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118_sull_originalWhen Veronica Lake and Joel McCrea enter the flophouse, they look around, dismayed. Sleeping vagrants litter the floor in a knot of rags, and when Lake and McCrea find a free spot, they curl into a protective cocoon, batting away strange, errant limbs. On the wall is a curious sign:  Have You Written Your Mother?  Those thick block letters have an oddly chiding tone, a schoolmarm’s fat finger waving at those unfortunates who have just endured a fiery sermon to sleep here.

No, I have not written to my mother. I call, though not as frequently as she would like. My father answers and pretends I’m a stranger: Who’s this? he asks, as if caller ID weren’t a built-in feature of their life.  My mother replaces Hello with Why haven’t you called? As she runs through her litany of concern (Have you gone to the dentist? Found a permanent job yet? Get your flu shot?), I feel like I’m eight, and I wait, irritably, until I finally become an adult, and she tells me what’s been going on at temple, with her friends, in the family.

She sends out emails too, though her use of diacritical marks depends on which computer she’s using. Behind the desk in the computer room (my old bedroom), my father has taped a sampler of the Vietnamese fonts he’s downloaded. With these, the accents are accessible via keystrokes. I imagine her sitting there, tapping out appropriate vowel tones. But if she’s in her own room, sitting up in her waterbed, tablet on her lap, I imagine that she most likely can’t be bothered.  It doesn’t matter, really, if the marks are there or not, since I’m barely literate in Vietnamese. I scan the email for words I immediately recognize— root canal, endodonist, dental insurance, osteoporosis—and infer the rest. The diacritical marks dot the screen like dust.

But my mother also writes letters, short communiqués on the free notepads charities send out when they try to guilt you into sending donations: Red Cross, World Wildlife Foundation, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Her handwriting is crisp and spiky, insisting that it be absolutely understood. Just a few words on each note: I’m sending you this check, it says, because of ____, and I’m forced to sound out each word, to remember which tone goes with which mark. The hỏi asks a question, and the ngã breaks. Sắc is like the French accent aigu, while huyền is the French grave, and nặng is the heavy thud, a cannonball of a vowel. The diacritics sometimes double up on the same vowel. Depending on its marking, the word ‘ma’ can mean: mother, or ghost, or however, or horse, or grave, or rice seedling.

My mother asks if I can read her notes, and I always answer yes, even if I can’t. I put her notes, folded in half, in the back of my desk, where they remind me: communicate.

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When my sister was in high school, she went on an Urban Experience. As a lesson about homelessness, she and her classmates were challenged to spend the night in downtown Denver with only five dollars in their pockets. They would have to sleep on heat vents or in homeless shelters; they’d have to know what it’s like to be hungry; they’d emerge from it chastened and humbled and wiser for the experience.

It was fun, my sister told me.

I suppose this was the drawback: there was nothing at stake. They only had to make it for a few hours, and by morning, they’d be back in bed, well-fed and warm. In other words, it was an early opportunity for my sister to spend an entire night out. As it was, by the time I got to high school, I had already planned how I would have spent my night, but the program didn’t exist anymore.

Years of city living has inured me to the homeless. I mistrust the men—and it’s almost always men, Caucasian—who linger on the devil’s strip near busy stoplights, where the traffic can back up a block’s length. Their clothes are dirty and sufficiently worn, though still serviceable, and they bear stubble on their face as proof of hardship. They hold cardboard squares with their lives’ misery condensed in black Magic Marker: got laid-off, Vietnam vet, foreclosed home, hungry family, God bless. They rarely speak. But they strike me the way William Powell strikes me in My Man Godfrey: There’s no way he could be homeless.

I wasn’t always so cynical. One evening when I was still in college, I was with my friend C___ and his boyfriend J___, hanging out in the gay neighborhood of Baltimore, Mount Vernon. We were all too young to go to the bars and clubs, but we were there to steep in the general atmosphere, reveling, as we were, in the then-new excitement of our community. We were at the base of the hill the rises towards the George Washington Monument, outside of The Buttery, a diner that would have been more aptly named “The Greasery.”

An African-American woman came up to us. She spun out her story—she needed milk for her baby at home, stuck in the city without bus fare. C___ and I, both still new to Baltimore, looked at each other, unsure of what to do. We could deal with homelessness when it was huddled in a corner, but never had it come up to confront us. As college students, we hardly had any money ourselves, though we must have had a few bucks between the two of us. We sputtered out our excuses, but she pressed on. My baby’s hungry, she insisted.

J____, from nearby Ellicott City, was getting more upset at us for engaging with her than with her for coming to us.

Finally, fed up, he gave her a few dollars. “Here,” he said. “Take it.”

When she left, she seemed to skip, with what might have been glee. “She seems happy,” I said.

“Why wouldn’t she be?” J___ replied. “She got her money.”

In The Lady Eve, right before Jean (Barbara Stanwyck) realizes that her beloved thinks she’s a gold digger, she tells him, regarding women: “The best ones aren’t as good as you probably think they are, and the bad ones aren’t as bad. Not nearly as bad.” Her voice is jaunty as she speaks because she doesn’t know what’s coming next, and as he reveals what he knows, Stanwyck becomes crest-fallen. Her self-confidence is rattled, and her eyes water as she pleads with him to see past what he believes. To see past what the world believes of her.

Those tears may seem like easy sentimentality in this most sentimental of film genres (the romantic comedy or, more specific, the screwball comedy), but behind those tears, Stanwyck maintains a strong will. She spends the remainder of the film proving her assertion about women, and from then on, looks at Peter Fonda as if he’s more trouble than he’s worth, but worth the pursuit anyhow.

At that moment, I finally understood why my mother loves Barbara Stanwyck. We once watched an entire season of The Colbys because Stanwyck starred as the matriarch of the family, Constance Colby. I was only eleven and had endured 10 hours of Richard Chamberlain in The Thorn Birds for two hours of Stanwyck, but at least for The Colbys, I was already a fan of Dynasty. But when Constance was killed off after the first season (a plane crash in Asia), my mother and I stopped watching, because the show was actually pretty lame. The series finale involved an alien abduction, if I’m not mistaken.

Stanwyck had never struck me as someone who was glamorous—after all, I’d only ever seen her play fiercely protective mothers—but I could say the same about my mother. She had me when she was almost forty, so I never knew her as a young woman. A black-and-white photograph of my mother hangs on the wall outside the kitchen. In it, my mother appears softer than I’ve ever seen her, looking slightly over her shoulder, hair cupping her face, luminous. My father joked: “That was taken when Mom was a radio pop star.”

I can’t tell how old my mother is in that photograph, but apparently, my paternal grandmother once called her a ‘gold digger.’ My father was, at the time, an officer in the ARVN, educated in America, slender and handsome with a copstash standard moustache. In other words: quite a catch. And my mother? She was older than my father by three years. Quite the scandal.

According to Henry Cavill, screwball comedies aren’t comedies of marriage, but of how a couple separates and reunites. Of remarriage. How long did it take my mother to convince my grandmother that good girls weren’t as good as she think they were, and bad ones weren’t as bad? Because nowadays, as I watch my mother in the kitchen, peeling vegetables, making rice, stir-frying shrimp and braising fish, I can’t help but think that my father got the better end of the deal.

Opening shot of Written on the Wind:  a sports car races across a barren Texan landscape.  Oil derricks rise out of the ground like metallic spines, upright.  The sky is a blue that exists only in the movies — a day-for-night shot — bright as electricity, deepness as evening, and the starkness of the sky makes you think that Texas is always like this:  empty, endless, illuminated.

When I was young, my father brought home magazines from his visits to our local HMO.  National Geographic for him; Reader’s Digest for my mother; Ranger Rick for me.  I asked him to buy me a subscription, but he said no, that these copies with the address label ripped off were good enough.  One issue I recall featured pictures of the decorated pumpjacks in Luling, Texas.  They struck me as odd and beautiful, how they simultaneously mimicked nature and denuded it.  One was a smiling Monarch butterfly, its wings attached to the pump arm.  Another was made up as killer whale; the third, a zebra.  My brother had just started his degree in petroleum engineering at the Colorado School of Mines.  He would, I thought, soon be working with these strange creatures.

Douglas Sirk describes the oil well as “a rather frightening symbol of American society,” a symbol of emptiness, of loss.  Rainer Fassbinder points out how the golden miniature oil rig that the scion of the family holds in his portrait “looks like a penis substitute.”  The presence of oil is ubiquitous:  after Lauren Bacall discovers she’s pregnant, she leaves via the back alley behind the doctor’s office, and, in the upper-left corner of the frame, a grasshopper-green oil pump drains the parking lot.

After graduation, my brother got a job with Atlantic Richfield Company in Midland, Texas, and, for a while, my parents only bought gas from Arco stations on the assumption that they were somehow supporting him.  One summer, the family piled into the van to pay him a visit.  I remember the long stretches of flat, empty road, where land just seemed to fall off the horizon.  From afar, the oil derricks looked like spindly saguaros, and it wasn’t until we got close that I could see their exoskeletons.  If it weren’t for them holding the state down, it seemed, Texas might have just blown away.

The final scene of Written on the Wind, as described by Fassbinder:  “Dorothy Malone, as the last remnant of the family, has this penis in her hand…. The oil empire that Dorothy now heads is her substitute for Rock Hudson.”  Oil, the film suggests, is no substitute for life.

Of the three siblings in my family, my brother is the ‘successful’ one.  He works for BP and flies to Aberdeen, Scotland, to plan where to plant off-shore oil drills off the Vietnam coast.  He owns a large house just outside of Houston (just being about an hour’s drive), where he lives with his wife and daughter.  His wife, who also went to the Colorado School of Mines, also works in petroleum.  My parents constantly (still) worry about my sister and I, but him — his life is set.

Matthew and I were visiting the father of one of his friends who owned a condo near Vail.  Neither he nor I skied, given our combined income at the time.  Vail Village can make you feel very poor very quickly.  Women in high heels navigate the cobblestones with effortless ease and whisk into shops with names that sound like aspirations:  Fantasia Furs, Jewels of the West, Worth Home.

At the Wedgwood storefront, I said, “Okay, let’s each pick a pattern,” because it’s a sure harbinger of doom when two gay men can’t agree on a china set.   But we concurred:  Persia.  We went into the store, were ignored by the shopkeepers, and walked back out.

*

The Wedgwood teapot (Jasperware, white-on-pale blue) that the Cary finds in All That Heaven Allows is a sure symbol of her materialism.  She’s drawn to it even though it’s in broken, and her love interest, the rugged Ron, takes it out of her hands and tells her that it was there for a reason:  it’s in pieces.  She looks at him, slightly embarrassed.  It’s only a god damn teapot, after all.

That teapot, nowadays, with its body restored, could probably fetch anywhere from $250-500 at auction.

*

Every year, Matthew’s relations in upstate New York ask him what he wants for Christmas.  They take the holiday and gift-giving very seriously, and his protests that he don’t need anything fall on deaf ears.  One year, I offered to help clear the table and stack the plates (Lenox, Eternal Gold-Banded) after dinner and was told, in no uncertain terms:  “We do not stack the plates.”

So we asked for our own china set, and not soon after, received place settings for eight (Wedgwood, India).

“One of these days,” Matthew says, “we’re actually going to use them.”

*

Ron repairs the teapot and surprises Cary with it.  It’s his invitation:  come live with me here, in this restored barn, in the forest.  But she can’t; she’ll miss her comforts, her standing in the community, her solid upper middle-class reputation.  As she gathers her coat to leave, the edge catches the teapot and it falls, breaking again—this time, irreparable.  Ron gathers the fragments and tosses them into the fireplace.

*

Yesterday, Matthew and I were in TJ Maxx, the sub-bourgeois discount store, stopping in just to stop in.  While I was deciding whether or not I needed a new tea strainer, he came up to me:  “Look what I found.”

A Wedgwood teapot (Notting Hill).  For $35.

“It can’t be real,” I said.

He turned it over.  It was, indeed, stamped Wedgwood.  He traced his finger along the platinum band ringing the teapot.  “Oh,” he said, “that’s why it’s here.”  The porcelain had a flaw, a dimpled acne scar on its side.  After Wedgwood emerged from bankruptcy proceedings in 2009, the company closed its plants in the UK and moved almost all of its production to Indonesia, where labor is approximately 85% cheaper.  At that time, as well, unemployment in Britain jumped almost 2.5% from a year earlier.

*

so much depends
upon

a blue Wedgwood
teapot

glazed with English
Breakfast

by the wood-burning
fireplace

When I told Matthew about I Know Where I’m Going!, he said, “I already know what you’re going to write about.”

I asked, “What?”

He said, “You know.”  He meant the time I drove from Houston to Denver and nearly ended up in Oklahoma.  Or the times he’s sat quietly as the highway exit we needed to take passed by.  Or the time I drove around a mall parking lot for what seemed like hours, unable to navigate its labyrinthine entrance-exit system.  I am, as Matthew puts it, ‘directionally-challenged.’

While in Scotland this summer, however, I knew exactly where I was going.  I knew which bus to take (Lothian Buses #49, The Mary Queen of Scots) to get to Edinburgh from where I stayed in Lasswade.   I knew that Craigmillar Park, Mayfield Gardens, Minto Street, Newington Road, Clerk Street, Nicolson Street, South Bridge, and North Bridge were all the same road, and as I traveled along it (them?), I noted the bed-and-breakfasts dotting the route:  Thrums, Airlie, Heatherlea.  In the city, I navigated between music stores:  Hog’s Head, Avalanche, Underground Solush’n, Fopp.  I conquered the bend where Victoria Street becomes West Bow, and where a roast pig sits in the window of Oink!, its skin crackled and scored into diamond-shapes, awaiting my delectation.

But, to be honest, I lost my way once — just once! — my first full day in Lasswade.  I was walking from Hawthornden Castle to Bonnyrigg (which we residents had dubbed ‘the Brig’) for Internet access.  The map I had been given was a speckled and faded seventh-generation photocopy.  Streets faded at the edges.  Nonetheless, I made my journey, confident that I would find my way.  And I did.

On the return trip, however, I got turned about.  A landmark church somehow ended up on the other side of town.  I counted  intersections until I was supposed to reach the correct one, but they didn’t add up.  Still, I forged ahead.  This was, after all, suburban Edinburgh; I didn’t fear football hooligans or the Corryvrecken.  The sun didn’t set until well-near 10.

But it was getting late nonetheless.  I had nearly walked to Loanhead, almost 2 miles off course, and acres of grasslands opened around me, dotted by occasional patches of poppies, a red tide, when I turned back towards Bonnyrigg.  Still couldn’t find my way out. Flustered, I stopped into a pub, The Laird and Dog, where the locals regarded me with pity, curiosity.

“I’m trying to get to Hawthornden Castle,” I said.  The name didn’t register with the bartender or wait staff.  I repeated myself, slower, as if this would translate English into Scottish Gaelic.  A red-nosed bar patron said, “Ah!” and explained to the others.  The bartender looked at me — Why didn’t you just say so? — and explained the way.  Or so I think — his brogue was opaque, nearly impenetrable.  But I followed his hand gestures:  cross the creek? — no, bridge; turn left; keep going past the Polton Inn.  Can’t miss it.

I returned, just in time for dinner.  As it turns out, the Hawthornden Castle administrator had driven past me as I was striding towards Loanhead.  He had considered stopping and giving me a lift, but, he said, “You seemed like you knew where you were going.”

My parents are visiting from Colorado.   For dinner tonight, we ate a rotisserie chicken, and my Dad systematically stripped the chicken carcass of every last vestige of meat and sinew.  He used with his fingers, gouging out the secret protein tucked between the ribs or clinging to the sharp stump of neckbone.  He scraped the bones with his teeth to remove the tendons and fasciae.  He ate noisily, having reached the age where he no longer cares about niceties when eating at home.

Matthew didn’t blink an eye.  This is the same Matthew who, when we first started dating, had to look away when I ate fried chicken, as I had a habit of chewing the ligament between the drumstick and the thighbone.  When I saw him shudder, I knew that he’d heard me crunching away.

“It’s just not something I’m used to,” he said.

I have had meals with Matthew’s father, who eats quickly and voraciously (like fathers everywhere, I think).  Matthew has picked up very few of his own father’s mannerisms and habits.  Where do we learn proper table manners?  If not our parents, then who teaches us how  to hold a fork, which topics are appropriate for discussion during dinner, or how to sit up straight?

When my father spoke about the modern method of making nước mắm (caramel coloring, salt, water, mysterious chemicals), I didn’t correct his pronunciation of anchovy.  An-ko-vy, he said, and I imagined Leslie Howard, pointing his finger, saying, “No!  Do it again, again, again,” and my father, stubborn in way Matthew suggests I have inherited, refusing to say it correctly, just to spite Professor Higgins.  It’s not the child’s place to teach his parents what is proper.

Instead, my father has taught me the proper way to dismantle a lobster, how to slip a washer between the nut and oil pan when changing a car’s oil, how to tie a necktie.  Etiquette and proper manners; leave that for someone else.

After dinner, the conversation turned to the subject of living wills.  Mom told the story of an acquaintance of hers, whose mother has Alzheimer’s and a feeding tube.  The daughter, she said, quit her job and moved her mother into their house, where, everyday, she makes meals for her.  She stews and blends; she boils and strains.  And it all goes into the feeding tube.

“I think that’s cruel,” my father said.

Sometimes, my mother said, when her feeding tube clogs, the daughter will clear it by sucking the obstruction clear.  My mother made a horrified face.

“If I have to live like that,” she said, “you can just give me Ensure or something like that.”  But, I wondered, would this be cruel, as my father had said?  Whose wishes should I follow?

We sat quietly at the dinner table for a few moments, eating little squares of lemongrass chocolate.  “Let’s change the subject,” my father said.

Carla del Poggio’s eyes widen when the curtains open in Variety Lights.  It’s one of the oldest stories in showbiz, yes?  The dewy ingénue clawing her way to the top.  But who hasn’t harbored the dream of being a star, of making it big, even if it’s that brief moment while watching You Can’t Do That on Television:  I can do that.  I can say ‘I don’t know’ and get a bucket of slime poured onto my head.

*

Every year, for their final project, the high school seniors in the theater mounted a one-act play.  My final year, I was invited to play the Valet in No Exit.  I was never a full-on thespian — rather, I was someone who ate lunch in the theater room because my friends were in theater.  Still, I thought, Why not?  I put on a dark suit, white-powdered my face and drew black tarry streaks under my eyes, and memorized my lines.  There are two theories of acting:  that one can find one’s self in every character, or that one can find every character within one’s self.  For me, it was neither; the character I played was simply myself, speaking the lines the way I would have said them normally:  Silly questions, if you’ll pardon my saying so. Where’s the torture-chamber? That’s the first thing they ask, all of them.

*

At brunch recently in New York, my friend and I ogled our waiter:  he wore dark-rimmed glasses and had his hair in ringlets.  He seemed like a graduate student, studying something liberal artsy.  English, for example.  Or classics.  We had arrived in the bright-morning crush, and he graciously acceded to our useless requests.  More coffee?  A bit of honey, please?  Maybe he sensed us watching, the way a passer-by is dimly aware of being watched by window-side restaurant patrons.  But he left work before we finished our meal, carrying a Strand Books-branded messenger bag.  This cemented our conjectures further.  We asked the other server, a spunky blonde, what she knew of him.  “Oh, he’s an actor,” she said.  We asked our server what she did.  “Well,” she said, “I’m in acting too.”

*

A student told me that, for a summer job, he was auditioning for Sea World.  I didn’t know one had to audition for Sea World.  Yes, he said.  Since I don’t have any animal training, I can’t work with the animals.  But they have other shows and performances.  Does one even notice other humans at Sea World?  Who can compete with a school of dolphins, a killer whale?  I wish I’d known what I wanted to do with my life earlier, he told me.  He was a biochemical engineering major.  I didn’t discover acting until high school.  I wanted to tell him that I had had the exact opposite experience.  If I had asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ and he answered, ‘I don’t know,’ no slime would have fallen from the sky.  Acting is a calling as much as anything else, but know this, my young friend:  there will always be starry-eyed dreamers, and there will always be broken bulbs on Broadway.

The Magic Flute starts with a montage of faces, audience members waiting for the curtain to rise.  The close-ups encompass all ages, races, and genders, and I expected to hear “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” instead of Mozart’s overture.  Bergman returns the camera to one cherubic, red-headed poppet, but the others whip by like the faces of people waiting on platform as the subway pulls away.  Bergman doesn’t shoot the faces directly, but from a slight side-view, as if the camera were in the aisles.

My senior year of high school, I volunteered as an usher for the Denver Center Theatre Company.  My duties, once every three weeks, usually a weekend matinee, were to guide ticketholders to their correct seat.  I memorized the layout of the two theaters:  the Stage, a traditional semi-circle, and the Space, with 360° seating arrangement.

In the tiny usher dressing room, we were to put on red polyester vests over our white shirts (the rest of the uniform:  black pants, black shoes).  The vests were stored in a wooden box, and the other ushers – housewives, doyennes, other high school students; retirees — and I fought over the few vests sized for human beings.

But here’s the thing:  I’m not a fan of live theater.  I volunteered to fulfill the community service requirement for National Honor Society.  Volunteers also received a season’s subscription, but I never attended a single show.  Instead, I gave the tickets to my parents, who watched some and passed the others onto their friends.  I saw only glimpses and fragments of the shows, standing by entrance, waiting to lead latecomers into the back row ‘you-should-have-been-on-time’ seats.

Books and films, at least, have the appearance of permanence, but live theater is an inherently fungible art.  Its qualities fluctuate, dependent on the so many people:  playwright, stagehands, actors, director.  I wonder, sometimes, if I derive can pleasure reading the script than seeing the script performed:  a perverse form of auteur theory.  The printed page will always the same text, the film will replay in the exact way it did before.

I’m not, however, entirely immune to live performances.  I recently saw a performance of Madama Butterfly (the most frequently performed opera  in the United States) in Wilmington and, despite being seated behind a support column that obstructed half my view, I held my breath during the climactic note of “Un Bel Di Vedremo.”  But,, if anything, this emphasizes the ephemeral quality of theater:  you can only experience a chord progression, a particular phrasing once.  The next day, the timbre shifts, the tone changes ever-so-slightly.  There is no final product; each performance is a revision.  After its 1904 debut, Puccini reworked Madama Butterfly four more times.

After Fanny & Alexander, Bergman announced his retirement from film; he would henceforth concentrate on the theater.

I wonder how Bergman would have staged Madama Butterfly.  A stage saturated in crimson — costumes, backdrops, lights.  Instead of a steamer, a Norwegian icebreaker.  Pinkerton as God:  Lover, Savior, Disappointer.  The auteur who abandons His creations and is too cowardly to revisit them.

Death, in Orpheus, is an aristocrat.  She drives a black Rolls-Royce and cruises outside the Café Poete for young, handsome poets.   When she finds one to her liking, she runs him down to invite him to her decrepit villa, where she puts him to work, reciting aphorisms into a shortwave radio.  She watches Orpheus in the dark with unblinking, lidless eyes.  When he finally embraces her, and she embraces him back.  She moves through time and space via mirrors.  As her manservant Heurtebise explains, “Look at yourself in a mirror all your life, and you’ll see death at work, like bees in a hive of glass.”

In Tanith Lee’s “Elle Est Trois (La Mort),” Death takes on three forms:  the Thief, the Butcher, and the Seductress.  Under these guises, she stalks bohemian artists — friends, patrons of the same café — living in 19th Century Paris.  It’s La Bohème with gore.  Death sings the aria.

For The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman posits Death as a black-cloaked entity, a chess-player with a deadpan sense of humor.  In this form, he doesn’t crack a smile until he appears in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.

Neil Gaiman, in his Sandman series, pictures Death as a Goth-punk girl, with spiky hair and Egyptian eye make-up.  Her skin is pale, keeping with tradition, and she wears a black tank top.  A silver ankh hangs around her neck.  She has pets:  two goldfish.  Sometimes, on particularly strenuous cases, she wears leg warmers.

In Aurora, Colorado, Elisabeth was a year behind me in high school.  She was an adoptee from Laos, and she had severe eczema on her hands which turned them white and scaly, curled into claws.  When she stretched her fingers, raw pink flesh peeked out from between the scales.  I don’t recall shaking her hand, but I remember giving her hugs.  She wrote me my first year of college, talking about how excited she was to graduate high school and go to college, where life would spread out before her, a hotel hallway with innumerable doors to open.  I learned later, through a mutual friend, that death came for her at her birthday party.  A guest brought a snack that either contained peanuts or had come into contact with peanuts, and she went into anaphylactic shock.  Here, death is — what?  A cookie?  A slice of cake?  Would death in this form be any more or less ridiculous?  Would I have had a chance to respond to Elisabeth’s letter?

We give death a form in order to understand her.   If, we think, death can be personified, then we can put our arms around her.  She won’t appear so fearsome.  We can reason with her; we can make her fall in love with us, and she’ll turn back time, a film played in reverse, figures in the background stepping backwards, trying to un-remember the Tartarean landscape through which they pass.

It’s not her finality that they fear; it’s her abstraction.

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