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Archives for February 2008

Is Bird’s Nest in good taste?

“I think ‘taste’ is a social concept and not an artistic one. I’m willing to show good taste, if I can, in somebody else’s living room, but our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite. Since his words enter into another’s brain in silence and intimacy, he should be as honest and explicit as we are with ourselves.”

–John Updike, from an interview reprinted in Hugging the Shore

Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Six

After their second night together at her apartment (about a twenty minute walk from his hutch under the overpass), it took a little while before the Divorcée could get a hold of Jeb again. When she finally saw him she gave him a cell phone, telling him that she got it free through business as long he kept under 1000 minutes every month. This was fine with Jeb, even though he’d been able to get along just fine without a phone up until then. He was accustomed to giving out the school number whenever it was required, which was rarely, and of course he spent most of his time with books. As for the Divorcée and her apartment, a routine soon developed. He definitely didn’t feel comfortable having her over to the shack; the differences between them were obvious enough to him, but that wasn’t the only reason. He wanted to maintain a privacy that was absolute. He was happy to share in hers, but he wanted to keep his own off limits. By the fourth or fifth time he’d spent the night at her place, he wondered if he shouldn’t feel a little weird about it. Was he becoming a kept man? He tried not to think about it.

Of course whatever he called himself he was still enjoying the benefits, as went the current expression. Besides the sex, he liked showering somewhere besides the locker room down at the athletic complex at school. After a couple of mornings in her bathroom he realized how he’d become conditioned by all his time in public places, those vast public showers at school included. She got up before him almost invariably, but was happy to leave him in the dark bedroom while she went off to work. This was fine with Jeb, who was used to reading into the small hours and was in the habit of getting up late. He tried not to let the progress of the affair affect his studies. If he woke up in the middle of the night (and he did, frequently) he would go to the bathroom and study in the bright light while sitting on the toilet. The Divorcée never seemed to notice.

Other than the shack (which wasn’t really his) and his backpack, the idea of any kind of personal belongings put a bit of a cramp on his style. To his way of thinking, this went hand in hand with his need for privacy. To own things was to be owned by them, so that about the only things he really belonged to him were the clothes he wore and a few books – most of these dictionaries in various languages, ancient and modern. Most of the others he checked out from the library. This attitude towards things grew out of another thought: sometimes he felt he was the secret of the world, ignored by the world, and hidden in plain sight. Hidden for the time being in his friend’s apartment. He’d guessed that the Divorcée must be making good money to afford it (it had a nice view of Elliot Bay), but then she told him her ex was footing the bill, even if he didn’t know it yet. He could afford it, she said. That could certainly put him in an odd position. What if he was forcibly involved in their messy court proceedings? The last thing he wanted was to get caught up in some kind of domestic dispute. But there he was.

She usually called in the late afternoon, and always left a message when he didn’t answer. Whatever she chose for dinner became a kind of unacknowledged code between them. “Come by after 7:00, we’re having Chinese take-out tonight. With a fortune cookie for desert.” Then she’d hang up abruptly. He’d show up half an hour after whatever time she’d named, somewhat in a state of disbelief at his own good fortune. Could it be so easy?

After a month she upped the ante a little by asking him away for a weekend. She had some business up in Vancouver she could take care of on a Saturday and asked Jeb to go along with her. “Got a passport?” she’d asked, and when he said yes (he was hoping to make that trip to Italy to study), the trip was on. She even let Jeb drive some of the way. She’d hoped it would do something for the poor kid’s nerves; she had picked up pretty quickly that he still seemed a little intimidated by their arrangement. It didn’t. Jeb had a passport, but not a driver’s license, and had some difficulty working the manual transmission. It was a clear, bright afternoon when they arrived, and spent an hour or two walking around Stanley Park, parallel, a foot or so apart by mutual understanding. More buddies than lovers (to use another popular expression), an arrangement that was fine by Jeb. As much as he looked forward to enjoying her body at night, it was also a relationship he preferred to keep somewhat distant. He already lived his life in such a way as to keep it almost entirely unobserved, and he certainly didn’t want to meet her at Queequeg’s.

This, in fact, was the rub. He enjoyed his time with the Divorcée well enough, and he certainly enjoyed the sex, but even when he was with her he felt his thoughts drifting back to Diana. He’d never seen her outside of Queequeg’s, but somehow she’d become an obsession that ran even deeper than sex. It wasn’t as if during his nights alone he never found himself thinking about the Divorcée and all the great workouts they were having together, but Diana simply had a deeper hold on his imagination. He just didn’t know what to do about it. That the Divorcée made everything so easy just complicated the other aspects of his life.

In Vancouver, while the Divorcée spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening attending to business (which really meant time shopping in the Gastown district), Jeb stayed in the hotel room, using her laptop to work on his poems and fiddle with a drawing and painting program he’d noticed her using earlier.

He copied the drawing and put it up with the rest of his poems on a blog so as to be able to access them from the computers at school, and now all he had to do was find someone who’d be willing to publish it as a chapbook. He’d found a number of smaller presses that, provided with enough funds, seemed to specialize in this. Of course the way things seemed to be going, blogs were the future anyway. Maybe poets would soon stop bothering with the chapbooks and go to electronic self publishing. But there’s something about holding a book in your hands; something about paper that still seems to constitute something more real. Should he put a picture on the cover? What order should he put the poems? Chronologically, or with some attention to all the different content? He really wanted something he could give to Diana, and that something was his very self in the form of a book.

A couple of weeks later the Divorcée asked him to go on another trip, this time to San Piedro Island, up in the San Juans. He fought with himself over it, considering the mixed emotions he’d felt on the Vancouver trip. He really was beginning to feel like a kept man. Given the age difference, which at first had been so exciting, he had to acknowledge he was becoming something of a boy toy, which brought into focus the simple tawdriness of the whole fling. As if to emphasize the point, she had played a Madonna CD all the way back from Vancouver. He got to drive the car, but she chose the music. Whatever it was he felt himself becoming, he wasn’t entirely happy about it. Which didn’t entirely stop him from thinking about their nights together when he slept alone in the construction shack, but it did leave him confused.

How much better it was to think about Diana! No sex, no hotels, no fast cars to foreign cities with Madonna playing on the stereo. He continued thinking about her during their weekend on San Piedro (yes, he’d buckled). From the time he’d first slept with the Divorcée he’d felt like he was leading a double life, and he wondered whether he’d be able to keep both of them hidden. At the library, at school and throughout the day Diana was never more than a few thoughts away. True, whenever he found himself thinking about sex he thought about Divorcée, but at any other point during the day – in the classroom, especially – he found himself daydreaming about Diana. Weirdly, at least for Jeb, these daydreams were in the main part happy, domestic scenes. It would mean a radical change in his personal philosophy, but Diana would be worth it. He a full professor at a college somewhere; she faithfully at his side. Taking care of the domestic arrangements while he attended to his studies. Who knew? Maybe even taking care of the kids.

It soon got to the point that he was thinking about Diana even while he was with the Divorcée – especially after sex. Then even during sex, which wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t so much an issue of being torn between the two; it was really a question of reality. Sex in itself wasn’t an entirely new experience; but this kind of intense pleasure was. The Divorcée had been at it for a while, after all, and he’d noticed that the magazines scattered thoughout her apartment featured many articles about various sexual techniques that he could now recognize by name as well as in practice. He knew he was the only one in her life, and he was pretty sure she wasn’t daydreaming about a happy domestic scene with some other unknown partner. In the moment, it really was a kind of peak experience for him. ‘This can’t be happening, this is really happening’ was a thought that frequently went through his head.

One evening he noticed a strange looking plant on one of her side tables: five long, green stems, each with a pair of weird, wing-shaped extensions on the end. He asked her what it was, and when she told him he had to laugh. He did, in fact, feel trapped in his own body, which itself had been trapped by the Divorcée’s body. Where would he be if he weren’t there? He’d be with Diana, he liked to think, talking about sports and poetry and even religion if she insisted on it. Diana was the one that he dreamt about in his sleep, once or twice anyway, but of course he had no control over that. This remained the only time he’d really been alone with her, but he was happier imagining that dream with Diana than recalling every night he’d spent with Divorcée. He briefly wondered whether he had some sort of Virgin/Whore thing going on (he’d read about it in regard to some of favorite poets, as well as the magazines in the apartment), but pushed this thought out of his mind. It seemed unfair and even cruel to the Divorcée, even if she wasn’t aware of his thoughts, which she probably was. However much he might have liked to think they were on entirely different brainwaves, she was certainly well attuned to his moods: knew when he was stressed about school, understood when he wanted to be left alone, and had probably long since guessed that he was less interested in her than the sex he could have with her.

Would Diana be so understanding? He had to remind himself that much of what he thought about Diana was pure fantasy; he liked to think she would care, but he could see how she might be more amused at his antics than anything else. And it wasn’t at all clear to him that she was interested in marriage, least of all with him. She seemed to take a kind of aloof interest in just about everybody, but there was definitely something a little different about her relationship with men. During his first few visits to Queequeg’s he thought that she was just being nice and funny and told jokes for the tips, but there had to be something more to it than that. She was determined to put everybody at ease and to make them happy if she could, but it also seemed more than simple kindness. She seemed genuinely interested in him and school and any of his other preoccupations (poetry and hockey, anyway), and he had to believe that this was true of other patrons as well. She was interested in other people as themselves, for themselves, and not what they might mean to her. It wasn’t a personality trait he’d ever noticed in anyone before, or at least never so consistently displayed.

After he turned down a trip to Mexico he wasn’t sure the Divorcée would ever call him again. He found himself hoping she wouldn’t call. He thought that it was only by separating himself completely from the pleasure offered by the Divorcée that could he freely pursue Diana, even if he wasn’t all that sure Diana herself would appreciate such a pursuit. What he could do, he hoped, was bestow his poetry upon her, and this is what inspired his thoughts about producing a chapbook.

As it turned out, the Divorcée wasn’t bothered at all. Later that same week they were back to spending three or four evenings a week together. It was hard to deny himself the comfort to be taken in at least one square meal for the day, not to mention a real bed. But he was beginning to feel the strain.

Happy Leap Day

Milosz on Dostoevsky

N.B.: Despite the disavowal below, Milosz himself wrote what I think must be included in any list of the best novels of the 20th century, The Issa Valley.

Interviewer: You have been uninterested in writing novels. You seem to have a quarrel with the genre. Why?

Milosz: It’s an impure form. I taught Dostoevsky at Berkeley for twenty years. A born novelist, he would sacrificed everythinbg; he knows no obligations of honor. He would put anything in a novel. Dostoevsky created a character in The Idiot, General Ivolgin, who is a liar and tells stories – how he lost his leg in a war, how he buried his leg, and then what he inscribed on the tombstone. the inscription is taken from the tomb of Dostoevsky’s mother. There you have a true novelist. I couldn’t do that.

I have just started reading Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, spurred on by Girard’s treatment of same in his first book, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, and my intention is to keep some notes here at Korrektiv as I do. That may or may not count as our Summer Reading Club selection, but I’d welcome any input anyone would care to give. This weekend I’ll start with some key passages from Girard’s commentary as a way of getting a leg up (thanks, General!), on which my reading will certainly be based.

Some lively discussion happening on Percy-L of late.

http://korrektivpress.com/2008/02/1269/


Even Walker Percy gave it due reverence when he wrote that one can “eat crawfish and drink Dixie beer and feel as good as it is possible to feel in this awfully interesting century.”

http://korrektivpress.com/2008/02/1268/

Regrets

That I didn’t buy that old New Yorker in The Dawn Treader bookstore in Ann Arbor, the one with the J.D. Salinger short story. That I didn’t buy that old Esquire in La Mesa Used Books, the one with the Walker Percy essay on Bourbon. That I didn’t buy the Orson Welles poster with this image:

Second Son’s First Potato


The winter gardens are flourishing…

Søren Says

As soon as subjectivity is taken away, and passion from subjectivity, and infinite interest from passion, there is no decision whatsoever. All decision, all essential decision, is rooted in subjectivity.
~ Concluding Unscientific Postscript

WFB RIP

After cramming at least a dozen lifetimes into his allotted four score and two, William F. Buckley has passed away. I went looking for a great quotation to mark the occassion, and they weren’t hard to find. There are lots, of course, but I think this story best exhibits all the grace, urbanity and sheer adventure of a life lived to its fullest:

When in 1951 I was inducted into the CIA as a deep cover agent, the procedures for disguising my affiliation and my work were unsmilingly comprehensive. It was three months before I was formally permitted to inform my wife what the real reason was for going to Mexico City to live. If, a year later, I had been apprehended, dosed with sodium pentothal, and forced to give out the names of everyone I knew in the CIA, I could have come up with exactly one name, that of my immediate boss (E. Howard Hunt, as it happened). In the passage of time one can indulge in idle talk on spook life. In 1980 I found myself seated next to the former president of Mexico at a ski-area restaurant. What, he asked amiably, had I done when I lived in Mexico? “I tried to undermine your regime, Mr. President.” He thought this amusing, and that is all that it was, under the aspect of the heavens.

Indeed. And to you, Mr. Buckley, no longer under that aspect, many, many thanks.