Monthly Archives: January 2012

Prince of Broadway; Truth telling part two

Go out and rent the movie.  Prince of Broadway.  You may love it or you may not, but it is one of the more original, interesting, real things going on out there in the film world to which I have access.  I loved it.

It’s made by an independent filmmaker named Sean Baker and his vision and his sensibility– his openness to reality flies in the face of so much of what we are fed; from the kinds of multi-million dollar homes that are depicted as “an average suburban home” in any light Hollywood romantic comedy; to the lies and utter black-is-white and down-is-up distortions of the various Republicans duking it out for the presidential nomination.  In other words, I liked the film because it is truthful in some important sense of the word.  The plot goes roughly like this.

An undocumented immigrant from Ghana named Lucky works as a hustler in a counterfeit fashion sales business in Manhattan.  He has a girlfriend.  He’s getting by.  One day a woman, his ex-girlfriend, shows up with a baby, asks Lucky to hold the beautiful 18-month old boy she is carrying “for just a minute”– and when he does so– she announces that the baby is his baby and she needs him to take care of the child.  And she bolts.  Leaves.  She says she’ll be back in two weeks.  The rest of the story goes from there.  I don’t completely know why I loved this film so much though “authentic” and truthful is one big piece, though not at all the only piece.  It is also hopeful.  It is a film that is definitely deeply flawed in certain ways, but in my book it is a perfect kind of flawed.  And so much more worth watching that most of what passes for flawless.

The 18-month old boy who is the baby in the film is a boy with whom most of us, if we still have, as my partner often says, a pulse, will be hard-pressed not to fall in love.  I thought a lot about what it must mean to make a movie with an 18-month-old in the midst of adults shouting and play-acting the things that are depicted in the film.  It is not a terrible, violent story but it is a hard story.  Harsh things happen and the environment is harsh.

One of the biggest, and perhaps only big flaw of the movie, is the fact that the 18-month-old– whose existence and whose presence in Lucky’s life, is the center of the story– that 18-month-old does none of the things an 18-month-old would do under the circumstance of actually being abandoned by his mother.  Left with a man who is, father or not, a total stranger to the boy.  But I was willing to suspend judgement and let that fly– knowing that the actor was an 18-month-old and that he was, gladly, as he was being filmed, obviously not frightened or lost in the way he would have been if those things had actually been happening.

The film is about a world I don’t inhabit– a world where the confluence of classism, racism and poverty sits hard, hard on people and shapes things in very harsh ways.  And also in some very alive and loving ways.  It is about heavy stresses and pressures that are not the particular stresses and pressures I face.

But I think I loved this movie in part, because it is about the lives and the courage of parents.  Two parents in particular– and the challenges of parenting, under the pressures of racism, classism, poverty and other forces too.  In addition to the very hard, and the hardship– there are tremendous strengths among these characters; a clarity about rising to the occasion, a clarity about love and not abandoning our own– and in this film “our own” is not only about blood relations; and a vision of taking what life hands you and making a good life.   And those are certainly good life lessons for me and for all of us.

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Farewell Charlotte; good, gentle, sweet neighbor dog

I’ve written about our upstairs neighbors in other posts, like Apartment House Snowball Fight; A Great Jewish Christmas Tradition.  It’s been just what I didn’t even know I wanted but did–that our relationship as neighbors with daughters about the same age in the building often means a blurrier and blurrier line between our households.  We live in the same tier as they– in the 3rd floor three-bedroom, directly below their identical 4th floor three-bedroom apartment.  Our girls wander in and out of our respective apartments.  Our neighbors often send a small bowl of cookies or something they cooked down to us; or they invite us to come for dinner at the last minute and we do the same.

Their sweet old dog, Charlotte is often petted by us and by others in the hall on her way out and then back in the building– before and after a walk.  In recent years, growing weary of the stairs to their top-floor apartment and growing more and more blind,  she would often wander into our apartment if our door was open.

We got word Charlotte died today.  Earlier this week, when our friends had made the difficult decision and knew the end was near, they invited us to a pizza party–at which Charlotte was the guest of honor.  We humans ate pizza and Charlotte got all the crusts she wanted.  (A favorite of hers.)  We all gave her lots of love and petting —  which she had had throughout her life.

Our friends’ daughter, A. lives in the two households of amicably divorced parents; the household upstairs and one a neighborhood over.  She cried hard as she was leaving to go to her other house for the night and we were heading downstairs.  She wasn’t the only one to cry.  Goodbye, sweet, doggie neighbor, Charlotte.  We miss you.

At Charlotte's party.

Charlotte with pizza crust

Truth telling

I have a secret that is fast becoming not a secret.  I have a new job.  I haven’t started yet, but I’ll leave my good and very busy mothering-writing and thinking life– Monday, February 6.  I am honestly quite sad and fearful about leaving this extraordinary time with my daughter and this chance to write and to reflect and to do some other things.

I am a worrier.  I am not a worrier who argues that my worries and fears are justified.  But nonetheless, my brain is often occupied–  I was inundated somehow, early in my life, with certain Jewish patterns– patterns of fears and worry, and a hearty dose of sadness and loss.  A dose of “Oy, oy, the glass is half empty!”.

In other words, as scared as I’ve been about not having a job, I am that scared and then some about having gotten this job.  It’s a legal job; it’s a legislative legal job– which is to say I’ll be doing work on a particular set of issues with a legislative body and not with individual clients.  It’s a good job.  It lines up nicely with many of the things I wanted to do next.  I’ll tell more about it as time goes by or I won’t– but for now suffice it to say, getting this offer and then accepting it–has been a huge roller coaster.  Mostly a roller coaster that has felt as though I was on a downward, gravity-intensifying plunge.  And I didn’t know what to say, or how I could tell it– or whether it was prudent to tell as real decisions were being made.  So I went silent here for almost 20 days which is way, way too long for me.

But this silence reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

It’s about this kind of blog and what does one tell?  What does one omit?  How do I figure out those things and how do you, a reader, come to know what it all means?

In the course of my job search, one morning following a particular night of sleeplessness because the panic dial was turned up high–I emailed an old friend who I know from this city and with whom I was very close for many years– a long time ago.  Later, but still a long time ago, he moved to California.  We’ve had a few ups and downs in our friendship.  But I count him and I think he counts me, as a Good Friend– across the miles.  He’s a very good, smart, interesting, Jewish gay man.

So on the morning after the afore-mentioned very hard night, I emailed him and simply told him what a hard time I was having.  How alone I felt.  I didn’t do that often with many people when I was right in the thick of it.  It hadn’t occurred to me that he could help, but he wrote back immediately and offered up five old friends of his here–for me to contact.  He did some other important things for me too.  But the most important thing was that he rose to the occasion, put his brain in gear, offered some concrete help and that bad morning I remembered I wasn’t doing this alone.

I followed up on one of his suggestions pretty quickly and then my mother-in-law had surgery, my daughter was having a particularly hard time and some other things were happening but I hadn’t written about them here.  Partly I didn’t have time– and partly I didn’t have insight; I had complaints and worries.

Sometime after my friend offered some actual help and  I had done some follow- up with one of  his leads– and all the other things I just mentioned had been  taking my time and attention (mother-in-law’s surgery, partner gone, daughter having a tough time) here is what happened.  I didn’t blog about the hassles and upsets and I stopped emailing my friend for several weeks.  Not on purpose; the time just passed as things were happening.  Eventually, he wondered why I’d not followed up with him and with some of the leads he gave me.  He emailed, just wondering, was there perhaps something wrong?

I took his email as pressure and wrote something sort of defensive at best, but with a kind of “would you get off my back?” tone.  This– to my friend who had offered help in my time of need.  Then there was more communication and I  had the good sense to back up and explain at least a little about the mother-in-law surgery, the traveling partner, the daughter who battled about not wanting to go to school in the morning.  Then I  apologized.  I hope sufficiently.

But in the course of straightening it out he said something that I’ve kept thinking about.  He said “I had no idea things were so hard– I had even gone and checked your blog….and it sounded like all was well.”

I thought a lot about that.  The difficulty and strangeness of the possible answers ran through my head.  Should I say, “Well you can’t really expect to find out what’s actually, truly going on with me here can you?”

Or worse, “Well, you never know, sometimes I reveal a lot of what’s happening with me here, but sometimes I just can’t write the hard stuff and you just don’t know which is which as you read”.

I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  What is the blog anyway?  It’s not a short story.  It’s not a poem.  It’s not a how-to book.  Maybe an essay from time to time.  But it’s not a diary or a newspaper either.  It’s intimate but it’s also not a comprehensive account of anything.

It made me think about the questions–what is worth telling; what do I choose to tell; what do I omit and how does a reader piece it all together?  I have many strengths and many failings and fears to deal with– but many of those are too embarrassing or too private (whatever that means) and many of them are just not interesting.   What can I or should I in good conscience tell when it involves telling on someone else?

As a woman who wants justice in this world, a woman who thinks good stories and poems and songs are part of what will help us get there– and as a mother, my business is the business of the Jewish-mother- of- a- daughter- of-color-who- came- to- me- by- adoption and a woman-writer-blogger.  And in my business figuring out how to talk truthfully is a pretty important thing.  My business is about raising a child, as Grace Paley once said, “righteously up”; about talking as straight as I know how about adoption, and about myself and about race and Jews and gentiles and sexism and homophobia and now at my daughter’s age, about bodies and women and fairness and a lot of other things.  I do subscribe to the old saying I heard long ago– that two half-truths make one whole lie.

But truth-telling is a wide open field and very general as a guideline.  The rest I have to figure out, week by week, word by word, blog post by blog post.  As for you, in the name of full disclosure, I’ll offer advice.  If you want to know reliably whether a particular day or week was one where I soared or hid under the covers– whether I laughed a lot or cried or just got by– you should call or email.  Because to be truthful, I’m not always telling all that here.

 

Nikki Yanofsky rocks the Beatles

It is almost exactly one year ago that I discovered (for myself) and posted about Nikki Yanofsky— a young Canadian, Jewish woman, who is a remarkable singer.  I especially love her interpretations–as a young, Jewish woman, of songs I associate with my life at her age.  I like that thread of connection.  Yesterday my daughter and I were again trolling around YouTube and I found these. She covers two Beatles songs.  I’m loving and appreciating the Beatles as much as ever– more than ever– which is to say a lot– these days.  My daughter’s school does a “Peace Concert” in the winter and I cried a little this year when they sang “Imagine”.  I laughed too– I hope John Lennon was laughing too– right along with me.  All the controversy surrounding around him and Yoko Ono back then– about nudity and the not- so- subtle subtext about a mixed race relationship and their different ages– not to mention their anti-war views.  Now his songs are the stuff of public elementary school assemblies.  Which is as it should be.

Nikki Yanofsky does something marvelous with each of these songs.  And to the first, song, my daughter, who doesn’t know the original songs, said simply, “I love her dress”. So do I.  And I didn’t argue with her, but I knew– it’s not really the dress– it’s her; her voice, presence, energy, spirit. She is what/who makes the dress look great.  So here’s my January 2012 toast to music and songs, the Beatles and young Jewish women.  Enjoy.

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