Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Hours

Julia returns, with Mary in her wake. Here then, once again, is Mary--Mary the stern and rigorous, Mary the righteous, shaved head beginning to show dark stubble, wearing rat-colored slacks, breasts dangling (she must be past forty) under a ragged white tank top. Here is her heavy tread; here are her knowing, suspicious eyes. Seeing Julia and Mary together, Clarissa thinks of a little girl dragging home a stray dog, all ribs and discolored teeth; a pathetic and ultimately dangerous creature who ostensibly needs a good home but whose hunger in fact runs so deep it cannot be touched by any display of love or bounty. The dog will just keep eating and eating. It will never be satisfied; it will never be tame.
"Hello, Mary," Clarrissa says.
"Hey, Clarissa...How are you?" Mary asks.
"Fine, thanks. You?"
She shrugs. How should I be, how should anyone be, in a world like this? Clarissa has fallen so easily for the trick question...
"Going shopping?" [Clarissa] says, and does not try to hide the contempt in her voice...
Mary says to Clarissa, "I couldn't do it without help. I can face a cop with tear gas, but don't come near me if you're a sales clerk...It's stores, it's the whole thing, all that shit everywhere, 'scuse me, that merchandise, all those goods, and ads screaming at you from all over the place, buy buy buy buy buy, and when somebody come up to me with big hair and gobs of makeup on and says, 'Can I help you,' it's all I can do not to scream, 'Bitch, you can't even help yourself.'"
"Mm," Clarissa says. "That sounds serious."
...Fool, Mary Krull thinks. Smug, self-satisfied witch.
She corrects herself. Clarissa Vaughan is not the enemy. Clarissa Vaughan is only deluded, neither more nor less than that. She believes that by obeying the rules she can have what men have. She's bought the ticket. It isn't her fault. Still, Mary would like to grab Clarissa's shirtfront and cry out, You honestly believe that if they come to round up the deviants, they won't stop at your door, don't you? You really are that foolish.
...Briefly, while Julia's back is turned, Clarissa and Mary face each other. Fool, Mary thinks, though she struggles to remain charitable or, at least, serene. No, screw charity. Anything's better than queers of the old school, dressed to pass, bourgeois to the bone, living like husband and wife. Better to be a frank and open asshole, better to be John fucking Wayne, than a well-dressed dyke with a respectable job.
Fraud, Clarissa thinks. You've fooled my daughter, but you don't fool me. I know a conquistador when I see one. I know all about making a splash. It isn't hard. If you shout loud enough, for long enough, a crowd will gather to see what all the noise is about. It's the nature of crowds. They don't stay long, unless you give them a reason. You're just as bad as most men, just that aggressive, just that self-aggrandizing, and your hour will come and go.
...Mary lingers a moment behind Julia, allowing herself a view of Julia's broad, graceful back, the twin moons of her ass. Mary is almost overwhelmed by desire and by something else, a subtler and more exquisitely painful nerve that branches through her desire. Julia inspires in her an erotic patriotism, as if Julia were the distant country in which Mary was born and from which she has been expelled.
"Come on," Julia calls cheerfully over her shoulder, over the synthetic orange brilliance of her backpack.
Mary stands for a moment, watching. She believes she has never seen anything so beautiful. If you could love me, she thinks, I'd do anything. Do you understand? Anything.
"Come on," Julia calls again, and Mary hurries after her, hopelessly, in agony (Julia does not love her, not like that, and never will), on her way to buy new boots.

Michael Cunningham

The first time I read this passage, I thought "Ha! Bug-eyed radical freak!". And now I read it and I see so much of myself in it. When did I turn into Mary Krull? Because I have, somehow, right down to the combat boots and tank top, and I'm not even sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing. When Mary, full of contempt and disdain, calls Clarissa's complacency foolish, I agree with her completely. I've got a chip on my shoulder, and I think I'm justified in that.
But I'm still of Clarissa's mind, too, suspicious of "causes", wondering if all this isn't just reactionary theatrics. Wallowing in self-pity and moroseness. I'm just as bourgeouis as Clarissa; isn't this something of a posture, a bit of a show? Am I just a poser? Will I look back on myself in college and laugh at my pretension?
I've been thinking of this a lot lately, along with the Audre Lorde quote I have up. How does one deal with, not just anger, but rage? It's there, below the surface, and it's mobilizing and energizing, but it's destructive too. It keeps me going, moves me to work and agitate and try to create change; and it's painful, spiteful and corrosive, it eats away inside and burns others, people I care about. How do I harness it, use it, turn it into something positive? How do I keep from being consumed by it? Will I ever be rid of it? Should I even want that? Doesn't anger mean I'm still alive, I still give a damn?
It's that image of the ravenous, feral dog that scares me.


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