Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"no less than the trees and stars"

In a letter that Aurelia Plath wrote to her daughter while Sylvia was studying in England, she wrote, "Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here"(215).

Plath speaks of the immense peace this brought her in a time of serious loneliness, wavering transition, and a desperation for a life she was not able to make for herself. She was desperate to be married, to have children, AND to write.

"I would like a life of conflict, of balancing children, sonnets, love and dirty dishes; and banging banging an affirmation of life out on pianos and ski slopes and in bed in bed in bed" (225).

I go through phases with Plath's journals, and I see no end to it anytime soon. Since the book is almost 1000 pages, I am anticipating this piece accompanying me into 2009 in an on-again, off-again relational nature. I am in an on-again phase, and find her journals her BEST writing - above all the poetry, above all the fiction. This is just achingly ironic; as we see her struggling at best with her writing career, here she is unknowingly writing her best work. This gives me hope in the craft and in life in general - what we leave behind is so often not the fabrication of who we think we should be, but rather the actualization of who we were.

May I bore you terribly with the fascinating tidbits of my recent readings? I am much obliged.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Plath's personality is the constant dual nature of her introversion; and like a true introvert, desperately needed to recharge and rethink her life in isolation. Unfortunately, also like a true introvert, she didn't understand why she still needed people, constantly talking herself out of needing and accepting social interaction but always feeling much elated after encounters with people.

"I want to be alone, and yet there are times when the liquid eye and the cognizant grin of a small monkey would send me into a crying fit of brotherly love" (184). She reiterates this sentiment again later..."always teetering on the edge of wanting complete solitude for work and reading, and, so much, so much, the gestures of hands and words of other human beings" (210). I can SO relate to this catch and release - this "leave me alone," and "don't forget about me" duality.

She was taking a long walk one night, and desperately wanted to feel nature in her usual poetic way. Here she describes what her pain has done to her,"I felt shut in, imprisoned, aware that it was fine and shudderingly beautiful, but too gone with pain and aching to respond and become part of it" (208). I felt this so acutely about fall and feel a rather significant loss that during the most colorful part of my year, I am incapable of enjoying it as I usually can. Though I still look, I find I must reach deeply into myself, soul and spirit, to find the eyes to truly see and take in the beauty around me.

Later, however...she talks about the other side of decay - the life..."But in the midst of this terrible sorrow, this sickness, this weariness, this fear, I spin still: there is still the blessing of the natural world and those simply loved ones and all to read and see" (227). I can also relate to this - despite the fatigue of sadness, the weariness of transition, I feel the blessings of those I hold most dear - and despite the forcing my naturally cynical self to see it as such, I still delight in small pleasures (the scalding hot bath water, a beautiful mug, cream-cheese frosting, the smell of fall leaves in my wine, the sound of joel breathing in slumber next to me as i read). I feel it is SO necessary to list our pleasures, blessings, the bright delights of the day; and despite this exercise, I think it's just so evil and cute of myself to always have a list of shadows a mile long and a list of blessings 5 points long.

"I have such a damned puritanical conscience that it flays me like brains when I feel I've done wrong or haven't demanded enough of myself" (215). Haven't demanded enough of myself. I have always been a very busy person - much too busy. I have taken serious measures to correct this in my lifestyle, and now I am left with sheer mind-numbing boredom. I think, in the end, once I can extract this productivity demon from my being...which I must do because it's how I measure my worth (what an unjust way to measure a life!), it will be better for me to learn to live within a simple, quiet life (even if that means boredom) than to be harried, stressed, overly-tasked, and not skilled at any one thing because i multi-tasked my way through EVERYTHING. All of this to say, though I am deliberately attempting to NOT "demand too much of myself," I am not naturally inclined this way and am terribly out of practice at it.

Other quotes of sharp beauty and poignant resonance:

"There, there, mad sister" (192).
"Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously near to wanting nothing" (193).

"It is Saturday night, turning as I write into Sunday morning. The dark world balances and tips and already I can feel the dawn coming up under me" (194).

sylvia gets around

And, per usual, I have a list of words to define:

  1. tacit: understood without being openly expressed; implied
  2. effete: lacking in wholesome vigor; degenerate; decadent
  3. gyre: a ring or circle
  4. aspersions: the act of defaming, disparaging, slandering
  5. progeny: a descendant or offspring
  6. presage: something that portends or foreshadows a future event; an omen, prognostic, or warning indication
  7. aslant: slanting
  8. tautological: needless repetition of an idea
  9. jettison:to throw off (something) as an obstacle or burden; discard
  10. scudding: to run or move quickly or hurriedly
  11. lares and penates: the spirits who, if propitiated, watched over the house or community to which they belonged.
  12. intransigent: refusing to agree or compromise; uncompromising; inflexible

I hope to spend some time thinking of blessings today - even if I have to force it.
I hope today holds the perfect balance of shadow and light for you...and that you can spend it aware and appreciative of both.
I for one, can't wait to read more.

~mme. bookling


she said...

"I feel it is SO necessary to list our pleasures, blessings, the bright delights of the day..."

it IS ironic, as i read your journals about sylvia plath's journals...well, this to me is often YOUR best writing. i love that you're the kind of person to appreciate and be inspired by another instead of being hard on yourself in comparison to brilliance like sp's. i think this is the best reaction, and the most productive one, in the long run. it inspires ME to be inspired as i begin my own journey (prompted by your insistent appreciation) with these same journals.

already her words and unique way of expressing herself cut through me...and it's all emphasized by my knowledge that you've read these words before me, have gasped and closed the volume in tears, unable to read any more and simultaneously hating to put it down.

ah. so many things. please keep reading and writing about your reading. it's one of my favorite things.

mme. bookling said...

Oh SOOO the encouragement I love from you. Thank you for continually clearing my flight path and then lighting my jet-fueled engines with your art; your words.

Benjamin said...

Do you feel that writers generally leave themselves out of their writing, or better put try to leave themselves out? Thanks for the nancy-fancy dancing on the words of one beautiful soul.