August 2, 2016
I used to have so much fight in me, so much conviction, indignation, righteousness and determination. I was ambition. I was striving.
Now I’m heart-fatigued, deadened by weather, watches and people, so I can’t be bothered with so much of what bothered me. My ambitions are quieter, steadier now. And while before everything turned to anger–contradiction, injustice, oppression–now those conditions are met with a profound sadness that shatters my steady, moves my once immovable tears from the dammed up reservoir of hurt, pain, disappointment, fear, shock and panic to come, future furies and frustrations.
For example, I know someone who takes advantage of my inability to say no, sometimes. She plays me, and I know it and accept it. I allow her to do that–use me for her own gains and pleasures. I can only surmise I permit her to take advantage; otherwise, I would simply make her stop.
That slight, that injustice, that unfairness, how she treats me, would have enraged me in younger days. I would have ached to avenge my pride, my dignity, scraping my imagination with retorts, come-backs, equalizing actions and humiliating reconciliation.
But today, I observe her making me uncomfortable, forcing me to vocalize the dirty rotten truth between us. And I watch myself watching her watching me. Awaiting the courage and the words, I witness her machinations, manipulations and movements, and mull the situation over, slightly anxious, confident the solution will find me.
Guess I missed it yesterday, the day devoted to reading Tolkien. And while I would not have read any Tolkien, I would have paid honor in some way as he is one of my most influential writers. Not so much for style or even content as timing.
My earliest reading memory is tied to him. In sixth grade, the reading light went on. Somehow it struck me that with a dictionary and determination, I could read just about anything. I had proven it by trudging my way through The Hobbit, an assigned reading by my ambitious sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Allgrove. Though I begrudged that woman many things while sitting long days in her class, reading Edgar Allen Poe stories to us was not one of them–nor assigning us Tolkien.
She was ambitious for us 11 year olds, and I took up the challenge. Reading The Hobbit was painstakingly difficult but I had a profound sense of accomplishment and enlightenment after finishing the book. Not so much for the story, which reached me in mere wispy shadows at the corners of my imagination, thin strands of plot but thick with magical atmosphere and mystery. More so that I had cracked some code or found the secret password and entered the club. I could read hard books.
After that I ventured into many books, too many to count. I am a reader. I attribute that love to Tolkien who lured me with mystery. My attempt to do the same for my own children did not work as well. I found an amazing illustrated text of The Hobbit for kids, drawings that plucked the fright out of the spider scene or the eerie from Gollum. But it bored and frightened my kids. They were not six graders yet. Maybe premature. They did not even see the movie when it came out. I surely did.
Tolkien totally enveloped my world when I was fifteen, the year I read the trilogy. The Lord of the Rings not only captivated my imagination, but yanked at the seams of longing and teenage angst. The darkness of that book was my own darkness, deep and well traveled. The torture of that darkness produced by the most majestically fabulous language spoke everything to me: horror and beauty.
I lived in Middle Earth, at the edge of Mordor, in the realm of invisibility that was becoming more and more addictive. The landscape was my own insecurities and sorrow as I traveled through the tunnel from sad teenager to savvy teenager. By the time the ring was tossed into the abyss, I had come out of my own cave to see that the world was brighter than I imagined. I lost some of my perpetual glum, which I wore like the makeup other girls wore to make them–in their minds–more socially acceptable and attractive.
I learned to speak Elvish. My best friend and I spent one Halloween in a cemetary drinking Schmidts beer (a little over a buck a six pack back then) and smoking hash scaring the shit out of each other with visions of Mordor. I lived this world not only while I read the books but in the long aftermath of its lingering imaginative aroma. I hated finishing the books, my long, long absorption in the world coming to an abrupt end.
My love for The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien stayed with me like a first love. The untainted visions and preserved excitement of total disappearance into another world were sacred to me, so much so that when the movies came out, I refused to see them. I did not want my own mental creations of the characters to be displaced by someone else’s casting. I wanted nothing to do with that.
Until I entered graduate school for the second time at the age of 43. I went back to school to get a PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of California at Riverside on a fellowship. One professor in the program took a special interest in me and invited me to a small group of three students to do an independent studies course in flash fiction under her tutelage. After I agreed, the course turned out to be a delving into the holocaust and feminism, two subjects I wanted to avoid.
Interestingly, the course reading list included The Lord of the Rings. When I saw that title, I became both excited and anguished. Did I want to spoil the specially preserved place of that book that I read purely for pelasure and out of curiosity by dissecting it until the juices were totally bled out of the words?
The same books from 1975, yellowed with decades of shelf time, came to my aid in 2003. It was like a time warp. I read the books as if for the first time and enjoyed them without critical interference, which was my wont 28 years later with a couple of literature degrees under my belt and several teaching years. As is often the case with acquired analytical expertise, the innocence of a subject under analysis is lost when the invisible lines of creation are exposed.
But that did not happen with The Lord of the Rings. And even after taking some wild bent roller coaster ride of a term paper outlining the underlying sexual tension of the menage a trois between hobbits and gollum-like creatures (Oy, don’t ask), I had fun reading the book even while destroying its innocence with interpretive analysis. It was the easiest paper to write, and I had the most fun writing it, unparalleled to any before or after.
But I still refused to see the movies for months afterward–until I did. I had the director’s cut of all three of them. I sat down in pj’s for the weekend and dove in. And yes, my initial impressions and imagined beings have been displaced but the movies were faithful and enchanting. I admired Jackson’s devotion to the spirit of the text. I was once again immersed in the world with its strange and wonderful journey, mine once again.
Tolkien has taken me far, stretched me through the years. I am forever indebted to him and his creations far more than I can express in my own plebian words. And though I am not a dedicated fan of fantasy adventure novels (though I have read a fair amount of them), I attribute Tolkien to both my love of reading and my disinterest in most fantasy adventure stories. I had trouble getting through all of the Harry Potter books. In every fantasy story I have read since, I recognize some “borrowing” from Tolkien.
He was the master after all. He set the prototype. Everything after cannot be but some poor imitation, switch-up or clear avoidance of everything he imagined. The greats do that: pull us along and then intimidate the hell out of us. Thanks J.R.R. I am always reading you, regardless of book in hand or not. Cheers!
I’m sure this is true.
She told me so herself.
She said, “I get the best of you. The rest your wife gets.”
I cannot deny it.
That I love our secret love,
safe like the internet.
Everyone hides in the safety of their slippers and screen
to enact who they believe they are
and do their best selves because no one really checks,
no one wants to call bullshit,
end the game so
just go with the make believe.
For us too when we are together,
we two for a few,
a cherished time between us to live high just a while.
I mean, who does not want to be loved like crazy?
To meet up in the imagination’s room and lie for a while.
I am not hers,
and she is not mine,
but I can be sure she keeps me
close in her dreams,
so that upon awakening in warmth and quiet
soft pillows under her head
and silken comfort between her thighs
she feels me beneath the sheets as good as there
from so much practiced production
the fantasy we inhabit
every time we meet.
Oh yes, but she is mine.
Pleasant read in Elephant Journal yesterday about the meaning of this iconic song that may surprise few but helps to remind us of something important in yet another age of crusades.
Like Heaven and Hell, countries exist only in our minds, yet we kill or die for them. Religion too is made up (imagined) by us—yet another institution that serves only to divide humans and prevent them from living life in peace. Neither are possessions real, except as a shared idea of ownership projected onto things, in turn producing yet more suffering as greed begets hunger.
When enough of us finally awaken to the fact that all of these things—religion, country, possessions—are nothing more than ideas in our minds, a world of unity, a brotherhood of man, with all the people sharing all the world, becomes possible. This may look like a dream, yet what is our current social reality but a collective delusion—a “reality” that only exists because enough people believe it? When enough “dreamers” actually see through the dream, a critical mass (what today we would call a “tipping point”) is reached “and the world live be as one.”
A simple Buddhist message to live within the reality we have, hard as it may be for many, this song also confirms the power of the imagination, whether for the highest of all achievements (Lennon’s song) or the most terrible (killing in the name of the deity of your choice). Imagine understanding and accepting the terrible beauty and destruction we create–as us. Simple and direct, less being more, the song is masterfully reiterating an ancient theme.
When I was girl, aye, many a moon ago,
a landlubber me, me mateys too
sailed the ocean in books from the bilge,
the library basement racks, and ventured far,
anchored only by words like hook of the captain
luring us in like Moby, wee urchins to the salty seas,
uprising smartly when it was time to go.
But we’d come another day for a skull’s whistle.
“For a tale awaits on the shores of shelves,”
the spectacle’d lass in pumps and plum lips said.
“Pirate the world in an open palm, my beauties,
Steal the wind with a spell set on shivering leaves.”
Ahoy and avast! And we did, alit below the stars
of blackened ceilings open endlessly beyond
and long before days peering into Davey’s Locker..
If I could savor all the bits and pieces of love I have shared
Nick Lovell’s “Cradle in my Arms”
With an aching in my head
I lay motionless in bed
I thought of you and where you’d gone
and let the world spin madly on
Everything that I said I’d do
Like make the world brand new
And take the time for you
I just got lost and slept right through the dawn
And the world spins madly on
I let the day go by
I always say goodbye
I watch the stars from my window sill
The whole world is moving and I’m standing still
Woke up and wished that I was dead
With an aching in my head
I lay motionless in bed
The night is here and the day is gone
And the world spins madly on
I thought of you and where you’d gone
And the world spins madly on.