The springs of affection

There's a story of a husband going through his wife's belongings after she has passed away by Maeve Brennan. It wasn't a happy marriage. He's searching for some belonging to provoke a sense of grief inside him, a sensation he doesn't feel. He's looking for some sense of her presence to show him he misses her. There was something beautiful and familiar about this.

Sometimes, when I'm homesick, I look at things that I know will make me feel more fully the thing I'm grieving for. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn't. I try not to use the ones that work too much lest they lose that magical power to conjure up a certain smell or sound or angle of light or even a distant dream that I had then.

And sometimes photographs of people too can summon the person to me, or the feeling of my old pal Baggins' curled under the crook of my legs in bed or resting his head in my hand. I treasure those talismans that transport me to other places and people, to hopes and ideas long forgotten.

I wonder do people ever think of me this way. I think about ex-boyfriends and friends far away. One used to put his hand on the nape of my neck when we walked and I still feel it there sometimes; a favourite gesture that will remind me only of him.

I think of all of this, all those belongings and gestures, and it all carries a sense of ending, a sense of loss and one of unknowing. For though we all have such ideas and belongings locked away, we rarely tell the people they involve. We would never call them up to say, "I think of you whenever I smell that soap, though we have long stopped meaning that much to each other."

The passage in Brennan's story made me cry, because of all people her husband should have known and felt all of this, but he didn't and saw it all coldly. And I wonder when I'm holding all these ideas of other people as being so precious to me if they would instead have forgotten or think icily too and render me silly and sentimental.

"Take, for example, that arrangement of old chocolate boxes on the blanket chest under the shelf where she had kept her few books. You would think, to see those chocolate boxes, and to note the careful order in which they were arranged, by size and also by shape, a rectangular one set straight and centred on top of a larger rectangle, the square ones built up like child's blocks on top of the squares, and the two long equal ones set apart from the rest, completing the design of even lines and sharp angles, all of it speaking of neatness and care and of an overpowering concern with order—you would think, looking at such an arrangement, that the boxes contained something of interest or value. And what did they contain? Old bills marked paid thirty years before. Recipes for dinners she had never cooked, dinners so elaborate that she must have been dreaming of a visit from the king and queen of England when she cut the menus out of the magazines in which she found them. Directions for making dresses that she would never in her life have had the occasion to wear—there was a whole pamphlet that gave instructions, measurements, etc., for the construction of a satin ball gown. It would have been laughable it if was not so pathetic... all the time dreaming, dreaming, dreaming, always dreaming, and what was it she had dreamed about, all her life? She had never said... She was all indirection." 

 - from The Drowned Man from The Springs of Affection by Maeve Brennan

26 comments:

  1. That paragraph takes my breath away. I just ordered the book you linked to. Thank you!

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    1. That's great. I think Maeve Brennan deserves to be read more.

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    1. V I hope you will make yourself go out on some dates. Soon. Consider it research--anthropology--or something to take time, lend urgency to the hours you have for work. There are kind people "out there". You may not connect, but reaching is not a waste of time.

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  3. I could never read this book - the coldness would permeate me and freeze my affections - after all the tender care I am putting into accessing emotion!

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    1. Have you read any Maeve Brennan? I think she's hugely underrated... definitely not cold.

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  4. This post makes me cry. Beautifully expressed. Sort of related, there are some ordinary everyday scents that remind me of certain people I've been close to. They can rouse specific memories from so far away (in time).

    (I'm looking for a new book to read and wanted a recommendation. On the weekend, I thought, I wonder what Jane's reading, could I email her and ask? Ha!)

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    1. Ha! You could have e-mailed! I've been going slowly through her stories, they're very wonderful. "A Free Choice" really stood out for me.

      I blogged about Maeve Brennan here too... I think you'll like her style as well! http://seenandsaid.blogspot.ca/2012/02/inspiring-women-maeve-brennan.html

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  5. I've never commented here before but I thought this post was so poignant and one I really connect with this week. I'm a sentimental thing and whenever I have these phases where I think of my ex, or a long lost friend, I always comfort myself by thinking that if I have these moments about them, then surely I too can come intensely into their minds once in a blue moon. I know I am kidding myself though, I know my much missed ex who I knew so well never felt as deeply as me and never had that kind of mind. I must read that Maeve Brennan story, thank you for introducing her to me.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I hope you enjoy Maeve's stories... I recommend reading more than the one as the characters recur in multiple stories.

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  6. I also have never commented, but I would like you to know that I love the introspective world you bring to life through your blog - putting into words concepts we all have, awareness via your writings. Thank you for your writings. They are treasured.

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    1. Thank you very much - that's lovely to hear.

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  7. I have those wonderings about people in my past. I think of them in waking hours but mostly dream of them, and wake feeling so strongly I feel sure they must have also thought of me. I want to believe that, anyway. I want to believe people think of me the way I think back on them. I'm very curious about it.

    I think when Facebook first started up, that was much of the reason people connected; there was the possibility to link up with your best friend in elementary school and the old boyfriend, etc., and you do the whole, what have you been up to, I've been thinking of you now and then, and then it's over. Because you've not spoken in twenty years and aren't a part of each other's every day anymore. Our lives have become so different. Still, memory is an important, interesting thing, untrustworthy yet connected to or triggered by smells and sounds. Every time I pass a certain house on my street I smell something that reminds me of Yorkshire. I've smelled it on people too. It's amazing. I've concluded it must be some sort of fabric softener! I also get two British home decorating mags and they transport me to England on weekends, as I allow them. I find that I can't pick them up if it's not a weekend morning with tea in the sun. There has to be a certain mood.

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    1. I think Facebook is different, though, because there's an audience, so those intimate acts become a performance for all the other followers and temper what is really said and meant.

      Scent and memory carry indubitable connections. What I'm interested in here is the idea of a shared past, not necessarily place, and the uncertainty of shared significance in those memories and objects.

      Thanks Steph!

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    1. Interesting project. Thanks for sharing.

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  10. So very hard to read. I am such a sentimental sap... Intimacy lost is heartbreaking, but intimacy that was never quite realized is maybe more so. I cried at the beginning of the Disney movie "Up," and I felt dead inside at the end of A Moveable Feast. Add this to the list.

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    1. Thanks Emily!

      I'm drawn to movies and books that make me feel these things, though. I think it feels more "real" to me in many ways. Or maybe it's just because it's a side more seldom explored and expressed. But, yes, moving and tragic for sure... though I can't quite stretch to "dead inside" at the end of A Moveable Feast.

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  11. Reading this made me so sad... in a good way. I'm such a nostalgic person and my friends sometimes make fun of me for it. Thank you so much for writing this. You eloquently put into words what I've had a tough time expressing to people: I like to be connected to old memories (and relationships) through feelings, however they may be evoked. I've often wondered exactly the same thing: do others think of me like that?

    Off to download and read "The Springs of Affection" now! Thank you!

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