Tag Archives: eventual good luck

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....

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?

“I was going to buy a copy of ‘The Power of Positive Thinking,’ and then I thought: What the hell good would that do?”–Ronnie Shakes

For some of us, indeed, for many more of us than can easily afford to acknowledge it without further loss of equanimity at least and happiness at most, this is a very sad time of year.   In fact, it’s no time of year at all, it’s the end of the year, and the New Year, with all its happiness derived in part from alcoholic bubbles and party snacks hasn’t started yet (or at least, it’s a few hours off in some parts of the globe, only a few hours old and hence not really fully underway in other parts of the globe).  So what do we do?  We rush out, buy the aforesaid snacks and alcohol, and then sit around waiting for time to start our eager consumption of what is supposed to signal a celebration of ringing out the old and ringing in the new.  We may even think of a New Year’s resolution or two, but then we tell ourselves that after all, that’s for the first of the year (tomorrow) and shouldn’t cloud our enjoyment of the last day of this year, when we hope to really “tie one on” and watch the bright lights go up around our neighborhoods, or watch a good movie and have a good cry, or go to the local neighborhood party and wear a funny hat and embrace people under the mistletoe for the last time this season.

And we ask ourselves, “What would really make me happy this year?  What would I like to achieve, or have, or have happen to me?”  It’s not in fact that we can’t think of things, for we of course can.  It’s rather that the things we think of are far too often not commensurable with the same sorts of things that can be achieved or had or experienced if we make a “realistic” New Year’s resolution.  For we all know what those things are.  I can work a little harder each day, or I can vow to lose 30 pounds by the end of the year, or I can save up a few extra dollars in order to get something I really want, but for which I will have to deprive myself of other things I need or want.  In short, everything we can realistically get takes a lot of effort, a constant push or pull or force exerted on our own moral inertia to accomplish.  So, often we decide, “Why should I?  I’ll worry about it tomorrow.  I’ll start on it two days from now.  Next week, when I’ve cleaned up the mess from this party I’m supposed to be having, will be time enough to begin.”  And in short, we put it off and sooner or later it simply slips to the back of the mental cupboard with all of the other things we once hoped to do and have and be.  Aren’t we a real mess?

Do I have an answer for this dilemma?  No, I do not, but I can tell you that I for one would rather “dream dreams” and “have visions” than place myself mentally in that “realistic” framework which we assume when we set about to do things “for real.”  I would rather not set goals, but would like to huggle-muggle willy-nilly toward what I want, one day sighing and one day crying, and another day laughing for joy because it seems that the sun is shining on my aspiration.  That way, when I reach next New Year’s Eve and I have only a bit of success to show, or a pittance of my desired amount saved up, or have only taken off ten pounds, I will know that I did it easily rather than arduously, and thus I participated in the glee of childhood we all once used to have, when we were unaware of how hard adults often had to strive to gain for us our “power of positive thinking” and to keep us happy and healthy.  Yes, I’m saying that I want something to happen easily and without effort, that I’m tired of the “no pain, no gain” morality, that at the very least I want to be self-deceived about something that will make me happy rather than deluded about something that makes me sad in the end.  Play along with me, won’t you?  Be giddy and happy all you like this New Year’s Eve, but don’t come down hard on yourself on January 1 or 2 or even 3 and tell yourself that it’s time to get “back to reality.”  Reality as we know it is hard enough:  let’s live in the happiness bubble for as long as possible this year, at least when it comes to achievements and goals and our own personal gifts of living happily.  Who knows, maybe those “dreams” and “visions” are a little closer than we know!  Happy New Year!


Filed under Other than literary days....

Just a short update bulletin of a post….

Hello again, readers!  Today, I have been packing for my trip to graduation, weighing my suitcase, and reading some of your posts on your websites, so as not to get too far behind with all my many enthusiasms while I’m away.  I will be away until Sunday, but my first task when I get back and get unpacked will be to get on my laptop (which isn’t going along for this trip) and answer any and every comment you have made.  In case I haven’t made it clear before, I love hearing from you, and I want to thank all of you especially who have responded to my announcement(s) about graduation by wishing me well, either via e-mail or comment.

As for what happens while I’m away, I’m continually surprised (happily, quite happily) by the number of you who visit my Archives and read and keep up with the site as I have written it so far.  Please continue to read if there’s anything there that interests you, and know that your comments on posts are always welcome, regardless of how far back in time the post was made.  If I find any of those items on my site when I come back, obviously I will be delighted to answer those as well.

Also feel free to respond to the comments of others on my site, which you can see if you click on the “Comments” button for each post (which also tells you how many comments there have already been).  My most frequent commenters are a lively and a well-informed group, and they often put me in touch with things I need to know as well.  It’s also always fun to hear from new voices, whose perspectives may be innovative or different.

When you hear from me next, I will be a fully fledged Doctor of Philosophy in English!  Come and visit and compare notes on our favorite writers with me sometime (I promise not to be any more self-satisfied than I usually have been to date!)


Filed under Full of literary ambitions!

Living in a state of grace–let’s make it last as long as possible…..

This is definitely going to be the shortest post I’ve written since the very beginning of my posts on this website (the last time I wrote such a short post was back around July 4).  I really have only a simple series of points to make, or perhaps one major point, and that’s that right now, as of last night’s concession and acceptance speeches in the United States, American citizens (despite the pundits’ remarks) are living in a state of grace before the hard slog actually starts again.

We aren’t living in the same state of grace which we were when President Obama first came into office four years ago and hopes were riding so totally high.  We are four years older and wiser and have battened down our hatches to ride out a stormy four more years (if necessary) of embittered battles in a divided Congress.  But it is still a state of grace of sorts that we are occupying.  By this, I mean to point to the ways in which things are already undergoing a subtle change.  First of all, concession speeches and victory speeches alike, though full of the crowds’ excitements and reactions, were gracious in the extreme.  The two parties seemed to need this wake-up call from the American people to signify to them that yes, we are serious, they need to work together to solve everything from climate change to health care to the economy to all the other issues that emerged as concerns of the electorate.  The speech Romney gave was brief, to the point, and acknowledged (despite an originally spirited refusal to concede Ohio) that Obama was once again the man in charge, who deserves our prayers and good wishes if he is going to succeed.  In his turn, Obama called upon Romney himself to be an advisor in the coming days.  We can only hope that as the two leaders have spoken, so may follow their adherents in the House and Senate.

For our part, we citizens can only prolong the state of grace of these opening remarks of the 44th presidency if we demand better from our elected representatives; by what the pundits were saying (even if they also predicted key difficulties with the process to come), the leaders are listening now, to the tune of vox populi, vox Dei (the word of the people is the word of God).  This is not a sacrilegious sentiment when one realizes that consensus of opinion is a hard-won state of affairs, in which lion and lamb do truly lie down together (whomever one perceives these animalistic symbols to refer to).  So, let us not hope for an end to reasonable debate, but instead seek a wholehearted desire to end partisan bickering; it is only by holding our leaders accountable to this extent that we may further extend our own state of grace as a people.


Filed under Other than literary days....