Gilda Trillim explores an animated world

A new letter from Gilda Trillim was discovered in an estate sale in Los Angeles, tucked in a copy of one of her books. I had to share it, even though I have little doubt that Gilda is wearing out her welcome in the Bloggernacle (she is certainly not to everyone’s taste). It’s long and I would not read it if I were you. I am placing these here mostly to assemble an archive that allows future Mormon ficstorians to discover her. Still this one opens interesting questions that are worth exploring.

Dear Babs,

I lost the second match and am out. I’m feeling a little blue and empty today. I can almost hear you telling me (in your musical lilting voice) to stop moping and turn to a good book. I will. I promise. Literature has always been my healing balm, the life preserver thrown onto the surface of my hurricanes, and you are right, or the you I imagine telling me to read anyway. I need to find a book that will take me out of this world and plant me in another. Such worlds I have no doubt are as real as this one. Just because it finds its existence principally in my head, does not mean that that astral plane is less real than this one. For all I know I may be a fictitious character in the head of another being who exists on another sphere of existence. I picture him now, a biology professor perhaps, living in the mountains of the west, struggling to make sense of my life as a character in one of his fictions, wondering who I am and how I have come to capture his imagination, the two of us moving in a dance of meaning across the worlds, worlds different in ontology and subjectivity, each of us imprinting on the other new realities and new ways of understanding what it means to be. Surely there is room for multiple realities each playing with and constructing things from the snippets of what reality we each can claim. Am I mad? Or is he? Who can say?

I remember when I was young, ten or twelve perhaps, all things had a peculiar aspect—one that no longer exists for me, but which I miss terribly. It was an impression of animation that could be felt everywhere. How I lost it is hard to guess, but back then everything had a living dimension and an active, almost fixed personality. I could recognize in objects a longing to belong. To fit in. Not that human concerns were theirs, but they had concerns and these could be apprehended. I remember were I to throw my shoe into the closet without his companion (and shoes were ‘he’s for all things were gendered), he would languish in loneliness until restored to the company of the other shoe. It waited in the darkness among the other shoes longing for his bosom friend, like a lover standing on a coastal promontory waiting for the return of a sailor on a voyage long delayed. Each item in the world, or part of an item, was animated with spirit and presence, so that both a red wagon as a whole, and each of its parts, would have a felt demeanor. Its parts would form a society instantiated in its wheels, tongue, and bed, working together toward the emergence of a common disposition—a whole wagon so that although a society, the wagon was also an animated spirit fashioned from its component parts but not decomposable to them. Spritely spirits all, individually or collectively construed, but each conglomeration a confederation and purveyor of a different mood or tone that disclosed one complete eidolon. Even those indisputable Platonic forms, the numbers, carried a psyche whose nature was as real and present as my grandmother’s. For example, I recall that Twos were friendly and well-disposed to like those with whom they had the pleasure to associate. Nines more cantankerous and incline to find fault and make demands of their brother and sister numbers. Fives jolly. Threes gregarious. Eight always seemed a little lost and unsure of herself, perhaps feeling resentful that she was not prime, even though she is found early in the sequence of integers where primes are abundant and easy to come by. Ones were never lonely as suggested, but rather joyful and encouraging—loved by all.

I remember one autumn day during this period. I was left alone. The family had left to watch my brother receive the honor of receiving his Eagle Scout. It seemed unfair because only two weeks before he had been feted and cheered for receiving the priesthood. In a bitter mood, I milked our two cows. I was annoyed that they had had to come into the barn for milking while the young steer was left to frolic in the pasture (although to be fair, he was earmarked for the dinner table and perhaps deserved what frolicking he could get).

When I was in such foulness, I would slap the cow’s black and white hide hard. Normally, it fetched a vicious sound that would soften my anger and allow a sprig of satisfaction to bubble through my beastly mood. But not today. I milked the poor beast roughly and when I had finished mauling its teats and slapping its hide, I was still not mollified and was banging things around in rage. In such a rampage I tipped over the pail. Now I was in a fury flamed by my added fear that there would be hell to pay for having carelessly lost what was earmarked for Sis. Hanson (each day’s production went to a week’s worth of widows lined up on our street like spices on a rack).

Now I was wicked. I knew it. It didn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things for I was just a girl. No one was going to cheer me for getting twenty-one merit badges or for lumbering through an Eagle Project building a chicken coop for the 4H Club. And no one was going to take me to Flaming Gorge in the summer for backpacking and canoeing and I was never going to get to sit in front of the sacrament table giggling and hitting those around me nor would I be allowed to pass the sacrament to bowed heads reverently waiting to receive Christ. No I was not important so why not be fully wicked?

I remembered that Anne of Green Gables got drunk on current wine, mistaking it for raspberry cordial. I was not sure what either was, but I remembered it was made of fruit and could be found in the back shelves of fruit cellars, so I descended into our earthy basement find out if we had any. It was dirt-walled and cavish. This storage room was fashioned only to hold produce canned in the late summer and to harbor bags of harvested potatoes. The smell was dirt-rich, a kind of moldy scent that carried with it the deep aroma of cool mystery.

It was a scary place. Behind the shelves could be descried cavernous earthy hollows that the dangling lamp could not penetrate. Anything could hide in these invaginations and, I was certain, did. I imagined dark things that could be felt, not seen–pale beasts, sensuously grotesque, who stared from their secluded dens, hidden–but present, disclosed–but masked in invisibility. These were not monsters conjured from my brother’s pulp magazines in which teeth and claw were the tools destruction. Those sharp accouterments are destinies of matter that might be fended off with other matter, like sword or spear matter, or be blown to bits by a bit of cold steel Southern Idaho weaponry matter. No, these malignant spirits were penetrative miscreations that did not devour flesh but menaced souls from the margins of reality. Such things could as easily follow you into a dream as into another room. I knew if I was quiet and reverential they would just watch—for now. But they were to be respected and avoided. One did not peer too closely behind the peaches or try to reach beyond the back row of green beans cavalierly. Caution was the order of the day. But they were manageable. By keeping your eyes away from the dark places behind the furnishings you could avoid contact and thus confrontation. Care was needed, but not so much that the whole place needed to be scrupulously avoided. You did what needed to be done, but not linger or stay to play. While dark and dangerous, they mostly just wanted to be left alone. But these were not the only beings present in that small grotto. There were many whose personality could be discovered.

When you entered the place from the rough-hewn wooden steps, you encountered a low watt light bulb hung in the center of the ceiling by a long thin cord. Because you had to pull another beaded chain to turn it on, the bulb was left swinging, making the shadows dance with a steady cadence, as if a hypnotist had set the entire room into a rhythmic, purposeful swaying. As the period of motion decreased, the metrical incandescent pendulum slowed and the rocking shadows steadied and in the dim yellow light sturdy shelves were revealed.

The ancient wooden planks held an array of lost and lonely cans, and forlorn and forgotten bottles and jars. Their disposition seemed to awake slowly as if, unused to the light, they were trying to moor their emerging consciousness in something more sure than the troubled sleep the cellar had imposed. They seemed to be blinking and rubbing their eyes trying to grasp a world they did not understand and mostly feared. Of the myriad of bottled things, most longed to be opened. To be the one chosen, the one who would be carried out of the dank pantry and bathed in kitchen light. But others, those with faded labels, or rusted lids, dreaded your touch and withdrew to dark corners. But as with all things then, each item of home production manifest a self, a personhood as present as anything that lived under the stars.

I found a small half-pint jar of what looked like syrupy blueberry jam and feeling as dark as a witch, I declared by fiat that it was blueberry cordial-wine and drink it up. That amount of sugar filled me with such otherworldly power and energy that I knew I was as drunk as a sot staggering through the streets of Boise. I wheeled about the house (such a fine acting job of inebriation I portrayed that I convinced myself that it was no act), shouting words that my mother and father would have washed my mouth out with mayonnaise and Tabasco sauce had they heard me. Finally I turned to the holy of holies of our small frame house—my parent’s bedroom. A sacred place that we were forbidden to transgress.

As I entered, still reeling from my sugar tear, I felt a secret presence—watchful and dangerous. It sobered me. I approached the chest of drawers, its top arrayed with doilies, bric-a-brac, and small bowls holding coins and odd assortments of jewelry, cufflinks, buttons, and tie clips. The contents of drawers were disappointing, mostly loaded with clothes I had seen a hundred times on the lines in the backyard. My parent’s underwear held no interest to me and disgusted me in ways that their socks did not. That drawer was closed quickly. In one I found piles of letters bound with twine tied in lovely bows. They were addressed from my father at an APO address and posted to my mother. I feared to pull the bow loose and left them there, promising that I would one day read them and find their love story fully disclosed on the pages of that correspondence.

I listened very carefully for the sound of their return but hearing nothing, I turned my attention to a small thin bookcase. It was of dark, almost black wood that gave the impression of solidity and seriousness. This I knew this was my mother’s. And I could sense by the way it had been dusted and the way the books had been arranged with care, that this piece of furniture was attended, again suggesting to my mind a sense of holiness and danger–an alter to a god that I thought was watching with hand raised ready to strike if I offended the sacredness of the space (such a thought being ok I surmised because I was yet under the influence of blueberry cordial-wine). And there on the shelf I saw it. I can only describe it as a book that was calling to me, shouting for me to pick it up. It was as if this were a book I knew well, an old friend unrecognized until this moment, who demanded that I run to her and embrace her. The book was of polished brown leather and gold-gilded ends and on the cover was embossed a single word, ‘Proust.’ I opened it carefully and I could tell the book had been opened many times as none of the gilded pages where still stuck together, but rather separated as easily as a well-shuffled deck of cards. I thumbed through it eagerly. This jumped out like a surprised jackrabbit in the back pasture, (And I can even now find it easily in my own copy of the book):

“I feel that there is much to be said for the Celtic belief that the souls of those whom we have lost are held captive in some inferior being, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, and so effectively lost to us until the day (which to many never comes) when we happen to pass by the tree or to obtain possession of the object which forms their prison. Then they start and tremble, they call us by our name, and as soon as we have recognized their voice the spell is broken. We have delivered them: they have overcome death and return to share our life. [1] ”

I don’t know why, but this staggered me as much as the blueberry jam. I knew it was true. The world was alive with spirits. In every object spirits lived, present in everything from things as tangible as a stuffed teddy bear, or as airy as the number three—all had their viewpoint, their way, and their awareness. I knew this. The longer I stared at something, the more I knew its spirit of the world.

Over the course of many years I have returned to that passage again and again. For what was so true and present to me then, has utterly departed from me. Now the world holds no animation and things seem to be things and I wonder again and again what I’ve lost, for it seems to me that much has been lost. Where once everything could be counted on to feel something toward me, now I feel alone in a world of careless objects. The ghosts of my youth have all departed from me.

In a university class I took, this deanimation continues, not just to the cold objects of the world, but even to the living things. Which now seem to many just machines that tick tock to the beat of their own internal motions established long ago when the universe came to be.

Yet I keep coming back again to this passage from Proust and these lines I found in the book you gifted to me at Christmas last year:

“In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view. [2]”

And I am left wanting to shout at my professors, and to the empty self-thing that I have become, and who now seems so blind compared to that little girl who heard the voice of books shout to her, and who felt the weight of a shadow’s dark watchfulness: What died in the wolves eyes? What did Leopold watch leave that poor beast’s being? And can we bring it back?

I am your,

Gilda
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1. Marcel Proust. Swann’s Way– Remembrance Of Things Past, Volume One. Translated From The French By C. K. Scott Moncrieff, New York, Henry Holt And Company, 1922. Accessed at The Project Gutenberg November 11, 2012: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/7178/7178-h/7178-h.htm

2.Aldo Leopold, 1986. ‘Thinking Like a Mountain’ in A Sand County Almanac. Random House. New York. p. 137

Comments

  1. What a fantastic soul! She says the things we all feel but can’t find the words for.

  2. I would love to have known Gilda. I read it all.

  3. Thanks for the archive. I have now discovered her. If our Y generation would read more, they would say “She’s keeping it real!”

  4. Gilda, always ahead and behind her time.

  5. Long live Gilda!

  6. Please, tell me that you intend to publish a compilation of Gilda’s letters. That volume would hold a place of honor on my bedroom bookshelf.

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