Tag Archives: marriage

Survival is Temporary

Considerate la vostra semenza
fatti non foste vivre come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza.

— Dante, quoted by Wallace Stegner, Crossing To Safety (256)


As is my general habit, I didn’t read the paratext which accompanied The Modern Library edition of Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. But my eye caught, somewhere amongst the ancillary pages, on the word “rectitude.” I didn’t think too much on it as I devoured the lugubrious tale of friendship and marriages, but now, having finished my second Stegner novel, (Angle of Repose this past summer: read and adored) the word hangs heavily in the cold January air around me.

“Consider your birthright,” we told each other when fatigued or laziness threatened to slow our hungry slurping of culture. “Think who you are. You were not made to live like brutes, but to pursue virtue and knowledge.” Very high toned. We all hitched our wagons to the highest stars we could find (256).

Stegner’s genius, I think, is in the way that he melds high aristocratic intellect with a sort of Western American grit. It is subtly and beautifully rendered. In Crossing to Safety the story is told by Larry, a reasonably successful writer married to Sally. The book is the story of their friendship with married couple Charity and Sid. It is told with powerful intimacy, and yet there is that rectitude in Stegner’s style that can’t pretend, or debase, the privacy of people’s interior lives. What he creates is a story that ends up feeling like one’s own experience of life. It feels completely natural and real. Stegner’s use of language is remarkable. In a single sentence he adds layers to his characters until, it felt to me, as though they were right there, looking onto the page too, from the next seat over.

A big ringing laugh, as if parturition, which sometimes brought the clammy sweat of apprehension to Sally and me, were the most fun since Run Sheep Run (23).

The realism is pristinely maintained by a membrane of respect for the impossibility of ever knowing or feeling anything with absolute clarity and the futility of gratuitous detail.

The tension between chaos and order courses, every moment, through our pulsing fingertips. Stegner seems to have in his mind a firm understanding of that tension. He has no interest in sorting out the good from the bad, there is only the whole. The excruciation of a character like Charity is that she nearly has the energy to force life into some kind of order. The looker-ons can only stand by and watch, in pain, at her useless undertaking.

But what do we have? What are we left with? While Charity wants to write the book nice and neat, Stegner sneaks in the truth through Larry. We can’t do it. All we can do is offer each other mere letters, in the hope that we can build an “alphabet of gratitude” (326). No matter the peripeteia we all must endure, love stays. We are all just trying to survive, knowing that it is only temporary, but the alphabet is what gives understanding: a heavy heart is really, simply, a full heart, and that is always better than an empty one. It is our shared, good alphabet that leads to the wonder and permanence of love— in all its many forms.



Degrees of Difference

As you said, it was too good for mere dirt; you tried to apply it to your own wandering and uneasy life. It is the angle I am aiming for myself, and I don’t mean the rigid angle at which I rest in this chair. I wonder if you ever reached it (24). – Wallace Stegner, The Angle of Repose

IMG_1911One of the many wonderful things about Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose is the title itself. It is the reason, in fact, why I read this book (at a friend’s ardent recommendation). More than that, Stegner knew it. Unlike many books in which the title is a summation, or vague bit of poetical pointing,  Angle of Repose and what it means technically, as well as metaphorically, is addressed throughout the novel. And just exactly because it is a technical term that is given the freedom to expand its meaning to the characters’ philosophical  perspective of life, the reader alike, makes it a particularly meaningful part of the story.

Willingly or unwillingly, she collected experience and wrote it back East in letters. Perhaps she wrote so fully because she wanted to divert Augusta’s depression. Perhaps she was only indulging her own starved desire for talk (140).

I have far too many similarities to the characters in this book to write about it with any sense of comfort, but I can say that, for me, the angle of repose is that sweet spot where the force of gravity and inertia succumbs to a place of rest-  the rocks stop rolling, your place on this earth is found, and felt.

Down this drift, with Kendall walking ahead and the others steering her by the elbows, they made their way. Inevitably she thought of Dante, Virgil, and Beatrice, and up on top Tregoning, Charon of this vertical Styx; but the thought of how silly it would sound to speak that thought made her blot it out. About used up, I should think, Oliver might say (139).

What a wonder and comfort it is that we have our fellow humans to share our feelings, and what a strange and disconcerting thing it is that we persist in thwarting our repose- through pride, hubris, culturally induced concealment, and shame…So what if Dante, Virgil and Charon “used it up”? What’s true is true, and better that we share it than suffer in silence. Stegner so brilliantly and subtly dissects the mores of the ages: Victorian, the free loving 60’s, and the extremities betwixt the two- my heart ached for the protagonist/narrator, Lyman- the smart, sarcastic, stoic and sensitive man- with a capital ‘M,’ for whom the story revolves around. As a rather hopelessly devout reader, I have found that it is the moment in which I fall in love with the voice of a book that keeps me, holds me, and consoles me – like a lover: the language permeates the deepest parts of one’s mind and heart, my eyes race to meet the words, to leap and joyously roll over them, or linger with sorrow and empathy . It is a powerful gift for a writer to share with a reader. It is a powerful union between the two.

The literary device in Angle of Repose of  having the grandson, Lyman, write a history of his grandmother’s life, gives a long and nuanced view as to how unhappiness can take root. An errant or thoughtless figuring here and there, and before you know it, the amount of effort a reckoning would entail, distorts and separates all the equations.

In God’s name, Grandmother, I feel like saying to her, what was the matter with him? Did he have a harelip? Use bad language? Eat with his knife? You can do him harm, constantly adjusting his tie and correcting his grammar and telling him to stand up straight (68).

But Lyman, I feel like saying to him, isn’t it really true that there doesn’t have to be anything ‘wrong’ with him? It is all about the angles, and whether or not one is close enough to adjust their angle to meet another. The failure to try is tragic, but misjudging the difference of degrees between is equally so.



In League With the World

You’ve got to allow for style, though. Nothing arrives on paper as it started, and so much arrives that never started at all. To write is always to rave a little.
-Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart (8)


Divided into three parts: The World, The Flesh and The Devil, Death of the Heart is remarkable book . A society drama in the vein of Edith Wharton, the story centers itself cleverly on the journal of the young and innocent Portia.

“But Matchett, she meant to do good.”
“No, she meant to do right.”

Having just lost her father, quickly followed by her mother, the sixteen year old, Portia, goes to London to live with her half-brother, Thomas, and his wife, Anna (also, the brother’s life long housekeeper, Matchett). Portia and Thomas’s father had made the unforgivable social faux pas of falling deeply in love with a woman other than his wife. When the other woman became pregnant, Thomas’s mother stoically and sacrificially insists that he marry the soon-to-be mother of Portia, thereby more or less exiling the indecorous (if happy) family to wander Europe until their ends.

“Sacrificers,” said Matchett “are not the ones to pity. The ones to pity are those that they sacrifice. Oh,  the sacrificers, they get it both ways. A person knows themselves what they’re able to do without.” (92)

Anna and Thomas are unhappily married to each other in that smooth cold manner that society generally facilitates so neatly. Anna suffered a serious heartbreak earlier in her life, which is never fully explained, but which warps and poisons her feelings towards Portia. Her heart, and its death, cast Portia’s innocence into a guileless search trying to make sense of the people around her.

In this [Daphne] was unlike Anna, who at a moment of tension let out oaths and obscenities with a helpless delicate air. Where Anna, for instance, would call a person a bitch, Daphne would call the person an old cat. Daphne’s person was sexy, her conversation irreproachably chaste. (188)

So delicious! I love the observations and keen insight Bowen displays – which is cleverly self-referenced in all the talk about keeping a journal. The act of Portia writing down her innocent, and therefore, perspicuous observations is taken as a near act of war. This novel was published in 1938, but the attention to female dispositions and attitudes is notable. Bowen’s descriptions of the various types of women that populate this novel are wonderful, down to the details of how they approach food, one “making a plunge for the marmalade,” (185) or some other fantastically illustrative sketch.

“If you were half as heartless as you make out, you would be an appallingly boring woman.” (318)

When the novel reaches its crisis it is Anna who while answering how she would feel if she were Portia, calls out the crux of the book. The cruel, crushing, corruption of one’s heart by societal mores….and for what?

“Boredom, oh such boredom, with a sort of secret society about nothing, keeping on making little signs to each other. Utter lack of desire to know what it is about. Wish that someone would blow a whistle and make the whole thing stop. Wish to have my own innings. Contempt for married people, keeping on playing up. Contempt for unmarried people, looking cautiously and touchy. Frantic, frantic desire to be handled with feeling…”

To be handled with feeling…because the alternative, as the character of Anna proves, is certain death to the thing we most dearly cherish: our hearts.

*title from page 385: “Happy that few of us are aware of the world until we are already in league with it.”


It only takes a tiny effort to break any of the doors here off their hinges. Franz Kafka, The Trial

IMG_0127It is an odd and curious thing to change your name. My preference, despite the evidence, for simplicity, helped sway the day years ago in a NYC courthouse. At the time, applying for a marriage license, I thought it was simply easier for everyone to have the same name. I had wanted to preserve my “maiden” name, but just in the form of a middle name. However, that idea was dismissed in an act of precedent-setting offended certitude. It took me many years to get used to the new name, and in truth there was some mourning involved. Years later, when I left, in an act of offended irony I was told to give it back.

It is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.’ ‘A melancholy conclusion,’ said K. ‘It turns lying into a universal principle.’

After going back and forth on the issue and letting the most obvious day to make the change pass, I was unexpectedly consumed with conviction on the subject. The other morning, I was back in a court house.

What I find most interesting about The Trial, (speaking of the exquisite pain of bureaucratic Kafka-esque hell) is the fact that it was unfinished. Kafka hadn’t wanted it to be published unfinished, in fact he asked that his papers be burnt posthumously. I didn’t know that as I read it, a few years back, only after when I read the forward. But all during the book, the story felt uncombed. And yet, it somehow fits. It’s like you could never perfect the inanity because that’s part of it.

I downloaded, filled out, and left on the kitchen table, all of the required forms. It wasn’t until that moment of feeling naked as I put my belt back on in front of an audience of security guards at the metal detector, that I suddenly saw the forms in my head, innocently lying on the table. Sigh. I refilled out the forms in the hall and waited, reading a book as I leaned up against the beige scratched wall. One of my forms was a fee waiver because, with complete disregard for my nerves, the thing cost some hundred and a lot of dollars to achieve. But I would take it on the chin, file the form and hope for it to be waived – if I had to pay, that would be my punishment for being so stupid for not doing it before. Finally, oh sweet Jesus , finally I was called in to go through the forms, hold up my right hand, show my ID, so that I could then be released to the clerk’s office on the second floor.

A very nice woman in pink informed me that I hadn’t need to fill out any of the forms I had filled out. Twice. I only needed this one, and there is no fee, she told me as she handed me the new form. Suspicious, but with practiced expertise, I filled it out – except for the sign and print your name part- which name? I got up and waited a VERY long time for another woman to apply moisturizer to her arms and assiduously remove flakes of skin from her wrist. Finally she sauntered over. I asked her which name to write. She rudely cut me off and told me if I needed help filling out the form I would have to go back down to the first floor. Oh no, I told her right back, I just spent an hour down there and that nice lady in pink told me it was all for nothing. I furtively took the forms back and signed them. But I was too late, she was back to her desk applying lipstick. I closed my eyes for a moment of repose, successfully preventing an all out institutionally induced meltdown.  Perhaps impressed by my calm, a peppy woman advanced to the window and, seemingly out of pity, asked me if I needed help. I do.

She pulled my file, had the clerk notarized it, all of five minutes later- plus a few days for a judge to approve me – done. Jessica Ryan.


That Dweam within a Dweam

Romance only comes into existence where love is fatal, frowned upon and doomed by life itself. What stirs lyrical poets to their finest flights is neither the delight of the senses nor the fruitful contentment of the settled couple; not the satisfaction of love, but its passion. And passion means suffering. There we have the fundamental fact.
-Denis De Rougemont, Love In The Western World


Jupiter and Io c. 1530 Correggio

Looking at slides in my art history class recently I saw a painting of Tristan and Isolde. Or maybe it was in the text book as I was reading. I see it in my mind. It was a depiction of the moment when King Marc switches his sword for that of Tristan’s which lay between the sleeping lovers (Isolde being the King’s wife). Perhaps I imagined it. I can not find it now, nor clearly remember where I saw it.  I didn’t even like the painting that much, at the time I think I compared it to Correggio’s passionate Jupitor and Io which is wonderful.  But I had one of those countless moments of curiosity–what about Tristan and Isolde? I then went on to look for the myth–which I also did not immediately find. I instead happened upon a book about the myth. This is the sort of thing that will drive me mad. I swear I saw a painting. It was real. But there is no proof. The painting in my mind does not exist as far as Google is concerned–certain death if ever there was.  Which is actually perfectly to the point of the book I read as a consequence of my apparently imagined painting.

Suffering and understanding are deeply connected; death and self-awareness are in league; and European romanticism may compare to a man for whom sufferings, and especially the sufferings of love, are a privileged mode of understanding  (51).

M. Rougemont book (published in 1940, France) has an interesting, if depressing thesis of what has made the myth of Tristin and Isolde (or Iseult as he calls her) so enduring. He frames it as a kind of Christian heresy and then goes on to relate it to the modern breakdown of marriage. I must necessarily skim the surface here. Rougemont’s idea is complex and he offers up a lot of evidence as a defensive measure against his critics. He wants to understand the preponderance of adultery as a plot line and fixates on Tristen as a subverted reaction against marriage. He implicates the Troubadours and the Cathars as misguided primary sources, and then goes on to expose the literary thread that supports his thinking.

But Racine, in being content to represent ‘passions excited’ and to produce the ‘sadness’ in which he invites us to find an indefinite ‘enjoyment’, betrays a rather morbid acceptance of the defeat of mind and of the resignation of the senses (202).

This is “love” that can never be consummated because that would be the death of the romance–the only proper release being actual death as in Romeo and Juliet. Cervantes ridicules the pain-of-passion novel, while Stendhal, and many or most others revere it–mistakenly, according to Rougemont:

On this theory, falling in love is to endow a woman with perfections she does not in the least possess. And why do we do this? Because we need to love, and because the only thing that can be loved is beauty (225).

This is a tragedy of objectification. I am sure it can go both ways, but more often than not women are mere two-dimensional objects in which their true selves are not valued and ignored. The fact that most of Rougemont’s examples are married woman (thereby creating an unattainable object of desire for the man) matters to his idea that the love is of an object (because, again, it is not a stretch, traditionally, to view a woman as an object) That a “passion” of epic, religious proportions (like the passion for God or Jesus which can never, by virtue of its very nature, until death, be realized) is foisted upon actual feeling breathing humans is a serious failing indeed. But Rougemont describes the problem as a confusion that the worship of (the pagan idea of) Eros has wrought on the Christian concept of love which is a communion (with God, ultimately). But, it is significant to me that he defines the word passion as it means in the Christian Biblical sense instead of how I might mean it, not to mention D. H. Lawrence, where passion is simply a deeply felt awe of our shared humanity.

As I have said, passion means suffering. Therefore, inasmuch as our notion of love enfolds our notion of woman, it is linked with a theory of the fruitfulness of suffering which encourages or obscurely justifies in the recesses of the Western mind a liking for war (243).

There were many moments while reading this book that I felt a strong need for a good therapist. One for everyone in fact. But, let’s calm down here for a moment. Anna Karenina without adultery is Levin and Kitty: a sweet but far less complex and riveting story. Can not a snake just be a snake? Or drama be drama? One could just as easily argue that the preponderance of the adulteress is better drama–being that much more outside the patriarchal norm of our society.

Rougemont waits until the near end to give his assessment of the state of things. In his view ‘passion,’ as he defines it, is a throwback to paganism, and paganism he casts as some sort of debauched bacchanal. In order to have a compliant society, which is, I think, one of his concerns, marriage must be preserved. How does one preserve marriage when we are all, according to him, infected with the desire for romantic passion, which marriage destroys? By adhering to the contract (a nod to Deuteronomy?). He emphasizes making a decision to put the contract above all else. It is a sort of because-I-said-so mentality that smacks of the sort of  patriarchal thrust the non-secular world is founded upon. I am not a hedonist, but the free-thinker in me provokes me to ask: is there nothing in between, or dare I say–outside the choice of being a martyr to contract or debauched excess?

It is interesting to take a moment to consider the more matriarchal aspects that paganism can represent, which Rougemont ignores. What?! a man dismissing a female perspective? How unusual. One doesn’t have to be a scholar of the ancients to figure out that the earliest pagan societies were not all a sexual free for all or societal anarchy. So much of philosophy, history, and religion is written and thought out by men that alternative perspectives are regrettably absent.  The more I read, the more I really started to go in a very different direction from Rougemont. When I got to this line from page 312: “Christianity has asserted the complete equality of the sexes…” I was truly perplexed, but then, the Bible has always been abused as a book of selective interpretation.

While Rougemont is onto something regarding the fundamental selfishness of love borne of vanity and boredom: love that is in love with love rather than a person (whom if one actually loved they couldn’t help feeling concern or in other words, that “feminine” sensibility called caring) He does not allow for actual romantic love, which of course exists. There are far more examples of couples, married or not, that show two people whom want to spend time with one another and want to make love to one another. It’s not complicated, it’s just perhaps not great drama. I am not prepared to be declared ill for appreciating desire or for caring about the happiness of those I love. After all, there is evolution and progress in the balance of personal and societal good. We should always strive to thoughtfully make a more lovely life for ourselves and for all.

Kicking Against the Pricks

Sometimes life takes hold of one, carries the body along, accomplishes one’s history, and yet is not real, but leaves oneself as it were slurred over. (9)
– D.H Lawrence, Sons and Lovers


In Stephan Zweig’s short story Burning Secret, he writes something along the lines of – there comes a time in every woman’s life when she must decide, is she a mother, or a woman? For me it begs the question- why? Why must we ask ourselves that question? Because society says so? I certainly can not imagine a man having to face this sort of a false dilemma, nor can I deny that there is truth in it. And that is the real pity.

Suddenly, looking at him, the heavy feeling at the mother’s heart melted into passionate grief. She bowed over him, and a few tears shook swiftly out of her very heart.

In Part One of Sons and Lovers, Lawrence carefully chronicles the life of the Morels: a struggling family, a loveless marriage, and the children that come into the world trying to fill the holes in their parent’s lives.

Paul loved to sleep with his mother. Sleep is still most perfect, in spite of hygienists, when shared with a beloved. The warmth, the security and peace of soul, the utter comfort from the touch of the other, knits the sleep, so that it takes the body and soul completely in its healing.

That is a perfectly beautiful description of delicious sleep, when your hand can rest in perfect trust on a body, whether it be: child, friend, or lover. The peace of our souls is found in each other – from the touch of the other, a beloved. Lawrence is such a wonderful writer, his use of colloquialisms, details of meager material objects, and the shared rapture of the glory of nature in the lives of mother and sons gives a clear picture of the family’s daily existence, allowing the deeper significance of the story to fully develop. It is Lawrence’s sensibility and keen sense of the importance of intimacy that is at the center of his novel.

Now, when all her woman’s pity was roused to its full extent, when she would have slaved herself to death to nurse him and to save him, when she would have taken the pain herself, if she could, somewhere far away inside her, she felt indifferent to him and to his suffering. It hurt her most of all, this failure to love him…

Mrs. Morel, sadly, goes straight to motherhood, her chance to be a woman is never realized and the disappointment just grows. Putting all her passion into being a mother, the decision of whether or not to be a woman too, is moot. With no deep connection to her husband there is just the empty space of desire left. Reading this novel one becomes aware of the limited vocabulary we have to discuss love and passion. Lawrence never suggests incest, and yet the nomenclature of romantic love does. Both romantic intimacy and the intimacy of mothering are physically pleasing and intensely fulfilling, but part of our emotional retardation is to always talk about physical pleasure as only sexual. Breastfeeding is an excellent case in point- physically pleasurable, and fulfilling in an entirely non-sexual way, the fact that breasts provide sexual pleasure as well should not be a source of confusion for people. It’s gotten to the point that people don’t want to see a woman breastfeed because – breast are for sex, and we don’t do that in public – or talk about it.  Lawrence, has no such inhibition, he will leave sensuous terms as they are and dare you to be puerile. Women in Love has been described as homoerotic, if so, Sons and Lovers is incestuous, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is pornographic and you have lost the point altogether.

What Lawrence was really trying to discover was how, how can we deeply connect with one another? In Lady Chatterley’s Lover the sexual connection that is possible between lovers is a sacred thing. But it is deep connections generally that give our lives meaning. Our language cannot scratch the surface of our feelings. The words that we have to describe the love of friendship suffer the same problem in Women in Love as parental love in Sons and Lovers. Even when Lawrence is talking explicitly about sex, he is not talking about sex. His cri de coeur was the sine qua non of intimacy and connection of all kinds. Lawrence takes care to explore the complexities inherent: no matter how wonderful being a mother is- a mother is also a woman. Mrs. Morel’s mothering love in the absence of the woman inside her is a heavy and mournful thing. After all, a son loves his mother passionately, but it is the mother’s job to eventually deflect that passion away from herself and peripherally enjoy the realization of the child’s happy fulfilled life. In a healthy home, this happens naturally. The woman however, has the opposite aim- if she finds passion with another, and if it is returned, that is something she must hold on to, cherish and let bloom. The poverty of our words is frustrating and the word “passion” is sorely overworked.

At the end of Part One, William, the eldest son, is caught up in a relationship that mirrors his parents. Even as his mother attempts to caution him, he feels already morally committed and helpless to do anything other than see it through. She can not give him the inner strength required to rebel against societal expectations. The price is, of course, his soul.

“My boy, remember you’re taking your life in your hands,” said Mrs. Morel. “Nothing is as bad as a marriage that’s a hopeless failure. Mine was bad enough. God knows, and ought to teach you something; but it might have been worse by a long chalk.”

That’s the trouble with morals that go against truth and love, in the end, they are short sighted and punishing for all.


* “Kicking Against the Pricks” is a biblical reference Lawrence uses to mean, “rebelling.”

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose

“He was cold; he wanted to go back down. What was there to see here, after all? But she could not take her gaze from the horizon. Over yonder, still farther south, at that point where sky and earth met in a pure line- over yonder it suddenly seemed there was awaiting her something of which, though it had always been lacking, she had never been aware until now.” – Albert Camus, The Adulterous Woman

After reading The Fall I went on to read Exile and the Kingdom as Camus had desired. A compilation of the “critical moments” of  the lives of the introspective. And the short stories are lovely and thoughtful and true. But, I sometimes  really wish I was the type of person who could enjoy a Ring Ding. What are you talking about Jessica? A Ring Ding: those cupcake things that one purchases at a supermarket. I’ve never had one. Because they are kind of disgusting. But that is not the point. The point is, does an introspective life enhance ones life? I can’t enjoy a Ring Ding because I know they are chemical laden frank-o-food. Food is perhaps too strong of a term, let’s use my all time least favorite word to describe ingested sustenance – product. Oh, that hurt. But what if I didn’t know? What if thinking about our empty lives is the cause of an empty life. Camus! Help me.

What would she do there henceforth except to drag herself toward sleep, toward death? (174)

Yeah; that’s not really helpful. Anyway. This story is interesting because the adulterous woman in question is not really adulterous. She merely acknowledges herself, suddenly feeling herself in the mystery of the world. That is her adultery. But I love the use of the word- she is an adulteress to her facade.

Since the beginning of time, on the dry earth of this limitless land scraped to the bone, a few men had been ceaselessly trudging, possessing nothing but serving no one, poverty-stricken but free lords of a strange kingdom. Janine did not know why this thought filled her with such a sweet, vast melancholy that it closed her eyes. (172)

I went to church this weekend. I was filling in a work shift, accompanying my client, who is a dedicated church goer. I was transported to my youthful self because the denomination that we attended was the very same that I attended in my youth. No one else in my family ever went or was even affiliated with this church. I went so that I could sing. I attended a church for years, by myself, to sing in the choir.

Retrospection sent me further into my lonely meditative funk.

It was All Saint’s Sunday and the pastor spent a good amount of his sermon talking about the saintliness of us all- seen through our love of one another. But I got tripped up on the program which featured humble, normally unacknowledged, saints- aka, decent people. The depressing part, to me, was that unless the woman was a spinster, her identity was buried underneath her husband. It’s not just the last name, I did that too – it seemed simpler at the time (ah what we sacrifice to the God of convenience!). But these titles were all the husband’s name: Mrs. John Doe, or, the husband’s family: the John Doe family. What does that do to us? If we have no name, instead we are the Mrs. so and so’s…do we disappear? Where do we go? Plus, I just wanted to know what the names were because the spinsters had such cool old fashioned ones like: Mildred and Edith.

Wasn’t that what she lacked? She did not know. She simply followed Marcel, pleased to know that someone needed her. The only joy he gave her was the knowledge that she was necessary. Probably he did not love her. (175)

I sometimes feel lost between the half of my life lived as one name, and the half lived as another. Well…maybe I am just over thinking it. Damn it. I’ll never enjoy a Ring Ding this way!

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

-William Shakespeare

*Title from  Sacred Emily by Gertrude Stein. Sacred who? Emily.hmmm.

A Thumbnail Sketch


I risked a visit to the mall today in the search of a pair of sandals. By some miracle I found a rough approximation of what I was looking for and made my exit as directly as I could.
“Hey, can I ask you something?” a young gentleman manning a booth in the central aisle called out to me.
Fully aware that he was preying on my proclivity for politeness, but unable to ignore said proclivity, I stopped and went over to him. He wanted to know if I always kept my nails so short. “Yes I do.” Before I knew what was happening he was polishing my thumb nail with a vigorous intensity all the while explaining in fake technicalities what surface of the buffer he was using and why. I now have 9 normal nails and one that shines with an unnatural brilliance.  I could use it to redirect the sun and blind people or send signals to ships at sea. “That looks a little weird.” I mumbled. But he ignored me as he was mid-pitch showing me the box set that there was no way in hell I would purchase, proudly proclaiming that the sheen would last for weeks no matter what I did! He then paused:

“Are you married or happy?” he asked me.
“Beg your pardon? Am I married or happy?”
English was not his first language but he looked me in the eye and repeated the question. I looked back at him, bewildered. I was stumped. “Neither,” I laughed, knowing that the truth is of course more complicated. It is possible to be both and neither at the same time. At least for me.


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”