Jan. 28, 2011

The End of Sleep

by Elizabeth Twiddy

The eyes are about to open.
Through fog, Sleep crosses the great water—
See how it sails in the little boat?
Slowly, such a long journey,
Bits of light
Catch colors in the mirrored hull.
Beneath the glassy surface, a glimpse
Of your dreams: the lake, the boat, with you
In it. Now a shadow
Falls over you: above the surface,
The figure of Sleep
Has leaned over its boat.
Hear Sleep's feet plop in the shallows—
It pulls the boat to shore.

"The End of Sleep" by Elizabeth Twiddy, from Love-Noise. © Standing Stone Books, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It is the birthday of the writer who said, "Be happy. It's one way of being wise." That's Colette, (books by this author) born in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, in the Burgundy Region of France (1873). She's the author of more than 70 books of fiction, memoir, and journalism, including the novel Gigi (1944), which has spawned a number of stage and film adaptations.

When she was 20, she married an older man, a writer and music critic who wrote under the pen name "Monsieur Willy." The young Colette wrote under his pen name, too — her husband locked her up in a room until she had produced a satisfactory amount of writing each day. She fled their marriage in her early 30s, danced half naked in music halls around Paris, and once incited a riot during a performance at the Moulin Rouge. She became lovers with several women, including a famous French actress named Marguerite Moreno, whom Colette wrote to one June evening in 1925, a few nights after the summer solstice:
"What am I doing? Heavens, I'm spinning. And I use this verb as a planet would. Yes, I'm spinning.
I've seen roses, honeysuckle, forty degrees Centigrade of dazzling heat, moonlight, ancient wisteria enlacing the door of my old home in Saint-Sauveur.
I've seen the night over Fontainebleau. And as I said, I'm spinning.
Beside me there a is a dark boy at the wheel. I'm on my way back to Paris, but shall I stay there? The dark boy beside me is still at the wheel, and how strange everything is! And how good I am, and how amazed I am, and what wise improvidence in my behaviour! Oh yes, I'm spinning! As you can see, you must not worry about me.
From time to time I am uneasy about myself, and I give a start, prick up my ears, and cry out, But what are you doing? and then I refuse to think any more about it ... Just now, on the telephone, an enlightened Chiwawa, enlightened by the dark, dark, dark boy, sang my praises. The era of frankness is back and the cards are on the table.
But, my Marguerite, how strange it all is! ... I have the fleeting confidence of people who fall out of a clock tower and for a moment sail through the air in a comfortable fairy-world, feeling no pain anywhere ..."
Colette married three times, gave birth to a child at the age of 40 whom she left to be raised by an English nanny, had an affair in her 50s with her 16-year-old stepson, and was forever scandalizing her French contemporaries. But she was also highly respected, the winner of all sorts of prestigious international literary awards. And when she died at the age of 81, she was the first woman in France to be honored with an official state funeral.

She once said, "What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner."

And, "Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it."

And Colette wrote: "By means of an image we are often able to hold on to our lost belongings. But it is the desperateness of losing which picks the flowers of memory, binds the bouquet."

From the archives:

It's the birthday of José Martí, (books by this author) born in Havana, Cuba (1853). He was a poet and journalist, and he helped lead Cuba's struggle for independence from Spain. Pete Seeger's folk song "Guantanamera" is a translation of an autobiographical poem by José Martí.

It's the birthday of the English novelist and critic David Lodge, (books by this author) born in London, England (1935). He is the author of many novels, several of which resemble Lodge's own life.

Lodge was born in suburban London to a traditional Catholic family, and he was raised in the years following World War II. His early novel The Picturegoers (1960) is about a Catholic family in South London who take in a university student as a lodger. Other early novels bear striking resemblance his life: Ginger, You're Barmy (1962) draws upon Lodge's own compulsory service in the British military, and The British Museum is Falling Down (1970) follows the comical story of a Catholic graduate student working on his thesis. Aside from his semi-autobiographical novels, Lodge closely protects his privacy.

Lodge is the creator of the fictional town of Rummidge, which is based on Birmingham, England, and has been the setting for several novels. He has also created the imaginary American state of Euphoria, located between North California and South California, and is home to a state university in the city of Esseph, which is a fictionalized version of Berkeley, where Lodge taught for a brief time. His novels set in academia are usually satirical in nature.

David Lodge said, "A novel is a long answer to the question 'What is it about?' I think it should be possible to give a short answer — in other words, I believe a novel should have a thematic and narrative unity that can be described."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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