“Do I understand that hurt my children feel? I think I do, though they might claim otherwise. But I think I know so well the pain we children clutch to our chests, how it lasts our whole lifetime, with longings so large you can’t even weep. We hold it tight, we do, with each seizure of the beating heart: This is mine, this is mine, this is mine.”
—- My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
It’s been a while since I finished a book in less than 48 hours time. I finished this morning. From the time I began reading I only stopped to eat, sleep, and do necessary household or personal chores. Normally, I go from a day to a week between reading sessions because life demands attention and I’m not a good multi-tasker. But this book.
It’s not a long book, only 143 pages, but every page, every paragraph, every sentence is a world. At first, I thought I didn’t like the author’s writing style, which is fragmented, but I soon realized it was the protagonist who was fragmented. Then I thought I just didn’t like the book much but when I kept reading I realized it was because it was bringing stuff from my own life to the surface and that’s what I didn’t like. I read much of the book with tears in my eyes.
The mother-daughter relationship is mysterious. Well, it can be. Lucy Barton explores the relationship of the narrator and her mother and (a little about) the narrator and her daughters. But it’s so much more.
Lucy’s mother spends five days with her while she’s in hospital. They talk but they more often talk around things. Subjects are avoided, words unsaid due to fear of hurting the other or fear of remembering what’s been buried. The relationship between them is difficult as mother-daughter relationships often are.
So many things struck me such as Lucy’s inability to be sure of her memories of her childhood. So many scenarios alluded to and vaguely described because living in a stressful environment does that to a child, the adults memory becomes fuzzy.
This is also the story of parents being one way when you’re a child and another when you’re an adult and they are old. It’s a story of forgiving but not telling. It’s a story about loneliness.
This is a story so pure it hurts.
“I have sometimes been sad that Tennessee Williams wrote that line for Blanche DuBois, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Many of us have been saved many times by the kindness of strangers, but after a while it sounds trite, like a bumper sticker. And that’s what makes me sad, that a beautiful and true line comes to be used so often that it takes on the superficial sound of a bumper sticker.”
“This is the time when the part of you that is music overcomes the part of you that is silence. This is when music rules the fools. It’s Mardi Gras in New Orleans, ladies and gentlemen, and the good times roll, and you might as well roll with them because there is only music to hold on to.” –Andrei Codrescu, “New Orleans, Mon Amour, Twenty Years Of Writing From The City”
“Truth for anyone is a very complex thing. For a writer, what you leave out says as much as those things you include. What lies beyond the margin of the text? The photographer frames the shot; writers frame their world. … There are so many things that we can’t say, because they are too painful. We hope that the things we can say will soothe the rest, or appease it in some way.” — Jeanette Winterson
“There is an awful lot of anger in the world … and … there is a real need to be creative with it rather than destructive. I think of violence as basically useless; it doesn’t solve anything. The more violence you create the more violence you have. So it really is an inconvenience. It’s like lying; if you lie, you’re constantly trying to remember what you lied about and how you lied. With violence, if you create it, you’re always trying to figure out why you did it or how to deal with the messiness of it or, later on, how to absolve yourself. Much better to create something, much better to talk.” —Alice Walker
The wind is blowing fiercely outside whipping the trees into a frenzy. The wind chimes are clanging merrily, though, giving quite the serenade. All the little birds at the bird feeder are puffed out. I guess they’re trying to stay warm in the cold wind. It’s grey. Another grey day. Every time we have one of these days in NOLA it reinforces how glad I am that I don’t live where winters are harsh. Day upon day of greyness would do me in for sure. I don’t mind the occasional gloomy day – sometimes it’s nice to cuddle up on the sofa under a blanket and the dogs and watch movies or read – but after about 2 or 3, I get gloomy myself. The trick is to remember that the sun will return and temps will go up and my NOLA will return to her bright, happy self. And so will I.
My little dog, Buddy, had cataract surgery December 2 – I might have mentioned it before. All these weeks he’s had to wear The Cone of Shame and be given around seven different eyedrops around the clock. Six time a day does not mean between 8 am and 10 pm, it means within 24 hours so I was getting up in the night to administer drops. Well, on Tuesday we had a good report from his follow up visit at the eye vet and he graduated from The Cone. Plus, we are down to only 3 drops twice a day. I feel liberated and I know he does too. And he can see again so we’ve resumed our daily walks, which loves, except we’ll be skipping today. After all the time and money I’ve spent on his eye the last thing he needs is trash blown into it. Oy.
I’ve been reading Elena Ferrante’s “The Story of a New Name” which is book 2 in her Neopolitan Series. I began reading it directly after finishing the first book, “My Brilliant Friend” and I expect I’ll go directly to the third if I can get it from the library without waiting in line. Ferrante is a great storyteller and these books have really captured my interest. No spoilers here, just a big thumbs up from me if you’re thinking about reading them.
I haven’t been writing much lately. Everyone goes through slumps, I know, but this time it feels different. It’s more of a disinterest on my part as opposed to wanting to write but not finding words. When I look back on my life I recognize there’ve been periods of interest in different things – periods of great activity that lasted years but eventually waned and stopped when I’d go on to a new interest. The only thing that hasn’t stopped in my love of reading. So, I’m thinking maybe the writing part of my life has run its course. At least for now, it seems so. I do have one poem coming out in a journal next month but I don’t have any outstanding submissions and I don’t have any interest in submitting right now. I’m just going to let myself ride the wave and see where it takes me. I may end up back on the writing beach, after all. Who knows?
In the mean time, here’s some links to some good stuff I’ve read online recently:
- In Luna Luna Magazine, Who Wouldn’t Want an Anatomically Correct Butler? by my friend J.A. Pak
- In Brainpickings, The Swan and the Blue Sail: Patti Smith on the Creative Impulse and the Childhood Epiphany in Which She Knew She Was an Artist
- In Literary Orphans, T.L. Sherwood interviews Susan Tepper who’s new book, Dear Petrov, comes out on February 2. I love Susan’s Dear Petrov stories so I’m looking forward to the book. She’s a really nice person, too. You can read five of her Dear Petrov flashes here.
- In The Independent, 72% of people get their best ideas in the shower – here’s why
- In The Oxford American, Natasha Trethewey: Language and Ruthlessness
Here’s to a great reading week and sunny skies!
“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” – Ansel Adams