Monday, November 30, 2009

Blithe Spirits

Mario and Gwynnie have wonderful chemistry together. I love hanging out with them as they amble about the Spanish countryside, charmingly carrying forth on the passing scenery and surroundings, consuming blackberries one by one from a pathside bush, encountering a pair of placid cows which prompts allusions to Pamplona. Mario starts one morning hitting golf balls into the pool of a grand country estate. A groggy Gwyneth joins him on the terrace, and like a wacky lady of the manor airily advises, just try not to break the windows. They sit on a windswept beach in each other's arms, regaling each other with smiles, laughter, and childhood reminiscences of Spain. Their affection for each other is undisguised. No - more: it's freely expressed. All the while at the beach the wind blows sand in Gwyneth's face. Finally she can't take it anymore and seeks shelter by burying her head in Mario's capacious shoulder.

I'm mesmerized by Gwyneth and Mario but have come to ignore the scenes when only Bittman and Claudia are on. Gwyneth and Mario delicately describe Bittman as "contrarian." I myself would - and do - use stronger language. I set about my chores, excusing myself from his vacuity and near-oafish offputtedness.

I caught a wonderful scene with Gwynnie and Mario last week that made me say out loud, "Ha! I knew it!" Unfortunately I can't find a video clip, so I'll try to paint the picture.

Mario and Gwynnie, in an open convertible, drive alongside the beautiful sea. They chat about an informal cooking match in which they'll face off against Bittman and Claudia. Gwynnie and Mario are serenely and supremely confident of their culinary superiority. They smile and charmingly gloat. There is no question but that they will win. Gwynnie cheerfully says something along the lines of we're going to kick their sorry asses.

She glances at Mario. You know, she says, I've actually cooked with Bittman in his apartment. She settles back and regards the road again. A hint of a smile plays on her lovely mouth and she waits for Mario's reaction. She knows she's launched an irresistible bomblet. Mario looks at her, interest piqued. Really - Bittman can cook?, he asks with barely suppressed incredulity. Gwynnie tilts her head, flickers a few facial muscles, looks judiciously up at the sky and then at the sea, and conveys her decided opinion without uttering a word.

I am so not surprised. Just sayin'.


Kitty & Levin

Everyone took part in the con-
versation except Kitty and Levin. At first, when they were talking of the influence that one people has on another, there rose to Levin's mind what he had to say on the subject. But these ideas, once of such importance in his eyes, seemed to come into his brain as in a dream, and had now not the slightest interest for him. It even struck him as strange that they should be so eager to talk of what was of no use to anyone. Kitty, too, should, one would have supposed, have been interested in what they were saying of the rights and education of women. How often she had mused on the subject, thinking of her friend abroad, Varenka, of her painful state of dependence, how often she had wondered about herself what would become of her if she did not marry, and how often she had argued with her sister about it! But it did not interest her at all. She and Levin had a conversation of their own, yet not a conversation, but some sort of mysterious communication, which brought them every moment nearer, and stirred in both a sense of glad terror before the unknown into which they were entering.

View from the Solarium

Best Friends

Gwynnie and Claire.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Lost Art of Conversation

Getting past the preliminaries...

On July 4, 2008, I wrote:

Hello Mr. North Fifth Street: Thank you for your wonderful blog! It is wonderful to have such a witty and intelligent forum in which to explore ideas about the local culture and beyond. I've been starved for intellectual stimulation, as you might tell, and your blog fits the bill... P.S. I am guessing that you are _____. If I'm right, then I think it's quite ironic that we should now be such Kindred Spirits on your blog.... since I guess at the time, you and I were Arch Enemies. Sort of. Or not really, since we had never met, and were both hired guns. At any rate, that's all past and I'm glad we're on the same page now. Anyway, take care, have a great Happy Fourth of July, and thanks again for your incredibly entertaining blog, which often makes me laugh out loud!

North Fifth Street replied: Good Lord ______ lives on State Street not North Fifth... Thanks for the compliment!

Around 49 years ago

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Putting It Together, Bit by Bit

From a late August email to a writing instructor with whom I had recently taken a course...
I'm sorry to say I haven't been writing this summer. I just didn't have the energy after a lot of other projects around the house, some of which I do find to be very creative, such as making beautiful decorative items for the house from inexpensive remnants of fabrics from a high-end purveyor. Nothing matches exactly - but I notice how my brain seems to love putting together colors and patterns that subtly relate to one another, composed in patchwork fashion. For a while about a year ago, our bedroom had too much blue in it, which made me restless and uncomfortable. I've introduced beautiful peach tones that subtly contrast - ahhh, much better!

One idea I was mulling over - the idea of a collaborative project. I wrote a somewhat ecstatic short story a while ago (simply chockful of yearning), and I keep thinking of it as a series of images, along the lines of the New York Times "audio slide shows" - I love that format. Only I'm not a photographer, cartoonist, or visual artist in that way - but I wonder if there's someone out there who might be. I thought it might make for an interesting workshop experience to try to put together something collaborative - not necessarily my short story, but a collaborative project of some sort.

This idea too may have been inspired by another experience I had this summer. One day after doing battle with weeds in the garden, I developed a nasty rash that I first thought might be a bee or wasp sting. A few days went by and it wasn't getting better, and it took just a couple of minutes of googling to realize that I had Lyme disease.* I called the medical offices at the hospital and was given an appointment later in the week. I really liked the doctor whom I found to be, I felt, unusually empathetic. She had a wonderful intelligent, humanistic, nonjudgmental manner, and was at the same time very lively, energetic, engaged - an unusual spark. A few days later I thought to google her, and discovered that besides being a physician specializing in infectious diseases, she had written an online novel. I attach the link here - it's quite fascinating. I haven't gone through the entire novel, chapter by chapter, but I love the experience of it, and again, the idea of a collaborative, interactive work.

What a remarkable region we're in, that I go to the doctor's and discover that she is an unusual artist. The universe feels very connected...

*Ed. note: All better.


Keep us awake thinking about the dreams!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ultimate Mash

Free associating with abandon this evening, listening to a recording of my favorite Bach cantata, Herz und Mund und Tat un Leben, BWV 147. The thing is up at full blast. Lovely recording with the Hungarian Radio Chorus and the Failoni Chamber Orchestra. Okay, I'm no classical recording maven. It's what I have at hand.

Speaking of "at hand," anytime I write a phrase like that I think of Heidegger (whom I found impenetrible until more recent years) but also of one of the loveliest men I ever had the privilege of encountering, if only as a bystander, auditing a course on Heidegger at MIT in the fall of (I think - must factcheck later) 1979.

Heidegger made no sense to me at the time. Now I sort of get him, on my own terms. Gian-Carlo Rota, on the other hand, I loved. At the end of the term he had a big mashup party at his post-war high rise apartment in Cambridge. Mostly I remember that the men (boys) partook of the professor's stash of fine cigars. I remember that he kept Proust - in French - on the toilet.

This was a time in my life (college) that I was given to wandering around the streets of Boston. There was a church on Newbury Street that showcased weekly Bach cantatas. One Sunday I made a point of attending a performance. It happened to be Herz und Mund. I fell in love, particularly with the first movement (or track). Over thirty years later (and I say this without pride & with a daunting sense of lameness, knowing that I am missing a lot since Bach produced scores if not hundreds of cantatas - My God! What am I missing??!!!) - it's the only cantata I know.

I cannot vouch for the quality of the recording of this clip whatsoever, what with dialup and my life proceeding far too apace to be measured in coffeespoons.

But the conductor looks like fun.

"Little Bird Inside"

Fragment of a dream, from April 2006, that came to mind this afternoon...

I buy a pair of slippers. I have in-store coupons but at the end of the transaction they are still in my wallet interspersed with bills. The clerk refuses to cash them out since I'm a first-time customer and they want to be sure I come back. I leave the shop feeling annoyed. I step down an exterior staircase onto a wooden deck. My bag is cluttered and I decide to clean it out, but it’s too much and I’m littering. There’s no place to throw out bits of paper so I gather them up again. I find two stamped grey metal coins on the decking. They're unfamiliar to me, the size of small cat plates. I pick one up. It seems that they're $1 coins. I take them both, wondering if it’s stealing (are they there as decoration?), but they seem just to be lying there, and they make up for the coupons I couldn’t redeem which cheers me. I step around the terrace and notice a tiny birdcage. Pinned to it is a handwritten note, printed in faint green crayon, that reads: “little bird inside.” I peek in. Sure enough there is a tiny pale yellow songbird, all by itself, hopping against the walls. It seems to be in poor shape - are the feathers on its head thinning? I feel sorry for it – is it lonely? Has the cage been placed there so that someone will adopt the bird? (I can’t because I have cats.) Then I see that the cage has an opening that lets out onto a decorative branch, festooned with blossoms, that has been deliberately set there. The bird is able to leave the cage, hop on the branch to sing, and return to the cage whenever it likes. It has freedom, and safety too. I realize that the bird is in a wonderful situation.

In the Year 2009

Beheld at the Greenport Conservation Area this morning, along with many small birds, in the thickets everywhere, singing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Diary of a Tuesday Morning

At the conservation area. A Swan Lake ballerina sun gleams behind bare trees. A plane sounds. There's a bit of bird song. The river is a slab of grey. It's two days to Thanksgiving. It's so mild I comfortably sit on a bench & write. I'm not being fussy about what I set down. Clouds and mountains are awash in tint.

Wherever you go, there you are.

I have an image in my mind of an elaborately painted column. Dream true. I go there.

At the Castle of Olana I look out at the clouds, the mountains, the river, and the bridge.

I take photos of columns. Ionic, Doric, Corinthian... Persian. A mashup.

Wherever I go - there you are.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Note: The gate at the conservation area closes promptly now at 5. No more stargazing there. If that policy had been in effect last year this story would never have been written.

As evening falls C and I, dressed in protective layers and hooded against the cold, gaze at the scattered lights of Athens twinkling on the other side of the river against the black Catskills ridge. We’re the last ones left at the preserve at this hour. Though town’s not far it feels as though we’re the only people for miles around. Alone by ourselves we turn and make our way back along the path to where we parked, C a tall lanky figure dimly visible a few steps ahead of me. Gazing out across the ice-sheeted terrain that surrounds us, I experience a sudden, dizzying sense that time and space have sharply shifted, cracked, and sheared. It’s C and it’s me, but it’s not five-thirty on a weekday, folks headed home. It’s a vast, epochal night in time. We are early humans ranged north to arctic latitudes, astronauts ventured onto the face of a tundral planet.

Suspended above us floats a sheer half moon. C asks if I had seen the alignment, weeks ago, of Venus, Jupiter, and the moon, a rare, celebrated event whose technical term he’s forgotten. I remember a pitch black night before I met C, the surprising sight of two bright dots clustered beneath a thin crescent beam. C tells me that as the heavens have pivoted since – he spreads his arms and tilts to demonstrate - the planets are moving apart. He points out one of the planets, farflung now in the western sky. C tells me that he was astonished to see a photo of the event as seen from Australia, where the two planets appeared above the moon, the reverse of here.

We trample along the snowcovered paths, circling past fields and silent woods. It’s a paradox that when we’re together he’s very vivid to me, but that afterwards I can’t remember his face clearly. I’ve rarely seen him without his jacket zipped to his chin and hat covering his brow. I see his eyes (but what color are they?) and his nose, mostly in profile. We walk side by side, or one of us ahead of the other. One day I glimpse a wisp of beard in the cleft of his chin, the next day it seems it’s gone, so did I imagine it?

Since these days I only see C bundled head to toe, I regard it as a gift to have a vivid, contrasting image of him. (At least – I hope it’s him!)

A memory surfaces, from the summer before last, when I worked on L’s campaign. It’s a typical day, and I am sitting at my desk in the back of the storefront space. The office is noisy with fans. Thin white sheets hung at the windows, luminous scrims, flutter in the breeze. Someone tries the entrance and I look up from my work. The knob gives, the door opens, and in steps a man I haven’t seen before. He wears shinlength cargos, a sleeveless tank, and sandals, and he pauses for a moment in the doorway, smiling. Bathed in light, long-limbed and lean, he’s an unexpected sight for a workaday afternoon, as though he’s come from a day at the shore. Everything about him, his hair, his tan, is golden, a ray of sun in human form. I imagine he’s what a mythical being would look like, wholly natural yet not quite of the earthly realm, borne in upon the waves.

L greets him warmly, Hey C, and beckons him to her office. He follows in an easygoing, graceful lope, around the corner to the other room, past me.

The other day, as we make our way through depths of snow, C happens to mention that the California surf look is his style. When he says this I think: my memory is right. That must have been him.

I play with these contrasting images, Winter C and Summer C, and combine them with Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. In my reimagined painting, it’s winter, past twilight, and snow is on the ground. The Catskills, rimmed with orange and dark, are dotted with the votive lights of a mythical Athens, lights sprinkled like stars, or like the roses tossed in the waves of the Botticelli. C, a golden, lightly clad beachbum Adonis, stands not on a scallop shell, or even a surfboard, but on one of those large colorful discs that I’ve seen children play on in the snow. Is that a snowboard, something C has mentioned to me he likes to do? I learn online that a snowboard isn’t round but rather oblong, like a boogieboard.

A coincidence: C posts a sign at the conservation area, suggesting in a spare, heartfelt way that owners pick up after their dogs. From this sign I learn C’s last name, that he has a nice printed hand, that signs can be disarmingly simple (marker on a cardboard scrap), and that amazingly he has followed up on our conversation the day before about the mindless befouling of the pristine snowscape.

I turn on the TV when I get home, The News Hour or maybe it’s the BBC. I don’t pay attention to the droned list of underwriters, one of which is a private foundation whose mission the voiceover does not state but whose offices (as we are, irrelevantly I think, informed) are in New York; Stowe, Vermont; and Honolulu. I picture an athletic, peripatetic family established in a permanent orbit, relative to season, obligation, and whim, circling from an uptown mansion aerie to one and by turns the other comfortable retreat in a farflung, opposite Eden.

My mind performs unconscious geometry and suddenly I’m heeding the words as they’re spoken and appear on the screen. The foundation and C have the same name, C once lived in Manhattan, and Vermont and Hawaii now suggest nothing if not places to snowboard or to surf. I assume it’s all a coincidence, yet it surprises me. I can’t shake the sense that the connections seem weirdly, if obscurely significant.

In the celestial blue of my Botticelli night-sky, Venus and Jupiter align above an upturned crescent moon, forming the image, as in southern latitudes, of a benevolent face. Spring, summer, fall, and winter, the face smiles down on C, in whatever place, real or imagined, that he may happen to be.

Image of man in doorway (above):
Giovanni DiMola, il primo capitolo (the first chapter)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Passing Through Walls

Seeing the John Foxx Quiet Man exhibit the other week had an odd effect: it seems to have stymied and silenced me. My situation isn't that of a "rocker" unplugged, connecting with his inner buttoned up alter-ego. Rather I'm fairly quiet and reserved to begin with. At times it's an effort for me to find my voice, and to sound it above the din, or beneath. I've been turning over the Quiet Man concept, worrying it unconsciously like beads. Why? I don't mean this as a criticism of Foxx or his work. He's certainly entitled to his anima (animus?). I liked the images in his film, the words he read aloud in accompaniment, his atmospheric photos, and his thoughtful manner. But the image of an empty suit, a faceless being, a formally dressed man back always turned, suggests self-willed silencing. But wait. Isn't the character of the English, an island people, self-effacing and reticent to begin with? To come of age as a working class Catholic in a post-industrial city, as Foxx did - doesn't that make one feel marginalized enough, to the point of invisibility? More universally, don't most of us walk around in our de facto space suits all the time anyway, moving through our cities, and our days, barely connecting with others if at all? Aren't we asked to be quiet, do as we're told, for most of all the days of our lives? Isn't it wonderful to express oneself, to make a joyful noise? Isn't that what the world wants more from us these days?

Well yes, and the Quiet Man is a deliberate, artistic, psychic expression of that - so I suppose my brain's turning it over like a Rubik cube because there's an inherent contradiction I'm trying to resolve, a paradox.

I woke up around four this morning and thought to look out the window to try to glimpse the Leonid meteor showers. I pulled aside the curtain, rubbed the fogged glass with my hand, and peered in the direction where the meteors were supposed to be. I stood at the window for what seemed like several minutes but was probably about one since I was getting cold and I didn't see any meteors and who knows what might be looking at me.

This morning my husband reported that he too got up in the middle of the night to look but that the southeastern sky was cloudy and he didn't see anything. "Then I tried to pass through a wall," he said.

This is a reference to The Men Who Stare at Goats, which we saw at the Fairview over the weekend, and greatly enjoyed. I have since copied down the New Earth Army prayer and pinned it to our fridge with a ladybug magnet. I love the message of the movie, explicitly permitting us think outside the box - to create. I am sensing this exhortation all over the place these days. It's like opening windows in spring to let in fresh air and light. Or waking up from a long nighmare.

In his Q&A John Foxx said that he believes that telling stories is about the most important thing we can do. Yes, more and more I believe that too. What if it's our very raison d'etre?

Yesterday as I moved around the kitchen rolling out dough and slicing apples into a bowl, I listened to Tavis Smiley and heard the actor Lance Reddick say, in a careful, measured, wondrous way, the older I get the harder I find it not to believe in the notion of parallel universes. I understood why he hesitated slightly. It's so against the grain of what we've been taught that you don't want your intuited sense to be dismissed as "crazy."

(A word I learned the other day: Perepeteia. I was watching the film, starring Anthony Hopkins and Gary Sinise, of The Human Stain, based on a novel by Philip Roth. As the Sinise character puts it, it's the moment when you realize everything you once thought or believed turns out to be wrong. We're at such a moment now, I believe. A turning point.)

(A ubiquitous TV crawl last year warned of the doomsday spectre of digital conversion and the box required if you still relied on rabbit ears. We purchased the box, hooked it up, and since the dread day of conversion? We've been treated to the delightful bouquet garni of CreateTV, including dreamy roadtrips through Spain with Gwynnie and Mario. Not the apocalypse. Cooking shows. The network's theme song? "Roam if you want to/roam around the world/roam if you want to/without wings/without wheels...")

All these connections, resonances, coincidences - if you attend to them, really pay attention, it's like "passing through walls." The walls are no longer barriers.

The other night in my dream I read words that were written on an unspooled banner that floated up before me like a message in a Magic 8-ball: "Lives are as long as dreams," it read.

I had a very strange childhood. I don't feel that I was permitted to dream for myself. My mother in particular projected her dreams, desires, and disappointments onto her children. I was supposed to fulfill her dream for me. I didn't.

For a long time I didn't know what to do. I still feel that way, though increasingly I feel myself pulled tidally in a direction that I'm no longer resisting.

What's your dream, asked a supervisor of me once, during a performance evaluation. This was on the 30-somethingth floor on Third Avenue in midtown. I don't have one, I said, though an image instantly came to mind of living in a small old house far off in the country with a loving husband, cheerful cats, books, light, music, and cozy furnishings. The supervisor looked shocked. Everyone has a dream, she said. I think that in her script the sort she meant for me to describe related to perfecting a professional skill or aspiring to managerial status. I don't, I said - or at least not one that has anything to do with Skadden. This is a good example of how Quiet Woman has had a lifelong tendency to say precisely the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. My supervisor's eyes narrowed.

Here I am upstairs in an unfinished house in the country with a formerly abandoned cat named Penelope (named after the great actress Ms. Cruz) hitting me up for a game of interspecies soccer, a glorious apple pie that I baked cooling on the kitchen counter, sun streaming in the window, and me typing away. Like Brooks Peters I too have tended to like writers named Penelope. I was astonished when within days of finding the poor young cat in a parking lot, bringing her home, and naming her, his post appeared (I wanted to leave a comment on the coincidence at the time, but couldn't figure out how to on his site.)

Sunday evening, Jerrice Baptiste, on her wonderful radio program Women of Note, played a song entitled Penelope, by Larkin Gayl. It's catchy, I instantly got it, and along with the radio I sang it to my cat. Penelope sat prim and attentive, listening in what seemed to me to be pleased and comprehending amusement.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


You don’t need a grey suit to disappear when you’re a middle-aged woman

Some idiot asked him to comment on his creative process

He looked stricken
Well I could have asked a more idiotic question
Who’s the bigger influence, Gilbert or George
Who’s the woman in the film
Do you ever want to see their faces
Do they have faces
Is there one grey suit or more than one
How do you find actors who suit the suit?

So all in all my q wasn’t so bad and might have elicited interesting answers such as,
I put myself in a hypnotic trance and travel through London (“yes but you don’t actually say that”)
I like my tea stirred counterclockwise

I myself have to resort to all sorts of things to get myself going, for example, the other day I lit a candle, put on Bach, and had a glass of wine, scrawled in my journal for a page, and still words came halting forth wanting invention’s stay

So I’m interested in what other people go through

I was about the only one there not dressed in all black
Cashmere twin set with brown denims
I like that combination

Ran into someone who still works at a municipal agency where I used to work
Are you a fan of John Foxx she asked
No I only just heard of him today and thought he sounded interesting so I came by
I’m a huge fan she said
I gestured to a photo of a brick building with ivy growing thick through the walls
(I thought of the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx – is that what the Battersea Power Station is like?)
His images are plannerly, I said
She laughed and agreed

Look up The Shadows
Someone else asked about the religious aspects in his work which he denied but then said he’d been raised Catholic and left the Church at puberty

Funny, I dreamed about him last night
Probably I should get out more

Where did I recently read about the idea of transporting yourself wherever you like, say to an apartment where you once lived, make yourself comfortable, and surprise the current owner when they come in?

From my dream: postage stamps that read
Stop Anxiety

(This may have to do with at Foxx’s talk yesterday, when he got started I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to cough – not a usual anxietal affliction for me – I willed it away)

What an odd stamp, esp. in the Obama admin. It’s so Homeland Security.
John Foxx agreed with me.

We make mad passionate love
Later I’m in a candy store and the woman asks me to buy tofee, brittle, and toffee
I do but I realize I don’t have enough money
I leave a dollar but I’m short a quarter
My wallet is in the bed – telltlae

Foxx is on the cover of a magazine
The article is about how he was too timid
To be human is to desire, to go on, to drive
He got his drive on by moving to Catskill
On the cover is full color photo
It’s Foxx, but he looks sort of like Warhol
LA colors – purple glasses, blonde hair
Bright colored furniture
He _____ reading group – he’s off to the side
I don’t know what book we’re reading
Woman picks me to be next week’s moderator

Walk afterwards
Hit up by street urchins selling love apple branches
Too far to walk to find husband
Couldn’t find path again (so much for my intellect – Foxx’s comments about paths & intellect)
Looked for a bit, trailing love apples everywhere

Elderly couple in Porsche
Guessed they’d be going to Ca Mea – yup
A lot of invisible people
Grey Porsche

Thursday, November 5, 2009

God Bless Dudgeon

Not that I’m trying to start a war with Jessa Crispin, but I think she gets it wrong when she writes, of Neverland: J. M. Barrie, the DuMauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan, by Piers Dudgeon, a book she "tried to read," but that she found “just too damn over the top. Not that I don’t like the idea that Daphne DuMaurier channeled her books and had psychic abilities, but come on. You don’t actually put that in your book.

I'm in the middle of the book now and think, well yeah, you can put that in your book, when you’re describing what DuMaurier herself believed and practiced, along with a number of bohemian Victorian-era writers a couple of generations earlier, including her own grandfather.

Poor Piers Dudgeon, obsessive literary and biographical detective, for which he's gaslighted. He isn't embellishing, pulling out of thin air, whatever Janet Maslin , all but dismissing the book - unfairly I believe - may have you think. I like that Dudgeon reveals the process of his thinking as he ferrets out and examines clues. I find his analyses well-argued and compelling. Sometimes the best evidence he can find is circumstantial, and his quarry - by Barrie's own design - is ever-elusive. What biographer (who in general?) has ever met with a forthright predatory narcissist? (Excepting perhaps the fictional autobiographer Humbert Humbert, that notoriously unreliable narrator.)

"May God blast anyone who ever writes a biography of me," Barrie thundered. God I doubt cares, but critics in his defense will serve.

Dudgeon describes the psychic gift and imaginal method of what Daphne DuMaurier called “dreaming true,” which involved relaxing yet concentrating, and taking one's self on a "hypnotic excursion," transporting to the past or to a different place. Daphne's novels emanated from this method. Writing from this trance-like state is a couple of steps further out on the scale from a less rapturous creative process.

Perhaps that's what discomfits both Crispin and Maslin - Dudgeon's subject itself is convoluted and "out there" by our hyper-rationalistic 21st century American standards, but within the context of a different particular time, place, and social circle, makes sense. It's a time machine to read the book and to be transported to a world in which intellectual beliefs and cultural mores are so different.

I have been having such trouble with this blog post. It was turning into a book review, which was boring me silly. Let's say I like the book, though the tangled web, crosscurrents, tributaries, side rivulets, etc., etc. make it a little hard to follow.

I "dreamed true" an image of what it's like to read this book: trying to make one’s way through thick underbrush to get at the wild orchids all around.

When I was in my teens my mother freaked me out when she told me that as a young woman she had had the ability to transport herself out of her body and travel wherever she wanted, and that she did so frequently, at will. It was difficult for me to grasp that my staid mother could possibly be capable of such a thing. I don’t think she was putting me on. Her admission led me to wonder, many years later, if perhaps she hadn’t been sexually abused in her youth, and that her ability to detach was a coping mechanism, perhaps even at the actual moment of abuse. Reading the Dudgeon book though, I consider another possibility. Perhaps my mother, who had strong artistic aspirations, used her transportive ability as a way to tap into her unconscious, in order to enter a rapturous imaginal dream state. She had attended a boarding school in England after the war – who knows if in that school didn't lurk hangovers of odd Victorian ideas that a lonely, sensitive girl might have picked up.

I don’t have an ability to “dream true” like either my mother or Daphne DuMaurier. But with the encouragement of "transformational writing" instructors I have been shown ways to write from a more free-associative level than my more typical head-on, analytical way that I was trained in through my formal rational education.

I have no punch line.


Monday, November 2, 2009

On The Porch

Beautiful morning, blue skies with a few gleaming clouds. I'm so grateful for days that the sun's out - it makes all the difference as to how I feel, my frame of mind. I sit out on the porch. Chimes sound in the soft breeze. I hear a cricket chirp - perhaps it's the very one I carried out of doors from the bath this morning. My hair dries in the sun, along with laundry on the line. A bird trills, then trills again. My hot tea is restorative. I bask in the sun like an invalid at a sanitorium. The grass is bright green though the leaves are off the trees. There is a lot of other green besides around the garden, what with arborvitae hedges, Colorado spruces, Norway pines, and junipers. The chimes sound more insistently now, though I'm not aware of a stronger breeze.

I saw the loveliest house yesterday, a picturesque cottage at the end of a country lane, situated on a wooded property that overlooks an audibly rushing creek. The house, modest in size and unpretentious in character - in whose very qualities charm resides, has been beautifully restored by its current owner. The exterior is done in a muted palette, wood trim and decorative cornices picked out in complementary pastels and grey. Old-fashioned mixed borders with now-blackened sedum and a bright euonymous lead to the steps of a welcoming front porch.

I was there to help my husband deliver a cabinet he had designed and built on commission. It was a fine day and we stood out on the porch, chatting with the owner and admiring the cottage as well as the view of the fastmoving rapids below, which caused a constant sonic backdrop in the air, a constant roar. Conversation turned to aspects of the house. "You should see the side porch," my husband said to me. I turned to take a look. It was obscured from view except for a tantalizing glimpse. "Would you mind if I take a peek?," I asked the owner, thinking I might step around the house and view it from the lawn. She replied, "Why don't you come in instead?"

We followed her into the house and into the kitchen. She opened a glassfronted door that opened directly onto the porch, and we stepped through. It was a large, airy space, screened from planked floor to boarded ceiling on three open sides. At one end wicker seating was arranged to face the creek, and the room was veritably muraled with the immediate surrounding rustic views.

The screened porch was utterly enchanting to me. My husband remarked that it had been designed by an architect, and the owner pointed out cornices that the architect had incorporated into the framing structure to repeat those found in the original areas of the house.

I was very happy to have glimpsed the house, the idyllic property and the lovely porch space. My husband dropped me off and went back to do a last bit of touch-up paint work on the cabinet.

Once home I felt that my mood had changed. My husband and I had spent a cheerful afternoon taking a drive in the country and then running this little errand to his client. I felt out of sorts, a little agitated. I couldn't place why, and it took me a moment to recognize the soured cast of my mood for what it was.

I had been charmed by the house - in particular the screened porch and timeless views - to the point of envy. I so rarely experience envy (at least in such a palpable way, I feel fortunate to say) that my unpleasant state of mind felt unfamiliar to me and so I was surprised to identify the culprit. Envy is an emotion that I particularly detest, especially if encountered in myself.

At first I tried to ignore my feeling, or to move past it, so I resolved to concentrate on the here and now of kitchen tasks. I sliced bananas, tangerines, and apple for fruit salad, snapped woody ends off asparagus, and chopped onion, almonds, and dried apricots for couscous. I poured a glass of wine, moved around the kitchen, and kept my hands busy.

After an hour I had a lot of lovely prepared food but the dyspeptic envy persisted, within a slurry of confusing emotions. I had enjoyed meeting the owner of the house - she seemed gracious, spirited, and unfussy - charming qualities that mirrored those of the house. So if I was covetous in some way it wasn't because I felt that I wanted to take it from her, or that she shouldn't have it. On the contrary, I was glad that someone of her sensibility did. I was glad for the fact of the house, the view, and the porch, and that such a place exists at all.

I also felt guilt for being insufficiently grateful - at that particular vexed moment - for what I do have, which by many people's standards - my own included - is plenty delightful. I looked about my comfortable kitchen and at the sunroom that adjoins it. I have always taken pleasure in these spaces. They feel like home to me.

I couldn't seem to get rid of my minor torment - but I'd had enough. I tried a different strategy. I decided to swim out to it instead, to acknowledge it, confront it, own it. I had found the screened porch so enchanting, and now I felt agitated. I wanted that porch to be my own. Why did that make me feel so bad? Conversely, what did Envy want from me?

I want something and I can't have it. End of story. Or is it? I want to make the porch my own. And then I realized that I could: in my imagination, I mean.

The porch reminds me of a stage set. It could be a stage set. I thought, rather ambitiously, I'd love to write a play and scenes could be set there, at least in my head.

Lights dim, and last bit of rustling and coughing done, the audience attends the stage. I picture the opening scene. A lithe, slender woman steps soundlessly onto the porch. The evening is mild and a pale moon illumines the bare wood floor and the set of wicker furniture to one side. The woman places a pot on the floor in the middle of the room. She kneels and crumples papers and envelopes from a thick stack placed next to her on the floor. She tears them into bits and throws them in the pot. She lights a match which illumines her face for a moment. She sets the match to the papers in the pot. The scraps catch fire, burn, and light. The woman watches the charred, curling edges, transfixed.

A boy wakes in the night, comes downstairs, and steps onto the porch. He watches for a moment before asking, what are you doing? His voice is full of curiosity, sleep, and wonder. The woman raises her head and gazes at him. Burning love letters, she replies. The boy is too young to understand but old enough to be impressed. He says, Oh. The woman continues to add torn scraps to the pot. The boy stays with her, and both gaze at the glow of firelight as the papers burn...

On the Porch, circa 1948, by Fairfield Porter
The Parrish Art Museum, Southhampton, NY, Gift of the Estate of Fairfield Porter