excuse me a minute while i navel gaze

 
While I don’t completely love the fact that our tidy new bookshelves hold considerably fewer books than our old disorganized disaster, I’m enjoying the eclectic reading it’s allowing as I do a very careful scan of every volume before chucking on the Keep, Toss or Not Sure pile. This weekend included a few memoirs, one by May Sarton—Recovering—about the writing life, solitude, loss, the need for occasional navel gazing, and ultimately getting back in gear. Written in 1980 when Sarton was in her late sixties, it smacks of a gentler time in some ways, yet, at the root of things, not that much has changed. We still thrash about when it comes to ‘the writing life’, still need solitude—maybe more than ever—still need to limit the navel gazing and find ways of getting back to work, no matter what. Because that’s what the whole shebang is about, n’est pas?  

Another was an obscure book of tiny essays, observations mostly, some letters, reminiscences, Creative Living, by someone I’ve never heard of, Doris Henderson. I didn’t mean to read every word, but before I knew it, I had. Born in 1900, she writes about her involvement with the Esperanto movement in 1961; she remembers the first world war, the second…

While the people of all lands had been relaxing from [WWI] and drugging themselves with the uncomfortable belief that another war would be unthinkable, their military establishments had been increasing the quantity and efficiency of their arms, with great financial profits to all concerned.”

… the Korean.

She writes about the privileges of being a British woman in China in 1920 and how that made her both grateful and uncomfortable. About the shock of racism in 1950’s Louisiana and how in 1965, she and her husband were in Wales and on a whim decided to drop in on Bertrand Russell, someone they admired but didn’t know from Adam.

“When we knocked on the door of his home, a grandchild came and invited us in. After we told the child we were from Canada and hoped Lord Russel could spare us five or ten minutes of his time for a brief visit, Bertrand Russell greeted us and invited us into his office.”

Okay. Some things have changed.

One of my favourite bits is from 1970 when she found hippies camping on her property and instead of shooing them away she tried to understand their philosophies and in the process began a long friendship and correspondence with one of them, a young woman named Gail, who wrote: “…This is one of my reasons for my optimistic outlook for my generation. We may appear to be rebels, but we are not rebelling against the basic philosophies of religion and the Good and Right. We are rebelling against [the hypocrisy of nationalism] that can rationalize war, capitalistic Americans who can rationalize exploitation, and religious loyalists who can rationalize bigotry and prejudice.”

—and signed off with Love and Peace.

Then again, some things don’t change…

I also found a thin volume titled Mark Twain: By The Riverside, which contains many of his bon mots, short essays, pictures of Hannibal, Missouri, and something called a Mental Photograph Album, a short questionnaire, sent to him by an unnamed New York publisher. Am thinking of making it my xmas card this year, sending it to friends with a return envelope. (You know who you are and you’ve been warned.)

For now, I thought I’d include it here—and then follow it with my own answers. Which is where the navel gazing really begins.

~

Mr. Twain’s—

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE TREE?

Any that bears forbidden fruit.

FAVOURITE GEM?

The Jack of Diamonds, when it is trump.

WHAT IS YOUR IDEA OF HAPPINESS?

Finding the buttons all on.

WHAT DO YOU MOST DREAD?

Exposure.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE TO BE YOUR DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTIC?

Hunger.

WHAT ARE THE SADDEST WORDS IN THE WORD?

“Dust unto dust.”

WHAT ARE THE SWEETEST?

Not guilty.

WHAT IS YOUR AIM IN LIFE?

To endeavour to be absent when my time comes.

WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO?

Be virtuous and you will be eccentric.

~

And mine—

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE TREE?

Pear. Have spent many happy hours in one (some years ago now).

FAVOURITE GEM?

Beach glass.

WHAT IS YOUR IDEA OF HAPPINESS?

Radish sandwiches in a cabin in the rain.

WHAT DO YOU MOST DREAD?

Running out of garlic.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE TO BE YOUR DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTIC?

A combination of something naive, earnest and skeptical.

WHAT ARE THE SADDEST WORDS IN THE WORD?

I hate.

WHAT ARE THE SWEETEST?

Hello you.

WHAT IS YOUR AIM IN LIFE?

To finish all those projects.

WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO?

Remember to say thank you.

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5 thoughts on “excuse me a minute while i navel gaze

  1. Did those books you quoted end up in the “keep” pile?

    Good answers from Mr. Twain and yourself. Thought I’d do the questionnaire too.

    WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE TREE?

    The one Thelma planted when we first moved to Foxley River.

    FAVOURITE GEM?

    Amber

    WHAT IS YOUR IDEA OF HAPPINESS?

    Dim sum pizza on a Montreal bagel.

    WHAT DO YOU MOST DREAD?

    Ad-libbing.

    WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE TO BE YOUR DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTIC?

    Healthy skepticism.

    WHAT ARE THE SADDEST WORDS IN THE WORD?

    All gone.

    WHAT ARE THE SWEETEST?

    Good morning.

    WHAT IS YOUR AIM IN LIFE?

    To keep it real.

    WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO?

    Writing will get you through times of no luck better than luck will get you through times of no writing.

  2. Dim sum pizza on a Montreal bagel?? Can’t even picture it. And I’m trying! (Thelma’s invention?)

    Thanks for doing the quiz. You saved me sending you one. ;)

    Great motto, and… “To keep it real.” Amen to that.

  3. Oh, and yeah, both books are keepers. I make slow progress in this endeavour… (correction: I’m setting the Twain free)

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