Tuesday, March 18, 2008


St Patrick's day. It always starts on say, Thursday or Friday, with the decidedly and not-so-decidedly Irish looking tourists crowding the doors of the trains because they're scared it'll take off without them and leave them forever stranded on the grimy platform without benefit of priest.

By yesterday, every red head wears a green hat, the atmosphere is a cross between carnival midway and national disaster area, all bright colors, happy faces, vomit, cops and helicopters. I stand on the corner waiting for the light, thinking, why don't I wear green anymore? I don't go out and drink McSorley's and sing "Lady in Red" at the top of my lungs while a tableful of college boys shout "POST TIME!" and slam back another mug. Maybe because real Irish folk don't, really, anyway. They're too busy taking over the dotcom business, while American Irish desperately celebrate the land their ancestors fled in fear of starvation and disease.

Well, not to bring you down, or blame anyone for partying on a Monday, or taking over 5th Avenue on a workday. If anything, I'd like more of the last two items. New Orleans has had Mardi Gras for centuries, and it doesn't show any sign of losing strength. The whole Carnivale ethos began during the plagues. Per ardua, cogito sumere potum alterum.

I work near the parade route so it wasn't surprising to see maybe twenty girls in Celtic outfits with masses of clip-on curls and Riverdance shoes heading out the lobby doors as I headed in. And later, at lunch, the high fur hats and kilts and knee socks and bagpipes had pretty much taken over the Deuce.

But there were other colors being worn yesterday, mostly saffron yellow, blue and red. With lions, their paws holding a flaming jewel aloft. I happened to know what I was looking at even before the the flags unfurled, but why I felt a swell of pride, I cannot tell. I'm not Tibetan.


At the Rubin , here in NY, the museum provides magnifying lenses so patrons can see the minute details of each piece, tiny gods and goddesses locked in sexual embrace, prostrate humans worshipping or being crushed at their feet, all swirling around the greater gods and consorts who rule the panel. But there's more than an exhibition of Himalayan spiritual art. On a middle floor, there's a live Tibetan artist in residence at work on a large landscape mural, as likely to have the Rolling Stones on the speakers as sitar. His name is Pema Tinzin. He grew up in northern India, and learned under several masters over decades of apprenticeship, and how he's considered a master of the style. His astonishing use of detail even in such a large work speaks not only to the aesthetic of the Tibetan school, but to Pema's mind: he had been a medical student in college, and left to become a painter.

The Saturday we visited him, he seemed more preoccupied with the oppression he was receiving from the art scholars who curate the museum, but that's understandable. Nobody wants to dwell forever on destruction, on loss, even when it's everything you know. Pema's subversive method of undermining the academics' power trip is sublime, the hallmark, to my mind, of the oppressed: a direct appeal in an indirect fashion. Instead of fighting any further with them about what constitutes Tibetan art and why, he's teaching art classes at local and out of state universities and design schools. They can no longer tell him that they know more about his own people's art than he does, because, by virtue of the courses he teaches, he's now as much a respected expert in the field as they are. So he uses the classroom to put forward what he knows in decades of studying and practicing Tibetan painting, and the museum will have to play catch-up. I don't think he has much problem convincing art students that museums don't understand art.

If you want to take a class with him, I think his next stop is Oberlin, Ohio.


So maybe I'm lurching slowly toward a belief in something better, farther down the line. I don't know. I guess it's like a ouija board, the future. If you keep thinking about what you want it to say, you're still going to get an answer. Just maybe not the right one.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My favorite birthday present. Ever.

From Jesse's brother:

Dear Mommie,

I think you knew you’d get something at least a little special for your birthday. If you didn’t then you need more confidence in your ability to raise children. Most of my development has been under your parental rule and I have everything to thank you for. I guess that means I’m really confident with how awesome I am, but I’m equally thankful for awesome you are. There is nothing in this world I need to thank more than you for my success. That brings me to how sorry I am I wasn’t even a little bit better for you. I should be a lot more proactive with work around the house, maybe since you look 30 I think you can do chores for me like you’re 30. I won’t promise you improvement but I’ll definitely have these thoughts in my mind the next time you ask me to do something for you.

You are an amazing mom and a great person, and you need to hear that from me. I know I criticize a lot, but that’s one of YOUR traits. ;-) I should be telling you how I’m never embarrassed to bring some friends to my house because of how clean it is (mostly you, a little Dan) and how cool my mom is. I can brag to my friends that my mom lets me out late all the time because she knows I’m not doing drugs or anything, and she trusts me. I also brag about my scholarship, which I have you to thank for. I also have you to thank for advising me to go to Hunter College, instead of City College. That’s a decision that I’m glad we made. Being only 15 minutes away from school is better than anything, I can walk there in an hour if I wanted to, but the train ride is so much easier than what it would have been at City College. Thank you so much mom.

I guess even past what “mistakes” I think you’ve made, I’ve still been something of a Momma’s boy to you still. That’s because of how many good decisions you’ve made, decisions that even a teenage boy can agree with. You were always willing to defend your punishment, that’s one of the key reasons I learned from them. If you had said “Because I said so” I would have done the exact same thing again. That’s another thing I can brag about, you teach teachers how to deal with kids because you know how to be a good parent. You’ve been better than any parent I’ve met and that is important to my confidence in coming to you with a problem. Problems like M****, school, etc. You were always ready to pause or mute TV just to talk to me and that was really important. You even kept that secret of mine when Jesse, Grace, Chelsea and I snuck out at camp with Dad one day, and we saw a skunk and got driven back to camp. Thanks for that too.

I didn’t originally intend for this letter to be one big thank you but I guess in turned out that way. It’s something you deserve though, and I wish I could have built up the incentive to do it before your birthday. I think I’m going to email it to you while you’re at work, so I can giggle a little bit knowing you cried in front of your co-workers.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

My big Five Oh

You'd expect to feel depressed about reaching 50, but I don't. I've been planning my party, looking forward to seeing all my friends, wondering what Mr. Nomist is planning behind my back. I've been excited. Every time I tell someone it's going to be my 50th, they don't seem to believe me. Cool, even if they're lying through their teeth.

Last week I finally got to exchange emails with Jesse's former girlfriend. It took a lot of weight off me to talk about him, about what was going on with him that last year, and to find out, fortuitously, that he'd always remembered my birthday, even when he was too stubborn to call. He always made a big deal about birthdays, she said. I don't know why that made me happy, but it worked. Maybe remembering all the birthday parties when he was little, how much I loved working out a theme, baking and decorating the cake, assembling his friends. His birthday was May 11 so it was almost always a good day for a party in the park. Sometimes, it fell on Mother's Day, and when it happened while he was in school, he called me and scolded me for not calling him first to wish him a happy birthday. Funny kid. I'd called him on Friday to do that, because I never knew when he'd answer his cell.

My walk to work this morning felt light and sunny. It's my birthday. I could feel Jesse near me, a kind of forgiving, encouraging sense. Be happy, and I was. When I get to the park, I picture Jesse walking Laser, his dog, reveling in the warm weather, things starting to grow, the movement of people around him. I know he can hear me now. I'm so sorry, I tell him. And then I want to cry. I don't know why I can't move past that.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I have integrity, he's a stubborn ass

Teddy bears have integrity, but so do pit vipers. We like to think it's a good quality, and that we ourselves have it. In that sense it's not a very useful concept, since most of us are fully capable of convincing ourselves of pretty much anything, including imaginary virtues.

Integrity, to me, includes applying the same standards to yourself that you do to others, that is, the opposite of hypocrisy. But that takes insight, and there are plenty of people who fall within the teddy bear/pit viper definition of integrity who don't really have much in the way of insight. That is, you can trust them to be themselves at all times; and to stick with their principles under fire, even if you don't agree with their choices.

It's hard to consider integrity a virtue unless it's driven by some kind of internal governor. So if I were to say unironically who I thought had integrity, it's going to be based on my perception of what constitutes their internal governor (that set of principles which drives them) but also to some extent, what my judgment is of those principles. So I can be wrong on two levels: both in what I think drives this person, and in my judgment of those drivers. Well, I can also be wrong about how they live up to those drivers. If I leave my judgment out of it (as if one really can), I can define integrity a little more loosely. I like to call it the Ordell Robbie theory:

You can't trust Melanie but you can trust Melanie to be Melanie.