A Note On The Previous Post

About four years ago, I started to write that post for Sheila’s birthday. I finally got around to doing it, and I hope that Sheila, and everyone else, enjoys it.

If you know Sylvia Plath, it should be fun for you.

If not, it will make no sense at all.

I don’t usually disclaim any of my posts, but I felt this one needed something of an explanation.

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The Present

In the baggage claim at Heathrow Airport, Cara Ellison paced, checking her phone, attempting to avoid the surveillance cameras, while she waited for her friend. Three days. Three nights. It had come to this.

Through the smash and crash of travelers, her eyes sought her friend, discounting the ones – not him, nor him, nor him– all masses trundling round the globe. Then quite suddenly, on a stair, Sheila rose with her red hair above the crowds, her face featureless from this distance, like fine Jew linen.

As she came nearer, Cara lurched forth, grabbing her in a solid hug. “Oh my God, you look so skinny!”

Sheila shrugged out of the embrace, laughing, “I do not!”

“You do, not do! You do, not do! Oh, black shoes!”

Sheila looked down at her black patent leather heels, worn with the miles of a thousand walks. “In which I have lived like a foot, for thirty years. Poor and white.”

Cara embraced her again.

“I can barely breathe or achoo!” Sheila laughed and squirmed away.

Years of destiny lay between them as the women chatted and luggage arrived on silver rotating wheels. Sheila grasped her roller bag and a large canvas bag, which she hefted onto her shoulder. “Marble heavy,” she complained. “A bag full of God.”

Cara lifted one heavy bag from her friend’s shoulder and together they began the trek to the other part of the airport, where the last of them was due.

“Darling, all night I have been flickering, off, on, off, on.”

“You worry too much,” Sheila replied. “We will get away pure as acetylene virgins, attended by roses.”

The wait was a weight, as they waited for an hour. Or three, if you want to know. Then the girl whose skin was fine as Japanese paper, golden beaten skin, infinitely delicate and infinitely expensive, arrived in Isadora’s scarves and blue peajacket, her loveliness too pure for anyone.

“Does not my heat astound you. And my light,” Tracey said, and hugged her friends. “You regard me with such attention.”

The three women hurried to the car waiting outside, their faces masks of indifferent pleasure. The shining multiples, The innocents —

The English town was scraped flat by the roller of wars, wars, wars, and death hung in bare trees. Sullen smokes rose from distant factories, black lunged workers had died in fields in previous generations, the hard-bitten English countryside as dull as the tongues of Cerberus. North, the long blackness. The chalk light laid its scales on the windows of the car, the passing light hurtling from the devil’s gaze.

The car had been rented by Cara in London, and it serviced well through the hinterlands, until they arrived at the new townsquare. It was dark out and the shoppes were dark, the streets empty.

The three women quietly dressed in the car. The air was thick. It was thick with this working.

“My blacks,” Tracey whispered, “crackle and drag.”

“You shall not be a heroine of the peripheral,” Cara replied softly. To herself, she mused only that it was if their hearts had donned faces, and walked into the world exposed as babies.

After they dressed completely in black, Cara eased the car down the long sullen road. They were miles from civilization, the black car the only thing to catch light and gleam on a cold night, the highlands whispering with wind and not even God to allay fears.

A wall around a green property came into view. “That’s it,” Sheila whispered, her voice drawn with awe at the stones piled high, the gated property possessive as a pregnant woman.

Cara wordlessly drove a little farther up, the yews hiding the shape of the car, a mechanical bee.

Stepping into the cold, Tracey shivered. “This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary. The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.”

The three women walked quietly along the sodden grasses, the grasses unload their griefs on their feet as if they were God, prickling ankles and murmuring of their humility.

“Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place,” Sheila said.

Cara flexed her black-gloved hands, the cold permeating. “The moon drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet.”

“Speak not of dark crimes,” Sheila hissed, her face as white as a bridal dress, that pallor.

Was there a crime? No, Cara resigned, and she made her face and hands stiff with holiness. This was not a crime. This was a revolution, yes, but a quiet one. A liberation, like the Jews of Auschwitz. The only risk was coming too late.

Separated by the house by a row of headstones, the three women approached. The message of the yew tree was blackness. Blackness and silence.

From now, they would work as if tape had ripped across their mouths like a slap.

The house was enormous, a mansion of stones, darked windows black as Hitler’s soul. Along a pathway, lined with the corpse of a raven, the trees and shrubs had melted under winter’s waxy substance. The women climbed the wall, and heaved themselves into the garden.

Silence and stillness commanded them. They waited for a light to flicker onward from beneath a Nazi lampshade inside, but nothing disturbed the cold peace. A statuary, selves not theirs, performed a dumbshow on the black grass, the crooked stones.

They crept to a basement-level window, gone yellow with age and neglect, like a bubble about to break. In silence, as they had planned in Belgrave, London, places not home to their own language or their manners, Cara eased the device in between the panes, latching the crooked hook, jagged as a baby’s cry, and easily lifted the window open. Looking into Sheila’s aryan eye, she nodded, and Sheila slipped inside soundless as love. Tracey followed, then Cara eased into the black void.

The room was not God but a swastika, so black no sky could squeak through. Mouthless, eyeless, stitched bald heads beneath the black caps. Black ghosts, are we death?

Cara had examined the architecture plans, the ancient onionskin documents found in a bureaucrat’s drawer, but she found herself useless. Without light to see, why bother to try?

She unclipped the tiny pinlight, and flashed to the walls. Eking a small path toward the door, she took Tracey’s hand and Tracey grasped Sheila’s and they inched like crabs across the rotten floor, their feet careful not to bang into the antiques, once loved, now forgotten. At a rotted door, the knob easily turned, and Cara parted it from the jamb. A cryptic staircase up.

Cara found her balance and stepped upward, proudly halting only once to listen for the sounds of a life in the living house — stillness is a lie — but the rats had eaten away the phone lines and the residents quieted, faces blank as the day they were born: sleep claimed their minds like husbands.

Soft steps silently sang serious sighs as the three women tapped up the stairs. Another door at the top! Same magic allowed them in. A long hallway, like death, snaked into the bowel of the house.

The stink of mildrew, age and secrets permeated the wallpapers, sodden furniture as grey as wind. The darkness was total, but for the pinlight, and they creeped mouselike through the house, every cell aware of the other living creatures, one floor above. This house was not a place for marriage; too anchored in solitude.

The planner pointed up. “Attic,” she whispered, and the other two inhaled, barely nodding like dolls.

The slowness… their feet nearly taking root, drinking minerals from the wooden slats. Afraid to breathe, the three women progressed like syrup upward, in a slow robotic shift. At the landing a deep snore startled them. Looking wildly to the other two, who represented longevity and daring, Cara pointed down a hallway which seemed to exude the sounds of sleep, thoughts gone dim.

They slowly walked the other way, toward the switching staircase. On shoes soft as beach sand, they continued upward.

The house was in open conversation with God, for every room led to more rooms, and the eternal diversion was a Cubist painting. The small narrow passageway behind a slim door was the only possible way to the attic. Tracey entered last, pulling the door shut too firmly.

They froze, waiting for the shriek of an angry homeowner, the last wail of defaulted promise of safety, but nothing came, nothing.

At the top of the stair another door, and through that door – queer light, the diaphanous satins of a January window. Oh ready for enormity, Sheila stood blinking, trying to make sense of what she saw.

It was the attic exposed with large windows, and sky heaved upon them like God’s knowing eye, tilting blue the neutral airs of crime. A vast space full of junk and old loves. Cara breathed in, filling veins with invisibles, with the million probable motes that tick the years off life. You are silver-suited for the occasion.

“What is this,” Tracey whispered. “Behind this veil, is it ugly, is it beautiful? It is shimmering, has it breasts, has it edges? I am sure it is unique, I am sure it is what I want.”

“Is it impossible for you to let something go and have it go whole?” Sheila asked.

There was too much. O jewel! O valuable! Old whore petticoats.

“I suppose we ought to dig and discover on our own,” Cara said. “Each snail, each pearl button accounted.”

They surged waist-deep in history. Boxes of marriages now dead and the dead now buried. The quiet combings discovering fetid wombs, the light of history occasionally lighting a memory as a cathedral’s shadow. There was nothing they came for. A raped extravagance?

The cauldron of morning was lighting the edge of dawn. The chimneys of the city were beginning to breathe. To go empty handed into the future was a sin, like the sin of love wasted.

The three women stood, sweated from their search, the boxes rendering junk.

“We’ve only hours,” Tracey said.

“But hours spent wisely are hours that multiply,” Sheila replied.

“We’ve discovered only sorrow,” Cara whispered.

Tracey turned and walked to the windows. A living doll. She turned again and looked at the acres of memories, lives distilled to the junk shop window.

Suddenly her head tilted and with it the world. “That chest,” she said.

Sheila and Cara spun and saw nothing.

“It’s a chest, verily, I say to you, the chest.” Tracey walked to the large mirror, where a scarf hung nearly to the floor and a wooden edge peeked from under rough, dumb country stuff. Tracey ripped aside the scarf, and behind the mirror was the chest.

“Heavens,” Cara whispered.

Sheila’s eyes began to tear.

They approached and silently worked to move the mirror. Kneeling down, they opened the chest.

A low guttural sound kicked from Cara’s mouth, the low soft moan of a woman in childbirth. One journal was a plain composition notebook; the other a folder. Reaching inside, Sheila held them in shaking hands.

She opened the cover of the folder, and there, having known it all along, was typewritten words on pink Smith College stationery.

The final journals had been found.

Sylvia Plath Fans Take It To The Extreme

Sheila posted this on my Facebook wall today. It’s a line from Sylvia Plath’s novel, The Bell Jar:

I’ve thought about tattooing “Cauldron of morning” (the last line of Ariel) around my wrist, but ultimately I just don’t think I’m a tattoo kind of girl. Maybe I’ll have a secret tattoo one day – the Enron E with a Sylvia Plath phrase inside of it. That way I only have to get one!

Omega Men and the Ascendancy of the Bitch

Slate has a post about Omega Men, who are what we used to call losers. The losers are divided up into various strata, and his failings analyzed. As I read I started to realize that not only is the strata of various men becoming less distinct, the types of losers are blurring into one giant mass of worthlessness. I guess somewhere along the way, I just stopped caring about why men don’t achieve. I just know that they did.

A few years ago, around the 2006 election, I remember commenting on a blog post that “I can’t find any man attractive who just lies around on the sofa.” I don’t even remember the subject of the post or the name of the blog, but I remember that I caught hell for saying that. I was accused of being an emasculating bitch, a gold digger, and lots of other things. But I guess I just always expected that men shouldn’t lie around the sofa. I want men to work. Society needs men to work. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Lee Iococca, Scott Yeager, Rex Shelby, Jeff Skilling are the three immediate examples of the productive, thinking male, but there are millions. And we need them. We rely on them to move society forward.

When they don’t, women attempt to step into their place, and the result is a disaster. Men are designed to be leaders. Women are not generally known for giant leaps in the betterment of society, or for daring heroic battles – though of course there are exceptions. I’m thinking of the battle of Thermopolae. Lionidas did not take 300 men, plus 2 women with him into battle. He took men.

Incidentally I find the movie 300 a terrific portrayal of the ideal culture. It’s perfectly Randian. The women stayed at home, but they were strong. They had responsibilities. They raised the men who would grow up to defend the Sparta. But the women were not asked to defend it themselves.

Thanks to the women’s movement, men have been looking at women like peers for nearly thirty years, and thus if they drop it, they figure Sue can handle it. Well Sue can’t handle it. Sue has other responsibilities. The fact that a man wants to drop out is troubling but that he would allow himself to sink to the level of being supported by a woman, not out of necessity but because he merely does not have the will to stand up and do what is expected of him is a disgrace.

I think women, when thrust into roles they aren’t prepared for, resent it, and thus the Bitch myth was born. There would be fewer bitches if there were men around who actually acted like men.

Marine’s Father Will Not Pay Protestor’s Court Fees

Via FoxNews:

The father of a Marine killed in Iraq whose funeral was picketed by anti-gay protesters told Fox News he will defy a court order and not pay the protesters’ appeal costs. Albert Snyder, of York, Pa. was ordered to pay $16,510 to Fred Phelps, the leader of Kansas’ Westboro Baptist Church, which held protests at Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder’s funeral in 2006.

The article does not state why he was ordered to pay the costs to Fred Phelps who stood outside his son’s funeral with signs that read GOD HATES FAGS, among other disgusting things.

I’m baffled how a grieving father of a Marine – who died serving our country – would be forced to pay that worthless human being anything at all.

This seems like another one of those weird topsy-turvey upside-down events that every normal person knows should not happen, and yet it has.

If the Supreme Court doesn’t take the case and the court fees remain, I am pretty sure that the father could have a fundraiser for the money, but I completely understand his distaste for doing anything of the kind. Fred Phelps is a disgusting human being. I look at him and people like him and wonder what purpose they serve. They seem the incarnate of pure evil.

Book Review: Secrets of Sin by Chloe Harris

Secrets of Sin is erotic romance.

Emiline du Ronde is mistress of a great Caribbean plantation, a successful businesswoman and a very lonely wife. It seems Reinier Barhydt, her husband, departed four years ago on a ship and has not returned. Instead, he and his best friend, Connor have a reputation for wild menage a trois and they are happily circling the globe doing everyone from the noblewomen of Europe to a virgin whore in some undisclosed location — yes, a virgin in a whorehouse. And they were lucky enough to have her (though I wonder if a virgin in a whorehouse would feel the same). I fully expected the two men to actually do each other – since they almost kiss in the first chapter – but no, apparently their enjoyment of sex with other men is limited to watching the other with a woman.

Meanwhile, on her little island, Emiline du Ronde has had quite enough, and she has her attorney draw up divorce papers. Connor overhears this, and for reasons I’m not quite clear on, he tells Reinier that she has taken a lover. Reinier returns to the island and makes a bargain with her. If she succumbs to his every wish for three days, he will grant her divorce.

I’ll stop here to just say the motivations of this book are preposterous. Reinier actually yells to a maid that, “I’m the one that was a prize she could brag to her friends about, something to laud over them and check off her list of ingredients for the perfect marriage…. She never loved me. It was all about bragging rights to her.”

Bragging rights. Okay. Whatever. Like some guy who cats around with whores is some huge catch. Way to go Emiline. But of course, none of the motives are actually the point.

Gettin-it-on is the point.

And that they do quite well. In the three days that Emiline is to submit to him, he takes a liking to spanking her, whipping her, caning her, and plain old doing her like a math problem. It was absolutely thrilling.

The writing itself, with its sweet descriptions of Caribbean life, were lustrous and beautiful. The attraction between the two main characters was very well defined, and the sex was extremely good. The fact that it was all hinged on a ridiculous structure did not matter in the least. These books are escapist, and they’re allowed to veer from reality.

I do have a question about the two men, however. To my eye, it appeared that the two men were lovers, but that the editing process deleted it. I could be entirely wrong about that, but there is a gap in the plot where that fact would have fit quite well indeed. As it is, their close friendship full of hugs and, of course, sharing sex with a woman, just seems undone and a little odd. It’s an intriguing line of inquiry: if they were lovers and that was cut out, why was it cut? Did the editors not believe that women would enjoy man-sex?

In any case, the existing book is lovely. A very enjoyable, fast read that ends with a happily ever after. One note: you might not want to read it in public. If it didn’t have a giant warning label on it, you could probably read it in public, with this label, you’d look a little odd:

Trivial Tragedies

I read today that Jesse James has entered “treatment” which I suppose is the new “rehab”. The article didn’t state what he was seeking treatment for but his rep said he was entering treatment to try to save his marriage to Sandra Bullock.

After Tiger Woods, I’m all sex-rehabbed out. Sex addiction is not a real thing. Like food addiction isn’t a real thing. People like (and need) sex (and food). The fact that Jesse James is a douche who can’t control himself doesn’t mean he’s sick. It means he’s a jerk who suffers from the delusion that he is immune from consequence.

I’m sick of all celebrities. I’m sick of Obama and I’m sick of celebrities and their little problems and their stupidity.

I’m getting bitter about it too.

Frankly, there’s just no refuge. Trying to escape the trivialities returns me to politics. Politics terrifies me and I seek trivialities.

Maybe the best thing to do is just live in books for the foreseeable future. I don’t know what the answer is. I just know that I am seeking a balance. I want to be able to enjoy the trivialities again — but it’s just so stupid right now that it feels beneath me. And I want to write about politics again, but every time I begin, I just get tired.

Which side are you spending more time on? The trivial side to escape the serious situation our country is in, or the serious side to escape the stupidity of the trivial?

Bibliointelligence

I have a theory, created in the aftermath of 9/11. It was a time when the US was attempting to get off its knees, to absorb the attack, to count the bodies, get money to the surviving families to needed it, sort of re-orient ourselves as a country that had been attacked by jihadists. At the time, we really didn’t know what that meant. But also there was an undercurrent of energy. We’d just seen a certain segment of our society pulled back: the Washington DC culture (FBI, CIA, NSA, and all supporting intelligence branches) suddenly became prominent. These became agencies we heard about on the nightly news instead of the mysterious entities mired in distracting cover of the White House and Congress. And in that sudden spotlight, every American suddenly felt they had a handle on the intelligence actions of our country. We were all intelligence experts because all this information was suddenly culled from the depths and spread out for everyone to see.

On the one hand, it was very condescending to believe we knew anything at all. Like watching news and reading the internet made us a deputized intelligence officer. On the other, it did allow a new accountability for those agencies.

When a rumor was floated that Attorney General Ashcroft wanted to know the library books citizens were checking out, I was struck with an idea.

No two people on the planet have read the same two books. Your library is as individual as your fingerprint. I wondered why FBI agents who were doing raids on houses of suspected jihadists didn’t take a full accounting of the books on the premises in order to build a kind of profile.

This idea, of course, has several flaws. The first is, what possible use could a profile be? The answer is probably none. But maybe there’s some kind of common thread in the books people read, or even in the percentages. Say, if a person’s book collection is 1/5 biographies and 1/2 history and 1/3 fiction, it’s possible that means something above and beyond the obvious and rather prosaic taste in books. I don’t know what it could “mean”. One possibility is that people can be broken down into “types” the same way FBI agents divide crimes into “unorganized” and “organized.”

Say you start with a “fiction-minded” person vs. a “history-minded person.” Would the fiction minded person be more prone to tell lies? Exaggerate? Would analysts take that into consideration if they were, say, searching for a serial killer?

I have no idea. The fact is, most of the profiling done by FBI agents is guesswork. Maybe intelligent guesswork, but still guesswork. But I can’t help but believe that if you’re doing guesswork, why not broaden the basis for your guesses to help inform the profile you’re creating.

Books seem to me a great place to start. They are, after all, reflections of things that are now in people’s heads. They’re a personal choice. They’re individualized; even if millions have read Eat, Pray, Love, how many have read Eat, Pray, Love and Mein Kampf? or Eat, Pray, Love and Mein Kampf and, Poems of John Donne?

There is something to be learned in that. I don’t know whether it has any relevance to intelligence agents, but I think it’s a worthy line of inquiry.

Liking A Girl

Sheila has a magnificent write-up of a film called Neo Ned. One of the actors is Gabrielle Union. I have a completely irrational reaction to Gabrielle Union and I don’t really understand it, and I guess that’s why I’m writing this.

I would totally do Gabrielle Union. I don’t know what it is about her, but my brain short-circuits when I see pictures of her and I just want to take off all her clothes and have at it. I have never had a reaction to a girl like I do Gabrielle Union. In fact, I’ve never had any reaction to any girl. I am probably the most heterosexual girl you will ever meet in your life, as anyone reading this blog can attest (see my many posts in praise of men and their packages.)

And yet.

I am not sure I buy the line that sexuality is fluid. I think we all have a set point where we’re comfortable. Maybe you won’t sit next to a guy a movie theatre. Maybe you are so gay even gay people look at you and say “wow”. I think we all have a point where we’re comfortable. Mine is way over on the guy side. But I have such a massive, unexpected crush that it makes me wonder how fluid that line really is.

I’m not sure what I’m reacting to. I have never met Gabrielle Union, so I can’t say this is even a real thing. Girls in general don’t interest me; I have female friends, of course, but by and large, I live in a male universe; I listen to men, I like to be around them. They smell good and I love their life-giving heat and I can’t see myself ever dating a girl. I’ve never looked at a girl and had anything approaching a sexual thought. Then I saw Gabrielle Union in Bring It On and since then, I’m completely rapt whenever she’s on the screen.

It’s amusing to note a girl-crush in myself. I don’t get it at all. But I know if there’s a movie with Gabrielle Union, or a magazine cover with her on it, I’m there.

Patches of Divinity

Do you ever have moments when you suddenly flash to something that happened before, and you realize it because of that incident that you’re in the current moment? I had one of those moments today, and it troubled me to realize that the only use for the past is to provide a constant running accounting of reference points to the future. But you can never know what will be important. You don’t know, when you make a decision, whether it will have some enlarged positive or negative effect in the future. And this is why it is important to try to live consciously every moment of every day, so you keep yourself on the right track to your goals. That includes keeping your thoughts positive and directed to where you want to go. That kind of attention to living can be exhausting. But I think the alternative is much worse.

I learned this today while buying a salad.

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