Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Little Women

Sometimes I think I've had a little preview of my future. What's surprising to me—me, who has spent the last year trying to hold on to time like a kid trying to stop a wave from going back out to sea—is that these glimpses have been strangely reassuring.

In early June, my daughter graduated from high school. Her high school, which was also my high school, has a longstanding tradition of holding its graduation ceremonies at the Hollywood Bowl, the girls wearing white dresses and holding red roses. The class sang Regina Spektor's The Call: "I'll come back/When you call me/No need to say goodbye."

I expected to sob through most of the ceremony. But instead, the ritual of the event felt like a true expression of that dreaded word "closure." It was an elegant punctuation mark on her high school career...and her childhood.

Sandy Banks, a columnist for the L.A. Times, once wrote that the moment your child goes off to college feels like "a referendum on your parenting." You've had your shot at forming, shaping, teaching your child—now it's too late. The kid's out of your grasp.

At several points during my daughter's senior year, that knowledge gave me almost physical pain. I regretted my mistakes. I lamented that she'd spent most of her entire childhood shuttling between two houses. I felt there was so much I should have taught her; that I should have provided a more...I don't know, thorough upbringing.

But somehow, watching that graduation ceremony—and seeing her joy in it—gave me a sense of completion, not loss. And I felt like I was getting a peek at her college graduation, after what I hope will be a very...thorough four years.

Today, I drove down to my ex-husband's house to pick up my daughter for lunch. We went out to a restaurant, we talked, we went shopping at Target (I treated), we got an ice-blended coffee (she treated). We put our arms around each other's shoulders as we walked across the parking lot.

Maybe it's wishful thinking; maybe I'm tempting fate. But I want to think it was a little preview of a future in which my adult daughter and her (older) mom hang out, enjoying each other's company, teaching each other stuff. The referendum's in the pudding. Or something.

I know that I have no idea how things are going to go from here. I can't shape things any more now than I could 18 years ago. But really, it doesn't matter. Even if the future plays out completely differently, I had it today, and I'm grateful.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bringing Up Baby

I grew up on the top of a hill, 20 minutes from civilization on either side. There were no sidewalks; there was no public transportation. I was completely dependent on my parents in order to get anywhere. My older brothers and sisters occasionally hitchhiked down the hill to Sunset Boulevard to catch a bus to the beach; but by the time I was old enough to do it, it had been discovered that hitchhiking, like smoking, was bad for you.

I really didn't think about this much when I was little. It was what was. All I knew was that I couldn't ride my bike too far in any direction because I'd end up going down a hill I'd never get back up again.

Then when I was about eight, I read The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright. Published in 1941, it was about four siblings—Rush, Mona, Miranda (Randy) and Oliver Melendy—who live in a brownstone in Manhattan.

Each Saturday, the kids pool their allowances (50 cents each, plus Oliver's dime), which one of the kids then uses to have an adventure somewhere in New York City. In 1941, you could have an adventure in New York City for $1.60.

Rush goes to the Metropolitan Opera to hear Siegfried, and finds an abandoned puppy on the way home. Mona scandalizes her family by getting a sophisticated haircut and a ruby-red manicure. Randy goes to see a collection of French paintings at an art gallery and discovers an amazing secret about a very old family friend. And Oliver, who was supposed to have an adult chaperone, sneaks out to see the circus at Madison Square Garden.

The Saturday exploits were fantastic—but for me, the true miracle lay in one tiny detail: In New York, you could walk right out of your house and have an adventure.

In New York, there were taxicabs honking outside your door, and snow, and a place called Central Park where you could rent a rowboat (and maybe fall in the lake), and people yelling funny epithets and crowds bustling down the sidewalks. There were sidewalks.

I fell in love with the Melendy family. (I wanted to be in the Melendy family; I even tried changing my name to Miranda for 15 minutes, but my fourth-grade teacher wasn't having it.) And I also fell in love with New York.

All my new what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-ups involved living in New York. I'd be a writer living in New York. I'd be an actress—like Katharine Hepburn—living in New York. I'd be some kind of single career woman living in New York.

Then my un-Katharine Hepburn nature took over. I went to California. After graduation, I moved...back to Los Angeles. I got married. I got one job, then another. I had a child. The child started school. I got divorced. You know the drill.

Now the child is going to college. I have a partner who comes from...New York. He has an apartment in Greenwich Village. This fall, we're moving to...New York.

It took 40 years, but I'm finally getting in touch with my inner Melendy. It's time for an adventure.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Love Among the Ruins

I'm living in a state of unKate. I'm not happy about this.

See this house? This is Katharine Hepburn's family estate on the coast of Connecticut. I do not live in this house.

I live in a condo in the middle of Los Angeles. I hate the word condo; it's repulsive. Maybe because it's one letter away from condom, which is another thing I don't want to live in.

The place is a wreck. We're moving this year—but not yet. My daughter is going to college—but not until next month. Two of us work at home—our projects are everywhere. The carpet is...oh god, don't even get me started on the carpet.

When I'm not laughing about this, which is about 30 percent of the time, I get depressed. I aspire to better than this. I aspire to a grand old white clapboard house with wood-plank floors and windows that open to a view of the Atlantic. Failing that, I aspire to a spartan one-room loft in Greenwich Village with brick walls and transvestite hookers shrieking outside the window in the middle of the night. That's where we'll be living in a few months. Just...not yet.

I'm not sure whether my grumpiness is really about the condom and the carpet—or whether it's the one-foot-on-the-dock, one-foot-on-the-rowboat sense of displacement I'm feeling.

We've lived in this place for 10 years. When we moved in, my daughter had just finished second grade. I remember wondering what color to paint her room and thinking to myself, 'Robin's-egg blue.'

I turned and asked her, "What color should we paint your room?"

She thought for a minute, then said, "Robin's-egg blue."

It's still robin's-egg blue, underneath the posters and the pictures and the postcards that have been taped to the wall. Her project this summer is to clear out all the old stuff she doesn't want anymore. The project is going...slowly.

Every week or so, I take a few boxes of clothing or household items or old toys to Goodwill. The pencil marks on the doorframe where we measured The Child's height will be painted over. I guess the Obama sign in the window will have to come down, too.

It's funny how you can be so eager to move forward into the new thing and still feel bereft about the loss of the old thing. (Not the carpet. I won't feel at all bereft when we lose that frigging carpet.)

I wonder if Katharine Hepburn felt this way in 1932 when she boarded the train that brought her west to Hollywood. When she landed on the station platform in Pasadena with red, swollen eyes, was it just because a cinder had flown into her eye in Albuquerque?

I'd like to think even Miss Hepburn felt a pang for the things left behind.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Morning Glory

Whenever Stan goes to The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (or as we aging Westwood hipsters call it, The Bean—and if aging Westwood hipsters isn't a triple contradiction in terms, I don't know what is), he comes home and reports the theme of the day. Usually it's a wardrobe theme, like "men in suspenders" or "women in tight skirts and spike heels," though why he would notice those is beyond me. The theme is whatever he saw a lot of during the couple of hours he sat there.

My theme of the day is: generosity. I saw a lot of it today.

Really it started a few weeks ago, when my Twitter friend—okay, woops, sorry, have to branch off here into what my friend Bob Canzoneri would call a tributary:

This is not going to be a blog about Twitter. In an ideal world, this would be the last post in which I even mention Twitter. Not that I don't love Twitter. But talking about Twitter is unnecessary for people who are on it and annoying for people who aren't. So, no Twitter. Except this once.

A few weeks ago, my Twitter friend Bumble Ward (@bumbleward on Twitter) wrote and said, "Susan, do you have a blog?"

"Oh, thanks for asking, but no," I said. "Maybe someday!" I chirped. I think I even used the exclamation point, ick.

But really, I was amazed at the idea of someone apparently wanting to read more of what I'd written. Isn't that like asking to see someone's slideshow from their vacation in Wisconsin?

Okay, cut to the chase: I start this blog. I write to Bumble on Twitter to thank her for the inspiration. She writes back with congratulations.

A few minutes later, I see that Nancy Friedman (@fritinancy), she of the 1900 followers, has tweeted, "Excellent news: @susanchamplin has a new blog," and gives my url. Excellent news? The fact that I started a blog is excellent news?

Before I can process this astounding concept, I get comments from three more people—perfect strangers—about my blog. I think I was actually sweating at this point. Later in the day, @NewsyGal writes her own blog post about Katharine Hepburn and tweets that it was "inspired by @susanchamplin's blog... ." And @LibertyLndnGirl has offered advice on publicizing Stan's and my book.

All right, I know that for Twitter folks, this is nothing new. This is how Twitter works. But really, this isn't about Twitter. Twitter is just the enabler. But it starts with this extraordinary generosity of spirit that floats out there like dandelion seeds on a breeze. I am, to borrow the British expression, gobsmacked by the generosity of people who don't even know me in supporting my efforts.

Thank you all, so much. I'm grateful. I'm humbled. I'm sweating.

So Kate (can I call you Kate? No?), so Miss Hepburn: Thank you. You said, "Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put into this world to rise above." And you got me to rise above my "Maybe someday!" nature and just do the damn thing. And look what happened—you got your name in print all over the place.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Not The Philadelphia Story

I'm 48. That's a really weird thing to say. Ask anyone who's 48 and they'll probably say, "I'm forty-eight? God, that's weird." My daughter, an only child, goes to college this fall. Then my partner, Stan, and I will move from L.A., where I've lived almost my whole life, to New York.

I feel like I'm at this odd midway point, but I don't know how to assess what I'm seeing behind me or in front of me. I wanted to call this blog Halfway There, which felt both optimistic and fatalistic at the same time. Like my life is half over—or it's only half over. See? Hopeful! The name was taken, but that halfway-transitional-where-am-I sense is probably what will drive the posts on this blog. (And can I just mention in passing how odd and egotistical it feels to be writing a BLOG? For pete's sake, who cares? Discuss.)

So, why Katharine Hepburn? Because she's the anti-me. As a teenager, I worshiped what I saw as her independence, her willfulness, her seeming lack of care for what anyone thought or expected of her. She frolicked nude in a fountain at Bryn Mawr. This was all very not me. But I wished it were. (We're leaving aside here her slavish, self-denying devotion to Spencer Tracy; nevermind that.) She was the role model I
measured myself against but never lived up to. But maybe I still can. I'm only 48.