Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘disabled figures’ Category


Beatrice Potter — Mice at work threading the needle

This morning I was thinking I find it much harder to be alone during the summer or hot months than the cold. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe the hot weather signals to one you are supposed to be outside with others having a good time?

Then Robert Reich whose warm compassionate deeply humane and political newsletters I get each day wrote about how a third grade teacher named Alice Camp made a big difference in his life

So I wrote in reply:

I was never lucky enough to have a teacher truly helping me at a young age. But twice when a bit older, a teacher took an interest and made a difference in my life. At age 15 I was intensely miserable and alone, and an English teacher quietly took pity on me: she got me a school job in the library (something you were told you were supposed to get and I had no idea how), and as one of the students monitoring people late to school so I sat with a group of other students every morning for a year. Both helped against the crying jags. She never openly admitted this. I don’t know why I know this but she was said to be a spinster.

Then age 18 the first English class I had in college a Black man who was very elegant, upper class (from one of the West Indian islands) openly was friendly to me in class, and once asked me to come to his office where he encouraged me to be an English major and told me I was very talented in writing and reading. Because of this meeting I did that — so it was not just reading a passage in Wordsworth that gave me the courage. I remember ever after how he was Black and was probably the only Black teacher I ever had in school — I went to all NYC public schools, Queens College, CUNY and a year at Leeds University (UK). One day someone bought in lollipops and gave to one to everyone but me.  I did look different: I was anorexic and very thin, dressed differently, sat apart.  Prof Oliver went over to the guy and asked for 2 lollipops and then came over to me and gave me one and went to the front of the class and unwrapped and sucked on his.

Oh I don’t remember the woman’s name but I can see her kind face even now. She had soft silvery blonde hair. The man’s name was Clinton F. Oliver, and his scholarly specialty was Henry James.

A very long time friend on the Internet who lives in Iran, Farideh Hassanzadeh, wrote this poem the other day and sent it to me:

They are the only ones
who are free.

They stay
on that dark side of the cities
where the most remote stones
rest on their bodies,
covered with dust.

When news is broadcast at regular time
by beautiful international women,
wearing colorful clothing and gaudy smiles,
the dead hear nothing but deep silence
as if all the international languages
are without sound.

Even when the bombs start to rain
on far and near cities
they are safe in their eternal shelters
while their souls are suffering
from the long-lost dreams.

The only voice that reaches them
to shake their bones
is the torture screams
from the solitary confinement
just like the graves
where the freedom is condemned to survival.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Sunning cat

Disappointments, heartaches, things cannot do; things done, things doing, things to look forward to

Dear friends and readers,

Summer unofficially began last weekend, Memorial Day, and it was not exactly a rousing start. We (Izzy and I) failed to get aboard a boat ride, which we were told was planned for our (my) Aspergers nowadays online group, meeting every other Thursday (an hour starting 7 pm) and once a month Saturday (7-9).

The ad lied and said you could buy tickets as boarded the boat, but in fact you were supposed to book on-line — in the sense of reserving a seat. (We did not book online partly because until 10 in the morning it was not clear it would not rain.) So all the people with pre-bought tickets got on and then the guy would not let those willing to buy there until on the dot of 3 pm lest any pre-bought tickets came along. His mean face and tone and words assured us they were “really” full up, as probably was the 6 pm boat.

Izzy said she was not playing this game. In other words, she refused to be humiliated. I’m with her. It does seem to me a great deal of US life nowadays demands versions of humiliation.

So, my friends, avoid Capitol Tours. The boats look awful.

We then found a cab to take us home, using lyft. We had a wait because traffic was so heavy. We had paid a red cab (booking it after 10) to get us there as the Washington Harbor area (like all Georgetown) has no Metro stop nearby: you want to know why Biden couldn’t pass his BBB bill: huge numbers of middle class whites don’t want public transportation in their area. Many areas in DC have no Metro stop. Should I repeat this?
As to Washington Harbor, it is hard to buy the simplest bottle of water or non-alcoholic drink; just about all the places require you to sit down and spend a lot for a meal too.

If this sounds ultra-disappointed, it’s not. I went in order to show all the people I’ve enjoyed zooms with for so long how I want to meet in person and for the 40 minutes or so waiting together I met all who came. They met Izzy who I’ve mentioned on and off for so long Myself I’m relieved to be home early, back to comfort (I have the air-conditioning on), my loving cats, my books and movies

We did walk along the water and Izzy took a photo of a sensible water bird family who do not carry guns and do not live in an unmitigated racist capitalist world.

Izzy and I did take a lovely walk in Old Town around 5 in the evening the next day. The whole park front on the Potomac was re-vamped to leave a good portion a people’s park; on one side and in one portion capitalism reigns supreme but even there the number of restaurants are kept more reasonable and people can still walk along the edge of the water without incessant noise. There are areas to sit, to play games, one dance area, much grass and trees. Again ducks along the edge of the shore …

It’s a good walk up and down, for we start not far from the King Street station and go down to the water and back. There’s a new nice used bookstore! we stopped in it and it’s good place with books organized by type. I used to do this walk almost daily with Jim in the afternoons or evenings when he was working and after he retired; when Vivian was alive (that friend I made who died of cancer) I’d walk sometimes with her. I don’t like to walk it alone because it brings memories of Jim and the kind of life I led with him. Izzy won’t come with me regularly but for special occasions and yesterday we did. No cab, no $50. There are two boats you can buy a ride on up and down the Potomac — they are not popular in the way of the DC rides. You don’t “see” as much — no tourist sites to look at, and be told bogus history about, but we have gone on them a couple of times. Jim would never go (he thought it silly) but when he was away in summer Laura, I, and Izzy did the ride a couple of times just the 3 of us.

That night I enjoyed my books very much (among them The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins), and at night was fully absorbed by Indian Summers Season 2 again. Today it’s supposed to be super-hot — 100F with heat index, so we’ll stay in Izzy watches the French open (tennis), and I’ll do my syllabus for the June mini at OLLI at AU.

To conclude the thwarted and ambiguous and heartaches: This past Saturday I met at the hairdresser’s a woman I’ve thinking of as an old friend. Lately her husband of man years died. From the conversation I realize she is actually fine (doing better than I did after Jim died). I had interpreted her non-response to an email as her being still too grief-stricken to be active this way But her words and then a polite email that she doesn’t want to continue the friendship. This is always so hard when I’m rejected especially when I can’t figure out why. It happens repeatedly in my life — I can see she has nothing against me personally. This is the sort of thing Aspergers people have to live with — many years ago my younger daughter, also Aspergers, asked me why do not others reciprocate (after she had gone to a girl scouts meeting several times, tried hard and no one would even be her partner in dancing), and I answered I don’t know, I wish I did.

I’ve exchanged emails with this woman the next day again and have a better idea why she wants to — or has — broken the beginning friendship off, for it was just beginning again. After all she did this 20+ years ago. It’s too particular for me to tell but I do think this has to do with her husband’s death. Partly she is in a fragile state and doesn’t want to be disturbed by any ideas outside her usual ones – not that I would disturb her. But she knows I’m an atheist; indeed why should I hide it. She does not hide her intense religious (Catholic) faith. She said she was doing fine because she “firmly believes” she “will see Roger again.” Maybe just my presence would get in the way.

These things hurt Aspergers people like us because it’s so hard to start a relationship or begin to sustain one and when we lose it, we don’t have a substitute. We don’t just move on to another relationship. It’s like a child with one train as opposed to a child with many.

I learned a new word — or understood a word for the first time. In a previous zoom I said I didn’t understand the new and various ways the verb to gaslight someone is nowadays used. I know the original film and original use but all the recent extrapolations were confusing. So I’d heard the gerund “ghosting” — or, as a verb, someone ghosts you. I thought it was the equivalent of snub, they make you vanish, ignore you, but no, it means the person makes him or herself vanish. It comes from internet experience where the person does not answer an email as if they are not there. I had had people do that to me, yes.

Not traveling anywhere this summer. Cannot drive at night so no Wolf Trap. You must test negative for Covid going and coming on airplanes internationally. Told airports are again these scenes of wretched crowding, cancelled trips. Nothing nothing is worth such experiences. So Ireland put off for another year. Still sorry not to escape this heat but for three days visiting Thao — see below. The beach is too far for day trip. That is the worst of this area in summer. No nearby beaches.


Where I might go if I could: Monet’s Beach at Trouville

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

So now positive developments. Events and experiences to look forward to this summer.

My young friend, Daughter No 3, Thao, had her baby! He and mother doing very well. Auntie Izzy and Grandma Ellen had face-time with Thao and Jeff and this tiny baby last night.  Auntie Izzy there too. They said it is now just about procedure to induce a young woman after 39 weeks. The medical establishment has decided why wait? She has endured massive intervention during most of this pregnancy and it was a good deal of it overdone, unnecessary and made her anxious again and again. So this refusal to let her carry the baby to term is part of that — the people were at her since this past Thursday to come in — like she had a ticket for a seat (in this case bed) and was not showing up.

A boy, weighing a about over 5 pounds. It’s clear he can’t see. He was quiet while we talked. They were exhausted and very happy I could see. Izzy and I shall try to come for a 4 day visit in August. They had planned to name him William and call him Will but they seem not to be sure now and have not yet signed the papers. I wish I had a photo. I don’t. The first one I do receive from Thao I’ll put here (until then all I’ve got is this one of Sam loving baby Catherine).


Honeysuckle Weekes as Sam cherishing, joyous over baby Catherine for her father Gabe Kelly (Killing Time, Foyle’s War)

Would you believe Barsetshire in Pictures? I gave this talk, which turned out to be difficult work, and I was stressed about but managed to pull off. The first time since 22 years ago I used (went over) that original research reading and staring in the Library of Congress at the original illustrations for Trollope’s novels over much of his career. I believe at the time I viewed and described some 450 images.

I’ve had the idea for my timeline I’d put my reading aloud copy of Barsetshire in Pictures on academia.edu. The talk went over very well (I trust – people seemed to be laughing in the right places), and I do this in the interim before the talk itself with the pictures comes online on the Trollope Society (London) page — if anyone wants simply to read it. When the video appears, I’ll make a blog and then distribute this in different places.


Lily and Grace sewing together by candlelight — George Housman Thomas’s 32 full page and 32 vignette/letter illustrations for the Last Chronicle of Barset

Today, this afternoon I returned to teaching in person for the first time in 2 years and 5 months. A tiny class as so many at the OLLIs are so wary (rightly), but it went so well. So much better than these zooms after all. People really talking to one another in the class. Everyone seen. No one a black box with white letters. It’s the rejuvenation I felt this afternoon to which you owe this diary entry, gentle reader.

And my schedule for the summer and fall all worked out.

I will be teaching this “Alternative POVs on Traditional History and Myth”; also in person for 6 weeks, once a week “Sensation and Gothic Novels, then and now:” Wilkie Collins, Woman in White and Valerie Martin, Mary Reilly, books and movies.

Online at OLLI at AU: a wonderful class, genuinely learned professor from University of Pennsylvania on SouthAsia, once a week — I learned a lot this past week about the Indian subcontinent, geographically, historically, ethnically, religiously; a course, Beyond Musical Standards, on the music of people like Harold Arlen, also once a week for 4 weeks online, but in person (!), 5 days in a row one week, on “Women’s Suffrage.” OLLI at Mason: again 4 weeks of a movie a week, well chosen, with Russell (from Pennsylvania now) and Stephanie; 6 sessions on a history of basic civil rights in the US, online, and then 2 sessions on W.E.B. Dubois’ Black Reconstruction (that’s a Library of American book).

Online at Politics and Prose: end of July, early August, online with Elaine Showalter, “Difficult Women Take Two,” Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights (how I loved this decades ago when I read it riveted), Jean Rhys, Leaving Mr Mackenzie, Angela Carter, Bloody Chamber, Nora Ephron, Heartburn; August, online with Helen Hooper, “The Other Elizabeth Taylor,” Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (very good novel), Angel (one of those by her I’ve not read), and New Yorker short stories; September online with Michelle Stimms-Burton, James Baldwin, his later years, from 2 Library of America books)

I vow in August to write that review of the Anne Finch Cambridge volumes, and the short paper on the manuscripts of Finch and Jane Austen for EC/ASECs in October. I will study Italian and return to Anglo-Indian novels and memoirs.

August you see empty. Lots of horror stories about plane delays, weeks spent not being able to get out of a country because of testing positive for COVID, planes cancelled. Oonce again the airplane industry shows itself not concerned in the least about passengers. They follow the “just in time” theory. No preparation whatsoever for sudden surge of people. No re-hiring. What do they care? As long as their CEOs rake in millions in bonuses they give themselves.

So I will sustain my soul by my Anglo-Indian studies, Italian studies — for a future course at the two OLLIs. As when I started my studies of film, I feel like a child with a whole new candy store waiting for me.

Then carrying on for the rest of the year: London Trollope Society online: The Eustace Diamonds and Can You Forgive Her?. I’ll “do” in person in the fall at both OLLIs, “The Two Trollopes:” Last Chronicle of Barset, and Joanna’s Rector’s Wife and The Choir (books & films), once a week, September through November.

So there we are. Too busy to think about how lonely I am, and how hot it is outside. As for movies just now: Indian Summers, Foyle’s War, three Woman in White movies, two Moonstone. I’m finding the biography of Mazzini by Denis Mack Smith very good, so too near the end of Catherine Peter’s biography of Wilkie Collins (probably cannot be bettered), Maria Tatar’s Heroine with 1001 Faces — to say nothing of listening to Davina Porter read aloud Outlander once again in my car (sexually very stimulating for me).

Managing to keep Internet friendships on FB, TWWRN, my one alive listserv, Trollope & Peers, my online Zoom Aspergers group (every other Thursday and Saturday evening once a month). Here is my beautiful boy who does love me and Izzy

Have I accounted for myself enough? The ninth summer without Jim — carrying on our way of life insofar as I can without him, here, by myself.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Myself and my cousin, Pat, both age 8, Crotona Park, the Bronx


Me at a waterfall park in Maryland, age 72

Gentle readers and friends,

Above you see a photo of me from long ago, one I think I dimly remembered when my cousin, Pat sent it to me last week: I am 8 years old and so is Pat, we are in Crotona Park, in the Southeast Bronx, at a point where it intersects with Charlotte Street, on which I lived some 3 blocks down. My aunt, her mother, took the photo, behind us is her older brother (by one year), teasing us. The other is of me, age 72, spring, Maryland, at a waterfalls in a park.  What is remarkable to me is not only has my facial structure remained the same (allowing for my present fallen cheekbones, toothless state, wrinkled skin), the angle at which I hold my head when faced by a camera, my resort to nervous hand gestures has changed little. I couldn’t skate for the same reasons I was not able to bike ride about 20 years ago, and I now can’t do power point or share screens (or do any more beyond be there and talk) on zooms — too nervous, can’t let go, too unsure of myself, nowadays fear of embarrassment and making people impatient, allowing them to see (while I feel can be seen) aspects of my personality that make me very vulnerable. By contrast, there is Pat, looking out confident, smiling, the only barrier before her, the sun in her eyes, which she fends off.

This evening I sat mesmerized as I watched the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala adaptation (with a little help from Harold Pinter, i.e., most of the script) of The Remains of the Day for an umpteenth time. Ishiguro says he means us to take the butler as standing in for all of us: he gets to do a small job, but cannot control how his labor is used. He has little individual say in many major social and political and economic decisions affecting his life. He is also a man afraid of emotions, a man who failed to let his emotional life have any fulfillment. I do identify — and also with Miss Kenton — I’m a profound failure. It’s not that I threw it away, wasted it with no emotional satisfactions (I had my 45 years with Jim, have two daughters, have had a few friends, and continue to make one or two now and again, but barely sustain them), not that I didn’t get to make my own mistakes (which Mr Stevens laments he did not), enacted my own bad judgements. It’s that the disabilities which manifest themselves so clearly to my eyes so in the old photo have prevented me from doing the writing, achieving the book(s), having a social life that I have longed for, never had, never will. Why I am here all alone this evening and will be so for most until I die. Why I go few places.

The first time I watched this I burst into hysterical crying and it took something like 10 minutes for me to calm down. Jim was sleeping so I went into the bathroom in order to muffle the sounds.

I’ve been watching it again as part of re-teaching this course I called Two Novels of Longing etc. , and it is going very well for a second time. I love the books, and the second time through I am handling what I did well the first time even better.

I’ve thought over these couple of weeks since I last wrote how I have still not learned how to refer to saying something without saying it, still often cannot tell what is hinted at in general terms unless someone drops down a notch into something more concrete, that this middle class or level way of talking is beyond me. Each time I bump up against these ever-so-tactful ways of talk, I ask myself, now is this as Aspergers trait or is it rather than I’m not middle class, and a foundational (so to speak) working class identity that I have fled from in numerous ways (and am sitting her at peace because that I did succeed in with Jim’s help) cannot be eradicated. The pain this lack causes me, the mortification I know I’d feel if I had to watch myself teach on a video (my classes are now recorded), I have to hold in check. When I told someone I have not watched myself teaching, she sent me a written description.  I thanked her. Sometimes I think to myself so much has to be held in check. To get along with others pleasantly.

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

Summer is definitely here, and in some ways we are post-pandemic, Izzy and I. We went out to a movie the other day, and I discovered that people are behaving very badly on the highways. At high speeds (65-70 mph) they dart in an out of the traffic lanes, move in front, around, speeding up to the side of other people in cars. I came home exhausted that day and another when I visited a friend. Calmed myself down, pulled my emotional temperature, excitement down by a glass of wine, but taking it too quickly, I found after supper I had to go to bed and sleep — for several in one case for a couple of hours in the other. So another response to the dissolution of quarantine, is collapsing, twice, from the effort I have not been called upon to give for quite some time. My first time out I got lost.  In some ways the pandemic is not gone. Both of us still working remotely from home, me still on zooms for teaching, courses, lectures, friends’ sessions. Still over 50% of Americans not vaccinated (what great fools), across the world in poor countries, only a tiny number of people vaccinated and this Delta variant (high contagious and the vaccines are not a total barrier against it) spreading across the globe.

Five of the nine shops that used to be next to the movie-house are now emptied of their businesses. Vanished. Went bankrupt. Who says we don’t need another giant stimulus bill?

The cleaning ladies have now been here three times and done a marvelous job each time – the first for well over 2 hours, which included washing from the inside all 14 windows. (One of them, a Black woman in her later 30s looks very well, all of her four children survived without getting sick.)

Ian the ginger tabby reacted with strong upset. He stayed in hiding under Izzy’s bed from 10:30 when he seemed to vanish until 8 or 9 pm. Then he came out steathily, standing there so still. Since then he has kept making these poignant dismal sounds, wandering about. Last night he wanted to go back under Izzy’s bed but she wanted to go to sleep and she doesn’t like to have the cats in the room with her when sleeping. She does let them in the times I’ve been away, but she prefers strongly to sleep alone. He sat at her door and kept up that mewing sound for quite a while, scratching on the door, and the next morning he was back to that mewing again. Not so frequent. It’s this insistent demanding sound or weak and so desolate And wandering about. I gave him tuna the day after. Two days and nights have gone by and he is now returned to his quiet routine patterns.

So cats have to re-adjust too. Clarycat has spent 15 months as my nearly perpetual companion and I find she does not like when I go out for a whole afternoon.


Clary my perpetual companion

I spent far too much money to have my front patches of flowers and yard once again weeded, mulched, cleaned up, new flower bed put in — I can’t keep this up I think to myself. The man a mean ignorant Trumpite not vaccinated at all, but his wife I’m discovering is a decent person.


Roses and daisies

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

I have a book to tell you of, A. N. Wilson’s Stray; a new serial, Us, a four part BBC serial, based on a book by David Nicholls, which reviewers denigrated as a comfort book about divorce; a couple more thoughts on listening (once again) to a four book roman fleuve in translation: Elena Ferrante’s L’amica geniale (aka My Brilliant Friend, translated by Ann Goldstein who I’ve now seen often enough to know she is dumb when it comes to having ideas about literature) — and the opening spiel for the the course I’ll be teaching the next five weeks, now called more adequately called Writings about Colonial Experiences.

A.N. Wilson’s Stray is a gem in the animal story for adult kind, one which deserves a blog in its own right, together with another moving animal study I read before the pandemic, as thorough in the prose way, as sensitive, Roger A Caras, A Cat is Watching: how cats see us. But I’ve not the ambition so you’ll have to settle for this:

Pufftail has an outlook an outlook and experiences matched by Paul Auster in his book on Timbuktoo, a dog we first meet as “owned” by a mentally ill homeless man in Baltimore. The frame is this is a tale told by our narrator late in life to a grandkitten. This helps me as I know our narrator survived until old age Timbuktoo did not or several times it would have been too painful. The novel proper begins with this novel Puftail as a kitten with his brother taken far far too young from their mother –- the first tragic wrench. The animal store manager is a man interested in animals only insofar as he can make money. They soon are fed as minimally as possible and left in a cage. They realize – because he says so (how they understand English is not explained) – he will drown them. An elderly woman, Granny Harris, comes by and tries to negotiate for one by lying; offers too little, lies about why, and almost takes just one — the brother says goodbye to our hero so plaintively, but the owner throws in the other kitten for a pound. We see the old lady knows almost nothing of kittens for real.

They become indoor-outdoor cats – he and his brother who are named by her Fluffie (that’s our narrator because he has a very fluffy tail – -maybe he’s a middle haired cat) and his brother, Bootsie because his feet and ears are white. He dislikes these names. What is riveting is he tells of how he and his brother kill birds. In a very violent scene we see them stalk and kill a thrush, but not before they “tease” the poor bird a bit, and then we get a description of how they devour the bird. It’s upsetting yet we are distanced because our narrator stops to argue with us — why should we be put off when we eat animals every night. We have someone else do the killing for us. He said he thought Granny would be pleased if they presented the thrush to her. She was horrified – that’s when we get this argument about the hypocrisy of people. She even buried the bird – – and scolded both cats.

What happens is the kind of old lady dies and the cats have to learn about, confront death but the two younger adults are nowhere as responsible and they don’t remember to do things for the cats, yet lock them in. Her adult children come to visit and our narrator and his brother learn to stay away. They are not kind people, have no feel for animals for real, no imagination. Then a truly terrifying moment. I know from all previous cat literature of all kinds I’ve read it’s okay among human beings to kill cats for fun; they were persecuted for some centuries; in the 18th century there is recorded a great cat massacre; torture for entertainment of all sorts was common. Well, the male of the younger couple wants to get rid of these cats as a nuisance — outright kill them. We get this whole sequence as Bootsie, our narrator’s unfortunately named brother, dithers over plans to leave and then it’s too late; they are caught after a fierce struggle and put in bags and throw out of a moving car crazily. Bootsie is almost killed instantly and then run over by a bus.

It is at the same time intermittently very funny. Wilson keeps up a satire on human beings: he describes us as ridiculous from the POV of a cat: how we dress, our sports, out TVs, radios, cars (engines of murder); this undercuts the central story. We are only one-third through. For the rest see the comments. I’ll reread it and perhaps write another blog on compassionate animal books soon.


Douglas (Tom Hollander) and Connie (Saskia Reeves)

Us is not really serious work as Wilson’s is (it’s made for money, finally all about celebrity, success, and glamour somehow), but it is interesting to watch. What resonated with me was the POV of the husband, Douglas Peterson. He has spent more than 20 years of love and marriage working as a serious scientist and has meant very well by his family. Connie offers no reason to leave him but that now the son is leaving home, she feels she need no longer stay — no other reason is cited (Saskia Reeves as an actress is given the most superficial of roles): it appears she is bored; he irritates her with his earnestness and conventional morality when for example (she says) he should be siding with his son (it seems no matter what, how badly behaved he is to an admittedly thuggish bunch.  He should, do more than tolerate the son’s equally outrageous sudden girlfriend (openly indifferent to everything but what suits her today), even like her because the son is attracted to her. So I don’t see the interesting element in the story as about how a man tries to win his wife back (with the implication he deserves to lose her, though I realize many a cold-hearted neurotypical coarse person would respond this way), but (as The Guardian reviewer says)

Us worked best as a study of a middle-aged man who has the rug of familiarity pulled out from underneath him … Hollander is superb as a man baffled by the need for change. His family want to eat adventurous meals, while he would like to stick with steak. He sees great works of art and can’t help but say that they’d be “a nightmare to frame”. He is everydad, just trying to get by. For all the joviality, though, it makes serious points about the damage that an inability to communicate can cause …

And the indifference of his family (how tiresome he is) to such a person. They wish they could drop him, but are conscious of how bad they look, and they do feel guilty.

It is curious how the focus is on the older husband and then the husband and son, and how thin the depiction of the husband when younger is (a different actor); all three actresses (wife and mother when old; Connie played by a different actress when she is young, and the obnoxious son’s girlfriend) are really dismissed or treated as so many troubles or soothing machines in life. I do wonder if the book is much better ….

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


Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) (as to a third season?)

I’m more than half-way through Ferrante’s third book (Those who Leave and Those who Stay) for a second time. I find I underestimated the deep bonding of Elena and Lila – because Elena destroyed Lila’s notebooks and herself literally moved to live elsewhere, but Elena is repeatedly going back; she’s there at crucial moments for Lila and they are a doppelganger of sorts with Elena the Elinor Dashwood and Lila the Marianne. Both are sensibility figures. I feel Ferrante saw this — as she suggested in her introduction to an edition of Austen’s S&S. Sometimes I stop to compare the Italian to the English and often the Italian is not only much better but gives different slant, more political, more socialist, more desperate against the fascism and patronage society of Italy in the later 1960s.


Gilbert (David Oyelowo) and Queenie (Ruth Wilson) — from Small Island (which I’m not doing as too long but hope some to) — they cannot escape their identities

And as for the Literature of Colonialism, from my lecture notes:

But until a couple of months ago my reading was very narrowly focused. I did not realize what a large and varied picture if you start to read stories and essays about colonialism comprises. Hitherto I defined colonialism as usually one group of people traveling to a country say owned or lived on by another group to take over their land, control where they live, live upon it – settler colonialism. Or one group of people traveling to another country and taking over, controlling the reigns of government, and setting up let’s call a layer of powerful functionaries with armies to back them – often using a minority population in the country as their front, with the aim of extracting natural resources and selling them elsewhere or forcing the people there to form a marketplace to buy their goods, also trading with them.

It’s must much wider and concerns many kinds of experiences for many different reasons. I added to our blurb on the syllabus: What is it like to invent a new country? to live in a country that is being invented and excluding or exploiting you? Or a curiously isolated upper class who don’t belong to the country and yet are supposed to be in governing positions? Or to live in an old country where you are not allowed to belong?

But that just covers our books & movies. I will also try to bring out over the next sessions these other characteristics which are so important – repeating characteristics

migrancy (people moving about, and changing their home to another world, refugees, war) – the dangers of this as you don’t know the people you are landing among at all, unless you’re coming to a relative,

liminality (crossing all sorts of crucial and trivial thresholds from going on a trip to getting married to someone or going to live with someone or along) – opening new opportunities you couldn’t have where you were – what does this mean? How does it affect people

hybridity (several cultures and sometimes a new emerging one)

and last, multiculturalism (different groups of people originally separated geographically and now also by ethnicity, race, religion &c)

People do go for all sorts of reasons and a major one is simply war – to escape violence and death and poverty.

And last prejudice, this somehow deeply seated fear of the other – now you are the other or those coming in are the other. There’s an argument we should be doing as we did until 1900 – just let people come in – it would expand our economy, make for new kinds of businesses, new ideas – only controlling for the criminal types who I fear we now let in because they know how to appear rich

The literature also includes this intense yearning for something other, for landscape – yet roots are tremendously important – Simon Weil’s Needs for Roots, existentialism says a lot of what is at the heart of a modern malaise is a lack of meaning from a lack of belonging – but who do you want to belong to? Capitalism recognizes no obligation to anyone but the contract.

Later in the afternoon I was exhausted in the good way, not a collapse. The odd thing is that with all the intense anti-immigrant (because racist) talk, the way I’ve presented the material elicited lots of friendly responses. Of the 30 or so people there I’d say VERY FEW had ancestors who went back beyond their grandparents. Now they are grandparents (many) but their grandparents would be say 120 years old or so – and like me many came from places in Europe, but there were two hispanic people. Also the US has 800 bases around the world (Russia has 4); a huge diplomatic core and is incessantly itself imperialist whether aggressive and nasty and lying like Trump or friendly and let’s cooperate like Biden. All the reading I’ve done has made me expand my understanding and if I were to name the course today it’d be Writing about Colonialist Experiences and the literature since the 1970s is continually pouring out. I’ll include my lecture notes — look at the first three pages and you’ll see what I said — I left out religious persecution as a reason for migrancy, professional reasons (that’s someone else’s words — I’d call it your job). Not in there are spontaneous comments — I told of myself in the south east Bronx for example, Jim from England.

The real paradox is the US is still a nation of immigrants and the people among the US population who go back in time with the families the longest are Black people and a core of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Biden is Irish, Trump Scottish — Clinton represented a family here longer. If I had it to do all over again I might choose different books; but I’ll manage. I do think though a true present-day GOP person might well hate it — they don’t want the truth discussed at all, and the site assistant I know does not like me; she smiles at me with narrow eyes and a hard face — she was offended by me in one of the two previous courses I did where she was site assistant — maybe the Trollope but she could have been there for Bloomsbury. This is my fourth zoom at OLLI at Mason. But if there are (and there are) Republicans in the group they are of the old style “liberal” “moderate” type and no longer represented by the present GOP. Here and there a justification kind of comment or someone saying why this topic …


On my appts book calendar for July: Prendergast’s watercolor, Excursionists (1896)

To conclude: even if through the Internet I have a good deal of companionship when I think of the years ahead w/o Jim, all the daily happinesses I would have, the things we would do together, and now how empty in comparison — also that he’s gone (his own loss) – I’m very saddened. Life was actually easier for me as a widow, staying in. (Among the many comments I have to hear are tactless remarks about how it was our fault he died … ) And the reverse idea were he here I’d have far more to want to go out for, know the surprise joys again.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Izzy singing It’s the End of the World as We Know It — by R.E.M.

Dear friends and readers,

Izzy’s latest song puts before us the idea this pandemic has heralded the end of the world as we know it. It is said to be the result of transmission of a virus from non-human animals to us, the event the result of climate change (break-up), which may well be bringing many of us on earth to the end of our worlds as we have known them. Seemingly silly fleeting experiences will change: many a conference will from here on in be held via zoom, or partly via zoom (or some improvement thereof – I hope not), so too work jobs, universities, schools. These too will occasion deeper changes.

My yearly endurance trial across early October is over, and I’m into my 8th year of widowhood. I have changed a lot since Jim was alive, or had many new kinds of thoughts and experiences. Unexpectedly (yes) I had a lot to learn, mostly about social life, but also myself. I have enjoyed some of these new experiences, wish in fact Jim could have had them with me, especially some of the activities that go on in the Oscher Institutes of Lifelong Learning, come with me to Scotland, to the Lake District, Northern England; with our daughters to Milan, Calais. The experience of widowhood is so various: some women don’t want to be called a widow (they feel the term as a stigma), but that is part of what defines who I am.

It depends on whether you loved your husband (partner) or he (she) loved you; whether you are left with money enough to retire in comfort, of course your age; do you have children, are you parts of circles of friends, have relatives who are close to you; where you are; what you like to do, and what you can do without him (her). I was shielded, still am (by enough money through my widow’s annuity, social security, and my parents’ savings — which they could not pull off today), but for now mostly physically alone with Izzy and our two beloved cats.

I know, banal.

And Laura not far away. Ten minutes by car when she flies low. Here is her delightful imagining of Biden’s Field Office in her Animal Crossing series:

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

With such thoughts embodied in particulars I have been feeling and thinking what do I want to do in the near and further off future. I will not be publishing that review on the Austen, Art and Artifacts book, for a while. I find I cannot bear what Austen studies and Austen fandom has turned into. I’ve decided to wait until the 2nd volume of the new standard edition of Anne Finch’s poetry has been published; to write an evaluation of the first, I need the second, which explains the first and exemplifies more of what principles and attitudes are actuating the first.


Marie de France, found in an early medieval manuscript

The question then — for when I have time left over from teaching or taking courses (or blogging, posting &c) — is, What do I want to study now? These past days I’ve been rationalizing and downsizing my TBR and TBW piles, ordering and labelling and have discovered all my piles of books and individual endeavors (like reading and blogging on Harriet Walter since I found and am reading her book on acting Shakespeare’s heroines) devolves into two areas: women’s literature, which devolves into historical romance (Diana Wallace’s Women’s Historical Novel, 1900-2000) and poetry (Alice Ostriker’s Stealing Our Language — history of 20th century American women’s poetry); the lives and work experience of lifelong single women (which may include widows, spinsters, divorced, separated women, not just Virginia Nicolson’s Singled Out).

Not everything I do fits into these two trajectories; Trollope, for a start, E. M. Forster, some novels, memoirs (travel and other) by men that I do enjoy so, most recently David Downie’s Paris to the Pyrenees (see Colleen’s Paris, I demur on the smirk, I never smirked), studying Italian, reading French, watching good movie series.

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


Frederick Morris (1889-1982), Vase with flowers, dried plants, berries …

The COVID perspective. Jim’s death now impersonally considered. It’s known, understood that the calamitous death rate in the US (still rising) now past 217,000 is the result of a lack of a decent public health system, stubborn ignorance, brought on (in schools too) by a greed so gargantuan it will chose openly choose profits over thousands of fellow citizens lives and wreck the lives of those surviving. I read of experiences daily that remind me of Jim and my own when he was dying of cancer:

I am convinced his early death, the miserable way he died (the gross mistakes, excruciating suffering from a brutal useless, as it turned out probably cutting out of his esophagus and forcing his other organs to be reconfigured, the one he almost bled to death because three different “providers” had to give permission for medicine and had to be paid separately or he was threatened with the horrors of the US emergency room) are in analogous terms just what’s killing thousands of people in the US (needlessly) today. All the respect and grief Judy Woodruff(every Friday night on PBS) pays to the dead cover up what was the experience each person had of US medical capitalism unchecked.

From Louise Gluck’s Landscape:

1. The sun is setting behind the mountains,
the earth is cooling.
A stranger has tied his horse to a bare chestnut tree.
The horse is quiet — he turns his head suddenly,
hearing, in the distance, the sound of the sea.

I make my bed for the night here,
spreading my heaviest quilt over the damp earth.

The sound of the sea —
when the horse turns its head, I can hear it.

On a path through the bare chestnut trees,
a little dog trails its master.

The little dog — didn’t he used to rush ahead,
straining the leash, as though to show his master
what he sees there, there in the future —

the future, the path, call it what you will.

Behind the trees, at sunset, it is as though a great fire
is burning between two mountains
so that the snow on the highest precipice
seems, for a moment, to be burning also.

Listen: at the path’s end the man is calling out.
His voice has become very strange now,
the voice of a person calling to what he can’t see.

Over and over he calls out among the dark chestnut trees.
Until the animal responds
faintly, from a great distance,
as though this thing we fear
were not so terrible.

From Averno

Gentle reader, you need to know the concrete reality such a poem refers to. Amy Coney Barrett is a fanatical heartless monster, read her view on a 19 year old female prisoner continually raped by a guardsman, after she gave birth forced to suck his penis; she lied continually during those hearings. How did Trump find her — and the thug-rapist pseudo-virgin Kavanaugh? why the Federalist Society. Listen to Senator Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Camille Pissarro, Quai Malaquais, morning sun in autumn (1903)

The first of this type, a diary, sort of, in more than a month — they become harder to write as the pandemic proceeds without let — and now climate break with climate caused horrifying fires and orange unbreathable air (California, Oregon) — and nothing is done (only militia sent to turn peaceful protests into murder & then mayhem), as there is no EPA any more for real, no leadership on the people’s behalf. Trapped in a pandemic cycle

Dear friends and readers,

I begin with a happy story or temporarily good ending (most stories can be given a happy ending by shutting down the curtain at a given moment where there is contentment) and I trust this to continually to turn out well (well hope very hard): about my young African-American friend, Monica, just Izzy’s age, whom I’ve spoken of here has quit her job at the Safeway. I congratulated her two weeks ago now — and rejoiced with and for her.

She told me I was the only person besides her mother to congratulate her. She has been for several years now working 7 days a week: 5 full ones in an office for the DC Corrections Department (or Bureau), and 2 2/3s day in the local Giant. Everyone else seems to have been puzzled: why would anyone give up any job? The idea she might want real time to herself is not found among the people she is surrounded by: she told me she plans to use some of it to add further credits to her degree so she may promoted again (she has a BA) and now that her daughter (in Fairfax country schools) will be learning remotely 4 days a week, coming in for a 5th only every other week, she can now have time and energy to help the daughter on weekends. She won’t be too drained. She did tell me that day she had not yet told her husband, but yesterday in an email (we have now turned to emails to stay in contact), she said he accepted it, and now two weekends have gone by says he likes this very much. She keeps her good weekday job that has not been eliminated at all, and worked in the office at first 5 days and now 2 one week and 3 the other during this whole time of the pandemic thus far — with masks, a shield, washing her hands. Her department registered a complaint and threatened to go to court to get their conditions improved in June. And she bought a house for herself and family this past June too.

It does take considerable courage for her to have done this. Thus far she is relaxing and reading books.

I miss seeing her on weekends. I looked forward to our precious 5-7 minutes each Saturday or Sunday morning. But as when I used not to see her there on a Saturday and would tell myself, good she has the day off (though during this pandemic worried a bit), I know how much better this is. She should be doing something else with her weekend time. So many other things better to do. I have pictures of her but feel uncomfortable sharing them – I have just sent one of Thao on line here (if anyone has noticed or remembers).
But I thought I would tell this one story of a 36 year old African-American young woman. She was a student in two of my classes and used to come to my office to talk over papers. She has the one child by her husband, a girl. Very good in math she tells me. Her mother and brother live together and not far away from her. I talk of her in Fraught Times (scroll down)


Pierre Bonnard — Girl Writing

And a comic: even my old stand-by prune juice has been spoilt. This is not the pandemic, but the stretch of monopolies. Amazon does not truly believe in this product and wants to make more money, to bring more customers, and destroys what was there for the steady customer. It is about preposterous amounts of money allowed to mount in the hands of single individuals; ultimately a product of a failed state that has been brought about, and that has brought us this continuing mass death pandemic. Herd immunity == death. No individual should ever be permitted to control the vast sums Bezos does now.

For some 60 years every morning I could I drank a glass of Sunsweet Prune Juice. Amazon bought the product and now there are three versions. A very thick with pulp, undrinkable; a thin version, much less calories, sickening and doesn’t do the trick; the one I drank is not manufactured to the same consistency throughout. So I have had to switch to a gourmet product, R. W Knudsen, but like the version I once drank, it is inconsistent in texture towards the bottom of the bottle. Yuk.

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

Into the Beautiful —
As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away —
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like Perfidy —
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature spending with herself
Sequestered Afternoon —
The Dusk drew earlier in —
The Morning foreign shone —
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that would be gone —
And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
— saith Emily Dickinson

But the way in which I experience autumn for some years now has been a change of routines far more than a change in the weather. And this year there was for me very little experience of summer — indoors away from the fierce heat of the suburbs. I regretted not going to Ireland for 14 days (soft weather), not getting to the beach the way we did last autumn, Izzy, Laura and I, at Calais. I noted changes in my garden, changes in my schedules — teaching one place then the other, the Bloomsbury group, courses in one place (White American art in 19th century Italy, contemporaries documentary movies). Mornings are now dark until near 7, evenings are dark by 8, the fierce heat retreats so that only by later morning until later afternoon is the air truly hot, more rain, softer-colored skies, red berries on the bushes in my garden.


One of my two magnolia trees bloomed very late indeed; the other remained bare, withered sort of ….

The felt changes start next week: I’ll have a schedule of teaching two times, and following/taking no less than three other classes during many of the weeks, not to omit virtual conferences, meetings with friends who belong to the same groups I do (not all organized around reading). I’ve got to get at least one of my two reviews written and on the editor’s desktop. It was this way before Jim died — not since I lived in New York City as a girl was it the cool weather, leaves turning colors and hurricanes that announced autumn. The difference: now I’m experiencing all this through zoom technology in cyberspace.

The course I teach: Phineas Redux (Palliser 4); the ones I take at the two OLLIs: Kipling, and post-colonialist writing (Naipaul, Conrad); Sondheim’s music and lyrics; Emily Dickinso and women poets she influenced; the ones at Politics & Prose: New Suns — fantastical and science fiction stories by people of color round the globe; A Literary Tour of France (I’ll mention specifically one of the four books, Final Transgression by Harriet Welty Rochefort (set in occupied France); the early novels of Toni Morrison. Conferences: JASNA (on the juvenilia, no need to exclude anyone, no absurd spending with nothing to do as sessions take less than a quarter of their usual meeting times0, EC/ASECS, NEMLA (very sophisticated MLA modern sessions). Friends on zooms: an Aspergers group; for poetry by women, Washington Area Print Group. Listservs, e.g., on Trollope & his Contemporaries (just now Arnold Bennett’s Old Wives’ Tale and then Trollope’s Three Clerks); the London Trollope Society for reading Trollope’s novels, just now The Macdermots of Ballycloran (an astounding first book for Trollope; I’m to give the first summary-evalation-synopsis the first week

Fitting in nowhere but my work on Anne Finch, I’m half-way through a marvelously interesting well-written book by Claudia Thomas, Alexander Pope and His Eighteenth Century Women Readers; I honestly hope to write a blog. Mary Lou Kohfeldt’s Lady Gregory: The Woman Behind the Irish Renaissance, as an offshoot of reading Trollope’s Anglo-Irish Macdermots. Lamorna Ash’s Dark, Salt, Clear, of life in a Cornish Fishing town. Just wonderful evocation of the place (I’ve not given up entirely on Poldark and historical romance/fiction). Getting towards the end: Nina Auerbach’s Haunted Heiress on DuMaurier. I cannot be reading too many good books by women.

Izzy is also still (pray she continues with her salary) working as a librarian at the Pentagon by remote — via two computers and nowadays zooms too (she has a webcam, mic) and phoning in. The pandemic is by no means going away any time soon by which I mean thousands of people are still sickening and many dying or left maimed from COVID19. Sensible truthful public doctors (Fauci) suggest not until at least 2021 (late in 2021) will these new patterns of behavior come to something of an end. I doubt we’ll change back wholly: theaters, museums and libraries as places to visit, sports events may thrive truly and have the impact meant only in person, but much office work, shopping can be done cheaply and efficiently via interconnected computers.

I now read TLS regularly. This past week an article about fascism in the US by Sarah Churchwell, partly in response to filming of Roth’s Plot Against America. This details our history with large groups of people apparently who want to make or keep the US a fascist white supremacist society. From the way Churchwell describes people as interpreting all these “dog whistles” shows I have no idea how Trump’s lies truly play with the people determined to vote for him and see him win.

See also an article about a new “official” book of UK history that lies, omits and distorts what happened imperialistically, from the standpoint of wars, social and economic injustices: by Frank Trentmann. It is mandatory text to study to become a UK citizen. Alas behind a paywall.

I have been reading Masha Gessen’s Surviving Autocracy, which I strongly recommend. She is teaching me much, tearing away the veil through which I was seeing events, and tellings me many events in literal detail, which I either did not know or had not put together of what has been going on in the Trump administration.

A vote for Trump is a vote for a fascist (corporations in charge, militarist in all its doings, far right in all values) white supremacist dictatorship (Gessen’s term of autocracy in the US context functions as a euphemism), and a vote for Biden is a vote for a representative oligarchy with democratic and pro-social ameliorations. The glue of the first (Trump dictatorship) is money galore for those who join and punishment/elimination of all who are people of color, all women who want any rights, hatred & resentment. The glue of the second (what Biden hopes to head) is an egalitarian ideal social & economic protection & self-interest, peace, order, law, justice and happiness prime goals. His use of language, the barrage of continual lies; the use of utterly absurd ridiculous statements presented as what we must engage in, the hyperbole of hatefulness combined with bullying is what newspapers have not learnt to deal with – nor other politicians. You cannot not engage but there is nothing to engage with that makes sense and is not burlesquing previously seemingly democratic ethical behaviors.

Of course the above all shaped by the reality: thousands of US people continue to die each week the miserable death of COVID19.

As of yesterday, 9/11/2020, over 193,000 people in the US have died of coronavirus since March. It is said this is an under-estimated number. As of yesterday, 9/11/2020 a new book estimates from the wars the US instigated, sustained, keeps going ever since 37 million people have been displaced (are refugees). Millions are now unemployed, on the verge of eviction and the US congress, strangled by the Republicans who do not want to give a cent of taxpayers’ money to them votes no help at all. Trump beginning his termination of social security, medicare and yes the public post office. Every week the police murder more black people egregiously as if to let all US people know this is within their right and they are determined to continue murdering black people. This is where we are at.

Trump is still forcing people to send their children to schools through his tyrant Republican governors. A story in the Washington Post tells of how the governor has forced people to send their children to school, then succeeded in pressuring local authorities to hide the statistics on how many children are getting sick. Is this what people want: a party that is for sickness and death and silencing.

Nonetheless I asserted and put on FB for Labor Day: Emma Lazarus, the whole poem:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightening, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

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


Doran Goodwin as Emma after she has managed to quit Mr Elton in the mortifying scene in the carriage, Christmas time (1972, BBC, scripted Denis Constantduros)

For the now long late evenings I’ve re-embarked on the Austen movie canon, with the aim of watching them all across the next months. I started with the 1972 BBC Emma, which I recalled as so good (if costumes are dated, and some decorums are long gone), because of its rare consistent use of ironic comedy; then the 1971 BBC Sense & Sensibility (also scripted by Denis Constantduros and I’m into the 1971 BBC Persuasion (Julian Michell). I did not start with the 1939/40 MGM Pride and Prejudice (as the unsubtle screwball comedy treatment Austen so often gets in cinema, the next the 1996 Clueless, and then 2002 Bride and Prejudice). I’m surprised how well these three hold up and vow to write blogs on these movies on Austen Reveries. An Autumnal resolution.


Joanna David as Elinor writing her mother from London, they need to return (1971, BBC, scripted Denis Constantduros)

They do have the depth of emotion that are required and also the comedy — in the 1971 S&S, Patricia Rutledge is the most brilliant Mrs Jenkins I’ve ever seen and Fiona Walk the same for Mrs Elton. What unites them is a real faithfulness to the literal as well as the true thematic emphases of Austen’s books — when in the 1971 Persuasion Wentworth (Bryan Marshall (who now I think of it played Rochester in a similarly early and very good Jane Eyre) arrives and the two actors silently interact — they are very strong presence and then the film opens out — so to speak. Out in the landscapes and gardens of some southern parts of England. The script is enough to convey the original tone and feel of the book, and it even gets better when they go perhaps to Lyme itself (they seem to on the cobb), lots of filming of the waters, the sky …


Or Anne Elliot holding on, exhausting herself with the strain of keeping up the old self-control, immersed in beautiful landscape (1971 BBC Persuasion, Roger Michell)

Or maybe I should do it by type: watch all the Persuasions in a row, all the NAS — the problem would be there have been so many P&Ps, S&Ss, and now Emmas (with the last cinema travesty returning to screwball burlesque, with a coda of absurdly sexualized soppy romance). I could, you know.

Very much belatedly, two nights ago now (into older movies and all that) I finally watched Four Weddings and A Funeral (a famous super-popular movie, said to have made Hugh Grant’s career). It is enjoyable, entertaining, enough is told about each character to involve us — though not much. The characters consequently seemed a very privileged set of people — no jobs in sight.

I could see that it anticipates Love Actually, which may nowadays be a Christmas classic (a movie people watch Christmas time). Wikipedia showed it was replicated in Notting Hill – overdone I’d say (I watched another night) with shameless fawning over a celebrity — Julia Roberts. I am reading Anne Enright’s Actress, in part an ironic study of what is meant by celebrity: a non-existent hollow private life (if one at all), and you hold your audience by astute holding slowing down of your letting go (such is acting) at intuitive archetypal moments for the character type the audience takes you to represent. Richard Curtis the author of all of them.

The movie is really just made up of 4 weddings and a funeral. As the new one begins, or just before the interim time is conjured up (only very occasionally a flashback). I felt disappointed at the ending. I expected something more unusual — it was just a love story after all, with all the couples who had not had weddings as yet shown married. The most unusual thing – the most worthwhile moment — was the death of Simon Callow’s character, gay man and his Scottish partner’s relationship to him. The most moving moment that reading of Auden’s poem — the way it was read by the Scots actor made me wish I had known it when Jim died.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
— W H Auden

Jim liked Auden’s poetry and his criticism very much — I have a complete poems, a travel book, the translated Norse (Icelandic) sagas, books of criticism. But this morning looking the poem up on the Internet I find it’s claimed the poem began life as a burlesque, as mockery. So that evening I took down or out from the crowded shelf space where “Auden” resides and looked into this. And found the poem to be an inexplicable passionate outburst.

Callow is said to have come out at the time of the distribution of the film; he has a major role in a number of Merchant-Ivory productions, the first two seasons of Outlander. A versatile man he often also writes for the LRB, wonderful essays.

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


A quilt Laura’s best friend made for her (during pandemic, natch): to commemorate her present large patient brother cat, Drake, with one of the two new kittens, Maxx, and the cats who have passed on (Kira, Mitzi, Andromeda – i.e., Ani)

The pandemic has affected my faithful feline friends — and other people’s pets too, where they are all staying home together: nowadays if Ian has gotten into the habit of crying for me in another room. I am working away in my study/workroom (whatever you want to call my nest of comforts and lair) and I hear: Meow! In a howling like tone, or plaintive. I cannot resist getting up and walking about finding him (of course it’s him) standing there waiting for me. He turns and trots away expecting me to follow. I do, pick him, cuddle and bring him back to said lair while telling him he has nothing whatever to cry about. I have noticed if I go out for a time – am seen to be planning to, the cats begin to look anxious. They are not eager for this. They get out of said room and watch me to the door. They are in short no longer accustomed to long hours of my absence (much less Izzy’s, she has become a fixture)

Well Malcolm Brabant on PBS Reports had a delightful but ambivalent segment on PBS last night where he tells of how the pandemic is affecting British dogs. It seems they are coming (according to one vet) “emotionally disordered.” (See how a medical definition tells us more about the definer than the subject). They are openly experiencing (in large numbers it seems) “separation anxiety” when their “best friends” go out even briefly.

Worse yet they want to sleep in the bed with said friends and they are persistent. People give in. Worser to buy a dog now costs a helluva lot. Even rescue dogs. Then worser and worser: dognappers. In the 19th century kidnapping a dog and holding the wealthy person’s pet for ransom was even common. It happened (famously to those who read) to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Flush. Francis Power Cobbe wrote a dog story told by the dog where he was kidnapped and ransomed. The argument then and was is of course: “don’t pay it, it only spreads the crime.” But what if it is your dog. Brabant showed us only elderly lady with her beloved dog back on her lap.

A cat is not just an autistic dog. I am more loathe to leave my two than I used to be and as to boarding them somewhere, it hurts me to remember I would do that to them — they took that large cage by a strange window as fearful liminality.

A poem by Stevie Smith, a fable with a cat at the center:

The Galloping Cat:

Oh I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good
So
One day when I was
Galloping about doing good, I saw
A Figure in the path; I said
Get off! (Be-
cause
I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good)
But he did not move, instead
He raised his hand as if
To land me a cuff
So I made to dodge so as to
Prevent him bringing it orf,
Un-for-tune-ately I slid
On a banana skin
Some Ass had left instead
Of putting it in the bin. So
His hand caught me on the cheek
I tried
To lay his arm open from wrist to elbow
With my sharp teeth
Because I am
A cat that likes to gallop about doing good.
Would you believe it?
He wasn’t there
My teeth met nothing but air,
But a Voice said: Poor Cat
(Meaning me) and a soft stroke
Came on me head
Since when
I have been bald
I regard myself as
A martyr to doing good.
Also I heard a swoosh,
As of wings, and saw
A halo shining at the height of
Mrs Gubbins’s backyard fence,
So I thought: What’s the good
Of galloping about doing good
When angels stand in the path
And do not do as they should
Such as having an arm to be bitten off
All the same I
Intend to go on being
A cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good
So
Now with my bald head I go,
Chopping the untidy flowers down, to and fro,
An’ scooping up the grass to show
Underneath
The cinder path of wrath
Ha ha ha ha, ho,
Angels aren’t the only ones who do not know
What’s what and that
Galloping about doing good
Is a full-time job
That needs
An experienced eye of earthly
Sharpness, worth I dare say
(if you’ll forgive a personal note)
A good deal more
Than all that skyey stuff
Of angels that make so bold as
To pity a cat like me that
Gallops about doing good.


Clarycat on my lap

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

And I watched another pandemic shaped Metropolitan Opera concert yesterday afternoon: Joyce DiDonato, a mezzo soprano, her reportoire far more older Baroque than I realized, and I admit I did not enjoy the songs the way I did Jonas Kaufmann and Renee Fleming (traditional tenor and soprano), until she moved into more popular songs, but then I woke up (as it were) elevated suddenly by her Shenandoah (“I love to see you), the corny, yet irresistible “When you Walk through a storm.” I like the simple black dress with wide pants, no jewels, no shoes even, the small orchestra with harpsichord and piano. She lives in Barcelona, but the concert came from an industrial center in Germany, as the only safe place just now with an appropriate hall and not a hot spot for this virus. They had had to move the venue three times to find it.

So tonight I end on her is her cabaret song (you must first listen to the end of a German art song). Jim loved to listen to French cabaret — this from Piaf, La Vie en Rose, which I had not realized, taken in somehow is about a kind of experience of absolute love I knew, here her version finding life so beautiful while you are in the arms of your beloved. As I listened I thought of all the years with him, how I would lift my arms to him when he came to bed

This was a second concert that counseled hope and courage (like Renee Fleming’s).

People talk of going to live in another country, in Europe, in Central America (which one would you trust to?), flee somehow, but rare is the person who becomes refugee except when there is no alternative but death and destruction; they will stay and endure and eek out an existence. Or would Jim try to flee, try to de-accession and move the books once more, this time back back to the UK, see if he could get for me (and daughters) a right of residence? I don’t know. He was deterred after retirement when he realized we would have to pay 40% more taxes from our income. But were he here I would not be as frightened. I do believe we need a landslide win for Biden to get rid of Trumpism. I donate money; I tried to join in on a phone bank campaign but no one would show me to do this digitally, which is what is required — to show faces?  I don’t know.  But how can it be that millions will vote for tyranny, continued lies, destitution all around. I wonder if Masha Gessen will tell me. Gentle reader, can you?

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Seascapes — Sara Sitting (I am not sure about this title or artist but very much like the image)

On morning early this week (Sunday) I remembered when in the mid-1970s Jim and I lived on Seaman Avenue in Manhattan (200th street, below the Cloisters hill) we would summer time on Tuesday and Thursday take our dog, Llyr, and drive to Jones Beach in the morning. There was a beach where dogs were allowed. We’d bring coffee & croissants for ourselves, water and biscuits for Llyr. We’d go in the water, stay close to shore (no life guards). Those were happy mornings long ago … I thought of this as I saw my neighbors, two married gay guys taking their dog to a nearby private pool …. the difference between now and then — includes then it was public beach, now it’s an expensive private pool. I did long to get out of the house, go to where the horizon stretches out and stand by the world’s waters — thus the above image by Sitting

On another I woke remembering a dream Laura outlined at the end of our time with Izzy in Calais last summer: upon retirement, she’d buy a second house for her and Izzy in Florida or some warm place, & they’d live there winters; and the present house I occupy summers — though now I’m thinking it’d be a bit hot here. They could sell my library and go to Vermont. I ahd found the idea of them together when I am gone comforting. I would not worry so about Izzy and feel better about Laura having a good companion

My image for this was Beatrice Potter’s Two Rabbits because Jim as a boy read the Potter books and even into his old age would suddenly quote from a scene or refer to Jemima Puddleduck or wry Potter characters

Last The comet. I am told there is a comet in the sky just now. One night around 10 pm Izzy and I took our binoculars and went for a walk around — that’s when the sky is dark where I live. We didn’t spot the comet — I don’t know what to look for. But we did see a sky filled with stars. Not strong as light pollution is too pervasive but we did see a sky just twinkling with many little lights. And a couple of stronger ones too. A comet apparently looks like a moving star ….

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been almost three weeks now and I’ve made no entry because during mid-day I’ve been busy (driving myself to work on my Anne Finch review, immersed in the true wonders, good values and texts by and about the Bloomsbury group), and at night so tired, watching A French Village (up to season 6 now — what an education about real life politics during war), and as usual often melancholy, depressed, so worried about this endlessly spinning out calamity (COVID19, the devastation of unemployment deliberately spread by Republican-Trump policies) and how it might affect Izzy and I. But I do have a topic to share and performers to recommend: my education in the context of the US educational system generally speaking, and (among others) the comedienne Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette and Douglas.

Last week was the time OLLI at AU runs its “July Shorts:” these are courses which last just one week, and take place anywhere from 3 to all 5 days, about 90+ minutes each meeting. (They do the same kind of thing in February each year.) I could not myself teach such a course, and even going to them when it means driving there can be too much of a burden. Last week it was just sitting in front of my computer three times to participate in a four time course on the American education system (or some such title) so I registered and zoomed in. The two men leading the discussions, lecturing presented excellent material: good information, thoughtful commentary, genuine explanations for phenomena. I had to miss the fourth, because it took place in precisely the same time as each week I once a week give a course at OLLI at Mason on the Bloomsbury group: 90 minutes on the status of teachers K-12 (low, 80% female and white still) and the history and developments in chartered schools. While I trust my every instinct to distrust privately funded (you must pay as a parent to some extent) this is a means to destroy public education, to turn desperately needed good education into profit-making ventures (like medicine), and to pull in taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars to support turning schools into places with a false appeal of supposed choice and exclusionary policies — while I am distrustful I would have liked to hear an unbiased account.


A Community high school

Their over-riding theme was the need to make the system far more equal for everyone; as presently conducted the way US education works, its effect, is to increase the inequalities or (to be more frank) set up inequalities among children from day one, reinforce class, money and other social disadvantages. To produce badly or uneducated children whose whole outlook is shaped by narrow ill-informed prejudices. This is achieved (it’s wanted) by a mechanism or reality which lies at the core of all US inequality and social ignorance: residential localism. All education in the US is controlled locally, by localities; the schools are funded locally (by a town or at most city), with some controls placed on what they can and should teach and how they must behave by state laws. The state provides funds too, as does the federal gov’t (8 to 15% depending on how poor the district is, so the poorer get 15% or close to that, and the richer 8% or close to that). Any change in this is fiercely fought. As with the delivery of medical services in the US, the whole thing is endlessly fragmented, done differently in different states, with endless pockets of people in effect isolated from others — even nearby. This is exacerbated by he complete divorce between K-12 and post-secondary or higher education. The two groups run on different tracks, and both are (as a result) somewhat hostile to one another due to caricatures.

The public picture of schools in the US is distorted and falsifying — especially in the post-secondary area where education is suddenly expected (by many Americans) to directly lead to or produce jobs. It does not. Parents and students are paying for a certificate in an area of knowledge; nothing more is (literally) contracted for. The picture the public has as de rigueur or common is a four year college aspiring to at least look like Harvard, small private campus college, or state-supported be-prized institution measured by the US News and World Report. Only 17-18% of young US adults go to a four year college. 80% of young adults are enrolled in some form of publicly-funded post-secondary education, many of which are community colleges, which are weak on needed vocational training and apprenticeships. The fancy internships for upper middle professions are found in the 4 year institutions (and pay nothing). The average student is 27 and the majority are female, perhaps married, with one child. She is looking to “better herself” in the commercial marketplace. As to elite schools that are written about so much (this is the public media pretending that the small middle class is pervasive) less than 2% go to colleges like Harvard, Stanford — and where my younger daughter went, Sweet Briar (she had what was called a complete scholarship so it cost each term about what George Mason did for my younger daughter six years before).


This is a private and charter school — all white

K-12: 11% of children to teenagers are in private schools, of which 9-10% are religious schools, aka schools run by overtly religious groups (or in the south where there is more than a pretense a Christian academy for whites — these sprung up after Brown v Board of Education). The children of upper class and middling parents are taught self-esteem, self-assertiveness, how to cope with others and negotiate your way through life, to be pro-active for individual initiative at home; they have books at home to read; by keeping them away from the rest of the population, you leave that rest to become unexamined obedient instruments of capitalist enterprises — with the emphasis on obedience to group norms and acceptance of punitive measures to keep them that way. They are not to expect “perks” like art classes, music, shop, Advanced Placement (with better paid teachers) where they might learn what are their particular gifts.

The way the game is kept this way is fragmentation — the same thing is done in the area of US medicine (and now we see how US medicine is delivered is horrifyingly inadequate if there is any question of truly serious illness in the population). Those in the richer districts do not want to share their money with others. Most married Americans with children chose where they live in accordance with the schools available in the area. There is a tremendous gap between governance (those who govern, school boards) and anything to transform achievement gaps. No comprehensive school services across many districts (like social workers, nurses)

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


Duncan Grant, The Stove, Fitzroy Street

All this for four days and watching what the 40 or so people in the class looked like as they listen, what they said made me remember my own experience. In fact my education enabled me to escape a stultifying working class background, and today still (even after Jim’s death 8 years now) live a life of the mind immersed in high culture in a comfortable house with books and nowadays computers. I am not altogether an anomaly because between the years 1946 and 1970 other trends and left-overs from the FDR era mitigated some inequalities, plus the way to be promoted and thought well of is through academic style tests where your ability to cope with language and math (symbols) are tested, your ability to memorize and what you have read and studied made the groundwork of the tests. On all these I did spectacularly well — as did Jim. Jim got 800 on both GREs to enter graduate school; I got 800 on the English and 798 on the math, at which he quipped: “Ellen was always weak in math.”

I know one of my prides is this education of mine: that I have a Ph.D. is central to my ability to hold up my head. I know how I was relieved to go to grade school to escape my parents’ house with their continual fierce fighting and the tensions and miseries of poverty and anger and frustration. It was a mecca. I know that once I got into my senior year in high school and throughout high school, college, even graduate school, I loved going to classes. In talking on FB of what colleges cannot do to set themselves up to teach students kept socially distant I remembered how for a year at Leeds University (for which I won a scholarship, my year of study abroad where I met Jim) I was given a tutor one-on-one. We met once a week to talk and together study Chaucer and medieval English and French romance. How scared I was at first of the professor; how young she was with a silver urn. I read so carefully each week. I also had wider tutorials with 4 students to a lecturer. Then Izzy at Sweet Briar had similar experiences.

But I also know what I didn’t learn. As I sat in a public school in the southeast Bronx where the majority of students were African-American or hispanic, I was put into a tiny group with “real books” to read – sometimes I was a group of one. The others were reading workbooks, Dick and Jane; I was reading books like Mary Poppins. I spent some of the day making posters. But I learned no manners, my accent stayed thoroughly southeast Bronx, I never took in groups of attitudes I encountered for the first time at age 10/11 when my parents moved to Kew Gardens. Ever after I was something of an outsider. There I was in groups of children with abilities like myself only I was behind in math and science — and no one took the time to teach me fractions, long division, how to do percentages. I still stumble and only my test taking ability, memorization, and ability to work out what a paragraph wanted got me though the Regents. We did have Regents in NY state so the high schools were forced to have teachers who did spend each year covering the curriculum for say chemistry or European (called World) history.


Another Duncan Grant — this time of Vanessa Bell painting, David (Bunny) Garnett reading, studying

Jim went to a “public school” in the UK — these are private schools for the elite — as a day boy in a different colored shirt (to show he was there without paying) because he did so well on the 11 plus, it was called. But he was merged with upper class boys from age 11 to 18 and that enabled him to know how to negotiate and cope in a managerial position, at conferences, he understood expectations. He had a silvery pure prose — from years of learning Latin and translating back and forth from Latin to English. He hated his school at times – he was caned five times and still had the welts on his hands when he was in his 50s. Like me in a different way an outsider, his politics he said were philosophical anarchy. He was deeply sceptical of all professions of ideology.

College came to me because I was living in NYC where it was basically for free. I had to come up with $25 a term. I got in through the night school. Never took an SAT exam, but within the first term, got all As and so switched to daytime college. Jim’s fees were paid for by the state — the Clement Atlee reforms were still in place. I know now how odd it is for me to be proud since I never went to a name school, cannot tell of knowing this or that person, but my expectations were so low to start with, and it’s what your expectations are as you start out that you measure yourself.

I did hold out. I refused to sell myself – I would not spend my life in a 8 hour a day 5 day a week job to make a higher salary. I was able to do that by being married to Jim and accepting that we would live on less, have less things people admire in our house, or clothes, prestige house. And it is chancy but then had I spent my life working at what bored or irritated or embarrassed or was trouble for me I would not be any safer as to money. To be truly safe you must be very rich in ways Jim and I (he with his gov’t job where he was promoted based on his intellectual abilities) never came near. And we spent what we had, I still do what is coming in, to enjoy life as we went along. We did do traveling as I have done since without him. I shall miss going to the UK if this pandemic makes it impossible for me to return to Europe safely. I was comfortable in the Scottish culture and norms; each time I returned to England I felt such cheer to think this is where he was born, where he became what he was. He valued me for what my education had made of me or what I had done with it to make myself what I was and am when we met at Leeds and throughout our lives together.

I did grow irritated at the course because when I would speak I could see that what I had to say was not wanted. Many of the people wanted to pretend they were for equality more than they were and they wanted to remain upbeat and talk of hopeful changes. One of the two leaders twice told a story of a teacher making a home visit and how the hispanic family all came out dressed just for her. I had a home visit when I was putting Izzy in the pre-school: the two women I learned later wrote up a very hostile description of me and my house (all the books offended). It seems Jim and I were at fault for my daughter’s disability. Others kept talking of how important success outside school, in businesses, was — in ways that showed they had no idea this is the kind of thing that cannot be taught. It is social cunning imbibed from your family habitat. I told a little of my experience in a southeast Bronx public school – it was not appreciated because it was downbeat. One was to be constructive. Large abstract pessimism is good, not local true-to-life anedote which exemplifies stubborn real obstacles.

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

So this piece of genuine autobiography in the context of a course I just took has taken me time to write and space to do it in. So I shall save for next time some of the wonderful books I’ve read these past 3 weeks, movies, art works looked at, music listened to, Laura’s kittens, and end on music and comedy. Now just onto experiences I’ve had I would not ever have been able to without so much coming online — ingenious people determined to reach everyone at home, to socialize, to make money in their professions.

This past Saturday I took a chance and paid $20 to listen to Jonas Kauffman in concert from the Met. At first I shuddered at the hype introduction, over-dressed woman, and began to fear this would be glittering commercial phony-ness, but bear with the opening 8 minutes, and they leave you alone to listen and watch. An hour and 20 minutes of moving magnificient songs from this handsome and extraordinarily talented actor-singer. Sometimes he was in an old (Baroque?) Bavarian church, and sometimes it was clips from him in costume in a opera. I just love his “Pourquoi me reveiller?” I learned to like and to appreciate and love opera through my 45 years with Jim. The songs sung made me remember our relationship

And then Hannah Gadsby. I have joined online an aspergers group I could never have reached, am attending regularly and making a few acquaintance friends I look forward to seeing again. We talk about things I have trouble with and am given good advice. How to stop interrupting people at the wrong time when I am just trying to join in. What I’m doing wrong? — I am not recognizing their flow of talk and its origins and understanding where it will subside. They meet once a month to discuss a book or movie or person who is known to be autistic or writes about the condition.

It was 10 at night and I had been thinking somehow that I had not laughed in a long time. This is probably untrue. Only I couldn’t remember any true exhilaration either — well only inward exhilaration. I had promised for a coming Zoom session to watch Hannah Gadsby, an Australian comedienne “out”as autistic and lesbian. I did laugh and she made me feel better. On Netflix: I’d say I laughed more during Nanette because she did startle me, but the second,Douglas, with her dog as its center, was brilliant. I gathered from both “autism is seeing what no one else has noticed” and autistic people because we are different and vulnerable are more patient, tolerant, accepting of other people in all their variety Here is a clip from Douglas:

What awoke me to a certain cheer was my thought a way to understand her is: :if I can stand life on these terms, amid these cruel and inane absurdities, so can you.” Douglas contains one of the most brilliant exposures of quite what we are looking out in some of these fossilized religious devotional pictures. Hardly anyone really looks at them.

Then I read into a new humane Guide to Aspergers Syndrome by Tony Attwood arguing strongly the label should not be dropped. It is a different quality of disability but nonetheless disability. Nanette closes with her re-telling how she was attacked at a bus station.


Izzy’s new chair

While we are on this subject: this past Sunday Izzy and I managed to find a store Jim used to take me to to buy decent well made furniture — wood mostly. Izzy badly needs a new chair and I could use a small table in the kitchen. What a time we had! Very nervous trying to remember the name of the place and then the street. All I could think was chair store and Edsall Avenue. Well google and mapquest finally turned up a photo of the place that I recognized. I find things out by pictures. So, armed with 2 printed out mapquests, and Izzy programming Waze (then plugged into i-something or other, after which we turn off Godsford Park music and voila there is that lady’s voice), we made it. We have figured out how to put Waze to sleep (not to quit it, that’s not possible apparently)

I did get confused coming back and was nervous the whole time. My mind continually slightly flustered. I had not been out in the car to a new place in quite a while — I cannot find the category for this in Attwood’s book — it is probably under movement in space but there is nothing specific. I have hunted in the book. But Izzy bought a pretty ivory colored wood chair. She looks so comfortable in it. Here is her latest song:

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

I never was able to find the place near us where there is testing for COVID19. I did discover that in the Alexandria there are places where you can be tested nearly for free, several cost starting $50, and many many more $150 – $300. Nuts. Why do some cost $300 — luxurious surroundings? But why try for anything labelled $150-$300? I have to find the place too. Of course Kaiser will test us but we must have symptoms to be eligible. She is to go into to work at the library this coming Thursday and may start going in once a week. She has fashion masks, santizer, and I have ordered a face shield for her.

Have I mentioned this time yet that I believe unqualified uncontrolled predatory capitalism everywhere in our lives in the US is at the core of the failed society of the US we are now experiencing — one result of this is thousands and thousands of deaths because we have no central govt that wants to do anything but exploit and abuse us. So another result of the miserable state of education across the US today and I end where I began this diary entry blog.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Statue of Julian of Norwich by David Holgate, west front, Norwich Cathedral

Friends and readers,

When I saw the above photo I felt nothing in visual art came so close to expressing the emotions appropriate to what has happened in those countries where over the past couple of months the coronavirus has been allowed to spread, sicken and kill thousands upon thousands of people. Where 1 in 4 in the US who previously had a job, income, is now unemployed, countless millions not knowing where their next payment for rent is coming from, as another countless line up for bags of food.

She caught my eye because on Trollope&Peers we have been reading Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris, and I had just finished the long chapter describing in detail the 15th century cathedral, with all its figures and characteristic elements and ornaments as yet semi-intact. It accompanies a story in the Times Literary Supplement (May 15 2020, pp 24-25) where the essayist, Stephanie Sy-Quia, tells the story of Nana, her grandmother’s life, which included a period as a nun, and another studying for an advanced degree where Nana wrote on Julian of Norwich; Sy-Quia is helping her mother to move the grandmother into a retirement home, and they are conveying a bookcase full of her favorite books to be re-read and re-read (see TLS,Books to End a Life with“). The grandmother is fragile, not far from death is the feel, and there is a meaningful conversation before Sy-Quia must leave her there, the essay ending with these words: “That’s how I like to think of her: on her balcony in the sun, book in hand, intermittently sleeping.”

Hugo finds in the chronicles and figures of stone that make up a centuries-old building meant to be a haven the meaning Nana finds in re-reading (among Nana’s listed favorites) Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger, Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. This week I turned back to the beauty of Roger Fry’s philosophy of art and found some humor in the divagations of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights‘ satire on airplane flight: from Godzone:


I prefer the French title

Tokarczuk works at not to write a book that can be labelled woman’s novel (horrors!) but in some of the many interwoven stories (the book is the closest 20th century book I’ve seen to Orlando Furioso), we are back to a female narrator who is a version of the authoress. First some funny vignettes depicting the “safety rituals” in airplane terminals (“they confiscate her nail clippers, and she laments the loss, because she’d liked them and had been using them for years” — I lost a favorite barret that way) as well as the “plastic airplane food,” but soon we are into her email – which she can still reach: “if you are not on the Internet, you don’t exist” (tonight the Burney Society opened a page on FB and a page on twitter and asked us all to click “like” and become followers. And we get a story of a love affair. We learn it was 3 decades ago at the time she was involved in “taking part in a massive program aimed at eliminating pests” (weasels opposums), anything that makes human beings sick. See that. Prophetic. Written before this present pandemic: she goes to the doctor and they do everything they can which appears to be “scanning everything they could” (in her body), diagnosing it all and sending her home.

She has a gift for light lucid prose and her translator, Jennifer Croft conveys how extraordinary it is such a massive machine with so many people can behave like a bird. She does make a mistake: she seems no to be aware of how noisy, crowded, overlit are airplanes; she is in the middle seat of a long row of small seats and all we are told is she is “uncomfortable.” That’s all. How about the skin of the next person near yours? She falls asleep, watches her screen with complacency.

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


Lindsay Duncan as Anna Bouverie

These last two weeks I finished the spring courses I was attending on-line, carried on reading for my review of the new standard edition of the poetry of Anne Finch, and towards the course I hope I get to teach “on-screen” so to speak starting this Monday. I was beginning to feel some courage about it after a group training session two weeks ago and then a one-on-two 101 session with a generous-hearted person who will be co-host with me, until today I was among 5 people who were not sent the promised codes to open the meeting as host. I emailed several times and got no answer by phone either. People in the class told me they got the class invite so the course will go on, and I assume they do mean me to teach it this Monday starting 1:45 pm. As my co-host told me, “It’s on them, their responsibility to ensure that we are up and running no later than 1:40.”

I’ve been reading Framley Parsonage with an on-line Trollope Society book, as well as mesmerized by Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife, at the core of which is a modern re-write of the Rev Josiah and Mrs Mary Crawley story, and have been asked and delighted to say yes to give a twenty-minute talk on the Crawley pair. I’ll do him as Trollope’s Jean Valjean, and end on Joanna’s updating of the abject woman. does justice to the inner workings, modern style, of a rector humiliated, not promoted &c&c while at the same time showing us the Mrs Crawley figure, an Anna Bouverie (the Madame Bovary allusion is there as contrast) trying to build a life for herself of some liberty and finding out how hard that is.

I realized today that the Lucy Robartes’s journey-ordeal where she risks her life to nurse the ailing unto death Mrs Crawley (from the endemic typhoid is as relevant today as the Crawley one. Lucu’s story is not carried over except perhaps as part of Anna’s perpetual working hard for everyone else, high good-humored intelligence, and wry scepticism towards self-destructive self-immolating choices

I also hope to join in on three courses online at this OLLI at AU, which sound very appealing: four sessions on good or classic American films (last night I watched City Lights, the first, Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece, and was absorbed and enjoyed it far more than I thought I would); on American artists in Italy from the mid-18th century to World War One (I’ve long read about this topic and have two sets of marvelous picture and essays books on this English-speaking ambivalent art scene in Naples and Rome); the last on modern American poetry, 1940-2020.

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


A new French law requires masks be worn in certain public spaces, but it is still illegal to wear religious attire that covers the face

None of this pushes away from my mind the bleak world not far from my neighborhood, seeping into it in fact. I chose David Holgate’s figure because she is also wearing a scarf. In this now literally sick world I abide in objects take on symbolic value that is as pernicious and counter-productive as the groups of people in this country who support the criminal con-man Trump. I am speaking of course of masks, surgical face masks, which all medical authorities and people who know anything about these coronavirus say, together with washing one’s hands, can go a long way to stopping the spread of this virus. I wear a mask over my face, wrap a scarf around my head. From a young child I have had ear-aches if I go out when it’s at all cold or windy without a hat or scarf around my ears. But I also like to wear a scarf, a head kerchief. Jim used to worry my more Muslim-like ones (two presents from students long ago) would attract hostility.

Well, now Trump has managed to politicize masks as well as scarves so not wearing a mask becomes a political statement showing your strong support of Trump and all his policies and attitudes (among them hatred for all people of color, including people of Asian descent), your disdain of fear of the virus and behavior shaped by concern not to spread it to others or catch it yourself. This intersects with attitudes towards the police, towards law, towards violence, towards women. The result is a witches’ brew ready to explode into mobs of armed thugs (these include military style police) destroying non-white people, democrats (yes), gay people, Jews, women seeking liberty for their bodies. Not to wear a mask, or wear one made to look like a flat cut up and you are marked as Maga — something to be proud of, especially if you don’t get sick; you want to work as opposed to these sniveling non-person immigrants whose deaths don’t matter.

This is in the autobiographical mode so here’s what happened to me this morning as I walked to the post box to return a DVD in order to get a DVD of Temple Grandin (for a zoom meeting this coming month with a serious-minded aspergers group). I went with my mask firmly in place and a kerchief on (have I said I wear a kerchief to protect an inner ear which hurts if I go out without a hat or kerchief until it’s very hot). A woman who lives in one of super expensive houses dotted all over my neighborhood (this one the result of a ridiculous renovation which made it into a one will walls of glass, appropriate to standing on a cliff — seeing its absurd transparency, they put curtains everywhere and filled their yard thick with greenery) was across the street with her daughter, both w/o masks. They are the Greenwich, Connecticut type republicans, part of the wide swathe of seeming reasonable people are callously cynically supporting Trump to keep their taxes low and make an American which serves them (hand and foot). I stopped and looked at them sort of pointedly. The girl went back in the house. I then carried on (of course no talk; we’ve never been introduced that I can remember – this place is filled with snobs), put my DVD in the post box, turned round to walk back and the woman was just putting her mask on as if she had not seen me

Fuck these people. They voted for this man. He has now attacked free speech, what he threatened to do before he became president. Before he won he said he would change the libel laws insofar as he could in an effort to end free speech. So twitter rightly at long last marking his lies and incitements to violence are his excuse, and he has a sycophant lawless Attorney General behind him. Net neutrality went when he took office. Read what is happening in Iowa, Texas, meat-packing factories where workers were forced back into lethal situations. People sickening every where and the death rate goes up. 40% of deaths are still whites

Governor Northam has not sent police out to enforce much of the closing of shops and I’ve discovered many did remain open — especially those run by people who dress like the Trumpite-base types. There was an incident where police were sent to stop a large party in a white neighborhood and it was stopped, the people were indignant and it made the papers. I think the purpose of the masks is twofold: they do stop the virus and if you wash your hands a lot that helps. But it’s that Northam wants to make a point life out there is dangerous and you must do all you can to avoid sickness. He is a physician and democrat. Trump by carrying on not wearing a mask does politicize it and the South Dakota governor can cry all he wants, and plead with his state citizens to wear masks to protect others, but Trump wins. Not wearing a mask says this is silly or it’s courageous or there is nothing else to do (nonsense – we could support all workers and businesses all summer with the money now given in billions to corporations with democratic consent). That woman didn’t want to wear a mask. It’s a bother – and she allows her daughter not to wear one. Like (my guess about her) she couldn’t give a shit what Trump is – she wants all the money and privilege she can have, she banks on being white to make her less likely to get sick because of how and whom she lives with.

A friend (white) told me someone in her community (or on the Net in a group she’s in talked about this) called the police when someone was not wearing a mask. Someone else defended this person for calling the police. The person defending was then subject to loads of abusive emails calling her a Nazi and threatening her. Now it’s been shown by numbers since masks started in this pandemic that far far more black people are stopped by police and their mask demanded. I would myself only call a cop if I felt my life so directly in danger that I was in less danger from the cop — I’ve tried to teach this formula to Izzy who twice has been badly bullied by police since they don’t understand disabled (autistic) people, and once it seems almost came near arrest for jay-walking. I would approve of the person calling the police on principle but in reality myself never call a cop for such a purpose. Once in my neighborhood Izzy was bullied on a bike by two black children; one of the women in one of the houses looking on called the cops: I was told later they visited the black people in the next impoverished neighborhood and those children will never be back her. How peculiar I felt to have had Izzy’s disability turned into a weapon against black people. Look what happened to George Floyd. I grew up in the Southeast Bronx and know police there were utterly involved in the drug trade. Yes as a white woman, especially now I’m older white cops have identified me as “like my grandmother,” and not that long ago I had an encounter with one where he became hysterical because I did not obey his every utterance and got out of my car. I was at risk for my very life. So police in the US are not simply instruments of peace, law and order because they have been given license by Trump to kill and by the society to imprison vulnerable people for a long time with impunity.


Temple Grandin

Here is where the US now is, and I live in this edge toppling us into a fascist (goes without saying I suppose) dictatorship. A calamity of such a magnitude that it has driven people into their houses — it’s a kind of paranoia turned into a way of life. The EC/ASECS group met in a zoom and while we are determined to have some sort of conference, it seems that in October the wisest and most possible thing is to do it virtually. I enjoy my Aspergers group which meets more frequently; in two weeks we will discuss the excellent movie, Temple Grandin, and whatever of her books and essays we have read. For me it’s Animals in Translation and one on how women experience autism.

More of the way the virus affects just me and Izzy:

In this conversation Fauci talked about reasonably efficient and continual testing before letting students back on campus this coming fall, with intervals of 2 weeks and then tracing and when someone falls sick, isolating them.

We had heard that over this week Alexandria and other Northern Va places would be testing for coronavirus for everyone. We were told places to go but they were all only for one day at a given place and for a limited number of hours (start at 10; I forget when ending. We were unable even to get in. The one nearest to us was disorganized, far too many people, far too few officers and people doing the work.
The fuller story (for those into details): I tried to drive Izzy and I to a testing place, worried lest we catch the virus going for testing (we washed our hands, wore masks), worried about waiting for hours and so on (I brought 2 books, she had her cell phone), but none of this happened because I failed completely in finding the entrance that the police wanted cars to come in from. In all the years I’ve lived in Alexandria, Va I always came in from the front entrance or a back street near the front entrance (Duke Street), never came to the Landmark Shopping through a Van Dorn entrance. I could not picture it; Van Dorn as far as I can picture it is a very busy 3 lanes on either side highway type street. I had no idea how to find this entrance. They just shooed us on and there was no sign anywhere for how to get to the Van Dorn entrance. I discovered I had forgotten my cell phone, could only picture and mass transit junction where the other entrance was said to be (and a different shopping plaza right off it). Well I drove home, located cell phone (whew) but then found that for Landmark Mall (where the testing on my side of Alexandria was said to be) there is only one address. The one I tried to come in at. When I tried to google other entrance, the name Van Dor landed me with instructions to to the plaza. So we had to give up. There was no way someone like me could find it. Izzy was disappointed.

Not near enough money, thought, organization put into this testing. Then what about tracing? Of course what is needed in time appointed encounters and this is available only through your doctor. We are told soon state-wide testing will be offered to people past 60 and people beneath a certain income (to try to reach hispanic and African-Americans). Tomorrow we will see our friend, Monica, who works 7 days a week, 2 in a supermarket, but now gets off every other day during the week.

We spent the rest of our Memorial day our usual way. She wrote, drew (she has taken courses in drawing and art now), practiced and sang her latest musical composition, watched TV, participated on the Internet. I read, studied, posted, wrote. Both of us our usual routs on just about all the days of the years (except when she goes out to work, I out to teaching, courses, museums, together to plays &c). Also we exercised, & separately walked in the neighborhood. At night I watched half way through the excellent 1990s BBC series, The Rector’s Wife (featuring a favorite actress of mine, Lindsay Duncan, when young) and all of Carrington (Jonathan Pryce, Emma Thompson). Our cats did their things too. Had Jim been with us, our day would have been similar — only with his witty presence to inject gaiety into our hearts.

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


Matisse, A Young Girl Reading (1905)

The news is not all bad as some large percentage of the US population — a majority in fact, though their votes are nullified, they are disenfranchised, gerrymandered out of counting, are against this kind of fierce overt capitalist militarist state. I am not alone in calling for a boycott of all airlines. Now! I don’t understand why people are getting on these airplanes where, far from social distancing, people are packed in as closely as ever. If all Americans refused to get onto these planes until the seating arrangements were changed to at least allow some separation, the airplane people would change their planes. Boycott these bastards who got billions from the gov’t to tide them over ….

Some are still leading decent lives in their solitude attached to the world through zooms. My older daughter, Laura, and her husband, Rob, have adopted (bought) two kittens. This past year they lost two beloved cats to death and the cat that is left to them (they began with five) has been as lonely as they. Here they are, sweet tiny baby cats: at first very frightened upon coming into their new home:


The vanilla ginger tabby, Max, the greyish tortie, Charlotte, clinging to one another

Here they are the next day in Laura’s workroom, her office mates. It didn’t take them that long to decide that they belong where Laura is.

My grandchildren have four paws.  And in their honor, last Caturday (a couple of days before Laura and Rob went to pick them up) I wrote this on face-book:

From ‘Penguin Handbook of Cats. The care and training of kittens:’

“Talking is, I think, particularly important. Talking from the very beginning of your acquaintance helps throughout the cat’s life … I have always made a great point of talking to my cats from kittenhood onward, and very soon they have come to know the different tones of my voice. All my cats have talked back to me, and most of them have started to do so almost at once. This initial conversation does make a great different in a cat’s life … ” Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald.

See you on-screen, the new salutation …

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Still of Ackerley and his dog, Tulip, from the cartoon movie by Saul & Sandra Fierlinger, with Christopher Plummer voicing Ackerley, & Lynn Redgrave, his sister, Nancy (2009, from Ackerley’s 1956 book)

Neighbor

Build me a bridge over the stream
to my neighbour’s house
where he is standing in dungarees
in the fresh morning.
O ring of snowdrops
spread wherever you want
and you also blackbird
sing across the fences.
My neighbour, if the rain falls on you,
let it fall on me also
from the same black cloud
that does not recognise gates.
— Iain Crichton Smith

Friends and readers,

If I’ve not written for over three weeks, it’s because I’ve not much new to say. I am prompted tonight because I have learned that sixteen (16!) years ago, Izzy wrote new lyrics for the Twelve Days of Christmas out of the Harry Potter world, and put it on our website. Now recently her song inspired someone calling herself Semperfiona to record it as a song, someone else, yue_ix, to provide a cover album for the song as if it were a record for sale, with the whole thing edited by a third person, pseudonym, flowersforgraves. Alas, I cannot transfer the podcast or picture over here, but you must click on this URL to reach this composition, an art work by 5 people (if you count in J.K. Rowling as inspiration, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Harry Potter Style, by Miss Izzy.


A Harry Potter Christmas moment …. a little out of season, but WTF, we are in need of cheer wherever we can find it

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

I have been escaping myself into my past, bringing it up to the present. This morning as I lay in bed, facing another day at home, sheltering in place, I thought to myself, why does it bother me not to go out and circulate “in the world,” drive places to teach or take a course, see people regularly. After all at home I am among one of the lucky ones to be able to reach friends through the Internet by email, social media platforms, zooms, even the phone, and as I thought about the day ahead I told myself I or my life is not useless, empty and meaningless — for I am doing what I value and sharing my doings insofar as others want this – an authentic existence (as philosophers would say). So today I posted to my listservs, exchanged letters with friends, participated in a zoom session (a class on existentialism seen historically), then worked on Anne Finch, read more of Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent, watched Part 3 of the three part movie: otherwise exercised, walked, talked with Izzy, was on the phone with a friend, ate and now am blogging here. Other days I have other schedules, but this is my main one for now. I’ll talk of these two projects (for they represent two sets of books) here.


Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720), from a miniature, artist unknown

Today I worked on 25 years worth of materials gathered from libraries (manuscripts, printed books) in an effort to supplement Myra Reynolds’s sadly inadequate 1903 edition of the poetry of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilesea: I ended up writing a biography, preparing or annotating nearly 300 texts, ordering them, writing about them, and putting them on my website. I have been asked to write an evaluative review of the new standard edition of this poetry published by Cambridge UP, from which there is a small archival site online now.

This is an ambiguous experience slowing going over my mountains of copies of original manuscripts, the letters I wrote, my hundreds of pages of notes, on sources too, rereading my biography: the first phase of being in a position to evaluate this new standard edition of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea’s poetry. They renamed the manuscripts in accordance with who owns them or where they were deposited: I named them after the places in which Anne and Heneage wrote them out.

Egoistically I was chuffed to see in my view the two editors have not (as I see this) truly gone beyond Reynolds because they have left out many poems that are by Finch — lest they be accused of false attribution. They have not (in Volume I — I won’t get Volume II until after the review of Volume I is done and printed) as far as I can tell as yet even included a section with poems of doubtful attribution. Doubtless because there are so many of them — about 30, with about 20 serious contenders. It would cost money, would it not? Mar their edition; they would have to quote me more centrally. Several of these are so strongly hers that they have been quoted elsewhere by scholars and written about (from my site); one is autobiographical but not sufficiently detailed to nail down an attribution. One cannot get rid of self. I ought to be so pleased that this edition exists for it makes of this poet for 18th century scholars an established central voice.

I am chuffed that they argue with me in their notes over my biography: they chose McGovern’s conclusions (she published what passes as a standard biography) over mine, several of which I am persuaded are wrong — so for those who come to my site, there is an alternative story which makes sense here. They do also correct me — apparently Anne’s older brother killed their Haslewood uncle (in a duel) not the uncle’s older son as I had thought: the two had the same names. I learned that one of the scholars who never answered any of my letters put on his dissertation a stop-reading so that no one shall read it for another 50 years!

Ah, me, were it not for Jim, none of this would have gotten out into the world.

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

I am also hoping to teach online. It is evident that most Americans who can afford to stay home and avoid this dreadful COVID19 disease and the risk of death will do so until such time as it’s safe to come out, & that will not come soon for Trump is still refusing to allow “his” federal gov’t to do wide-spread testing and tracing across the US, and he squashed the CDC plan/strategy for opening the US in stages so as to minimize the risk. He thinks to force people out who need the money (by not sending them any more, by depriving the of unemployment insurance) and others will follow suit, unable to resist temptation to say make money on their businesses; universities he thinks will open up lest they lose the egregious fees they demand. He is counting on greed, fear, despair. But more than 81,000 Americans have now died — and early signs are that some or many universities at least, and more to the point the two OLLIs I work at, will carry on delivering their content remotely until well into the fall.


Mecklenberg Square by Margaret Joliffe (1935): one of the squares where the four Bloomsbury women Francesca Wade writes about in Square Haunting, one of the marvelous books I’m reading

So I’m reading towards what I hope will be a wonderful course called The Bloomsbury Novel. I changed my books slightly from what I had intended:

This course will examine novels & art included in the term Bloomsbury through three texts: E.M. Forster’s Maurice, Virginia Woolf’s Memoirs of a Novelist, J.R. Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip, and Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent. Bloomsbury novels, books of all sorts really, are written by people who belonged to an amorphous early 20th century creative group, associated with a specific area in London, who were friends, or whose works were printed at the Hogarth Press. This (semi-invented) sub-genre is splendidly interesting, many thoughtful highly original texts of powerful art. There are good movies for Maurice, My Dog Tulip, & All Passion Spent. I ask everyone before class to read E.M. Forster’s “What I Believe” (from Two Cheers for Democracy); we may read a couple of other on-line shorter texts for context.

And also watching movies, and reading more than one excellent book on the Bloomsbury crowd, some on art. I know I don’t half-talk enough about the love and companionship dogs provide for human beings and (it is to be hoped) vice versa. (I’m ever on about cats.) JR Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip is about a deeply companionable interspecies love relationship; rated as a “classic” book and is certainly complex and beautifully written: he has his obsessions, some of which are clearly intended to shock the reader, wake us up to what an animal is(that includes us) , the book is at times hilarious and at others so moving: he also indites the way human beings regularly treat animals (dogs specifically); the brilliant cartoon (or should I say graphic novel, see way above, the picture from the film)rather indites British society vis-a-vis its treatment of animals; it too is a curious delightful experience. I am not sure you can get it streamed online — the creators intended this but other people may have gotten in the way since then. If you buy the DVD it comes with a marvelous feature about the making of the film. Here is Ebert interrupted by commercial ads (these are getting worse by the day, the hour). Ackerley was gay, a good friend to EM Forster, an important person at the BBC, editor for years for The Listener, wrote another “classic,” My Father and Myself, which I’ve sent away for.

As her final segment on PBS reports last night, Judy Woodruff did a number on pets; the pets of the staff and everyone working on the program, now all remotely. It was called the Newshour’s Furry Friends, and just delightful; she was so touching in her final words; she almost broke down saying how much they loved their companion-animals.

What had happened was people noticed cats in the background of William Brangham’s room — on the couch to the side of his wall of books; and also one cat in Lisa Desjardin’s space; sometimes on the couch but once the cat came up to look at the camera. This started mail which suggested viewers were not listening dutifully to the content but watching out for the cats.
So now we know Wm Brangham has 3 rescue cats and their names, and one dog (not permitted in TV room as he barks); and we have seen an array of pets. It seemed to me more dogs than cats; first with the person — very quickly shown — I spotted Amna Nawaz has a cat; then a shot of the animal alone posed properly as if for the cover of a book or other work he or she had achieved.

The title of the segment put in mind of a Sesame Street alphabet song, “4 furry friends, faithful together. Fun-filled, and forever free …” Jim used to say if he had to listen to that once more, he would do such things …. !! Aargh!!

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

It is for me also an ongoing struggle just to carry on living sanely. Yesterday I was feeling parts of my body ache, and think that I am not getting enough exercise. As mild as it was, getting in and out of my car, walking to classes, to shop, to different places every day mostly was good for my body. I am exercising on the bike 20 minutes, walking outside 20 minutes but it’s not enough.

Nowadays social obligations shape my reading patterns. I’ve stopped getting on with my reading of Hilary Mantel’s Mirror and the Light pile: each book just about belongs to a project or a group of books I love and am reading with it: in this case, a wonderful book on the man and poet, Thomas Wyatt, another on Cromwell (a biography), a French biography of another woman (beyond Anne Boleyn and the English) taken by Protestanism: Jeanne d’Albret by Francoise Kermina. I have put these aside for now.


Charles Laughton as Quasimodo in the 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame film (as powerful and relevant as ever)


Sanctuary! for Esmeralda (Maureen O’Hara) up high in the cathedral, he cries!

A set of books for the Bloomsbury novel course, a set of books for now this review I’m doing of the standard edition of Anne Finch’s poetry, yes, I am participating in the listserv for Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris, with Victor Brombert’s book on Hugo as visionary, and four movies to watch! My ongoing commitment to Winston Graham and the historical novel: I just finished Graham’s powerful and good The Black Moon, and am going to being The Four Swans; I’m well into Jenny Uglow’s In These Times, a detailed wonderfully readable description and evocation, utterly convincing of the worlds of the 1790s, Nina Auerbach on DuMaurier, The Haunted Heiress, and her fiction; with a biography of William Hamilton (for Volcano Lover). Piles of Italian-Jewish writing (Natalia Ginzburg books) left over and inspired by Judith Plotz’s course (an OLLI at AU, the one true good one I had this term); and still on that supposed anomaly, single women authors & women’s writing. I give little time to the courses I attend by zoom but I do give some. And they help during the day connect me to people. I know others look at my workroom, my files, and are alert to see my cats. Where are they today, someone asked?


They are in their cat-bed to the side of me, said I


My new backdrop in zooms — only I am in the way so some of this obscured, and at a slightly different angle

At night I work my way through serials, documentaries, and Un Village Francais — 7 seasons, 13 episodes each. I just finished My Brilliant Friend (book 2 of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet). On these I will write separately. I also keep up friendships by letter, am on FB, nowadays a little on twitter, and blog to readers and friends here — all of which keep me “grounded” — and give me preciously needed company if at a distance. I saw, thought and wrote about a film about autistic women made in Iceland; see the comments for a review, which links the book to violence against women: Seeing the Unseen.  Annie Finch revived Wom-po, a listserv for women who write, translate, write about love, women’s poetry. It is lucky and meaningful to me that this old project of a quarter of a century’s work, my love of women’s poetry suddenly is structuring my days, and if I can pull off online teaching, delving the ethically comforting and strengthening Bloomsbury group.

All this keeps me grounded. I read JK Johnstone’s superb study of The Bloomsbury Group, an old fashioned 1950s style oh so readable study, with a long section on the philosophy of GE Moore as well as Forster, Woolf, and Lytton Strachey, the art lectures of Fry and criticism of Andre Maurois.

I connect the seen with the unseen and imagined and remembered and learned from — and not only because we must not forget the tremendous misery that is being inflicted on thousands of Americans by the present stranglehold fascist regime. I try not to let convention, fear of others’ conventionality/disapproval, authority and power come between “me” and what? a life my instincts have led me to make and share with others who recognize what I recognize. I no longer have Jim, his life was taken from him by a dread disease, and I am honoring him and the dog he and I had, Llyr, by some of what I am doing this spring and summer.


Jim and Llyr in our apartment on 76th Street off Central Park, 1972

We did “own” a dog for 12 years, Llyr was her name, partly a German shepherd. I was too young to appreciate her, and wish I could bring her back and make up to her now what I couldn’t give when I was younger because I let my depressions and nervous breakdowns get in the way. I feel such remorse. I did not know how to cope, to control them, to what’s called comparmentalize.  We had $125 a week to live on, and so I starved us all, including the dog (but not the child).  The atmosphere in the last 2 years on Seaman Avenue was bad. She died of cancer; my father paid for a couple of treatments, but then the vet said it had spread throughout her body.  Now I would treat her with extra-consideration, the kind of respect I would an adult companion-friend, as I try to my cats. If the non-traveling continues I will think of a way to persuade Izzy to accept another animal in the house, a dog I shall call Llyr.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Izzy teleworking at home in contact with the library at the Pentagon

Dear friends and readers,

As we all shelter in place as far as our economic situation allows (this is a central sure technique we can do for ourselves during this pandemic), I write more quickly than usual but then the blog is shorter than usual

I have come across some thoughtful advice. Stephen Fry suggests during self-isolation whether with a family, just a couple, or whatever group you are in, or literally solitary, leads to re-defining your sense of time — you will see that your sense of time suddenly alters completely; (among other things) you can take more time to do everything. He is responding to Andrew Marr, an intelligent interviewer on the BBC. (I apologize profusely for the godawful noisy commercial that precedes the piece, 14 seconds is 14 seconds too much; if I could, I would transfer just the talk to this blog; but if you click & wait, you will hear him.)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-51995797/coronavirus-stephen-fry-s-take-on-managing-anxiety

Now Izzy teleworking from home to the library, had time to put up her latest song, “Lights” by Journey earlier than she had planned:


Played on my Yamaha PSR-E363, Voice Setting #504: Bell Choir.

When the lights go down in the city
And the sun shines on the bay
Ooh, I wanna be there, yeah, in my city
Oh, whoa, oh
Oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh

So you think you’re lonely
Well, my friend, I’m lonely, too
I wanna get back to my city by the bay
Oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh

It’s sad
Oh, there’s been mornings out on the road without you
Without your charms
Oh, whoa, oh
My, my, my, my, my, my
Oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh

[Repeat]

By the way, anyone who says any of these remote access (Zoom, webinar &c) programs are easy ought to be taken out & shot (just kidding). I do find the way Isobel looks — dresses, the whole appearance — reminds me of the actress playing Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) in the first and second episode of this second season of The Story of a New Name, from the Neapolitan Quartet (on HBO, the usual misnomer of calling the whole series by the title of the 1st novel, My Brilliant Friend)

The third (and final) link: From a friend: I hope this will enable you to reach Anthony Hopkins playing the piano to his cat, Niblo, in self-quarantine together. (Again apologies for all logos; I cannot remove them.) You will see his own comment at the bottom.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


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.

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


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.

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


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

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

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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »