LATELY — 19 July 2001

Sylvia Plath: and Stories in Parts

I’ve been reading Sylvia Plath’s journal. Like most jour­nals never in­tended for publication, Plath’s has char­ac­ters that drop in and out of the text. Char­ac­ter after char­ac­ter is thrust upon the reader without introduction; soon enough they disappear, only to reap­pear months (or years) later, em­bed­ded within a passing remark. For quite un­der­stand­able reasons, writers of jour­nals feel no writerly duty to main­tain a narrative, they feel no com­punc­tion to explain, they write what they want, and they write when they want to.

The result is a patch-work of story fragments. But, this is not without appeal. As it is with, say, the Venus de Milo, a story missing parts is some­times more in­ter­est­ing than a story whole–by leaving parts to the imagination, it becomes more mysterious, and more intriguing.

Some­thing like this applies to the saga of Myron (“Mike”) Lotz. (And I am also ex­cerpt­ing it because it’s a good Plath sample, and it doesn’t involve Ted Hughes.)

Myron first appears, unnamed, in the entry of January 10, 1953: “Thanksgiving I met a man I could want to see again and again. I spent three days with him up here at house dance.” (This is the first entry after that of No­vem­ber 18.) Plath dis­cusses the fail­ures of Dick, her pre­vi­ous boyfriend: “… I feel he wants to prove his virile dom­i­nance … he grew a mus­tache and said if he shaved it off because I wanted him to it would be a sign of weak­ness and submission.” Then, back to Myron:

What do I see in him? Power, strength. Yes. I admire these qualities. Men­tally and phys­i­cally he is a giant. … I would like to get to know this man; I could give a lot to him; I could perhaps learn what love was. I felt re­serves of power, cre­ative good, and strength in me that I had never been con­sciously aware of. … Please: I dream of talking to him again, under apple trees at night in the hills of orchards; talking; quoting poetry; and making a good life. Please, I want so badly for the good things to happen.

(This passage is pref­aced by, “Will I ever see him again? Will it work out? I don’t know.”)

Myron next appears just over a week later, on January 18: “For weeks I have been ob­sessed by the idea of him, re­call­ing again and again the ap­par­ent in­tel­lec­tual com­pan­ion­ship in­di­cated by our one meeting, our few sub­se­quent letters.” (Letters? What letters?!) She goes on:

I thought how hideous it would be if I never saw him again, never got to know him in reality, as I began to know him. I like talking about him, dis­cussing him with other people: a rather obvious sub­li­ma­tion and substitution, that! And now suddenly, as if I con­jured him up, the phone rang on the first floor this morning and a clear, silk, suave voice said: “How’s the invalid.” I don’t know what I said. (I screamed inside, gasped, fell in an epilep­tic froth of ecstasy, mad, insane ecstasy, on the floor, all inside.)

[They arrange to meet.]

I am going to see you, maybe for once and all, thats up to you (damn, its always up to you) and that is all I ask. Sure, I’d like more. … If the French women can be be­witch­ing re­clin­ing on a divan, so can I. I will be lovely, vivacious, witty, the very best me that I always want to be with you. Damn, oh damn. Every minute passing is all at once an un­be­liev­able and doubt­ful century of agony and anticipation. I am not hungry. I am lean, taut, eager. God damn, I want to hoard the time with you like money. Now, ahead it lies. Seven hours hence. Each hour a savoring, an ex­quis­ite tasting of delight. The bell has run for Pavlov’s dogs, and the sali­va­tion has begun.

The next afternoon, an excited report of their meeting: “I am going to that mag­nif­i­cent event, the Yale Junior Prom with him: with the one boy in the whole college I give a damn about.” Myron had visited Plath at her dorm:

We sat on a trunk in the side hall. He looked, clin­i­cally serious, down at my cast. “When will that be off?” he said determinedly. Hope flickered. “Oh, the first week of February, maybe the second.” “I mean exactly when.” “Well, by the middle of February.” Still looking down: “Do you think you could dance, say by March 6?” A great champagne-colored bubble ex­ploded inside me. “Sure, why?” How amaz­ingly casual of me! “Yale Junior Prom. Would you like to dance then?” “Depends on who with?” “You could dance with Tommy Dorsey. He’s playing.” “He’s not tall enough.” “How about me, then.” Hesitatingly: “Oh, I’d love to, really …” “But what,” he said quickly. “But I will!” The words bubbled out of me like colored lanterns.

[Myron leaves.]

I wan­dered dazedly through the house and every­body kept saying: “Sylvia, that’s wonderful.” “I’m so glad you’re going!” One nice thing about living with a hundred girls–excitement shared is mul­ti­plied a hundred times!

On Thursday, January 22, Plath reports that Myron has written a letter saying, unexpectedly, that he wanted to see her on midse­mes­ter weekend. She writes in the second person: “The very sug­ges­tion of being with him so soon is almost un­bear­able in its in­ten­sity of glad­ness that you are overcome.” Myron is de­scribed glowingly:

You [i.e. Plath] want a bril­liant mind that you can stimulate, but that you can also hon­estly look up to. And this one has it. He com­bines the the loving gen­tle­ness of Bob with the ath­letic good clean­ness of John Hall, and towers above the minds of them all, even Dick. Men­tally he satisfies; phys­i­cally he satisfies. … It is rather bliss­ful to share witty talk and in­tel­li­gent letters with a man who is also three-dimensionally sat­is­fac­tory as this one is. … with him there would be a great, evolving, in­tel­lec­tual dignity to life. I am sure of it. I can walk tall and proud beside him in my body and in my mind. How will it work out? I don’t know. In one year, two years, I will look back at the blind-alleys I wander in now and smile and think: My! how in­evitable this past seems now that was once upon a time my very un­cer­tain future!

Monday, Feb­ru­ary 2, a review of their date:

… from his telling me about his child­hood environment, I can see the origin of his strong drives for success, security, power of intelligence, and fi­nan­cial independence. (He wants these things very hard). … Does he need a woman? Seems offhand not, at least for four or five years. Even­tu­ally he seems to want a home and family. Beastly encouraging.

In a passage in­volv­ing Myron’s brother Ted, a sudden mention of Myron’s base­ball prowess: “Seems like he [Ted] envies his kid brother who is going to Yale and also signing big base­ball contracts.” And later: “At Yale he has spent ‘minus $200’–his schol­ar­ship has more than taken care of everything. He paid $3000 income tax on his base­ball earnings.” Who knew? She continues:

Now enough factual back­ground statement. … Kissed me, too. Long and goodly sat­ur­day we stood on the porch in the rain, him pulling me against his body, and shut­ting his eyes and kissing me gently and for a long time, with his mouth moving softly on mine. I think I am a good deal more ex­pe­ri­enced in va­ri­eties of kisses than he is: I better be careful I don’t shock him or make him think he needs more experience, because I like him this way, and perhaps subtly I can let him know how other ways I like to be kissed. … How do I like men? Hell, depends for what purpose. Every­thing from the worldly roué to the young innocent. … I like keen in­tel­li­gence and in­tel­lec­tual curiosity: prob­a­bly a pro­fes­sional man: doctor, lawyer, engineer, would do the trick. And a lot more. Giant, superman: mental and physical. He is these. Phys­i­cally he meets all re­quire­ments (clearer skin is the only pos­si­ble flaw.) Mentally, he is pretty neat.

Ten days later, Feb­ru­ary 12, Plath is still mad about Myron: “oddly enough, myron is the first and only boy so far I would say ‘yes’ to if mar­riage were brought up!” She cat­a­logs his gifts:

power: he offers that. … I need a strong mate: I do not want to ac­ci­den­tally crush and subdue him like a steam­roller as I would have Bob, certainly. I must find a strong po­ten­tial pow­er­ful mate who can counter my vibrant dynamic self: sexual and intellectual. and while comradely, I must admire him: respect and ad­mi­ra­tion must equate with the object of my love …

physically: myron is a her­cules … he excells in baseball, skating–and so on … myron is lean, hard and clean (no smoking, no drinking.) and I think he always will be.

mentally: he has a pho­to­graphic memory, to all prac­ti­cal purposes–scientific to the core–a good balance–yet he ap­pre­ci­ates and un­der­stand the most ide­al­is­tic poetry–and is uniquely sen­si­tive to lit­er­ary beauty.

… check­ing off in the squares of my tacit general and par­tic­u­lar re­quire­ments one after the other, I find that in respect to the important things (mind, phi­los­o­phy of life, phys­i­cal appeal and pureness) he lacks hardly anything, so cool, so rational, I add up the balance slate and the total decides that I just might let myselft learn to love im: if I am capable of that much ma­ligned emotion. at least I am sure that phys­i­cal at­trac­tion was not the root … because it would have to take a pretty potent sex-maniac to ween [sic] me from Dick’s in­creas­ingly sat­is­fy­ing phys­i­cal ritual–and the sexual at­trac­tion can start to grow, now that I know the in­tel­lec­tual at­trac­tion is well-begun.

The entries of Feb­ru­ary 25 and March 1 tell of happy days spent with Myron. Feb­ru­ary 25: “Yesterday the vin­di­ca­tion of the dream fan­tasies begin. … Pulling me lightly to him, a kiss, experimental, tender, and then he circled me with his lean, iron­sinewed arms until I ec­sta­t­i­cally could not breathe, and always his mouth moving over mine more sweet and wetly and in­sis­tent than I could wish …” March 1: “… lying the length of him, kissed and cher­ished in his arms: how can I come back to the nec­es­sary in­tel­lec­tual dis­ci­ples of the real world again? … damn you, shut this book and stop think­ing about him … I can’t: I want want want to go back and live that hour over again. mike mike mike: I burnt my mouth on cheese and tomato pizza with you after 12 hours of no food …”

The entry of May 5, just over a month later, is violent. Myron ap­par­ently did some­thing bad, but it’s a little dif­fi­cult to make out exactly what it was he did. This is what she wrote:

and what the hell do you think you can decide upon, act upon, or base your per­sonal phi­los­o­phy upon if at the sight of a tall ret­i­cent poetic genius named Gordon you feel sick, tense, excited, overthrown, eager, wanting to redeem hor­ri­ble in­fir­mary impression, hot and cold and des­per­ately near tears. first you were almost going to con­de­scend to marry M. even if he had bad skin, bar­bar­ian parents, cold cal­cu­lat­ing drives, male vanity and a rather unimag­i­na­tive and rather prosaic way of making love while writing out chem­istry formulas. then you heard about him making out with that empty-headed intense su­per­fi­cial child­ish and sexy bitch who cried and fought all one weekend with his room­mate (whom she yelled at you that she loved desperately.) O.K., so he asked you first and you refused, so she is ag­gres­sive and flat­ters his male vanity, so you are most in­ter­ested in his carrying-on as soon as you demur–maybe re­tal­i­a­tion was his motive, maybe just plain hedonism? so you are disillusioned–why? because, you hypocrite, he is just as bad as you are! unscrupulous, vain, fickle, and hedonistic! so this weekend (coming) you are going to see him half a day later than planned, and how are you going to act? depends on what you want. but you aren’t sure, and you aren’t sure what he wants or needs either, so get down off your high horse and be fair. you know damn well that as soon as he has con­fined himself to you, you’d be off with other dates, playing your damn sweet in­no­cent song: “oh, but I don’t want to confine myself to one person either! how well we’ll get along!” so he makes out with her in the pres­ence of your best friend–he’d be a dunce to think she wouldn’t tell you. and he is no dunce … oh god, there is no faith or per­manance or solace in love unless–unless–the mind adores, the body adores–and yet the fear is always there in my mind: to­mor­row it will all be different–tomorrow I will hate the way he chuck­les at a joke, or combs his hair with a dirty pocket comb. to­mor­row he will see that my nose is fat and my skin is sallow, and we will both be two ugly, vain, selfish, he­do­nis­tic and dis­sat­is­fied people … god, how I ri­cho­chet between cer­tain­ties and doubts. the doubts of past con­vic­tions only cast as­per­sions on present as­sur­ances and ma­li­ciously suggest that those, too, shall pass into the realm of the null and void …

What, exactly, did Myron do to mess things up? What did Plath refuse? Sex to chem­istry formulas? Literally? And who is Gordon? The pre­fig­ured weekend con­fronta­tion is not de­scribed in the journal, al­though the short bi­og­ra­phy of Myron that appears in the end­notes has him dating Plath 1952-1954. Did he last another six months? Or was this it? (The 1952 start date seems shaky: al­though the two had met in 1952, Plath’s January 10, 1953 entry would seem to in­di­cate that they were not dating at that time–see above. Plath also at­tempted suicide on 24 August 1953.)

Myron is only men­tioned once more (according to the index). In the entry of March 10, 1956, Plath writes, “Oh the fury, the fury. Why did I even know he [Ted Hughes] was here. The panther wakes and stalks again, and every sound in the house is his tread on the stair; I wrote a mad girl’s love song once in a mad mood like this when Mike didn’t come and didn’t come …”

Why did you not come, Myron Lotz?

[Myron Lotz is Myron and Sylvia Plath is Plath because Plath became famous and de­serves the dignity of a last name and Myron does not. And for fuck’s sake, his name’s Myron.]