21 July 2008

Rambling and Contemplating

If you are a certain kind of single person (i.e., one who would like not to be single, but is not yet settled enough where she lives to do such things as go to the pub, being busy every evening), you spend a reasonable amount of time cruising around places like match.com, just to get a sense of what might be on offer.  And having now done this in the UK, I have two questions.

Nature:  What's the damn deal with it?  Don't get me wrong.  I actually quite like nature.  I particularly like open fields, tall hills, and wandering around nature in the drizzle or fog.  Two years ago I went for New Year's Eve at my best friend's, and she and her parents and I had one of the nicest walks I've ever been on, in the damp and fog.  I certainly like striding about personfully in nature.  In fact, I'd say I like it even more than I like striding about personfully in the city, and that's quite a bit.  And vistas?  I love 'em.  Standing on top of a high hill and beholding teeny tiny houses down below, or the clean lines and varying greens of separated fields:  I love the crispness and miraculousness of the view.  But I cannot for the life of me understand the desire to go out and ramble about in nature every weekend.  Actually, it might be the "rambling" that's the problem.  I like hardihood in nature, or I like climbing up and viewing.  Bushes and brambles don't really appeal to me (although I just want to say here that I REALLY like mud).  So I can't get what appears to be a mania on the part of Englishmen over 35 for nature.  Perhaps it's the "oh sylvan Wye!" aspect of it:  that is, it seems to me that there's something somehow vaguely pretentious about loving nature - although I know that can't be true, given the evidence of my own feelings for it.

Second, spirituality:  what's the damn deal with it?  I think I must just be missing that gene. I don't know if there's a God, and I do wonder about it sometimes, but I can't say I'm spiritual at all. To me, "spiritual" means dream-catchers, and vaguely new-age ideas, and a true belief in karma or the ebbings and flowings of universal energy.  I'm sorry, but I just don't have it.  I'm too much of a rationalist, I suppose.  

If I loved someone, though, I would go camping with them, and I'd probably go for rambles in nature.  And what's more, I expect I'd quite enjoy the rambling.  After all, it would smell good, and leaves would crunch and birds would sing, all sensual experiences that I like.  And I do quite like learning to identify trees, and quiet, and both would certainly be available on rambles.  But spirituality I don't think I could ever do.  Maybe it was all that going to church with my last boyfriend but one -- although I enjoyed the going to church (but not the concomitant "I'm a Jew; what am I doing here" guilt).  So, no, I think it's just that I try to be good, and to sort out the world, without thinking that's all part of something larger and more cosmic.

Gosh, I sound tough and unyielding in this.  I'm not really that way, just so you know.
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20 July 2008

Sunday Afternoons in London

...Of which this is my first so far this trip.

Today I walked 3 miles, although quite by accident.  I decided to walk from where I live (essentially, Tottenham Court Road) to Liverpool Street Station, to meet some friends who were coming in from Cambridge.  I didn't get any exercise at the conference, and I just felt thick and slightly puffy, two feelings I really don't enjoy.  I had no idea how long the distance was from one place to the other, but the walk was so simple that even I couldn't get lost (basically, "Go straight for quite a long time, then turn left," which gave me quite a long time to figure out which way left is), and I figured if I gave myself an hour and a half it would be fine, and I'd be able to get some much-needed exercise.  As it happened, I ended up leaving slightly late and so giving myself only an hour, but an hour and a half would have been fine.

It turns out that the walk from here to Liverpool Street Station is quite nice.  You go down Euston Road, which turns into Pentonville Road - which is one of my favourite roads, solely because I only recently discovered that I could walk down it and reach all sorts of places, so I'm always glad to see it for its usefulness - which turns into City Road, and then you hang a left on Sun Street.  Huh.  The walk took me past Bunhill Fields, the cemetery in which William Blake is somewhere buried, but I didn't have time to stop and pay my respects.  Later.  Anyway, the whole walk turns out (as I discovered when I looked it up on the Internet this evening) to be 3.2 or 3.3 miles.  And let me tell you, it felt good.  Probably not as good as it's going to feel to go to the gym tomorrow, but plenty good.

On my walk, I saw another one of those surprising London buildings, but surprising in a different way.  London, well England, has a lot of leftover Victorian buildings with quite elaborate facades and tops.  One tends to come across them quite abruptly and unexpectedly, probably because the tops and facades have been matter-of-factly built under, so that a modern business will have built a modern front on the ground floor, but all above that is fantastically elaborate brick or sandstone.  I came upon this one as I came over the rise of a slight hill on City Road:

My friends and I went to the Tate Modern.  I've been there before, but I really enjoy it.  The best part of the afternoon, though, was undoubtedly that afterward we walked along the South Bank, and there at the Barbican was an outdoor exhibit of some giant topiary furniture!  Of course it wasn't really topiary - it was astroturf made to look like topiary - but I like topiary, and I really like furniture that's been made disproportionately large (I know - I don't get it either), so I was delighted.  I had my picture taken sitting in one of the two huge chairs, but since this is an anonymous blog I can't reprint that one.  Instead, I'll insert one of all the furniture.  I particularly like the giant lamp.  I bet it lights up; I'll go back at night and check.

And finally, did I mention that they've put me in a new room?  It's actually a small flat, and has vastly more space than I need.  What it also has, however, is a double bed, and after the experience of sleeping in one at the conference and then again last night, I can honestly say that at least part of my depression at the single bed in my first room had nothing to do with sex but quite a lot, it seems, with an instinctive knowledge that the single bed is n
ot as comfortable as a double one.  It's quite possible that for the last six nights - let's call them Double Bed Nights - I've slept better than I've ever slept in my life.  So tomorrow I'll be ringing the housing office to ask if 

there's any way they can switch me, not to this flat, but to one of the small bedsit rooms I know they also have.  I realise those rooms will probably be booked up for at least a little while, but maybe they can get me in one in a couple of weeks?  Fingers crossed.  In the meantime, it's not just the double bed that's so great.  Look at the view out my windows. Who wouldn't want to wake up to that?  Look how green that moss is!

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19 July 2008

The Mysteries of Conferencing

Here I am back in London, having gone to Scotland for a week-long conference in a charming seaside town.  I had all kinds of trouble getting there, but I think that just has to be accepted for any multi-part journey. What was much nicer was that once I did get there I discovered that if I looked out my window I could see bunnies on the lawn!  I love bunnies! And these ones were quite brazen and at home, little families of them hopping all over the place as bunny-like as you please.  You can see them there above, and here's a picture of the sea for good measure (that's not me):

Years ago I went to Edinburgh with my best friend, and while we were there her grandmother told her that on some nights in high summer it never got fully dark; they're that far north.  Well, 21 years later I FINALLY came back, and I remembered to pay attention to check the veracity of this statement.  I can report that as of July 17, the sky stays streaky until 11:23. Here it is at 9pm:

The conference itself was very enjoyable.  The papers were good, but even better was the company.  It must be admitted that I generally find academic conferences a curious combination of gruelling and enervating:  the papers often bore me, or I find them hard to follow, but at the end of a day I'm nonetheless exhausted.  I think part of this has to do with the fact that I often don't know many people at a given conference, and even if I do know them we seldom make arrangements to hang out together at the end of the conference day.  Thus, I get no time to relax by discussing the various panels with friends.  To some extent, this was true of this conference, too -- that is, I found it tiring.  But part of the charm of this particular conference is that everyone seems to know each other:  the same people go every year, so there comes a feeling of chummy clubbiness.  Also, and I've noticed this before, all British academics seem to know one other.  Britain is not that small, but the impression you get from going to conferences is that it's the size of your thumb.  Everyone knows everyone, or at least knows of everyone, and as a result they all know each other's news, sometimes each other's scurrilous news.  Now, I am a big fan of gossip, when that gossip is simply passing information about who's published what, done what, gotten what job, and behaved badly toward whom.  I have zero interest in reputation-damaging gossip, and I never pass on anything negative I hear, but I do love the information aspect of gossip.  So it was enormously pleasurable to attend this conference because I got to learn who everyone was, and what they had all done or were doing. But also, there was an even-more-pleasurable sense that we were somehow all a family, guaranteed to like each other and have a certain amount in common (although there still was the usual need for small talk) and welcome each other.  I can't help it; I just like that.

It's odd, because I would say that most people would think of me as a loner, and I'm certainly someone who needs a good deal of time on her own.  At the same time, however, I love communities, I love inserting myself into families, both real families and made ones.  As a child I was loathed by all my peers, so perhaps I love these communities so much now because it's making up for the exclusion of my earlier years.  

I should probably say at this stage that my paper went down very well.  And since I wore my bright purple dress (although I only fit into it by a whisker, so much food were we faced with. I'm actually disappointed that the gym will not be open tomorrow), I was also much admired for my "glamour."  No wonder I loved these people!

I also had the extraordinary experience of meeting what I believe to be The Bitterest Man in the World.  Truly, he was seamed richly with the bitter.  I would say 9 out of every 10 of his statements was laced with spite or contempt.  It was extraordinary!  Perhaps even more extraordinary is the fact that I chose to hang out with him; the first time I couldn't avoid it, but the second time I did it voluntarily.  Okay, I have to admit that I did it because I thought he found me attractive, which is terrible.  Oh, vanity, vanity!  Nonetheless, it did give me a chance to observe his bitterness up close, and to be simultaneously mystified and astounded.  He has a two-year contract at a very prestigious university, which also gave him a free apartment (!); he has a book contract; he is not hideously ugly; he appears to have had more than one girlfriend; a number of distinguished academics greeted him with familiarity and pleasure:  and still he is bitter.  People are a mystery.

And finally, because I arrived for the conference a day early, I was able to spend a leisurely afternoon in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.  In fact, however, I could have spent two minutes there and missed nothing of delight, for when I entered their very impressive great hall what should I find facing me but this:

Oh, Robert Louis, how it makes my little heart go flippity-flop to see you!  Tee-hee.

What's more, on the middle day of the conference we went into Edinburgh, where, in addition to having perhaps the most tender piece of salmon I've ever had in my life (thank you, Ramada Inn on Princes Street), I also visited the Writer's Museum.  As one approaches the Writer's Museum there are random paving stones with quotations from Scottish authors.  I took photos of my favourites, and I'll leave you with one of them:

Indeed, it is!
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10 July 2008


...don't you hate them?  Move along, people!  I never have understood those who just mosey down the street.  I guess I understand it more when the street is itself quiet or very interesting, but those who amble down busy city streets are a mystery to me. This afternoon London was filled with amblers.  Grrr. 

This morning to the British Library, where I read a little in the Humanities Room (where I'd never been before), and slept a little in there, too.  In my own defence, the Humanities Room is freezing, which made me sleepy, and my sleep cycle is somehow out of joint, which means I get up at 5am and am exhausted 4 hours later.  Tonight I'm going to try going to sleep at a regular time, with the blind closed, and I'll see if I can sleep until a regular time, too.

Did I mention that my dorm room bed is on the tiny side?  Why, yes, I believe I did.  After I come back from my conference next week, I'm being housed in a studio flat for a week. Depending on what that's like, I believe I may throw myself upon the mercy of the housing people and ask to be moved into one for the rest of my stay - I do kind of have the money.  And it might be worth it not so much for the bed as for the duvet.  Her
e I have a single duvet, which means I inevitably end up with one of my lower limbs uncovered,
which is not very pleasant.  ...But let us wait and see what the studio is like.

Look at that there below and in the middle.  That's one of the things I love about London:  you'll be walking along a street, just some street (in this

case, leading from Covent Garden), and when you look up there's a completely cool piece of architecture built into the top story of a house. New York is like that, too, and so sometimes is Philadelphia, and I think it's just great.  People don't usually look up, and I just love the idea that someone has produced something to delight the eye, simply on the off chance that an aimless eye might happen along to be delighted.  An ambling eye, I suppose one might say.  So perhaps I have more respect for ambling than I thought.

And can I just say that this particular delightful sight is on Wardour Street, a street name that always makes me laugh because it features in the early David Bowie song, "The London Boys," one of his, shall we say, less strong efforts.  It's about a country lad arriving in the big city: "Bright lights, Soho, Wardour Street,/You hope you make friends with the guys that you meet." After that couplet, seeing the street name always makes me giggle.
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09 July 2008

Ah, Chocolate

In the spirit of the high academic endeavour on which I've come over here, I'm reading my way through the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series, by Louise Rennison.  Each takes about an hour to read, and they're highly enjoyable.

Today was really only half a day for me, because after arising, putting in my lenses and eating my delicious healthy breakfast, and getting dressed, I found I was so exhausted I couldn't open my eyes, so I went back to bed.  That was at 10am, and I didn't get up until 2!  Since I was hoping to do some work that was a little disappointing, but since I actually AM doing some work tomorrow (I have to meet someone at the British Library, which forces me to go there and do work), I don't feel so bad.  

At 3:20 I went down the road to the nearby hotel to meet one of my made-through-the-internet "friends."  We were meeting in the bar of the hotel, which sounds skeezy but isn't, because like most bars in hotels these days it also had a cafe/lounge area with tables and chairs, which is actually where we met.  The chairs (well, and the tables, I suppose) were those very low ones,
where you're about two feet off the ground and even my knees angle up. They were quite squishy, though, and so very comfortable.  My internet friend turned out to be about 48 (I calculated based on the college dates he gave me), and to be very pleasant. Actually, it worked out quite well:  he's a nice man, and he's just about old enough to be a contemporary, but because he has four children and is 8 years older he feels slightly too old for there to be anything romantic possible (although, being me and thus currently trying to figure out the whole "how will I ever find a boyfriend?" situation, I did ask myself if, based on him as evidence, I would date a 48-year-old, and my answer was, "Yes, but not this one").  We spent about two hours talking, and although the conversation did have to be kept going with some pushes and some of those fractionally awkward, "So, do you like the cinema?" kinds of questions, those questions happen at the beginning of most friendships, at least for me (I've had friendships where that hasn't happened, and those have been the best and closest of my friendships, but they're few and far between).  As it happens, he does like the cinema, so after he goes away on his family holiday for three weeks, starting next week, we may get together and go.  

He may yet turn out to be creepy, but at the moment I think this experience bodes well for future meetings with internet friends (one of which is tomorrow).  At the very least, it did make me feel that I had had contact with a pleasant person, and had a conversation, which did no end 
of cheering me up.  Funnily enough, so did the weather, even though it was in the mid-60s (max) and rainy all day.  In any case, I was feeling much more cheerful, and as I walked along looking at the wet pavement (which one can legitimately call pavement, because it's made out of what looks like big paving stones, totally different from American sidewalk (see, there's some on the left)), I asked myself, "Am I happy?"  And I thought, "Yes.  I mean, I'm not ecstatic, but I feel a lot happier and more at home than I did where I was, or at my parents'."  And you can't say fairer than that.  Although I think I might need to buy a new umbrella.  I bought a bigger-than-normal one because I hate the way that, if you hold a regular umbrella in one hand, the other side of you gets wet - especially problematic if you carry a bag on that shoulder.  But I think this one might be too big for London, because people keep giving me black looks as I pass, and because I keep having to get out of the way of other people with umbrellas.  So I better buy a smaller one. I just hope I can find one with polka dots, like this one.

Along with the meeting with my (now) fracquaintance, I also did some grocery shopping.  I'm not going to bore you with a description of my shopping.  Suffice it to say that yesterday I purchased as my dinner dessert a KitKat crunchy, a chocolate bar delicious, in my opinion, only in its English incarnation, in which delicious incarnation it is like the succulent food of the gods.  Today, however, I decided to purchase as my dessert a Bounty bar.  A Bounty, for those who don't know, is best described as an Almond Joy without the
almond:  chewy coconut enrobed in chocolate.  Like an Almond Joy, a Bounty can be taken apart and eaten, with some fiddling, so that you eat the chocolate bottom and the coconut, but are left with the (actually quite thick) chocolate top to eat separately - actually, you do it the reverse way with an Almond Joy, because it's hard to detach the almonds from the top.  ANYway, the Bounty also differs from the AJ in that it comes in two flavours, milk and dark chocolate.  The dark version is in a red wrapper, and so is known as a "red Bounty."  This is what I ate today.  And, oh! the difference to me.  Oooo, moist without being too juicy, chocolate-y without being overpowering, coconut-y but not cloying... Up until the moment I re-encountered this I was certain that the KitKat crunchy was the finest chocolate bar known to humanity (a phrase that always makes me think of Withnail & I), but suddenly I find this certainty undermined.  I knew coming to England would change my understanding of myself, but I wasn't expecting it to undermine that understanding to this extent.  What next?  Will I give up eating meat?  Oh, wait...

And I LOVE my new phone. Tee hee.

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08 July 2008

Arriving and Settling

Here I am, sitting in my room drinking a cup of tea and listening to Radio 4.  In short, I have arrived in London.  First of all, rather randomly, here is a picture of Pierce Brosnan for my best friend, who I've somehow got it into my head wanted to see what he looked like:

We should all be so lucky at 55!

Also, I've set my spellcheck to British norms, so spellings will be different.

Now, on to the real news.  I am here, and I am getting used to it.  In order to give you a sense of how things are going, I've divided this entry into several subsections, beginning with

The Air

What's the weather like, you ask?  Well, this morning, when I decided to wear my lively-but-not-really-summery grey and black skirt and sandals, it was, frankly, chilly.  And then it was rainy, but that's hardly a surprise.  In the afternoon, though, it got sunny, and as I sat in the kitchen eating my dinner I was reminded of one of my very favourite things about London, and about England generally:  the air.  The air here is nothing like the air where I live, or the air at my parents'.  The best way I can explain it is to say it always feels light.  I think what I really mean is that, even at its hottest, the air is never oppressive; rather, it feels almost always fresh, and somehow, even when it's hot, cold - or at least as if it contains coldness within it.  Breathing it in is always a pleasure.  Plus, it comes with all sorts of smells, some of which are not very interesting (rain, for example), but some of which are very interesting indeed.  Warm butter, for instance, is a smell that seems to feature in all supermarkets, I suppose because of the fresh croissants they sell.  Now, I'm careful about what I eat, so I can't have a croissant anywhere near every day, but I can open my nostrils as wide as possible and pull in the buttery air.  And, in fact, it's just as good as eating a croissant.  The other interesting smell is on the far end of the spectrum from warm butter; it's what I supposed must be creosote.  It's some sort of tarry or industrial substance, anyway, and it's a smell I associate solely with London.  I have smelt it once or twice in America, but only with extreme surprise. This smell, which I can't describe, used to greet me when I came off the plane at Heathrow:  I could smell it in the cold air trapped at the very start of the plane walkway when they attached it to the plane.  These days I no longer smell it there, but I always smell it at some point relatively early in my trips to London, and it says, "You're here."  Tonight it came while I was taking my dinner to the table.  

Which leads nicely to...

The Basics

The room is, well, a dorm room.  I knew that before I came, of course, but I had forgotten how much of a dorm room English dorm rooms are.  It has a rickety but reasonable desk, a chair of vinyl hideousness,

a basin in the room (lovely), one of those bizarre open closet arrangements so favoured by English hotel rooms:  six open shelves and a drawer, flanked on one side (can something be
flanked only on one side?) by an open space to hang clothes, provided with some few sad hangers.  The bed is a single, and resolutely so.  You couldn't fit two people in this bed and expect them to get decent sleep even if they adored each other and lived to be pressed close.  As I thought to myself sadly yesterday afternoon, I guess I won't be sleeping with anyone during my two months in London - unless it happens during the week I'll be staying in a studio flat because all the rooms were taken.  Still, the room is comfy in its way, and large enough not to be smothering. Plus, it's only for

a week, and after I come back from my conference I'll be in an entirely different room (God willing, not one that faces the main road, as this one does). Today I bought myself a radio alarm clock (hence the Radio 4) and a
small lamp (there's nothing but overhead lighting, and that all fluorescent, which I find very hard going), and I think once I put up some postcards in the next room I get, that plus lamp and radio will make it positively homey.  And what do I need to be sleeping with people in London for?  I'd only have to leave them once I went to Cambridge.

The (shared) bathroom and showers are exactly what you'd expect:  small, dank, and like those you find at summer camp, only indoors. I confess I am surprised at this.  I thought that with increased gentrification and more people going to university, the universities of London would have improved their hygiene facilities.  But no.  That being said, I did have a lovely bath in the sort of tub that only Europe seems to provide, large and deep, with broad ledge on which to balance a cup of tea  (in a blue-striped mug that a reprehensible sort of person would spirit out of the kitchen and keep secreted in their bedroom, using it make many homely cups of delicious tea).  

Opening a bank account was surprisingly easy.  Last time I lived here they refused to give me an ATM card until I'd had an account for six months, but today it all went through smoothly (even though I inadvertently gave the wrong address), and they even gave me a £250 overdraft!  

What went much less smoothly than I expected, however, was hooking up the computer to the Internet.  First I had to buy an ethernet cable, so I toddled of to PC World down the road. Doesn't that name make them sound as if they have a thorough knowledge of everything? Well, pshaw!  because they sold me a USB cable, which I didn't know was a USB cable because I have
 no idea what a USB cable or ethernet cable looks like (or rather, I didn't.  I do now).  So I spent a fruitless evening trying to plug it in, before finally having the bright idea of this morning going to the new Apple store on Regent Street, where I bought the right cable AND a handy adapter, which slots neatly into the groove where my American plug went before I removed it to put in the adapter.  Sorted.  Thank you, Apple store.

I also went swimming in the University of London pool.  I'd already done a lot of walking, what with the bank account opening and Apple store visiting and lamp buying and grocery shopping (which I forgot to mention), but I really felt the need to get some exercise, however mild.  And the pool was very pleasant, and I only did eight laps - just enough to stretch me a bit and make me a bit tired (which I need.  I took a long nap by accident yesterday, my first day here, with the result that this morning I woke up at 4am.  Tonight I'm going to sleep at 10, and I'm hoping that my swim, plus my general exhaustion from having been up since 4, plus the fact that I ate sensibly, will help me sleep.  I want to work tomorrow before I go off to have my first ballet and meet the first of my Internet "friends"). 

The final thing is that I bought a phone. This, too, turned out to be more trouble than I expected.  I'd selected the phone very careful, with a lot of forethought and good economic reasons (it was a bit expensive, but it has Bluetooth, which cheaper ones did not, as well as an excellent camera, access to the Internet, a great screen, and a nice shape, weight, and feel). Unfortunately, just as I prepared to slap down my credit card the woman behind the counter informed me that the phone was non-returnable the way I was buying it.  I could either buy it this way, going with one of the networks that offered cheaper minutes, 15p a minute, or I could go with the most expensive network, which charges 25p a minute.  10p is quite a difference!  As I said to the woman, this is one of those situations in which, as we say in America, you're screwed no matter what you do:  buy it with the cheaper minutes, and you risk finding out you hate it but can't return it (thus leaving me out £69), or buy it with the more expensive minutes and have that extra amount rankle every minute.  I see now that there was a third option - buy it with the more expensive minutes, see if I like it, and return it either way, buying it again with a cheaper option if I do like it - but that seems far too much hassle, even in retrospect.  At the moment I was considering my options, I did have a relatively long think.  The other factor is that someone I knew whom I'd rather not have known had this phone (that' s how I knew what it felt and looked like), and I suddenly realised I risked being reminded of that person every time I used the phone.  But it is a great phone, and I do like it in and of itself, and in a very short time it will just be "my phone."  So I went ahead.  Now it's cha
rging; tomorrow we'll see how it goes.

So all in all I'm settling in nicely.  I'd say my only real frustration is that everything costs so much. I don't just mean that everything costs twice as much when you turn it into dollars (so that I realised with horror today that I paid $3 for a cup of tea), since I usually don't do that math.  I mean some things in and of themselves cost a lot, curious things.  It cost £6.50 to go for a swim, which is a fairly hefty amount, in my opinion, particularly when you consider that I only swam for 20 minutes and also had to pay just to get a card that allows me to get into the gym.  Tomorrow I'll take class at a place where there is a monthly membership fee as well as a cost per class of £7-9.  I remembered that there was this concatenation of fees over here, but I still find it strange - and very pricey.

Now I am indeed exhausted, so I'll go off and have my warm milk, then head to my narrow bed. Under my lovely warm duvet.

I note with interest that there is a nineteenth-centuryist job going at Birkbeck College.
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04 July 2008

The Mystery of Foolishness

I'm staying with my parents for a couple of days before I leave, and on the plane here and then again yesterday afternoon I had time to read the second volume of Roy Foster's two-volume biography of W.B. Yeats.  It came out in 2003, so I've taken my time getting around to it, but considering that volume one came out some ten years before that, and I didn't get around to reading it until last summer, I think I'm doing quite well on this one.  I'm up to page 200, and here's what I've gleaned about W.B. Yeats:  he was a very silly man.  Remarkably so.  I knew that he didn't get married until he was 52, because he spent all the first 52 years of his life yearning after first Maud Gonne and then her daughter, but unrequited 
love is hardly a besetting silliness (and that young Yeats on the right looks as if he were made for unrequited love, after all). From reading the first volume of the bio I also knew that he had been involved with the Order of the Golden Dawn and with Theosophy, both reasons for eye-rolling, but in youth people get involved with all sorts of nonsense, so while that was worthy of a giggle it didn't inspire much more.

But I mean, really!  It turns out it wasn't just foolish unrequited love (I mean, consider the work of loving someone unrequitedly for 30 years.  Most of us would just give up around year 10), or silly pseudo-archaic names upon joining the Lodge of the Golden Dawn (or whatever it was), or joining the SPR, or saying that come Irish Independence evening dress for gentlemen should include saffron kilts.  No-ho-ho! There is the credulous belief in his wife's obviously manipulative "automatic" writing; there is the attendance at seances, including one in which he was convinced that the medium had conjured up his father because said "conjurance" reportedly accurately that his (Yeats's) sister's neighbor's dog had died; there is the casting of horoscopes and believing them; there are the attempts to prove a correlation between physical beauty and spiritual superiority; later there is the support of fascism.  I can't decide whether this is the result of nobody's ever telling him he was a fool, or whether even if they had told him he wouldn't have listened.  It flummoxes me, though, that such nonsense could have been associated with such poetic gifts.  Of course I know that a poet need not bear any resemblance to his personhood, that
the ability to write marvelous poetry has nothing to do with decency or good sense in everyday life (T.S. Eliot, anyone?), but in Yeats's case it's like watching a boat float despite the cairn of stones that slowly builds up inside it.  Foolish psychic beliefs?  Check.  Willingness to believe in mysterious forces that run the world?  Check.  Addiction to societies that require "mystic rites" and special talismans and tokens of belonging?  Check.  Foolish beliefs about sex?  Check.  Pompous conviction of own superiority?  Check.  Said conviction leading to credulity?  Check.  You'd think his rowboat of ability would sink to the bottom, but instead you get "Sailing to Byzantium," and "Among Schoolchildren."  And someone who ends up looking as much like an elder statesman as it's possible to look.

Ah, well, there's no accounting for gifts, I suppose.  Or for foolishness.  W.H. Auden said of Yeats, "You were silly like us," and while that could mean, "Just as we are silly, you were silly, too," it could also mean, "You were silly in the same ways we are."  I would like to think that everyone in the human race has loved someone who didn't love them back, or believed some sort of nonsense, and I suppose in some way it is heartening to see genius (or whatever Yeats had) allied to humanity rather than to superiority.  Interestingly, either reading of Auden's line suggests that at least part of the reason why one might like Yeats is precisely because of his silliness, not in spite of it.  And I suppose that's true, just as one loves someone for their imperfections rather than their perfections. Without silliness or imperfection, the wall is sheer; with them, there are footholds.
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