Sunday, February 20, 2011

On crying

I hate crying. Not only am I one of those people unable to cry prettily (red-eyed, blotchy etc) but it doesn't even help, as it is popularly supposed to do; on the contrary, it makes me feel exhausted, headachy and stupid. One of my favourite 19th century characters (he was a real person), one Reverend J. Haweis, is quoted somewhere as saying -- to me quite unforgettably, so I don't need to look it up -- 'A good play on the piano has not infrequently taken the place of a good cry upstairs.' Give me a good play on the piano any day.

Here in the second half of my fifties I'm horrified to find that if anything I cry more instead of less. I remind myself more and more of Waker, the emotional twin in J.D. Salinger's Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters -- 'Tell Waker it looks like rain and his eyes all fill up.'

It never takes much, and the minute it starts I feel split in two as neatly as an apple, with one half blubbing away and the other, cool and scornful, observing this intemperate creature and thinking Oh for God's sake, what is it this time? It's usually not about 'being upset', more something that seems both glancing and visceral, like being accidentally knifed by someone who wasn't even aiming for you. It reminds me, in fact, of that great line of Dorothy Dunnett's: 'Music, the knife without a hilt.'

It is indeed most often something to do with either music or animals, which brings me to my real point, which is that one of the reasons I'll feel very pleased to have finished this book about Adelaide is that I might stop crying so much; not only is the writing of it an unexpectedly emotional exercise, I think probably closely akin to a form of auto-psychoanalysis, but in the reading for it (yes, I'm almost finished, but one keeps finding new things while checking the old things), I keep coming across stuff that gets me going, like the item about the War Horse Memorial in Simon Cameron's lovely little book about Adelaide's statues, Silent Witnesses.

It's a granite horse trough inscribed WAR HORSE MEMORIAL 1914-1918. Not an actual horse to be seen. On the contrary, what it evokes is the poignant absence of horses. It hasn't always; it was originally situated in Victoria Square and connected to the water mains for the use of the working horses of the Central Market. The memorial was moved to its present site on the south-east corner of North and East Terraces, next to the Light Horse Memorial obelisk, in 1964 when Victoria Square was redesigned. It's got an inscription on it from the Book of Job.
He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength. He goeth on to meet the armed men, he mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted, neither turneth his back from the sword.

42 comments:

Anthony said...

I've never come across that Book of Job quote before, but it immediately reminded me of Leonard Cohen's "Ballad of a Runaway Horse" where the horse is described with similar - but slightly different - reverence.

I like the idea that writing a book about one's own city is a form of auto-psychoanalysis. Then again, although Adelaide is not my own city, it was an important city (I suppose for potentially psychoanalytical reasons) as a destination for me in the mid-1980s. I look forward to reading the book. BTW, is it part of the UNSW series that has already given us Delia Falconer on Sydney?

Lesley said...

Those words by Kemal Ataturk, famously inscribed at the Gallipoli memorial, do me in.
I get teary just thinking about "... you mothers who sent their sons from far away, wipe away your tears ..."
Sniff.

Lord Sedgwick said...

Dammit woman, there are parts (many) of this post which has me valiantly attempting to run away from the lachrymose.

And yes, as one ages there are more and more things that has one 'tearing up' and what is disarming is that they are things/events which at an earlier age one could have skated over/skated by with nary a sniff.

The Elephant's Child said...

It is so nice to hear of someone else who doesn't cry well and finds themselves doing so often. Too often. I try and tell myself that I am just ridding my body of toxins but sometimes that is all there is. And yes, animals do it for me - to the point that my partner has been told that if he gives me a book with an animal featured he has to read the last few pages to ensure that said animal is still alive.

The Medusa vs. The Odalisque said...

Nice post Dr. Cat. It reminded me of this quote from Patrick White, from Robert Gray's memoir The Land I Came Through Last (which I did have to look up and eventually found on p.368). He's talking about watching the evening news:

'Wait till you get older,' Patrick said bitterly. 'You won't be able to stand it either. Contrary to what you might think, people grow more sensitive as they get older.'

BwcaBrownie said...

ha! you think you suffer
duct-ruction over animal stuff - I couldn't even read your quote, and don't get me started on the Australian Light Horse in Turkey 1914-18.
I skip over everything about animals in any book, and have to look away from people walking their dogs in case the dog isn't happy (I can tell what dogs are thinking).
empathy from me.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Anthony, I thought I knew most of Cohen's songs but I'd not come across that one. Through extensive Googling I have uncovered a long chain of sources and adaptations (not unlike the roots of 'Alexandra Leaving' in Cavafy's poem 'The Gods Abandon Antony', and the fact that the whole bathing on the roof thing in 'Hallelujah' is about David and Bathsheba, and I see he's got Ruth and Naomi in the horse song -- can't stay away from the Bible from one song to the next) and plan a whole nother post about same. But the 'Runaway Horse' is Emmylou Harris's gender inversion version -- the original Cohen is called 'Ballad of the Absent Mare' so it was probably my word 'absent' that got you following that train of thought.

Also, yes, it's the same series as Delia's book on Sydney.

M.v.O., isn't that chapter on White just fabulous?

Anthony said...

No, no, I only knew the Emmylou Harris version, from an album of hers many years ago. But it had the cadences and poetry which make it unmistakenly Cohen.

KJ401 said...

Of the tens if not hundreds of thousands of horses sent from Australia to Europe and the Middle East during WWI, only one came back. One.

They surely deserve more than a forgotten memorial.

Anonymous said...

Well I find these days that a good heartbreaking tempestuous love affair makes me cry much more easily than they used to when I was young. Back then you could tell yourself you'd get over it and grow old and wise. Regrettably that turned out to be only half true.

Sometimes there is nothing like having a nice full on 'catil'. (Thank you Word Verification for that word that invokes crying, caterwauling and vigil.)

Here's a couple of good crying songs.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbUNVm1k3nU (the original version)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbUNVm1k3nU

Right, back to writing Shakespearean sonnets for some dame.
Anyone know a word that rhymes with "orange"?

Nabakov said...

Umm, "anonymous" above was me.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Nabs -- I thought it might be this one.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

And this is the one I'll be posting after I send in the manuscript.

The Medusa vs. The Odalisque said...

Yes, the chapter on White is indeed an excellent section of a generally excellent book.

On the subject of music to cry to, you could always turn to Dawn Upshaw singing Goreki's 3rd symphony. Rivers of tears guaranteed. Hard to go past the Big O, though.

Fine said...

Black Beauty. That still makes me weep copiously, especially the happy ending.

Photos of whippets are likely to send me off. They don't have to be sad. Just photos of the little sweethearts.

Letters I've read, that people sent to Phar Lap's trainer when the horse died. Especially one that said something like, "I know how you must be feeling, as my little boy died not long ago".

And Elvis Presley singing "Old Shep".

Fyodor said...

"And this is the one I'll be posting after I send in the manuscript."

I'm sorry, totally OT, but I can no longer hear that song without thinking of Michael Caine's career performance from Little Voice.

Anonymous said...

"Letters I've read"

I take it everyone here is familiar with lettersofnote.com?

Get over there forthwith if you haven't.

Or if you're tired, go fifthwith.



cheers
BS

Karen said...

I thought NO horses came back from WWI. KJ401, please enlighten me.
Only one human body came back, a general (name escapes me), whose funeral in Melbourne was attended by masses of bereaved families, setting the scene for many an Anzac Day to follow. When reading about this, I wept - but not as much as about the HORSES. Who didn't, after all, sign up for it.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

(Brownie and Elephant's Child, shut your eyes.)

'It is sobering to remember that only one General's horse is reputed to have returned to Australia at the finish of hostilities. All the rest were either sold or destroyed.' -- Simon Cameron (whose scholarship thus far seems entirely trustworthy).

I did read somewhere else that in many cases the soldiers shot their horses rather than sell them into possible mistreatment, but that's sort of worse, really.

Mindy said...

Has anyone ever witnessed an actual person, outside of TV or film, cry without becoming a red blotchy mess?

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Yes, I have -- the olive-skinned seem pretty good at it. I myself am a sandy Celt. Disaster.

KJ401 said...

The one horse who did come back was called Sandy. RN played one of thier as usual wonderful docos a couple of years ago about Walers and this horse came up.

http://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/horses/sandy.asp

KJ401 said...

Their there they're. There.

Red Horse said...

I found this article about Sandy, the only horse to come home from WW1. He's buried in Maribyrnong (now a suburb of Melbourne's inner west)and there are plans afoot to build a memorial on his grave.

(Sorry, I'm not sure how to insert links, bu you can cut and paste the address below into your browser).
http://maribyrnong-leader.whereilive.com.au/news/story/australias-last-warhorse-to-have-maribyrnong-memorial/

Cry all you like, Pav, you'll have plenty of company from the rest of us.

Frances said...

Thanks for lettersofnote.com, Anonymous -(gosh you get around, don't you? I seem to come across your writings all over the place).

From above, loved this from Marilyn Monroe:
"...when..I saw the picture of Freud..I burst into tears..because I see a sad disappointment in his gentle face."
Takes one to know one, as it were.

Anonymous said...

'Music, the knife without a hilt.'

I love that: there's something so Slavic in the sentiment. It calls to mind the manner in which Soviet-era musicians approached their scores.

And Dorothy Dunnett - from what I'm reading here and elsewhere - sounds like the sort of person for whom, upon hearing of their passing, I would bitterly resent that split-self of tears you describe. Grief, I think, is a way of honouring the people who have meaning in your life, and there are times when I would rather attend to grieving without the dispassionate intrusion of a distanced other-self.

TFA

Marshall Stacks said...

My great uncle was in the Light Horse during WW1 and received The Military medal. I have read in more than one source that Diggers, when told they could not bring their Walers home, preferred to shoot them than leave them to the cruelty of the repulsive Turks. Ataturk may get as soppy as he likes about 'sons' due to the over-testosteroned society he came from ... a pox on em all.

(Is their a Turkish RSPCA - ha!)

to dear Nabs:
The Turk had a face like a stale blancmange, despite having eaten only Duck a l'orange.

Marshall Stacks said...

of course I know 'their' from 'there' - I swear this keyboard has a mind of it's own.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Ms Stax, I'm sure it's true that they shot them because they feared they might be mistreated, but are you sure it's true that the Turks really did/do mistreat horses? Have you read Jeremy James's The Byerley Turk: The True Story of the First Thoroughbred? It's fabulous.

If we're going French with l'orange then you could probably whip up something with 'Non, mon ange' or 'Plus ça change'.

Link said...

I can attest the Turks love their animals and their trees. Street dogs, and there are quite a few, are not destroyed if they have a collar on, so many street dogs get about with scarves tied round their necks as a sign of 'ownership'. Turks, are no more repulsive than Australians indeed, far less so IME.

Good grief.

Eric Sykes said...

I cried today on the way to work, in the car, when I heard how many nations were on their way to NZ to help. I cried because we so rarely hear about humans helping other humans on the MSM. And then I cried a bit more when Anna Bligh sent "love". Yes she did, a rarely used word. In Queensland it is still possible for love to be sent to NZ. I think she meant it. Sniff.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Oh yes.

I watched some live streaming from Christchurch yesterday of people being rescued off the 17th floor balcony of a building whose stairway had collapsed. The young journo doing the commentary was very brave and very good but she was barely holding it together. Which was all a bit cry-making. And the photos are worse.

Anonymous said...

The shame of Turkey :: Worldwide - Legal Action 4 Animal Rights ...
7 Jan 2011 ... The shame of Turkey. A discussion in Worldwide - Legal Action 4 Animal Rights, Care2 Groups (Animals & Pets)
www.care2.com/c2c/groups/disc.html?gpp=19683&pst...

and there are the BEARS ...
peace and love, brownie

The Elephant's Child said...

I have just finished Rania Macphillamy's biography and discovered that horses that had been taken to Egypt were shot (if old or unwell) or sold to the Egyptians. The outcry of both soldiers and the Australian public led to a modification of the policy and about half were sold to calvary units in the Indian army.

Link said...

Geez Brownie, who'd have thought you'd go looking for such harrowing animal stories, esp when you said you'd stopped reading my blog because of the odd thing I wrote about the cruelty I saw in rural Australia. Obviously I can't defend the Mayor of Istanbul in this regard, but I still think lumping an entire population as 'repulsive Turks' deserves defence. And from the delightful site you pointed to, it would appear white,ostensibly Christian, Americans are the most repulsive of all.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Oooo-kay, enough. Take it outside please, ladiez.

Nicole said...

what can I say about crying? I have olive skin and when I cry my hazel eyes go really green. It's not a bad look.
I was a crybaby who cried nearly every day until I had my first child at 22. I've hardened up since then but still have regular weeping bouts.
Last Sunday, above mentioned child didn't come home for dinner as was expected. I cried and was comforted by a younger child. It was so sweet I nearly cried more at his manly patting of my back.
love and tears Nici

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Now I'm inappropriately giggling.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Nici, are you a Cancerian perchance? Pisces? The one or the other, I bet. Or in the ascendant, at the very least.

Nicole said...

No, I'm some kind of weird Virgo - sooky, messy, disorganised.

lucy tartan said...

Two incredible novels which aren't known anywhere well enough, and which made me blub over and over -

Our Horses in Egypt by Rosalind Belben - WWI

The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy (African elephants and genocide.)

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Thanks Ms Tartan, will chase them up ASAP. Hope you are continuing comfortable and well.

WV: poniesse. N, f: a medieval/early modern word meaning 'the quality of being like a pony'. You couldn't make these WVs up, really you couldn't.