“The Adaptable Man” by Janet Frame

the adapable man

Humans are adaptable. It’s how we have survived—evolved, pretty much, for the most part, successfully, for now. Who knows how long we will last. It could go on for a long, long time, or all end badly, one big asteroid could screw us all—or just bomb the fuck out ourselves over disagreeable ideology shit. When it comes down to it—it doesn’t matter a hill of beans in this crazy world, universe, whatever, everything will go on with or without us.

But I digress just because of the times in which we live right now—which seems to reinvent itself with every generation.

Which brings us to the village of Little Burgelstatham (a burgel, a burial place for the heathen.) (p. 12) And what happens there—and the people who live there, it all starts with a senseless murder of Botti Julio, an Italian farm worker (and a survivor of a concentration camp) arrives in Little Burgelstatham one evening, on the way to the Sapley’s farm where he has a job picking black currents. He was found drowned in a pond the next morning… well, only the scarecrows saw what happened to Botti Julio. (Page 19.) His fate is ultimately blamed on the lack of electricity to light Murston Lane, the poor man couldn’t find his way in the dark, didn’t know there was a pond—he was a stranger, he was foreign, and his English wasn’t very good. What was officially determined to be an accident was actually a murder. But why was he murdered? Was it because he was a stranger? Or was there some other reason. Who killed him? Why? There are some who might ask: Why would the Sapley’s hire a man to come all the way from Italy to pick black currants for them, when there are perfectly capable people who live here who would be happy to do the job. This man died by the hand of another, Alwyn Maude (which isn’t a spoiler cuz it’s right on the back cover as the synopsis), a college student home for holiday. He gets away with it, and there is no justice served. He’s a real piece of work that one—argh! He “…has taken the first step toward being the truly Adaptable Man, a Child of His Time, by murdering someone whom he did not know, whom he had never seen in his life before, whom he neither loved nor hated, a man whose only qualification for being murdered was that he belonged to the human race.” ( from page 149) To kill someone just to do it, to know what it’s like to kill someone. “Alwyn is proud that he killed successfully…If Raskolnikov had lived now, Alwyn thinks, two pages rather than a novel would have been needed to describe his feelings after killing.” (p. 150)

It’s been awhile that a book made me flinch and squirm a bit. There’s some things I’m not going to cover here—I could go on a long rant about this asshole, but it wouldn’t be productive, so I won’t. If there’s anyone else out there that wants to take an intelligent and well researched psychoanalysis crack at it, be my guest. (Blargh!)

The ghostly memory of this man’s death lingers through the thoughts of the varied cast of characters, including Alwyn, he muses on page 113 I’m no Raskolnikov. It seems that some of the characters know or suspect who killed him, and/or may have witnessed the act, or just perceptive enough to put 2 + 2 together and think—hmmmm… (But don’t we all rather not think the worst of someone? Especially when they’re handsome and bright, and a family member?)

Botti Julio’s ghost lingers throughout the book, echoes of his learned phrases flit here and there just when you might have forgotten—What? You didn’t know this was a ghost story? In the traditional sense of a ghost story it wouldn’t be, but it is—on page 20 the ghost is first mentioned:

see—here, now, a ghost in our story…

Oh, a haunting we will go, a haunting we will go—Boo! Scream!  A haunting we will go! (A bit o’ silly business here, I had been tipping a little bit o’ our mead while Winter Storm Stella was raging outside so this might be a little more amusing or not…) Anyway, the ghost story purists won’t like it, but an author who ventures beyond the parameters of expectation is one after my heart, Janet Frame never disappoints me.

One of the many things I love about Janet Frame novels, they are more than they seem. On a whim one morning, I dug around the Internet to see if someone had written something interesting about her books (someone usually does) and I found an essay: An Other Form of Ghost Story by Josephine Carter (link at end). It’s a fascinating essay overall, but I only wish to quote from it here: “Critical of all state legitimized violence, Frame, a literary agitator, enacts a disruptive response: an unconventional ghost story which denies closure and the reestablishment of order.” The “spine tingling” in this “Other Form of Ghost Story” is not about the ghost jumping out, saying “boo!” to scare the jeepers-creepers out of a body to get revenge. It’s about the persistent sense of no reprieve, this man’s death will forever haunt Little Burgelstatham—even if it doesn’t create a guilty conscious for the arrogant jerk who did the deed—this man’s death lingers in the atmosphere because this sort of thing doesn’t happen around here. Sometimes it’s the uncommon occurrences that are the train wrecks that cause the rubberneck syndrome during the humdrum of the day-to-day routines. They’re uncomfortable and distressing events, no one wants to see it happen, hear about it, or experience it—but the hushed conversations and gasps of astonishment gets the old blood flowing and the sparks flying in our brains; the dark thoughts prevailing over the light.

 In my view of such things as the ghosts that haunt us, it’s more than the paranormal, it’s the history that the community itself lives with that haunts them. Their traditions, their way of living, doing, everything about them down to the clothes they wear and the food they eat, their routines in everyday life, the fields of barley and sugar beets. They are the Children of Their Time. The outside world is invading their homes through modern conveniences like electricity, the improvement of transportation by upgrading the roads. Early on in the novel (page 34), Bert Whattling, a 74 year old pensioner, riding his bicycle feels intimidated by the traffic— It was no help for Bert, facing the hazards of fifty yards of A-class road, to remember that he’d once been a soldier, in the First World War. Danger seemed not as simple as it used to be. I understand Bert completely. I’ll be 55 in May, and the world is changing faster than I can keep up. It pisses me off to no end.

 With electricity comes information and entertainment more readily available through television (again, Bert’s perspective later in the book, he laments on page 232 “A television breed!”

The final nail in the coffin of this small community comes in the form of the migration of people from London, “the Overspill.” Poor Bert, near the end of the book can’t even catch his breath in a favorite spot against the old Unwin family cottage wall facing the lilac hedge because the owner of the cottage has fenced it off, effectively barring him from settling himself down to take a load off after eating his lunch. Then on page 223, he suffers the indignity of the “television man from London” calling out to him “Whattling, here a minute!” Bert was always just Bert to those who knew him, and so… he [the television man from London] had committed the double crime of imagining that he already belonged to the village, and that he could speak to Bert as a master might speak to his slave.

(Sigh.) Take a breath, there’s more…

The Overspill is coming like a plague of locusts. This book is from 1965—the Baby Boomer generation (which I’m at the end-bookend of it, I’m like a hybrid with GenX) and the post-WWII life, a society in motion, and the mandated consequence branded as “The Overspill” of Londoners to the quiet little hamlets and villages in the countryside. The Overspill is otherwise known as Suburban Sprawl in America. I grew up in a neighborhood that was built in the 1950’s by some of the GI’s who came home from the war. The one story ranch houses were fitted into neat little sections, butted up against older homes that had once been the grand, fine homes from another time. Their original property lines cut, and cut again, parceled out, bit by bit, until it’s just an odd-shaped lot on which a rather large house lounges, the lone proud lion surrounded by domestic cats. My mother, who grew up in that small town, remembered our neighborhood as farmland, the street had once been a horse-drawn wagon track into the woods. The town was changing, the economy was changing, business that had once been the boom of the town was dying out with the slow demise of generations that had built it. The new generation commuted to The City to work. It was a nice town to raise a family. Through the 1970’s I watched out of the corner of my eye as the town evolved into something other than what it once was, the old homes themselves became parceled within into apartments, some neighborhoods that were once very nice, became rundown and sad. The once grand homes sagged and leaned, their facades furrowed with age. I moved to the city to go to college, and then started my family there, but later, we moved to the country to get away from the problems of the city, the crime, the filth, the schools. We followed our dreams to an old farmhouse on a piece of land, which was surrounded by fields being farmed by local people who were renting from the current owner. It was the classic fixer-upper. The land and house had once been part of the farm, subdivided, and sold off piecemeal. And now, twenty years later, the “overspill,” is happening, bordering on my backyard. There was a time when our house, before we owned it, was the only one on Irish Hill, but things change. People live and die, move on, adapt to do something else other than farming. Now our old farmhouse is the sore thumb compared to the newly built homes that arrived made to order, pre-fab, delivered on the back of trucks, each section pieced together. It’s a difficult transition getting used to their sounds, and their being there. Now we’re the oddity—we’re those people. I am irritated by the encroachment, we were here first—with that said, I felt sympathy for the residents of Little Burgelstatham—they’re becoming the ghosts of a time and way of life fading fast.

(From page 224) An exciting, controversial talking-point, but not nearly so enjoyable now that the idea was becoming a frightful reality… “Overspill. Overspill.”

  Such a strange word to choose. Didn’t something that spilled, spill over also? Or were they using “overspill” to try to explain that once the people of London began coming to East Anglia nothing could stop them, there’d never be an end of their spilling, as there’d never be an end of people from London…and all over the new words that motorways brought with them—“bypass,” “flyover,” “flyunder.” …

(From page 232) Rumors became the tall stories of the hour. “They” were going to pull down all the farm workers’ cottages. “They” would build Council flats in the barley fields, offices with luxury penthouses (for directors) in the sugar-beet fields. If your cottage was not pulled down, then it would be taken under the Compulsory Purchase Order to make room for a motorway. Noise, smoke, smell, crime, no jobs, and a race of strangers who laughed at your dialect and your customs and your clothes and your ignorance of the great world; a nasty television breed.

(From page 234) The town planner, in the deep chair by the fire, put down his glass and turned to his companion, a London architect.

 “See what we’ll have to meet?” he said. “They’re a different race. Talk about New Town loneliness! That reminds me—there’s that competition to name the new town. The psychologists say it should be held locally—you know, let the natives feel they have a share in the project. It pays dividends, overcomes hostility.”

 “Wouldn’t you be hostile?”

 “I’d shoot the invaders as if they were so many wood pigeons. So be careful. We’re in a foreign land here.”

 “Should we try to fraternize?”

 “Hell no, not more than usual. Just don’t make the mistake of pointing out a wheat field and exclaiming in your educated accent, ‘What magnificent barley!’”

Infuriating isn’t it? You bet she meant it. This book is quite deliberate with its message—being adaptable. Each character adapts to something in spite of the unpleasant circumstances they find themselves in—some very strange and some very familiar. There is no need to scratch too deep into their surface to find the itch they worry over, the weather, the overspill, longing for something lost, and the lingering ghost of Botti Julio. “These photographs are underexposed. Please will you intensify them.”

I love Janet Frame’s work because there’s so much more below the surface of the story—it’s more than a story. I “get her.” She’s not an easy read, she presents readers with puzzles and scatters the pieces for us to fit together—I take my time, examine the bits—ooo and ahh over their intricate plots, and dog-ear the pages, and if I have a pencil handy, I make notes, underline, re-read.  Just picking it up to write this I catch myself immersing already, I have a hard time putting it down.

Carter, Josephine. An Other Form of Ghost Story: Janet Frame’s “The Adaptable Man,” Interdisciplinary Literary Studies 13, no. 1/2 (2011): 45-60. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41328511.

Kay Ryan, Strangely Marked Metal

Kay Ryan Strangely Marked Metal

It’s safe to say I read the spots off of this one…it seems I’ve been selecting books (lately) that have hit too close to home in my mind. Strangely Marked Metal is one of many that have got me thinkin’…a lot. Goodness knows, I think enough, a mental traveler far and wide, but sometimes I need a little direction, and books often cure what ails my wanderings.

In particular, The Admirable Bede. 7th Century English Historian was a timely treat. Here’s a bit of it about halfway through…

Every century and fraction/ of century is disheartened; part of every home/ and monastery is turned against itself;/each man has something withered/ or a misplaced tooth or an eye that wanders;/ each soul its own barbarian bent on plunder -/ call it Machiavelli; give him history,/ let him march through the city,/ let him name the streets and currency, let/ everyone bow down before his own worst possibility/ manifest; there will be the other part of the city- / like the flower which thrives on neglect, or/ the grace by which monuments slide down to stacks/ upon which some shepherd sits, half loving,/ half hating his life, drawing his flute/ out of his sleeve, one eye on the clouds/ one eye on the sheep.

Timeless, timely. I keep revisiting so much of this little book that its nigh dogeared to death, it’s tiny spine creased. Wisdom and whimsy. A human document.

Although I’ve marked as “finished” on GoodReads, I’m not finished, yet.

I love it.

The end of an era…Crouching Tigger-Hidden Pooh, 1998-2017

Tiggy Pooh 9 24 2016

My very old, very dear friend, Crouching Tigger-Hidden Pooh (Tiggy-Pooh or other variations for short) passed away on March 5th. I’ve been slammed again by another loss. Dang, I don’t mean to turn this blog into a notice board about the passing of aging pets, but it’s life, it’s what is going on in mine at the moment. I’m sad, yes, very much so. He is the last of the litter of 1998, the last of the fondly dubbed “Horrible Horde.”

(*Between 1997 and 1998 the feral cat population that invaded our property exploded to around thirty cats- yup, 3 -0, 30. Not our choice, it’s the hazard of living in the country, people see a barn and think it’s a good place to leave off their unwanted cat. It took many weeks of capturing, taming, spaying, and neutering to get it under control.)

Anyway, back to Pooh. Oh my sweet kitty boy, I immortalized him briefly as Samantha Ryder’s kitty in The Fractured Hues of White Light. I tend to do that (because I can.) Life without Pooh feels hollow. I feel like I have forgotten to do something, and then remember why. I’m not forgetting, I’m missing an activity, a worry, a routine. I have nursed this little kitty for about a year or so, thinking for so long, “he’s going to go any day now.” Now has come. Now that he’s gone it’s weird how it feels like relief. Pooh hasn’t been Pooh for a long time, we’ve missed him before he died.

I cried more on Saturday before he died, than on Sunday after he died. I knew when I went to bed around 1AM Sunday morning that he might not be with us by dawn. I held his little paws, they were toasty warm, he was snug as a bug, the wood stove keeping things comfortable, his buddy, Charlie curled next to him. His little toes curled around my finger. I kissed him goodnight and told him that it was okay, he could go, we’ll meet again some day. I told him I loved him, and turned out the lights.

He went peacefully on his own terms during the wee hours. We buried him on Tuesday when we had a thaw and my Fred could dig a hole. He’s buried beside his brothers Willy Big and Fatty Woo Hobbes.DSCF0961

I miss these old boys. They were the best of the litters of 1997 and 1998. They’re all gone. I still have four boys, all drop off misfits that found their way to a safe haven. I’m in the process of befriending a kitty we’ve dubbed “Bigfoot” because we’d see tracks, but no cat. This has been going on for about a year or so, she’s finally trusting us enough to allow herself to be seen. I swear there’s a sign outside our house, invisible to us humans, but visible to cats, it reads: “Nice people live here!” or maybe it says “SUCKERS!” Your guess is as good as mine.

It’s snowing and bitter cold out there today. Charlie is curled on the bed beside the wood stove, alone. No wait…the Little Monster is with him.

I do believe that our loved ones are always there, inside of us as well as beyond our vision. They’re those visitors seen out of the corner of one’s eye, a slight breath of wind tumbling through one’s hands, pouncing, or brushing up against one’s leg.

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Far Tortuga by Peter Matthiessen

matthiessen-far-tortuga

I always admire the skill of an author who takes a book out of the normal realm of storytelling and tells the story—just tells it like it is—even the bare bones are still complex with the cryptic marrow slyly beguiling; poetry. The mostly circular or wave-like ink markings that indicate the passage of time or weather add a dimension that is more thoughtful than the standard ornaments on offer in book design to indicate breaks in the narrative. I understand in my writer’s soul why Matthiessen said this novel was his favorite—this one has a more personal spirit—personal experience. It’s a very authentic experience reading this book—not everyone is ready for that—or open to it.

It is spare, elegant, lyrical, a zen-like meditation—it made me think a lot about Moby Dick, tho’ a little less complicated—and less word count. I’m in love with this book. I guess it came to me at the right time as I’m feeling that sense of nostalgia for the old ways of doing—the ways that are disappearing—the ways (and the people) that are being forced out to make room for the new, the shiny—the whatever algorithm that is anticipated—like it or not.

The ongoing dialog—composed in musical patois of the Caribbean—unquoted—ranges from quiet mutterings and musings. Shouts and proclamations. Cutting insults and gentle praise. Nature is its own character in the sea, sky—horizon. Storms—calm. The sun and the moon. Clouds and stars. Turtles, stoic—trapped. (There’s no getting away from the brutality of the trade these men are in, I felt sad for the poor creatures.) The sea birds take wing in the sky, and the sharks lurk below the surface. The reefs, the islands, the mangrove, the harbors. The turtlers, sailors, the pirates. Captains. Father, son, grandfather, grandson. Generations. Superstitions. Truths. Tales. History. Rumors. Memories. Landmarks. Legends. The memorials of time long gone, the last of a dying breed—desperation. Joyful, yet horribly sad.

I suppose we all get there some day.

Dis morning sea tryin to tell me something, Speedy. It so old, mon. Make me wonder what I doin way out here in dese reefs, all de days of my life. (sighs) Life has got away from me, some way—I just goin through de motions. P. 255

Pebbles

pebbles-peeking

This little goat had to be one of the sweetest creatures on this planet, and it was a sad morning today when I learned that she had passed away peacefully in the wee hours. Although we were never certain about her age, we think she was 14 years old, or maybe 11…there were conflicting reports from her previous people. Pebbles was the BFF to my mini-donkey, Elizabeth, and her goat-girlfriend, Tessa they’ve known each other for a very long time.

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Pebbles was Elizabeth’s goat-shaped shadow, she was always in the picture.

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She was just a wee thing, and for someone so small, she had such a grand personality, she was well loved, and will be missed by all who knew her.dscf0306

The three together…I feel so sad for Elizabeth, she will truly miss her BFF. (2/11/2017)

Looking for good news – it’s hard to find.

I guess maybe

I’ve become shell-shocked by

too much information

out there to process.

I go looking for some “good news” and

find it hard to come by.

Last week,

I was briefly thrilled to read about 103 puppies

that were rescued from a truck accident,

only five were injured, but

were expected to be okay.

But—yes, there is a but, a big BUT—

the reason that there were 103 puppies

in a truck in the first place freaked me out.

WHY?

That’s a lot of puppies.

Good grief.

Good news, yet not really if you

Go too deep into the ‘how come’ of it—

I have to believe things will get better someday.

It just has to.

Breathe…

I’ve been mulling this over for a bit—I’ve been mulling over a lot of shit lately, so hang in there, I’m working things out in my head before I start spewing words all over the place, but seriously, what the fuck is going on? Facebook has gotten wicked annoying—especially since the latest election cycle, we’re so dang polarized it ain’t funny. People unfriending each other over petty shit-fuck opinions—for which we are all entitled to have. GAH! Fine, be that way, right? Not much of a friend, I guess. I let it go. Some philosopher once said something about “Hell is other people.” (I think I said this before, same shit different poem, but this isn’t a poem, it started that way and then just wasn’t anymore.) I hate feeling that way—it shouldn’t be like that at all. It sucks. There are days I can scream my eyeballs out, but that does no good for me or anyone within range, so I don’t. When I do venture into Facebook to wish friends/family happy birthday, I try to post positive shit—happy shit.

Puppies and kittens.

Horses and donkeys.

Goats, baby goats, why are they so fucking cute? They just are absurdly adorable.

Whatever.

Then I post the occasional collection of photos I’ve taken of stuff. Moments from my life frozen in pictures that will be cued up later by the whatever thing that does that—6 years ago, 5 years ago today, four years ago, three years ago today, two years ago, one year ago today. Sometimes the photo is a reminder of something painful, a loss of a loved one. The result of a wreck. Fuck, even some of my own news isn’t good.

Except, I’m okay.

I’m still here.

Until I’m not.

Someday we’re all going to die. Cheery, huh? Fuck. (Sorry, I had to throw that in.)

When I see you there (the generic you, hi you!) I give you the thumbs up, hearts, and whatever emoji that applies (I’m always happy to see you.) Really I wish people would stop dying, all these icons of my childhood and young adulthood—it just fucking reminds me that I’m not getting any younger. There are times I’m feeling left behind, I can’t keep up with it. My physical therapist broke his phone last week, and was lost without it. He didn’t even know the phone numbers of people he needed to get in touch with, and couldn’t remember his IPhone password—that sucks. So he took his frustration out on my shoulder (or maybe not, it just felt that way, I have frozen shoulder of all things, jeez it hurts), but it’s getting better, I’m able to reach back and touch my fingers now, just a few days ago I couldn’t, so progress is being made. It’s terrible that I can’t remember phone numbers either. I can remember numbers that don’t matter anymore. I still remember my parent’s phone number, my in-laws phone number, my grandparent’s phone number (they’re all dead.) My first apartment’s phone number. My sister’s phone number (her landline, not her cellphone number.) My best friend Amy’s phone number when she used to live down the street when we were little kids, half the time we wouldn’t say anything, just breathing, and after awhile my mom would say, “Just tell her you’ll meet her halfway in the woods, and work out what you’re going to do from there!” (Oh, mom.)

It’s a novelty to get outside and walk just to walk and not have a gadget. Looking, seeing. The fresh air makes me sleepy; relaxed. (That’s telling me something.) Right now, I don’t know where my phone is—don’t care.

Oh, there it is, next to me. (I just gave it the stink eye.)

Yes, I do have my laptop (some of the letters are worn off, and some of the keys don’t work right without smacking them.) I do need to get to doing something else. A poe-em or something. Or something-thing. Things. Things to do.

This latest by Moby is quite special in its scary way—thought it needed a spot right here:

I need to remember to breathe.

Keep breathing.