Dear friends and readers,
Another week lived through. I find the thought that comes to me as the days pass me is now I am doing this alone for the first time, now I am here alone for the first time, now there, traveling on the Metro and parking the car, like I’m toting up, counting each, sort of adding on. If I stand still and say and feel my loneliness, it becomes too much to bear. The car is (as I knew it would be) a central machine for me: I am finding that I do better, do not feel the same desperation, ontological desolation, if I go out and am among people. Breaking up the day. This means I am doing much less literary work towards projects but I find I can’t bury myself in these projects as I once could when the Admiral was beside me, or there for me to turn to and be with for breaks, interludes (sometimes lasting a couple of weeks, sometimes just an hour’s walk). I can’t post or blog less for that is a way of being with friends and acquaintances. Life is not yet getting a rhythm of sorts but one is slowly emerging.
Not that I’m transitioning — that’s another of these grating phrases that impose a sameness upon a set of people, a generalizing interpretive device that falls like snow on individual emotional and psycho-social experience. I am not a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, but a complicated psychology getting through existing on. Part of it is I am finding pleasures and small fulfillments, I am also trying to do what I did with him, honoring him. Two weeks ago now when I saw Yvette trying to play the piano again, making a video of herself singing on the piano on-line, I made an appointment with a piano tuner. He came quickly and spent a long morning here. We talked and he showed me a website to find piano teachers on. When he finished the piano sounded bright and lovely again. It was not only Jim’s but also my father’s. My father bought it in the 1970s and tried to learn to play. He did not stick with it, but it was his and he gave it to us. I remember the day it arrived in a moving van. I took Yvette to a music store to buy a composition book; she looked for songs to sing but the items are not arranged by voice type, as in Mezzo Soprano, but rather famous shows or singers. So she did not succeed in buying anything. The people working there were all so helpful (music stores have a had time lasting since the Internet) and I was shown a modern digitalized piano which at the flick of a switch turns into an organ, and another, into a harpsichord. It helps the person compose, records what is composed, does not need tuning. Well I’m glad I have the wooden one, Spinet (now I know what brand, when it was made and by whom) and will keep it. All this to say this Wednesday I’m meeting with a piano teacher in Arlington (not far, I can find it) to start lessons, maybe. I can dance well but have no ear for real. Still for 3 years I took guitar lessons and I will see if I can find some pleasure in doing this (if the woman is willing to teach me) and keeping the piano alive again. Yvette was never one to practice; I’ll see if I do.
I did give up on any kind of garden and the mowing man I’ve had for years has mulched and planted grass. He was shocked to be told Jim was dead. “The last time I saw him, he looked fine and strong.” Here was one place where I was the one interacting with the workmen. The point of the two garden patches was to have flowers with Jim for our retirement. Without him I’m back to not knowing in the least how to grow anything. In the southeast Bronx we had many problems but vegetation was not one of them. I also solved the problem of the cable box: last week the exterminator killed the wasps and destroyed the nest, and now after visiting the Comcast office (bringing the death certificate), and 5 phone calls over a day Comcast finally sent a man to nail the cover on my Comcast box (attached to the front of my house) so I won’t lose connection to the Internet and TV. It was not as funny as it should have been when someone visiting here was worried that I don’t have vegetation of some sort (say a bush) in front of the box “to hide it.” Such people put cloth around their piano’s legs in Victorian times and in NYC would nail shut inner glass doors between rooms and paint them so as to pretend the doors were part of the wall. when Jim and I lived in a rent-control apartment in NYC (1970s), we hired someone to put the glass doors back to their original shape and walked between the rooms.
I discovered also how nice people are if you become a member of whatever it is. I am now a member of the Folger Library and have bought tickets for two Globe performances (the London company) which are coming to the Folger: for Hamlet this July and for King Lear this September. Caroline was over here, and encouraged me to get a subscription. I know if you have one, you can change your tickets around. She said if Yvette didn’t want to go with me to all four, she would make it her business to come to any Yvette didn’t want. She was eager for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; another of the non-Shakespeare plays had people directing and performing whom she once knew and she wanted to go to that. The Folger woman has sent me a packet of coming lectures, poetry readings, concerts — rehearsals one can go to. It’s car to Metro and walk 5 minutes or so.
I joined the Jewish Community Center — a very friendly place, where I was offered a tour of the rooms filled with different sorts of equipment. I succeeded in finding something I like and can do. It’s called Dance Fusion Workshop. About 30 women for an hour follow a younger woman half-dancing, half-exercising to strongly rhythmic music — modern, All that Jazz, At the Hop, You Make Me Want to Shout, Frank Sinatra among them. I wonder if the woman realize most of the music is by men and about having sex with women; the two by women have one singer apologizing to a male (what she is sorry for we are not told), but the other shoots a man dead at the close of the piece because he is leaving her and is ever so nonchalant. Is anyone but me listening to what an all woman group dance and exercise to? I don’t know. I have tried the waterarobics and in theory ought to enjoy it: I used to love to swim when young; it was better than going a psychiatrist and I went twice a week with a friend to a Y in mid-Manhattan. I have lost all body strength and can’t get far if I swim, but still like the water. At any rate, it’s not working out so well as my feet seize up (spasms) from trying to follow the woman at the front — she is not in the water. This one has vapid Broadway Musicals and John Philip Souza! It brought me right back to high school where we would march and parade to John Philip Souza music whenever the girls in the small gym (where I spent my entire time in Junior High and High School, a subset of girls, some pregnant) joined the girls in the big (a couple of hundred girls who did stuff in teams). I’ll try another form of this class in two weeks; it is said to use Latin music. I don’t want a tour lest it be an attempt to get me to hire a trainer. I like how one can join in or not as the weeks of each “semester” pass.
I’ve also now gone three times to the Capital Fringe Festival. I’ve seen two remarkable plays, the masterpiece Master Harold and the Boys by Athol Fugard, very well done (a reasonable number of people at the Goethe Institute in DC), and a very witty development supposedly from Austen’s Emma: Miss Emma’s Making-matching Agency for Literary Characters by Alexandra Petri. Yvette has blogged about this one (see further comment), and I hope to tonight on Austen Reveries. The third was a play supposed to be a re-write of Shaw: Everything I Do by John Becker. Demoralizing. I couldn’t make up my mind whether I was to take the story straight or see it as a burlesque on the hideous relationships of people sexually and US foreign policy (intertwined by the story). One thread has this young woman begging this young man to marry her after she has had a miscarriage (which is presented with a gravity you’d think she’d given birth to a dead baby), and we are not to take his reluctance as a sign she should have nothing to do with him. It was Shaw-like in the talk-y-ness.
But my experience was really all about getting there. For the first time in all the years I’ve been going with Jim I realized some of the theaters are not easy to get to. There is much in DC that is beyond the Metro. Miss Emma and Everything I do were in the Atlas theater, an old movie-house in a neighborhood that is very slowly gentrifying. The admiral and I have been there many times, and with Yvette, to see HD operas, plays, some stores are also inside transformed into theaters. We saw Marat/Sade one summer. I never thought about how we got there: he drove us and sometimes it was a problem parking the car, but he did it and I just sat next to him. When we’d get out of wherever we were he knew where we were (often I did not) and I just walked with him.
I don’t have any sense of community though by now I’ve seen a couple of the same people twice — remarkable that given I’m going to only 7 of 3 and 1/2 weeks of events. Jim bought sometimes as many as 14 — and for rock shows and concerts in a central tent where one can get coffee and from a bar drinks by the central office. There is where we probably felt the sense of a community
How changed all is. The smallest thing of my days are utterly changed because he is not here; just this sort of thing confronts me continually. Well, I used my google maps and quickly discovered that some of the turns come at places in the highway not well marked, not signed a separate number (feeder roads): I usually miss these and get all messed up afterward. Even with a GPS. Yvette said we did have trouble parking. After much nervous stress I decided on public transportation as the lesser evil. I now have my car so no problem getting to the Metro (the worst of public transportation are Virginia buses). I used a cab to get to the place after I got off the Metro where it was a busy intersection (Gallery Place, Chinatown so-called) and an Uber cab to get back to the Metro. Each thing that happens in my life it seems teaches me that when Jim was here nothing seemed a problem because he did it, and now he’s gone each step is arduous. I went partly because I’d have been so angry at myself to say I couldn’t reach it — and it would augur worse for future attempts to go anywhere. I did manage it. The first trip to the Atlas was an anxiety-producing as going deep into Arlington two weeks ago to find a library where a JASNA meeting was held. The second time not so bad, but I don’t think I’ll go a third to this place as the after all the play is not that appealing and I have to take Yvette to the doctor that afternoon and that will be enough for me. So for me going too far from home is out for now. What seems nothing to others is an ordeal for me.
I knew he did all the planning after consulting me if I wanted to go — it was rare I didn’t. I liked what he liked and once there was HD opera and subtitles for the other operas, I liked these too. But I never realized quite how true the little sentence is used to say to people about my life was: I live by being by his side. (Where he wanted to go we went, where I wanted to go if he could, he came with me, took me there. I did some deciding — and had influence — as when we were able to buy this house because of my friendly correspondence with the landlady — but it was he who found and dared to rent a private house in a pretty neighborhood for us originally.)
All this still leaves a lot of time — so I’m working on my review of Unusual Suspects and when I get absorbed into it, I am okay and at peace. An introductory essay on Eleanor Sleath’s Orphan of the Rhine for a Valancourt Press edition (close reading and biography) with a bibliography has been accepted by Valancourt for a coming edition of this Northanger novel of which there are only two extant copies in the world! When I finish the review I’ll have to decide whether to do another on an interesting film study on how censorship has affected films or devote August to my book project, A Place of Refuge: The Jane Austen Film Canon. I so enjoy studying the films closely I probably will do the latter. I wrote a biography for the coming early fall course at OLLI at GMU in the gothic and will be going to Tallwood, the place where they meet for a belated sort of interview. Again the car a sine qua non. Mornings I read for listserv reading and talk and write and read friends’ letters; evening eat with Yvette, watch Amy Goodman and PBS reports; night blog and watch movies.
Sometimes I do blog during the day — like now, on Sunday late morning after food shopping with Yvette. She has a dinner with her social club this afternoon: I’ll drive her there and pick her up.
I listen to Nadia May reading aloud George Eliot’s Middlemarch in my car. I can’t resist it — it is such a comfort to me. If something has disturbed me, and I’m now calming down, and in the car I put it on and feel relief. I sometimes think the only moments of contentment I know come when I am watching Andrew Davies’s Middlemarch. The depth of feeling reaches my aching need.
When all activity ceases I am back to Square one, missing him achingly, realizing how impoverished all these experiences are without his talk, his presence, his fun.
Philip Larkin’s Aubade
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
-The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused-nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try.
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
Specious stuff that says no rational thing
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear-no sight, no sound
No touch or taste or smell, nothing
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision.
Asmall unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision,
Most things may never happen: this one will
And realisation of it rages out
in furnace-fear when we are caught without
people or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
Slowly light strengthens, and the room
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know.
Have always known, know that we can’t escape
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.
He’s writing the poem out of fear of death. Part of my problem is I don’t want to die. And so I know death-in-life. We have Larkin’s poems which Jim read through and knew several quite well. He didn’t like Larkin personally (and we haven’t got the letters), but he did admire the poems. They spoke to him.
I write this because I haven’t got him to talk to. I can’t reach him to tell him how many things I now wish I had done differently; that I had paid more attention to him, really been with him more during his retirement years. I came onto the Net because I missed my father. How I’m on the Net is a function of what he was too.
Still the cartoon remains true: