Two years ago today, a Saturday, Jim and I were told that the cancer had metastasized into his liver. That was not the way it was said. In low tones, the doctor said “liver mets.” Jim had been feeling unwell for days; we had been to see the imbecilic Kaiser doctor on the Thursday who had been all cheer and declared he was doing very well. But that morning he got up in extreme pain and looked at me and said “something is dreadfully wrong.” So we went to the Tysons Medical Center which I myself visited about 3 weeks ago now. I did not know what the phrase meant until we got home and I looked it up on wikipedia, and did not realize it was a death sentence and soon until a few days later.
Yvette has finally uploaded her YouTube of herself singing an appropriate song, Snow Patrol’s Run. These are hard to do by oneself. Especially hard the videoing and sound parts. I am moved by her choice of song, its lyrics and music type. That’s our spinet piano you are hearing.
This past Friday night I went with a new friend, a woman I met at the OLLI at Mason (she was in my class, around my age, divorced), let us call her Phyllis, to listen to someone who had the professional accompaniment Yvette lacks: we went to a sort of nightclub, www.CreativeCauldron.org it’s called on-line, a room functioning as place for plays, music and cabaret in Fairfax, Virginia. Sandy Bainum has a throaty-pleasing voice, dresses in conventional sexiness (complete with piled blonde hair, sequins around her neck, tight black outfit, CHFM shoes), but the music chosen was tepid, her talk between songs puerile and tedious, and some of her numbers astonishingly embarrassing: at one point she came out in a apron with home-made cookies, declaring she was imitating a 1950s housewife such as one might see on TV at the time. We paid only $13 each,and there were three touching songs with some sincere emotion towards the end. The audience was mostly seniors; there were tables you could reserve by buying a bottle of (not very appetizing) wine in the lobby. I wondered what they thought. All polite, clapping at the end (as at the Barns theater in Wolf Trap).
Phyllis declared it was the worst thing she’d ever seen there, most of it is nowhere as bad, some even good. Still the last time I went to a cabaret was with Jim more than 25 years ago and it was somewhere in Northern Virginia — Alexandria. I don’t recall much except we never went again. After this, I have to admit to a non-enthusiasm for the next 25 years.
Sophie and I were luckier at the National Gallery on Thursday afternoon. We endured the dreadful heat to meet up. I watched the insanity of sweating tourists going in and out of the fierce air-conditioning in the museum; who would come to DC in August? can they not think of anything better than grinding through the Air and Space museum in the torturous glare? When I was in my thirties I used to marvel at bedraggled women who take their children (their work after all) with them and call this a vacation. Have they no brain, no individual response they are in touch with?
Well, beyond some paintings in their permanent collection I had not seen before, brought up from their capacious basement, and very worth the seeing (early 20th century American), and a few favorites:
Three rooms of Joachim Wtewael (1566-1638) revealed that the Renaissance had its deeply vulgar stupid art too. The man could paint like a virtuoso when it comes to realistic depiction, but there was hardly a picture not directly or not-so-subtly pornographic. Much violence in evidence too. Prurient pin-ups for clerics and princes made respectable by classical stories. I wish I could have Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell’s sardonic reaction. As the curators had written such solemnly blind blurbs next to the pictures, I did wonder if others beyond me saw what was in front of them. As I tried to tell Sophie, I could see I grated upon people around me. But on Friday night one of my friend’s friends who came with us spoke of this exhibition in terms that made me realize she at least (and probably others) understood they were doing to see exercises in hypocrisy — and didn’t mind in the least. Had the pictures been more neutral in their depictions (fluid sexuality) it would have been easier to take, but there was too much anal intercourse of man upon woman, just women offering themselves salaciously to men. One depiction of a kitchen (not mythic) reminded me of a Millais and was the least absurd, but the brochure I picked up does not include the title, and Sophie was almost kicked out of the museum for attempting to use her cell phone to photograph it. I found this version on the Net:
On the whole, Sophie and I decided we still had had a richer afternoon than most plays locally done, most movies on offer this summer could give us. She did say she went to a Millenium Stage piano concert of good music well done on that same Friday night.
I am enjoying watching a couple of superb BBC serial dramas: Danger UXB, about a unit of men whose dangerous job it is during WW2 to defuse bombs the Germans showered Britain with in WW2; stark, simple, truthful, it’s a powerful statement about war. The use of footage from the period reinforces the effectiveness. I’m re-watching the recent Upstairs Downstairs, also on WW2, but from the angle of an upper class family with Nazi infiltration and connections. Listening to a fine reading aloud of Graham’s Ross Poldark by Oliver Hembrough, and Yvette had downloaded for me another of Demelza read by Claire Corbet. I can no longer get myself to drive to the JCC (25 minutes by highway) to do water-aerobics as the exercise is non-existent; I swim every other day, 4-7 laps depending on when my chest gives out (I get breathless and have pain), every other afternoon. 6 minutes there and 6 back. Takes half an hour to swim as much as I manage. Water refreshing. I still go to Dance Fusion at the JCC for two early mornings. My favorite thing for exhilaration.
I am almost finished with my paper on Trollope’s colonialist writings, fiction and non-fiction and know that this one shows I have nothing new to say. What I write is accurate, but what Trollope scholars will want to hear that I feel that the way Trollope’s repugnant views are got round by themselves, doesn’t stand scrutiny?
Small things Charlie, my Haven counselor, would have told me to remember in comparison to the catastrophe Jim and I experienced in August 2013 and the hideous often cruelly administered treatment he was subjected to (the punning meanings of medicine come to mind) for the last two months of his life. As soon as I’ve finished this paper, I’m going to take off from all job-connected reading and writing. The first book on my pile is Julian Barnes’s Levels of Life. Jim read Barnes’s books as they came out and this morning I read his latest essay in the LRB (“Selfie with Sunflowers”) where he wrote poignantly and funnily on all that surrounds Van Gogh’s works, all that gets in the way of reaching them.
The results of his death for me are inexorable. I’ve tried to build a new life but it’s hollow all that I do without him and I don’t enjoy much of it — what I enjoy are reading at home, writing, watching movies because these absorb my mind most fully. For me the teaching is a help because it gets me doing thoroughly books I love more; my old-time Florida friend is teaching again too, economics at a nearby university in Tampa. As she said to me (also a widow now) last week there is no replacing the companionship we had, no bringing back or recreating in any form a long life’s meaning each of us had with this man we loved and who each loved each. When widows stay sad, it’s the result of the present they have to endure. I understand that the way society is organized is natural and people who last as a couple remain in the pair and know happiness and all that do is arranged around that. All a widow like myself can do is find resources within herself and try for peace there, turn to old friends and to pass time sometimes find stray people like themselves sufficiently.
Paradoxically though I’ve said how I love my home I have to get used to being in it alone — with my cats as living-alongside companions.
Yesterday evening I cooked a meal for myself for the second time since Jim died. Yvette was out. Again it was pasta (farfalle) and I microwaved some sauce from Trader Joe’s and had left-over cold chicken on the side. Again, washed it down with Paisano wine. Watched PBS news while eating both times too.