Life is Good

Narration, Looking on the Bright Side, & Other Artistic Endeavors
“I’ve been grieving, not quite rationally, though I am beginning to feel cautiously optimistic that some sense of closure approaches, even as I am aware that the passive nature of this statement may suggest otherwise.”
Life is GoodChapter: The Home School Story
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T he busyness of our home school days has been both a blessing and a bane.  Today, SchoolLess has science in the morning, a welcome party at LREI in late afternoon, a coaching session with the New York Pops, and in the evening his weekly “cordial and invigorating” chat with our historian friend Phil, with topics so far having ranged from the evolution of music to the parallels between the Gilded and Digital Ages, from pickles and culture to the funny but serious genius of Woody Allen. In the interstices, he has questions to answer about Gattaca, a paper on changes in the spending habits of American families to finish, a blog post on how innovators often don’t succeed in school to push past start, clarinet to practice (it’s jury week at MSM), and geometry problems to work.

SchoolLess, who often inquires about dinner plans early in the day, is disappointed to hear that the plan is takeout TBD.  He wishes we cooked and ate in more, citing taste, health, and expense as concerns; he’s right, but it’s just not happening today, there’s too much going on, including SmallerMan’s trumpet studio recital.  He understands but is still clearly bothered, as if he finds meaning in being or, at least, expressing upset.

When the invite to the high school (!) event came Skeptic described herself as “excited and sentimental.”  I feel these things too, but for me there’s an added layer of sentiment, a heightened sense of, if not loss, lack.   I wanted four kids, Skeptic two, and we did not compromise.  With SchoolLess and SmallerMan ever more independent, as it should be, I am left with both temporal and psychic space in which to wallow.

I’ve been grieving, not quite rationally, though I am beginning to feel cautiously optimistic that some sense of closure approaches, even as I am aware that the passive nature of this statement may suggest otherwise.  How is this relevant, you ask?  Your honor, it speaks to state of mind.

Home school has partially filled this chasm, of course, but that was always a limited time offer.  I dare not bring up the possibility of SmallerMan having a go at it.  For the record, though I would have some reservations—he’s got a nonconformist streak that would be a challenge and, most importantly, is much happier in school than SchoolLess was—I would love to do it.

In any case, as I glance at a front-page picture of the burned body of a Sudanese boy, as I count my blessings—Life is good!—I remind myself, and others—you know who you are—to lighten up.

I would like to be better at navigating the rough waters of regret.  Life is good does not mean it’s all good.  Or maybe I should suggest that very thing.  Maybe saying it can make it true.

Skeptic and I are lamenters at heart, an inclination that we surely natured and nurtured in SchoolLess, if not, at least not obviously, in SmallerMan.  We give too much attention to the dying trees and not enough to the maturing, the nascent, the forest itself.

I know people—names withheld to protect the delusional—who narrate their lives with what appears to be minimal regard for a little thing I like to call truth.  I wonder, with some degree of admiration and jealousy, if they’ve got it right and I’ve got it wrong.

If you tell a story with confidence and consistency, in the moment and after—home every night for dinner, never once went to bed angry, gave it my best shot—maybe the truth becomes you.  Accentuating the positive eliminates the negative or, if you prefer, vice-versa.  Control the narrative:  be selective; add emphasis; make shit up.

Be an artist, don’t look back.  Pretend that makes sense.

After a lovely spring break day a few weeks back of Love and Death, Korean steak tacos, and some rousing games of horse in the backyard, SchoolLess dropped his iPhone.  He’d removed the case, not sure why, and, unprotected, the screen cracked.  He was distressed.  “Why am I so unlucky?” he asked, head in his hands.  The reaction was, of course, about more than a damaged smart phone, though I don’t really have a sense of what that more could be.

I am reminded of a student who wrote a tongue-in-cheek paper about the bad luck he had in his delinquent days.  Throw an egg from the overpass and it hits a cop car.  Get high and wake up with a half-eaten donut on your chest having missed the final exam you needed to pass to graduate from high school.  Use your mother’s ATM card when you’re short of cash (don’t forget to smile for the camera).

Is it better to be lucky than good?  Is luck the residual of design?

On Saturday, after a full day of baseball (a walk off W for SmallerMan’s “Blueberries”) music (two movements of Benedetto Marcello’s “Sonata in G Major” performed by SchoolLess), and dinner out with family, we returned home to our new couch and The White Shadow, a lovely lull of an evening.  But then, between the first episode and the second, the DVD player malfunctioned, and things fell apart, if not epically, like the Red Sox, then all too familiarly.

Long story short:  frustration, issues, recriminations, good night.

It may be true that,

When clouds appear, wise men put on their cloaks;
When great leaves fall, the winter is at hand;
When the sun sets, who doth not look for night?

But we portend too much.  The rain and cold and darkness are out thereIn here, it is, and in memory may it always be, dry and warm and light.   The awareness and experience of contrasts is essential to the well-examined and well-appreciated life.

What’s in store for us this evening?  So many factors at play, a few of them even controllable.  Perhaps a little optimism, some mental visualization is in order.  You may not hit that line drive right up the middle but maybe reality begins, must begin, in the imagination.

I will take at least one long walk a week.  I will never be sarcastic.  I will write the great American novel.

Whereas yesterday I allowed myself to be overwhelmed by the muttering of my officemate and failed to summon the self-control needed to write, as intended, about self-control—dear reader, I ate the marshmallow—today I keep it short-ish and sweet-ish (“with a kiss,” as Bill Raftery, king of the catchphrase, would say).

I see the four of us and the cat, lounging, eating cookies and drinking tea, not ruing the day but sharing in its joys.  Happy is as happy does.

The arepas are delicious.  SmallerMan rocked his solo and showered without being asked.  SchoolLess is jazzed about his future peers:  one is into Benny Goodman; another is a connoisseur of bubble tea; a third loves Mel Brooks.  Skeptic has found her inner Buddha and is humming  “Hallelujah”.  The Red Sox are winning!

 

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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