Monday, May 29, 2006

Reflections upon a favorite story

Frontpiece illustration
Originally uploaded by chacal la chaise.
For Curtie's birthday, we sent to her the copy of Sara Crew, or What Happened at Miss Minchin's by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Years ago, when we lived in Santa Fe, we found the book, which was a shortened precursor to Burnett’s book, A Little Princess and bought it for her. This book, published by Scribner’s and Sons in 1888, is a romanticized remnant of its time and place. It also remains a sentimental favorite for both Curtie and me. Overall, it is the quintessential stoic Victorian child's story—a glimpse at their view of childhood. Along with Little Lord Fauntleroy, and The Secret Garden, the books epitomize how the British Victorian middle-class doted and romanticized their heirs.

Yet the irony of it all was that while all this doting went on at one level of society—while children were presented with such extravagance as Sara Crewe and her doll’s matching ermine-trimmed coats, silk stockings, and satin day dresses—the streets of every large urban city like London and New York, teemed with abandoned urchins living “hard-knock” lives. One only has to read William Blake’s The Chimney Sweeper from his collection of poems entitled Songs of Innocence and Experience to taste and feel the grim work such children toiled at for their so-called "betters." So much for thinking, that all Victorian children were a Fauntleroy, outfitted in blue-velvet breeches, or a silk-stockinged Sara.

Although, Burnett’s princess embodies both sides of this realm’s coin as it were for she describes with envious detail the sumptuous clothes, food, and education Sara received—that is however, until her father’s fortune was lost and he died greatly in debt to his daughter's headmistress. Now, the second existence jolts us into the reality of so many other children, the scullery maids, the chimneysweepers, the little ones begging in the streets.

It is this mirror image of Sara’s riches to rags story that shows how extremes can became but a puddle of debt due to mismanagement and lies—bad investments on the part of her overindulgent father. Helpless as we read on, we see her adrift, making her way in our minds—as she is lead away, wearing torn and ill-fitting clothes, cleaning the rooms of her former classmates—both rivals and friends. On the whole, we could see it as the dichotomy of Sara Crewe—a stoic little heart, an immense amount of patience and intelligence, grace, temperance, and logic—an exemplum for any young girl. And 'though she smiles though heartache, she finally breaks down from her malnutrician and maltreatment. Just in time, however, a new benefactor emerges to rescue her, saves her from the evil Minchin, and deposits her in his rooms next door. He reveals it was she whom he had been looking for all along and notes the irony that while seeking her in other locales, she only “on the other side of the wall.”

Many a modern YA reader today probably scoffs at such neat and tidy endings because there are no grey areas with Sara—she is not cranky or ornery like Mary of Secret Garden fame. Sara, no worse for the ware it seems, is still good and knowing. Although, The Little Princess is a true Victorian sentimentality, Curtie and I cherish the story for its metaphor of childhood imagination and story invention. In it, I believe we acknowledge Sara’s strength through improvisation—she is a Scheherazade for us and for Becky, her scullery-maid cohort.

We suspend belief that a Sara could have ever existed and while we try to forget that the world is over populated with too many Beckys. For us, it is the writing; the storytelling that helps us evolve; this I believe, allows us to accept the book and its sentimental look at children and their parents and lead us to more tales of a wider world, opening doors to worlds we never dreamed existed.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

curtie in the flowers

curtie in the flowers
Originally uploaded by chacal la chaise.
and now, for something completely different.

curtie is 30! here is a true fact:

on the friday, may 21, 1976, my ob-gyn, dr. charles gunter, told me to go straight to bed and stay there because he didn't want any deliveries that weekend. i did what i was told, went home, and stayed in bed. on monday, i went back to his office and he told me to check myself into sierra medical center on tuesday morning.

i did what i was told, and curtie was born late in the afternoon on may 25.

but if i hadn't, if mj and i had gone out and partied or something over the weekend, curtie would have been born on like, may 22 or 23. therefore, she would already have turned thirty, and all the stuff i sent would have been late!

happy birthday, michaela!
hugs and love...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Final Dance Recital :: Something for Cat

Note: First of all, a big thanks to Curtie for the shout-out on her blog. What are we coming to when we greet and read about one another via our blogs? Well, I don't care what others may think, in fact, I think it's fun.

Parting is such sweet sorrow...And so it goes, the final recital and a short but sweet visit from Curtie—all a memory. Whirlwinds (literally and figuratively) may blow into and through your yard, your home, your dreams, but they always tend to dissipate just as fast as they materialized. Soon, all that's left is a pile of sandy dreamlike images and sounds.

Yet, it is in the memory of those few crazy-busy days where events can rest to reside and last longer than the actual events themselves: the judge's recitals with her marvelous tap choreography and Pointe technique, my graduation with its strobe lights and last hurrahs, talks as Curtie sorted through LP's at the Headstand...and now it is midnight, and I watch as she puts the finishing touches on a knitted baby sweater for a friend.

Quick...lights out because now it is already 1:30 in the morning. Transitions from one life to another.

Today, I drive a daisy to the doctor and hear good news this time. It sounds like the pneumonia crackles have dissolved and so too the need for doctor visits...for the moment.

It rained the other night and we all took a turn on the patio, sitting, smelling the air, feeling the humid shift of the wind’s caress from dry to moist...chains of light torch the sky as we sat and watched the rain, and in the darkness, saw the birth of a new memory.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Graduation May 2006 :: Pomp And Circumstance

Graduation May 2006
Originally uploaded by chacal la chaise.
A big shoutout to Dr. Johnson. He stepped out from the darkness that was the long line of professors, so he could shake my hand during the recessional. Did he say this is what he wanted me to know...this ceremony, with all its lights, theatrics, applause, cheers, and tears? Yes indeed, I was very happy and surprised.

Now graduation was an amazing thing. Not so much the anticipation of walking across the stage, although I watched how people took the diploma, shook hands with Dr. Natalicio, then walked a little further to shake hands with Dr. D., and off again. But at then end of the thing itself--the lights, Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance* playing, the excitement that it was over (and something new about to begin.)

As my fellow graduates and I sat, wondering when and how we would file out, I soon spied the professors that just as they walked down the aisle, they turned and stood like guards at the end of our rows. Then we, ahead of those with their new advanced degrees, exited from the opposite end and walked between where the professors stood. Awesome.

I lost count of the professors who stepped out to shake my hand and those to whom I said thank you. Beautiful. But Dr. J's was indeed a happy surprise.

Cynics who forgo these ceremonies do not know what they have missed.

*Pomp And Circumstance Marches, Op.39: No. 1 In D Major - Allegro con molto fuoco

Monday, May 08, 2006

Dad's picture taken by his mom.

The following came up in conversation recently. A friend must consider whether to continue her education and one of her options is counseling students in high school. I told her I thought another good field is caring for those elderly people who are depressed. Yes, Tom — sometimes, ya just need ta take a pill that helps—not a panacea, but a died-in-the-wool medication to combat depression. Whether for post-partum or meds for Alzheimer or cancer patients, chemical therapy is sometimes called for.

My parents turned 80 in December and I’ve seen a mild version of this condition in my father. This is a new growth industry—keep everyone strong, keep heads and hearts positive (as can be expected), and healthy.

For him, it is the knowledge that time is running out. You know, like sands in a huge hourglass. The stream of sand appears to slide so much faster as it becomes more and emptier than when it first was full.

Between classes this week and last, I essentially drove Mr. and Mrs. Daisy around town. It is a new phase of my life. Over 10 years ago, Michael went through the same passage with his own parents.

I drove dad to my doctor for the cold he let slip into pneumonia. He talks as I drive him to the radiologist for chest X-rays. You know, he said, the British editor of the Glenn Miller Society's newsletter died last year...I haven't received one since then; I wonder what will they will do now?

I know what he's thinking as he says this. The brain trust of the music and culture of his youth is turning to dust. I make a mental note about this. We drive further and he says he must get rid of his record collection. I told him not to purge too soon and that I would like to see again what he tucked away. I also say I could help him donate his Benny Goodman quartet Bluebird 78's to KTEP if he wanted. Or the Sinatras, the Peggy Lees, the Doris Days, the Dorseys (both brothers). However, never the Glenn Miller Air Force broadcasts in their beautiful padded cover with sky father clouds and the floating officer’s hat. He appreciates that i put the XMRadio on the 40's decade music channel. He recalls every single singer, every single band that plays...that's Sentimental Journey--Doris Day and Less Brown, that's I've heard that song before Harry James, Now is the Hour by Bing Crosby... every song, every mile from Kerby Street to the Upper Valley in Vinton we drive. Every mile is another song he remembers. He tells me what grade he was in at the time and who were his friends.

Later, after the X-rays we stop for lunch. I take more notes about his family while we eat. He tells me more about his father's failed attempts to inspire his n'er-do-well cousins to make something of themselves. How he tried to set them up in businesses around town. Nothing ever worked and all eventually faded away into oblivion, which is worst than dust.

Later and just before Aesthetics with Dr. Robinson, I walk into the Cotton Memorial Building to talk to Dennis Woo. Would they be interested in a sizable record donation? He says the radio station is land-locked. We would love to take everything, we have the needles, but we have very little space. He shows me his cabinets. There is very little room for 78's...33 1/3's...45's...

It’s all disappearing--like a reel-to-reel tape that wraps its long snake of brown film onto the opposite take-up reel. Soon one will be full and the other will be empty. It’s life. The preparation of dying begins with your first breath.

Note: If you can get your hands on St. Clair's book, " The Secret Lives of Color ," go for it! It's absolutely beautiful...