Monday, January 15, 2007

Hey Sailor, What Ship ?

Or Requiescas in Pacem, Tillie Olsen.

After I read the obituaries last week, the first time I read "As I Stand Here Ironing" came back to me so vividly. There are no interesting circumstances surrounding the first time I encountered Olsen's work; instead, I remember the power of the narrative itself, so distinctive a voice, such dignity and fatigue embued in the simple task of ironing. "Hey Sailor...", as refrain and story, has haunted my own skull, on and off, when the time is right, for years. Read John Leonard's "In Praise of Tillie Olsen" from The Nation. Maybe he is a little younger or a little older than I am, or was more sheltered, as his own account would predict. I knew about black people and poverty,and alcoholism and silence too, but I had never encountered a voice that so eloquently spoke of the human condition stripped of its eloquence. She put into words what my child's eyes had seen. She knew, and that was my surprise. I didn't know about leftists and working class movements (though I would soon learn) when I first read the stories. It was the sense of revelation, not that she knew what I had lived, because I hadn't lived those things, but that the world was like that, and someone saw that, could tell it others. There is a depth of soul there that one does not find, say, in Raymond Carver; though I admire his stories and think they owe much to Olsen, there is a cadence to reality in Olsen that is missing from Carver. It's the cadence of hope, I'd venture, of the characters' sense of themselves as fully human nonetheless, whereas Carver's despair derives from, oftentimes, the characters' self-perceived smallness, or worse, I have sometimes suspected, from Carver's association of economic brutality with brutishness and some desire to portray its emergence.

Tired tonight. I had a three day weekend, and gray and rainy though it has been, it was wonderful. I had a streak of ambition on the housekeeping front, perhaps stemming from my rescue of those pairs of shoes, perhaps because some energy and creativity is really coming back to me (not that these are exclusive. I overhauled ---or hauled out--- the master bedroom closet, folding sheets and sweaters into organizer boxes, neopolitan pinstrip fabric ones, with little windows for viewing the contents, and binning handbags, gloves, and scarves. Oh, and the obligatory hanging shoe storage, of course. The goal was ostensibly the obvious: to be able to find stuff, not trip over shoes and other articles on the floor of the closet, to make room for the Christmas stuff, which now must be restowed, and keep falling onto my head for the better part of a year. The real motive, need, the one that probably had me avoiding the whole de-cluttering activity, was that I had some folders, even a few tote bags, that contained papers from my previous life; some just thrown in during the last minute move, receipts, old mail, even grocery lists, others, though, were loaded: either documents or letters that open the whole all up again, some needing keeping, and others just waiting for the shredder. Mission accomplished, I am happy to say. That, and finding needed items in the morning was becoming the equivalent of negotiating an avalanche at an ice skating rink. The old cats' ashes are perched up there on the shelf, but those I left in place. I need to know where they are, so they are in a spot with other precious mementos. I love my young cats, but I miss you, old girls.

Speaking of, the cats had a high time with all of this activity, the revelation of the forbidden zone (they are banned from the closets), and, in spite of NO SNOW YET, an evening of cookie baking (ginger snaps). Half of these to be mailed off to a friend in the midwest, who is, indeed, knee deep in it, and who will have to slither to work tomorrow and the next several days. As usual, up too late when I shouldn't be. But the house smells good, much of it is clean, and hey, a cold front is coming in. And so, this post's image is clearly not a shoe, but an incredible motivation for getting out of bed in the morning (five is going to be really hard tomorrow): there will be coffee posts on this blog. While in line at the nearest (I wouldn't call it local) Starbucks, this special roast, Casi Cielo, was sitting on the rack out in the middle. The aroma was overwhelming, and I wondered if it would make a good cappucino. I must have done more than wonder, because I bought a pound. I like a dry cappucino (foam and espresso only), so it might be dilute if you add a lot of milk, but, O, the flavor ! Perfect with fruitcake, or with the Times in the morning, and, one hopes, perfect for the 5:00 am dose of reality replete with wide-awake cats perched on the counter ledge, preening and craning their noses toward the steamed milk. 'Night, All.


two_dishes said...

That descriptive detail of the too-awake cats really sets the scene -- painfully so, almost, since getting up before sunrise for work is not a pleasant place to vicariously go! I see shadows and just the stove vent hood light on, backlighting the steam from the coffee.

Cordelia said...

You've got the lighting and the steam exactly right !