Taking My Life, A Posthumous Birthday Gift From Jane RuleThursday, September 01, 2011
Writing an autobiography may be a positive way of taking my own life. Beginning in the dead of winter, mortal with abused lungs and liver, my arthritic bones as incentive for old age, I may be able to learn to value my life as something other that the hard and threateningly pointless journey it has often seemed. I have never been suicidal but often stalled, as I have been now for some months, not just directionless but unconvinced that there is one. No plan for a story or novel can rouse my imagination, which resolutely sleeps, feeding on the fat of summer. And so I take my life, with moral and aesthetic misgivings, simply because there is nothing else to do.
Taking My Life, Jane Rule Talon Books 2011
A package arrived in the mail today. Inside were two copies of Jane Rule’s autobiography Taking My Life. I looked at the delightful cover, and, I could only smile thinking that this was a posthumous birthday gift from Jane Rule.
Rosemary is leaving for Kamloops on Tuesday to meet up with our daughter Ale who is going to undergo an operation in “los paises bajos” as my grandmother would have said. The operation will be on Wednesday and Rosemary will have to stay by her side and drive back to Lillooet. Rosemary will be away for at least two weeks. We have decided that we will jointly read Rule’s book and it will serve as a bond in this time of parting. As one gets older I can attest that parting from my wife even for a couple of days can be tough.
As I wrote yesterday a birthday, particularly when one thinks about it is Spanish as a cumpleaños one has no choice but to reflect on one’s life up to that point (Jane Rule who died in 2007 got as far as age 21). And because I was 69 yesterday, that reflection includes an awareness of the little that is to come (or more negatively, left). This should be observed and measured using, if I may borrow that sports term, elapsed time. It is interesting to note that the second hand of that “Omega Chronograph” moves ever more quickly when I observe my own elapsed time.
|Painting by Ann Smith|
cover design by
Coincidental to all this recent reflection, I found a sleeve of colour negatives which I took in our home in Arboledas, Estado de Mexico around 1971 as my eldest daughter Alexandra (Ale) looks to be almost three.
That chronograph’s second hand was moving much more slowly and both Rosemary and I look awfully young! But what really struck me when I looked at those living room shots is how sparse it all was and how we owned less stuff. We were embarrassed at the time when we had visitors because we had little furniture. I am surprised on how modern it looked. Now we live from day to day with the stress of trying to figure out how to get rid of all our accumulated stuff.
I have an imaginary plan that before Rosemary and I go to visit Ale in Lillooet I would hire a professional arsonist to start a fire in our home while we are away. We would return to cinders and I would loudly say, “Everything we own is gone. What are we going to do?” I suspect that I would experience palpable relief.
It was when I was 23 and returning to Mexico from my stint in the Argentine Navy that I had a momentary idea that I might want to be a priest or an officer on a merchant marine ship. I was on board the Rio Aguapey, of ELMA of the then Argentine Merchant Marine Navy. I observed how the officers lived a frugal existence and how sparse their cabins were. I liked the way insects in the tropical ports of Brazil that we visited would disappear the moment we were out to sea (I forgot to consider the rats). I liked how clean it all seemed but the moment the officers began to talk of their family life and of the women they had in every port I lost my interest in the Argentine Merchant Marine.
|Arboledas, Estado de Mexico, 1971|
I switched my thoughts to my religion and saxophone teacher Brother Edwin Reggio, CSC and how in mere hours or even minutes he could have packed all his belongings in one suitcase and obeyed the order to fly to a Holy Cross school in Africa or South America. He would have put a couple of black pairs of socks and shoes and one bible. A few shirts and toilet articles would have finished the packing.
In recent trips to Austin when I ask Brother Edwin if there is any book or music CD that he would want to have he invariably answers, “I have all I need.” I am jealous of his frugality of ownership but when I think of my Rosemary and my daughters and granddaughters I know I never really had that vocation to become a brother or priest of Holy Cross. I only wish that my obsession to own stuff had been more restrained.
In 1991 when I photographed Jane Rule she had announced her retirement (she died in 2007 when she was 75) from writing because of her severe arthritis. I reflect that while she was 60 I am 69 and my arthritis is curtailing my rose pruning, the turning and opening of doors and even the shifting from park to drive in our Malibu’s automatic transmission. I further reflect that I have been struck my arthritis much more recently, only two years ago. In this I realize that Jane Rule's chronograph was a bit more accelerated than mine. That gives me a reason to smile today even if my birthday melancholy tends to dissipate ever so slowly. I smile as I realize that unlike Jane Rule my imagination is not unresolutely stalled today thanks to Taking My Life, her posthumous birthday gift to me.
I smile, too, as I look at the picture of Rosemary gently placing Ale into the backyard pool. I asked Rosemary as soon as I had scanned the negative, "Rosemary when I first met you did I see you from the front or from the back?"
|María Elena, Ale & Eli Zamora, 1971|
A posthumous gift from my grandfather to my mother on her birthday