Tuesday, February 9, 2010

tennessee, made of birch and glass

I love Tennessee Williams. Lately, I've been reading a book of his essays called "Where I Live." I love reading books that are about other books or writing, so I'm really enjoying it. One essay (and one line in particular) on how he came up with the title for The Glass Menagerie struck a chord in me so deep that 
it made me cry. 
He was recalling his childhood, and his sister's bedroom in their small, dirty apartment with windows that only looked out on the alley. Every night, sad things would happen to stray cats underneath her bedroom window, and so she kept her shades pulled at all times. Her room was dark, so Tennessee painted all her furniture white, and she had a shelf that housed a collection of small, glass animals.
Of these glass animals, Tennessee wrote: 
"By poetic association they came to represent, in my memory, all the softest emotions that belong to recollection of things past. They stood for all the small and tender things that relieve the austere pattern of life and make it endurable to the sensitive."
I understood this so well, in myself and out of recognition in others, and it immediately brought tears to my eyes. Once an author has brought tears to my eyes, I am loyal to them forever. I was loyal to Tennessee before, but now that line is permanently in my heart, and I love him in a different way (the way you love an author or artist only once you've realize your admiration of them is not in vain and you actually feel understood by them, and their writing can then calm you at any time).
It's reminiscent of Gibran's "to know the pain of too much tenderness," and Eliot's "the notion of some infinitely gentle, infinitely suffering thing." Lines I will never, ever forget, and think about often.
I hope you're all having a wonderful week.
Tennessee with a cake celebrating his play The Glass Menagerie.


WoolenSails said...

Never knew that is what inspired his play. I like autobiographies on some people and what inspired them to become who they were.


madeleine said...

there are two wonderful essay/reviews by Daniel Mendelsohn about Tennessee Williams' Glass Menagerie and Streetcar Named Desire in his book "How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken." He explores how strong these women are, and how Williams knew how to write women better than most playwrights. I think you'd really enjoy the other essays in the book as well, if you've time.

I agree with you about how "Once an author has brought tears to my eyes, I am loyal to them forever." Milan Kundera did that to me with his novel 'Immortality', and I hope I don't sound too pretentious saying I have never been the same since. I think that's one of the best things about books, art, theatre, and music, that you don't even have to know the creator to be touched by them.

And that Eliot quote is one of my favourites :)

(there's also an amazing song by The National that mentions Tennessee Williams - it's called City Middle)

Amanda Atkins said...

aww, thank you madeleine! Streetcar is my favorite Tennessee Williams play. I love Blanche. I will definitely get that book to read! (and also the song).

what you said about artists/writers/theater/etc. is so true, and so wonderful!