University Mechanations

With all the hoo-hah about rigged admissions to prestige colleges, I thought I would add a very long-term reflection on the process.

My Father was Amherst Class of 1912 (yes, he was born in 1890). His whole interpretation of what a college education meant was just, duh, accepted by me as a little kid, though resisted when it came time for me to do the thing myself.

For Dan Miles, the product of a relatively old-elite family in MA, a college degree certified your presence in the higher WASP orders. Very few were intended to get them.

For Milo Miles, the product of a relatively farmland-elite family in MT, a college degree was what the majority of high-school graduates who had their shit together needed for at least a middle-class future.

I’ve mentioned on Twitter how the news of a gay-rights demonstration at Amherst kept my dad from insisting I go there (that wasn’t all — he sensed that there was more freedom of choice for young-uns at the end of the ’60s). I decided that “going away” to college would shred my worthwhile MT roots (there’s more to it, but Nunya), so went to both MSU Bozeman and U of M Missoula.

I got the degree, with a couple buffs added. Dad died the next year (at 85). I’ve always thought that part of it was that he was determined to hang on until I got that college certificate, which meant that my work life would be taken care of from then on. At once a nice and nasty dream.

Presence of Past Sounds

Two final birthday notes. Instead of assembling a knockout-album soundtrack, my birthday surprise this year was that I played a record for one of my favorite intriguing reasons: I could not remember a single thing about it (happens when you dig into the hard-to-reach back stacks of CDs). Turned out to be very intelligent and very entertaining:

Giancarlo Vulcano, Unfinished Spaces (Distant Second, 2011)

The soundtrack for a documentary about Cuban National Art Schools (!!) that combines Cuban and classical avant-gardes from a fellow who does many TV soundtracks (??). Anyway, 20 quite short tracks that keep you swaying and bopping along the whole way. Check it. Sooner than I did.

Next, an afternoon drive in the cold sunshine where again and again I recalled that one of the last times my Mother spoke to me was on my birthday the year she passed away (about six months later). She was far from lucid then, but suddenly she came out with this:

“I remember the first time I saw you — when they placed you, wrapped up, on the counter next to me.” (This was the era of anesthesia childbirth.) She had never, ever, said this to me before.

I remember the plain little rooms of the pre-hospital  “medical center” where I was born. And yes, at least a few times each year on this day, the two of us are back there.

In Reality Begin Dreams

Captivating meditations on sleep and esp. dreams. I may have mentioned this before, but Mother was fixated on her dreams, many mornings recalling them in detail. I have a very peculiar book of hers that purported to explain everything in dreams as some sort of signifier or signal or warning. Offers no research justifications beyond the way obvious: yes, dreaming dead people you knew have come back to life is scary and probably a warning that something unexpected is going to happen.

Turning a Leaf With a Turned Leaves

Doesn’t happen every year, but sometimes around now I find a keeper leaf — not perfect, but perfectly imperfect.

I put it in the old Random House Unabridged Dictionary my folks bought for me as a kid. I remember how it sat on a stand in my bedroom and the afternoon light would make it fun to look up words.

Always take a second to admire my full name on the title page, written in my Mother’s beautiful cursive.

Necessary To Remember

I cannot believe that exactly 11 months to the day after this post we will be attending another memorial.

But I certainly believe age brings wisdom, however sad. Something my Dad said to me when I was, like, 15, was that one of the more difficult parts of getting old (he was 77) was how more and more often you had to attend memorials. And that it was even more disturbing when the number of them began to drop off.

I had no emotional understanding of that back then. But now I am glad he said it to me.

Comment on Alison Bechdel’s “Are You My Mother?” (Contains Spoilers)

… which I just finished. It is indeed a lesser work than Fun Home but that was inevitable because the earlier book was an unrepeatable one-shot (not as extreme as “Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary,” but still…). Fun Home includes built-in bombshells and an undeniable finish, plus many years of reflecting on Bechdel’s relationship to her father and his life. Her mother is still very present and ongoing and while there is a tragic death of a person you have come to adore and admire, it is not her mother. I do want to add that I think complaints that the book veers too much into an examination of the thoughts and theories of British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott are hooey — at least as much space is devoted to Virginia Woolf and neither figure buries or derails the narrative.

The other point of gratitude I must make is that Bechdel has convinced me that my mother had as much to do with making me a writer as my father’s respect for art and love of books. (Like Bechdel, I referred to her as “Mother” all the time.) When Mother would indulge me in spinning out fantasy tales whenever we were alone together, she helped me strengthen and enlarge my imagination, my sense of story and narrative and my adventures inside language. It was a tormented day when I realized I wanted to craft dreams I could no longer share with her. But Are You My Mother? helped me understand more of what she gave me.

Time in a Box

When it’s too cold outside for a long walk, I work out in the basement, where inevitably I stare at storage boxes, mostly from Montana. I can’t bear to more than glance at anything I wrote as a teenager or young adult. I tell myself it’s because I didn’t really know how to write then. But it’s also because I’m not that guy, or those guys, anymore and I’m not sure I want to meet them and find out what I think of them. I know I believed foolish, naively happy and optimistic things and it was painful enough losing the illusions once.

It’s painful to sort through my long-gone parent’s possessions and letters and photos (I’m almost three times as old as I was when my father passed away). But I feel disrespectful, dismissive even, leaving everything in old, dusty boxes. Can only go on for so long, though, before I’m hit with a memory like this: The last time I dreamed I was in the house where I grew up — haven”t been there since the ’80s — I was the age I am now and I felt a crushing sadness.

At least the new boxes are tidy.