Sunday, 9 April 2017

The world is teeming, anything can happen

Paul Auster's 4 3 2 1 has been a mammoth read, at 866 pages, but very much worth the effort. The story follows Ferguson (referred to by his surname throughout for some reason) through four different versions of his life, its changes shifted by small incidents that affect the course of events, finding some things wildly different and others immutable, like his relationship with Amy Schneiderman. He becomes a writer in each of the stories, but writes different things; in one poetry, in another fiction and another journalism. It seems quite common for authors to write stories about people who are writers, not just because it is familiar to them but I suppose because most jobs are mundane, routine and separate from your everyday life and therefore to include them in a novel would be tedious. Our hero Ferguson is born in 1947, the same year as Paul Auster himself, so I assumed there is some element of nostalgia, if not autobiography going on. I felt that the book was also an excuse to write about that turbulent period in America's history, the prosperity of the 50s and the political strife of the 60s. In one story he is in the thick of the political protest and in another a more dispassionate observer. Like John in 'Prayer for Owen Meaney' Ferguson is saved from the Vietnam draft in one story by the loss of a finger in an accident. It is another book that is very much about relationships; some are solid throughout the book, like his friendship with Noah, others are more and less involved, like with his aunt Mildred. The bond with Amy takes many forms, in one they have a long intense relationship, in another they become step-siblings, but she is there throughout his life as the person he loves. 

His childhood summers are spent away at camp, where he forms a bond with a boy called Artie, who's sudden death has a huge impact in one story.

"Noah suddenly butted in. Boys, boys, he said, speaking in a deep, early funny Father-knows-best voice, stop this senseless quarrelling at once. We all know who the best centre fielder is, don't we? Ferguson and Dubinsky both turned and looked at Noah, who was lying on his bed with his elbow on the pillow and his head propped up on his hand. Dubinsky said: All right Harpo, let's hear it - but it better be the right answer. Now that he had their attention, Noah paused for a moment and smiled, a goofy yet inordinately beatific smile that lodged itself in Ferguson's memory and was never lost, recalled again and again as he passed from childhood to adolescence and into adulthood, a lightening bolt of pure, wild-eyed whimsy that revealed the true heart of the nine-year-old Noah Marx for the second or two it lasted, and then Noah ended the confrontation be saying: I am." (Part 1.4 p.102)

Here he loses an early girlfriend, taken back to Europe by her parents. This quote is included for Monkey, because of the mention of the Belgian girl, because this was the unofficial name of the character she portrayed in the production of Hansel and Gretel at the Edinburgh Fringe

"He saw her only once after that, a farewell date on Wednesday, an exceptional school-night outing that his mother allowed because she knew how important it was to him, even giving him extra money for cab fare (the first and only time it ever happened), so that he and his Belgian girl would not have to endure the humiliation of being chauffeured around by one of his parents, which would only have underscored how young he was, and since when had anyone that young ever been seriously in love?" (Part 2.1 p.132)

Ferguson and Amy:

"Nevertheless, for all the things they did and all the things they saw, the best part of those Saturdays was sitting in coffee shops and talking, the first round of the ongoing dialogue that would continue for years, conversations that sometimes turned into fierce spats when their opinions differed, the good or bad film they had just seen, the good or bad political idea one of them had just expressed, but Ferguson didn't mind with her, he had no interest in pushovers, the pouting, nincompoop girls who wanted only what they imagined to be the formalities of love, this was real love, complex and deep and pliable enough to allow for passionate discord, and how could he not lover this girl, with her relentless, probing gaze and immense, booming laugh, the high-strung and fearless Amy Schneiderman, who one day was going to be a war correspondent or a revolutionary or a doctor who worked among the poor. She was sixteen years old, pushing towards seventeen. The blank slate was no longer entirely blank, but she was still young enough to know she could rub out the words she had already written, rub them out and start again whenever the spirit moved her." (Part 2.1 p.142-3)

On being Jewish, and the subtle and not-so-subtle ways it affects him. Here his friend has asked him if he celebrates Thanksgiving:

"Ferguson was so bewildered by Dougie's comment that he didn't know what to say. Until that moment, it had never occurred to him that he might not be an American, or, more precisely, that his way of being an American was any less authentic than the way Dougie and the other boys were American, but that was what his friend seemed to be asserting: that there was a different between them, an elusive, indefinable quality that had to do with black-hatted English ancestors and the length of time spent on this side of the ocean and the money to live in four-story townhouses on the Upper East Side that made some families more American than others, and in the end the difference was so great that the less American families could barely be considered American at all." (Part 2.3 p.188)

I love the way books so often recommend other books. The post title comes from John Cage's book 'Silence', given to Ferguson by a fellow Princeton student, I cannot imagine a higher recommendation for a book:

"when Ron learned that their new friend from the Jersey swamps had never read a word of Cage's writing, he jumped to his feet, walked over to the bookcase, and pulled out a hardcover copy of Silence. You have to read this Archie, he said, or else you'll never learn how to think about anything except what other people want you to think." (p.594) 

The good thing about a long book is the chance to become thoroughly engaged with the character's lives and this book taxes the reader just a little by shifting their lives and relationships, showing how people's strengths and weaknesses change with their experiences. Having said that, although I enjoyed 4 3 2 1, I preferred Kate Atkinson's 'Life After Life' which does the same thing to completely different effect. I was also left with one question, why do male writers find it necessary to mention to size of a woman's breasts? He did it enough times for me to remark on and be irritated by it.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

acquiescence and compromise

I am not sure if the emotional intensity of Elizabeth Smart's 'By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept' was spoiled by reading it three pages at a time with my breakfast. This is definitely poetry, for all that it appears to have chapters and some minor narrative progress. The book is an internal monologue charting the highs and lows of the early years of her love affair with poet George Barker. It seems the most surreal of ideas to fall in love with someone's writing and for that to become a real tangible attachment to the person. We don't learn anything about George from the book, but his Wikipedia page says he had fifteen children with an unmentioned number of women, including Elizabeth and his two wives, and the two descriptive words 'catholic' and 'bohemian' seems somewhat contradictory. But the book is not about him, it is about love itself, and the power it has over those possessed by it. Prepare for a small cascade of quotations.

Her thoughts on their first few days together:

"So we drive along the Californian coast singing together, and I entirely renounce him for only her peace of mind. The wild road winds round ledges manufactured from the mountains and cliffs. The Pacific in blue spasms reaches all its superlatives.
Who do I not jump off this cliff where I lie sickened by the moon? I know these days are offering me only murder for my future. It is not just the creeping fingers of the cold that dissuade me from action, and allow me to accept the hypocritical hope that there may be some solution. Like Macbeth, I keep remembering that I am their host. So it is tomorrow's breakfast rather than the future's blood that dictates fatal forbearance. Nature, perpetual whore, distracts with the immediate. Shifty-eyed with this fallacy, I plough back to my bed, up through the tickling grass." (p.18)

After the first time they make love:

"Gently the wood sorrel and the dove explained the confirmation and guided my return. When I came out of the woods onto the hill, I had pine needles in my hair for a bridalwreath, and the sea and the sky and the gold hills smiled benignly. Jupiter has been with Leda, I thought, and now nothing can avert the Trojan Wars." (p.25)

Contemplating the feelings of Barker's wife Jessica:

"But the gentle flowers, able to die unceremoniously, remind me of her grief whose tears drown all ghosts, and though I swing in torture from the windiest hill, more angels weep for her whose devastated love runs into all the oceans of the world.
What did she cherish as her symbol, and how did she protect herself from panic when her ship pursued the month's-old storm, and she fought the cancer which was her knowing grief for her lost child? I have broken her heart like a robin's egg. Its wreck reaches her finite horizon." (p.35)

When they are arrested (for crossing the state line for immoral purposes):

"But you care about justice, inspector, or you wouldn't be where you are?
I don't make the laws, he said, it isn't up to me, I have no authority. He smiled, but he was afraid of his smile and went away with a thin-lipped man and read the letters we had written.
They're only literary letters, I said, about things we both liked.
But you're a Communist? he said.
But you've taken part in Communist activities?
You have friends who are Communists?
Not more than other sorts.
He repented his smile and was severe in result. The thin-lipped man was livid with hate of our lineaments of gratified desire. He sneaked through the streets at dusk to warn the hotel.
The two policemen who had arrested us and brought us over the deserts together on a bench, like minor schoolboys, washed and brushed and well-behaved, to return to their wives and calm households and their suppers, while we hurtled through confusion into tragedy because of their caprice on the Arizona border." (p.50-1)

On the disapproval of her mother:

"Then my mother's clutch held me every way, with claws of biology and pity and hysterical hypnotism, and made me long for my annihilation. Can even Freud explain the terror of that clutch, the inescapability of its greed for authority, and why it was stronger than the North East wind, memory, reason, or Pre-Cambrian rock?" (p.66)

On being apart:

"Philosophy, like lichens, takes centuries to grow and is always ignored in the Book of Instructions. If you can't Take It, Get Out.
I can't take it, so I lie on the hotel bed dissolving into chemicals whose adventure will pursue time to her extinguishment, without the slightest influence from these few years when I held them together in human passion." (p.84)

Weeping at Grand Central Station:

"But what except morphine can weave bearable nets around the tigershark that tears my mind to shreds, seeking escape on every impossible side? The senses deliver the unbearable into sleep, and it ceases, except that it appears gruesomely at the edges of my dreams, making ghastly signals which wear away peace, but which I cannot understand.
The pain was unbearable, but I did not want it to end: it had operate grandeur. It lit up Grand Central Station like a Judgement Day. It was more iron-muscled than Samson in his moment of revelation. It might have shown me all Dante's dream. But there was no way to endure." (p.103-4)

It is like a greek tragedy, such melodrama, I found myself lurching between sympathising and wanting to tell her to pull herself together. If she was your best friend you would warn her that she was wasting her life on him. I loved the fact that she relishes every moment of what she is experiencing, the good and the bad, almost basking in the heat of the emotions; as she says in the quote above, she does not want it to end, like exquisite misery. I think I was more taken with the miserable passages than the besotted ones, maybe I'm just old and cynical now. As I said you get nothing about George, so I was left to wonder what it was that she loved about him, the book does not even tell you that, it is as if the love is all inside her head and has little to do with the human being he is. I think it would be better read in one sitting, and at just over 100 pages it would only be an afternoon. This book was written during the war and was relative unknown for many years. She went back to creative writing much later in her life after rising her children alone, she sounds like a fascinating woman and certainly someone to read more of.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

a duck-fart in a hurrycane

'Cloud Atlas' by David Mitchell has been sitting around the living room for quite a while; what an utterly brilliant book. Not one story but six, linked by slightly intangible factors that come together as the pages pass. I confess I had all but forgotten the first story by the time we finally returned to it, but that's almost the strength of the book that he manages to get the reader completely engaged with each narrative so quickly. There are six stories: a lawyer takes a sea voyage in 1850 across the Pacific, letters to a friend by a young man in the home of a reclusive composer in Belgium in the 1930s, a young woman investigating corruption and safety at a nuclear power plant, a middle aged publisher ends up in a rather scary retirement home to escape the attentions of some small time criminals, a corporate Korean 'brave new world' where fabricated humans do all the drudge work on the promise of a Hawaiian retirement, and a post-apocalyptic future where humans live a nasty, brutish and short life and the heroine of the previous tale is worshipped as a god. When we reach the last story the book then dives backwards through the others, picking each one up where they were abandoned (sometimes mid sentence) and bringing each to their (somewhat) satisfactory conclusion. 

I found the book satisfying because it made an interesting point about stories, about how real they can feel when you are in them, but then from one step removed you suddenly realise they are just stories, and that the history of human beings is just layers and layers of stories. Wanting to be remembered or whatever by history is pointless because no matter how big your impact or your contribution, one day you will just be a story. I didn't write many quotes down, which is usually a sign that I am embroiled in the narrative. Each story was so unique, but it was not like a series of short stories, the links were subtle but they were important enough to make the book a complete whole.

"To men like Ayres, it occurs to me, this temple if civilization. The masses, slaves, peasants and foot-soldiers exist in the cracks of its flagstones, ignorant even of their ignorance. Not so the great statesmen, scientists, artists and, most of all, the composers of the age, any age, who are civilization's architects, masons and priests. Ayres sees our role is to make civilization ever more resplendent. My employer's profoundest, or only, wish is to create a minaret that inheritors of Progress a thousand years from now will point to and say, 'Look, there is Vyvyan Ayres!'
How vulgar, this hankering after immortality, how vain, how false. Composers are merely scribblers of cave paintings. One writes because winter is eternal and because if one didn't, the wolves and blizzards would be at one's throat all the sooner.
R.F." (p.82 Letters from Zedelghem)

In the far distant future the world has returned to ignorance and superstition, lacking knowledge and technology, the people in awe of the Prescients who arrive periodically by boat to trade. In this central story Zachry goes on a journey up the mountain with the visitor Meronym. Here they discuss what will happen when they reach their destination and his fears of a mythical figure of Old Georgie, and the reader is left in no doubt that their history contains some cataclysmic events that have wiped out the relevance of all previous lives. I find it is often the case that fiction about the future is laced with not so subtle messages about what humans are doing to their world. I liked the style in this story; the notion of what it might be like to write down speech for a culture that was no longer literate and so had lost formal conventions of spelling and grammar:

"Meronym said the weather was way more scaresome to her.
I spoke my mind: You don't b'lief he's real, do you?
Meronym said Old Georgie weren't real for her, nay, but he could still be real for me.
Then who, asked I, tripped the Fall if it weren't Old Georgie?
Eery birds I din't knowed yibbered news in the dark for a beat or two. The Prescient answered, Old'uns tripped their own Fall.
O, her words was a rope o' smoke. But Old'uns'd for the Smart!
I mem'ry she answered, Yay, Old'uns' smart mastered sicks, miles, seeds an' made miracles ord'nary, but it din't master one thing, nay, a hunger in the hearts o' humans, yay, a hunger for more.
More what? I asked. Old'uns'd got ev'rythin'.
O, more gear, more food, faster speeds, longer lifes, easier lifes, more power, yay. Now the Hole World is big but it weren't big 'nuff for that hunger what made Old'uns rip out the skies an' boil up the seas an' poison soil with crazed atoms an' donkey 'bout with rotted seeds so new plagues was borned an' babbits was freakbirthed. Fin'ly, bit'ly, then quicksharp, states busted into bar'bric tribes an' the Civ'lize Days ended, 'cept for a few folds'n'pockets here'n'there, where its last embers glimmer.
I asked why Meronym'd never spoke this yarnin' in the Valleys
Valleymen'd not want to hear, she answered, that human hunger birthed the Civ'lize, but human hunger killed it too. I know it from other tribes offland what I stayed with. Times are you say a person's b'liefs ain't true, they think you're sayin' their lifes ain't true an' their truth ain't true.
Yay, she was prob'ly right." (p.286-7 Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After)

Even though things worked out for our characters I was left with the idea that we are all, in the grand scale of things, duck-farts in a hurrycane.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Mathematical Poetry

In celebration of the United Nations World Poetry Day I give you (partly for Monkey who is a fan) PI by Wislawa Szymborska:

The admirable number pi:
three point one four one.
All the following digits are also initial,
five nine two because it never ends.
It can't be comprehended six five three five at a glance,
eight nine by calculation,
seven nine or imagination,
not even three two three eight by wit, that is, by comparison
four six to anything else
two six four three in the world.
The longest snake on earth calls it quits at about forty feet.
Likewise, snakes of myth and legend, though they may hold out a bit longer.
the pageant of digits comprising pi
doesn't stop at the page's edge.
It goes on across the table, through the air,
over the wall, a leaf, a bird's nest, clouds, straight into the sky,
through all the bottomless, bloated heavens.
Oh how brief - a mouse tail, a pigtail - is the tail of a comet!
How feeble the star's ray, bent by bumping up against space!
While here we have two three fifteen three hundred nineteen
my phone number your shirt size the year
nineteen hundred and seventy-three the sixth floor
the number of inhabitants sixty-five cents
hip measurements two fingers a charade, a code,
in which we find hail to thee, blithe spirit, bird thou never wert
alongside ladies and gentlemen, no cause for alarm,
as well as heaven and earth shall pass away,
but not the number pi, oh no, nothing doing,
it keeps right on with rather remarkable five,
its uncommonly fine eight,
its far from final seven,
nudging, always nudging a sluggish eternity
to continue.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Pandiagonal magic squares

The last week started on Monday evening with Simon Armitage (cool portrait on his website, do go and see), a Manchester Literature Festival event to launch his new collection 'The Unaccompanied'. Julie and I have seen him several times before and it was an excellent and entertaining evening, where I resisted buying the book. 

Monkey and I have been hard at work learning the capital cities of the world, so she made me a birthday cake with a map on it; she was disappointed to be unable to fit in Greenland once America was stuck on, but Africa is excellent. There were candles to mark specific capitals that I mainly failed to get right.
Then we did a charity shop trawl around Chorlton and came home with quite a substantial pile of books. I am particularly pleased with Paul Auster's New York Trilogy and Sebastian Barry. Candide and the two Asimov are for Monkey, and Ulysses is just to sit on the shelf for that moment when I feel inspired to tackle something hard.

Today Julie took me out to Elizabeth Gaskell's House to see a performance called 'Exploding Women', part of the Manchester Histories Festival, produced by the dynamic duo LipService Theatre. The show presented the chequered history of Manchester women of science, including Caroline Birley, Marie Stopes, Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker and Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw (The pandiagonal magic squares are one of Kathleen Ollerenshaw's significant contributions to mathematics.) We also had an interesting conversation with one of the volunteers at the house, about Mrs Gaskell's friendship with Charlotte Bronté, and, after my unexpected enjoyment of Emily Dickinson's biography this time last year, I am definitely inspired to read her biography of Charlotte. 

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The General and the Guest

Tish, Monkey and I descended on London yesterday with a couple of hundred thousand other people to protest the destruction of the NHS. In its nearly 70 years the National Health Service has provided cradle to grave care for the people of Britain; it is a straightforward redistribution of resources that allows ordinary people to go through life without the threat of ill health and destitution hanging over them. It seems bloody obvious that it has been a huge benefit to both the people and the economy of this country but its systematic dismantling by successive governments in recent years has slowly undermined the founding principles. Nye Bevan must be spinning in his grave.

It was a long coach ride there and back again, and 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster is a very heavy book that I didn't want to carry around with me all day, so I found 'Embers' by Sándor Márai on the TBR shelf and had consumed it by the time we got home. A Hungarian writer who moved the America in 1948 his work has not been translated until much more recently. 'Embers' is the story of two men, Henrik and Konrad, one the wealthy son of the Officer of the Guards, the other the son a Spanish Baron reduced to penury to support his son's education. A friendship forged in military school becomes a lifelong bond, broken, some 41 years before this tale unfolds, by Konrad's abrupt disappearance. The aged General sends the carriage for his oldest friend and they dine together one last time as blue candles burn down, flickering light on the room that is untouched since their previous meal in the company of Krisztina. 

This is a beautiful, intimate book about a friendship, but also about friendship itself, that the General talks about at length. Mostly the General talks, I did not feel that we got to know his Guest much at all, he says very little, but partly he is there so that the General can talk, can expunge the memory of their parting and its consequences. Set in the early years of the Second World War, that is barely mentioned, the book portrays the dying of their era, the end of the way of life that the aristocracy had entertained unchanged for centuries, a life where honour and duty are the guiding principles. The writing in the book captures this era so well, you can almost hear the crunch of the carriage wheels and feel the chill from the abandoned rooms in the neglected castle:

"He got to his feet and stood in front of the sway-bellied white porcelain stove that had once warmed his mother's bedroom. It was a large stove, at least a century old, and it radiated heat like some indolent corpulent gentleman intent on mitigating his own egoism with an easy act of charity." (p.21)  

I loved this piece that felt like a critique of the British; Konrad describing what happens to people when they live 'in the tropics':

"The English know how to defend themselves. They arrive with England in their suitcases. Their courteous arrogance. Their reserve. Their golf courses and tennis courts. Their whiskey. Their evening dress, that they change into every night in their tin-roofed houses out in the middle of the swamps. Not all of them, of course. That's just a legend. Most of them turn brutal after four or five years just like the others, the Belgians, the French, the Dutch. The tropics eat away their college manners the way leprosy eats away skin. Oxford and Cambridge rot down. Back home in the British Isles, everyone who has spent time in the tropics is suspect. They may be respected and honoured, but they are also suspect. I'm convinced that their entries in the security files are annotated with the word 'tropics', the way others would be stamped 'blood disease' or 'spying'." (p.94-5)

After a lot of circling round and reminiscing we finally we get to the issue in hand; Krisztina, the General's wife. I think he is a writer of his era, because he 'others' women, they are not the same as men, virtually another species. He repeatedly talks about how only men understand and experience true friendship. And his wife is this 'thing' that he has. He protests as length that he is not interested in knowing about the nature of their betrayal, but the more he goes on about it the more you know that it does matter to him, even now they are old and Krisztina is long dead. It is as if he knows nothing about women, so he cannot write about her, and as so often in this kind of book she is merely a symbol. It is what it is, and as a reader I think you have to read books within the context of when they were written. But I think that the General does not see that the pride and arrogance that are his inheritance caused his reaction to the betrayal and led to the wasted life he has passed, waiting to get his revenge.

"And I know Krisztina's days and nights, her body and soul, as well as I know my own. It's a crazy notion, that you and Krisztina ... and I am almost relieved when I make myself examine this notion. It must be something else. Whatever happened is deeper, more mysterious, less comprehensible. I have to talk to you. Should I have someone observe you? Like the jealous husband in a comedy? I am not a jealous husband. Suspicion has trouble taking hold in my nervous system, I am calm when I think about Krisztina, whom I found the way a collector finds the prize of his life, the rarest, most perfect object in his collection, the masterpiece, the goal, the meaning of his existence. Krisztina does not lie, Krisztina is not unfaithful, I know all her thoughts, even the secret ones that are thought only in dreams." (p.184-5)

Like 'Expensive People' it is just one side, we never know what Konrad and, much less, Krisztina were thinking and feeling. The General does not even know what it is that he wants. In the moment of betrayal he lost the two people he loved the most. He missed them and longed for them all the rest of his life. It is almost as if he just needed his Guest to listen to the story. Sometimes there can be neither forgiveness nor revenge, there is just the story.

Expensive People

'Expensive People' by Joyce Carol Oates has been my breakfast book for a month or two, slow going for such a tiny book. I don't have many books so yellowed, desiccated and disintegrating with age, and only costing 35p (when this edition was published in 1972). It reminded me somewhat of Lolita, a narrator telling their story, one side of the events, their own particular interpretation of the events, and even more unreliable because this narrator is a child, trying to make sense of life and utterly failing. It is also the tale of the parent/child relationship from the point of view of the child, the story of what happens when a child cannot rely on their parents.

Richard likes to spy on his parents; he sits on the landing and listens to their rows, their conversations, their telephone calls, their comings and goings, this is the crux of the story:

"I'll tell you about it: years of anguished, guilty spying. I had to spy - how else could I have known what life was, or who they were, my parents, what they were? So I spied and I learned and I tabulated, calculated, speculated. But at these special times when we were together I thought that i had somehow, magically, captured a man and a woman from another land, foreign and exotic and not quite speaking my language, who were tamed by my power and love and who walked obediently after me, robust and comely and healthy as horses. Such fine horses! These were my true parents. The others - the dissatisfied Natashya Romanov, minor writer, and blubbering breast-beating executive Elwood Everett - were nothing but cruel step-parents." (p.20-1)

He informs us on the first page that he is a murderer. For a while I expected it to develop into more of a mystery, but it is the story of his childhood, the petty traumas and the more significant ones, that drive him to this one dreadful act. It is his explanation, his justification for it, and he is asking the reader (whom he addresses directly) to act as his judge and jury. 

While it is both his parents that he watches, it is Nada, his mother who draws the utmost devotion, she is this strange misunderstood person, unreliable, who has left them before, and will do so again:

"And she stood, quiet sand serious, looking at me the way she looked at Father or women with their hair in rollers out on the street or the messes neighbourly dogs made on our lawn. Her face was magnificent and pale, her eyes dark,a little demented, as if tiny curving pieces of glass had been fitted over them for some weird theatrical purpose. Oh, I don't know! I don't know what she looked like! I watched and watched her for years. I stared at her and loved her. I have photographs of her in my desk drawer that I finger and caress and still I don't know what she looked like; she passed over from being another person into being part of myself. It was as if Nada, my mother, had become a kind of embryonic creature stuck in my body, not in a womb maybe but part of my brain. How can you describe a creature that is lodged in your brain? It's all impossible, a mess ..." (p.84)

He loves her but often feels of secondary importance to her, being taken along on her adventures almost like a dog, but he doesn't mind, because his adoration has doglike qualities. I so often felt sorry for him, though he never seems to pity himself or wish for a more normal, predictable life. Here his thoughts when Nada takes him to the library:

"A lovely library - how I love libraries, any and all libraries, those sanctuaries for the maimed and undanceable, the lowly, pimply, neurotic, overweight, underweight, myopic, asthmatic ... Few are the flirtations in a library, I insist, though Nada never had to search far for an adventure. Few are the assaults, physical or verbal. Libraries exist for people like me." (p.85)

I think his narration is unreliable for different reasons, mostly because he often does not understand what is happening, and you get such a strong sense of his insecurity, his confusion. Here, part of the story of the dog Sparky, one dog, but also several dogs who they all pretend are the same dog:

"What kind of a day? Misty, mild; spring. Nada dressed in beautiful new suit, new gloves and purse in hand, ready to press the button and raise the garage door and drive off, destination unknown. Yes, I can see her there. In a minute she will leave.
Happy days are all one big blur of confusion, but so are unhappy days; in my sordid life, all days were blurs of confusion. But this was a happy day and blurred as usual with my shouts of joy and Sparky's little whimpers and his fuzzy, downy stomach (much more downy than the soft blonde down of Nada's arms) and his caramel-candy-coloured coat. He was delicious enough to eat! I hugged Sparky in my clumsy arms and helped his wave goodbye to Nada, who drove out and away, and I didn't turn aside from his wet leaping tongue.
And then ... not a minute later there was an aqua laundry truck." (p.127-8)

Slowly and surely, the years of his childhood pass. During another of her repeated absences he reads the forbidden stories that she has published. His feelings for her are eroded; not his love for her, but his sense that he knows and understand her, and the scene begins to be set of the denouement:

"You who've never read the secret words of the familiar, the domesticated people you love, and who've never snuggled into their brains and looked out through their eyes, how can you understand what I felt? It's as if I had opened a door ands Nada not as she wanted to seem to us, but Nada as she really was, a stranger, a person Father and I did not know and had no connection with. We are accustomed to people existing in orbit around us, and we dread thinking of their deaths because of the slight tug we will feel when their presence is gone - we'll be drawn closer to the rigidity of darkness, space, death. We are accustomed to these smaller planets always showing the same sides to us, familiar, predictable, secure, sound, sane, accommodating, but when I looked through Nada's eyes I knew that I had been tricked, that she showed only her narrowest, most ignorant side to me, and that she had cheated me all of my life." (p.160)

His experience after the event, of nobody believing his confession, seems to sum up the surreal nature of what he does, almost like an out-of-body experience, and his sense, throughout the story, of never being sure of what is real and what is not, of the truth of anyone's emotions or actions:

"I tiptoed to the staircase and went upstairs. Nothing creaked. At the top I waited. I was good at waiting. A kind of sunny haze enveloped me, and I stood there waiting and not-waiting, thinking that Nada and I were alone in the house, all alone, and she did not know it. I was in a kind of agreeable trance. Later, when I was to recount all this as part of my confession, they checked with my maths teacher, Mr Hale, and to my amazement he told them that I hadn't been absent that day! according to his records, this 'Richard Everett' had had perfect attendance up until the time he stopped coming altogether. But I insist, my readers, that I was absent, yes, I was absent from class that morning, and all but absent from even this perch at the top of the stairs my mind was drifting and wandering." (p.196)

It turns out the disintegration of his trust was totally justified, and things were not as they had appeared. A thoroughly disconcerting book, but Joyce Carol Oates is always a writer to recommend.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The Essex Serpent

I have whizzed through 'The Essex Serpent' by Sarah Perry since it is in a long queue and the library limits the loan to two weeks.  I was a little bemused by this book since I expected some kind of mystery, certainly a dark threatening undercurrent and sinister happenings, but there was nothing like that at all. It is in effect a love story; a story about love in all its many and varied forms, filial, romantic, platonic, sexual, unconditional and (by no means least) unrequited. It is the bonds between the characters that forms the basis for the story; Cora and Martha, Luke Garrett and George Spencer, William Ransome and Mr Cracknell, Joanna and Naomi. And silently observing them all, Francis, son of Cora and Michael Seaborne; a slightly odd young boy with what are obviously autistic qualities, not understood by his mother, but recognised and acceded to. They are all interesting and well rounded characters, who manage to make the somewhat haphazard story engaging. I felt there was rather too much going on, that too many different tracks were being followed. The basic tale of a village under the threat of a mythical monster becomes a slightly confusing one of mass hysteria. The young man who's stab wound is repaired by Dr Garrett becomes the focus of attention in the political storyline that Martha is pursuing, and the man with a grudge against him makes a somewhat irrelevant reappearance. Stella falls ill and no one seems to notice when she drifts off into la la land. People seem to spend a lot of time just trudging round the countryside. It's almost as if each character has to be given their own private crisis, because the Essex Serpent turns out to be such a non event (sorry, spoiler). Several people are enamoured of another who does not return their affections, and on that front the outcome for pretty much every body was unsatisfactory. Some aspects of the story all felt a little contrived. 

I did like the fact that there was some real politics, which you don't find much in novels. Here is Spencer, contemplating the new housing policy:

"What at first had been merely a means of pleasing Martha has become ann obsession: he pores over Hansard and committee minutes, he puts on his worst coat and goes walking down past Drury Lane. He discovered Parliament's habit of making policies benevolently enough, and then covering its eyes and shaking hands with industry. Sometimes the greed and malice of what he sees appals him so much he thinks he must've misunderstood; he looks again, and it's worse than he thought. the local authorities tear down slums, and compensate landlords according to lost rents. Since nothing makes a tenement more profitable than vice and overcrowding, landlords facilitate both as diligently as any pimp in the street, and government rewards them handsomely. The tenants then turned out find themselves considered too immoral for a smart new Peabody home, and are left to find rooms in lodging-houses: there are times when the streets and full of firelight as tenants burn furniture too poor to be sold. Spencer thinks of his family home in Suffolk, where recently his mother discovered another room they'd never known was there, and is nauseated." (p.182-3)

I think my favourite character is Joanna Ransome (daughter of Will and Stella) and her transformation from superstitious child into thoughtful, intelligent and ambitious young woman. She epitomises how important role models were (and are) for young girls; she meets Cora and sees in her a woman who knows about and is interested in all manner of subjects, is always learning about things, and has a life beyond the domestic sphere. 
Things I did not like: dropping in brand names for products that people are using, it is unnecessary and jarring. And, sorry, but a really bad writing award goes to any author who gives a character 'violet eyes', it is a clichéd and lazy way of trying to make them seem unique, used by fantasy writers the world over and should definitely not be included in anything with pretensions to literary fiction. 
I have read several admiring reviews for this book, and although I enjoyed it I do not think it is anything special.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

A Freckled and Frivolous Cake

I realise I haven't read every writer on the planet, but I think I can say with some certainty that nobody writes like Mervyn Peake. Monkey and I have been relishing 'Titus Groan' over the last few months; it took a long time because she kept going away, but also sometimes we had to pause and appreciate the incredible way he expresses himself. Just a couple of chapters will make you think that every other metaphor or simile you have ever read is trite and predictable. We kept the dictionary handy to enhance our appreciation of his vast vocabulary.

The title character, Titus, makes only limited appearances in this book, the first of a trilogy, intended to be a much more extensive collection of novels, cut short by Peake's untimely death. The book is more the tale of a year in the life of Gormenghast castle: its weird occupants, its weird traditions and ceremonies, and the rise from obscurity of a young man called Steerpike (not only does he have a fantastic vocabulary, but Peake has the most fabulous of character names). On the day Titus is born Steerpike escapes from a locked room high in the castle by climbing out of the window, up the walls and across the roof, ending up in the secret attic of Lady Fuchsia (daughter of Lord Sepulchrave). She is partly horrified at having her privacy invaded but also strangely fascinated by this outsider materialising into a life that has been isolated and self-centred. The reader watches then with increasing incredulity as Steerpike wheedles his way into the upper echelons of Gormenghast society, and brings about some pretty fundamental changes to the status quo. Having said that, not much really happens, and the story is about the people and the place, and, even more, the atmosphere.

"Titus watched Keda's face with his violet eyes, his grotesque little features modified by the dull light at the corner of the passage. There was the history of man in his face. A fragment from the enormous rock of mankind. A leaf from the forest of man's passion and man's knowledge and man's pain. That was the ancientness of Titus.
Nannie's head was old with lines and sunken skin, with the red rims of her eyes and the puckers of her mouth. A vacant anatomical ancientry.
Keda's oldness was the work of fate, alchemy. An occult agedness. A transparent darkness. A broken and mysterious grove. A tragedy, a glory, a decay.
These three sere beings at the shadowy corner waited on. Nannie was sixty-nine, Keda was twenty-two, Titus was twelve days old." (p.102)

Here is Steerpike, ingratiating himself with the Prunesquallors; I love the tiny comment at the end, so subtle, that indicated the effect he seems to have on people:

"'We shall dress him in pale grey,' she said.
'Who, blood of my blood?' cried Prunesquallor. 'Who is to be apparisoned in the hue of doves?'
'Who? how can you say "Who?"! This youth, Alfred, this youth. He is taking Pellet's place. I am discharging Pellet tomorrow. He has always been so slow and clumsy. Don't you think so? Don't you think so?'
'I am far beyond thinking, bone of my bone. Far, far beyond thinking. I hand over the reins to you, Irma. Mount and begone. The world awaits you.'
Steerpike saw that the time was ripe.
'I am confident I shall give satisfaction, dear lady,' he said. 'My reward will be to see you, perhaps, once more, perhaps twice more, if you will allow me, in this dark gown that so becomes you. The slight stain which I noticed upon the hem I will remove tomorrow, with your permission. Madam,' he said, with that startling simplicity with which he interlarded his remarks, 'where can I sleep?'
Rising to her feet stiffly, but with more self-conscious dignity than she had found it necessary to assume for some while past, she motioned him to follow her with a singularly wooden gesture, and led the way through the door.
Somewhere in the vaults of her bosom a tiny imprisoned bird had begun to sing." (p.172)

The castle as character:

"Autumn returned to Gormenghast like a dark spirit re-entering its stronghold. Its breath could be felt in the forgotten corridors - Gormenghast had itself become autumn. Even the denizens of this fastness were its shadows.
The crumbling castle, looming among the mists, exhaled the season, and every cold stone breathed it out. The tortured trees by the dark lake burned and dripped, and their leaves snatched by the wind were whirled in wild circles through the towers. The clouds mouldered as they lay coiled, or shifted themselves uneasily upon the stone sky-field, sending up wreaths that drifted through the turrets and swarmed up the hidden walls." (p.180)

Over the course of the year Steerpike works his way up, pandering to the weaknesses of the aristocracy and skilfully removing others in positions of power, and you get the distinct feeling he has few limits to his ambitions. In this little moment Fuchsia seems to have a premonition of were he is headed:

"Breathing in the sharp air she gulped and clenched her hands together until her nails bit at her palms. Then she began to walk. She had been walking for over an hour when she heard footsteps behind her and, turning, saw Steerpike. She had not seen him since the night at the Prunesquallors' and never as clearly as now, as he approached her through the naked autumn. He stopped when he noticed that he was observed and called:
'Lady Fuchsia! May I join you?'
Behind him she saw something which, by contrast with the alien, incalculable before her, was close and real. It was something which she understood, something which she could never do without, or be without, for it seemed as though it were her own self, her own body, at which she gazed, and which lay so intimately upon the skyline. Gormenghast. The long, notched outline of her home. It was now his background. It was a screen of walls and towers pocked with windows. He stood against it, an intruder, imposing himself, so vividly, so solidly, against her world, his head overtopping the loftiest of its towers." (p.254-5)

This one is probably my favourite passage from the book and exemplifies the style so perfectly. Swelter is the chef, the ruler below stairs, and Mr Flay the ruler above, being Lord Sepulchrave's personal servant. He could have written simply that they don't like each other much, by why would you, when you could say this instead:

"Swelter's eyes meet those of his enemy, and never was there held between four globes of gristle so sinister a hell of hatred. Had the flesh, the fibres, and the bones of the chef and those of Mr Flay been conjured away and away down that dark corridor leaving only their four eyes suspended in mid-air outside the Earl's door, then, surely, they must have reddened to the hue of Mars, reddened and smouldered, and at last broken into flame so intense was their hatred - broken into flame and circles about one another in ever-narrowing gyres and in swifter and yet swifter flight until, merged into one sizzling globe of ire, they must surely have fled, the four in one, leaving a trail of blood behind them in the cold grey air of the corridor, until, screaming as they fly beneath innumerable arches and down endless passageways of Gormenghast, they found their eyeless bodies once again, and re-entrenched themselves in startled sockets."

What I enjoyed so much was that the book has writing like this, but at the same time he is beautifully subtle and knows exactly the right word: "The long corridors were susurrous with rumour." (p.421). Reading Titus Groan I was reminded of a writing advice article in the Guardian, from Roddy Doyle that said "Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, e.g. 'horse', 'ran', 'said'.", and it made me think that he was right, if you don't know a fancy word for something don't go looking for one, it will just sound wrong. But Mervyn Peake does not sound wrong. I have to assume he just had these words in his vocabulary and uses them with both precision and creativity, often taking words that were familiar and using them in unusual ways. The language is unexpected and challenging but never pretentious or inauthentic. I enjoyed reading a word, not understanding it, and then rereading the sentence with new appreciation once the meaning was clear. 
Here are the words we looked up:

So we have jumped eagerly into the next book; will baby Titus ever get out of the smothering clutches of Nannie Slagg, will Barquetine get a wooden leg, will Cora and Clarice ever get their golden thrones, will Lady Groan be suffocated in her sleep by the horde of white cats and just what is Steerpike hoping to discover with his network of holes and mirrors? 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

lots of blocks

I have not completed my transition from knitter to crocheter, but the process seems to be well underway. I decided I wanted to have a go at granny squares so my lovely friend Julie bought me this book, 200 crochet blocks by Jan Eaton, and I have been working my way though it. What with the Monkey Quilt and the sofa blanket we don't actually need another thing to cuddle on the sofa with, so I am making this one for my sister Claire. Granny squares come in three kinds: ones that go round and round from a central ring, ones that go back and forth in lines and ones that combine the other two methods. As usual for me I have decided not to plan either a design or a colour scheme and will just go with the creative flow and come up with something wild and wonderful. I would certainly recommend it as a learning tool for new crocheters, as you can master new techniques in each square, which, like the hexipuffs, are a discrete project in themselves, and if something turns out to be a bit complicated you can just unravel and start a new one. I am being very disciplined and sewing in the ends as I go, since the prospect of having 144 squares with ends to sew in all in one go is just too depressing to contemplate. Some are done with a lovely long-colour-change yarn that saves the bother of having to keep joining new colours.

Brave New World

'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley is such an iconic book, one of many to imagine an alternative reality, but rereading it it feels dated and almost quaint; some parts have fantastic futuristic technology and other parts are stuck firmly in the 1930s. Set several hundred years into the future it gives us a world where God has been replaced with Ford, but only in that babies are now created on a production line rather than via the traditional method. The first few chapters detail this process for the reader, so they understand how the manipulation of human life has become the basis for a new pre-determined social caste system that dictated how the whole of society is organised. The developing foetuses are enhanced or 'poisoned' to differing degrees and then conditioned as children (raised by the state of course) to accept their place and to be unquestioning participants in the life they are allocated. 

" 'Stability,' said the Controller, 'stability. No civilization without social stability. No social stability without individual stability.' His voice was a trumpet. Listening they felt larger, warmer.
The machine turns, turns and must keep turning - for ever. It is death if it stands still. A thousand million scrabbled the crust of the earth. The wheels began to turn. In a hundred and fifty years there were two thousand millions. Stop all the wheels. In a hundred and fifty weeks there are once again only a thousand million; a thousand thousand thousand men and women have starved to death.
Wheels must turn steadily, but cannot turn unattended. There must be men to tend them, men as steady as the wheels upon their axles, sane men, obedient men, stable in contentment." (p.44)

"Before Bernard could answer, the lift came to a standstill.
'Roof!' called a creaking voice.
The lift man was a small simian creature, dressed in the black tunic of an Epsilon-Minus Semi-Moron.
He flung open the gates. The warm glory of afternoon sunlight made him start and blink his eyes. 'Oh, roof!' he repeated in a voice of rapture. He was as though suddenly and joyfully awakened from a  dark annihilating stupor. 'Roof!'
He smiled up with a kind of doggily expectant adoration into the faces of his passengers. Talking and laughing together, they stepped out into the light. The lift man looked after them." (p.56)

Bernard Marx (a bit of an outsider) and Lenina Crowne take a trip together to the Reservation, a place outside Civilization, to see how the 'savages' live. There they meet Linda, a woman from civilization, abandoned pregnant and forced to live and raise her baby as an outcast. Bernard arranges to bring Linda and her now grown son John back to civilization. John, having been neglected by his alcoholic mother, has a view of life and morality formed by a weird combination of living amongst the Indians and by reading the Complete Works of Shakespeare (the only book available to him) and he experiences the delights of civilization with increasing horror. He becomes a minor celebrity with people vying with each other for invites to meet him, but lacking the childhood conditioning that would enable him to fit in it is obvious things are not going to work out well. 

The morality of quasi-compulsory sexual promiscuity is an extension of the lack of any real bonds between people, they have no family bonds of course and they are discouraged from having ongoing relationships. What is most disturbing about the book is the way that social control is achieved through a passive, coddled, drugged and entertained population; there is no violence or repression, everyone just does what is expected of them because they do not have the ability to think otherwise, even those at the top of the hierarchy. In fact, it is not merely in his precognition of test tube babies that Huxley is so accurate, but also the advent of virtual reality, mass consumerism and a disposable culture. I was wrong, it is not quaint. The more I think about and reread odd pages the more disturbing it becomes. In a way the story of John's experiences are a distraction from the story of the society, the undercurrent of which is the real purpose of the book. Here, I love the wonderful juxtaposition of the idyllic children's garden with the political message: 

"Outside, in the garden, it was playtime. Naked in the warm June sunshine, six or seven hundred little boys and girls were running with shrill yells over the lawns, or playing ball games, or squatting silently in twos and threes among the flowering shrubs. The roses were in bloom, two nightingales soliloquised in the boskage, a cuckoo was just going out of tune among the lime trees. The air was drowsy with the murmur of bees and helicopters.
The Director and his students stood for a short time watching a game of Centrifugal Bumble-puppy. Twenty children were grouped in a circle round a chrome-steel tower. A ball thrown up so as to land on the platform at the top of the tower rolled down into the interior, fell on a rapidly revolving disk, was hurled through one of other of the numerous apertures pierced in the cylindrical casing, and had to be caught.
'Strange,' mused the Director, as they turned away, 'strange to think that even in Our Ford's day most games were played without more apparatus than a ball or two and a few sticks and perhaps a bit of netting. Imagine the folly of allowing people to play elaborate games which do nothing whatever to increase consumption. It's madness. Nowadays the Controllers won't approve of any new game unless it can be shown that it requires at least as much apparatus as the most complicated of existing games.'" (p.35)

An interesting reread, and it would be fascinating to know what Huxley might make of the 21st century world.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Two visits to Antony

My February leave week seems to have become our regular time of year for a visit to the boys. Jake has cut his hair and Lewis got a dog (which somehow miraculously managed not to be in the photo, since it had been jumping on us on the sofa for much of the previous 24 hours), but other than that life seems to be pottering on quietly as usual.

Monkey had expressed a need to go fly George (the kite), and so we headed out on Tuesday to Crosby beach where another Antony Gormley work of art is installed. "Another Place" is a collection of 100 cast iron figures (reduced to 84 by the local council in 2007 as a compromise during a debate over allowing the figures to remain on the beach) that stand in isolation looking out to sea. There is a fascinating contrast between the figures that become submerged by the tide each day ...

and those sited further up the beach ...

We were fortunate that the tide was out so we walked barefoot across the sand to visit the Antonys that were further out. It was only looking for references this evening that I discovered that the Liverpool tourist website recommends: "Crosby beach is a non-bathing beach with areas of soft sand and mud and a risk of changing tides. Visitors should stay within 50 metres of the promenade at all times and not attempt to walk out to the furthest figures." 
There was hardly a breath of wind but by walking briskly we managed to get George up in the air, and even Antony had a go a flying him. It's a strangely atmospheric installation and well worth a visit if you happen to be in the area (we got bit lost but the beach parking is well signed from Crosby), particularly if you can go at a less busy time. (Some better photos of them at the original site on Antony Gormley's website.)

Saturday, 4 February 2017

The Private Lives of Trees

'The Private Lives of Trees' by Alejandro Zambra is a strange little book that I read (as recommended) in one sitting on Tuesday morning. It is less than 100 pages but packs a lot of emotional impact into them. Julián meets Verónica by chance when he arranges for her to bake a cake for his girlfriend, a relationship that is already disintegrating without him realising. The book covers a few hours of his life as he is watching over his stepdaughter Daniela and awaiting Verónica's return from an evening class, and as the night passes he reflects on his own history and tells Daniela stories about trees. 

"Now Julián has a real family, the kind that spends Saturday afternoons doing science homework or watching Tim Burton movies. Daniela has just fallen asleep, and he strings his ears, anticipating his wife's arrival, but he can only make out, distantly, the hoarse bubbling of the aquarium they set up in the living room a few months ago. Stealthily, Julián approaches Cosmo and Wanda, who continue their changeless voyage through the dirty water, and he observes them with disproportionate attention, his face to the glass. suddenly, theatrically, Julián takes on the attitude of a watchman, a fish watcher, a man specially trained to keep fish from leaving aquariums." (p.44)

It is just a lovely understated little book that works its way under your skin and leaves you wanting things to turn out better for Julián. He is sympathetic because he does not want much from life; he notices insignificant things, and makes them more significant in telling about them. As it gradually becomes apparent that Verónica is not returning he begins to dwell on what the future might hold for Daniela and the line becomes a little blurred as to whether he is living through this fateful night or remembering it from some point in the future. Though written by a Chilean writer I did not get a sense of anything 'foreign' about it, it is very much about the character of Julián.  

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Eileen Myles for president

The Manchester Literature Festival has had a few events outside their usual festival and I went last week to hear the most wonderful Eileen Myles, who read for us from her book 'Chelsea Girls' and some poems from her new collection 'I must be living twice'. She also talked about the current situation in America and her own experience of standing as a write-in candidate for the presidency back in 1992, and she read for us her acceptance speech, that to my mind presents a radical and somewhat esoteric vision of what a country could be. (I hoped to find a video of it but there is only the text). In trying times it is good to remember there are idealists out there.

First I want to say this feels incredible. To be female, to run and run and run to not see any end in sight but maybe have a feeling that there's really no outside to this endeavor this beautiful thing. You know we don't have a single female on any of our bills. And what about two women, two women loving. Or even more. A lot of women. A lot of money. Is there a message that I failed to receive that the face of woman cannot be on our money. And what about that house I just won. that white one. When I sit there and if I sit there and I've got to tell you I'm not sure I want to sit there. Some of you might remember my first campaign yes that was back in 1992. Few men have run for twenty-four years. Twenty-five by the time I stand and take the oath in January to serve my country. I did not quit I stand here with you on this beautiful rapturous day sunny day in New York to turn around, to look back and look at all that we've won. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's get back to that house. That white house. We often hear these words even as an explanation of what metonym means. Are you familiar with this term. Yes I promise you poetic presidency. The white house speaks is a metonym. Certainly that white house we speak of is not the whole government. Like Fred Moten says it is incomplete. But it has come to be a symbol of it. And I think two things. I think whiteness, I think of the whiteness of the house and I think of house-ness. It houses the government. Now that I have won it offers to house me now. I now officially make that white house a homeless shelter. It is a complete total disgrace that we have people without homes living on the streets of America. I have lived with them. Not for long periods of time but in the same way that I am the first president who knows what women feel because I am a woman, I am one, I have also eaten chicken with the homeless. I ate at the Bowery mission. Very rubbery, very chewy chicken. Those chicken were not happy when they lived and they are no happier being chewed on dead at the Bowery mission, and the chewers are not happy either, no. So here's the future good food at the white house for all the homeless in America. You know who the homeless are. They are military men and women. Who fought our pointless wars, who came home after each stupid greedy war we have waged and they got less. Is there a GI bill for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm not sure but I don't think so. Can they buy a house. Who can buy a house. Under Myles they have bought the white house. That is my gift. The white house will house the mentally ill, out patiented during the great president Reagan, meaning he threw them out of the house, the mentally ill, thrown out of the American house, and the alcoholics who do not have free and abundant and available treatment? Cause this country breaks our hearts. We will habit them too. We will occupy all government buildings and memorials housing and holding and loving the homeless and the sick and the starving. We'll do what the statue says. you know liberty. We will take buildings and we will build buildings and our culture our new America will begin to live. Our government needs to be in the business of living not dying, what else is a government for. The government will become more departmental and take you in, you and your wonderful needs. We'll start with the Department of Women. Obviously to say women matter and do matter so much and a lot we need a distinct place in the government to specifically focus on female concerns which is parity mainly, reforming congress so that if America is increasingly diverse in a multitude of ways our congress must represent those groups percentage wise that's smart don't you think. So if most of the people in America are female so should be our government right. America is not a department store. We want to do more in our country than shop online and at the mall. Let's face it everyone is home shopping and yelling each other at their computers. The malls are falling apart. The malls are pretty much gone. Let them go. We want to make real departments for who we really are. Not shopping. We will be stalwart, we will be strong. Let's go. Let's go out. we are out there now. We are here on the high line. Yes.

That's the way it works under Myles. Early on I described a department of culture. We will have that. We will have art in America, not just the magazine, just for starters we will multiply the budget of the NEA by tenfold. We will bring back CETA, that was like an art workers program we had in the eighties but we will call it SEE THE… SEE THE… what I don't know. I just got elected, I haven't worked everything out but just think of the possibilities. SEE THE sky, SEE THE river over there, SEE THE Whitney, a lot of people will be walking around appreciating and we will pay them. There will also be the HEAR THE program, the SMELL THE program. That's probably what you're going to do early on with all those you know recovering veterans who don't have to live on the streets. Get them in on the SEE THE, SMELL THE, HEAR THE programs. We're going to massively fund libraries, open twenty-four hours, and they will not be filled with homeless people because they will have homes, so the libraries will be filled with people reading and watching movies, and going into the conversation rooms and having conversations and so on. All education will be free, trains will be free. Cars will eventually be banned. Cars are stupid. No more pumping oil, no more fracking. Everything will be driven by the sun, or else be plugged in electrically. Electric something. There'll be lots of free food. A lot of archery. Everyone will be a really good shot. We'll get good at aiming, intentions, not killing. Oh yeah and we'll send a lot of masseuses to Israel and Palestine. Everyone needs a good rub. No more pesticides, here, anywhere, lots of small farmers, an amazing number of stand up comedians, and lots of rehearsal spaces and available musical instruments and learning centers for people like myself who would like to play something, perhaps a guitar. Nobody would be unemployed. Everyone would be learning Spanish, or going to the sex center for a while having ejaculation contests, or just looking at porn for a while and going out into the yard and helping the farmers improve the crops. Just gardening. Helping the flowers. Distributing the flowers. SEE THE flowers. When in doubt always just being a SEE THE person for a while. There'll be a whole lot of people encouraging people to SEE THE. We want the SEE THE to thoroughly come back. There'd be an increase in public computers, like water, like air, have we stopped the oil and the fracking early enough to protect the water and air, we hope so but there will be a decrease in private computers with an enhanced desire to be here, exactly here where we are, which some would argue is there on the computer which of course would be allowed but being here would be cool, some people meditating, other people just walking around, smiling feeling good about themselves, living shamelessly and glad. Guns would be buried. Guns would be in museums and people would increasingly not want to go there. Gun museums would die. What was that all about. Money would become rare. I would have a radio show as your president and also I might be on television and also I just might want to talk to you. In the tradition of American Presidents like Fiorello LaGuardia the little Flower I would be president Edward Myles, the woman, changing my name, very often, would probably be good I would like that and I would write a new poem for you each week. I might just walk around saying it and eventually you would forget I was the president. I would go to the gym. There are people who like to manage things just like there are people who like to play cards and the managers would change often enough and they would keep the parks clean, America increasingly turning into one big park, one big festival of existence with unmarked toilets and nightly daily events and free surfing lessons and free boards, just put it back when you're done and a good bed for everyone, I just slept in the best bed last night and I slept on the plane sleep is great nobody would be short of sleep everyone would be well slept, chaotic and loving hearted and have all the time in the world to not kill, to love and be president everyone take your turn and dance. Dance now. I love my fellow citizens. It is good to win. Thank you. I feel like I had a bad dream last night that like the head of the FBI decided to steal the election by making shit up about me because I am female but that wasn't true and we are really here undeluded, un mucked up. Wide awake in America for once. See the see the see all of your fabulous beauty and your power and your hope. Thanks for your vote. And I love you so much thanks.
—Eileen Myles


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