"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl

February 26, 2010

Blog Swap, 2.10

This week's post, "In the Closet," can be found on The Weekly Meat. Be sure to find your way back here next week for more Open Road adventures.

February 22, 2010

Our Missing Neighbor

[By guest writer Ben Kauffman, author of The Weekly Meat]

Wilson's car is unmistakable. It's a 15-year-old matte-black Jetta with a paint-to-Bondo ratio of roughly 2:1.

The kids know it by sight. We know when Wilson is out, and when he is probably home. He has not been home in over two months.

I should say that we don't exactly live in a neighborhood where folks use "winter" as a verb — as in, "I find the snow positively abhorrent, so I winter down in Florida." Rather, we live in an area in which the nattering "bum" on the street may well be tenured at Harvard or MIT.

I should also say that though we are friendly and neighborly with Wilson, we're more acquaintances than friends. He's easygoing, and we stop and cross the street to chat when we run into him; share gardening tips. When we were away for a week last year, he is the one who told us of the near fire catastrophe outside our place (a transformer blew up, showering sparks down on a bag of dry leaves, which promptly lit, etc.). He is point of a fascination to the kids (young E-O pronounces his name "Oh-sun" and has gone through stages of asking what we think he's doing roughly every six and a half minutes), and a curiosity to AKL and me. But he didn't mention anything about going away. And now it's been a while, and we're both curiouser and concerned.

We've never asked, so we don't know much of Wilson's story. What he does, how old he is (somewhere between 30 and 50, but who knows where), where he's from. He has a bit of an accent, and looks — as handfuls of our neighbors do — like he might come from the islands.

I admit that worrying he might have died in Port au Prince is a bit of a melodramatic stretch. After all, he couldn't have driven there. Yet, like Jimmy Stewart, I can't help but think that something is up, and particular thoughts of Haiti have crossed my mind. His window shades haven't moved the entire time. And it's just my egocentric nature to assume that he would have told us of any long-term plans if he'd known them in advance.

And yet, I also wonder how well any of us really know our neighbors. I'm not big on local TV news (I tend to mockingly refer to it as my wife's "car crash and fire show"), but I do often think of the stock interview with the neighbors after local domestic tragedies and the like. There's something both poignant and perfunctory about the "they really just kept to themselves" and the "I never would have thought he was capable of something like that"s.

So, Wilson.

He could be dead and buried. Could be sick or in treatment. Could be training for bad things in the Hindu Kush. Who can say? But we're curious — anxious even — to know. While these things tend to be harmless and easily explained, I wonder sometimes what I would say about Wilson — or any of our neighbors — if interviewed by the local car crash and fire show. And I hope that tomorrow I wake up and kiss my kids and eat breakfast and when I walk outside to go to work, I know — know — that all is right in the world, because what I am looking at is a 15-year-old dinged-up Jetta with a bad paint job parked directly across the street, Wilson happily puttering around in his front yard.

February 16, 2010

Product Review: ThinkBaby Meal Set

I almost never win anything, so it was a happy morning when I was contacted by Doreen at Mom Goes Green that I'd just swept the ThinkBaby giveaway, and would soon be expecting this very hip (and very green)
meal set for babes.

Since Devi started daycare, I'd been keeping an eye peeled for sustainable containers (rather than disposable plastic or plastic baggies) that could store food, be eaten from, and not leak any nasty chemical compounds. This set is basically as close to perfect as one could hope for, although you can't microwave anything in it (as the inner containers are stainless steel). The set includes two bowls and a bento box (I love imagining Dev carting her bento box to school like her diminuitive, Japanese counterparts), very ergonomic fork and spoon, and--this last one puzzles me--a mug. Perhaps there are some dexterous toddlers out there who have no trouble with this, but I think the mug must be for the moms who are slugging their coffee in one hand and feeding their babes with the other. Matching coffee mug and baby feeding set!

Okay, so there's a far more prudent review of the ThinkBaby Stainless Steel Feeding Set here. I recommend anyone concerned with the effects of plastic on food visit the ThinkBaby site. Thank you Doreen and Mom Goes Green! We'll use these in good health.

February 09, 2010

Settling Down and Writing It

I was settling in last night and considering both an article from The Times (see below), which my friend Tina had sent along, I thought about an old friend, colleague and mentor, Karen Harris, who, like Lori (mentioned in the previous post), somehow found the time to form a second formidable band in Boston, teach, and have two kids.

Read "The Referendum," especially if you have children, and see if you agree:
The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers’ differing choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt. The Referendum can subtly poison formerly close and uncomplicated relationships, creating tensions between the married and the single, the childless and parents, careerists and the stay-at-home. It’s exacerbated by the far greater diversity of options available to us now than a few decades ago, when everyone had to follow the same drill. We’re all anxiously sizing up how everyone else’s decisions have worked out to reassure ourselves that our own are vindicated — that we are, in some sense, winning.


I found the article both wildly true and untrue, and considering the aforementioned rockstar women (both on this post and the former) who seem to Do It All, have no regrets, and are enjoying the best of both their mommy lives and creative lives, it seems more likely that I can too.

***

This morning, during second period Humanities class, one of my students remarked that "no one should get married before 27 or after 32." We were all amused, so asked him to elaborate. Paul said that until you're 27, you need to see the world and get all of your dating/partying out of your system, and after your early thirties, you're ready to settle down and "make money," so that you don't wind up a bachelor uncle who's the odd man out at family functions.

What's so bad about being the bachelor uncle, we all asked?

"Yeah," a kid retorted. "I have one of those. He's kind of sad."

"Not my bachelor uncle," another quipped. "He lives in Florida and gives me a lot of advice about women and stuff. He's got the life. He's happy."

Another student remarked that you'd better get "all your living done" before you have kids, because man, once you have them, Life. Is. Over. I wanted to tell the kids that my husband and I, who enjoyed traveling before we had our daughter, went to Japan with her for a week in August. But I was having too much fun listening to the reactions abounding.

For a few minutes, we were totally off-topic and went into why people might want to get married at all, or have children for that matter, when life seems so chock-full of Stuff To Do, like being in relationships without commitments or kids, or form rock bands, or bike across the Brooklyn Bridge to laze around a farmer's market on a Sunday, or see Kathmandu. Or write the great American novel.

In Up in the Air, Ryan, its protagonist, espouses that "the slower we live, the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living." The pace of Doing It All and doing it on your own time, when you want to, is supposedly how both this character and Tim Kreider see the married-with-children situation. It is, after all "settling down." But does that mean we're settling? Do the pursuits we dreamed about before our life partners and soulmates and children came along have to wait on the back burner, clamoring and clinking and steaming in the background?

February 08, 2010

Prioritizing, Revisited


I met playwright John Cariani last week. He had flown in from Manhattan to watch both the professional and student versions of his play, "Almost, Maine," which was in production at Geva and for which a number of high school drama folks, including me, were involved in a project wherein the kids performed what their adult counterparts did. Cariani sat on the stage while we sat in the audience before him, humbled and awed; if you missed the play at Geva, and you happen to be a romantic--well, then, you missed a beautiful piece, replete with clever vignettes and a set that transformed a backdrop into a multitude of stars and the Northern Lights. But I digress.

The students got their chance to ask Cariani their questions, and he answered them as cleverly as I'd hope a writer would, but as humbly as a working actor might. He remarked at one point that he does what he does--take acting jobs--to eat, and he writes because he truly loves to. I had the chance to ask him how he balanced working (acting) and writing. Or making a living and doing something he loves and not being able to live off it (not immediately). Because you can love what you do, but not every minute: even if what you do is talk about writing and books and metaphors and art and history and music (and verbosity and run-on sentences). And you can love doing something that you don't get to do very often because it's just not economically feasible to do so. Like writing a blog, or short stories, or poetry.

Cariani's answer was this: that he writes when he finds time, but that admittedly he has no one to care for, and he lives far from family. He goes out to movies, out to dinner, has lunch dates--but when he's home, he writes. Somehow he just seems to work it out between shoots or takes of CSI or NUMB3RS or whatever commercial he happens to be doing.

For a second, I let myself think that OF COURSE this John Cariani can write fabulous plays and eat his cake, too. No one to be responsible for! No worries! Aha! There is no baby waiting to be picked up mid-afternoon who he's missed so much that he cannot conceive of sitting down to write while that baby plays with the ball-popping machine or points to Big Bird Goes to the City
for your 1700th dramatic reading.

And then I remembered Lori McKenna. This young, incredible singer-songwriter that a friend once introduced me to personally because he'd taken a liking to her music and had begun to follow her gigs around New England. By the time I left Boston, I'd seen her enough in concert that she recognized me, and once, we got to chatting as she was putting her equipment away. McKenna got down to writing and recording her music while a stay-at-home mom of three, but by the time she had her FIFTH kid, had already become quite the buzz. When did she find the time to write?

When the kids were napping, she said. And when they went to bed.

It comes down to finding the time, and if I'm worth my weight in ink and lead, I'll do that. Right after every last essay is graded. And I've read Big Bird in the City with verve and flair for the 1701st time.

My students wanted Cariani to sign their scripts after the talk, and so in a weak moment, I decided to also. Talk got to that I hadn't had any of my students in a theater arts class, since I'd been on maternity leave last year when it was offered.

"Really?" he said. "So you have a one-year-old?"

"Uh-huh."

"And you directed this play?"

"Yep."

"And you teach?"

"When do you sleep?" Cariani winked at me.

February 02, 2010

A Bermuda Triangle of Events

An amalgam of baby (who turned one!), work (midterms week and grades due tomorrow), the play (performance was last night), and utter exhaustion has kept me from the Open Road. I'd love to follow this with a proper blog--hell, I'd be happy with an organized rant--but I'm going to bed. Until later...