She's a Real Mother

Mutha's got eyes in the back of her head.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

One Thing Leads to Another

It was clear from a young age that our first child was different. Speaking his first words at 6 months and sentences at 8 months, he taught himself to read when he was 3. How did we find out he could read? No "CAT" or "HOP" for him. On a visit to Boston Harbor he turned to us and asked, "Why does that boat say Lexington? Lexington is a town."

Proud? Well, sure. But my husband and I were also freaked out. We knew that this meant he would soon be smarter than us -- and I mean SOON. As he grew we knew we had to balance out his public school experiences with opportunities to hang out with his people. And we are lucky enough to live near a place where his people tend to mingle. The place my son proclaimed it no fair that you had to be big to go to -- the place, he cried, that should have a kindergarten: Massuchusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

One MIT gig that we have made a tradition is MIT FAT. What is a MIT FAT, you ask? It is an event held on the Friday After Thanksgiving -- and a day in which people come far and wide to show off chain reactions they have made. These chain reactions need only start and end with a string pull, but can do anything in between (well, I think there are rules about fire, explosives, and too much liquid). Once folks set them up, the chain reactions are connected to one another to create a system that fills a gym. Its like one gigantic Rube Goldberg-type device, and is incredibly fun to watch -- but what is even more fun for my boy is the chance to chat with folks who think about the same kind of things he does.

At the latest event, last month, I found him talking with a teen-ager about the guy's choice to have part of his chain reaction feature a figure depicting Loiuse Pasteur getting dunked in milk, while a figure depicting Sir Isaac Newton got run over by a huge rolling apple. The teen-ager said, "It's just supposed to be funny."

"Huh," my boy (10 years old these days) said with a straight face. "Seems more ironic than funny." To which they both busted out laughing. I just watched, a stranger in a strange land.

Then, it was announced that the Master of Ceremony was Arthur Ganson.

"ARTHUR GANSON!" my son cried. "Mom! Look! It's Arthur Ganson!"

I felt like an old lady in a pillbox hat peering at the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. "Who is Arthur Ganson?" my silly, unscientific-self asked.

And bless my son, he told me. Ganson is a scientist/inventor/sculptor who creates what can only be described as beautiful machines. Here is one: Ganson's Machine with 23 Scraps of Paper.

In yet another example of how great it can be when he gets to hang with his people, my son hustled up to the MC and asked excitedly, "Can I have your autograph, Mr. Ganson?"

It was clear the man had never been met with such a request before. "Sure," he finally said, and kindly did so.

Now my kid has Arthur Ganson's autograph in his room. And when he closes his eyes at night I can only imagine what he is seeing.

Monday, December 10, 2007

When Artist = Asshole

I just read Joyce Maynard's book At Home In the World, an account of her life and her infamous year in the company of J D Salinger. I am a great fan of Salinger's work and came to Maynard's book cautiously. After all, what good can be said about an affair between a man in his fifties and an 18 year-old girl? At the very least it isn't a fair fight (girl who thinks she is grown up meets man who is) -- at its worst, all definitions of adult aside, it could be a hell of a lot more sinister. Certainly, there is the "It was the style at the time" argument, pointing to the example of the Mia Farrow/Frank Sinatra relationship (made even a little bit stranger by the fact that Farrow looked like a 15 year old BOY -- Jeez Frank). But anything involving Salinger is different because of his complete retreat from public life. To become involved with him means cutting oneself off from a lot of the outside world -- which interestingly enough Maynard seemed all too happy to do. The story goes that she was a strongly hyped young writer, which included her picture on the cover of the New York Times Magazine and book deals galore -- all bagged in her freshman year at Yale. But she was very unhappy in school, more than a little freaked out by her sudden fame, and with no useful input from her parents Maynard hightailed it up to New Hampshire at Salinger's invitation and disappeared into his world.

And so, what does Maynard have to report? Guess what: Salinger is strange. He eats really weird food and is grumpy. The sexual relationship was odd and didn't work out. She was clingy and he got bored. Depending on who you are, reading her account could make you admit that interpersonally he is a messed up guy or that you think she is a bitch who should have never told the story or that Salinger is a pedophile whose work is worth shit because of that fact.

It is this last take I find the most interesting. If we find out an artist is an asshole, does that change the worth of his or her art?

Picasso was a notorious asshole -- although in Repo Man it is claimed that no one has ever called Picasso an asshole -- I find that hard to believe -- I mean look at that face...he was clearly smackable. Word is he was terrible to the woman in his life and not all that fun at parties. And yet, one of, if not the most important painter of the 20th century. Personally, when I look at Picasso's work I don't think about who he was at home.

And yet -- then there is Woody Allen. From what I have heard, his relationship with Mia Farrow was unconventional to say the least, but even in that context, his decision to make Farrow's daughter his lover and then wife is very creepy. I have loved Allen's films, but I must admit I have gone to see very little of his work since that story broke. Why? I think he really baffled me in a way I find hard to shake when I see his work. Is it because his movies seem so autobiographical? Is it because Allen so often turns to the camera in order to have an intimate conversation with the viewer that I feel compelled to yell back, "Yuck! What the hell have you been thinking, you kook?!"
If we sign on to be fans, do we sign a waver to personal behavior?
Here is another take on what it means to be a Salinger fan. After publishing At Home in the World, Maynard put her letters from Salinger up for auction at Christies. Because Salinger had sued over his letters becoming public in any way, Maynard anticipated that there would be a call for an explanation from his fans. Maynard noted that she had been very careful not to quote the letters directly in her book, but having used them for inspiration in writing her memoir said they no longer served a purpose for her and so she had decided to sell them in order to pay for her children's education. Surprising to some (including me), the letters went for a relatively low price -- and the new owner stated that he had bought the letters with the sole purpose of returning them to Salinger. What other writer, actor, artist, politician would inspire such loyalty in this day and age? What asshole for that matter?