Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

A dog named Flush

I just finished “Flush”, a novel by Virginia Woolf. I was surprised to run into “Flush” because I’m fairly acquainted with Woolf’s writing (I’m a huge fan of her Common Readers) but I had never heard much about this one. “Flush” is put out by Persephone Books and like all of their books, is a real gem.

Flush was Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel given to her a friend to cheer Miss Barrett up while she lay on her invalid bed doing invalid things. Like writing poetry and reading books and having friends occasionally visit while she cocooned herself up in Paisley Shawls. “Flush” then is the biography of Flush himself and it starts out with his ancestry and their love of chasing rabbits and running free as a breeze. Of course, this very great love of chasing things outdoors runs like quicksilver in Flush’s body but he is destined…for other things. And he resigns himself to the fate of living in a stuffy room and mostly eating and lying about. The first half of the book was difficult for me to get through. This clearly is no life for an energetic young dog. He rarely goes out and when he does in a park, it’s on a chain. Oh, Woolf whips it up all right and the puzzled longing of Flush to gallop about and play goes like nails into the heart. He loves Elizabeth, of course, but in his heart lies many turmoils…not just his need to race about in the sun…but there are jealousies and hurt feelings too.

The claustrophobic feel in the first half the book is pretty hard to get through. Elizabeth Barrett is cooped up in a room and sure, it’s been artistically and tastefully decorated but…it’s just one small room. She’s one of many children and an invalid and it’s hard to exactly know why she’s an invalid. She doesn’t feel well most of the time but it’s hard to think who Would feel good trapped up in a room nearly all the time. And why am I throwing conjectures about her when this book is about Flush? The book is about Flush but because he’s in this sweltering atmosphere, it gives us a good idea what Elizabeth Barrett is stuck in as well.

Release comes in the form of Robert Browning, whom Flush despises at first but who ultimately whisks the pair off for a life in Italy and Elizabeth Barrett’s and Flush Barrett’s lives are ultimately changed…

I galloped through the second half, managing to take a little bit of time to linger in the Florence that Flush hustles through everyday and the Apennines which Flush barely concedes to notice but whom his mistress exclaims over…yes, the first half sets the second half off, like a foil for a jewel.

And there really can be no doubt on how Woolf felt about Victorians and their “invalids” and I really cannot forget how sick I felt over the straightened ribs of that lone room, holding dog and mistress in its crush…and now I’m grateful too that at least one woman and one dog escaped that savage confine.

(yes, it is really them!)

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Ouroboros in the Park

Japanese anemone flowers open blush pink petals in the park.  Their tall, delicate stems hold up the tender flowers, and in the centers glow tiny pistil-laden suns. Furry carpenter bees buzz in a frenzy, adoring the tiny suns. Like all true worshipers, they circle round and round the yellow centers, smearing themselves in joy and pollen.

I also circle a center, but the object of my adoration is the park itself. As the path guides me around and around, my body, full of the usual tensions and distresses, takes the cue, finds the beat and the measure and walks to it.

The English Romantic Poets of the early 19th century were great walkers and believed that walking was essential to writing to poetry. With the body busy, the mind can walk freely, investing in its visions and tunneling down into what were previously subterranean thoughts.

This small park is my open field, my verdure, my ramble through hill and dale. My feet move on, sometimes slowing to a near pause, other times hurrying, suddenly propelled by a new and vivid notion.

About the fifth time around, a sort of mesmerism occurs and I fall under the trance of the day. The circle becomes a mantra uttered by my feet—knees, hips, shoulders, and arms follow along and we head down the path. I must walk, I must keep walking, I must continue to walk and the resolution becomes a reassurance as a cool breeze fills my lungs; I am alive and refreshed.

I pass under the oaks and dodge their falling acorns. Sometimes I entertain the notion that squirrels are hurling them, but when I catch sight of their small triangular faces they look as startled as me. It is the oaks themselves that are throwing the acorns down. I momentarily consider bringing an umbrella, opening it when I walk under the oaks, but this an old consideration that I’ve been contemplating for years of autumns and I’ve never acted on it. Instead, I dodge and the squirrels stare hard.

Finally I have to go but the revolutions and bees in the park stay with me even after I leave, continuing  with their wheeling. They pass through the days and nights, rapturous and serene, monotonous some days and a miracle on others, and on most days both. They exist in the circle that is sometimes opened, sometimes closed. Within the circle, everything changes and nothing changes each time we pass through.

 

Kazuaki Tanahashi, Miracle at Each Moment

 

Pocket-Sized Photo Diary

There are small moments that must be filled. They open and expand while waiting in doctors’ and dentists’ offices; in long, slow moving grocery check-out lines; or in those few, empty moments before leaving the house or office for another destination. Staring into space is my favorite pastime and generally fills up all the minutes given (and much more), but there are other waiting times when my spirit needs a gentle pick-me-up without doing much conscious work.

That’s when I open the Photo Album on my phone and start scrolling. I discovered this delight quite by accident while lounging in my therapist’s waiting room one afternoon. I was feeling flattened by living with PTSD and other health issues, and I wanted muster up a little hope before I went into my session. So in a despondent, weary way, I opened up the photo album app. To my surprise, I was greeted by pictures of flowers, landscapes and book excerpts that I had busily taken days ago and had already forgotten. I scrolled back farther and it was much the same, mixed with pictures of friends, family, pets, and friendly dogs I had met on my walks.

I discovered my photo diary which had been my pocket all this time. “I never travel without my diary,” Oscar Wilde wrote. “One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” It still holds true; nothing is so interesting as what we took notice of days ago, weeks and months ago, be it written in a journal or snapped with a viewfinder.

As days spin into weeks, months, and years, it is hard to catch hold of any kind of underlining rhythm or purpose. A photo diary offers a kind of consolation. There’s nothing sublime there, it simply marks changing seasons, interests, travels, and friendship. But perhaps on the difficult days where everything is too much including our own thoughts, a photo diary is a moment of gentle release. The lightness of ephemerality eases the heavy load of living.

 

“But life itself is short, and so you are terribly agitated by everything that is eternal.”

–Eileen Chang, On Music