When I returned to my real young life, later that night,
William made me laugh… I saw he was trying
to lift my spirits out of morbid reflections,
and he succeeded.
He had a fine collection of gramophone records.
– Muriel Spark
in A Far Cry from Kensington
Slice of Cake:
She is most famous for her novella The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961).
You might remember the 1969 film with Maggie Smith.1
But my favorite Muriel Spark book is a novel she wrote 20 years later:
Loitering With Intent (1981)
For many years I re-read this book every year.
When I finally got around to asking myself why, I decided
it’s mostly for passages like this one:
I found the book on the library shelves and
while I was there in that section, I lit on another book I hadn’t seen for years.
…It was like meeting an old friend.
I borrowed both books and went on my way rejoicing.
– Muriel Spark,
from Chapter 3
of Loitering With Intent
The novel is set in 1949,
yet was written in the 1980s.
…Which is a liiiiittle cheat-y.
What I mean is that our main character often
comments on what the late 1940s were like—
and we see her defying
the strict norms of her day
(and because it’s written with a first-person narrator, it feels very intimate)—
yet her attitudes might seem more 1980s than 1940s.
Here’s an example of what I mean…
When her friend Dottie uses the phrase
“The love that dares not speak its name,”
“A homosexual affair,” I said,
daring to speak its name somewhat to Dottie’s added distress.
“Aren’t you surprised?” she said.
– from Chapter 3
of Loitering With Intent
by Muriel Spark
…and that certainly would have been certainly a lot braver to say (or write) in 1949 than it was in 1981.
On the other hand,
there are passages like this one,
describing an early evening, as she’s leaving her troublesome workplace for the day:
I walked home across the park…and stopped in the middle of the pathway.
People passed me, both ways, going home from their daily work, like myself.
Whatever I had been specifically thinking about…went
completely out of my mind. People passed … Young men with dark suits and
girls wearing hats and tailored-looking coats.
The thought came to me in a most articulate way:
“How wonderful it feels to be an artist and a woman in the twentieth century.”
– from Chapter 1
of Loitering With Intent
To me, that buoyancy of mood is infectious.
There’s a vivid cast of characters and the story revels in good friends;
plus, it has an interesting slant on not-so-good friends, and what real friendship is made of.
So, yes, I very much recommend Loitering With Intent.
Happy 101st Birthday
** Muriel Spark **
– born February 1, 1918
in Edinburgh, Scotland
The more thinly a person is stretched
across the grid of everyday life,
the less likely it is that she is at home within herself.
And without being at home within oneself
even the most generous individual
must short-change everyone around her.
– Rainer Maria Rilke 2
Don’t let the sound
of your own wheels
drive you crazy.
– Jackson Browne
I have been thinking this week about time off.
One low day,
as I was writing in my journal, I made a list of everything that was making me anxious—from family concerns and political worries to the uglier side of internet commentary—and I realized that this is the stuff that was draining my soul.
So it occurred to me to try listing the opposite:
All the things that feed my soul.
After a writing down a dozen or more things, I realized that each involved one (or more!) of these 3 things:
Art. Community. Nature.
Art of all kinds: reading a good book, coming across an amazing street mural, or just listening to Count Basie’s 1981 recording of Satin Doll by Duke Ellington.
Community, meaning spending time with other people: chasing a frisbee with my kids, celebrating a friend’s birthday, cheering on a Pride Day parade, chatting with a cashier at the grocery store.
Nature: a walk around the block to listen to birds sing, a hike in the mountains, standing in my backyard looking at the stars.
Some things are combine more than one:
A poetry reading at the local bookstore is art and community.
Taking my kids to the beach is community and nature.
with my husband through the park to a farmers market
where a local band was playing—
that was art, nature, and community—
with exercise thrown in as a bonus.
(That was a good day!)
It’s been helpful to me to know what restores me to
feeling “at home within myself,” as Rilke says.
The things that make me feel I’ve had a break.
What kind of things do you do to unplug, quiet your mind, let go of responsibilities, and to give yourself good and relaxing time off?
“Half Cup More”
I like the long shadows—
walking as the sun sets—when it’s
Birdsong and rabbit time,
Family time for deer.
My own shadow stretches—
the shadow of Earth herself.
At owl time
I have to turn back—
(my flashlight forgotten again).
© Kelly J Hardesty
Radical self-care is quantum, and radiates
out into the atmosphere, like a little fresh air.
It is a huge gift to the world.
When people respond by saying,
“Well, isn’t she full of herself,”
smile obliquely, like Mona Lisa,
and make both of you a nice cup of tea.
– Anne Lamott
from I’ll Be 61 Years in 48 Hours,
her facebook post on 8 April 2015
Thank you for reading!
— Kelly J Hardesty
Scroll down to the end—and you can leave me a note!
Always so lovely to hear from you. .
You Can Read More…
Maggie Smith won an Oscar for Best Actress for the
1969 film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
and Rod McKuen (!) was nominated for his song
“Jean” which was written for the film.
♪ ♫ Come out of your half-dreamed dream, bonnie Jean! ♪ ♫
(BTW, he lost that year to “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”
written by Burt Bacharach & Hal David
for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.)
I adjusted the pronouns on Rilke’s quote.
Whenever you click on ‘Post Comment’ your comments always come to me first. Then I post them below.
If you’d rather they stay between us, just let me know.
© Kelly J Hardesty 2023