Hope Never Dies

I am still here.

I honestly don’t know when I’ll feel like writing again about the antics of cats, garden insurrections, the droll wisecracks of my Engineer sweetheart or gym idiocy. The dumpster fire (yesterday I saw the term “diaper fire”) of our current rolling crisis has eaten my brain alive, what is left after adjusting for stubborn post-injury pain that I don’t even want to talk much about. I spend way too much time on Twitter, hoping to make an early catch of good news when it does happen. Concentration is hard.

But every once in a while something comes along:

I used to faithfully read a series by Elliott Roosevelt, yes, that Roosevelt family, featuring his mother Eleanor as the Miss Marple-like sleuth in a series of pulpy murder mysteries. They weren’t terribly good, but they weren’t terribly bad either, and featured striking cameos like a house party involving Humphrey Bogart, or an open air fish fry where poor Southern African-Americans dynamited or telephoned the fish (I forget which) and entertained the First Lady to dinner. They were just cute, friendly books, the kind that telegraph that nobody really got hurt, this is just made up, we’re playing let’s pretend.

Hope Never Dies is a lot more noir. But funny noir, even with its glum reminders of why our heroes Barry and Joe are private citizens now, free (except for a disapproving Secret Service detail) to be pursuing a string of clues in a suspicious death. The cliches are all there and they’re delicious: the surprise midnight appearance at Joe Biden’s home, the mysterious woman, the planted stash, the hard-boiled similes (“I crossed the yard as fast as a dog licking a dish”). Shaffer can write. I’m devouring this thing, but not too fast; I need some time out from the nonstop battering of the Trump administration. And having written local politicians into a murder mystery myself, I feel like I now have a posse.

On the other hand, there is this, from the same author.

Creepily, it was published before the 2016 election. What did he know and when did he know it? Can I stand to read it?

And I am really not sure about

I think it deserves a read for the pen name alone, though. News as I get it.

 

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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.