Madeleine Robins

August 8, 2011

Cats and Boyfriends

Filed under: Uncategorized — madeleinerobins @ 12:22 AM
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I have been derelict, for which I apologize.  And I really ought to write a post for SarahTolerance.com first, but I’m mulling something over there, after several posts about Regency sewing (!) and here I can talk about less, um, historical things.  Like cats.  And old boyfriends.

I no longer have cats because we’re all allergic to them.  While it was just me, and I was acclimated to my late cat Alexis, this didn’t matter.  Then I got married and had a kid and, sixteen months into the kid’s life, my husband spent a week in the ICU because of allergies and severe asthma, and I had to reevaluate.  Alexis lived the rest of his feline life with a former roommate of mine who bravely took him on when I had to send him away.

I no longer have the boyfriend because, well: married someone else.

But cat and boyfriend intersected in my single days in a, well, singular way. (more…)

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June 13, 2011

Obscenity

Filed under: Uncategorized — madeleinerobins @ 12:23 AM

I missed last week’s post (I really am trying to post weekly) because I was in Massachusetts for my father’s memorial party.  Yes, I said party.  My father was a big believer in parties, and he left very specific instructions about this one: the Dixieland band that was to play us down to the river where his ashes were to be scattered (by plane) and then triumphantly back again afterward, a real New Orleans funeral; the specific locale; and no “memorial service” or religious overtones whatsoever.  Oh, and the party itself: it’s very much in my father’s character to arrange one last party at which he was the guest of honor.

Well, the skies stayed clear, the party was well attended, my brother made stew and I made cake, and people brought salads and side dishes to share, the band played on, stories were told and Happy Birthday sung (the party was on his birthday, which seemed appropriate) and it was just splendid.  And I got a chance to notice something that I had begun to note in April when my Dad went into hospice care: people who have no problem using all sorts of other, um, technical terms, balk at the D-words: death, die, dying, dead.

I have nothing but praise and gratitude for the hospice workers–social workers, chaplain, nurses–who tended my Dad through his last two weeks of life, as well as for the home health aides who made it possible for my brother and me to be there for Dad, but also get sleep and the odd dinner.  But I began to find it funny, the lengths everyone went to avoid saying “die.”  “When your father passes,” they said.  Often the voice would drop a dozen decibels on the word, even when the word wasn’t the word.  One woman who lived in the same retirement community couldn’t even say “passes.”  “When your father…you know,” she said uncomfortably.  And the people at the funeral home that I dealt with, who were fabulously helpful, know everything you need to know about dealing with “end of life issues” and will happily share that knowledge with you, lowered their voices and used terms like, well, “end of life” when they might have said “death.”

The word obscene, I was told in a drama class in college, derives from the Greek for “off stage,” referring to things too terrible to be shown to the public: Oedipus goes off stage to poke his eyes out after he learns his own ugly secret.  (I should note that I haven’t been able to corroborate this etymological factoid.)  The sort of wholesale death ‘n destruction of, for example, the Die Hard movies, is entertainment, but the death of an elderly man who has had a long, full life is obscene: it can only be spoken of in a hush, with sideways looks to make sure no one else overheard.

My reaction to all this was rather juvenile.  I didn’t quite raise my voice every time I said “die” or “dead,” but I spoke the words as clearly and crisply as I could.  And I still felt like I was yelling in the library.  I made a point of using all the D words, because I couldn’t stand sugar-coating what was happening: my father was dying, on his own terms and after a long, full life.

In the musical The Fantasticks there’s a wonderful, giddy song that used to be called “Rape.”  It does not celebrate sexual battery: it’s about abduction in the old sense, as in the Rape of the Sabine Women (and in later productions the song was re-worded, from “You can get the rape fantastic, you can get the rape polite, you can get the rape with Indians, a truly charming sight…” to “An abduction that’s fantastic, an abduction that’s polite..” etc.).  I understand completely why they made the change–the 2000s are not the 1960s, and our view of what is acceptable has changed.  But in the original dialogue, when one character speaks of the cost of a sham abduction, calling it a rape, and another character protests, horrified, he is told “I know you prefer abduction, but the proper word is rape.  It’s short and businesslike.”

I kept thinking of this all the time I was talking with people about what was happening to my father, two months ago, and then again last weekend at Dad’s memorial.  Death is personal, everyone reacts differently and I don’t want to dictate how other people deal.  But for me, the proper word was “death.”  It’s short, businesslike, non-figurative, and in a weird way I found it more dignified than the alternatives.  But that’s just me.

May 2, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — madeleinerobins @ 8:39 AM

I wrote my first book because I couldn’t find anything I wanted to read.

Really, it’s as simple as that.  And as complex as that, too.  I had just graduated from college. I was somewhere I didn’t want to be, sharing a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles with my mother. It was a trying time all around, and writing became my refuge–if I was writing I didn’t get into spats with my Mom; if I was writing I didn’t have to think too much about what I was going to do when I left LA and started out on my own; and if I was writing I could be tall and witty and beautiful (none of which my 22-year-old self was) and meet a tall, handsome, witty guy.  With red hair.

Here’s my dark secret: I wasn’t writing for publication.  I was writing to give myself exactly what I needed to be reading at that point.  A comfort read, full of froth and dress descriptions and a happy ending.  And I got to write about an historical period I find fascinating, which meant doing research, and that was totally a plus.  When it was done, for the hell of it I sent it to a friend of my mother’s who was an editor, just to see what she thought.  And she thought it was good enough to publish.  (I went through years and years of guilt because I didn’t “suffer” enough before I was published–but then I decided I wanted to write SF and I faced plenty of rejection; I like to think I got my suffering in there.)

Thirty years later, I look at Althea and it holds up.  There are occasional sentences that make me want to take my 22-year-old self aside and say “no, really, honey, no.”  It’s not a mature work, as the lit-critics say, and I am pleased to say that my writing has certainly improved since then.  But Althea was exactly what I needed it to be then: a fun, frothy entertainment.  If you’re in need of a little romance of the popcorn variety, Althea has returned to sale as an e-book at Book View Café.  I’m not just delighted to see it available again, I think I’m actually kind of proud of it.  The 22-year-old girl typing away in that one-bedroom apartment had no idea what doors that work would open.

November 6, 2010

writer*editor*occasional baker

Filed under: Uncategorized — madeleinerobins @ 1:04 AM

Writing gives you the illusion of control,

and then you realize it’s just an illusion,

that people are going to bring their own stuff into it.

–David Sedaris

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