In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.
These end-of-April micropoems and photos have been a kind of place-holder around here, as we continue to try to put our life back together after the month away from home, and all the renovations. The apartment still isn't quite there, but we did several runs to IKEA and various other places this week, followed by kit-building...another complication has been that our old stove, bought second-hand when we moved here, completely and literally fell apart this week: the oven door actually fell off and crashed to the floor when J. was simply standing beside it! I loved that stove, an ancient Inglis, and we've been holding it together with duct tape and daily incantations for a while now. This week we finally researched and bought a brand-new stove, and it was delivered this morning.
The inaugural project? Two of J.'s pizzas. I'm heading home now to cook my first dinner on the new stainless-steel and glass beast - the first ceramic cooktop stove I've ever owned. Will lit stay clean? I do hope so...I've never been great about keeping my oven and stove clean anyway, but this ought to be a lot easier.
We have old friends coming for a visit this weekend, and next week ought to be almost back to normal, punctuated with fireworks because of the exciting launch of my friend Dick Jones' full-length poetry book, Ancient Lights, at my very own Phoenicia Publishing. More on that very soon.
Once at Bar-le-Duc Montaigne saw a portrait which René, King of Spain, had painted of himself and asked, "Why is it not, in like manner, lawful for everyone to draw himself with a pen, as he did with a crayon?" Off-hand one might reply, not only is it lawful, but nothing could be easier. Other people may evade us, but our own features are almost too familiar. Let us begin. And then, when we attempt the task, the pen falls from our fingers; it is a matter of profound, mysterious, and overwhelming difficulty.
After all, in the whole of literature, how many people have succeeded in drawing themselves with a pen?
Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader: First Series, "Montaigne."
This drawing seems like something Montaigne might have done, if he had taken up his pen and drawn his cat.
--Teju Cole, in a note to me
But this talking of oneself, following one's own vagaries, giving the whole map, weight, colour, and circumference of the soul in its confusion, its variety, its imperfection -- this art belonged to one man only: to Montaigne.
--Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader: First Series, "Montaigne."
I've read very little Montaigne, and once I'm finished with this book of Virginia Woolf's essays on writers, perhaps I should. What she says about him intrigues me -- the writer who looks inward to try to find the truth -- as it obviously intrigued her, being a woman of a similar bent. What she describes is not a morbid or narcissistic preoccupation, but rather a sense that this is the place to begin: that if we can't know ourselves, if we even refuse to really look, how can we know anything about other people and the world?
And I like the analogy between writing and drawing, since actual drawing is one way I've always tried to look more closely. Virginia Woolf, such a close friend of the visual artists in the Bloomsbury Group, must have talked at length with the others about the path of searching-out, whether in words or in paint. But there's a paradox. When I was young, I thought that the closer I captured the details, the closer I was getting to the real thing. Oddly, the world sometimes seems to think so too, and many artists and writers stay there as a result.
But the essence of a landscape, a person, or a feeling can't be added up out of small parts, like a sum. We're more likely to glimpse it -- that essence, that truth -- out of the corner of our eye, or reflected darkly in a mirror, or to come to it after writing pages and pages that circle around this unseen "it-ness" like hungry lions moving in the forest around a bright but dangerous campfire.
Montaigne...refused to teach, refused to preach; he kept on saying that he was just like other people. All his effort was to communicate, to write himself down, to tell the truth, 'and that is a rugged road, more than it seems.'
For beyond the difficulty of communicating oneself, there is the supreme difficulty of being oneself.
My current project is titled Thingveiller, and, because it's in a journal format, I'm writing it on a private blog so I don't have an exact page count. These seven sentences are, therefore, a close guess for the words that fall on all those 7s. In this section I'm musing about the names of colors, trying to find an equivalent for a particular tree's leaves.
I am still pondering color names when I pass the tree again the following morning. I'm on foot, and as I turn off rue Gilford and see the high back wall of St-Pierre Claver I note the street sign -- rue de Bordeaux -- and smile; the leaves might almost be called bordeaux, but they aren't that bright, they're more like the color of the sediment in the bottom of an old bottle, or of a full bottle itself with very little light shining through it.
The wind is blowing, fluffing the leaves on the southern side of the tree to reveal their green undersides. The reddish-purple-black color is further complicated by the addition of this green, reminding me of the duplex sheets of paper I used to receive from paper mills back in the days when I was a young designer and new, beautiful printing papers were issued each year for use in annual reports, invitations, cards, catalog covers: one of these duplex sheets was purple on one side, and green on the other. The leaves though are only semi-opaque, more like two layers of thick silk sewn together, each adding a changing complexity of hue to the other.
In Iceland there are no trees like this. Beside St-Pierre's' tree there is a spindly white birch with greenish-yellow leaves...
Well --intriguing or not? Thanks, Marly -- make of it what you will!
(And I'm not going to tag seven specific writers, but if you'd like to try it this exercise, please feel invited. You're welcome to post yours in the comment thread here if you don't have a blog of your own.)
Mural, north of Jean-Talon near St. Laurent. Click for larger image.
We slept in our own bed last night, for the first time in a month. The house still feels like chaos, but it's a more orderly chaos than yesterday, and it's much cleaner after the work of a team sent by the insurance company. Today I got up at the normal time, dressed, and rode my bike, for the first timethis year, to the studio. Normalcy returns, whatever that is; I think the cat has her own definition and would be pleased if we'd stick to it!
While our locational peregrinations over this past month may be understandable, I'm not so sure about the internal ones. I know that it's difficult for many people to understand why someone they see as fairly intelligent and rational would spend time, year after year, in self-examination during the apparent gloom of Lent and Holy Week. I know that. And all I can tell you is that for me, as for observant Muslims during Ramadan, these periods set apart from "ordinary time" are not gloomy at all, but fruitful, and that I actually look forward to them, the way one anticipates travel.
Because travel is what they are. There is the you at the point of departure, there is a journey -- with all the expected and unanticipated aspects that make travel what it is -- and there is a different you who arrives, back at a home that is no longer quite the same home it was when you left, because you are seeing it with new eyes and a changed heart.
If we don't ever travel, physically or psychologically, I'm not sure we can ever really see where we are. And, I suppose, I've always believed that the examined life really is the only one worth living. A large part of my attraction to the core religious teachings -- not the church itself, mind you, but the teachings and practice -- is that they encourage that sort of examination and movement throughout life.
This year, it was a double journey, because I was also experiencing my physical home - this city - from entirely new places. Living in the downtown core was very different from living in the Plateau, the neighborhood I normally inhabit. The photographs and posts here told some of that story but not all, because I haven't had time to digest it fully, or to compare the last month with what it feels like to be back home. I know that my view of the city is changed, enlarged, and more appreciative, but that I'm still glad we made our home where it is.
The road from Ash Wednesday to Easter was more subtle: it certainly can't be shown in pictures. It will take more time to think and speak about. The major thing that happened is that the questions I have had, about discerning new directions in my life and work, have begun to be answered. But these are questions I asked an entire year ago, last Lent! I find that completely amusing. I'm glad for the emerging clarity, and glad that I've become patient enough, and aware enough of how it works, to wait a long time -- open, but not pushing.
In one of my meditation classes, a young woman asked, "But how do I get God to talk to me? How do you get to the point of having a conversation?" Her frustration and impatience were so apparent, and she reminded me of myself many years ago. I smiled and said, as gently as I could, "All I can say is that it's more a matter of getting out of the way, of surrender rather than making demands." I saw, in her puzzlement, that she didn't like or quite get that answer, but someday, I hope, she will. I remembered all too well a teacher saying, long ago, to my own tears and frustration, "I wish I could give you the key! But I can only show you a door; you have to find the key for yourself."
Still, it's happened over and over in my life, this process of examining, looking into what seems like an impenetrable forest, waiting, and waiting, and then gradually, -- or sometimes, suddenly -- seeing a path opening up. A path, a door, a hidden key with my name on it...
Having the courage to take the path, open the door, try the key, is, of course, is another thing, but that's why Lent gives way to Easter.