24 January, 2013

Baby Steps

(1-3 weeks on…give or take…)


“Dr. Marvin…You can help me…for the first time in my life, I feel like there’s hope…”
—What About Bob?


*


What About Bob was on.
Of course.
It had been on, solidly, for a week.


[On screen:  We are in Dr. Leo Marvin’s fancy Midtown-Manhattan office. There are awards on the wall, sleek metallic lamps, a large window overlooking the city behind the small, and a bronze bust of Dr. Sigmund Freud that surrounds an arrogant psychiatrist wearing a navy jacket and red tie. After listening to Bob Wiley—his newest patient for only a matter of minutes—Dr. Marvin recommends the following…]

    Dr. Marvin: Bob, there is a groundbreaking new book that has just come out— ah!

[Dr. Marvin selects one from dozens of copies of the same, completely visible, book…]

    Now not everything in this book, of course applies to you, but I’m sure that you can see, when you see the title, exactly how it could… help.

    Bob:  [reading the title] “Baby Steps?”
    Dr. Marvin: —It means setting small, reasonable goals for yourself, one day at a time. One tiny step at a time.
    Bob: [wonderstruck] …B a b y  S t e p s…
    Dr. Marvin: For instance, when you leave this office, don’t think about everything you have to do in order to get out of the building, just think of what you must do to get out of this room, and when you get to the hall, deal with that hall, and so forth. You see?
    Bob: Baby Steps!
    Dr. Marvin: Baby Steps.
    Bob: Oh boy…



Baby steps…
    deep, right?
Hilariously deep.
And agonizingly accurate.


*


Grey had moved the television from the master bedroom into the upstairs office across the landing. The master bedroom having a kind of force field around it at this juncture—invisible and undiscussed. I think all of us were aware that we did not want to be those people, whoever they were. Those people—the ones that got all histrionic about the loss of a loved one. As if that were somehow not okay.

Mom and I spent a lot of time wondering if we were reacting “normally.” Grey, Lilly and Kent spent a lot of time wondering the same thing. What do you do when you are eighteen and nothing this devastating has really ever happened to you yet? You can’t say things are “okay” or “allowed” or “understandable” because you have no idea if they are or aren’t— you are eighteen. You are a fetus.  The closest you have ever gotten to death is the class guinea pig dying in kindergarten.  You do not yet realize what you do not yet know.

So, in that vein, we did not actively close off The Room of Death. No. We just operated under a silent agreement that all would be quiet. We’d keep it light. We could and would pretend that all comings-and-goings to and from The Room of Death were nobigthing. Look at me Death, our silent attitude would manically screech, check me! Check me as I casually use the Master Bathroom as a legitimate alternative to other household bathrooms! I am using it because there is a shower/bath, and because it is a valid option and therefore should be utilized as such. The ‘someone died here like 5 minutes ago’ thing? Yeah. It is nobigthing.
It was.
It was a big thing.
So despite the odd gesture to waltz in and out of the room like dingbats, it pretty much remained untouched.

Hey-You-Guy-Brenda and Kent had gotten to work on the master bathroom (or, The Bathroom of Death, if you will--and I hope you will)— sorting through every pill, tube, catheter, plug, prescription bottle, and machine and, without a great deal of ceremony, threw all of it away.
    “We disposed of the disease” Kent said after returning from wherever these trinkets had been discarded, “and left the man.” Indeed—the gold watch, the spare loose coins he always counted as he thought and calmed himself, the scraps of paper covered in his signature all-caps scrawl, the distinctive cologne that smelled so much of him it pierced directly into my heart.

Those days were full of harrowing little tasks like that.

The death-sheets were cleaned and folded, the bed made anew, the room scrubbed down, the machines carted away—as if none of it had ever happened at all. Mom’s friends, along with mine, took on the duties that would eventually create The House of Death we came to know after the act itself was long past. All that could remind us of the horrors of terminal disease remained burned in our memories alone.

But the absence of objects is, too, a kind of silence.

No one could have prepared us for the pulsing soundlessness that perpetrated every waking moment, that the lack of Michael, along with the lack of his artifacts (both of the life and the lack-of-life variety) would in fact leave us with no touchstones to our anguish, no weapons with which to dig out emotions trapped so deep within our chest cavities only crude surgery could release them.


*


Dad’s office across the hall already had a small twin bed in the corner, and was now doubling as, what could only be described as “Mom’s Temporary Place of Sleeping.”

At the time we had one of those late-90s TVs with a built-in VHS player. It would swallow the already war-worn copy of Bob, and every time it reached the end of the tape it would automatically rewind, eject, and the VHS tape would sit in the open mouth of the TV, awaiting instruction—a blank face with its tongue sticking out.

Before a second of silence could go by I would panic, rushing to the machine to push the cassette back in. There are no words to describe how much I loved the way it swallowed the tape with such efficient, satisfying obedience, and adored the sound of the pre-digital cogs churning within, of each electronic stage it took to bring Bob’s infinite wisdom back to me again.

    Dr. Marvin: Are you married?
    Bob: I'm divorced.
    Dr. Marvin: Would you like to talk about that?
    Bob: There are two types of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don't. My ex-wife loves him.


And again.
Bob— with his judicious ability to ask for exactly what he needs.

    Bob: [to man on bus] Hi, I'm Bob. Would you knock me out, please? Just hit me in the face…


And again.
Bob— knowing there is soundness even in folly.

    Dr. Marvin: I want some peace and quiet!
    Bob: Yeah, I'll be quiet.
    Siggy: I'll be peace!
    [Bob and Siggy burst into giggles]


And again.
Bob— reaching through the screen and speaking the truth directly to me…

    Dr. Marvin: Why are you always wearing black? What is it with you and this death fixation?
    Siggy: Maybe I'm in mourning for my lost childhood…


It was in this period that I came to know Bob beyond reason or sanity. In that week I exceeded being comforted by the light, harmless comedy. Not surprisingly, in fact, I did not laugh at all. I watched because it comforted me. I watched it because the “this moment,” and every moment that clicked along, really sucked, and it reminded me of life, of everything, before it.


Bob— on endless loop.
Bob— more comforting than any therapy (be it “Baby Steps,” “Isolation,” or “Death” therapies) or friend or food or love.

*

I would jolt— Dad and Bill Murray always shared a kind of “cadence,” particularly when Bill Murray went into his “child-like comedy” mode. “HA!” Bob would burst out, and I would jolt upward, certain Dad was back before I remembered, and sank back into myself, and the bed, once more. If I kept it on, somehow Dad would come around the corner any second and join me.

After a few days a family friend came over and into the room. She stood over me and glanced over my particular state of wretchedness and attempted to conceal how much the sight of my despair turned her stomach. She caught herself mid-shudder and plastered a frighteningly cheerful smile on her face,
     “I see we are doing a little too much sitting in this bed and not enough getting on with things?” My eyes moved toward her but my body remained motionless too dazed to be embarrassed, and, with the concern and temperament of a toad, my eyes peeled away form her and back toward the screen, not even daring to respond. She sighed and left the room slowly, unable to stir me.

She was trying to help.

Was she trying to tell me that my love of Bob was wrong? Because if Bob was wrong, then I didn’t want to know what right was.

*

I had been in the bed for a week. Pajamas filthy, hair matted, and Bob on a bender of inexhaustible re-runs. I did not know what time it was. I did not know the day. All I knew was that it was dark. In every sense. And that I was alone.

But Bob was there, and the blue flame from the small television flickered, more comforting than a fire.

I opened my eyes to discover Bob helping little Siggy to dive...

My beloved Bob approaches the dock to discover Siggy, dressed fully in black and all alone, sitting on an upright wooden post, red bicycle discarded beside him, despondently playing a hand-held video game. Siggy’s father Dr. Marvin has insisted Siggy learn to dive despite Siggy’s paralyzing fear, and earlier on, dropped Siggy in the water without warning. Bob is elated, having just returned from his first experience of sailing, and is still draped in his orange life-vest which he has left casually untied atop his bright blue shirt that reads “Don’t Hassle Me, I’m Local.”

Bob gazes upon Siggy and approaches slowly.

Bob: Notice anything different about me? 
Siggy: [he contemplates Bob for a moment] No. 
Bob: Do you sail? 
Siggy: No. 
Bob: Well I just picked it up. Heh! [He chuckles] Wonder what I’m gonna pick up next? 
Siggy: Try diving. [He retorts sarcastically, returning to his video game] 
Bob: Alright, diiiiiving… 
Siggy: I know a great teacher. [He sighs. Considers for a moment, before venting a confession to Bob] I mean, my dad just dropped me in the water. Without warning me first. I mean, I nearly drowned! My whole life passed before my eyes. 
Bob: You're lucky you're only twelve. 
Siggy: It was still grim.
I knew exactly what he meant. 
Siggy [cont]: I mean what is it with him and diving? What’s the big deal? 
Bob: Well…[Bob walks out further onto the dock and, seeing the depth of the water declares] WHOA… [tying his life-vest on tightly before continuing] ...He probably just wants to beat it, that’s all. You know, he probably just wants you to dive, because you’re afraid of diving. 

Siggy rolls his eyes as only a twelve-year-old can, but knows Bob is right.

Bob [cont]: Did I tell you? I sailed on my first try! [Bob extends his arms like a proud child] …I just let the boat do the work that was my secret. But with diving, what’s the thing? What’s the trick? Siggy: I dunno… it’s supposed to be easy… Bob moves his feet around, revving them into the ground like a nervous foul. 
Bob: well… can you give me a handle on it? 

Siggy puts down his video game and comes over to Bob at the end of the dock.


...I don’t want to go into more detail.
I don’t want to get into the hows and the whats of the next few moments, because I want you to see the scene for yourself.

All I will say is this: Siggy dives.
And he dives because Bob helps him.

Does Bob realize he is helping? I don’t know. Every time I see this scene I change my mind again—no, I think, Bob is innocent, he doesn’t know he is the most profound man alive, an all-knowing guru of almost spiritual depth. The next time round I think yes, Bob knows what he is doing, he may not be able to help himself, but he can help this little boy
I don’t know.
I like that I don’t know.

What I do know is this: Siggy faces his greatest fear. And he does because Bob helps him.

I burst into tears. Which was odd, because I had not yet cried. Not once. And there I was weeping into the strange un-used cushions of an unfamiliar bed in my father’s old office, across the hall from the room in which he had died what felt like both moments and ages ago, and all I wanted was for Bob to reach through the screen and help me.

11 January, 2013

Warm Woolen Mittens

©Nick Bantock
1. Monograms

According to Wikipedia,
"A monogram is a motif made by overlapping or combining two or more letters or other graphemes to form one symbol. Monograms are often made by combining the initials of an individual or a company, used as recognizable symbols or logos. A series of uncombined initials is properly referred to as a cypher (e.g. a royal cypher) and is not a monogram."
Basically: I like them. And I like the letter 'A' a LOT. And though it is mostly because my name starts with A ("mostly" being somewhere between 70-95%) it is also because I find letters to be graceful things, and their shape, line, structure, movement, all seem to articulate a little something about us. I identify with the "A" not merely because my name begins with it, but because of the swoosh of the three lines used to make the uppercase model, and the blobby little bubble who wears a hat used mostly in type-faced version of lowercase "a" (which I have infamously utilized even when writing by hand for over 15 years).   

Remember how Mary Tyler Moore and her "M" made such an emotional impact when she moved from her small apartment to her larger one in 1975?  (if not, check out the clip at 13:22 here)...

How miraculous that a collection of almost random scratches come to form and represent all the words we know and some we have yet to know? Those scratchings, when stood on their own, serve as a symbol, a quiet reminder, a whispered essence of who we are. 
 

2. Dark chocolate with hazelnuts.
Why do people eat anything else ever? Dark chocolate with hazelnuts is better than kittens and sunshine and Christmas... and when all four of these things combine? 
Well that would be bliss. 
Bliss I tell you.

Emma Williams: blind friend-date
3. Friend-Dating
Some of the best pals I've ever met, and some of the very greatest in my everyday life are friends I have met on a "friend date."

What is a friend date you ask?
Why, according to the Urban Dictionary: 
"...a friend date is a situation in which two platonic individuals partake in activities (such as movies, coffee, or a walk on the beach) that have the appearance of a regular date, but have no romantic or sexual intentions."
 I was "set up" on a blind friend-date with fellow actress Emma Williams in London somewhere around 2006 by a mutual friend who thought the two of us would be great pals. It was love at first friend-date. We never looked back.


4. Drinking through a straw

I am going to openly admit here that I always steal an extra straw from Starbucks whenever I go so that I may take it home and drink with it at The Winter Palace. I love a straw! It is human innovation at it's most innovative and simple! 
Steps:
  1. Place lips around long, hollow cylindrical device.
  2. Utilize suction: muscular action reduces air pressure in the mouth, whereupon atmospheric pressure forces the beverage up the straw.
  3. VOILA! YOUR BEVERAGE DELIVERED RIGHT TO YOUR GOB! 
  4. Repeat. Enjoy.
I mean: amazing. 


5. Rubber Stamps
Before the printing press, the written word was the responsibility of the monasteries. Each book was written and illustrated by hand, highly inaccessible and very expensive to produce. Each block was carved by hand with every ideogram in position, which meant a completely new carved block for each page! This was the year 1 B.C. (so... you know... give them a break...)

In 1444 Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith and printer introduced modern book printing by inventing a mechanical moveable type and the printing press machine. It played a huge role in education, news and the Scientific Revolution. This was used widely until the second half of the 20th century. Primitive printing blocks were made of woodcuts, photoengraved copper, linoleum blocks, magnesium plates and zinc metals.

And while I am all into the Industrial Revolution and all-- THAT IS NOT WHAT THIS IS ABOUT. I love a rubber stamp and I am not afraid to show it! I remember the first time I ever used a rubber stamp: one of an almost lithographic-ly detailed heart. My mom presented me with a piece of paper and an ink pad and when I reproduced the heart over and over (and over) again I thought a miracle was taking place. There is something about the act of physical reproduction: an act of man-powered magic that cannot be replicated by the technological age. 

©nick bantock - responsible for my adult love of stamps
I would wager that engineers themselves still experience this feeling with their tablets and MP3 players, but for us ordinary punters out here in Normals-ville, nothing is comparable to the "real thing." When one touches a screen and "stuff happens" it is simply not the same as watching the cogs of a clock physically mesh together. Or pressing rewind and watching a tape actually roll backwards and play a recording from a different part of that same strip of tape. So it is with the rubber stamp. For one brief moment, our hands are a tiny little printing press that no laser printer can compete with.


The enhance any piece of paper be it a letter, an envelope, a note or a tax return. 
The are elegant and mystical.  
  
  They are like warm woolen mittens, and they get my *stamp* of approval. 

06 January, 2013

Epiphany

    “Tygresk! [1]” called the now familiar voice of The Jailer. “Tygresk, you must wake.”

She lifted herself from the ground of this new solitary cell; smaller and more miserable than the one she had occupied before. Her head was pounding, her eyes cloudy, and as she lifted her hands to her eyes to stop their incessant throbbing, her stomach raged from within her as she began to move. Shura suddenly sensed she had been laying dormant for a long while.

    “How long have I been asleep?” she asked The Jailer.
    “Four days,” he said.

She noticed then, that he was eating a slice of something on a tiny tin plate. Shura felt her mouth fill with saliva as her stomach churned with want, and she could not help but stare.

    “Why have you not woken me for meals?” she asked, her voice slightly desperate.
    “We have been fasting, Tygresk.”
    “Fasting?”
    “Why, Christ is born. It is now Epiphany.”
    “Epiphany?” she realized she was merely repeating his words but could muster nothing greater. Epiphany, she thought. It cannot be.
    “Yes. The Night of the Kings.”

It meant that well over a year had passed since she had come to this place.

    “The other guards are marking the baptism of Christ—priests are performing the Great Blessing of Waters.”

Shura remembered this procedure. She recalled the Christians who resided beyond their shetl boundaries engaging in this water ritual—apparently all over the country people spent Epiphany cutting holes in the shape of the cross within the ice of lakes and rivers then dipped themselves three times in the freezing water to honor the Holy Trinity. Whether to symbolically wash away their sins or to experience a sense of spiritual rebirth she did not know or understand, all she knew was though her own community’s traditions could often be puzzling, this appeared to be downright madness.

    “Back in Poland we call it Trzech Kroli [2]” he said, brushing off the crumbs that gathered atop his shirt and trousers. “Huge parades are held.”
He wiped the corners of his mouth with his sleeve. He must have caught Shura’s starving glare upon him for he paused, taking a moment to swallow properly.
    “Polish style Three Kings cake,” he indicated to the now clean plate, “made with a coin baked inside. Whomever gets it is king or queen for the day—lucky in the coming year. Some woman in the village here makes Polish pastries if you request 'em, and she's taken a terrible fancy to one of the guards. Delivered it yesterday. Stale.” he shrugged, “Anyway, I have come to say farewell. Tomorrow you are to be taken to Irkutsk.” He placed the tin plate at her feet licking his fingers, then stood staring at her with his usually vacant eyes -- full in this moment with the knowledge that this was to be the last they ever saw of one another.
    “Szczesliwego Nowego roku [3], Tygresk.”

Shura looked down at the empty tin plate: settled among the flakes and crumbs lay the coin.

     What luck.


[1] Polish: baby Tiger

[2] Three Kings
[3] Polish: Happy New Year




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