For the Light That Is Reflected

Treasure appears when the hunter is ready to see it.

Between Christmas and New Year’s, the unnamed university closes all non-essential offices to conserve energy, and by “non-essential,” the university means “offices without trucks and shovels.” I don’t mind and plan projects that require some attention to detail, despite the fact that I have no attention span. A few days ago, I opened an old cigar box I’ve been tossing photographs into for a decade or so and went about scanning the images. Pete did all the actual scanning and I did the sulking, pouting and flouncing off in several colorful huffs. I wanted to do the scanning myself because I’m selfish and crave project-related glory, but the scanner refused to connect with my laptop; it took Pete three tense days to scan the pictures and mail them to me in small batches. I resized, labeled and put them up on Facebook, where many of my relatives were overjoyed to find them and at least one was mortified that his friends could see we were, in fact, dirty guinea wop dagos. Merry Christmas, wannabe cracker, get some self-respect!

I’ve had most of these pictures since my grandmother died nineteen years ago and I’ve shown them to people. Funny thing: this unfamiliar picture turned up in the scanned picture pile. The little boy is my father, but I had no idea who the woman was. One of my cousins asked her mother who the woman in the picture was. “That’s Andy’s mother,” she said and my heart skipped a beat. It’s a complicated moment. It suddenly dawned on me I’d never seen a picture of Giannina, the image of her in my head came completely from stories and I didn’t even know that. I believed she was thin, severe and had dark brown hair, but here she is lush and has light hair. Her face also seemed strange until I looked at the picture under the biggest magnifying glass I could find and recognized her son Andy’s – my father’s father’s – features. Giannina died just about the time I was born. Where are the other pictures of her? Why had I never noticed this picture before?

For Christmas, I got to see my great-grandmother’s face when she was just about my age. What did you get me?

A picture may be worth a thousand words but this one won't shut up.

After she died, my grandmother became mysterious. She’d told some carefully chosen stories of her childhood, a few about her young married life and almost nothing about any time between my father’s birth until I was a teenager. She told stories about her extended family, but left out most of her own. I did not know until I was a budding drama queen that my father and Auntie InExcelsisDeo had a sister who’d died in childhood. It was like a spell broke when I told the assembled family I knew there had been another baby. After that, her name was mentioned. Gram told me lovely and terrible stories. Throwing open a once-locked door was the only way I got anywhere. After she was seventy, Gram told me she missed that little girl more with the passage of time – that you’d think it would be the other way around, but it wasn’t. If she’d lived another ten years, I’m not sure how much more about her life I would have ferreted out of her, since I only saw this picture days after she died. She was smart, tough, critical, stylish, emotionally distant from her family, always the adult and lonely. Everyone leaned on her and she had no one to lean on. Despite everything I knew about her, I did not really know that she had once been young and beautiful. I didn’t know she’d ever had a carefree moment in her entire life until I saw this picture, hidden in a coat closet in the bottom of an old box.

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Spend the Rest Of My life Quietly

Oh look – the anthem of my teenage idealism and small town despair!

Terrible book. People will buy anything.

In retrospect, I had every reason to be desperate to leave the tiny hometown. That is a function of youthful hysteria. It is also the reason I know this is – despite what pretty much everyone else with a keyboard and a net connection has said – a terrible book. This book suffers from a very typical, avoidable problem: it was written by a grad student in the Humanities. If this book had simply picked a different author, perhaps it would have stood a chance.

If you have not lived in a college town, shared an apartment with a grad student or made the terrible mistake of marrying one, consider yourself warned. They are not regular people like you and me. You watch ESPN. I watch Jacques Pepin on PBS. Grad students are desperately broke and drink Olympia beer in cans. If you go to a party where grad students are drinking Olympia beer in cans, you will see them discuss nationalism and geography until the coolers and fridges are empty and the grad students fall over sideways, but by dinnertime, Olympia beer in cans will be floating in the coolers and hiding in the fridge again and no one will know why or how. This illustrates the principle difficulty of living near a grad student in the Humanities: they’re not going anywhere until they’ve carefully picked every fiber, every thread, every bit of lint and every smidge of dust out of a topic other grad students have been picking apart for decades. These people strain for a single original thought and if they have one write thousands of pages about it in which nobody learns anything truly useful. Your best bet is to seal the house where they live and toss in a comic book – but it better be a good one.

The mistake the book makes is assuming that a fourteen year old could have the same brain chemistry, the same field of vision and the same calm and tempered fluidity with the language as its author. I say the book makes it because the book should know better, but you see the same horseshit with the Twilight books, which REALLY should have found an author who didn’t have I WANT MY VIRGINITY BACK on the brain. We can talk about that some other time, because we’re talking about teenagers here: they’re stupid. Even the smart teenagers are stupid. Their brains do not work like your brain, even when you do something stupid. No, the premise of this stupid book is entirely backward. The stupid adult writes about a teenager smarter than she is and the book-reading, English-speaking world offers a movie deal.

Well, in some quarters that might qualify as pretty smart. As a business move, maybe it was. The book, however, is not good art and its elevation provides a window into the soul of a society eternally wishing it died young, pretty and stupid.

My House At My House

Having the teensiest difficulty fixing the horizontal hold on Reality.

Tata: This is the second time in one year I didn’t get a call when a baby was born and one of them was my freaking grandchild.
Daria: Don’t worry about it. I read about our new cousin on Facebook. It’s not even a thing we will worry about.
Tata: Siobhan says this isn’t the worst thing the family’s done to me. Good thing she remembers. I don’t.
Daria: …In with the good air! Out with the bad air!
Tata: I’m a little TENSE.
Daria: I’d mail you some Xanax but the Postal Service frowns on this practice.
Tata: Can’t wait to tell my doctor I quit drinking but would like to develop a sedative hobby.
Daria: …Don’t worry about that, either.

I’m not actually worried. Over the weekend, I left my cell phone at the massage therapist’s and gift-wrapped my fingers to the bone at the family store, but at least I didn’t misplace what passes for my soul.

“A bill to combat the practice of child marriage in developing countries stalled in the House on Thursday,” CQ Today reports. In a 241-166 vote “the House rejected … the motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill (S 987). Suspension of the rules is an expedited procedure that limits debate and requires a two-thirds majority for passage,” the news service writes (Dumain, 12/16).

The bill, which the Senate passed by unanimous consent Dec. 1, aims to integrate child marriage prevention approaches throughout U.S. foreign assistance programs and scale up proven approaches and programs to end the practice (Kaiser Daily Global Health Policy Report, 7/16). It “would authorize grants for programs working to combat child marriage” and “direct the White House to develop and implement a multi-year strategy to prevent child marriage in areas of the world where it is most prevalent,” CQ Today adds.

According to the news service, House members “said they voted against the legislation not for its core goals, which many say transcend party lines, but for its price tag: the Congressional Budget Office estimated that implementing the bill would cost $67 million over the next five years.”

That’s million with an M. In Congress, they light their cigars and wipe their butts with million dollar bills. And while we’re talking about mythical money, my annual Social Security summary arrived last week. I pay attention to how I’m being villainized as a person who pays her taxes and would someday like to retire from her job as a state worker. So imagine my chagrin when I noticed the Social Security summary stated my retirement age is 67, but I can work until I’m 70 if I’m on a roll. Or longer. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Maybe, since the life expectancy calculator at Living To 100 says I’ll live to 97, though it didn’t ask me about high risk activities like omitting secret ingredients in family recipes and annoying my hairdresser. And maybe not, since technology is changing at an exponentially faster rate. At a certain point, the only thing many of us may be suited for is the manual labor our bodies can no longer do, but I digress. My grandfather’s already 98 and being 98 is no picnic; it’s realistic to believe I’ll live to 66-78 like of my relatives, then kick the bucket with steel-toed orthopedic shoes. That leaves few years for late-life ass-kicking and name-taking.

Sweet Jebus, I’ve got to find a way to retire from my job so I can get to work.