I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Monday, February 1, 2016

Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker

I have enjoyed watching Parker's career as an actress over the years, but just because you have an artistic talent in one area, does not mean you have one in another area.  She does. She is an incredible writer. Her words flow like lyrical poetry and are so imaginative and vivid.  Each chapter is a letter to a man, she may or may not have met this man, she may or may not know this man she encounters, heck, one of them isn't even a man, but a billy goat (in that case, it's done with such style, grace and charm, with a touch of wit, that you actually expect the goat to talk back).  It is a very unique way of telling pieces of her life story through letters to men whose lives have intersected hers.

The first one is to the grandfather she never met who sends his son a special gift for his birthday while he is fighting in the Pacific.  The next one is to her father who was shot in the leg in the Philippines in 1944. A soldier tied a stick to his leg and he used his rifle as a cane. As the soldiers marched on, the ones in the  back were getting picked off, so he kept marching as fast as he could, but he would start to lag. When they would take a break, he would keep moving and end up at the front of the line by the end of the break, only to slowly fall behind. He would just repeat this, keeping one foot in front of the other, never giving up.  And because of that, she has a family to raise, with him as an example in so many ways.

In Dear Mr. Risk Taker, she writes to a famous musician she began listening to in high school.  In high school, she was a bit of an outcast. The songs came to mean a great deal to her.  We all have a song or artist that speaks to us in some special way. She was able to graduate early and with her sister's help, gain some confidence and enroll in art school, where everyone was a freak, an outcast, a weirdo. She had found her place.  Years later she would get a chance to see him in concert and sit at the soundboard. He came to talk to her afterwards and told her "We are the custodians of people's memories." He also told her he believed in taking risks when he played in front of an audience.  He has passed on, so she contents herself with pulling out the old vinyls and playing them on the porch and remembering when.

In Dear Father Bob, he was the homosexual Lutheran minister she has known her whole life. He always has an answer to her questions, even when she was eight and asked if there were people in hell. He replied, "You mean right now? No." "I realized that it was your opinion, in that moment. Faith to you was more clay than mortar, and if you could interpret the gospel, so could I." He was there when her oldest brother, a skinny asthmatic kid, took a speech, with footnotes, to the Draft Board to argue against the War. As her brother began to talk, the Board looked up his card which said he was F-4, a medical reject.  Father Bob was there to comfort him in his disappointment at not being able to protest and to steer him away from going into cannon law.  He is there when her children have questions about the Crucifixion. He gave her words of comfort when her father passed. Most important he taught that kindness was the most important thing in the world.

Dear Cerberus is a rather dark letter to three men whom she puts in the form of the three-headed dog that guards Hades.  Each one flows seamlessly into the next.  They're about men who are mean or abusive and no, I do not believe she delves too deeply on what happened in these relationships.  They are snapshots.  She is a woman who thinks that once she has gotten rid of the first one, she finds she really hasn't. Another one, different, but the same, shows up, with the first guy's head mocking her.  The third one really fools her, but eventually he reveals himself, too.  She realizes she must put the dog down forever, to protect her kids and to try to have a happy life.

In Dear NASA she apologizes to NASA for saying they were a misuse of tax dollars that could have been spent on health care and school programs. She admits she's a grade A idiot about some things and this is one of them. Without NASA there would be no: artificial heart pump, the surface that protects the Golden Gate Bridge, the jaws of life, invisible braces, a drop in salmonella cases, the ability to read charred Roman manuscripts, and school buses in Chicago.  "Thank you, NASA, for keeping watch and realizing that our universe will never be anything but light-years new.  I want to understand that, and I am so comforted by the fact that I can't. It only proves that some things won't allow themselves to be understood. They aren't for us to know and there's a rapture in that, don't you think?"

She hadn't been leaving her house much, but she had an appointment to keep for something that would take forty minutes. Making sure no one saw her, she saw your cab on the corner waiting .  She gave you the address and sat back for about ten minutes, before realizing that you were going the wrong way. She starts swearing at you and pointing at the written address, yelling that you are going the wrong way. You insist you are going the right way and ask that she not swear at you and turn your music up to drown her out.  He turns around but continues to go the wrong way. Then he pulls out a map, but its a map of the United States, which she screams at him that will be of no use.  When she yells at him at the top of her lungs to stop the cab, he does and is a block from her apartment.  He yells at her to hurry up and get out, but she quietly tells him she can't hurry. In this letter she apologizes to this cab driver for her behavior (except the part about him having the map of the United States). It was just a bad cab ride and every New Yorker has one and this is why you cut people some slack, but she was too wrapped up in what she was going through to be able to do that.  She does hope he has GPS now.

She walks into Abraham's office, in her early twenties, rather dazed, wearing purposely torn tights and shirt and boots.  He is an accountant and he tells her that she is broke.  He has heard that she is looking for an accountant.  It is a bizarre conversation and she ends up falling asleep on his couch. Over the years he will help her with an ATM emergency, after consulting the rabbi, as it is during Shabbat.  When her son's passport is out of date and they are at the airport, he arrives to straighten it out and comes back when she loses hers and again, when she loses that one two hours later and hits her with his hat when she asks if her hair looks stupid while they wait in line to take a passport photo.  He has treated her like a daughter and has always been there for her.  

In Dear Uncle, she goes to meet the Uncle and family of the daughter she hopes to adopt from a foreign country. She finds out about their existence in a document she receives in the mail. This thought of her having a family never occurred to her. He put her up for adoption in order to give her a better chance.  Now they want to meet her to determine if she is the right person.  It gets off to a rocky start when the Uncle, a religious man, asks where her husband is and she can only stammer that she doesn't have one of those. She has brought an album of pictures of what the girl's room will look like, but to the children it must look like Mars.  "None of the families I met were intact, everyone had lost children, parents, or a spouse.  there was not enough of anything for anyone. The only bounty was in categories of suffering or possible ways to die.  I didn't feel them looking at me with distance, they all smiled and shook my hand." She knew they had no electricity in the hut, but knowing is different than experiencing.  He pointed to empty spots in the hut where people slept, animals were kept, where they ate, etc... "You were kind. I don't want to quantify or describe it to anyone who won't see how far you walk or what you have to eat or where you go to pray...I don't think you would appreciate being characterized as anything other than a man who loves God and tries to be good...I think I know what actual divinity is because you handed it to me [when you said] we are all a family now."

She had been feeling unwell for a while and her regular doctor told her it was just a cold and not to worry. At 2am she awoke in pain and went to the internet to search for "agony of the left side of the body and read that you only needed to be alarmed when vomiting blood, and as if on cue I coughed up something...pale pink, which I though qualified as only blood-y?" She goes back to bed, but it only gets worse and she calls the children's nanny, but remembers little after that.  When she arrived at the hospital she was in and out of things and heard words like "septic shock", "hypoxemia" and "cyanosis".  After all the work, she was brought back and she got to see them save her life, even though it was not a certain thing, and everyone had to wear masks around her afterwards.  He didn't just save her life, but also her children. She doesn't have to worry what will happen to them if she died.  "This is the only moment and it has already passed. The only things suspending time are children and cross-country travel. Not even all our stars are moving, that was light-years ago; it's only us here, dying as slowly as we can."

I have to say, she saves the best for last and it packs a wallop. It could very well make you cry.  These collection of letters form a chain that tell a story of her life in a way as well as the life of the man she is writing about.  You catch a glimmer here and there of who she is and that is just fine. There are too many memoirs out there where celebrities spill their guts and put their own spin on it.  This is a rippling river that takes you on a journey and you should just lay back and enjoy the scenery along the way.


It’s so transparent, how willing we are to dismiss the intelligence of someone who rejects us, though that renders them incapable of sound judgment.
-        Mary-Louise Parker (Dear Mr. You p 36)

I, yes, am very sleepy and unable to control reflexes. What does it really matter, though, if  I just belched softly and consequently peed on myself? Yes, I am breathing so loudly through my mouth that I appear to be snoring with my eyes open and I smell. I am smelly. Look past that to the swaddled perfection in the bassinet.  He vibrates with goodness and he is mine. You are correct that I am making a blunder but it’s my mistake to make. And just you wait. This is nothing. I may put a fresh spin on ruinous parenting. I will undoubtedly scar him repeatedly, no matter how hard I try no to. I don’t need help. I’m fully equipped to screw up my child all by myself and I promise I’ll get right on it. Now in fact.  But in my own special ways that don’t need your input.
--Mary-Louise Parker (Dear Mr. You p 147)
  I suppose it was the first moment I was thoroughly alive because I fell too far in it to ever describe it. There was nothing to look at because I was too busy seeing, and I got to be a beginner too. Will always be now, as every moment with you child will never  repeat itself with something lovely after it, like a sunset or a passage in a book. Real time with them, I think, is the only actual.  Everything left over is just a weather report.

-Mary-Louise Parker (Dear Mr. You p 149)
 “There is no now,” my father would say, banging his cane on the floor on the word now. “ As soon as you say the word, it’s already in the past. When is it? There isn’t one.”

--Mary-Louise Parker (Dear Mr. You p 194)

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Dear-Mr-Mary-Louise-Parker/dp/1501107836?ie=UTF8&keywords=dear%20mr%20you&qid=1463070323&ref_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1

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