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15 posts from February 2011

Feb 25, 2011

The Writer’s Life: “Re-reading Sylvia Plath: inside all the distress, there’s wonderful writing, as on February 25, 1952:”

Now read what she wrote that day, and in it you can feel the cold heat that grew and grew inside her;  “Can you see, through the strange dark tunnel of cupped hands to the great Cyclops eye, blurred, staring, flecked, with one lightspot that grows and becomes a cloud, shifting, endowed with meaning, imposed upon it. Can you feel, listening with trained ear to heartbeat of the other, the wind shrieking and gasping and singing, as one listens to the vast humming, inside the paradoxical cylinder of the telephone pole?  Such uncharted, wild barrens there are behind the calm or mischievous shell that has learned its name but not its destiny. There is still time to veer, to sally forth, knapsack on back, for unknown hills over which… only the wind knows what lies. Shall she, shall she veer? There will be time, she says, knowing that in her beginning is her end and the seeds of destruction perhaps now dormant may even today begin sprouting malignantly within her. She turns away from action in one direction, to that in another, knowing all the while that some day she must face behind the door of her choosing, perhaps the lady, perhaps the tiger.”

I’ve sometimes wondered whether that moment might mark the opening of her last long pathway through the world she found so fraught. After many attempts, she finally took her life almost eleven years later by putting her head in a gas oven. And left behind some exquisite if often troubling poems. 


Feb 23, 2011

Re: Joyce, Episode 37. A Touch of Inwit

Stephen's inner voice, a presumption of remorse, and a few words on Ireland's climate.

Feb 22, 2011

The Writer's Life: “Chekhov again: Louis Simpson, a poet truly worth reading, wrote a charming poem about Chekhov.”

No read more – in fact, here’s the poem; I’ve long loved it.


Once, some people were visiting Chekhov.
While they made remarks about his genius
the Master fidgeted. Finally
he said, 'Do you like chocolates?'

They were astonished, and silent.
He repeated the question
whereupon one lady plucked up her courage
and murmured shyly, 'Yes.'

'Tell me,' he said, leaning forward,
light glinting from his spectacles,
'what kind? The light, sweet chocolate
or the dark, bitter kind?'

The conversation became general.
They spoke of cherry centres,
of almonds and Brazil nuts.
Losing their inhibitions they interrupted one another.
For people may not know what they think
about politics in the Balkans,
or the vexed question of men and women, 

but everyone has a definite opinion
about the flavour of shredded coconut.
Finally someone spoke of chocolates filled with liqueur,
and everyone, even the author of Uncle Vanya
was at a loss for words. 

When they were leaving he stood by the door
and took their hands.
In the coach returning to Petersburg
they agreed that it had been a most
unusual conversation.


Feb 20, 2011

The Writer’s Life: “Best book of all time for the aspiring writer/beginner? Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande.”

Thoughtful, kind, encouraging and wise – those are the words by which I characterize Dorothea Brande. Her husband may have been a fascist, but she had a gift of releasing talent in people. Read this, from “Becoming a Writer,” and you’ll see what I mean. 

“Set yourself to discover if you can see any connection between a good morning’s work and the conditions of the evening before. Can you tell whether or not the good writing came after you had spent an active day, or a quiet one? Did you write more easily after going to bed early,  or after a short sleep? Is there any observable connection between seeing certain friends and the vividness or dullness of the next morning’s work? How did you write in the morning after you had been to the theater, to an exhiition of pictures, or to a dance? Notice such things and try to arrange for the type of activity which results in good work. “


Feb 18, 2011

Re: Joyce, Episode 36b. Joyce's Early Life

Literature and lore in Joyce's Dublin.

Feb 16, 2011

The Marriage Proposal Challenge

The Marriage Proposal Challenge aimed to bring out the best, the worst, the weirdest in your romantic souls. It didn't. We had a ton of entries, and some were excellent, but not enough made the cut to have ten prizes, so I'm only awarding seven lots of chocs and signed copies of The Matchmaker of Kenmare, and I'll eat the other three boxes of chocolates myself!

To be serious: I was puzzled by the entries for this Challenge. Expecting fun, I got edge. Expecting profound and lasting passion, I got wistfulness. Expecting mad, heart-savaging recklessness, I got a kind of "perhaps." As the entries came in, we all looked at them, wrinkling our brows. A moment came when I felt that maybe I had struck a wrong note by setting up the Challenge at all, had trod on too-delicate a ground, or else hadn't made myself clear - because entry after entry hung back. The seven winners did go for it – but only somewhat, as you'll see, and I worried further about what had gone wrong. Over all the entries, I pursued a conclusion along these lines.

Proposing marriage is too serious a business to warrant jokes. Asking someone to marry you is too alarming to be weird about. Going down on one knee and meaning 'til death us do part is too deep to treat lightly. I pushed these thoughts and saw the two camps materialize. For the men who, by and large, are the still the ones who pop the question, the implied responsibility becomes massive, and further confused in the moment by the need - and desire - to appear truly romantic. For the women, the anxiety is differently great: Will he, won't he? Will I be alone for ever? And if he does propose, will he screw it up by falling over, sneezing, throwing up or showing up with flowers that I hate and a ring that I loathe?

In short, proposing marriage occupies an anxious place in life, and that's putting it mildly. But your generous efforts (several of you sent in multiple ideas) startled and illuminated me. Thank you all – again – for being such good sports. Next time I'll keep away from matters of the heart - and from joint finances, which also cropped up a lot!

Re: Joyce, Episode 36. Quarts and Florins

In a rare uncomplicated passage, milk is measured, and Frank describes the various types of junkets.

Feb 15, 2011

The Winners!

Winners! Winners! Winners! Chocolates and signed copies of The Matchmaker of Kenmare!! Not ten winners - we chose only seven (see my separate note) and here they are in no particular order, five girls and two boys: Congratulations to you all.

akjames61 Will you take my hand in marriage? You are very welcome to the rest of me too!

ImaylimE Roses are red, violets are blue, I'm awful at poetry, but will you marry me anyway?

lrpresley Marry me, or I'll vote for Palin.

thewritertype What do you say to "for better or for worse"? We both should know better but we both could do worse.

ostawitchestour Play with me, lay with me, forever stay with me; just we two. Bed with me, wed with me, Just like you said we'd be.

rachelforgets My rocketship is built for 2, there's room for me & room for you, please make my starlit dreams come true, Leeloo.

thewritertype You said you wouldn't marry me if I was the last man on earth. But I'm not, so how about it?

The Writer’s Life: “Current reading: “The Right Stuff “by Tom Wolfe. Here’s a stunning sentence: “A career in flying was like…”

“A career in flying was like climbing one of those ancient Babylonian pyramids made up of a dizzying progression of steps and ledges, a ziggurat, a pyramid extraordinarily high and steep; and the idea was to prove at every foot of the way up that pyramid that you were one of the elected and anointed ones who had the right stuff and could move higher and higher and even – ultimately, God willing, one day – that you might be able to join that special few at the very top, that elite who had the capacity to bring tears to men’s eyes, the very Brotherhood of the Right Stuff itself.”

I ask myself how long Mr. Wolfe worked at that sentence, at its structure, its language, its context in the book ,and I say to everyone who wants to write, “Go thou and do likewise.”


Feb 10, 2011

The Writer's Life: From Arthur Schlesinger’s Journals February 1981 - a pithy comment on President Reagan from Dr. Kissinger

“I get along well with Reagan,” he [Dr. K.] said. “I spent an hour and a half with him only a few days ago. He is a nice man, a decent man.  One odd thing, though. When he talks, all his illustrations are drawn from the movie business. He never says, ‘We had a problem like that in Sacramento,’ never brings up his eight years as governor [of California]. It is always, ‘We had a problem like that in the Screen Actor’s Guild’.”