A lingering insight on marital splits

The Divorce Culture, by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1997, 224 pages, $24) – reviewed by Jean E. Milofsky, The Colorado Review, fall 1997:

“Whatever else divorce is, it is fundamentally a loss. As a writer friend of mine once said, ‘It’s like death except no one says nice things about you.’ In divorce one loses not only the relationship with one’s spouse, but also one’s location in the social fabric. Friends fade away, and families are thrown into turmoil. Then there are the inevitable economic losses, which Barbara Dafoe Whitehead rightly claims fall disproportionately on women. Nowhere in her polemic against divorce, however, does Whitehead conceptualize divorce as a loss. Rather, with increasing insistence as the book goes on, she views it as an expression of individual freedom in a highly libertarian age.” …

“Whitehead’s concept of divorce as an expression of unfettered liberty ignores what every divorcing individual realizes – no choice is without consequence, no decision is without obligation or work, and adult freedom never really comes from throwing off chains.”

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Counter with James Dobson’s insistence that “love at first sight” is really just infatuation and therefore selfish, while love is other-focused.

ALONG WITH HIGH STYLE

Rouge on lips or toenails, the glimmer of gold jewelry or a gemstone, the glossy photograph or the slick magazine, the light in a drop of costly perfume, the shimmer in a particular weave or pattern of spectacular cloth, or the haute (hoity-toity) air of a trendy boutique: each reflects eternal desires and feminine intrigue. The interplay of status-seeking, gamesmanship, the swift-changing hunt, and the theater of fashion spreads out far from its urban epicenters – and crosses nations, languages, continents, and ages. How quickly a little girl insists on her own definitive style! The poet and poetry are not immune, either, infused with their own tastes and passions. Where a dictionary observes  gloss as “the luster or sheen of a polished surface,” there is also the danger of “a deceptive or superficial appearance” as well as “an effort to hide or attempt to hide (errors, defects, etc.).” Still, a gloss may also attempt to interpret or translate. The curve or the motion, the smile or the gaze, skin itself, or hair in sunlight or moonlight, each concealing while hinting of revelations. So often, awaiting next month’s editions.

These are the poems that conclude my newest collection, Foreign Exchange.

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Foreign Exchange
Foreign Exchange

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

THE NOVEL AS A TIME MACHINE

Anyone else wonder about the appeal of stories set in another century? Just what’s the attraction?

The future, of course, is one direction, a whole set of “what if” projections that for now cannot be tested against historical development. (Admittedly, Orwell’s 1984 certainly has become an exception in the years since I first read it, gee, was it ’64? As has the movie 2001.)

The past, however, seems to be the more romantic option, beginning with historic period romances and Westerns. I suppose it’s not that far removed from those who inquire of astrologers or palmists or mediums about their past lives, although what I’ve always found most fascinating there is how many people who do so claim to have been Cleopatra or Anne Boleyn or Helen of Troy or the like, rather than one of the common, suffering, exploited populace. No, the stories tilt toward royalty, court intrigue, the power struggles of the rich and mighty – the glittering elite far removed from everyday life. (Maybe that’s our fascination with celebrities, too, as if wealth and beauty leads to true love and happiness, not that it ever seems to hold over the long haul. In pure weight, tragedies trump over comedies.)

My wife sometimes jests that I would have been more at home in 18th or 19th century America, especially in a context of the Enlightenment, scientific advancement, and perhaps opera, along with a flourishing Quaker culture. (Never mind that the Quaker discipline of the time banned music and fiction as superfluous, vain, and untrue.) Again, though, the projection is toward a place of refinement, culture, and ease rather than the long, hard, physical labor of the masses.

So what, ultimately, is the attraction of historical fiction? Is there some time or place you’d willingly be relocated to, if it were possible, even if you could never come back? And, while we’re at it, what about the importance of location, even over time itself? Who and where would you like to be? Just what is it about other eras? Ah, the intrigue! To say nothing of the underlying connection.