August 15th, 2013 | Other Projects
…from my mom’s house. She has a mint condition Dykes to Watch Out For mouse pad that I’m gonna sell on eBay. It was one of the last items of merchandise I made in the mid-1990s, before I shut down my mail-order swag business.
Which I stole again over a decade later for the cover of The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For.
I also just came across this picture of me in what strikes me as a bizarrely butch outfit for a baby girl circa 1962. What were my parents thinking?
August 6th, 2013 | Other Projects
The musical version of Fun Home, created by Jeanine Tesori (music) and Lisa Kron (book and lyrics) is opening for real this October at the Public Theater in NYC. Here’s a picture of me last fall, during the workshop of the play, with Sydney Lucas, the girl who plays “Small Alison.” Hearing her sing Lisa and Jeanine’s song “Ring of Keys,” based on page 118 of the book, is worth the price of admission.
Here I am with all three Alisons, including Beth Malone (regular Alison), and Alexandra Socha (Medium Alison.)
Well, come see for yourself if you want. Tickets go on sale on August 8. Here’s a link to Fun Home on the Public Theater’s site.
August 6th, 2013 | Other Projects
One of you wrote to ask me this. I have been getting concerned emails from various blog regulars about the disappearance of recent posts and the lack of any new ones. The disappearance is due to a problem my web host has been having. The lack of new posts is just due to my being busy and not having much to report. Here’s something, though:
I just got this Oberlin College t-shirt in the mail. I think it was because I gave money to the alumni fund. But I really love it. In fact I am wearing it for the third day straight. I like the design, which is an image of one of the iconic “womb chairs” in the Oberlin College Library. But I also like the t-shirt itself. It fits perfectly. Most t-shirts don’t, they grab or pull or bag or otherwise impinge on one.
I guess I have reached some strange new phase of life, where I fret about t-shirt comfort and give money to my alma mater.
May 22nd, 2013 | Wild Kingdom
Hol and I went out for a walk after dinner. I stated that I was determined to hear a thrush. Their haunting, piercing song is a crucial rite of spring for me. I have been away from home for a while, so missed their return. I heard one at a distance the other evening, but tonight we not only heard a hermit thrush in ear-thrilling proximity, we could see it! In this video, if you go to full-screen mode, you can see the bird move from one branch to another near the middle of the frame. Thrushes are very private, secretive birds. (Not unlike my recently departed mother.) I’ve seen one before very briefly. But mostly they are invisible in the dusky forest.
Every year I drag out this bit of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem Spring…but every year it is true.
…Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing…
And here is the almost-full May moon rising after we got home from our bird walk.
Here is a video about the moon, thrushes, and veeries, that I made 6 years ago. The meadow where I filmed the moon is now fully grown up with pine trees. The passage of time is nearly unbearable.
May 15th, 2013 | Other Projects
My mom died yesterday. Here’s her obituary.
I got to spend a lot of time with her over the past couple months, which was a tremendous gift.
May 10th, 2013 | Other Projects
I’m at my mom’s house, and have been going through some of her old files of the plays she acted in. There are programs from college and summer stock productions, old newspaper reviews, head shots…including this stunner:
An envelope of lovely cream-laid stock, sealed with red sealing wax and addressed in my own handwriting to Mme. Leonora Armfeldt, a role my mother played in A Little Night Music in 1977. At first I thought it was something I’d given her as a joke. Certainly the address was a joke…”Björneborg Manor.” But then I opened it up and read the letter.
These are lines from a song that Mme. Armfeldt’s daughter Desirée sings. Then it all came back to me—this was an actual prop from the play! Mom had asked me to create an authentic looking letter that the characters could use onstage.
This has added yet another bizarre layer of complexity to a scene in chapter 6 of my memoir Are You My Mother? where I write about mom’s performance in that play.
May 3rd, 2013 | Other Projects
Unfortunately, I am having to cancel some events I was scheduled to do next week, due to a family situation. On Thursday May 8, I was going to do a talk at BAM with the illustrious personal essayist Phillip Lopate. (Wow, didn’t know till I made that link that it’s some kind of dinner event! $55 with wine and tip included! Plus it’s sold out. Man.) We’re working on rescheduling this.
After the BAM event, I was planning to continue on to Boston, to do a keynote for the Women and Psychotherapy course, part of Harvard Medical School’s continuing education program. I was looking forward to meeting Janna Malamud Smith, one of the organizers. She’s a therapist and also a writer. Several years ago I blogged about her memoir about her father, Bernard Malamud.
So I’m not going to be able to do the Women and Psychotherapy event either, but I’m working on a scheme to deliver my keynote virtually–my talks are always essentially slide shows–so it might work to send a powerpoint file with a voiceover of me talking, that they can play for the audience.
March 12th, 2013 | Other Projects
Sorry, I have completely gone off the radar.
On Monday March 3rd, I was set to fly from VT to Columbus Ohio, to Otterbein University where I had classes and a public talk scheduled all day Tuesday. Then on Wednesday, I would fly from Columbus to New Orleans, to speak at Tulane University. Then on Thursday, fly vertically cross-country from New Orleans to Cleveland, to do a talk at my alma mater, Oberlin College. Then on Friday, fly from Cleveland to Boston, for an afternoon talk with Jeanette Winterson at the big giant writer’s conference AWP. I had been terribly excited about that event for months and was looking forward to having a conversation with this literary titan about our respective mother memoirs—my book Are You My Mother? And her book Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?
Hm. Both of those titles are questions, one of many convergences that I noticed as I was poring over JW’s books for the past several weeks—not just Why Be Happy, but its fictional forerunner from 1985, the novel Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit–an account of JW’s childhood being raised by Pentecostal evangelists who adopted her in the UK in the 1960s.
Well the short story is, my travel was beset with delays and detours all week. My first flight, from Burlington VT to Detroit, took off five hours late. I missed my connection to Columbus. Fueled with claustrophobic frustration, I decided to rent a car and drive there from Detroit, in the middle of the night, rather than wait for a morning flight. That worked out okay, and I spent a nice day at Otterbein University. But Wednesday morning, my flight to New Orleans was also delayed. I managed to squeak in in time to meet with a class, do a tv interview about the freaking Bechdel Test, have dinner with students, then do a public talk and booksigning. I was looking forward to getting a little more sleep that night, but when I woke at 5am to pee I saw a note shoved under my door recommending that I get to the airport TWO hours, not just ONE hour early. That meant calling the car service and rescheduling, and of course after that I could not manage to get back to sleep. Travel is so brutal. Why do we live like this? In an increasingly depleted state, I arrived at the New Orleans airport in plenty of time, only to find my flight to Cleveland delayed.
But I squeaked in there, too–just in time to get called to meet the President of the college! He wanted to say hello, which was a great honor of course but a little nervewracking. I couldn’t get over a feeling of being summoned to the principal’s office. Plus there have been a string of disturbing hate incidents on campus, which I felt spectacularly unable to address in any productive way.
I was becoming progressively more and exhausted. Over the course of the week I was checking in with my mom each day—she’s been sick with a virus. “I have what the Queen has,” she reported. Every day I hoped to find her improving, but in fact, each time she sounded worse and worse. When I called her from the motel in Oberlin, she said, “When are you done with this trip?” and I realized that meant, “When can you get here?” So I told her I could be at her place in PA on Saturday night, as soon as I did my Boston event with JW at AWP.
After that conversation, and some quick recalibration of my travel plans, I had dinner with some Oberlin students. When we all sat down, they introduced themselves with their names and “pronoun declarations.” One preferred, “She, Her, Hers.” Another, “They, Them, Theirs.” By this point I felt like my brain was on frappée. They were all very charming and earnest, but I could hardly process what they were saying. “What parts of speech are those?” was all I managed to ask. After dinner I did my talk to a pleasantly full room, which was nice, and thanks to President Krislov, who arranged it, met my old drawing professor John Pearson and his wife Audra Skuodos for a drink. That was quite lovely, but sapped the very last of my introverted energy cells. I returned, exhausted, to the Oberlin Inn—which coincidentally was the last place I saw my father alive, when he paid me a visit during the spring of my junior year of college.
Next morning I got up and packed for the last leg to Boston. As I was doing so I had this disconcerting text exchange with my friend Sarah, who was already at the AWP conference there:
Boston can handle snow, I thought, and proceeded on my way to the Cleveland airport. I was still reading Why Be Happy, and making notes for my conversation with Winterson, and tweaking the presentation I would do, as I waited for my flight to take off. There were a few delays, then they had us all line up to board, then they had us sit down again. Then they dealt the fatal blow—the flight was cancelled. There was too much wind and snow in Boston to land.
I stood in a rebooking line for over an hour…
…but it was rapidly becoming clear that I would miss the talk with Jeanette Winterson. I had a very hard time processing this information. I was so geared up for it, and had friends who were going to be there. My girlfriend Holly was in fact on her way to Boston in the car to meet me. But no. There was no way to get to Boston in time, and no way to reschedule the talk.
I had been working on a list of topics to discuss with Jeanette. Fact and fiction, the role of literature in our respective families, Jeanette’s confident voice and my self-doubting voice, and how those were traces of our mothers…forget it. There was not going to be a conversation.
In fact, it started to seem absurd to bother continuing on to Boston. Why fly there at 10pm, long after Jeanette had finished handling our session (splendidly, no doubt) on her own? I was only 5 hours from my mother’s house. I might as well rent another car—I was getting pretty efficient at this—and just head to her place. Through numerous conversations with Holly, we determined that she too would change course. We both started driving toward Central PA. Here is Holly’s photo, driving west on Rt. 80 in the afternoon.
There was no sign, as we converged, of any massive snowstorm. The sky was pellucid.
As I drove East, I watched the clock. At 4:30 Jeanette would be taking the stage without me. I can’t quite express how frustrating and disorienting it was to miss this event I had been so intent on for so many months.
Late Friday night, Hol and I met in PA at my mom’s house. My mother is doing rather better. We have all been spending a lot of time in big box stores, trying to find edible food. Here is Holly at the absolute nadir of our shopping experience. Packaged apple slices. What sort of abomination is that?
And one last thing…there’s something kind of …something… about missing a discussion of mother memoirs to spend time with one’s actual mother.
okay! another longer-than 140 character post. Sorry about that.