I cannot countenance that, but I digress.
Some days I feel guilty, such as today, and I wade through my stacks and read the bits and pieces I have meant to read forever, or at least for six months, so that I can recycle them. I am usually rewarded; there is a trove of brilliance and great writing out there. I have my authors I love, and when they are on, they are so hilarious and inspirational.
Many years ago, I read an essay by the inimitable Terry Castle, a British academic who clearly has the same type of obsessive nature that I do. At one point, she was gripped by a WWI fever and traced a family member's grave and read everything she possibly could about the war. Her journey was chronicled in Courage, Mon Amie, which is now thankfully included in her collected essays. Last summer she wrote in The London Review of Books about going through her mother's papers, though, and her mother's lack of communication and how discomforting is was to come across her oracular cyphers, trying to parse them:
Despite being friendly and garrulous to a fault, my mother has always been somewhat averse to self-examination. Nor is psychological transparency her strong suit. Indeed, she might once have served as poster-lady for that delicate mental process Freud called the Censorship. Given all that seems to go unacknowledged in her emotional world, these undated, untethered notes can often read--shockingly--like eerie and unprecedented eruptions from the maternal unconscious.
Witness a pencilled memorandum from one of the real estate pads: 'WE'VE BEEN THRU A LOT TOGETHER & MOST OF IT WAS YOUR FAULT.' Haunting enough, this message. A kind of oracular, Emily Dickinson-style 'Letter to the World'. (A complaint letter, at that.) Like something you might find in a sadistic fortune cookie. I love the self-conscious--and very English--effort to appear fair and sporting, even when not, embedded in the phrase 'most of it'. But when did she write it and why? At whom was it directed?
I love the idea of trying to put words to the ineffable, to make sense of the wordless. Been there, Terry. Bonne chance!
And then reveling in the not-very-lovely prose of Bee Wilson, that's still catchy as anything: "America has the Barrymores and the Fondas, the Douglases and Baldwins. We have the actoriest of all acting families, or as Vanessa prefers to put it, the many 'sprigs of a great and beautiful tree.'" And "Lynn said there was a gene running through all the Redgraves with a proscenium arch attached, but Corin and Vanessa vigorously disagreed, as they disagreed with most of what Lynn, the youngest sibling, said. Natasha...disliked talk of a dynasty. 'It's like coming from a family of carpenters or plumbers who work in the family business, generation after generation.'"
I am, of course, a sucker for family stories, and acting families such as theirs. Not their notoreity, but their skill in storytelling, and the idea of the stage in their DNA? Why not? Performing and the arts are in my family, too.
Then my most beloved Julia Margaret Cameron, iconoclast, housewife with collodion stains on her hands, messy, holding her own, inspiration to her great-niece Virginia Woolf, who always had prints of her photographs in her home (again, with the family). I have read and reread Anthony Lane's review of the Cameron exhibition at the Met. I adore Lane's quirky spikiness. He is snarky. I love that he does not hold back when films are ridiculous, and I love that he is kind to Julia Margaret Cameron, acknowledging imperfections as art. I am not enamored of her more cloying works, the Victorian tableaux-vivants, but her portrait of Ellen Terry, her niece Julia Jackson, her Carlyle. I would have loved to have tea with her. As Lane writes, "the camera did not amuse her, in ladylike ease, as a fitting diversion for an amateur; it consumed her, firing a career and a faith."
As Lane says, "you could post her on Instagram right now."