"Most everything was an act around here, she had learned, the way people dressed and the way people talked; everything was shorthand for something else. Wearing clothes that old people wore because you were young enough to wear old people’s clothes. Listening to music that hardly sounded like music. Reading books no one had heard of and owning obsolete items like record players or deer antlers, things that apparently signified that you were different, even when all those different things seemed the same as everyone else’s different things..."
(Excerpt from my novel in progress)
I have carried around my mother's copy of Slouching Towards Bethlehem since I first read it, about six years ago. The copy is a faded blue paperback a torn up spine and yellowing pages; it is one of those books whose pages might fall out in hefty chunks if you aren't careful. It is from 1961. The price of the book is $1.95.
Even though I have had this book for a long time I only noticed my mother's handwriting - on page 225, just before my favorite essay "Goodbye to All That" -- yesterday, when I went back to look for New York writing inspiration. (This essay, with it's perfect portrait of the New York newcomer, in her dress that she thought was "so smart" back in Sacramento, and upon arriving realizes that "smart" has a very new definition here, has stayed with me, defining what it means to arrive as a young, hopeful girl in New York City.) My mother's handwriting is light and brisk, in pencil, and it reads: "1961 -- Saturday Evening Post." Then, in that same pencil, there is a slash, crossing out the poem that precedes the essay (How many miles to Babylon...etc.)
Seeing this note on my favorite essay of one of my favorite books made me think about my mother at my age, on her first adventure in New York City, in her Lower East Side apartment that she's explained was full of rats, reading the essay and scribbling with her pencil. And did she feel just like Joan, like I do now, nearly 40 years later? Didion was 27 when she wrote this essay. I am almost 27 now. How old was my mother when she read this? And what did she know about the Saturday Evening Post from '61?
Did we all feel the way this essay describes (smart, then later, not so smart) when we arrived respectively in New York? And did we all feel it again, maybe even more palpably, when we read and re-read "Goodbye to All That?" Maybe this is what good writing is capable of -- transcending generations of newcomers and reminding them know they are not entirely alone...
(And for $1.95, I'd say that's a steal.)
Four Person Show
From my Dad's upcoming collection The Peanut Butter Footnotes
Sue, Nin, I, in the dark in the car honored
To be included in the peanut butter footnotes
Of your thoughts and illustrious career.
We are all so proud to be able to include your
Words and deeds and celebrations
In the footnotes of our own small biographies.
One Man Show
Today I fill the almost empty
peanut butter jar with
and lick the knife
clean of the sweet, sticky mix.
It is something
that my father does
before he begins his afternoon
That and three espressos,
one fish oil pill,
a couple games of sudoku,
on the wire-frame,
Then up again, at quick attention,
a few plucks of the cigar-box ukulele,
and he’s off,
ready and juiced,
that by the time he walks
the planked path to the studio
he will be full again,
with more than enough colors,
and a new idea for how to fix
that rough-edged part,
in the corner there.
I finish off my jar
while looking out
on a snowy Brooklyn parking lot.
I am moved to begin
my own afternoon:
desk, computer, attention,