Tuesday, October 7, 2014
"It didn't occur to me then, though it certainly does now, that it was years since I'd roused myself from my stupor of misery and self-absorption; between anomie and trance, inertia and parenthesis and gnawing my own heart out, that there were a lot of small, easy everyday kindnesses I'd missed out on; and even the word kindness was like rising from unconsciousness into some hospital awareness of voices, and people, from a stream of digitized machines." (p.528, 'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt)
What a sentence! What an exceptional ability to deep dive the words this author has and for finding a way to articulate the darkness and trauma of her central character. Just the choice of words, let alone the way they have been arranged to build and build and build a sense of emotional intensity - it overflows with the healing of words found for wounds that tend to overwhelm our abilities for articulation. Words that define the feeling of 'otherness' that can take away the very breathe we have with which to speak them.
I love how literature heals. How some stranger in another country sitting at a computer or a book with paper and pen can write one word after another and another and somehow have channelled some deep soul truth within my own experience even when my experience is radically different to the hero in her book or any of the other characters. The connection between our stories, despite their vast differences, is how authors can truly make difference feel divine. Linked. Less alone. More human. More fully lived by having gone on the journey with the hero, through trials and always moving towards some final unknown and perhaps unknowable conclusion. Ending as an opening. Into. More. Of. Me.
To sum up so much with each word and to follow it with more words that pack in meaning upon meaning and build and build the sentence into the state of mind of the narrator - the overwhelmed mind of a boy who longs for his mother's kindness or any kindness or any sense of belonging to someone or something other than the trauma that has shaped his journey.
Here are some of the definitions from the Macquarie Dictionary of the words this author chose to use in this sentence to create the impact of a mind consumed by post traumatic stress:
"1. a social vacuum marked by the absence of social norms or values. 2. the state of alienation experienced as a result of the absence of social norms or values."
"1. a half conscious state, as between sleeping and walking. 2. a dazed or bewildered condition. 3. a fit of complete mental absorption or deep musing. 4. an unconscious, cataleptic, or hypnotic condition..."
"1. inert condition; inactivity; sluggishness..."
"2. Gram a qualifying or explanatory word, phrase, clause, sentence or other sequence of forms which interrupts the syntactic construction without otherwise affecting it having often the characteristic intonation, and shown in writing by commas, parentheses, or dashes."
NOTE too the inclusion in this word of 'parent', the very thing this character longs for from shortly after the beginning of the novel, when he is aged 13, until the ending where he is an adult.
And the ending words 'a stream of digitized machines' - likening the idea of kindness as an unrecognisable, mechanical, technical concept separated from the narrators consciousness by this social vacuum, this absence that is central to the book at all times - his mother.
Motherhood, in this book, is celebrated by the journey of a boy who does not have his mother with him any more and what that absence does to him, the longing and the lack and the loneliness of it. The qualities of motherhood he longs for of an 'easy everyday kindness' are sort of celebrated by their absence as a central, active protagonist 'doing' things to him (or his mind).
A void can be present and active and a physical reality in the rooms of your mind. Feeling alone can be a permanent interruption in the sentence of your life. All sorts of emotions can trap you or free you or define you or gently pass through you on the journey that is life. The character in this book just keeps going forward, keeps moving, keeps messing up and making up and growing up and coming down and....most importantly finding words to shape a path through the darkness for those important glimpses of light or enlightenment or just plain truth (dressed up in pretty clothes).
I love this character - Theo Decker. I love his struggle and his humanness. I want to install him in my spare room and feed him food and easy everyday kindnesses. I want to listen to his thoughts and meet his friends and hang out with him. I miss him already.
Or, as his creator so beautifully puts it, on the last page of the book,
"Whatever teaches us to talk to ourselves is important: whatever teaches us to sing ourselves out of despair. But the painting has also taught me that we can speak to each other across time. And I feel I have something very serious and urgent to say to you, my non-existent reader, and I feel I should say it as urgently as if I were standing in a room with you. That life - whatever else it is - is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn't mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we're not always so glad to be here, it's our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open."
There is more but I have tried not to include any spoilers and the last sentences of a book are for the private pleasure of the reader in their own time. I will not touch that sacred space. The 'painting' referred to above is also a central character of the book and I won't tell you more about it either, except to say - a book with a painting as a central character has just got to be read.
Find the beauty in your life where and when you can and wade through the rest. Give yourself the 'easy everyday kindnesses' that a mother gives to her child if she is blessed with the opportunity and circumstances to do so. Create that opportunity and those circumstances for yourself. Become the author of your own life and chose the words that open up that sacred space for you to hold and to be held with love and light and kindnesses.
Love one another.
Oh, and if you haven't already, read this book. It is so, so, so, so good. It is in itself an act of 'easy everyday kindness', a kind of mother love for humanity and it does very much feel like the author is in the room with you.
And if you were lucky enough to have a mother who gave you this kindness and love, give thanks, pay it forward and celebrate the little unnoticed acts of the mothers you encounter in your everyday life. They are sometimes the unsung heroes and it is not until they are absent that their presence is often most felt.
Posted by Cindy at 6:33 PM