“There is a sense in which we are all each other’s consequences.” ~ Wallace Stegner, from All the Little Live Things

Throwback Thursday: April 26, 2015 post
Web Droplets by Martyn Wright FCC
Web Droplets by Martyn Wright (FCC)

The other day I was looking for something on my site, and the following post showed up in my search results. When this happens, I usually read the words that I wrote in the past, and sometimes I am flabbergasted . . . I mean, who was this person who cobbled together these words in such a way, and why can I not do so now? It’s a double-edged sword: on the one side lies the positive sense of amazement, and on the other lies the overwhelming sense of disappointment. I want to be able to write like this once again, but since I cannot, I have decided to share the post itself with the understanding that while I may be feeling these emotions today, I am unable to describe them in any cogent way.

Hence, the rerun. Apologies for this.

 “Perhaps it’s true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house—the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture—must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Imbued with new meaning.” ~ Arundhati Roy, from The God of Small Things

Sunday early evening. Sunny and cooler, 57 degrees.

Drips by Ricardo Camacho FCC
Drips by Ricardo Camacho (FCC)

So much going through my brain, thoughts coming at me, bombarding my senses, leaving me feeling bruised and broken.

Last night as I lay in bed, sleep elusive once again, I began to wonder when it was, exactly, that I lost my strength, my fortitude, as it were. I used to consider myself such a strong person, a person able to weather storms, a person who could take the worst that life heaped on my plate and still, somehow, survive.

But now? Now I cannot find that strength. I search and search, and I only find weakness, and weakness is to be pitied, and pity? Pity is to be scorned. Who wants pity? At least if someone hates you, that hatred encapsulates a strong emotion. Pity bears nothing. It is hollow and useless.

“My mind is blank, as indifferent as the
noonday heat. But images of memories descend from afar and land in
the bowl of water, neutral memories, neither painful nor joyful, such as
a walk in a pine forest, or waiting for a bus in the rain, and I wash them
as intently as if I had a literary crystal vase in my hands.” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from “A coloured cloud”

My heart feels old. My soul feels rent. My mind feels spent. And I have to wonder who decided that life should always be hard, that the good days should always have a shadow cast upon them. I have to wonder how other people survive in this world, this world so full of heartbreak and sorrow. How do the strong survive? How do the weak find the strength to try once again?

Rain on a Window Gabriele Diwald FCC
Rain on a Window by Gabrielle Diwald (FCC)

It’s all such a mystery to me. I can discern no patterns. Perhaps all of the patterns I once saw were only an illusion. It’s all too much like a fogged pane of glass, a window that steam has cloaked, and then that steam devolves into rivulets that run down the pane so quickly to nothing.

We sleep. We wake. We love, and we hate. We eat, and we cry, and we make love as if it were the last time. We lie and we steal, and we move against one another. We forge alliances and then just as easily break them. We speak decisively, and we wonder what we speak. We cling and we rend, and we scream until sound fails us. We fall and fall again. We turn and turn again.

“To be left with only the trace of a memory is to gaze at an armchair that’s still molded to the form of a love who has left never to return: it is to grieve, it is to weep.” ~ Orhan Pamuk, from The Black Book

At different points in my life, I have felt as if I knew exactly what fate had in store for me. So clear was the way ahead. So determined was the heart beating in my breast. And then at other times I have felt as if the roads that I took were actually part of one large labyrinth, seeming to move in one direction, when in actuality, every path reached a dead end.

Water Drops by Jo Naylor FCC
Water Drops by Jo Naylor (FCC)

The people around me search for answers and find none. The man on the corner, holding the tattered piece of cardboard declaring his humble wishes, talks to me of kittens. The woman moving so sure-footed down the hallway stops in her forward progress to ask if I need help. The son walks past me as if he does not see me until I call his name.

And you there, on the bed you have made, how does it feel? Was it everything you ever wanted? Or is it full of briars and thorns, hidden amidst the down?

“you will never let go, you will never be satiated.
You will be damaged and scarred, you will continue to hunger.” ~ Louise Glück, from “The Sensual World”

I speak in riddles because that it the only way I know through. Perhaps if I meander enough, I will once more find my way. Or perhaps if I meander too much, I will find myself completely lost.

Peony in Rain by James Mann FCC
Peony in Rain by James Mann (FCC)

The shore is not calm, and the moon is not high, and all of the stars in the universe are hidden from me because they contain truth. And this truth they have scattered here and there, placed a grain here in this broken shell, and another one there, in the knothole of that oak. I know this because I once found truth in the discarded hull of a walnut, and when I looked closely, I saw that its center was shaped like a heart. And I thought to myself, “At last. Here it is, at last.”

And I thought to place that small wooden heart safely under my pillow, where it would conjure restful nights of sleep and dreams, but when my fingers sought beneath my pillow, it was gone.

Truth is like that.

“There’s no understanding fate;” ~ Albert Camus, from “Caligula”

One day, I may actually find my place in this world, but more than likely, not. I have no more right to peace of mind than the woman in line behind me at the grocery store, even though she seems to have found her calm place through Dr. Pepper and potato chips.

Rainy Day by Keshav Mukund Kandhadai FCC
Rainy Day by Keshav Mukund Kandhadai (FCC)

Can it be bought, this peace of mind? Can I find it amid the words I finger on the screen, as if prying them loose would free them to become realities? Is it hidden in the pages of sonnets an old lover once gifted me, or is it there, among the cornflowers growing absently in the cracked pavement of the parking lot?

Milton lost paradise, and I have yet to find it, but I came close once, so very close . . . but too soon I found that it had only been my imagination, running rampant once again. And so I stand at the shore, tempering my pulse to beat with the outgoing tide—its fierce syncopation ultimately forcing air into my lungs, even as I try to cease the sweep of time’s second hand none too well, if not at all.

More later. Peace.


Music by Angus and Julia Stone, “Draw Your Swords”

 


It Rains

It rains
over the sand, over the roof
the theme
of the rain:
the long l s of rain fall slowly
over the pages
of my everlasting love,
this salt of every day:
rain, return to your old nest,
return with your needles to the past:
today I long for the whitest space,
winter’s whiteness for a branch
of green rosebush and golden roses:
something of infinite spring
that today was waiting, under a cloudless sky
and whiteness was waiting,
when the rain returned
to sadly drum
against the window,
then to dance with unmeasured fury
over my heart and over the roof,
reclaiming
its place,
asking me for a cup
to fill once more with needles,
with transparent time,
with tears.

~ Pablo Neruda

“We are torn between nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.” ~ Carson McCullers, from “Look Homeward, Americans”


“She was afraid of these things that made her suddenly wonder who she was, and what she was going to be in the world, and why she was standing at that minute, seeing a light, or listening, or staring up into the sky: alone.” ~ Carson McCullers, The Member of the Wedding

Sunday afternoon, cloudy, 49 degrees.

Wednesday was the birthday of American novelist, playwright, and poet Carson McCullers (February 19, 1917-September 29, 1967). Granted, I came to McCullers late in the game, not reading my first book by her until grad school—Reflections in a Golden Eye, written in 1941 (go here to download an e copy of the novel). However, once I had read that book, I was hooked, reading almost everything that she had written in quick succession. When I was still teaching, I always included something by McCullers on my literature syllabi, my favorite being her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940).

Most often, McCullers is classified as a Southern Gothic writer, in the same vein as Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, and Tennessee Williams. Southern Gothic literature is so named because of its similarities to the Gothic genre, which arose in 18th century Britain. Key elements of Gothic literature include bleak, dark settings, and mysterious, sometimes supernatural plots filled with psychologically complex and damaged characters. Well-known examples of the genre include Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897).

Gothic literature continued to flourish in the 19th century, influencing the works of Edgar Allan Poe (“The Tell-Tale Heart,” 1843), Robert Louis Stevenson (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 1886), and Nathanial Hawthorne (The House of the Seven Gables, 1851), all of which incorporated the Gothic motifs of suspense and horror, as well as characters with traumatized psyches. Often central to the overarching atmosphere of these works was a large, foreboding house harboring a terrible secret (Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights); the term Gothic actually derives from the architectural classification of late Medieval structures such as cathedrals that featured stone and glass incorporated into the arches and buttresses.

Elements of the Gothic tradition in literature continue today—the entire oeuvre of Stephen King or Anne Rice, for example—with sensational plots and characters steeped in mystery and the supernatural, with thematic spillover into movies and television shows featuring zombies, vampires, and werewolves.

“His own life seemed so solitary, a fragile column supporting nothing amidst the wreckage of the years.” Carson McCullers, from “The Sojourner”

While the roots of Southern Gothic literature stem from the Gothic tradition, Southern Gothic tends to focus less on the primary setting of singular creepy mansions and instead uses the concept of the sprawling Southern plantation or the small Southern town as the atmospheric backdrop. Much of Southern Gothic literature centers on the differences inherent in the mid 20th century South and the characters who reside there. For example, in Reflections, McCullers incubates her characters within the stultifying isolation of a military base in which characters self-mutilate and ultimately commit murder.

Southern Gothic first emerged as a sub genre in the work of William Faulkner in the 1920s, but it reached its peak in the period between the 1940s to the 1960s through the work of well-known authors such as McCullers, O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Truman Capote, and Harper Lee. I would be remiss if I did not mention the Southern Gothic masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), by  Tennessee Williams; in fact, it was Williams who convinced his friend McCullers to turn her 1946 novel Member of the Wedding into the 1950 play, which won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for the best play of the season.

Interestingly, many well-known Gothic novels and stories have been translated to movies and plays, with some having multiple adaptations over the years: McCullers’ Heart novel was adapted to film in 1968 and starred Alan Arkin and a young Sondra Locke. Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando starred in the 1967 film version of Reflections. Member was not only adapted into a play, but also into a film in both 1952 (garnering Julie Harris a best actress nomination) and 1997, as well as a TV adaptation in 1982.

“Maybe when people longed for a thing that bad the longing made them trust in anything that might give it to them.” ~ Carson McCullers, from The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

One key motif of both Gothic and Southern Gothic literature is the incorporation of the grotesque, which is defined in the literary sense as the ludicrous or abnormal, in other words, whatever or whoever deviates from traditional societal norms, especially as relates to the body and the many ways in which it can be exaggerated or distorted, a la the Frankenstein monster. McCullers was particularly skilled in incorporating the overarching Gothic idea of the grotesque into her characterizations: witness John Singer, the deaf-mute protagonist of Heart, whose physical differences caused him such emotional pain and mental anguish. He moves through his life with an overarching sense of alienation that allows him no permanent place in this world, which in turn leads to his suicide.

McCullers creates within so many of her characters this sense of other as a deliberate mechanism for portraying the wretchedness of the human condition. Her  stories are populated by those set apart from the mainstream by race, sexuality, and deformity, and then she further isolates these characters through  complex themes such as bisexuality, impotency, bestiality, and murder. But perhaps the leitmotif that permeates her work more than any other is that of need: her characters’ need for love, for understanding, for companionship, for sex, for strength, for belonging. She creates these needs, but rarely offers the satisfaction of successfully achieving any of them.

I always thought that her characters in Heart are indeed both grotesque and sublime—creations that the reader can both love and fear because we fear what we do not know, whether it be a mute or an individual institutionalized for mental illness (Spiros). Singer was a masterpiece of contractions: He could not hear, but he loved music, or the idea of music. He could not speak but was named singer. Oddly, the person in the boarding house who is deemed the best listener is the deaf man. Overall, the book’s characters are all lone hunters, with each seemingly hunting something different yet at the same time, each hunting a way out of loneliness.

“What did he understand? Nothing. Where was he headed? Nowhere. What did he want? To know. What? A meaning. Why? A riddle.” ~ Carson McCullers, from The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Carson McCullers, Nyack, New York, 1947; photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Anyway, not really sure how I ended up writing so much about Southern Gothic literature when I had originally just wanted to mention McCullers’ birthday;  I finally had to stop myself when I realized that I was going into a full-blown academic analysis of her, and the Gothic tradition, etc. . . . that, plus I began this post on Wednesday, so it was long overdue for completion. Truthfully, though, I miss writing research papers, which is why so many of my posts contain elements inherent to pedagogy.

Nevertheless, I never even touched on McCullers as a person, which is in large part why I have always been so fascinated with her, but that’s a whole other post’s worth of words, and then some. But truly, McCullers was brilliant, and like many brilliant people she was very troubled, so perhaps I’ll write about that and the bourbon some other time, but this is quite enough for today.

More later. Peace.


Music by The Dead South, “In Hell I’ll Be in Good Company”

“What people never understand is that depression isn’t about the outside; it’s about the inside. Something inside me is wrong. Sure, there are things in my life that make me feel alone, but nothing makes me feel more isolated and terrified than my own voice in my head.” ~ Jasmine Warga, from My Heart and Other Black Holes

Wordless Wednesdays . . . sort of . . .

Wednesday afternoon, sunny, 41 degrees.

Trying to get back into my blogging groove. Three posts in the last four days. Better than recent attempts, much worse than patterns of the past. Nothing I do is ever good enough in my own mind. Oh well . . .

Found this little beauty in my drafts folder. No idea as to why I hadn’t already posted it. Enjoy.