Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rain all day, autumn leaves falling and collecting in colorful wet collages in roadside gullies. I went out for a walk in my "city" off-white raincoat and smart tan umbrella. Assumed my usual pace, brisk as a commuter headed for a train, only I wasn't, just striding down a hill, along the creek, up another hill where I know coyotes somewhere in the rocks and ravines reside, and back up the pine-needled path behind the church hoping very much there isn't anyone stalkerish who observes me on my walks and who might greet me specterlike, silhouetted at the top of the rise, at the far edge of the cemetery, dressed all in black perhaps, features obscured - or perhaps leering, there to trap me. People do get murdered, in circumstances just such as this - and yet it must always come as a surprise. Or perhaps I've seen too many movies - no, not even that - these thoughts are deeply embedded in our culture. It's just that it's very isolated where I am, despite its being a residential hamlet, a scattering of houses, but there's hardly anyone around, just people - mostly men, presumably - driving around, too fast often, in tinted-windowed oversize pickup trucks, while commuter gal heads for the train station with her chic umbrella and coat and mudsplashed Merrills. When I got home I had to take off my pants whose hems had become soaked, moisture wicking up the legs. But otherwise, as dripping wet as my coat and umbrella were (I propped open the umbrella on the tile floor of the solarium to dry; it can't be bad luck - can it? - an open umbrella indoors under these circumstances - surely it must be the exception to the rule), I was perfectly dry, my hair drier even than when, pulled back, I splash water on my face at the sink in the morning.

You know, sometimes people disappoint - ones who supposedly loved - gratuitously cruel. But other times others - as if the universe is balancing itself out - complete strangers extend themselves, connect - unexpectedly, in loving ways - gratuitously kind. I'm not used to it.  So not used to it that my first impulse is to trust it less than the unwarmth I am used to.  But it is real, and I have been part of it - both giving and receiving - and I'm very grateful.

Rushing Things

I turn the page of my botanical desk calendar
- white lilies. Not yet. I turn it back to September, pink hydrangeas.
Ours, planted by the shed, never bloomed, candy for deer,
But the foliage now is burgundy and green, an autumnal consolation.

We’ve vowed: no wood fires til October
No pellet stove til November
And no oil heat til Thanksgiving, at least.

Last Friday was damp and chill and socks and sweaters
and roast chicken for dinner didn’t do it.
I didn’t want to rush things but
We lit a fire and curled up on the sofa watching the flames.

Today is three minutes shorter than yesterday.
Tomorrow will be four minutes shorter than today.
Sunset has spun the clockhands back to 6:38 tonight.
So much for trying to hold off turning on lamps til after 7.

I haven’t put summer things away yet, nor pulled out things for fall.

(What summer? It rained 23 days in June.)

When I was a girl I couldn’t wait to be older. Five and three-quarters, I’d say, when asked my age. Or, “almost 10.” At 16 I was “mature for my age,” and for that I was kissed. After that, life followed in a rush.

I’m on the other side of the sea wall now, and bid to slow things down.
The days whiz by, and all I’ve done is putter and
Put meals on the table and load the dishwasher and unload it
And let cats in, and back out the door.
I thought to turn the calendar ahead
And thought better of it, for one more day.




September 30, 2009

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

blogging aslant

From a message to a friend:
I do hope you check out Art Omi.  I went to a little event there last Saturday afternoon, a reading by its current crop of writers in residence.  One of them, of Swedish descent, hailed from Finland.  Typing from the program, her name was Catharina Gripenberg (poetry/playwriting).  "Born in Jakobstad on the Finnish west coast, Catharina belongs to the Swedish speaking minority of Finland.  She writes in Swedish, and has, so far, published three collections of poetry and several plays.  At Ledig House Catharina will be working on her next book."    She read aloud from some of her poetry, in English, and in Swedish.  Other writers did too, reading excerpts of their work, in English, translated, and - usually more animatedly - the very same excerpts, in their native tongues.  It was wonderful to listen to the English, whatever the level of halting or not accents, and then to hear the native tongues, each so different, each so musical.  Portugese sounded to me like Hebrew (shows how little I know of either Portugese or Hebrew, I suppose); Catharina put me instantly in mind of Ingmar Bergman films.  I don't mean to sound clichéd about that - but her rhythmic cadences coupled with occasionally homophonically recognizable phrases  "mine sister"  - wow.  There was also a "hot" young Polish writer, Dorota Masłowska, who is - as I gather - all of about 27 now - but in her teens wrote & published a novel in Poland that captured the zeitgeist of her disaffected/left-out-in-the-cold generation.  She read her work in translation, a very well-written, serious/sardonic excerpt from her first novel, Snow White and Russian Red. When I heard her read, crisply & briskly in heavily accented English, I wish she had read aloud in Polish too - and said as much to her in the little wine & beer mingling afterward.  I said, I wish you'd read aloud in Polish too - I actually would have understood it.  She said, I didn't think anyone here would know Polish.  I replied - doesn't matter, it's so great to hear the sounds of the different languages. Swedish, Portugese, others too - German, native Hawaiiian, Macedonian, and we might have heard Catalan too had the poet's voice not been lost due to laryngitis.

I was having such writers block with my blog this afternoon - but jotting down this little note to you helped break it.  Don't be surprised if it looks familiar - on my blog.   Belle

Jarkko Pylväs: Woodcut of Emily

From post of
4 September 2010
What else this morning? The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson Facebook Page has posted the most beautiful woodcut of E.D., made especially for them by a Finnish artist, Jarkko Pylväs.

I am so struck by the image. It's like a photographic negative, or black chalkboard with designs etched in white, or an electrified afterimage, as when you look at something dazzlingly bright, shut your eyes, and the image inverts and repeats aglow. It captures E.D. and what she's about beautifully. She's surrounded by feathers, webs, "gods eyes" (ornaments I made as a very little girl, yarn wound and woven around a cross of popsicle sticks - called "gods eyes"), a crescent moon, stars, snowflakes, moonbeams, and starlight. He has captured E.D.'s likeness, idiosyncratic image instantly recognizable - hair parted in a bun, pudgy nose and full-lipped mouth, ribbon crossed at her throat - yet has managed to capture a most elusive quality, a sense of her poetic capacity. She does not look directly at us, as in the iconic daguerrotype. Rather - and more evocatively - she has thought of something; pensive, she looks away, off to the side, heeding the starlight and gods eyes and feathers and webs and stars - she hears beyond the genius of the sea.


Thank you, Jarkko.

Jarkko Pylväs, Woodcut of Emily, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Our tree gives beautiful apples which I just went outside to pick. I quartered a few of them and tossed them into a pork, cabbage, potato, onion, cider vinegar, and caraway seed-seasoned dish that's in the oven now for a couple of hours to braise. Most of the apples are very high up, above reach now, and as I kept tilting my head back to try to reach my readers would slip off my head and onto the grass. I'll go out with a rake tomorrow and shake or poke a few more down, sans readers, and the fruit is really just so beautiful, perfect, and delicious that I'm inspired to make a pie or strudel or crostata or something.

The day started off with tornado warnings, but nothing's happened - yet, though the sky has been a sickly pewter much of the day and on my walk around the back roads by the creek and the church I got caught in a downpour so I was drenched when I got home. But it didn't matter. I stripped in the laundry room and went upstairs. I'd washed my hair this morning so now it had gotten a second rinse and when it dried it fell in pretty waves, like a light perm. Oh perms - what a dreadful mistake those usually turned out to be. And why - when my hair has quite nice body to it now?

By the way, if anyone wishes to comment but feels more comfortable with email, I've added a contact link to my user profile. I know how lame this sounds - I hope it works. It should. I just can't seem myself to toggle between two different gmail accounts on my home computer. Google has evidently never considered that people might wish different personas, or that there might be more than one user to a computer. But anyway - if you'd like to contact me for any reason and it's your first time - try bellehudson12534 (at) gmail (dot) com.

I have to say that I'm very intrigued about who is the kind reader with the iPhone who regularly visits my blog. You made my summer, if inadvertently (that is, for me it was a case of mistaken identity - and yet it saved my sanity by prolonging a delusion) and - well, I just really appreciate your page hits. Do I know you? Let me say this - you better not be my brother, because if you are I'll be pissed. Though if it is you, brother (or someone else already in my acquaintance), and you contact me soon then I'll be cool with it - consider it like a library fine amnesty week. But assuming you're a complete stranger, someone who seems to like my blog - well, I wouldn't mind getting a clue about you ("off the record") - it'd be really nice to know.

Wow, this post feels so administrative to me. That's okay. It was that kind of day. I did laundry, baked cookies from scratch (chocolate chip), pushed myself to make the braised cabbage dish. Missed Stella the Artist while out on my walk, but let it cook for the last couple of hours on my slow-mo computer and am playing it now. Have I mentioned this week how much I love that song?

Kisses all - not the greatest post today, but I think I outdid myself in the last couple of days so I wanted to keep in touch but needed a bit of a breather. Love, love, love - and thank you.

Monday, September 27, 2010

2 short-shorts Flaubert didn't write

From #1
I was happy when new people moved in next door. I hoped they might prove more sociable than the previous neighbor, an aloof, recently divorced Englishman who in the months after we moved in never bothered to wave or say hello. We became acquainted with him briefly one night our first winter here when he almost set the ancient spruce in his yard ablaze after carelessly discarding “cold” woodstove ashes. I happened to glance out the window of the upstairs bath and saw a merry bonfire dancing on the frozen ground beneath the lowest branches of the towering evergreen. My incredulity turned to horror when I realized that if the tree were to ignite it might come crashing down on our house. Over the chatter and squawks of volunteer fire department radios that frigid night, he finally introduced himself and I sarcastically said hello.

The new folks, a married couple we judged to be in their late thirties, hailed from the city. When we first glimpsed them they were taking a stroll with their two dogs along the country road where we live. My husband slowed the car, rolled down the window, and said hi. The wife was hugely pregnant. She wore a floppy hat and dark glasses, and hand pressed to her back she grimaced against the blazing sun. They moved their things in days before the baby was due, then returned to the city to have the baby, so it was a couple of weeks before we had the chance to talk to them, one balmy weekend morning in May.

My husband and I were tidying a perennial bed when I saw them head across their front yard to our driveway, dogs ambling ahead, the wife with the newborn in her arms and the husband, who was a little stooped, following behind. A head taller than his wife and completely bald, he wore a western-style shirt in a vintage plaid and yoked front, wrangler jeans, a bandanna tucked in his belt, and pointed black leather boots.

We exchanged names and pleasantries, patted Bosco and Hob, and admired Delia, a beautiful blonde cherub with downy cheeks and a tiny rosebud mouth. Jane, teeth bared in a fixed grin, rocked from side to side on her feet, cradling the infant. Tilting her head to one side as if she had just thought of something, she eyed us and said, “Corbin’s mother is Japanese. So Delia’s one-quarter Japanese. But she doesn’t look Japanese does she? Does she?” Frowning, she peered down at Delia.

I was taken aback by her oddball pronouncement. Corbin was standing right there, though he seemed unfazed, his expression – well, inscrutable. Standing in our driveway I could glimpse his mother in an open upstairs window of their house. She had flown in from California for a short stay. As we had seen her do since her arrival a few days before, she sat at the window methodically scraping a sill which doubtless, given that this was an old Victorian house, was loaded with lead paint. A trim woman, black hair shot with grey, she waved at the group of us below, and we waved back.

Does she?” The question wasn’t rhetorical.

I looked at the baby. “I guess she doesn’t look Japanese,” I said, “though maybe there’s a hint of the Buddha that all babies have.”
***
#2
Oh God. Maybe it's the rainy day. At long last, rain is welcome, but I feel tired and achy and as I sit here musing wondering what to write my thoughts grow dark & gloomy. I google what's his face, which I shouldn't, plus his wife's name who I can never remember if she spells her name with one L or two. I discover the obituary of her mother who has a thoroughly Japanese name, and discover that her brother married someone with an über-WASPy nickname - "Bitsy." My former paramour, who's receded in my mind back into the shadows - is pretty über-WASPish. His wife's Japanese. I sit here musing, speculating, surmising - relating even, perhaps. She is first or second generation Japanese-American. This country is no melting pot. Or is it? Her parents gave their two children Americanized first names - good first step, though the one or two L's is tricky, but whatever. So a prime mission in her life then, becomes to marry someone who gives her ultimate white legitimacy and acceptance - an unassailably Anglo-Germanic name, with Ivy pedigree. He knew what he was doing too. I think he understood that impulse, her weakness. A devil's bargain. He gives her legitimacy, she gives him free rein. He gets to lead a double life, sleep with whoever whenever wherever he likes, for years on end, for decades, while for all appearances - and they do care - they raise a family, buy a house, achieve successive professional accomplishments. Quite a compact.

I'm Caucasian. I pass. But I'm saddled with a difficult name. It would be fine if I were part of a cohesive Polish social group (which I'm not), or if I'd married someone Polish, or Anglo. But I didn't. I married someone with a Spanish last name. Which made it impossible for me to take his name because my Polish first name would forevermore - as I knew perfectly well - be misspelled and misconstrued - to make me Puerto Rican. There's nothing wrong with that - of course. Except that it's not me - I'm not of Hispanic descent. And even with my having retained my Polish maiden name - I can't tell you how many "Yolanda Vega" quips I've had to endure over the years.

I admit it. Besides the sexual attraction all those years ago, the intellectual affinity, a shared absurdist sense of humor... I would have liked very much to have felt more "legitimate" in some way -- been instantly absorbed into the mainstream -- by having been able to shed like bad skin my Polish last name and adopt his über-WASP Made-It-in-America legitimating one.

Instead, I went in the opposite direction. At the time - 20-plus years ago, I married for love. Names be damned. Actually, at the time he & I both thought about shedding our difficult ethnic last names, choosing a different one to make our own. My husband too, with his Hispanic surname, has a resolutely Anglo first name. First step in the process.

Philandering WASP paramour with Japanese wife - their sons, with their father's surname, also have Anglo first names, though at least one of them, I gather, has a Japanese middle name. Nice gesture.

What will be the goal of their future wives?

My brother, a year younger than me and saddled with the worst first name ever (in American terms) has "married up" in society, gaining legitimacy from a wife with - at least in certain socialite circles - name recognition.

Do people marry for love? Sometimes. And maybe sometimes - perhaps most often in situations where a Darwinian drive among certain insecure and/or manipulative classes towards mainstream acceptance and/or social ascendancy is concerned - motives are mixed.

***
#1, continued
Jane looked aghast and held Delia out in front of her at eyelevel. “No, you don’t look Japanese at all, do you, do you?,” she insisted in babytalkese, cooing and grinning at the lolling newborn. The baby’s tiny fingers curled shut and then opened like starfish. “Not one wittle bit...”
***

Related, perhaps - more on the tremendous urge to conformity.

Cathedral

Plein Air writing workshop, led by Kathe Izzo, on the grounds of Olana, Hudson, NY, Sunday, September 26, 2010
Plein Air, meaning "open air," is a term traditionally used to describe painting outdoors but is rarely taught as a writing practice. The workshop will explore memoir and creative writing, using nature as a metaphor for looking back on life. Kathe Izzo's provocative exercises set the tone and the grounds of Olana set the mood.
***
Writing Exercise #3
For this exercise find a detail that speaks to you of the extravagance of nature...
***
The tree tosses off pine cones
as though they're nothing.
I can't draw a perfect circle
or a perfect oval
yet here without me
or anyone else looking
the tree has produced
a miniature cathedral
reminding me of the
ancient brown church
at the turn of the road.
The pine cone viewed
from above is a rose,
an origami trick of
whorled brown petals.
Here - this is for you -
I do this all the time.

***
At the risk of being too literal...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

From Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine...
... Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again...
***
Plein Air Writing Workshop, led by Kathe Izzo, on the grounds of Olana, Hudson, NY, Sunday, September 26, 2010
For this exercise write of home, what connects you to yourself, to nature, to your sense of home...






***
Writing Exercise #2

I feel small in the landscape
and yet there are things
smaller, a dandelion
on the mowed path, out of
season, a single white
butterfly, perusing. I grew
up with the ambient sounds
of train whistles and a
distant highway, trucks
on a hot summer night
miles away on I-95
thrumming outside my
window on a hot night
as a freight train
slowed across the road
and rumbled on and
on and on for half
the night as I lay
thirsty and hungry
perhaps and I'd get up
and creep to the
bathroom at the top of
the stairs and without
turning on the light
stand in the dark and
run the tap and
drink the tepid metallic
water from my hands
so not delicious but
the best I could do
and I'd return to
bed and sink into the
the covers and a
feeling would come
over me that I
couldn't then name
couldn't capture, a
falling, a flying,
a sinking, of being
lost in something much
much bigger than
myself that enveloped
me or wanted to or
I it but I resisted
and jerked awake and
remembered and
finally when I forgot
to look, when I
let myself wander
off, just go, fall
asleep despite it all.
I am a great fan (if not yet formally a member) of The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson Facebook Page, as well as of its original impetus and inspiration, the brilliant, dreamlike novel by Jerome Charyn. The Secret Life of E.D. page has taken on a life of its own, considering not only Charyn's novel but indeed all things Emily Dickinson, as well as in ever-expanding ripples reaching out to embrace All Things Emily - as may suit the fancy of the ever-charmingly inventive and informative page creator, Lenore.

In recent days, Lenore has offered an inspired series of posts entitled Two Emilies: Parallel Lives, drawing connections between Emily Dickinson and Emily Brontë. Through her posts and related comments I have learned that Dickinson was a great admirer of Emily Brontë's work, as well as a fan of the novel Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë. In a truly astonishing fact that links them very strongly, Dickinson was in possession of one of the only two copies sold at the time of the Brontë sisters' first edition book of poetry, which they self-published in 1846 (a second edition published in 1850 sold much better). It is surmised that Dickinson may have written away especially to England in order to obtain it.

The Secret Life of E.D. page went on to note,
Emily Brontë and Emily Dickinson each had one brother. Dickinson's brother, Austin, followed in his father's footsteps to become an attorney and a respected "Squire" of the Amherst community. But sadly, Brontë's brother, Branwell, failed at everything he tried. First he failed as a painter, then was dismissed from the railway for negligence. In desperation, he began tutoring to support himself, but was sent home in disgrace when he had an affair with the mother of his charges. Branwell became an alcoholic and misused drugs - his father was so afraid Branwell would harm himself that he insisted his son sleep in his bed. Branwell's alcoholism masked tuberculosis until it was too late to save him. He collapsed and died in September, 1848. He was 31. Emily Brontë caught a cold at his funeral and died just three months later.
***

On September 24th The Secret Life of E.D. page posted this painting by Patrick Branwell Brontë, of his three sisters (from left to right) Anne, Emily, and Charlotte, noting that:
Art historians believe that Branwell began including himself in the picture but ultimately decided to paint himself and replaced his image with a 'pillar'. X-rays showing... his image is incomplete [which may] likely mean he made that decision before finishing the work. Since poorly mixed oil paints can become translucent with age, it is thought that Branwell's 'ghostly' image can be seen in the pillar because of his inexperience in mixing paints.
***
"This painting tells a story, but tells it slant"
-- Lenore, Secret Life of Emily Dickinson Facebook Page
***
This morning I attended a wonderful plein air writing workshop held on the grounds of Olana, Frederic Church's skytop estate on the outskirts of Hudson, New York. The gifted poet, writer, and wonderful writing instructor Kathe Izzo led a small group of participants through exercises designed to encourage us to observe our surroundings closely, to draw inspiration from nature, and to connect it with our writing.

With each brief exercise the group scattered to write. For the first one I found a picnic table that sat at a steep angle on sloped, uneven ground - no matter - it was in the sun on this beautiful cool morning. I looked about the landscape wondering what to write, and though we had been charged to concentrate on sensory details I found myself reminded of Branwell's haunting portrait of himself and his sisters, and his affecting (modernistic?) self-erasure.

***
Writing Exercise #1

For Branwell

I perch aslant a table.
Trees like blank columns
survey me. The Brontë
sisters mingle between.
The wind sounds through the
trees, a constant source of
music. Something gives,
groans, squeaks. A bird
squeals. There's an illumined
red tree, in a pretty dress
of red rustling leaves.
The trunks of tall trees
align, her suitors.
They ask her to dance and
she stands apart, considering.
Dry green grasses fill in the
background. The trunks rise
out of the earth, straight to
the sky, the one closest - the one yearning
most - leaning. The table is aslant.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mais non, Emma Bovary - c'est moi

Up in the aerie smiling as I hear notes waft in through open windows, a child capably if wobbily playing Happy Birthday on trumpet, followed by Hot Cross Buns (the climactic two a penny three a penny rendered in staccato blasts), followed by a lugubrious rendition of Happy Birthday again. Charming sounds on a summery day. I think it's the little boy in the house behind us, I'm guessing he's taken up trumpet this year because until the last day or two I've never heard anyone play here before. I wonder if it's his own instrument or if he was able to borrow it from his school's music department. I played piano starting in elementary school, and took up viola for a time too, unsuccessfully. I should have been better at it considering that my real first name both rhymes with and translates as "viola." But I was never good with stringed instruments, not guitar either, or my Jersey cousin's violin.

Three minute concert over. Silence again except for whir of computer. I'm slowly getting my energy back, fortifying myself with ice water and a slice of banana bread. I took a very long walk around here this morning, down by the creek, along Hogsback Road, up busy Route 9 - getting vertigo as I walked along a low handrail on the other side of which is a scary, surely fatal drop to the Stockport Creek shoals far below - down the hill of a charming lane - past the artist's house set back deep in the woods, the artist with the lilacs last spring and the tip about putting sugar into flower water which I've been doing since including yesterday evening with the zinnias and other cuttings - that culminates at an overlook to quiet shallows of the creek, and back home again, threading my way up the steep wooded ridge path behind the ancient church, pausing to catch my breath and thus to savor the fragrance of pine woods all around and the needles carpeting the path. At home I made a quesadilla for lunch, filling a flour tortilla with cheddar, black beans seasoned with chorizo, and grape tomatoes, frying it til the bottom toasted and the cheese melted, and topping it with beautiful lettuce and arugula from the CSA, plain yogurt, and salsa from a jar. Then I crashed into bed in the spare room with the New York Review of Books that came in today's mail. Before I fell asleep I read an appreciation of Tony Judt and an article about Sarah Bernhardt and when I woke up and put my readers back on, a review of a new translation of Madame Bovary by Lydia Davis, who I was surprised to learn from the first line lives in these parts. What a small world, as coincidentally I once referred to myself as the Emma Bovary of Hudson.

I haven't read the novel since college (one of my all-time favorite classes, The Modern French Novel taught by George Stambolian) and would like to re-read it. One thing I wonder about is an insistence that Flaubert disliked Emma Bovary. I'm not in a position to research the point at the moment, but I intuitively balk at the notion, wonder if it could be quite so baldly, one-dimensionally true. It just seems that in choosing her as his subject (even if she is not the most sympathetic protagonist) and rendering her so carefully, entering her character so completely and bringing her to life, if Flaubert didn't in fact in some thoroughly ambivalent way indeed love his creation, or at least have a complex love/hate relationship with her, and as an object (besides the crafting of language) of his literary focus, an obsessive regard - "Emma Bovary c'est moi." Could he not have been referring to vestigial petty bourgeois aspects of his own background that he recognized, despised and understood only too well and at the same time could empathize with? (Actually in checking the review again the reviewer seems to make a similar point "Even when he's looking downward socially, Flaubert's attitude toward his characters is far more complicated than Davis makes out.")

In fairness to Davis - her careful syntax too hints at a complexity of her own feelings towards Emma Bovary - "And I like a heroine who thinks and feels... well, I don't find Emma Bovary admirable or likeable--but Flaubert didn't either." Wait, now I don't know how to read that. I'm reading it as that Emma Bovary does think and feel - thus making her fascinating - even if, quite true, she isn't admirable or particularly likeable. If Emma Bovary doesn't think she most certainly feels, more than making up for a deficiency in common sense with an excess in fact of feeling, from which her impulsive actions inexorably spring and that lead her in mousetrap fashion to her inevitable doom.

Well, whatever. Rather than airily speculate I should reread the novel. There's a very well-received new translation, from a writer who - like me - lives in Yonville, New York.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Up in the aerie, very hot & sultry out. Back from picking up the neighbor's share from the CSA farm (she's down in the city). D and I take about a quarter of the haul - this week, for us, beefsteak and plum tomatoes, a couple of apples, soft mixed lettuce, arugula, a red pepper, and green beans. I made an executive decision and took the broccoli rabe, left the kale for neighbor. I could have reversed it. But I didn't see the point of giving us half each - greens cook down to nothing. I borrowed scissors for the cutting border and snipped zinnias, a flower that looks like purple springtime scilla, a lurid pink feather-boa plumed annual, and a hefty bunch of basil for pesto. This late in September a hot summer day is a gift. So far, in my own planters, I've held out on yanking the petunias for mums.

I lost my cool yesterday in a way that I'm not proud of and accomplished no good. Though maybe I was "within my rights." I'd come home with groceries and neighbor who's been pretending I don't exist for years now (and communicating the same vibe to her friendly, puzzled toddlers) came marching up the drive insisting - politely of course - that she'd shut the garden hose that her little girl had turned on in play. I said, don't bother I should water anyway. A five second contretemps ensued - I'll shut it off, no don't, no really I'll shut it, no don't - these are the first words I have exchanged with her in at least two years now. So I said - and I didn't realize how very tense I was for some reason, it just came out - is there some reason you've been giving me the silent treatment for a couple of years? Neighbor is quick-witted but of course was taken aback and went into deniability mode. I'm not aware of anything, she said. Really, I said. And that was that, she slunk back down the drive without turning off the hose, and I slunk in the house going, WTF did I just do?

I am sorry I did that, it did absolutely nothing in terms of conflict resolution. It was more like this impulse to address the elephant that (from my point of view) is always in the room. Once in a while you just want to say - hey, there's that elephant.

I enjoy reading Cary Tennis's advice column on Salon, and he had a good one the other day that I related to. I guess I have all kinds of issues with power plays that I can hardly begin to sort out. Like the whole weird vampirishly resurrected after 30 years thing - power game on his part, very married and almost undoubtedly with a local another besides, never mind "virtual" me.

I stopped by the supermarket this morning and am just horrified at the bovine horrible mean ugly stupidity that reads on so many people's faces (maybe especially, and I'm sorry to say it, senior citizens, at this hour, at this market anyway). Look, I'm in a provincial hick town, and anyone "my type" - smart, good-looking & intelligent - is at work in the city someplace, or pretty much anywhere but the supermarket on a Friday morning. (Though a few of the young cashiers look like potential bright lights. I hope they don't wind up getting trapped.) But it just horrified me, reading those rigid, unintelligent faces. I truly felt like an alien, wired completely differently from these people who their entire lives have lived within rules - and enforced them. Their faces are hardened and twisted into meanness as a result. As I went up and down the aisles encountering these superannuated zombies I felt - what am I doing here?

D said that neighbor said that neighbor's neighbor B doesn't like her chickens marching on his crew-cut mowed weed-free lawn. What a vapid idiot that guy is, his empty lawnscape a good reflection of his empty mind.

Oh Lord, I'm sorry to go off like this, especially to kind friends and readers in such places as Manhattan, Denmark, and Finland. It's just that it's a very weird society here in the States (outside city centers that is), and what you may read about and puzzle over about Tea Partyers and Sarah P and whoever else (honestly - I've gotten to the point where I've all but stopped following the news - what is the point? it just upsets me and other than firing off a letter here and pulling a lever there those dynamics go on despite me, won't be changed by me - so I continue on with this blog) gets played out on a microlevel. As unreal as those dynamics seem - have you ever actually met a Tea Partyer? - oh yes, they're real all right, you can pick them out - they're the ones, usually of a certain age I think, on whom you can see the twisted dumb unhappy meanness.

And I'm talking ShopRite, which is a nice supermarket as supermarkets go (i.e., unpretentious, human-scaled, good produce, isn't afraid to mark things down). I never set foot in W***mart or a lot of those places that America keeps building in its psychotic fury to pave itself over.

Oh darlings everywhere please someone come out of the woodwork and give me a big old long soul kiss, the kind that leads to another. I promise that if I ever run for office I will make a point of increasing opportunities for people to make mad, beautiful, joyful love.

Sitting here with my hair up and my body toned in anticipation of love in a pink cotton bra as gloaming falls on this sultry late September afternoon - well, I'm supposed to just let go and let it happen and I've been doing nothing if not that so where the hell are the kisses? and by the way I give as good as I get...

Oh lord, darlings, peace and goodnight. XOXO

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Last night I got up in the middle of the night, reread my post, and realized that I had accidentally written that Olana is Frederick Law Olmsted's estate. Ouch. I immediately corrected my mistake. Olana was envisioned, designed, and built by the 19th century Hudson River School painter, Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900). (Sorry, I spaced off - my bad.) I don't wish for anyone to surmise that here I am living in ignorance virtually in the shadow of the wondrous "eye of the universe." Indeed, I'm very familiar with the place, and have spent a great deal of time there though not so much in recent months.

In August 2008, near the beginning of the rekindling (entirely virtual, via letter and email) of a 30-plus-year-old relationship, J had gone out of communication range, on an expedition abroad, after a month of mutual heady correspondence - some of it priceless I believe. I also don't wish anyone to think, oh that silly woman, he was never that into you - his side of the correspondence in July 2008 was full of amorous hyperbole. Oh yes, words are very powerful - he felled me. Anyway.

When he went off for the month I decided to write him a handwritten page a day.

***
1 August 2008, Belle to J

Dearest J, I lay down on the living room sofa with an autobiography of Vita Sackville-West, her account of her love affair with Violet Trefusis. Passion is passion whether it’s Sapphic or straight. Her writing reminds me of the strength of feeling I have towards you.

I fell asleep and when I woke it was 4 pm and I hoped very much that you were on your flight and taking off right on time at that moment. Then I thought, maybe I’ll write a few lines to you each day and mail them near to the time that you return.
***
It really was as spontaneous as that - I hadn't planned it beforehand. That month I devoted myself to what I referred to as the August Project. I didn't miss a day, just kept page after running page, interspersing it with print photographs I took that I'd manually crop and carefully tape onto a page; others' poems; stickers, movie stubs, postage stamps - all sorts of paper ephemera and little illustrations that went along with what I was writing in my cursive script. A theme I had set out for myself was to go through what remain of schoolgirlish journals I had kept in college and for a few years after, gleaning them for references to my long-lost high school love.

***
7 August 2008, Belle to J
March 1981: “J.H., the man I almost, not quite, married. He thinks of me. If I ever get bummed, I can always think, ‘but he thinks of me.’ I am almost at the age at which J was when he met me. I was but a pristine, ne’er been kissed 16, how sweet. How, how -- no words -- I am now. “Isn’t life… Isn’t it?” Being in the Ipswich house [dinner at the home of a girlfriend] reminded me greatly of the H___ house, the mother’s long skirt – Felicity’s. Annihilating thoughts come in that I do my best to vanquish. Idea of fate. Such as, I have no doubt that I have not heard the last of J. Unless this thought is mere Zhivagian sentimentalism.”
Dearest darling, Good morning. I’m sitting on a rustic bench at Olana. There’s a glimpse of the Catskills over the treetops, behind me is a lush flower border (wish mine looked like that) but unfortunately my eye goes right to the plastic cup that someone has thoughtlessly discarded, which is marring the landscape. I’m going to have to get up and kick it out of view (no trash bin in sight). There, that’s better.

I spent the afternoon yesterday going through my old journals, reading your letters from 1983-84, and all of your mother’s letters too. I plowed through my journals looking for references to you, of which I found about a dozen. Not many, but several are quite powerful. My journals stop in the mid-1980s, I suppose around the time I met D, and afterward I never kept another. (I was never a religious journal keeper – mostly I took refuge in one if a relationship was starting, or ending, or I wasn’t seeing anyone at all – times when my emotions were at particularly high ebb, I think.)

The bench I’m sitting on is under a beautiful, gnarly Japanese pine, and after I compose and set down a line I look up at the branches and wait for what comes next. [photo of bench and pine]
***
So I wrote every day, I had a lot of access to the car that summer, and often took myself to Olana, where I sat on a bench under a Japanese pine and wrote, polishing my notes later in the aerie and copying them onto notepaper that I had purchased years before (in light of a correspondence with a wonderful woman friend in Minnesota).

I was amazed at what I had produced. To me it was a beautiful work of art. I paged through it, incredulous of the illustrated record of the journey that I had taken the difficult month that I had taken to sleeping in the spare bedroom.

At the end of August 2008, just before J was due to return from abroad, I mailed the package to him. I knew how busy he was, especially having been away for so long, needing to catch up on business at home, etc., etc.

But not unlike his non-reactions to my blog (as I have now come to realize) upon his return he never deigned to make a single substantive comment about the August Project. Something had changed in the interval between July 2008 when he was freely sending me powerful love letters & emails and anticipating mine, and the month since he'd been gone. Perhaps a September "new years resolution" put his nose back to the grindstone. Our correspondence was never the same after that, and an opportunity to possibly have met him for coffee or lunch or anything at all while, in November 2008, he flew back East with his family for a memorial service for his mother (with whom for a time I had been quite close) never - very painfully for me - materialized.

New Years 2009 I resolved to end my side of the correspondence - he had all but cut and run already. At some point later (don't recall when offhand) I decided to ask him to return the August Project since he had never seemed to care about it, I wanted to see it again, to consider it, and I thought it had value, and beauty. He mailed it to me promptly along with photographs from the brief time we had been together in the mid-1970s (35 years ago this very month is when we first started going out). It was jarring to receive the original photos back. He had sent me emailed images of them during our hot July correspondence, saying that over the decades he had always kept this little cache close by, always knew where they were.

***
5 July 2008, J to Belle

I attach a copy of the most treasured and erotic image that I possess. What is so strange is that I am the only person who has seen it for almost 32 years. You are the only other person to see it after all this time. I couldn't begin to describe the range of associations that it evokes, although they are all intense.
***
And here it was 30-plus years later come spinnin' back like a boomerang, as David Gray sings. Oh well.

Anyway. So that's a lot of the backstory. I still really like the August Project, and I loved being able to drive my car up the rise to Olana, greet the wondrous Persian-inspired manse, venture to the garden, settle on the bench, look up into the tree, and write. I knew perfectly well that Frederic Church built it, and just now I really hope I've spelled his first name right.

XOXO

***
Rivka Glachen, "From the Pencil Zone: Robert Walser's Masterworklets," [a book review of Robert Walser: Microscripts, translated by Susan Bernofsky], Harper's Magazine, May 2010, p. 78.
And maybe the message that can barely be deciphered is as close as we can get to the most powerful message of all, which is the one we wait for that never arrives. Consider this passage from a letter Walser wrote to his sister in 1898:
As for me, I'm valiantly studying French, go to work each morning, come home insane in the evening, expect letters, don't write any myself but still expect, every evening, at the very least three letters. They should by lying there when I open the door, white, dazzlingly white, with the dear stamps upon them, the sweet postmarks and all the rest. And when there aren't any, I get perfectly stupid and can't work, and then I say to myself quite sensibly: you never write any letters, but you expect them! You blockhead.

It isn't precisely that I expect letters, but now I'm always expecting something as dear, as tender as a letter. Every evening there ought to be some uplifting little surprise for me, just like a letter.

But one can live quite well without excitements, can't one, only one ought to be endowed with a bit less
poesie and the like, should one not, should one not? What a babbler I am, am I not, am I not?
***

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I'm in a really good mood right now. Spent much of the morning writing up my blog, not that it takes so long but finding the right images and waiting for downloads - timeconsuming. Back from a brisk walk with weights. Muggy, sultry out. Thunderstorms loom, possibly, which I'd welcome this time of year, a reprise of summer on this first full day of fall. Trickster weather, mixing the boundaries.

Something's gone wrong with KZE's online playlist today, so I can't look up songs, but there was a wonderful one at around 4:20, a young woman singing what could have been the story of much of this blog, erotic obsession and jealousy whose object doesn't pay her no mind, humorous and dead-on accurate. Ah well, I'd love to know who that was. I went through an extended period of questionable mental health last winter when it seemed that every song (or nearly so) on KZE spoke to me. That was bad. My mind was totally projecting patterns all over the place - the top of my head was feeling blown off, to paraphrase E.D. That was an odd winter and I don't care for a repeat.

A couple of songs ago was some dance number and I just wanted to get up and dance. This morning first thing I said to D - blurted out, really - was that I plan to go the writers colony reading Saturday afternoon by myself so that I have a chance to mingle, maybe chat with a person or three. If I'm just with D I'll never break out. Also, on Sunday I'm looking forward to attending a writing workshop to be held outdoors on the grounds of Olana, the Frederic Church estate. I attended last year and was very inspired by the guided writing exercises, one of which involved selecting a Tarot card. I pulled the Five of Cups and the black-cloaked figure reminded me of E.D. Days afterward I started this blog - its almost one-year anniversary.

If I can just keep moving - dancing, writing, seeking out groups of literate people - I'll be okay. But not a regular workshop such as one I took at a community college a year and a half ago. There was something about that format that made me feel self-censoring and constrained - I suppose because at least two of the five people in the class I instantly sized up as provincial, rigid, and small-minded. Obviously I'm a bit of a boundary buster but I don't need skeptical disapproval - grief, in other words - laid on it. That just seizes me up and makes me contrary. (John Lennon in the midst of John Birchers.) I like to feel free to write what I like without fear of ignorant knee-jerk disapproval and misunderstanding. So, no more writing workshops unless of a handpicked sort - the Olana annual one-off definitely qualifies.

I fantasize about how I'd respond if someone in a congenial social setting asks what I "do." I'm a writer. I might answer the inevitable follow up by saying that I have a blog. What kind of blog? If he's really cute - oh until lately it's been mostly about an unrequited erotic obsession. (Come to think of it, perhaps that's a nonstarter with a cute guy. Must rethink.) I know how narcissistic it sounds to glance at myself in the mirror while musing about how I might respond, but as I rinsed my hands this afternoon I cracked myself up rehearsing that - an antic grin broke out. It'd be nice if someone besides myself and a few regulars liked my sense of humor - and found me cute too.

A fine romance - with no kisses... sings Billie Holiday...

Oh enough of that already. By the way - one final footnote on the whole "needy" thing. When one has purposely and successfully set up one's life to be able to be topped off at will at any and all times in the lower 48 with sex & gasoline, thus freeing other aspects to draft at full steam whole books - then of course one isn't "needy." There's never any need - all the needy needs are serenely met. Nothing but clear blue skies and vast horizons. Oh blessed oblivious -- driven one.

Things I never learned in - never mind kindergarten. New Haven - which I didn't attend - seems to specialize in it.

XOXO

two dreams last night

J comes to me in the night, starts to make love, at first it feels nice but then I feel pinned, paralyzed, seized by a powerful force. I try to move but can’t - my limbs are immobilized. It’s unpleasant, scary, a feeling of being held down by something stronger than me. I will myself awake, find that I can move again, and fall back asleep.

***
I’m with a handsome, youthful artist. He looks at me and smiles, clearly attracted to me. He introduces me to his mother who stands in a doorway. I shake her hand. He tells her that we first met in junior high, and I ask wasn’t it earlier? He names the school he attended – Christenson – so no, we weren’t in grade school together. He’s quite antic, busy getting ready for a performance or show. Now I’m alone in his warren of rooms. I would like to get dressed, preferably shower first. I gather my clothes and find the bath, but can’t seem to get it together.

Later he and I are in a room, sitting next to each other on a divan set against a wall. An older woman enters the room and sits at a table across from us. She smiles and grimaces, says something about how she couldn’t make it or didn’t want to attend something (his last show?). Then she goes into literary interview mode and asks him some serious question.

The artist isn’t in the mood. He turns to me and starts to kiss me, wonderful soft firm kisses, the sensation of his lips against mine palpable, vivid, and delicious. We're becoming aroused and start to make love. I think that we should go someplace private (there are a couple of other people at the table besides the interviewer) but the artist says don’t mind them, they don’t care, and indeed they seem completely disinterested, talking among themselves, oblivious.

I wake thinking – I should be with an artist.

















***

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I guess I need a new preceptor because I feel leaden without one. I think E.D. lasted all of six days after Samuel Bowles left for Europe before she wrote to Higginson. She knew what she needed.

Trouble is, I don't know anyone. A few familiar faces at the conservation area, ditto at the library, rarely the same people twice at the supermarket or farm stands. No car, usually. No money in wallet, almost always. Would have made spinach pie yesterday, but no butter. Today butter, and set to make it - out of eggs. That's how it's been lately. How is it that D works so hard, we don't have a mortgage, we own the house and car outright, we don't go out, we don't shop, we don't take vacations - and still there's no money?

I worked hard in earlier decades. I faked it, a lot. I had a sense even in my 20s and 30s that I was going on youthful energy (plus nicotine & diet coke) and that I had an ability to fake it then but that I wouldn't last. I remember imagining myself decades later - the age I am now, I suppose, and older - thinking, wow if I'm not in the mood at age 27 or 32 or 38 - it will only feel worse then. And so I worked really hard, a lot of overtime some years, and socked a lot away - against the day - this day, or this sort of day.

I think I am the sort of person who, like Betty Draper on Mad Men, needs someone lined up before she can go off. It's not a good thing, it's very non-"feminist" - I don't entirely approve of myself, my own complete lack of "get up and go." But there it is. I used to be so resilient, incredibly so, really. There was a lot to be resilient about - a long, difficult childhood in a dysfunctional family - without going into details. There just really wasn't much of an upside to it, and to this day the physically surviving members aren't mostly on speaking terms. Well, my seven-years younger sister is, with my two brothers, both younger than me. Is it fair of me to believe on some level that she stole them away from me? But I do think that. I think she triangulated, big time. I see the geometry in my head quite plainly. But I can't really blame her. It's the way she is, and the way they are - and the family dynamic was set up by my parents - it got set up like one of those - what do you call those things? - my uncle had this "executive toy" - an object, a pendulum - somehow you'd get the steel ball moving, and it would go back and forth and around and around in perpetual motion, ad infinitum. That's what it's been like in my family. There's no "improving" it. Though D when he has too much to drink likes to blame me for the cut-off family relations, leading to yet other big, huge, hurtful fights. In childhood I was the scapegoat and kicking board in a very damaging family - and those relationships in a family are as frozen and unchangeable as any constellation in the sky. Actually the best thing I've ever done for myself - in very recent years - is to completely stop having any hope or expectation for finding warmth, fulfilling contact, understanding or anything from my family of origin. It has actually made my life easier, than trying to look for love (only to be labeled as "needy" - by my own sister, for example) from any of them.

A couple of years ago I did a lot of intensive reading up on narcissism, specifically the "narcissistic personality disorder," NPD, or malignant narcissism. I found it to be an extremely useful framework in coming to an understanding of many relationship dynamics in my life. There's a book by M. Scott Peck (People of the Lie) that's very good. And there's an excellent blog, by psychologist Linda Martinez-Lewi, that I have found extremely helpful and validating (from her homepage, click on "Visit my Blog"). A couple of years ago I even reread Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter in light of this conceptual framework - Roger Chillingsworth - classic cold, manipulative narcissist. I relate quite a bit to Hester Prynne, not for the scarlet "A" but for her free-thinking nature.

Anyway. Best portrait of a fuzzy portrait is a fuzzy portrait - it was either post this or not at all today - but it's my lifeline and I simply cannot sugarcoat. Though I did have an all right day today, walked at the conservation area, spent time at the little town library, took a gorgeous drive back home along country roads in Ghent - postcard scenes - trees are in resplendent fall color, more dramatically so than where I happen to live. And I know that eggs are on their way, so I'll finish assembling the spinach pie, and there'll be a lemon that I'll quarter to help season the organic chicken that I'm about to roast, along with a farmstand squash.

I'm grateful for a lot - and I'm happy to be able to write - I just don't, can't, wear a grin all the time, not in writing anyway. Must one?

(That's the impulse - requirement I guess - in marketing one's self. I don't want to name names, but I think of a couple of very well-known women magazine editors, who - and whose writing - I respect highly, formerly of popular magazines of which their publisher summarily pulled the plug. But in their post-steady-paycheck phases I just can't relate to their seemingly perpetual upbeatedness (as much as I read and think of them quite a lot in very positive ways as role models). I'm sure they must get discouraged and depressed. Don't they? Why is there this obligation to always show the game "nothing hurts" face?)

Ahh, kisses to the lot of you, my saints and angels.

Not Waterboys at the moment - Van Morrison. Love him. Thank you KZE.

Love, Belle

Monday, September 20, 2010

STELLLLLAAAA!!!

Glorious day today, spectacular sun, cool air, petunias still in bloom yet on my walk this afternoon leaves turning, several maples blazing. In a cusp between seasons, this last day of summer, with nods here and there towards Halloween already.


The little neighbor girl, who's about four, sells us eggs from her peripatetic chickens so that she can save up for a $25 pink dress for Halloween. We don't have a doorbell or knocker but I know she's at the door when like a lilliputian Tennessee Williams character she tilts her head far back (as I imagine) and yells for my husband at the top of her lungs: DOOOUUUGGG! Pause, silence, big inhale. DOOOOOUUUUUGGGG!!! She did that a few afternoons ago and I went to the door as D was occupied. I haven't really encountered her close up or directly since the Boob Pop incident years ago when she was an infant in her mother's arms. She stood at the door cheerily and when she saw it was me and not my husband she looked quite taken aback. She froze, frowned, and looked up at me with doleful eyes (don't eat me). I was a little flustered myself, I don't know the whole egg drill, D keeps quarters someplace for her (where?), so I got my wallet out of my bag, opened the screen door, and gave her a dollar. She handed me a basket. Of tomatoes. Okay, so I bought tomatoes. "Good job sweetie," I heard her mother call from the next yard. Yes, the little one survived mysterious Baba Jaga!

The next day D reported to me that he'd chatted with the neighbor who said that the little girl had been instructed to simply drop off the tomatoes, not sell them, so I had completely made her day by giving her a whole entire dollar bill. (Doug makes a point of giving her a quarter for each egg, so that she gets a sense of the arithmetic of the exchange.)

Awwwww. So maybe I'm not such a Big Bad Witch after all. Cute kid! I don't bake gingerbread (not after Gingerbread Boy - don't eat me! no, no gingerbread -- ice cream, ice cream!!) but maybe one day I'll lower a basket of banana bread out the aerie window.

Love to all this gorgeous afternoon. Good excuse to run - Stella the Artist is on. XOXOXO, whoever.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A line came to me in a dream last night, words that I read, that floated up illuminated all of a piece like a message in an inky eight-ball. As I came to the surface, floating awake, I managed to capture the line that seemed to me even in my dreams to be meaningful and coherent, and even as it instantly vanished I willed myself to memorize it. Later I jotted it down. "There's a satanic refinement to a sadist's delight." Hunh. There's been a thread of cruelty throughout. My subconscious seems to understand that better than does my ingenuous wakeful side. It's not the same as a cat toying with a mouse or bird. Cats are amoral but I don't expect them to have any capacity for morality.

But all that was later, after dawn. In the wee hours, around quarter to five I leaped out of bed when I heard a yowling catfight outside. I went downstairs, out onto the porch and down the steps, calling after Gwynnie and Rafe. Gwynnie zoomed in - I think she's the one who'd gotten entangled - and Rafe appeared soon after, roused from a different direction - yo what are you doing up, he seemed to ask as he sleepily came up to greet me.

I stood outside in my underwear and sandals, legs bare as a Rockette, microfiber fleece thrown on for warmth and decency. It was beautiful out, predawn but surely near the cutoff of astronomical night, cinematic stars filling the clear black sky, to the south Orion and his belt - and then some - three bright stars in suggestive line - below the line - clearly visible. So easy to anthropomorphize that constellation. I noticed it in my grogginess, and even in grogginess was incredulous. Had I noticed those three stars before, ever? What must the ancient Greeks have thought - just the same as me, I imagined. Unmistakeably phallic. I lingered for a few moments gazing up at the cosmic dust of the Milky Way, marveling, before going back to bed.

I had been wondering about an odd, unpleasant detail I'd read in the Lyndall Gordon that E.D. apparently on at least one occasion drowned some kittens - in a vat of pickle juice, as I recall, or am I making that up? Anyway. I had wondered about that. Even if she was like a "loaded gun" that seemed quite proactively destructive. Even as a crude form of feline population control I couldn't quite reconcile E.D.'s committing such a quick, brutal act.

But someone on the Secret Life of E.D. facebook page offered an explanation that instantly made sense to me: E.D. loved birds so much that the thought of cats so wantonly instantly destroying them was very upsetting to her. Birds trumped kittens.

I remembered a small incident one evening last winter. I was home, there was snow on the ground, I stepped out on the porch for some reason, perhaps to glance up at the stars. And I saw a small dead bird lying on the porch and the cats, Claire I think, looking all smug. It was such a shock to me to see this tiny perfectly intact beautiful little bird. It's as though it had dropped dead - it wasn't mauled in any way, it didn't seem to me. I blamed the cats and honestly, for an instant felt murderous towards them (not acted on in the slightest way, mind you, but just so helpless and angry), but at the same time it seemed so odd that there would be a tiny dead bird on the porch after dark. Perhaps the cats weren't to blame, they don't actually seem that into birds, they're more mousers.

I remember the bird as being perfectly beautiful - and blue in color. I think I immediately associated it with E.D. It was night, and it was cold, and god knows I'd had at least one glass of wine at that hour, but I took a trowel and eased the tiny corpse onto it and took it into the vegetable patch and placed it on top of a shoebox sized planter that D had constructed in which we had planted carrots. I placed the peaceful, perfect little bird on top of the cap of snow on what now seemed to be - or instantly became - its coffin. The bird looked beautiful there, in a way, a perfect deceased being laid on the snow. I wished for it to be able to repose there, decompose, so I think (I don't remember clearly after all this time) may have laid over it some evergreen branches and leaves.

It's funny, the bird has become anthropomorphized for me - I picture it smiling in closed-eyed repose, strange how in my imagination it merges with some illustrated image of E.D.

I know I sound crazy. I don't mean to. I'm perfectly fine. It's just that even as the instant unfolded that freezing dark night, it felt poetic and profound right then. I knew that I needed to write about it, but it was so strange, and came to me all at once, that I didn't quite know how to start - so I never did, until now.

Women of Note is on now, with the wonderful Jerrice and her inspired selections. I wonder if it was a Sunday evening that I found this poor little bluebird. It may have been. I don't think the cats had killed it. But for some reason it - this poor lost bird - wound up on our porch, for me to find, and relate to, and interpret, and lay to rest in the crunching snow and the freezing air and the porch light on and the stars blazing in the bright winter sky.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

5:05 p.m. Thank you, you.

Beautiful late afternoon. Up in the aerie opening up an email from Omi Writers Colony, located a couple of miles down a couple of country roads from me. Reading next Saturday. I think I'll go. Sounds really good. I went to one last fall, which I enjoyed very much. And it's not a BBQ so much as a really lovely catered spread.

Trying to get my Head on Straight, as the Graham Parker song goes. Went for a long walk this morning with the weights. The meadow, so vast and lightly curved that one almost has the impression that it reflects the curvature of the earth, which in recent days, weeks, has been resplendent with goldenrod and asters of various sorts has been completely shorn, mowed down. It's a bit of a shock to see it so denuded. I'm going to trust that the land conservancy people know what they're doing, that it's ultimately for the health of the meadow. Still, since it is so particularly beautiful this time of year - I wish they could have waited. Did it break the tractor operator's heart to clearcut like that? For some reason I think he's English, and I think he knows what he's doing. With one path, for example, he's formed the path not as a straight line, but as a gentle beckoning curve. Also, once he was mowing the regular narrow paths as I was walking and he stopped the motor as I passed which wasn't strictly necessary, but I thought was a very nice gesture. Anyway - I'll just have to trust that somehow it was necessary, and all for the best. I wonder about little animals though, too. What are they going to do without the meadow? Ah well - there's always next spring.

Spent some time this afternoon skimming the first half of a book entitled Trickster Makes This World: How Disruptive Imagination Creates Culture, by Lewis Hyde - in the American form, charming, sexy, boundary busting confidence men of sorts with voracious appetites and a talent to trap and to toy and to evade and to prevaricate. I am constitutionally not at all like that - but I had a fatal attraction to one, once in my youth, revived more recently. And plowed under again.

I love the energy of that sort, and of course creativity abounds, and achievement, and charm, and erotic energy, and all the rest. The only "but" I have is the casualties in their wake. At the moment - me, not that a large part of my hurt isn't self-inflicted. Look - I'm 51 - why can I never be brisk & dismissive?

I think about this on a scalar level. I'm reminded of how an aspect of the United States has aspects of the "adventurer" about it - bold, assertive, asserting narratives, making all sorts of messes, cutting and running, keeping up appearances where necessary. I mean, aspects of our government have been doing this for a long time, especially in recent foreign war adventures. And somehow there's something so seductive about that swashbuckling about the world. Individuals are like that - and whole countries too. I have this theory that that's why people get selected to go to certain colleges or universities. The sortings and selections are useful on some level. The guy I am/was fatally attracted to has - all matters of intelligence and intellect aside - a certain kind of very particular psychological profile that I think even in his prep school youth must have been perceived as especially useful in a particular kind of way - that something in his personality reflects a certain kind of American assertive adventurousness.

I know I'm babbling and I'm not going to return to fix this post a hundred times.

I myself graduated from a very illustrious college - but sometimes (even though I actually transferred, didn't even start out there!) feel that I was one of their "mistakes." I don't mean that so literally, they knew what they were doing accepting me (I'm not from a wealthy family, either) - but there's a certain form of achievement that certain colleges of this Ivy/Seven Sister type that I think they're just better at.

I don't know. Of course it doesn't matter anymore in the slightest. And I'm grateful - most certainly - for my education. But if you're a liquidy sort of reflective person such as myself - well, there's no use trying to make me over into a high-powered achiever of the usual ascendant sort.

Wow, this nation of baby-boomers. There's a whole huge demographic of us out there, too many to become so redundant. What's going to happen? If we're not the Kick-Ass High Achieving Sorts, we're not wanted. And yet, in our age group (50-plus) in some ways we're just coming into our own...

Anyway, I don't mean this as a big huge policy discussion. I mean - there's a seductive allure to the United States (or was) when you're, say - well I don't know, I wish Mr. Judt were around to supply the postwar European country to complete the analogy.

I'm a first generation Polish American, born of traumatized parents who were doubly, trebly or more exiled after European (and Kazakstanian labor camped) childhoods at war. There was nothing in my upbringing, from what my parents had experienced and could possibly offer, that prepared me for the American adventurer.

Launching this as is, with photos from the garden this late afternoon. Sweet dreams, dear all.


Friday, September 17, 2010

From #612, by Emily Dickinson
It would have starved a Gnat --
To live so small as I --
And yet I was a living Child --
With Food's necessity
***
The gnat starved.
The formal feeling came.

***
Feeling encased in sticky gummy spider webbing. I'm not dead. I feel paralyzed. I think of Tony Judt struggling with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), the slow, inexorable corporeal entombment. On Charlie Rose, in his last interview before he died Judt stated that he had found solace in a line of poetry of Emily Dickinson -- "After great pain, a formal feeling comes" -- that spoke to him as a piece of crucial, credible guidance in the face of his catastrophic illness. His body immobilized but mind as ever vividly intact, aided by her gently assuring words that at once acknowledged suffering and promised release, Judt in time came to accept that the only available way for him to tolerably live would be to resolutely be of mind, to dwell within it, to in some sense purposefully transcend the betraying body.

It feels a little improper to make this analogy (I don't wish to sound either presumptuous or self-dramatizing) but in thinking of Mr. Judt and what he endured, these days I've been feeling as though - metaphorically speaking - I have emotional ALS. That is, I feel pricked, straitjacketed, frozen - after the great pain. That's the "formal feeling" I feel - as though vaulted tomb doors have swung closed on me with an echoing thud followed by silence. The great pain, or any more of it, is intolerable. Something shuts down.

I leave. Part of me steps away.

***
He toyed with me for a long time, which I willingly tolerated. I took comfort in his regular page hits (near-daily when he was home and even when he wasn't) and the delusion that he cared about me helped me through the days. Last week in Brooklyn, alone and feeling lonely, and missing his page hits which seemed sporadic that week, in a moment of weakness I emailed him asking for a bit of news and saying that I could use a hug and a kiss. He responded in his nowadays brief and utterly bland fashion, stating that he'd been out of town, here this day, there that, as one might note in a ledger, and that he had checked in on my blog. No hug or kiss, and as usual - since he long ago stopped writing effusive love letters to me - so free of meaningful content (e.g., impressions, anecdote) that what few of his short, dutiful, empty messages there have been in many months have represented a near-total news blackout of his life.

The answer felt so impersonal and inadequate that I replied to express my annoyance, calling him out on the perfunctory nature of his messages. Without a word he instantly dismissed me. I haven't heard from him since.

Petty and vain, it seems to me, considering our long history, and after so many months of his regularly lighting on my blog, about which incidentally he has never said a single word. Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive? He's a published author - I'm certain that affirmations of various kinds are vital to him - oxygen for any writer. I could have used an occasional (or just one) warm word about my blog - especially from him.

It's been painful, his summarily cutting me off like that - but there's a sensible part of me (the part that steps away) that is not sorry it happened. It's a reckoning. I've gotten a good glimpse behind the mirror.


At the same time I take a look at myself. Of course I deserve better.

I thought about discontinuing my blog, maybe starting another, but that seemed awkward and why cede it anyway, and most especially because I am very grateful for my steady readers - I don't wish to lose you.

I refuse to succumb to that horrible formal feeling of numb paralysis. This gnat is wresting out of the spider's hardened embalming fluid and breaking herself free.

So all that said, and towards that end: Good Morning Darlings - and pusillanimous bastard.

***
#341, by Emily Dickinson
After great pain, a formal feeling comes --
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs --
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round --
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought --
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone --

This is the Hour of Lead --
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow --
First -- Chill -- then Stupor -- then the letting go --


Comment from "d'opele" on Salon.com, in response to "White Men Seeking Sexy Asian Women," June 18, 2009
Slightly obsessed
I feel a little obsessed with this subject as it has tangentially touched my life. I'm a caucasian female American. Over 30 years ago I fell in love with my first boyfriend. The love, as long as it lasted, was mutual. I was an erotic ideal for him. But I remember him mentioning, even as I lay in his arms, that he had another ideal - an "Asian ideal." I felt stung to the quick by this - I could never ever become Asian for him. We broke up, he went on to a shortlived marriage - which ended when, while still married, he had an affair with a Japanese American woman, whom after a messy divorce he eventually married. I've never met her. They've been married for well over 20 years now. About a year ago he and I got back in touch. I have been in a somewhat vulnerable emotional state due to trying personal circumstances. We rekindled a rather steamy epistolary relationship, and my feelings for him were rekindled. He told me that he has no intention of leaving his wife, that he finds his marriage "comfortable" despite its being entirely sexless. ("I haven't so much as kissed my wife in years," he said.) At the same time, to my growing horror he let me know that throughout the entire course of his marriage he has carried on affair after affair after affair. He has arranged and compartmentalized his life so that his marriage and family life are insulated from the double life he leads. I realize now that my first boyfriend, now an aging middle aged man, is a classic highlevel narcissist, nothing more than a serial philanderer sex & romance addict. I am very disappointed though resigned to have come to this realization. But I still wonder, and this is what bothers me: that he knew beforehand that he had an "Asian ideal" and I believe that's the type whom he intended to marry all along. Is it possibly racist to have this a priori requirement in mind? To me it's not as though he fell in love with a woman who happened to be Japanese.

I also often wonder if his wife is aware of his double life. He has told me some self-serving rationalizing theories about how only in Western cultures do people expect to successfully combine marriage with romance & sex. Perhaps he married his "Asian ideal" because he has a business-like contract relationship with her (they are the very image of professional success and propriety I'm sure) while he carries on on the side. However, he goes to pains to shield her from his philandering. Culturally I suppose she's more American. If culturally she were Japanese then perhaps he wouldn't have to so carefully conceal his tracks from her - she would expect him to have sex & romance outside the marriage. He says that, ironically, she is terrified that one day he will leave her, just as she feels she stole him away from his first (caucasian) wife.

I don't know. Sometimes I think it's all tied up with his high-level narcissism. He's a conqueror of worlds, of sorts, very very accomplished. Marrying an Asian, in his particular case. Is it a symbol of cultural imperialism? I wonder.—d'opele

Comment in response to"d'opele," June 18, 2009
d'opele
Do you realize how lucky you are to have escaped from this prick? Why think of him? Forget about all the asian/white garbage and just find a decent man.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Back home in the 12534-3203 where it has turned quite autumnal in the week that I was gone. Chilly nights, I've tossed on an extra blanket, sleep now in a tee, Claire joining me in the middle of the night for warmth. Here and there maples are turning red, asters are in full ragged force at the conservation area, the apple tree is laden with ripe red fruit, and ornamental grasses in our garden are flowering in long silvered feathery fronds - I'd forgotten they do that, a nice September surprise, along with the autumn sedum which after a long nascence in which it resembled a row of blanched broccoli has finally turned rosy pink.

Before leaving the city on Saturday I did manage to get in one bit of "culture." I stopped by the New York Society Library, located in an elegant limestone manse on East 79th Street (between Madison and Park), to catch the exhibit on the authors Shirley Hazzard and Francis Steegmuller, who were married to each other (they wed in 1963; Steegmuller died in 1994). As exhibits go, it wasn't so much of one - four small flat cases, two in an upstairs hall, another pair in an adjoining salon. But I enjoyed it immensely, it was quite transporting, and I was delighted to discover this special library whose secrets I have not begun to plumb, but is one of those magical vestiges of old, genteel, literary New York that I had assumed had long since (in public form, at least) all but vanished.

I examined the cases and jotted a few notes, impressions that registered most strongly. One case displayed a selection of first editions of some of Hazzard's novels, along with well-written curatorial notes that offered interesting tidbits (I think of the Polish word, czekawostki - "interestings"). In The Transit of Venus, for example, Hazzard wrote, "the tragedy is not that love doesn't last. The tragedy is the love that lasts." Of course I wrote that down. So true, and my problem - precisely.

The tidbits I noted are so random! Francis Steegmuller was a translator and biographer of Flaubert, Guy deMaupassant too I think, and one of the curatorial notes read that deMaupassant (whose stories I haven't read since I was a child) was a disciple of Flaubert's and that he died of syphilis. (Which, knowing nothing of de Maupassant, suggests a profligate lifestyle - but what if it's like a clueless teen becoming pregnant - but we did it only once, standing up.) I think there was also a deMaupassant quote that I didn't jot down, something to the effect of, boy I sure wish I'd had a quarter of the talent of Flaubert. Poor guy, whatever his story is. The exorbitant prices one must pay for kisses. (I myself have been doing without - which exacts an intolerable price of its own.)

Steegmuller, along with his scholarly authorial ventures, also penned mystery novels, and his wife Shirley Hazzard observed, "Francis liked to amuse himself writing mysteries. It was as if he had a secret life." Love the "as if." Reminded me, of course, of you, with your secret life, you fan of Ian Fleming you, whose books, you felt, were more interesting than the recursive movies, and which, looking back, I think inspired you more than I will ever know.

After examining the cases in the dim, shadowed hall (lit as I recall with an ancient ornate fixture that dropped from the ceiling like an enormous spider) I faced the massive dark wood doors to the salon, turned a knob, pushed, and slipped inside, entering a large, light, high-ceilinged room that gave an instant impression of peaceful, opulent elegance. An entire wall was devoted to (unexpectedly I thought) shelves upon shelves of antique porcelain wares. Placed about the room were library tables arrayed with an inviting abundance of journals, magazines, and fresh newspapers, along with a number of comfortable upholstered chairs on a couple of which, in separate corners, napped in dustmoted silence middle-aged poetic sorts (or so I imagined), of pale, sensitive appearance, limbs in elegant fold and drape even in sleep, as if tubercular inmates in a Swiss sanatorium taking the rest cure on this brilliant September afternoon.

Here I marveled at a communication to Steegmuller from William Maxwell, the New Yorker editor - a Western Union message that read, in its entirety, "THE FLAUBERT INTRODUCTION IS A MASTERPIECE OF CRITICAL WRITING." Imagine getting such a telegram. What grand style! Oh what a vanished Atlantis of genteel and utterly fantastic expressive gestures!

What else? There was a letter, by either Hazzard or Steegmuller, elegant notepaper embossed with an East 66th Street address, whatever content beautifully and tangibly having been typed on a manual typewriter - the single filled sheet a lovely object in itself, with mixed indentations of the imprinted keys on the page - so direct, so personal. It instantly called to mind the wonderful correspondence I had with your mother - so literary herself, of course - for some years - how I looked forward to her haphazardly typed envelopes (with my first name too often misspelled - she had her blind spots) - anyway, her letters couldn't have been more charming and amusing (as she was in person - look - she wasn't my mother), and another thought that comes up (as I still have her letters) is - did my side of the correspondence survive? I wonder if she saved my letters (she strikes me as the sort of person, or at least of the era, that saved everything). So I wonder - is such a cache of letters in your possession, perhaps? It's just nice to think that there might be. Those letters were innocent enough, certainly. There were so many love letters from you that I burned, literally, in extreme attempts at wholesale riddance, purification. I burned a pile of them in the blacktopped asphalt lot behind my old elementary school (in broad daylight, on the very spot where in kindergarten I had sat in a circle and played "duck duck goose" hoping desperately not to be the "goose" and wondering what the game meant; a dozen or two feet away from where, a decade and change later, cops had once shined a flashlight into your car on us but blessedly (if pruriently) left us alone). There was a thick stack of them, and I think it was before I had taken up smoking so I was still afraid of matches, but not so afraid that I didn't spread the pages out and light the corners. I was by myself in this vast desolate bleak asphalt near the kindergarten windows (not many windows far from Mrs. Elliott's second-grade classroom either, to whom I had lamented, complaining of Dick & Jane primers, that I was capable of remembering a sentence that began on one page and that might carry over to a next) and as the flames lit and began to burn the papers written front and back in your fine even hand I sat bent on my knees meditating the proper ambivalent devotionals (goodbye once and for all you rotten adored...) and a good friend of my little brother's happened by. I've forgotten his name, but I think he and my brother were in no more than sixth grade or so. He looked at the blaze and at me, wide-eyed. What are you doing?, he queried his friend's older sister. Burning love letters, I replied. I'll never forget the expression on his face - he was very suitably impressed.

Kisses, my Chief Tormentor.

I will let this fly unedited at the moment - please try to imagine it as a letter typed on the exuberant, loving fly on an ancient Underwood...