It Was Mother

It Was Busy

It Was Busy
Wayras Olivier
FEBRUARY 2017


BUSY AS YOU MAY BE, you may care to perform a thought experiment, which involves taking a closer look at the control you imposewhich remains absolute and final, on a certain someone. As with all thought experiments, carefully examine the desirable and the undesirable consequences of each future action towards a chosen end and notice, besides the cringing responsibility of being in charge, the compassion you feel for this certain someone, who never has control. You create the events, not to mention the obstacles, which either for their benefit or detriment, enhance or diminish their will as they inch towards their goal. Are the obstacles, dear inventor, in proportion to what they can endure; if so, how quickly do they recover from the oppressive hand they cannot bite?

This person, let's not forget, is self-made. Notice your treatment of their narrative. None of it was of their own making: where they were born, who their parents were, where they went to school, their sexual proclivities, their political orientation, and who they married were all under the lines of your palm, yet you simply couldn't bring yourself to give them an easy path. Sure, to be fair, a happy ending may have slipped through the margins of your thought experiment but notice all the sticks and stonesgrueling car accident, wretched poverty, losing a child, herculean alcoholism, back-breaking incest, mistaken identity, onerous phobiasbefore casting their denouement with: "Ah, so that's why I had to go through all that!" which heals their broken bones.

A fit subject for Hogarth Press, if it were still around, which, incidentally, published the English thoughtstranslation I meanof Freud, who had a peculiar obsession and a patent word or two to say about reality, in particular pleasure, or lack of, and the three holes that are partly to blame for making us so rigidly square. Indeed, a fourth hole, that can't be located on our body but hovers over us allwidening exponentially with such circular force that it insists obdurately on staying existentially openalso exists. It caused the co-owner of Hogarth Press to leave behind, after her head got stuck in it, more than just a few detailed words about how it viscerally extincts.

In her essay "On Being Ill," this certain someone looked very thoroughly under every rock, and to her concern she could not find words that accurately rendered the experience of the ailing person. When, with great stones, she entered into the rapids of the Ouse River in 1941 to take time out of her day, Virginia Woolf, most notably, had a stream that carried her consciousness to the bank well before her body. In her essay "The Death of a Moth" Woolf, also observed how life, with all its carrying about, seemed quite indifferent to the annihilation of a bug that was trapped in between her window and screen. Such a spectacle, an insignificant bug standing up to a formidable bully like death, at first induced pity in the poet and she made an attempt to rescue it from its unfair circumstance, before stopping short to marvel over just how unremarkable its struggle against extinction wascompared to the remarkable poise it gained upon expiring. (Try it at home and see for yourself; set up a cockfight, under a wine glass between a moth and a mothball).

In lesser hands, when such observations are attempted, consider, for instance, Garden State, which can be easily listed as one of the worst films ever produced. Death was treated glibly, as was mental illness, when l'homme fatigue trudged around his hometown bemoaning that he couldn't seem to "feel anything." Comes the seedin the backyardof his blossoming arc when the impuissant 'Sam,' a young teenage girl who feels too deeply and to easily, symbolically awakens 'Andrew' when she snivels over the miniature coffin encasing her dead pet hamster. Profound? Yes. Profoundly juvenile. We learnor are supposed to, at leastthe role which "the gentler sex" are supposed to play when excavating and attenuating men's feelings towards death.

How about, instead, the inquisitorial tone in the following; one that can't be attributed solely to the unsentimental British manner of asking searching questions, which for femaleswho are bequeathed in equal measure with males for the capacity for stoicism in times of bereavementseems much more veridical. Comes the scene in The Hours, by scribe David Hare, when Woolf (Nicole Kidman) is asked by her budding niece, "What happens when we die?"

"What happens?" Woolf restates, as she stares down at the dead bird in her backyard. "We return to the place that we came from."

"I don't remember," her niece interjects, "where I came from."

Woolf validates simply, "Nor do I."

Woolf can, on another note, deconstruct and spell out parts of the world so clearly that the overly sensitive reader (who easily fawns over any semi-sweet observation) may fall into a grey spell if they can't immediately see such potent and descriptive symmetry in their own life sentence. Reading too quickly and too deeply into things, period after period, in order to compensate, can become a habit without realizing that the disciplines required to create value and to perceive value are as contrastive as black and white and must first be separated. Otherwise rearrangement becomes derangement. Chocolate suicide cake, erected four inches short, will disappoint if it is unable to convey and transmit a standard of beauty and gentleness and harmony to the mind the way the Parthenon does. Marbled emotions can, if insulin jumps before it gets a chance to question its maker, leave one in ugly ruins. What would, if given the chance, the clear-thinking maker have said? "Time not beauty labours for meaning! The Parthenon took nine years to build, chocolate cake takes ninety minutes." The old ball and chain will turn, evidently, into a crane and wreck its own self if it confuses the two.

Much like housewife Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) whoif one recalls Kidman's thesis for Mrs. Dalloway in the opening of The Hours: "A woman's whole life in a single day, just one day, and in that day her whole life,"appears footslogged when her whole life is captured in the single hour that it takes to trudge through a simple recipe to bake "happiness" in the fifties. (If one is familiar with Ernest Dichter, "the father" of motivational research, one will naturally associate the 'Betty Crocker story' with Laura's labouring for cake scene. Betty Crocker believed that they had a no-brainer, in the early fifties, when they removed the dirty apron from the equation by introducing an instant cake mix to the market, but they soon discovered that housewives weren't going crazy over it. Hired to solve the problem of poor sales, Dichter cracked what happens when things are too convenient. A sense of guilt can arise, if in the kitchen, "Donna Reed" knows she is willfully taking asylum in shortcuts. Dichter advised that "Just add an egg" be added to the BC packagedespite it being completely superfluous to the recipeto shell housewives from any encroaching self-judgment for not spending enough time when making a contribution.)

Constructing, without the aid of a cake mix but rather the help of her son "Bug," a chocolate cake for her husband, who, later that night when he is served a slice naively says to Laura, "You must have been working all day." Indeed, she had. On a thought experiment, alone, inside a hotel room with a life-changing amount of bedside analgesics, buttressed by the overlapping words of a passage from Mrs. Dalloway, [read by the creator herself, Woolf (Kidman)]:

"Did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?" ["It is possible to die! It is possible to die!"]

The dramatists are not correlating the triviality of baking a cake (which can often lead to a zero sum game between those who make it and those who eat it) as a cause for someone to contemplate suicide, but rather all things considered: no debilitating car accident, relative financial security, healthy children, sober affiliations and so forth, one can still enter into a dysfunctional contract with time. Time too, is alive, and just like everything else: wine, food, relationships and conversationit peaks. And it must be consumed in its optimum state. Which is? Best enjoyed when it moves through one quickly, yet (the paradox is worth noting), no one wishes to experience life quickly. It is this rather unconscious desire, then, as a means of self-preservation, to slow down time that can cause the most harm and create the greatest anxiety as life can appear somewhat absurd, and at worst meaningless, when time begins to stale, expire, and perish.

There's a strange, nonsensical phenomenon that occurs, at least subjectively, perhaps by evolutionary design, to prevent hubris lingering in the minds of those who believe that with inaction, they can slow down time: the faster you experience time the slower you age, the slower you experience time the faster you age. Is there any possible way, even just for a moment, to just take a break and displace time? Laura, after her self-involved Archimedean experiment in her hotel room, that displaces herself, and not the water, chooses life after concluding death.

Beauty in death, certainly a clothesline many inkers have been hung on, is not what dear Woolf was infatuated with. A slight departure when the poet herself seemed to flip inside out in The London Scene (a series of essays), where she writes about all the various ways that the industrial city collars life, is where we discover the object of her unshrinking obsession: contrast. There's an insight to be detected here and it's a rather washing one. A warm attitude towards anything is somewhat foolish and unwise, as it requires that one heats up to the things that normally would leave one feeling cold and/or to cool down to the things that would normally make one hot, leaving a person entirely defenseless and oblivious and uninformed as to what extent they shrink when tumbling inside the machine. The knocking row between Eros and Thanatos, zig-zagging inside Woolf's head, is what sets her terminally straight in The Hours when she and her husband Leonard (Stephen Dillane) have it out at the countryside train station. Insisting on returning to the city that coaled her death instinct, which caused her to split, is now, Woolf realizes, what pleasures her steaming whole. Alchemy of this sort is truly what gives Woolf her startling nose for hang-ups that create thought experiments on standards, tolerance and growth that Freud himself, along with the "the other" literati influencers of modernism, could not scratch.

W.