David Kronemyer

Karen Craig

September 1st, 2006 by David Kronemyer · 3 Comments

DAVID KRONEMYER: There are few things more disconcerting than to wake realizing one just has had a vivid dream about someone from one’s distant past. In this case it was Karen Craig, a girl I knew in high school. This would be Point Loma High School in San Diego, California, in the late 1960s. All of us were in a group called “Independent Study,” which basically meant we sat around all day ostensibly working on projects of various sorts. In retrospect it was a kind of experimental educational laboratory run by Michael Lorch and David Hermanson, our advisors, as a doctoral project. I only hope we gave to them, as much as they gave to us. Pretty much the only class we went to that wasn’t Independent Study was Honors English, taught by Kermeen Fristrom. Fristrom would do things like having us memorize and then recite passages from Greek Drama, in a darkened room. I think all of the girls had a crush on him. One of our favorite books was Ulysses by James Joyce. I always had read the conclusion of the Penelope chapter as an exultant celebration of life. One day Karen gave a reading of it that sent shivers up my spine. It was full of yearning but also tinged with melancholy; wistful, as though Molly Bloom was reviewing the events in her life through a prism of regret.

Now I think that Ulysses is a virtuoso example of modernism, but implausible as a psychological exercise. Even allowing for over-interpretations, Joyce was too clever for his own good. Nobody thinks the way that Stephen Dedalus or Leopold Bloom does, in terms of Homer, Hamlet, obscure literary references, etc. Rather, we think in half-formed phrases, or even images. But then again, Joyce was an author, and therefore was constrained to use words; for me, this dynamic bled into Wittgenstein and a picture theory of meaning. Later, Joyce wrote Finnegans Wake, where he seemed to be moving towards a more fluid conception of what “stream of consciousness” actually is.

Karen and I never were boyfriend and girlfriend. It would have been logistically plausible, seeing as how we lived a few blocks away from each other in La Jolla. We walked together on the beach one day, holding hands. For a while she was going out with my friend Robert Nuese. After they broke up, Nuese told me it was unlikely he ever would love again. While I’m sure he said this under the influence of too much romantic poetry – we all were susceptible – his sentiment accurately captured Karen’s general aura. She was a sylph-like creature – not mysterious or aloof, but disarmingly forthright and candid. She was funny and sexy. Like one of the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or Ariel in The Tempest. Although not opinionated or inflexible, she was highly confident in all she did. She was wild and free. No one could tame her, or tell her what to be. For me, at least, she projected an intense aestheticism. Everybody was drawn into this orbit as if by gravitational force. I suppose we all were in love with her in one way or another, I know I was. Although it shouldn’t be regarded as a valid predictor of future events, in our high school yearbook, she wrote to the effect that we would be together when both of us were 80 years old … it makes me wonder.

I lost track of her after high school. She went to UC Santa Cruz for a while. Although now it’s as staid as anywhere else, it then was a hotbed of avant-garde cultural foment. Afterwords, rumor had it that she decamped to art school in Florence. What kind of art? Why would she settle on any one media, in lieu of any other, when her skills were so broad? Her art was a process of unfolding, of revealing, it was the way she led her life. “You are the poem you are asking for” – in Karen’s case, she was the poem. Or, as George Russell was quoted as saying in the first part of the Scylla & Charybdis chapter of Ulysses: “Art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences. The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring.” She was that process of revealing. I think she now lives in New Zealand of all places. I only hope she has retained that attitude of adventuresome fearlessness. There are so many things about her that I wish I had learned – how she laughed, how she cried, how she made love – her ways and modes of being-in-the-world. I feel strangely deprived – like I never got a fair shot at her, because our lives had diverged, and we had become mutually inaccessible.

In the meanwhile I have had a lifetime of experiences – astonishing, disconcerting, bewildering, sublime, outrageous, intensely vivid beyond all imagination, full of wonder and amazement. What is it that accounts for the persistence, albeit precariousness, of such an ancient memory? In fact I only can recall a few images of her, like faded colored slides. They somehow became animated in a dream, taking on a life of their own, engaging in hypothetical activity, as realistic as if they had occurred yesterday. I marvel at the tenuous chains of mental causation that link us with events occurring so long ago.

Karen Craig