Monday, January 16, 2012

Vance Gilbert and a lot of metaphors

Dearest Esther,

I am behind in updating your milestone book and I don’t want to wait until I have written up my notes on months 5 and 6 before I put last night’s adventure in writing.

(As an aside, here's a video of how much you like your Obasan right now.)

Your Obasan and I have been through a lot together.  As freshmen in college, she taught me to laugh out loud, even when it would make people turn to look at us.  Junior year, she broke my heart and transferred schools.  We stayed on the phone and she came back to see me graduate; then I returned the favor a few years later.  We have evaluated each other’s boyfriends and comforted one another through break-ups.  She has answered the phone often to nothing but silence as I gasped for breath through my sobs.  She was my maid of honor and she went with me to the courthouse when I finalized my divorce.  She signed the ketubah when I married your dad and she helped me give birth to you.

Through all of this, we have had Vance Gilbert.  Tonight, we took you to his concert.  I was very nervous that people would give me the stink eye for bringing a baby to a concert but since your Obasan loves spending time with you and you are such a pleasant child, I was willing to try it out.   You know, because urban babies wear black and go to concerts.  But they sit in the back, just in case.  We had taken you to a klezmer concert during Hanukkah and you were brilliant. 

Obasan and I spotted Vance when we walked in with you and giggled to each other, “There he is!”  He smiled at us but I worried he would think we were being disrespectful of his talent and hard work by risking the effectiveness of the performance and communication with your potential cries.

As we took our seats, though, people smiled at us, chucked you under your chin and called you sweet pea.  Most of them were grandparenty in age and I wonder if they thought that life was too short to waste on worrying if a show will be ruined by a cute baby.  Because seriously, there’s a cute baby to smile at. And there are never enough chances to do that in our short lives.  Concerts come and go, right?

Still, I wanted you to behave. 

So, you sat on Obasan’s lap and watched the stage as Vance walked up on it.  Rapt.  The word is, “rapt.”  I wanted to take your picture because it was such a perfect image.  But I’m a terrible photographer and the lighting would have never translated.  So, I resolved to tell you this story the way I know how.  You dipped your right hand into the little bowl of cheerios like you were eating popcorn in a movie theater.  You were like an adult in miniature, perfectly replicating our mannerisms even though I know that you were just being yourself.  I love imagining how you must be experiencing these situations so differently than those of us who have completed the language acquisition stage of development. 

Although you have the pincer grip to get cheerios to your mouth most of the time, eventually, you just let the slobber on your right fist pick them up for you before you jammed the whole thing in your mouth and sucked off what you could. 

After awhile, you turned to me and patted my upper arm.

It kills me when you do that.  Just one or two pats while you look me in the eyes, as if to say, “Yes, you are my mother and here you are.”  Usually you turn back to whatever else had previously had your attention. 

This time, you made it clear that you were ready for me to hold you.  We nursed and your Obasan and I passed you back and forth until you landed in my arms, standing on my lap while turning turning turning like you do because you know I’ll help you get your 360 degree observation of any room we sit in for an extended amount of time.

I like it that you are cute but I am so relieved that you are curious.

During quieter moments between songs while Vance talked, you began growling at him.  Sometimes your dad and I call you Grumbledore because of these growls.  I was really nervous when you started doing this because there is no way to quiet you since you’re not upset.  You father and I began preparing to take you out into the hallway.

But Vance laughed and started talking about you.  He asked your name and connected it to Eostre, the goddess of rebirth.  This type of exchange actually happened a couple of times and I began to relax.  He hummed a Vancified version of Brahm’s lullaby and pretended to speak with your voice in disgust that he wasn’t a bigger star.

However, as you got more tired, you got more cranky and when it seemed like you were going to start crabbing at me, I got up to go out into the hallway until I could rock you to sleep in your Ergo carrier.  I knew it had to be me since you won’t fall asleep with anyone else.  At least, not quietly.

Vance actually stopped me and asked me not to go.  “Don’t take her out,” he said.  I’m terrible in improv situations and couldn’t say anything witty in response.  Finally, I managed to protest, “But it’s going to be a pretty song.”  Since he had asked, though, we stayed, standing near the stage because that was where the exit was.  The pretty song that he had already begun playing while he told the story was one that he had written for the children in his neighborhood, so it was particularly apropos.  He called it a tone poem and it’s called Come Here My Love

Of course, I cried as he sang, “And my eyes linger too long on your face / It’s like staring at the sun / And you see a good in me / The world don’t seem to recall.”  You have given my life such direction and purpose, even in the midst of my dithering about my changing identity from professional to homemaker.  He kept looking at us as he sang and all of my fears about whether or not I should have brought you finally melted away.  That’s what it actually felt like: a hard candy shell was melting away and I could relax. 

I remembered that part of why Vance Gilbert concerts are so special is that each one is unique.  He is really engaged with his audience and the space he's playing in.  One day, I'll tell you about the show with his good friend Ellis Paul and how they had to improvise the second show since most of us from the first show just stayed through.  We keep going back because he's not just doing a set.  He's communicating.

I mouthed, “Thank you,” when the song finished and we went back up to our seats where I stood in the aisle and rocked you until you fell asleep.

Esther, my love, you will stop needing me so soon.  We will not be this entangled in each other for very long.  I have been the protagonist of my novel for 34 years.  Right now, you are a supporting character but soon, you will have your own novel and I will become some archetype to help you in your own hero’s journey.  I know this.  You will not always have the burden of being the sun that lights up my life.  But you’ll have lots of little narrative cycles before the big trip to the cantina in Mos Eisley to find a pilot with a ship that has made the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs.  I intend to notice and be present for every one of them.

Vance shifted that song to sing directly to you, wishing aloud that you will grow into a good girl and clarifying in verse that good didn’t mean doing what was expected of you but meant being good to other people.  He also riffed on an earlier joke that we were setting your partner preferences by exposing you to him this early and that you’ll probably marry a black man someday.  He also blessed you, saying you will be special since your parents take you to see “cool shit.”  So, as you begin venturing out from my lap, I’m so gratified that Vance Gilbert – who has meant so much to your Obasan and me- affirms that what I can do is show you some of the settings that my own story progressed through and give you access to many of the other characters I know.  After that, I promise let go and simply read the parts of your novel that you share with me.

And it will be good enough to be a bestseller.