Archive for April, 2014

October 1968 — taken the first week we met — in Leeds, Yorkshire, in front of a large Victorian church

Dear friends,

On this day one year ago my beloved and I were told he had esophageal cancer. He was supposed to have an endoscopy and colonoscopy because a barium swallow produced no diagnosis about why he was having trouble swallowing. I was unaccountably nervous about this — well partly it was that friends had told me having trouble swallowing was a “bad sign.” I had to wait longer for the procedure to be over than anyone else in the room, 2 hours. As I walked to where Jim was lying down, the nurse said the doctor wanted Jim to be awake to hear what the doctor was going to say. That was the only acknowledgement that something important was about to be said. The doctor produced a picture, a sort of x-ray of three large lumps which he said were at the bottom of Jim’s esophagus; I later saw the same picture in a wikipedia article (how ugly it is, no?) on esophageal cancer. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what was the expression on Jim’s face, only that the doctor announced this fact as if he was telling us the price of coffee had gone up. He and the nurse carried on with this tone of indifference for a couple of minutes as they began to say we needed to make appointments with this and that specialist. I probably didn’t look at Jim. Maybe I closed my eyes.

I stood there. I had never heard of esophageal cancer. Of course it hit me like a ton of bricks how my sense since retiring and noticing how many tums Jim ate, and that his non-prescription medicine to help him cope with his acid reflux was the culprit. This was later denied — I was (as began to be common) given these varying statistics to tell me how complicated everything was, and there was no bigger statistical development of this cancer from acid reflux than say smoking or drinking or nothing at all; to be of course contradicted by the qualification that esophageal cancer “until recently” (another vagueness) was rare so they hadn’t good statistics. No they hadn’t and haven’t.

I began to cry and that at least got some acknowledgement from them that a note of compassion might be appropriate at this point.

When we got home and told Yvette, she immediately went to her computer and read the prognosis on wikipedia: grim. I could scarce believe what I heard and read: Jim could be dead before the end of a year.

From that hour on our lives were poisoned. Both of us seemed never to be able to forget this thing there and its potential. Among the books I read during this early time, was the graphic novel, Our Cancer Year, attributed to Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner (though by her essentially) with the art work by Frank Stack: I showed and read parts of it aloud to Jim and both of us found surprising how this pair of people treated a similar announcement of cancer as just another of their problems. She seemed to care more about renovating her kitchen than seeking help for his cancer. The book is badly flawed by its buying into US values and norms and lack of serious critique of cancer treatments & the state of what is comically called research. Fundamental research is hardly done and it was cut drastically during the sequester last year — makes no money for anyone, does it?

Last night I couldn’t sleep more than 2 hours at a time despite taking some sleep medicine. Memory was preying on Morpheus.


John Atkinson Grimshaw, Roundhay, Leeds (1881)

If I had it to do all over again — which I don’t — I would take seriously and not reject his first reaction, which was to do nothing. At the time I couldn’t understand how he wanted to do nothing nor the sense of his argument, “It’s not if I die but how and when.” I wasn’t like Skylar in Breaking Bad, forcing her husband to take super-expensive treatments by having a family pow-wow and openly punishing Walter White until he agrees; Jim, alas, did come away from this stance on his own after we saw doctors who presented us with hopeful scenarios (later Jim called all the nightmare things they did “shows of force”). I did have friends who said, go away on a trip. I didn’t realize they were serious and listened to those who told me of people who lived after treatment, for 5, 10, more years.

I would now have bought tickets to go to England and spent one last month there. Yes The Final Holiday syndrome. Why not? Go to the Lake District; he wasn’t so keen on Cornwall so wherever he wanted. Back to Yorkshire which we had loved. He never got away. We would have enjoyed what we could. He was still strong before the doctor performed that criminal operation (esophogectamy) on him (for a neat fee of $8000). He would have seen England once more.

Alfred Sisley, The Bridge at Hampton Court (we stayed in Hampton Court palace one spring in the later 1990s — part of the gardener’s house knocked up into flats rented out by Landmark Trust)

I could not convince him to go for a consultation with the super-expensive famous doctor whom an investment banker friend (naturally) recommended. But if I had it to do all over again, I would have spoken up forcefully to do the chemotherapy first. When that jock proposed the operation first, I saw real doubt in the eyes of two of the doctors. I mentioned this to Jim but by that time he was not thinking. When an early day for this operation opened up because another person had (as this doctor said) “freaked out” (wise person) and put it off, or refused, Jim agreed and (as I wrote that day) suddenly it was happening within a week.

What I did not know, what no one told me was that operation had nothing to do with preventing the spread of his cancer. It was useless for that. Yes it got rid of the big lumps, but they could be brought down by chemotherapy, shrunk and perhaps the chemotherapy might have prevented the liver metatasis. If not, at least when it happened, he would not have suffered so much more (as he did) because his stomach was now near his neck and very tiny so for 11 weeks he had toxic showers from his liver while the cancer was devouring him and throwing poisons throughout his digestive and execretary system, to say nothing of withering his bones.

The painful truth is we were terrified of death and not thinking straight. If we had used our brains, we would have weighed the risks (serious complications, some of which happened), the benefits (nil, actually as the lump could have first been shrunk by chemo) and bad side effects (so heavy even if he had lived). In previous encounters with doctors, Jim had said no to heroic operations. No to removing a good deal of his intestines as a way of not having diverticulitis. I say no to procedures regularly. And we never really discussed our fear of his death. We did try, but we did not get far in the process of inferring what to do.

We were badly thrown. Maybe we should have thought about the equivalent of renovating a kitchen. For us a trip and enjoying our last summer should have been what we choose. Face he was going to die and try to make his last months good. We did not.

If I had it to do all over again, I would not have had the hospice people in so early. He hated them on sight. Struggled against them until near the end. And was angry at me for being a docile dupe to agree to it. But when I realized what they were, I used the services and fought the exploitation.

Perhaps he would have lived longer had we done nothing; perhaps not, but he would not have suffered as much until near the end. And then all is hopeless, for I now know that “comfort measures” when dying is a euphemism for sedating someone so heavily they can’t complain and are only half-conscious. They are still undergoing a horrific ordeal.


Remedios Varo

So what is my life like? Well I do lots of things, busy much of the day and into the night too. I am teaching again at OLLI at AU, a Jane Austen course. I enjoy myself while doing that (I do) and am most of the time cheered and feeling not so helpless as I often am. I will teach Trollope there in the middle fall (another 10 week semester). It’s looking as if I’ll do an OLLI course at GMU this coming earlier fall: “The Historical and Post-Colonial Turn in Recent Fiction” (Paul Scott’s Staying On, Graham Swift’s Waterlands, J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country and Andrea Levy’s Small Island — I really should call it recent Anglo-fiction). Of course I have to get there, and if I don’t have my license, it will cost me and/or be very difficult to do, but just doable I hope.

Reviews galore: I’ve written and published one last month (High Minds no less) and have 6 on my desk top waiting. One excellent book I started yesterday: Kenneth Johnston’s Unusual Suspects: about the destruction of hundreds of lives of English people in the 1790s because they protested the oppressive regime and dared to fight for some kind of economic and social justice and reform. A fun book about women who lived alone in the US from the later 18th century to the early 19th: Lee Virginia Chambers-Shiller, Liberty, A Better Husband (an allusion to a diary entry by Louisa May Alcott). I’m back working on my movie project and have blocked out a first third on screenplays in five Austen movies — all of which I love watching, among these Death Comes to Pemberley, Lost in Austen, Jane Austen Book Club. I read about screenplays and re-watch Downton Abbey to find some momentary forgetfulness in (I forget that Jim is dead when it’s very late at night — think he’s back there in our bed). I’ve the printed informative screenplays and scenario books for these: essential tools for understanding. My life on listserv and writing to and receiving letters from friends.

I went to two conferences. A feat.

I have made a couple of local friends; I have made some adjustments to the capricious unjust withholding of my license by the DMV (it seems until mid-June is what their spiteful Powers have decreed; if not then, my lawyer says we have a good case to go to court with). I read, write, study on this wonderful computer with a sweet IT guy on its other end (reachable by remote and phone and my Macbook Pro if anything goes wrong); Yvette and I eat together, talk together, sometimes manage to get to a movie together. I go to the Haven for a support group where the people are nice — though this Saturday it was dispiriting. Only 4 of the 8 people who promised faithfully to come each week for 6 showed. I did feel some of what the two facilitators helpful while there, but know that when the six weeks is over I’ll be back to my fundamental condition. I go once in a while to the Aspergers Adults of DC meetings. I like the people there and should go more often; I feel comfortable and share experiences. It won’t come to an end at the end of six weeks.

I am attached to my cats and we have a real triangular relationship — when Yvette is home, there are the four of us. Caroline comes by regularly and performs her practical miracles.

But all this, which will probably gain approval, is to no real purpose or doesn’t matter. Doesn’t really mean anything — the way the checks coming in each month do and all the money in the banks Jim left me. That is what sustains me practically I’m filling time, filling the emptiness. I’m not as desperate in mood as I was the first few months, not driving myself in the same way, out and in. But panic and anxiety attacks are frequent, if more controlled. When I get these my thought is the problem is I don’t want to die. Anyone who tells you (if you are still reading) that people who endure depression or these kinds of attacks, are self-indulgent is an ignorant fool. It is a most painful experience to find yourself (as I do in a car sometimes) lost and become deeply panicked you won’t find your way back.

Drew (not his real name), one of the facilitators of the Haven support group, drove me home again on Saturday. Very kind. His wife died of cancer 12 years ago. He said that a Michigan study shows that there is a bell curve of grief and recovery (these states are called) for people widowed.


A certain percentage on one side are “resilient.” These people don’t seem to grieve long and are said to adjust quickly, be able to be content with another or different life. On the other, a smaller percentage do not what’s called recover. We were given charts distinguishing depression (as usual in my experience, the description does not fit what I know of depression at all, nor of other people I’ve known — it’s a simplified caricature) from grief (I do have some of the symptoms described there) and then pages on anxiety.

It seemed a clueless kind of document. I know other widows say they feel desolate now their husband is no longer in the world, frightened. Also can’t sleep. How one gets through the day a piece of work. Talk of loneliness. Shall I admit I went out with an older man twice and how sickened I was by the aggressive stupid behavior and some sly vulgar language. Hyperion (my admiral) to a satyr. Unfair probably but I felt such shame and distress when I got home. No new partner for me. No one can ever come near my Jim with his wit and dignity and tender affection. I have been reading about the written history of widows and widowers and how they appear in literature and art. It’s grating to read these ludicrous stereotypes that flatter and leave complacent those who are oblivious to most feeling but their own. Documents do tell of deaths, remarriages, children, money troubles, court cases, business deals but until the 20th century only the few courageous life-writing pieces by the people themselves say anything that’s real and matters when it comes to understanding. I have to remind myself that widows/widowers are not the only category of human beings ill served by books, journalism, & pictures.

I am on that end of the bell curve where I don’t change, don’t “get better.” Funny looking diagram. These words are so inadequate. I don’t have words for what I feel and it’s not that I am sick. My state is normal, common, usual, I’m part of a bell curve, after all. I need no doctor. The shock has passed and I see the reality for me.

A deep deep hopelessness. He is extinct. Anger for him on how he was thrown away and treated while the pretended care (aka neglect) was going on. The comfort and fun of my existence is gone forever. I have no comfort now. When he was here, there was fun; his existence made my life bright, he thought of things for us to do together; I lived by his side.

I am beyond grief. And don’t have words for this condition. I see a long time ahead of this — stretching out. 67 is at once too old and too young — too much time left to endure except I get a fatal disease, have a fatal accident or act myself.

A full year has passed. Sometimes I find myself wondering, did he ever exist? has it all been a dream. But I do have the photos, clothes, books, relics, bank account … my memories.

Poor man. Poor guy. Dead and gone. Went in an agon. How I feel for him, regret for him.


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George Morland (1763-1804), The Artist’s Cat Drinking

Two for today:

With a cat on my shoulder

Forgive me, Liefje,
this isn’t about you.
It was the feel of your fur
against my neck that brought back
my mother’s words: ‘he loved cats,
my grandfather, always
had a cat on his shoulder’.
And there he was, an old man
I never had seen before,
feeling with pleasure
a cat asleep against his neck

— Jeremy Hooker

The Country Wife

She makes her way through the dark trees
Down to the lake to be alone.
Following their voices on the breeze,
She makes her way. Through the dark trees
The distant stars are all she sees.
They cannot light the way she’s gone.
She make her way through the dark trees
Down to the lake to be alone.

The night reflected on the lake,
The fire of stars changed into water.
She cannot see the winds that break
The night reflected on the lake
But knows they motion for her sake.
These are the choices they have brought her:
The night reflected on the lake,
The fire of stars changed into water

— Dana Goia

From Death comes to Pemberley: a typical landscape scene with Anna Maxwell Martin as an older Elizabeth Bennet Darcy

The first has a versification and turns that imitate the movements of the cat on one’s body; in the morning when I wake I often find Clarycat curled up into my neck and shoulder just as Hooker describes his mother’s memories of his grandfather’s cat; the second is beautifully picturesque — and gives some of the feeling of the sublime, and I accompany it with a mini-series whose screenplay I am now studying where I’ve fallen in love with the landscapes and bonded with the central heroine. A new country wife to replace the scurrility of Wycherley’s.


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Some people say that life is the thing, but I much prefer reading. — Logan Pearsall Smith

Dear friends and readers,

The first good news we’ve had in a long while — if you except in December when Yvette was first hired as a librarian at the Pentagon. Yesterday she learned that as of April 6th, she has been in a permanent slot as librarian. She has longed for such a real job from the time she got her MLIS from Buffalo. She got an evaluation of superlative, that is why she became permanent so quickly. It has been a long journey to make this start — six years.

She begins as Junior Librarian, a position hard to find nowadays.

What is the Pentagon library like? A new small building of two rooms. The old space was badly damaged on 9/11. It’s a community library serving the neighborhood, the neighborhood being the Pentagon whose size no one underestimates. Everyone in this neighborhood is entitled (see entitlements) to a library card and can take books out. What kind of books does the library collect and maintain? not this week’s New York Times bestsellers, nor self-help books. Books and journals and publications concerning military history; as war is politics by another means, political books, histories of diplomacy and war, and everything having to do with war. The library hosts lectures, people come to do research. There is a quiet place where there are tables for reading. People don’t dress up much — generally the librarians are civilians.


Yvette loves it. She says she likes doing useful work — she has been involved with a couple of large and some small projects, from digitalizing collections, and re-organizing new and old periodical, to trying to ascertain if the books said to be missing on shelf are indeed missing. Most of the time the books are there.

As is Yvette.

She answers people’s questions, finds the sections of the library where they need to be, helps them with software. Does what librarians do.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
she chortled in her joy —

The Admiral would have been proud. When she began at the Pentagon library this December, she said she wished he could have been there, for he spent many years working at the Pentagon and his working life full-time culminated in his becoming Chief Engineer of the Defense Information Systems Agency where he was a program manager, inventor of software and for a few summers traveled to England as part of a NATO team linking the US, UK and five commonwealth countries. It is very sad he did not live to know this.

I should say she began as a Schedule A employee under the American with Disabilities Act, without which she could not be where she is now. And that our house is a kind of private library, over 9000 books, a sizable proportion in her room too — she has collections of Latin books, classical history (from high school and college), music (ditto), Harry Potter, Patrick O’Brien (many many), Jane Austen (a long goodly shelf), science fiction and fantasy of all sorts, Terry Pratchet, some realistic women’s novels (Young Adult mostly), her books from childhood. She even has a couple of Trollope books: at age 19 her favorite book was Ayala’s Angel; she took a copy of the Folio society edition with picturesque illustrations with her to Sweet Briar (also a copy of Persuasion, Signet ed by Margaret Drabble).

Here she is by her desk looking out her window — about 4 years ago

More recently, writing, but still well before the Admiral became ill


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Dear friends and readers,

We’ve revived Poetry Sunday on Trollope19thCStudies and I thought I’d try it here too. Jim had many favorite poets: among them one I’m not sure I’ve mentioned as yet, e.e. cummings of whom I now have 4 selections and one Complete Poems, 1904-62. One of these selections Jim had among his books when I first met him (he was 20): 73 poems, a thin old Carcenet volume.

This comes from the Complete Poems and has at its core an Elizabeth conceit found in Philip Sidney’s Arcadia: My true-love hath my heart, and I have his …

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
            i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

I remember the Admiral reading aloud e. e. cummings to me. I wish now I could enact this poem and he carry my heart in his chest (remembering Sidney’s poem).

He also liked the paintings of Poussin, and one weekend in NYC we went to a large Poussin exhibit twice and brought home a beautiful book. This painting was not among them; indeed I’ve never seen it before, but it contains a myth the Admiral knew well in various forms (from Wagner to more modern versions).

Poussin Ideal Landscape
The Grail Seekers

It’s the sky blue shirt and the darker blue sky as well as the symmetry, order, peace, harmony of the whole (whatever is happening within) that lifts the picture into a Poussin realm.

I was at the Haven again today and met with my “grief support group” for a second time. It was not so draining, the people were all more controlled (including me). One person has dropped out and two new people came. The facilitator who I’ll call Drew (not his name) very kindly drove another man and me home — to two very different places. This way I can go again next week without the cost beginning to mount (as it’s a cab but one way). Again I found that the people there were going through the experiences I am, feeling similar feelings. The facilitator called my sense that I was in shock for about 3 months after Jim died and that actually enabled me to do a lot “the novacaine” effect. Now the imagined drug has worn off. Just about everyone has trouble sleeping more than 2 hours in a row; how hard it is to do things alone. I did feel better when I left and the talk with Drew who drove me home was good too.


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Time thrown away


I wasted time and now time doth waste me — Shakespeare

Someone said to me I have a quarter of my life to go. That is a sad statement. Surely not. I’m 67. Say I do live another 20 years. 87 is a feeble age. Then what percentage of 87 is 20? Too much. Time thrown away. The admiral said to me sometime during the 9 months of retirement together we had, “We could you know have 30 years.” I said, “Not probable.” He said, “Oh yes.” “Well maybe twenty” I said.

Easter Sunday — sometimes it was Palm Sunday — we’d go to the races out in some ex-plantation where rich people who are part of hunting clubs held picnics under vast tents. Rode their horses. Their hired jockeys raced while the foxes bred. The admiral would bet. When Caroline was there, she bet. I’d buy a wide or large hat. We’d sit under a tree, have a gourmet picnic he had bought at Whole Foods and drink a bottle of champagne together. We’d have taken his father’s indestructible binoculars. Yvette would run back and forth watching the race close up. See, for example, A Trollopian Sunday afternoon.

Well this Sunday I am going into DC to see the Fiasco Company’s Two Gentlemen of Verona and an exhibit at the Folger.


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We strive all the time to give our life its form, but we do so by copying willy-nilly, like a drawing, the features of the person that we are and not of the person we should like to be — Proust

Time Regained (Raul Ruiz, 1999)

Dear friends and readers,

On and off I have been trying to finish or read books Jim was in the midst of still in his last year of life, e.g., Steadman’s Labours Lost and remembering other books and movies we enjoyed together.. During the 1970s Jim and I read the Palliser novels together — after together watching the Palliser series on PBS. I’d finish a volume and give it to him, and he’d read it, and then we’d go on to the next until we’d reach the end of The Duke’s Children.

So, for the sake of the reference to Trollope (a rare English novelist Jim did read):

How to Catch Aunt Harriette

Mary Cassatt has her in a striped dress with a
child on her lap, the child’s foot in a wash basin.
Or Charlotte Mew speaks in her voice of the feeling
that comes at evening with home-cawing rooks.
Or Aunt Harriette sometimes makes an ineffable
gesture between the lines of Trollope.
In Indianapolis, together we rode the belching city bus to
high school. It was my first year, she was a senior. We were
nauseated every day by the fumes, by the unbearable
streets. Aunt Harriette was the last issue of my
Victorian grandparents. Once after school she
invited me to go with her to Verner’s.
What was Verner’s? I didn’t ask and Aunt Harriette didn’t say.
We walked three miles down manicured Meridian.
My heels rubbed to soft blisters. Entering an empty
wood-echoing room fronting the sidewalk,
we sat at a plain plank table and Aunt Harriette
ordered two glasses of iced ginger ale.
The varnish of light on Aunt Harriette
had the quality of a small eighteenth-century
Dutch painting. My tongue with all its buds intact
slipped in the amber sting. It was my first hint
of the connoisseur, an induction rarely repeated;
yet so bizarre, so beyond me,
that I planned my entire life from its indications.

— Ruth Stone

It’s not often one finds a reference to Trollope in recent women’s poetry. It’s also filled — replete — with allusions to older high art, the sort of images and stories one finds in women’s art (Mary Cassatt) and moves out to larger issues (Charlotte Mew’s poetry is about WW1), and evokes the Victorian novel through Aunt Harriette and exquisite 18th century and Dutch paintings by the place the aunt takes the niece to for iced ginger ale.

Alice Vavasour (Caroline Mortimer) in the window-seat of Matching Priory (Pallisers 2:3, scripted Simon Raven)

In the last two years of Jim’s life he had a copy of The Captive still on his TBR pile on his table in the front room. He did read, preferred the modern French novelists (e.g., Life: A User’s Manual). Myself I’ve read up to about 3/4s of the second volume but never managed to get any further. I’ve tried a couple of times but get bogged down in that budding grove. It’s too lush, too coy. I wanted to read Rose thinking she would get me into Proust again primarily because Jim read well into the 5th volume (way past Sodom and Gomorrah and up to The Captive). All in English where I actually did read Volume 1 in the French (occasionally using the English as a crib) and Roger Shattuck’s little book on the whole. He went slowly, savoring passages as he went.

So I thought I’d cheat; I’d read Phyllis’s Rose’s A Year of Reading Proust. But where Stone succeeds, Rose fails. With the best will in the world to read Rose’s supposed recreation (I thought) of her experience of Proust as part-confessional, part-autobiography (in the mode of Richard Holmes’s Footsteps, Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch, Gorra’s Portrait of a Novel), I cannot. I surfeited quickly with the outpouring of the details of her TV watching. I have given up. There is entirely too much Rose and too little Proust. It’s as if the balance that Mead had kept up has been overturned. Gorra is all James; Mead is 25% pretend Mead and 75% Eliot, but Rose is 90% Rose and 10% Proust.

So she is no substitute, no help in understanding either. I shall have to read Proust to read Proust. I’ll have to be content to aim at Volume 3 (The Guermantes Way) in English eventually, maybe read Pinter’s great screenplay, La Recherche du temps perdu: A Proust Screenplay. And then maybe buy or rent Ruiz’s Le Temps Retrouvé


Jim’s last favorite movie was Time Regained. He had a copy on his laptop and on the long train trips we’d take places he would watch it. It’s been wiped out now as a friend made efforts to retrieve other things from his computer and now the ipad has been re-geared to be mine. In the 1970s he and I did see the movie Un amour de Swan and agreed we didn’t didn’t care for it that much as what it did was rip out just the (powerful) sequence of Swann enthralled by Odette, omitting the little boy before and after. And the narrator — the whole point and Jeremy Irons had been so good as narrator in Brideshead Revisited (in fact making that picture the great experience it still is — Jim and I sat through it together twice).

Jeremy Irons a couple of decades ago

Rose really is too much like Cornelia Otis Skinner. Her self-deprecating joke against her self boomerangs. As I recall I thought her 5 Victorian marriages overrated and that Jim would never have gone near it.

What used to make life,


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Orange rich — dream landscape as scroll from Howtidi’s Death Comes to Pemberley (out of PD James’s sequel) — you glimpse figures in the wood

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I know I dreamt of him at long last. I know about this as I woke out of it, disturbed to try to work out where he was sleeping. In the dream he was wearing the the black long-sleeved shirts and trousers he used to wear for the 5 years he taught part-time (2004-9). He did that he said to give him a distinctive identity. If so, I’m not sure it worked. I didn’t quite see him, and he said nothing. He was silent. I could not hear him speak. No words. Then I’ve an image of Yvette and I sleeping in the front and I’m telling her she can go to her room since he’s sleeping in mine, our bed. And then I wake and it takes time to realize this is a dream.

I probably once before, early on, dreamed of him, but the image was so vague. A man deep in the background is telling me to relax, take it easy. I cannot hear the words or see him clearly. I could not follow this advice.

Did I say I have been in shock I realize now for months and the shock is wearing off. I am no longer a character in play in search of my author.

I did reach to the grief support group on Saturday at the Haven. We are asked not to talk about anything specifically said there or anyone’s case. But generally I want to say: the session showed me what I am going through is common in the US — 10 people really alone with little to turn to if they don’t have a church/synagogue or family who understands (most do not). Out of 10 people, 5 had spouses/partners who had died of cancer and two of them younger than Jim. That says something. The “leader” was astonished he said at the intensities and open candour of this first session — several of us had had deeply traumatic (crazed because so perverse) experiences — it must be that death is rarely anything else — but nowadays death is exacerbated badly by the medical establishment supposed to help (but only charging charging charging and behaving with exemplary indifference). I just lost it completely as I tried to tell my story. Could not go on as long as the others. I was drained when I got home, exhausted, and fell into an Austen movie.

It’s an Uber cab one way ($19) as long as someone offers me a ride back, and there is one person who lives not that far from me (by car) in Alexandria so she dropped me off on her way back.

I’m finding I am able to find relief in Death Comes to Pemberley not because of PD. James who I am beginning to think is awful – but the depiction of the Elizabeth character by Anna Maxwell Martin and Darcy by Matthew Rhys too. The whole ambience of their relationship. I will write of this separately on Austen Reveries. Teaching helps and yes reading something that answers to deep needs in the reader makes the time go — though I admit time goes by in all sorts of ways I waste it somehow continually and it wastes it. And just having company no longer matters. It must be a friend — on the Net nearly all mine are.

Yesterday walking down to the shops and back up again I found myself crying all the way. A polite man came over and offered to carry Caroline’s square shopping cart up and down the cement steps at the bottom of the hill. I said, no, I’d walk around it. (I fell over another set of steps on another block of these hills.) Sometimes I do think — you will find this mad and unreal — that I’m dying of a broken heart in slow motion. It will take time, maybe years, but the process has started. The DMV is merely hastening it by wearing me down quicker.

Get the perverseness of this organization: I’ve now been told that I would perhaps have been better off had I gotten a diagnosis of epilepsy (!) for then I’d have been given medication and could have gotten my license back quicker: you see they are “not satisfied” with the medical report of simple exhaustion. Is that sick? I would not be better off if I were epileptic; I’d be seriously at risk. I am actually better off not having anything medically wrong with me at all. What kind of madness is this to tell me I’d be better off with a serious medical disability? I’d die quicker. Maybe they’d like that. Then my lawyer would cease phoning them.

For me life has just gotten worse — gotten realer. There needs no calamities and disasters such as happened the first couple of months. I have felt myself getting out of control in front of others several times this week — as this reality sets in at last. And yet I am not sure I as yet fathom what all this means, what it is teaching me, if, what life is possible for me. It’s like I was in this great shock for the first three months and I did say I felt like a character in a play, the shock is wearing off. Oh.


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Friends, I now have come to see the US is become a surveillance society where the poor or powerless are policed by organizations like the DMV because they can.

Read this report and watch the video from PBS


This young married couple unable to pay the court fines for a violation that was thrown out of court were put into jail; then they were charged monthly high interest by the organization given the power to monitor their activities and report them to the police who would be told to jail them if they didn’t pay up. They have since paid in the thousands of dollars far more than the original ticket or fines and yet are not free of debt to this far from disinterested company. The company is empowered by Alabama (and others in other southern and western states) who give a percentage of the take to these states who are wresting money from the most vulnerable people of their states in this way. Among the reasons for their failure to not-pay is the death of their young son (died!) in a hospital, which left enormous debts. The PBS Reporter who told of this could not get any of the agencies to talk to them. The reporter finally cornered one official in a county meeting: the man would not get up to speak to him, would only say the courts allowed this treatment of this couple.

If you want to get many ordinary needed things done, you find you are confronted with an official who has access to all sorts of records about you — from medical, to prescription, to financial.

The deep anxiety and unease from awareness of the power of this surveillance state we now live in the US silences people — they are ashamed, they fear retaliation in the form of more punishment. Without the ability to drive a car (a necessity not a right), many people lose their jobs, itself a sine qua non in the US for basic survival.

What happens with the powerless is that a small incident which should by its reality and merits cause no more trouble than the time it takes to get over it, is blown up to ruin the person’s life in order to profit those who prey on that person in order to get their salary, keep their place in an organization, make a profit or just self-righteously watch the miserable person canting to them whatever hypocritical moralisms are being used to hurt them.

Glen Greenwald and Laura Poitras and Ewen MacGaskill have all been awarded a prestigious Pulitzer prize for investigative journalism. Greenwald argued the purpose of the mass surveillance is not to find terrorists (for so much information makes it harder) but to monitor the whole population so that those in charge can get after anyone they please. Recently there has been a ruling that military people can jail someone without cause: if Hedges and Company lose it has more than an effect on one area of law and custom: the national security state. It encourages other institutions to feel they can flagrantly violate the rights and needs of citizens. When the letter de cachet went, it was a sign that you could not do commit sweeping injustice without a thought any more.

It’s worth reading Chomsky’s demonstration that obviously the people running these gov’ts have no interest in the security of the people who live in them. What bothers me is how the average person has a hard time letting go of the idea these institutions are doing things justly and on the people’s behalf.


P.S. It’s been reported that the NSA knew about the Heartbleed bug for several years. They never told anyone as they wanted to use it themselves. There’s a law signed by Obama giving them authority to withhold information about serious bugs if it’s useful to their monitoring of us all.

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The only two stills of Katy Murphy as Jenny Wren on-line that I could find (Sandy Welch’s BBC Our Mutual Friend out of Dickens)

The Bustle in a House
The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon Earth –

The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity
– Emily Dickinson

Dear friends and readers,

As I read Scarlett Beauvalet-Boutouyrie’s Être Veuve sous l’Ancien Régime together with another book I’ve just started, Rosemarie Garland Thomson’s Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature, I’m struck by how widows and the disabled are treated by society at large similarly. A version of “normalcy” which is not true is enforced on both groups.

What is striking is this “normalcy” is false: the normalcy depends on believing most people conform to a stereotype of normalcy that is male, cheerful, fully-employed (with good pay) and living in a pair (with children). The recent move of GBLT people to marry is a move to “normalize” themselves into this stereotype, and the permission given them is due to their presenting it as part of “regular” people’s norm. The normalcy depends on believing that women (or men) alone is an anomaly when they were very common across the centuries most unions broke up quickly as early death was common and nowadays with everyone living a much longer life again, widows are again common — added to now with the ability of many women never to marry and yet be self-supporting, separated and divorced women. BB shows how widows have been erased and falsely represented to make them appear like the stereotype, or (as with disabled people) given traits many people don’t like or fear (domination, resentment, needling, overt depression) or are outlawed (for women overt sexual aggression).

The disability itself presented in an exaggerated light. I watched Temple Grandin, the movie, last week, and while the performance of Clare Danes, the central actress was stunningly persuasive — especially as someone she the real person could not possibly be, part of this came from the continual exaggeration.

Clare Danes as Grandin in the movie

It was asserted Temple’s other traits were as important as her disability, but that’s not what the movie did: it made the disability traits huge and thus “othered” the central figure. So in Dickens who has disabled characters, they are presented as grotesques. Not the movie was not well-meaning and with much to recommend it: among other things, it showed how Grandin’s mother was blamed and then pressured into putting Grandin into an insitution. Today mothers are blamed as much as ever and pressured to mainstream or marginalize their child. In fact as Lennard J. Davis (Enforcing Normalcy) shows, disabilities of all sorts are spread throughout the US population and by middle to older age we all have some form of disability. Mental disabilities are the misrepresented, and least understood — because most common most feared, and stigmatized.

Jenny Wren by Marcus Stone (one of the original illustrations to Our Mutual Friend)

Well, I’ve decided partly I don’t want to pretend all is fine and well and I am semi-happy or cheerful – that’s what widows do or they fall silent – this erases the group, “normalizes” them — like revamping a disability. And that a number of destructive stereotypes about older women are not at play here — some of them not admitted to, like sexual demands or shunning. There is a real parallel between the way widows are still represented and disabled people stigmatizing or erasing: an important argument in Etre Veuve is B-B’s demonstration that today in France widows are more erased than ever before because of new sexual stereotyping — and wife abuse is rampant there too, as Mary Trouille wanted to show (but was not permitted by the publisher). As I refused to lie about the cancer misery so I’m telling it like it is — what life is like for the widow and as far as I dare how others treat here — now wanting to expose the capriciousness and cruelty of the DMV towards vulnerable populations.

How strong social taboos are. On Wompo for a short while a woman poet whose husband had died of cancer was aggressively advertising her blog as about real grief, the real experience of cancer and now widowhood, as “not staged” and arguing on her right to do this, on how sincere she is, but she has ceased for a time: one problem was that she was asking for money (to build an organization she said) and when she did not get this kind of overt validation, seems to have stopped.

It’s very pretty here and now getting hot. Yesterday it reached 80. It takes little time. Cherry blossom and flowering trees are everywhere. To me it brings home how Jim is not here now that everything is renewing and how the daily life of the earth is beautiful which I never much particularly thought about as such before and do now because he’s missing it.


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What causes some cats to fall repeatedly?


I thought I’d try to go to a movie (The Grand Budapest Hotel) where I thought I could walk it. True, it’s a 25 minute walk but I do have to go under a scary tunnel and when alone it was worrying.

Then the sidewalk is a mess in several places — and not meant for walking. So I fell twice. It was hot, the cars whizzing by. Bad scrapes. It’s a steep hill and my heart beats fast as I don’t go to a gym. I can’t order a machine at home as I’ve no one to put it together. Who says the DMV doesn’t want me dead? or for reasons I can’t fathom to stop driving after 34 years without an accident or even a serious ticket hitherto.

If I didn’t have insurance the tests they have asked me to have again (they don’t believe the ones they’ve got) would be a couple of thousand; how I am to get to the Springfield Medical Center without a cab. The Metro stop ends where there is no sidewalk and I have to cross a three way highway at that point. Perhaps I’ll die. Like the old woman and her cow. That rhyme comes back to me.

My lawyer is doing all she can, though it feels like Trollope’s satire on lawyers through their names, Slow and Bideawhile. Doesn’t seem so funny or seems funny in a different way now.

They said they would convene again and do another medical review and perhaps (how wonderful it is to have such power) give me a restricted ability to drive, but they didn’t say when.

Because We Can
Because they can, you know

Yvette tells me we must change some of our passwords. I have no idea how to do it but she says she does so after supper if she’s up to it, we’ll do that. Anxiety-producing whatever we do. 8:00 pm update: we have changed a large number of my passwords. I have written them down on a yellow card which is now a precious document.

In Last Orders Jack tells Ray that the one who is left is the worst off, has the much harder time. I wouldn’t have wanted to die the death Jim did — one died by thousands of people cut off unnecessarily in their relative youth or as children and teenagers — but Jack has a point. Jim is not here for me; one cannot replace a life-long deeply congenial partner beloved and far future is a grim outlook.

I am so exhausted I’ve retreated into shoverdosing on Season 2 of Breaking Bad. Powerful and riveting I must admit. I am with Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) all the way; have utterly bonded with this character.

Refusing to be bullied by nasty mean cop

I hear his intonations in my head.


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