First went to classes today, a brilliant typical Kingston day with Lower
Campus blazing in reds and golds, wind sifting through the leaves there
are left, a strange leaf-rot smell almost like bananas. Courses? First this
morning was a course I have with Olivia, a philosophy course that talks
about how we know what we know and so on. Dr Estall is a small neat man
with a huge head and a large loose-skinned face that twists itself because
of his hairy expressive eyebrows. He speaks slowly and absently and pedantically,
but there is a hint of suppressed wryness that makes him interesting.
Afternoon - course in English Romantic poets with Doctor Walley. He sits
at one end of the long lecture table and I am at the other end, and that
thin distinguished face confronts me so directly that it frightens me, and
those humorous tragic eyes dig me out of my stupor, and that controlled
beautiful voice goes on saying incredible things that I understand with
excitement, but that no one has ever said to me before!
Don is here every night to eat with us. We take turns cooking and washing
up. Olivia is a good cook, with ingenious ideas for cheap meals and a generous
hand with spices. In this way we eat very well and cheaply - meat and potatoes
and all, for a dollar a day divided into three meals. I'll even learn to
The trees in Lower Campus, when you come up Queen's Crescent from the
English Annex, arrange themselves in overlapping bands of color fusing and
streaking with the violence of sideways motion, but at the same time delicate
and pointillist (the Seurat tree Jerry showed me on the hill across from
the Colosseum) and hard as enamel.
I wore red shoes, yellow stockings, short navy skirt and long navy sweater,
the hitchhiking bag over my shoulder and the red cap. People who met me
smiled - I don't know if from approval or amusement.
DH Lawrence is one of the best poets I've read. The Cumulative Biography
absorbs me; I feel that he himself absorbs me because he is me, but all
that I am is extended in him, pushed out indefinitely further.
179 Division is home and haven. Olivia too - there was an estrangement,
strangeness at first but we found our contact again, with more tolerance
than before, but as much confidence. Don too - with his intelligence, humour,
unpredictability, complexity, gift of bringing people out. The relationship
between them - a vital, tense, often stormy thing, full of conflict because
they want so much and are determined not to compromise either in what they
want or in what they're unwilling to give up. The process, the struggle,
intrigues me - and when they're in accord, the house is all the better for
We have another boarder now - Greg eats with us every evening too and
puts his five dollars per week into the kettle - also he and Don do the
dishes, so not only do we have more money but we do less work. When we go
across the street to the Dominion store, where the boys in white aprons
know us well, the pinchings and questions of "What is ..?" and
"Where is ..?", on the Friday nights to do shopping we have a
cart full enough to feed a family of eight children. Dinners are fun - they
are both witty and we're all in a state of grace this year (maybe it is
youth), and close.
"We had become, with the approach of night, once more aware of loneliness
and time - those two companions without whom no journey can yield us any
thing.: Durrell, Bitter Lemons
"The ethical view of the universe involves us at last in so many
cruel and absurd contradictions, where the last vestiges of clarity and
even reason itself seem ready to perish, that I have come to suspect that
the aim of creation cannot be ethical at all, I would fondly believe that
its object is purely spectacular: a spectacle for awe, love, adoration,
or hate, if you like, but in this view alone - never for despair! These
visions are a moral end in themselves! The rest is our affair - the laughter,
the tears, the tenderness, the indignation, the high tranquility of a steeled
heart, the detached curiosity of a subtle mind - that's our affair! And
the unwearied self forgetful attention to every phase of the living universe
reflected in our consciousness may be our appointed task on this earth -
a task in which fate has perhaps engaged nothing of us except of conscience,
gifted with a voice in order to bear true testimony to the visible wonder,
the haunting terror, the infinite passions, and the illimitable serenity;
to the supreme law and abiding mystery of the supreme spectacle." Joseph
Conrad, Personal Record - Freund says "not a facile romanticism,
but a difficult and ironic one."
We could turn when we were too happy or too wrung and clutch each other
as a refuge from each other. Long and quiet; his face in repose and his
mouth held carefully; his hair brassy blond at the top where it is thin,
face like a child, like a child. I'm against his shoulder like a child and
he is large, he's very strong. I'm strong as well and we celebrate body
and each other. What else - everything we love, focused on, radiant from,
the broad blue bed on the floor and this life close against my life warming
it warming the bed, the room.
Hard bits of snow rattle against the window, in one of the square panes
two branches of a black oak sway dropping slowly as seaweed in grey water.
Professor Estall is talking about natural law and statute law becoming one
in the concept of God as creator. We lay last night under the blue and white
blanket and the wind howled outside the blue black square of the window.
The room was cold, we were warm where our backs touched.
"At five o'clock on December 22 we wondered where we would be this
time next year" Greg said. "Write that somewhere."
January 4 1967
I write little mostly because I have little impulse to write - nothing
is new after two years here, except ideas and work, neither of which are
really communicable. I do little, except work and sleep and talk to the
three friends who are always the same three friends. We live in an extremely
ugly neighbourhood and it rains nearly all the time. We can't afford concerts
for the most part - extreme happiness or unhappiness is easier to talk about
at length than routine and contentment!
The Outsider, Colin Wilson. I've read it through directly, leaving
it on the chair (with my light clipped to the back of it) to sleep and picking
it up again when I woke. Steppenwolf was my first experience of someone
else admitting to the same isolation that Frank and I had first recognized
in each other. So this is not some terrible thing I have alone - here is
Frank. So we loved each other. Then wandering in Istanbul feeling the ruinous
bestiality in men, where I'd seen only feebleness before, I came upon Steppenwolf
and felt the kinship of this middle-aged misanthropic intellectual, with
myself - now Colin Wilson talks about me and Steppenwolf, Frank, Raskolnikov,
Ivan Karamazov, Nietzsche, Van Gogh, Nijinsky, TE Lawrence, James, Shaw,
Barbusse, Sartre, Camus, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Hesse, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy
(Death of Ivan Ilyich), Eliot, Mann, Goethe, Hemingway, Wells, Yeats,
Blake, Fox, Joyce. He even quotes Sartre's passage about the nausea that
overcame him as he stared at the root of a tree in the public gardens, -
the one I had written out in my last journal.
There is an excerpt from Petrarch's diary in which he describes a stormy
night in Venice. He heard shouting below, ran to his window, and saw ships
casting off: "Their masts considerably overtopped the two corner towers
of my palazzo. And at this moment, with all the stars hidden by clouds,
as my walls and roofs were shaken by the wind, as the sea roared hellishly
below, the ships cast loose from the quay and set forth on their journey.
When I could no longer follow the ships with my eyes, moved and stirred
I picked up my pen again, exclaiming: 'Oh how dear to men is life, and how
little account they take of it!' I had got thus far, and was thinking of
what to say next, and as my habit is, I was pricking my paper idly with
my pen. And I thought how, between one dip of the pen and the next, times
goes on, and I hurry, I drive myself, and speed toward death. We are always
dying. I while I write, you while you read, and others while they listen
or stop their ears, they are all dying."
Olivia led us in a three-ring circus one night last week. She sat in
a chair with her blue legs up and the tops of her stockings showing; Don
sat in his large chair with the light on his shoulder; Greg was hunched
forward in the armchair beside the door with his back to me and my feet
under him keeping warm; and I sat wrapped in his bathrobe trying to hold
its edges together. Olivia forced them into acknowledging things they'd
said to her at one time: she forced Don into declaring his "feelings
toward Greg" and toward me (an island "You only see the sweep
of the light from the lighthouse ... you'd like to jump into the current
and swim across, but you never have ... once, in the library?"). She
forced Greg to acknowledge curiosity about Don.
Sometimes when I'm lonely it isn't my body, it's my mind - I want to
have a contact. I was thinking of Don sitting at his desk looking up radiantly
when I told him how good his valentine to Olivia was: Snoopy and Lucy fighting
with teeth and hair in points, then Snoopy, "I can't stand it any longer,"
gives her a smack. I love him - sometimes the sense of contact that I have
when I watch his face bewilders me; I'm careful of him, I cherish him, I
can't have him, and the light striking through his eyes slantwise makes
him seem insubstantial, almost flame, energy without matter.
My room in Athens, large windows on the hallway, one low cot in the corner,
the small table with journal and Botticelli, the folding wooden camp chair,
nightgown on a nail behind the door. Jean-Jacques' bedroll spread randomly
on the floor under the window - the grimy white shirt over the back of the
chair, the neighbour's chanting prayers night and morning, the dim early
morning cry of the rag woman, the street outside already brilliant with
sun when we emerged from the dark stairway at 8 o'clock to buy bread and
butter, arm-over-shoulder, happy.
Beckett on Proust: "Habit is a compromise effected between the individual
and his environment. It is a generic term for the countless treaties concluded
between the countless subjects that constitute the individuals and their
correlative objects. The periods of transition that separate consequentive
adaptations represent the perilous zones in life of the individual, dangerous,
painful, mysterious and fertile, when for a moment the boredom of living
is replaced by the suffering of being."
Saturday morning, woke in the sleeping bag with sunlight on all the white
walls, the red and blue light concentrated in bars on the side of the bed,
Greg tramping in to wake me. We made bran muffins and I scrubbed the kitchen
while they baked. Then we took all twelve of them upstairs on a plate, ate
them with thick slices of butter, sitting in the sun. Then he kissed the
side of my neck (and we moved the three muffins left to my desk) and lay
watching clouds through the top half of the window (who could have dreamed
that my room could be so beautiful, last October when it was covered with
pink wallpaper?) He was extremely happy - I was too.
I wear green stockings, yellow ones, silvery blue ones that glitter:
one fat leg and one thin one, grotesque but defiant. I will not camouflage
- this much at least I can afford to offer small boys on the street and
young men with raised eyebrows, they can peer as they like.
The gooseberry bush at the psychiatry department came out in leaves this
morning - not leaves, suggestions of leaves - as Olivia and I went off to
write a philosophy exam in my best course this year: first exam. At last
the depression of being two months before the exams is gone (two weeks before,
two days before), from now on it is eat, study, sleep, study, write in a
solid succession that makes time disappear reliably day by day until finally
on May 6 at 5 p.m. I come out of the tunnel and it's nearly summer. The
worst part is the two weeks before, when you can't work but you feel guilty
continuously; depression, bad temper, black gloom, hatred particularly of
your best friends.
May 29, Toronto, 54 Park Hill Road
Special delivery letter from Don. As I was sitting reading The Return
of the Native in a sunny corner of the upstairs sofa, Toozie climbed
the stairs to bring me a letter, half covered with stamps and with Don's
small pointed handwriting in the address. Five closely written sides apologizing
first for his strange hostile behavior to me lately. He's been alternately
polite and impersonal, and uncivil. He's seemed to find me a silly woman
with opinions not worth air-space. But it isn't the way I thought, it's
better, but it's painful, and I want to kick someone in the teeth - not
Don. I've known for moments at a time: the night of the ballet when I wore
the low-cut orange-and-gold dress, came down the stairs from the balcony
toward them and he said only "Ellie!" and then covered his stare
with chatter. Olivia led him away and I felt an undercurrent which dismayed
me: jealous custody. One night late he couldn't sleep and was reading Time
in the kitchen: he looked up with his face open and soft, for once. I remember
the night [in second year] we had a dinner party and I got drunk out of
loneliness for him, necked with Bruce on the floor; later he picked me up
from the couch and I remembered long-painfully the sharp smell of his perspiration
and the wiry muscle in his thin arm. One night before I left for Europe
Olivia unknowingly, as we walked home from Lino's, suggested that he put
an arm over my shoulder as well. He did, and I put my hand over his wrist,
and we walked home down West Street as he made his Donald Duck noises, three
together. Perhaps Olivia did realize, and was demonstrating her power. Perhaps
even now she knows; and if so I can understand why my philosophy marks distress
her more than they should, perhaps why she has felt threatened by me this
year. A frank-discussion period she arranged, if so, was either a test or
a demonstration, and dangerous in any case. But we could be trusted, although
I overquietly spilled what I felt and he went on about islands.
[June-July letters to Greg from La Glace from here on]
Father looks like a tough movie Mexican, burned copper-leather from wind
and sun, grizzled, white hair among his whiskers, haggard after a month's
spring work. He's already fond of Maria but stares at me strangely. Mother
and he were at Dan's Lunch in Hythe at 4:45 this morning to get us from
the bus. A grey dawn with black clouds like mountains in the north. I'd
forgotten how far you can see here, in spite of the hills and the trees.
(But the towns are so ugly, so muddy, so mean!)
There's a feeling about arriving in a small town early in the morning
- tension in the pit of the stomach, the bus dark and other passengers asleep.
There's the pickup parked beside the Chinaman's café. Mother looking
excited and embarrassed, Father looking embarrassed and neither excited
or happy. The ride home always the same: Mother furtively hugs me from the
side, makes conversation; Father answers questions but says little, looks
When she came to meet the bus Mother looked worn out and older, I thought
she'd been crying. Paul says something happened last night before I telephoned
to ask them to get me. "Father was sleeping in the living room looking
righteous, and Mother was looking as though she'd been punched in the back
of the head." Paul is something else - thinner, sardonic, pronouncing
(in a new, slow, deep voice) his carefully chosen mots justes with
slight amusement at himself. He wants to work in the East and I'd like to
help him get away.
Sunday night and I'm up after the rest of the family taking account of
things like the view from our front window. A field of short grass covered
with dandelion heads gone to seed, white and ghostly in the just-past-sunset
light. A farmhouse with a few lighted windows, behind it a ridge of trees
against a strip of intense pink shading through yellow into blue.
Yesterday Paul and I took the pickup for a drive along dirt roads after
a rain, and the light changed to the intense slanted light that appears
here only out of a sky partially filled with storm clouds, in the late evening,
and that isolates objects in shocking clarity.
The fields are like lawns now, covered three inches deep in sprouted
grain. Wild flowers everywhere, wild ducks in the sloughs. I'd like to buy
a quarter section of land here. No, it's not the farmer's daughter, I wouldn't
work the land but let it go back to grass and bush.
Coming home from a Lutheran service tonight Father was loud and bitter
about a certain Isabel. "Other people can cover up, but not her."
"Cover up what, her head?" says Mother naively. "Cover up.
There she sat on the bench, with no sleeves on at all." My stomach
contracts when he goes on like that.
Conversations here always come back to him. The day after I arrived back
Paul said to me, "I'm so full of him I have to talk about him."
We've driven the thirty miles to Grande Prairie together several times
and he usually begins to talk about himself, what he is, what he was, what
he knows. He is proud of his 'insight' into 'human nature,' its selfish
motives and its sly maneuverings, hidden outposts of the 'flesh.' He
is the one who knows and tells the truth and fights for the right. "Yes,
and then they say, 'Epp is looking for trouble again.' But I'm not looking
for trouble. I'm just exposing what they don't think I know. I've always
been able to tell things about people that they won't admit. I just put
everything I know into a sort of computer, and I can tell exactly what they'll
do next. I can't enjoy people any more, they're too predictable," he
says and his voice works itself into a sort of shrillness that I can't take.
Lapse silent, no more argument, change the subject.
Gradually the house becomes quiet: the terse voices of Mother and Father
downstairs stop their back and forth accusation and protest. The house is
cold and it's too windy outside to walk, but as I go on and on to you I
become quieter as well, and the fact that you are there becomes real to
me again. I think of people I like and want to write letters to. Then I
go to bed, push Maria over and go to sleep before I'm done thinking.
Midnight. To celebrate Mother, Rudy, and Paul's end of exams we drove
the pickup back over summerfallow fields to Crocus Hill, a rock outcropping
covered with grass, wildflowers, and thin poplars, which separates two plateaus
of rich lake-bottom soil. Because it's an uncultivable rock island in the
fields, the stones gathered from surrounding fields are piled there, with
bones, bits of wood, and the giant roots pulled up by horses when the land
was cleared twenty or thirty years ago.
We built a fire in an old tub found among the stones and it flared up
just as it became really dark - although the sky was still orange-rimmed.
Rudy found a cow's skull and we put it up on a pole by the fire (remember
the boar's head in Lord of the Flies?), and filled the nose- and
eye-sockets with clover, dill, honeysuckle, unnamed blue and yellow flowers,
and Indian paint brush - in the firelight it looked explosive: the skull-flower
And we danced and howled and beat shin-bones (not ours) against the rock,
Paul, Rudy (in his hood), Leo from next door, Maria and I (with Esquidieu).
When Mother and Father arrived we roasted wieners and marshmallows. Father
put a match to a pile of dry roots and started a huge pale-yellow fire that
fuzzed off into sparks high above our heads. A feeling of well-being in
spite of Father's unnecessary anxiety about wasting wieners or marshmallows
by letting them fall into the fire or be burnt, Maria, Rudy and Leo mad
with excitement of running with burning sticks and knocking off wild sparks,
Paul wanting to talk about Hemingway. Father a skinny black form in flapping
clothes outlined by the root-pile fire. The silly puppy crying behind a
stone and devouring wiener skins. Warm feet on stones around the fire, another
neighbour driving through the fields with his girl to Saturday-night park.
This morning Paul got out of bed, tied his sleeping bag and hard-hat
to the knapsack he'd packed last night, said "I guess I'm going,"
opened the door, walked out and closed it without saying goodbye to anyone,
and walked down the road without looking back - bent a little forward under
the sack with his white hard hat on it like a beetle - looking very tanned
and determined, going out into the world to seek his fortune. He had thirty
dollars. Almost immediately he got a ride with a truck carrying horses.
He'll go to Edmonton, but after that neither he nor I know. He's looking
I had an argument this afternoon in which I told Father that I didn't
believe in souls. He wouldn't believe that I meant it. Then he hinted that
my university professors are evil, fleecing me of my belief and leaving
me open to God's judgment and ruin. Then he told me about a man in Saskatchewan
who had a road accident, and while in the hospital felt that he should "get
right with God." He had never been a religious man, and he did nothing
about this conviction. As he was driving home from the hospital he blacked
out and rolled the car. This time he went back to the hospital crippled
for life; but he understood at last that he must "get right" and
he did. I asked Father whether he thought that the man would have rolled
the car if he'd made the right decision the first time: Father said he would
The worst of it is that, if anything ever does happen to me, Father will
say he knew it all along. Good ol' God. But I'm not going to surrender;
there's a price on my head, so be careful about riding in the same car.
The line of huge cumulous riding diagonally across the sky was in flames
a minute ago - brilliant orange and pink from the sunset. It has died down
now; it only lasted part of a minute altogether.
There was a postcard from Paul today, mailed in Calgary, saying in 20-odd
words that he is eating and sleeping and hasn't found a job yet.
Do you know Pascal? Have you ever read the Pensées? Last
night reading late I became quite euphoric because of him. "Quand l'univers
l'écraserait, l'homme serait encore plus noble que ce qui le tue,
parce qu'il sait qu'il meurt, et l'avantage que l'univers a sur lui, l'univers
n'en sait rien." I had spent the day reading controversies in philosophy
of mind, history of mentalism vs mechanism in psychology, and criticism
of literary criticism, and then Pascal says quite simply, "La nature
confond les pyrrhoniens, et la raison confond les dogmatiques. Que deviendrez-vous
donc, ô hommes qui cherchez quelle est votre véritable
condition par votre raison naturelle? Vous ne pouvez fuir une de ces sectes,
ni subsister dans aucune." Interestingly enough you can find bald existentialism
in him - I wonder how much of the whole literature is modern.
I'm confused by the real dualism between literature and science: "universes
of discourse" says Philosophy 251, but it isn't only discourse. As
I read I'm alternately scoffing the neural-disturbance sleuths and dedicating
myself to psychology-as-a-science; marveling at the reality of Thomas Wolfe's
world and agreeing that consciousness is unreliable data. Most people eventually
choose either world, but I seem forced to keep them both.
This morning before either Rudy or I were up, Father shot the puppy.
Rudy and I heard Mother asking him why he had done it, and we both leaped
out of bed, stunned. I looked out the window to see Mother protesting that
it had been Rudy's dog and Father whining about how he could "never
do anything right," voice raised, self righteous BASTARD. I lost control,
broke into hysterical, frantic weeping which was as bad as Olivia's worst,
shouted that I hated him (he didn't hear). Rudy just cried quietly.
Later he came in and told Rudy that he was sorry he had shot his dog.
He's never apologized to any of his other children, Mother says he's making
an effort with Rudy.
That's good, amazing, I suppose.
I'm pleased - excited - that you think I could write. I want to. But
I'm worried by being a kind of anachronism; I think that the sort of thing
I could say, as well as my way of saying them, are dated. This is exactly
why I have such a nasty bigot reaction to some of your favorite novels -
they are how people write now, and I can't write that way. I haven't any
sort of contact with that quality of experience, and I can't see any significant
material or style that I could handle well.
There's Father panting in the next room again: I'm repulsed by the fact
that he doesn't care that both Rudy and I can hear them and because it is
always brief and it's always him - Mother never makes a sound. My teeth
are set on edge by it.
Telegram from Greg: "Fantastic letter. Are you enough? - Yes. Hurry
home. Much love."