Thursday, February 11, 2010

4th Floor Walk-up

My mom came over one afternoon, ensconced herself on my recliner and picked up the article I had been reading before she arrived. It was an interview with Deborah Eisenberg. As far as I know, my mom doesn't know who Deborah Eisenberg is, has never read any of her short stories, doesn't like short stories compared to novels, and has cut back sharply on her reading. Nevertheless, she got sucked into the interview by the marvelous seductive voice, until she got to the part where Deborah explained that she and Wallace Shawn were moving out of their apartment into a fourth-floor walk-up nearby. Deborah is in her 60s and the picture of her with her dramatic white hair still streaked with black on the cover of the article, a woman with a ladylike presence and self-possession that my mom identifies with, perhaps led her to express her dismay at this move. "A fourth-floor walk-up? At their age? That's terrible!"
"Why?" I said. "They're not inviting you over. You don't have to climb all those stairs."
Her eyes bugged out at me. She closed her mouth to a thin line.

It's been a while since my mom and I saw eye to eye on many things. We tend, like the nice Midwesterners we are, to just keep away from those many topics we disagree on. But if we were to examine it, break it down, it might go like this. Probably my mom doesn't approve of about 75% of my life. We don't have a house, we don't care about decorating, our rented apartment seems cramped and uncomfortable to her and makes few concessions for the comfort of guests. We didn't get married until after the baby was born, just to get the health insurance we needed. It took us forever to settle down and do what everyone else does right away after college. I have no career; we have little socked away for retirement. Almost everything I have done in my adult life has been a bad idea according to her. For a long time, I thought she didn't mind that I was going my own way, that she trusted me to find my own way forward. But maybe she has thought all along I shouldn't have wasted all those years in graduate school, or traveling. I should have been working, saving for a down payment on a house, getting a proper job.
Was I doing everything wrong, because it wasn't what she did, it wasn't what she would do if she were in my place? I guess that's why she didn't approve of Deborah and Wallace moving to a fourth-floor walk-up. She couldn't imagine herself at the age of 75, now, moving into a less convenient, more physically challenging space. If she could not imagine it for herself, she put an emotional fatwa on anybody doing it. Likewise, driving at night.
I blame celebrity culture. TV shows everyone the horrid ways that Paris Hilton and Britney Spears are misusing their time and money. Most of us can do little to enter the conversation other than expressing our disapproval. "They" are not doing it "right." This assertion itself implies that the TV watcher does know how to do it "right." This smug self-satisfaction permeates all they do, all they buy, all their other opinions and aesthetic choices. We are all truly multi-cultural now. We are not to sneer at others' ways of doing things, but we are invited to, encouraged to. We love to, because we're not supposed to.

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