Frida Kahlo-stilllifechina
Frida Kahlo (1907-54), Still Life (on China)


Only connect as E.M. Forster wrote. Menstruation, the immiseration of white women (you are much better off in a city), the plight of Muslim women, cats in medieval manuscripts — are my topics today.


Over 100 years worth of products used for menstruation are skimmingly covered in this informative enough article by Lia Kvatum published April 25th in the Washington Post. It has links to other places where you can read more about this or that issue. Although written in an upbeat tone, the article does tell the truth. You might assume that attitudes towards menstruation are no longer (at least in these official western style ad) as uncomfortable and repressive as they once were: what is interesting is still in the 1990s you see discomfort and the heroine at the center anxious. And the reassuring “second older self” is a girl dressed in a mildly feminine way – her hair impeccably coiffeured, looking attractive as if she’s going out on a date.

From the outset at the opening of the century they can be divided into two types: soothing and reassuring and clinical and practical. They are still constrained but note the article its impetus from a museum of menstruation which has been thrown out of its official quarters in an institution and is now in a private person’s basement:


One purpose is to advertise and hope someone will take up the things and put them where they won’t get lost and dispersed and others can see them.

I recognize just about all the products; the ones used before I was 11 I’ve been told or read about, and I myself made my own home-made products when I was broke at one point. In documents I’ve read (letters, diaries) you can now and again come across a reference to washing a cloth for one’s period:


I did not know that women are still dying of toxic shock syndrome — I would say I understand why a girl would use a tampon (it enables her to swim the first couple of days; it avoids menstrual belts and sticky plastic),


but I know and have seen other uses: use this and you break your hymen and get it over with. And not everyone reads the instructions or is told not to leave a tampon in past at most a couple of hours. We have to remember the state of education today might be very poor for a particular girl in a particular area: sexual education in schools is preaching abstinence in some areas of the US. I have never in my life douched myself with these chemical products. I suspect because at some level of my being I am so sceptical, cautious, and as a result of experience nowadays instinctively uncooperative I was spared some of the worst biologically- and sexually-linked products pushed at me now and again. Here are two recent ads; there are worse ones and there are better. None of those readily available connect sex with sin; they seem to be all secular, non-judgemental (no idea this is a punishment from God):



One video segment resonated with me. A older woman tells of how her mother refused to talk to her or say anything at all when she began to bleed. I remember when I came home frightened, I phoned my father. I never had a trusting relationship with my mother. He must’ve explained enough and said something soothing (the two prongs of the ads) and probably told me to do something to stop getting soiled. But when my mother came home, she came right up to me and slapped me across the face with all her might. And then handed me a pad, wordless. He came home with a thick book probably enlightened for its time — I read about homosexuality for the first time — some title like “Everything you Need to Know about Sex for girls.” He said little himself, only read it.

I was very hurt and later indignant over my mother’s behavior. Just as bad to my mind is the social reinforcement that still goes on for customs of such symbolic punishment. Years later when I finally told someone (perhaps here on the Net somewhere, maybe an exchange of emails but I think it must’ve been on some listserv! or web-, or blog-site), I got justifications from other women for her behavior. This was a custom. It was just fine. I should have taken it or today take it as amusing. I say still it’s a custom she should not have followed mindlessly and without examination. To me it epitomizes not just how she behaved over and her attitudes towards sex (hostile, ashamed on the one hand, conspiratorial when she would be confiding on the other), but in other areas of life.

How did I behave when my two daughters told me “what had happened?” For the older one I tried to explain, had brought home menstrual pads with sticky plastic on the back, offered advice, and gave her a thick book; the younger one had the older one in the house and seemed to know about what was happening, but my procedure was the same, explanation, apparatus to cope, advice and thick book. Perhaps in earlier centuries the girl would not have been home alone and someone (mother, aunt, sister, cousin, governess, woman or fellow servant, girlfriend) would’ve been here to talk and help right away. Perhaps misogynous attitudes would have been inculcated openly.

17th century painting of an old woman reading a book; we glimpse a cat on a high shelf, perhaps company (Metsu)

On a more sheerly sombre note, an all too brief article online abouts an increasing health crisis for US white women: early death, drug addiction, alcoholism, poverty, increase of fatal diseases, depression.

An older woman, now living alone, worried over finances …

A couple of weeks ago (around April 11th), the Washington Post was featuring stories growing out of a study by Anne Case and Angus Deaton (Princeton economists) working and lower middle class white women are doing much worse than they used to — while they still die at a later age than white men and black men and women and other minorities, statistics show a rise in all sorts of destructive behavior (drugs, drink, risky behaviors with men), and the gap is closing. These are directly linked to their status, lack of income; women living in more rural areas and small towns are especially prone to misery and earlier death. Age 45-54 is the worst. However, lonely and anonymous your daily life you are much better off in a city where there are social services and things to join and do with other organized social groups of people.

A sheer uptick in suicide among white women as such was another story. They are experiencing full force what black women in the US as a group have always known: asked to be responsible for families, left alone (divorced, separated, never married), at the same time as they lack companionship and the things that are supposed to make others respect you.

The centrifugal nature of our US culture, long working hours, low pay, unemployment, degrading jobs, high expectations inflicted on women without any reality of real support, the easy break-up of marriages, having children out of wedlock with no permanent partner. It adds up to deep harm for all women but those who are born to the wealthy.

Connect the many stories about the rise of Al-Shabab in Somalia — that means for women horrors western women can’t begin to imagine — terrible economic conditions. you are married off early, ceaselessly pregnant, not trained to do anything for money — a large percentage of the desperate refugees are pregnant women in burkas with children hanging from them. What are they told about their menstruation?

Who is our major hope just now? Hillary Clinton is among the privileged of US society. I loathed her book, It Takes a Village, because in it she showed an unexamined disdain and contempt for women on welfare. She talked of children as a investment and wrote that poor women should have their children taken from them if they are not bringing them up “productively.” I admit I was not at all surprised when her husband with her public blessing destroyed welfare. I was never fooled that it was for these women’s good — this is the idea of “tough love,” yes let me thrown you out and you will be better off eventually. The idea was to stop paying women with children who couldn’t get a decent job and that is what was done.

Yes Clinton has since becoming senator worked for better pay, family paid leave, women’s health care and liberty too worked for real and hard. But where is she for the vulnerable, poverty-stricken, non-employable, partly disabled (from cultural forces) working (often white) women? Where does she identify? Middle class women. Probably she appeals to black women because she has ever presented herself as ambitious, filled with self-esteem, conventionally strong. I grant she has said she will work to extend widow’s benefits. I pay high taxes on my widow’s annuity. But I prefer Sanders’ tone and perspective. He means fundamental reforms, he used to mean of economic structure too, now it’s “just” a genuine movement away from immiseration for all and hope for a better independent self-fulfilling future (he for making state colleges for free — no loans from banks, no massive debt). I voted for him in the primary because on my doorknob was a paper reminder from his organization to vote. That piece of paper cost his organization money. He voted against the TPP; she for. He is faulted for “not having a foreign policy; he does, but he brings it out only in glimpses as it would undercut the US foreign policy since 1947 (he sees the Palestinians are the victims of slaughter, fierce colonialist seizure of their property, starvation policies), a hawkish, adamantinely anti social-democratic one, violent and supportive of horrifying regimes, one she shares despite her late embrace of Obama’s moderated approach.

To change women’s lives something far deeper, far more inward, sexual liberation and self-esteem for who we are, not for any use that will be made of us, is the place to begin to do good work.

In medieval books of hours when one finds cats, they are at the margins of the page and most of the time poignant figures playing some sort of music instrument


Miss Drake


Dear friends and readers,

I know I’ve mentioned before a Future Learn course I followed for some weeks, a sort of anthropological, sociological and psychological study of people’s behavior on the Internet, especially on mass social media. Its unusual candour, open-mindedness and insights into an ever increasingly part of our lives seems to be well worth sharing with others on the Net (as well illustrations from a book of poetry about cats, Fe-lines — we often use cats to stand in for us and reflect our relationships with others comically). A brief description.

I was chary when I “signed” up fearing I would hear the usual tirades against how everyone on the Net is missing out on social life, how trivial or overwrought what is put on the Net is. Jill Lepore actually blamed the Internet for the rise of Trump — if all of us couldn’t natter on, he would not have gone as far as he has. Or it has transformed human nature, is debasing us, making us lose essential humanness. As it was (according to the professor) once said of codexes (all these people burrowed in books), or the phone

But no. The professor doing it takes the Internet seriously and studies what is happening on it in terms of itself, in terms of the culture it has become part of, how individuals’ lives are now intersecting with this new form of communication. He has 9 students and they spend 2 years some 15 different places where they are studying the culture anthropologically (one in the UK). Much of the commentary and explanation is multifaceted and the conversations of professor and students feel real. One of the most startling findings was that in many traditional cultures, the first time someone felt free and able to have liberty to have a conversation with someone else in private was one-on-one emails on the Net. At long last they escaped surveillance, especially girls.

The central argument is the Internet is another new extension of life, a new form of attainment. It used to be interpersonal communication came in two basic forms: one-on-one conversations, on the phone, by letter; even in larger parties and groups the place people could talk of themselves was in small groups of two or three. Or the person was watching a mass media, TV, listening to radio, going to movies, and had no opportunity to talk back except on a phone where he or she could address a indeterminately large number of people unknown to him or her. Now we have scalable socialability and we can talk back, express ourselves. We can do this one-on-one on emails. In small groups address as many as a hundred or few hundred people (listservs, webrings, group blogs, closed face-book communities); we can address thousands (face-book, twitter). Or we can revert just to reading magazines, newspapers, and videos dished up to us in which we have no immediate say — though we may write of it later and groups of people doing so may influence the next video.

In the early days of the Internet, it used to be early on people met as strangers sharing intense interests and felt exhilaration to find like souls for the first time. Listservs, message boards, compuserv provided that. Some face-book pages still do but the problem there is the audience is too large and so you are in too impersonal a space. The etiquette of writing short messages (like post cards) is inhibiting. Also blogs — individual blogs are a godsend still as a form. There one can be brave — in some countries one may end up in prison; in Saudi Arabia a man has been flogged 59 times (he was sentenced to a 1000) and is in prison for a long time to come for disagreeing with the regime. In western democracies (if you post from such a place, as I do) ordinarily, nowadays what we increasingly see is people making visible their social groups on the Net (through say group blogs).


Nowadays what we see on the web replicates social life off, more and more conformity. Selfies are ways of presenting the self as social, getting awards and so on — they suggested selfies are a form of social policing. It may be a blog is politically radical, and some do not socially conform (I do not altogether), but increasingly bloggers and people who post are integrated somehow into the physical communities of their lives.  Nowadays people are making visible their social connections in the outside world. I see that in the use of group blogs. They are also policing themselves as fewer and fewer use pseudonyms.

People who have been successful in social life who are what I call all about having careers and make that what shapes their life and decisions at first tried to downgrade the internet; in the book on the English, the Why We Post crew show how in England (not all cultures) every effort was made to keep the two aspects of life — let’s call it — separate and still pretend to.  To me or what I’ve observed is people who allow their career goals to control what they do or say have switched and don’t look at Internet as a different sort of space and communication anymore. They don’t profess to ignore it. But if such people come onto the Net and “establish a presence” on social media, they behave here the way they do in outside life — and they come here to network. Yes they perform. Advertise themselves or their books. That’s why having  an author in a group read is worse than useless for many — it’s counter-productive. Life on the Net is still freer in list-servs because the communities are small, few people, often closed — you can replicate that elsewhere (face book has a mechanism for making just such a community).

An interesting reality they said; what matters is the content we post. It does matter. The platform or venue is paid far too much attention to. They show that a group of people and individuals post the same content on different platforms. What we study and relate to is that content. Why We Post suggested it used to be we related to the outside world content as part of a mass audience reading the select elite in the media or one-on-one (phone, letter), now we can relate to different numbers of people and different ways and affect content. I’ve always thought this and it’s been true from the beginning. People from the beginning judged you by your content.


A curious side effect of following this Future Learn is I for the first time figured out what the “like” button on face-book means. It does have a kinda precise meaning. It’s the existence of these other emoticons, which it seemed to me did not seem to add varieties of response somehow, that gave me my clue. Well “like” means I approve of this sort of message, or I approve this message. If to a person you know well enough “like” can mean: I approve of you making this message or this sort of message. Then all the other emoticons become versions of this — they are intensifiers. They are a form of announcing what is socially acceptable to the liker and all those liking this sort of message or this message or this person making it. Or they say I disapprove of the content of this message — that’s what the dislike message means. When it means I disapprove of the messenger for making this message or the content of the message, then one of the two people might “unfriend” one another. Gentle reader, you may say, well, duh? didn’t you know all this before? I didn’t.

Susan Herbert’s Pre-Raphaelite cat

An interesting angle is gender. The researchers said that if you ask people what they post about beyond family, friends, books, they might say politics. But if you look at what they call politics, it’s often about gender: they are discussing what it is to be a man and defining it, or a woman and defining and trying to control that. I’ve long known from reseach I did a long while ago a website made by a man looks different from a website made by a woman. A man will use comic pictures of himself at the same time as he tells far less of his private life. A woman uses dignified pictures, pictures that cannot be laughed at, and at the same time tells about her private life far more: husband, children. Even on academic websites. See my paper on Women in Cyberspace.


Now the course goes to the different regions to study social media, this time from an area with many Kurds in Turkey, and a place near Chennai in India. They said they were looking at gender roles and politics, but it was the same story: people on social media using their real names have a drive to social conformity. I did read of the ways girls are kept in and controlled in Turkey, and some of it reminded me of the way the girls were treated in the film Mustang. Another interesting passing comment was that many people in India work 10 hours a day, 5 days a week and how miserable this makes them. They have no time for a life. “Learners” were asked to monitor what they see on face-book according to a scheduled plan. One learner said that he saw little conversation on face-book or twitter, just assertions of points of view. They suggested fake identities in games give people a way of escaping social conformity.

I found that women far more post images of lovely paintings or flowers or pretty things in their houses. The purpose of these is to cheer themselves up and to cheer others. Both genders post equal amounts of postings where they are expressing some private troubles (not too private, things like coping with a new job, but I’ve also seen women post when a husband or partner leaves them or dies and their terrible struggles afterward, usually couched in an today’s achievement vein, but the reality is there). Men show themselves working in the world far more, and send URLs to discourses of interest in their profession. Women are shoring up their relationships; men are showing what they are doing, what opportunities and tasks however small they are coping with.

I critiqued the course too: I agree with the fundamental thrust of this course that cyberspace is replicating the realities of real space, I feel there ought to be more time given to people coming onto the Internet simply to express themselves. Not to triumph over someone else (when a statement not meant that way is taken that way and someone else triumphs, the person is hurt and reacts back), but to reach out to express thoughts that may not be common, deep feeling ones. These are found on blogs, sometimes listservs. Are not blogs social media? So I suggest the insistence on staying with places like face-book is producing a foregone conclusion for this course which does not reflect the whole reality of the Internet. The people described as escaping their communities by yourselves most of the time cannot act on their new relationships which are so far away, but it may be that’s not what’s envisaged (if longed for). Just to put out into the world another kind of self.

As to fake identities in games (as a way to escape social conformity) the identities are often stereotypes, the things done in the games fleeting competition. I don’t speak of the porn sites, sites for violence. No one of this high-minded group spoke of porn site or sites where people play out violence. They avoided the criminal, sexually exploitative and aggressively commercial aspects of the Net today.


I was bothered by the narrow way the group limited the areas or venues on the Net they studied closely. At first I felt I was learning a lot when they demonstrated how important the Internet has become to literally millions of lives, intimately, for daily social functions the person chooses; and then when they showed the strong social conformity that goes on nonetheless. Fifteen different countries of participants were being studied. But what has happened is what is preferred is the lowest common denominator and so-called what “most” people do. Rousseau argued convincingly there is no such thing as a general will. So if most hardly write words at all, that’s what they are looking to – -though on their own accounting many post privately to friends or in closed groups they can’t look at. How about the millions who may not post little essays (as I and others here may do) but say a paragraph or two a day. They don’t look at list-servs, blogs, web-rings. It’s as if they don’t want to see the creation of new identities through writing and other selves in these different cyberspace places.

These cyberspace places that are new or different from old venues approximate genres outside the Net too. I’d say a posting to a listserv is like a letter to a group. A message to face-book is a postcard. The blog’s name comes from weblog, a daily log of actions on the web and in reaction to the web: all blogs are at some level diaries.

Since coming onto the Internet and adjusting and discovering — say later 1990s I have wondered how I existed before I had it — I feel through writing I exist in ways I cannot any other and I was never given a place to exist this way before. I was never given anywhere I could write. As a person who is socially awkward in the physical world and has had far more social experience on the Net than I ever did before, I’ve come to exist for the first time here. This may seem an extreme statement, but I’ve known women who told me they felt they didn’t exist during the time they had no outside paid job to go to and stayed home with their children. Their invisibility outside their home was to them a form of erasure; they weren’t achieving anything in the eyes of others, shopping, chatting outside was not enough. I’ve never felt quite that but I do know that I want to have contact with the world, be in the world in order to have a fully human life. Think of the people who told the students that the first time they felt or understood what it was to have a private experience was here on the Net.


A late book of travel writing by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“The day was uncommonly lovely. It was really March; but it was April in its mild air, brisk soft wind, and bright sun, occasionally clouded for a minute; and everything looked so beautiful under the influence of such a sky, the effects of the shadows pursuing each other on the ships at Spithead and the island beyond, with the ever–varying hues of the sea, now at high water, dancing in its glee and dashing against the ramparts with so fine a sound, produced altogether such a combination of charms for Fanny, as made her gradually almost careless of the circumstances under which she felt them.” — Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Friends and readers,

This blog is becoming difficult for me to keep up. I don’t want to present myself dishonestly. I know for most people three years of widowhood is regarded as far more than enough for whoever has been so unlucky as to watch a beloved partner die to learn to live with the loss silently. For me the question then is, How do I write what is so interwoven with my every moment whether I’m enjoying myself or enduring stress?

Caitriona Balfe as Claire realizing she is under constant scrutiny (1743, Highlands, Outlander)

I’ve now developed an addiction to Outlander: I don’t find it as compelling as Breaking Bad, but I think it marvelously well done: the pace at any given moment, so slow and then pitch perfect fast, the photography, the Scots music, Sam Heughan as Jamie appeals more and more, but most of all Caitriona Balfe’s voice-over mesmerizes. Read Emily Nussbaum (the New Yorker). Would you believe I’m perusing The Outlandish Companion? One cannot have too many holds on happiness …. (I’ve accepted four more books to review for peer-edited and online journals: Norma Clarke’s biography of Oliver Goldsmith, a book on African women in 18th century England, another on women writers of the long 18th century, and one for the Victorian Web: Ben Wilson’s Heyday: Britain and the Birth of the Modern World?)

I’ve discovered a new powerful novelist: Constance Fenimore Woolson in her novel Anne. I love it, deeply immersing, her sensitivity, her depth of feeling, her sense of isolation and alienation, that she has not lived up to her gifts as the world would not let her. I carry on with my projects on women artists, spinsters, Italian, select women novelists. My love for Gaskell deepens and I stay with Trollope’s Dr Thorne as read by Simon Vance in my car, and am continually seeing the book in new sorts of ways, not always complimentary to Trollope.

During much of the week and a half since I last wrote I was reading at home, writing lecture notes, watching movies, writing on the Net to friends or listservs. I’ve blogged a few times at night, been out once to the gym (for a kind of dance fusion workshop as body strengthening), out for a walks for 20 minutes most afternoons (early spring that soft light green, scarcely there, and flowers, pastel, white and vivid colors too, all sorts). The two sessions of teaching Trollope’s Dr Thorne in the one, Gaskell’s North and South in the other) went very well, and once I went to the OLLI at AU for a “town meeting” where many people showed up to discuss the coming move of this school from three churches to the old law building (now renovated and refurbished) just outside the AU campus. I am sustaining myself.

The worst incident in quite a while happened today: I thought I had conquered the problem of paying my complicated taxes, but discovered the accountant (Kelly Hughes is his name) had hardly paid any attention to the material I gave him more than a month and a half ago. I understood last year he did a minimum job, he was like ninth-graders in junior high who put off all work until the last moment, and then boasted about it. Now I know he’s a lying shit. After having not succeeded not making the forms out in a timely manner, he had made them out wrong. The information I had supplied about how I’d paid quarterly payments had been ignored. In fifteen minutes all seemed corrected. But now I’m not sure I’ve paid the right amount, and next year must find someone else willing genuinely to do my taxes for me. Gentle reader avoid Thompson Hughes and Trollinger. I was reminded of how the first lawyer I went to for help against the DMV did nothing for his fee; I had to find a conscientious thorough-working woman. I also discovered I’ve not been getting bills for my PenFed VISA because without consulting me they are sending my bills electronically. For a second time I insisted I be sent paper copies so I can keep track of my charges. This is not the first organization which has tried to foist paperlessness on me.

A few special moments:


Last Friday (the 8th) I went to the Washington Area Print Group’s last lecture for this year. Jessica Brantley gave a talk on the use of scrolls for Books of Hours in the early medieval period. Not exactly a thrilling topic you’ll say. The way she put it was to show us how old media does not die, but carries on amid new media — just as in our own era. So the codex or book did not wholly replace scrolls. I knew that for a while after the Gutenberg press made such a dramatic alteration in how quickly a book could be printed, how many copies, the regularity of what you’d see very wealthy people carried on paying for scribes to make scrolls for their libraries. It seems that Books of Hours which functioned as prayer books, which people carried about with them, still sometimes took the form of scrolls. Enough people believed it was somehow more efficacious to rub a picture or prayer in a scroll to get whatever saint you wanted to do what you wanted than to hold a book. She had pictures of these scrolls, and pictures of people using them. Vernacular language intermingles with latin, private reading was replacing reading aloud, but in many of the pictures you see figures where one person is reading and praying from a scroll with others about them. Pictures of people touching one another as they had these communal experiences, sometimes in a parade, sometimes seated. Of course they were acting out asinine rituals according to barbaric superstitious in crazy ways.

There were 26 people in the Rosenwald room of the Library of Congress, big for this group, but only six of us (not including the speaker) went out to dinner afterwards. This was the best time of the evening. A friend said to me maybe next year we could go to ASECS in Minnesota the same day and come back the same night and share a room together. If she were willing to do that, I’d consider going for the whole time once again. There was good political and social talk (about scholarship), wine and food.

Last concert of the season in rehearsal (Folger Shakespeare Library)

The 9th was an anniversary: two and one half years ago my beloved died in my arms. My favorite time of day, the one I most linger over has become early morning when I wake and the my two cats come to cuddle around my body, inside one of my arms.

Then that Sunday (the 10th) Izzy and I went to the Folger to see and hear the Folger Concert group play and sing the songs and masque-like playlets of Purcell’s The Faerie Queene. As with their Playing with Fire, the experience of the music in the theater was an oasis of quiet beauty: again I thought to myself how much quieter must the 17th century world have been to expect that people would be moved and delight in a precisely played notes on a few instruments. This time there was a soprano, counter-tenor, tenor (Jason McStoots has a particularly beautiful voice) and bass baritone to act out allegorical figures for the seasons, times of day and night, for shepherds and shepherdesses, and archetypes. Gentle humor, playful sexiness with a few props and suggestive costumes.

Helena Modieska as Ophelia (late 19th, early 20th century photo)

The hall exhibit had changed: the theme was now Shakespeare in America from the 19th century to today. An array of podcasts (Leslie Howard and Rosalind Russell as Benedict and Beatrice dramatically reading scenes from Much Ado About Nothing for the radio), charts, pictures, exhibited books and posters, and maps, playbills, paintings, histories of Shakespearean actors and actresses were arranged across the hall and down the middle using computers on screens and glass cases. These glass cases you see mingle with the new media. Four screens played films of early 20th century performances of the most popular of Shakespeare’s plays, of adaptations like Kismet and West Side Story. The audience was again charmed because allowed to go into the reading room for refreshments.

Almost kissing in Almost, Maine (an off-Broadway production)

Last night, Friday (the 15th), I went with my friend, Phyllis, to a local Fairfax community center to see a production of Almost, Maine by John Cariani. It’s a series of skits or dialogues between two people, mostly a man and a woman, in some phase of a love relationship. They all live in a northern town of Maine near the Canadian border. It’s winter and day-time in the first act; still winter and night-time in the second. The accent of the performance was on comedy and whimsy, but the words were serious and often sad, or vexed, troubled. A lot of lonely shy people in this play. The lightness of tone was fostered by making most of them sexually innocent as they move towards making love (most end happily) or the relationship comes to a end. The duet of two gay men was made too slapstick: my guess is the director, Chip Gertzog worried about homophobia. In a mild sort of way the play reminded me of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. It’s said to be the most frequently performed shows across the US in the last 10 years.

I’ll be writing about the HD broadcast that Izzy and I went to this afternoon (I am writing in the evening of the 16th): an extraordinarily beautiful and moving production of Roberto Devereux separately (as I did Madame Butterfly, which I went to alone on Wednesday night, the 6th).

It has taken all this time for me to be able to respond to my anthology of poetry, The Widows’ Handbook: Poetic Reflections on Grief and Survival fully, adequately. Each poem now comes into me with full resonance. I couldn’t be open to them before. I am changed. I am taking on responsibility for existence, reacting to existence, pro-active in all sorts of ways, interacting with my cats for the first time (aware of them as fully alert presences interacting with me), if not stronger more aware. I wave to people I never used to know; they wave back.

Here is a poem I took in tonight from said Widows’ Handbook:

My universe has changed

and yet
the lake is no less green
the blue of the clouded sky is no less vivid
The sun still shines
but the once exultant gulls
wail today

and the swoosh of the waves
is a leaky lung
steadily squeezing life away

— Phyllis Wax

Miss Drake

Now the tulips are coming up white


I find some verses for today, a possible source for future Caturday (on this blog Sunday) poetry, and return to Mary Poppins yet again.

I first wrote about these books and the 1960s movies in my earliest blog (2005 Two Wildly Disparate MPs) and the first Christmas Izzy and I got through after Jim died (“Saving Mr Banks”), and stirred read a very good biography (Pamela Lyndon Travers). It was an important book for me when I was 8 or 9 living in a Bronx slum: I loved best of the books, Mary Poppins in the Park. So for a fourth time:

One of my favorite weekly columns is NB, still the last page of TLS (aka Times Literary Supplement). When Murdock first bought TLS, and cut it down savagely, long pages turned into tabloid size, one quarter as many pages as it once had.

Book Notes or NB by J.C. was one of the first columns headed for the cutter. Murdock just couldn’t see the point of it. But more howls from readers, brought NB back, and I for one read J.C.’s three-quarter page NB each week. It’s all sorts of things: mostly he visits bookshops; he muses over what he read this week in other publications, he goes on about what was a fashionable topic last week.

19thcenturyfauxbookshop (Medium)

Whatever catches an eye alert for cant and genuineness.

Last week (April 1, 2016, p 32) J.C. opened with the not-so-subtle hypocrisies underlying the sudden appearance of reviews of the (godawful) poetry of Eileen Myles (its her transvestite, outrageously colored clothes and connection to Mapplethorpe). Sometimes J.C. reviews reviews; or as this week makes gentle humor (one of his gifts) out of the latest idiocy (gimmick?) allowing for yet another book “about” Shakespeare or his plays. J.C. has a gift for making the dullest writing reveal sub-treasures of unconscious transparent give-aways of assumptions. And NB is informative.

The last paragraph of this week’s NB is about the popularity of cats: “Literary cats are climbing the curtains and tearing the stuffing out of the sofa.” Individuals whose names have recognition + “on cats.” And anthologies of cat poetry. One is Fe-lines: French cat poems through the ages, chosen and translated by Norman Shapiro. I have his very fat anthology of French poetry by women (translated by different poet-translators) through the ages. Fe-lines is said to include 200 poems, among them “Black Cat” by Rilke, Louis Codet’s “Grey Cat” and “White Cat” by Claude Roy. Songs include Brassens’s “Margot” and “Le Java de Pussy-cats” by Boris Vian” which “turns the familiar ‘god-awful racket’ of nocturnal cats into a grand party:

And long and loud, mid meows and mews
Echoed the racucous birthday spree
Wearing out lots of dancing shoes
In rowdy puzzy revelry.

Vian’s French:

Toute la nuit il danserent
En usant des kilos d’savates
Pour leur anniversaire
La java des pussy-cats”


And after finding a used copy of the book on Textbooks.com and purchasing it I came to Mary Poppins by way of Susan Herbert: Ayez la patience, gentle reader.

Susan Herbert’s “Mary Poppins,” from The Musicals (I know this is Eliza Doolittle but the two represent the same typology)

I wrote last week about living in or at least visiting each day peopled worlds; a friend used the perceptive phrase, “an outwardly involved life.” Yes. I don’t fashion it the way I fashion blogs; I wish I could follow Pascal’s wise prescription more — I’d read whole good books more, follow though on long-time projects. I’ve a new idea for a book, how to turn the five chapters (put together quite fat and detailed) that I’ve written as “A Place of Refuge: the Sense and Sensibility Films” into a slender book. Besides this I sometimes wish that Jim, my captain, my admiral, would have been more social with me and I blame myself in the last years of his retirement for not trying to bring him out of himself: would he have been happier, more fulfilled? He was in a way retreating ever more into himself — and opera. But perhaps I would not have succeeded. He could be stubborn (adamantine, gentle reader), and he would be so alive to the flaws I too see in the satisfactions of peopled worlds. I regret much as I look back on my whole life, and now in those last few years of his complete retirement (when he stopped working for money completely), but I am not sure he was wrong.

My image was that of a roundabout or merry-go-round. The image of a cabaret also resonates with many people. What’s the use of sitting alone in your room, come hear the music play, come to the cabaret … As gussied up for fantasias the roundabout becomes a carousel. There’s the remarkable prelude to the 1950s musical Carousel: it’s even been performed at the Proms (which Jim and I went to twice) and when he was younger, he’d listen to each year on the radio

Life as like being on a carousel: you pay a price to get on, and then you go round and round for a while, get off and on, and sometimes the world of the stop is the same, and sometimes utterly changed. There are the “regulars” there each time, and those who change, but all eager to assert no obligation to be there again next time. And then there are those who vanish altogether. Like the “daffodils which catch the winds of March with beauty before the swallow dares … ”

And I suddenly remembered episodes from one of my favorite books from childhood: P. L. Travers’s Mary Poppins. I’ve written about Pamela Lyndon Travers, her books, the Disney movies, her life on Austen Reveries. My first image was of her on a carousel, now with the children and they get on and off and visit some marvelous land, but maybe that never happened and it’s a product of vague memories of the 1968 movie which takes off from the episode in the book where Mary Poppins and the children with Bert through his chalk drawing (on the sidewalk, their entry) find themselves in a park, drink tea, eat sweet deserts, and the carousel is in the distance.


Then then it did come to me finally that she vanished at the close of Mary Poppins Comes Back through a carousel that became cosmic:


She vanished as the carousel lifted ever higher and higher into the pitiless silent sky.

A carousel horse from the original 1960s Mary Poppins movie

Posted by Miss Drake

Home again

Dear friends and readers,

The temperature going down to freezing here; I’ve flowers in all three patches, white tulips, soft lavender, clumps of different flowerets and buds.

For these weeks I’m feeling I am moving in and out of peopled worlds in Pittsburgh and here in DC and Alexandria, where I abide. Who knew there were so many constantly reforming clouds of people. And then Izzy finds herself over the moon after several 10 hour days watching ice-skating at Junior World Championship in Boston.

For myself: Around Thursday noon I started off. So many miles. Thanks to my “garmin,” which talks to me with a bland American women’s accent, I had little trouble driving from Alexandria, Va to the Omni William Penn Hotel. The voice is most important at these transition moments when the highway gives out, you have to come off and drive through some series of low-cost gas stations, “family” food restaurants, and motels that have grown up precisely because this the highway gives out here. She tells you a few minutes ahead to bear left or bear right, cites the sign accurately, and with ease you get back onto said highway going in the right direction.

The route in the city reminded me of old highways in Brooklyn, and then I had simply to drive up a wide street, turn left twice and there I was, in front of the hotel. Nearly 5 hours each way. Homeward I worried intensely at one point because my gas was low and I had to realize that there were no on-highway gas stations. I got off said highway and nearby filled “‘er up,” and back on I went. I began to feel dizzy once I was near home, so got off the highway and found myself in a traffic jam around an accident.

This led me to stop off at Noodles and Company for a pasta dish to bring home; I downed it with Shiraz wine while watching yet another episode of the very well-done 1972 War and Peace scripted by Jack Pulman and the 2nd episode (Of 3) of the utterly inadequately adapted Dr Thorne, scripted by Julian Fellowes: a friend has likened him to Popplecourt; it’s as if Popplecourt were explaining Trollope’s art to us. I’ll write about this film adaptation separately too: coming to and going from I had listened half-way through Trollope’s Dr Thorne as read dramatically well by Simon Vance. I collapsed into bed, by that time my pussycats staying close by.

I had a good time while there: it was rejuvenating to go to sessions filled with varied intelligent talk and papers on new aspects of a subject matter I’ve spent my life reading about, studying. I’ll write of these separately. I was at two nights of receptions. I renewed old friendships during the first night’s dinner and first day’s lunch


40 years on Robin Ellis returns as the deeply reaction Halse and Aidan Turner defies him (2015, scripted by Debbie Horsfield)

My paper, “Poldark Rebooted: 4 Years on” went over well; the three other papers were from different points of view and done differently yet all linked as about recent TV and movie films (Outlander among them). The audience was not too small and we got good questions. The second night I seemed to gravitate towards the Burney group, and spent the second night’s dinner time and the next day women’s caucus with them. I can’t say I participated in intellectual political talk (as I do regularly now at the OLLI at AU in DC), but I did hear about local politics in different places from friends as well as happenings among books and writers and coming conferences (at Chawton). What people were working on, their topics of special interest and told of mine. One woman on sabbatical reading Burney’s manuscripts in the NYPL, living in Brooklyn for the year.


The William Penn Omni hotel is a beautiful building: art deco central hall or lobby downstairs, and the grand ballroom beautifully carved. It was the second time I’d been there: before with Jim I arrived at 11 at night and remember we got a meal!

As a memento I found on sale Norma Clarke’s probably highly readable biographical Brothers of the Quill: Oliver Goldsmith in Grub Street — its cover takes the left-hand side of Hogarth’s picture, enrichens the browns and yellows, suggestive of Grub Street life.

William Hogarth, The Distressed Poet (1736)

The experience occurred in the context of the two OLLIs, going to the Jewish Community Center, Smithsonian, the Folger, so I felt how I enter into and float out of differently peopled worlds. How different this is from the way I lived by Jim’s side. It’s like a quiet merry-go-round or roundabout. You get off and find under this pavillon a set of numerous people having adventures, stay and talk in whatever form is appropriate, then you go back to the path towards the merry-go-round and get on and off at another place. Interesting and informative discussion over lunch at Temple Baptist Church (one of the AU OLLI locations) by a retired lawyer and an economist about the importance of the supreme court, how much of US civic life corporations through their control of media is being poisoned.

But how and why do all these people keep it up? Cheerfully too. I feel so aware of these worlds’ fragility. That’s the strange and built-in dangerous thing: the necessary disconnect between casual friends and other people all the while you renew what you can or just have fleeting good talk. Here’s a question: how do you define friends?

Outside Izzy’s window in Boston: celebratory and commentating snow ….

Izzy had taken a 10 hour train trip to Boston via Amtrak. She had a long trip there and back and there was an accident at Philadelphia the day before she came home. No money in the US for public transportation. Fortunately her trip back was only (only) 40 minutes longer, so it took 11 hours. But she was comfortable the whole time. A decent seat, decent enough food available (real sandwiches with people to serve it), free wi-fi. She was not continually photographed or scrutinized as in a airport. She did not have to sign up for “paid privileges” which allow a cell phone or ipad to work, and separately for any music or movies (as in abusive airplanes).

She stayed in a hotel in Boston, from the which there were trains each day going back and forth from hotel to convention center. She found herself coming back to the hotel with the same people each night. Her day sometimes started after 10 or 11 or once noon. She often returned at 11 at night, once much later.



She got herself to the Museum of Fine Arts twice (it was a stop on her train), and explored the first floor. She said it was huge:


She saw a sign outside “to the Isabella Gardner museum,” but did not have the time for it. She walked in the city commons, on three different mornings, and late in the evening ate in different places around her hotel room, mostly Italian restaurants. Those nights she did return early it was very cold out; her window high and the winds strong. So she stayed in with her ipad and books.


Since she had the same seat for all but one day (as did most others), she sat behind the same group most days: British women who talked to one another and briefly to her too. Her sense of ecstasy as she watched and watched and the experience mounts she captured in a phrase she used to my question, “How’s it going?” “I’m over the moon.”

Miss Drake



After today and two evenings past, and contemplating this week’s end, I say that’s one wise New Yorker cat.

Around 8 o’clock this morning this PC computer on which I am typing this blog went black, and I could not get the screen to function again beyond it asking me to switch the user. My guardian angel, aka IT guy who comes into my computer by remote control and makes visits (like physicians of old) picked up the phone after I wrote EMERGENCY on my Apple laptop to him and called.

“He who gives graciously gives twice.” I had emailed him yesterday (Sunday, Easter) because the upsetting messages that my computer did not have enough memory, that my files were enlarged, and sudden black windows taking over parts of my screen were beginning to unnerve me. He emailed a few hours later; he was away on a vacation but would be back Monday, but in the meantime I was assured (as he usually does) “it’s nothing to worry about,” just a minor glitch and he would attend to it tomorrow. Well it took him 2 hours of fixing in the morning with me looking on; I left at 11:45 to go to the OLLI at AU to lead (teach) a class on Trollope’s 1st 3 Barsetshire novels, and when I returned at 4, I recognized his presence working at it (the cursor, the changes going on in the screen).

I did have a moment of lost faith but screwed my courage up again, apologized and tonight my computer is “cleaned out,” all “junk” from 2 years of working using it eliminated, much updated, the back-up mechanisms re-set (including a program called Carbonite) and newly working right. I still cannot shut the large laptop attached to the PC without the screen on the PC going dark, but it’s not the worst thing in the world to leave the screen of the laptop open for now.

Next week Jonathan will visit and install more memory; then I’ll show this glitch to him. I did not think I had added so much to the computer: I do far less than I used to, and Jim is no longer here to add movies, power-point presentations, but I have been working for 2 years since I bought the computer, done a number of papers, reviews, so many blogs, endless postings, letters, pictures audio-books nowadays. It adds up.

Davis and White — Olympic winners, among Izzy’s favorites

In the same early part of the morning I also drove Izzy to the train station. She was off to Boston to join in and watch for 7 days Junior World Ice-Skating Championship. This weekend she did her annual walk under the cherry blossom trees on the Mall, and took herself in the direction of the Vietnam Wall. Both of us were aware this is the first trip she’s taken by herself since August 2011 (she spent a week in NYC at the Princeton Club, going from there to the US open tennis championships in Queens). Izzy had a strenuous day too. The train took 9 hours! It seems a body was found on the tracks and the train was delayed for a couple of hours while an unhappy person’s remains were removed. She is in her hotel room now, ipad nearby, having devoured much Daredevil on her long long way.

The first day and night alone since Jim died. I’ve been away from her and the cats 5-6 times (!), never more than 5 days, mostly 3, and she and I have taken 3 trips together. This is the first night I’ve been alone in the house (except for my cats) since Jim died. I cooked my own dinner (simple affair) for the third or fourth time since he’s been gone. I did get to eat when I want, and choose to watch Amy Goodman (DemocracyNow.org) on Howard University TV and then switch to PBS Reports. Tomorrow I may actually cook myself a vegetable.

I watched Part 1 of Fellowes’s Dr Thorne after supper:

An ITV Dr Thorne (badly scripted by Julian Fellowes, 2016): Tom Hollander as Thorne and Stephanie Martini as Mary


provide whatever good moments there are

As I’ve said I’m going to Pittsburgh myself this Thursday around noon, a 4 hour 16 minute drive there. Infinitely preferable to 4+ hour trip by plane, with cab fares, treatment on the plane on the edge of abuse, surveillance everywhere, starvation; the 10 hour train trip unthinkable especially since on Saturday I’d have to leave by 7 am to make it; and megabus doesn’t have a phone or office so no questions may be asked about where this bus lets you off. I’m planning to listen to Simon Vance reading aloud Dr Thorne for the long stretch of 230 miles each way. Garmin to the side, maps nearby, drawing of local streets. Being away will of course break up the time for me to be here by myself.

So today’s activities included me reading aloud my Poldark paper which I plan to deliver (“Poldark Re-booted: 40 years on” twice (practice, 17 minutes each time). This after returning from a very pleasant two hours with the class mentioned above, where we are reading Barchester Towers just now and I showed two segments from Barchester Chronicles — carefully chosen to show the skillful subtle art of Alan Plater who understands the book’s complicated mood and many themes — and the marvelous acting of all the principals. Much as I like to believe the students regard the class discussion as so much more important than movie-watching, they asked if I would bring my DVD back next week to show a scene with Rickman and Hampshire in Slope and Madeline tete-a-tetes.
Alan Rickman as Slope approaching Susan Hampshire as Signora Neroni for their first encouncter (1983 Barchester Chronicles)

The trouble is these are not scenes that open the segments so we would have to watch more to get to them. They said they didn’t mind if we had to watch more scenes to get to these confrontations. How doth the busy bee improve each shining hour …


My anxiety over my trip has been alleviated somewhat by a visit on Saturday evening by my friend, Phyllis. She drank my cheap Shiraz wine with me (Robert Shaw) and we downed pita chips. She lived right near Pittsburgh for years, and we went over the route a couple of times: better, she described what the streets I go through in the city itself would look like, why and where to turn. Funny, she noticed something I never thought about: my mail box by my front door comes from 1947. It is very ancient, black, rusted, half coming out of the wall. Why had I not replaced it, she asked. I must replace it! I said it was not important enough to think about. But when I finally have the kitchen painted, new vinyl on the floor, new cabinets, replace the doors, paint a couple and paint the house cream, and put the number of my address somewhere in the front while I’m about it I’ll pay to have smoke detectors put back and a new mailbox. Not that this would prevent lost or misdirected mail. Strange to say, after she left I found myself drained, emotionally exhausted. I had been reading all day, shopped with Izzy, wrote, but I think that I rarely have visitors may have been the root cause of my collapse. The next night I experienced the same sudden depletion of energy after friends had been over.


The above photo is one taken by my old friend, Sophie, who unexpectedly visited me with her partner, Friedrich — remember how she just loves to take photos. Luckily I had bought some bel paese cheese, had Earl Grey tea and a fresh bread when I had shopped on Saturday, so was able to be hospitable. I showed him Jim’s books: he has Ph.D. in molecular biochemistry and does research for the NIH, in among other areas, cancer. He understood what some of Jim’s books were about, he recognized the languages they are in (beyond the math) better than I. I didn’t know several are in Hungarian. For the first time ever I had an explanation of how the underlying pattern of cancer can general and yet not reducible to finding a cure or how to predict how a given regimen of chemo, radiation, surgery and the rest of the torture will affect someone’s body. Briefly, reductively, as the DNA strands replicate themselves (billions of these), they make mistakes, and into the gaps in asymmetry a cancer can emerge, but each literally takes the form of the particular cell and the complicated surrounding chemistry and neurology is also on a molecular level almost impossible for now to understand with enough precision. After they were here for a couple of hours I felt drained.


Many firsts or unusual experiences for me these past few days. Such as more tulips came up on Friday, the day of the OLLI at AU luncheon where I met some friends, acquaintances I had not seen in quite a while. Two women especially, where one told me of where to go in Cornwall next August (St Ives!) and with the other we talked of books and plans for courses next fall. Today too I sent in my proposal for a course at the OLLI at AU next fall.

19th century women of letters. We will ask what did a woman writer’s career look like in the 19th century English-reading world? We will see what genres women published in, what kinds of journalism they did, what were the obstacles and advantages these women experienced. How is this like and different from the 20th and 21st century. We will read four books, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (gothic, 1818), Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton (“condition of England” novel, 1849), George Eliot’s “Janet’s Repentance” (one of the Clerical Tales, domestic fiction-romance, 1857) and Margaret Oliphant’s Autobiography and Letters (posthumous, a fragment, 1899). We’ll also read on-line excerpts on women artists, travel writing by Harriet Martineau (abolitionist, de Toqueville-like US travels), mid-century journalists and 1890s suffragette writing.

To conclude this diary entry: I’ve bought for Izzy and I tickets to return to the Folger for another concert, April 10th matinee, this time Purchell’s Faerie Queen, a re-write and setting of the poetry of Shakespeare’s MND On-line I had caught these Renaissance Flemish dances:


No diary blog without my cat companions.

Ian three minutes ago — on my library table to the right of my desk where I’m typing

Pussycats will have to be alone together from Thursday around 10:30 am to Saturday around 6 pm. Caroline will visit on Friday to replenish the food supply and perhaps play with them a while. Ian may spend the time among Izzy’s shoes deep in her closet or in a cat bed under her desk — just now his favorite places.

I came home last Wednesday from OLLI at Mason (our subject, Gaskell and her “Old Nurse’s Story”), and a full half hour goes by and no Clarycat. Unusual. She usually trots up to greet me. So I go into my room and start opening drawers, in the high narrow bureau I hear her tinkling bells. I pull open a drawer, and I see the back part of her body all tense, tail erect at me; she’s stuck somehow. But cat-like she instinctively moves in a direction opposite from me, and falls behind the drawers in the space between the wooden back and the backs of the drawers. A yowling kind of mewing ensues. I pulled out the drawer so insistently, that I broke the runner. She leaps up and out and scrambles away — made very nervous. Where she went I know not. But it took her some time to calm down when she turned up nearby, a crouched-down catloaf.


It seemed amusing until I saw her on the floor nearby me like that.

I have not felt nerve-wracked; more that life has been strenuous. All of it pales besides my sense of loss of Jim. What does it matter if I have an old mail box or not? Hold on.

While at AU today I ate at a table with other people; I did say something to convey I’m a widow; another woman was talking of her grown children, living in three places in Europe; a daughter who works in one city and commutes to her husband in another, and she mentioned her husband and she hesitated before she used a tense: the past. She described him as in the past tense and could not just do it. No one who loved or was loved ever forgets.

Life without Jim is wearing. I feel worn.

It gives me this funny feeling when I remind myself Izzy not here and I hope blissfully absorbed while watching ice-skating live in Boston. She’s earned it at the library in the Pentagon (where she’s now a GS-ll)

So, a poem and picture for this skating and travel week:

Woman Skating

by Margaret Atwood

A lake sunken among
cedar and black spruce hills;
late afternoon.

On the ice a woman skating,
jacket sudden
red against the white,

concentrating on moving
in perfect circles.

    (actually she is my mother, she is
    over at the outdoor skating rink
    near the cemetery. On three sides
    of her there are streets of brown
    brick houses; cars go by; on the
    fourth side is the park building.
    The snow banked around the rink
    is grey with soot. She never skates
    Here. She’s wearing a sweater and
    faded maroon earmuffs, she has
    taken off her gloves)

Now near the horizon
the enlarged pink sun swings down.
Soon it will be zero.

With arms wide the skater
turns, leaving her breath like a diver’s
trail of bubbles.

Seeing the ice
as what it is, water:
seeing the months
as they are, the years
in sequence occurring
underfoot, watching
the miniature human
figure balanced on steel
needles (those compasses
floated in saucers) on time
sustained, above
time circling:     miracle

Over all I place
a glass bell

Susan Herbert

Miss Drake


I live in a strange quiet place where my heart beats slowly.
And I can hear icicles melting on a winter morning — Lise Menn, “None, I think”


I thought I’d record that Izzy and I had pleasant later afternoon yesterday: The Folger Shakespeare Consort followed a program they called Playing with Fire, a mix of dance, instrumental and choral music. They cheated: by having a guest player on the violin (so they had an instrument not yet invented in Bill’s era). Bu otherwise, part of the delight was the way they played the real instruments at the time touchingly, quietly, gayly. I especially liked the bagpipes, the use of castanets, the drums, fifes, recorders. I recognized music I’ve danced to and music I heard played and danced to in the film adaptation of Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel’s book, script by Peter Straughn), so I imagined Clare Foy as Anne Boleyn dancing away.



The latest exhibit in the Folger Great Hall of fragile books and manuscripts related to Shakespeare necessitated putting the concessions into the older reading room. It was apparent to me many of the audience members regarded this as quite a special treat. The place brought back memories of my years reading poetry by Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara, Anne Finch’s poetry in manuscripts, and (my last project) Anne Murray Halkett’s later 17th century autobiography. In all the years I was there I never looked at the tapestries above the highest shelves. A kindly woman helped me photograph one with my cell phone and you see it adorning this blog on top.

No one sang in this consort, but the next performance is a selection from Purcell’s Fairy Queen (opera, I believe by Dryden) and Shakespearean songs from his plays set by Purcell. I’d like to go as well as to the lecture beforehand. Yesterday’s experience was an oasis of delicate beauty, cheer, charm, harmony. I cannot find anything on the Net in YouTube one-quarter as lovely, controlled, sparkling, clear and somehow modern too as this consort produced. I may buy the album the next time I got to the Folger, and thenplay the CD on my laptop here in my room.


It was cold and wet getting there and back, but it ended a quiet fulfilling day insofar as Izzy and I can manage this. She had spent the earlier and mid-afternoon part of the day watching Junior World Ice-Skating and tennis, then writing and reading, and I similarly (writing to friends, reading letters and postings, blogs) and then immersed in a number of books, beginning with essays on Elizabeth Gaskell: Margaret Homan’s second book on l’ecriture-femme: Bearing the Word, 2 and 1/2 chapters out of a Preface, Postscript and 10 are devoted to Gaskell’s books; Chapter 4 is given over to Jane Eyre, 5 to Shelley’s Frankenstein. George Eliot gets Chapter 9 for Romola. The postscript is on Woolf. and towards the end Angelica Rosenthal’s study of Angelica Kauffman’s art. We stopped off for Chinese take-out to bring home. In the later evening she set herself to watch hours of Daredevil (Netflix serial); I shover-dosed on three episodes of Cranford Chronicles (script Heidi Thomas), where they dance walzes, and which series I find so touching.


Is there any filmic story which provides more roles for older women? many in this series my favorite older actresses and actors.

Mr Holbrook (Michael Gambon) reading Tennyson, Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon), Matty Jenkyns (Judi Dench) — he dies soon after

Cursed be the social wants that sin against the strength of youth!
Cursed be the social lies that warp us from the living truth!
Well — ’tis well that I should bluster! Hadst thou less unworthy proved
Would to God — for I had loved thee more than ever wife was loved ….


The past is not past but makes the present what it is. I wake sometime between 6 and 7. One cat curled inside my arm, the other between my legs, a favorite moment. I wish I didn’t have to dislodge them. For me grief’s not past, it’s present. Every day I am missing Jim, sometimes with more intensity, say around 4 pm. I miss my life with him more acutely than ever. I hoped to “build” some kind of life or routine that would provide equivalent satisfactions outside. Naive of me. Improbable, given what he was, where I am. What I call “deep” reading assuages the loneliness: Elizabeth Gaskell has been doing that for a couple of months for me: books where the author’s presence leaps from the page to the reader, a friend. What I call ‘deep movie” watching also assuages the need. I can be cheerful when I’m with congenial people or just more superficial socializing — if all is pleasant. (At the Folger a man asked me about the reading room and I told him my history of work there for some 15 years; explained the pictures from the 18th century; he looked interest and said he would try the tour.) The past is in and fills immediate time, the present and as time goes on my missing Jim remains as strong as ever.

Today was not as good, today was harder for both of us. I now know why Jim made some of the choices he did, from the ways he would choose to travel to a place (now matter how inconvenient or long the car drive until his strength gave out), to how in his last years he did not want to go anywhere in the US but a few high culture places and only looked to Europe for when he reached 70 (that’s when we had to spend the money he said we had in an account I’ve turned into money by now and just invested as I didn’t know what to do with it), to how he turned away from most people, saying I was enough, spent his hours on the Net reading good things, all of it comes clear now. I come to his point of view with understanding after 2 years and 5 months. I seem ever to have a new naivete to peel away. But if I can stay with it, this is the path to at least some peace; this is the way to have good days: minimal expectations, bookish quiet art, music.

Lisa Dillon and Judi Dench photographed and photograph colored so as to look like a 19th century painting: women have ever lived alone in effect and when rarely lucky supported by one another is Gaskell’s underlying theme

Miss Drake


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