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Archive for February 10th, 2020


One morning over the past two weeks, photo taken from sun-porch/room window

A poem I came across, which I like:

Reading Greeting Cards Before and After

His photo in the hallway greets me each day
Being in my life was an extraordinary gift
He left my world leaving a huge vacuum

Still I feel his ever presence in my life
Triggering a burst of smiles and tears
Looking at the gardens he built for me
Coming across a book we read together
Hearing the evening news and imagining his comments
Knowing he would re-load the dishwasher if he were around

An accomplished writer of research papers but not love letters
He’d spend hours searching for my perfect greeting card
Now assembled in a large basket I select one daily
Before I used to read them quickly and thank him with a kiss

Now I read them slowly, sometimes over and over again
Savoring each written word and signed “Love, Charles”
Yet to me his actions spoke more softly
Than the words on any card

—- By Ruth Perry

Dear friends and readers,

This winter I have become more intently aware than I’d been in a few years (since Jim died) of the fragile fleeting character of social life as I experience it. How easily people drop you, are glad of an excuse to ostracize or exclude someone.

One dark morning as I lay in bed waiting for the sunlight to come into my room (with my two cats beside me), I tried to think of all the places or organizations I belong to that now provide me with what social experience I have: above and beyond all in frequency, intimacy (yes) and closeness as well as a spectrum of socializing from acquaintance-polite to friendly to friends where I know something of the person for real and the person me, plus experiences of exclusion, discomfort, hurt, on the Internet as much face-book nowadays as list-servs, blogs, websites, Future Learn courses, twitter.

But after that, what physically in the face-to-face bodies and places-in-the-world included? the two Oscher Institutes of Life-long Learning (at AU and at Mason), classes at Politics and Prose (Northwest Washington Bookstore-as-community center), the Smithsonian (more impersonal) lectures, twice a year conferences (ASECS), the WAPG, an Aspergers group in Washington DC (I rarely go but I keep in touch by email), a summer film club at Cinema Art theater (once a month for 5 months). I live with one daughter, Izzy, and occasionally the other, Laura, visits or we go out with her. I’ve joined on three and this summer I’m going on a fourth Road Scholar trip. That’s it. I’ve counted 22.

Two of the experiences over the last two weeks have been especially fun — or felicitous.


Covers of audio recordings

In a dramatic reading class I listened to people read aloud passages from Dickens and we discussed Dickens, reading aloud, listening to another read, in a group, by a CD audio in a car, or reading silently (how they differ) and one I read aloud (very well if I do say so myself), the opening chapter from Pride and Prejudice (“It is a truth universally acknowledged” — with that bitter caustic yet very amusing dialogue of Mr and Mrs Bennet), the closing dialogue in Volume I where Mr Bennet tells Mrs Bennet she should not worry about Charlotte Lucas replacing her in Longbourne for perhaps she will predecease him (she finds little consolation there), and then the explosive proposal of Darcy to Elizabeth where he unknowingly insults her deeply and she refuses him. On another I read the scene from Emma where Emma deeply hurts Miss Bates in front of a group of people (Box Hill), Frank wounds Jane by in front of others saying how easy it is to make a mistake at a watering place and engage oneself to someone you don’t want, and Mr Knightley lights into Emma so damningly — all the while we hear the pain of Miss Bates, of Jane, the swelled complaints of the obtuse Mrs Elton. The others read from Dickens and I was astonished to realize that Dickens wrote a near-rape scene at the end of Dombey and Son, where a much abused wife excoriates marriage as then practised — who knew Dickens could be so subversive? Now I wish we had talked more about the spreading popularity of dramatic readings in audoibooks


Just Mercy: Bryan Stevenson (Michael Jordan) and Walter MacMillan (Jamie Foxx)

On two Thursdays at the Mason OLLI I participated in class discussions of movies where the teacher is very good at teaching (he spent decades doing it before retirement) — they were lively, intelligent, fun, one on Just Mercy and the other The Parasite (see further down below).

On Just Mercy: a powerful film done in direct simply ways. I was struck after a while at how little filmic “tricks” of the trade; no flashbacks, not subtle in juxtaposition or dialogue at all. It moves forward,and the language is direct, simple. The movie is nerve-wracking to watch because I didn’t know it ended. The young African American lawyer, Bryan Stevenson (played by Michael Jordan) is almost throughout the film at risk for his life — he patiently endures set-back after set-back and finally gets the case on Frontline from which he gets to go to the Alabama supreme court to ask that the charges against his client, Johnny McMillan (James Foxx), simply be dropped immediately as the original trial was gross miscarriage of justice. It is an anti-capital punishment film. We see a black man who should have been put in a hospital for PTSD and was left to stew and put off a bomb in front of a house and killed a woman, now lamenting and so sorry, a one incident actually killed by an electric chair. They were still killing people that way in Alabama in the 1980s and early 90s? we the full barbarism of it — how there is this pretense of humanity on the day the man is murdered.

As with When They See Us, Dark Waters, and Chernobyl, at the end of the film we see photographs of the real people the actors played. It is very effective to do this. The African-American actor, Michael Jordan, playing the lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, has been snubbed: his performance is as good as James Foxx (nominated for best supporting actor, partly because played Ray Charles in another film)

A third was enjoyable in the class (at Politics and Prose) but it was the books we read and movie I watched that mattered: Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy and Alan Pater and Cellan Jones’s 1987 Fortunes of War. There is so much time to be alone.

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Sometimes it is so hard to get to and from these places. This to introduce a distressing — frightening in implications — experience I had this past Friday early afternoon.

As I was driving from Northwest Washington DC to get to Northern Virginia and took my usual turn to get onto some feeder road which takes me to South 110 and that to South 395, I found the whole roadway blocked. There was no way I could get onto that feeder road. I was quickly hopelessly lost. I became bewildered as I usually do in streets I am not accustomed to even if some of them were familiar to me from previous excursions. My garmin showed itself to be dead and I couldn’t get the cell phone even to connect to the network. I kept making wrong turns and feared in my bewildered state I would get into an accident. Finally I remembered I had put the phone on airplane mode so that it would not disturb a class I had been in. Luckily I was able to find a sidewalk I could park by. I put the setting back and voila the Waze program began to work.

But alas I have never been able to make the Waze program or app talk — or to be truthfully only intermittently. In fact what has happened is once it starts talking and I get home I can’t figure out how to shut it up. I don’t always get an “exit” box.

Another problem I have is I never knew where I want to go west or east — say on 66. I can’t tell what is north, south, east or west. I can with thought say to myself this is left and this right. Is there a long word for this for an autistic person? So that’s my first question. I would feel better if my condition — this has happened before – had a name. Getting lost. Not being able to tell where I am — have a big picture of coordinates unless I’ve lived in an area for a very long. A good pictorial memory but it has to be real buildings or streets I recognize.

So what I had was a map with lines and arrows. I managed to put it on the seat next to me and very slowly attempted to follow all the turns and arrows. It was difficult because Arlington around Rosslyn (I live in Alexandria) is no fun. The ironic paradox is what I knew to be true; I was at most 5 minutes away from some highway if I could figure out how to get to it. What happens is the lines and arrows began to show this way to South 110. I recognized that was one of the highways and going in the right direction. I drove very slow and kept adjusting the cell phone to face me.

Anyway I swung onto the highway from another exit but I could recognize pictorially where I was, and could calm down and saw this way to Exit 27, South 395 and knew where I was and then got home. Whew!

I am like a blind person when it comes to understanding directions or what I am on a map. Utter bewilderment is awful. I have tried buying a new garmin twice. But I cannot program it. All of them require some programming and I have no one to do that for me. Everyone says it’s so easy, nothing to do. I have no idea what to do and twice I have had to take back an expensive Garmin or GPS. The one I have now was programmed for me by a kind IT guy who was in my house shortly after my husband died — and helped me install a computer.

Intensely relieved to be back home. My younger daughter, Isobel, cannot help me because she is autistic and asking her to help, this kind of experience makes her intensely nervous.

My older daughter came the next day and — what happened? — within no time she had no problem.

At first the Waze was silent. Her response was to say “Waze stinks” and download google maps. She tried to look at the settings and could find nothing wrong. She did fiddle with them. Then she tried both Waze and google maps and both talked! We get in the car and both talk. But the problem is she never figured out what I had been doing wrong or what I needed to do to make the thing talk because it was talking. I did see that I often put my own address into location and she said don’t do that, just type where you want to go in the next rectangle below.

The problem is Laura (her name) really had no problem. She clicks away and after a while the Waze program talked. She finishes, somehow an exit box is there, and she clicks on it. Calm as the proverbial cucumber. I did sit with her in my car and I clicked and it talked. She could not fix for me what was working.

So a week and a half from now I have two new places to go. I worry the thing won’t talk for me. Has anyone had this problem of the cell phone Waze not talking — My cell phone is an Apple iphone 8 — I think.

To me it’s a wonder I go anywhere at all. If I were black, I would fear a cop might kill me. Laura installed for me Uber — I have Lyft. This is for my coming trip to St Louis. If I want to find a restaurant I am to go to on Friday night, and then a play on Saturday the only way is to hail one of these cab services there and back.

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The destitute-desperate family in The Parasite

Bong Jong-ho’s Parasite is part of my theme tonight: it seems to be a study of social modes of interaction exposing gross class inequities among three families. I’ve now watched it twice and people you should not miss it. It will absorb and entertain and then maybe horrify you. I am still not sure what I think about it.

First thing to be said about the film is how hard it is to talk about it, part of this Is the story line is unpredictable – that’s why you keep watching (even if it’s not assigned). You get drawn in because you are not sure what is going to happen next at all

Second it seems to me most of the thematic descriptions don’t apply generally. It’s not a thriller. We see a class war only at the very end when the destitute family driven to desperation because there’s another desperate destitute pair of people hidden deep in a many level basement of the super-rich people’s many layered – crack up and out comes from them terror, hatred, an urge to destroy these people who are exploiting them utterly – smiling all the while as if it’s perfectly okay to the destitute to be so exploited. The super-rich husband-father drops his mask for a moment when the destitute father playing a chauffeur for the first balks at an order – and threatens to fire him.

For a horror film (another designation) it’s constantly witty and funny – we laugh very uncomfortably at these desperate people – up to their chins in sewer water when it rains – yet they are endlessly ingenious, crackerjack it seems at surviving – they are all kept at a social and psychological distance from one another.

Realism is besides the point: the mother-wife is unbelievably naïve, believes anything – I saw misogyny in the way she was treated as someone who has nothing to do with her life but make expensive parties – we are better not knowing what happened to the employees the destitute family replaces – the housekeeper come back is living nightmare with her husband fleeing creditors

So I looked up Korean films and could find only a history which offered no interpretation, but I did find an essay on films called “periphery” films. Idea is developed countries, run by white people are at the center, and countries like Korea, Palestinine, Saudi Arabia – countries colonized – Australian are periphery. So I’ll conclude on 4 characteristics such films are said to have and this one has these:

1) An intense focus on place and setting. You never forget this is Korea and the two different houses are centrally photographed to stay in your mind as character in the drama – the people in the semi-basement stealing wifi in such appalling conditions – and the rich with all space hardly enough furniture, gadgets everywhere – I suppose it’s order if order is soulless.

2) A use of folk or story telling traditions – at the beginning of the film a brief fairy tale looking picture seems to suggest that the family is going to get their dearest wish using some stone – and this stone appears in the opening and closing sequences of the film. The son carries it around – it is dangerous and bad things happen around this stone. The talk is in European tradition — the fisherman and his wife, with its moral of watch out what you wish for ….

3) Looking at everything from the point of view of the excluded – no matter what it is or how – you might say those colonized whose everything is taken from them or are not allowed anything – cannot accumulate – so destitute cannot go to college — along with this these excluded people feel they can’t belong anywhere. They don’t fit in. The son says this at one point. It ends on the father in the deep basement obviously doesn’t belong anywhere. Even the super-rich don’t belong anywhere – their home is not a home, it’s an place for the real estate sellers furniture makers gadget makers, party makers to supply and sell stuff to — to make money on

4) Money and bullying. Any time a rich or powerful person is denied anything he or she resorts to bullying. But the predators all of them prey on other predators – -like the destitute family on the original employees – everyone searching for an identity – I saw an Israeli film (art film) where the characters are all seeking an identity – queasy comedy and sudden stark tragedy happen over money and bullying ow or what – at any moment a mask drops and you are facing the faceless

At any time the mask drops and you are facing the faceless

So I thought about movies made from the center as a control mechanism –- say The Durrells of Corfu, which I wrote about in my previous diary entry.

The exact place does not at all matter – they can make a home of anything.
No one bullies others and minimal money does – you need some but not a helluva lot.
The know who they are – they really do.
Point of view is that of the privileged those who assume courts are on their side – no masks – and those who have to wear masks very poignant, like Sven the homosexual man – everyone feels for him.

Last night I re-watched The Parasite, having read about cinema at the periphery (movies made by film-makers who don’t come from powerful countries run by white people, countries not colonized i recent history) and it struck me the destitute desperate family’s behavior is like that of us — when it comes to airplane travel. That is one place middle and upper middle white people come across the treatment poorer people across the globe do all the time. Similarly it appears on the surface and maybe is true that these white people accept this treatment from the airlines. They don’t go to war or paroxyms of rage, the candidates for office don’t use as one of their promises to regulate the airlines and stop their outrageous behavior to everyone but those who can afford to be deeply gouged.

OTOH, the movie makes this analogy hard to see because it calls itself Parasite and in Korean parasitic worm and seems to refer the to the destitute desperate family – a squalid word, and it also means blotches on your skin from such worms. I am not sure that the film is not problematic — partly because in the class I was in many of the people in the room defended the super-rich family: they were paying the others, they were “decent to them;” okay they were tactless and unaware of the horrible conditions of life of the others. But that’s not their fault.

If you can reach it, Michael Wood of the London Review of Books for January 2020 is very worth reading

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How to end this entry? We are today surrounded by creeping and overwhelming fascism in our public media and art — that is the mindset actuating not only the Trump administration. Every day another evil deed, yet more ugly hateful ideas and feelings spewed out. Yesterday the Trump regime rescinded decades of work to change attitudes to protect birds from wanton killing — now you may kill them as you please (and you can have as many and what kinds of guns you want. Public schools? why these are low-class government schools which debased people attend — a sign of their inferiority is no one is excluded.

Human beings need to think more about the nature of our social lives today in the year 2020. What are we seeking? What do these activities of ours depend upon? how or on what basis are we setting up our relationships with one another? Is it to escape from a default setting (to use the ubiquitous Internet jargon) of alienation, a world of cruelty and indifference as seen in Parasite and Last Chronicle of Barset and Curate in Charge? (David Copperfield ends in a wish fulfillment fantasy and the emphasis is — to be fair to the book — more about the richness of a life of solitude, of inner development of self and strength and also about death and sheer vulnerability.) These questions are urgent as we find ourselves more and more without the solid social support systems our daily lives and attitudes (beliefs in our togetherness) used to provide, more and more turning to the Internet worlds, to voluntary organizations unsupported by anything but human need.

Ellen

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