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Les Semaines

01.12.30

what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: The Phonosnout

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Happy Hollerdays

It's funny how quickly this week zips by every year. Once Mom and Dad were here the time accelerated unimaginably. It seemed like I was always worrying about meals or cleaning up from them, and we didn't have time to get anywhere done eating all the treats we had made and bought. Kind of silly. I forgot to tell Dad I'd even gotten his favourite chocolate ice cream until the last night. He did have a bowl of it then. Dad forgot about the Roger's chocolates he brought from Victoria, we have only now started to get into the French truffles I bought at Trader Joe's (which so far put everything else to shame). The cookies are gradually disappearing, and I did save some Welsh cakes in the freezer for New Year's Day brunch, as it seems ridiculous to do any more baking--we've all have our fill of the wonders of the season.

The night they arrived Mom had brought a jar of home-canned salmon, which I mixed up with pasta. Christmas Eve I made a wonderful brisket (I have to thank my friend Jennie for the recipe). It wasn't much work but really delicious (except with my back still bad I had to ask Jim for help with it) and the vegetables that we cooked with it were especially wonderful. I was worn out with cooking then, so Jim roasted the Christmas Day turkey (the traditional thing for us) with Mom's help. Jim also made a wonderful staple of ours, curried vegetables, for Christina's first full day here. Other than that, we have lived off leftovers, which there was a lot of, of course.

Besides all this food our days were filled with decorating the house, watching videos, drinking tea and sitting talking, reading, some last-minute shopping, exchanging presents, walking the dogs, playing with Sophia, watching Zach sleep, oh, and of course plenty of dishes. Dishes forever. Dishes in my dreams.

The truce between dogs and cats went quite well and they lived in their usual detente: dogs restricted to the two bedrooms, the bathroom, and the hallway between them, the cats getting the rest of the house (after all, it is their house). Dad spent a lot of time sitting reading with the dogs, and they actually got to sleep with them, something they don't get to do in their real lives. The cats managed quite well with them--even nervous Sophia merely hid when the dogs were passing through on their way to and from the great outdoors. Zach just looked at them with utter disdain. He's so funny now that he's older--so few things bother him, as though he's just used up all his give-a-shits about such trivial concerns as dogs traversing his space.

The dogs have calmed down a lot since last year, though they were a little lonely. I felt bad that we couldn't let them in the living room, but that would have been just too much, and unfair to the cats who own the joint.

Speaking of which, Sophia and Dad had a constant battle for one of the chairs in the living room--whenever he got up from it she would launch herself into it and curl up into a tight, indisturbable (she hoped) ball of cat. It never worked.

Luckily, she has recently discovered that she actually likes sleeping on laps, so she shared herself with Mom and I. Very nice, as with my back in this state Zach, our main lap limpet, is just too heavy for me to have on my lap more than a few minutes. Sophia I can take as long as she wants, which makes me very happy. A lap cat! Who would ever have thought it? Certainly not Sophia, before now.

Christina arrived on Wednesday, and it took a rather amazing hour and a half from the time her plane landed until her suitcase finally showed up on the baggage carousel. We would have despaired that it hadn't made it from Istanbul, had she not had to carry through several iterations of officials on her way off the plane to where she met us.

We had two days with all of us together before Mom and Dad and the dogs left and we took Christina over to her aunt's house, which she has pretty much been since. Too bad, as we were just getting to talking about how much she loves her life in Turkey. The university she teaches at sounds so wonderful and the students so delightful.

I don't think I've ever heard Christina so satisfied with her life--which of course makes perfect sense as she's finally able to teach rewarding students, get her own writing done, and do fun/challenging things like helping her husband direct the drama club in a production of The Tempest. She did the costumes, and they were just lovely. It's like she had forgotten how much she loved doing these things, but we used to spend wonderful hours sewing together, and I have an incredible applicéd/embroidered pillow that she made as a present just out of her head. It's a pirate ship with Maddy glowering over the side and Zach exulting as a pirate, gold ring in ear and sword in hand. A few years back she was depressed and wanted a party, and so she had a Tudor party--making costumes for all her friends to wear to it. Doing theatrical costumes just seems utterly natural. As is teaching to her. And writing.

Well, she should be showing up again shortly, so I should close this and think about what to cook for dinner. It's time. I wish everyone a most wonderful 2002. No more nightmares. May this year be full of our individual and collective best dreams fulfilled.

Happy New Year.

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Listening

We've been listening to our favourite discs of the year: Gabriel Yacoub's :yacoub:, Björk's Vespertine, Veda Hille's Field Study, Halou's wiser, lamb's what sound, Kristin Hersh's Sonny Border Blue, Sigur Ros' Agaetis byrjun. I haven't quite made my final list but it definitely will include these ones.

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Reading

Sarah A. Hoyt's Ill Met By Moonlight makes a story out of William Shakespeare's unknown early life. Here he is just married to Nan Hathaway when she and their daughter Susannah are kidnapped by the fairies. Shakespeare is helped in his efforts to rescue her by Quicksilver, an elf who changes from male to female at will, who is a kind of Hamlet. He learns that his ambitious older brother has killed his parents Oberon and Titania and has taken the throne that rightfully should be his. I wanted to like this more--it should have felt more magic and more fun. Instead I found the links to Shakespeare's later plays and to his poetry kind of fun, but ultimately simplistic and unrewarding. I wanted more from this. Something a little more otherworldly.

Timothy Neat's When I Was Young: Voices From Lost Communities in Scotland: The Islands is another wonderful collection of memories of people who grew up in Scotland's western islands in communities that no longer exist. For the most part they are the last residents of the areas they gew up in. I loved reading their stories. I did like The Summer Travellers (which I commented on last week) a little better than this one (the stories were just more vivid in depicting the way of life originally rather than the change as they abandoned the places they were born and raised). For example, I was a little surprised that a large portion of this collection was taken up with reminiscences by a woman of who half-French and half of St. Kilda blood--but there wasn't much about St. Kilda in it because she had never in her life gone there--just had a few things to pass on from her father's memories. It was far more about her father's personality and her husband's than anything to do with how life in St. Kilda had been lived, which would have interested me far more.

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Writing

Does it count that I have been thinking about my novel? Holidays just aren't the right time to focus on writing.

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Retrospective: The Phonosnout

About the Phonosnout

February 1981

1216. Second daughter                            February 10, 1981

I'm the second daughter
of a second daughter of a
second daughter (and
I don't know, it may go
even farther back). My
grandmother died last month
and her possessions filter
down to me: a square saucepan,
silver candlesticks, an electric-blue
blanket, a silk teddy, worn handkerchiefs,
linen sheets and a silk teddy,
all beautiful but thin with wear
and age. My grandmother married
young, she wanted to be a dancer
but her mother wouldn't let her allow it
because her older sister ran away
with an actor, and when her
husband died she was only
forty, and still beautiful, but
she didn't marry again
and I understand. My mother
was only eighteen when he died
(I watched my father carefully
until my nineteenth birthday)
and she wanted to get a job
but her mother wouldn't let her allow it,
so she failed a year of university,
took quit after a year of nurse's training
and married my father secretly
a year before the public ceremony.
I don't know what to do with
myself, but I think I'll dance
with language, and I think
I'll never marry. [1]

1217. Paint me an ocean                            February 11, 1981

and long unacquainted
with the brush, I
image for her the ocean
in a pleasing mood, gulls
and the tide pulling at
waves, shores broken by
the wash.                           paint her there
with long strokes, tracing the
unbroken lines of her ocean
body. She's a mermaid with
that ocean hair, eyes deep
as the far shore, far enough
to drown a man, this man

and I sketch myself there
with charcoal, black and angular
flirting with death from the rocks,
ready to jump or be pulled
in. by her long white arms [2]

1218. Stephen, what am I turning                            February 12, 1981

Stephen, what am I turning into
with that same old life tangled
in all the awkwardness of language.
Stephen, why I am fumbling
here with none of the ease
I should have gained through long
use of the twisting syllables.

Stephen, why am I turning into what
not who I am. [3]

1219. Another forest scratch                            February 13, 1981

Suddenly it is quiet, and the night
hand landed in the middle
of itself. The winds no longer tear claw
at the full moon as if to draw blood,
the silence makes me uneasy,
and moves through the woods almost
palpably, is a dark void pulling
the woods into itself. This is all
perfectly true, a moment you must
live to understand, a moment when
you stand at attention in wonder
at yourself, making the decision
whether to jump or hold on. Well
you know my choice, thought I still
dream the dreams that would be real
had I chosen to fall. In a way
I have chosen to fall. I have chosen
not to fall to silence but to arm
myself against it, and oh hell
to join the holy conspiracy of filling
the silences, never allowing them
to join one with the other until
all language is the punctuation
of the silences rather now it must
be the void that punctuates
our syllables, and there is
the blessing of a constant
wind in the dying forest. [4]


NOTES

1. This poem appeared in a rather different form in Seven Robins as follows:

Photograph

I have a photograph of a child
that is my mother, my grandmother,
and me. It has that light brown hair,
round face, the same smile.
I have odd object that hold something of
my grandmother: silver candlesticks,
handkerchiefs, linen sheets, a silk teddy
--all worn with use and age.
When she was young she
had wanted to dance, but she
married young, was widowed young,
and lived alone. This I understand.
My mother was only eighteen
when her father died, I knew
the parallels in our lives,
and watched my father until
my nineteenth birthday (my grandmother
has been a posthumous child). My mother
married my father secretly
a year before the public ceremony.
I don't know what to do with myself,
wondering how much further
the parallels go: I'm the second daughter
of a second daughter of a
second daughter: neither dancer
nor wife--a child's face
in an aging walnut frame.

2. This poem appears in Seven Robins very much as it appears here, but with the personas changed--the I is now the she in the poem, and the painter referred to as "he".

3. This attempt at a poem was abandoned.

4. This appears in Seven Robins is "Back in the Woods", part V of "Island Forest"

Suddenly it is quiet, and the night
hand landed in the middle of
itself. The winds no longer claw
at the full moon as if to draw blood;
the silence makes me uneasy,
moves almost perceptibly, is
a dark void pulling the woods
into itself. This is
a moment you must
live to understand, when
you stand at attention in wonder
at yourself, making the decision
whether to jump or hold on.
I have chosen to fall to silence, but to arm
myself against it, and to join
the conspiracy of filling
the silences, never allowing them
to join one with the other until
all language is the punctuation
of the silences, till the forest is what
fills the void in itself; rather now
it must be the lapse
that punctuates our syllables:
the blessing of a constant
wind in the dying forest.

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