“Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self.” ~ Cyril Connolly

Venetian Masks

“The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.” ~ Ben Okri

A beautiful spring day here. Tillie is outside playing ball with Corey. Brett is playing XBox Live with a friend from school, and I’m sitting here squinting at the screen because of the pulsating pain that is omnipresent behind my forehead. 

Carnevale di Venezia

Ah, the rich pageantry of life . . . 

I received my lab results in the mail from my last visit to my PCP, and boy were they not good. My triglycerides are high, as is my cholesterol. My liver function is abnormal, and so is my glucose level. The only good news is that my calcium is in good shape, so no brittle bones for me. The reality is that I’m a slug, a slug on the precipice of diabetes, and I have to do something about it. Yes, I know. Exercise is the best possible remedy, and I have had that particular item on my things to do list. Just hasn’t happened yet. 

It’s funny. I run a lot in my dreams, long, beautiful strides, moving like air. In real life, I cannot run. It just kills me. Running would be the fastest way to get in shape, but I do not foresee that happening anytime soon. So, it’s time to get the exercise bike out and do some regular pedaling. At one time, when I belonged to the community center, I was doing my regular weight workout and cycling eight miles a day, so obviously I can do it. Now, I just need to get off my buttocks. 

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

As I type, I can hear Shakes in my closet, trying to shift my shoe boxes so as to build a more comfortable nest. I swear that the Jack Russells think that they are cats. They do possess some very cat-like qualities. 

Venetian Volto (full-face) Mask

I am reading a book about Mary, Queen of Scots. Quite interesting. The biggest problem that I have when reading history comes from the surplus of names. Until I am well into the book, I find myself continuously going back to the list of characters to clarify a person’s identify. So many lords of this and that—it becomes confusing. I do love to read history that is well written, though, especially when it involves some sort of murder. 

I still remember a revisionist book that I read years ago called Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, I believe. It was a retake on Richard III in which the king is made into a kinder, gentler character. Fascinating. My image of Richard III relies heavily on the Shakespearean play, one of my favorites, but reading an alternate version was eye-opening. 

The problem with some historical fiction is that it can drift into so much supposition, as was the case with Patricia Cornwell’s supposed dissection of Jack the Ripper’s identity, or it can be romanticized, which doesn’t really serve anyone well. 

“I want an infinitely blank book and the rest of time . . .” ~ Jonathan Safran Foer

Let’s see . . . what else is going on in my little world?  Not much, I have to say. I watched a television movie, “Who is Clark Rockefeller?” Unbelievable. I watched it because I had heard about this con man a few years ago who claimed to be a Rockefeller, you know, one of the Rockefellers. Turns out, he wasn’t, but not only was he not one of the Rockefellers, he was a German immigrant who had remade himself about five different times, including an incarnation in which he may have been involved in a murder. 

Feather Mask

I know that some people must think that it would be easy to spot a con man or woman for what he or she really is, but I don’t think so. I think that if someone is really good at creating personas, it would be very hard to see through that mask. I mean, we all wear masks that are dependent on where we are or who we happen to be with at any given time. However, for most people, the depth of these masks is quite minimal. It’s called adapting. 

But people who possess the goal to completely recreate themselves—new names, new histories, new everything—that involves something quite different from mere adaptation; it’s regeneration. And I imagine that to do that, there must be a level of commitment that is beyond what most of us have within ourselves. I’m not talking about a mere alias, or a writing persona. I mean the whole egg: voice, inflection, hair and eye color, mannerisms, clothing, and so much more. And putting all of that on and not taking it off for years at a time. I think that there would have to be an underlying psychopathy in the individual. 

This Clark guy was married for 12 years and had a child. His wife did not realize that he was a fake until the divorce proceedings. The feds had a hard time believing that she had no inkling, but as she stated, she was in love and had no reason not to believe him even though there were signs along the way. This was a Harvard MBA, a woman with a powerful job. She was not by any means stupid. 

“You believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” ~ Marilyn Monroe

Carnival Masks

But think about it: How many of us have put on an act when first meeting someone, especially someone of the opposite sex who we were trying to impress?  So many little white lies, so many affectations. I dated someone when I was a teenager who was an inveterate liar, truly. He just did not know how to tell the truth. Being young and in love, I would tell myself my own lies when I caught him in an inconsistency. It was easier that way. Eventually, I allowed myself to face the truth and moved on, but I understand how sometimes we do not see what is right before us because it is easier. 

All of this brings me to a question, something that Corey and I have had many discussions about: Is an omission a lie? I believe that it is. He does not believe that an omission is a lie. I am wondering if this is a gender thing . . . 

I mean, I have always felt that not telling someone that you have done something that might affect your relationship (and I don’t mean what you ate for breakfast or who you sat next to on the train) is the same as lying about it, but are my standards unrealistic? It’s entirely possible. My association with the habitual liar made me very wary; I freely admit that. And then too, my own lies of omission make me suspicious. By that I mean that at one point in my life, I was guilty of several major lies of omission, not in my relationship with Corey, but with someone else. At the time, it was just easier not to say anything. But I suppose that I am sensitive to lies of omission having used them to my advantage in the past. 

What do you think? 

More later. Peace. 

Music by Leonard Cohen (yes, Maureen)—”In My Secret Life” 

 

                                                                                                                                 

I’m including a bonus link to a slideshow from Parabola Online Magazine. Thanks to Crashingly Beautiful for continued inspiration: A Snowy Day at Seven Jewels Lake by Ven Bikkhu Bodhi  

  

 

“Veritum dies aperit” (Time discovers the truth) ~ Seneca

Staying Put Zink Arkansas 1935 by Ben Shahn

One of the few remaining inhabitants of Zinc, Arkansas, October 1935 by Ben Shahn

Time does not change us. It just unfolds us.” ~ Max Frisch

“Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

I think that Corey took a smartass pill when he woke up today. He’s showing all of the classic signs. I could tell that it was going to rain as soon as I woke up because I had  a sinus headache. When I commented that everytime the barometric pressure drops, I get a headache, Corey replied, “Aren’t you glad that you are so in tune with mother nature?” Funny. Very funny.

My husband the wit.

So Izzie the Trooper is going to be coming home tomorrow. We still need to buy a new battery and a spare tire before our trip to Ohio. I’m not driving through the mountains of West Virginia without a spare tire. Not with our luck. But once the Trooper comes home, I plan to try to clean her insides top to bottom, rid of her of the tobacco atoms that are clinging to everything. Of course, once Eamonn starts driving her again, it will all be for naught, but until that time, she’s still mine, and I want her to smell clean, even if it means that I Febreze the hell out of her.

Itenerand photographer in Columbus OH by Ben Shahn 1938
Itinerant Photographer in Columbus, OH, by Ben Shahn (1938)

We haven’t been able to make the trip to Ohio in years, mostly because of my back problems. This will be the first time that I have been on such a long car journey. I’m hoping for the best, but if I arrive shaped like a pretzel, I won’t be surprised. The trip is to celebrate Corey’s dad’s birthday, and our arrival is supposed to be a surprise. The whole family is going to Indian Lake.

Corey took us to Indian Lake one year when the boys were still relatively young. Corey and the boys rented a paddle boat and went all around the lake. I sat on a blanket in the sun and read a book. Everyone was happy. But I’m pretty sure that we ran out of gas either to or from the lake. That was when we owned the big gnarly Buick that I hated, and if I remember correctly, Corey ran out of gas with that car more than once.

He still does that—runs out of gas—only not as frequently. He also gets lost, but won’t admit it. Don’t ask me why he does these things. It’s just one of those Corey things. The first time that he did it with the boys in the car, they were young, and they became very anxious. They kept asking us if we were in a bad part of town. We were somewhere in Richmond on our way to Ohio. Eamonn had obviously learned the term “bad part of town” from somewhere, so I explained to him that being out of gas and lost is always a bad part of town.

One of these days I’m going to be able to afford a Magellan for Corey, which will at least take care of the getting lost part.

Oh well. Not really what my subject is today.

“Time is not a reality (hypostasis), but a concept (noêma) or a measure (metron).” ~ Antiphon from On Truth

A few months back David Bridger, one of the writers who I visit frequently, posed a question on his blog: If you could go back in time, where would you go? Who would you see? What would you do? Good idea for a post David (who is busy working on his book, preparing for two fall weddings, and taking care of wife Janette: Hello to everyone).

I’ve kept that post in the back of my mind for a while now without tackling it because my answer (of course) wouldn’t be just one point in time. I have managed to narrow it to three different points in time: the Renaissance, the Great Depression, and France during WWII, all for very different reasons.

The Tudfors S3 Henry
The Tudors (season 3) Jonathan Rhys-Davies as Henry VIII

Being a writer and a lover of great literature, the Renaissance is probably the most predictable answer for me. Granted, the Renaissance is a pretty broad time period, beginning after the Middle Ages and ending with the Reformation (approximately 1450 to 1600). However, the time in which I would be most interested would be during the Elizabethan period of literature, during which writers such as Shakespeare, Marlowe, Donne, and Spenser were prolific.

Granted, living conditions in Tudor England would be a tad hard to adapt to, what with chamber pots being emptied out of windows and a lack of a central drainage system. Threats of the plague might put a damper on things; although drinking ale for breakfast as opposed to a hot cup of tea would be interesting, if not an engaging way in which to begin the day.

Obviously, life would not be a brilliant pageant of color and intrigue like Showtime’s The Tudors (alas, alack), which, by the way, I am not enjoying as much in Season 3 as in previous seasons. Probably the lack of spark provided by Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn.

But as usual, I digress . . .

My real interest in looking in on Elizabethan England would lie in the relationship between Shakespeare and Marlowe. Did Shakespeare actually steal from Marlowe? Was Marlowe as prolific as Shakespeare? Could Marlowe have been the better playwright if he had lived longer? Actually, conspiracy theorists about the Bard contend that Shakespeare’s works could have been written by Sir Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, and Edward de Vere. Why such a reluctance to attribute to Shakespeare that which is Shakespeare’s?

Who knows? But it would be wonderful to go back in time to see the literary masters at work, to look over Shakespeare’s shoulder as he created his own version of Richard III. To visit with the man who created Falstaff.

“It is one thing to photograph people. It is another to make others care about them by revealing the core of their humanness.” ~ Paul Strand

Fiddlin Bill Hensley Asheville NC by Ben Shahn
Fiddlin' Bill Hensley, Asheville, NC, by Ben Shahn

Another time that I would like to visit would be the Great Depression, specifically that period during which Roosevelt’s photographers for the WPA were in service.

The WPA was the Works Progress Administration, a government-funded program for artists during the mid 1930’s to mid 1940’s. Artists who received funding during the WPA included Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. Among the writers of the Federal Writers’ Project were Zora Neale Hurston, John Steinbeck, and Claude McKay. But my interest lies with the photographers, people like Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, and Walker Evans, the individuals who created an enduring photographic record of a period in American history during the artistic period known as social realism.

I am in awe of these masters of the genre who took the art of photography to new heights with their achingly real depictions of people and places. Personally, I have never been very good at capturing the essence of a person in a photograph, which is why I tend to stay with nature and architecture. I believe that it takes an artist with great insight to be able to capture that moment of greatest personal revelation on film, and I know of none better than Lange, Evans and Shahn.

Of her famous picture of the migrant mother, Lange had this to say in an interview in 1960:

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it. (From Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).

The photographers worked for the WPA for about $23 a week as starting wages. Many felt fortunate to be able to plie their trade in a period in which so few had any meaningful work. But as the Library of Congress collection reveals, what may have begun as merely a way to make a living became an intense affinity for the American people, a record of their hardships, sorrows, and sometimes, their small celebrations.

So while a journey back to one of the most painful periods in our country’s history may seem like a bizarre choice, being able to watch these artists, perhaps even to emulate them would be an amazing opportunity.

“Le jour de gloire est arrivé !” ~ La Marseillaise

My last choice probably seems like the oddest of the three: France during WWII.

I do not view World War II as a particularly wonderful time in history. On the contrary. However, I would like to think that if I were living in France during this dark period in history that I would have participated in the French Resistance movement.

French Resistance Croix de Lorraine symbol
Croix de Lorraine, Symbol of French Resistance

Essentially, there were two main movements. The Conseil National de la Résistance or the National Council of the Resistance was created by John Moulin. The CNR directed and coordinated the different movements of the French Resistance: the press, trade unions, and members of political parties hostile to the Vichy France. Eventually, the CNR  coordinated with the Free French Forces, led by Charles De Gaulle

The French resistance included men, women and children from all social classes, religions, and political movements who worked against the Nazi occupation in France. Although the Resistance was responsible for blowing up key targets, members also published underground newspapers, helped Allied soldiers to freedom, collected and disseminated military intelligence, and raising awareness among the French populace.

Even though women were not allowed many leadership roles in the Resistance, I still think that it would have been admirable to work on one of the underground presses, churning out anti-Nazi propaganda. It’s that anti-establishment streak that runs through my veins, not a glorification of the Resistance that has been depicted in so many movies that makes me think that I could have participated in such a movement. Doing something, standing up for your beliefs.

“Come on and cry me a river, cry me a river” ~ From “Cry Me a River,” by Arthur Hamilton 

Other notable eras of which I wish I could have played a part: The era of great torch singers (Etta James, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne ). Oh those bluesy, unrequited love songs, like “Can’t Help Loving That Man of Mine” and how they just rip at the very fabric of the heart. Other eras that I wouldn’t mind visiting would be the age of the emerging confessional poets (Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich) , as well as Europe during the Impressionistic period in art—Van Gogh, Cézanne, Monet, Gaugin—all of that angst amidst all of that beauty.

For now, I’m sitting here in 2009, with my old soul and my dreams of other days.

 

 

More later. Peace.

Cracks in the Rose-Colored Glasses

badain-jaran-desert

“A desert is a place without expecation” ~ Nadine Gordimer 

” . . . A Corner of the Mournful Kingdom of Sand” ~ Pierre Loti

I’m not really sure how to begin to describe the state in which I have found myself me these past few days, but I think, fear, that I am moving into a dry, unproductive period again, and it’s actually really pissing me off. I mean, here I am, all proud of myself for the discipline that I’ve been devoting to my writing in the last four, five months. Sitting here at this computer, opining on this, commenting on that, and the words flowing so freely that putting in my self-imposed two hours just seemed to be that—self-imposed and therefore needless. After all, I was spending much more time than that each day . . . doing what, exactly?

questions

Practicing my craft? Is that what I’ve really been doing: honing my writing skills, amassing thoughts and passages that I could assimilate into that wonderful creation that would be . . . what?

I’ve been so enamored of my routine, something that I could never before master, that I had actually forgotten about the equally engrossing but far less proliferate phenomenon: writer’s block. As in, I can think of nothing to say. Nothing of substance, that is. Or to be more precise, I still have much to say, enough for eons actually, but I cannot make the words work. They are not connecting, as if some synapse somewhere in my recesses has shut down and is refusing to fire.

So this leaves me . . . patently pissed off, perplexed, panicked, and paranoid, even. After months and months of an endless flow, what has changed? Has something in me changed or has my ability to let my fingers wander freely over these keys been damaged by something else? Is it temporary? Days, perhaps weeks. Or will it be like the last time? Years before I could find my way back to words, lost in mile after mile of a  desert barren of creative invention.

Hence I am in a state of heightened anxiety, which, as any of you who create know, only exacerbates the problem. Do I call a time out? Do I say firmly to myself, “Step away from the keyboard until you can make it sing again,” or do I fumble my way through this.

I have two theories about my current state, neither of which are good:

The first, is that I have just been slowly weaned off my migraine medicine, which I had been on for several years. The number of bad side effects was beginning to counteract the very real benefit of migraine prevention, or at least slowdown. While on this medicine, I noticed that my ability to speak was being impaired, as in, I could not find words, could not articulate, could not remember the names of common items. As I said to my doctor, this loss of articulation, train of thought, is a kind of hell for someone who used to teach English.

In addition, I was losing hand-fulls of hair, which, even when you have as much hair as I do, can be quite worrisome. And, I always felt drained and tired. Malaise was a constant companion. Granted, the drained and tired may or may not be related to the medicine as I do have other conditions that could be causing the fatigue, but was the medicine actually making the fatigue worse? Or how about constant tingling in the wrists, which was not as I had assumed, carpal tunnel syndrome. (By the way, it just took me two minutes to remember the phrase carpal tunnel syndrome.)

Case in point. I asked Corey, quite seriously, if I have always been like this, to which he replied in the negative. He has been telling me for a while that I was having memory problems, but I have staunchly denied it. I thought that it was stress, told myself it was stress. As it turns out, this doping effect on short-term memory is but one of the more common side effects of taking this medication long-term.

After some more research and reflection on these and several other wonderful side effects versus the benefit of having fewer migraines of shorter duration, I did think that perhaps a change in my medication was due, hence, the withdrawal.

With the withdrawal of this medicine from my system, I do have more energy, and my hair is no longer coming out in my hands in the shower. However, I cannot write. To borrow from just a recent post of mine, those three words are like Brutus’s “unkindest cut of all.”

Unfortunately, this whole scenario reminds me of what happened many years ago when the doctors first put my on the cure-all Prozac to get me through my interminable grief: Yes, I wasn’t crying all of the time. However, I also wasn’t feeling anything—at all—nothing. If I had had to describe myself in one word at that time, I would have used the word cardboard. I told the doctor who I was seeing at that time that I would rather be crying and depressed than a zombie. The Prozac went away and thus began my long trial and error with the pharmacopoeia of antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds, a long and very crooked road that has brought me to this point in my post and to this post.

Am I no longer able to write because my chemical make-up has been altered so drastically by removing this one medicine to prevent migraines? And if so, just how powerful was that drug? And if the consequence of stopping that drug is that I cannot write, is it a price that I am willing to pay?

This introspection is more than mere navel-gazing; I assure you. If I cannot spend several hours a day writing, and I am not working any more, does my self-fulfilling prophesy about being on disability come true: that I will retire to my bedroom and become the hermit that I wrote about all those months ago?

What was the other theory? That I was never really able to write in the first place, and that, dear friends, is the slippery slope that many would-be writers, once they begin to ascend, often do not return from (end preposition acknowledged).

Navel-gazing is not for the faint of heart. More later? Peace.