Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ne Pleurez Plus, Entrez: The Matisse Chapel

Stain Glass Windows in Chapel du Rossaire (Sylvia's "Matisse Chapel")
"I was desolate and wandered to the back of the walled nunnery, where I could see a corner of the Chapel and sketched it, feeling like Alice outside the garden, watching the doves and orange trees" Sylvia Plath wrote to her mother, in January 1956, after being denied entrance to the Matisse Chapel, a "small, clean-cut" building with a "blue tile roof sparkling in the sun", a site she had come to "love via pictures for years".  After Plath finished her sketched that afternoon, she walked "back to the front [of the Chapel] and stared" with her "face through the barred gate" and began to cry because she "knew it was so lovely inside, pure white with the sun through blue, yellow, and green stained windows."  Then something quite unusal, by any seasoned European travelers standards, happened, as she stood despairing Plath heard a voice say: "Ne pleurez plus, entrez," and then the Mother Superior welcomed  Sylvia into her beloved Matisse Chapel, "after denying all the wealthy people in cars."  When she entered, Plath "knelt in the heart of the sun and the colors of the sky, sea, and sun in the pure white heart of the Chapel."  "Vous etes si gentille" Sylvia "stammered" in thanks to which the Mother Superior replied: "C'est la miseriorde de Dieu."  And "It was" Plath assured her mother the mercy of God.  In my humble opinion, the Matisse Chapel incident is the definition of a miracle.  We spend so much of our existenece  with our faces pressed against the bars, knowing that what our hearts desire most is just out of reach in a pure white Chapel with the sun streaming in through blue, yellow, and green stained glass windows.  Aren't we all waiting for an act of love and compassion?  We long to hear: "Ne pleurez plus, entrez."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Contusion

"Colour floods to the spot, dull purple./The rest of the body is all washed out,/The colour of pearl.//In a pit of rock/The sea sucks obsessively,/One hollow the whole sea's pivot.//The size of a fly,/The doom mark/Crawls down the wall.//The heart shuts,/The sea slides back,/The mirrors are sheeted." (Sylvia Plath) Does an emotional abrasion more closely resemble a gash or a bruise? Even if we can describe our wounds, do curative powers truly lie in the act of identification? I simply don't know. The "professionals" have yet to heal me. I am green and blue, still seeking comfort in poems and books. "Colour floods to the spot, dull purple. The rest of the body is all washed out." Notice how the discoloured area stands in stark contrast to the pallour of death. The doom mark pointing to the final execution of the poet's inner light.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Stars, Hide Your Fires

"Roll away your stone. I'll roll away mine". In case you're wondering, the previous quote is taken from Mumford and Son's SIGH NO MORE cd. Because I discovered that particular album on the eve of a severe breakdown most of the songs on SIGH NO MORE hold a little piece of my heart. As I watched my life crumble and my sanity fail last winter, there were days when it took all my willpower to do nothing more than swipe away tears and sing along. It was a tiny step forward, but, over the years, I've come to believe that the small reprieves are the ones that move us toward the light and make life more bearable. A gentle word of encouragement, a song that makes you smile, or a free coffee at Starbucks help take the chill off when we can't seem to warm up. As winter turned to spring, I began to consider the central role heat plays in our lives. Warmth is more than a physical need, its an emotional one. Maybe what we're all looking for is radiance. The word "radiance" has two primary definitions: 1.) Light or heat as emitted or reflected by something; 2.)Great joy or love apparent in someone's expression. If you ask me, those two definitions are related. Perhaps loving means discovering another person's inner flames, finding that warmth irresistible, and, finally, moving closer to their light.

In her novel, EVIDENCE OF THINGS UNSEEN, Marianne Wiggins suggests as much: “What being in the War and being in the Army had shown him was that people tend naturally toward light, toward its source, as sunflowers do in a field. People lean, either in their dreams or in their actions, toward that place where they suspect their inner lights are coming from. Whether they call it God or conscience or the manual of Army protocol, people sublime toward where their inner fire burns, and given enough fuel for thought and a level playing field to dream on, anyone can leave a fingerprint on the blank of history. That's what Fos believed.”  Here's the catch, Folks: Drawing close to a radiant source can be dangerous. Have you ever stayed out in the snow too long? After you finally come back inside, the warming up process is rather painful. Your skin tingles. Your bones ache. At least for me, the same process happens when I find myself unable to resist another person's light. It terrifies me. The cold is hell, but I've acclimated. Nothing is worse than finally getting warm, only find yourself shoved outdoors again. The memory of that warmth makes the freezing temperatures all the more unbearable. But here's the deal: If you never approach the light then what will you miss? Every story doesn't have the same ending. If this winter taught me anything, its that I won't bury my desires anymore. Won't run from the light. You can't save yourself from the heartaches but hiding from the light might cost you your dreams. "Stars, hide your fires; these here are my desires and I won't give them up to you this time around" ("Roll Away Your Stone" by Mumford and Sons. This particular line almost a direct quote from Shakespeare's Macbeth)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Feels Like Home to Me

“I felt dumb and subdued. Every time I tried to concentrate, my mind glided off, like a skater, into a large empty space, and pirouetted there, absently.” (Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar) Sometimes when I've had a rough day, I wonder if I will ever regain my "old bawdy vigor". In those moments, when my mind glides off, like a skater, into a large empty space, even the simple pleasure of reading is impossible. Thus, after struggling awhile in vain, I admit defeat, and shed a few tears. Later on, as I dry my eyes, I turn to Sylvia Plath. Odd choice? Nah, I don't think it is. When you're rather crazy, its easy to drown in isolation. That's why I love Plath. She assures me someone understands. I am not alone.

Now, listen, being crazy is nothing to brag about, my Friends.  If you happen to be sane than thank the heavens above, and don't lay claim to Plath. Read the following statement: "With me, the present is forever, and forever is always shifting, flowing, melting. This second is life. And when it is gone it is dead. But you can't start over with each new second. You have to judge by what is dead. It's like quicksand... hopeless from the start.” (Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals) Now, be brutally honest with yourself. Do you really understand it? Do you feel that "present is forever, and forever is always shifting, flowing, melting"? Now, try this one on for size: “In a rabbit-fear I may hurl myself under the wheels of the car because the lights terrify me, and under the dark blind death of wheels I will be safe. I am very tired, very banal, very confused. I do not know who I am tonight. I wanted to walk until I dropped and not complete the inevitable circle of coming home.” (Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals) Again, you know the drill, we are looking for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God. Have ever experienced "a rabbit-fear", then hurled yourself "under the wheels of the car because the lights terrify" you? And when THAT horror has subsided you realize how very tired, banal, and confused you are? Now you see what I mean, don't you? You can't tell people you're caught in "rabbit-fear". Such an admission only earns you looks of pity and incredible awkwardness.

“God, but life is loneliness, despite all the opiates, despite the shrill tinsel gaiety of 'parties' with no purpose, despite the false grinning faces we all wear. And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter - they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long." (Sylvia Plath). In my experience, when you've been very alone for a very long time, you know just how special finding "someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul" really is. Personally, I think that the word "home" really means: reveal your fears, inhibitions, and playfulness with fear of loss or retribution for the confession. You're finally safe and the loneliness is gone. In honor of that here's "Feels Like Home to Me" sung by Chantal Kreviazuk:


 *As a side note, recently someone I often pour my soul out to suggested a book I found quite helpful.  Thus, my Darlings, if you ever find yourself taken over by rabbit fear than check out: Coping With Anxiety: 10 Simple Ways to Relieve Anxiety, Fear, and Worry.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Against Every Possibility": Miracle at King's Cross

"For Plath, the pain of the past damage is never left behind. She is still lost in its labyrinth, and Paris: 'Was a dream where you could not/Wake or find the exit or/The Minotaur to put a blessed end/To your torment.'" (Erica Wagner's Ariel's Gift; Ted Hughes "Your Paris") In case its not obvious, Sylvia Plath has dominated much of my historic imagination of late, though not for academic reasons. Remember when I took the Meijer Briggs Personality Test Last February (of course you don't)? My scores revealed that I am an IN-SUPER F-J: Introverted, Intuitive, Extremely Expressing, and Feeling. In the simplest terms, this means I over analyze every detail of life, spend a lot of time in my own head, and feel emotions with an abnormal amount of passion.   Whether loving or despairing, I hold nothing back. For me, experiencing the highs and lows of both unrestrained adoration and paralyzing fear are as natural and involuntary as breathing. Thus, I spend much of my time tiptoeing around the edges of the rabbit hole, ever vigilante and frightened of falling down in the dark. That's where Plath comes in.

Sylvia was a woman who knew "The extremity of her feeling, the overwhelming flood of her tears," were often "out of proportion, the molten face and eyes hinting at a dangerous violence". Ted Hughes would later say his wife was "physically transformed" by either feelings of love, fear, or depression.  The most poignant example came early in their courtship when Sylvia "nearly missed Hughes as he came down to London from Heptonstall" in October of 1956. Perhaps, reliving her anguish over being abandoned in Paris by a former lover, Richard Sasson, when Plath couldn't find Hughes, she fell apart: "I was really frantic, unable to understand why Ted wasn't on one of these [buses]; he'd bought reservations: so, in a fury of tears, I fell sobbing into a taxi and for 20 minutes begged him hurry to King's Cross to see if by some miracle Ted might be there. Well, to shorten the trauma, I walked into King's Cross into Ted's arms...He looked like the most beautiful person in the world, everything began to shine, and the taxi driver sprouted wings, and all was fine".

"Lost in Labyrinth" by Melody Cleary
Each time I read that journal entry my eyes fill with tears. I know its melodramatic, over the top, even silly. But, I understand the fear and the hope for a miracle. Hughes would write of the same incident: "I saw that surge and agitation, a figure/Breasting the flow of released passengers,/Then your molten face, your molten eye/And your exclamations, your flinging arms/Your scattering tears/As if I had come back from the dead/Against every possibility, against every negative but your own prayer/To your own gods" (Hughes "Fate Playing") And, at least for me personally, Hughes hits on something. The hopes and dreams that are closest to my heart instill in me the greatest terror.  When the irrationality and fear gain too strong a foothold the idea of my affections and feelings being returned seem to stand "Against every possibility, against every negative, but my own prayers."

Monday, July 16, 2012

Anne Sexton: "Belief Undoes Your Disbelief"

Well, my Darlings, I have been diagnosed with a severe Case of the Mondays, a disease often mistaken for General Bitchiness. In an effort to overcome my illness, I decided to devote a bit of my morning to Anne Sexton. In case, you weren't aware, Sexon was a Pulitzer Prize winning confessional poet from Newton Massachusetts (fun fact: Fig Newtons were named after that town. You don't like Fig Newtons? Well, too damn bad. Does it really hurt you to know a little trivia? Go educate yourself.) whose work centered around her personal life and battles with chronic depression (i.e., confessional poetry). Dead or not, for me, anyone who declares "Only my books anoint me, and a few friends, those who reach into my veins", is a kindred spirit. What makes Sexton's work stand out, in my humble, is the way she allows her reader to see so much of her personal pain. One of my favorite Sexton quotes comes from her poem "Admonitions to Someone Special": Love? Be it man. Be it woman. /It must be a wave you want to glide in on, give your body to it, give your laugh to it, /give, when the gravelly sand takes you, your tears to the land. To love another is something /like prayer and can't be planned, you just fall into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.” Because your belief undoes your disbelief. Maybe Sexton has it. Maybe that's what love is. To have faith in another person despite your disbelief in the goodness of humanity. To trust someone after you've been burned so many times you thought yourself numb. "Give your body to it, give your laugh to it."  In my experience, very few people have the ability to get your veins and dismantle your disbelief. If and when someone does you probably shouldn't let that person go.

Going Down Deep: Sylvia Plath and a Reason to Write

“I like people too much or not at all. I've got to go down deep, to fall into people, to really know them.” (Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals) Ain't it the truth? When I love, I do so with my whole heart, nothing held back, but, perhaps due to the strength of my affection, those feelings are only directed toward a select few. In my defense, when you "go down deep" and "fall into people" you put yourself at risk. As you might have guessed, recently, this Hysterical Historian has taken a shine to Sylvia Plath. I know. I know. How cliche, of me, but, at the moment, I need a guide capable of leading me through uncharted mental territory. With Plath as my co-pilot, I have prepared to journey deep into my psyche and attempt to recover some part of sanity. To infinity and beyond! Because, for as long as I can remember, I felt too much and broke too easily. Rather than toughening up with age, I became more fragile over the years. Now, trouble concentrating, a flippant remark, or just general anxiety causes me to crumble. As if my world is somehow supported by a plane of melting ice, I stand waiting for the moment when my foundation finally cracks and I succumb in freezing water. Perhaps for that very reason, every so often, more now than before, a cold creeps into my limbs, tears fill my eyes, and I frantically search for an outlet as I drown in cloying fear and despair. The truth is I use this weblog to purge myself of the emotions that hurt and find a measure of peace. I sit in front of my keyboard and swipe away tears, struggling to regain my calm. That is where Plath comes in again. While I would never suggest that I possess any special talent, I do understand Plath's reasons for writing: "I write only because there is a voice within me that will not be still." Yep, I write because I cannot see future. I write because I want to be saner. I write because I am terrified. "Can you understand? Can you understand me a little, love me a little? For all my despair, for all my ideals, for all that - I love life. But it is hard, and I have so much - so very much to learn" (SP).

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Hours: Tulips, Ejaculation, and Shadows

"I have let things slip/a thirty year old cargo boat stubbornly hanging onto my name and address" (Sylvia Plath, "Tulips") A thirty year old cargo boat...each time I hear the rushing water, each I find myself locked in homemade shackles, each time I accept defeat, that description comes to mind. Whoever I was, whoever I was suppose to be, whatever life is, I often fail to see the meaning. Yes, "there is a beauty in the world, but its often harsher than we expect it to be" (Michael Cunningham, THE HOURS) Why is one man blessed and another cursed? I somehow doubt that answer lies in cheap cliches about hard work or a positive mantras. Maybe there isn't an answer. Maybe that's the joke. If there is a plan than why do I so often find more comfort in poems of atheists and agnostics than scripture? "In this short interval to tear/The living words from dying air/To pull them to me, quick and brave/ As swordfish from a silver wave/To drag them dripping, cold and salt/To suffocation in this vault/The which a lid of vapour shuts/To shake them down like hazel-nuts/Or golden acorns from this oak/Whose twigs are flame above the smoke/To snatch them suddenly from dust/Like apples flavored with the frost/ Of mountain valleys marbled-cupped/To leap to them and interrupt/Their flight that cleaves the atmosphere/As white and arrowy troop of deer/Divide the forest,--make my words/Like feathers torn from living birds!" (Elinor Wylie "Ejaculation") Perhaps, I was left groping in the dark for too long. The shutters have closed over my eyes. Once expired can something be brought back? Are we Lazarus? "And if, in the changing phases of man's life/I fall in sickeness and in misery/ my wrists seem broken and my heart seems dead/ and strength is gone, and my life isonly the leavings of a life;//and still, among it all, snatches of lovely oblivion, and snatches of renewal/odd, wintry flowers upon the withered stem, yet new, strangeflowers/such as my life has not brought forth before, new blossoms of me--//then I must know that still I am in the hands [of] the unknown God/he is breaking me down to his own oblivion/to send me forth on a new morning, a new man" (D.H. Lawrence "Shadows": According to Harold Bloom, the Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University: "Like Shelley, Hardy, and Whitman,the poet Lawrence was not a Christian but a seer of the invisible.") Thirty year old cargo boats, feathers torn from living birds, breaking us down to his oblivion...are we made new again? Even if we are resuscitated, why must we wait? Why stumble so long in the black? Why must some continue to cry out and scrape against walls while others dance in the sun? Those are questions no one can answer. Those are the ones we think about in the dark. "Because there are still the hours, aren't there? One and then another and you get through that one and, my god, there's another" (Cunningham) A Thirty Year Old Cargo Boat stubbornly hanging onto my name and address.

"A Bad Day. A Bad Time": Sylvia Plath's Method

"Lightening had ripped your clothes off and signed your cheekbone. You only knew it had come and had gripped you by the roots of your hair and held you down on the bed and stretched across your retina the global map of nerves in blue flames. Then left you signed and empty." The previous quote is taken from Ted Hughes' "The Badlands", a poem written about Sylvia Plath, his wife and a brilliant writer in her right, and her "search for her poetic self" while being savaged by mental illness (Erica Wagner, ARIEL'S GIFT) According to Hughes: "Nothing refreshed her [Sylvia] more than sitting for hours in front of some intricate pile of things laboriously delineating each one. But that was also a helplessness. The blunt fact killed any power or inclination to rearrange it or see it differently. This limitation to actual circumstances, which is the prison of so much of her prose, became part of the solidity and truth of her later poems." (Hughes, Introduction to Plath's JOHNNY PANIC AND THE BIBLE OF DREAMS) Sylvia, herself, admitted this problem as well. In a 1959 journal entry, she noted her own "passive dependence" on others and concluded: "I shall perish if I can write about no one but myself. Where is my old bawdy vigor and interest in the world around me?" For me, Plath's words provide both special comfort and haunting fear. Each time I go to paint pottery, I think of Sylvia's method. Because for me, painting or writing are attempts at purification. They are no less (or no more) than a means of purging myself of images and ideas that hold me so firmly in their grip that whatever tenacity of spirit I possess is being strangled to the point of death. In those moments, there is no world outside of the one in my own head and heart. Nothing else has real meaning, only the search for purification, for peace. My pieces of pottery have names, dates, and dreams scribbled across them in wobbly handwriting. They are the places I pour my insecurities, my fears, my lack of sanity. "A bad day. A bad time. State of mind most important for work. A blithe, itchy eager state where the poem itself, the story itself is supreme." (Plath journal entry, Sunday, Nov. 15, 1962)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Riptide: I Am, I Am, I Am

"Maybe I could just go with the exhaustion, instead of fighting it. Give in to it. This was how people drowned, wasn't it? They just stopped fighting, Just relaxed and gave themselves over to the water." (Wally Lamb, I Know This Much Is True) Some nights, when everything is quiet; when I am alone with my fears; when my inadequacies show themselves most plainly, I hear the rushing water. More often than not, as the tide washes in, I struggle against the current, swim toward the shore, and readjust my stance on solid ground. But sometimes, more often now than before, I find myself caught in the riptide. On those nights, I lay awake and pray for morning. As the hours, and the minutes, and the seconds tick by, I "listen to bray of my old heart, I am, I am, I am". (Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar) There is no comfort in the pounding. My existence seems more Ted Hughes poem, than anything real: “Nobody wanted your dance, Nobody wanted your strange glitter, your floundering Drowning life and your effort to save yourself, Treading water, dancing the dark turmoil, Looking for something to give.” (Ted Hughes, Birthday Letters) I am. I am. I am.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Letters From Oz: June Carter Cash and Cthulhu Monsters

Cthulhu is confused about how his happened as well
If anyone on the verge of action should judge himself according to the outcome, he would never begin.” (Søren Kierkegaard, FEAR AND TREMBLING) Every so often, this June Carter Cash Wannabe experiences severe anxiety...and, by "every so often", I almost mean on a daily basis. During the worst moments, either my Brother or friend, Maggie, paraphrases the quote above for me with a patient sigh: "YOU CANNOT SEE THE FUTURE". "Okay," I reply in a small voice, and then proceed to fret. Here's the deal: Most of my life, things never worked out the way I'd hoped.  And with that fact in mind, I quit hoping for things, focused on my career by day, and constructed an Impenetrable Doom Fortress of Solitude by night. I knew my brilliant plan was foolproof. Thus, for a time, I relaxed and walked around with a smirk on my smug face. Of course, if "pride cometh before a fall" than "smugness cometh before a break in". Yep, eventually, someone came along and rendered every Barbed Wire Fence, Set of Flaming Darts, and Cthulhu Monster I owned useless. It was a shock to the system. Seriously, people, once a Gal deploys her Demons, Dragons, and Monsters, she assumes no can reach her. Wrong. Now, here I sit, pondering how to proceed. To be honest, Faith, Hope, and Love, those little intangibles, are emotions I gave up a long time ago. Then, one day, outta NOWHERE, BAM!! They're back! Let me tell you, making room in my decor for them hasn't been easy. Lord knows, my life hasn't exactly provided me with a road map for such things. I know how to freeze someone out; smile when I want to cry; or pretend I don't care, but the opposite of those reactions are pretty foreign to me. Thus, in an effort to understand these new emotions I found a role model: June Carter Cash.

Here is what Johnny had to say about June: "What June did for me was post signs along the way, lift me up when I was weak, encourage me when I was discouraged, and love me when I felt alone and unlovable...She's always been there, and she's dependable, trustworthy, loyal, kind and cheerful." You know why I want to be those things? Because those are all things I long for myself. Hard Truth: Being a June, caring that way, means letting go of my own on baggage, remembering a bit of my old hopeful and confident outlook, and living in the moment. There is no Crystal Ball, no Signs, no Fortune Tellers. The good Lords knows I've prayed for those very things. Maybe that's the issue. Most people, me included, would prefer to flip to the final chapter of their story and read the ending before finishing their narrative. But that's not how life works, and you know what? Even if the final sentence in the final chapter of your book is exactly what you hoped for, at the moment, you're still in the middle. Who you will be at the end of the story is still being decided. You can search for Rudy Red Slippers, Click your Heels, and Head back to Kansas OR You can Take a Deep Breathe, Find Your Role Model, and Finish Your Journey in Oz. Personally, this Dorothy plans to find out what happens in Oz.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Wheat and The Chaff

“A friend is one to whom one may pour out the contents of one's heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that gentle hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” (George Eliot) In my opinion, nothing is more precious or valuable than the contents of the heart, that elusive stuff that makes up our hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares, strengths and insecurities.  Hearts are both the most delicate and crucial piece of the human anatomy...which explains why many of us go to such great lengths to protect it. Nothing is more painful than handing off that delicate organ only to watch someone we loved and trusted act reckless with our feelings. When its over, we stand broken and ask the hard questions: "Was it just a game?; Why is it easier for other people?; Will I recover?" Believe me, once that happens a couple of times, you slow down, back off, and eye others with fear.

Confession: For most of my life, people weren't too careful with my heart. Not the people who were suppose to protect me. Not the one or two I fell for and had hoped would protect me. (I don't fall too often, as adoration is a risking business, when I do, I go down hard, face first in the dirt) Until quite recently, throwing a quote about friendship, wheat, and chaff at me would have earned you a bitter reply. Some of us were made to be wheat, others chaff, and if you're part of the latter group look out! God burns chafe with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12) Personally, I went up in flames years ago. Yep, my outlook wasn't particularly hopeful and, as you might suspect, it also made for a few awkward moments when one or two Bubble-Headed Idiots decided to explain life and love to me. The reality is that some people end up with more hard knocks than others. I don't know why. Its not fair. Its not right. The fact pisses me off, but there it is. But here's the catch: I stand in danger of allowing my history to become my future because if you're sure the other shoe will eventually drop, you pre-empt that action.  Or in other words, you walk out before someone else walks out on you, thereby, making send what might have been up in flames.  If I have hope of being a  June Carter Cash, of figuring out how to wait, of loving another person despite my being a dry out, burned up piece of chaff, then I have to let go of fear and hold onto hope. Because down deep, under my cynical exterior, I agree with Jane Austen "There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart."