Saturday, March 31, 2007

Dream: Back to college with modern Shakespeare

I found myself seated on a curved maple bench at a table, one of two benches and tables, watching a play, possibly Shakespeare, among a group of strangers on a campus. The experience, once I understood it, was interactive and wonderful, and some of the men around me seemed interested in me, although they didn't speak to me.

The cast of the play disappeared, and we went further into the building to find them. The male members were at a bar or restaurant counter, while the female members were lined up at a bathroom door.

It occurred to me that I was finally finishing my college degree, but then I forgot which classes I had already completed and which needed to be taken. Then I couldn't decide if I should start over and take all the classes, even the ones for which I had credit, as though doing so would change my grades or experience or path.

When I woke up, I wondered how many times I am going to dream about finishing a degree I received in 1983.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Review: Under the Greenwood Tree

Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy and edited and with an introduction and notes by Simon Gatrell. Highly recommended.

In Under the Greenwood Tree, Thomas Hardy combines many of the elements that would define his career as a novelist—colorful common folk and their equally colorful language, an ironic narrator, an unflinching perspective on changing times, and the marvelous "Wessex" countryside. All that is missing is a plot, the lack of which contributes to the uncharacteristic happy ending.

Under the Greenwood Tree addresses two related matters: the fate of the Mellstock choir and of the charming new schoolmistress. Although the members of the choir acknowledge that their way is becoming an anachronism, they see that it is not only the inevitability of change that is pushing them aside. Both Farmer Shiner and the vicar show a strong interest in schoolmistress Fancy Day, who happens to have musical ability. By eliminating the choir and installing Miss Day at Farmer Shiner's behest, the vicar believes he will achieve two objectives: modernizing a parish that has no desire to be modernized and impressing a woman who does wish to be wooed.

At the same time, the sight of Fancy at the window with her hair undone in the wee hours of Christmas morning is enough to win the heart of young choir member Dick Dewy, who devotes his energy to attracting Fanny's notice and attention. While he is more educated than his father and the other members of the choir, he seems to represent honest labor, sincerity, and singlemindedness, while his rivals the vicar and the farmer, represent culture and money, respectively. Fancy is educated and cultured, while her father is revealed to have some money. The question is not about her choice but about whether it is the right one—a question that cannot be answered by the end of the novel.

Fancy's response to the vicar shows some ambivalence about her commitment. At times, the parish's long-standing couples reveal their own sense of fate about their spouses and marriages. Mrs. Penny tells the tranter's Christmas gathering, " . . . and lo and behold the coming man came: Penny asked me if I'd go snacks with him and afore I knew what I was about a'most, the thing was done." Later she tells Fancy to reassure herself with the thought, "'tis to be, and here goes!" She adds that "'Twill carry a body through it all from wedding to churching if you only let it out with spirit enough." When Dick's father says to his wife, "You be a well-enough woman, Ann," then, "Mrs. Dewy put her mouth in the form of a smile and put it back again without smiling." An impressive subtext underlies these couples' anecdotes, exchanges, and expressions, with the narrator's—and reader's—knowledge that they were once in the same position as Dick and Fancy.

In his introduction, Simon Gatrell writes that "the heart of the novel is the right way to do things." Eliminating the tradition of the choir to impress a woman may not be the right way, but the members concede the vicar's right to do so. Their attempt, not altogether unsuccessful, to negotiate the timing of the change both affirms his right and preserves their dignity. It also allows the vicar to "win" without forcing the choir to “lose.” As Reuben Dewy says, “Everybody must be managed”—including both vicar and choir, and both Dick and Fancy.

Under the Greenwood Tree is organized by seasons (“Part the First—Winter,” “Part the Second—Spring,” and so on), which reflects the cycle of life that Hardy portrays. Dick is not the first man to fall in love with a pretty face. (“A very good pink face, as far as that do go. Still, only a face, when all is said and done,” according to the choir’s erudite Mr. Spinks.) Fanny is not the first woman to be tempted by appeals to her vanity and her social and cultural refinement. The elder Dewys, the Pennys, and the other mature couples seem to regard Dick and Fancy with a wryness born of their own distant courting experience and their ensuing lives together. Even Fancy, who wants to be stylish and modern, gives in and honors the old cycle when, after some resistance, she agrees to follow the traditions, saying, “Respectable people don’t nowadays. . . . Still, since poor mother did, I will.” No one knows what their future will be, but Mrs. Penny observes, “Well, ‘tis humps and hollers with the best of us, but still and for all that Dick and Fancy stand as fair a chance of having a bit of sunsheen as any married people in the land.” Had Hardy written Under the Greenwood Tree in the same spirit as Tess of the D’Urbervilles or Jude the Obscure, perhaps Mrs. Penny’s prediction would have proven tragically wrong.

Under the Greenwood Tree was written by a Thomas Hardy who had not reached maturity as a writer, but he reveals the insights and the verbal beauty that would mark his place among the great Victorian writers. Phrases such as, “. . . if Fancy’s lips had been real cherries, probably Dick’s would have appeared deeply stained,” “. . . your mother’s charms was more in the manner than the material,” and "I've walked the path once in my life and know the country, neighbors; and Dick's a lost man!" remind the reader that Hardy's true love as a writer would be poetry, not prose. Like his other novels, Under the Greenwood Tree reveals the poetry, comic, ironic, or tragic, in everyday life.

Thursday, 29 March 2007.
© 2007 by Diane L. Schirf.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Dream: Praying mantis

A creaking noise woke me, and at first I lay very still so that whoever was there would not know that I was awake and bother me. When I opened my eyes a little, I found a large family in my room, talking about how grateful they were for my letting them stay with me. One was sitting in a chair I don't have in a space I don't have. I tried to go back to sleep, but they were talking too loudly, although they had not wanted to wake me up. I was still afraid of a burglar.

At some point they were gone, and when I opened the door I could see out to what looked like a church altar, with everything made of wood. Awards for playing string instruments were being announced, and I was winning many of them. The instrument was shown as the award was announced, and the second violin [sic] looked as large as a cello.

I saw some reserved seats at two round tables that were rotating and thought about stopping the rotation and taking one. I think I was also asked to play but don't know what happened since I can't play any stringed instrument, let alone all of them.

Then I was outside on the ground, along with other high school kids. We were given gold badges with information with which we were to identify a classmate. Mine read, "Silly Worth" and identified the person as the daughter of the owner of "Worth Industries." I seemed to be the only one able to identify my person ("Billie Wirth"). I didn't know her father was an industrialist. As I was to be called upon, I lost the badge in the grass, which seemed to have ridges and to be dirty and slimy. I found myself face to face with a large praying mantis and told a friend, but she didn't care. I tried to touch it with my gloved hand, then went back to looking among the increasing number of furrows and changing topography of the grass for the badge.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Dream: Vlad's house

Another woman and I were leading a tour group and planned to ask them trivia questions. They did not answer the first question correctly, and the other guide gave me her PDA to find the answer and the next question. I knew the answer and didn't want to use the PDA. With the stylus, I somehow deleted the trivia questions and answers and replaced them with mysterious numbers and characters. At this point, I think we may have stopped somewhere for lunch.

Then we came upon an old, haunted-looking house or castle, Gothic or ornate in design, blackened with age. I don't remember anything from my own consciousness after this.

The group wanted to look for me, but they were reluctant to go inside. Eventually, they did and couldn't find me. They became more and more frightened.

I found myself on a chaise lounge, facing a grouping of small leaded windows that formed a large arch, like in a church. I knew the group was frightened but I did not want to be found. Then, unbeknownst to me, one member found me but thought I was dead as I lay there.

At that moment, I opened my eyes. By then, the entire group was there, staring back at my reflection in the window in terror, since they had presumed I was dead. I got up and tried to climb an oddly configured glass spiral staircase that changed shape or direction or size with my every step. As I did, I explained the correct answer to the trivia question, which was that it is dogs that fall asleep while eating. [Perhaps this is a subconscious reference to the current pet food recall.] I told them that this was the American home of Vlad the Impaler, and described some of his more gruesome crimes while telling them that they had nothing to fear.

Suddenly, they were gone, and I was lying on the chaise lounge again, looking at my broken reflection in the church-like windows. I wondered if I were dead or alive, and what kind of spirit I had become. And if I were alone . . .

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Dream: Magic alcove

The world was ending, or so it seemed, unless you somehow lived through the next few days. My memory of specific events is hazy, but my feelings about them are strong.

We were putting things that we wanted to save into a pit in the ground, although it seemed that the very earth itself were collapsing. I could not decide whether I would save my favorite stuffed animals by putting them into the pit or keeping them with me, or which ones to save, although my destination may have been the pit.

I heard that it had fallen in and become subdivided and very crowded with people. But I had found myself in the cave-like home of a wealthy woman, who was away, at her behest. It seemed like a magical place. The entry, which was impregnable, was in an alcove formed in part by a natural pillar. Everything about this fascinated me—the door, the lighting, the pillar.

My memory is so faulty, or my perception so unclear, that i don't know if the pit was part of this else or was located elsewhere, but I know that, although I had the woman's permission, I was not supposed to be there. As long as I remained there, I was deceiving a friend, who would think was I was the woman until either I emerged or she returned. I hated to leave the safety and wonder of the alcove and the magic of the place . . .

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Dream: Consulting and garbage

I was in a classroom full of consultants, where a presentation was being made to an academic client. Various people, including me, would comment, sometimes humorously, on what was being said. The presentation was going well. Then the partner in charge spoke up from near the back and rambled incoherently for a long time. Everyone looked uncomfortable; we could tell she was losing the client, who was standing in front of the room looking perturbed.

Then I was in a beachfront mall, with the water beckoning at one end, trying to find my mother so we could have lunch and decide what to do. Instead, I found a friend, who stopped to look at shoes. In the store, I noticed that the ones she was now wearing, pink clogs, were too new . . .

I found a table at a restaurant, but before my mother or friend had arrived, five or six good-looking boys from my high school (although no one I actually recognized or knew) came and took all the seats around me. They seemed fascinated by me, as though I had been the most attractive girl in the school. Intrigued, I asked the closest one what he was doing now, and he said he had found a career that brought him into constant contact with his primary interest—garbage. (But he was not a trash collector.) I thought he was insane.

Then I found myself at a different table, in a different place, with a man from college who also seemed to admire me and who was equally odd in his tastes and profession. I can't remember them, or perhaps he didn't tell me exactly. They probably involved writing or consulting.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Dream: Behind the fence

I was in the old back yard at home and looked up to see a very thin, sprawling tree crown to my right. When I traced its origins against the bright sky downwards, the pencil-thin trunk actually started to my left behind the neighbor's trailer—the crown was that high. Perched on this wispy, overhanging crown were two large birds I identified as little blue herons. They seemed to be harassing a smaller bird, but when they all flew off with the larger seemingly in pursuit of the smaller, I realized it was likely to be their offspring.

Between the yard and the woods, the lilac bushes had been replaced by a mesh fence, 8–10 feet in height, with white blankets thrown over the black mesh (for privacy?) I looked underneath or through somehow and found a sleeping bag or blankets on the ground, along with some other things that made it appear to be a homeless person's camp. I must have gotten through the fence somehow because I walked on the bag/blankets, which seemed to be the only way to ascertain that no one was there. I left but turned around and saw something very small moving under the blanket. I wondered what it could be; later when half a wake I thought it must have been an animal. But I still doubted it.

Now some clothes, including an old wool coat of mine, were hung over the fence on the yard side. Like a child I began to fuss that the coat might be stolen and did my dad know that someone was living beyond the screen? I couldn't tell if anyone around or who I was fussing to. I continued. I said that my dad was [hesitation] 88 years old and shouldn't have to put up with uncertainty and fear, and then I remembered that he had died. I remembered my mother, who was 80-some years old, but the fact that I couldn't remember her age reminded me that she had died at age 64, years ago.

Although I had felt that there had been someone there to whom I'd been speaking, I knew now that I was always utterly alone. I felt the weight and despair of a bleak reality keeping me alive enough to suffer. I looked over the mesh fence hoping to see the tops of the group of trees that filtered just enough sunlight to dapple their comforting shade. Instead, there was the painfully clear sunlight of a high alien sky—and a row of housetop peaks. The woods were gone, and so was my home, the only place that had ever touched my heart.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dream: Plague psychology

I was at an event that involved going from tent to tent to participate in different activities. At the end of one, I couldn't find my socks, then my shoes, then something I had been carrying. I found a pair of socks similar to mine but didn't know whether to take them out of necessity. I was getting increasingly desperate because I had a sense that I needed to visit the other tents to collect various belongings and that I had to catch a flight to somewhere. The scene changed to that of a food tent, where no one knew what I was on the verge of tears about.

Then I was in a car with a high school friend I have not seen in a long time. I asked her what she was doing, and she said that she was getting a degree in "_____ psychology." I couldn't distinguish the first the word, so I asked her to repeat herself. "_____ psychology." We went through this several times before I realized she was saying "plague psychology." I think I asked her what that is, and she, thinking I didn't know what plague is or what it would be, said somewhat derisively, "You know, like in India or China." I don't think of bubonic plague specifically in those countries, but then I wondered if she meant diseases like cholera and dysentery.

I couldn't imagine what "plague psychology" might mean. It struck me as odd because her idea of travel is a week on a beach in the Bahamas, not an educational Eastern adventure. She is also not the type to volunteer or to seek discomfort. So I asked her if she planned to go to India or China (to apply "plague psychology" to victims, presumably, and she replied brusquely, "Hell, no." I was left speculating why she was spending time, effort, and money on something that clearly did not interest her or that she would use. I lay half awake for a half hour puzzling over this as well as recovering from the panic of having lost my socks and shoes before a flight.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Name my uterine fibroid

Frustrated with being denied a pregnancy, my uterus has struck back by sprouting a fibroid. As if to prove its maternal ability to nourish and cherish, my uterus has not only produced a fibroid, but is growing it as well. I'm told that it has achieved the size of a 16-week pregnancy.
The truth is, I'm not sure what is going on in there. Two years ago, an ultrasound revealed "two fist-sized fibroids and numerous smaller ones." At the time, I did not know what a fibroid was, let alone that my uterus was one of millions set on developing them.
After poring over many fibroid photos on the Internet, I must say that it's a good thing fibroids are an internal condition because they have no aesthetic value at all, unless you are looking for something to inspire you with an alien monster design for your next straight-to-DVD bargain bin movie. They look like solid, smooth, shiny, red balls of muscles on steroids. They can be very small, or they can grow to the size of a watermelon or even larger. (Aside to my uterus: That is not a suggestion.) In some cases, they have even shared a womb with the baby for which the organ is designed. (Aside to my uterus: We won't be attempting that.)
Two years ago, the gynecologist couldn't be sure I had fibroids without an ultrasound. Today, even I can feel its hardness a little below my navel. It figures that the only hard muscular tissue my entire body sports would be in what should be the softest part of my belly.
So I have a fibroid, or two, or several. What is the next step? I'm supposed to schedule an appointment for another ultrasound, as I have an unfounded suspicion that my uterine rebellion is crowding my bladder and causing some issues. The mostly likely outcome is that I will ignore it; then, at menopause, it will shrink of its own accord if not provided with estrogen therapy. It's not that big, and despite the bad behavior of my uterus I wish to keep it. We humans are fond of our body parts, even the non- and malfunctioning ones.