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Dora Carrington (1893-1932), Harmony: Labraor Coast (possibly in Spain): painted tinsel on stained glass

In every government, though terrors reign,
Though tyrant kings or tyrant laws restrain,
How small, of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.
— Goldsmith’s Traveler, attributed to Samuel Johnson

Dear friends and readers,

This past week I passed my 70th birthday. The hardest thing about the Day itself was it seemed to take such a long time. I felt it as hours of endurance to get through because I felt Jim’s absence all around me. So it helped enormously that over the 24 hours I had continuous “happy birthdays” from face-book, most by people I have a friendship with, some of which I’ve met f-to-f, many of which I’ve read and talked of books with, whom I like and like to think like me, with whom I’ve shared and had shared generously all sorts of sustaining thoughts. People like to make fun of face-book friends, to dismiss or jeer who are not on face-book with friends. Closer friends wrote letters and I had funny and sweet e-cards. Two phone calls with two family members (a cousin and aunt — aunts are important people Austen said) and in the evening at the Kennedy Center, supper in the cafeteria with a friend who insisted on treating me and buying cheese cake pastry cups as a way of celebrating. The concert afterward was a long modern composition by Detlev Ganert, a tonal dissonant, a calmness in despair left room for a few beautiful melodies (for lack of a better term). Then Mahler’s 5th, the first two movements done appropriately ominously. Home again to read, write and receive letters, another episode the 1972 Pulman War and Peace, and at long last bed in peace, release from consciousness with my cats.

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Ian Pussycat with catnip mouse (photo taken by Izzy this morning)

I have been thinking a lot about immediate danger Donald Trump and his reactionary crew represents with respect to me and Izzy. Republicans in the house are just salivating to privatize, which would destroy, social security, to abolish medicare on the false theory it’s bankrupt (it can’t be as it’s supported through general taxes), with other delights decreasing the number of federal employees (this is called draining the swamp). These could affect me and Izzy directly. I reminded myself of four general modes of conduct Jim followed as a way to survive safely:

1) if it concerned money, sit on it. Wait. Don’t jump. He might have said, “Don’t enclose the old empty screened porch now,” except that he would have been against having the porch enclosed anyway. It’s a waste of money. I and Izzy don’t need another room. I can keep it swept, with the two ladders, the rake, the broom, the pile of wood no one will ever burn in a fireplace now. Even after I inherited my mother’s money he was reluctant to re-paint the house. He’d say the mortifying blue had long ago faded. I admit I know that one of the reasons he was unwilling to go to the super-expensive specialist outside Kaiser when he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and we had the advice for him to have an esophagectomy and then chemotherapy an radiation within Kaiser was he didn’t believe that doctors who charged hugely and about whom so many believed they were infallible were any better than others not so adulated and he was aware that the expense was going to be outrageous. Months of treatment would have bankrupted our savings. I mention this to say how deeply in his psyche was the need to be careful about money — from his life and all he knew of life and his family background. He believed in any situation the most money won out. My mother believed that in money was an individual’s only safety — the only one.

2) if you have to do a thing, face it and do it. He did say when he was first trying to retire, we might have to leave this house. Realize that. That did not mean he would not retire nor listen to me when I had objections. So if I should have to sell the house, sell it. De-accession somehow or other a large proportion of the books, store them. Jim and I followed the idea that if we had to do without a thing, do without it. And we did that all our lives. No college for our daughters out of state. We had years of no vacation away, no book buying (would you believe), eating cheaply. This point of view enacted helped keep us safe because out of debt. We took on debt three times, twice for a car (Virginia has such poor public transportation and twenty years ago in places it was non-existent) and for this house. Otherwise, not and never.

I may become a nervous having to deal with realtors who I loathe as a species but I’ve a pile of money with Schwabb and that goes a long way in obscene America. I wanted to stay in England all those years ago, stay in Yorkshire but money won out – at the time Jim got a job paying 9 times as much; there were jobs galore. Today we might not have returned to the US. I think at this point, today, Jim would have applied for emigration papers for himself; he would not be able to take me right away (no longer as the spouse or widow of a British citizen no longer has right of abode) but there might be a mechanism for VISAs for a wife. If not, he would not have left me behind but would have said it might come in useful if he had this kind of document in place. He did want to go back to England when he first retired.

3) Don’t think too far ahead. He never did. He’d make budgets for the next year but that’s it. For people at our income and class level to think too far ahead is to live a deprived life in fear of what’s to come. I did try to qualify this attitude of his (in the sense of let’s not move into X unless we figure out we can pay for the heat and water and all the rest of it separately we didn’t have to in an apartment), but I was grateful for it. It was responsible for our moving into this house, and most of our trips. Indeed I think I married him partly because I knew he would spend for what I loved and let me spend too in a daily kind of way.

4) Finally what you can’t do, you can’t do. That’s it. You can’t do it. It’s a lie we can do anything and everything. Not so. Live with it.

So sit on it. If I have to sell the house, get rid of or store the books, do it. So don’t look too far ahead, take each set of weeks as it comes. Live with it. My father didn’t live according to No 3 and lost out — but then he hadn’t a partner to live a good life with. But the other maxims were his. None but the first was my mother’s.

That is really Jim — how he lived and I lived it with him and have to hold to that. If I can do that I can stop feeling such dread and anxiety when I awaken in the morning or read the name of the latest Trump appointee (what he’s doing is filling this metaphoric swamp with alligators). I sometimes can’t control myself and phone my congressmen. Jeff Sessions (set for what? attorney general? or maybe health and human services or maybe it’s education) mocked disabled people and derided special education. I phone three people demanding they speak up and speak out because silence is consent. At the OLLI at AU luncheon today it was good to hear a decisive “despicable” said by someone at the mention of Sessions’s name.

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A Lily, another drawing this time by Carrington

This is not the hardest year I’ve known but I am losing some more illusions hard to part with (probably many people have divested themselves of these by the time they are in their 20s); as each one vanished I have catalogued it. But tonight I tell myself if any of the most intolerable above comes to pass, I should not seek to kill myself — that’s to give Trumpism what it wants. What the 53% (to use Romney’s formulation) want is the silence of those who object to the destruction of the New Deal, the 47% it helped (Romney’s layabouts). They have hated it since it was put in place in the 1930s. Not that it would deprive them of any luxury but it’s the principle of thing. My father told me what life was like for the elderly before social security: begging bowls, dependence on adult children who didn’t have money to help them. When I moved to this neighborhood and had my first conversation with one of these local upper middle people, an old woman told me how her black gardener didn’t rush over to do her bidding now he had social security. She resented that openly before me. Shameless. I’ve met rich New Yorkers who say the pleasure of being high in the hierarchy is seeing the the marginalized lives of the working class. When they want to take health care away from older people, they are indifferent, just hoping they have to die quietly out of shame. One reason to privatize the Net (beyond reaping a bonanza of profits for corporations involved) is to silence people, cut off information and communication.

An adult response is to hunker down and wait for the spiteful mischief-maker with his fake storm and real possible catastrophes to happen or pass by. I will not follow Carrington though I so feel for her.

So, what I need to do is return to the above and read and re-read it periodically.

I said in my last that Elinor Dashwood has been a model character for me: I’ve tried much of my life to come up to her, her self-control, her steady facing of deprivation, her holding firm in the face of loss, anguish, frustration. So this is said as what I’d like to come up to: a weird (using that word in its original sense too) clearness (out of reading Margaret Oliphant of late), no longer fooling myself about what to depend on, no longer reaching out to what I don’t want (which only ends in corrosion of the soul in various ways), recognizing what don’t like (and that if there is no alternative to that, stay home with my books, cats, and favorite movies), facing I don’t respond such-and-such a way even if most people do (so being more careful where I go to for what’s called entertainment), keeping that, staying in it, cold, cool enabling me to live more steadily.

The penultimate sentence of Margaret Oliphant’s Autobiography: “And now here I am all alone.” I mean to go on to read as many of her novels and non-fiction as possible.

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Drawing by Sylvia Plath

Miss Drake

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Standing Rock, this Thanksgiving Day: by Medea Benjamin the water protectors

Dear friends and readers,

For the first time since Jim died (and perhaps a few years before that), Izzy and I had a “proper” Thanksgiving dinner and with other people. A beautifully cooked turkey, mashed potatoes, a kind of puree of broccoli (with various delicious ingredients blended in), red cabbage (somehow made sweet), stuffing, muffins, for me wine, for her apple juice. My neighbor who lives across the street invited us over and made this dinner: I brought an apple pie and bottle of wine. We talked, and ate, and talked again with good music from NPR: like Aaron Copeland, while we sat around a table doing some serious puzzle putting together. I’ve no photos to prove it; you’ll just have to believe me. I did read an article in the Washington Post which had your regulation photos of turkeys (not cooked, but alive): Debbie Berkowitz told about the terrible conditions poultry workers (that’s people who prepared the unfortunate chickens too) endure (freezing cold, dangerous hard repetitive work, very low wages). A thought which might hinder the usual showing off by photographing the unfortunate bird.

We went across the street around 4 and were there about four hours. The generosity of this woman gladdened our hearts and made the coming winter time more cheerful to contemplate. I wish I could get myself to volunteer in a local homeless shelter where they make meals for people on Christmas day, but I hesitate each year since Jim died. They want me to fill out forms, to agree to have any photos they want, and this year $50 on top of that. So I don’t know again. At any rate, we came back me to read, and she to sleep because she’s promised to write for Fan-Sided another report on ice-skating (I think it is) which starts US time at midnight; she’ll watch, take notes, off to work at 7:30 am, and back again to resume work. Do not underestimate the great solace of writing. About mid-morning today I wrote four letters to friends who had written me, two because it’s Thanksgiving and they know I have birthday coming up.

Another is reading. Over on Wwtta @ Yahoo, about three of us are reading Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf, and we are into Chapter 24 or so where Lee writes of how important to Woolf was reading. I loved the chapter, but my companion in reading, Diane Reynolds, suggested there is something missing: Lee does not tell which were Woolf’s “touchstone” books (the word from Matthew Arnold’s famous essay on how he tells if a passage is great writing (he reads it against “touchstone” lines of greatness): “which books did she return to again and again in the course of her life.” And why these? In the case of Woolf, one problem is she read so much, it’s not clear she might have thought to write about this until until her immersion was such, she would probably talk of a kind of book (Russian, say, classical). Then as a paid reviewer, she’d have had to think about so many she was paid to read.

So I thought in this desolate, desperate and frightening time before Trump takes office (it’s hard to take in that huge numbers of human beings are willing to allow this corrupt bully monster such power — what a mass failure of imagination is here, Jim might have said), I’d cite the books that I’ve read and reread and reread and those that have changed my reading life and thus me profoundly.

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At 8 I’d read and reread P.L. Travers’s Mary Poppins in the Park — for the park: I lived in the Southeast Bronx and loved tracing the park on the end papers. I loved the quietly magical adventures where this enigmatic strict woman emerged as all kindness, courtesy, reciprocal love. In another of the Poppins books the children visited the Pleiade, the “seven sisters” Margaret Drabble called them and I remembered ever after the drawing of Maia skipping along on the sidewalk. Alcott’s Little Women over and over and I still think in terms of some of its parables. I was lured by The Secret Garden too. I read one copy of Gone with the Wind until it fell apart. All this around age 10 to 12.

From the time (same age) I’ve read Sense and Sensibility Elinor has helped me. She provides a way of thinking, a kind of (yes) self-control, self-protection, that I’d try to emulate and hold to. I remember doing that around age 17 and thought it helped keep me sane. Having spent 5 years on Richardson’s Clarissa it too has been central — though I wish I had known Mary Piper’s Saving Ophelia. It might have helped save me years of mental anguish — I probably would have practiced the same kind of guarded retreat as the best way for me to cope with aggressive heterosexual male culture. How I identified with Fanny, loved the melancholy neuroticism of Anne Eliot. I have never stopped reading Austen for long, especially the six famous books, even Emma which at least has the rhythms of deep heart beat with order and harmony in the sentences, rather like letting Bach or Handel get into the pulses of my blood going through my chest and heart Mansfield Park and Jane Eyre are books I read and reread in my teens. Bronte sent my pulses soaring with her comments about having a treasure within her she’d not sell away

These will seem strange and won’t resonate but this set of books has been as important: Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today: A user-Friendly Guide. For the first time I could understand what was meant by de-construction, all these “theoretical” outlooks put into words which were meaningful. It was Tyson’s book which made me a feminist. I am not a feminist out of a search for power, or influence, or about a career (none of which I’ve ever had), but as a liberation from the dark nightmare of the way sexuality is conducted in our society. For the first time I had words which did not shame me to discuss the experiences I had endured, and this book took me to others where I understood for the first time I was not only not alone or rare, but my experiences were commonplace. Lois Tyson’s book enabled me to utter my thoughts to myself clearly and at least think about them and then voice them (here on the Net mostly) to others. Emily White’s Fast Girls (about how such girls become “fast,” are stigmatized, treated horribly), Peggy Reeves Sanday, Fraternity Gang Rape (ought to be required reading for every girl) and especially Judith Lewis Herman’s Trauma and Recovery (wherein we learn why there is no recovery if by that is meant forgetting, going back to what one was). These did changed how I read.

Close at hand, near to heart: I have Trollope’s books and all sorts of secondary studies in a book case that stretches from ceiling to floor and is about 4 feet wide — he helps and certainly he changed what I do🙂 The novel I read first and never forget was Dr Thorne I was 18, it was assigned in a college class; I wanted to write a paper on it but was discouraged by the professor because Trollope was (just) “a mirror of his age. Then re-hooked when the Palliser films were aired on PBS in the 1970s: Jim and I watched and read the books in turn as we went through the series. Then re-hooked in the 1990s with Last Chronicle of Barset in Rome (it got me through) and The Vicar of Bullhampton (given me by my father when I landed in hospital.) I have read and re-read Trollope’s books, and while his depiction of women leaves much to be desired, his attitude towards colonialism shameful, he does see the truth and is candid enough to suggest it. I give him the high compliment of saying he sees the same world Samuel Johnson does.

Over the years I’ve added this or that author who speaks home to me: there has got to be a strengthening offered, a way of coping as well understanding what existence is — especially for women and in books by women. There is a strong perpetual fault-line between women’s and men’s art. Lately it’s been Margaret Oliphant and Elizabeth Gaskell (yes I like older books) but before that Elsa Morante (in the Italian) as well as Elena Ferrante’s first couple of books (Days of Abandonment is astonishing), Chantal Thomas (Souffrir), Jenny Diski. Graduate school introduced me to Samuel Johnson (how’s that for a different voice), Anne Finch’s poetry, Charlotte Smith but she is so corrosive; she permits self-expression through her but not the calm acceptance and understanding of how this came to be; now and again in different life-writing, memoirs I find women who do this: Iris Origo, George Sand, George Eliot (though too much violation of natural impulses).

In the first few years after graduate school, I discovered Renaissance women wrote (who knew?) great sonnets, and loved Vittoria Colonna (why I taught myself Italian, though I first loved her poetry in fin-de-siecle French translation), Veronica Gambara, Gaspara Stampa, Lady Mary Sidney Wroth. I discovered Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s letters, read all three volumes. Now and again I’ve clutched some contemporary woman author as yes yes yes: Rosamund Lehmann’s mistitled The Echoing Grove comes to mind (The Weather in the Streets might contain the first frank story of an abortion, had just around the time the heroine reads Austen’s Pride and Prejudice); Christina Stead’s The Man who Loved Children tells such good hard truth but offers not enough comfort.

Well of course each day (almost) I reach something which makes being alive worth while. I love reading about women artists, and reading women’s poetry. Today I was having a deeply enjoyable time reading Martha Bowden’s Descendents of Waverley, a stimulating book about historical romance and novels whose reflections criss-crossed with another set of post-modern historical fictions I had been reading about in another book I’m reviewing: Caryl Phillips’s Crossing the River and Cambridge. Between this book and others about historical fictions and films, and reading Booker Prize versions of these, thinking about earlier ones (Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, even the Poldark novels, Walter Scott) I’ve come to the thought that we so love post-modern historical fiction with great dollops of romantic fantasy (time-traveling, re-enactment, erotic giving of the self to a beloved) because through intertextuality they include precious historical documents (books from previous eras), the remnants of a past that have survived which can open worlds of minds and places to us, cultures, while the 20th and 21st century authors, film-makers produce a perspective on this past and our present that is sustaining and comforting today.

Do you love the older images on Virago covers? often I do. Also black-and-white picturesque illustrations.

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This Monet is my header picture on Twitter

So that’s what I have been thinking and what I did this Thanksgiving day. It was a day where no further irrational (unless you believe everything must be set up for a few people to make as much profit as possible), vile (deeply inhumane) and despicable (choosing inept people who known nothing about the area except that they want to destroy what’s there) appointments were paraded by the president elect, not even one of his snark jokes. I’ve in effect praised the Post for one of its Thanksgiving day stories, so let me be clear: the rest of their page was advice to those who see what Trump is to be humble before those who voted for this man if we have to sit down to dinner with any of them: the overt theory is again they are good deluded people (the old shibboleth of “false consciousness”) and we are to blame for this horror about to unfold because we have been elitist: with such a conclusion, how can the paper’s staff hope ever to help those poultry workers they grieved for on the same page?

So I also remember the lesson of the 1930s when a segment of my then extant family in Europe was rounded up, send to camps and many of them exterminated or died of hellish treatment or were shot. I’ve saved for last two books, both slender. The first a sine qua non for a 20th century reader: Primo Levi’s If this be man and The Truce (if you can in the Italian, but if not the English translation is good). I read these (bound together as one book) when I was teaching myself Italian (I was about 44). Indirect, but saying the same thing is Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas, which each time I was given the second half of British Literature to teach I assigned as our penultimate read.

Miss Drake

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John Nash (1893-1977), The Garden under Snow (1924)

“And what with the high price of coal … “

Friends,

My blog is morphing again. I began it as a more or less daily account of my and Jim’s life in our retirement. When he was diagnosed with cancer, it became a cancer blog where insofar as it was humanly possible for me I told the story of his suffering and death from cancer. It morphed again into a widow’s diary. Now I must change again. It would be in bad taste for me to write as if I am indifferent to the political destruction of the US republic and any security and prosperity for 95% of its population. That is how countless Trump supporters are behaving from Wall Street and the Republican leaders and elite to those who may not have voted for Trump but don’t mind now that he’s gotten into power. I must assume from Trump’s rhetoric and quoted statements by his supporters that others are gladdened by the appointments of racists, sexists, intolerant religious people (a supreme court decision made intolerance, a right to discriminate, a religious liberty), preferably inept people as long as they are fiercely personally loyal t him, and fearfully war-mongering inefficient people at the head of agencies, a Verizon lobbyist to head the FCC. The Washington Post reported yesterday his appointments were greeted by widespread applause by his supporters.

What unites all my Sylvia blogs is I tell what is on my mind, what I am feeling as my daily life unfolds. I’ll reserve the old Sylvia blog for political activity and political arguments and essays I’ve come across, as last week I went to a rally near the Senate building. This will be thoughts affecting my general behavior, from the conversations all around me, from what will be forced on me in non-political events and spaces after say January 20th. This Friday night I went to dinner with a group of friends and we discussed the election intensely, and most places I’ve gone (teaching for example), the unfolding fascism is the topic, what forms it will take, fear over how it will affect each and every person there.

So, a central new insight I’ve had (which startled me) has been how the American Constitution is susceptible to be taken over by a dictator. It’s an 18th century document with an elected king at the center. It depends on his decency and good will to elect expert and socially conscious people to the departments and many other agencies which control many aspects of our lives. In the Parliamentary system as evolved in the 19th century the PM has to be elected by people within the party who are independent entities and have some real knowledge of the person and how the gov’t works so a Trump could not take over there, and the outspoken Brexit people didn’t and couldn’t. Here’s a story (how true it is I don’t know) placed on an 18th century studies listserv: “Kurt Godel, perhaps the most important mathematical logician of the 20th century, settled at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in the 1930’s. When Godel went for his US citizenship oath, Einstein was sent to accompany Godel, as Godel was known to speak tactlessly. When the judge asked Godel to swear to uphold the Constitution, Godel rose and said that there was a logical path which allowed a dictator to emerge. Einstein quickly intervened and smoothed the process, so Godel got his oath … ”

This is partly the effect of citizens united. Quite a number of these republican wins were done by huge amounts of money. Then when they get in power they gerrymander the state so it becomes very hard to take it back. While in power they ruthlessly turn back the clock — as in North Carolina. I think the US system is now rotten because it is in effect obsolete: made for conditions that no longer obtain. Like the UK at the beginning of the 19th century, the American system is now a hollow pretense. It was never one-man one vote but now the popular vote is readily overturned and every effort being made to suppress the vote further. This fairly weak (as the writer admits) set of tactics show in just what desperate straits we are: how to resist Trump and his extreme agenda.

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Trump has used this development to pull off an extraordinary con trick. He’s is totally nerveless, daring and has instincts of social cunning that seem uncannily effective. Tolstoy would say he is being thrown up by forces of history much larger than himself which made his personality and now power grab possible. Yes he enacts racism, boasts of sexual assault, and so on — or he wouldn’t have been able to delude his constituency. But why this is not business as usual is all about is “the money, stupid.” Read his first 100 day plan. Trump is simply turning everything over, tax payers dollars, their internet, everything to corporations and the wealthy. That’s what he’s doing. And cutting their taxes too. All the talk about racism and yes horrible coming ruthless killings imprisonments wars even — are a distraction from what he is planning explicitly. Yet more massive tax breaks for the wealthy, the privatization of social security, abolition of medicare, repeal of Obamacare, destruction of federal jobs. I read his infrastructure plan: it’s a bonanza give away with no obligations on any corporate part to hire people even. He continues to engineer it as in the NYTimes and Post they are going on about the wrongness of identity politics – he is engineering this conversation with his appointees. Or on face-book people argue with tweets over the planting of Pence at Hamilton to engineer a provocative scene so he can hit out against Broadway, also Saturday Night Live (he holds a grudge against them for over 10 years when they dared to make fun of him) — militarized police were in the street nearby to intimate. He now plays these people on twitter and off. The ultimate aim is to repress freedom of the press and speech.

He holds no news conferences, no where he is questioned and must respond to give-and-take. I presume he will never hold a news conference with the press if he can avoid it. And there is nothing in the constitution which requires it (not that a requirement like this would necessarily bother him).

From the point of view of what vitally matters, multiculturalism (whether it can exist as a feeling which binds people together or not) is not just beside the point, but a distraction. I know (as I’ve said) how dire the situation is for the targeted people and that theoretically, ideologically (&c) whether identity politics works, is feasible, is possible (do people really identity outside their narrow cultural worlds?) but in the present time they don’t except as useless for deluding and distracting people, i.e.g, the Pence at Hamilton theater was a plant and there is a parallel in the history of Hitler’s regime. So an article like Lila’s in the New York Times saying political action dependent on group identities doesn’t work gets attention when such arguments are unimportant when it comes to what we are facing: this 18th century constitution allows for a dictatorship to emerge.

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Marianne Von Werefkin (1860-1938)

The corporations of other countries, their thug dictators and the rest of the louts and globalized factories are watching to see Trump carry this out. The more decent leaders (Angela Merkel) are being pushed out by money, war, refugee crises; their whole agendas mocked and repealed (Obama); they themselves end up colluding and yet are thrown out (Dilma). Here and there a temporary win (as in Venezuela) but it’s holding actions. I understand the real terrors of US black people who face killing and imprisonment at will. I understand how crucial must be these issues to Muslims in the US who face registration, internment and deportation anywhere. People demonstrating for animal rights have long been considered eco-terrorists, and some thrown into prison and kept in solitary confinement too. How much worse each punishment will be — as the threat to resort to overt torture is realized. People disappearing. Giuliani Attorney General. Already with the high costs of lawyers, going to court, fearful demands the accused negotiate his or her way (plea bargaining) by threatening draconian sentences if you don’t give in and say you are guilty. But all these issues are secondary to stopping redistribution of income through taxes, ending all social programs and reinforcing the prison system to back it up.

What this means is the number 99% becomes irrelevant: the operative number is Romney’s 47%. He was seen shaking hands with Trump and photographed by the press (from afar). Romney said 47% of the US population are layabouts. What he meant is all these people (including me and probably some of my readers) are collecting “entitlements” (which word Romney would scoff at as a euphemisms). The plan is to cut all subsidies (as these might come to be called) from this 47%. To turn over their “entitlements” (as packages) to Wall Street to govern and use. The 47% can demonstrate, protest; the newspapers will tell the truth of what is being done to them, but can they stop it?

I read somewhere that five years ago someone predicted Trump could win the presidency. So I am behind-hand in this insight. Lots of people have had it well before me. Trump changed parties because he knew he could not take the Democratic constituency.

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A quite different insight and one not new, just reinforced: how men will not give up central power or authority to a woman. A woman can win a coterie vote of a group of politicians who she will be dependent upon (a Prime Minister) but not a vastly powerful presidency from millions of voters who cannot know her personally. All those men who refused to vote for her and professed themselves not to want Trump to win could live with him in power as a man. I don’t believe they didn’t want Trump; they are glad he has won rather than she and insist on how shaking things up will now produce a positive result. Delusionary and human life is short and what counts for us all is that short run, say 90 years. Reading and writing today on domestic abuse of women and children in 19th century fiction by women, I suddenly remembered how Hillary Clinton had worked hard for the rights of children and a recent case where a man brought to trial for beating a child defended himself he had the right to choose this punishment; it had been inflicted on him and so on. How sad that she couldn’t begin to convey this sort of thing at all. What was it? cowardice on presenting such a woman’s issue. Men didn’t vote for her anyway. She didn’t dare because it was controversial (how dare children have rights?!) and yet had she managed to think of some way to show it, how appealing she might have been to many. Would she have been too womanly on such an issue? She lacked the courage of who she is. No progress for children now. Oh no.

I will be giving another feminist course in 19th century novels, teach more women of letters: I was asked to at the OLLI at Mason this Wednesday. Be more outspoken in my women artist blogs. But now I see it was shooting themselves in the heart by the democrats to run a woman for president.

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Mark Gertler (191-1939), Merry-go-round (from the 1920s), he was a lover of Dora Carrington who tried to get her to devote her life to him

Miss Drake

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It must’ve been in the mid-1990s that I came to the conclusion that Gwen Ifill would make a better US president than any candidate I had seen since I began to vote, and certainly better on what was on offer that year. The thought occurred to me regularly because at the time we regularly watched the PBS Newshour, with Jim Lehrer as the anchor and she as a chief correspondent (the titles they used). A memory comes back to me of Laura visiting a friend at this time, voicing shock that the family did not turn on this news program (these were arch-conservative people who I assume voted for Trump this time), and coming home to tell me they had laughed about this. “Not everyone watches PBS reports” they had said.

She died today of endometrial cancer, age 61. Apparently she had been sick for over a year.

As you can see I feel a kind of personal connection with Ifill (different from but analogous to my feeling about Jenny Diski, also destroyed by cancer), so choose to put this as part of my life-writing. It is, though, now also political, more in the vein of what I write on my first Sylvia blog nowadays. On such a bleak desolating day (where we can see how what we have is a hollow pretense of democracy), it seemed to me to keep spirits up not to be cowed and offer some effective force against the coming racist fierce militarist capitalism (a gov’t which will crush civil liberties even more than they have been!) now being put in place, let us remember her life and work.

I was reassured about the PBS Newshour tonight too because they devoted most of their hour to her. I have been disappointed and at times dismayed by the lack of rigorous questioning and truth-telling about Trump, the failure of Judy Woodruff as a woman to “call out” (as it’s articulated) Shields and Brooke for their equating Trump’s corruption and fascism with Hillary Clinton’s atttempt to keep her emails private, for their sexism; the worst moment was Paul Salmon’s shameful disrespectful tone towards David Kay Johnston while interviewing him on his thoroughly-researched exposure of Trump’s business practices, The Making of Donald Trump. Tonight for the first time I am aware how often Gwen Ifill was not there. In these last few years she had become more bland, more discreet, reined in the acute thinking mind of the earlier years: PBS is so dependent on corporate sponsors. So I didn’t miss her as much as I would have when she was merely a memorable part of a team questioning and talking or an on-the-spot reporter.

But I remembered and knew what she was capable of delivering and still did deliver in interviews from time to time. She projected and was a strong presence in her role of moderator, facilitator in recent years and I just enjoyed the line-up of segments she and Judy Woodruff produced together. It seemed to me a woman’s news hour of serious news, far better in scope, in what was understood and shown to be important than almost any other (a sole exception is another woman’s news program, Amy Goodman’s DemocracyNow.org). Precisely because it was a woman’s show they chose Malcolm Brabant on refugees, Fred de Sam Lazaro on the marginalized of the world, always showing how the intimate small experience is large political and affects us all.

withjudywoodruff
with Judy Woodruff on their show together

Two panels, some tapes of reminiscent, and excerpts from an appreciation of Ifill comprised the beautiful tribute. I was much moved listening to those who had been helped in their careers, whom she worked with, whom she knew for many years in her private life. Charlene Hunter-Gault began to tear up more than once, Judy was unsteady and towards the end Hari Svrinavasin called her his mentor. It felt especially important to voice all this and present the worlds she came from, belonged to, and those she reported before because soon (before long now, January 20th to be precise), we seem headed to have media dominated by repression of all but fascistic points of view. That she lived and worked with the ideals she did should cheer us, even if her ending reveals much more emphatically than other parts of her existence, how we are are subject to the results of little ameliorated capitalism:

She was another victim to the cancer pandemic: and I feel a personal connection tonight because I can discern in the pattern of her behavior in this last year a paradigm like my husband’s: in summer she was off-the-air, said to have had a serious operation, after a considerable recovery period, she was back and looked strong, but only for one season, the she suddenly disappeared and in what felt like no time, was dead in a hospice. Like Jim, she had the show of force in a drastic operation, and then shortly after recovering, the cancer re-appeared in vital organ and devoured her.

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With her sister, Sherrilyn, Ifill

Her book was The Break Through: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama

thumbnail-large.

I was strengthened and consoled by the truth-telling of two more presences on the Internet. The first, a poem by Adrienne Rich, written

What Kind of Times Are These
By Adrienne Rich

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows
    uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t
    be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.

nor

The other the consolatory voice of retreat, Garrison Keillor’s “I’ll sit back and wait.”. What is most valuable in his words is his saying firmly Trump is the candidate of those who whooped it up for cruelty, ignorance and bald-faced stupidity. Especially cruelty (“by your 20s, you should be done with cruelty”): that was what was repeated across his most hooting jeering withering derision — of the disabled, of women, of people who grieving for the death of a son in a (colonialist) war, pensioned veterans (weak), the list is long and I need not take us through it. This was funny until he got to “deport the undocumented” (it is too much like Hitler that Trump’s first planned presidential order is to deport millions of hispanics):

Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids, and we Democrats can go for a long, brisk walk and smell the roses.

What we who have voted for this party have now to do is spend four years pressuring for a re-invention of this democratic party into a body of people who respond to what their constituency wants and needs. I agree with Glen Greenwald on the Democratic Party self-destructing itself. In one of his last speeches before conceding the nomination to Clinton, Sanders said this election was about an impoverished woman (maybe he said on food stamps) struggling to bring up her children.

sanders

On election day I was in my local supermarket and had had on a real line in front of me a latino woman with two young children. Her meat was in plastic bags. Huge bags of dried vegetables. Well it was time to pay and she pulled out food stamps. Alas, it appeared that she had pulled the wrong product from some shelf and taken a bigger of whatever than was coming to her — 3 such wrong-size bags. These food stamps are very tricky; you are allowed to buy only certain specified products. The manager had to come over to settle the dispute (as there was a sign and she had an ad saying this product was for sale for food stamps), and then Linda (the checker, a kind hearted long term employee) was helping her dismantle her cart. On the other side of me a tough-looking (in her face) woman with blonde hair (clearly dyed), in jeans, looked very mad. Need I say she had a Trump t-shirt? So I said, “I think we ought to have a National Holiday to vote. All states stay open until 9. Everyone then could do it easily.” I do think that. She glared at me and was about to erupt with angry comments, when the manager sent another checker to open another register and make the long line of people vanish. This young woman cannot access any money through the welfare system that she could then use for her family in the best ways possible for them.

That woman with her food stamps is but for Jim me. I will now return to support Bernie Sanders.

But for now, tonight, we can remember Gwen Ifill and think of the good she managed to do, embody, and encourage others to achieve. It is necessary to talk about trees, real as well as metaphoric.

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David Lohenberg, Gwen Ifill

Miss Drake

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Leonard Cohen, his most recent album, You Want It Darker

I did my best, it wasn’t much — Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah

She has accordingly had three teeth drawn, and is decidedly better, but her nerves a good deal deranged — Jane Austen, Sanditon

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been writing political blogs for three days: Two nights from now it won’t be over; The morning after; tonight Post-Mortem. As eleven o’clock on November 8th approached, and I realized Trump was headed to win by the electoral college voting system, my stomach began to twist and turn. I felt so bleak the next day; and I’ve not yet begun to be able to sleep a full 6 hours in a row. Indeed it will not be over many many nights from now. It will take some time before we begin to feel whatever pain Trump manages to have in store for us, the 99%, and perhaps longer to suffer from his incompetence, human ignorance, bad temper and ruthless use of power. The new lies have started already: the protest marches are “incited by the media.”

My daughter, Laura, picked herself up, dusted herself off, and carried on much more briskly and earlier than I did: We get up, we move on. Izzy had a period of deep upset; I was overpowered by even the start of the coming underbelly of fascism masked as democracy as outlined in Trump’s plans for the first 100 days. But this morning, the third day in, I took heart, and said “We must hold firm, carry on staying together and doing what we know is valuable as long as we can: people are stronger when they stay with those they care about, and work at what they value.”

So Izzy changed her sheets, we took her quilt to the cleaners. There was a flood on the new kitchen yesterday morning and by afternoon I had been told the water heater had burst. That night I had a hose out the back down pouring the water into the yard or we’d have had a big flood in the kitchen. Had to leave said door ajar all night. Then today a man from First Class Plumber was at various tasks in my kitchen all day, and we now have a brand-new water heater, computerized, spiffy, works beautifully. It’s “only money,” as my father would say ironically: First Class Plumber sent another hard-working super-courteous black man who did a very good job. I then cleaned out the storage closet, throwing out all the filthy things I didn’t understand and now it is clean, with only a few implements whose use I understand neatly set out.

Some other losses this week: I have lost two more teeth (it’s almost miraculous I have any left) and also my irreplaceable library card to take books out of George Mason Library. The teeth are serious; had I not questioned this dentist I would have lost three. I now have but three teeth left and will have a new bottom denture on Monday afternoon. In the meantime it’s not easy to eat (yoghurt and soup for lunch, eggs and pasta for dinner)

I wish there were no such things as Teeth in the World; they are nothing but plagues to one, and I dare say that People might easily invent something to eat with instead of them. –Jane Austen, Catherine, or the Bower

and I feel my age.

meatsmithluncheonsireldredsmithgordondescendentfromlionelsmith
Here is what I looked like at one of the luncheons at the Charlotte Smith conference: next to me Sir Eldred Smith-Gordon, a many time great-grand son of Benjamin Smith (who he whispers we are not to mention), a witty companion, publisher of medical books

As to my card, I don’t need it to use the vast database, which is what I avail myself of for serious literary work, and the library itself is hard to park near, itself the most demoralizing place, with the English department having less books in the areas I’m interested than me. Inside it looks soulless, with few books to be seen, like some vacant department store, with plastic chairs and tables for the customers to sit at with their laptops; the books are in these rolling shelves hidden away in corners on higher floors, lest they get in the way. The last time I took a book out, the librarians were just delighted at such a rare event. I can’t deny that this is a blow of sorts; the ID had a picture (so a second form of identification) too.

Today Izzy was working on two songs (not just one). And my two proposals for next spring are accepted and I look forward to the courses: short versions:

OLLI at AU: Pivotal City and County Victorian Novels

We’ll read 2 best-sellers, never out of print: Gaskell’s North and South (1855), and Trollope’s Framley Parsonage (1860). Gaskell’s tale of Manchester, from Dickens’s Household Words, is a radical graphic tale of the life of factory workers, based on a strike and time of near starvation (depression), by a woman . Trollope’s made the Cornhill, the New Yorker of its day, a 4th Barsetshire concoction; followed as intensely as Downton Abbey (Gaskell wrote she wished it would go on forever and didn’t see why it couldn’t), seen today also as a complacent pro-establishment book is a Thackerayan ironic pleasure. We’ll explore how the books intersect and connect to our era.

OLLI at Mason: Booker Prize books: a marketplace niche or sub-species

We will discuss 4 gems of Booker Prize fiction. Some have said the prize functions as a brilliantly exploited marketplace tool aimed at a specific readership niche, just perfect for quality film adaptations and literary criticism. The books are characteristically historical fiction, self-reflexive, witty and passionate, post-colonialist, and three filmed: of Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop, Ondaatje’s The English Patient (with Minghella’s screenplay); J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country (screenplay Patrick Grey) and Graham Swift’s Last Orders (screenplay Fred Schepisi)

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J.W. Turner’s Fall of the Rhine at Schaffhausen (1806)

I am reading at least seven books at once (tonight I was reading Carrington’s letters for a coming woman artist blog), and having an especially splendid time with one on historical fiction and romance (about which I mean to blog separately). My Daphne DuMaurier Companion is enthusing me to give a “The World of Daphne DuMaurier” course at OLLI Mason this summer (historical romance, The King’s General, to be included), and maybe I will return to my beloved Poldark books in the AU OLLI this fall, to wit, the 1970s great trilogy (Black Moon, Four Swans, Angry Tide). Karen Solie’s “An Enthusiast” (for geology, archealogy) captures what I am implying in about cultivating one’s garden (as Voltaire’s Candide advises):

Endless heritage beneath the heavenly soundshed.
Jet-black amphiboles. Ten varieties of scones
in Elie. Giant centipedes and petrified tree stumps ofthe Devonian
fossil record. Pyrope garnets at the foot

of the Lady’s Tower aren’t quite rare enough
to acquire significant market value, much like the self-taught experts
in autobrecciation and exfoliation weathering
who work their way to the surface of the Coastal Path

at the close of a hard winter. Amateur
geologists, rockhounds, and collectors may be distinguished
by commitments to task-specific outerwear,
but a bin bag rain poncho is not the measure of a person.

Ideas gather around phenomena as though for warmth …

I end on a YouTube of the great song, Hallelujah by the great poet-musician Leonard Cohen. We lost him yesterday. Jim just loved his music, lyrics, the performances, I have several CDs.

Sylvia

darkredfloweringbush
My hardy bush turns fall colors, next to it the silver ferns have morphed into three plants

Friends,

As of yesterday morning, we are waking to sunlight on the east coast of the US. On Saturday night I stayed up an extra hour to finish a blog, watch a movie, read a poem. Then when I woke I was sure I would feel the light and more warmth too.

How it gladdened my eyes. And again this morning — after I went to sleep at my usual midnight hour and woke somewhat earlier. I so hate the black mornings forced on me in October into November. I cannot forget that when I was young, mornings were not dark in October. What a relief. More living time is the way I feel it, to rise to cheer.

Do you know the poetry of Ann Stanford? I once wrote a blog on her poetry — see my “I’ve discovered another great poet!”; this from the Poetry Foundation.

A modern Georgic:

Dreaming the Garden

It is so comfortable there in the garden
You can wear an old toga — Pliny the younger

It must first of all be fun.
There must be an air of insouciance,
of je ne sais quai about it.
Someone else has already moved the stones,
limed the soil. You have only to turn
the shovel lightly. The rains have left
moisture, but not too much.
You plan the lawn, sloping to the terrace,
the marble balustrades, cracks hidden
under the wash of plumbago.
You are half down the slope. Beyond
are oaks and beech trees surrounding the view
of the lake. Beyond it – the lake –
are mountains – green overlaying the hidden villas.
A single boat loiters among lily pads.

But there is work to do.
You put the shovel deep in and turn
up humus, earthworms, a bulb or two
beginning to send a green shaft skyward.
By the lake, back from the point where the
trees obscure the boat now
a cluster of statues watches the view
from atop the columned wall
above the anchorage.
The boat will be heading this way.

To your left past the maze
the lawn edged by nymphs hip-deep in azaleas,
moves toward the folly.
Beside the stairs to the terrace
geraniums flow out of their vases, pink and lavender.
Off toward the south, aisles of lantana
and cannas, the air harsh where the sun
drags the strong scent from the strident blooms.
But on the right, the cascade
plunges through pools, descends in shallow falls
noisy as a brook. Grottoes and archways span and interrupt.
Dolphins rise from the pool
and a great shell collects
the last outflow, from which it vanishes.

You have done so much this morning —
­two shovelfuls of earth. The third
leads to the clipped ilex on the terrace.
Diamonds, circles of low hedge
hold bouquets. The square pool marks
the heart. Beyond,
water and light make the statues move,
the sky a lake of clouds under the arches by
the shell. You walk under the falling tide
with the nymphs who hold spirals of shells
wreathed in ivy.
You go up the water stairs. Cascades rush by
on either hand. Shade dapples the path.
You reach the main pool:
against the hillside a grove,
in the grove the goddess
white, serious, stone, follows the deer
at the edge of the glade. You have come just in time.

2

Start with the bounds. What’s to go out or stay.
The view you’ll keep, the lake, the fading ranges.
Columns of cypress shield the western slope,
as for the south, arrange a grove of olives.
On the north, white oleander
can form a wall beside the avenue.
Over the walk you put an arch of vines.
You must be firm with space. Even the sky
becomes your own.

Divide the sky, let it be lanes or views,
parterres, or rounds of blue above the pool.
Cut it with branches, winter-white, in shapes
of leaded glass, break it with scattered leaves
into shimmering drops, or panes
between the arches of the hedge, or dark with lines
or circles from your vista under the trees.
You’ve set the bounds, laid out the earth and sky.
Whatever you do, things will not stay this way.

3

It helps if you have something old
to set among the hedges:
say a column topped by a statue of Ceres,
behind her a rondure of privet,
or a sundial on a post of white marble
in the circle of lawn.
Where that pile of native stone backs the fountain
a group of nymphs, sporting jets of spray
from the cascade hidden behind the potting shed.
Some urns of terra cotta
can hold salvia, the yellow anthers bright in sun.
Not too much color though.
Let the subtle glow of marble hold your attention.

If you are fortunate, you will find fragments ­–
a broken head of an emperor
the pediment of an altar
or, truly blessed, a faun
tangled in grape leaves.
Set him among boxes of orange
against the ilex hedge,
the gravel path widening before him.
Even a few broken shards
will enhance the wall behind the fountain.

The past must be used –
the sarcophagi flaunting geraniums ­–
and where the wood overtakes you, a path
through the overgrown laurel
the tangle of oak and acacia
always at war with one another.

4

It rains. The lake drowns in haze.
The grove beside it is a distant country.
Fog moves in billows like nymphs escaped from the fountains,
their white drapes drawn about them.
Rain shoots from the downspouts, jets from the mouths
of gargoyles,
or rolls off the roof, splashing and rebounding.
The terrace is a pool catching the gush of waters
from the mouths of eagles, the vases of naiads,
the horse-maned dolphins of the seagod.
The villa is a fountain, where you swim like a minnow
in the green light of leaves dripping their cascades.

The sky darkens. It is a grotto
filled with swaying moss, the dark niches holding satyrs
grinning as they wave obscene fingers
or sneer at you from the green solace of vines.
The terrace where you dug is mud; it melts
sliding down the water stairs
between the troughs where freshets leap
from banks of honeysuckle.
Water runs between the balustrades
in waterfalls that merge
like the outflow of a thousand breasts
into the great pool on the lower terrace
where the hedge floats like a carved isthmus
among islands of clipped lavender.
Water flows from the boughs of the pine trees
pours from the laurels, circles the oranges, dangles in
narrow streams from the walnuts.
The lake must be rising among the oak trees
making a water temple of the columns by the landing.
The statues gaze at their reflections
pocked by descending drops.
You hear the counterpoint of the shattering cascade
off the edge of the roof, the tattoos of rain,
a slow drip, drop, somewhere it shouldn’t be.
The birds have taken to cover.
You hear no sound
but the steady water music of the garden.

5

But it must make sense. The mad cascade
the storm dropped yesterday has destroyed the parterres.
They are sunk in mud. The stairways slipping with dirt
and leaves.
Everything drips – the eaves, the edges of trees, the hedges.
It was more than a water garden, a meeting of too many streams.
After a day of sun, you can clean out the path
wash off the terraces, put drains where streams carried away

the soil.
But today while the clouds decide whether to go or stay
get to details. What is the garden made of?
Planes, levels, paving, paths, trees and hedges,
low plantings and high, sun and shade, color and light.

Down by the lake already there are beeches and oaks,
a drift of wild cyclamen. Farther up for sun
plant a spread of lantana, a border of lilies,
on the terrace end, magnolias; around the reflecting pool
urns of geraniums, plumbago, purple
bougainvillea, vases of lemon set on balustrades
and hedges of laurel, cypress, holly.
For the old walls, jasmine, clematis, honeysuckle, roses
beside iris and loquat, oleanders, mandarins.
For autumn color liquidambars, persimmons, against the
pine trees.
Pomegranate and flowering thyme,
lavender, shrub roses, fuchsias
and wisteria on the steeper banks.
You will want mimosa and orange trees
the acrid scent of alders by the stream.

But your list is already too long
and you’ve left no room for the kitchen garden.
You have forgotten the plan, the cool laying out of the ground.
You have overwhelmed the garden, unthinking as any god.

Stanford’s is a dream garden out of classical tradition by way of Miltonic-Cowperesque traditions as felt by a modern woman poet. So notice how like in Mary Poppins, our gardener can impose order and peace on the sky. How out the waters of the world everything comes alive — as in Burnett’s Secret Garden. it puts me in mind of Vita Sackville-West’s book-long Georgic, The Land and the Garden (for which I wrote a foremother poetry entry in an on-line festival site — so it was called). And for a picture I think of Emily Carr’s bejewelled Canadian landscapes:

emily_carr_tree_in_autumn_
A Tree in Autumn

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

Mine is nothing like this; realistically, one of the sides of my body, the right, is too weak to do any effective digging. Still, my small maple tree carries on thriving and come Christmas I’ll be winding colored lights around its branches. A small sign of continued hope.

midafternoonsmallmapleautumn2016
Yes, that’s a Clinton/Kaine sign you see peeping out from in front of my fence, facing the road.

Miss Drake

newkitchen
A photo of my kitchen — which does not bring out how the colors of cabinets and floor have a beige-pink in them, and the counter-top a matching mix of diffuse ivory color

Dear friends and readers,

What an October it has been! Wow. After returning to teaching for last Monday and Wednesday, and (I thought) bringing the re-construction of parts of my kitchen to completion, and yet another conference, I came home last night just in time to drive Izzy to a costume party where she found colleagues from her previous job: she wore a light violet regency dress that suited her coloring (she bought it at JASNA), a dark red Regency cloak, and her hair was put up, done in an early 19th century style of braids around her head. Pretty black pumps. When we arrived, the garden in front was lit with dark orange lights around the trees and bushes. The people there with Izzy apparently had good talk. All in costumes. People in their thirties to fifties.

The kitchen is almost there. On Thursday evening while I was away, Izzy reported the dishwasher is too far out of its rectangle and won’t work, and today my first day home I discovered the disposal unit (which seemed to work last night), does not work at all. Kaput. Nothing goes down the second drain properly unless I swish determinedly with my hand and I know that’s dangerous. So they will be back on Tuesday to mend this problem; still otherwise it is all I hoped. The room is in hues of soft beige, pinkish-cream, soft light and darker browns, and has a lot of soft light. The lighting fixture has a feminine look; it’s a sort of upside skirt.

kitchenfixture

The tiles are just lovely, with marbled kind of surface; there are nice wood cross-boards at the doorways, and the counter-top is many-colored and cheerful, with more yellow. Lots of soft browns for woodwork and trim. You must not imagine anything like what is seen in magazines; the room stayed much the same in structure. What I paid for is not impressive in photographs. I’ve a new front and back door, with a lovely small Venetian style widow at top for each.

door

I had two doors taken down and all the others painted a soft ivory kind of color throughout the house. All the rooms have LEL lights now.

newkitchenotherside

What I achieved is comfort on the eyes, quiet cheerfulness, and respectability. Jim would not have been doing this kind of renovation, especially closing the porch in this spring (my next phase if the contractor returns to fix the dishwasher and disposal) and repainting the house a kind of soft cream-color. I’m even going to pay he man to put up a sign with my house number. He also didn’t have this need of a kind of minimal level of comfort in public I have wanted and often did not had with him since he didn’t care: I call it respectability. I didn’t worry what the neighbors think either (as they would be impossible in my view to please and yet live in a place I could be at peace in); this is for myself. He turned the porch into a storage place. I don’t know why, as this kind of appearance is understood in England. I don’t want this year’s latest look (as some who have looked at my house seem to look for), but some indefinable quiet rightness: by the time I’m doing there will be no eye-sores, no house colors (my house is a blue which faded as it has become is still noticeable, not nondescript), or peeling or anything else to embarrass me. He wasn’t embarrassed. I thought it came from being sure of what class he belonged to — one that does not quite exist here in the US. Jim also never quite gave up the dream of returning to NYC.

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Mary Washington’s House, Fredericksburg, Va (outside circa 1928)

This last and fourth trip had a different kind of satisfaction than the other three. These are the people who astonished me last year by giving me an award — for service, friendship, panels, papers, participation. It was an easy drive for me now: a two hour drive, really a crawl in thick traffic down to Fredericksburg, Virginia. This for a two day and two night meeting of the East Central branch of ASECS (American society for 18th century studies). And this year have put me on their board. I agreed to it, and next year I’ll try to help where I can to put the meeting together at Howard University in DC. I have several real friends there, lots of friendly acquaintances: we may meet but once a year but we mean love for our subject and concern and interest nonetheless.

I went on a tour of George Washington’s mother’s house and discovered she had not lived an easy life: her husband died young, she was left with five children and the children of a previous marriage superseded hers in inheritance; she was herself “a loyal British subject” during the revolution. This was the last house she lived in, at the time really 3 rooms, one for show, one for sleep, and nearby slave cabins where the household work was done. I become aware of what an armed camp the south was when I contemplate how many slaves there were around compared to “free” people.

As usual I was re-juvenated by listening to the papers (again I’ll post about them separately on Austen reveries), and vowed to be more diligent in my reviews, write more myself, developing projects hat can lead to papers, chapters, though a full book is beyond my powers to be alone now.

harry-and-snowman-by-george-silk

I saw the final movie of the summer season at the Film Club at Cinema art last Sunday: Harry and Snowman, a documentary by Ron Davis. The story is well-known among people who train, race, so point-to-point matches, and otherwise keep horses for sport – and perhaps a bit of companionship. It was unexpectedly touching: a Dutchman determined to emigrate from a Nazi environment after WW2, and make good as a horse trainer in the US is hired by an elite girls’ school in New York State, to teach them to ride (of course) and take care of a working stable. He arrives late at an auction, and all the horses left are being taken onto a truck to be slaughtered. Harry spots a white horse with great plodding feet, and something nervous or feelingful about the animal leads Harry to buy the mare. He brings her back to health and she becomes deeply attached to him (when briefly sold she kept coming back) and his family. Gradually she is trained, and emotionally lifted somehow (she is part of his and his hard-working wife’s large family, his children ride her) to become a champion show-jumper. There are books about this pair, horse and master.

The movie makes us identify with both the difficult Harry (a driving man) and the loyal faithful horse. It has a cultural undertow: footage from 1950s TV shows of the elite in Madison Square Garden, making visible the s real elite world that stills exists (if differently dressed). They cheered when this man kept beating their inbred horses, but there was a real condescension element too. About 3/4s the way through, just at the right moment, we have footage of Harry in Nazi Germany rescuing Jews by helping them live in quarters hitherto meant for horses. His wife does leave him because in his drive to make his children as strong and winners like he he is almost responsible for causing his daughter’s death: after a fall she goes into a coma; she does emerge but is not the same afterward. The film also touched me because it reminded me of how Jim loved to go to such show jumping and how I would go with him, and we’d have these picnics and for a few years took our daughters too. It’s also in itself very well done — a final good film of a summer’s worth of these.

Have I said Clarycat has now taken to play-biting me. Ever so gently,she will nip at my hands or fingers, and then nudge my arm with her head, and then look up at me I swear with a sly look in her eye, making contact with my eye. I’ve made a new toy, attached to to ends of string, a glittering Christmas ball on one end, and a little round plastic ball with a little tinkle in the other. We play with it on and off. Ian wants to pounce on it, and wrestle, Here he watches from behind the computer:

ianbehindcomputer

Izzy and I were to celebrate tonight: I had put a chicken in the oven and we were to have our favorite pasta with a favorite Trader Joe’s Three Cheese sauce. Alas, neither she or I noticed we had not put the oven on at all. A letdown. I had had my glass of wine and so was weakened and spent the evening then watching a Poldark I managed to get off of my BBC iplayer. The new series is growing on me and I think the episode where he rapes Elizabeth done superbly well, especially Demelza’s flat bitterness after all.

Today a la Samuel Johnson I shall make a new plan, a scheme of reading and writing I hope to stick to for months to come, follow it for my reading and taking notes so I am steady at something. I hope (like Samuel Johnson with his schemes) to slowly work towards reviews, blogs, papers, read for fun, for the listserv. I would be happier if I could do this. I am sleeping better. Last night I couldn’t but most nights I can now read seriously as well as for fun and take notes and remember what I read the next morning.

I have found this now that the month is over: tomorrow evening Halloween, what I can’t have any more is closure. It’s a funny word, no? When I come back from an event that I did well at or enjoyed or just took a great deal of endurance, I used to have closure when Jim was alive. Somehow the satisfaction had some kind of ending that made it meaningful and it was not just a matter of and now another thing comes up to do. Jim may not have chosen to do what I’ve done for this kitchen and the other rooms but had he been here I would have achieved closure because he would have nodded and said, yes, it’s done. Or when I finish a paper, yes it’s good. That’s what a widow’s life is like for me. No closure, just return to first base and then have to do something else again. As in Wellington’s description of history as one damn thing after another. The movies at night help as they can stir deeper feelings for a time and I forget.

4-november-afternoon-stapleton-park-city-scenes-landscape-john-atkinson-grimshaw
An Autumn scene, November 4, Stapleton City Park, Yorkshire, 19th century — John Atkinson Grimshaw

On the weather/season, we are very dark in the mornings now. I find it depressing. The world is black until well after 7; just now around 7:20 light begins to come in. This weekend we get to put the clocks back. Each year I lament the extension of daylight savings time into middle fall, for the darkness in the morning is for me so difficult. The world is filled with variegated pretty fall colors and flowers (chrysanthemums) so is pretty and at last cool, and when warmth comes, balmy. And so I’ll end on a winter poem:

While at the EC/ASECS I did hear one dreadful paper, by an arrogant young man, on which the less said the better, but its topic was Samuel Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands, and the whole discussion brought to mind (as an kind of antidote) that while Johnson travelled with Boswell in Scotland, he wrote poetry — in Latin. In some editions of Boswell and Johnson’s Tour, the poems are included (in Latin). I have an edition of Johnson’s poetry which includes translations of some of these into English.

“Ponti profundis clausa recessibus” Englished, presumably by J Fleeman, the editor of a St Martin’s edition of Johnson’s poetry:

Enclosed in the deep recesses of the sea,
howling with gales beset by rocks,
how welcome, misty Skye, do you
open your green bay to the weary traveller.
Care, I do believe, is exiled from these regions;
gentle peace surely dwells in these places:
no anger, no sorrow plans traps
for the hours of rest.
But it is no help to a sick mind
to hide in a hollow crag or wander
through trackless mountains
or count the roaring waves from a rock.
Human virtue is not sufficient unto itself,
nor is the power granted each man
to secure for himself an untroubled mind,
as the over-proud Stoic sect deceitfully boasts.
Thou, almighty King, govern, sole arbiter,
the onrush of the stormy heart
and, when Thou raise them,
the waves of the mind surge up
and, when Thou calm them,
they fall back.

As I am an atheist, for me this “king” is the forces of life embodied in all that goes on around me that I can join in on. Like my mentor I am calmed and fall back — after reading a poem such a this one.

Miss Drake