But oh, well, I chose my way

10 06 2012

I try to regret nothing, I used to say. What’s the point of regrets, what’s done is done, you do what you can. . . .

Stop laughing.

I know, coming from me, the whole no-regrets things sounds laughable, but I really meant it. I might take hot pincers to my memories, but hey, that’s not the same as regret, is it? No, I was far more interested in tormenting myself over my bad choices than in wringing my hands over good choices foregone.

I’ve eased up on the self-torment somewhat (that habit is too longstanding to give up entirely: it’s my emergency pack of smokes, if you will), but—or perhaps, and as a result—I’ve noticed regret has crept into my repertoire.

This is not an entirely bad thing.

One of my go-to concepts of the past few years has been “consequences”, as in, there are consequences for every (in)action, consequences which can only be dealt with, not wished away. But I haven’t always dealt, truly, with these consequences, at least not in terms of tracing back the actions and coming to terms with the original decision.

No, that’s what the torment was for. And that was why the torment was so exquisitely irresistible.

Exquisite, because it so perfectly allowed me not to interrogate the decision, and irresistible because it allowed me to ‘take responsibility’—a.k.a. punishment—for my mis-deeds. A beautiful distraction.

I’m old enough now, I think, to take these regrets, to understand that to have done this instead of that—to have gone to Northwestern instead of UW-Madison, to have majored in theatre or journalism instead of political science, to have not backed away from D., to have told G. how I felt before it was too late, to have gone to New York instead of Albuquerque, . . . —-would not necessarily have led me to a better life, merely a different one, one with its own set of what-ifs and why-didn’t-Is.

I’m old enough, finally, to know there’s no escaping these questions, that the regret will come, regardless.

And now that I’m old enough to know to let the regret come, perhaps I can be wise enough to let it go. Perhaps one way to wisdom is through that reckoning with what was done and not done, and living with it all.


All things weird and wonderful, 16+

3 02 2012

Rathke. Her name is Kathryn RATHKE—and you can find her here.

Last night, as I was shuffling through variations of KR—Kathy Radke, Radtke, Kathryn—I thought of “Rathke” but, for some reason, didn’t plug it in.

D’oh! I tried it this time, and her site came out on top of the search.

And how did I get Rathke? Because I pulled out some old Cardinal stuff  to try to find more examples of her work (and of John’s and Mark’s), and I saw the story “Researchers may be falsifying data” by Sue Rathke—the Shirley-Bassey-belting sister! (Hi Sue!)

(And, holy shit, there’s a piece by Anthony Shadid—“Revolution may be imminent in Colombia”—yeah, that Anthony Shadid. Decent article, but too bad about the shitty headline.)

Ahem. Here was one of Kathy’s pieces that I remember, perhaps because it accompanied my cover piece for a special women’s issue:

Kathy Rathke, 1987

Click on the piece to enlarge it, to really appreciate Kathy’s , er, Kathryn’s eye.

Oh! And here’s a bonus piece, from that same issue:

And here’s one from John, from 1986:

The muskrat has changed over the years—check the characters on the top right of this page.

(Sorry, John, if this isn’t your best piece—I still remember your women’s studies strips!—but it, uh, happened to have been on the back of one of the articles I wrote.)

And have I mentioned that John Keefe, who was the Boy Wonder Editor in the mid-late eighties, is now a news producer for WNYC?

Damn. Some mighty talented folk working back then. No wonder I kept them all in mind.


Still, my mind’s a bit wrecked by all of this.

One of the characters in my second novel observes that The past is a sketchy bitch, but here, now, rootching through those old Cardinal fragments, a quarter century disappears and the past comes rushing to me.

My life wasn’t great back then—self-destructive depression, anyone?—but in college the despair hadn’t yet eroded my enthusiasm, my yearning, for more.

All of those people, all of that talent, all of the beer and pizza and arguments and ferocity and pressure and anger and humor, all of that. . . love.

What luck once to have had it all, what sorrow to have lost it, what wonder to have found that more remains.

It was twenty years ago today

10 04 2011

I was standing in the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, chatting with my sister-in-law and nephew, when I was thrown back in time.

There was K.

K. is the sister to B., who led the choir in which my nephew sang, and for which he and twenty or so of his classmates and a few parents flew to New York to sing. I mentioned something to my sister-in-law about B., who I hadn’t seen for over twenty years, when I last saw his sister.

“There she is,” s-i-l, said.


“There, in the black sweater, standing next to him.”

Holy shit.

It took a moment to recognize her, but, yep, there she be. I walked over to her group and stood there for a moment, waiting for someone to finish talking. K. looked over at me, kinda squinted, then her face and eyes and mouth and arms flew wide open.

Oh my god!

She lives in Jersey, with her wise-ass husband and their three sweet kids and four cats (“never look at kittens when you’re in a bar drinking”), runs a school for the performing arts, and occasionally performs around town.

(I’ve mentioned K. once before: She was Maria in our high school’s production of The Sound of Music, and she’s one of the reasons that I hang on to that memory.)

Oh, and that JG Wentworth opera commercial? She sings all the female parts for that.  I think that’s the right one; maybe it’s all of the commercials—I don’t remember, what with being a wee dazed and all.

I never thought I’d see her again.

I don’t know that I will. I mean, I gave her my number and e-mail and we talked about meeting up in the city and her giving me a tour of her school but, honestly, who knows.

It would be lovely, I think, to see her again.

And if not, it was lovely simply to see her again.

You got me shakin’ in my go go boots

6 01 2010

for·mi·da·ble /ˈfor-məd-ə-bəl also for-̍mid- or fər-̍mid-\adj [ME, fr. L formidabilis, fr. fordimare to fear, fr. formido fear; akin to Gk mormō she-monster] (15c) 1 : causing fear, dread, or apprehension <a ~ prospect> 2 : having qualities that discourage approach or attack  3 : tending to inspire awe or wonder

It’s a fine word, don’t you think? Tending to inspire awe or wonder—excellent.

And the whole mormō she-monster thing? Perfect!

Which feeds quite nicely into today’s question: Where are all the formidable women in film?

There are a few in politics—hell, just about any woman in politics, left or right, has to be formidable, if she’s to be taken seriously.

No, Sarah Palin is not formidable.

Formidable women all over academia. Good luck getting tenure without having qualities that discourage approach or attack.

But in film?

We had no problems with women of past decades: Rosalind Russell, Katherine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis. Lauren Bacall is still around, but she’s really of a previous era.

But today? S. and I were stumped.

Cate Blanchett, we decided. Perhaps Kate Winslet.

Anne Hathaway could become formidable, depending upon her willingness to withdraw herself.

‘Maybe we just need more actors named Kate,’ S. suggested. We agreed, however, that Kate Hudson was not formidable.

We didn’t quite define formidable, but there was some notion of distance, even regality. Any sexuality couldn’t be too far forward, and any weaknesses not gladly—or at all—discussed.

The sexuality ruled out Susan Sarandon. She keeps her personal life to herself, but even at sixty she can threaten to light others on fire.

Jane Fonda? Too talky about herself.

Oh, and this is problem for contemporary formidability: If the actors are gabbing away on The View or making themselves in any way approachable or, goddess forbid, friendly, forget it. We gotta be a bit afraid.

There are a couple of African-American character actors I can think of who could make me shake in my boots (Jenifer Lewis, Janet Hubert [she played the original mom on Fresh Prince of Bel Air]), but neither is a star.

Maybe Phylicia Rashad, especially since she’s moved to the stage. She’s gotten some distance from Claire Huxtable, but even Claire was less cuddly than Cliff.

I was in the midst of writing this yesterday when my friend T. called.

Perfect timing: T. is a theatre maniac, and watches plenty of movies. She immediately suggested Judi Dench, though I thought she might be too approachable.

Marion Cotillard, she said. Have you seen La Vie En Rose? You have to see it, she said.

Then she mentioned Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren. Oh, yes, I agreed. And Catherine Deneuve and Fanny Ardant. Isabelle Huppert, she suggested.

(Which reminds me: Watch Huit Femmes—a campy delight with Catherine, er, Mesdames Deneuve, Ardant, and Huppert.)

Tilda Swinton scares the hell out of me, though she’s a bit odd, and a bit smug about her oddness.

Miranda Richardson. Perhaps Kristin Scott Thomas.

Of course, all of these women are European, and work for European directors. Might be something to that.

Oh, what about Anne Bancroft, T. said. (Yes! But also of a previous generation.) Or Helena Bonham-Carter. Eh, I said.

Angelina Jolie? Too sexual. And too eccentric (which might also disqualify Bonham-Carter, tho’ T. disagrees).

Shirley MacLaine? Um, that eccentricity thing. . . .

Allison Janey? Perhaps. Bea Arthur? Absolutely!

Audra MacDonald, T. thought. We both sighed a bit over Audra, and I admitted to a bit of a crush on her.

Still, even crushing as I am on Ms. MacDonald is, I don’t know that she can pull off formidable in her personage—tho’ her talent clearly is formidable.

We pondered the effect of the stage: That women who’ve performed in the theatre have learned something about presence which is unique to live performance.

Still, it’s not as if Broadway has gone anywhere, so, again the question: Where are all the formidable women in film?

T. theorized: Because the kinds of movies which are produced today aren’t like the ones which produced a Hepburn or a Russell. T. argued that because women in the forties and fifties were not liberated, i.e., they lived dull lives at home, they wanted something different when they went to the movies. They wanted, even needed, those strong women on screen.

Today, T. shrugged, it’s not necessary, and, more importantly, doesn’t make enough money for the studios to justify making those types of films.

I don’t sign on to all of T.’s sociological analysis—this liberated chickie loves to watch strong women—but I do think there is a connection between the roles and the actors. Maybe—probably—Rosalind Russell was nothing like Auntie Mame or the Mother Superior in The Trouble With Angels, but she was able to occupy fully all the space that those roles allowed, and they allowed a lot of space.

There are still the occasional (American) roles like that—Amanda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, for example—but not much else. (And it’s not as if Meryl Streep cultivates hauteur.)

Joan Allen in The Contender and the Bourne movies?

There’s M—who Dench owns—in the Bond movies. CJ Cregg from The West Wing.

Any other roles which inspire fear and awe? Any other actors who inspire fear and awe?

Or has the era of the formidable woman come and gone? Katie Roiphe had a faintly (tho’ not-quite-wholly) ridiculous piece in recently in the Times on the passing of a particular kind of absurdly virile male; maybe those—is there a distaff version of virile?—female roles have also been exhausted.

Or maybe the mormō just needs to be resurrected. If she’s managed to last a few millenia, why not a few years more?

All alone in the moonlight

1 11 2009

I take back everything I said.

Well, not everything.

And I don’t really take it back.

Let me, shall we say, add to what I wrote in the last post.

Memory matters to me. I don’t want to get ensnared in it, but I don’t want to forget, either.

I don’t want to live in those memories, don’t want to act as if that’s where my life really is or belongs. I’m not about to head off to my first day of first grade.

But that was once me. I did once wear dresses my mom made, wear ponytails (which I preferred to pigtails, i.e., knots worn high above the ears) and barrettes, and smile into the sun and for the camera.

Today I only occasionally wear my hair in a single ponytail, only occasionally smile into the sun, and rarely for the camera.

This isn’t a paean to lost innocence. I was six then and am some decades past six now. I grew up, and am glad for that.

I lost a lot along the way, as does every person who makes the trek from child- into adulthood, and have gained, as well. Again, nothing unusual about that.

And I guess that’s what I do need to remember, that there is nothing unusual about this—that I do have a past in addition to a present and likely a future. This is what it is to be a modern adult.

But I also have to remember that I have as much and as little control over that past as I do my future. I can’t always call up memories at will, can’t always place them when they do surface, and don’t always know what to do with them. Good, bad, happy, sad, indifferent—doesn’t matter. They’re there and they’re gone and they sometimes come back.

And in coming and going they carry pieces of me with them.

I live here, now, but I don’t yet understand what it is to live here, now, and to move into my future. No, I don’t want, per my last post, to get stuck in a cul-de-sac of my past, but I can’t and don’t want to erase it, either.

Not anymore, at least: I have tried, and failed, to erase it. If you don’t think you belong in life, it’s only a hop to the belief that you need to erase all evidence of your self, if only in yourself.

But now I’m re-constructing my life, re-claiming it. I have no idea what I’m doing, not sure of these pieces which come both bidden and not so, not sure of my. . . hopes? possibilities? for the future.

(And, oh yes, I can carried away by the future, as well; what finer form of escapism than to think But later, after. . . ?)

Neither my past nor my future is under as much control as my present, and even my present is under less control than I would like (tho’ I do admit that that’s not wholly a bad thing).

Still, I am here, now, which means making what sense I can of who I was, then.

Or at least recognizing that I was, then.

Don’t look back

31 10 2009

Getting rid of my t.v. has not much altered my viewing habits.

Hulu. And CSI on CBS. (I’m still watching CSI: NY, but that may end. They’re turning the damned show into a blue-tinted CSI: Miami. One Horatio Caine is already too many.)

I’ve watched some Buffy and Angel and (guilty pleasure) Stargate SG1, along with a few episodes of the 21st c version of Battlestar Galactica. I watched the opener of FlashForward, but none since. Oh, and Stargate Universe, which is grim and intriguing and just a little bit boring.

The Good Wife is supposed to be good, as are Glee and Community, but I don’t know that I want to get snagged into anything else. I got shit to do, and I’m already finding too many ways to avoid doing it as it is.

I was a regular viewer of CSI et. al. before I stopped watching t.v. over a year ago, so I don’t really feel like I’m making any new commitments; even the new SGU feels more like a mash-up of the old SG1 and BSG.

Only FlashForward was at all new, and I watched that because I’d heard good things about it and was intrigued by the premise. But while the kickoff was mildly interesting, a part of me was thinking Do I really want to let myself get sucked back in? I was relieved to read that later episodes sucked.

Of the shows I watch, only two are still on the air (SGU & CSI); Buffy is disappearing from Hulu and I’m almost done with SG1.

So, no truly new shows, and a few old ones of which I’ve pretty much had my (re)fill.

But what about those old old shows—you know, like Lou Grant? Didn’t I write a little mash post to Lou Grant a month or so ago?

Haven’t watched it since.

I noticed today that the classic version of Bionic Woman is on Hulu—it shouldn’t surprise you that I loved that show as a kid—as are other shows I watched in my parents’ house. One Day at a Time. Partridge Family. Charlie’s Angels. Picket Fences. Hill St. Blues. St. Elswhere. Hell, a bunch of shows from my childhood and adolescence are on Hulu; I could spend any number of weekends gettin’ my nostalgia on.

Except. Except I don’t really want to.

It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy the shows again—I have no idea if I would—but that I don’t want to go back. I went through that time once, watched those shows then.


It might seem like I’m making too large a point about too small a matter—old t.v. shows—but I really don’t trust myself to look backward. It’s not about the time being good or bad; it’s about it being over.

Yes, I do look back, and am sometimes pulled back, but I always have to keep in mind that I live here, now. A little escapism is fine, as is a considered reflection on memory, but not too much, and preferably only if it helps me make sense of my life here, now.

I’m already sufficiently disoriented by my presence in the present. I don’t need to add to my distractions.

For she loves you for all that you are not

23 05 2009

I love a good ruin. They rarely disappoint.

Buildings, I mean. Edifices. Material constructs: walls, gates, jetties, fences. Anything built to last, which crumbles.

I was perusing a book today on abandoned places—factories, mostly, but a few schools—and all I could think was slowly flipping through the pages was Oh, I want to go there.

Not that I have anything against visiting functional places. Or living in one: I like having heat and hot water and plaster which stays on ceiling and walls rather than spitting down on my head. And if you buy me a ticket to the Tate or the Louvre or the Prado I will very happily mose my way through them (tho’ a ticket to the Hermitage? I’d take that one first of all).

But after making my way through what I could of the Hermitage, I might ask if it’d be possible to check out Chernobyl. Suit me up and lead me through the plant itself, then mose with me through the near-empty streets and in and out of abandoned buildings. Let me see the overturned desks and pictures on the walls of the schools, the dust on the windowsills and the paint peeling up in waves.

Let me see all that is no longer there.

Do I find ruins romantic? Not exactly. Haunting, perhaps. Thrilling. A little spooky. It’s as if by everything being laid bare, something even more is hidden. There is the evidence of stories, with the stories themselves—gone. The silence whispers.

I remember as a kid going to Disney World and wanting more than anything to explore the castle at the center of the Magic Kingdom. A castle! What could be better!

Castle—pfft. It was a big damned hallway. I still remember walking into the joint and looking around and looking around and looking around and thinking. . . this is it? This isn’t a castle, this is just. . . a big building. A big damned disappointing building.

More disappointments followed. I’d see a building with a magnificent edifice and enter and then. . . nothing. Or, worst of all, suspended-tile ceilings, florescent-tube lighting, and gray carpeting. (Ever been though the buildings on the quad at Duke University? Gothic exteriors, seventies interiors.)

FelineCity had a good mix of old, still functional buildings and places going to seed (sometimes they were the same places).  They also had a series of ports, some of which didn’t do enough business to justify more than a chain strung between two rusted poles and a vague intimation that trespassing was not allowed, which I freely explored on my bike and on foot. There were floating rustbins and dilapidated offices and crumbling walkways and not really anyone around to shoo me away.

GradCity was also on a river, and the industries which had clustered along the waterway had largely taken leave of the city, their factories left behind for the homeless, the punks, and restless students like me. City officials have since refurbished these areas, inviting the regular folk to enjoy the scenery. I can’t really complain, not least because I no longer live there, but I do miss the kind of furtive exploration these abandoned spaces allowed.

There are seedy and abandoned spaces all over New York City, but I haven’t done much poking around them. Security is tighter here, of course, and it is more likely than not that these derelict places are nonetheless inhabited. But still, if I could get a guide. . . .

And oh! That place on Long Island, the old mental hospital? Totally off limits. I want to go.

This city is built on ruins. Yes, history is constantly erased in this Land of the Developer, but just as often it is merely hidden, built over or around, odd nooks or old mosaics or peculiar stonework all that’s left to signal that there was once something else, here.

Perhaps this is why ruins exhilarate in ways that Main Attractions! rarely do: The magic castles are so often filled with nothing but the lure of the Magic™, where the excitement is in the anticipation, not the exploration. All pitch, no promise.

But ruins pitch nothing, and that they promise nothing other than ruin is what allows one to consider not what is to come, but what has been. They are literally throw-backs to another reality, and they tempt precisely because they are present markers of the absence of another present, and presence.

Something else, something other, something more.

Gone, but not quite.

Doesn’t anyone stay in one place, anymore (pt II)

9 04 2009

She grilled me for about 20 minutes, then requested—or was it offered?—to read my second novel.

I hesitated. She’s not sure if she buys the premise, namely, that of a young woman who leaves home and doesn’t look back, not once.

‘Come on,’ she said. ‘Really? She never gets in touch them?’


‘I can’t believe that.’

At this point C. chimed up and said, Oh yeah, I could believe that. Who hasn’t dreamed about just walking away from everyone? (Besides this co-worker, apparently.)

Thus, part two of the whole social networking/past/new life gig. Only this time it’s about writing.

This second novel isn’t bad. My first novel wasn’t bad, but it has all the defects of a first novel, not least of which is too much explanation going on in the dialogue.

I’ve cut that back on this one, way back. I’m less interested in directing the reader in her interpretation of events; rather, I lay out a scene, let her eavesdrop, and then decide for herself what’s going on. There’s no ‘she retorted hotly’ or ‘he smiled in confidence at his abilities.’ Nope. ‘She responded.’ ‘He smiled.’ Plain text, with, perhaps, unplain meanings.

I’m still working out what I want to do in my novels, but the more I’ve written, the more adamant I’ve become in not poking into the characters’ minds and spilling it out on to the page. Yes, when a character is alone, the reader may have access to her thoughts, but I don’t, as the writer, tell you what she’s feeling. She has to decide for herself what she thinks and feels, and it’s up to the reader to decide if the character is right or is full of it or whatever. (And yeah, maybe you’re right or full of it or whatever, too.)

You, the reader, are the witness to the events, neither the confidant to a first-person narrator nor the one who apprehends her true self. The character is her own, and the only privilege granted to the reader is that of witnessing aspects of the story not always available to the other characters. That’s it.

But that’s not why I’m hesitant to show the novel to my co-worker; hell, either the style works or it doesn’t. I guess I’m protective as well of the undercurrent of the novel, which is that allegedly big things happen to ordinary people, and they deal with them.

A daughter leaves her family, and life goes on.

Someone has an abortion, and it’s not traumatic.

There’s a car accident, and marriage difficulties, and births and deaths, and none of it is epic. It’s all just. . . life, and the characters mourn and adjust and move on. That’s it: Here are these characters, and here are their lives.

The co-worker, at the mention of the abortion, reacted as if I’d outlined a ‘Lifetime Movie Event’ or set up some kind of schema of which buttons to push. As if abortions and car accidents and marriage difficulties never happened in real life.

I’m particularly touchy about this kind of reaction precisely because I don’t have any kind of outline for my stories. I set up a situation, and let it spin out. Did I know ahead of time that a character would have an abortion? Nope. Car accidents, marriage difficulties? Nope, nope. They come up, the characters deal with them.

Now, if the characters aren’t real to you, none of this will work. And that would bother me, but that would also seem like a legitimate criticism: I wanted to create real characters, and failed.

But the notion that if something big—out of the supposed ordinary—happens, then it’s not real, well, I disagree. Strongly.

Making all cuts clean and all memories unclouded, providing closure and wrapping everything up in a  nice psychologically-convenient bow—that’s what’s not real. Yes, there can be regrets and reconciliations, but the force of the regret can mutate and attempts at reconciliation can fail.

These characters have their own lives, their own integrity—at least, that’s what I want for them. And no, I don’t always understand what they do, either.

This is why I hesitate in sending my novel to my co-worker: There’s no agenda, and I don’t like the notion that there must be one, and that it must be ‘right’.

That’s the delight of the writing: Even as I lay down the words, they take off on their own.

And no, they don’t look back.