Pain management appointment at 8:30 am yesterday. I am not awake at 8:30 am; I am not even human yet at 8:30 am. Got a bunch of trigger point injections and talked about pros and cons of imbedded stimulator to treat pain. Still mulling it over. After finally getting home after some run around, I fell asleep fast and hard, woke up for dinner and a few episodes of Bosh, and then went back to sleep. Never fit in a post.
Oh well . . .
So I opened my laptop this morning only to see a headline about another school shooting, this one in southern California: 2 dead, 3 injured. One of the injured students sought refuge in the music teacher’s classroom, and fortunately, the teacher had a trauma kit handy. Let’s just stop for a second to take that in: her classroom was stocked with a trauma kit.
Or how about this: One student interviewed said that his parents had been practicing with him what to do in the event of a school shooting, things like holding a text book in front of his chest to help slow down bullets.
This is who we’ve become. This is how our youth goes to school now, armed not only with tablets and books, but also armed with the knowledge on how they might be able to survive a school shooting. Does no one else find this appalling?
Leftovers seem to contradict the solemnity of our current national state of affairs. Then again, perhaps leftovers are one of the only ways of getting through the day amidst all of the assaults on our senses, our beliefs, our psyches.
Enjoy . . . hope you can . . .
An unfortunate truth:
Circular logic, republican style:
I never knew this—our goats and horses seem to get along well:
Way to make a statement, Berlin:
Just consider: It had to be the overweight, bloated Elvis who did this, and still he managed to get them to stop just with his presence:
And finally, food for thought:
Music by Deftones, “Be Quiet and Drive” (acoustic version)
“I hoard books. They are people who do not leave.” ~ Anne Sexton, from a letter to unnamed Benedictine monk
Monday afternoon, partly cloudy, 59 degrees.
Corey is on his way home from Ohio after taking his mother back after her visit. I’m still having major problems in trying to write, technical issues coupled with brain focusing issues. Sorry . . .
Birthdays of Note . . .
With all of the computer problems and other stuff, I’ve fallen woefully behind in my authors’ birthday notices, so I thought that I’d post a few here for now:
November 6 (this was a bad day for me):
Michael Cunningham (1952), author of The Hours, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. Also, a great movie (2002) with Meryl Streep, Julianna More, and Nicole Kidman, who won a best actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf.
Anne Sexton (November 9, 1928-October 4, 1974), one of my favorite poets. More information here on The Poetry Foundation, and an interesting article entitled “The Poet and the Monk: An Anne Sexton Love Story,” found here on Lit Hub.
Nail Gaiman (1960), English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, nonfiction, audio theater, and films. He has a very cool website here.
Music by Mazzy Star, “Into Dust” (featured previously in a 2012 post)
The Ambition Bird
So it has come to this —
insomnia at 3:15 A.M.,
the clock tolling its engine
like a frog following
a sundial yet having an electric
seizure at the quarter hour.
The business of words keeps me awake.
I am drinking cocoa,
the warm brown mama.
I would like a simple life
yet all night I am laying
poems away in a long box.
It is my immortality box,
my lay-away plan,
All night dark wings
flopping in my heart.
Each an ambition bird.
The bird wants to be dropped
from a high place like Tallahatchie Bridge.
He wants to light a kitchen match
and immolate himself.
He wants to fly into the hand of Michelangelo
and come out painted on a ceiling.
He wants to pierce the hornet’s nest
and come out with a long godhead.
He wants to take bread and wine
and bring forth a man happily floating in the Caribbean.
He wants to be pressed out like a key
so he can unlock the Magi.
He wants to take leave among strangers
passing out bits of his heart like hors d’oeuvres.
He wants to die changing his clothes
and bolt for the sun like a diamond.
He wants, I want.
Dear God, wouldn’t it be
good enough just to drink cocoa?
I must get a new bird
and a new immortality box.
There is folly enough inside this one.
…“My birthday began with the water- …..Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name ……..Above the farms and the white horses …………….And I rose ………….In rainy autumn ….And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.” ~ Dylan Thomas, from “Poem in October”
Sunday evening, cloudy, 66 degrees.
Today is the birthday of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (October 27, 1914-November 9, 1953). The Poetry Foundation has a good biography and selection of his poems, or you can visit the official website, Discover Dylan Thomas, here.
I still remember the circumstances in which I read my first Thomas poem: I was an undergraduate, working in the newsroom, and one of the editors brought me a handwritten copy of his most famous poem (below) and asked me to type it as she wanted to give it to her father. I realize now what I was unable to fathom at that time, that her father must have been ill.
I remember being moved by the words as I typed them, so moved that in the ignorance of my youth I decided to write my own version. I know, right? Ah, the unfounded arrogance that only the young possess.
I showed that version to one of my writing professors, and she very kindly pointed out that perhaps there were some poems that should not be rewritten, or updated, or mangled by an overwrought young writer (she didn’t say the last part).
Yeh. It was that bad, but I digress . . .
Anyway, listening to Thomas’s deep, melodious voice read his own work enhances the impact of the words and phrasing of his poems. The wonder is that Thomas was able to retain his mellifluous speaking voice in spite of how much he drank and smoked, as opposed to, say, Charles Bukowski. whose voice was scratchy from booze and cigarettes.
More later. Peace.
Today is also the birthday of poet and writer Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932–February 11, 1963), who I have featured here several times before.
Dylan Thomas reading his poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night”
Do not go gentle into that good night
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Two for Tuesday: Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller
Tuesday afternoon, sunny and very windy, 61 degrees.
Today I’m tackling two people as opposed to two poems or two passages, and in so doing, I realize fully that I am barely moving beyond the surface layer of two very complex individuals. It is not hard to find a plethora of books and essays about the life and works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803–April 27, 1882), the so-called “Sage of Concord,” and while available research on Margaret Fuller (May 23, 1810– July 19, 1850) has not been as prolific as that on Emerson, the last 40 years have seen a resurgence in interest on the feminist icon.
Fuller, a well-known name in Women’s Studies, died tragically at the age of only 40. However, Fuller was noted for her groundbreaking achievements, including being the first female American foreign correspondent, as well as the first female combat reporter, as well as being first woman to attend Emerson’s all-male Transcendental Club. In 2013 Judith Thurman reviewed Megan Marshall’s biography on Fuller in an article titled “An Unfinished Woman,” which you can find here.
I recently read an article on Brain Pickings by Maria Popova called “The Conflicted Love Letters of Emerson and Fuller.” Admittedly, I am not an Emersonian scholar, knowing only the basics—a la Wikipedia—about the American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet; the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century is often attributed to Emerson. I also know little about Emerson’s relationship with Fuller, who was once considered the “best read woman in America.” Fuller was a prominent female intellectual renowned for her literary criticism and feminist writing, most notable of which was her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century, published in 1845, which advocated more independence for woman and broader lives beyond the traditional hearth and home.
“Ask me what I think of you & me, — & I am put to confusion.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, from a letter to Margaret Fuller
The article led me to peruse some of Emerson’s journal entries, such as some from the 1840s in which he reacts to the paradoxical nature of his relationship with Fuller. One entry is quoted in the Brain Pickings’ article:
You would have me love you. What shall I love? Your body? The supposition disgusts you. What you have thought & said? Well, whilst you were thinking & saying them, but not now. I see no possibility of loving any thing but what now is, & is becoming; your courage, your enterprize, your budding affection, your opening thought, your prayer, I can love—but what else? (September 26, 1840)
More from Emerson’s journal:
. . . When I write a letter to any one whom I love I have no lack of words or thoughts: I am wiser than myself & read my paper with the pleasure of one who receives a letter, but what I write to fill up the gaps of a chapter is hard & cold, is grammar & logic; there is no magic in it; I do not wish to see it again. Settle with yourself your accusations of me. If I do not please you, ask me not to please you, but please yourself. What you call my indolence, nature does not accuse; the twinkling leaves, the sailing fleets of waterflies, the deep sky like me well enough and know me for their own . . . You do not know me If my debts, as they threaten, should consume what money I have, I should live just as I do now. (October 7, 1840)
I do not give you my time, but I give you that which I have put my time into, namely my letter or my poem, the expression of my opinion, or better yet which in solitude I have learned to do. (October 1840)
For her part, Fuller opined regarding their relationship: more than friends, but exactly what, neither could discern:
We are to be much to one another. How often have I left you despairing and forlorn. How often have I said, this light will never understand my fire; this clear eye will never discern the law by which I am filling my circle; this simple force will never interpret my need to manifold being.
I think that what I and others find most relatable in their relationship is its very duality, the “emotional confusion” that abounded in their intimacy.
Music by Pomplamoose, featuring Sarah Dugas, “Sweet Dreams + Seven Nation Army”
“Push away the past, that vessel in which all emotions curdle to regret.” ~ Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, from Before We Visit the Goddess
Thursday late afternoon, cloudy and cool, 51 degrees.
I’ve had this one tab open on my laptop for about two weeks, maybe more. I haven’t wanted to close it as I wanted it to be a constant reminder that it needed attention on my part. It’s one of three posts that I’ve been trying to write longer than I care to admit. This particular tab is for an article that was published in The Atlantic called “My Family’s Slave,” by the late Alex Tizon, and although I’ve wanted to write a response to it ever since I read it, I cannot seem to find the best way in, if that makes any sense.
The article deals with a Filipino tradition (for lack of a better word) of the better-off taking in someone not so well-off and offering them the opportunity to live with and work for the family. Better-off is very subjective as it means anyone with more money than you. The only catch is that workingfor implies receiving a salary of some sort, and these women (mostly) never receive any money. Tizon explains:
Slavery has a long history on the islands. Before the Spanish came, islanders enslaved other islanders, usually war captives, criminals, or debtors. Slaves came in different varieties, from warriors who could earn their freedom through valor to household servants who were regarded as property and could be bought and sold or traded. High-status slaves could own low-status slaves, and the low could own the lowliest. Some chose to enter servitude simply to survive: In exchange for their labor, they might be given food, shelter, and protection.
. . . Today even the poor can have utusans or katulongs (“helpers”) or kasambahays (“domestics”), as long as there are people even poorer. The pool is deep.
“If ever I lose my memory of you, walk beside me like a stag; like a bird heard, unseen” ~ Anne Michaels, from Correspondences
Let me offer a bit of my own background here: For three summers, starting when I was just 14, I worked for my Aunt Remy, taking care of her five kids. I arrived at 7 in the morning and left at 6 in the evening, and for this I received $50 a week, and I felt lucky to be making such good money. In addition to taking care of the kids, my cousins (a term loosely used by Filipinos to identify anyone close to the family), my daily chores included cleaning the entire house, doing laundry, and attempting to cook. I never saw this as being too much work; after all, they had an in-ground pool and I could spend a few hours every day hanging out in the crystal blue water. I viewed the entire transaction was quite equitable.
These were my “rich relatives,” as I always referred to them. I loved my aunt and uncle like a second set of parents, for good reason. My uncle lived with my parents before he got married, and he was one of my frequent babysitters. My aunt lived with my parents when she came over from the Philippines before she married my uncle. They were always a big part of my life, and their deaths wounded my heart almost as much as those of my parents.
When my summers became too full with cheer leading practices for me to continue my full-time summer job with them, my aunt found a Filipino woman to live with the family. I never knew if she was paid, only that she lived with the family full-time. I’m embarrassed to say that I cannot remember her name. But this article immediately called her to mind.
“This memory was not painful to her now. Her life was an open window and she a butterfly.” ~ Simon Van Booy, from “French Artist Killed in Sunday’s Earthquake”
Another memory: When relatives from Newark visited one summer, they brought with them their live-in woman. My aunt asked me not to mention that I was paid because she didn’t want their live-in to feel bad. I realize now that the woman probably wasn’t paid anything. That’s just how it was done.
We never had one of these women in our house, probably because it was just my mom, dad, and me, that and we weren’t well off. However, over the years we frequently had a relative of some sort living with us. Again, that’s just how it is, and it never seemed odd to me. I think that if my parents had wanted a live-in that there were certainly many relatives in the Philippines who would have jumped at the chance, life in the States being much preferred to a life of poverty in the islands.
That being said, I don’t think that my American mother would have ever been comfortable with such an arrangement, not because she was opposed to have help, but more because she was such a very jealous woman and having another woman living in our house would have stirred her monster, which was always seething just below the surface of her marriage to my dad. Truthfully, though, my father gave her good reason to be suspicious. I can admit that now without feeling that I’m betraying either of them.
“Stare at the monster: remark How difficult it is to define just what Amounts to monstrosity in that Very ordinary appearance.” ~ Ted Hughes, from “Famous Poet”
What has made it so hard for me to write about all of this is that my aunt and uncle were good, generous people, and I wouldn’t want it to seem that I’m criticizing them in any way, but if I am to be honest, then I have to admit that the tradition that they carried on was very much like the slavery the article’s author discusses. It is hard, painful even, to try to think of my relatives in these terms.
Slavery is a hard word—it is filled with negative connotations, rightfully so, and when most American heard the word, they think about that shameful period in our country’s history in which the color of one’s skin dictated how the individual lived, whether or not the person was paid or could vote or even if that individual could have the barest education. Tizon’s article recounts another form of slavery, one that most white Americans know nothing about, but one that most Filipino Americans know about but rarely acknowledge.
But back to the article: Tizon narrates how Lola (an all-encompassing Tagalog word for grandmother or nana), lived with his family after his mother died, and after Lola’s death how he took her ashes back to her family in the Philippines. It’s a bittersweet story, told in retrospect through a child’s eyes and then later through the wisdom that being an adult sometimes imparts, too late more often than not.
Tizon recounts the story of how his maternal grandfather, Lieutenant Tom, a “cigar-chomping army lieutenant named Tomas Asuncion” brought an 18-year-old Filipina girl named Eudocia Tomas Pulido into the family in 1943 to take care of his mother whose own mother had died in childbirth. Pulida, or Lola—a cousin from a marginal side of the family, rice farmers—was a gift to Tizon’s mother, and Lola stayed with various members of Tizon’s family for almost 68 years, 56 or them as an utusan (people who take commands).
Lieutenant Tom had as many as three families of utusans living on his property in the Tarlac province of the Philippines. He had lots of land but little money, and he was shrewd. As Tizon explains how Lola came to be the family’s slave, “The lieutenant was shrewd—he saw that this girl was penniless, unschooled, and likely to be malleable . . . She could have food and shelter if she would commit to taking care of his daughter . . . Lola agreed, not grasping that the deal was for life.”
“Sometimes, I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all.” ~ Evelyn Waugh, from Brideshead Revisited
Another memory: My parents and I spent several months in the Philippines after my dad retired from the Navy. The plan was for us to live there, but that didn’t work out as I became ill and found to be allergic to pretty much everything. But while we were staying at my grandmother’s house in my dad’s village of Gapan, we would visit my great aunt Tiba’s house. I recall that she had an utusan, but that’s all I remember. Later, when we moved to Quezon City, two of my cousins moved with us. They helped out, but I honestly don’t know if they were there as utusans or as family, or even if there is a difference.
We were Americanized. We weren’t rich, but as compared to many in my father’s family, we were well off. We stayed in an air-conditioned apartment in Quezon City at a time in which air conditioning was a luxury. It may still be a luxury—I have no idea. So the opportunity to live in the city with us as opposed to a small village must have seemed appealing.
My mother, born into a large family during the Great Depression, never had servants, so I don’t think that she would have been able to order people about naturally; at least, that is how I like to remember things. My father made it out of his small village by becoming a Guerilla during WWII and then later enlisting in the U.S. Navy; he was never entitled but he believed ardently in helping out family whenever he could.
If it sounds as if I’m trying to convince myself that for those few short months we did not have a family slave, I am, but I’m also trying to be realistic, reconciling the parents I knew with the parents I couldn’t have possibly known well as a child. What we know of our parents is what we choose to know, and few of us choose to know or to remember that side in which our parents were human beings, with their own likes and dislikes, wants and desires, shortfalls and foibles.
That’s just not how it works. Is it?
Utusan. Helper. Servitude. Long hours. No pay. No personal life beyond the family’s environs. Bottom line: slave. It’s ugly no matter how memory shapes it. If you get a chance, I do recommend reading the article that jump started this post. It is a lovely narrative, one to which few white Americans can actually relate but deserves a wide audience nevertheless.