Friday, April 11, 2008

FRIDA AND THE LOOK

(Self Portrait II, 1940)

There's a great article up at The Smart Set about Frida Kahlo and what the author, Morgan Meis, refers to as The Look: The level stare that Frida of the self-portraits aims at us the viewer. The articles begins with:

"It's The Look that gets to you. Frida Kahlo took up a variety of subject matter and dabbled in a number of styles. All of it worth seeing. But in the end it is the self-portraits that endure and that fuel her ever-increasing stature in 20th century art. That's because in the portraits you get The Look. The Look is the Frida Kahlo stare. If you've seen any of her self-portraits then you have seen it. It is an expression that barely changes throughout a lifetime of paintings. Costumes change, parrots flutter into the frame, monkeys come and go. The Look never wavers."

But, he says, Frida Kahlo in her photographs does not have The Look. This author considers why that might be so, suggesting perhaps the photos are more authentic. It could be the other way around, of course. Or one of several other theories I could create rather quickly.



Each new generation seeks to define itself. Within that generation, subgroups also draw their dividing lines, their boundaries of identity, usually with an air of "no one has EVER done this before" and "we have stumbled upon an immutable truth here". When subgroups within a generation are unusually large and/or economically privileged, as in the case of Baby Boomers, these delusions will be more pronounced.

In my generation, we rejected the post-war definition of woman and instead rifled through every human attribute regardless of previous gender assignation to come up with our own construct. Some of us did this from an essentialist perspective, i.e., we believed we were "reclaiming" or "reaffirming" innate qualities of womanhood which had been stolen under the patriarchy. Others of us were more clearly coming from a consciousness-raising spawning ground of believing that by examining our conditioning with others like us (in this case, women raised as girls), we could destroy the artificial constraints of gender and create a new kind of woman -- as Judy Grahn put it, "Look at me as if you have never seen a woman before." These two theoretically contradictory groups were able to work together in community without much conflict for a time because our primary task, that of redefining woman, necessarily began with separatism.

Separatism seems to be an essential liberation stage for all groups who are target for oppression living within a larger society dominated by those who are not target for that oppression. It is an ongoing process, as some members pass beyond the need for separate space to self-define and new members arrive to take their place. It's neither a sacred territory nor a "phase" to be ridiculed; it's just part of a process.

However, once you enter another stage, when you have reconstructed or reclaimed your identity, the differences become problematic. Women who were essentialists quite rationally, according to their principles, would seek to continue on in community without the deleterious influence of those who were innately oppressive. Women who were constructionists, on the other hand, would prefer community with those who had likewise done their work of self-definition and sought to create a larger culture where the old beliefs would no longer be visited on any child, in alliance with anyone who loosely fit a similar description.

It's hard to know how this division might have resolved itself, of course, because the dominant power structure asserted itself in a highly-effective, multi-pronged backlash against all the separatist, identity-based movements of the 1960s and 1970s. This backlash is still ongoing and has been incorporated into the fabric of education given to succeeding generations, especially at the university level. Higher education has been returned primarily to those with class privilege or a willingness to seek approval from the elite. This trend is accelerating.

The so-called "third wave" (or beyond) of feminism has its own definition of woman, which is at times an anti-definition, and its own community wherein essentialists and constructionists choose to ignore the contradiction of their belief systems in order to promote a perceived common agenda. In the "new" feminism, gender itself is seen as malleable (a constructionist view) but also somehow innate for those who are "born in the wrong body" (an essentialist stance). Masculinity and femininity are theoretically detached from gender and available to all, but are still primarily linked to the traditional gender and are usually proclaimed to be innate and congenital, as is sexual orientation. Naming males, male conditioning, and/or masculinity as the dominant end of the power dynamic is often considered, at best, old-fashioned.

There is, as in previous generations, a touching but completely unrealistic faith in the ability of individuals to overcome conditioning by simply choosing to be different. Thus, just as my generation believed aspiring to working class ethics and values was enough to sidestep our classism (and racism), the current generation cannot see its own sexism and screams in protest when it is pointed out to them, demanding that intentions and "suffering" trump behavior. This is common to American culture, a by-product of our being an addiction-based owning-class empire (as outlined by Anne Wilson Schaef), where good intentions provide a free pass for those unwilling to embrace the incremental, painful change of recovery.

Under a white capitalist patriarchy, whatever genuine truths are uncovered by a particular generation will be blocked from transmission to succeeding generations by any means necessary. I therefore predict that within twenty years, those who currently identify as "trans" (by any of the current definitions of that term EXCEPT for those who believe gender is biologically innate and can be adequately transfigured by purchasing technology and appearance alteration -- because that belief system supports the dominant structure) will be open to ridicule and the target of scathing dissection by academic theories and papers. The genuinely revolutionary thinking which can be found in trans theory -- that all gender exists on a continuum and is equally available to anyone regardless of appearance, behavior or birth -- will be buried under another wave of backlash, some of which will arise within their own ranks. Ironically, the move to name "trans" as its own category deserving of separate protection instead of insisting that previous anti-sexism legislation applies to anyone of any gender will be part of what undoes the current movement. Insisting on a victim stance instead of finding common ground with the majority is what always does us in. Pity and even empathy run dry, eventually.

But drop the clutching-at-straws "cis" designation (as if there is ANY woman out there who will say she's never discriminated against because of how she doesn't fit the gender norm) and instead claim commonality with a working class, terrified-of-queers housewife by pointing out how she's considered "not a normal woman" because she wears too much make-up and trashy clothes, and you've forged an alliance that would make Dick Cheney shit in his pants.

(Self-Portrait by JEB in Dyke, Virginia, 1975 © Joan E. Biren, from Eye to Eye Portraits of Lesbians)

In 1979, Joan E. Biren (JEB) toured women's communities in the U.S. with a slide show containing the work of several lesbian photographers from the past. She was promoting the theory that we could recognize lesbians of any era or class by three often subtle identifiers: The Look, The Stance, The Clothes. At that time, our definition of "lesbian" would be more or less identical to at least one definition of "transgender" today. I saw her slideshow three times, because it raised questions in me I found exhilirating, about the ability of humans throughout time to step outside the boxes of oppression and find another means of expression -- and, beyond that, community.

When I was in my teens and not yet out to family and community, living in poverty in an impoverished rural area, my main outlet for hope and mind expansion was reading. The books available in libraries were my conduit (and the limits that implies, overwhelmingly white, class-privileged, and male-dominated works of literature). Without manipulation, let me give you a list of the writers whose works I found most meaningful, usually memorizing and/or copying out lines to put up on the walls of my bedroom:

Edna St. Vincent Millay
Emily Dickinson
Langston Hughes
Henry David Thoreau
Christopher Isherwood
Robert Frost
Mazo de la Roche
William Faulkner
Dorothy Parker
W.H. Auden
Mary Renault
Edgar Allen Poe
James Thurber
Margaret Mead
A.E. Housman
Lewis Carroll
Dalton Trumbo
P.G. Wodehouse
May Swenson
Patricia Highsmith
William Shakespeare

Every name on this list evokes a strong memory in me, a sense of their art having permanently changed my world view, much more than other writers. But it was not until I was in my 20s that I began to discover, here and there, slowly, that 14 of these 21 authors were unequivocally bisexual, lesbian or gay at some point in their lives. Two out of three -- what are the odds of that happening, unless something was being communicated between the lines? Whether it was an innate or a collected identity, somehow the way they strung words together found a response in my brain, a brain also seeking to collect my identity as a lover of women. Art can do that, because it is created by humans for other humans.

So, when I read about Frida Kahlo's "Look", I thought of something else entirely. I saw a sister in that expression, read into it a refusal to look away or play the heterosexual game. That's just me, of course, me with my conditioning and a product of my generation. You can come up with your own explanation. Below are several of her self-portraits and photographs of her taken by others. Go look.

(Self Portrait, 1926)

(Frida Kahlo in her patio, 1931)


(Self Portrait, 1930)

(Frida Kahlo in San Francisco, 1931, photo by Imogene Cunningham)


(Self Portrait 1937)

(Frida Kahlo 16 October 1932)


(Self Portrait with Monkey, 1938)




(The Two Fridas, 1939)




(Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940)




(Me and My Parrots, 1941)




(Self Portrait as a Tehuana, Diego on My Mind, 1943)

(Frida Kahlo 1938, photo by Niklas Muray)


(Self Portrait with Loose Hair, 1947)




(Self Portrait with the Portrait of Doctor Farill, 1951)


Read More...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

GINNY BATES: THE FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS


Another excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. The action in the story resumes immediately after my post two days ago. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

This is the first of "skips" in the action, where a gap is left indicating sections of the novel not yet drafted. As requested, I'm leaving it to you to fill in missing story from context.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

That night at dinner, Myra again raised the possibility of buying a small deep fat fryer so she could make real doughnuts for Chanukah, instead of the baked version. They were having a large party on the eve of commencement, Saturday, and she argued the smell of doughnuts coming out of the fryer would be a great addition to the ambience. Ginny looked at Myra levelly and said "What will you do with all that oil, once it's been used?"

"I don't know, maybe pour it back into the jar for another time -- " faltered Myra. She had not thought that far ahead.

"Will you swear to me you won't use the fryer for anything but doughnuts this one night a year?" continued Ginny.

Myra looked at David for help. She should have waited until Gillam was home from college the following night. And Carly. Even Margie might be on her side. David grinned and said "I refuse to pick a dog in this fight."


"The smell of baked doughnuts the way you make them, with vanilla and then rolled in cinnamon sugar, fills the house just as enticingly" said Ginny, trying to be gracious in victory.

Myra silently resolved to buy twice as much brisket as usual, to send back with Gillam to college and also to have as leftovers. Her cholesterol was better than Ginny's, which drove Ginny nuts but there you have it.

"I heard from Nate this afternoon. The packages I sent for the girls got there, and he says Elyse is going to apportion them out one per night" David said. "Thanks for taking me to F.A.O. Schwartz" he added to Myra.

"I could get hooked on those miniature metal figurines they've got in that store" she said. "Maybe become a collector."

"Soldiers, you mean?" said Ginny scoffingly.

"Not all are soldiers" said Myra. "And, even some that are -- they had Amazons, Ginny."

"When we have grandchildren, she's going to go apeshit and abandon any standards she once had" Ginny predicted to David. He winked at Myra and said "Won't hurt 'em a bit."

After dinner, David walked creakily upstairs in Ginny's wake. They were preparing starts on the covered deck, using grow lights for sun replacement. Myra was glad when anybody these days were on the second floor. It felt like a heavy weight above her without their kids sleeping there at night. She even missed Gillam's bass percussion, which used to annoy her when she was trying to concentrate. Carly got to live with Gillam now, and Beebo, in their apartment near college.

She kept reminding herself to enjoy what they had at the moment -- once their kids graduated, they could move anywhere and she wouldn't see them even every month as she did now. But the pain of that idea never lessened, no matter how much she forced it on herself. Maybe she should find another tack to follow. She could ask Nancy about it.

Myra hauled laundry from their and David's bedroom to the washer and began a load. While she was in the storage room, she took out chickens for tomorrow night's dinner to put in the fridge. Between loads, she made a three-layer fudge cake with real raspberry filling, answered a backlog of e-mail, and prepared four sets of poems for submission. She had one load left and was frosting the cooled cake by the time David and Ginny returned, Ginny with a basketful of snipped herbs to stash in the fridge.

David began washing his hands at the kitchen sink and commented "That new broccoli we're trying is growing a lot faster than I remember the old variety doing."

"Yeah, though the potting mix is the same. I'm counting on the flavor being even richer" said Ginny. She looked at the cake and said "I hope you didn't use all the raspberries on that."

Myra rolled her eyes at David, who smothered his giggle. He said "I need to warm up. I think I'll sat at the workbench and paint a few more cards, until my fingers get loose again." He was following Ginny's lead and hand-making all his own holiday cards this year.

"I'll join you once I take out the compost" said Ginny. Myra put the cake under its glass hood on the breakfast bar, situated so Gillam would see it first thing when he came in the door tomorrow night. It was almost time for "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me". She returned to her desk, turned the radio on low, and signed her way through a carton of just-published copies of her novel while she listened. In the background was the murmur of Ginny and her father, mostly an earnest back and forth punctuated by frequent laughter. She imagined how happy she would be if her mother was still alive and part of their household. She remembered, suddenly, the cadence of her mother's speech. She pushed aside the book she was signing and wrote a line on her scrap pad. She sat for a moment, noticing the smell of chocolate and phosphate-free laundry detergent on her hands, and the second line came to her. Everything else around her vanished.

When the poem was finished, she felt suddenly very tired. She turned off the radio, picked up her latest Elizabeth George mystery, and went to kiss Ginny and David goodnight. She was asleep by the time Ginny joined her.

She awakened some indeterminate time later to Ginny shaking her in agitation, leaning into her face, saying urgently "Myra, Daddy won't wake up! He's not breathing!"

Myra leaped from bed and ran through the morning-lightened living room, down the hall to David's bedroom. David lay on his side, one hand tucked under his pillow, his mouth slightly open. When she touched his face, it was cold. Like stone, she thought. She felt the muscles in her legs going weak, and she backed up to sit down on the chair at his worktable -- the idea of sitting next to him on the bed filled her with fear.

Ginny had not followed her. When Myra noticed that, it was another blow -- oh, god, Ginny. Myra reached for the phone on David's bedside table and called 911. After she was told an ambulance was on the way, she got up, still unsteady, and went looking for Ginny.

Who was on the couch in the living room, her face begging Myra for hope. Myra began crying before she even reached Ginny. Ginny began screaming, "No, he's not, don't you tell me" as Myra put her arms around her. Her crying was absolute, mixed with horror, and the only words she ever said were "No" and "Daddy". She sobbed until the doorbell rang. Myra realized, then, she didn't have on clothes. She yelled out "We'll be right there" and dashed into her room, putting on sweats and T-shirt, before answering the door. Ginny had not moved. At least Ginny had on clothes.

The EMT crew, a man and a woman, went down the hall ahead of her. After one touch, they did not turn David on his back, just checked for a pulse. As they were turning to Myra, Ginny came into the room behind her. They heard the news together, and Ginny broke into screams again.

Myra helped her back to the couch and held her as she talked to the EMT man. He used her phone to call the coroner and other people. When he was done, she got her cell and came back to sit by Ginny, now silent and staring straight ahead, as she called Allie and Edwina, Chris and Sima, and asked them to come right over. Every time she said "David has died", she felt a jolt in Ginny's body next to her.

When the police arrived, she answered their questions. Then she asked Ginny, "Do you want to be the one to call Cathy, or can I do that for you?" Ginny stared at her, unable to comprehend the question. Just as the coroner arrived, so did Allie and Edwina. They sat down on either side of Ginny, and Myra went to her files to get a copy of David's birth certificate and insurance information.

Allie gave her place to Myra when the coroner came back into the living room. He said it appeared to be a sudden infarction, and asked about David's health history. Myra gave him the name of David's doctor, and pointed to his bottles of medication on the breakfast bar. He said they would need to do an autopsy, and Myra signed the form he gave her. Ginny still was not answering Myra's questions. Then he asked about funeral homes, and Myra drew a blank. Edwina stood up and said she'd find one, heading for Myra's desk. Myra did ask the coroner if they could bury David the next morning, because he was Jewish, and the coroner said he thought so.

Chris and Sima showed up as the coroner's crew was rolling a gurney down the hall. Ginny watched them through the glass wall, disbelief on her face. Myra pulled Ginny to her feet, then, and said "They are taking him away, darling. We'll get to see him again, at the funeral home, but if you want to say goodbye here..."

Ginny let Myra lead her down the hall. The plastic body bag was on the bed but, thank god, David was not in it yet. Ginny leaned all her weight on Myra as she reached out her hand and touched David's white shock of hair, flopped down over his eyes. Then she turned away, and Myra took her back to the living room.

Sima was helping Edwina talk to funeral homes. Chris had water for tea started. Allie sat with Ginny and Myra as David's body was wheeled out the front door. Ginny wasn't crying any more, and Myra was afraid she was in shock. She called out to Chris to put sugar in Ginny's tea. After they got a few sips into her, Edwina touched Myra's arm gently and said "They need some information from you, now", holding out the cordless. Myra gave her place to Edwina and went to get her wallet, plus other records.

When she returned, Ginny was no longer ghostly white. Edwina was putting socks on Ginny's bare feet and Allie said "What about Margie and Gillam?"

Myra began crying again, sitting down heavily in the easy chair, and Chris came to sit on the arm of the chair. "I have to tell them their Zayde is dead!" she wailed. Ginny began crying again, too, but this time the sobs were not frantic.

Allie said "I'll do it, if you want." Myra shook her head, "No, it has to be one of us. I think it should be me. Ginny, you have to call your sister."

Ginny wiped her face, drank the last of her tea, and took the phone. Myra sat beside her, holding her hand and listening, wishing she could wake up and it would not be true. Her friends were doing things, which she did not register or notice until Sima put a footstool next to the fireplace and climbed up it. Myra raised her eyes, then, and saw that Sima was covering the first painting Ginny had ever done of her with a sheet of black cloth. Irrationally, she wondered where Sima had gotten the cloth, and finally recognized it as leftover from a distant Halloween party. She looked around the room -- all the paintings were covered.

Chris brought her milky, sweet tea and toast, and stood over her until she consumed it. After Ginny hung up with Cathy, she cried on Myra's shoulder for just a minute, then let Allie feed her toast as well.

Myra asked, "Do you know when they're going to arrive?"

Ginny answered "No, they'll call back."

"How did she take it when you said he'd asked to be cremated?"

"She knew it already. She said she wanted some of his ashes."

"Of course" said Myra. She suddenly wished she had her own mother's ashes, instead of them sitting so far away in Texas.

Edwina asked "Is it all right if I go through your datebook and start calling people? At least the ones whose names I know?"

"That would be a blessing" said Myra. "What -- does that mean you have a time for the funeral?"

"Yes, tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. There will be a viewing tonight at 7:00, before the cremation. Rabbi Rachel will perform the funeral service, I talked to her already. She's coming over here this afternoon, to meet with you all" said Edwina.

"What day is it?" asked Ginny.

"Friday" said Edwina. "December 11th."

Myra asked Allie "Can you bring me the second cordless from our bedroom?" Allie went to get the phone, and Myra said to Edwina "Use my cell, or Ginny's, for your calls. They're on the breakfast bar, okay?"

Myra looked at her watch. It was almost 11:00. She had no idea how long anything had taken, or when Ginny had gotten her up. Margie would be out of her classes right now, heading for an early lunch. When Allie handed her the second phone, she dialed Margie's cell number and grabbed Ginny's hand tight with her other hand. Ginny clicked in on her phone.

Margie answered, a clatter of voices in the background. "Hey, Mom, what's up? You never call this early in the day."

"Honey -- where are you?" asked Myra.

Margie's voice instantly became worried. "I'm heading outside, where Rimbaud is supposed to be waiting for me so we can go eat. What's wrong? Is Mama okay?"

"I'm right here" said Ginny, her voice thick with grief. "Margie, go meet Rimbaud, find a quiet place to sit down with him and call us right back."

"No, I'm not getting off the line" said Margie. "I'm walking as fast as I can, you just wait on me."

"All right, angel. Don't rush, it's okay" said Myra.

In a minute, they heard her say to Rimbaud "Something's wrong at home, take my pack for me, will you?" and then Margie said "Tell me."

They told her. Margie wailed brokenheartedly, sounding very small again, and Myra felt a physical ache in her chest at not being with her that moment. Ginny was crying again, too. In the corner of her eyes, Myra saw Sima go down the side wall and return after a couple of minutes with an armload of sheets and blankets that she carried into the laundry room.

Once she could talk again, Margie said she and Rimbaud would be home as soon as they could make it. Myra said "Wait, honey -- we have to call Gillam and tell him. Do you know where he is at this moment?"

Margie thought, then said "In class. He gets out at noon. We'll walk over there, we'll be with him when you call him."

"Bless you, Margie. Then I want you to all come together, okay? And he'll want Carly with him, too."

"I'll message Carly right now on his cell" said Margie. "He can go with us to meet Gillam."

"Don't message that David died to Carly" said Myra. "Tell him in person. He loved David too much to hear it any other way."

"You're right. Okay. We'll talk with you in, I guess, half an hour" said Margie.

"I love you" wept Ginny. Margie began crying again. "I love you too, Mama. Both of you. So, so much."

Sima motioned to Allie, and they went back down the side hall. Chris had made eggs and fruit salad, and she brought a bowl of each to Myra and Ginny to share, along with more tea. Myra fed herself, then Ginny, bites neither one of them tasted. They were both watching the clock, waiting to call Gillam. Allie came back down the hall with two of David's suits on a hanger. Her cheeks were wet as she stood in front of Myra and Ginny to ask, in a soft voice, which one they wanted him to be buried in. Ginny burst out crying anew, but reached out one hand and fingered the sleeve of the silk navy, which had looked so handsome with his white hair and Ginny-blue eyes. Allie kissed Ginny's forehead, then went back to David's room. A few minutes later, she returned with a garment bag, a pair of shoes weighting down the bottom, and laid it over the back of the easy chair.

Five minutes past noon, their home phone rang and the caller ID showed Margie's cell number. Margie said "He's walking toward us now -- I'm going to hand you to him." Ginny got on the second phone as they heard Gillam's voice, high with concern, say "My god, what's going on?"

He reacted as Ginny had, saying "No, don't you say that, it can't be true", then "I just saw him last weekend, he was fine", and then finally weeping. After a few minutes, they heard Carly's voice in the background, and Rimbaud saying to someone else "It's all right, they've just found out their grandfather died." Then Gillam said "We're coming home, is he still there?"

"No, honey. He's at the funeral home. But we'll all go see him when you get here" said Myra.

Ginny, through tears, said "Gillam, none of you are to drive. You let Rimbaud drive, okay?"

"Okay" choked Gillam. "What -- what about clothes? And our pets?"

"Bring the animals. Don't sweat the clothes, I'm sure you either have something here or, if need be, someone will run out and get something. We'll do everything together once you get here" said Myra.

"Are the aunties there?" asked Gillam. "Are you two okay?"

"Everybody's here" said Ginny. "We just need you."

"All right, on our way" said Gillam.

After they hung up, they sat there holding onto each other for a while. Then Myra said, "Now what?" She felt cold at her bones.

Edwina said "Now you two go get bathed and dressed. We'll make a list, a schedule for the next day, and when you're ready, we'll go over it with you."

Myra looked around the faces of her friends, felt their presence actively for the first time, and gave herself up to grief. As she was sobbing, she said "We're the grown-ups now, the elders. We're all we have, now." She could hear Ginny wailing on Edwina's shoulder, as she pressed her own face into Allie's chest. When she had reached the point of no more tears, she felt weak but as if she could think again.

She stood up, with Allie's help, and walked with Ginny into their bedroom. They ran a hot bath and sat in the tub together, Ginny leaned back in her arms, then washed each other's hair and helped dry each other off. Every tiny kindness penetrated to what felt like her exposed soul. They conferred quietly on what to wear to the funeral, then what to wear today, and got dressed slowly, almost ritually.

Right before they walked out of the bedroom, Ginny turned and went into the bathroom. She pulled a pair of nail scissors from the medicine chest and looked at herself in the mirror for a minute, solemn and big-eyed. As Myra joined her, Ginny cut off the hair just before her ears on either side, the little points that gave her a pixie-ish look. It was just a snip, but the change was dramatic. She looked instantly older. She put the scissors away and they went out to the dining room.

Edwina was at Myra's desk, answering the phone as it rang and taking messages. Allie was gone to take David's suit to the funeral home and pick up some clothes for her and Edwina at their house. Chris and Sima were both in the backyard, praying. When Sima came back in, she sat down at the dining table with Myra and Ginny, one of Myra's yellow legal pad in her hands, and talked with them about the next day or two. She urged them both to prepare something to say at the funeral tomorrow, if they wanted.

At first, Ginny said she didn't think she would be able to speak. Then she said "But -- I should, for his sake. And for the children. I should do it for them." She took the legal pad and stared at it, leaving the pen on the table.

Myra got up and went to her desk, rifling through files in her current works area until she found a sheet of paper. When she came back, she said "I wrote this -- about him, last summer. I was going to give it to him for Chanukah." She sat down heavily, starting to cry. "I wish I hadn't waited. What do you think, Sima, would this be okay?"

Chris had come in, and leaned over Sima's shoulder to read it with her. When they were both done, their eyes were wet, and Chris just gave Myra a tight-lipped thumbs up. Myra was reaching for the sheet, to hand it to Ginny, when the front door opened and Narnia burst in, woofing with joy. Behind her were Margie and Gillam, then Carly carrying Beebo and Rimbaud with suitcases.

Myra and Ginny pulled their children down onto the couch between them, trying to hold them as if they weren't both much taller than their mothers. As they were all crying and holding each other, Myra saw Carly standing nearby, with hunched shoulders. She reached out and grabbed his hand, pulling him halfway on her lap, halfway on Gillam's. Her hand was across Gillam's shoulders and cradling the back of Margie's neck. They were still talking and wiping each other's faces when Edwina came toward them, holding the telephone. "It's the coroner's office" she said.

Ginny leaned forward to look at Myra, terror on her face, and shook her head. Myra took the phone and listened for a minute. They heard her say "Is there any way it could have been -- diagnosed, and prevented?" She listened some more, and said "Are you sure? He wouldn't have woken up?" As she listening once more, Allie came back, a different garment bag in her arms. She stopped in the foyer, looking around at the scene and absently petting Narnia, waiting for someone to fill her. Myra she fervently thanked whoever she was talking to and handed the phone back to Edwina.

"That was the coroner" she said to Allie. She looked at Ginny and said "He had an aneurysm, in his aorta. A weak spot in the lining of the blood vessel, that probably had been there for years, maybe decades. No way to know it's there unless you go looking for it, and David was too healthy to suspect it. It just burst, and when blood stopped going to his heart, it stopped beating. She said -- he wouldn't have felt it, not if he was asleep. They think it happened a little after midnight, while he was in a sound sleep. He just -- went to sleep and never woke up."

Gillam and Carly began sobbing, and she tried to pull them both into her lap, which wasn't possible. She could hear Margie's cries, and beyond her, Ginny. Ginny's crying sounded different than it had so far.

The phone rang again. Edwina answered it, and turned to Ginny saying "It's your sister." Ginny took the phone, this time, and told Cathy about the news they'd just gotten. Now Myra could see Ginny's face, and she could read relief on it. Thank god -- death without blame.

When Ginny hung up, she said "They're about to board a plane. Her, Michael, and Noah, but not the grandbaby or Noah's wife -- the baby is too little, they feel. Their flight gets here a little before 5:30. They have a call in to Nate at his job. I'm not sure..."

Sima said "One of us will drive you to pick them up, if you want to go, or just go get them. And I've already booked rooms at the same B&B you've used before."

"Cathy and Michael will probably stay longer" said Ginny. "Michael has offered to say the kaddish, is that okay with you all?" She looked at Sima, then Gillam and Margie. They each nodded.

Myra shook Carly's knee and asked "Did you eat? Any of you?"

Gillam looked at her, hollow-eyed. "No" he whispered.

"Well, much as you don't want to, it's necessary" she said, a little of her old briskness in her voice.

"I made soup" said Chris. "And cheese sandwiches." She started for the kitchen, and Sima followed her.

"We went and got our clothes after all" Margie told Ginny. "We wanted our tefillin, and we had to get the animals..."

"I haven't had a chance to put clean sheets on your beds" said Ginny.

"Don't worry, we'll do that" said Gillam, starting to look a little less pale. Having things to do always helped Gillam.

Carly stood and said "I'll help carry bags up" to Rimbaud. They both went up the stairs, and after a few seconds, Gillam stood and went to Allie, wrapping his arms around her. The set of his shoulders reminded Myra of David, and her throat felt tight again. She glanced at Ginny, but Ginny was looking at Margie's face. Plenty to go around, thought Myra.

They had just finished eating when the doorbell rang. It was Rabbi Rachel. They met with her and planned the service, which restored more color to the children's faces -- that, plus the soup. Before they were done, Allie left in Edwina's Cherokee to pick up the Denver family. Shortly after she departed, Jen and Poe showed up with fresh bread, roasted chicken and a pie. When Jen hugged Ginny, she touched the places where Ginny had cut her hair. Margie sucked in her breath, realizing then why Ginny looked different.

The next 24 hours, when Myra remembered them afterward, seemed to be in not completely connected fragments. Slips of conversation, of ritual interrupted by raw void. Myra had not made it home yet when her own mother had been cremated, and she hadn't realized the family was offered an option of viewing the body as it slid into the chamber. When Gillam and Ginny both said "yes", she of course went with them. It wasn't terrible -- no roar of flames, though there was perceptible heat before the door rumbled shut. Still, it was a memory she'd rather not have had associated with David. He looked so kind and familiar in his navy suit.

There was no graveside service, not yet -- he was being interred next to Helen. Well, part of him was. Ginny had asked Mara to make a small urn for her portion of his ashes, Cathy had some, and the remaining fourth would be taken to Galveston to rest at the family plot there. Divided four ways, wasn't that the story of David's life, thought Myra.

She did remember going to bed with Ginny the night after David died. She felt they pulled the darkness around them like covers, but she also had a sense of it making them closer to David's spirit. She said "When a Cohanim is buried on shabbos, is there is a special meaning to that?"

"I don't know" said Ginny, her body pushed against Myra tight. They breathed together for a minute, and Ginny whispered "This is what you've felt for almost 30 years? This kind of loss? Does it ever get better?"

Myra swallowed before answering. "No. But you get better at bearing it."

She waited for Ginny to cry. After a long silence, though, Ginny said "As we were hugging goodnight -- he always said 'I love you, Virginia', in this certain voice -- he told me he preferred fried doughnuts, too."

Myra laughed, despite trying not to. Ginny joined her. That's what Myra remembered most about going to sleep with Ginny, the laughing.

The next day was a blur except for the faces of her children, shocked and pale. Until they were all back home, sitting shiva with a lethargy that now made total sense to Myra: Death was in the building, best to move very slowly. People came and went. Food got put on plates and pushed around, though not tasted. When Gillam came and sat on the floor in front of her, leaning back into her arms, she kissed his mop of hair and smelled vanilla. That was the second time she cried for David, as hard as she could. Her body and brain were more responsive afterward.

That night she walked around the block with Margie and Narnia. They stopped to look at the GAMGEM sidewalk square, and Margie said hoarsely "Going back to the Gulf Coast will be agony."

"Like it must have been for Ginny after her bubbe died. But Rosa was there, you know. And I bet we feel David, too" said Myra.

Around the corner, they startled an indecently large urban raccoon laying waste to a garbage can's contents. Margie leaned backward to keep Narnia from lunging at the raccoon, who, after the initial jolt, gave them a casual sneer and continued on with its buffet. They crossed the street, dragging Narnia who could not believe their deranged abandonment of such a good chase.

Somebody drove Nate, Elyse, Elena, Navit and Noah to the airport. Somebody else cleaned the kitchen. When they lit the menorah, Carly slid his shoulder under Ginny's arm and seemed to be holding her up.

That night, in the dark, Ginny did cry, choking out "I don't know where he is. For the first time in my life, I don't have any way of finding him. What if he's scared? I need him, Myra, I'll never stop needing him."

"I know, I know" said Myra. She had no answers.

The next morning, Cathy and Michael arrived early while Myra and Ginny were still finishing their tea after breakfast. None of the children had emerged from upstairs. Cathy and Michael sat down for more tea with them, but declined breakfast, having eaten at the hotel. There was little conversation, and everyone seemed relieved to not have to talk. After the tea was gone, Ginny put her hand over Myra's and said "Cathy and I are going to -- sort through Daddy's things. In his room."

"Do you want me to help? Us, I mean?" Myra nodded toward Michael.

"No. It should be just us. But can I use the extra plastic storage boxes in our closet?"

"Of course. Let me know if I need to run out and get more" said Myra. Ginny stood up and kissed her forehead.

"Will you feed the children?" Ginny said, then laughed hollowly. "What a dumb question to ask you, of all people. And with all that food people brought in the refrigerator."

"You can't stop being a mom" said Myra. Which left a silence behind it.

When Ginny and Cathy disappeared behind the glass wall into David's room, Myra said to Michael "Your dad died before I met you, right? Are you still close with your siblings?"

"A brother and a sister, yes, both" said Michael. "Although Cathy does more of the work of keeping us connected than I do. I -- never acquired the skills, I guess."

Myra said "I miss my little brother every single day. And my mom. I wish I could just -- make that not happen for Ginny. And it's going to be so sad here, without him."

"I want you to know, I've never seem him happier than these last two years. I wish he'd had it sooner, but -- this household gave him utter peace" said Michael.

Myra fought back tears. "I'm really glad to hear that. But you know, Michael, I still got mad about how -- about the choices he made, with regard to Ginny and her growing up environment. I hope that's okay to say to you."

Michael didn't answer right away, playing with his spoon, and she got a little worried. Then he pursed his lips and said "I know what you mean. Cathy married me when she was 18, you know. I was still in college, and had law school to go. And -- well, there's lots of ways you and Ginny had it much easier than us."

Myra waited, then said "How so?"

"Well...For one thing, Ginny'd made her own life for what, a decade? So she wasn't escaping home into your arms. Not that I'm sorry Cathy did -- I was thrilled to make a new life with her. But it took her such a long time to let in that she mattered. She was always examining everything I said and did to make sure I meant it, or that it wasn't going to walk out the door. She didn't really relax until the boys were in school. Ten years later" said Michael, with sadness in his voice.

"Yeah...Ginny and I both know that we got together when it was time for it, right on the dot" said Myra.

"And -- see, you didn't have to leave the house every day and come back 8 or 10 hours later, and reassure her that all that time you were away, she still mattered to you. You got to be together. And -- well, you're a woman" said Michael.

"I'm not sure what that last part means to you" said Myra.

"You got the training in how to -- nurture, I guess is the word. I mean, I'm no slouch, not for my generation. And I'm a talker, in that lawyer way, and god knows the Bates are all chatty, I guess that comes from Ze'ev the salesman, maybe." He and Myra chuckled. "But merchant and litigator, we talked a lot but we didn't always connect. It took us a lot time to figure out how to talk to each other, really reach each other. We didn't stop trying, and that's been the making of us. But you and Ginny..."

"Yeah. We've -- mostly we've spoken the same language, you're right, Michael. And, yes, I'm a big-time nurturer" said Myra.

"Those girls -- they were starved. You know that look they can do, I've seen Ginny do it, that flat kind of stare?" said Michael.

"It's her trademark. Although I did notice Helen doing it, too, just with a frost on it that Ginny never has."

'Well, when I first started dating Cathy and met Ginny? She didn't have it yet. She acquired that during her teenage years, as armor, I guess. When I first met her, she was around eight, I guess, and she just looked -- wounded. Wary and wounded. Until David would come show up. And it about killed me, Myra. Both for her sake, and also because I could see that Cathy must have been that way. I did everything I could..." His voice trailed off. Myra was fighting back crying; she wanted to hear what else he might have to say. "It's funny, I leaned on my dad a lot. He was a rabbi, did you know that?"

Myra was surprised. "No -- I knew your brother was."

"Yeah, Pop was rebbe at a small temple in Milwaukee, and he seemed to understand Helen's background, why she, her whole family, really, treated children like -- functions, like not-so-beloved pets to be kept in line. I could talk to him about what I saw going on for Cathy, and keep from blowing up at Helen -- and David, both. And just let time do the trick."

"One thing I'll say for David, he never stopped heading in the direction of his daughters. Especially Ginny. And his grandkids -- I don't know how to ease their pain..." Myra did start crying then, a little.

Michael leaned forward and said "I'm staying in touch with Gillam, Myra. I'll be there for him, I'm the oldest man, now. I'll call him every week, just like I do my sons."

"I'll never forget that prayer you did at his naming ceremony" said Myra, taking Michael's hand.

He blushed but didn't pull away.

"Thank god for you, Michael. For you in Cathy's life, and your sons, and our lives" said Myra.

"Thank god for the Bates girls" answered Michael. Then, whispering, he said "Thank you, David."

Myra closed her eyes, suddenly remembering the slap of David's loafers across the floor as he ambled from one room to the next. She was startled as she heard footsteps, then realized they were coming down the stairs. Michael retrieved his hand from her and called out "Hey, guys" to Carly and Gillam. Gillam waved Myra back to her seat and began making breakfast for him and Carly. Carly sat down next to Myra and said "Where's Ginny?"

When Myra told him, she saw Gillam stop for a minute, bread in hand, eyes closed, before continuing on with making toast. She heard a flush from upstairs and told him "Margie will be here soon, put in some for her too, please."

The kids were done, picking at crumbs on plates, when Ginny and Cathy walked down the hall, visible through the glass, each carrying a box. Myra cleared the table quickly while Margie wiped it down.

Ginny lifted clothes from her carton. There were three men's suits in various fabrics and colors. "These were his favorites" she said hoarsely. "Aside from..." She didn't finish the sentence.

"He was so much taller than you, Gillam" continued Cathy. "But they were taken up originally, and we think there might be enough cuff to let down on the brown one."

"I want one, too" said Margie. Ginny said "Of course. Check the black one, honey, it's got some extra hem as well. And Carly, the baby blue one appears to be exactly right for you. If you want it, that is."

"I do" said Carly hollowly, sliding his wide shoulders into the jacket. Gillam said "What about Nate and Noah?"

"We have two set aside for them as well" said Cathy. "And he wasn't much for hats, but he did love this old tweed cap..."

Margie picked it up and put it on her head. "Oh, please, can I have this?"

Ginny nodded. "There are his lovely white shirts, in that expensive cotton he favored, you all pick what you want from the box. And his ties. We brought them all, even the old-fashioned ones..." Her voice broke a little. Margie put her arm around Ginny's waist as Cathy poured a gleaming heap of silk ties onto the table. After that sorting was done, with Myra, Ginny and Michael each claiming a tie, as well as setting some aside for the aunties, Nate and Noah, Cathy bent over her carton and said "He didn't have a great of jewelry. But what he had, he wore."

She looked at Gillam and Margie to say "He gave Helen's wedding ring to Noah, and they used the stones for their own marriage. But we still have Daddy's band, and another one that I'm fairly sure belonged to his grandfather Louis, plus Helen's engagement rings. I think you should have them, whether you marry or not."

Myra watched with interest as Margie and Gillam conferred with each other, pulling Carly into the process. Eventually, Gillam took Helen's rings, Margie slid Louis's band onto her middle finger, and Carly held David's ring in his palm, staring down at it.

"It's all right" said Ginny. "You're one of his grandsons, too. Put it on, honey." Carly began crying as he obeyed.

Michael took David's Rolex. Ginny took the battered silver pocket watch which had the initial ZB on the back. Cathy took Rosa's pearls. Tie pins and cufflinks were divided up between the grandchildren. Eventually, all that remained on the tiger maple table was a tiny gold star of David which had hung on a chain around his neck, seldom seen by anyone.

"I gave that to him for his birthday when I was ten years old" said Ginny. "Bubbe helped me pick it out. I didn't have enough to pay for real gold, and she made up the difference but insisted it was still a gift from just me. I don't think he ever took it off after that."

"Then it's yours" said Cathy, pushing it toward her. But Ginny looked at Myra and said "I think he'd like you to have it." With trembling hands, Myra tried to fasten it around her neck. She fumbled twice, and Ginny came behind her, her breath on Myra's neck, to fix the clasp together. It rested in the hollow of her throat, a direct symbol of Ginny's childhood. She reminded herself to breathe.

"We've both read his will" said Cathy, leaning back. "His lawyer is executor and we'll leave the rest to him. Daddy left Ginny in charge of what to do with his paintings and drawings."

"I'll make sure you all get an equal share of his work" said Ginny. Cathy patted her hand and said "I know. He's got so much he turned out in the last two years, because of living here. He finally got to live as the artist he was born to be."

They sat together in a long silence. After a minute, Narnia, at Margie's feet, woofed and looked pointedly at the door. Margie stood slowly and said "Right, past time for a walk."

Myra fingered the star around her neck and said quietly:

Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Life must go on;
I forget just why.


Margie placed her David cap back on her head as she followed Narnia out the door.


© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

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BROAD CAST 10 APRIL 2008: SCIENCE AND MORE SCIENCE (OKAY, SOME ART, TOO)

(Geologic Map of the North Side of the Moon, by John DeVries)

New Scientist has a web article offering Five Great Auditory Illusions and "how they can help us understand the workings of the human brain". They are all fascinating. I'm including one below, the Virtual Barber Shop (you'll need headphones to make this work -- just click and close your eyes). Not a prank, just an exercise in how stereo works as interpreted by our brains.



I consider myself fairly well-informed about human reproductive physiology, but even so, I learned a few things in this extremely informative (albeit sometimes ickily graphic) video, How Pregnancy Happens. (Not safe for work and you need to decide if you want children to see it.) It's a clear, definitive answer to "life begins when sperm meets egg" -- uh, not really. First of all, it's up to the egg -- oh, just watch the video.



Carl Zimmer, a science writer, wondered what kinds of tattoos scientists and geeks might get for themselves. The answers are on display at Carl Zimmer's Science Tattoo Emporium.

(Tree of Life on the back of Claire d'Alberto, University of Melbourne)

An article at Wired Science reports on a recent study seeking to explain how it is that Russian speakers are able to detect shades of blue which English speakers classify as a single color. The article begins:

"When infant eyes absorb a world of virgin visions, colors are processed purely, in a pre-linguistic parts of the brain. As adults, colors are processed in the brain's language centers, refracted by the concepts we have for them. How does that switch take place? And does it affect our subjective experience of color?"

Meet you at the water color.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

NAMING OF PARTS

(Woman weaving herself into barrier on steps to the Pentagon at Women's Pentagon Action, November 1980; to read Grace Paley's speech at this action, go to Women's Pentagon Action Unity Statement; photo © Ellen Shub

Another subtle, brilliant anti-war poem, this one from the World War II era, by poet, radio dramatist, and translator Henry Reed (1914 - 1986).

I. NAMING OF PARTS

To Alan Michell

Vixi duellis nuper idoneus
Et militavi non sine gloria



To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And to-day we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For to-day we have naming of parts.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

GINNY BATES: ENTROPY



Another excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. The action in the story resumes immediately after my post two days ago. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

4 July 2008 (Friday)

Carly had driven up from Olympia with Rimbaud the night before. Margie was again spending the summer doing restoration work for the professor at UW, saying she could imagine spending her life in this kind of activity, which had caused Myra and Ginny to look at each other questioningly. Gillam had work as well as a waiter at the Mechanical Cafe, and he had just wangled a part-time job for Carly there the rest of the summer. Myra and Ginny were thrilled to have a full house, even though it meant most weekends Rimbaud showed up to sleep with Margie in her room and spend his days at the pool.

Myra had warm johnnycake in the oven, and as people straggled down for breakfast, she made omelets to order. Ginny had juiced strawberries and oranges, and into each glass before serving she dropped a few frozen blueberries. David was, as usual, giving Rimbaud the third degree. Myra wondered why she had escaped David's protectiveness toward Ginny; maybe it skipped a generation. Margie left Rimbaud on his own to deal with David as best he could.


After breakfast, everybody except Ginny and Myra left the house to attend various Fourth of July festivities around town. Ginny wanted to have an old-fashioned clambake for dinner that night, which required some advance preparation. Myra just wanted to avoid the crowds. They made a list of what needed to be done, then set it aside for the moment and went back to their work areas. Mail from the day before was still stacked on Myra's desk, unread. She sorted out Ginny's share and walked around the corner to give it to her. She noticed the gecko wall was sporting a tiny American flag with a black circle and slash inked across it. Underneath was a small paper banner she had to bend over to read: "I'd Rather Be Smashing Imperialism (and Eating Grubs)". Chuckling, she went back to her desk.

She was trying to make sense of the recent changes in their electric bill when Ginny came and suddenly sat down on her daybed. Her face was pale, and she held a creamy piece of folded bond in her hand. She looked at Myra with indecision on her face.

"What? What's that letter?" said Myra. She reached for it, but Ginny held it out of reach.

"I don't know what to think" said Ginny.

"Good news or bad?" asked Myra.

"I -- I'm not sure. Good, of course, but -- "

"You're not tracking, Ginny. Take a very deep breath and tell me" said Myra, moving over to sit next to Ginny. Ginny still held the letter out of view. She breathed in and out twice, then said "Someone from MOMA came to my show in Burlington, right after the opening."

"MOMA -- that's the Museum of Modern Art, right? In New York?"

"Yes" said Ginny, her nostrils noticeably flared.

"Did you know about it?"

"No."

Myra was having to pull this out of her phrase by phrase.

"That's a big honor, right?"

"The biggest." She looked into Myra's eyes, her own eyes showing a lot more white than usual. "The biggest in the U.S."

"I'm so happy for you, Ginny. And you deserve it" said Myra. "Did they write you about it, is that who the letter's from?"

"Yes." Ginny swallowed, then said "They want to buy one of my paintings."

"Holy fuck, Ginny, no kidding? To hang at the MOMA, one of your pieces?" Myra began pounding on the leather of the daybed.

"Not the MOMA, just MOMA" said Ginny, almost automatically. But Myra was wild with excitement and didn't care.

"This is just perfect, Ginny, it's immortality. And you so, so deserve it." Myra reached for the letter again, and still Ginny would not give it to her.

"I -- I don't think I can sell it to them, Myra" Ginny said in a tragic tone.

"Why on earth not?" demanded Myra.

"It's Hettie. They want to buy Hettie" said Ginny.

"Oh." Myra found herself having trouble thinking for a few moments. Hettie was their family heritage, and the most important symbol of their creative life together. She looked at it every time she was in the front part of the house, and had missed it acutely when it had been in Liza's gallery. But before she knew what she was saying, she spoke: "Of course you have to let them have it, Ginny. It'll be seen by the entire world there, it'll make your reputation permanent, and generations from now, our descendants can go look at it and be proud of you."

Ginny was trembling. "I don't know how to take this in" she whispered.

"Little bit at a time" murmured Myra, pulling Ginny into her arms.

They were still talking it over and marveling about it an hour later, when Allie and Edwina dropped by. Allie literally jumped up and down screaming, something Myra had never seen her do. They all went into the living room to stare at the painting and read the letter out loud over and over. Allie agreed with Myra, and Ginny was now leaning toward selling it.

Allie said "Call your agent, talk it over with her. And Liza -- I don't know if she's officially due a fee, since it was not listed as for sale, but you need to give her the same as you do for the other work you're selling there."

"God, yes. She's the reason why this happened" said Ginny.

"Part of the reason" reminded Myra.


5 August 2008

Ginny woke Myra up on her birthday by rolling over onto Myra's back and whispering in her ear "You're a prime number now, love of my life." They kissed for a while, until Myra's aging bladder demanded she go to the toilet. She was headed back for bed when a knock came at the bedroom door. She answered it to find Gillam and Carly standing there.

"What are you doing here?" she said to Carly in surprise. "It's midweek, I thought you weren't coming up from Olympia until Friday."

"I got permission to come early. I sneaked in last night, after taking the train" he said, his face delighted with his subterfuge. "Happy Birthday!"

"We made you breakfast" said Gillam.

"I can smell something incredible" said Myra, stepping to the hall to sniff.

"Get pants on and come sit at the place of honor" said Gillam.

As Myra got dressed, she asked Ginny "I presume you were in on this?"

"Yep" she said happily. "Margie's coming later. The rest of our friends will be here to eat dinner with us."

A huge bouquet of tulips and daffodils, in reds and yellows, was on the table in front of Myra's place. Ginny herded her to her chair, not allowing her to go invade the kitchen. David appeared, a dishtowel draped over his arm as if he were a maitre'd, and asked her in an atrocious French accent "Would madame care for ze finest libation of ze house?" He pulled from behind his back a frosty glass bottle of RC Cola, which he cradled in his hands as it if were a rare vintage. "Le Cola Royale, autumn of 2007" he intoned. He made a fuss about popping the cap, then poured a small amount in a crystal brandy snifter and offered it to Myra. Laughing nonstop, she went through the entire pantomime of rolling it around in the glass, sniffing, tasting and swishing it in her mouth before she declared it "bon" and he filled her glass. "Zere is more in ze kishen" he said and left with a turn of his heel.

In a minute, David, Carly and Gillam appeared laden with platters and bowls. Carly announced his dish: "Fruit salad with mangos and papayas, artistically sprinkled with Washington blueberries! Side dressing of yogurt ala Ginny Bates." David went next, presenting "Hash browns, almost but not quite tref, cooked according to the style of Allie Billups" along with a platter of Ginny eggs. Gillam was last: "Grilled boneless butterfly pork chops from free-range happy, happy pigs, cured with maple syrup. Side dish of honest-to-goodness Texas style cream gravy."

"Oh my god" said Myra. There were at least a dozen chops on the platter. Gillam kissed her cheek and said "Let's eat 'til we drop."

Ginny sat beside Myra instead of her usual place at the end, and Gillam was on her right hand. The meal was glorious. Halfway through, Myra said to Gillam "Why don't you just give up on the idea of college and stay home with us for the rest of your life? You can be my cook. You too, Carly. Once you're 18, they can't make you do anything you don't want to."

They were both delighted, and Gillam winked at her as he said "Now, what would your mama say if you didn't set me aloft the same way she sent you out into the world?'

Which is when Myra finally cried, just a brief burst of happy tears.

When they were done, only a dozen bones lay on the chop platter, which Myra said to freeze and save for Narnia. Finishing her second RC, she sat back and said "I hope your plans for today aren't too strenuous, because I'm having a little trouble breathing, I'm so full."

"We have a group present for you" said Ginny. "We'll present that later. For now, we have a few small things. Then you and I get to loll about in the hot tub, while elves clean the kitchen and do the prep for a big, beefalicious dinner tonight. We'll have lunch out at the place of your choosing, and at 2 p.m., we have a special date, the five of us, out at a place you'll never guess."

"For once, I'm happy to not be in the know" said Myra.

"Let me go first" begged David, reaching into the sideboard and pulling out a tissue-wrapped shirtbox. He handed it to Myra and said "It's time you had this."

Inside was a worn, very old tallit, with faded blue stripes and gold thread in a complicated pattern. Myra stared at David, who said quietly "Michael's brother is part of a group of rabbis who watch eBay for the sale of precious Judaica and make sure it falls into Jewish hands instead of some other market. When he saw this, how big the waist was, he told me about it and I got it for you. The seller was in Dallas, which may mean it was Texan for part of its life."

Myra stood up, a little dizzy, and put on the tallit over her shirt. It was a perfect fit. She closed her eyes and felt a rush of something new blow through her. She opened her eyes again and stared at David, then lunged to kiss him gratefully.

"Can I -- is it all right to sit down on the fringe?" she asked hoarsely.

"It's fine" he said, his chest stiff with pride. Ginny's eyes were leaking. Myra sat back down and fingered the fabric over her belly.

"Well, I'm done" she said finally. "I think if I get more one gift today, my head may explode."

Ginny cackled. "I surely hope not, what a mess for the boys to clean up" she said. She reached under her chair and pulled out a square box wrapped in stunning Ginny-made paper. Myra opened it meticulously -- she saved every scrap of Ginny's art. Inside was the CD-ROM set of the Oxford English Dictionary.

"No way" she breathed.

"Way" said Ginny, giggling. "Load it on your hard drive and put away that illuminated magnifying glass for our crone years, darling!"

Myra stood to head for her study, but Ginny snagged her. "Nuh-uh, once you begin you'll be there all day, hopping from word to word. You have to save it for when there aren't other demands on your time."

Reluctantly, Myra sat back down. She leaned over and gave Ginny a long, tender kiss.

"What will I do with those 20 volumes on my shelves in there?" she said. "They mean too much to me to sell, we bought those the first year we lived here."

Gillam cleared his throat. "I'll be in college next year..." he said leadingly.

"Really? You want to have them?" asked Myra.

"Heck, yeah" he averred.

"Okay, then, they're yours" she said gladly.

Gillam handed her a very small clay pot, the size of a pillbox, with a tiny recessed lid that lifted off. "This is from me and Carly both" he said.

She looked at the design on the outside and said "This was made by Mara, I can tell by the suns and -- hey, that's an armadillo!"

"Yeah, we commissioned it from her" said Carly.

Removing the lid, she saw a small curl of what at first appeared to be paper. Removing it with trembling fingers, she realized it was instead linen, encrusted with slip or clay dust. She was afraid to unroll it, but turning it from all angles, she could see bleed-through of the ink on one side and recognized the reverse of a Hebrew character. Her brain shoved the answer at her: Staring at Gillam, she breathed "This is the scroll from your golem, isn't it?"

She felt Ginny and David both startle. Gillam's brown eyes stayed fixed on hers, however, and he answered "Yes. It didn't work, I'm sorry to say, but we thought maybe in your hands..."

Myra looked at Carly and said "If your purity of heart was not enough, nobody's is". He flushed, his face beaming.

"You made a golem?" said Ginny incredulously.

"We tried" said Gillam. Myra jumped in: "When Bush invaded Iraq."

Ginny turned on her. "You knew about this and you didn't tell me? None of you told me?"

"They didn't tell me, either, Gin. I guessed it somehow. Or, more accurately, I think I read Gillam's mind. They said it was between them and god, and I agreed with that. I did send them to get help from Mara" said Myra.

David was looking at Gillam with a mixture of disbelief and reluctant pride. Ginny, still focused on Myra, said "I thought we didn't keep anything from each other."

"This is the one exception" said Myra. "I would have told you eventually, when Gillam was grown and I could ask his consent. But it was a point of honor, my honor as expressed to him, that I let him do this without us. I hope you can understand that."

Expressions traveled across Ginny's face, and something clicked in her eyes. She reached out for the curl of linen and said "May I -- is it all right if I touch it?"

"Yes, but don't unroll it" said Gillam, "It wants to fall apart."

Ginny held it in her palm lightly, then looked back at Myra and said "All right. I understand."

David said to Gillam "I need to talk with you both, later. And tomorrow we go to a mikvah."

Gillam looked uncomfortable, but said "Okay, Zayde."

That evening, after dinner, Myra's "big gift" turned out to be tickets for her, Ginny, Allie, Edwina, Sima and Chris to all attend the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival together. "We're flying out Thursday morning!" crowed Ginny. "Ferron and Bitch are playing that night!"

"And Holly Near later in the week, and Isle of Klezbos" said Sima.

"Plus Ubaka Hill two nights, and Jambalaya" added Allie.

"You're really going with?" Myra asked Chris, wide-eyed.

"Might as well find out what all the fuss is about" she grinned back. "We get our own Winnedyko."

Myra finally let herself scream with joy. After one yelp, she stopped and said "The kids?"

Margie snorted. "I don't need baby-sitting, you know."

David said "And I'll be here. It's cleared with Patty."

"Everything else is all arranged" said Ginny. "I've been planning for months!"

Myra resumed her celebration.

At Michigan, the parking spots they were assigned for their trio of Winnedykos was directly adjacent to woods, with a small clearing visible through the undergrowth. The first day, Chris found a group of Native women who came back to their enclave and set up a drumming/piping circle in the clearing. During most of the hours that Ginny painted, Myra and Edwina wrote, and Sima worked on jewelry in their shaded work zone between trailers, Chris and eventually Allie were drumming, sometimes missing the night concert to continue on. Myra had never seen the two of them in such sustained concentration, their faces smooth with happiness. Chris astonished her by wearing nothing at all except boots and her elk-tooth beads most of the time. And sweat. Myra sneaked her glances at Chris, sure that Ginny was watching her.

When they got home on the 11th, Gillam waited until the excited story-sharing by all of them had run its course before he said somberly, "Mom, I need to tell you...Jonah and Isaac's mother died on Friday. Her memorial service was yesterday."

Myra stood up and jammed her fingers into her hair, yelling "No! No, Karin! I never got to talk to you!" The instant devastation of her response surprised her as well as her friends. She bent over double at the waist as she began to cry.

She stayed a mess even when she ran out of tears. Eventually Ginny sent their friends home, saying it was time for rest and she'd be there for Myra. She carried their luggage into the bedroom as Myra silently got ready for bed. When Ginny joined her, Myra was still awake, lying on her side facing away, looking at the L-Power photo on the wall.

"Do you want to cry some more?" asked Ginny, putting her arms around her from behind.

"I...don't think so. I can't believe she never tried to call me, or even write me. She really meant it, I guess, when she said she never wanted to think about me again" said Myra numbly.

"I don't understand that, Myra. I wouldn't do that. Even with Jules, I'd send a card saying I was dying and telling her thanks for having been part of my life once" said Ginny.

Myra thought about that. After a while, she said "Yeah, I would too. I mean, not for absolutely everybody. But -- how could she hate me that much?"

"I'm not sure it's hate, Myra."

"Then it's indifference, which is worse."

"Myra...maybe she just never loved you as much as you loved her. It's not always returned, you know, our finest passions."

"Now I'll never know" said Myra, her voice cracking.

"You might. We figure things out without the dead sometimes, humans have done that for millenia. Haven't you reaching new understanding of your mother? And when you do, you'll find a way to write about it that allows you to let go. Now that there's no hope of her forgiving you directly." Ginny's voice was gentle, easing the pain of the words.

After a long enough silence that Ginny wondered if Myra had dropped off, Myra said "The thing is...I deserve forgiveness. I'm not that bad of a person. I never was."

"Glad to hear you figuring that out, sweetheart" said Ginny. Myra rolled over and fitted her body into Ginny's. They went to sleep.

At their next session with Nancy, Myra began with "There's something we have to talk over, and make a plan about. I've been afraid to bring it up."

Ginny's eyes went clear with fear. "All right."

"When I...had the brain fart, it could have been much worse, you know. And it could have been permanent. I mean, not just the way it is, but with me not being -- able to read, or write, or talk."

"I'm all too aware of that, Myra."

"That's my worst nightmare, Ginny. It has been since I was a teenager and I read about Auden having a stroke, how horrible it was for him. And now, having lived through a mild version of it, I can confirm, it really is a nightmare. I don't want to go through it again."

Ginny stared at her. "I'm not sure what you're saying."

"If I have something happen where I lose my brain function, Gin -- where I don't have the ability to communicate, or can't access my memories -- and there's no chance of meaningful recovery...I don't want to live. I don't want to go on without my brain. Any other disability, yes, I'll face that. But not losing my brain."

Ginny's face had dawning horror. "So, what -- you want someone to pull your plug?"

"I do. If I can't do it myself, and under those circumstances, I won't be able to. I need to find someone who'll do it for me, and I'm starting with you because I owe you the chance to say yes or no, but I'll understand if you can't handle it. I'll find someone else." Myra's calm voice indicated how much she'd thought this through.

Ginny seized on this. "You've already made a decision here, is what you're telling me. No discussion about what I might want or need." Anger was a place she could funnel her feelings.

"It's about my life, in the end, Ginny. Of course I care about your wants and needs, but I'm pretty sure you won't want me to stay breathing and wretched beyond endurance."

"You still could have put in the form of a question, you fucking jerk!" yelled Ginny. "I went through all that with you, talk about nightmare, you weren't the only one living it, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat, any time, but no, I don't get consulted, I just get told you can't do it again."

"I don't know how else to say it, Ginny. I really can't do it again."

"It was that bad?" challenged Ginny.

"It was. For me."

"Oh, god" said Ginny, beginning to wail. "Oh god, I'm glad I didn't know it then, but I was so scared you were in agony. And now I know you were, oh god."

Myra pulled Ginny into her arms and said "You were my constant comfort, the only light and hope I could feel, and you did everything anybody could. You got me out of it as fast as you could."

When Ginny stopped sobbing, Nancy did muscle testing of various statements, finally concluding "You're right, it really is a limit you can't get past."

"Well, I'm going to live in terror from this point on, then" said Ginny. "Because there's no fucking guarantees it won't happen again."

"No fucking guarantees" agreed Myra. "But we can have a plan about what to do. And I'll find some -- safety in that."

"Myra, I've wondered about my own limits. I mean, if it happened to me. And hearing you say dying would be preferable, it makes me think, okay, me too. I don't want to be a happy veg either. What a fucked thing to say, I know."

Myra squeezed her hand and said "We're not gods."

"Who would you get, if it's not me? Helping you check out, I mean" said Ginny, gazing at her keenly.

"Well, I'm pretty sure Chris would be able to manage it" said Myra, with a small grin.

"I can't believe how jealous that makes me" said Ginny. "Listen, if I agree to do it for you, will you do it for me?"

Myra's grin disappeared. "Oh, no, Gin, it can't be like that. First of all, if you want me to stand by you in that way, you've got it without any strings attached. No tit for tat here, it has to be something you want to do. And I want to be that committed person for you. So, you have to feel the same way to make that agreement for me, and if you don't, it says nothing at all about our love or connection. It's not a contest between you and Chris."

Nancy intervened again to work with Ginny. By the end of the session, they'd been able to make a clear agreement with each other. Nancy suggested they get a draft from their attorney of a specific Living Will and revised medical directive, and bring it back to her for final clearing.

On the way home, Ginny asked "Do we tell the kids? Or our friends?"

Myra, driving, glanced at her with a stricken expression. "My gut is no to the kids. They shouldn't have to think about it if it's not imminent, they're too young. And...I don't feel the need to share with Chris or Allie. If you need to talk it over with someone, though, that's fine, just tell me so I can deal with my end of it, too."

"You fucking better plan on living to 100 and dying peacefully in your sleep, you asshole" said Ginny savagely.

Myra giggled in spite of herself, and Ginny laughed reluctantly. "I love you too, honey" she said.

As Rosh Hoshanah began at the end of September, Myra chose to fast each day with Gillam and David. She spent the hours not occupied with meals sitting in her version of prayer, turning over the disappearance of Karin, the papers she and Ginny were drawing up, the shipping a week ago of Hettie to the Museum of Modern Art. She remembered in college learning one of Heisenberg's principles, she thought it was, that all of the universe was moving toward a state of entropy. Certainly loss seemed more constant than anything else.

For Halloween she fashioned an enormous cardboard box painted black into a costume that fit over her torso and head, with just her arms and legs sticking out. She covered the open side of the box with black gauze, through which she could see out dimly but nobody could see in. She stayed silent as Ginny explained she was Schrödinger's cat. Every now and then a small meow would emanate from the box, but never in response to any direct query. Gillam and Carly thought it was "awesome". Ginny, on the other hand, understood the bleakness behind it.

The first Saturday in November, Myra got up when Ginny did because Margie was there for breakfast, having driven up the night before. David had gone out early for schacharit services, and Gillam had not gotten up in time to go with him. Ginny made french toast with whole-grain cranberry bread, and Myra grilled some turkey sausages for her and Gillam. Gillam had already started the weekend laundry; there were piles in the wall outside the storage room. He was, if anything, taller than he had been a couple of months ago, though also lankier. He drank down one glass of milk before they even sat to eat. Myra decided to make a pot roast for Sunday.

Margie was hilarious, making them laugh endlessly with anecdotes about classes, imitations of professors, and clever intellectual plays on words. The house was loud again. Narnia was under Myra's feet, Beebo on the sideboard. Myra was pretty sure Gillam was sneaking bits of sausage to Beebo.

Myra said "My god it's lonely around here without you. I can't imagine how empty it will be with Gillam gone, too. I mean, Ginny is infinitely good company, but I'm think maybe when we retire, we'll need to turn this huge house into some kind of collective."

Ginny grinned at her and leaned toward her, saying "When we retire from what, honey?"

Myra was momentarily stumped. "Well, true enough, I'm not going to stop writing and you will paint until your arthritic old fingers can't hold a brush any more -- "

"Bite your tongue" said Ginny.

"But won't there be some kind of transition we'll go through? I mean, we've talked about eventually having more time for some things."

"Like what?" said Margie. "Travel?"

"We're already planning to start that next year. No, I meant time here, with more leisure to, you know..." Myra blushed suddenly. Ginny giggled; she remembered this conversation.

"Oh for pity's sake" said Margie. "Please tell me you are not somehow intimating you don't have enough time now for sex. Please, god, do not act like you aren't at it all the time." Her tone was thoroughly exasperated. Gillam began turning pink.

Margie stood up and walked into the kitchen, just to be moving, it appeared. "Do you two take some kind of exotic herbs we don't know about? I mean, aren't you ever going to slack off? Don't women your age, well, dry out or something?"

Myra was amused, but Ginny not so much.

"Dry out?" Ginny said.

Myra muttered "'We woulda stayed longer but we had other obligations; we were busy, very busy.'"

Margie had opened a cupboard, slammed it shut and strode back to the table. Leaning between Myra and Ginny, she said "Here's something to help you get rid of unwanted pubic hair." She slapped a toothpick down on the table next to Myra.

Gillam gave a shriek of laughter and literally fell backward in his chair. It hit the floor with a loud whack, and he lay there, still in the chair, chortling and occasionally going "ow".

Ginny stood up and looked over at him, deciding he was all right. She turned to face Margie, but Margie headed her off by saying "Listen, I'm going out to spend the day with Amy. I'll be back for dinner. Thanks for the french toast, Mom, it was yummy." Just like that, she was sweet and grinning again. She gave Ginny a hug and headed for the door, stepping over Gillam on the way.

"What was that all about?" said Ginny after the front door shut.

"Oh, embarassment. They're still just kids, Ginny. I once read something Mark Twain said, that when he had been a boy of 14, his father was the most ignorant man he'd ever met, but when he got to be 21, he was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. Give it time."

Gillam had finally gotten himself up from the floor and seated at the table again. "You want those last two sausages?"

"No, you take 'em" said Myra.

"There's one slice of toast left, too" offered Ginny. Gillam nodded eagerly, then reached toward the toothpick still by Myra's plate. Myra snatched it up, however, and said "Uh-uh, I got plans for this." Which set Gillam off again. Eventually, Myra glued it to her laptop. She deliberately chewed on one end, just to give the children something to shake their heads about.


© 2008 Maggie Jochild

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BROAD CAST 8 APRIL 2008: ART AND MORE ART

(World Beat Music, © James Plakovic -- click on image to see larger version, click on link to purchase print)

My friend Kathy Plakovic, local nurse practitioner extraordinaire and the person who's vetted the medical questions in my novel Ginny Bates, is married to a really unique artist, Jim Plakovic. Jim is able to combine musical composition and art to create canvases which show an image created from musical notes which can actually be played, a piece of music which relates to the image. He was featured last week with the above "map" at Strange Maps. I LOVE his stuff. Also, Jim chose to stay home and keep house when their daughter was born, and he carries the title of Honorary Lesbian here in Austin (for other private reasons). A spectacular guy, all round.


For artists and historians, from Boing Boing: A video answering the question What Did Da Vinci Look Like?

"Siegfried Woldhek knows faces -- he's drawn more than 1,100 of them. Using sophisticated image analysis and his own skills as an artist, he's come up with a fascinating discovery about Leonardo Da Vinci. Da Vinci's life and work is well known -- but his own face is not. Woldhek used some thoughtful image-analysis techniques to find what he believes is the true face of Leonardo. Here, he walks viewers through exactly how he did it."

(Anatomically correct fabric brain art by Marjorie Taylor)

For textile and anatomy fans, from The Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art, "Inspired by research from neuroscience, dissection and neuroeconomics, our current exhibition features three quilts with functional images from PET and fMRI scanning, a knitted brain, and two fabric pieces interpreting single neuron recording. Techniques used include quilting, applique, embroidery, beadwork, knitting, and crocheting. Materials include fabric, yarn, metallic threads, electronic components such as magnetic core memory, and wire, zippers, and beads."



For web site geeks, in Design Coding, The Poetic Prophet (a.k.a. The SEO Rapper) raps about web standards and proper design can affect the ranking and conversion of pages on your site.

(Photo © by Jill Posener)

The Art Law Blog covers exactly what you'd think it covers, law as it relates to art. Lots of interesting articles and updates.

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