Monday, January 31, 2011

Dream: The fury of, um, fury...

 Under your bed
sat the wolf
and he made a shadow
when cars passed by
at night.
They made you give up
your nightlight
and your teddy
and your thumb.

(from "The Fury of Overshoes" by Anne Sexton)

Last week, I read Anne Sexton's "The Fury of Overshoes" with a class of nearly checked-out second semester seniors.  They grimly worked through the analysis, dutifully noting the symbolism of the protective overshoes, the speaker's yearning, the poet's use of line breaks.   Then I asked them to write about their own childhood furies, fears and frustrations.

Suddenly, the rows of eye-rollers, furtive-texters and across-the-room-pantomimers were scribbling furiously, lips pursed, brows furrowed.  When I stopped them after 10 minutes they bursted with their torments: unfounded fears of parents moving away in the night, anxiety about possibly vampiric brothers, confiscated nightlights begetting sleepless weeks, embarassed parents packing away beloved blankies.  After the bell rang, their comparison of traumas continued down the hall.  The consensus: what seemed big then is small now.

In preparing the lesson, I had, of course, thought of my own girls, of monsters under beds and the fury of pacifiers packed away.  But my students, distanced from childhood, not yet engulfed in adulthood and years from parenthood, were at the perfect age for this kind of reminiscense, and the way the topic ignited them, the clarity of their memories, made me think some more.

It has been a long winter.  Things have gone wrong. Feet of snow are sapping my patience, and freezing temperatures have already slurped up our heating oil budget. I recently plugged in the vacuum cleaner and inexplicably blew out the electricity to half of our poorly-wired house. One dark morning last week my husband went out to start the car before work and...nothing. And all of this has birthed a frustration that in certain moments has presented itself as fury.  I have hurled my fury at my husband, he has blasted his at me, and we've both freed it on the house.  Though never directed at the girls, the fury has certainly been flung all around them.

My students' stories, told with much hilarity but a hint of solemnity, centered largely on fears, rather than frustrations and furies, and reminded me that that I really don't want to be responsible for spawning my girls' nightmares or constructing the monsters under their beds. Yet even as I ruminated on this, congratulating myself for drawing such a neat line from words to work to life, I found myself late for an appointment, stuck behind a creeping plow, shaking my fist and shouting at the stream of cars that whizzed past without letting me change lanes.  When I glanced in the rearview mirror, I saw Little E strapped into her seat behind me, her eyes and mouth three shocked O's.

The things that have been plaguing us are only marginally more real than the rats that one of my students was convinced would emerge from the walls as he slept in his upper-middle class suburban bedroom.  We can put on another sweater and call an electrician and a tow truck.  It is stuff and we are fine; I should know this.  And still I keep coming back to more of Sexton's words:
Oh thumb,
I want a drink,
it is dark,
where are the big people,
when will I get there,
taking giant steps
all day,
each day
and thinking
nothing of it?

No comments:

Post a Comment