Saturday, August 1, 2009

DO: In The Rooms Where Women Come and Go

As some of you may know, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. When you're a mom, whether you work full time or not, this is even more true - not for you, of course, but for everyone else. If your mind goes, everything falls apart and then kids don't get to do what they want and husbands are inconvenienced. Spoof Gwyneth Paltrow GOOP.

So, about three months ago I decided to keep my mind busy and find a topic each month that I could really become an expert on during 3 or 4 half-hour sessions. This month I studied TS Eliot with a fabulous woman named Hermione Swope whom I met in an ashram in the Bahamas in February. She recently completed her orals at Cambridge and offered to personally tutor me for the month.

Her topic, TS Eliot: Time-Travelling Transvestite Mother Unmasked, has revolutionized the study of Eliot's work. I thought I would share some of her landmark findings in the hopes that you, too, are inspired to learn something new every four or five days when you can spare the time or focus for long enough. Her conclusions are startling for their originality, but once you stop to think about what she's saying, all you can think is "Duh!"

On The Wasteland:
  • "April is the cruelest month" - Hermione points out that, in a genuinely poetic sense, for mothers, June is the cruelest month. This is because a woman who is a mother of children (as opposed to a mother of, say, invention) is faced with conflicting priorities that surface explicitly when her children are not in school anymore and she has to figure out what to do and how her life is altered. These questions are existential and can cause genuine and deep despair. But "June is not April," you say. Hermione Swope was the first person to prove that that in England, during the time the TS Eliot wrote, children came back from boarding school in late March. April WAS June. NO ONE had considered that before.
  • " A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, And the dry stone no sound of water." As Hermione points out on page 98 of her opus, is there a better image of what it feels like for a mother today to have to sit through "Land of the Lost" on a summer afternoon. Clearly TS Eliot had seen the movie prior to writing these lines and then travelled back in time. After which he/she says " 'My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad." "Whose aren't?" I ask.
  • And then, as if this isn't enough proof that TS was a time travelling transvestite, there is this stanza: 'What shall I do now? What shall I do?' 'I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street 'With my hair down, so. What shall we do to-morrow? 'What shall we ever do?' Only a mother today in week three or four of June could have written those lines. Ppphhhh! It is remarkable that no one saw this before Hermione.
  • Particularly poignant is the line :"By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept... " Hermione argues convincingly that it is a simple typo and should read :"By the waters of Lehman I sat down and wept..." Who among us does not have a friend bemoaning Lehman this summer? I almost fell out of my chair during the session in which she pointed this out.
On The Lovesong of J. Alfred Proofrock
  • "There will be time, there will be time To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet" - I mean, BOTOX by any other stanza.
  • "Do I dare Disturb the universe? (Read: Can I change my children's sleepover plans at the last minute?)In a minute there is time For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse (No, I can't, but my children can, only to make new complicated ones that require more driving). For I have known them all already, known them all :—Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" (and soup spoons and gelato spoons and melon ball scoopers and measuring spoons for baking and spoons that can be used in sand boxes or not)
  • "And would it have been worth it, after all, After the cups, the marmalade, the tea, Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me, Would it have been worth while, To have bitten off the matter with a smile, To have squeezed the universe into a ball To roll it toward some overwhelming question" This speaks for itself. But Hermione parses it so elegantly and she can do it while doing hot yoga.
  • And finally, what woman hasn't said to her husband in reference to her June ennui, as TS clearly did: "It is impossible to say just what I mean! ... “That is not it at all, That is not what I meant, at all.”
See what Hermione sees? You could just weep it's so clear that she's right.

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