10 July, 2014

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?


I spent some happy time on Wednesday reading this graphic book (graphic autobiographical story?) at the library. I picked it up because I recognized the drawing on the front as being by the same artist who often has cartoons/covers on The New Yorker. I spent so long reading the entire thing because, DAMN, Roz Chast knows how to tell a story in words and pictures.
Roz’s parents were, euphemistically, “older” parents. As in, they were older than dirt when they had her. And they were the kind of people who, due to family history, the Depression, WWII, and personality, never looked on the bright side of anything, if they could help it. When they were in their nineties, and both started having physical problems, Roz started cataloging her experiences as an only child trying her best (which admittedly, wasn’t always great) to help her parents, who most decidedly didn’t want anything she had to offer. After they died, she put together this amazing story, using text, drawings, and photos to chronicle the last few years of George and Elizabeth Chast.

There is a sequence about parental non-cleaning (grime): Roz comes to visit her parents at their apartment (the same place she grew up) and realizes that sometime in the past few years, her parents have stopped cleaning. "It's not ordinary dust, or dirt, or a greasy stovetop that hasn't been cleaned in a week or two. It's more of a coating that happens when people haven't cleaned in a really long time. Maybe because they're old, and they're tired, and they don't see what's going on." The "grime" page includes little drawings of household objects that have succumbed to neglect. And yet Elizabeth furiously will not allow Roz to clean anything or throw anything away. It is both hilarious and heartbreaking.
I am not an only child and my parents are nothing like the elder Chasts, but reading this, in the middle of the laughter, felt a cold sense of dread. I feel like the only one in my family that worries about these things. My sister has her own family and has distanced herself, both geographically and emotionally, from her “birth family”. My parents, despite (or maybe because of) grim experiences with their own parents in their final years, seem to have decided on a strategy of Let’s-Not-Talk-About-It-And-Maybe-It-Will-All-Work-Out-Okay. When I tried to open discussions with my mother what her preferred course of action would be if they ever needed to go into a home, the only answers I ever got were “Are you in a hurry to put me in a home?*” and finally “Just do whatever you think is best.”
Unless your parents are already dead or you have a grand plan for avoiding all end-of-life issues (and if you do, would you share it with me?) we will all be facing the sorts of things Roz Chast did between 2002 and 2007. Our stories won’t be the same, because all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way, and we all deal with the hard stuff in ways that play out family history and personalities. We also don’t have Roz Chast’s gift for humor and her artistic talents… which are exactly what made this book about a difficult subject so enjoyable.
*Each time she said it I felt a little more in a hurry to do exactly that.

09 July, 2014

Apples, Peaches, Clementines

It’s summertime and the livin’ is hot and somewhat sweaty, but relatively easy. Last week we caught some kind of un-seasonal weather break and it was in the 70s and low 80s with no humidity. We turned off the a/c and opened the windows and slept so comfortably. The 4th of July was practically cool (and windy, very windy thanks to Tropical Storm Arthur) and we had rain in the morning but clear skies by early afternoon.

I have had a headache for the last four days. Not a crippling, head-hurts-so-bad-I-am-going-to-vomit kind of headache, which I do get, but just a lowgrade tension headache in the back of my head, neck, and shoulders.

Sunday after church I drove to Gettysburg and spent the day with my friend Katy. We ate at a small sandwich shop, walked around town a little, drove outside of town to the Hauser Estate Winery which also had local hard cider on draft. Delicious, cold, dry apple cider made with Pennsylvania apples. Did you know that Pennsylvania produces a lot of the apples that you eat – that it is fifth in apple production in the US? Also, Pennsylvania is a hub of mushroom production. Fun facts about local agriculture! Another factoid…Georgia may be called the Peach State, but South Carolina produces more peaches. Have you ever seen  this, in Gaffney, SC? The picture is good, but you really have to see it in person from I-85 to appreciate the “butt-like” glory of it.
We spent much of the later afternoon and evening sitting at Katy’s dining room table having a nice talk and catching up. It was such a good day and relaxing. I love the house, and the dogs, and Thomas, and living in Baltimore, but every once in a while I want to get away from it all and hang with a friend.
I am on Goodreads, and have been for several years. I’ve been on and off about adding books to it, but last year I got serious about tracking my reading. Except for romance novels, I don’t particularly care to share that! But I do put in anything else I finish. Last week I realized I had over 200 books on my Want-to-Read list, so I went on the library’s website and requested about 15 books. Then I realized that the majority of books I requested were YA and children’s fantasy. I don’t have a problem with that, because a good book is a good book, and this time of year all I want to do is read fun things that will entertain me. Once the weather gets cooler I will pick up more challenging things. 
I am reading other things besides books aimed at the 10-20 set; I’m in the middle of Losing Clementine, a novel about a woman with chronic, long-term depression who has decided to kill herself. She has fired her shrink, her assistant, and the gallery owner who has offered her a show (she’s an artist), tossed all her medicine, and is taking one month to do everything she needs to do before she dies. So far it is unexpectedly hilarious. She has slept with her ex-husband on a trip to Mexico to buy the drugs she’s going to overdose on, slept with her shrink when he stopped by to see her, broken into that art gallery to trash her artistic rival’s work, ordered everything on the menu at her favorite restaurant, and is trying to find the father than abandoned her when she was a small child. She cut up all her uncomfortable underwear into strips of fabric and made potholders out of them and decided to stop following rules like: hang up your clothes when you take them off and make your bed every day. Her delight in breaking these rules is very funny and the underwear-slicing scene made me laugh out loud. She mused about wearing uncomfortable undies (Thongs! She hates thongs!) to be sexy for men who she didn’t even care about all that much – and sent the potholders to her frenemy, the gallery owner.
I really didn’t think a book about planning your own suicide would be this funny, and am not sure where Clementine is going to end up, but I am going to enjoy the trip. The fact that she’s enjoying her life so much right as she’s decided to end it reminds me how I enjoy a job the most in the weeks after I have given my notice. Once you are mentally and emotionally separated from the job, all the little things that bugged you become temporary inconveniences, and you appreciate your co-workers and the more enjoyable aspects of the work.