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Firebird-640
Firebird at Wolf Trap

Friends,

Mirable dictu is luckier than I, for she has photos of a thriving large bookstore in her area which has been going for decades, and has included as a customer Barack Obama. If you include the DC area as part of my home area, there are a couple of equally thriving, possibly larger bookstores: Poets and Busboys in central DC, and Politics and Prose in the Northwest are two I’ve gone to. They both survive by hosting lecture series, book clubs, poetry readings, and occasionally even a play or concert (on a small stage). My bookstore memories are of vanished bookstores in Virginia and New York City. Second story used to have a bookstore in Alexandria that filled a long block and was two stories high: now there is a modest exterior (unpretentious they call it) and book filled one in DC, in Maryland and on-line site.

second-story-books-interior
Interior of the couple of mortar-and-cement Second Story bookstores left (DC)

I remember spending hours in such places. Then they had no cafeterias, or most didn’t; they were places occasionally to find a treasure I didn’t know existed. I can’t say that I regret being able to locate precisely the book I want from across the world on-line; I do reach much better books, ones I know I want, no comparison with the book I hadn’t expected. But I do miss the older experience, and especially with Jim in another part of the store. After we had had our finds, we’d come together again. Part of the pleasure was that he was there. In a small way Izzy and I replicate that twice a year in the increasingly smaller Northern Virginia Booksale (potlatch) that takes place in the large George Mason Library (nothing to do with the university): we go together, and we sometimes take as long as half an hour apart, and then find one another with our small stack of books and buy and bring them home.

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Lovelybush
This is the way this flowering bush looked a week and a half ago — no longer

It’s been brutally hot for days and days. Ferocious by 2 in the afternoon. Air unhealthy. 118F index (including humidity, pollution and whatever else goes into that number) this past Sunday. On the Saturday night it was 95F (not the index figure, just the plain fahrenheit number) at Wolf Trap park and most people were covered in sweat, some dripping. We had come to hear Prokofiev’s first symphony and the Maurice Ravel Mother Goose suite, as prologue to Stravinsky’s Firebird. re-allegorized as a history of apartheid in South Africa. The National Symphony played achingly beautifully, and the dance, ballet, and symbolic action for Firebird was done by stick puppets and dancers as conceived by Janni Younge and choreographed by Jay Pather. It was a cumulative experience that felt magnificent by the time they’d done. Izzy’s blog will give you a flavor of the music: she admits we both fell asleep near the very end, it was that hot and we had come to the lecture and had had a long day.

The-Kind-Words
The three siblings

During such times one moves from air-conditioned house to car to building (I go to the gym for Body Strengthening 4, swim as well or long as I can — half an hour) and out to movies. The Film Club at Cinema Art Theater (Va) still goes on and this Sunday I saw the best commercial movie-house film I’ve seen since 45 Years, and before that probably last year’s Film Club’s Kilo Two Bravo: Shemi Zarhin’s The Kind Words. I hope it is released to the general public and turns up at Cinema Art so I can see it again. The reviews I’ve found (Leslie Felperin, TIFF) don’t do it justice.

thefather
They want kind words from him

It is sentimental at moments (it idealizes the family to some extent) but its story of a Jewish girl coerced into leaving her French-Algerian-Arab lover, into marrying an Israeli man, and for years escaping to be with him and (improbably) getting pregnant (three times) to give birth back in Israel. She dies; her husband had left her for a younger woman and discovered he is unable to produce sperm, so we are treated to a half-comic, rueful yet at time deeply felt search by her three children for their biological father. A young woman who has left a loving husband because she’s tired of miscarriages; a young man who is gay but has a child living in another country; a young man who wants meaning and has married a Brooklyn girl and is allowing her and her family into making him into a religious Jew which he is not. He is intolerant towards his gay brother. They and the sister’s husband go in a semi-comic quest for this biological father, and while they do this, they find out more about themselves, learn some humility.

When they find him in a half-abandoned quarter of Marseilles, the biological father (played by the extraordinary Maurice Benichou who has been in Michael Haneke films) is an aging man lives alone with his memories, records and a few books, seemingly poverty-stricken, he will not open his soul (or their mother’s) to them. He will not admit he is their father because (like her sister), he promised not to tell. He asks them, what do they want of him now? It’s a fable against intolerance, nationalism, defining yourself by your religion, ethnicity, status, money. Its greatest line is uttered by Benichou when his biological daughter persists in asking him what is his religion, nationality, and keeps getting a “no” to this one or that (no, he is not Jewish, no he is not an Arab, no he is not French, nor Algerian), he says “why is this so important to you?”

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Izzy and I have had some terrible troubles with our plane tickets for our coming trips: it appears either we did not see or the times for lay-overs were changed, so that when this week I went to double-check our plane reservations before seeing about getting money to pay for the Cornwall cottage, I discovered one includes a 10 hour lay-over in Reykjavit going to England and the other a 17 (!) hour lay-over coming home. I would travel 18 hours to get to London and we a day and three hours to return. That’s intolerable, especially considering the wretched (abusive) conditions one has to endure. I spent 5 hours on the phone a few days ago uselessly, ending up shaking. To change them I have to pay a penalty and change fee that is higher than the round-trip tickets. So I will probably have to swallow and pay for a second set as we cannot tolerate such a long siege in an airport. What we will do is whatever the cost have no lay-over (one stop) and make sure the time is no more than 6 hours going and 8 back. Maybe we’ll splurge altogether and go during the day.

Corporate1percent
Remind me never to buy a plane ticket when I don’t have to cross an ocean

This is not the first time I have been so cheated over travel in an airplane. When I went to Pittsburgh this past spring I preferred to drive a long drive than take a plane; the only train was 10 hours. I met people there who had preferred a bus to a plane. Again no train was truly available. Robert Louis Stevenson’s words came to mind

There is indeed one element in human destiny that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever else we are intended to do, we are not intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business is to continue to fail in good spirits.

And a friend sent me Rose Milligan’s

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
to paint a picture or write a letter,
Bake a cake or plant a seed;
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to siwm and mountains to climb;
Music to hear and books to read,
Friends to cherish and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there,
With the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair;
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go — and go you must —
You, yourself, will make more dust.

ClarycatbehindComputer
Clarycat stretched out in the sun behind my computer – she is reading about Tolstoy too

Pussycat stories help because their troubles seem so much less than ours. (It is a literal torment to think what would happen were Trump to win the presidency.) Why do cats not mew after hours of being stuck in say a closet? After many hours, both of mine will hurl their bodies against the door, and even make sounds, wails. But they will not for a mere two or so.

Earlier this week I noticed about 5 in the afternoon I hadn’t seen Clarycat in quite a while; this is not like her. She does not hide away for a long time. Then it came to me she was stuck somewhere. I finally found her in the back closet clinging to my slippers, looking very upset, and she came out slowly. She was shaking. I asked on face-book if anyone had read anything to explain why cats will not make noises within a reasonable when they are stuck somewhere? I realize at first they are usually not upset; they like to hide, but when they’ve had enough why do they stand or sit there silently waiting. Answers ranged from “Our cats are usually asleep for the first few hours. They only yowl when they wake up and decide they’re hungry,” to “Since cats are small they act like both prey and predator. When trapped, prey behavior is what they exhibit, being quiet so a large predator cannot find them. In this case, that is you.” I liked best: “I think they assume that we will eventually rescue them because they trust us.”

I read a review of a book arguing we are not smart enough to understand how smart animals are, and this made me firmer in my idea that in fact the cat is waiting as it sits there looking like it’s waiting for us, even if at length I was thinking this closet is so familiar to Clarycat and that she can hear us outside it, so she trusts all is well. But if it goes o for too long, with her at any rate, it gets too much for her. As reinforcement: once Izzy and I were out for quite a while; we come back and almost immediately hear this noise from her bedroom. Ian was literally stuck in a drawer. He waited until we came home and when he heard us, having been by himself and probably anxious, he began to make hoise and try to get out on his own. He needed help.

Cats are a great comfort. I’ve found their eyes and face lack the expressiveness of a dog’s and was told that their brains don’t have the same direct access to their face and eyes. Perhaps a myth. I do know their whole body expresses what they are feeling and am with Jane Goodall (and Darwin) in thinking the disimissal of close analogies in physical and emotional expression between people and non-people animals is there; it’s not anthropomorphic to recognize this. Maybe people want to ignore this level of the animal because then they are less convenient, more demanding to have around. But they give and mean it.

They’re funny too. When Ian was kitten like Snuffle-up-agus on the old Sesame Street he would hide the upper part of his body under things and thought because he couldn’t see us, we could see him. At some point he realized that wasn’t so and stopped hiding his head and upper body. Children have to learn this and do so very early, as well as where their ears are. But no one cheats them of thousands, no one abuses them on the edge of decency in a plane because thousands and thousands of dollars have not been extorted for a plane ticket.

waze

And I’m not all incompetence: I returned the 2016 garmin I had paid $180 for when I discovered it had become more complicated to program. I could do all sorts of things with it, including take picture, but I do not want to do these other things, only find my way. So instead (as the old garmin does not work right all the time), Izzy and I downloaded a free app called “Waze” onto our cell phones. I take it into the car with a USB cord and have discovered it gives better directions, apprises me if a cop, car standing in the waiting lane, or wrecked car is near. It has funny cartoons too. When Izzy and I finally figured out how to stop it from talking when we’d gotten where we wanted to go by putting it in sleep mode, here’s the picture that appeared ….

sleep-mode

Miss Drake

Andtothinkwestartedasabookgroup
New Yorker cartoon: On rereading together …

Gentle readers,

I’ve had one marvelous and one worrying experience since I last wrote: I braved the disrupted Metro services last a week and a half ago to spend nearly 7 hours listening to a lecture on and the music of Beatles, and wrote more fully about it on my other blog than the remit of this one allows; I found myself surrounded by huge number of people going and coming from a mass prayer rally (frighteningly delusional and non-questioning, ultimately a political demonstration if only the mass of people would or could acknowledge this).

Yellowfloweringbushsummer
The last of this summer’s flowers

Summer teaching at the OLLI at Mason came to an end: Trollope’s The Small House of Allington went over very well, and I was taken out for lunch by some 14 people in the class today. I keep on teaching at two places because I enjoy and need them both for company and direction, though I don’t have time to present original material at both each term; today confirmed I’m right to do so. I finally finished Adhaf Souef’s Map of Love, whose last pages I found unbearably moving. There are at least four heroines, they blend together from at least four different periods, all indwelling in our narrator’s mind as she sits in her room reading and writing. I had to keep putting the book down as I would look away, or find myself tearing up, calm and then return. The 19th century heroine’s beloved Egyptian husband is murdered, and she returns to England with their son, and finds it in herself to retire from social life, staying at home bringing up her son, with her beloved father-in-law (from her first marriage) to whom she had written regularly across the novel. I so envied her ability to do that. I wish I could have when Jim first died, and wish I could be more like that now.

the-map-of-love-ahmad-soueif

But I’ve had a new invite, which I’ve almost accepted: to give a paper on Ekphrastic patterns in Jane Austen’s writing. A conference on Austen and the Arts (dancing, pictures, music) at a SUNY college in October.

Mirable dictu brought up an interesting topic to which I don’t have a quick answer: which authors do we reread? we don’t reread all authors we decide are truly great. And if we decide to reread, why do we reread this author over and over, and which of his or her books do we favor? Trollope is to me endlessly rereadable. I am ever finding something new, especially if I let a few years go by. That means that far from obsolete, his books “update” themselves, naturally. Anyone who feels like me (there are some I know who find it hard going to get through one Trollope novel, even Dr Thorne)? So too Richardson’s Clarissa. And of course Jane Austen: I’ve read her books so many times they are interwoven into on my soul. I am again re-reading Margaret Oliphant, this time about her novels. I find what she writes sustains me: her strong intellect and deep disillusion, and how she holds out seeing what is all the while. I spend a lot of time rereading — to teach too. With the right author it can give deepening satisfaction. On Trollope19thCStudies we are embarked on a slow reading of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, giving time for people to read other texts by, about, and related to him as we go. I know of two people there who have read and re-read War and Peace.

Also re-watching good films so as to draw more from them. Just now The Hollow Crown once again: I am persuaded these marvelous Shakespeare reproductions are really the old-style BBC mini-series, brilliantly updated but keeping the sterling qualities of the old: lingering pace, inwardness, profound acting, extraordinary dramaturgical brilliance. i am almost to the end of the first season of Outlander: this is my third time through.

It’s probably what one takes from this process of re-going that makes people say they could manage on this or that book for the imagined desert island. For me Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale used to encompass all I needed. Jim used to say he’d want a manual on how to build a boat.

palacelouvregardens
Hubert Robert, The Gardens around the Louvre Palace (1802-3)

I also took myself to a one of these blockbuster exhibit of great art: at the National Gallery, at least 7 rooms given over to paintings and drawings of Hubert Robert (1733-1808), long one of my favorite painters of the 18th century. It made me meditative: not many people came to this exhibit; the pictures were quietly contemplative. This too I want to write at length about and provide pictures elsewhere (Austen Reveries).

I spend long hours alone. What intimate companionship I have is with a few friends here on the Net through letters. Jim had now been dead 2 years and 10 months. I’ve had people say (write) to me, he’s been dead a few years now. That is how they see it. The phrase feels so light. I used to see the world through him; he was my all. Now I see it through so many experiences, passing, closer up (some people talking with more details); I am still puzzled by insistence on some social phrases and emphases that puzzle me (such as to me the silly reiteration on the Republican convention that “members of the party are not here” with the implication of “many,” but that seems to reduce itself to the Bush family, Romney and those Trump treated with shameful derision, so why is this repeated?), but I assume now this emphasis is understood by those who understand social life.

Three of us (it’s down to three) on Wwtta are trying for a group read and discussions again: several years ago we had a real success with a Virginia Woolf summer. I read a good deal of her criticism, some of the life-writing, and The Years (which I loved). Everyone read slightly different books, overlappings of course. The fiction seemed to be preferred. I listened to To the Lighthouse read aloud in my car. Now we are beginning with Hermione Lee’s massive literary biography, reading a bit at a time, hoping that this will re-make a community of sorts slowly. I hope to go off on tangents now and again, read this or that by Woolf.

WoolfsWorkingTableMonkHouse
Woolf’s working table at Monk House

A sad loss: I can’t find my Woolf files. I know I wrote and saved a large set and they have vanished. I probably by mistake placed them on a wrong stem. I’ve no idea how to search my computer efficiently (the engines I know of are crude) and cannot re-located them. I read the Death of the Moth for the first time not long ago, and made a blog of that meditation last year so do have that: Upon first reading The Death of the Moth. From that:

It is extraordinary. To me it seemed about how life is death, that every moment of living is a fierce struggle and exaltation of the particular creature to experience what he or she is capable of feeling. That in that is why animals, including people, carry on. We don’t live on for anything rational or any of the excuses we might give ourselves but simply the experience of being alive as comes deeply natural to our material selves (which includes our mind as part of our functioning brain and neurons). The moth is so fragile and its life so limited but there it is trying to get all it can. …

Moths don’t appear to have a consciousness — at least not one that is coherent and can express itself in any way we can reach. That’s what people so value and some use this to use badly other creatures who seem not to have as much mind — like cats or other mammals we come close to. Her short piece then includes a sense of all living being’s equal rights.

But I love best Woolf’s fierce uncompromising sense that life is death and in death’s wild moment we touch life’s electric essence — my words are inadequate as only poetic images can express this. Now that I’ve come as close as any in having held Jim in my arms in his last moments of being, of being alive, and felt his heart gradually stop and that moment when his being suddenly let go, I know life is death too. We are ever watchful once we awaken until we let go to sleep again, in a state of self-protection, ever keeping ourselves going, drinking, eating, sleeping, keeping warm (or cooler) …

Yet Jim gave in to death, saw it was coming soon, as of August and would not consciously engaged in the fierce struggle. His body did and he couldn’t stop it doing that. Had there been euthanasia available I thought in September that I would have helped him to reach release. The horrible doctors were horrified when I mentioned this. … I know now that I would have made the same choice as Jim did. I felt bad for him sometimes that he could not reach release but I wanted him so to be alive I couldn’t make that thought any more active than inquiring to these deeply inhuman physicians.

But not Woolf’s moth. It would not make this choice for death. Yet there’s Shakespeare’s Duke in Measure for Measure: Be absolute for death says the Duke in Measure for Measure.

I write blogs so I can return to what I wrote seriously.

I called this entry, Marcus Aurelius because one of the reviews of the Hubert Robert exhibit I came across (in the Washington Post) included these words by him:

Everything that belongs to the body is a stream, and what belongs to the soul is a dream and a vapor, and life is a warfare, and a stranger’s sojourn, and after-fame is oblivion.

Most of the time when I come across phrases from Aurelius’s writing, I cling to them; they resonante with me. One of the most profound books I’ve ever read is Eleanor Clarks’ Rome and a Villa (a sort of meditative-cum travel book) where she makes his consciousness her perspective again and again. Now there’s one I should reread.

RomeandAVilla

Miss Drake

Potomac
By the Potomac on the Virginia shore, July 9th

OroonokoPark
Oroonoko Park, facing the other way, July 9th

Dear friends and readers,

I am not sure why I keep this diary-journal up but either I carry on, or I quit. Considering these past two weeks, I am so aware that there is a boasting, possibly show-offy element in my writing up the good times I’ve had, or seeming successes, or just what I’ve enjoyed every couple of weeks, a feeling or characteristic I find is sometimes so falsifying, egoistic, and policing (of the reality of ambiguous experience) on face-book where this sort of thing goes on all the time.

Maybe not so much this last week or so: since Brexit and its aftermath (I was for Remain) and now another two clear-cut ruthless murders of black men by US police in Louisiana and Minnesota (apparently trained to shoot to kill even before any threat or wrong-doing occurs) and a retaliation in Dallas by another of these single young men, this time black and trained by the US military, to use assault weapons accurately and efficiently to kill as many people as possible in a short amount of time — face-book has had less of this kind of thing; all of these popular social media have been filled with commentary on hatred and violence towards “minority” and immigrant populations in the UK and US. They’ve driven from the news the latest Trump ugliness, the results of NATO setting up military zones upon Russian borders after Russia secured the Ukraine, to say nothing of the killing fields of the middle east and the latest suicide bombings in public places around the world where large groups of people congregate.

I was thinking of presenting the way I, Izzy, and our friend, Vivian, spent a second Alexandria Birthday Party together in Oroonoko Park, out under the stars, picnicking, listening to a band play popular movie scores and a few famous military marches and symphonies, especially Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture as prelude to, at 9:45 an outburst, flowering of 20 minutes of fireworks in the sky. In a large park at the edge of the town part of the city, next to the Potomac, a couple of hundred thousand people from the city show up, most of them with picnics, sitting on blankets, or lawn chairs. There are concession stands with ice-cream and pizzas, hot dog, and for free, cupcakes with icing (the “birthday cake” of Alexandria). Speeches from mayor and people like that, music and then fireworks. We parked with greater ease this year, Vivian and I tried for ice-cream (but the line was too long), Izzy wandered along the river. It was good to see this huge bunch of people, black and white intermingling (as well as Asian and Hispanic), sitting together within groups too. All peaceful, no guns. I’m not much for anthems but remarkably when the anthem begins to play, without any one policing all stand up in a group and seem to sing along. It was mostly democratic throng; they would have most of them lit up had Bernie Sanders come. We had a good time. It felt like the city had come out when we drove home as the streets were overwhelmed by cars. It took over an hour for us to drive back to where we live off Little River Turnpike, where it is usually a 10 minute drive. People were walking every where home too. All seeming cheerful.

But on the following morning I was brought up short. Each week I make an effort to shop in the morning at Giant because on weekends, an ex-student of mine, a young black woman, aged early 30s, is a cashier, and we manage to have quick but good talk together. She remembered me first (she was in my class some 13 years ago): she has a good degree, and even a masters but has to work 6 and 1/2 days a week it seems to make ends meet: she supports her mother, her child, herself, and now her coming wedding to a long-time boyfriend by 5 days in a local prison where she has an office job, and on the weekends at Giant. I told her about the fireworks in the context of quick comments about the week’s dire events: her reply was she didn’t go to, and would not take her small daughter to such large community events, stays away from this “sort of thing.” I heard her and replied, “Better safe than sorry.” I then thought a bit and realized that the number of black people at the July 9th event was much smaller proportionally than our black population. Those there were fully integrated, but they were decidedly in the minority. Hardly any Muslims. More hispanic and Asian people.

How white people do not begin to imagine what a black person’s life is in the US on a daily basis. I just know were this young woman white she’d not be working 6 and 1/2 days a week and would have a job more commensurate with her education. It is sad to think that this young woman is shut out. She knew about “the birthday party.” This keeping away has been her policy since a young girl. This is the life of an intelligent highly educated black young woman in the US

For the fourth of July I had listened to James Earl Jones reading Frederick Douglas’s “What to the slave is the fourth of July?”, listen to Howard Zinn on the “three holy wars” (showing that no war is a good war, none worth it, all started by, shaped, and in the end benefiting only the wealthy and powerful), and then the nearly 4 hour Hamlet with David Tennant as Hamlet, Patrick Stewart as Claudius, and Penny Downie as Gertrude.

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As with HD opera, and the Hollow Crown series (R2, H4, H5; H6 and R3), it made such a difference to have the actors close up; I saw what a great leap into subjectivity Shakespeare had made when he made Hamlet’s psyche the play itself, and from some Net talk with a friend realized the breaking down of stereotypes for men (so that they are vulnerable) and for women (individualistic, strong) in the Tudor Henry VIII and Elizabeth I plays is found in Shakespeare’s history and tragic plays too.

hamletPennyDown

My proposal for a paper on “Men under Pressure in Tudor plays: Overturning Gender Stereotypes,” was accurate, and maybe next summer I’ll get back to the subject as a project. Another Net friend who spent her July 4th watching the Hollow Crown, play after play, wrote me that she came to a similar argument: Hillary withstood another humiliation; strong and individualistic women then and now are punished — in these Tudor plays and Shakespeare too.

BluerShadeofBlue
A Bluer shade of blue; my new 2016 mini-Prius

Le pièce de résistance: what felt like and was a bold daring act (for me): I bought another car, a second one on my own. I invented its name: mini-Prius. It’s a PriusC Type 2. I have for quite a while been dissatisfied with the hatch-backed 2010 Prius I bought so hastily in January 2014 after I totaled the 2013 grey PriusC Jim and I had bought together as a car for the two of us to use in our retirement together. The 2010 HB Prius was just too large; there is no proper back window; the right side view is utterly obscured. I never got a sense of where it ended; it rattled. The last straw was I finally hit my right fender on another car in a parking lot: I didn’t realize the damage I’d done to my fender until I got home. I had thought it a light tap. That smash on the right back side came from not seeing properly and not having a good sense of where the car ended.

I had gone to have an oil change and scheduled check-up (like one does for one’s cats) this past Friday and was told I had a $500 bill to fix the body and do other things. I said, I was thinking of buying a new small Prius and could they show me one if they had a new or used one. Within a half-hour the salesman had produced a car that was just what I wanted: I wanted the same car or as close as I could to what I had in order not to have to learn a new dashboard. It’s much smaller. I could see out the back window; I had full vision from the right back; he took off those high head rests. I have room in the front which I didn’t before. My dashboard is simpler (I actually have less gadgets). I have a gear box again. A key, a real key with the computer gadget as part of it. And it’s even more efficient on gas than was the 2010. $14,600 after I traded in my 2010. This new one lacks a GPS system, but then so did the 2010, and today I bought myself a new garmin as the old one has been failing. I’m much more comfortable driving it. I’ll grow to have a sense of where it ends. Calm. It’s as close to the compact Chevy Cavalier I had for 20 years.

I did make a fool out of myself by falling for another $400 (!) sealing-in of my car’s color: I was told some malarky story about how water-based paint will fade, insects and leaves will get struck, the rain is acidic and I will just have to have it waxed once a month, and this wonderful sealing will do the trick. I know how I begin to panic when I am inside the machine car washes and waxes inside my car. I did it once and never will again. But as the salesman phoned for the mechanic to do this in another part of the store, I realized how silly this was perhaps, I’d been had, but it was too late. However I resisted all other add-ons and proposals.

There is a larger context, another final impulse. It is now difficult (time-consuming and awkward) to get into DCby train. If there is to be no Metro for however long I will have to drive into DC, and this past Saturday I was stopped by a police officer for a traffic violation in an encounter that resembled Sandra Bland’s except there was no escalation into violence. On the contrary, the police officer gradually became polite. Still it was scary (read about it here). So I need a car I feel comfortable in and can feel safe from police because I can drive it calmly. It’s not my old Chevy Cavalier but it may be the closest thing I could get in a modern car.

You might say these are successes but this time I am providing a genuine larger social context.

Clary
ClaryCat waiting inside

My last not very significant adventure has a context too. I lost the key to my house for the first time ever in 33 years of living here. The context here is I hadn’t taken measures to provide for someone having a key to let me in now that Jim is not here. I have vague memories of having to phone him for help like this; it might have been I was locked out for some other reason. As I told the two women I was having lunch with before going home that day, I remember at no time when Jim was not traveling (and he traveled very rarely as most of the time he didn’t care for it) that he was unavailable to help me. He would leave meetings: I could phone him and he’d pick up; I could drive to wherever he was and he’d come out. He’d drive to me if necessary, drop everything. I suppose my not sleeping deeply or more than 4 hours at a stretch because I didn’t feel I needed to as he was doing that sleeping for me, and if I grew tired or needed a nap, he’d be there was an analogous stance. We were utterly intertwined, our existences functioning as part of a pair.

What happened was I left my house to go to teach, and as I climbed into my car, I felt my house and car key entangled and disentangled them. I thought I put the house key onto the dashboard and then used the car key, but as I drove away and looked I saw the house key was not there. Panic and upset driving to teaching. I told myself I dropped the house key on the car park. Still I was somewhat distracted while teaching, and then the anxiety and worry grew during the lunch so driving home I found myself going faster and faster so as to get the experience over with when I arrived. I get there and no house key on the car park.

Suffice to say I broke in. I knew what window was openable and climbed in over the piano. The cats were startled. I remembered a time years ago when pregnant with Izzy, I locked myself and Laura (with me at the time) out of my car. I didn’t phone a locksmith or police. I went over to a nearby cleaner’s when I was able to push one of my driver’s side windows slightly askew. I took a hanger and made a tiny circle and after about an hour’s effort had opened the car by myself. That key was on the dashboard.

But it was upsetting. Later that day I had two more sets of keys made, and now my friend, Phyllis, has one and I can call her if I lock myself out. I put the third in my car permanently.

On the house: I finally saw my contractor and went with him to buy a new front and back door, and screen, and found him to be an honest decent man, I am now looking forward to a decently priced renovation of my kitchen, new front and back doors, a smoke detector system, two of the doors in the house removed, the other five painted (they are a mess). By August he’ll have painted the kitchen, I’ll have new cabinets I can reach, a new sink and working faucet, and a newly painted room.

I’ve a hunch I’ll be satisfied with the price and ask him to enclose the screen porch and make a modest room which is usable. The early years we used the porch for when it was super-hot and we didn’t have central air-conditioning: we ate on that porch (scandalizing the neighborhood), but since we have had central air, it’s a lost space. I feel a bit absurd as there is only me to use the room and maybe Izzy. But I have wanted to enclose it for some 20 years: it gets so filthy, the screens tear, the cement slab gritty and soaked. With a floor, walls, heat, electricity, it could be another small area for an exercise machine. A radio. More bookcases. A small TV or computer screen. Maybe I’ll put a large window facing out.

I will also at long last have the house painted a sensible color. I will remove the mortification of living in this light blue house. I’ve lived with this color (it has faded somewhat in 23 years) since 1993 when the contractor refused to do blended colors and when I saw the color, Laura made fun of it, and Jim said we’d spent the money. To try to get rid of the paint often made things worse, he said. Another $5000 thrown out. My choice will be a cream color that one of the contractors I’ve hired over the years to renew said porch painted the brick wall that separates the house from the porch. I will be sure to write into a contract, blended color.

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Izzy, a photo taken on the morning before she holidayed briefly in NYC

The degradation, danger and failure of the Metro system prompted Izzy to take off the first three days we lost a major connective piece of our yellow and blue lines here in Virginia. She stayed at the Larchmont where the air-conditioning was discovered not to be adequate for the heat the city was having. But she found that the cafe on the corner that I liked so did have scrumptious breakfasts, and she enjoyed her three hectic days in NYC: Tuesday night when she arrived, all day Wednesday and Thursday.

Here are her photos of the park after she reveled for a couple of hours in the Pegamon and Hellenistic exhibit.

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The Met by the side of the park as the sun begins to set

On Wednesday she waited for hours in lines to see the last live 5-10 minute show in the street. “If you have a slip and you’re not moving, you’re doing it wrong,” she said. With Lin-Manuel Miranda reading aloud a letter Hamilton wrote to Eliza Schuyler. She was exhilarated by the experience and will remember the brief skit and reading for a long time to come. She did enter the on-line lottery to see Hamilton but like most entering, was not one of those chosen by chance. See A farewell to #Ham4Ham

So that’s the news from Lake Potomac where in our house we have no men but Ian pussycat and all our women are surviving as best they can.

Miss Drake

EllenSaturdaymorning
Photo of me taken by Izzy, July 3rd

Sorrow is not the same as sadness:
For me it’s been a great dissolver
It has washed away many emotions
that used to actuate me
however obscurely, however blindly
however misunderstood.

Sorrow is not the same as sadness:
Too late to find replacements now,
or too unable, too outside,
So other previous
actuating emotions
there still
are experienced
in the silence
in this still flood
on-going,
of cleansing loss, of
scooped out hopes.

Sorrow is not the same as sadness:
all cannot be lost, or
parted from,
memories to carry on
however painful, however re-seen,
happiness
companionship
known once upon a time.

Sorrow is not the same as sadness:
washing away, this continuing
sorrow
A sudden feeling of sturdy
independence, enjoyment comes,
In waves.
Sorrow is not the same as sadness.

Ianbehindcomputer

Sorrow is not the same as sadness.
A desire to see others
as they are,
extends to my awareness of
my cats’ active presence,
interactions with me they cannot put
into talk.
Considerate to them too now,
Their awareness.

ClaryCat
ClaryCat

Quiet have I found thee here?

Miss Drake


You can’t be forever blessed ….

Dear friends and readers,

Summer is undeniably here now (I went swimming in our Alexandria Community Center this afternoon), and I’ve kept up my usual busy schedule, trying to join in where I can. It seems to me I’m in yet a new phase of grief or living without Jim. Time is a tube I move through, some strange fantasy place, the time as this tunnel of space all around me, that itself has a floor that I keep moving on like some amusement park walkway. I wonder where I am on this road as I carry on. How far I’ve gotten. How far to go. It is continuous and feels slow during the day and yet the days, weeks, months now whizz by. No one to put the burden of being alive off on, no letting go, sharing it, but by myself to keep it up. For me being alone is tiring.

The lone widow. Vedovo parlando. Companionless. Above the women in Calendar Girls (one of my favorite movies, among the first I ever bought a DVD for): the movie shows us their individual stories and most of them are alone when we meet them (prophetic): that’s why the WI means so much. Divorced, separated, with a daughter, a few with husbands with whom there is little companionship. In the gym where I go, at OLLI, the women outnumber the men 4 to 1. (True, the manifestation of gender is skewed as many men don’t join such groups.)

Since I last wrote this way, I’ve been to Wolf Trap twice more after I so enjoyed Garrison Keillor’s last Prairie Home Companion show. I heard — barely saw — Jackson Browne with my neighbor-friend, Sybille. With her I buy lawn tickets and when we start from home, we have to leave too late to get a spot on the lawn near enough to see the show. I did buy a picnic supper for the first time in my life, and am glad to say it went over well with her (I managed to buy what she liked, a kind of pasta salad with artichokes in it, zucchini grilled, melon and other fresh fruits, white wine). The star singer was Jackson Browne. I recognized some of his music from the 1960s, beautifully played and sung, though it brought back no specific memories. These older and some new and latest songs testify to his having a humane outlook; he was biting over the monster Trump. But neither he or his band were varied enough to entertain or hold an audience for two hours; I thought he made the mistake of telling a story of how people fall asleep at his concerts or after the break don’t come back. It was a chilly night, and while, luckily for me, I had brought a sweater, my friend hadn’t, so we left early — and instead of an hour and more wait to get out of the park, it took five minutes (although we were not the only people leaving early).

I’m going again with her this coming Wednesday to (I hope) see as well as hear Bob Dylan. We decided to meet at the park so we can get there much earlier to be part of the lawn where we may see him and the stage.

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Paul Simon and his band Monday night

With another friend who doesn’t mind spending more to sit inside the structure I saw and heard Paul Simon. I again succeeded with the second picnic supper I bought: she really appreciated all I tried to do (I bought a slightly less elegant sort of meal, and brought ginger ale and bread) and enjoyed herself I could see. I could get tickets we could afford only at the back and at the top, but we could see the stage clearly. Vivian pronounced them “very good seats,” and said she liked how we saw the stage immediately. I put one of his older songs (above) which he sang recently at an award ceremony; he ended his concert with that. And I was thrilled and moved as I seemed for a moment to be transported back each time he sang one of his and Garfunkel’s famous tunes. Jim and I were among the enormous crowd in the 1970s when he and Garfunkel sang in Central Park.

Yet I have to admit his new music is remarkable, it’s of this decade, edgy, menacing, filled with tunes and folk songs from Africa and other non-European cultures. A couple of members of his band played solo with strange-sounding instruments as well as the usual guitars and cellos — it was intensely rhythmic, alive. The band was compelling to listen to. Some of his new lyrics are timely-bitter: in one he gets locked out of his own concert, and cannot get back in because he lacks a magnetized wristband. He can be so comforting but this night rather than the anguish of existence as he and his partner once did, he brought out what troubles us in reality.

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I will go all around the mulberry bush with the orange and silver lines when I can reach them instead of my usual blue and yellow lines

I have one more lecture at the Smithsonian for this summer: an all day, 4 part marathon (so to speak) on the Beatles. Wish me luck that I get there. I should as although starting this Tuesday, the two trains which go into DC from where I live will stop at a Virginia stop, and passengers must get out, go downstairs, and take a shuttle bus to a stop far away, just outside DC, and then resume travel again. It may take me more than as hour rather than the usual half hour to get to the Smithsonian, but given it’s an all day event it’s still worth it.

But I won’t be going to the Capital Fringe Festival this year as just about all the programs are an hour long and some might take me as long as two hours to get too. Four hours travel for an hour event which might not be that good would be an ordeal. Maybe it’s just as well since last summer and especially the first after Jim died I forced myself to go well outside my comfort zone to find places. Maybe I was proving to myself I could carry on living the life I did with him in part. I have yet to learn what parts of that life I want and can enjoy and what parts are too much for me — that I don’t enjoy them without him, or maybe (as it sometimes feels) at all.

Self, self, self. What I should be saying is this disgrace, that a major city in the US has an subway system which has become dangerous because no money has been put into it for upkeep shows just what “inequality” is about. The 1 to 10% pay no or little taxes and live with every luxury. I’m told I should take alternative routes. An Uber cab would be $70 into DC. I don’t have a chauffeur. And Mr Trump promises to cut billions more from corporate and wealthy tax-payers. Paul Ryan’s great agenda for which he endorses Trump? he means to destroy Obamacare, Medicare, erase Medicaid, and smash social security to bits.

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Sergeant’s portrait of Stevenson stalking across the room, Fanny lying on the sofa wrapped in an extravagant outfit, between then an open door, a stairway, a dog at the threshold

I did manage to get to a marvelous lecture on Robert Louis Stevenson though. It took four trains and getting a little lost at one point, and two trains back, but they came quickly and travel time was still less than the length of the lecture. It was by Stephen Arata, chair of the University of Virginia English department, and chief editor of a complete edition of Stevenson slowly coming out. When they finish it will be 39-40 volumes. I don’t know if I can convey it: I took copious notes.

Stevenson is just so much more than the famous boys’ novels and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; he’s a writer of exceptional versatility and range, a virtuoso style, just under the surface acerbic, uncanny, unsettling, himself an intense spectral creature whose life was one long illness (he seemed to come near death so many times – he coughed blood all his life), yet he lived vibrantly in Edinburgh, across Scotland, London, France, the western US, and at the last the South Sea Islands. Arata talked of his travel writing, essays, remarkable stories of moral ambiguity, dark, letters, and in finally post-colonial condemnations of the way native people were treated. Of course his wife, Fanny Van de Griff Osbourne was part of the nearly 3 hours; her first husband alcoholic, violent; their affair in France, his crossing in steerage in an emigrant ship and train. Her son by her first husband became close to Stevenson in later life. He had illuminating photos of Vailima (the vast mansion he had built for himself and family). In the question section he talked of Stevenson’s relationship with other Scottish writers (including some words of praise for Oliphant’s Beleaguered City)

Stevenson’s texts hold a special meaning for me. My father would read aloud books he longed for me to like — because he liked or respected them. Among these were Stevenson’s “The Sire de Maltroit’s Door” and “A Lodging for the Night.” And when my father died I said over his grave the poem Stevenson had engraved on his

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me: 5
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

We had the second film for the film club: LeCarre’s Our Kind of Traitor, which I’ll re-see Monday (see Anthony Lane or Manohila Dargis). One could could read it as LeCarre for Brexit. We are in the vile world of the super-luxurious 1% making these global deals whose billions of dollars are (in a speech by Damien Lewis as our moral spy) the product of of millions of people’s blood and misery. It has not been understood but then neither was A Most Wanted Man.

Teaching is an important resource — I now recognize many of the people in the class. Many have been with me for more than 2 courses now. I find I have to refer to the 1st three Barsetshire novels (spring 2015) and Framley Parsonage (last summer) as we move through The Small House at Allington.

Small victories: I’ve begun going to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday once again. A thriving place. I’m now buying only free-range chickens and pork, and I buy from a stand of a local Maryland farm. I buy peaches, tomatoes, and find English cheese too (imported). Lettuce. I find in the supermarket that nowadays there are vew few fruit juice drinks. Much seems to be chemically flavored carbonated water with blended flavors; it tastes metallic. So I bought myself a six-pack of genuine pineapple from Amazon; I can find in Whole Foods Ocean Spray real grapefruit juice. I mix them together in a glass, put in ice and voila, something I can recognize as juice and drink, not over-sweet.

DavidCase
The cover of the CD cassette case for David Case’s reading of War and Peace

Days I read away; nights I watch movies. I have now gone through the 20 episode War and Peace by Jack Pulman, and the 6 episode War and Peace by Andrew Davies, and have begun listening to the novel as translated by Constance Garnett and read aloud so well by David Case. In two weeks we are on Trollope19thCStudies going to begin a long-time slow reading of War and Peace, with people invited to read biographies, criticism, watch movies. I mean even to write a blog advertising this to see if we can get other people to join us (for the first time in a long time I’ll do this).

I started to listen to this ahead of time: my text will be the Maude translation as revised by Mandelker and the new Oxford text/edition I have is unbeatable. Not just maps, but wonderful notes which bring home to me how much the novel is also sheerly history and how truly intertwined with history the story and characters are. It’s remarkably intricate. By reading the notes in the new Oxford you can a history of the period focused out of 1805 — the allegiances, the alliances. The focus is Napoleon in the notes as he is the pestilential mover here — reacted by utterly self involved inadequate people. The great man of the book, the General who does all he can to avoid killing and destruction, Kutusov, is as yet just mentioned in passing (Frank Middlemas was superb in the part).

I wish Case were reading aloud one of the other translations than Garnett: as I listen and them maybe compare I discover she is often general, or doesn’t name a character where Maude/Mandelker does. The latter text is more precise; it’s as if Garnett did not expect the reader to pay close attention to the history, to really take the novel to be part history. But I do love Case’s way of reading, his voice. I don’t feel so very alone because I can listen to DVDs in my car. The person reading the book meant for me to hear him or her. For a very long time I’ve used DVDs of great books read aloud this way (also good ones), even when Jim was alive. It has filled my world with presence. How perceptive Penelope Fitzgerald was when she names her book about the BBC radio Human Voices.

AsNatashaMoragHood
Morag Hood as Natasha takes us through her long growing up into when she’s a woman: she is unbearably moving at Andrei’s dying scenes (W&P 1972)

Still as I’m listening to this previous text, I find it’s all in English. I peeked at Maude and some of the text is in the original French (with translations into English at the bottom). It’s such a different experience and differently valuable. For now I’m comparing the novel to the films. I find that Tolstoy’s text is so much harder, so much less sentimentalized than either Pullman or Davies (very humane, adding kindly touches, making the characters so much more loving) and so much more there than Bondarchuk — from Anna Pavlova Sherer, the maid of honor to the Empress whose party begins the novel — a cunningly political woman, a fixer in social life, to say (importantly) Andrei Bolkonsky. The latter in all the film is made so much nicer, kindly really; we never know why he is so depressed quite. Davies’ hints that his wife, Lisa is so dumb and boring but not that Andre is just killed inwardly by this arranged marriage. He is so bitter and she is so desperate: she is characterized/compared to desperate frantic poignant animals; he is so bored, he is so frustrated, he hates the social life he finds he must go through. Tolstoy brings out how arranged marriages ignore the reality of marriage itself really so sharply this way. It is probably not acceptable to bring out this level of reality in a marriage in films: it makes this reader remember all the repressions one must practice, all one must give up to remain at peace in a marriage. I had to do that too.

I writhe with tears, my face suffused as James Norton as Andrei dies slowly in Davies’s film. I’ve watched it four times.

AndreiandMaria
Andrei (James Norton) and his sister, Marya (Jessie Buckley) (W&P, 2015)

I’d like to go to a beach but have no one to go with. This is a place swallowed up by developers except for the parks set up in the early 20th century. So to go to a beach one must drive a full day and stay in a cottage – say Maryland, say way out in West Virginia, Delaware. I have to remember that except when we were in New York City and went to Jones Beach (a pretty place) on Tuesday or Thursday morning, setting out at 8:30, taking our dog Llyr who loved to play near the water and was allowed on one beach, one beach we found a long time ago in Rhode Island, once in Quebec, most of our attempts at beach-going were a misery. I have little tolerance for tourist traps. He had this super light skin and was in danger of burning so on a beach he’d lather up and sit under an umbrella covered with towels. He would go in the water briefly and rush back to the umbrella.

We did try some six times: we drove all the way to Maine twice, once to Mount Desert Island, telling Izzy we were following one of her novels where a characters’ family who live in Princeton, New Jersey, go to Mount Desert Island (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing). We enjoyed that first time because the island was so quiet; we heard the loons. We three went twice to Vermont to stay in a Landmark trust house and we swam in a lake twice that week. We enjoyed best again the first time. The last time Jim and I went to the beach with both daughters once again, it turned out such a misery (I can’t tell how this came about, why), that he came down with excruciating pain in his upper thigh, and insisted on himself driving us home on the third day.

At first we hated the heat in Virginia and DC intensely — it is often ten degrees higher than NYC. How I envy the British whose weather I look at daily too. Gradually we accustomed ourselves, but we escaped to England a number of times once we had the money because there we could enjoy walking in the middle of the day, exploring landscapes, the beaches. otherwise went on long drives to plays in the Berkshires each day almost. Once to rent a house near Glimmerglass and that went well. Him, Izzy and me. We saw all four operas and we took long walks. The year he was so sick, he had planned a four day excursion to New York State near Glimmerglass, booked for a room in a pretty hotel, with tickets for 2 operas and 1 concert. We would have been gone 4 days. By the time that August rolled round he was deadly ill and there was no way he could make it, much less enjoy anything at all.

I have read half-way through Elena Ferrante’s La Figlia oscura (The Lost Daughter), Italian in one hand and English underneath as a crib. I just tonight realized it’s about a woman who goes to the beach alone one summer alone. She left her husband a number of years ago, and while she had two of her daughters with her at first (and acted abjectly before them, allowing them to use her as a doll — oh that makes me cringe, I’d never), they moved back with their father. A third has estranged herself altogether. But the novel itself is about her time on this beach, watching a family, and in her flat marking papers and grading for a course she had just finished teaching, and reading for her next course and dreaming, thinking, feeling. I’ve not yet finished. She steals the cherished doll of one of the children on the beach and has just been found out. The picture on the cover is the back of a doll with her dress opened at the top — like a patient in a hospital.

sous-le-sable
Charlotte Rampling, Sous la Sable (her husband just goes missing)

The whole of the painful focus has been on her past, on the cruelties and stupidities and also occasional kindnesses of the life she sees before her. But now I think maybe Ferrante should have focused on that beach time itself, the stillness of the air, the water, the courage to be there and then in that room. That’s what Jenny Diski might have done. Ferrante’s novella just misses greatness because it’s not on the past in the present.

Most of my time I’m here alone in my small room with computers, my good friends on the Net and my loving, playful, patient cats nearby — to keep me imagined company. I re-watch Calendar Girls (whence my new header) and Miramax films (Remains of the Day this week) very late at night. I find it so stressful to go to a new place or in a new way I’ve not been to or done before. This does not get any better. I drove to DC yesterday (Thursday), a trial run to see if I could do it, and became so nervous I took a turn I should not have and got a ticket from a police officer. Very distressing. A warning to myself not to panic and also take the Metro when I can or don’t go. Thus no Fringe Festival. No beach without a friend.

I should not forget before I seem too much to lament my lot: in 1916 on July 1st, something like 60,000 people were killed at the battle of the Somme. How could this happen? how human beings behave like this? How account for time and change from then, these years since, the horror of that day repeated in little endlessly. Have I said both War and Peace films I’ve been watching are deeply anti-war?

The sounds of silence …
But we’re all right …

Miss Drake

TinaBlau_kanal_in_holland (Medium)
Tina Blau (1845-1916, Austrian landscape painter), A canal by the North Sea

Another of Izzy’s songs:

I fancy this is one of the Beatles’ less familiar songs so begin with the lyrics:

I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me…
She showed me her room, isn’t it good, norwegian wood?

She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere,
So I looked around and I noticed there wasn’t a chair.

I sat on a rug, biding my time, drinking her wine
We talked until two and then she said, “It’s time for bed”

She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh.
I told her I didn’t and crawled off to sleep in the bath

And when I awoke, I was alone, this bird had flown
So I lit a fire, isn’t it good, norwegian wood.

Here is Izzy’s blog, where you can comment if you like. I’ve reblogged it too:

The original album cover:

David-Santy-Norwegian-Wood-This-Bird-Has-Flown-Cover
David Santy, The Bird Has Flown

Miss Drake

brickdale
This (“Ugly Princess”) is the image wanted for George Eliot’s Romola (by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, 1902)

The face of all the world is changed, I think
since I first heard the footsteps of your soul.
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Dear friends and readers,

This past week I returned to my project of writing blogs on women artists: their lives and work (Joanna Boyce Wells to be specific), and came across this line of poetry, which made me remember Jim in the later phases of our marriage, when we ended up in Virginia and were thrown back on one another; and a picture new to me from one of two new books, Jan Marsh and Pamela Gerrish Nunn’s Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists, both filled with strangely beautiful images and women artist’s names and something of their lives and art. I will be writing from these two books on Austen Reveries for a long time to come. One image from them lit up my mind, of Spillman’s of Dante looking to Virgil to lead him through hell, made me remember how Jim and I used to read Allen Mandelbaum’s translation of the Commedia together now and again: I began to read Dante because Jim loved the Commedia and eventually I taught myself to read Italian so I could read, study and translate women poets of the Italian Renaissance.

DanteVirgilSpillman
Marie Spartalli Spillman (1844-1927, Dante and Virgil in the Dark Wood — Dante to my eyes last night looking like a young woman

I am almost to the end of listening to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as read aloud magnficently mesmerizingly by Gildart Jackson: Shelley’s is an astonishingly original book, with extraordinary for its time new ways of thinking, talking, writing, feeling about death. She was someone deeply griefstruck by loss and life. While indirect (made explicit in Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein film) Frankenstein’s urge to create life comes out of his creator’s urge to bring back those death has destroyed:in the film, his mother, in Mary’s life her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, her babies all but one by Shelley and probably others I don’t know of. Passages like this:

I need not describe the feelings of those whose dearest ties are rent by that most irreparable evil, the void that presents itself to the soul, and the despair that is exhibited on the countenance. It is so long before the mind can persuade itself that she whom we saw every day and whose very existence appeared a part of our own can have departed forever—that the brightness of a beloved eye can have been extinguished and the sound of a voice so familiar and dear to the ear can be hushed, never more to be heard. These are the reflections of the first days; but when the lapse of time proves the reality of the evil, then the actual bitterness of grief commences. Yet from whom has not that rude hand rent away some dear connection? And why should I describe a sorrow which all have felt, and must feel? The time at length arrives when grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity; and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed a sacrilege, is not banished. My mother was dead, but we had still duties which we ought to perform; we must continue our course with the rest and learn to think ourselves fortunate whilst one remains whom the spoiler has not seized (Chapter 3, 2nd paragraph).

lucymadoxbrownnargaretroper
Lucy Madox Brown, Margaret Roper rescuing the head of her father, Thomas More (1873) — only a mad picture can capture the truth of women’s experience as told to us by Mary Shelley

The monster grieves because he can’t share the burden of his existence with another, he can neither lean on someone or be leant on.

For the course in 19th Century Women of Letters I hope to teach this fall at the OLLI at AU (if they can find parking for participants) I’ll be “doing” Frankenstein with a class, and hope this week to try and then read through Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws on the mother and daughter. I daren’t do Romola as it’s too long and erudite: I conquered it, by listening to Nadia May read it ever so dramatically, touchingly on books-on-tape one summer so I’ve chosen a short story, “Janet’s Repentance” and we’ll read on-line if I can find it, and Eliot’s review of Madame de Sable, a 17th century woman of letters on how “the mind of woman has passed like an electric current through the language of French at the time, and began feminism in books.

When did I begin my feminism? what led to my seeing the world anew and comfortingly, strengtheningly, in which I could see a meaningful purpose for me to work through out of which I started to work on women novelists, women poets, and now women artists.

I was talking with two friends, one in her sixties and the other 72 (I am 69) yesterday over lunch about our “feminism” and I said I did not “convert” until the early 1990s because locally the only feminists I ever saw or knew were to me snobbish, exclusive upper middle girls/women. all white, who I saw as ambitious careerists (a no no for me, especially as seen in these girls) who cared nothing for anyone but wanted power and to show off, girls part of exclusive coteries (meaning from which I was excluded), the AP types who went to name colleges. It was not until I came onto the Net (1992) and met other women and came into contact with books that could speak to me that I began to see the good purpose of the movement. Woolf and highly literary women did not speak frankly and directly enough in ways I could recognize my experiences: A Room of One’s Own mattered but only theoretically and about older literary studies. An unearned income of £500 could mean nothing to me.

Then it happened: crucially for me I saw that for the first time I was given a language in which I could talk about what I had experienced sexually starting around age 12; I found other girls had had the same experiences as I (once I tried to tell a girl and after another girl came over the told me, why did you tell her that, now she is telling everyone, and I was shamed, and never told anyone again for years and years); for the first time I didn’t blame or berate myself but saw a system set up to crush me. The book that made the difference was Mary Pipher Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls; also important were Promiscuities by Naomi Wolf and (covering other areas of de-construction written in a language that I could understand) Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today: A User-friendly Guide. I used the last again and again in teaching after that (not assigning it as I never taught any upper level feminist or theoretical courses), as a help with my own lectures about books. See Signs, Short takes.

lucymadoxbrownduet
Lucy Madox Brown, Duet (1870)

This is the hardest summer yet. My third without my beloved, the admiral as I used to call him. Summer is hard in ways the other seasons aren’t except at ritual holidays marking passing of time and evoking memory. It seems everyone is having a good time. They go to the beach, take lovely trips, and these sorts of things are not done to see historical or other sites but to be together and happy. I felt left out as do I find many widows. The beach too: I had a strong fit of deep grief when I went to the beach with my friend last January in Florida. I just went to pieces because it is such an emblem of life too. There’s even a term for it: STUG (sudden tremendous upsurge of grief). I watched The City of Your Final Destination this week again for the sake of one line: uttered Laura Linney as the dead man’s widow, though it could have been Anthony Hopkins as the dead man’s gay brother.

How could any outsider
understand this place
or what it was like
to all live here together
or what it’s like now
without him?
— Ruth Jhabvala Prawer, the script outof Peter Cameron’s novel

So for the sake of my heart (literally) I am only going to those few Fringe Festival events that are close by, easy to get to, and classical and good plays I recognize.

Shall I end on an absurd or comic note: I’ve said I stubbed my big toe badly trying to reach Clarycat who appeared to be munching away on one of the computer wires: was in a stinging agony that night, had to take extra strength sleeping pill, lots of spurted blood and what I thought was dry blood sticking out. It wasn’t: it was a broken off big of a piece of wood under my toenail. I had not realized that I’ve been in a dull pain since that Sunday night. The white at the top of the nail was spreading, it was white around the nail (like pus) and it was going a dark dark and shiny red. I thought, maybe I have made it worse by bandaging it to protect it. Made the pressure worse. So I cut a slipper and tried to walk with that. No go.

So I phoned Kaiser for the second time, and it emerged from talk with an advice nurse, I may have an infection. I needed to come in that day. So after teaching, after the above, lunch, garmin plugged in, I drive from lunch place to the offices in less than 20 minutes. Dr Wiltz had actually phoned me and suggested I got to a podiatrist. When I arrive, she takes a look at it and pronounces “you have a piece of wood, a splinter there, no wonder the pressure hurt.” It took only years of study and a specialist to understand what we were looking at. She numbs the big toe thoroughly (more needles) and then clips half the nail off. Blessed relief: pain, pressure gone. For my bleeding disorder she had a new thing: a local coagulant. So now I should get better.

Who would have cats? it’s not their fault. They were being cats. My desk is old – Jim bought it as a present for me in 1970 when I started graduate school and I have lived sitting by and writing on it and now on this computer for half a century. When I stubbed the toe I drove a splinter from one of its drawers into it.

IngLook
Ing Look (supplied by my kind Net-friend, Sixtine)

My friend, Phyllis, said I had accepted all this pain because I expect to be miserable. That’s funny too. That’s what Austen’s Mrs Dashwood says about Elinor, my favorite character in all literature.

Miss Drake

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