Thursday, April 15, 2010

Expiation: Finale

Follows Expiation: Prologue, Part One, Part Two, Entr'acte, Part Three.

"I know this is late in coming but it's the only way I know,
hello it's me

-Lou Reed, from 'Songs for Drella' which has nothing to do with anything that's been discussed until now.

The last part plays out pretty quickly. The Elora/Hannah/Nancy incident was concluded without loss of blood. Especially mine. Life went back to normal and other no less adolescent scenarios played out with different people pretty much according to schedule. T'was ever thus, right? Plug in the cliche of your choice: youth is wasted on the young, life goes on, memories are made of this, if I knew then what I know now, and of course that's why it's called a 'crush' because... if it felt good they'd call it something else. The earth remained largely unshattered. Elora reminded me that "You missed the part where..." and a long list of details that a) aren't germane to this forum and b) aren't my story to tell in the first place. I didn't forget them, just didn't think it was my part to recount them.

But I had forgotten the white roses; they showed up at my front door late in the week where they decided they were going to speak to me after all. I actually found the card a decade ago, scanned it and sent it to Elora in an email. It was at the bottom of a voluminous box of letters and assorted trash dating back to the early 80's and stopping in the early 90's when I either stopped collecting letters or everything segued into email. At the time, I was amazed that Elora knew I liked white roses. In fact, I'm amazed that I ever told anyone that I liked white roses. No deep significance here, I just thought they looked cool.

I liked the idea of forgiveness. Being at the tail-end of a comic-book collecting stage at the time, I considered creating a graphic novel based on the whole affair, somehow ending it with somebody saying "You are redeemed!" in my direction after I'd done something, well, redeeming. But I couldn't figure out what and couldn't draw to save my life anyhow. I don't think the world has lost anything as a result.

That box of letters/programs/ill-advised literature remains in my basement- I can't bring myself to throw it away. Call it emotional archeology. From time to time I brave a peek, choose some stuff to keep and others to throw in my neighbour's bonfire to guarantee that they're rendered truly unreadable and irrelevant before drifting into the stratosphere as so many atoms. Entropy always wins.

A Facebook chat with Hannah:

I quoted you in my blog, you said I was allowed.

Yes, it was fine. Reading it made me feel like a human Moeibus strip. Your story - my story - her story...I am resisting the urge to dig up my diary and reread the MJD entries.

Oh Lord...RESIST!

I have often considered ceremonially burning that diary in the backyard. I can't think of a good reason I haven't except it would be fun to go to one of those nights where you read from your adolescent diary in public.

I keep letters for a scary long time. I probably have notes from you in a sealed box of high-school/early university correspondence and playbills in my basement. I'll leave it to the AGO when I die.

Nooooooo! Burn them! Burn them! But just so you know, the Elton John song "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" ALWAYS reminds me of you, me and a music practice room. In a sweet way. :)


And on the flipside of the entropy issue, I played a lot of Elton John/Billy Joel at the time, it was poppy and good practice and the kind of thing that makes sense when you're fifteen. I don't remember playing it for Hannah. Things get lost over time. I remember lots of other things in that sweet way she mentions; chats, tea on a rooftop garden, trading tapes - yes. Less prosaic than singing "Someone saved my life tonight, Sugar Bear" in G-major, but maybe the same kind of sweet.

And one last piece before the DH Lawrence reveal: my jacket. I had a heavy blue corduroy high school jacket with the word ARTS in capital letters on the back. And until a few months ago I was sure I loaned it to Elora in February so she could wear it on a class trip to Greece.

Call it cheap penance. I'd heard her complain that she was going to freeze to death on her trip, I offered my jacket. She said "Seriously?" and I handed it over. And I froze for around 2 weeks, layering sweaters over shirts. Chivalry wasn't entirely dead, as far as I thought. There was an implied message of I was a jerk, I'm sorry. Now you've got the double-lined warm jacket and I'm going to freeze for awhile. Mea Culpa. You don't have to like me but I know it's keeping you warm or something like that.

That's what I remembered, until recently. I didn't let a little fact that Greece is, for the most part, a fairly warm country most of the time dissuade me.

In a chat with Elora:

You could illustrate one thing for me - did my jacket enjoy Greece?

It had a better time in Holland.

I thought it went to senility is setting in?

I really liked having that jacket btw. I don't remember if I brought it to Greece. It was hot there. But I know for sure I brought it to Amsterdam over Christmas when I went to see my father.

It was Christmas? I thought it was February. I froze. I thought it might serve some karma. You probably could have kept it.

Heh, really? You didn't have a second jacket?

Nope. Sweaters and layers.

Why did I give it back? I don't remember.

So much for the inviolable truth of memory (mine, specifically). And I wish she had kept the coat. I think I said something like "It's probably yours by now" when she made it back from Holland (formerly Greece) and she said "Thanks, dude," with a l'il-sisterly chuck on my shoulder while giving it back. And life went on. Alice told me years later that Elora really did love having that jacket, but I thought she just told me to make me feel better. Maybe I was wrong. Not that anything matters now, but at the time it felt rather intense. Even (especially) the cheap music.

You gave me a tape of Don MacLean (with a little bit of Elton John, 'Empty Garden' thrown in to finish off the side). I played it over and over and over, had it for years, until it finally wore out. It was my second-most listened-to tape after the Kate Bush mix Ruby gave me.

I had quite the crush on you that night.

Funny old world. In hindsight, she could have kept the jacket and more.

Ladies and Gentleman, DH Lawrence.

I didn't encounter the poem until I was sixteen or so, in an otherwise generic 12th grade poetry textbook with the occasional bright spot of Nowlan or Roethke. I read it, got to the end and thought I get it. Unfortunately.

Shall we get up to speed? Having whipped a log at a snake and regretting it, Lawrence settles into a good long sulk:

I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.

For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.

Once he brings up the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner and that damn bird, I start to glaze over. And here I realize that any flesh-and-blood logic of the Lawrence fixation of times-gone-by falls to bits. I never promised that it made any sense. I didn't have a water trough to wait at, and Elora wouldn't like being compared to a lord of life or male snake at all. I didn't throw any clumsy logs (although muttering 'I can do better than all of you' under my breath on the way down a hallway is impolite at best and a karmic boomerang of epic proportions at worst). But I read that poem and was sure I had earned the last few lines in the way you earn a set of bruises for heading down the stairs too quickly, having chosen to damn the torpedoes and go full speed ahead. I encountered it in countless English/Writing/Poetry classes through University and it always reminded me of Elora.

I don't remember when I stopped twitching at it; there must be a breaking point where it became irrelevant. Let's call it 20yrs back or so. But if the first memory of that poem is that it reminds me of being reminded of a girl, well; attention must be paid. Teen antics combust in daylight. Impact upon literature deserves notice, right?

In absence of the portrait, you can still write about the frame.

And say what you want about the albatross and underworld kings and overwrought TB-ridden Lawrence, his last line still hurts when you're in your teens and feel like you own it.

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:

A pettiness.

As Elora said about her old diaries, How embarrassingly emo. :-P


April 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

Expiation: Part Three

Follows Expiation: Prologue, Part One, Part Two, Entr'acte

So why is this taking so long?
asks nobody in reference to the story.

Standard reasons. Life, in toto. Chasing after an active 4yr old son. A 9 to 5 job and sleep and additional hobbies do take up the time. And generic writers block goes a long way as well. A very long way. A very very get the idea. It's not like any part of this saga could be considered the greatest story ever told in the first place, so perhaps there's a natural reluctance to tell it.

Not to mention the greatest danger; any reminiscence told badly boils down to 'Wasn't I a rascal?' with a heavy-handed wink at the reader or 'Wasn't everything just awful for me?' with some life-lesson en route shortly thereafter. So. Let's just stick to the facts (through admittedly hazy shades of memory) and remember the original thesis to this essay: DH Lawrence's The Snake.

A Facebook chat with Elora:

This is, all, ostensibly, about how you ruined a DH Lawrence poem for me for years. Or I ruined it. I'll know by part three. If all of this isn't too weird in the first place.

Of course it's weird. In a good kind of weird.

Taking her at her word, here we go.

So I kissed the wrong girl. No. I kissed a nice girl. The problem was that I had been kissing her friend for some weeks before that. Notwithstanding, after one evening kissing Elora I was convinced that perhaps the time for kissing Hannah was done.

Politely done.

Sort of 'We had a great run, kid' done with a big-brotherly chuck on her shoulder kind of done.

Of course, I didn't think I'd actually get away with that. I thought that there might be a bit of, shall we say, unpleasantness at first and Hannah might sulk in my direction but, really, we hadn't discussed any hard-set rules for our relationship so (if pressed) I could point out the undefined nature of it all and plead not-guilty to any accusations of callousness.

And, of course, there was always the 'Now we're all adults here' speech that I had seen on TV enough times that I was relatively sure I could squeeze it out with a straight face.

(I mentioned in a recent chat with Hannah that I wasn't going to come across well in Part III - the above paragraph illustrates my concern pretty damn well)

There's a flip side to all this: I wasn't as cocky as it sounds. I wasn't actually sure of anything. The odds of Elora looking sheepish on Monday morning and rolling her eyes at the entire business was a likely scenario. Or Hannah and I would meet somewhere relatively secluded and work past whatever had spurred the low-level animosity from the week before and return to our making-out-in-secluded-corners-after-class arrangement until she got bored of it or me (which was the most frequent scenario in my teenage romantic life until then) or that she'd find out about Elora and I and shrug it off, hopefully muttering something along the lines of "Sure, go ahead, he's a great kisser" to Elora and we'd all be on our way.

'Hopefully' is a key word here.

I didn't think that any of it was going to play out too badly: mine was but a soul who's intentions were good after all (and influenced by The Animals, evidently) and hell, we were young. The future date with Nancy (which sort of started all this, flash back to Part I if you're into soap operas and want to catch up) didn't seem too likely, so at least that was one less thing to worry about. And I didn't think enough had actually transpired with Elora to hurt Hannah's feelings (we were, primarily, just kissing after all) and...well, flip in whatever other rationalizations you think would fit here. I probably used them.

One thing I was sure of: this wasn't just me trying to get some action.


I was astounded (and grateful) that anyone wanted to take part in any action with me at the time so I was loathe to wander in search of further activity. My teenage ego, remarkably, was on hiatus at the time. Events notwithstanding.

To toss something even weirder in the mix, I had first started paying attention to Elora when we were taking part in a full-town rendition of Orwell's 1984. Some genius decided to stage it across all of Niagara on the Lake as an event and our class attended. The evening was impossibly cool for a theatre class of teenagers, especially when one of the paid actors worked you into the story.

Elora's role was (in the best Winston and Julia fashion) to trip in front of me and slip me a note as I helped her up. The note read I LOVE YOU written by some stagehand between setups. I'd read the book. I knew where it came from. She sort of smiled when she did it and it felt like an odd flirt (which probably isn't the case; I'd forgotten about this until recently and think it's ridiculous to follow-up on the genesis of a flirt from the Reagan era). But at the time, I just hoped that somebody might slip me a note like that one day in whatever the real world really was.

Monday morning, post-Elora: Brief meeting with Hannah. She didn't seem to suspect anything. I vacillated between feeling like I was getting away with something (in a negative sense) and that a new door was opening (in a good sense).

Late morning
: Theatre class with Elora. She did not look impressed at all. I think I said something like "So, er, did that happen?" (which I was cribbing from a movie which I have long since forgotten about) and she said "Jesus I don't know, I've got class" and disappeared into the hallway.

Conclusion: Okay. At least they're both speaking to me. That settled, I stopped worrying. Temporarily. I didn't have a great deal of measured response in me at the time. I was either sure that I was in big trouble or that the whole thing was teenage melodrama (that I was, fortunately, somehow, immune to) and it'd all work out in the end.

From this point on, it all gets a bit hazy. The week passed without incident but I remember kissing Hannah at one point in enough detail that I thought it would be unwise to mention that I'd been kissing her friend. So - what's a gentleman to do - but not bring up the topic and return the kiss?

(for anyone who suggests that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, try chivalry on for size and see how easily it fits)

This isn't - or at least I thought it wasn't - as cold as it sounds. I didn't want to hurt anybody and, as mentioned previously, I thought that not-knowing what I was doing was a pretty good defense. I knew that I was going to see Elora on Saturday night (I forget what the pretense was - maybe another movie) and if I had the chance to kiss her quietly in a secluded corner somewhere, I would be very happy.

Let's leap back to DH for a moment. He's still waiting for the gold (and venomous as hell) snake to back off from his water trough:

He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face

So far, so good. The reptile gets some liquid refreshment, DH doesn't need anti venom and he's had some company for breakfast. But he's...well...petty about it. I don't think that one can truly feel one has been dissed by a snake, but he makes a good show of it:

And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned

Or, in less flowery terms, imagine a sandbox spat between five year olds: you don't want to play with me and I hate you. Nyah.

Remember that.

From this point on, I'm lost.

I remember my state of mind on Saturday (all in all, fairly contained) and remember meeting Elora at the subway station close to my parents house. We walked half way up the church path (which is not a euphemism for anything; the church path was a shortcut), sat a bench and kissed for awhile and I thought I knew what was going to happen next: she was going to suggest that we tell Hannah about us, Hannah would be pissed for awhile but Elora and I would be doing something new and it might eventually turn into something that explained to me why it felt so important.

But it didn't work out that way.

Elora simply informed me that her friendship with Hannah was more important than anything else including (read; especially) me and we had to stop what we were doing. There were a few more kisses and I remember holding very tightly to her as we parted at the subway. The scenario, however, was clear; friendship was more important than boys.

And as much as I liked the kissing/holding and so on, I really couldn't argue with her logic.

At least it ended quietly, right? Nobody started yelling. Especially not at me. It was over and I was thinking 'this will be hilariously funny in a few years.' It all felt rather silly. And I was determined to not be affected by it in any way.

The following Monday
: I'm not sure exactly what transpired over the rest of that weekend, but I met Nancy (remember her?) in the hallway and she announced matter-of-factly that none of them were ever going to speak to me.

"We've decided that you're not worth talking to," she said, "and the last thing you're going to hear from me is my telling you this."

For some reason, this wasn't as withering as she intended it to be. I also didn't take it very seriously. "Beg pardon?" I asked innocently.

"I said the last thing..."

"You're talking to me. I think you just blew your original position," I interrupted.

She didn't look impressed at my logic.

Well, I thought it was funny.

Tough crowd.

She glared at me and walked away. I have a faint memory of getting the finger, but Nancy probably wouldn't have done it. Lesson learned: I couldn't joke my way out of it. For that matter, I was slightly pissed that Nancy was pissed at me, especially considering the fact that we never had the date we were set up for in the first place. She was pissed at me on spec. I convinced myself that was insane and went on with my day.

A brief meeting with Hannah: I remember her repeating Nancy's reasoning to me and I didn't go for the punchline. She looked low and angry and that she didn't want to talk. I felt that she should at least have the common courtesy to scream at me. So that didn't affect me.

Elora was at her locker. She skipped Hannah and Nancy's speech entirely and wouldn't speak to me. I talked to her, said that this all felt stupid, said that I was sorry if anyone was hurt but I didn't - none of us - quite knew what we were doing. I really hope I didn't quote that line from Purple Rain about "I never wanted to cause you any sorrow," but it's not inconceivable (and I would have blocked it out by this time). And finally, upon being labelled as a cad, I turned my heel and shrugged.

To hell with this, I thought. I can do better than all of you.

I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.

I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste.
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.

And immediately I regretted it

Remember that too.

All of the above took place on a Monday, where I was still rolling my eyes at it. By Friday, I went the other direction. I was, indeed, a cad. None of them were ever going to speak to me, regardless of the several years left of high school that we had to spend together. I saw them walking past me in shopping malls in decades to come, staring at the floor or simply looking disapprovingly in my direction. And the stories - the scandal would grow. My soul was at risk. I had broken the unwritten rules of mankind. I'd been reading a lot of Ibsen and Chekhov for my theatre classes and I was feeling like one of the side characters, the ones described in side notes as "of little consequence" or "unwilling to understand his own limitations."

Most importantly, I was going to carry this shame to my grave. Or, in the moaning my subconcious was indulging in: I was going to carry this shame to my graaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaave.

The next Monday, it was all over.

Nancy gave me a letter saying that she'd like to start speaking to me again. Hannah (with one suspicious raised eyebrow) said, essentially, "Yeah, we're cool. I guess," and I felt it would be stupid to question it further. Elora gave me a coupon for a free night on a waterbed (self-designed) which I actually kept in a copy of Brideshead Revisited until my sister found it and asked what the hell I was up to in my spare time.

I wasn't going to carry anything to my grave. I'd been a jerk and, jerkdom complete, had either been a very lucky soul or they just decided that there were better things to do than be angry at me for the next few decades. Or maybe I'm remembering the timeline incorrectly; I certainly had motivations wrong. I told Hannah years later that she looked angry and Elora looked hurt. "It was probably the other way around," she told me. Two possibilities, neither one really matters in the 21st century. Rashomon-timing turns everything into something different years after.

And I never tried to redeem the waterbed coupon- I didn't know how serious the offer was. The the night on the waterbed might have involved little more than toy boats and singing sea shanties. Blessed with hindsight, I should have shown up anyhow. Even being laughed out the door would probably have been fun.

Why DH Lawrence? somebody asks again.

I'll tell you next time. It'll bring it all to a close. Just remember- I never promised logic, only past experience.

Concluded at Expiation: Finale.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Sometimes I feel...

It's the wrong holiday for the clip here, but the whole point of the clip is sort of disconnect. Pier Paolo Pasolini was probably the last person in the world who should have filmed The Gospel According to St. Matthew - notorious libertine, Marxist leanings, cause célèbre of Rome, you know the drill. But he managed to get something on film that's never quite been matched - a literal rendition of the gospel that's anything but literal, down to the mismatched soundtrack (everything from American gospel music to African chorales) and eerie photography.

The scene below is a nativity scene, a million miles away from the three wise men and a manger on a dark starlit night. Pasolini went the neo-realist route and chose non-actors from the towns in Southern Italy where he shot. It's a very quiet religious film, so when the crucifixion happens it really hits you. Pasolini followed it up years later with Salo, which is about as profane as this one is sacred. So...yin and yang fulfilled?

Happy Easter.

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