Monday, December 21, 2009

being mean; or, sorry kid, the cat stays here

Last spring my best kitty friend Mazzy died. I had had her for 12 years and having her put down was a very difficult decision, but she had diabetes and she was in kidney failure, so I do know it was the right thing to do. At the time, I didn't want to get another cat. My current life is very unsettled. I am not in my own place and I don't know where I am going to be living from one year to the next, so I thought it would be best to go sans cats for now. Well, life has its own ideas and now eight months later I have two cats.

I inherited these cats, a male Siamese and a female calico from my brother and his family. Last summer my sister-in-law joined the Army and after basic training she was stationed in Fort Bliss TX, so they packed all their stuff and drove to Texas. They had four cats, four dogs, and two kids, so to help them out her mother took two dogs, and we took two of their cats.  It was not my idea. It was my mom's. The plan was that we would take the cats and then as soon as they were in Texas we would give the cats to my sister. It is a long story, but my sister-in-law didn't want my sister to have them. Because we have also have two dogs (one of whom HATES cats) the cats had to stay in my room. Within 48 hours it was very clear that these cats were not going  to my sisters.Or anywhere. Ever.

The Siamese, who was named George, is my favorite. For the first two days he hid under my bed. The calico, Lola, was a lap cat from the beginning and cuddled all the time. I hated the name George and I wanted to change it. We brainstormed for a while, and at first we thought of cute names like Mocha and Smores because of his color, but within a week it became clear that he needed a name with attitude as he is quite a personality.  After spending a morning chasing him around the neighborhood at 6am only to have him sneak in an open door and hide under the bed while I was still trespassing in my neighbor's backyard trying to "rescue" him. I decided on "Maui." Maui is the name of the Polynesian trickster god. Oh, and my Maui is quite the little trickster.

It turns out that the move to Texas and the enlistment in the Army were not permanent for my brother and his family. They moved back here in September. My sister-in-law did not want to be in the Army, and now she isn't. And that is all I am going to say about that. Anyway, when I heard that they were coming back I couldn't help but panic a little. I thought they would ask for their cats back. I made it pretty clear to my brother that I didn't want to give them back. They were in pretty bad shape when I got them (they were outside cats and had fleas, worms, ear mites, and they were malnourished), and it cost be several hundred dollars to get them healthy. Not to mention that now we have bonded. They both sleep with me at night, and that I am a little bit nuts about taking care that they are in at night, well fed, healthy, loved, and well, quite frankly a little spoiled. 

Today, my seven year old niece looked at me straight in my face and asked for her cat back.

Dramatic Pause.

I felt bad as I said, "I'm sorry honey, but he lives here now."

Right now, as I sit in my green chair typing I can see both cats. Lola is in her bed on top of the dresser and Maui is laying on his back in the middle of my bed. They are both sound asleep. And even though it was hard to say no to a seven year old, I know I did the right thing.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What to do when an old friend disappoints you; or, Sense and Sensibility part II

I am having a really difficult time finishing Sense and Sensibility. Yes, I am busy. Yes, it is difficult to find a quiet spot in this current life. Yes, it is easier to watch TV; and on and on. But, I think the real reason that I am struggling to finish is that I don't like it that much. Gasp. What? I know, I know, I am supposed to like Jane Austen. I am supposed to love Sense and Elinor and the romance and all that. But, I don't.  I don't like how passiveness and suppression is rewarded, while honesty and emotion are punished. But, most of all, I don't like Edward or Colonel Brandon. Sigh.

I know that the girls end up with these two men. And I know that Austen wants us to approve of the matches. But, Edward is so bland. I hate that he picks fights with Marianne over her immature and overly romantic sensibilities. I understand that is done to highlight her flaws, but it makes him appear argumentative and peevish; traits that I am sure that I don't approve of. I am thinking of thes scene when Edward visits the Dashwoods in Devonshire and he and Marianne talk about the countryside.  He tells her how to use language to appreciate the countryside. My book was kind enough to have a note explaining that the actual target of his satire is a book by William Gilpin called On Picturesque Beauty in which the book explained how to use the language of the sublime to describe landscapes. This book was so popular that it created cliches like "rugged hills" and "twisted trees" and so on. Austen is using this moment to zing those who have fallen into this linguistic trap. But, the argument is so annoying. I would become overtired of anyone who took the time to tell me how wrong I was all the time. And yes, before you say it, it is in reaction to the fact that Marianne does this to people all the time. She points out their lack of romantic sesibilities as well. But for some reason, her passion seems to make it slightly more bearable.

The other target of Austen ridicule in this text is Mrs. Jennings. I am a little bit sensitive to this one, because, well,  I feel a kinship with her. I am fat and jolly, I like to tease, and have been known to play the matchmaker.  I don't know when to shutup. I will kick a dead joke long after I should. But, while the Dashwood girls, who let's face it, are kind of boring, cannot stand Mrs. Jenning, I like her. She is kind and merry. She is right about how people feel and forces them to acknowledge their attractions. If we all lived like Elinor we would sit silently and wait and hope that someone would notice us. Which brings me to my main gripe. The value of silence.

If you want to be a good person then talk of nothing but the roads and weather. Don't enjoy your children too much (Mrs. Middleton), or hunting (Mr. Middleton). Don't have a sense of humor (Mrs. Jennings). Don't be passionate about art, music, or love (Marianne). Don't love anything too deeply. Don't feel. And if you do feel anything for goodness sake if you do feel anything don't talk about it!

I think I am just a little frustrated right now. I know how this all ends, and I don't want it to go that way. Marianne is broken by love and only when she is beaten down into a spiritless lump does she get to marry another character who was beaten down by love and is now a spiritless lump. It reminds me of what I hate about Jane Eyre. Jane only gets her man after he has been broken. She can't have him whole and vital. And yes, I am sure there is a point here. I used to believe that Austen was critiquing this world that silenced women, but after taking a Satire class a few semesters ago, now I am not too sure. I am not convinced that this is a critique... I want to be sure that there is a lesson for me here,so that I can go somewhere beyond my frustrated and angry Jane-Austen-seems-to-be-anti-passion-rant (especially because I know this topic comes again in later books, and is treated much more favorably)... but for now. I am having touble getting through to the end. Ah well, and in the words of Nemo's friend Dorrie "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

insomnia; or, a dickensian visit of a ghost from my past

Tis the season for Charles Dickens' immortal classic A Christmas Carol; a story I never did like very much. As I see ads for this version and that version of this tale I can't help but think that what makes this story so universal--not to mention so malleable-- is that we all have ghosts. I have mine. And at times, like now, I am visited by my ghost. Yes, there is just the one for me, but it is not any less terrifying in its singularity. Even without Scrooges' power of three, it still has the power to haunt, to disrupt, to warn, and to terrify. Recently, my ghost has been visiting. Well, 'tis the season after all, so I should not be surprised really. But, no matter if expected or not, I am still overly dismayed and find myself unable to sleep afterward.

At three am when I awake from a colorless forgettable dream--or worse, a recurring one about a water tower, and raised voices, and goodbyes--and I am pulled into a cyclone of worry, I try to tell myself that this all of my own devising. The danger is not real. I tell myself to stop thinking and go to sleep. I tell myself that the perils that I imagine are all a part of a mild anxiety disorder heightened by a recent run of bad dealings that have battered my self esteem and my abilities to believe in hope and love. But still, I lie awake night after night, because those are just words. And I am not often fooled by words.

I traffic in words. I use words everday to shape meanings. I find ways to tell my students that their writing is kind of terrible using a vocabulary of hope on a daily basis. I offer status reports to friends and family that mask personal trouble almost daily.  I smile and tell stories cloaked in laughter about wounds that have found their mark. I feel like Mercutio spinning wild yarns about Queen Mab while the lifeblood is seeping out onto the concrete below me as I mutter about flesh wounds. I know about the many guises of words; I know better than to put my faith in them.

When I was 9 years old I won a short story contest. I wrote about a little girl who frightened herself because she mistook everyday objects for darker more nefarious matter. A tree branch became a hand, an owl a ghostly voice, the night a terror. Even then, I think, I knew that I was a worrier. I know that in my mind, I make normal situations into something scary. But, on the other hand, sometimes a tree branch is a hand. The night is a terror. Am I worried or am I prescient?

The ending of the most important relationship of my life still shadows me. It has been nearly four years now. Friends and family are weary of these shadows and their burdens, and understandably they don't want to hear about them any more. In some ways they are right. If I can stop the story from being told, then I could forget, but whether I talk about it or not, I can't get it out of my head. Memories swirl around me like constant flashbacks. I replay conversations and then re-write them with better endings. I make plans for revenge: some benign, some too scary to share. I compose letters and emails. I imagine standoffs and confrontation. Reunions and  reconciliations. A roomate of mine, who knew both of us, he and I, once asked me if I thought that this was a case of past life reincarnations. She said she had rarely felt such an intense connection between two people and more than once had dreamed that he and I were ageless companions. I laughed at the time. Because what else can you do?

The last time we saw one another I willed him to me. I was in an airport and I felt him there, I had no knowledge of his travel plans, nor he of mine. But I knew. For about an hour, I searched for him among the airport terminals and resaurants. And then I walked back to my seat and waited. He walked past within ten minutes. Even while we were talking, wasting the day with minutia and trivialities because I was so shaken by his presence that I could not say the things that I knew needed to be said. Deep down, I knew that was the last time. I was almost convinced that my plane was going to go down and that I had been given a precious last gift. I remember feeling genuine surprise when I landed safely on the other side. That was the last time. I don't know what he thinks of that last encounter. I am sure it was strange. I am sure his story of what happened is different than mine. But, he won't let me ask, so I don't know. Still, that is the most spiritual memory of my life and the one moment that makes me believe that there might be a god.

Somehow, I feel like if I could just silence these shadows the worrying would go away and peace would come. That somehow this ghost of a relationship past is stirring a soup of anxiety and self doubt, and that if vanquished my mind would still, sleep would come, and life would calm. I feel like this is a weight on my shoulders that gets heavier with time as I take others' words and paint them with his voice. I want to remember. I need to forget. I need a banishing charm. A spotless mind. A forgetful heart. I feel like something needs to be done. Closure. Understanding. Forgiveness. Or a rage. Something to take the words out of my head and heart and leave me in peace. But sincerely, I don't know what. How do you say goodbye to the ghosts of your past? Or do you? Or can you? I don't know, but I do know that it has been many miles through this snowy woods and I would like to sleep. I would like to sleep.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

overeverything; or, the side effects of reading Jane Austen (both dangerous and otherwise)

Now that I am fully engaged in re-reading Jane Austen, I am finding myself altered. The way that I speak, the way I see the world, the tenor of my cravings and desires: all are changed.

My sentences--spoken and written--are elongated and extended, they are longer and lusher; my words are enveloped in a slow languishing diction that rolls off my toungue like honey or molasses rather than my usual deluge pantingly spat out as quickly as linguistically possible. I choose words that are longer and more full: approbation, midsummer, unconcern, supplication. And, of course, everything is overthis-or-overthat. No, I do not mean that I am suffering from an onset of ennui or apathy. I am not as kids say "over it"  in the sense that I am over everything in that I no longer care; no, instead, I am overtired, overhungry, overexcited...overeverything. The five mile drive from my home to the college is no longer "too far," it is, "overfar."  The muffins I baked this morning are not "too moist," they are, "overmoist."  I cannot point to exact Austen phrases that encourages this linguistic shift, but, I do know that is an occaision which always coincides with reading of Austen. And really, while I do not mind this alteration in vocabulary, it must be noted that my students are not overjoyed.

Another, side effect is that I also find myself craving tea and scones; well, technically speaking I crave any and all hot drinks and baked goods really. As a woman who is constantly trying to eat healthier, the plus side to these particular Austenesque cravings is that I want to dress up in long white muslin empire waisted gowns and walk 2 miles to my neighbor's house to imbibe said tea and scones. The downside is that often these indulgences come sans said lush 2 mile walk and thus result in only a plus backside. I do have a walking trail near my house, but there is something delicious about the idea of the lush, green, grassy knolls in Austen books and films that I can't find anywhere near me. American gardens and lawns are considered to be impeccable only when trimmed neatly down to their nubs. Many more English gardens, especially those in the country, tend to be wilder, verdant, with grass grown long enough beneath your feet that it seems to undulate with your movements. Ah, the differences between what we want and what we settle for, now, that is something Austen knows very well.

But for me, there is a danger that goes beyond words and walks. While, the formality of Austen makes her seem quite safe, for a single woman in want of a life she can disrupt even the most steadfast. Her books are rife with calling cards, social visits, matchmaking, promises, and romance; even in the most satisfied of hearts this much society and romantic intrigue can stir longing for a passionate, if very polite, intrigue. Oh, damn you Jane Austen for making me crave the dangers of love again, after working so hard on recovering from my last  foray...Hmm, maybe I'll just settle for a very long walk and some very hot tea.

I am only on Sense and Sensibilty and there are many more Austen novels to go, so I'll read. I'll say my silly Austen words. I'll drink coffee and eat a muffin. I'll walk on the paved river trail next to a carefully manicured lawn while trying to think of ways to use approbation and disapprobation in a sentence. And, for now, that will have to be enough. For now.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

promises promises promises; or, Sense and Sensibility part 1

There is a line from the film Vanilla Sky that I quote quite often. Cameron Diaz says to Tom Cruise (yes, I know their characters have names, but really, does anyone ever really think Tom Cruise ever plays anyone but himself?) She says,"Don't you know that when you sleep with someone, your body makes a promise whether you do or not." (Then she crashes the car off a bridge, but that should be enough to get you to watch the movie.)  I love that line "your body makes a promise, whether you do or not." It captures in one line something of the finer question that I think Jane Austen is asking in Sense and Sensibility (aha cue segue) in 5-4-3 2- and... now.

How do we make promises? And once made do we have to keep them? No matter what?  Sense and Sensibility opens with the promise--a deathbed promise no less--by John Dashwood to his father that he will provide for his stepmother and stepsisters after the father dies. John promises to "do everything within his power to make them comfortable." With the words of this promise in his ears, his father dies, surely believing that the Mrs. Dashwood, Elinor, Marriane, and Margaret will stay at Norland, have enough of an inheritence to be cared for, and hopefully enough to attract a husband. What really happens is, well, he gives them nothing. Readers will no doubt believe that he has broken his promise to the Dashwood girls, but to him, he is just whittling his words down to the size of his wife's heart (nonexistant).  The process of shaving this promise to its barest form--from a decent allowance, to a small allowance, to helping them move, to checking in on them now and again, to what really becomes absolutely nothing at all--make up the first pages of the book. A promise of ambiguous words "make them comfortable" that is carried out with zero action. This is our first words vs. action scenario.

In Sense and Sensibility (and no, I am not done reading either) everyone is making promises. Some by word, others by deed. Like life there are two kinds of promises the stated and the implied. The types of promises are mostly the usual kinds: romantic promises of marriage, love and fidelity. There are promises of silence. Promises of friendships, visits, inheritence, care, and so on. The conflict, for Austen, seems to be about how we make promises, and how to keep them once made. I am not done re-reading, so more on this later, but I am interested in the idea that our bodies (our actions, body language, interactions) can make implied promises. (Edward Farrars and John Willoughby anyone?). In Austen, it seems that the spoken promises--no matter how bad the actual thing promised--takes precedence over the implied promises of the body. If you promise to marry Lucy Steele, well, then you should marry Lucy Steele. Even if your eyes, heart, and body made other kinds of promises to Elinor's eyes, heart, and body a hundred times. But, if your body (Willoughby) promises her body (Marianne) you'd better be damn sure you keep that promise too.

Damn she's good.