Fleda’s Blog

My Wobbly Bicycle, 169

Posted by on Apr 10, 2019 in Featured | 13 comments


I can see myself in my crib, pushing my fuzzy bunny from one side to the other, to see how it looks over there. I grew up in a very messy house, and I guess you could say that my decorating was to quell the storm. But more than that, I get aesthetic pleasure out of beautiful spaces. We had very little money when I was young, but that didn’t stop me. I painted a bookcase, I put up old curtains I found in a box. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I kept a notebook of decorating ideas. I pored over my favorite magazine, Metropolitan Home. I cut out pictures. I made a kitchen chandelier out of a metal flood-light shade. It’s a wonder I didn’t die of fumes from stripping and refinishing furniture. I recovered dozens of throw pillows.


My thesaurus wants to pair decorate with embellish, adorn, garnish, bedeck. Those feel wrong, so maybe decorate is the wrong word. I was trying to bring aesthetic harmony to the whole. Not harmony, maybe—not accord, synchronization, or congruence, exactly. I was trying to make a poem. In a poem you feel the parts speaking to each other but not necessarily smoothly. You feel they’re right, together, but not arranged.


I don’t think any of this had much to do with making an impression on others, although that’s nice. It was for me. It was—is—to please my own eye.


Our smaller cottage , the one Jerry and I live in at the lake, has looked like a dorm room forever. When we inherited it, it had second-hand furniture my step-grandmother had gotten from somewhere. We donated the sofa and the kitchen table and chairs to Goodwill. We brought a small table from Delaware and brought a futon from the big cottage.


This has been a long winter for so many reasons. I’ve had meniscus and hernia surgeries.  Not serious, but still. And my father died. And we’re coming to terms with Jerry’s very limited mobility. And I am in a funk with my writing. Not surprising, since I’ve reached an end point with two books.


So as not to allow myself to sink further into the slough of despond, I have been doing what I can with the little cottage! I ordered a new sofa, sent it back, ordered another (This is like me. I had to drive the hour to the lake in each case, of course.) We went on several expeditions for a different coffee table and other objects.


I’m a hunter. Give me a project, I’ll get my machete and basket and head into the jungle, all my senses on high alert. The more humble, the more inconsequential in the larger world, the better. I am the village woman, the picker of berries, the collector of bark for potions: you get what I mean.


Two months later—in snow so high we got stuck getting out of there and had to be rescued—we tried out a different paint color for the living room walls. Barely different, but we got rid of the mustardy tinge to the brown.


I found a vase that has the right shade of orange (my color) in it in a local antique store. Not expensive, but perfect. This is the thing. There is no difference in my joy in having found the perfect objet and my having found the perfect word. How do I know it’s perfect? I just do. I’ll fight to the death for that word, for that vase. It is somehow crucial. Later, I might change it, because the whole may have somehow shifted. But.


I’ve done a lot of this from home, from my head, from websites. It’s all in my head, actually. I try out so many things that way that my head is a revolving door of possibilities. The real thing can’t compare to the internal adventures.


Which, then, is the real thing? Hard to say.  Nonetheless, this aesthetic fiddling, as it has in the past, has gotten me through a dark patch. Surely the sun will shine soon, and the daffodils will begin to bloom.


From the poet Linda Gregg, who died in March: “What matters to me even more than the shapeliness and the dance of language is what the poem discovers deeper down than gracefulness and pleasures in figures of speech.” (Via The Washington Post) 







My Wobbly Bicycle, 168

Posted by on Mar 27, 2019 in Featured | 4 comments

I once took a course in speed-reading. Actually, I also taught it a few times. It was popular in the 70s. The idea was to learn to move your eyes over and down the page in syntactic chunks, to train yourself not to read word-by-word. We used a machine called a ratometer that could be set to move a guide down the page at a set speed. When you finished a section, there was a comprehension test. You had to get a certain score before you could advance to a faster speed.


I guess it made a difference. I’m a fast reader. My eyes can fly over the page, or down the column, and get the gist of the material. I do miss things, sometimes important ones, but I can summarize the article pretty well. People who measure various kinds of IQs over time have noted that we as a culture have significantly advanced our visual IQ. We can see quick changes on a screen, we can absorb all manner of spectacle, sights that would have given our grandparents apoplexy.


What does it mean, to “know”? Among the kinds of knowing, is there one that’s “best”? Since the Enlightenment, we’ve privileged rational fact-gathering, yet recently it’s become glaringly evident that we humans have, all along, been driven by irrational, or sub-rational, forces. Rationality tags along to justify, and to clean up the mess. Yet we got here–meaning, we learned to read, to do math, to form governments, to make and enforce laws. You have to respect this kind of knowing. You have to support it. But not pretend it’s all there is. Sometimes I feel hopelessly sad. What’s that about? Sometimes I wake up to a room filled with rationality, my clothes in their drawers, my IPhone telling me what’s on for today.


Speed-reading is akin to riding on a train, looking out the window as New Jersey passes by, declaring you have seen New Jersey. Technically. Conversely, I’ve been reading a lot of Virginia Woolf this winter. If you want plot (which I sometimes really do), go read a mystery. If you want to be so deeply imbedded in the non-rational moment that the very texture of the grass is evident on your feet, if you want to feel what it’s like to be inside the character’s mind as she finds herself painstakingly shifting from one perspective to the next, Woolf is your writer.


Everything is built of molecular moments. It’s possible to speed the visuals up so fast that they turn into only the (measurable) outlines. But if the intention is to understand, it seems necessary to stand under. Stand under Big Ben long enough and you can see the hands actually move.


Poems are not for the impatient, not for the goal-driven. Neither is Virginia Woolf, or Dickens or Thackeray, or Trollope, or any  of the luscious nineteenth century Russian novels. Neither is Annie Dillard, or W.G. Sebald. They are for immersion; they don’t sit well with the reader who’s intent on ticking off one more box on an accomplishment list, something to increase one’s self-image, or who wants the story serve a purpose. Well, yes, there is something to get, and a purpose to serve, but it’s not of the nature of passing a reading comprehension test at the end. Or getting to be the smartest.


If you can summarize the meaning of a poem, you’ve pretty much lost it. Actually, I think the more we summarize (factualize) and evaluate anything—a movie, a novel, a poem, a person—the more we’ve lost it/him/her.


Speed is the general case, in this century. But under the speed lie the slow undulations, and under them are the still slower ones. I’m thinking it’s not only a shame to miss the slower ones, but missing them leads to inaccurate interpretations of the faster ones. We really screw up, I think, when we believe our quick-glance prejudices. Prejudices are, after all, only the sensational book jacket, not the story itself.