Happy Halloween

Susan Hill — Howard's End Is On The Landing

I wanted to repossess my books, to explore what I had accumulated over a lifetime of reading, and to map this house of many volumes. There are enough here to divert, instruct, entertain, amaze, amuse, edify, improve, enrich me for far longer than a year and every one of them deserve to be taken down and dusted off, opened and read. A book which is left on a shelf is a dead thing but it is also a chrysalis, an inanimate object packed with the potential to burst into new life. Wandering through the house that day looking for one elusive book, my eyes were opened to how much of that life was stored here neglected or ignored.

The start of the journey also coincided with my decision to curtail my use of the internet, which can have an insidious, corrosive effect. Too much internet usage fragments the brain and dissipates concentration so that after a while, one's ability to spend long, focused hours immersed in a single subject becomes blunted. Information comes pre-digested in small pieces, one grazes on endless ready-meals and snacks of the mind, and the result is mental malnutrition...

Rationing it strictly gave me back more than time. Within a few days my attention span increased again, my butterfly-brain settled down and I was able to spend longer periods concentrating on single topics... It was like diving into a deep, cool ocean after flitting about in the shallows.
Fast reading of a great novel will get us the plot. It will get us names, a shadowy idea of characters, a sketch of settings. It will not get us subtleties, small differentiations, depth of emotion and observation, multilayered human experience, the appreciation of simile and metaphor, any sense of context, any comparison with other novels, other writers. Fast reading will not get us cadence and complexities of style and language. It will not get us anything that enters not just the conscious mind but also the unconscious. It will not allow the book to burrow down into our memory and become part of ourselves, the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom and vicarious experience which helps to form us as complete human beings. It will not develop our awareness or add to the sum of our knowledge and intelligence....do not insult yourself or a book which has been created with its author's painstakingly acquired skill and effort by seeing how fast you can dispose of it.

Bachelorette Party

Fiona Arrives

I'm surprised at how happy this has made me. I'm suddenly realizing I've gone more than 10 years without living with an animal. Never again! I feel like I got my daemon back! Side Note: She does not like garbage trucks.

Anaïs Nin — A Spy in the House of Love

This one goes out to all my night owls:
At sixteen Sabina took moon-baths, first of all because everyone else took sun-baths, and second, she admitted, because she was told it was dangerous. The effect of moon-baths was unknown, but it was intimated that it might be the opposite of the sun's effect.

The first time she exposed herself she was frightened. What would the consequences be? There were many taboos against gazing at the moon, many old legends about the evil effects of falling asleep in moonlight. She knew that the insane found the full moon acutely disturbing, that some of them regressed to animal habits of howling at the moon. She knew that in astrology the moon ruled the night life of the unconscious, invisible to consciousness.

But then she had always preferred the night to the day.

Moonlight fell directly over her bed in the summer. She lay naked in it for hours before falling asleep, wondering what its rays would do to her skin, her hair, her eyes, and then deeper, to her feelings.

By this ritual it seemed to her that her skin acquired a different glow, a night glow, an artificial luminousness which showed its fullest effulgence only at night, in artificial light. People noticed it and asked her what was happening. Some suggested she was using drugs.

It accentuated her love of mystery. She meditated on this planet which kept a half of itself in darkness. She felt related to it because it was the planet of lovers. Her attraction for it, her desire to bathe in its rays, explained her repulsion for home, husband and children. She began to imagine she knew the life which took place on the moon. Homeless, childless, free lovers, not even tied to each other.

The moon-baths crystallized many of Sabina's desires and orientations. Up to that moment she had only experienced a simple rebellion against the lives that surrounded her, but now she began to see the forms and colors of other lives, realms much deeper and stranger and remote to be discovered, and that her denial of ordinary life had a purpose: to send her off like a rocket into other forms of existence. Rebellion was merely the electric friction accumulating a charge of power that would launch her into space.

She understood why it angered her when people spoke of life as One life. She became certain of myriad lives within herself. Her sense of time altered. She felt acutely and with grief, the shortness of life's physical span. Death was terrifyingly near, and the journey towards it, vertiginous; but only when she considered the lives around her, accepting their time tables, clocks, measurements. Everything they did constricted time. They spoke of one birth, one childhood, one adolescence, one romance, one marriage, one maturity, one aging, one death, and then transmitted the monotonous cycle to their children. But Sabina, activated by the moonrays, felt germinating in her the power to extend time in the ramifications of a myriad of lives and loves, to expand the journey to infinity, taking immense and luxurious detours as the courtesan depositor of multiple desires. The seeds of many lives, places, of many women in herself were fecundated by moonrays because they came from that limitless night life which we usually perceive only in our dreams, containing roots reaching for all the magnificences of the past, transmitting the rich sediments into the present, projecting them into the future.

In watching the moon she acquired the certainty of the expansion of time by depth and emotion, range and infinite multiplicity of experience.

It was this flame which began to burn in her, in her eyes and skin, like a secret fever, and her mother looked at her and said: "You look like a consumptive." The flame of accelerated living by fever glowed in her and drew people to her as the lights of night life drew passerby out of the darkness of empty streets.

When she did finally fall asleep it was the restless sleep of the night watchman continuously aware of danger and of the treacheries of time seeking to cheat her by permitting clocks to strike the passing hours when she was not awake to grasp their contents.
There is no bleaker moment in the life of the city than that one which crosses the boundary lines between those who have not slept all night and those who are going to work. It was for Sabina as if two races of men and women lived on earth, the night people and the day people, never meeting face to face except at this moment. Whatever Sabina had worn which seemed to glitter during the night, lost its colors in the dawn. The determined expressions of those going to work appeared to her like a reproach. Her fatigue was not like theirs.

J. R. R. Tolkien — The Lord of the Rings

Upon closing the book I was immediately depressed it was over.
Sam struggled with his own weariness, and he took Frodo's hand; and there he sat silent till deep night fell. Then at last, to keep himself awake, he crawled from the hiding-place and looked out. The land seemed full of creaking and cracking and sly noises, but there was no sound of voice or of foot. Far above the Ephel Dúath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond it's reach. . . . Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master's, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo's side, and putting away all fears he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.

Boston Athenaeum

I just killed some time checking out the public galleries at the Athenaeum in Boston. It's one of the oldest and largest private libraries in the country and is gorgeous.

Among all the 18th and 19th century portraiture in their collection I came across this painting, Checkout Time at the Marlborough-Blenheim (1978) by Bradley Phillips. I was describing it to my Grandmother who used to work there and she remembered it well (although in her time it hung in the staff kitchen) and also loved it. She did not, however, ever notice that the subject is in the middle of relighting a roach!

Bonus: Among the the Athenaeum's 500,000+ collection includes a book bound in human skin!