Thursday, March 22, 2007

Eleanor - Who knew you'd be a greater influence on my writing than Hemingway, Faulkner, Rushdie, Fornes, Shepard, Shakespeare or Bond and Churchill?

She is not very tall, but when she decides she wants to be heard, she uses a voice than no-one can overlook.

She’s humble to a fault though she’s often the smartest one in the room.

She has a true belief in God, but a tolerance that might make an atheist think twice about saying no to the town square Nativity scene.

She seems like the last person you’d ask to maneuver a big truck around, but she could slip an RV into a compact parking space outside the COSCO, no problem.

She used to drive the great all-American muscle car, the Mustang.

She’s stood on the Great Wall of China.

She remembers a Fourth of July in Joy, Illinois where the fireworks were wheeled onto the local school football field and set off so people in the bleachers could watch them from above.

She uses words like “jiminey” and “rattle-trap” and “who-gee-whatsits” and phrases like “I’ll take another wonk of cake.”

She was David Fincher’s first film teacher.

On Thursdays she gets into a bathing suit to do water aerobics.

Her name is Eleanor Robison.

She’s my mother-in-law.

And she has turned out to be a great influence on me in ways that are still surprising and amazing to me.

The first time I met Eleanor I had come to Ashland to be with her daughter for a week during a Grad school spring break.

It was early in the relationship, so I was anxious about what it might be like to meet her - evenmoreso with so much riding on it.

I knew Heather was worried, too, when she suggested we stay for the first night at a local hotel. In retrospect, we were all hedging out bets, but it was probably for the best because at least I got to be with Heather before anything new got introduced to our relationship.

When I finally did meet Eleanor, I immediately liked her. She had that rare quality of being wise and curious at once – of giving off the sense that she’d seen a lot of the world and was interested in seeing more.

That still didn’t make me think I could just get around the bases without care.

Maybe she saw that I knew that during our first meal. Or maybe she saw that I really loved her daughter.

I’m not sure.

But boy was I happy, when, as I washing dishes, she marched up to me and said, “Malachy, I approve of you.”

It’s led to many, many good things.

Like the video above that became the start of an unusual tv campaign that eventually wound up in MOMA.

I’ve even put her – or a character like her – in a play about people trying to make livings in the arts despite all the financial problems that brings.

Next, the story of how she and Heather found each other in the world – in her own words.

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