Poxy? Posy?

by Yule Heibel on May 7, 2004

The breaks between my blog postings have gotten rather large, haven’t they? Well, much goes on offline and asks for attention, and some things online take up mental energy but don’t leave traces. So much to address, even as the “writing spaces” shrink like the night in the face of summer’s longer days…

I do have a not-yet-written entry planned about Francisco Goya, his Majas, the illustrados, Napoleon, and how it resonates in my mind with certain geopolitical current events. That’s for tomorrow, maybe.

For now, just a personal entry about an email from an old friend. The other day someone I knew a decade and more ago contacted me through this blog. Among other things, she wrote:

Hey, Yule, is that you? Looks like it from the photo, although you’re appearing very ferocious and severe, in a glamorous way.

You have to understand that my friend — whose touch I had lost — is a Classics scholar who knows a thing about Ancient Classical Women, and even if I’m not a Classical Woman, I sure feel ancient from time to time. To be described by her as “appearing very ferocious and severe, in a glamorous way” just tickled me pink, a feeling which was neither ancient or classical in any glamorous sort of way, but it sure made me smile. It’s also important to know that my children have told me that I need to change that picture because it makes me “look older.” (Awww, what darlin’ little liars they are!) And of course, I’ve been growing my hair out since that picture was taken a year ago last January. I got weak several times and ran to the stylist twice for another cut, but lately I’ve stayed strong through the worst phase of it. Now, finally, it’s longer — a bit: my bangs graze my nose. My skin is also darker: in the blog picture, light reflecting off a baby grand’s black lacquer lights up my face — the light of a low January sun on a West Coast morning. Now, in the real life of a post-vernal equinox march into summer, I’m slightly splotchy with tan. This is annoying because while I love the idea of a tan, the fact of it doesn’t suit me at all.

But to return to the friend who found me through my blog: we go back a long way to days way past ferocious glamour. All the way back to ferocious motherhood: although she’s 10 years younger than I am, her babies and mine arrived in Massachusetts just days apart, and we shared the schizophrenia of diapers, milestones, nursing, academic research, and career plans. She reminded me of just what life was like 10 years ago: exactly that many years and a month ago, I had a son who celebrated his third birthday while his 3 week old baby sister dozed, and the next day that son woke up with a big fat chicken pox on his nose. Within a few weeks — it must have been the end of April or the beginning of May 1994 — my not-even-two-month-old daughter came down with chicken pox … and, at the grand old age of 37, so did I. (My husband, who has always done everything by the book, had of course naturally enough dealt with this illness as a child.) Somehow, in all the precariousnous of my childhood, I had evaded the banality of chicken pox. I couldn’t evade it now, and neither could my daughter who — as the third in line, heir to viruses strengthened on strong, hale hosts — had the worst bloody case of chicken pox I’ve ever seen. She had them twenty to the square inch of skin, on eyelids, in ears: everywhere. Luckily, she was (and remains) a ferocious strong person. It wasn’t glamorous, though.

Neither was it glamorous to be sent the final proofs of my book manuscript just a week or two later, wherein a young (and on my part much reviled) editor decided that all my active voice should be changed to passive. There I sat, recovering from chicken pox, nursing a recovering-from-chicken-pox baby, and some young guy tries to tell me that I may not use discombobulate because “it is not a word” (hello? do you read? do you know how to use a dictionary? whom did you sleep with to get this job??), and — this was the worst — that I would need to change everything from my carefully calibrated active voice to passive. I would dearly have loved to discombobulate this editor with a few poxy bits and a baby or two clamped to his nipples, which I’m sure would effectively have brought him ’round to my view on the active voice. But: reality check. A senior editor intervened on my behalf instead and straightened things out.

Ten years ago my friend also had her 2nd baby. We. were. very. very. busy.

Hot and humid summers, long cold winters. Struggles: “Are you going to finish your dissertation?” “What about that adjunct job?” “Are you going to do those catalog entries for the Busch-Reisinger?” “Will you apply for that job?” All of it backing up against these little ferocious and unglamorous persons who demanded our real time in spades.

All that, and yet severe good luck, pox and all.

Years later, and my friend is now a massage therapist — there is life after academia! And I’ve once again managed to achieve a comfortable bound lotus.

I feel downright discombobulated! Time runs backwards, forwards, and every which way. It twists, it turns, it folds itself in binding poses. “…is that you?” It is when I’m sitting-standing still. …Heading out, it’s someone else altogether.

Ferocious! I love it!


Kate S. May 8, 2004 at 12:55 pm

“ferocious and severe, in a glamorous way”

I love that description. I’m so glad you did, too. When I saw the photo I thought: professor.

Anonymous May 9, 2004 at 1:59 am

Yule. Don’t worry. I have many months of your archives to read. Even if you don’t post for a while I have many days of reading. Thanks. Great stuff I read and reread and reread. Thank you.

Yule Heibel May 9, 2004 at 2:46 pm

Kate,this is fascinating feedback for me — from my friend and from you. Very interesting. 😉

You know, the only reason I have a pic. of myself on the blog is because I get so sick and tired of being mistaken for male on account of my odd name. Too bad my parents didn’t pick Natalie or Noelle, then I never would receive missives addressed to “Mr. Heibel”…

K!, thank you. I think of you as the Andrei Codrescu of Texas, very neighbourly to Louisiana, similarly deranged and smart. 😉

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