Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Colette, The Garden of Reading, Etc.

I work in a used bookstore, Babbitt's Books, and the main hazard is bringing home a lot of books. (Fortunately, I get an employee discount, most are quite cheap to begin with, I can trade for books I bring in from home, and some are even free, donations that would otherwise go to library or sometimes even recycling!) So when I saw The Garden of Reading: An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Short Fiction About Gardens and Gardeners, edited by Michele Slung, and containing "Grape Harvest" by Colette, I snapped it right up. (I brought in 3 trade paperbacks from home to trade for this hardback, first edition, second printing.)

This short story is what I meant about Colette in my previous entry, my similarity to her. She talks about the grapes, other fruits, food in general, the landscape, the sunshine, sweat, blushing--all human and sensual or sensory and natural things.

The book contains quite an array! "The Tree" by Rosamunde Pilcher, "How the Crab Apple Grew" by Garrison Keillor, "Earth to Earth" by Robert Graves, "The Lawnmower Man" by Stephen King, "A Curtain of Green" by Eudora Welty, and even "See No Weevil" by James Thurber. I can't wait to read more! Even Barbara Pym is here with "So, Some Tempestuous Morn." She's another I've been compared to, as a writer, oddly enough, as she seems the opposite of Colette. Pym is subtle and restrained where Colette is lush and free. And Pym is also very funny, as I recall.

***pause to read story, to ponder comparisons***

This is indeed a first edition, the kind with numerous little typographical errors--missing punctuation and capitalization, letters misread (scanned?) leading to things like "lie" instead of "he" and "lip" instead of "up," but I have been able to decipher what was meant in the Pym story. It is a first U.S. edition, so the corrections were not made from the first UK edition, and if there is never a second edition, no corrections will ever be made. Still, a pleasant reading experience--just of the thought of this gathering is a delight. As is reading Pym again. And Colette.

So, this comparison thing. People like to pigeon-hole, to categorize. I understand categories as a way to arrange and remember thoughts--a classical rhetoric kind of thing, memory enhancer, logic inducer. And then applied to science, as a way to arrange our discoveries and definitions of species. But the categories do not always fit, or hold. Likewise, with comparisons.

People compare me to other writers because they don't know what to do with me. Perhaps I am an original, and they want to figure me out by comparing me to Pym or Colette, such different writers. Or perhaps I am not original enough, not yet creating my own category. On the other hand, as it sometimes takes years and years for a poem or a set of my poems to find a home, perhaps I am original indeed, more like--yes, a comparison!--Emily Dickinson!

I do retreat into the chapel of my own back yard, the wild Edenic garden there, the gradual prairie restoration via wildflowers and perennials, many from seed (various daisies, purple coneflower, pinks, love-in-a-mist, sweet alyssum, golden columbine, nasturtium) but also clippings and transplants (hosta, spiderwort, bleeding heart, mountain bluet, coral bells, Sweet William, pink yarrow). The nasturtium are annuals, but they grow so well here. I planted them late, after the wild violets bloomed, thinning them out to make room, so we will have bright red, orange, and yellow blooms a little later in the season.

I write at our picnic table (husband's 50th birthday present from Chicago and Michigan friends a few years back) in morning or evening.

Also blooming: red clover, which has somehow survived the rabbits, daylilies. The golden columbine are dropping seed, and I am gathering some, too, and also the seed of wild purplish red columbine from along the fence, to plant in the fall for next season. The bleeding heart dropped seed, too, so I hope it will spread where it is, coming up after the red tulips. And this was a good year for deep purple iris, too, which I had dug and moved around last fall to encourage growth.

Comparisons. If I write a "nature poem," some compare me to Mary Oliver when I am more like Louise Gluck, if like anyone, in The Wild Iris, my favorite book of poetry. Edgy, and all about God, whatever God is, and the gritty small truths, side by side with the majestic ones, about Nature. And beauty.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Fog of War

Tonight I had "a driveway moment" or rather "a garage moment" with NPR, Terry Gross playing her interview with Robert McNamara shortly after he published his memoir, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, followed by her interview with filmmaker Errol Morris of The Fog of War: 11 Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. That was a fabulous documentary, very brave and complicated, paradoxical, yes, somehow evoking a fog.

I ran in from the garage and turned on the radio on the kitchen counter, moving from my daughter's pop station back to WGLT, the local NPR affiliate, to hear the rest. Fresh in my mind is the Vietnam exhibit at the local history museum, a very thorough explanation and depiction of the larger context of the war and of its very real and personal effects on local people--soldiers, family, protesters, journalists--as well as the country and the world. I grew up during that time but was too young to understand it, or to protest it, though I knew something was wrong about it. I have spoken since to veterans, seen the documentary, read some of the literature that emerged from that difficult time, seen some of the feature films.

McNamara's agony impressed me, as did his loyalty to the president who asked him to serve, Kennedy, and then the president who took over, Johnson, and to our country. He really believed, as I did, growing up, that a nuclear war would be the end of the world as we know it, and that the Cold War was a troubling thing, and I see better now, "in retrospect," how this must have factored into his difficult decisions to support a war that troubled him. I was moved in the interview when he spoke of the Quaker who burned himself under McNamara's window to protest the war. Here was an action like that of the Tibetan monk who burned himself to draw attention to the war. Before that, so many Americans went blithely on, not realizing the trouble.

Poor McNamara. What a dilemma, seeing the war as "unwinnable" and still sending soldiers to it, knowing about Agent Orange, and still exposing soldiers and civilians to it. What a weight of trouble and evil. But he must have felt the alternative was even worse. Hard to know what he thought--that fog again.

Anyway, now he'll rest in peace.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wait! I'm on Facebook?!

Yes, it has happened. Numerous people, including my sister, my friend Kim, and my dad, suggested Facebook as a nice place to post photos and reconnect with old friends, so I've done it. I'm there. (And I've linked from there to here, in my dubiously vague technological way.)

And indeed it is nice. I found my friend Dan, who had just gotten married, and old friends from high school, college, graduate school, City News Bureau, and theatre and poetry strands of my life. When I say I've done a lot, I mean it. There are whole sections of my life that I've sort of lost track of...truly forgotten...but then a little tidbit of information will set the memories tumbling out.

Also, I would like to put people in touch with each other. I am a bit like Amelie from the film Amelie in that regard. People who saw that film have actually pointed this out to me, and the corollary aspect: that I need to get my own life together and/or figure out what I want, not just help other people fall into happiness. (I think I have fallen into happiness lately, by just falling, free-falling, letting go...into a deeper kind of acceptance. I will never figure out "what I want" as I seem to live quietly inside what is, and all the trouble I've ever had was from wanting something, or thinking I did. Does this mean I'm finally a Buddhist?! Probably not. See Molly Peacock's poem, "Why I Am Not a Buddhist" for further illumination.) When I began this paragraph, I mean to offer, as a specific example, that, on Facebook, I told my friend Dan about my friend Curt's gig on Thursday night at a bar in Brookfield, Illinois, as he is much closer than I am and might actually be able to go! They don't know each other. But they might enjoy each other, and they have people and geography and some experiences in common. That's the Amelie-on-Facebook aspect of all this.

My sister and niece sent me a Which Tarot Card Are You? test thingy, and I took it, and I am the Queen of Wands. (This is either phallic or magical. Or both.) Here's the little description:

The essence of fire behaving as water, such as a rainbow: The natural embodiment of passion and sensuality, who is always the center of attention. One who reflects the desires and ambitions of others, and ignites them. A radiantly vital person, cocky and charismatic, who sees what she wants and goes after it.

So, some of this fits, and some exactly contradicts what I just said about never knowing what I want. Maybe it means I know what I want in that particular moment--a spontaneity, trust-the-universe kind of thing--or maybe it means I have always wanted the same thing: a quiet happy life loving family and making art. And I only ever do that. If I try something else, I fail (which is always good, as it teaches me something, even if I don't interpret it correctly at the time and have to keep re-learning it, a kind of reincarnation) or walk away, and go back to the thing I really want (which remains mostly unknown to me except in the moment I articulate it and in this ongoing elemental way). Long, rambling, complex, self-absorbed sentences! That's also me.

Somehow, yes, I reflect the desires and ambitions of others, and ignite them. Sigh....

And somehow, yes, people perceive me as passionate and sensual, and I probably am...but they take it to mean something else about me. I am these things in a Colette kind of way--enjoying the natural world, the company of women as well as men, in a kind of sustained innocence. Hard to explain, but I'm it.

...pause for pseudo-research....

Except for most of the facts and details of Colette's life! Um, I just read the Wikipedia article on her, and she was, well, firmly bisexual, for instance. I am not. I am, er, firmly heterosexual. But I can kiss a woman professionally onstage, and have. Me, Colette, Madonna.

I was/am an actor and writer, but not like Colette: not enslaved by a philandering charlatan husband, and not ever wildly (financially) successful! But I have read her short pieces about the natural world and they are touching and beautiful, and that's what I mean!

Fire behaving as water, eh? I connect with water, and am a Pisces, and like to swim and, if there were another animal life for me, I'd like to be a dolpin. Maybe I was! Fire, eh? Rainbow, eh? Radiant, eh? Well, people do call me radiant. What do they mean?