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Archive for April 30th, 2019


by Vanessa Bell (I do not know who this is she paints -click on the image to make it  much larger)

Because there’s nothing better than good wine come along.

“Cutters cover,” she said. What an extraordinary phrase, how disrespectful. It was said in a class on August Wilson’s Two Trains Running …. ” by a self-described retired family therapist. I looked over at her from the other side of the room. I had been talking of Risa, the one female character, an African-American woman working in a tiny restaurant as sole cook and dish-washer, comes into work in a dress or skirt that shows how she has cut up her legs. We are not told how, or with what? razor? knife? or what the patterns. I had (I hoped) tried explain that Risa was “practicing self-harm” in order to protect herself, carving out private space in public by doing something which would put other people off. Asserting some autonomy, some self-ownership inside this space, from which she cooked and served others too (including a man who appears to be unable to speak more than one demand over and over). You can make fun: the liberating path of self-abuse, anyone? I also Risa said was a Victorian heroine when the class teacher declared Risa is an “angel.” Shades of Esther Summerson. I talked of self-negation as offering peace.

But then I made the same mistake as I did in the first class where I had talked of self-negation as a way to find some space, escape pressure, and find yourself, by offering the concrete example of anorexia. This for a third time now diverted minds who had not taken in what I said, and a woman was speaking suddenly about her daughter once anorexic but “now all cured.” She began to assert herself over what I was saying about anorexia as an example of misunderstood self-harm as someone who knew nothing of anorexia, so I interrupted with “I was anorexic for five years, weighed 78 pounds.” That stopped her for some seconds, but then she had the floor because I had interrupted her. I rejoined talking of Pazzoli’s study of the family context and a comment one is never cured. I wanted to say “how comforting for you to think she’s all ‘cured.'” But I knew that would be too aggressive.

Then the first woman went back to talking of “cutters” and how Risa doesn’t “cover.” I still don’t know why that was so important: it was as if she wanted to exclude Risa. In a previous class, she said of another black woman character, Beatrice in Wilson The Piano Lesson, a widow, who will not sell her piano as it is an important relic from her past with her murdered husband, “she’s frozen” — she’s not working it out. Working what out? No she’s not frozen, she’s profoundly alive and feelingful.

There’s a limit to how much I want to say about myself in this class. On that last go-round I had said I’m a widow myself; I have to preserve my emotional safety so I said nothing about my personal knowledge of self-harm practices.

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Life has moved on since the last time I wrote. We are coming to the end of spring term and soon (all too soon) I will be gone for altogether 8 days on a Road Scholar trip to Cornwall. Alas it does interfere with two last classes at OLLI at AU and one party-luncheon I like to go to. I won’t go away in mid-May again. But I’ve my two summer courses to teach all set (OLLI at Mason, “The Enlightenment: At Risk?” again, and at OLLI at AU a new version of Booker Prize books, this time short and short listed, for a four week course).

I’ve had a sort of break-through: kind emails from people in my Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? class made suggestions for me on what I could teach in future, and one citing Ivy Compton-Burnett (impossible, I can’t read her as cold and her format of strict dramatic dialogue too flat for me) made me remember mid-20th century novelists and poets I used to teach as I was just then reading (for my Graham project) Grahame Greene’s brilliantly nihilistic Ministry of Fear and now I think to do a course pairing Graham Greene’s Heart of the Matter with Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September, two profound novels covering civil, colonialist wars, the profound sorrows of 20th century life and two novellas by them, his Monsignor Quixote (I used to teach this wonderfully ironic text of debate regularly) with her A Time Away (travel book dreaming Rome). I must move beyond the 18th and 19th centuries to material I can teach, love and (who knows or I hope with) appeal to others. (Two other possible authors are George Orwell and Lillian Hellman as a pair, say Homage to Catalonia and Scoundrel Time — such a class would be far more politically pointed).

I’ve had some good experiences outside these places (e.g., Poldark at the Smithsonian, a Jane Austen study day, 4 very high level papers I must write up soon), been out a couple of times for lunch with good people, friends. I did try to persuade Izzy to go with me on Tuesday nights to Gadsby Tavern where they actually do Longways 18th century style country dancing but she does not want it, and my eyes are bad at night driving. I was told about it at that Jane Austen Study day. This morning I’ve decided to try to go myself. We’ll eat early; it’s not far, I know the roads well, it will be light going. The thing is I like to dance, it’s not that far away (in Old Town, so 5 minutes by car and then I park), not attached to a religious group (wow, how unusual), for free, anyone can come (I don’t need to know anyone!). If the people are too young, or I’m uncomfortable in any way, I can just leave early and not go again. If it’s fun, I could try again. Nothing to lose. I’ve never been inside Gadsby’s Tavern.

A friend suggested going to Politics and Prose and seeing if I could teach there — a wonderful bookstore still (buying a good book in my local area has become as difficult as it was in the suburbs of NYC in the 1950s — not only is medicine affected by monopolies). I have enough on my plate, DC far away, tempting as it sounded. I’d be paid … The thing is I am “into” these two places and would not be able to make time to teach a third. I’ve have to give up one and even for money that’s hard for me. It’s so hard to integrate even as far as I’ve managed. But I’ll look. I could try to take a course if it’s not at night. To begin with. My friend is taking a course on Hannah Arendt and he had a Penguin edition of her books that impressed me; he talked of a course where they would read 3 short Diderot texts! where would you find that? I will look on the website and see if I can fit a course in. It needs to be during the day. I need to practice getting there. Finally I need to learn to park. Not impossible obstacles.

I am already reading too many books, articles, sheer texts, watching too many movies, posting too much at one time – loving much of what I get to, but not enough time to finish and write, to get through enough at a time on a single topic thoroughly.

So I asked myself earlier to day, I have to make up my mind what I want to do with my life, and then immediately said to myself, wait, you are 72. Isn’t it a bit late to be deciding. Maybe I should rather give over and stop hoping to produce a book and not worry if I am insufficiently focused …


Nonetheless, trying to fit this in: what happened to American cultural groups who came back to live in London (enslaved people often did manage to free themselves in the higgedy-piggledy of life) — she is a superb writer. I learned about it in a course said to be on British perspective on American revolution ….

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I have had good news: my liver is declared “free of hepitatis C” after a thorough ultrasound. I had been getting impatient not drinking any alcohol, no pills or powder to help against constipation and begun to give in and drink a small glass of wine now and then, and relieve myself once a week.


My favorite along with Shiraz

I have learned something new from my experience: why wine has been around for thousands of years. As I’ve written (too often, but a new reader can land here & people need more to be reminded than informed &c&c), I was diagnosed with hepitatis C four months ago now, and have been taking a pill a day for over 2 and 1/2 (8 days to go) which is costing the US taxpayer (you my friends) $38,000. Yes that’s the obscene egregious ransom for epclusa (it’s called). It makes me headachy, tired, my bones ache, I sleep deeply, but Epclusa seems to have worked — it’s said to have a cure rate of 97%. My doctor said that’s why it costs to much. “Not it’s not,” I said; they do it because they can charge that and no one in congress makes a move to stop them” (well generally several democrats are saying they will institute a single payer system and maybe that will stop this stinging robbery and deprivation of those who are not hooked into some good insurance plan). He made a mild protest but did not speak any more of why the pills cost so much. He did though agree with me that what most Americans seem to drink — if 4 rows of “juice” and “drinks” in a typical supermarket tell us anything.

I have been trying for nearly 3 months to find a substitute for wine beyond coffee, tea, water. What I have discovered is on sale in the US supermarkets of various types is carbonated chemically- flavored highly sugared water, sometimes flavored with concentrate so the manufacturer can call the liquid inside some of the metal cans and plastic bottles “juice.”

Who could drink such crap? Not me. I have found about 5 or 6 real juices in bottles: tomato, prune, pineapple, grapefruit, pear (nectar it’s called). Each made by one manufacturer. I can’t drink prune juice with supper. I have discovered how detestable is coca-cola, and the sodas with carcinogenic sweeteners are sickening. So I returned to wine sops (bread dipped in wine and sucked) as if this were the 18th century for the later afternoon. I have no teeth and can’t do any harder fruit, only soft cheese, soft butter pound cake, soft butter cookies. My doctor told me there are people when told they can eat oranges or some other real citrous fruit but must stay away from the supermarket “juices” can’t understand it. They don’t realize they are not drinking juice from their “juicy-juice” bottles.

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One of the rooms in the bnb Laura rented

Not much of a diary entry, my friend. As spring arrived, I found I missed the perpetual close companionship I had with Jim — looking around and seeing so many who seem to have this in some form or other. I find I crave just that and there is no substitute for its loss.

Izzy and I did not do anything in particular — we hardly ever do for most holidays (Winter solstice holiday days and evenings have been the exception). When Jim was alive in late spring he’d drive us to some vast extent of land, once a plantation, where fox-hunting clubs hold point-to-point races while the foxes breed. They hold elite gatherings in fancy tents drinking champagne and having elegant or American-style hot-dog picnics. The hoi polloi can come in by another gate, for $10 a car and have picnics on the lower ground near the race track. Everyone can bet. Everyone can buy souvenirs in the place where peddlers sell wares of all sorts.

But Laura came over and we planned a new trip: the three of us go to Northern France, we rented a bnb that is just about on the beach of Calais for late August early September, bought the plane tickets so it’s a done deal. We plan to have “stretchings” (Laura calls it) and have day trips (using chunnel) to London, Paris, and the environs here. Jim and I were here and I know it’s Proust countryside too. Izzy is more cheerful than I have seen her in a long time, positively buoyant. I will probably have photos as Laura is very good at taking photos. I took down old CD French lessons and going through them once again.

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Strictly keeping myself to citing just one and one I’ve not cited before or for a long time: Just now most meaningful to me is Ann Goldstein’s translation of Elena Ferrante’s Those who leave and those who stay. I’m that riveted that I bought it in Italian and hope to begin reading the Italian with the English beneath as a crib as soon as my Italian text arrives. I carry on moving through the films of Andrew Davies and having wept and marveled at his Bleak House, am up to his Dr Zhivago.


Lady Dedlock (Gillian Anderson) mourned over, rock by Esther Summerson (Anna Maxwell Martin)

Ellen

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