Kingsley Amis died “the day the clocks go back.” “How like Kingsley,” Martin said. I waken the day the clocks go back to the usual fear of wasted life. Fiancee asks what time it is. “I don’t know, my phone installed an update. I have to…” trail off, my wont. Type in passcode, accidentally letting the bedroom door slam shut. I hear a sleepy “6:30” behind the door and feel compelled to tell her good news as apps load: I reopen the door and let her know my phone tells me 5:30. She says, but it’s really 6:30. “No,” I say, it’s really 5:30. Fall back. She says something about the body not adjusting to time changes. I leave without listening. We have different definitions of really.
I’ve begun a play, a radio play. Do we call them that still? Audio play? Audio streaming play? It occurs to me I do this whenever I make a life change: write. A new project. A heartbreaker, I hope. Where to begin? From scratch, the beginning. I begin with Genesis. Creation of everything. Only takes four chapters to get from nothing to murder. Kingsley was right, a good story best begin “A shot rang out.” If I remember correctly, I’m in for a whole lot of pillaging, murder, rape, incest, thieving, sacrifice, war, and general thuggery to underline in my 1611 KJV, NIV, and Five Books of Moses over the next month or so, as well as health and safety advice like shit away from camp and bury your turds. Sound. Where is God in our current pandemic?
Yesterday, read Euripides’s Orestes. Grene and Lattimore translation from 1958. Plot? A revenge almost-tragedy. Electra is taking care of Orestes after he and his friend Pylades have murdered Clytemnestra (Orestes’s mother). Orestes suffers fits of madness thanks to Apollo. Thus, the tragedy in this play has already occurred. Plot thickens exactly as we’d expect. Orestes and Electra are sentenced to death by the men of Argos. They get to choose hanging or sword, avoiding altogether stoning. Electra, however, hatches a plot at which they all hurrah: Kill Helen, to make Menelaus suffer (as he refused to speak to the men of Argos on his niece and nephew’s behalf), kidnap Hermione (Menelaus’s daughter), as bargaining leverage, and then go free. So, the last twenty pages I’m ready to see this plan take course. And, no. Helen, as reported by a Phrygian no doubt a model for Jar Jar Binks (“Slave man, free man, everybody like to live”), received a few of Orestes’s stabs and then floated away in a great white light—before she can die. Orestes and Pylades seize Hermione and take her atop Olde Agamemnon’s castle walls, barring the gate as they go. Enter Menelaus, the usual storm unto himself. But, he’s in a pickle now, seeing the sword at his poor daughter’s throat. Just when the standoff reaches its climax, in comes Apollo ex machina.
Helen: now a star for the world to see, immortal, having suffered no death.
Menelaus: find another wife.
Orestes: take a year abroad, find yourself, come back and marry Hermione.
Hermione: silence, accepts fate as woman.
Electra: marry Pylades, as Orestes had promised you.
Pylades: hell, yes.
Apollo’s work done, a bloody climax avoided. While I love the setups and twists and turns of many a Greek play, I can only conclude: thank God for Shakespeare seeing us to bloody ends. Hemingway is right that all good stories end in death. Floating and traveling and marrying bring tears of boredom to my cheeks. No heartbreak breaks my heart.
Today, Martin Amis’s Inside Story arrives, likely by FedEx. I’ll begin reading with football in the background. Morning, evening, sixth day.
From the morass
“They want to kill me, those bitches with the gorgon eyes…”
“And Adam gaue names to all cattell, and to foule of the aire, and to euery beast of the fielde: but for Adam there was not found an helpe meete for him.”
“The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again.”
“Phrygian: No, no, no. In Eastern way with foreign fan of feathers, yes, fan the hair of lady Helen, rippling air, to and fro, gently over cheeks of ma’am.”
“Heart weeps. Head tries to help heart…Head is all heart has. Help, head. Help heart.”