What I Am Needs No Excuses

The weather is gorgeous. There’s a lazy breeze blessing a street fair in town. My lunch was a fragrant, ripe tomato sliced onto roasted garlic ciabatta bread, drizzled with fruity olive oil and balsamic vinegar, plus salt and pepper. This morning, I installed my air conditioners. I should be thrilled. My apartment is utterly spotless. By now, you probably know this means I’m hopping mad.

Daria: So what’s with you and that guy?
Tata: Got me. I’m a positive treasure, and if he doesn’t know that he’s just wrong. I can’t even take it seriously.
Daria: I’ve already picked out your next ex-husband. You should marry him, then start dating.
Tata: Is divorcing him first, then dating too intimate? I’d know we could live together if we separate decently.

No, my sleep-inducing love life merely annoys me. My problem is this.

Jim in LA here with a site update: I just spoke with Jen and a member of Steve’s family has requested that no further communication about Steve’s condition be communicated with his readership through this site, or in any other method.

We will comply with the request – so if you want to know about Steve’s condition, there won’t be any further update until he’s able to communicate it himself.

It took me about three hours to stop seeing red. I’ve never met Steve Gilliard and yet besides the anger I also feel a terrible, choking fear for him. Someone in Steve’s family is not actually on Steve’s side.

As a family, we LongItalianLastNames have just been through hell with Dad’s illness and death. Even so, it could have been a great deal worse for us, his caregivers, and for him. After Darla, who is well-versed in the blogosphere and conversant in matters newsgroup-related, posted to Dad’s newsgroups details of his condition, then put up a livejournal to keep phone calls to minimum, affectionate posts and emails rolled in in waves. Hundreds of people wrote to say how much he meant to them. We were in tears every day, all of us, especially Dad. He was shocked, completely shocked because he hadn’t always been an unmitigated nice guy on the net. Hell, he wasn’t a nice man, but he was a good person, charming, well-informed, a better writer than I will ever be and where food was concerned a genuine expert. He’d helped and amused a lot of friends and strangers, and they wanted him to know it. Moreover, Dad had radio shows in the Shenandoah Valley for 20 years and he’d done all sorts of local television. He had fans. Going to a grocery store with him was an utter nightmare, even when it was interesting to learn everything there was to know about kiwis. Those people who’d listened to him all that time sent cards and letters. The phone calls were relentless for weeks. It was an awful lot to deal with, especially for Darla, but it is part and parcel of having a family member who is a public person, and it made Dad feel loved and respected. Families have to deal with that, whether or not they like it.

There’s more: sometimes, the needs of the sick person conflict with the needs of the caregivers. We were lucky that Darla was capable, intelligent and completely devoted to Dad. Darla made sure that what Dad wanted, Dad got. We went to help and spend time with him, but Dad made the decisions and Darla backed him up and there was no discussion. No matter who had an issue, it didn’t matter. Only Dad mattered. We were there, yes, our feelings meant something to some degree but not much. I was entirely clear that my feelings had to be put aside for another time and my needs were insignificant. I wasn’t the one dying. So, we were lucky. Not every sick person has someone like Darla, whose every effort for two months guaranteed Dad a minimum of strife and anguish. If not for Darla, Dad’s last days might have been very miserable indeed.

What if the wrong person or no person is in charge? What if the person who is supposed to make decisions doesn’t really know the sick person or care what the sick person wants? Years ago, a friend of mine died of complications of AIDS. Her family, from which she had been estranged for more than twenty years, wanted nothing to do with her. Did not visit her while she was slipping away. When she died, the family initially did not claim her body. We were street kids. No one I knew had the means to do that but I remember being shocked that they hated her so much they waited three days to have her body cremated. It happens. Sometimes our loved ones hate us.

Sometimes, we are part of a past they’d rather forget. Sometimes, they don’t know us at all. I am very careful when I talk to my family members about myself because I see our shared history being rewritten, and my part in it comes to sound very strange when the rest of the tableau has a wicked coat of whitewash. And there are just things about me they don’t know and don’t want to know. I can say this with complete certainty because any conversation beyond the smallest of small talk results in shock and “That’s true, but…” negotiations, though at my age, my personality’s fully formed, my views are published here and there, and I’m not going to become the nice person anyone wants me to be no matter how it reflects on them. I was estranged from the family for more than ten years. They don’t really know me, and for the most part we’re comfortable that way.

Steve Gilliard’s family may mean well, for all I know, but it takes a certain kind of bizarre selfishness to deliberately turn a blind eye to Steve as a person, and a public person at that. In the way that political bloggers can be, Steve is famous and people care. He cares about them too, which we know because he asked his blog partner Jen to post updates on his condition. His family knows that, so why the pointed request to stop?

Selfishness. Steve’s inability to speak for himself has given someone else the power to steal the meaning of Steve’s life and work. His identity disappears, just as Dad’s would have if someone besides Darla had been making the decisions and cut Dad off from his community, affection and support. It could have happened without her. I shiver when I imagine how he would have felt and what he would have been thinking about his online relationships if someone had just turned off the computer and denied Dad succor.

Whether or not the – as Jen termed it – “dissenting family member” gives a shit about the blogosphere and what it means, Steve does. We have years of reading material as evidence. It’s not a mystery. What is mysterious is why anyone would deny the person his people, our affection, our support and concern. Who is protected? Who exactly is served? It isn’t Steve. Jen asks us to respect the family’s decision, but my thorough contempt for it harms no one. Once again, my feelings on the matter are of no importance other than here, and I say what is important is respect for the sick person, not what we wish they were.

Some time ago, I wrote a profanity-laced rant about what, pursuant to my untimely demise, my life may mean. It is called Uses of Me, and I mean every foul-mouthed, uncompromising word. I am what I am, not what someone else wishes I were and not what someone says I was independent of my actual life. In light of what’s happened to Steve Gilliard, I’m going to get a will written post haste and inform my family, such as they are, what they absolutely will NOT be doing should I linger, like cutting me off from my friends.

I could be wrong about Steve’s family. Hell, I could be wrong about that man I might or might not be sleeping with, but if I’m not, there’s cause for concern. I can’t do anything about either situation. I can encourage you to take steps to avoid finding yourself at the mercy of some well-meaning idiot who doesn’t know you, because, yes, that is Hell on Earth.

Friday Cat Blogging: Ticking, Ticking Edition

Last night, I couldn’t get Blogger to preview or import images. This perturbed me a bunch. I take lots of pictures of these frenetic kittens but seldom get anything decent. If they’re doing something cool in the living room, after the seconds it takes to turn on the digital camera, the kittens are now fighting on top of the dryer. So imagine how thrilled I was to see Drusy’s paw in this picture of scheming Topaz. You can almost hear her adorable predatory purr.

I’m doomed!

“The Committee finds your activities counterrevolutionary. As punishment, you must buy the Committee new cat toys and feed the Committee members wet food with big chunks and more gravy. The Committee enjoys gravy.”

Topaz and Drusy go a little crazy over just about any event or noise, so it comes as no surprise that when I get on the floor, kittens go mad! Every morning, I lie on the living room floor and do crunches. Then I get up, freshly toothmarked. Apparently, they’re taste-testing me.

Five cuddly pounds of adorable Eeeeevil.

Lovely Topaz is sweet and mysterious and reminds me of that friend everyone in college towns has who speaks with a heavy accent but you can never tell from where. Oh how marvelous it must be to know all exotic Topaz knows! Oh how weary is the kitten who has seen so much we would never understand! Note her triumph over the forces of yarn and roundness. We can only yearn for her love.

Eve Brewed Good Apple Wine

I had a dream about us the other night. You’d invited me to your city for dinner and I traveled a long way to meet you. Who knows why, but I thought we would be alone, and in a way, we were. In Ecuador, two friends and I found a restaurant like this one, where surfaces appeared to roll one into the next, floor into wall, and shadows made by candlelight softened all angles. In the dream, the empty restaurant formed a soft, billowing envelope around our table for six. One of my friends from your city sat down next to me, but I could not take my eyes off the woman touching your arm.

This woman took only polite notice of me, but I saw everything about her, from her slender wrists to her skin’s honeyed hues. Her hair hung long and sun-bleached, while her eyes were the color of the sky where it meets ocean. I knew at once she was your lover of some years and she didn’t worry when your key was late at the front door. My presence meant nothing to her. I wondered about you, and why I had come so far, but it’s not that mysterious, is it?

You had to show me what I observed in impassive silence. I have been here before, in the pillowy time before you tell me you love her but it’s not enough, she doesn’t understand you like I do. You can’t leave her, but you can’t live without me, you’ll say. You’ll beg me for solace with a wicked gleam in your eye. There is no reason for joy before we strike this bargain. You love me and I will be yours now for years to come.

Naturally, I ordered dessert.

And Looking Up I Noticed I Was Late

Linda Ronstadt’s version of Love Has No Pride is beautiful, yes, but harsh and sharp around the edges, whereas Bonnie Raitt’s is softer, resigned, and infinitely sadder in a more mature way. Bonnie Raitt’s rendition is on Dad’s iPod, which doesn’t surprise me.

About ten years ago, after Morgan moved out and I sank into luxurious, life-threatening despair, I dragged myself to the grocery store at 3 a.m., when I wouldn’t have to explain why I looked like death warmed over because everyone in the store looked worse. At 3, you can hear the music. I happened to be staring into space in the canned vegetable aisle when I heard the first improbable strains of Love Has No Pride. My heart was broken, well beyond the balm of tears. I felt pulled to get closer to the song. Just as it ended, someone tapped me on the shoulder. My hands hurt but I didn’t know why. A boy said, “Miss, would you like to get down from there?” as I realized I’d climbed the shelves and hung off the top in chin up position for a while.

I smiled and dropped from the shelf. Falling has never been a problem.

But That Dream Is Your Enemy

Last night, Todd and I searched the house for one of Dad’s guitars. Todd cased the music room and couldn’t find this most important one; I heard strain in his ordinarily even tone of voice. We found this guitar in the upstairs room to which we banished ourselves after Daddy declared Shut Up Time every night for the last weeks of his life. Todd calmed visibly when he opened the case and sat down to tune. It had been a long day but finally we were alone in Dad’s and Darla’s house. Children ran around us in pint-size throngs. Dara and her new boyfriend sat in the living room five feet from Todd because doors were open and we left the teenage lovebirds alone. Daria, her husband Tyler and I cleaned up after the memorial party until we finally sat down exhausted.

Todd: Two months ago, Dad closed his eyes and said, “I love that guitar.”
Daria and Tata: Mmmm.

Our earliest memories revolve around Daddy sitting in New Jersey living rooms, tuning and playing, tuning and playing. Sometimes he sang for us. Sometimes we sang along. We knew the words to Greenback Dollar, King of the Road and half the Weavers’ catalog before we could read. Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan were our heroes. And last night, Todd found himself at a loss. What to play? What did he remember whole? Then, Todd laughed and started the intro something from just before Dad left us: Me & Julio Down By the Schoolyard. Daria and I swung around and stared at each other for just a second. The children looked around like when she and I spun around and danced, singing at the tops of our lungs. Todd’s wife Bette sang along. The teenagers stared. Then Todd accidentally El Kabonged his toddler and six adults pretended we weren’t laughing hysterically. After the tears dried, Todd opened the Jim Croce songbook and played Operator, which our parents used to sing together in the kitchen more than thirty years ago. This means nothing to you. To us, it meant that our parents made music, made sculptures, made gardens and grew vegetables, and if they’d loved each other, our lives would have been very different.

Finally, the children lost patience with us. Todd put away the guitar, where I found it this morning and took this picture. All of Dad’s guitars will eventually go to California and be Todd’s.

This poster hangs in my living room now. When I left Virginia in April, I accidentally left this behind. I literally ached for it. In a way, it is nothing. Little holes in the plastic, faded spots and tears in the paper make this an unbeautiful object that tells a remarkable story. Dad moved to Europe in the spring of 1973, when I was ten and he was thirty-one. At thirty-one, I committed art crimes in the streets of New York; Dad, at the same age every bit as impetuous, peeled this poster off a wall in Paris because he liked it. The featured dancers are Jacques Marsa, Arlette Thomas and Pierre Peyrou – hoo! google that name and see the gossip in French – all of whom have enjoyed long artistic careers. That’s comforting. This poster came to symbolize for me everything that made Dad different from other people: he was curious, adventurous, interested in everything, less fearful than most people, wildly unconventional and capable. This image is exuberance, vitality, strength. This is just one story. And here is one ending.

Friday Cat Blogging: Supermodel Edition

Kittens are curious!

We observe a morning ritual: I climb out of the shower and the kittens leap in. Sometimes they are together, but not always. This time, Topaz got to the still dripping faucet first as Drusy looks on from a discreet distance. Please note that my tub is about 900 years old and has been scrubbed over the years beyond its intended point of cleanliness, which ironically makes the tub look very dirty. Note the footprints. I had just cleaned that.

Topaz is gentle, eats too much and schemes to take over the world. I look into her orange eyes and know my days are numbered. She seldom lets me scratch her head and if I pick her up: it’s war! Topaz’s fur feels different from her long-legged cohort’s, softer somehow. Drusy, who I sometimes locate by listening for kitty bathing noises, is crazy for me. I so want to scoop up Topaz and love her up but I expect I’d lose an eye.
Though I am not a girlie girl, that shower curtain is indeed a color between pink and lilac usually found on cheap toys made in illegal Asian factories. Siobhan and I were tooling around Target with cash burning holes in our pockets when this thing appeared before our eyes. When we were laughing so hard we couldn’t stand up straight this regrettable decor choice had to come home with me. This morning, I was wrapped in a towel, taking pictures of cats in a wet tub, when the gorgeous kittens heard some signal inaudible to my ear. Faster than you could say You better work! Topaz and Drusy switched places and were gorgeous – for Science!

Won’t You Ease My Worried Mind

You are splendid smooth surfaces and other cheeks. You are curves fading softly into distance and rounded lips. There is no here and now with you without crushing absence around the bend. Your secret hollowness will always be untouchable. Pressed, you break and disappear.

I am the bright morning when your heart breaks open. I am silence before mimosa leaves offer their prayers. There is nothing to say when the choice is you or the folds of curved space. I might be any collector if I had never loved cobalt blue. Rest here, and wait for fireflies to find us.

Cut glass. Broken to a width of two microns. A vessel filled with wax drippings and a desert of dried tears. Roadside evidence of ordinary disaster. Bad luck’s dosage instruction. The surface between us and sepia toned children. Maybe we loved them, or our longing is traditional. The brightness of knowing, while there is still time to gently circle back.

Any Way the Wind Blows

Oh. My. God. Twisty:

It is with curled lip and bloodshot eye that I anticipate a total lack of surprise at the news that last month a 17-year-old Iraqi girl was stoned to death in an “honor killing” — words I cannot type without overloading my Oxymoronitron. I expect abhorrence, yes. Disgust, yes. A crushing sense of the futility of it all, yes. Surprise, no.

Because this shit never goes away, it will surprise no one that this girl’s murder began by eight men dragging her from her house into the street, and ended after they had hurled rocks at her for half an hour. Nobody will raise much of an eyebrow when it is revealed that a mob of people watched this murder, and that none of them felt sufficiently moved by notions of a higher moral purpose to intervene. There is nothing particularly out of the ordinary, even, in that more than one of the frenzied spectators possessed such sangfroid as to record the murder with a cellphone video camera and post it on the internet, where it is causing a mild sensation; after all, this is nothing that American soldiers haven’t done, and done famously.

Watch the video. Read the rest. Let this child haunt you. She should.

We made that possible – and this necessary.

Crossposted at Blanton’s & Ashton’s.