Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I've decided that I should myself as I would a wayward child: discipline, structure, and a generous application of dessert treats as rewards. Writing (for the fun of it, to remind myself it *is* fun) every day for at least a half an hour upon waking, enforced hygiene (brush your hair one hundred strokes and shower at least every other day). If I haven't grown up to be the adult I would have liked, then by golly I will raise her myself.

In other news, I may have finally gone insane.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Achilles came to Troyland

Lts Krause and Sawyer at the Stillwell Hotel

The man on the right is my grandfather. The man on the left is, I'm guessing, someone he trained with at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. On the back of the photo, in my grandpa's messy handwriting, he's identified as "Lt Krause."

My grandfather took a fair number of photos of his days in the army. I can't help but wonder, looking at photos like this one and of smoke breaks and swimming holes and men and artillery, what happened to the other men. Did they make it home? Are they still alive today?

My Grandaddy Alan, Europe, WWII

By the same token, I can't help but wonder about my grandfather. I know the basics, of course. I knew him, I remember him. I saw the man he grew up to be and I know how and when he died. But my grandfather -- who he was before I knew him, who he was when I knew him but never thought to wonder: who was he?

I guess the wondering is part of that bigger questioning: what makes us who we are?

If I had a day job, I'd keep it.

I don't know why, but I've been having trouble writing lately. It doesn't matter if it's for my own private paper diary, this here blog, paid web-work or just a grocery list. I'm just blocked.

When I was a kid, I loved drawing. "It makes my brain feel good," I'd tell my mother. And it did -- like nothing else ever. Drawing was the only thing that made me feel fully engaged, fully present in the moment. It was good, and I was good at it, the best in my class, except for that one new kid in third grade who drew really good spaceships. But he vanished the following year, so no harm done.

I wonder sometimes if I should have pursued art, gone to school and learned illustration, or just kept drawing until I figured out where it might take me. I think that's why 'personality type' tests depress me -- there's this feeling of inevitability to being a type: I could never have turned out any differently. This is the best of all possible worlds.

The other day, my cousin Molly and I visited the Lucas Arts office complex here in San Francisco (one of Brian's ju-jitsu buddies was doing some freelance work there and generously offered to squire us around). It awakened an odd mix of feelings, mostly frustration. Why didn't I ever think to go in to special effects, I wondered. Why don't I write rip-roaring adventures, the kind that burrow into the popular imagination? What's wrong with me, that I can't seem to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, when I've been grown up for some time now. Where's my freakin' Yoda? And why do I waste my time thinking thoughts like that, when it's the doers that I envy? Wouldn't doing be the best antidote for this paralitic broody melancholy?

So I'm drawing when I can't write. Then, if I feel ready to write all of a sudden, I'm already sitting there, pen in hand.

Anyway. In the meantime here's a picture I drew of our visit. No cameras allowed at Lucas Arts!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

γνῶθι σεαυτόν


Why do I find this result depressing?

Because I'm a Enneagram Type Four, and we're self absorbed, melancholy bastards, that's why.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Happy Birthday, Robert Graves

She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours,
With half-words whispered low:
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
And puts out grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow.

I first read this poem in high school. I'd just devoured I, Claudius and Claudius the God, and I wanted to be Robert Graves when I grew up. It was, quite simply, the most shockingly sexy thing I'd ever read [and I'd read Clan of the Cave Bear!].

Friday, July 11, 2008

Higher Quality Memories

I kind of like te effect I get from taking cellphone snapshots of old photos I like. But I have to say, there's something to be said for this scanning business. Here's that photo of my great-grandfather again (click the picture to see it larger).He's all dressed up for World War I. Luckily the war ended soon after this photo was taken.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Ghosts and Houses

The last few nights, I've been spooked at bedtime, reluctant to sleep in my darkened room. I've been leaving the bedside lamp on. It bothers me and makes it hard to fall asleep, but without it I start to imagine all sorts of things, like torsos, headless and legless, crawling up onto the bed, or strange figures watching from the foot. I never see anything, mind you, but the thought alone is enough.

When I first got here, when grandma was still in the hospital, I slept the sleep of the unimaginative, knocking out as soon as my head hit the pillow and not stirring until late every morning. And for the longest time that held steady, even when dad was here and the sounds of him stirring about at night sent my imagination scurrying.

But now, I lie awake forever, alert to every sound, catching shapes and shadows from the corner of my eye. Maybe it's the steady dredging of family photos and memorabilia -- staring into the faces of long-dead ancestors, reading their letters and asking questions that my grandfather would know, but isn't here to answer.

For instance: Is that a parrot in the top right corner? Were we once a bird-owning family? And whose summer home is that, who's at the piano?

I find myself wondering, are we a happy family? It's a funny question, and not one I'm comfortable asking my grandmother. In fact, I'm not entirely comfortable asking myself.

The pastoral landscape of my childhood could and did conceal any number of long-dead battlegrounds. But whose life doesn't stand on foundations that shift and creak sometimes in the wind? Tolstoy said that happy families are all alike and unhappy families unique, but I wonder if happy families might not be just as complex and distinctive as unhappy ones, their unique troubles soothed into another narrative, their private struggles forming the hills and valleys upon which future generations stand.

Were they happy then? Are we happy now?

I think it depends on what story you decide to tell.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Losing and Forgetting

My grandmother's always losing things. The first day I was back up here, it was her glasses; she and I were getting ready for a walk, and she materialized beside me in a pair of huge, circa nineteen-seventy-two frames. "My prescription needs changing," she said. "These are good for now."

"Ok," I said, and we went for a walk, her in her big frames and over sized angora coat with large ivory buttons, and me in a tee shirt and jeans, because it was in the high seventies and quite pleasant, really.

Later that night, when it was time for bed, I walked in to find grandma, half undressed, rooting through closets and drawers. "I can't find my glasses," she said.

"Are these them?" I asked, holding up the large frames she'd worn all evening.

"Those are my old ones. They're okay, but they make me dizzy after a bit."

She and I sorted and searched for a half an hour, finding more old glasses, some in cases marked with the address of her optometrist in Washington D.C (which makes them at least as old as me), and bits of African sculpture socked away in drawers, and various other bits of flotsam and treasure that come from living eighty siz years and never throwing things away.

Finally, I convinced her it was time for bed. "We'll look again in the morning," I said.

"Perhaps I left them in the backyard and the mower ran them over," she said, looking worriedly out the window.

"Maybe," I said, thinking she'd probably lost or broken her glasses weeks ago, that a new pair had been ordered and that this search was probably one of those futile echoes that tends to plague her now that she's grown old and prone to worry and forgetfulness.

The next morning, I had a hard time getting her out of bed. "Is it morning, or afternoon?" she asked at 9:30 when I opened her curtains to let the sunlight in.

"It's morning. You've slept late, but it's time for breakfast now."

I went downstairs, and listened to her stirring above me. She's gotten a lot more independent than when she was first out of the hospital, and I've been trying to give her privacy and room. She's used to doing things on her own, I figure, and probably doesn't want a great gallumphing granddaughter shadowing her every move. After a half hour had passed, I went upstairs again.

"I can't find my glasses."

"I know, we can look after breakfast."

"But haven't I had breakfast?"

"No, not yet. The table's set and ready to go." My stomach was rumbling. I'd been up since eight.

"I wonder if I left my glasses in the shower..."

Downstairs, I straightened the front room, listening to her footsteps as she searched from room to room and wondering how on earth I'd corral this woman, this unstoppable, independent mother who raised five children and cared for my grandfather when he had Alzheimer's and who hiked the length of Vermont when she was a teenager. How do you convince someone that they're no longer the authority on their own lives?

And then, under a sofa cushion, I found her glasses, the one's I'd nearly convinced myself didn't actually exist. "See there?" I said to myself. "Give grandma more credit. Grandma still knows what's what."

After a joyful reunion with the right glasses, my grandmother finally made her way down to breakfast.

"Are you sure it's not lunchtime?" she asked as I bustled around, getting tea and orange juice.

"It nearly is, grandma, but we haven't had breakfast yet."

"But your flight didn't get in until the afternoon."

"That was yesterday."

"Oh. Right."

And then we ate our breakfast, and then we went for a walk.