You opened the door to another world for me

imageedit_1_6541196834Some thoughts from André Gorz’s book Letter to D: A Love Story.

On love and life together:

I understood that pleasure is not something you give or take. It’s a way of giving yourself and calling forth the gift of self from the other person.

What captivated me about you was that you opened the door to another world for me.

You gave all of yourself to help me become myself.

You opened up the richness of life for me and I loved life through you – unless it was the reverse and I loved you through all living things (but that comes down to the same thing).

It’s fairly safe to say I probably haven’t lived up to the resolution I made 30 years ago: to live completely at one with the present, mindful above all of the wealth of our shared life.

On finitude:

You have to accept being finite: being here and nowhere else, doing this and not something else, now and not always or never … having only this life.

On writing:

… you knew that a person who wanted to be a writer needs to be able to shut themselves away in seclusion, to make notes at any hour of the day or night; that their work with language goes on well after they’ve laid down their pen and can take complete possession of them without warning, in the middle of a meal or a conversation.

‘When everything’s said, everything remains to be said, everything always remains to be said’. In other words: it’s the saying that matters, not the said. What I’d written interested me a lot less than what I might write next.

On theory:

… theory always runs the risk of blinding us to the shifting complexities of the real world.

.

Of fires, bicycles and buffoons (no, of Mother)

Talking about wonderful things, I had completely forgotten just how wonderful Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie really is. Here are some passages in which he talks about his mother …

  • maintaining (or not maintaining) a fire:

… most of Mother’s attention was fixed on the grate, whose fire must never go out. When it threatened to do so she became seized with hysteria, wailing and wringing her hands, pouring on oil and chopping up chairs in a frenzy to keep it alive. In fact it seldom went out completely, though it was very often ill. But Mother nursed it with skill, banking it up every night and blowing hard on the bars every morning. The state of our fire became as important to us as it must have been to a primitive tribe. When it sulked and sank we were filled with dismay; when it blazed all was well with the world; but if – God save us – it went out altogether, then we were clutched by primeval chills. Then it seemed that the very sun had died, that winter had come for ever, that the wolves of the wilderness were gathering near, and that there was no more hope to look for.

  • riding a bicycle:

… she’d borrow Dorothy’s bicycle, though she never quite mastered the machine. Happy enough when the thing was in motion, it was stopping and starting that puzzled her. She had to be launched on her way by running parties of villagers; and to stop she rode into a hedge. With the Stroud Co-op Stores, where she was a registered customer, she had come to a special arrangement. This depended for its success upon a quick ear and timing, and was a beautiful operation to watch. As she coasted downhill towards the shop’s main entrance she would let out one of her screams; an assistant, specially briefed, would tear through the shop, out the side door, and catch her in his arms. He had to be both young and nimble, for if he missed her she piled up by the police-station.

  • as a light-giver:

Our Mother was a buffoon, extravagant and romantic, and was never wholly taken seriously. Yet within her she nourished a delicacy of taste, a sensibility, a brightness of spirit, which though continuously bludgeoned by the cruelties of her luck remained uncrushed and unembittered to the end. Wherever she got it from, God knows – or how she managed to preserve it. But she loved this world and saw it fresh with hopes that never clouded. She was an artist, a light-giver, and an original, and she never for a moment knew it.

To love this world and live in it with hope and as a light-giver – what more can we want?

As I have said before, I adore Lee’s language, which, in the first example, is almost apocalyptic. I also admire his humour (I love the chopping up of chairs just in order to maintain a fire as well as the bicycle episode) and his attitude of gratefulness, which pervades not only the last of these paragraphs but indeed the entire book, making it a truly pleasant read.

Not even the law of chance

Laurie Lee, another writer whose prose I admire. Having read Cider with Rosie years ago when we lived in the Cotswolds, not far from where Lee grew up, I am once again enjoying this marvellous memoir of Lee’s childhood in the remote village of Slad.

Consider the following passage about mealtimes:

Jack … had developed a mealtime strategy which ensured that he ate for two. Speed and guile were the keys to his success ….

Jack ate against time, that was really his secret; and in our house you had to do it. Imagine us all sitting down to dinner; eight round a pot of stew. It was lentil-stew usually, a heavy brown mash made apparently of plastic studs. Though it smelt of hot stables, we were used to it, and it was filling enough – could you get it. But the size of our family outstripped the size of the pot, so there was never quite enough to go round.

When it came to serving, Mother had no method, not even the law of chance – a dab on each plate in any old order and then every man for himself. No grace, no warning, no starting-gun; but the first to finish what he’d had on his plate could claim what was left in the pot. Mother’s swooping spoon was breathlessly watched – let the lentils fall where they may. But starving Jack had worked it all out, he followed the spoon with his plate. Absentmindedly Mother would give him first dollop, and very often a second, and as soon as he got it he swallowed it whole, not using his teeth at all. ‘More please, I’ve finished’ – the bare plate proved it, so he got the pot-scrapings too.

Best Reads 2013. II: Connie Palmen, I. M.: Ischa Meijer. In Margine. In Memoriam

Connie Palmen, I. M.: Ischa Meijer. In Margine. In MemoriamIn February 1991 Dutch author Connie Palmen is interviewed by the well-known talk show host and journalist Ischa Meijer. It is a meeting that changes the course of their lives, and what ensues is a relationship that is not easily matched for intensity. In this stunning and admirably honest autobiographical work Palmen reflects on their love and brokenness. And she gives us insights into the working habits and practices of two writers, whose approaches to their work couldn’t have been more different but who nonetheless profited immensely from what was an intensely symbiotic relationship.

This is also a book about travel, especially in North America, which Palmen and Meijer both adored, and it is a heart-rending and very honest account of loss and grief, because in 1995 Meijer dies from a sudden heart attack. Palmen devotes only the last forty pages to her struggle to come to terms with her loss and grief, but these are poignant pages indeed. My quotes from Palmen’s reflections come from this final part of her book:

Und inmitten dieses lautlosen Tumults lernte ich meinen Gott kennen, der in mir geboren wurde und der, so versicherte Er mir selbst, schon immer dagewesen war. Er verband mich mit allen Zeiten und allen Menschen, tot oder lebendig.

(And in the midst of this soundless tumult I got to know my God, who was born within me and who, so he ensured me himself, had always been there. He connected me with all times and all people, dead or alive.)

Sucht ist eine Freundschaft ohne Freund. Du suchst, was in unmittelbarer Nähe und greifbar ist. Eine Zigarette ist ein Halt, ein Halt, der verbrennt. Der größte Vorzug einer Schachtel Marlboro ist, daß sie dich nicht betrügen kann, dich nicht verlassen kann, daß sie niemals aufhören wird, dich zu lieben, und natürlich, daß sie nicht sterben kann. Das ist die Essenz einer Sucht, glaube ich. Du umgehst die Risiken, die du bei einer Liebe oder Freundschaft notgedrungen eingehst, weil du sonst keine Liebe und keine Freundschaft hättest.

(Addiction is a friendship without a friend. You search for something that is close and tangible. A cigarette is a foothold, a foothold that is consumed by fire. The biggest advantage of a box of Marlboro is that it cannot betray you, cannot leave you, that it will never stop loving you and, of course, that it cannot die. That is the essence of an addiction, I believe. You avoid the risks that you inevitably run in the case of love or friendship, because otherwise you wouldn’t have love or friendship.)

Ich mache die Trauer zur Vollzeitbeschäftigung.

(I am turning grief into a full-time occupation.)

Ich denke wie verrückt, aber es nützt mir nichts.

(I am thinking like mad, but it is to no avail.)

Gutes, Amüsantes und Schönes läßt mich leiden, weil ich es allein sehen muß, es nicht mit ihm teilen und dadurch verdoppeln kann, weil er nicht mehr genießen kann, was ich genieße.

(Good, amusing and beautiful things make me suffer, because I have to see them on my own, can’t share them with him, thus redoubling them, because he can’t enjoy anymore what I am enjoying.)