Monday, September 28, 2009

Shots in the Dark

I asked Eldest, who was driving, to swing by Old Towne - "I want to get a couple shots in the dark for this next little blurby I'm doing - I think I'll call it 'Snatched from the Spoiling Hand of Time' - yeah? - because that was such a perfect evening last Friday night - wasn't it? - and I want to remember it for always."

But I find now, coming to write, a distaste and a reluctance to burble on about how perfectly lovely everything was - a mother and two daughters and a friend of ours - all abandoned for various innocent and temporary causes by the men in our lives - out together at the movies.

Because I hear, murmuring in my ear, words my next younger sister, who is living sometimes reluctantly a life that sounds adventurous and free-wheeling to me, words she wrote to me a while ago (and I give you her words with her permission):
I just wanted you to know that I repented of my evil ways. Because I haven't been reading your blog and it isn't because I'm forgetful or don't care, it's because I'm selfish. And so I decided to get over myself and read because I really do love and adore your writing. I get chills with the way you put things. It's just that I get a deep, piercing pain inside when I read your blog posts because you are living the life I have always dreamed of living. Every detail- the biking, the delighful just-right kids, the eco-friendliness, the not - quite - liberal - not - quite - conservativeness, the rainy days and broken pipes and fuss of married life-- everything. It makes my own life seem abysmally empty. Pointless. Hopeless. Damn, now I'm getting choked up... but it's silly to shut my sisters, two of the three dearest adult people to me in all the world (mom is the other), just because I chronically covet their lives. So no more silliness! I sure love you!
We've talked since, my sister and I. How I - who had always wanted to adventure and succeed - mouthy and ambitious - want to scream sometimes now at the softness and sweetness of my life as it is. How she - who loves to cook and make a home - warm and generous and cozy - must find her life in a wider field, going back now for a nursing degree so she can go to Africa with Doctors without Borders.

My sister, who is taller than most men and exudes power and verve, who plays Pied Piper to all her nieces and nephews with her nonsense and highjinks, is sending me the revision of her novel to read this week. And I am not going to covet that accomplishment, because I'm going to do it myself (in a month coming soon actually) - but it is sometimes an act of will to avoid the coveting.

I do want to remember that happy Friday evening - the shiny bits that made it glow - how Eldest decided (in something suspiciously like a snit) she'd just stay home instead and take a nap (because she'd had to cancel with friends). How Middlest and I nevertheless put on lipstick and earrings, laughing together into the mirror. How our friend called in the midst and responded to "Well, we're just on our way to - hey! what are you doing tonight?" with "I'll be ready and waiting at the corner!" How Eldest, happily zoozing away on the front room couch, didn't actually wake up until after we'd stood her on her feet, stepped her feet into her shoes, slipped her arms into her jacket and walked her out to the car.

And how our friend in a new sea green scarf, waiting as promised beneath the overarching branches of a tree, ran across the street to the passenger side, laughing, "Perfect timing!"

How we knew nothing about the movie we went to see except that it was about a young woman who cooks her way through Julia Child's cookbook, starring Meryl Streep and that actress who was in Enchanted. Probably there would be no car crashes or spattering blood. And there would be Meryl Streep. And that was good enough. How we laughed and talked louder and louder as we coasted down toward the river and turned a corner, as we trotted across the crosswalk and up to the ticket kiosk. How the glow of the theatre lights filled more than just the evening sky.

And the movie was delightful ('Julie & Julia' movie review: ) Especially the Julia bits - her love of life, her greed for life, a life she lived without examining it over and over, and the lusty tenderness between her and her husband. And at the end, Eldest and Middlest, fired up with culinary ambition, invited our friend to come back up to the house where they would make roasted pepper dipping sauce for the fresh French bread I'd picked up after picking up the farm share that afternoon and peach crisp from the last of the peaches.

Which we did, I mopping the floor while the girls cooked and my friend copying out recipes and regretting she couldn't bring the poison dart frogs from her classroom to lap up the fruit flies lining up in a starving breadline along the door of the kitchen cupboard now that the canning of peaches is over. "I think they'd just climb right up (meaning the brilliant frogs) and lick the flies right up - if they weren't too uncomfortable in a new environment, that is." Instead, she has to order wingless fruit flies by the packet to feed them -"Expensive to breed them that way, I guess," - and so keeps looking regretfully at all this free fodder for her stock going to waste.

(Delights! who wouldn't want to remember them all?)

But it is embarrassing - the ease of my life and how simple and surfacey and self-absorbed. Also embarrassing that sometimes all that easiness makes me miserable. That weight of feeling I ought to be savoring every blessed moment. When I don't. The unbearble burden of good fortune. I know - ridiculous. I should just shut up.

Because good fortune is so often ugly and smug. Misfortune, at least the bearing of it (patiently or fiercely, comically, gallantly, even foolishly) is always so much more endearing, if not inspiring. And sad things are so often beautiful in themselves.

Another friend of mine said this past summer, "Everything you write is so . . . sad. I mean, I knew all those things, we've talked about them . . ."

"Probably because I always laugh when I talk. And I don't know how to write in the laughing."

"But I never realized how sad you were . . . I mean, you always manage to tease out this beautiful thing in what you write. I don't know how, but you'll find beauty in what you're seeing, but getting there is so sad."

So, I was grieving last year. But it is also true that this is a world of loss whose beauties sting us because they cannot last. Because they are always about to go. And if we force happiness to stay it becomes just pudgy comfort and smugness and self-satisfaction. Or at least, that's what I told my friend and she nodded, not entirely convinced.

Julie and Juila was almost too perfect a fit for the spot I find myself in right now. Women trying to find themselves. Which tells me that I am, as usual, so average, so ordinary - which fit I chafe at. So predictably right in the smacky center of the target audience. The ideal consumer of this product. Every other 30-ish, 40-ish, 50-ish woman who loved this movie certainly saw herself in it, too.

I have some larger claim I would contend - Julia and her sister, as played in the movie - are so much like the women of my family - the fluting and burbly voices, the unexpected earthiness hand-in-glove with a gentility we can't shrug off, the swooping enthusiasms, the oversized height. The sense that "You don't fit in and so after awhile you don't fit in," which unites my sisters and mother and aunts. "Freaks of nature," my lovely, lengthy sisters call themselves. And I am patted on the head as the shrimpy, nearly normal one. But we all walk around the world like giraffey aliens, not quite catching the accent, always giving ourselves away as not-from-around-here-are-you?

Does everyone feel like this? Or almost everyone?  Look at our movies this week - if so many of us feel like Aliens, where are the Others who go about glorying in their legitimacy and making the rest of us feel so monstrous?

Somehow all this roil and boil of thoughts made me shout out laughing when I read this book review this weekend:

Dyssemia isn't a recognized condition but a term coined by Nowicki and Duke, both psychology professors at Emory University, to describe the inability of certain people to understand and follow the unwritten rules of nonverbal communication. These are the folks who stand too close, talk too loudly, reek of perfume or body odor, or display facial expressions that are at variance with their words. Clearly, such folks could benefit from a program to help them overcome these difficulties, and the initial chapters of this book might help readers decide if they have this problem. That is, if they pick the book up in the first place for the title, with its fabricated word, doesn't offer a clue about the subject. However, the remedial program isn't really a self-help program at all. Readers are instead instructed to find a "mentor" not a close relative or fellow employee to coach them. The authors don't explain why anyone would consent to spend large amounts of time with a relative stranger whose manner is off-putting. Not recommended; a better choice is Gordon Wainwright's Body Language (McGraw-Hill, 2000), which reviews the literature and presents awareness exercises. Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Obviously, Mary Ann Hughes is one of the lucky Others.

Fellow Dyssemiacs, come stand by me! Maybe together we can figure this strange world out. And if not, at least we can get our greedy fingers into some of life's delights anyway!


Neighbor Jane Payne said...

I just can't quite decide what to comment on!

~One, what a beautiful piece your sister wrote erasing the sibling rivalry that could have foamed and fomented.

~"Because good fortune is so often ugly and smug. Misfortune, at least the bearing of it is always so much more endearing, if not inspiring." This is so sad, but true. Good fortune is very difficult to write about. It can be a sifting of writers, those who can write about good fortune without the smugness have a gift, don't you agree?

~That theatre! How wonderful. As I watched the movie I was amazed again at Meryl Streep's versatality.

Emma J said...

N. Jane - Streep's versatility - yes. Amazing, huh? And yes, I'm feeling sifted. And yes, I am blessed with the best sisters - best for me I mean - I know your sisters are pretty wonderful, too!

Mrs. Organic said...

Poison dart frogs - I need to rent a passel of those.

That movie made me want to go home and cook a gourmet something, a gourmet anything. It even made me forgive Meryl Streep for Mamma Mia.

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