A Life of Odds and Ends
I was reading Eliot recently, as I’m wont to do:
In a life composed so much, so much of odds and ends,
(For indeed I do not love it…you knew? you are not blind! How keen you are!)
“Portrait of a Lady,” T.S. Eliot
Listen to that: “A life composed so much…of odds and ends.” Eliot’s Lady isn’t keen on the idea: modernist life is fragmented, a jumble of meaningless scraps. And yet, and yet…
A longstanding joke in my garret is that the kitchen is outfitted almost entirely by the church rummage sale and my grandmother, who does pottery. I’m typing this paragraph while wearing fingerless gloves knit by author Leah Petersen. The book from which I quoted Eliot comes from Shakespeare and Company, in Paris. The whiteboard behind my monitor was left by the garret’s former tenant.
So much, so much of odds and ends.
On a more philosophical level, I write fantasy: mostly fairy-tale-rooted, dark fantasy. But I also work in museum theatre, teaching history through drama. I have a soft spot for both the Pre-Raphaelites and composers like Byrd and Tallis. I read T.S. Eliot and then I play Pokémon.
Odds and ends have a history, known or not. They have an experience stamped on them already. Plus, the thing with odds and ends is that you have to figure out how to make them work for you. There’s no one-size-fits-all, standard IKEA approach. Only the materials you’ve somehow accumulated along the way, and shaped into something that hangs together: whole and uniquely yours. It’s the life of a bricoleur.
That said…sometimes, especially in the winter, I walk in the evening and peer at all the houses and feverishly covet them. A grown-up house, with matching plates and coordinated colours; an annual salary; a well-behaved cat; a spouse, and 1.7 children. The usual narrative, more or less.
And then I remember—that’s not what I want. Not really.“I’m pretty sure I won’t have a conventional-looking life,” I told my mother.
“Well,” she said, “there’s no better time to have an unconventional one.”
Odds and ends. Sometimes harder, but still whole and uniquely mine.
What I’m Listening to this Week
Ha, my musical tastes are certainly a collection of “Odds and Ends.” This week brings us Franz Schubert’s “Erlköning.” That’s right, it’s the Erl-King: this lieder is based on Goethe’s poem of the same name. For those who haven’t read it: father and son ride through the forest at night; son is being lured by a supernatural being invisible to the father; by the time they reach home, the son is dead.
It’s a cool piece – not only because you can hear the Erl-King’s fingers flexing and the horse galloping – but because it requires a fair bit of acting from the singer. We’ve got the steadfast Father (first at 0:56), the terrified Son (1:00) and the creepy, creepy Erl-King (1:29). Listen also to the last two chords: it’s all so Gothic!