The Blazing World
After she moved to Brooklyn, my mother collected strayshuman strays, not animals. every time i went to visit her, there seemed to be another "assistant," poet, drifter, or just plain charity case living in one of the rooms, and i worried they might take advantage of her, rob her, or even kill her in her sleep. i worry too much; it's chronic. i became the worrier in the familymy job. The man who called himself the Barometer lived with mother for a long time. he had spent two weeks in Bellevue not long before he landed on her doorstep. he rattled on about the words of the winds and made peculiar gestures to lower the humidity. When i mentioned my anxiety about him to my mother, she said, "But, maisie, he's a gentle person, and he draws very well." She was right about him, as it turned out. he became the subject of one of my films, but there were other, more fleeting and unsavory characters who kept me up at night until Phineas came along and put her affairs in order, but that was later. my mother's place was immense, an old warehouse building. She had two floors, one to live in and one to work in. When she renovated the place, she made sure there were several bedrooms for "all my future grandchildren," but i think she also had a fantasy about supporting young artists directly, putting them up, giving them space to work in. my father had his foundation. my mother had her ad hoc red hook artists' colony.
Not long after she moved, my mother said to me, "maisie, i can fly." her energy was up, to say the least. i read somewhere about hypomania, and i asked myself if my mother might not be hypomanic. mourning can be complicated by all kinds of nervous ups and downs, and she was really sick after my father died. She was so weak and thin, she could hardly move, but after she recovered, she didn't stop. my mother worked long hours in her studio every day, and after that she read for two or three hours, one book after another, novels, philosophy, art, and science. She kept journals and notebooks. She bought herself one of those big, heavy punching bags and hired a woman named Wanda to give her some boxing lessons. Sometimes i felt limp just looking at her. She'd always had a streak of fierceness in hershe could explode suddenly over a trivial incident. once when she had asked me to brush my teeth and i dawdledi must have been about sevenshe lost it. She yelled and screamed and pressed an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink. But most of the time she was a patient mother to me and my brother. She was the one who read to us and sang to us, who made up long stories that satisfied both me and ethan, not an easy task, because i wanted fairies and goblins, and he wanted vehicles that released various weapons and robots, so she would make a hybrid. For a whole year, she told us a long saga about the Fervidlies, who lived in a country called Fervid. Lots of magic and fights and elaborate weaponry. She helped us with our homework all through high school. i'd call her from college, too, and ask her questions about my classes or papers. my mother was interested in everything, and she seemed to have read everything. She was the one who attended our games, recitals, and plays. my father came when he could, but he traveled a lot. Sometimes, when i was little, i would go in and sleep with my mother when he was gone. She talked in her sleep. i don't know why i remember, but once she yelled out, "Where's Felix now?"
children are selfish. i knew my mother was an artist who made intricate houses filled with dolls and ghosts and animals she sometimes let me touch, but i never thought of her work as a job. She was my mother. my father called her his madonna of the mind. it's awful when i think about it, but it never occurred to me that my mother was frustrated or unhappy. The endless rejection must have hurt her, the injustice of it, but i can't say i felt it when i was a child. She liked to hum and sway when she worked on one of her constructions, and she'd waggle her fingers over a figure before she touched it. Sometimes she sniffed the materials and sighed. She'd close her eyes from time to time and liked to say that there was no art for her without the body and the rhythms of the body. of course, when i was a teenager, i found these gestures and tics excruciating, and i tried to make sure none of my friends witnessed them. When i was seventeen she once said to me, "maisie, you're lucky you didn't get my breasts. Big breasts on a little woman are fetching; big breasts on a big woman are scaryto men, that is." it hit me that she felt her womanliness, her body, her size had somehow interfered with her life. This was long before the pseudonyms, and i was busy making my first little film in high school, a visual diary, i called itvery pretentious, lots of long, moody shots of my friends walking down the street or sitting in their rooms at home in states of existential anguish, that sort of thing. What did my breasts have to do with it?
Excerpted from The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt. Copyright © 2014 by Siri Hustvedt. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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