Sunday, October 29, 2017

October Light, October Heavy

A Series of Postcards from Victoria:

31 August 2002
The East Window ~ by William Morris
Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin
Great Brington, Northamptonshire

"I visited Althorp as well as this church
where Diana's father / family crypt are.
It was elegant, moving, poignant
-- an interesting and sweet experience.
Up the Republic!"

2 July 2002
"I never have felt any connection to Spain, to the
Spanish language, to Silver City. But Paris . . .

21 September 2002
The 13th Century Chancel
Dornoch Cathedral
Sutherland, Scotland

"Happy Autumn Equinox! How I love fall
. . . beautiful sweater weather.
DIY is a fact of life: painting, steaming wall paper,
removing carpet, hanging blinds, new flooring.
Madonna christened her son here -- it's lovely."

27 September 2002
"Happy Autumn! Is it beautiful in Philly in September?
I start teaching on Monday . . . not overly excited.
I really do envy you your freedom, and while I know
you have responsibilities, they're such lovely ones.
I just feel . . . so very weary of attitude . . .
But don't you just absolutely love this time of year:
Is the ghost in the window?"

28 October 2002
"Happy Halloween!
Happy Samhain!
Happy All Souls Day!
Happy Dia do los Muertos!
Happy Wiccan New Year!
Have a marvelous & scary time!
Boo! Boo! Boo! Boo!

Well, it wasn't Paris, but I enjoy being back in Romania.
Next year I am doing the Transylvania Tour!
I didn't see any ghosts, but I certainly met a lot of odd people.
It has triggered a renewed interest in ghosts and paranormal activity.
What's your take on the afterlife?
Are there famous haunted sites in Philly?"


I responded to all the postcards at once,
sometime in late October 2002

Dear Vickie,

I still laugh whenever I read your card from the summer: "Spain . . . Spanish language . . . Silver City." Such a brief yet far-reaching list; seems to say it all! How was it spending the summer there, in Silver City, I mean? Well, and Spain too if you found yourself there? I know what you mean, though, how is that Spain and Spanish didn't make it onto our academic landscape? Is it just our Brit - Lit snobbery? Hmmmm.

How are your DIY projects coming along? I know that they can be very stressful . . . not like those chirpy little shows on the Learning Channel! Gerry thrives on his Home Depot projects (he loves that place!) and always feels hugely satisfied upon their completion. Me, I just do what I'm told and vacuum up the aftermath!

Have you come across any new ghost poems yet? How did you like "Edith Conant"? I'm so glad that you went to Althorp. Was Diana's ghost there?

You asked about Priscilla, my lace house ghost? I've just changed her bow, and she is hanging bravely in the entry foyer, a bit bedraggled, like Faulkner's Miss Emily or Miss Havisham. Maybe I should spruce her up a bit, get her one of those Betsy Ross caps that all the colonial ladies wore. I feel pretty sure that at night, she can glance out the window and see Wm. Penn, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin out on Pine Street -- so close you can just about reach out and touch them. It wasn't all that long ago, was it?

Here in Philadelphia, I often have the eerie sense that there are plenty of ghosts in the woodwork! Not to mention dozens lurking right outside the door! I was hoping to make some of the old occupants feel welcome to stop by and pay a visit from the afterlife! Looking over all the old real estate records for the house, going back to 1805, seemed like an appropriately mystical exercise for Halloween, when the veil between the two worlds is stretched to its thinnest.

Just finished The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Gerry and I both enjoyed it, especially the dual setting: the Midwest (which for better or worse I can always relate to) and Philadelphia (always very intriguing to read about fictional characters living in the very houses that you walk past every day of the week!). He does a great job of describing Philadelphia in the autumn:
" . . . the October angle of the yellow light, the heart-mangling intensities of the season" (p 315).
I loved Franzen's novel for all the beautiful and beautifully accurate descriptions of autumnal Philly. It really is so lovely now, truly the best time of the year. All I have to do is walk outside and glance upward to be filled with the significance of Samhain.

Teaching? Yes, at times it can be such a drain on the spirit. Can you pick texts that you will enjoy for yourself? Movies, poems, novels? Shall I send you a list of my recent favs? You are right that I am so lucky to be at home with my flexible schedule and my piano, and my books, and my e-mail, and my grocery store just around the corner, and my kids across the street in their little brick school house. I can live without practicing my profession, though at times I do feel rather useless and non-contributory, and non-revenue-generating. Still, it's hard not to love such a great life.

Even so, Gerry and I have lately been haunted by the feeling that it's time for a drastic life change of some sort and that waiting for the accepted retirement age might be too late. What then? At any rate, after our travels this summer, I think we have ruled out leaving Philadelphia for the cozy hometown life of southern Missouri! It was quaint to visit but too sad and, as you so rightly point out, there's no going back, only forward. I'm not sure why we are feeling so restless here in Philadelphia these days. We were determined to make a go of it in the city and we did. Then we were curious to try moving right down into the heart of things (from 48th St. to 3rd St.). Now we've done that. Things are not altogether better here, just different. E.g., the city services are better, the historical significance and beautiful architecture; but the taxes are high, the park bench loitering is worse (hey - no park benches to speak of in our old neighborhood, thus no park bench loitering). The good things about city life are intensified here, but so is the bad side.

So now the question is do we commit to city schools for the boys and enjoy the life we have made here for the next few years or move ahead to that new goal, whatever it may be? Should we re-locate to the UK? Gerry always swore that he would never go back. The puzzle is how to know whether you're leaving, in good faith, the path that has no heart or just randomly walking away from the meaning of life. The logistics seem so complicated. Whatever happened to Simplify, Simplify? Where is the quiet life and the big bowl of cabbage soup that Pasternak longs for at the end of Zhivago?

I've been reading an autobiography, Expecting Adam, by Martha Beck, who is awaiting the birth of her Down Syndrome Child. She says
"I did, at long last, realize that it didn't really matter what anyone else's opinion of my decision might be. What mattered was that I had made a choice that felt as though, in the end, it would bring me to the place I needed to go."
I guess that's what it means to make a decision. If you had all the information you needed before the fact, then it would be obvious; it wouldn't even be a decision. I know the truth that all of our choices add up to where we find ourselves at the present moment, yet I still find it impossible not to play the "shoulda coulda woulda" game inside my head. Probably not too healthy, but so seductive.

Well, that's enough heavy - duty introspection for now! This was supposed to be a short light-hearted note to let you know that fall is in the air and that I received and loved both of your recent post cards: Dating Advice from Colgate Toothpaste -- hilarious! And the Cathedral where Madonna's little son was baptized -- v. touching!

Enjoy the season of "yellow light" and "twilight"!
XOXO, Kitti


"The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky . . . "

~ W. B. Yeats ~ "The Wild Swans at Coole" ~

Autumn Birches, 1916 ~ by Tom Thomson, 1877 - 1917

Golden Autumn, 1895 ~ by Isaac Levitan, 1860 1900

1 comment:

  1. Thanks to Barbara McFadden for suggesting:

    When I see birches bend to left and right
    Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
    I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
    But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
    As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
    Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
    After a rain. They click upon themselves
    As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
    As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
    Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
    Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
    Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
    You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
    They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
    And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
    So low for long, they never right themselves:
    You may see their trunks arching in the woods
    Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
    Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
    Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
    But I was going to say when Truth broke in
    With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
    I should prefer to have some boy bend them
    As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
    Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
    Whose only play was what he found himself,
    Summer or winter, and could play alone.
    One by one he subdued his father's trees
    By riding them down over and over again
    Until he took the stiffness out of them,
    And not one but hung limp, not one was left
    For him to conquer. He learned all there was
    To learn about not launching out too soon
    And so not carrying the tree away
    Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
    To the top branches, climbing carefully
    With the same pains you use to fill a cup
    Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
    Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
    Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
    So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
    And so I dream of going back to be.
    It's when I'm weary of considerations,
    And life is too much like a pathless wood
    Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
    Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
    From a twig's having lashed across it open.
    I'd like to get away from earth awhile
    And then come back to it and begin over.
    May no fate willfully misunderstand me
    And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
    Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
    I don't know where it's likely to go better.
    I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
    And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
    Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
    But dipped its top and set me down again.
    That would be good both going and coming back.
    One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.