Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Random non-bullets of Boxing Day early morning

I was composing bits of this post in my head and it hit me (not for the first time) that I'm a style chameleon to an embarrassing extent. When I've just been reading Badger, I sort of write like Badger. When I've just been reading Phantom, I sort of write like Phantom. When I've just been reading Milkbreath, I sort of write like Rachel, except more verbose and not as witty.

But I've just been reading EVERYONE, so maybe I'll sound like me.

If that last post seemed kind of bare-bones, it's probably because I was dashing it off with one foot out the door (No, not writing with my foot, silly), checking the flight schedule in between, about to head off to New York with the Mermaid Girl! (Not RW, alas; she has to work, since she took last week off. Ah, the joys of freelance...) And we're here now! She's sleeping in the foldout futon in my dad's office and I'm up early after 5 hours sleep, insomniac. I finished my review book and I'm sneaking onto his laptop (not that I'm very sneaky, since he reads my blog. Hi, Dad!).

High point so far: Sitting around the dining room table with MG, my dad, my stepmom, my brother, my sister-in-law, my stepsister, and her boyfriend, talking talking talking about card games and airplane food and Diana Wynne Jones and why the third "His Dark Materials" book totally SUCKS, all while I tore into leftover Christmas lambchop dinner lovingly cooked and reheated by my stepmother, who even made my child her own custom grilled cheese sandwich. After which MG's temper notably improved, and she trounced my stepmom in a game of Memory.

Did you know that on Delta now everyone gets their own personal TV screen? Your choice of 10 movies costs $5, but if you buy the headset (two bucks! and MG got hers for free because it was Christmas and because her life is just like that) you can listen to a couple dozen CDs and watch all kinds of television (cable! and we don't have cable!). MG was glued to The Cartoon Network for most of the 6-hour flight, switching over to the audio-only setting only when the signal got scrambled midflight.

Which is how she came to be exposed to the glory that is the Chipmunks Christmas Album. I could see it working its evil magic as her face lit up in rapture on hearing the first squeaky notes. Thank God and technology I couldn't hear them myself, as my headphones were plugged in to the Bruce Springsteen Seeger Sessions, which I've heard so much about and now must have. Must. Have. Must!

When the signal came back, we settled in to watch the first half of "Spirited Away" on Cartoon Network. MG's seen it before and I didn't think anything of it (except how exquisitely beautiful it was) until late, late last night, when I'd finally tucked us both into bed and turned out the light, and she whispered to me, "Are the things in Spirited Away real?" I assured her they weren't. But after a few minutes she whispered, "I don't want to see that movie ever again." And grabbed my arm around her.

You know, she seemed so grown-up all day, swanning around in her new denim vest from Uncle Skaterboy, ordering apple juice with aplomb, holding her own with the gaggle of grownups around the dining table till well after midnight. I forget she's still little. I think she does, too.

Ohhh, sleepy. I hope I get a nap today, after the presents.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Bah, Humbug: The Thrilling Conclusion

Now that I've helped decorate the tree, made the stuffing, wrapped the presents, co-hosted the family dinner, and reminded RW and MG to set out rice pudding for the Nisse, it's about time I finished this earthshattering series on why I didn't want my daughter exposed to an excess of Christmas at her public school.

No, seriously. I don't see any contradiction. Though, yeah, it is ironic. Actually, I felt a lot less tense than I usually do at this season, maybe because Christmas and Chanukah didn't overlap this year, so MG had plenty of exposure to Jewish stuff before all the fa-la-la kicked in. It also helped that RW was kind enough to wait until last Saturday evening, when Chanukah was officialy over, before putting up the tree (not that we can function for long with a tree in the middle of our eentsy living room anyway). But my suspicion is that I was more relaxed because I had a chance to say my piece.

So, where was I? Right. Well, after the snappish conversation with MG's principal, I went home and flipped out for a while. Then, the first week after Thanksgiving, MG's weekly homework packet came home with a note attached for all the parents, inviting them to share their traditions at this time of year so the class could "improve our cultural competence!"

So on the second-to-last day before break, with nary a Santa worksheet or a candy cane having shown up in her backpack, I drove MG to school and set up my multi-part, multimedia Chanukah presentation. The kids started drifting in as I was arranging things. Several were intrigued by the dreidels, and not unfamiliar with them, since it turned out another parent had donated some to the class a few weeks earlier. One little girl pointed to the bowl of chocolate gelt and asked sweetly, "What do the coins symbolize?"

So! MG and I showed them a menorah, I read "Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins," We all stood up and counted and danced to a recording of "Ocho Kandelikas," and then I slipped out to go to work as everyone broke into groups for dreidel. They asked good questions, and several kids were already familiar with at least some Chanukah traditions.

The next day was supposed to be the last day before vacation, but there was a huge windsotorm and power outage schools all over the region were closed. RW's Tchaikovsky/Nutcracker presentation was postponed until January.

Chanukah was wonderful; I ate latkes every single day of the holiday (seriously). The last night we went over to MG's friend Camille's house and lit six menorahs. MG "read" the flames of each person's menorah with predictions like: "You will never run out of light" and "Blue skies will always be special to you." It was the first time I've ever had a menorah-reading. Maybe the girl's psychic like her mama.

This morning I found her sitting at the dining table, next to the decorated tree (fourteen real candles last night! Fourteen! [and a bucket of water on the floor]). She was playing dreidel with the coins the Nisse left her in thanks for their rice pudding.

Happy holidays, everyone.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Minus One

We were lucky through last week’s windstorm: our part of town didn’t even lose power, though our neighbor’s tree went down on her garage. Some of my co-workers and the kids I teach still don’t have light or heat, though. The school’s power went out too, so I had a couple of days off. All the while I was doing despreately-needed catching up on housework and presents and immigration paperwork, I was thinking about all the posts I want to write. And I still want to write those posts. But this isn’t one of them.

I tell people now that I left New York after one post-college year because it's not an entry-level city, at least not for those of us who aren't burning with ambition and focus. One of the people I always think of when I say that was this actress I who was in a play that I'd somehow ended up on the backstage crew for, a small Off-Off-Broadway lesbian-written production called "Minus One."

She was about my age, but unlike me, she seemed to know exactly what she wanted to do. She was a good actress, and from backstage conversations you could tell she was smart, and impatient with self-indulgence, and confident and driven in the way you have to be to get somewhere in the arts, especially in that most grinding and competitive of arts cities. She was already working her contacts in the New York theater world. Of all the actors and crew members who worked on that play, she’s the only one I remember by name. I thought maybe she'd be famous in five or ten years, and I could say I knew her when.

A year or two ago, in the throes of middle aged regret at not being more famous or ambitious myself, I Googled her, idly curious about that focused and talented actress from my knocking-around year in New York. It looked like she'd worked onstage in DC for a while, and then I wasn't quite sure what had happened. A few different people had the same name. One of them seemed to be narrating recorded books, but I couldn't imagine it was the same person; she'd been so determined to be a stage actress. I shrugged it off, content to keep wondering.

Then, this morning, driving in to work, I heard a promo for an NPR story about a local resident, an audio-book narrator, who was killed in the storm last Thursday. "Hmm," I thought, hearing the preview, "Audio books." I listen to a lot of those, going back and forth across the bridge every day. I wondered if I'd ever heard the reader.

It was her. The biographical facts--41 years old, started as a stage actress, lived with her female partner--match up, and the picture on her website shows the a middle-aged version of the young woman I remember. Unbeknownst to me, she'd moved to Seattle too, and had channeled her passion for acting to become a star of recorded books, narrating books by Joyce Carol Oates and Louise Erdrich. They played an excerpt from one of the books she recorded on the radio this morning, and I could easily imagine it as her voice from the play, almost 20 years later.

She drowned in her basement in the storm; her partner tried to break through to save her, but couldn't. It sounded like she was in her studio, trying to save her audio equipment.

I don't know what to do with how I feel about this. It’s a heartbreaking story even if she’d been a complete stranger, and really she was. I didn't know her at all, at least not the 41-year-old version of her. The one I remember from that brief acquaintance was young and fired-up and a little full of herself, the way confident and talented young people can be, maybe have to be. In an interview I found today that was published on her online alumni magazine, she said that she and New York hadn't gotten along, so she'd left after a couple of years. It sounds like she mellowed, and like she found a vehicle for her talents, and like she was happy in her work and her life.

So, she was famous after all. And I knew her when. But I'm not glad to be able to say it; I wish I'd never had occasion to find out.