Happy Endings

I find myself curiously in need of stories with happy endings. Not the ones that end with “they lived happily ever after” in saccharine fairy tale fashion along the lines of the scullery maid marrying the handsome prince. I’m thinking of the kind that does offer hope, that enlightens, or inspires in a regenerative way.

Typical plot resolutions include:

  • The main character changes for the good through achievement of some self-awareness or improved fortunes.
  • The main character stays the same and the status quo is preserved. (At least he doesn’t kill himself but lives unhappily ever after.
  • The main character dies either of unnatural or natural causes.
  • The author affords an ambiguous or open-ended conclusion, meaning the reader guesses at the character’s fate. I like to call this the stalemate ending.

There may be other types of endings, or variants of these basic models. In any event, no others come to my mind. The benefit of an open-ended conclusion of a story is that it leaves room to write a sequel.  Or another author decades later can seize the opportunity to write a novel-length epilogue for that story. In this day and age, I prefer the happy first alternative. I crave to see the characters experience some light at the end of the tunnel and emerge into the sunshine. Oh, well, Pollyanna me!

My burning need for happy endings perhaps arises from the wish to believe that most people do learn from their mistakes. Mistakes are correctable. The question is how many mistakes does an individual have to make before he corrects course. The story of a bumbling idiot who never learns from his mistakes would veer toward a comedy. However, I am not in the mood for a lot of slapstick laughs nowadays. I am too chapfallen at the reality of a buffoon elected to high office in the United States. Consequently, my optimistic hope persists that a portion of the American electorate will learn from that mistake.

Disregarding the reason on the national scene to wish for a happy ending, there are other reasons to esteem happy endings in fiction. They nourish the soul; they lighten the load; they brighten our path when in our personal life we feel too dismayed and disheartened to cling to the hope that ultimately even evil can work for the greater good of the individual soul and the world soul. In times like this, I cannot feed on distress and disaster. I have to gorge on stories of courage and endurance. I want stories in which truth prevails over lies. I crave to read of spiritual growth and self-awareness triumphing over vice and ignorance.  This is not entirely fantasyland, for in natural disasters people do rise to the occasion to help their neighbors, acting more courageously and unselfishly than they ever had before. In dark times I need to be uplifted and inspired, so I must turn to writers who hold up a beacon, ones that restore my belief that nobility still resides in human nature, that illustrates that a man has a spark of the divine as well as of Mephistopheles.

If it is true people do choose what they want to believe, then concomitantly they choose to read what supports those predispositions to believe this or that. However, with self-reflection they can also achieve some self-awareness to realize that they are catering to their inherent prejudices and then choose to exercise more dispassion. A core disposition I have is that we possess an internal autopilot that signals us to change course when we realize we have made a mistake. Those who choose to ignore the warning and stay on the same course will have an unhappy ending. Those who heed the flashing red light choose to have a happy ending.

 

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Literature as Religion

Harold Bloom uses the religious symbolism of the Kabbalah to link literature to the spiritual impulse. He views the nature of writing as a religious pursuit through which the writer delves into his own consciousness. In turn, the writing produced expands the consciousness of readers. In seeking enduring truths about the nature of humanity, the writer identifies the divine in mankind. Often founded upon prophetic visions, religions aspire to uplift and sanctify. Similarly, literature aims to enlighten, using flights of imagination to illuminate. Bloom groups the authors he discusses in his book Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Minds, 2002, under the ten divine attributes, the genius of God, illustrated by rays of light both emanating and remaining within the divine center.

Furthermore, Bloom claims that writers are gnostics and that literature is the practice of gnosticism.  Bloom writes that “gnosticism has been indistinguishable from imaginative genius.” He contends that gnosticism is the religion of literature. It frees the creative mind from any theology except its creative self and the unquenchable thirst for knowing. Gnostics are intoxicated with creative consciousness. Gnosticism is the search for knowledge about the human condition and the revelation of the divine spark that animates creation. The act of creation is the primal force that religions attribute to the Godhead. To create, then, is to partake of the divine.

It can very well be said that the eminent literary critic Harold Bloom has pursued in his eight-seven years the study of literature as passionately as any theologian.  The correlation of literature and religion carries merit. As I became less and less dogmatic about religion and my attachment to the ultimate veracity of any particular faith, literature did assume the stature of theology in my mind. I pursued writing and reading as devotedly as Paul followed Christ. I accepted the credo that reading widely and expansively in the classics and the accepted canon of the world’s literature broadens vision, builds a life with greater meaning, and creates a sense of kinship with people of different races, nationalities, cultures, and epochs. It enlarges the spiritual capacity for sympathetic understanding. It makes possible forgiveness of our own and others’ limitations and errors. What could be more spiritual? What could provide more amplitude for the soul to grow than the bountiful garden of the world’s literature?

When Adam and Eve ate of the apple, the fruit of the Tree of Good and Knowledge, it metaphorically portrayed man’s desire to partake of divine attributes. In the Kabbalah, the Sefirot are depicted as tree branches representing the ten divine traits, which are in constant motion. Bloom lists the Sefirot as: Keter, crown; Hokmah, wisdom; Binah, intellect in a recipient mode; Hesod, love; Din, strict judgment; Tefiret, beauty; sefirah, God’s victory or endurance; Hod, splendor of prophetic force; Yesod, foundation or a fathering force; Malkhut, female radiance of God.  In Bloom’s estimation, great art induces greater consciousness or knowledge of nature. He states the use of literature is to “augment awareness.” The measure of art is the degree to which it accomplishes this goal. According to Bloom, great literature must go beyond entertainment. If it stops at entertainment, it is not genius. This strikes me as harkening back to Horace’s dictum that art should both delight and instruct. Bloom would agree, but he elucidates it further, asserting that the greatest art is that which also expands to the greatest extend the reader’s consciousness.

 

CD Recordings

Readers can now obtain CDs of my reading from my poetry books. Following is a list of the CDs:

  • Women at the Well. Selected poems. Eve, Cain’s Wife, Rachel, Leah, Zipporah, Miriam, Delilah, Queen of Sheba, Judith (Old Testament Women); Anne, Elizabeth, Sisters of Yeshua, Mary Magdalene, Sinful Woman of Capernaum, The Woman at the Well, Judas’s Mother, Lydia (New Testament Women)
  • Novenas for Grandmother. Entire collection. Grandmother Attends Grammar School, Grandmother Boards the Princess Alice, Grandmother Hears the Wolves, Grandmother Poses as a Cowgirl, Grandmother Tends the Grocery Store, Grandmother Takes English Lessons, Grandmother Kneads the Bread, Grandmother, Plants a Garden, Grandmother Attends Mass at St. Constance, Grandmother Buries her Husband, Grandmother Warns Alice Don’t Marry Him, Grandmother Visits Poland, Grandmother Babysits, Grandmother Remarries, Grandmother Goes to the Hospital, Grandmother’s Ghost Visits Me
  • Playground. Selected poems. Preface-Before the Subdivision, The Best Toy, Bat and Ball, Ben Franklin Store, Coloring, Dandelion Necklace, Exploring the Creek, Jigsaw Puzzle, Jump Rope, Lightning Bugs, Old Horses, Paper Dolls, Picking Fallen Pears, Reading in the Tree, Running in the Rain, Snow Creations, Statue Maker, Swinging, Wax Paper Music
  • Please Trespass Here. Selected poems. Afghan Beauty, After the Forest Fire, Bookworm, Brueghel Countryside, Cairn on the Trail, I Hear Walt Whitman Singing, Emily Dickinson’s Bedroom, In Heaven There Are No Books, Julius Caesar Returns from the Dead, Loss Like a River, Morning, Pieman in the Sky, Revisiting Brothers Karamazov, Running Eagle Falls, The Weeds of Revenge, Winter Fog, Tin Soldier Shop, Rise Up, Running On
  • Still Unrepentant. Selected Poems. Incorrigible, Penmanship, The Roads Mistaken, Forest Walk, Pack Rat, Tooth and Claw, Green Folding Chair, Connection, After All These Years Still My Brown Cow, Once Upon a time in College, Dogs, Cruise Ship, Vision Quest, When the Countdown Began, What to Leave, Morning Routine, Choose Illusions, To Mourn 20 Children Slain, History Repeats Itself, Mint Tea, Sonnets 14 & 15
  • Be Thou a Man: A Poetic Tribute to Saul Alinsky. Entire collection. Coming to America, Boyhood: West Side and West Coast, University of Chicago Years, The Criminologist, Back-of-the-Yards, Decade of the Forties, Decade of the Fifties, Decade of the Sixties, Incomplete Decade: Last Three Years, Missive from the Underworld
  • Al-Andalus. Two Discs. Entire collection. Disc One – Cide Hamete Benengeli, Juan of Segovia, Iza de Jabir, Isabella, the Queen, Boabdil’s Muwashshah, Cardinal Jimenez de Cisneros, Alhambra Muwashshah, Alonso de Castillo, Mancebo de Arevalo, Mora of Ubeda, Tale of Carcayona, Charles V at Prayer, Philip II at Prayer, Francisco Nunez Muley, Farax Aben Farax, El Zaguer or Aben Jauher, Aben Humeya, Zambra Dancer’s Muwashshah. Disc Two -Zarcamodonia Morisca Warrior, Galera Muwashshah, Ignacio de las Casas, Morisco Scribe, Pedro Zagri, Beatriz de Padilla, Maria de la Luna, Philip III at Play, Margaret of Austria, Morisca Mother on the Dock, Gardener for the Duke, Ricote’s Muwashshah, Ana Felix’s Muwashshah, Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra
  • Land of the Four Quarters: A Poetic History of the Incas. Indian Woman Weaving, Quipuscamayo: Incan Account Keeper, The Stonecutter, Mamacona: Tour of the Temple, Huascar, Atahualpa, Virgin of the Sun, Francisco Huaman or the Falcon, Asarpay, The High Priest at the Stake, Indian Child Views the Conquest, Paullu Pizarro’s Puppet, Manco Inca, Cura Ocllo, Don Martin on his Deathbed, Manservant to the Priest, Tupac Amaru, Machu Picchu

To order email olivia@mountainofdreams.com.

Price: $3/per CD plus cost of mailing.

Another CD is forthcoming of selected poems from my eclectic anthology Geography of My Bones, first published in 2004 by Helm Publishing. This volume, which includes over 300 poems, represents the body of my work up to that time.

Whited Selpuchres

Hurling opprobrious epithets dominates the national political scene. Is this practice any more prevalent than in any other period of history? Maybe not, but in my lifetime of following presidents since Dwight D. Eisenhower, a precedent has been set of slinging derogatory names that previous occupants of the Oval Office were not in the habit of doing. What makes name-calling different from prior eras is that the practice emanates from the White House to the citizenship at large. One of the most frequently used epithets nowadays is hypocrite, leading me to wonder if hypocrisy is, in fact, more common today throughout all sectors of our society.

The word hypocrite arises from the Greek word hypokrites meaning actor, from which is derived the meaning to act in contradiction to the moral principles one claims to espouse. Definitely, there is plenty of play-acting visible on the political stage. The players recite their lines, wear their masks, and strut about denouncing their opponents as veritable devils while presenting themselves as pure souls defending freedom, justice, and family values–any virtue in the abstract that they purport to uphold.

American literature abounds in hypocritical characters. Plots thrive on the intricacies of people presenting themselves as more virtuous than they are or hiding dark secrets about their past, starting with Arthur Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter. Hypocrisy in one form or another seems an inseparable part of human nature. Everyone wants to appear better than they actually are, but everyone knows in his heart that he has fallen short many times from the standards he has set for himself. Without launching into a confession of my personal hypocrisies, in itself proof of my desire not to reveal that I am not a paragon of virtue, I know I can truthfully be called a hypocrite.

I contend that everyone can justifiably be called a hypocrite for either some great duplicity or a minor failure at some time or other. It is not the failing as such to abide by one’s moral beliefs, but the denial of the misdeed that warrants the label of hypocrite.  The hypocrite often does not know he is being hypocritical, so steeped is he in denial. Hypocrisy is part and parcel of the human condition. It is easy to recognize it in others but not so easy to see it in ourselves.

The antithesis of hypocrisy is self-awareness. Honest self-reflection ameliorates the effects of hypocritical behavior. It is the path to spiritual and psychological growth contained in the unrelenting examination of one’s own conscience. It identifies the individual of strong character. It brings humility to the front stage as one of the greatest virtues to possess–the humility to admit we are not the greatest; we are not invincible; we are not the savior come to rescue the universe from alien invaders.

To end this short treatise on hypocrisy, I invite my readers to offer instances of the theme of hypocrisy and/or hypocrites in books or in movies. What characters come to mind as you reflect on how this theme has played out in novels or on the screen?

I Am Not Your Negro

So much history and cultural commentary are packed into this 2017 documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, narrated with excerpts from James Baldwin’s writings. The story of the civil rights movement is told through the eyes of this important African-American author who knew three key murdered leaders in the struggle: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time of his death in 1987, Baldwin had written thirty pages of a memoir focusing on these three men.

Baldwin’s eloquence moved me. Combined with his dignity and clarity of vision, his understanding of race relations and the dynamics of white bigotry produced a film, which any white American who continues to claim they are not prejudiced or tainted by racism should watch. Slavery, its aftermath, and segregation have left its legacy. As much as Americans would like to believe progress has been made, my impression after looking at the historic footage from the 1960’s alongside news clips of recent events is that the more things change, the more they stay the same–particularly, in consideration of the results of the 2016 presidential election.

One of the many striking statements that Baldwin makes is his response to Robert Kennedy’s opining that in forty years the United States could have an African-American president. Baldwin took umbrage at this bit of condescension that Kennedy wasn’t even aware he was projecting. Baldwin parries: Why should I have to wait forty years for the presidency; I have been here for four hundred years. Another of Baldwin’s statements that sticks in my mind and that illustrates his keen perception and intelligence makes the telling point that the African-American knows the white man better than the white man knows him. The African-American has had to face the white man, and therefore, he sees him. The white man does not see the African-American; he is invisible to him–the point Ralph Ellison was also making in his novel The Invisible Man. Baldwin goes on to state, in fact, the white man, if he sees him at all, sees the African-American as less than human, and until he confronts and examines his own perceptions, there will be no healing of race relations in this country. James Baldwin was right.

This goes for all relations between ethnic, racial, and religious groups. Americans now have a White House occupant who a few days ago called immigrants “animals.” We have a portion of Americans who chose to be blind to racism, claimed it didn’t exist, and voted for the kind of person who makes such statements to succeed an African-American who had fulfilled the duties of the highest office in the land with dignity, competence, and eloquence, and furthermore, without a taint of personal scandal.

I have written elsewhere that the 2016 election represents the triumph of pop culture in the United States. When Baldwin comments on the role of Hollywood movies in shaping his consciousness growing up in Harlem, he supports my contention. Clips of westerns and romantic comedies appear to underscore that fantasy has permeated American culture to the extent that the ability to discern reality has been seriously impaired. Movies have created the image-making industry; they produce idols, standards of male and female beauty, and ideas of heroism. Baldwin had the self-reflection and self-awareness to examine how these images had affected his attitudes. He calls upon all Americans to examine their premises, to develop some self awareness, and most importantly, asks the white American to answer the question why he continues to view the African-American as less than human. Lyndon Johnson, I believe, picked up on Baldwin’s analysis that as long as the poor, downtrodden white American could feel the black American was worse off than he was, he could feel superior.

Consumerism has been an integral part of capitalistic growth. As soon as the television entered the living room, America was inundated in advertisements. This documentary includes a marketing clip featuring a middle-class African-American family as representative of a growing consumer group ready to be exploited. Inherently racist in its tone, it provides another example of treating African-Americans as a commodity to be manipulated in expansion of the economy and not as a human being.

The Negro as a commodity receives further treatment in the segment that replays the debate between James Baldwin and William Buckley, Jr. at Cambridge University in 1965. The question the debaters considered was “Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?” Baldwin forcefully proves the African-American planted and harvested the crops, built the railroads, and worked at back-breaking jobs for low wages. Buckley, on the other hand, comes across as a pompous ass with no convincing arguments, offering rather obtuse, specious meanderings that are impossible to follow.

Given the persistence of racial bigotry and inequality, where do we go from here? That’s the question Dick Cavett posed to James Baldwin in his 1968 interview. In effect, Cavett was asking whether there was any hope for improved race relations in a time of race riots and murders. Today this is still a legitimate question. Barack Obama proposed the notion of hope in his first run for the presidency. Baldwin’s answers that despite the indignities of racial prejudice and the three assassinations–everything that his race has suffered–he has the right to be angry, yet he is optimistic, adding he has to be optimistic as long as he is alive. My take-away, when I have every reason to be sad and depressed at the state of my country, is to repeat that bromide, “As long as there is life, there is hope.” And I hold the hope, at my advanced age, to live long enough to see America correct its course and salvage those truths that we hold self-evident, which are not so evident on the nightly news broadcasts today.

Female Figures in Tolkien

Since I discovered the Lord of the Rings online game, my husband and I have been avid players. Board games and card-playing before the computer age furnished pastimes for senior citizens; therefore, this craze was not incompatible with our advanced age nor with my past enthusiasm as a reader of Tolkien’s works.  In my younger days I had read The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. Furthermore, we both loved Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of Tolkien’s novels and had just finished viewing all six of the films again. I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve watched those movies since they were first released, and viewing them once more triggered my desire to read all four books again. I read them this time with the distinct purpose of examining Tolkien’s female characters, which are known to be few and far between, so much so that Peter Jackson felt the necessity to invent some. In either film or book, it is a mystery whether dwarves had any mothers. Interestedly, Jackson in one of the films has Gimli pull out a picture of his wife–a clever invention witnessing to Jackson’s own speculation about the absence of dwarf women in the novels. As for Bilbo and Frodo, they were confirmed bachelors. So let’s take a look at the instances of female figures in Tolkien’s books.

The Hobbit appeared first in 1937 and the trilogy was written over a span of years from 1937-1946. The Lord of the Rings was divided into three volumes–The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King–to save on costs, the first title published in July 1954, the second in November 1954 and the last in October 1955. Peter Jackson decided to first adapt the trilogy for the screen. Peculiarly, although The Hobbit is a shorter book, Jackson managed to stretch Bilbo’s adventures into three long-length feature films. There are no female figures in The Hobbit except for passing references to females in Bilbo’s genealogy. Because of this lack, Peter Jackson creates Tauriel, the elf who falls in love with the dwarf Kili. He also gives Lady Galadriel more scenes than she enjoys in the book.

Perhaps realizing the absence of female characters in The Hobbit, Tolkien in the trilogy supplies Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, Goldberry, Arwen, Lady Galadriel, and Eowyn to fill that void. Lobelia is briefly mentioned as Bilbo’s somewhat obnoxious relative who resents his adoption of his nephew Frodo covets Bag End and reappears in the trilogy when Frodo returns to The Shire to find it assailed by ruffians. Lobelia fights the ruffians with her umbrella and is imprisoned as a result.  Goldberry is an intriguing, otherworldly female who inhabits the Old Forest with Tom Bombadil, equally mysterious. They both seem to embody the joyous, life-giving forces of nature, always singing and dancing. When Frodo asks Goldberry who she is, she replies that she is daughter of the river. Arwen, Elrond’s daughter, is encountered in Rivendell and makes only a cameo appearance and re-appears at the end of trilogy for Elrond to present her in marriage to Aragorn. Her beauty impresses Frodo and he learns her name means Evenstar.

Lady Galadriel plays a greater role in the advancement of the story when the company arrives in Lothlórien. She has telepathic and visionary powers, and of course, is painted as a creature of ethereal beauty. Gimli is particularly taken by the elf. Before the fellowship departs her realm, she presents each member a special gift to carry on their quest. These are the boons that are granted in the medieval quest tradition that will prove valuable to the bearers on their journey to Mordor.

Eowyn is the most fully drawn of the female figures. In his creation of Eowyn, Tolkien broadens his characterization beyond a beautiful female physical presence to include personality traits and motivation. Eowyn is depicted as a young woman with strong feelings and passions. She resists being left behind to tend the home fires while men go off to war. She is a shieldmaiden who is so incensed at being left behind that she disguises herself as a man and rides off to fight in Gondor. This woman occupies more scenes in the novel than any other female figure. She participates in the battle, is wounded, and is taken to the House of Healing. Eowyn interacts with Aragorn, Faramir, and other male characters more than any other female character. It is evident that she loves Aragorn from the first moment she sees him. He does not reciprocate that feeling, because he is smitten by Arwen. In the House of Healing, Eowyn is tended by Ioreth who is another stock character, noteworthy in that Tolkien casts a woman as a healer and herbalist. While under her care, she meets Faramir, also injured in the battle. Faramir falls in love with Eowyn who at first rejects his declaration of love, but later, with not a lot of explanation, accepts his proposal, probably realizing alliance with him is a good option in light of the fact Aragorn is betrothed to Arwen. Back in The Shire, Sam Gamgee weds the girl Rosie Cotton only mentioned briefly earlier in the trilogy and has a daughter he names Elanor for a golden flower found in Lothlórien.

Tolkien realized that The Hobbit was missing the element of chivalric love often found in a medieval quest narrative. In writing the trilogy he introduced romance and Eowyn, archetype of the warrior woman, the Amazon, who refuses to accept a minor role. Whenever I turn the last pages of The Lord of the Rings, Eowyn remains in my imagination as the most memorable female figure and potentially the focus for a spin-off novel–a sequel of Eowyn and Faramir during their long dual reign after their triumphal return to the Kingdom of Edoras–should a writer be so inspired.

Jigsaw Puzzles and Writing

Margaret Drabble’s The Pattern in the Carpet starts out as an exploration of the history, development, and popularity of jigsaw puzzles. It progresses into a long disquisition among other topics on childhood, board games, card-playing, needlecraft, Roman mosaics, collectibles, and aging. Putting together jigsaw puzzles is intimately connected in her mind with reminiscences of her maiden Aunt Philly and her growing up in a town situated on the Great North Road in England. Her narrative takes many side paths to reach its conclusion in which she clarifies the similarity of doing jigsaws to writing books.

I warmed immediately to Drabble’s point of departure in her ramblings because I also have fond memories of working jigsaw puzzles when I visited my Aunt Irene first in girlhood and then as an adult when she lived alone in retirement.  In childhood, I received Christmas presents of jigsaw puzzles and remember putting them together (usually by myself because my parents and siblings did not share this pleasure) on the dining room table while the television played in the background.  I set my Kindle ebook to text-to-speech and mounted my exercise bicycle to enjoy Drabble’s book. I did this to divert my mind from thinking while I pedaled, “Is this work-out over yet?” My strategy worked and time sped, believe it or not, pleasurably on the bike.

Avid jigsaw puzzlers know that the frame is assembled first; next colors are sorted in separated groups; then a section is worked from the border that appears most promising; from there the picture is built. Drabble does not immediately draw comparisons between her career as a prolific novelist to jigsaws. The drift of where the direction of her meanderings is going is put together rather like a jigsaw puzzle slowly unfolding. A clue to her meaning can be unraveled in her title, which she leaves the reader to decipher, because nowhere in the book does she explicitly unpack the reason for her choice of title. What are the reasons for the words pattern and why carpet? She does not discuss carpets in her book, but carpets are a frame too placed on the floor; they are all of a piece, that too must be woven together by numerous threads to form a whole. The carpet suggests a journey, as in the magic carpet to adventure and perhaps an unknown destination to be revealed as the flight continues. Drabble writes her book as a journey along which she pauses and observes many sites, objects, and phenomena. Similarly, the jigsaw is a pattern that only reveals itself at the end of the journey in its making.

Drabble comments that jigsaw puzzles provide a welcome relief and refreshing diversion from the intensity of writing. Both require pattern-making  and a working out of meaning from disjointed fragments, an order out of chaos, with the difference that jigsaws are visual, physical, involving manipulation of color to achieve pattern. It’s a shift from the verbal to the non-verbal. She acknowledges that activities like crocheting and knitting achieve that same change of pace for the writer. Having worked two 1000-piece puzzles in the last few years as well as being an obsessive knitter, I share Drabble’s experience of their beneficial effects.

I like to describe novel-writing as a long journey into night. Putting a jigsaw puzzle together is often a long journey into night as it is not unusual to stay up until 2:00 o’clock in the morning finding that obstinate last piece to insert in a glaring gap. The motif of the journey becomes abundantly clear at the end of the book when Drabble writes: “The concept of life as a journey, a pilgrimage, a quest, a ladder, or a spiral track may be attractive to some, but to me the notion of a goal is not.” I believe that Drabble did not have a definite goal in mind when she started her book; she reveled in the journey as she wrote, exploring every alley and corner as she went along. For Drabble what has meaning is the journey itself, the endurance on the path, both the indignity and the dignity of her Aunt Philly’s dying in the nursing home. The persistence in completion of the jigsaw puzzle is laudable. She goes on: “In the larger pattern, all the solitary journeys combine, and we arrive together. The jigsaw, with its frame, is a simulacrum of meaning, order and design.” Startlingly, she ends by stating books too attempt to make a pattern and fail.  The last sentences of the book read: “The admission of failure is the best that we can do. It is a form of progress.”

The puzzle remains. Drabble’s meaning is not entirely clear. Maybe this is by design. I must pause and think, ponder the meaning. And that underscores the journey again. The process of seeking and forming the pattern is what makes us unutterably human and what makes jigsaw puzzles and writing similar. The process of writing itself has a way of creating a pattern unpredictable at its beginning, taking unexpected turns in the middle, and revealing a goal in the end that was not there.