The ghosts here don’t float around scaring children, they haunt our words and way of life…

I’m on a visit to the East Coast while a ring of fire encircles people and places I love. I have been waking to alerts from the Los Angeles Times that bring me to tears. It doesn’t help that one — whose name I will not mention — in a unique position to offer consolation and support instead prefers to hector and rant. As with everything else, he gets it absolutely malignantly wrong when it comes to personal tragedy and environmental devastation. I won’t get into the unseemly abdication of duty leading up to Armistice Day…

I have a tic. When I get stressed I write. I seek meaning within the meanings of little symbols that march across the page and contain histories stretching way back, take for instance the word Hector — it’s a noun (person, place, or thing) to hector (a verb) — which means to bully, bluster, intimidate and lie. Hector was the name of a soldier in the Trojan war, a hero, the son of Queen Hecuba and King Priam of Troy. He was slain by Achilles (the complicated main character of the Illiad) and his corpse desecrated in retaliation for killing Achilles’ friend. Hector was dragged behind a chariot and not buried, unable to enter the afterlife, until his father thinks to ransom his body with all the treasure at his command.

On this Iris, fleet as the wind, sped forth to deliver her message…The messenger of Zeus stood by Priam and spoke softly to him, but fear fell upon him as she did so. “Take heart,” she said, “Priam offspring of Dardanos, take heart and fear not. I bring no evil tidings, but am minded well towards you. I come as a messenger from Zeus, who though he be not near, takes thought for you and pities you. The lord of Olympus bids you go and ransom noble Hektor, and take with you such gifts as shall give satisfaction to Achilles.

The story of the Illiad is about the barbarism of war, caprice, fate, love, grief, détente and redemption. It’s myth and history, and a brilliant modern telling can be found in David Malouf‘s Ransom.

That’s the background, the etymology of the verb: hector, how it went from a noble name to an ugly action (in 1650). Hector went from exhorting his comrades into battle, to hector; pressuring by foul means to serve someone’s personal agenda.

And while I’m diving into the dark, I wonder when whittaker will become synonymous with quisling? The word quisling entered our vocabulary during World War II. Vidkun Quisling was a fascist who collaborated with Hitler and served the dictator as a murderous thieving  puppet at the head of Norway’s government. While he was alive Orwell and Churchill used his name to describe any traitor, and Google tells me the word was first used in that context in 1940 by a reporter to the London Times. In 1945 Vidkun Quisling was executed for treason.

It is interesting that so many words suddenly in current usage are so evocative and so old, like lickspittle (1825) — which describes a person who behaves in a fawning or obscenely obsequious manner to someone in power — and the compound word itself conjures up such icky imagery, someone who licks up some other’s dribbles. Ugh.

That said, it’s Sunday, and on Sunday I try to be upbeat. Operative word: try. So far I’ve been failing. I will attempt to do better.

I am in a college town. A town that prides itself on its architectural preservation. This garçonnière and its main residence haven’t been inhabited for 50 years, soon they will undergo restoration.

I was poking around looking behind gates when I took the picture.

How did I find a very famous author’s childhood home? (Of which I will take a photo and share later.) Walking down an alley at dusk behind a picturesque street my attention was caught by a tall skinny house. It was quite unlike its neighbors and my husband said as I craned my neck, “You should check that out, it was Flannery O’Connor’s.” I certainly will, and in much better light.

What I’ve already started checking out are some wonderful places. At The Book Lady Bookstore I was steered toward a stack of John O’Hara’s work (a treasure trove!) and today I read something that particularly struck me from We’re Friends Again in Sermons and Soda-water, which I will share with you after the image.

The way things tie up, one with another, is likely to go unnoticed unless a lawyer or a writer calls our attention to it. And sometimes both the writer and the lawyer have some difficulty in holding things together. But if they are men of purpose they can manage, and fortunately for writers they are not governed by rules of evidence or the whims of the court. The whim of the reader is all that need concern a writer, and even that should not concern him unduly; Byron, Scott, Milton and Shakespeare, who have been quoted in this chronicle, are past caring what use I make of their words, and at the appointed time I shall join them and the other millions of writers who have said their little say and then become forever silent—and in the public domain. I shall join them with all due respect, but at the first sign of a patronizing manner I shall say: “My dear sir, when you were drinking it up at the Mermaid Tavern, did you ever have the potman bring a telephone to your table?

I belonged to the era of the telephone at the tavern table, and the thirty-foot extension cord that enabled the tycoon to talk and walk, and to buy and sell and connive and seduce at long distances. It is an era already gone, and I may live to see a new one, in which extra-sensory perception combines with transistors, enabling the tycoon to dispense with the old-fashioned cord and think his way into new power and new beds. I may see that era, but I won’t belong to it. The writer of those days to come will be able to tune in on the voice of Lincoln at Gettysburg and hear the clanking of mugs at the Mermaid, but he will never know the feeling of accomplishment that comes with the successful changing of a typewriter ribbon. A writer belongs to his time, and mine is past. In the days or years that remain to me, I shall entertain myself in contemplation of my time and be fascinated by the way things tie up, one with another.

John O’Hara

Via Wikipedia: The Mermaid Tavern was a tavern on Cheapside in London during the Elizabethan era, located east of St. Paul’s Cathedral on the corner of Friday Street and Bread Street. It was the site of the so-called “Fraternity of Sireniacal Gentlemen”, a drinking club that met on the first Friday of every month that included some of the Elizabethan era’s leading literary figures, among them Ben Jonson, John Donne, John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont, Thomas Coryat, John Selden, Robert Bruce Cotton, Richard Carew, Richard Martin, and William Strachey. A popular tradition has grown up that the group included William Shakespeare, although most scholars think that was improbable.

Improbable, but let’s listen to the ghosts for therein lies the truth of fiction.

 

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