In every government, though terrors reign,
Though tyrant kings or tyrant laws restrain,
How small, of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.
— Goldsmith’s The Traveler, attributed to Samuel Johnson
Dear friends and readers,
This past week I passed my 70th birthday. The hardest thing about the Day itself was it seemed to take such a long time. I felt it as hours of endurance to get through because I felt Jim’s absence all around me. So it helped enormously that over the 24 hours I had continuous “happy birthdays” from face-book, most by people I have a friendship with, some of which I’ve met f-to-f, many of which I’ve read and talked of books with, whom I like and like to think like me, with whom I’ve shared and had shared generously all sorts of sustaining thoughts. People like to make fun of face-book friends, to dismiss or jeer who are not on face-book with friends. Closer friends wrote letters and I had funny and sweet e-cards. Two phone calls with two family members (a cousin and aunt — aunts are important people Austen said) and in the evening at the Kennedy Center, supper in the cafeteria with a friend who insisted on treating me and buying cheese cake pastry cups as a way of celebrating. The concert afterward was a long modern composition by Detlev Ganert, a tonal dissonant, a calmness in despair left room for a few beautiful melodies (for lack of a better term). Then Mahler’s 5th, the first two movements done appropriately ominously. Home again to read, write and receive letters, another episode the 1972 Pulman War and Peace, and at long last bed in peace, release from consciousness with my cats.
I have been thinking a lot about immediate danger Donald Trump and his reactionary crew represents with respect to me and Izzy. Republicans in the house are just salivating to privatize, which would destroy, social security, to abolish medicare on the false theory it’s bankrupt (it can’t be as it’s supported through general taxes), with other delights decreasing the number of federal employees (this is called draining the swamp). These could affect me and Izzy directly. I reminded myself of four general modes of conduct Jim followed as a way to survive safely:
1) if it concerned money, sit on it. Wait. Don’t jump. He might have said, “Don’t enclose the old empty screened porch now,” except that he would have been against having the porch enclosed anyway. It’s a waste of money. I and Izzy don’t need another room. I can keep it swept, with the two ladders, the rake, the broom, the pile of wood no one will ever burn in a fireplace now. Even after I inherited my mother’s money he was reluctant to re-paint the house. He’d say the mortifying blue had long ago faded. I admit I know that one of the reasons he was unwilling to go to the super-expensive specialist outside Kaiser when he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and we had the advice for him to have an esophagectomy and then chemotherapy an radiation within Kaiser was he didn’t believe that doctors who charged hugely and about whom so many believed they were infallible were any better than others not so adulated and he was aware that the expense was going to be outrageous. Months of treatment would have bankrupted our savings. I mention this to say how deeply in his psyche was the need to be careful about money — from his life and all he knew of life and his family background. He believed in any situation the most money won out. My mother believed that in money was an individual’s only safety — the only one.
2) if you have to do a thing, face it and do it. He did say when he was first trying to retire, we might have to leave this house. Realize that. That did not mean he would not retire nor listen to me when I had objections. So if I should have to sell the house, sell it. De-accession somehow or other a large proportion of the books, store them. Jim and I followed the idea that if we had to do without a thing, do without it. And we did that all our lives. No college for our daughters out of state. We had years of no vacation away, no book buying (would you believe), eating cheaply. This point of view enacted helped keep us safe because out of debt. We took on debt three times, twice for a car (Virginia has such poor public transportation and twenty years ago in places it was non-existent) and for this house. Otherwise, not and never.
I may become a nervous having to deal with realtors who I loathe as a species but I’ve a pile of money with Schwabb and that goes a long way in obscene America. I wanted to stay in England all those years ago, stay in Yorkshire but money won out – at the time Jim got a job paying 9 times as much; there were jobs galore. Today we might not have returned to the US. I think at this point, today, Jim would have applied for emigration papers for himself; he would not be able to take me right away (no longer as the spouse or widow of a British citizen no longer has right of abode) but there might be a mechanism for VISAs for a wife. If not, he would not have left me behind but would have said it might come in useful if he had this kind of document in place. He did want to go back to England when he first retired.
3) Don’t think too far ahead. He never did. He’d make budgets for the next year but that’s it. For people at our income and class level to think too far ahead is to live a deprived life in fear of what’s to come. I did try to qualify this attitude of his (in the sense of let’s not move into X unless we figure out we can pay for the heat and water and all the rest of it separately we didn’t have to in an apartment), but I was grateful for it. It was responsible for our moving into this house, and most of our trips. Indeed I think I married him partly because I knew he would spend for what I loved and let me spend too in a daily kind of way.
4) Finally what you can’t do, you can’t do. That’s it. You can’t do it. It’s a lie we can do anything and everything. Not so. Live with it.
So sit on it. If I have to sell the house, get rid of or store the books, do it. So don’t look too far ahead, take each set of weeks as it comes. Live with it. My father didn’t live according to No 3 and lost out — but then he hadn’t a partner to live a good life with. But the other maxims were his. None but the first was my mother’s.
That is really Jim — how he lived and I lived it with him and have to hold to that. If I can do that I can stop feeling such dread and anxiety when I awaken in the morning or read the name of the latest Trump appointee (what he’s doing is filling this metaphoric swamp with alligators). I sometimes can’t control myself and phone my congressmen. Jeff Sessions (set for what? attorney general? or maybe health and human services or maybe it’s education) mocked disabled people and derided special education. I phone three people demanding they speak up and speak out because silence is consent. At the OLLI at AU luncheon today it was good to hear a decisive “despicable” said by someone at the mention of Sessions’s name.
This is not the hardest year I’ve known but I am losing some more illusions hard to part with (probably many people have divested themselves of these by the time they are in their 20s); as each one vanished I have catalogued it. But tonight I tell myself if any of the most intolerable above comes to pass, I should not seek to kill myself — that’s to give Trumpism what it wants. What the 53% (to use Romney’s formulation) want is the silence of those who object to the destruction of the New Deal, the 47% it helped (Romney’s layabouts). They have hated it since it was put in place in the 1930s. Not that it would deprive them of any luxury but it’s the principle of thing. My father told me what life was like for the elderly before social security: begging bowls, dependence on adult children who didn’t have money to help them. When I moved to this neighborhood and had my first conversation with one of these local upper middle people, an old woman told me how her black gardener didn’t rush over to do her bidding now he had social security. She resented that openly before me. Shameless. I’ve met rich New Yorkers who say the pleasure of being high in the hierarchy is seeing the the marginalized lives of the working class. When they want to take health care away from older people, they are indifferent, just hoping they have to die quietly out of shame. One reason to privatize the Net (beyond reaping a bonanza of profits for corporations involved) is to silence people, cut off information and communication.
An adult response is to hunker down and wait for the spiteful mischief-maker with his fake storm and real possible catastrophes to happen or pass by. I will not follow Carrington though I so feel for her.
So, what I need to do is return to the above and read and re-read it periodically.
I said in my last that Elinor Dashwood has been a model character for me: I’ve tried much of my life to come up to her, her self-control, her steady facing of deprivation, her holding firm in the face of loss, anguish, frustration. So this is said as what I’d like to come up to: a weird (using that word in its original sense too) clearness (out of reading Margaret Oliphant of late), no longer fooling myself about what to depend on, no longer reaching out to what I don’t want (which only ends in corrosion of the soul in various ways), recognizing what don’t like (and that if there is no alternative to that, stay home with my books, cats, and favorite movies), facing I don’t respond such-and-such a way even if most people do (so being more careful where I go to for what’s called entertainment), keeping that, staying in it, cold, cool enabling me to live more steadily.
The penultimate sentence of Margaret Oliphant’s Autobiography: “And now here I am all alone.” I mean to go on to read as many of her novels and non-fiction as possible.