Thursday, January 9, 2014

Essay / Essayer

Our house fell under an evil flu-like spell upon our return from Christmas break, and as Tim and I convalesce, our humidifier pumps steam at all hours of the day.  I feel like the grandfather character in Stuart Dybek's Chopin in Winter.  That lovely story hovers in my memory this week as steam fogs the windows. 

I also feel exceptionally close to my reading life, and have been blowing through essays lately.  Some I like, some, not so much. 

Anyway, my whole point here is that I've been sick, and as in pregnancy, I feel like I really know how to be sick, you know?  It seems like me and pajamas were made for each other, and if I start reading only to look up three hours later without having stood once, I feel okay with that. 

Once I rest, though, and I mean, truly rest, I return to the world with renewed energy and greater perspective.  It's like, rather than taking LSD, I just come down with a cold instead.  From what I hear, the mind-expanding results of taking LSD are about the same as ones I get from laying around in bed for a week. 

In one of the ridiculously smarty-pants essays in Zadie Smith's book Changing My Mind, she discusses E.M. Forster's role in the British canon, and mentions that the author found it increasingly necessary to open his mind and spirit as he aged. 

She highlights a paragraph he quoted in a BBC Talk, from a memoir called As We Are:

"Unfortunately there comes to the majority of those of middle age an inelasticity not of physical muscle and sinew alone but of mental fibre.  Experience has its dangers: it may bring wisdom, but it may also bring stiffness and cause hardened deposits in the mind, and its resulting inelasticity is crippling."

I was sort of jolted awake when I read Forster' take on humanism:  "Do we, in these terrible times [WWII], want to be humanists or fanatics? I have no doubt as to my own wish, I would rather be a humanist with all his faults, than a fanatic with all his virtues." 

If an old British novelist doesn't let himself grow certain and crotchety, what excuse do any of us have for doing so? 

I wrote recently about the hibernation that has taken over the majority of my pregnancy so far, and while it is winter in Colorado, and the roofs and sidewalks are coated in a fine crust of snow, and crows flit imperially around the open skies, roosting like paper cuts in naked trees, well, it's also the start of a new year and time, perhaps, to turn over some of those dead, wintry leaves skittering around my head. 

I also keep thinking about the epigraph in Changing My Mind, a quote from Katherine Hepburn's character in The Philadelphia Story, a movie that Smith adores and really is just about as perfect a movie as they come.  The quote? 

The time to make up your mind about people is never!

Well.  I've been meditating on that one for days.  I've been thinking back on my fall and how crabby I was for much of it, and how much that crabbiness can be traced to the stories I was telling myself about life around me. 

I once heard a definition of insanity as being at war with "what is."  I don't think the person saying it was referring to a traditional definition of insanity.  I remembered it because that's exactly what emotional resistance feels like to me: a riot of insanity on the cellular level, like a thousand tiny bonfires eating away at peace. 

Geez, that's a lot to think about.  Happy Freaking New Year!! 

The real reason I wrote today was to post some pictures of my trip to Ohio with Tim, Ohio where the skies are gray and the dispositions a great spectrum of taupes, beiges, and milky yellows.  I can't say why I love it there so much, although I know the land has something to do with it.  And the skies.  What can I say?  I'm a sucker for open spaces.  They make me want to drag out every book I've been meaning to read and sit down and read them all, and one day a week later look up proudly at a pile of books I've chewed through and say to myself, See those books?  Written by people you don't even like?  You gave them a chance!  Aren't you a grown-up!

Seriously, though, Happy New Year!  May your year be full of good intentions and two hundred corrections, so we all end up as sunny as we possibly can be.

With love,

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