Monday, May 24, 2010

"The state of waiting for inspiration to strike"

My mother used to call out in the morning from the kitchen, "Rise and shine!" It came in a sing-songy voice that was intended to make me jump out of bed smiling, I suppose, but being an angsty teen (what other kind of teen is there?) it made me want to strangle her.

When I look back on it now, it's easy to see how forced was her early-morning cheer. Up every day at 5 a.m. to make breakfast and pack a lunch for my dad, looking ahead to a day full of laborious repetition to make a home and feed the family - I wonder about the origin and the sincerity of the expression. But I know now that the presentation of a sunny demeanor to her piece of the world was as crucial in her daily agenda as the frying of eggs and the sweeping of floors - no matter what quiet despair she might indulge in after the school bus had come and gone.

There is no shortage of persistently pleasant people in the world. You meet them in coffee shops and auto shops and they sell you long distance packages. They deposit your check and ring up your Lean Cuisines and process your airfare with a cheerful confirmation number provided. Some of them - many of them, perhaps - are genuinely cheerful, displaying their true nature. I am happy for them, and envious. Some are just a brave face. But it's the rare being who will show you their melancholy side in the course of everyday human events. It's just not acceptable. And that's the rub.

Scholars of societal deviation propose that indefatigable positivity is a definable characteristic of the prototypical American. Your French, your Russian, they know from despair! Your languid Italian, your desultory Finn, they feel the depth of the soul and its sad isolation. And don't even get me started on the Jews! But we Wonder-Bread-and-mayonnaise-loving white boys - we are not, by birthright, entitled to sadness.

Is it alright to be sad? Am I entitled to my melancholia? I say yes. I say I take it. I make it mine. Melancholia is the home from where I travel abroad, the base camp from where I summit. Am I deserving of it? Can I justify it? Only in the sense that it is everlasting and essential as the air.

Tomorrow I will rise, and maybe I will shine.

Further reading:

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mothers and sons

(My mother at age 18. )

I feel obliged to write about my mother today. "Obliged" is not the way you are supposed to feel on Mother's Day. I always wanted to be the loving son who doted on his mother but for some reason, some psychologically complicated reason, I could not achieve the level of devotion to her that I always thought she deserved. She was a kind, patient, giving, thoughtful woman who never did anything but love me. I loved her, too, and on an objective scale I don't think I was a bad son but I've never felt I was as good to her as I should have been. Maybe someday I will understand my feelings but today's not that day. Today I am thinking of moments...

...out in the yard with her when she made pickles in huge stoneware crocks, or watching her pluck a chicken, or do loads of laundry by hand in standing galvanized tubs, running the clothes through the wringer and hanging them on the line.

...her excitement on Election Day when our living room was the precinct polling place, and a couple of dozen neighbors would venture up our dead-end street to fill out a ballot.

...listening to her tell the story of when she fell in love with my father - a story involving a bar, someone flipping a knife into the tabletop, her gashed finger, and my dad trying to take care of her wound but nearly swooning at the sight of the blood.

...feeling sorry for her getting berated by my father time after time for yet another real or imagined failure.

...barely discernible memories of being held on her lap, cradled in her arms, restored from the thousand natural shocks of childhood.

...crying in the night and her coming to me to find out why, and her gentle reassurance when I asked her "What will I do when you're gone?"

It all comes full circle. I know now what unconditional love is, and despite my failings I know she understood all along.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Because life is short and it's important to rack up many achievements, here are some amusing time wasters so you can blow off an hour

I would like to make the case today that reality is overrated.

Reality is chock-a-block with disease, famine, genocide and infomercials. Reality imposes onerous taxation and rules and foisted Geraldo Rivera on the world. Reality has none of the redeeming qualities we seek out in our entertainments - try hard and success will come to you, the triumph of good over evil, true love always wins, bad guys get what they deserve, etc. In fact, reality likes to get right up in your face and make sure you're aware that the sleazy people usually win and have all the money, true love is irrelevant in the face of expediency, and trying hard and success are complete strangers. So in summation, reality can suck it.

Counterpoint: reality, and the real people that cause it, can be damn funny. I offer as evidence two recent additions to the menu of amusing time wasters of which I am an aficionado.

Shit My Dad Says is the brainchild of Justin Halpern, a guy from San Diego who started keeping track of the pointed, hilarious things his 73-year-old father says. He started with Twitter, he's on Facebook, and scored a book deal and a development deal from CBS. Here are some samples:

"Son, no one gives a shit about all the things your cell phone does. You didn't invent it, you just bought it. Anybody can do that."

'You don't know shit, and you're not shit. Don't take that the wrong way, that was meant to cheer you up."

"Sometimes life leaves a hundred dollar bill on your dresser, and you don't realize until later that it's because it fucked you."

"Pressure? Get married when you want. Your wedding's just one more day in my life I can't wear sweat pants."

How could you not love this guy? Sadly, I know this will soon be a sitcom and it will then be ruined forever.

Texts from Last Night is a website/Facebook/everything phenomenon that also resulted in a book deal. It is just what it sounds like it is - people's texts that have been submitted. Samples:

"I hated hipsters before it was mainstream."

"He asked what my name was on facebook chat. IT SAYS RIGHT THERE. i will never be drunk enough for this guy."

"I had a pretty decent weekend -- aside from dropping the baby on her head. That.. That I feel bad about."

"I dont know why people are racist. Both the mexicans and the irish gave us holidays where everyone drinks on a wednesday."

That's all I have time for now. I have to work on the pitch for my new book, which will be a compilation of stories of other people's book deals.