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218/ Sappho’s Leap

People love it when you say that they are good and true and beautiful. They love it even if they don’t believe it.

I wonder how you’d take Sappho of Lesbos. I’m sure you’ll find bits and pieces of yourself in the extraordinary woman who disregarded barriers to live her life as she pleased and as she intended. She was a reckless and fanatical youth. A rebel who knew no fear. Yet, when it came to the people she loved, especially her daughter Cleis, she was soft and pliant and supplicant, even almost apologetic for her own desires.

Birth is a battle to the death between two clinging souls. We come apart so we may come together. If women knew what birth cost, they’d forswear love forever.

Erica Jong used freshly unearthed fragments of Sappho’s poems and songs to create “Sappho’s Leap”. Here she imagines not only a famed songbird but also a female Odysseus. She has her own share of shipwrecks, Gorgons, Amazons, Philosophers, and Centaurs. And like the virile Odysseus, Sappho also has her own share of lovers—boys and girls, men and women:

I have loved men and I have loved women and I can say that men are more transparent to love. Men are ruled only by their pricks, which are simple and blunt—but the moon rules women. And the moon is a body that gives back borrowed light. Bodily lovemaking with women is tender and sweet, but the minds of women are tricky as moonlight. Men do not scheme in love as women do.

It’s not known how Sappho really died. But it is widely believed that, as an old woman, she fell—hard—for a young ferryman. Phaon had the most powerful drugs—the drugs of youth and beauty. He knew his power and he honed it. Sappho’s love supposedly went unrequited and she couldn’t take it. Hence, her fabled leap.

A boy of twenty never tires. The phallus empties and fills again. The phallus stands up, lies down, and stands up again before you know it.

Erica Jong disagrees. Sappho is much too sensible to forfeit her life for lust. Sappho did jump off the Leucadian cliffs, but not for a mere gigolo. She leapt to be with her true loves—the poet Alcaeus, the fabler Aesop, the amazon Praxinoa, and her mother and father.

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217/ Blood Canticle: The Vampire Chronicles

Love. Who knows about another’s love? The more you love, the more you know the burnt out loss of love, the more you heed the silence of unknowing in the face of another’s spiritual bondage.

“Blood Canticle: The Vampire Chronicles” is Lestat the Magnificent’s not-so-secret love song to Rowan the Witch. Here is the centuries-old bloodsucker swooning all over the pages it almost feels like leafing through a YA. When he tries to be coy about it at first like a demure virgin, it’s decidedly a Harlequin.

For a full minute, I fail to recognize Anne Rice. I thought it was Barbra Cartland or Danielle Steele at the helm:

I was in the depths. The pulsing night sang to me of the nothingness. The stars spread out to prove the horror of our universe—bits and pieces of the body of no one flying at monstrous speed away from the meaningless, uncomprehending source.

It’s as if Rice penned “Blood Canticle” in a state of apathetic torpor. There’s mention of blood but you don’t see it dripping from throbbing necks or splattered on alabaster thighs. There’s desire, but no lust. Just not enough violent hysterics, mad anger, or feverish fucks. It’s tepid, “Blood Canticle”.

Good thing there’s the quest for the Taltos, those nonhuman-humanlike creatures. It at least provides adventure, a movement from Lestat’s lovest(r)uck fangs. There’s also Mona, the witch-vampire who comes on strong like a first-rate bitch. Her dark mood thankfully tempers Lestat’s sugary sweetness.Too bad she decides to be meek and mild in the end. Forget beautiful Quin, he’s an angel forever under Mona’s spell.

At times Rice wakes up from stupor, holds the pen, and gives it a real good grip:

Sometimes I think the theologians have got it backwards. The big problem is not How to explain the existence of evil in this world. It’s How to explain the existence of good.

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216/ Love, Again

How often are two people in love with each other at the same time? Hardly ever. Usually, one turns the cheek.

You’re 65 and you fall for a beautiful 28. You know it will not get you anywhere, at least not where you want it to get you. But you press on just the same, hoping against hope. Age is just a number and love is not about numbers. It’s about connection, two hearts who connect. What is being in love after all?

In love: there are people who keep a lock of hair or a piece of cloth in an envelope, sometimes come on it, and tenderly smile. In love: a glow of tender lost possibilities, like the light left behind in the sky at moonset.

Then you wake up. You feel tired about the one-sidedness of it all. Hope does not really spring eternal, even when you’re in love. And you realize 35 is also beautiful, so why not? Youth is overrated. Lust is not love, you tell yourself.  A good winning personality is love, you tell yourself more.

Doris Lessing is right: falling into a state of love is a matter of keeping your sanity, especially when age is an issue. Her Love, Again is a painful acceptance of the sad reality that, when you’re of a certain age, love is truly complicated. Especially when you want them young.

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215/ Heyday

Perhaps truth and beauty defer each to the other, taking turns, like good friends, or partners. And when both shine at the same time and place, the result is art.

One of my Philosophy professors made this observation: the luckiest minds are those who get to live at the turn of the century, for then they have the works of philosophers past to synthesize and recycle into new theses for philosophers of the next one hundred years to digest.

That professor has all my respect and admiration but I find that the luckiest are really those who get to live in an era right on the cusp of change, for then they have no premises and parameters to limit their imaginings. Uncertainty allows their mind to run wild and bold, for what is there to do when confronted with the unknown?

To be pure is to be uncomplicated, and to be uncomplicated is to be a cretin or a trout or some inanimate thing.

France New York California: the year is 1848, these cities are at the point of important transition, and Benjamin Knowles is all there to stand witness. Revolution Modernity Gold Rush. How could Benjamin Knowles not succumb to restlessness, exhilaration, fearlessness? How could Polly Lucking Timothy Skaggs Duff Lucking not share the adventures with Benjamin? They have nothing to lose and everything around them is an opportunity to turn life in their favor. The future is up for grabs, rightly so thus, seize it they did.

Commonplace and tired, true, but fortune does favor the bold. Yet the adventure must come to an end, as it inevitably does anyway at one point or another. The key is restraint, knowing when to stop and when to take on a new beginning.It’s tricky but it’s what I like about “Heyday” — Kurt Anderson made Knowles and Skaggs studies in stark contrast. Knowles wanted to go on and discover new frontiers, so he got to lead a new life with Polly. So did Duff. Skaggs chose to stay, so he got to enjoy his own idea of romance albeit for only a short while.

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214/ Portrait in Sepia

Isabel Allende articulates in “Portrait in Sepia” two creeds I have come to embrace  over the years.

Here’s one about photography and writing:

My nightmares are a blind journey through the shadowy caverns where my oldest recollections lie locked in the deep strata of consciousness. Photography and writing are a tentative way of seizing those moments before they vanish, of fixing those memories in order to give meaning to my life.

And another about friendship and the amazing benefits that come with it:

Marriage is a commonsense affair, something neither of us has much of. The fact that we are not married enhances our love. That way each of us can do what we do; we have our own spaces, and when we are about to erupt, there is always the escape of living apart for a few days and coming back together when we yearn for kisses.

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213/ The Weekend

Who we are—if we see and understand, we have the chance to go beyond it. If not, we are trapped in it. For that reason, however, we mustn’t impose the truth on others.

Is there any way to justify terrorism? I can never understand how there is a need to spill blood and sacrifice innocent lives, children especially, purportedly for the common good. It cannot be for the common good if there are lives, children especially, that have to be excluded. Surely, those sacrificial lives do have meaningful relationships with the people they love and will leave behind.

But here’s Marko, in Bernhard Schlink’s “The Weekend,” convincing us of the merits of terror attacks. He wants us to consider the aftermath: “You probably think September Eleventh was just some crazy Muslim affair. No, without September Eleventh none of the good things that have happened over the past few years would have happened. The new attentiveness to the Palestinians, still the key to peace in the Middle East, and to the Muslims, still a quarter of the world’s population, the new sensitivity to the threats in the world, from the economic to the ecological, the realization that exploitation has a price that is always rising—sometimes the world needs a shock to come to its senses.”

Nope, sorry Marko, not buying it. We need a shock, yes, but not the kind that kills thousands of bystanders who have nothing to do with whatever it is the terrorists are fighting for. Who are these terrorists to impose their so-called truths on the rest of us?

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212/ Life After Life

I run to death, and death meets me as fast. And all my pleasures are like yesterday.

The thing about life is that it’s our one shot at everything in this world. Our one and, fortunately or unfortunately, only shot. After that, who knows what’s next.

Perhaps we leave everything in this world behind us as we move on to a new world where death is that great beauty that transcends all.

Or maybe we get to go back here on earth and lead a new life after new life after new life. Like Ursula in Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life”: “She had obscure memories of elation, of falling into darkness, but they belonged to that world of shadows and dreams that was ever-present and yet almost impossible to pin down.”

If that were the case, what to do with life then?

Ursula opts to go after Hitler and see if this world can be rid of Holocaust. I’ll probably take my aim at Marcos and see if my country can be rid of Martial Law.

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