After spending hours shredding the evidence of broad swaths of my existence, it was kind of a few friends to allow me to join them for dinner despite the Orwellian eye of the blog. They promptly and thoroughly diminished the residual shards of self-importance to mere egotistical flotsam. With friends like these . . . !
I finished Morton’s novel this afternoon. “Love me, love my goblin,” Nora wishes of Isaac, but doesn’t know if he will (284). “She knew that this was going to be her life: wherever she turned, the suffering world would be upon her.
She didn’t know if she had stumbled onto a fact about existence or merely a fact about herself. Life isn’t just suffering; she knew this. Life is also joy and creation and procreation. Yes, we’re a community of suffering, but we’re a community of ecstasy as well. (278)
I identify with Isaac too. “It was amazing, the way thirty years can be irrevocably altered by one bonehead move” (262).
Tonight’s discussion themes over dinner verged on the morbid (aging, death by water, alcoholism), yet were tempered by laughter, teasing, and hopefulness. “You have too many friends.” Cassiopia was by turns sympathetic and a liability, the Ever-Smiling Evil Indian relished her pseudonymity, while the innocent friend ridiculed swimming only in water where one’s feet can touch bottom. I know I can tread water for some hours, but I will be sure to get well-trained in the use of emergency communications gear so that I can call for help when the seagulls, flies, and gusts of breeze appear!
“No matter how many wrong turns you make, you can always go in a new direction. As long as you’re alive” (257). Renee is an iconic representation of the future to Isaac; she reads Frederic Jameson on Hegel [The Cultural Turn]. Isaac wonders if
“what he really missed was the belief that there was an overarching meaning in his life . . . a thread that tied one day to the next, a bright thread of meaning that took the loose purposelessness of everyday life and gave it form and value and direction” (287).
We also spoke, tonight, of pedagogy and the ending of a course, which always seems to happen right when the norms get settled and the group is ready to evolve. Finally, a majority of individual students have become willing to be affected by the material and each other. Perhaps the institutional structuring of higher education was not deliberately designed to curtail critical re-education, but the course-by-course (teacher-by-teacher) system is starkly effective at cutting off community-building that might lead to social change. “Death moves in on you from a distance, taking things away. The circle of places you even dream of visiting becomes smaller and smaller” (195). Nora’s Aunt Billie has been like a parent to her, within the limits of her capacities.
Nora insists on treasuring the moments with her Aunt, loving her without reason: “Billie was kind, but it wasn’t because of her kindness; she was generous, but it wasn’t because of her generosity. The love wasn’t there because of anything Billie had done. It was just there. Certain people are given into our care, and we have no choice but to care for them” (188).
Nora admires Isaac’s photographs: “He had a distinctive style…a distinctive way of seeing people….his subjects, his people, seemed strong…
People, she was thinking, have handles, and different artists grasp people by different handles. Dostoevsky grasped people by their feverishness, their intensity. Yeats grasped people by their nobility of character. Whitman grasped people by their sexuality, or by whatever it is in us &emdash; something that includes but is larger than sexuality &emdash; that makes us want to merge with others. (168)
Time slowed for me today. For several stretches of road, coasting well under the speed limit, I felt oddly vacant. Nora muses “that maybe the point of life was to send one dream into the mind of the universe. Everything else in your life is incidental to the dreaming of that dream, but you can’t know which one it is” (263).
I believe we can choose which dream we want to shape the meaningfulness of our lives, but we may not be able to assess its success. After all my many (oh so many!) years on earth, my patience improves. Some times are for pleasure &emdash; being asked questions (162) by my friends tonight pepped me up a fair bit. Having a still mind is the most recent manifestation of patience &emdash; who knew such quietude is possible? Other times are for holding tight with “a love that [is] unbendable and complete” (140).
If I built an ontology on the triad of dreaming into mind, taking turns as necessary, and seeking the strengths of everyone I encounter, might this balance the force of devils and angels (Rilke), or Nora’s goblins and graces, warring for my soul? And who will remain my friend, as we try to make out each other’s words through the static of our own thoughts? (60)