Summer of Our Discontent

 

 It’s true. I may never write here again. I was thinking this morning of what Virginia Woolf said. “A woman must have money (for babysitters, cooks, laundresses, maids…) and a room of her own (far from home, without a phone) if she is to create fiction (or anything else – like a complete thought).”

We have been to the beach. This is a sand-ridden, jellyfish stung, sunburnt self-torture for mothers. There is nothing relaxing in it. We have been to the playground. The one set in a desert of recycled rubber surfacing with no shade trees for miles and the twirling monkey bars where my son broke his arm. We have been to the county fair. Will summer never end?

Advertisements

The Blind Assassin

 

blind assassin

 

My apologies to those who’ve already heard my thoughts on this book. I liked it. A lot. More apologies to those who expect some sort of synopsis of the book in a book report. We don’t do that here. While I can’t promise coherence of thought, I will offer two warnings. First, Kim needed aspirin after reading what follows. Second, I’m halfway through another of Margaret Atwood’s – Alias Grace.

After reading The Blind Assassin, I tried writing a review. Instead I scribbled some words into a cheap notebook and went on an opera binge. Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, loud and non-stop. And I SING. My musical talents are not largely appreciated here. Eyes roll. They beg me to stop, but I can’t. I’m inspired.

 

When I am laid, am layyy-ed in earth…  

Remember meee. Reeemember meeee. But, ahhh-ahh-ah, forget my fate…

Remember me. But, ah, forget my fate.

 

It started like this:

This is the life story of Iris Chase Griffen as she would tell it to her estranged granddaughter, conversational but in letter form. (Because they’re estranged. Pay attention please. This is the easy part.) In this first of three overlapping stories people are not always what they seem. At least Iris isn’t. There’s the persona of the complacent child, the granddaughter of…, the daughter of…, the wife of…, the sister of… and then there’s Iris herself. She’s wry. She made me laugh. There’s something else you should know about Iris though. The people around her tend to die dramatically. Murders? Suicides? She’s like the Greek goddess of the same name, sent to do the job of death and set souls free. Murder? Suicide? It’s hard to tell the difference.

Then there’s the story-within-a-story. Her sister Laura’s novel, also titled The Blind Assassin, follows the love affair of a married society woman and a pulp fiction writer on the run. Their meetings invariably include sex and a story. Yes, I know. You think that’s wonderful. So do I. The story he improvises for her is pure fantasy; an escape. Like their relationship, like sex, like death.

It’s also the story-within-a-story-within-a-story. Sci-fi packed with zombie women and spaceships and lizard men in flammable shorts, invented by the lovers and mirroring… what? Society? Themselves? An assassin made blind by unconscionable child labor is tasked with killing a sacrificial maiden made mute to silence her protests. The two, so abused, find solace in one another. They find love. The true identities of this inner story’s blind assassin and mute sacrifice seem obvious, but nothing is only what it appears on the surface. Hold that thought. In sorting the classical references and symbolism I begin to feel I’m following the spiral of a nautilus ever further in. I’m dizzy. The myth of Dido and Aeneas is central, with Iris to cut the golden cord binding Dido’s soul to her body. Or is she Dido, awaiting another Iris to do the same for her? And what of her sister’s novel? Is she the sacrificed maiden? Yes. Is she the assassin? Yes. Is she mute? Blinded? Yes and yes. Here the whole story spins back out for me. I can find a way to pin those labels on almost every character at some point in the book. The vertigo is back.

I ignored the quotes at the beginning of the book. I generally do. But look what I found when I went back and read them at the end. Three epigraphs, three themes: blinded children left to sing the songs of those that don’t survive, death as escape, the power of words. Three themes, three nested stories, three suicides, three love triangles… I’m reminded of the ancient symbol of three interlocking spirals. A triskele.

But maybe I’m reading too much into the book. Maybe it’s just a painting of a woman’s life. Two sisters surrounded by dark shadows of tragedy and the historic objectification of women, a love affair in bright colors to draw the eye away, the negative space of death to rest in. In short, life.

Turn the music back up, please. I feel an aria coming on.

Hi

 

I’ve been reading a lot. And drawing. None of it makes its way here. I don’t know why. I’m really a very private person. Someone made the observation that the Pixie talks when she wants to, but when she doesn’t she just doesn’t. She’s as closed as a nut.

I guess I’m a little like her.

 

I was lately inspired to visit my grandparents. The cemetery isn’t walled or gated or overgrown and forgotten. Just a not-so-big Methodist cemetery in rural America. Open, sunny, well cared for. Optimistic. It would never be the setting for a scene in a Gothic novel. I’m glad. I’m glad to look out across a field of green and see sun warming the stones. Yes, I’ve cried there. The memory of playing tag between the stones is stronger. The cemetery runs right up to the Sunday School steps. While I waited for my mother I memorized the names on the headstones, making up stories to go with them. When she was late I visited the graves of my great grandparents and my sister, who lies beside them. I talked. I rarely thought to bring a tribute. I’m not good with observances and formalities. My tribute was my words. In my head I talked to them as though they were there. And now, my grandparents. They weren’t famous. They weren’t war heroes or social activists. They were more than that. They were mine.

A huge basket of wildflowers was spilled over the new grave that summer day seven years ago. She’d have loved them. Wild, leggy beauties that looked as if they’d been gathered on a mountainside. It would have been a shame to leave them to wilt and rot. We picked the ground clean and carried bouquets home to remind us of her. She’d have laughed and done the same. And that’s how it was. We each of us carried something of her away inside ourselves.

Tooth Fairy

 

The Tooth Fairy has been to visit. No doubt she’s reconsidering her career choice now. Don’t be surprised if the value of baby teeth drops sharply. The Pixie has lost her first tooth.

That makes it sound as if it happened naturally. As if the tooth simply fell out. Hardly. She had a loose tooth for all of a few days. Then she said to me “I guess I’ll go outside and bash myself in the face with a soccer ball.” Apparently her sister thought this helpful advice. I applied reason, but the Pixie thought a hard smack to the mouth perfectly reasonable. In the end I let her go because, well, for one thing I knew where the soccer ball was, but also because Who would hit themselves in the face on purpose?

She was back a minute later bloody mouthed and bawling, tooth in hand. “That HURT!” Somehow she managed to sound both accusing and triumphant.

I wanted the tiny trophy to go in the pocket of my purse till bedtime – for safekeeping – but I was not to be trusted. I thought of all the things that have gone missing from my purse and been found in hers. I gave her the tooth.

I gave her the tooth, but in a clear, plastic box (so she could see it) roughly two inches tall and three inches wide (so she wouldn’t lose it). For the first time in all her five years she asked to go to bed early. She was excited. I feared for the rest of her teeth. The Tooth Fairy brought a crisp one dollar bill, rather than the customary golden dollar coin. Possibly she was taken by surprise. With almost a full year between teeth at our house her stock of coins may have gotten low. Her mistake was in sliding the folded bill beneath the edge of the pillow before retrieving the tooth. I can imagine her flitting all about the Pixie’s head, slender hands feeling here and there, searching fruitlessly. The tooth was not to be had. My daughter, in her earnestness, had placed the entire box directly under her head and not moved an inch. Her sleeping head pressed the small box into the mattress and neither a tiny fairy nor a full grown adult could make it budge. If she decides to stay in business, the Tooth Fairy has her work cut out for her.

On the Road Again

 

I’ve been away. I’ll tell you about it later. Right now I want to talk about white-line fever. Not the book, the movie, the television show, or the song. No; Highway Hypnosis. Technically, a mental state in which the person can drive great distances, responding to external events in the expected manner, with no recollection of having consciously done so. The driver’s conscious mind is apparently fully focused elsewhere, with seemingly direct processing of the masses of information needed to drive safely. Automaticity. The conscious and subconscious minds appear to concentrate on different things. You sleep deprived mothers know what I’m talking about. It’s not just for truckers anymore.

I’ve had it many times on the road though and I don’t like it. I want to notice one place melding into another. The hardwood forests of New England easing into the scrub pines and eventually the scattered palms of the South. The soil that turns to sand as you near the shore. I want to feel the differences between one place and another. A uniqueness of space.

There’s truck driver blood in me. When I was ten I thought I’d grow up to be a Truck Driving Artist Librarian President of the United States. I’d take the Oval Office on the road and multi-tasking to a new level. My father drove a semi. From the time I could climb in, I spent hours sitting in the cab pretending to drive through the deserts of New Mexico or along the rocky coast of Maine. Always with an empty load, sailing along like the breeze. Free. My friends did not do this and I thought it was my truck driver blood that made me different. A rover.

Sometimes a sort of white-line fever comes over me at home. I go through the motions of domestic life daydreaming. In my mind I’m somewhere else. Today I’ve been back to Budapest, which I haven’t given a fair assessment of here, then to China and Japan. I want to see Mount Fuji from the air. I want to float down the Yangtze River. I want to be on the road. I want the wind in my hair and white lines running on before me.