Thursday, January 18, 2007
You're Totally Like a Summer's Day But Not Exactly
Dear Readerly Pea,
There are a lot of things I should know and don't. I could feel guilty or stupid about this but I won't--today. I've never read Shakespeare's sonnets. I know "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun..." and then I hear Sting and I'm lost in 8th grade. I'm conducting Shakespeare Sonnets 101 for myself and found out some things that thrill me (again, probably common knowledge to anyone who's picked up a book, but not to me).
The sonnets (there are around 156 of them, give or take. FYI, Peter O'Toole has all of them memorized. He made sure to mention that during an insufferable NPR interview a few days ago. I wanted to barf in my cup holder. Seriously, P. O'T. is such an arrogant bastard-- the last thing he said when Melissa what's-her-name thanked him for his time was "Now which one are you? Oh, Melissa. Oh, you're welcome" in this we-just-met-at-a-cocktail-party way. Also, when he mangled his recitation of "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" he forgot the end couplet. So, to hide his own assholishness, he said, "well it couldn't have been a very good couplet then, could it?" Here's the damn couplet:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and gives life to thee.
Pretty zippy, I'd say.) I'll start the sentence again. The sonnets are generally addressed to two people: a male friend/lover and The Dark Lady. C.L. Barber's lovely little piece, "An Essay on Shakespeare's Sonnets," addresses the trouble that readers have with sorting out Shakespeare's romantic situation(s). The long and short of it is that maybe the male addressee is the object of Will's love and lust. The short of it, as Barber elegantly explains, is that the male addressee, regardless of the precise nature of the relationship, is a glass into which Will sees himself. Hence there is self-love and love of another (who is ceaselessly described as his closest and most beloved friend). Furthermore, it is clear that Will writes for the pleasure and celebration of their friendship and love. In contrast, The Dark Lady is a dirty rotten 'ho. One day I will write about her, but not today. For now she represents the tormented, miserable, ugly-as-sin relationships we've all had and, if we're writers, try desperately to use as fodder.
The (metaphorical) Dark Lady gives me grief and makes me write, as the late Aga Shahid Ali said of one of my pieces in workshop, "melodramatic drivel." Indeed. There's nothing less cool than being melodramatic, am I right? But again, The Dark Lady is another story. It is The Friend who intrigues me most in the sonnets. I'm not terribly concerned about his or Will's sexuality right now--maybe another time. But I adore the way in which Will celebrates the gloriousness of friendship and the unabashed love between friends. It's not a thing most of us talk about. You and I do, pea. But I'm not sure that some of my other friends know that I've written poems and stories about them, for them, starring them. It is in that space of creation that I am terribly moved by that indescribable beingness of those I love. Maybe it's because, for me, there's always a hole between the usual ways I show my affection (presents, cakes, kisses, pornographic e-cards, endless links to awesome shit I find on the web, candy, Barbies, homemade crap, etc.) and the whole truth of my love for my friends.
I haven't always thought that art was for filling holes (not in the dirty way, you perv)-- at least for me. I think I've always wanted to yap about the holes because it's obvious by all the books I've published that my vast empty soul is exciting for others. No, really, now I think that the things I make clatter around in that space between the possible expressions of love (greeting cards, phone calls, gifts, etc.) and the impossible expressions of love (sleeping dreams, daydreams, hearing conversations I should have had, imagining times I should have been there and wasn't, or times you were there and I wasn't). In other words, writing fills the space between.
When Will looks at his friend and sees both his beloved pal and himself, I remember a moment when the expressible and inexpressible collided for a minute for me and it was almost like a sonnet. (Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?/Thou art more lovely and more temperate...)
Fall 2000? We were on opposite sides of a screen door and we touched hands through the screen, just a thing, a passing gesture, a hello, a been-missing-you, and whatever couldn't be said about how far away you'd gone and how much I pretended you were right around the bend, was there in that second. You saw me crying and you knew my deal. Since then, I have cried more at the sight of friends and family and less at the loss of a man or a boy.
I'm not sure that this train wreck of thought can go on much longer. This is the way art can happen. It can derail a whole day, make one sappy and impossibly long-winded, but the sonnets? They are to be fondled and licked. You may end up behaving ridiculously self-involved and confusing, but they're worth it.
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
of Princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
but you shall shine more bright in these contents
then unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.
Love to my beloved