Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Melancholia

Something about reading hundreds of new books for a deadline is making me feel wistful--in part because not writing much makes me feel askew. But thoughts about how the world has changed in the past fifty years keep drifting by, and though many things have changed for the better, I am having a positively Yeatsian regret for lovely old courtesies that have been lost... A good deal of lovelessness is abroad in the world and shows up between the sexes, between political parties, between young and old, between all sorts of groups. As I grow older, it seems to me that though my days are often complicated and overly busy, the goals in regard to others are terribly simple: to strive harder to treat people with care and love, remembering that we all come from the same source, and to hold fast and be true to the gift of words so that I can, in my turn, give gifts worth the giving.

18 comments:

  1. With you all the way on this, Marly. And the sense of it all intensifies with age.

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  2. Damn! My 9-year-old son has hijacked my Google ID. Again. 'Reubs' = Dick.

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  3. Yes, I agree too, Marly, and try to quietly stand against the loveless ness. And I have days when it's very draining and days when it's joyful -- more of the latter -- and hope that eventually I won't feel the fatigue or melancholy. I guess that would equal saintliness -- an unattainable quality but worth considering. Odd, how it used to actually help people to think that way, and yet I feel embarrassed to type the words!

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  4. Beth:
    Type those out-of-fashion words!

    Dick,

    Yes, as the world changes until it feels not quite ours... At least, if we reject some of those changes, despite liking others.

    Hello to Reubs!

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  5. I don't know if people are really treating each other worse than when we were younger, except in formal courtesy: but certainly our collective gaze has been drawn to lovelessness, and seems stuck there much of the time. Reading your work, Marly, is (in addition to its other pleasures) a relief, simply in that it reflects the world I know, a world in which people do care about each other and look out for each other.

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  6. During my children's growing up years, I had two requests. The first was never to drink and drive. The second was, "Be Kind."

    There is a loneliness in the world right now; I feel it inside and outside.

    As our attention spans continue to shrink, where we put our attention matters even more.

    Great post.

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  7. Dale,

    It is hard to tabulate. But I find myself remembering certain Southern courtesies with considerable affection.

    And thank you.

    Mamie,

    Those are good pieces of advice!

    A loneliness...

    Glad you put your attention on one little post and liked it. Thanks.

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  8. Aye, aye to all this!

    The word 'melancholia' makes me recall Durer's work by that name, as well as how much was made of it for example in the 17th century as an actual cult-like movement. The reasons may be little different today yet the feelings are similar, hmm? Can we also blame in part the instant news, mostly bad, that we are constantly bombarded with by today's technlogy, and makes many of us irritable as well as deadening our senses? Really makes one want to become a hermit... and take all the children away too.

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  9. Yes, Renaissance and 17th century melancholy is a fascinating subject. Mine is a little simpler--at least at the moment!

    Let's blame the incessant news--good idea. Hermitude is good also, and forcing children to be little semi-hermits, away from gaming and dreck.

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  10. Marly,
    I hope you can get back to writing soon, building a hedge against the lovelessness and loneliness and looniness we all feel in the world today.
    I do think things have slipped and are continuing to do so, and that it is not just my aging self who has projected this out into the world.
    It is partly that the old rules are gone and there is nothing to replace them.

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  11. Robbi,

    Sad to think so... and yet it seems true.

    I could deal with a little dab of loneliness, though--it's hopping around here!

    Hope the Floyd revels have been frolicsome.

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  12. I believe that the world has always been the same. Oh I know that the Internet has changed everything, and the constant flow of news emphasises horrors that have become constant instead of occasional, but when I look at the history books I see that cruelty, injustice, selfishness and lovelessness are not new, and indeed have been practiced on inconceivable scales in the past. While there are golden moments of reason that I'd like to wander back through time to witness, I don't want to return to a world where courtesy and gentleness were honoured, but human rights were ignored.

    On a fundamental level and in my own lifetime things have changed in ways that were inconceivable when I was a child. I grew up in time when the expression of my sexuality was not allowed. Homosexuality was outlawed and derided. Outlawing it and deriding it didn't change the fact of it, and as a consequence millions of people grew up feeling terrible about themselves and fearful of their desires. There was nothing to cling to. No role models, no sense that an alternative life could be aspired to, or that one would ever be able to live in a way that felt normal and inclusive. I can't remember a single moment of my childhood and adolescence when I wasn't aware that things were wrong between me and the world as presented by everyone around me, including my parents, and I can't begin to explain here how that felt, except that I grieve to this day for not having been able to be myself in a society that, had I done so, would have turned on me and cast me out. When the sixties led to more openness and the laws began to change, I began to harbour hope for the future. My blood curdles when our politicians talk about the values of the mid-twentieth century as though they were something we might return to, because although the young were perhaps more respectful then, I remember how it felt to be so lonely when society and the law had legislated so effectively against what I was.

    I think that melancholia is something that comes upon us with the advancing years. It has grown steadily in me as I've seen too many friends grow sick and die. How could it not? We become more reflective and our skins wear a little thinner. We look backwards with yearning rather than forward with anticipation. But you know, we must guard against it. It can cripple if succumbed to. I think it's a mistake to yearn for a golden past. It averts our eyes from the marvels of the present. Each day I experience selfishness and ill-humour in others. Angry people are everywhere. But I experience love and gentleness and generosity too. Do I carry with me the fact that I was rattled by the man whose dangerous driving nearly caused me to be killed at the wheel of my own car on the drive to Aberystwyth, or do I feel my life is blessed because on returning from the cinema last night, Peter and I found a carrier bag full of fresh eggs and courgettes on our door-step, a gift from our neighbours. I'm going to go with the latter. And although the clock is ticking and I wonder about what the future holds, I'm going to rejoice that the world has changed for the better since I was a small child, and that I can live here happily and openly with my same-sex partner, and that we have rights in law that protect us from the dreadful prejudices of the past. I am hopeful for the future. In the face of the warlords and tyrants, the bankers and corrupt politicians, the ignorant destroyers and haters, even in the face of the global warming and the passing of much-loved friends, I can see that my world is a more just and inclusive one than the one I was born into, and that makes me rejoice.

    I

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  13. Clive,

    I can't help but agree with you, and I know that the statistics-masters say that the world is a better place than in centuries before...

    Yes, I suppose it is more a function of growing older, and seeing that much I care about is in eclipse. But eclipses pass...

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  14. I think that it's less a function than a tendency, and moreover, a tendency that we should beware of allowing to become a habit. Here's the man who collects the puppets of his childhood and turns his house into a nostalgia-fest toyshop celebrating the past, getting all holier-than-thou about the dangers of elevating the past to a mythological kingdom where everything was better. OK, I admit there are things back then that were good and that I miss, but on the whole, I'm a modernist, and I peter the way things are now. Celberate the now, say I, while honouring what we have been, and the journeys we have made.

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  15. Oh, I wrote 'prefer' but spellcheck changed it to 'peter'. It was not a Freudian slip, I swear!

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  16. Smiled at that!

    Good advice. I think it's right. Just have my little lulls and squalls...

    Off to very late lunch.

    xo

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  17. Re the nostalgia-fest -- you're allowed to have complicated responses, Clive :-) I think we all have our moments of dismay, and a lot of us have made a private longed-for home out of some version or other of the past. It's only a problem if you begin to cling to it too literally, like a fundamentalist to his text. The letter killeth. We yearn for a civil, kindly, reverent world, and it's the yearning itself that we have to follow and honor. There is a serious danger, if you locate that world anywhere real and elsewhere, that we'll miss the yearning in other people (who are here right now,in our daily lives), because they're supposedly our enemies, or the enemies of our literalized good places.

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  18. Oh, that's a lovely response, Dale!

    I'm just wandering through, trying to live up to loving my neighbor as myself, here and elsewhere...

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.