Site Meter Peculiar Susceptibility: In order to avoid knocking off people's hats...

Friday, November 2, 2007

In order to avoid knocking off people's hats...

It's hard to say with what frequency I become stir-crazy. I've alluded to it here before, but it's struck me again, now. It was yesterday, in fact, that it started. I can't fully explain how I made the leap from some vague kind of dissatisfactions to knowing - knowing - that I have to go off somewhere on my own.

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And almost as soon as I identified the feeling - not, in some ways, dissimilar to the fantods - I knew where I have to go.

Nauset beach. I haven't been to the Cape in at least a decade. And here I am, 28 years old, living by myself, working in the arts, writing - and above all, at this moment, longing to put my body into the freakish Atlantic. (It could have something to do with the talk on Sylvia Plath that I'll attend on Sunday...)

A kind of strange video. The soundtrack consists of SP reading "Daddy."

This morning I went with my mother to surprise my father at the 40th anniversary banquet for the Connecticut Association of Land Surveyors. Earlier in the week Kathy, who runs CALS, had called to say that Dad is receiving an award for distinguished achievement and service. CALS has only given this award to two other people in its 40 years.

My father is (to understate matters) a diligent worker. He has worked in that old Victorian on North Main in Manchester for my entire life - starting in the basement (which has twice caved in as the result of reckless drivers smashing into the foundation) moving up to the gloriously sunny second floor, where his current office is perched among the turning leaves of a sugar maple.

My memory of my childhood is episodic. (I'm sure, as I get further into this new book, I'll be writing a lot more about this.) I remember the first time someone crashed into the building's foundation, balancing my way down the stairs to my father's work space. They were uneven and shallow. Normally I had the aid of the brick wall to my left as I went down them, but the force of the impact had caused the wall to crumble in, leaving brick-dust and flakes of the brick-colored paint they used on the wall coating much of the stairwell - as though some wind storm from Georgia had blown through the place.

The office was lit by a set of long, humming fluorescent lights that cast a kind of industrial green pallor over the place. I was an easily distractible child and, at times, the hum of those lights would wash out my ability to conjure anything other than their presence to mind. Along the wall ran a long drafting table on which my father made maps. I ran an index finger tip across the surface of the table. I turned my hand over to regard the impression the dust had made on me, smelled it. It smelled like that room, but concentrated.

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I love the beach in fall, in winter, during a storm. That love, I suppose, comes from my father, who would (still does, I imagine) wake up in the dead of night to go to the shore to fish. He used it as a place for himself and, when we were there together, we were both able to be quiet about things.

It seems to happen in November that, for various reasons, I have found myself heading for the shore, certain that the thing to do - the primary thing to do - is to dip my skin (and all of my self in it) into the ocean. Just to see, I would tell myself. Just to see what it is my body would do. In prior years, I've been desperately sad on these occasions. This year, I feel melancholy.

It is this feeling that makes the beginning of Moby-Dick so hypnotic:
"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me."

I wrote it years ago - "the sea was our apothecary" - I feel it in my marrow each year.

1 comment:

Meghan Maguire Dahn said...

STUPID NOEL! Damnit. I guess I'll just resort to going out into the streets and knocking off people's hats.