Her first recording with a key change:

At her blog,

Today was yet another cold rainy day (we’ve had almost three weeks of it) and her intention to watch the French Open (Roland Garros) was thwarted.

Clarycat catloaf-like availing herself of a rare gleam of sunshine,

Miss Drake

Friends and readers,

Last week I returned to Dance Fusion Workshop, and last and this Monday we danced for 7 of our 50 or so minutes to Cole Porter’s “I’ve got you under my skin” as sung by Sinatra

Thrown into the third person:

They had been married around 5 years and had recently landed in a rent control apartment up on 200 Street, West Broadway, just below the Fort Tryon Park cliff. When you walked out of the courtyard you could see the Cloisters high up. One night he came home late; she didn’t know why and didn’t ask. As he came into the room, he leant over her and she, half-awake, reaching up, said “Oh my darling” and that night, all night, the love that was growing became all-enveloping. Had she not had children, she would never have fought with him over anything. It was after that she began to say, “he’s the blood that flows through my heart” and, with Elizabeth Bowen, “Outside their love lay the junkyard of what did not matter.”

It did take that long for him to get under her skin. She had resisted; at first it had just been strong affection and then real liking (she liked him, she liked his company) and trust. One day she told him, “I managed without you for 23 years, I can carry on another week.” To which he had replied: “Not very well.” But more than 5 years of such kind, non-lying (he never lied — very important to her), loyal, considerate, even gentlemanly behavior and such wonderful words, and humor and a shared taste and outlook in so many things. And enabling support. Never judging. We had a bargain. I didn’t ask for what I knew he didn’t want to do, and he didn’t try to make me do what I found distasteful, outside my character. (As far I have felt relationships, it’s an utter lie the notion that people love someone who mistreats them. I couldn’t and don’t. As Austen said through Elizabeth Bennet esteem and gratitude are central.) But what did it was a night like that. Which had talk too. And laughter — she never found much funny in life but he put things in a perspective that was funny. And it came that she just lived by his side, through him. So the song resonates. All the words. Including or especially these:

I’d sacrifice anything come what might
For the sake of havin’ you near
In spite of a warnin’ voice that comes in the night
And repeats, repeats in my ear:
Don’t you know, little fool, you never can win?
Use your mentality, wake up to reality.
But each time that I do just the thought of you
Makes me stop before I begin
‘Cause I’ve got you under my skin.

I’m a part of him, a part left behind.

I love to dance (Jane Austen did too, any woman worth her salt does), it’s a form where wordless one can express oneself.

Dietrich (Mobile)
Susan Herbert, Musical or Movie Cats (probably meant to evoke Dietrich)

SinatraFrank13330x48Trench_Coat (Mobile)
Found on the Net — from his movie years


And what are my comforts today? the books he left me with. They are my friends, the literary talk I have where real truths are told. I have spent several days with them now. I need to keep the house I live in so as to keep them.

So, for this old house (about which I have a decent pride which I’m now trying to live up to, am about to pay a contractor a helluva lot of money to fix, repaint parts, replace), my neighbor has helped me to plant summer perennials and annuals properly so they will grow on the front lawn just behind a wooden fence I had erected years ago. It was beginning to crumble and someone has fixed two of the slats! (when I wasn’t looking).


I found like Edith Wharton I prefer the leafy plants to the flowers:


And I photographed ClaryCat as she waited after watching me cope outside:



Now that teaching is over, I am going to the gym four mornings a week; the other two are for “Body Strengthening:” a combination of lighter dance and exercise with half-an-hour of using a rubber stretch band, weights, and a ball with a chair to sit on or use as a bar for half an hour. I am acquainted now with many of the regulars and have talked with a few of the women and one man. Most of the people are well over 50. We are all breaking up our day.

Later afternoon or evening yesterday:


By the way, the teacher for Friday Dance Fusion is a different woman for now. She lacks any sense of a meaning to words against music. To decidedly spirited rhythmic songs she enacts a forced cheerfulness that stirs me to ironic laughter. She is energetically ridiculous. (I was relieved to discover in listening to quiet conversation later that I’m not the only one who finds this class now partly silly — one does get exercise.)

Miss Drake

Laura’s home office: a computer with three screens and a sunlamp (her cat’s behavior tells us the fixture might indeed provide sun rays to cheer those nearby)


May 8th this year is also Isobel’s 32nd birthday (to give her her full first name). And this year the two together prompt other memories, at first of my beloved father. Utterances. “Eyes awake” my mother said he would say when I was an infant, and as I woke from sleep would open my eyes. He said they looked so bright, alert, so full of happiness then. I can imagine him looking down at me smiling. He doted on my as a baby and my mother’s father would say I was a “Daddy’s girl.”

I’ve very few photos of my mother, here she is, probably 58, looking alert herself, cheerful, my father sitting back, 59, our dog, Llyr, and Laura, very young, probably 18 months

I remembered Isobel’s birth, how I went into labor at around 7 or so the evening of May 7th, and when we went to the hospital (we were told it was pre-cautionary before we arrived), we discovered there would be no going home. My contractions were too strong, but some time during the night, they reversed themselves, and I ended having a C-section, this time Jim in the room watching so that the physician, Dr Pillay, made the incision, pushed down hard, and sewed me up temporarily (not an student). Alas, I hemorrhaged, came near death (for a fourth time over bleeding).

I was told the night it was touch-and-go for me, Jim phoned my parents and my mother said, what can we do, pray? and my father, don’t be absurd, there is nothing we can do but wait.

Poor Laura was lost to us for a day or so. Jim was so distraught he had left her with a next-door neighbor and we had told her nothing. Bewildered, where had we gone, why was she not included? not a good start to moderate the inevitable sibling rivalry. I felt very bad about it, but could not reach her. She could not be allowed in. By the time the nurse found me I had lost over a third or so of my body’s blood, was in shock, and had to be completely transfused. Blood coming into your body feels like cold chocolate. They drained my body of all excess fluid too. Exhausting. All the while in the ICU there was a young blonde man who was there in case suddenly I began to die I suppose. I remembered how death in A Christmas Carol was presented as this creepy figure in black; but here he was in a t-shirt, jeans, white jacket, strong as a ox, daring me to do anything he didn’t like.

Here is a photo of Laura, age 15

And here Laura now 2 and 1/2, on a wooden, spring-mechanism rocking horse found in front window of a gambling place (the guys carried it home for me, and she rocked it to bits)

And then the baby then, Isobel (far off in another ICC), forgot to breathe, so the to me mysteriously isolated infant was given blood tests. Persistently on her feet. I protested, tried to stop them but was not listened to. I later discovered the reason was to discover if I had HIV, because I had some sort of cat antibodies in my blood stream that were a mark of this (so suspicion of the woman played a role). How helpless I felt in that hospital. I had to take Isobel home on an apnea monitor that plugged in as they would not give us a battery-operated one unless we paid them $1400 a month (yes).

And here is Izzy at age 14

And here, age 23 or so (I have few of her as an infant)

Home, the machine would squeak and the baby wake up, and us three too. I took to tying a ribbon around her chest to enable me to watch her breathing; Laura got good at re-booting the machine. Izzy throve. Gained weight, was otherwise perfect baby. Even crowed. But four months later when she was declared out of danger, I had a hard time giving the machine up as if magically it were protecting her. My mother-in-law, Jim’s mother had come to visit us (from Leeds, where she, by then widowed for many years, lived near my sister-in-law, a vicar). She helped me by watching too when I was not in the same room as the baby, so I got used to it. She was 72 then; she died 10 years before Jim did. My parents visited too (from NYC), to meet Jim’s mother, see the baby.


Well, today, we had a good moment around 11. I had sent Izzy a lovely Ojolie card for her birthday; when she received it she came into my room and wished me a happy mother’s day. We hugged.

Then around 12:30 she and I headed out for the local Olive Garden where the three of us left — all the others gone — were to meet for lunch. We managed it: the staff was remarkably efficient and I was sitting at a table for 4 within 20 minutes with complimentary wine. Izzy waited for Laura outside; and when the car drove in, they had their meeting and then came in to me. We had a fine lunch. I tried chicken pot pie and had a new spicy kind of light red wine; Laura has shrimp and pasta, Izzy her spaghetti and meatballs. Laura told us about her new full-time job writing for Time-Life online as an entertainment blogger. What kinds of blogs fetch a million hits from women age 21 to 34, plus comments galore: inane commentary and pictures which pass for entertainment news. She’s part of The Rowling Show (Wizards and Whatnot — includes all Rowling’s writing, including mysteries and Casual Vacancy). Games of Thrones (Winter is Coming). Anibundel enjoys her work. I still like her unpaid blog best (and the original now obsolete title: I should have been a blogger), with its recaps of mini-series and fashion reviews. How comfortable it is to work from home, how much time to herself she now has flexibly. She was 6 years old 32 years ago, I 37. And Izzy told us about her doings at the Pentagon library: old microfiches and microfilms have to be catalogued, maybe digitalized. What a mess they are in. No one has looked at them for years and when they were used, the system was inconsistent. How some people walk all around the Pentagon for daily exercise. Izzy is comfortable and super-competent to do her work, and finds it not uninteresting. Sometimes at home she will talk of the texts she’s been looking into and what a librarian is asked to do.

We are home now, Izzy and I. The sun is now shining, it’s not too hot at all, a breeze, both cats in their catbeds near me. Morning I read Constance Fenimore Woolson’s astonishingly good Anne (later 19th century American novel), now I read about Scottish women’s poetry and landscape writing, and finish with Margaret Oliphant’s The Ladies Lindores.

And here is my beloved, the photo on the back says January 2012

Life is heart-breaking.

Miss Drake

Stay for me there, I will not fail
To meet thee in that hollow vale.
And think not much of my delay;
I am already on the way,
And follow thee with all the speed
Desire can make, or sorrows breed.
Each minute is a short degree,
And every hour a step towards thee.
At night when I betake to rest,
Next morn I rise nearer my west …
Henry King, after the death of his beloved wife, his “matchless friend”

“the poet” announced this past Thursday morning on twitter “my darling Jenny @diski has died — perhaps in his arms

Dear friends and readers,

I have just heard the news that Ted Cruz has dropped out of the presidential race; there is no one on the Republican side to stop the coming catastrophe if Trump should win the presidency. Thus it seems tastelessly solipsistic for me to carry on with my calendar diary, each time a few experiences I’ve had,this time since mid-April — without first acknowledging we live under the shadow of a possible social breakdown as a paranoiac and bankrupted state (considering the threatened lawless commercial and totalitarian tactics and tax cuts for the wealthy Trump plans), not to omit nuclear catastrophe. The moral disaster has been with us for a long while; it began a new phase at the time of 9/11. It’s so worrying as Hillary Clinton is so weak with voters: consider her “New College Compact:” lower costs for students, expand Obamacare, family leave, veterans and child services, a surtax on the very wealthy, rates on capital gains, change the immigrant system carefully — all thought out — then Sanders beats her in Indiana.

But what I am to do? I excuse myself with Voltaire’s advice from Candide, ou l’optimisme: like Gorey who has his Mr Earbrass close the curtains, with the crippled Cunegone, he gathers what is left (he has not lost all his sheep), to live on with the exhortation: “il faut cultiver notre jardin.”

Is not Lily James somehow exquisitely appealing in this photograph (from my desk calendar for this week)

The good news I told about on my Austen reveries blog that my proposal for a paper on Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; has been accepted for the coming Chawton House Library conference and my edition of the novel will be out by later this summer has begun to keep me busy. I’ve begun reading away Smith’s letters, on Scottish literature, and Margaret Oliphant’s The Ladies Lindores, a Scottish-English novels which shows the same strains, implicitly international or global and post-colonialist perspective, with an accent on women’s issues found in Ethelinde, and (to allude to my paper last fall) Anne Grant and Anne Hunter’s poetry and prose. I carried on with my women artists blogs (Angelica Kauffman to be specific), Constance Fenimore Woolson (I find the tone of her mind deeply congenial). The course I gave on Making Barsetshire at the AU OLLI came to an end; the people applauded me and were very kind; it was really friendly the last day so that felt good, and to tell the truth, I thought about how Trollope came to make this sub-genre to create a commercially successful career for himself than I had the first time I taught these three books. I gave a first lecture on Austen’s Lady Susan, guest invited at NOVA (this is stuff for a full separate blog). I’ve another two sessions on Gaskell’s profound North and South — it’s l’ecriture-femme structure, deep melancholy sustaining me. I would not have looked for these teaching satisfactions and the worlds I’ve become acquainted with were Jim here.

A thank you card I received from the AU OLLI people

Good moments this time have been as much at home as in theaters, auditoriums, and someone’s house (!).

Calling themselves the Rusticway Chamber Music Series

New experiences. Sunday afternoon (5/1) I went to thoroughly delightful (charming was a good word, tasteful) concert which my friend Phyllis told me about and drove me to. It was two men (Robert Petillo and Alex Hassan) who have not that much fame but highly gifted professional artists who’ve had long careers and played in European concert houses, Festivals around the world, in a woman’s house set up for these kinds of concerts, a series organized by the local community — upper middle class people in a kind of select place called “Lake Barcroft.” It felt like a 21st century variant of private concerts in 19th century genteel homes. Complete with a garden outside, wine and an edible cake-bread and conversation inside afterward. I was struck by one comment: someone asked Mr Hassan if he needed the scores to play; Mr Petillo said the sheet music was for popular use and thus very simplified. I knew what we had heard were varied intricate melodies all intertwined, melodious. How hard it is to get anything serious in this world; you have to train yourself in the initial stages and then look out for the rare serious text of whatever it is. The music played had been mostly the kind of music played in Gosford Park, 1930s and 40s Tin Pan Alley songs (“You oughta be in pictures,” “Youre’ the Cream in my Coffee,” “Taking a Chance on Love,” a couple of Handel’s songs, songs from musicals of the era, long forgotten — brilliantly played by Hassan as virtuoso pianist, so touching and warm, with Petillo the Irish tenor type, Handelian by training. I put my name down on the mailing list and could drive there on my own. I bought a DVD of British 1930s and 40s songs I like.

Charlotte Bronte’s traveling desk

Old. We went the Northern Virginia Library book sale together once again, found a couple of treasures. Thursday evening (4/28). The Vintage Book of Contemporary Poetry for me — superb poetry, I am astonished at how good they are, translations excellent, editor J.D. McClatchy. We went separately to museums. I went to the Smithsonian the next night (4/29) for the best lecture I’ve heard thus far: Deborah Lutz out of her book, The Bronte Cabinet, encountering the Brontes through what was left after death, how they themselves saved bits of one another’s hair, relics, papers. The depths of opening yourself to death, of religious sensibilities, pre-photographic era. Body wants that evening: I had to leave too early to eat, so by the time I got home I feel weak with hunger for supper. I cook for myself a bowl of farfalle, heat sauce. throw on ketchup, with glass of shiraz, better than Noodles and Company. Saturday we saw our last HD opera, Elektra (also must have separate blog). I had picked Izzy up to come with me when I had my hair dyed and cut to have her hair trimmed and for the first time ever she allowed the women to cut her hair more so now it’s trimmed beautifully — it’s still long but like a bow and looks beautiful brushed, and with a ribbon across her head. She took her trip to the museum of American history looking like that, and told me all about an exhibit over Sunday supper.


Returning. I’ve begun journey back to Shakespeare I hope to continue. It began with the birthday — Izzy and I went to the Folger on the 23rd to see The Lost First Play of Shakespeare (by the Reduced Shakespeare Company) . ..

Austin Tichenor, Teddy Spenser, Reed Martin

I enjoyed the abridged group and this is a different or new 3 hours of “fun with Shakespeare.” The one I saw years ago was very like the Fringe theater one or Stoppard’s play. The idea was rapidity and to make fun of the typical way a Shakespeare play feels, how the language is hard for some, and the whole hysterical kind of mood (Voltaire noticed this a while back), the wild melancholy, the coincidences and so on. Plays focused on where the (to modern audiences) strange history plays, the wild tragedies. Now the idea is they’ve found Shakeseare’s lost first play. To some extent they are doing the same thing but not quite. They hardly include the history plays and little of the tragedies — prime fodder for the older type. Instead they try to tell a story combining Ariel and Puck as rivals, with bringing in so many characters and lines from across the plays. The fun was to recognize the original lines and see them displaced, revamped, put in new contexts, with now and again one of the actors did a speech from a play seriously bringing out (to me) the original thought and deep feeling. I’m not sure it worked, at moments they were tedious (to me); they didn’t seem to know when to have done lest they not have given us our money’s worth of inspired silliness, but they had a warm-hearted spirit and they honored Shakespeare thoroughly by the ending.

Ben Whislaw as Richard II (how can he compete with David Morrisey as a brutal Northumberland, Rory Kinnear a wily enimgmatic Bolingbroke)

I did feel I had attended a sort of travesty so I told myself it’s about time I watched my 4 DVDs of Hollow Crown. So that evening I had two and a half more hours: Richard II was beautifully well done and lovingly with attention to detail, depth psychology, scenic designs in perfectly appropriate places (the churches, landscape, rooms) — what struck me and why I’m writing this is the film seemed to be a descendent of the 1972 War and Peace. It is vivifying to see the BBC can still do this — and they did it for Wolf Hall. The elaborate art has changed, there is more symbolism but essentially it was very like and in its likeness was its strength. Many great actors. David Bradley as the allegorical gardener superb. And my favorite Lindsay Duncan was there as the Duchess of York, the vignette of the family life with Suchet as the Duke hardly having any feel for his wife, despising his wife, she too despising their son, but fighting for his life frantically as he is all they have. Ben Whislaw as Richard II’s speeches at the close reminded me of how Shakespeare himself speaks to us through this character. I had forgotten how Shakespeare’s deep depressive insights and radical pouring of himself into his characters began so early.

First shot of Lindsay Duncan as Duchess, a moment of still hope as she turns to look at her son

Then Henry IV Part 1 this past Saturday night: what was remarkable was how realistically they did it, it was not over-produced or over-acted and they spoke the lines as one would ordinary talk. I had never seen anyone try to dramatize what a 13th century battle was like: as vicious as Culloden’s 18th century distraught destruction and our own bombing and fueled horrors today. Simone Beale’s Falstaff”s nihilism to Julie Walters’s much put-upon sentimental Mistress Quickly was pitch perfect. But I learned too — how hard both Jeremy Irons as Henry IV and Tom Hiddleston on the battlefield as Hal played it replicated the heartless ruthlessness of life. How early on Shakespeare rejected the cold manipulative performer and saw how the passion-ridden person is deeply at risk — Worcester keeps from Hotspur Henry IV’s offer to reconcile, Hal’s to have a one-on-one honorable combat to end the day. I was especially moved by Joe Armstrong playing Hotspur to Michelle Dockery’s Kate (son of Alun, who appropriately played Northumberland, Hotspur’s father). As it used to in reading, their wild love and ironies reminded me of Jim and I when young; I remembered Hal’s mockery spoken so swiftly by Hiddlestone as one throws away a joke, but he said it all and yet I cared not what happened in the junkyard of what did not matter when I was young too.


Medium and then close up

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air …
    We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

How better can one pass one’s hours than comforting the self with imaginative truth. I love Shakespeare. I once hoped to do my dissertation on Cymbeline. I’ve read all the plays, some several times, lines from the sonnets run through my head. I taught R2 once, Hamlet once, and Winter’s Tale (a favorite) 3 times. So for me this past Monday night even the popularly conceived Shakespeare Live! on my BBC iplayer was mostly compelling. I had never heard Shakespeare’s speech for Sir Thomas More before: when Ian McKellen said it’s hime and then did it I knew. The words to the cruel idiot mob bent on destroying the stranger immigrants could be said of those voting for Trump today. A ballet of Othello and Desdemona was revelatory of male violence and female shattering. Harriet Walter enacting Cleopatra’s suicide to come nearer Anthony. My favorite Marie-Anne Duff as Lady Macbeth and (again) Rory Kinnear as Macbeth just come from the murder scene. Yet as Anne Elliot says the deep wretchedness and letting go of the self in mutual passion went through my body until I writhed in missing Jim. Paradoxically I grow more wretched, more desperate at night than I ever did before. He is gone and what makes it not a dream is all I am surrounded by, my solvency, the life he has provided for me.


Daniel Berrigan around the time of 9/11 when he commented on what had happened

A younger Jenny, recalling her book smoking through America on a train

More good people gone. Daniel Berrigan at age 94. How that man’s noble soul seems so out of place today.

I have in my house a book of poems by Berrigan, which I can see Jim read, but I’ll chose a less religious one, by Patrizia Cavalli (from my New Vintage Poetry Book) as it is about coping with the death, the loss of a beloved friend:

Now that time seems all mine
and no one calls mefor lunch or dinner,
now that I can stay to watch
how a cloud loosens and loses its color,
how a cat walks on the roof
in the immense luxury of a prowl, now
that what waits for me every day
is the unlimited length of a night
where there is no call and no longer a reason
to undress in a hurry to rest inside
the blinding sweetness of a body that waits for me,
now that the morning no longer has a beginning
and silently leaves me to my plans,
to all the cadences of my voice, now …
— translated by Judith Baumel

And Jenny Diski passed through her agon.

And what do you think, that I couldn’t see you
die around a corner …. if I really think about your death
in whatever house, hotel or hospital bed,
in whatever street, perhaps in air
    about your eyes that surrender
to the invasion: about the ultimate terrible lie
with what you will want to repulse the attack ….
what will survive you
well then, how can I let you go away
— Cavalli trans Baumel

I was expecting it. I had noticed that more LRBs had gone by without her than usual. I had told myself, she must be very ill now, near the end. When a friend emailed me to tell me I cried on and off that morning. I felt her to be an intimate friend, almost. I loved her essays, travel writing, the novels, her book on animals. She spoke up for the vulnerable, the lonely, those who felt and acted differently from many, and for the depressed — as far as I read, she seemed almost never to think cant (well once in a while). I first encountered her in the LRB in a diary entry telling the full truth about when she was raped at age 14. It stayed with me because she was more accurate about how assaults happen: first she did go back with the man to his flat. As I grow more aware of how much my cats are reacting to me, how much they understand, I want to tell her Bundy was waiting for you. I’ve written at length about her too often. Tributes from The Guardian and Tim Adams’s memory of her and the last columns. Robert Laird in the Paris Review characterizes how we now die in the world through the Net and her characteristic tone and stances so well.

Her last gift to us was to tell us blow-by-blow of her experience of cancer. How few do this. Here was courage.

J. Waterhouse, Miranda looking out at the tempest

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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Miss Drake


Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Susan Herbert’s Pre-Raphaelite cat

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


A late book of travel writing by Constance Fenimore Woolson

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

Friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few special moments:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My universe has changed

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

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

— Phyllis Wax

Miss Drake


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