Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Last week, I started watching Milk for the second time, the Gus Van Sant-directed movie where Sean Penn plays Harvey Milk, our country's first openly gay elected official.  My rapt viewing got interrupted by life but I finished watching it last night.  Today, I miss the camaraderie between people working for change, the sheer numbers of people packed into rooms, political mavericks inching the needle forward on civil rights, and James Franco's bewitching, perplexing, unabashed rotation of hairstyles.

In fact, I’m sort of unabashed in my fervor for Franco in this movie.  To be honest, the relationship between his character, Scott Smith, and Harvey, is a huge part of why Milk sticks in my mind whenever I watch it.  The wackado neckties four inches across at the knot and the manes of curls on everyone are also to blame.  And Josh Brolin who does a nice job as the jilted co-worker turned broken, vengeful man. 

Fun fact: I bought my copy of Milk for 25 cents at a library sale.  Even MORE fun fact: Tim and I got engaged after a library sale, after breakfast at a diner with friends.  Because of this, my engagement will possibly always be linked to bacon in my mind, and I guess I'm okay with that. 

On a related note (I hope) I also read Truth & Beauty for the second time last week, Ann Patchett's breathtaking memoir about her friendship with Lucy Grealy, with whom she lived for a year during graduate school.  My mom gave me a copy when the book came out in 2004 and I loved it then, but holy cow did I really truly wrap myself in its story this time around.

I have so many thoughts about Truth & Beauty but don't want to write a term paper on my blog again so I'll just say it's a book about friendship and writing and becoming a writer and anxiety about writing and devotion to a craft and devotion to a friend and growing up in different ways that don't always match your friend's life.  I love love love it (did I mention how I feel about it?) and I'm sort of struck by my feelings for Ann Patchett in my ripe old thirties.  Elizabeth McCracken makes a few appearances in Truth & Beauty, a detail I missed the first time around because I hadn't yet discovered her writing.  

Ever since I learned they were friends, I always thought McCracken would be my greater love, but Patchett's wry, understated prose is starting to close the gap.  It doesn't seem possible.  I loved The Giant's House so much, McCracken's novel about a librarian who falls in love with a young giant, I used to unilaterally hand it out whenever I could.  That book sort of strikes the same moody, melancholy, dark, devoted chords that are working in Truth & Beauty, come to think of it. 

The other thing I have been thinking a lot about lately is Elizabeth Gilbert's podcast, Big Magic, which I avoided for a long time, because her voice in the first episode drove me crazy with its hushed, patronizing tones.  I tried to get over that and mostly, I did. 

The episode featuring Rayya Elias was one of my favorites.  (Episode #8, The Pure Pleasure of Making Stuff.  You can find the whole series here.)  Of course I listened to it three weeks ago so now I all I have to offer you, basically, is: it was a good one!  Honestly, I find myself a little annoyed by Gilbert lately, and I find that pretty interesting.  Is it fame backlash?  Sexism on my part?  Am I annoyed by a woman who won't stop talking or am I just annoyed by this voice that's getting a lot of airtime and ready for more variety?  (Probably a mix.)  Anyway, I've found some of her tips (can't say that word without thinking of this) useful and nurturing, too.

Choreographer, dancer, and manic artist extraordinaire Twyla Tharp was on the radio recently.  Tim called and told me to turn it on, and I did so with a warm, sudsy, yellow-gloved hand. I'm proud of this fact because there are fewer ways I'd rather listen to public radio than while doing chores around the house with sun streaming through the windows.  At the close of the interview, when Scott Simon tells Twyla Tharp that she is fascinating to listen to, she says, "No.  You know what?  I just work.  And I’ve worked a long time.  And I like work.  That’s what I do.”

My husband believes in the idea that work is dignity, a concept I have warmed to very slowly in my life.  Amelia wrote about this on our blog and I'm returning to it now because that’s exactly what Twyla Tharp is talking about, at least in my interpretation.  Work has been Tharp's devotional practice, a way to listen to her life and collaborate with her genius.  I used to relate to this idea but my definition of work keeps changing.  If my muse is a team of horses straining at the reins, she is now constrained by the abacus of child-time, sliding ahead – and back – in quick flashes that are not at all what her ego wants to embrace.

When I surrender into what the moment needs, often along the lines of making a ruddy peanut butter sandwich when I’d rather be baking elaborate, perfect cookies, the room I’m in takes on illumination.  The LPs my daughter insists on dancing to bounce a little more richly through the floorboards.  Even the mailman becomes a friend (true story) and I start to breathe again.

It’s not easy, though.  I’m used to having time for my fantasy projects. We just returned from a road-trip to North Carolina and there are dishes on my desk because we had work done on the kitchen in our absence.  I just found a piece of bacon in my jacket pocket from our trip to Madison, WI, in October.  Life is a little scrambled right now, very full, very bewildering. 

I guess what I’m saying is: I don’t have it all figured out.  As much as I don’t like it, what if that’s this year’s teaching, after all?



1 comment:

  1. The abacus of child-time!! Love this. (For me, it might be the whip-lash of child time?) (It is amazing the ways the mind can open up in the few moments you have to yourself, but then quickly close in again the minute your name is called.) Point being, thank you for writing. I just put a library hold on Truth and Beauty. Also, love all of these photos. xoxoxxx


I love to hear your thoughts!