September 20 1964
My home for this year is 252 Barrie Street after all, by the very lucksome
coincidence that the very night our vile Mr Hepburn decided to re-rent our
apartment, Olivia appeared with the rent money.
I am at the moment sick to death of baby sitting Olivia because she has
begun the last year's emotional horrors in exactly the same way, by breaking
up with Andy and then wishing she hadn't. Oooo I get so impatient with her
dependency on other people to baby her through her crises. So I'm going
to try the other tack now and ignore her moanings or tell her to do something
about them by herself.
Other than this, the first week back at Queen's has been - here I'm stopping
to consider what it has been - and although I was going to say pleasant,
I have shoved that particularly meaningless word back into its ragged edges
file and will say ghastly instead. Ghastly and quite often deleriously happy.
Beginnings. After I left you at Grande Prairie, I moved into the seat
beside Janeen and we talked about college, her summer in Quebec City. She
is exactly as she always was, even her funny sudden giggle and her very
lovely face. She is much less awesome now than she was, because we are in
the same worlds and my world is perhaps even a little wider now. Then the
crackling pink dawn over the bush. Then the very early coffee with Janeen
in Edmonton. (Janeen left shortly afterward with a friend who is driving
with her back to Calvin [College].) A lazy lazy day window shopping in Edmonton
and sitting in front of the city hall in the red hat ridiculously and dramatically
self-conscious, watching people coming and going.
[Then the] train.
Sunday morning, September 27
I seem unable to get a letter off to you which is of a sufficiently epic
nature to describe all that has happened in the last few days - the eight
days since I got back to Kingston. But briefly -
Olivia and I do have 252 Barrie Street apartment because she paid the
rent. We are living here now. We have a front window that opens wide over
the street onto a view of the cathedral spire, a triangular small window
set into the slanted ceiling above the stairs, my matador on the stairs
landing, two vines in flower pots, two green wine bottles on a trunk, a
row of nudes (done by Mrs Howell during her college days) ascending the
staircase, a glorious black locomotive painted by Marlene of Sunnyside,
a refrigerator that is very very empty, and a rather constant stream of
red and yellow and black and white visitors who much amaze our Hepburns.
I'm registered in English 35 American Literature from Emerson to
Frost with Whitman; French 14 - totally lectured in French, a survey
of French literature; German 2; Psychology 24, Theories of Personality,
given by a dried out whimsical old man whose smile is a jerky crooked line;
Art 1a - archeology, Classical art, Greek and Roman, where we have encouragingly
begun with maps of Crete and diagrams of the palace (2000 BC) at Knossos
where the minotaur-labyrinth myth began; Art 1b after Christmas, Medieval
Sociall-ee, International House has been our second home because we've
spent our afternoons there at the freshmen orientation coffee parties, talking
quite madly and exuberantly and flirting with many many new men. In the
evenings we have usually begun at IH and then gone for coffee, for a drive,
for a walk, or just to sit on the courthouse steps and talk.
Olivia and I are madly in love with each other. She's broken up with
Andy. We are both half in love with a nearly mad poet named le grand Dan
(Daniel Noffky) who is half in love with both of us. We're very fond of
Norm, who is also half in love with both of us, and Anne as well. To continue,
we are both also half in love with a 6'2" Irish leprechaun named Charles
and he is very fond of us. Olivia is very interested in a lean West
Indian named Rasheed. In various combinations we have been going to the
country at night and rambling, raving, acting ourselves out furiously in
the theatre of the absurd, shouting with laughter, waving at trains, running,
screaming, hugging, drinking coffee, conning freshmen into taking us to
dinner, serving coffee at International House in the daytime, sitting and
talking at night, eating spasmodically and eccentrically, sitting on windowsills,
church steps, stumps, rocks - giddily seeming to find ourselves and to become
things that we were not before. Emotionally a strenuous time. La Glace has
seemed so remote that I could not write. Even now I can't promise a letter
soon. But classes have started and we will settle into patterns. You will
hear about all this sometime.
I've never felt so free.
Kingston is beautiful.
Daniel Glen Christian Noffke is twenty-one, tall and skinny, long-haired,
cagily grey-eyed with light freckles among his beard-stubble. He has a very
wonderful face and a very strong, sensitive, twitchy personality: half mad,
half wise, partly devil and partly god. Dan is magic. He's wit, he's calculation,
he's a representative of everything a man can be, I think, intensified.
(A few densities - he describes Norm's aspirations to the top of the Canadian
political pole: "Norm is going to be Prime Mildew some day." About
God: "He's a swinger. I love him so much.")
It has been raining all afternoon, sometimes rather wearily and then
again with anger, fury even. Moods have varied today too. Living with Olivia
is a delight but is very complex - as with my relationship with sibling
Judy, there are always currents of affection, irritation, joy, giggle, and
sometimes jealousy weaving in and out among each other. She is enjoying
it too. I doubt that I could ever get along with anyone as well.
The large bell in the cathedral tower is bashing insistantly and the
entire third floor is rocking. I love this at six in the morning. Olivia
does not. It is becoming dark outside and Le Grand and Charles are here
waiting for Olivia to return so that we can go and have some supper. Olivia
very ironically is off at city park comforting Sue, who is breaking up with
her Bill. Only last week Susan was doing the same sort of baby sitting for
Ooo am I tired, the Inners had a three a.m. of it last night, acting
ridiculous in the middle of a ball field in city park. The entire evening
filled us with enough chuckles to provide us material for a very giddy morning,
and both Dan and Charles admit to chuckles themselves.
Tomorrow begins some discipline and hard work: I am glad. The two weeks
have been riotous and good for our soul, but even fun needs a great deal
of work to sharpen it, it seems unfortunately. Fortunately actually, because
I love work. Especially good this year is the intense concentration in French
class to grasp every beautifully articulated syllable bubbled forth by the
feminine and charming Madame Tonge. Ahh Olivia is here, supper.
October 4 Olivia:
"The" infinite adjective of nothing and everything, Dan
reads on the toilet. I envisage "togetherness" in a kitchen with
a difference - coffee, pink roses, homogenized milk - cow,
grass - oh, how prophetic, and 2 pens moving jerkily in a mixture
of stupidity and intelligence - tomato soup mixed with water, not
cream, if I know what I mean.
Mumbling voices in the difference and I don't want them. I want to
write nonsense or not who cares. To write quickly, smoothly, jerkily about
nothing, to get it right out and drain myself of this fantastic feeling
of nothing and everything. Coherence or not, once again, who cares? Love
or hate, once again, who cares? Who cares to infinity to extreme verbosity,
intensity, absurdity. The important thing is WHO CARES? As long as one lives
with crude pink roses and glaring lights and vodka and impossible human
feelings "the" nothing and everything is important and the same.
The extreme stupidity of writing frantically about nothing is important
and must be done, frantically. To go on, and on, and on about nothing to
infinity, a dream where love, hate, jealousy etc are sublimated and the
only important thing is to write. Don't you see it doesn't matter what comes
out whether it be homogenized milk or pink roses on the table cloth as long
as it comes quickly, spontaneously, and joyfully. So on and on and on about
nothing. God save the Queen. God save God, Prime Minister Pearson, James
Meredith, Fidel Castro and Ellie Epp and I'll go on and on and on. Me! me!
me! not the true selves but one with the terrific capacity to write joyfully
about nothing and everything. And everything is nothing. I need a cigarette.
October 6th, 11 a.m. on a Tuesday morning
I am having breakfast - a package of peanuts and a carton of milk - in
our parlour. Rain outside the window. The room is tidy now, oo you should
have seen it when I cleaned it up at one this morning.
You must be irked that I have been silent so long and I am irked as well
because I want you to be able to share university with me.
Next weekend the entire In Group is going to Toronto for the Thanksgiving
holiday. Charles is staying with le Grand Danny, I with my Eastern parents,
and Norm of course is going home. Mrs McLeod is going to plan large things
There never was and never again will be a group like the In Group friends.
Yesterday for instance Olivia and I had a wildly happy afternoon (a long
loaf of French bread with butter for lunch, coffee; wonderful). We both
felt suddenly enormously creative - and so, in our cutoffs and Queen's shirts
we ran downtown and bought some material - mine a green and Olivia's turquoise
- samples enclosed - and began to shape it into our own designed and own
crafted hostess gowns - housecoats. Then we thought of poor Norman and invited
him to come over and watch us (Anne broke up with him Sunday night and he
was smashed to the point where he called Olivia up at 3 a.m. and asked her
to come for coffee and talk to him!). After a while we called Charles too,
and Daniel appeared of his own accord. So we modeled our gowns for them
- gave them, graciously, coffee, then argued ungraciously about Hitler and
listened to their political histories as mock-parliament and mock-UN dignitaries.
Charles listens a great deal and sometimes brings in an astute comment that
surprises everyone. Eventually we became too noisy and had to move out to
a coffee place. On the way as we were standing on the street Olivia and
I had a most wonderful urge to hug everyone. And so we did. And then we
hugged each other. It wasn't completely childish exuberance. We do very
spontaneously (like the pink Quaker lady) love each other very very much,
all five. This is the first gang I've ever belonged to and it makes all
the isolation and loneliness of La Glace seem so long ago, far away, because
it is so especially and extra good. All of us understand each other perfectly,
know exactly what everyone is thinking, and have to be completely ourselves
because we would never get away with any pretensions. We are comfortably
ridiculous together and just as comfortably serious. We care very much what
happens to everyone and we know without any doubt that everyone cares just
as surely about us. It is much - I've said this before - like our sibling
relationship, Judy - mutual understanding, amusement, 'in jokes' that no
one else could possibly understand, conversations entirely in 'vague specifics.'
(One night at IH we sat and talked entirely in our own 'vague specific'
abstractions, and although we understood exactly what we were saying the
two boys who were watching us in amazement, their heads swivelling back
and forth like spectators at a tennis match as they watched the conversation
roccochet from one to another of us, thought we were either collectively
mad or collectively brilliant. We are, both. Being in In keeps our wits
sharpened to pencil point. Norman is the punmaster, Dan is the poet, and
all of us supplement our appreciation with flakes of brilliance ourselves.
I'm much leaner now - have lost seven pounds only, but XBX has done wonders
[Canadian army exercise program]. How is my dress coming Mother? No hurry.
You can have the coat whenever you like. You'll need it soon. I'm sending
Paul's birthday present. Also in the package are some patterned stockings
for Judy. She'll be the first in Sexsmith to have them? I have some too,
and so does Olivia. 'Our' men don't like them but we love them passionately
and wear them whenever we can. They do like our hostess gowns however.
Please everyone don't be as delinquent as I am in writing. I will try
to get back to my page-a-day but I am so seldom home and when I am, it is
usually too late at night to wake the world with typing.
Mmmm smell of fried onions from downstairs - the Hepburns are such fun
to live with - they are always having fights we can eavesdrop on, yet they
are closely knit.
Our to-and-from the world window is open and through it tonight I can
see dim shapes of moonlight on the tower, hear wind and cars passing and
feel autumn in the temperature.
It was a Thursday, German class with beef-stew hearty Mr Ridley who superimposes
his rather good German accent on his Oxford accent. Then Psychology 24 with
Mr Blackburn, a small raisin-faced man with bright little eyes, a furry
thick ring of hair around a perfectly spherical and very pink bald spot.
He has a strange crooked mouth and an absent manner of lecturing (he stares
at a string hanging from the ceiling and suddenly stops in the midst of
a sentence. Then he collects himself and repeats the word he has just stopped
at, and goes on) that make him seem a complete eccentric with no real-world
contact. But when he caught me grinning at him one morning (because he was
so odd and such a dear fossil!) he grinned back his crooked jerky little
grin, and we have been good friends ever since.
Then a flying bicycle trip home to collect our laundry in my big one-only
pink flowered bedsheet and load it onto my bike, trundle away like an English
short story washerwoman and push it through and into all the doors and traps
of the laundromat. Then art class with slides of Greek vases and little
pottery figures. Danny le Grand who is in the class too came just for the
end because he had quite predictably forgotten that on Thursday art is at
three thirty rather than at four thirty comme Tuesday and Wednesday. So
I took him home, lent him a dollar, had supper with him, and listened to
his huge and beautiful dreams for a while. Then Olivia came home and I went
to secretarie the CUCND meeting, and now with hair in Medusa tendrils about
my wet neck I am officially beginning this year's page-a-day programme.
And after this, the translation of a German poem into an English poem or
a chapter on Freud or a Medieval French play or a session with Cretian palaces
or some thinking about dearly bewhiskered old Emerson.
Yesterday was memorable because Dr Corry and I (Dr Corry is the principal
of Queen's) and "some other people" had a reception for an eighty-eight
person band from a Japanese university. The other people included Padre
Laverty, our AMS president, heads of departments of all sorts, and two other
IH executive types - Agnes and Bob.
So we found ourselves at dinner with eighty eight wonderful Japanese
faces, most of whom knew no English, with the perplexity of how to communicate
either welcome or friendliness or interest to them. I pounced upon the only
two girls of the group and ate with them - to their shy dismay at first.
Mishako was a rather plain, tiny clarinetist, the only woman band member.
Junko, lovely, nineteen, small boned and graceful and alive as a kitten,
with a smooth animated face and short soft hair under a red round hat -
a grey plaid suit with a blue sweater, flat peculiar shoes. We were soon
talking quite eagerly about Hamlet and Robert Frost because Junko is an
English major at her university, who came with the group to help with translation.
She is shy to an extent that would be impossible to a Canadian girl with
her face, intelligence and appeal, but I felt as though she could quite
easily be my Japanese counterpart, because of her interests and her journalizing
habit and her approach to people and to books. We were delighted to discover
that we are the same age and are in the same year of varsity.
13 Tuesday - day after Thanksgiving
Came home last night by taxi from the station after a Toronto Thanksgiving
weekend with a cold, a hundred percent exhaustion, and many small secret
grins about the happenings of the weekend - more of that later.
It is raining today - I was out running barefooted in it in Olivia's
skinny cutoffs, to Skeggs' Groceries, to get some apples - and the cathedral
is smoky grey. A tall tree next to the tower has crackled out in orange
and yellow and the bare limbs of many trees across the street are black
from the rain. A soggy tweed-colored pile of wet leaves in the gutter. Houses
reflected as blurred grey hulks on the pavement. Rain always makes me happy.
The weekend began at Friday noon when Norm, Dan and Charles arrived at
the apartment with their bags and called a taxi. Olivia wasn't packed by
the time the taxi came of course, so I ran down the half-block to Skeggs
to buy a bag of apples for the train. While the massive clerk was weighing
them up Norman puffed in, seized my hand and dragged me out, saying "The
taxi driver says it is almost too late to make the train." All I could
do was call out a very feeble "Forget it" to the clerk and swerve
out after Norman. The train was ten minutes late of course and we waited
for thirteen. On the train we five (it is beginning to sound so familiar
to say "we five") found an end corner for ourselves and hauled
out books, chocolate bars, and I my hostess gown to see if I couldn't get
some sewing done. Charles was seeing the countryside to Toronto for the
first time - farms first, then the lakeshore with birds standing motionlessly
on the cold beaches, then the rubble and ugliness of the industrial complex
between Oshawa and Toronto, finally the slummy outskirts of Toronto itself,
and Union Station. Mrs Howell with Joscelyn were there in their little car
to get me and Olivia and Dan and Charles (Dan lives five minutes from Olivia
in Rosedale and Charles was staying with him). Norman's father was there
to meet him so we were introduced to him as well - he had a quirky reticent
face, very immobile and secretive. We were not especially taken with him.
Home to 74 Dale Avenue, the beautiful dining room, Olivia's magnificent
Rachmaninoff, Granny with her traditional and very nice welcome home kiss,
dinner beautifully made and beautifully served, cheese and dessert afterwards.
Coffee and talking in the living room. When Mr Howell came home from work
Olivia of course flew out and hugged him: then he came back and hugged me
too. I like him better every time I stay with Olivia! Not long afterwards
Dan and Charles walked over and we all sat on the living room floor talking
to the Howells. Charles was being astute and charming, Dan was being his
usual dramatic expansive self. Olivia had been tense about this meeting
between Dan and her father because both like to dominate both a room and
a conversation, and both are extremely wily. But what happened was that
both men instantly understood each other and were mutually very taken. Olivia
and I had to escape into the kitchen for a moment to crow about it. Then
Danny put on some of the records he had brought - Peter, Paul and Mary;
selections from a record made at his high school glee club; a humorist;
a ragtime piano song called Over There that was popular during the
war; and finally jazz that Olivia and I had to run away and dance to. Not
as in dancing with anyone, but as dancing by ourselves to ourselves,
dancing about ourselves and the music. We both love to move to music and
while Olivia is much better at it than I am, all that is really necessary
is absorption in the music and loss of self-consciousness. Then we all lay
on our stomachs on the carpet and listened to Rachmaninoff again. Then we
were so hungry that we tore through piles of rye bread, cheese and fruit.
Chronicle continued tomorrow.
14 Oct, Wednesday
On Saturday spent a long part of the afternoon at home, talking to Mrs
Howell and Granny - Mrs Howell did pen and ink sketches of us both, Olivia's
was quite good but mine a bit difficult to recognize. Then a hop into the
VW and around Rosedale's winding avenues to Danny's place.
Ordinary Rosedale-looking house. But inside! The first thing we noticed
was a many-colored, shoulder-high Oriental statue of some sort of mannikin
in mosaic-colored and peculiarly draped robes. Behind him was a tall white
screen reaching to the ceiling. All along the wall beside it were pictures
of all sizes and framings, massed together; portraits, grotesque athletic
bodies in blue pencil, and even a slice of watermelon with a lovingly painted
lemon beside it. Above the statue, a four-foot birdcage hung from the ceiling,
containing four or five stuffed birdlings. Around the doorway, a sort of
reception alcove with a wooden bench covered in bright cushions, marble
busts and a mirror, plants and more paintings. Two stairways, one carpeted
- the main - the other formerly bare - the servants'. They are right next
to each other.
The living room, a long rectangular room stuffed with furniture. A two-foot
pile of Vogue magazines on a glass table, tall crystal bowls of candy. A
bronze casting of a feminine hand. At least three huge pots of flowers,
one of pink carnations with an absurd spidery rose-colored ribbon in it.
A grand piano. Bleached blond wooden floor (the dog went to the bathroom
on the former white carpet so that it is now on the second floor). (There
is so much furniture in the living room because someone willed them a complete
lot and they just added it to their own.) Gilt clocks. Overbearing lamps.
Walls scabby with knobbed picture frames. A very valuable painting covering
And the dining room. Large black table with the places already set for
the next meal, circular breakfast table in a glass alcove overlooking the
garden, sideboards massed with bronze coffee-urns the size of tubs and encrusted
with ornamentation, shelves of beautiful crystal, candle holders of all
types on every free space, chandeliers with lightbulbs in them, more plants
and flowers, a rolling wagon of wine and liqueur bottles with glasses. Bronze
ice-buckets with napkin-wrapped empty bottles in them. A glass door leading
to the back yard. In the middle of the dining room a mountain of fruit and
vegetables and grapes with many-colored gourds in a cornucopia for the Thanksgiving
centerpiece. The kitchen strangely orderly and almost like the kitchen of
any farmhouse in the hills. Mrs Noffke turned out to be a tall rather thin
woman who floated in and out speaking absently to anyone who was around
at the time, setting down pots of flowers or murmuring about who sent them.
The house was preparing for their mammoth Thanksgiving dinner that night
and so we crept away downtown to look in shop windows and explore Yorkville.
We found a wooden door with a sign "The Walrus and the Carpenter."
Entering (she said rhetorically), we found a carpeted staircase which led
to a high-ceilinged restaurant, empty entirely except for a man at the top
of the stairs who said "Good afternoon" rahter pleasantly and
three waiters in striped shirts who smiled at us. We had coffee and a fruit
cup, and a great deal of pleasure in just being there for the entire room,
designed and largely created by a sculptor of Canadian fame, was done in
rough woods, cast iron, lighting patterns and textures. Lamps hung from
the ceiling in glazed black lobster pots, and the walls were lined with
odd black metal sculptures. We discovered that the oyster bar (which it
is officially called) was only a little over a week old, and the proud host
showed us clippings of the good reviews it had received in the Globe and
Then we noticed an art gallery open across the street and decided to
wander inside - it was a one-man gallery and we found a plump young Armenian
inside watching the wrestling matches in a back corner. His paintings were
rather bad, but the sculpture was good and Olivia and I found one of two
women and a man which amused us very much - we called it the "triangle"
and grinned meaningfully at each other over it. Our Armenian painter came
out long enough to tell me I had lovely eyes and gypsy cheekbones and to
tell Olivia that she looked French before he stroked both our chins and
returned to his wrestling. (We declined an invitation to stay and watch
it with him, and went home to supper instead.)
Charles and Danny were tied up with their elegant dinner until ten thirty
so Olivia and I went uptown together to see a Polish film called "Knife
in the Water," a beautiful and thoroughly artistic movie about a man
and his wife and the hitchhiker they pick up. The three spend the night
on a lake in a sailboat, and the movie is nothing more than the symbol-studded
and symbol-woven story of what happens and does not happen to three people
isolated on the water. The characters of the three shift, develop, then
become the same again by the time the dawn arrives. I loved it very much.
Olivia and I were both rather insanely happy by this time; and we decided
that we would arrive at our ten thirty appointment with the Noffke's at
eleven. So we very luxuriously and smugly primped until we were thirty minutes
late, roaring with laughter the whole time. Then, I with my hair in an impossible
fantasy of coils and dips, and Olivia in a slinky dress and net stockings,
we swept to the Noffke's and found Dan, Charles and Norm waiting for us.
Dan who had caught on by this time that we were repaying certain tardiness
in phone calls etc, met us at the door on his knees. Mr Noffke was entertaining
a New York millionaire in the living room (and Mrs Noffke sat looking very
bored in a decollete hostess gown) so we rumbled upstairs with our various
glasses of sherry to the television room which seemed stuffed like a pillow
with all the furniture, ornaments, and books that there was no room for
downstairs. Listened to Danny's weird assortment of records, leafed through
the Karsh volume "Portraits of Greatness" which Karsh himself
(a "dear friend of the family") had inscribed affectionately to
Mr Noffke. While we were there Mr Noffke wandered into the room with a long
black fur around his neck, postured sexily and crooned "You gotta take
it off right, you gotta take it off right" like a stripper as he unwound
himself from it. Then he disappeared. (To get the full effect of this little
scene, remember that he is a little thin man with a hunched back and a large,
wise, funny and wonderful face. He is a top decorator and designer, flamboyant
and completely spontaneous, humorous and cagey, but Danny says that underneath
he is sentimental as well. I believe it. he is fantastic and eccentric and
everyone adores him.) (Much like Danny.)
We sneaked into Mrs Noffke's white and gilt and ridiculous bedroom to
see the dog Arthur, whom we found lying on the bed under the black fur in
a champagne dream. (Arthur, the pampered darling of the family, was at the
Thanksgiving feast too.) After much music and talking, when everyone else
was in bed, we raided the fridge for ryebread-cheese-and-turkey sandwiches,
and grapes. And then turned out the lights in the living room and talked
there for a while. So endeth Saturday.
Did you get my last letter? It was a two page and densely spaced reply
to your hysterics Mother - the problem is that I don't remember mailing
it and can't find it. So if you received it let me know, because I don't
want to write it again.
Will mail this in unfinished state.
Friday sunny afternoon, Homecoming weekend,
A pause in the midst of a violent perusal of Franz Kafka to write you
a page. This weekend is the weekend when all old graduates come home for
a big football game. The ivy is brilliant, and the trees on lower campus
are like orange smoke, very beautiful, clear and warm. After German class
this morning I spent an hour in the library, pawing and sniffing, and brought
home a pile of books for this afternoon. Then Olivia and I had half a loaf
of French bread thickly spread with butter, and huge red local apples (parchment-colored
inside, sometimes tart and sometimes mellow, always a surprise, and very
cheap) for lunch. And in this dust-cloud (apartment needs cleaning) of well-being
I have been reading Kafka for German 2.
The cloud of well-being is partly left over from last night. Olivia and
I went to a reunion of Ban Righ III because Marg and Cathy were back for
the weekend. Then we 'bombed' over to International House for the party,
there to find Dan and Charles and Norman. Charles and I left at a very respectable
hour, but found ourselves at the lake. The water was flat, no ripples. The
moon was half-diffused through fibrous-textured clouds and circled by a
ring, the trees along the lake-walk are half-bare and stand out in silhoette.
Lights reflected in streaks on the water. A line of mist along the horizon,
rising and spreading over almost all of the lake and half-hiding a far away
sheet of moon reflection. We stood on the pebbles beside the lake and felt
as though we were standing in a mirror or as though we were part of a reflection
on silver. Then we scuffed home across the park in leaves ankle deep, then
devoured an omelette each downtown.
Charles and I are having an October-summer romance, happy and carefree
and unearnest. Charles is very much a wonder. He took care of me paternally
while I was recovering from le Grand, and now that I'm recovered sensibly,
he is not so paternal. I've told you I think that he is twenty one (looks
younger and acts older) and working on his Masters in chemistry. He graduated
with his B.Sc. from Dublin University with a First Class and is at Queen's
on a rather good money-agreement of some sort. He's very beautiful: six
foot three and a half, lean and hard with nice tough shoulders. He has a
pointed chin, a leprechaun grin and pointed blue eyes, a shock of soft blond
hair, a boyish and rather naughty nose, and wonderfully tidy ears. Usually
he wears either a bulky rust-colored sweater or a green Harris tweed jacket
with many leather reinforcements where the cuffs have worn through. And
he wears enormous and sturdy Irish shoes. His accent - south Ireland, very
soft and humorous. He is extremely clear-thinking, something that the rest
of the Inners with Norm possibly excepted are not, and not nearly as emotionally
jagged as the rest of us. Yet he is often overwhelmingly merry and we all
adore him. Often when we become abstract and mixed up he sets everything
into perspective with one acute sentence. Quite often he watches rather
than participates but his mind is clicking over the situation all the while
and he comes up with a better analysis than any of us. Also he is exceptionally
considerate and generous, probably as a biproduct of living with his father
the parson. Charles happily does not intend to become earnestly involved
with anyone yet, either, and we've developed a relationship that is very
warm, very straightforward, and truly fun rather than conflict.
The stairs are clean, after lying thick with dust for several weeks,
and it is a beautiful Sunday afternoon with some possibilities of being
spent with Kafka or Greek temples or Moby Dick.
After I wrote you yesterday the football victory parade passed by my
window and I watched it in my cutoffs and Queen's sweater, sitting on the
sill. There was the pipe band in its red tartan, the cheer leaders in a
howling line, the majorettes and the parade band, then rows of engineers
in staggering Oil Thigh lines - some of them looked up and waved and hollared
to me to come down and join them. Everyone was in a frenzy of we-won: I
love the color and the noise of these parades but could care very little
less about winning or losing. We always win however. Last night the Inners,
Norm with a quiet girl called Margaret, went to a Graduate House party.
Charles, being a graduate, got us in - the house is large and has a big
basement and living room for partying. They had a real band with drums,
a sax, two electric guitars, and a tamborine. A crashing beat and lots of
noise. I rather liked that part of it. Quite a few of my graduate friends
were there, Tim and Peter and a cute little wry Scot, and a beautiful beautiful
Welshman named Jimmy Jones. We found a corner downstairs and sat and talked,
stomped a bit, watched people going by. Most of the people at the party
were graduates, therefore more sophisticated and very attractive. We dressed.
There was a big blond in a tight pink dress with a deep deep neckline and
we enjoyed watching her wriggle. I have a distressing tendency at parties
always to enjoy watching more than participating. This was a good party
in that way! Had a whole lot of food afterwards and then went home. Charles
had washed his hair before the party and it was flopping over his forehead
like a little boy's. He's a dear.
I am sitting cross-legged in front of a low trunk that we have on the
floor. Besides the typewriter, there are two tall green bottles and a scattering
of broad red ivy leaves. Next to it is a wicker basket of Europe pamphlets.
The windows are open - they are casements that open inwards in two halves
- and outside is a rusty rattly sound of motors passing. Sun on the cathedral
tower. Passers passing. We are tidy and organized once more. We are usheretting
tonight for the film society - a Bergman film called Through a Glass
Darkly. Norm, Dan and Charles are ushering too and the film will be
Cold, cold rain and I am wearily home from Sunnyside after an evening's
work. I got your letter there yesterday but please do send them to Barrie
Street from now on because I'm working irregularly and will get them sooner
The leaves are left on only a few trees, and shreds of them are plastered
down ("worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie" - Hopkins) on the pavement
by the rain. The few trees that have leaves are glorious yellow bonfires
in startling relief against grey branches. I love these autumns in Kingston.
It is surprising that you are still harvesting - perhaps this just shows
how I have forgotten Peace Country seasons and times already. By the end
of October it will be snowing. Do you remember, Judy, when we were living
at the Old Place, one night in October we were home alone and it began to
snow. We saw it against the trees, and we ran out onto that wooden sidewalk
in our pyjamas and bare feet, dancing a frenzy and throwing it up into the
air. I still remember how it felt on those bare feet. A very black night.
Through a Glass Darkly was a very gentle and beautiful movie and
all five of us loved it very much. Bergman is Swedish, so that the dialogue
was in Swedish and the setting was a bleak coastline along the ocean in
southern Sweden. The first scene was four people straggling out of the water
in silhoette against a sunset after swimming. They were a father who is
a writer - a popular writer but not a really good writer; a seventeen year
old son - blond, thin, full of snapping electrical motion and ideas, betraying
himself continually by his very young puzzled eyes. The daughter, Karin,
a beautiful girl who is relapsing into schizophrenia to the bewilderment
and dismay of her rather bland neutral husband Martin. The movie is about
these four people. Its title is from I Corinthians 13 and its message is
that the only real and worthwhile thing is love. In a way, as in all his
movies, Bergman is asking himself questions and experimenting with answers
rather than giving a concrete and forever-definite message. Besides the
involvement we felt with the characters, and to a certain extent our identification
with them (Karin's schizophrenia was much more real to me because of my
nearly-schizophrenic spell last month), we loved the movie because of its
very piquant photowork (every scene composed and focused) and the almost
magical images (light moving over patterned wallpaper in reflections like
tiny flames; curtains outlined against a black window frame, blowing; a
massive hulk of a boat in the stony beach with rain dripping into its black
hull like slow shiny oil; the thin jagged line of a pier jutting out helplessly
into the sea; and old blankfaced house with blank windows standing overlooking
the beach.) (The family lives there.) A play written and acted by the boy
with Karin and Martin, written at seventeen already mocking himself gaily
and tragically, for his father whom he resembles so much and who will not
talk to him as to another adult. The father, in fact, has sacrificed his
family to his writing and it is only as the four of them are affected by
Karin's relapse into her incurable mental illness that he realizes how much
he loves them. At the end of the film, Karin has been taken back to the
mental hospital in an ominous helicopter that lands on the black beach and
Martin has gone back to town with her. The boy is left with his father:
he asks "Is everyone like this, so shut up in his own cube?" And
at last the father palms off some clichés - that may or may not be
true - on him and the boys says to himself "He talked to me."
End of film. Karin was a beautiful person entirely, every movement she made,
and every expression, and even her illness was awesome and beautiful.
On this Saturday, have just received your letter and your feeling of
pleasure at the return of myself to my letters is like the feeling of pleasure
I have at the return of yourself to your letters, Mother. Glad you got the
explaining letter and glad you understood it. I hope very much that your
harvesting-dragon will soon die a natural and full-bellied death, to be
covered over by a warm layer of snow just deep enough to bury him decently.
I do remember vaguely what a tension-fed fire-hell he breathes: and his
death can be mourned with festivity and contentment. Okay? I'll expect to
hear about his last smoldering sighs soon.
Grey October Saturday in Kingston
- Began this morning with an unexplained and persistant clanging of bells
at ten minutes before the hour. Then the grim nine o'clock rising for a
ten o'clock class which when I arrived there ten minutes late steaming and
puffing in cutoffs and sneakers turned out to have been cancelled. Oh well,
an hour free. Library first, to read all the back issues of the NY Times
Book Review section and some Photographic Society journals. And then a ride
down a deep hill beside the Lower Campus park. A stop with Beowolf leaning
against a tree to run in a particularly inviting slope of deep leaves and
sit in them and throw a few handfuls into the air. Then, seeing a brick
house being demolished, a flying detour to ask the construction-demolition
men if I could have [bricks] for our bookshelf. (I saw a heap of glass in
my way, and having no brakes, jumped off to avoid rolling into it. I of
course skidded flat onto my back in the mud with Beowolf's rigid limbs on
top of me and my books flying. A very dear man with a big breakfast-roll
face kept murmuring "Poor little girl, poor little girl" in a
carressing Italian accent as he pried Beowolf off me.) Then a session of
sitting at the end of a dock at the yacht club looking at the few boats
still out, at a few people shivering in their parkas as they hauled down
their masts. It looked so different from the July early morning yacht club.
Talked to a retired sailing fiend about boats and archeology (he grew up
playing tag among the ruins at Smyrna and met his missionary wife there
under the moonlight, fa lala). Then frozen in bone and radiating heart-heat
in spirit, home to a blanket and two grapefruits and bread-with-cheese.
Then when Olivia arose, a session of doing dishes in the bathtub (an entire
tub full, they accumulate during the week). And sardines on toast for lunch;
sardines are such cheap ecstacy! The stone houses of Kingston in their stony
peaceful silence now that it is October and we are supposed to forget how
young and green it is in summer. (This is to fool students into thinking
that this is a dry old historical city, but I was here in June and I know!)
The wine glasses in the living room, one half full. I bought them for
twenty five cents each in Turk's downtown. Turks is a narrow half-shop piled
to its high ceiling with broken chairs and vintage refrigerators with old
seventeen dollar pairs of bronze candlesticks, some very bad junk jewellry.
And some glass. Mr Turk Junior (this sounds Dickens) was hovering about
on Friday morning as I was looking for stuff to spend money on (adore spending
money - you know - but not on NECESSITIES. Groceries are such bores - except
when Olivia and I shop together, but more of that later on). I said to him
(sez I), "Do you think" (looking at the seventeen dollar candle
sticks) "you are a bit exorbitant?" and on that note of frankness
we struck up a friendship and he asked me enthusiastically as he wrapped
my fifty cents worth of wine glasses in newspaper to come again, come again.
The one that is half full now, beside my Danish candlestick, is half full
of beautiful pink wine - vinegar. Wine vinegar that Mrs Howell gave us in
case we might need it.
Will have to send this as it is. Coffee splotch.
Sunday November 1
I was homesick last night, both for family and for the countryside. Once
in a while I feel rootless - this year more so because there hasn't been
enough 'alone time' to assimilate this neighbourhood and apartment. You've
noticed this from my letters!
Last night we had a surprise visit from Mrs McLeod when she came to Kingston
to see Norm. And she came puffing up the stairs with her arms, and Norm's,
full - she had been at the Kingston market square and had (been) carried
away. We benefited! A potato-bag size loaf of French bread, apples, ripe
brown pears, a fruit loaf in a provocative white bakery box, and a small
round pumpkin! We laid everything out on the kitchen table and gloated over
it all. But the pumpkin especially - I kept picking it up and hugging it.
Olivia is official jack o'lantern maker for the Howells, so she scooped
it out for us, but she let me carve the face because I never had done one.
It looks like the diagram and represents the human dilemma - of whether
to laugh or cry or merely leer. No, do not fear, I am not becoming intellectual
even about pumpkin carving - the interpretation presented itself after the
face was finished.
Costume ball on Friday at IH - I went as a demure Hindu in one of Miss
Solomon's old saris - pink silk with a gold edge - a great deal of makeup,
black-ringed eyes, little hoop-earrings, a caste mark, and a high-necked
black jersey top. Was delightfully popular, especially among the Indians
and Pakistanis who swore repeatedly that I looked "just like an Indian
girl" and "I thought you were a Pakistani girl!" There is
nothing, either, that makes one feel so feminine, wispy, and beautiful as
a pinks silk sari. Both Mike and Charles (my October summer-romance true
love) and Ad were there and I had no time really to talk to any of them,
or to Norm. One new arrival is a small Sikh, energetic as Amil socially,
with beard and turban who lectures on pharmaceutics to medical students
and who has just written a philosophy book on the thesis that all is illusion.
He danced in great sweeping flourishes, to the beat of my telephone number,
"Five, four, TWO-and-three-and-three-and TWO and not-eight-not-eight-not-eight
BUT - seven!" superimposed on an African beat.
After the party, Olivia (dressed as an English beatnik from Soho Square,
in black tights, brief skirt, heels, and sweat shirt, and black smudged
cat-eyes), Norm, Charles and I walked to a restaurant that is used to seeing
us at five a.m. (Theatre of the Absurd nights) with the pumpkin under our
arm, sedately at twelve thirty. Walked home and picked up Danny who had
been writing an essay. Olivia and he had a roaring fight on the way home,
he came up to the apartment and he and Olivia continued it in terse whispers
(three a.m.) while I went to sleep feeling smug about mon beau Charles.
Then, quarter to six a.m., Olivia woke me up with "We're in trouble,
Danny's been here all this time! And the Hepburns are getting up, the baby's
crying! And that idiot Danny left his shoes beside the door, we heard Mr
Hepburn try the door to see if it was closed - and we can't see Danny's
shoes - Mr Hepburn must have them - he must know Danny is here he'll
never believe we've been only talking and he'll throw us out of the
apartment for having men in after curfew! Oh what are we going to do?"
Danny was whispering hysterical orders, "Olivia make your bed, oh hell
Olivia make your bed. And scatter some books around, we'll tell him all
of us have been studying. Dammit, make your bed!" But I was too sleepy
to become excited and finally got everyone into their coats, filled their
arms with books, and we tremoured downstairs in a file. The Hepburns snored
on, the shoes were still there, we fell outside and laughed raggedly - even
more raggedly when we remembered that the door was locked and we had no
key, so couldn't get back in until the Hepburns were up. Cold! Tired! Disgusted!
Had some expensive breakfast, raged with disgust when Olivia and Danny began
to bicker about their relationship, ran home and waited in Shurtleff's milk
bar until there were noises behind the 252 door, and got in just in time
to get ready for a l0 o'clock class and a long day of studying. (Am giggling
about it still.) But this was on top of a wearing week of two essays and
two exams, little sleep. So no letters to you this week! Saw Mon Beau only
once, a film on Thursday, worked at Sunnyside, CUCND meetings. I am sorry
to be such a feeble foreign correspondent.
Was at a hiking party at some rich doctor's summer estate with Mike [Dr
Westerthorp? something like that] and some of his friends this afternoon.
Healthy to be out on the rocks. Helped Ad move into a new apartment this
morning. Working at Sunnyside tomorrow. Love the French Renaissance authors,
love the German short story writers, love Jung in psych, love Thoreau's
Walden in English, and love Greek art. Am on a committee planning
the new International Centre, am busy.
- raw forming volume 3: 1964-1965 september-april
- work & days: a lifetime journal project