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To do or not to do

All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone — Blaise Pascal

garmingps

Dear friends and readers,

I am not sure of the wisdom of the choice I seem to have made (to do) but have found I am incapable of not doing.

I have a long last begun to use a GPS a kind friend sent me as a gift: a Garmin. As he assured me, the gadget is simplicity itself, and when I can manage to program it, the voice enables me to reach places and just as important return home. My main problem occurs when it resolutely refuses to let me type in an address I want to go to: all of the GPSes anticipate what you are going to type, and if the gadget thinks you are wrong, or has another address, it screeches to a halt. Yesterday it kept changing the address of the church an pre-semester OLLI at AU meeting was to be held at (St Sophia’s Cathedral in DC). Luckily my google map was precise, thorough, accurate so it was not until the last turn I was puzzled, and then when I did turn this wrong address on it seemed the gadget was taking me to this very cathedral. When I told someone about this, the person suggested the church is so big (it covers three sides of a large block), it could have another address, and a different street address altogether was a better one to try. At any rate when my google map for getting back turned out to be unworkable (plus there are so few signs in DC), the GPS did acknowledge “go home” and it got me back home or perhaps I would still be driving wanderingly through roundabouts …

Yvette does better with this mechanism than I and we managed to reach with ease The Tenth Annual Ice-Skating Championships Live (in a deeply chilled skating rink in Laurel, Maryland), and watched a rich program of superb skating. I am ever more impressed by Weiss: a long career & good life as a skater, and now he creates careers & hopes for good lives for others. That was this past Sunday.

Weissinhisprime
Weiss when he was young

Rewind two days before to Friday night where the Metro took me to the Library of Congress where the Washington Area Print Group listened to Ezra Greenspan talk about how he tried to solve a complete absence of personal documentation in researching the life and work of William Wells Brown (1814-84), a pioneering African American novelist, playwright, historian, memoirist, and civil rights activist for Greenspan’s biography of Brown. Brown left not one letter, and there are no letters to him either. Brown was born into slavery and escaped so leaving a paper trail was not in his interest. Brown was functionally illiterate at age 19, and attended a school for African-American children in 1834. Why in later life after Brown taught himself (or was taught) to read and to write and became a well-educated well-read men he did not then save any documents about himself or any of his close friends or family or associates, Prof Greenspan could not say. Wells did become estranged from his first wife, Betsy Brown, and there were 2 daughters — so perhaps some of the silence went to make sure this private life did not reach a hostile public. Brown’s books were also considered contraband. He did appropriate (plagiarize) other texts freely. One publisher is on record saying that Brown’s books did not interest white readers. He was in integrationist himself. The first pioneering work on Brown was done in the 1940s.

WilliamWellsBrown
Greenspan’s biography

What Prof Greenspan did was follow the trail of Brown’s books. Greenspan found copies of all the editions of Brown’s works and examined their paratexts (printers’ names, sellers, colophons, inscription, book plates of owners of volumes) as well as their central discourses. Greenspan found he could discover a good deal about Brown, and not just his ideas. He lived in London and after the civil war was over traveled around the US. While Brown is said to have spoken English with a southern black dialect, his books are written in a sophisticated elegant standard English, and he was able to hire exquisitely good engravers. At the same time he was something of a showman so his books sold well. Greenspan discussed two: Three Years in Europe: Places I have Seen and People I’ve Met (182) and The Black Man: his Antecedents, his Genius, and his Achievements (1862). Clearly personal information is to be garnered from the first and yet a third: The American Fugitive in Europe: Sketches of Places and People Abroad (1852). With the novel such a favored popular form, Brown’s one novel, Clotel, gets the most attention; it’s thought he was the first African-American to write plays which he’d read aloud dramatically in lecture circuits.

A week before I renewed an old friendship — the oldest friend I’ve known in the sense of earliest. Her husband died last month, after 10 years of Parkinson’s Disease, the last 3 very hard for her and him. He was 75 and she is now 68, a widow living in Florida. She seemed to suggest she would invite me to come visit her for a few days in January as the beaches where she lives are beautiful then. We’ve talked on the phone now and understand one another once again.

I have been trying to learn to play the piano, practicing each day but find this is not trivial task. Learning the notes does not come intuitively at all to me. I’m keeping it up for now because part of my aim was to use the piano. I felt bad that it was no longer in use and however feeble my efforts in comparison to Jim’s I was keeping the instrument alive. But maybe once I feel I do understand something of musical notes and playing so that I can understand what I am listening to when I sit listening to NPR (I keep it on much of the day), I will give over. A sign I am not getting pleasure from this is how I play softly. I don’t want the neighbors to hear my crude efforts.

Right now I have three trips to get through this fall too (JASNA at Montreal, briefly to Delware to talk about widows in Austen and even more briefly to NYC to go to an opera with Yvette) and have again to get medical reports signed for the DMV — it will take visits to the lawyer too.

But the most fraught experiences of these days have been at home: today when I tried to link in a new syllabus to my website, and refreshed the browers, suddenly the front central page was replaced by one made five years ago and all the work of the intervening years vanished from the Net. As has happened before, when I tried to access the directories that Jim created, many of the files did not appear in the FileZilla Client program and for at least ten minutes (more) it looked like this was the death of the website Jim had been so proud to make for me and him too over the past 18 years. We first built it in 1995: he said to me I should not leave the poetry of Vittoria Colonna translated in looseleaf notebooks, and would it not be a good idea to put my syllabus online for my students. At the time there was no blackboard; people at GMU did not put their syllabi online. Things have changed enormously since then, and what I have is an accretion over the years, a website whose original concept is probably too narrow and whose branches too inter-involved and over-loaded unless you understand how they relate to one another. I don’t. Clearly the Hostway Solutions technicians (the name of the website company from which we rent the cyberspace account) didn’t either, for one of them deleted part of the website altogether. I imagined to myself how angry Jim would have been at her incompetency. Fortunately, Jonathan, my IT young man was there for me within five minutes and on and off for over 3 hours we worked together to find in my computer and the back-up disks he had made for me the files we needed and (partly I did this myself) were able to substitute the up-to-date front page into the old five-year file and voila, the website was back and up-to-date. But I dare not add or change anything now as neither I, Jonathan, and least of all the Hostway Solutions people understand why the website reverted. So it could do that again.

Jonathan has suggested to me I buy or access a new website for myself and when I want to put up papers, or poetry of my own, or group reads or whatever, something new, put them there. He said he would send me new materials about this and we would make a new plan for saving my files from my website and perhaps do something about the blog material too. Caroline happened to come over and suggested I could take some of the material off the old website and (if the new website people were willing to work this for me) reformulate onto a much more attractive modern website. This latter project is not exactly a formula for achieving peace of mind. Deeper and deeper goes the distress.

I put the syllabus on Jim and Ellen have a blog, two, and all OLLI syllabi will go on my blogs from now on.

******************************

JennyDiski
I was when I read it this week absorbed by Diski’s (to me) superlative Skating to Antartica — she looks for peace in whiteness — I found a kindred spirit who has reacted to life something in the vein I have

As I have told friends, if I do not go out everyday and be among people, talk, I begin to go wild with desperation in the absence of Jim’s presence. The way I get through each day is to keep my mind absorbed with reading, writing, watching movies, doing what’s necessary around the house, regular tasks (bills, shop, bank), eat and keep company with Yvette in the early evening. I like long-term doable goals too so I take on reviews and just had a paper accepted on the importance of screenplays in the study and understanding of films for next March’s ASECS meeting at LA. Yet none of this makes me happy or even cheerful for real. I find I hate the beautiful weather because Jim is not here to enjoy it — this began when his cancer first metastasized and I realized how many lovely days there really are on this earth and he could no longer appreciate, was barely aware of light, sun, beauty. I can’t stand the change of seasons (which I used to like) because it means he’s deader somehow, dead for a longer time so deeper into non-existence. I thought I found satisfaction in participating at least at the OLLI AU meeting but last night I found the sleeping pill didn’t work and I kept waking up in nervous distress, my feet seizing up (hyperventilating). The excitement and stress of doing all I did with no inward self-satisfying motive for it had exacerbated me. I started another support group since I was advised to, but I can see this second round is not helping me.

Oh yes I play with the pussycats and they are more affectionate than they ever were because I am alert to them. I’ve made acquaintance with a group of older women who walk their dogs together each evening — told them my husband died. They knew about him — have I said when I first moved into this neighborhood (I am told) rumor had it “the explanation” for me was I was a general’s daughter or a musician. What needed to be explained I’m not quite sure (though I can guess). I bought a new nicer lamp than we ever had for our bedroom. New drinking glasses. Had a plumber in to fix the washing machine. And I make blogs like this at night. Tonight I feel flat, stale, and whatever else Hamlet said.

I miss Jim more and more in every way as time goes on. Deeper and into my trembling veins is the realization he is never coming back. I am filling my fall by making a substitute for, not a real life.

My true-love had my heart and I had his,
By just exchange one for the other given:
I held his dear, and mine he could not miss;
There never was a bargain better driven.
His heart in me kept me and him in one;
My heart in him his thoughts and senses guided:
He loved my heart, for once it was his own;
I cherished his because in me it bided.
His heart his wound received from my sight;
My heart was wounded with his wounded heart;
For as from me on him his hurt did light,
So still, methought, in me his hurt did smart:
Both equal hurt, in this change sought our bliss,
My true love had my heart and I had his.

– Philip Sidney as Pamela in Arcadia

WinterlandscapePissarro
Camille Pissarro — A Winter Landscape

Ellen

JapaneseMapleTree
A Japanese Maple Tree (taken from a UK site)

Dear friends and readers,

This week I spotted yet a third moving poem by Clive James about these last years of his: he is apparently dying and living with his daughter

Japanese Maple

Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:

Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?

Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.

My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colors will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.

See James’s Sentenced to Life and Rounded with a Sleep.

**********************

What was bright and then was gone. As I was walking back to my car from the Northern Virginia Jewish Community Center, I found myself remembering something Jim used to say one summer all summer long: we spent our last bright NYC summer (a very hot 1980) almost every day at a “haven” of pools and grass (for picnics, tennis, games) by a Bronx seashore called Shorehaven. “No one could be anti-semitic who experiences these sorts of places which Jews are good at creating,” he’d say. He was especially impressed with how crowded, how many people were there, in close proximity and no one getting into a quarrel at all. You didn’t have to be Jewish to join; it was somehow set up so comfortably, non-threateningly, a place for fun things in social life to be quietly carried on.

There it was mostly swimming; at this NVJCC it’s a wide variety of activities from exercise (I do “Dance Fusion” and next Friday will try “Core”) and swimming to classes, to trips, to plays put on (yes, my older daughter was a stage manager for one quite a number of years ago), but then the NVJCC is for all year round while Shorehaven closed in September and opened in May. You don’t have to be Jewish, but Jewish heritage is stressed in some of the courses. And pro-Israel signs here and there. Changed times. Shorehaven is gone now; wiped out as the lower to middle class population in the boroughs and Manhattan that supported it moved out of the city. Sold to a “developer.” It’s now private houses and apartments. Near the shore what’s left is wasteland. A sad loss.

At Shorehaven I was surrounded by mother, father, husband and baby daughter. My mother and father are dead too. My baby girl is now 36 and lives 20 minutes from me, a continual blogger (among other things). I walk alone to and from a year-round suburban Northern Virginia version of Shorehaven, circa 2014.

Sylvia

Unchained Melody

I would like to be at that seashore now:

The admiral and I used to stand at another seashore, this, the edge of Manhattan (not far from the apartment we lived in for 11 years), a vast swirling turn of the Hudson, across the way on one side New Jersey and on the other the Bronx. We would look down, hold tight to our dog, Llyr on a leash. A George Bellowes painting.

TerraGeorgeBellows

Much afraid went over the river singing/Though none knew what she sang —  Empson (another of Jim’s favorite poets)

Part of the terror and mad desperation of having to remain alive without my beloved is he used to support and help me in all the many times I have lived in uncertainty and distress. I am in such a state this morning. I used to say he was the blood that flowed through my heart. I thought I was exaggerating but those were the words that came to mind when I tried to say what his presence by me meant — why and how I loved him.

Sylvia

Jenny Diski diagnosed

Diski-Jenny

Dear friends and readers,

I regret to report that the cancer epidemic has reached Jenny Diski. In a determinedly comic column Diski announced she had been diagnosed as having a form of inoperable cancer which features cancer traveling into your lypmph nodes and (“very bad” she writes) into the esophagus. Statistically she is told she has 2-3 years before she dies: in the case of cancer you ignore statistics at your peril: I ignored the 40% of all people diagnosed with esophageal cancer dead within a year, and we went ahead with a horribly mutilating operation (if in doubt remove it) for him, which when the cancer metastasized only made him die quicker and suffer much more. I hoped he’d be in the 60%.

She writes:

One thing I state as soon as we’re out of the door: ‘Under no circumstances is anyone to say that I lost a battle with cancer. Or that I bore it bravely. I am not fighting, losing, winning or bearing.’ I will not personify the cancer cells inside me in any form. I reject all metaphors of attack or enmity in the midst, and will have nothing whatever to do with any notion of desert, punishment, fairness or unfairness, or any kind of moral causality. But I sense that I can’t avoid the cancer clichés simply by rejecting them.

Jim too thought this kind of language ridiculous but eventually was driven to say the physicians had intended to battle the cancer in his body. All they did was ruin his body.

She jokes:

So – we’d better get cooking the meth,’ I said to the Poet, sitting to one side and slightly behind me. The Poet with an effort got his face to work and responded properly. ‘This time we quit while the going’s good.’ The doctor and nurse were blank. When we got home the Poet said he supposed they didn’t watch much US TV drama.

I hope she does keep a cancer diary in public; from my reading of so many of her essays (whenever I come across one, I read it, pronta), she will be perceptive and wise. Her book might tell of the hurt, the pain and lies, will be another voice calling attention to the crying need for fundamental research.

People in the world writing, reportage, and in colleges need to know that this epidemic is killing out of all proportion old, middle-aged and now young, rare cancers no longer rare.

Just now I’m reading Diski’s Skating to Antartica, which is lending me courage to go on the trips I’ve planned this fall. I realize I should read her Stranger on a Train. As a regular essayist she’s in a league with Hilary Mantel, Lorna Sage, Margaret Atwood, Diane Johnson, Anita Brookner; among men, Richard Holmes, Richard Davenport-Hines.

Poor woman. Cooking did distract Walter White and that “lost waif,” Jesse Pinkman.

Sylvia

Lastyear
From last year’s festival

AFI FEST 2007 Presented By Audi Tribute To Laura Linney
Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014) (see review below)

Dear friends and readers,

I carry on going places and to events that when Jim was alive I never thought about: this past Saturday with a few friends to the National Book Festival in DC. It’s in its 14th year (!), and until recently was held out on the Mall in tents. A couple of people I talked too lamented the change of venue to the massive cement and steel and glass labyrinth double-building Convention Center. The audience and speakers were probably more comfortable physically; on the other hand, you were rooked for food and drink, and could not escape the omnipresent sense of corporate power.

I learned very different audiences show up for this festival. I made the mistake of trying a couple of lectures by people in vast rooms labeled Contemporary Life and History and Biography. Though the first had legitimate political figures (John Lewis in one) and serious books too, they seemed to attract people looking for sheer celebrity authors: TV personalities who have written a book; the appallingly incoherent great-grand-daughter of Krushchev who delivered quite a diatribe on Putin, though her book is supposedly not about him. There are areas dedicated to children’s books, picture books, young adult fiction — the experiences on offer are a reflection of contemporary American publishing. I regret to say I missed Jules Feiffer: he was listed under “picture books” and talked late in the day. There is a problem that “stars” or events thought to be particularly popular are done early in the day (to bring people in) as well as late in the evening (to keep them there). Trying to find and eat lunch with my friends, I missed out on Claire Messud, a rare good woman writer at this fair. I didn’t have the stamina to stay for three sessions on Books into Films: I console myself with the thought that from talk I heard these were going to be hugely crowded.

If I go again next year I will be sure to plan my day better so as to reach authors I want to hear and avoid what’s demoralizing, “hands-on activities” for children, and (much worse) book signings, which were vast tedious lines I had to get round to get to “book sales,” only to discover the only books there were the latest books by the authors talking (in piles), mostly expensive editions. No wonder, I thought to myself, Jim never suggested we should go to this. All the lectures I heard or chanced by were at a minimum interesting in revealing the ways in which different lesser authors in front of different popular audiences tailor what they say lest they offend someone important to their career in this particular world; refuse to answer questions that might provoke genuine dissension or open discomfort; and the ways in which famous and much-respected be-prized authors are surrounded by adulation and how they cope with it.

There were also events and talks more than worth while: moving, exhilarating, informative, with touching moments too:

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E.L. Doctorow

I heard E.L. Doctorow speak: I’ve read only Loon Lake and Jim read Ragtime, but I remember the first. I read it the week we spent at Mount Desert Island where I heard the loons on Maine lakes. And we saw the musical of Ragtime; Jim said he liked the book. Something about Doctow’s tone allowed me to feel inspired without being talked down to or feel anything phony or complacent was intermixed. He was lucky: grew up in the Bronx with a faher who owned a music store in Manhattan to which world famous musicians came; his grandfather was a printer and intellectual. His family were all readers; his teachers approved of and encouraged his work: he said how important the teacher’s attitude to a student is. He took good classes in Journalism (he once got an F for lying; he made a plausible report up), went to Kenyon College. His editorial career was useful in teaching his objectivity. He said of his writing, “a key word was desperation.” He often starts with an image or phrase or music or language that he finds evocative. He writes to find out why he had that feeling. For his book on Sherman’s march he researched, but often he is impelled by contemporary experience: his Book of Daniel because he was so appalled by the Rosenberg execution. Ragtime came from asking himself after he moved to New Rochelle what New Rochelle looked like in 1902 filled with upper class white people all dressed up. Loon Lake: he saw a sign in the Adirondacks which made him think about how the wealthy of this earth make wilderness hospitable to themselves, create private railway cars to get to the exclusive (and excluding) places. In Andrew’s Brain he asked himself how does the brain become the mind. He much enjoyed working with others on the musical adaptation of Ragtime; he delivered notes longer than his book; the musical’s ending is softer, the insouciance of the book’s characters is lost; singing makes it much harder to distance characters; yet he felt the musical did the book enough justice. As to the art of his books he feels something is working for him when he transgresses rules, seems to break conventions. He suggested novels are a highly conservative form because you must obey conventions necessary to tell a story.

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Natasha Wimmer on translating Bolano

Paul Auster and Natasha Wimmer talked of poetry and translation in a joint session. Auster has published many books of poetry, of translation from the French, and his work has been translated into 40 languages. Wimmer is a professional translation from Russian and Spanish; the books she was hawking were Roberto Bolaño’s “2666” and “The Savage Detectives” and she has translated Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa’s “The Language of Passion,” “The Way to Paradise” and “Letters to a Young Novelist.” Both have been awarded prestigious prizes. So we heard how hard it is to translate something, how much time it takes, how often translators make a pittance and the centrality of translation to most people’s reading experience, how deviously language works. How insular is the US where 3% of books published are translations while in Germany 50% are. Why it is that a work must be re-translated every 30 years as the translations become obsolete while the original text is not expected to “keep up.” Auster says he began to translate in order to understand poems in French better; he did translate for money at one time and made a dismal amount. Auster spent five years in France, speaking, reading, breathing the language and this changed his relationship to English ever after. I learned a professor, poet and translator Jim and I once knew had died: Allen Mandelbaum (Auster’s uncle by marriage at one point). Wimmer said ideally you must know your author’s life, other works, have lived in his or her country, and know your own language well. You have to connect. I found interesting Auster’s talk about how Becket moved from Irish English to French and back again to create his texts. Wimmer did not discuss the meaning or themes of her texts, only language choices — how you must try to enact strangeness while under pressure to make a text immediately accessible to modern readers.

Alice Ostriker read from two recent books of poetry: The Book of Seventy and The Old Woman, the Tulip and the Dog. While I liked a couple of the poems she read (e.g., “Insomnia”), I felt she was presented too cheerful a face for her presumed matter. During the question period a woman got up who said she was recently widowed (she was under the hammer of terrible loss) and said all day she seemed to hear of experience only from the angle of the young. Could Ostriker recommend any books whose outlook was that of an older woman, any books to help someone coping with devastating loss. Ostriker would not answer, said she could not think of a book. Later (today) she came onto Wompo asking for titles about mourning. I posted that the woman was equally wanting literature from older people about their experience, and this beautiful poem came in with its context from Kathleen Flenniken: Dorothy Trogdon, Tall Woman Looking, a review, with a poem:

Strange How You Stay

Strange how you may stay in one place—
Say a house facing a stand of alders—
and yet are carried forward,

stay in one place but not in that time,
not in the years that meant so much to you,
that were your happiest years,

how you are helplessly carried onward.

It has come hard to me, this knowledge,
I have had to practice to do it—

to swallow silently the losses while I hold close
what the heart has claimed.

Now the trees have entered their winter silence.
In the garden, one foolhardy yellow rose
Is blooming still.

I passed by one intelligent bearded youngish guy on the second floor in front of (stranded, stuck, it was his job), before a many-boothed exhibit about research at the Library of Congress — of course they were there as chief sponsors. He saw the absurdity of some of this circus. You do research by reading. He seemed to smile at me in recognition because I was sceptically amused at the antics of video.

richard-rodriguez.jgp
Richard Rodriguez around the time of his Hunger of Memory

Last I heard an exhilarating talk from Richard Rodriguez which showed me why I used to love his essay segments on PBS reports when it was run by McNeil and Lehrer. He told of his time running a bookstore in Eliot Bay and his feeling that today people have stopped reading in the way they once did, that they read in a different spirit. A good book needs a good reader he said. I did love how he made fun of the idea that we read for role models. When I first came onto the Net, I thought this a silly idea too: when I taught and students would talk this way, I’d suggest to them they were not imitating the characters in the books. I’ve been so inundated by this idea, gotten so used to the notion I almost parrot it myself.  I talk about bonding and identifying, or being alienated by characters at any rate. He told of his boyhood and friendship with girls and women. He does not think of himself as a gay but a morose writer. He called himself an essayist (now a bad word to utter), and how an essay is a process of thinking, which shows us how to respond to experiences. Hre said a true teacher teaches a vocation not job training. We no longer live in the places we physically live in, and he spoke of the growing loneliness of lives lived without roots in socially dysfunctional environments. There is a revolution going on where women are assaulted with impunity, being deprived of rights over their biology while gays are being given the right to marry. What shall we make of this? He asserted that people love one another or want and need love, so we need to write about the madness we see about us, not pretend homeless people are not there. Use our loneliness to create purpose and links to one another. Important icons and places: the mountain top, the vast deserts, caves. He produced funny satiric vignettes of celebrities on TV and among literati today (poor Maggie Smith as a witch uttering ugly thoughts — probably from Downton Abbey that one). He ended on how we need to understand religion urgently to understand the changed violent landscapes of our earth. How the US oligarchy has destabilized and destroyed society after society around the globe (I add it’s been done within the US now too). I have ordered his Hunger of Memory.

I came home somewhat weary knowing that Jim would not be here. But Yvette was and so my two cats; she and I ordered Chinese food and ate and talked together and played with the cats. She has spent her weekend watching the US open championships. I had letters from good friends, watched some of the Jane Austen Book Club (and blogged away on it). From Friday to this evening on and off I reread Trollope’s powerful An Eye for an Eye and Shirley Jackson’s genius gothic masterpiece, The Haunting of Hill House (for coming teaching). Caroline was here on Sunday to help us buy and put together a new vacuum cleaner. I threw out my now feeble canister vacuum cleaner (bought in 1984). We watched the very clever John Oliver together. His humor goes beyond satire of what obviously is to explain subtleties of corruption on media (“native” newscasts versus advertisements which pretend to be newscasts) and complexities of fleecing: a single vulture corporation holding a whole country, Argentina and its people to a stranglehold by having bought very cheaply a debt and demanding full payment of the literal sum owed.

Both

Today I saw a powerful film, A Most Wanted Man featuring as Gunter Bachman the brilliant Seymour Hoffman based on yet another of LeCarre’s important ironic political tales. It was sad to watch Seymour Hoffman knowing this man who could convey such a depth of feeling and thought is now dead — and at such a young age. As his character is a kind of victim, so in real life Hoffman was (of the drug and doctor trade). Unless you realize the the ironic spirit in which the whole story is told (the villains are the American CIA woman, the thug German & NATO establishment and their scary police), you will be very puzzled by the ending. (In comparison Breaking Bad has a child-like morality, schmaltz.) In this one we see the spies deluded exploited, the decent people they were trying to help crushed as so many terrorists without so much as a hearing, or clear evidence. The woman from the Anonyma movie (Nina Hoss) is Irma, the woman Gunter wishes he could get himself to have a relationship with and who loves him: so she’s Hoffman’s comforting silent support and sidekick. Most powerful were its director’s images: the anonymous city, the use of harsh color with only occasional forays into a suddenly lovely park (where did this come from?), the filthy impoverished slums and tiny flats versus luxurious apartments: the cold exploitative injustice of the moneyed structures imposed on our fugitive lives is pictured.

One of LeCarre’s earliest books, a success d’estime (not violent or a spy story) is Trollopian: A Small Town in Germany, whose central character’s dilemma is very like the Warden’s and his solution too: walk away, don’t be coopted. Hoffman does not walk away at the end; we are to feel he plays on because to give up is to cede all to barbarism. A Most Wanted Man did need more time to develop the interesting relationships between some of the characters (an 8 part mini-series anyone?) so it was hard to see how Gunter and his world is a grandson of George Smiley and his but they are, and in this film more deeply embittered. The mole’s conscience, a young man, Jamal is persuaded to tell the truth about his father’s charities on the promise it will not hurt his father, and when telling ends in destroying the father (leaving him subject to torture, cruel imprisonment, deportation of he family), we have suggested where suicide missions come from (“the making of a so-called terrorist”); but in the justified anger at what the powerful western oligarchies are now getting away with, this scarce gets a look in now. So don’t miss this film. I know I should read the book.

While at the National Book Festival I talked to a few people. One widow who told me 7 years later it is still a “lousy cruel” life. Another woman living alone, seeking companionship for the nonce. She will be at the OLLI at AU this fall. Older women speak to older women. I was invited to go to a political get-together in a neighbor’s house two blocks over but could not get myself to go: I didn’t know what to wear and didn’t dress up in time. I’ve been obsessing over this failure ever since.

So I get through the hours with successive bits of the old enjoyments and then I’m back to my condition of frustration (I cannot do without him what I could with him) and bereft loneness and frustration again. I hate how time goes by, each turn of the season because it means he is dead that much longer, that much more somehow lost to all existence, how dare the world move on this way? not care? No one realizes time becomes timeless for the widow. A Wanted Man was about the ruined lives of the destroyed, the lives of those putting a brake on it, not on those left with their future subtracted. Killed young by the cancer epidemic, mistreated. I miss his affection, his warmth, his love for me. He missed out on 20 years of fulfilled life.

I didn’t use to pay attention to holidays when Jim was alive. I didn’t think about them. They didn’t matter. I wish I could return to that state of mind now but how without his presence to bathe my reality in perpetual real care. I miss his kind eyes looking at me.

Sylvia

September has come. Ah me.

I begin a day early with A Whiter Shade of Pale: my beloved companion and husband used to say this was an important piece of music at the time; a wall of sound he said, a new idea for rock-and-rock at the time in a song that became widely popular:

Dear friends and readers,

The Everyly Wheatley home had taken down the video of Jim’s life they said would be up on their site “forever.” I went looking for it the other week and couldn’t find it again. I had not been able to find it for a couple of weeks. This time I determined to ask where it was. It took several days for a response. They put it back up and apologized.

http://www.everlywheatley.com/obituaries/James-Moody-40882/#!/PhotosVideos/36a2aced-7ff7-4cab-a8d7-126ecb21405e/986da3c2-462e-4514-8f97-894a42c93c65

As I watch it nowadays I shake with desolation. My beloved seems to me to have died many times. The whole month of September last year and part of October. Tomorrow is September 1st. April 28th he was diagnosed and I saw the photo of this very ugly set of three lumps I was told were at the bottom of his esophagus and were very bad looking. Then home to read on the Net that 40% of people thus diagnosed were dead within a year and to my horror I saw the the same confirming photo on the Net. “Oh it cannot be” I thought. Then Aug 3rd when we were told “liver mets,” Aug 4th I realized this was probably a death sentence, that Thursday that it was, sometime after that soon began to keen. September he stopped drinking milk, one of his few forms of nourishment for a previous 2 weeks. Then stopped eating just about altogether with drinking only water. A cracker, a biscuit, a cup of tea, barely. His urine began to go brown as October arrived. He lost consciousness on Oct 7th.

It’s apparent to me the original was taken down as the new video has a different set of background pictures. My theory is they take down all such videos within a few months on the expectation the family doesn’t care. For the few who do enough to complain, they reassemble and put it up again. I expect if I wait a couple of years I’ll find it down again and if I demand to see it up, they will reassemble again (probably taking more time). But when I die, then they’ll save whatever money they do by keeping the semi-permanent stock of videos to a minimum.

A propos, a friend sent me this poem the other day — her beloved cat of many years died recently — and I held it over for Sunday:

END OF DAYS
Marge Piercy

Almost always with cats, the end
comes creeping over the two of you –
she stops eating, his back legs
no longer support him, she leans
to your hand and purrs but cannot
rise – sometimes a whimper of pain
although they are stoic. They see
death clearly through hooded eyes.

Then there is the long weepy
trip to the vets, the carrier no
longer necessary, the last time
in your lap. The injection is quick.
Simply they stop breathing
in your arms. You bring them
home to bury in the flower garden,
planting a bush over a deep grave.

That is how I would like to cease,
held in a lover’s arms and quickly
fading to black like an old fashioned
movie embrace. I hate the white
silent scream of hospitals, the whine
of pain like air conditioning’s hum.
I want to click the off switch.

And if I can no longer choose
I want someone who loves me
there, not a doctor with forty patients
and his morality to keep me sort
of, kind of alive or sort of undead.
Why are we more rational and kinder
to our pets than with ourselves or our
parents? Death is not the worst
thing; denying it can be.

Published in Rattle, Vol. # 14, Issue 2, 2008,
forthcoming in The Hunger Moon: Selected Poems, 1980 – 2010.

Another friend whose blog I read regularly recently lost her cat to death and has been writing about her grief (the story begins here) and a new kitten she bought

 

VanGoghFieldwithPoppies

Vincent Van Gogh: “Field with Poppies” — Jim liked the poetry of Rupert Brooke and he paraphrased some lines from one of Brooke’s best known poems for his urn.

Miss Drake

Friends (I hope) and readers (few but valued),

Every three weeks we change our set of dances, and our new one began today. Keri ends brilliantly each time: lat time it was I will survive, before that Stand by Me. This 3 weeks Piano Man:

We do quite a dance to this. 18 bodies moving in stretches and waves … Mirrors all around.  Keri said all we needed was strobe lights; since these are not in the budget we contented ourselves with simply shutting the bright light down …

Sylvia

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