Tag Archives: memory

A Longer Narrative Poem–“The Traitor (A True Story, for Della and Tom)”

This is a poem which is mainly factual, within the limits most of us can assign to our own self-awareness and self-knowledge.  It’s about a time in my life when I was fairly naïve and unknowing, and I’ve written it for two friends of mine who were, I think, concerned when they read another poem I’d written and wondered if it were true.  This one is.

The Traitor
(A True Story, for Della and Tom)

I can remember what was once the new grade school
From when I, too, was new;
I remember the high, tall trees behind it,
No good for climbing, because the branches
Were so far up from the ground,
Like a prince's cleared forest,
And no underbrush.
There was picking up acorns to put in piles,
One acorn I recall,
And wondering if I should take a bite
As I had seen the squirrels do.
And then the teachers shushing us to the hallway again,
In a line,
And we filing back into the long, low, brick building.
Now there are times
When I think of being one of many,
Mostly the same to others looking in from outside,
Our biggest difference who was rowdy, who was quiet.
I was quiet, except that I talked in class
To others, whispering, getting caught,
But having no close friends
Until a few years had elapsed.
A test divided us into two different groups,
One "more gifted," one "less gifted,"
To make two sections of each grade
From one to six,
And I furrowed my brow over the test
And was deemed more gifted,
While some happier-go-lucky souls,
Probably just as quick,
Were destined for the "slow" group.
The second year,
We were supposed to be grateful
Because the big trees had been cleared away
To make the boys a basketball court
And the girls a volleyball court,
Although I still preferred the round games
And ring games we girls played
Down in the dell below where the trees had been;
There was at least still grass down there.
For that, "I was going to Kentucky, I was going
  to the fair,
I met a señorita with sparkles in her hair--"
And "Round, round, round she goes--"
Third year, fourth year, fifth year,
We grew and grew,
And for one year, at least I had a little
  double chin,
Which promptly disappeared the next,
Due to parental diligence.
Sometimes, there was occasion
To get punished:
Being paddled in front of the class.
In those times, it was allowed
Just for laughing at a teacher's
  quavery voice when she sang with us,
For unkindness used to merit
Strict measures.
And then, getting taken
To the principal's office
For not doing a homework assignment,
"Because if you don't do it,
And you're a good student,
What will the other students think?"
Helping keep up the side for the teachers,
Clearly, was an important matter.
Or, maybe, being stood out in the hall
Outside the classroom
For using the word "lackadaisical"
In a poem, a word the teacher didn't know,
And which he suspected therefore
Must be copied from somewhere,
Stuck out in the hall for when the principal,
Who often strolled by on his rounds,
Would come by and demand an explanation.
No fodder that time for punishment, however,
Since despite suspicion, I was able to give
A dictionary definition.  I knew they thought
I was a smart ass, and normally I cared.
All of these small adventures,
And having my mother hear me recite
Required memorizations at night,
And doing previously forgotten projects
With her help at the last minute,
Getting frustrated because
She made me come up with the answers
  myself,
All lead up to the year
Dad got sick, the fifth grade continuing to
  the sixth;
And there was the slight accident
With me in the car and his blind spot
In the forefront of the matter,
For then he was allowed to drive
No more.
It was, as I recall, in the middle
Of a Saturday afternoon, maybe,
Or early before dinner on a weeknight,
Or maybe even some midmorning when
  she had taken a break
That my mother called me into the basement
And said, "I think Daddy's going to die.
But don't tell your brother; he's too little
To understand."
I didn't understand either,
Though "cancer" was a word I'd heard often
  enough,
And "brain tumor" sounded lethal too,
Since I had been taught so early
To respect my brain and all its works and days.
There were no tears,
And "separation anxiety" wasn't a thing
I would've known about either,
Because it was a term from later on,
A thing people discuss now.
I think I felt a blank, no anxiety,
And the blank continued to function.
Not denial, really,
But just a space
Where other things might have been.
I even think I stopped loving him then, sometimes,
And was callous sometimes, in the way of children,
Angry at him, perhaps,
Dissatisfied that now I had to be one of those
Who were different.
There was a day before the end
When someone, perhaps him without permission,
Took me out to the lake where we had a lot,
And he and I walked in the woods,
Which I know now to him meant peace.
And looking for signs and symptoms,
I noticed not his sudden slenderness as we walked,
His wan face and occasional stumble,
But his arm, where the veins stood so prominently.
Whether it was vicious of me to say, I know not,
But I touched his arm and asked,
"What's wrong with your arm, Dad?"
He just looked at it, then at me, and said,
"Nothing, I don't guess."
Maybe that was a child's way
Of asking after his health,
Or maybe it was a way of acknowledging things
  better not spoken of out loud,
Or maybe he felt glad to be able to deny
Any culpability or wrongdoing
On the part of that limb.
I fought with myself at the funeral,
But after, I had no tears,
To my mother's fear and upset,
So one night in the kitchen,
Only female relatives sitting around
In a circle,
I was gently ambushed,
Forced to cry by overdone sympathetic
  gestures and words,
And then I think they were satisfied,
And left me to myself.
For the years afterwards,
There was the hardening of my heart
In adolescence,
A necessary thing, by some accounts
Of experts we read now,
But it was the end of childhood
True and proper
At my mother's frustrated words,
"Honey, you can cry,
He's your father!"
Refusing
To sanction the traitor who had left us,
My heart at almost twelve retorted,
"No, he's not!  Not anymore!"
And as with that of others,
Life went on.

©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2/18/17

Shadowoperator

3 Comments

Filed under Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?

A Memorial Poem–“To a Friend, On the Death of a Brother”

This is a tribute poem for a friend of mine, who recently lost a brother.

To a Friend, On the Death of a Brother

Pebbles and shells
On the beach
Beneath the feet
Of some boys,
Just some boys,
Chilly, perhaps, the day,
Accounting for their hoverings
Near the rocks
With their toes dug into the sand.
And then one day
Caught in the web of time
One dead, the other two mourning,
Loss of young life even at sixty
Or so.
Time with its merciless strings
Of stuff
First holding us in place
To develop,
Next supporting us
As we grasp purchase
Slow step by slow step,
Finally frustrating our attempts
To fly free and be bold,
Like the spirits we once were
And are soon to be again,
A part of the air,
A grace,
And all we know is that once
It seemed our sempiturnal friend,
The web,
As if having flown into it
By the accident of birth,
We might negotiate our circumstances.
Our minds themselves
Have hovered in the mist
Of coincidence bedewing it,
And how we are,
Who and why we are,
Have all been part of our self-portrait
Starting with ourselves,
A dawn picture,
And then beach and city scenes,
And forests and days and evenings
All shared,
Or sometimes endured alone,
Or perhaps even humming
Along the sticky wire
Which holds us in suspense
AS to what the next step
Must be.
And yet, we knew all along
It must come to this,
But hoped
For more daylight,
One more sunset,
One more moonlit night
To sing for each other
Our song of enchantment
And entrapment,
And being together still.
For you, dear friend,
I wish no narrowing of the way,
Feet held down by inanition,
But a broad stroke
Of the hovering fate
Like to one of the boys
Cutting a swathe impatiently
Through the web
That's in his way,
At your own time
Stepping forth to follow
The one gone before,
In joy and gladness
At some remembered afternoon
In the sand, casting stones,
And yelling blithely at others
To hold up for you,
As you are sure and strong,
And they cannot outrun you,
All being free.

©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2/3/17

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?

A new copyrighted poem for this site, “A Moment’s Rest on Old Laurels”

Dear Fellow Posters and Bloggers,

It’s been so very long since I posted regularly, and I’ve also been reading more irregularly, but now that the New Year is here, I’m hoping to improve my record and get back to doing one of the things I love best, which is interacting with those of you who write in (very much appreciated) and also enjoying the sight of how many people the world over have been here over the last few years, and have done me the honor of reading.  They are always welcome to comment too.

I’m breaking new ground in a sense, because I haven’t regularly written poetry for about seven years now, and I am trying to get back to it.  This is a brand-new poem, just written today, and edited and re-edited a few times.  It’s got a few staggered rhythms, and a sort of “where are the horse and rider?” gist to it in parts, and I know better (have been taught better, that is) than to post a work which is not as “cold” as death and calmly viewed and reviewed for a long time first.  But I’m hoping that you’ll like it anyway, and may find something in it.

“A Moment’s Rest on Old Laurels”

True emptiness
Is not a Buddhist virtue;
And then, real silence,
Almost never heard.
Big darkness resides closely:
Daylight's second self,
True heartbreak, too,
Requires not a word.

All find one day a night too close, too feeble
To breathe in first and then, at last, breathe out.
Sometimes there's nothing to be said about it,
Sometimes, there's only just a labored shout.

To show true colors often takes great courage,
Or maybe great knavery,
Shining and shameless and wry.
Decisions are often merely taken in passing
Or oftener still, are timely well put by,
Or oftener still, are timely well put by.

Where is the proving ground,
Where is the halter
That leads the horse
To champs where he feeds?
How was he able to breast 
Through the battle
In elder days of his rider's need?

Tell me, oh tell me,
Oh wise ones before me,
How can I counter the lame and the halt
When they say to me surely
As I go on two legs,
My false steps
That felled me
Were my own damn fault?

And God in Her Heaven
If such One there be,
Choose wisely between
The opponent and me,
To seat us securely
Each safe in each part,
Where neither wage war
Or defraud counterpart.

For surely there is
In the universe wide
Somewhere that broad ocean,
That unfathomable tide,
Which carries all over
To mysterious shores
And poems and diatribes
Matter no more.

For now, I am hampered
By meter and rhyme,
And so pass my small way,
Relinquish my time;
Remembering, day was
When I too ran fast,
And good fortune smiled on me,
Victor at last.

©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 1/5/17

That’s all, for the time being.  It’s old-fashioned in parts concerning some concepts and of course it rhymes, but sometimes a good jog-along will keep you warm when it’s cold outside, even if the sense is partially morose-sounding.  Have a great first week of the New Year, and if you’re where it’s cold, wrap up (if you’re where it’s warm, remember, your turn will come, if not for cold, then for rain.  These days, we all have so many calamities in world weather that we need to be mindful of each other.  Ta! for now).

7 Comments

Filed under Full of literary ambitions!, What is literature for?

“Sleepless Nights”–or, Getting My Insomnia Steaze on with Elizabeth Hardwick

I know that I certainly owe my readers an apology:  I have been away from the posting box for several weeks now, and during that time, occasional checks have shown me that my readers are a great deal more faithful than I am.  Readers from all over the world have been reading or possibly re-reading all my posts thus far, while I have been doing other things that called me away from the computer

What have I been doing, you ask?  Or possibly you’ve lost interest by now–let’s hope not, though.  I have been busy starting to get handmade gifts ready for Christmas in a few months.  And, I have been up early and late when I would have preferred to have been getting a good night’s sleep, many a night.  I am either sleepless thinking of all I have to get done, and have been wakeful in the wee hours (and finally, I usually give up and get up to start my day), or I’m up late at night, finishing up some aspect of one of my projects.  Sometimes, I have actually been up all night in my eagerness to get work done.  Little by little, I have been aware of how much more people could get done if only they didn’t sleep.  But finally, last night, my hectic schedule caught up with me:  I was so sleepy that all I could do was eat, read the very last of a book which has supplied me with a few moments here and there of literary pleasure during my work, and go off to sleep.

The book?  Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless NIghts.  How appropriate, I hear you say!  Yet, I have preferences in general for books which are not all about style and issues of style, whether of writing or of life.  But I had simply chosen this book off the shelf at random out of the sort of idle curiosity which has led to some of my most favorite literary adventures, so I persisted with it.  Though accordingly it’s not really my type of book, it was perfect for the episodic and halting manner in which I had time to read it.

The book begins by announcing an apparent scenario, topic, and theme, which I give here in brief:  “How nice it is–[this crocheted bedspread,] this production of a broken old woman in a squalid nursing home.  The niceness and the squalor and sorrow in an apathetic battle–that is what I see.  More beautiful is the table with the telephone, the books and magazines, the Times at the door, the birdsong of rough, grinding trucks in the street….If only one knew what to remember or pretend to remember.  Make a decision and what you want from the lost things will present itself.”  From that point onward, however, one gets lost in a kaleidoscopic shifting back and forth from one place and time to the next, from a girlhood (based on Hardwick’s own) in Kentucky, to homes in New York, Maine, Connecticut, to many life stories not her own, for example of some of the cleaning ladies and laundresses she has known.  These are all short sketches, then the topic is switched to someone else, some other locale.  Perfect to me for reading from moment to moment, a few pages one night, a few pages the next!

There are literary riffs played on the life and times of Billie Holiday, detailing her behind-the-scenes experiences as viewed by a close outsider, close in proximity if not in emotional terms.  Yet, it is hard to tell just how much of the meandering and rather plotless narrative (one cannot reallly call it a story) is actual fact and how much is made up.  Hardwick mentions at one points that her mother criticized her for making up some things which weren’t true and putting them amongst things which were, and if one were out to get either a purely fictional story or essay or conversely a memoir, then the demand to separate fact from fiction might be apt.

However, this book is a book about getting one’s insomnia steaze on, about all the ideas, notions, pictures of the past and speculations about the present and future which occur to one when one is wakeful, and if one accepts the book on those terms, then one will be more than satisfied.  Yet, it is not, curiously, the author’s own insomnia which gets main mention, first mention, or even predominant mention in this book.  She tells about Louisa, for example, an acquaintance who actually suffers from insomnia, and says:  “After a dreamy day, Louisa went into her nights.  Always she insisted they were full of agitation, restlessness, torment.  She was forever like one watched over by wakefulness in her deepest sleep.  She awoke with a tremor in her hands, declaring the pains, the indescribable, absorbing drama of sleeplessness.  The tossing, the racing, the battles; the captures and escapes hidden behind her shaking eyelids.  No one was more skillful than she in the confessions of an insomniac.  These were redundant but stirring epics, profoundly felt and there to be pressed upon each morning, in the way one presses a bruiise to experience over and over the pain of it….Her hypnotic narration is like that of some folk poet, steeped, as they say, ‘in the oral tradition.’  Finally, it goes, sleep came over me…At last…It was drawing near to four o’clock.  The first color was in the sky…Only to wake up suddenly, completely….Unsavory egotism?  No, mere hope of definition, description, documentation.  The chart of life must be brought up to date every morning:  Patient slept fitfully, complained of the stitches in the incision.  Alarming persistence of the very symptoms for which the operation was performed.  Perhaps it is only the classical aching of the stump.”  Thus, insomnia is compared poetically to a sort of illness or medical condition for which one requires surgery, and which must be kept track of by someone to assure the patient’s health and well-being.

Romances of the author’s fictional self are sketched out (for one must remember that none of this book actually purports to be a memoir, while it prefers to blur the lines and distinctions between fact and fiction).  There are also portraits of romances and life histories in miniature of other sets of lovers of whom the author knew, or with whom she was acquainted, not necessarily anyone as famous as Billie Holiday, but people who form part of the landscape of the author’s mind.  In short, these are all the topics and scenarios about which a fictionalized version of the author has thought in the small hours, and the connection amongst them is maintained by the style of masterful reminiscence of a long life, though without the sort of condescension to “elderly” memories that one might see as a danger to be avoided in this style of writing.

Thus, it seems that it can truly be said, in the “Urban Dictionary” slang of our own time, that Elizabeth Hardwick is in this work showing her “steaze” ( I am told this word means, among other things, “styling with ease,” making it an appropriate if anachronistic accolade for such a writer).  It’s not essentially my kind of work, since I prefer to be reading a consistent or at least a less episodic story line.  Still, it kept me reading from night to night as I got my own insomnia steaze on, and a good literary companion is not to be cast down upon.  I would recommend this book for its sense of control of a difficult and querulous subject, a subject as difficult and querulous as an insomniac herself.  And who knows, you might come greatly to admire a writer who can seem to meander and wool-gather without once losing track of her readers’ interest and willingness to go along in an exploration of the places and times and acquaintances of a single, remarkable, if fictionalized, life.

7 Comments

Filed under A prose flourish, Articles/reviews

Julia Alvarez’s “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents”–another perspective on the revolution from “The Farming of Bones”

Some time back, I wrote a post on Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones with the subtitle “There is no such thing as a small massacre.”  Julia Alvarez’s book How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents is another perspective on the same political situation in the Dominican Republic/Haiti island; it is told not from the viewpoint of the countless number of Haitians who suffered in the massacre which came about at Trujillo’s command, but from the supposedly advantaged perspective of some rich Dominicans who, because of political sympathies which were in line with those of the Haitians, were also deprived of their homes and livelihoods, though the characters in this book in particular were lucky enough to escape without losing their lives or suffering imprisonment.  Instead, they went to the United States as immigrants, and were able to re-establish themselves there.  This advantage also had attendant disadvantages, however, which is part of the unspooling tale Julia Alvarez unwinds, from the beginning present tense in the novel, when thirty-nine-year old Yolanda (known as Yoyo to her friends and family), the third child in the family of four children, revisits her roots.  The tale then moves on from section through section to the family’s past.

Alvarez has cleverly and significantly timed the tale so that she paints the picture not only of small revolutions going on in the family itself (such as when the four daughters, Carla, Sandi, Yoyo, and Fifi, rebel against their Mami and Papi during the sixties and seventies by becoming “offensively” American in their ways of thinking and behaving, and act much as other rebelling youths did during that time period), but she has also slotted the backward-developing story into the space of time such that it is during the girls’ late pre-adolescent period, just before they go to America, that they become aware that their Papi is a Dominican rebel, wealthy and privileged though he may be (he shares this status and these beliefs with many of the other men of the huge de la Torre clan, too).  This gradual retrospective story method allows for the girls’ own innocence as pampered rich children in the Dominican Republic to emerge also little by little, showing perhaps what some of the original causes of the revolution were, though there is never any overt or heavy-handed preaching of political views or goals.  Papi is just Papi, with his political preferences and his strong love of family.

Beginning with a section describing Yoyo’s present-day visit back to the island from the U. S., the tale is told in consecutive chapters, with each girl’s story told in turn, as a separate kind of “short story” which, however, probably could not stand alone.  The story goes back and forth between them, in third-person narration largely, though Yoyo’s sections predominate in number and length by a bit, and some of hers are in first-person narration.The very end of the novel itself is thus the farthest back in time, when Yoyo, the writer-poet daughter of the family, recalls finding a tiny baby kitten, not knowing what to do with it or how to justify adopting it from its mother before it has been weaned, only in a fit of childish behavior to hurl it from an upstairs window.  The story ends with her remark that often in her adulthood, waking up from her “bad dreams and insomnia,” she sees the mother cat, “wailing over some violation that lies at the center of my art.”  The story is so completely imagined and detailed that I didn’t feel this needed a “spoiler alert,” as in this book one reads for the whole substance and not just for the “whodunit” or final outcome, moving and well-imagined as it is.

To “lose one’s accent” is shown throughout the book to be a double-edged sword:  it allows one to defend oneself more readily from outright harassment by those of one’s adopted country who are mean or cruel, and even helps ease one’s way through the shoals of well-meaning condescension by more kindly disposed (if ignorant) Americans.  On the other hand, there is a lot more lost with the accent itself as one adapts to a new culture, a whole missing part of oneself which can cut to the quick with its absence.  Altogether, this book is a very meaningful and well-considered picture of both privilege and loss, of both development and possible retrogression, which should be on every library bookshelf and which well repays a thorough read-through.

4 Comments

Filed under A prose flourish, Articles/reviews

“Tomas Takes Charge” and Cinnamon Sticks–A Childhood Memory

Back in the day, when I was in primary school (known otherwise as “grade school”) and was doing lots and lots of reading, I got a book as a gift.  Though I had received many books as gifts, other than “baby books” they were mostly soft cover; this one was my first “collector-grown-up book,” as I thought of it, because it was hard cover and yet still had illustrations to please my youthful taste.  The short novel is called Tomás Takes Charge.  It is by Charlene Joy Talbot, with illustrations by Reisie Lonette.  My twelve-year-old nephew gave me a new copy of the same book for Christmas last year, and though I have to say it has certain drawbacks to my adult taste, I still remember it being one of my first childhood exposures to those growing up in a different culture.  First of all, I came from a small town, and this book is set in the area of Washington Market in NYC.  As well, it is about a young Puerto Rican boy, Tomás Lorca, and his sister Fernanda.  To my adult perceptions, there is something not quite right in the almost stereotypical portrait of their favorite neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Malloy, and also in the fact that all of the people who help them out the most are Anglos.  But to a child, these matters are different, and I didn’t have as keen a view of such things then as I hope to have developed since.  Another part of this bookish memory is of course chewing on cinnamon toothpicks while reading the book, over and over, to such an extent that my tongue often burned and the places where I had marked my page with a cinnamon toothpick reeked of the spice to the extent that it is an indivisible part of the original memory.

The toothpicks were the province of the grade school girls, who, back in the days when grocery stores and pharmacies still sold one-ounce bottles of clear (top-strength) cinnamon oil, would make “cinnamon sticks,” so called because the boxes of toothpicks were soaked in a strong cinnamon oil-water mixture until they absorbed all the moisture, then dried and exchanged for favors and treats from other children at school.  I made my own like most other girls, but I always kept the strongest and most pungent for my private “stash.”  But enough of that:  suffice it to say that cinnamon sticks, so made, were my version of the madeleines made famous in Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust.

In Tomás Takes Charge, Tomás and his slightly older sister, who suffers from agoraphobia, are left alone in their apartment when their father, their only living relative, is suddenly and unpredictably absent.  Mr. and Mrs. Malloy attempt to make sure that the two youngsters go to their “godmother’s,” a concocted story which Tomás produces in his fear of being sent to Welfare, but Tomás’s ingenuity is too much for the older couple.  He finds a way of housing himself and his sister in an abandoned top-floor apartment a few streets away.  The rest of the novel is largely taken up with showing the many and various ways that Tomás employs to feed them and keep them clothed and happy, even to the extent of finding an old discarded portrait of George Washington and a map of the United States to hang on the walls.  Though his sister is abnormally afraid to go outside, she coaxes a mother cat and kitten into their hideaway to help keep away rats, and she does the cooking and cleaning, leaving Tomás to play the conventional “man’s” role.  Tomás accidentally trespasses on an artist’s loft apartment, where he meets Barbara Ransome, who by his very luck happens to be a children’s book illustrator in need of a model.  This gives Tomás even more money to contribute to his little household, and all in all things seem set to prosper.  Nevertheless, the summer is drawing to a close, and Tomás and Fernanda are uncomfortably aware that they have no heat in their hiding spot; and then Tomás takes a tumble on the fire escape while crossing the roofs, and sprains his ankle, concerning the illustrator because she is expecting him to come the next day for work and he doesn’t show up.

Luck plays a large part in the children’s fortunes, but as it is a children’s story, this is perhaps appropriate.  On the same day that Barbara Ransome goes out looking for her little male model, having previously believed his tale of living with an aunt, she meets up with the Malloys.  When they compare stories, they feel sure (of course) that Tomás and Fernanda are hiding in an abandoned building somewhere in the area.  They go out to look; at the same time, Fernanda remembers what her brother has told her about Barbara Ransome’s skylight apartment and starts a smoking fire in the grate in theirs, hoping that Barbara will see it and come to their rescue.  Luckily, of course, Barbara’s brother is a psychiatrist, and as a doctor he goes with the firemen who are summoned (because others not connected with the story have seen the smoke as well).  There is just the matter of “setting the record straight” about Welfare, which happens when Tomás speaks with a representative and finds him nothing like the monster he had feared (this too seems like an apologia for the system, given all the abuses in children’s services which have been exposed in recent years, but this book is full of best-case scenarios, so one has to accept it for what it is).  The ending is the best it could be, under the circumstances:  they find out that the reason the children’s father has not returned is that he was killed in a car accident.  That is, he didn’t just desert them.  The Malloys knock down a shared wall between their apartment and the next adjoining empty room in order to make more space, and adopt the waifs.  And that is the basic story line.  I haven’t hesitated to give the full story without a “spoiler alert” because it is a children’s book, one a parent might have an interest in for a child, though as I have remarked, being written in 1966, and carefully slanted toward praising the system while also carefully attempting not to insult immigrant industry, ingenuity, and pride, the book would perhaps need a stream of ad libbing by an adult reader to bring it up to date (and children do get impatient with extraneous material, as I recall from trying to read The Secret Garden to a child a few years back, all the while giving a brief explanation of the British empire and class system).  Whatever may be the case now, when I was in grade school in the 1960’s, the book was progressive for its time and given its intended audience, though not as progressive as most adult liberal literature of the same time span.  And it is part of childhood memory for me, as I set sail upon the waters of fiction to a better understanding of others with different ways than mine.

5 Comments

Filed under Articles/reviews, Literary puzzles and arguments

In Favor of Wool-gathering: A Crocheter’s Meditations Upon Both the Craft and Life

Though I begin by entitling this post “In favor of,” in actual fact it might more accurately be termed “for and against,” or “pro and con” due to the fact that nothing in life is perfect and all things have their down sides.  But beginning that way would lack the literary resonance of “in favor of,” which precedes other essays on life of more worth and importance than my modest effort, so I lay what claims for it I can, to belong to that fellowship.  Also, I am taking poetic license by calling it “wool-gathering,” because while this is a noteworthy pun in the case, in actual fact for a lot of people including me, it’s more like “acrylic-gathering,” since I often work in the less soft and more resilient acrylic yarns which are cheaper and bulkier both.  These caveats aside, I can justifiably refer to myself by the crafter’s jolly appellation “a happy hooker” (a bit of a hokey punning cognomen in use since the madam Xaviera Hollander’s bestseller came out in the 1970’s, a name supposedly adding more dash to crochet’s use of a single hook as opposed to the milder knitter’s pun of “knit-wit” for the use of two needles).

And now to begin, actually.  Crochet, like knitting, is a craft which abounds in opportunities for error, because in order to render even the simplest pattern, one must count stitches, so that I can see it being excellent homeopathic therapy for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Or maybe it would be more accurate to say it is probably a good way to acquire a roaring case of said disorder.  One thing’s for sure, unless one has crocheted a good long while and is only doing a simple single crochet or double crochet pattern (two of the basic stitches), it is nearly impossible to carry on an intelligent conversation or watch an exciting television program at the same time.  Such frivolity of approach brings on dropped stitches (missed stitches) and other unintentional and erroneous embellishments of one’s work.  The down side is that one is often working merrily along on a complicated and repetitive pattern, sure that because the repetition has become second nature that one is “sitting pretty” in one’s rocker or easy chair, so to speak, when suddenly two rows from where one made the original error, one discovers a flaw that necessitates the intervening work being pulled out and reworked, with more humility this time.  Probably the best secondary activity is to listen to music of a non-controversial or balmy nature, which is better than Muzak but doesn’t require singing along while muttering to oneself over and over again “one, two, three, four, five, three stitches in that one, one, two, three, four, five, skip two, one, two, three, four, five, three stitches,” etc.  Even classical music could become too disruptive, especially if it is a stirring piece that one feels compelled to hum or utter “ta-da-da” along with.  Many things in life, occupation-wise, call for tedious and unwavering attention to a specific thing, but crocheters (and knitters too) are among the crafters who most needlessly and relentlessly punish themselves with this form of self-abuse as a hobby.

One is also given a lesson about memory.  For example, try to repeat an afghan or piece of clothing that you have done before, and without a written set of instructions with exact stitches recorded (and books of patterns are surprisingly expensive for what they are), you are doomed to hours of frustration.  I have recently learned even more about the faults of memory, the necessity for patience, and the occasional failings of expert advice.  Taking down an afghan that I wanted to repeat but no longer have a pattern for, I looked at the pattern intently and tried to remember just what I’d done.  But memory could only take me so far:  I kept making things that just didn’t resemble what I was looking at.  So, I had to keep trying (patience, jackass, patience).  Then, to my great joy and regret (joy because I found a store pattern which was like part of what I was trying to accomplish, regret that I had to pay so much for it), I noticed after putting in the first row that the pattern writers weren’t perfect either (the limits of experts).  True, they were only a stitch off, but it left me trying to think up clever ways of coming up with the extra needed stitch at the end of the row.  I fudged it, and am proud to say that the gods sometimes aid the diligent and well-intentioned (and sheerly stubborn, or as a British friend of mine used to say, “bloody-minded”–so much more poetic!)

And now, I’m well on my way to accomplishing my goal of figuring out the (as it turns out) quite complicated pattern I once did blithely  in my foolish youth, when success was only a few stitches away, and I had plenty of time and patience, excellent memory and ingenuity.  Creativity, it turns out, can take many forms, and is often made up of these things almost exclusively.  What one realizes with this craft at least is that time is finite, patience and memory often decrease with age, and ingenuity is called upon more frequently to make up for the shortages of the other three.  As one of my favorite refrigerator magnets has it, “Age and guile always overcome youth and skill.”  So now you have it, my completed post.  Last but not least:  this post was inspired by the reflection which visited me this morning that I have obligations willingly incurred to my readers and blogging buddies as well, and it was high time I produced another post.  As to those of you who are waiting for me to respond to their posts, take it as read that i will do so very soon.  Right now, I’m still wool-gathering, and have to finish a bit more in order to be satisfied!

2 Comments

Filed under A prose flourish, Other than literary days....