Wednesday, August 22, 2012

a story ("the telescope")

It's funny. A terrible thing happens and I find myself twiddling my thumbs. There's so much waiting involved when someone you love dies and you are not there. We wait for conference calls to discuss autopsies and the catering of a funeral. We wait to hear from the church on whether the chosen day is taken by a wedding or a baptism. We wait to talk to an airline about whether a Christmas holiday, booked just last week, can be exchanged for a September funeral.

I wait for impact. It usually hits in the night. Days are long and guiltily empty. I read Anthony Lane's film reviews like they're breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Things strike me as inappropriately hilarious.

(The island of Kauai, my uncle tells me, does not have its own coroner. The coroner flies in on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Otherwise, there's a part-time assistant coroner. I can't stop thinking about this hapless character. I imagine a weekly television comedy based on--his? her?--bumbled adventures, a sloppy procedural interrupted by the irresistibly irritating coroner proper, swooping in on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays.)

I dig in the boxes under my bed. I find old stories.

"The Telescope" is the only story of mine that my grandma ever read (apart from the books I used to make out of stapled-together pieces of paper with marker illustrations bleeding through all the pages and stories about talking animals in bland childhood scrawl). She told me that it was strange and that she was proud.

It was originally published in 2010 in Sybil's Garage. I ran across the file this morning while looking for things to delete and I thought it might be nice to put it up. So, I did. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

a goodbye

Yesterday afternoon, my grandma died.

She was the last of mine and I loved her. It happened so quickly, so out of the blue. We are characters in a cartoon and the earth has dropped out from under us, leaving us to whirl our little legs in frantic circles.

This is the second storm of my summer, and I'm tempted to say that, as of this afternoon, I have no more tears. I have used them up, squandered them on nighttime sobbing. I have run dry. These are untrue statements, lies as bald as an egg and as easy to break apart. Something could happen to someone I love tomorrow and the tears would be there, like those magic trick cups that are full again as soon as you think you've set them down, empty.

The more we love, the tenderer and more vulnerable we become. So, I suppose, in the end, that 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 tears.

Grandma Megs loved hard and often and stubbornly. Her love was magnificently ordinary, offered up in meals cooked, cakes baked, pineapples stripped of their armor and turned into yellow cubes waiting in a plastic dish. She made slippers and blankets. She cut out recipes from newspapers and mailed them across oceans. She did not care for music. She liked dance, if she loved the people dancing. If she escaped drowsiness during a show, that show could be deemed excellent and entertaining, crowned with praise that claimed ignorance, but somehow flew straight for the black-and-white heart of the subject. She collected odd remedies for cramps of the legs (a bar of soap in a bed, an onion on a nightstand, a piece of string tied carefully around a toe). She taught her grandchildren to catch lizards with their hands. She was the only one fast enough to catch a fly. She smuggled scraps of exotic plants in her pockets and stuck them in pots and somehow made single wilted leaves turn into jungles that consumed tame yards for breakfast.

She remembered everyone's name. She remembered how everyone was related to everyone else. She had a thousand stories, all fresh and precise, drawn straight from the day they happened as clearly as if she had traveled in time. There was the time the telephone girls sent the firetruck out and the one fireman, the chubby one who had been taking a break (she told me his name; I can't remember it), came running past and she shouted the address as he went by. There was the time a boy drowned, clinging to a rock at the bottom of the water. 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."). There was the time she went to lunch with her friend and her friend didn't know that bolognese sauce contained the same kind of meat that you find in a hamburger.

The lake inside my grandma must have been so wide and deep that you could throw an entire world in and it would fall forever. Her lake would be pleasant, but not flashy or picturesque. Bright, at any depth, and filled with fish that tell stories in which everyone remembers everyone's name, in which nobody is ever forgotten, in which things remain as sharp and unfaded as I wish all good things would.

Helen Hamamura (Grandma Megs) with Kylie Hamamura
California, summer 2012

Saturday, August 11, 2012

serial bingeing

I have fallen out of the habit of consuming television shows as they are meant to be consumed. Once a week, at that certain hour, a story broken up by cliffhangers (either large or small, elegant or crude) whose bite fades over the intervening days, only to be renewed at the end of the next episode. I love the idea of serialization, of that added layer of experience brought on by forced patience and delayed gratification of the piercing lust for what happens next.

But I don't watch real TV anymore. I've abandoned the schedule that grants certain nights of the week a glow of anticipation. I binge. I go for months without watching much of anything and then am struck with the raging desire to watch all 251 episodes of M*A*S*H, or every episode of Psych that the internet has to offer (79, according to Netflix. I know because I just ran up against the end of the 79th episode yesterday.).

It becomes less about what happens next when I watch episode after episode after episode. The importance of the story fades, and my consumption becomes more of an exercise in spending time in another world. I want to hang out. Drown reality. Murder time. Wallow in a place where I like the people and am fond of the scenery. My favorites seem to be the ones in which the citizens are reliable in their vividness. You know them as you would like to know real people, but so often don't. Real people, with their hidden switchbacks and closed doors and endless stretches of landscapes you can't possibly imagine, are mostly difficult to pin down to the constrains of believable character.

[an aside: fictional people can, I think, also be real. It's going the other way that gets dodgy.]

I like knowing that Hawkeye Pierce will always flirt, drink to excess, lie shamelessly, and have a heart of gold. I like dawdling in a universe where the Doctor will always save the world. I like watching an unlikely series of events plague a hotel and I like knowing that in a few seconds, more or less, I will hear Basil Fawlty scream.

Everything becomes predictable when you smash a long enough arc into a short enough time. It doesn't matter what small tragedy or shock the writers detonate in this or that storyline because I know that my heroes and heroines and their universe in general will still be recognizably the ones that made me watch in the first place.

It's sad, really. (the mild kind of sad, non-life changing and really nothing to be concerned about unless you're like me and have had an excess of free hours in recent history to think about shallow pleasures) The last time I remember the particular concern and anticipation and utter, but not unbelievable, surprise that comes along with good serialized fiction was when I picked up the second issue of Neil Gaiman's 1602 at an actual comic shop and I was in such a frenzy to know what happened next that I sat down on the curb and read the entire thing while the sun burnt the back of my neck.

Since then, it's all been bingeing.
This past week, I wrote a piece about music and music shows for Fantasy Matters. It's HERE.