The Puzzler

Kelly and I did puzzles on Sundays, mornings mostly, when the New York Times double dared its daily puzzlers to take the bigger, harder challenge of the page-wide crossword. We were both super sleuths, so we toiled as two resolved to solve the mystery of the hour it took us to fill in all of the empty spaces between the black of the uninvited and irrelevant to the game–like our world on Sundays, just us. There were no other people or places more alluring than the chicory of our coffee, the shaded sun on our table, and the pencil and paper inked with our patience–unconditional time. We were peaceful and complacent then. The metronomic congeniality of our pocket of a world was no more, no less: in the middle of hurry and sleep.

credit: !1cpcache.com

Kelly was a mechanic. No matter the make, no engine escaped the exhaustive expertise of this meticulous and measured engineer with a temperament of a lover scientist: observant, percipient and objective, yet warm, conciliatory and intuitive. I often heard, “They all have the same components with a switch up here and there to make me go mad.” And even so, even after having handily fine tuned many similar models before me, the puzzler could not calibrate my candor nor loosen my brakes. Typically, my symptoms–the broken parts–never showed before a somewhat stranger (like finally taking the car into the shop for that noise that suddenly disappears), but with time and travel, the intermittent accelerator hesitation, piercing brake squeals and mysterious trunk rattles made the ride rough, uneasy. And so, after much studied twisting and turning and torquing, the chassis collapsed. I was an enigma.

When Kelly moved to the black, I would bring that scratch-pad stretch of space and moment to mind when suffering the turbulence of spinning-on-the-teacups Terry or enduring the ennui of Edward or Kim or Ken or Sam. Back then, I longed for presence of the puzzle, of even-keeled Kelly time in our kingdom of suspended seismography, no pantomime of the naked love or the jealous joust or the sentimental snore, just Cadillac calm and Bavarian precision.

Writers Are Spider Mistresses

A time for telling truth has come upon us now.
We needn’t lie to get us through these times
You see it in my eyes and writ upon my brow.
No need to say you understand these rhymes.

When writing is the mistress:

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.” – Winston Churchill

credit: a3.files.biography.com

First a mistress then a master, does Churchill mean that at first writing a book is alluring, a release into a world of pleasure, and then it becomes dominating, controlling, and confining like an addiction or a duty? In other words, it starts with the idea of writing a book, the germ of a subject that could spread into thousands of words, which inflames the contagion that impels the fingers to tap in order to scratch the itch and twitch of adrenaline desire-thought. The impassioned writer proclaims, “There is a book in me.”

But after the initial caffeinated burst of bluster-strained strands of webbed words–clever and comely–the chore of the work settles in, each day pouring water into the well to keep the once deemed fertile land irrigated and quell the fires of doubt and douse the flames of drudgery in the daily threat of stage five alert word draught. When the ideas stop flowing, the writing is a task of terrible resistance and fear sets in. The writer frets, “I don’t have enough, not good enough, not enough heart, authenticity, interest. But I have invested so much time and ink, I can’t stop now.”

Or was Churchill a switch hitter and he just means that writing a book is like loving a woman–not your wife–being in her control or under her spell, and then like loving a man?

No, he means that writing enslaves. It is an enormous envelope of time and thought, and the promise of her–writing–what she potentially makes of her lover–writer–is a sculptor of marble ideas smoothed into delightful statues of truthful experience and penetrating insight whose vision inscribes beauty into the minds of those envisioning the word figures and rests there completing that mind, that reader, who is forever changed or confirmed or comforted by some moral missive, sublime image, or worldly flavor.

In reality, the writer is a whittler of wood who shapes a block into a toy sailboat by toiling away at the carving craft hour by hour to make animation from the inanimate. The writer makes sound from ink. Perhaps it is this need to be heard and to connect with another human being that is the real potential that arouses the desire–the ultimate desire–that causes the penner to heed the call of the word, arise each day, wipe away the sticky, silken threads of the dreamscape, to hack away at the mental chains of complacency and write. That same desire thereafter ensnares her in the matrix of predator and prey, reader and read, writer and book, the book she violently tosses at her readers.

The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout
Down came the rain and washed the spider out
Up came the sun and dried up all the rain
And the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again.

Writers are spider mistresses.

credit: wondersinthedark.files.wordpress.com

Ship of Cruel

Credit: horrorpediadotcom

Miss Carly is large and wide and witty in frills and curls.
She laughs her great big O lips open like sails unfurled
Revealing white washed toothy rocks beneath the bow.
Sweet meats and candied nuts, she eats stern to prow
Slicing, chomping and dipping her pain in syrupy swirls.

Her heart is big and soft and fat like the sloop of a smile.
She loves with cloying quotes of snips of poems in piles
Atop a pine dresser of smoldered stains of incense stubs.
Fond of scenes, the woman shouts, “Aye, there’s the rub!”
For no known reason nor time and place, none I reconcile.

Miss Carly is single and lonely and sad in her loft on high.
She peels the pity from artist friends like lemon to rind
Causing some internal cringe and outward nervous laugh.
Prizes, patronage, palimpsestic poems and photographs
She gives, sipping sweet tea afloat a sailing ship of sighs.

Her sunsets painted and sea becalmed, her puppet primps.
The magic made by canvas painters, mere circus chimps,
Is poor compare to bread and cakes Miss Carly foreswore.
For she is set on turbulent vomitous seas to settling shore
To lose her sea legs, her fine girth and sycophantic simps.

Guest Post: Revisiting Shame and the Mistress

A regular contributor of comments to this blog, MPM, shared with me the rumination below in context of an ongoing discussion about the historical and modern day role and conceptualization of the mistress. It bears reproduction here in its entirety for another perspective and invitation for response.

Ruminations on “King Charles II of England and His Mistresses
Everyone – and I mean everyone, including me – should have a mistress or be one. You can tell a mistress things that you can’t tell your so called life partner and vice-versa. For some it provides emotional stability. For others perhaps an emotional release. It’s obvious that the need for mistresses (and ‘misters’) has endured throughout human time, perhaps as long as the oldest profession. That is not to equate the two, but to state that the need for one or the other seems to be intrinsic. Perhaps even those who do not participate in such activity at least have the thought of taking on one or the other, if only in passing sometimes. The human mind is probably too complicated for some to burden a single person with all that it contains. Perhaps engaging with one or the other relieves a partner of a burden too heavy to endure.
But then again, perhaps I am wrong.

Earlier I posted this comment to the blogger’s article, “King Charles II of England and His Mistresses”. That the comment is full of “perhaps-es” is a clear indication of my own self-doubt regarding the certainty – no, the validity – of what I was stating. After rereading my reply I felt compelled to expand upon it in an attempt to answer, for myself, the questions I openly asked.
So that the reader may better understand the questions I raised in my initial reply I will share with you my current situation.
I am currently a “mister” to a married woman who is herself a mistress to a married woman. I have met her husband and we appear to get along fine. I only use the word ‘appear’ because I am ‘fine’ with it, but obviously I cannot vouch for nor ascertain his true hidden feelings. Indeed, no one else can be aware of the feelings all of us have decided to keep secret. The circumstances of their marriage allow each to have this type of open relationship. I will not divulge why this is so to protect their privacy, although admittedly this certainly opens the door for one to peer into. Why I chose this particular woman knowing about the circumstances she was in shall also remain private except to say that we genuinely are compatible. Interestingly, each of us has been involved in non-monogamous relationships in our pasts and are so now. When I asked her how she felt about the wife in those circumstances she provided different answers for each situation. Some were because the wife no longer desired to have sexual relations with her spouse. Others were for more personal reasons. However, the answer to one of those situations surprised me a bit. Although the initial intent of involving herself in this relationship was not to do so, she stated that she was certain that doing so saved his marriage. He is in fact still married to his wife yet maintains a fond and friendly bond with his one-time tryst mate. I have not been as fortunate. Each of my circumstances has ended with a bang or a whimper and I have “lost” all – partners and mistresses – I have been involved with except one. I’ll conclude this backstory by stating (admitting?) that, going back some 40 odd years to junior high school days, I have never had a completely monogamous relationship. In some it took me longer to stray than others. But the constant has been that I always have strayed.
In my original comment in reply to the article I declared that, “everyone … should have a mistress or be one”, and I gave my reasons why I believe this. But upon reflection I decided to take a step back to observe the issue with more focus from a distance. I realized I was only speaking for my narcissistic self. My grandparents had been married for over 67 years and neither of them ever strayed. Ironically, I always set my sights on finding someone with whom I could strive to match their record of monogamous longevity. Why then have I never been able to commit to a single partner? Why does anyone allow themselves to play this way or even stray but once? Is it really an intrinsic need as I suggested in my reply or is it more than that? Perhaps (there’s that word again) the “intrinsic need” idea is a vain and selfish rationalization proffered to attempt to assuage feelings of guilt and shame (see this blogger’s article “Shame, Shame on You–and Me” for more on this topic) for branching outside of society’s accepted standards. After all, if the hidden relationship is discovered there are always feelings of hurt, anguish, and betrayal felt by the one who has been deceived, and we are the reason, and suffer the burden of destroying or altering the course of another’s life, as well as our own.
But then I took a further step back and was faced with examining the reality that some of the world’s best known and most followed religions now have, or once had, traditions of allowing plural marriages. Although it was never an original part of Western culture, Islam is the most obvious example as polygamy is still practiced today. And even though it has been outlawed (and to be fair discredited by), the Mormon Church also preached and encouraged polygamy. And is it more than simply interesting to note that both Islam and Mormon allowed the male to have wives younger than what (our) society has deemed to be a legal age for such unions? Doesn’t our society and culture view these versions of polygamy to be child abuse and rape? I’ll save the reader the tedium of reviewing every instance of child sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and simply go straight to the top – the Pope – and cite but a few that have been historically documented to not only have had mistresses but children they fathered with these concubines: Pope John X; Pope John XII; Pope Benedict IX; Pope Paul II. And Pope Leo X had a homosexual mistress relationship.
There is also the circumstances of hut dwelling tribal cultures still extant throughout remote areas of the world today. Their communities of miniscule populations probably, in some cases we can at least speculate, allow for not only polygamy but also a fair degree of incest simply to keep the tribe alive.
With these examples in mind it seems logical to question why our culture decries the mistress. It appears it could be argued that our culture is actually an aberration for doing so.
Then I began walking backwards to take a closer look at and examination of “our culture”. In keeping with the blogger’s theme of political figures with mistresses, most historians now accept that Thomas Jefferson, our third president, had as his mistress a slave he owned named Sally Hemings. This fact was established in 1998 with DNA evidence. It immediately discredited all the historians who had denied it for the previous 200 years. In modern times we now know that JFK had Marilyn Monroe as his mistress. We know that William Jefferson Clinton had Monica Lewinsky as his, and before that Jennifer Flowers. We also know that presidential aspirant John Edwards fathered a child out of wedlock.
Turning now to sports figures, no one can provide an accurate account of the number of athletes who have had or still have a mistress in every town their team visits, and let’s not even try to imagine the number of children born of these couplings.
At this point I felt I no longer had to seek or cite examples of the mistress in culture, politics, religion, or in any aspect of man’s contrivance. It is indisputably obvious that mistresses have been around “forever” and will continue to be a part of being human. Although my own grandparents demonstrate that there may not be an intrinsic need for everyone to have or be a mistress, history demonstrates that the opposite is equally true; which, I feel, at least partially validates my declaration that everyone should have or be a mistress.
What to do, then, with the guilt and shame?

Mistress Memory: the Mother Mime

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An undeniably aching yet slumbering craving, she must fall back endlessly, eyelid-enwrapped orbs unable to keep her consciousness, which slips down into the darkness with claws still clutching and inscribing their twitching seismographic indentations in the eyeballs as the arms of it, consciousness, stretches wincingly, impossibly lengthened for the body to lie in the depth of darkness. She goes deep.

I speculate that she is not falling, implying a misstep, away from her conscious self but has turned and run. Who wouldn’t? Her life has been hard. She was neglected by an unloving mother, one who was abused herself by cruel parents. Her father was a specter who haunted the apartment, manifesting a physical man on payday. Her mother rarely cooked for her or comforted her or advised her of the dangers of the world. No, she was left on city corners at 4 years to find her own food, hoping that the mothers and men entering the five and dime would offer her something without her having to ask. And they would ask her with irritable concern, “Where is your mother?!” and feeling ashamed, she would make up a story that her mother was sick.

But no documented illness kept that mother from cleaning and feeding her baby. Embarrassed and unkempt that child was with untamable kinky hair that refused a brush even if one were offered it, and a sizable gap in her two front teeth. She was scrawny and sallow, though with sharp, slit-eyed hazel-glistening maturity and wit. She was a meerkat.

Eventually poking her head above the layer of grimy gutter life, she cleaned herself up and then mistook love for sex. Knocked up and married at 16, she merely survived a childhood of neglect to enter into an adulthood of abusive banality and benign ignorance. She married, like her mother before her, a ghost of an unfinished man, a workaholic incapable of appreciating the finer things in life–books, art, mystery, passion, and romance, namely: her.

But he gave her a family. Children salved the sore of scooping up in arms love she missed out on. Only, to overcompensate for her own shadow life, she spent every moment caring for, thinking about, worrying about and attending to her inevitably affected children of greed, helplessness and jealousy. She fed them too much, cleaned them overly, loved them enough but not enough for the canyon of need she created in them to be the sole capturing eye of the gaze of her great giving.

She raised them. They came to visit on weekends with their growing families when they themselves grew up and away, but she, heliotropic, contorted her body reaching for the circling sun of her prodigals who, in turn, rounded back to her, their heat center for hot food, unconditional love and sound advice. Warmed and wiser, they left her withered in the waiting for their eventual return. Until they didn’t.

So long as she could give, they came. When she could no longer give–her core cold like the moon’s with her shine a borrowed reflection–they stared and stammered and shivered in unimaginable loss and fear.

She forgot how to make the dishes everyone loved from the recipes passed down from her grandmother, the only woman who cared for her but left her only too soon, days before her fourth birthday. Dishes that made home–their home–like blintzes and pirogies and beef stew, were irretrievably lost because her children forgot to ask her how to make them. She couldn’t remember how any of them started, though she made them hundreds of times over her 75 years.

Nail biting in isolating anguish, her children suffered alone, for she did not understand what everyone noticed. Her husband alternately shrugged and shook fists at the sky. No one knew what to do with her. When she could no longer speak, they stopped coming. But she could see; she could hear. And for many years she still could.

Trapped in her muddled thoughts so long, wasting away, her body dis-remembering how to process food into fat or even how to chew and swallow, she closes her eyes now like no one has ever closed a pair of eyes before–her face drawn in by the corners of its angles of cheek bone to chin, skin sucked tightly to skull–and exhales.

No, she is not expired. She is pure unconscious desire now, streamlined to her essence and sinking into the only place she was ever going to anyhow. She succumbs to the lure of the lover and beloved, and it is a release like no other in her candlelit dusty life.

She opens her eyes again, and the illusion is gone. I can no longer see the purpose and direction, imagine the lilting lie of the siren’s song, “Come to me, my mistress and be my Penelope awaiting her king’s return. Rest in my bosom, my touch, my caress.”

This is how I cope these days with the agony of her slow decade-long disappearance.  I imagine she is on a mythic sea voyage, sailing the still waters of slow afternoon noddings, drifting down into the arms of her self-embrace and so engulfed in the arms of the loving mother that she was born to be and always will be.

I stare into the searchingly bewildered eyes mirroring a woman focusing her lenses, and see me. There it is! The three second connect, her recognition marked by the eye twinkle and quick spasm flash of an upturned corner of her mouth, the missile memory launched in my direction absorbed by the heat of my desire. “Hi Mom.”

The sound distracts her. Her eyes move off mine in the direction of where she thinks the sound came from, the cataract gaze returned. I look away. I pick up my keys and move to the door, glancing back briefly before touching the handle. Her eyes cannot follow me at this distance. I walk out the door. It’s time to pick up my daughter from school.

“King Charles II of England and His Mistresses”

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Ah, the good old days when kings had mistresses openly, mistresses who were showered with titles and wealth and, for the more savvy, had the wherewithal to convert their sway (and swagger) into political power. All they had to do was attract the king’s eye, have sex with him, bear and raise his children.

In an interesting article, entitled, “King Charles II of England and His Mistresses,” on a well-groomed, professional-looking blog site called Hubpages by case1worker, I was reminded that the life of a mistress, at least with respect to Charles II, was a very good life indeed, and really one of mere practicality, an escape for a king encumbered with kingly duties as well as a chance at a relationship that would be deemed closer to “normal” in terms of modern day’s marriages: love, passion, shared wealth and children. Charles II, like many kings, married for political purchase and not for love. However, there is no need to feel sorry for him. He pursued his love interests where he found them–and he found many.

One of his several mistresses, according to the above-referenced article, maximized her position, admirably: earned wealth, title, influence, kids with same, and lovers too. After Charles married, Lady Portsmouth was installed in a convenient location relative to the palace where he lived with his barren wife, to carry on his affair, but Portsmouth eventually moved out so Charlie could pursue other women.

Old Charlie II sired more than 15 illegitimate children, all who were placed in decorous positions, pensions, and/or titles, and all of whom were present at his death, over which his wife presided while Charlie professed his life-long love to his mistress.

Wacky times, yes, but very practical. I enjoyed the article for its clarity and succinctness. However, I wish there were references–at least conveniently located because I could not find them–for the information so nicely collected and reported on this smart-looking page. The pictures are lovely too. Enjoy.

Solipsistic Bullshit

credit: toptenz.net

Having a meta moment, I sit crouched outside the bathroom door opening up to the backyard, seeking shelter from the firm sprinkle of rain, and sneak a cup of coffee and a cigarette. My children–my progeny–are still asleep inside the house. I don’t want them to see what they already know. I smoke–sometimes, today anyway. Shame and secrecy, they are the byproduct of the perception that mothers model what they want their children to do and be; they distort intuition. Isn’t it better to be the canvas of a human painted with flaws illuminated?

Maybe it is the product of a Southern California rain on November 1st, a clearing of the long-settled dust of many months, but I am acutely able to watch myself watching me. My crouching self–avoiding and inviting the cool, clear drops that promise to enliven with a crisp penetrating sensorial incitement and also punish with its shivering collateral damage of the body’s heat colliding with the steely shrapnel of the cloud’s burst–battles the storm that is me at this moment, ambivalent and aware of the torture that self-division inflicts. I watch the watcher that projects the image of a writer at work–thinking, sensing, anguishing and yearning.

At this moment, I am not a writer. The bloated title comes, historically, with a delusional job description: write the self. But producing self–whatever that means–in words is terrible and writ with horror, even as it is mundane and ministerial, the process a struggle of expression and impression. Which sentences will crackle, crumble onto the page, and will they make or give me sense? Am I controlling the craft, manipulating my readers to go where I want them to go? Hardly. I drive the machine even as it marionettes me. The parcelized being of person and persona is a schizophrenia that refuses medication to ameliorate symptoms of the madness that is creativity and desire, perception and reflection, subject and object. I gaze at the gazers.

They stare back. But each placed word on the page paralyzes me with its uncertainty and finality, each a declaration of intention that slithers past the page and is collected by greedy eyes waiting to filter, covet and reformulate me in the conceit of collusion with them. The bound nakedness of that truth evokes a howl of self-righteous anger and vanquished surreptitious surrender. Maintaining possession, control, gives way to the inevitability and yet the desire to be roped, imprisoned and silenced, and therein lies the eroticism of writing, which has always captivated me.

Words that pour, violent ejections from the loins of the abyss, are urgent and unconscious. The onset of these emissions are unpredictable even as they are inevitable expulsions evoked by exterior impetuses, events that seize all that has ever been known as life. Jail, for example. Imprisonment causes a vacuum of words with which to reproduce a reality. However, if not too long, the sentence (time) can pool the river of artifacts of the taken-for-granted daily distractions of driving, feeding and sleeping, still its flow to near evaporation, to a distant shade of memory, so that when released, the force of the cascade into the stream of the overground is formidable and unrelenting–impossible to swim to safety. I had no choice but to write then.

So how does one go back to jail when the fount runs dry and the words eke out painstakingly, letter by letter? How to not merely reproduce and occupy but inhabit and transform that space inflicted by powerlessness is where this morning’s meandering mistress muse takes me, as she often does.

Surely what we do–what I do–purposively, what I enact and deliberately create in and are imposed upon by the world, will summon up the cell. If I confine myself to others’ expectations in order to silence the gut-craving screams to be alone long enough to hear my own voice, the words may once again spill from my ears and eyes. If I convince myself that there is no other path but the one I am on, which is fated, inevitable, and irreversible–limiting my career choices, feeding the money hunger, slaking the pleasure deficit with sweets and sex and the many, many mindless patterns of performing an existence–really focus on that doom, perhaps then I can float the rapids of rhythmic type-tapping onto dry-land highways of unending sentences.

Tedious metaphors incarcerate. This miserable musing is nearly over. The irony of enslavement and freedom is the parody that we enact in fantasy scenes of the mind, bedroom and theater. Creation (and sometimes a helluva good orgasm) is born in the suspension between these two states–my banal conclusion. The only question left to answer: do we let others watch?