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