Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Mother of All New Yorkers

(with apologies to Ann Douglas)

My subscription to the New Yorker has finally restarted, with the issue dated April 17. And I really hit the jackpot with this one: so much stuff I wanted to read, and re-read, that I took my time over it. Jody at Raising WEG already noticed that this issue has several stories that end up sort of being about mothers, especially bad ones. Specifically, pieces about Maurice Sendak, Pete Seeger, and the Episcopal Church's Gene Robinson all featured the mothers of said subjects, more or less prominently. Sendak's mother was particularly difficult, apparently. The story about his father pushing his mother off a bench, while she was pregnant with Maurice, was heartbreaking. Not only that it happened, but then that they told the story to their son. But I also love his take on the whole thing, at the end of the profile: "If I had a real mother and she made me happy, and a real father who made me happy I would be working in the computer store . . . " Point taken. All of Sendak's work comes out of the trauma of the abandoned child, the sadness of the lonely child, the anger of the misbehaving child.

Similarly Pete Seeger's parents sounded intriguing, difficult, though not quite as crazy as Sendak's. My favorite moment in that profile, though, is about Seeger himself as a parent; looking at the cabin he built himself, he notes a place where a shelf full of books and records tumbled down onto his daughter's crib, with her sleeping in it. Luckily the crib was sturdier than the shelf, but Seeger recalls it as one of several such failings, of his own inattention to his children. It's a sweet moment--but perhaps only because the kids grew up.

The article on the Episcopal church doesn't really focus heavily on Gene Robinson's parents, though his mother obviously participated in the piece (his father is not quoted directly, I believe, though his mother is). What's perhaps more interesting is the concept of the Mother Church, which seems at the moment to be disintegrating: the colonialist enterprise of Christianizing Africa and Asia is perhaps going to be the undoing of the Episcopal Church, as the newer converts press for traditionalist interpretations of texts that many liberal Episcopalians read very differently. It's a problem too big for me to go into here, but the piece seems fair and balanced (the real kind). As a liberal Episcopalian myself I have to wonder if it's really worth giving up the principles of tolerance and acceptance for the unity of a church--one which has so far managed to stay together even over slavery, over the American Revolution, over the ordination of women. I'm not invested enough in the organization, that is, to give up its principles. But more on that another time, maybe. And someone else is welcome to talk about Adam Gopnik's take on the Gospel of Judas--I just want to know how he gets to write all the really fun stuff. (I want his job even more than I want Caitlin Flanagan's, though I don't really want him to lose his job in order for me to get maybe I want hers after all...)

By the way, there's more on the controversies in the Episcopal church here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is the "here" of your last sentence the New Yorker or your blog site?