Marianne stumbled on a root protruding from the sweltering sidewalk, nearly losing a scoop of orange sherbet in the process. Relieved, she paused to lick creamy rivulets from the sides of her softening cone. It tasted like summer, like granny wasn’t sick, like no one would call her names on Monday.
She imagined Maxwell Detweiler looming and poking at her–as he had three days in a row–and how it would feel to shove her sticky treat into his stupid face. But no, that wasn’t right. She’d spent two dollars and seventy-nine cents, which was more than he deserved.
Be ready for anything. Best case scenario: you are well-rested and patient, have a sense of humor and a full tank of gas, plenty of cash and Kleenex on hand, complete flexibility with your time, musical preferences, and volume tolerance, endless appetite for YouTube videos and Instagram feeds, a copy of Twilight, a portable charger, tasty, plentiful snacks, a working knowledge of 8th grade common core math concepts, endless sympathy and advice for tricky social and academic situations, and you don’t mind being completely ignored if none of the above is needed. Worst case scenario: you have a flask.
At the last of a long string of unpaid internships, I was sent on an errand with the gallery owner. He asked repeatedly for my name, then shrugged. “No. I’m not going to remember you. Interns come and go.” He may have seen me bristle, because he added, somewhat apologetically: “Maybe if you tell me something about yourself.”
Then conversation unfolded in the most surprising fashion, until suddenly he was pulling over to the curb through three lanes of traffic to tell me, “There is no truth but the human heart; nothing greater than tenderness in the face of adversity.”
Note: Today’s post is the fourth in a series of 100-word pieces I’ve been writing in solidarity with NaNoWriMo. Couldn’t commit to the 50,000 words, but I could do a lot more than I have been…and at 100 words a day, I’ll finish on March 22, 2017.
A few months ago, I wrote a post responding to a video which I failed to embed properly. Apologies. I suppose it was inevitable that Zero to Hero would challenge me to figure out that mess. I went back and fixed the problem–I think.
For my month of blog fine-tuning–c.f., Zero to Hero–I’m supposed to write something which includes embedded media. In honor of this occasion, I have decided to share something that has snagged in the corner of my brain. It is not the usual Bad Parenting fare.
I’m being haunted by a music video.
I find the song mesmerizing. The lyrics are just inscrutable enough to tantalize my imagination. The melody is intoxicating, and the mix is perfect–complicated, well-balanced. What is bugging me is the video itself. I’m still trying to figure out what they were thinking.
The set and arrangement of characters were modeled after what is perhaps Raphael’s best-known painting, a fresco he did at the Vatican called The School of Athens.
This painting supposedly includes “every great Greek philosopher,” which means everyone from Socrates and Plato to Euclid and Pythagoras. I don’t know any contemporary Greek philosophers, but it doesn’t matter: the painting was done in the 16th century, so I’m off the hook.
School of Athens was part of a series that was supposed to illustrate a progression from reason (Western philosophy) to revelation (Christianity), and to show how they worked together–an idea that has been lost in these days of intelligent design vs. evolution.
But what characters has alt-J put in their video? These are not meant to be philosophers. And why did alt-J choose to put this particular cast in dialogue with art history and religion? After a very un-scientific search, the best I could find was an off-hand comment about wanting to set contemporary figures from a “lower socio-economic status” into Raphael’s famous work. Fine. But these are not “poor people,” per se; these are stereotypes from gangster culture: the liquor in a paper bag, throwing dice, ferocious dogs, big earrings, wife beater t-shirts, heavy chains, spandex dresses. I look at pictures of members of the band and wonder: what are these pasty white guys trying to say? Are they trying to offer commentary on class and culture? Or simply show off their liberal arts degrees from Leeds?
The lyrics have not helped illuminate this conundrum:
“Three guns and one goes off
One’s empty, one’s not quick enough
One burn, one red, one grin
Search the graves while the camera spins
Chunks of you will sink down to seals
Blubber rich in mourning, they’ll nosh you up
Yes, they’ll nosh the love away but it’s fair to say
You will still haunt me”
The video makes no sense to me, and borders on offensive. If this is what they think poverty looks like, I find it terribly condescending. Kind of like when Miley pops in a grill and acts out her impression of African Americans. Awkward, at best, but likely much, much worse.
At the same time, I can’t stop listening to the song or watching the video in question, so who am I to judge?
p.s. I did find out where they got the band name. Press alt-J on your keyboard and you’ll get ∆: the triangle that appears in their video and as their logo. Triangles are their favorite shape.
I love, love, love shooting film. One has to slow down and contemplate the light, meter here and there, think in two dimensions, adjust the tripod. It is slow and meditative for me, in part because the equipment is so unwieldy, in part because the film so expensive. Each frame matters.
But this image was not shot on film. In fact, I’m lucky it exists at all.
Here’s the deal.
When I am with the spouse and kids, there is never a good time to take a photograph. I’ve missed many, many shots in the interest of “making good time,” catering to emergency bathroom and snack needs, or these days, trying to avoid the tween’s biting impatience.
My family will probably disagree–and for good reason. In truth, they have stopped and waited innumerable times for me to dig out my phone or a point-and-shoot. I take a ridiculous number of crappy snapshots on a daily basis, but the resulting images feel more like visual markers than like “real photographs.” Some are interesting, or serve to jog the memory, but most of them are jpeg trash. I save them anyway.
On the morning pictured, we were supposed to have hit the road an hour earlier. It had taken longer than expected to pack and leave our lodging, which was probably my fault. Two minutes into the drive, we had to stop and return Red Box movies. Five minutes later, we had to stop again to get gas and dig snacks out of a bag buried in the back. Finally, we were rolling. Everyone was a bit cross–and more than ready to get a few miles under the belt–when I saw the most amazing light coming over the lake and snow. I turned to my beleaguered family and smiled weakly. “So. I…uh…need to pull over for a sec.”
Sadly, I didn’t have my real camera along, but I grabbed the point and shoot and got out of the car. I slowed down for two minutes and really looked. I futzed a little with the framing and exposure. I walked closer, forgetting for a moment that there were three grumpy people back in the car.
It may not be the best possible photo, but it makes me very, very happy. In the midst of the manic, chaotic snarl of everyday finagling, it is possible to breathe and see and be in the present. And even if it’s just for two short minutes, it can be grand.
Gone are the days of resolving to “Achieve balance,” and then feeling crappity all year when I can’t do it. This year, I have decided once again to aim low, focusing on short-term, achievable goals. I will make reasonable monthly resolutions, and then emerge victorious. That is my plan.
For January, I’m participating in “Zero to Hero,” the embarrassingly titled 30-day plan for kick-starting or fine-tuning one’s blog. And though it sounds as if I need a cape, I will proceed without one.
For today’s assignment, I was supposed to introduce myself and consider my purpose and content. Well, I thought about it. I blog about everything from teaching to parenting to bad hair cuts to traveling, and I have no intention of narrowing my focus at this time. As for an introduction, I’ve been here a while, so I decided to rewrite my About page. It now reads as follows:
the Oxford comma
other great stuff
Neither a morning person nor a night owl, I can be surprisingly productive between 10 and 2. I am awake for many, many other hours, though–mostly on purpose.
Additional fun facts:
After graduating from Carleton College with a degree in Sociology and Anthropology, I joined Teach for America, continuing to teach and administrate in urban public schools for twelve years. For my first mid-life crisis, I went on leave to study photography at California College of the Arts. I am currently raising two daughters, writing two blogs, teaching and photographing whenever possible.
Also, I am apparently a photo editor for an online magazine. This is exciting and terrifying, but I didn’t include that on the page because I don’t actually believe it yet.
Now. I am expected home in time for the bedtime routine. That is next on my list to achieve.
This is the story of abandoning my family for two and a half weeks one summer to do something ridiculously selfish and wonderful. It is also about gelato, meltdowns, memory, and déjà vu. Have I mentioned that already?
Here’s how it started. A photography professor of mine leaned across the aisle during a lecture. She told me that she was taking a group of students to Italy during the summer. “You should come,” she said.
I laughed a little hysterically, to the point where the exchange became awkward, and we tuned back to the lecture.
Up until then, I’d only slept away from my four-year-old two nights of her entire little life, and those were spent on the floor of a friend’s house a couple blocks away–clutching my phone all night, just in case. And I’d never been away from my two-year-old. I had to lay down with her for an hour or two every night to get her to settle and go to sleep. Though I had weaned her at 18 months, she had taken to digging in my belly button as a replacement soothing mechanism. She picked at me with her tiny talons until I bled. Scar tissue, it turns out, is surprisingly sensitive, but I wasn’t sure how to wean a child from belly-digging.
There are probably a few people reading this that will roll their eyes and mutter in that superior way about sleep training. In my defense, I did try it with the first child. After several unsuccessful attempts on my own, after reading a pile of helpful books, I finally hired a sleep consultant, and tried again. My child cried and cried and cried and cried. She did not let up for naps; she did not let up for nights. She would doze off occasionally, only to wake up ten minutes later and start again. I let her cry and cry until there was a hole in my heart the size of Saskatchewan. So after THIRTY DAYS, I gave up. I didn’t even bother to try with kid #2. Now, how was I going to leave my spouse alone with such a mess?
With all of this in mind, I mentioned the Italy trip to my husband, so he could have a good laugh as well.
“Maybe you should go,” he said.
Best not to ask twice.
Strangely, despite the enormity of the impending separation, I didn’t freak out right away. I had childcare issues to resolve, packing crises, film and equipment to procure, and a research paper due upon departure. I worried about all of that instead.
Then I got on the plane…and cried for a couple of hours straight. Not demure little teardrops, either, but swollen, hiccoughing, snotty, sobbing. My apologies to the bewildered man seated beside me. Eventually regaining composure, I spent the rest of the flight listening to language lessons and, undoubtedly, murmuring along with the patient Italian lady in my headphones. Again, apologies.
The first couple of days on the ground were a blur of disoriented jet lag, a breathless march from church after church to museum after museum. Honestly, all I really remember about Florence is the gelato. Limone. Pesca. Caffè. Cioccolato. Shop after shop, fresh fruit piled high atop the frozen tubs, a little melty on the sides from the summer heat. In between scoops, I was having an out of body experience with some really fabulous twenty-year-olds. I was completely untethered.
On day four, we headed off to a monastery in Tuscany, where the landscape did something wholly unexpected: it became familiar.
I had already seen this place, on coffee tables, in ads, in my dreams. It looked exactly like it was supposed to look, and I was unable to see it as a foreign place. Even as I was wandering this countryside for the first time, it was already a memory, part of the landscape of my psyche.
For days, I couldn’t make a picture because all of the photographs had already been made; making another would be superfluous. I focused on the long, lazy dinners–completely unknown to the parents of small children–the carafes of house wine, the late night walks filled with fireflies, frogs, and stars. I focused on the warm camaraderie of young strangers, who asked questions such as, “What is childbirth like?” “What are your irrational fears?” “Who do you secretly, shamefully lust after?” Or, “If you had to eat someone here, who would it be?” Those questions don’t often come up at pre-school potlucks. It felt so good to contemplate anything besides bowel movements, discipline, and sleep deprivation.
Since I would never forgive myself if I went home empty camera’d, I figured it was time to shoot something. And because I couldn’t make a new picture of the landscape, I tried instead to make pictures that looked like what I could see in my head. I attempted to capture on film my memories that were not really memories, that were not really mine.
After I returned to the States, I stumbled upon a passage that put this sensation into words:
“The very colors of the place had seeped into my blood: just as Hampden, in subsequent years, would always present itself immediately to my imagination in a confused whirl of white and green and red, so the country house first appeared as a glorious blur of watercolors, of ivory and lapis blue, chestnut and burnt orange and gold, separating only gradually into the boundaries of remembered objects: the house, the sky, the maple trees. Even that day, there on the porch…it had the quality of a memory…” excerpted from The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
A very belated thank you to those of you who made that trip possible. I had a strange and wonderful time.