... things I don't want to forget.
“Quite Early One Morning”, from Dylan Thomas, reads more like a prose poem than a short story. The narrator meanders through the town, preceding comments on five occasions: “The town was not yet awake…” I feel the rhythm in these words. There is a haunting sense of isolation as the narrator conveys his observations of his aloneness, “And I walked in a timeless morning … almost expecting that an ancient man with a great beard and an hour-glass and scythe under his night-dressed arm might lean from the window and ask me the time.” Challenged by this specter of death, the narrator imagines him shouting,”…come out, old chicken, and stir up the winter morning with your spoon of a scythe.” Shortly, first one chimney-smoke and then another signals the town coming awake.
I suppose this note has something to do with my wondering about my future, where have I been, where am I going?
Here is a note from Migrations to Solitude, by Sue Halpren, from “Wild Ducks, People, and Distances”. This explores wistfulness experienced by people who yearn for a time of small town closeness, swallowed by megalopolis. There is a yearning for a day when, “Cookies arrive on the doorstep of the sick, and prayers are said, and the postmaster inquires after your absent husband.”
It is probably true that human sentiment and connectedness is more difficult to achieve in the big City. Yet, such feeling and doing is more about an interior life, not geography.
One of the scourges of our time is homelessness. “New Heaven and Earth” is the title of Halpren’s essay on the homeless. During the sub-zero temperatures in Boston, I remember an evening news TV film showing workers trying to urge a man, huddled in a doorway to go with them to a shelter. After several minutes, the man left the doorway with the workers. One of the characters, Petey, in the Halpren essay says, “The shelter is death!” It is better to freeze alone in a doorway than the exposure to intimacy. Privacy means individualism and respect for boundaries.
Homeless seems to mean a need for disconnection. “The shelter is death!” is the fright of being confronted with the prospect of engagement. Homeless is to be empty of home and of an interior of self.
The essay I have been thumbing through this morning is, “The Place of the Solitaries”. Halpren begins by describing a journey to visit hermits but adds, “Actually, this is not how to get here at all. They asked me not to tell.” This is from Ned and Mae, about age seventy. “They are solitaries together, but solitaries nonetheless. They live deep in a forest in a house of their own
construction. They are self-sufficient. They prefer not to know you.” Ned and Mae have lived in the woods for forty years. “Hermits are wedded to their life in the woods. It’s a marriage that’s not about what they don’t have (central heat, news papers, ice cream) but what they do (buffleheads on their pond,) and it’s not about what they have given up (children, light bulbs), but how to use what they have [and] to make what they need.” “Forty years in the woods earning a life, not a living.” Mae says, “…a lot of people, I think, wished they would have done it.”
These words leave me with a chill. I cannot even begin to imagine such isolation. Even before any formal training, I have come to realize, I have always been interested in persons. This, no doubt, has sustained me through a professional life that I now am working at fashioning into writing and painting. I am beginning to understand how the idea of “Migrations to Solitude” captured my attention.
Another library selection, One Hundred Years Best Essays, has a delicious essay by Robert Frost about writing poetry. This is a 1939 essay entitled, “The Figure A Poem Makes.” It is an essay about writing poems that could well apply to other forms of writing. Here are a few of Frost’s lines: “It should be the pleasure of a poem itself to tell how it can. The figure a poem makes. It begins in light and ends in wisdom. The figure is the same for love.” At the end of this brief yet
powerful essay, Frost says, “Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.”
These brilliant lines captivate me. I have felt for many years that sunshine radiates from inside out, not the other way around. The last line also reminds me of “gesture” as applied to drawing and painting. Gesture is something that an artist allows to happen by making a spontaneous movement without knowledge of its purpose beforehand. This is a lovely idea for writers as they might sit frozen before a computer or writing pad.
The title of Halpern’s essay is “Secret Beach.” It explores when to tell and when not to. The subject is a single letter as the means of highlighting the idea of secrecy. S. is a writer dying of AIDS who chooses not disclose his imminent death. Halpern writes, “We sat in the living room, two old friends talking. S. was dying but didn’t mention it. Looking back, I think he didn’t mention it for his own sake, not mine, so he could have afternoons like that, easy and sweet. Before this, I understood that sometimes there is courage-optimistic, humorous, brave-in silence, as well.”
Tough guys don’t talk, some say. This is what it means to be manly. Others say that self-disclosure is essential for awareness and for healing. I sometimes have a strong sense with another; baring one’s breast would release a powerful burden. I think I’ve learned, though, a need for such unburdening should originate from the other. I must not pursue. Ironically, such a posture often allows another to self-disclose.
These are a few notes that I have made and my comments. I have a habit of recording such writings that give me a chance to say what I think about them. I suppose this is the means of containing my thought.
August 1, 2008