Saturday, April 10, 2010

Adventures this Week

The last time I moved, an abortive attempt to buy a condo in Jamaica Plain, I rid myself of endless books with no real sense of why I kept what I kept. Such as Lying Stones of Marrakech by Gould. I started the first essay in the middle of last night, as I ate watermelon we'd bought earlier after a visit to Ping for the avocado and shrimp sushi.

I would have sworn that I've never read a book about structuring narrative, but my underlining is right there in a book that's on the way out.  I glanced through it and found a quote by Strunk which denotes the profound lessons of my teenage years --  use the clearest language, in the simplest way, to make the strongest statements. My father bought the book since he definitely conveyed those lessons with his economical, but still interesting prose. And I've taken them to heart, somewhere deep inside me, even though I've occasionally longed to clothe my ideas in sparking language, stacking on four adjectives when one, at most, would do, (though I hate to admit that.) I have never, never gone as far as wanting to use language like Updike did.............(I'd like to have black curls, a gold tooth, wear sparkling colors, lots of jewelry and sequins. Oh, yes, and gold tennis shoes!

Years ago, I found a novel on a Marlow case and sent it to a friend in L.A. It arrived back on my doorstep by return mail because she doesn't like graphic novels of this style. Why on earth did I keep it? Gone now.

I can't imagine having read Pasternak's book, "I Remember," when I was twenty. What would I have understood then when I understand so little now, except these marvelous paragraphs in the section called "Three Shadows."

"Ehrenburg spoke to me in high terms of marina Tsvetayeva and showed me her poems. I was present at a literary meeting at the beginning of the Revolution at which she, among other writers, red her verses. During one of the winters of the Civil War I went to see her with some kind of message. I talked about all sorts of unimportant things and listened to all sorts of trivialities in turn. Marina Tsvetayeva made no impression on me.

My ear was at the time perverted by pretentious extravagances and the break from everything natural that were in vogue in those days. Everything spoken in a normal way rebounded from me. I forgot that words by themselves can mean and contain something apart from the cheap toys with which they are strung.

It was just the harmony of Marina Tsvetayeva's, the clarity of their meaning, the presence of find qualities and absence of defects that interfered with and barred the way to my understanding of their true nature. It was not the essential I looked for in everything, but some nicety which had nothing to do with it.

For a long time I underestimaged Marina Tsvetayeva as in different ways I had underestimated Bagritsky, Khlebnikov, Mandelstam, and Gumiyov.

I have already said that among the young people who could not express themselves intellgibly and who raised their tongue-tied babblings into a virtue and tried to be original at all costs, only two, Aseyev and Marina Tsvetayeva, expressed themselves in human language and wrote in a classical style and language.

And suddently both of them renounced their skill. Aseyev was tempted by Khlebnikov's exmaple. Marina Tsvetayeva had undergone some inward changes of her own. But it was the original, the traditional Marina Tsvetayeva who in the end prevailed over me long before she suffered a rebirth."

Of course, I can't truly assess what Pasternak means. Though I thought I had a book of Tsvetayeva's work, I can't find it. Nor can I find Mayakovsky's poems, which I remember liking a great deal (though Pasternak didn't.) And I've read nothing of Pasternak's poetry. So, why was I so happy lying there, rereading this basically incomprehensible book? Probably because he was so hard on his early work, so interestingly dismissive.

Though I hardly had energy (I'm still not voluntarily been on my feet or sitting at a computer for a  whole eight hours a day,) I was determined to buy some pants that fit to wear when I teach on Monday. So we went to Kohl's, an exhausting outing made far more difficult because I find it so hard to eat in the mornings. My stomach is still swollen, but my body is smaller and I hope I found pants that fit. And underwear. By the time I was finished trying things on, I was totally exhausted. 

Luckily C. knew of a food bar in the mall, endless little islands of different foods. Though I'd like to eat all organic food, there are moments when that's not possible and this was one. I was so grateful for the little pieces of sole which I combined with pickled beets and a tiny bit of mashed potatoes.We all went up to fill our plates three times. Though I'm generally not excessively pushy, I stood at the cantaloupe, having figured out that the tender pieces are at the bottom of the tray.

It's all slow. The mornings, medication and eating, not barfing when I introduce a food that doesn't agree with me. But I'm getting better. I'm grateful for that, happy to be reading. Looking forward to starting on my own work again, sometime.  In the meantime, grateful.


  1. It's good to see you camera in hand in the change rooms here, Melissa ,or toilets or wherever with your load of lingerie. It's good to hear you're getting back to it and it's good to share some of your struggles reading Boris Pasternak, whom I have never read, though I know his name from my childhood, too.

  2. I love Strunk's advice! It could be applied to so many aspects of life, including writing software.

    "Use the clearest language, in the simplest way, to make the strongest statements."

    Thank you, I will try!

  3. Dear heart, so good to hear your voice sounding like itself again. Love to be reading your stories, and feel your puzzlement, crankiness, delight, gratitude and general cheerfulness threading this post. You have been so missed. Thank God for that corner, the one you turned!

  4. thank you!!! thank you!! for the encouragement!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Yes, Melissa, it's very good to be reading your stories... You say 'it's all slow.' I've just realized that if you rearrange the letters, slow = owls, which might mean it's wise not to rush things? Go as slowly as you need to...

    Tomorrow is Tuesday and you mentioned that you might like to participate in the new Tuesday poetry 'open mic'... please do? Mary, who started it, asked me to ask you if you'd consider being an editor one week somewhere down the track? If you're interested, her email address is She'd be very pleased to hear from you - just if you feel this is something you'd like to do? Meantime, she'll put a link from the new Tuesday Poem blog to yours, so that readers can find their way to your poem this week... If you don't post one, that's fine too, of course...

    Be well - and do go slowly.
    L, C