Monthly Archives: July 2014

Maggie’s Choice

Maggie’s Choice

I was late.
I was late by two weeks.
The first couple of days, I didn’t worry too much. Sometimes this had happened before, you know, a few days either way. It’s biology, you know? After a week, I was checking the calendar every morning, first thing. By the 12th day, my stomach had started to hurt, but not the way it should have. Instead of the normal cramps, which would come and go, there was just this knot of anxiety. I found it tough to eat. I found it difficult to sleep, and stayed awake until I was too exhausted to worry anymore. By the 14th day, I knew what I had to do.
I had to tell someone.
I had to tell Sylvia.

Sylvia was the strongest person I’d ever known. And she was my best friend. She would know what to do.
That day, I found her in the morning by her locker, as soon as I could. “What’s the deal, Maggie?” she asked.
“I’m late,” I told her, blurting it all out at once. Not what I had wanted to do, but, whatever. Too late.
“The fuck you talking about, first period doesn’t start for another 20 minutes?” she answered.
“It’s not first period I’m worried about…” I said, trying a bad joke. She looked at me for a moment, confused-like.
“Oh shit, Maggie!” she shouted, figuring it out. “Why didn’t you say so?”
“It’s not like I could make it any more clear!” I said, miffed despite feeling so sick.
“How late? Why are you late?”
“Well, a couple of weeks ago, after David’s party, Ben and I, you know, we did it…”
“What the fuck Maggie! When were you going to tell about this, huh? Did you guys not use protection, or what?”
“No we did, he used a condom, and everything, but, I guess it didn’t work, maybe? I don’t know!” I said, feeling desperate, and anxious, and really sick. I guess Sylvia saw how I was doing, because she calmed down, definitely what I needed right then.
“Ok, ok. Shit. Have you told Ben yet?”
“No, I kept waiting for it to show up, and you’re the first person I told, and ah shit, I’m pregnant!” I said, starting to sob. Really ugly crying, you know.
“Hey, hey, snap out of it!” Sylvia said, hitting me in the shoulder and pulling me into a tight hug. “Don’t worry, we don’t even know if that’s what’s going on yet. We’ll go to the pharmacy around the corner during lunch, and then you can come back to my place, and we’ll do it there. Don’t worry Maggie, we’ll figure this out.”

I sat through the first two periods, barely able to pay attention to the classes. Math and P.E. I was so twisted up inside that I nearly threw up during the beep test. Sylvia went out immediately after the bell, and we almost ran to the convenience store. I guess some of my anxiety was rubbing off on her. We got there, and she bought it for me. I don’t think I could have face the guy behind the counter.
Mission accomplished, we both relaxed a bit, and walked back to school. Lunch was nearly done by the time we got there, which was fine by me – I don’t think I could have eaten anyways. The next two classes, I can’t even remember them. First thing I knew, I was walking with Sylvia back to her place, not too far away from the school.
“We’ll figure it out,” she said to me.

We got to her place. No one else home. Thank God.
“Says here, you’ve got to pee on the coloured end. You wait a bit, and then it shows you what’s going on. One stick, we’re good, two, we’re fucked…oh, wait. Yeah.” Sylvia said with a frown, looking up at me over the box. We both laughed a bit, but I grabbed it out of her hands and ran with it to the washroom.
I was surprised at how quickly I was able to pee. I hadn’t really had anything to drink today, and hadn’t had to go at all earlier. Not looking at the result, I pulled up my panties and my shorts, washed my hands, and walked with the test, still not looking, back into the kitchen. I showed it to Sylvia. She looked me in the eyes.
“Shit,” she said.

I think it went oh, oh, oh
I think it went yeah, yeah, yeah
I think it goes oh
I listened to my iPod on the bus the next morning, but I barely heard the music. Normally, it got me excited, excited for class, excited to see my friends. Excited because it was Friday. I barely heard it.

“Shit, man, you ok?” Sylvia asked me, first thing she saw me.
“Yeah, I guess. Didn’t sleep too well last night. Didn’t say anything to mom or dad, either.”
“Probably a good idea,” she said. “You should probably go find Ben, though. He deserves to know, doesn’t he?”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” I said, though it was the last thing in the world that I wanted to do at that point. “I guess…I guess I’ll go and try and find him…” I said, looking at my shoes.
I found him pretty quickly. He was a floor below, outside the Chem classes, with David and Greg. He looked so happy, they were laughing and joking. It made me mad. How could he be laughing, how could he be smiling when I was feeling like complete shit? And it was his fault! I didn’t talk to him.
I didn’t approach him until the end of the day, catching him while he was alone as everyone was rushing and running for the buses.
“Hey,” I said. “We gotta talk.”
“Woah, right now? I’m going to miss the back seat if I don’t run!” said Ben. Real mature, Ben, I thought.
“Yeah, right now,” I said, getting angry. “My period’s late, Ben.” The colour drained from his face. He was white as a sheet.
“Uhh, whaddya mean, late? Like, that happens sometimes, doesn’t it?” he stammered.
“Not like this, Ben,” I said. “And yesterday, after school, I got a pregnancy test, with Sylvia…Ben, I’m pregnant.” I said, tears starting to pour down my flaming cheeks.
“Umm, shit! Shit! Ok, ok, calm down,” he said, though he looked like he needed more calming than me, rubbing his hands through his hair. “Shit! Ok, like, are you sure? How good are these tests? Like, are they 100%? Fuck, we used protection! What the fuck?!”
“Yeah, I’m sure, Ben. Would you get a grip? What are we going to do!?” I said.
“Uhh, shit! We can’t have a kid! We’re high school seniors – I work at a fucking McDonald’s!” he said. “We’ve got to get rid of it – you’ve got to get rid of it!”
“Don’t you make this about me, you dick!” I said, my tears drying up. “This…thing…is just as much yours as it is mine! It’s not my fault it’s inside me and not you!”
“Ok, ok, I’m sorry,” he said, looking slapped down. “But, we still gotta do something about this. It’s not like we can be fuckin’ parents, right?”
“Yeah, you’re right. Ok, I need some time to think…” I said, looking at the ground.
“It’ll be ok, you’ll see. We’ll figure this out.”

The next day was Saturday. No school. No reason to get out of bed. But I had to. 9:30 came up, and so did my mom, calling me down to breakfast. When I didn’t respond, she came into my room. By that point, I was awake, and, when she opened the door, I started to cry.
“Sweety, what’s wrong?” she asked, sitting on the edge of my bed.
“Moooom,” I wailed. “My period is late, and I took this pregnancy test over at Sylvie’s, and, Oh God, and I’m going to have a baby!” It all came pouring out, all the tension of the last two weeks, all the anxiety, it all came out in the tears and the snot and the angry and the worry.
My mom hugged me close to her, cooing “Oh, baby, oh, my baby.”
After about half an hour of just holding me, she asked “Do you want to speak to your father? Or would you like me to speak to him for you?”
I had calmed down before. I thought about it. I figured, I could take the easy way out, and get her to do it, but I’d have to face him sometime, right?
“No, I’ll talk to him,” I said. “Can you call him up?”
“Sure, sweety,” she answered. She walked over to the door, “Honey, can you come up here? Maggie has something to tell you.”
My dad came up the stairs, and was soon standing in my doorway. He could see my reddened eyes, and the way we were sitting, that something was up.
“What is it, Mag?” he asked, looking worried.
“Dad,” I laughed with a crack in my voice, “I’m pregnant.”
He looked at me blankly for a moment, and that sort of…drifted…over to my desk, pulled out the chair, and fell into it. Like, he didn’t sit down, he fell. Heavy-like, you know? He put is hands under his chin, propping them up on his bent knees, and looked at me, slightly above my head and to the right.
“Well, hun, I didn’t think that this is the way we’d find out, and not nearly so early, but God works in mysterious ways,” he said at last. Looking at my mother: “You always did want to be a grandmother, didn’t you?”
“Uhh, Dad, umm…” I said, looking down into my hands, not sure how to go on.
“What is it, Mag?” he asked.
“What if I…what if I don’t want…to keep it?” He seemed to think a moment, then said:
“Adoption, eh? Well, your Mom and I would help you, but, given how young you and Ben are – it was Ben, wasn’t it?” Still looking down, I nodded. “Well, given how young you and Ben are, perhaps it’s for the best?”
All the anxiety, all the worry, that had just evaporated when I told my mom – an adult, someone to take care of it all, someone to take the choice and the decision making and the hard stuff away – came flooding back into my gut, making a prickly ball right below my lungs. It was no good. I could tell them now, or I could tell them later, but I’d have to eventually.
“Uhh,” I said, looking up towards where Dad sat, frown on his face, “umm, I don’t really mean that I don’t want to keep it, I mean, I don’t, you know, want to keep it.”
My Dad looked from me to my Mom, figuring out what I meant after a few moments. It was her that finally broke the silence. “Oh, honey,” she said. “We’ll figure this out. Don’t worry, we’ll figure this out.”

“Your Dad and I talked last night, hon. We agreed – we would like you to talk to Pastor Goodman after Mass today.” Mom said, the next morning. I liked Pastor Goodman. I hadn’t ever spoken to him much, but his sermons always seemed to make sense, and he seemed like a nice guy. Like, I wasn’t overly religious or anything, not like my parents, but, you know, he seemed to be the kinda guy that actually cared about people. What a Pastor should be, I guess. But, given what we’d be talking about, given what I was sure my parents had already told him, I could only look forward to the talk with more anxiety, heaped on top of that spiny ball that was still stuck on top of my stomach.
The sermon was not one of his best, I recognised, even in my distracted mind-set. Something about loving our adversaries – I guess it was meant to tie in to the latest war, there was something about praying for our brothers and sisters in the field, the usual stuff. Soon enough, it was over, and I was to have my meeting with Pastor Goodman.
Mom and Dad gave me a hug each, and sat down in the foyer of the Church. I went down the little hallway to the Pastor’s office, and knocked on his door. His kindly voice called me in. He had changed from his vestments, and was just wearing a t-shirt and jeans. The casualness, weirdly, made me more nervous. I had been preparing myself to talk to, I dunno, a figure of authority, I guess. And here he was, you know, just looking like a regular guy.
“Why don’t you take a seat over there, Maggie,” he said, pointing to one of the chairs in front of his desk. He came around from behind it, and sat in the other one, a couple of feet away from me. “Your parents asked me to speak to you, they tell me you’re in a spot of trouble.”
“Oh, Pastor Goodman,” I gushed, eager to unload my problems on someone else, have someone else carry them for me. “I took this pregnancy test, and there was two bars, and now I’m pregnant, and Ben doesn’t want me to keep it, and, and, I don’t know what to do!”
“Well, Maggie – call me Jim, if you want – what is it you want? This is as much your choice as anyone else involved – in someways, a lot more.”
“Uhh, sure, Pastor Good-, er Jim. What do I want? I don’t want to be pregnant! I want to be worried about passing Bio, I want to worried about what dress I’m going to buy for prom! I want to be normal!” I said, truthfully, angrily.
“And no-one is going to blame you for that!” he said with a laugh. “However,” he said, sitting up, “you’ve been blessed, blessed with a miracle that happens, God-willing, in everyone’s lives, eventually. It’s just that, yours came a bit earlier than expected, that’s all. God asks of us only that which we can give – he doesn’t require of us any more than we can bear.”
“I – I guess that makes sense,” I said, seeing the situation in a new light.
“Look at it this way, your healthy, you’ve got a good home, and you’ve got a great community around you. Even if you elect not to raise your child yourself, you can at least put him or her up for adoption, and future parents, who haven’t been blessed the way you have, can experience the joy and fulfilment that only a child can bring. Heck, if you want, you can give your child to someone in our community, so that you know that they will be taken care of!”
“I had never really thought of it that way, really. And nine months, well, that’s not really that long, is it?” I said, thinking about it to myself. Sure, I probably couldn’t go off to college right away, but I was thinking about deferring my acceptance and taking a year off anyways…
“Plus, and this is important, what you’ve got inside you right now, that’s a human being too, isn’t it? It’s a strange part of our lives that we all go through, where we are completely dependent on another person – our mothers. The choices they make, they affect us totally, without any say on our part. Now, of course, if we could have a say, we would shout it, Love me! Care for me! I’m yours! wouldn’t we? Isn’t that what we all want, at the end of the day? Somewhere to belong, to call home, and to be cared for? A baby in the womb, he or she has that, ready-made. So, the position you’re in at this point, Maggie, is whether or not to listen to what your child is crying out to you, silently. Only you can make the choice to listen or not. It’s up to you.”

I went to school the next day, as per usual. Sylvia saw me at my locker. I had it open, and I was looking at myself in the little magnetic mirror stuck on the inside of the door.
“Hey, what’s up? She asked, a bit uncertainly. I looked over at her.
“I spoke to Pastor Goodman yesterday, I, I think I’m going to keep the baby…” I started.
“Oh, what the fuck Maggie! I thought you told me you wanted to get rid of it?! What kind of religious bullshit did they fill you with?”
“Well, Pastor Goodman, he, he sort of explained that the baby, it needs me, right now, and that it would ask me, it would cry to me, to love it…and stuff,” I finished weakly.
“What a sack of shit! You know what else needs you? You know what needed my mom, right before it killed her? The goddamn tumour that was growing in her brain, that’s what! Are you convinced then? Do you want to keep this thing?”
“I – I don’t know. I don’t know what I want, really, I guess.”
“Ok,” said Sylvia, calming down. “Here, maybe, think about it this way. Imagine if you got really sick, or were in a car crash, or something. And, like, you had this super rare blood type, and, like, mine was the only one that matched it. So, there you are, in the hospital, and you need my blood to live. And, for sure, I could give it to you, and you would live, and everything would be great. Problem is, I, ’cause, you know, I don’t like you, because you’re such a little whiner, I don’t want to give you my blood. And their’s no-one around that can force me to do it, not legally, right? How is this any different, with you and that, that thing inside you? It’s sittin’ in there, using your blood, and your body, using you, without you even giving your consent. Fuck, man, even dead guys need to sign a waver before we go and harvest their organs, don’t they? Are you less than a fucking corpse? Huh?”
“When you put it like that, yeah, I guess this whole thing is kinda shitty,” I said, feeling a bit more myself, a bit stronger.
“Tell you what,” Sylvia said. “I did a bit of poking around online this weekend, and there’s a, you-know, there’s a clinic not too far away from here. We can grab the bus after school, the two of us. Nothing committal, nothing set in stone, just to take a look, like. Whaddaya say?” Feeling more sure of myself after Sylvia’s speech than I had in a while, I said ok.
I saw Ben that day. He looked at me, quickly, and then looked away, not saying anything, not asking how I was doing. What a dick. He just went back to laughing with his friends, leaving me alone with all the worry. Maybe…maybe we didn’t need to talk about it – maybe I could go, and get it, you know, taken care of, and everything would go back to the way it was before. It would all be over, and everything would go back to normal. I hoped.
We grabbed the bus after school, it was a few blocks to the clinic. It was across from the hospital, where I had visited Sylvia’s mom when she was sick. I looked in Sylvia’s eyes as we walked up, and she looked in mine. She gave me a little smile, and we went in.
The difference to outside, it was immediate. It was hot that day, and they had the ac on in the clinic, and it was nice and cool. They also had some soft music playing. Usually, you know, I’d think it was lame, but…it felt right. I went up to the desk, and Sylvia sat down at some of the chairs in the waiting area.
“Hi there, hon,” said the receptionist, an older lady. She looked like someone’s grandma. “How can I help you?”
“Well,” I said, unsure of myself. “Well, I’d…I’d kinda like to find out about…about an abortion, please.”
“Of course, of course,” she said. “Can I see your healthcard? Thanks. If you wait a moment, you can go in and talk to Dr. Adams. He’s our head doctor, and he will let you know about everything that is involved. Does that sound good?”
I nodded, and she made a note of it on her computer. I went back to sit with Sylvia, and she gripped my hand, tight-like.
“Margaret Smith? Dr Adams will see you now,” called the receptionist, in what seemed like no time at all. I went down the hall beside the desk, and the receptionist showed me another waiting room, around a corner. I sat for a minute or two, looking at the diagrams on the wall, the reproductive system and the female body, and stuff like that.
“Hello there…Margaret?” Dr Adams said, lifting a page on his clip board.
“I go by…people call me Maggie,” I said. He had a strong cologne on. It’s a weird thing to remember, but that’s what stuck out about him most. That and his watch. He had a nice watch on. Weird, the stuff you remember.
“Of course. So, how can we help you?” the Doctor said.
“Well, I’d like to…to learn about an abortion, please.”
“Ah, I see,” he said, sitting down beside me. “Ok, so, I’ll try to lay it out for you in the clearest terms possible. The intricacies of the procedure are dependent on how far along the patient is. Do you have a good idea of…?”
“Yeah,” I said, hard knot in my stomach. “I think it’s been about 3 weeks, or so.”
“Ah, ok, that simplifies quite a few things. So early in the pregnancy, the procedure usually takes only about 10 minutes, but the visit to the clinic will probably last about 3 hours, all told. Now, there will be an anaesthetic applied, but the patient is still awake during the procedure. It general feels a lot like period cramps, strong ones. The side-effects of the anaesthetic are a lot like drinking a good amount of alcohol, so we warn patients that they can’t operate heavy machinery or drive. That said, we usually recommend that they arrange travel in advance of the operation, and back up their plans. Also, it’s lucky that I was available to take this opportunity to talk to you, we’re usually pretty busy. As such, we require that patients arrive in a timely manner, to keep their spot in the queue. That about wraps it up. The procedure, is, of course, covered by healthcare, and so is free to all patients. All of our files are maintained within the strictest confidentiality, as well. Do you have any questions, yourself?”
“No…no, I think that that…just about covers it. I’ve got a lot to think about,” I answered, focusing on his watch.
“It’s ok, Ms. Smith. We understand that this is a difficult decision, and, whatever you choose, we are here to help you through it. You think about it for a while, and, if you choose, reception will be there when your ready, if you want to book an appointment.”

They had an appointment open Wednesday, in the afternoon. I’d have to leave school early, but that was fine. Sylvia had a spare the last period, so she could come with me without any trouble. I didn’t say anything to mom or dad that night, and I didn’t say anything Tuesday, either. They asked how I was doing, every once in a while, and I told them that I, you know, was doing ok. They wouldn’t have understood.
Wednesday afternoon arrived. I’d spent the last day and a half psyching myself up for this. Soon, soon, it’d all be over, and I could go back to being a normal 16 year old. Disaster. Mrs. Wilkin’s, my Bio teacher, kept me after class. I had failed last week’s term paper, and she wanted to discuss my standing in the class. I told her that I really needed to go, but she wasn’t having any of it. I wasted 15 minutes. Sylvia was waiting outside the door to the classroom, looking nervous.
“Fuck, man, we gotta go!” she said, grabbing my hand and running with me to the bus stop. We got on the bus. It looked ok, we still had about 15 minutes to get there, and the ride was tops 20 minutes long.
There was a car crash. Blocks away from the hospital. A big pile up, and the cops were there, and fire engines, and everything. My stomach twisted up on itself.
“Holy fucking shit!”
We jumped out of the bus, running full on down the street. We got to the clinic, half an hour after my appointment was scheduled.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” I gasped to the receptionist, out of breath. She was a different one. Youngish. Pinched face.
“Health card,” she said, not looking away from her monitor. I silently handed it over to her.
“Mmm…says here, Ms. Smith, you had an appointment set for 2:30. I’m afraid that we can’t take you today.” I looked over at Sylvia, who mouthed a silent “fuck!,” her face mirroring what I must have looked like myself. My stomach fell through the floor. All that prep – I felt like I was ready, it was all going to be over.
“However, it does look like we have an opening this Friday. Are you available for 4:30?” she asked, finally looking down at me.
“Yea, sure,” I answered weakly, supporting myself on the desk to keep from falling over.

The next three days passed in a blur. I barely ate. I threw up twice a day, morning and night, from the anxiety. Finally, school finished Friday afternoon. Sylvia and I got a taxi this time, no screwing around. The trip was quick, not having to make stops every street corner. However, when we got to the clinic, we could see a bunch of people out in front, a good crowd of them.
Protestors. Mostly women, picketing with signs, signs showing aborted fetuses, calling the women and the doctors murderers and sinners. I recognised a few of the women from Church. Oh God, what were they going to say to me? I had to walk through the crowd to get to the door, right through all their angry yelling and sign waving. Was I doing the right thing? Was that what the fetus, my baby was going to look like? Sylvia grabbed my hand, pulling me along behind her. I wouldn’t have been able to face them without her.
“Get the fuck outta the way, you bitches! Ain’t this hard enough already?!” she yelled at the women. A few of them turned to look at us, one said
“What does your mother think of the language you use, little girl? She must be so ashamed of you!”
“My mom’s fucking dead, she doesn’t think anything anymore!” Sylvia yelled back.
“Good thing, too,” said another. “Raising a sinner like you, she probably deserved it.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I knew that woman. That was Mrs. Miller. She always seemed so nice. And here she was, saying these awful things to Sylvia.
“Fuck you! God doesn’t even exist, you crazy bitch!” More of the women focused their attention on Sylvia, stopping their chanting and their slogans, and looking over to her facing off against Mrs. Miller. Mrs. Miller was a good head taller, but, Sylvia, she had her hands on her hips, and she looked, you know, she looked solid. I was proud of my friend.
I looked around. No one was paying attention to me. I looked at my watch, 4:25. It was now or never. I swallowed down all my anxiety, all the pain and frustration and anger of the last month. I took my chance, and I rushed up to the front door of the clinic. I looked back. The women had made a circle around Sylvia and Mrs. Miller. I could hear her saying, hear Sylvia saying, “Get your rosaries off my ovaries, you old hag!” She had this.
I opened the door, and I walked into the clinic.


Port Said

August, 187-

To my darling Josephine

I look forward with all of my distance-saddened heart to looking upon your face, your flaxen locks, your pearly skin once more.

I write to you from aboard the steamer Greenwich, as we make our way down the Suez proper, having just left the vicinity of Port Said. You wouldn’t believe the heat! The air positively ripples with it, and I’m quite often set to work mopping my brow with a kerchief. The Embassy man I met with in the city, if you could imagine his gall! advised me to adopt the linens of the locals, for my personal comfort. No! said I to he. No! If I must endure the discomfort of the elements, I shall do it with pride, as any self-respecting Englishman must! I swear, some few years stranded in this wild locale, and the man nearly set to a savage himself…would you believe, the man invited me to his place of residence, not much more than a stone hut, and offered me tobacco via one of those heathen Ottoman water-pipes? It’s nearly enough to break one’s faith in the Empire…

But enough of that rascal of an Embassy man – I must tell you of the Canal itself! Truly, it is a wonder of modern engineering. Say what you will of the Gallic spirit, but this, this is truly a miracle of reason and effort! One can only imagine how they must have driven those poor Egyptian dogs to complete it in only ten years – it is a mark of our good quality that Great Britain imposed itself on the French, requiring a humane and Christian treatment for those sad devils. You know, I got the real story on the Newport, which you may recall reading about in the broadsheets after the Canal’s opening – the French Empress was invited down to the grande opening by the local emir or whomever, and was meant to be the first through the Canal itself. On the evening immediately prior, Captain Nares, with much daring, piloted his vessel, HMS Newport, ahead of the Imperial barge. Come sun-up, to the bewilderment of the French, there sat the Newport, and nothing could be done to prevent her from sailing through into the Red Sea and claiming the honour for Her Majesty’s Navy! Of course, the official word was that Nares was admonished by the Admiralty, but I have it on confidence that he received a congratulatory letter for displaying the obvious superiority of the Royal Navy and the adventuring spirit of the English character. I would wager you hadn’t thought you’re affianced so skilled at playing the News Hound, eh? You’ll find, my abilities are more than they appear!

Oh, seemingly, some disturbance ashore – ah ha, it’s merely a local, looks to be a goatherd or some such. Hmm. He’s in an altercation with some gendarmes, look to be company men. Ah! They are making off with his goats. I cannot really discern what the commotion is all about, they are carrying on in some heathen tongue – I swear, one of the things I look most forward to upon reaching the Colony will be hearing the Queen’s own the tongue of everyman, whether he be Citizen or Kaffir. Too much of these strange Mohammedans around Egypt, it will be good to be back in lands where the word of our Lord, and his sweet Justice, have been brought and established. I know that you, gentle soul that you are, will be worrying after that blackguard goatherd, despite the fact that he is so morally below you that, upon meeting a woman of your pedigree in the street, he by all rights should lay himself in the mud at her feet. Fear not, my love! I’ve no doubt that, likely as it is that that is the all the material wealth the scoundrel possesses this side of Paradise, he’ll be able to apply for their return with ease within the city. Though they be French, those gendarmes are still Christian men, and will likely look over whatever crime it is that the blackamoor undoubtedly committed.

Mentioning blackamoors reminds me – their is a deckhand aboard the Greenwich the likes of which I’ve never seen! The darkness of his negroid flesh, it’d set your heart a-patter. Hand on my heart, his skin shines blue in the harsh sunlight, and his head, which is bald as an egg, shines in its oppressive glare. For all the heat, the man works as one possessed. If we had a cadre of them back on your father’s estate, well, I can’t but imagine that the receipts would balance in a matter of months! I can see, with some clarity, what it is about these people that causes our Colonial cousins to Sin as they do, using them in a most brutish and uncivilised manner. We must thank Providence that we good men of the Empire have found our reason in these past decades, and forsake the temptation!

Egypt is a most desolate land, my dear, nothing like the rolling fields of Kent or the lush fens of the Lake Country. Brown and tan, as far as my eyes have power to discern. It sets one to a mighty thirst, in little more than the beholding. Seeing it first hand, one can understand the hardship that faced those intrepid Jews as they marched their way to freedom. Much better to be traversing by way of coal-powered machinery, I must say!

I’ve heard that we’ll make it to the a large holding area in the canal, the Great Bitter Lake, they call it, some point in the early afternoon. I look forward to seeing the assemblage of shipping their, boats from all over the world, and none grander nor more proud than those of our own merchant navy! Perhaps, if I’m lucky, there may even be a ship of the line present! It’s true that the Ironclads have nearly rendered them obsolete, but I’ve heard that there are a few that still ply the trade-routes, assisting merchant vessels and protecting them from the heathen Corsairs that can still be found in the Mediterranean. It would be a great pleasure to behold those trusty ships that solidified our ascendency in the days of yore.

Alas, these furnace-like conditions do tire a body. I fear I must repair to a cooler area, though I suspect I’m unlikely to find one aboard the vessel at this hour. I will send this, express-post, once we’ve reached the community of Suez, at the end of the channel. Give my regards to your mother, and to dear Aunt Gerty. I hope that that spot of fever she was suffering from last you wrote has cleared up. Tell your father I’m making good time, and should, Providence willing, reach the rendezvous in the Colony in a few months.

I keep you forever in my heart,
Your affianced,
Hugh Octavius Pleasant

Twu Wuv

Twu Wuv

I finished the novel Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts, a handful of days ago. While I enjoyed it, I suspect I’m still too close to my immersion to give it an even-handed estimation of quality. That said, there were particular elements that I wouldn’t mind commenting on while they are still fresh in mind, foremost amongst them the handling of the emotion of love. Actually, this post is likely to become more or less a meditation on love, with only tangential reference to the novel. Be warned.

I’ve been current with the idea of the tyranny of unconditional love for some time, and tend to agree with it. I’ve forgotten where I first came across it, but it was likely some protest against the legitimacy of Christianity I read years ago. The argument runs, near as I can recall, on the basis that it is lunacy to compel us to love those that we do not, and cannot. It is an action beyond the scope of human-kind, and, after not merely compelling it, but holding it’s pre-determined failure as a morally culpable choice, we begin to see the preposterousness of the whole enterprise. Whatever. This isn’t meant to be an anti-Christian screed. Room enough for that elsewhere. The argument for the impossibility of an assumption of unconditional love does set our scene, however, by beginning to delimit the concept.

Returning to the novel, there are quite a few neat descriptions of the emotion and the ways it gets its claws into us, some of which I’d not encountered before. Within the first few pages, there is an instance of “love at first sight,” which I’d always thought to be a rather silly, overly-precious concept. However, given the way it was later fleshed out, I suspect I’ve experienced it in my own life, more than once. The most rewarding find was the frankness with which the author approached love-between-friends. As a Caucasian, culturally Anglo, North American, love of a non-romantic type, especially amongst two hetero men, is not something that I have had an easy time articulating or admitting to. I feel more comfortable doing so now, given that I have some well-rounded examples to think of. Maybe this is merely a product of growing more mature and sure of myself, and would have happened with or without the novel. Who knows what sort of catalysts we need to do so? Either way, if you subjects of this love are reading this, you likely know who you are already. If you don’t, you’ll find out soon enough.

More than a few times in the novel, there are descriptions of “the start” of someone loving another, elicited by some action or expression, which, while there isn’t anything really that strange about it in principle, struck for its stark abruptness. Reflecting on it, and I allow that it may simply be some sort of bias, I think I can recall instances where this was the case for myself as well. The story did a good job at integrating a number of disparate events and ideas from my own life. I’d recommend it on those grounds alone.

While it keeps to our earlier restriction of non-forced love, the last element from the novel regarding love worthy of discussion today is that of its unending quality, at least insofar as a twu wuv is considered.
(Thpoilerth ahoy!)

The protagonist, for much of the novel, is in the grip of a strong, a nearly over-powering, romantic love for another character. As the story proceeds, the raw, carnal elements are shriven, sloughed off like so much dross. And yet, the love remains, even as it no longer drives and consumes him. Roberts, insofar as the protagonist speaks for him, has it that this enduring love, an unending love, comes from the soul, or, at least, what is intrinsically human about us. I’m not sure if this is the case – I’m not really old enough, nor experienced enough, to say. Keeping away from any redoubts of evo-psych or the like, it would be a comforting truth, to know that we have such a thing within us, an over-arching Eros element, an Agape, to balance out our decidedly present Thanatos.


A Vexation; or, The Impossibility of True Expression

It’s with a mordant sense of humour that I look on the list of the last few posts I’ve made – seems like the blog is quickly becoming a storehouse for my compulsions and neuroses. Mind you, that’s what blogs are all about, aren’t they?

Keeping to the theme, then:
I’ve recently been wondering, worrying, about the bounds set on effective communication. I’ve been growing concerned that true communication, between two people, is largely impossible. Certainly, basic commands, requests and the like – come here; what would you like for supper? – which only carry a slice of information, are possible to fully understand. However, when it comes to the task of expressing something beyond that minute amount, the machinery grinds to a halt. It’s possible that I might be labouring at some wheel recreating here; this certainly isn’t a new concept. That said, Lacan is out of my current proficiency, as well as beyond my patience. It’s unlikely I’ll be saying anything new here, but neither is that my objective. If I do stumble into established Continental realms, such is the fate of the neophyte Analytic after too long away from the Academy.
The expression of involved, complicated thoughts appears to be impossible to me, at least insofar as the whole package goes. On the face of it, this seems like a silly claim: surely all that we as a species have accomplished, our philosophy, our science, puts the lie to the position. While it is true that strict, propositional content looks like it can be expressed in much the same way that simpler informational quanta have been shown to, the problem, at least that has been bugging me, lies in intentionality and history – both of which are pinned to the speaker in an infrangible manner.
Our various(natural)* languages, spoken and written, are not unambiguous, and so, even at this level, we start to get into some trouble. My current concern, however, is more associated with the various elements that motivate one to speak initially. Whatever we might be when we are born, we all collect parts of ourselves as we travel through life, and this builds our individuality. While not logically impossible, the probability approaches zero that someone else, amongst the billions of people, could have the same crucial life-experiences as another person, let alone the full sum of their actions. As such, we are each equipped with a differing perspective, that, while we can shed light on particular elements at any one time, cannot be given to another person, and fouls up any effort to really, fully express oneself.
I suppose a concrete example would be helpful at this point. After giving it about a day and a half of thought, I still haven’t really come up with a good one, one that would be satisfactory. I see that as less a strike against the point I’m trying to establish as it is an argument in favour of it. All the various options I entertained, comments on current political events, statements regarding the internal goings-on of a person, an opinion on the weather, all fail to express what I mean. All, if they carry some element that I could render comprehensible here, could, in their hypothetical discourse, be rendered understood by dint of unpacking their separate propositions.
What I am trying to get across, obliquely, cannot be expressed. That’s the entire point. Our language fails. I’m aware of the irony on writing a rumination on this, by the way.
After five hundred words, what am I trying to tell you, then? It’s entirely possible that I’m wrong here. It’s entirely likely that, even if I am correct, the diminished form of communication we do have is more than sufficient for everything we turn it to. What I am writing here is not a normative position, but rather a despairing one. If I am correct, then there is a piece of our efforts at communication that is missing, and we’ll never be able to find it. I suspect that this stems from the inaccessibility, one person to another, of our stack of formative experiences that colour all statements that we can make. It seems a practical impossibility to run through the background info, even that which we ourselves are aware of — and that is likely the lesser portion — that is carried by our complex statements and that we try to express via them, within the time we are allowed in our lives. We can only ever approximate it, and thus true expression eludes us.
Understand what I mean?

*There have been efforts, of course, at creating a thorough-going logical language, foremost amongst them currently that of lojban. Of course, without some top-down intervention, it is unlikely humanity is going to adopt any of these languages on their own merits.