Archive for the ‘Aspergers & autism’ Category

By modern street artist, Banksy: how the Palestinians in Gaza are forced to die, c. 2010 (From Desmond’s Cats in Art)


The strangest phenomenon: birds who fly by or live around my house have begun to sing at around 2 am. (Yes I am up at that time all too frequently.) In my married life we had periods where Jim had to be woken at 5 am regularly to get work on time, we’d hear them. He’s said “a jocund chorus!” and me: “goddamn noisy birds.” And by 5:30 the birds awake, chattering, jittering. Now they begin at 2, only they remain much softer. How is this? Can it be climate change? The air is warmer at 2 in the morning than it once was?

Struggles have included trying to extract out of Carbonite some of my files which contained five years of hard work towards papers which didn’t make it from the hard drive to this new computer. No one to tell. Successes: my class on Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right at OLLI at Mason went splendidly: what good talk we had, how much they enjoyed reading the book, the screening of that BBC film I wrote a paper about. I have begun Trollope’s short stories over at OLLI at AU and it is already going very well. Everyone reading, everyone commenting.  Such experiences tempt me to teach Trollope over and over.

Books I’ve not mentioned much, but have read with intense attention — for this past season that you must not miss: with the friends on Trollope&Peers, Paul Scott’s Jewel in the Crown (1st volume of Raj Quartet). Utterly relevant on race power. I want to teach it with another Anglo-Indian book, will blog on it separately (see Staying On).

I have signed up for a week’s course in July at the OLLI at AU: Emily Dickinson and Thoreau. The teacher promised “optimism,” but I hope there will be no such falsifying agenda as the texts must be themselves. I’ve never read any Thoreau beyond what is quoted in essays. I feel empathy; I know he could get away with his life because Emerson supported him. I know too that a number of Emerson’s poems and Dickinson’s are comparable.

Ginsburg testifying

To share: Don’t miss RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) (good short review in New York Times); one of it catchy moments occurs when she announces at her hearing for the supreme court the question, “What do women want?,” by quoting an American feminist of the 1830s: “All I ask is that our brethren take their feet from off our necks.” You learn how she took narrowly conceived cases where a woman was asking for redress against some specific injustice (in the work place) and expanded her outlook to use the case as a source for legislative precedent to prevent unfair discrimination in jobs, positions in organizations. You see she could not have achieved the places on benches she did without her very successful tax lawyer of a husband’s cooperation, encouragement, taking over jobs in the house, moving with her to DC, himself making phone calls, lobbying for her. I learned #thenotorious RGB comes from the song of a young black man gunned down in the streets (for being black and successful).

Hopkins as homeless Lear, Jim Broadbent the eyeless Gloucester (read Spectator review)

A truly great BBC production of Shakespeares’s King Lear last night aired on BBC (and sent me as a DVD by a good friend). It was as good as The Hollow Crown series where the language is done brilliantly naturalistically and the scenes set in remarkably appropriate places (Lear on the heath is in a refuge camp), the scene where Lear has escaped the heath and is headed for Dover with its dialogue in a mall. Lear and his fool reminded me of Vladmir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot.

Anthony Hopkins managed to make the role fresh and new — not easy. They did that opening scene which can be so tedious superbly effectively. It was cut — the film was something like 2 hours and most Lears are 3+ The Hollow Crown series did not seem cut– though of course Henry VI was abridged into two parts.

Tobias Menzies as Cornwall, Regan (Emily Watson)’s husband

Emma Thompson has made Dame — i read just now. She was Goneril and stole every scene she was in. I know she can play hard mean people. My favorite Emily Watson was there, Regan and she did the soft spoken sexy but unflinchingly cruel woman brilliantly. Eccleston as Oswald Jim Carter as Kent, Karl Johnson the fool New actors Ive not seen before and superb as Edgar and Edmund – they brought out the intense rivalry as a motif with Edgar first seen at a computer as an intellectual; their final battle was violent boxing. Andrew Scott and Tobias Menzies was strikingly effective as Cornwall, Regan’s evil husband. It’s he who plucks out Gloucester’s eyes and has the memorable line: Out, vile jelly. He had all sorts of appropriate gestures. Really held his own among great actors– (late of Outlander and still missed as his characters have died, soon to be Phiiip in the Crown). One weakness: she was adequate but no more: the Cordelia.

Why was this not on PBS? at one time it would have been, not so long ago — Now we don’t even hear of it.

Cumberbatch as the father playing with the daughter in supermarket before they are separated

Two Ian McEwans: on Showtime a BBC film of The Child Lost in Time (philosophical review), with Bernard Cumberbatch as the distraught father whose 2 year old disappears from the supermarket and 15 years later has still not been found. How this event changed the lives of father, mother, and by extension, their friends and neighbors. At the movie-theater On Chesil Beach. Astounding bravery in dramatizing the failure to consummate their marriage by Edward, the lower middle class hero (who with his family has as burden a disabled mother) and Florence, the middle middle girl, a musician, with father owning extensive businesses, factories, loving him but terrified of sex. His barely controlled anger at the rest of the world cannot forgive her or accept her offer to live chastely with him, his lack of patience and her sheltered ignorance, break them up. He has no further possibilities of leaving his environment, she rises to be the musician we realize when her daughter comes into Edward’s shop years later to buy the one pop singing star that Florence could stand. This heartbreak more frequent than we realize is brought out into the open as they remember their courtship and engagement.

On Chesil Beach –read the thoughtful analytic review — gentle reader as someone who came of age just before 1963 this is a story I have experienced

Izzy and I went to a production of Camelot in DC: she was enormously absorbed, entertained. Tears came to my eyes but once: the man singing Lancelot’s “If ever I would leave you … ” Of course he would never. Each summer since Jim’s death is harder than the last. But how innocent this show, how sad I felt measuring the distance between hope then and the shameful cruelty of barely disguised fascist regime we live under now.

Beryl Cook, Bunny and Nipper c. 1970s (from Desmond’s Cats in Art)

Online I’ve been following the Future Learn course, A History of Royal Fashion. While the details of how clothes were made, and this normative super-rich and powerful dressers tells about how the poor and majority wanted to look or perceived how they should look if they could, I am appalled by the time and energy put into the smallest item of a particular individual’s dress (say the lace veil in a wedding garment). It is more than the fetishizing of stars in media that we see: it’s a deeply perverse over-valuing of a particular individual because he or she is rich, has power. If in all the six weeks thus far, someone had mentioned this qualification, but not a peep. The people who make these arguments seem so unaware of how absurd that they should spend their best energies, terrific skills in making tiny additions to some super-rich “numinous” person’s dress. I had hoped it would be more about costume for the era itself. Every inch of fabric Edward VIII wore cost the public (for where did the money come from) enormously — in the early 1930s this was:

He fetishized every single inch of any outfit — teams of people now kept in jobs recreating and preserving this stuff.

And widening out as something for us all to work on: that human and animal suffering, emotional lives, fulfillment and peace are closely aligned. Goodall demonstrated we must treat animals as individuals first. The anthropomorphic approach is the right one. What is at stake: our capacity for humane behavior to all who occupy created space with us. That they are without talk does not give us the right to ignore their loving dependent presence. I’ve finished Desmond Morris’s Cats in Art and cannot over-recommend the book for its talk, insights, and plethora of fascinating pleasing image: ample for another separate blog.

Two angles: the artist expresses emotion through the content of his picture, and we contemplate and enjoy his or her vision through aesthetic criteria. How many selves have we got? Writing and social; innate and outward; the dreaming center and socially functional role-playing; the empathetic idealist, and the practical prudential actor. I still feel I have little control over all that goes on around me. My own space I can order, keep tidy, work in. My natural impulse withdraw.

A snug fleece jacket has arrived for me to take with me to the Lake District in August.

I sit in my sun-room in the front of the house quietly reading as cats adjust to living in this new space too. Four working computers nowadays, all in use: this PC Dell Desktop, my Macbook pro laptop, my Apple ipad and my cell phone. Reaching out …. I know I should listen to music more and am glad of Izzy’s play lists in the dining room as we make our supper nightly together.

Clarycat one New Year’s Eve: Jim was playing the piano as he often did in the early morning and that night late evening. I was sitting opposite, watching, listening

A tactless (tone-deaf?) woman said to me, “Five years … that’s a long time.” I wish I had said back, “It’s not even yesterday.” Sometimes I feel such loneliness I don’t know what to do with my despair. Then I am so grateful for my cats who lick (kiss) and rub up (hug) and play with me, stay by me: were it not for them how empty so many of my hours despite all my efforts at books and going places I can get to.



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Vanessa Bell, Interior with the artist’s daughter (1935-36)


You see before you an image I’ve just scanned in using my new computer to test whether the computer’s imagery making gadgetry is working. It is. So too its print making capacity. Yes, I’ve acquired a new Dell PC Desktop Computer, and am almost “back in business.” Not all my files have been transferred (precious ones not here here include the Charlotte Smith files) and a few other glitches and helps in installing, and I’ll be back where I was on May 18th when my previous computer gave up its inner ghost. These two weeks I’ve again learned what a remarkably able computer is my laptop in the corner, a Macbook Pro (apple).

I’ve two themes tonight: library memories and recognition of some contrasting aspects of human experience. The first is a result of coming across an article in the Times Literary Supplement (probably my favorite periodical) for May 25, 2018, “Speaking Out of the Silence;” at the Hay Festival this year (I’ve no idea what that is or where it’s held), speakers were asked to share “significant memories and thoughts relating to libraries.” I notice it because I would and this past week I renewed my Reader Identification card at the Library of Congress for the first time since around 2003. I was required to sit up close face-front to a camera:

A bit blurred because it’s a cell phone photo of the card’s photo of me (this past Tuesday)

I had come to read a rare book by Winston Graham, one of his pre-Poldark novels, The Dangerous Pawn (rather good, promising, containing many of the Cornish elements, melancholy, quietude, and early sketches of interesting characters later found in Poldark country) and the next day spent as much time as my strength allowed reading it in the main reading room. Upon first coming in and settling down, I thought to myself, how glad I am “I made Izzy a librarian.” Of course I didn’t make her a librarian, but it was my idea for a profession for her. I wondered why my parents never thought of it for me. How lucky to sit in the silence surrounded by learning. At the Pentagon where she is, and here in this library, the books are open to all.

Tonight these memories leap to mind for me. (I have many others.) The first at age 10 or so this momentous moment of being taken by my father to the “adult” part of an enormous library” — so it seemed to me — on Sutphin Boulevard in the Bronx. It was a walk and bus ride away from our apartment house. We climbed up a back stairway, and I was allowed out to take out books with his card and then given one of my own. I have to have been 10 because we moved from the Bronx to Kew Gardens, Queens, by the time I was 11.

Age 19 or so being let into an art library on 52nd street in Manhattan to study Delacroix’s illustrations for a stage production of Hamlet in Paris – it was part of my term project for an art history course art Queens College. I had to have a letter of introduction from the professor. I was not prepossessing looking I could see from the librarian’s response to me, but after a few days of quiet toil on my part, studying sketches, the librarian realized I was harmless and hardly paid attention to me at all. I didn’t have to take the final after writing that paper.

A whole slew of Saturdays (literally years) spent in the Folger Library reading poetry by women whose first editions and manuscripts the Folger had: Anne Finch (18th century English), Vittoria Colonna, Veronica Gambara (Renaissance Italian). That was the later 1980s to early 1990s; more recently in the Library of Congress around 1999-2000 I examined the first illustrations to some of Anthony Trollope’s novels by looking at periodical issues, and then around 2004 reading Anne Murray Halkett’s fragments of autobiography and a broken-off journal back in the Folger again (she was a 17th century Scots woman active in the 1640s and 50s civil war)

What unites these is how happy I was to be there, how much I enjoyed such moments. I did like research at the New York Public Library in the 1970s but it never had this cut-off idyllic sense of quietude. It was there I first became acquainted (so to speak) with Charlotte Smith (all but two of her novels were still rare). And once at the Morgan Library while I was writing my dissertation on Samuel Richardson seeing the one page fragment in his own handwriting towards a fourth novel: to be called Mrs Harriet Beaumont. Now she exists only a widow glimpsed in his Sir Charles Grandison. I remember this because the librarian hovered over me.

I asked on TrollopeAndHisContemporaries@groups.io, if anyone there had any memories to share and two generous people told of precious moments and a history of the self through such memories.

Another Vanessa Bell, A Bird Cage (yes I’m reading a good biography of her and another study of her work and that of Duncan Grant and Roger Fry)

The other is a theme or variation on related topics suggested to me by a social experience I missed out on last Saturday (the day after my computer failed). I had planned to go to monthly meeting of Aspergers adults in Washington, D.C, but in the mid-afternoon I had been further demoralized by an encounter related to my attempt to re-learn to use my Macbook pro, and its updated Word writing program experience and so gave it up when I saw rain. Or so I told myself. I had been in two minds about going, and know now I should have gone since I regretted missing it.

Among other things, they have a monthly topic, which they discuss, and it turned out to have been a significant one for me: learning to recognize significant issues and how to we can choose to deal with them. Well, I thought immediately that I have a hard time sustaining friendships. I probably recognize this one so I’m not sure it fits what was asked for, but I would have liked to talk with others about this since recognition hasn’t helped me much. Some of what happens I can recognize a bit and try to counter it: that is, I seem to become too emotionally dependent or just too close, often times when I’m really not. This is apparently how I can be perceived and I can’t always realize this is a response on the part of others or there in my behaviors. When I can recognize this is happening, I do curb it. But beyond that there are other things that happen, so multiple or various because human relationships are, and what can happen I recognize I have done something which irritates the other person only as or after I’ve done it. Usually after I’ve done it and later so it is harder to apologize. Sometimes I don’t know what it was and long experience has taught me the other person won’t tell me.

Specifically, I was widowed 5 years ago and have made continual active attempts to form friendships and have failed to sustain any for any length of time. Partly it’s that I’m old and by my age most people are utterly embedded in their ways, their relationships, their families. Just about every woman I’ve become close to is divorced, separated, never married. I’ve been unlucky: of 8, the closest a dear friend, also autistic, died of cancer this past spring. I am missing her badly. Two were intolerant, would not make the effort I was making, made fun of me when I tried. Another moved back to Paris. A last grew distant: she lives across the street, also a widow whose husband died of cancer in his mid-sixties and with a grown adult child who lives with her who is also autistic — she does have to stay with him and she has said to me that she cannot have people over too often as her son becomes uncomfortable. She is not lonely as she still have a full time job and she just does not yearn for close relationships after her husband is gone. She has told me it’s like her past has been erased. Finally one person I visited for too long: I realized there were tensions but thought we remained good friends when I left, only to find castigating emails that shocked me when I got home. She had not at all said she was displeased and I know she tried to bully me and I resisted. I’m left with one, many acquaintances and a number of long-time friends who are friends at a distance, though email. NT people think you are posing: surely this technical intuition is not hard. You cannot always be getting lost. Many cannot bear any sign of vulnerability or if you do something different than other people.

I become friends with stray women — people also at liminal points of their lives. So the friend is here temporarily. He is a man in his late-50s, a lost a long-time good job and is trying for a new one here and then doesn’t succeed so has to return home. These have been two lonely weekends without my regular computer and also from teeth pain (a part of one of my dentures broke off — ouch for my tongue; I was two hours at the dentist this week and now am very uncomfortable until the new perment denture comes in). I’d love to hear from others — is there any technique you use to try to recognize if things are going badly; anything you do regularly. I try to be patient, but silent and smiling doesn’t always work either.

I told this to other women on a (closed group) at face-book, and was so relieved to read of similar experiences and trouble where the attitude of mind was that these kinds of estrangements are even common and in their judgement just as much the result of the NT or other person’s failure of understanding. Women will decide to end a friendship suddenly and not explain why. To a person they all repeated in different forms what I gathered from a summary on-line was the considered response at the meeting I missed: one has only so much energy and time in life and it’s actually best to turn away (as it were reciprocally) and cease self-reproach. If it takes you a long time to see this decision on the part of the person, or if they shock you with sudden castigation, doesn’t matter. It is useless and worse (exhausting, leaving no time to do what we enjoy or find real profit in — I’m not talking money or some unreal prestige) to beat at walls of indifference, self-reproach.

The most common response I’ve had to such utterances is blame, or useless unrealizable advice — one is not asking for anyone to tell you what to do. Several expressed surprise at what surprises me (e.g., how so many people feel no need to reply when you write them), how it can be said that autistic and Aspergers people are insensitive! Be glad of the one or two truly meaningful relationships you have, better to stay at peace with yourself and enjoy what is in you to enjoy. People told of how much online relationships can mean.

They also talked of how it’s said or been theorized (demonstration is hard) that Aspergers & autistic people tend to have more early childhood memories, and some they had. I confided (in turn) that I remember some significant events — probably because I went to stay with relatives and this sort of disruption and separation from parents stays with a child. I remember an event when I was around 18 months old, two from when I was 3. In one left with my grandmother, she left the hot apartment to sit up on the roof because she thought I was asleep, I woke to find no one and thought I was deserted forever. In another my mother forced to do something that was deeply humiliating: I made the mistake of telling her I had to go to the bathroom (the way we put it then). In public, by the side of a car she forced me to urinate. I begged her not to do this to me. I never forgot it. And I vowed never to tell her anything again that evidenced need, and I believe I never did. She was not to be trusted to respect me. When I’ve told people this (especially NTs I think) they tell me this didn’t matter, I was only 3 so therefore it didn’t matter (what she did was humiliating for an older kid but not for a 3 year old?) nor should I remember it. My mother also tried to force me to do things I didn’t want to because she thought it was “normal” to want to do x or y. I learned to be so glad she went out to work from the time I was around 10 months old on and off all my life when I lived with her. I think all my pre 5-6 year old memories come from when I was distressed. Missing my father because I was sent to live with other relatives when they lived in an apartment where no children were allowed. Then there are a couple of this lit-up moments from when I was around 4. My continuous memory begins in kindergarten — I was 5-6. I have been told of other events that happened and ways I behaved before 6 but I don’t remember them on my own.

A self-conscious caring what other people think, including those one will probably never see again, ended our thread. The story of how I didn’t learn to ice-skate came to mind. My parents bought a pair of skates for me, and I couldn’t drive so I went with my first husband as my boyfriend. What happened what I was so nervous, anxious I went very slowly and he kept getting behind me and pushing to go faster and wouldn’t leave me be so I fell badly. Later he said “everyone was looking at us” so we can’t do that again and refused to drive me there. Why not? I asked. He just wouldn’t go with me unless I went faster. I used to assume that people would most of them automatically sympathize with me; instead I’ve had two say of course he was mortified. How terrible of you (meaning me) to behave that way. Why should I or he or she care about people we know nothing of? I remain astonished. it’s not like someone driving on the road at 3 miles an hour where others in cars begin to behave dangerously because they have to go slower. But human feeling and need must be crushed under fear of what other people think. Who cares that people might look down on you skating slowly? find you ridiculous. Anyway I never learned to ice-skate and those pretty & expensive skates went into an attic.

Paul Gaugin, Mimi and Her Cat (1890)

The above picture is the first by Gaugin I’ve ever liked. It’s found in one of my late night-time reading books: Desmond Morris’s humane Cats in Art. Morris critiques and presents attitudes towards the cat and what we can know of the lives of domestic cats since we have first proof of their existence, and how differently they have been presented in art. The key to understanding and right treatment of non-human animals (I have been reading in yet another TLS article, Barbara J. King, “Our family and other animals,” May 25 2018) is first to regard them as individuals with complex psychologies in the way initiated by Jane Goodall. Why were cats in particular persecuted for a few hundred years in Europe (partly because they were companions to women?). I will be blogging on this book soon.


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Dear friends and readers,

Yes on Friday night while I was watching a movie on it, the movie froze as did everything on the screen. My mouse wouldn’t work. A couple of times I was able to reach the starter menu but I would lose contact. I was afraid to press control-alt-delete (foolish cowardly) and instead just shut the machine down, hoping it would reboot.

It never did. No matter what I did — pull all six plugs, shut the very electricity down, press F8, or F11 or whatever tricks the IT guy said to do on the phone, it would not go past a black screen with the four colored balls turning into a four flags going dim and brighter.

It has thousands and thousands of precious files on it. Well an IT guy (one of the team) came Monday afternoon and said while they could (he could) try to fix the hard drive (where the problem lay) since the computer was now 4 years old, and had been manifesting problems like this for months, what could happen was in a few weeks or less another hard glitch happen. The wise efficient thing to do was buy a new one. He (as other experts can nowadays) retrieved all the files apparently and put a few on this Macbook Pro or apple I am typing on now so I can do my teaching work, my Graham project, my continuing study of Woolf and Samuel Johnson and biography. The movies Jim downloaded are in a separate hard drive which can be attached to the coming new computer. So too can the monitor, my printer/scanner, and loud speakers. He promised to have ordered a new PC desktop Dell computer, which would have a new CD or DVD drive. It will take a little time. I heard nothing today and if I hear nothing by tomorrow afternoon, I’ll starting phoning and emailing to get them started.

I did have several bad periods; first the first two nights before I made contact with the IT people; then last night when I faced I would have to learn to use Windows 10 (though I am promised a Windows 7 menu starter) and a new Word program when I’ve barely begun to use an older one. My Aspergers traits include great difficulty with new technologies. I have no intuition by analogy when it comes to software. I am calmer tonight. You see I can write about this.

This morning when I sat down to do my lecture/discussion notes I perked up. First of all some of it was typed already since I usually over prepare and have more than I can use and thus use it for the first part of the next period. I thought to myself, for the first time in a long time my desk has no machine on it! I sat down and began to write out my notes for tomorrow’s teaching by hand out of my head as I had done from 1972 to 1997. Yes my Mac is on the library table (underneath the other window where Jim’s computer once sat) and I have access to enormous amounts of material on the Net and am surrounded by years of riches in the form of xeroxed articles and books, and that’s a terrific advantage. I remembered Izzy works using Windows 10 all the live long day and she won’t refuse to explain and Laura promised to come over and explain for me the latest Word program. I even used the new Word program just a bit successfully. So I am feeling less panicked over a updated Windows and Word program. Tim (the IT guy) said he would download the latest OpenOffice.org on the new computer too, replace the icons I had on the now defunct desktop.

Now I worry about when the new computer will come as teaching starts June 6th. The last two days I’ve been reading Trollope’s short stories and am near to picking out the eight we will read over a month. I thought back to when my computer died last time: it was a month after Jim died, and in a way it was no surprised. It was he who kept that old machine and its software going; without him it couldn’t last. I can;t remember what I did that first couple of months I had not started teaching, was in effect doing nothing and couldn’t even drive. Perhaps I was so upset this time because I do things now. Instead of berating myself for all my failures over 60 years let’s say (since I was 9 when I in effect “woke up” to realize my parents hated each other and we were very poor) I should look at how far I came from that.

A few days ago on a face-book page for autistic-Aspergers women I tried to comfort another autistic person on that face-book page who had been saying that at 51 she sometimes feels so bad because she can’t hold up the achievements others can. Yes she is happily enough married and her husband is her friend. She has children, but like most non-NT people few friends, is lonely: someone was making the mistake of urging the very values and standards on her of the NT world that injure so, only modifying that she should take her time getting to these. Like a 5 foot person should take her time becoming 5 feet five.

I wrote: I’m 71 and have recently experienced another of my worldly failures [I have, gentle reader, I don’t tell you everything]: I and the person who knows about this will be the only ones probably, but these happen periodically. I had a long happy marriage (45 years) and now am a widow with two grown daughters, one lives with me and we do get along, even love one another. I’ve a Ph.D and a long (honorable) history of teaching in colleges, have published & so on. But when I compare myself with what my peers have done, I don’t belong to their club: I never got tenure, or any full time position (for example). I am very lonely; I have a hard time making any close friends so his death leaves a huge emptiness every day and night too. I made a local friend in the last five years where we became close and she died of cancer a few months ago.

I’d say this: don’t measure your success by imposed standards others take on because their genes and chance permitted it, whether the NT world many of which depend on social manipulation, tactful lying, understanding countless ever permutating unwritten codes. Look where you came from, and and measure your achievement by that, by your real gifts and satisfactions, which you probably had to work much harder for than a non-disabled person. Autism is not a character trait; it’s a group of disabling traits and or not having traits. If you’ve done what was in you to do then you have fulfilled your talents. Don’t berate yourself for what chance gave others’ genes and circumstances: they were born to wealth, or to a family where they didn’t need to socialize as they were so well connected; or in culture where people don’t move all the time. You’ve had your enjoyments from your character which they probably don’t want, don’t understand, don’t appreciate. They won’t congratulate you on your hard work and successes or these experiences which you preferred because they don’t prefer them and they are in the majority. But you don’t need to be on their platform. For myself when I’m feeling stronger, I know I haven’t wanted some of these because of the price I would have had to pay for them. Beating out another person, giving up a personal relationship that doesn’t fit, maybe not having another child, whatever. Writing the essay you want. Singing the song you want to sing in the way you want to sing it. Think of the price of their ticket. Then that you had to (because your genes are different) and wanted to chose a different ticket.

I don’t say that works every day nor the nights; it’s hard to shut out the superficial chatter and boasting and shallow admiration of the world and it dominates in public social life (especially so on face-book).

Virginia Woolf was so lucky to have been born to those she was born to. I think many intelligent people are similarly isolated — that’s why they enjoy conferences in the areas they study or work in. It’s only the very few who are born to intellectual families who have money and rank to pull other families into a circle because how the house looks, how you make dinner all count so even for the intelligent.

Ellen (time to drop the pseudonym at long last)

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Vivian and me, July 14, 2015, taken by Izzy: Alexandria’s yearly birthday party, a large park area by the Potomac, a concert and fireworks for all for free; we had a picnic

Dear friends and readers,

We are near setting off on our journey to Milan, Italy — Laura, Izzy, and I — where among other things (a visit to a friend who lives near Zurick which will necessitate a train-ride through the Alps and beautiful lakes; a visit to a fellow biographer of Veronica Gambara, in Reggio Emilia) we plan to attend the World Figure-Skating Championships, and find and look into what fashion museums and exhibits there are in this famous world city.

The last time the three of us were in Italy was 1994, 5 weeks with Jim in an apartment in Rome, from the which we took 4 trips: to Pompei, to Naples, to the island of Ischia for 3 days (where there is a beautiful beach and Vittoria Colonna lived for a number of years it’s thought), to Marino (where Colonna was born). We all three have many memories of that time. Upon coming into the flat, Laura, then 15, declared Italy had not invented air conditioning yet. Izzy said to another child at the beach: “mi chiamo Isabella.” A high point for Jim and I was a fresco we saw in a fourteenth century church one morning. We all wandered in the heat over the forum, the Colosseum, saw an opera amid some ancient Roman stones.

And early yesterday evening my good friend, Vivian, died: she went quickly, three weeks after the cancer resumed. I wrote about my visit to her in a hospice place in my last blog. I have learned as she died she was quiet (perhaps sleeping?), appeared to be at peace, kept out of consciousness of pain by drugs. Did she go gentle into that good night? I was not there and in her two earlier phone calls she expressed anguish.

What is it Macbeth says upon being told: “She should have dy’de hereafter;/There would have been time for such a word.” I will not be here when the memorial service is held. I grieve for her and will miss her.

Every moment I’ve been able to I’ve been either reading, writing, thinking for the courses I’m teaching (The Later Virginia Woolf; Sexual & Marital Conflicts in Anthony Trollope: HKHWR), or taking (The Brontes, a book club whose first item is Atwood’s The Blind Assassin), or still at that paper (Woolf & Johnson, biographers), or online with friends, blogging, nurturing (so so speak) my 3 groups.io (the book, the extraordinary American Senator) — not to omit getting through all things needful for the trip. Some of them arduous, time-consuming, confusing — like airline reservations supposed to be on a website which are not there. Not to worry: Laura made a phone call in her firm determined voice and our tickets & we now exist again. “Able to” is the operative phrase: many a later afternoon or evening I give out and succumb to a movie that can keep me up; this weekend I reached the fifth episode of Alias Grace (another Atwood adapted).

I’m more awake tonight than I have been for several, enough to tell of how this past Wednesday I went to the last of the four lectures on Impressionism outside France: so to my last blog on Russia, the low countries and Italy, I add the UK, and I was not surprised it was the most interesting because he had the most paintings to show. Gariff went on for nearly 3 hours. This time I had heard of most of the painters, but had not realized that the work of many of the painters I had “placed” in separate schools when regarded as impressionist made a different kind of sense. Elizabeth Forbes (1859-1912), who I’ve written about as an Edwardian woman painter in the Newlyn School, links to Laura Knight (1877-1970), who I wrote more briefly about as a Cornish artist. Victorian artists familiar to me as recording the abysmal poverty of the countryside and cities, i.e., George Clausen (1852-1944) belong here; and some I’d never heard of, Spencer Frederick Gore (1878-1914):

The Icknield Way (1912) — a road in Surrey since Roman times

Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops, and his fostering of post-impressionism, his pictures belong here too. A Scottish woman artist, Ethel Walker (1861-1951) now fits. She painted Vanessa Bell, the first image I’ve seen that enables me to begin to understand why Bell was so liked:

Vanessa 1937

Two American artists this time were very influential: Whistler and John Singer Sargent. I learned that the next time I go to London I should go the London Imperial War Museum. Its name (because of the militarist connotations) is misleading: it is a leading place for artist painting during WW1, which most of these people did. Sidney Starr (1857-1925) has such a poor wikipedia page, I have to link in a sales one (he was an important art critic):

Starr’s City Atlas (1889-90) was part of an exhibit or talk about how difficult to get to know London

Philip Wilson Steer (1860-1942) ended up an important teacher (teachers matter), he was influenced by Monet and this is his most famous painting.

Children Paddling, Walberswick (1894)

But perhaps this curiosity, of an over-dressed woman with a cat called Hydrangeas is more characteristic

Vivian’s favorite painter was Monet, and during the visit her brother and sister took her on to Paris this summer they took her to Giverny. She also had a cat called Sammy (Samantha) for seven years.

Izzy and I almost didn’t go to a performance by Catherine Flye accompanied by Michael Tolaydo as narrator at the Metrostage of a revue of the life and songs of Joan Grenfell. We had tickets for Saturday, and were so preoccupied we forgot to go. The woman who basically runs the Metrostage single-handed phoned us 5 minutes before, and offered to let us come Sunday instead. This remarkable pair of actors presented a later afternoon of witty cheer with an undercurrent of desperate acceptance; there were some twee moments but also direct hits at frustrated longing hearts. My favorite was a piece called “The Telephone Call” (a woman spending her life caring for an aged parent). A couple very funny: one of a woman on her first airplane flight when people were still treated with respect and given comfort as human beings. The pianist played wonderful older melodies I recognized, one famous from WW2, The Warsaw Concert by Richard Addinsell (who wrote most of the music performed).

Michael Tolaydo and Catherine Flye, 2002 (Gardener McKay’s Sea Marks)

We had both wanted to go because we both remembered the moving play Sea Marks, with Tolaydo and Flye, which we saw with Jim in 2002 at this Metrostage. I’ve had that black-and-white newsprint picture on the wall of my study all this time

I return to Vivian. One of the class members of my Later Woolf came for the first class and for the rest I’ll keep him in the email list as I send comments and readings out, and lectures too. He can’t come regularly as he’s taking chemotherapy and radiation for cancer. Vivian was killed by lymphoma (as was Jenny Diski) combined with brain cancer. She was no reader: odd for a best friend for me, but there are other things that matter. She was a kind person, sensitive. Charitable and forbearing at others’ flaws. She shared my politics, my lack of religion. While she didn’t read books, she always seemed to know the latest US political development; she’d take the progressive side most of the time, and post about it on face-book. We went to Bernie Sanders rallies. We also took wandering walks in Old Town. We’d go to some movies together (we didn’t quite have the same tastes): I went twice to Kedi (the movie set in Isanbul about feral cats and their caretakers in that city) so she could see it, and she cried. She stayed up (she had problems sleeping so would often fall asleep at movies) for and was moved by Still Alice.

Here is one of the poems Flye recited, movingly:

If I should die before the rest of you,
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone.
Nor, when I’m gone, speak in a Sunday voice,
But be the usual selves that I have known.
Weep if you must,
Parting is hell.
But life goes on …

That doesn’t mean one forgets however little one is given chance to mourn with any ceremony. I feel bad because Vivian had emailed the suggestion when she still thought she would live (some 5 weeks ago) that she and I go to the Grand Canyon this coming May. I had balked at the idea of the plane and asked if there was a way to go by train. No. It would take some absurd amount of time. A drive was ridiculous. I was adjusting to the idea of taking yet another plane (how I hate them all) and was beginning to propose we look into a package tour. I told her I imagined us on donkeys going up and down vast cliffs, which probably showed how little I know about modern tourism in the Grand Canyon. It was still in the realm of half-joke when she phoned to say the cancer had returned and she was in hospital. We had some good walks in Old Towne this summer: a ghost tour, one night along the water eating ice-cream listening to street musicians in the mild crowd.

We all come from the past … life is a braided cord of humanity stretching from time long gone … it cannot be defined by a single journey from diaper to shroud … (Russell Baker, Growing Up, an autobiography I read with freshman composition students decades ago, which I remembered tonight)


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Dear friends and readers,

Yvette has made another YouTube of herself singing, this time Comes and Goes in Waves.

A Greg Laswell song, here are the first two stanzas of the lyrics:

This one’s for the lonely
The one’s that seek and find
Only to be let down
Time after time

This one’s for the torn down
The experts at the fall
Come on friends get up now
You’re not alone at all.

The last year and one half has changed me, even some fundamental conceptions, what I see. Or maybe it’s that what I see I used to apprehend intellectually. Now I experience the nature of people’s non-experience and experience of, non-relationship and relationship with one another feelingly..


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The world the bookmobile brings its treasures to

From Audrey Niffenegger’s Night Bookmobile: endpaper

Dear friends and readers,

Kerry Kennedy would not have walked nearly 45 minutes in the truly freezing cold trying to find where is a bus-stop for a bus that runs in the middle of the day only on weekends. She would not have been driven to this because the apps on her iphone don’t work and so she can’t call the expensive but reliable Uber people to take her home.

I assume my reader has read the story of Kerry Kennedy — yesterday; here’s another installment. My ex-grief support person, Cheryl, a friend on line sent me the story, and on facebook I saw people referring to it.

I’ve had people refer to this immurement as a slap on the wrist (how metaphors erase realities); for what I’d like to know? Or say it doesn’t matter much. Well, here’s a woman with an army of chauffeurs, relatives and friends galore probably who would help her get where she wants to go, and she goes to trial, risking a jail sentence rather than take a plea bargain where she’d have her license suspended for 6 months. And as I read the story through a number of the central particulars differ importantly in the report of what happened, I see a similar indifferent cruelty: her lawyer did say it was depressing that such a case should be brought to trial as if she had committed a major crime. Says Cheryl it’s liberty of movement. It’s freedom. It’s empowerment — and in Northern Virginia often necessary. That is what has given rise to Uber cabs.

Here’s my take of what lies beneath these reports: she took a sleeping pill (or pills) very late in the morning and didn’t get to sleep enough on them, or she took one before leaving to calm herself, and then had to leave to make her appointment so she jumped into her car to drive; she did not realize how powerful the stuff was (it’s a brand new drug I can see, the sort rich people get access to — Kaiser offers drugs well out of copyright). So she goes into some kind of automatic drowse and plows into a truck. Then knowing what I didn’t, that this act will be regarded as enough to try to punish her as far as the system is able, she flees the scene in her car. The police pursue her. They catch her — they don’t shoot her down the way they do black people be it noted. Then when the police came over — I’ll be she was indignant and “uppity.” Don’t they realize who she is and what happened? how it was reasonable. I’ll bet she refused a drug test then. The grains showed up in a test hours later. So the police got mad and threw the book at her: “driving with impaired judgement.” That is a criminal charge and later she refuses to plea bargain. So a DA saw a chance to make a splash.

A few contrasts: I did not drive off (run away); I had not injested anything for hours, including food. I hadn’t slept that is true; I was driven by stress from driving my daughters with no break, and getting lost at least once during the day. I was exhausted from grief, not from when I was 8 but from the last 14 weeks. I got out of my car and sat on the ground and cried. The police officers were courtesy itself to me because I was courteous to them and the charge was the least they could come up with: “failure to pay full attention.” They thought it was a hit-and-run (by a mythical white car) until the video of the second part of the accident showed no other car. They still cannot account for the car being smashed on both ends though.

End of Kerry Kennedy’s story: She hires world-class lawyers who work to free political prisoners and is acquitted because when she was 8 she lost her famous photogenic father. It’s a story exhibiting the behavior and resources of privileged people: I don’t have an Abbie Hoffman to defend me nor a famous father for others to grieve over. Only my unknown powerless husband who couldn’t even get the HMO (or any other doctor we saw) to treat him with kindness or courtesy, much less try to help him once his cancer metatasized into his liver.

(I remember how the surgeon who did what I now realize is a criminal operation would complain to us about people who complained. He really disliked that you see. he fee was $8000 to the surgeon alone. It did nothing not an iota to affect that cancer. Yes he took out the growth, but it could have been removed with chemotherapy and the other doctors were surprised he did not immediately take that route. I know why now. The liver was a threat right then. But he wanted to do that operation; he told me he enjoyed them, and then he’d get is fee and the patient would not “leak” because his tissues were “fresh.” So he utterly destroyed Jim’s digestive system. Before the liver went bad, Jim was seeing he had maimed himself for life, how little he could eat for life, how few were the foods he could tolerate. How easily he became nauseous. So there’s an operation that was said to be successful but what it did was terrible and it had no effect on his condition whatsoever.Then it made the liver mets much worse. The stomach was tiny, right by his throat and he continually was washed by the poisons the cancer threw up into his face. The surgeon admitted the cancer would not be worse. Jim starved to death.

Sometimes I can scarcely believe it all happened. Like some nightmare. I can’t believe he’s dead only that he’s not here with me any more.)

Authorities in this country: all powerful, acting with impunity, and punitive. A story about an over-drugged stressed society with a mean streak of punish, punish, shame. When Princess Grace had a stroke while driving in 1982, her car went over a mountain — no one bothered to have strong fences at the edges of these in middle Europe. For years afterwards her daughter then in the car with her, luckily surviving, was therefore blamed. It must have been her driving. Alas, no proof so they couldn’t put her on trial, in jail or take away her license to drive. Since it was Princess Grace, the dream icon of 1950s middle Americans, the whole thing left alone.

Mine story is still on-going: Maybe I do have a poor or inadequate lawyer too; I was told on the phone yesterday he did not charge me for the consultation. Generous — but maybe he was not impressed with me or my story. A paralegal is handling my case and I was told she’s in court, so cannot return my call until at least next Thursday. What matters a few days?

I want to ask two questions: why did the DMV reject my papers when I gave them all they wanted, including a sheaf of reports showing I have no epilepsy and am normal? If they rejected them, why should they accept another round in May? what’s to stop them from keeping this kind of response up? They are earning their salaries this way.

I am afraid my car is rotting. I go out each day and run it for 15 minutes, I put it in gear and go backwards and forwards. I listen to David Case reading aloud Tolstoy’s War and Peace for half an hour. When the car has warmed up fully, I shut it off and go back inside. If they don’t let me drive again (policed, imprisoned) I fear I’ll lose much of my $17,000. How does one re-sell a car? I’ve no idea. I am paying insurance all this while too.

As to my feelings, the continual basic experience of being alive just gets worse. Yesterday I saw someone on Facebook commenting on an opera, a kind of happy remark about how the opera comically does not at all relate to its source. Once upon a time I could give a few seconds of a morning to such a thought, write it somewhere and move on. I can no longer have such unqualified cheer. Everything I experience comes interwoven with anxiety or a kind of bleak loneliness whether it be about bills or something I signed to get a credit card (which I now won’t activate and hope the whole thing will go away), or how brutally cold it is outside so that I don’t know where a bus stop is precludes trying to get somewhere by bus — or what’s in today’s snail mail (which I’ve learned to dislike the sight of).

I face what my life will be from here on in. Alone, without meaning over the day. Much anguish and anxiety with no one to help me counter this. Missing him, remembering, thinking about my past life, his. Daily getting these harassing unscrupulous notices telling me I must have this warranty or do that. The admiral would pitch them without telling me of them.

I am more sad, more desolate, as time goes on though I seem to fill my days with activities insofar I can — now being isolated from some any activities not close to a bus or as metro route allows. I am distracted less –I don’t invent trips to shop when I really don’t have to any more. Can’t get to the gym. So that I disliked the look of the place, the weird unsocial feel, the gross TVs, the dank place for a pool doesn’t matter. More reliant on Netflix. Now watching Breaking Bad, disk 2 (I must be mad).

But I can’t reach Cheryl anymore. Must give it up. We talked of phoning but that’s not what I need. Towards the end she became perfunctory and that made me sad. I fear I won’t be able to reach the Haven on Saturday afternoons — 6 have been set up for me and others to join a group of people recently widowed to talk about it together. I will try for it though.

Those who block all expansion of public transportation are the criminals. They cause the excess deaths. Isolate people and keep them powerless (down south the strategy against poor African-American and white people too). My story is also about the lack of public transportation. Boy is it.

Maybe I spend less daily (just a little, nothing to make up for loss of car and insurance): I don’t order a stationary bike as then I’d be faced with the problem of putting it together (assembling it). One of the things from snail mail is from JASNA -DC –all along the problem has been the woman running it are businesswomen types (really) from Maryland so I am not surprised that I will not be able to get to next JASNA meeting. So I won’t look at it until tomorrow.

A shelf in the Night Bookmobile

So what have I been doing? I try for pleasant things or not unpleasant and sometimes satisfying because I’m in the world of a beloved or good book or interesting movie. Or it would be more if I were not doing this because Jim died. Or reading a friend’s letter or writing to a friend.

I’ve been three times to Northwest Washington now, the Temple Baptist Church right off the main campus of AU, and the last time despite the 3 degrees temperature I walked across the main campus to the library. Maybe that was the best moment in some ways: I had not been there since 1992 and renewed my library card, can access the catalogue from home from my computer, can take books out, put them on reserve for my students, and when there use all databases. I was shown how to use their digital system, something the students and staff at GMU will not do. They are instructed not to help! or so some have said to me.

I can manage AU as once I get to the Metro public transportation is fine. It’s hard to time: I got there half-an-hour early and had to sit outside on a park bench waiting for the first official person to arrive to open the building. It went well yesterday at AU all three times: I did my teaching stint well; the day of the open house was pleasant. Mr Oscher is a very rich man who has no heirs and conceived of these programs to give older people an enriched last 30 years. They are low key, only the key people are paid, no credit for the courses. So almost everyone doing it for the love of it. No pressure.

I’m getting different messages from the different sessions about how to conduct these classes — am I first among equals and must not expect too much in the way of reading? or is it a regular class except everyone there voluntarily, and partly out of a desire for companionship, to explore something meanginful with others — something not mentioned in these sessions.

I’ll see. In the meantime I’m really spending my days reading Austen and about her — Sense and Sensibility stood up to an upteenth reading. A strong book. I noticed how tight it is, how rarely Austen does comment and not at length. It calls to mind Richardson, so if her views are obsolete or different from what you infer from her ironies, we don’t know it. I took out Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen and Janine Barchas’s Matter of Fact. Byrne is the best she’s written thus far: I liked how fixing on objects allows her to get to particulars; I have already seen sleights of hand (which show you must not believe her assertions altogether – but check) but it’s an addition to Austen studies — something in the new mode of moving away from chronology and telling of biography in new ways She does not lend herself imaginatively in the way of Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch (or Gorra on James’s Portrait of a Lady and life) but she has power with her publisher and is given room to give full particulars of each incident surrounding the object and then attaches these to Austen’s fictions. It’s insightful. The Barchas is good in the way of Jocelyn Harris — strong on facts – even if all these historical objects and structures and contemporary texts are not alluded to specifically in Austen’s texts, you learn a lot about the full context of the text.

My Net friends — letters and postings off-list and off-blog and on list too — are what keep me going. On Trollope19thCStudies a member told us about and sent URL for wonderful podcast of a lecture by one Professor Gifford on Scott (the man is also the librarian at Abbotsford), complete with film of the places Scott lived and those redolent of his books. My life on the Net is what helps sustain me.

And daughters. Caroline helped with tax, drove me to Trader’s Joe, to buy a new handbag to replace my broken one. Yvette and I today we have a good HD- opera, Prince Igor. We are debating whether to wear boots because we have to walk under and through tunnel not meant for people to walk in and sometimes it is flooded for a couple of inches high … Back again at 5 or 6, and home for spaghetti dinner, me with wine, Yvette orange juice as we used to do when the Admiral was live.

I was originally prompted to write this blog by the message I saw on face-book about the opera. I also this week on a list-serv for Aspergers Adults in DC participated in a thread about driving and navigation meltdown. Nowhere else have I before this met anyone — really — anyone at all who had these problems of getting lost, of having to be sure and study the google map, of practicing to go to a place before it’s time really to go, of being puzzled by the GPS and not being able to operate it (!), and now there they all are. I feel not so alone. Today it brought home to me how little those who haven’t a real disability understand of what life is for those who have one.

Attributed to Carson Ellis (a pseudonym?), in imitation of Edward Gorey


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One of hundreds of Edward Gorey cats

The Admiral was very fond of Gorey: we have all 3 books; when Yvette tried out for some mid-western college, she wrote about Gorey for an essay she was asked to do on art and she was accepted with an $18,000 scholarship! Gorey-like she didn’t go.

Clarycat has been sticking close to me these last few days; where I am, she is.

Dear friends and readers,

From about the age of 17 or so I understood that there was such a thing as an unconscious area of the mind outside our control — quite apart from beyond whatever the mind does when it is sleeping.

I learned then as I am experiencing again now that some things are not under our conscious control: I do not will myself not to sleep. I want to sleep. But I have returned to sleep patterns I have not had since age 17 to 19. I find I sleep 2 hours or so, and then wake up no matter what I do. I am up for 4-5 hours: I can read and write. Then if lucky sleep again for 2 hours. I do not will this. I really hate headaches from not sleeping. You see I don’t always get that second 2 hours.

I certainly do not will my body not to react to the sleep medication I was using before the phone call from the DMV telling me I am not permitted to drive a car. Before the phone call the medication helped. I slept. Now I can’t. This has gone deeply into my psyche somewhere, disquieted me deeply. I can’t reach it so can’t talk about what it is. I am frightened very frightened.

I have asked the doctor to give me more of the powerful sleep medication I have that did work the other night, but again I am up against power. If he chooses not to write a prescription, I can’t have it. Is it amusing to think his excuse will be it’s addictive?

Power. How did people in the US end up ceding so much important power away?

Given the state of public transportation in Virginia (not uncommon across the US), some things I cannot reach — the Uber cab is really scarily expensive. (This is deliberately engineered; in one of the southern and one of the western states the legislation killed a bill to build some railway which the federal gov’t was prepared to help pay for in a big way.) $70 for one ride. So no dentist, no hairdresser, no Whole Foods, no stationary bike. Next week I can probably get to get to AU by bus train bus on the way there and back — I did it on rare occasions during the time I was teaching there from 1987 to 1992/93. The generous organizer (I am doing it for free) changed the time of the class in order to situate it in a place genuinely gettable to by public transportation and not crazily expensive if I use a cab (it was put in a church in Maryland I would have had a hard time finding even), now if the students only stay I’ll have it. The following week I’ll go back to paying the price for a cab there once a week maybe but going and coming back by bus, train, bus the rest of the time.

Until the lawyer calls me to tell me what’s happening (and one has to wait for somethings to happen) I will not know if I have any recourse ever. Each day I get a little older and closer to death. I am not so foolish to say closer to Jim as after all per his orders I had his poor corpse burnt up. He doesn’t exist any more. I am now in the world of this US of A without him and the result is before me.

So, besides what it’s like in a country where there is no decent public transportation and a central organization can forbid someone to drive without explanation, what’s it like in a country where each stroke of what’s done medically is calculated on a profit basis:

A friend sent me an article about how the French treat cancer patients. It will be no surprise to learn they act with real consideration. In comparison if Jim needed a blood count, he had to get to the doctor’s office, and then he had to wait sitting in pain usually in a not-so-comfortable chair (the wheelchair provided was awful); whatever his pain he had to wait sometimes hours for tests they demanded he take and we had to pay out of pocket for. The faces of all the attendants were blank, pretending that this is was fine behavior. He did leave sometimes without the supposedly necessary test — but by then he had had to come, sit in a car, and then had to sit (it was very painful for him all bumps) to get back. I wonder what would have happened if I had had my license taken away then. I am persuaded he would have said, well, I’ll just die quicker, it’ll cost you less,

I admit I understood his feelings and his choices. I am feeling a version of this as I anticipate what I should have to endure with no reassurance or sense it will come to an end. If I manage it. Each day I do get a little older and a little closer to death.

N was a Notice that caused him Dismay (another Gorey alphabet) Note: Gorey does not tell you which organization sent this … why? … what was the dismay …

The simple truth is I am intensely sad now. Maybe the DMV found out about my lifelong depression so even though for 34 years it did not interfere with driving, they have decided to stop me driving. They will kill me if they keep this up.


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