Sunday, May 19, 2013

Moods, Shoes, Feet

Three or four days a week--sometimes more--I slog through what feels a lot like despair.  I say "feels like," because it's really a physiological thing, caused by a bad night's sleep, or not eating enough, or both.  A nap and / or a meal will fix me up, or at least get me out of the slough of despond.  When I'm in it, though, that simple cure is hard to remember, and when the mood passes, as it eventually does, it's hard to remember why I ever let it grip me so long.

"Our moods do not believe in each other," saith the Preacher (OK, saith Emerson, in "Experience"),
To-day I am full of thoughts, and can write what I please. I see no reason why I should not have the same thought, the same power of expression, to–morrow. What I write, whilst I write it, seems the most natural thing in the world; but yesterday I saw a dreary vacuity in this direction in which now I see so much; and a month hence, I doubt not, I shall wonder who he was that wrote so many continuous pages. Alas for this infirm faith, this will not strenuous, this vast ebb of a vast flow! I am God in nature; I am a weed by the wall.
Got a good night's sleep last night, and woke up feeling great; now I'm getting "weed by the wall"-y again.

Time for second breakfast, I guess.


I clock about 3.5-5 miles a day on my feet, walking, and even when I'm not walking, I'm often standing (as I am when I write this, for example).  Two weeks ago I went for a lovely run with my wife, a little more than 4 miles, but the shoes I chose weren't nearly supportive enough of my ankles and arches.  As a result, I had to hobble around in pain for about 11 days, and even today my right foot feels a bit wonky.

Like most things, this had a silver lining:  I tossed out a lot of old, worn, ill-fitting shoes that I'd put up for years, mostly out of laziness, and I'm gradually acquiring some spiffy new footwear, all of it suited to my increasingly delicate "pedal extremities," as Fats Waller calls them. A sobering reminder, though, that I'm not the lad I once was, able to leap tall buildings--or, at least, to jog around them--without injury.


Here's a Neruda poem I discovered back in my teens--translation by Donald Walsh, if memory serves.

"Tus Pies," por Pablo Neruda

Cuando no puedo mirar tu cara
miro tus pies.

Tus pies de hueso arqueado,
tus pequeños pies duros.

Yo sé que te sostienen,
y que tu dulce peso
sobre ellos se levanta.

Tu cintura y tus pechos,
la duplicada púrpura de tus pezones,
la caja de tus ojos que recién han volado,
tu ancha boca de fruta,
tu cabellera roja,
pequeña torre mía.

Pero no amo tus pies
sino porque anduvieron
sobre la tierra y sobre
el viento y sobre el agua,
hasta que me encontraron.

Your Feet

When I cannot look at your face
I look at your feet.

Your feet of arched bone,
your hard little feet.

I know that they support you,
and that your gentle weight
rises upon them.

Your waist and your breasts,
the doubled purple of your nipples,
the sockets of your eyes
that have just flown away,
your wide fruit mouth,
your red tresses, my little tower.

But I love your feet only
because they walked
upon the earth and upon
the wind and upon the waters,
until they found me.

(One quibble:  my Spanish isn't great, but doesn't this translation lose the snap and surprise of the linebreak in the final stanza?  "But I don't love your feet / Except in that they walked..."  That's too stilted in the second line, but you need, I think, to preserve the flatly negative "no amo" somehow.)


Laura Vivanco said...

Despair is a horrible feeling to have but at least you know there are simple physical reasons for yours. Would it help to set up a reminder on your phone (maybe mid morning and mid afternoon?) to ask you if you've slept/eaten enough recently? At worst that could be irritating, but at best it would prompt you to remember the causes of your despair and do something about them.

[The absurd, impractical, but more amusing alternative would be to have someone dressed as a cake march into your office every so often with a sign reading "Eat Me!", swiftly followed by someone dressed as a bed holding up a placard reading "Sleep on Me!"]


"A sobering reminder, though, that I'm not the lad I once was" - I thought your hernia might have reminded you of that. But people with painful shoulders due to sitting for too long at a badly positioned keyboard and mouse shouldn't throw stones in glasshouses (even if they could, which they can't, because their arm is too sore).

[Translation minus the absurd metaphor: I feel like I'm falling apart too, so I commiserate with you.]

I was getting a distinct feeling that there was something divine about those feet even before I got to the line about walking on water so I'd be tempted to translate the first line

When I cannot look upon your face
I contemplate your feet.

Admittedly that "look upon" sounds archaic in English, which "mirar" doesn't, and I'm not repeating "look," but "When I cannot look at your face" just doesn't make me think about God.

I don't like the line translated as "and that your gentle weight" because "dulce peso" is definitely "sweet" rather than "gentle" weight and the original made me think of the pietà (though now that I've had a look online I'm getting references to the sweet weight of Mary's unborn child and to the "dulce peso" of Christ on the cross).

Continuing with the slightly archaic English, how about ending with

I would not love your feet
had they not walked
on earth, above
the wind, and on the waters,
till they reached me.

E. M. Selinger said...

Laura, I love your "absurd, but impractical" idea! I'll try to treat those glum thoughts as Alice in Wonderland-style messengers, if they show up today. (As well they might: a restless night last night.)

The hernia never made me feel my age, perhaps because the original injury happened when I was in my 30s, and perhaps because my recovery was so quick. Hobbling about for two weeks was less painful, but more ominous, somehow.

I'm fascinated by the religious echoes you hear in "Tus Pies." I think there's a scene in the Old Testament involving God's feet, and of course not seeing God face-to-face features prominently there. When I get to the office I'll look it up.

So sorry you're feeling like you're "falling apart" as well. Hazard of the profession, sitting or standing, I fear!

E. M. Selinger said...

On a related note--I carefully packed a lovely salad for lunch (grilled chicken, mango, some quinoa that my wife made for us this morning) and dropped the bag it was in before I got to the office. Sadly, the salad was in a glass bowl, which shattered instantly. Off in search of food to replace it--plenty of options around, but nothing that yummy, I fear.

Laura Vivanco said...

Lost sleep and lost food! To paraphrase Lady Bracknell rather radically: To lose one, Professor Selinger, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both may be cause for despair.

Re the feet versus the face, I'm not so good on the Old Testament. I've always been rather intrigued by the story of the washing of Jesus' feet:

37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,

38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. (Luke 7)

I think she tends to be depicted looking down at the feet rather than up at his face (e.g. here).

Also, when I was young we always went on holiday to Spain to see my father's side of the family and perhaps, being small, I saw a lot of crucifixes from a height which made me focus on the feet. Actually, given the height of the cross (and, often, the height of the paintings/crucifixes), quite a lot of real and painted people probably end up looking at the feet.

Maybe another influence on my thinking about divine feet are the lines in the poem/hymn about "And did those feet, in ancient times, walk upon England's mountains green."