House Guests

Posted on 19 July 2005

I’m anxious tonight. I decided to stay at home and send a handsome young man to pick up my friend Shirley at the airport. Hope she won’t mind. Time is so much more precious the older I get and I hate the drive to the airport and besides I’m a terrible passenger. Ask Rob.

I’ve been reading Mary Oliver. Jeanette Winterson reminded me that poetry helps when one feels lethargic. I read it when I cannot alight. In an interview at the end of “Lighthousekeeping” Winterson says, when asked if she ever considered writing poetry, ” no. Poetry is the thing that matters to me more than anything else. I use it like caffeine: when I’m tired I’ll have a shot of poetry. I always carry it with me; I look for that exactness of language, that sensitivity and feeling. But I won’t write it because I have decided that my experiment is to use those poetic disciplines and work them against the stretchiness of narrative.”

The young women (so hard not to call them girls) – Gill and Rowan and I went to Toulouse yesterday. We shopped a little together, ate lunch, and then they took off to look for clothes. I went to Habitat. When, I wonder, did dressing for the house take precedence over clothes for the body? I bought some Egyptian cotton sheets and plum-coloured towels. Then I sat in a small park and finished “Lighthousekeeping.”

Winterson is not one of my favourite authors but I like her. Her stories are off-beat, often difficult to follow, but I always find myself writing out a passage or two. The one that appealed to me yesterday, that I tucked a bookmark into, reads as follows:

“But today, when the sun is everywhere, and everything solid is nothing but its own shadow, I know that the real things in life, the things I remember, the things I turn over in my hands, are not houses, bank accounts, prizes or promotions. What I remember is love – all love – love of this dirt road, this sunrise, a day by the river, the stranger I met in a cafe. Myself, even, which is the hardest thing of all to love, because love and selfishness are not the same thing. It is easy to be selfish. It is hard to love who I am. No wonder I am surprised if you do.
But love it is that wins the day. On this burning road, fenced with barbed wire to keep the goats from straying. I find for a minute what I came here for, which is a sure sign, that I will lose it again instantly.
I felt whole.”

I often don’t know how to live this extraordinary life of mine but there are times – and I warn you, they are often maudlin but they don’t feel so at the time – when someone says “I wish you could stay longer” or “I want to spend time with you” or “I like your energy” or even “I love you” that I feel whole.

So I sit here reading Oliver’s “The Black Snake” and worry only a little that I gave the handsome young man my debit card and my code (such trust!) and hope that he doesn’t take my last euro cent and disappear without picking up Shirley. I am looking forward to spending time with her.

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