Saturday, December 27, 2008


U.S Marine Club

Outside a tavern


Dad at Dunkin' Donuts

Money, of course, is tighter than ever. The whole family moved in together to help make ends meet. The result = Donna and Daneal both leaving and no longer speaking to my mom and dad. Daneal is also proudly pregnant. Neither have working phones or e-mails so I didn’t see them at all this time. My mother sighs about the situation then suggests the title for the “October Country” sequel should be called “It never fuckin’ ends.”

Chris is back home and got his GED after years of struggling with the test. He came into our room, all sincere and twitchy, to tell us how he felt about the film. He said that seeing my mom cry because he’d gone to jail “…just fuckin’ killed me. I knew how they felt when I got out, but to see it, how it hurt them, that just slayed me. After all that, I’m here with them now. They gave me a key. Nobody’s ever had trust in me like that. I kept thinking about it and helped me to keep working and get my GED.”


Isaiah with cellphone self-portrait

I also have a new foster brother named Isaiah – a sweet kid who put himself in foster care to escape his family situation and is now in community college. It meets all my expectations of family strangeness to come home to the would-be-gangster white kid and the soft-spoken black guy both calling my parents mom and dad. Upstairs Chris stomps and mouths along with thick, vulgar rap. In his room, Isaiah cranks Christian pop and contemporary gospel, crooning along fervently. Not since we lived south have I heard anyone raising their voice to Jesus in our home – even then it was a drunken uncle singing along with George Jones’ cover of “Walk with me Jesus.”

Photo of Isaiah's mom in his room

The house goes quiet after midnight. The music and multiple TV’s switch off. Snow muffles outside noise. My mother’s plush animals, hard faced Victorian dolls, and far, far too many Father Christmas figures watch over the living room. Black enamel eyes catch the blinking lights of the Christmas tree. Through the window I can see the luminous inflatable bear on the neighbors’ porch. The rotund bear doesn’t face the street but smiles into the neighbors’ living room window with immutable, insipid cheer. My mother tells us, “She just lost her son. He was overweight and didn’t breathe well. He had some kind of other problems, you know…mental. In summer he’d sit on the porch, but this year we didn’t see much of him. It’s only been a month….” During daytime bear lies in a deflated puddle of itself, rising, filling with air and light as darkness comes on.

We gave the family money for Christmas, not large amounts at all, but enough to help at this time of year. My parents were subdued in their thanks. Their awkwardness was the measurement of their appreciation. Soon though, they were talking about the film and how weird it was that strangers knew about their lives, but that they were proud of the story being told.

Desi, true to form, jumped about doing money spell-casting moves from her favorite Japanese cartoons.

At Denise’s house the shades were down. She looked pale, moved slow, but seemed happy. When we gave her the gift, she wept.

Despite memories of food stamps, trailer parks, Salvation Army clothes, worried Christmas mornings; despite making the film about life upstate – my own life has come so far and is so full of comfort that I’d forgotten what money can mean. Getting money when it is badly needed gives bodily relief, like food or warmth. You feel it right in your blood. On our first day visiting my mother paid for the heat oil with a tight face that brought a host of anxious memories back to me. Thanks to all of our participation in the film the damn oil bill is paid till spring.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Snowing in SoHo


All aboard the Empire Builder. With snow flying outside the windows, obscuring the landscape, the train seemed to have some of the smoke, blur, and bluster of the steam engine era.

These days even Walmart is too expensive. My mother shops at non name brand stores.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Listening To Music Listen...

After working with both of them, Neva and Gannet have shown me in a very unique way that listening, while centered within the ears, is actually a full body interaction with sound/vibration. Their entire skin is a taut drum that bounces with each sound wave. Their hands seem to be both reaching for the sound and releasing it as it moves through them. Neva's hand raises, opens and closes, as if talking or pinching. It's a dancers move. Meanwhile her eyes close or roll up, almost gone white, as if to shut off the visual world –perhaps exactly that. Gannet's hands and arms flutter, taking a gawky, exuberant flight with the sounds he adores -musical, mechanical, both. I've never seen a more pure, wild relationship to sound.

I've been trying for years to write about the Mowat-Wilson Syndrome kids and how music affects them. But I can't get past the vibrating surface phenomenon. Here however is a fragment from Jean-Luc Nancy's "How Music Listens to Itself" that struck me: "... if the term "entendre"(hear/understand) had to signify only sonorous perception deprived of form, as soon as signals from everyday life are no longer perceived, is it possible that listening can go beyond and immediate apprehension of emotional impulses, movements, and resonances confusedly dependent on acquired habits regarding rhythm and tonality (speed or slowness, major and minor modes...)?"


Again Jean-Luc Nancy:

"Music is the art of the hope of resonance: a sense that does not make sense except because of its resounding in itself...That is to say, the opening of the world in resonance, a world taken away from the arrangements of objects and subjects, back to it's own amplitude and making sense or else having its truth only in the affirmation that modulates this amplitude."

I see that affirmation, the reflection of music listening to itself, in and through the hands, arms, body, and bone flutter that Gannet and Neva share as the music begins.

Snow Day

I woke to the sound of the wind whistling over the new house. Beneath this was a silence I remembered from waking up on 4th grade school mornings, knowing it had snowed and almost certain, by the thick, muffling quiet, that school would be closed. This morning I opened the blinds above the bed and lost myself in spinning flakes and thought of winters back East.

For a while we all lived in my grandparents’ house. 3 generations in a hand built, 3 bedroom home. Each winter we put plastic covering over the windows to keep out drafts. Translucent but not transparent, the plastic reduced the world beyond to a milky blur. The house creaked and the plastic rippled constantly – ship sounds. When we couldn’t afford fuel, we heated the rooms with portable kerosene heaters. We were dizzy and headachy most of the time. Only the picture window in the front room was uncovered. It looked out to the ash woods across the road and two birch trees that grew in the front yard. When the snow fell really heavily the birches dissappeared -only the dark knots on their bark were visible, like black eyes hanging in white.

A storm came in one night, dropping feet snow. On the TV, the weatherman split into two, sometimes three blurry copies of himself as the wind spun the antennae on the roof. My grandfather had a heart attack that night. Using phone and CB radio, we called neighbors to help dig out the 20-yard drive to the house so the ambulance could get in. They arrived on snowmobiles and trucks with plows attached. We dug like crazy while my grandmother kept him warm. The big plow appeared at top of the hill, a strange angel with its wings parting the snow on both sides of the road and its red light spinning in the dark air. Behind came the ambulance. My grandfather was fine.

The simplest memory is winter on the Blue Ridge Mountains. A gentle snowfall softening and fading the old, hard rock hills till the only difference between sky and earth was color. In the distance even this distinction blurred.

It’s dark now and the icy streets shine the same as the streetlights above them. In places it looks as if the orange light melted down on the asphalt, then hardened again in long, dimly shinning rows.