Nancy’s Moulin Rouge
When I get old like Nancy Birtwhistle, I want to do something like build/bake the most spectacular cake in the country.
[The 60-year-old grandmother] was branded the ‘queen of consistency’ by judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood in The Great British Bake Off final last week.
The “last week” in the Daily Mail was October 12, 2014. But I’ll bet not ten Americans who were hooked on the BBC/PBS show spoiled the excitement by looking up the result of the contest online before this past Sunday evening when the grand finale played on PBS. Who’d want to ruin a bit of genuine fun and real-life mystery-drama?
I need some advice on how to be retired. Yesterday I arrived at the Athletic Development of Student Athletes center at 9 AM for my regular three hours of tutoring. Then a quick trip to the fitness center for a short workout and 50 minutes of walking in the therapy pool, then back to the ADSA for two more hours of tutoring. Stop by the grocery store. Then home.
In the evening I spent an hour reading the book one of the students I tutor is reading for his class, and then about two hours researching Palestinian poets. That’s not true. I became fascinated by the life and work of Fadwa Tuqan, 20th-century Palestinian poet, and spent a good deal of the evening researching in university library databases for references to her—and I ordered her autobiography translated by Naomi Shihab Nye.
Today my schedule is easier—9:30 appointment with therapist, 11:00 extra tutoring session for student who has a monstrous essay due, 12:15 workout at fitness center, 2:00 meeting of GED faculty at the Aberg Center for Literacy (six blocks from fitness center), 3:00 meet with dietician back at fitness center, 7:00 twelve-step meeting and weekly dinner after.
It’s pretty obvious why I want to get old like Nancy Birtwhistle and have nothing to do but build cakes that look like the Moulin Rouge. I need some time to myself. That’s because I’m an introvert. It has nothing to do with old age. I was ever thus.
No, really. I always have trouble convincing my friends that’s true. I’m so gabby and so at ease with people and so unafraid to perform, to teach a class, to lead a choir, to. . . – you name it.
About the only upside to being as busy as I was yesterday and will be today is that I wasn’t and won’t be sitting at home alone and lonely, and feeling sorry for myself. OK. Stop. That’s not what depression is. It’s not being lonely and feeling sorry for myself. It’s this nameless, formless Thing waiting to overtake me whenever I make myself physically comfortable on my sofa or stand at the kitchen sink doing dishes or drive to the fitness center or go to a party or participate in a meeting of the GED faculty at the Aberg Center for Literacy.
The good news is that the older I get, the kinder I am to myself for this schizoid life. (Note: I did not use “schizophrenic” or any other pathological word.
word-forming element meaning “division; split, cleavage,” from Latinized form of Greek skhizo- comb. form of skhizein “to split, cleave, part, separate,” (Online Etymology Dictionary).
Division. Split. Cleavage. That’s what I have in my brain. There’s this guy who can go out and work with a university football player who—I think by most people’s standards—is physically pretty intimidating and have an easy-going but professional relationship with him. I can go to a meeting of a bunch of volunteer teachers and participate even though my throat gets dry and I have to hold onto the table every time I speak.
But submit myself to going to a party with a bunch of strangers (or even a bunch of people I know)? Not if I can help it. Carl Jung theorized that
The introvert’s attitude is an abstracting one; at bottom he is always intent on withdrawing libido from the object, as though he had to prevent the object from gaining power over him (quoted in Blandin, Kesstan. “Temperament And Typology.” Journal Of Analytical Psychology 58.1 (2013): 118-136).
“Libido,” as I understand it, is the unconscious part of the psyche that’s the source of instinctive satisfaction and pleasure. Of course, the most obvious instinct is sexual pleasure, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about that part of a person’s unconscious that attaches itself to other people and situation—unless, of course, for some reason, a person doesn’t want anything or anyone to gain power over them.
Well, how’s that for psychobabble? All I mean is that I like people, I love people, I fall desperately in love with people, but I don’t want them to have any power over me. The best way to prevent that is simply to avoid them—and to be sure to have enough time alone to recover after a bunch of people sap my energy.
I used to think that if I lived to be 70 years old, I’d be over this or at least have figured how to live with myself in spite of introversion. I didn’t say I’m not happy. Those parts of me that don’t need Lamictal every day are pretty happy—go-lucky, in fact. I know how to have as much fun as Nancy Birtwhistle—but not on TV, not with the whole world watching.
I think most of us are introverts. Some of us have perfected the art to a high degree. But I think most of us are forever devoid of the kind of strength necessary to attach ourselves to others without fear (extraverts may just be crazy).
I can’t even imagine the kind of strength it must take to participate in the lives of others so completely as to be able to write a poem like this—or to have the strength of the person who is the subject of the poem. Even if Hamza is fictitious, he is drawn from the reality of people I have met in Palestine.
“Hamza,” by Fadwa Tuqan
Hamza was just an ordinary man
like others in my hometown
who work only with their hands for bread.
When I met him the other day,
this land was wearing a cloak of mourning
in windless silence. And I felt defeated.
But Hamza-the-ordinary said:
‘My sister, our land has a throbbing heart,
it doesn’t cease to beat, and it endures
the unendurable. It keeps the secrets
of hills and wombs. This land sprouting
with spikes and palms is also the land
that gives birth to a freedom-fighter.
This land, my sister, is a woman.’
Days rolled by. I saw Hamza nowhere.
Yet I felt the belly of the land
was heaving in pain.
Hamza — sixty-five — weighs
heavy like a rock on his own back.
‘Burn, burn his house,’
a command screamed,
‘and tie his son in a cell.’
The military ruler of our town later explained:
it was necessary for law and order,
that is, for love and peace!
Armed soldiers gherraoed his house:
the serpent’s coil came full circle.
The bang at the door was but an order —
‘evacuate, damn it!’
And generous as they were with time, they could say:
‘in an hour, yes!’
Hamza opened the window.
Face to face with the sun blazing outside,
he cried: ‘in this house my children
and I will live and die
Hamza’s voice echoed clean
across the bleeding silence of the town.
An hour later, impeccably,
the house came crumbling down,
the rooms were blown to pieces in the sky,
and the bricks and the stones all burst forth,
burying dreams and memories of a lifetime
of labor, tears, and some happy moments.
Yesterday I saw Hamza
walking down a street in our town —
Hamza the ordinary man as he always was:
always secure in his determination.
The Palestinian poet Fadwa Tuqan, who has died aged 86, forcefully expressed a nation’s sense of loss and defiance. Moshe Dayan, the Israeli general, likened reading one of Tuqan’s poems to facing 20 enemy commandos. (more. . .)
‘in this house my children and I will live and die for Palestine”. . . An hour later, impeccably, the house came crumbling down,