kid dreams

Over lunch a friend and I discussed how impossible it seemed to find room for children in our lives. Room, or money, or time–not while remaining ourselves. (And I know, I know, you don’t get to.) We’ve both heard the “you’re never ready” line but…really…when your apartment doesn’t even have any doors except the bathroom, are you really even fake ready?

My mother responded so well the last time I saw her that I dream less of disaster surrounding her, now. Last night I dreamed I had a child who, when two or three years old, told me that he’d grow up to become a school shooter and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Just looked up from the oversized Legos he was playing with and told me, through a mop of curls. And I started crying. Because seriously, what the hell. There was some darkness attached to the kid already…he wasn’t my husband’s; it seemed like I’d been raped and rather than admit that, I lied and said it was consensual and had been divorced as a result. So it was just me and my rape baby who was telling me he’d grow up to kill people. Then he went back to playing with his Legos. And I cried into, of all places, a dishwasher I’d been emptying at the time. I’ll have to run it again now, I thought. They’re all salty.

I’ve had good kid dreams, you know. Years after I read Little, Big I had an endlessly long dream that seemed to draw a lot from it, three kids, a thatched sunny fortress of odd-but-endearing angles against the growing darkness of the world, it being forever okay when I wasn’t totally understood and known. I even remember one of the children’s names–Owen, the youngest and unexpected, who like Auberon went away and came back with love for us and what he had left. The house took over the field behind the last and most reviled elementary school I ever attended, the one with too-rich kids and too-chummy teachers, where I was forced to sit in the middle of the field in the hot sun as punishment for building a fort among the trees at the fringes. The positioning of our house itself was a kind of triumph over what had happened there. Plus everyone being happy and able to grow old without any murderers in the family. Growing warm in the sunlight.

I’d like more dreams like that, please.

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“this town” and earnesty

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Everything’s got phases. Fashion. The moon. The economy. Your trust in the institutions that shape you.

Barring chemical instability or a particularly tough row of sorrow to hoe, which emotional factors can mar judgment, when you swing back into skepticism like the moon, you come back a little older and a little wiser. Full of a little more insight into what you believed the last time you were here: what about it was right and what about it was wrong.

I peddled, for many years, a kind of earnestness I imagined could’ve been hocked, like Truthiness, as a well-intentioned concept-cum-bullshit-word. Earnesty, I thought it could be called. Prior to that I adopted the knee-jerk cynicism worn like a favorite sweater by anyone of the right age in a liberal school, surrounded by peers who believed the same. When I grew tired of it, I couldn’t just lay it aside like said sweater. I had to abhor it. (I ran stats once on a study whose point was to prove that most people will come to be happy with the choices they made after the fact, even if denied their original, most-desired choice. We adapt to second-best.) Hence earnesty. I tired of my classmates waxing poetic about The Man and The System and how They’re All In It Together. “They” this, “they” that; there was always some nebulous “they” out to get you and it was so ridiculous and paranoid I jettisoned most of those people from my life for good.

But I’m halfway through This Town now, and yes I know his tongue is firmly planted in his cheek. Yes I know the value of the book isn’t in its revelations so much as its wit. It’s not supposed to be a revelation, the degree to which “they” are all “in it together.” Everyone is supposed to know this.

I try to imagine, though, how I would address the younger version of me, or someone like her, still in that full-mooned cynicism of college and reading this book. How would I rationalize it? The quote that opens one chapter is from Eric Hoffer: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” It is one thing to rail about this sanctimoniously and to believe that you are the special snowflake who can sail in and hang on to your integrity and clean things up and kick out the criminals. But when you swallow all of the truth of it–when you acknowledge that you, like the better people that came before you, would probably fall prey to the same petty concerns they did, and become part of the racket–what remains? When you know that the people you knew who went to work for things they believe in now do no such thing? Who gets to keep doing something they know matters? Is it that everyone turns pernicious and predatory and self-serving with age, or is it more that there wasn’t a great deal worth “believing in” in the first place, and that age causes you to realize this?

I have in no way been pushed to some sort of quarter-life crisis by, of all things, This Town. That’s another difference I think that comes with the perennial return to mindsets you embrace and lay aside; embrace and lay aside. For younger people this might be worth slamming doors and crying over. Or sailing to a foreign land and declaring freedom from. But it doesn’t seem worth that now. A raucous protest would last only as long as it took the moral compass of enough people with money to swing the other way again. And that’s not bitterness talking. That’s just blandly observed fact.

A friend just left my home whom I hadn’t been close to in years–not since we were both earnest college students. I asked her what she was doing these days and she hedged and dodged and finally, as a requirement of an anecdote, confessed to “having finally caved” and to be “working for the man.” It took me a moment to realize that the silence that followed was uncomfortable for her. It hadn’t dawned on me that she might be expecting, given our shared past, condemnation or at least stifled distaste. But she can pay her rent in a city four times as expensive as my own, and can put away three times as much as I can for a rainy day. She’s still the same person and loves the same people. Why would I fault her for finding a way to get by?

Well, I wouldn’t. Not now. And maybe that’s the difference, when you return to a cynicism you laid aside before. The fangs of it dull with age; grow familiar and less sharp. It isn’t that these things you used to believe in turn up empty to spite you, or as the result of spiteful of actions taken by someone else. They were always empty. But you carry on regardless, because–barring chemical instability or a particularly rough row of sorrow to hoe–that’s what you do.

Just maybe with a little less conviction this time.

 

don’t go, stephen colbert

I know it’s a huge honor and something many aim for and I don’t know, maybe a bigger budget. Bigger cred.

But he has to know that the exchange rate between satire and honesty isn’t equal. It costs more to do anything as yourself than as a shticked-up version of yourself. And I don’t think people will buy it. And I hate that thought. Because he came into his show right as I came into adulthood. Everyone watched it. We ate a late dinner in front of it. Relationships were struggled toward in the glow of the TV in that 11:30PM timeslot. Here or abroad–especially abroad, where, though more on top of the news than at any other point in my life, it was the ability to poke at that news in a way that wasn’t totally cynical and damaging that I missed–the show, and the visibly evolving comic mind behind it, was like a correspondence course in class. Not the class of Old Hollywood, but what is necessary to retain dignity today–the fine line between self and shtick that, contrary to what one might think, doesn’t get to be impenetrable: you are supposed to cross over it sometimes, and when you do it is powerful.

Once people “got” what he was doing he became a target of the same sort of right-wing, old-people accusations that flew at Jon Stewart. And I thought that meant he was ours. We were his loyal fans, getting his jokes, understanding that there was an implicit critique but also fun there, and I thought he would remain ours. Late night, Comedy Central…people of a certain cut and vintage just have no interest in going there. Even in sitting through some of the clearly demographic-targeted ads, if you go the online route, tells you you don’t belong. Because you don’t.

To give him up to–to some extent–the same people who bewailed his existence in the first place; to give up his shtick–that sucks. Congratulations and everything, but it sucks. It’s like when your second grade teacher gets married and pregnant. Congratulations and everything. But we know we’re not going to be the same people to you anymore. We’ve been demoted. And it sucks.

oh, zero

grand-budapest-hotel

Yep, Grand Budapest Hotel is my favorite Wes Anderson film. For all the reasons I told people–it shows us what’s going right on the outsides of people, for once, instead of what’s going wrong on the insides of them; for telling us a story instead of dragging us through a set of emotions; for saying something serious there at the end: “…his world was gone long before he entered it, but he certainly sustained the illusion with remarkable grace.”

But also because Zero gets to be the adored protege I always tried to be. He does it right, is granted the right to access jokes and memories denied most, while retaining the ability to drop right back into good-natured–not resentful–tutelage at the drop of a hat. My heart wrung itself out as they shoot glances back and forth across the train carriage. I’m a dead man. No you’re not, you’re my protege and no protege of mine gets shot in the middle of a barley field, goddammit.

One of the worst things about being a woman is that somewhere along the line, no matter how good you are at what you do and how well you learn it, you’re going to be reduced to, or at least flagged as (which is essentially still being reduced to), a pair of tits, which realization either turns the whole thing into a seedily predictable approach-and-retreat*, or slams down well-intentioned but infuriating barriers to camaraderie that I hate, and continue to hate, and have only learned to live with through being guided, nowadays, mostly by heterosexual women, for good or ill. I would watch my male peers get Zeroed as I was left fuming by the sidelines, even though I was just as good at what they did, because god forbid you confide in, send off a part of your worldview with, an XX-chromosome. Someone’s going to say you’re fucking her. The fact that this precaution makes sense in today’s world doesn’t make it any less irksome.

Even leaving the guys out of it, I’m well aware it can get creepy. Look at Notes on a Scandal or The Finishing School. Ick ick ick. Perhaps, in this, I was lucky to have such a thorny, distant personality: I am so easily wooed by the M. Gustaves of this world that were I not so dismissive and judgmental of most people, I’d have become the loyal acolyte of who knows what charming predator.

But the fact remains that the relationship between Zero and M. Gustave is what wins Grand Budapest Hotel for me. Even more than the–for once!–worst that you think could happen not happening; than the leading of us firmly and openly down a fairy-tale path that concludes finitely with knowledge about the world in which the fairy-tale was told. Knowledge that doesn’t–for once!–make us want to cry, or to be someone else. Not too much, anyway. No more so than usual.

*I take fierce pride in having excoriatingly divested myself of every male who ever pursued me, from the second-grade neighbor pretending to forget his math book to borrow mine (I had to have the logic of this scenario pointed out to me by my mother, but upon realizing what he was doing I marched directly to his house and informed him that it had to stop, now, or he could fail math for all I cared) to the pathetically devoted PhD candidate whose affections I–again–had to be told derived not, in fact, from an appreciation of my scholarly worth but rather from a baser direction. I am the pursuer, never the pursued. God help you if you get that wrong.

wilderness inside walls

Time’s river flowed east, never to return, the sages taught. But there were so many ruins along the banks. Commanders rebelling, millions dead, dynasties falling. Armies as weapons against the state, the court, the emperor under heaven. Military leaders seizing the mandate of heaven for themselves. Chaos and savagery, wilderness inside walls. The heart crying for what the eye saw.

He wrote about a different kind of loss this time. The kind not crowned with the cake topper of a noble death. The going-on anyway, having had the chance to do what you were born to do and not taking it. The finding of meaning somewhere else instead. The making-do.

So damn good.

It is probably vain of me to think that you need to have arrived at a certain point in your life to prefer, or at least to value equally, a story crafted to allow this loss and not the grander ones, the finite endings. I would cause resentment in others the same way the professor who told me to wait to read Proust until I was in my forties, or the one who who told me I had to have had a child to get behind A Personal Matter, caused resentment in me.

Still, though. The making-do. We need its veneration as much as 12th-century military commanders. Even if only in quiet moments, sitting cross-legged on floors, having abandoned a planned run in favor of a final few pages, in a square of sunlight grown long on a prematurely golden afternoon.