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Good Bones

July 22, 2016

Although it’s been nice and hot outside, just the way I like it, I’ve spent much of the week in an air conditioned office, planning for fall.

I’ve been helping a 13-year-old boy learn to like writing better, and it’s given me a lot of ideas for helping college students learn how to relax a little and let themselves make a few mistakes in the service of learning how to better express the complexity of their thoughts on paper.

And I’ve been mulling over a conversation I had at the beach with my college friends, about discovering that one of them has sleep apnea and is getting better sleep with the help of a machine. The other night, when I woke up after a dream in which I was drowning and couldn’t get my breath, it dawned on me (heh) that I have all the symptoms of sleep apnea myself. I’m relieved, because I thought it was just how it is when you get older. It’s been irritating me that for the last year, I have been close to or have actually fallen asleep during things I want to do, like reading a book, watching a movie in a theater, or even driving a car down a multi-lane highway.

Last night Walker and Ron and I went to see the new Ghostbusters movie. We all enjoyed it thoroughly (yes, it kept me awake), and when we got home, Walker said he wasn’t quite ready for “family time” to end. We talked about things we could do, like play bananagrams, but what he eventually said he wanted was have a poetry reading. Ron and I agreed, as long as all of the poems were in English (Walker likes Russian poetry and sometimes reads it to us in the original language, for the sound). So we each picked a couple of poems, but then one of Walker’s reminded Ron of another, and one of Ron’s reminded me of another, and then Walker read us the greatest Robert Service parody I’ve ever heard.

Among Ron’s early selections was a very old poem that he has always known and been fond of, but I never remember hearing before, “Farewell, Rewards and Fairies,” in which a 16th-century person longs for the good old days.

Among Walker’s early selections was a very sad and lovely Mayakovsky poem, “Instead of a Letter,” that I suspect he has read more than once in the months since breaking up with someone (long distance, while they were both overseas) after more than four years of being together. We all feel sad about this, and so liked sharing some of the sadness, for a few moments.

This is one of my early selections. I heard it mentioned in light of current events a few weeks ago, and looked it up at the Poetry Foundation:

Good Bones
By Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Sometimes my children—especially Walker—talk to me about ambition, their own and what they think my ambitions should be. I like it that they think I should still have ambitions, that in addition to trying to “sell them the world” I’ve also tried to be a caretaker, and they’re going to keep holding me responsible for my end.

How was your week? Seen any good movies? Read any good poems?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2016 1:48 pm

    No poems but reading good books including Hold Still by Sally Mann (you might like this if you haven’t read it) and Nelly Dean by Alison Case (another one you might like). Saw Ghostbusters. Loved it.

    • July 22, 2016 1:58 pm

      I have to pass on the Mann, for now. I can’t concentrate on what anyone else does with family memorabilia while I have so many boxes of papers and photographs from my mother’s house sitting in boxes in my basement, waiting to be sorted.

      Nelly Dean is one that’s been on my radar, though. You may have tipped the balance from “someday” to “soon”!

  2. July 22, 2016 3:36 pm

    How wonderful that Walker wanted to read poetry with you! And also that you were helping a 13-year-old learn to like writing better. I can’t think of better ways for people like you and me to be spending our time and using our skills. And I love that poem Good Bones. We should all have it pinned to our walls in easy reach at the moment.

    • July 22, 2016 4:55 pm

      Thanks for the reassurance–sometimes it’s hard for any of us to know how best to spend our time and use our skills!
      We used to have poetry readings fairly frequently in the 90’s; it might be about time to start having them again, with different groups of people.

  3. July 23, 2016 9:01 am

    I was diagnosed with sleep apnea a couple of years ago, and, although it was fairly mild, getting treatment has been a help. I still doze off once in a while when reading or watching TV, but it’s less of a problem than it used to be. Definitely worth looking into.

    Right now, I’m reading a wonderfully dark book called A Kind of Intimacy. No movies, but I did see a great concert (Sufjan Stevens) and a live Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me show in the company of blogging friends, so that was fun.

    • July 23, 2016 9:28 am

      It’s good to hear that there are things to be done about the sleeping. I’d like to depend less on caffeine pills when driving long distances!
      You live in such a great place for summer events…I saw that you’d seen Sufjan Stevens at Wolf Trap, and was remembering our trips down there when we lived in Laurel, Maryland.

  4. July 24, 2016 4:35 pm

    I LOVE that poem you shared, and I love the idea of family poetry readings.

    • July 24, 2016 9:55 pm

      All credit for the family poetry reading goes to Walker, who also originated the idea that we should all write something on a theme last Christmas. Eleanor actually won a prize with the story she created for that!

  5. July 24, 2016 7:06 pm

    . . . and when we got home, Walker said he wasn’t quite ready for “family time” to end.

    That right there is the best compliment you and Ron could get as parents in my opinion.

    Also take care of that sleep apnea. My ex has it and his MD put the scare of God into him. Apparently the consequences can be quite dire.

    • July 24, 2016 9:57 pm

      It is a very satisfying compliment.
      I will see a doctor about the sleep apnea at some point, although it’s hard to know who to consult–my G.P. doc for a referral to someone in Columbus? An ENT? An allergist? A sleep center? (there are plenty of those!) So much choice, and then the morass of American health care.


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