In art, in pure science, in literature, for instance, many people find sustaining series of interests and incentives which have come at last to have a greater value for them than any primary needs and satisfactions. These primary needs are taken for granted. The everyday things of life become subordinate to these wider interests which have taken hold of them, and they continue to value everyday things, personal affections and material profit and loss, only in so far as they are ancillary to the newer ruling system of effort, and to evade or disregard them in so far as they are antagonistic or obstructive to that.
And the desire to live as fully as possible within the ruling system of effort becomes increasingly conscious and defined. The originative intellectual worker is not a normal human being and does not lead nor desire to lead a normal human life. He wants to lead a supernormal life. Mankind is realizing more and more surely that to escape from individual immediacies into the less personal activities now increasing in human society is not, like games, reverie, intoxication or suicide, a suspension or abandonment of the primary life; on the contrary it is the way to power over that primary life which, though subordinated, remains intact.
Essentially it is an imposition upon the primary life of a participation in the greater life of the race as a whole. In studies and studios and laboratories, administrative bureaus and exploring expeditions, a new world is germinated and develops. It is not a repudiation of the old but a vast extension of it, in a racial synthesis into which individual aims will ultimately be absorbed. We originative intellectual workers are reconditioning human life.
Now in this desire, becoming increasingly lucid and continuous for me as my life has gone on, in this desire to get the primaries of life under control and to concentrate the largest possible proportion of my energy upon the particular system of effort that has established itself for me as my distinctive business in the world, I find the clue to the general conduct not only of my own life and the key not only to my present perplexities, but a clue to the difficulties of most scientific, philosophical, artistic, creative, preoccupied men and women.
We are like early amphibians, so to speak, struggling out of the waters that have hitherto covered our kind, into the air, seeking to breathe in a new fashion and emancipate ourselves from long accepted and long unquestioned necessities. At last it becomes for us a case of air or nothing. But the new land has not yet definitively emerged from the waters and we swim distressfully in an element we wish to abandon. I do not now in the least desire to live longer unless I can go on with what I consider to be my proper business.
That is not to say that the stuff of everyday life has not been endlessly interesting, exciting and delightful for me in my time: clash of personalities, music and beauty, eating and drinking, travel and meetings, new lands and strange spectacles, the work for successes, much aimless play, much laughter, the getting well again after illness, the pleasures, the very real pleasures, of vanity.
Let me not be ungrateful to life for its fundamental substances. But I have had a full share of all these things and I do not want to remain alive simply for more of them. But only on that condition. And that is where I am troubled now. I find myself less able to get on with my work than ever before.
Perhaps the years have something to do with that, and it may be that a progressive broadening and deepening of my conception of what my work should be, makes it less easy than it was; but the main cause is certainly the invasion of my time and thought by matters that are either quite secondary to my real business or have no justifiable connection with it. Subordinate and everyday things, it seems to me in this present mood, surround me in an ever-growing jungle. My hours are choked with them; my thoughts are tattered by them.
All my life I have been pushing aside intrusive tendrils, shirking discursive consequences, bilking unhelpful obligations, but I am more aware of them now and less hopeful about them than I have ever been. I have a sense of crisis; that the time has come to reorganize my peace, if the ten or fifteen years ahead, which at the utmost I may hope to work in now, are to be saved from being altogether overgrown.
I will explain later what I think my particular business to be. But it would have to be a one-way telephone, so that when we wanted news we could ask for it, and when we were not in a state to receive and digest news, we should not have it forced upon us. That would be the central cell of my life.
That would give the immediate material conditions for the best work possible. I think I would like that the beautiful scenery outside the big windows should be changed ever and again, but I recognize the difficulties in the way of that. In the background there would have to be, at need, food, exercise and stimulating, agreeable and various conversation, and, pervading all my consciousness, there should be a sense of security and attention, an assurance that what was produced, when I had done my best upon it, would be properly significant and effective.
In such circumstances I feel I could still do much in these years before me, without hurry and without waste. I can see a correlated scheme of work I could do that would, I feel, be enormously worth while, and the essence of my trouble is that the clock ticks on, the moments drip out and trickle, flow away as hours, as days, and I cannot adjust my life to secure any such fruitful peace.
It scarcely needs criticism to bring home to me that much of my work has been slovenly, haggard and irritated, most of it hurried and inadequately revised, and some of it as white and pasty in its texture as a starch-fed nun. I am tormented by a desire for achievement that overruns my capacity and by a practical incapacity to bring about for myself the conditions under which fine achievement is possible.
I pay out what I feel to be a disproportionate amount of my time and attention in clumsy attempts to save the rest of it for the work in hand. I seem now in this present mood, to be saving only tattered bits of time, and even in these scraps of salvage my mind is often jaded and preoccupied. It is not that I am poor and unable to buy the things I want, but that I am quite unable to get the things I want.
I do not see how there can be such helpers. For to protect me completely they would have, I suppose, to span my intelligence and possibilities, and if they could do that they would be better employed in doing my work directly and eliminating me altogether. This feeling of being intolerably hampered by irrelevant necessities, this powerful desire for disentanglement is, I have already said, the common experience of the men and women who write, paint, conduct research and assist in a score of other ways, in preparing that new world, that greater human life, which all art, science and literature have foreshadowed.
My old elaborate-minded friend, Henry James the novelist, for example, felt exactly this thing. Some elements in his character obliged him to lead an abundant social life, and as a result he was so involved in engagements, acknowledgments, considerations, compliments, reciprocities, small kindnesses, generosities, graceful gestures and significant acts, all of which he felt compelled to do with great care and amplitude, that at times he found existence more troubled and pressing than many a sweated toiler.
His craving for escape found expression in a dream of a home of rest, The Great Good Place , where everything that is done was done for good, and the fagged mind was once more active and free. The same craving for flight in a less Grandisonian and altogether more tragic key, drove out the dying Tolstoy in that headlong flight from home which ended his life. This fugitive impulse is an inevitable factor in the lives of us all, great or small, who have been drawn into these activities, these super- activities which create and which are neither simply gainful, nor a response to material or moral imperatives, nor simply and directly the procuring of primary satisfactions.
Our lives are threaded with this same, often quite desperate effort to disentangle ourselves, to get into a Great Good Place of our own, and work freely. None of us really get there, perhaps there is no there anywhere to get to, but we get some way towards it. We never do the work that we imagine to be in us, we never realize the secret splendour of our intentions, yet nevertheless some of us get something done that seems almost worth the effort.
Some of us, and it may be as good a way as any, let everything else slide, live in garrets and hovels, borrow money unscrupulously, live on women or, if they are women, live on men , exploit patronage, accept pensions.
The Golden Apple
But even the careless life will not stay careless. It has its own frustrations and chagrins. Others make the sort of effort I have made, and give a part of their available energy to save the rest. They fight for their conditions and have a care for the things about them. That is the shape of my story. I have built two houses and practically rebuilt a third to make that Great Good Place to work in, I have shifted from town to country and from country to town, from England to abroad and from friend to friend, I have preyed upon people more generous than myself who loved me and gave life to me.
In return, because of my essential preoccupation, I have never given any person nor place a simple disinterested love. It was not in me. I have loved acutely, but that is another matter. I have attended spasmodically to business and money-making. And here I am at sixty-five Spring , still asking for peace that I may work some more, that I may do that major task that will atone for all the shortcomings of what I have done in the past.
Imperfection and incompleteness are the certain lot of all creative workers. We all compromise. We all fall short. The life story to be told of any creative worker is therefore by its very nature, by its diversions of purpose and its qualified success, by its grotesque transitions from sublimation to base necessity and its pervasive stress towards flight, a comedy. The story can never be altogether pitiful because of the dignity of the work; it can never be altogether dignified because of its inevitable concessions.
It must be serious, but not solemn, and since there is no controversy in view and no judgment of any significance to be passed upon it, there is no occasion for apologetics. In this spirit I shall try to set down the story of my own life and work, up to and including its present perplexities. I write down my story and state my present problem, I repeat, to clear and relieve my mind. The story has no plot and the problem will never be solved. I do not think that in the present phase of human affairs there is any possible Great Good Place, any sure and abiding home for any creative worker. In diverse forms and spirits we are making over the world, so that the primary desires and emotions, the drama of the immediate individual life will be subordinate more and more, generation by generation, to beauty and truth, to universal interests and mightier aims.
We are therefore, now and for the next few hundred years at least, strangers and invaders of the life of every day. We are all essentially lonely. In our nerves, in our bones. We are too preoccupied and too experimental to give ourselves freely and honestly to other people, and in the end other people fail to give themselves fully to us. We are too different among ourselves to get together in any enduring fashion. It is good for others as for myself to find, however belatedly, that there is no fixed home to be found, and no permanent relationships. I see now, what I merely suspected when I began to write this section, that my perplexities belong to the mood of a wayside pause, to the fatigue of a belated tramp on a road where there is no rest-house before the goal.
That dignified peace, that phase of work perfected in serenity, of close companionship in thought, of tactfully changing scenery and stabilized instability ahead, is just a helpful dream that kept me going along some of the more exacting stretches of the course, a useful but essentially an impossible dream. Perhaps it is as well that I shall never know what the scales tell, or indeed whether they have anything to tell, or whether there will be any scales by which to tell, of the load that has been my life.
The preceding section was drafted one wakeful night, somewhen between two and five in the early morning a year or more ago; it was written in perfect good faith, and a criticism and continuation of it may very well serve as the opening movement in this autobiographical effort.
For that section reveals, artlessly and plainly what Jung would call my persona. A persona , as Jung uses the word, is the private conception a man has of himself, his idea of what he wants to be and of how he wants other people to take him. It provides therefore, the standard by which he judges what he may do, what he ought to do and what is imperative upon him. Everyone has a persona. Self conduct and self explanation is impossible without one. A persona may be very stable or it may fluctuate extremely. It may be resolutely honest or it may draw some or all of its elements from the realms of reverie.
It may exist with variations in the same mind. We may have single or multiple personas and in the latter case we are charged with inconsistencies and puzzle ourselves and our friends. Our personas grow and change and age as we do. And rarely if ever are they the whole even of our conscious mental being. All sorts of complexes are imperfectly incorporated or not incorporated at all, and may run away with us in the most unexpected manner. So that this presentation of a preoccupied mind devoted to an exalted and spacious task and seeking a maximum of detachment from the cares of this world and from baser needs and urgencies that distract it from that task, is not even the beginning of a statement of what I am, but only of what I most like to think I am.
It is the plan to which I work, by which I prefer to work, and by which ultimately I want to judge my performance. But quite a lot of other things have happened to me, quite a lot of other stuff goes with me and it is not for the reader to accept this purely personal criterion. A persona may be fundamentally false, as is that of many a maniac.
It may be a structure of mere compensatory delusions, as is the case with many vain people. But it does not follow that if it is selected by a man out of his moods and motives, it is necessarily a work of self deception. A man who tries to behave as he conceives he should behave, may be satisfactorily honest in restraining, ignoring and disavowing many of his innate motives and dispositions.
The mask, the persona , of the Happy Hypocrite became at last his true faces. It is just as true that all men are imperfect saints and heroes as it is that all men are liars. There is, I maintain, a sufficient justification among my thoughts and acts from quite early years, for that pose of the disinterested thinker and worker, working for a racial rather than a personal achievement. But the distractions, attacks and frustrations that set him scribbling distressfully in the night, come as much from within as without; the antagonisms and temptations could do nothing to him, were it not for that within him upon which they can take hold.
Directly I turn from the easier task of posing in an Apology for my life, to the more difficult work of frank autobiography, I have to bring in all the tangled motives out of which my persona has emerged; the elaborate sexual complexities, the complexes of ambition and rivalry, the hesitation and fear in my nature, for example; and in the interests of an impartial diagnosis I have to set aside the appeal for a favourable verdict. A biography should be a dissection and demonstration of how a particular human being was made and worked; the directive persona system is of leading importance only when it is sufficiently consistent and developed to be the ruling theme of the story.
But this is the case with my life. From quite an early age I have been predisposed towards one particular sort of work and one particular system of interests. I have found the attempt to disentangle the possible drift of life in general and of human life in particular from the confused stream of events, and the means of controlling that drift, if such are to be found, more important and interesting by far than anything else.
I have had, I believe, an aptitude for it. The study and expression of tendency , has been for me what music is for the musician, or the advancement of his special knowledge is to the scientific investigator. My persona may be an exaggeration of one aspect of my being, but I believe that it is a ruling aspect. It may be a magnification but it is not a fantasy. A voluminous mass of work accomplished attests its reality. The value of that work is another question. A bad musician may be none the less passionately a musician. They will not adopt my results; they will only respond to fragments of them.
But the fact remains that I have made that effort, that it has given me a considerable ill-defined prestige, and that it is the only thing that makes me conspicuous beyond the average lot and gives my life with such complications and entanglements as have occurred in it, an interest that has already provoked biography and may possibly provoke more, and so renders unavoidable the thought of a defensive publication, at some future date, of this essay in autobiographical self-examination.
The conception of a worker concentrated on the perfection and completion of a work is its primary idea. Either the toad which is struggling to express itself here, has engendered a jewel in its head or it is nothing worth troubling about in the way of toads. This work, this jewel in my head for which I take myself seriously enough to be self-scrutinizing and autobiographical, is, it seems to me, a crystallization of ideas. A variety of biological and historical suggestions and generalizations, which, when lying confusedly in the human mind, were cloudy and opaque, have been brought into closer and more exact relations; the once amorphous mixture has fallen into a lucid arrangement and through this new crystalline clearness, a plainer vision of human possibilities and the conditions of their attainment, appears.
I have made the broad lines and conditions of the human outlook distinct and unmistakable for myself and for others. I have shown that human life as we know it, is only the dispersed raw material for human life as it might be. There is a hitherto undreamt-of fullness, freedom and happiness within reach of our species. Mankind can pull itself together and take that now. But if mankind fails to apprehend its opportunity, then division, cruelties, delusions and ultimate frustration lie before our kind.
The decision to perish or escape has to be made within a very limited time. For escape, vast changes in the educational, economic and directive structure of human society are necessary. They are definable. They are practicable. But they demand courage and integrity. They demand a force and concentration of will and a power of adaptation in habits and usages which may or may not be within the compass of mankind.
This is the exciting and moving prospect displayed by the crystal I have brought out of solution. I do not set up to be the only toad in the world that has this crystallization. I do not find so much difference between my mind and others, that I can suppose that I alone have got this vision clear. What I think, numbers must be thinking. They have similar minds with similar material, and it is by mere chance and opportunity that I have been among the first to give expression to this realization of a guiding framework for life.
But I have been among the first. Essentially, then, a main thread in weaving my autobiography must be the story of how I came upon, and amidst what accidents I doubted, questioned and rebelled against, accepted interpretations of life; and so went on to find the pattern of the key to master our world and release its imprisoned promise. I believe I am among those who have found what key is needed. We, I and those similar others, have set down now all the specifications for a working key to the greater human life. By an incessant toil of study, propaganda, education and creative suggestion, by sacrifice where it is necessary and much fearless conflict, by a bold handling of stupidity, obstruction and perversity, we may yet cut out and file and polish and insert and turn that key to the creative world community before it is too late.
That kingdom of heaven is materially within our reach. My story therefore will be at once a very personal one and it will be a history of my sort and my time. An autobiography is the story of the contacts of a mind and a world. The story will begin in perplexity and go on to a troubled and unsystematic awakening.
It will culminate in the attainment of a clear sense of purpose, conviction that the coming great world of order, is real and sure; but, so far as my individual life goes, with time running out and a thousand entanglements delaying realization. For us, the undying us of our thought and experience, that great to-morrow is certain.
The brain upon which my experiences have been written is not a particularly good one. If there were brain-shows, as there are cat and dog shows, I doubt if it would get even a third class prize. Upon quite a number of points it would be marked below the average. In a little private school in a small town on the outskirts of London it seemed good enough, and that gave me a helpful conceit about it in early struggles where confidence was half the battle. It was a precocious brain, so that I was classified with boys older than myself right up to the end of a brief school career which closed before I was fourteen.
But compared with the run of the brains I meet nowadays, it seems a poorish instrument. But in relation to everyday people with no claim to mental distinction I still find it at a disadvantage. The names of places and people, numbers, quantities and dates for instance, are easily lost or get a little distorted. It snatches at them and often lets them slip again. I cannot do any but the simplest sums in my head and when I used to play bridge, I found my memory of the consecutive tricks and my reasoning about the playing of the cards, inferior to nine out of ten of the people I played with.
I lose at chess to almost anyone and though I have played a spread-out patience called Miss Milligan for the past fifteen years, I have never acquired a sufficient sense of the patterns of cards to make it anything more than a game of chance and feeling. Such other languages as Spanish, Italian and German I have picked up from a grammar or a conversation book sufficiently to serve the purposes of travel; only to lose even that much as soon as I ceased to use them.
London is my own particular city; all my life I have been going about in it and yet the certitude of the taxicab driver is a perpetual amazement to me. If I wanted to walk from Hoxton to Chelsea without asking my way, I should have to sit down to puzzle over a map for some time. All this indicates a loose rather inferior mental texture, inexact reception, bad storage and uncertain accessibility. I do not think my brain has begun to age particularly yet. It can pick up new tricks, though it drops them very readily again, more readily perhaps than it used to do. I learnt sufficient Spanish in the odd moments of three months to get along in Spain two years ago without much trouble.
I think my brain has always been very much as it is now, except perhaps for a certain slowing down. And I believe that its defects are mainly innate. It was not a good brain to begin with, although certain physical defects of mine and bad early training, may have increased faults that might have been corrected by an observant teacher. The atmosphere of my home and early upbringing was not a highly educative atmosphere; words were used inexactly, and mispronounced, and so a certain timidity of utterance and a disposition to mumble and avoid doubtful or difficult words and phrases, may have worked back into my mental texture.
My eyes have different focal lengths and nobody discovered this until I was over thirty. Columns of figures and lines of print are as a result apt to get a little dislocated and this made me bad at arithmetic and blurred my impression of the form of words. And by eleven or twelve, in some way I cannot trace, I had taken to drawing rather vigorously and freshly. My elder brother could not draw at all but my other brother draws exactly and delicately, if not quite so spontaneously and expressively as I do.
I know practically nothing of brain structure and physiology, but it seems probable to me that this relative readiness to grasp form and relation, indicates that the general shape and arrangement of my brain is better than the quality of its cells, fibres and blood-vessels. I have a quick sense of form and proportion; I have a brain good for outlines.
Most of my story will carry out that suggestion. A thing that has I think more to do with my general build than with my brain structure is that my brain works best in short spells and is easily fatigued. I do not know whether it would be of any service after I am dead to prepare sections of my brain to ascertain that. I have made an autopsy possible by my will, but my son Gip tells me that all that tissue will have decayed long before a post mortem is possible.
There may perhaps be considerable differences in mental character due to a larger or smaller lumen of the arteries, to a rapid or sluggish venous drainage, to variations in interstitial tissue, which affect the response and interaction of the nerve cells. At any rate there is and always has been far too ready a disposition in my brain to fag and fade for my taste. It can fade out generally or locally in a very disconcerting manner.
Aphasia is frequent with me. At an examination for a teaching diploma which involved answering twenty or thirty little papers in the course of four days I found myself on the last day face to face with a paper, happily not of vital importance, of which the questions were entirely familiar and entirely unmeaning.
There was nothing to be done but go out. On another occasion I undertook to give an afternoon lecture to the Royal Institution. I knew my subject fairly well, so well that I had not written it down. I was not particularly afraid of my audience. That is all I have prepared to-day. Psycho-analysts have a disposition to explain the forgetting of names and the dissociation of faces, voices and so forth from their proper context as a sub-conscious suppression due to some obscure dislike.
If so I must dislike a vast multitude of people. But why should psycho-analysts assume a perfect brain mechanism and recognize only psychic causes? I believe a physical explanation will cover a number of these cases and that a drop in the conductivity of the associated links due to diminished oxygenation or some slight variation in the blood plasma is much more generally the temporarily effacing agent. I was interested the other night, in a supper-room in Vienna, by a little intimation of the poor quality of my memory.
There came in a party of people who sat at another table. One of them was a German young lady who reminded me very strikingly of the daughter of an acquaintance I had made in Spain. He had introduced himself and his family to me because he was the surviving brother of an old friend and editor of mine, Harry Cust, and he had heard all sorts of things about me. I became bad company. I could talk of nothing else. I retired inside my brain and routed about in it, trying to recover those once quite familiar names.
I could recall all sorts of incidents while I was in the same hotel with these people at Ronda and Granada and while I stayed at that house, a very beautiful English house in the midlands, I could produce a rough sketch of the garden and I remembered addressing a party of girl scouts from the front door and even what I said to them.
I had met and talked with Lady B and on another occasion met her son within the past year. But that evening the verbal labels seemed lost beyond recovery. I took a gloomy view of my mental state. Next morning, while I was still in bed, the missing labels all came back, except one. The name of the house had gone; it is still missing. Presently if it refuses to come home of its own accord I shall look it up in some book of reference. And yet I am sure that somewhere in the thickets of my brain it is hiding from me now. I tell this anecdote for the sake of its complete pointlessness.
The psychological explanation of such forgetfulness is a disinclination to remember. But what conflict of hostilities, frustrations, restrained desires and so forth, is here? None at all. It is merely that the links are feeble and the printing of the impressions bad. It is a case of second-rate brain fabric. And rather overgrown and pressed upon at that. If my mental paths are not frequently traversed and refreshed they are obstructed. Now defects in the brain texture must affect its moral quite as much as its intellectual character.
It is essentially the same apparatus at work in either case. If the links of association that reassemble a memory can be temporarily effaced, so can the links that bring a sense of obligation to bear upon a motive. Adding a column of figures wrongly and judging incorrectly a situation in which one has to act are quite comparable brain processes. So in my own behaviour just as in my apprehension of things the outline is better than the detail. The more closely I scrutinize my reactions, the more I find detailed inconsistencies, changes of front and goings to and fro.
The more I stand off from the immediate thing and regard my behaviour as a whole the more it holds together. As I have gathered experience of life, I have become increasingly impressed by the injustice we do ourselves and others by not allowing for these local and temporary faintings and fadings of our brains in our judgment of conduct. Our relations with other human beings are more full and intricate the nearer they are to us and the more important they are in our lives.
So, however we may be able to pigeonhole and note this or that casual acquaintance for treatment of a particular sort, when we come to our intimates we find ourselves behaving according to immensely various and complex systems of association, which in the case of such brains as mine anyhow, are never uniformly active, which are subject to just the same partial and irrational dissociations and variations as are my memories of names and numbers.
I can have a great tenderness or resentment for someone and it may become as absent from my present thought as that title or the name of that country house I could not remember in Vienna. I may have a sense of obligation and it will vanish as completely. Facts will appear in my mind quite clear in their form and sequence and yet completely shorn of some moving emotional quality I know they once possessed.
And then a day or so after it will all come back to me. Everyone, of course, is more or less like this, but I am of the kind, I think, which is more so. On the other hand, though my brain organization is so poor that connexions are thus intermittently weakened and effaced and groups of living associations removed out of reach, I do not find in this cerebrum of mine any trace of another type of weakness which I should imagine must be closely akin to such local failure to function, namely those actual replacements of one system of associations by another, which cause what is called double personalities.
In the classical instances of double personality psychologists tell of whole distinct networks of memory and impulse, co-existing side by side in the same brain yet functioning independently, which are alternative and often quite contradictory one to the other. When one system is in action; the other is more or less inaccessible and vice versa. I have met and lived in close contact with one or two individuals of this alternating type; it is, I think, more common among women than among men; I have had occasion to watch these changes of phase, and I do not find that in my own brain stuff there are any such regional or textural substitutions.
There are effacements but not replacements. My brain may be very much alive or it may be flat and faded out or simply stupefied by sleepiness or apathy; it may be exalted by some fever in the blood, warmed and confused by alcohol, energized, angered or sexually excited by the subtle messages and stimuli my blood brings it; but my belief is that I remain always very much the same personality through it all.
I do not think I delude myself about this. My brain I believe is consistent. Such as it is, it holds together. It is like a centralized country with all its government in one capital, even though that government is sometimes negligent, feeble or inert. My perceptions do not seem to be so thorough, vivid and compelling as those of many people I meet and it is rare that my impressions of things glow. There is a faint element of inattention in all I do; it is as if white was mixed into all the pigments of my life.
I am rarely vivid to myself. I am just a little slack, not wholly and continuously interested, prone to be indolent and cold-hearted. I am readily bored. You will discover a great deal of evasion and refusal in my story. Nature has a way of turning even biological defects into advantages and I am not sure how far what may be called my success in life has not been due to this undertow of indifference.
I have not been easily carried away by immediate things and made to forget the general in the particular. There is a sort of journalistic legend that I am a person of boundless enthusiasm and energy. Nothing could be further from the reality. Writing numbers of books and articles is evidence not of energy but of sedentary habits. People with a real quantitative excess of energy and enthusiasm become Mussolinis, Hitlers, Stalins, Gladstones, Beaverbrooks, Northcliffes, Napoleons.
It takes generations to clean up after them. But what I shall leave behind me will not need cleaning up. Just because of that constitutional apathy it will be characteristically free from individual Woosh and it will be available and it will go on for as long as it is needed. And now, having conveyed to you some idea of the quality and defects of the grey matter of that organized mass of phosphorized fat and connective tissue which is, so to speak, the hero of the piece, and having displayed the persona or, if you will, the vanity which now dominates its imaginations, I will try to tell how in this particular receiving apparatus the picture of its universe was built up, what it did and failed to do with the body it controlled and what the thronging impressions and reactions that constituted its life amount to.
This brain of mine came into existence and began to acquire reflexes and register impressions in a needy shabby home in a little town called Bromley in Kent, which has since become a suburb of London. My consciousness of myself grew by such imperceptible degrees, and for a time each successive impression incorporated what had preceded it so completely, that I have no recollection of any beginning at all. I have a miscellany of early memories, but they are not arranged in any time order.
I will do my best however, to recall the conditions amidst which my childish head got its elementary lessons in living. They seem to me now quite dreadful conditions, but at the time it was the only conceivable world. It was then the flaxen head of a podgy little boy with a snub nose and a long infantile upper lip, and along the top his flaxen hair was curled in a longitudinal curl which was finally abolished at his own urgent request.
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Early photographs record short white socks, bare arms and legs, a petticoat, ribbon bows on the shoulders, and a scowl. That must have been gala costume. I do not remember exactly what everyday clothes I wore until I was getting to be a fairly big boy. I seem to recall a sort of holland pinafore for everyday use very like what small boys still wear in France, except that it was brown instead of black holland.
It was one of a row of badly built houses upon a narrow section of the High Street. In front upon the ground floor was the shop, filled with crockery, china and glassware and, a special line of goods, cricket bats, balls, stumps, nets and other cricket material. A murderously narrow staircase with a twist in it led downstairs to a completely subterranean kitchen, lit by a window which derived its light from a grating on the street level, and a bricked scullery, which, since the house was poised on a bank, opened into the yard at the ground level below.
In the scullery was a small fireplace, a copper boiler for washing, a provision cupboard, a bread pan, a beer cask, a pump delivering water from a well into a stone sink, and space for coal, our only space for coal, beneath the wooden stairs. The yard was perhaps thirty by forty feet square. Behind it was the brick dustbin cleared at rare intervals via the shop , a fairly open and spacious receptacle. In this a small boy could find among the ashes such objects of interest as egg-shells, useful tins and boxes.
The ashes could be rearranged to suggest mountain scenery. There was a boundary wall, separating us from the much larger yard and sheds of Mr. Covell the butcher, in which pigs, sheep and horned cattle were harboured violently, and protested plaintively through the night before they were slaughtered. Our yard was half bricked and half bare earth, and an open cement gutter brought the waste waters of the sink to a soak-away in the middle of the space.
On one hand was the yard of Mr. Munday, the haberdasher, who had put up a greenhouse and cultivated mushrooms, to nourish which his boys collected horse-droppings from the High Street in a small wooden truck; and on the other, Mr. Cooper, the tailor, had built out a workroom in which two or three tailors sat and sewed.
It was always a matter of uneasiness to my mother whether these men could or could not squint round and see the necessary comings and goings of pots and pans and persons to the closet. The unbricked part of our yard had a small flower-bed in which my father had planted a bush of Wigelia. It flowered reluctantly, and most things grew reluctantly in that bed. A fact, still vividly clear in my mind across an interval of sixty years, is that it was the only patch of turned up earth accessible to the cats of Mr. Munday, Mr. But my father was a gardener of some resolution and, against the back of the house rooting in a hole in the brickwork, he had persuaded a grape vine not only to grow but to flourish.
When I was ten, he fell from a combination of short ladder, table and kitchen steps on which he had mounted to prune the less accessible shoots of this vine, and sustained a compound fracture of the leg. But of that very important event I will tell a little later. I dwell rather upon the particulars about this yard, because it was a large part of my little world in those days.
I lived mostly in it and in the scullery and underground kitchen. We were much too poor to have a servant, and it was more than my mother could do to keep fires going upstairs let alone the price of coal. Everything was frayed, discoloured and patched. But we had no end of oil lamps because they came out of and went back into stock. My father also dealt in lamp-wicks, oil and paraffin.
We lived, as I have said, mostly downstairs and underground, more particularly in the winter. We went upstairs to bed. About upstairs I have to add a further particular. The house was infested with bugs. They harboured in the wooden bedsteads and lurked between the layers of wallpaper that peeled from the walls. Slain they avenge themselves by a peculiar penetrating disagreeable smell. That mingles in my early recollections with the more pervasive odour of paraffin, with which my father carried on an inconclusive war against them.
Almost every part of my home had its own distinctive smell. This was the material setting in which my life began. Let me tell now something of my father and mother, what manner of people they were, and how they got themselves into this queer home from which my two brothers and I were launched into what Sir James Jeans has very properly called, this Mysterious Universe, to make what we could of it. My mother was a little blue-eyed, pink-cheeked woman with a large serious innocent face.
She was born on October 10th, , in the days when King George IV was King, and three years before the opening of the first steam railway. It was still an age of horse and foot transit, sailing ships and undiscovered lands. She was the daughter of a Midhurst innkeeper and his frequently invalid wife.
She was born in Midhurst was a little old sunny rag-stone built town on the road from London to Chichester, and my grandfather stabled the relay of horses for the stage coach as his father had done before him. And when my grandfather died he had mortgaged his small property and was very much in debt, so that there was practically nothing for my mother and her younger brother John, who survived him. He married Sarah Benham on October 30th, Two infant boys died, and then my mother was born in After a long interval my uncle John was born in , and a girl Elizabeth in Except for that one entry, there is nothing much now to be learnt about her.
I suppose that when she was well she did her best, after the fashion of the time, to teach her daughter the elements of religion, knowledge and the domestic arts. I possess quite a brave sampler worked by my mother when she was in her eighth year. It says, amidst some decorative stitching:. Sarah Neal her work. May 26, There was no compulsory schooling in those days. Some serious neighbours seem to have talked to my grandfather and pointed out the value of accomplishments and scholastic finish to a young female in a progressive age. In he came into some property through the death of my great-grandfather and thereupon my mother was sent off to a finishing school for young ladies kept by a Miss Riley in Chichester.
But she never really mastered the names of the nine Muses and over what they presided, and though she begged and prayed her father that she might learn French, it was an Extra and she was refused it. A natural tendency to Protestant piety already established by her ailing mother, was greatly enhanced. She was given various edifying books to read, but she was warned against worldly novels, the errors and wiles of Rome, French cooking and the insidious treachery of men, she was also prepared for confirmation and confirmed, she took the sacrament of Holy Communion, and so fortified and finished she returned to her home I do not think it is on record anywhere, but it is plain to me from what I have heard my mother say, that among school mistresses and such like women at any rate, there was a stir of emancipation associated with the claim, ultimately successful, of the Princess Victoria, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, to succeed King William IV.
There was a movement against that young lady based on her sex and this had provoked in reaction a wave of feminine partisanship throughout the country. It picked up reinforcement from an earlier trouble between George the Fourth and Queen Caroline. The dear Queen could command her husband as a subject and wilt the tremendous Mr. Gladstone with awe. How would it feel to be in that position? One would say this. One would do that. In her latter years in a black bonnet and a black silk dress she became curiously suggestive of the supreme widow For my own part, such is the obduracy of the young male, I heard too much of the dear Queen altogether; I conceived a jealous hatred for the abundant clothing, the magnificent housing and all the freedoms of her children and still more intensely of my contemporaries, her grandchildren.
Why was my mother so concerned about them? This was a fixation that has lasted all through my life. If only I could see! But that is anticipating. Its chintz was second-hand, and its flowered muslin cheap and easily tired. It was a countryside, for as yet my mother knew nothing of London. Over it all ruled God our Father, in whose natural kindliness my mother had great confidence.
Or a remote suspicion of artistic irregularity about the recorded activities of the Holy Spirit. In the lower sky and the real link between my mother and the god-head, was the Dear Queen, ruling by right divine, and beneath this again, the nobility and gentry, who employed, patronised, directed and commanded the rest of mankind. And behind everyone, behind the Free Seats, but alas! I remember demanding of her in my crude schoolboy revolt if she really believed in a hell of eternal torment. Except of course the Old Devil. And even he, being so to speak the official in charge, I think she would have exempted from actual torture.
Maybe Our Father would have shown him the tongs now and again, just to remind him. What had mother been hiding from me? By holding up the page to the light I discovered the censored illustration represented hell-fire; devil, pitchfork and damned, all complete and drawn with great gusto. But she had anticipated the general trend of Protestant theology at the present time and hidden hell away.
She believed that God our Father and Saviour, personally and through occasional angels, would mind her; she believed that he would not be indifferent to her prayers; she believed she had to be good, carefully and continually, and not give Satan a chance with her. Then everything would be all right. It was an old-fashioned world; most of its patterns of behaviour and much of its peculiar idiom, were established in the seventeenth century; its way of talking, its style of wit, was in an unbroken tradition from the Polite Conversation of Dean Swift, and it had customs and an etiquette all its own.
I do not think she had a bad time in service; people poked fun at a certain simplicity in her, but no one seems to have been malignant. In , when her diary begins, she was with the wife of a certain Captain Forde, I know, and in her company she travelled and lived in Ireland and in various places in England. The early part of this diary is by far the best written. It abounds in descriptions of scenery and notes of admiration, and is clearly the record of an interested if conventional mind. It was not so gay as the Forde world. She had left the Fordes because her mother was distressed by the death of her sister Elizabeth and wanted Sarah to be in England nearer to her.
Two allusions, slightly reminiscent of the romantic fiction of the time, preserve the memory of a previous experience. From Dublin it is short but the sea appears in view, and mountains, which to one fond of romantic scenery, how dear does the country appear when the views are so diversified by the changes of scene, to the reflective mind how sweet they are to one alas a voluntary exile from her dear, her native land, to wander alone to brood over the unkindness, the ingratitude, of a faithless, an absent, but not a forgotten lover. Ah, I left a kind and happy home to hide from all dear friends the keen, bitter anguish of my heart.
May he be forgiven as I forgive him!!! I hope this early trial will work good in me. I feel it ordered for the best and time will, I trust, prove it to me how mercifully has Providence watched over me, and for a wise purpose taught me not to trust implicitly to erring creatures. Oh, can I ever believe man again? Burnt all his letters. I shall now forget quicker I hope, and may he be forgiven his falsehoods. I know nothing of the earliest encounter of my father and mother.
I like to think of my mother then as innocently animated, pretty and not yet overstrained by dingy toil, and my father as a bright and promising young gardener, son of a head gardener of repute, the head gardener of Lord de Lisle at Penshurst. He was five years younger than she was, and they were both still in their twenties.
He probably came to the house every day to discuss flowers and vegetables, and so forth, with the cook and the housekeeper and steward and perhaps there was a chance for a word or two then, and on Sundays, when everybody walked downhill a mile and more through the Warren to morning service in Harting Church, they may have had opportunities for conversation. It was not all country dances and smiling meetings.
I still possess a letter from him to her in which he explains that she has misunderstood an allusion he had made to the Holy Sacrament. He would be the last, he says, to be irreverent on such a topic. It is quite a well written letter. This Up Park is a handsome great house looking southward, with beechwoods and bracken thickets to shelter the dappled fallow deer of its wide undulating downland park. To the north the estate over-hangs the village of South Harting in the triangle between Midhurst, Petersfield and Chichester.
Up Park was built by a Fetherstonhaugh, and it has always been in the hands of that family. In the beginning of the nineteenth century the reigning Fetherstonhaugh was a certain Sir Harry, an intimate of the Prince Regent who was afterwards George IV. Sir Harry was a great seducer of pretty poorish girls, milliners, tenants, singers and servant maids, after the fashion of the time. In his declining years Sir Harry was smitten with desire for an attractive housemaid, Frances Bullock, and after a strenuous pursuit and a virtuous resistance, valiant struggles on the back stairs and much heated argument, married her.
No offspring ensued. They entertained house parties; people came to them for their shooting and hunting. It could not have been much in the way of love-making anyhow, with everyone watching and disapproving. But the housekeeper there is not in the least like my mother. If it was not so gay and various as that now vanished life below stairs in Ireland, it was bright enough.
There were uncles and cousins in the district, so that I suppose the family had been in Kent for at least some generations. The lack of originality at the Christenings is appalling. My father grew up to gardening and cricket, and remained an out-of-doors, open-air man to the day of his death. He became gardener at Redleaf, nearby, to a Mr.
He talked to him, encouraged him to read, and lent and gave him books on botany and gardening. When the old man was ill he liked my father to take his arm when he walked in the garden. My father made definite efforts to improve himself. He had an aptitude for drawing. He drew and coloured pictures of various breeds of apple and pear and suchlike fruits, and he sought out and flattened and dried between sheets of blotting paper, a great number of specimen plants.
Behind him in the sunshine was Penshurst Church. But afterwards the Landseers were all sent to the Tate Gallery at Millbank and there a sudden flood damaged or destroyed most of them and washed away that record of my father altogether. I do not know what employment my father found after he left Redleaf, which he did when his employer died, before he came to Up Park and met my mother. I think there was some sort of job as gardener or under-gardener at Crewe. In these days he was evidently restless and uneasy about his outlook upon life. Unrest was in the air. He talked of emigrating to America or Australia.
In his working everyday world he, like my mother, was still very much in the tradition of the eighteenth century when the nobility and gentry ruled everything under God and the King, when common men knew nothing of the possibility of new wealth, and when either Patronage or a Legacy was the only conceivable way for them out of humdrum and rigid limitation from the cradle to the grave.
Regardless, she said, I still want to sleep on my back; I don't want to crush it. I ended up scrapping my light-painting project. It wasn't going to amount to much anyway. The whole method is a gimmick, trick photography. In my photos, I kept finding that little traces of light were getting in. Either I would accidentally shine the light on myself while setting up the shot, or a street light would suddenly flicker on in the background.
Even in the dead of night, my frame was filled with tiny spots of light. Kate liked the photos. She said the light reminded her of fairies. I told her that fairies would never make the cover of a photo journal. It was a picture of a gnarled oak tree. The way I had shown the light on it made it look almost human. Like the bent shoulder of a giant-twisted and spotted with age. Next to the illuminated tree, you can see my hand holding the flashlight, and a dim glow from my glasses. Kate says she can see my whole face, but I tell her she's imagining things.
We will get through this, I said right before she went in. We'll be just fine, we'll be clearer, more focused. I love you, I told her. I didn't tell her about Deborah, or about my dream last night. How I dreamt I had found my own kind of fam ily. How it was image less-a portrait-free fami ly.
J. S. Anderson, Author, Novelist - Part 2
Our holiday cards were blank inside and out. We danced like ghosts between rooms-we couldn't even see each other. It was simply a feeling I had when someone was around, when my wife or my flashlight child moved through me. Nothing left a mark. That pure. I think what shames me about the orphaned child, what keeps him afloat in my mind, was that he was still getting used to his handicap.
I had spent that n ight watching him color, and on occasion, when both of us were sitting back to admire his work, he would be so caught up in what he had created that he would absently reach for a crayon, and his wrist would hover over the spot, making small, useless movements. I wanted to do something, pick up the crayon for him, but how much good is that kind of charity?
I wanted to sketch something for him right there on the floor, a portrait that showed him before the accident. It would have been easy to recreate-just a few more strokes, the extension of space and shadow. I remember wishing I had been able to talk to him. I wanted to be able to remind him every time I saw him reach, to break apart the dream, to stop those painful, empty motions that were just too much to see. Kate is stepping through the doors now, splitting the plane of reflected light.
There is empty space all around her, floating between us. She searches the room for a second, her eyes moving right through me, and I feel like I'm fa lling out of existence. Her face is swollen with tears, but she smiles at me. She comes closer. We don't know why, but we speak in whispers. You okay? Yes, can we go? Kate moves toward the door, not looking back to see if I'm following. She steps outside. I reach out for her with my hands but they fall away. They long for touch. They are reaching back into the ward. But truly Budd couldn't know he'd remember this as he scrawled the suicide note to his wife-how he never ever hit her, and would come back from the hell he was burning in to kill anyone who would tryor that the house he lived in then would be ash fifty years later: faulty wiring, spark in the basement, the cause of Ray's death uncertain or unsaid.
It begins with Budd because it's easier to imagine him black and white and frightened on TV screens in Blooming Valley that morning in , the state-wide snowstorm enough to cancel almost every school, parents and children staring as he pulls his hand from inside the envelopeStay away, this thing will hurt someone-before the cries and tightened throats, gasps of his name before his head snaps back, blood pouring like water from his mouth. But that was before Ray burned therebefore the firemen came too late.
And as the neighbors gathered,! Because no one dies in a fire. No one who climbs the stairs on his own, stumbles and collapses toward his bed before he sleeps. All of it before the nervousness of the girl that night who I wanted but couldn't love, as we gathered around the jukebox, its awful songs blaring on that Saturday nearly all came out alive. Her roommates were asleep as we felt for lights along the living room walls.
Eventually she left me there, turning and d;unk while the sun rose. When she woke me it was dawn: Ray didn't make it. I'd ask you to stay, but once they wake up you won't want to be here. This should be how it ends, I know, but Ray's face glares out from the USA Today front page, and like Budd's panic ending with a town in mourning, there are too many reports of college fires from decrepit houses: airbrushed photos of the dead, house frames in ash or, somehow, captured burning , fire chiefs unwilling to comment, landlords not going to jail. And the fathers who built that house, who also loved their wives-and the fathers who sat on porches waiting for their daughters to return, their sons still awake at dawnare gone now too, and I will say a prayer for this: for the ash of the body and foundation, and for the water beneath us surging toward the wreckage of our lives.
Caren Beilin Creationisms pper Penn Pass is an area like outer space, exclusive, seeming accessible only by special jetting. And the houses, architecturally distinct like planets-this one with this many moons, this one having violet vapors. Anais' is a simple steel box, hand-crafted in Berlin in a pre-fab styling, evocative, in its dull gray pate, of a factory cog, a nod, they said, to Bethlehem.
Everyone, everyone's parents anyway, is a Quaker-converted Jew of the Unitarian ethos. Something loose-hinged and novel that advocates for foreskins and avoids coming of age events- that pipsqueak chanting. They all converted. They did it on the special jet up, the Wharton fuel.
They were Jews but they'd heard enough banter, the chhh-ing Yiddish, wasps getting chopped in groups. They ascended to Upper Penn Pass, stepped out onto the new turf, the green, flat rags acrylic after mowing, and said goodbye to oy-ing foreverthat there was a better life, a bold, white life, a white comet, a flight. Full of stars. But still, in isolated Quaker moments, they have all th. She's taken to storing Kools cigarettes in it, a gesture of restless faith after the problematic year-losing Dad to a pulmonary infliction, his lungs aged translucent, but thickening in the last week into a shrill gold, as depicted in the mortuary photographs, as if Midas of myth wanted to tongue them.
We tongue livers and hearts, shanks, breasts, and thighs. We eat tongues. We leave our lungs with our bones. When we burn our bodies and save our ash, this is where lungs live. There's something about chomping down on one, maybe, severing the pink coat-that you would sit at a table and apply the domestic serration, and feel bad. Scooter is Anais' friend who's up from Wharton, anyway, and he's taken out his knife and goes around slitting her sad party balloons that she blew up to feel dizzy earlier.
He wishes-they were full of helium, that they could suck them and say things, voices high and brains tearing. He's here to buy the last of her father's lung drugs, Prednisone tabs, which make you grow blubbery in the cheeks but also help with concentration issues, force focus-they say Prednisone takers have the most organized of closets. And the students at the University of Pennsylvania have been waiting, aware. Beginning of the month. Scooter called on Monday. He said, "If it's too early I'll hang back.
Mom was an egg and womb donor, the kind of woman who pathologically gives herself to others, dilutes herself, genes mixed with genes which mix with genes, in small, white doses, pills that sperm can, for a price, bite in the jugular. And Dad never requested the real identity, approached her only by code. He'd never wanted there to be anybody else. He'd wished to clone. If he could have spat himself out the side of his mouth, that would have been easier.
What he'd wanted, the goal, was to produce himself, a younger twin. But when she wasn't. When she wasn't any of it. When she didn't flicker full of him, when it was apparent that he would not be raising himself, as he always had hoped to do five and full of patricide, matricide but her-that what he would be raising was her, he grew into steel. He'd named her, carelessly, mercilessly, Anais, her mother's chosen code name for herself. So that he wouldn't know who she really was. Anais the slut. Anais who fucked for a living. Up from a Penn party, Scooter parked his Jeep drunk.
He'd fucked her first, fourteen, then left Upper Penn Pass for school. Now he's returned from Philadelphia, his business skills quivering, first-forming. He pronounces Anais wrong, the way some people do, in a rhyme with mayonnaisean unwillingness to bend vowels in the middle, a human, English unwillingness. It's hard the way Naomi is hard. She's sniffing some coke through a white monopoly dollar. He used to come home for coke, would buy it in large tender pouches from her for later division, the size of white rabbits.
But now: "There's plenty of coke at Penn, you could pan it out the Schuylkill. Prednisone is a study drug.
An Upward Draft: (Book Two of the FugueTrilogy)
Swim is fuck's euphemism, when referring to the lake out back which has been, since high school began, such a bed, sperm released into its green sheets. It's after midnight, though, and the water gets that Lexus skin. Penetration stops seeming possible. I haven't swum all summer. There was after school science then, the animal cuppi ng-tadpoles or frogs, everything else was algae, or stones in velvet bags.
They poured a bulk container of salt into it, ages five and They put in the fat cod, to test for achievement, like sending a canary down a soot-filled pass. It had been yanked from the elementary school's saltwater tank-Scooter on feeding duty, a net, a bucket-and they never saw it again. Its oval of bones are still in there.
Youth, real youth, at least its flesh disappears, gets eaten or absorbed, decays, disintegrates, burns off, but the bones don't go anywhere. And later they took to drinking from it, in elaborate tea parties. He'd been like a girl then, or at least his gender was obscured in a thatch of play. He held his pinky up.
They drank it all afternoon. Algae gre':V in her stomach, caused green vomit, and she was accused by Dad, that distant, disappointed paternal presence, of pregnancy, though she was eleven-a paranoia, an ignorance. An exam ensued. They injected her with an entirely unnoticeable amount of bleach, through an IV, diluted with sugar water. They like to watch them die. Take them into the hospital and act frantic. Clutch us. And then they did fuck, fourteen and seventeen-the most horrifying of all their age combinations so far, her still undeveloped and confused, holding onto his heels as he floated upward, outward.
They were in the lake waist deep on a school day and he held her neck and said we're fucking you on repeat, as if there were three of him, a focus group of fucking her. Her underwear aside like twisted tissue. And Dad watched them do it, too, from his bedroom. He had a telescope that he often pointed out his curtains, a rifle looking at a street. Later she was told with what felt like relish, in the kitchen, Dad filling his decanters, about the yellow spackle on his right lung, as if her fucking and his seeing had spat it there, as if there were holy morals, and bodily consequences, or morals, or consequences.
He trembled holding a funnel and a bottle. Later, he drilled in a mezuzah, a feverish midnight carpentry. He said Baruch at her, a bark.
He yelled it at a candle, which he lit and threatened to throw, he held it out to her, his Shabat epee. He'd slay her. That she was no Mary but a Hannah, a Chhannah, fucking live flesh, not God, a kid. He ranted "Baruch! Scooter left for Wharton. Dad started reading Zionist pamphlets. A pamphlet Jew. Oh well. He started to get involved in her life in a way he never had. She leads him up to Dad's room where the pills are. They kiss on the bed though, the coke she snorted finally active after its strange delay, skittering, making a tacky frame around her heart which forces a smile.
They strip down and sway, knock pelvic bones. Ignore his phone, which buzzes and smashes off the counter downstairs. Scooter asks, "How much do you want? How much do you have left? He throws it far as if he doesn't think of the future, where to find it, when to leave. It's a trick. A gesture. He'd coughed on his sheets. He couldn't swallow his Prednisone pills, so she mashed them in the kitchen and taught him how to snort.
She gave him a white dollar. He asked, mildly, seriously, for a twenty. She fingers the pouches, the leftover supplements in separate little baggies, daily doses. They are soft to press. Scooter says he should get to suck helium out of pussies. He focuses. Don't bury me like anybody. He'd held the shaking fake twenty, the last, fake dignity, his mound of Prednisone still unsniffed, and told her his dreams of shooting into space. That's why I came up so soon. Not cool. She thought she'd put him in the lake instead.
She didn't call NASA after all. She watched the frogs go wild in the water in reaction to the new powder, they pounded down, a thick, mucus rain. Like newts reacting to pepper. He snorts his dose. They go down the stairs, down to the lake and they stand at it, nude, Adam, Eve, in the unabashed era, and jump in, ritualistic, over-bobbing for apples. The sun is slipping orange faxes through the grass. She grips Scooter who grips, grabby, back.
He's underneath us somewhere. He's watching us through death's telescope. How they would laugh at her. But thank her. And Dad's not in here after all. She switched the powders only hours ago. She doled the fine ash into the emptied Prednisone bags with a kitchen scoop while dizzy on blowing up balloons-because fuck the students of the University of Pennsylvania, she is fucking them. This is how she thanks them. Upper Penn Pass is an area much like outer space and she is sending Dad back down, earthward if not in the ground, if not like a Jew, or Quaker.
She'll send him down, then up the noses of those kids. She refuses to be the only one with him inside-that awful powder, that genetic ash. Scooter says, "Call me Scott again. Because we can," he says, "go back. Birth right or wrong," he says, he fucks, he tongues her jugular, "it's our job. In the morning- the house dazzlingly empty, stark and important, the open, empty drawer and the real money left on the mattress, everything quiet, frozen-framed, and Scott gone, gone back, or wherever-she drains it there's a button in the basement , and the frogs run free but the tadpoles d ie.
Penna Translating Akhmatova Summer breakfast with Old Republic delicacies: tongue, milk, fish eggs on toast, my mother in the kitchen brawling with the alphabet:. Titatick, titatick of the Smith Corona, the uneven finger barbs of an academic who has never learned to type. I read her handwriting from three hundred yellow pads, twin spools of Russian and English as she throws out gales of wide mouthed laughter talking about the butter yellow slacks and slut sapogi that walked out with my father.
How did she pull off her lips like that and lay them next to my brain at the table? Nicky Beer Ventouse Sous Verre Sucker under glass Those empty, aubergine-edged saucers, her best, in sundry sizes, arc precisely tessellated and creepingly uncountable. She has laid you a table d'hote of these ghost-courses against the glass, which is imperceptible without her, heavy-lidded proprietress who is all raised hem and no flirt. And how can such an encounter end? Does she succumb to the enamored, oceanic maw of her lover, a feast ravishing and ravished to be digested in the massive pouch of some lightless Marianas?
Or does she survive, but spend moonless nights in her husband's bed longing for a confusion of limbs unencumbered by bone? Or perhaps there is no end to this, only an abiding Mobius strip, chiral and irreconcilable, a lesson in how ardor ignites not in unlikeness, but unlikelihood: desire's sought-after moment of dissolution when What surrenders entirely to How. The robust jock easing himself away through aerobics. Day by day, with less eating and more movement. I could walk for days.
The literary workout. But I wasn't eating much more than iceberg lettuce. A big name with little substance. The land I come from was formed by icebergs. The plains it is called. It was an ocean once. Once mountains. But the icebergs drug it all away. I killed myself without ever committing real suicide. It made me pretentious. What was it that was so important that I ever worked at killing myself? When the French came to Nebraska, they called it a desert. What we call this, where I come from, is stoicism. Not in the Greek sense, but as in lack of emotion. The plains. The problem with committing suicide was that everyone watched.
I lost forty pounds in a year. People thought I was bulim ic. Some thought I was on meth. What I was, I was learning to die young in Nebraska. Quick alcohol and driving drunk on country roads. I wanted a public execution. I was well learned in dying young. You drink and you drive. You burn horseshoe scars into your wrists with the hot metal end of a lighter. You turn down free meals and workout obsessively, jogging along busy streets, then mutilate yourself at the end of dark summer nights for eating too much during the daytime. But you were a decent kid, and your high school football coach would say so in the newspaper if you did in fact die, and perfect strangers would cry when they read about it.
He was a gamer, they would be told. Lacking in any true talent, but willing to put it on the line when it counted. But kids like these die young. Their knees buckle under heavy burdens. The soft middle of any generation laid to waste. But mourned, if nothing else. To be mourned, in the least. And one year later the retrospective human interest piece comes out to remind parents with living kids that they still have their children.
The antithesis of the celebration section. No one wants to celebrate the death of a kid, but in a way we all do. We can't all be quarterbacks. Some of us have to settle for dying young. I played football with a kid who died young. He was a high school all-star in Nebraska. They were the Thunderbolts, funny enough. He got on scholarship, Division I, but never saw the field. He was going to graduate in four years, but didn't make it that far. There was a car wreck on a country road. But in the middle of the day.
On assignment for the school newspaper. Really tragic, if you care to know. He wasn't even drinking. Just dead. He knew how to die young if anyone ever did. His helmet, the one he wore on the sidelines during the college games, was sold later that summer. Game-worn helmets sold to fans with cash burning a hole in their pockets. Some nice parents in Ohio bought his helmet for their kid's seventh birthday.
The helmet of a dead man. But they didn't know that. It had his number, on a sticker, stuck on the back. During the games they looked for him on the field but never saw him. They wrote the athletic department asking why they were sold the helmet of a kid that wasn't even a bench warmer. In a kind letter, the athletic department told them, in so many words, that the kid whose helmet it was knew how to die young in Nebraska. A good catholic kid, doing his best. As you can imagine, the family was heartbroken. They dreamed that their little boy would be a notable athlete at a decent high school football power.
That maybe he could be on scholarship one day without having to be a bookworm. A good athlete, not great, that could turn his talents into a vocation and a family. They could empathize with this kid dying young, this kid whose helmet they had. They d id the only decent thing that they could have done, being honest people in a Midwestern town. They mailed the helmet to the dead kid's mom. She should have it. Her son was gone, after all. That kid whose goodness is now measured in the past tense. Dying young was easy l thought. A path well-run in my history.
For full disclosure, I should tell you that my uncle died at thirty of AIDS and my cousin at ten from lack of breath, choking on popcorn during an asthma attack. It was an established path. At twelve, I tried to drown myself in a swimming pool. The best part was watching other people watch you. This was the whole point of it. I was a fat kid, that was who I was. To lose weight, tO shed pounds like measures of your identity. After a while, people had no idea who you were.
They were insulted that you would do something like that to them. It was a betrayal to get skinny. To refuse the food they offered. And they tried to maintain the status quo, let me tell you. Never have so many free lunches been offered as when a fatty is losing some weight.
Things shouldn't change. This is how you die young, in their eyes, losing yourself pound after pound. It's a tragedy. Then no one knows you. Only strangers Actually losing the weight was the worst. There had to be death and it came easy. Denying oneself everything but spite. Any weakness was worth a cut from the razor. This was the slow, malignant suicide. I read about homosexuals that drank themselves stupid every night so that they wouldn't have to admit that they were gay. I drank so that I wouldn't feel like eating. Building discipline, food made me sick to my stomach. Nourishment was poison.
A big part was loneliness. If I weren't lonely I cou ld n't have killed myself. It's much too embarrassing a thing to do, the actual humiliating steps of it, if there is intimacy with another human being involved. But to make people watch from the outside was satisfying, to flaunt being lonely and dyi ng on purpose. They could do nothing but watch. They were powerless. Pure spectators. I was the one killing myself, I knew what I was doing, and they could only witness it. The funny thing.
There was a manifesto that I wrote. I showed it to a number of people but no one ever called a hotline on me. It seemed a lot like drowning to me. I joined a band. I read poetry to girls that I thought I could lay. I made an attempt to find new friends, people that didn't know me, and tried to teach them what I was. I put gel in my hair and bought shirts that fit tightly over my stomach. I lost a third of myself until! They had the gall to ask me if I was puking it up.
I walked all night, most nights. I did pushups in my room until my arms wouldn't move. What l never did was throw it up. You can lose it, but it should never come out your mouth. Tho mas Patterson flying "the Schweinfurt Bomb Run" one hundred wings in azure skies " Jay Nebel Hooper D etox 1 had to visit a nameless man in a padded cell to understand again.
Witness a beginning somewhere without stars, an amalgam of blood, piss and shit on his hands, embedded in the square holes of his plastic bracelet, on his flimsy cotton gown, the bees eating away at the insides of his ears, daring him to give it another try, go one more round. He'd gnawed his knuckles down to filament and bone, dragging himself across the floor like some half dead animal, passing out, then blinking, awake and burning beneath a single lightbulb caged in steel.
Technology is not supplemental, in other words. On the contrary, it is natural, or rather, the nature of technology is an existential prerequisite for nature itself. There are no trees, no bushes, no earthworms or hippies. The eyeballs roost on stalks. Consider the case of Right Said Fred.
Ipso facto it is reminiscent of the original Poseidon adventure where a relatively. I I'm too sexy for my shirt, I too sexy for my shirt, I so sexy it hurts. I Yeah on the catwalk, on the catwalk yeah, I I shake my little tush on the catwalk. He does so by getting mad at God. Anything can happen when an ocean liner flips upside-down.
Friendly old ladies can devolve into slobbering alligators. Recall the sixth episode of Star Wars in which The Emperor attempts to electrocute young Skywalker in this fash ion. Any Freud-thing will agree. Prague: Litteraria Pragensia,. She wanted to find one thing that did not remind her-but even men reminded her of women now, and other mammals, birds, reptiles, even fungi, especially fungi, indiscriminately growing in the dark.
Women skulking on the barstools at the Ram's Head Inn; women round-eyed, kerchiefed, sprawled on chairs and benches and stair-steps; women like her, everywhere-faintly shining in the doctor's waiting rooms in Warwick or sprawled, paper-gowned, in doctor's offices all over Rhode Island; these gruff, flickering women with large teeth in waiting rooms, slinging bursting bags to their shoulders, heaving purses, the earth in these handbags, infinitely over-packed, Kleenex emerging like white-sheeted children from the bags, to plug the snotted, sore-stained noses of the thousands.
And now she waited with these slim-shouldered, behemoth or rose-breasted women in lines at the T. Green airport-highheeled, rubber-shoed, sandaled, booted, flip-flopped women, women giving women tickets for flights to leave a country of discomfited bodies, women as drab and certain as death, stamping a passport, holding canes, waving women away, ushering women onto planes, red-suited women who swept down aisles with champagne and orange juice, and on the airplane televisions, there a woman, there an actress, all up and down the plane on each personal screen.
Landing, claiming baggage, boarding the chunnel with Carlo, Sonia watched Parisian women mobbing the platforms around her, a creeping mayhem, women veiled or jeweled; the women blurred her vision, these women with damned, ruinous breasts. Two She was sick of women. She had had it with women. I am so sick, she told him. So tired of it. And Carlo-who had, in his timid hormonal years, thought always of women, women to be wondered over, women to be admired, ignored, or flirted with-Carlo had mellowed. He took her hand. As if to say, See, there might be fungal growths in this chunnel, there might be gum marring the pavement, but we'll hold hands.
I'm sure, he said. They endured this. They came abroad to get away from it all andwhoop! More chaos! In the narrow body of the train, in the chunnel, women lined the aisles. She could feel them looking. She feltYou thinking about it? He dragged his suitcase behind her in the aisle. About what. Can I pull your suitcase? No, she said. No, thank you. They had gotten away, hadn't thought of it in hours, it had not begun to enter her mind no, she was sure it hadn't come to his head either and in the chunnel, roaring through in this train car, hearing these roaring breaths in the dark, still, she had to admit, it was here.
Had followed them even across the ocean, to Paris, all the way from Warwick, Rhode Island; here it was. The woman had a cut near her lower, fatter lip. They were underwater. They flew through the wetness, then thrust out from the chunnel, leaving the narrow walls for the daylight. It's like being born! Carlo said. It's the opposite of birth. Noise into quiet, she said. It's dying. Don't be morbid. It's dark into light. C'esc Ia vie! Remember, I don't know FrNous sommes ici maintenant, she said. They passed a billboard. A woman on a pink horse. Cadeaux imaginaires! Women, cold pink-skinned wounds, raw-bodied, sold chestnuts.
Women in puffed hoods, mittened, put nuts on a grill. They sold hot nuts to tourists. What are you thinking? The gulls, she said. She pointed to a statue of gulls. They're grey from rain, she said. But gold where they touch. That's all, she said. She laughed louder than she had meant to. They ate chocolate banana crepes in the street.
She licked grease from her elbow. Tout le monde ne vois pas! A woman said to another, pointing to the alligator insignia on her sweater. Small alligators, she felt, unseen, lay in the murk of this woman with bangs and a sweater off her shoulder. She felt like an ancient creature, knowing how much goes unnoticed, how much fungi creeps into a woman undetected and grows, devours, deep in a chest, bungling in there for a woman to sense, a woman, all the world unseeing, everyone.
The crepe hurt, in her gut. FOUR They walked to La Momma, a dim restaurant with velvet chair padding, ouvert tousles jours, they saw, throbbing with strollers and babies, ripe, plump, healthy, cooing babies who, she felt, would be speaking a first French word, which would sound to her infinitely more intelligent than the first word of any American baby, whose first words were crass. Her son Nick's first word had been Rock. He had pointed at the sky and said, Rock. Carlo had said Nicky was describing how his crib mattress felt.
Or how his mother's breast felt to his lips. Carlo had thought himself a comedian. She had laughed. So it's called 'La Momma," she said. Is she open? Tous les jours. N ick was staying with a friend in Warwick, going to high school. He was bearing things well, she thought. But it was hard to tell what he felt for his mother now. Une roche, Nicky would have said as a French infant, Une roche, Maman. And that would be beautiful, although suggesting something just as hard behind the words. She would say it of her life.
Une roche, the life that appeared inside of adults and grew. They waited for a waitress. Let's prepare to speak French, he said. D'accord, she said. How do you say 'I don't know'? You say it quickly: ]e sais pas. The waitress came to the table. She was lost. An appetizer? C'est vegeterienne? The waitress laughed, Oui. Du champagne?
Oui, she said. She pointed at the menu, to the day's special. Et notre diner, ici. The waitress brought back two champagnes. They sat. They drank. The waitress brought two plates of food. Carlo asked. I think I ordered beef for us, but asked if the champagne was vegetarian. He stabbed his meat. She shrugged. To have what you don't want, to ask meaningless questions.
C'est Ia vie. He raised his brows and chewed. She did not, in fact, know the language well. She'd taken courses in early college. Merci, she told the waitress. She wanted mercy from these women, was no longer child-bearing, had a teenaged son who read comic books as if they were scripture, who withdrew, rock-like, to sit in his room, each evening, silent and unmoving, his hand on a computer mouse.
Mercy from these women, her waitress and others. Having to see these women, everywhere, even in this country-gallivanting and criticizing, dressing alike and differently, their bodies ripening, ready to carry new fruit. Bad fruit. I'm hot, she told him. She sweated. They were at the top of the Eiffel Tower. It was pm. We're 9, kilometers from Hanoi, she said. Carlo looked at the city in miniature. It could have been any city. Small salesmen sold tiny replicas of the tower down there. We're kilometers from London, she said.
Carlo ran his wrist along the railing and leaned over, peering down at the tiny city. We're 5, kilometers from New York City. I can read the sign too, he said.
He eyed a woman in a brown fur coat. Sonia flexed her back. That means we're probably about 6, kilometers from Nick. He'd want it that way, Carlo said. He's fourteen. We're always about that far. But women. They were always close but far, understanding but not. The brown-furred woman covered her mouth and nose with a blue scarf.
Mercifu l women, looking not at her but out of the Eiffel Tower, and women below stood looking up, the tops of their heads like odd malignant growths, all taken together to make a disease-. At Notre Dame Cathedral she lit a candle. Cloaked women knelt in prayer. Another woman lit a candle. She gave one euro rather than the encouraged ten. That was what her wish was worth: a euro.
She set her own candle on the lowest part of the holder, farthest from the cluster. She quarantined it. Other candles stood together in kind comfortable packs. She wished for it to be fine. These shapely candles melted into themselves, sensuously coiling, each drip of wax curling over, ornamenting white candles, gold where the fire was, wicks sharp and perfect in her vision, somehow, perfunctory bearers of light and decay.
She lit one candle and another. She ignored Carlo. There were many-hundreds, in little clusters-that people had set here, which had gone out when they still had enough wax to burn more. She walked around relighting these. Outside women mobbed the buses. Outside there was the staunch Eiffel Tower no one saw or noticed. A woman was draped in a straw-woven chair at the back of Notre Dame cathedral, twitching in her sleep.
She had tucked her head into the puffed breast of a green down jacket. Her legs moved in staccato. She had grey wire hair and glasses on a string. Her face was hidden in her coat. Her vision dangled, haphazardly, toward the ground. Carlo was somewhere else in the cathedral. She could make h im out, past the seats, behind several tour groups, taking a photograph for a husband and wife. The couple posed; the wife pretending to be awed by the ceiling. The wife stood with her mouth open. She might really have been astounded.
It was doubtful. Carlo took a second picture. The woman shifted positions immediately after, her smile vanishing. Carlo handed her the camera.