Thursday, November 26, 2009

La Donna Mascherata

This image has been posted all around Milan for the past weeks to promote M.I.N.T., an international show dedicated to both modern art and antiquities. Thus the metaphor of the older woman with the mask of the younger woman's face.

Never mind the fact that its purpose was clearly spelled out; it might as well have read: "Charlotte Moore. This is (for) you." Because every time I saw it—and I saw it everywhere—I felt like I was looking at a public unveiling of my own current psychological make-up. It perfectly illustrates the way I see myself, except that at times, the face and the mask are in reverse relationship.

It's like this: some days, I'm young inside (so young, so ten-years-old, so willing to dance naked, high kick, act silly just because it'll feel good) yet the face that I see in mirrors betrays me. Other days, my face has the miraculously youthful glow of a time traveler in reverse, but my heart and mind feel the weight of years. Things are hard in this "sandwich" time of life; truths come a-knocking that we were—once upon a time—mirthfully oblivious to. I don't think I'm old; I'm not. But I am getting older, and it's a bizarrely complicated dance. Things aren't in sync. The face says one thing. The mind behind it says something else. And then they get all tricky and trade places. Things aren't linear and orderly; they are liquid and inconsistent, and as Janet once wrote in her greatest (in my opinion) unproduced script of all time, messy. Life is messy.

I don't even know how to get dressed in the morning sometimes, because I don't know what me I'm going to be that day. What will I project? Anything? What will I try to convince the world? Will I be able to pull it off? What will be comfortable? What do I really feel like having against my ever more ornery skin? Who, exactly, am I these days?

When Janet and I were preparing to write RIPE, we conducted some informal research among our friends and I remember very clearly one of the respondents saying that she felt that people judged her based on her appearance and that it was horrifically unfair, because inside—inside—she was someone else. I know what she meant. At a certain stage in my life, I too was probably guilty of looking at older women and either making assumptions about them or sort of erasing them from my field of vision. I didn't dislike them or find them bothersome, I just wasn't interested. Now I study them all every chance I get, trying to find where the mask starts and stops, and who the woman really is. And I've noticed that these very same women look at me, and there is in their eyes a kindness I never would have expected. A complicity. They know about the mask-thing too. And they know about the layers, and about the difficulty of really being seen for who you are.

The M.I.N.T. show ended yesterday. But the streets are still full of masked women. It's just that now we are not in photographs. We are just our selves populating this city that sometimes sees us, but most often does not.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Other Other

There are about nine books waiting for me in the living room. And two or three more shoved back behind the couch in the TV room, either because I think I'm hurting their feelings by ignoring them or looking at them reminds me what an idiot I am for doing that ignoring. It's hard to say. Our friend Jody owns one of the best bookstores (CLoud & Leaf, Manzanita, Oregon) in the country; seriously, the most perfect little enclave filled with the most beautiful books you never knew existed or had forgotten about when your brain stopped storing the good stuff and got filled with the banal, the sticky, the flagrantly ordinary, the blah. For the last few months I've barely been able to read more than ten or twelve pages at a time in a book I'm dying to read. So there's been poetry. Short (short) stories. The New Yorker, thank god. Ruth Reichl's last will and testament—kidding, sort of. But my books...they wait and wait. What's wrong with me? What's with the concentration lag? One of my favorite writers in the world is Colum McCann. And he just won the National Book Award for Fiction 2009 for his new novel (residing behind my couch) Let the Great World Spin. Readers, get it. He's a beautiful, gifted, extraordinary writer and the first Irish-born winner of the NBA. Here's his quote about the stories we read:

'Vladimir Nabokov once said that the purpose of storytelling is "to portray ordinary objects as they will be reflected in the kindly mirrors of future times; to find in the objects around us the fragrant tenderness that only posterity will discern and appreciate in far-off times when every trifle of our plain everyday life will become exquisite and festive in its own right." This is the function of books—we learn how to live even if we weren't there. Fiction gives us access to a very real history. Stories are the best democracy we have. We are allowed to become the other we never dreamed we could be.'

We become the other, as Charlotte said once about traveling. The one we never dreamed we could be. Beautiful. - Janet

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Year After Year of Magical Thinking

Maybe we are the stories we tell.

The ones passed down and left behind, the sayings we repeat without realizing we heard them on a daily basis (Be careful! My land! Hogs and kisses. Hello baby girl). We’re those small maybe enormous truths our parents and grandparents left to us in every story or joke or recipe. Like the little truth that when I make cheesecake it's always my grandmother's cheesecake, the only cheesecake in our family, holiday after holiday my entire life. There may be better cheesecakes out there (I sincerely doubt it, I've won bake-offs with this baby) but who cares: this is ingrained, it's family, it's personal, that's it. We're all of us wrapped up in our emotional DNA, born into our families or adopted, doesn't matter.

We’re the box with our mother’s wedding dress still in it, the one we opened up breathlessly when we first discovered it in the closet. We’re the photo where the bride and groom feed each other wedding cake. The lessons of the plums or the garden. The embroidery on the Christmas table runner set out just so every December, the menorah given from father to only daughter, the mementos that represent something almost lost to us but not quite, not yet. Every Thanksgiving a small part of my parents arrive at the table along with everyone else, even though physically they can’t be here. I hear my father’s voice whenever we pour wine, feel my mother whenever I make sweet potatoes, listen to conversations in my head that haven’t existed in a while, repeat, replay, pause. I’m the stories they gave me, their morality and their lessons, their gift for gab, their music, their laughter or swearing, their silences, too.

But we’re all another set of stories as well, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

We’re the magical thinking we tell ourselves. We’re the parts that aren’t rational at all, the superstitions, the fallacies we like to pretend are real.

We say there’s a reason for everything. That things will get better, they just have to. That if you believe it, hope for it, pray for it, it – whatever it is - will come true. We tell our single friends that love is just around the corner, and if they give up looking then Voila, there it will be. That good will triumph over bad, why wouldn't it, of course it will. We pour salt and stay away from ladders, we speak to stars and blow out candles, we hope and believe and believe and hope again because, honestly, some spark may touch coincidence and ignite. The raw truth that our friends have been around 13,146 corners in the last few years doesn’t matter; it just hasn’t been the right corner. Or the right time. Or they haven’t believed quite deeply enough. Count to three. Don't step on a crack. Hold your breath. Believe.

And it’s all, isn’t it, magic? Of course it is.

An invisible face in the sky or some enormous and all-presiding benevolent being looking down at us, protecting us; incantation, recitation, a magic word, a lottery number, blue sky, glass slippers, the world making sense, life giving never taking. Some people think they can't exist without magic. Some wouldn't have it any other way, take huge comfort, but I don't. I do it when I do it almost automatically, the way human beings have done it for thousands of years. And I know better. Yet there it goes, foxhole or not, and I wish I didn't. Or I wish it changed things. Or I wished...whatever. There it goes, that wishing thing again.

We want fiction in our real lives; we want reality TV instead of reality life. But why? Why is real life, our own, the ones lived by us and passed down to us, not good enough? They have enough magic in them already, don't they? At least isn't it pretty to think so? -- Janet

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Va Va Va Voom

Joan and Peggy.
I love them both. You can take Betty Draper and leave her in Reno till 1982 for all I care. But Joan and Peggy, they're the heart of Mad Men. They're the depth that Betty, as hard and cold as unbreakable ice, wishes she could somehow conjure up.
When I look in the mirror or read my bio it's Peggy I see, no doubt about it. But what a sigh that leaves. It's Joanie who has my heart.
She's glorious.
She gets everything, everyone, without saying a word.
She's utterly brilliant and utterly overlooked because she's so brazenly and unapologetically Va-Va-Va-Voom, like Marilyn co-joined with Liz Taylor, and so what if it's 1963, nothing's changed. We still equate beauty with stupidity. We still grade on a vicious curve, your IQ dropping with every B, C, DD cup.
So it was a little sublime Sunday night, Mad Men finale, when Joan and Peggy got a bit of what they deserve.
Has the word 'No' as uttered by Peggy ever been so long in coming?
Has a refusal to acquiesce ever felt so morally assured?
And when Joan finally came striding into the room head high and heels on - has any entrance been so welcome? We all she was coming. We knew Sterling Cooper etc. etc. couldn't function without her. The difference is now she knew as well. She holds the power not in her hips but in her hands, her head.
What I love about these characters isn't that they're women, isn't that they work in a fictional ad agency, but that they're women as compelling, complex, and utterly individual as any man on TV. Two entities who haven't much in common besides gender, and besides this: they've both been taken for granted their entire lives, their entire careers. Not simply by the men who employ them and romance them, but by the women around them. Their families. Society. And most egregiously, by themselves. I laughed out loud when Joanie smashed that vase against her husband's head as if she were christening a ship. The SSS Good Doctor.
Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. It's a start. But why not Olson + Holloway instead?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Home Sweet...Home

We just got home. And when it isn't raining it looks like both these photos: the ones who missed us. The place we always miss.
So, as some people ask all the time, why go away at all?
We go away to get lost. To be anonymous on streets on beaches and in other people's lives. We go away, some of us who travel, to get out from under our own skin, our own expectations, the day to day and the week by week. We want to experience something we don't know is coming, and to be allowed to see it unashamed through open eyes. Taste something, smell it and walk through it and get and hear it, because it doesn't exist otherwise. No book, no photo, no friend's description or memory can really do it for you. I want to know what's out there. I want to know that things aren't how I thought or are terrible or gorgeous as long as they're true. And being there, I'm sorry, but it's the only way. Otherwise it's an illusionary world and a virtual one and who's not completely fed up with that?
Although, that's not always it. Is it?
We met some Canadians and Americans who traveled thousands of miles to end up comfortable and secluded and pampered: barely leaving their hotels, never saying 'hello' or 'please' in Spanish, eating at one winery and drinking at another and then returning to the spa they called home. I'm not putting them down; wait, yes I am. I'm putting them in a corner many of us just don't want to belong to. Why does anyone get on a plane to fly to a different country only to tell that country to get out of the way and leave them alone?
Why leave at all if you never venture out the door?
Chile and Argentina for three weeks. Not exactly what I had anticipated or dreamed of and for that, I'm grateful. It was beautiful, difficult, emotional, striking, enriching, intriguing, never dull, never complacent, varied and rich and breathtaking and sad and lovely in almost equal measure. We met some wonderful people. We saw some incredible, truly spectacular sites. We fed some sad and heartbreakingly lonely street dogs. We were almost annihilated by a car going 90 or so passing us on the left and almost killed a guy riding a bike the wrong way down a Santa Cruz street at night. We loved most of it. We hated some of it. As our friend Jesse said it wasn't a vacation it was just 'more life.' And then we come home because unfortunately we're only travelers, only visitors, in the simple sense of that word. We go for a little and come back again. Hopefully we don't leave too much ugliness or trash when we do; hopefully we learn something; hopefully somebody understood us, even just a little. We love to leave and we love to return. Elvis Costello said Home is anywhere you hang your head. We try to hang ours here, mostly. And raise it everywhere else as often as humanly possible.