jacktellslies: (this machine)
I'd assumed that I was the first of my family to see Iceland. But apparently my grandparents were married while my grandfather, the naval captain, was on shore leave. He thought he had a month during which his time was his own, but the day after the wedding he was told that he had a day to get to port before being shipped back to the American military base near Reykjavik, where he lived for some time. He laughs when he speaks of it now. But how immensely frustrating it must have been! I stood at the bay for a day, once, waiting. Strange, that I wasn't the first to do so. They lived that way for most of their young lives: he was on a submarine, the location of which was blacked out by some military censor in his letters. She was on some tropical island or another, raising five babies alone.

My mother drove south yesterday, but blind, deaf, and barely conscious, my grandmother didn't know she was there.

She died at five o'clock this morning. My grandfather was asleep in the apartment of the assisted living home to which they'd recently moved. She was in the nursing home wing where they'd placed her. An aunt and an uncle were there with her. Surrounded by children again, and no husband.

I'm saddened by the idea, and angry on behalf of both of them. Her deafness has been swelling since I was young, but she could always hear his voice. It was the one that could always make it through. I keep asking my mother how he is doing. She says he's fine, but won't say more than that. What kind of bullshit is fine? What does that mean?

They were married for seventy years or more. Her father was reasonably well off and Catholic, and he was a Jew, poor, the son of a suicide and an orphan. They were rarely in the same country. But they wanted each other. The last I heard on the matter, they continued sleeping together regularly into their eighties, sometimes on my grandfather's boat on the river that ran through the town where they were married. Not a bad life, then, was it?
jacktellslies: (this machine)
I very recently inherited my family's copy of the original Square Foot Garden. I remember that garden, three plots planted diagonally, directly in the middle of my family's back yard. I remember eating snap peas and running into tomato plants in an attempted backwards dash across the yard. I was probably about five. I knew that my family had done this, and that they were fairly good at it. I knew that my father had planted all of the trees in that yard when he was young, a good many, and that several of them grew diseased and died at the same time that he did. But as I turn through the book, I find things. There are notes and lists in my grandmother's hand. There is a card written by my father bearing the address of the site where I just went to pick up free compost from the city. And they were growing organic! I had no idea. It all seems a bit unlike the things in which they were interested when I was older. So it's interesting to start digging and find my family already there. I'll dig up their bones and stake my tomatoes on them.
jacktellslies: (circusfolk)
I tend to resist the manner in which gender is made so central to all discussions about infants and the yet-to-be-born. I understand why, however. How frustrating to find that someone you don't know at all has become central to your life! One cannot help but turn to divination for some sense of them. The deck of cards required to adequately describe a real person, a real life, would be nearly infinite. The form of divination actually used, however, is more imperfect by far than most such systems. Unless something is wrong, the ultrasound will reveal only one detail out of only two possibilities. It ignores completely the subtle gradients possible in human gender, let alone any real glimpse of a person. It would be more useful in guessing at their temperament to know that the child will come to adore the sound of a lone violin more than any other sound, or that they'll one day break their clavicle but attempt to ignore it for a week before seeing a doctor, or that they'll show a gift for woodworking. Fortunately, the mother instinctively knows more about them than whether they sport a cock already, or will have to consider buying one as a freshman in college, without the intervention of flawed technology. My niece Allyson, for example, craved cheese from the moment that she was conceived. When my mother was pregnant with me, she was overcome with an irresistible urge to watch nature documentaries. And my sister's newest little home brew seems to quite like spicy food.

That said: it's a girl! I won't bother to deny my joy and relief at the news; Ally is thrilled to have a little sister on the way. Her name is Naomi Patricia Robbins, family names both. Unless she decides to meet us a bit early, she'll be born in June.
jacktellslies: (circusfolk)
The Second Ultrasound!

I just received this as a text message sent to my mobile. As with last time, there was a bit of screaming.

Apparently every time I do this, several people believe that a horrible, hellish miracle has occurred and I've managed to get pregnant. It most definitively is not mine. It's my sister's; it's been brewing in the opiate-soaked oasis of her womb for approximately six months.

It doesn't look quite so much like a guinea pig this time. I suppose I'll forgive the wee thing eventually. It does have little penguin feet, however. Very good. I've always wanted to start a travelling circus.


Jan. 18th, 2009 07:41 pm
jacktellslies: (bear girl)
As is true for most young homosexuals, in my misspent youth there may have been several occasions on which I took far more ecstasy than is necessary and spent the next week at the mercy of the horrible, painful serotonin withdrawal that I absolutely deserved.

Today was sort of like experiencing that process in reverse, which I'll admit is how I always wanted ecstasy to work.

Unfortunately my month of unpleasantness doesn't seem to be over. The most recent news is that my grandmother's cancer has metastasised. This is neither surprising nor really much of a change; she is very old, and she was already unwell. But this still must be heartbreaking for her and my grandfather. I watched cancer kill my father, and several other relatives besides, and that disease, more than nearly anything else on this earth, has the ability to turn me into a sobbing wreck. So I spent most of today either hiding from humanity or being horrible to my partner.

Fortunately, I had the wherewithal to know that baking was probably the answer. I made a giant batch of sugar cookies, and my lovely roommate Whitney was kind enough to make her family's brilliant almond icing. (She even taught me the recipe!) I'm not sure how I'll be doing tomorrow, but at the moment I feel better than I would have thought possible earlier today.

jacktellslies: (papa's in heaven)
Darlings, I have fantastic news. I've been sent a picture of my sister's first ultrasound. Behold!

The first ultrasound!

She is either having a guinea pig or a peanut. Either way, it's going to be adorable. I couldn't possibly be more pleased.

(That's my sister's womb! Neat!)
jacktellslies: (crow)
Thus far I have two favourite markets in town that specialize in local foods. One is the new Pumpkin Market at 17th and South, and the other is a fantastic stand at the Reading Terminal Market. It was at that stall that I found something I'd been hoping to come across: sea salt. Coming from Maine it isn't local, but it is regional, and it's delicious. I prefer a dirtier sea salt; I want a bit of ocean still in the stuff. And this is perfect.

While searching for a pair of scissors so that I can patch a hole in the pocket of a favourite pair of trousers, I found my father's keys. They've always seemed such tender objects. My love of keys, which I consider a personal emblem of sorts, began with his. Few things are so mundane whilst being also so mysterious. Keys are riddles. They are useless without knowledge, without possessing the secret of the location of their matching lock. I always thought he had so many of them when I was young, and I only knew what two of them were for other than a vague impression that they likely had something to do with his job. I just counted: eleven, which is the same number of keys I carry now. Most of mine are antiques, decorative or charmed things. His are, and always had been, on a good leather strap. I momentarily considered using it, but it would kill me if it were somehow lost. I haven't yet found the scissors, and I'm beginning to doubt that I currently own a pair.

While visiting family earlier in the month, I told my grandfather about my short visit to Germany. I spent a day in a town near a small airport outside of Frankfurt. On my brief explorations I was struck by how much the place looked like the town in which my grandparents lived until quite recently, the town from which all branches of my mother's family hail. He agreed that it was likely that so many Germans settled there because the land seemed familiar. And he told me of one of my oldest remembered ancestors: he was the only Jew for miles, my grandfather explained with a hint of sympathetic laughter, and a rag and bone man. He was literate in both German and English, and this was rare enough that he got extra work translating letters and other documents that were sent between the continents.
jacktellslies: (circusfolk)
Written 30/7/08

Before I left, I was told that my grandmother will pray for me every day while I'm gone, and that she knows that I am capable.

And every day thus far, there has been a moment where things seemed rather close to going wrong. Nothing devastating or dangerous, mind. As I keep reminding myself, the worst case scenario is that I have to take a nice walk in Ireland until I've sorted things or rearranged my plans a bit. (Oh no. Not that.) Thus far these adventures in getting from one place to another feel more like extremely rewarding little puzzles than frustrations. But every day there is a moment where I didn't know how to get where I have to go, or where it seemed that a bus I needed would be missed, or didn't exist at all. And every time I've guessed, made a turn on a whim, and found the house for which I was looking right there in front of me. I find the station in less time that it would have taken me to get there had I known where I was going, and somehow manage to climb onto the bus at the very last possible moment. Serendipity. I've always been good for that, but not half this often. I thank my grandmother for it every time.
jacktellslies: (papa's in heaven)
My great-aunt died quite recently. She'd had a few bad falls. We're all a bit unclear on details, but word is coming through my grandfather, her brother, the naval captain. His missives, even his phone conversations, are short as telegrams to this day. I doubt one could get information from the man with hooks.

My great-aunt was smart, and well educated, and moved to the city on her own to get a man's job in advertising well before one did such things. She was remarkably successful. The University of Pittsburgh attempted to name a building after her, but she was too modest for it. Feminist organisations liked to have dinners in her honour. She lived in a goblin's lair on the side of a mountain with her brother, a small and dark place made of dust and spider webs and a hundred menorahs and countless old books held in cases behind glass. They fed me strange food when I went to visit. She mailed me a book, her preferred biography of Shakespeare. There was a wink in it, like she recognised something in me. I'll toast to intelligence, then, to seeking out strange cities on our own.

My grandmother and grandfather are leaving their old house, moving to a community near Washington DC and more of the family. That house was built by my grandmother's grandfather with his hands, an old Victorian thing in a small town in Western Pennsylvania. There are French doors, crystal doorknobs, the china and fine silver that had been given as wedding gifts. There are albums of antique photography, serious but confused bearded immigrants and children in frocks blinking into time. (They don't look much like me. I got my father's blood.) There are fantastic books, bound in leather and bearing some relative's initials. The house is filled with strange artefacts of scattered points in time and space. Several generations and extensive travels are represented. There are large porcelain elephants from Vietnam, rubbings of dancing women with exposed breasts from temples in Thailand, funny German clocks, hideous drinking glasses from the sixties. As a child I believed the jetsam to represent some single zeitgeist. The basement is an old coal cellar. The floors aren't paved, and the ceiling beams are entire halves of trees, the bark still on them. Bits of my family were born and died in the bedrooms. I've always thought the place felt haunted. The garage in the back was the old barn, still filled with impossibly old tools and children's sleds. There are secrets scattered and forgotten in the hay loft: suicides and trysts.

My mother and aunts and uncles are there now, helping to pack. I asked them not to scavenge for me, but that if any of the old books were going to be left or thrown away, I'd very much like to have them. I suppose I'll never see that house or that town again. It was the centre of an otherwise scattered family.

When my great-grandfather died residents of the entire town and surrounding areas marched in his funeral procession. I'm told there were hundreds of them. He was thought to be a great man: not the town's founder, but in many ways its heart. The ghosts of that march walk past the house again now, I'm sure of it.
jacktellslies: (dandy)
It came to my attention on Saint Patrick's Day that my grandmother and some of my aunts and uncles were under the impression that I don't drink. As they've seen me do so at most family gatherings, it is apparent that their definition of abstinence ignores the consumption of three drinks or less. My dear family, I'm terribly sorry. I was not aware that you expect me to be wasted beyond reason every time we see one another. Please trust that I shan't disappoint you again.

My uncle is interested in genealogy. He recently discovered our oldest known ancestors, a family of five siblings living in the South during the Civil War. There was a daughter and four sons, none of whom were mentioned in military records on either side. He couldn't imagine why, until he discovered that all four of the men were deaf. They must have had fascinating lives; I believe sign languages and schools for the deaf existed by that time, but I tend to assume that such things weren't always particularly accessible to the lower classes. But with four of them, I wonder if they created their own language.

It's unrelated, but my own hearing is fairly bad. I get by just fine, but not without worrying that I'm inconveniencing my acquaintances with the frequency with which I'm forced to ask them to repeat themselves. When on my counter, I repeat my customer's requests back to them as a standard practice. It works well, as it isn't particularly obtrusive or even unexpected, and "half a pound" and "have a pound" do sound a great deal alike, however good your hearing might be. Unfortunately, a larger percentage of my customers than one would expect are British. Really, there are a good number of them. As it happens, they pronounce turbot, which is sort of like a buttery flounder, more like it is spelled, the second syllable rhyming with the second in robot, whereas the Americans I know pronounce it more like ter-bow. It may also be worth noting that the American tendency to be a bit loud has its advantages, such as in instances when I'm actually trying to hear what they say. So, on occasion, someone asks me for a fillet and I haven't heard a word they've said. If they have an accent of any kind, I'm unaware of it. In such cases I'm not repeating their request half as much as I'm interpreting the direction of their gaze, reading small gestures, or simply using my amazing psychic powers to venture a guess. "Turbot?" I ask. The icy rage with which they articulate the word when they repeat it again, as if I'd been trying to correct them, is entirely unexpected, if deeply familiar. I'm always so surprised by it that this is the last remaining scenario in which I can't quickly disarm (if not permanently disable) a rude customer. Neither, "I promise that I'm more sorry than you can possibly understand for having learned to speak on this side of the ocean, but please don't hurt me?" or a more likely, "Bitch, please!" ever find their way out of my mouth. It's fast becoming one of the reasons I'm so looking forward to leaving this place for a bit: if I'm going to continue losing this particular battle, could I at least be spared the humiliation of losing it on home ground?
jacktellslies: (opium den)
I asked my young niece an important question today: "Do you know what a nerd is?"

She didn't.

"Nerds are smart kids, like us. Like your mommy and Ken and me. Do you want to be a nerd too?"

"Um. Yes."

"That's probably for the best. I don't think you were going to have much of a choice."

Then I taught her to fist pound. And then she told me that she thinks drag queens are funny.
jacktellslies: (rasputin)
I consider myself a patron in the education of my young niece. She was already trained in piracy and etiquette, and at four she is a poet in cloth. In countless nations, the season's fashion is based only on her whims. But she can now identify fairy rings and appreciates stretched ear lobes. We also have plans to ride elephants together. We'll wear shell and horn in our ears, and black boots, which are a sort of family crest, and together we'll collect wonders and survey the empire.
jacktellslies: (dandy)
My Dearest Allyson Rose,

Congratulations on achieving this, your most prestigious accomplishment to date: turning four! I can assure you that no one in all of human history has ever done a better job of it. Your feat will be remembered in all nations across the ages. I adore you, and eternally I will be,

Your Uncle Jack, Earl of Grey
jacktellslies: (papa's in heaven)
My grandparents are to be feared and admired. The ambulance clearly hadn't been informed; it swallowed my grandmother up just after Christmas dinner. But then, she was looking too delicate, small. Perhaps it thought her a wren and was only guilty of being a few hours early. I'm told that she'll survive, but she is in pain, and so are my grandfather, my mother, my aunts and uncles. Marriage is also to be feared, although occasionally it can be admired, too. My sister, ill informed as the medics, agreed to consider it.
jacktellslies: (this machine)
A Japanese soldier had played under the blossoms of a cherry tree in the Aprils of his childhood. He sat under them in the Aprils when, as luck or fate or the tree would have it, he was on leave. He grew old. His wife (he'd married) and his children (he'd had some) and all of his family died, and he lived. And then when the tree died, he felt it as a wound, and as an order. The people of the village where he lived planted a new tree. He pretended to be happy, for them. But in the winter he went to his dead tree and kneeled on a white cloth he'd placed on the ground, and sliced open his belly with his sword. In the death poem he left, he begged the tree to bloom once more, for he was dying for it. His blood soaked the cloth, and the earth, and the roots. He became the tree, and the tree had always been him. They bloom every year on the day of his death, not heeding the winter.

My aunt, whom I love, has a dear friend who has breast cancer but does not have medical insurance. No one really expects her to live. They go to the ocean every winter. They'll do it this year. They won't the next.

I've always wanted to be elderly. I already dress like an old man. But bodies die before we're done living in them, and I hate it. And I am afraid of watching friends hurt far more than I fear hurting.

If a woman was scorned in Japan, she'd dress for battle in the middle of the night, wearing three candles in her hair, a mirror around her neck. She'd go to the woods. She'd nail a doll bearing her lover's name to a cherry tree, telling the gods and the trees to kill the boy. Every night they didn't she'd hammer another nail into the doll, into the tree, and, there being more men than cherry trees in Japan, the gods and the trees would oblige.
jacktellslies: (execution)
The city has been covered in snowflakes since mid fall. They are sprayed on the windows of every coffee chain. Big electric ones poke out from behind the leaves that still cover the trees around City Hall. The leaves aren't even the brown, defeated ones that simply lack the energy to loosen their grip. They're the golden and red sort, glorious and dying but not dead. I don't mind discussing Christmas early, but forcing the association with winter before it is in any way relevant seems almost schizophrenic.

But it's December now, apparently. I've been walking the city in summer clothes. I've seen bulbs coming up, new grass of the colour one only sees on the first days of spring. I'm not exactly the sort to insist too strongly upon any particular theory on shifts in climate, but I can tell when something isn't right.

Flowers out of season mean trouble without reason: my mother hasn't a great many aphorisms, but she does have a few favourite superstitions. And, when my mother believes something, I'm inclined to trust her, even if a good deal of her wisdom finds its origin in rock songs.

Where is the cold, and the dark? Where is the sleeping?
jacktellslies: (geroges barbier mermaid)
I went to the beach, and I learned the following:

I used to be afraid of the ocean. I am still completely destroyed by the idea of the giants and mysteries it contains, however, the idea of touching something dead and not knowing it no longer really bothers me, as I'm fairly used to it. In fact, I quite liked swimming out beyond the waves just to give the ocean and all of the things in it ample time to take their revenge if they desired it. Either they didn't, or their plot is an intricate one and they are waiting.

One can't find good seafood in New Jersey, apparently. Disappointment.

Ally likes to explain that she will get older, and that when she does she will get tall. Several other things will happen once these things occur, including her obtaining a motorcycle that is pink with skulls.

Ally also knows that all pirates are girls, and that she loves her new batman and spiderman shirts.

Parker is way too good with babies. She started talking some nonsense about wanting to have some of them, if only because so many people make such terrible parents and not wanting to waste her natural tallents. The crisis was narrowly averted when we watched March of the Penguins and decided to adopt baby penguins and raise them in a snow cone machine.

My mom is sweet. Obviously.

Mary Poppins is the most amazing film of all time. I knew this when I was a child (it and Winnie the Pooh were my favourite films) but I haven't seen it since, and I'd somehow almost forgotten. I'd like to be Bert when I grow up, please. I'll decide whether or not to include that particular accent when I'm older.


I've not been using the internet much at all. I like to read books. I like you, though. How have you been?
jacktellslies: (circusfolk)
I get angry with all of the little futures that I have lost. Things change so quickly, here.

My family graduation party is today. I adore my small family and my chosen families, but my big family gets drunk and they all say terrible things to one another. They are lovely people, and interesting people, but I dislike having panic attacks. So, I must admit, I hope that they give me lots of money for my accomplishments, please. Either way, the food will really be too good. I'm not at all sure how my mother was able to afford this.

There are things I want so badly to show you, but I don't have a camera. I've never shown you my tattoo, and there are lots of new piercings in the house and will be more quite shortly. My bedroom is the best place in the world, and in it there is a brand new painting of Tilda Swinton. Her hair is the same colour as the fall, and in it she has branches for antlers. When I haven't anywhere to go, I wake up in the morning and stay in bed, staring. Her eyes are charmed. She stares back. The print was made and given to me by Daena M. Ortego, a maskmaker and artist and goblin friend of mine who lives near New Orleans. You should go and buy everything she has ever made, and want for more.
jacktellslies: (shrine)
so. now that that is out of the way. my family is amazing. i've been so excited about spending time with them. they are funny, and generous, and kind. ally has a new rocking horse, and, as far as i've seen, nothing new that uses batteries, which is magnificent. they all liked what i gave them, and they gave me beautiful things that i needed: sheets for my bed when it is my bed again, and warm clothes, of which i haven't terribly many this winter, and tea.

my mum bought me boyclothes. my sister pointed it out to me, and she was excited about it. she didn't have to know that, or to do that. she didn't have to at all. i'd have loved and worn whatever she bought me, obviously. but it was this small, significant, perfect thing. i would do anything for my family. i suspect, and hope, that nothing will ever be more important to me than them. but i do not deserve them at all. they are so very good.

i got a bit of money, too, which is new and exciting. i have been playing with numbers. it will be enough, i think, for paying my debts, for some things for my room, for a bit of security, and for two toys: the name, and, perhaps, if i am very, very good, and if the reserve is not more than fifty dollars (which might not be the case) and if i can convince someone that a road trip to northeast pennsylvania, near elk mountain would not be unreasonable (i would, of course, offer compensation) i may try to get this beautiful, perfect, terrible thing.


jacktellslies: (Default)

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