Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Grandma Megs

On Saturday, I spoke at my grandma's funeral. It was hard, very, very hard, to stand up at the front of the beautiful, tiny church, and try to say something that made sense and meant something other than being sad. There is a somewhat irrational fear of not doing justice to someone loved, though there's no justice to be done when you're speaking to a crowd of people who knew, intimately, the person you are trying so hard to talk about. There is nothing I can say to either burnish or blot an entire lifetime of generosity and mischief and goodness.

I've always disliked eulogies whose skeletons are a bare recitation of facts. I do not love someone, mourn them, miss them because they were born on such and such day, worked at such and such job, lived in such and such place from such and such date to such and such date. I love them because of the innumerable moments in their company that are now over and impossible to retrieve.

This is what I said:

Grandma Megs
Helen Hamamura is Tiny. She is Mom. She is Grandma Megs. She is so vivid in so many moments and days and years of my life that I can almost fool myself into believing that if we turned our heads fast enough, we would see her walking towards us, steadily and sturdily, her head bent over, just a little, and on her face, a small, persistent smile.

She would sit down, cross her hands in her lap, lean back in her chair… and she would know every single one of us. She would remember everyone's name. She would know, precisely, how everyone is related to everyone else. She could tell us a thousand stories, most of which we have probably forgotten. Saying "do you remember?" to Grandma Megs was like lighting the fuse on a memory and watching it bloom out, as fresh and pungent and colorful as if she could grab your hand and take you both traveling through time.

These are some of Grandma Megs's stories:

There was the time the telephone girls sent the firetruck out and the one fireman, the chubby one who was taking a break, came running past and she shouted the address as he went by. There were the times when the neighbor brought home sea turtles and she rode the empty shells around the yard. There was the time when Uncle Glen--just a waru bozu boy then--ran up a mountain, waved a flag for her, and ran back down again. There was the time when her mother was a little girl and she slept in a horse trough, waiting for her father to come home. "I love you so much," he said, "that if I put you in my eye, no tears would come out."


Grandma Megs loved hard and often and stubbornly. Her love was magnificently ordinary, offered up in meals cooked, cakes baked, pineapples stripped of their armored skins and turned into yellow cubes for breakfast. She made slippers and blankets. She cut out recipes from newspapers and mailed them across oceans. She did not care for the radio. She collected odd remedies for cramps of the legs. A bar of soap under the covers. A piece of string tied around a toe. An onion on the table. She taught her grandchildren to catch lizards with their hands, but she was the only one fast enough to catch a fly. She smuggled scraps of interesting plants in her pockets and stuck them in pots and somehow made single wilted leaves turn into wild things worthy of a jungle.

Grandma Megs made breakfast for Grandpa Megs every morning. Eggs, rice, and tea. I can't quite describe how enormous a portion of my understanding of how love should be has been defined by the act of eggs, rice, and tea every morning. 


The more we love, the tenderer and more vulnerable we become. So, I suppose, in the end, one of the goals of our allotment of days, one of the targets at which we must aim the arrows of our lives, is to have inside ourselves a bottomless lake of potential tears.

The lake inside Grandma Megs must have been so wide and so deep that you could throw an entire world in and it would fall forever. Her lake would be pleasant, but not flashy. It would be bright, all the way down to the bottom, and filled with stories in which everyone remembers everyone else's name, in which nobody is ever forgotten, in which things remain sharp and unfaded and well-loved forever.

These are the things, or at least the two most important things, that I learned from Grandma Megs: 

Love is an ordinary thing that is worth everything in the world.

And, if you remember the stories that make up your life, they exist for your own reckoning of forever and you never really have to say goodbye.

Monday, September 17, 2012

fact: me + hitchcock

A fact, just realized and of little interest to anyone aside from me:

I have never seen a Hitchcock movie by myself. This is odd. I enjoy seeing movies by myself. I like to go and sit anonymously among retirees at early matinees. I like crushing myself beneath piles of blankets and playing something on the magical computer box far into the night.

I remember with whom I've watched all the Hitchcock movies that I've seen. This is odd. I have a terrible memory for this kind of thing.

Rope: Eric
Notorious: Eric
The Trouble With Harry: Mike
The Lady Vanishes: Jesse
Vertigo: Shan

Each of these occasions claims an unusual brightness in my head, an indelible commitment to the fluttering slivers of personal feeling that are now stuck to the edges of the films themselves. Movies, for me, usually exist apart from the circumstances of their viewing. Even the ones that seem like they should be attached, by nostalgia or repetition, to certain people and places and times drift, for the most part, in the bubble of their own universe. I would expect The Ten Commandments--a movie I've found inexplicably enjoyable since childhood, a movie that appears in my life once a year to invade my family's secularized version of a religious holiday as a sort of springtime counterpart to It's a Wonderful Life--to trail memories behind it like drooping swathes of Easter ribbons. Nope. It's just The Ten Commandments: Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, a burning bush, the Red Sea, roaring up and parted. There's not a scrap of personal experience thrown in among all the desert and idols and plagues.

It seems something about Hitchcock movies nails the memory of their viewing to the memory of the movie itself and makes me feel disinclined to watch them alone.

the Castro (Vertigo, September 2012)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

brief encounters

These lines are actual specimens. Tried in real life situations. Spectacularly unsuccessful when used on me, but, who knows? Maybe your mileage will vary.

1. Hey, baby, you're just my size.
2. You should let me take you home, darling, and make you a bubble bath.
3. Oh, honey, why you wearing all those clothes? You'd look better without them.
4. I like girls who like big books/complicated books/James Joyce/David Foster Wallace.
5. Are you looking for someone? Because I think I might be him.
6. I like girls who know their Beats. [seriously? have you noticed what decade we're in?]
7. You know what would be amazing? You. Plus, me.
8. I like that color you got on your lips. I think it'd look nice if you shared it with me.
9. What kind of Asian are you? 
10. Hot bunny! Look at your tail!

Most effective line in my experience?


Sunday, September 2, 2012

love songs

What's a love song? 

It's simple, isn't it? You're in love, and you sing a song. You're out of love, and you sing a song. It's a song about him. It's a song about her. It's song about you and the way you feel when confronted by a person who, for whatever reason, strikes a gong in your soul. It's sad. Wistful. Giddy. Obnoxious. It's the thing you play over and over when you're first in love because it makes you feel like you're drowning in something that's going to split your chest in two.

And you like it. You wish you could drown forever. You'd gulp down the ocean if it wasn't going to kill you.

It's the thing you play when your chest has split in two, over and over, because there's a wicked satisfaction in pricking a tender wound. A love song is a song about love, which is a tiny, terrifying word that, when turned inside out, explodes in every possible direction to become vast, a landscape with features both precise and smudged.

Maybe a love song can be identified like pornography. "I know it when I see it." (A handy little phrase when faced by the need to be both honest and vague... thank you, Justice Potter Stewart.)

Today, I asked friends to recommend their favorite love songs so I could build a playlist for our first rehearsal for a new Sharp & Fine project. It's a work in progress. Right now, it stands at 45 songs... Some expected, tasty old chestnuts, some ungainly oddballs. But, you know, all recognizable for what they are. 

So, I've been thinking about love songs all day, but I still haven't figured out which ones are my favorites. "Favorite" is such a dangerous word. Using it in public is like looking down the barrel of a gun. I am an indecisive chicken, and will only say that here are three love songs I like a lot:

When I was 15, I danced in a piece to this music... It blew my heart to smithereens. When I first heard it, I was beside myself, I couldn't figure out how one piece of music could make me feel so many things. I was 15 and I didn't even really know what love was, but I was convinced that, somewhere inside this piece of music,  was a large collection of evidence for how it should feel. When I was 19 and freshly away from home, I carried around a walkman with a disc of the recording featuring the Cleveland Quartet and Yo-Yo Ma. The version here is the Taneyev Quartet with Mstislav Rostropovich. 

Listening to this song makes me feel like I should be out walking late at night, down a long, black road lined with infrequent lamps, toward a bright, golden room inhabited by the person I want to see most in the world. The tune is so simple... and then his voice spreads out over it, enormously tender, in some of the most sentimental lyrics in the world.

When my friend, Heather, and I went to see The Darjeeling Limited, we left the movie theater and went directly to a record store where we each bought a copy of the soundtrack. It's one of my least regretted music purchases ever. I love this song. I listened to it to excess to clean my ears and heart out after dating a fellow whose tastes ran to blurry, electronic indie pop. The heavy drumbeats are addictive. 

Evolving Spotify playlist HERE. Incomplete, due to my inability to find everything.

Recommendation thank yous go to Hallie Hunt, Dan Wool, Amis Maldonado, Stella Stastny, Amber Hsu, Ali Trotta, Clare Mallaney, Marc Jacobs, Penelope Barcelo, Neil Gaiman, LizAnne Roman, Sarah Miller, Lauren Naturale, Mari Aizawa, Arolyn Williams, Lauren Gallagher, Kelvin Vu, Kat Howard, Rebecca Howard, Noam Rosen, Gabrielle Zucker, Heather McCalden, and Shannon Leypoldt.