Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tweet: "Hope is a Thing with Feathers"

"Hope" is a thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stop - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale- is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird 
That kept so many warm -

I've heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
~Emily Dickinson

"People always think that happiness is a faraway thing," thought Francie, "something complicated and hard to get.  Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains - a cup of strong hot coffee when you're blue...a book to read when you're alone - just to be with someone that you love.  Those things make happiness." (Betty Smith, A TREE GROWS UP IN BROOKLYN)  What little thing can make up happiness...  I hate to be a killjoy and argue with Francie, but, a couple of items on her list are pretty damn rare, if you ask me.  Now that I, like a bitter old woman, have slammed Betty Smith, I should a caveat to my conclusion.   Though perhaps sappy and a little naive, I think, there is a grain of truth in what Smith and Emily Dickinson wrote.  Take me, for instance.  Considering my last few posts, it will suffice to say, Yours Truly has had a rough couple of days.  <Insert wailing and gnashing of teeth here> But humans, in my opinion, are designed to hold onto hope.  Like coke fiends, we're addicted to the stuff.  Personally, I've been trying to break the habit for years, but, no such luck.  Whether we like it or not, most of us are itching for another hit.  Deal with it.  The good news here, my Friends, is that hope comes in many forms: a warm hand on your skin; a kind smile; an unexpected email; and even - a tweet.

Here is Mumford and Son's "The Cave".   I love the refrain: "I will hold on hope.  And I won't let you choke on the noose around you're neck.  And I'll find strength in pain.  And I will change my ways.  I'll know my name as its called again."

Monday, August 27, 2012

St. Botolph's: Red Scarves and Stamping Feet

"I was stamping and he was stamping on the floor, and then he kissed me bang smash on the mouth and ripped my hairband off, my lovely red headband scarf which had weathered the sun and much, and whose like I shall never again find, and my favorite silver earrings: hah, I shall keep, he barked.  And when he kissed my neck I bit him long and hard on the cheek, and when we ccame out of the room, blood was running down his face..."

In February of 1956, Fulbright Scholarship winner, Sylvia Plath found herself a date and headed to a Cambridge party with one goal in mind: Locating Ted Hughes.  In fact, "their meeting that night, as Hughes relates" in his poem "St. Botolph's," is "now literary legend."  So the story goes, prior to their introduction, Plath had read and memorized Hughes' poems.  When the two met that night their"attraction was immediate and mutual."  In fact, as soon as she arrived at the party, Sylvia abandoned her escort and set out to find Hughes, and find him she did.  In the noisy main room, Hughes "mentioned his girlfriend".  Sylvia paid no attention.  Instead, she stamped her foot and quoted his own poetry back to him.  He stamped his foot back at her, until they could no longer resist one another.  The rest is history.

My Darlings, you want to know my point?  Well, here it is: Some people are worth waiting on and fighting for, but, my Sweethearts, you'll never win a match if you always run away in fear. Instead, adorn yourself in the color red and make your Hughes feel your heat.  In Chapters of Mythology, Judith Kroll writes of Sylvia's favorite color: It is a color naturally associated with blood, danger and violence, as well as vitality.  Red, in Kroll's view, is the color that calls to the true, vital self sleeping within the poet."  And, keep in mind, all foot stamping aside, you're gonna have to learn a little patience here.  Now, listen to me, the result you're hoping for probably won't happen overnight.  It didn't for Sylvia.  Hughes remained attached to his "loaded crossbow" for a few more months, but Miss Plath was nonplussed.  The truth is, my precious Sylvia Wannabees, if you do not believe you are worth the investment, why should he?  Now take courage, tie a red scarf in your hair, stamp your foot, and let him take your silver earrings as a reminder of how hot your fire burns.

Two Cigarettes Later...

"The Starry Night"
~Anne Sexton

That does not keep me from having a terrible need of --shall I say the word---religion.  Then I go out at night to paint the stars. ~Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother

The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent.  The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry night! This is how
I want to die.

It moves.  They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night!  This is how
I want to die;

into that rushing beast of the night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry.

"Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night": Anne Sexton

Since you ask, most days I cannot remember.
I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage.
Then the almost unnameable lust returns.

Even then I have nothing against life.
I know well the grass blades you mention,
the furniture you have placed under the sun.

But suicides have a special language.
Like carpenters they want to know WHICH TOOLS.
They never ask WHY BUILD.

Twice I have so simply declared myself,
have possessed the enemy, eaten the enemy,
have taken on his craft, his magic.

In this way, heavy and thoughtful,
warmer than oil or water,
I have rested, drooling at the mouth-hole.

I did not think of my body at needle point.
Even the cornea and the leftover urine were gone.
Suicides have already betrayed my body.

Still-born, they don't always die,
but dazzled, they can't forget a drug so sweet
that even children would look on and smile.

To thrust all that life under your tongue--
that, all by itself, becomes a passion.
Death's a sad bone; bruised, you say,

and yet she waits for me, year after year,
to do so delicately undo an old wound,
to empty my breath from its bad prison.

Balanced there, suicides sometimes meet,
raging at the fruit, a pumped-up moon,
leaving the bread they mistook for a kiss,

leaving the page of the book carelessly open,
something unsaid, the phone off the hook
and the love, whatever it was, an infection.

Anne Sexton wrote "Wanting to Die" in 1966 as her marriage collapsed, her personal imploded, and her daughters left the nest.  After writing this poem, she held on for eight more long years before finally committing suicide in 1974.  If you want my opinion, Anne did "not go gentle into that good night" (Dylan Thomas).  Some lives come together in beautiful ways, others are nothing, but pain.  You try to get by.  Pretend holding onto dreams is the key.  Smile through the tears, and then, like I did today, buy a pack of cigarettes and try to hold off the breakdown you know is coming.  Why judge Sexton?  She left her mark which is more than most of us ever will.  We let the cancer eat us; the depression overwhelm us; the heartaches crumble us.  Anne wrote her poetry, raised her girls, and then exited on her own terms.  What is there to fear?  Nothing could be worse than this life. Leave the page of the book carelessly open, something unsaid, the phone off the hook and the love, whatever it was, an infection.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

I Am Vertical: T.S. Eliot and Sylvia Plath


But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam into leaf,
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one's longevity and the other's daring.

Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars,
The trees and flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.
Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping
I must most perfectly resemble them--
Thoughts gone dim.
It is more natural to me, lying down.
Then the sky and I are in open conversation,
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
Then the trees may touch me for once,
and the flowers have time for me.

Sylvia Plath wrote "I Am Vertical" while in the midst of a depressive episode.  In her poem, the voice of the Narrator longs to become one with nature, to earn earn its attention, and to take on its longevity and daring.  Notice how Plath compares herself to the flowers and the trees.  In each comparison, she finds herself lacking in beauty, simplicity, and peace.  T.S. Eliot describes similar sentiments in the "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," when he writes "I should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas."  Neither Eliot's Prufrock nor Plath feel they belong or fit in, one with a lover or the other with nature.  What ties the two poems together, in my opinion, is the sense of hopelessness.  Happiness and peace cannot be obtained.  Or as Plath once wrote in her journel: "God, but life is loneliness."     

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Painting is Poetry: Sylvia Plath, Outlets, and Art

One of Plath's Paintings found in the Lily Library
"Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen." Leonardo da Vinci

"What do you think an artist is?...he is a political being, constantly aware of the heart breaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image.  Painting is not done to decorate apartments.  Painting is war." Pablo Picasso

" know a lot of people I love pieces of, and to want to synthesize those pieces in me somehow, be it by painting or writing.  to know that millions of others are unhappy and that life is a gentleman's agreement to grin and paint our face gay so others will feel they are silly to be unhappy, and try to catch the contagion of the joy, while inside so many are dying of bitterness and unfullfillment...(Sylvia Plath, Unabridged Journals)  Sylvia Plath grabbed hold of America's popular consciousness when she committed suicide in her London flat in February of 1962, and she's yet to let go. Her work and biography have long been a favorite topic among feminists and academics, alike.  Literature students are required to study her poetry, and, in central Kentucky, librarians parade around with boxes (i.e., ovens) on their heads pretending to be Plath on Halloween (as somewhat cruel joke). However, while most people know Sylvia as the author of ARIEL and THE BELL JAR, they do not realize Plath was also an avid painter.  For her, both painting and writing were attempts at synthesizing parts of another individuals character into herself, just as Sylvia's novels and poetry were an extension of her own tormented life.

Personally, I find comfort in Plath's paintings.  Oh, I don't think they suggest a particular talent or aptitude, but that's not really the point.  In my opinion, when Sylvia painted or wrote, she was trying to express bottled up feelings.  In other words, when your pen stops working grab a paintbrush.  When you can no longer read than create.  The two pursuits nourished each other.  Perhaps, Sylvia was able to write her groundbreaking confessional poetry because she had multiple outlets for her emotions.  Maybe that method doesn't work for everyone, but for this Hysterical Historian that separate outlet is crucial.  Without it I'd explode!  To that end, this morning I marched myself over to Hobby Lobby, picked out a variety of oil paints from Ultramarine Blue to Permanent Alizarin Crimson, and began contemplating my latest project.  Because if you are like me and find Sylvia comforting, then you'll understand why I'm looking for release, but Sylvia puts it best: "I can laugh, if the occasion moves me (and, surprisingly enough, it sometimes does), and get pleasure from sunsets, walks over the golf course, drives though the country. I STILL MISS THE OLD LOVE AND ABILITY TO ENJOY SOLITUDE AND READING. I need more than anything right now what is, of course, most impossible, someone to love me to be with me at night when I wake up in shuddering horror and fear of the cement tunnels leading down to the shock room, to comfort me with an assurance that no psychiatrist can quite manage to convey.  The worst I hope, is over...Somehow, all this reminds me of the deep impression the movie "Snake Pit" made upon me about six years ago."


 In place of a plastered on smile, I think most of us need to hear "I will wait for you."  That's our light  at the end of the tunnel.

*Note: Sylvia Plath loved the color red.  She even decoriated with it.  The image of the color red shows up again and again in ARIEL, and, as you can see above, in her paintings as well.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I Got a Rock: Waiting on the Great Pumpkin

"This is the time of year to write to the Great Pumpkin. On Halloween Night, the Great Pumpkin rises out of his pumpkin patch and flies through the air with his bag of toys for all the children!"

"You must get discouraged because more people believe in Santa Claus than in you. Well, let's face it; Santa Claus has had more publicity, but being #2, perhaps you try harder."

“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people... Religion, Politics, and The Great Pumpkin."
Well, my Friends, its not quite October, but the weather in South Bend has taken on the traits of autumn.  There's a nip in the air, and I'm dying to crunch leaves under my feet and carve jack-o-laterns.  In case its unclear, Fall is my favorite season and Halloween is my favorite holiday.  Why, you ask?  Why not Christmas or Thanksgiving?  Because those more popular holidays come with high expectations, family obligations, and soul crushing disappointments.  In fact, the entire Santa Claus Season is always a double whammy, first my birthday and then Jesus'.  Both, historically, have been rather unpleasant for me.  To make matters worse, around mid-December, I begin noticing other people with lovely presents, warm hugs, and booze to lubricate their holiday festivites with, and the Green Eyed Monster grabs hold of me.  Like the Grinch, I stare over at my loathsome Oh So Sober, and Not So Merry Christmas and murmur: "I got a rock."  Of course, eventually my murmuring tranforms into an all out hissy fit in which I greet happier individual's Christmas friviolty with ranting and raving, like Sally Brown.  (Simply replace the Great Pumpkin with Santa Claus and Trick or Treats with Happiness or, at least, Booze.  And, yes, if I had a giant sleigh I'd take away all of your packages, boxes, and tags!):

I was robbed! I spent the whole night waiting for the Great Pumpkin, when I could have been out for tricks or treats.  Halloween is over, and I missed it!  You blockhead! You kept me up all night waiting for the Great Pumpkin, and all that came was a beagle! I didn't get a chance to go out for tricks or treats. And it was all your fault! I'll sue! What a fool I was! I could have had candy apples and gum and cookies and money and all sorts of things. But no! I had to listen to you, you blockhead. What a fool I was. Trick or treats come only once a year, and I missed it by sitting in a pumpkin patch with a blockhead. YOU OWE ME RESTITUTION!
Now, as I approach the ripe old age of 30, my rock collection has grown into a veritable rock garden and I believe Santa Claus is a cruel Old Bastard with a sick sense of humor.  Three decades, and that Son of Bitch has yet to deliver.  He owes me restitution, but I somehow doubt he'll ever pay up. Well, screw Mr. Claus! I'm changing teams.  This year, Yours Truly, will be writing letters to the Great Pumpkin.  Now hold your horses think I'm suddenly a Linus?  Nope.  Sorry, but I had blind faith beat of me YEARS ago.  If I resemble any Peanuts character its Sally, a Complex Woman who calls Linus her Sweet Babboo, but, is not to be trifled with in the Trick or Treat Department.  Not to mention, Ms. Brown has a mind of her own.  When Linus asks her: "You don't believe in the Great Pumpkin? I thought little girls always believed everything that was told to them.  I thought little girls were innocent and trusting," Sally replies: "Welcome to twentieth century."  That's my Girl!  But let's get back on topic here: Why am I placing my hopes in the Great Pumpkin?  Why not simply stop believing?  Because, in my opinion, we each need something or someone to put our faith in, whether its God, the Great Pumpkin, or a friend.  We gotta believe that our histories don't determine our futures.  That, maybe, this time around things will come together the way we always hoped.  And to that end, for now, I've picked out my pumpkin patch and this Halloween I'll be waiting on the Great Pumpkin.  You can wait with me, if you like. "I don't see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one. You can look around and there's not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see."

To emphasize my break with Santa here is "Kidnap Mr. Sandy Claws" from The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Hydrophobia: The Scorpion and the Frog

"The nuns taught us there were two ways through life-the way of Nature and the way of Grace." Tree of Life
A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream.  The scorpion entreats the frog: "Please carry me across the water on your back."  The frog replies: "How can I be sure you won't sting me?"  The scorpion answers: "Because if I do, I will die, too."  This satisfies the frog, so the duo set out, but, in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog sealing both their fates.  As paralysis sets in and the frog begins to sink, knowing they will both drown, he gasps out: "Why?"  The scorpion's final reply: "Its in my nature."
Does that story hit home?  Sure it does.  "It's in my nature."  "I never meant to hurt you."  "That's just who I am."  Those cliches all amount to the same the thing: You drowning in the midde of a stream, but, unlike the scorpion in our fable, the Sadistic Fucker who caused your predicament doesn't have to the good grace to succomb with you.  Nope, that's a hellish journey you make all on your own.  Here is the other difference: After we drown, rather than ending up in some sort of afterlife, we find ourselves right back where we started, sitting on the bank of the shore with a pleasant but dangerous stranger begging for a ride.  Now trust me on this, repeated stinging episodes leads severe and crippling hydrophobia.  Once a former swimmer transforms into a hydrophobic, crossing that stream becomes an impossibility.  It's safe there on the shore, but, also, isolating.  Thus, when we find ourselves ready to take on another passenger and dip our flippers in the water once more, hydrophobics realize we need water wings and swim lessons.
Take it from me, the water wings are uncomfortable and the stream is still scary, but, what other choice do we have but to take the plunge? We choose either to have faith in the charater of others and care despite the risks or not. Its a choice between Nature and Grace, being the Scorpion or the Frog.  Grace "doesn't try to please itself.  Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked.  Accepts insults and injuries," while Nature "ony wants to please itself.  Gets others to please it, too.  Likes to lord it over them.  To have its own way.  It finds reasons to be unhappy when a the word is shining around it.  And love is smiling through all things."  In my opinion, we each embody both the characteristics of the Scorpion and the Frog.  Every day we choose between nature and grace.  Do we let our affection show or hold onto the memory of the stream?  Right now, I only know this: I have no intention of dying on the shore.