Here you can see at top above the cover art and back cover (with blurb by the stupendous and kind Katy Naylor, of Postcards from Ragnarok and the voidspace) followed in the second image by the internal frontispiece of the book, which is being published by the equally magnificent and kind Alien Buddha Press. Look for me on Amazon, and acquire a copy for yourself! Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)
Tag Archives: hello readers
Hello, website, Twitter and Facebook readers! My apologies for going quiet mostly for a whole week or more now. I’ve been busy getting ready for moving (possibly) and simultaneously submitting poems, articles, and prose bits to publishers/magazines and checking on the same in Submittable and other sites. But as your reward, I have a Halloween suggestion for reading which will be guaranteed to shiver your timbers as well as the rest of you, from one of the greats. Please follow the Yellow Brick Road, or the trail of breadcrumbs to my very next post–it wouldn’t be a Halloween post if I didn’t keep you in suspense–and read my 2012 post on Kingsley Amis’s The Green Man. If you read the book, I promise you won’t be disappointed (Brrrhhhhh! And here I thought I was a back-to-nature woman!). Happy haunted dreams!
Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)
Today’s the Day! “Now is the hour/Of our great content/Made uproarious self-advertisement/By this client of WordPress.”
“Wha?” say you, the innocent reader, stepping into the maelstrom of glee and self-congratulation.
Well, the misquote from Shakespeare’s Richard III above is only to confirm and announce that my 334 p. book of poems, “Poems from the Northeast,” about which I’ve been babbling for a few weeks now at least, was in fact released today, amid much hoopla by me and celebrations in a minor way.
The cat (Lucie-Minou, my heart’s darling) started it off today at 2:30 a.m., by agreeing to partake of a Fancy Feast broth to join in the day. Then, at 7:30 a.m., she had her breakfast of Fancy Feast chicken and tuna feast with all sorts of special (read: expensive) stuff in it.
Then, my mom and I ate some ice cream. And I guess, really, that wraps it up for the actual celebrating, but the mood was festive, anyway. So, just posting to let all my readers know that the book has now been released. If you’re wondering where to find it, it may be available in a lot of different places soon, but if you’re looking for a quick copy, try your local Amazon platform, the publisher’s (olympiapublishers.com), or Book Depository.
And share it with someone. Poetry is always better when shared.
All the best, and thanks for your support. Let me know your comments here, if you have any you would like to make to me directly, or if you would like to ask any questions about any of the poems you find in the book.
Namaste, Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)
Though there will be other places to buy my book very soon, such as some online outlets and some brick-and-mortar stores (and of course with the information I’m supplying you here, you can always ask your local store of preference to order and stock my book from the publisher if you like supporting local business), here is the address of the publisher for pre-ordering right now. The information supplied is that which you will see on the publisher’s website, along with a photo of my book cover, and it is also the information you should supply to anyone whom you want to order and stock the book for you.
As soon as I have a list of the other places where you can expect to find my book, I will write a post here, as well.
For now, here’s the relevant information: Poems from the Northeast. olympiapublishers.com/books/poems-from-the-northeast . Available for preordering. Paperback. ISBN: 978-1-80074-064-8. Published 26/8/2021 (August 26, 2021, in U.K., for worldwide distribution). 334 pages. Size: 205×40. Imprint: Olympia Publishers. 8.99 pounds + shipping.
If, however, you are in the U.S. and want a little cheaper shipping fee than from the U.K. (and even though I do occasionally order from the U.K., shipping has gone up internationally), you can Google another pre-ordering site: it’s Book Depository, which is currently owned by Amazon. There, the book is $13.03, free shipping worldwide, and here’s the address you fill in to get the site: https://www.bookdepository.com>poems-from-the-northeast . That much should get you there (in order to try it, I ordered a book for a neighbor tonight who would otherwise have gotten one of my free copies from the publisher, because I wanted to be able to tell you how it works). At first appearance, it would look as if you have to sign in and use a password, but I was allowed to order her copy without doing so. I don’t have a lot of disposable income for books even at low prices, or else I would have probably signed in; they have a lot of very good books there.
Book Depository has other sites in other countries, too, I believe. And Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, and other Amazon platforms in Canada, India, and Australia are also going to feature the book, though until it sells a few copies, you may have to dig around looking for it a little. And when you finish, why not publish a review on Goodreads.com or your own Amazon site, letting other people know how you felt about the book? Or if you are a reviewer for another magazine, please let me know, here on this site or on your own, how you felt about the book, always remembering to tell me for whom you are writing.
And that’s about it. I hope that wherever you get the book, you enjoy the poems, and find something for you in the words on the page and the ideas I hope they incite, clarify, and embellish. Thanks for reading. Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)
In 1927, Ernest Hemingway published a collection of short stories called “Men Without Women” in his famous and much-imitated minimalist style. The stories contained few female characters, but were grouped rather around themes relating to toughness, resilience, and the things which challenge and sometimes defeat these characteristics, especially in the lives of men. Seventy years later, in 1997/98, the noted Hemingway imitator Richard Ford, writing in his own variation of the tradition, now known as “dirty realism,” published “Women With Men,” in which the toughness of the tone and the themes of finding ways of being resilient (and sometimes not making it) were also prevalent.
Taking place in the same time span, however, two other authors in other parts of the globe were writing on the basic subject of “women without men,” and about the toughness and strength required not of men, but of women, in their places in male-dominated societies. One was Amador Daguio, writing from the Philippines, and sometimes from other places where he studied away from his home. The other, a little younger, was Bessie Head, writing from South Africa, living some of her life in exile in Botswana. Both wrote of tragic situations in the lives of their characters, one, Daguio, of the unhappy end of an otherwise happy relationship, the other, Head, writing about the horrific end of an unhappy relationship. I’ll delineate some of the plot details of the story I’ve selected from each one, even though to do so is perhaps to spoil somewhat the outcome. Still, both stories will bear up time and again to readings and re-readings, and the quality is in the writing, not alone in the plot.
In Amador Daguio’s story, “Wedding Dance,” the story takes place in a traditional Kalinga society. The young man in the story, Awiyao, is on his way to his second wedding, a marriage undertaken purely for the purpose of conceiving a child. He stops by the home of his true love, his first wife, Lumnay, whom tribal custom allows him to set aside because they have been unable to conceive, after seven years. Though both of them tacitly acknowledge that the fault may lie with either or both of them, they both adhere to tribal custom, and consider it inevitable, though later Lumnay has a wild moment of considering rushing into the elders’ group and protesting, in effect ending the custom. He offers her both the hut they have shared together and the field they worked together as hers to keep, but the only thing she asks for is her string of marriage beads, valuable in their own right, and personally valuable to her. He urges her to attend the dance, and to think of finding a new husband, but she refuses. The story ends, after she has made an abortive walk to the outskirts of the dance but withdrawn, with an extremely poetic passage, the very opposite of “dirty realism,” and somehow full of the desperate kind of hope that is all she has left, in emotional terms, anyway. She has gone to the bean field:
“A few more weeks, a few more months, a few more harvests–what did it matter? She would be holding the bean flowers, soft in the texture, silken almost, but moist where the dew got into them, silver to look at, silver on the light blue, blooming whiteness, when the morning comes. The stretching of the bean pods full length from the hearts of the wilting petals would go on./Lumnay’s fingers moved a long, long time among the growing bean pods.”
Hope and the celebration of moments of love and affection are all that are left as well in the starker story by Bessie Head, called “The Collector of Treasures.” In it, Dikeledi Mokopi, the heroine, has been deserted by the husband of her three children, Garesego, for a number of years. This is after she has already had a hard life as a child and young woman. Yet still, she is spoken of as “the collector of treasures” because she finds isolated moments of happiness and contentment to buoy her up and carry her through, these moments being her “treasures.” “She had filled her life with treasures of kindness and love from others and it was all this that she wanted to protect from defilement by an evil man.” Garesego has in fact moved in with a concubine, whose children he treats as his own, and he never comes to see his own children or take any responsibility for them. As a counterpoint to this relationship, her new neighbors, who celebrate and come to love her, also take the place unofficially of her lost breadwinner. Paul Thebolo and his wife Kenelepe, who become her fast friends, supply her in abundance with foodstuffs and household goods in exchange for her crafting and cooking and small hand manufacturing jobs, for which she refuses to take any pay. Their relationship with each other is one of love and understanding, and Kenelepe, to her husband’s amusement but implied refusal, loves Dikeledi so much that she offers to lend Paul to her for lovemaking, after Dikeledi discusses it with her and she discovers that Dikeledi’s husband never even attempted to love her properly. But of course, after eight years of happiness, there’s bound to be a snag: the eldest son of Dikeledi is ready for school, but with all her savings, she hasn’t managed to save enough. When she approaches Garesego for it, he insults her by casting a supposed relationship with Paul in her face, and then says he will come home so that they can settle their differences. Dikeledi knows that this means he wants sex, so she sends a message of apparent compliance, and prepares her home. After he has had one last meal there, and she has given him one last opportunity to say that he will help, which he more or less refuses, she allows him to fall asleep from his heavy meal. Then, using a knife she had placed in secret at the ready, she cuts off his genitals. When Paul Thebolo finds out what she has done, he swears to her that they will take her three children and raise them as their own, sending them to school. The conclusion (which actually takes place in a flash forward at the very beginning of the story) happens in a prison area which Dikeledi shares with other women who’ve committed the same crime. She settles in and makes herself happy there too, finding someone to love, a friend, and prepares to live out her life sentence. It is made clear that this is her fate because this is her nature, to be resilient and strong, and to find good things wherever she can to be happy and pleasant about.
Though both men and women in the tradition I’m writing about show strength and resilience, toughness, what the British call the “stiff upper lip” quality of not overly complaining about one’s difficulties, in the stories about women what is emphasized more is the ability simply to endure, to wait, to bear the burdens of life, often in societies that don’t offer them the same outlets as men have. The story “Wedding Dance,” which ends with an implied parallel between Lumnay’s chances for happiness and the returning of the harvest season each year, suggests that perhaps she will after all accept the offered bean field from her erstwhile husband, and find a way to go on, thus changing in a small way the tradition she speaks about at the beginning, of returning to her parents. The tradition is broken, of course, in a much more violent and what is usually thought of as a “masculine” way with Dikeledi, who commits murder with a knife in order to keep her life undefiled. She has, of course, defiled her own hand with the deed, but this crime is a crime for which the author clearly and under the given circumstances shows sympathy and understanding, and implicitly asks the reader to do so as well.
In both cases, the prose, though it mentions rough circumstances and cuts the characters no slack, is clearly different from that of the American precursor authors. The entirety of “Wedding Dance,” though slightly and strangely atilt from the fact that it is not the two lovers in it who are going to be married, is extremely poetic and flowing, and indicative of love as is often displayed in a line of dance. In “The Collector of Treasures,” the story uses language as simply as possible, but it looks deeply into the heart of Dikeledi and analyzes her thoughts and feelings in a way that Hemingway and Ford prefer generally not to do, their forte being to get the reader to do the work. Yet, all four authors are placing their characters in situations that anyone could relate to, and though they are situations very different from each other, they all stem from basic human relations and needs, as all good short stories do, as all good writing does, for that matter.
I hope you have enjoyed this post, readers; it’s the first I’ve had time to do for quite some time, but I hope to be posting more again soon. If you’re looking for a place where these two stories can both be found together, along with many more, some of which I may also write about soon, look for a 1995 Harper Collins volume, quite large, called Modern Literatures of the Non-Western World: Where the Waters Are Born. The editors are Jayana Clerk and Ruth Siegel. Spring approaches! Shadowoperator
For months now, people have been mentioning to me a book called The Secret Life of Bees, so dutifully, I’ve put the book on one of my library websites and am waiting for it to get off a waiting list. In the meantime, however, and due to various promptings from my feline companion, Lucie-Minou, a ravishing calico torbie young lady who will be 4 years old on July 2, I’ve been speculating that perhaps there needs to be a (yet another, yes) book about cats which details and examines issues including their innermost secret thoughts, longings, urges, and etc., as far as these can be determined by a mere human audience. Always taking into account, of course, that cats are natural performers, not like dogs, rollicking clowns, but sleek, Oscar-winning stars of the show.
But let’s get first things first, you say. What’s a calico torbie? A calico torbie is a three-way cross between a calico (black, white, and orange), a tabby (in this case gray and brown) and a tortoiseshell (markings like a tortoiseshell, in various cat colors). And Lucie-Minou says, “Now that you’ve satisfied your profoundly repugnant concern about the colors of my fur, let’s get on with it!”
What do Lucie-Minou and Fluffy and Pom-pom and Sylvester and Hector and Gilgamesh and Chloe and Bella all think about while peering forth out of sometimes narrowed eyes at the world? When hiding under the edge of the bed with two feet peeking out, what personal history of grandeur makes them assume that humans will be able to resist touching the two little feet, or tickling the little back where it lies curled? When Lucie-Minou leaves the bedroom at night after I tell her “Goodnight, sweet kitty,” (hoping of course that she’ll curl up at my shoulder and stay), does she simply go into the other bedroom and sleep on the pile of clean, unsorted laundry, where I’ve found her when I seek late at night, or is she secretly planning a coup, involving her Fancy Feast Broths, or perhaps the space on the couch that is in contest between her and my guests?
I know, of course, that she recalls her own past life (and that of her ancestors) as royalty in ancient Egypt, and any time I forget and tickle her tum, she puts up with it for a bit and then gives me the not entirely civilized reminder of a paw on my hand with a claw just barely extended. But what, what, what, is she thinking while she suns herself by the living room window, or is she merely sunbathing as we all do after a long, hard winter?And what is the mystery about her and the opera?
About her and the opera, you say? What do you mean? Well, it’s like this. Every night of the week, our local classical radio station broadcasts the music of all sorts of classical composers, as it does all day, for that matter. When Lucie-Minou and I are ready for bed, I take a book or my crochet and turn in, and put the radio on. And she jumps up on the bed and both purrs and kneads her claws in the covers as the music plays. She will stay until I turn the music off most times. But woe and betide! On the two weekend nights, the station plays opera, and Lucie-Minou, in her apparent abhorrence or disdain (which is it?) for the human voice as an instrument leaps off the bed and goes to sit alone in the living room for the evening. I’ve learned (or been trained) to cut off the radio or not even turn it on those nights in order to keep her with me. So far so good, she is indifferent to opera. She has a right to her choice.
But then, what’s so special about the opera “Norma”? For, I have a subscription online to opera, and I decided the other day to play “Norma,” which I had never heard before. Now, Lucie-Minou has many times heard me play the operas during the daytime, when I am in my chair in the living room, where she often likes to sit (at opera-less times) on my lap. But her reaction to the opera has basically been the same as usual: she goes into another room, sulking or not, it’s hard to say. When the beginning strains of “Norma” sounded, however, she just twitched her ears slightly and maintained her position on the carpet, a little ways away. It’s a short opera, only two acts, and as the action hetted up and the singing became more impassioned, she glanced at me curiously, which means with wider eyes than usual, because though cats are constitutionally curious, you can rarely get a self-respecting cat to admit that humans are interesting, or at least not often.
Suddenly, to my great surprise, she launched herself up onto my computer table, and then strolled across my midriff and sat herself down, in between me and the laptop, apparently so that she could see and hear better. She sat there, ears still twitching, for a good half hour, so that I felt like saying “Down in front!” since she was very slightly obscuring my view. Then, when her basic questions were satisfied, such as why a Druid priestess would fall in love with a Roman general, and why they spent so much time mewing at each other instead of chasing back and forth across the scenery, one in pursuit, one fleeing, she got off my lap, but continued to sit by my chair, apparently listening, until the opera was over! When the introductions and interviews came on at the end, she took her leave from the room, and when I went to look for her, she was having a post-performance luncheon at the silver bowl. No clapping for her! So, what provoked this change of heart, and was it only the one opera that she liked? Should I try “The Barber of Seville” again? Or perhaps, with a bit more caterwauling, “Carmen”?
Yes, it’s all still a mystery to me. But I live in hope that someone, someday, will write a book entitled The Private Lives of Cats. Or something like that. shadowoperator
Once again, I have been away from posting, and indeed nearly from reading altogether, except for the occasional easy read or book of short pieces. I had it in mind to do a post on one of Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent books, but I left off reading it and my library online site has taken it back for a while, so that I have to wait for a few days to finish it up. Never fear, a post will be forthcoming, for whatever it’s worth.
Actually, I’ve been spending the summer finishing up crochet projects from the spring, and just ordered my crochet supplies for the fall, so even if I get back to posting more regularly again, my second vocation, making gifts for my family and friends, will still eat up a lot of my time.
My companion, friend, and housemate Lucie-Minou has in fact been covering the literary angle of things around here for the last few months. In an effort to get me back to some form of literary endeavor, she has walked around quoting from the works she knows, though due to her peculiar accent, I’ve not been able to understand all of it. I did get one portion, though. She has a particular fondness for one of her favorites, “Romeow and Mewliet,” and looks at me significantly as she makes this comment a visible fact: “Do you wash your paw at me, sir?” “No, sir. But I do wash my paw, sir.” I think she is threatening to wash her paws of me, literature-wise, if I don’t post again soon. She herself is wrapped up in plans for a cloak-and-dagger piece (or as she would have it, a fur-and-claw piece) which she apparently plans to call “The Mer-Wow Factor,” or “The Mer-Wow Conspiracy,” or something like that. Again, I’m not sure which it is, or that she has made up her mind firmly, but she constantly tests out the lines of dialogue as she walks around the house, the key one being that which appears in her title: “Mer-wow? Mer-wow?” I don’t think she’s entirely satisfied with it, somehow.
At any rate, I will post again soon, and hope my readers haven’t entirely given up on me, as Lucie-Minou has been threatening they might. Fare you well until then.
Dear Loyal Readers,
I believe that it has now been roughly two months since I regularly posted anything to this blog, and while that is outrageous, I had my reasons, namely that first, I was completing crochet projects for Christmas, and then that (regrettably but unavoidably) I picked up a nasty laryngitis-sore throat bug during the holidays themselves, and was busy trying not to be too miserable, so as not to ruin my own and others’ good time. But by way of apology, I would like to offer you my first ever guest post, done by an aspiring author who is handicapped by the absence of opposable thumbs, and digits on her little mitts long enough to type with. She is my new roommate, Lucie-Minou, and we not only share living space now, but also share the same last name; that is, if I can ever effect change of her opinion that she adopted me, whereas I think I adopted her. For now, she will only consent to be called “Lucie-Minou,” which is a Frenchified name given her because when I heard her say “Miaow,” and not “Meow,” I knew that she would prefer it. Since I am only her amanuensis for this post, however, let me cease typing my own greetings, and give you the direct words (as far as I can claim to understand by inference and occasional miaows and lots of purrs and pats with a paw) of the aspiring author who has been staring out windows to gain perspective, and gathering materials for a memoir of her life up to now. I suspect that her efforts will also owe something to fiction, due to the number of times she’s knocked down the same books from the lower shelves until they lie by her food bowl, apparently for reading with her meals. So far, her interests seem to lie with Jane Smiley’s Ordinary Love and Good Will, Barbara Howes’s edition of The Eye of the Heart: Short Stories from Latin America, a pocket anthology of Robert Frost’s Poems (edited by Louis Untermeyer), e.e.cummings’s Erotic Poems, Loomis’s and Willard’s Medieval English Verse and Prose, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Collected Novellas. Here, then is Lucie-Minou:
“Bonjour, mes amis! There, we’ve now settled the question of whether I know any French for real and true. I have to say that I pride myself on being able to be a sort of universally acceptable speaker, and frankly Shadowoperator is being a bit pretentious in assuming that my miaows are perfect enough to suit the French, certainly at least the Parisians, who themselves are very particular about their language. Furthermore, as we are learning by our reading of a book loaned us by a friend who also is allowed to share space with a cat (Patricia Barey’s and Therese Burson’s Julia’s Cats: Julia Child’s Life in the Company of Cats), “Minou” is a masculine cat name, not usually used for a female cat. Still, I find it acceptable because I am in some ways an old-fashioned girl, and don’t mind bearing my father’s or my erstwhile husband’s last name, whichever of them gave it me (philandering husbands are a sore subject with me, however, best left out of the memoirs).
But on to my working life. Right now, I am putting together materials in my head for a memoir, called tentatively A Cat’s-Eye View of These Mean Streets, about my early life (which to this point remains shrouded in mystery, except that I have a birthdate of 7/2/14), and then my woeful sojourn on the streets of a small Vermont town, belly swollen with young after being put out by my faithless human friends for something which was not, after all, my fault. I was, however, lucky soon to find other human friends, who though they couldn’t keep me were able to bring me to a shelter, where I introduced myself to Shadowoperator and her nephew Charles when they came in requesting a cat. Well, I may be a bit shy, but after all, I too am a literary cat, though at that point one with few options other than to present myself, and if a cat was wanted, I felt I could certainly fit the bill. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “If you stroke me, do I not purr?” Unhappily (though I don’t mean to go into this extensively in my memoir, my perspective basically being a bowl-half-full one), I lost my kittens because they were stillborn. I will touch on that lightly in my memoir, as it was a definitive moment in my life, but not a permanently damaging one. I am quite happy right now to be where I am doing what I am doing, and I think my memoir, which will handle both past and present, with a hopeful note of future doings, will reflect that. Basically, though not wanting to give too much away, I plan to filter my own early days and days on the street through the more comfortable perspective of my present-day life, spent safely inside a condo without access to the street, watching from a window high above the goings-on of other beings not so lucky. There are moments, yes, when I approach the condo door and sniff at it, detecting unusual smells and sounds, and then I feel my curiosity rising. But when Shadowoperator hears me miaow at her to open the door and very solemnly says that prohibitive and final word “No,” I am content to let her go out without me. For now, anyway.
But you are probably wondering about the other portions of my day. Well, first we have breakfast. That’s an English word I know. Then, I do some portion of my memoir, looking out at the street for inspiration. Then, after Shadowoperator has something called “coffee,” and her own food, there’s sometimes play in the desk chair with a bird on a stick, or a session of stroking, or a brush (I prefer usually to have my fur done while I recline in the desk chair, since I’m allowed to finish the job by pulling my claws in the chair back when we’re done. It’s really quite bizarre how humans react to the places I choose to pull my claws–some places “No!” and some places “Good kitty.” They really are peculiar about it). Then, I find one of my two favorite sleeping spots and curl up for a nap, a long nap, coming out only to eat a bit or use the facilities. Periodically, Shadowoperator sticks her head in the room to inquire where I am, what’s the good kitty doing, do you want a brush? and other such things. She baby-talks to me constantly, sings to me lyrics we’ve put to other old songs, and I put up with it, though I do put my ears back when she hits a wrong note, or when she chooses to tell me that it’s time to change my litter because I’m “such a little ‘tinky-poo!” Really! Some things are not meant to be subjects of funning. Anyway, the day progresses, and sometimes I go to see what she is doing, and sometimes she comes to see what I am doing. When it starts getting dark, she comes back into my main room hangout and closes the curtains and turns on the lights for me (she knows I can see in the dark, but it seems to comfort her to turn the lights on, so I let her do it. Besides, humans can trip over one quite easily in a dark room, and I don’t like those misunderstandings we have when she’s trying to reassure me that she didn’t mean to run into me). Then, we have supper, another human English word I know, and persisting in her determination to have me artificially multilingual, Shadowoperator warns me repeatedly to “use les dents. Chew your food, don’t just swallow it!” This comes from a problem I have because I had a tooth coming in for a while, and I gulped my food so as not to hurt the gum line, which sometimes resulted in an upchucking later. But these things happen, and for the most part (which seemed to amaze my human friend no end) I always regurgitated on a flat, wipeable surface, for her convenience.
I know several other words, too. There’s “treat,” and “play,” and “down,” and “brush,” and my play antagonist, the “comb,” and a few other bits and pieces I’ve picked up. For example, when we’ve finished our nighttime play, there’s the sentence “Okay, time for bed.” I hang around for a minute or two, just to see if this is negotiable, but it’s usually not. I also feel that I know what “Come up on the bed” means, because when my friend says it, intending to brush me or stroke me or go to sleep with me at her feet, I do it, and then she says, “Goodnight, Lucie-Minou,” and sings a little night-time song that the two of us know. And then we go to sleep. Of course, I do get up at night and roam around, sometimes accidentally knocking something off. When this wakes my friend up, she comes to see if I am hurt or have made any sort of difficult mess, but so far we’ve managed just fine together. At this date, I am very pleased with my new life, though I sometimes despair of being understood completely, because my human friend only knows a few cat words, and the only one she says even half-way right is a more or less happy word, “prrrrrrtt!” and no one’s happy all the time. No, I am philosophical: this is far better than what I had before, and I do my best to remain content. Even my curiosity about the main hall door remains somewhat in abeyance, because I was recently curious about one of the closets, and when she opened it to let me see what was inside, that dreaded monster which she calls “vacuum cleaner” was inside! So, I suppose there is some reason for caution. I hissed, she petted me, and we went on with our game in the smaller condo hall, but I couldn’t remain easy. Still, that’s for another time. So, now that you know some of the material I will be covering in my memoir, I hope that you will respect my fellow artists and artistes as well, and check to inquire whether your cat, dog, parakeet or whatever you may have is planning a similar venture. Except for the turtles, of course. With them, it’s a bit plodding; they tend to be the old school philologists, and spend a lot of time arguing about the meanings of different word roots and grammatical endings in the works of others, and their “creative” efforts (to be kind about the matter) are deep, rather boring, and sometimes inconclusive. They too have their advocates, however, and I would be wrong to slight them. We all have our work to do, after all. At this stage, it would be fitting to end as I began, and say ‘Au revoir, mes amis,’ and I hope you have had such good luck for the New Year as to find a new friend like I have found in Shadowoperator and she has found in me.”
Well, there you have it: my first guest post, by a treasured and devoted friend. I hope and trust I have accurately transcribed her miaows and purrs and pats. As the medieval monk told his scribe, “When you transcribe correctly, it is my work. When you do it badly, it begins to be yours,” or words to that effect. Lucie-Minou seems to feel her obligation to speak more directly, and not merely to appear as a subject as did another medieval monk’s cat “Pangur Ban,” or Christopher Smart’s cat “Geoffrey.” I would like to wish her all good luck with her creative venture, and all of you reading some form of pet to help you with your happiness factor. Yours most joyously, vociferously, and sincerely,
I still and continually this fall owe you my sincere apologies for being somewhat absent from the blogging world. The last time I posted something partially on a personal note, I had also to offer my excuses too (and yes, sometimes an excuse is a reason). The explanation now is the same as it was then: I am still crafting away busily (mainly doing crochet gifts) for Hannukah and Christmas, both fast approaching.
But there are those of us who have not been derelict in our attentions, and I have to thank those of my readers who continue to read along and wait, I assume fairly patiently, since stats have been good, for my return to the blogging scene. I hope to have something to say on literary matters again soon, and until then, know that I have you all in my thoughts as I occasionally stop to read some bloggable material, and try to prepare a post that won’t be too lazy or offhand for your attention. I would also like to thank those newcomers who pop up now and then for their attendance at my site, and hope they keep coming back. As the cold winds blow up a nor’easter here in the States, I am also thankful not only for the readers who come to my site from the U.S. but also for those who read from other parts of the world. You are all welcome, and I am always thrilled by the stats which show your countries of origin. I’ll try not to disappoint when I do return. In the meantime, enjoy the comforts of the season, such as warm blankets, cozy fires, falling leaves to watch, and hot drinks inside away from the elements. And if you have to be out in the weather a lot for work (or even play), I hope you are well wrapped up and as sanguine as possible about it–spring will come again!
Thank you for your readership, and farewell for now. Shadowoperator
I know that I certainly owe my readers an apology: I have been away from the posting box for several weeks now, and during that time, occasional checks have shown me that my readers are a great deal more faithful than I am. Readers from all over the world have been reading or possibly re-reading all my posts thus far, while I have been doing other things that called me away from the computer
What have I been doing, you ask? Or possibly you’ve lost interest by now–let’s hope not, though. I have been busy starting to get handmade gifts ready for Christmas in a few months. And, I have been up early and late when I would have preferred to have been getting a good night’s sleep, many a night. I am either sleepless thinking of all I have to get done, and have been wakeful in the wee hours (and finally, I usually give up and get up to start my day), or I’m up late at night, finishing up some aspect of one of my projects. Sometimes, I have actually been up all night in my eagerness to get work done. Little by little, I have been aware of how much more people could get done if only they didn’t sleep. But finally, last night, my hectic schedule caught up with me: I was so sleepy that all I could do was eat, read the very last of a book which has supplied me with a few moments here and there of literary pleasure during my work, and go off to sleep.
The book? Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless NIghts. How appropriate, I hear you say! Yet, I have preferences in general for books which are not all about style and issues of style, whether of writing or of life. But I had simply chosen this book off the shelf at random out of the sort of idle curiosity which has led to some of my most favorite literary adventures, so I persisted with it. Though accordingly it’s not really my type of book, it was perfect for the episodic and halting manner in which I had time to read it.
The book begins by announcing an apparent scenario, topic, and theme, which I give here in brief: “How nice it is–[this crocheted bedspread,] this production of a broken old woman in a squalid nursing home. The niceness and the squalor and sorrow in an apathetic battle–that is what I see. More beautiful is the table with the telephone, the books and magazines, the Times at the door, the birdsong of rough, grinding trucks in the street….If only one knew what to remember or pretend to remember. Make a decision and what you want from the lost things will present itself.” From that point onward, however, one gets lost in a kaleidoscopic shifting back and forth from one place and time to the next, from a girlhood (based on Hardwick’s own) in Kentucky, to homes in New York, Maine, Connecticut, to many life stories not her own, for example of some of the cleaning ladies and laundresses she has known. These are all short sketches, then the topic is switched to someone else, some other locale. Perfect to me for reading from moment to moment, a few pages one night, a few pages the next!
There are literary riffs played on the life and times of Billie Holiday, detailing her behind-the-scenes experiences as viewed by a close outsider, close in proximity if not in emotional terms. Yet, it is hard to tell just how much of the meandering and rather plotless narrative (one cannot reallly call it a story) is actual fact and how much is made up. Hardwick mentions at one points that her mother criticized her for making up some things which weren’t true and putting them amongst things which were, and if one were out to get either a purely fictional story or essay or conversely a memoir, then the demand to separate fact from fiction might be apt.
However, this book is a book about getting one’s insomnia steaze on, about all the ideas, notions, pictures of the past and speculations about the present and future which occur to one when one is wakeful, and if one accepts the book on those terms, then one will be more than satisfied. Yet, it is not, curiously, the author’s own insomnia which gets main mention, first mention, or even predominant mention in this book. She tells about Louisa, for example, an acquaintance who actually suffers from insomnia, and says: “After a dreamy day, Louisa went into her nights. Always she insisted they were full of agitation, restlessness, torment. She was forever like one watched over by wakefulness in her deepest sleep. She awoke with a tremor in her hands, declaring the pains, the indescribable, absorbing drama of sleeplessness. The tossing, the racing, the battles; the captures and escapes hidden behind her shaking eyelids. No one was more skillful than she in the confessions of an insomniac. These were redundant but stirring epics, profoundly felt and there to be pressed upon each morning, in the way one presses a bruiise to experience over and over the pain of it….Her hypnotic narration is like that of some folk poet, steeped, as they say, ‘in the oral tradition.’ Finally, it goes, sleep came over me…At last…It was drawing near to four o’clock. The first color was in the sky…Only to wake up suddenly, completely….Unsavory egotism? No, mere hope of definition, description, documentation. The chart of life must be brought up to date every morning: Patient slept fitfully, complained of the stitches in the incision. Alarming persistence of the very symptoms for which the operation was performed. Perhaps it is only the classical aching of the stump.” Thus, insomnia is compared poetically to a sort of illness or medical condition for which one requires surgery, and which must be kept track of by someone to assure the patient’s health and well-being.
Romances of the author’s fictional self are sketched out (for one must remember that none of this book actually purports to be a memoir, while it prefers to blur the lines and distinctions between fact and fiction). There are also portraits of romances and life histories in miniature of other sets of lovers of whom the author knew, or with whom she was acquainted, not necessarily anyone as famous as Billie Holiday, but people who form part of the landscape of the author’s mind. In short, these are all the topics and scenarios about which a fictionalized version of the author has thought in the small hours, and the connection amongst them is maintained by the style of masterful reminiscence of a long life, though without the sort of condescension to “elderly” memories that one might see as a danger to be avoided in this style of writing.
Thus, it seems that it can truly be said, in the “Urban Dictionary” slang of our own time, that Elizabeth Hardwick is in this work showing her “steaze” ( I am told this word means, among other things, “styling with ease,” making it an appropriate if anachronistic accolade for such a writer). It’s not essentially my kind of work, since I prefer to be reading a consistent or at least a less episodic story line. Still, it kept me reading from night to night as I got my own insomnia steaze on, and a good literary companion is not to be cast down upon. I would recommend this book for its sense of control of a difficult and querulous subject, a subject as difficult and querulous as an insomniac herself. And who knows, you might come greatly to admire a writer who can seem to meander and wool-gather without once losing track of her readers’ interest and willingness to go along in an exploration of the places and times and acquaintances of a single, remarkable, if fictionalized, life.