I wish Janet Malcolm would have to add an appendix to Silent Woman for every new installment of Hughes and Plath biography mess.* This latest bit reminded me that it is LESS THAN TEN YEARS until the trunk gets opened in Ted Hughes’ archive at Emory, the one that he packed himself that’s locked off until 2023, and how much I sincerely hope that I’m not struck down before that happens because I have SO MANY THEORIES about what is in there.** After that you can put me on an ice floe and send me off. (Also think one of the two lost Plath journal notebooks is going to show up some time in the next decade—either in that trunk or from some Assia Wevill relative or if the house in Devon is ever fully unpacked. And then everyone’s going to have to REWRITE everything.)
Related: Was thinking last night about biography and how brutal it can be in its assessments. Someone was described this way in the one I’m reading: “Often dressed in yellow, her favorite color, Rose was soon known as a passable if gloomy poet and indifferent author of short stories…” Her husband: “George, a conventional and reasonably prolific author, was known as a drunk.” It really makes you lie in bed and stare at the ceiling for a while.
* Anne Stevenson in her study, tapping out a long consoling email to Jonathan Bate.
** If it turns out to just be some elaborate astrological charts and Leonard Baskin doodles and Shakespeare genealogies, how disappointing—and funny.
I’m enjoying that phone conversations with my mom are my main conduit to what’s happening at the Olympics. “Both routines were beautiful. One was to the music from that ballet… you know the one with the evil swan. The other one was to ‘Scheherazade.”
Good news, forgetful witches! You might have spaced out on it yesterday and only remembered when you were falling asleep last night, but there are still TWO MORE DAYS to celebrate the Roman festival of Lupercalia.
Skipping this part this year.
Whenever I need to make myself laugh I think of the time my friend Ben got a slight concussion from falling off a car while playing ‘Starsky & Hutch grab-ass’ and the ER doctor, writing him a prescription later, asked him if he had any allergies and Ben said, “Yes, salmon.” I offer this on the off chance that you happen to be a young patrician Luperci who might later today, after being anointed with sacrificial blood “wiped off the bloody knife with wool soaked in milk,” be “expected to smile and laugh.” That can be awkward.
"Perhaps the greatest sea serpentologist of all times was Antoon Cornelis Oudemans, a Dutchman who was by training an entomologist, specializing in acarology, the study of mites and ticks."
— Aie, so much there there. But mostly I like the idea that if everyone were to rank their favorite sea serpentologists, Antoon Cornelis Oudemans would top most people’s lists but not EVERYONE’s and so “perhaps.”
“Being an idealist, I too wish that the world was better than I am. Like all the rest of my fellow men, I don’t want to live around people with no more principles than I have. My inner fineness is continually outraged at finding that the world is a whole family of Hurstons. Seeing these things, I have come to the point by trying to make the day at hand a positive thing, and realizing the uselessness of gloominess.”—Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on the Road, page 229. (via emilyhouk)
Drinking bear, eating pumpkin pie, reading Bring Up The Bodies. Mantel likes ‘sullen’ the way Tartt likes ‘scorched.’ So far have looked up ‘kine’ (cows!) and ‘corvine’ (crow-like!). Also: “If someone said to Lady Rochford, ‘It’s raining,’ she would turn it into a conspiracy; as she passed the news on, she would make it sound somehow indecent, unlikely, but sadly true.”
About 150 pages from the end of The Goldfinch. Really hoping the little dog makes it through okay.
(Was thinking this morning of Ann Friedmanish chart of What’s Making Us Anxious In The Goldfinch?, and how it’d be 40% Popchik dying because everyone is too drugged out and forgets him or he gets run over.)
Yesterday we went mattress shopping. A friend of ours works at a mattress store, and he offered Lowell a good deal on one, and so off we went. (The old mattress was an ancient futon one and has gradually been turning me into Rumpelstiltskin.) The store turned out to be a big warehouse-type space off a country highway. Inside, Lowell and I took off our shoes and lay down on a series of different mattresses side by side in our stocking feet while our friend, who is a poet and this tall genial kind of magical personage in our lives, explained memory foam to us. Then we’d blurt out weird domestic trivia (“He gets hot at night.” etc.). You’re supposed to take fifteen minutes to test a mattress but I kept popping up after five and our friend would say, “No, take your time! Take your time!”
The model we picked out is called Opulence. It came packed in a long rectangular brown box that looked too small to hold a mattress; our friend said when we got it home, we’d pop the bag the mattress was rolled in, hear a hiss, and then the mattress would begin expanding. “You can sleep on it tonight but it’ll continue to expand for the next 24 hours.” And it has! Every time I went into the bedroom today it looked taller and taller, like a giant mattress soufflé in the bed frame. Opulence!
“The surest way to get a secret into mass circulation is to tell it to Hitchens, swearing him to silence as one does so.”
— Alexander Cockburn on Christopher Hitchens. (It’s funny: Every group has this person!)
I’ve started going to Pilates class on Monday and Tuesday afternoons, and it’s the closest I come each week to feeling like a Lorrie Moore protagonist. Like, it’s sort of dark and harrowing but then I also think “HAHAHAHAHAHA” for most of it.
OK, so the other thing from reading The Goldfinch this morning: The point where Theo and his mom are in the exhibit of Dutch masters in the Met, and she says, “Whenever you see flies or insects in a still life — a wilted petal, a black spot on the apple — the painter is giving you a secret message. He’s telling you that living things don’t last — it’s all temporary.”
It reminded me of a story I heard this week from my old college roommate, who was passing through town and stayed overnight. She told me about a friend of hers whose partner left her and the friend bought a house as a new place to live. It was, if I’m remembering right, the first time she’d owned a house and she found the idea of a mortgage overwhelming (it is). And then one day she was sitting in her living room and she saw these black specks going down the wall, rows and rows of them and… some Google research and a visit to an exterminator later, she learned they were bat bugs, i.e., bugs that live on bats. The obvious question is then, how many bats are up in the attic that bat bugs are appearing in other parts of the house? My roommate offered to go up and see. So she climbed the ladder to the attic and poked her head up… and the answer was A LOT OF BATS. Of course it was, but I keep thinking about it, both picturing what the attic looked like stuffed full of bats and also what it was like for the friend to sit on the couch in a new house with these rows of black dots creeping down her walls.
I finished rereading Rebecca this morning. A while back Jane had a thing on Facebook about last lines in books and if they had more exclamation points. Example (Jane’s): So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past! So Rebecca's end would be: And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea!
Started The Goldfinch right after, and its first sentence echoes Rebecca's first line (Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.): While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years. It’s just enough to make me glad to be reading them back to back, like I’m not reading lazily but on purpose. Both speakers are in hotel rooms, too, though by the time you hit “even church clocks tolling the hour, de Westertoren, Krijtberg, a dark edge to the clangor, an inwrought fairy-tale sense of doom” later in the same paragraph you know you’re in Tartt land.
“I read nothing good, but I read an awful lot. Here was escape! I read lurid stuff about ladies who smelled sweet and looked like flowers and were betrayed. I read about gardens and ballrooms and moonlight trysts and murders. I felt a sense of doors opening. And I began to be conscious of myself, the way I looked, the clothes I wore.”
— Barbara Stanwyck on her early reading habits
Election for Asheville city council and mayor today. Reading up now before going to vote—are there going to be ballot measures? I don’t know!—and came across this:
The impassioned exchange occurred when Bothwell and Wainscott were debating the reasons why New Belgium chose Asheville as the location for one of its breweries. At the forum hosted by the West Asheville Business Association, Wainscott argued that the company came to area because of the economic incentive package. Bothwell, an incumbent city council member who supported New Belgium moving to the region, said the company came because of the quality of the water.
Sitting next to each other and literally pointing fingers at one another, Bothwell called Wainscott a liar and Wainscott told Bothwell that all he has is “sanctimonious bullshit.”
All it needs is “pointing fingers at one another while wearing North Face fleece jackets.”
"Penelope Fitzgerald — they think, ‘Ah! Middle-aged lady with frizzy hair and a nice smile; she must be writing tastefully.’ I say she’s writing against taste, quite savagely. But they don’t pick it up because they’re brash young men poncing about, waving their blood and thunder and condoms!"
— From a 1991 profile of A.S. Byatt, written after the Booker win for Possession. The profile is excellently dishy; wish the above quote was part of a poem:
“… brash young men poncing about
waving their blood
This old article about mushroom hunting in Russia popped into my head last night as I was falling asleep, and it’s still great and worth re-reading. (I was thinking about whether Discombobulated Russian Mushroom Hunter would be a good Halloween costume. Which, no. Obviously. Unless you were running late, and then it’d be easy to put together and also in character to be late and a little disoriented so if you also stopped for a drink on the way that’d be fine.) (Another costume if you were feeling antisocial would be a nametag that said ‘Gouda’ and then you just constantly wriggle away from conversations all night because you’re the Cheese That Stands Alone.) (That I find that funny is probably why I Stand Alone so often.) (It started because of brainstorming easy costumes and thinking about a David Gilmour costume, the writer not the musician … which would require: 1. it still be September so it’d be timely, and 2. finding groups of people younger than yourself to loom over while talking enthusiastically and at length about how great Henry Miller is at which point you’d really be… the Cheese etc.)
Lizzie Skurnick: How have you dealt with sudden fame?
Helen Fielding: And I have this vision that keeps on popping up, of me in these huge gold spectacles and lip-liner, living in one of those sorts of low-style condominiums, with deep white shag pile carpets, bulbous coffee tables, sort of rustily shouting, “Where’s my stretch limo?”
“I believe there are numerous valid reasons to criticize Kanye West, but his rant on Jimmy Kimmel Live is not one of them. You may think he sounded crazy, but it wasn’t a kind of crazy that was foreign to me—or, I’d assume, millions of other Americans. It was the crazy that comes from being stared at for daring to look different while eating breakfast with your mom. It was the crazy that comes from never knowing if you deserved to be kicked out of that bar. It was the crazy that comes from being the one person stopped by a cop amidst a sea of white people. “This is racist,” you might say to the cop. “Prove it,” he might say back. And at that moment, you can’t.”—Cord Jefferson || Kanye West Knows You Think He Sounded Nuts on Kimmel (via aminatou)
Rereading Persuasion and making list of scenes in Jane Austen novels where it seems like the heroine probably has her period. Like, that scene in Emma where they’re picnicking and Emma blurts out the mean thing about Miss Bates and then the next day everyone’s mad at her and Miss Bates and her mother pretend not to be home when she visits. Immediate pre-period. Or in P&P when Lizzy stays behind from Rosings with a headache and Mr. Darcy proposes… period that morning.
Pietsch: Before I began editing your book, you sent a philippic against standardization. You declared that spell-check, auto-correct, and (if I recall correctly) even sacred cows like Strunk & White and the Chicago Manual of Style are the writer’s enemies, that the writer’s voice and choice are the highest standard. Do you have advice for other writers confronted with editorial standardization?
Tartt: Was it really a philippic? I thought it was more a cordial memorandum.
Pietsch: Two-thirds of the way through a set of notes to the copy editor, you wrote:
I am terribly troubled by the ever-growing tendency to standardized and prescriptive usage, and I think that the Twentieth century, American-invented conventions of House Rules and House Style, to say nothing of automatic computer functions like Spellcheck and AutoCorrect, have exacted an abrasive, narrowing, and destructive effect on the way writers use language and ultimately on the language itself. Journalism and newspaper writing are one thing; House Style indubitably very valuable there; but as a literary novelist who writes by hand, in a notebook, I want to be able to use language for texture and I’ve intentionally employed a looser, pre-twentieth century model rather than running my work through any one House Style mill.