The human heart in conflict with itself

There is a corner in my study which reminds me of Africa. Perhaps it is the mock African mask one of my daughters made when she was young. She took a plaster cast of her face and attached sparkles and feathers.

My bookcase, too. From time to time I look at it. My books are like disassembled islands from across the world. There in the top left hand corner I have collected my dictionaries, the French, the German, the Latin and Dutch. The words in these books take me elsewhere.

When I wake in the morning and look out through my window I see into the side of an English country garden. The roses over the side fence cascade down to the overgrown arum lilies that populate my garden beds.

The rug in my writing room is Turkish, not an authentic artefact, an imitation, a copy. I could not bear to have an original in my room. All that expense, but I duplicate the image. All those gnarled fingers weaving threads through looms to create symbols of their culture.

I have a book in my bookshelf, bought at half price from a second hand booksellers, Honour the Shadow. It tells the story of death in photographs. Dead bodies dressed up as though still alive.

When I look at the photo of my mother’s dead baby, I see her white skin, her dark hair, the line of her eyelashes over her cheeks like the fringe of a shawl, almost moving but still.

She is there, this dead baby sister, in my album, along my bookshelf and whenever I see her image afresh I travel once more in my mind to her grave in Heilo in Holland. They buried here there in this tiny village where she died at five months of age, far from home. The war, no food. My mother travelled on foot to the outlying towns to get milk but she was too late.

Why not me? Why not the rest of us, her babies? Why not now?
Endless questions I write as I travel through the rooms of my house on my journey of exploration through the world of my memory and imagination.

Forgive me. I am not geographically bounded. I slip from one country to another. In the kitchen I travel to Mexico in my cookbooks and to South America. China is my Buddha and the lucky money chain that hangs above the glass cabinet. I bought it in Warburton and hung it there ten years ago . I touch the red webbing that forms the lanyard holding it in place and wish for luck, luck and wealth and prosperity.

We keep a stone Ganesha on the mantel piece for the same reason. A gift from a friend who travels through Asia, he bought the elephant god to encourage success. I stroke the sandstone back of this statue in honour of my journey, and for luck.

Luck is everywhere. It lies in the droppings of a small bird that lands on you by accident. Did you know that? A piece of bird mess is an auspicious sign. A misfortune that becomes a sign of success. Of all the places in the world, of all the people in the world on which the bird might leave its trace, it choses you. You are the chosen one.

You are such a Pollyanna, always playing the glad game. But I do not know who I am. I will not know until I die when I will become a finality. All will be concluded then and I can get to the end of my journeying.

They say as you get older you become less acquisitive. You give things away. My friends talk of getting rid of their books. Books take up too much space. Besides you can read them online, keep them on memory sticks, on e-books. No need for all that paper.

But I am not ready to give up my books yet.

The jigsaw puzzle of my world the world through which I travel in my mind is fractured, lop sided, in pieces. I cannot hold a thought together. The smell of musk that rises through the cracked paint work in my house calls forth the ghosts of another time, of other times, other journeys. And mine becomes ‘the human heart in conflict with itself’, on journeys too open ended to frame.

52 thoughts on “The human heart in conflict with itself”

  1. Your bookcase looks a great deal like mine. Mine holds books with all of their scents of secrets to reveal within their bindings as well as pictures and tea sets and old dolls and record albums (yes! albums) and mermaids and madonnas.
    And my walls and floors release their own ghosts of other times and yet surely, this very place.
    William Faulkner would feel at home in your house and in mine, I think.
    You and I- we clutch at ghosts, we respect and wonder at them. We are not the only ones.

  2. My mind travels too, to the past, to the present, to the past, to the future. I want the future and I know the only way I can get it is by prayers today.

    The picture of your sister is amazingly alive and beautiful and I am saddened by the story of why she died. I think of your mother.

    And you have a beautiful study, don't ever change it. Space is for books.

  3. Please don't get rid of your books. The older I get, the more I want to gather such things. I never was one to hold on to material things, but now I find I quarrel within myself about whether to give the read books away or keep them.

    This is so beautifully written Elizabeth, and so much is said here. Always, I've been one to ask why. Still do of course. Like you, I do not know who I am. I like to think I do, but I don't really. But, I do not think I will know anymore when I am next to death.

    And luck, I appreciate so much what you've said but will leave it at that. Thank you for this!

  4. I never get rid of books unless they were given to me by people who don't know me and therefore are books that I wouldn't read. They are quite sacred and I'd much rather die in the midst of them than not. I often say that books and reading are the only constant in my life.

  5. I much prefer to read a real book made of paper that i can hold, smell, feel and connect with the author. Reading a book online is so cold, bleak and indifferent, yes i do have modest collection of books. Check my Blogger Profile to see the authors i read :-).

  6. The smell and heft of books – ah, they are special. One day, perhaps, I can see myself in a quiet empty room with just a cup of tea and a friendly cat, but for now I am surrounded by books and kids and sparkly artwork rather like your african mask and that is how it should be! a long life stage, perhaps.

  7. At first I was just relieved to here you call Her Pollyanna. I don't want to live in a world where the "chosen one" is a man.

    And then I got nervous, so if you'll forgive me for asking, you didn't just see her profile, right?

    Because I myself have had an inappropriate thought or two because I wasn't paying attention to what I should have been. Then all of a sudden "she" turns to the side and I think, no way, she couldn't be a… a… and then the comes for all intent and purpose, le coup final to my already fragile heterosexual preference and she tells me her name was Lola.

    And I don't care what anybody says, because I think it is the worst atrocity ever committed to not include the apple reduction in the throat area. Because I was suspicious, but I am telling you had she not been honest with me (which I would have found out anyway) I don't know that it would not have pushed me over the edge.

    It was something that my old buddy L. Ransom said to me. Well, posted, but I read it, and that was to warn me that it was only going to get a whole lot worse. And had there not been any mention of the motion being that like a snakes teasing tongue, I would have never been so vigilant and observant.

    And even when I caught them red handed, ten seconds later I was questioning myself what I had just two minutes prior declared to myself finally, once and for all, without any doubt I could convince my heart that there was no way hell that I could wrong.

    and then most peculiar thing would happen, I would hear the angel after it disappeared from my sight (around the bend or over the horizon) and I could hear her clear as day screaming obscenities.

    the worst ones too, for example: "Fract! Fract!!!! Frrrraaaaaaact!!!!! MOTHER FRICKEN FRACK!!"

    and I knew it her, so then after being sooooo sure, and no more wasted my life for 24 hours a day 7 days a week, 360 days a years, after 4 or 5 years and I final caught one of the little fuckers, and then due to the obscenities, all of a sudden I was like,

    "wait a minute, that wasn't and angel!"

    Thank God, It just made me more vigilant and thank God it only took another two years after that to finally piece together the whole story.

  8. I have finally got round to reading Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs. It feels like it’s waited its turn longer than it should and perhaps it has. Having read it yourself you will be aware of an expression that Murnane uses constantly—“in my mind”—and that was what jumped out of this post: “The jigsaw puzzle of my world the world through which I travel in my mind is fractured, lop sided, in pieces.” And, of course, libraries feature often in his writing. Again, I’m preaching to the choir. I understand completely how important his internal landscape is to him. He is not alone. I watched an interview with the artists Gilbert and George and one of them talked about why they never travelled and were content to spend most of their days working or wandering around London’s East End. One of them said—I have the exact quote written down somewhere and I’m sure it’s in a forthcoming blog but I can’t find it—that they didn’t need to travel to see the Pyramids or whatever because they could see them in their mind (I’m paraphrasing, obviously). I find personally that my inner landscape focuses less on images—concrete images like grasslands or country houses—rather mine is filled with abstractions, ideas and concepts. I’m afraid I’m far too interested in the foreground to worry about what might be happening behind the hill at the back of a picture. But that’s me.

    Your shelves are tidier than mine, not that my books are untidy because I couldn’t live with that but the spaces in front of the books (where they’re not stacked two deep) are filled with knickknacks and mostly things that represent the kid in me: five daleks and various Gerry Anderson models, a Batmobile, an Alien, K-9, loads of Garfield memorabilia, two models of Peter and Lois Griffen from Family Guy (in bondage gear—it was a present) as well as a Stewie bobblehead and Death and Death’s dog figurines, a toy tank, some soft toys (a tiger, a frog, a dog, a mouse and a hippo), photos of Woody Allen and Samuel Beckett, a Tardis, Morpheus in his chair from The Matrix, a pig in a chair, a ceramic cat with bug-eyes, a little Manga girl perched on a pouffe, two polar bears posed like Didi and Gogo and, of course, the Didi and Gogo dolls Carrie had made for me plus Gogo’s shoes which she crafted herself; they sit on a wooden filing cabinet. I used to have more out but as I’ve lost shelf space I’d had to box some of my junk away. And most of it is that, of no real value whatsoever, but I like to see the stuff; it gives me a feeling of wellbeing. Much of my shelf space is taken up by CDs and cassette tapes. I could fill two of your bookcases with nothing but music, one for the CDs and another for the tapes.

    So bird poo is lucky, eh? Why am I not luckier then considering the amount of times Birdy has decided to relieve himself on my shoulder? I don’t buy it. I don’t believe in luck. Probability, yes. The Bible says that “time and unforeseen circumstances befall all men” and I believe that. This is one of the things I talk about in Milligan and Muphy which you will have in your hands in as long as the post is taking right now (your copy is sitting with the kids’ Xmas presents at the moment): the point is that there are no reasons for unreasonable things. There is no grand plan in the real world, only in fiction, which is why the narrator in the book says there is one. Life may, on occasion, resemble art but it is not.

    I’ve never considered myself a materialist. I was brought up to believe that materialism was wrong, the polar opposite of spirituality, and I suppose my lack of regard for things stems from there. I have things. I like things. I’ve lost things and only a few do I regret the loss of, the two photos of my first real girlfriend, the tin car I had as a kid, the comedy tapes my best friend and I used to write and record. I do like the feeling of being in my office, the order in particular. It’s not the things though, it’s what they represent: the things are just tokens, symbols, touchstones but not like your Ganesha.

  9. We've moved 3 times since 2004, and I quit teaching, and I have given up so many loved books.
    Hubby traveled for work, and has given that up. We are happy on our wee property, content with forest walks.

    Thanks you for taking me on a trip around your worlds.
    Cheers from E. Ontario Cottage Country!

  10. Dear Elisabeth
    I am pleased to meet you too. You have an impressive study, I have to say – what a pleasure it must be to sit down to work. Mine is slightly (no, why lie, VERY) disorganised. It has been dubbed The Officer's Mess by my husband. Anyway, I am secretly thrilled to have been thought a nutter or spammer – I live a very quiet and uneventful life, you see. My blog really belongs to my alter ego, Ana Iram, and is about the little things she makes and creates. I was interested to read about the autobiographical impulse which you mentioned in an earlier post. When I started my blog I purposefully avoided any details about myself. It was a place for Ana Iram to play. But over the years some personal stuff crept in. I am wondering if subconsciously I really do want to "reveal myself"? I was thinking just a few days ago that I have many stories to tell, but no-one to listen. It was a sad thought, that when I die my stories about my life will disappear with me. But I have not the patience or inclination or skill to write them down.
    PS I apologize for the long comment. I think the Ladies' Letter-writer will not approve.

  11. I like the idea of a bookcase. On the rare occasion I let someone step foot in my apartment, the books say, "There's much more to this person than you think" For that same reason I'll hang on to my CDs even when I eventually get around to buying myslef an Ipod.

    What you said about not knowing the truth until you die reminded me of an interview I once saw with Marlon Brando. He was speculating about his own death (still a decade and a half away at that point) and on what, with his final breath, would be his final words: "What was that all about?"

  12. letting go of our understanding of wat constitutes connection to this place – i have nothing beyond my children and my love that holds me here. but while i am here i am celebrating and sharing that joy with everyone who for whatever reason crosses my path because there is no flow or time or whatever else but there is a gift and that is to fly above the landscape of our existence and see it for what it is. you do that so well even as you tether your life to the ground of your becoming. steven

  13. I have a large library, too. Each book has its own story, too. I ma travelling at the moment and making use of an electronic 'tablet' to carry my reading with me during the long flights. It's mot the same thing though.

  14. I'm glad we're not the only ones, Ms Moon, to clutch at and ponder our ghosts.

    In this photo, my bookshelf looks neater than usual, certainly neater than how it is now. I think I may have tidied it in anticipation of the photo but since I finished my thesis many books are awry, dragged out for a final viewing and not yet returned into some sort of order.

    Some sort of order, I must stress, because I am anything but orderly in the extreme. I enjoy patterns more than strict order.

    Thanks, Ms Moon.

  15. The story of my mother's dead baby continues to be a sad story, Fazlisa, however many times I go on telling it. I think it's like that. We never get over our lost babies, our lost children, no matter how long ago they died.

    And I agree, we need space for books and for memories.

    Thanks, Ocean girl.

  16. My mother still holds onto my dead father's books, Rubye Jack, no matter how outdated and useless they seem to have become. They are a reminder of the good aspects of him.

    So I'm with you on this one: I won't be getting rid of my books, not if I can help it. But space might force my hand somewhere down the track and then I shall pass my books onto others who might love them in my place.

    Thanks Rubye Jack.

  17. Books and reading are a constant, Elizabeth, and one we can use to at least give us some semblance of control over our otherwise often tumultuous lives.

    Thanks, Elizabeth.

  18. Have you noticed, Windsmoke that of the thirty four books listed on your blog roll of books only five are written by women?

    I can get pernickety about these things. I recognize that in the past mostly only male writers could be acknowledged and published with a few exceptions but that's changing today.

    On the other hand, I suspect you enjoy the book for the quality and content of the writing and not for the gender of its author, at least I hope not.

    Finally, I'm like you, Windsmoke. I, too, love the touch, smell and sensation of the hard copy, in preference to on screen writing.


  19. As Cicero believed a library and a garden are all you need, Elephant's Child.

    Funnily enough I suspect there are some who might consider those two aspects of home to be a luxury, but if we are to adopt this idea as a metaphor and not take it too literally, I'm inclined to agree with you and Cicero, books and the outdoors can give us most of what we need by way of enrichment and life.

    Thanks, Elephant's Child

  20. It's lovely to see you here, Alison, and the way you describe this delicious and hopefully long stage of your life. It's one I'm moving out of, though I'm not there yet.

    I wonder when there will just be me and my books and my cup of tea. Not for a very long time I expect, but we can dream can't we.

    And in the end I'm not so sure I'd enjoy too much isolation, alone with just my books. I need both, books and people and the odd animal thrown in for good measure.

    Thanks, Alison.

  21. Gosh Who, I'm not sure what you make of my story here, by way of association to your story, but it sounds wonderfully tangential and keeps me guessing.

    Pollyanna and angels shouting obscenities. I recognise now that your writing can be cryptic at times, whether or not you intend it so. And I'm grateful for it.

    Thanks, Dusty.

  22. I look forward to your review on Invisible but Enduring Lilacs, Jim. Reading between the lines here I'm not sure you're enamored of the world of the mind as much as GM and me.

    I take it from your most recent post that you prefer to think of abstractions, but here you also list all these wonderful objects as jolts to memory, by way of nostalgia, as souvenirs and so on.

    I'm almost one hundred percent your library is tidier than mine, Jim. I can be a slob despite the ostensible neatness in this photo. It was taken after a Christmas clean up. I'll start anther during the January holiday and in the meantime the mess endures. I tend to ignore it.

    My husband gets cranky about the way I also leave my computer desk top in a mess. I don't always put files away when in use. I do eventually, but he prefers to tidy as he goes. I argue that in order to create you need to be able to make a mess, but I suppose too much mess can paralyze a person.

    As for the bird poop, that's a story that came out of my grandson telling us with great delight how a bird pooped on his baby brother's head. He thought it hilarious.

    I wonder how the bird poop washes out of your clothes given you cop so much of it, Jim? You must be used to it.

    We resisted getting a dog here for a long time because we could not stand the idea of a garden laden with dog shit. After a while you get used to it though.

    I hope there is some metaphorical value in what I'm writing here, Jim. I had made a point earlier but somehow I typed it into the ether and it's all lost and now I can't find it again, so you'll have to settle for these inanities.

    Thanks, Jim.

  23. It sounds as though your world has changed many times, Jenn, and radically.

    I sometimes day dream about a much simpler life in a much smaller space with less to tidy and fewer material objects to worry about. One day soon. Maybe.

    It's lovely to see you here.

    Thanks, Jenn.

  24. Please don't apologise for the long comment, Ana Iram. I relish long comments. They give me something to respond to and your wonderful old world letter writing style, based on the women's letter writing book, is such a treat.

    I occasionally imagine setting up a blog incognito but it seems to defeat the purpose, namely it belies my wish and need to communicate with others.

    So, although I argue that most of what I write is a construction of sorts, and therefore, however much it is based on the 'truth' of my experience, it is still to some extent fictionalised especially once it passes through a reader's gaze.

    This fictional quality is enough for me to realise that I need not hide my identity completely, especially as my identity, like yours and everyone else's, is such a complex entity. And there are also many many gaps that confound the picture further.

    Thanks, Ana Iram.

  25. It is a heartbreaking image, Unknown Mami. It still makes me ache for my mother and her loss, and also for me and my other siblings in that we have never come to know this big sister except as a lost baby.


  26. Marlon Brando's is a good question for when we are about to die, Kirk: What was it all about?

    As for bookshelves and their significance as telling so much about people, when I first met my husband I remember looking at his bookshelf and wondering what it might mean that he had a copy of Masters and Johnson's, The Human Sexual Response, or some such title. You might remember this book, a classic in its time. Wow I thought this man has a mind and a body.

    Thanks, Kirk.

  27. You always put things so beautifully, Steven, in a Zen-like way that I find comforting and consolidating.

    I've told you already I think, how your words feature in my thesis, where I write about the nature of blogging, with due attribution to you, of course.

    Your notion of blogging as 'a call and response' is one that appeals to me enormously.

    We connect with one another and it tethers us to this life, however much it is only temporary. And such connections can help us to cope with the loneliness that is part of the human condition, or so I reckon.

    Thanks again, Steven.

  28. An electronic tablet in flight must be some comfort Christine, though as you suggest, it's not quite the same as a settled library.

    Happy traveling. I look forward to hearing about your trip, your adventures and explorations on your return. You're going to the Tavistock? Is that right? If so, lucky lucky you.

  29. Your room sounds like my studio…I have a variety of items from different faiths: a page from a 15th Century Koran rests underneath an icon from St Donat's Church in Zadar, Croatia; aboriginal art lies beside mala beads from Nepal…and, while our library is not quite as neat as yours, it too overflows with books on a wide variety of topics. One of my biggest anxieties in life is that there is so much out there in books – so much knowledge, so much wisdom – how will I ever find the time to delve into even a minute slice of it all?

    Do you have an ISBN number for the book your bought from the second hand dealer, called Honour the Shadow? Would appreciate the reference, thanks!

    Judy, South Africa

  30. I will write about Invisible Yet Induring Lilacs, Lis, but I’m not sure I’m going to go down the review route as such. I’m glad you sent me the book. I’m surprised how much I was aware of and I must check online to see what I can highlight. I know many of Murnane’s eccentricities and proclivities were covered when I reviewed The Plains and I’d rather not repeat myself. Where I think this article will go is a discussion of how hard it can be to communicate to another person what a writer goes through. Murnane has redefined several expressions like ‘winking’ and ‘my mind’ to try and explain but I suspect he’s not done a very good job because despite the care taken in writing much will have been lost in the translation. Anyway I’ll get to work on that in a bit. Not today. Today I’m doing research on Mercier et Camier and the subsequent English translation during which Beckett hacked away at the text.

    With regard to my assorted paraphernalia I gain no inspiration from any of these things; a little comfort, yes. Were I to focus on some of them they would evoke memories of times past but I rarely look at them that way. The model Batmobile I own is not even the one from the TV series or the films I watched; it’s apparently from one of the cartoons, but it pleases me nevertheless. It’s helpful I find to work in a comfortable setting but to be honest once I’ve begun work everything but the screen and the keyboard in front of me and the thoughts in my head vanishes. I am most definitely enamoured with the mind—I would imagine to much the same degree as Murnane—but I have very little interest in images and so I don’t try and explain how my mind works in terms of a landscape. What kind of landscape would love have? or frustration? or loneliness? These are the things that fascinate me. I use physical things in my poems as metaphors and symbols but I’m not really interested in the superficial reality of the things in themselves. In that respect I think I understand how Murnane looks at images, seeing what’s going on behind the façade.

    My wife and I often miscommunicate. She asked me a couple of nights ago at bedtime to bring her mobile phone into the bedroom and so that is what I did. What she wanted was for me to take it to her in her office which for a long time was our bedroom until we switched rooms. She asked me what I called that room in my head now and I said, “The tip.” On another night she asked for her glasses and I took her reading glasses into the bedroom; what she was asking was for me to remember to take her wine and water glasses into the kitchen. It never ceases to amaze me how well we get on. Disorder upsets me at the best of time but when I’m brain-fogged and confused I’m especially sensitive to any mess. Carrie is getting a new chair delivered tomorrow—one of those ones that help you stand—and so some of the clutter from the living room is hiding out in my office to give the men room to manoeuvre and you have no idea how much I hate being in my office with all this stuff not in its place but you put up with what you need to put up with.

    The bird poo washes out fine as long as you don’t leave it too long. If it’s solid then, with a little care and a small piece of kitchen or toilet roll, you can lift it off wherever he’s decided to leave a deposit and that’s that. He used to hang around on my shoulder more than he does these days. Nowadays he prefers to lord it over us in one of his cardboard castles that I construct for him atop his cage. He’s just discovered the joys to be had crawling inside cardboard boxes; quick he is not.

    And, of course, yes, there is value in your response—there is value in everything you write—I’m not sure why you would doubt that but I can be as self-deprecatory as the next man so I get it.

  31. I wouldn't have believed, and I probably wouldn't have ever tried it had I not seen someone else do it (and it's documented this time) but there is a way that ANY
    stain can be removed from any garment (for those times when you just can't have even one unclean thing and you cannot get new ones) And I swear to God I am being serious. At least with Egyptian Cotton, brake cleaner will get it out.

    You just don't want to use it if there is any fabric paint on it as it will tare anything out by the root accept for the original dye the fabric was colored with.

  32. I have dragged my books all around Africa with me for so many years now, The spines of books have disintegrated in the humidity and white ants have chewed up pages., I battled silverfish a whole year. If all my books vanished overnight, I would replace them and go on buying more.

    There is nothing better than waking at 3am and going to the bookshelf to find an old friend.

  33. Jim, I trawled through my typed out quotations from some of GM's letters and found one that might appeal to you.

    Gerald has given me permission to quote from his letters as long as I acknowledge him and the date of the letter, which in this case is 19 January 2008.

    Gerald Murnane sees himself as the sort of writer who ‘finds writing a difficult or even a hateful task. That sort of writer, and I’m certainly one of them, doesn’t just sit down and describe the thoughts lying clearly visible on the surface of his or her mind. No, that sort of writer has to search out images and subject matter that lies for most part beneath the surface so to speak. Not only that, but the mind doesn’t like being opened or poked apart or whatever. The mind resists having its inner parts exposed to common view…the same writer stressed the importance of being on good terms with one’s mind so to speak. The idea is not to curse yourself and hate yourself and call yourself a useless, lazy arsehole if your writing is going badly. No, you should treat your mind kindly; you should tempt it or cajole it as you might tempt or cajole a shy bush creature that you want to invite into your front yard or onto your front veranda….those persons who call me a novelist haven’t read my books. Of my eight published books, only three might be called novels. I can’t write novels. I can only write my own sort of fiction, and for more than twenty years past, I wrote only shorter pieces.'

    As far as I can see, Jim, miscommunication is inevitable in any relationship, even the most well oiled.

    And yes, as far as self deprecation is concerned, it too, is inevitable but I agree with GM, it's best to avoid it as much as possible.

    But isn't it fun when we get into our cups, as the saying goes. And to quote an old children's ditty, say to ourselves again and again:
    'Everybody hates me
    Nobody loves me .
    Think I'll go and eat
    Some worms.'

    Thanks again, Jim

  34. Hi Judy, I had it wrong. Now that I check, the actual title of the book to which I refer is 'Secure the shadow: Death and photography in America.'

    Jay Ruby wrote it in 1995 and it's published by MIT Press, Massachusetts. ISBN: 0-262-18164-9.

    It's a book filled with beautiful images of people long dead, in the initial stages of death, and one I shall always treasure.

    Thanks, Judy.

  35. Mary, you are a creature after my own heart. All those books, lugged all over the world, half eaten by silver fish, moldy and bedraggled, but still much loved even at three in the morning.


  36. elisabeth, you have just said everything there is to know without writing anything at all, but rather by travelling. this is life itself, our movement through it, unbound, unbindable. this post hurts just a little and yet grants freedom that becomes wings.

    the photograph of your mother's dead baby – what is it? what is it in me that wants me to celebrate? and weep. celebrate and weep.

    stunning. all of this.


  37. Even your comments turn into poetry, erin.

    Thank you for your kind and beautiful words. It's such a pleasure to read your thoughts here. It's strange how the image of a dead baby can cause such mixed feelings, but I have them too, joy and sorrow intermingled.

  38. Your bookcase is very inviting. I can't give my books away. It would be like cutting off a leg.

    That picture of your dead baby sister is so wistful and sad.

    The William Faulkner speech is very moving. I'm with you on not being able to hold a thought together.

    I've returned to blogging and I appreciate so much your inquiries into my well-being.

  39. Kass, it's so good to hear from you again, and I'm cheered that you're back in the blog world.

    So much water under the bridge since you were last here and now I look forward to re-visiting you.

    thanks, Kass.

  40. My wife and I are now of an age and mind where we are wanting to shed the "stuff" that threatens to bury us. The art and family heirlooms are easy, clearly to be kept. But what about the construction paper card sprinkled with glue and glitter given to grandpa with love from the grand child? How am I to discard such a treasure? The truth is, I can't. So I try to decided what else I can do without. It tires me.

  41. Hi Elizabeth, thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. It's brought me back to your blog – and I am in awe! I'm looking forward to reading back through all your posts. I found this first one enthralling. How true it is that books can take us wherever we want them to.

  42. I recognise that struggle, Robert, to clear the clutter and yet to be surrounded by things we love. It's an endless struggle and I'm not sure how I'm going to manage it.

    I suppose it involves an ongoing process of examining and re-examining what these things mean to us and where we can put them in our homes, our hearts and/or our memories.

    Thanks, Robert.

  43. I love the way you blend your library with your entire life experiences and can understand it. Your quest to find yourself is a tough journey but I hope you reach a place of inner peace for it is a wonderful spot and one need not be dead to be there.
    How good are you in the languages not native to you?

  44. Jane, I can understand that you find this picture of my dead baby sister so beautiful. To me it will never lose its allure. That even in death there can be beauty, if we can only 'secure the shadow'.

  45. Heidi, I studied French and Latin at school and was good at them. Sometimes I dream that I am fluent in french. I can have amazing and long conversations in that language but in my waking life I am rusty.

    I find it hard to speak Dutch but i can understand it readily when people speak slowly. This language, Dutch, my mother tongue, is in my blood.

    Thanks, Heidi.

  46. The photo of your little dead sister is haunting. I am so sorry that such hardships happen. And because of war which is one of the worst things to ever happen. So many died in WWII that it boggles the mind. We still haven't learned just to peacefully coexist.

  47. It is a haunting image, Syd, my dead baby sister, and she, as you say, was only one of the countless millions who died during that terrible war. And still we do not learn to find our way towards peace. So sad.

    Thanks again, Syd.

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