Unsettling Librarian

Archive for the category “Uncategorized”

Days of Future Passed . . .

No idea why that needed to be the title of this post, but it did.

Not entirely sure why I needed to create this post, but I did.

I don’t have much to say here or now. I carry grief connected to the relationships memorialized here and for those that provided context and support for this process, but are now themselves somehow also casualties of it.

I’m not writing today from grief, though, but from a combination of exhaustion and necessary forward motion that pushes ruthless efficiency ahead of itself to clear a path.

I’m not entirely sure it’s the right path for me. I’ve long recognized and feared it in the lives of my mother and her mother, but increasingly, it glows with promise before me like a vision of the Grail to Lancelot: withdrawal from human society.

That is not to say that I’m about to retreat to an isolated desert cave to contemplate divinity until I starve to death, nor is that to say that is what my mother and hers did at this stage of their lives.

Instead, that is to say that whether due to the sort of bitter resignation that grows over a lifetime of expecting humans to be better than we are, whether due to the sort of soul-deep fatigue that comes with my particular health issues, whether due to the increasingly shite state of reality, or whether due to some combination of those factors and others, I am taking a break from the active cultivation and maintenance of all friendships outside my immediate natal and marital families.

Over the course of my life, I have refused to recognize how consistently terrible I am at such friendships. At this point, though, that is an inescapable fact. So, at long last and with ill grace, I have bowed to that fact. All other considerations aside, I regret having inflicted my ineptitude on so many for so long, and I apologize for the pain I’ve caused.

Some part of me yearns distantly for the warm sunlight of consistent friendship in my life, but the vast majority of me is clear that everything else aside, I simply lack the energy for it at this time.

Perhaps one day, that will no longer be the case, but for now, working in my chosen field and sharing my time with my children, grandchild, spouse, and Ma while pursuing my own myriad interests in my own solitary ways fills all my days and leaves me more than ready for whatever rest sleep deigns to bring me each night.

So, good night and good luck. May the sun shine on all your hearts and your feet tread steadily on your own paths . . .

 

Tick. Tock.

Yes, we’re all in this together. Yes, we’re all works in progress.

In more real terms, every moment is a crucible.

Are you ready?

Will you become so?

When?

How?

Will you remain so?

How?

For how long?

Milk of Masculine Presumption; Grapes of Other Ways of Knowing

Evidently, John Sutherland makes a living writing about literature, so I was surprised by the obtuseness of his piece in Curiosities of Literature entitled “Milk of Kindness; Grapes of Wrath”. Operating on the assumption that Steinbeck meant to be showing us a poor woman saving a poor man, Sutherland informs us that this would have been impossible given the volume of milk produced by malnourished women and the amount of milk required by malnourished men.

I cannot imagine reading the Grapes of Wrath’s ending in the way Sutherland has, and I doubt that’s because I have only one degree in literature among my post-name letters, and that a bachelor’s. Similarly, I cannot imagine that I am the first, last, or only person to read Steinbeck’s closing scene as I do, but I’m enjoying chewing this over in writing, so I’m going to add to the pile without even exploring it first. As my maternal grandmother used to ask, “How ‘bout them apples?”

Back to the chewing – the more likely explanation for the former failure of my imagination is, I think, that unlike Mr. Sutherland, I have struggled with poverty for the whole of my life, and I lactated continuously for three years of that time. Mr. Sutherland’s misstep was clear before he got to listing milliliters of milk when he summed up Steinbeck’s thesis as “only the poor can give sustenance to the poor.”

Even without the filter of experience, I cannot imagine how the Grapes of Wrath can be read as tendering that message when it so obviously and emphatically and repeatedly SHOUTS a similar one that differs in one essential verb choice: “only the poor WILL give sustenance to the poor.”

From that verb of being springs more pathos than Mr. Sutherland is properly prepared to receive. To those among Steinbeck’s readers familiar with both poverty and lactation, Rose of Sharon is fully aware that what little milk she has to offer will not save the strange and starving man anymore than it would have saved her infant. She is fully aware that making such an offering from her own depleted body may mean that she joins him in his descent into death. So is her mother. Little Ruthie may know, too, on some level, and her protest may spring from that. More likely, though, she is there to break our hearts even more in the scene by being as-yet-innocent of the cruel realities with which her mother and sister and all their sistren have too long been intimates.

All of my life, I have heard poor folks pass this bipartite truth amongst ourselves:

  • if you’re starving, and you go to someone you know who’s always had a full pantry and has a half-full pantry now, they’ll turn you away saying they don’t have enough to share;
  • if you’re starving, and you go to someone you know who’s always seemed to find themselves on the shit side of capitalism and has only a half a bag of dried beans in their pantry, they’ll apologize for not having more to share while they divvy up the beans.

The phrasing may’ve been a bit different depending on whether we were poor folks talking over the crack-of-fucking-dawn shift at the greasy spoon or the crack-of-fucking-dawn shift in the cornfields or the middle-of-the-fucking-night shift at the hospital while trying to earn a degree, but the gist was the same. Poor people have compassion for poor people. No one else does.

The best the rest can offer us is pity, and Steinbeck is guilty of that in moments. Fortunately, he transcends that resentment/justification cycle more than once in his writings about the lives of those of us literature would generally rather consign to the workhouse or raise up through glittering meritocratic tokenizing. The final scene of the Grapes of Wrath is one of those transcendences.

Rose of Sharon and her mother, like countless heroes of literature, are risking ultimate sacrifices because they are the sort of folks who do what is right no matter what. That separates them from the well-fed hordes who spit on their suffering. That nourishes them when the lack of material sustenance is such that the grave looms. Their choices in the context of their shared and sure knowledge is what brought me to tears reading their final scene the first and each successive time I revisited Steinbeck’s transcendence – not of their poverty and suffering, but of his & his ilk’s usual patronizing condescension toward both.

On another level, Rosasharn and her mother are also of people who have made a way out of no way for as long as humans have permitted inequitable distribution of resources and before when there just genuinely wasn’t enough because Nature said, “Drought!” or “Flood!” or “Early Hard Frost!” On that level, their martyrdom is tempered by their perhaps even more heroic capacity to spark the sort of resistance to the inevitable that sometimes pays off and is always better than passive resignation thereto. If, after all, both the strange and starving man and Rosasharn are on the same road as the latter’s child, why shouldn’t they choose to face that fate with generosity and compassion, wrapped in the “comfort” left them? When the alternative is facing down the same fate grasping and alone, denying Rosasharn or even the starving man conscious agency is untenable.

Yes, perhaps the heroic martyrdom of Rose of Sharon* and her mother nudges Steinbeck over into a representation that Dorothy Allison might rightfully critique as flattening us into The Deserving Poor. Still, she forgave him, and I do, too. Not to mention, a reader can’t even get there if they’ve mired themselves in the unsupported thought that Rose of Sharon is acting with a certainty that she’ll both save the man and survive herself. I am both incensed and heartbroken to see such literary transcendence so misapprehended and diminished in a book (Sutherland’s) already read by more folks who won’t recognize the crime than this blog post ever will be. I’m not surprised, though. Ain’t like it’s the first time.

*Her name is “Rose of Sharon” in a book titled “Grapes of Wrath”, but she didn’t know she was making of herself nourishment?! The original audience for Steinbeck’s novel at the time of publication would’ve been intimately familiar with their bible, even if the Song of Solomon might’ve raised some blushes.

Balm in Gilead?

Once upon a time, I was playing scrabble with a friend whose Ivy League-level matriculation somewhat intimidated me. She played the word “segue”, and I laughed, so youthfully confident that I didn’t imagine the English language contained words I’d never heard or read. My friend was patient with my ignorance, and I accepted the edification with what grace I could muster.

All of which is to say that I’d been familiar with the meaning of the word “segue” for at least two decades before using it to title my last post here, so I’m clear that my next post should have been one moving on from the topic that has thus far consumed this blog space.

Fortunately, English is a flexible language and makes room for nouns also being verbs.

Still, though this post is stretching the term “segue” and possibly also the term “balm”, I do want to shift this space and will make the next post a turning point here and possibly also internally at last. That next post may not be much in the way of literarily-engaging or information-professionaling, but it comes from a place more nourishing for me at present than this one. I need to engage that place more and will do so here going forward.

cropped-double-tiger-lilies-from-lindasusan-and-emilys-neighborhood.jpg

And at last, after all that exposition, here is the gist of this not-quite-a-segue-yet post: I received another voicemail regarding the family-of-affinity situation I’ve written about here at some length. This one featured one critical difference that has given me the hope expressed in the title of this post: an acknowledgment of the issues I’d raised and an expression of a desire to further engage them.

Folks perhaps wiser and maybe even more misanthropic than I might not have allowed anything as dangerous as hope to be roused by such a slim bit of promising language, but I felt nearly giddy and certainly buoyed. I am glad of that, more than I can say.

At the same time, I am also literally trembling with exhaustion at the moment, so I cannot pursue that hope myself at present. Hope lives in me, though, that the folks on the flipside of this painful schism will find other suitable companions for this ongoing conversation, whether in person or in books or other media.

Please know that although I cannot be your companion on this part of your respective journeys, my thoughts are with you and with the possibility that one day we will be able to share our journeys again in substantive and sustaining ways. Much love.

Segue

On Winter Solstice last year, I received a voicemail that let me know that at least one of the folks on the other end of this family-of-affinity divorce had become aware of my decision in this matter. I wondered at the time if any thought had been given by her to what day it was. Scenes from the Winter Solstice celebrations we’d once shared flickered through my mind. All the hurt I’d been laboring through in earlier writings here and in what seemed like every other moment of my days flared fiercely. And I very purposefully set it aside. There were holiday traditions to observe. Presents to be enjoyed. Rat kings to see defeated.

In the months since, that every-other-moment thing hasn’t faded. I’ve written several pieces trying to work through this and published none of them because I want to be done. To borrow a cliche, I want to close this painful chapter in my life and move forward. As I observed in those unpublished writings, I expect this hurt will keep me company all my days. I hope, though, to get to a place where it’s not every-other-moment. Where I no longer wake too many mornings from nightmares about it. Where I no longer flinch at each photo, memory, association, song on the radio . . .

And then a few days ago, I got another voicemail letting me know that another of the folks involved thought I shouldn’t be done. And again with the flaring hurt. And again with the memories. And still with the every-other-moment. And more writing that won’t be published.

I want there to be a way out of this. My brain does that special thing that it does and follows the jagged loops of this situation around and around trying to find a way out. My ideal way out, though, is beyond my control. I cannot make people learn what they don’t want to learn. I cannot make people act in ways they don’t want to act. And years of experience make clear that this is not desired learning; this is not wanted action, this thing that I am needing.

So, I am doing what I can do. I am removing myself from relationships that hurt and exhaust me. Though brimming with blessings I count on the daily, my life of late has also brimmed with stressors – hell, sometimes they’re even the same things. And after over two decades of chronic illness, I am clear on my spoon count. I can’t sustain my presence in these relationships in their current states any longer. I cannot.

And perhaps more importantly, I will not.I'm done

If any of ya’ll read this, know that I wish you each and all well, and I’ll always miss the good bits terribly.

Post Navigation