Sunday, October 2, 2011

Diary of Turning 40

I awoke this morning to find my father padding around my living room in his saggy tighty-whities, wearing an undersized Daniel Boone cap, waiting for the pear sauce to cook that he made from my dry, grainy Costco pears. This is not a metaphor.  I wouldn't have my father any other way, though I think Rich was secretly relieved that he had stayed in bed and therefore was not forced to witness this level of body confidence in a beer-bellied 63-year-old father-in-law.

My 5 year-old daughter anxiously brought me a colorful reused birthday gift bag with wadded up reused tissue inside, under which she had placed several gifts: my barrel brush for blow-drying (that I already owned), a face made out of a taped-together paper towel drawn-on with black Sharpie, a "worm" made out of the same material, and a butterfly she made out of paper plates the first week of kindergarten. Very sweet.  Many hugs and kisses.  She had been checking in with me every twenty minutes since 6:30 to try to get me out of bed.

Later, she had re-filled the bag with similar gifts wrapped in bath towels.  I think she just wanted the hugs and kisses. It was lovely to be able to give and receive love and good wishes in the forms of hugs, kisses, and items I already own.

Last night, after Jeff, Dad and I worked at tile, grouting and caulk all day, a bunch of us gathered at The Home Plate, a Tucson dive that just happens to have a respectable selection of batting cages in the back, and serves very good pizza and burgers.  My dad, brother Jeff, Rich, the kids, my brother Bill, Angel and their two little girls, and friends Mike and Jill.  Mike, after several years of chronic back pain and other medical problems, seemed to be in a happy mood, giving me shit about feeling sorry for myself, telling me how great life would be when the kids were out of the house... that kind of thing.  Turns out he had busted into my Seagrams that had been under the kitchen counter for two years while we were over working on the house.  Rich forgave me for running to Walgreens for athletic tape so he could hit balls, and then leaving the tape with the cashier after I had paid for it.  That way, he wasn't forced to embarrass anyone with his prowess in the Majors cage.  Bill and Angel brought me a huge bottle of Cuervo margaritas.

This morning, my mom, pregnant sister Grace, Benchy and their two kids showed up, and the 11 of us went to breakfast.  They had brought with them a baby cottontail bunny that they had found orphaned in the road the night before, barely a handful big.  Cute thing, but still, I did not want to keep it.  Nice try, Grace!

Breakfast with 11 people turned out NOT to be a cluster-            and we actually had a pleasant time, despite the sometimes disappointing chain-restaurant breakfast.  The tiny kids didn't screech; my kids didn't pick at each other.  My mom and Jeff got to catch up, since they had only met a couple of times before, and I got a balloon jester hat.  I was able to get a photo with my mom and my dad at the same time. Loved that.
Dad-- could you smile?  For me?
It's funny-- I forget how much older I am than my siblings.  If Dylan had been here, maybe I wouldn't have felt so old, but without him, I began to feel almost parental.  But still felt like my mom's and dad's little girl.

At some point during the day, I realized that I could have been conceived on New Year's or Christmas. 

This afternoon I finished reading The Educated Imagination, by Northrup Frye.  This series of lectures was an excellent suggestion from a friend.  I realize that reading literary criticism/philosophy may not be everyone's idea of fun, but it was nice to take focused reading time.  I haven't watched shitty reality television in weeks.  It feels good.  And this book articulated a lot of ideas about why literature is important, even essential, in educating the mind.  Steve R told me that if I read it, I would become a warrior with a vision.  I have to say, he was not too far off.

I also spent a couple extra hours reading Fight Club.  I am enjoying the book and can really see the appeal for young skeptics of today.  For me, reading this alongside The Educated Imagination helped illuminate both books-- it really clarified for me the importance of educating the imagination, because the educated imagination understands two things about that book that make the story less utterly frightening.  First, let me say why the book is (so far) utterly frightening:  because the need of the characters to find something essentially and primitively meaningful in their physical life on earth seems to carry a lot of truth-- the point of fight club is for the men to re-discover their true power, their physical ability to alter the state of things, even if it only comes down to actually feeling the sensation of pain and surviving it.  If I am understanding correctly.  Northrup Frye makes two points in his argument that seem to me to be key in reading a story like this:  1)  the inherent separation in reading literature between the reader and the story (i.e. it is not happening to you; it is not a recipe for how to live) and 2) the difference between a romantic reading of Tyler Durden, and an ironic reading of Tyler Durden.  To me, Tyler Durden requires an ironic reading.  And from my experience with young people, only a certain number of students have the reading chops to read complex literature ironically.  My juniors last year, despite lesson after lecture after example, still did not understand that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was satire, that Twain did not approve of Huck allowing Tom to torture Jim throughout the whole last several chapters of the book.  I had to cut our final panel discussion short and flat out tell the group that Twain was poking fun at and criticizing Huck, and Tom, and the reader for our complicity.  That Twain was not being a racist so much as deeply questioning the racism of his time.  I was so disappointed that they would have believed I would have made them spend 7 weeks studying a simple reflection of "how racist it was back then," including Twain. So, it worries me not that this book exists, because it is so well-constructed and has some memorable details and descriptions, but that students may not be equipped to read the book in a way that does not destroy their judgment.  On the other hand, this generation has learned to look at a lot of things ironically.  I guess it's a matter of motivation:  If you feel like creating anarchy, you read Tyler Durden's character romantically.  If you feel like there could be a better way to survive the modern world, you read him ironically.  The last chapter must be taken into account-- the main character is scared shitless of Tyler Durden, even though he created him.  At that point, he wants normalcy, and the girl, and that makes the book (as Palahniuk says in the afterword) a romance.  A reader's response is also a matter of the breadth and depth of literary experiences of the reader-- so no teenager should find Fight Club and stop there.  They have to keep going.  It is a great read, though.

Tonight, Rich took me out on a date.  Yes, it's true.  We actually went out on a date.  First, he took me shopping for certain articles of essential female attire.  Then we went to dinner; Pastiche was tasty.  I hadn't been there since we celebrated our 9th anniversary, when we drove up in my anniversary gift, my little red Porsche that was too good to be true, and which is no more.  We had a little corner of a booth, and were able to sit right up next to each other.  The food was delicious; the wine was good.  On the way home, he drove me through the back alleys near the Arizona Inn, where he and his friends used to ride their bikes home from Saints Peter and Paul, and he looked for Superman's Forest.  He was going to show me the small wild spot in between houses where he and his friends said they would bring girls if they ever got brave enough to try to get some action.  They never got brave enough to bring any girls there.  After half a bottle of wine, I was kind of hoping to make out in the car at Superman's Forest.  But, sadly, Superman's Forest had been in-filled by buildings or landscaping-- he couldn't recognize it anywhere.  Still, the idea was very sweet.
 So, overall, I have had such a good time celebrating and relaxing and reading, I didn't even really have a chance to feel sorry for myself.  And that's the way it should be.  I'm not so old, after all.  I'll never catch up to Superman.  

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