Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On Blogging

I was into blogging and then decided that the mommy/academic blog had become a self-indulgent cliché.  Women in their mid 40’s trying and mostly failing to get lots of scholarship done with quirky kids and regressive Universities breathing down their neck are a dime a dozen in my world.  Kids are naturally precocious and hilarious; if you listen and take a few juicy quotations, it makes for good writing. If only the dead people I’m actually paid to write about were so talkative. Where are you castrati? Come on Queen Christina just spek to me through a ouije board and tell me what you were thinking when you hired that weird castrato and I admit it I do want to know who you slept with so please share that too…The university as an institution now seems ridiculous to many and mothering has become a word. Can you imagine any of our grandmothers spending this much time talking about mothering? Mine was too busy hanging out with leather designers, and I gather that my great grandmother had to make gefilta fish swim in the bathtub. Neither of them had time to worry about whether the apples they tossed at their kids were locally grown or not.  And they definitely did not email the kids teachers to discuss transition issues.
If the women in my little running group took our emails that combine University gossip with the antics of our children and slapped them into book form we might be able to make a best seller. Of course we’d get fired,  infuriate everyone we know, and find ourselves sent out to an ice rock by our kids before any of us turn 50.  Ms. Mentor is practically old school, and we all have dozens of unwritten emails. “Dear Sexist Colleague, thanks so much for mansplaining the piece of music that was, in fact, the subject of my first book.”  “Dear Entitled Undergraduate, thanks for making me aware of your very very busy day and I’m sorry that your greek rush, intramural sports, and founding of an NGO got in the way of coming to class or office hours, but if you think there was electric guitar in a Bach cantata we really do have a problem here.”   Husbands are good fodder for blogs but of course they don’t tend to like that. My husband anyway is better than most; he’s pretty clueless but he knows it and doesn’t pretend to be a sensitive new age guy. Plus he puts up with all kinds of indignities from me including being known in some spaces as “Miss Bonnie’s husband”
Even the purely academic blog seems overdone.  Give us hip early modernists a current event, and we can find a pre-enlightenment parallel or relevance. Those of us who went through grad school in the 1980’s and later learned the beauty of the new historicism anecdote understand the importance of taking the seemingly archaic and making it new. A little prince was born today and it buzzed on iPhones.  This is the disembodied post-modern echo of the fabulous fire words that marked the birth of even minor royalty in early modern Europe. The ghost of Princess Diana rendered in photos on every cable chanel reminds me of the glow of the gods rendered in thousands of candles every time someone fancy emerged from some poor woman who had to labor before the world.  And at graduation, as hundreds of gorgeous UVa female graduates traipsed across the rainy lawn in cork platform shoes, all I could think was they looked just like the shoes worn by Venetian courtesans and patricians.  Did the richer sorority girls wear higher heals? Do the shoes reclaim an erotic creativity?
Despite all of this I’m back to the blog. This fall I will be co-teaching with the fabulous Vanessa Ochs a cross college interdisciplinary seminar on writing.  The course focuses on writing for the public about the public. Our seminar starts with blogs.  Our theory is that we know that our grad students spend a good deal of their time writing and reading blogs, and we know that blogging is in the future for many of their classes.  So we might as well all do it well.  And if I’m going to make my students do a blog I better rejuvenate mine. And like just about everything else about being 40+, something I can happily admit is that, “Yup, I’m a cliché…”  So this week, when I’ve shipped my eldest children off to a Waldorf-inspired camp where they drink hemp milk and feed pigs, seemed like as good a time as any to start it back up. My youngest child, whose reaction to the place was “what the hell is this place” and I are at camp Aunt Pami (my sister) for the week. She is making me green smoothies, which she promises will change my life and giving me lots of time to write.  I’m hoping she’ll teach Eli to swim and get him to stop shooting.  Ideally, I’ll also finish a long overdue article on sound in early modern Italy. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


We buried my grandfather yesterday to the tune of a New Orleans jazz band and three generations of loved one.  Thanks to my uncle we did just about everything he would have wanted; even playing a tune basically about syphalis at an Orthadox Jewish guy's funeral.  We did not as he requested bury him butt up.  And he will I think come back to haunt us for that...  Below is the text of what I said...  My uncles, cousin, children and niece also spoke.  It was a celebration of him and all of us including  the many cousins and lifelong friends who were there with us.

My grandfather has been threatening to die for 45 years.  He supposedly imagined my mother’s pregnancy with me as a death knell since no one in his family had ever lived to see a grandchild.  He made it through five grandchildren and ten great grand children. For at least the last 20 years he’s been reminding us all that he could die any second. He was the last of his generation.  Mom, Uncle Michael, Uncle Earl, Dad, Aunt Lynn, Aunt Randy, you are the grandparents now and ladies we the five granddauhters are the parents.
Beau was not easy to love.  But he was fun one of a kind. As children we dragged him out of bed at 11 so he could start seeing patients. He grunted and told us to go away.  He often threw back a stiff drink before heading out to dinner with his family. He painted lovely watercolors for years and then switched to painting naked people whom he gave to all his family members.  He yelled at me for not putting his naked ladies on my wall. In his 80’s we feared he’d get arrested for stalking as he sat in Central Park drawing women.  He was creative and curious. He read more of my scholarship than almost anyone else and kept my books in a ziplock bag by his perch. He shared hair dye with my grandmother and once made my sister wait an hour while he trimmed it before he would walk across the street to the diner with her.  He flicked my sister’s bra and taught her to do judo—not me. He loved women and his flirtation bordered on harassment. He told terrible jokes, most of them inappropriate.  He had a wicked temper and let it rip with loved ones of all ages, including my nephew who didn’t talk to old people for a year. I saw him three weeks ago and did not that he knew me until he told my mom the next day she should really take me to the theater because I might like it. It was past time for him to die.
Beau loved his work more than anyone I know and was deeply disappointed that no one in his family wanted to pursue medicine. He was a brilliant diagnostician. In the early 80’s before AIDS  became a big story he warned and then diagnosed his nephew Jonathan, saying that something strange was happening to gay men and that he should be careful.  Jonathan died of AIDS in 1986.  He knew that every other doctor was wrong and unfit to care for anyone even remotely related to him. At the birth of each of my three children he did a stealth examination of them, For the last few years we have all missed having that diagnostic ability around; not to mention the prescription pad.  At least one granddaughter got a birth control prescription from him. Given the tenuous relationship between my mother’s birthday and my grandparents’ wedding he could hardly object. But I’ve kept with me one of his mantras that one must always know the difference between a medical inconvenience and a medical crisis.  This is the key to sanity as a parent.
He had a wild imagination; we all went fishing in the bathtub and like my six year old son he regularly fought Vikings.  We were told that we were related to Eljah the Vilna Gaon—the genius of Vilna. And supposedly the birthmark on my check reflected our Spanish ancestor. He drew, painted, and made sculpture for most of his life. He always had a sketch book and we loved to watch him draw. My children did too. He tried to teach us al to draw saying that what you do, you need to draw. Jonathan wants to go to the met today because of a book Beau gave him called warriors and something.  EVERY OBJECT IS IN THE MET. One of his many dying wishes was for Rebecca to have art lessons she did it many times.
Beau loved a good fight and took special pleasure in baiting his granddaughters with racist and sexist remarks. And we all took the bait; sometimes crying or storming out.  Those fights might have been one way he showed love.  He spent the bulk of his career serving the Harlem community. His patients loved him and stuck with him long after he could really hear what they were saying; hopefully he mostly referred out. We had an exciting Passover seder once where we saw him encounter a real racist.  It was ugly.  And he was convinced that his wife, daughter, and five granddaughters were brilliant and more brilliant than most men he knew.
He and my grandmother had a whirlwind romance and the pictures of them in their 20’s are truly breathtaking. He loved her until the day she died and when he spoke at her funeral that was clearer than ever. They were the cool parents, the cool aunt and uncle and then the cool grandparents.  My kids called them Mammy/Beau as in one person. But this was no smooth marriage.  They worked, fought, and played hard, and about five years ago my grandmother called up to say she’d had enough. She stuck it out… They could not have been more different.  My grandmother loved parties, people, music and theater.  He was a misanthrope who cared deeply for humanity.  They did their own thing long before that was fashionable.  He took art classes, and she hung out with cabaret singers.  She woke up super early, and he ate breakfast while everyone else had lunch.
Family mattered more than almost anything else to Beau.  It thrilled him when Stephanie developed a connection to his brother Stanley.  This, despite the fact that I could never keep track of which family members he was or was not talking to. He loved his grandchildren and loved that they all had children.  I showed him a picture of Maggie’s baby Sabine a day after she was born, and he totally tuned in and knew exactly what it was. The baby looks just like him.  And he wanted us all to be close.  He told me to call my cousins and kept me apprised of their doings.  He said we needed a relationship because he wouldn’t be around to connect us forever.  He was right: there will be no more grandparent birthdays, no more weddings, no more rushing to the city to see one or the other of them before they die.  It’s up to us now.  
My uncle, who delivered a twenty minute toast at his daughter’s wedding, reminded me to keep this short.  But I want to take an extra minute to say something about the next generation of grandparents. Thanks to my grandparents’ and parents’ precocious reproducing I remember my uncles in their twenties and my grandparents in their fifties and I had them all to myself for a few years. Your parents were crazy and sometimes hard but they obviously did some things right.  They fostered in you a closeness that my sister and I grew up emulating and that I hope my children have into adulthood. They encouraged connection among all of the misbucha; connections that were some times claustrophobic but that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Some of my earliest memories are with my uncles and aunt Lynn and aunt Randy.  My grandmother loved to tell the story of her pushing my pram down the street and my uncles each holding one hand.  I have no idea if it’s true but I do know that as a little girl Uncle Earl used to buy me long dresses and take me out to dinners where he told me about his court cases.. His apartment and our morning coffees were sanity savers in my 20's and 30s.  Uncle Michael with his fro pushed me on the swings and played with my dolls.  He and Aunt Lyn were the kind of Uncle and Aunt who just played whatever you were playing. When I started running cross country he ran with me everywhere we went and he lets me drive his vehicles!  I’m going to guess that in this my uncles and parents modeled their parents.  You are all grandparents now and it looks like our kids are going to have pretty fantastic grandparents too.