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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
OCT
09

J. Alfred

If you've read The History of Love, you'll recall the story about the age of glass, where everyone believed a part of himself to be extremely fragile. The book tells the story of a young man who fell in love but every time he kissed the girl and his knees began to shake, he worried that a part of him would shatter. One night to protect himself he pulls back and leans away, the girl feels hurt, and in the course of explaining ("Part of me is made of glass."), he only makes it worse. Later, he couldn't shake this regret: "That in the most important moment of his life he had chosen the wrong sentence."

This line haunts me. Because it's so beautifully accurate. And also because there are few things more punishing than regret. I have experienced this regret myself...wondered if a certain situation may have turned out differently had I not said a line I'd been rehearsing for just such a moment but rather said what actually came to me in the moment itself. Sometimes I think I've done too much planning and preparing and not enough living.

Which got me thinking about Prufrock. Because how much does my History of Love story sound like this stanza:

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,                                             90
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
  Should say, "That is not what I meant at all.
  That is not it, at all."

Or this one:

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,                                           100
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
  "That is not it at all,
  That is not what I meant, at all."

Yes, sometimes it is impossible to say just what we mean, and even after we try, it is often not what we meant. That is not what I meant, at all. Perhaps it's inevitable though. We're destined to see our greatness flicker, to shatter our own selves in the quest to remain whole. Oh my gosh, what am I saying? Look what poetry does to people. Let me slap myself upside the head and leave you with this parting thought: Eat that peach, J. Part that hair behind.

MAY
05

Brown Penny

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In a college English class years ago, we had to at one point recite a poem from memory. I picked Yeats' Brown Penny, partly because I think it's my favorite poem, and partly (mostly) because it was the shortest one I could find that still met the length requirement of the assignment.

I've been thinking about Brown Penny lately. It's a poem about love that manages to come across as delightfully sweet and hopeful without dripping with cliche or dragging on. It's a poem that I cannot think of without letting out a contended sigh. It's a poem I keep on my fridge to this day. And if you've ever seen Must Love Dogs, it's the poem that Christopher Plummer recites at his birthday party. Find that clip, watch it right now, and I'm pretty sure you'll hear yourself sigh.