Tag Archives: early difficulties

In Favor of Wool-gathering: A Crocheter’s Meditations Upon Both the Craft and Life

Though I begin by entitling this post “In favor of,” in actual fact it might more accurately be termed “for and against,” or “pro and con” due to the fact that nothing in life is perfect and all things have their down sides.  But beginning that way would lack the literary resonance of “in favor of,” which precedes other essays on life of more worth and importance than my modest effort, so I lay what claims for it I can, to belong to that fellowship.  Also, I am taking poetic license by calling it “wool-gathering,” because while this is a noteworthy pun in the case, in actual fact for a lot of people including me, it’s more like “acrylic-gathering,” since I often work in the less soft and more resilient acrylic yarns which are cheaper and bulkier both.  These caveats aside, I can justifiably refer to myself by the crafter’s jolly appellation “a happy hooker” (a bit of a hokey punning cognomen in use since the madam Xaviera Hollander’s bestseller came out in the 1970’s, a name supposedly adding more dash to crochet’s use of a single hook as opposed to the milder knitter’s pun of “knit-wit” for the use of two needles).

And now to begin, actually.  Crochet, like knitting, is a craft which abounds in opportunities for error, because in order to render even the simplest pattern, one must count stitches, so that I can see it being excellent homeopathic therapy for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Or maybe it would be more accurate to say it is probably a good way to acquire a roaring case of said disorder.  One thing’s for sure, unless one has crocheted a good long while and is only doing a simple single crochet or double crochet pattern (two of the basic stitches), it is nearly impossible to carry on an intelligent conversation or watch an exciting television program at the same time.  Such frivolity of approach brings on dropped stitches (missed stitches) and other unintentional and erroneous embellishments of one’s work.  The down side is that one is often working merrily along on a complicated and repetitive pattern, sure that because the repetition has become second nature that one is “sitting pretty” in one’s rocker or easy chair, so to speak, when suddenly two rows from where one made the original error, one discovers a flaw that necessitates the intervening work being pulled out and reworked, with more humility this time.  Probably the best secondary activity is to listen to music of a non-controversial or balmy nature, which is better than Muzak but doesn’t require singing along while muttering to oneself over and over again “one, two, three, four, five, three stitches in that one, one, two, three, four, five, skip two, one, two, three, four, five, three stitches,” etc.  Even classical music could become too disruptive, especially if it is a stirring piece that one feels compelled to hum or utter “ta-da-da” along with.  Many things in life, occupation-wise, call for tedious and unwavering attention to a specific thing, but crocheters (and knitters too) are among the crafters who most needlessly and relentlessly punish themselves with this form of self-abuse as a hobby.

One is also given a lesson about memory.  For example, try to repeat an afghan or piece of clothing that you have done before, and without a written set of instructions with exact stitches recorded (and books of patterns are surprisingly expensive for what they are), you are doomed to hours of frustration.  I have recently learned even more about the faults of memory, the necessity for patience, and the occasional failings of expert advice.  Taking down an afghan that I wanted to repeat but no longer have a pattern for, I looked at the pattern intently and tried to remember just what I’d done.  But memory could only take me so far:  I kept making things that just didn’t resemble what I was looking at.  So, I had to keep trying (patience, jackass, patience).  Then, to my great joy and regret (joy because I found a store pattern which was like part of what I was trying to accomplish, regret that I had to pay so much for it), I noticed after putting in the first row that the pattern writers weren’t perfect either (the limits of experts).  True, they were only a stitch off, but it left me trying to think up clever ways of coming up with the extra needed stitch at the end of the row.  I fudged it, and am proud to say that the gods sometimes aid the diligent and well-intentioned (and sheerly stubborn, or as a British friend of mine used to say, “bloody-minded”–so much more poetic!)

And now, I’m well on my way to accomplishing my goal of figuring out the (as it turns out) quite complicated pattern I once did blithely  in my foolish youth, when success was only a few stitches away, and I had plenty of time and patience, excellent memory and ingenuity.  Creativity, it turns out, can take many forms, and is often made up of these things almost exclusively.  What one realizes with this craft at least is that time is finite, patience and memory often decrease with age, and ingenuity is called upon more frequently to make up for the shortages of the other three.  As one of my favorite refrigerator magnets has it, “Age and guile always overcome youth and skill.”  So now you have it, my completed post.  Last but not least:  this post was inspired by the reflection which visited me this morning that I have obligations willingly incurred to my readers and blogging buddies as well, and it was high time I produced another post.  As to those of you who are waiting for me to respond to their posts, take it as read that i will do so very soon.  Right now, I’m still wool-gathering, and have to finish a bit more in order to be satisfied!


Filed under A prose flourish, Other than literary days....

All ready for Christmas, and in the eye of the storm….

What, my readers may ask, has possessed me to go two weeks without posting a single word on my WordPress.com blog?  Why do I think that people will just wait around and tolerate being neglected?  Have I been sitting around twiddling my thumbs, picking my nose, staring at nothing?  Well, no.  Truth to tell, I’ve been getting ready for Christmas.  And I’ve been getting ready for Christmas for several weeks now, and now have only two gifts left to buy, a huge bone (4 1/2 foot long) for my brother’s hound and something more potable for my brother (shhhh!  don’t anyone tell them–they don’t read my blog).  It has just seemed that every time I think I’m done, I get another great gift idea, and I persuade myself that I can spare the money, and so I do, and there we go.

My adventure started near the end of October, when the first catalogs advertising Christmas items came out.  Forewarned is forearmed, and I had been told that ordering either online or on the phone was going to be drastically slowed this year, and so I looked up interesting gifts in the catalogs in October.  But I didn’t actually buy many gifts in October, because the catalogs hadn’t got the lower or lowest prices yet.  I ordered a few things that might take till forever to come in, and then I waited for the next catalogs to come out, so that I could order from them in November.  Of course, I had some independent ideas which I researched on Amazon.com, and a very few items that I waited until this past week to pick up at the stores in person.  But the predominance of my gifts I was able to order online or on the phone, and I had that done well within the month of November.  Then all I had to do was wait for stuff to come in.

By the first of December, I was ready to wrap, and so I started wrapping.  We put up our tree, and now all of my gifts except the two I mentioned are under the tree, awaiting their inevitable unveiling on Christmas morning.  But there were still cards to do, and I always bake for some people here where I live, and that still needed to be done.  Of course, the cards went by in a flash in one blitz of an evening, and I started doing my bread baking yesterday and stayed up all night finishing it last night (when I get motivated, I get motivated!).  It was made easier (and cheaper) this year because so many people had told me they didn’t want cookies this year.  Usually, I make four kinds, about 24 dozen cookies in all, but this year I settled on loaves of sourdough bread.  This was convenient, as I was already planning to wake up my sourdough starter from its sleep in the fridge in order to take it up to my brother’s for Christmas so that we could make sourdough English muffins.

Since yesterday, I have finished the main part of my baking.  The only people I have still to bake for are the ladies at the local charity shop, for whom we usually do a cookie tray.  I think this year I will do a tray of sourdough bites with cheeses for them, by way of a change for the both of us.  So now, I’m sitting looking at dirty dishes, feeling like I need a good nap after my all-nighter up baking, but still too wired to sleep.  And of course starting last night late or early this morning really, we began to have a nor’easter (a storm off the ocean, full of rain and high winds, with some threats of flooding).  The storm is going to last probably until tomorrow noon, so I have to be ready with towels and things to dry out the windows and sop up water, which is a fortune most people who are anywhere near a coast are familiar with.  But I’m not really complaining; I’m done with so many things, and now I’m just very excited and can’t wait for Christmas to come.

That’s really the way of it, isn’t it?  When you’re young, you generally think of Christmas as a time when you get things from indulgent family members and friends, and it’s a rare child who appreciates the sheer fun of giving.  But once you get to be an adult, the fun is in surprising someone else with something bought or made that they will enjoy or profit from.  So, here I sit, two weeks and two days before Christmas, waiting and waiting and waiting for the big day to come, so that I can celebrate with people I care about.  And all this fooferall of my post is just to assure my readers that they are people I care about too, toward whom I feel I have a responsibility to post regularly and as interestingly as possible, even if I don’t know their names and they never comment.  I hope this posting finds you well and deep in your own plans for whatever winter or December holiday you observe, and waiting eagerly for the next real literary post to come along.  I promise to do one soon, as soon as I have recuperated from my own holiday efforts and have a chance to sit down and read again.  Until then, cheers!


Filed under A prose flourish, Other than literary days....

How Firesign Theater, Stanislavski, and I are (loosely and tangentially) connected….

Let’s start with the facetious, progress to the serious, and then wind down (or up?) with the point of my post for today.  It’s not a long post, in any case, but I hope to raise a few thoughts and speculations about how we bloggers go about blogging and adhering to a schedule of publication even when it’s a gloomy winter and our fingers are a little bit frozen as they peck the keys, and we really haven’t been reading much lately, so we have nothing much to blog about (or at least not if our posts are usually about literature).  What have I been doing instead of blogging and reading good literature, you ask?  Well, I’ve been trying to drag and haul and “unpack” (as Shakespeare somewhere or other would have it) words from my “word hoard” (the ancient Anglo-Saxon for “vocabulary”) to fill the pages of my novel.  I also took time out to watch an opera production over the computer from Met Opera On Demand, “Madama Butterfly,” to be precise.  So it’s not that I’ve been totally unproductive:  I’ve just not fulfilled my (self-appointed) duties as a blogger very well.  But I promised you something facetious, so let’s begin at the beginning.

For those who like comedy routines and have a memory which reaches back a few years, there’s the comedy team called “Firesign Theater,” a group of several talented no-longer-young comedians who by now have cut a number of records, of which I am the proud possessor of about four.  Those who have their spoofy take-down of Shakespeare album (and who still have a turntable to play it on) may well remember, I believe from their jests about weather conditions in “Hamlet” or possibly “Macbeth” on the heath, the immortal lines–delivered in the true ornate Shakespearean manner and accent–“Crack, cheeks; blow, wind,” and other such gems of parodic genius.  There’s also the school adventures of Porgie Tirebiter (a spoof of Archie and Jughead-style teenage fables) from “I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus,” their parody of Sherlock Holmes entitled “The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra,” and the topical albums (they were popular in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s) “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers” and “In the Next World, You’re On Your Own,” to name only the albums I’m personally familiar with.  There are more, which a search on the Internet will turn up.  These four inspired raconteurs of rowdy routines were (and I hope still are) Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman, and Philip Proctor.  And here’s the nub of it:  though they had obviously had to rehearse their routines to get all the remarks and the sound effects filled in in their appropriate spots, they had a way of playing off each other’s jests which struck one as more truly like improvisational theater than planned writing.  It is absolutely delightful what they can do with words, concepts, events, and other people’s creations.  And the freshness is preserved by the sense of their being especially inspired on the instant to make their jokes.  And here (though of course “many a truth is spoken in jest,” as we know) we switch to the serious part of my post.  How does one access one’s inspirational genius?

One of the most interesting and vitally creative and worthwhile books I’ve ever read is the famous Russian director and teacher Konstantin S. Stanislavski’s book An Actor Prepares.  It’s all about how he went about training his students to act by the manner now know as “method acting,” of which he was the main inventor.  Nevertheless, though it is about acting and acting students and the theater and plays and playwrights, it is a work which everyone, painter, actor, literary critic, sculptor, academic, novelist or poet, or anyone in any other creative field should read, for its advice on inspiration.  Though there are many scenes and incidents in the book in which Stanislavski spurs his students to new heights of creativity by his advice and teachings, there is one key scene which I will have always in my memory, and which is the gist of my own thoughts on creation to the present day.  Stanislavski was reproaching a certain student for his slipshod work in the manner in which he portrayed his character.  The student, like many a student everywhere, earnestly (but perhaps a trifle lazily?) responded that he had tried and tried, but he didn’t feel “inspired” that particular day with that particular character.  Stanislavski’s response?  He lectured the student that it was not his primary job to “be inspired,” rather it was his job to develop his “technique.”  He believed that technique was the bread and butter (or the meat and potatoes) of the creative world.  Inspiration, by contrast, was something that came along where and where it would, and was more like the icing on the cake.  It could not be relied upon, because it was a will-‘o-the-wisp, likely to disappear if too heavily relied upon.  The best possible creative solution was always to have one’s technique at the ready and in operation, and while maintaining one’s openness to allow inspiration to come along, always be prepared to do a simple workmanlike job in the event that it deserted one.

And where do I come into this post, as I indicated that I would at the beginning?  Well, it’s only that I’ve tried day after day (like Stanislavski’s erring and excuse-making student) to come up with an inspiration for a post, and finally today while I was looking for something to post upon, my eyes ran across a book by a theater person named Sonia Moore, written on the Stanislavski method.  And a light bulb did indeed go on over my head, so I guess it was really a kind of inspiration, in a way, but before I could just take the improvisational moment and the inspiration and run with it, I felt it only fair to share not only my original reading of the book, but also to connect it up with all the ins and outs of the vexed question of inspiration and improvisation themselves.  And so, here it is:  a post a bit longer than I thought it would be, but one I hope which will repay your attention and give you too something to think (or read) about the next time your inspiration lags.  Toodle-oo! for now–post done!


Filed under A prose flourish, Articles/reviews, Full of literary ambitions!, Literary puzzles and arguments, What is literature for?

The way a writer “surfaces” into a seduction–a tale of the end of youth by V. S. Pritchett

In my last post, I wrote on a story by Turgenev called “First Love,” in which an adolescent has his heart broken for the first time when he realizes that his own first serious crush is his father’s dalliance, if not his father’s actual “light-o’-love.”  And I commented that this story was one which was being told (read, rather, since its teller insisted on making it a literary artifact for his audience) to an story’s internal audience of men, likely over port and cigars after dinner.

Another popular topic which surfaces now and again is the “first seduction” tale, and though I would like to be able to report that I had read an equal number of wise and worldly women tell such tales along with the number of tales I’ve read over the years in which men tell each other about youth’s first moments of sexual awakening, it just ain’t so.  Maybe women need to start writing them.  In any case, I’ve just found another example of the genre with an interesting twist, written by V. S. Pritchett, and published in his volume Selected Stories.  It’s perhaps a bit dated, but none of Pritchett’s humor is lost as he traces the young man’s initial unknowingness, then clumsiness with his first opportunity, then final triumph over his partner’s assumption of superior knowingness.

The story is called “The Diver,” and I should tell my own audience right now that the term “diver” is used as a double entendre for the young man’s male organ by the experienced woman who takes it upon herself to educate him sexually.  But this does not happen before the whole setting is established by a series of minor incidents and misfortunes which cause her to take pity on him and take him as her lover.  Here’s how it goes:  first of all, the young virgin male is an Englishman in Paris, where his fresh-cheeked English innocence is made fun of by all the other young men he works with, who all have (or say they have) mistresses, while he not only has none, but brags that he has none.  The adult narrator of this story says he was a “fool” to tell the others this, but the youth at the time doesn’t at first realize how much teasing it will lead to.

Even his superior at the leather warehouse where he works, a M. Claudel, has a woman who stops by to see him, a Mme. Chamson, who likes to tell dirty jokes to all the office boys in a group, but who takes exception to the young man at the center of the tale (an aspiring writer) if he tries to laugh along with the rest of the group.  He doesn’t really “fancy” her, and thinks she looks like some “predatory bird,” with her badly dyed hair and extravagantly arched eyebrows, some Parisian harridan of the streets.  Despite the fact that she is married to an attendant at the Louvre, she seems to have some understanding with Claudel.  But the young man’s luck is due to change.  One day, when a barge is unusually sent with the consignment of skins to the leather warehouse, it is accidentally rammed and sunk by a Dutch boat right in the harbor, and the young writer is asked to accompany Claudel to the harbor to watch and see how many of the skins can be salvaged by a diver, who is the hero of the day to the admiring youth.  In a strange accident, the youth gets knocked into the water, and comes up with a chill which even several glasses of rum at the local bar cannot dispel.

At this point, Mme. Chamson comes along and convinces him to come along with her to her shop, where she first coaxes him, then intimidates him out of some of his clothes to get warm and dry, then finally (as he proves resistant to removing his pants) starts to undress him herself.  This often-used device of literary seductions of having someone be too wet to stay in their own clothes and having to change them in the surroundings which include an attractive or at least available member of the opposite sex, however, does not follow its well-worn pattern in Pritchett’s tale, for Pritchett quotes frank chapter and verse for what elsewhere is left undeclared or neglected or unarticulated.  In his tale, the young man becomes inconvenienced in the extreme by his reaction to the woman trying to undress him.  “She stood back, blank-faced and peremptory in her stare.  It was the blankness of her face, her indifference to me, her ordinary womanliness, the touch of her practical fingers that left me without defence.  She was not the ribald, coquettish, dangerous woman who came wagging her hips to our office, not one of my Paris fantasies of sex and danger.  She was simply a woman.  The realization of this was disastrous to me.  An unbelievable change was throbbing in my body.  It was uncontrollable.  My eyes angrily, helplessly, asked her to go away.  She stood there implacably.  I half-turned, bending to conceal my enormity as I lowered my trousers, but as I lowered them inch by inch so the throbbing manifestation increased.  I got my foot out of one leg but my shoe caught in the other.  On one leg I tried to dance my other trouser leg off.  The towel slipped and I glanced at her in red-faced angry appeal.  My trouble was only too clear.  I was stiff with terror.  I was almost in tears.”

Mme. Chamson becomes angry with him at first, and says she is “not one of your tarts,” and asks “What would your parents say?  If my husband were here!”  Then, when he starts to sneeze with the cold he is per her previous supposition catching, she takes a look at his “inconvenience” and is caustic:  “‘In any case…’ as she nodded at my now concealing towel–‘that is nothing to boast about.'”  She finds him partial clothes then leaves the room and doesn’t come back.  After a bit, she calls to him in a harsh tone of voice to come and get his things, and when he goes into the back room, she is lying on a bed without “a stitch of clothing” on!  “The sight of her transfixed me.  It did not stir me.  I simply stood there gaping.  My heart seemed to have stopped.  I wanted to rush from the room, but I could not.  She was so very near.  My horror must have been on my face but she seemed not to notice that, she simply stared at me.  There was a small movement of her lips and I dreaded that she was going to laugh; but she did not; slowly she closed her lips and said at last between her teeth in a voice low and mocking, ‘Is this the first time you have seen a woman?'”  The narrator has already told us in an earlier paragraph that it is the first time he has seen a naked woman, but at this point the young man obviously becomes a bit irritable with the woman having so much control of the scene, and he denies it and lets his writer’s imagination take over:  he thinks idly of the earlier talk of the morgue in the bar and tells her that he previously saw a dead woman in London.

This properly frightens Mme. Chamson, and she pulls the coverlet up across herself and the writer continues to spin out details from his imaginary view of a dead woman in London, whom he says was (like Mme. Chamson herself) a shopkeeper.  He even invents a “laundry man” killer who was “carrying on” with the woman, and when she says, “‘But how did you see her like this?'” he keeps on going and says that his mother had been very insistent about his paying the bill and that he had been up to the woman’s apartment before because they knew her.  She asks him if the tale is true, and how old he was, and we are told “I hadn’t thought of that but I quickly decided.  ‘Twelve,’ I said.”  He continues the tale by explaining that they called the police and so on and so forth, but all this only causes Mme. Chamson to feel sympathy for him, and pulls him to her, and when the obvious happens, she says, “‘The diver’s come up again.  Forget.  Forget.'”  In their passion, she even says “‘Kill me.  Kill me,'” though now of course she’s thinking of “la morte douce” and not actual death.

As he leaves, she advises him about his suits and his job, and by implication approves of his plan to be a writer.  She also introduces him to her husband, who has been fishing after his busy day but has just come home.  And she asks him, finally, to return the suit she has lent him the next day, raising the suspicion in at least this reader’s mind that she means to continue the liaison.  The narrator recounts “Everything was changed for me after this.  At the office I was a hero.”  Ostensibly, this is because Mme. Chamson has told the others that he saw a murder, but the last paragraph shows that at least one of the people he works with may have a clue as to the more complete state of affairs:  “‘You know what she said just now,’ said Claudel to me, looking very shrewd:  She said “I am afraid of that young Englishman.  Have you seen his hands?”‘”

It is of course not the young Englishman’s hands, or even any other bodily manifestation, which is the real “hero” of the story, but his imagination, which in the vibrant air of Paris has had many a tale start to develop only to die out when he tried to write them in English.  Now, it is clear, however, he has rhetorically triumphed over someone more experienced by telling a tale which, whether true or not, was just the kind of thing she was waiting to hear.  This shows that he judged his audience correctly, a main concern for a writer whether of a speech or a tale or a novel.  And if he only sees it, of course, it may equally be partly the imaginations of the other young men which have guided their “tales” of seduction in front of him, so that he is now freed from the barrier of silence which previously held him back.  Not that he would tell them about Mme. Chamson; one feels he will not.  Nevertheless, he is now a person whom people can talk about rather than just a cipher with no particular meaning, and he can embroider all he likes in his stories, which as we have seen by his on the spur of the moment improvisation are at least convincing.

It is likewise V. S. Pritchett’s sure touch with his own story, the humor of the embarrassing moments in the young man’s life which delights and charms us, as he proves without doubt that a writer can portray another writer in contact with what could be a seamier side of life and yet “dive” to “surface” with something well worth preserving, a fine comic masterpiece.


Filed under Articles/reviews

“[W]hen feeling out of sight/For the ends of Being and ideal Grace”–Loving and being loved in high Victorian style

How many times have you heard that we live in a cynical and harshly knowing age of decline? How many great poems have you sighed your way through, wishing that the notable He or She loved you in such and such a way as that, thought of you that way, or wasn’t seeming to be trying to negotiate a trade-off of his or her worst qualities for yours, in which each person accepts the other’s flaws while wanting in secret the best the other has to offer (and where is that best, anyway, that was so notably there “at the beginning”?).  I have a new friend (and this friend is someone in need of a sympathetic ear, so I am doing my best to listen and respond) who has asked me, via e-mail, to try to figure out why her relationship isn’t working out just the way she wants it to.  And the reason she thought of asking me to cogitate and come up with a post on it is because she feels that with my capacious memory of literary love texts and the noble expressions of poets on the subject, I might qualify as a kind of expert.  “Don’t I wish!”  I told her.  Were I an expert, my own love life might be in better shape, Mr. Right would be lovingly languishing and simultaneously flexing his poetic “muscles” at my feet, in short, I would have put my own knowledge to good use for my own benefit.  So far, my moments of hope for the eventual rightness of my individual fate repose in such historical knowledge as that Elizabeth Barrett Browning, though an aging invalid and hemmed in by family disapproval, still managed to enchant Robert Browning to the point that he married her and bore her off to a happier fate than old maidishness.  Today, of course, the concept of being “an old maid” or “a born bachelor” is supposedly outdated, though people cast other sorts of aspersions, suppositions, and assertions at those who stick close to the family or who live alone without a partner, everything from being “a weirdo” to “playing for the other team” to “disliking human interaction.”  The fact is, some people just aren’t as lucky or as outgoing as others, which I suspect is my friend’s case (we’ll call her Lucy).

Though I have never seen Lucy face to face, she communicates that she is of ordinary appearance, not especially pretty nor the reverse, and carries a few extra pounds which come and go with her moods.  She says that she has had romantic interludes and experiences with various men during her lifetime (she is about ten years younger than I, which makes her in her mid-forties), and is willing to have more, with the right party.  But she also reports that she is “sick and tired” (that old phrase!) of going out of her way to try to: 1) meet eligible men 2) get their attention 3) hold their attention through enough dates or encounters to ensure that they are well-enough known to go to that formidable “next step,” intimacy, and 4) win the prize she at least thinks she wants, a long-term or life-time commitment of some kind (Lucy wants a small private wedding ideally, but is not averse to the concept of a permanent partner).  The man currently in her life is not as much in her life as she would prefer.  When I asked her what her favorite poet had said about love (just to get a handle on the assignment she was handing me), she said she had lots of favorite poets, but she liked that poem–what was it?–something about “How do I love thee?”  I sighed.  My task, I could see, in this era of waning romantic faith, was gargantuan by those terms.    Because unwittingly, Lucy had chosen Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the very poet whom I had had in the back of my mind as a fortuitous model for my own hopes!  Let me refresh your memory:  here’s how Sonnet XLIII (from E. B. Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese) goes:

“How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways./I love thee to the depth and breadth and height/My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight/For the ends of Being and ideal Grace./I love thee to the level of every day’s/Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight./I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;/I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise./I love thee with the passion put to use/In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith./I love thee with a love I seemed to lose/With my lost saints–I love thee with the breath,/Smiles, tears, of all my life!–and, if God choose,/I shall but love thee better after death.”

That’s goin’ some, ain’t it?  Whoo-ee!  And note the capitalized words “Being,” “Grace,” “Right,” “Praise,” and most of all “God” (Lucy had already confessed to being a partial disbeliever, or at least an agnostic–so what was she wanting to do with and about that “God” crack, as well as the other emphasized words?).  Why is it that we often want what we possibly would not know what to do with if we had it?  Or was Lucy just wanting a shove from the right quarter to make her into some kind of a believer again, if not a religious one, then a believer in high-flown ideals and morals and all the rest of it, or perhaps in high Victorian style alone?  But high Victorian style (when not of the Pateresque and art for art’s sake kind) was based upon genuine belief in the eternal verities, or at least upon knowing where to look for them (as Tennyson himself, the Poet Laureate, said in his long poem In Memoriam, “There lives more faith in honest doubt,/Believe me, than in half the creeds”).  Not to mention that “feeling out of sight for the ends of Being and ideal Grace” is one hell of an attempt to “cop a feel”!  (Sorry, Lucy, my twenty-first century nature couldn’t resist the word play).

But E. B. Browning didn’t just write this sonnet, she wrote the whole series of them.  So, as an attempt to deal seriously with, if not to answer, Lucy’s dilemma, let me quote yet another sonnet by Barrett Browning, and one which, instead of only sounding the noblest sentiments of love, gives credence to a certain sort of pragmatism of love, though it still purports to lead the lover to “eternity.”  In this sonnet, Sonnet XIV, we see the speaker warding off half-way measures and ill-luck, and seeking the best kind of love that it’s possible to have and still be humanly vulnerable:

“If thou must love me, let it be for naught/Except for love’s sake only.  Do not say “I love her for her smile–her look–her way/Of speaking gently–for a trick of thought/That falls in well with mine, and certes brought/A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”–/For these things in themselves, Beloved, may/Be changed, or change for thee–and love, so wrought,/May be unwrought so.  Neither love me for/Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry–/A creature might forget to weep, who bore/Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!/But love me for love’s sake, that evermore/Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.”

Really, all the less noble kinds of love mentioned in this second sonnet are kinds of love we see all around us every day, the physical, the mentally companionable, the charitable–and there are many more less-than-total types of devotion which we are being invited to imagine, as in our own thoughts we ponder these few examples.  But I say that this is a more pragmatic poem than the first because it relies not on so many superlatives of the imagined world we inhabit as it does upon one single one:  “love’s eternity.”  In fact, the only word capitalized for emphasis here is “Beloved.”  There is no appeal to God, or Being, or Grace–the poet’s only claims are that there is love in the present tense of the person being addressed, and that love has some sort of eternity, some longer life, that will persist if the correct attitude is achieved.  Now, where exactly does that leave my friend Lucy?

How does one match the correct attitude to the correct recipient?  Hasn’t it always been that we think we have to find the correct recipient for what we already have estimated that we have to offer?  But perhaps our estimates are off.  If one starts to build a house, and the final cost is more than the estimates, there’s bound to be legal trouble a-brewin’!  So, maybe, just maybe, we shouldn’t trust our own estimates of what we have to offer, right?  Maybe we should find a good friend to help us estimate what we can claim to be all about, romantically speaking–but the good friend (in this case, I’ve ended up more or less estimating only my own sense of difficulty in this role) may likewise be too strict or too generous, or enters the human equation with other defects of attitude, capability, or experience.  So, Lucy, here’s my answer to your dilemma, which you asked to see appear on my website:  in this case, attitude-correction and altitude-correction may be the same thing.  If your present lover doesn’t inspire confidence in you with his abilities as you have perceived them so far, rather than reproaching yourself for wanting to be loved as a high Victorian, in punctilious faithfulness and somewhat sentimentalized Romanticism, or reproaching him as do-less, faith-less, without feeling, and the rest of it, try a little forthrightness, which was above all what E. B. Browning was all about.  She not only confessed the “depths” and “breadths” and “heights” of her own love, but told her lover what she wanted, and spelled it out directly and exactly.  And though she still used a word we sometimes scoff at these days (“eternity”), she “came down” from her high altitude up there with “Being” and “ideal Grace” and at least referenced precisely what she had in mind.  So, how should you do this?  If your lover wants to watch burly men bash each other over the head with hockey sticks, make a deal:  you’ll do this if he’ll listen to you read E. B. Browning’s sonnets, at least these two.  I know, you’ve already struck compromises like this, and often they come under the category of doing something I’ve already mentioned in my first paragraph, that is, making a trade-off of your worst qualities (from his point of view, perhaps) for his (perhaps, from yours).  But stick with it.  Give him a chance to express just exactly what he finds over-the-top (or lacking) in your view of love.  After all, E. B. Browning didn’t say that she “saw” what she was angling for immediately when she strove with the equations of love:  she said she was “feeling out of sight/ For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.”  And, to cap this whole quotation-game-with-serious-consequences off, it was her own ideal mate, her husband Robert Browning, who wrote about at least the artistic effort itself that “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,/Or what’s a heaven for?”  So, since you are looking to the artistic effort of E. B. Browning for inspiration with how to handle your lover, why not look to how her lover might have answered too, accepting that it’s heaven itself which if we believe in it can finally answer all our hopes, but because we are finite at least in this life, we may have to reach and reach and reach, and still be less than perfectly satisfied?  Note that I’m not telling you to “settle,” but why not give your lover a dose of the poetry that you feel frees you up and feeds your soul?  You may find that his notion of the steamy love affair is just as excited by a woman’s poetic voice avowing eternal love as yours is by the idea of seeing strong men forget themselves when possessed by powerful emotions (I’m blurring the lines between love poetry and hockey here to make my point).  Dear Lucy, I hope this piece of writing satisfies some need you’ve felt to have your problem considered as seriously as I know how to consider it, which is to say, with the occasional jest, but no less seriously than I do for myself.  All the best with your man, or failing him, with his potential successor, and the best of hopes for general love and happiness.


Filed under Literary puzzles and arguments, What is literature for?

“Believe one who has proved it. Believe an expert.”–Virgil

Yesterday, I wrote a short post to let my readers know that I was experiencing some trouble with my site, and that I wasn’t sure of the ramifications or the extent of the time necessary for corrections.  Just now, after I sat like a nervous “biddie” (“broody”) hen over my computer all morning, my “view by country” stats were back up, and I once more was able to see the fascinating places that my readers come from, and how many of you are from each country, and I was also able to stop worrying about other forms of impending blogsite doom that might be in the works.

This post today is a small and totally inadequate “thank-you” to those “19 Happiness Engineers” who’ve been working so hard behind the scenes to restore order to a gazillion people’s websites on all sorts of different issues.  They were rapid to respond, and didn’t ask me to do anything I was unable to understand, which isn’t always the case when computer gurus give me instructions, due to the fact that I don’t always use the correct lingo to describe my difficulties, and they speak the language perfectly.  Hence the title of my post, from Publius Vergilius Maro, otherwise known as Virgil:  “Believe one who has proved it.  Believe an expert.”  I followed their instructions, and lo and behold!  things are working perfectly again!  Assuming that all continues to go well, I’ll be writing another literary or “essay” post again soon, on one of my standard topics.  And thanks to all those who have continued to be patient with my site, whether experts or readers and fellow bloggers.  We all need these humbling lessons of help from our fellows now and then, and I’m just glad mine was of so gentle a nature.  See you soon!


Filed under A prose flourish, Other than literary days....

A spot of trouble here, folks! And a sincere hope that it’s nothing serious!

Early this morning, when I got on my site to check my stats, I found that my stats by country were showing the circular icon rotating around and around.  After a few hours of perplexity, I contacted the helpful folks at WordPress.com support, and got a gratifying and nearly immediate response about re-setting my browser, complete with instructions that were copious and detailed.  I followed the instructions, but continued to have difficulties with my site, some of which I can only describe to those at WordPress.com, who are trying to help everyone as best they can, as I understand it.

The problem is that they are suddenly in the news, in the sense that there are numerous additions and changes being made which could benefit everyone, but which are costing some people money, of which I don’t have a lot to contribute at this point.  Therefore, their support page announces now that they will help people in the order in which they come, subscribers to the WordPress.org and the paid upgrade subscribers first.  I do have ambitions eventually to be able and to find it necessary to purchase more space, but cannot do so now, and therefore I’m in a waiting line to be helped with my problems.  This post is not intended as criticism; I’m just letting my readers know that if they don’t hear from me immediately, or if the site suddenly goes down, I’m here on the other side still trying to get the site back up, to the best of my not-very-computer-literate abilities.  And I hope and trust that as usual the guru folks at WordPress.com will be able to help me in that eventuality, as they have done many times in the past.

If all is well, I hope to publish again in the next day or two; if I hit a snag or delay, it may take a little longer.  Here’s to success on all our parts, and thanks for reading so far.  It makes the pain of becoming slowly more computer-literate all worthwhile.

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Filed under Other than literary days....

Finality is only another word for the movement’s natural ending, and every ending contains the seeds of a new beginning.

We are still in the depths of a winter in the temperate zone, and it’s cold, and nothing is growing much outside in the snow/freezing rain/or at the very least, frigid temperatures.  But let’s release the organic metaphor that governs many a mode of thought for the moment, and say that though each finality is a sort of natural ending of some movement or other (whatever sort of growth or development the movement might be), each ending contains the seeds of a new beginning.  Seeds are stored up in the frozen ground beneath our feet, waiting for the sun to come out on days when the temperature likewise is gentle and mild, and though we can’t see the seeds right now, and though it seems as if spring will never come, short of some universal catastrophe, we know that it will.

I’m taking comfort in this particular organic metaphor right now because I’m finding it very hard to continue my self-appointed tasks of reading and writing, and am spending a fair amount of time staring at the wall or out the window, not even daring to daydream overmuch because I don’t want to be “caught” (even by myself) wasting time.  So, my mind is frozen; motionless; and yes, you guessed it, I’m typing it all out here in my post in an effort to “start a hare” from the underbrush and get on with my work.  (I like that particular metaphor of “starting (startling) a hare from the underbrush” even though I would never shoot a rabbit or be caught with a gun looking for rabbits to shoot unless I were starving, because when one is out walking and a rabbit or squirrel or other small animal pops up nearly underfoot and rushes away, one oneself is equally startled by the suddenness of the encounter, and loses track of the–in this case obsessive–thoughts one is going through in one’s mind.  Though of course whether the THOUGHTS are going through one’s mind, or one is going through the thoughts IN one’s mind is a matter for brain specialists and metaphysicians to contemplate.)  There’s a freshness to sudden encounters of the rabbit or chipmunk kind, as the tiny being leaps away from one’s own bumbling footsteps and seeks a safer haven; and one feels a part of the small life in the sense that then one’s heart begins to beat more swiftly in reaction, one’s face may flush, one may stumble, or feel a sudden rush of exhilaration at the presence of another life so near at hand and so rapid.

Now, you are perhaps tempted to point out to me that if I am indeed “frozen” and “motionless” in inspiration when it comes to impetus for reading and writing, my two favorite mental activities, that I AM in fact “starving,” and would perhaps have done well to bring a “gun” along in case I should, while typing this post, see a small furry shape dart from beneath my feet and try to get away from me.  But even though I am omnivorous and not solely a vegetarian, I’m looking to track the life bounding away without actually hunting it, because of course those other small forms of life are hunters, too, and they are “hunting” those seeds and pods and vesicles of life that remain in the trees, bushes, and ground over the winter.  It’s simple:  one life leads to another.  I start the hare by accident, perhaps, but then I peer ahead of it to see where it’s bounding, hoping to discover some seeds or shoots that I can bring indoors and attempt to “sprout” for my own projects.  And there’s probably the tail end of this particular metaphor, since I can think of nothing else to do with it at this point.  Whatever “seeds of a new beginning” I happen to find will require patience from me, because nothing happens overnight, and after potting something you have to wait while it sits in a warm windowsill or under a grow lamp, stretching itself upward slowly.  So, here’s the “sprout” I found while sitting at my desk and trying to think of something to post about on this second day of January, 2013.  But really, you and I know that I wasn’t sitting at my desk at all, I was out in a snowy field , following tiny tracks with perplexity and some confusion because I didn’t see anything to connect them with, when suddenly up popped a rabbit or squirrel, running, perhaps, for a bed of early crocuses which they’ve been nibbling at before.  Here’s my “crocus bulb” for you–I hope it will help you start a few hares or chipmunks too!


Filed under Other than literary days...., What is literature for?

“The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things….”

As you may remember, when the Walrus in Lewis Carroll’s poem was ready to “talk of many things,” it was as part of an effort to “snow” the shellfish whom he had decided to consume.  Though I too feel that it’s long past time to “talk of many things,” I’m not trying to snow you, my readers, only trying to offer up an account of myself and apologize for having been so lax in posting in recent days.

The fact of the matter is, there are not “many things” on my list to talk of right now.  Today, I’m baking Christmas cookies and still doing some of the neverending crocheting that I’ve been doing for weeks now in order to finish a new Afghan blanket for the bed.  For several days now, I’ve been reading short stories in the hopes that one will “catch fire” in my imagination and give me a topic I really want to share with you (though this effort has been to little or no avail).  I have Christmas cards to get out in the mail, and I need to review the instructions for how to tie-dye tee shirts, since that’s  one of my Christmas surprises for some dearly loved children in my family.  But even given these things, there’s a paucity of “topic” revolving in my brain; to put it more simply, I’m drawing a blank.

There are also other writing projects that are pressing up around my throat and refusing to get done at the same time (and that is a horribly mixed metaphor, for which I’m trying not to be held responsible).  I have two novels going at once right now, but both are in the stalled position.  Talk about writer’s block!  I’ve never had such a bad case of it before that I can recall.  Yes, I’m still kvetching and whinging and chuntering on about my lack of inspiration (I love words for “complaining” and “whining”–they’re so descriptive!  Maybe the only things that aren’t blocked off right now are my “complaining” words!).  “Kvetching,” as I understand it, is Yiddish from Russia; “whinging,” to rhyme with “singeing,” is from the Anglo-Saxon; and “chuntering on” is a general synonym from dialectal English of the Cockney variety.  Anybody else know any more, I’m collecting them, rather in the way other people collect butterflies, to put pins in the ones of their own personal acquaintance?!?

The only remotely creative thing I’ve done in the last week is a poem, out of the blue, which is too raw and bad and personal to share (no, nothing will persuade me that I should, I’m not hinting to be begged).  And I haven’t even been writing poetry for a year or three now–go figure!  At this moment, I’m actually feeling very guilty about using my blog as a way of expressing frustration that as far as I know has no immediate solution–I mean, if I were working out a way of getting out of my dilemma, then I could forgive myself, but so far today all I’m doing is letting you in on the not-very-well-kept secret that I’m having trouble working:  if you’ve been following my posts for the last three weeks or so, you already know that.

The solution people in creative writing classes used to revere was to “write it out, write your way through it, just keep going until something profitable or worthwhile crops up.”  It makes me wonder about the script of “The Shining.”  As you’ll recall, in that movie the Nicholson character, a writer, can’t budge a writer’s block, and while he is in the process of trying by writing over and over again “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” or words to that effect, his family starts to get haunted.  It causes me to speculate as to the inspiration for the movie:  was the scriptwriter going through the same difficulty in trying to write the script?  Perhaps drawing (a bit fantastically) on personal experience?  But I would have to do research to find the answer to that question, and one aspect of writer’s block is a certain amount of accedia and laziness, so I just throw the suggestion out there for anyone else who’s got the energy to pursue the matter.

Yes, I’m acting like a spoiled child.  I know it.  Soon, I will begin to pull hair and drum my heels on the floor, and scream at the top of my lungs.  Whoever said “Frustration is good for the soul” was way off base.  But for now, I’m offering what I’ve got, and that is this post, dedicated to my loyal and trustworthy readers, who can always be counted on to say something that makes me feel ashamed of my babyishness, and vow to do better for them next time:  this is where I am right now.  I hope to offer you better again soon (and now I’m off to bake cookies and to try to lift my spirits with some holiday participation that may lead to those better moments).  shadowoperator


Filed under Other than literary days....

“You are no bigger than the things that annoy you”–Jerry Bundsen, and why I am a very small person

Today, I had planned to get up, have morning coffee, and write a sterling post on a fascinating topic (or at least on a topic which intrigued me long enough to enable me to invest my attention in it wholly for the time it usually takes me to write a post.  Whether my readers find these topics equally fascinating is a matter for them to tell me, I hope in the “comments” sections).  Then, I’d thought, I’d have a leisurely breakfast.  Next would come a trip to my building’s gym and twenty to thirty minutes of exercise and weight-lifting (I know, I know, I’m a weakling, but supposedly the way to build up graceful muscles rather than bulk is to do it gradually, every day, with some exercises in particular no more than every other day).  After this, aglow with energy and good health,  I was to come back up and read my primary e-mail, which I nearly always enjoy doing on a Sunday because so many of the websites I’m following are active with others’ comments on that day; also, I get a certain increase in comments on my own on some of the weekends.  Next, I was going to read, read, read from some books I have out of the library to try to get them done before I have to return them, no more renewals allowed.  Then lunch, then writing on my fifth novel, which is underway  but stalled right now.  Finally three o’clock coffee and a final burst of exercise for the day in the form of a forty-minute walk and some sit-ups.  After that, I only had to work in dinner, and then I would be able to relax and watch a Poirot mystery on PBS after “The Simpsons,” and then bedtime and more reading.  Ideally, I also had to work in time to wash my hair, listen to some music while I did laundry, and a few other odds and ends, but these things were not essential to a good Sunday, so I knew I could let them slide if I had to.

Does anything strike you as odd about this list?  Such as, perhaps, that I had planned way too much for one day, and was doomed to disappointment?  Yes, maybe, but what strikes me about it even more is that I neglected to take account of the fact that it’s very hard, almost impossible, to get on a computer for other chores and not read your e-mail.  It’s just human nature, I think, on a hazy, warmish Sunday morning when the sun is out just a bit to want to interact with other humans in some way or other, even if only through e-mail and comments and website postings, three things I really enjoy inordinately.  And there’s where the devil entered, because I have two different e-mail programs (this may be normal for you, but I got along for almost ten years with only one), my primary one which is connected to this website and a secondary one which only posts me new info about twice a month, and which I have never learned to work quite properly.  The upshot of this is that I have become negligent (oh, why? oh, why?), and read it only about once or twice a month.

What took my time from about 8:00 this morning until about 3:00 this afternoon?  Trying to get this e-mail program to do things anything like the way my other program does (which is easy and self-evident in the way it operates), in order to read roughly 98 e-mails that had suddenly come through.  And none of these messages were spam or junk or anything like that, but verifiable messages from reputable senders which had to be at least glanced at before I could go on to the next message.  I worked diligently, but I simply could not master all of the options and operations on the secondary e-mail.  Periodically, I took a break:  I got sick to my stomach once with anxiety, which occasionally happens when I have too many things to attend to;  I made sure I had my daily coffees (which on second thought probably wasn’t great for the stomach issue); I ate lunch at about 3:00.  The rest of the time I and a willing and intelligent helper with more computer experience than I do tried and tried to get the e-mail program to work.  Finally, the best we could do was to read all the e-mail and put the things it turned out I didn’t need into the delete file, and respond to a few things.  Whew!  What an ordeal!

None of the other chores got done except for the 40 minute walk and sit-ups and dinner of a sort, the exercise being good for getting rid of some tension and dinner good for a little further relaxation, once it was done.

Do you see now why–considering the size of the things that annoy me, vis-à-vis the title of this post–that I consider myself a “small” person (in literal terms, I’m a stocky 5’9″)?  It’s because the very things which compose some people’s daily routine defied me (a series of computer glitches and problems which originate in conundrums much more serious than a simple lack of knowledge about which thing to click on, a full schedule which doesn’t allow for any wiggle room in order to get lots of things done correctly).  In fact, it wasn’t so much that I was defied by computer problems as that I allowed myself to be upset (I didn’t mention I was upset?  I raised my voice in talking to the computer, in talking to my kind helper, I swore like the proverbial sailor, I banged my hands on the table, I held my head in my hands, and other such signs of sturm und drang).

So, what is the answer to being a “larger” person?  I did thank my helper after we were done; I tried to show some humor about my previous upset.  I ate a light dinner, so that I could get a good night’s sleep, ready to start again tomorrow.  I’m very low energy right now (this is a real-time post!), so if my post seems silly to you or bitchy, that may be why.  In truth, in the same way people tell us that we never really make up lost sleep, so also maybe we never really make up for badly invested energy.  At least, however, I can feel that the energy I’ve spent in writing this post has been well-invested, if only in the sense that it may operate as a cautionary tale:  don’t be as “small” and petty as to allow yourself so much self-indulgent emotion.  It’s that complicated, and that simple.  Though I was myself only good at meditation and yoga for a brief time of my life (when life was simpler anyway!), find some way to take yourself out of what is bugging you, or at least some way of recovering your equilibrium periodically while you are trying to address your difficulties.  Otherwise, you will need to acknowledge to some other people who may be expecting to see you or hear from you or read you (as I owed you, my readers, a post earlier today) that you are, at least upon occasion, a “small” person.  Here’s hoping you don’t mind hearing from me anyway!


Filed under Other than literary days....