Tag Archives: libraries

Apart From Naughtiness

There are many ways of knowing, there are many sorts of knowledge. But the two ways of knowing, for man, are knowing in terms of apartness, which is mental, rational, scientific, and knowing in terms of togetherness, which is religious and poetic.
—D.H. Lawrence, A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (55)

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It was only once I was walking down the dark empty hallway that an awareness began to percolate back into my brain alerting me that I had left my glasses behind. Before the realization entirely sank in, while I was still merely in an optical haze of confusion, I spun around and ran back hoping to beat the timer I had turned—I didn’t want the light to go off and have to blindly find my way back to the stack among multiple stacks. Not my fault. I had gone there to get one book. Just one. But in my arms were four. I got excited and was dashing off like a thief in the night.

People wallow in emotion: counterfeit emotion. They lap it up: they live in it and on it. They ooze it (18-19).

What began as My Skirmish With Jolly Roger, (which I found in there! in the general stacks—a first edition! —I’m going to have to talk with someone about that.) —a stand-alone limited edition of Lawrence’s forward to the “Paris edition” of Lady Chatterley’s Lover— turned into A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, extending the original essay by some fifty pages. I added both to my check out, naturally.

And with counterfeit emotions there is no real sex at all. Sex is the one thing you cannot really swindle; and it is the centre of the worst swindling of all, emotional swindling. Once come down to sex, and the emotional swindle must collapse. But in all the approaches to sex, the emotional swindle intensifies more and more. Till you get there. then collapse (21).

In the essay, Lawrence seems to be trying to find his reader. Not the one who skips to the dirty words, not the one who is sanctimoniously looking for moral outrage, but his reader–the one who craves something true. It is a delicate and precious thing:

Herein lies the danger of harping only on the counterfeit and the swindle of emotion, as most “advanced” writers do. Though they do it, of course, to counterbalance the hugely greater swindle of the sentimental “sweet” writers (23). 

It is even harder, in this day and age, to resist the cynics and avoid the fools. This week I began my summer internship. I am working in the editorial department of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I spend my lunch hour wandering the sublime halls of the museum. I let myself approach each piece of art instinctually—yes or no. It is simple. I have time. No pressure. It is just me. Is the answer to the multiple choice question yes or no? I wish life were so simple.

Édouard Vuillard, Conversation (1897-98)

Édouard Vuillard, Conversation (1897-98)

This is what is the matter with us. We are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars, and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the tree of Life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilised vase on the table (40).

Poor blossom, indeed. Lawrence advocates passionately, in this essay,  for marriage, which, having been married, forces a sort of reckoning within me. Additionally, as the novel’s plot involves adultery, his stance is interesting. And yet, marriage for marriage’s sake–for stature or security or any other shallow or temporal purpose is exactly what he most vehemently rails against…so,  I do come to see his point. I am not only a dedicated observer of art, I am also an observer of couples, and when I espy the authentic thing—I rejoice with a yes in my heart. Life can be all that.

For an essay that begins, ostensibly, as a warning to the reader of the myriad pirated editions of his work, Lawrence diverges with such fervent passion into the heart of the matter, into our very hearts, that I cannot help adoring him. He is a sane man in a mad world, which may make him appear crazed, but it doesn’t make him wrong.

When the great crusade against sex and the body started in full blast with Plato, it was a crusade for “ideals”, and for this “spiritual” knowledge in apartness. Sex is the great unifier. In its big, slower vibration it is the warmth of heart which makes people happy together, in togetherness. The idealist philosophies and religions set out deliberately to kill this. And they did. Now they have done it. The last great ebullition of friendship and hope was squashed out in mud and blood. Now men are all separate entities. While “kindness” is the glib order of the day—everyone must be “kind”—underneath this “kindness” we find a coldness of heart, a lack of heart, a callousness, that is very dreary (57).

It’s the “dreary” that makes me smile. Yes, it is indeed dreary.

*title from pg. 32

Mazarine, Luteus, Vermilion

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The other day at work in the library while prying apart two colossal artbooks- my left hand pushing the row as far over as it would budge, while holding between right thumb and forefinger another sizable tome, the remaining three fingers were left with thrusting the opposing mountain of books to the opposite side when Lo! a small book revealed itself recessed in the deep shadows of the imposing giants surrounding it. With all of my fingers engaged, I let out an exasperated sigh. With reluctance, I released the hard earned space I had created. I  deftly (more likely, spasmodically) slipped my left hand in before the hidden entrance snapped shut in the jungle of books squeezed onto the shelf. If it hadn’t been a high shelf I might have engaged my foot to keep that damn space, but alas, I do try to maintain a professional demeanor.

My wearied fingers just managed to coax the little book out. I had only intended to help it reclaim its allotted space, but when I read the title, The Primary Colors by Alexander Theroux, I had to take a look. That very morning I had finished reading The Manticore by Robertson Davies, so when his back-of-the-book-two-cents blurb promising essays of “prodigal and vagarious adventure” as oppose to the “terse and apophthegmatic” sort, well, I ask you – how could leave it on the shelf?

The word sings. You pout pronouncing it, form a kiss, moue slightly, blowing gracefully from the lips as if before candles on a birthday cake (3).

Blue. It can only be blue, of course. Theroux’s discursive, plaited, and enigmatic exaltation of the primary color is a crazy delight to read. In equal parts: laundry list, rapturous praise, historical, poetical, and literary- azure my love, and blue, blau, bleu…some 50 pages into the thicket of illusive, expensive, pensive, doleful, blithe, yet blissful blue, Theroux insouciantly begins a new paragraph by saying, “Speaking of blue…”

Georgiana Peacher in Mary Stuart’s Ravishment Descending Time may well have given us the greatest passage on yellow eyes ever written, which I include here for, among other things, the edification of those undermedicated hacks, shameless book-a-year novelists, and jug-headed commercialists yahoos whose predictable prose comes cranking out of the trafila of their heads like streams of common pasta (104).

Yellow seems the perfect color to evince such a vitriolic run of the pen. At once sickly and weak it just as easily turns to exuberant luster. The sultry and louche lemonade pucker in no way disturbs the energetic primordial yellow, “I was going into the yellow” as Theroux quotes Marlow looking at a map of the Belgian Congo, “I was going into the yellow” (157).

As to barbaric richness of color, Francis Bacon, who wanted, among other things, to make the human scream into something “which would have the intensity and beauty of a Monet sunset,” like the color of blood, whether Antioch-red or paintbox bright or cherry: “It’s nothing to do with mortality, but it’s to do with the great beauty of the color of meat” (193).

Indeed, it is not accidental, I think, that  “there is no red Necco wafer” (172). Of all the names for red: cochineal, carmine, rubious, crimson, scarlet, a seemingly endless array of nuance and aspects. The copse of all that red denotes, connotes or promotes seems to tangle Theroux a bit in the final essay. As if there is too much to feel in this – the true primary color (no matter the language, “red” is always the first color named after black and white). Love and death, fervor, pain, a blush, the saucy and tart – my heart! my heart! Cranberry that it is, bursting with bitterness, but ever awaiting the sweet start.

 

*luteous (from lutum, mud) one of those perfectly good English words completely ignored nowadays as pretentious and arch, except by literate people like Virgil, who in his day used the word “luteus” as a synonym for yellow (73).

** Print by Dana Jennings Rohn

 

WITHDRAWN

System 1 is gullible and biased to believe, System 2 is in charge of doubting and unbelieving, but System 2 is sometimes busy, and often lazy. 
– Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow (81)

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I spent the greater part of my working hours this past week removing books from the library shelves and stamping them “withdrawn.” Feeling something of the executioner, I began to muse on the psychological effect it might have on me to stamp the word, “withdrawn” “withdrawn” “WITHDRAWN” over and over again.

One further limitation of System 1 is that it can not be turned off. If you are shown a word on the screen in a language you know, you will read it (25)

Daniel Kahneman’s fascinating book, Thinking Fast and Slow names the differing ways of thinking, respectively, System 1 and System 2. The part we know and believe to be firmly in control is System 2, all activity that requires conscious thought lives in this system. The unfortunate news that Kahneman shares in his book is the overwhelming evidence that System 1 is in fact (smugly, no doubt) running the show. System 1 is so firmly in control of our reactions, impressions, and judgements, that it hardly need deign to acknowledge its domination.

The technical definition of heuristics is a simple procedure that helps find adequate, though often imperfect, answers to difficult questions. The word comes from the same root as eureka (98).

Admittedly heuristics is a good thing. We are not after all computers and lack the ability to algorithmically function in real time. Lord knows I’m all for split second, heuristics. Or so I thought. I don’t want to make an enemy of my own brain, but the fact that System 1’s default attitude is to believe, always to believe, concerns me.

declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true (212).

Halo effect, illusions of validity, hindsight effect, coherence, over confidence, context dependency- the list of pit falls, oversights, blind spots and standard issue mental sloth is depressing me. Standing in the back of the stacks with my red stamp – withdrawn, withdrawn, withdrawn, the frame of my life takes on a rather pathetic hue. What might I be feeling if the word was “discard?” I shudder to think. But never mind “discard,” the depressing point, according to Kahneman is that if the word had been “keep” or “valued” I probably would not have even noticed. It doesn’t fit into my story.

A single cockroach will completely wreck the appeal of a bowl of cherries, but a cherry will do nothing at all for a bowl of cockroaches (302).

As the acidic paper of the books I remove from the shelves flake and fall, strewing my hair and the floor with brittle specks of lonely confetti, I force System 2 to step it up. How we frame events, the tension between our remembering selves and our experiencing selves  makes a real difference to the actual quality of our lives. Kahneman mentions movements and policies, at the end of the book, that aim to help us help ourselves when dealing with all of our innate (and not always negative) judgment disabilities. And that is some cause for celebration. For hope.

Unless there is an obvious reason to do otherwise, most of us passively accept decision problems as they are framed and therefore rarely have an opportunity to discover the extent to which our preferences are frame-bound rather than reality-bound (367).

An admission that we know nothing,  yet relentlessly protect our belief systems against reality, is a healthy thing to keep in mind – I’m talking to you System 1! Understanding how profound our mental biases and tendencies are leaves me feeling that much more like useless confetti helplessly blowing about- it’s no use! but, never fear- my optimism bias kicks in and I just KNOW that acceptance is the first step! All is well, all goes well, all goes as well as it possibly could – oh dear, I must confess my cynicism bias can kick my optimism bias’s ass any day of the week…..In the meantime I take some solace in the ineluctable certainly that, it is not just me. My predictable predilection of perception fallibility is matched only by yours. Solidarity, my fellow humans!

Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it (402)

Mirror

“Passing life’s halfway mark, I lost my way in a dark wood”
– Andrei Tarkovsky, The Mirror (film)

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One of my jobs is in a library. I always like to shelve the books first. I’m hidden deep in the stacks, focused intensely on tiny sometimes obscured sequences of numbers, letters, dots and slashes.  I work in the arts and music section, the books are all lovely and tempting…but last Tuesday when I came in I could see there was a DVD shelving emergency underway, so I gave the books a longing look, and got right to work on the towers of DVDs. Still, I have preferences. I always start with the foreign films, then documentaries, and only then attack the regular collection. I find the foreign films more interesting, plus there is a stool on wheels that I can skate around on while running through the alphabet in my head over and over again, which makes it more fun.

Sometimes I don’t shelve them. I put them aside, and when I have a minute I go downstairs and check them out. That’s how I came to watch Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror.

The paradoxical thing about a task like shelving books is that it requires deep but meaningless focus. It’s just numbers and letters. But then there is the actual object in my hand, which can trigger thoughts, memories, and feelings. My shift is two and half hours and it feels very like to what watching The Mirror feels like: somewhat stream of conscious, deep in thought, with memories, words and images coming from all directions creating a quiet, sometimes profound emotional rhythm.

There is no story, really. Not in our minds, and not in The Mirror. But the engrossing drama of  (presumably) Tarkovsky’s childhood memories,  twisted up with his mother’s history; the sequences of Tarkovsky’s father’s poetry, read by the narrator (A. Tarkovsky);  the beautiful cinematography: by random turns, black and white, and then color; the dreams and nightmares, anxieties, regret and hope all converge to express, I think, a visual representation of the deep recesses of our minds in which our foundations, if examined, can be all revealing. Just a glimpse, maybe. But a flickering light in between the letters and numbers of our lives.

*photograph taken by Augustus Accardi

 

 

Blindfold Art

I leaned me forward to find her lips,
And claim her utterly in a kiss

– D.H. Lawrence, from Lightning

IMG_1030After renewing my copy of Everybody’s Plutarch, one, possibly two, times more than the officially allowable amount, I reluctantly returned it. I thought I’d be tricky by getting another copy at a different library. Instead, I ended up with the book,  An Uninhibited Treasury of Erotic Poetry. I know, I love the title too.

Catullus, you’re a fool. I said,
What’s lost is lost, what’s dead is dead.
The game is over, that you know;
So let the little strumpet go.

Catullus, from Catullus Talks to Himself

I wasn’t even going to be picky, I know there are many editions of Noble Lives,  but just you try to search for a single book in a library that is many stories tall with all the ordinances accounted for. Let me save you some trouble by saying, it ain’t easy. First stop: the computer catalogue. I came away from that aspect ratio of small proportion’ s labyrinth with a piece of paper on which I had scrawled as many call numbers as I could fit. Next: pitstop at the circulation desk to pick up a copy of the floorplan. Third stop: level A, west wing.

In the secrets of your flesh
I make myself words
to be read by you alone

– Eve Merriam, from The Moment Before Conception

A partial but useless success- Plutarch in Latin. But why dwell on thoughts that serve as cruel metaphors for life? Moving on: level three, north wing, where I find a trove of books about Plutarch. Down a level: no luck at all. Back up a couple levels: berating myself for not organizing my list geographically,  looking for the 900 section, wait, no- the 800s, focus, Jessica!…disoriented, the low lights and lack of humans among the rows of books are so comforting as to begin to disconcert me. I put my bag on the floor and crouch down, sitting upon my heels for a moment’s respite.

Love Poem

Oh, your thighs
are numbered:

Two

But they are
as poles of the earth

And all
that there is

Is

Between them

-Judson Crews

Up a level, down, south, was it west? …my memory fades…A Modern Plutarch sits on the shelf. In fact it now sits on the desk next to me. But a comparison of, for example,  Mark Twain and Anatole French, while a good idea, was neither well executed nor the thing I was after.

Teach me, only teach, Love!
As I ought
I will speak thy speech, Love
Think thy thought-

– Robert Browning, from A Woman’s Last Word

Next to A Modern Plutarch, sat An Uninhibited Treasury of Erotic Poetry, which I did not attempt to resist. I opened to a random page – two lines that I know well. I don’t need much more encouragement than that.

Come live with me and be my Love,
And we will all the pleasures prove

Marlowe, The Passionate Shepard to His Love. I read an article once regarding pronunciation which suggested that “love” would have rhymed, back then, with “prove.” Love and prove, I find much pleasure in making the words sound alike in various combinations in my head (I think the article describe how it had been pronounced and rhymed, but I can’t recall).  Later in the poem “love” is rhymed with “move,” consequently I now relish saying Louvre whenever I see the word love. Love, prove….There is something that pulls those words to each other, love: tested, withstood, evidenced. They seem to belong together.

* Title from Lawrence’s Lightning-
“Repeating with tightened arms, and the hot blood’s
blindfold art.”

** The Uninhibited Treasury of Erotic Poetry (“edited and with a running commentary by”) Louis Untermeyer. He makes clear in his introduction that by “erotic,” a more classic sense, by way of Eros (love), is meant.

Back to Plutarch- Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

You Are Here

It was eerie to have stepped into this silence of the desert, and I wished to get clear away. Yet, since there did not seem to be an adequate reason for absconding, I took a place at the table and resigned myself to the inevitable.
Stefan Zweig, Moonbeam Alley (139)

IMG_0506A green paperback. Four words. The title: Kaleidiscope One, and the author: Stefan Zweig.

The main motive is dread of solitude, of the terrible feeling of aloofness which severs us one from another -Transfiguration (202)

I was trying to navigate a new library, all of the books had call numbers that I could not make sense of. YF? Was I in the Youth Fiction section? I am stereotypically male-like in my reticence to ask for directions, but I was flummoxed and the awkwardness of looking so obviously lost clinched it- I would ask the pony-tailed librarian brimming with helpful alacrity for assistance. I was of course deeply impressed with his enthusiastic explanation of their filing system- Cutter Seventh Classification.

I rejoiced to know that my feelings had merely been paralysed, and were not utterly dead; that somewhere beneath the smooth surface of my indifference volcanic passion must still be raging. -Transfiguration (189)

Earnestly and nearly embarrassedly fascinated, I listened, raptly, while he extolled the difference. This guy Cutter (an actual librarian at the library in question 1894-1903, Forbes Library) developed a system for organizing books, but somehow , over time Mr Dewey Decimal gained popularity, meanwhile the Library of Congress knew a good thing when they saw it and based their system after Cutter’s, except they, cruelly, added in decimals which is the bane of the Liberian’s assistant (or maybe just mine) shelving existence, although it seemed also to be the reason why this young man was singing the praises of Cutter Seventh Classification to me- why, I think we almost had a connection….

…behind me I heard the laughter of a woman, the bright and somewhat agitated laughter I so dearly love in women-laughter that issues from the burning bush of voluptuousness. – Transfiguration (171)

But no, I had to face the stacks alone, and while I now had an appreciation for the system, I still didn’t quite grasp it, and I so when I saw this plain green book, with the familiar name-I just grabbed it. When I got home I realized it was a series of short stories, most of which I have already read. But, that’s okay there were a few new ones in there.

Touching, too, was the eagerness with which she would scan the shabby books in the hotel library… – The Fowler Snared (270)

I skipped to Moonbeam Alley in which I was able to assemble the most comprehensive list of words to describe a wanton women I’ve ever made (strumpet- love it, harlot- a favorite, vixen, weak-minded wench, slatternly, blowzy…blowzy?) Let me quickly add that Zweig has an innate sympathy for women, despite his creative use of synonyms, the subtle and not so subtle subjugating conditions of the female were repeating themes in his work.

But as I went along, I began to understand something about Zweig and my interest in his writing. Transfiguration is a long one, but it perfectly exemplifies what it is I felt. In all of his stories there is an urgency, a burning desire for something, even if it is simply to tell the tale. The fever of his characters is palatable. His passions awaken the reader, and are well suited to the short story format he favored. Whether resolved tragically or happily (yes there are a few) his heated breathless pace warms the soul by its cautionary or sympathetic call to those that open their hearts to sense and human passion: it’s our very humanity and Zweig’s writing is a spark.

Indeed, I now realize what was still hidden from me when I took up my pen ten minutes ago, that my sole object in writing this account of the incidents is that I may hold them fast, may have them so to speak concretized before me, may enjoy their rehearsal at once emotionally and intellectually. – Transfiguration (159)

It occurred to me, as I’m currently reading Sartre’s Existentialism and Human Emotions (found in my college’s L of C system- they use the DD as well depending on the book), that literature speaks directly to essence, while libraries speak to existence. The conditions are the same for book or person- we are here, and so…what’s the essence of the pages or our hours? That burning ember within us, that the books lack, is the freedom to choose (or not choose) how to live our lives. But the books, the books can give oxygen- their whispers remind, plead, scold or extol. It is their essence that fuels our fire.

But one who understands will not judge, and will have no pride. -Transfiguration (218)

* Kaleidoscope One translated from German by Eden and Cedar Paul, Hallam Edition

An Inexplicable But Pelagic Hope

This is what I know: people’s hopes go on forever
– Junot Díaz, This is How You Lose Her (72)

45817_10151542606933132_1238016564_n-1This book stared at me for weeks as it sat on the Featured Book wall-display across from the circulation desk I sit behind. I would always stare back at it whenever I walked by. Once or twice I even picked it up, held the spanking new volume wrapped in snapping clear polyester and contemplated reading it. I was already reading a few books, had promised a few others I would read them next, then there’s homework, and jobs, children, applications with their punishing piles of forms to fill that are covered front and back with questions that I cannot answer- I take that back,  I can always at least manage question number one: name. After that, my life simply does not fit into the square boxes. So no, Junot Díaz, I don’t have time to read your pretty little book with deckle edged paper. Stop looking at me. Mercifully, one day the display was changed.

This novel wouldn’t let it go however. I was asked to gather a list of books off the stacks the other day, and there it was again, in the New Reads section. Damn it. I picked it up. For the first time I actually opened it. All of my will power was undone in a page – this is how you read a book in one day. I read the first chapter standing, facing the shelves. Then I got a hold of myself went back to my desk to finish my studying, eat an orange, read a long, interesting article about Jane Austen a friend sent me, and then I read the book, drove home, and read it to the end.

The story is devastating, smart, and tender. The idiosyncrasies of Dominican culture mixed with the peculiar regularity with which people, in this case- Yunior, fuck up their lives is told with verve and nerve. The book is funny, heartbreaking, bleak, but buoyant.

It takes discipline and perhaps the confidence from growing up in a loving home to avoid the urge to insecurely fling oneself heedlessly into what looks like Love, or my favorite non-love description: Camus’ vanity and boredom. One of the fascinating things about the life of Jane Austen was that she knew the requirements of her own heart, and just because she never realized (at least publicly) a true love, she was content to be alone and pour her passion into her art rather than forfeit her need to Love truly. Possibly her heart was set on one man in particular, turning it cold to anyone else—that’s a bit of speculation, but there was that Irish fellow…not enough money, family expectations, blah blah blah, we know the story—in fact we know it well because of Austen’s smart, tender books.  Funny though, how in both cases—Jane and Díaz’s Yunior—they end up alone. Do the reasons matter?

Like Yunior, Elinor in Sense and Sensibility acts recklessly in her love life. The idiosyncrasies of the English class system mix painfully with Elinor’s sensuality. Elinor is rescued from that cowardly rake Willoughby’s renunciation by Colonel Brandon’s adoration—which is so kind of Austen, but still  Elinor, again like Yunior, is a bit wrecked, body and soul, by the experience.

A few years back I resignedly  concluded that there is no reason why I should be hopeful. No reason to assume “things will look up.” No reason, certainly, to think Miss Austen had a firm grasp of real life with her wrenchingly wonderful happy endings. This is How You Lose Her is a story that I love for its full frontal look at reality. Yunior is what one might  call a “dog,” and yet you feel for him. He can’t love because he wasn’t loved at those critical stages of youth: the plasticity of the heart must have an expiration date.  Years go by, and we can’t all have a Captain Wentworth, who has that rare Love that can never bring itself to forsake the lovely object of his ardor: Anne Elliot in Persuasion—my favorite Austen book. I tend to think Persuasion represented Austen’s rewrite of her life, (the article suggested P&P née First Impressions, maybe they all were to some extent, but Persuasion was her last novel…).

Yunior and I would like a rewrite. Instead we get reality, Yunior’s body starts to break under the pressure until the only thing that’s left is his poor calcified heart. Save me! It cries out. save me. 

His heartbreak is long, intense, and perhaps permanent. Maybe the most some can hope for is to get over the disappointment of their own shortcomings. It is enough I suppose to try not to make it worse. At a certain point you stop worrying about going up and simply become determined not go down. Jane Austen found her rather brilliant way to not make it worse and yet, her body too failed her long before it should have— desuetude of the heart devastates too. That, is life. Both Austen and Díaz give the gift of hope and humor against despair and cynicism. Laugh or cry, it’s the battle we wage everyday.

The half-life of love is forever.  – Junot Díaz, This Is How You Lose Her (213)

*Painting by my daughter,  Victoria Accardi, oil and embroidery thread (the tattoos are embroidered onto the canvas).

Fairy of Fate

As my only answer, I let my head drop on his heart, as I had so often done in my dreams.
-María Luisa Bombal, House of Mist (53)

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What took place after that was unquestionably the most tragic experience any woman in love could have had to endure in all her life. (63)

Every morning among my emails a question of the day for SAT practice appears. I only have a couple of weeks left, I really need to practice the math but about three to one are grammar and vocabulary questions. My 17 year-old son and I will take the test together, which delights me and somewhat dulls the anticipated pain.

The other fun part of taking the test is the seemingly random literary references that appear in the grammar sections. Either a Roberto Bolaño reference is wildly inappropriate for teenagers, or perfect. I can’t quite decide.

One of the questions involved the Chilean author María Luisa Bombal. I was intrigued enough to hunt her down. It wasn’t effortless. The librarians I work for relieved me of some of my bottomless ignorance- where I had thought I was doing sweeping state-wide searches for books, I had in fact been trapped in a small consortium of libraries. I was so happy to discover this, that when I went back into the stacks, to finish the shelves I was meant to dust and “read” for accuracy of order, I put my headphones on and danced.

So, victory! I finally found Bombal in the U.S. Coast Guard library of all places. That’s the odd path that led me to this writer. I love an odd path.

“So Serena is engaged?” I inquired, just for the pleasure of repeating their sister’s lovely name.

What a wonderful detail – just for the pleasure of repeating.…. Initially I was unsure what to make of the child-like voice of the heroine, but it’s a beautifully fresh if odd voice. There is a sad mysteriousness at the heart of the tale, the first being how she could possible love the beastly Daniel. But even there I am sympathetic, the arrow of  love is a powerful force and does leave one a defenseless child of Eros. It’s cruel. The book is like a fairy tale – brutal, nostalgic, magical, with a child’s profound capacity for fear and passion.

The word “fairy” can be etymologically traced to the Latin  Fata, the Goddess of fate. Fate is a strange concept: whether or not we are resisting or yielding to something that is real is a plaguing question. Are we fated to be loved or unloved? It’s convenient to think so –it’s not me, it’s fate– is a salve on the heart of the miserable. Never the less, everyone knows fairy tales end happily. Everyone also knows that fairy tales don’t exist -except between the covers of the pages.

And it happened that in spite of myself, I was beginning to hear the precise working of this destructive rhythm hidden at the center of life.
Tic-tac! I could hear, out there in the abandoned tower, the books in the enormous library shriveling up, turning yellow, being blotted out, collapsing in rows…(74)

Life as a library is a favorite theme of mine. Here it is almost a metaphor for being an unloved woman. Bombal was known for writing stories about women who escaped their lives into a dream world ( according to the SATs). Her life took an extraordinarily odd path as well:  there was her suicide attempt, her near murder of one husband (probably had it coming as he didn’t share her love of literature), friendships with Neruda and Borges- is it any wonder that she keeps the story on half-footing in and about reality?

And that night I knew love…that love of which I had had only a glimpse through Daniel’s taciturn passion, the love that gives and receives…the love that is knowledge, exaltation, tenderness… (115)

I confess, I became absorbed in the story.  The orphaned heroine is quite lovely and grows on the reader. Like me, she roots for the love story, even when it is not her own. The Beauty and Beast heart of the tale is complicated by the loose boundaries of the mind. The heroine remains throughout the entire story pure in her love. It seems a fragile, childish thing, but the force of it is unrelenting.

Called La última niebla in Spanish, (which, correct me if I’m wrong, translates as The last mist) still, as a title, The House of Mist works, all fairy tales need a house –  the starting point of the collusion by collision of our inner and outer worlds that clouds our view and tangles the path.

For now, now I knew all was but a dream, life to me seemed no more than a long, dull, purposeless road along which in time I would become old and die without having known love (162)

Library of Eden

Pears – oil painting by Victoria Accardi 2009

2 days ago I left the library triumphantly- I had returned all my borrowed books! My step was lighter as I walked out into the sunshine with nary the threat of a looming due date spasmodically  interrupting my thoughts. Today – I have five books out. Here’s how it happens:
In naked innocence I drove to the library to meet my son. He was not there, he was on the green playing ultimate frisbee but, “Can I please give [him] 1/2 hour.”  I have eggs in the car, but okay – I tell him 10 min.

I went upstairs to sit in one of the comfortable chairs and took out my own book, Women in Love. I swear I did not look at the books displayed on tables and counters as I walked up, because – I don’t need another book to read. I know that. But there as I sat down, I could not help but notice, on a low table placed directly in my line of vision, a display of the library’s canon of Carlos Fuentes. Oh no. He died last week while I was in South Carolina; my aunt and uncle noted his passing as they had met him and remembered him fondly. They put that (amongst 1000) seed in my head, the seed of writers to read. I’m  just going to look at the titles, I tell myself. Oh, there’s a book of essays, just a quick peek at the titles of the essays. The book Myself with Others begins with an essay titled How I Started to Write. I am resolute: I’ll only just read this one….

“The French equate intelligence with rational discourse, the Russians with intense soul-searching. For a Mexican, intelligence is inseperable from maliciousness – in this, as in many other things, we are quite Italian: fuberia, roguish slyness, and the cult of appearances, la bella figura, are Italiante traits present everywhere in Latin America: Rome, more than Madrid, is our spiritual capital in this sense.

For me, as a child, the Untied States seemed a world where intelligence was equated with energy, zest, enthusiasm.”

It is a brief but fascinating telling of his early years; the influence of different countries and writers on his formation as a man and as a writer. His sense of humor pervades in descriptions of all sorts:  explaining his decision to write in Spanish,
The English language, after all, did not need another writer. The English language has always been alive and kicking, and if it ever becomes drowsy, there will always be an Irishman…”  
talking about his friend writer Alfonso Reyes,
He liked to quote Goethe: Write at dawn, skim the cream of the day, then you can study crystals, intrique at court, and make love to your kitchen maid.” 

But it is what he has to say about language and literature that is most impressive and moving,
Like bread and love, language is shared with others. And human beings share a tradition. There is no creation without tradition. No one creates from nothing.” 

Women in Love sat on my lap as I read the essay. It’s not my fault after all that there is so much to read, sweet fruits of literature that call out to me begging to be tasted. Chagrined, I checked the book out. I should probably stay away from the library, temptress that she is.

“We have not finished thinking, imagining, acting. It is still possible to know the world; we are unfinished men and women.”

Carlos Fuentes  1928-2012

Love.com

My literature class was unexpectedly cancelled so I wandered over to the college library to get a head start on the homework. We are to “briefly” research T.S. Elliot’s life and write about whether or not we believe his personal life is reflected in the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”  I somehow remember that I had read a very good essay on Elliot a few months ago in The New Yorker (my poor memory being one of the great disappointments of my life).

“Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky”

It’s a beautiful beginning, even if the next line is ” Like a patient etherised upon a table;” The poem, if you’ve not read it, I think,  relates the apathy, possibility, indecision, and frustration (sexual and otherwise) of Alfred in a potential amorous encounter with “another woman.”

“No! I am not prince hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous-
Almost, at times, the Fool.”

Of course he had a notoriously horrible marriage, that is perhaps why I remembered the article. A particular phrase that the author of the piece, Lewis Menand (Sept. 19th 2011 issue) used to describe the union, “an asphyxiating mutual dependency,” stuck with me. Never the less, as it turns out this poem was written before he met his first wife. They met in the spring and married in June of 1915 the very month the poem was first published. He said that his poem “The Waste Land” was the poem that described his marriage. I thought I would read it as I had some time left until my next class.

“April is the cruellest month”

So it is.
It is a very long poem, and not so easy to read. I decided that I would just swallow it whole. Read it straight through: absorb it more or less.

I came to “II. A Game of Chess” when I glanced at the young man sitting next to me. He had his hood over his head and was slumped over in such a way that the only part of him I could see was his hand on the mouse. I looked up at his computer screen, the image was of a young woman taking a picture of herself in a mirror with one breast exposed. I felt simultaneously, shock and weary.

It was some sort of local site of…I really don’t know; were they just looking for guys, or was it some sort of home spun prostitution site? He would click on a girl and then pick up his phone to, what, text her? There was quite a bit of texting in between the clicking. I hesitate to judge, but, I mean really, we were in a public space – his and my college. Was I wrong to feel that this was perhaps not the most appropriate thing to be looking at while a woman who could have been his mother sat RIGHT next to him. Oh no, not her, definitely the one before was kind of cute… I find myself thinking. Stop looking, mind your own business, I chastise myself. Feeling a little uncomfortable I redirect my attention to the task at hand.

“And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
“Jug, Jug” to dirty ears.
And other withered stumps of time
Were told upon the walls; staring forms
Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed.”

I hazard another glance at my neighbor and am relieved to see that he has switched over to algebra. I look at his hand for a while, poised above the mouse.
“Shantih   shantih   shantih”