Dear friends and readers,
I want first to thank again all my friends and acquaintances who wished me a happy birthday yesterday — I felt I had to reassure people I had a plan for a good day early on, so told of how Yvette and I had tickets to see Julius Caesar at the Folger Shakespeare Library at 2 o’clock, which meant we had to do the week’s food shopping in the morning. Since it takes at least an hour & 15 minutes to get to the Folger by public transportation and on foot (and back again), and the play would take well over 2 1/2 hours plus intermission, we would upon getting home drive to Noodles and Company and bring home take-out meals we both like very much; pasta dishes, not too spicy, which I would wash down with wine I like. Yvette and I enjoyed our talk together too. We listened to music while eating and remembered listening to Barchester Towers read by Timothy West in the car to and from the Metro and talked about. In the event the play had been powerfully done, engrossing, enjoyable; and I managed to read poetry, watch a movie and blog, before falling asleep using a pill. So the day passed what would be called well.
Did I enjoy any of this beyond the moment of experiencing it? Some in a qualified way. I could say how Yvette and I saw an interesting exhibit (unexpectedly) about codes in the Renaissance, deciphering them at the Folger too. We discussed Turing, the Enigma, Bernard Cumberbatch who plays the role of the horribly treated gay man, a generous genius, driven to suicide. But too me it’s enough that I did it. What more could anyone ask? Held on.
I did let go this far: while at the Folger I allowed myself to think about how Jim would have liked us to go if he had been alive, that he’d have smiled, and been glad if we enjoyed it. I felt tears coming on so stopped. I don’t usually let myself think such thoughts, it’s too painful to let a sense of his tone of mind come near, but the night before (a day after Thanksgiving, also hard to get through) I had dreamt of him for the first time in months, and maybe for the first time since he died, vividly.
My two cats were sleeping/laying near me on their cat tree: it has this platform with sides and pillows in it, and the boy had his arms (front legs) around the girl’s neck hugging her, and he was licking her head and she was lying there all relaxed contentment. I fell asleep and my dream was that after all he didn’t want to give up his Jaguar to NPR and buy a new car, because he so liked the Jaguar, comfortable, sturdy, somehow expressive of him. He’d walked off to think it out by himself (the way he often did) and decided, and he came to tell me, that the Jaguar guy would come and fix it. I listened as usual and we went for a walk, wandering together. Now there’s where I should have known something was awry. As with physicians, one must take oneself (with car) to the car mechanic; they do not make visits.
I came out of sleep thinking he was alive, thinking this had happened, it was somehow so in character, and I looked around for him, saw the cats, the new state of the room, my bed, and became confused before I realized this had been a dream, and he was dead. The Jaguar was given away to NPR in May 2013. The dream left me with this strong feeling of his identity and character as him, and different from me: I felt our difference as people, and for a couple of hours this was salutary, he was him and I am me, and I remembered much of the last years that inexorably demonstrated this reality, and thought maybe I could go over to that urn (which I had not wanted, I had not wanted to cremate him, but bury him and have a grave to visit), but this sense and why it made enough of a difference dissolved away by last night.
The poet I’ve been reading is the 18th century Scottish poet, Anne Home Hunter (1742-1821), who has a little fame as the woman who wrote songs for some of Haydn’s finest music later in his career. I’ve agreed to try to write an essay on her for a peer-edited periodical. I’ve grown to like her very much as a person and love the poems (much better than the Haydn music I’ve listened to thus far), her words intense, deeply felt, filled with gravitas, often melancholy, especially after her still somewhat famous husband, the radical innovative surgeon, John Hunter, died in 1793 (age 65) after 22 years of marriage, and 27 of love. This is titled
Time may ambition’s nest destroy,
Though on a rock ’tis perch’d so high,
May find dull av’rice in his cave,
And drag to light the sordid slave;
But from affection’s temper’d chain
To free the heart he strives in vain.
The sculptur’d urn, the marble bust,
By time are crumbled with the dust;
But tender thoughts the muse has twin’d
For love, for friendship’s brow design’d,
Shall still endure, shall still delight,
Till time is lost in endless night.
In spite of time methinks I see
Eyes once so fondly fixed on me;
I hear that voice, whose magic sound
My soul in soft enchantment bound;
Again the shadowy image flies,
And every sense but sorrow dies.
I can’t hear Jim’s voice, and can’t let myself read his letters where his tones are still alive there, in the words, his words. Why not read his words? I don’t dare. When he was away and his emails would come into my gmail, my heart would leap with reciprocation, they were so affectionate; I’d light up with a sense of joy, of his warmth to me, and so earnestly respond in kind as strong as I could with my words back. I have them stored in a file and think were I to read them I’d go physically wild with missing him, his mind, not be able to bear that his precious consciousness just vanished forever.
Oh back to Anne’s poem: I also don’t care about how ambition’s nest was destroyed and dull avarice in his cave. Anne is thinking of her husband’s career cut off, many of his aspirations not achieved, and how his predatory creditors were trying to obtain his museum of extraordinary animal and plant and human specimens (and bankrupt her) — Jim was satisfied enough with what he had earned, had no aspirations. My admiral has no marble bust either, but the rest yes, even a handsome porcelain urn with engraved poem he wrote. His eyes were often fondly fixed on me. I was enchanted by him and will be to my end.
Today Yvette and I endured another ordeal of getting to an ice-skating rink in southeast Washington (a black area of the city, lower middle, modest apartment houses and private homes), which seems to be placed where extraordinary efforts have to be made getting on and off streets and highways to get there. Last year we ended up in Maryland first; this year we tried to use google maps and avoid the fast-lane complicated highways, but found ourselves unable even to get out of Virginia and turned to our plugged-in Garmin, which we kept failing to follow fully, but the woman’s voice kept us it seemed getting nearer and nearer as we went through each loop, on and off bits of highway and streets, and after a full hour’s stress (my knees were killing me, low back hurting), we discovered the streets it was near and then memory took us to the building and parking lot once again. The explanation is it’s a black area so no one has bothered make it accessible from a highway; there is no metro stop to it from any of the lines since the area grew up long ago and since the new lines have been added, offering some transportation to black people, they are to the newer areas; finally the people who go to the rink are lower middle and working class white; they don’t count either. A maze is where you can perpetually take wrong turns and never get out; a labyrinth has one long thread through it. We were in a maze going there, a labyrinth going back: like Ariadne our Garmin got us home so I have named the voice Ariadne.
I’m sure Yvette will blog about the skating event itself. The interest this time was the choreography, choreographers were being judged. I liked two single women dancers, and one Olympic dancing pair who showed up; they appeared to be ignored by the professionals though praised to the hilts; only one got any stars worth gathering (stars mean ratings and ratings future gigs and money and high status). The place runs on a shoe-string; it seemed for a while there’d be no sound; there’s hardly any organization or professional help. The charge is $20, and the crowd very working and lower middle class and white. Those there are mostly relatives and friends of the young semi-amateurs who do some of the skating too. So there is a disconnect between what the people putting on the show, the numbers that matter & what they are there for; and the audience whom they try to please. The judges appear to talk about why they give a number this or that many stars, but their talk is startlingly dumb (it was “awesome”) or technical (not enough choreographic skating elements) and they will appear to critique a dance they give many stars to and/or to overpraise (a lot of that is done) something they give few stars to. Probably the talk is a mixture of lies and crowd pleasing and it clearly has nothing to do with why they render this or that status. Yvette said the status or stars given out has to do with the person’s whole career and where the dancer or (in this case) choreographer is in this “climb up” or not. How strained and unreal is the social life that’s professed on stage at these diverse fully open-to-the-public public gatherings. I saw the same phenomena at the JASNA AGM.
As we arrived back, I said aloud how early in September I found myself shaking repeatedly because of all I had committed to do and had to do; 3 trips, teach in 2 OLLI programs, finish and send out the introduction to the Valancourt edition of a Northanger novel, finish a review, a paper, do a panel and a paper, and (worst of all) get another set of medical reports filled out by doctors and with the help of a lawyer send them to the DMV again. I had done fall, and maybe more since I had returned to my projects during the summer already, and written proposals for 2 coming term’s teaching (I doubt more than 1 will be accepted), and now had invitations to hand in book proposals for two different collections of essays. I can look forward to 2 trips, 1 to a friend and 1 to the ASECS but this time far apart (better planned). No I have no solution for what to do about the complicated website Jim left me with, nor the state of the house (which is too much for me unless I begin to hire people to fix more, and clean it for real regularly).
It will seem I’m congratulating myself for an achievement however limited. That’s not the case, not how I feel. It is a more desperate one of seeking some mode of existence, trying to create one that is not hollow. I go through the motions of what I can do left from the life I lived with him, try to keep that up. Try not to tell or live lies, not to do what’s pointless yet I’m not sure the I don’t do the latter a lot.
The Potomac looked beautiful as we drove back tonight.