Posts Tagged ‘boston’

Beach Baby

24 May 2009

Dear J-

Some days I think that if I could just pick up stakes overnight, I’d pick up and move to … where? Some days, Halifax, some days Boston, some days Santa Fe, some days Sapporo-Shi; it’s not that we’d find jobs right away or that we’ve got connections out that way, mind you. There’s something tempting about a fresh start waiting out there, but then I check the weather (thunderstorms all WEEK in Santa Fe?) and I go back to examining the life we have now. So easy to turn me off that un-beaten path, huh? Go to the beach for a few hours and suddenly we’re back in paradise.

At one point today I thought I was more like a candle-dipper than a dad; we wandered further into the surf and rather than back away, I hoisted her out of the larger waves — up and down, laughing like loons and feeling the sand slip out from under our feet as the waves ran back out. This after digging frantically for no particular reason, whether to fill the buckets or to create the most convenient hole to fall into. There’s a picture of me from circa 1982 or so — sand-encrusted, shovel in hand, and the biggest grin I can remember. Such are my beach memories; sun driving the surf, surf renewing the sand, sand reflecting the sun.

Deep Mine 2625 -sm

Tomorrow — the mystery of tomorrow implying not literally the day after today — figgy’s going to realize she can choose where to go, what to eat. The language gets a little better, you know; instead of “crackers” it becomes “I want crackers.” The more we can show her, the more experiences we can give her, the better our chances to convince her that we’re not just annoying human-shaped weights to escape from at the earliest opportunity. I look forward to chronicling those adventures; it’s not just the weather that dissuades me from disappearing.



Lonely Time

24 November 2008

Dear J-

No one grows up and hopes to be alone, I hope.  I keep hearing about it and reading about it, but honestly, have only had to deal with it for two years in Boston.  I imagine that I’d make a terrible bachelor.  My family’s been, well, huge for as long as I can remember; we had a set of grandparents, an uncle, and an aunt all in the house for three years starting when I was seven.  College, I moved out of the dorm (suite of four) and into larger group living situations — eventually I settled into Ridge House, with 37 like-minded co-operative folks.


We’ve lived together for just over ten years now; never really alone, as even when we were busy apart, we had the animals around milling about somewhere.  But it’s the stretch between 1996-1998 that keeps me thinking of all the gray clouds in Boston — despite the summer heat, despite the beautiful springs and falls — it makes me think of the long slide into winter, with less snow than you might expect (that ocean-effect lending some warmth, I guess), with winds howling down Mass Ave and the sky a perpetual leaden gray (now brighter, now darker).  All the while I kept my eyes elsewhere and resolved to not enjoy life on the East Coast, which was a huge mistake, in retrospect; I couldn’t even vacillate as well as Charlie Brown between admiration and pathetic.

I suspect that I spend more time regretting what I could have done instead of going out and investing time in things I could do.  Too early or too late for resolutions?


The Long Secret

6 September 2008

Dear J-

Yesterday, out thrifting, I picked up The Long Secret, by Louise Fitzhugh.  Those of you who already suspect I’m soft in the head can chuckle and nod (slowly, for my sake) at me buying yet another kid’s book — this I’ll say, at least once:  I’ve never read a Newbery Award winner that I regretted reading.  And I’ve done pretty well in keeping up with them, too; up until graduating high school, I’d read pretty much all the award winners through 1992.  Children’s literature doesn’t mean written for children, after all.

But, on the other hand, amongst Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret, along with her other books (including Sport, published posthumously featuring that same odd New York world), there’s not a single Newbery Award winner.  Doesn’t matter.  Harriet the Spy is the best-known work, and as such I won’t discuss it here beyond giving it a ringing endorsement.  Besides, you won’t understand The Long Secret without having had an appreciation of Harriet (and, to a lesser extent, Janie; otherwise you’ll believe they’re the most evil characters in The Long Secret without some context).

The focus of The Long Secret is on Beth Ellen Hansen; the plot has sufficient hooks in it for the publisher to bill it as a true sequel to Harriet the Spy and the continuation of Harriet’s misadventures, but that’s just frosting on the cake of Beth Ellen’s relationship with her mother, Zeeney, and her grandmother (the otherwise un-named Mrs. Hansen).  It revolves around the surprise return of Zeeney (after having taken off to Europe for the past seven years) and the differing expectations of mothers and daughters — the grandmother hoping that Zeeney has matured, Zeeney thinking that Beth Ellen would regard her as a mother, not a stranger, and Beth Ellen not knowing both how to react or how she’s expected to react.

It’s instructive to note that the three friends Fitzhugh exposits into novels — Harriet, Beth Ellen, and Simon (“Sport”) — all have difficult relationships with their parents.  Dig back into Fitzhugh’s personal history and you’ll see family drama worthy of any soap opera.  Each child takes on a different aspect of Fitzhugh, I believe — each one a window into the author’s mind, but with only a limited view, you don’t see the complete picture.  But I think that their immortality is guaranteed because just like any other window, you see through it and you see yourself in it, at least a little dim reflection if the house isn’t dark.

J-, I grew up shy and am still, to some extent; there’s possibly some gregarious phlegmatic man waiting to burst forth, but I prefer to think of it as being overly cautious amongst strangers.  I still have vague memories of nattering away happily to the girl in the waiting room — I was five — about my age, my parents’ ages, what they did, where we lived, the color of my bedroom — and abruptly being dragged off, nearly by my ear, as I started to delve into far more personal subjects.  If I’m guarded, it’s out of a sense of mistrust for the world; I remember the biggest difference between the Bay Area and Boston was strangers smiling, which I chalked up at the time to the difference in weather (if it was as cold as Boston everywhere, no one would want to smile and risk shattering their teeth).  Yet I learned to appreciate the Boston greeting of indifference until you’d developed a relationship — it’s a question of trust, naturally, and paradoxically, anyone trying so hard must have some ulterior motive, right?

Beth Ellen’s grandmother doesn’t sit down to speak with her — I mean really speak — until late in the book.

Mrs. Hansen folded her paper and took off her reading glasses.  “I’ve thought a great deal about yesterday, as I’m sure you have too.”  Mrs. Hansen seemed to get embarrassed suddenly, because she looked out the window.  “But we’ll talk about that in a minute.”  She turned and looked directly into Beth Ellen’s eyes.  Over the hawk nose the large eyes were violet in the morning light.  “You’re very timid, aren’t you?”

“What?”  Beth Ellen was caught completely unaware.

Her grandmother looked away.  “I suppose you’re timid because you’ve had to grow up here with an old lady.  You haven’t had any real life.  But there’s something I want to tell you about timidity, about shyness.”

Beth Ellen searched her grandmother’s face to see if she were angry, but the face looked impassive.  I’m going to be told I’m bad, she thought.

“Shy people are angry people,” said Mrs. Hansen and snapped her head around to see Beth Ellen’s reaction.

I am not a lady, thought Beth Ellen.  It’s coming now.  She’s going to say I am not a lady.

“You know,” said her grandmother, smiling, “it’s important to be a lady, but not if you lose everything else, not if you lose yourself in the process.”

Beth Ellen felt her mouth drop open.

“There are times when we must express what we feel even if it is anger.  If you can feel it and not express it … it might be better, but you must try to know what you feel.  If we don’t know what we feel, we get into trouble.”  She looked hard at Beth Ellen.  “You’re a very angry little girl.  I have no idea what you’ve been doing about it because you’ve never shown any of it before yesterday, to my knowledge.”

— Louise Fitzhugh, The Long Secret

Beth Ellen’s got a different set of issues; she’s been told all her life that she doesn’t have a choice, that her opinion is meaningless, let the adults decide it for you.  But looking back, wasn’t I too quick to accept what other people wanted for me?  It’s a delicate art, like teaching bicycle riding:  how fast do you take off the training wheels?  When is it time to let go?


Graduate School

5 November 2006

I think my favorite part of grad school was working with the secretaries/admin assistants. They kept that place going. Second would be getting a bag of Doritos for dinner (more often than I care to remember), riding that last bus #39 of the night to Jamaica Plain. JP >>> Cambridge. Third would be leaving grad school. I don’t think it was a mistake to go, I just think I took too long.


Ditto for graduate school. Moving across the country is something of a traumatic experience. Being away from the friends and family that I’ve known for ten years or more has made me reevaluate my priorities in life, and realize that things only get more complex from here on out. No, you don’t need to deprive yourself of all the joy in your life to try to figure out what you really want out of it. It does seem to help me, though.


Cold Water on Your Back

5 November 2006

I must have really been homesick those two years in Boston. That’s all I can excuse myself for.


All the same, I really enjoyed grade school. You got crayons, glue, pencils, and a notebook in September. You listened to stories after lunch. You wondered what was on top of the roof, over the fire escape, past the fences, behind the bushes, under the slides, inside the teacher’s lounge. I personally had a huge fear of being in the sunlight with the bloodstones present. As my friend described it, it would suck the blood right out of your body, much as lab reports and midterms were to do in a few years.