Rambling Confessional

May 22, 2012 § 2 Comments

Kitsune, Japanese fox spirit, able to take human form

Cat purring in my ear, rainy day, got some work done on the mystery. I need to write about stained glass windows, immigration, bad sex; and make travel plans to visit my mother. Instead what do I do? Visit the traps in my brain, the ones with the siren songs, get caught as always, have to break the spell and crawl out, muttering, “Why do I keep thinking there’s gold in there…I know it’s only Lucite, empty shells, carnivorous mice…”

I’ve been spending time on the Facebook page for the Woodstock Country School, where I was too briefly a student, expelled for loneliness. I’ve never been around as many interesting people in my life as I was that year, not in Berkeley, not in New York. As adults, they seem no less interesting, though my contact so far is tentative.

Everything is tentative now, postponed, done incrementally. My friend Amelia used to say, “I thought about calling you and then I thought I had.” I’m not quite there yet, but almost. I think about calling, writing, doing something, and it seems like progress. I daydream. Then suddenly I sit down and write 3000 words. The cats applaud. I stop to think.

Extreme shyness led to loneliness led to alcohol led to expulsion and a spring and summer idle at home in New Hampshire where we had recently moved and knew no one, my brother and I. Johnny had been coincidentally expelled the same semester (different school, different offense), and my not-to-pleased mother and stepfather were our only companions. Actually, my stepfather didn’t give a shit, though he pretended he did. He liked the drama. He liked playing “father,”—a very sparsely imagined “father” of his own invention—though not even that much with his own kids.

Johnny and I spent afternoons smoking pot down by the creek, having our first semi-adult conversations. We discussed the parents of course, and cautiously told each other our tales of school. I’d sleep late then lie on the couch reading about witchcraft and ESP, which I tried and tried but could never make work. The high point of the summer was a three-day visit from my friend Jerome (also expelled from Woodstock; it was something in the water), both of us confused about how to relate without the surrounding gaudy circus of the school. Lying side by side on my bed, discussing why it felt weird to kiss, when it hadn’t on the dorm stairs. Actually, I had some ideas about why it felt weird, but was anxious about how and how many of these ideas to introduce.

My mother came in to tell me my stepfather thought we shouldn’t be on the bed, even though we were fully clothed. “We’re talking about important things,” I said.

Woodstock was where the very smart, creative kids without unblemished records went. I wanted to go to Putney, like Mary Kennedy, but didn’t get in. My PSAT scores were never lived up to, partly because I was lazy and crazy, and partly because I loved learning so much, and wanted to say what I wanted to say so badly, that I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what my teachers wanted. It wasn’t dinned into me that I should get straight A’s. I think my mother was so convinced of her children’s brilliance that she didn’t care what the schools thought, and she had no idea that admittance to college in 1972 would be ferociously competitive. You’d think my trouble getting into boarding school would have taught both of us a lesson, but we were in difficult periods in my life, my mother and I, she in her new marriage, me plunging into sex, that ‘sufficient unto the day’ was the best we could manage.

Also, regarding grades, there was the shyness thing. I could never go ask a teacher why a grade was low, what I had done wrong. I can remember sitting at my desk thinking about it; envisioning every step I would take; the moment the teacher would notice I wasn’t going out the door but had turned toward him; his questioning face; my searing blush and the pounding in my ears; the hideous vulnerability of asking for help. After rehearsing it a few times, I’d get up and leave.

I’d arrive home angry at my cowardice, refuse to help my mother vacuum because somehow it was all her fault, then hide in my room knowing I was a failure on all counts but maybe it would be okay when I was a famous writer and everyone looked back, amazed that they’d had a genius in their midst and never known it. And my mom would forgive me for being a bad daughter.

Janet Frame wrote about this kind of shyness, although hers was much worse. Her prose is precise and lucid, and I find it unbearably painful. I just read an obit of her, to refresh my memory, and it praised her “lightness of touch” in the autobiography (the middle volume An Angel at My Table was made into the film of the same name by Jane Campion). To me the light was a glare; it was the light they leave on in interrogation rooms; it was the truth that annihilates. But then extreme shyness, to those who have no idea what it’s like, has a mystery and charm—the hidden person, the fear that is so much like desire, that is in fact desire; the possibility of opening the box—that those who have experienced it can only feel baffled by.

“You’re shy,” people used to croon: how cute it was, how modestly girlish! I was like a fawn they could coax to eat tidbits from their hands. I wanted to bite their fingers off. I wanted to proclaim that I was not sweet, nor modest, nor girlish: I was a dirty-minded homicidal multi-sexed monstrosity, and what the fuck is it to you, anyway, asshole? You looking at me?

Well, of course I drank. Crème de menthe, watching TV in the late afternoon/evening, staining my teeth green. And the rest of the time impersonating a pretty girl who liked wine and sleeping with boys, who intimidated them with her sexual forthrightness, and went home with their confessions of feeling—I don’t mean about me—like smooth stones striped with minerals. Boys showed their souls during sex in those days. I don’t know if they do now.

And if I woke up and the day promised solitude, I would into slip into my daytime skin as if into that of a kitsune, read poetry, wander outside into the light or clouds or wind, staring at the lovely edges of things. There was so much me, a superabundance I never communicated and which now is now a fossil in the museum I visit when I write to you, dear readers.

Woodstock is a key to that whole period because I was there so briefly, left so unwillingly. It was what I was and what I wasn’t: the brilliant (in brains or personality) talkative kids were the siblings who didn’t know me, the kind of person I could be if I wasn’t impaired. I soaked them up. “You’re always watching,” Jerome told me.

I couldn’t tell him what I saw, how glorious he was with his dirty blond hair and sardonic grin, how glorious they all were, 16 year old barefoot goddesses and boys like sidekick charmers in Shakespeare.

I want to write about all of it, and my 20s, and the last 12 years. The missed opportunities, the mistakes and losses—in books, you know, failures and disasters are the interesting parts. I’ve been a writer for decades. Perhaps it’s time to actually become a book, and care only about what’s new, striking, active; what’s changed or revealed. Not what feels good or hurts. Sounds challenging, doesn’t it? Life is kicking me in that direction with big boots.

But listen to Robert Creeley, whose birthday was yesterday, who’s dead now and was great and saw mercilessly.

Age

Most explicit–
the sense of trap

as a narrowing
cone one’s got

stuck into and
any movement

forward simply
wedges once more–

but where
or quite when,

even with whom,
since now there is no one

quite with you–Quite? Quiet?
English expression: Quait?

Language of singular
impedance? A dance? An

involuntary gesture to
others not there? What’s

wrong here? How
reach out to the

other side all
others live on as

now you see the
two doctors, behind

you, in mind’s eye,
probe into your anus,

or ass, or bottom,
behind you, the roto-

rooter-like device
sees all up, concludes

“like a worn-out inner tube,”
“old,” prose prolapsed, person’s

problems won’t do, must
cut into, cut out . . .

The world is a round but
diminishing ball, a spherical

ice cube, a dusty
joke, a fading,

faint echo of its
former self but remembers,

sometimes, its past, sees
friends, places, reflections,

talks to itself in a fond,
judgemental murmur,

alone at last.
I stood so close

to you I could have
reached out and

touched you just
as you turned

over and began to
snore not unattractively,

no, never less than
attractively, my love,

my love–but in this
curiously glowing dark, this

finite emptiness, you, you, you
are crucial, hear the

whimpering back of
the talk, the approaching

fears when I may
cease to be me, all

lost or rather lumped
here in a retrograded,

dislocating, imploding
self, a uselessness

talks, even if finally to no one,
talks and talks.

Robert Creeley

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§ 2 Responses to Rambling Confessional

  • Charles says:

    Amelia. I remember her back in the ‘eighties at MoMA. A few thirty second conversations on the employee elevator; humorous, strong personality. Young, beautiful dark eyes and jet black hair. I love that quote about confusing thought and reality. Sounds like a character from Oliver Sacks.

    Creeley. I remember an afternoon reading at the West End Cafe. His intense one eye as he mesmerized us. It was just after we had met Charlie Parker’s piano player Al Haig who we quickly warmed up to and invited to visit us in New Hampshire. Never followed through because my philosopher friend at the cafe told us Haig had been accused of murdering his wife. I was still interested, but you said ‘no way’. I wanted to jam with him on your mother’s Steinway grand.

  • Rick Farrar says:

    biology teacher – never thought you were shy, or weird, or monster behind dark glass dimly – just a neat person. glad i knew you know you though you don’t me. Who you were are meant lots to me, and thanks for the year. :-)

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