If you need to be mean
be mean to me
I can take it and put it inside of me
-Mitski, “I Don’t Smoke”
I have a picture of us from when we were ten years old — Rose, Audrey, Sam, and me. We’re standing on the gravel shoulder of the highway that cuts across our hometown like a life line across a palm. Our arms are wrapped around each other, affectionate and possessive with the weight of preteen desires. Have you noticed the way young girls cling to each other in photographs? Maybe we knew then the terrible possibilities of separation. If we hadn’t held on to each other so tightly through childhood, how would things have ended?
That was all before we grew apart. That was before I hopped on a plane, before Rose came to meet me, before we ended up in the mountains of Italy, alone in a 300-year-old farmhouse. That was when we still lived in our small universe of Halfmoon Bay, in homes secluded from the highway by long gravel driveways and undisturbed forest. What would have happened if the ghost had shown up then, when we were still so connected, instead of a decade later, across the world when there were just two of us in the middle of the night? More… “Gone Ghost”
As a child, I believed my 16-year-old babysitter, at the peak of adulthood, had all of the answers one could have. She had hip kicks, cool hair, and was in high school, which I assumed to be the height of “getting it.” She was old enough to understand the complexities of the universe (for me, at the time, that meant she could make mac and cheese from a blue box), yet not old enough to be out of touch with youth culture. I could not wait to become a teenager and to be as cool as she and the other teens I saw on TV, like Kelly Kapowski, Shawn Hunter, and Clarissa Darling. When I reached that threshold, I learned I was drastically wrong and shifted my gaze to 18 . . . and then at 18 to 21, 21 to 30. Now I’m just waiting for the comfort of the void. More… “Good Graces”
That first blast of fall air can bring sensational reminders of good ol’-fashioned school days. If not received already, many will be getting an invitation to attend a school reunion this fall. Reaction to these invites, however, is often met with great angst. On balance, responses from alumni are less than sanguine and may be sour.
Considering going to a reunion could conjure up sundry emotions such as: “Why do I want to go back to see those jerks?” or “Nobody I hung out with will be there” or “I see the people I need to see in my life now” or “I would love to go, but what if I see (him/her) again; I just could not bear it.”
Certainly, such emotion is understandable, especially if it is your high school reunion — adolescence is a tough and awkward time for all. While Hollywood gave us the good feeling that we can overcome the deep and personal pain of those school days, as did members of The Breakfast Club, sticking one’s neck out in the schoolyard again is too much reality. More… “Reunited . . .”
For his 2007 translation of Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes, Robin Buss chooses to render the title as The Lost Estate, followed by Le Grand Meaulnes in parentheses. However, since reading it, I refer to it solely as Le Grand Meaulnes, because Buss’s note on the translation describes the French title as nearly untranslatable: “There are, in fact, more titles of this book in English than there are translations of it”! (Even the author’s name is not consistently “translated.” A pseudonym — he was born Henri-Alban Fournier — it appears on some editions as “Henri Alain-Fournier” and on others simply as “Alain-Fournier.”)
The novel, considered a coming-of-age classic in France on par with our The Catcher in the Rye, tells the story of Augustin Meaulnes, known as grand at school for both his height and his charisma, a dashing boy who escapes one day on an adventure. It’s a few days before Christmas, and one of his classmates has been chosen for the important task of picking up the schoolmaster’s parents at a nearby train station. In a fit of competitive jealousy, Meaulnes steals a horse and carriage and races off to beat him to the station, but he takes a wrong turn and gets lost. He stops to sleep and the horse runs away. Eventually, cold and exhausted, he stumbles upon a secluded estate where some kind of celebration — “a strange fête” — is taking place: There are children in costume, dancing, a great feast. (You can picture it, can’t you? Stone walls? Fairy lights in the trees?) It’s a wedding, and Meaulnes crashes it. He is assumed to be a guest, and when everyone leaves at the end of the weekend, he catches a ride back in the direction of his town. By the time he returns he has been missing several days and, when the horse turned up with an empty trap, feared dead. More… “Impossible Time”
I can’t say that I’m upset that Cathy, the comic strip by Cathy Guisewite, will be ending it’s 34-year run on October 3. I’ve never been a huge fan of the strip, preferring more political bite (Doonesbury) or more lively domestic pratfall (Zits) in my comics fare. Still, the end of Cathy marks the end of an era that more or less coincides with my youth and a good chunk of my middle age. 34 years is a long time to riff on guilt-inducing mothers, dead-beat boyfriends, and the effect of ice cream and chocolate cake on female thighs, but though the jokes may have gotten tired, their repetition has itself been part of the appeal. The dog may die, the kids may leave home, but summer will come again and Cathy will be back in that dressing room with that ever-indulgent saleslady, trying on bathing suits.