As I Was Walking On The Green

In the first volume of C. S. Lewis’ under-celebrated “space trilogy” — which I choose to regard as a passionate personal narrative riding under the banner of Christianity, rather than the didactic allegory I suspect Lewis himself thought he was writing — in Out Of The Silent Planet (that’s us), one of the three Martian races, the most arty and poetic (they look like glossy upright seals), tries to explain to the hero Ransom — a stand in for Lewis’ friend J.R.R. Tolkien — how there is a distinction in longing: there are things that everyone longs for in memory, though not in the same sense as one longs for a thing to manifest presently in one’s life (“no one longs for it in his senses”).

I miss my late and ex sometimes. The Engineer has been out of town for several days, and it lets my mind wander that way. No, I don’t want him back in my living room, with his freight of dysfunctionality and copelessness; but I long for a conduit back through time, to his wit and budget of knowledge of everything — recordings, films, basefuckingball even, and of nuggetty aphorisms that have receded on the tide that runs only into the past.

A few times, he alluded to a quatrain which I cannot find mentioned anywhere on the mighty Internet.

As I was walking on the green
A tiny English book I seen.
[something something lives of? grammar?] was the edition,
So I left it laying in the same position.

That third line. I can’t think of the title, and it’s maddening me, because that’s a bit of my past that’s slipped its moorings. Is anyone else familiar with the cantrip? Anybody?



The Coverlet

I had a strange, wistful dream the other morning that will not get out of my head.

I’ve dreamed entire stories before — once, I preserved enough of the narrative to write the damn thing, for what it was worth — and it looked as if I might be about to do it again, only a Person from Porlock, in the form of a cat or traffic noise or something, broke in before I had really gotten started.

It seemed to involve my Transgender Ex.

Neither of us have all day so I will try to explain that as briefly as possible. In high school I set my cap for a brilliant, toothsome, Ganymede-like young thing who could play piano like an angel. In those days he embraced an intellectual conservatism that you could at least debate and dispute and had a sense of humor about it. The relationship was off and on and rocky, punctuated by moments of the kind of stupid drama that make me ever so glad I am not young any more, and eventually he owned up that he had always felt like a woman, inside. Fine. Whatevs. Except that he didn’t do anything about it, which is why I am still calling him He, and went on to various relationship disasters intertwined with a decently accomplished academic career. Somehow, every half dozen years, he would turn up on my doorstep or the other end of my phone looking for some form of tea and sympathy (I was  susceptible because long history, Beethoven, loves cats, intelligent conversation) and, quite often, to mooch dinner. Then he would eventually say something condescending and snarky about my liberal politics, zingers which got nastier as he began to sink to the level of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. Don’t ask me what the appeal of such institutions might be to someone who identifies as trans. The last zing was, well, the last; at a certain point, you just have to tell someone to have a nice life. I wonder if he has ever put on a dress (you have to start somewhere).

Anyway the story in the dream was apparently about him and it was called The Coverlet, which was printed on the title page of what seemed to be a little booklet or perhaps an open book turned to that chapter. As I sort-of heard the narrative in my head it was simultaneously pictured like a film unreeling.

The Coverlet

The spare room had been empty a long time, but was still kept fresh and neat; on the bed was a quilted coverlet of flour-sack gingham. He passed it every day on his way out, and had stopped giving it much thought.

That morning a pair of gloves rested on the green-and-pink patch of quilting below the pillow, almost like a pair of  hands resting one on the other.

He went on out of the house.

The next day a neatly folded winter scarf lay under the gloves…

And that’s where everything stopped. Couldn’t get it back. But I can still see the morning light shining in on that quilt and the slightly forlorn looking gloves and scarf sitting on a patch of grass-green quilting with tiny pink flowers printed on it.

They weren’t his gloves and scarf, they were someone else’s; someone coming into his life? Someone who’d gone out of it?

Someday I’m going to go to Porlock and burn the place down.


Dover Beach

I have been sparse in the last weeks and months. Not all, but some of that owed to nail-biting over the election.

So here we are.

I don’t know what we do tomorrow. It’s not clear yet who in America will suffer most, or what government actions will most require our outcry. I am only here, in the improbable company of Matthew Arnold:

The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Is It Just Me?

Am I the only person who is depressed and disgusted that Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize in… Literature?

Does the word even mean anything any more?

I was never going to reach even the bar of being published for money, much less the Nobel committee, but this is like a shitbag in the face to anyone who ever sweated blood trying to make a work of fiction into a solid and living thing, or went back to a cycle of poetry year after year, shaping it like a bonsai tree.

I guess all of us who ever wanted to build something worthwhile out of words ought to just go fuck ourselves, or learn to sing in an abrasive, obnoxious tone of voice.

The Tip Of My Tongue

I dreamed that, while seeing two clients in succession out the door, I felt moved to recite to each of them one of the metrical English translations* of the Catullus verse that starts Ameana puella defututa. The version I was declaiming goes

Ameana, big-nosed twat,
Duns me for an awful lot…

But I kept blanking out on the third line. I could recall the concluding couplets but could not for the life of me remember what came in the middle, even though I thought it was very important for each of these people to hear the poem.

I hate it when that happens.

*I like the conclusion of the version I remembered better than the one I linked here.
Find out what the hell has shocked her,
Call her relatives, her doctor,
Give the kid a looking-glass
To show her face looks like her ass.

I Do Not Love Thee, Dr. Fell

It’s a nursery rhyme, or so they say; the story is that it was an impromptu translation of a Latin epigram, lampooning the dean of Christchurch College, Oxford.

I do not love thee, Dr. Fell;
The reason why I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not love thee, Dr. Fell.

We’re lucky if we only ever once in our lives run across someone who makes us feel like this. During my school years, it happened regularly – a teacher, a fellow student, someone who made my skin creep a little but whom I couldn’t entirely avoid. Since then, not so much; one or two one-time clients (I made sure they were one-time by referring them to someone else “who is better trained to work with your issue than me”). Not at all for years, actually. And then.

She parks it on the recumbent bike at one end of the row — at four machines long, it is way too short a row — setting down a big sugary dome-topped drink from Starbucks with a straw in it. She always wears running shorts that expose her skinny, pale, completely unmuscled legs. For them to be so lacking in tone, she must set the bike’s resistance at zero, because she pedals the damn thing nearly the length of my workout. She always has a newspaper in her shoulder bag, and sits and pedals and sucks and leafs through it, the expression on her face never changing. Her haircut is the sort of soft butch that looks good on soft butches but just makes her look unfinished. I think she is the one who has commandeered one of the lockers and keeps her Adidas bag there day and night, because before she left I saw her carrying around the Adidas bag, but she walked out without it.

There are plenty of reasons there not to like her. Sucking sugary drinks while you work out seems to be a cardinal stupid. Anyone who spends that much time in the gym without developing a visible muscle is there for some weird reason. And no one likes a locker hog.

But it’s something else. One day, she actually sat down next to me — something I’ve been working to make not happen ever since I got that first squicky feeling from seeing her knees pump up under her chin from the too-short pedal setting.

I jumped up as if I’d heard a loud noise, and took my water bottle back to an elliptical trainer to finish warming up to a starting sweat. Not much caring if the move was obvious. What could she complain about to the management? That I got off a bike with intent?

There’s no rationale for feelings like this. I just refuse to ignore them.

Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere quare;
Hoc tantum possum dicere, non amo te.

I have to practice it, in case someone ever does ask me what the problem is. I can book while they’re puzzling it out.

Veterans’ Day

There are a lot of flags flying today, and occasions of what I have come to think of as “solemnity porn,” involving moments of silence and the placing of floral tributes and a soulful rendition of Taps, meant to make tears well in your eyes and confer an uplifted feeling. You know the kind of thing.

There was an interesting piece in the Daily Beast a couple of days back about an overmedicated, desperate veteran who discovered — I don’t know why it surprises anyone — that marijuana relieved his post-traumatic stress when fourteen pharmacy drugs did nothing for him. He’s an activist now, staging demonstrations at Veterans’ Day parades, reminding people that “honoring the sacrifice” means nothing if you look away from the people who are still suffering, to include an appalling rate of suicides. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs apparently wants nothing to do with him and his weed, though there is a growing — pardon the expression — body of research suggesting it might be a targeted therapy.

Post-traumatic stress disorder — I prefer to call it post-traumatic stress injury, because it’s damage inflicted on a person, not something intrinsically wrong with someone’s organism — isn’t limited to people who’ve been in combat; it’s just that combat is a pretty sure-fire way to incur it. But growing up around, oh say, gang shootings, or in a household with a baby-raper, or just with a parent who brutalizes you mentally if not physically, will all do it; car crashes will do it, or the frank medical mayhem that occurs way too often in the guise of “care.” There is a lot of it out there, and it is not just an effect of war and violence but a cause of war and violence, so every single person on earth has to give a damn about it. It is a problem that exists in the body and has to be resolved in the body, and if I had my career in bodywork to start over again I might just be going to school to the people who are working with brain wave modulation and the tremor reflex and resolution of “tape-recorded” procedural memory — Peter Levine, Bessel van der Kolk, David Berceli. What does seem apparent is that the people who treat veterans or rape survivors with talking (which often just means reliving the trauma and inscribing it more deeply) and drugs (which make you numb, which PTSD does anyway) are getting it all wrong.

Then there are artificial, political conflicts that gum things up. Stress-afflicted veterans, trained fighters wired to overreact, act out and frighten their families at a disturbing rate; they end up in the legal system when what they need is informed care, connection, a way out of it. Some veterans’ and “mens’ rights” advocates appear stuck in the viewpoint that “feminists” are villains in this context for criminalizing domestic violence triggered by combat stress. I am as impatient with them — a woman has a right to protection from a violent man even if he is also a victim — as I am with the feminists who do seem convinced that only bad bad men are ever violent. (They need to meet the twelve- or even thirty-year-old me.)

Old literature majors never die, so I am glad to mention the Philoctetes Project, which gets it right.

So does Patrick Stewart. Yes, that Patrick Stewart.

Maybe we need fewer psychologists and more theater people on this problem. Or dogs.

This Veterans’ Day, I invite everyone to skip the paper poppy and instead learn enough about trauma so that the next time your vote, your advocacy or your donation can make a difference, you will know how to make it count.