Wordless Week

My mother likes to tell people that she cannot remember when I learned to talk because it seems like I have always been talking. Others — my notably silent husband included — would agree.

Blogging has been a great place to locate all that chatting energy. Not just in the posts, but in the conversations that occur in the comments. But lately, I haven’t really felt like talking. I don’t think this is permanent –it’s not as though nothing is happening to me. I’m still reading and writing and working and parenting and cooking and hiking and finding out things I never knew before.

So here’s my plan to ease myself back into chattiness — I thought I’d list the six things I haven’t written about, things about which I normally would have told you more than you could possibly want to know:

1. Our new pressure cooker. I bought a pressure cooker last week, an appliance so weird, but so incredibly useful (and, as it turns out a terribly European thing), that it cries out for appreciation, for some sort of paean to the wonders of this sort of kitchen efficiency that, unlike the microwave, doesn’t ruin your food, but improves it. I did cook in it by the way — two vegetables, because I haven’t had a chance to consider the issue of meat. The broccoli cooked in about four minutes; the brussels sprouts in four and a half. Now that’s not a huge improvement over the normal cooking time for broccoli, but I will tell you here and now that the brussels sprouts were FABULOUS. I don’t really like that vegetable, but they were cooked in some sort of stock and thyme mixture and then a little butter and flour was mixed in afterwards and they were amazing. I’ll get back to you on the meat.

2. Erotic prose. I’ve been thinking about this particular topic a lot lately, as I’ve been warming up, so to speak, for the next novel I write which is about, among other things, sex. The trouble is that I don’t want to — and in fact cannot — write very good erotic prose. But this weekend, I wrote a short story that represented a huge breakthrough in this area. It was both funny and sexy, like the best sexual encounters. If I had time I would write about Lawrence and Joyce, and Anais Nin and Henry Miller, and how not to write a sex scene. And maybe I still will.

3. Jeeves and Wooster. We’ve been watching the BBC series, the one with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, and we love them both. We love how stupid Bertie’s friends are, how good humored he is, and how magically Jeeves sets things to rights. We also like how Jeeves keeps Bertie’s wardrobe miscues under control. Are the books as good as the series? We’re going to have to find out.

4. Colm Toibin’s Mothers and Sons. I’ve only read the first story, but I can already tell that this is a harrowing, beautifully written, wonderful book. I heard him read one of these stories at Stanford a few months ago, a story about a boy whose mother was a famous singer, and had abandoned him (or so he was told) when he was a baby. It’s the sort of story that makes you wish you were alone in the room so you could cry and not bother the people around you. By the way, his name is pronounced like this: “Call-um, Toebean”  — I think)

5. Spring. Asparagus. Strawberries. April Showers. Lemons.

6. T.S. Eliot’s Preludes, and why I loved this poem when I was in my twenties. (Because it was so wonderfully grim, and so romantic — that part about the “infinitely gentle/infinitely suffering thing” particularly) It is here, if you are interested:
I

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimneypots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.

II

The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.

With the other masquerades
That times resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.
III

You tossed a blanket from the bed
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.
IV
His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

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31 thoughts on “Wordless Week

  1. Hey Sis,
    Even your “banker from Lloyds” once noted…”there will be time”–I enjoy your blog, even when you don’t claim to write. I remember when we were in college and you told me (or better put–explained to me) the beauty of J. Alfred Prufrock–you have a way of seeing the beauty in things. It is a gift to share. There will be time to write.
    Tom

  2. Lovely post, Bloglily! So much in it; I love the Eliot, thanks for sharing. “Wonderfully grim” is a perfect description.
    Colm Toibin (now that I know how to say his name properly) – I want to read this! Look forward to more on it from you.
    Jeeves & Wooster, yes the books are as good as the series, but you will never again be able to imagine anyone but Fry and Laurie in the roles.
    Pressure cookers – I looooove mine, use it all the time, but I am vegetarian so can’t comment on the meat thing. Any veg main courses though, and I’m there 🙂 Glad you’ve been converted to the most amazing kitchen appliance ever…

  3. Colm Toibin was at Stanford, and I didn’t know :(.

    Are you referring to the Jeeves and Wooster BBC series that PBS/KTEH/KQED is airing currently? It is hilarious. That whole comedy collection (As Time Goes By, Keeping Up Appearances, A Bit of Fry and Laurie) is such a welcome breath of fresh air. Thank heaven for PBS. It happens to be the only channel I am watching these days.

    The Jeeves and Wooster books are every bit as good as the series, or a more causally correct statement would be: the series is every bit as good as the books. 🙂

  4. Hello Tom, That’s so nice. You are just a marvelous brother, having such a good memory of good things.

    Melanie, I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear that other people use these things too. I’m having a lot of fun thinking about what I’m going to put in ours. I have Lorna Sass’s book on vegetarian cooking and think I might stick with that. Why go in the direction of meat when there are so many great sounding vegetable soups and stews?

    Hello dear Polaris — There’s been a whole series of readings at Stanford in some building that has a funny name. I’ll look it up and email you the details. I also saw Ian McEwan there a few months after Toibin (there’s some puncutation in his first and last names that I had to leave out, not knowing how to put it in), and he was also wonderful. And after I wrote this I realized that OF COURSE the books are great — I love PG Wodehouse. I just haven’t ever read the Jeeves books. (We’ve been getting them on netflix. I didn’t know they were also on PBS).

  5. My mother got a pressure cooker when I was fourteen, and there ensued a year in which everything we ate was pressure-cooked. It was a tender year, a succulent year, a most edible year. Then she went macrobiotic and we endured a year of hungry nostalgia for the pressure cooker.

  6. Bloglily, you inspire me. I was just thinking a few minutes ago how I don’t have time to write & when I do I can’t seem to spit out any words. I almost posted to my blog a “So long; farewell. Maybe I’ll write again some day” entry. I think it would be an amputation of sorts if I did. Your little post has inspired me to keep thinking that I will eventually get back into writing and channel my chatting energy back into my blog.

    Pressure cooker + Beets = Delicious! The only way to cook beets!

    My favorite pressure cooker meat recipe — which I haven’t made in years — is sliced potatoes, sliced onions, pork chops (beef, or lamb shank could work too if you don’t eat pork), seasoning of your choice, a small amount of water. Cook at full pressure for 5 minutes. Yummy!

  7. Cam, I know, I had a similar thought. Don’t do it, baby! As for your meat recipe, mmmmm, is all I can say.

    Hello Dark Orpheus, I think it must be a poem that was particularly meaningful during a time when the world seemed harsh and cold, but also terribly beautiful. Having left both that time and Eliot behind, I’m glad to have been able to recover it.

    Oh Tai, A tender year, a succulent year! I am so sorry about the fall from edible grace.

  8. I love Wodehouse’s Jeeves books. And there’s a TV series? With Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie? Joy! And it’s in the library!

    *puts Season 1 on hold*

  9. I’ve always loved that Eliot poem. I can read it sober or read it drunk. The rhythm and rhymes are astonishing and mesmerizing, and if I am sober before reading it, I will be drunk after. In another, dreamy world. On the infinitely gentle and suffering thing, I wonder if Eliot ever got beyond his obsession with Christianity (well, no, of course) and might have had a whiff of Buddhism to find a way to remove himself from himself (self-observation) in order to escape suffering. I’m not enough of a student of Eliot to know whether he got into that. Thanks for tossing his writing magic and your own romantic revelations into the cooker. I hope you can share more of your recent writing.

  10. I quite understand that “wordless” feeling. I’ve been having some blog ennui myself lately.

    My husband is a huge PG Wodehouse fan, so he owns all the Jeeves books and the DVDs of that series. Fry and Laurie are perfect as Bertie and Jeeves.

    As for the erotic writing, I’d like to join the BlogLily course if I may. My novel came to a grinding halt round about a sex scene, because I suddenly got all self-conscious. I’ve read some Anais Nin and Henry Miller, and would love to get involved in a conversation (some words!) about what makes a good sex scene.

  11. Glad to see you back posting again. Just wondered what it means that the pressure cooker is a terribly European thing?! Being from Denmark, Europe I am just curious what that means coming from an American. By the way – love your blog and to hear of life in America.

  12. Yay! I am delighted to hear you are moving into erotic writing, dear BL. I would so much rather have read you when I was doing the academic book, than the dozens of depressing and masochistic French people I was lumbered with. This is such a lovely post – after all, I think that buying pressure cookers, writing erotically and watching Jeeves and Wooster must cover the whole gamut of human emotion, no?

  13. Oh yes, Jeeves and Wooster, I’ve got the series as well. I will never again be able to see any other actors in those roles, Fry and Laurie are just perfect (like Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, born to the part). And I agree with my fellow commentators: the books are just as good.

  14. The real challenge is to be able to combine all these wonderful but diverse topics in one post! Eating spring asparagus cooked in a pressure cooker while reading TS Eliot’s erotic prose, anyone? Thank you for making me laugh on my lunch break! Btw, there is a British literary prize for the worst sex scene in a novel!

  15. What a delightful post full of wonders and wonderful things. Reading your blog always leaves me feeling in love with Life again and reminds me of the thousand and one beauties all around me in my own here-and-now.

    Once during a bit of stormy weather, I read 11 volumes of P.G.Wodehouse in Folio Society editions. The combination of the writing, humor, and the beautiful books themselves gave me a lift that I swear continues to this day though five years have passed.

    I enjoyed Tobin’s book The Master, about Henry James, and you’ve inspired me to order Mothers and Sons. Thank you!

    And best wishes with your novel…

  16. I loved how you wove the topics of pressure cooker and erotic prose into one post.

    And I can’t believe how casually you tossed out that you’re working on your “next” novel!

  17. Hello dear LK — I still have to edit that first one, though. The trouble is I’m can’t FIND it all on my computer to print it out and shape it up a bit before sending it out. So, I’m warming up for the next, which is infinitely more fun. I love thinking about the next thing, the next place, the next characters. Yes, on one hand the pressure cooker — on the other erotic prose.

    TBM — I think it is going to be a great spring. Wishing you the same, xo

    Del, that’s such a great story. Eleven volumes of Wodehouse would change one’s life completely, I think. I might try that myself, after I finish the Toibin. (I might have to, actually.)

    I’m going to have to investigate those bad sex scenes, Smithereens. They sound very amusing. As for the quilt you’ve made of these various things, I’d say anything done while eating asparagus is bound to be worthwhile.

    Edwin, I’m so glad to hear that — you have the best taste in funny things.

    Dear litlove, I think the gamut of human emotion is probably run when the pressure cooker explodes at a particularly delicate romantic moment! How’s that? As for the depressing and masochistic French, I am looking forward to doing a little literature review in preparation for my own excursion into this area.

    Hello Jane — We have a lovely French friend (not in the least depressing and masochistic) who uses his pressure cooker all the time to great effect. And I have heard that in India (not European, I know, but still….) many people own them. So that’s my survey of the field, along with the fact that I don’t know a single American who owns one. I’m not sure why this is. They’re fabulous appliances: efficient things that produce tasty meals. I think it might not be a bad idea to have several, in different sizes.

    Charlotte — I can see that my next post will either have to be about sex or pressure cooking, or both. I do know what you mean. I have written about sex before but have never thought it really worked out that well. I remember reading Lawrence in college and thinking, ewwww. But there is much more to be said about that now.

    Hello Smokey, Thank you for this encouraging comment — and it’s so nice to know there are others who’ve felt the Eliot effect.

    Hi Cee — Yes! Yes indeed! I love the library.

  18. I’m afraid my childhood experiences with pressure cookers mean they’ll never make it past our door – imagine sprouts cooked for FIFTEEN MINUTES!
    Wodehouse – now that’s someone I should definitely investigate one of these days. Broccoli remains a fave veg of ours, especially on red and brown rice with a chili/soy/sesame/olive oil dressing. Staple diet during a heavy work week!

  19. Oh my, U-Dad. That is deeeesgusting, as we say around here. After 4 and a half minutes the sprouts were perfect: green, a little crisp, and perfumed with thyme and a lovely stock-y goodness. Yes, the Wodehouse is worth investigating. I love it that Del read all those volumes and it made her happy for many months. Care to share that chili/soy/sesame/olive oil dressing? It sounds really good.

  20. Once, when I was going through a similar spell where I felt disinclined to talk or write, my spiritual director suggested to me that the Spirit or my subconscious or both was telling me that I needed to be silent for a while. It’s was hard to do with kids, a marriage, and a job, but I found a few hours of space for it and was silent. I just stared into space, and it was palliative. Since then I’ve turned to silence quite a lot, and I think it has helped me.

    You’ve gotten me thinking about pressure cookers. My childhood memory of pressure cookers has to do with canning. My grandma would come down from Oregon with a pressure cooker and a trunk full of mason jars. We’d go the neighbor’s apple orchard and my brothers and I would climb the trees, and then we’d can apple sauce in the pressure cooker. I think that’s all I’ve ever eaten out of a pressure cooker.

    My most recent adventure with retro cookware has been a savory roaster. One was unearthed in the church kitchen, and church ladies didn’t want it in their domain, so I took it home and cleaned it up. It makes wonderfully moist roasted chicken. I’ll have to see if there’s an unwanted pressure cooker in the church kitchen!

  21. It was funny that you posted about Eliot this week, as I’m getting ready to teach him to my first year students. We’re looking at The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock as it’s my favourite poem. I was wondering if you had come across Wendy Cope’s Waste Land Limiricks? They are so clever and so funny. The first verse is: In April one seldom feels cheerful;/ Dry stones, sun and dust make me fearful;/ Clairvoyants distress me,/ Commuters depress me -/ Met Stetson and gave him an earful. Well worth checking out! It’s in her collection Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis.

  22. I loved some poems we read in school by D.H. Lawrence so I decided to pick up one of his books. I choose Lady Chatterley’s Lover, completely unaware of its salacious content and past (banned in both the US and England), because it had a great graphic-novellike cover with the original text inside. I’m in the midst of it right now, so your mention of Lawrence and erotic prose is so fitting – you mentioned writing more about that and I’m sure it would be interesting to read alongside the novel. It’s practically comic, now, the idea of a Lady and her gameskeeper, and often comes off as a cliched romance novel – until I realize he created the cliche of which he writes. But it’s also romantic and beautiful and fun to see how Lawrence tries (successfully? unsuccessfully? I’m not sure yet) to write from the mind of a woman.

  23. Amy, Anybody who names a book “Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis” is my kind of person. I’ll check it out. How fun is that to get to teach your favorite poem to impressionables. Go Amy!

    Hello Ben, I love that word: palliative. It is good to just let yourself be quiet for a while. Your grandmother’s apple sauce is precisely the sort of thing that should be made every year in her honor and to keep alive the connection between generations. Pressure cookers used to be quite dangerous (or at least unpredictable) and everyone I’ve spoken to who remembers them from childhood remembers them chiefly as the source of that exciting evening when the spaghetti sauced ended up on the ceiling. I love it that your church’s kitchen has treasures like that in it. And the church ladies really need to be talked about more. They sound formidable.

    Darling Ella, You have such a sound approach to literature! I remember Lawrence’s women were sort of earthen, when he seemed to want them to be earthy, but I do think men can write about women’s sexuality quite well — as can women. I know there’s some feeling abroad that men don’t do women well, but I don’t know if I agree with that. I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

  24. Nive to see you back Bloglily. I loved the Eliot poem. I’ve just finished reading a proof copy of a novel due out here in the UK in July and it ends quoting Eliot. I’m feeling that I must go back and read him again. It’s ages since I did.

    On the subject of pressure cookers – if you’re a fish eater it’s a wonderful way of cooking delicate fillets.

  25. What a marvelous collection of things to give pleasure. I know Eliot is a cantankerous, slightly anti-semitic old curmudgeon but he wrote some truly beautiful poetry in his time. Preludes, Love Song, and Portrait of a Lady are largely responsible for hustling me out of public school and into a B.A. in modern literature, which I am in the process of following up with a few more degrees in the same. I’ve since branched out, but I still love to read those poems out loud.

    Good luck on your erotic prose writing exercises, and I actually hope you post some of the product. It can be very difficult to write about sex! I don’t want to be overly sentimental and precious, so in overcorrection I tend to be too cynical. But unless it’s in parody, I think I am the most offended by clinical, antiseptic prose that tries to pass itself off as erotic–like this truly awful section from a pretty terrible book, The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis.
    “At last, he mounted me, and inserted himself; prepared, I felt no pain, only enjoyment, and once he had emptied himself in me, he took care afterwards to bring me pleasure as well. I so delighted in the act. . .” etc.
    Well, on second thought, maybe that’s funny. : )

  26. Oh Sara, that is a remarkable piece of writing. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to get rid of it anytime soon. It’s like something that was put in the pressure cooker for way, way too long. It’s the “he took care afterwards” that particularly impressed me. Usually, the thing you do when you take care afterwards is to wash your hands.

    And I’m so glad to see you here. I love your “heard in Philly” series — and see there are many more wonderful things on your blog to check out. As for that piece of prose I wrote the other day, I will indeed be posting my favorite part. And then some examples of things like The Borgia Bride — although I think maybe I’ll just repost what you’ve provided.

    Hi Ann — Thank you for the tip about the fish. I wasn’t sure how that would work out and am now inspired to try. I’ll be interested to hear how Eliot holds up on re-reading.

  27. BL: I had never heard of Wendy Cope before last summer when Litlove made a comment about a poem I posted on my blog. Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis was the first poem of Cope’s I came across. Do check out Cope!

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