle to the next. It’s in a splint for 4-6 weeks. (I broke a different finger, my left pinky, in a catastrophic fall in 2000. I remember how this works.)

My left pinky finger hurts too, but there’s no swelling, and I can bend it easily. They x-rayed my hand, so I have to hope that they didn’t miss an actual problem.

=

When we got back home, I thanked him again. He didn’t say it was no big deal. He didn’t say of course taking care of this is my priority right now. He went right back to getting ready for his thing.

+

There are reasons why I’m as self-reliant as I am, and it’s not that it’s just really fun to be independent.

If I can’t get something done for myself, it’s probably not gonna happen.

I grew up not asking for help because when I did ask for help, people laughed in my face, and then said no. When I struggled with doing whatever it was by myself, they laughed some more. They came together the better to think of amusing insults to lob my way.

=

My first big injury as a kid, I fell off my bike onto concrete when I was seven. I tore a ligament in my wrist, and was in a soft cast thing for six weeks.

I remember telling my last therapist, P, about this incident — I don’t recall what prompted me talking about it. But I do remember her suggesting that my mother would’ve comforted me.

I laughed in surprise. There was no comfort. There was, “stop crying, it can’t be that bad”, even though the pain was agonizing. I got yelled at for not being able to sleep at night.

Talking to P, I suddenly remembered — with my whole body — wandering disconsolately around the basement door/well, holding my throbbing arm, watching my mother doing laundry inside, and ignoring me.

=

Trees can’t hug you, but they don’t tell you to shut up and go away either.

+

I write so I can hear myself, even if no one else is listening. I write so I feel like I’m alive.

But words on a page aren’t enough. I need images. I need movement. I need something that I make happen.

I don’t think I know how to tell stories. Despite all the hundreds of books I’ve read. I don’t understand why some people are cared about while other people aren’t.

I don’t understand it even when I’m watching a movie and I realize that I don’t care about the characters on screen. (Or in a book.)

I don’t understand other people. And they sure as fuck don’t understand me.

Maybe none of that matters.

Reading List 4 of 2017

March 31, 2017

+++

On 2.20.17, I abruptly developed an aversion to poetry, so I haven’t been reading it.

+++

Covers the period from 3.12.2017 through 3.31.17

I/we own 3 of these items. I saw 1 movie on Netflix/Amazon. Baltimore County Public Library system supplied 16 of the books and movies; libraries in other parts of Maryland, via Inter-Library Loan, supplied the other 14.

For Women’s History Month, women.

 

SFF:

  1. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
  2. Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
  3. Gilded Cage by Vic James
  4. Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin
  5. Native Tongue II: The Judas Rose by Suzette Haden Elgin
  6. Native Tongue III: Earthsong by Suzette Haden Elgin
  7. Passing Strange by Ellen Klages
  8. The Weaver by Emmi Itäranta
  9. Wildalone by Krassi Zourkova

 

Asking big questions:

  1. Examined Life: Excursions with Contemporary Thinkers, edited by Astra Taylor
  2. The Geography of Morals: Varieties of Moral Possibility by Owen Flanagan
  3. Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life by Martha C. Nussbaum
  4. Spirit, Space & Survival: African American Women in (White) Academe, edited by Joy James and Ruth Farmer

 

Films:

  1. Moneyball, directed by Bennett Miller
  2. Holmes, directed by Bill Condon
  3. The Last Starfighter, directed by Nick Castle
  4. Piper, written & directed by Alan Barillaro
  5. The Homesman, directed by Tommy Lee Jones
  6. Victor/Victoria, directed by Blake Edwards

 

Visual culture:

  1. The 50 Most Influential Black Films by S. Torriano Berry and Venise T. Berry
  2. African American Visual Aesthetics: A Postmodernist View, edited by David C. Driskell
  3. Graphic Subjects: Critical Essays on Autobiography and Graphic Novels, edited by Michael A. Chaney
  4. Map Stories: The Art of Discovery by Francisca Mattéoli
  5. Masterpieces of Islamic Art: The Decorated Page from the 8th to the 17th Century by Oleg Grabar
  6. Pretty: Film and the Decorative Image by Rosalind Galt
  7. Teaching Visual Culture: Curriculum, Aesthetics, and the Social Life of Art by Kerry J. Freedman

 

Memoir:

  1. Born Both: An Intersex Life by Hida Viloria
  2. My Autistic Awakening by Rachael Lee Harris

 

Biography:

  1. In the Company of Women by Grace Bonney
  2. LGBT Baltimore by Louise Parker Kelley
  3. Richard Posner by William Domnarski
  4. Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America by Wil Haygood
  5. Simon: The Genius in My Basement by Alexander Masters [math / Conway’s rival]

 

Fiction:

  1. Unstrung by Laura Spinella

 

+++

Reading List 3 of 2017

March 12, 2017

Covers the period from 2.19.2017 through 3.11.17

I/we own 3 of these items. I saw 6 movies at the film fest; 3 on Netflix/Amazon. Baltimore County Public Library system supplied 20 of the books and movies; libraries in other parts of Maryland, via Inter-Library Loan, supplied the other 8.

For Women’s History Month, women.

 

Films:

  1. All the President’s Men, directed by Alan J. Pakula
  2. Car Wash, directed by Michael Schultz
  3. Es Devlin, Stage Design episode of Abstract: The Art of Design [docuseries]
  4. Florence Foster Jenkins, directed by Stephen Frears
  5. The Governess, written & directed by Sandra Goldbacher
  6. Infinitely Polar Bear, written & directed by Maya Forbes
  7. Kubo and the Two Strings, directed by Travis Knight
  8. Piper, written & directed by Alan Barillaro
  9. Southside with You, written & directed by Richard Tanne [[Michelle Robinson & Barack Obama’s first date]]
  10. Truth*, written & directed by James Vanderbilt
  11. The Way He Looks, written & directed by Daniel Ribeiro [Brazil]

 

20th annual Johns Hopkins University Film Fest:

  1. Apollon, directed by Loic Dimitch [France]
  2. Gleichgewicht [Keeping Balance], directed by Bernhard Wenger [Austria]
  3. Grandmother, directed by Sooean Chin and Hee Won Han [USA]
  4. Guarded, directed by Danielle Naassana [USA]
  5. I Know You Go Dark, directed by Gillian Waldo [USA]
  6. Shark Tooth, directed by Oren Gerner [Israel]

 

SFF:

  1. The City & the City by China Miéville
  2. Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
  3. Home from the Sea by Mercedes Lackey
  4. Unquiet Land by Sharon Shinn

 

Memoir:

  1. Big Bosses: A Working Girl’s Memoir of Jazz Age America by Althea McDowell Althemus
  2. The Ghetto Swinger: A Berlin Jazz-Legend Remembers by Coco Schumann
  3. Hive-Mind by Gabrielle Myers
  4. Hungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner
  5. Traveling with Ghosts by Shannon Leone Fowler
  6. The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling by Charles Johnson

 

Biography:

  1. A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in the Trash by Alexander Masters
  2. Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power* by Mary Mapes

 

Fiction:

  1. The Ambassador’s Wife by Jennifer Steil [AROHO]
  2. The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick
  3. She Rises by Kate Worsley
  4. The Summer She Was Underwater by Jen Michalski [Baltimore]

 

Poetry:

  1. A Second Space: New Poems by Czesław Miłosz
  2. Bone Map by Sara Eliza Johnson
  3. Revising the Storm by Geffrey Davis
  4. River of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature of Things, edited by Pamela Michael
  5. Sleeping with the Dictionary by Harryette Mullen
  6. Time and Materials: Poems 1997–2005 by Robert Hass
  7. Weavings 2000: The Maryland Millennial Anthology, edited by Michael S. Glaser

+++

sisters and sons

March 5, 2017

Today my youngest brother, N, turns 44. I’ve heard he’s living near San Francisco. My last sighting of him was in 2008, at a family wedding; I don’t recall speaking with him.

+

I have few memories of just me and N. The age difference (I’m 6.6 years older) meant, growing up, we didn’t have much in common. He tagged along behind my other brother, D (4.9 years older), afaict, hero-worshipping him. My sister, E (3.7 years older), made a pet of him.

What did I have to offer?

=

I remember helping N study for a spelling bee. (I’d competed in our school’s bee 6th, 7th, and 8th grade; won, in 8th grade.)

Now that I really think about it, that might be the only memory I have of the two of us.

=

I’ve always felt like a Pisces [Water ~ emotions], even though I’m a Leo [Fire ~ passion], and there are aspects of Leo that do resonate.

That affinity for Pisces felt like an affinity for N himself, but… I didn’t know how to express it. I occasionally made obscure comments to that effect that everyone ignored. I wasn’t sure if that was their usual disdain for me, or if I was completely failing to communicate.

As the eldest, I had a completely different growing up experience than my siblings. I don’t remember being an only child (D is 1.7 years my junior), but… I remember having my mother all to myself. I remember her choosing to spend time with me over all others.

I remember the week the 3 of us older kids, all under the age of 5, got the chicken pox.

I remember my mother, pregnant with N, taking me and my father for a walk, and asking my opinion on the 2 names they were torn between for the baby. I cast the deciding vote. (Or so it seemed to my 6 year old self.)

I remember how… everything changed when N was born.

=

{I wasn’t thinking in anything like these terms at the time, I was the usual self-absorbed 6 year old, but} In retrospect, before N was born, I was my mother’s favorite, the Golden Child.

After N was born, I was demoted. I became Cinderella.

D took my place. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t remember things ever being different.

E, < 4 when N was born, has only ever been competing with D for parental favor, trying to oust him, all these years, as my mother’s heir.

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When my mother was 8, her youngest sibling, a brother, was born.

She’d previously been “the son her father never had”, the apple of his eye. Not just a tomboy, she was somehow socialized to believe, unconsciously, that she was a boy.

When Mark was born, she was demoted.

But to what? Cinderella, after all, is a girl. My grandfather was still saying, when I spent time with him in my own childhood: “Everyone knows girls are stupid. They’ll never do anything important. Boys grow up to Do Important Things. Girls grow up… and get married and have babies. Nothing that matters.”

Sometimes I really hate my grandfather. If he’d been less of a patriarchal Lithuanian (American! It was his parents who were the immigrants), woman-hating asshole, my mother’s whole life, my aunt’s whole life, would’ve been totally different. My whole life would’ve been totally different.

If he’d tried to outgrow those horrible attitudes… But he never did do it, and he never tried.

And here we are.

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I’m grateful to whatever gods there might be that my brother D, the only one of us sibs to have children, had 2 daughters and 0 sons. No one was pitted against others, informed “you don’t matter”.

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I can’t even fault the 8 year old child who would become my mother for retreating back into childhood narcissism, a developmental stage she’d probably just started to outgrow.

But… she never outgrew it. The older she got, the more narcissistic she got.

I think she likely had some Demeter-archetype in her, as a kid — although I doubt it was her primary one (which I can’t even guess at). But the trauma of Mark’s birth and her father discarding her, like she was trash, (I believe) violently transformed that bit of Demeter first into a toxic version of Hera (because Hera’s primary motivator is gaining power), and, ultimately, as a beleaguered wife-and-mother, furthering transmuting into…. Medea.

Medea in the myths went off the rails because her lover mistreated her, so she killed their kids (etc., etc.) to get back at him.

My mother’s Medea-archetype wasn’t punishing my father, but (I’m only just realizing) her own.

Could my mother’s relationship with her father, pre-Mark, have been as emotionally-enmeshed as my early relationship with my mother? (Where child-me was essentially re-parenting her, rather than her parenting me.)

My grandfather was the oldest child of his parents. He was born when his mother was still 15, a very new immigrant, living in coal country Pennsylvania with her husband, my great-grandfather, a man with an explosive temper.

Because mother and son were so close in age, because their husband and father was a raging, violent asshole, mother and son got emotionally enmeshed, and stayed that way all her life.

My great-grandfather was murdered in his late 30s — no one was very sad about it. That made my father “the man of the house” as a teenager. My widowed great-grandmother did remarry, and apparently the stepfather was a kind, gentle person everyone loved. But he was in failing health, and died sooner than he should have.

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I have such a love-hate relationship with 19th century Lithuanian culture.

As a kid, what I loved about being of Lithuanian descent was… it was different. The city of Chicago and environs housed more Lithuanians than anywhere out of Lithuania, but that didn’t mean that anyone who wasn’t Slavic or Baltic had ever heard of Lithuania.

See, my father is Irish. His parents were the immigrants, in the early 20th century. They settled in Chicago, which not only had a huge Irish population, but… Irish Catholics controlled a lot of the power structure. They still dye the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day! Irish Catholics were policemen. Irish Catholic priests were all over the parishes, and in top posts. Irish pols were part of the Democratic machine: the Daley family, case in point.

When heritage comes up in conversation, you say you’re Irish, everyone knows what that means.

Lithuanian, now, that gave me distinction. My grandparents and their siblings and cousins spoke a language amongst themselves that my mother, aunt, and uncle were never taught (in the usual way of trying to assimilate as fast as possible).

Visiting my grandparents, still living just at the edge of Chicago, we ate foods that were similar to Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, all of which peoples could be found in Chicagoland, but… certainly when we moved out to Naperville, heavily populated with upper-middle-class people trying to appear as WASPy as possible, the trend was to leave all that ethnic stuff in the past.

Not me.

Even as a child, I wanted to learn to speak Lithuanian. I date my fascination with other (human) languages to listening to my grandparents, wanting to know what they were saying.

I didn’t want to learn to cook the foods because they were too time-consuming, too fiddly (too taxing for my limited working memory and executive function), but I sure loved eating them! And with Baltimore’s large Lithuanian and large Jewish populations, if I wait for Jewish holy days, I can get kugelis at our supermarket. (I do miss pierogis. And Lithuanian black bread, slathered in butter.) Gramma really loved poppyseed anything; whenever I see poppyseed rolls, which is often, I think of her. (Can’t stand them myself: the seeds always get stuck in my teeth.)

Whenever my love for Lithuanian-culture-modulated-through-my-Lithuanian-American-grandparents came up, my mother would claim credit for it. Drove me up the wall.

I knew my love for her parents’ culture was just that, her parents’ culture. It was a way of connecting with them, and, at least in my own mind, it was a way of individuating away from my mother.

After all, if I learned to speak Lithuanian, I could speak it with my grandmother, and my mother wouldn’t understand us.

And… I suddenly see that could be why my mother led me on for 3 years about Lithuanian language lessons, only to not arrange for me to take them when I turned 15 (and was, therefore, old enough and responsible enough to stay with my grandmother, travel into Chicago, and learn from Lithuanian nuns).

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The child version of my mother didn’t want to individuate from my grandfather, and spent the rest of his life trying to return to his good graces.

Child-me didn’t… hmm, I was already an individual, I really was. I was always asking questions (which both my parents found annoying; they gave me more and more books to shut me up). I was curious about everything. Even at 6, I held strong opinions, and I wanted to share them.

After The Fall, what I missed the most was… being listened to. It’s like N’s birth somehow made me invisible, mute.

I wasn’t trying to ‘get back into my mother’s good graces’ so much as I was trying to… return to being a person who is valued by my parents. A person that adults want to spend time with.

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I don’t remember why we were ever there, and I can’t be sure how old I was, although I think 5 or 6: I remember child-me being in downtown Glen Ellyn a few times with my father, at Mister Donut. I still love cake donuts. He talked to me.

It was just us two, and whomever else was in the shop. No one we knew.

That’s a pattern that would repeat. We do social things, where we mix with people outside our nuclear family, and… I listen to my father. I ask him questions, I learn about him. Depending on the event, as I got older and prettier and smarter, he might ‘show me off’ in a sense. But only to people I would never have access to separate from him: his cousins; his business associates.

He wasn’t mentoring me, or helping me make my way in the world. I don’t know what he was doing.

It was only at an event like that, that my father… might listen to me. He was never curious about my life or thoughts though. I’m not a man.

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I really can’t escape gender, even though I try to.

Growing up, my gender models were: (women) my mother, Aunt Carol, Gramma Wask, Pam, Kendra, various female relatives; (men) my father, my 2 grandfathers, (stories of) my mother’s grandfather, my father’s brothers, my mother’s brother, male cousins by the busload, various other relatives.

I didn’t feel much like any of them. I definitely didn’t want to emulate any of them. (In the case of people like my father’s father, and my mother’s grandfather, I wanted to stay as far away as possible from their example.)

But… there weren’t any other choices, were there? I gotta be one, or the other.

Even if self-defense, I didn’t think I could attack another person. I was a pacifist, hated arguing. I never threatened anyone.

There was a second possible mode of being a male success: in a trade, or in an office. That would require me to get very skilled at a whole bunch of things I seemed to not be suited for, plus, impress people, which I’ve failed at all my life. So… being a man was obviously out.

The women I spent the most time with, growing up, were obsessed with power, and how they didn’t have it, but they should.

I didn’t care about that kind of power.

I liked being nurturing and helpful, but I didn’t think I was ‘maternal’. I found other children confusing, preferred the company of adults (especially if they were readers).

Girls could be really mean. (My sister for instance.)

So being a woman didn’t fit either. But… always recalling my grandfather’s words about how what girls do “doesn’t matter”, I realized I could hide there. If I failed at being a girl, well, who cares about girls? Nobody. So they won’t hurt me because I failed. I definitely saw boys and men around me being hurt because they were failing at it.

Ultimately, of course, I did fail at being a girl.

I didn’t belong anywhere in a gender binary.

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What all of this has to do with N will have to wait for another day.