Monday, July 30, 2012

Myth-Making

"We have to make myths of our lives; it is the only way to live them without despair."
--May Sarton

Well, the month of July seems to have gotten away from me.

But it did so in a good way.  I spent a stretch of time in the Berkshires and it turned into a beautiful literary-themed vacation in the mountains.  I walked the woods and fields walked by Melville, Hawthorne and Wharton.  I went to a poetry reading by Taylor Mali.

I had wine and lunch at The Gypsy Joynt on a beautiful summer afternoon.  I had beer and Mexican food at Xicohtencatl on a beautiful summer evening.

I read and read.  I finished Joan Druett's In the Wake of Madness (2004) and it gave me a new way of thinking about Melville's novel, Moby-Dick and my ideas about Ahab.  I read Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted (1994).

(It would seem that I was on a bit of an "insanity" theme in my reading, which may be because my time was so peaceful--when my life is nutty, I can't read about other people's nuttiness.)

I've also been reading May Sarton's Plant Dreaming Deep (1968), a beautiful book about the poet's purchase of a home in Nelson, NH and her life in the wake of her parents' death.

In the chapter, "Learning About Water," Sarton describes her decision to drill for an artesian well after the water supply to her home dried up during a drought.

This decision coincided with a particularly difficult period in her life that had started out looking quite promising: she went to Yaddo and began writing poetry again, on a writer's high.

And then, much to her surprise, she was suddenly not renewed as poet-in-residence at Wellesley.

And then, a letter from her agent told her that the novel she had worked on for months was no good and not publishable, and that she should scrap the idea and start over.

Matters came to a head when, in the process of having her well drilled, the workmen she had hired used a bit too much dynamite in their effort to blast through rock.  The blast left her entire (previously white) house covered from roof to doorsill  in black, slimy mud.

She literally had to get out there with the sponges, buckets and brushes and start scrubbing--after she finished crying and screaming, of course.

And then, things changed.

Although her agent didn't like her novel, her publisher loved it. (She had told her agent to send it to the publisher anyway, in spite of the initial reaction.)

She was invited to serve as poet-in-residence elsewhere, at a salary higher than the one she had been earning at Wellesley.

And when they finally drilled for the well, they hit water a mere eight-six feet down.  Sarton writes,
I do not believe I shall ever again experience the panic I lived through at Yaddo.  When water flowed up at five gallons a minute out of all that anxiety and despair, it suggested that if one can go deep enough, one will come to rock.  By the end of the bad time, I had learned a lot about water, and where and how it is found.  
Tomorrow is the six-year anniversary of my dad's death.  I have had to drill deep over the past six years, to try to find the rock.

When I came back from the Berkshires, I adopted two rescued cats.  I had been hesitant, because I missed my other cat so much and I couldn't bear to think of "replacing" him.

He could never be replaced.  I know to a lot of people, he was "just a cat."  But he was with me before I became a professor, when I got my first job offer.  He was with me when I bought my house.  He was with me when my parents died.  He has always been with me, for 16 years.

There is no replacement for that.

Six years ago today, when my dad was dying, my little orange cat did something he hadn't done since the time when I brought him home as a very small kitten.  When I went to bed that night, he came up and tucked his head under my chin and went to sleep there. 

He hadn't done that for years.  And he never did it again until a month ago.  The night before he died, my cat climbed up on my bed, tucked his head under my chin, and went to sleep there.

What I have realized over the past six years is that, for me, there is a bedrock in my life that comes from being able to care for others, to offer them comfort and a safe-haven.  You can tuck your head under my chin and go to sleep with me, literally and figuratively, even if one of us is at our most vulnerable.

That is a source of joy for me.

I have had to realize, though, that there are people who will pose as friends in order to try to steal from the source.  They'll take what they can and then retreat like the cowards they are, trying to poison the well on their way out.

As the writer Frederick L. Collins puts it, "There are two types of people--those who come into a room and say 'Well, here I am!' and those who come in and say, 'Ah, there you are.'"

Anyway, the gist of all this is, I decided to find a cat (or two) who had some "issues" (at least, as far as the world at large is concerned), to whom I could offer a better life and better circumstances.

I found them.

And when I did, I brought them home.  And what the world identified as their "issues" or "problems" vanished almost instantly.

I think they just needed a chin to tuck their heads under.

Last night, I was putting clothes away in my bedroom.  When I turned around, one of my new kitties had climbed on my bed.  It was the first time he had climbed up there since I brought him home. 

He was lying in exactly the same spot my other cat had occupied every evening during the days when he was dying.  My new cat had chosen the spot himself, immediately; he was lying down exactly the way my little orange cat had done during his illness. 

And he was looking at me, as if waiting for me to notice.

I too have learned a lot about water, and where and how it is found.

2 comments:

  1. I've been reading Sarton's Plant Dreaming Deep because my sister told me that the book reminds her of me. Funny, because I'd given her the book without getting around reading it myself. I'm a budding professional astrologer and as I form my philosophy in approaching astrology, I look for all support regarding making myth of our lives and was pleased to happen upon the quote you cite, as I was reading her the other day. I find it wonderfully interesting to happen upon people randomly on the Internet who have similar interests. I've gotten some good reading recommendations from your blog. Happy reading!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, Tina--and thank you for stopping by! I really enjoyed Sarton's book, and I hope you will too.

    ReplyDelete

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."