Monday, February 16, 2009

On Cottesloe Beach

About nine years ago my husband said the worst thing he’s ever said to me. We were laying on the beach in Zihuatanejo with some friends, drinking and playing cards, utterly relaxed and a little high and discussing, as so many couples do, our current crushes and the ones we’d be allowed to – oh what’s it called – you know, the exceptions to the fidelity rule. 
Obviously all the names were of the celebrated and illustrious sort, for I’ve yet to meet any couple secure enough (or idiotic enough) to openly discuss each other’s attractions to the real and the next-door and the familial and the best friends in our midst. Anyway, when it came to me I listed my usual suspects, for I tend to fall rather faithfully the first time around. My husband has heard the same four or five names repeatedly over the years; I know his, he knows mine. There’s an odd comfort in that. 
And then I paused and said ‘But I think my top one right now is Heath Ledger.’ And this husband of mine reared up on one elbow – we were all laying on our towels in the sand – and barked, honestly barked, practically spitting the words out – ‘Heath Ledger! But you’re old enough to be his mother.’ 
Old enough to be his mother? Shouted as if this idea wasn’t some brilliant original sin but an atrocious crime someone should really pay penance for. Lock her up! She likes younger men! Oh you hideous horrible crone – look at you, you’re 40 years old for god’s sake. What surprised me was his attitude. After all he’s twelve years older than I, so in truth he could have sired me, legally, in some of the sadder of our Fifty States. Why was he so repulsed by a nineteen-year age difference? 
But then it occurred to me. It wasn’t the difference in age.  It was the direction. 
If I’d cooed Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Sean Connery, everyone would have nodded, Ahh, yes, wise age-appropriate choice. But obviously my erotic compass was off, pointing wildly due South instead of decently North.
So. Have I mentioned how unabashedly pissed I became? 
How righteous in my indignation? 
How, after two split seconds of stunned (and hurt) silence, I reared up as well and shouted the first two things I could think of. One, why was it singularly appropriate for every crush of his to be as young as his own daughters? And two, why was it so commendable of me to appreciate men 10, 20, 25 years senior but appalling if their ages decreased instead of progressed? And then I asked when the hell did he become Sophocles?
Now I suppose I should be thanking the fates in some Oedipal/Electral way that this truly was the worst thing he’s ever said to me. I suppose I’m lucky that way. And I suppose it should also please me how prescient my tastes were, and how over the years I’ve been able to torment him for his own appalling choices (Denise Richards, yes, Denise Richards) while pointing out the brilliancy of mine. 
But it also makes me realize that by 37 or 38 I had turned a chronological corner, at least in society’s eyes, and that I was too old for some things. Some people. Some dreams. Some desires. Perhaps the words hag, biddy, gorgon, harpy, harridan, shrew are too harsh, but the dictionary still offers them up when you type in ‘old woman.’ Perhaps it’s utterly ridiculous to consider human years like the rings of a tree. But I’ll admit this, shh, tell no one: when my nephew told me last year that his 22 year old friend found me ‘really hot’ I wasn’t merely delighted. I was vindicated. 
   Which brings me, at last, to this photo. On New Year’s Eve we sat on Cottesloe Beach, just outside Perth in West Australia, overlooking the Indian Ocean. It’s gorgeous, iridescent, unspeakably blue. Wild parrots gather in the Norfolk pines at dusk, calling to each, finding their mate. Each night hundreds of locals sit on the shore and watch the sun sink into sea, and for once that verb ‘sink’ does no justice to the act. Here on the other edge of the world the sun doesn’t just vanish, it melts. It’s liquefied, a living lava lamp of orange and magenta and scarlet, taking a full ten minutes to finally disappear. 
It was one of Heath Ledger’s favorite places in the world. 
He had such excellent taste.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Speaking of which...


Death. Doors....Tourist spots?

Odd how these go together (last two posts and the comment in between). Metaphorically. Poetically. Emotionally. Clearly, death, despite being the ultimate closure, is yet another passage for those it takes and for those it leaves behind. We call what comes after it "The Great Beyond," not knowing, really, what that means. And those of us who lose someone go forward, despite our loss, into unchartered territory. Sometimes territory that is unpredictably beautiful.

So nothing could be more powerful, graphically, then the shape of a door or a window framing nothing but time and space, making manifest an invitation from here to there. But the outlining of space does something else—at least for me. It gives me a tremendous sense of optimism, a sense that infinite possibility is just there, within reach. A complete Liz Lemon: "I want to go to there." And despite the fact that a delineation is by definition a border, the opening without context makes me feel border-less. It makes me feel utterly free. 

Janet's comment to Teresa mentioned the Portara at Naxos. It seemed only fitting to include it here. Time to move forward. As individuals. As a collective. The door is right there. And it's open. Maybe the time is not opportune to go to Greece, but we can walk freely through those beautiful doors in our minds and in our hearts.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Something that Lasts

Our friend Mark died a year ago today.
All week the words Write something write something Write anything on the blog to prove you're here kept passing through my head, but waking up this morning there was only one idea that made sense. 365 days ago Mark left. And because he's never coming back, this will be for him. 
Mark loved good cigars and great Scotch and the way those two make a night a lot more gorgeous. He was a poet who loved other poets most of all. He was passionate about the written word and how incendiary it can be, how loving, how perfect. He hated phonies and pretentiousness and idle gossip, although gossip is never idle and the phonies should know that most of all. He loved his wife and his dog and his cat and he loved the ocean, too, and these mountains most people take for granted.

He loved the simple act of reading a book. He loved the heft of them, the craft of the spine and the ink, the smell of pages and how no internet will ever replace all that, how reading something online has no soul but what we force into it. He loved law-breaking liberals and profane revolutionaries and those who go howl in the night and he threw this dark pointed look at anyone he met who understood none of it. There was something feral about him when pushed by an idiot or fool. He knew some idiots and some fools.

He loved New York City and Paris and Woody Allen films and Che Guevara and Fidel Castro's pitching; how he would have loved to have seen Soderbergh's 'Che'. He didn't judge others which is a quality in such short supply I can think of almost no other besides him. We shared some of the same Gods - Cormac McCarthy and Kerouac and Ginsberg and Cassady, Lowell and Plath and Berryman and Carver and Rexroth, and always at the top of the list the great, misunderstood, underappreciated Hemingway. Mark simply did not live long enough, if quantity of years are anything to go by, and I think they are. It's such utter bullshit that those who die young somehow cram all the good years in: we say this so we can live with the loss, sweep it away, hope it won't happen to us. Some people get all the luck; others try to make and save and store up what they can. Whenever I read something beautiful or bruising or benevolent or terrifyingly true, I will try to think of him. Mark, this is for you.

My Autopsy

There is a way
if we want
into everything

I'll eat the chicken carbonara and you eat the veal, the olives, the 
small and glowing loaves of bread
I'll eat the waiter, the waitress
floating through the candled dark in shiny black slacks
like water at night

The napkins, folded into paper boats, contain invisible Japanese

You eat the forks,
all the knives, asleep and waiting
on the white tables

What do you love?

I love the way our teeth stay long after we're gone, hanging on
  despite worms or fire

I love our stomachs
turning over 
the earth

There is a way
if we want
to stay, to leave

- Both

Matthew Dickman


Our heartfelt thanks to Teresa Elliott
who contributes the following. 
If ever a winter was long, it's this one. 
If ever there were a time to dream, it's now. 
Consider this the portal.

Well, here's my pink door. It came to me in a dream. It was actually the finishing touch on my courtyard, which came to me in a daydream (never confuse the two), and was made possible when I sold my husband's truck. It's a nice courtyard, peaceful. There's a fountain—that's de rigeur, ain't it?—and sometimes I catch Homer, a dog, drinking from it, standing like a man with his feet on the rim; other times I see grackles bathing in the upper basin; sometimes I see both of these things at once. Those are very sweet days. 

Also in the courtyard are melon-colored hibiscus and pink bougainvilla, there's a gardenia bush that sends off blooms faster than I can place them behind my ears. There are several kinds of bamboo ringing the perimeter, the most dramatic kind being Timer, which grows so mightily I expect it to come for me in my sleep. And I bet there are worse ways to go. In fact, I know there are. 

Also in the courtyard, behind the pink door, is a big ship, made by a potter, my husband's friend, intended to house my darling's ashes, except I can't get them out of the more official brass container. I took the brass container with me to Key West not long after I received it. We stayed in a grand old plantation home surrounding...a courtyard...wait a minute, is that where this whole thing started? For sure we did a lot of daydreaming that trip, so maybe...

The dream in which my pink door starred was the first time I'd woken up laughing in just the longest time and I guess that's why I needed to bring it to life. It quite broke the spirit of my handyman—he hasn't returned a call since—but I'm told it amuses passersby. My across-the-street neighbor says they take pictures of it. I wonder what they think. I hope they think it's "witty." I hope they don't think I'm trying to keep the bad stuff out, 'cause you can't. I'm trying to keep the good stuff in. And it's working out okay. Not perfect, but okay.

Teresa Elliott is a writer living in Austin, Texas.