"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Friday
Oct172014

Carolyn Kizer: December 10, 1924 - October 9, 2014

 

She was my poetry mentor, great friend and goddess.

We now live in what was once her Paris apartment, full of many of her poetry books and some of the novels she loved. I am too full of emotion to do her justice yet. 

But here is one anecdote that says everything about her: an admirer wrote her a letter, but did not have her current address, so simply wrote on the envelope: The White Goddess, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The letter was delivered to Carolyn.

Richard and I ran a poetry series with three other poets (Jeanette Clough, Jim Natal and Jan Wesley) in the late 1990s at the Rose Café in Venice. Just as we launched it, Richard and I met Carolyn at the Petaluma Poetry Walk with Jackson Wheeler. She and I fell instantly in love with each other. She was one of our first readers in the Rose series, which helped to make it a success.

Carolyn was one of the first feminist poets in America. Long before I met her, I relished her sharp, witty, clear poems, recognized in them something very close to my own taste. I loved the deep subject matter, the light tone and style of her mind and her poems.

She went to Sarah Lawrence College, which I attended for a year, studied mythology with Joseph Campbell, who was one of the writers whose books saved my life in my twenties. Most of her poems are mythological or erotic or celebrating friendship. She once told me she considered friendship more important than marriage. I said, marriage for me is more important, the romance in marriage. But there was romance in our friendship, too.

She was an editing maniac, generous, but outrageous. When Richard’s first book of poems, What the Heart Weighs, was published, he gave her a copy over dinner in Venice. When he stepped away from the table, she immediately began editing the poems (in ink in the book!). I worried about his response, but when we left her, he said, I’d be incensed if it were anyone else, but not Carolyn. The edits were minor tweaks, but all good.

When I sent my manuscript of poems, The Minotaur Dance, to her, asking for a blurb, she edited every one of them and every one was improved. And the blurb was a delight.

When she stayed with us in Playa del Rey, our cat Marley visited her in the guest bedroom. She made a huge impression on him. Not only was she as appreciative of his handsome white and gold-furred self as we, but even better she took him to bed for the night, a treat he never got from us who value our sleep. 

I cherish the books we have from writers we know. But the one with the inscription that I treasure most is Carolyn’s note to me in Cool, Calm and Collected: Poems 1960-2000

     “for beloved Kaaren,

     the best friend of my eighth decade—

     what a joy you are to me!

                               Carolyn”

written in her distinctive handwriting that is as easy to read as print. (No rococo flourishes there—she was direct and clear and unpretentious in all things.)

Speaking of unpretentious, I accompanied her to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books one year. She spoke on several panels; we went to various events as audience. I remember one panel discussing poetry, in which we sat in the front row. One of the poets on the panel was a woman we both knew, a fine poet, but a rather abstruse thinker. The woman was expressing some modern, convoluted, deconstructive babble that Carolyn just couldn’t stand. We listened, growing bored, until Carolyn had had enough and shouted at the woman from the audience. I was mortified, though I agreed with her.

Carolyn was born under a Sagittarius Sun and Gemini Moon. People born at exactly the Full Moon are often visionaries. (You don’t have to take it from me; I was thrilled to read this notion long after I’d intuited it, in William Butler Yeats’ A Vision.) Those born at the Full Moon tend to be what Willy called antithetical, aristocratic, visionary, artistic, passionate not sentimental, valuing the aesthetic over the useful, solitary vision over service to mankind, humor over melodrama. That’s Carolyn.

 

After we were married, Richard and I used to visit Paris and stay in Carolyn and John Woodbridge’s apartment in the Latin Quarter. (He, an architect, would have preferred the sixth arrondissement, but she wanted to live in the arrondissement where Dante had once studied and taught.) Occasionally over the years, we’d overlap visits with John and Carolyn, and go stay somewhere else. John often cooked dinner, which we ate around their round black dining table. He took us to the best open air market nearby, and introduced us to the only shop we’ve ever heard of that offers excellent frozen food, Picard.

We’d talk for hours about poetry, novels, Paris architecture, people, cats, and tell stories, endless stories.

When Richard and I tired of weeping with joy every time we arrived in Paris and weeping with sadness every time we left, and decided to find a way to live in Paris, we began looking for an apartment. At the time we were staying at Carolyn and John’s apartment, so called them to let them know what we were doing after the first day of looking. John called the next day and said, It’s getting hard for Carolyn to travel. Would you consider buying our apartment?

Would we! It was exactly what we were looking for. We determined the highest we would go, they came to a selling price below which they wouldn’t go, and, voila!, it was the exact same price down to the euro. Now, all we had to do was sell our house in L. A. at the bottom of the worst housing market in memory. We went ahead with applying for a French mortgage, and it was more complicated for Americans to buy an apartment in Paris than all the other financial transactions combined in our lives. But after a year, it was done.

We never were able to host John and Carolyn here, as she did stop traveling such distances, and the early signs of her dementia became evident when we last visited her in Sonoma, before we moved here permanently in January 2011. In spite of the obstacles to communication at the end, we never stopped loving the two of them.

I will be sifting through memories for a while to remember all I can about Carolyn and our friendship. I’m rereading her magnificent Cool, Calm and Collected: Poems 1960-2000. One brilliant poem after another. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her book, Yin, but she might have won it for any one of her books. There is no one else like her, this frank, eloquent, elegant, beautiful, generous, sharp, funny goddess. A great poet, great friend, great soul. Irreplaceable.

                                *

CAROLYN, DEPARTING

        (Carolyn Kizer: December 19, 1924-October 9, 2014)

Moon, bright eye

in a cloud-shrouded face.

Great blue heron, I see you

sailing away.

 

 

 

Saturday
Sep062014

“You Have Never Lived on the Moon”

 

 

They are shooting a film on our street. The big white trucks block the side where the handsome Japanese cordonnier resoles my boots, where the exuberant Egyptian pizza maker presses and stretches dough, filling the street with the smell of baking cheese. 

“TV or film?” I ask the knot of Italian men between two trucks. 

“Film.” 

“It is called?”

“You Have Never Lived on the Moon!” they chorus in Italian. One translates into French.

“That’s right,” I say. “And that’s okay, I’d rather live on rue du Cardinal Lemoine” (where Jacques Henri Lartigue has his blue plaque, where Pascal lived, where James Joyce finished “Ulysses” in Valery Larbaud’s apartment, where Hemingway and Hadley first lived in Paris and Gertrude Stein came by with Alice and said about a novel he’d started, “Begin over and concentrate,” and he waited three years before starting to write The Sun Also Rises, where he watched carts pulled by goats clatter down the cobblestones at dawn, where Carolyn Kizer had an apartment, now our home).

 

 

I turn onto rue Monge, crazed with love for this city, so full of beauty and mystery and dirty streets, and knock on the door of the podologue. A young man with crossed eyes opens.

“Chantal?” The name on the card is puzzling, a strange name for a man. Perhaps it’s his surname?

“Non,” he says, “Elle est en vacances.” She’s on vacation. He gestures to a dentist’s chair, examines my right foot. “Where does it hurt?”

“It doesn’t.”

“Where is the bunion?”

“Bunion? I have no bunion.”

“What is wrong with your foot?”

He peers at my foot with crossed eyes. “Can’t you see?” I say. “Here, and here?”

“Do you want a pedicure?”

“What?” (Did the podologue put her manicurist in charge of her practice?!) “It’s athlete’s foot. From the gym.”

“Ah,” he says, “you want a dermatologue.”

“That’s funny. An Iranian masseuse told me I needed to see a podologue for this. I just assumed she knew what kind of doctor I should see.”

 

 

Down rue Monge I stop at our supermarket, Carrefour, to pick up some paper products. I greet the Indian woman behind the cash register. She won’t meet my eye. Do I look strange? Is there goat fur between my teeth?

I leave the market feeling slightly depressed by the interchange with her. No, I won’t carry this with me. I’ll shake it off.

But it will affect others too, like a virus. I turn back to where a smiling woman is answering customer questions. We exchange “Bonjour, Madames.” I ask her if she might suggest to the cashier that she meet the eyes of customers if only for a second.

“Oh yes,” the woman says, “She was here when I started this job three years ago. She’s always been like that. Everyone complains. We’ve asked her to be friendlier but she doesn’t change. We suggest she greet customers but she won’t.”

Peut-être qu’elle est timide. Ou malheureuse.” Maybe she’s shy. Or unhappy. “If she’d just look at people for a moment, that would be enough. Otherwise, she conveys to you that you’re an object, not a human.”

“I find the French people to be that way,” says the customer representative. “I’m from the Antilles where people smile at each other.”

“Yes, it’s the same in California. Maybe this woman lives on the moon.”

She laughs. “Peut-être.”

I stop at our pharmacy on rue des Ecoles, where the pharmacien seems to me to be as knowledgeable as any doctor. He will be able to recommend a good dermatologue in the neighborhood. He shakes his head, pulls out a bottle and a small box from his cabinet of wonders. “Just use this and this for quinze jours,” he says.

I leave with the day’s simple needs met right here in our neighborhood in a mere thirty minutes, and wink at the quarter moon above the Pantheon. “Take care of all the people who live up there with you,” I say to La Lune, who is singing like a lunatic, sad or ecstatic, it’s hard to say. 

*     *     *     *     *                                                                                                                                          

 

Here’s a bit of lunacy from the French filmmaker, Georges Méliès, “Le Voyage dans la Lune,” a pataphysical film about a journey to the moon, considered the world's first science fiction film. The scientists who fly to the moon must escape from an underground group of Selenites (insectoid lunar inhabitants who go up in smoke when hit) played by acrobats from the Folies Bergère. The film was an international success when released in 1902, and Méliès' life was celebrated in director Martin Scorsese's multi-Oscar-winning 2011 film, "Hugo," based on Brian Selznick's novel.

 

 

 

Wednesday
Aug272014

Cats, Gods and Fiction

 

 Artwork © 2014 M. Chat

Character: it fascinates me. It’s the chief thing I look for in fiction, a profound understanding of human character at the level of depth of Anton Chekhov’s, or Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, or Virginia Woolf’s, or Marcel Proust’s fiction. 

I recently re-read Chekhov’s My Life and Other Stories. These stories are not so much about plot or language as they are about character, deeply felt and seen.

 

 

Character: it is as distinct, as particular in animals as in humans. We have a Dostoyevsky character staying with us for a while. He is dark, silent, taciturn. If you were to describe him as a god, he’d be the panther god, Dionysus. His name is Streak. 

We are fascinated by how different he is in nature from our late cat, Marley. Marley was light, talkative, affectionate. He didn’t favor either of us—he simply wanted to be as close to one or the other as he could get. When we had friends over, he wanted to be one of the guests, was happiest when we set out a chair for him at the table.

 

 

If you were to compare Marley to a character in fiction, he’d be Samoylenko in Chekhov’s story, “The Duel.” If he were a Greek god, he’d be Apollo; he inspired poems from both of us.

I’ve been thinking lately that I’d like to see more stories that include not just human characters but animals and gods. Guess I’ll have to write some.

 

Artwork © 2014 Miss-Tic

 

Monday
Aug042014

Trauma: Israel, Alcohol and Healing

 

 

 

I’ve been thinking lately about trauma. On the world stage, in the lives of people I know, and in my own life.

Let’s start with Israel. If you have the slightest bit of historical understanding or psychological sensitivity, you feel how deep the trauma was, and still is, for Jews.

How insane the Holocaust.

How profoundly traumatizing that even one individual would want you exterminated. But that a political leader could marshal a whole nation, then other nations as well, in trying to kill not just you, but all your relatives, all your people, and then proceed to do so—that is horror itself.

 


How can a people heal from such trauma?

Because the trauma must be healed, or it will be turned inward in self-destruction, or outward in scapegoating, bullying. 

This trauma is not simply an unprecedented madness of the 1930s and 1940s. Its roots are deep, and evident in the literature of centuries past.

I recently re-read Tolstoy’s “The Kreutzer Sonata,” written in the 1880s. There is one passage in the short story that disturbed me: an incident where the narrator goes into a train car with a Jew, and the depiction echoed other disdainful portraits I’ve read in plays (Shakespeare’s) and fiction by—say it—other Christian authors.

How to understand this hostility? Does it go back (I think it does) to the story of Christ’s life, as a Jew who (it was said) was betrayed by one of his Jewish disciples?

It seems to me it can only be seen clearly from the detached and comprehensive perspective of myth: religion itself as a myth unfolding through time.

 

 

The Christian era of Pisces, the fish: two brothers swimming in opposite directions, so close, yet from a certain limited perspective, with opposing values, competing with each other.

Christianity, which seems to float above the body and earth (sex as sin, emphasis on the afterlife, the spiritual valued over earthly life).

Judaism, more practical, earth-bound (no belief in the afterlife, no cremation, rather burial in the earth).

If the story goes that the Jews “killed” Christ, and for 2,000 years Christ’s suffering is framed as the essential mythical event in Christianity, then towards the end of that era of time, Christianity’s shadow side seeks “revenge” through the Holocaust.

 

 

How do any of us deal with trauma?

Someone I love (I will disguise the details here) experienced a horrific trauma involving death and bodily injury. She seemed to be handling it well. Except for excessive drinking. Now she is dying from the effects of alcohol.

 

 

An acquaintance (a former alcoholic) recently turned on someone he called his best friend, blaming her for ruining an event because of information she lacked. He, who had been her mentor, a sacred trust, sent her insulting e-mails designed to humiliate her, and tried to shame her publicly for an inadvertent mistake. Ah, I’m sorry, I can’t fill in any details, because this woman, a friend, confided in me.

My own trauma: I’ve described it elsewhere, but it had to do with coming of age when women were undervalued and barred because of inner and outer obstacles from following their passion in their work. (I’m not talking here about earning a living, but choosing the work of your daimon, your deepest passion.)

I healed that trauma by doing a vision quest that took about 25 years (and no, it is not too strong a word; it involved deconstructing familial and societal taboos against fulfillment in work—which seems to me to be half of what makes anyone human).

 

 

What can any of us do with trauma?

It seems to me there are three main paths: you turn it inwards on yourself and self-destruct (there are so many paths available!).

You turn it outwards on another individual or country, and become a bully, and try to scapegoat, shame, destroy the other (so many paths available!).

Or you heal.

 

 

Israel has become a bully.

So has the dry drunk we know.

A beloved friend has almost destroyed herself.

I was born to be a writer, yet only found the inner permission to focus deeply on writing after doing my vision quest. Not too much time really, given the centuries of patriarchal injury to women. How lucky I was to be born in my generation. Very few women of my mother’s and grandmother’s generations were able to free themselves to take seriously the work they were born to do. But that’s another post.

 

 

                                                          * * *

P. S. I’m too immersed in writing fiction now to write as often on Paris Play, but I’ll post when I’m so moved.

P. P. S. Richard got his suitcase back in Crete.

 

 

Sunday
Jul062014

Travel Hell (Crete, Part One)

 

At Paris security check-in: a stack of trays, a line of travelers waiting for space on the conveyor belt. Someone has left his bag in the tray on top of the column. Several men stand behind the stack, nonchalantly chatting, blocking other travelers in front of them from getting trays.

“Whose bag is this?” I ask.

The man lifts it (insolently), as I pick up a tray, plops it back in before I can take a second one.

The Australian woman between the man and me says, “Travel has gotten unbearable.”

“Hasn’t it though.” 

 


One of my bags is held up. Whoops, I forgot to throw away my dangerous weapon, that bottle of water. The security agent asks if I’d like to drink it. Such an unexpected courtesy in today’s travel. Yes! Apologize and thank her.

In seats past security, Richard and I lace up our shoes. The Australian woman is nearby with a girl who looks like her daughter.

I go up to her. “I just want to say I think the whole world is divided between people like you who are awake, and people like that narcissistic egotist who put his bag on top of the stack of trays.”

Wasn’t he terrible?” she says. “He shoved in line between me and my daughter.”

“Just charming.”

“Thank you for saying this to me.”

 


Richard and I find seats in the gate area with two and a half hours to wait for our plane. To the right, several young men on high stools play video games. The varieties of mindless escape are everywhere and multiplying.

In a café area to the left, a man and woman in their late 40s, she with lips so swollen she looks like a blowfish, hair pulled back tight and blonde on her skull.

R.: “Do you think she’s had plastic surgery?”

K: “Ha ha, more like plastic savagery.”

The boys get up from their seats. A camera case remains on one stool. Richard grabs it, chases the departing young men.

“No,” says one. “It was there when we sat down.”

Richard opens it. There’s a memory card inside, no identification. “I’ll look at it when we get home to see if there are pictures that would identify the owner. What a lousy end to a Paris vacation, losing your photographs.” He goes to find a bathroom.

 


I open a paperback Richard found at a Left Bank bouquiniste, Joseph Campbell’s Myths to Live By. He quotes from R.D. Laing’s The Politics of Experience, about the briefly schizophrenic/shamanic experience of Jesse Watkins, a British wartime naval officer, now a sculptor:

“The voyager, as he tells, had a “particularly acute feeling” that the world he now was experiencing was established on three planes, with himself in the middle sphere, a plane of higher realizations above, and a sort of waiting-room plane beneath. … According to Jesse Watkins, most of us are on the lowest level, waiting (en attendant Godot, one might say), as in a general waiting room; not yet in the middle room of struggle and quest at which he himself had arrived. He had feelings of invisible gods above, about, and all around, who were in charge, and running things; and in the highest place, the highest job, was the highest god of all.

“Those all around him in the madhouse were on their ways—awakening—to assume in their own time that top position, and the one now up there was God. God was a madman. He was the one that was bearing it all: 'this enormous load,' as Watkins phrased it, 'of having to be aware and governing and running things.' 'The journey is there and every single one of us' he reported, 'has got to go through it, and you can’t dodge it, and the purpose of everything and the whole of existence is to equip you to take another step, and another step, and another step, and so on….'"

With ten minutes to boarding, I go to the restroom, get in line. A tall drag-queenish woman with long black hair butts in front of me, J’étais ici. She and a smaller blond woman in glittery tops and glittery purses with chunky chains, shout Arabic at each other in guttural voices.

 


Onto the plane. Richard has paid for seats at the wing exit so that we have extra leg room. His clammy hands signal his nervousness before flying.

An announcement: there will be a delay due to mechanical problems, which they hope to be able to fix. Terrific, just what Richard needs, proof that he has good cause to worry.

 

 

We talk. I read Myths to Live By.

“Astonishment! There is no “other” shore. There is no separating stream; no ferryboat, no ferryman; no Buddhism, no Buddha. The former, unilluminated notion that between bondage and freedom, life in sorrow and the rapture of Nirvana, a distinction is to be recognized and a voyage undertaken from one to the other, was illusory, mistaken. This world that you and I are here experiencing in pain through time, on the plane of consciousness of the ji hokkai, is, on the plane of consciousness of ri hokkai, nirvanic bliss; and all that is required is that we should alter the focus of our seeing and experiencing.

“But is that not exactly what the Buddha taught and promised, some twenty-five centuries ago? Extinguish egoism, with its desires and fears, and Nirvana is immediately ours! We are already there, if we but knew. This whole broad earth is the ferryboat, already floating at dock in infinite space; and everybody is on it, just as he is, already at home. That is the fact that may suddenly hit one, as “sudden illumination.”

45 minutes later we lift off. We pass over an extraordinary range of mountain peaks, high, jagged, capped with snow.

What are they? I want to know the names of these peaks and islands farther on. I listen carefully to the steward's announcements over the loud speaker. He sounds like Peter Sellers playing a role in which he’s messing around with the passengers by speaking French that’s too rapid and muffled to hear, English that’s even worse, with an atrocious accent added to the mix.  I glance over at a Frenchman to our left. He shrugs, hands up.

 

 

I’ll ask a flight attendant. I take the flight magazine’s map of Europe to the back of the plane, ask the attendant in French if he would mind marking our path on the map. He’ll ask the pilot, he says.

“Do you know which island we just passed over?”

“Grow a sea.”

“Could you please repeat that?”

“Grow a sea.”

“What is the word in English?”

“I’m not sure. Grow AH sea?”

Back in my seat, I turn the word over in my mind. Surely I know this island. I’ve traveled this part of Europe and the Mediterranean before. Sudden illumination—Croatia! Maybe it’s the island of Zlarin, from which Richard’s paternal ancestors came, six generations ago.

The flight of three and a half hours seems swift. Just before we disembark, the flight attendant brings me the map, with an arrow passing from Paris south to the Adriatic Sea between Italy and Croatia, and down to Crete.

 


Everyone cheers as we land. The majority of passengers seem amazed that we made it.

At Nikos Kazantzakis Airport in Iraklion, we wait at Carousel Three for our bags. Mine arrives at last. Richard’s doesn’t.

 

 

We file a claim at the Transavia Airlines office. The agent, a dark-haired woman in her 30s, seems entirely relaxed. Much too relaxed, as if this happens all the time. Or is this just the Cretan manner, I remember now, no tension, no worry?

Our taxi driver finds us, shows us the sign with Richard’s name. His name is Constantine, he’d waited an hour outside, was worried.

“Does this happen often?” I ask the agent.

“Once in a while,” she says, as if, yes, bags do wander off to Switzerland or Sweden or right into someone’s home in Iraklion.

“Is there much theft of bags here?” She doesn’t seem to understand.

“Is it likely we’ll get the bag back?”

“Oh yes, probably by tomorrow night. We’ll send it to your hotel.”

 


Constantine has bottles of water waiting in his shiny black Mercedes taxi. He drives fast and expertly along the coast from Iraklion to the Mirabello Hotel. I ask him if he grew up on Crete. Yes, he did, in Aghios Nikolaos.

“And do you like living there?”

“Yes. But the Germans ruined our economy. The Euro austerity is hurting everyone.”

Richard asks him if we might stop at a market before arriving at the hotel. It is late, past 9:30.

Constantine calls the market, asks them to stay open for us, and they do. (Now here is one advantage of living in a small town.) The market is open all along its front, packed with racks of T-shirts, boogie boards, sunglasses, tanning lotions, and directly across from the hotel. This shocking hotel—how greatly it has changed since our honeymoon and marriage here in 1997!

 


A smiling golden-skinned Cretan woman greets us shyly at the entrance to the market.

Another older woman, radiant, benevolent, welcomes us from behind the cash register. 

We find oranges, bananas, plums, Greek yogurt, walnuts, almonds, rosemary and olive leaf crackers, and six-packs of our two kinds of water, bubbly and plain. Pay and get into the cab with our bags to drive across the street.

The Mirabello Hotel, an earthy, funky, intimate place to stay right on the Cretan Sea. We’d stayed in a bungalow here to rest after a five-week honeymoon all over Europe. We’d had the vision here of how to shape our marriage vows right before the celebration with family and friends at Elounda Beach.

 


Only now! Now it is a mega-hotel, glossy, glassy, mammoth and utterly changed. In the lobby, deafening drums, the blasting sounds of disco. Huge sweep of marble counters, bare hard floor. The hotel clerk, a grim but efficient young Russian woman. We sign in and are immediately charged for ten days upfront.

We’re taken to the “village” across the street. The stone paths and planting remind us of Enchantment in Arizona; the white-washed bungalows, of Mykonos. The room opens onto a private patio and the sea, a net of jewels spread out in the town across the bay. 

Richard has told them we’d been married here, were returning to renew our vows. On the table is an array of fruit—watermelon! pineapple!—and a bottle of champagne on ice. Rose petals are strewn across the pale blue coverlet. Rose petals float in the bathtub and across the counter and sink. Ah, this blissful world!