A few years ago a friend generously paid for me to go to an “Earth and Religion” conference at Bard. As soon as I arrived I looked for an opportunity to volunteer, as volunteering is a great way to feel part of something and make friends. I was set to collating and stapling handouts at a table with a few other people, all like minded, and we eased into a conversation.
We were jolly, I was myself, funny, quick witted, verbal, and when someone brought up the topic of crossword puzzles, a man my age, wearing an old beret, looked at me with hatred and sneered, “I’ll bet you’re great at those.”
This may not seem like much, but I was cut. I was bleeding. Here I was at a save-the-earth-through-love event and right off I was hit with a sort of male malevolence I’ve encountered over and over. (The joke here, I’m rotten with crosswords and Scrabble.)
A few days later this same man came up to me with guilt-at least he knew what he’d done. So that’s that.
Recently I was invited to a James Joyce/Ulysses reading and discussion group. There were two other members. One a scholar and poet who once studied with James Wright. The other a new poet sidetracked by marriages and kids. I enjoyed reading Joyce outloud-that’s a pleasure and I think strength of mine-hearing and speaking rhythms.
The scholar was cool and knowledgeable; the nonscholar was sincere and a good soul, but had a concordance which “explained” Ulysses. He was intent on explaining Joyce to me, and not for the first time. I’m not going into the details, but I looked into my heart and realized I had been through similar so many times with with men and just better not show up for this one.
I now swerve to the famous Emily Dickinson quotation, "Tell all the truth, but tell it slant." My swerve is a little suspect, logically. A parabola of jello in the sun. But I was recently reminded of the quote and shortly after, thought of the above two incidents. I flashed on Emily in her well-kept home in Amherst, brilliant Emily, who may have found solitude the only way to keep sane. Maybe she wrote "Tell all the truth, but tell it slant” because, being so innately clever (and, please, I understand that Sarah Sarai : Emily Dickinson :: one daisy : all the flowers of Paradise) because she was fed up with the witless and weary of speaking carefully.
Could be she'd first thought it, in a context other than the poem. Maybe this is Emily being snide or exasperated. For chrissakes, dude, tell, but be hip. You know the old joke. Do Quakers swear? Sure. Fuck thee.
Thanks to Alfred Corn, a very warm soul and extraordinary poet, who reminded me of the Dickinson quote and did so in a far more interesting manner than the above.
Apologies to all good souls mentioned. We all say and do stupid things, have old and new wounds. Ain’t that so.
Image from: http://quakeragitator.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/quakers_prison_ministry.jpg
(I once was a Member of the Religious Society of Friends.)