Tuesday, December 29, 2015


brighter days

Lots of end-of-year thoughts are wending their sluggish way through my brain this week.  I have irons in the fire, and lots of them, and yet very little incentive or gumption or whatever it takes to stir them up and watch the sparks fly.  I walk into my painting studio and turn around and walk back out.  I walk into the book room and do the same.  Most disheartening.  I think I'm experiencing the state of torpor common to so many animals this time of year, in our cold climate.  The usual, then, plus the death of my father, which is a reality I am slowly becoming accustomed to, has me in something of a state.  However, I'm self-aware enough to remember that simple household chores and blessedly thick books have carried me through many another dark hour, and so I clean the house and turn to my bookshelves to see what there is to see.  I can't seem to finish the Letters of Horace Walpole, and am at a loss, for the first time in forever, regarding a really substantial winter reading project.  So I find myself picking up books I've already read many times.  They offer comfort, in their familiar roundabout way.  And even make me laugh, too:

"The situation threatened to prolong itself."

A perfect - and perfectly apt - sentence, in my book.  From Dorothy L. Sayers, Busman's Honeymoon (Avon 1968, p.137).

This month I got lost once again in a few of her mystery novels, including Strong Poison, then her masterpiece, Gaudy Night, and The Nine Tailors, and the aforementioned Busman's Honeymoon, and all the Lord Peter short stories, then turned to her letters, the first volume of which I happen to have on hand.  Fascinating to read on the heels of her novels - they illuminate and reveal so much about her life and relationships.  Not to mention the course of her creative life and attendant motivations.  I loved this, in particular, from "How I Came to Invent the Character of Lord Peter Wimsey" - an essay printed in Harcourt Brace News in 1936 and quoted in a footnote of The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers 1899-1936: The Making of a Detective Novelist, selected and edited by Barbara Reynolds (St. Martin's Press 1996, pp.184-185):

"Lord Peter's large income... I deliberately gave him.  After all it cost me nothing and at that time I was particularly hard up and it gave me pleasure to spend his fortune for him.  When I was dissatisfied with my single unfurnished room I took a luxurious flat for him in Piccadilly.  When my cheap rug got a hole in it, I ordered him an Aubusson carpet.  When I had no money to pay my bus fare I presented him with a Daimler double-six, upholstered in a style of sober magnificence, and when I felt dull I let him drive it."

And, most satisfyingly, he proceeded to make her fortune for her (or rather, she made it for herself).  I love that message - even the potential of it, that one's creations must be made, and are made, to suit oneself, and then...?  They make their way into the world and from time to time might even offer varying definitions of success in return.  Of course I know this is rare, but wonderful nevertheless, to know that it could happen.  Dorothy L. Sayers certainly earned it.  Meanwhile the rest of us un-geniuses work on (or not, as the case may be...), with hope.  A good thought to end with, as my own creative projects languish on their respective shelves and easels, waiting for brighter days ahead.  Soon to come, I know.  A blessed new year to us all.    

Sarah, my heart goes out to you. All of us will have to go through what you're going through, if we haven't already. You are not alone. Be gentle with yourself at this time.

I love that you are re-reading Sayers. Your commentary on her letters has me wanting to read those, as I have already read and re-read her novels. I love the history behind Lord Peter's large income. What a fabulous idea. She was an amazing woman in so many ways. And so are you. Love to you.
I kept telling myself this, Kim, as my father was dying - human beings are made to be able to experience this, to bear it. All of us. The unbearable must somehow be bearable, since we all will go through it in our lives. How or why I don't know, but it helped to know that as it was happening, and now after.

An essay I read about aging, living, grief, love - long, outstanding - has stuck with me since I first came across it. Sort of reminds me of my father, I suppose. "This Old Man" by Roger Angell, in The New Yorker:


Thanks so much for your kind words. They mean a lot. I'm being gentle - not driving myself too hard, for a change...
Sarah, condolences from me as well. I've been gone since the day after Christmas (my wife and I are in Hawaii of all places!) and haven't spent much online time, so just read this.
Good to hear from you, Dan - and thank you - and I have to ask, are there used book shops in Hawaii?? There must be at least a few...? Hope you find some good beach reading - if you didn't pack such a thing in your suitcase, that is. Snowy here in New England but the weather is still warm-ish. Save travels.
I came prepared :-) There hasn't been much time for reading, with things to see and do. The flights are another matter. Read half of Pynchon's Bleeding Edge- my first Pynchon.

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