The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘growing up’

Together Young

October 21, 2016 | by

Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago. Here, Jen George revisits Balthus’s painting Thérèse Dreaming.

Balthus, Thérèse Dreaming, 1938, oil on canvas, 59 x 51''.

Balthus, Thérèse Dreaming, 1938, oil on canvas, 59" x 51''.

In Balthus’s painting Thérèse Dreaming, a young girl sits, face turned to profile, arms up, elbows out, hands rested on her head, legs a little open, underwear visible—a sort of clothed, daydreaming, preteen odalisque. She is at home in her youth. She has the countenance of someone who knows other things are coming, eventually. Maybe she knows what, though she probably doesn’t. Not like she needs to—experience comes from being alone in the world, and with time. When asked about the provocative poses of preadolescent girls in his work, Balthus said, “It is how they (young girls) sit.”

When I first saw Thérèse Dreaming, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I stopped to sit. Maybe I’d been tired. I had been traveling cross-country with a counterfeit sixty-day Greyhound Ameripass—it allowed for unlimited bus travel within the U.S—and I had been smoking heavily and maybe not sleeping at all. I couldn’t stay all day in the Brooklyn apartment where I’d been sleeping, so most days I went to the Met, looking at art, spacing out, reading, sometimes staring at blank walls. It was inviting, the room and the painting. Thérèse’s skirt was like mine. My hair was longer. I liked her shoes. I liked that she was both in this room and not; she was dreaming, but I couldn’t see where she’d gone. Read More »

The Road to Toluca

March 3, 2016 | by

“As I let the shotgun drop the butt hit the bricks and the second shell fired into me...”

From the cover of The Child Poet

An excerpt from The Child Poet.

One Saturday toward noon in January 1951, three friends and I made our way home after playing soccer. The milky rays of a nearly white sun ploughed the damp earth, and our shadows moved neatly beneath our soles each time we lifted a foot to take a step. When we reached my house I waved goodbye to my friends. Without replying they continued on their way.

My solitary steps echoed along the sunlit corridor; my parents were at the store. And then I went into my brother’s room, although I hadn’t meant to go in … A shotgun someone had lent him was propped against the wall. As if moving by their own accord, my hands reached for it. I walked to the backyard and climbed onto a pile of bricks that were being used to build the new kitchen. There was no one around; the bricklayer and the peon were having lunch in the old dining room.

Standing on the bricks, I saw some birds alight on the sapodilla tree next door, to be momentarily covered by the branches … Until they returned to the air, over my head, high in the blue above … And without wanting to, I aimed the shotgun at them and fired, not intending to kill a single one.

I watched with relief as they all flew on until they were lost in the distance. But as I let the shotgun drop the butt hit the bricks and the second shell fired into me. Such was the blow I felt from the shots that I thought infinity had entered my belly. Read More »

Plastic Presidents

March 1, 2016 | by

The Marx Presidents.

Growing up, our house was filled with presidents and almost presidents. WIN WITH WILLKIE! blared a sign on our front door. Wilson, having “kept us out of war,” looked down benevolently as you mounted the stairs. At the top, you might be confronted with a Nixon caricature and a poster for Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose ticket. And that’s to say nothing of the large case of assorted campaign buttons in the living room, or the cedar closet that had been completely given over to posters, terrifying rubber LBJ and Reagan masks, and other such ephemera. Read More »

Pink Cigarettes

January 29, 2016 | by

Lighting up.

Why not?

I smoked my first cigarette with three or four friends near the pond behind our middle school. We obeyed all the stereotypes, puffing and passing, accusing one another of not inhaling, taking turns as lookouts until there was nothing left but the filter. We were fourteen.

I come from a long line of smokers—my grandfather smoked cigars; my dad and older brothers, cigarettes—so smoking seemed preordained for me. It was just a matter of time. My parents forbade my brothers and me from smoking on principle, even as my father smoked his Viceroys in front of us. Eventually, after shouting matches with mom and in order to make room for dad’s contradiction (which wasn’t lost on my brothers), the no-smoking ban became simply, desperately, “not around the house.” Read More »

Books by Covers, Et Cetera

October 14, 2015 | by

For a kid, it’s better than your name in lights: your name in appliqué.

Back when the world was new and there weren’t three Sadies in every kindergarten class, I worshipped the Lillian Vernon catalog. My love for the mail-order tome was purely theoretical; although it arrived in the mailbox regularly, we never ordered anything. But the pages filled with personalized things—pink-dotted linens, pencil cases, dolls, beanbag chairs, Christmas stockings—seemed wonderful to a child who had never found a keychain with her name on it. I remember in the late eighties the name Madison often appeared in the pictures, rendered in a round, admirably legible embroidered font. 

That was the primary lure for me, and I’m sure for others, too. But the catalog opened my eyes to a whole realm of adult luxury beyond monograms. Hammocks. Seasonal wreaths made of artificial flowers. Eyeshades. The world seemed so full of things, both exciting and overwhelming. One item made a particular impression on me: a book cover for paperbacks. Was it needlepoint? Or am I conflating it with the hymnals at my grandmother’s church? Either way, I know the copy advertised its ability to “hide that trashy romance novel!” Read More »

Mother Approved

October 6, 2015 | by

Only the best for my boy: the actress Helen Twelvetrees and her son, Jack Woody, in Sydney circa 1936.

I used to have a superpower. I never told anyone, of course—that’s the rule with powers—and in the grand tradition, it was a mixed blessing. It was this: mothers loved me.

It’s true. Mothers of all kinds wanted me to date their sons. Hell, they wanted me to marry them. Not shockingly, the actual sons in question were less jazzed about the prospect. It seemed like the very qualities that rendered me totally unsuitable to boys my own age—my good manners, my bookishness, my lack of any adult sexiness, even my runty size—were the same things that drew their mothers like catnip. Read More »