Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Florentino Ariza wrote every night. Letter by letter, he had no mercy as he poisoned himself with the smoke from the palm oil lamps in the back room of the notions shop, and his letters became more discursive and more lunatic the more he tried to imitate his favorite poets from the Popular Library, which even at that time was approaching eighty volumes. His mother, who had urged him with so much fervor to enjoy his torment, became concerned for his health. ‘You are going to wear out your brains,’ she shouted at him from the bedroom when she heard the ﬁrst roosters crow. ‘No woman is worth all that.’ She could not remember ever having known anyone in such a state of unbridled passion. But he paid no attention to her. Sometimes he went to the oﬃce without having slept, his hair in an uproar of love after leaving the letter in the prearranged hiding place so that Fermina Daza would ﬁnd it on her way to school. She, on the other hand, under the watchful eye of her father and the vicious spying of the nuns, could barely manage to ﬁll half a page from her notebook when she locked herself in the bathroom or pretended to take notes in class. But this was not only due to her limited time and the danger of being taken by surprise, it was also her nature that caused her letters to avoid emotional pitfalls and conﬁne themselves to relating the events of her daily life in the utilitarian style of a ship’s log. In reality they were distracted letters, intended to keep the coals alive without putting her hand in the ﬁre, while Florentino Ariza burned himself alive in every line. Desperate to infect her with his own madness, he sent her miniaturist’s verses inscribed with the point of a pin on camellia petals. It was he, not she, who had the audacity to enclose a lock of his hair in one letter, but he never received the response he longed for, which was an entire strand of Fermina Daza’s braid. He did move her at last to take one step further, and from that time on she began to send him the veins of leaves dried in dictionaries, the wings of butterﬂies, the feathers of magic birds, and for his birthday she gave him a square centimeter of St Peter Clavier’s habit, which in those days was being sold in secret at a price far beyond the reach of a schoolgirl her age. One night, without any warning, Fermina Daza awoke with a start: a solo violin was serenading her, playing the same waltz over and over again. She shuddered when she realized that each note was an act of thanksgiving for the petals from her herbarium, for the moments stolen from arithmetic to write her letters, for her fear of examinations when she was thinking more about him than about the natural sciences, but she did not dare believe that Florentino Ariza was capable of such imprudence.
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Wayne Johnston
Fielding’s Journal, January 17, 1932
You were a Doctor, a “chest man,” scornful of your profession because you loved your patients and pitied them for having no one better to turn to for help than, as you put it, “the likes of me.” If you muttered aloud in your consulting room the way you did at home about some man who, for all you knew, your remedies were inadvertently murdering by slow degrees, your patients must have been a fretful lot.
You inherited from your father a reprint of a pamphlet that was written in the sixteenth century by a John Fielding, who was probably not an ancestor or ours, though you liked to believe or pretend that he was. The pamphlet described in great detail a medial procedure that you called mental ventilation, that is, the drilling of holes in the skulls of the sick to let the “evil spirits” out. You loved to read the pamphlet aloud. “This yeere have we the skull drille employed with great success. Three men died who woulde anywaye have perished, but three still live and showe signes of recoverye that we hope will soone make possible a seconde application of the drille.”
You were my mother’s husband when you were home and aware of her existence, which wasn’t often, not nearly often enough. You worked long hours. We lived in a place, you said, where nothing thrived except disease. My mother was from Boston and went back there when I was five. And moved from there to New York when I was ten.
For a long time I believe, and was probably right in believing, that you wished my mother had taken me with her when she left. There was no question of her doing so, of course. Even a widow with a child would not have made a good marriage prospect, but a woman who, however justifiably, had left her husband and had in her care a constant reminder to herself and other of that fact would not have fared well in Boston. My mother had no resources and no means of getting them but marriage. She could not have had any confidence when she thought of setting out from Newfoundland that she would soon or ever be able to support a child.
I have only the faintest, possibly counterfeit, recollections of my mother. I don’t remember her saying goodbye to you. There was apparently a divorce worded with sufficient vagueness as to absolve both of you with faint blame. My mother’s father came from Boston to escort her home. He did not come into the house, or perhaps he did and I was kept form seeing him, I’m not sure. I think I remember my mother walking down the driveway with her father, presumably to waiting cab. I remember her crying, squatting down to embrace me.
What I was told was happening and by whom, I don’t remember, but I’m sure I wasn’t told she was leaving us for good. Nor do I remember when I realized she wasn’t coming back.
You did not purge the house of her after she went back to Boston. As if to prove you were neither broken-hearted nor humiliated, you left her picture on the mantelpiece. My mother as she was not long after you first met. Perhaps that was the point, to distinguish the girl you fell in love with from the woman you divorced. You did not so much show me as leave where I might find them the albums in which there were pictures of you and her together, Dr. and Mrs. Fielding and with them, sometimes, Baby Sheilagh.
The kind of silence that follows the slamming of a door persisted in that house for years. It was there even while the radio was playing and when relatives to visit, and when we talked. We were never quiet in each other’s company if we could help it; the silence made her absence so palpable. It was as though life as it would have been if she had stayed was taking place in some room in the house that, no matter how long we searched for it, we could never find.
You cursed your body’s need for sleep and, in token protest of it, slept while sitting in a chair with all your clothes on. I was always in bed before you got home, always in bed but never asleep. Even the housekeeper, on your instructions, never waited up, but left something in the stove for you to eat, which was often still there in the morning.
After I heard you coming up the steps and opening the front door, I waited for you to settle down, then tiptoed out to see if you were still awake, which you sometimes were, tipped back in your recliner, staring at the ceiling.
You rarely noticed me until I was standing right beside you, though the site of me never startled you. As though you were immobilized as one of your patience, you turned just your head and smiled and reached out your hand for mine, squeezing it lightly. “Hello there,” you said. You looked at me, and as if my very age was an expression of unwarranted optimism, you shook your head in fond disbelief that anyone could be so naïve as to be five years old. You didn’t see the girlhood so much as a stage in life as a character trait. I was girlish, you were mannish; these things would always be the case.
And so you told me everything, things five-year-olds should not hear, I suppose. You told me of patients to had died or were going to, and of others who were getting better, always speaking of the latter with a tinge of irony, as if to say that however much better they got, the world they were returning to was still the same.
Sometimes, you fell asleep while talking to me, or I came out and found you asleep, your arms folded across your chest. If you were wearing your hat, I took it off and put it on the floor beside your chair, as you did when you remembered to. I didn’t have to be especially careful not to wake you, for, once asleep, you slept soundly, deeply, as if your body was making the most of the few hours it had you in it’s care.
It was a strange sight to see you sleeping. It was hard to believe you’d trust something so unreliable and treacherous as your body to sustain you without your supervision. I stood beside you, marveling that there existed in you something more basic, more fundamental than your will, something that made your chest move up and down, drew air into your body and forced it out again. It always made me think there must be more to your waking self then met the eye, not that you seemed to me lacking or deficient in anything exactly. Perhaps it was your sleeping in your clothes, sometimes even in your hat and coat, that did it. It seemed to me that your impressive hat and coat and vest and pants and shoes were sleeping too.
In the way you would say of someone, “he’s not himself today,” I thought of you as being permanently not yourself. Lack of sleep, overwork, your wife’s absence, made you what you seemed to others to be, but I believe that there was another latent Dr. Fielding and was always waiting for him to show himself.
You were a good “chest man,” but not an especially good one, not, as you said of other doctors in other fields, “top-notch.” I was ten before I realized this, before I realized that others did not see you as I did, were not as awed by you as I was, that there were men in the world in whose company you felt inferior, deficient. I noticed you never referred to other “chest men” as “top-notch,” not even those who visited St. John’s from places like New York and London. There were, and still are, a good many “chest men” in St. John’s. This was thee specialty where you could not only do the most good but make the most
money, and you wold leave it to me, you said, to decide which of these two considerations mattered most to your colleagues.
I think that over the years, you made some sort of peace with your limitations. Not that admitting to yourself that you would never be top-not made you any less inclined to push yourself or more inclined to sleep. But you were motivated now by guilt, not by ambition. You were still trying to compensate for being unexceptional, but you were doing so for your patients now.
When I was twelve, you asked me if I wanted to go to a private school in Scotland like so many other girls my age were doing. I told you I would go if that was what you wanted. You took me in your arms and hugged me. “We’ll send you to Bishop Spencer instead,” you said. “How would that be?” I nodded and you kissed me on the cheek. It was the only time in my life that you ever hugged or kissed me. I didn’t understand then that the point of the question was not to try to get rid of me, but to see if I wanted to be rid of you.
We drifted apart after they released me from the San. Not that we saw each other any less frequently. I still went to the old house on Circular Road, but I could see in your eyes that you wanted me to stay away. I knew why, though we never talked about it. We would sit there on Sunday afternoons and often, in spite of yourself, you let me make you laugh.
You were so shamed of yourself, you couldn’t bare to see me, couldn’t forgive yourself. You thought I didn’t understand, or that I was pretending not to understand, how profoundly you betrayed me by not coming to the San to say goodbye. But it was because you stayed away that I knew how much you loved me. I didn’t feel abandoned or betrayed.
And you thought I didn’t know that you had done something else for which you thought you didn’t deserve to be forgiven. But I knew.
In the end, you found what you must have thought was the perfect way of making restitution.
You told the other Fieldings not to send for me.
You knew that they would do as your said, that they thought you didn’t want me there because, like them, you were ashamed of me, because you had come to your senses at last and disowned me.
You fancied that by this, it was yourself you were denying. You had abandoned me and so you deserved to be abandoned. An eye for an eye. How could you not have known that this, of all the ways you might have hurt me, was the worst?
Still, you cannot stop me from remembering.
On those rare occasions when you were able to make time for me, you used to give me make-believe check-ups. You put your stethoscope on the soles of my feet and listened with an air of grave concentration. You put it on my forehead and claimed that you could hear what I was thinking. You tapped me on the head with your little rubber hammer and looked and my quizzically, appraisingly, as if awaiting some result. To test my eyes, you put your tongue depressor on your own tongue, said, “Ahhhh,” and asked me to tell you what I saw.
You were nominally, perfunctorily, a Methodist. We went to church regularly because, you said, “Patients like to think their doctors are in God’s good books.” But whether you believed in God or some promised land, some happy sight, some “Bonavista” that was waiting for you on the other side, I don’t know. Asked to declare yourself on the subject, you once said, “The grave’s a fine and private spot / where none I think do ought but rot.”
I love you now no less than when I was just a girl. To quote the inscription on the headstone of your favorite writer, “He has gone where savage indignation can lacerate his heart no more.”
"The problem is no longer getting people to express themselves, but providing little gaps of solitude and silence in which they might eventually find something to say. Repressive forces don’t stop people from expressing themselves, but rather, force them to express themselves. What a relief to have nothing to say, the right to say nothing, because only then is there a chance of framing the rare, or ever rarer, the thing that might be worth saying."
Gilles Deleuze, “Mediators” (via allisonburtch)
Last night I dreamed of a twilight picnic. My friends and I were set down at a very long family-style table. The woman I used to think of as my sister and her boyfriend were seated at the far end. We looked at each other. I spoke with my friends for a while about nothing in particular, feeling feelings I cannot name, when I looked back to where she was seated to see that she and her party were gone.
When I woke up I realized that for all intents and purposes my dream was not really a dream. She is still gone. It still feels like a death in the family.
What it’s like to be an administrator the first week ‘back-to-school’
The Paris Review interviews John Waters
PR: In Role Models, I love when you say, “Fiction is the truth, fool!”
JW: I’ve had people say to me, really educated people, “I don’t have time for fiction.” Well, what do you think literature is? That is what life is!
But do you know how widespread that reaction is? Well, you probably do know! People say they’re “too busy” to read fiction. Or they say that you only really learn if you know facts. Come on!
As if you don’t learn from a novel.
Yes! But they don’t think you do. Which means they’re stupid.
"Talking like touching
Writing like punching somebody"
"To be born a woman has to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women is developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman’s self being split into two. A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another….One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight."
John Berger, Ways of Seeing
This quote punched me in the face. John Berger put words so clearly to a feeling, a way of being, a self, that I have never been able to fully grasp or articulate myself. I googled him after I read the quote and learned he’s an art critic! An art critic! Made me smile.