Friday, July 20, 2007
"Every life is a special problem which is not yours but another's," wrote Henry James to Grace Norton in 1883. "Content yourself with the terrible algebra of your own."
I've always been too curious about other people for this approach.
Today, at my favorite internet cafe in Ubud, I idly read the private email of a man sitting near me. Had never done this before, and felt guilty doing it, but there you are.
The man had arrived at the cafe on a motorcycle; with his helmet on he looked rugged, though oldish: big, Australian or American, wearing an Indo skirt -- had the aspect of someone who's been up in them thar paddies quite awhile.
When he took off his helmet strands of oily blondish hair straggled down his back. Fossilized hippie.
He was answering an email that went something like this:
Enjoying the leafy beauty of Oregon. But full of sadness. I try to remember that at bottom all that matters is love, but things are difficult. Maybe next summer I'll visit you in your Bali paradise...
For some reason it reminded me of this passage, from Wallace Shawn's book, The Fever:
We were looking forward for so long to some wonderful night in some wonderful hotel, some wonderful breakfast set out on a tray - we were looking forward, like panting dogs slobbering on the rug - to how we would delight the ones we loved with our kisses in bed, how we would delight our parents with our great accomplishments, how we would delight our children with toys and surprises. But it was all wrong - it was never really right. The hotel, the breakfast, what happened in our bed, our parents, our children - and so, yes, we need solace. We need consolation - we need nice food, we need nice things to wear, we need beautiful paintings, movies, plays, drives in the country, bottles of wine. There's never enough solace, never enough consolation.
I go on and on about Purcell's song Music for A While as my all-time fave, the song of songs, but here in Bali, when I lean over my balcony to look at the paddies and the river, it's another Purcell I end up singing, a setting (Z. 379C -- one of three settings Purcell wrote) of If Music Be the Food of Love.
Why that one? Much less clouded than Music for A While. One line in particular thrills me every time I sing it, every time I arrive at its final word: Sing on, sing on; til I am filled with joy. To come to the end of that lengthy line with its complex runs is to be breathless with happiness. It's a euphoric release, finishing that difficult phrase on joy.
Found a gloss on my thoughts about Purcell reanimating himself in me, and I reanimating myself in Purcell. It's in The Unquiet Grave, by Cyril Connolly:
To construct from the mind and to colour with the imagination a work which the judgment of unborn arbiters will consider perfect is the one immortality of which we can be sure. When we read the books of a favourite writer together with all that has been written about him, then his personality will take shape and leave his work to materialize through our own. The page will liberate its author; he will rise from the dead and become our friend. So it is with Horace, Montaigne, Sainte-Beuve, with Flaubert and Henry James: they survive in us, as we increase through them.
Hm. I start and end today with James.