Mary Gordon

I think I have the strongest writing class I have ever had, and they have made each other nervous reading aloud their first assignment. Each of them thinks everyone else is better than she. I gave them four sentences as a jumping-off place: one from Turgenev, “Birds are not good natured”; one from Katherine Mansfield, “I dreamed I sailed to Egypt with grandmother–a very white ship.” One from Hardy, “He feared he was not a sufficiently dignified person for suicide”; one from Elizabeth Bishop, “Her face in the lamplight made me weep afresh.” I wish they didn’t worry so much about how they stand in my regard. One student saw me in the gym. She was running, and she told me later after she saw me she started to sprint because she wanted to impress me. I still find it incomprehensible that I should have this kind of effect. To make someone run faster, imagine!

I am as angry at Conrad’s treatment of Ford as if it happened last week. The fact that it happened 90 years or so ago means nothing. Ford did everything for Conrad–took him into his house, helped him with English, did donkey-work, slave journalism to support Conrad and his dumb, hypochondriacal wife and sickly children. Really devoted himself. Then when Ford left his wife, Conrad took the high moral ground and cut off relations with him. Ford was heartbroken. It makes me desperate that all kinds of other goodness can be wiped out by sexual indiscretion. That one can say of someone who has made sexual errors, “He is immoral.” Whereas no one would say that of Conrad, who was ungenerous and ungrateful, a complete opposite number to Ford’s generosity. My loyalty to Ford has a libidinal root. I really am in love with him. A lot of women are, whether or not they knew him. It is that generosity, that expansiveness, that susceptibility. I can’t even read Stella Bowen’s book about her life with him because I’m too jealous. I think my father was something like Ford. I think, too, that Clinton shares some of Ford’s qualities, and I am equally desperate that all his good acts are being wiped out, that he is being cast into the realm of the immoral. Why are sex and lying always considered the worst sins? And of course if you are a person of large sexual appetites you often have to lie. The church knew better. It considered the cold sins–pride, envy, avarice–much more heinous. Shakespeare, too. The cold Puritan conscience has put the finger of death on us all.

I, of course, have never been involved with a man like Clinton or Ford. Too unsafe. Put better: I have too much need of safety. Perhaps better still: I am a coward.

One of the few questions you can ask a stranger on the street is, “Do you have the time.” And it’s always that locution: “Do you HAVE the time.” A disproportionate amount of my journal entries are anxious ruminations about how to use my time well, how I don’t have enough time.

I would like to write an essay on the fear of boredom and the fear of bad smells. Will I, I wonder?