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Archive for July 12th, 2019


Berthe Morisot’s summer scene, reading on a lake, mother and child


Just Fine all Alone — Tammy Cantrell — — standing in for me and Ian (my latest time-line photos)

Dancing Day II by Marie Ponsot. Is it not a beautiful poem? It was just put on Wompo, a listserv for women’s poetry (July 9th).

Once, one made many.
Now, many make one.
The rest is requiem.

We’re running out of time, so
we’re hurrying home to
practice to
gether for the general dance.
We’re past get-ready, almost at get-set.
Here we come many to
dance as one.

Plenty more lost selves keep arriving, some
we weren’t waiting for. We stretch and
lace up practice shoes. We mind our manners—
no staring, just snatching a look
—strict and summative—
at each other’s feet & gait & port.

Every one we ever were shows up
with world-flung poor triumphs
flat in the back-packs we set down to greet
each other. Glad tired gaudy
we are more than we thought
& as ready as we’ll ever be.

We’ve all learned the moves, separately,

from the absolute dancer
the foregone deep breather
the original choreographer.

Imitation’s limitation—but who cares.
We’ll be at our best on dancing day.
On dancing day
we’ll belt out tunes we’ll step to
together
till it’s time for us to say
there’s nothing more to say
nothing to pay no way
pay no mind pay no heed
pay as we go.
Many is one; we’re out of here,
exeunt omnes

exit oh and save
this last dance for me

on the darkening ground
looking up into
the last hour of left light
in the star-stuck east,
its vanishing flective, bent
breathlessly.

All the characteristics and feel of l’ecriture-femme. She has just died — her life span was April 6, 1921 to July 5 1919 Long lived.

Dear friends and readers,

Moved by Ian Patterson’s essay in the July 4th issue of the London Review of Books, “My Books,” where he described his journey through life as a deep adventures reading, buying, and planning to read books (so acquiring them) until he found himself living in a diary of his life, the paths ahead of him, the books he will open, consult, live in, and when time permits, read next, I come back to continue this diary.

That’s how I’ve been, how I was with Jim. The essay turns into a memoir of loss of his beloved wife, Jenny Diski too. Truth to tell, I was irresistibly draw to the column when I saw the name that I knew from just one of her last essays was that of “the poet,” her partner (husband) of many years. In his The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes has his character declare the experience of life is “accumulation.” Taking on you the burden of memory to make a meaning or identity for yourself. Ian Patterson is at risk of losing his identity

The idea the man has is they are a manifestation of his very soul. I like how he remembers individuals by colors and look and feel and the visual memory of where some passage is on the page in the book itself So do I.

***********************************


Me, taken summer 2014

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference … Frost

This to share with my readers here my part in a thread of postings that went on for several days where people on my TrollopeandHisContemporaries@groups.io, asked if they would once again or for the first time introduce themselves, began to pour out memories of (in Frost’s famous poems’ terms) the varied paths they took different (they felt) from many others around them, or in response to some painful events or losses, or their own needs, goals, desires.

It’s not my place to tell of these others, but I can post my response to theirs. Someone said she had had enough of schooling or college, after one post-graduate degree. So I replied:

I [too] felt after I finished my Ph.D. no more degrees. I know both women and men who have gone on for another degree, sometimes to the Ph.D again, often the professional one — the job-oriented lawyer’s degree. I said no more no matter what. I also was a secretary — some three times, the most fun being in Northern England. Secretary was a way in, but it was hard to break out of that. I’m also now at two Lifelong Learning Institutes and have the great pleasure of developing my own courses. I couldn’t agree more about being asked as a woman to read mostly dead white European males (and the usual token woman, e.g., Austen, Eliot, Bronte, maybe Woolf). But I’ll remark it was not all males who made the cut: not only Trollope but Collins was beyond the pale. F.R Leavis has a lot to answer for, but his book and Scrutiny were so enormously influential because by being ever so solemn, treating close reading as a hard mystery, and using only authors with lots of prestige did the profession justify itself. For a while in the later 20th century it justified itself politically by deconstructing these sacred works, but after a couple of decades that hadn’t gone over very well, feminism as dreamed of in the second phase had been beat back badly: now humanities departments are just shut down in many places.

For reasons beyond explaining, people began to use reading Spenser’s Faerie Queene as the “step too far” they had been asked to do as English or humanities majors. To this, I countered:

My dear, I have read the entire Faerie Queene and I wrote a paper on the sixth book which almost won a prize. I a couple of times almost won a prize: my short story out of Gone with the Wind, “Ellen’s Story” (O’Hara) almost won a prize …. I don’t regret reading  The Faerie Queene. Maybe I regret the years in the composition part of an English department where I gave in and assigned the community text. I wasted the students’ time with utter self-interested crap — books published by members of the department, this year’s fashionable book. I didn’t keep that up and so didn’t win Brownie points with anyone. I saw my younger daughter discouraged from being an English major when the older man who taught “The first half of Eng Lit” from the Norton retired, and a young faculty member assigned 12 sophisticated novels which assumed a sophisticated attitude to literature (one of which had been written by him, one by his wife) and also that you had read classics. She hated it and never took another English course; she did like Milton from the first half, Pope, Shakespeare — she like all that.

Yes for years I never read a woman’s book, or if I was assigned one, I was strongly discouraged from making that woman or art the focus of a term paper. I was astonished after I got my Ph.D, to discover a slew of Renaissance women poets, and now it grates on me at OLLIs where teachers (women too) just cite men’s books — or men’s films.

The internet has been a lifeline for me — transformed some fundamental attitudes and my life but this has been the result of activities online of all sorts, yet its been mostly posting and reading about books and movies with others. Maybe a course or so. Just learning about and reaching things I was unaware of before. My first true insightful social life occurred here

The question came up, what are we good at? what we choose to do is what we like and we like what we have talent for. A couple of people professed to be good only at reading, writing, and (say) crossword puzzles. So I said,

I’m down right hopeless at crossword puzzles but can with patience manage a jigsaw and when I was 15 I took up a year of my life buying jigsaw with lovely pictures and doing them over a long period of time. The living room table became my puzzle table — and I put it in our hall so as to try to get of sight and sound of the TV. By 15 I had stopped watching most TV. I loved Drabble’s memoir The Pattern in the Carpet, A Personal History with Jigsaws – she used the puzzle as a metaphor for our existence.

But I can parallel park a car on a city street into a tight space. I parallel -parked just today in order to go to the Farmer’s market. I had Volkswagon bugs for years and used to have to park them in Manhattan. So it was “on the job” training. I am no where as good at parking in garages and parking lots — I scratch (a mild term) the sides of my cars on pillars and yes on other cars … I find the lines are too narrowly drawn and wonder what people do who have truly big cars. I have a PriusC — compact Prius (Toyota with hybrid engine).

Among us book readers on this list for reading books together who wrote in on this theme, there were a number of people who once taught and a few who taught in senior colleges and left. And they gave different reasons for this or just expressed dismay, disgust, alienation, a desire not to become a migrant contingent teacher (with low pay and poor benefits). I expressed my feelings about this crossroads especially:

It seems that at some point at least some of us have taken some road or made a choice we could not come back from, or not retrieve easily. My feeling is for academics — people teaching in colleges, but maybe in high school too there comes a time when some of us ask ourselves, Do we want to do this for the rest of our lives? People I’ve talked to (and written with) often say that the decision time comes because they haven’t made tenure (will not get the truly respected position and decent money and security), and I have been made to feel bad because they go on about this choice to make a better salary – of course the ones who say this are those who went on to make a better salary. The implication is, what is the matter with you? why did you take this? because all my life I was an adjunct. Sometimes it’s accompanied by adverse criticism (often accurate) of the academy — though businesses are as and worse corrupted.

I am often silent when face-to-face because I’m outnumbered or the person has the American hegemony on his or her side. But when it is one-on-one or here on the Net I do reply and it’s that I said to myself, I don’t care if I never make even a full-time position (contingent). There is nothing else I want to do or can endure. (I admit I never thought of going back for another degree to be a librarian — I could have.) I would rather spend my life reading (here we go) and writing and teaching reading and writing at the cost of whatever. Of course I had a husband and I thought he was doing pretty well. (Since in these OLLIs Ive met people who have said, what a shame he didn’t rise to one of the super-high grades and make “real” money.) I did come to that  a place in the path where I saw this group of people would not even give me a full time contingent job, and yet I chose to stay on where I was … Now thinking there were opportunities for me to get behind someone with tenure to do with them what they wanted, an dwho could have helped me but there was no offer and it could have taken years and then I not be chosen. I’ve been lucky in that my mother unexpectedly left me money which is really why I am comfortable. But I’m glad I didn’t spend my existence in an insurance office — I’m not saying that those who have didn’t find satisfaction in that. The young man who is my financial adviser works long hours 5 days a week with little vacation doing nothing but working with money — it’s what he wants …. I can’t regret what I feel I have not truly suffered for by not having enough money to live right now.

As Frost’s poem says, I took another path, or unlike others who didn’t make tenure, I stayed in the path – that same one I saw as mine, all I could do with what I was and had – at age 19 sitting on a bench in a park with a friend I still know. She is today a widow like me, with her Ph.D in economics, she teaches as a retired person at a college in Florida — so an adjunct salary — she would never teach what she’d call and most people nothing — there’s that word nothing. I don’t teach for nothing. Shakespeare would understand my comment there & Austen too.

I can bring Trollope into this too: he gave up his good job at the Post Office because he was passed over for promotion. He felt humiliated. Yes he wanted to write full time, yes he wanted to start a periodical, yes maybe he was tired of the post office. But he gave up a pension to do this. And I have seen people say “the hell with it,” I can’t stand this and will give up my pension — they are usually younger, and maybe have a hope of providing for themselves in old age in some other way.

But Trollope did walk away. Took another path and look how many novels and short stories, and essays we have by him

And by the way, I have discovered that OLLI at Mason has book clubs where the group gets together and they read the book aloud! they do choose well-respected classics, and usually long ones. So this summer is Dr Zhivago in the best edition and a fine translation. I had signed up thinking it a discussion group so I decided to pass on it — I have a CD of Madoc reading it aloud brilliantly. I have read in the 19th century some book clubs just the book aloud — many clubs would have members who could not afford a copy of their own so this was a way of “getting” a book.

Something I had written about regretting not thinking of becoming a librarian, was misunderstood: “I have a hunch I would have liked working in a library — of course I dream of research libraries like the Folger or Library of Congress. Izzy so enjoyed her time in a Fairfax library where she joined in the children’s house. Now she is at the Pentagon library.”

Oh yes I know that librarians do not sit about all day reading — I did work as a librarian’s assistant (unpaid) in high school and one of my daughters is a librarian. When I said I should have thought of librarianship, I was thinking of all I knew about academia by that time, my weariness with endlessly teaching (it felt at the time but I did manage to stop teaching) freshman comp courses. What I was saying what I didn’t think of perhaps palatable alternatives — when I was young, to be a nurse was one. I was strongly discouraged continually from that.

I’m glad to come back to add to other reasons I’ve known a number of people to leave academia. Beyond money and promotion, having to move – and in the early years continually. I have met people living in NYC who say they will not take a job too far away – this is home to them, and for many good reasons. Continual moving is a continual ripping of our attempts at making relationships, transplanting ourselves, building a life apart.

Let me add on further reminiscences: I worked as an adjunct for many years, most steadily from 1989 (spring) to May 2012. For four years I taught in two places and had four classes so that would be 120 students. Sometimes I couldn’t remember everyone’s names. I’d become neurasthenic by the end of the day sometimes — especially when I did four in a row. I still remember Izzy as a small child coming up to my sofa, looking at me, walking away and returning with her blanket and a doll. She covered me with blanket and tucked the doll in, and then returned to whatever she was doing. Most years I did three classes in fall and spring each, and two in the summer (one 8 week term).

I think I did like being among people, young people, and I did like the students as a group overall. At the beginning far more of them had read more books and did not have jobs, by the end it was not uncommon for me to have students who appeared to have read hardly any books and were trying to go to college with full-time jobs at the same time. At the beginning (going way back) 1972, most classes met 3 times a week for an hour, then the thin edge of wedge was twice a week for 75 minutes. In my last years I taught classes meeting either twice for 75 minutes or once for a whooping nearly 3 hour stretch. It was then I turned to have students do talks and yes used more movies.

I did stop teaching between 1976 or so and 1987 or so. Then I read proposals for the Fund for Post-Secondary Education — piece meal work where I was paid per proposal or maybe it was per hour.

If I could understand the digital software I think I’d enjoy being an editor.

************************

Where Oliphant spent one summer: overlooks a lake near Fife, Scotland

I believe I said last time I have been much cheered because it seems my project to write about women writers who spend a long time unmarried is “on again:” my friend wants to do it and I feel is much more able than I to interest a publisher. Not an Anomaly a new working title.
I said I had just immersed myself in Oliphant one day; well, I’ve gone with it, and here’s a preliminary plan for three chapters: (after the introductory chapter, which might get written last):

I’m asking myself, how did being a widow affect Oliphant’s deepest being (the outward effect is obvious) and how did this enter into her fiction? I asked that question, but more superficially of Austen’s fiction and the great-great-grandmother? Now I’ll return to widows in Austen. The answer would probably make both women less of an anomaly, but that will be part of the theses: would bring home how unfairly and inaccurately people see widows, including widows themselves talking in public about themselves. Trollope has many widows and he deals with them as a man. How this differs. I could in passing bring in Christine de Pizan (I came across a CFP for a session for her out of the Christine de Pizan society — who knew there is a society?); of course Colonna was a widow; Penelope Fitzgerald who was a library waiting to happen when her husband died. Fitzgerald wrote introductions for three of Oliphant’s Carlingford novels; in her The Bookshop, she alludes to Oliphant’s stories of the seen and unseen. Realistically speaking such a chapter (if I’m lucky) I could manage by the end of the coming winter.

Looking realistically at the amount of work (including reading in Oliphant’s case) I should focus on three women. So first Oliphant, with her interest in autobiography, her Autobiography and Letters as edited by her cousin, Annie Walker, and autobiographical novels.


Lucy Hay (née Percy) Countess of Carlisle, c.1660-65 (oil on canvas) by Hanneman, Adriaen (c.1601-71) — one of numerous active 17th century women in the Civil War

The unconventional life seemingly alone. I’ll look to see what materials are truly available for Anne Murray Halkett — like Charlotte Smith she spent a long time alone; in her case I believe she lived with a skunk-type outside marriage and that is why all her papers, and especially her wonderful autobiography are in such a fragmentary state. She tried to tell about it and everything she said directly was destroyed. A new book where she figures as a major character has come out: Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in 17th century Britain by Nadine Akkerman. Central books by her are at the Folger! Charlotte Smith tries to tell indirectly and she is excoriated in print, nagged to return to this abusive man in life. Censored women. Shut up women. Pariahs. Shunned women. “Cast out from respectability for a while” (Halkett’s phrase). The re-framed, posthumously published pious blank life that Woolf talks of her in Memoirs of a Novelist. That could be a second chapter.

And one for spinsters, real spinsters and lesbian spinsterhood. Living embedded in a family, living alone when they can afford it. Thus far there’s Frances Power Cobbe who lived as a lesbian and talks directly against concepts like “redundant” women, “wife-torture in England” (which laws encourage) — very rich and her partner has money too. Constance Fennimore Woolson also a spinster; thus far what I’ve read of her and about from Rioux is not about being a spinster. Anne Boyd Rioux is not interested in that — for Rioux she’s this writer wanting recognition, chasing after James – but Woolson spent her life with women relatives in the spinster pattern. The book(s) I could use here are Emma Donoghue’s — maybe including her fiction. She cites a number of such women. I’ve written two blogs on Donoghue’s books on lesbian spinsterhood

***********************


July flowers

I have for quite a while been keeping a sort of diary on face-book, my time-line. I’ve been doing it more regularly as I stay home much more.

July 4th, evening, and a bit worn down: I shall allow Jane Austen (good of me) to express the tone of mind I’m in after a quiet day of study (reading, note taking) in the cool: My day’s journey has been pleasanter in every respect than I expected. I have been very little crowded and by no means unhappy. — Jane Austen, Letters (24 Oct 1798). Well actually I didn’t expect to be unhappy …. Izzy appears to have enjoyed her day watching tennis — and playing music — too.

To someone who had misread the above: I work at keeping my spirits up and yesterday was the second of four days I’m basically alone — for Izzy does her own thing in her room — each week. By 4 or 5 in the afternoon it gets to be a strain; I find when I’m tired depression is strong with me and I try to beat my perpetual enemy back by movies. I was reading Margaret Oliphant a good deal of the day. The tone of her mind appeals to me. I do find my face-book friends can help cheer me up when I come in the early morning and I read the entries, loo at the pictures …

July 7th: The hardest thing is learning to live alone. Now in this sixth year I go out less, much less, as I’m facing how I don’t enjoy say going to the Alexandria Community where the room is not pleasant, and the water often cold and I must go back and forth across the pool to swim. I’m not running out the way I did, not chasing will o’the wisps — as I do enjoy my reading, writing, movies, internet friendships. Several days of high heat go by and I hardly go out. I on myself can live — an opening line to an Anne Finch poem. This weekend about 3 more of these black-eyed daisy bushes bloomed as well as these pink flowers with black-brown centers. They are mid-summer flowers. Come late summer I’ll buy some fall flowers and ask the man who mows for me to plant them for me. He will do that, so I shall have flowers in fall too. All year round.

And July 10th: Just got back from teaching The Enlightenment: At Risk? at the OLLI a Mason. What a good class and what a good time we all had — they said it too. Then lunch with a friend. So much of my day gone since I spent the morning posting. And now the cats greet me. Given my situation, and what I am, whatever anyone might say at such moments, I know I’m spending these last few years of my life without Jim in a way right for me.


Ian making his presence felt — how glad I am Izzy chose a Scottish name (version of John) for him — one of my favorite characters in Outlander, Ian Murray (Jenny’s husband who writes such kindly intelligent letters) is called Ian …

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But I was over-excited, because it was the first time out in several days, and I couldn’t calm down properly to settle to read, and then I drank too much wine too quickly, and then after supper I kept falling asleep on the news, on my regulation Poldark and Outlander episodes. Finally I allowed myself to collapse into bed at 11:15 and then did manage 6 hours of deep sleep, and so recuperated today, inwardly active, writing, reading, taking notes, all day, and now achieved another autobiographical blog.


Claire in Outlander (in front of the stones) — I watch it nightly — this is from Devil’s Mark, the moment Season 1; Episode 11, where looking at the stones close up Claire decides not to return home (to not go back to the future) — for love of Jamie

The third time I woke alone, beyond the touch of love or grief. The sight of the stones was fresh in my mind. A small circle, standing stones on the crest of a steep green hill. The name of the hill is Craig na Dun; the fairies’ hill. Some say the hill is enchanted, others say it is cursed. Both are right. But no one knows the function or the purpose of the stones. Except me (Dragonfly in Amber, Prologue).

Ellen

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