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.]