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Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Alone and Not Alone, Each and Every One of Us

Sunshine and shadows


...Brown eyes stared back at her bleakly. A serviceable, capable person with a heart like a volcano, one that was spewing out a lava of rage and confusion and grief. Oh, no one would ever guess it. Her customers would never believe her capable of such fury and desolation, the unending baffled confusion she felt…. 

-      Ellen Airgood, South of Superior


Our little reading circle, that long-standing, intrepid band that formed lo these many years ago to read James Joyce’s Ulysses together, has chosen Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! as November’s discussion group book (meeting via Zoom), so I’ve been plowing, dragging, trudging – picture a tired old mule, legs shaking with fatigue – through that depressing American classic. But last night, the night before Election Day, I needed a break, I needed comfort. And I needed to feel close to my friend, the author. So I fled, in spirit, to the U.P. before falling asleep (and waking at 3 a.m. to read some more, but that’s another story).

Toggling between the near and dear familiar and the difficult long-ago

The thing is (as another friend and I touched on earlier last night, during a phone conversation that we agreed at the beginning could not be long but which somehow kept going irresistibly once underway), we have all endured long years already of painful political and social division in our country, and on top of that came and still continue long months of pandemic restrictions and isolation. And still, on top of all the unusual, long-drawn-out, seemingly endless daily stresses of political and social strife and pandemic, the usual crises and disasters that life brings every year keep coming, too: accidents, unexpected expenses, job losses and business failures, fires, hurricanes, power outages, serious illnesses and hospitalizations and deaths – in other words, trials and losses of all kinds. Even happy events such as weddings and births cannot be celebrated as they would have been in normal times. It’s overwhelming and exhausting, the cumulative toll.


So no one is not exhausted. Which is why the long slog with Faulkner through the South, before, during, and after the Civil War, as we continue to feel nightmare reverberations today from that long-ago time, is not something I can handle nonstop.


Are Faulkner’s long sentences Proustian? One member of the reading circle thinks so, but I’m finding them very different, both in form and mood. A Faulknerian sentence, interrupting itself over and over on the way to each delayed and long-desired period, strikes me as an articulation of bottomless anger and frustration and regret and pain, while Proust’s sentences -- for me -- unfurl voluptuously in slow, bright, festooning ribbons of sensuous detail. Proust wraps a reader in long, luxurious moments, Faulkner withholds and torments. Of course, the respective content of these two brilliant writers cannot be separated from form, and the very different content undoubtedly colors my impressions….


These days many usually soft-spoken friends, feeling powerless and fearful despite their noble and tireless efforts to bring about better times for us all, express themselves privately in loud expletives. One dear friend, overcome by spells of panic that come without warning, bursts into uncontrollable sobs as we speak on the phone. Another loved one sadly expresses the feeling that he is alone in the world. Anger, panic, loneliness. Fear and sadness. Rage, confusion, grief, fury, desolation. Exhaustion.


Do I exaggerate? The basic condition of aloneness – that each of us is born alone, suffers alone, and dies alone – a truth that active, busy people generally manage to keep in the background of consciousness, is in our faces every day now. Giving up is not an option, however, and so we seek calm and comfort in prayer and meditation, long walks outdoors, playtime with children and pets, happy memories and current domestic joys, making art or baking pies -- and calling, texting, writing, making and maintaining connections, that is, to each other and to the precious ordinariness of life. Because joy is, we remind ourselves, as true as pain, loving connection as true as social isolation, every moment of life a precious gift not to be squandered.

Making connections

As Airgood’s character Madeline Stone realized about the U.P., life is “all mixed up, beautiful and bleak, both.” 


Will my friend Ellen be taken aback to find herself in company here with Marcel Proust and William Faulkner? Love you, Ellen and Rick!


I want to send a special “Hello and thank you!” to Margie Burns, also, up in Marquette, whose cheery note in the mail yesterday was such a lovely surprise. Warmest greetings to you and Jackie and all the members of your book club, Margie! I remember your visit to Dog Ears and am touched that you continue to follow my bookstore and life vicariously via this blog – and that you wrote to tell me so is a special gift.


In closing, on this long-awaited Election Day 2020: Better off than four years ago? Hardly! But not giving up, either, not by a long shot, whatever the results! It’s time to call on all our sisu and keep calling on it, daily, one day at a time, the only way life can ever be lived. That is today’s Upper Peninsula lesson, no less applicable here below the Bridge or in any other part of the world.


This tree has sisu!

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