"And so began my voyage of discovery... in a place as strange as Brooklyn," Stingo explains early in Sophies Choice, his story of a Southern transplant who finds himself making a home in Brooklyn. There is, of course, a long tradition of Southern writers doing exactly this. I spent the weekend thinking about those feelings, between here and there, and trying to find a place called home, while keeping the demons at bay. Between movies and novels, I thought about Sophie and Stingo and William and Thomas and his editor Max. They all found places for themselves here. It was never simple. However they got here, they brought themselves and those pieces of the violence they left behind. The traumas of living and growing, creating families and living in history are never simple. Sophie lost her kids and a part of herself in Auschwitz. Its a harrowing story of one of the people we meet when we move here who rub off on us. After knowing them, we are never the same.
They make us laugh as we learn who they are.
As Sophie told her neighbor, complimenting him on his new suit.
"Sophie: Stingo, you look... you look very nice, you're wearing your cocksucker."
Wearing a seersucker suit, he could only smile.
We all have to laugh. But I spent most of the movie crying.
In the meantime, Thomas, another Southern transplant was looking back at where his story brought him. I remember the first time I read LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL in high school, I was immediately moved with the cadence and feeling of the words of the Southerner making sense of the modern and his ancestral home, lulling and pulling him, between here, there and a story connecting in between.
The first lines of the story remind me of that feeling:
. . . a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door.
And of all the forgotten faces.
Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not
know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh have we come
into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.
Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his
father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent?
Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?
O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this
most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek
the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a
stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?
O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.
A destiny that leads the English to the Dutch is strange enough;
but one that leads from Epsom into Pennsylvania, and thence into
the hills that shut in Altamont over the proud coral cry of the
cock, and the soft stone smile of an angel, is touched by that dark
miracle of chance which makes new magic in a dusty world.
Styron's Sophies Choice began his story in a similar fashion:
two years after the war...
when I began my journey
to what my father called...
the "Sodom" of the north:
Call me Stingo, which was the
nickname I was know by those days.
If I was called anything at all.
I've barely saved enough
money to write my novel...
for I wanted to be and hoped
or dreamed to be a writer.
But my spirit had remained locked...
unacquainted with love
and a stranger to death.
Even back then cheap apartments
were hard to find in Manhattan.
And so began my voyage of discovery...
in a place as strange as Brooklyn.
And it was here in this dusty place where Stingo learned of the peaks and valleys of moods and the ways the other bards grappled with the ontological challenges of living, of being, of being seduced and let down and still writing about it all.
On a manic high, Stingo's neighbor toasts his writing on the Brooklyn Bridge.
On this bridge on which...
so many great Americans writers
stood and reached out for words..
to give America its voice...
looking toward the land
that gave them Whitman...
from its Eastern edge dreamt his
country's future and gave it words...
on this span of which...
and Hart Crane wrote...
we welcome Stingo
into that pantheon of the Gods...
May we dance in that never never pantheon. Of course, William Styron, who created Nathan, fought with his own demons. Depression grasped him, as he contemplated following Nathan's path toward oblivion. We all have to fight those feelings. Thank goodness there are stories such as this to guide us.