A Memory of Laughter: contradicting sexual abuse

Brother et moi on a bench in Bois Fort

Above all, I love to laugh. Well, who doesn’t?

I once embarrassed a whole theater section of students at Stratford. We were watching one of Shakespeare’s comedies. I was rollicking with laughter, tears streaming down my cheeks. They turned as one at my unseemly outburst to reprimand me, their teacher. It’s true, they just didn’t get the joke or understand how hilariously the sight gag echoed the lines. It was probably something about cross-gartering and yellow stockings. But even if they had found it funny, they would never have given in to such gut-wrenching, wholehearted, life-affirming guffaws.

As a young woman I could set a table a-roar. The staff cafeteria at lunch time was all the stage I needed. Hapless administrations feared my satiric tongue. Once for two weeks, I had people weeping with glee – over my ongoing, mishandled root canal.

As a lover of laughter, I was an amateur compared to my younger brother. Now there was a funny man. A funny boy originally, of course, and very annoyingly so. He grew up to travel the world and bring back comic stories of – for example – being jailed in Turkey where feeding prisoners was optional. Doesn’t sound funny. You had to be there.

I fell on tough times.

He and I ended up on a road trip in a restaurant in the Big Sur. I was having some vegetarian meal of rice and soy. He was eating steak. He put down his knife and fork and looked at me.

“What happened to you, Joyce?” he said. “You used to laugh.”

We didn’t find a motel room until after midnight. He came out of the office waving the key.

“I told her you were my sister,” he called. “I think she believed me.” He was so overcome with his own wit, he could barely get the words out.

I gave up vegetarianism. I gave up meditating. I gave up spiritualism.

I laughed.

Last Thursday, I listened to Dr. Ford describing a sexual assault she endured. A senator on the Supreme Court Confirmation Committee asked her what the most compelling memory of the incident was. She replied, “The laughter”.

I fell into a quiet study. I declined hourly into a deeper and deeper depression. I began to lose track of myself. I spent Saturday in such dissociation that I couldn’t even binge watch Netflix. I wasn’t sure who I was.

And all the while, I heard the laughter. Not her assailants’ laughter but my own. A lone assailant doesn’t laugh.

Sunday, it occurred to me to cry. That was a breakthrough. It perked me up.

Just as I got myself functioning enough to go to Whole Foods, my brother Face-timed me from Brussels. He was sitting on the bench on the sidewalk in front of his house, smoking a joint. He was wearing a red t-shirt that said, “Beast”. He told me a story about weevils and moths and smoke grenades to get rid of them and could they actually be in his Oreos – he had just eaten three and forgot to check. But Yagoda, his Polish cleaner, whose name means Blueberry, would come and fix it. And as he talked, I remembered to chuckle just a little.

Here was a man who could fall off a ladder, break both feet and laugh that the plaster casts gave his toes claustrophobia. But then I was the girl who could laugh about a root canal.

I would just like to say – and you know who you are – my laughter is bigger than yours. Love is like that.

https://115journals.com/2012/07/20/i-dream-of-etherica-life-changing-dream-2/

See the link for an older, fuller account of the Big Sur incident.

 

 

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Good Eggs: John, Burt and Me

Blake, on his perch

It was a medium white Omega 3 egg with a best by date of August 26/18. When I cracked it open on Sept. 7th, it had an enlarged air pocket, characteristic of an older egg, but it smelled fine. I made pancakes with it.

Dear Divine Pancake Maker, please consider I may still be useful, if only for hard boiling and decoration.

I’m seriously concerned. John McCain and Burt Reynolds have been called home in the past few days and we were all born in the same year, 1936. It’s usually tough being 82, but right now it feels downright perilous. Hands up if you are 82 and feel that way.

My good friend/ex-husband, Blake, who has had stage 4 cancer for eight years, is generally well and aiming to match Roberta McCain, John McCain’s mother, and live to be 106. I have no such ambition. Yes, I want to go home sooner than that, just not yet.

Another friend, whom I used as model for Clara in my mystery Hour of the Hawk  https://www.joycehowe.com has reached the august age of 89. She lives alone in her own house and some chores are getting to be too much for her. (She is still an excellent sleuth of course.) Fortunately, she has a handy daughter-in-law who is happy to pitch in.

I myself have a handy cleaning woman, daughter-in-law being neither handy nor happy.

You see Divine Pancake Maker, I’m valuable for snark alone. (Oh, you don’t do snark!)

So here we are, we 82-year-olds who remember the Second World War, who were taught to read by Dick and Jane, who had to do long division by hand and memorize hundreds of lines of poetry, some of which we can still recite. (This was important in case we got trapped for days deep in a coal mine.) Not all of you have been as lucky as me. My first car ride was in a Model A Ford. But most of you can remember when 5 wire coat hangers could hold your entire wardrobe. I hesitate to say we are a dying breed.

Imagine, you young’uns, what a miracle it is for us to fly across the continent in half a day, to share thoughts instantly with others and, not only, talk to them but see them as we talk – my brother going out the dutch door of his house to sit on the bench in Bois Fort (Brussels) to smoke.

Brother et moi on a bench in Bois Fort

Were you born in 1936 or do you love someone who was, please comment, say something to keep us 1936ers hanging on to our perch.

Blake still perching

Lead into Gold: contradiction to despair #10

I made it around the little lake as dusk fell. My old legs wanted to give in, but then a piano started up a familiar intro on shuffle. What was this song? I knew it would play me home – Van Morrison Philosopher’s Stone. (See end note)

Years before, recovering from major surgery, I sat in the Starbucks across from Culver City Studio in L.A., listening to this song. The Harry Potter movie of that name had just been released from Sony, just down Washington Blvd. I still hadn’t emerged from pain and weakness of the operation and, it must be said, the terror of a second cancer diagnosis.

Was it really possible to be an alchemist and turn this lead of suffering into gold, I wondered.

Morrison sings that even his best friends they don’t know that he’s searching for the philosopher’s stone. He’s out on the highway and the byways in the cold and snow, alone and relentlessly searching.

In the years that followed, I caught glimpses of that magical mineral, but foolish me, I had no idea that, when it came to lead,  I was ignorant – I knew nothing.

A decade later, I got a crash course. It involved emergency rooms, sudden trans-continental flights, first responders on multiple occasions, several hospitals, many, many doctors and pharmaceuticals, bureaucracy enough to break your heart, intense fear and terrible despair.

It’s a hard road/It’s a hard road, Daddyo/ When my job is turning lead into gold.

Then this week nearly six years later, we raised our heads at last. That the patient would survive the ongoing disease, we had known for a while, That the patient had relearned how to function in the everyday world despite catastrophic losses, we also knew, What we recently discovered is altogether more wonderful. The person we almost lost, through the agency of this enormous suffering, has become the person she always wanted to be.

Concise Oxford Dictionary: The philosopher’s stone – supreme object of alchemy, substance supposed to turn other metals to gold or silver

One of a series of contradictions to despair 115journals.com

 

 

 

Contradicting Despair

My series on contradicting despair has been on hiatus for a week or so because I have been doing deep research into the problem. https://115journals.com/2018/07/30/let-it-be-contradiction-to-despair-9/

This research has been made possible by a series of unfortunate events involving an automatic door, an elevator that failed to launch and a damp cushion. As a result, all those summer days from July 15th to the present, Aug 8th, have provided a rare close-up opportunity to examine despair. (Let’s leave CNN out of it.)

Coping techniques have included flailing about, biting sarcasm, talking to kind people who should rightfully not take my calls, sleeping whenever possible, reading through hours of insomnia and foot soaks.

Chardonnay bottles have been emptied. Half a library has gone to its new Goodwill home – on the off-chance that “Death Cleaning” was necessary. Temporary truces have been struck with superintendents in apartment foyers. A good deal of personal insight has accrued.

In short, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” as either Vladamir or Estragon said while they waited for Godot.

Drunkenness: probably NOT a contradiction to despair

It’s quarter after 3 and there’s no one in the place
‘cept you and me
So set ’em Joe
I got a little story I think you oughtta know….. (Harold Arlen/Johney Mercer)

(Frank Sinatra,melancholy, on a bar stool -the apotheosis of melancholy, too romantic to be despair. Tears in my beers).

It was quarter to 4, when I woke up. It’s inching toward 5:15 dawn now. No big deal. A friend of mine hasn’t really slept for six months. I just logged 4 hours. She sometimes gets only 2, although there are signs she’s moving out of Winston Churchill territory. Five hours seems doable to her now.

What better time than the tail-end of the night to contemplate drunkenness.

For the past few days of global chaos, I have been reading Ken Bruen’s last two Jack Taylor crime novels, The Emerald Lie and The Ghosts of Galway. When I say ‘last’, I mean adieu Jacko, at least that’s what the author has implied in interviews. From the condition of the man, it’s no wonder. He has suffered so many vicious attacks as a Guard and a private eye that he is a physical wreck -lame, deaf, with mutilated fingers, and a heart full of grief. All of his friends and even his dogs meet dreadful ends because of him. Well, not even Bruen is heartless enough to eliminate every last one. Maybe there is a short story that will clear up the oversight. Jack drinks! He likes a Guinness and a Jameson chaser. He likes the Guinness built just right. In the right mood, he can lose months of his life to these libations and then months more to the aftermath.

He can’t go into a bar without someone, usually a woman, with a wad of cash, sidling up to him and saying, “You’re Jack Taylor.” It may be a simple job, like ‘find my lost brother’ -who is entirely fictional, but more often as time has gone on, it has been ‘Look what this bastard did to my girl. Get me some payback.” Payback gets gotten, although not always by Jack. Jack’s a hurley stick man, but others in his orbit use more lethal means.

Jack is a good man, his landlady says early on and his good friend, the outside nun, later on. He is a keen man for justice, humanized by reading and music and his love of dogs and swans. He has been hardened by his “walking bitch of a mother with her tame priest”, by the corruption of the church and  the government, by the miserable poverty attendant on the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and, perhaps most of all, by the water tax.

Suffice to say Bruen knows from PTSD.

The Irish have a reputation for enjoying a drop. I do not say drunkenness. Who am I to judge? I lived with Connor for many years. He gave up martinis every Lent. I lived in hell for 40 days each spring. I have a beloved relative, Colin, who is more sensible and less church-ridden. He says of his year-round habit, “Mostly ice,” as he pours his Bombay Gin. Vermouth doesn’t even get to breathe on the glass. Both get loquacious, even argumentative. I got many a cooking lesson in front of guests from Connor. Neither fall down or pass out or miss work.

I find it hard to read the Joe Nesbo books where Harry Hole descends into drunkenness and heroin. But then some experiences have to be first hand: sex is another one. And Harry is needed sober and strong back in Norway.

College binge drinking lost its glow for me before I got out of high school. Just that one, totally horrible, unable-to-feel-appendages experience put me right off. The stag and doe parties that I see depicted on Brit telly and which apparently happen here as well are not my cup of booze. I also had a terrible experience with a brownie on my niece’s 50th. That  limited my appreciation of getting high for good and all.

I know I drink too much wine for a person of my age and constitution. A 6-oz-glass puts me in legal jeopardy, although drinking in solves that problem. Drinking alone? Get real.

(A librarian once told my daughter never to eat while reading. My daughter was outraged, “You have to eat, you know.)

So the flaming world is falling apart. The leader of the free part is tailoring his actions to please 30% of his country. They don’t seem to be terribly well-informed about historical precedent. They don’t seem to know much geography and certainly even less economic theory than the rest of us. Which is saying something! They can’t tell a good guy (Canada) from a bad guy ( Russia). They claim to be helpless to prevent child massacres on their home soil. To them, children separated from parents and locked in what sure do look like kennels if not cages, brought that on themselves, and can damn well show up in court to coo or babble their own defense – in Spanish.

Who wouldn’t drink?

The most drunken person I ever met was my Aunt Mae. She was drunk on the love of Jesus, and joyfully swept all and sundry up in her ecstasy. Also she wouldn’t say no to a nip of brandy.

Jesus and I fell out one time.

Yet I know that what woke me up this night and what is keeping me awake is fear and self-restraint and that the answer is release.

Coleman Barks organizes some of Rumi’s poems into ‘Tavern Madness’ in Rumi: the Book of Love. The tavern is a place where passion breaks loose, an excited place where one is out of one’s mind, with others.There is the shared sense of the presence flowing through. We are connected. We are one, present and absent at the same time. I love the poem that says
I didn’t come here of my own accord
And I can’t leave that way
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.


It reminds me that something has charge over me. Whatever that is will see me safe home.When I read that, I remember I am not alone in passion or rage or goodness or hope or despair or terror. Whether what holds us together is DNA or Soul, it is universal and wise enough, drunken enough, to triumph.

In the meanwhile raise a glass – soda water with or without lemon will do. Drunkenness, O Necessarily Sober One, is fundamentally not about alcohol.

(Full disclosure: my biological grandfather, who hailed from the Emerald Isle, died syphilitic  in New Hampshire madhouse. But may have been teetotal.)

 

 

 

 

The Luminaries: timeline question

Hi just finished the book. Can someone clarify if Crosbie intended to kill himself? The book says Carver opens the bottle of phial; And Crosbie drinks the phial. Did Carver go to kill Crosbie? When he arrived, was Crosbie already passed out? If so, why did he commit suicide?

Hope: contradiction to despair #7

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings…

Emily Dickensen

It took me a while to find this poem because I thought it said, Hope is a thing with a broken wing. A Freudian slip to be sure.

I started thinking about hope when Ian Tyson’s rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow came up on shuffle as I pulled into the No Frills parking lot. I first heard that song at age 6 when I saw The Wizard of Oz in 1942.

We Quebec children were not usually permitted to go to movies, ostensibly because of a fatal movie theater fire, but more likely because the Catholic Church held sway over the province’s morals and saw movies as corrupt. An exception must have been made in this case.

I was already enthralled by the black and white footage of the coming storm when Dorothy arrived in the Land of Oz and things burst into color. And then the music began.

I had found my answer.

The tornado of my home life offered no escape, no shelter. The cellar was just another place of danger. But now I knew that over the rainbow, there was hope and someday, like the bluebird, I would fly there.

It worked. More or less.

Much later, I learned that those who had five or even ten year goals were more likely to be happy and successful. At crucial points in my career, my personal life and my health care, I was asked about such goals. In other words, ‘Articulate your hopes.’ My instant response was “Beats me’, but, of course, I repressed that and made shit up.

So now I am old, not old old. I won’t be old old for 7 or 8 years, not even middle old, which I will be in 3 years. But old nevertheless. What are the possible goals of a hopeful 82-year-old? My immediate response, ‘Living to be 83’.

Until recently, I harbored a broken-winged hope that the world was evolving and becoming a better place, little by little. And that I had played a part in that.

Look what happened.

Now I’m reduced to the idea that life on this planet of pain is pendulum in nature – two steps forward, one step back. Or is it the other way around?

Really, this blog post is falsely advertised. It’s the old bait and switch. I have no faith that there is hope nor that it contradicts despair. In fact, hope of the over-the-rainbow kind is too broken to hold in hand. Yet I get up, stand up and go on, with no expectation of reward. Is it from some old hopeful habit or just an obstinate refusal to give in?

Wishful metaphors make fine poetry, but hope is a 4-letter word – patient, resolute, strong and defiant in the face of darkness.

 

 

 

Getting the Hawk off the Ground

https://115journals.com/2015/04/06/writer-unblocked/ 
joycehowe.com

I am re-posting this blog post about the early stages of writing my mystery Hour of the Hawk, prior to Saturday’s reading with Mar Preston (The Most Dangerous Species) at the Artworks in Pine Mountain Club – 7 p.m. (one of the Written Word Series, a free event).

In the post above, I reported how I finally got started writing Hour of the Hawk, an eco-terrorist mystery, set in the remote mountain paradise of Bear Mountain Place, California. At the time I had written about  3/4s of a first draft- 70,000 wds. Finished, it came in around 105,000 words, which I think is about 280 pages.

“Finished” proved to be a tricky word.

The first revision dealt with logic and structure. P.D. James spent months planning her mysteries, and began writing only when she knew where she was going. John Irving  writes his endings first. When I began with the bear, I knew where the bear would end up, but that was all.  I thought I knew who the villains were. So did my narrator. We were both wrong. One by one, the suspects were eliminated while ever more heinous crimes were perpetrated. At a certain point, I had no idea who could possibly be to blame. Then, one by one, they crept out of the woodwork, a whole conspiracy of them, and each with a different motive for a common cause. I couldn’t keep the whole convoluted plot in my head.

I took a roll of brown paper and drew the plot line, the way I used to ask students to graph short story plots. I eliminated repetition, particularly where the “investigators” – two detectives; the narrator, an older woman; her even older friend and the rock band that is being framed – discuss the evidence they have gathered. I checked for clarity and whether I was giving readers some foreshadowing. It was hard to do that first time around because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I made sure that the characters held up. Were their actions believable, given their personality? One of them, for example, has some degree of psychic ability. Or has been told she has. That was a given. Certain events followed from that. The reader is welcome to call it coincidence.

The edit for syntax and grammar seemed to be completed next, but of course, I discovered it was an on-going process. Every time I reread a  chapter, I find a way to make sentences more concise and punchier- more punchy(?). I was lucky that I had spent 35 years editing students’ writing, although I didn’t feel that way at the time. I would just say that Microsoft Word 2011 has some very peculiar ideas about what constitutes a major clause. I nearly wore out the IGNORE button.

I gave this version to others to read. As reading progressed, two readers got irritated. They would get a third of the way through and I would say, “Stop. Don’t read anymore. It’s awful!” Two others thought I was right. One of them had told me as gently as possible that it was so.

So I went through tightening things up and taking out the archness, the ironic distance, the preciousness. I sent the new version back to my readers. By now they had got 4 versions and 3 “Stop”s. Critic A, as I will call her, gave me the new bad news.: the narrator’s voice was not authentic. Yes, I had eliminated the stand-off-ishness. The narration was more direct. But— the narrator was perceptive and far-seeing, someone who sees into other people’s souls, and that wasn’t coming across. Critic A also had a solution. It involved going to a portrait photographer and having pictures taken, which would suggest the narrator’s character. I did that, wearing clothes she wears in the book.

With one of these photos in front of me, I started again.

 

Ecstasy: contradicting despair #2

Good sex and union with the divine are two reliable ways to achieve ecstasy. Or maybe just one, when you think about it.

Some people seem to be born ecstatics. They make good poets. I had a friend like that, but western pharmaceuticals were able to cure it.

(Sorry, I slipped momentarily into one of the other great contradictions of despair – bitter humor.)

I’m taking it for granted here that I don’t have to explain despair, why, for example, W.B. Yeats wrote, The world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Leave a comment below if you feel I am wrong in this assumption. I will be glad to explain  human suffering, personal and social. That will mean a personal sacrifice because I am writing about these contradictions in order to avoid doing that.

The Sufis whirl in prayerful adoration of God. The 13th century poet, Rumi, born in Afghanistan, was a Sufi. His poetry has become widely known lately through modern translations like those by Coleman Barks. When the Black Dog of depression is shaking me by the back of my neck, I prescribe myself the rereading of Rumi: The Book of Love, to be taken 3 nights in a row at bedtime. I say 3 because I find, if I follow my advice, I forget to be miserable by the 4th.

Come to the orchard in spring
There is light and wine and sweethearts
In the pomegranate flowers

If you do not come, these do not matter
If you do come, these do not matter. 

Who comes or does not come, I cannot say. And yet …

Some of the Romantic poets have moments of ecstasy – Coleridge’s drug induced, Wordsworth’s more daffodill-ian. – but their broken hearts peek through in spite of resolute cries of Joy at that dawn it was to be alive/ But to be young was very heaven.

Others are flat out euphoric.

John Donne greets his wife, “And so good morrow to our waking souls/ That greet not one another out of fear. William Blake says, I love to rise on a summer morn. Emily Dickensen, I started early -Took my dog/ And visited the sea –

Teresa of Avila, a mystic who was canonized after her death in 1582, described the Devotion on Ecstasy as being where consciousness of the body disappears.

Leonard Cohen got the picture:
And so my friends, be not afraid
We are so lightly here
It is in love that we are made
In love we disappear.

Further contradictions to despair will follow.

 

 

Joy: contradicting despair #1

Infant Joy

I have no name
I am but two days old.—
What shall I call thee?
I happy am
Joy is my name,—
Sweet joy befall thee!
Pretty joy!
Sweet joy but two days old,
Sweet joy I call thee;
Thou dost smile.
I sing the while
Sweet joy befall thee.
I have been reliably told that I spent the first months of my life crying inconsolably, and yet, I was called Joy. I was Joy for many years, unsuitable name though it was, until the people who called me that were gone, and I became Joyce. Even my children and grandchildren call me Joyce. I don’t complain. It is my baptized name after all, but I liked being called Joy. It reminded me that joy existed.
Just today, I got short video texted to my phone, which showed my 14-month-old great granddaughter rising to her feet, free-style with no support, and setting off to walk toward her joyful mother’s out-stretched arms, moving with sure speed toward laughter.
Joy is not contentment, nor even happiness. Dwelling in joy sounds challenging. Ancient Chinese medicine warned that excessive joy damages the heart. We are told that winning the lottery is a stressful experience, for example, and can lead to negative outcomes.
I have known only one person who came anywhere near dwelling in joy. That was my Aunt Mae. I didn’t see her often because I lived hundreds of miles away from her, but when I went back to visit my grandmother, I always walked to Mae’s tiny house under the mountain. The last time, I did so, I was with someone, my sister perhaps. As we neared the little porch, we could hear her singing. She had always had a dreadful voice and she was belting out, Jesus Loves Me at the top of it. It took a while for our knock to penetrate her ecstatic hymn. Then she threw open the door and cried out with such welcoming love that you would have thought Jesus himself had come to see her.
Mae had seen many dreadful things in her life and suffered poverty and abuse. I had watched her grieve enough to finish off most people, but now in her old age with legs like stove pipes and the agony of a declining body, she was joyful.
When I think of her, I can’t decide whether she was a saint or senile, an old fool, she would have called herself.
I propose to continue my contradiction by looking at ecstasy, contentment and happiness in future posts in order to set them against the deep and abiding depression that I share with several others in my life.