Friday, 13 February 2009

Feeling like death?

Recently Sorlil quoted Anne Sexton 'A woman who writes feels too much'. Man, you're not kidding...I have been crying all week about one thing or another. Not every week works out like this...but I have to admit it's not that uncommon either. I would sometimes like to be the kind of person who doesn't take every little thing quite so much to heart, the kind of woman who can keep things together...but I'm not sure that's going to happen. I sometimes feel like a piece of litmus paper. A much used piece of litmus paper.

Anyway Sorlil also tagged me to post 'a phrase: a few lines from a poem, a song, or an overheard sentence that rings important inside you' and this is the first one that came to mind:

from 'The Death of the Hired Man' by Robert Frost

'Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.'

It's been a bit crazy here so to be honest when I read the instruction I didn't read past the word 'poem' properly (otherwise I might have picked something from a song...I probably have a lot more song lyrics in my head than lines from, you know, stuff officially categorised as poetry...). However this is the one I started with so this is the one I'm sticking to. We studied this poem in secondary school (along with a few other of Frost's) and this phrase (almost an aphorism?) has followed me around since then. I'm not sure if it's true but there's something about it that has always interested me and continues to do so. I grew up in an area that we were not really from, we moved a lot, I went to weird schools, I lived abroad, I went back 'home', I didn't feel at 'home', we moved again, I sometimes feel at home here...but not always so it is a recurring theme. Plus I think a lot about people and how they do (or do not) care for each other (and that is very much what the poem is about). I think a lot about everything that people do and don't do...none of that helps with the 'not feeling so much' business...

Other things this week - our Old Dog (a cairn terrier called Ailsa) was put down on Thursday and I didn't think I'd be so upset but I have been blubbering like an actress on an awards show (Small Girl has been ill this week too so that has probably added to my uselessness). Ailsa lived to 16 and was a funny old thing (originally my Mum's dog) but she had lived with us since my Mum moved up here in 2004 and so she was, with all her terrible habits (the dog I'm talking about...), a member of our family. I remember being at the StAnza masterclass in 2005 (led by Jane Hirshfield) and a woman read a poem about her cat dying and feeding it chicken like threading a needle. As the poem was discussed I suspect I was a little impatient (as in 'oh please..are we really talking about this...this is a bit gross...') but that poem has stayed with me too (more than I could have expected). I thought of it yesterday as Mark and Mum took Old Dog off to the vet's for the last time and I felt absolutely miserable. I thought I had kept the poem but I've looked and can't find the photocopy right now (anyone else was there or know who it was?). I may yet write a sad poem about yesterday...and then maybe even watch younger poets get impatient as I read it in a masterclass some day... What was that you were writing recently, Ken Armstrong, about changing perspectives?

Speaking of Ken, he sent me a book a while back called 'That They May Face the Rising Sun' by Irish writer John McGahern. It's been a slow, very gentle read but I finished it yesterday too (sometimes the clanking symbolism in life can be deafening!). There is a lot in that book about home and what that means and about finding a place where you can feel right. There's a good, powerful death section at the end too so it's a quiet but strong story...and very Robert Frost in its way. Highly recommended.

Then last night (to finish off a very odd day) my Mum and I watched 'Snow Cake' (recorded from a while back). More crying! And more death! It's a great little film though and whilst it has its cheesey moments (I found the Rickman back story not quite right...) it is so much better than so many other films. I would recommend that one too.

And I think that's as far as I'm going to get today because there is more cleaning and caring and no doubt crying to do. Perhaps I'll manage some more thoughts on home and what it means in a few days.


p.s. I haven't done a list of people to carry on the tag always feels weird to pick some and not others...but anyone who wants to post or comment on this - away you go!


hope said...

From someone who truly understands, my sympathy on the loss of your 4 legged family member. Yes, I use to look at people funny too when they went on and on about the loss of a pet. Then we got Smokey, our chocolate lab...and his son, Beaudreaux. Smokey's almost 11. He's on meds for a bad shoulder and just couldn't get comfortable last night. It does make you feel useless when the dog looks at you as if to say, "You walk upright. Can't you help me out?"

The first line which popped into my head was from Rudyard Kipling's poem "If".
"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you....."

That line has gotten me through many a moment when I was on teh verge of losing my cool. If it doesn't work, then I take a vacation from work. :)

Unknown said...

Poor Rach - wish I could give ya a big warm Irish hug to cheer you up.

I always think of 'Tell the truth, but tell it slant,' which is I think Emily Dickinson, but I could be wrong!

Rachel Fox said...

It's bizarre, Hope, I have been quite silly with sadness over this! It doesn't help as I say that Small Girl has had a bad week with illness and stuff too. She is still laid-up and it could be just a bug but...there are other complications...oh I hate this bit of looking after people (and dogs)!

Benjamin Zephaniah wrote a lovely reply to 'If' called 'What if'. It starts like this:
'If you can keep your money when governments about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.'
Topical...and worth looking out.

Thanks, Barbara. An Irish hug sounds grand! And you know I love Emily D.


The Weaver of Grass said...

Sorry about the dog Rachel. I lost my darling Algy Pug in 2000. He is buried close to home and i think of him often. Now he has been joined by Oscar the Pointer, who died last May - so sad again. But if you have a dog you have to accept that their life span is so much shorter than ours that we are bound to lose them. You don't realise how much you love them until they are gone. Hope we soong get some spring weather to cheer you up. Hope small girl is better too.

Rachel Fox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marion McCready said...

Hope your wee girl gets better soon. As for the dog, we had to get two of our dogs put down in the last two years, people who don't have animals don't realise how upsetting it is. Both times we went straight from the vet's to the pub for a couple of shots. still miss the dogs :(

nice lines from Frost. I like this tag, it really says something about the person.

Rachel Fox said...

I'm not sure I want to know what it says about me!

Rachel Fox said...

And Weaver...yes this dog had been old and ill a long time so there had been much looking after her. It had got to that point where you think they will go on forever...and then they don't.

Colin Will said...

Mark Doty has a wonderful poem about his aging dog Arden - The Stairs, from the collection School of the Arts. Terribly poignant, and yet I've never shared his - or your - experience. Gerbils and hamsters don't work like that, and they were 30 years ago.

Roxana said...

an interesting tag, isn't it? I like your choice too, even if I am not always comfortable with the notion of 'family' and all that it implies.

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks Colin. I'm not sure when I turned into a person who cries about dogs but it does seem to have happened somewhere along the way! I know it is wrapped up with other feelings and concerns too. Some of which I can't really go into on here...

And Roxana...hello! And the point about this quote is that it says 'home' not 'family'. To some people 'home' is nothing to do with family (and this is exactly the case for the man who dies in the Frost poem). Home can be friends, a place, a family...or somewhere you never recognise...or, I suppose, nowhere at all. It can be a changing concept too.


deemikay said...

That's terrible news about the dog. I hope you're all coping with the loss.


Your tag... I'd have to go for something from Wodwo by Ted Hughes (which I often call my "favourite poem in the whole wide world").

This line from the middle sums up my occasional amazement that I actually exist:

"me and doing that have coincided very queerly"

Or maybe at the end of it:

"... I suppose I am the exact centre / but there's all this what is it roots / roots roots roots and here's the water / again very queer but I'll go on looking"

Rachel Fox said...

Oh, it's really not that terrible...just a bit sad...and's always weird when someone (or something) is suddenly not there any more. It reminds you how quickly death can anyone, any time! And when your child is ill that is not really the kind of thing you want in your mind...she is a little better though today...nibbling bread as I type.

Ted Hughes eh? Interesting...I was never very into Hughes until I did a little teaching (to 15 year olds) and found how interesting his poems were to teach. 'Go on looking'...yes...yes.


deemikay said...

Sorry, I never even mentioned your daughter!

Yes, it is terrible when a child is unwell. My nephews, thankfully, have never been seriously ill. But when they have been sick it's quite intolerable. I remember a quote from somewhere else saying that the pain you feel for another is worse than the pain you feel yourself. Imagination amplifies it.


Ted Hughes is a sort of rites-of-passage thing for teenage boys. We like the blood and guts! And that poem has stuck with me since I first read it in the library when I should have been studying for a calculus exam. :)

Rachel Fox said...

Yes there are times (quite a lot of times) when turning the imagination off (or even just down) really would be a good idea. I never have managed to learn that skill though! Luckily our girl's Dad is a more pragmatic type. One ridiculously over-thinking parent is more than enough.

Frances said...

No wonder you're feeling down if you've lost your dog and your daughter's been unwell. As some poet sometime said, when winter comes can spring etc etc All things must pass.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes...and passing they are!

I am just a very up and down person though too, Frances. Very high ups, very low downs...and very, very good at crying. I've stopped now...for a while at least...


Fantastic Forrest said...

This is a dreary, saddish time of year, and you've had a number of things happen all at once to add to your sadness. I'm sorry to hear about them all.

The Frost snippet makes me depressed, not cheered up. The two "have"s add up to a big "hole." Or maybe just a "have not." If "You have to go" it's clearly saying you're acting unwillingly. Perhaps you've no other options. And there's no joy in the thought that "they have to take you in." So it's not that you're welcomed with opened arms, it's more a resigned sense of obligation.

Maybe I just possess a keen eye for the obvious. If so, I apologize for boring you with my response. But I think Frost meant it to be somehow comforting, especially, when you look at his next lines:

'I should have called it
Something you somehow haven't to deserve.'

That isn't how I took it. I wasn't comforted.

I hope that your Valentine's Day marks the start of some happier times for you, Rachel. I hope that there is lots of loving in your home as well as cleaning and caring.

PS I think your sad week clearly impacted your ability to see clearly when you commented at TTTaS. Rickman is not any of the things you wrote. Rrowr!!!!

Kat Mortensen said...

I can't stop long, but will return later to write more.
I will say this: Being a cat lover and having grown up with many of them - I've lost many too. It is gut-wrenching, isn't it? You don't really expect it too - these days you think, "I'm stronger than that. I'm not going to get all sentimental and weepy." It doesn't quite work out that way though, does it? Other seeminly inconsequential events conspire to draw out those tears -- all underlined by that small death, that means so much.
You have an animal in your life and it's work. You are constantly catering to their needs - feeding, cleaning up after them, walking them, taking them to vets when they are ill. It gets into your bones, not just your mind. That intangible love that reaches its acme after they are gone. I do understand and think even more of you for your sensitivity.

Tea and biscuits are available anytime you need a shoulder.


P.S. I've taken up the challenge of finding that poem.

Rachel Fox said...

You may notice, FF, that Rickman snuck into this post too. I really like him as an actor. He is one of 'Love Actually's only saving graces too...(that's a bit of an ongoing topic with some of my longtime visitors here...).

As for the Frost - no, I don't think those two lines are cheery or comforting either! Frost liked to get to the heart of the real (I think) and that's something I like to try and do too so I do like his writing. The tag was just something that 'rings important' and this choice, as I say, has hung round in my head a long time. I am just interested in the subject of's something people talk about all the time but it can be a very vague concept at times (for some people). Same with the looks issue re Rickman (and down on my author photos post)...these are just subjects I find interesting really...why do we say x, why do we think y, why do we so often do z...

Oh and I am a little cheerier today, thanks. And yes, plenty of love about. It needs cleaning too, I should think!

And Kat. Lovely girl you are. Into the bones indeed.


Fantastic Forrest said...

I see I shall have to catch up on your prior posts and comments! Do you detail your former homes, especially the one abroad? If not, will you tell me where you lived?

Love, Actually is one of my favorites. I feel so sad about Rickman's and Thompson's characters' marriage. What do you think happens after the movie is over?

I know what you mean about asking the x, y, z questions - that deeper thinking is evident in Alexander McCall Smith's Sunday Philosophers Club. I hope you'll check those books out.

I just saw Revolutionary Road and that leads me to a lot of heavy questions.

Always good to visit with you, Rachel! Happy VD.

Rachel Fox said...

Happy VD confused me for a minute there, FF! But I got to the right solution in the end...(over here VD means venereal disease...though I know STD is more the term you see in leaflets etc. now).

But speaking of Valentines, mine has been hard at work today - he hoovered, made the tea, made a fire...but he is always pretty amazing and I am very lucky. I would post him a poem for today...but I did that for his birthday back in July so I think I might have used up that idea...('Oh great, hun, another online poem...').

I have started writing a post about home so I will put some details about places if I've lived seeing as you asked so nicely!

That post will make it out by Sun night or Monday (our time) maybe. So see you again soon perhaps.


Rachel Fox said...

An extra 'if' got itself into that comment. Obviously the ghost of Kipling or something...

Fantastic Forrest said...

VD means the same thing here. I have a dark sense of humour today.

Will look forward to your post about home!

Ken Armstrong said...

I'm so sorry about your dog - most people who have lost their dog will emphatise, any one who hasn't might not get how very big a deal it is. I would be in the former group.

I'm glad you found something in the book - I think 'gentle with an impact' is a very good way of describing it. I hope you didn't feel, 'God, I have to read this thing' or at least, if you did, (and I think this is true) that is was worthwhile. :)

I suppose it'd be much worse if we didn't feel anything, right?

Rachel Fox said...

I did really like the book, Ken, and I'd never heard of that writer before so thanks for the introduction.

Ken Armstrong said...

If you ever want to try him again, may I recommend 'Amongst Women' or his collected short stories which are... (can't get the word) good. :)