Fin in a Waste of Waters

"These moments of escape are not to be despised. They come too seldom....Leaning over this parapet I see far out a waste of water. A fin turns....I note under 'F.,' therefore, 'Fin in a waste of waters.' I, who am perpetually making notes in the margin of my mind for some final statement, make this mark, waiting for some winter's evening." (from Woolf's THE WAVES)

29 September 2006

Writing (about) music

Tonight, I am back up in London. Rasheed & I just got back from the BBC symphony orchestra - we saw them do Dvorak's Suite in A major, Jonathan Dove's Hojoki, An Account of My Hut (world premiere of it, beastly tenor [the music underneath was good, but the voice so distracting!], we won't talk any more about it), & finally, Beethoven's Symphony no. 3, "Eroica." All conducted by Jiri Belohlavek. Now that I've given proper credits...

It was stunning - but it is so hard to write (about) music; I can write painting or photography or sculpture or theatre - but music, I cannot write. It is perhaps the one thing for me that will not word itself (which likely explains my aversion to the Jonathan Dove piece - the narrative, completely unpoetic and borderline pedantic). And even listening to it, I listen to it visually. I notice all of the wrong things. This is what I "listened" to tonight:

The left hand of the conductor - flashing, lit up in just the right light, nearly as white as his cuff...

He didn't use a music stand on the Beethoven - maybe because he knew it so well? Plus, it gave him more room to get more into the music - he is one of those conductor's who gets bodily involved in the piece - arms waving, torso swooping and bending forward from the waist, shoulders hunching and suit bunching between them - when I saw him in profile, I saw that he mouthed the music, soft "b"s issuing from mute mumbling lips...

At one point, a stray clot of hair loosed itself from the wild gray-running-white bush from his head, maybe 3 or 4 strands thick, lit up by the light as it dropped to the floor past his rising falling arms...

And at one point, one of the moments I was so gripped by the music, and I smiled involuntarily, and the music drew my eyes and my whole attention to one point of the orchestra like it did again and again, and I caught sight of a violinist smiling that same involuntary, entirely pure sort of beam as he played...

And the woman behind him, young and blonde with a round face, also a violinist, soft pink flesh of her cheek folded onto the curve of the instrument, smiling again and again like that all throughout Beethoven, satisfied during the pauses, or completely unconsciously immersed in what she played...

A cellist, in concentration, pressing his tongue against the inside of his cheek...

And the first chair violinist - sweat sticking to the ends of his hair across his brow - sweat dark and wet and shining in the hair tucked behind his ears (while everyone else was dry; even the conductor had only a few drops across his forehead just above his eyebrows)...

And that same violinist, the curl of one single strand broken from his bow...

And the long knobbly knuckles of the bass player thumbing and finger-tipping and bowing with such long-limb'd ease.

I wanted a standing ovation tonight. I clapped and clapped while the sound of the clapping all around me thrilled something in my brain and I willed someone to stand up, to start it. Instead, I made eye contact with the first violinist - yes, we clap for you, I tried to make him understand, seeing his smile, the relieved smiles of the tongue-cellist and the joking between two other cellists as one readjusted the strap of her watch - this is my standing ovation - I clapped, pen still in hand, I will write for you.

26 September 2006


"I feel like I haven't been doing anything," I recently lamented to my friend Rannier. "Why haven't you been doing anything?" He asked. "Well, I've been moving and going to Fulbright meetings and getting stuff for the new flat." "Well, that's something," he answered (logically). But I haven't been getting any work done - a different kind of something. I haven't been reading much; I haven't worked on the Joyce paper since I've been back; today, I finally sat down and slogged through a bunch of administrative grad application details (necessary evils), but those never make me feel as if I've accomplished anything. And I haven't been writing. Even this, as I look at it, is clumsy and complaining.

Last night, however, I did have the chance to return to some of my Woolf work - she is such a restorative source of deep female power for me (like her own Mrs. Ramsay); during my Joyce work (as much as I really do enjoy it, he is so male), I have to return again and again to Woolf, even in small doses - Joyce is the "arid scimitar," "the egotistical man" (Woolf's Mr. Ramsay); he is the egoistic writer (with Eliot and Lawrence) which Woolf consciously tried to avoid being; and his Stephen Dedalus or maybe even Bloom, the egoistic modern antihero, wandering the desolate streets of postwar cities. I return to her as if to a fountain.

And last night, I returned to one of her biographies to be reminded of how hard moving sometimes is, even to places that you love, places that mean adventure and experience and life. I think that it is the literal unsettling that is hard. Back in London, Rasheed and I had not exactly a schedule, nor a pattern, but we just fell naturally into our days, writing and reading, going places, or he'd work at Oxfam, and I'd set up in a cafe nearby. Then, it was living out of my suitcases in D.C. for just under a week. Then, Illinois for just over a month, this time, living mostly out of laundry baskets. I never really got to settle there: not enough time, plus the medical upset (though I think I came close to comfortable, judging by how hard it was to say goodbye to people). And then back to London for just under a week, and now back down to Brighton (and back up to London this weekend!).

So I returned to her last night. Her work, too, suffered during moves, even the move from Richmond (the suburb where she felt so stifled) to London (that lively thriving city where she longed to be), which I read about last night (and which I think I might identify with, though I do like Brighton). She, too, ceased to write during these and other stressful times in her life (helpful to remember when I think about my own health situation; to remind myself that it's sometimes okay if I give myself an hour, a day, a half-week off).

So I will continue writing day by day, and it will become easy again. But I must write daily, work daily. ("Break myself back in," I told Rannier.)

[A fun note of a completely different tone: Sussex offers these really cheap open language courses - only 110 pounds for a 20-week course! - so I'm going to brush up on my Spanish! They might offer more in the spring and summer...think I could make a good start in French or Italian? So excited!]

22 September 2006

Modigliani & His Models

So today, I took advantage of my time in London to go to the Modigliani & His Models show at the Royal Academy of Arts (Fulbright stuff was good, too exhausting to write about again, though, and most of you were lucky to get the email!). It was small (only four rooms), but very rich - they even had one of his sculptures, and even some of his early portraits of Picasso & Juan Gris & other friends, painted when he first moved from Italy to Montparnasse in the early 1900s.

I was more engaged by his later works, however, not
because they were more mature artistically (because really, a genius is a genius no matter how mature, so everything's good, right?), but because I was more interested in what was going on beneath them (not that the modern lifestyles of bohemian Parisian artists *doesn't* interest me...).

One painting that really intrigued me was a portrait
of Lunia Czechowska, who was staying in the same house as Modigliani during WWI. Zboroski had brought Mod. to a house in the south of France when Paris was being bombed too heavily, to stay with him, his companion, and this other woman, Lunia. Mod. apparently became quite close to Lunia, and painted several portraits of her, including this one. When I look at it, the portrait, seems so self-possessed; and Lunia, so composed with her fan poised in midair. It is so still. Then, I read on the little info card next to the painting that Lunia was staying with Zb. while her husband was serving at the front. There is so little of the war in this painting - I immediately turned back to it, looking for any disturbance in its surface. Perhaps the red of the background? Maybe the bolder brushstrokes, not blended smooth?

And then I wondered: where was ANY
of the turbulence of Modigliani's life in ANY of these paintings? This was painted in 1917. Many of the paintings that I most liked were painted between this time and 1919, about the time he died at the age of 35 from TB & alcohol (the path of so many Paris artistes-bohemes). But despite this, they all are so still; some, slightly melancholy (like this one), but never exposing any of the fin de siecle/wartime/modern angst that so many of his contemporaries showed in their use of lurid colors (I'm thinking Toulouse-Lautrec), fragmentation (like the cubism of his buddy Picasso, though I think you see some cubism in his portrait of Gris), or even impressionism. And it was this stoicism, I think, this ability to withhold artistic drama, that makes his later work so appeal to me.

17 September 2006

Today, it begins

This morning, as my alarm went off just a little too early (though far later than my 6:30 a.m. plan...), I was filled with an incredible sense of promise:

Today, it begins.

I just felt, overwhelmingly, that everything lies ahead of me.

Today, I am able to leave this house where I feel so stifled, just like I did growing up, just like I did throughout high school & during college breaks (my friend Shravan is right: when visiting your childhood home, limit it to a week; that's the longest you can stay without becoming a child again).

Today begins the Fulbright, Sussex; today, I am put back on the path.

15 September 2006

Kindred (dancing) spirits

For the last few weeks, my younger cousin, Cait, has been learning to swing dance with me. I invited her to come with me when I learned she was having kind of a rough time at home (but what 13-year-old doesn't?), and that she might sometimes feel kind of lonely. So I wanted to give her one of the greatest gifts I've relied on when I've been my loneliest: dance. It's something that she'll still be able to keep close even when I'm not around, back in the UK.

I often speak of having a dancing soul or spirit, and while many people interpret it this way, and while it certainly encompasses joyfulness and buoyancy, it cuts so much deeper that just this. There are many people who like or love to dance, and there are so many who are good at it, but then, there are a few who have what I think of as this dancing spirit, and these are the dancers who know that it is more than joy. Dancing is about pain, too, and loss; sometimes regret and forgiveness; love and melancholy - a single dance might be all of life concentrated. Dancing like this means feeling every moment of it so intensely that sometimes it threatens to be too much, almost so much that it makes you know that if death were to come to you at that moment, you might accept it. But not quite: it is a way of living on the edge. To dance with a dancing soul means you cannot live without the dance. I only began to really dance after my surgery; true, I had "been dancing" lots of times before that, but only after my surgery did I discover my dancing soul. Since then, I have discovered a couple of others: Elsie, Paul, perhaps Rannier.

Elsie is perhaps the truest dancing spirit I know. She used to dance when she was young - but then, married & had children, and ceased to dance. Now, a widow in her 80s, does she dance again, and probably like she never did before. Only after her husband died did she start dancing again, she told me. Listening to her talk about him, I know that they were one of those couples who were lucky to be very deeply in love. When she lost him, she went into a deep depression, and perhaps she still dips in and out of it - but the answer became dance. She lives in a tiny farmtown outside of Champaign, where all of the residents think she's crazy, this tiny old woman driving into the "big" city just to go dancing late at night! She dresses up, skirts and dancing shoes and lots of jewelry, and though (like me) she may not follow all of the really smooth moves, she always looks like she's having the time of her life on the floor! Some of my best dances have been with Elsie.

I first suspected Cait of having a dancing spirit after the first time she came to swing: my aunt/her Nana told me that as soon as she got in the car, she turned to Nana & declared: "Nana! I'm going to need some dancing shoes!" I told her that while she looked for her own, she could use a pair of mine, a light pair of ballet softshoes that I use when I think the dancing floor at any particular venue might be questionable. Over the past couple of weeks, I've watched her become more confident on the dance floor, dancing more & sitting with the "old people" (my aunt & mom) less. Last night, my aunt confided that the other night, she caught Cait sleeping in those dance shoes! When we said goodbye before I head back to England on Sunday, Cait returned my shoes. "Keep them," I told her. "Really?!" Excitement flashed across her face. "Just keep practicing!" I am so proud of her, this kindred spirit. (If I didn't do my own laundry, there are nights when I would have slept in my shoes, too!)

13 September 2006


I have decided to be unafraid.

06 September 2006


So. Today I talked to my surgeon's nurse; he'll talk to me next Thursday, but she gave me some details today, about which I will update everyone here. Uh, so remember how my surgeon had said he got all of the tumor that summer, two summers ago, when I had the surgery? Turns out that he didn't actually. Because the pathology came back Grade 2 - still benign, but borderline - it meant that the tumor was still a free agent, I guess. I had taken it as: "Yay, he got it, and it was benign!!" Whereas it was actually: "Well, we got it, sort of - it could come back benign, or perhaps someday cancerous."

Well, it's come back. But, only by a fraction, thank God. It looks like I have another year's lease on life. Which means I get to do my Fulbright.

Which means I'd better stop wasting time not working because I'm panicking about these things, and better start writing like there's no tomorrow, 'cause really, how long do any of us really have?

05 September 2006

Still waiting

So I still wait to hear from my neurosurgeon. He is back in the office by now, but in surgery today. I might still hear from him (or more likely, one of the nurses/SAs) tonight, though. Maybe tomorrow. I'm terrified that he'll want an office visit, that this will mean hard news. Last time I had an MRI, it was just a phone call: "Your test results came back negative. Get another MRI done in a year and bring it to us." Every time I think about the possibility that he might want me to come in, I want to vomit. This time, I have so much to lose; I hate this gamble, and that it's a gamble I never chose.

It has thus been impossible (still) to work, which makes me feel even worse. Guilty (as if I don't deserve good health if I don't even use it) and worthless. I had planned to have started writing this new section of the Portrait paper at the start of September. I haven't even finished with the reading I had planned to do (though, granted, I'm close).

Yet here I am stupidly complaining - I should be glad for another day. Soon, this will be over - I'll be fine and on a flight to London, and then, this will have seemed so silly. Less than two weeks, this will all be over.