Tag Archives: quotations

9 July 2009: Why is there not a discovery in life?

Another bout of this, a day wasted, hours and hours in bed, wet pillowcase. Pain in my armpit. The inability to do anything–and those horrible lines from Love Story, a movie I haven’t even seen, but which has somehow pervaded our culture like cancer itself: “What can you say about a twenty-five year old girl who died?”

What can you say? Nothing. Nobody’s wife or mother, mother of no ill-formed offspring of feeble brain. And yet you can say a hell of a lot more about the twenty-five year old girl who died than the twenty-five year old girl who lived, surely. Because death is infinitely more interesting, published in the pack of lies that accompany it. It makes me sick.

K. is embarrassed by how I snapped at him in the meeting with the surgeon. I snap beause no one listens–talk and talk and nothing happens; no one listens.

I feel imprisoned here (West Hendred’s a prison; then is the world one). It’s of my own making. It would be a wonderful place to write, were I not losing my mind. Holing up here by myself in bed. The hours, the emptiness, the dust and clutter. Wanting to be left alone, and yet terribly afraid of that condition at the same time.

I imagined of course that coming back from France everything would be “different.” That I would feel energized and inspired and finally feel the impetus to make something of all of the time. Instead, lying across the bed watching Woody Allen films and crying.


Why is there not a discovery in life? Something one can lay hands on and say ‘This is it’? My depression is a harassed feeling. I’m looking: but that’s not it—that’s not it. What is it? And shall I die before I find it?

-Virginia Woolf, Diary, Saturday 27 February 1926 

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23 June 2009: a cry for connection

Awash again with chemo after Dr. S’s U-turn in treatment (a standoff in his office yesterday, his defensiveness and awkwardness and my ever-present frustration and anger)–decision to go ahead with the final two chemo treatments with a view to mastectomy in early August. An awful six days that led up to this: quarrelling with K., bad sex, wanting to distract myself, desperate for intimacy and left ultimately with more and more evenings crying into pillows pathetically. Frustrated that all of this heartache and uncertainty could have been avoided with a little clarity and concern from the hospital. A biopsy date’s still undecided; more and more of this last-minute news. Like the biopsy’s done under general anesthetic and requires an overnight hospital stay. By the way. But what else to do but plug on with the meantime?

I’ve just read Sontag’s early journals–her intensity, beauty, brilliance–at that age, having so surpassed me intellectually/professionally/in experience, in range and depth and meaning of experience. I do wish I were allowed more access to her mind in them–that the journalling were not so fragmentary.

She says:
“In the journal I do not express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself…it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather–in many cases–offers an alternative to it.”
“The writer is in love with himself…and makes his books out of that meeting and that violence.”
“To write you have to allow yourself to be the person that you don’t want to be (of all the people that you are).”

I’ve ordered Illness as Metaphor — an egotistical interest, I guess, in the meanings of my own illness (or lack of menaing). Like the search for & disappointment with Sedgwick’s book–a cry for connection.

In the waiting room yesterday, reread Virginia Woolf’s On Being Ill:

“All day, all night the body intervenes; blunts or sharpens, colours or discolours, turns to wax in the warmth of June, hardens to tallow in the murk of February. The creature within can only gaze through the pane–smudged or rosy; it cannot separate off from the body like the sheath of a knife or the pod of a pea for a single instant; it must go through the whole unending procession of changes, heat and cold, comforting and discomfort, hunger and satisfaction, health and illness, until there comes the inevitable catastrophe; the body smashes itself to smithereens, and the soul (it is said) escapes. But of all this daily drama of the body there is no record.”

–pre-empting, perhaps, all the piss and shit in modernism.

I see myself this way: as gazing through the pane/pain of the body. Even as my hand cramps here. It’s something I have always found difficult to imagine about writers, prose writers particularly–how they manage to sit there, inside themselves, and produce–how many times distracted by this restlessness I always seem to have? By hunger and malaise and lethargy and the body’s desire to move, pace, ignore the dreadful submission to the immobile mind…

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peeping over parapets

Two things today:

“…no wonder one peeps over the parapet into an inviting abyss”


“…deserves great respect, having preferred the beauty of death to the ugliness of life.”

-Nabokov, Pale Fire

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23 May 2009: horrible alien logic

St. Ives: Virginia Woolf’s lighthouse from the living room window. Too beautiful to be England, I thought. How could anyone fail to find peace & happiness when perched so extraordinarily in this perpetual novel-setting?

I’ve been beset with gifts, kitsch: a wooden angel, a four-leaf clover, a cross blessed by the Pope. All-purpose prayer chain emails. It’s that religion of gestures. Pink ribbons and shit. All absurd and sinister. I still can’t quite believe that any of it–applies–to me.

The threat of reality–for this scenery, the strong, long sweep of the land, the patchy bluegrey water peppered with almost inscrutable boats, the stream of seagulls, the clusters of rooftops, is so unlike my allowable reality–becomes more persistent, unable to be evaded. Returning to it–to work, to chemo, to K….and beyond that, to America, to Erie, to illness, to adolescent depression and listlessness–terrifies.

The same enduring stories from my mother–my birth, our personalities as children–these apparent selves we cannot remember and with whom we struggle to identify, to be able to explain ourselves through out parents’ eyes. Stories of her parents, their idiosyncracies, this hypothetical ancestry.

“Death has entered. It is inside you. You are said to be dying and yet are separate from the dying, can ponder it at your leisure, literally see on the X-ray photograph or computer screen the horrible alien logic of it all. It is when death is rendered so graphically, is televised so to speak, that you sense an eerie separation between your condition and yourself. A network of symbols has been introduced, an entire awesome technology wrested from the gods. It makes you feel like a stranger in your own dying.” –Don DeLillo, White Noise

“The horrible alien logic” — I feel that. But the “eerie separation” is persistently familiar–a separation not just between my cancer and me, but between me and the rest of the world. That old social phobia. A defensiveness in the face of it all. Not feeling worthy. The middle school lunchroom syndrome.

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14 May 2009: Fatal Flaw

“I have two luxuries to brood over in my walks, your Loveliness and the hour of my death. O that I could have possession of them both in the same minute. I hate the world: it batters too much the wings of my self-will, and would I could take a sweet poison from your lips to send me out of it.”

John Keats, letter to Fanny Brawne, July 1819

All day the sky has been threatening rain and there is a faint unfulfilled excitement in it. I feel heavy, unhealthy. Yesterday in the Radcliffe Camera, reading Keats’ late letters to Fanny Brawne (‘think of nothing but me’ etc–pathetic).  The entire day’s dwindled to this familiar six o’clock feeling. Everything so slow-going, so half-formed. Reading Maxwell’s stories which are so fresh and beautiful and effortless-seeming. How jealousy-inspiring (rather than simply ‘inspiring’–that’s what’s wrong with me).

“There was a fatal flaw in his character. Nobody was ever as real to him as he was to himself. If people only knew how little he cared whether they lived or died, they wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him.”

William Maxwell, “Over by the River”

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Ash Wednesday

Remember that you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.

Not really too hard to do these days.

I am so desperate to be alive right now that I wonder whether I am confusing self-destruction with living deeply [“having to construct something / Upon which to rejoice”].


Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

-TS Eliot, from “Ash Wednesday”

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to die will be an awfully big adventure

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