And today, from TIN HOUSE, three of my personal favorites
(because yes, they’re S-E-X-Y….) Please click Here.
Richard “the deadhead”
Sergio with his euphemisms for Sex
Tony the boxer & The Turkish Baths
And today, from TIN HOUSE, three of my personal favorites
(because yes, they’re S-E-X-Y….) Please click Here.
Richard “the deadhead”
Sergio with his euphemisms for Sex
Tony the boxer & The Turkish Baths
And now the trailer, with pix of the anonymous few, whom you must read about in order to identify… Unless, perhaps, you recognize Carter Cooper, who died on this day July 22, 1987 aged 23.
Maybe, he says, we could take the train out to Montauk. Or
we could go to Vermont and find his brother. We are not city
people, are we? Whenever he thinks of me, he says, he thinks
of the ocean.
Also, the word Metafiction.
What is Metafiction? People have been asking me lately so one brief, applicable take: a work that self-consciously draws attention to itself as an artifact. A work that blurs the lines between fiction and reality. A work in which the narrator intentionally exposes him or herself as the author of the story.
Why would a person be interested in writing metafiction? Why not straight fiction? Why not straight memoir? For me, it is because my favorite writing is that which feels as if it contains, for lack of a better word, the ‘soul’ of its author: novels and poetry and fiction and hybrids thereof, in which the author manages basically to bleed him or herself on to the page, to make the work like the white rose turned red by the nightingale as it sings.
Fiction without the ‘essence’ of the author (another overused word but nevertheless) can be, for me, too contrived or cerebral, while some autobiography and memoir can be too literal.
Great writing, for me, recreates in words, photographs, artifact, one person’s particular vision and experience of the self in the world. If you as a writer are not in your work, I am not (usually) that interested.
There is nothing as good as the fairytale or the detective story or the brilliant imagination of Coover. But even in Coover’s Briar Rose, is a living, breathing intimate part of Coover.
HE, THE CHOSEN ONE, AS HE PRESUMES (I AM HE WHO WILL awaken Beauty!), presses valiantly through the thickening briar hedge, hacking without mercy at the petals that so voluptuously caress him….
Stop back for some examples of contemporary metafiction…
Yes, he has won, but his victory is soiled and has no pride. Why is it that the Greek playwrights of three thousand years ago can rip your heart to shreds? Or should the question be, how do they do it?
I knew a long long time ago that I was not a Shelley or Wordsworth kind of’ ‘girl.’ I mean, I liked them and all — I walked Wordsworth’s Lake District, and visited Dove Cottage. and Shakespeare’s thatched shack on Stratford-Upon-Avon.
But all of it paled beside the Greek playwrights, besides Euripides: And shall not Loveliness Last Forever. Besides Sophocles: He has won, but his victory is soiled and has no pride. Also, there was the Roman Catullus: I love and I hate and I know not which, and the pain is crucifixion.
Tomorrow — or at least soon, I am going to unearth these brief writings that had such an eviscerating, enlivening affect on me and I am going to Amaze you with them:
And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God
It was on the phone. I was twenty and an intern reporter at TIME. Trump was being sued by a hotel chain. I had to call Trump, and ask him about it, and straight away he started calling me “Babe.” It was “Babe” this and “Babe” that. His voice was gold — a veritable sunbath — as if we were close, even intimate.
Then I read him one of the allegations against him, which I had in the affadavit.
You should have felt it. The change in atmosphere — even on the phone — when a man such as he drops his charm.
“You Print That,” Trump told me (and it sounded to me like “You print that Bitch”) “and I’ll Sue You.”
I wish I could say it was the only time I’ve heard a man turn on a dime. I wish I’d learned my lesson, right then.
These men — these charming powerful men of a certain kind – how many times must they reveal themselves before we finally dump them? Keep trying, I say. Keep trying till it Takes.
And they’re gone. And you wonder, Why Am I Here? In this speck of land, in this County, in this Country? And you look around. You walk the street. You examine the tree, which, while you were not noticing, has turned green.
And this is how it is, in eternity. Just you. You looking around. You waiting for the next thing. And you kind of like it.
Street Hassle: (Lou Reed)
O babe I’m on fire and you know that I admire your body. Why don’t we slip away…
Although I’m sure you’re certain, it’s a rarity me flirting this way..
Hey babe.. come on let’s slip away….
Just like when you were fourteen and fifteen, alone in your room at one a.m. leaning out the window smoking a cigarette and realizing this is it. Moon in your hemisphere. Nowhere much else to go. Hey that c*nts not breathing… I think she’s had too much or something or other I mean you know what I mean?….
Always I have been a fan of little things. I had a wagon as a child, a little red one, and used to drag it around the garden and to houses checking if anyone had any “little things” to spare. I favored tiny objects: a plastic monkey from Barrel of Monkeys, a ceramic owl, a broken tiny figurine, a fancy shaped rock.
My passion for small things extended to books. Even now, my faves are 03, (74 tiny pages), Briar Rose by Coover, (86) Theseus by Gide (51). And I’d rather have ten pages of Aristophanes than 100,000 of old English verse.
As a teenager, one of my favorite discoveries was Seventh Heaven by Patti Smith: 47 pages, in a tiny little white paperback, and with the following poem, in its entirety, about Marianne Faithfull:
I was born in Hampstead. My mother wasn’t
screaming so they didn’t believe she was in
labor. Later I went to convent school. Later
I rode in leather. Later I took some sleeping
pills. I needed to lose
Jane Eyre is tiny, too, at least my 1932 edition is. So is Smith of Wooton Major. Could it be that small terrors must be contained in small spaces? That striving to fit all we can into into a tiny box or space or form or page, is a way to control that emotion, that experience, that pain. Lynne Tillman, having recently received my 52 Men galley kindly sent me her little book, above, the 58-page Weird Fucks. And it’s all there: the intensity, the glee, the intelligence, the pain and the loss and the making of her, we, us.
“From the bus stop across the street it was hard to tell, but suddenly I understood, seeing the passengers in the van that collected her every morning, that she was slightly retarded.
Once you knew, it was easy to make sense of her thin adolescent frame, her black hair spiking up on her little head as though she were enduring some slow, endless horror, her eyes, like that of a heroine in a Japanese cartoon forced open onto the real world, eyes so round and so opaque that if they’d focused on me, I might almost have picked them up like two black marbles rolling in the gutter at my feet.”
Ask not why this book drives me to distraction with it weird lust and frustration, its setting a bus-stop, its lyrics from Joy Division, its childhood specious and a lie.
“… and I weighed up the pros and cons, what tied me to life like a blood oath, what left me cold, or tired me out; and when the noise grew sharper, more grating, and when the headlights from the first bend in the road began to cut out the sides of the buildings and project a slow revolving shadow dance on the wall, I always came back to the same conclusion — that I felt something stir inside me, as hazy and phony as a childhood memory, as insistent as a hit song you’d heard so often you couldn’t get its bitterness out of your head, something that promised me a better future, only somewhere else….”
I don’t remember the first two; I was too discombobulated at having a clergyman address me. I do remember the third, which was Do Something for Yourself Each Day.
But it was the fourth that really got me: Accept Ambiguity.
Accept Ambiguity? I thought to myself, Was he kidding? Every week I face the ambiguity of where my next paycheck will come from. I am the author, let’s get real here, of a book about dating 52 Men. I think I know a little about living in Ambiguity.
But no, the pastor, curtailed me, we all want Certainty. We all want the future mapped out.
I was not so sure about this. Many people, I know, make a plan for life. Yet I am not one of those. All my life, I thought — mistakenly perhaps — that life was not about what I wanted, but about what I was given. That I was not meant to hack out a path for myself but to trust that the right path would open up to me.
And has it, opened to me? the right path?
I am not sure of the path. But I am sure, at least, that I have reached some intimation of Destiny. And that Destiny is not the number of children you have or the size of your house or bank account.
To achieve one’s destiny is to come fully into your own, to hit your stride, to be no one else, to be entirely yourself and comfortable with that.
I was walking around the Wellington hills once, distressed by drugs… complaining how they torture me* when the new friend I was with, exhorted me, with some exasperation I suppose, to “Keep it Light. Keep It Light.” I was so amazed at this, I almost tripped over a Pohukatawa tree. Keep it light? Keep it light?
What is was this, a tea party? Wasn’t the point of walking with someone, talking to someone, to start to go deep?
More and more now I see how wrong I could be. I mean, some people are light, and don’t want to be deep. (I do actually always have at least one happy friend like this) And some are deep and incapable of light (I usually avoid these by now), but I have always been light veering into the hadal (see diagram, below, of the ocean depths.)
Lately, however, I have realized, (and not for the first time) that no — not everyone needs or wants my insights, experiences or energy. Sometimes it is good to be flip, to be Frank O-Hara-ish, to be just Having a Coke with You. Sometimes (hey, maybe most times, I am new to this) it is good to hardly speak at all, to be utterly see-through, shallow and opaque.
Sure, it takes practice. At first, it can feel like being dead. But more and more I see the wisdom of it. It’s like that card my father had on his desk for a while “No point getting too involved in life. I’m only here for a limited time.”
*From Mother at Eighty, CS
NEXT POST: GIVING A DAMN
I love the way people speak in Charles Baxter stories. In Bravery:
“We just got here. It’ s not lunchtime. We got out bed less than two hours ago. I love you. Did I tell you that this morning? I love you like crazy.”
When I confessed how the sight of him had stunned me, he said, very thoughtfully, “I can help you with that.”
Not to mention in Gluttony:
“You opened a jar…. The jar was full of pain. It was your jar.”
“What a silly person you are. Obscenity is not an argument. It is weak-minded. I had thought you would be more thoughtful…You have not thought any of this through, not any of it, I can see that now. How shallow is the pool in which you swim. You are therefore self-deluded, cruel and mean-spirited. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but we are in pain.”
Baxter, who wrote The Feast of Love, and lucky for me, signed my copy in 2000 on Main Street in Johnson, Vermont, is the king of relationship-speak, now and then. Here’s an oldie but goodie:
When we get back, I’m going to make such love to you, it’ll take your roof right off.
New book of stories: There’s Something I Want You to Know (Pantheon Books, 2015) and Baxter, above hanging out with some peeps.
A few years later, when things were better, we used to hang out in Avenue B cafes talking books and screenplays. Gerard is from from West Cork, Ireland, and had that beautiful lilt to his voice. He was always handsome and never at least to me brazen, as some American men can be. He always wore denim — both jeans and jacket and seemed like some handsome tough-on-the-outside but gentle teenager from the Bronx.
Next I knew he hooked up with Lili Taylor, the actress, and made this shockingly good film “The Pier.” I found it really moving and honest in its emotional force. Gerard,who directed, also plays the son Jack who returns home to see his apparently dying father. The brutal/forgiving dynamics between them are only possible because of the humility and endurance of a son who seems both cowed by past, and, however heavily, able to rise out of it. We do not win, this movie seems to say, by overpowering, but we overpower by wintering through. With light filled seascape and landscape and brilliance that remind me of my own home country, New Zealand.
So I was upset when Franz Wright died last week. He is, as one obituary said, a “beloved poet” to many, including me. The first poems of his I read, twenty years ago now, took me by the throat and shook me. Talk about a man who has lived. He spoke to darkness and to grief and to anger and to life — and he also, later, spoke to God.
I’d been watching him on Facebook for the past year or so. He had lung cancer, and was ill from opiates and withdrawal, and kept posting grueling videos of himself looking strung out and desperate, reading his poems right into the screen in a voice so low and ragged I could barely make out the words.
I checked with some people to see if he was ‘all right’ and they said he was, as such things went.
But he was asking, still on Facebook — if he could give readings somewhere –this a Pulitzer Prize winner — for $5,000 a university visit. I don’t know if anyone took him up on this and now he is gone.
It makes me so angry that a man such as he could die struggling in this culture — the same culture that gives a $2 million advance to a billionaire’s daughter for her vapid badly written ‘novels’ (yeah, I went to school with her.) I live in horror and dismay at the rise of the one percent in this country.
Then there is Franz Wright’s father James, who was also a Pulitzer Prize Winner in Poetry. You know what he said to Franz, when he read his first poem? “Well, it looks like you’re a poet. Welcome to Hell.”
God Bless Franz and all those who fight the good fight. We need you. I need you. I love you.
I’ve been overdoing it. Is there any other way to do it? I can stop overdoing things for about ten minutes — then I start again. How long have I been this way? Back in high school, I pulled all nighters two or three times a week. I started my homework, most of the time, at 11 pm. By three a.m. I liked to de-alarm my window, open it, and sit on the ledge looking at the backyard city trees. It was about the only time of ‘day’ – in Manhattan — when the world was quiet.
It’s hard to slow down. I keep trying though. Favorite ways: walking the arboretum, reading, swimming in the ocean. Drugs, alcohol, substances — as M says, “Louise, your intensity will burn through anything they can try to give you.” I take that as a compliment. I am not rowing toward God, to paraphrase Sexton. I am hurtling.
I have no problem with male writers pretending to be women. But if you’re a man pretending to be a woman (or describe a woman) you’d better well Get It Right. Or, as Junot says, you will Lose Me, like Forever, Dude.
Take Mr Chuck Palahniuk’s new novel Beautiful You. In it, a girl is said to look for her birth control device, the ancient diaphragm, realize it is gone from its container, and ask her room-mates to kindly “replace” it. She then hears, while standing in their darkened apartment, an — (oooo disgusting don’t remind me) gooey sucky sound as her diaphragm is — we are meant to believe — removed from the vagina of one of her roommates and placed quickly back in said container.
All women sigh in revulsion. Ug.
First of all, diaphragms are not, last I checked, back in the 80s, One-Size-Fits-All but many sized and fitted by a highly-paid invasive size-checking GYNECOLOGIST.
Second, the likelihood of one woman using another woman’ diaphragm is about as high as one man using another man’s used condom. And while we’re at it, lets add to the equation the fact that said man already has his own personally designed/sized and flavored/condom — and would rather give it up to use the used condom of his friend.
That’s how unlikely and stupid this idea is. Sorry Chuck, maybe you meant for me to feel this way.
I was talking to someone lately about skiing. No, I said, I hadn’t skied in the Swiss Alps, but I had skied in the Southern Alps, in New Zealand. “The Southern Alps?” she actually snorted, while also laughing. “is that what they call them there?” No, B*ch, that’s What They’re Called — Look it Up.
Good manners, I was taught, are ignoring other people’s bad manners. But when it’s sheer snobbery and ignorance, that’s what rankles. Maybe I’ll get a Google watch and start flinging my information wrist in front of people.
All this just to say, what could be more sumptuous than watching a perfected Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart running lines in the Swiss Alps, top photo in the shockingly beautiful new Olivier Assayas movie Clouds of Sils Maria?
Little, very little if you ask me — except, perhaps, Binoche and Stewart running lines with me in the Southern Alps, second photo above.
New book: 3 women? 30? 3 women and 30 Southern Alps?
For me, I am stunned by landscape — by trees, for example, and oceans during storms.
I am stunned, as an ex of mine once wrote in a poem, “by the power of (my) own rage.”
I am stunned by betrayal, by the discovery that what I once trusted in I trusted in wrongly, stupidly, naively.
Pain and pleasure — they can take it out of you. The body pauses, stills itself, holds its breath. It is at a peak — of ecstasy, or pain — as if at the end of life, or the point of death. It’s complete perfection, and annihilation — it is the cost of loving.
Someone from the past contacted me recently. He wanted to know why I had written a story about him twenty years after we had known each other. But why, but why, he kept asking, and I couldn’t figure it out, what he was getting at. The past is never past for some of us. And that’s pretty
much a given for writers. Though I do admit that sometimes I feel I am walking in a landscape populated by people from all times of my life. No one is ever that far from me. No one is ever safe from my dreams.
It’s as if life itself is a great collection of those I have known. I am in the park, and they idle past. They gaze back at me. They pass without noticing. But I notice them, always. Just a flicker of a thought away from me – a bird on the wire and all that. Do I sometimes wish this were not the case? Does my landscape sometimes seem too crowded? It does. But at least it keeps me, too much, from missing people I cannot touch. Yet who are always there. Flash of light coming down off the tree, that looks just like you.
So, this is what “Maori” looks like today — or what one Maori looks like — Eugene, left, a family friend in New Zealand, pictured here six years ago. Take away his tattoos and what do you have? A black man? Or a man with olive skin and green eyes….
So what does it mean, today, to be Maori? In 1840, when my great-great-grandfather arrived from the U.S. to New Zealand, there were some 2,000 whites and 60,000 Maori.
Maori women were considered alluring, enticing, beautiful, and a good many “whiteys” married them. In fact, the provenance of most New Zealanders today is considered to be that of a mixed ‘breed” — or of miscegenation.
Of what interest is this to me? Friends, secrets are always of interest. Take a look at this Maori Battalion that fought in World War II, to defend a New Zealand conquered by the white man. Sure, the Maori in the foreground “looks Maori.” But what of the men in the background? Do they, too, look Maori? Check back for a photograph of my Uncle, who makes the Maori below look like whitebread.
At last, today, an arboretum that looks like spring. Suddenly some things are coming together. My article at The Fix.com, on leaving the 12 Step movement, has finally been updated to reflect the real reason program was dangerous for me… Book galleys for 52 Men are in… and a Wareham ancestor is proven to be Maori (see New Zealand Maori landholdings if you really want to know.)
Burn the forest down and you will find new growth. Keep your heart pure and no one can destroy you. And as for the ice that is slowly leaving — enjoy it, endure it, for it will only make the Spring that much more mesmerizing.
Always err on the side of compassion — that has been my mantra. Forgive, give another chance, step back … Or then again — as my Quaker psychiatrist told me in the nineties: Louise, Louise: you have a High Tolerance for Pain.
Oh yes: Always err on the side of compassion, I would whisper to myself while turning my cheek. Give. Forgive. Yet what when the giving is done? When you realize you have been giving to those who do not care? To those who revile you — who even, biblically, denounce you?
Then, the greatest task & the greatest pleasure: to give to those who value you. To recognize where one can make a difference
Don’t force the person who does not understand. Give yourself to one who does. Hell, that is what I have done. And friends, it has made ALL THE DIFFERENCE.
I had a friend in New York named Florence. She was from Haiti and also Massachusetts and though she was living in Manhattan when I knew her, she desperately wanted to live in Paris. She hustled for years to get out of Manhattan and into Paris. Then, finally, she got a job there.
But it was odd, she said, because at exactly the same time, she realized she was actually happy in New York and no longer had a strong need to leave. So for the first time ever, she could take or leave it — Paris, I mean.
Your ships will come in over a calm sea as one saying goes. And I take this to mean that when you are not desperate, pushy, greedy or panicked about getting something — this is when that something will come to you.
This doesn’t mean you should stop working or give up your daily hustle. It means calm down, work hard and — most important — make the life you are now living Enough. When you have that, nothing can hurt you. Nothing can stop you. Anything else that comes to you is icing…
“Have I?” I asked.
“Yes — and I think I should tell you that my father is Jewish, and he left Germany at age sixteen when Hitler came to power. He tried to get his parents to leave also, but they refused — and were killed in the camps, along with his sisters.”
The shame of discovering that one has inadvertently uttered racist or anti-semitic remarks: hideous — and yet, not so unusual. If only, I guess, we could all be humble enough to exist in that moment after accusation — when we regret our vehemence, and our blithe certitude, and feel — arg – desperate, contrite, wanting to be understood.
I write this today for no particular reason. Except that the world is in turmoil. ISIS, the Israeli/Palestinian Crisis, the Republican/Democratic divide. May we all be as lovers are when trying to reunite with their lovers — humble, open, not contrite exactly — not chastised, but pure, but teachable.
I was reading Kim Gordon’s Sonic Boom memoir this morning and she writes about her father at the end of his life: what she remembers, she says, is “his docility, his sweetness,” and his “acceptance of what was ahead.” This made me feel that I should stop worrying so much and accept whatever is coming…
It is just that, until recently — and even now — I have had so very little idea of who I am, or why, or where I should even end up. Some clues, lately, though I am still not sure.
I was 37 before I found out that I had olive skin and not “pure white skin.” At the same time, I stopped taking my mother’s advice to me since teenage years to streak my hair blonde — and discovered that, actually, my natural hair color was dark. O, so much more to say on this… but not right now.
How awesome it is to have one’s life shudder or even hurtle into place one week from turning fifty. And if all that I suddenly see turns out to be wrong? What then? So many of us have lost our home countries and heritage in times of immigration and displacement.
Yet one thing I have learned in life is that they can tell you what to think –and they can tell you that your thoughts are wrong– but they can never, ever take away, how you feel.
What was so creepy about John Travolta’s kiss and greeting to Scarlet Johannson? I didn’t quite get it, until I did: he didn’t ask if he could touch her. He just touched her.
Let me try greeting a friend and placing my palm on his stomach, or just on his thigh if we are sitting down together. Let me try tucking a lock of hair behind someone’s ear.
My father was always hugging men and women. That seemed pretty nice to me. But is it nice? Was it nice? Am I creeping people out when I, say, kiss them on the cheek to say hello?
I went to school with Europeans for a couple of years: the French kissed each other twice when they said hello. The Germans — who I mostly hung out with — kissed three times. I always thought this was kind of sweet, and usually still kiss a person once when saying hello.
Maybe it is time for me to retire that. Maybe I am actually ‘creeping someone out.’ Just because I kissed my German girlfriends in high school, or my French Besties in adulthood, does that mean I have the right to kiss people now? I mean, I’m not Jesus with Mary Magadelene: “Jesus loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth.”
Once I went to a writing workshop — I was about 25 — and we were asked to describe our lives in three words. Mine were Don’t Touch Me. Yet I have failed to extend this courtesy to others, just because of how I was raised. This appears to be my week of shame.
I have no idea why this is the case, but thanks to Nico Lang at Salon.com for pointing out today that she, as I, can read the look on Scarlet’s face here, and what she may very well be thinking — as she steels herself and keeps her gaze firm:
It is pretty embarrassing to me that I was proud to be a Prefect. I still even have my Prefect badge, thirty-plus years later… To be elected a Prefect (which was really a popularity contest) those of us photographed below had to give a little speech. Mine was about the school motto: “Amity” which means Friendship. But there was nothing Friendly about Prefectdom….
As a Prefect, my job was, amongst other policing duties, to circle around my fellow students at, for example, twice daily Assembly in the schoolyard, and upbraid classmates for not standing up straight, or not having polished shoes etc., or not looking dutiful and respectful enough.
If I wanted to I had the power to inflict real punishment. This meant sending a child to “The Wall.” Said Wall was outside the Headmaster’s office. Anyone sent there couldn’t play in the schoolyard anymore, but had to stand humbly and afraid, for as long as I, or my fellow Prefects deemed, hoping the Headmaster didn’t come by.
If the Headmaster did come by, he would, if he felt like it, yank the child inside for a little caning — our Headmaster and my personal teacher, the hideously terrifying and sadistic Mr Bruce Maitland, also pictured above, (and I am last on the right at the back) used a wooden one and beat boys on their naked behinds — obviously after pulling down their pants.
This I knew from my brothers and male friends. Girls didn’t get caned: when punished, we had to write inane sentences over and over again, such as “Bad girls need to watch their manners” or I will be a good girl.” Sound like a porn film? I thought so. And I was ten.
In deference to the abuse today coming to light at Matthew Leonard’s former private school in Sydney — Knox — I hereby bear witness to the viciousness of those men of the 70s and 80s — and the tradition with which, by inculcating Prefects, they passed on the abuse.
Perhaps the second greatest guilt of my childhood was from sending a boy to The Wall when he really hadn’t “done anything wrong.” I just didn’t like him, I think, or he hurt me in some way, and I wanted to punish him.
I can barely remember his face or his name — though he probably remembers me. He told me later, practically crying, that he was caned — obviously because of me — and it still makes me feel sickly ashamed.
Knox school teacher admits sexual/assault: Here.
Finally I read someone who clarified my feelings about Junot Diaz for me. Yes, I love Diaz’ work: he has a visceral intensity and honesty that makes most other books look as insipid and banal as They Really Are.
But it’s true, he explains away the particularly vile sexism of his characters as merely the reality of the culture into which he was born.
Not a pretty viewpoint he agrees, in interviews, but also, he seems to say with a shrug: just the way it is. As in “yeah, that’s the culture I’m from.”
But he isn’t in that culture now, is he? He has lived not in the Dominican Republic but in the northeastern United States since he was age six: he is a graduate of Rutgers, a professor at M.I.T. and in 2012 a recipient of a five year “Genius Grant.”
Could he not reflect a little more on the culture he so brilliantly details? Could he not — intelligent and sensitive as he is — have some opinion on it, rather than just replicating it — albeit brilliantly — that we might experience its heady wild virulence and passion.
Roxane Gay, she got it right. The title of Diaz’ last book — one of my top novels ever — should not be This is How You Lose Her, but This is How We All Lose.
She put her finger on it — on why I both love his work and yet am left a little unsure about it.. when will he take the next step?
For my part, I grew up with the British culture of communicating through verbal one-upmanship and verbal emotional violence: eviscerating sarcasm and annihilating undertone could really beat you up, but as no one could see the bruises — well, if you complained about them, you were told you were “imagining things.”
This culture I do not write about just to have it witnessed. No; I will not just report or replicate it. I am telling you now: it was Not Ok, and as a writer, I’m going to give my self the power to say so.
Sometimes the very simplest things, as Gottfried Benn says, must be enough:
“When I say what things are like everyone’s hearts must be torn to shreds.”
So I felt this week — when my parents de-immigrated from the U.S. after 40 years.
And as they packed, unbeknownst to me, I was reading Chronicles by Bob Dylan, Volume One.
At one point, Dylan writes that he was going through a hard time, and was just praying “to be a kinder person.”
I always remember Johnny Depp saying that, also — in the movie of the Peter Hedge novel What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
“Who do you want to be when you grow up?” actress Juliette Lewis asks him as he lolls about in the Iowa cornfield.
He thinks a bit, contemplates, then answers: “I just want to be a good person.”
I was so impressed by that, I repeat it to you now, some twenty years on.
They can break your heart. They can rip it to shreds. But you can still be a good person.
I am more in awe of the local pastor than I am of, for example, of $400 million dollar Jamie Dimon (who, yes, I worked for and used to see daily on the Corporate floor of Smith Barney) Why?
Because the soul of nobody knows, as Cat Stevens used to sing, where the parson goes. But we can imagine where Dimon goes.
Hey, we all have our standards.
I don’t want no God on my lawn
Just a flower I can help along
‘Cause the soul of no body knows
How a flower grows, oh how a flower grows
“Wow, what a lot of powerful people you’ve known,” my agent told me today. “I’m a bit worried about you getting hurt.”
At 22, I rolled into Mississippi in a Drive Away car (what you drive when you have no money to rent) with two $3 cassette tapes I’d picked up at a gas station in the Panhandle. I’d been in Miami, visiting friend Jay Carney, and now was riding north to somewhere — I didn’t know where.
I stopped in Mississippi where Ron, owner of the Hoka, let me stay on his couch. ‘I’m So Hurt’ was the first thing I played him. I’d been playing it for twelve hours or so…
The best line is the last. “But even though you hurt me like nobody else could ever do, I would never, ever, ever Hurt You.‘
I played this song again in 2006, for New Zealand radio when Kim Hill invited me on her show. Her top 3 songs segment was a big thing there. I played two others, but at the moment, I can’t think of them. That song just kills me, every time.
OK, maybe I shouldn’t have told “Marlene,” behind the bar at Park View Bowl, that she wasn’t as nice as her brother, who owns the place. In fact, I definitely should not have — not on first meeting at any rate — and, actually, not Ever.
But so I was obviously amused to read Paul describe the “Marlene-Dietrich-look-of- exasperation” that she gave him when he changed his mind on the beer he was ordering at her bowling bar. Let alone her helpful reply when he asked for Size 11 bowling shoes from the rack: “I can’t reach that high.”
I’ve made some mistakes, as my father likes to tell me on occasion. Yet one of them has not been disliking women. So I last night — second night with Marlene — redoubled my efforts to be nice to the lady: tipping her 25 cents on a 75 cent packet of pretzel chips, tipping her $1 on her $3 G&T with a squeeze of lime from the green plastic lime imitator, inquiring in a friendly way as to the nature of her surliness (Ok, the last one, No.)
After said attempts at amends, I deliberated over which bowling ball to choose. Should it be the terribly pretty blue Galaxie 300 — or should I search for the pink ball that coincidentally matched my pink JC Penney corduroys ($9 on sale!; high five to JCP!) and that suited me so fine the last time? Or maybe the lurid orange “Smart Bowl 8 Xtreeme?” I wavered for a bit.
But then the pearlized Smart Ball 8 captivated me. Advertised as “glowing vibrantly under black light,” it also, I fancied, fit just perfectly. So what if it wasn’t heavy enough to tip the lever on the ball return machine? It was called the Smart Ball, wasn’t it?
Just like the time I bought a bright red used 2-stroke motorcycle for $600 in New Zealand. The third time my grandfather saw me rolling it back up the street home, he shook his head, “Women,” he said, much amused. “You bought that for the color didn’t you?”
Paul won, crushing the pins with his “Ebonite.” Peggi mastered the Galaxie 30o (a plastic ball initially created for distibution through K-Mart and no relation, btw, to brother Deans band Galaxie 500 which was named for a car, above ) and Matthew pummeled it with the “Hammer.”
I waved to Marlene on the way out and she tipped her glass to me.
I saw a man on New Year’s Eve at a downtown blues club. He was standing alone by the bar with a tumbler in hand, watching the band and the old people dancing. He was in his mid to late forties, I think, wearing a three-piece black suit with an open-necked white shirt. Maybe he was Italian: he had lush short black hair and dark eyes and olive skin. He was handsome, but his eyes and his face were full of sheer darkness.
Outside the club, as I was leaving, I saw him again, still alone and smoking a cigarette. This time, I hardly dared look at him; I even did a kind of swerve away from him. I preferred that he not lay his eyes on me, at all.
Once, I was drawn to such people. Darkness spoke to me. Complexity fascinated me. I wanted to know what was underneath a cold exterior, a challenging gaze; I thought it was pain — or some kind of suffering — and that I would find understanding there.
I didn’t, of course. What I did find was emptiness, the abyss.
A friend of mine — a musician in his twenties who was very pure, used to tell me, with excitement — and as if he was talking about going to an after hours jazz club — that we should “embrace evil.” When he said that though, I knew he had never encountered it.
It is not so bad to be experienced, to be able to understand the meaning of “beware of darkness cloaked in light,” to know full well that s/he “might smile and smile and still be a villain.”
I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but it can be useful.
This man on New Year’s Eve — for example, I so utterly and completely knew that his beauty and allure and intensity masked nothing good for me. As a psychiatrist told me when I was nineteen and trying to figure out some things, “Louise, you just have to try to understand that there are just bad people out there.”
This man in the club looked a tiny bit like the gangster “Crazy Joe Gallo”, above. In the Gallo photo, you can’t even see his eyes. But do you need to? Do you want to?
In memory of the 12 Charlie Hebdo journalists and cartoonists who were murdered today in Paris.
SO in the movie Wild, Cheryl Strayed, played by Reese Witherspoon, makes a grueling 1,000 mile track on the Pacific Crest Trail — Mexico to Canada — after her mother’s death and Strayed’s self-destruction and divorce… Which was a great idea — the hike I mean — and the movie also is really well done. It shows the extremes young women go to in grief — and also the way grief rides roughshod over you, until, if you are lucky, you come out whole and strong enough to go on.
Grief, it seem to me, is not just a loss but a brutal fight — not just with loss, but with our Capacity for Pain, our Ability to Endure. An English friend of mine Jamie Coleman, told me a story of a woman who dressed in all black, then painted her face black — so that when she lay down on a street, no one would see her face, and instead run her over and kill her. That’s grief, to the point of self-abnegation.
Grief you survive, though — how do you do that? You do it, because you become someone else. Because, during your grief, people you know fail even “to recognize you.” Because they complain that you make them tired, or sad and complain that the real side of you — the side they know — is still there somewhere.
Take it all in, take it All in — because it is turning you into the darkest, kindest soul you will ever be, the one who has a past, and in that past, the past of the world.
Oh, and another thing — I’ve been thinking of what else one can do besides go hiking on a desert trail? I’d rather visit hot pools, or go on a pilgrimage. But to where? Any suggestions, let me know.
Grief comes to us, like the smell of of leaves, of snow. Every day, already, I am grieving the loss of a brother, for example, who is yet still here… Hey — it’s called the human condition. It’s a rough one. Marry grief to beauty in the world, and you might love your life.
I have some friends who just put out a new album, the cover of which is left. Paul writes a blog and paints portraits of criminals. Peggi paints and speaks Spanish. They seem to have pretty much the Ideal Life. They left this CD for us, along with port and holiday cookies — on our porch on Christmas Eve (yes, pretty much Ideal Friends, yee-ha!)
I love the title Disappear, let alone that this gif does disappear. It brings to mind this cheery story I once wrote called “Diminishing.” It was about hanging out at my parents’ house over July 4, when I was 23. Believe it or not, I was in full suicidal ideation mode and the “diminishing” of the story refers to the diminishing number of pills I had in my secret Suicide Cache. I remember thinking at the time that everything at my parents’ house was so perfect, I might as well just disappear. I couldn’t, it seemed to me, do better.
Then, last night, I just happened to be peeking into a Bible situated before me at Pastor Tim’s church, when I read that this adolescent boy Jesus split off from his parents one day while on a day-trip to Jerusalem. His parents were already on their way home when they realized he wasn’t there; they had to go all the way back to Jerusalem to find him.
When they finally did find him, he was hanging out in the Temple — and was, if you ask me — a little flip when they shared the anxiety he’d put them through. “Why did you worry about me?” he asked them. “Did you not know I would be in my Father’s House?”
So, he thought not of his own parents’ house as his house, but a temple consecrated to the otherworldly or G.O.D. This was really interesting to me. I don’t feel that any particular temple is my home, or any house anymore.
For me, home is wherever I find a certain intensity and beauty… From the Caribbean ocean, to Mt. Fuji, to to the Black Sea, Mycenae to Tahiti, I’ve been in a few places. And I can be home there, also. I would happily be in the good graces of my parents and at home with them as anywhere else on earth. But when this is not possible, I find Home elsewhere. Anywhere, in fact, where I am ready, yes To Disappear: into landscape, into beauty, into the air or earth when the time comes.
They asked my brother Dean a number of his Firsts the other day,and I was genuinely surprised to find that we, official next of kin, shared some. From his first time at a hospital — he was burned by boiling water as a baby, while I was burned in a fire — to his first books, to the first album our parents played him: If You Could Read my Mind by Gordon Lightfoot.
If I had had to answer the album question, however, I might have said the Bee Gees (Holiday)or Cat Stevens (Tea for the Tillerman) or Simon & Garfunkel (Cecilia) or, or more likely Jose Feliciano’s Circles of my Mind. Is there some connection between the two of us choosing songs that question the working of the mind? I think so….I don’t know where we went wrong but the feelings’s gone and I just can’t get it back.… (Lightfoot)
Pictures hanging in a hallway and the fragment of a song… Half-remembered names and faces, but to whom do they belong? (Feliciano)
I should have clued in much much earlier that I was not a New York City girl. Sure I liked clubbing, I liked the Palladium, I liked Danceteria and Area and MOMA and hanging around the steps of the MET. I liked the Reservoir. I liked fancy bars.
But the friendships: I was just as likely to befriend a 22 year old curly-blonde-haired Manchester hairstylist who dressed like a member of Dexys Midnight Runners, (above right), as I was the owner of his salon dynasty: Jean Louis David.
I was just as likely to bond with the janitor’s wife from Bosnia-Herzegonovia over tinned biscuits in their basement apartment, as I was to befriend my boss, Wall Street financier and Harvard building donor Robert H. Lessin, (right, below in white suit).
I had a colleague once who checked the resumes of incoming staffers to decide in advance who, based on schooling and awards etc., he would try to befriend.
A brilliant idea, I recognized, but 0ne I myself would no more implement than aiming to marry a person with an income above a certain $ amount per year.
So much happier, friends, in a different state of mind. That I survived it at all is a testament. To what I know not. Cluenessness? Or what my friend Stacey Jaffee, brilliant social critic that she is, likes to say: Innocence.
I have been in such a good mood lately. I swear it might be happiness. Which has brought me to wondering: Is this what it means to be old? Now that I have worked out How To Live, am I reaching The End?
Was this the point of it? To get where I was going and say Why Didn’t I Get Here Earlier? Hell, then I could have really done some things: had some children, built a house!
Oh, well. My father always told me: “You are responsible for your own good time.” I always hated that; I mean, to be honest, I kind of thought he was, you know? He and mother? At any rate, happiness to me is a lot like a song. You can get so happy listening to it — but reading the lyrics, or thinking about the song — it is just not the same.
A few songs on happiness that I hereby pass on. Leonard Cohen’s “So Long Maryanne” — the happiest breakup song ever written, and Cohen’s “Suzanne” in which Jesus walked upon the water and when he knew for certain “only drowning men could see him… said all men will be sailors until the sea shall free them… ”
Then Cat Stevens — I used to catch my father, listening to “Tea for The Tillerman” in the car: waiting for last line and, went it came, singing it out loud, with a triumphant swing of his hand: “For that Happy Day, for That HAPPY DAY:”
Bring tea for the Tillerman, steak for the sun
Wine for the women who made the rain come
Seagulls sing your hearts away
‘Cause while the sinners sin, the children play
Oh Lord, how they play and play
For that happy day, for That HAPPY DAY.
It was so pure; nothing could take it from him.
Above, my father’s mother (and my grandmother) Vyonne Presling, some 30 years ago now, on the beach in Wellington, New Zealand.
So poet Galway Kinnell has died, at 87. The kind of man you think will never die — because why would he? He had long reached a pinnacle, a loftiness and grace. Though I always suspected he might be ‘difficult’ — with all that charm, all that handsome ruggedness of mind and body — I hoped, too, that he might be the spell upon trembling waves on the river, the master of the river breezes. Who could not be drawn to a man who wrote a book of poems called When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone let alone The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World.
We met at the Frost Place one summer, in New Hampshire. We wrote a few notes afterwards, about a larger poem he was writing on the kiss. I thought I might have something to add to it. But “my kiss,” I said, is “the angry kiss.” The angry kiss,” he repeated, unsure, and then, optimistically, “so, if you can do it: the sooner the better.”
I did send it to him, finally, my words on what it felt to kiss a person when one was angry at that person. “But this is your poem now,” he told me; “I cannot usurp it.”
From The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ…
The stars were wild that summer evening
As on the low lake shore stood you and I
and every time I caught your flashing eye
Or heard your voice discourse on anything
It seemed a star went burning down the sky.
I looked into your heart that dying summer
As I found your silent woman’s heart grown wild
Whereupon you turned to me and smiled,
Saying you felt afraid but that you were
Weary of being mute and undefiled.
RIP February 1, 1927, – October 28, 2014
University of Rochester
I was out walking in the real-life screensaver they call the Durand Eastman Park today, bombarded by green, orange and pale yellow, when I thought of Mr. Nate Pritts, the kindly poet and H_NGM_N editor I met at a ‘pubfair’ recently.
As usual when I meet anyone, I verbal bombed him for a bit about my exes and the mysterious (and dangerous) possible results of hanging certain poems on one’s “wall,” lest the authors manifest in real life (see post on my ex Charlie S)…when I finally did a sharp (and necessary) re-approach and asked Mr. Pritts which of his poetry books I should buy.
“This one,” he said, pointing to his most recent, the most excellently named Pattern Exhaustion.* And, he added “It’s $5,” which was also excellent as I only had $5 and a just purchased volume of the 1900 Encyclopedia Brittanica (Letters ROT-SIA).
From the work:
I lift my head from the pillow/& the whole room is startling/
white./ I can feel/ air breaking around me.
Anyone who can feel what I consider to be the angst of the air is a friend of mine. His poems have a sort of tough resignation — the kind one achieves when one has suffocated or is suffocating under a great weight — and at the same time recognizes a certain beauty about, such as:
Relentless grey stratus/mostly filling the horizon,
a few cirrus wisps near/where the sun burned/ a hazy gap.
Let the writer speak for himself. Fantastic.
*Meanwhile, I thought “Pattern Exhaustion” might be something related to the weather — or just brain signals fed up of Twitter or writers promoting themselves with “so thrilled to be included in this..,” “so proud to be reviewed by this…,” and “so honored to be quoted in this…” but it is not. Here, read Nate’s explanation, below the picture, here.
So the crowds, the noise, the expense, the substances one sees hurtling onto the sidewalks upon which one walks — yawn, yawn, yes, we know all of these. BUT, I’d like to add something to the list that has been left off.
I was in my gym once, the time I lived in Manhattan for twenty-five years, (don’t blame me, my parents took me there) and three girls came into my view, then stood beside me in the mirrored bathroom and shone into the mirrors as bewitching, exquisite and mind-blowing Super Creatures: so tall, so spectacular, so sort of actually shocking in their bare-faced indescribable beauty that I felt I was practically being mainlined beauty — and that men, even those I knew, probably followed these creatures for blocks and blocks begging for dates, coffee, anything. (actually, I know they did: a lot of fun being with a woman who some random is trying to pick up right in front of you lol).
And then, when I was just walking around the blocks around my apartment (buying soy latte and kale, picking up sleeping pills at Rite Aid etc) more of these how-to-say gazelle like superior god given fantasies of Real Flesh whispered past me, intoxicating in their closeness, unmistakable in their desirability — all the while trying to hide their Devastating-ness (it’s not their fault) under necessarily jumbo size umbrellas or floppy hats or in oversize sunglasses.
What, had men and women gone out across the entire globe seeking the most BEAUTIFUL creations they could find? And then returned them here — to live on my block, on my island 12 miles long — to go to My Gym and entice my love interests their way?
YES, THEY HAD.
It is called The International Modeling Industry– and beauties from countries you only know of because these girls were discovered there leaning against lamp posts or fences — are in Manhattan, all around you….THANKS FOR NOTHING Manhattan lol.
And why did I think of this today? Today, as a happily married lady of the right age who has no chance in hell of being picked up by Ford Modeling, Click or even Elite? (Not to say I shouldn’t send in my recent head shot.) Well, I really don’t know. The rainbow of joy and beauty comes to us all sometimes. Look, below: Bar Rafaeli caught it. (Isn’t she from Israel?)
What point in asking “if I were a man” or “if I were a woman?” When it comes to the actress Asta Nielsen, (left) I would have been man or woman just to know her better. Not only did Asta play Hamlet in the silent film of 1921, but she fronted the money to do so — this being, apparently, how much she wanted the role.
It is a very strange movie. The plot is rewritten to fit Asta. As such, Hamlet is born a girl to a mother who wants a boy — or more specifically to a Queen who wants a male heir. So when her child is born a girl, she pretends that her child is a boy — hence a “Hamlet” who is a woman pretending to be a man…
I am hoping that I wrote that in a way that is clear… Suffice to say, I am just glad that Asta was born a woman in order that she could play this delicate, sly and charming seducer of a Hamlet. Asta’s scenes seducing Ophelia are true womanly genius involving the use of fantasy and swooning in the great outdoors (left).
And in Asta’s film version, Hamlet is actually in love with Horatio… that’s right, in love with her/his best friend (see Asta eyeing Horatio above) — so that Ophelia, whom Horatio loves, becomes both rival and threat…
It is written on Wikipedia that Asta, a great star of her time in silent films, was approached by Hitler in 1936 to return to the screen in some movies of his choice and moral devising. She managed to turn Hitler down, and left Germany — where she had made some 70 films, to return to Denmark, where she born.
Asta was married three times. Her third marriage took place when she was eighty-eight years old. Oh, to imagine the conversations — silent or not — that she had then. She died at 90.
In In Mexico City, I once saw people crawling, in great lines, and on their knees, to church on a Sunday. Above the city, I also saw a statue of an angel, golden, on top of a building. I found it hard then to believe in angels. I was nine and beneath the statue, in the streets, children my age and younger begged me for food and money. I started stealing plastic packets of Saltines for them from our Sheraton Hotel and — for a time — stopped eating.
Once I went 160mph on a 6,000 pound 42 foot Cigarette speedboat owned by speed champion Anna Dalva. (see above).
Anna was originally from Monticello, New York and married a lawyer and judge. They lived in a Walt Disney imitation castle, with moat, in the Los Angeles Palisades.
The times I met her, in the early 90s, she was wearing thigh-high boots, a white racing jacket and lots of bling. She gave me a cap (see photo) and took me shopping. We ran into Mickey Rourke at Ed Hardy’s.
Ed Hardy clothes didn’t really go with my attire: I was in disguise at the time as a Yachting editor. Hardy did, however, go with Anna. She had her assistant take her bags. The assistant was a young pale blonde with blue doll eyes; she looked shockingly like a fairy come to life, or like Alice in a white frock and blue ribbon in Alice in Wonderland.
Sometimes I think I didn’t fully appreciate Anna back then. She was so “L.A.” and I, as mentioned, was trying to fly “under the radar.” I was a little scared (also see photo)
As she puts it:
I think a girl thinks better than a man. When I won the world speed record there were two of us and he was in the way. I thought, either he’s going to move or someone’s going to die.”
After Anna’s husband Morris died, Anna married the owner of a New York steakhouse: Ben Benson, who is now, I believe, 83.
What are those things called, that you put all your past into, your dreams and photos and toy guns, baubles and faded roses — Memory boxes? Lives? The funny thing is we are each Our Own Memory Box. Maybe only writers really realize this.
At any rate, Kurt Andersen’s novel True Believers reads like a memory box chock full of everything 60s (see #1) and everything now (#4), a Tom Wolfe(ian) chronicle of our times…delicious to see it so fantastically collected in fiction.
Some of my favorite moments in this James Bondish, riproarish, fact-and-action packed novel are the smart and skewed takes on our precarious and mysteriously beautiful (at times) experience (see #3 and #4):
#1 Grab-bag of 60s paraphenalia: frisbee, silly putty, Sweetarts, Tab, Orlon (dresses). etc.
#2 Recognition that the appearance of the salt shaker and the broccolini are all just a guess or a prediction of the brain (as the brain can only process some hundred bits of the billion bits that the retina collects)
#3 Memory of a slick of gas on fire on a lake, and what it is like to swim “beneath the aquatic bonfire,” to “look up at the fire from underwater…” to “surface somewhere beyond the ring of fire.”
4. Grab-bag of the present time: FB, mega-kudos, memoir, Ocuppy Movements, X Men, Hulu, GBTQI, and so many more.
Andersen certainly shows us the explosion we’ve lived through — and btw, I met him a few times when I was a teenage secretary at TIME. A thoroughly nice guy — and one the other writers all envied for having the talent to get away
This is a picture of me, on the yacht Myrine in Greece some years back. I was at the time a Senior Editor at Yachting magazine, and also Editor-in-Chief of their publication Superyachts of Yachting. How could a democratic socialist leaning writer end up such? As representative of an elitist capitalistic lifestyle?
Well, first, let’s confess, I sailed as a child (see Boats I Have Seen Upon #1, #2). Second, when I got this job, it was just the only job on offer to me in Greenwich Connecticut when I was 24 years old. And why was I in Greenwich Connecticut — a world of wealth and country clubs — when I was 24, had no money, no country club, and knew no one? Because, dear peeps, I had been ill, and the doctors advised me not to go back to New York City, not to go back to family, not to start a romance, but to move to the town where my new doctor lived: Greenwich, CT.
It was fantastic, being a reporter in Greece on Myrine. At dawn, I went up to the bridge where a teenage boy crew member served me yogurt and honey. One night, when we moored in the bay outside Hydra — where Leonard Cohen once lived — we went to shore and I climbed the hillside to a nightclub by the stars. It was still early and the club was empty. Sade’s “Haunt Me” was playing at high volume — throughout the club and out into the hills where the graveyard lay:
Haunt me, in my dreams, if you please
Your breath is with me now and always, it’s like a breeze
So should you ever doubt me
If it’s help that you need
Never dare to doubt me....
It was one of the high points of my life. I was alone, I was in a foreign country. The stars were near. The future was mine. Myrine waited for me on the sea. What could ever, ever be better? Nothing.
Facebook is great. When I was in the desert, being Jesus, it enabled me to gather together a life of friends and acquaintances from all over onto one slippery mesmerizing ever changing screen.
This screen, it feels to me, is like a devil’s — or an angel’s — magic mirror in which I can see (sorry for mixed metaphor) a cauldron of changing and aging faces.
If I really like, to add yet another analogy, I can Beam Myself Down into people’s home lives, their breakups and loves, their partisanship and recent purchases.
I drop my comment into the cauldron, leaving it behind as someone left this Caught Being Good Coin in the arboretum.
We’re all like the children, and the squirrels and the magpies, gathering sustenance to get us through winter.
I always thought that was great regarding writing, but it’s also good for other things. For years, I have struggled with certain people: argued with them, despaired over them, gone away and come back and gone away.
Then has come a day — a few times in my life — the great struggle has ended. I may not have won or lost. I have just stopped struggling. I might care, still, a little. But is a detached quiet caring. I will no longer, as Plath wrote, “lie or cry after it.” One cannot live in a storm forever.
As a writer, you cannot assault the reader with your dark depression. You cannot give the reader nothing but your misery. Or you can, but expect to lose a few people. If a writer wants readers, the writer has to offer up some light, some beauty.
I came to this Gross Generalization while looking at some memoirs I love. The pain recounted in Sue William Silverman’s memoir of paternal childhood abuse is made readable only be the tempering of the pain with some kind of light or goodness. In her case, I believe the good is the beauty of her natural world, as well as the essential goodness of her own self.
The perhaps moral recklessness of Sonja Livingston’s mother in Ghostbread is transformed by Livingston’s painting of her mother’s impenenetrable pride, free spirit and refusal to be moulded into normalcy.
The darkness of Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss is ‘leavened’ by Harrison’s deliberate focus on the unreal beauty of the landscape she and her dangerous father move through.
The thing is that as in books so in life. Survivors of incredibly difficult situations have had to find something to grip on to other than their own pain. They have had not so much to transcend pain, as to counter it, to starve darkness of its own oxygen, as it were, by adding a competitor for the air. Otherwise the writer would not have survived.
A friend of mine asked me on Friday if I had someone I confided in during childhood about certain difficulties. I did not. Well then, she said, did I have some “safe place.” Trish, I said, laughing, “You’re Killing Me Here.” But what about books, she persisted, didn’t I have a favorite book, or world of my own? At first, I said no.
Though, like Silverman, I did have a lot beyond relationships with family and school friends. Like Silverman, I grew up in incredibly lush and beautiful parts of the world. I also moved schools, cities and countries, with each place providing an intense new backdrop to my family life.
Then I remembered Enid Blyton’s childhood book The Enchanted Forest. A world of adventure and constant change, in which various “lands” arrive via clouds at the top of the tree. There is the Land of Presents, the Land of Spells, the Land of Know-It-Alls, the Land of Smacks (English for Slaps).
It is one thing after another –and as in my own life — you never know what is going to happen next. One adventure replaces another adventure. One day it is Smacks, the next The Land of Birthdays; one day you are in “The Land of (Bad) Tempers”, the next “The Land of Do as You Please.”
What better reason for looking forward, for going on: the knowledge that there is no one permanent world, and that the next world or at the least the one after that could be the Land of Topsy Turvy (pretty chaotic — with no firm place to stand) , or The Land of Take-What-You-Want, where, as they say, the world is your Birthdaycake And your oyster.
Poet Donald Revell once kissed me goodbye, on the cheek, at an arts colony in Vermont and said, “Go with God.” I was so surprised to hear this, I kept it quiet for fifteen years. No one where I came from said “Go with God”. No one said “God” — only — if ever — the CoolSpeak word for God which was”HP” (Higher Power.) Once, I was actually laughed at, in a gentle way of course, for “using the word Jesus below 14th Street.”
Some things you might as well not share. Pandora’s Box — for example, everyone knows what ‘s in it. Also, once I had a pretty brilliant happy religious experience and told a brother about it. He thought for a while and said Louise, that experience was the result of Group Ritual. Maybe it was. Maybe, as my father always told me, “Louise, you see things in people that just aren’t there.”
I think of this singer sometimes, Daniel Johnston (above as a teenager.) He is bipolar and tried to fly a plane, crashing it, while under the impression that he was Superman. He has this beautiful song Some Things Last A Long Time.
“Your picture is still on my wall. The colors are bright, bright as ever. The red is strong. The blue is pure. …. I think about you — often — often.”
Whoever the girl in the picture is, you get the feeling she is long gone. But not for Johnston. As for those things we can’t see, as Rilke says, what then justifies you in missing them, if they never were?
Actually, I do. But I but I don’t feel like telling you.
It awes me somehow that this book, which I picked up for free this week, was once in Miss Lewinsky’s very own hands. It is the first time a book signature has really wowed me. I mean: All the best in Law School. Did she know what she was saying?
What a disturbing book. What an incredibly, unbelievable, sweet girl-child. And I mean child. With her tears and pouting and girliness, Lewinsky sounds in it as if she is about thirteen — to her boyfriend “Handsome”‘s fifteen. The man, according to this story, would juggle five presidential calls while placating the girl for not calling her more often.
And all those presents Lewinsky gives him: corny Hallmark cards and Starbucks mugs and games and ties. From a woman hardly making more than a basic secretary. What did anyone buy her? A hatpin?
Shame on Hillary Clinton, for saying, this year, that she ‘didn’t care:’ it wasn’t Sex of “Any Real Meaning,” between Monica and Bill.
I bet it was real for Monica. I bet Bill still dreams of someone as guileless as she.
This book. and its wretched sad details, pruriently pulled from a girl who was afraid, threatened and didn’t know any better, is harder to read than Unica Zurn’s Dark Spring. And this is saying a lot — as Unica Zurn killed herself and her character received oral sex from her pet dog.
It’s as raw as “True Confessions” — and I know, because I used to buy it when I was ten. Girls are curious. Lust is youth. We have feelings, too.
“You transfix me quite,” says Rochester to Jane Eyre in the most recent movie version of Jane Eyre, with Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska. I had some pretty serious disbelief that some of the writing in this film had anything to do with the Charlotte Bronte book, and even searched the original online for said transfixment — to no avail — yet still the tumult and the angst were luring enough.
(Also, does any man today act the way of Rochester, — throwing himself into Heathcliffian torture despite wealth and fortune because he makes a bad teen marriage?)
Well, times have changed — and because of this I offer to my lover-husband Matthew the Bronte/movie line You Transfix Me, Quite, on the occasion of our 7.5 Wedding Ceremony June 21, 2014, which also asks the question “Why do you speak to the air?” Because it speaks too, to us.
I used to wake up in my apartment on West 13th Street, NYC, to men jack-hammering the concrete below my window. This went on for a year or so, before they built a temporary doorway to my building and put up scaffolding around the entire building facade. Then they jack-hammered for another five years.
Noise — they use it to torture people. I saw it on the Sopranos.
Just look up my old address on Google: this is still the photo that comes up:
The quietest place I found was in Paekakariki, New Zealand, where I met Matthew. I had a cabin by the ocean. The loudest sound was the sound of Matthew making iced mojitos.
Then there was the desert, of course. It was terrifying there, for me, as if I had landed in a settlement on Mars. Then again, you could always look at the silent stars. Which we did, eating burgers from the Swagman’s, drinking beer from the bottle, sitting in front of a fire with son Riley at the red rocks of the ancient Granites.
Then as now, I always try to remember: Life is Disorder, Order is Death. Life is Noise, Silent is the Grave. Once again, I refer to Keats:
It occurs to me that I am a fan of the word Brutal.
For instance, last month at Writers & Books while listening to David Merulla, I re-discovered on the shelves the poems “Brutalism” by Tessa Rumsey in a 1997 copy of The Colorado Review.
“If M sees himself through the gaze of a building; I have lost the
way to my eyes; if the building is brutal; whose lips are these;
“If M builds an edifice; I want you to remember; if the edifice is
brutal; how I saw the bird of paradise; destroyed from the
Also, I voted Yes to a poem that was then published in Tin House — I am a reader for them — and, to cite a few lines from said poem by Elizabeth Lyon, “How All Things Are Managed:”
They call it a falling into death.
Two dogs are shot into my vein….
If I am lucky, there is only the darkness and then an explosion. Perhaps a fracture, a
concussion, a dislocation. Flecks of blood.
If the illness in your brain is brutal, be brutal back.
But did I even know what brutal is? Brutal, yes, brutalism? After 17 years, from the day I read my first Rumsey, I looked it up:
Brutalism See also Architecture
For six years, I suffered from chronic pain: the kind of pain that wakes you up in the morning unable to move, that comes randomly — while you are sitting in a chair, or talking to someone outside under a tree, for example, under the gentle sun — so that when it hits, you let out a small scream and find that you are crying and unable to speak.
It is the kind of pain that leads you to ask Why? and, yes, even: Why Me, God?
Then, if you are lucky, as I have been, one day the pain lifts. The only thing I can compare it to is the day when a great Obsession in my life lifted, when I no longer saw my Obsession — my cathected* Love Object, before me — but the great Swimming World again.
How free I was, I remember writing, the day you stopped being beautiful.
I had a sudden wish to swim.
The blue of the sky was not like your eyes, but a pool after rain.
Ask not Why the Torture Comes, ask Why it Leaves.
One fantasy I have had since about this age, left, is of throwing a rock through the glass window of an ex-es apartment, of the glass shattering around him.
I wanted only to make a statement: to say
I Am, I continue, I exist. I wanted not to be forgotten, to leave — at my worst, a scar — at my best, a Trace, a Memory.
Love is memory; it only dies when I do. Or as Euripides says: And does not Loveliness Last Forever?
Remember me. Dido’s Lament, Jeff Buckley: Remember Me.
In 1977, when my family
finally immigrated to America, my parents decided we could have one tea chest each for our belongings. Anything that did not fit into the tea chest — would not cross the ocean.
I took some clothes of course, and some toys — two tiny dolls from Japan, a pendant from Fiji, an old wallet my father had given me when I was in hospital and he came each day after work, on his motorcycle, to see me.
Then there were the books: a small green copy of Jane Eyre from 1932, the novel Seven Little Australians (might not get that in New York), Tiberius The Titirangi Mouse from New Zealand, The Giant All-Colour Book of Fairytales — in which each story has a different illustrator, fantastically.
But even then, I knew: it’s not just the book. Hence the tome-like collection of Poetry and Limericks from which my father used to read me Macavity the Mystery Cat — and which our Labrador dog Huckleberry chewed violently — so at least with the book, I had a memento of him. Hence J.R.Tolkein’s fairytale of boy able to visit other worlds, The Smith of Wooton Major, which I had been given, along with a bar of Milky chocolate when I was at home alone one day.
Hence Arabellla the Mystery Cat because in it mother has written:
To Louise, Because she is such a good girl.
Sometimes, I like to say the first band I saw was the Clash, at the Palladium in NYC, when I was about thirteen. Other times, I think of Bruce Springsteen at the Garden, or Earth Wind & Fire.
Truth is, though, the first band I saw live was Sherbet, when I was nine, in Sydney. They were so popular girls got crushed swarming to see them. I had a blue tube dress that had this photo of them on it:
No, seriously, do you think my father would let me get away with that? LOL. I believe the photo was this blue one:
I used to kiss the drummer’s face on the poster on my wall (Alan Sandow, on the bottom left.)
The “Sherbs” were the biggest 70s band in Australia, sweet as as the powdered sugar confection that shared their name. Sherbet itself used to arrive in the Sweets and Ice Cream truck that toured the suburb of BelleRose and so on, on hot weekends, little bell tinkling…. It was packaged the way heroin is: powdered, in little waxy paper packets and tubes you could put your finger in to taste, or upload onto a long pinky fingernail and….
But wait, that was the eighties…
Ain’t No Body Does it Better… Chaka Khan… But that will really make me high…
I know it’s terribly corny now to talk of another person “completing” us, but some of my favorite fairy tales tell exactly that story – yet with a difference. What one person lacks, the other has, and when the two come together both share all.
For instance, in the 1697 (!) Charles Perrault fairytale “Ricky of the Tufts”, a “bad fairy” curses Prince Rick with ugliness but also great intelligence and Princess (no name but Princess) with beauty yet great dumbness.
As in “Beauty and the Beast,” when the two forgive each other their defects, Ricky becomes beautiful, and Princess intelligent – so that both of them are both beautiful and intelligent.
My fairytale book is one of the few objects I have had since childhood: The Giant All-colour Book of Fairy Tales, 1971, Jane Carruth.
The odd thing is I always fancied Ugly Ricky (top) more than beautiful Ricky (bottom).
“My heart would not be heavy if I had been gifted with looks such as yours,” Ricky declared… “Well,” the Princess sighed, “if I could talk like you I would not mind being as ugly as you are.”
WE cannot expect others to love the same books that we do. A relationship with a book is much like a marriage. As a psychiatrist told me once: “You never know what draws two people together.” Age of Innocence, the novel by Edith Wharton, is so full of longing, self denial and pain that it tops my list of most affecting ever. Yet it is also the fact that convention, and perhaps fear and weakness, keep Madame Olenska and Newland Archer apart. If only one of them could break free at the same time as the other.
The longing was with him day and night, an incessant undefinable craving… He could not see beyond the craving, or picture what it might lead to… He simply felt that if he could carry away the vision of the spot of earth she walked on, and the way the sky and sea enclosed it, the rest of the world might seem less empty.
I was driving down Avenue B by Tompkins Square Park one day, in a small truck with fiance #3, when a motorcycle appeared to my right, swerved around our truck, skidded on some oil, and smashed right in front of us. As the motorcycle screeched down the street on its side, the driver hit the ground, started rolling and took off running.
It was, I soon realized, my younger brother Jonathan (pictured left on his college Triumph). If anyone defines what it is to hit the ground running, it is he. He is about as fearless as you can get: a reckless glorious world unto himself.
The first chapter of a story of mine, Fiery World, is published in this month’s magazine, Rochester POST. (if you’d like to see it please email me.)
They did a good curious job with the topography. The words Fiery World are pretty evident as is a blooming tree. Sadly, they left out the copy of Rembrandt’s “Polish Rider” from the Frick that gave this work its inspiration:
I was teaching Frank O’Hara to international students in Tarrytown in 2012 and had them imitate his poem “Having a Coke with You“: and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world/except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick…
The efforts were the best and funniest and saddest work I could have imagined, written by high school students from Korea, Japan, Europe, Saudi Arabia and South America. Soon, I am going to upload them all to Tumblr.
Until then, however, some samplers (best served after reading the original)
Having a picnic with you is even more exciting than going to an amusement park or being recognized as dream come true in Korea
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for “Kimbot,”
partly because of your pink dress that looks better than Obama’s
Having a dinner with you
is even more nice that going to Rita Hall…
Partly because in your blue shirt you look like a better Prince Henry…
Having a picnic with you is always fun when I’m calling you on your
iphone in Roma
Watching a movie is even more fun than talking on the grass
partly because in the dark theater, we can talk more openly
than under the sunrise.. (Kentaro Okutsu)
I look at you and I wish I could look at you until the end of the world,
except if you don’t want to occasionally, and anyway it’s possible
which thank heavens you haven’t decided yet so we can decide together
And the fact that you stare at me so frequently
more or less takes care of and shows me the true
Just as at home I never think of “The Godfather”
or watching a movie started by Johnny Dep or
Angelina Jolie that used to wow me
and what good do all the noises of a rainy day do them?
Check back for a link to Tumblr.
The only person who ever snapped his fingers at me was billionaire and JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, pictured above playing tennis with his family at Christmas time. When I knew him, we were both working on the corporate floor of Smith Barney. I was a part-time secretary to the Vice Chairman. Jamie was Chairman. At Christmas, Jamie Dimon’s wife gave acrylic gloves in multi-colored patterns such as leopard and floral to all the Corporate secretaries. They were, I recall, from Saks Fifth Avenue.
I remember because I wasn’t too impressed with the gloves. First, I didn’t wear acrylic. Also, what else was there at Saks that would match and I could afford?
My friend, Myrna Cruz, however, another secretary on the corporate floor, was touched. She was one of ten children and lived happily alone up by the Cloisters – “It’s sweet,” she said, turning over her pair, “I think it’s sweet.”
Jamie Dimon earns $27.5 million per year. I am 49 years old and my husband and I have a $5,000 loan with his bank for our 2007 Subaru. Perhaps the Dimons imagine the secretaries wearing their gloves this way (no clothes of course — too expensive, and let’s can the diamond necklace.)
You can do what you want, I always tell my students. It’s just about enjoying yourself. And if that cat, right, has a good time shredding lounge fabric, I bet he’ll find a friend who does, also. Isn’t that all we do — have projects, build things, topple them when we’re fed up, try again. People, that’s all I do. As friend Paul Dodd says, Life is a Spell — and I am under it.
Much of of Rebecca Mead’s study/memoir My Life In Middlemarch has Mead visiting sites where George Eliot lived and worked, with Mead saying things like (and I paraphrase) “Though all that existed in Eliot’s time was now depressingly gone, still I surveyed the pub/latrine/bowling alley that used to be her living room/boudoir/study…”
Which gets a little tiresome — Eliot did die in 1880; what did Mead expect– especially being not an ingenue but a well compensated (one assumes) New Yorker staff writer with some knowledge of the passage of time. Nevertheless, ignoring this, as well as Mead’s alignment of her life with Eliot’s (both are from small towns! both have 3 stepsons!) still Mead uncovers a great deal fascinating to the Eliot fan, such as:
1) Eliot’s pitiable “abjection” after her rejection by would-be lover Herbert Spencer and her Ask that he at least keep her in mind even if unable to love her: “If you become attached to some one else, then I must die, but until then I could gather courage to work and make life valuable..”
2) Eliot’s late quasi marriage (as he was officially married to someone else) to George Henry Lewes, a man who who supported her so completely that a) she took his first name as her own and b) she found her writing unexpectedly flourishing in her mid- life years.
3) Eliot’s noticeable devotion (compared for example to Dorothea Brookes Casaubon) to learning things such as German and French all by herself (Why did Dorothea never crack one of her husband’s library books?)
4) most superficial, yet nevertheless excellent — the fantastic descriptions of Eliot and Lewes as equally bizarre looking: she described by Henry James as “magnificently ugly, deliciously hideous” — he described as “like an old-fashioned French barber or dancing-master, very ugly, very vivacious, very entertaining.” — and to top it off, from a neighbor:
“They were both very unattractive people to look upon, and they used to wander about the neighbourbood, the biggest pair of frights that ever was, followed by a shaggy little dog who could do tricks.”
But how do you know it’s you, a friend of mine used to ask, plaintively, when I claimed a certain poet’s writing featured me in it. I guess she was right that another of his girlfriends could have been “Stunned by the power of her own rage.” Maybe he had a penchant for rageful women — or, we do know, made women rageful. Fair enough.
But what about when a character has scars all down her back from a fire at age three (as I do) and what if she says sahlty instead of salty, and what if she climbed mulberry trees as a child and in “Address to the Ex” is missing on Twelfth, Mercer and Bethune, vanished from Eighth — while others know where she is and do not tell him.
To quote his poem “Old Business”, dedicated to L.W. and returning the sentiment to him:
“A quiet joy appears amidst loneliness, doesn’t replace it.” I came to this man the night I realized I had his poem “Mother at Eighty” taped to my kitchen wall. I found his number in the phonebook, he lived four blocks away, and five minutes later I was, as they say, in his arms.
Did you know that the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth 1, set aside four hours a day for reading? Or that George Eliot grimly forced herself to learn both German and French out of books? While contemplating renewing my own language studies — assessing online courses, DVDs from Amazon and language Apps — I decided to hit my own bookshelves.
There lay a fresh copy of Threadsuns by Paul Celan.
DU WARST mein Tod
dich konnte ich halten
wahrend mir alles entfiel
I read this out loud in the kitchen — it sounded great! I even understood the first line,
(but then I would, wouldn’t I?) :
YOU WERE my death
you I could hold/when all fell from me
After this, I recovered from a box a 1954 original edition of the paperback Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness) by Francoise Sagan It was inscribed to me in 1981 by an 18 year-old French exchange student who fell in love with a brother of mine.
To his despair, and soon my entire family’s, she took to arriving unannounced at my school in New York — from Paris — and asking if she could stay with me. Her love and histrionics for and over my brother led to a) her taking off all her clothes while chasing him down Park Avenue and b) him quitting the study of French permanently.
Pour Louise, 8 mar 1981
qui me rend gaie et qui malgre sa grande jeunesse m’est d’un precieuses soutien.
“For Louise, 8 March 1981
who makes me happy and despite her great youth is a precious support to me…”
(other translations welcome)
Erma McCann turned 87 this year and every other day in this grueling winter I watched her walk gingerly and with some frailty out of her house in boots and with shovel, to complete the cleanup that the plows had started.
Her husband Martin was dead, as was her son, but Erma despite darkening skies and blackening ice, always said yes: to the storm, to the ice, to coffee, to tangelos, to a loaf of rasberry banana bread.
I saw her in church once and her heart, she told me, was weak. The chemo had damaged it. Last week a fire truck, police car and ambulance arrived to take her to hospice. She came out the house smiling, her head in a scarf and her tall slim body wrapped in a sheet. She looked like a disciple.
At hospice, from bed on one of the first bright balmy brilliant days of a long-awaited spring, her eyes shone blue fire; her skin was as white and smooth as the crocus I’d brought from her garden. “You look radiant,” I said. She wasn’t leaving, it seemed evident, she was going somewhere.
Pastor Tim came and we all stood holding hands around Erma. He spoke to her of her childhood, of play, of green grass and blue sky. Afterwards Erma broke out into a song of her own girlhood, “Jesus Loves me This I Know Because The Bible Tells Me So.” Afterward, she gripped my hand, as if it were I who were being left. “You take care of yourself,” she said. To listen: Jesus Loves Me
I had a boyfriend once– I’ve mentioned him before — with whom I had a painful breakup. We tried to get back together, but the problem was, he said, by then he knew that I wasn’t perfect and — he said, “I want perfect.”
Here is Tricky, our new dog , pictured at the shelter two weeks ago. Unfortunately, he has been badly treated and when he is afraid he cowers, flinches and cries. Even the wind scares him.
What more of a reason could have to love a creature? I can’t think of one. To Tricky, who is already a beacon of affection and hope, we love you man.
As for my ex, another thing he told me, before he discovered my imperfection, was “Thanks for saving me from the jaws of despair.”
As the Japanese say, only God is perfect. Any work of art must have its flaw.
Firstly, I loved this book. Why would I not? It was absolutely everything I like: a Sleepless Nights (Elizabeth Hardwicke) Speedboat (Renata Adler) 2014 Literary-Smarty-Pants-with-Angst monologue spliced with quotes. It reads like any MFA candidate’s journal, rudely spilled from a notebook at a coffee house. Only it’s not embarrassing. It’s finessed, whittled down to the point — writers know the point I mean — of pleasurable pain.
Jenny Offill’s second novel: Dept. of Speculation.
As it’s been written about by Mr Woods and countless others, I won’t bore and reiterate. There is however, only one speculation I would like to add to the department. Was not or is not Brooklyn based 40-something Offill devoted to the writings of the late great German writer of angst, history, and assemblage: Mr. W.G Sebald. Following is my case that she is.
His advice: Fiction should have a ghostlike presence in it somewhere, something omniscient. It makes it a different reality.
Offill opening and ongoing thread: Antelopes have 10x vision, you said… That means on a clear night they can see the rings of Saturn.
His advice: By all means be experimental, but let the reader be part of the experiment.
Offill , I can tell you myself, is experimental, yet never too much so; though wandering through her graphs like streets, we are not lost. Besides prose, Offill includes questionnaires, lists and Student Evaluations.
Advice: There is a certain merit in leaving some parts of your writing obscure.
Random Offill :
‘As for us, our days are like grass.’ (to me that’s a little obscure)
“We don’t know, but the cards know,” her daughter says when they are playing a game later.” (Ve-ry nice)
And Best of All (I can’t do this forever; I have a job)
Sebald Advice: Don’t be afraid to bring in strange, eloquent quotations and graft them into your story.
Advice from Hesiod… (p17)
The Manicheans believed… (p23)
What Fitzgerald said (p38)
What Keats said (p46)
What Simone Weil said (p54)
What T.S. Eliot said (p91)
And remember this, from the eighties I think:
Don’t cook, don’t fuck, what do you do? Don’t
cook, don’t fuck, what do you do?
It’s not attributed but I do believe its the Soundtrack of my Adolescence.
Fantastic book, can’t wait for more.
I found these questions while looking through some old notebooks. I have no idea who they were for, or why I wrote them. If anyone would like to fill them out, answers will be gratefully received.
Do you believe your mother’s version of yourself or your father’s?
How do you respond to pharmaceutical opiates?
What, if you were a tragic Greek, would be your downfall?
Have you ever been in therapy? If so, did it help and how?
What food(s) if any are you adverse to eating?
What is the nastiest thing your mother ever said to you?
Describe your household growing up.
What is the best thing a teacher ever said to you?
Recommend three contemporary writers.
What ended your great love affair?
Has any drug had a positive influence on your life?
Is there anyone who wish you had never met?
Who was the hottest member of your family growing up?
On what subject is your greatest secret?
Name the line you most often quote in public.
Do you consider yourself a sensitive person? If so, define sensitive.
Would you rather be Freddy Mercury, (alive) or Prince (alive.)
If you had to commit suicide where would you do it? How?
(Perhaps don’t answer the last…. )
Three years ago, on my birthday, I was living in this town, right. I met some wonderful people there, namely Sister Monica, Jo and Fionna, in a desert town of 500 people in Western Australia. When I walked out the door of my house, to the left was the edge of town. When I walked seven minutes all the way across town to work,
I was also at the edge of town. Everywhere, in Mt. Magnet, was at the edge of town. Now I am across the world, on the edge of Lake Ontario, in five months of snow and ice.
My cat, who also traveled from the desert where she loved the warm earth of Mt Magnet, here lives with ice and cabin fever. But spring is coming, with its warm air and leaves. Today was the dawn of my last year in a certain decade. Matthew bought me roses, right, and took me to the icy lake and to Lento where the bartender gave me a taste of the gin Ethereal. I also had the cocktail Last Word and followed this with Fire & Blood. At my age, I have not had the Last Word. I have, however, known Fire & Blood and I am living, from now until death, in the Ethereal.
I’ve had a few rich boyfriends. Super Rich? $300 million rich? Or $30 million rich? Actually, I wasn’t counting. Still, one I am thinking of, right, had a couple of homes and a stable of cars and — the year I was with him — bought himself a jet plane, a $20,000 gold tank Cartier watch and a Mercedes.
I remember the plane because — well, it was a plane. I remember the watch because it cost about what I earned that year — and the Mercedes because, the last day I was with him, I asked to pull it over to curb on Sixth Avenue and Let Me Out.
It’s not really much fun remembering him. But what I remember often is what he gave me: a Coach watch! Two Barneys bikinis! A $600 shopping trip to Banana Republic! No one I loved had showered me with gifts before.
Then there was the dining out –Balthazar and the Water Club and French bistros — every night for a year. Strangely, however, over this year, I lost so much weight I dropped from about a size 6 to a Size size 0. That’s right, 0, at 5’7″ tall. I couldn’t keep a pound on. The stress of being with him was that great.
What was wrong? I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. When I wasn’t losing a t-shirt he gave me (which made him livid) I was losing a bracelet that cost more than my rent to replace, (and which I had to find a way to do as I was so scared he’d find out.)
His complaint was that I wasn’t tough enough. I needed to “negotiate.” For instance, that Coach watch he gave me? When we’d been together longer, he said, he would buy me a better watch. A better watch, I asked? Really? Long silent pause.
My next boyfriend was the great illuminator. He gave me gifts such as an emergency kit for my car in case it broke down. He bought me relevant vitamins and yoga classes. When he found out I had been in debt since age 23, he canceled a vacation for the two of us and paid for a lawyer who helped get me out of debt.
That was when I really understood: love is about helping someone to be their best. It’s about giving them things like safety, or peace of mind. If you can’t turn to your lover for help, you are alone.
My ex married, after me, a Russian fashion designer. Last I saw, they were posing against a vintage Rolls Royce in animal fur coats — hers was white. She had long blond hair and five inch heels. He had found, I saw, his negotiator.
I have plenty more to say, but I feel too bad for L’Wren Scott.
Until I read David Hume, in high school, I was somewhat lost. My family traveled a bit when I was a child and my mother, left at age 70, 2011, used to tell me that no one was better than anyone else — not the Australians or the Americans or the Fijians or the Japanese. Everyone was different.
So I always held back on claiming surety for anything. The right religion, the right attitude, the right way of living — I didn’t know.
Then came Hume who explained that humans are trapped by the fact that they only see, perceive, hear and judge their world through their own humanness — an even better revelation that I was off the hook in terms of claiming any great truth or knowledge.
How good it was this week then to read in the New York Times that astronomers believe they have discovered 40 billion planets in the galaxy that could contain life as we know it. Forty billion planets in the Goldilocks zone of life revolving around a sun.
How good it is to be small, to allow for multitudes, to realize how great is the firmament, (let alone the multiverse.)
As my friend Eileen Crimmins used to tell me, Louise: “Your God is too small.”
Eileen: right in blue pants, with me, somewhere out of Nerja, Spain, 1998.
Ferdinand is a young bull who prefers sitting in the meadow and smelling flowers to “butting heads” and fighting with his friends. In fact, despite all prodding, he refuses to fight —
even when selected to perform in a major bullfight to a great crowd in Madrid. He just sits down and looks the other way.
How could I have missed this book — published in 1936, never out of print, banned in Spain, and later by the Nazis, one assumes for its pacifism? Could it have saved me?
Not arguing wasn’t the goal in our house. My father, above at age 23 or so, was a debater — and not just any debater but a champion debater despite, or perhaps motivated by, a truly difficult speech impediment. My three brothers and I were set against each other in debates in a sort of early verbal Hunger Games. These games could be held anytime any place, but invariably took place when my family was captive — two adults and four children — on a remote holiday in a 31 foot boat. One thing I remember most acutely from this (and I could say more, but I won’t):
1) You can never win, when it comes to words. Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can rip your soul up.
This was the advice I received from a certain counselor once. Do what you can, she said, to Not Get Hurt. An interesting idea, for me, someone who has oft run naked into barbed wire fences — as they say.
I thought of it this morning when I picked up some fantasy books the most charming WXXI Classical 91.5 music announcer Mona Seghatoleslami gave me on loan.
In Lord of Light, science fiction writer Roger Zelansky opens up with some apt lines from Buddha’s the Dhammapada:
He whose desires have been throttled,
who is independent of root,
whose pasture is emptiness —
signless and free —
his path is as unknowable
I’ve been thinking about this “lucky” thing, and what it means when we try to draw luck to us. Does this work, ever? Do talismans give us power? When I was eighteen, my father gave me a Maori pendant of luck, the tiki, below. Throughout high school, I wore it during exams. Did it work? No comment. When I was in my early twenties my beautiful Upanishads reading brother Jonathan gave me a massive wooden cross he bought in Poughkepsie. It was made of tree branches and when I saw it, I literally screamed: it was that strange and beautiful. In my late twenties, after I was baptised at St. Thomas church in Manhattan, I received three crosses from three ‘love interests': one was a silver rose cross, two were gold. Did they work? No comment.
Matthew, when we met, gave me a rare piece of precious green stone for luck. That did work: we married. Then in the outback, three years ago, Sister Monica gave me a small pendant of a dove, which I wore for good luck, and still sometimes do. A few months ago I considered buying some some good luck pendants at Zaks in the South Wedge. But then I thought — what good were they, symbols? Who needed them? Luck didn’t come to you through pendants. Yesterday, however, in the third month of the polar vortex, I went back to pick them up: one with Lucky on it, another, which I am wearing now, with Play to Win. I was the shop lady’s first customer all day. “You’ve brought me luck,” she said.
Matthew took me out to Good Luck last night. We had an Old-Fashioned in homage to my (probable) new publisher who says the Old-Fashioned is her favorite drink. Here is to Matthew who never says things like, You are Responsible for Your Own Good Time or Make Your Own Luck. I am grateful for that. Also, he listened to my new story when we got home and has a lot to say about cultures — he is good at crossing them, and also recognizes that good intentions are not always enough to cross them. This made me think of the only other “foreign” kid in my high school in New York: Fazal Sheikh. He’s now a famous photographer of the “displaced.” No one ever knew what his background was exactly and he is American but rumors at our school were rife with a fascinating cross cultural background (i.e. parents from different places or some such). He once told a journalist that in his first forays into taking photographs in refugee camps (he’s been all over — India, Kenya, Asia) the photojournalists weren’t inhibited at all about moving through the camps and taking photographs, but for him “That was not my sensibility. I was fearful of the idea of trespass.” Here’s Fazal, taken by me, in school in 1978. Behind him is our dear departed Hannah Wit (1965-2007.) I only realized she was in this shot after I was searching for Fazal’s image this morning.
I now have this print, Lone Wolf by Victor Kowalski –one of the most reproduced prints ever — to the left of my desk above a framed cover of the novel The Virgin & the Gypsy, by D.H. Lawrence. What I’m thinking about now is the pull from being the lone wolf (note his scary relation to the town below) to being socialized. It all comes down to whether you ‘re a person who accepts – or gives apologies. Someone apologized to me once for years of bad childhood behavior — but then went on to treat me almost as badly as an adult. In that case: apology good at the time, but ultimately meaningless. Another person, a poet and novelist I had been with for five years wrote me an amends letter. Expressly, he said, “So that he could move on with his life.” Not an apology either. But an apology for being what one was at the time — and since being changed, since offering something new — that is an apology that brings a person back into the world.
This image does not do justice to the golden gleam upon this profusely illustrated Cinderella series book, which we picked up at the Brick House in Palymra, NY. Yet I present it to you on This the Day of the Death of Fairytales. Because on this day I have learned that the mute swans of New York are to be shot, for interfering with other wildlife. The sickening feeling this gives me reminds me of the sickening feeling Robert Coover gives Sleeping Beauty in his masterful Briar Rose, in which sleep, dream, nightmare life and death are hopelessly entangled:
There is this to be said for the stabbing pin of the spindle prick. It anchors her, locates a self when all else in sleep unbinds and scatters it…. When a passing prince asks who she is, she replies simply, having no other to offer, I am that hurts. Join the Protest
I was reading Vince Passaro today, talking about his alma mater, and all it was promising to new students, and it reminded me of a particularly elitish school I attended in New York City in the early eighties and what they promised theirs — to be cultivated- it appeared to me- in the art of subtle and arcane cruelty, to learn to inflict the most damage with the least effort, to use words to have as much vicious impact as the violent ripping out of a human heart. Did my school teach me such? Did it teach my school mates, many now lawyers and leaders of the free world. I still say the Brits teach it best: this art of destroying others cruelly and while appearing not to. But Yes, I say, Yes, as Catherine says in Henry James’ masterpiece Washington Square, shot above in movies as “The Heiress,” Yes, I can be very cruel. I’ve been taught by masters.
Degrees of despair: to remember nothing at all; to remember some things; to remember everything. Elias Canetti. Right photo of Austrian Elias Canetti with his lover, apparently of fifty years, the Austrian painter Marie-Louise von Motesiczky.
“If you have no more happiness to give me
Give me your pain.” Lou Andreas-Salome
Marcos Giralt Torrrente is a man who appears to take himself seriously. Perhaps too seriously, as his stony posed photographs show. He comes across best, it seems to me, in the candid or unposed photo , where he looks a little less like the kind of writer I personally cannot stand – the I at the center of the universe, whose every word is gold.
Here, in an unposed 1999 photograph in Paris, he is on the right and looks most pleasing:
Return for a new post on how much I actually love his work.
Despite my recent rant to my friend Henry about the depravity of the rich: I don’t know how much you know about me but I cannot understand how any person can live buffeted by wealth in a large city of gross inequal wealth and suffering and feel good about themselves….
I am under no illusions of life Behind the Green Door. In all my time as a guest gorging at the feasts of the University Club, the Union Club and the Century Association, I had better luck borrowing $20 from a struggling artist or a poor Catholic than a multi-millionaire “friend.” and so on…and so on and so forth… Still, I say
Isn’t Paolo Sorrentino’s new movie The Great Beauty, played by a great 65 year old roue and flaneur and kingpin of the Italian high society, the most fantastic thing going? I loved this movie; I loved its lush decadence. I loved the aging beauties with no surgery or botox dancing in haute couture to .. of course, what else? – Yo Lando Be Cool’s “No Speak Americano…” — novels The Leopard, The Talented Mr Ripley, Edward St. Auburn’s The Patrick Ambrose novels come to mind. Any other suggestions – please — throw my way. We can’t all suffer forever.
Picked up this book at our local antique “What You Want” store — yes, that is its name — and the book is the original 1894 Fourth Edition with Revisions of the famous classroom text Brief History of the Empire State by Welland Hendrick. While vastly entertaining, with many facts now dubious, still its most interesting feature to me was the delicately penned marking of the book’s owner — apparently, based on the beautifully signed frontispiece, the mysterious young Grace Seager of the Madison School. It just goes to prove that women have had minds of their own for a quite a while now.
On page 39, besides Hendrick’s text that reads: “At least, true it is that England thus secured an uninterrupted coastline from Maine to Georgia and made a United States possible… Our country obtained geographical unity…” Miss Seager writes: Otherwise an impossibility.
On a page 33 header called Summary List of Events, from 1478 to 1664,
carefully squeezed between
1626 Minute director-general
Manhattan island bought by the Indians,
Miss Seager adds in large, for her, script Slavery introduced
Going on to correct a little grammar and make some personal remarks on some people’s appearance — one statesman being not only 5’2″ in height but also 5″2′ in circumference, therefore “enormous” she writes in the margins, she then completes the page 165 header
NEW YORK DURING THE STRUGGLE WITH SLAVERY – 1855-1869
with Abolished July 4, 1827
And, on page 175, under the title Wonders of Art and of Nature, Hendrick writes that the 1871 building of the State Capitol at Albany has so far consumed twenty million dollars: “Its wasteful elegance tells the story of many disgraceful deeds” — and, adds Miss Grace Seager: yet unfinished.
Sometimes, when I go out into the world, where I live now near Lake Ontario, the arboretum is so beautiful I think I might disappear: out of life, and into it. How to keep ourselves on earth? When something else appears so evident?
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A Flowery Band to bind us to the earth…
So wrote John Keats. And yet this Beloved Son is gone. May his parent, who placed this rock here, bind him back to us, at least for a moment.
“You say,” the poet John Keats wrote to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds in 1818, “‘I fear there is little chance of anything else in this life.’ You seem by that to have been going through with a more painful and acute zest the same labyrinth that I have — I have come to the same conclusion so far. My Branchings out therefrom have been numerous: one of these is a consideration of Wordsworth’s genius….”
Here, then, a sample of Wordworth’s It Is A Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free:
It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquility…
Dear child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine…
Wordsworth also wrote a series of poems about a girl named Lucy. (Come to be known as The Lucy Poems) Lucy was frequently alone, unnoticed, yet of perfection and always headed to early grave.
She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:
A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
—Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.
Thirty five years later, John Hamilton Reynold’s daughter, also named Lucy, died at the age of ten. Reynolds went bankrupt, moved to the Isle of Wight as assistant clerk in a county court, and –according to Wikipedia, “became depressed and started drinking heavily, although he was not without friends and admirers to the end.” He died in 1852, at the age of 58 — some 31 years after John Keats died. Sad…? Still, I say, why be an atheist when you can be a Romantic? And is not three days — as Keats said — with the right one, better than fifty years with the wrong: as he wrote to his own ill-fated love Fanny Brawne (as his death ate age 25 was to part them):
“I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days – three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.”
Who knew that Andre Gide’s labyrinth, in which Theseus slays the Minotaur, turns out to be a narcotic laced haven where men go to swoon? Who knew either how easy it would be for Gide’s Theseus to slay the Minotaur in such a god-given Palace: beyond a dark hall, and then another, and then into a flood lit garden, on a flower-bed strewn with buttercups, adonises, tulips, daffodils and pinks, I saw the Minotaur lying. Not only was he not terrifying, he was beautiful — and young — and asleep, which proved most handy. He all but opened one eye — and Theseus, numbed by the narcotic vapours managed to kill him with nothing left behind but, all things considered, a rather voluptuous memory. More tomorrow on the far more arduous feat of actually leaving the labyrinth. (Above: W.B. Yeats, Gide’s lover Mark Allegret, and Andre Gide in 1920)
“What’s the first sexy or suckering phrase you read which made you point at the page..and deep breathe-in and go, shit, that’s what I want to do?” asked Weston Cutter in Ploughshares of the divine Olena Kalytiak Davis. She quoted Robert Hass:
All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
As to her reasoning, she said “I think I fell in love with the possibility/pacing of this kind of logic.”
Of course, I immediately wondered what was my first suckering phrase and, barring juvenalia, remembered a Charlie Smith poem I once, in August 1992, ripped from The New Yorker and taped to my West 13th Street kitchen wall.
You come in dream Mother, or not at all,
Distressed by drugs, scattering quips, complaining how they torture you.
(Excuse the paraphrase. This quote is from memory.)
What was the draw? Do I even want to know? Enough that I telephoned the man and became a girlfriend of five years. While pondering this I turned to the first line of a poem he wrote for me when the five years were over — or at least, I assume it was for me — as it is dedicated to L.W. my initials at the time.
A quiet joy appears amid loneliness, doesn’t
True that the editor of A Public Space, Brigid Hughes, chose David Beach — New Zealand Post letter sorter and poet of “chopped up sonnets” (his publisher’s words) over me and my small fictions for a $65,000 prize some few years ago — but far be it for this to prevent me from picking up the first issue of A Public Space in a public place just last week.
Picture (x4) of Beach here:
“Might words like relish, savor, endure, be a way to end the year? The clouds are radiance at first, scarcely matter, only thick light, white brilliance against blue. Later, they become a heart-fraught leaden gray, the day dimming, through there’s a still-fierce gleam to the west ahead of you, one small cloud melting in the blue, the low sun transfiguring birches…the ceiling of your head become a crown of stars, their names unknown, a realm away from impermanence, though that’s your main address now, the word home only cropping up here and there. Love is not consolation...”
My soul has been so fearful, so violent. Forgive its brutality…
It is the earth I will miss; it is you I will miss
Crossroads, a Village Life
Worrying that Facebook is asking you to rate your friends? Affronted that they’d like to know when you met your significant other and when you got engaged to them and when you got married wearing what clothes and which accessories in what place?
Worried, mildly, that Facebook is putting out an album of your best moments of 2013? Read The Circle, the new novel by Dave Eggers.
To be afraid of no privacy perhaps you have to have a private life to protect, and most of Eggers’ young workers at the updated Facebook or Google quarters The Circle do not. Instead, they spend their time trying to best each other at social media connectivity, gain followers, and become ever more available, trackable ‘followable’ and ‘transparent.’
To quote: “Mae looked at the time. It was six o’clock. She had plenty of hours to improve, there and then, so she embarked on a flurry of activity, sending four zings (tweets?) ** and thirty-two comments (online)** and eighty-eight smiles (online, on the phone on wherever)** . In an hour, her PartyRank rose to 7,288… by eight o’clock, after joining and posting in eleven discussion groups…..she… But she couldn’t sleep… thinking how much better she could do, she logged on again, this time on her tablet, and pledged to work until two in the morning.” ** MY ITALS
Social media and Facebook are Terrifying, to some of us. But the people in Eggers’ The Circle are so oblivious as to what it means to lose Privacy that they are the really terrifying ones. Mae, the protagonist, who wears a camera so that her every move (except in the toilet) is documented for the public, hardly flinches when her ex boyfriend tries to bow out and choose privacy in the woods and is instead Tracked Down To (spoiler) His Death — I mean, what was wrong with him? That’s as far as Eggers gets in this exciting, yet still slightly anticipatory nightmare.
So Wayne Maser, a photographer, took this photo of Madonna and Norman Mailer, but more interesting is that before this shot, he had reached over, in their photo shoot, and lifted her left breast out of her dress so she was, thus, exposed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good look, and neither were any of the other poses Maser went for, including having Madonna sit in Mailer’s lap. Madonna and Mailer simply had too much to say to each other — an actual conversation deliciously detailed in Esquire in 1994. (Google it.) In the end, they stood together, on the same level, no personal parts up for viewing, and this being one fantastic and beautiful result. I was never much of a fan of Madonna or Mailer, but I am more so now, and this is not because Maser himself was a somewhat friend of mine who pronounced my “tits” admirable the few times he saw them — times which, sadly my friends, were not documented in photo shoots — would that they had been — but that is another story….
The founding of White Eagle Lodge was also supported by messages from the recently deceased Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle became a Spiritualist after the deaths of his wife, his son, his brother and two brother-in laws. A friend of Harry Houdini, he believed that Houdini had supernatural powers — and when Houdini tried to convince him that his work was only illusion, the two had a bitter falling out. (you are so divine; I am not; you are so; no really I swear I am not; to hell with you then… )
Doyle also printed in his 1922 book The Coming of the Fairies, the photographs of the Cottingley Fairies, five photographs taken by two girl cousins of sixteen and nine chronicling their garden hang-outs with with delicate fairies — photographs that Doyle and others believed to show psychic or supernatural life. The photographs were examined by experts, who were unsure about them — even at Kodak — and they were only debunked in the early 1980s when aged cousin Elsie confessed to sketching the fairies from Princess Mary’s Gift Book, then making paper cutouts and holding them in place with hatpins.
Meanwhile… for anyone still with me… help for the Lodge also came from a Parisian group: the Fraternité des Polaires, which, based on my French and Google Translator, was a secret society influenced by Jule Verne with goals including “Bring a ray of light where there is darkness… Study, act and bring truth where there is quackery,” and, most important: “Fight by all means the mad fear of death that haunts the human brain.”
Also, through White Eagle and Barbara Cooke, the dead Doyle stated that he now found himself in a world consisting entirely of his own thoughts — and that “it is thoughts, as well, that help us build our temples which become our after-death reality.”(Hence the need for the temple-lodge!)
Yet what does this all mean to lovers of the Quiet World, to me, to my friend, to Kristen who gave the work to Laura Hyde, and Laura Hyde who lost or rid herself of it?
I do not know. All I know is take the advice you like, and leave the rest. It offers a lot of freedom.
So back to White Eagle, and his sayings. What have I found out about him: one, he is no longer — and if he was, there is no proof of him. Two, he may or may not therefore have been, or officially now be capable of being, (intake of breath) Native American Indian. However, he is a being, who needed an earthly name. So to him an Earthly name was given. And this name — White Eagle — was given as a “symbolic name” because, in Native American legend, White Eagle means “spiritual teacher” and, just as importantly “the white eagle flies straight towards the sun.”
What importance the sun? Those half million of us who have bought and read The Quiet Mind Sayings of White Eagle know very well that White Eagle sayings are frequently about if not the sun exactly, then light. They are about accessing light, or bearing light or carrying it — the light of Christ, or just the light within. It pours like a golden ray into the heart….
Still, we remain at the question who was and is White Eagle?
If White Eagle is a dead, when did he write or say his sayings? He did not write or say his sayings. Instead, he chose Spiritualist Barbara Cooke to be his medium and write down hi sayings. And why not her? She was British, at a time when being British was still advantageous. She was not bad looking, and in 1913 she was already a successful young medium. Add to which, she married another Spiritualist, Ivan, with whom she set up the first White Eagle Lodge in 1936. This lodge still exists: below is their current rendition of White Eagle.
See Part 3 of this blog, tomorrow, for details yet to come on the White Eagle Lodge, Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini and the artful invention of photographs of fairies by two girl cousins in Britain…
ONE half million copies of this tiny book have been sold, and several of those to me. I bought my first back at a strange spiritual gathering in the 1990s which brings to my addled mind the words “Eric Butterworth.” Yet whoever Mr Butterworth was or was not — I refuse to Google him — his gathering gained status and legitimacy by being held each Sunday at Lincoln Center — not in the basement — but in one the many-tiered golden-draped chandeliered Center concerto halls.
Personally, I take advice wherever I find it — and most of it contradicts itself — but White Eagle has always been a calm favorite. How to not like headings such as LAY DOWN YOUR PROBLEM NO COMPROMISE YOU ARE DIVINE ACCEPT THE TASK BE UNDISMAYED. I feel better already.
Yet who is White Eagle? And is he Native American?
It does not say inside the book: no author photo. No bio. Instead only the mysterious “White Eagle Publishing Trust” of England. Return tomorrow — for I have learned the answers, and they include a woman, a French secret society and Arthur Conan Doyle speaking from beyond the grave…
Ah the beauty of Louise Gluck, who on a sudden re-reading seems to have all the knowledge and glory of sleeping with a God. (yet that is another story.) For here, right now: a photograph of her on her first book, (left) and a more recent photograph (below) as well as her both daunting and comforting statement — for she is a master — that writing never does get easy: “The fantasy exists that once certain hurdles have been gotten through, this art turns much simpler, that inspiration never falters, and public opinion is always affirmative, and there’s not struggle, there’s no torment, there’s no sense that the thing you’ve embarked upon is a catastrophe. I’ve been seriously writing since I was in my earliest teens, and I suffer the same torments that I did then. And the only difference is that now I know they’re never going to go away.”
FOR several months in the 1990s, I was engaged to a man whose father escaped Nazi Europe for the United States at age eighteen. Word had it that he pleaded with his parents to leave Europe also, but they refused and were killed in the camps, as were his sisters.
Such was the case with the poet Paul Celan who remonstrated so violently with his parents one night, in an effort to get them to leave, that he finally gave up and spent the night elsewhere. The same night, it was a June 21, his parents were taken from their home to a labor camp in the Ukraine where his father died, apparently of typhus, while his mother was shot dead in the head after being exhausted by forced labor. Below is a photo of Celan with poet Ingeborg Bachman, whom he later met in Paris.
Celan is perhaps most famous for his lyrical poem Death Fugue in which black milk flows and flows as the antithesis of milk and honey, darkening and darkening on the tongue. This Thanksgiving, my mother gave me a collection of his later poems Threadsuns, in which many poems feel part effort or sigh or exhalation — all written in Celan’s original German — but in 1960s when Celan was struggling with his mental health.
DEW. And I lay with you, thou, in the rubble,
a mushy moon
pelted us with answer,
we crumbled apart
we brittled back together:
the Lord broke the bread,
the bread broke the Lord.
He was was, as his translator Katherine Washburn wrote of his book Poppy and Memory, “The heir and hostage to the most lacerating of human memories.”
(Top image by Joop Sanders)
“Heathcliff had knelt on one knee to embrace her; he attempted to rise, but she seized his hair and kept him down.
‘I wish I could hold you,’ she continued bitterly, ’till we were both dead! I shouldn’t care what you suffer. I care nothing for your suffering. Why shouldn’t you suffer? I do!’
‘Don’t torture me till I am mad as yourself,’ cried he, wrenching his head free, and grinding his teeth.
The two, to a cool spectator, made a strange and fearsome picture… on his letting go, I saw four distinct impressions left blue in the colourless skin.
‘Are you possessed with a devil,’ he pursued savagely…………………”
From the Pocket Library Edition, 1954, bought Sunday Dec 1, 2013.
ONCE, it was in the year 2000, I had such a broken heart I thought it better to die — and almost did — and when I did not, I despaired. So is the story of the 60 page ‘novel’ masterpiece by Katherine Anne Porter: Pale Horse Pale Rider in which Miranda loses her lover Adam to World War II, and herself, at the same time, comes close to death from influenza. Yet death appears not as she first fears, but as something beautiful, radiant, and the cessation of pain. “What is this whiteness and silence but the absence of pain?”
Yet from this we are sometimes held back — by life, or some mysterious hand. We are separated — being composed entirely, of “one single motive, the stubborn will to live. ..Trust me, the hard unwinking angry point of light said. Trust me. I stay.”
Porter herself later said that the novel was based on her own life. She came so close to death her hair turned white and fell out. Yet never again did she fear death.
WHEN I WAS a young(er) woman, Henry Alcalay took me horse back riding. He took me swimming at a country estate and drove me to Queens in his navy blue vintage car to show me his childhood house. Back in Manhattan, he lived in a brownstone in the East Teens that had been owned by a gynecologist/obstetrician. It was full of old wooden contraptions that Henry told me they were birthing tables.
Last week I picked up an issue of Open City (26) and read Henry’s story Learn to Drive Trucks Big Money. His prose is delicious: dense, wry and slippery: full of sudden depths and emotional openings: a journey through a New York City both hideously slick and deeply jarring. Walter spends his days in suits and his nights wandering downtown, shy, removed and usually high. He is both intimate and close, and — at the same time — distant with opiates and a sort of gentle caution. The Vietnam War sits in the background like ash in a fireplace.
Walter meets Mary in a candy store and their perambulations are both superficial and painful, peaking with a white tablecloth dinner at a boxing match:
Two half naked men trying to kill each other, hot bright lights, everyone watching. There you are, on your own, with whatever you’re made of.
Other favorite lines: Their eyes sparkled like lakes on fire…
I lit two matches and with them lit the whole book. With a whoosh and some sparks it flared into a flame, which I held to my cigarette…Hurricanes don’t scare me, I said, tossing the matchbook away when it began burning my hand. Nine years ago Hendrix died.. You’re a good listener, I added, amazed she had hung around this long.
And an unforgettable rendering of the Apocalyptic:
“This was the year of the first big Vietnam movies… and like with all epics, romance and fantasy had been grafted onto what must have been a terrifying and sordid experience. But now the war was all romantic: trees the size of buildings, Jim Morrison crooning as jets dispatch napalm… The summer before I’d seen this guy, my age more or less, sitting shirtless on a couch in a sweltering tenement on the Lower East Side, both of us waiting for the dealer to return. He had the sort of stillness that has nothing about it of a conscious choice….(my italics) What happened? I asked. Vietnam, he said, no more intonation than if he’d said vanilla.”