March 26, 2013 § 2 Comments
I’ve been having a lot of chocolate cravings lately, hardly unusual. What’s irritating is that once I eat the chocolate, the really fabulous brownie from Pain Quotidian, I don’t feel any different. I expect a surge of energy and hope, compassion for the universe of trees, turtles, moss, leopards, snakes and worthwhile humans—and curiosity about the stars, those indifferent hotheads—and reverence for the ancient Mayans. Is this asking too much? I don’t think so.
Charles was in N.H. this week with the too-adorable grandchildren, who now live in a 4,000 square-foot house while their father celebrates financial success by investing in craft beer; I stayed home to work and bask (or rot) in solitude. I enjoyed my birthday phone calls, cards and Facebook messages: thanks to all of you who remembered. Last Saturday, Lisa served me duck and chocolate cake and champagne and gave me a beautiful leather shoulder bag. Our friendship has survived a lot of challenges, which I’m kind of proud of. We both treasure loyalty, even if she has a secret suspicion that one day I’ll feed her to alligators. I won’t.
Then—oh, there are never words to describe this—a depression came in the window and settled over my head and neck and proceeded to poke at me like harpies with shining needles knitting my intestines, while cackling over crude human jokes (like Polish jokes, but worse). It’s so humiliating. I cry and flail about and blow my nose and yell at the cats. I make endless budgets,
daydream about sweepstakes and lotteries, and time passes like ice melting. Like the Arctic ice melting which hardly anyone realizes is going to change our lives hugely very soon. I’m in denial too, it’s just that my denial is fed by learning all the parameters of disaster. I’m allowed to deny hope and feel the saner for it.
After the ice melt (the metaphorical one), there’s the climb back up. I can identify various “problems,” or triggers, none of which by itself is insurmountable, but which combined can seem so…but what can I do? The Little Engine That Could did and spewed carbon everywhere. No, that makes no sense. Contextually daft. Stick to the basics.
The difference between now and 20 years ago (besides the doleful specifics of want and want), is that my brain hates me because I haven’t used it properly. There’s a troll in the very back of the beyond who hoped to be king of…something…and now isn’t, so he floods the front rooms with evil chemicals. What can a first-generation SSRI do against such a being? He eats his own teeth and fashions new ones out of my backbone. My backbone replenishes itself with wads of pale words, sticky with garlic sauce, from commercial dumpsters.
According to something I read, which I am not going to confess to reading, middle-aged audiences are not interested in fantasy. They’re more interested in real life drama: how I made my first billion or why the kids have gone mute. But I like harpies, trolls and other monsters. They remind me of me. I don’t see them as frightening or grandly powerful, like angels. Monsters are just threats and slobber. Company.
Writing fiction (about people!) used to keep me company. Sitting down at my typewriter in the morning I felt the very antithesis of lonely. Creating characters and making them talk was a quietly ecstatic event: like a dream of flying, like a summer party after a few drinks, like a walk in new, deep woods, the path winding. Now I bring my coffee and laptop to bed, check email, surf, read the papers, chase job listings & clinical trials paying money, a million other things…and hours pass and I need a walk and then lunch and tea and now chocolate and here I am not really writing again.
Y’all see this as writing, I know. Thank you.
Sometimes I read blog entries by other writers talking about the pleasures of middle age—the honed struggle and deep satisfaction of writing, the sweet/sad of parenthood, the lessening of anxiety. The kids are smart, the husband kind, the drinks cold. The gentle fifties are a golden, gauzy letting go of terror, and I think: Yeah, that’s great, but you call that a life? This is a life, battling on the knife-edge, the cliff edge, the doom edge, still seeing my creative potential as a magical snow-globe village almost too far out of reach.
You understand, I only entertain this odd perspective about twice a year, so I’m not questioning it.
I know exactly what it’s like to be a young writer testing her talent and getting praise for it. I know what it’s like to be older and think, “He/she isn’t nearly as good as I could be if I wrote as well as I’m capable of.…” It’s a delicate balance here, the cliché of regret not yet firmed, shivering like chilling jello. I’m not caught in it …I don’t think….
Seeing Charles after an absence makes me feel young again. He comes in with love pouring off his face—the phrase “wreathed in smiles” makes more sense when the face is older—and this is so familiar; I remember many reunions when he looked just like this from the 90’s 80’s, 70’s. I’m also involved in a top-secret 6-week clinical trial that’s youthening* my skin. The doctor said he thought I looked a lot better than two weeks ago. Charles said, “Your skin looks younger but it doesn’t look like your skin anymore. It’s like there’s a fake, smoother skin on top of your skin.”
He’ll never leave me for a younger woman.
* I coined this word; you’re welcome to it.
The Glass Essay
Mornings when I meditated
I was presented with a nude glimpse of my lone soul,
not the complex mysteries of love and hate.
But the Nudes are still as clear in my mind
as pieces of laundry that froze on the clothesline overnight.
There were in all thirteen of them.
Nude #2. Woman caught in a cage of thorns.
Big glistening brown thorns with black stains on them
where she twists this way and that way
unable to stand upright.
Nude #3. Woman with a single great thorn implanted in her forehead.
She grips it in both hands
endeavouring to wrench it out.
Nude #4. Woman on a blasted landscape
backlit in red like Hieronymus Bosch.
Covering her head and upper body is a hellish contraption
like the top half of a crab.
With arms crossed as if pulling off a sweater
she works hard at dislodging the crab.
It was about this time
I began telling Dr. Haw
about the Nudes. She said,
When you see these horrible images why do you stay with them?
Why keep watching? Why not
go away? I was amazed.
Go away where? I said.
This still seems to me a good question.
But by now the day is wide open and a strange young April light
is filling the moor with gold milk.
I have reached the middle
where the ground goes down into a depression and fills with swampy water.
It is frozen.
A solid black pane of moor life caught in its own night attitudes.
Certain wild gold arrangements of weed are visible deep in the black.
Four naked alder trunks rise straight up from it
and sway in the blue air. Each trunk
where it enters the ice radiates a map of silver pressures—
thousands of hair-thin cracks catching the white of the light
like a jailed face
catching grins through the bars.
Emily Brontë has a poem about a woman in jail who says
A messenger of Hope, comes every night to me
And offers, for short life, eternal Liberty.
I wonder what kind of Liberty this is.
Her critics and commentators say she means death
or a visionary experience that prefigures death.
They understand her prison
as the limitations placed on a clergyman’s daughter
by nineteenth-century life in a remote parish on a cold moor
in the north of England.
They grow impatient with the extreme terms in which she figures prison life.
“In so much of Brontë’s work
the self-dramatising and posturing of these poems teeters
on the brink of a potentially bathetic melodrama,”
says one. Another
refers to “the cardboard sublime” of her caught world.
I stopped telling my psychotherapist about the Nudes
when I realized I had no way to answer her question,
Why keep watching?
Some people watch, that’s all I can say.
There is nowhere else to go,
no ledge to climb up to.
Perhaps I can explain this to her if I wait for the right moment,
as with a very difficult sister.
“On that mind time and experience alone could work:
to the influence of other intellects it was not amenable,”
wrote Charlotte of Emily.
I wonder what kind of conversation these two had
over breakfast at the parsonage.
“My sister Emily
was not a person of demonstrative character,” Charlotte emphasizes,
“nor one on the recesses of whose mind and feelings,
even those nearest and dearest to her could,
with impunity, intrude unlicensed. . . .” Recesses were many.
One autumn day in 1845 Charlotte
“accidentally lighted on a MS. volume of verse in my sister Emily’s
It was a small (4 x 6) notebook
with a dark red cover marked 6d.
and contained 44 poems in Emily’s minute hand.
Charlotte had known Emily wrote verse
but felt “more than surprise” at its quality.
“Not at all like the poetry women generally write.”
Further surprise awaited Charlotte when she read Emily’s novel,
not least for its foul language.
She gently probes this recess
in her Editor’s Preface to Wuthering Heights.
“A large class of readers, likewise, will suffer greatly
from the introduction into the pages of this work
of words printed with all their letters,
which it has become the custom to represent by the initial and final letter
line filling the interval.”
Well, there are different definitions of Liberty.
Love is freedom, Law was fond of saying.
I took this to be more a wish than a thought
and changed the subject.
But blank lines do not say nothing.
As Charlotte puts it,
“The practice of hinting by single letters those expletives
with which profane and violent persons are wont to garnish their discourse,
strikes me as a proceeding which,
however well meant, is weak and futile.
I cannot tell what good it does—what feeling it spares—
what horror it conceals.”
I turn my steps and begin walking back over the moor
towards home and breakfast. It is a two-way traffic,
the language of the unsaid. My favourite pages
of The Collected Works Of Emily Brontë
are the notes at the back
recording small adjustments made by Charlotte
to the text of Emily’s verse,
which Charlotte edited for publication after Emily’s death.
“Prison for strongest [in Emily’s hand] altered to lordly by Charlotte.”