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Stumbling along

SophieandMe
My friend, Sophie and I last week at Cinema Art Theater where we saw Gemma Bovery

Dear friends and readers,

Stumbling along is an accurate characterization of my life this summer in my 2nd year as a widow. In the UK people used to say they were “muddling through,” but that implied a goal to somewhere, which I’ve not got. My attachment to all but a very few things I do and few friends is artificially sustained so I may remain absorbed (reading, writing, watching movies) or active (out to see and participate in events, with friends and acquaintances, mostly the latter) simply because if I let go, I fear I will not know what to hold onto, and what then? If anyone objects to my frank characterization of myself as a widow, which is what I am seen as well as relate as, I ask them why: it’s no longer acceptable to object to people characterizing themselves as GLBT, or disabled, or depressed, or simply on their own in whatever way. So why is the designation widow kept so sotto voce?

A high point, a good evening out with a friend, Sybilla, my neighbor across the street who is a widow of four years, her husband died at age 67 of pancreatic cancer. I got the tickets, she drove us to Wolf Trap. Both brought picnic baskets to share with one another. We were too late to have our picnic in the first area beyond the roofed theater, but we managed to see and hear directly and intimately enough by walking into the area just after the theater and sitting on the stone quarter-size wall. John Fogerty had been Sybilla’s choice but I immediately recognized, the songs, the voice. He’s extraordinary; he gave enormously. He had with him a remarkable band of musicians. He told of his family, had his grown son wit him; the son also plays the guitar very well. His wife in the audience. What a light show, videos, fires …. sparkling balls. The crowd became alive with the music, people standing, swaying, dancing in their seats.

Many years ago:

It was not just nostalgia, but there were new numbers, contemporary ones. I haven’t been to anything like this in years or even before. He just never stopped singing and playing with and without his band. He did not stop for an intermission and was still going apparently strong as most people began to leave. He meant to do that, to make us remember him playing his heart out and entertaining us with all his might and soul and body …

Had lunch with a scholar friend (decent meal at Darlington House in DC) and planned for a coming panel at EC/ASECS: Forging Connections among Women. I’m loving Anne Grant’s Letters from the Mountain, Essays on Superstitions and Memoirs of an American Lady. Like me she reaches out to friends by her writing.

I probably ought to write separate blogs about two museum exhibits I saw, except that while recommending them if they come near you, I found them disappointing so I cannot say that you should go out of your way for these. At the Philips, with another friend, Vivien, I saw a room full of small abstract-kind of paintings by Jacob Lawrence called “The Struggle.” These were a pendant to his Migration series: the pictures show the inception, origination of the US was in violence, and it specifically used and excluded from citizen rights to right, slaves, women, non-property owners.

Struggle Series No. 1

There are too few was the problem. Lawrence’s unforgettable Migration series makes the effect it does because of the plentitude of pictures. For all the efforts of local Washingtonian media to speak well of the Philips (and they do host remarkable lectures and readings of plays and poetry), their permanent collection is singularly uninspiring and small. Their cafe remains awful because they are perpetually understaffed — I feel for the staff working there who look so nervous.

With Sophie, Yvette and a friend of Sophie, I went to the Caillebotte exhibition at the National Gallery. It was oddly disappointing. Not because there were too few (5 rooms of paintings from a scarcely believable number of places disparate geographically so this was a major effort of cooperation and curator negotiation) but that they were not accounted for in an insightful way by the curator. The obvious was said (that we look at from a rich person’s window, that he painted family and friends, still lifes meant to make us think about how we treat animals, and landscapes very much in the mode of Monet). They were generally thematically group (as here are river landscapes, here the city seen from this window, here ordinary people going about their business). The exhibit led with “scrapers:”

GustaveCaillebotte

It included superbly beautiful design work:

Boulevard Des Italiens Painting by Gustave Caillebotte; Boulevard Des Italiens Art Print for sale
Boulevard Des Italiens

Somes Caillebotte seemed to anticipate pointillism; there were Manet-like street scenes. I was impressed by how expressionless his people were. He does include animals in a sad state on the street — so perhaps someone should write about his capturing the vulnerable stray again and again:

LePontdeLEurope
On Le Pont de l’Europe long since gone to his or her grave

For the first time Yvette and I ate at the elegant 2nd floor cafe — we’ve been going to this museum for 30 years and never tried it before. My friend’s partner apparently would have hated the “plebian” cafe downstairs. The food was dolled up bits of meat, potatoes and vegetables, almost unrecognizable, overdone salad dressing on wilted stuff, undrinkable tea (with no milk) — at probably a horrendous price. This is to tell you if you go there, don’t be fooled. Get yourself something edible downstairs at 1/4 the price in 1/10th the time.

I’ve bought myself 5 tickets to plays at the Capitol Fringe Festival and hope to find the places and see some Shakespeare (A Winter’s Tale), his contemporary Middleton, and a drama about women’s roles working during WW1. I had my worst experiences of STUGs (sudden tremendous upsurge of grief) last summer as I realized the joy of going to these events was with Jim. Sophie is coming to one of them with me and three are easy to get to this time. So it’ll just be one that might be hard — at Gallaudet College (perhaps a long walk from the Metro), a Thomas Middleton play somewhat abridged and adapted.

Framley Parsonage is doing well at the OLLI at Mason (I’ll blog separately on some Australian books and films my post-colonial project have led me to): I work away at my projects. I read and post with and to others on my listservs (Ippolito Nievo’s Confesssions of an Italian as translated by Fredericka Randall on which I will write when we’ve done), not to omit blogging on the new Poldark mini-series, women artists, and Bernie Sanders.

cover

I’m beginning to see my way in teaching Fielding’s Tom Jones, starting to reread it slowly once again (there I had a recording I realize was appalling as the reader worked hard to make the text into a comic romp which it is anything but) and see the usefulness and depths of perspective and information in approaching it the way I did the Poldark books, by going into the real history of injustice, law, custom, the era’s revolutions. I still love the 1997 Tom Jones mini-series movie though I now know it utterly misrepresents the tone and attitude of Fielding who remains behind a mask of double-turned intricate ironies.

Low points include the Dance Fusion Workshop becoming hard to get into. The instructor has decreed only 15 since we have to go down to the Dance Studio (more fun if you are there, immersion with a mirror) and there are about 40 women who came regularly. I find I have to phone on Sunday morning around 8 am at the latest to be included in the Tuesday session at 8:30 am. A small thing it will be said, but I need to get out each day and be among people. So I re-joined the Chinquapin Alexandria Community Center about 6 minutes away from me where there’s a pool and I’ve begun swimming 5-6 laps (very slowly and I’m collapsing by the end of the 6th) to swim a few later afternoons each week. In this 90+ degree heat (I don’t look at the humidity) the water is refreshing and between 4 and 5 there are no camps, no people home from work.

So it’s not that the old pleasures aren’t still strong for me: I’m just revelling in listening as I drive in my car to a brilliantly alive reading of Mantel’s Wolf Hall by Simon Slater (unabridged). But all around so hollow, my existence so impoverished, hopes I once entertained for the future for both of us gone. The word truth is:

I can no longer convey how not okay it is that my beloved friend and companion and lover of a lifetime died so young, in such an agony and I have to carry on without any meaning, any deep companionship or understanding, any validation of how I see the world and relate to it. Yes it changes: the acute anxiety has subsided; I feel its physical remnants in my arms, hands, central body now. The feeling itself as transformed and new realizations become unspeakable as they go deeper and deeper, seep into my veins.

AdmiralandClary2
Clarycat stayed snuggled up to him until very near his death — late September 2013

Miss Drake

and the civil war and World War 2:

Zinn points out that war is the indiscriminate killing of huge numbers (often thousands and thousands, millions sometimes) of people for uncertain ends. Maiming of thousands and sometimes millions more.

War is a top-down exercise; it cannot be carried on by any group in society but those who have their hands on great wealth, law and courts, power. And so when the war is done very little reform the average person wants is achieved. After the Revolutionary war, very wealthy people made the constitution about property. After the civil war slavery was turned into state terror and semi-slavery for black people. Did World War Two end fascism? Not at all; turns out fascism lay low for a bit, and then emerged strengthened.

Inbetween war and passivity there are a thousands possibilities of what we could do about something.

Listen.

Miss Drake

HandsomeIanMay2015
Ian last month

Dear friends and readers,

I want to record a theft that I witnessed and put a stop to last week and, having seen it, I was on the alert for to stop again. I will also connect many people’s love for their pussycats with today’s world via Manglehorn’s Fanny (movie directed by David Gordon Green, screenplay Paul Logan, featuring Al Pacino).

For at least thee years now I’ve been suffering chilblains on the skin of my hands. This is the 18th century word for a condition where your blood doesn’t circulate efficiently and if you experience sudden heat or cold, your skin turns red, burns, feel itchy and no cream seems to be able to soothe it. I first noticed it in supermarkets in the summer where the air-conditioning is fierce. I now take with me when I go out a pair of thin wool gloves because I’ve learned the best way to deal with this condition is to not let it happen. It’s worse when it’s a matter of burning cold, but I’ve suffered from chilblains in sudden heat. I’ve had people look at me strangely, but I explain and tell them they should look at Supreme Court Justice Ginsberg’s hands. She is never without white cotton gloves. I don’t know where she gets her beautifully thin lacey pairs; I’ve not been able to duplicate it on the Net. The only thin gloves I can find are the sort used in hospitals, throw-away gloves that don’t warm you. And thin wool gloves are not everywhere either.

I’m now on at least my third pair of such gloves. I often lose gloves but in this case what happened was I found now and again when I went into my handbag, there’d be only one thin woollen glove. The other had gone missing. I blamed myself but now I feel that at least some of the time the culprit was my ginger tabby, Ian.

Last week I happened to turn around and witness Ian on the floor of my study patiently pulling at a piece of leather that forms a kind of tie to the zipper of my handbag. He had discovered what I know to be true: the leather stips facilitates pulling the zipper open. He pulled and pulled until he had the handbag about 1/3 of the way open. Then he put his paw in, rummaged about, and managed to lift one of my gloves. Next thing he has it in his mouth and is trotting away with it! I headed him off at the door, and plucked it back. I put the two gloves in a drawer in my bedroom bureau.

But I have to use them, and each time I go out remember to put the gloves there. I usually do because I also have to remember (nowadays) to take my cell phone (unplug it from the wire where it is continually being re-charged). But I’m not so good at remembering to take the gloves and cell phone out again.

Two days ago, there he was at it again. This time he had pulled the handbag opened, secured the glove and all I saw was him trotting away. Again I thwarted him. Tonight I know there were no gloves in the purse, but I saw him nonetheless with the purse one-third open fishing.

What to do? Put the handbag high up somewhere? he can climb high. Reason with him? He doesn’t speak English. About a year and a half ago my lower partial denture went missing from the supper table. I didn’t think I had dropped it. To replace it cost me $1600. Now I know for sure who took it. It’s probably behind one of my 43 bookcases.

He mews at me on and off during the day in an effort to get my attention, to say something to me, to get me to play with him, or hug, and I usually talk back before leaving the room. He knows I’m talking to him and will follow me about. He likes to climb very high on the bookshelves — believing I surmise he is out of sight. (When he was a kitten, he’d hide 2/3s of his body under a stool under the impression he was invisble that way — my little Snuffle-upagus). I have to take a broom to get him to come down and then while leaping he can break something if he hits it — like a glass. Nowadays when he comes into a room, he often murmurs and meows softly to let Yvette and I know he’s there. He will jump up on my lap and press his body stretched out against my chest, and put his head next to head, rubbing. He brushes up against my legs when I’m eating, tries to climb on my lap during breakfast and after supper if Yvette and I sit there talking. He will re-discover, as if it were new, an old spot; and then inhabit it obsessively for a few days — these past few days he re-found his grey cat pad in the front room and has been staying in it for hours.

Caroline remarked that if I didn’t have a video of him persisting at my purse, it was almost as if it didn’t happen. She has her cat on a video slowing opening a cat-proof container and taking out food to eat. Who says cats don’t execute plans? don’t remember the past? they do when it’s repetitive and people are creatures of routine.

Face-book by one of its algorithms sends me photos from years ago I put on face-book. This week it was one of ClaryCat that Jim took five years ago. She is two:

clarytablecloseup

The photo was taken by Jim close-up and brought back memories. Chris Hedges’s is over-the-top and he is blaming technology when the way technology is used is a reflection of a deeper malaise of skewed values and social structures: The Lonely American.

The bowl of varied fruit, the different wines, the treats in tupperware, another world, a previous life over now. For Yvett not such a happy time that year — she had finished graduate school and seemed unable to get a job of any kind. I now love & understand Clarycat and Ian more than I did then. How close she came to me. How in character is that pose I now realize. In the mornings when I wake she is snuggled up to me; most of the day she’s not five feet from, often a lot closer. She never disappears for several hours the way Ian does. She does still hold on fiercely to her favorite toys, and will hiss and growl at him if he tries to take one away she is playing with at the time.

I believe for a long time afterward both were affected by Jim’s death. Upset by the long dying over 4 days and then when he so totally disappeared. When I take them to the Vet, it takes Ian several days to trust us again.

Sometimes I hear one or the other of them crying in another room — or they are making a complaint-like sound. I get very upset when I hear that and rush over to see what’s happening. If it’s nothing or they can’t stand that Yvette has her door closed, I tell them “don’t cry! I can’t bear it!”

When you allow yourself to get into an intimate relationship with your pet, you identify with other like animals. This Sunday the film club was disappointing: for the first time the Cinema Art Theater owner picked the film — it seemed. It is one he means to show in the theater anyway! I thought the idea was to show us films we would otherwise not see chosen by Gary Arnold, a Washington Post film critic-reviewer. On top of that it was awful: Manglehorn, well-acted by Al Pacino (now 75) but a senseless movie where we were to believe he behaved indifferently to everyone because he could not get over the loss of a girlfriend to whom he was writing letters for years; all sent back by the post-office. He is implicitly criticized for telling hard stories of death when he goes to group meetings. What is wrong with him is the feel of the other average people there. What they talk about we are not told. The ending was sudden reform (“redemptive”) because he begins to go out with Holly Hunter who is so dismayed by him. Her view is he needs to work at being a 12 before she will open again.

The reality was a depiction of a depressed man who does not understand himself; who is deeply disappointed by a shallow son who seems to spend his life pressuring others meanly in order to make money off of them; whose wife left him (we are not how that came about). It is another one of these films where we see such lonely people; a distraught man half-mad in a bank; a vile noisy brothel where in fact people are desperate, hideous neon lights, people dressed in the ugliest of ways; everyone alone with memory objects. The film-makers offered no understanding of the deeper human realities and misbegotten society they were visualizing and dramatizing.

The film features a cat called Fanny, a long hair white cat who I worried very anxiously about. This depiction was the best thing in the film. Manglehorn pays for an expensive operation to remove a key she swallows by mistake and seemed to have affection for her and nothing else. But I didn’t trust him; he’d leave the house without checking to see that she was not caught in a closet. We did see her hide in closets the way Ian does. He’d take her out on walks where there was no leash keeping her securely attached to him:

manglehornandcat

Or he’d put her on a branch near where he was sitting, or sit high on a branch with her in his arms, looking like they were going to tumble down.

I noticed this particular cat was picked because her face was probably seen by the people who made the film as grumpy (a factor in her genes probably). Since the unexamined acceptability of cat pictures and messages have flooded the Internet, it is more acceptable for even men to love cats, and this is the second recent movie where a man’s close relationship to a cat was the only element in the film that was believable or absorbing, the only comfort in sight. The cat’s affectionate nature has not been perverted by the false structures around her. She is oblivious to them because they are absurdly irrelevant to her basic (eat, sleep, play) and emotional needs.

Jim used to say that most social experience in the US nowadays is dysfunctional. The dismaying isolation seen in Manglehorn is depicted from an upper class older woman’s point of view in I’ll Dream of You, from a working class Milan man’s in L’Intrepido.

If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man
but deteriorate the cat. —Mark Twain

My two cats are my last companions before I go to sleep. In the morning Clarycat is there and soon she is nudging her head at me, licking me. Ian comes to greet me from elsewhere, somewhere else on the bed, in the short cat-tree near my bed (with a green pillow), from one of the cat pads around the house, from where Jim used to sit. He puts his paws out as hands to me. She does too.

50JimClaryASept2013 (2)
Jim and Ian, September 2013

Miss Drake

AtEthelLancesFuneral
Jackson at Ethel Lance’s funeral

… the progress of reformation is gradual and silent as the extension of evening shadows; we know that they were short at noon, are long at sun-set, but our senses were not able to discern their increase … Where a great proportion of the people are suffered to languish in helpless misery, that country must be ill policed, and wretchedly governed: a decent provision for the poor, is the true test of civilization — Samuel Johnson

Dear friends and readers,

I know in this small blog (with 99 followers) I reach few people, but I do what I can. I just listened to Jesse Jackson’s response to this heinous murder of nine black people, I am prompted simply to copy and paste the words and link in the podcast, hoping more people will read and/or listen:

Click here for the podcast

Here is the transcript:

Outside the wake for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Amy Goodman interviews civil rights leader and South Carolina native Rev. Jesse Jackson, who says of the massacre at Emanuel AME Church, “The question is, is this an embarrassment, or is it transformational?” Jackson argues efforts to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol shouldn’t stop there. “If you still have less access to voting, it’s not a good deal. If the flag comes down and you still have racial profiling … it’s not a good deal,” Jackson says.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: So many people have gathered in this Southern city. I wanted to turn now to Reverend Jesse Jackson. We saw him last night just as he had come out of the church paying last respects to Reverend Pinckney.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: I think that the emotions are high. People seem to be rallying to each other in unusual ways. The question is, is this embarrassment, or is it transformational? If this had happened in the next state over, would there be the same amount of fervor? Black men, unarmed, are being shot down. We see in this state, for example, Brother Pinckney was fighting to deal with too much easy access to guns.

In this state, 350,000 people have no health insurance, and one quarter of the state is in poverty, and yet they reject $10 billion in Medicaid, with one again in the Supreme Court just today. Twenty-five percent of the population is African-American, and 75 percent of the prison population is African-American, and 20 percent of those do prison labor for 30 to 80 cents an hour. South Carolina state is on the verge of closing because of lack of state investment.
So it seems to me, if we’re going to deal with the issue of poverty and the issues that matter, it must be a transformational moment, not just a kind of embarrassment so we can keep a false face on good news and tourism.

AMY GOODMAN: And your thoughts on the Confederate flag?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: The Confederate flag must come down, or trade must go down. It must be a substantial boycott. And it just can’t apply to South Carolina. You know, the flag represents secession from the United States of America. It represents sedition, an attempt to violently overthrow the government; slavery as a form of economic development; states’ rights over federal rights; and suppression of the rights of women. It’s racist to the extent that it’s white supremacy, male supremacy, anti-black, anti-gender equality, anti-Semitic, because of religious supremacy. So this thing is a little deeper than just racism. It is anti-semitic, anti-women, anti-labor, a symbol of the secession and states’ rights.

And the Confederates won some significant concessions when the war was over. First concession it won was the right to maintain their dignity. None of them were indicted, all were pardoned, though they tried to overthrow the government. The second concession they won was the right to control—the right to get paid for the slaves they had to give up. The third concession was they got the right to control the votes. We got the vote in the 1870s, didn’t get it back ’til 1965. The right to control the rights of women. They got the right to control healthcare, education and labor and voting. So that the concessions that the Confederates won were substantial.

And to this day, there’s not a — just this state is 45 percent African-American, not one black-owned business in downtown Charleston. So I am not impressed with the “Kumbaya” moment unless there is some plan for financial investment and a budget alteration. If the flag comes down, but you still have less access to voting, it’s not a good deal. If the flag comes down and you still have high race profiling and blacks go to jail at a rate three times that of whites, it’s not a good deal. The question is, are the bankers out here—or will they increase bank lending, and a more effective use of pension funds? What will it be to become cretinous beyond this moment of passion?

AMY GOODMAN: Now, but as people came to Columbia to the state House to see Reverend Pinckney, the state senator laying in state, first African-American since Reconstruction to lay in state in the Capitol rotunda, they had to pass the Confederate flag. Do you think Nikki Haley, the governor, could have just taken it down like the governor of Alabama did?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: I’m not sure she could do that technically. I think she’s taken a very public position, which I think is a very decent position that Nikki Haley has taken. It’s the right position. Now Senator Graham has taken that position, and Senator Scott has taken that position. Romney has taken that position. But we must not only change the Confederate flag. We must change the Confederate agenda. The agenda is anti-black, with white male supremacy. The agenda is anti-Semitic, with religious supremacy. The agenda is anti-female, will not pass the Equal Rights Amendment for women. We must have an agenda.

The Confederates need to rejoin America. They need to rejoin the Union. They must make a bigger decision than take down the flag. They must rejoin the Union of states. Three hundred and fifty thousand people without health insurance in this state, a quarter of the state in poverty, and they reject $10 billion in Medicaid on a nine-to-one ratio? That’s a low investment for high returns. There is so much [inaudible]. This is the same state where the congressman, Wilson, called the president a liar, and where the congressman went home and raised $2 million that weekend, where Susan Smith killed her two babies in the water up in Union, South Carolina. And —

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you born?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Greenville, South Carolina.

She killed those two babies and said that a black man did it who didn’t even exist. So that we cannot settle for cheap rates when the matter is so serious.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re standing on Calhoun Street right in front of Mother Emanuel.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Another slaveholder, and it runs right into Meeting Street, where they sold our people. This place is dripping with a kind of indecency, a kind of barbarism. I mean, slavery, 246 years, was real. And the extension of slavery was even worse, in many ways, because at least slavemasters tried to protect the health of their slaves enough for them to work and reproduce. But after slavery, when slavocracy lost to democracy and kept the political and military power, 4,000 blacks were lynched, 163 lynched in this state without one indictment, often carried out by judges and police. And so the depth of resentment and meanness and toxicity here must not be played down.

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts on Dylann Roof being in the Charleston jail, as is Officer Michael Slager, who gunned down Walter Scott, the African-American man who was running away from him, and he shot him in the back, in North Charleston?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: One man shot in the back running, another nine more shot in the church across the street, so 10 blacks are dead, two white men in jail. And we do not know what the outcome will be, in a judicial sense. We know the result is in, that these men are dead, and we know who killed them. But the question of what will be done concretely beyond using these two guys as posters to represent the culture. The culture is much deeper and much wider than two men. Much deeper and much wider than two men.

AMY GOODMAN: The Reverend Jesse Jackson, standing in front of Mother Emanuel church as thousands pay their last respects to South Carolina state senator and the Reverend Clementa Pinckney. Today, the funeral for Reverend Pinckney. Thousands are lining up to attend.

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

I voted for Jesse Jackson at every opportunity I was given. In 1984 he was running for President and supported by the Rainbow Coalition. In Alexandria City, we had caucuses for the primary and I actually went. (I don’t go to political-social stuff like this often. I was secretary to our tenants’ association on 200th street in the 1970s, but then I had a practical function; I took the notes.) I was enormously pregnant with Isobel (Yvette) and Laura Caroline sat with me.

There were three sections, one for Mondale (which was not clearly the largest, by which I mean to say it did not clearly have the most people), one for Gary Hart (Jim sat in that one) and a middling one which appeared to be larger than that for Hart and maybe as large as that for Mondale (I sat in that). Hart’s was all white, Mondale a mix, and this third one was mostly black people. I remember I was interviewed by someone from the Philadelphia Inquirer. This seems to me wrong but I understood she was interviewing me because I was a rare white person there. I remember feeling intimidated lest I say something the black people around me didn’t like. But when I finished answering her questions, all the people around me were so pleased, they shook my hand, one gave Laura Caroline a sign of some sort.

There was much political maneuvering and somehow Mondale had it. So I remember I went to sit in the back as the formations of people became two caucuses.

Another time there was some state-wide primary and I voted for Jackson and he won. Alexandria City went for him. Whatever that primary was for, there was never another one held.

I remember in 1984 Jackson giving an interview on TV and someone asking him, if he regarded the white people who voted for him as “really white.” What an astonishing question. Jackson replied, “they white! they really white.” I am really white.

What a better world the whole earth would be had in 1972 McGovern won (whom I voted for, sent money to, signed voters up to vote for in NYC) or in 1984 had Jackson won.

Miss Drake

Dear friends and readers,

Hartnett says a strange thing: in the last part of my life, ghost accumulate. Since 1989, I have lived with one quiescent, and now I live with a second as part of my heart’s blood.

A poem by David Hartnett

In the Winter Valley

At dusk in the winter valley the train went slow;
The carriage felt empty enough for apparitions,
His parents’ perhaps who died a year ago-
    Nothing happened.
On either side of the railway, ranked and stiff,
Espaliered pears paraded, frozen snow
Clotting their tiered branches. Down a far cliff
    Cascades curtained.
In the second half of life there are no ghosts,
The world is vast and tired and someone else’s.
Coldly the pear trees bloomed on their black posts.
    The train quickened.

near Sian
DAVID HARTNETT

These flowers for the nine African-American families and friends who lost a beloved — and who are not by any means all who have been affected forevermore by social murder this week.

flowers
Reddish Table and Window (1999) — (Gloria Munoz, b. 1949)

As I traveled to and fro I listened to Simon Slater’s wonderful reading of Wolf Hall (he goes tenaciously into the mind of anyone listening for real): as with Hilary Mantel’s other novels she presents centrally a character deeply grief-stricken at the death of someone cared for: Thomas Cromwell; he loses wife, daughters, Wolsey. Again and again the experience is presented as a ghost or ghostly presence come to be with Cromwell – in his dreams, as he stands in shadows and cries, passing memories other characters arouse. In her Black Book this is very strong, but it’s equally present in Thomas Cromwell’s mind: sometimes he’s comforted, sometimes the anguish is too sharp.

This is an aspect of her fiction which has been ignored in the talk about her books as well as the film adaptation; in her Black Book, in her memoir she fought to “give up her ghosts,” in her historical fiction she allows such memories to be guiding spirits of the central presence. She shows how the living left — her hero — becomes another person over time and experience as the dead intertwine inside, memories make them behave certain ways and they find solace, other people to connect to, be with all in this continuum.

Cat circa 1904-8 Gwen John 1876-1939 Purchased 1940 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05154
Gwen John (1876-1939), remembering her beloved cat-companion, Edgar Quintet

I am glad for GLBT people who can marry who they love now. See my The US Supreme Court did three good things this week!

Scotus blog: same-sex marriage

On preventing discrimination that is hard to prove: disparate impact;

On Obamacare: keeping the benefits available to millions of health care insurance (such as the system is, it’s the system we must change to a single payer like medicare)

Sylvia

For Father’s Day

myfather1944wmjgarbusblog

My father, I thought at first 1944, when he was age 23 (but it may be him at age 17 in 1938). My grandmother named him Vladimir Stanislaus, but the nurses wrote down William John. He spoke only Polish until age 6 when he started to NYC public schools. He was a great reader and some of my happiest memories are of him reading aloud to me — the night he read RLS ‘s “The Sire de Maltroit’s Door” and “A Lodging for the Night” remains with me.

There was a time in our middle years (he in his 50s to 60s, me in my 30s to 40s) when he and I would phone one another once a week and talk for an hour. I remember how monthly faithfully for years he’d send WBAI in NYC $200! he must have heard Amy Goodman when she did Pacifica Radio. He would have eagerly followed Bernie Sanders’ campaign.

He read British novels (and re-introduced me to Trollope by giving me a copy of The Vicar of Bullhampton in 1988), but though he read Sayer’s novels (sand liked Nine Tailors and Five Red Herrings), he disliked the snobbery and to him effete quality of her conception of Lord Peter, so might not have been keen on my pseudonym of

Miss Sylvia Drake (from Gaudy Night).

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Eight of the nine people destroyed, their lives taken from them

Dear friends and readers,

I suppose everyone who comes here to read this blog has at least heard of the latest slaughter in the US of a group of people, this time (once again) of African-Americans, 9, again as in so many of these repeated massacres, by a young white male who we are told is mentally ill. Dylan Roof was welcomed into a black church in South Caroline, sat with a group of black people studying the Bible together; at the end of the hour, he pulled out a gun and rounds of ammunition and murdered them all, stopping to reload, gloating, telling them he would let one live so they could tell what happened. He said he would kill himself. He did not.

It’s admitted he is a racist and many US people who come forward to speak in the media are eager to separate themselves from him, put him away, inflict the death penalty on him. Here is a brief description:

Twenty-one-year-old Dylann Roof was detained Thursday morning during a traffic stop in North Carolina. A friend of Roof’s said he wanted to start a new civil war. In a photo posted on Facebook, Dylann Roof is seen wearing a black jacket that prominently features the flags of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and apartheid-era South Africa from when the two African countries were ruled by the white minority. Another photo appears to show Roof posing in front of a car with a front plate that reads “Confederate States of America.”

Sylvia Johnson: “I spoke with one of the survivors, and she said that he had reloaded five different times. And her son was trying to talk him out of doing that act of killing people. And he just said, ‘I have to do it.’ He said, ‘You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.’”

He is not an aberration; he is in the American grain, a direct product of the culture; the US aggressive colonialist wars from mid-century on are an extrapolation.

Since the spread of cell phones and ipads which permit people to film what is going on around them, we know that for an indeterminate number of years now on average two black people have been murdered every week each year by police, often beaten severely (remember the then rare video of Rodney King beaten so badly by the LAPD?). The bringing forth of videos with undeniable pictures has brought before us all sorts of realities of life. We learn about the victims and discover just about all the police officers are let off with impunity, and that this is something they expect to happen and is part of the training that leads them to shoot black people on the US streets and disabled people if you call them to your house (do not!) with deadly weapons and not worry about any consequences to themselves.

It was in Charleston that Walter Scott was gunned down by a police officer because in Scott’s terror he ran away.

Last night I learned more African-American history, the sort of knowledge not included in US schools. The continual violence, the hysteria of gun power led to the assassination of Martin Luther King’s mother, Alberta Williams King shot down while playing an organ in a church; this time the assassin was a young black man, six years after the murder of her son.

On the church in which this slaughter occurred you can listen to an informative video on DemocracyNow.org, in interview of the Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, which was the spiritual home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; and the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of the Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia, founded in 1787 and the mother church of the nation’s first black denomination. Reverend Tyler recently interviewed Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in the Charleston shooting, as part of a documentary on the AME movement in South Carolina.

If you don’t want to spend the time, listening and watching, here are a few items you would learn:

The church attacked in the Charleston, South Carolina, massacre that left nine people dead is home to the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore. Known as “Mother Emanuel,” the Emanuel AME Church was burned in the 1820s during a slave rebellion and has stood at its present location since 1872 … other Emanuel, like Mother Bethel, like Bethel AME in Baltimore, like Mother Zion, for the AME Zion Church in New York City, all of these congregations began the late 1700s, early 1800s as a result of what became known as segregated pews. The Methodist movement in America initially was very welcoming and open to African-American worshipers. It was not unusual to see enslaved people preaching …

they turned their back on their abolitionist roots and decided, in order to keep and appease slaveholding Methodist members who were very wealthy, that they would allow blacks to become segregated in worship. As a result, these persons, like Richard Allen and Morris Brown, led walkouts. And they began churches, sometimes without even a building to worship in. And so was the story of Mother Emanuel.

By the 1820s, Denmark Vesey, who was a class leader in the AME Church, a member of Morris Brown’s church, decided to lead a slave insurrection in Charleston, and he took advantage of the fact that having your own building prevented whites from coming in and overhearing you. And as a result of him using the buildings in such a way, when the plot was discovered and when he was hanged along with co-conspirators, the churches were destroyed, and the AME Church was banned. But as Reverend Pinckney so well says, the church didn’t disappear, it just went underground. And it re-emerged, for everyone to see, at the end of the Civil War …

When Morris Brown’s church was burned down, he was initially accused of being one of the co-conspirators. When his name was cleared and it was clear he had no involvement, he didn’t want to just stay waiting around, just in case they tried to try him, you know, or bring him up on charges again, so Morris Brown left Charleston, moved to Philadelphia and then began to work with Bishop Richard Allen. But many others took that same trek—William Catto, Octavius Catto’s father; Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne, who used to teach enslaved people and free blacks in the 1830s, who 10 years after that event, because of the Nat Turner insurrection and laws that then became repressive throughout the South, also found himself leaving and ending up in Philadelphia. So there was this long-established relationship where the free black community in Charleston and the free black community in Philadelphia had this constant interchange

There is apparently nothing that can stir US people to vote against their representatives when these representatives refuse to enact any gun control legislation. It is not true that the millions of guns out there cannot be stymied. Bullets decay and if today a law was enacted to control the sale of bullets within a few years, these guns couldn’t kill. We can still stop the sale of ammunition. Right now. It would be effective.

See David Remnick in the New Yorker on Charleston and the Age of Obama.  Across the day all flats in the capitol of South Carolina were lowered to half mast, except the confederate one. That remained flying high.

There is such a thing as a national identity, and while I tend to believe Bernard Anderson that these amalgams are imagined constructs, there is too much likeness across people in a culture to dismiss the notion of general encouraged accepted behavior. A group of us on my Women Writers list-serv at Yahoo have been talking about national identities. National identities as projected often are not pleasant things, group identities the psyche out there in large common denominator social life. The US national is racist at its core and increasingly militarist — the word American itself shows hubris as it’s just one country in the western hemisphere; there are two major languages, Spanish and English. Several others are spoken by a large group of people: French, Portuguese, some German; there are still some Indian languages. A review of the Whitney exhibit by Ingrid Rowlandson in the NYRB (which I didn’t get to see as I came on the day of the week the museum is closed) talked of the swagger of the pictures across the 20th century: she was glad to note in this word that the US from the opening of the 20th century knew it was a fully formed and dominating culture (hardly a woman mentioned). We are told individualism is central; is it?

While Frances Trollope’s Domestic Manners of the Americans (mid-19th century travel book) is an angry book, hard satire, often egotistic, snobbish, unfair, she did identify early on that an intense religious emotionalism is central to the culture. I’d add violence near the surface, a strongly violent culture from its outset (we went to war to take Canada as one of our first ventures). On face-book I regularly see people put photos of themselves teaching their children to shoot guns. Face-book is a place where people put up messages about what they are proud of: I’ve heard people call it happy pictures (see how happy I am), as boasting pictures (“see what I did and am doing” — how lucky I am, how privileged, what I have rightly gained), values and norms it is assumed all will be cheered to see.

Think about it. Two years in Boston a central cultural event most Bostonians are so proud of, and two Muslim-Americans come in and blow up bombs with bullets in barrels, destroying many people (killing, maiming) ruining the event, the city is then under a hysterical curfew while a manhunt goes on by police armed as if this were a central war-site; they gun down one of them. Before that a kindergarten where the upper class send their children in Connecticut subject to a massacre. Before that one of these mass outdoor moviehouses in the western US showing a violent action-adventure movie to thousands — a massacre by a weapon no one would use for hunting, bought by mail-order. Now the governor of South Carolina stands in front of an audience, begins to cry, another powerful white figure shakes as he tells what has happened, a church central to what some South Carolinians are proud of, is desecrated, bloody disfigured hideous corpses all over its basement floor.

And nothing done. No pressure on lawmakers (except locally here and there) to put a stop to these events. No law makers stepping up to do the right thing as an effective leader either.

Bernie Sanders whose numbers are going up, posted this to the Net just a couple of hours ago:

King

Miss Drake

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