Saturday, January 23, 2010


How could I have survived college without the McGarrigle sisters? Their records are nearly worn smooth, and the needle jumps around them as I listen now, 5 days after Kate’s passing.

Who else but Kate and Anna could have matched the torrent of my coming-of-age in the early 1980s, the emotional rollercoaster, the heartbreaks, the longing, the search for self and the search for a voice? Their music was large enough to contain all the passion of a twenty year-old living in New York City, asking all the big questions with nothing close to an answer.

It was pre-AIDS and post-sexual revolution, and I thought feminism was passé. In their plaintive voices and sweet harmonies, they sang of love, loss, and longing, the raw material of a young woman’s life.

I lost track of the McGarrigle sisters for a while as I went through the throes of motherhood, but reconnected with them when I discovered Rufus Wainwright, and a little later, Martha Wainwright. In their music, I could hear some of the strains of Kate. I loved the McGarrigle Hour album, and I pored over the family photos as if they were my own.

I put up photos and clippings of Kate and Anna and Rufus on my bulletin board, and my kids teased me about being “obsessed with that family.” The McGarrigle-Wainwrights serve as a mirror for me of my own aging, my own journey through family, where I’ve come from, where I may be going, and my own work as an artist.

Like me, Kate put her kids before her career. She could have made dozens of albums over her 40 year career, but only made 12. Just yesterday, gazing at her first album cover, I noticed the note on the bottom corner of the back, thanking someone for looking after “Little Rufus” while they were in the studio. NPR cited a story of Kate standing up a promoter to take her kids to a puppet show. I found a great clip of a documentary featuring young Kate and Anna and little toddling Martha and big brother Rufus.

She stuck close to home and did her own thing. She made music on her own terms, She wasn’t at all trendy. She just kept her own vibe strong and clear and we came to her.

And we still come to her, the music fresh as ever. For three nights now, I’ve been listening to her records and weeping. It’s as if each song was preparing us for her death, opening us up to her big heart, bringing us in, only to tell us she has to go.

May Kate McGarrigle always live on through her music. May her children soar and sing on her wings. Bless your heart and your music, Kate.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Better Late Than Never Irreverent Holiday Letter 2009

Our friend Tina in Connecticut is giving us one final chance to get back on her Christmas card mailing list. We were banished years ago for lack of reciprocation, and she was pretty pissed off when we saw her this summer and she heard about the birth of our third child (19 years ago).

So here is our lame attempt to stay in touch with friends far and wide. Originally I intended to make a 60-second home video and email it to you all. You know, kind of like a commercial for the Hong/Krishoks with some quirky camera angles and an indie-rock soundtrack. But I didn’t have enough parental capital to coerce my kids into shooting it, and after all, at age 46, I have no idea how to make and edit digital video.

My next idea was to use what would have been an award-winning photo of Ed cleaning our bathtub and make cards out of it. See, I made a sweet deal with Ed back in August when Malachi, our youngest, moved out to Los Angeles to attend Occidental College. “This is the best offer you will ever get in your whole life,” I told him. I would clean toilets and sinks of both bathrooms, if he cleaned the bathtub. Ed totally agreed that indeed he had never had a better offer, and he readily accepted. This is what our lives have come to.

September passes, then October. The toilets and sinks are spotless. The bathtub? Well, I never use it. I belong to a hot tub co-op in the basement of my yoga studio and I use the showers and big cedar tub there. Meanwhile, Ed is in survival mode, Harley-Davidson hit hard by the recession and negotiating lay-offs and major restructuring.

Ahem, remember that deal we made?

So a few days before Christmas, Ed decides the time is finally right to clean the tub. After he showers, he dons rubber gloves, grabs the Tilex and a scrub brush and gets to work. Now you all know that when Ed commits himself to a cause, his Virgo self takes over and he devotes heart and soul to the task. He squatted naked in the tub (why mess up your clothes?) and got every molecule of mildew scrubbed out. The image was particularly Christmas-y because the tub and tiles white as snow, Ed shiny pink as Santa Claus, and the scrub brush, holly berry red.

Alas, we have no camera. The kids have requisitioned all that stuff and Meiko is flung way out in the Caribbean on the island of Martinique, Katja tucked away in her East Williamsburg apartment, and Malachi in LA. Otherwise I would no doubt be sending you a photo of our clean bathtub for Christmas.

Even though Katja and Malachi are here in Milwaukee for the holidays, camera-less, I had to ask them to email me a photo of themselves, cut and pasted here. See? They are real. Katja is 21, a junior at the Gallatin School of NYU, and Malachi, a first-year at one of Obama’s alma maters. We have adequately brainwashed them in leftist ideology and Katja is doing an interdisciplinary concentration in post-colonial theory, gender studies, and creative writing. Mal is thinking about majoring in Diplomacy and World Affairs and is playing baseball at Occidental. Meiko graduated from Barnard in May with a degree in Comparative Literature and is employed(!!) by the French government teaching English in Fort de France, Martinique. She didn’t come home but instead chose to camp out on the beach Christmas night. The nerve.

And me and Ed? Empty nesters after 23 years of attachment parenting, homebirths, breastfeeding forever, a parent always home with the kids, then years upon years of cheering for them at basketball games, cross country meets, orchestra concerts, spending every last cent on education, and, and, and…. Now we go to movies. We take walks along the Milwaukee River. We might even take a trip together one of these days. We’re building up to it.

Don’t worry, these are not yet ketchup years. Maybe not quite Sriracha, but certainly we’ve got quite a bit of kick. In fact, we’re just getting started in this next stage of our lives. Come and visit us. Last year we downsized into a brick bungalow along the river, but we still have space for guests.

So, we have no video, no photo of naked Ed in the tub, no family photo by our nonexistent Christmas tree, and this greeting, which contains surprisingly little news, is not in time for Chanukah, solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or New Year’s. BUT just know that we are thinking of you and wishing you all a wonderful year to come, full of surprise and revelation and transformation and love. Maybe even a year of health care and human rights and employment. Why not reach high? 2010 is going to be BIG.

"Our wishes foretell the capacities within ourselves: they are harbingers of what we shall be able to accomplish. What we can do and want to do is projected in our imagination, quite outside ourselves, and into the future. We are attracted to what is already ours, in secret. Thus passionate anticipation transforms what is already possible into dreamt-for reality." ––Goethe

Love and blessings, Peggy and family