May 8, 2009 § 3 Comments

I’m sure there are many cats who would enjoy the raw chicken cutlets beauty contestants stuff in their bras (before they can afford  boob jobs), but my cat likes my hands. He bites the knuckles and the wrists. Today he was pulling up the loose skin on the back of my hands and nipping it, as if to say, See, a little nip and tuck is in order.

He’s decided he likes sleeping in bed with me, which means I get strange dreams when he walks across my body in the middle of the night. Whatever story I’m spinning has to suddenly incorporate nurses or bullies. Last night I was in a supermarket and got into a fight with a young man who was poking me, and ended up with a fat lip (the cat walking on my back started the fight, but the fat lip was my guilty imagination).

And on the theme of small woes, I ran out of Wellbutrin because I procrastinated on emailing the doctor, and to convince myself I wasn’t missing anything went online to look up all its evil side effects. Some sites say, Insomnia, weight loss, increased sexual appetite; some list every affliction known to man, from boils to cancer. It was a fascinating compendium, but I don’t feel I’m dying this week, so I’ve whittled my likely symptoms to carbohydrate craving, yawning, forgetfulness, and feeling like I’ve received a thunderbolt to the head.

Okay, the last one is more desired than apparent. At best I feel a mild sizzle along the outer neurons when I see the bright spring green all this rain has produced.

There’s a beautiful and sad article about Gerard Manley Hopkins in The New Yorker this week, on the occasion of a new biography. His unhappiness is obvious in his work, and I knew something about his life—the constraints of the priesthood, and the belief that his writing was frivolous and self-indulgent. I didn’t know how little regarded he was in his lifetime, as priest or poet, though apparently everyone liked him as a man.

“His soul was too delicate for the rough work we do,” said a fellow Jesuit. Too bad he wasn’t born to the circle of Emerson and Emily Dickinson. Apparently he felt the most kinship with Walt Whitman, which he thought shameful, “Since he is a very great scoundrel.” Yes, I think he needed Walt on one side, Emily on the other. Religion didn’t do much for him except exert so much pressure that he seized on nature as the only acceptable tangible recipient of his passion—and even then he felt guilty. And it wasn’t enough.

Notice how this poem descends into despair


Nothing is so beautiful as spring—

  When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

  Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

  The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush

  The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?

  A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,

  Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,

Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,

  Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.


I didn’t like spring when I was young—too much prettiness and cheer; I felt out of place in it. Autumn was my season. I couldn’t imagine ever liking anything as much as October in the country. But now I prefer spring. I love the blossoming trees, and tulips, and the electric green and even the rain. I like walking after rain toward the river where the streets get more crooked and there’s always a new café to discover. It makes me happy to imagine who lives in all the brownstones with their aprons of steps and Joseph Cornell gardens.

I saw Lisa for dinner and she was trying to figure out why my life isn’t more abundant. It’s too much to explain—it would take a novel of the sort nobody reads anymore. Temperament, circumstance, trauma, choice; choice is the mystery. We also talked about spiritual knowledge. She was struck by and keeps returning to my statement that I don’t expect to ever understand life, that I don’t think it’s possible. She says that she can’t anticipate what she will know 2 or 10 years from now.

I can see why she thinks I’m shutting down possibility, and in fact I would rather feel open to dreams, visions, revelatory conversations and intuitions. I don’t know why it seems so important to think about limits. I’m fascinated by the brain science being done now, yes, and I’m slowly preparing for death and the small deaths of permanent disappointment in love and work.

But I don’t discount change. Do I? I’m not sure. I’m afraid to get my hopes up, in one sense, but in another I feel like I’m living on hope, nothing else, and perhaps that’s the secret; I feel guilty for being so vulnerable and won’t allow myself to see it as juice and joy.

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