Feeling fit enough today for some activity, if not real work, I finally addressed the growing landfill of laundry that has been amassing on our bedroom floor. In less than a week's time, one of my oldest and dearest friends will be here for a visit, by which time I not only ought to be healthy again, but intend that the house should not be in such a state of neglect and disrepair as to shame us. When use has run through all the favorite and cleanest clothes, I find, older favorites, in imperfect repair, tend to work their way up from the bottom of drawers and emerge unsuspected from the backs of closets. It is only when these in turn have been worn and added to the landfill, washed and retrieved from the dryer, that their multiplicity of defects: all their stains and missing buttons, all the holes and imperfect patches, become so obvious, displayed in the basket surrounded by whole garments, as to finally find their way to the trash. We are not, my dear husband and me, so innocent of trend and style that we do not occasionally commend to charity the clean mistakes of momentary enthusiasm past. And as we both have seen our waistlines in better days, and have learned to live with the change, we do not now cling to any reminders of less expansive times, in any hope that these may come again. And yet, it is a fact, and all the more remarkable for our unsentimentality, that we do seem, each laundry come late, to wear out any number of things that seemed only yesterday new. This then, I think, is the way we actually note the cruel passage of time. Looking at my beloved, I see still the same handsome man who won me with that same sly smile. Looking at me, he can not possibly now see the slim boy I was, but some resemblance, perhaps about the eyes, must linger on, as he hasn't had done with me yet. Our life together, our routines and silly pleasures, seem unchanged from what they were. But our socks tell just how long it has been.
Dear A.'s favorite pair, a Mondrian pattern, with black toes, were purchased years ago, from a museum gift-shop, on a business trip to Chicago. He has been retired now from business for some years. We retired those socks, just tonight. The last night he wore them, I saw not one, but nearly all his toes peeping. Those socks had, at last to go. Likewise a favorite nightshirt, (yes, we are those old queens,) among the first we bought together, and worn, between us, in no less now than three beds of our own, in as many cities or more. The seams were gone up nearly the length of one side, making what had been a vent, first a slit, then a scandal. Both elbows were out in each long sleeve. The once heavy cotton had kept this nightshirt unused once but in winter. By the end, I wore it comfortably on all but the hottest summer nights, and had to wear a robe to bed with it when I wore it last, to keep my elbows from freezing. Undershirts and like unmentionables, we discard with some regularity and without undue deliberation, usually when one or the other of us notices holes where they ought not to be, or so complete a failure in the elasticity of a waistband or collar as to make the article more resemble an artifact than a functioning garment. But that nightshirt and those socks, that was a hard thing, letting them go.
More behind-hand even than I usually am, this month I did not read the selection for my book club until the month was nearly out, and only then a day or two before the meeting to which I'd promised to go. When the flu descended again on me, Tuesday night last, and I slept not a wink, I missed not only my Wednesday work, but my meeting as well. The frustration of this, having at last read the damned book, was such that I told my husband I intended to pull on pants and go to book club, no matter how sick I felt. He kindly pointed out I wasn't fit to drive a car, let alone discuss a book. As so the opportunity passed.
The book I'd found, was no longer in my library, and so I'd purchased an inexpensive paperback while I was in Portland, intending to read it while I was down there. I didn't. There were so many other books, of more immediate interest that I had bought that the few hours I actually spent in my hotel room were devoted to them, rather than to The Thief's Journal, by Jean Genet, as I had intended. When I got home, other distractions, new books, the new television season, so many things, crowded Genet out again. And so I finally was forced to reread this favorite of my younger days, at breakneck speed, in basically two sittings.
I well remembering reading my way through Genet, dizzy with the wickedness of him, the poetry of his prose, the sick sophistication of his philosophy, all so new to me then as to make my appetite for his words nearly as insatiable as his own for rough trade, outrage and intellectual sycophants. Later, when Edmund White's magisterial biography was published, with a companion volume, edited by White, of selections from Genet's work, I fell again under the little bastard's spell. Picking him up again after years and years without reading so much as a word, I was glad to find his voice so familiar, and his beauties undimmed. That said, maybe it was something dimmed in my eyes, or that I've grown wearier of shock, but I noted this time how less than god-like Genet's criminals all seemed, how petty their crimes, how stupid, and grubby, and dumb these violent idiots were, how less than sexy their brutality sounded now, how painfully pointless Genet's abasement now seemed to me to be. I did not judge his art to be any less, but his life, frankly, embarrassingly, bored me a little.
Perhaps I have lived just long enough, known just so many men devoted to the pursuit of lovers inferior to them in every sense, seen too many low bars, and smelled too many bohemians, perhaps I have been too long too content, to ever again read Genet with the same thrill and enthusiasm I remember so well feeling at eighteen, or twenty five. The revolution in his style I can and do still find dazzling. I can think of few enough writers encountered by my so much younger self, who might still make me breathless at their daring, and spellbound by the beauty of their prose. But I can conceive of fewer still, among the favorites of my youth, I am less likely now to ever feel the need to read again. For me, I think, Genet is done.
The fault is in the reader here, not in the writer. There are great artists whose work survives best by being taken up in each generation at an early age. I think, in short, I am now too old, perhaps now too American and comfortable and fastidious as well, for Jean Genet's anarchism. It seems sad to me now. Perhaps the sadness too, is just mine. But Genet doesn't need me.
The memory of what Genet was to that younger man I once was, is enough now, I suspect. It's time I let him go. Genet doesn't need me.
(Now did I really just suggest a simile between Jean Genet and socks?!!! Somewhere, I feel the lingering contempt of the shade of Genet. Sorry, Jean, it's late, and I'm ill, but I deserved that. Love ya, sweetheart, honest I do.)