February 13 1965
Waking up to the knowledge that it is Saturday and nearly noon, and then
having a huge breakfast, and then stepping outside into a miracle of white
sunshine, irresistable, and the lurking joie-de-vivre pounces out like a
demon and drives you to the lakeshore with a large bottle of Coke, ice cream,
bananas, a sandwich, Billy Budd by Melville, and Olivia's transistor, feeling
a part of it all because of moss-green stockings and the brilliant colored
A-line skirt, and my midwinter extravagancy (for which I was harangued by
motherly roommate) a bright yellow sweat-shirt, lined and hooded, with a
funny front muff-patch to hold books or warm your hands in.
Sat on the rocks in the sunshine watching skaters and an ice boat. Came
home and listened to all four acts and three hours of Aida, admired
my two tulips and my new record - the Easter Oratorio of Bach (you'll get
it later on) (both celebrations of my loan coming through). And then cleaned
house and then had coffee with Rasheed and now am getting ready, amid books
on Romanesque Medieval art, to go out tonight. Sky is a six-o'clock and
past-twilight variation on royal blue - moon already high and very white,
squashed, with a reflection in many colors misted on the window pane. Our
cherished Saint Mary's is hulking with most of the details obscured, yet
not massive because its spires and towers are almost like trees, light.
Olivia is moaning about mistreatment (exaggerated) at the hands of Donald
J Carmichael and I am unkindly smirking about well treatment at the hands
of Anthony C Tugwell. We four had a dinner party last night at Tony's because
his roommate shame on him had gone to the formal. Tony roasted roast beef
rare and juicy with potatoes hard and raw and clam chowder as entrée,
and some bitter red wine, and we were all delerious with joy at having a
real meal with place mats and wine glasses - and I trotted out with the
chef-d'oeuvre of the evening, my strawberry shortcake, a "for 6"
batch stacked "for 4" and rather a small mountain. A great deal
of fun-conversation, snarking and baiting. Sprawled on the floor afterwards
and listened to the Moonlight Sonata and Bolero.
Monday of a spring-like February, it's nearly pre-exam cramming time,
essays and term papers due, am writing an essay on Romanesque art, a term
paper on Moby Dick. I think another essay on the lovely Gothic cathedral
at Chartres. Next weekend is a two-day SUPA conference at a woodsy farm
north of Toronto which I may not be able to go to because of International
House elections. (Olivia, Don perhaps, Tony perhaps, are going too - also
Peggy etc - hope to be able to go because I've been in Kingston since Thanksgiving
and need a change - restlessness - oh hills and trees and streams o'er which
to leap!) Some work for the student summer project on poverty in Kingston
(more of that later - quite exciting). Enclosed is Olivia's editorial for
the Levana Journal - I'm not published in it at all - Cheryl had much more
material than she needed - so here is the Simone de Beauvoir review, Judy
- and I edited instead of writing.
We gave Don and Tony twin valentines - a tulip each, in a wine bottle,
with a home-made card - each with a pointedly relevant cartoon and verse.
Tony had this: across one corner of a card a wavy-lined stream in which
float a Queen's scarf, a beer bottle, a football, an army cap, a couple
of Levana formal tickets, "rah-rah," an absurd mathematical formula,
and on the bank a mass of fly-wheel pulleys and smokestacks labeled "political
machinery." A crooked wall with barbed-wire and spikes on it separates
this stream, labeled in large letters the "Main Stream" (Tony's
derisive term for rah-rah peoples' cherished institutions), from Tony who
is curled up on his typewriter clutching paint brushes and a copy of "Night
of the Iguana" and a SUPA sign and eyeing, between hanks of his long
forelock, a dragon labeled "for slaying." And a verse:
- You can't be detached all the time -
- Be our involved valentine.
Don's cartoon showed him as his three selves, all with wildly curly hair:
Politics brandishes a sword called "principles" in a dispute
with frail, large-headed Philosophy who fights with a hammer (called
"therefore" and useful for driving home a point). He has just
dropped a book labeled Hegel (a German philosopher Don is studying) and
a pair of spectacles. Between them fly expletives and above them hovers
an angel with a head that looks like a SUPA symbol [peace symbol] crowned
with an olive wreath and labeled Peggy (SUPA president, remember). Around
the battleground are scattered scraps of crumpled paper labeled with all
the causes Don has espoused this year; and in a trophy cup is stuffed the
scrap labeled "debate." Sitting and watching is the skinny Don
called Humanity who sprawls under a tree with flowers growing between
its roots, with a plump bird on a branch above him (the balloon issuing
from its mouth contains the cryptic explanation "song"), and also
dangling from the branch is a frilly valentine. Coming toward him from the
opposite direction are wavy lines with notes on them labeled "Beethoven's
Seventh" in curly letters and explained as "wafting." Humanity
has an expression labeled "anxious." The verse is thus:
- O arrogant savant
- Don't malign
- Be our Absurd
And is written in the box on which Humanity perches leg-swingingly.
We are joyously celebrating the fact that we have an apartment for next
year - if we're both here and still want it by then - it is on West Street,
house 63, number 3 at the back of a short hallway. There is one more front
apartment on the first floor, above us are Peggy's apartment and another;
on the top floor there is a large studio apartment with two ranking Queen's
poets (and a balcony). The apartment is a two-bedroom, large living room
with fireplace, bathroom, kitchen and dining alcove, unit with one feature
that caused us to fall in love with it, immediately - a strange slanting
little passageway between the kitchen and the back bedroom. Plan: not exactly,
but approximate. [sketched floorplan] The very idea of such a place makes
us teem with creativity (all-colored little ants crawling and tumbling over
the squishy grey matter of our minds!) and we can hardly wait to be there
- hammering and nailing, sloshing buckets of paints in gaudy colors, stitching
curtains and screens, hanging paintings or painting paintings.
Speaking of creativity: 1. made a novel book and note case from small,
Portuguese, wood, stickleback fish boxes this afternoon; 2. wrote another
poem for the Levana Journal, enclosed. You'll find it peculiar. I do too.
What it is about is an imaginary situation - two people, same sexes or different,
become so close that they "bare their souls" and are disillusioned
because either they are not able to meet the ideals of the other or because
they find they are still unable to really know each other:
- It was only to each other that we dared to raise the masks
- (not so much dared as needed I admit)
- and I know of you what you know of me:
- our faces are as smooth
- and speckled as the delicate round egg.
- Despairing in the everlasting shell the bright yolks move.
What does it mean? I see an image of the two people with bizarre heads
like eggs, after they have raised the many-colored masks that have their
external 'faces' painted on them, featureless, mute and deaf and blind,
helplessly enclosed in themselves - yet the egg shell has a translucence;
you can see something dimly the "bright yolks," the vital
consciousness, moves, enclosed everlastingly but real and alive. And as
dimly as we can sense the contents of the egg through the shell (when you
hold it up to the light) we can sense the reality of people we love! They
say that the main characteristic of poetry is the compression of a long
explanation into a tight, short, form.
A good party last night (yes there are a few) after the revue
- a 'cast party' for performers and backstage people, director, producer,
etc. The revue was horrible, a drastic script and no good singers, but Gordon
Gosse's music was excellent and I liked most of the performers you
can't boo your friends, even if their revue is lousy.
The date with Gordon Gosse on Saturday was peculiar because Gosse is
brilliant in his way, sensitive especially to music, 'upright' morally,
precise and dedicated to medicine, and yet somehow a 'dry stick' and somehow
weak - this is an impression. I am puzzled by him and he seems quite interested
in me, but there is the problem that always comes up with this sort of man:
they insist on considering one a 'fairy child-woman' and they push you into
this preconceived mold, interpreting you always according to this - and
if they discover in you the natural human capacity for weariness or melancholy
they are disillusioned and feel betrayed. So many men are like this - one
begins to resent it because you feel that it is their idea of you and not
you yourself which is valued. Eventually you recognize this type of man
almost immediately and tend to cut them off as soon as they show any interest
- in a way you tend to despise them as weak because they seem to depend
on their image of you, ultimately the way you act when you are with them
because of what they expect from you, for any liveliness in themselves.
They become almost pathetically wistful.
Later, sitting in the coffee shop, I gave this comment to a friend (Tim)
to read, and his remark was "What a strange thing to write to your
parents!" Olivia broke in to explain, "She thinks of her letters
more as documentaries on university life than as letters."
This is all longhand because Underwood 18 has a cramp in one of its arms.
Such a glorious afternoon that when funny pink Professor Newell came
for our two o'clock class we protested that the class should be cancelled
and everyone should go skating, as a direct experience of Emerson and Thoreau's
(in our course) theories of Nature. This was before most of the students
had arrived. And when he began his lecture, Professor Newell wrinkled his
eyes at me and announced "We'll have to stop early today. There are
some people who want to go skating!" Now he is droning on about Poe,
"... in councils of literary criticism, you realize that ..."
but I think he is itching too. Madame Tonge, in French this morning, was
bubbling with private jokes. Danny Noffke, lunching in the Union, showed
me a poem he had written in English class and we exclaimed through an architecture
book. Alison Gordon too was enthusiastic about a ragingly argumentative
politics-international class she had just come from. "Hawthorne's tales
criticized" - oops, that was part of my lecture notes written on the
wrong page in doing two things at once.
Caledon Farms. Waiting for lunch after a sequence of events that began
to slide by fantastically sometime Thursday afternoon - at art studio, Peter
Fraser talks to Ralph Allen in a corner - Peter comes over to where I am
smudging away at my stained glass madonna - "Ellie do you want to go
to New York tomorrow morning, 6:30? Mr Allen is going, has room for both
of us." "Peter, oh! I've got to give my nomination speech for
International Club, I've got this SUPA conference over the weekend, essays!
But I've got to go, sure, I'm going!" Says Peter, "We're absolute
fools, you know," in his high-water Scottish accent.
Go home to pack. Run around, get money, sew up suit - all packed, sitting
exhausted in a chair talking to people - in break Bob Schwab, John Cooper,
Mark, "Ellie, Frank Nabotete is running against you, he's campaigning
madly, we have to do something." A sudden campaign meeting. John and
Mark agree to be campaign managers. We're scribbling program notes crazily.
Mrs Hepburn screams up the stairway, "It's not a weekend night, you'd
better get those boys out!" Down and out, Lino's restaurant, pizza
and lists of plans - "Oh, I have to be at that nominating meeting because
Frank will be there, must show up, can't go to New York. Oh, only an idiot
would give up New York for an election."
Home by 2:30, alarm set for 5:30, must wake up to let Peter know I can't
come. 5:30 a.m., there's my suit, my new alligator brown shoes, my flight
bag packed, must I really tell Peter I can't come, what a fool. "Peter,
something has come up." Back to bed, sleep until 1:30 p.m. making up
for all those five-hours-of-sleep nights when Olivia came in at 6:30 a.m.
and woke me so that I got up to study.
To Peggy's to say goodbye to Olivia and Tony, leaving in the afternoon
for the SUPA conference. Heck, I can go to the SUPA conference tonight!
"Tom, if there's anybody going out to the farm from Toronto tomorrow
morning, can I take the 3:30 a.m. train after my electioning tonight and
go with them from Toronto?" All set, speech planned for the evening,
tense effort to look as good as possible, it might help. Frank giving a
suave lawyer-polished talk and me giving mine, enthusiastic but highly unpolished.
A party afterwards with wild music and good talk - pizza - home at 2:30,
pack again, phone taxi, phone Don C who is coming along, take taxi to station
at 3:30, pick up Don with his knobby huge Europe-traveling knapsack, excitement
mixed with extreme fatigue - the train arrives, find a seat, collapse with
a pillow and sleep through five hours to a vague blue and orange sunrise,
then Toronto glimmering through a mist - station, and there is Tom Hathaway
to meet us, breakfast - forty miles of countryside and an icy road to an
old farm with two houses, a stone barn, several ponds, ski slopes, caves,
fields, dogs, woodpiles. (I've been piling wood for the sake of sentiment,
stoking the fireplace like a type of New-World Vestal Virgin). And then
I'm sitting in the laundromat trying to read my Chateaubriand but it
is the Monday after and I keep chuckling suddenly about things remembered
from the conference - at this particular moment, Tom Hathaway, what a phenomenon,
big bony hands and big bony feet in dirty white sneakers, legs jack-knifed
to fit under the chairman's table (he's regional director for Ontario),
shoulders and arms suspended loosely from some pivoting joint in his neck,
bleached hair already receding, jutting lower lip and those pedantic round
glasses - Tom is so beautiful, I've never known such an ugly beautiful ugly
man! He chairs meetings with his dry Boston accent and his dry Boston wit,
lounges during breaks, talking lazily to someone or poring over schedules,
darting oblique remarks to passers, singing badly or whistling; he is such
a peculiar figure in his huge long black coat - the Toronto SUPA group had
a demonstration in front of the American consulate, protesting US policy
in Viet Nam; someone overheard a spectator remark, as Tom happened to walk
by, "That must be the American consul now." A rather big joke
on reactionary [wrong word] Tom who is plotting ways to draft dodge! Anyway,
a delightful person - he is coming to Queen's next weekend and has spoken
for Friday night, joy!
Well, the conf'rence was actually for purposes other than what Olivia
calls promoting personal relationships - we spent a fascinating Saturday
morning on what is called T-grouping; f'instance: one group of 5 or 6 people
is given a topic such as "What are leadership qualities?" to discuss,
an outside group of about the same size watches without comment. Then the
inside group watches while the outside group discusses what actions of the
first group helped or hindered the discussion. Then both groups get together
to discuss what general types of actions and which people contribute most
to effective discussion, and what hinders or distracts. The purpose of T-grouping
or group interaction study is to make us self-conscious about our discussions
so that our conferences, our meetings, etc, will be as efficient as possible.
We discovered things about ourselves - Olivia that she has a logical, clear
ability to direct a discussion - and that I, in my usual fence-sitting way,
can often see both sides of an argument well enough to pin-point and even
reconcile the differences. We spent all of Saturday morning on this - lunch
- everyone ran away for walks toward the back fields, in blowing snow over
patches of ice, and along the edge of a deep wooded ravine that must be
beautiful in summer - afternoon spent on reports of summer projects by various
branches, a 'keynote' address by the national leader, Art Pape (a laconic
Jewish boy with huge black medieval eyes and pinched dark face), many coffee
breaks, dinner and talk around the fireplace, evening on discussion of summer
projects again, then a breakup as people went to bed, talked, ate, walked
- I curled up in front of the fire with Tom, and thereby missed the mixed
nude sauna - you've heard of the Finnish steam baths, where the steam temperature
rises to an amazing figure as the people perch naked on wooden benches and
sweat - then they run outside and jump screaming into a hole chopped in
the ice covering the lake, then run back into the sauna shack for more steam.
I'm told it is highly purifying, invigorating, and psychologically healthful
- they say that after initial coyness, there is neither embarrassment nor
lewdness, that there seems a great deal of innocence and naturalness about
nakedness - I like the idea and wish I hadn't been so lazy. (Olivia and
Tony were favorably impressed by it.) Next time! I'm hoping to shock you
all of course, but I'm not joking. I have always thought that to feel sinful
about nudity is absurd - it seems perfectly clear although I know you disagree.
It's long past time to gather up all these tatters of letter and send
them to you in some logical order - it must be weeks since sending you
a letter last! Enclosed a very rough draft of the de Beauvoir book review
IH Club elections tomorrow, will mail this before I get the results so
you'll have a letter sooner next time. Have been phoning madly, campaigning,
etc, etc. Will be glad to be able to talk to friends again without them
glancing sideways through slitted eyes and muttering, "Is she campaigning,
Birthday party for Don Carmichael, Peggy's roommate, and me on Saturday
night. Olivia is even double-plus more busy because she is organizing summer
project and NDP party politics as well as swarms of 'relationships'!
Last night, to save the $1.50 admission charge, I went to the dress rehearsal
of the drama guild production for this term. While sitting and waiting for
it to start, the director, who is experienced and rather brilliant (has
worked at Stratford) [Fred Euringer], came over to ask what I was doing
and very nicely told me that I could take notes for him as he dictated them
while I watched the play, to pay for my admission, as t'were. So I had a
chance to watch the unseen hand of the director - the details he picked
up were minute, but important. Watching his mind work was a particularly
fascinating way to learn about the theatre. And then during the intermission
break, we went downstairs by a gruesome curving iron staircase (more like
a spiral ladder) for coffee and shop talk - acting's a pretty exciting business.
It is most exciting to see people you know playing roles. David Glassco,
a third year boy, blond, intelligent, keenly aware of all sorts of people,
has a good part. He lives on West Street, is one of my new and potentially
good friends, gave me a ride home on his bicycle over the icy streets, very
much like riding a horse.
Owellowell, this is enough and bad enough as it is, you'll have election
bulletins soon, such as they'll be. I'm worried and not very confident.
You'll be under stress, waiting to hear the outcome of the elections;
I was. I lost by five votes to Bill Quartel, who is (I say this without
sour raisins) a rather stupid and unimaginative third year engineering student.
He was a dark horse! No one expected him to win. Everyone was, if not aghast,
at least shocked, to hear of his election. But he deserved his winning,
by superior campaigning techniques - he got the membership lists and conscientiously
looked up and made friends with all the names (at least 50% of the membership)
who never have and never will appear at House functions! Frank Nabotete,
the Kenyan opponent I was worried about, was lost in the contest - Bob Schwab,
counter-of-votes, tells me there was a constant up-and-down classical election-excitement
as one or the other, Bill or I, was ahead.
I am disappointed, I was disconsolate (and Don Carmichael cheered me
up by pointing out that without exception, in all popular elections this
year, the worst candidate has won! So, logically, it would have been an
insult to win) and then became elated as I realized the implications: I'm
free of responsibility; can, and will, go to Europe next year.
I was, typically, working off my disconsolation by scrubbing the kitchen,
after having scoured the living room, when a large chunk of icy snow skidded
over the floor into the hall, through the open window, and there was Tony,
who had said he wanted to work - "Hey Tugwell, why aren't you
working?" "Because you're coming for a walk." So we ran down
alleys (Tugwell knows every alley in Kingston (I think, hyperbolically)
and sneaked through the quiet moonlit backyard of a convent (stopping to
say hello to the marble Virgin with its pretty hands) and slid down a high
pile of dirty snow in the dockyards, tumbled into drifts, picked our way
apprehensively through a meeting of policemen and shadowing working men
(strikers I think).
Tony is next year's Journal editor, did I tell you? Clipping enclosed
shows him looking like a ten year old waif held by the police for running
away - the picture isn't actually a lie because he does look like this most
of the time, especially because of all that thick hair over his forehead
and his sleepy eyes, his rather ragged corduroys and shaggy sweaters. He
has a sort of earnestness and innocence which is very young too, and yet
he has an amazing strength - although he writes passionately that he refuses
to be a crutch for anyone, there is a flood of hysterical females at his
house every party night wanting to be taken home or comforted! And he has
a terrific integrity, a moral intensity and responsibility which makes him
unhappy too often - like all these over-honest strong-weak men I'm most
attracted to, from Frank through Peter to Tony and Don and so many others.
My birthday present to myself is a pair of strange (Olivia says "quite
ugly and quite beautiful") gold earrings, round swinging hoops in the
shape of a very delicate serpent-animal biting its tail - it is a copy of
some very old museum piece, Egyptian perhaps, or Cretan; I haven't discovered
yet. From Don, a ticket to Fry's The Lady's Not for Burning done
by the Kingston theatre group at the Domino Theatre (the warehouse theatre
I've told you about first term) - one of my favorite-of-all plays, full
of long rich sentences, words, words, eccentric personalities appreciating
each other and understanding each other as real eccentrics and non-eccentrics
never do, fairytale and yet often true. Do you remember The Dark is Light
Enough, Mother? That was Fry too.
Father, is the veteranarian you get from Grande Prairie called Summerville?
Do you know him? Ian Summerville, whom I met this weekend (and spent part
of it with, mostly Saturday birthday-party night) is his nephew and was
wondering if you did.
A student government meeting which goes on for hour after tedious hour
of quarrelling over details - we are 'packing the meeting' (ie filling the
meeting with friends we have especially asked to come) because there will
be a vote later on to determine whether the Summer Project gets a $1500
grant from the student gov't. This is very important - and although it is
11:30 and we've been here since 7:00, we'll hang around until Don gives
his speech and we vote. Much later.
Am spending the dusty hours dreaming - plans seem to be solidifying -
if possible, Strasbourg University next year studying French and German
- Strasbourg is in Alsace, just inside France, but near the German border,
in the Rhine valley (le Bas-Rhine) - I can get full credit there toward
a degree from Queen's - many people already have. It will be studying, living,
eating, sleeping, writing, thinking, in French and in the German dialect
called Alsacienne. All that remains is to be accepted by the university
- and to write millions of information letters.
- 12:30, we still haven't arrived at the important vote!
- 1:30, still no vote but at last they're discussing it.
- 1:35, vote taken, motion passed, we have the money!
March 4, Thursday
Lying on the floor, ten in the morning, beginning the day listening to
side 3 of the B Minor Mass, my favorite side because it has the alto
Qui Sedes aria on it (you have this on the Maureen Forester record
of arias that I left with you) followed immediately by the Quonium
aria for bass. (Are you still hoping to come East in April? If you do you
can take back all my records.)
Outside, sun on the tower - suddenly the quality of the light has changed,
it is spring sunshine, the puddles are warming to it, even the snow is warm
under bare feet, the trees stand out against the sky more insistently, darker
because the sap is running, but the tips are still ash-white, by the lake,
bushes are red (do you remember last year, I had a bundle of red twigs in
my room and suddenly they burst into tiny green leaves?) and the line of
islands is a smoky blue. I sat reading by the lake yesterday, couples went
by holding hands, men whistling (I am becoming an accomplished whistler,
it is a great satisfaction to break into a whistle when walking along a
street to class - whistling is especially effective late at night when the
air seems hollow and echoes from every building add resonance to the tone)
(Rasheed disapproves - he and Basil have a proverb which they insist on
- fruitlessly - quoting at me, "A whistling woman and a crowing hen
are an abomination unto the Lord.")
Come lie on the floor with me, share my coffee, and listen to the record
once more before I have to go to work.
After sitting by the lake yesterday, stopped in to see Florence O'Donnell,
you'll remember, the Levana president Queen's graduate of fifty years ago.
I brought her a red twig and a bit of youth I suppose, and she gave me anecdotes
of early Queen's girls, showed me their pictures all with their earnest
faces and academic gowns, a small class, but most of them distinguished
themselves. She spoke for a long time and very affectionately of a little
French girl, Cécile, who was too poor to buy a graduation dress but
walked off the platform in her borrowed patent leather shoes and donated
flowers with gold medals in both English and French, the first to get two
medals and one of the first women ever to beat a man for the English prize.
Those days are so real and so pleasant to Miss O'Donnell, it is sad to see
how they've passed and she is just a bony figure with a hairy face and watery
eyes, and a mind full of vanishing images. So many people have died this
year, Grannie Atkinson, Mr Hamm, the Luddingtons (I'm sad to hear that Effie
Luddington is dead; I think she felt that even in paradise her pudding-headed
Ed would be thumping his stick asking for her, so off she shuffled after
him - she was a very gallant, cheerful, stubborn person, full of affection
and humor, and sharpness when necessary).
If you come to Kingston (I am hoping very much that you will, my friends
are too) and if you want to come to classes with me, it has to be before
April 6 when my classes end - exams begin on the 14th, end on the 26th.
It will be beautiful here in April, it is beautiful now, so come if you
can, and you will have a royal tour. And for the people who stay at home,
you can take back all my books and records I'll save having to ship
or store them, and the kids will feast -
March 11, Thursday?
No, Friday, morning before French lecture and the sun has been very bright
on our tower since early this morning.
So Frank has a girl? That makes me a bit sad in spite of myself.
I have an appointment today with a photographer - passport photographs.
It's eleven - off to class on the bicycle.
Noon - I'm back, have just been walked home by Mike, Peter Fraser's eccentric
roommate, who found that he had to push Beowolf home for the privilege,
but Beowolf is limping because a few of its spokes are out; he is an incredible
wreck. Olivia doesn't know it yet, but I'm going to bequeath my Beowolf
to her for her birthday present - she'll be here working on the summer project
and will need him.
You ask, am I solvent? Indeed, very much so, my loan more than covers
me to the end of the term, plus the way home.
Birthday - besides the Saturday-before party with Don and Cheryl, that
I mentioned last letter, this is what happened. March 6 was Saturday: I
was home studying on Friday night and Olivia was away somewhere. Soon it
was 1:30 a.m. and the telephone rang. Olivia, "Happy birthday, roommate
- I'm at Tony's, why don't you come down for coffee and a study break?"
So I did - opened the door, and was grabbed from both sides by Olivia and
Tony, who marched me to a throne along a rug they had spread across the
floor, to the Moonlight Sonata. Gave me coffee in a large mug, set
a present (in a shoebox) at my elbow, and sat down at my feet! The present?
On top, a Watchtower pamphlet, and then something knobby wrapped
in paper towels. Tony's present, a brass cowbell that he got when he was
in Germany as a child (his father was in the army), one of his most cherished
souvenirs. On the front of it is a painting of mountains and a red-roofed
Alpine village, and the name of the place, Kitzbühel.
Then we had a poetry reading, all sitting around and reading our favorite
bits aloud - all sorts of people dropped in, a West Street custom, although
it was after two, and stayed to read their favorites. Alison Gordon came,
and David Glassco read Shakespearian sonnets in a well-modulated self-consciously
dramatic voice that made me grin a bit. This went on until dawn, and then
we went home to bed. Twenty years old, bicycling home at dawn, many good
friends, good times of poetry remembered, plans and as many dreams as sixteen
had, some concrete realizations of those dreams already begun, much learning
past and future, a sort of confidence that is still idealistic and due for
some knocks from reality, but already reinforced by reality as well, changes,
but not many, still in many ways a child, alternately in many ways an adult,
glad that it is spring, glad for you all at home, glad for your remembrances
and Grandma's CARE package, hoop earrings and a cowbell, frequent flights
of madness and frequent deserts of alienation, incredible people, a form
of faith in life.
On Sunday night Rasheed dressed up in a suit and took me to dinner (wore
the lace blouse, Judy, it is gypsy and rather wanton with the earrings!),
then we went to a Cliff Richards (British rock and roll star) movie and
hooted all the way through, then had coffee and played the jukebox like
Wednesday afternoon I fetched Carol Dresser (my Sunnyside pet) from school
(had Miss Detweiler's permission) and we both played hookey to run downtown
and see a ballet movie by the Covent Garden Royal Ballet of London. It consisted
of scenes from four different ballets. We bought a large package of humbugs,
took them upstairs to the balcony, sat in the front row with our feet up,
and waited. The balcony was almost empty - curtains up, humbugs crackling,
eyes wide - and it was excellent. Every once in a while, Carol who 'adores'
ballet, would be carried away and mutter, "Oh gee - ." And when,
in the last ballet, she recognized the music of The Sleeping Beauty as music
they pretend-dance to at home she hummed along.
We were both so elated afterwards that we ran half the way home, then
we picked up my bicycle and she rode while I pushed, up and down curbs with
éclat, through puddles, roaring Dites-moi pourquoi (the French
song I taught her this summer) on the tops of our voices!
This letter seems full of exclamation.
And yesterday, overcome by a craving for movies, O and I phoned all our
friends and we went back to the Odeon for the five o'clock showing of the
opera Der Rosenkavalier. There is something slightly silly
about opera, but much of the music was glorious, the sets and costumes were
certainly sumptuous, and sitting in the balcony eating doughnuts, with our
feet up, we enjoyed it, snickering often! We are going to another five o'clock
showing on Saturday, The Pumpkin Eater. Isn't it peculiar that college
people, after all the adolescent insistances on going steady and early dating,
and in spite of their liberal view of sex, seem to prefer group dates. True,
there is a difference in the groups - whereas a high school group is often
no more than teens who travel around together because they are in the same
school, college groups are made up of people with the same interests, who
have tastes for the same things, who have a peculiar understanding of each
other. Also, at least among the non-conventional people I know, there is
little steady dating. This sounds like a commentary again; I'm so eager
to tell you about the tickings of the whole university system that I tend
to sound like a Royal Commission report sometimes. Sorry -
Tonight, am going to the drama guild's production of two one-act plays
tonight with Jim White, the bright-eyed Londoner I spoke of often last year
- I feel a certain amount of ownership toward one of the plays, because
Danny, Peter and I painted an op sun for its set - "op" art is
the art of optical illusions. Ralph Allen is doing some excellent work and
we borrowed a design from him for the sun - it is a series of black lines
converging to a centre, on a stark white ground, and when you look at it,
it seems to shimmer, to give off vapours, to draw you into the centre; the
illusion is very powerful. The sun is to be on a desert, and the effect
should be just right.
It has been a whole week of birthday.
Must get a new ribbon.
Olivia has just remarked, "Ellie never stops talking about what
a good life she has." Just because she is not having such a
good life - Don is being difficult and perverse and so on.
13 March Saturday
Bright, windy afternoon, just got your letter, have spent the morning
reading a German play and eating huge triple ice cream cones - something
about spring wakens a passion for ice cream EVERY YEAR, heavy banks of brilliant
white clouds are rrrolling across the sky.
Am typing downstairs downstairs because it is Saturday morning afternoon
and Olivia is sleeping - spoke too soon, she's up.
Ian Summerville? Not 'nice.' Isn't in university at all because he hasn't
the gumption to get a few final grade thirteen subjects I think, wants to
go into medicine if he can ever collect himself sufficiently, acts in some
of the drama guild projects if he doesn't decide to 'fink out' at the last
moment, works as a bartender downtown now, has periodic bouts of drinking
himself; still, is in a way brilliant, in a way a very lost little boy,
in a way beautiful - I don't bump into him often: when I do I am alternately
charmed by his effervescence and frightened by the intensity of his lostness.
What is his uncle like?
Yes, Peter mentioned his plans for study in France in his Christmas letter;
he has been dreaming for a long time. Hope I bump into him there every once
in a while, he would be good exploration company.
Beowolf spent the winter in the courthouse [basement] because, wracked
with rheumatism as he was, some vagrant stole him from his homely bicycle
All seems well at Sunnyside - Sherry has gone to a new home, Kevin has
one arranged, with HORSES (the greatest symbol of desireability that any
home can have). Peter Hagedorn is on several weeks holiday in Holland. Carol
is sad because she still hasn't got a home.
How did Paul come to midwifery? Was it an emergency? I've always wanted
to see a calf born, but Father never thought it was a good idea to have
us hanging around. And when we crawled onto the top of the barn and tried
to look down the hay holes, we couldn't see anything, it was too dark.
The plays last night were excellent, our "op" sun seemed to
radiate heat on the all-white set - the play was by Tennessee Williams,
stark and shocking, so the set was good.
Do you want to hear about yesterday afternoon, as an example of what
happens because of spring? Rode downtown on Beowolf (sloppy, new sneakers
- sneakers make one want to run - green stockings, one of Tony's big black
sweaters, pigtails) for the passport photos in the studio of Wilfred Higgs.
I've talked to Higgs' wife before about some of the photos he has displayed.
When I remark to him that I think his photo of New York seen mistily through
branches in Central Park is excellent, he exclaims "You must be the
Queen's student my wife was telling me about," shows off his Hasselblad
camera, lets me focus it, shows me lenses, digs through piles of old photographs
for his favorites, shows me German photomagazines, talks about the time
he met Margaret Bourke-White in Bermuda where he grew up, talks about watching
Steichen (the real Founding Father of American photographers) work New York,
talks about techniques, lovingly pats his Hasselblad, reminds me to look
up some of the excellent German photographers, sets me on a box, tells me
to turn slightly left and drop my chin, eyes a bit left, flash flash flash,
reminds me to come for them on Wednesday, tells me to come by any time and
talk - then I run across the street to Cooke's Store, the oldest store in
Canada, founded in 1868 - through the large wooden doors that have been
there since the store was built, long oiled-wood aisles like the ones in
the old school houses, here comes Mr Cooke himself, plump, a warm face,
old, with wrinkles of skin in round folds, long soft white hair. He talks
about the store, "You see the sign there painted over, the shelves,
Italian Warehouse? It means that we handled products from the Mediterranean,
olives, cheeses." He shows me the line of luxury chocolates from Holland,
Drosges. "Drosge himself has been here, invited me to come to see him
in Holland, he'd show me a good time!" I ask him, "I'm sure you
haven't been here since then?" He tells me the long long story of how
he bought his way into the business five dollars a week, he tells me about
the days when trolleys rolled through City Park, when you could take your
girl out on a great evening for thirty five cents: thirteen for bus rides
out to Ontario Park for both of you (eight tickets for a quarter), buy two
dishes of ice cream (10¢), see a show (10¢), and have the last
rides for the evening on the merry-go-round, two pennies. I bought three
chocolate Easter eggs with a liquer in the centre, wrapped in beautiful
shiny paper, then was wobbling down the street again on Beowolf (people
are always smiling) when a very handsome Queen's boy whom I didn't know
called across the street, "What's the matter with your bicycle, pull
up a minute and maybe I can fix it." So he kicked it a few times, I
gave him an Easter egg, we talked for a while on the corner, and as he sailed
away on his bicycle, I found that Beowolf was not improved, but if possible,
twice as crippled and clanking too! Hm.
This is just a demonstration of how friendly everyone suddenly has become.
I'm going to Ottawa tomorrow afternoon. Unfortunately. Because I should
be working - but suddenly, we have to attend the demonstration for civil
rights that SUPA and SNICK are staging. It is a march protesting the US
handling of Selma Alabama, you've heard of what happened there, and supporting
the civil rights workers. We leave by bus tomorrow morning, meet students
from all the other Eastern universities, and amass as large a group as possible
- Olivia and I have been systematically going through Who's Where
pages assigned to us, inviting people, mostly hedging people, to join us.
Everyone can't afford the time, but we believe that this is important now
- student protest -
An exciting day in Ottawa today, perhaps you've seen the front page news
stories or the television news: I wonder if you heard about a student group
from Queen's and wondered if I was in it.
I was impressed and excited by the bright blue sky above the Parliament
Buildings, the black tree branches so sharply outlined, the line blocks
long of people walking, walking, with their protest banners, to the long
grassy slope in front of the House of Parliament, between the West and East
Blocks - by addresses from two Selma, Alabama negro civil rights workers,
Tommy Douglas, a feeble message from Pearson, an unfortunately stupid prayer
by a Reverent Paul, the applause and cheers of the crowd of students and
adults, the rows of feet and legs moving steadily and slowly and silently
past the US embassy - by Olivia who carried the other end of our "Queen's
Marches for Freedom" banner with her hair blowing and her blue coat
flapping (later she rushed up to Tommy Douglas impulsively to tell him how
wonderful she thought his speech was, she glowed up at him). Don says she
is like a "damn monad," a monad being according-to-definition
an "original unit of life," a simple-complex person that life
seems to race through electrically, storming and crying and shouting and
singing and dancing and swearing and carressing and defying - by the freedom
songs we sang all afternoon and on the bus home, by many of the people there
whom I love and am reluctant to leave next year, by Peggy's face lit obliquely
by the red exit light on the bus, by a queer skinny boy named John who had
a ratty beard and brown child's eyes - by this response of people here to
the problem in Alabama, by the thanks of the Selma representatives, by the
fact that all the five thousand people there were there because a few students
in Toronto took the responsibility of organizing, the fact that a student
Idea can grow and snowball and increase in velocity until something changes
and part of the stubborn 'impracticality' of its originators is justified.
The bell tower of the House of Parliament is especially beautiful: tall,
reddish-brown bricks, fine details in the delicate Gothic style, the green
copper roofs, the bell chiming the hours and quarter hours over the long
slope to the high buildings across the way, songs speeches and the bells
echoed back from many sides.
This year again, my red twigs burst into leaf!
Saturday night March 21
Tonight has been sharpened by the rare, fluctuating realization of what
it is to be alive, myself upon the earth, focused at one intense moment
in history, with the anxious consciousness of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria,
the dim mystical humorous world of the Medieval cathedrals, the subtle subtle
intelligence of Beethoven's Emperor, all co-existing in one room here with
us - as immediate as our own world where we are both sitting with books
in the yellow light and the smoky air; the sky is dark, without detail,
like a coating on the window pane; on the floor are spread pictures cut
from a magazine - a wooden figure of an old man playing a lute with his
head slanted backwards in the foreground of a dark cathedral nave, a green-tinted
photograph of the thirteenth century Eve of Autun carved in stone, floating
sideways in a newly created world of bushy leaves. We have been looking
curiously at the reflections of our faces in the mirror. Olivia is reading
the Aeneid of Virgil and instead of Lawrence Durrell's modern Greece, she
is half absorbed in the ancient archetypal Greece where Jove and Juno are
quarrelling over the fates of heroes. Now, with these other worlds behind
our white door (with the fragments of poetry, many worlds and mind-worlds,
on it) there is a consciousness of your world too, the living room (where
at least Beethoven's world is part of your focus too) (an overlapping of
worlds, Beethoven here and Beethoven with you, and somewhere years ago Beethoven
himself) with its blank wide window, all of you. Other people, Grandmother,
Peter, molecular memories as tangible in a way as the photographs on the
floor (are photographs more than a memory actually?). All this - I wanted
to tell you because I want to remember and because I wanted you to realize
all your worlds too.
A day so bright and clear, and so full of the necessity of working, that
when I sat down to write to you and discovered the feebleness of the black
on my ribbon, I leapt up and ran downtown to get a new one, you can guess
how glad for the excuse. Now the afternoon is still outside the window glimmering
at me, but here is the new ribbon (vigorous isn't it) and I'm tapping to
the tune of Falla's Sorcerer's Apprentice. There seem many sheets
of your letters to be answered, Mother.
Do you know about my vice? I don't smoke, drink, sear, or make love,
BUT on days when it is beautiful and I'm excited, I buy books! Yesterday
I went to Pickwick's and bought three: a two-inch-thick sociological-literary
history of mythology and religions called The Golden Bough, another
novel by Durrell called Clea, and a volume of criticism of Robert
Frost. To read during the summer I suppose! If you arrive in Kingston with
the truck (I'm still frightened something will come up) I can send my books
and most of my stuff home with you so that I don't have to expensively ship
it by train, and in the stuff will be both the for-the-summer books and
all old textbooks, with permission to open and browse.
How would you like me to bring home some company? I will, as long as
you have no objections - and I'm sure you don't. Rasheed Mohammed has some
time to spend before summer school begins and so I have tentatively invited
him home with me, after the examinations. I know that the first thing which
just now has leaped nimbly into your collective parental minds is "How
nice - but we haven't accommodations." Don't give that a thought,
Rash has lived most of his life in a shanty in Jamaica [Trinidad], his father,
remember, is a subsistance taxi-driver, so Rasheed is no snob. He has some
money left over from his exceedingly generous scholarship allowance and
wants to see part of the rest of Canada during the summer. His roommate
Basil will be back home for a holiday, his other boy-pals have got work,
and since I'm his best-big-or-little-sister-friend, I'd like to have him
along. You would too: he is friendly, gay, intelligent, and interested as
well as full of stories about Jamaica. Anyway, you'll meet him when you
come. He has just now received permission from the External Affairs office,
and is quite thrilled with the idea.
Don is playing stern father to Olivia now, making sure that she works.
Two nights ago, for instance, he told her that if she had her term paper
done for two in the afternoon of the following day, and got an affidavit
from me to verify the fact that she was actually finished, he would take
her out on Friday night. And so she stayed up until five a.m. and finished
the paper. When she woke me to tell me, I was wide awake and composed Don's
affidavit for him. Here it is (you've had sample of my other poetry, do
you like this better?)
- For Don - an Eppic in the Manner of Pope and Milton
- I feel the poet in me stir
- (Still half in stupor as it were)
- And sit me down this break of dawn
- To sing you of a paragon.
- Now herewith do I sign and seal
- To set my hand in witness
- That Oliv'ia Howell cursed with zeal
- And slavered until dawn - and witless
- Tumbled into her chaste bed.
- But robed in glory, bathed in light,
- Lies the essay, finishéd.
- Through half the day and half the night
- She moaned and muttered, scratched and bled,
- Splashed and choked through pools of sweat
- And tepid coffee. No regret
- Could keep her from her storied fate.
- Now may she slumber deep and late.
You mentioned that my last long letter was "like last year,"
Mother. What was mainly different about last year's letters, besides of
course their greater frequency? This year has been different, perhaps it
seems sluggish and less-interesting to you - in some ways maybe it has been,
but mainly I think it has been the different and essentially much less solitary
life that has perhaps drained some of my lyricizing and emotionality into
an immediate and present relationship rahter than the long-distance one
with you. But you do realize how good the experience of a close everyday-wear-and-tear
relationship has been for me.
Norman is still planning to be at school in Beirout, and for the summer
he has an interesting job as a teacher-labourer in one of those railroad
classrooms in a lumber camp or some such place, you've read about them in
the Family Herald. He doesn't know yet where he'll be sent, but he hopes
it is as far from Ontario as possible, Alberta or BC.
I've just written two excellent essays for Art, about Romanesque and
Gothic cathedrals, but they were unfortunately a month and a half-month
late, respectively, and after Professor Findley gave them both A's and then
knocked them down ten marks each for lateness, he wrote at the bottom of
the last page, "You have a remarkable grasp and you will do very well
in art history, Miss Epp, but you need to heed deadlines!" In studio
classes we have finished our stained glass 'windows' and now are working
with clay - I've done a copy of a little Danish eleventh century bronze
Madonna, and it is really lovely.
Olivia's whole family is coming to see her tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon,
and they are taking me and Don out to dinner with them!
Olivia went to dinner with Don's parents in Ottawa last Sunday afternoon:
she is terribly impressed with them, and Don's twin sisters love her madly,
to the extent of taking Don aside just before they left and telling him
sternly NOT to neglect Olivia's birthday, and they wrote the date on a piece
of paper for him! He is very sweet, a 'catch' I rather envy, and is doing
O a great deal of good.
April 3, Saturday night
Study break, it must be about ten thirty and O and I have done about
seven hours plus of work since one thirty, have about three to go. We give
each other five minute breaks every hour, and once every three hours or
so we take off an hour or a half to go and see Don or Peggy, or to walk,
or now, to dance to some good beaty Cannonball Adderly saxophone jazz that
Mark lent us. Sometimes we have an ice cream cone or some cashew nuts or
a philosophic-psychologic-literary discussion just for a treat: both of
us are concentrating heroically and very proud of ourselves - and now we
are fantastically interested by all our courses again and wish we had done
more work during the year. I can hear Olivia clapping and stamping in the
next room and am trying to type to the irregular drum-thud myself. We do
welcome these breaks by now you'll have an answer to the last letters
in the mail, and I hope you'll tell when you're coming or if you are on
the way now.
7, Wednesday night
We have just discovered that Mr Shurtleff of Shurtleff's Milk Bar just
around the corner (fount of all good milkshakes and tomato-bacon toasted
sandwiches and salads) is descended from a stout Norman who was knighted
by William the Conquerer after the Battle of Hastings, 1066, and can trace
his ancestors all through the intervening time, one of 'em married that
Wesley guy, you know, who started the Methodist business, and one of them
sat on the prow of the Mayflower going across to America. And then his wife
breaks in, "I didn't know about that one, Jack, you know they didn't
come over until fourteen years after." But Mr Shurtleff just winks
at us and goes on about the UEL who swum the Lake across after the War.
(UEL? And what war?) "Y'mean you don't know what a UEL, United Empire
Loyalist, is?" But I'm from the Prairies an' we don't have any history
there. "Holy cow!" and he shakes his head at me.)
Shurtleff's is almost a focus of this year in the same way that the cathedral
tower is, they know us well, they see us in all conditions from haggard
at eight a.m. after an essay night (bacon and eggs) to bristled with rollers
at 6 p.m. before a date (milkshake and a comic book borrowed from the rack).
They have many other regulars, one of them is Don, a tall thin too-well-groomed
fairy-looking young man who always has about three library books with him
when he has supper, who sits and talks for hours, who is faintly related
to Mr Shurleff's Royal Family Tree. One evening - he always shares his books
- we both became very excited about brilliantly colored butterflies in a
book of his and soon had crowds peering over our shoulders.
Mr Shurtleff looks more like a squire than a knight, and when he talks
about Guillaume le Conquérant I see him in tights and a jerkin with
all sorts of leather pouches hanging from his belt and his stiff grey hair
still falling forward over his forehead under a leather cap with a feather
in it. He has a large, intelligent face with many lines although he is still
only about fifty, his eyebrows are archetypally either kind or humorous
(rather Robert Frostian) and he always has a gay word for the kids who come
in: "Hi gum-digger, you've got another three cents to spend, hurry
up." And when we ask for an ice-cream cone he reaches for the double-size
cones and gives us just a bit extra. Usually cherry-vanilla, raspberry-ripple
and pineapple-orange, very elegant. Mrs Shurtleff is thin and nervous with
a narrow mouth and hard blue eyes and a disposition to match it - she disliked
both of us when she thought we were flirting with 'her boys,' Rash and Basil
who live with them.
A bit of documentation about study-time here: phenomena observed are,
intense urges to eat Burnt Almond chocolate bars and watch television, the
absolute necessity of going to movies (very unfortunately, the Odeon downtown
chose study week to have a Bergman festival, art movies for three days,
and we've gone of course! Yesterday, when Don and Olivia and Peg and I were
standing blinking after The Magician, Dr Campbell came over to buy
a ticket and exclaimed, with his Scottish-leprechaun ears quivering with
fiendish glee, "Why Miss Epp! I am surprised to see you here!")
The main spectre of exam time is naturally NERVES, O and I alternately
love each other elaborately and fight shouting-fights. A few nights ago
she came in at two thirty and announced "That really finished
our friendship as far as I'm concerned, I'll try to make it as easy for
you as I can for the next two weeks" - she didn't make it any further
than that because I welcomed the study break and shouted back, "Well
if you think after the way you've behaved that you can just come in and
make your little announcements without telling me what I'm supposed to have
done and without asking what MY side of the story is, you can . @**!"
and so on at the tops of our voices, with me getting up and pointedly closing
the door to the hall just when she reached top volume (nevermind MY top
volume!) and so on back and forth until I was just thundering some climax,
waving my arms, flashing thunder at her - and she giggled. And I giggled.
And we ended up howling with laughter, the misunderstanding cleared up,
and said goodnight very affectionately. I believe in fights! Hey, are you
coming? If so when? I keep waiting for a letter from you, are you going
to let me know or NOT?
Will you already have the garden in by the early or middle of May, or
can I do it? Peter tells me that the rites of spring to Woden require that
cattle be driven through blazing hoops and that the naked natives bath in
the dew - but if I leave out those two aspects can I have my rites of spring
on Webber's Folly? Do we still have Buck, I can't remember. I don't know
yet when I'll arrive. Peggy is inviting people to her summer cottage in
Algonquin Park for a while and I'd like to go, as well as spend a few days
here saying goodbye to people.
I'm anxious to have you formally okay Rasheed's visit so that I can reassure
See youse soon.
April 18, Easter Sunday
Suddenly the Salvation Army music is the choir song George Block taught
us years ago for Easter - what was its name, "The lambs were weary
and crying." I miss the choir, Mr Block's lovingness, and sometimes
faith as well.
Norman phoned me at six thirty this morning, to wake me and tell me to
out the window because it has snowed slightly during the night, the
sun was bright on the trees and wires and roofs, glinting on the snow, against
a clean pink and blue sky, birds' sounds. He had simply wanted me to see
it before the snow melted he is a good friend. When I woke again at
noon, the snow, the sun, the birds, the glory, was gone.
But about five, ironically or at least strangely, because or when, Norman
came to see us, the sun came out again. I went walking, found grass green,
willows red, white flowers pushing through, branches silvery from the sap.
I'm happy that my worst exams are over, that it is almost summer, that I'm
coming home. I'm sad to say goodbye to Tony, Don, Olivia, all the others,
and to leave Kingston just as it becomes beautiful again.
I'm going to take Carol out to dinner and to see Mary Poppins
next Wednesday, I'm excited as she'll be when she finds out!
Worst exams - written, only art and German, neither of them a real problem,
I bought a pink tulip downtown, long-stemmed and stuck into a wine bottle
with a fern - in the little brown brandy bottle, a thorny twig with orange
leaves. Die Welt ist so gross und grün.
I'll see you soon, but don't expect me until I arrive! We won't leave
till the end of April at least.
- raw forming volume 3: 1964-1965 september-april
- work & days: a lifetime journal project