Sunday, April 27, 2014

Miss O’ Saves the World

Of Superpowers and Men

One evening here in the O’Kitchen in Queens, I sat with my sweet Montenegrin boyfriend, H (who has always to be described as Montenegrin so you can imagine all his dialogue with a wonderful accent), and he said of turning 60, “What I would like to do, and I know this sounds crazy, I would like to go to Washington, and somehow be sent around the world to do good, like Bill Clinton.” While H understands the fantastical element of this desire—not least because, as an officer in the communist Yugoslavian military until he escaped around 1980, he knows just how corrupt and nefarious the world can be (don’t get him started on Putin and “the KGB communist bullshit that is still happening, trust me”)—there is also in him a purity of heart that he cannot help expressing, like a little boy or girl who wants to play at being a giant (or, in the case of my friends Richard and John’s four-year-old twins Annie and Charlie, over Easter weekend, asking their Aunt Weezie—that’s me—to play at scaring the fairytale child-victims in Annie’s invented Witch Game all the time, which involves the witch, Miss O’, stooping a little and saying, “I’m gonna get you!” before chasing them around the backyard; I was, as other middle-aged relations might imagine, ever so grateful when Papa Richard emerged from the kitchen back door to put out lawn chairs and hand me a bourbon just before I spent the last of my wind).

Miss O', Annie, and Charlie, spring 2014, reacting to being.

When my nephew Cullen was four years old, his dad, my brother Pat, discovered him wearing his new “Ben Ten” watch (Ben Ten is a cartoon show featuring a ten-year-old superhero, Ben, who has this watch that lets him do stuff, but having not seen this show, Miss O’ can only imagine that he catches bad guys in a super cool way) and jumping off the couch repeatedly (so I guess Ben can fly). Seeing his determination and, eventually, frustration, Pat asked, “What are you doing, buddy?” Cullen asked, sincerely, “Daddy, when do I get my superpowers?” Pat looked at him and tried not to laugh, because it was so sweet, and somehow found the presence of mind not to ruin his dreams: “Well, buddy, you know Ben is ten. You’re only four.” Cullen looked at him, and the understanding dawned, and another child’s innocence was saved for a far more brutal awakening to come, on a playground, no doubt—and sooner rather than later, this being America the Diminishing Superpower and Land of Increasingly Stupid in 2014. God bless freedom, and get ready for the Russian invasion!

In America, Money is a Superpower

…and it’s far too often not used for “good.” (Just ask the United States Supreme Court, the right-wing majority of five declaring Money = Speech.) Smart people know that money isn't remotely everything (and it's especially not speech), but my dad, Bernie, likes to imagine winning $250 million in the lottery. Say $300 million. Really, who doesn't? “First,” he explains, “I’d clear, what, say $150 million. A little more, but just say 150. Then I’d divide it evenly, all you six kids, and then us. Seven ways….” This is exactly what H says. And what I say, too. We all plan this way; and after we’ve shared this wealth, we’d try to figure out the best way to use our portion for good. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that none of us will ever see anything like a fortune. It seems only the greedy and squandering win lotteries, according to that episode of This American Life. Sane people don’t win, or else all that money destroys sanity and all the best-laid schemes.

When Do We Get Our Superpowers? And What Are They?

“Wonder-Twin Powers, activate!” they cried. Of all the Saturday cartoon Super Friends, this brother and sister team was, let’s face it, the least cool. “Shape of…a lion!” said the male twin, whose power was to become any mammal. “Form of…a wave!” said the female twin who could morph into water in all its states. Whatev. But it really does make you think about what superpower you would have if you could have any extra gift. And if you had that gift, whatever the fuck it was, what exactly would you do with it?

Your Miss O’ has never been comfortable asking for anything. One wants good things to be, I don’t know, fated to be, serendipitous, and also unexpected. I think this is partly because we love excitement and mystery, but mostly because we are terrified of taking responsibility. What is it that Uncle Ben tells nephew Peter Parker? “With great power comes great responsibility.” (What about talent? People so often accuse gifted people of “squandering their talents,” of not living up to their promise, etc. I don’t know why people would think that this is their call to make about another human being. I’m not sure it’s even our call to make about ourselves. But I'd say that when talent crosses over into money and fame, it assumes power; and then, well, look out for the critics.) So few seem to have any power, but maybe it's because we perceive power through the narrow, shiny lens of "fame."

When H shakes his head about all he didn’t do, I can only touch his face and think of the four children he raised; his daughter the nurse who saved a baby; his own ocean dive a few summers back to save a six-year-old girl carried out to sea by waves; and all the hundreds and hundreds of tenants in dozens of New York City buildings who owe their working faucets and light fixtures, their clean lobby floors and snow-free sidewalks, and a sweeter day for his smile and joke (and the building managers who owe their working boilers and repairs done to code—just to name a few)—to this once-illegal immigrant. H assumes I must have done some good for the world because I was a teacher. But here’s the truth: We have no fucking idea what we do, what we mean, how we matter, why we meet people whenever we meet them, why we are standing in that place. We don’t know what our purpose is, our good is, our bad is; we can only reflect. And failing reflection, we can drink.

Possibly the best closing sentence of any novel I’ve read is the one from George Eliot’s wonderful novel, Middlemarch, and it more or less sums up the best-case scenario of what we can hope for:

“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."

I guess I’m writing about all this cheerful shit today because your Miss O’ is about to turn 50. H, as I say, is 60. Lots of friends are hitting new benchmarks and shifting decades, and yet to my mind the Earth isn’t getting any the better for humans having inhabited it (and dear GOD the baby boom I keep witnessing on Facebook isn't helping). More and more I can’t help but feel a bit like a poison, more toxic than useful on this planet, just for having any carbon footprint at all. H has been feeling melancholy, though for different reasons: because we only just found one another when clearly we should have been together for the past 30 years; and because he’s not able to get on planes and race around saving the world, whatever that would entail, exactly; and we’re not getting any younger (which, when you think about it, would be an awesome superpower).

Miss O’, though, is not melancholy; Miss O’ is FREAKED OUT. More and more every single goddamned day, I am made to be fucking terrified and disgusted and outraged at too many humans’, and our media’s, cavalier treatment of issues of merit and lives deserving of dignity. I lose my MIND. I have no superpowers, only the power of (what's left of) my mind and my fast-tapping fingers to try to be of any use on this Earth. And frankly I've begun to feel sort of, I don't know, silly. Or is it lame? or pointless? or just plain powerless?

On the Title of Today’s Post

A few weeks ago, my friend Hugh called me at work to talk about a project, and we started talking about our blogs. An agent told him that every blogger should be able to explain what his or her blog is about in one sentence. Hugh admitted he couldn’t quite do that, and I said, “Oh, for me that’s easy: Miss O’ Saves the World.”

This is nothing I’d really thought about before, but like my sweet H up there, I guess I have this great big huge desire to rally the troops and zoom all over and harness our energies to work together for peace, love, understanding, renewable energy, more dancing, universal health care that never involves profiting on the illnesses of others, reasonable gun laws, human rights, pure non-GMO food, sustainable living, far more parties that include live music (oh, and how about no racism, Clippers massa, er, owner: not even Magic Johnson? Really?), and if I had an ideal world, no borders, but that's way out there for today. And the imprisonments of Dick Cheney, who is somehow still talking out loud; and George Bush, who can now decorate his cell with all that “artwork”. That I am probably not accomplishing any of this does not prevent me from trying my damnedest. Money, fame: Once you let go of the childhood dream of being bad, nationwide, and larger-than-life on the cover of People, you start to distill that desire into what really matters, and it ain’t money and fame (though, c’mon, a little extra money wouldn’t hurt, would it, Lotto Angel?). You’d think by now that, confronted by the scope of my failure, the limitations of whatever talents I possess, and the prospect of undignified old age to come, that I’d just find a nice porch somewhere, get a big box of wine and a straw, and maybe spend my waking hours waving to the neighbors while holding hands with H until we rock ourselves through the floorboards. Somehow, though, I keep trying to do stuff. And for all his aching parts, H does, too. So do my poor, un-famous friends. We just can't seem to help ourselves.

Artist Jodi Chamberlain shared her latest storyboard for her socially-conscious, yet also witty and action-packed animations, flanked by your Miss O' and assorted actors for the script-reading: journalist John Eischeid, artist Sylvia Baber, singer Luthien Brackett, actor Ryan Duncan, and artist Lisa DiPetto,
just yesterday in Queens.
We encourage each other,  and what else is there?
Oh, yeah: my mom's meat sauce on the rigatoni, of course. And wine.

It’s the end of April, when the buds come out, the cold lingers a little too long (or depending on where you are, not long enough), and we just start wondering what the fuck it’s all about. I guess. And for all my two score years and ten (Ben Ten!), thus far, that need for self-reflection doesn’t seem to diminish. Am I using my powers, however limited, for good, or for evil? Do I have any talents? Am I squandering my talents, if I have them? And is love really the answer? And who shot the sheriff?

What are you reflecting on this April? What superpowers would you like to have, and how would you use them? Sometimes my hair feels like a superpower. (That's what H first fell in love with.) Last Saturday in the sunlight, as I sat sipping bourbon, Annie walked over and touched my hair. "Aunt Weezie, I love your hair. Can I mess it up?" And I said tenderly, "Go ahead, Annie, it won't look any different." She mushed it about. Then I asked, as we do to test children, "Annie, what color is my hair?" and she said, simply, "Gray!" Charlie walked over to join in the mussing of Aunt Weezie, and I asked, "Charlie, what color is my hair?" and he said, dramatically, "White! Like ice!" Papa Richard said from the grill, "They're obsessed with Frozen." I liked Charlie's answer. Here's to the power of icy love. And white Weezie super-hair.

Right now, I think I’ll jump off a couch, take a rest from playing today's version of the Witch Game, and brew me some tea. It’s all I feel good for, until the next thing comes along that I think to do. 

Big love until sometime in May, and use your superpowers responsibly,

Miss O’

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