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How to be in the world?

Dear Friends and readers,

Today it came to me that my journey is reading books, reading and writing about them. That is my life. A journey, through time, using it, through gazing at and talking and writing about art, pictures, landscapes, and now films too. I experience much more when I feel others read and respond favorably to what I have said or written, when I can hear and read what others say and write. That’s the business of my life, my vocation, my occupation.

I interrupt this to be with friends: letters, conversation, congenial acquaintances; to go out into what’s outside; most often cultural events, but I like to wander about, walk, swim, drive and take a train too, even exercise. Teaching. At home eat, sleep, clean self, hair, house (hire someone for this last) dress, tidy up, do washes, put stuff in the drier, keep yard/garden in order (ditto on hiring). Reviewing books — following trails (Looser’s The making of Jane Austen takes me into Helen Jerome’s Pride and Prejudice: a Stage Play, Constance and Ellen Hill’s Jane Austen: Her Home and Friends, Woolf’s First Common Reader‘s “Obscure Lives,” as Mary Russell Mitford). Sometimes I have to shop. And then there are the occasional demands: maintenance (bills, doctors, car). Doing lunch with others. Dining out. Doing conferences, lectures. Museums.

I used to make a joke of this to myself when I would find myself in my chair again, in front of my desk, and my computer: here I am back again, to where I was before I was so rudely interrupted.

Right now beyond Mantel’s masterpiece Wolf Hall, Oliphant’s Kirsteen: The Story of a Scotch Family Seventy Years Ago, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (in PP&V translation), Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography: Richard Holmes’s very great Dr Johnson and Mr Savage, Francis Spalding’s Roger Fry: Art and Life, Winston Graham’s quiet Stranger from the Sea.

Cannot do without a woman’s book to be getting on with, companioning myself: going slowly through a memoir, Frances Borzello’s Seeing Ourselves (“Women’s Self Portraits”); Katherine Frank’s A Passage to Egypt: The Life of Lucie Duff Gordon; longing for Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowlands, Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn (as appropriate). Curious as a compare to Winston Graham and just awful male film noirs (which I force myself through for a course, as Orson Welles’s A Touch of Evil) I’ll say Dorothy B. Hughes’s In a Lonely Place.

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

How to have an identity when I have lost mine?

Ye ken the greylag, yeah, it mates for life?
You kill a grown one, out hunting, you must wait
For its mate will come to mourn.
Then ye must kill that one too,
otherwise,
it will grieve itself to death
Calling through the skies for the lost one.
— Joy Blake’s First Wife, out of Diana Gabaldon

Haunted by an absence which is a presence because I am in his deathtime, because with Izzy I keep his deathtime alive, his memory. For people have a deathtime as long as others are alive who remember them, and who carry on; those who are left, become different people, trying to lead the same lives.

Much Afraid went over the river,
though none knew what she sang —
— William Empson’s “Courage Means Running,” from Collected Poems

So, keeping awareness of literal aloneness at bay: talking, talking by writing, listening to talk, reading talk, physical affection (as in hugs, lying close, body to body). What else are pussycats for? besides themselves — not alone when they sit and wait, reach out with paws, jump on lap, squat down, press bodies against my chest, head side against mine.

Listening to books on CDs (just now Davina Porter reading all of Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber), on desktop downloaded. Reading poetry (Patricia Fargnoli’s Hallowed, bouts of Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, edd. Grace Bauer and Julie Kane — it has a section, “Mothers, Daughters, Growing up A Girl”). Hearing Voices (title of book by Penelope Fitzgerald, based on her time with BBC radio).

Hearing music on the radio. Making supper together Izzy and I listen to celtic songs. Also watching movies, presences (just now, Fred Schepisi’s Last Orders, the two mini-series Wolf Hall, Outlander, Seasons 1 and 3)


End of Autumn Day

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

Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot see her falconer.

A problem I never used to have: [the difficulty of enclosing oneself away for] writing books, long essays, slow communing and development of ideas. Almost there (one of the great memoirs, by Nuala O’Faolain).

Not far to go now, Jim.

Stay for me there, I will not fail
To meet thee in that hollow vale.
And think not much of my delay …
[I] follow thee with all [good] speed
Desire can make, or sorrows breed …
— Henry King’s Exequy for his Wife

The tragedy, my dear, is you are missing out, you could be here with me tonight and we happy in life’s chains.

So, Night-existence: I am become a blogger


Clarycat’s toy mouse

Most of the time I am telling here of the interruptions. Now the right emphasis.

Miss Drake

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I planted chrysanthemums this week

I woke three time in the dark predawn. First in sorrow, then in joy, and at the last, in solitude. The tears of a bone-deep loss work me slowly, bathing my face like the comforting touch of a damp cloth in soothing hands. I turned my face to the wet pillow and sailed a salty river into the salty taverns of grief remembered, into the subterranean depths of sleep.

I came awake then in fierce joy, body arched bow-like in the throes of physical joining, the touch of him fresh on my skin, dying along the paths of my nerves as the ripples of consciousness spread from my center. I repelled consciousness — turning again, seeking the sharp, warm smell of a man’s desire, in the reassuring arms of my lover, sleep.

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

Except me –Claire, Prologue to Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber.

Friends,

Lately this past week or so. I am lying in bed and have half-woken, and I remember something it seems to me that Jim and I did during the day just gone. I feel intensely happy again, so comfortable. It’s something Jim and I used to do as a matter of course, go somewhere together, buy something together, maybe seen a play — walked in Old Town together down to and along the Potomac together. I think to myself, well we’ll continue it when the morning comes. And I fall back to sleep (or worse) I find I cannot fall fully to sleep and lie there with the cats snuggled in tight. Sometimes bad thoughts come; sometimes I feel so tired, look at the clock and discover it is but 3 am, and I’ve been sleeping at most an hour and a half and know this is not enough. So one night-before dawn I took a temazepam and had three drugged hours. As with other times this sort of thing has happened by the third time I realize this is a dream. These events are not happening. He’s not here any more — And last night as I again half-woke, this time four hours after sleep had begun, if I had had such a dream, I couldn’t remember it.

And as with my dream life before, now that I sit down to the computer to try to describe the experience, it fades from me, and nearly vanishes. I wish I could remember the details but they are now beyond my conscious mind, hidden, obscured beyond in that realm my mind when awake and rational or feeling-clear-lucid can’t reach. Did I dream he was alive again? I don’t know.

As you might remember (I mentioned this last week), I didn’t participate in the “#metoo” meme. It went too deep, the results of that wretched and fearful three years in my early teenagehood. It was responsible for a pattern of behavior to protect myself I can’t throw off — because it has protected me, from much hurt and the kind of pain we feel in the marrow of our bones. I know it has to do with why I married Jim, why I behaved with him the way I did, and my inalienable, unalterable love. There is no time long enough because it has become so part of me. It’s what I meant when I’d say he was the blood that flowed through my heart, outside he and I lay the junkyard of what did not matter. But it was also pain-filled this and a reaction-formation to cruel misogynistic social life and the women (or at the time, girls mostly, but my mother too with her corrosive “nasty” [another ruined word now] tongue) that supported it.

Some of this — these dreams, these half-sleepless nights — brought on by doing too much. This coming week starts a ten-week photography course for 2 hours at a Smithsonian site. I signed up because it is for utter amateurs and I’d like to learn practical realities about photography, since I love art so and am so interested in film, which is finally moving photography, moving pictures. I worry it will be too much. Yesterday I was out between 10:40 am and around 5 pm, and came home so depleted I craved specific things to eat, salty pita chips, wine. I am glad fall is here, and soon this hectic schedule will be over — by mid-November I’ll be teaching in just one place, and all conferences will be over.

I miss my one good friend who enabled me to do many things badly. I can never replace him. The organization or structure of society as I have found it is not one which I am able to thrive in so as to publish conventionally or even at my age anymore achieve what people admire. So I lose myself in activities, passing friendships, reading and writing here on the Net about movies too. As ever in my life, I am doing what it is in me to do, what I can. I am learning a new mode too: being alone, that much of social life is performative in the sense of in any deep way insincere, a matter of forms, and having to teach myself to do without support companionship.

So I turned tonight to read some women’s poetry volumes that have been mounting up, the kind that don’t lie (the other meaning for that word now) and are not there to soften the blows. All four of these books and authors write greatly at moments; all four volumes have powerful great women’s texts. Two are as volumes masterpieces: Patricia Fargnoli’s Harrowed and Margo Berdeshevsky’s Before the Drought. Millicent Borges Accardi is near that; she is still maturing. I’m not sure about Maggie Smith; the verse pieces are much weaker; what she might want to say originally not as clear. Ferrante is baring her soul’s nightmares to us once again, this time as a pretend child’s picture book; she must’ve had a terrible relationship with her mother. Hers is a graphic novel. I quote or describe them here in order of the age of the putative narrator or subject.

Perhaps had I gone out at night two weeks ago at Huntingdon beach, and stood there when the bonfires are on in winter, I might have thought of a book of poetry in disguise, that I read some months ago now, Elena Ferrante’s The Beach at Night.

Since what I have read about this book doesn’t make sense, is essentially contentless, or misleading. It’s a truly terrifying book. Masquerading as a children’s story, it is a kind of prose poem where a doll is left behind on a beach in favor of a kitten the girl child has been given a present of. The doll gets covered with sand, is treated badly by a Mean Beach Attendant, ends up laying next to a dead beetle with his feet up (shades of Kafka’s metamorphosis), is set on fire at one point, then doused with water, come near drowning. She is abandoned, deserted, motherless. I cannot imagine anyone giving this book to a child, European or not. I remember when by mistake (or not knowing) I bought the first Barbar book for Laura; she was traumatized by the sudden death of the mother elephant, shot wantonly and without warning by a hunter. It took hours for her to calm down.

It’s not a novella. It looks like a child’s picture book. It’s not quite though because it has full paragraphs and will suddenly swerve into lines of verse and then back again. I suppose the full paragraphs are a give away that this is not a child’s picture book. It’s pretending to be that. It’s an art book, not a graphic comic but an art book because the art work — nightmare pictures with horrible things coming out of terrifying creatures’ mouths: this looks like some kind of twisty corkscrew the monster is eating — reminding me of illustrations I’ve seen of Dante’s hell where in one of the deep circles there are three creatures being munched for all eternity by Satan. It now strikes me as disingenuous the people who say in passing this is a children’s story book and then that European children can take this kind of thing more than Americans: no child could find it appealing.

It’s a distillation of Ferrante’s deeply powerful novellas before her Quartet. It’s like Rachel Cusk in two life-writing books, with full attitudes to motherhood, how she was treated by her husband, what marriage is about. Here we have the anguished nightmare core of Ferrante’s fiction. The doll is saved, just, lest you worry, not by the child, but the kitten who spots it, curious and trots off with it and is noticed finally by the child. The art work is gothic, all colors, reminding me of Audrey Niffenegger; the illustrator is Mara Cerri. I should say the cover is more reasonable — the doll sits up, there is a watering can, a piece of wood which is whole.

Then the student, younger woman.

Millicent Borges Accardi’s Only More So, autumnal, is on the surface more prosaic than the others (mostly narratives like Fargnoli’s), stories of her life and those around her, and equally about women’s bodies, in Accardi’s much younger case, being fixed, having cancer, the world we live in being taken from us, or left to rot (as unsellable). I offer this as characteristic:

Portuguese Bend

Every semester, Doc would take
His geology students from Long Beach City
to Mojave, the painted desert
Anza Borrego for unapproved field trips.
But his great delight was predicting
What would happen next at Portuguese
Bend, the last and largest area
of natural vegetation on the Peninsula.
Doc would look Sideways at the road,
Following the black ribbon of ever-changing
reality, about how the tarmac had jumped
three feet since last semester.
The shaky red cliffs, that once held the future
N ow left to wild, the opposite of development.
But that which was and is now unsuitable
for building also holds our planet’s future.
He smiles in morbid glee, about his
Game of predicting the next house to
Fall. We crouched under stilts, walked gently
Across dried out lawns, examining the movement
Of the earth, the landslides, the slow slippage
Of time back into the sea. The Orange-crowned
Warblers, the coastal sage brush and the Pacific-Slope
Flycatcher our arms entangled with a species of
Love-forever Dudleya virens on the Peninsula headland.
Long before our field trips, this was the homeland of the
Tongva, for thousands of years before Portuguese explorer
Joao Cabrilho wrote of Chowigna and Suangna settlements
And of how Native Americans blessed Palos Verdes
I stoop to look under a house,
half fallen into the sea, leaning against itself
as if it were terminally ill. Soft. Weak.
Yellow caution tapes drawn around its waist.
Portuguese Bend, named after Captain Jose Machado
Who, sailing past Deadman’s Island,
brought a crew of Azorean whalemen in 1864.
Taking barrels of oil from the blubber £lenses
of gay whales off the coast of California.
The ground slips beneath my feet,
a slight landslide of broken rubble,
rock fragments, shale, sand and silt, basalt.
Hollow channels cut beneath the earth
form channels for soft zones to settle …

Then the middle years. Maggie Smith’s Good Bones, about mother-and-child, to me mother-and-daughter relationships, conceived in bone and blood and flesh, a water world


Jane Goldman, Tidal Pool (2001)

And last night Margo Berdeshevsyky’s spectacular Before the Drought about this world of death for “the other” immediately, and the rest of us not-so-long range begun when, well before last November. It’s hard to choose which part of a poem to quote (for these are long and odd shaped so I cannot reprint them properly).

Smith’s book is said to have re-told fairy tales, which it does, and very well done too, its eponymous poem, “Good bones” is said (albeit in the book’s blurb) to be well-known. I like these lines:

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine …

…………………….The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,

but even more the bitter ending about the jackass realtor:

…………………….Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

I also like from “Transparent”

Once the girl
was part of the woman, tethered,

inside her, transparent herself
until the winter she writhed into air …

If she held a lantern
before the woman, would she see

what became of the unfinished child
bled away on the far field. She wonders

if it’s ghost is still on the mountains,
hovering birdlike ….

Dark birds hover over Margo’s volume, natural beauty haunting by the killing going on everywhere. Carolyn Forché crowds the imagery into a splendid paragraph:

Before the Drought is a lyric meditation on corporeal existence, suffused with atavistic spirit and set in historical as well as cosmic time, a work of radical suffering and human indifference but also sensual transport. The tutelary spirits of these poems are the feminine principle, and a flock of messengers that include blue heron, ibis, phoenix, egret, and blood’s hummingbird. In the surround we find ourselves in the magical world of a floating balcony, and a field of cellos, but it is a world in peril, now and in the time to come, on the night of the Paris massacres and in a poisoned future. In the City of Light, Berdeshevsky writes poems commensurate with her vision, poems that know to ask How close is death, how near is God? Hers is a book to read at the precipice on which we stand.

From “Whose Sky, Between”

This day, how many white cranes remember all the bombs we’ve made to make the ‘other’
dead. Said: so we may never die. Said: hang a thousand small wings from our branches.

May one crane fly, one jasmine open, one thrush sing — all fragile night. One bloom of
a peace that cannot die.

Margo’s volume is probably the greatest of all four, set in Paris, the one that comes closest to Sylvia Plath’s vatic, only more soaring.

The way I like the 18th century poet Cowper for his quiet calm sense of keeping order, his winter poetry, I will return to the poems in Fargnoli’s volume.


Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes

Soothing consolation steady-now, keep your sanity type, woman aging, Patricia Fargnoli’s Winter and Harrowed. I can’t resist her “To an Old Woman Standing in October Light.” I can go back to Hallowed (a compilation) again and again. It’s not that she’s forgotten what’s happening outside the place she’s lucky to live in. I see the same desperation in a neighborhood feral cat, the saddest one I’ve seen, calico, so thin, so scared. I’ve tried to give her food, but am not sure she came near enough long enough:

The Undeniable Pressure of Existence

I saw the fox running by the side of the road
past the turned away brick faces of the condominiums
past the Citco gas station with its line of cars and trucks
and he ran, limping, gaunt, matted, dull-haired
pastJim’s Pizza, past the Wash-O-Mat,
past the Thai Garden, his sides heaving like bellows
and he kept running to where the interstate
crossed the state road and he reached it and ran on
under the underpass and beyond it past the perfect
rows of split-levels, their identical driveways,
their brookless and forestless yards,
and from my moving car, I watched him,
helpless to do anything to help him, certain he was beyond
any aid, any desire to save him, and he ran loping on,
far out of his element, sick, panting, starving,
his eyes fixed on some point ahead of him, some fierce
invisible voice, some possible salvation
in all this hopelessness, that only he could see.

The above is probably not characteristic. How the composer says this is how we should live our lives; leave-taking, how to live without companions, arguing for life, watching the light, the hours (as in “Compline:” “I have done only a little … forgive”).

How can other women readers I come across on the Net make do with men’s books (which is what they cite they reading, especially novels), men’s films, which either excludes or re-frames them for men’s use. All these women poets write women’s lives, out of a woman’s body.


From Elena Ferrante and Mara Cerri

I miss Jenny Diski, because there will be no more new great books from her — as there have been several, Skating to Antartica, What I don’t Know About Animals, Apology for the Woman Writer. I need to read much more by her — the way I am reading Woolf nowadays. I have become deeply engaged, now reading Orlando. I must make the next blog for Austen reveries after I finish the JASNAs one on Ferrante, wade into this controversy about her attempt to remain anonymous.

Miss Sylvia Drake

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From Outlander: Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan), soon after they meet (1st episode, 1st season) — I’m addicted to this because of the love relationship at the center; they’ve persuaded me the way Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees once did (as Ross and Demelza Poldark)

Frank (accusing) to Claire: “You couldn’t look at Brianna without seeing him [Jamie]. Could you? Without that constant reminder. Him. Might you have forgotten him, with time?”
Claire; “That amount of time doesn’t exist.”
Outlander, 3rd season, 3rd episode, All Debts Paid, scripted Matthew Roberts)

Dear friends and readers,

Next week I’ve three anniversaries. On October 6th, Jim and I would have been married 48 years, together 49. We met on the evening of October 6th, 1968; four years ago on October 7th, 2013, he was no longer able to speak to me and seemed to have lost consciousness though he was there still, could hear and understand us. As Izzy left for work on that morning, he said “goodbye” to her. Three days later on October 9th at about 5 minutes after 9 at night, he died in my arms, age 65.

I won’t be able to hold the time in my mind the way I might have liked to because I’ve promised to go to a JASNA this coming week, leaving October 3rd and coming back on October 8th. I found on the Internet a YouTube rendition of the Righteous Brother’s old song, “Unchained Melody.” I can no longer share music here, as the YouTube site has been reconfigured to stop all transfers, but I can transmit the lyrics I’ve been listening to.

Oh, my love, my darling
I’ve hungered for your touch
A long, lonely time
Time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?
I need your love
I need your love
God speed your love to me

Lonely rivers flow
To the sea, to the sea
To the open arms of the sea
Lonely rivers sigh
“Wait for me, wait for me”
I’ll be coming home, wait for me

Oh, my love, my darling
I’ve hungered, for your touch
A long, lonely time
Time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?
I need your love
I need your love
God speed your love to me
Lonely mountains gaze
At the stars, at the stars
Waiting for the dawn of the day

All alone I gaze
At the stars, at the stars
Dreaming of my love far away

A friend has now sent me a site with a URL which enables me to transfer just this:

I tell myself I can carry on if I have a routine, my routs, and each day I write down the things I must do and then follow what I’ve written, more or less. Sometimes inwardly I decide I’m mad — who but me would work at this or that for no tangible rewards. This blog is about why in part, what does my soul good.


Johnson reading

A new project! I don’t know if I mentioned I’ve begun to collaborate on a paper with a friend on modernism in Samuel Johnson and Virginia Woolf; we’ve divided their work into three generic areas and also talked of themes where both intersect with modernist attitudes (e.g., both anti-colonialist strongly). I’m working on their biographical writing, and theories. I love both authors; they can sustain me for hours. And as a result in spring I’m going to give a short (10-15 minute) paper on Close Reading as Theory (it’s been accepted), a regional meeting of the MLA in Pittsburgh (I know I can drive there, having done it once now). Here’s the trajectory:


Woolf photo by Barbara Strachey (1938) — she seems to be accepting some sort of award

I propose to close read Virginia Woolf’s close readings of fictional biographies as a fictional biographer (in two of her invented researching of biographies in her Memoirs of a Novelist); of what she regards as faux or or pretend biographies which “license mendacity” and thus free creative invention of a place or personality where no documents exist or have been researched (again two sketches from “The Lives of the Obscure” and “Outlines” in The [first] Common Readers); and her satire, parody and serious biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog Flush. I will demonstrate that close reading far more than more traditional methods (say examination of documentation), at least in Virginia Woolf’s hands, exposes far more effectively not only the flaws of a particular biography but the fallacies underlying the methodology of accepted biographies, suggests what should be the aim and uninimitable methods of true realization of writing lives (both for the biographer and biographical subject), and moves outside the the narrow perspective of implied real person of an author to see life from an non-human animal’s point of view. From Virginia Woolf’s many close and playful readings of and her own imaginative biographies, she creates a modern persuasive theory of biography people are beginning to heed today.

Jim loved Johnson as much as I do — as an undergraduate he took a course in 18th century literature and did his paper on Johnson’s poetry. Read him. I do believe I went to Scotland, had this desire to go to the Highlands since I first read Johnson and Boswell’s twin tours to the Hebrides. I remember in the first year of our marriage reading aloud to one another in turn passages from Woolf’s life-writing.


Harry Dean Staunton is himself, living utterly independently there

Companionship. What I miss most of all is his companionship. I discovered I’m a socially gregarious person, and didn’t know this before because he filled most of my needs that way. I saw a movie this week, which I recommend to anyone coming here, to see whose subtextual theme is living without companionship. Lucky focuses on the real man who act the character in the center: Harry Dean Staunton. It’s a homage to him by the film-maker and actor, David Lynch. Staunton was a known and respected character actor in Hollywood for decades, a singer of American labor and mainstream songs – he would sing in Spanish and we see him talking Spanish. It a story of great courage in the face of death ever near as Harry ages: what is so courageous is this man lives alone, having (apparently) been marrried, divorced and had no children. We are not spared the least wrinkle on his face; he looks every inch of his 90+ years.

What happens is we follow his daily routine with him. He smokes and first thing he does is light a cigarette; we see him pushing his body to exercise. He goes into his kitchen, makes himself a bowl of cereal, cooks bacon, has bread, and drinks instant coffee he just made. Each day he goes to a diner mid-morning for more coffee where he talks to the same people — who know more then I do probably about his life. Each day he watches these inane game shows where all that is said is about winning money, with the word money repeatedly endlessly as goal (more of it). He also takes a paper with him with crossword puzzles and is endlessly doing that. He takes his crossword puzzles everywhere but the bar he goes to at night. He then goes to the same CVS (?) drug-store for milk and talks with a hispanic lady whose son is having a birthday party on a near Saturday. She invites him to go, and he demurs.

At night the same bar with the same people — the owner, a tough “old biddy” of a lady (in sexy sequined clothes), her husband who says he was suicidal and nothing without her — so whatever she does is right. Another man played by John Carroll Lynch is grieving because his tortoise (not a turtle he keeps correcting people) whom he named President Roosevelt (FDR?) left the compound. He buys insurance and leaves all his money to President Roosevelt. He misses his turtle very much.


Lucky leaving the bar

As with Waiting for Godot, we have this minimal note of high hope at the end: when the movie began we saw Mr President moving slowly off the scene to the left; when the movie ends, we see Mr President coming back.

The movie starts out so grim, but as it proceeds, we feel cheered or buoyed up because Lucky carries on. About half-way through he is visited by the black women behind a cash register in the diner; he is suspicious she has been “sent” (shades of Hamlet against Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) but she says no. They smoke some marijuana together as they watch a game show. He ends up going to the hispanic lady’s son’s birthday party, and being the only white there (if you categorize Puerto Ricans good enough rise). He seems to enjoy being surrounded by people who are happy to be alive. He sings a Spanish song spontaneously and the band surrounds him back him up. These two incidents are the high happy moments of the film. When accosted about his smoking, or talking with others about his age, in daily social situations Lucky is not cooperative in pretending to believe in the world as good or meaningful. He insists outside this life there is nothing; he feels hollow. He won’t allow cheerful false cant or sentimentality – and ires people.

He insults continuously the insurance selling the man with the wandering turtle a will. He wants to fight him outside but would obviously lose. It’s silly. A little later the man comes into the diner and sits next to Lucky and is almost tempted to start his thieving spiel on Lucky. He stops himself in time. Lucky is tolerated because everyone realizes how alone and vulnerable he is — and they are too. This communal feeling of desperate togetherness characterizes the film.


Lucky listening to his friend telling how much the turtle meant to him and he wants to provide for it

It reminded me so of Paterson, a film by Jim Jarmusch, also with no overt pretensions, this one about the daily life of a poet who lives in New Jersey and drives a bus for a living each day. Both films ultimately cheering fables of the survival of two ordinary people’s gifts. They have not turned into Men with a Hoe: I refer to Markham’s once famous poem (see comments). Lucky is lucky to be alive; the film comes out “for life” as F.R. Leavis would say. The film suggests it’s good to be alive even though …. Gary Arnold who chose it for the film club this month said Staunton recently died and Arnold felt that it might just have a general release because of this. Staunton was well-known and well-liked and he really did live in a small house in the San Fernando valley where we see him walking amid the desolate streets of a town fallen into deep economic desuetude.

Lucky is alone most of the time and when with friends or acquaintances, in company, stays mostly shallow. It did my soul good to watch this man endure life.

https://soundcloud.com/folgershakespearelibrary/folger-consort-all-in-a-garden-green
(click on the above and you will hear some quiet lute playing


Actors as Renaissance people dancing (from Wolf Hall, a mini-series I’ll be showing clips from this term when I and one class are reading Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall)

It also did my soul good to go to the first concert of this season by the Folger Consort (two aging male musicians who play Renaissance and 17th century music and each time invite guest musicians, singers or actors for a program).

This first one is called An English Garden, and its delightful quality is described on the Folger Library’s site. The group performs in this quiet unassuming way beautiful songs, and varied unaggressive music — Renaissance music is playful, lyric, sometimes very sad. In one song this time a woman lamented the death of a beloved partner. There were songs by Shakespeare (It was a lover and his lass) and exquisite lyrics by Ben Jonson sung to music.

Have you seen but a bright lily grow Before rude hands have touched it?
Have you marked but the fall of snow
Before the soil hath smutched it?
Have you felt the wool of beaver,
Or swan’s down ever?
Or have smelt o’ the bud o’ the brier,
Or the nard in the fire?
Or have tasted the bag of the bee?
O so white, O so soft, O so sweet is she!

Sometimes the consort put the songs into a playlet and we have a story acted out slightly; last Christmas they had several actors and did The Second Shepherd’s Play. On Galileo’s birthday last year they had a special program where two great older actors in this area, Edward Gere and Michael Toleydo played Galileo and the inquisitor. Finally last spring on the stage they had a screen where appropriate pictures of lovers and gardens from various manuscripts were shown as the songs went on. Once years ago when Jim was alive they did Milton’s Comus. The only hype is in the program notes where the musicians have long paragraphs on their prizes, performance histories, institutions, titles. Not intrusive. It’s this oasis of art for 2 and more hours once every couple of months. I come away with my nerves renewed by harmony.

So there’s a diary entry, my friends. I dread the coming trip — a luxury hotel (which I regard as obscene) where I’m fleeced, a vile airport and abusive airline treatment, many hours where I’ll have nothing to do (I’m bringing books and Izzy and I will stay in separate rooms so I need never hear the TV), much hype over the key lectures and stars and the unfortunate Jane Austen about whose work this gathering is supposed to be done. I’ll sit quietly, smile at those who deign to smile at me, talk if I’m talked to: amid the crowd I might meet someone I know. There will be (as usual in this new life of mine) acquaintances to greet who greet me. I will learn what is fashionable to say about Austen this year, about some individuals’ projects, essays or books, perhaps something on the later 18th century and/or films. I’m just now reading for review Devoney Loose’s The Making of Jane Austen. The title is just right for this Austen hoopla.

I’m reading too many books at once. I’ve got to finish a 10,000 word paper I’m almost done with (one paragraph to go), do the notes and send it in by the deadline of this Saturday: The Global Charlotte Smith: migrancy and women in Ethelinde and The Emigrants. But I am loving (once again) Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, Paul Scott’s Staying On, Ken Taylor and Christopher Monahan’s very great Granada mini-series Jewel in the Crown. I find passages in Virginia Woolf’s biography of Roger Frye thrilling; Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is an astonishing masterpiece, and Ken Taylor and Donald Wilson’s brilliant transposition into a 9 part mini-series, Anna Karenina with the beautiful and fine actress Nicola Paget, powerfully seething actor, Stuart Wilson and the very great Eric Porter moving.

So that’s where I am. A new pattern of not forcing myself out every day to reach for friends or companionship, but am instead accepting that what I was seeking is not out there for me. At home all day except when I have someplace to go to I want to be, something to see I want to see, to do I want to do, which only occasionally is with a friend. So life as a long lonely time, communication through the Internet — letters, sharing reading & other experiences, opinions and memories in email, chat & pictures …

What is this world? what asken men to have?
Now with his love, now in the colde grave
Alone, withouten any company.
— Geoffrey Chaucer

Miss Drake

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Laura and I — she often looked serene


Izzy and I – at her happiest laughing

To ache is human — not polite — Dickinson

I do like to be beside the seaside — Music Hall song

Friends,

Our holiday — me, Laura, Izzy — was not all we had hoped as after the first super-hot afternoon, the beach was chill, and subject to high winds, as were the central roads leading to said beach, but we managed to have a good time and even (stubbornly) sat there both days, the first near 2 hours in the morning, the second after noon. Izzy tried to go in as far as her knees, jeans pushed up, I tried to read a Daphne DuMaurier novel. We returned to walk along the boardwalk in the later afternoon the second day, and evening time, and in the darkness on the third where we said we wished we could believe Jim or Dad were looking down from somewhere.


Late twilight — the inscrutable sea

You should know we four had been to Rehoboth many years before: our first true family vacation probably in 1993 in a house rented inexpensively in Milton — the next year we went to Rome for 5 weeks. We did one year rent a cottage just off Lewes Beach and we remembered the ferry at Cape May; another year briefly a cottage in Duck, North Carolina (but a hurricane blew us away). So there were memories. This holiday was originally conceived as a mother’s day gift for me.

Luckily our hotel was filled with good service: a hot tub we sat in three times, two pools — we swam in one on the first day, a garden, and the third and last morning, a strong fire in the hearth in one of the two library-looking rooms. I sat by the fire two early mornings. There was an on-going huge puzzle on one table of that room where different people over the day sat and filled out the picture. Izzy did some for an hour. Each day a sumptuous breakfast (very good), all day coffee and snacks downstairs. We found outside much shopping (surprising amounts of clothing) — little side alleyways as malls, a splendid bookstore (really) with toys (one of which had a snoopy dog toy Laura and Izzy remembered from their childhood). We had some excellent meals for dinner, one unpretentious in a pizza place bar, the other rightly “awesome,” French, exquisitely well-cooked dishes (I had a rabbit dish, Laura lamb), a pile of ice cream for desert for all, lovely wine

I taste a liquor never brewed —
From Tankards scooped in Pearl —
Not all the Vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an alcohol!

all the while a pianist played familiar tunes. People could be heard making requests.

We talked at lot, confided, read: in the room, Izzy her fat Chernow biography of Hamilton, me Claire Harman’s Charlotte Bronte while Laura blogged — she is now free-lancing. We watched some TV together. Our room had three TVs and I watched on the computer with Laura chosen selections from the (to me) slightly astonishing amalgam fantasy, pseudo-cynical and amoral American Gods. There were a couple of prologues or interludes which were telling: one of a slave ship come to the US in the later 17th century, with the focus on the slaves’ anguish fast forwarding to today’s anguish over killing of black people with impunity in the streets; the other the death of a Muslim woman living somewhere in Queens, circa perhaps 2017. Ian McShane was very amusing as the central “God” (Odin in disguise as a crass businessman I’m afraid), and (in a minor role) Chloris Leachman (not much disguise), providing affection.

And so we escaped a little, had a time away.

We hope to repeat this again, perhaps next spring for a much longer time (2 weekends and a week) in Milan where there will be a World’s Ice-Skating Championship. Laura and I will not spend all our time at the ice-skating rink, but use the trains and buses to see a bit of northern Italy.

I admit the cats did not enjoy their time at the Pet Boarding place — though they had a penthouse sized cage (3 linking ones, next to a window they were said to have looked out at)


A reproachful Ian brought home — at first Clarycat stood off from me, but later she could not kiss (lick) and cuddle up and play enough

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

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs …

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –


Cynthia Nixon as the strained Emily

Just before going off, Izzy and I went to see the film about Emily Dickinson’s life, A Quiet Passion, written and directed by Terence Davies. The older I become the harder it is to understand how Dickinson could have chosen so to isolate herself from her later 20s on. I have some reservations about the movie. It begins way too slowly and solemnly. The actors are made to enunciate lines as if they were reciting memorized passages from in a school play, and it seems are trading witticisms done so slowly it’s tedious in feel if the puns are if thought about well-taken. For a while the pace of speech stays the same, as serious psychological and other kinds of immediate content are read into the growing story, and then the story line of betrayal and sexual pain, of power relationships gone awry take over, and the film became for me gripping, mesmerizing and especially towards the end when the family is in internecine bitter quarrels over Austin’s life with his mistress, Mabel Dodd (Noemie Schellens), right in front of them all, including his wife, Susan (Jodhi May as ever so plangent), who however we see hates heterosexual sex, is a closet lesbian, and it’s suggested built a close relationship with Emily (Cynthia Nixon deserves an Oscar). In life they exchanged letters and poems across the space of the houses: “open me carefully” says one.

Perhaps the father was not as much a tyrant as is shown, but the mother’s life as a dishrag conforms to the passive abject lives of such women (Henry James’s mother seems to have lived similarly). The civil war’s disastrous slaughter is not omitted, but it felt as an interlude in this life (however abolitionist the family’s sentiments might have been). We see the father refuse his son permission to join the fighting, lest he lose his life. The father uses his power of purse over children, then Austin uses it over his sisters. A few friends Emily made early on, marry and depart this brooding place. You will come away with a sufficiently historically accurate portrayal of this family whose stifling hypocritical ritual but also genuinely self-flagellating ways seems central to Emily’s decision to retreat from life.


Duncan Duff as Austin Dickenson, Jennifer Ehle as Lavinia, Keith Carradine as the father, Edward, a visiting pastor, and Joanna Baker as the mother

The trajectory is Emily rebels in school and then at home this way and that,, refuses to compromise, and gradually is ostracized and then ostracizes herself. Girlfriend after girlfriend marries. Lavinia (whom I felt for as I have before) is left with this difficult sister; Emily appears to have been all Lavinia had to aid her in having a some sort of social life. Jennifer Ehle is too sweet, too forgiving but she fit the role as envisioned by the film. Emily is hard, difficult, stubborn, will not see people, will be rude. She seethes at Mabel as an evil mistress — what would she have said had she foreseen that Mabel would be the person that first saved her poems, published them. Lavinia to Todd and Higginson: “But for Mrs Todd & yourself, ‘the poems’ would die in the box where they were found.” An irony the movie hoped we realized. But by the end when Emily dies and we hear the famous “Because I could not stop for death,” followed by “I wrote a letter to the world who never wrote back to me,” I became slightly hysterical and started to sob violently for this woman’s grief and loss and strangely thwarted existence as voiced through this poem.

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,–
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!

This prompted Izzy to cry too. Others around us as I got up I saw had been moved.

On the other hand, there was much too much suffering: did we have to have lengthy dramatizations of each person’s deathbed (father, mother) and then Emily’s slow decline, the excruciating pain of Wright’s Disease. The choice of poetry was too religious for my taste — everyone recites it as part of dialogues — but they included “wild nights” and some other striking subversive ones. Not enough beauty, gaiety, seasonal nature poems, the thoughtful questioning ones.


Nixon as questioning Emily again

I worry unsympathetic people if they sit through it will come out with prejudices reconfirmed: we see her refuse to talk to people except through a door at the top of the stairs — this to an admirer of her poetry of which only 7 were published with punctuation changed. Austin reads a cruel review of women poets writing of their misery, a mock, but I doubt it was aimed at Emily, but women’s protest poetry — they had a raw deal. They should have perhaps included the content of Susan and Emily’s poems and letters — it is slightly comic they should communicate this way. No comedy comes through, though the audience had people who persisted in laughing (the early puns, whatever could possibly be interpreted as meant to be funny. Anne Badlands as Aunt Elizabeth provides a few comic moments, worth a smile maybe. I didn’t detect anyone laughing at the film, but perhaps I was mistaken. I have read how Dickinson has been used as a conservative icon (apolitical, the solitary genius). I recommmend Anthony Lane’s review for the New Yorker.

At one time these two stanzas were among my most repeated Emily Dickinson lines:

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of victory

So there was enough for me to identify with (yes I can bond with Emily beyond the poetry) or anyone who cares about art and wants to understand the peculiar circumstances from which an original artist has emerged.


Emily Dickinson’s letter from The Dinner Party

After we returned home, we did pull down my volume of The Complete Poems and looked at a few. I read the opening article in a recent Cambridge Companion and discovered people are still arguing over how to punctuate the poetry. Who knew Jerome McGann’s return to the holograph manuscripts is doubted by some. The earliest editions by Todd and Higginson sold very well and she was popular as a 19th century poet, but she was lost from view during modernism, held no interest for socialist writers of the 1930s; the first elevation of her was due to the ultra-conservative white poets of the 1950s (John Crowe Ransom) and she came to the attention of the “close-readers” and humane people like Randall Jarrell. So it was in the 1960s (the same era that saw the first “rise” to real fame of Virginia Woolf) that Dickinson began to achieve the stature of Whitman’s counterpart that she holds today. She was no feminist darling until the 1980s, the discovery of her life-long affair with Susan and the attempt to carve out a l’ecriture-femme. She did make the cut for Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party. Some of this may help account for the peculiarly neutral point of view of the film.


On the beach in the morning birds

Ellen

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Friends,

It doesn’t look very sunny, does it? The green on the walls is a lighter color too. But as I did manage one photo which sort of gives a feel of this room as an extension of the rest of my house, I put it at the opening of this blog. I should probably have written this early this week as it was this past weekend where I had two experiences that provided me with oases of pleasure comparable to those I used to know with Jim.

The first was to go on Saturday afternoon to a Washington Performance Center in Northwest Washington, part of the University of the District of Columbia: Javier Perianes, a pianist played with extraordinary feeling and nuance music by Schubert, Debussy, a modern Spanish composer Manuel de Falla. It meant I could not participate in the march on behalf of environmentalism (billed as people demanding that Trump’s admininistration recognize climate change and pollution and do something about it), and I regretted I could not be with them out above the underground Metro, but it was a rare treat for me. A friend who is a Johnsonian (meaning he has spent his life studying and writing about Samuel Johnson) and who seems to share other of my tastes (Virginia Woolf) shared an extra ticket with me and so before the concert I had some good conversation about poetry, biography, and with a third friend who came along Booker Prize books (what I’ve been teaching this semester). I did not know about this performance center, before this how to get there, and to look for musical concerts there. Now I do.

The second was truly a joy, and an unexpected one. On Sunday was the last of the Folger Consort series, billed as “The Play of Love: enchanting songs of the 13th century. There were (astonishingly) only three instrumentalists: two men, long time members of this consort, Robert Eisenstein and Christopher Kendall, and a “guest artist,” Shira Kammen, played several different medieval, early Renaissance instruments, and 17th century instruments. The center were two singers, a soprano, Emily Noel, and bass-baritone, Peter Becker (who I’ve heard there before) who sang these unexpectedly witty songs, some showing one or other of the lady and her lover in love, or not, defying one another or another lover, some simply deeply melancholy, others telling a suggestive story. Put altogether and alternating with instrumental pieces, it felt like we were at a play.

We were given beautifully printed brochures with the songs in the original French on one side, and facing English translations on the other. I’ve saved these. It’s medieval troubadour poetry: authors include anonymous, Richart de Semelli, Colin Muset, Conom de Bethune, Etienne de Meaux, Chatelain de Coucy. I was impressed by how the male was far more openly vulnerable, showing his suffering, than the female who kept herself guarded: my favorite by and for him was “The Sweet Voice of the Nightingale;” by and for her, “Beautiful Doetteis sitting by the window” and “Would you like me to sing you/A charming song of love.” On the screen of the stage, were pictures of couples from various illuminated manuscripts, colored in appealing ways — not as gilt-filled as probably they might appear on a page — in various postures, vignettes, on the cover her with a lute, he with a smaller stringed instrument. Over the years since this group started (apparently 50 or 5 decades), they have learned how to put on a deeply satisfying, non-commercialized experience. Izzy and I had come by car so we got home in plenty of time to make ourselves a meal we liked and have some good talk together.

I tell about these two experiences not just as a diary entry but to recommend to anyone who comes to DC or gets online to participate in website experiences these are fine groups and institutions.

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


A new online picture I liked: Howard Phipps: Salisbury Waters Meadow Shadows: Bemerton rectory where George Herbert once lived

I realized this past week why I am feeling newly grief-struck or feeling a sense of loss once again so deep that some days I don’t know what I’m alive for, once whatever it is I’ve been at is over. These were not the only passing good moments I had. On the Monday at the OLLI at AU, as a teacher I had such an enjoyable class over Dickens’s great ghost story of the railways, “The Signalman,” on Tuesday, as class member, the last of a fully cheering semester of reading four Virginia Woolf texts, and then a lunch with the teacher who is become a new friend. (I’ve decided I must broaden my definitions of friend to include many of the people I know to talk to in the places I go regularly, or online.) She got her Ph.D. when she was nearly 60 and only afterwards taught for some 15 years at the University of Maryland, 19th century novels (her area of expertise). Wednesday another good time at the OLLI at Mason as teacher of a class where we discussed Ondaatje’s English Patient, book and movie. Thursday I was busy doing all the chores I had not done all week, including buying a tablecloth for the dining room table for the dinner Izzy and I are going to do this Sunday. I saw Laura and spent time with her, and I think that we will have a good time, she and I and Izzy the weekend of May 19th at a hotel on Rehoboth beach. Then today a luncheon for the teachers at OLLI at AU. I talked with people where I learned new things, gathered different attitudes than the ones Jim and I shared of interest and validity, and saw a few old friends I’d not seen this semester as the new quarters for this OLLI (a single building just a few blocks from the main campus) don’t allow for as much regular social life as the three churches where it was located used to.

Online I had good conversations across the week, wrote a couple of good blogs (The English Patient: a post-colonial text; The Handmaid’s Tale, novel and films) and I am hoping to find satisfaction in my projects for reading and writing this summer. I’ve a course to teach: historical fictions set in the long 18th century (aka DuMaurier’s King’s General and Sontag’s The Volcano Lover). I even got myself to buy a subscription for Hulu and have begun watching The Handmaid’s Tale. On Hulu I find wonderful BBC mini-series that never came to the US. I am learning how to stream.

I have not been able to get myself to make any more travel plans than the weekend with Izzy and Laura, but am following, not trying to force myself, not fighting this impulse not to go anywhere for a while, unless I am sure I will enjoy it or it has a good purpose in my mind.

So what’s wrong? Yes, I am daily and nightly sickened by what is being done by this fascist white nationalist gov’t: health care will be taken from at least 24 million people over the next few years; hundreds of people are daily being killed abroad in the middle east and elsewhere by the US military. It’s become official black people will be murdered with impunity on the streets of the US. My awareness of this certainly doesn’t help my spirits. Today I listened to Amy Goodman interviewing Yassar Louati, a French human rights and civil liberties activist and researcher. He is the only voice I’ve heard discussing how Macron, the opponent of the close to Nazi candidate, Marine le Pen is very bad news for working and lower middle class people in France. A neo-liberal, he will try to run France as a corporation and his great plan is to “launch a nation of startup companies.” I was struck by this phrase: the working people will be “stuck as a digital proletariat: huge corporations onine making thousands and millions of people sell their labor without much benefits.” I am aware nowadays I give mine away and do not forget Jim’s words at any rate: he was deeply against the spread of volunteer work in US society.

But that is not why I can’t sleep more than 3 hours in a row, am troubled with self-recriminating thoughts about how I have made very stupid decisions all my life that left me basically alone once I leave these group meetings. Why did I not take up this full-time appointment at a community college 40 years ago, and perhaps that would have kept Jim and I in NYC and I would be living in New York now — so much preferred as my cultural group.

It’s this: the long glow and feeling of Jim’s companionship which did sustain me for 45 years is gone. The air is silent, there’s no warmth there. As I look at my and his books, they seem there almost to no purpose. And this is never going to change because it’s too late for me to be woven into anything human elsewhere deeply. Thus I feel strong anxiety as it was his presence that made all safe. He made the world continually okay for me and now it’s continually empty of him.

It’s taken over three years for me to reach this point of understanding for and about my condition. More generally, I think the state of widowhood, for older women especially because most cannot find a new partner is one few people are prepared to understand or acknowledge. So you are not going to read about it truthfully presented. It’s a product of a patriarchy where the family group most of them based on the male earner is the foundation structure of daily meaning and experience. I’m only beginning to apprehend what it is to be outside this when (as I think not all that uncommon though perhaps my case is more extreme in some ways) someone has nothing continually to shore her up as meaningful deeply. Which is what I had with him. Why I was willing to live the way I did with him.


Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Lilacs in a Window

I close on Muriel Rukeyser’s The Speed of Darkness, which you may find here, gentle reader: I link in the text rather than type it out because the spaces and dispositions of the lines are important and hard to match. Rightly remembered lines:

I am working out the vocabulary of my silence

Nothing is more violent than silence ….

I’s a poem that could be an epitaph to The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s important today because its existence reminds us this is not the first time a ruling clique (gang) has openly and shamelessly and lyingly deprived millions of people of services and money necessary for their very lives. The Nazi period went further in its barbarism but it was of the same kind, precisely. This week on Trollope19thCStudies we finished a six-week reading and discussion of Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, written only a couple of years after Percy Bysshe’s death by drowning. The book fails or is very weak because Mary was unable as yet (or ever) to wrench herself free of the set of beliefs in Shelley’s goodness and greatness that sustained her through her years of traumatic suffering (the price of his companionship) so could not find a metaphoric story to express her deep sense of personal loss and savage critique of the social and political world in which she found herself. She might have wanted to, but she at least she did not fall silent, went on to write two more novels, much journalism (short researched biographies), travel volumes (however censored because she had to please the hostile father-in-law for her and her son’s sake). The book Speaking of Torture (which I reviewed in my Ellen and Jim have a blog, two space) has essays demonstrating that those victims of torture, the millions put in concentration, slave and death camps who fall silent are those who die quickest.

Yes to Rukeyser: we must not be silent — we may fear some risk nowadays, all of us, and we may feel our voices are so useless with people in power who are ruthless and control all legitimate violence — silence is the product of slow violence. Her imagery could be taken from Handmaid’s Tale. In her Three Guineas, Woolf argued that one basis of the militarized patriarchy is the complicity of women.

Miss Drake

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Evelyn Dunbar (1906-60): In the garden gardening

You did it for yourself, for you to be comfortable and take pleasure in — my therapist about this year’s renovations

Dear friends and readers,

I realize I’ve not been posting regular diary entries. As I’ve said (doubtless too often) I am probably in yet another phase of learning what it is to be a widow like me (not all that individual as a number of aspects of my situatio are found across the population). For me another fuller sense of what my loss means in terms of what my life is and can be like. Jim was my fortress of friends, and at my age, given how social life is organized, and my own particular version of if, the invisible ignored adjunct, I find I end up shaking some days after an unbroken period of literal aloneness. I am fortunate in having a deeply companionable online life; other widows have more family or career relationships. In the US generally people rely on their churches (or synagogues, meeting houses, mosques). I’m an atheist. I would be so much better off with a pub culture for the evenings. More prosaically until tonight I have not found a day when I could say definitely I have succeeded in my goals for renovation. This is something you can find older widows doing: renovating their houses. I try for each of my blogs to have something good to tell of.

So, as of several nights ago (about a week) I am the possessor of two items Virginia Woolf says I must have to be a woman writer of fiction. To be fair, I had a room of my own since the later 1980s when Jim and I turned a small room meant to be another bedroom into my study. It had become overloaded 10 years ago: too much stuff, too many projects, not orderly in its central thought-through core. But now I have a second room, and the fitted in porch space turned into a room crosses the yards of the house space. My study in 9 by 12; the new “sun-room” (it has two very large windows facing the front street — very old fashioned that) stretches out to something like 12 by 20 feet. It is colored light green with white trim. A very 18th century color scheme (as I discovered this is not popular when I paid for) shades a very pretty soft green. A photo would not capture the feel of this space. It does not fit most definitions: I find the workmen and contractor didn’t know quite what to call it and settled on sun-room. So I have taken my term from them. In the morning this room faces east and the sun comes shining in as it does in my dining room.

I also have a floor at the entrance to my house — a side door which is the culmination of something I have been unable to think of a better word for than a stoop (indestructible cement — well if someone dropped a drone on it I could see it shattering). This is a long impossible to explain story.

Only the surface events: we move as tenants into “this old house” in December 183, and discover a cast iron tub with feet leaks across the vestibule to the entrance of the house and probably hither and yon, meaning it loosens the once splendid parquet floors across a large front room area. We are able to buy said house four years later (June 1987) and hire a plumber to stop leaks, discover there were termites and get rid of them (but not before some base boards were devoured in this central wettish area). In a closet right next to the tub this plumber fixes said tub (he says don’t throw out cast iron even with feet) and rebuilds the floor with plain (but real) wood.

We are told in later years (1990s) twice to do anything about the vestibule where the tiles are can be regarded as a puzzle. one must put back into order every once in a while, we would have to remove all our bookcases from the front half of said house, and practically move out to replace the whole floor. How many times in this house have I had contractors tell me the house is about to fall down, or any small job is somehow an enormous one. But after Jim died, a kindly older man nearby (father to the chairwoman of the Home-Owners Association) fixed my fence after snow did some damage and told me “nonsense, you can certainly replace this small area of flooring.” I didn’t forget that remark, and when the contractor who succeeded in (in effect) doing my sun-room for much less money than a permit would have demanded (the requirements make money for the building industry) said, what else do I need done and I showed him this floor he gave me 3 small businessmen.

None of all this could have happened but that I made a friend who told me of these small businessmen contractors. Jim and I knowing no one fell back on these larger companies, and they do what they can to fleece you while cutting corners on fundamental upgradings.

Nonetheless, making a new floor for the vestibule was (like so much else in this house) a bad trial. The young man discovered asbestos riddled everywhere in a floor whose glue was 70 years old. He tried to remove the asbestos and glue in an inexpensive way and the result was a poisonous muck in the front area of my house. He worked on it for two days but since Izzy and I are living here (apparently the done thing is to lodge elsewhere) at night he had to leave the area somewhat cleared. Quarrels, he blamed me, and (as with enclosing the porch after the city got after me and my contractor) I began to despair. He found another option and (not as good) he “floated” a new wood floor using 3 strong pads on top of the dried concrete. I assure my reader it is a beautiful looking floor: a honey wood, he make all sorts of new baseboards, interim wood for thresholds. It’s as if for the 1st time in 33 years I have floor at my entrance. He also replaced a 30+ year old outdoor green carpet on the stoop (vile by this time) with a much more expensive silvery-brown one that is glued to the stoop! and a welcome mat. I did ask myself, “Why I waited this long?” I did say to myself no wonder people who came into the house were put off.

I’ve used the opportunity to have fewer bookcases in this new vestibule and in my dining area. I moved four bookcases into the new sun-room. It is by no means overwhelmed. One is a low wide one containing all my DVDs and books on CD and notebooks of films studies, another a narrow one for women’s studied. Two crossing one wall (and hiding a door) come from the dining area which is now less oppressed by having too much in it.

I hope I am not boring you, gentle reader. I will claim the authority of tradition. I’ve read enough early modern diaries by women to know that it is this kind of detail Elizabethan and 17th century women provide concretely when they are comfortably (because no fear of publication) writing of their life experience. Nothing the enormously wealthy (I’m not) Elizabeth Hardwicke and Anne Clifford like better to do than make a new sound floor. And they love to rebuild the outside of their houses. I can’t compete but my pièce de résistance is my whole house is now a beautiful, stunningly if I may say so myself, cream color. I was astonished to see that in fact power-washing does remove the previous coat (Jim doubted it would and feared we’d spend another $7000 for a worse color — maybe the compounds have improved). The dark red maple in the front and the white flowers and silver ferns are eye-pleasing enough for someone who can handle their cell phone camera better than I can. Gentle reader, rest satisfied with my words.


More by Evelyn Dunbar — in lieu of photographs of my house, which will not impress my reader. The simple modest changes I made and their beauty can only be seen in the reality (after all two of the walls are still brick outside walls in my sun-room, it’s the contrast of what was on the stoop; a hardwood floor is not glamorous; and the cream color itself somehow does not hit the eye strongly in my photo

Looking back, then, since Jim and I got hold of the money my mother unexpectedly left me, it’s been on and off renovation after renovation, starting with rebuilding 2 1947 bathrooms in March 2013. Summer 2013 rebuilding chimneys and major machines in the industrial closet (cleverly disguised as the back of a fireplace/hearth by an architect, Joseph Beach, whose work based on Wright has largely been destroyed across this neighborhood). Then starting in October 2016 redoing a good deal of the kitchen (though not replacing the large appliances except for the dishwasher), including pipes rebuilt, electricity recovered up to “code” in the attic (I have an attic), ending in November. Then starting up again in March for this new room of my own (porch transformed to a comfortable living space), all sorts of small but significant improvements (getting rid of unnecessary doors – yes houses from the 1940s had meandering halls and unnecessary doors), a smoke detector system, new lights in the ceilings (no more pull chains). A ceiling fan! — very pretty in the my official “front” or living room where the TV, piano, what passes for two sofas, and is a honey wood coffee table resides. On the two occasions since Jim died I have had guest, we’ve sat in that area and I’ve had a couple of women friends now and again there.

My latest therapist, a decent well-meaning intelligent young (in her 30s) cognitive therapist said in response to my plaintive I wish I had someone to invite and come into the house and “warm” it with praise, and I only will see it, that one fixed one’s house for yourself. And I’ve not had any kind of party or people for dinner over since the 1970s. I don’t know how any more (not that I ever did). I am thinking of trying for a dinner for my neighbor across-the-street who introduced me to all these contractors and had Izzy and I over for Thanksgiving dinner with her son.

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Eileen Atkins performing Woolf in a reading of A Room of One’s Own (she wrote the screenplay for Mrs Dalloway)

My teaching and being a class member are going well: in one we have moved from Gaskell’s masterpiece, North and South to Trollope’s, Framley Parsonage; in the other, from Penelope Fitzgerald’s Bookshop to JL Carr’s Month in the Country onto Ondaatje’s English Patient). As class member I reread Mrs Dalloway, to the Lighthouse (and watched the two marvelous films), A Room of One’s Own and many of the essays in the first Common Reader. The class is fun as the teacher knows how to coax people into revealing their views of these books.
Virginia Woolf’s Monk House — a country residence

How Chekhovian is Woolf? I went to Chekhov’s Three Sisters at the Kennedy Center. It was not just performed in Russian with English subtitles (in 2 inconvenient places if you are trying to take in much nuanced movement and acting and words). The production taught me I don’t sufficiently appreciate how hard subtitles are if you really want the audience to understand who is speaking to who and what’s happening — because you must epitomize. I leaving with a new feeling: along side the desperation of these aristocrats to find something to do: for the first time I saw Chekhov as comic. the players were half-mocking the intense melancholy, delivering the lines so differently. Attitudinizing funnily. This may not be Chekhov as his stories translated well are not like this. Cheknov’s Three Sisters is aimlessly, feelingly inconsequential much that is done. This is closely aligned with the movie, To the Lighthouse, which uses many of Woolf’s dialogues and words. The film with Rosemary Harris and Michael Gough as Mr and Mrs Ramsay is not funny or mocking but there is this utterly Chekhovian life going on feel — if only she could have been thrown off somewhere into deep (a cliff). One of Woolf’s essays in her Common Reader, “From the Russian Point of view, ” concentrates on Chekhov who she does discuss as intensely melancholy but she would have been aware of this aspect of his art which resembles hers. No imposed patterns.

I did wonder if this was rather the reaction of a common wider harder sensibility which finds the Chekhovian point of view ludicrous because in his prose (as translated) I’ve never seen much of this parody. And for me it didn’t work, quite. Apart from the inadequate subtitling, the play seemed to make no sense. If they weren’t grieving, frustrated, bitter and so on, then what was this all about: happy family pictures (because several times all the actors get together and have a happy family photo)? or sudden out bursts of dancing (this too happened). Some scenes of love-making were presented seriously but there was no over-arching idea.

So I’m not Cheknov is comic but it’s clear that the cast presented it this way and in the audience many Russian people were laughing. At the same time while people were not leaving in droves at the intermission, I was by no means alone going down the escalator to the garage for my car to go home. But it’s clear that Woolf in her To the Lighthouse (and its film) is the serious Cheknov

It’s been something of a Russian week: I saw the HD screening of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.

We are not told the librettist most of the time, and a plethora of writers including Pushkin are cited in Wikipedia. I went because of my reading and discussion of Tolstoy’sWar and Peace the last half year has excited my interest in Russia Literature, and what I enjoyed most or what held me truly was the story: this inward story of twisted people. I have not been able to carry on reading the biography of Sophia Tolstoy I started but I hope to return to it when we finally get back to Tolstoy and Anna Karenina. The story moves slowly in Deborah Warner’s production (Fiona Shaw the director) but the sets are what they should be and not overdone. But I did stay the whole of the performance: I’ve not been doing that lately. I know this is very unusual but I find Anna Nebtrebko dull, unable to act, stiff, and any scene she’s in feels somehow tedious in places, but I admit she has a gloriously beautiful voice and can sing for hours. The conventional costumes suited her too. Still for me when she’s in something it is never what it could be since acting counts.

Still I stayed. I just loved Alexey Dolgov’s plaintive (poignant) rendition of Lenski’s aria before the duel (fatal to him). I had never heard it before and thought the man sung so poignantly. Mattei is very great: handsome, beautiful voice, he can act. I’ve seen the movie of Onegin with Fiennes in the role.

Someday maybe I’ll read the novel in verse. I’ve only an old copy — not a good modern translation at all. The interviews felt phony over the source — Renee Fleming would ask the Russian singer how much the poem had meant to him or her, and they would say ever since a young child. Haaa…

Nineteenth century English novels in verse include Aurora Leigh, The Ring and the Book, the form was used: George Eliot’s The Spanish Gypsy, which is good and I’ve even read! It’s good I’m remembering that this morning.

At home I watched on DVD, a marvelous 2002 film adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby, scripted by Douglas McGrath. I was deeply moved and for the first time had a real feel for what this famous book by Dickens is. My father thought NN the most characteristically Dickens of all his books. I had realized that Smike (Jamie Bell) was another of Dickens’s disabled characters and he dies of the world’s treatment of him. Nicholas (Charlie Hunnam) befriends but cannot save him. I had not understood who or what the Cheerybles or Crummies are. By unashamedly and boldly dramatizing the simple goodness, or exploitation and suffering of the characters, the burlesque-like caricatures against the sheer evil of the Squeers (inimitable performances by Jim Broadbent and Juliet Stevenson) and hypocritical insidious venom of Ralph Nickleby (Christopher Plummer), McGrath crossed the wide range of emotion. The women cast included Romolai Garai as Kate Nickleby, Anna Hathaway as Madeleine Bray, for comic good people Timothy Squall, Tom Courtney (the butler who betrays Ralph), Sophie Thomson as Mrs Lacreevy, and a rare ambiguous presence. Phil Davis.

I have a beautiful illustrated edition of the book from my father’s collection, and perhaps if we all are here and the destruction of Net Neutrality does not thrown the last wrench at Yahoo, we could as a group read the book together. It’s be the only way I’d read it 🙂


Nicholas and Smike on the road of life

Another brilliant use of over-the-topness is Ozon’s Frantz.

Not much else notable. I listen in my car to good dramatic readings of the Poldark novels (the dark Black Moon right now). but it seems I may not be able to throw myself into a literary biography of Graham.

The first half would have told Winston Graham’s life, where I would bring out how important Cornwall was to him but not dwell on this at length, keep it in perspective across a whole life. I would be discreet as large numbers of the people involved with various aspects of your father’s life are still living. In this first half of the book I would then discuss his non-Poldark books as a group, mostly the contemporary novels. I would bring out those elements in this which connect them to his historical fiction (the characters, the archetypal situations), situate them in their eras, evaluate them (I am aware of how much rewriting there was). The second half of the book would begin with how much Cornwall meant to him, be about Cornwall, and also historical fiction. A fairly long section (proportionate to the book’s size) on the Poldark novels, the couple of historical fictions set in Cornwall, would come then. I’d end on a film study of the two mini-series.

I’ve now written Winston Graham’s son, Andrew twice (email and snail mail) and he doesn’t even deign a response; my next try will be the assistant of the man who was Winston Graham’s agent for many years. I can’t begin to do research unless I know I will have permission to quote sources in the library, and a contact with an editor at Macmillan say would perform a miracle. I’ve never had many miracles in my life: the only I can think of was meeting and marrying Jim. It was to be Winston Graham, Cornwall and the Poldark world (or novels):

Consequently I’ve begun reading as a book project (early stages) on “The anomaly” and am so enjoying Oliphant’s Kirsteen. How anxious and involved with the heroine I am. Women to include Margaret Oliphant, Geraldine Jewsbury, Anna Jameson, Julia Kavanagh ….

I don’t know that I have it in me to write fiction but I could write about fiction, through literary lenses on fiction. That way I can express myself indirectly.

On our Trollope19thCStudies yahoo listserv, we are just finishing Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, about which I’ll blog separately — bringing in Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale which I’ve managed to see the first terrifying episode of on Hulu.

Tomorrow is the Climate Change March in DC and I am going. I’ll be on the trains on my way to a concert with a friend (!) at the University of the District of Columbia (lovely classical music if I make it), and on Sunday, the Folger Concert again, this time The Play of Love, about which I’ll write in my next diary entry.

Miss Drake

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An shot early in The Salesman before Rana has been attacked

Dear friends and readers,

In my mostly literally solitary widowhood — though I’m online with friends a good deal (letters) and participate in reading groups, Future Learn courses, and these blogs to the point I feel companioned and some of what I do regularly are these joined-in activities (more reading, more writing, occasional f-t-f meetings) — in my mostly solitary state (as like some Defoe character, I say), I’m finding that the love of characters so many readers attest to when they talk of what they read has come upon me more strongly than it used to. I feel this especially when I watch a great film adaptation of a great novel where there are many episodes. Good films, moving books. Beyond these imagined congenial souls, I have my cats — such my topic this week.

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A close up

I burst into tears at one point while watching the Iranian film, The Salesman, written, directed, produced by Ashgar Farhadi’s (2016): fine sensitive intelligent (keep adding good words). I saw this in a nearly empty theater late yesterday (Thursday) afternoon — a first it seemed I and one couple were the only people in the audience, but by the end of the film there were about 10 people I saw when I got up at the end and turned round to look. I urge you to see it if it comes near you. It is a touching realistically done story of a couple in Iran who are part of a theater group putting on Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Emad Etesami (Shabab Hosseini) teaches English in what seems the equivalent of an American high school, except all boys. Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), his wife has no job or occupation beyond being his wife — though she is very capable one can see, even well educated (how I don’t know). Emad plays Willy, and Rana Linda. The play is acted in English and it seems everyone in the audience understands without subtitles.

[It has proved impossible to find any shots of the play within the movie; frequent shots are of Rana looking out a door from the side, through glass-y barred windows; standing behind Emad — these reinforce stereotypes.]

I asked about Iranians’ knowledge of English on two listservs but no one answered. I know few Americans can speak or read Arabic; even the state department under a decent president had limited resources this way. Miller’s is also apparently a story Iranians are familiar with. Does anyone who reads this blog know if Iranian education includes a thorough grounding in English? I used to have a loving friend on the Net, an Iranian woman and poet who shared my love of poetry, of Virginia (my friend has translated Woolf into Farsi), of books, and cats. She no longer can reach me by email. A great loss for both of us. She wrote beautiful English and Arabic and Farsi are both “Greek to me.”

As the movie begins, the building Emad and Rana are living in collapses, and they must move hurriedly, and get into an apartment where the previous female tenant’s things are still there. One afternoon while he is gone either teaching or rehearsing, she goes to take a shower and thinks he has buzzed her from the ground floor. She buzzes back without checking to see it’s him, and goes off to the shower. We stare at the door ajar — an allusion to Hitchcock’s famous sadistic scene. We hear screams, see a shadow. When Emad comes home she is gone, blood all over the floor, on the stairs. Cut to the hospital: he has learned she is there, her face badly bruised, arm wrenched, back sore, but apart from these ailments physically unhurt. She was taken there by a neighbor, Babak (Babak Karimi), also part one of the players. He found the apartment for them we later discover.

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After the assault

So that’s the initiating situation. The results in their emotional and economic (the play doing, the teaching) causes havoc. We see the problems in calling the police; she can’t tell. She is terrified to be in the apartment alone; she won’t let Emad near her at night. The rapist (? — we are not sure what he did, the wife seems to indicate not) left his pick-up truck downstairs. This furnishes the clue for the husband to find the man is a set of keys and pick-up truck downstairs; the keys are in the apartment and they fit the pick-up truck. Since Rana won’t go to the police (she’ll be blamed she says for opening the door to let the man in), Emad begins to have a need to find the man and punish him himself. It’s a telling detail (to my or American eyes) how no one in the apartment building appears to get excited over this pick-up truck. The women seem to turn a blind eye; the men say ignore it. Slowly we (and he) realize that other male neighbors, especially Babak,, were also this woman’s lovers. Babak (and everyone else) knew the woman supported herself by having lovers. Emad becomes furious: why did you not tell me? The film is not explicit but it seems that men are casually promiscuous in this society but they are also intently hypocritical and hidden and they do all they can to hide such behavior from wives and families. When wives find out they wax fiercely angry. The men seem to dread shaming of any kind.

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Emad pacing on the roof — he has much more active visible agency than Rana but she has power over him because he needs to be a respectable married man with seemingly loving respectful wife

The sex and family lives of these people is a different combination of hypocrisy and interwovenness than our own, and we are studying Iranian society from the angle of this situation. Rana cannot bear to be in the apartment alone; she wants to go everywhere with Emad. She appears angry with him and won’t let him near her at night (he says, accusingly); she can’t eat. One of the women in the cast who plays Willy’s on-the-road mistress, Sanam (Mina Sadati), is herself divorced with a child. Or separated. Sanam has accused the cast members of disrespecting her for the role she plays: Willy’s casual mistress upstate for whom he buys stockings. It hurts her reputation further to play such a role. She has her child with her always and it is a relief when Rana offers to take him home one night to keep Rana company. We see a family-group when Emad comes home and the two attempt to have a decent evening because the child is there. They are cheerful; she has cooked some food she bought in a store, but soon the pretended cheer breaks down when he realizes she uses money she found in a drawer that must’ve been this intruder’s. The marriage is now under terrific strain as he asks her to go to the police, and she says no, and she won’t leave him alone. He follows the pick-up truck to a restaurant and finds Majid (Mojtaba Pirzadeh), the young man who drives it. This is his rapist; Emad has to corner and pressure him to get him to work for Emad at a wedding (Emad claims — weddings appear to be sancrosanct and all bend before its needs and demands).

The play and teaching carry on. Emad can’t sleep and falls asleep as his class and he are watching a movie. The young men begin to cut up; we saw they were not disciplined much before. Their gender makes them all important. Maleness must be allowed aggression? Emad is now ridiculed by them, but he holds his own when he threatens to tell their families. At the theater, Emad and Rana are having trouble carrying on with their roles. Emad moves into a rage at Babak at one point — Babak is one of the characters in the play. Rana’s speech over Willy’s dead body was what hit me. Her grief let loose as Linda’s grief, mine at hers. I began to keen and sat there silently shaking and weeping.

At one point, cut to a new apartment Emad and Rana have found. The next day or so, not Majid, but his father-in-law, an old man shows up at this new apartment. And again slowly it emerges this old man knows is there as a substitute for his son-in-law because it was he who was an ex-lover, angry at the woman for something, who came into the apartment and then “tempted” attacked Rana. The confession is tense with shame; Emad is determined to make the man’s family know, especially his wife. We see how important are family ties in this society, far stronger than ours. The old man tries to run away, but Emad locks him in and he has a heart attack.

When Emad returns, with Rana (from another day of playing theirroles), they find him semi-paralyzed. Emad is still determined to humiliate the man before letting him go, and calls the family to get him. The family arrive, Majid all tender loving care for this old man, and the old man’s daughter, and a hysterical wife who says the old man is her whole life. Rana takes Emad aside and says if Emad tells them the truth, she, Rana, will leave him. She will go home to her family. She is making this family’s harmony more important than anything else, including her terror. They are at first grateful to Emad for saving their father as they know nothing it seems of this history of the man, but when Emad demands he take the old man into a separate room, they begin to be frightened. Emad is unstoppable and when he gets the old man alone Emad hits him hard. Another heart attack ensues. Emad had claimed to call an ambulance but hadn’t, now Rana or he does, and the family follow the instructions by phone to revive this father.

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An intense emotionalism characterizes the behavior of this family — yet in dialogues with the old man it seems that underneath there is distrust and all demand strict conventional behavior from one another; my father used to say among naive people emotionalism is prevalent (one reason for Dickens’s popularity)

The last scene shows us Rana being dressed for her part as Linda and Emad for his as Willy. They have stained unemotional looks on their faces. They have not broken up, but they have not made up. It’s probably significant that Rana has had no child, but I am not sure what how this would be read by an Iranian audience.

I was startled at the overt sentimentality of the families towards one another because at the same time the women overlook the men’s promiscuous behavior as long as they are not told or do not have to learn explicitly the men are unfaithful. The society is so interwoven and desperate economically (most buildings are aging, supermarkets are full but it’s clear that lots of better goods are not on the shelves for most people). Many people make it by odd jobs — taking in one another’s laundry I used to call it. Family members utterly need one another. They have no one else to turn to.

Best of all it made Iranians utterly human. I hope the empty theater is not the result of Americans not wanting to be associated with Muslims lest they somehow get into trouble. The Trump administration is demonizing these people so such a film is important. Iranians are so dependent on family members because the US among other powerful gov’ts and the leaders of factions in Iran prevented a social democratic gov’t which was elected in the 1950s from developing. A coup put back a dictatorial theocracy; then the Shah tried to develop capitalism, freeing women as a sop and as necessary for a modern society. We know where that went. A huge proportion of people were left in poverty. Men find keeping women submissive, under their control, soothes and bucks up their ego and pride. Today in our gov’t the Republicans are removing or trying to all our social helps outside the family, including a meritocracy through education so that they can keep their enormous, take in more, live off us more, and in the process destroy outer non-religious (and thus free and progressive) social world insofar as they can.

Don’t miss it! It won awards and is nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. The director is famous, his films are events, so are the leading cast members stars.

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William Wordsworth when young — endorsed as strongly accurate by Kenneth Johnston in his Hidden Wordsworth, which I’ve been reading also

So, another week or so and now on bonding with characters in fiction. Take Wordsworth’s Prelude: it brought back memories. The natural world for me as a child. Not very much. I grew up in the Southeast Bronx. When I think of nature, I think of how Shakespeare says when we live in an artful world, the art comes from nature. Say the word nature to me and I remember a terrifying hurricane my family drove through when I was about 3 — my father’s family had a sort of cottage, home-made where we stayed for a few weeks in summer, on the north shore of Long Island, Suffolk county, a pump in the yard for water, an outhouse. Hurricane Carol hit not far from where we were, and the water coming miles up and high as the cliffs, roofs coming off, trees ripped.

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Turner’s Buttermere Lake — this image is the cover illustration for my parallel texts of two of Wordsworth’s Preludes (1805 and 1850; there’s a third, a short plain evocative 1799)

[I have no pictures of myself when young by a pump in Long Island, no photos of myself climbing up and down fire-escapes in the Southeast Bronx, anyway the block I lived in was torn down decades ago after it was (in my father’s words) abandoned by people, left to the dogs. Now it is rows of small private houses with hispanic families living in them. There is a Crotona Park, in bad disarray when I lived there. In the 1980s, my father meet other older white men from the suburbs there who once lived in these communities, and eventually these other white men brought their equipment from the suburbs and rebuilt the handball walls. Those playing, all male, all hispanic were grateful.]

When he gets to university, Cambridge, wow, the son of a high level agent of a ferociously mean high ranking super-wealthy man, his father dies and the lord refuses to pay the legacy the man had garnered up, so the boy or young man now has a precarious future. Still he is among the privileged boys of his era. As I read I see him as coming there with a group of expectations and a sense of his place. Myself I think how we measure our success or what we define as success comes from where we started out, and what we expected from life from that place. When I went finally to Queens College at age 18, public though it was, I was ecstatic, so relieved. College was not assumed in the cards for me at all. I never thought about — really — the lack of status or where I was going to go afterwards. To me this was a height. I didn’t want it to end. I was there to study, not to get somewhere. It was probably too painful for me to think about what might be my future. I did so much better than others in the class not only because I chose an area or areas that I find myself good at (English, humanities, history of art) but because I valued what I was doing. I knew all around me at the time many didn’t. Dorothy didn’t get to go.

He also says that when he was supposed to leave, maybe he was better off not to have a place to go to. He admits he missed out on something — did things he regrets, but doesn’t say what. For me I grieve not; happy is the man/Who only misses what I missed, who falls/No lower than I fell. Happy is the man is an old Horatian formula.

Well for me years after being in school I knew that I had not profited from “learning” forced on me,for which I had no aptitude — like math, physics — which I did poorly in. Rousseau in the 18th century says we must follow the child or person’s bent. That was a radical idea then: you were paying attention to the individual and saying he (not she in Rousseau) matters; you weren’t forcing them to do or become something for the family’s sake, as part of the family business. Rousseau also says that’s the way a child learns.

I wasn’t badly off in my undergraduate years. I was naively happy in my studies, though it took shutting the future out from my mind. I liked all my courses (even some of the required ones outside humanities) but the honor courses I found myself simply in in my last and have to agree I did read more interesting books in such courses. The shock was to come back and see this institution which had meant so much to me — it did free me, it gave me the scholarship to England I did leave the social class I had been born in basically forever — and that to another (my daughter) it was irrelevant as a place and worse. She couldn’t learn in it even if it’s academic program in music for a librarian was excellent. The social world mattered in her case.

We’ve also talked of Coleridge this week on Trollope19thCStudies: I’ve long loved best “This lime-tree bower, my prison” to Lamb, but as others spoke of Coleridge rhythmic ballads I conceded:

It’s both hard and easy to get back to an earlier self. I’ve said a few lines in Michael confirmed my resolve to be an English major, to go and study British literature for the BA. In that term where I first read Coleridge too I was swept away by the intensity of the “faery” side of his poetry, the unfinished romance, Christabel was it called, also loved and reread over and over Frost at Midnight. And Kubla Khan started — especially with the story about it. But I remember this and cannot feel the same today. I don’t mean to say they are at all inferior to the contemplative type poem only that as I look at them now, I remember how naive I was. I admit I was never “gone” on The Ancient Mariner. Him stopping one of three and the rest of the ritual type chant, even the moral with the albatross at the end seemed something imposed.I grant though lines have stayed with me all my life . Ah sleep it is a blessed thing/Beloved from pole to pole. How many times I’ve repeated that one. It is a mismemory I’ve just discovered: “it’s gentle thing ….” For me until I began with my nightly trazadone it was something often out of reach, only gotten in 3 hours snatches at best. Coleridge ended his life living in a kindly person’s attic, giving free lectures to those who could appreciate great literary criticism, among others of Shakespeare

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Kay Spark: Virginia Woolf or Seraglia

I’m now read/skimming and listening in my car to Woolf’s The Voyage Out as read by Nadia May. I remembered my “voyage out” as I read/listen. Over on Trollope19thCStudies I said going to Queens College transformed my life, but I was plucked out of the limited frustrating environment to which I was born by a scholarship offered through Queens: to go to Leeds University, half paid by Queens and half by a Chancellor’s scholarship from the UK. I took a boat trip that took 12 days. For 12 days I was aboard a boat loaded down with students my age — I had been married and had some adult experiences they hadn’t, but they had had all sorts of social experiences I hadn’t. Fine art films all day long, one of 4 in tiny rooms (Bunk beds). I’ll never forget that experience and coming up the channel to see the white cliffs of dover. Much as I didn’t understand was going on round me, and had a week long nervous collapse in Leeds as result of what to me was also an ordeal — I was with a group of 12 students shepherded by an British history teacher teaching at Queens for the great salary — but fascinating, all so news, 3 weeks in London, arrive at Leeds, a flat shared with another student in a private house (attached), Leeds itself and then I met Jim.

It’s a book much influenced by Austen — as her next, Night and Day, is much influenced by the Brontes. There is a trek the characters take up a hill to look down. It’s not that they go on donkeys or that the breaking into groups is uncomfortable, some of the conversation (though some sublime and refreshing), but Woolf’s characterization of the whole long incident as a group of people “very dull, not at all suited to each other,” and not really wanting to come (some of them). There’s a scene strongly reminiscent of everyone sitting on blankets in a circle and talking. At the end as in the 2009 Emma for some they’ve had too much of a good thing. Then there’s a dance, how Rachel loves dancing, the partners — just very like. She has Austen in mind.

And for a backwards proof, as with male critics writing about Ferrante’s fiction, so Mitchell A Leasla, resentful of Helen (shepherding Rachel in something of the spirit but much smarter, more generous, for the girl’s interest) of Emma with Harriet, Leasla cannot understand what this book is on about.

As for bonding with characters in films that go on for episode after episode and are taken from deeply felt realistic fiction, see my latest blogs on the new and old Poldark films and the 1972 BBC War and Peace (Anthony Hopkins Pierre, Morag Hood, Natasha, Joanna David Sonya …. )

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A Caturday entry: on bonding with my pussycats:

ianclaryontheotherdeskinmyroom

We don’t credit animals the way we should. To my mind this is part of our defense from treating them with equal respect and affection. Since becoming so close with my cats my understanding of animals has improved and my general behavior. I now buy only “free range” chicken, and I look at labels where I ‘ve read the packaging or company treats their pigs or lambs decently — or not cruelly anyway (so it’s claimed). I try to eat much less meat. I wrote a couple of blogs on books that tell the history of the increase of animal protection laws and companionate relationships. For years when I taught Adv Comp in the Natural Sciences and Tech I had a unit where we read Jane Goodall, and a couple of times showed Wiseman’s Primate. We are such a cruel species it’s hard to get my mind around what scientists do to chimps: primates to other primates.

I was thinking that one of my narcissistic impulses is when I feel glad to see my cats react to things that are recognizable that seem more like a human reaction, something we wrongly do not expect from animals. So for example, when a car drives up to my part of the sidewalk — not close to my house, my boy growls and often the girl will get off her perch and trot to a front window — or she’ll scurry away. They know immediately when someone is coming down the path.

For a couple of weeks I lived with a woman friend who was vegetarian: her diet included cheese and eggs and she was wonderful cook so we had all sorts of vegetables and pasta. I didn’t mind being without meat for the time. I’ve never tried it otherwise but I nowadays understand the logic of the position. You’d have tobe careful to get the vitamins and nuitrition you need. I “use” far too much sugar, wine but we don’t eat much processed food. When we first brought our kittens home, they had one another and (it’s hard to remember) it seems to me pretty fast the problem was how to keep them out of the bedroom. They were too lively to sleep all night and Jim was very bothered by the whole thing. I somewhat forced the cats on him with my older daughter — I wanted them for myself, to find common ground with this older daughter (didn’t work) and to provide Izzy with more creatures to interact with. At the time she was not working and having a very hard time.

My two have been with me since birth. They are frightened to go out the door and start away from it. I know if I were to leave it open they would go out and so keep all doors shut. They both twitch with intensity when they see birds, squirrels outside but I doubt they’d know how to kill them. The boy, Ian, does stalk and by playing with kill insects and occasionally he has brought one to me to show his stuff. It is all routine. I wake with them cuddled into me. We get up when it’s fully light.Into the kitchen where I top up their dry food. Then they just stay round me all day as I go about my routine. They know when I’m going out of “our” workroom from when I turn off the computer or put on my coat. Clarcat looks sad then. They can tell time duration; when I’ve been away on trips, at first they are not friendly and then get intensely affectionate. Usual times away — say an hour or so or 4 at most – one or both come to the door. Around 5 or so they seem to know it’s time for wet food. They do know their names I think; at least they respond to them They know “wet food” I think. I go open a can and pour myself a glass of wine. So all are content. I do differ routines in food: sometimes I give them tuna with or instead of the wet food. About an hour before I go to bed, they go into my room and wait. I have a high cat bed near mine and Ian sleeps there. We have play periods and sitting on lap periods, and he presses himself against my chest and nudges my head. She thinks I’m another cat and licks me industriously sometimes.
Going to the Vet is an ordeal I have described here before.

They do love string. They can’t resist playing with me with string — like people, me, in front of a movie.

newyorker
New Yorker Cartoon

Last night I knew a strange moment of intense peace, highly unusual. I had read hard all day, written, and when I drank that glass of wine, and this mood came over me. My mind collapsed. I could no longer read or write. Suddenly I felt so deeply in my gut, What did it matter if I didn’t want to put myself through an ordeal of travel to a Jane Austen and Arts conference. I felt I could choose to not go without telling myself, where does it stop here? Lose contact? what am I talking of? what mad dreams obeying? I just relaxed into myself. I shall have no grandchildren. I re-watched Last Orders, the film I watched the day of Jim’s funeral as it only lasted for 3 hours and by 3 I was home alone again. i’m going to teach the book this coming spring, listen to it read aloud by Juliet Stevenson when my MP3 comes. I sat and tears came and went as I wiped my eyes. And went to bed.

I am now in the fourth year of widowhood and have no words for the kind of grief I live with all the time. Nameless because society refuses to recognize this, give it a vocabulary.

Next up: Penelope Fitzgerald’s Human Voices, on the BBC radio worlds. I’m nearly to the end of her nearly perfect The Bookshop: desperation as courage who loses out to the machinations and human instruments of silent ruthless power enacted, controlled, by one blight of a woman. Any hope I ever had of a full-time contingent position at Mason was destroyed similarly years ago by Rosemary Jann, the chair of the department. So bonding again …

Miss Drake

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