Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What the Stones Remember

"It takes time to know what beauty is. It is not given us and must be worked for...To find beauty I must first find it in myself." ---Patrick Lane, What the Stones Remember

What the Stones Remember is a memoir I am currently reading. I was attracted to it because I read that the author was a man in the process of getting sober. We alcoholics find booze, and our addiction to it, "cunning, baffling and powerful" (from AA's Big Book), and endlessly fascinating. I can't get enough of books by alkies.

I have found reading this book to be frustrating. First of all, the writer is (understandably) doing everything he can to avoid dealing with the real issues. He pens paragraph after paragraph of purple prose, most of it descriptions of his garden, which, as it turns out, is on a piddling half acre of land surrounded by neighbors. He makes it sound like a huge, or at least solitary, place. Perhaps, in his defense, it is in some way.

I have seen many alkies, including myself, of course, struggling to get sober. One of the things we all do in that process is to tell bald-faced lies, most of which we earnestly believe. Patrick Lane is no exception, but I find his substituting his pretty poetic prose as a way to get enough words on the page particularly and irritatingly dishonest.

Even the places where he seems to be trying to tell his real story often don't ring true. A quote like the above has several sentiments that are appealing on the surface. But are they true?

I'm not sure that it takes any time at all to know what beauty is. If that is so, then why would a young child go out of her way to ride along very early with her mother as her father drives her to work? Only because she knew that in the summer, nine times out of ten, we would gain Town Hill to look down and see New London covered with a sea-borne fog, creeping slowly from the harbor to cover the old and dirty buildings. Why, beyond the need for solitude and escape from the tensions of her home, would she spend so many of her waking hours in the woods behind her house? She would stare at trees, tasting their bark and trying to fathom the differences between the myriad plants. The memory of coming upon a Lady's Slipper was a miracle, to be treasured alone, at night, as she lay sleepless in her bed, wondering: how and why had this miracle come to be?

Beauty is a gift from that God that doesn't exist. I have never worked for it, except to pay attention, and to open my mind.

The fact that it existed outside of me gave me hope that someday, somehow, I would also find it within.



Anonymous said...

May,I was cry when i read this. Pam

May Terry said...

Thank you, Pam, for writing and letting me know your feelings about this. These are strong and honest feelings for me!