Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Day 16. "Coffee Spoons and going forward" $25

I slept 13 straight hours last night.  It’s quite an accomplishment for someone who usually averages about 6 ½.  After about 2 hours, I took a nap.  Heal body, heal.  Throughout the remaining hours of consciousness, I had this nagging mantra tapping on my back.  It said, “Do not give up on one day.”

I graduated college as an English Literature major.  I remember a guy saying to me, “Oh, the sell-out major of the masses.”  Was it?  I didn’t know that.  I started out as a Russian major, a language and culture that I was obsessed with for some unknown reason since childhood.  Eventually I switched to English Literature (I’ll save that story for a later time).  I can still remember walking across the Quad sidewalks at the University of Illinois and asking myself, what is it you really love?  What is it you really want to study?  The answer was literature.  I think I slid through the birth canal with a miniature book clutched in my tiny, bloody hand.  I read incessantly--a practice that continues to this day—with the myopic eyesight to prove it.    The innate love of the written word was further flamed by my American Literature teacher in my junior year of high school.  I would go on to have her for a Rhetoric teacher my senior year—she was tough as nails, and we were terrified of her.  Nevertheless, I think I learned more from Miss Driscoll, than any other teacher.  From her requirement of mandatory memorization of huge passages from Shakespeare, the Declaration of Independence, and her grilling us on the most complex grammatical structures ever formulated, nothing struck my heart more deeply than when she would--almost trance-like—recite beautiful poetry.  Her love of words, her care to pass them on to us--a bunch of mostly bored, horny teenager--was a gift beyond compare.  Well, at least to me it was.  And so in a search to return to something that I loved, I changed my course of study and went after something highly impractical and wondrously thrilling to me.

Are you still with me?  There is a point.  What I originally loved in high school was American Literature—Nathanial Hawthorne and all his symbolism; Emily Dickinson’s piercing observation--and specifically the “naturalist/transcendentalist” poets:   Emerson and Thoreau.  In college, I loved their contemporary British counterparts:  Wordsworth, Coleridge, Carlyle, John Stuart Mill.  I loved these creators’ views of self-reliance and hope, at least I interpreted it as such.

But what keeps running through my head now in my convalescent state is T. S. Eliot's, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”  I really had no great affinity to the “Modernist” poets, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.  They were confusing and depressing to me at the time.  Comprehension is now mine or as the saying goes, “with age comes wisdom.”  At 21, with all of life in front of you, you’re not thinking about being old and having opportunities slip away (“TLSJAP.”)  By midlife, you realize things didn’t go quite the way you thought they would.  And in order for you to maintain your sanity and not sink into a morose land of disappointment, you’ve got to cling to what is now important to you. So, although J. Alfred Prufrock is measuring out his poor life in coffee spoons—in little pinches of not really living, but rather just barely getting by—I don’t want to do that.  So dear readers, I’ve taken you through this great labyrinth of thought to say, what’s important to me is this little project I’ve set for myself, and no matter how unwell I feel, if I stop for one day, I feel I might have a loss of commitment to art, something in my life that makes it feel full like a huge coffee pot and not a tiny coffee spoon.

1. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

LET us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question….
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes

Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,

Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,

Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,

Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,

Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time

For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,

Rubbing its back upon the window panes;
There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

There will be time to murder and create,

And time for all the works and days of hands

That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

And for a hundred visions and revisions,

Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

Time to turn back and descend the stair,

With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)

My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,

My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—

(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room.

  So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

Then how should I begin

To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
  And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—

Arms that are braceleted and white and bare

(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)

Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?

Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.

  And should I then presume?

  And how should I begin?
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes

Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…

I should have been a pair of ragged claws

Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,

Asleep … tired … or it malingers,

Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,

Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,

Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,

I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,

After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,

Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,

Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,

To have squeezed the universe into a ball

To roll it toward some overwhelming question,

To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,

  Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;

  That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,

Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,

After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—

And this, and so much more?—

It is impossible to say just what I mean!

But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while

If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,

And turning toward the window, should say:

  “That is not it at all,

  That is not what I meant, at all.”
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

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