14 September 2002
It is still the artists that matter, those who do what it takes to be
White melancholy, Logan said. He wrote in sympathy.
I was at a conference that interested me. There
were several older women, distinguished and accomplished. I saw that for
their public appearances they were wearing beautiful makeup, smooth turquoise
and purple mottling like markings on a lizard.
The scent of nasturtiums.
In his thirties, my father was very beautiful. He was beautiful of form
and of face. There was a fineness in the quality of his beauty, something
taut and proud. He had a high-bridged nose, a long slope from cheekbone
to jaw, and a conscious mouth. His hands were the most beautiful I have
Among the Mennonites beauty is not mentioned. Its power is thus denied
but increases in secret. I didn't wonder whether anyone else felt it. Beauty
in humans was my painful pleasure. Beauty elsewhere was pleasure without
I taught myself not to love my father because I saw that he would not
love me back. He was vicious, wrathful, spiteful, malicious. Self-absorbed.
His attitude toward women he saw in public was angry or casual lust, arrogant
I am struggling for a version of what really happened in the seven-year
story of Tom. It is as if there are parallel lines of true story.
In one a predatory man who has driven his luck farther than it will reach
catches sight of a lame woman who will have a vulnerability he can use.
He succeeds in capturing her, lies to her, says anything he thinks she will
want to hear. There are many inconsistencies but he finesses them. She is
kept near enough to hope so she continues as long as he needs her. When
he is in the clear he stops making an effort and has no more time for her.
He dumps her. This story is a story of ruthless betrayal.
In another story that woman is working carefully among the inconsistencies
of his story and her own, and is made able to guide them both in a slow
process of deeper rescue than the man had had in mind. This story is a story
of spiritual bravery.
There is sand in my bed. I stood yesterday afternoon looking at the waves.
The day was sunless and the air powdery. The waves were celadon green and
white, minimal. There is always the instant one waits for, when they lift
to stretched translucence before they break. The instant is always gone
as soon as it arrives.
Rereading Left hand of darkness aware sometimes that I am noticing
different things than I noticed when I was thirty-two, was it, early on
in 820A East Pender. I was interested in ambisexuality, bespeaking and sexual
tension. Now what am I interested in - Le Guin herself, what I can pick
up of what she is thinking about her own powers. She had a massive expansion
in Dispossessed and Always coming home. The photo on this
jacket, 1969, has her forty, proud, guarded, angry maybe, sitting back in
a photographer's chair with right hand gripped tight on left wrist. In the
more recent picture she is sixty, smiling, leaning forward, deeply and warmly
confident, hands loosely clasped. Fine black hair gone fine silver hair,
cut in the same neuter cap. Same full fish-mouth. Farfetching is what she
does. The fact that she fell in love with her half brother and goes on writing
from that love though she has been married to Charles Le Guin since she
was twenty-two. She is Joyce's age and Joyce's kind. Only five years younger
than my mother. In her stories incestuous lovers bear children. I'm sure
she hasn't known what she was doing, always, but she has believed her sense
of the whole.
Looking at the Creeley-Olson correspondence seeing that though they were
making and supporting something right, they were also posing and bluffing
more than my lineage has done - in the order I used them, Montgomery, de
Beauvoir, Lessing, Richardson, Le Guin, Gordimer, Woolf. Apart from de Beauvoir
they are sensory philosophers. What I believe is that I have had to learn
my resources by studying as instances women whose generations themselves
learned, at first, from men, and then found themselves building in another
way. Le Guin is my base as a philosopher. I'm seeing it more, now,
than I have.
In 1969 we weren't sure we could do what men could do. In 2002 we are
sure we can do it better, but only if we do it our way. I'll take that as
the meaning of Le Guin's relaxed shining eyes in the later picture.
The women on the train. On the afternoon of the second day, swaying through
Oregon, I listened to a woman one seat forward on the opposite side of the
aisle talk to three different women in the seat ahead of me. I heard three
versions of her story. Thirty-five years married to a hydro engineer with
a PhD, six children, a recent MA in theology it took her 8 years to get.
"I'm an empty-nester," she said three times. Mrs Pleasant. She
had a soft ingratiating voice and said not one thing all afternoon that
had any kind of bite. At the same time, although she responded 'supportively'
to anything said, she could sustain response for one sentence at most before
she went back to telling something about herself.
The longest conversation was the last, with a somewhat younger community
college councilor. They traded I sentences for hours without hearing
themselves say anything they haven't already subscribed to. The saddest
were about their dogs and cats. My dog will sit on a chair by the window
and wait for me to come home. When I'm away my dog won't sleep unless my
husband lets him under the covers on my side of the bed. My cat hugs me.
My cat will touch my face with her paw.
There had been a Chicano boy in the seat across from me all the way from
LA. I saw him at the station in San Diego. I noticed him for the ingenious
way he had taped a cardboard box to a small bag with a strap, so he could
carry them together. He was carefully dressed in immaculate white trainers,
very baggy pants low at the hip, short sleeved shirt with small checks,
white socks, white undershirt. He stayed in his seat listening to a headset,
kept his space in good order. His destination slip said TAK so I knew I'd
have to talk to him before Tacoma if at all. I'd given him the sports pages
from the USA Today I bought in Portland. His name was Gilbert. He
had grown up in Chula Vista, was going to live with his aunt to get away
from the gangs and finish senior year. He turned seventeen in September.
His mom is high up in a company that sells crystal. Her picture is on the
cover of a book about sales. She'll get him a car if he graduates.
When we were half an hour from Tacoma he excused himself, got up to go
downstairs to brush his teeth. Two hours before he had put on cologne, sprayed
his hair with something scented.
As soon as he was off the train both women ahead of me jumped up gushing.
That was a very frightened young man, you really helped him. That was wonderful,
you really drew him out. You're so nonjudgmental. I'm very judgmental, I
said. We all are, said the red lipstick smiling, smiling, smiling guidance
councilor. This went on for a bit and then something else happened. The
empty nester was standing up talking about dealing with her sons when they
were teenagers. She said she hadn't know how to handle them. She had never
talked back to her parents. You are a different generation, said the guidance
councilor supportively. I talked back to my mother once and she slapped
my face, I never did it again. The empty nester was standing by her seat
Both women were called Karen. By the time we got to Seattle Karen empty
nest was saying the meeting had been meant. "There is much more to
life than we know." In fact the meeting was veiled competition from
end to end, my conversation with Gilbert included. The shadow in America.
Karen councilor tried several times to recoup by jumping up and offering
advice on web teaching programs I could learn. She tried to break into the
conversation with Gilbert too by popping her head up and talking about community
college. She trumped poor Karen empty nest decisively at the end by giving
her some sort of professional evaluation sheet just as we were pulling into
Seattle. I found myself organizing people with baggage difficulties. Young
man - young man in the blue hat - would you help this woman carry one of
A bodies concentration, embodiment concentration? Is that where
to go instead of social action / peace and justice? Shelley wanting queer
studies, make it unusual bodies studies, way to talk about nature/culture
at the same time, integrated as structure. What is it about the social sciences
and social improvement talk that I can't stand. It's all imaginary. It's
ungrounded. Danielle wants to talk about epistemology but she means being
analytical and self-critical about knowledge systems, which is fine but
I want that more grounded too, how is knowing done?
Amtrack. In Oregon, dark at the window.
It was a day of beauty I can't describe. Wet, a grey light. Three weeks
ago this countryside was nothing special. Now, in November, the leaves were
not only colored, so that each tree and bush shows its individual shape,
but also thinned, so that it's possible to see into the whole three-dimensionality
of that shape. There were bushes a pale coral, cottonwoods that are shaped
like feathers with large loose leaves high in the tree and thicker smaller
leaves in the lower third. The most inarticulably wonderful were the willows,
passing always too quickly so I couldn't satisfy myself with seeing them.
What color is that? I couldn't tell. Can I see it now? Brown-silver, the
whole of the tree drawn in thin flexed lines of leaf brown on one side,
silver on the other
As I look into the dark from the light on the page I seem to see ghosted
the day's colored volumes, larger, smaller, high, low, shaped in luminous
Years ago when I cried in front of my father I didn't know he would one
day cry in front of me. When it was happening I could only half-feel it.
It was so unexpected. The long gaze was right, though. Simple.
Meantime, after heavy destruction of countryside in Afghanistan, bin
Laden is still sending taped messages. Bush waged that war to win seats.
It is in his interest to have bin Laden still at large, and to have new
threats uncovered every week. These are surely the worst times I've seen,
politically, in my lifetime. If better times recur, these will be seen as
infamous. Will better times recur? Will we have seen the end of the golden
age of confidence and liberality, in relation to gender, race, international
relations, sexuality, intelligence, cultivation? There's a feeling of timidity
and hopelessness in opposition - I mean I notice myself feeling that. I'm
longing for the intelligence, pragmatism and sanity of Bill and Hillary,
who also had charm enough to carry a country safely.
Writing Steve this afternoon I realized something I hadn't really understood
at the time, that my misery and isolation of the first half of the '80s
had to do with being starved out by the grasping and reactionary times,
that had no use for what I was. I've thought of it as Jam/Trudy/Rhoda, but
it was more that all of us were being sidelined out of the funded and active
places we'd had in the first half of the 70s.
Vermont, January 24 2003
It was worth being here for the moment walking toward the cafeteria from
the dorm, head down, thinking, when I looked up just at the door and saw
Danielle in her smoking spot, smiling into my eyes.
On a lesser level, worth being here for the conversation around the table
last night, Margo, Karen, Lise, Sara. We gave our motives for wanting an
embodiment concentration and in doing that laid out the range of the program.
What I can do with the program is very limited because nobody else knows
or is going to know the framework I have found. They will all go on saying
'the body' when they mean movement and certain kinds of feeling, and 'the
mind' when they mean self-repression and segregation. That is symptomatic
- 'the body' is what belongs with early love, 'the mind' what belongs with
defenses. That is, the dichotomizing manners of speaking are accurate,
and what I am about cannot be done by fixing the language.
"At once physical and made of spirit" Butala said. I would
say it differently. How the 'spirit' people should be read if we assume
we see and imagine by means of bodies. Before I went back to school in 1989
the book I wanted to write was Seeing and 'seeing', subtitled perception
and visionary knowledge. Modes of knowing that are really knowing but
use seeming to perceive.
I have done the prep for this work. Understanding mysticism. Clairvoyance,
stories of visionary wonders. Finding the stance: it can be really knowing;
it isn't evidence for the stuff it's been taken to be evidence for; it is
evidence of possibilities of human being. It's a careful balance between
credulity and closedness. Unusual sensing. Unusual knowing by means of imagining.
Childhood of a philosopher. Metaphoric knowing. The Romantics. Drugs, physical
disciplines. A feeling of pleasure and wonder at open capabilities. Recognition.
Paravisual perception, Garrett and Hayward. The specific instance - what
is seen is being seen in terms of what is seeing. 'The mythical' - something
present that sees it that way.
Reading the fall 1998 notebook, I come to the Castenada notes and immediately
feel the Tom story in a different way. The way I feel it is more accommodating
of the whole than the attitudes I normally take. It sees a story of two
large spirits battling as if in play, battling for their own amusement.
In this play Tom is more flexible, he is a spirit who likes to change. He
is in some ways cleverer because he makes me his straight giant, a stable
pillar he can whisk around. But I am in some ways larger. I am battling
him with one hand while I conduct other enterprises. Still the story seen
in this way is a story about engagement. The question of breaking it off
on this level isn't the question, as it is I want to say on the ground.
I've often started transcribing from journals. What do I get stuck on.
The journal has one tone and if I edit and fill, as I'd have to, it happens
in another less good tone. I like the journal form but it's at odds with
a story telling form. Cross-connected significance is there for me but can't
easily be set up for a reader because it needs material that doesn't fit
into the story. There are different threads of story and a best version
would be able to use them all, but they are winding-out as stories over
different rates of time. Is it that I haven't recognized what the story
really is, so I'd know what's relevant? Will there ever be a way to use
this writing? Is it a mistaken enterprise to try?
Also that showing how something happens is very long and laborious.
What I write in the journal is brief. Also the fact of writing is also part
of the story, and I treat it as if it is only telling the story.
It said: connecting the child's feeling will make it clear. You are wanting
the wrong thing in it, recognition. What you should want is to demonstrate
the subtle thing that is your unique interest. It is a story about a study.
Your question was, how much can I know. The story is about this question
in a particular time. What is characteristic of the era is the amount of
written testimony you have had to learn from. What is characteristic of
this moment of your era is the amount of written testimony specifically
by women. The subtle thing that is your unique interest is, what can be
known by women. What are the possibilities of women's intelligence. So it
is a story about observing and reading to find female intelligence. It is
a story that can only be written by a little girl who becomes a philosopher.
So I want to demonstrate what can be known - the knowing - the study
that finds it, the resources used. Is that it?
Dorothy Richardson did it already - she found the very first moment where
it could be done - the autobiography of a question - Woolf was an artist,
DR was a philosopher - is there something for me to add? - it says yes,
integration of partially lost feeling to come through.
How it was with Tom. He came in thuggish, hair cut almost to the scalp.
Came for a kiss and I backed off. I'd been writing a letter and was there
focused and remote with Japanese music of the most exquisite. Instantly
in shock from Tom's loutish self absorption. He instantly in shock from
my protests. This is unbearable, each of us saying to ourselves, I can't
stand this person.
Chaotic transition. He's my heartbreaking mean dad. I'm the oppressive
unloving woman. His voice goes on unstoppably unbearably beating my brow
with mediocre language. I go hopeless and silent, squashed into silence.
It broke two ways, separately for each. I made him laugh. I startled
him. He went young. When he stopped talking I could track the crushed feeling
at the heart. It went up to throat and forehead. Then I could feel an agony-knot
in the back. I said, Will you put your hand on that. Sobbed in two bursts,
not so much tears as spasms. Then laid my head down next to his lap. It
started to go through when I said what I was feeling, that it is harder
now to go on than it is to separate, but I'm willing. I don't see how it
can come through, I said. From that point I suppose ego gave up.
Is there more to say about it. God's grace, I want to say. Life generous
And then Tom's thuggish look became a look of naked self in balanced