Ian photographed by Caroline this past Sunday, the day Yvette and I were traveling back from Montreal

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve had such a strong response to my blog on Memories and Lonely Pussycats (put on my older live-journal Sylvia, Harriet Walters as Harriet Vane its gravatar) that I thought I’d preface today’s poem with my ginger tabby, Ian’s remarkable behavior: as I become closer to my cats, reciprocating their affection for me more thoughtfully, I find they respond in planned and conscious behavior people who have not owned cats (and maybe some who have) probably would not attribute to a cat.

Specifically Ian likes not only to sit on things I own and he attaches to me, and carry such objects (and his string toys) about, but he retrieves, ferrets out with real persistence those he remembers. I suffer chilblains on my hands and for the past couple of years carry and wear thin woolen gloves whenever I go in and out of stores or cars where there is a sudden shift in temperature, usually to cold, but sudden heat can do it too. Ian has really taken to searching with his paw in my handbag and pulling these gloves out. They happen to be maroon-colored. At first when I’d find one or both of my gloves missing from my bag, I blamed myself: I had not put them back, I had put them in the pockets of my pants or sweaters. But then I’d find one or the other on the floor in places he characteristically lays. Then one day I found him sitting on one of them, and another with one of them in his mouth.

So I tried making sure that the zip was closed all the way on the bag, but the least relenting on my part (leaving the bag just a little open) and voila the next time or soon after that one or both gloves would be gone and I’d have to hunt for them under beds, chairs, tables. And he can leave things in places I can’t find them.

It is not easy to find thin woolen gloves. I have noticed time and again Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wears thin white gloves, sometimes lacy, sometimes knitted cotton (so she suffers chilblains and has better resources for indoor lady’s gloves than I do), but when I’ve tried to buy gloves like hers on-line I can’t find them. All that exist are super-thin work gloves for nurses or cooks. If I wear heavier gloves in summer, people really stare — people are such conformists I’ve found they will blink when I put the maroon ones on. I explain and they look uncomfortable. What am I supposed to do? suffer a hot itch-y painful rash that takes time to go away when if I put the gloves on before the temperature change gets to me I am fine? (I have on my OLLI at Mason class a couple of real dopes who are types who look perturbed at anything unexpected or unconventional utterances.)

I was resorting to using my light violet slightly heavier woolen gloves — as I’d despair and berate myself for “my tendency to lose or misplace things” — but now that I know it’s Ian who is causing these disappearances I am putting all four gloves into a drawer high in my bureau and keeping it firmly shut. I have to remember to take them out and put them in my bag when I go out, but then I have to remember to put on my watch, take a cell phone, and other things I never thought about when Jim was alive and with me.

People don’t credit cats with intuitive understanding, communicative powers with people and real identities that can be hurt. They cry when left alone for long periods; they miss their people, not just as staff but as companions they are attached lovingly to and need. Ian in effect plans and he uses his paws and teeth as tools as he works away at a belt attached to the zipper (it enables me to make the bag a shoulder bag), pulling and twisting until he can get a paw or his head into the bag and find the things he’s attracted to. I put this refusal to recognize a cat as a real presence (when people do it for dog) to the cats’ eyes not working intimately expressively in the way human beings and dogs do. They look flatly out and they sometimes avoid eye contact. They also do not answer to their names: both these “flaws” are fatal when it comes to human beings’ values. In my experience they know a few words (like “wet food”) and they certainly know my routines over the day and anticipate me in things I do. They know when I’m talking to them and come over; they know when I’m ignoring them. I try not to ignore them nowadays when my mind is free: watching PBS on TV or some movies, I play with Ian and the string toys, and Clarycat watches.

A friend sent me this display of moving and accurate depictions of cats by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938). Unfortunately, I can’t separate out any of the drawings which capture the gestures and interactions of cats better than the posed paintings, but this one of a favorite cat, Bobby, is beautiful in coloration and in its projection of yearning:


Speaking of yearning, it is part of the emotional complex of the poem I’ve chosen for Sunday. I’m back to working on my edition of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake (1791 novel) for Valancourt and was reading Smith’s poetry these past couple of days and came across this poem she wrote when a deeply beloved friend died. Smith’s tone and stance towards life so often mirrors my own that I should not have been surprized to discover that the deep love she knew came from a relationship with her friend like mine with Jim.

Verses, on the death of [Henrietta O'Neill],
written in September, 1794

Like a poor ghost the night I seek;
Its hollow winds repeat my sighs;
The cold dews mingle on my cheek
With tears that wander from mine eyes.

The thorns that still my couch molest,
Have robb’d these heavy eyes of sleep;
But tho’ deprived of tranquil rest,
I here at least am free to weep.

Twelve times the moon, that rises red
0’er yon tall wood of shadowy pine,
Has fill’d her orb, since low was laid
My Harriet! that sweet form of thine!

While each sad month, as slow it past,
Brought some new sorrow to deplore;
Some grief more poignant than the last,
But thou canst calm those griefs no more.

No more thy friendship soothes to rest
This wearied spirit tempest-tost;
The cares that weigh upon my breast
Are doubly felt since thou art lost.

Bright visions of ideal grace
That the young poet’s dreams inflame,
Were not more lovely than thy face;
Were not more perfect than thy frame.

Wit, that no sufferings could impair,
Was thine, and thine those mental powers
Of force to chase the fiends that tear
From Fancy’s hands her budding flowers.

0’er what, my angel friend, thou wert,
Dejected Memory loves to mourn;
Regretting still that tender heart,
Now withering in a distant urn!

But ere that wood of shadowy pine
Twelve times shall yon full orb behold,
This sickening heart, that bleeds for thine,
My Harriet — may like thine be cold!

Jim died a year and 9 days ago and I feel the loss of his presence more and more as time goes back. It gets harder not easier as I realize how some half-realized hope I had I could find solace or some partial replacement through work or friends or play is unreal. Much that was said to me in these grief support groups and by the individuals I’ve seen on how to feel better is not true. People are there for you at first when you are stunned; that’s it, what that’s about. What widows sometimes write in newspapers about many people then avoiding them after a time is true.

One day last week I felt how much it hurts being alive while he’s dead.

More and more cold,
more and more a desert
without you around.
More and more distant, you
who truly loved me.

Blaga Dimitrova

I admit how angry I feel too when I think of how he was treated by the medical establishment: how his fear and mine of his death led him to take their self-interested advice for a criminal operation which made him worse (criminal because the statistics showed he had little chance of the cancer not metastasizing so the little life left to him was far more painful and wretched than it needed to be, so he was robbed of all quality of life while they made money on him and treated him with inured hardness). How he must’ve suffered so stoically.

If anyone asks me if they should have such an esophagectomy (or their pancreas cut out), I will warn them, don’t do it — as only one friend did for me. He said over and over again, don’t do it, and I tried to convey this to Jim but he would not get on the phone to listen. This friend offered a doctor outside Kaiser who would do enormous amounts of chemotherapy. All the others remained silent, at most hinted at what a bad idea this operation was.

I yearn for Jim the way Charlotte yearned for Henrietta, the way Bobby yearns for Ludwig’s love, the way my cat Ian wants to keep my gloves close to him wherever he goes.

Here is ClaryCat that same Sunday afternoon, grown used to Caroline’s visits, but clearly yearning for the secure comfort of a single constant faithful ever present loving heart.

Yvette and I went to our first HD opera this season, The Marriage of Figaro, and I thought about the thick books of scores in the house of Mozart’s operas I now own alone, how he loved these Mozart operas and what a delight it was to experience them with him there with us. He would say his favorite character was Cherubino. In the intermission James Levine was in a chair built to enable him to sit up, his hands shaking as he talked (he began to hold them firm to stop their wandering), looking like a man whose been through death, lives with it daily and nightly.


IMG_0410 (Medium)
Arnie Perlstein, Diana Birchall and me

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve taken care of writing how our cats fared this time; and Yvette has so aptly and suggestively described what Montreal was like if you tried to explore it from the Le Sheraton Centre Hotel on foot and by metro, as well as if you took one of the several (many) tours conceived of as part of the yearly JASNA AGM ( she went to the Botanical Gardens); that I have little to add. I went on no tours because I was there for the sessions and papers, and while there was (as last time) too much time between sessions (while at session time at least 8 on at once), there was not enough to race out and see Montreal.

I have seen it with Jim twice before: once at an ASECS, we stayed an extra day to go to the grand Olmstead park on the top of a hill, and go a kind of Kennedy/Lincoln Center cultural place (for plays, operas, concerts, music). Jim had a way of shielding me from the realities of life and it was only this time as Yvette and I tried to find some food to eat for breakfast and lunch and supper at reasonable prices and coming to and from the airport by cab that I began to live in another realer Montreal: I confirm there are a lot of homeless people in the streets of Montreal. Amid the two seasons of winter (and needless corrupt) construction, I saw abandoned buildings. The Sheridan Centre Hotel would gouge you for air if it could. To say our wifi worked intermittently would be untrue: like the phone we were to use to get service downstairs, wifi didn’t work just enough to prevent us from calling for help. At one point the phone to the lobby didn’t work and a JASNA person on the elevator confirmed that her wifi and phone didn’t work either.

A friend told me it’s said to be one of the coldest (if not the coldest) of the major world cities: Montreal people were wearing heavy autumn clothes, fur-lined boots much in evidence, heavy-sweater tights. And much smoking — the kind of repression of smoking that has become common in US streets in cities has not occurred in Montreal.

Was it really in 2010 that Izzy and I went to our first JASNA, at Portland, with the theme JA and Northanger Abbey at the JASNA, and Burney and the Gothic in the accompanying conference. Since Jim died and the whole world was transformed for me, it seems more years, but yes just 4 years ago. Now I can see the outline of the event stays the same. People begin to gather as early as Tuesday and by Wednesday, there are many people in the chosen hotel. (It is usually in a large hotel to accommodate everyone.) The sessions and lectures occur from late Wednesday night (one light one) to Saturday night or Sunday morning. This time the speakers were chosen for their rank, who they know, what is their function in the Austen world (director of this, or running that Austen site), whether they have published a book that is respected on the topic of their talk, and how their topic functions in an overall scheme of covering the theme of the conference and showing different approaches to Austen. It’s said some attention is paid to how good a speaker they are. Tours begin on Wednesday, continue through Thursday and early Friday morning, and then resume on Sunday (together with prayers at a church for those with religion) and Monday (just the tours). So for many this is a holiday or vacation time, a week long time away perhaps with friends.

I again saw a number of mother-and-daughter pairs. It did not seem this time that as many people were dressed up in the 18th century outfits, but perhaps it’s because I was less startled by them. What I noticed was among many a lack of pretension, a dressing down except on the night of the banquet and ball. This occurs on Saturday night and then a large percentage of people do put on 18th century garb — some go to great lengths, making lovely dresses, carrying reticules, wearing slippers, or being seen (mostly the men) in accurate male outfits, wearing wigs, the right shoes and so on. There were three plenary lectures (as last time) with the addition of a fourth (masterly, by Juliet McMasters, on which much more in a blog on Austen Reveries). One of these was Sunday morning on the Royal Navy. The conference proper (the academic part) ended with that and an accompanying brunch.

One night of the “academic time” three nights was again given over to a lighter subject; this time a staged playlet by Diana Birchall and Syrie James: A Dangerous Intimacy, a dramatization of parts of Mansfield Park in comic mode (mostly about the acting of Lovers Vows and it included lines from Inchbald’s play). The players were all volunteers, most of whom had had to learn their parts in a couple of days, and wore costumes: some of these were funny — providing humor for the piece. There was a huge audience. The players had worked hard enough to project their characters. Diana herself came out in a squared green curtain with a rod in her back (as Mrs Norris). Afterwards at 9 was an hour-long glee.

Joan Haskell’s accurately drawn illustration of the glee at MP

I’d like to single out this glee hour as for me the best moment of the JASNA as a general meeting or social experience. Most of the people left the ballroom hall which was used for the plenaries as well as the banquet and dancing, so maybe there were 50 left. They gathered round a piano played by a professor of music, Kathleen Dibdin, and after some minimal description of what a glee was and minimal instruction, read and sang the three songs together. Those who know Mansfield Park will remember that one night at the park while Fanny and Edmund are star-gazing and Fanny becomes poetically meditative, over on the other side of the room Mary plays on the piano and the rest of the Bertrams and Crawford sing a glee. This draws Edmund from Fanny to join them and she is left sadly not even alone, but subject to the corrosive tongue of Mrs Norris. But I could see no Fanny near this group; the people like myself sitting up front near the circle had xeroxed copies of the songs and music and were silently reading along or quietly singing (like me who have only a tiny bit of musical training since taking the piano). It seemed a moment free of vanity, vexation, scurrying for position, no urges to assertion of status which mar much human intercourse even in a conference like this where there is at least an attempt to bypass this sort of thing.

Here’s harmony! …. Here’s repose! … Here’s what may tranquillize every care … (Fanny’s musings transposed from MP, I:11).

If I should have a reader who was at the JASNA and with their trusty cellphone took a snap (as so many were doing across the conference), I’d be grateful for one photo, and place it here.

The good moments for me were when I connected with some friends. I put at the head of this blog my meeting with Arnie (we hugged and talked) and sitting with Diana and he while the ball got started — a lecture on the picturesque and Gilpin was on at the front of this room. I met Elaine Pigeon at long last, twice (!) and learned that in person she is as fine as she is as a writing friend. She says I am tiny — I have lost a lot of weight since Jim died — she is a youthful woman “d’un certain age” and despite the noise of the restaurant and shortness of time for our coffee on Saturday, we began another level of friendship. She has written a perceptive account of the JASNA in the mode Yvette (Izzy) did: combining the social aspects with the academic papers.

I can’t say I had other conversations beyond with Yvette — we poured over the first chapters of Mansfield Park which she downloaded onto my ipad after I heard Juliet McMaster’s transformative thesis about why Mrs Norris so fiercely loathes Fanny Price. People smiled at me and some came over to talk a little now and again or I went over to talk to them and they obliged by talking of their work or paper and experiences were shared.

I and Izzy ate at the banquet with Elvira Casal and her husband (renewed old friendship) and Eric Nye who did all the work and logistics of marshalling a group of judges to read and evaluate student essays on “silence in Mansfield Park.” Afterwards he showed real patience and generosity when he became my partner for two long dances — we went up and down a set as a first and then a second couple, and we did a circle dance together. I had not dressed in 18th century costume as he had — he looked elegant in his stock, breeches, shoes, stockings. I did want though want to dance as I love dancing these patterns dances and enjoy the 18th century music to them, and obviously hardly get any chance to.

Yvette was shut out of the dance workshops (she did try to get into one she was supposed wait-listed for); and, unlike me, did not meet with a partner who was willing to allow her to goof and push her through the paces until she got them herself. And she has not the stamina to mill about and pass time talking here and there and then just sitting and watching. I went back and forth from the lecture to the dancing, up and down the escalator. We have decided that the next time we will try to buy an 18th century costume for her and I will buy a corset (you have to purchase them in sex shops), for without that she (like most women) does not look well. It is presented that what one must do is be online at the moment registration opens, and register not just for the conference, but dance workshops and tours. Yvette works full-time as a librarian (at the Pentagon) so we will still not be there like horses at a sprint the moment the thing opens. Not that I am naively thinking that everyone is treated the same.

Here is a photo of me taken by Diana during the ball. I know I look gaunt, let’s be frank, dreadful, but it is how I look since my beloved died. I register on my face and body all I have known for the last year and a half. I find it exhausting being alive without him. Like Cassandra, when Jane died, the gilding of my life (comfort, joy, meaning, fun, is the way I’d put it) vanished. I am like a shorn cat.


While I had many pleasant moments and was stimulated and interested by many papers (was prompted to buy a book even by Marie Sorbo on the film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park) intermittently it was simply another hard endurance experience.

I wish I could think of more to say about the aspect of the JASNA (as well as the Burney conference) outside the content of the papers and lectures. If I do, I’ll come back and add some more. I’m glad I went. Yvette and I will be at the 2016 Emma here in DC where we hope to meet my friend Elaine again.

Miss Drake

Autumn 1980, by the Hudson River: me, Caroline at age 2, Jim, my father (this is one of my favorite photos)

Dear friends and readers,

Another day hard to get through. 47 years ago this evening in Leeds City, maybe in an hour or two I met Jim Moody in a Student Union Bar, invited him back to my flat for coffee, and (my little joke) he never left. I saw Charlie, my grief support person, around noon, and as I drew out from my invisible bundle, pilgrim-like, the thoughts and events I needed to tell, I said that I now have to walk alone.

My father is gone too (December 1989). My mother who took the photo (August 2012).

Later I found myself telling myself all the things I’m doing today which show that he was, he existed, his presence is still shaping my life. I am teaching this Trollope course at OLLI at AU; and, since I’m going to a JASNA starting on Wednesday and won’t be back until late Sunday (the way the planes operate it takes a full day on Wednesday and Sunday travel to get to Montreal from here and back as Air Canada doesn’t schedule that many planes), and Tuesday I’m doing a gothic course at OLLI at Mason; I needed to do the plan, lecture notes and so on, today: Nina Balatka, “La Mere Bauche”, “A Ride Across Palestine”, all masterpieces. I read ahead the powerful “Parson’s Daughter at Oxney Colne”, our example of the Barsetshire mode. (I shoverdosed on all six episodes of Barchester Chronicles while that criminal esophagectomy was performed on my beloved for 12 hours.) Would I be teaching Trollope but for Jim? no. It was he who found the Trollope list on majordomo, who subscribed me, who a few years later, accompanied me to London to meet with John Letts, Chairman of the Trollope Society and Martin Shepherd, owner and editor of Hambledon Press, to have this book Letts suggested I write commissioned. It was Jim who negotiated with Letts what I would be paid and the date I would deliver the typescript. Yes, a typescript, an old-fashioned heavy-paper laden bundle sent expensively through the post office from Alexandria (Va) to London.

My liking for Trollope was my own, but my admiral liked Trollope too and we read the Palliser novels alternatively (me one and then he) in the 1970s while we were watching the 26 episode 1974 mini-series by Simon Raven (years of study, of fulfillment, finally a paper published). The admiral understood Trollope, having himself gone to a public school as a despised day boy (in his case in a different colored shirt, to stigmatize him natch). I mentioned in Trollope on the ‘Net that my father brought to Metropolitan Hospital after I’d been in this dreadful accident (my knee cracked and whole leg in a cast) Trollope’s The Vicar of Bullhampton. He said, “very wise, Trollope.” I have that volume in my room with me tonight.

The fantasy doesn’t hold — I know he had indeed left — death has parted us — his real person and mind gone. I am comforted by this house in which his presence is everywhere in so many things. It was I who wrote the letters to the landlady of this house when we were renting it which strangely charmed her into selling it to us, with her holding the mortgage; but he found it — we both liked it immediately — and he dared to say we should go to the realtor, and maybe we could afford the rent. It looked sufficiently run-down. Yesterday (Sunday) Caroline was here and ascertained it is listed with the lowest price on the Internet at Zillow in my whole local area (one other house pays less taxes but we didn’t check what the Zillow site said it would really probably sell for). One of my friends declared it unspoilt. It was he who declared Old Town Alexandria was most English-like and that we would try to rent here as there was a Dash bus-line which would take him to his job at the Pentagon. We considered DC but we didn’t have the money to send Caroline (then 2) to a private school which we were told she must go to …

I have been doing too much and found myself exhausted by Thursday for two weeks; also pulled a muscle or ligament at dance fusion (in my chest, not far from my heart) so I’m going to cut back. The piano lessons are too much for me: either the teacher is not verbal enough or I have no talent though I love to listen to music. It was not a waste: I learned how complex piano playing is. I wanted to see the piano used as he used to play in the mornings songs from shows and art songs, and sometimes folk. But Yvette will have to play when she can to keep the piano alive.

Fall 1999: Jim, me, Yvette at age 15, in a pub said to have been erected in the 16th century, near Salisbury Cathedral, with a group of Trollopians

Charlie and I have agreed that we will now go for a 3 week interval between meetings; at first we met weekly, then every other week.

I’ve decided to teach at OLLI at Mason every other “term.” They have short terms over the year, and I mean to figure out a schedule where I don’t have to go to two places or have two preparations in one week. I like OLLI at AU because in case I can’t drive a car, I can get there by public transportation, though I know part of my exhaustion the week before was my using public transportation. It involves walking steep stairs (escalators not working). OLLI at Mason has a bridge club! who knew? I wish I had thought to try for a volunteer teaching job but it never entered my mind until he was not here with me any more. Jim loved bridge. He was terrific at it.

We had not begun to try to work out a retired life together. We were only beginning to feel out what we could do together now with our time (and the money my mother unexpectedly left me). He was yearning to return to NYC. I said to a friend retirement rightly understood is not sameness but change. It would have been another act together. He’s left the stage. When my two photos for tonight were taken I was not alone, but crowded in.

There’s nothing I wouldn’t give to have him back with me.


Friends and readers,

Dance fusion ended on Simon and Garfunkle’s Sound of Silence this morning:

1966. Jim was 18, no admiral then. A gifted boy with choices in front of him that he rightly didn’t want in the sixth form in public school.

Today he would have been 66. After dance fusion this morning, I drove to Mason (I had better re-name the university the way others have, so no more GMU) to renew a group of books; this afternoon I go into DC to hear a lecture with the Washington Area Print group at the Library of Congress on”How Televison came to be Novels.” Then there is dinner with those who stay. Last night up late watching a beautifully cinematographic sensitively acted intelligent film by Daniel Antueil (he again [see Marius and Fanny] plays the father too, of another Pagnol novel, Englished as The Well-Digger’s Daughter; I didn’t finish it as it was too long to sit up for so I’ll do that tonight.

I miss him, dislike intensely the beautiful weather, wish he were here to enjoy the soft rain (he never seemed to pay attention to the trees like colored parasols).

I don’t have anyone to tell my little triumphs (like my library card was renewed) or failures (didn’t dance so well, have discovered learning piano is no trivial task and seen how I lack intuition for this, goof and don’t understand). And today I came home to discover by mistake I had closed ClaryCat into my workroom while I was gone. How she slid by me and hid away I don’t know. I felt bad. She is trying to stop my typing just now. She was his cat. Ian has brought a string toy to play.

All the things he might have done, seen, heard, eaten, drunk, experienced last year, this summer, now this fall. I can’t begin to imagine. Oblivion. How does one think death? It defies me. An absence, non-existence can’t look on or hear, or I’d write him letters and tell him all that has happened this year, all the changes in his house, put them on this blog.

1981. Jim and I had left NYC a year ago that summer, and it is probable we didn’t go, but it is the sort of thing we went to regularly and in later years we returned to NYC to go to Central Park for plays and concerts. One of the last movies he and I saw together we saw in a theater not far from Lincoln Center, February 2013, “Koch” and he liked it.


John Atkinson Grimshaw, a November afternoon, 1886 in Leeds

Dear friends and readers,

It’s tough these weeks going to the dance fusion workshop because it starts at 8:15 and for me the NVJCC is a 45 minute to half-hour car drive away. I have to get up at 6:15 am at latest to make it — come out of groggy state, feed cats and myself, dress, do a few chores. But at 6:24 am where I live the sky is black.

I know it need not be black. Or to be put this another more accurate way: it need not be 6:24 am. It could be 5:24 am when the sky is still that black. I remember when this “daylight starving” time ended by the third week of September. When we were subjected to “daylight starving” for 4-5 months at most.

This past Saturday I was with a group of friends at a place called Teaism and where we have group discussions and the topic was “The changes the autumn brings.” Well, I unexpectedly discovered most of them agreed with me and hated these dark mornings. (Hitherto when I’ve announced this feeling of mine as many people defend the dark morning because forsooth they are driving home (in traffic jams?) in the light. I’ve read the US congress was lobbied to extend daylight starving because mall owners said they made more money; more people went to malls to shop. They talked of how for one during the energy crisis “Daylight Savings” time was extended across the year (1970s). How bad it was in December.

I told of how in the UK one year “summertime” was all year long; in Leeds it was dark until 10:00 am. What did parliament care? The people there need not get up early, probably don’t bother think about Parliament until 11:00. I proposed a constitutional amendment that “No congress or any other legislative body shall be permitted to fuck up people’s clock time nor their circadian rhythms with impositions of darkness in the morning to suit themselves or their lobbyists,” and was applauded.

I hate these black mornings.


Emma de St Saens (thank you to Sixtine for this image)

Dear friends and readers,

As yesterday I attempted to rest at home after several days of doing too much, driving myself to be sure and have finished all I promised I would do and told myself I needed to (for another blog, a diary one), when it was near 5 in the afternoon, and I felt so mentally tired I could read no more, and put a movie on my VLC media players, I knew I had faced what’s at the core of what I do and have felt from late last September when I knew he had decided dying quickly was the only “best” or (scarcely) endurable option left to him. (Cancer, folks.)

Grief is a euphemism, like “process” and “journey.” As a term, “grief” is not as bad as these cant terms as they imply a narrative and narratives by the nature of their coherence offer meaning and if they come to some end, a closure. More codifications of social pretending.

Anguish, tearing anguish is at the core of me. It’s so strong if I keep thinking about it, it seems to fill my body. I feel like I am going to burst with it. Then there’s bewilderment: I can scarcely believe he’s gone, that it all happened. (I include the whole horrible cancer experience which I shared with my beloved though I could not begin to realize and to feel what he did.) Some bad dream I awake from and don’t believe in only he’s not here. Absent. And I am held fast. He’s gone. All he was, all he made of life for us. I find myself wondering why I can process thoughts, enjoy this or that music or book and he’s not here. How can it be my brain is going and his is not. Recognition of this central core of what it is to be a widow explains to me all I am doing, why I do it, which just about everyone I talk to says “are the right things.” Why do they say this? And so swiftly and repetitively, all agreed. Strange this agreement. It’s implied these acts are good in and of themselves. Are they? They are the social life available to a person like me. Jim used to say it was so hard to get people to take anything seriously (that much American social life is dysfunctional). They are. more truly. routes of escape, temporary alleviation. This morning I was bleakly sad and lay in bed, with ClaryCat having tucked herself between my right shoulder and arm, until after 7 as then autumn light had come into the room.

What happens after a time is the widow or widower gets used to enduring this.

I wrote a paper last week, “The Depiction of Widows and Widowers in Austen’s Novels and Letters.” After I’ve delivered it at the EC/ASECS conference I will somehow get it up onto the Net and connect it to this blog. If anyone would like to see or to read it sooner, let me know and I could send it on. Austen is deeply antipathetic to the approach I take in this blog and yet writes out of a full awareness of it too, so they will eventually (when I put the paper online somehow or other) form two contrasting diptychs.

Both, this blog and that paper, are intended directly for others whose beloved partner has died and would like to break through the taboos and have acknowledged what they experience. I write for others like myself.

Andrew Davies’s Edward (spoken by Dan Steevens) in the 2008 Sense and Sensibility, speaking of his father’s death to Elinor (Hattie Morahan):

I was like a boat without its anchor; we must all have some one to listen to us, to understand what we feel.

lookingatherthen (2)

lookingatherthen (1)

So often Andrew Davies (for me) “corrects” Austen out of her own text viscerally and to the central searing point.

Dizzy, still from the nightly sleeping pill.


Claude Monet: Soleil Levant

Dear Friends and readers,

This week on Wompo, a friend put a poem by Arthur Seymour John Tessimond (a difficult painful life the man had) onto the listserv. I thought Daydream so beautiful and want to remember it so place it here:


One day people will touch and talk perhaps
And loving be natural as breathing and warm as
And people will untie themselves, as string is unknotted,
Unfold and yawn and stretch and spread their fingers,
Unfurl, uncurl like seaweed returned to the sea,
And work will be simple and swift
as a seagull flying,
And play will be casual and quiet
as a seagull settling,
And the clocks will stop, and no one will wonder
or care or notice,
And people will smile without reason,
Even in winter, even in the rain.

Then another friend found this one by Tessimond on cats:

ClaryCat at my study window

Cats no less liquid than their shadows
Offer no angles to the wind.
They slip, diminished, neat through loopholes
Less than themselves; will not be pinned

To rules or routes for journeys; counter
Attack with non-resistance; twist
Enticing through the curving fingers
And leave an angered empty fist.

They wait obsequious as darkness
Quick to retire, quick to return;
Admit no aim or ethics; flatter
With reservations; will not learn

To answer to their names; are seldom
Truly owned till shot or skinned.
Cats no less liquid than their shadows
Offer no angles to the wind.

(It’s not really fair to cats as their inner life is affectionate and attached to “their person,” and it imagines people who are not kind to their cats; this projects a hard world like Basil Bunting’s.)

And one more which my first friend put into an anthology of love poetry she has translated and is publishing:

Not Love Perhaps

This is not Love, perhaps,
Love that lays down its life,
that many waters cannot quench,
nor the floods drown,
But something written in lighter ink,
said in a lower tone, something, perhaps, especially our own.

A need, at times, to be together and talk,
And then the finding we can walk
More firmly through dark narrow places,
And meet more easily nightmare faces;
A need to reach out, sometimes, hand to hand,
And then find Earth less like an alien land;
A need for alliance to defeat
The whisperers at the corner of the street.

A need for inns on roads, islands in seas,
Halts for discoveries to be shared,
Maps checked, notes compared;
A need, at times, of each for each,
Direct as the need of throat and tongue for speech

A photo of him

All of the poems made me think of Jim; I believe he would have liked these and sympathized with the man.

This week I bought myself the uncut, 6 part mini-series of The Trip, a semi-comic film of Steve Coogan and Bill Bryden traveling through Yorkshire together. I look forward to watching it slowly. I also discovered this week that Matching Prior is imagined as in Yorkshire. I like Trollope for that too.



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