Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Facebook Correspondence with a Friend about My Daughter's "Ballet" Recital Here in New Jersey

I have a friend from college who's originally from Long Island and lives in Wyoming now. We recently found each other on facebook after being out of touch for 15 years or so and are corresponding almost daily. I know, facebook actually served a real purpose! Weird! Hi C! So here's a letter I wrote her maybe a day or two after what turned out to be a traumatic event for me. I should also say that immediately after I came home from this event, as my sister recently reminded me (oddly I never made the connection), I went outside in my nice-ish clothes and proceeded to sand-blast the back patio. I didn't talk to anyone, just went straight out there and did that for about two hours.

Although I normally don't want to use this blog as a space to rant, I think I need to get this out. Alright. Oh, and also, I curse a bit.

Without further ado, the letter:

OMFG, I have to tell you about the ballet recital. Hi, btw. How are you? Recovering from your overnights? Did you make pancakes? Did that help? Does it help to know you're almost done with the overnights? Hope so. Are you getting excited about NYC? Me too!

OK, you would've died. Really. I kept thinking about our college's Women's Studies. And crying. Really. I cried and it had nothing to do with being all choked up about how beautiful and sweet Mary was (although I did do that too when she came out).

I cried because I live in New Jersey. I cried because the only time the crowd really went wild was when the 5 year olds shook their asses or did rapper video moves. You know, the times when I was cringing. The inappropriate times. I cried because 3 year olds did a dance (well, for brevity's sake, let's call it a dance) to All the Single Ladies by Beyonce. I cried because for the teenagers, I wasn't sure if they were training to be on Broadway or to be strippers. Could've gone either way.

I had no idea. I assumed it would be a ballet recital, because Mary's class's dance was a ballet type number with a ballet costume. Thank god her midriff wasn't showing (that was the made-up 7 year olds). To a song called "Freedom" about, you guessed it, loving America. I'm despairing. And I'm exhausted. Weeping for a half hour does that to you!

Good things? Mary was beautiful and sweet. Her number was "classy". Mary's friend from school was in a similar number and her mom and I talked and if (IF!) Mary stays at this dance school, they'll be together next year.

Yea, so I have to stop calling it ballet. And I have to do some soul searching. These are not my people. Not at all. Am I projecting on Mary though? She really doesn't care one way or another. I don't think I could handle another recital at this place. Yea, I have to sign her up for proper ballet if she's going to dance. This shit is ridiculous. Capital R, actually.

One last thing. *sigh* Hold onto your hat. For reals. There was one number with a single dancer. A maybe 14 or 15 year old girl. Overweight (but not so very bad, but still, on stage... you know?) and her teacher was on stage with her and she did a kind of a tap number while watching her teacher the whole time. It was extremely bizarre. Because there were tons of other teenagers doing stuff that was memorized. Kind of wonderful horrible, actually - the lone dancer, I mean. I had all kinds of flash backs to junior high and high school talent contests and that one girl who made you want to crawl under your chair.

And the finishing touch for you? At the end, when I went to go get Mary and everyone was walking around looking for their people, I saw the girl again. And you know what she was carrying? A fucking Twilight New Moon tote bag. Yea. Couldn't make this shit up. That's why I wouldn't dream of writing fiction.

Alright. Hopefully you're doing ok. I did get caught up in SATC madness at one point, but you're right. Totally empty crap. Like cotton candy or something. Looks kind of good, maybe tastes good initially, but makes you want to vomit after a little bit.

Did you read that article? Did you want to punch Megan Brown in the face too? Or at least bitch-slap her? Just me? OK then. TTYL - Penelope

PS Oh and omg my mom would've had a fucking stroke. Seriously, she would've stroked out. I'm actually afraid for her health in my imagination.

So that's the letter. In the last paragraph, I'm referring to this article I came across in the local paper. I wanted to kill someone. See if you can guess who and why.

Since this time, I've told the recital story to another friend and she reminded me that it's not solely a New Jersey phenomenon. It's national. She's right, of course. I've just had so many eye-opening experiences here (many of them extremely painful - and I'm including the births of my two children, lovely as they are) that it's hard to distinguish what's painful due to NJ and what's just generally painful and would be so anywhere. Quite a sentence there.

Until later...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Marlpit Hall and Garage Man Continued

So the big news is that on Tuesday I hired a babysitter for my two-year old and went to the library. Of course this was only after I had spent almost an hour at Toys R Us picking out the numerous birthday gifts for kids. God, that place is horrible. Anyway, I perused the New Jersey and specifically Monmouth County history sections for loan and in the reference section for the remaining hour of my babysitter time. I only discovered the small special access New Jersey history section right before I left. It's a room with special older texts that you have to give your ID to get into. Ten minutes before I left!

The best thing in that room, which I could spend hours and hours reading, and may yet, is the First Town Book in Middletown. It is an itemization of all the official town events - anything that came up in town meetings - from about 1667 to 1695. I found a copy of it online- transcribed as a chapter of John Stillwell's second volume of Historical and Genealogical Miscellany. I need to go back and read the Second Book. I saw it in the reading room and just about had a heart attack. So, many many hours need to be spent on this, obviously. The Second Book covers the 18th century - 1699 to 1800. Her whole lifetime plus a few years. I'm curious as to when they moved.

After all my reading and re-reading the other day, I thought I had a handle on the fact that John Esquire and Phebe built Marlpit Hall in 1756. Or most of it. It was not finished (which is supported by recent dating of the house) completely by them, but was sold as some sort of debt release. The house was referred to as the "Grandfather Homestead" next to the bigger house built in the 1800s which is now the Taylor-Butler House. It was bought by Barnabus Rider of Long Island who finished it, with an inferior carpenter, and who lived in it until 1771. At that time it was bought by John's brother Edward and then it was kept in the family for generations. So I read that a few different places and came to believe it was true. This is from Asher Taylor's comprehensive family history.

What's interesting about his family history is that, as it's published by H.A. Deats in the Jerseyman, it's in non-sequential chapters that overlap. So a history of a person is told sometimes two or three times. And, oddly, each version is slightly different, it seems.

And I don't have a printer. Or one that works correctly. I'm working on it. And gdamn if that isn't frustrating. I only have an hour or two to myself here and there and I have very little paper in the house and yet I have to mess around (cleaning up the language a bit, as I was just talking about Asher, who most definitely would not approve) with a cheap printer and trying to get it to function even minimally. So I need more time.

To top it off, a fifth volume of Stillwell's Historical and Genealogical Miscellany is also online and also transcribes Asher's work and throws yet another wrench into things. I'll quote from his passage on John Taylor, Esquire: "He owned a farm of some two hundred acres, which he sold before the Revolutionary War, reserving about a dozen acres, upon which, in 1752, he erected a large, handsome house, at the head of Main Street in Middletown, at the commencement of the Deep Cut, which was denominated by his neighbors as "Taylor's Folly."
In 1782, this house was bought by George Crawford, Esq., from whom it passed to the Beekmans, and recently, December 1891, was destroyed by fire."

So there's that confusing thing. Also confusing is that at another point, Asher says that John flees to New York, as a Loyalist during the War and I know two of his sons ended up there. As did his daughter, Mary too. I believe that he was arrested in 1777 for his role as Sheriff in Monmouth County. Confusing. All from one person's work, too. But a different version has the whole Taylor's Folly thing. Confusing!

I need a gd printer and I need to highlight and record what Asher says in which version to try to cobble together at least a consistent picture from his point of view. I'm old fashioned. I can't just skip around web pages doing it. I need a hard copy.

I also need to focus on primary sources as much as I can. This is why I want to spend days and days with the Second Book. I believe that they built Marlpit Hall, though. Maybe I just want to believe. They being John Esquire and Phebe.

The other news is that I just found "Garage Man" again and ended up finishing it. And the thing is that it's only about 1500 words. And it's a character sketch, more or less, not much happens. Or anything that happens isn't really developed because it's so short. Once I got past the coke whore thing it wasn't too bad, just really really incomplete. A brief sketch. To me not even worth submitting in a creative writing class, but what do I know.

Must run, more on that later. Made me want to finish my romance novel, though. To spend more time on it and actually make it something. I would not have guessed that that would be what I took away from Garage Man, but so it was. I think my dad went for the initial shock. Draw the reader in, kind of a thing. Just words, after all.

And maybe he should've written more of them. If he'd have put his mind to it, it could've become something. That's sort of it with him. He was good with us, but up to a point. If we argued with him or challenged him in any way, it was done. That happened to me twice, and yes, it was done. Painfully so. He wasn't too good with criticism and with working on things. One of his many character flaws, I suppose.

I don't want to be like him, in that sense, but I suppose I already conquered that demon by going to chemistry grad school and having to write and rewrite papers forty times with my very frustrating professor. I also don't want to be like him in that I didn't finish something clearly important to me. So I've decided to be sure to finish my little romance short story. I want to keep doing it. Plus I'm going to keep up with this project and with this blog. I'm having a great time.

More later. I'm still a bit in shock about how not a big deal Garage Man turned out to be. Weird. And I'm still a bit angry with Asher. Confusing!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Materials found at the Middletown Library today! I got out of the house! Yay!

The Tavern at the Ferry by Edwin Tunis (I love the name Edwin, btw)

Monmouth County, a Pictoral History by Robert F. Van Benthuysen

I really need to break out the Styles Manual to remind myself how to reference books.
But that's probably all changed due to these interwebs, yes?
Adding it to the list of things to do.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Garage Man

I need to write about writing. And of course it's complicated. Like everything else in my life. Do I make things complicated? Probably. OK, then. Anyway.

So I've had a phobia about writing since I was in elementary school. Not sure what the exact assignment was or what happened, but somewhere along the way in my childhood, I came to believe that nothing I said or wrote was valid. Hmmm. That adjective was hard. Valid isn't right. Put it this way, making a declarative sentence back then was hard for me. Still is sometimes. I'm deathly afraid of being judged. And again, I blame my mom. Ha ha. Not really.

Maybe it was because I'd make observations to my mom, about all our lives, or about the lives of our relatives. Simple things, really. Like, "Cousin Patrick is drunk." "No he's not," she'd reply. "Cousin Delonde is a lesbian." "No she's not. Say hi to Samantha. She's Delonde's special friend." I guess it really peaked when we would go to Mississippi to see cousins, in retrospect.

Oh, here are some more good ones. "I don't like pink for my room." "Yes you do. I'm doing pink floral for your room." "I don't think Bethany likes me anymore." "What did you do?" "I want to break up with Jared." "You will do no such thing. He just took you to a dance. Call him back and make up with him."

It continues to this day. My aunt was telling my mom how my cousin Mary collects antique quilts and isn't that just wonderful? "Well, Penelope does too! That IS wonderful!" Needless to say, I don't collect antique quilts. I have two crappy old quilts that are falling apart, but I don't think anyone, ever, would say they're valuable.

My dad doesn't come out of this innocently either. He was a doctor and his things were mostly medical. "I broke my arm skateboarding." "No you didn't. If you want, you can go down to the ER, but you didn't." "I need stitches." Same answer.

The most scarring thing, though, which somehow while writing this I didn't think of til now was their response to my complaints about my sister. I think I've repressed it lately because my sister and I are getting along. Holy crap, this is pretty much just it. The whole thing. How stupid of me not to see it. "Mary scares me." "Don't tattle." "Mary hurts me when she babysits us. I get scared." "No she doesn't."

My sister was five years older than me and she fucking hated me. Hated. I can't say I blame her, she was a child herself, after all. The response from my parents is what shocks me now. Nothing. Periodically there would be a lecture to her, but she scared the crap out of them too. She was so angry. I quickly learned that telling on her only made her more angry, so I stopped. I became voiceless. Powerless. This went on for fucking years and years. Until she went away to college when I was 13. I used to have nightmares where I was being attacked and I would open my mouth to scream and no noise came out.

OK, then. Whew. Sorry to unload, had to be done, I guess. So just keeping a web log is extremely therapeutic for me. I do have a voice, goddamnit. I do have things to say. Smart things, too. Sometimes funny things.

OK, now we come to the second part of my writing phobia. Complicated, again. Involving my parents, again. But not my sister. We're great now, actually. It's kind of surprising, really. Has to do with my mom and dad.

So my dad is a severe alcoholic now. With dementia now. He's not that old, all things considered (72), but he pretty much is non-functioning. He used to be so wonderful, too - notwithstanding the ER things. I loved him with my whole heart. Worshipped him. He was smart. So was I! He loved science, so did I! He was sensitive, so was I! He was constantly berated by my mom, so was I! He wasn't a great dresser on his own (she picked out all his suits), neither was I! He was kind and loving, so was I! He had lots and lots of extra-marital affairs! So did, um, wait. He had a raging drug problem and a serious secret life! Yea, um, well. A very very flawed man. But I loved him. All of us kids did. When he was there for us, it was great.

He stopped drinking, because of an ultimatum from my mom, when I was 5 years old. For various reasons, he picked it up again when I was 21. In the interim he smoked a lot of pot. Good stuff. My sister and brother knew about this, but I probably just put my head in the sand. I don't honestly remember.

When I was about 30 he semi-retired. He also bought a house in Oxford, Mississippi, where he had gone to college. He spent about half the year up there. He went to so far as to take a couple of classes at Ole Miss then. One of the classes he took was Creative Writing. Oh, and he loved Larry Brown, the alcoholic writer who I think had a position at Ole Miss. And he loved Hunter S. Thompson and Hemingway. You get the idea. Not my favorite type of writing, let's say. But hey, what do I know?

So, since that time, he's been carrying around (literally) a story he wrote from that class called, "Garage Man". OK. Recently he came to visit. I had heard lots about this about 5 page story for a while. For years. I'd never read it, though. This last visit, he gave it to me to read, but then because he's so non-functioning, he forgot it. I still have it. I've read two paragraphs. It's a first-person story. About a man who talks about doing coke and about what a coke whore (is that one word?) will do to get coke. Involves blow-jobs (hyphen there?). That's when I stopped reading. That's when I became scarred for life.

Yea, it's fiction. Yea, people are allowed to write about coke whores. I get that. Not my dad. Or who I thought he was. Or who I wanted him to be.

What's also good are a few other things. First of all, apparently he's submitted this little story to serious literary magazines. New Yorker. Rolling Stone (I think because of Hunter S. Thompson he thought it'd be more up their alley). Second of all, there's a critique of it, handwritten on the back two pages of the copy I got. The original, I mean. Some girl named Renee, I think. She wrote, and I quote directly (I may have gotten her name wrong, btw, I really don't want to dig this thing out for this posting that's how strongly I feel about it), "You impressed the shit out of me with this story. Give me a call sometime this summer and we can get together." I think she drew a heart somewhere.

Something else I should say is that last summer, my mom wanted me to help her sort through all her photographs. When going through the photos from the sixties, from before I was born, I found some photos that I hid from her. It's not that big of a deal (don't get scared!), but it would be to her. They were on a ski trip in the Alps (my dad was drafted and was stationed in Europe) and I have no idea where my sister was, but I know it was the trip where mom was just pregnant with me. She had told me how miserable she was from morning sickness. Anyway, there was a picture of my sweaty, clearly drunk dad dancing very close with some woman with this look on his face. It was probably one of their friends. That was his m.o. I can imagine what he was saying, and no I'm not making this up. For a person with a pretty active double life, his face has always been remarkably easy to read. In this case that was helped a great deal by the alcohol obviously in his system. I truly truly truly will never understand my mother. Never. Turns out she was voiceless too. But by choice. I don't know, maybe she felt she had no choice. I can't know. That's complicated too.

So, once past my initial instinctive, self-protective voicelessness, now I have another problem with writing. I've begun a bad romance novel. Or romance short story, really. It's Twilight fan fiction, which means that I use the character names, and maybe the general character sketches, but I can do anything I want. Vampires, not vampires. Teenagers, not teenagers. Present, in the past. The Twilight stories are just a jumping off point, something my husband completely doesn't get. I asked him to read the first few pages and he said, "I don't want to read about vampires. When was this set? Who's this? I'm confused. Gah, I just want to go to sleep." And btw, it's loosely based on Phebe's story (I've given her an Edward! She would be horrified!), so I feel it's ok to unload all this crap here. Again, sorry.

Does this make me like him? Will I carry this story around for years, thrusting it on unsuspecting family members? Horrifying them? It's a very tame romance. Very tame. More melodrama than anything else. And I'm enjoying writing it, but I can't help feeling very very self-conscious. My mom will never know, I think. Still, it's in the back of my mind always. Like my childhood voicelessness, contributing to my generalized writing anxiety.

Forge ahead, though. I want to forge ahead. Maybe get past all that. Maybe when it's done I'll link to here. Probably not. Thanks for listening. Until next time, then.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fighting Invisibility

My daughter painted this of me and her and her brother. The first time anyone has ever painted me. I'm including this here on this blog because I really hope, somehow, that I can find a painting of Phebe. Not going to happen, though. Somehow the two things relate and, even though I'm really quite tired and I can't elaborate on it, I wanted to put it up here.

Today I went to Marlpit Hall, too. I went with my two children (my daughter is 4 and my son is 2) and was kind of kicked out. Understandable. My son had to touch everything and visibly stressed out the older gentleman docent. The house belonged to Phebe's brother-in-law Edward and passed down through his family. I think the house may have belonged to Phebe's husband Squire John at some point, though. May have even been built by him. It's unclear.

The woodwork in the house was incredible. They were very wealthy, the Taylors. Apparently, Edward Taylor was kept in Marlpit Hall under house arrest during the Revolution because he was a Loyalist. Squire John had to flee to New York, according to one record. Where did this leave Phebe? Did she go with John?

I'll write more about Marlpit Hall after I've really had a chance to visit without children (it really was kind of funny, getting kicked out). There was a portrait of Phebe's nephew in the house. I was hoping for Phebe. Maybe I can squirrel it out somewhere. I'm pretty good at that kind of thing. I was, anyway, in graduate school.

Until next time...