Tag Archives: Smith College

Meanwhile…

IMG_0566.jpgIt’s been a while. It may be more still while I re-orient, re-work, re-read, and re-assess the fast-moving parts of my life. Meanwhile I read. And bake, of course.

Italo Svevo’s Zeno’s Conscience was an amusing look into a man’s account of his own life ironically lacking in much ‘conscience’ but instead, full of complaints, finger-pointing, and laments all culminating in the throwing-off of his psychoanalysis which he declares a dismal failure even “after having practiced it faithfully for six whole months!” (exclamation mark, mine). He is, “worse off than before” (402). The examined life, it would appear, is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Translated by William Weaver, Zeno’s Conscience was originally written in 1923. As I read it I thought of Giuseppe Berto’s, incubus written in 1964 which I read last summer while in Rome. It’s nearly inconceivable to me that Berto did not know of Svevo’s book given the similarities. But, then again, we humans are so much alike in our obsessive monitoring of our psyches—which sounds bad until you consider the alternative group of humans who lack any sense of, or responsibility towards, self-reflection and contemplation. At least the former group is trying.

At any rate, thinking of Berto brought me back to Rome (I have always had the habit of connecting my memories to the book or books I was reading at the time). Coincidentally, my reflections on my travels to Rome this past summer were recently published in Smith College’s magazine, Global Impressions. I include the link below.

Although I haven’t written much lately here, I haven’t completely gone away. But the thing I always loved about keeping a blog is that there is no pressure. One can write, one can read—or not. It’s just a pleasurable thing to be obligation-free in relation to my most pleasurable habit: reading.

https://sophia.smith.edu/blog/impressions/2017/03/08/word-on-the-street/

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The Bumpy Road

One of the reasons why I attend Smith College is a woman named Su Meck. It was at her side, as a guide, that I first toured Smith. It was by her words that I knew I should choose Smith. Last year we were the only Ada Comstock Scholars (Smith’s non-traditional students) that were in the Glee Club (she was president of the club), and my participation in Glee Club is due to her efforts (along with my daughter’s prodding) to hastily set up an audition while my daughter and I (in some very fun role reversal) were visiting for my admitted student reception weekend. It was terrifying. I only relate all of that personal information for three reasons—full disclosure, respectful admiration, and a shared love of doughnuts.

We made apple cider doughnuts together recently, but ate them all before I could take a photo, so this one will have to do of the jelly doughnuts I made a few months ago.

We made apple cider doughnuts together recently, but ate them all before I could take a photo, so this will have to do:  jelly doughnuts I made a few months ago.

Last year Su published her memoir, I Forgot to Remember. Yesterday I belatedly got around to reading it. I knew the story, of course. I knew it from the first day I met Su when she mentioned she was writing it. And as far as stories go—it’s a doozy. At age twenty-two, Su was hit in the head with a ceiling fan and suffered complete “Hollywood” amnesia (so-called because of its rarity in real life and preponderance in Hollywood plot lines). The first fifty pages of the book, as she relates the story,  is absolutely riveting. Through a random incident that could have resulted in a hundred different sorts of injuries, worse or better, Su was literally re-born into an adult’s body she knew nothing of, and an adult world she was clueless about. She didn’t just snap into it either, it took years, in the same way that an infant has years of development before consciousness, for her to begin to make sense of things. The extraordinary backwardness of living as an adult: caring for children, driving a MOVING vehicle, handling knives, matches, gas switches, and laundry while re-learning language, writing, reading, cooking, contending with frequent blackouts and continuing memory loss AND being told by an ignorant medical community that she was “fine,” with no visible damage to her brain, is tragic and harrowing. But it is what comes after that is truly moving.

We all have our story of ourselves and our lives. Among my peers at Smith, the “Adas” (as we are called and call ourselves), being “non-traditional” as we are, the stories are more often than not hard, long, and twisted. And while Su’s story obviously has an incredible plot twist of epic proportions, she never lets the reader forget that…well— life’s like that. Rather than lean on the tried and true theme of inspiration-porn, you can do it! memoir genre, in her typical forthright and bracingly honest way, she acknowledges the struggles. The frustration and collateral damage of a medical community that abandoned her, and a family, her lovely family, left to deal, in real time, with the disaster. The familial (cultural or sociological) proclivity to hide and repress problems rather than expose…what? Embarrassment? Weakness? We are all weak, and, yes, we all have things to be embarrassed about. That very fact is what makes empathy and true succor between each other— all of us flawed humans, possible. It is the very source of our love and sympathy for one another. So why do we do it? Why do we hide ourselves?

Compounding a medical tragedy is a sociological tragedy, which many of us are victims of as well in our own lives. What is truly inspiring about Su’s memoir is not that she’s an amazing survivor, or an incredible “success” story, it is that she is brave. She has learned the very hard and painful way that suppression and repression hurt a lot more than the plain old fucking truth. Like most people’s lives, in Su’s life no one has come out unscathed. In fact no one has come out! This is life. It goes on. Su has a remarkable ability to tell a complete story that is in no way complete. While she wishes to bring attention to traumatic brain injuries, she also makes a beautiful example of her very human self in calling bullshit on the societal norms that imprison us all. Going up or going down we are still going forward and I am honored to have bumped paths with such a woman.

 

The Planet is a Hummingbird

The stream & the poem, & no-sky,
what I write, worn down, in the apt
in the dust. & every piece of paper &
every nub of ink & every key of the type
writer is a bird (8). – Robert Seydel, The Book of Ruth

IMG_2699I spent some of my work hours these past few days assisting (in a very minor capacity) in the hanging of the Robert Seydel show soon to be shown in the Neilson Library at Smith College. Seydel’s The Book of Ruth (2011) was being published at the time of the artist and poet’s unexpected death. It is a beautiful, moving, and poignantly whimsical novel (broadly construed) of Seydel’s alter-ego Ruth. Ruth lives with her brother  Sol (or Saul); she is friends with Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell (she is in love with Cornell); she is full of stray thoughts collected into a nest of her rather lovely soul.

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I’ve been studying my hat. Men twitch at it, very clearly, or they don’t, in the street. So odd, feathers on a woman’s head. Sometimes I imagine all sorts of things. When i walk *** the pavement tilts up to me, to delineate my way. A sensation then of glory sometimes.  A STaR at my forehead. Roussell-vision. Ruth of the tents. Boulevard Queen. But a rabbit more likely (on my path). Hare under hat. Mine’s no longer so lustrous. Does Joseph notice? (116)

I love everything about that passage. Its stark femininity: woman, Queen- that’s Boulevard Queen, thank you very much! rabbit- Ha! yes – more likely…and oh don’t I know a thing or two about lusterless hair?!…Seydel poetically conjures his aunt: a woman, clearly, of profound sensibility, described by her nephew: a man of complex artistry. The confluence is a visual wonder, and a moving narrative of the heart as told by the mind.

The mind runs poorly but is still sweet (66).

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The book is beautiful, and the show of Seydel’s work (notebooks, collages, pieces of Book of Ruth) is extraordinary in its comprehension of the power of Seydel’s voice and vision.

Art is fodder for the day I need. Flushing is next to heaven, Joseph: Park Way to the star. I love you. Love my lob-stir art. The green things near the store sprout. Sol shld be sun unto himself. Let me dance, moon to sun, crossing w/ my picture. The rabbits /are/ the stars.

or let’s be as someone sd Americans are
AMATEURS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE. (137)

I was struck by so many of Seydel’s lines, sucked into an eddy of philosophical musings (a weakness of mine, I’ll admit)…just one, which gives this post its title, was on page 66, “The planet is a hummingbird.” Yes, I think to myself, and I can’t help holding the bird’s animated image in my mind while pondering that line, and yes, we flutter and hum, we are at constant motion, looking for something sweet, all a shimmering blue and green, fragile, pulsing planet….we are the planet, we are a hummingbird.

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* Robert Seydel: The Eye in Matter exhibition in the Book Arts Gallery of Neilson Library, Smith College, September 2–December 15, 2014.

Eros: Injured

I spent the day visiting Smith College. They have one of my father’s paintings in their collection, so I was curious, as I was there anyway, to see if the museum had it on display. They did not. But it is a lovely museum all the same.

I was transfixed by the ancient Greek and Roman works, perhaps because of my ongoing Herodotus reading. I was just about to declare the black figure on red the most sublime pottery ever created when I came across a wine goblet of epic proportions that was red figure. Kylix c. 520 B.C.E.

It was stupendous- that’s beautiful, I thought to myself when I saw it, as a wine cup cum bowl it was illustrated on the back in celebration of Bacchus.  On the front, along with a discus thrower,  there were  letters that spelled  kalos, (apparently backwards) meaning- “beautiful.” Just so. Seriously – they knew what they were doing.

Then I came across the early imperial Roman figure, Winged Torso of Eros from the first century C.E.

No arms, no head, no penis, no wings, and yet…and yet. The brutalized Eros is as beautiful as ever.

You hurt me. I was thinking about that sentence on my way home, and it occurred to me that it lacks a tense. If I said you love me it would be clear. If I said you loved me, equally- we understand the implication. But there is no distinction with the word hurt.

With love, one can create a ray or line segment to suggest duration,  inception or completion. But with hurt, there is none. It is a line, pure and simple, no beginning and no end-  you hurt me.  It is the atmosphere, the air one breathes.

Eros:  still beautiful, but wounded. A hurt that simple informs and stains everything else. Eros absorbs the blow- he tries. He tries.