Monday, June 29, 2015

Pussycat, Pussycat Where Have You Been?

A.  to London to visit the queen
B.  burying the dead.

The answer, Dear Reader, is B.  But, not in the way you think.  In the way that I now realize is what is the long long arc of transmuting a living being to a what?  I don't even know what to call a friend now dead -- history?

As I am tired and the hour is late I'll cut and paste from an email that I sent to one who helped me pack:

We got everything out yesterday.  I always like to do a last walkthrough, even if it means opening cabinets that I’m certain were cleared.  Sure enough:  I opened the louvered shutters above Fred’s bedroom closet and there was a comforter and a bag of costumes.  So, now it’s done done.  (Mark and I just got back from the storage facility in Wallingford where we put the last things.)  Even though Fred has been gone for me for some time, I stood in each room and said “Good-bye Fred”.  The rooms were naked, shabby where the in-need-of-fresh-paint walls were exposed, and the usual damage that comes from living in a space – the dents, the stains, the marks – were apparent what with the eye not being distracted by beauty and a person’s idiosyncratic style.  He is gone, the place is someone else’s construction site now. Stripped of almost everything that made it unique to Fred.

While I understand some of the Inner Circle’s aversion to being in the space to defenestrate it, I don’t forgive them.  The work of breaking down a person’s physical space isn’t sexy, and it doesn’t bring positive attention, and it’s not about one’s soulful feelings.  It is the quotidian scutwork of life, something I’m far too proficient at doing, and I am hardwired to be thorough in my honor.  At least to this complex and eminently lovable man.

So, the page turns; a new phase begins.

The membrane between the world of the living and the world of the dead has always been a fascination of mine; even as a young girl reading Orpheus and Eurydice I realized that the story was a seminal primer in the mysteries of life and death.  I wrote The Negros Burial Ground as the story of a particularly painful passage to what we Westerners who still profess some allegiance to Christian dogma call the afterlife; the journeys of Eleanor Bumpers, Eddie Perry and Michael Griffin, African-American New Yorkers murdered by agents of the state. The afterlife is complex in African cosmology and hard to describe in a few words, but suffice it to say that there is always a price to pay for trying to live in both worlds simultaneously, and that price is always paid in grief.

When you pack up a lifetime you exist uncomfortably in two worlds.  Yet each artifact removed, discarded and boxed is an admonition:  he is not here.  Some of those artifacts have new homes, new owners, new uses, and he is not here.  And so the furniture is put on the truck.  He is not here.  The boxes leave.  He is not here.  The clothes, the shoes, the music, the art and the tchotchkes.  Not here or here or there.

But where? I ask, postmodern Christian that I am.  (One who aspired to live by the New Testament, but ignores the Old and can't square the circle of Christ's resurrection.)  I don't know.  That is a country I have yet to visit, although love has already bought me a ticket.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Women of a Certain Art: Leslie Li

My friend, Leslie Li.

We met in the 1990's, probably because we both attended Hedgebrook (a women writers' colony) and as the literature curator at The Kitchen I wanted to do an evening of Hedgebrook writers.  She had published her novel, Bittersweet which she read from that night.

Years later Leslie left NYC.  For Vermont.  During those years came Enter the Dragon, 3 adaptations for children of Chinese folk tales.

Leslie returned to NYC, her center of gravity, and published a memoir, Daughter of Heaven:  A Memoir with Earthly Recipes.

And now she is a film-maker.  Chronicling the life and career of her mother and her mother's sisters, Kim Loo Sisters:  Portrait in Four-Part Harmony, which is Leslie's meditation on the nature of America, identity, race and gender.  Her project's website:

Leslie's latest interview, with Jolin Yang,

The Kim Loo Sisters:

A Letter to My Reader (Whom I Assume is Reduced to n = 1 Because I Never Write, I Never Call ...)

Dear Reader,

Yes, it has been a long time.  I would not blame you if you thought me dead.  But, I am not.  Just dormant.  Waiting for winter to be done, the snow to stop falling, the yard to look more like something that resembles an emerald rug than the pelt of a mange-ridden piebald cat.  This is the rarest of rare days -- the middle of a 3 day weekend where I do not have to do anything for anyone else, go anywhere, or be on time for anything.  I am making the most of it -- taking my internal temperature, discerning what I need in order to get done all the things I must, and 1/3 of the things I'd like to.

I understand David Letterman has retired.  I also understand he was a fixture of the pop culture firmament for 33 years.  In that time I've maybe paid attention to him for 60 seconds.  And it simply hasn't mattered:  not for him, not to me.  Three decades is a long time to be blissfully ignorant of anything, but I am realizing every day that it is probably the rule, not the exception.

I have rounded the bend of functional youthfullness to early old age.  There are days when everything but my eyelashes hurt.  I panic as I make conversation with someone I'm certain I've met but can't remember their name or the circumstance of our meeting.  Everything that I embark on I do with hopeful optimism that I'll be around long enough to see it reach maturity or bear fruit.  I am the tired swimmer trying to make it to a far shore.

In the meantime, between the duties and obligations, between the crises and the accidents, there are the interludes of joy, frissons of creation, and weekends like this when time conspires with me in the delusion that I still have enough of it to do whatever I want.

And what I've wanted is to clean my office and my house, a cleansing ritual as I begin the last stage of dis-assembling my friend Fred Ho's life.  Last week I (and others) packed, sorted, and inherited many of his possessions, those things which embodied him.  We'll return in June to finish, as much as one can finish packing up a life, in order for the new owner of the apartment to move in.   Hundreds of decisions -- what's kept and where and for how long? what's sold?  given away? destroyed?   Only after those questions are answered will the work resume of building an organization that will carry on his professional legacy.  This is nothing I ever imagined doing I've told others -- not for him, not for any organization, not even for myself.  I've made this process a priority through the end of 2016.  Were I 40 perhaps I'd stay longer but the time I've got remaining is shrinking; and my ability to fulfill my own ambitions in this last quadrant of my life has shrunk, too.

This quadrant is one where you are acutely situated between the poles of life (grandchildren?) and death (of parents, friends, siblings) and either pole will exert its necessary and strong pull when they emerge.  And that's not even factoring in the show-stopping nature of debilitating illness.  It is hard to imagine, much less admit to oneself that the degree may not be completed, the Times may not be read, and the surplus weight which makes all physical life harder is weight that I own forever.  But, that may be what happens.  In fact, it's more likely than ever before that that is what will happen.

Which is why these indulgent weekends mean so much to me.  I am playing (slowly) my record collection.  I started with Frederick Delius, and am now listening to Taj Mahal.  Maybe I'll find Hindemith and Average White Band today.  All part of a conversation with my past.  Adieu.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Africa/America: Blood Drum Spirit

For your pleasure:

David Bindman, saxophone
Wes Brown, bass
royal hartigan, percussion
Art Hirahara, piano

When You Can No Longer Remember Shit ...

... make shit up.

As I see it you either turn 60 or you write a truthful memoir, but you can't do both.  Because after 60 (or after chemo and radiation or post-partum or terror or other life-changing extended sleep-depriving events) you simply don't care that much for accuracy.  You can't, it's an unattainable goal like having the body you sported at 20.

At first, this truth-bending shocked me and I would run down the street chasing some sentence that just popped out of my mouth, like, "Back in 1995 I was working for General Eclectic," hoping to tackle it and smother the inaccuracy before it embarrassed me.  And then, when my knees started barking and my hip throbbed in tune to the universe, I stopped and thought, "Who cares?"  Who cares if the year and the employer are wrong?  I'm tryin' to make a point here, people.  Whatever that was.  I don't lie with nefarious intent, I simply have decades of memory to sift through and sort out and stuff got mixed and matched in my head and if I waited for my internal fact-checker to get back to me the people I'm talking to would be gone, asleep or dead.

So, onto haiku and aphorisms, scrupulous truth be damned:

Spring in New Haven
Now that the snow has left us
bereft of complaint.