Sunday, December 27, 2009

About Gratitude, Wealth, and the New Year

2010 sure turned up awful fast. I think my New Year’s Resolution is going to be to eat more chocolate. We seem to have an abundance of really good chocolate in the house right now. Those resolutions about dieting and exercise and healthy lifestyle are lame. I want something real this year. My real New Year’s Resolutions are 1) to be more grateful for what I have and 2) to stop worrying about finances since I don’t make any money doing that.

My children are home and we have no house guests. Just the five of us. Christmas Dinner was terrifically fun and funny. We killed an excellent bottle of merlot together and reminisced about life at the Ranch. We had a lot of fun opening presents, enhanced by Ron’s silliness in signing the tags with the names of celebrities. When my lovely daughter discovered a gift from Denzel, I asked her if it came with batteries. My darling husband bought me that pruning ladder I have been coveting (couldn’t fit it in the car but put a picture of it in my stocking—have to get a friend with a truck to pick it up). I received Amaryllis and iris flower bulbs from my girl and handmade ceramics from the boys. A mug with gorgeous glazing from Akili. Sudi quite outdid himself. He made me a sculpture of three brown baby arms/hands reaching up from a flat base and balancing in their palms a ceramic replica of the McNab Ranch House with all the windows and doors exactly right. It’s the most exquisite rendering of the spirit of the years our family spent with children growing up at the Ranch. I miss my little children, but I look ahead to fat years with my grown-up children, filled with new directions, grandchildren, and more family fun.

I am blessed. I am grateful. I am wealthy. May your new year be bright.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Saying Good-bye to Jarvis

I became friends with the poet Mona Van Duyn and her husband Jarvis Thurston at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in 1974. Mona won many awards for her poetry, including a Pulitzer, and she was the first woman poet laureate of the U.S. Mona and Jarvis managed a literary journal called Perspective (founded in 1947). They are credited with first publishing many writers who went on to win major awards and become widely recognized. They taught at Washington University in St. Louis and it was because of them that I went to Wash. U. in 1976 to study for my Ph.D. Although I never completed the degree, I had a terrific two years at Wash. U. and while I was there I went to the home of Mona and Jarvis every Sunday evening for a visit. We would sit in the living room and chat and tell stories. When we became friends, I was in my early 20s and Mona and Jarvis were in their early 60s, so I was destined to outlive them by many years. Fortunately they lived a long time. Mona died of bone cancer in 2004. She used to write the most hilarious and moving holiday letters. In fact, she is the person who originally inspired me to write my epic holiday letter each year.

Last week, I googled Jarvis Thurston to see if he was still living before sending him my holiday letter and I discovered that he died in 2008 at the age of 93. (I’m surprised that my holiday letter to him last year didn’t bounce back to me.) The thing I remember best about Jarvis is his storytelling. He could easily compete with Garrison Keillor. He was raised out in the wilds of Utah back when there were only a half a dozen people living there. His growing-up stories, especially about the animals his family owned, were hilarious. He and Mona could not have children and they were not able to adopt because Mona had had a psychotic episode when young, which prevented her from passing the test by the adoption agencies in those days. Their children were their many students and protégés (like me). Mona was a fragile person and Jarvis dedicated his life to loving and nurturing her. The world owes a debt of gratitude to Jarvis for caring for Mona so well that she was able to write her magnificent poetry. When I googled Jarvis, the first hit I got was an article by Tom Finkel, son of poet Don Finkel, who also taught at Wash. U. (I studied with Don). Tom tells about going to visit Jarvis on the night before Jarvis died. Jarvis was not conscious or responsive. Tom heard a woman’s voice coming from Jarvis’s room as he mounted the stairs and when he entered the room he discovered that Jarvis’s caregiver had placed a CD in the CD-player of Mona reading her poetry aloud. I am comforted to imagine that Jarvis slipped out of the world while listening to the voice of his beloved Mona reading her poetry.

Here is the link to Tom Finkel’s article about Jarvis.:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lessons in Talking to Adult Children

A few weeks after my youngest child moved to his first apartment (on-campus housing), I had an occasion to drive him back to school and drop him off at his new place, which he shares with two other young men. The condition of the apartment was appalling and I spoke with him about what is required to clean and maintain an apartment. He said that they would get to it soon. I thought that perhaps they needed a little bit of a nudge so I decided to call the Residence Advisor (R.A.) Supervisor for their building. She was a perky young lady who spoke with a Valley Girl accent. I asked her if perhaps the R.A. for their floor might do me a favor and poke his head into the apartment and give the guys a word or two about taking out the trash before the rats moved in, cleaning spilled and dropped food off the stovetop before it caught on fire, and giving the bathroom a once-over before the mold needed a shave with a machete.

R.A. Supe Girl informed me that the R.A.s don’t do that kind of thing. I said I was concerned about the health and safety of the guys. I asked if they had a fire extinguisher in their apartment and she assured me they did. I said that made me feel much better, but had they shown the guys how to use it? R.A. Supe Girl informed me that they don’t do training on the use of the fire extinguishers. I suggested that this was perhaps a somewhat unsafe situation and that I would appreciate it if she could send an R.A. to have a talk with the guys about safety, stovetop fires, and how to use their fire extinguisher. R.A. Supe Girl informed me that they don’t do that. She said that different people have different lifestyles and levels of cleanliness and that perhaps my son and his roommates were comfortable living in filth and squalor (she didn’t use those exact words). Then, now here’s the kicker, she suggested that I have a conversation with my son “speaking as an adult to a young adult” about my concerns.

At that moment, I realized she was “handling me” and that a 20-something Valley Girl in a R.A. Supe work-study job was following the instructions in her “How to Talk to Parents” Handbook and giving me advice about how to relate to my adult child. I’m thinking, how many adult children do I have and how many does she have? I’m thinking, how many children have I put through college and has she even graduated yet? I’m thinking give me the phone number of this girl’s mother. I politely extricated myself from the conversation, thanking her for her time, hung up, and immediately called my son and read him the riot act. As an adult speaking to a young adult, I said, “Don’t make me come down there with my yellow rubber gloves, Lysol spray, and toilet brush.” I told him I didn’t care if they drowned in dirty laundry, but they had to clean the food off the stove burners. I wanted them to read the instructions on the fire extinguisher (test would need to be passed before I would make another rent payment). I would not, I repeat, would not pay to have the rug and the stove replaced, the bathroom repainted, and the kitchen fumigated when they moved out. The cleaning deposit was for cleaning, not rebuilding.

The next time I visited the apartment, the kitchen and bathroom passed inspection and the trash was emptied. The stovetop was clean. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a safe and healthy home. So glad I had that little adult to young adult conversation with my son.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wedding on the Ferry

On Tuesday evening I had the honor of witnessing the wedding of my friends Linda and Scott, which took place on the ferry from Oakland to San Francisco. The bride and groom have been together for close to 25 years and recently decided to make it legal. They are both outdoorsy people, and Linda comes from a family of fisherpeople, so getting married on a boat on the Bay was a perfect choice. The wedding party was very small and the ceremony was short. Linda did wear a gown and she looked radiant. Her entry onto the ferry was met with smiles and congratulations from the other ferry passengers. The ferry captain drove slowly so we could hear the ceremony over the racket of the boat and the water; and when the ceremony was completed, he announced his congratulations on the P.A. system and honked the ferry horn. The ride took about a half an hour and the timing was perfect as we had a delicious view of the sunset on a clear evening with the full moon beaming on us. We passed directly under the Bay Bridge while enjoying the panoramic skyline of San Francisco, which was lit up before us. When the ferry docked at the Ferry Building, we walked to a nearby restaurant for fine dining and wining. After dinner we were extremely jolly as we returned on the ferry to Jack London Square in Oakland, again under a full moon and clear sky. It was a romantic and memorable wedding, and exactly right for the bride and groom. Congratulations Linda and Scott.

Remember The Call to Shakabaz

I want to remind my blog readers to think of my book, The Call to Shakabaz, when planning your holiday gift-giving. It's a great family read-aloud. Fun inexpensive entertainment!