I haven’t cried this whole time, and now... Not a gulpy-gulp pity cry, just that under-the-skin, seepy-out kind. I think it has something to do with finally letting myself watch the TV news two days ago, seeing Trump turn his back on the mask-wearing, legitimately-questioning, frighteningly polite reporters, and on all of us, refusing to follow the script, as usual, then exiting the stage, dead center, cutting short the show.
At college, I acted in a low-budget performance of Pirandello’s Enrico IV––the tale of a mad king who makes his followers believe his inner reality is the reality––and memories of that play keep rising up my digestive tract in poisonous purple waves (or maybe it’s all the cream and chocolate I’ve been eating, my moratorium on dairy a pitiful fantasy now). Why purple? We dyed our hair a florid nightshade, meant to represent our foolish allegiance to the nutso monarch. I was madder than most and let the dye sit in my hair for several hours before I rinsed it out. I’d never colored my hair before, and I’d stopped studying Chemistry early on, so I had no idea. Six months later, my trademark golden locks still hung over my over-dramatic shoulders a dried-up mauvish grey. “What has she done to her hair!” gasped my grandmother when she saw me that Christmas. We realize our mistakes too late.
Anyway, Jim, my husband, said the mad king trope was just right (bless him). It was just like Game of Thrones, he mused (which I still refuse to watch, there being enough violence in the world). I was thinking more of King Lear (who at least was sorry in the end), and Hans Christian Andersen’s naked emperor with his imperial equipment flopping in the wind for all to see. Pathetic, if it wasn’t so deadly dangerous. Oh, who will speak the truth?
Remember that dichotomy in English lit.: What’s the difference between comedy and tragedy? Those intersecting masks. When this is all over (will it ever?), everyone, or all the interesting characters, at least, the ones you most wanted to live, as well as the ones who deserved it––will be dead.
Reason enough to weep. Or maybe it’s because my son can’t keep up with the assignments his teachers, in their deeply honorable attempts to serve, keep posting. Or the confusion about how his grade will be calculated and what that will mean for his future. Or the fact my 80-year-old mother, bronchial father, and asthmatic brother are all over in England, and I can’t go to see them, even if they catch ‘the Covid.’ The fact––maybe this is it––that my mother sent me a photograph last night, in exchange for the one I sent of my daughter having fun with friends back in February, of the truly beautiful mask she sewed using the high-quality quilting fabric, which would be, in any other circumstance, a fashion triumph. Something to giggle at. Or the very thought of my brother’s wedding in Crete this June, axed. Having to press ‘cancel booking’ on the fabulous Airbnb villa we’d allowed ourselves, and then wondering if we’d get our money back (we did!). And the plane tickets to London (non-refundable) that hang like ghosts in the closet of my inbox; the robo-reminders that keep haunting me with updates, the prices going up and down and up again. Nothing any more reliable.
I was going to write here about how these past few weeks have been a secret boon to me, a true guilty pleasure, all this time I don’t normally have to focus on the score of manuscripts that line my home screen and the floor of the little sunroom where I write (when I’m not working on the bed, like now, or out in the yard under the sunny crepe myrtles). The day I found out we didn’t have to go back to campus to teach after spring break and I could essentially hide out, I celebrated! I was so tired (I’ve been teaching 4 sections of first-year English, trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to fit in my own creative work, to send it out). The online teaching became another project––a necessary boot in the proverbial pants. I’ve used the new knowledge, as it happens, to teach online yoga classes. I’ve been urging the worthy souls who turn up to breathe, to embrace change. Last Monday, I heard myself telling them to imagine flowers blooming inside their hips. You can convince people of anything once they agree to close their eyes.
I just finished a manuscript about living according to nature, about respecting both our animal and inner selves. The layers. About listening to the voice buried deep inside the body that gets silenced by all the other voices.
The layer I seem to uncover when I’m writing often has a bitter taste, like now, like after the purple has been stripped away. I know that must put people off; I don’t enjoy it myself. I’d rather have sugar. I’ve spent the last decade learning, awfully belated, to love myself, just like Whitney Houston told us in that song I always thought so narcissistic. Why is it we refuse to hear the truth? We writers must keep working, I suppose, to uncover and share such truths, and face the consequences. Meanwhile, the royal testicles swing in the wind (chop choppity-chop); the dye is fading out.
Here’s another truth: our writing may survive. But perhaps not us.
Aren’t you so glad you invited me to participate, Nicole! Your cat-at-the-window pictures make me smile; they give me hope. That cat knows things.
I have no cat. We had a rabbit till recently, but his spine was injured mysteriously in the night. The vet said we could hold him while the injection stopped his heart, but then he forgot and brought us the body already wrapped, mummified in blue tape. We never got to say goodbye.
I’m so sorry. I seem to be hurting.