I have been very busy these days after months of lethargy and depression catching up with work that had been put aside. When the weather become warm, I want to start gardening and taking care of the lawn outdoors. I need to be very disciplined however I can be most tempted to stray when a film I truly love comes on the schedule for Turner Classic Movies. Last night, when I should have been sleeping, the movie scheduled was among my top 5, Splendor in the Grass, directed by Elia Kazan, starring a very young Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty, made in 1961. Another lifetime ago, I may add. I know I can write volumes about this movie and why Iike it so much, but now is not the time. I will say, even having seen it a dozen times, each viewing is as new and raw and shocking as was the first time. It is difficult to watch the growing pains of two young people who love each other trying to do the right thing while everyone around them is acting badly and the world as they know it is undergoing profound social changes, even in the Nebraska heartland. And yes, it is excruciatingly painful to watch them as they come undone and become unrecognizable people from whom they were at the beginning of the story. Together, once so close, they launch their adult lives in such different places, determined not to think much about happiness anymore, and say a simple good by before setting off apart.
As actors, the careers of Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty exploded with stardom and success, including Oscars. It is always a joy to watch their films, each one so different yet rewarding. They talents are boundless. Natalie was taken far too prematurely with a tragedy that defied all logic, as if it were part of the plot of the movie she was making. It never added up to me…… But the death of a great movie star usually does not. They never really die. The movies and the stars I love so much share my heart with the dogs and the horse I have loved so much. I am so grateful for the technology that enables us to watch, rent or stream virtually any movie we want to watch almost anytime for a very small amount of money. They are my companions in loneliness.
I believe it is always wrong to give in to the seductive temptation to dwell on despondent thoughts, and who does not have them. In my case, it is doubly wrong because I live with the two best dogs in the world, first of all who happen to be champion borzoi, and secondly are “Tresor” and “Jelly”, respectfully, therefore not ordinary dogs. All I have to do is look at them, and they turn their eyes to me with a luminous gaze that speaks only of love.
But to err is human…..as the first part of that famous adage goes. And I do say about myself I err with great ease.
I found myself alone with a large amount of time on my hands this weekend. Well, why should that be anything new, since everyone knows I live a solitary life here at Blyss Kennels aside from “Tresor” and “Jelly” regardless of any efforts I have made to the contrary. And I forgot to consult my new method of coping with this which is centering on Catholic reading and writings, based on my already strong foundation in that religion. It sounds like such a wonderful idea until a difficult time arises, then I never think of it.
Sunday was a perfect example. I was planning to spend the afternoon alone watching Turner Classic Movies on cable TV hanging out with the borzois. Sure enough, toward the end of the day, a particularly weighty film was put on, The Heiress (1949) Dir. William Wyler, starring Ralph Richardson, Olivia De Havilland, and Montgomery Clift. I was familiar with the story, having read the Henry James short novel. It was as tragic a domestic tale as was ever written. I wondered if I was up to watching it. The doomed heiress, Catherine Sloper, reminded me so much of myself, that in the area of personal happiness, everything had gone terribly wrong through no real fault of her own, just family dynamics, especially with her father. It made me wonder if perhaps I should not watch it at all, fearing it would plunge me into a deep depression. I thought more and more about what to do. Then I was struck with a fantasy. It went like this.
What if we could go back in time in a time machine, and be in the days when Henry James was writing The Heiress. Instead of a father regarding the marital prospects of his daughter so poorly that he suspected a man would marry her only for her money, that his generosity of spirit would allow her to marry a rogue whom she loved in order that she may enjoy the happiness of marriage. Instead, he interfered; she lost the man; the two of them – father and daughter – ended their relationship together despising one another. I imagined my Sunday afternoon spent alone for so many of the same reasons could be placed into a time machine. Suddenly, I was a ghost sitting in the room with Henry James. I was able to influence his creative spirit! He wrote the novel with the happy ending. Then, one hundred years later, the movie shown on Turner Classic Movies last Sunday would have the happy ending.
Who knows, maybe I could be in a time machine and go back in time. Would my father get a second chance to get it right and after despising me, love me instead? How different a person would that have made me? But surely, Henry James, being a great writer, might have found a way for his paternal character to make his daughter happy. Would my father have recognized his cosmic “second chance” and done a better job the second time around? I know now as an adult, he meant well, I know he did, if only he could have…… Then, my Sunday afternoon spent alone in the present and watching the Heiress would have had a totally different emotional response. And I would not be the person I am today.
I watched the whole movie and found myself reacting to something different for the first time. I no longer saw the father as a true villain. Although I felt emotionally closer to the young woman I found myself having an understanding for the values of the father. Having worked in a demanding career for thirty-eight years from which I recently retired, I can see the value the father placed on his own money, and his wish not to see it squandered on a foolish son-in-law. This complicates the story, adding to its value as a masterpiece, does it not? No one is truly right, and no one is truly wrong. Perhaps I should try to think of my father that way. There are no good guys, there are no bad guys. There are just ordinary people trying to get it right at the end of the day.
Today I live alone at Blyss Kennels with Jelly and Tresor, my two beloved borzois. I am grateful and overjoyed to have them, and want for nothing. Yet, inside my soul, I am aware of a hollow void the opposite of, let’s say something solid like flesh, but a space of a nothingness, where there should be human love. I embrace and kiss my beloved borzois every day, and am most grateful for them, for no person in my life comes up to their level in goodness and loyalty, and capacity for love. Everyone else falls short, fails, has an agenda and a reason for being there, like what is in it for them. However, I am never fooled.
I observe love that I lack in my friends and neighbors, or sometimes in a novel or a movie, or a play or an opera. So I know it exists. But it has never been real for me. And in spite of three marriages, I am lonelier than ever. It’s absence has made my life very difficult. I wonder if others feel that knawing pain of emptiness or is it something unique to me? I believe it is unique to me in the strange configuration of mental illness that I bear, altered by the medication I take that is supposed to make the pain go away. Somehow, it never does, but I don’t complain to my doctors. I don’t want them to think they are not helping me.
Sometimes, I find the kind of love that interests me in a novel, or a film, and I find it very compelling. I just watched, for example, the George Cukor masterpiece from 1933, Little Women, and was crushed under the weight of family love in the family depicted there, the March family of New England during the Civil War. Another film that encapsulates this concept perfectly is, the Norwegian immigrant family in, I remember Mama, a similar story, this time set in San Francisco, the parents of which find themselves etching out a living and raising their children, poor in resources, but like the March family, rich in family love. Then, in an arcane, mostly forgotten film I saw for the first time recently, made during the heyday of old Hollywood, this time taking place on the eve of the First World War in England, the War to End All Wars, is the enchanting Smilin’ Through, the ultimate love story dream come true, where the more horrible the war the stronger the love, it was enough to convince me that my life is hardly worth living without it.
I should mention a novel or another literary forms while I am thinking about it, I suppose, and so I shall. Anything written by Leo Tolstoy, but especially War and Peace, will certainly delineate the outcome of life lived in the absence of national stability or personal love, in life lived on the cusp of one of the Twentieth Centuries most significant events: The Russian Revolution. Another great observer of life’s most painful outcomes, in this case Russia after the aftermath of the Revolution and who leaves no subject unmentioned, the great Russian author and play wright, Anton Chekov. Through his character development portrayed in these works, he presents profiles again and again of the fatal intersection of this society on the individual. When you think he can wreak no further pain and havoc on his characters, he wrote his famous plays. There, he delineates the fatal effects the Russian Revolution had on the middle-class: professional, educated, land-owning nuclear families that seemingly survived but alas slowly crumble before your eyes, rotting from within from lack of love, and is so devastatingly painful to watch. Upon watching Three Sisters performed by an excellent professional theater group once, I almost had to exit the theater because I was afraid I would faint from shock. Then, there is the extremely arcane novel that deserves aggressive literary promotion more than anything that has seen print since the invention of the printing press after The Bible, The Transylvanian Trilogy, Vol. 1 – 111 by Miklos Banffy, the Tolstoy of Romania – Austria, published by Everyman’s Library, Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. This novel covers the interactions of family love and nationalism, what happens when they cataclysmically intersect and everything about life as you knew it disappears. Throughout the Trilogy, not only does this author introduce the most interesting characters ever to appear in print, he gives a step-by-step tutorial of How World War I Began, for anyone who did not know. For opera, one need only look no further than Francis Poulenc in Dialogues of theCarmelites when the most innocent citizens in the country are judged to be on the wrong side of the French Revolution and pay the highest price. You can never weep enough watching great films of aftermaths of revolutions, attending plays on this subject, reading these novels, or listen to this one of many operas. In truth, the lesson to be learned here is that everyone is alone in the end, if not dead or destroyed. If they ever had love, they did not have it at the end when they needed it most, or it failed to save them.
Without love, family love, romantic love or love of country at the core, there will be heartache and incredible psychological pain. If the love at the core was flawed or not present when it was needed at earlier phases of life, it can never be undone, you can’t go back to Start and have a second chance.
Today, I find myself in love with horses, dogs, and now donkeys, the most broken down, down-trodden of things, creatures most in need of rescue. And rescue I do. I think I save myself. With people and social situations, I migrate further and further away until I have finally become nearly invisible. Someday, I may disappear altogether. More and more time passes in between attending Church, and that is sad. And I have confessed elsewhere that I have lost all of my friends. I have some relationships, but they are few and far between. A boyfriend with whom I recently broke up with is one of my only friends, and my sister and a cousin are the others. I am sorry if I seem inordinately sad, I am not really any sadder than usual, it is just that I am more acutely aware that I am. I tell myself to be optimistic, that love is right around the corner! But am I being delusional, or is tomorrow another day?
And so it is, that I turn toward Jelly and Tresor with extra hugs tonight and wish them well. I am very much aware that for now at least, they are all I have.
I have enjoyed much time recently visiting Jelly’s breeder, N24, who lives in upstate New York near the Connecticut border. She lives in a house very much like the one I had before I moved here. She has two older female borzoi who live upstairs, and two puppies who live downstairs in her dog room. One of the females is the mother of the puppies, and the other female is Jelly’s mother. The puppies are still being trained and are too rambunctious to be upstairs all the time. It is a great deal of fun for me to be there, enjoying both the older ones and the puppies. Also, the puppies are now being shown, and they are doing very well in the show ring. I am going to co-own the male puppy with her, and we will share in his expenses, and my name will be on him as a co-owner. His name is Hunter, and I could not be happier about that. By the time Jelly passes on, he will be a middle aged borzoi and I should be able to bring him here to Blyss to live.
I have spent my down time this summer reading some old American classic novels, most that I have read a long time ago. So far, I have read Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, and now I am reading Main Street by Sinclair Lewis. I wanted to read something by Faulkner, and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath but I got side tracked.
I see the literary world is in spasms over the controversial sequel to Harper Lee’s jewel, To Kill a Mockingbird, called Go Set a Watchman, where the main character, “Atticus”, is a racist. This is totally illogical, and it is difficult for me to accept she wrote it. However, it does support proof how much time changes us. Even 180 degrees, as in this case. Inexplicable other than sheer senility. We can only wonder how time changes us, who we are and who we are becoming, and hopefully we are not letting ourselves down to ourselves and in the eyes of the world.
Prior, I indulged myself in some contemporary fiction, although finding good writing was difficult. I started with Amy Tan, one of my absolute favorite writers, and enjoyed and anguished over The Valley of Amazement. The novel was a slow burn. By the end, it pains you simply to think about the characters and their lives. I found another such work, although in a completely different setting, equally incendiary by an obscure Hungarian or Romanian writer, Miklos Banffy who wrote a colossal work known as The Transylvanian Trilogy. It was on the scope of War and Peace. Authors like Tolstoy come to mind.
When I am not reading great literature, I read silly tabloids or watch Turner Classic Movies on the cable TV to relax. There has to be a way to relax somewhere in the universe.