Can I tell you about my best day of 1998? I’d like to tell you about my best day of 1998.
I think it was a Tuesday because I’m pretty sure all my Creative Writing classes at Wayne State were on either Tuesdays or Thursdays. And I’m reasonably sure that my Intro to Creative Writing class was on a Tuesday. That doesn’t really matter. I’m just organising my thoughts.
Exactly one week before my best day I had a bad day. I turned in my first short story for my Intro to Creative Writing class and, man, I was an absolute mess about. I was sure my new professor, who had quite clearly told us that sugar coating was for donuts not writers, was going to hate it.
It was a pretty slight but funny story called Becoming Robert about a girl named Alice who feared she was turning into her exboyfriend after a messy breakup. I didn’t want him to hate it. I was desperate to impress him. On the first day of class he’d told me in his thick Argentine accent that he was already writing a movie about me in his head. I had a lot to live up to.
He saved my story till last and I was losing my mind all through class. I think I participated in the other critiques, I know I chewed my pen the whole way through. I remember asking at the smoke break if my story could be next. He just laughed at me and made me wait.
When we finally got to my story he held up his copy and I could see a million, possibly 2 million, red circles on the first page. I was sure he was going to order me out of the class room and tell me to drop the class. He would make me change my major. I was done. I would just go lay down on Cass Ave and wait to be run over by a car. Instead, he said it was the best story of the week. That he hated one line in the last paragraph and that my abuse of commas was shameful, but otherwise it was a great story.
I’ve had some really good moments in my life, I’m a lucky person in that regard, but that moment remains one of the best. Osvaldo Sabino was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, and not just because he liked my stories. He knew how to encourage and antagonize in just the right ways. He was a pain in the ass and an absolute wonder in just about equal parts. He was always trying to set me up with cute boys. I needed to live more according to him. And he was always encouraging me to pursue scholarships and opportunities.
And I was just one of many who were lucky enough to know him.
He died unexpectedly on Tuesday. It’s been 16 years since I last saw him in person and I feel like it was just last week that I was sitting around the big round table at Z’s on the corner of Woodward and Warren with him and his partner, Chris Leland, part of a crew of young people passionate about words and stories and saying something real and true.
Thanks for your time and your knowledge, Os. And the absinthe, too.
Jeremy and I are heading back to Venice the weekend of Oct 28th.
We’ll catch the end of this year’s Biennale and go see the current exhibit at Palazzo Fortuny and stay in a hotel on San Zaccaria.
Then I will com home and write a book, at least a first draft, in November.
THEN we’ll go the ATP the first weekend of December in Minehead.
And in the middle of all this my grandmother is still unwell and staying in a nursing home as they try to build her health back up after her surgeries and any time I see a funeral on the TV it makes me cry. The final episode of the first season on Treme nearly killed me last week when we watched it on DVD.
I keep thinking of driving down two lane highways and listening to The Watson Twins and wandering around my old neighbourhood in Detroit and sitting in hospital waiting rooms hoping for even the smallest thing to go right and sand cranes in plowed fields and old school houses and the colours in my parents’ old back yard changing as October marched on.
This started out happy and then turned sort of maudlin, huh? I didn’t mean for that to happen.
There are good things on the horizon though, more on those soon. I need to move through this bout of sadness first I think.
When I was in high school I was a massive fan of the Beat writers. A friend of mine loaned me a copy of On the Road when I was a junior and I just totally devoured it. When people tell me how much they hate this book (and they often tell me they hate this book when they hear about my long-standing love for it along with the fact that I had a cat named Jack Kerouac) I typically ask them when they read it. Because you have to read a book like this at the right time in your life. You probably shouldn’t read it if you’re older than 22 (unless you’re a very young spirited person). You just aren’t likely to have patience for it. In all honesty, it’s not very well written, I can see that now. Or not consistently well written anyhow. Parts of it shine through with so much beauty that you (and by you I mean me) will want to cry. But mostly, it’s uneven and sort of boring. It’s not groundbreaking anymore, it’s been copied and imitated and reimagined a million times over. Unless you’re looking at it with relation to its historical context it’s not really worth reading it as an adult.
However, if you’re a naive 16-year-old living in a small town with dreams of going just about anywhere else it’s a perfect book. It’s a head long dash into the unknown and it proves just how easy it can be to get out. Even if you aren’t willing to steal a car to do it. Despite the dismal beautiful ending, it still invokes a yearning that few other books I’ve read are able to express.
But I wasn’t planning to write about Kerouac today. Instead I want to talk about how the one (Kerouac) lead me to another. In my last year at university I signed up for a course titled Zen and American Culture in American Literature (arguably the best course name ever). This was an 8 week summer course and the description directly referenced the writing of Kerouac and Ginsberg ( I have a story about him too, but I’ll save it for later). Despite being a short class we covered a lot of ground. From Ezra Pound’s (there was a character (and by character I mean an issue laden creep regardless of talent)) Cantos to Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish with tons of other’s in between and after. Our final day of class was spent looking at Rothko slides and listening to Miles Davis, but that’s not the point either.
This is the point. We spent a lot of time talking about William Carlos Williams as well, seeing as he was a major influence on the authors and poets who followed him, and even acted as a mentor to Ginsberg, among others. I knew about Williams before this (I was 75% of my way through an English degree after all) but my main knowledge of him had to do with that red wheelbarrow, a poem i frankly did not get at the time, but then we read This is Just to Say and I got it. I got it like you wouldn’t believe.
The simplicity of his words, the frankness of his poetry is heartbreaking and beautiful. After reading the selected poems for this course I began my own exploration of the man’s work and I often come back to it. The Widow’s Lament in Springtime has remained of my favourite pieces of writing in the world. I’ve been thinking about it today, in fact, which has led me to look up Williams again and realise how much of his work I haven’t read. It’s funny to think that someone I consider to be a favourite also represents such a hole in my books read list. It’s time to remedy that (which happily gives me an excellent excuse to avoid cleaning my house!).
On the 4th of August my grandparents will have been married 65 years.
Here are some things I can tell you about them from my admittedly limited stores of knowledge, this list is not comprehensive, but I hope it shows just a tiny bit how wonderful they are.
- They met in Keego Harbor, Michigan when Grandpa moved here from Iowa. They were both still in high school and Grandma once told me, when I was doing a school project about the 1940s, that she knew right away that he was the one. However all the other girls in school thought he was the one too. She knew they were wrong though, so she held out and eventually (wisely) he came around to her way of thinking.
- Immediately following graduation Grandpa joined the Navy. He was stationed in Africa for much of WWII and I believe he also worked as a fire fighter on the ships.
- He wrote to Grandma regularly, sending letters addressed only with her name and Keego Harbor, Michigan. No street address. They all made it to her, but at some point, something happened. Grandma has never been willing to tell us what, exactly happened, but whatever it was it must have been bad because she destroyed all his letters except for one Christmas card that she still has.
- The mystery of this story drives me crazy.
- When he returned they were married.
- They bought a car jointly with one of his brothers. It had no engine.
- When Grandma went into labor with my uncle it wasn’t their night to have the car so they had to wait for my great-uncle to get home from the movies before they could go to the hospital.
- I think they had the car situation sorted by the time my mom came around a year later as no anecdotes exist detailing difficult journeys to the hospital.
- Grandpa drove a truck for CalGas and AmeriGas which allowed him to everything about everybody and have lots of long detailed conversations with them as well.
- Grandpa loves having long detailed conversations with everyone. He will talk your ear off, but you won’t mind.
- Grandma’s favorite book is Gone With the Wind, she has about a million copies of it.
- They are both masters of garage sale and thrift shopping. Some of my earliest memories are of going to garage sales with them and combing through all the goods on offer looking for the best deals.
- My grandfather keeps a garden so perfectly ordered it will make you weep with envy and he always has.
- One year I ate all the cherries off their cherry tree and Grandma told me that such gluttony would make me constipated (according to Grandma just about everything will make you constipated if done in excess, especially swallowing chewing gum). I did not get constipated but I did spoil my appetite.
- Once they took my brother and I to an AmeriGas company picnic and we got to go up in a hot air balloon, I remember the earth spread out below us like a patchwork quilt.
- When I turned 12 my grandfather built me a 3 story Victorian dollhouse which is currently being cared for by my middle niece as I am unable to ship it to London.
- When I graduated high school my grandmother and mother made me an Amish Star quilt with a black background and tons of small multicolored stars. It’s in my bedroom in London now.
- Grandma has a magic basement full of crafting supplies. I never leave her house without multiple boxes of yarn.
- Grandpa paints beautiful pictures, usually of natural scenes. He used to paint them on saws, frying pans, mailboxes, Butterfly houses, bird houses, kitchen cabinets, anything. We always had the best mailbox on the street because of him.
- We always ate Kumle at their house, and lefse too. Although from the late 90s on Grandma got sneaky and started using tortillas (TORTILLAS!) for the lefse. It was still delicious.
- When we went to Naples for our honeymoon Grandpa told me stories about the little boys he met there at the end of the war and how they would help the soldiers out, for a price. He told us to keep an eye out for similar hoodlums. We very nearly got taken in by an old man at the train station who just wanted to help us find our platform. I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe he tried to help Grandpa out once upon a time too.
- They signed my marriage license as witnesses on May 30th, 2007, which I still view as a great honor.
- They have 4 children, 8 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.
- They are two of the kindest and most loving people you will ever meet.
I am hugely lucky to have been born into their family for reasons so varied and extensive that I would wear my fingers out trying to list them all here, but I hope the list above gives you a small indication.
Even though we were only back in Michigan for a week, just under, really, it felt like we were there for at least 2 or 3. In a good way though.
Dad’s party was a tremendous success. Only 210 people were expected but at least 250 showed up, probably more. One of the rules he decided on for the party was that there should be more laughs than tears and this was definitely the case.
People talked about him with such love and humour, I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of my father. Sure he used to make me crazy and angry on a regular basis but he was still one of the most outstanding men I’ve ever known. And, clearly, he touched a lot of lives in very positive ways. We should all be so lucky.
My mom planned an amazing party, she put together hundreds of photos and pieces of memorabilia from Dad’s life. Every table had a Donald Duck in the center and an ARDS support center brochure and K8DD card at each place. Much to Mom’s dismay, a lot of fart jokes were told, but I think she just needs to accept the role that flatulence will always play in my father’s legacy. It was truly one of his special talents.
We were all lucky to have known him despite this special talents.
Dad (K3DCB) and his friend Jim at the start of the obsession
REM have a new album out.
I haven’t bought amything from them since Up, which is an okay album at best, despite the fact that they were my first favourite band and despite the fact that I still love a lot of their music.
I can still remember the exact moment I fell for this band. I was in the 7th grade, so proably about 12, doing my math homework at the kitchen table and I was hating every minute of it. So when my brother walked into the room I asked him if I could listen to one of his tapes. I didn’t care which one and I don’t honestly think I believed he would take pity on me and say yes (he was generally more interested in prolonging any suffering I happened to be experiencing) but say yes he did and he went into his room and brought me back a copy of Green.
And I was hooked. This isn’t even my favourite album of their’s anymore (tie between Life’s Rich Pageant and Automatic for the People, I think, this changes depending on mood) but it always holds a special spot in my heart.
REM were my gateway band. They started me on a road towards the independent music that would slowly begin to fill my collection, this despite the fact that Green was their first major label release.
But everything from Monster on has left me feeling sort of meh. I didn’t bother with their last album even though it got good reviews. I don’t know if that was more laziness or skepticism. Maybe both?
It’s not that I don’t think they can still make good music, I’m sure they can. I think it’s more that I wish I could hear them for the first time again, which isn’t really fair, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
ETA Oh but now this guy at the AV Club said it all better than me. Whatever AV Club.
I forgot to tell you, the Godspeed show last Monday was stupendous. Seriously, seriously amazing. Really.
I bought a t-shirt. It’s green with a gold design. I like it a bunch.
The weekend involved Christmas antics. A Christmas curry in East Dulwich with friends and then a Christmas open house in Peckham with other friends and attendance at the Christmas party and live broadcast of Voice of Americans in Nunhead on Resonance FM. This was held at The Old Nun’s Head, in Nunhead. I was there in official capacity as I was drafted into holding a lyric sheet for our friend Edori of Edori Fertig and the Sunny Side Up Band. I still drank a fair bit of wine though.
But, unsurprisingly, even though all these things are fun and I am happy to have been present and accounted for because I enjoyed myself. I mean it, I did enjoy myself. I’m still sad. Like I said, unsurprising. It’s a very melancholy holiday season this year, and since I’m often melancholy on my best days, that’s saying quite a lot.
I miss everything about my dad right now, even the things I hated. Even though I’m not as overwhelmingly sad as I was just 5 short weeks ago, it’s still a constant undercurrent. It’s supposed to be, this is grief, and grief is horrible.
I’m getting through. I find myself become even more attached to the small trinkets I have that belonged to his mother. I’ve been wearing one of her brooches nearly every day. I’ll be making cookies from one of her old recipes this week. And I’ll almost certainly be looking at lots of old pictures and having a cry or 20. It’s okay (not really) I’m getting through (really) and it’ll still be a good holiday season. Cocktailmas / Christmakah lives on, it’ll just be a bit less boisterous this year.