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Archive for February 24th, 2015

JohnNashTheGardenUnderSnow1924
John Nash, Garden under Snow (1924)

Talk of all eternity?

    I think it sounds too vast
And overwhelming just for you and me,
    Two pagan lovers; we should be aghast
And shiver at its cold immensity
I’d rather be
    Back in our little past —
Transient, perhaps, but we
    Found it sweet …
     — Jan Anstruther (Mrs Miniver)

Dear friends and readers,

A new turn. I have an inexorable conflict on Mondays starting next week: I begin teaching my planned course, The Poldark Novels in Context at 1 pm. I hope also to go to the JCC for Dance Fusion at 8:30 to 9:45 am. Charlie’s one day at the Haven is Monday. So our at first weekly, then twice a month and now monthly meeting must come to an end. We exchanged email addresses a couple of months ago and will keep in contact this way, and at the end of 10 weeks the course will be over. But it’s almost a symbol. My neighbor who lives across the street and is a widow like me, her husband in his sixties a victim of this cancer plague (he died of pancreatic cancer) told me she feels like her past and future have been taken from her. Like so many people in the US she and he moved around a lot, they could make few ties except the ones she had originally as a girl and young woman in Germany, so her past was shared with him, and now he’s gone; the future they planned was for them together. He died 5 years ago. I’ve an idea like other widows she tells no one of this — but me or perhaps another sympathetic friend who can understand. Few want to acknowledge the widow’s reality (or the older divorcee).

I talked of this with Charlie. I feel my past has not been taken from me because Jim and I had such a rich intellectual life together and I carry it within me; I put out onto blogs all I remember of him; I am surrounded by the things we bought and made together. I can though see why my neighbor said what she did about her future. I have a much much diminished future. Money and troubled effort assembled a team to replace practical things Jim used to do. Mrs Thatcher was wrong: there is such a thing as society. Much I used to do is no longer fun, much I did was from his planning, his know-how, his driving. We would have gone to London for Trollope’s birthday and I would have, with him, tried to join in on Trollope Society events. He probably would have been planning this for months, and bought tickets for us to go to theater or other places too. Now none of this will occur. Ironically the activities I have available to me are the ones that kept me from him for a good deal of the time: time here on the Net with others; my reading, writing, watching movies. For me to go to LA in March is hard enough, and there’s the cost. Each day I make a small plan and follow it. I am doing things I would never have done had he lived — like teaching in these OLLIs. I need to go out and be with people, but doing this precludes say trying to write a book (not that I am keen on that any more at all) or say a series of essays for periodicals (I must be mad to go back to that); it’s more than the teaching itself is problematic for me. Charlie and I talked of how hard it is to make new friends at this age. A few friends I had thought would become closer moved off very quickly (months ago); a few (Net-friends) stayed; I now have two local friends I have met with for lunch, gone to a movie with, walk, but for the most part my life is that of a lone person with her books, films, cats and a few Net-friends.

Charlie and I will still keep in touch by email, if desired by phone, we can try to meet during the week on another day, and I can come again when the ten weeks are over.

Last week during one of the sieges of snow where everything was closed and the temperatures cause my skin to burn, not to omit black frozen ice-and-snow on roads, Charlie sent me the following sweet YouTube about a cat house, very cheering:

The cats make the house feel alive. I am become closer to my cats than ever. I feel they are there with me, and am alive to their ways of communicating with me. Ian, the boy, likes to keep two of his toys (a string toy, and a flat blue stuffed sock) in the back bathroom and will not tolerate my making the bathroom rugs neat. That is his spot to wrestle. He used to spend his morning under Jim and my bed; since Jim died he began to spend it amid Yvette’s shoes, in the back of her closet; now he lies down on the front living room couch with occasional trips to the grate. He has arrived chez lui . He is larger than Clarycat, and manifests a kangaroo-like spurt (from the back it looks so awkward) when he trots, ambles, hops, runs, skids, dances, plays with string, springs up to the heights of bookcases and tables about the house, watching and waiting for one of us to come home, sometimes jumps on poor Clarycat demanding play and wrestling with her …. she takes a bit, doesn’t mind when he licks her and will playbite back, but then growls (she’s had enough) and gets out from under. She’s doesn’t quite look kangaroo-like from behind because she’s slenderer … She spends her days near me, is right now clutched tight on my lap.

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Julianne Moore won an Oscar for Best Actress for Still Alice, a movie which puts before the viewer a woman left alone whose illness takes from her her future, and her past. One of the friends I mentioned went with me to see it. She lives alone, aged nearly 60, and fears what will happen to her. She cried intensely twice as she watched. Unexpectedly I didn’t cry but I certainly saw this movie and the novel it’s based are about more than Alzheimer’s.

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Julianne Moore as a woman with early on-set Alzheimer’s

It is an unusually close and truthful depiction of deterioration. Yes she’s upper middle class, privileged, and has great doctors, but the film shows us that families are not this loving panacea. We see how Alice’s deterioration brings out real conflicts, and towards the end her husband goes off to another city because he’s still young and wants to further his career, and she gets in the way. He doesn’t exactly leave her, as one of her daughters comes to live with her. The curtain is brought down before the harrowing end which is pictured half-way through when Alice, still well enough, goes to visit a nursing home where elderly people who have lost their ability to take care of themselves are put. Julianne Moore’s performance was utterly believable.

It appears to be leaving the movie-houses soon (on hardly any screens, only twice a day, small auditoriums, small audiences in them), so this is a recommendation to hurry out. It is directed and written by the same two people — a good sign for the screenplay and independently produced — or you’d not have the ending it has. In comparison, The Theory of Everything was about Hawking’s wife’s romance and skidded along a distanced untenuous upbeat surface (some improbabilities stared you in the face). That The Imitation Game and Birdman won for screenplays show just how little any certain criteria are used for films.

I am following a Future Learn course on film-making (from Exeter this one), and the weeks are wildly disparate in quality. Two have been superb, and two awful — it seems the people making movies, have no idea how to judge the material they present; they take this supposed practical approach. It is pretended the people following are going to make movies, the way many many books on screenplays are based on the idea the reader is going to try to write a screenplay. I now see why: many of these people don’t have an intellectual understanding of what they are doing; they can understand how a camera works and what angles they could to produce certain effects. Often the actors understand more of their art as an art and its value than anyone else — I see this during interviews. Film studies scholars have little respect outside of their own circles; these movie-making people accept popular critics as a form of advertisement; when the critics are intelligent their work crosses over and is used by film scholars.

As to the Oscars ceremony, the whole thing now that I have paid some attention to it for the last two years (when Jim was alive he never did nor did I), most of it is absurd, from the attention paid to what the actresses wear, to gossip about the show. This year the talk about it included talk about the politics of some of the movies and speeches. These appeared to do no good if you look at who won the prizes for the most part (an exception to this is CitizenFour for best documentary, not that it was anywhere near as good as Laura Poitras’s first film). I gather at the core of all admiration this is envy — especially for the “after Oscars party.” People want to be included and inside exclusive coteries.

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Joan Rivers (undated)

I was surprised that I didn’t cry at Still Alice because I’ve been crying more easily. Indeed I worry a little about this as if I’m in public people will become uncomfortable if suddenly tears run down my face. Jim’s permanent absence, his non-existence are more real to me than ever — even if I have him in memories, artefacts, my daughters, the very way of quiet comfortable enough life his years of work with mine make possible to me. I should not be surprised at the denial of the reality of widows and widowers’ feelings by most people who have not experienced this loss, and how many who have are afraid to speak of it lest they offend or lose whatever connections or friends they have. It is not even that surprising to me anymore that books about widowhood end with an upbeat idea of the building a new life that genuinely replaces the old so the person no longer misses the old. I have experienced myself how very hard it is to get anyone to publish life-writing which does not end with an upbeat moral, an exemplary typology that the reader can gain (false often) hope from. It may be that were I to read the more academic writing on grief I would find that Kubler-Ross’s cant was recognized as such; through the thicket of jargon and distanced intimidating writing there might be a genuine engagement with human emotion at the loss of a beloved life partner. Here and there over this past two years I have seen poems acknowledge it, a couple of novels, a couple of memoirs. I’ve recorded these in this blog.

When Joan Rivers was widowed from the most painful kind of death, a spouse’s suicide, she quipped: “she scattered his ashes at Neiman Marcus, so she could visit 5 times a week …. ” There’s an insightful informative essay on her in this week’s New Yorker by Emily Nussbaum. Nussbaum sees Rivers as surviving by consciously buying into all the most outrageous norms of our society, the anti-feminist ones too. So at the Oscars she went around saying “Who are you wearing tonight?” Nussbaum sees her act as reinforcing what hurts many women badly; myself I never heard some of the attacks on other women Nussbaum cites or alludes to. I found her jokes genuinely funny: when a man wants anal intercourse, this gives you the chance to read or do some paper work, so don’t knock it. And you won’t get pregnant this way either. My blog-review of Rivers’s movie, A Piece of Work has been most of the most read (reblogged) and popular pieces I’ve ever written; there I see her as “activating her anger, sublimating it and reaching others where they live. And the way she confronts our cultural hypocrisies defies them and through her act, she mocks our false norms.:

Note on the table in the photo beside her all those pills. She is very young and vulnerable — this looks like her face before surgery. She lasted until 82 when she died at the hands of doctors in a hospital during an operation that should not have killed her. She was probably not expecting this, given all the operations she had voluntarily undergone.

Caroline gave her cat, Mitzi, a necessary operation, to remove cysts from one of her paws. Both her legs were shaved, the one with the cysts and one for an IV. The poor creature did not understand what was being done to her, was terrified probably, felt pain, and at first looked exhausted and in need of much affection and reassurance. After a couple of days, she perked up, and managed to get her neck cone off. After it was put back, she looks longing out the window (where it’s still freezing cold) because she is a cat who likes to go outdoors — basically to a small fenced-in garden at the back of Caroline’s house. The latest photo suggests recovery on the way. Her life is saved again (she is 14 and was in effect a rescue cat) and she can carry on too. What else is there?

Call this Mitzi gets all better:

EmpressMitzi
Mitzi when well — Empress before the operation

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Mitzi convalescing at home (Jim denied cancer patients were allowed to convalesce at Kaiser)

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Mitzi perking up; observing the snow and freezing rain?

Recovering
Mitzi recovering

Sylvia

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