Some exciting news around here- I got an invitation to take Mother Tongue to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and I just couldn’t turn it down. So it looks like I’m going to Scotland this summer, friends. I’ll be performing August 4-15 at Summerhall, which the Scotsman just called the Fringe’s “hippest new venue.” I’m both thrilled and terrified. It’s going to be a wild adventure.
Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled program of cute kid pics…
The other day we took T to LACMA to gaze at his beloved Metropolis 2, and to visit the Tar Pits (which he insists on visiting, only to run away screaming, STINKY! STINKY!) and the strangest thing happened: he wanted to see the art. Until now, LACMA trips have mostly involved trying to convince him to not hide and scare people in the mammoth Richard Serra sculpture.
For some reason, T wanted to take the Jenny Holtzer elevator to the third floor and actually get off, rather than just ride up and down sixteen times. He was utterly enchanted with the Robert Therrien sculptures we found there. As only T can, he threw his arms up and danced with glee at each new abstract form, declaring them WORMS! or A BIG ENORMOUS HUGE HAT! or A ROCKET! He had equally compelling observations about the more representational work. I’m tempted to write the artist and let him know that he should consider re-titling the above piece, Giants Eat Pancakes.
The experience reminded me of wandering the galleries of the Met with my father as a child. Those afternoons were so full of wonder. I sometimes bemoan the fact that it’s unusual for art to truly transform my world the way it did when I was younger. It happens, just not often. But watching T’s joyous response completely rocked the ground under my feet. I’ll never again be an eight-year-old frozen in front of a Jackson Pollock, or a fourteen-year-old, having my brain cracked open by Louise Bourgeois, but I can borrow my son’s eyes. Who knows what crazy magic I’ll find.
We didn’t see the eclipse- not really. The kids were all in the backyard and didn’t care much about the sun and the moon crossing paths. Not when there was wrestling and jumping and baseball to be had. They didn’t want to get in the car and drive to higher ground to see it. I know better than to try to force some big plan on boys with plans of their own.
Then, right about the time I had surrendered to not seeing the eclipse, we heard a buzzing in the trees. The power lines that run above our back fence began to spark, broke loose and fell through the palm trees into the yard. My friend Marti screamed the freaked-out-mom scream and ran for the baby in the swing. I hollered at the boys and terrified them. We got the crew inside, called the power company and eventually decided to move the party to Marti’s house. We parents all wore the grateful, stunned calm that comes from having narrowly averted something genuinely dangerous.
And sometime while we were in transit to Marti’s house, singing and if you can’t share your airplane it’s going to go away-ing, the sun was partially eclipsed by the moon.
But it was a gorgeous twilight, with cool grass and light that was amber and altered. There were shadows that seemed to melt into the driveway. There was iced tea and a friend to sit with and the kids were happy and safe. Sometimes you have to be content to face east instead of west, to feel the strangeness at your back and know that there will be other marvels. The world is full of them.
The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
That line leapt out at me when I had the privilege of seeing Elevator Repair Service’sGatz at The Public last week. In it, ERS performs the entire text of The Great Gatsby. It’s an eight hour evening altogether and I’d sit through it again right now if I could. While I was watching, I shifted between getting swept up in the performances and marveling at the text itself, the gorgeous glittering sentences.
That particular line sums up the way I always feel when I’m taking a cab into the city from JFK. On the one hand, I’ve seen it a million times before. On the other, it’s always new. I’m always a little girl, looking at the New York skyline and wondering what magical possibility is there waiting for me.
In an hour, I head home to my boys. I miss them something awful and at the same time, I have enjoyed the big lonely bed and the experience of waking up and facing no immediate responsibility other than getting some caffeine in my system. I admit that part of me longs for the freedom I used to have, even as I’m living a pretty free kind of moment. It seems a waste of a beautiful morning, this longing. But nevertheless, there it is.
We’re doomed to be like sailors. We survive months at sea, driven only by thoughts of home. Not long after we finally reach shore, we find ourselves gazing at the ocean again. But none of this gazing negates the fact that my family gives me all I’ve ever known of any real kind of happiness. So now I gladly go pack my suitcase to return to the chaos that almost certainly awaits me.
It’s been a wonderful trip, overall. There were stories told and words read and meetings had and dinners eaten and babies cuddled. There were late nights crying with old friends and late lunches at Barney’s (best people watching in all of New York). All the stuff I’d never do at home. Plus, a friend of mine must have bribed the president, because he somehow scored tickets for us to The Book of Mormon and I’m certain it’s the funniest show ever written.
I’m always sad to leave. I always can’t wait to get home.
Here’s my perfect soundtrack for a midnight ride over the Brooklyn Bridge. I get along without New York just fine- except perhaps in spring…
I’m in New York right now for some meetings and events, so I spent Mother’s Day away from my son, which felt like spending it without one of my arms. Something essential was missing. I was vaguely blue all day.
But the picture above is of my run this morning in the Catskills, so that was kind of amazing. As a child, I spent my summers in these mountains. Dredge that lake and you’ll find all my kid firsts and kid fears. The light through the leaves, the particular purple of the shadows the clouds cast on the mountains, the softness of the air in the early morning- all these things feel as familiar as the lines of my palms. I’m not sure if it makes me want to run away or move back here for good.
As I was running, I thought about the mothers in my life: my mother, my birth mother, all the women that have nurtured me in various ways. And I thought of my son’s birth mother and of the women that cared for him in the orphanage before he could finally come home. I thought of the mother I’ve managed to become, finally, and of the mother I haven’t managed to become, in spite of my best intentions.
I let all these thoughts rattle around in my head until the last leg of the run came and I tried to imagine that I was T when he runs. Because he doesn’t bother with some big reverie- he runs with nothing but freedom and joy.
PIL’s “Rise” started playing on the shuffle just in time for my final sprint. So, as John Lydon says, May the road rise with you today, my beautiful mommies.
Also- fuck Time magazine and all the corrosive perfectionism we’re called to embrace as mothers in this culture. Fuck the seeds of divisiveness that article sows. We’re stronger when we’re kind to ourselves. We’re stronger when we stand together.
Jillian Lauren is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem and the novel, Pretty, both published by Plume/Penguin. Some Girls has been translated into seventeen different languages. Her next memoir, Everything You Ever Wanted, is coming out from Plume in 2014.
Jillian has an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. Her writing has appeared in The Paris Review, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Los Angeles Magazine and Salon.com among others and has been anthologized widely, including in The Moth Anthology, True Tales of Lust and Love and Best of Babble Blogs.
She has performed at spoken word and storytelling events across the country, including being a regular on The Moth mainstage, and has been interviewed on such television programs as The View, Good Morning America and Howard Stern.
She is a popular and sometimes controversial blogger at MSNBC, The Huffington Post and Jillianlauren.com, which was named a Top 100 Mom Blog of 2012 by Babble Magazine.
Jillian is married to Weezer bass player Scott Shriner. They live in Los Angeles with their two sons.