Archives for posts with tag: Memories

It is 50 years since Sylvia Plath published her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, originally under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, in 1963. The book has never been out of print. The front cover has seen many guises, however, with the current one above, and that from my copy purchased a few years ago, below:

Irrespective of the cover, the content remains reassuringly the same. I have read it probably 5 times, not because it is a great novel, but because there has always been something essential about it for me.

If you have not read it, I truly recommend it. I am not about to summarise the plot or the background, but I will draw your attention to the title, a bell jar signifying entrapment, being kept within, imprisoned:

‘To the person in a bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.’

Thus reflects Esther, the main protagonist in the novel, as she leaves the asylum in the last chapter, and realises that forgetting is not an option: memories are a part of her, ‘my landscape.’

When Esther first arrives at ‘Doctor Gordon’s private hospital’:

‘What bothered me was that everything about the house seemed normal, although I knew it must be chock-full of crazy people. There were no bars on the windows that I could see, and no wild or disquieting noises.’

There was no going back after Esther’s experiences, from what she had witnessed and lived through. She could not, as her mother wished, dismiss it all as a bad dream.

This is not a book whose passages you memorise, but there are some that resonate and stick:

‘The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.’

CQ

Another gem of a Christmas present was a subscription to The New Yorker. The first issue arrived last week, and there is so much of interest that several days later I am still reading it, and this week’s issue is due tomorrow…

For now, I want to mention an article by James Wood on Becoming Them: Our parents, our selves (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/01/21/130121fa_fact_wood).

Woods reminisces, movingly, of Sundays when growing up, mostly the rituals and the boredom, but also memories of classical music, which his father was passionate about, but perhaps his children suffered from composer overload at an early age…

However, years later Woods discovered himself a passion for classical music, which persists in his forties. Perhaps this, just like the gesticulations, the little phrases that creep in as we age, not to mention the physical reminders, are part of the ‘plagiarism of inheritance.’

Seeing my parents in myself traumatised me around 10 years ago. Now, I am much more accepting of it. When I first noticed it, they were both alive. Within recent years, both died in relatively quick succession.

Woods suggests that we ‘mourn them [our parents] only haplessly, accidentally, by surviving them.’ A friend of Wood’s challenges this view and believes that the real point is that we become our parents, taking on their gestures and habits once they have died.

A preservation of past generations, but not as in ‘they live on in our memories’, more in terms of those before us continuing within us in an unavoidable physical (and social) sense. Utterly rational when you consider science and DNA, not to mind ‘nuture’, but…

Thus, you potentially mourn your parents by becoming them. This feels more than a little weird to me (but may also merely reflect my own mourning processes, or lack of).

But Woods moves onto another interesting point. if you can mourn your parents by becoming then, then surely you can also mourn them before they die. This I get. As I child, I (shamefully and secretly) wished that my parents died together in a car accident. The thought that one would be left alone, forever grieving and sad for the other, felt unbearable to me.

As I grew up, and left, I dwelt less on the fact that my parents would inevitably die. Old age arrived, and with it a world for them that became increasingly smaller, and exclusive. In latter years, I never seemed to find a way into this terrain.

Woods challenges Larkin’s line about life being first a thing of boredom, then later replaced by fear, suggesting that fear comes first.

I am not convinced. Boredom seems to me the prerogative of children, and, from what I have witnessed, fear, if and when it appears, and this is of course by no means universal, can escalate as both time and worlds shrink.

CQ

Hearing about the imminent arrival of a new meningitis vaccine, I thought immediately of one of the best books I have ever read.

I bought Michael Rosen’s Sad Book (Michael Rosen & Quentin Blake, London: Walker Books, 2004) a few years ago, mainly as a way of exploring the meaning and expression (and alrightness) of sadness with my daughter.

Re-reading it now, I am again struck by its wonderfulness, by Rosen’s ability to convey sadness so meaningfully in few words, and which is so imaginatively enhanced by Blake’s drawings.

The book arose from Rosen’s grief following the sudden death of his 18 year old son Eddie from meningitis in 1999. Primarily about his sadness over the loss of Eddie, it also includes the loss of his mother, as well as loss in general as part of all our lives.

Rosen challenges pre-conceptions. The very first image is that of a grinning Rosen. Below the picture he writes:

‘This is me being sad.’

‘…pretending I’m being happy.

I’m doing that because I think people won’t

like me if I look sad.’

On page 3 we are introduced to Eddie:

‘What makes me most sad is when I think

about my son Eddie. He died.’

We see images of Eddie as a child, playing and happy, and then a blank panel, where Eddie should be:

‘…he’s not there any more.’

Although a hugely personal book, there is much here that is generalisable:

Sad is ‘anywhere’, ‘any time’, ‘anyone’:

‘It comes along and finds you.’

And much that is positive:

‘Every night I try to do one thing I can be proud of.’

‘I’m sad, not bad.’

‘Everyday I do one thing that means

I have a good time.’

Rosen also remembers the good times, and shows the power of memory to make loss bearable, and the act of remembering even potentially joyful.

An absolute gem of a book, on a topic that is corporate and universal and touches all our lives.

CQ

Lasting just over an hour, this three man play by Colin Teevan leaves much to consider. I am still considering, and although I am not altogether sure that I grasped all the various meanings and layers, I gained enough to make it a thought-provoking experience.

The three men – Young Man (Anthony Delaney),  Man (Owen O’Neill) and Old Man (Gary Lilburn) – are together on stage throughout, digging, and talking, and telling stories, the secrets of their lives gradually exposed and shared as the shovels do their work:

‘Let the shaft glide through your hand – ‘

The play feels rooted in an Ireland of a certain time (The ‘Kingdom of Ireland’ ceased as such in 1801), when young men headed off, ‘making something of yourself”:

‘I take the road eastwards towards the sea,

And England.’

England here equates with London, Kilburn and the Galtee More in Cricklewood specifically, and perhaps predictably.

‘Pints are drunk that night,

And the talk is mighty.’

Also unsurprisingly, the Ireland left behind, we learn as the stories unfold, is one rife with incest, rape and murder. It is also the land of tinkers, of shrines, and, somewhat ironically, Our Lady of Succour…

The Old Man teases us with a riddle at the outset:

‘My mother is my father’s child,

And my mother’s son my father,

If I believe this is no lie,

Tell me stranger who am I?’

The correct answer is ‘a good Christian’…

Violence, blows, suicide, self-inflicted blindness…tragedy suffuses the narrative, with more than a hint of a Greek tragedy prevailing.

In the end, there is no sense of redemption, no sense that truth makes a positive difference. An ambivalence towards the very notion of stories appears in the opening scene, as the talking begins:

‘Go on believing, if it helps,

Telling yourself stories,

If it helps put down the day.’

Leaving Ireland has solved little, the past in the end remains inescapable:

‘I look around at them,

Their battered boots and breeches, worn out braces,

I look into their hungry, cowed faces;

These are not the pride of Hackney, Haringey or Hull,

But the lost sons of Kerry, Cork and Donegal.’

The Old Man’s comment that:

‘One road’s the same as another, when you’re digging it.’

made me think of Seamus Heaney’s poem, Digging (Death of a Naturalist, 1969). Here, Heaney initially describes the tradition of digging in his father’s and grandfather’s time, before concluding:

‘But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb

the squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.’

We dig, in our own individual and unique ways, to get at a truth, which feels intuitively worthwhile and valid. What we unearth, about ourselves and others, may not however be what we expected or hoped to find.

CQ