Often–and not “often times” because this is redundant and yet people will not stop writing it–when I am sad I think of the old poems about sadness. “Margaret, are you grieving/Over Goldengrove unleaving?/Leaves like the things of man, you/With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?” (Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Spring and Fall”) Also, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” (Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”)
What if I hadn’t read the old poems all those years ago? What if they weren’t settled in my mind, their soothing sounds and symmetries? The happy poems are there, too–“Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs…” (Dylan Thomas, “Fern Hill”) What if when I felt sad my only reference was the Kardashians’ latest tragic loss, or Kelly Preston’s secret hell? It is much better to feel sad with the old poems in mind.
My Timex is “Timex for Wal-Mart,” versus “Timex for J. Crew,” which is much more expensive. ‘Expensive’ is an upper-class sort of word, according to Joan Acocella’s sources in “The English Wars,” an essay about the changing English language (The New Yorker, May 14, 2012). I learned that my vocabulary is upper class because I say curtains instead of drapes, rich instead of wealthy, what instead of pardon. What? Apparently if I were a middle-class striver I would say costly instead of expensive, dentures rather than false teeth, expecting instead of pregnant. Also I learned that I am a prescriptivist rather than a descriptivist in my stance toward the English language. Descriptivists watch the language morph with interest, as if sitting on a riverbank watching a bunch of trash float by. Isn’t that interesting, they will say, whereas the prescriptivist would want to clean it up.
A sample of flotsam that might float down the river of a writing class:
Everyday I lay on my bed, and often times or a huge amount of times anyways my mom tells my sister and I we had drank too much.
God, I want to clean that up.
I tried going watchless as an experiment. It changed my life for the better, and I wrote an essay about it that came very close (nice notes!) but was ultimately rejected by Real Simple. While the essay may in fact be not good, it can stand as one more item on the evidentiary list of my forest-for-the-trees problem: Real Simple wants you to buy objects, not get rid of them. Why would I write an essay for them about getting rid of my watch?
I love being in the woods, in thickets, in green dappled light, just the sort of trait that makes wearing a watch necessary for teaching class. We might wander down digressive paths, into the labyrinth–this reminds me of the Parc del Laberint in Barcelona–
but I stay on the track, with my Timex laid out on the table in front of me.
Recently a student’s essay mentioned that he had synesthesia, especially regarding days and calendar layouts, and though the essay went on to detail various transgressions involving cursing, sex, vodka, joints, and Vicodin, the class fastened on to synesthesia as the essay’s most compelling subject. You have to love a class like that! (No joy is unalloyed, and in the same class I have received contributions to discussion such as, ‘What? I zoned out’ and ‘I didn’t read the essay for workshop, but I’m sure it’s great.’) Onward. The class adored synesthesia, is the point.
If only the student could have described how he imagined time. Was Saturday silver? Was the year a circle, with December and January at the top, as in old books of hours? My personal Mayan calendar has ended; I just turned fifty, and realized I had no expectations for the next part of my life. The 20s were for wandering, the 30s for babies, the 40s for keeping it together. The 50s make me think of middle-aged women in white tennis skirts, some of which were rather broad across. Their legs were suntanned. They wore short-sleeved tennis tops in pink or green, white cotton visors. Their hair was dyed blond, they wore pink lipstick, they drank a gin-and-tonic on summer afternoons at the country club. They looked like they were having fun, more fun than the young moms in bikinis chasing kids around the pool and trying to look still-sexy. Yeah, I could do this 50s thing.
My parents had a green stone Mayan calendar that an uncle brought back from Peru. It was so ugly that I looked at it a lot.
It’s easier to find sad poems than happy ones, that’s for sure. The pretty “Fern Hill” ends like this: “Time held me green and dying/Though I sang in my chains like the sea.” To live in the poem is to exist in a dappled green light or in a magical dark (“As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away”) so beautiful that the dying part doesn’t matter.
p.s. I’m not actually sad, it’s just that I read this Lorrie Moore story in the May 28th New Yorker that is so sad! Sample quote: “Unlike other women her age (who tended to try too hard, with lurid lingerie and flashing jewelry), she now felt that that sort of effort was ludicrous, and she went out into the world like an Amish woman, or perhaps, even worse, when the unforgiving light of spring hit her face, an Amish man. If she was going to be old, let her be a full-fledged citizen of the old country! ‘To me, you always look so beautiful,’ Pete no longer said.” Pete no longer said! That is just killer. Bring on the hair coloring, I say, and some Burt’s Bees sparkly lip gloss.