Friday, October 30, 2009

Pumpkin Patches : Patience

Dear Great Pumpkin:

I am looking forward to your arrival on Halloween Night. I hope you will bring me lots of presents.

You must get discouraged because more people believe in Santa Claus than in you. Well, let's face it; Santa Claus has had more publicity, but being #2, perhaps you try harder. Everyone tells me you are a fake but I believe in you.

P.S. If you really are a fake, don't tell me. I don't want to know.

- Linus van Pelt, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Haunted : Wuthering

Image via Uzengia
I was delighted to come across NPR’s splendidly spooky roundup of literature’s most haunted homes. With a healthy dose of lit crit and just enough opinion, it has inspired the Hallow's Eve spirit on Words, worth.

There is another selection, however, that deserves a place on the list. Haunted by a clandestine love affair, is there a better candidate for literature’s most eerie abode than Wuthering Heights? Both origin and silent chronicler of an ill-starred union, the house itself is, from the opening pages, shrouded in the murky gloom of solitude and demise. It piques the curiosity of an earnest tenant, the apparitions skulking about disrupt even the hungriest slumber. The stones are "jutting", the carvings "grotesque", the structure itself faces a daily whirlwind of unrest. The decor is "villainous", the dogs "haunt the premises" and Lockwood finds it "swarming with ghosts and goblins." Miss Brontë's deftly woven descriptions paint a picture brimming with ghoulish flavor. On to the devilish delights that await!

Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff's dwelling, "wuthering" being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed. One may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house, and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun. Happily the architect had the foresight to built it strong. The narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.

Before passing the threshold, I paused to admire a quantity of grotesque carving lavished over the front, and especially about the principal door; above which, among a wilderness of crumbling griffins and shameless little boys, I detected the date "1500," and the name Hareton Earnshaw." I would have made a few comments, and requested a short history of the place from the surly owner; but his attitude at the door appeared to demand my speedy entrance or complete departure, and I had no desire to aggravate his impatience previous to inspecting the penetralium.

One step brought us into the family sitting-room without any introductory lobby or passage. They call it here "the house" pre-eminently. It includes kitchen and parlour generally. But, I believe, at Wuthering Heights the kitchen is forced to retreat altogether into another quarter - at least I distinguished a chatter of tongues and a clatter of culinary utensils deep within; and I observed to signs of roasting, boiling, or baking about the huge fireplace, nor any glitter of copper saucepans and tin cullenders on the walls. One end, indeed, reflected splendidly both light and heat from ranks of immense pewter dishes, interspersed with silver jugs and tankards, towering row after row, on a vast oak dresser, to the very roof. The latter had never been underdrawn; its entire anatomy lay bare to an inquiring eye, except where a frame of wood laden with oatcakes and clusters of legs of beef, mutton and ham concealed it. Above the chimney were sundry villainous old guns and a couple of horse-pistols, and, by way or ornament, three gaudily painted canisters disposed along its ledge. The floor was smooth, white stone; the chairs, high-backed, primitive structures painted green, one or two heavy black ones lurking in the shade. In an arch under dresser reposed a huge liver-coloured bitch pointer surrounded by a swarm of squealing puppies, and the other dogs haunted other recesses.
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Roads Diverged : Vision Clear

Rocky Path in the Woods by Frances Gearhart
A few days ago, I stumbled into the truly fantastic Pasadena Museum of California Art and upon a current exhibition showcasing Frances Gearhart's color block prints. A veritable jewel box of Arts and Crafts-era renderings bursting with color, I was instantly smitten, devouring the exhibit as the story of both Gearhart's life and creative development unfolded simultaneously. Reaching the backmost wall, I read a description of her later pieces: "Her vision becomes clear." Four words, but their profundity struck me in a most sincere way. Vision, direction, clarity. All words tied to purpose, all indicative of an inner knowing. The words used to describe Gearhart's evolution from sketch artist to accomplished artiste connote a cohesive conceptualization, an umbrella under which to arrange one's life's work.

It brings to mind Robert Frost's timeless homage to path-picking. Though the road may get rocky, and the destination too hazy to make out, there is honor in forging ahead on one's own.

Whether or not we decisively select a direction, we are still making a choice. We either let our path be defined by the default settings, or we see those diverging roads and become active participants in our destinies. The world is wide, our options are many and a little direction makes all the difference.

Forward, march.

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost (1920)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Glittering Eyes : Wild Things

"And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it."
-- Roald Dahl

Today is a day for honoring imagination - for my favorite Roald Dahl words and the debut of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, the ultimate ode to believing in magic. Maybe the key to happiness as one grows "up" is always keeping a toe dipped in the world that could be. Maybe it's remembering that your bedroom doubles as a seaport to a magical jungle, that there is no getaway car like a giant peach and that the best is yet to come as long as you can dream it. Those who do not pack away their imagination like an outgrown plaything from childhood, who bring it out from time to time to reacquaint with its creased edges and handle its well-worn surface are, after all, those who end up bringing us the greatest stories of all.

Now, let the wild rumpus start!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bernard's Bard : It's All Shakespeare to Me

Image via Flickr

Sometimes I forget just how profoundly Shakespeare has shaped the way we use the English language. His influence, it seems, cannot be underestimated. But Mr. Bernard Levin explains that much better than I - how delighted I was to stumble upon his refreshing reminder that the Bard's is an ever-fixed mark.
If you cannot understand my argument, and declare "It's Greek to me", you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger; if your wish is father to the thought; if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise - why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low til the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then - to give the devil his due - if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then - by Jove! O Lord! Tut tut! For goodness' sake! What the dickens! But me no buts! - it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare.
- On Quoting Shakespeare by Bernard Levin, 1980

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

To Autumn : With Love

Autumn Moon by Ansel Adams
A crispness has crept into the October air and fall is officially here. Welcome cool evenings, recession-fueled window shopping for tights and scarves, steaming hot tea and harvest-themed get-togethers. Au revoir iced coffees, sticky sunburned shoulders, island-scented sprays and those songs of spring. All around me, I feel a collective sigh of relief, a muffled rush to rapture as the south land gently coaxes the season's languid turnover. Somewhere deep in the human framework, autumn signals bounty, the sweet-cleansed air cooling a rife and ready harvest. John Keats captures the ripening of summer days into fall as the "close bosom-friend of the maturing sun." What a beautiful way to picture the days unfolding - perhaps more softly, more assuredly, more abundantly than the days we've survived before them.

SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruits the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of pop[pies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
- To Autumn by John Keats, 1819