17 May 2022

Here is something that you might not know: there are no closets in Switzerland.

They tried to explain the reasons for this to me -- something about tax codes. I think I could perhaps have understood it if only I hadn't stopped paying attention three words into the explanation ("Well, tax codes...")

So when I fell in love with Jonathan, I had the choice between moving with my little boys to a land without closets or giving up forever the very breath of my body, the very beating of my heart, my bones and dreams and blood.

I chose the breathing and went shopping for wardrobes the first week we landed in Zurich.

It is beyond me to describe the carved Gothic horrors selling for thousands of francs in the only used furniture store in Zurich. Not having the need to house any sleeping vampires -- although not necessarily opposed to it in principle, you understand -- and not having thousands of francs to blow on what is basically a big box, I ended up, as one inevitably, lamentably, does, at Ikea.

I don't know if you have ever been to Ikea.

Ikea is functional.

Ikea is affordable.

Ikea is practical.

Ikea will take your soul out through your nose with a long hook like the ancient Egyptians did with human brains in preparation for mummification.

I guess worse things could happen. 

So we got wardrobes and assembled them with much cursing and then put our clothes in them. For the one my little boys shared, I decided to paint on it -- make it less corporate, less bland, more festive, more ours.

The little boys were five and eight years old, so (as required by Little Boy Law) we painted a dragon on it. I copied a picture of a dragon from one of the (many) dragon books around the house and then we filled in the outline with poster paint, making the scales by dipping our fingers in the paint and pressing our fingertips (mostly) inside the outline.

And there it has been for almost 20 years. It came back across the ocean with us and has been in their old bedroom all these years, holding a progression of bigger and bigger jeans, bigger and bigger shoes, shirts with ever longer arms, soccer shin guards and woolen hats and t-shirts commemorating long-forgotten events, eventual suits and ties. And every time I looked at it, I saw again my little boys in the alpine afternoon light, concentrating, dripping paint everywhere, working away on their dragon, the three of us together.

Today, we put the wardrobe out at the curb and ARC took it away.

11 May 2022

It has been 14 days since my last post. In those two weeks, so many things have happened -- and they have been at so many places on the emotional map -- that I have no idea how I am feeling about anything at any given moment.

Some (by no means all) of the things that have happened (in no particular order, because putting things in order is laughably far beyond my capacity at the moment):

I got a letter from the South Pacific telling me that Emily has passed away at age 101. I lived with Emily in her old and rambling house by the sea for a year when the boys and I were in the Cook Islands. We used to sit, Emily and I, on the shady veranda in the afternoons and watch my boys playing in the dappled sunlight of the garden and talk about many things -- long conversations that meandered like butterflies in and out of time and memory and places in the languid Polynesian air. The night I left to come back to the US, she put her arms around me and held me for a while. "I am your mother," she said into my hair. "Don't ever forget that I am your mother."

My actual biological mother, a few days after I got the letter about Emily, was pushed down a flight of concrete stairs by the man she had been having an affair with and whom she married just weeks after my father's death two years ago. The saga of the past two years has involved so many crazy Southern stereotypes -- double-wides, buzzards, shotguns, defrocked evangelical ministers, handgun-toting ex-wives lurking in WalMart parking lots, possums, indoor-outdoor carpet, snake oil sellers, deep-fried catfish -- that it would be literally incredible to me if I heard it any other way than first hand. It got to the point that when my mother was telling me about her plans to have semen injected into her back in the abandoned JC Penney store out at the mall (now converted into some sort of fly-by-night, off-grid "medical" clinic), I didn't even blink. Later it turned out that she wasn't saying "semen" -- she was saying "cement" with a heavy Arkansas accent. Better, I guess, but still... Anyway, she's in the hospital and my brother and I are heading there in a doomed attempt to see if there is anything we can do. 

Simultaneously (as in the very same day), I found out that my new book manuscript has passed review and will -- fingers crossed, there is still some work to do -- be coming out in Spring 2023 from a really great press. Yea! This amazes me and I am sure there has been some mistake, but I am hoping to lay low so that it is not discovered. Aiden says, "I would expect nothing less from you."

I also finished everything from my last class ever at Colorado College, turned in my last final grades ever, advised my last students ever, and have nothing left to do now but attend my retirement party (tomorrow) and turn in my keys. The sadness of leaving this part of my life has been very neatly balanced by the exquisite joy of realizing that the last few onerous administrative tasks, meetings, assessment reports, etc. are the last. It is impossible, examining my moods, to know from moment to moment whether nostalgic melancholy or sheer fucking relief dominates.

And eleven days ago, I watched my littlest baby graduate from university. Sitting there in the audience, I thought my heart would burst from pride and love. And also, frankly, from relief. And, it must be said, from nostalgia, too. I remember when I used to have to bend down in order to hold his hand. I remember when his hand felt so small in mine.

There is more that has happened in these last 14 days, but those are some of the emotional roller-coaster highlights that are happening while I live here surrounded by boxes and packing tape and trash bags and dust. Right now, Jonathan is six feet away from me trying on many pairs of old trousers from the back of his closet to see if they still fit. He is wearing his "Nachos in Space" underwear while doing this. So at least for this one moment, I am purely, absolutely, uncomplicatedly happy.

26 April 2022

A lot of action here at the house this week. The contractor has come and given us an estimate -- 6000 clams to get everything done. The landscaper ditto -- 10,000 clams. That's a lot of clams before we even get to the part where new paint and wallpaper are installed by someone who actually knows what they're doing (i.e., not me). I prefer to think of the cost in clams rather than in dollars because that makes it seem more palatable.

It also makes me much more reconciled to the idea of selling the house and never again seeing the ineffable quality of light in the boys' old room. At 16,000+ clams, those are some pretty f-able sunbeams.

We are at the stage now of donating furniture -- a big chair, a big table, a little refrigerator, other things that seemed like a good idea at the time. This is a happy part of the moving process if only because someone other than us (strong young whippersnappers from the ARC, presumably) will be the ones to lift it all up.

I was really elated yesterday to find that the rolling cart which had disappeared from the storage facility for the past month has now returned. It was the best news of my entire week. This says something profound about my life this week.

What it says is: "For someone supposedly so passionate about Marxist theory, I sure own a lot of shit."

20 April 2022

I am flipping out.

The economy, the housing market, the practicalities, the investment income ... numbers and realities. It all makes sense in every way that counts. We should sell this house.

Not just rent it. We are going to sell this house. I am shattered. And, yet, it is entirely my decision.

When I was in college, I dated this boy for a while. His name was Vladimir and his family had emigrated from the Soviet Union -- when there was still a Soviet Union -- when he was a teenager. Jews could sometimes leave then if they said they were going to Israel and his family had said that. But in Rome they changed planes -- not for Israel, but for the US.

And so Vladimir, sad-eyed and lonely, spent his teenage years in Brooklyn, lost and brilliant and beautiful.

He was admitted to Harvard early and I met him there by accident -- two hurt people who shared our lostness for a while and then didn't. When I think of him now, it is always winter -- always January -- and the rooms are always empty and the light is always pale blue.

And he told me one day that all he wanted -- all he wanted -- was to be in a room -- just for one day -- and to know that Leningrad was outside its walls. To feel that he was in the place that was home. What wouldn't he give, he said, for one day of that aching, fleeting feeling -- "home"?

When Tris was a new baby, we slept -- the three of us, Aiden, Tris and me -- in one bed in this house. My babies and me. The two babies have grown up and moved away, but the light is still there in the room that was once our room. It is the room where Aiden was sleeping when I took one last look at him before I headed out to the hospital to give birth to Tris. It is the room where we packed their things to send them off into the world on their own. It is the room still filled with the discarded relics of them that mean nothing to my fine young men and everything to me.

There is no way that I can hold onto the light in there, in that room. There is no way to stop time and live forever in a moment long gone when they -- my loved, my ached for -- were still my babies. That is gone now. And I will never see this light again when we are gone from here. And it breaks my heart.

But there is no way to capture that light. To capture it is to kill it. I was lucky to have had it at all.

What are you supposed to feel when the future is a shining adventure dream and the past is the marrow of your bones?



19 April 2022

Yesterday was it -- the last day ever of my teaching career. The last reading assignment was two chapters from Magali Sarfatti Larson's Behind the Postmodern Fa├žade and the very last line of reading that we discussed was Robert Venturi's quote about valuing the "the difficult unity of inclusion over the easy unity of exclusion" and how inclusion may indeed be more difficult, but it is also so much more beautiful.

The class is a group of really lovely students and they had made a card for me and we took a picture together and several of them spoke to me afterwards in really heartfelt ways and I, naturally, cried hard.

But now that part of my life is over. This morning, I am sitting home drinking coffee while they are beginning their final exam. I have grading still to do, of course, and the last scraps of bureaucracy. But the thing that has been one of the centers of my life for three decades -- talking with undergraduates about ideas and issues -- is over with now. I have no idea what my new reality will be.

It will certainly involve power tools, though. The contractor came in the afternoon to look at the hole in the basement wall created when Jonathan fell through the window-well two years ago. His comments on seeing it can be summarized mostly as, "Oh, my god." He is sending an estimate for the work today or tomorrow. The work itself probably won't be completed until June.

Jonathan and I shared a split of The Widow last night (in commemoration of the teaching, not the contractor) and ate some treats from our favorite bakery. And today, as I sit surrounded by boxes and empty walls, I am acutely conscious of the fact that it is time for class and yet somehow I am not in class.

 

10 April 2022


Well, this is unexpected. Our Tuscan adventure has now made it into the mainstream national media.

https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2022/04/third-places-meet-new-people-pandemic/629468/

I have to say, it seems breezier in The Atlantic than it does here in Colorado in the midst of the packing boxes.

07 April 2022

 I am sitting in my office right now. The northern light from my big window is lovely and serene. There are no books on the shelves in here anymore. There are no pictures of the children around. Almost everything has been taken down from the corkboard so that there is nothing left except ghost shadows left from so many years of being faded by the sun. No one else is around and it is so quiet that I can hear the clock ticking. I am waiting for time to go to class.


The feeling of waiting is particularly pronounced in this moment, but it is there -- more or less -- all the time now. Our friend the electrician did not show yesterday to prepare us for our inspection exam. There was a scheduling snafu and now he is coming next week instead. We are waiting.

We have almost completely sorted through the books and clothes; we don't go to the storage unit every day anymore. The other things in the house can't go yet because we are still living here, still using them. I did get a wild notion last Tuesday (brought on by having attended the Chair's Meeting last Monday) that we could go ahead and store some of our less necessary furniture, so I took away a little table we had in the bathroom. Then I came back and wandered around forlornly for a while holding my hairbrush in my hand and realizing that I had nowhere to put it down.

I made a bunch of origami swans to put on my office shelves because the emptiness seemed so sad.

03 April 2022

We are having cauliflower with dinner tonight for the second time this week. We are tired of cauliflower, but we are even more tired of broccoli. It's just the tail-end-of-winter blues (still cold and grey here) and we will get over it, but in the meantime, while eating our cauliflower, we sit around and dream of Italy.

Last night, we looked deeply into the restaurant that is closest to our rustic farmhouse -- easy walking distance, open today until midnight. "What," we asked ourselves, "will be on the menu of the place where we are destined to become regulars?"

This:


This is also true right here at our house in Colorado, but it seems more charming when it happens in Italy.

02 April 2022

 

This past week was the first week of the last class that I will ever teach at Colorado College. On Monday, I cried twice -- once in class and once later in the day. I will admit that I am an easy crier, but it usually takes more than handing out a syllabus to turn on the sprinklers.

On Tuesday, I wrote on the white board with what I thought was a white board marker.

On Wednesday, it actually snowed underneath the covid-induced tent where class is held. Flakes blew in sideways while I was dividing the class into discussion groups for Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class. All of the groups decided to go elsewhere to discuss. Shockingly.

On Thursday, nothing much happened. We had class prophylactically on Zoom, but the sun unexpectedly appeared, the temperature climbed, and -- against all weather predictions to the contrary -- it was the warmest day of the week. I finally abandoned all hope of ever being prepared for upcoming weather and decided to just utterly surrender myself to the caprices of the weather gods and the certainties of wool socks.

On Friday, I discovered that the thing I wrote on the white board on Tuesday is now permanently inscribed. Oops. I do wish that it had at least been something profound, but it was, alas, not.

27 March 2022

The inspector came on Friday to inspect the repairs we've had done on the house lately. We were pretty nervous about it. We have learned the hard way over many years of experience that it is generally best for us if we are not inspected too closely. It is generally best for us if we are, instead, observed only dimly, in passing, and from a distance, so that we can retain an air of considerable mystery.

We went into this whole "inspection" thing, therefore, with some trepidation. 

So the plumbing inspector showed up at 8:59 a.m. and was finished by 9:03 a.m. (I looked at the clock.) 

We passed. All was good. No problem. We had even begun to celebrate the fruits of our victory by drinking from the hose in the backyard.

But then the other shoe, as it inevitably does, dropped.

The ELECTRICAL inspector showed up. We had not realized that we were going to be electrically inspected as well. There had been no mention of it during our lovely friend the electrician's multi-day residency at the house. We were taken unawares. And I'm sorry to report that we did not pass the inspection.

It turns out that we need a new special kind of circuit-breaker now. It is a new regulation that has only come into effect recently and has apparently surprised everyone. It certainly surprised us. The inspector was quite kind and did not blame us for the state of our circuit-breakers because there is really no way we could have known. But the fact remains that our lovely friend the electrician will have to return for another engagement in his residency. Sort of a postdoc, I guess.

So we passed our test, but failed the pop quiz. Having given so many pop quizzes myself during my career, I can only wonder if this is not instant karma coming back once again to bite me.

24 March 2022

Today, in anticipation of the plumbing inspector's exciting visit planned for tomorrow, I decided to make a quick run to the storage unit to stash one wicker chair and a bushel basket full of seashells (such are my irreplaceable treasures) to get them out of the way.

Unfortunately, when I got there I noticed a fine pale yellow dust covering the lock to our unit and the hallway outside it. "Huh," I said to myself, while nevertheless going about my business.

Unfortunately, when I lifted the door of our storage unit, a rain of this yellow dust fell down on me.

Unfortunately, when this happened, I looked up to see what was going on.

Unfortunately, I reflexively opened my mouth as I did so.

Unfortunately, as a consequence I got a big mouthful of pale yellow dust, which tasted quite bitter.

Unfortunately, someone had accidentally set off a fire extinguisher in our hallway and sprayed it all around. The dried residue was the pale yellow dust that was now all over the place -- including inside my mouth.

Unfortunately, that shit is toxic.

The joy of the storage place is, unfortunately, beginning to wane.