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Vince (Ray Winston) cradling Jack’s ashes in a jar, in a box, in a plastic shopping bag as if he had a baby in his arms, near the war monument at Wick Farm (Fred Shepisi’s Last Orders, 2001)

Dear friends and readers,

This week I began talking with my class where we are reading Booker Prize winners about Graham Swift’s Last Orders, at this point in my life one of my favorite books. I love the film adaptation too, and thought I’d start my diary entry with referring to the central climax in the film: Vince (Ray Winston) drives himself and his deceased yet still and ever felt-to-be-there father Jack’s three friends, Ray (Bob Hoskins), Vic (Tom Courtney), and Lenny (David Hemmings) to Wick Farm where decades ago, Jack (Michael Caine, then J.J. Fields) and Amy (Helen Mirren, then Kelly Reilly) made love in the fields and produced a severely mentally disabled daughter, June, and then ten years later or so, Jack and Amy drove Vince there once again and Jack told Vince of how he had a disabled sister living in a asylum and that he, Vince, was adopted.

The plot-design: a group of four men are taking the ashes of their friend Jack Dodds which are in a jar and going to scatter them on the pier/jetty at Margate. This is a place where people go for holiday, a kind of Coney Island amusement Park at the edge of the sea. Beach, gambling, boardwalk. As they get together at the bar and drive to Margate they take detours. The detours are stages in their life’s journeys which make them remember the past. Finally they get there and scatter the ashes. Meanwhile his wife, or widow, Amy, is traveling by bus for the last time to visit their mentally disabled daughter. We have her memories too; the stages of her journey in her mind.

Along the way all of them are back to his past. Some of the chapters are the characters other than Ray moving back into the past and we go to different levels of past. Some of the characters are the characters other than Ray in the present. Towards the end of the book we also get the thoughts and memories of Amy who is visiting a severely mentally retarded daughter in an institution. We also get the thoughts of Mandy, Jack’s adopted son, Vince’s wife. Once and once only Jack

Well, Vince wants to scatter some of his father’s ashes on this spot and attempts to explain to these men why. He stands there in the middle of the field paralyzed by traumatic emotions arising from the recesses of his being. He is accused of mindlessly throwing bits of his father away and yells frantically, Scatter! what does scatter mean? the text says

he sputters like he’s trying to announce something but he can’t get it out or he don’t know what it is. He delves in the jar and he throws quickly, sputtering, once, twice. It looks like white dust, like pepper, but the wind blows it into nothing. Then he screws the cap back on and turns, coming towards us.

This is where, he says, wiping his face, ‘This is where’

I find this almost unbearably moving. So many of us have these crucial moments in our lives where something happens that lives no visible trace but ever after changed our existence, or lead directly to something that changed our existence radically. For me these occurred when I was about 12 and lived in Kew Gardens one afternoon on May 26, 1959, but to this day I cannot tell anyone the details as they are still so searingly shaming; and again when I was 19 and sat on a bench and told the one friend I thought I had what I had decided would be my life’s goals, what I felt I had it in my character to do in order to live some kind of fulfilled life, probably somewhere in the Queens College grounds, and then crucial moments with Jim. Going back? well I could go back to Edinburgh and I did return to Scotland if it was the Highlands where I had yearned to go since that the two times in Edinburgh together and reading Samuel Johnson and James Boswell twin tours to the Hebrides.

“This is where” memories include than the socially acceptable the first time I went away with Jim and fucked all weekend together, or in summer had in effect a honeymoon for a marriage that had happened months ago.


Me in Edinburgh that summer (1968)


Jim in Leeds that summer after we returned (August 1968)

I can’t tell these other either, not because they are so humiliating or euphoric; rather they are so intimate, complex with also painful feeling, private, and tell of him what he might not want others to know.

I bring this up to introduce two kinds of happenings over the last 8 days or so. I’ve kept up my promise to myself to take myself out more, and this past Saturday afternoon experienced an astonishingly moving work, a sort of play, Wilderness, co-written by Anne Hamburger and Seth Bockley. The core is six supposedly disabled or mentally troubled teenagers, who are sent to a kind of camp for troubled youngsters in Utah. It is said to be based on real teenagers or 20+ year olds and their parents.

I believe it is so based since one of the girls tells a story that resembled my experience as a young adult, age 12-15 (which is where occurred at the beginning of a unspeakably miserable lonely time for me) from which I went into anorexia at age 16 and retreat the year before: this girl found herself trying to have friends and ending exploited sexually by boys, shunned by girls, and gaining a reputation as a slut — a slightly altered version of that happened to me only it was quickly over (by comparison), and crucially there was no internet at the time I was young, as there is in this girl’s experience so she became far more humiliated, mortified, far less able to shut down what had happened: I tried to kill myself only once; she kept at it, and did much worse self-harm. This is but one of five stories, another by a girl (believable as I saw versions of that from afar) and four by boys. The truth is only one was the story of a disabled young adult (perhaps autistic) and the others simply real stories of what it is like to grow up in the US in the last 70 years, about what is inflicted on young and older adults by US society, for which they are blamed, inner worlds we rarely see.

In each case the story as enacted and told to the audience split over to parents who tried to do something about what they saw. Mine did not. They ignored what was happening, and when confronted once or twice, my mother denied what she had seen, or castigated me, sneered at me, and my father exhibited compassion but nothing else, at a loss it seems since his values were of the society we were living in and he just didn’t know what to do about me — for example, as a lone reading girl. These parents discussed their lives — often shot through with divorce, drunkenness, economic dislocation, how they found these children too much to take (one tries to hang the child — my mother was jealous of my father’s affections for me and hated me), how they couldn’t bear and had to act against or do something about a child who didn’t conform (I am actually glad my parents didn’t try to force me into some kind of conformity as that might have ended me in an asylum).

It’s telling to read how the the first review in the New York Times misframes it as mental illness, and what occurs in the camp is called therapy and then clings to the semi-upbeat ending in order to normalize and not discuss any of the searing details of lives these stories expose. Christopher Isherwood does much much better. It’s not about the gulfs between parents from children, it’s about us, the underbelly of say this opiod epidemic, the alcoholism, drug-taking — our underbelly.

People in the audience were slightly shocked; I heard no talk at first, and then very gingerly about “how powerful” that was. Recently I mentioned to someone my suicide attempt; the reaction, I didn’t realize you were so “unstable.” The play was done in a newly re-vamped “family” theater at the Kennedy Center and two school groups filled out the audience, which might otherwise have been very small. I hope some of them felt less alone when it was over.

But otherwise the experience has been less than whatever I vaguely hoped. Including a week or so before we went to California. I’ve been to the Kennedy Center two other times, once to hear the National Symphony play Aaron Copeland (whose music I like so), a second time to be entertained and relieved (I hoped) by Whoopi Goldberg (in the event she was disappointingly cautious, timid about all references to Trump, taking that route that somehow we the audience were at fault or needed to do something not “bitch,” what she didn’t say). It is significant that Joan Rivers could “get away with” hard-hitting comments on gender and sex, and Goldberg does not dare do this on race relations.

Because we care more about race relations? because it’s more acceptable to ruin women than blacks? Or is it not okay to mention blacks because white people want to carry on destroying them to have someone to scapegoat? In Virginia nowadays all cars go slow on the streets. I said to a woman I was trying to become friends with for a bit, and her reply: oh yes people are finally obeying: this was to my remark the brutality of the police has made all races afraid and citing this. She didn’t register or didn’t care about the brutality. I’ve taken a principled stand against “joining in” and writing letter of so-called comfort to the victim young black men, often in solitary confinement that a group at the OLLI at AU calls “doing something useful,” and of course getting a social time together. When I questioned it, one woman answered quickly, they did commit crimes you know. Did they? what kind? why? This is a police state where in black neighborhood police incessantly invade the privacy of black people.

I’ve heard three lectures at the Smithsonian, all less than satisfying. Two weeks ago or so, by Bill Goldstein, on his book, The World Broke in Two, purporting to be about modernism and focusing on the work of Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and T.S. Eliot, was in effect gossipy biography, somewhat trivializing (he dissed Leonard Woolf in the usual ways, see how the man said nothing he had done had had any effect, see how the man obsessed over money) with grand generalizations, none of them about the literary movement these people participated in. The book I grant is chock-a-block with cruious information brought together (hard research) so I bought it (on the Net afterward).


A clip from a movie, Wilde, featuring Stephen Fry interestingly in the role (played by Griffith for 5 or so minutes)

Tonight an Irish Professor, Christopher Griffin, on the birthday of Oscar Wilde, whose writing Jim so loved (I have two shelves of Wilde’s complete works), a slightly incoherent lecture, thrown together, no deep insight, just asserting how profound or great this or that passage or text (often a quotation, aphorism) was, but with film clips (the very poor movie of Importance of Being Earnest with Colin Firth), and Robert Aubrey Davis (local semi-PBS celebrity) pretending to be Wilde, since Wilde is great, and there was so much material and the life so tragic in the end, I’m glad I went. Wilde was an anguished man who could find no place in his society for his deep gayness and when he tried to defend it, the society scapegoated, jailed and then destroyed him. Griffin never said anything close to that.

The last by Elizabeth Griffith on “American Women in Politics:” her theme, Did Suffrage Matter? (on September 27th, so quite a while back now). She’s written a biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and is in the throes of a huge volume on the history of women in politics. Perhaps a companion volume to Zinn’s People’s History of the US. A more ultimately demoralizing talk I can’t right now imagine — given her progessive stance. Her burden was why the vote has not helped more (though it’s made huge differences), why feminism has again been silenced or failed as a movement. The polite word is women are so diverse — like men, but men don’t need to make a single movement, they own the place. I had not realized how centrally race was used not just to divide women but how they were divided. I did not know there were women’s groups for lynching. There were women who fought against giving black people suffrage if it meant men only. I did not know how vile upper class white women could be and how hard they worked (as they do today) against poorer more vulnerable and non-white women. She was all friendliness and a kind of comfortable as she went fast-talking through her material. Names of women I’ve never heard of especially black women. Alice Paul I knew was so important. Came the questions though and the idiocy of some elicited from her raw dismissals and sarcasm…

I’ve been teaching and it’s going well. Beyond the Booker Prize, the 19th century women of letters course, who if there are some women who have been so inculcated that only action-thrust forward masculinist kinds of structures and upbeat material from me can hold them, there are others much interested. I’ve been to a few courses as someone in the class too: A History and Aesthetics of Film, today Shakespeare’s Last Romances. I’ll talk about these more after I’ve attended more than one class (which is all I’ve managed); for now in my film club and in this course not one film by a woman, not one film centered on woman’s issues, not one where women are treated with any full subjectivity and interest the men are. All our classics are masculinist. I used the word on Trollope19thCStudies and was told I am immature. Right. I’ll write more about this film club and class when I’ve more time and am further into the term; the latter started late.

I am trying to forge ahead on my projects and papers (Devoney Looser’s Making of JA is one, Gaskell and disability another, the Poldark novels, a third) and will be blogging separately on these, but for now I’ll end on two proposals for courses in the spring already accepted. Building on the Virginia Woolf course I took at OLLI at AU last spring (where we read [and I watched on my own films of] Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, The First Common Reader and A Room of One’s Own) and my own coming paper on Woolf and Johnson as biographers, for OLLI at AU:

The Later Woolf. We will read and discuss four of Woolf’s later books: two playful satires, Flush: A Biography [of a Dog], owned (so she thought) by the Victorian poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Orlando, a novel which is also a time-traveling tale through literature and culture and gender changes from the Renaissance to our own times; two books written during the crisis time of World War Two: Three Guineas, an essay analyzing the origins of war and suggesting how we may prevent future wars; and Between the Acts, a novella in which a group of characters put on a historical pageant. The contexts will be literary (about biography, fantasy, historical novels), political, and biographical. Our aim is to understand and enjoy these delightful and original books.

And returning to Trollope’s in-depth anguished psychology, mad and normalizing comedy: for the OLLI at Mason:

Sexual and Marital Politics in Anthony Trollope. In this course we will read Trollope’s most candid and contemporary analysis of sex and marriage, He Knew He Was Right: we have at least seven couples, with themes including sexual anxiety, possession, companionate and business transactions, custody and separation disputes, and insanity. It is a comedy which has been brilliantly filmed in a BBC mini-series. With this, “Journey to Panama,” one of his colonial short stories about a woman about to marry a man she doesn’t know in order to marry and the relationship she forms on board

We are having good time reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina on my Trollope19thCStudies listserv and I’ve proposed we watch all of the 1974 Palliser films, all 24, one every two weeks. I cannot seem to bring Women Writers through the Age alive again, alas. What I need to do is find the time to read more 19th century women writers: Caroline Norton’s Lost and Saved, Amy Levy’s Romance of the Shop, when instead I promised to read Julian Barnes’s The Noise of Time for a coming Reston Book club. Which good as Barnes’s book probably is (I’ve begun), honest I get more out of group reads from writing selves when people really do write about their experience reading. We need more people, more women readers. And I want to read more women writers, see more women’s films (generously interpreted to include Outlander). I’d settle for Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowlands, Marina Warner’s The Lost Father. I wish I had what I see on a Goodreads group where they are about to read Eliot’s Mill on the Floss after they’ve had a successful time with Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda. I’m going to follow two Future Learn courses, one on Opera, and the other a crucial era in Irish politics, 1916-23 (“this is where” for Ireland), late at night for a few weeks. So filling my life as best I can.

Robert Aubrey Davis did recite Wilde’s The Harlot’s House and left off jocularity: one of the themes I dealt with last week in Mary Barton was prostitution as dramatized by Gaskell in the tragic story of the backstory heroine of the novel, Esther, but it’s the last two lines that contain Wilde’s fin-de-siecle great twilight poetry

We caught the tread of dancing feet,
We loitered down the moonlit street,
And stopped beneath the harlot’s house.

Inside, above the din and fray,
We heard the loud musicians play
The ‘Treues Liebes Herz’ of Strauss.

Like strange mechanical grotesques,
Making fantastic arabesques,
The shadows raced across the blind.

We watched the ghostly dancers spin
To sound of horn and violin,
Like black leaves wheeling in the wind.

Like wire-pulled automatons,
Slim silhouetted skeletons
Went sidling through the slow quadrille,

Then took each other by the hand,
And danced a stately saraband;
Their laughter echoed thin and shrill.

Sometimes a clockwork puppet pressed
A phantom lover to her breast,
Sometimes they seemed to try to sing.

Sometimes a horrible marionette
Came out, and smoked its cigarette
Upon the steps like a live thing.

Then, turning to my love, I said,
‘The dead are dancing with the dead,
The dust is whirling with the dust.’

But she–she heard the violin,
And left my side, and entered in:
Love passed into the house of lust.

Then suddenly the tune went false,
The dancers wearied of the waltz,
The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl.

And down the long and silent street,
The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
Crept like a frightened girl.


A Scottish Impressionist painting

Miss 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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Faye Vanderveer — an idealized Alexandria City street

Dear friends,

One should not be astonished either at what people are willing to do to one another nor what they will accept as living conditions. Only a realization that conveniency and self-interest when it comes to economic circumstances conquer all objections can explain how Washington, D.C. has grown to this large metropolis when every summer we have weeks & weeks of weather that is hard to breath in. I’m told not that it’s just as hot in New York City, but that you can be miserable there too — indeed 89 degree with lower 70s humidity is not fun, but it’s still not as deadly as temperatures in high 90s with 81% humidity. That’s what it’s been for over a week now and we are promised temperatures in the 100s this weekend.

I dream of Maine, and look forward to my 10 days in Inverness, Scotland in August. I tell myself if I find I like the Road Scholar program truly, next summer not only will I go to the Lake District in August but if I don’t go on a Jane Austen tour in June (that’s when most of them are), I will find something for a widow with no friends to travel with for June to New England — one of the packages which include many plays. That’s what Jim used to concoct for him and me — with Izzy sometimes. Rent a Landmark house from the 19th century in Vermont, go to a lake for swimming when not on the road to a good play in the Berkshires (including one summer Lillian Hellman’s Summer Garden, other years Stoppard, Turgenev, Shakespeare, Shaw …)

Road, a feminist blog I follow included one of more perceptive essays on “ages of grief” I’ve read. It seemed to be my case: once surrounded by parents, with husband, two daughters, now alone with memories

These days when I read or hear about the death of anyone at any age and think about those who loved them, I have more than a glimmer as to how those left behind might be feeling. One of the many wonders of old age is what happens when your mind encounters sad, perhaps devastating, events. It sweeps over your knowledge of such things, whether personal or through friendships, like a strong breeze passing over a variety of prairie grasses: Big bluestem, salt grass, bottlebrush, porcupine, rice grass, foxtail, timothy, cupgrass, tufted lovegrass, wild rye. You ask, Which one is this? And then comes a moment when a known grief springs up green and fresh. Oh yes, this kind again.

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Here are the two extraordinary experiences I hope you can reach:

I’m writing to recommend daring the heat — enduring it — and going to the Richmond Museum of Fine Arts or wherever the next place the exhibit of Yves St Laurent’s extraordinary art in dresses, costumes, jewelry, accessories, shoes, hats, headdresses, capes, cloaks, just about everything you can dress a woman in, which art includes the cloth he himself makes a first version of, the weave of each material, the designs and colors of the objects. I am naturally inclined to be sceptical and see “fashion” and “high couture” as commercial art (which it is) aimed at making huge amounts of money from the super-rich. That would take attracting the lowest common denominator in that class’s taste. But that’s not what this man did. Over the course of a long life-time he invented deeply appealing costumes for women. He begins as a homosexual boy making cut-outs (yes dressing paper dolls), which his parents don’t discourage him from.

Quickly he learns to sew, make patterns and his first fashion costumes. His parents were upper middle class people with good connections in Algeria, and before Yves was in his twenties he had a central position in Christian Dior’s firm. He lived a highly unconventional life in Paris, traveling, partying with all the important people in the arts, and so his artistry, talent, and by this time intuitive ability to make costumes that mirrored the spirit of each decade or helped create it brought him within a few years management of the firm when Dior died early unexpectedly. I’d say the exhibit has at least 8 rooms of mannequins which take you through the phases of his career, the different emphases of fashion.

Along the walls one sees his drawings and designs; the items are numbered so you can follow along with a free slender catalogue. There are on-going films of famous fashion shows here and there — like when Laurent broke with the constructed clothing of the 50s


Not that these are not fashioning the self

Or the costume-like fashions of more recent decades..

Within each staged presentation of a kind of fashion, the costumes are arranged to reinforce and contrast with one another. Two huge staged presentations of earring, necklaces, chokers, bracelet jewelry, from the beautifully tasteful to gorgeously bizarre. I was with a friend and we discussed and talked as we went through: we could see he didn’t lived a troubled life (he succumbed to drug addiction for periods).
It was the poetry of fashion. I kept coming across a dress, or full outfit, or cloak I could see myself not only wearing but quietly reveling in.

It was a 2 hour trip by car there — in the broiling heat — we got lost at one point. The museum does have a good cafe (and better restaurant but by the time we got to lunch, well after 3:30 it was closed). Then 2 hours back by car. This museum (like the Brooklyn Academy of Arts), specializes in the unusual so that it draws people to come from all over. A few years ago Jim drove us down to the museum to see a huge exhibit of Picasso’s art. The collection is not big but what they have is well-culled — and this time smaller exhibits (Tiffany art glass).

Then two nights ago I saw at the Folger the RSC Live production of Antony & Cleopatra, from Stratford-upon-Avon. It started slow and in the middle of the first act seemed to drag, but as it move on (it was three full hours, with one brief intermission) the actors playing Antony (Antony Byrne), Cleopatra (Josette Simon), their entourages, her women, his men, Enobarbus were viscerally deeply affecting, engaged. I had read the play as erotic, imagined aging wildly adoring and playful lovers, who cut down, rise to heights of ecstatic poetry. Also that it was a political parable about the effectiveness of cold ambition, hypocrisy, ruthlessness, heartlessness (Caesar). But I had not taken into account how it explores the lives of women (Octavia is not a small part), their relationships with one another. More important I didn’t know it dramatizes defeat at length. Yes it’s about characters who make bad self-sabotaging decisions. As if they wanted to blow away public life. I was so moved by Antony’s speeches berating himself, Cleopatra’s turn to suicide, and all the other characters’ failed attempts to rescue this pair or themselves. It explores the inner anguish of tragedy spread out before us. An black English actress played Cleopatra, and dressed exotically; the older great male actor (I’ve seen him many times before) was self-ripped up loss in dignity. Their costumes terrific; doubtless what would draw S Laurent to go.

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My class at the OLLI at George Mason this summer ended Tuesday around 1:30. All those who stayed the course, and that included nearly 25, said how much they enjoyed the two contrasting historical fictions, DuMaurier’s King’s General and Susan Sontag’s Volcano Lover. They said they loved how I choose books slightly off beaten path. I had found on the Internet a YoutTube of a remarkable lecture on why Sontag wrote and lived the life of a radically activist public intellectual as well as writer, poet, film-maker. I summarized for them the content of this remarkable lecture on Sontag’s work by Savanna Illinger which I here share with you:

Brief high points: Sontag felt literature should advance our understanding of the real, and denounce things which conceal human misery under the cover of sentimentalism. What Mary Wollstonecraft said was the justification for literature (poetry) to extend the sympathetic imagination in Sontag’s words is we have a duty to reveal other people’s true reality, warts and all, and suffering. Very hard because we have a hard time taking the sufferng of another as real. We cannot understand what war or battle is unless we have lived in a war zone. Photographs often constitute a barrier because while they acknowledge what is seen, they offer no understanding of what they picture, no admission of how photos are artificially framed; they promote emotional detachment and thus inauthenticity. For the imaginative contemplating the art work to be a fully ethical experience, you should be moved to translate your empathy into action. Early on, she thought essays, discourse, verse were much better at conveying reality, reason, against sentimentalism; but around time of Volcano Lover and In America, she saw in stories an ability to lead readers to enter into, ponder the lives of others. In the 18th century the significant moment pictured occurred just before or after the trauma; nowadays the deeply traumatic, wildly violent without dignity is what we show to disturb our readers. There is a superb essay on Sontag by A. S. Byatt.

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One good enough experience, and one thrown-away opportunity

With Izzy this past Sunday night I went again to the Kennedy Center. This time to see Cabaret, in the Eisenhower theater in the 2nd balcony where we remembered sitting with Jim for Sondheim many a time, and our last New Year’s Eve together — a group of actors/singers imitated the rock stars of the 1950s, with “Elvis” the chief personality. The terrace was again beautiful, but now too warm to walk much. We’d never seen this famous musical: it is very much mainstream Broadway (or at least this production was), all gussied up and partly disguised by the imitation of German Weimar culture of the 1920s. It was a very humdrum production and I could see through to where its numbers resembled all sorts of others in other mainstream sweet and sentimental musicals. For example, “Money makes the world go round” is the equivalent of “Money doesn’t grow on trees in Oliver Twist. Now I know the context for the different songs: so “What good is sitting alone in your room” is sardonically ironic in context. I knew it was based on stories by Christopher Isherwood with an invented Bohemian heroine, Sally Bowles, who becomes involved with one of your white, blond virtuous American males (as appeared in this production). I had not realized there is a poignant story of an aging German landlady who is frightened out of marrying a deeply tenderly kind aging Jewish tenant. I now know why the musical appeals.’

Tonight I betook myself to the Smithsonian for what looked like a good lecture on George Orwell in the 21st century but most unusually the speaker was dull: Andrew Rubin was very cautious and all qualification, so I wondered who he was worried he was offending. He read his paper without attempting to reach the audience; he was disdainful of said audience too — not that their questions did not show utter misapprehensions, likening ISIS for example to the Republicans in Spain who were for a decent humane secular life — showed real obtuseness. As Rubin said, ISIS is pathological destruction. Read The New Yorker on the destruction of the Mosul library, or irrelevant an about their own identity, such as was Orwell anti-semitic?).


What’s left of the millions of wonderful books, ms’s, art, several heritages found together — now a site filled with landmines

I thought of a question I didn’t get to ask: on surveillance. Winston Smith is famously being watched, monitored, is in danger of being destroyed. Ruben didn’t broach this topic. I wondered what specifically in Orwell’s era was he worried about, and was he ever threatened. He broadcast for the BBC, and perhaps had had his fill of timid and political censorship. Despite this disappointment, I saw in the catalogue the institution has some good lectures on literary (one on a Sylvia Plath exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in London) and film people coming up (Mingle with Marlene Dietrich), and I’ll try to go in the coming summer evenings.


Susan Herbert

And that’s the news from this Lake Woebegone, where my cats are my good companions and my younger daughter my beloved. Still listening to Gaskell’s Ruth read aloud: what a painful book. Next up: Woolf’s Night and Day.

Miss Drake

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The Potomac, photographed by me from the Kennedy Center terrace the night Izzy and I went to the Art Garfunkel concert


Land’s End, a lake in Vermont where in 2006 we came with Izzy and she would swim

Ghosts linger in one place because it contains somebody they love and can no longer have — Anthony Lane, on the just released movie, A Ghost Story

The question of all questions … the question which underlies all others and is more deeply interesting than any other – is the ascertainment of the place which man [and woman] occupy in nature — Thomas Huxley

Friends and readers,

It’s been about 2 weeks since I last wrote a diary entry. My word is how I feel now in this fourth summer without Jim. No one can have done more to root herself, to find and be with friends and acquaintances, to create some sort of meaning and usefulness for myself but I cannot find a replacement within myself or anything I do to make myself feel what before I didn’t have to think about, so much was he central to the very air that supports my body. I don’t know why I do what I do, none of it seems to connect me.

I can tell of a few more experiences snatched in air-conditioned places or brief strolls late in the evening. Izzy and I again went to a concert we both enjoyed, probably I more intensely than she. Last year with Vivian I heard Paul Simon make strikingly effective new and old music at Wolf Trap, so now his old partner (old is true too), Art Garfunkel sang movingly, old songs and rendered new versions of great favorites (from Sondheim, James Taylor, Gershwin), read some of his poetry (he’s publishing an autobiography it seems) for over two hours. He was not at Wolf Trap, but the Kennedy Center and in the concert hall, but the price was low for the Kennedy Center, and I couldn’t resist. I realized by the end he aspires to hymns. As it turned out, we seemed to be surrounded by the usual Wolf Trap crowd who had somehow decamped from Virginia and come to DC. Casually dressed, slightly bohemian, they just didn’t have their picnics and blankets with them.

I’ve gone to lunch with a new friend from the OLLI at Mason (where my class on 18th century historical fiction, old and new-fashioned, DuMaurier’s King’s General and Sontag’s Volcano Lover are going over very well — we are having a good time), seen with her a powerful wonderful film, Maudie, causing me to return to my women artists blogs (an acquire a touching fat biography telling all you could know about Maud Lewis, with her Heart on the Door), and this Friday Panorea and I are going for a one day trip to Richmond to explore the Richmond Art Gallery and have lunch together. I haven’t told her but if we get back in time, I may then betake myself alone to Wolf Trap to hear Tosca whose music Sontag makes brilliant use of in her novel. Last minute, what the hell.


A picture in the Richmond Art Gallery

I’m still planning to visit a friend in New York City, the last day of July, and first four of August, and may meet with a new friend in Gaskell in Pennsylvania Amish country — not yet concrete. I had long good sessions with last week, my therapist, and today (even better) my financial adviser who I spent two hours with today, being reassured and having some good talk. It was a relatively quiet empty day for him, and this is what he is partly paid for. The best — beloved friends on the Net, the correspondences with them —

I’ve not told you the worst of this summer: I’ve lost my last three teeth and have been suffering for three weeks with an ill-fitting denture on the bottom gum I can hardly keep in place to eat. The adhesive tastes awful, sour and hot at once. I wanted to spare myself writing out our “solution” of four implants and a new semi-permanent denture to be installed surgically July 26th, in time for some healing before my Scottish tour. And my visits to two other dentists (one super-expensive in DC) for second and third opinions. I have discovered the deliciousness of lasagna with cheese interwoven: cheese filling, goes down easy. What an old woman with her two loving cats clinging to her, playing by her side I am. My African-American woman dentist (bless her heart) is so excited at this new technology we are using, not just the implants but guided ways of putting them in, and the new easy kinds of wax to make impressions. Sigh. Surely something has gone askew here with medicine — though some would say it’s only old age, an old woman toothless with aging skin and gums and two cats.


To this am I reduced Lasagna with ricotta cheese …

For now what is being done to the US democracy, attempted here on the Internet (which may bring an end to these blogs) is unspeakable (deeply shaming, destructive of us all) if I am to maintain a personal tone of calm.

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Nothing much more to say unless you want to hear of my reading and preparing to write: three books I’m reading towards my Road Scholar tour in August to Inverness, Scotland, the Aigas Field Center:

I’m cheered because all three I picked are good. The first, a history of Scotland, very fat, by Magnus Magnusson: Scotland, the Story of a Nation, on my Irish friend, Rory’s advice, a long-time BBC personality (doing documentaries); he’s a gift for capturing in a familiar anecdote essential feels or truths about phases of history. It’s fast reading — not that I will be able to finish it, but it reminds me of the Cornwall book I read by begnning with geology, pre-history.
    The second is by the “leader” of the tour: John Lister-Kaye, Song of the Rolling Earth. At first I was put off by the flowery language and something too upbeat, but he’s won me over — he’s an interesting thoughtful enlightened serious environmentalist, lover of animals and plants and the earth too, naturalist and this book tells how slowly he came to create and now maintains the Aigas field center. It’s politically aware. This morning I was especially delighted to read his invocation of the earliest history of his Aigas field center — in neolithic and later ages but not into history quite. It’s the third chapter called “the Loftier Ash;’ the next is “the Iron Age Fort,” which it was before becoming a ruin in the 18th century and then a Victorian country house not very well disguised as a castle/fortress: he describes the landscape and especially the creatures and plants then (way back, theoretical projection) and now It ends on a description of two fearsome (poisonous) snakes copulating, which is so beautiful and poetic and yet grounded in scientific observation that I recalled for the first time in years a book I regularly assigned to my Adv Comp in the Natural Science and Tech classes: Loren Eiseley’s The Star-Thrower. I thought no one was writing this way any more: Eiseley combined a deep humanism of which his environmentalism was one arm (and animals rights) with science to produce inspirational passages that — probing meditations on the natural world we are not seeing any more because we won’t or there are only remnants where we live. It’s a measure of how far we’ve come away from deep adherence to true science for sheer commercialism and technology divorced from the natural world that I would have been laughed at and the book cancelled if I had.

    The third a genuine exposure of how the Highlands were emptied of people, the terrible treatment of the Scots by their own Scots leaders as well as the British and various corporations. John Prebble’s The Highland Clearances it’s called. I’ve been trying to find the old 1967 The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black Black Oil on Youtube — a 2 hour rousing interactive performance play which I watched not all that long ago, but alas cannot find it there any more.


An excerpt from Cheviot, Stag, and Black black oil

I believe I’ve spoken of our summer books on the three listservs I join in on. I am enjoying the three film adaptations of Far from the Madding Crowd more than Hardy’s book; I carry on with Virginia Woolf (I’m now thinking next spring at the OLLI at AU maybe I’ll “do” “The Later Woolf: Orlando, The Years, Between the Acts“); we are having themes on Janeites to carry us through the summer and I stay in touch so that I was able to upload on my blog Chris Brindle’s beautiful song for Jane on the 200th anniversary of her death. I have been trying to write the paper on Smith’s Ethelinde and The Emigrants that the conference people wanted from me, but I’ve given it up for now: I find I’m tedious, it just does not come natural to write in this narrow slant on two texts. I’ll try to go back to it, but for now I’ve been reading Winston Graham’s non-Poldark books and soon will try to make sense of them in a blog (thus far The Forgotten Story, The Little Walls, Marnie, The Walking Stick, Greek Fire) and actually forced myself through two Hitchcock (sickening misogynist, a maker of voyeuristic thrills).

But I’ve not yet said, did not tell you I’ve been reading (and now finished) Nick Holland’s new (and it is, an original outlook on her) portrait of Anne Bronte in his In Search of Anne Bronte (I’ve promised a review for the Victorian Web this summer). He has an individual thesis — or so I think — that Anne was hurt badly by Charlotte in a number of ways. Also about her personality — and her religious beliefs (as far more benign and liberal than her sisters). I don’t know enough about what is usually said about her life so I’m going to do a little sleuthing into the other biographies and find a review of a recent volume of essays on Anne Bronte. Then I’ll write it. I’ve known most peace and rejuvenation from this book (and before it Claire Harman’s Charlotte Bronte). It’s maybe when I’m immersed in one of the Scots books or this Bronte reading that I seem to regain some center to my existence and feel my old identity, raison d’etre for remaining alive come back to me.

Two poems by Anne Bronte: she did love someone, William Weightman his name, who predeceased her while yet young too:

Lines written at Thorp Green

O! I am very weary
Though tears no longer flow;
My eyes are tired of weeping,
My heart is sick of woe.
My life is very lonely,
My days pass heavily;
I’m weary of repining,
Wilt thou not come to me?
Oh didst thou know my longings
For thee from day to day,
My hopes so often blighted,
Thou wouldst not thus delay.

To —

I will not mourn thee, lovely one,
Though thou art torn away.
‘Tis said that if the morning sun
Arise with dazzling ray
And shed a bright and burning beam
Athwart the glittering main,
‘Ere noon shall fall that laughing gleam
Engulfed in clouds and rain …
And yet I cannot check my sighs,
Thou wert so young and fair,
More bright than summer morning skies,
But stern death would not spare;
He would not pass our darling by
Nor grant one hour’s delay,
But rudely closed his shining eye
And frowned his smile away.
That angel smile that late so much
Could my fond heart rejoice;
And he has silenced by his touch
The music of thy voice.
I’ll weep no more thine early doom.
But O! I still must mourn
The pleasures buried in thy tomb,
For they will not return …

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Jim during a time in Vermont, the Amos Brown house, perhaps summer 2012 (or 2006)

I know Jim would never have renovated this house; he would not spend the money to make it respectable; he would not himself work hard for no money (maybe he’d take a course at an OLLI, or do an occasional hour); perhaps he would have long ago, sold this house, got rid of half the books, moved back to NYC and start going to older people’s single bars and found a new partner by now.

Some of the most painful moments for me during Jim’s brief mortal illness were when he’d say suddenly I’d find another man and in no time. Finally I said to him, please don’t say that; you have no idea how much it hurts me to hear you say because it could be you think that. How could you think you are replaceable. Don’t you know it’s your unique self I have stayed with, lived by, and loved all these years. And finally he stopped voicing this insecurity. But to tell the candid truth, yes I wish I could find a new partner, not just any one, any male, but someone like him, the dream of Stewart in My Brother Michael (thanks to Mirable Dictu). But I live in a world of women; the men I come across are all “taken,” good people long ago married, and now with children, grandchildren. Those widows, later divorcees who seem to find a partner (it happens) seem to meet someone they knew long ago, or a male who has hung around as a friend for years, a work colleague. Statistics tell me it’s rare for women to form relationship with a new male partner after she has passed 50; for men even common. And I’ve seen why in the eyes of men I do come across who I catch quietly looking at me or who in passing what’s called flirt (at which I’ve ever been very awkward) and rejecting me as too old very swiftly. Of course I’d love a loving genuine friend-partner once more.


Jim, aged 24, our apartment on Columbus Avenue, just off Central Park — how much I’d give to be able to re-live life with Llyr, I know I’d be so much better to her

It is dreadfully hot here, day after day in the high 90s into the 100s in the afternoon. There is an argument for selling up too, moving north, though I daresay the isolation would kill me. I am part of worlds here, have people who help me directly (courteous young males, my IT guy, a Trumpite, my financial adviser who voted for Clinton, even a mechanic who takes my car every time). But I loathe this heat and long for a beach 30 minutes away to escape to of a morning.

As Jim and I once did when we lived in upper Manhattan; Tuesdays and Thursdays early morning we and Llyr our dog (long long dead, and what a grief to me) off to Jones beach with coffee and croissants bought on the way, in 40 minutes there, hardly anyone around but us three. So what I sometimes think Jim would have done in my place is perhaps the selfish (=wise) smart thing. But I cannot do without Izzy nor desert her (she forgot to go to her once a summer pool party this past Sunday so I will return to keeping track of these occasions for and with her), nor Laura.

Dissolve this world away that’s around me? Unmoored already. Why live on? is the sweet air enough on the top of a mountain or in a city near a performing arts center? Maybe it’s my conviction that on the other side of silence is oblivion, endless nothingness and if anything of my body is left it will rot. I do like to read … and write … and watch movies … to be with a friend — and other such like reasons keep me here — as long as I’m safe in my house. Someone asked on face-book what was people’s idea of fun?

Gentle reader, is it any wonder I write few diary entries nowadays. Vedova parlando.

Miss Drake

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Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs Dalloway — the most hopeful image on the Net I saw all week — many thanks to Sixtine for this one

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold …

Friends,

Today was (according to the calendar in the US) father’s day: my father died in 1989; he was the most influential person in my life, with the considerable 45 year exception of Jim. Once I moved from NYC for years I would speak with him on the phone once a week for about an hour. My father’s face is clearly before me as I type this. Not from his young years or middle years, but the last ones. I cannot picture Jim on my own: yes, if I look at a photo, I recognize him but out of own brain I cannot see his face.

I’ve not written in so long because I wanted to convey some positive development, so have been gathering up (without intending to) a few cultural experiences I can recommend to others. The positive development (I hope) is that I’ve enrolled myself (and paid for) a Road Scholar trip this year and one for next. I say I hope because Sunday evening I had trouble reaching the place on the Net where I am to confirm my plane reservation, and this morning the Road Scholar representative on the phone said it’s not there yet probably because I just enrolled and give it to Wednesday; if not there then, call this number (Road Scholar Travel Service). A good friend had told me about a wondrous tour to the Hebrides organized by a Welsh company, but after their reply I decided the more thoroughly organized with Internet sites for email, phone calls and so on, would be Road Scholar. If I were going with a friend, let’s the better one. Looking at it, I think to myself Jim would have liked this. But he was an independent personality far more than I .So I put off Skye (which I have been longing to go to since I was 25 and read Johnson and Boswell’s twin books on their journey) for when I am more used to travel (I tell myself).

I had again tried the Road Scholar site and found that the chat people were infinitely more courteous, helpful, and did not pressure me at all. I began to feel comfortable, and after days of looking and email chats, went for my heart’s desire. Alas, I could book for the Lake District and Borders only as of August 2018 (which I had done before, but now with a down payment for a single), and turned to something in Cornwall or the Highlands. Cornwall was available only as of September and I start teaching by mid- to end September (so that must be put off for another time); most of the Highlands trips (three) were long and expensive or wai-tlisted (which I was told means “full up”) so I booked for new program: Scottish Highlands: A Stay at the Aigas Field Center. A magnificent place, beautiful landscape, the one spot suggests some depth.

I have been fascinated by Scottish wars and politics for years, beginning with my study of Anne Murray Halkett during the civil war and aftermath. There was room if I were willing to share a room. So I did. August 10-20th. On the site I was asked why I wanted to go there: I cited love of Scottish literature, from age 15 Robert Louis Stevenson. I didn’t cite my love of Scottish women poets and memoir writers, much less Margaret Oliphant. Nor how Outlander provoked my memories of the 1960s radical documentary, Culloden, or the extraordinary folk musical play, The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black Black Oil (with a very young Bill Patterson as lead guitarist).


Aigas Field Center, Scotland

I should say this does not come out of income but savings, my mother’s money and it is not endless.

I am hoping to visit a friend who lives in NYC for 4-5 days in August. So that should take care of what otherwise would have been 6 weeks home alone (so desolate) in the dreadful heat of a DC-Virginia summer. And because Izzy wanted it so, she and I will go to this year’s JASNA at Huntington Beach for 5 days and nights in early October. I see the hotel has a pool so I’ll bring my suit and see if I can get to swim. She has a pretty Regency ball dress, shawl, and I know how to fix her hair in a bun (very Emily Dickinson, but never mind, no one will be that conscious of the differences between what women did with their long hair in the later 18th and 19th centuries).

I have found for the past couple of months, I can no longer sit in this house for days on end with no one for company. I have to change my habits: I missed entirely three Fridays at the OLLI at AU where they held Bloomsbury events (seeing The Dead, rehearsing and then reading parts of Ulysses aloud over a 6 hour period). I was lamenting how Jim and I went to a Bloomsbury reading which he found out about and read at, and when I googled to see if it was still going I found the event at OLLI at AU. And I could have been part of it. I tell myself I’ll do better next year. With such things do I torment myself. I got to the point one day where I told myself I cannot undo the past 40 years which have left me so without groups I belong in outside institutions (I had no job where I was connected with others, Jim was so reclusive and so was I with him); but this had the salutary function of reminding me how happy I was with him, and that I would not want to undo any of the 40 years were he here still. It’s habit. There was no excuse as it was told about and more than once (if briefly) on the OLLI website. I had to click and didn’t. Closed my mind. I am not keen on Ulysses I said to myself. What a fool, what does that matter?

What have I seen and done: one weekend Izzy and I went to the Kennedy Center on a Saturday night to listen to a magnificent symphony, and the next day to the American Collects 18th century French Painting at the National Gallery. That night on the terrace the evening was a real pleasure. The next day, we found ourselves in a mammoth exhibit, many rooms of ancien regime art. While there were some powerful, great paintings and sculptures, and drawings, not to omit exhibits of landscape and gardening art, the interest of the collection was not in the pieces themselves — many of which thematically and artistically considered are dreadful. It was the identification of the super-rich of American with these people without fear of reprisal, of anything resembling a guillotine. Cited continually also were a group of influential galleries (a couple central to what was bought and displayed) and art connoisseurs. Amusing (if you have a thorough sense of humor) were photographs of NYC elite in 18th century costumes – off to balls. Izzy and I spent a couple of hours viewing this historically significant exhibit. I took by my cell phone camera a number of pictures I’d never seen before (“released” from private collections just for this exhibit one was told).


Utterly typical allegory for this type of collector: the improving patriotic myth …

Other live performances: last night I went to a delightful production in Arlington of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a comic send-up and tribute to Chekhov’s plays and other Russian texts (not just Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya, the Seagull, Tolstoy, not to omit renditions in American cinema of memories of Russian stories, one where Maggie Smith comes out in a tiara and sequins) — as I’ve said there are three good theater companies! Creative Cauldron, the Avant Bard group at Gunston (previously Washington Shakespeare Company) and the Providence Players of Fairfax, located mostly in the James Lee Community Center. My one (relatively new) friend, Phyllis, told me about it and we went together. Last year we saw in the same place a quietly poignant Almost Maine by John Cariani. What’s remarkable about this group is they are not content to re-do warhorse famous plays conventionally (very common) but take lesser known contemporary plays and do them originally. Almost Maine had a beautiful set. Durang’s play features extravagantly self-revealing soliloquies on stage by the major characters (when others are present too). It was exhilaratingly depressing. The ending was an imposed temporary happiness between the central brother and two sisters of the play’s nuclear family; it worked because good and charitable feelings were present throughout.

I go to the gym twice a week; one evening I’m taking yoga! would you believe? I’ve joined a monthly book club at the JCC (Peace is like a River is the first book I’ve encountered). Long range: I joined the Gaskell Society: their AGM looks like I might enjoy it.

As to my projects, I plug away and am reading a third of Graham’s remarkable non-Poldark fiction, Marni, Berry’s Portrait of Cornwell (though soon I will switch to books recommended on the Highlands). I have found some excellent books on Cornwall, books whose tone is strengthening because their historical outlook so wide: such a book is The History of Cornwall by F. E. Halliday. I discovered my proposal for a revision on the paper version I read aloud in the Charlotte Smith conference at Chawton Library was actually accepted back in April! it’s due September 30th so here I am driving myself again. I am rereading the book in a more genuine way than I’ve done in a long time, and wish there was a good affordable scholarly edition at a reasonable price.

Again, I have to change this habit of not looking carefully to see what’s happening — on the OLLI at AU as central staging for this year’s Bloomsbury readings, I just turned away from clicking, all the while in mourning over how Jim got to read but one year, time at a DC Irish bar, ending in a community-private barbecue. Instead I spent the long day alone re-reading Ethelinde, going to dentist, allowing cleaning maids to clean house — the week before had been a rehearsal, and the week before that a viewing of Huston’s film, The Dead. It was on the afternoon of the 16th by googling I read a description and could not reach it again. Well I won’t put anything aside for yet another book project I might not be able to finish. Just plug away at it more slowly.

I think about the one full-time job I was offered at LaGuardia and didn’t take lest I not finish my disseration. Why did I not see I could do it later? Why did I not see the job was the most important thing to get then? Other jobs I retreated from, other opportunities to be an editor on-line — that one I put down to fear and anxiety I would not be able to cope and make a fool out of myself. Yes I would not be paid but so what? Yes I’d be more online, but with others. I have to be braver and not be led by anxiety which when I obey just gets reinforced. Should I have tried that 10 hour car trip to Plattsburgh? by the time it came round, I had gotten myself into a such a state, it was beyond me. I have to stop that somehow or other. I am following a Future Learn course on Depression, Anxiety and CBT and think it is helping. Better than anti-depressant pills: very low points this two weeks, I took two different ones two weeks apart and both times became very ill, either traumatized and in a trance but still feeling anxiety and so on, or downright sick, nauseous, terrible taste in my mouth and other very unpleasant execretory symptoms. It’s what the US does: psychiatrists are there to give you pills; and therapists to urge conventional behaviors (I do have a more intelligent one this time, even shows sympathy). The second one may have made my acid reflux disease much worse.


Pete Singer

I’m taking a live, face-to-face course too — OLLI at AU has come alive this summer. An animal rights person, Edward Engebretsen. I began by attending a lecture in May given by Wayne Pacelle, who turns out to be the head of the Humane Society of the US. Probably the most important statement Pacelle made was transparency and regulation are needed to stop cruelty to animals; when you have these, the normalizing of routine great cruelty (especially to farm animals) stops. He named 5 freedoms that animals need to live a fulfilled life. He likened the position of animals to that of refugees, and said matters are complicated: zoos are a place where animals are imprisoned as exhibits; at the same time they can function as a place for rescuing animals.


John Berger

Thus far from the reading materials Engebretson’s given out and his lectures: it was in the 19th century that for modern western society animals receded from visibility for most people. He gave a history of depictions of animals in myth and philosophy from Homer to the 21st century. That sentimental depictions of animals (they are made cute) morphs quickly into displays of cruelty. How do we think about animals? first people experience anxiety around their identities; animals are part of our fantasy life. Someone’s fantasy is the cage in which we are imprisoned. We are distinctly connected to non-human animals in multiple ways. There are three relational positions: dominion, subordination, commodity (using someone). Power relationships govern our lives. In the west we are driven by a human-centered morality. As in the first session, he used a poem by Robert Frost, so now he went through a series of philosophers from Aristotle (there is a continuum between non-human and human animals) to Voltaire (a paragraph about a dog seeking a master because the dog so loves the master, and is then cut to bits for a vivisection when sold. Bentham: the question is not whether they can talk but that they suffer. This time a series of dates from the first legislation in later 18th century US where a bill called for civil rights for animals to early 19th century where the first animal protection act was passed.


Judi Dench and Lisa Dillon as Matty and Mary Smith (narrator of tales)

Much happy reading of Gaskell, yes. Cousin Phillis, Cranford, re-watching Cranford Chronicles late at night (Judi Dench as Matty helps). I have seen two great Daphne DuMaurier film adaptations: late at night by Netflix streaming (which I conquered at last, bought), the 2014 Jamaica Inn, scripted by Emma Frost, featuring Jessica Brown Findlay, and at the Cinema Art Theatre the 2017 My Cousin Rachel, scripted by Roger Michell (who’s done a number of Austen adaptations), featuring Rachel Weisz as Rebecca (she’s dressed to recall Olivia de Haviland in the first film adaptation where Richard Burton was the hero-villain-fool, a Hitchcock concoction). I’ll write about them on Austen reveries.

But how to change because I cannot bear this life without Jim. So that’s where I am. I miss Garrison Keillor on the radio. My largest regret is not having allowed Jim to move us to NYC no matter what the sacrifice in books. I didn’t because I worried for Izzy in college, where would she sleep, the apartments seemed so small, one hardly with windows. If I could go to Shakespeare in the Park, be a little cooler, in a culture I recognize at least parts of, it would help. At a minimum I loathe this enervating heat.

Miss Drake

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Photo of my newly painted house — gentle reader imagine a much lighter, whiter cream color ….

Friends,

Eleven days since I last wrote, and I and Izzy and my older daughter, Laura, are off to Rehoboth Beach on Friday morning to stay in a hotel on the beach front, a suite of rooms where we hope to relax. Sun, wind, fresh air, sand, a boardwalk, I just hope it won’t be too hot — as it has been today.

I’ve had a new pleasant experience — I attended my first face-to-face book club where the people discussed the book for real, Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam, such that I wanted to go back and reread because I realized as we talked the book had more depth and varied rich passages and characters than I had given it credit for (Booker Prize winner or no). It’s organized by the OLLI at Mason: serious fiction, with a moderator, all in circle on plain chairs. It’s a bit far for me: Reston, but then I learned how to get there now and it felt worth it. I am listening to a reading of Winston Graham’s sixth Poldark novel, The Four Swans, a fully mature stage within this continuing cycle of novels, about to be dramatized this coming June on the BBC (the third season, which will begin with fifth, The Black Moon). So however tiring, the time in the car is not wasted at all. I look forward to going again; the club meets from September to May. I’m getting better at finding places by car (with my trusty garmin and printed out maps).

I’ve also — unhappy this one — been again astonished by the irresponsibility of doctors at Kaiser when it comes to prescribing drugs (pills). A doctor knowingly prescribed a sleeping pill he must’ve know was addictive and then showed no concern if I was addicted to it. Paid no mind to this aspect of what happened at all. And in true Trump-style manifested a shameless disregard, denial, of obvious truth. After three years and some months of taking a mild depressant each night to help me sleep sufficiently to be able to drive and live my days, I discovered the pill a doctor prescribed is no longer working. I’ve become inured; to make me sleep, I have to take say two pills and they don’t always do the trick — or as much heavier, addictive pill, Restoril, becomes necessary. As my widowhood and the contour of a life that will be mine (with my disabilities over travel, circumstances, placement &c), on my own (as they say) — a long, long road stretching out before me, years I must walk through, I was understanding Julian Barnes’s word for his wife’s “disappearance” as a death-time, since he didn’t and couldn’t forget her, shaping this aftermath; then growing so tired of coping with all sorts of things, deep angst.

So I tell a little of this to the psychiatrist and his reaction: prescribe a pill (new drug!) said to make the patient sleep and provide release from anxiety, Remeron it’s called. He seemed to care that I have a bleeding problem at first; was going to send me to hematology but when he contacted them, he recontacted asking me about bleeding episodes “so so we are on the same page.” Then behaved as if I had had no hemorrhages in my life (when I’ve probably had 4-5). In effect he refused to question an old diagnosis from the oncology and hematology people at Kaiser that I have no hemorrhage problem after I have experienced 4, twice coming near death. That’s not his area. I took one Remeron Tuesday night and found myself in the grip of a trauma, a kind of intense trance where my feelings were no different but at a distance, my body feeling sickened. It was harrowing. I came near a car accident! Not until Thursday noon, did it wear off. I tell this to the psychiatrist and what does he say, Oh, we’ll try another anti-depressant in a couple of days when this wears off. This should be astonishing. Is it? Well, in a mood of self-preservation (what happens when I grow old, I must maintain independence as long as I can), I instead for the next three nights I went “cold turkey,” and took no pills. I felt better physically, more alert than I had in a long time. But I am not sleeping enough — 2-3 hours is not enough.


Vanessa Bell (18791961), gorgeous (just look at that hat) Lady with a Book — from later in her career

I simply returned to segmented sleep, which is my natural pattern, sleep four hours (if I’m lucky), up for a couple where I read in bed, and then hope for another hour or so, from new tiredness. I won’t take any more of these drugs. So a new pattern of daily life is emerging. I’m reading good books at night, and then again just after the second awakening. I might not make it to the gym the way I had been this past winter.

I need a good doctor. Responsible. Looking after my health as an individual.

Leave Kaiser? If I did, I could never go back as I was not the federal employee, it would cost me so much more (I am grandmothered into an earlier deal), and I know from experience when I find myself facing lists of doctors from say an insurance hand-out I don’t know who to go and end up with no one. More than half the time before the HMO I had bad encounters, and no regular doctor. And was fleeced, often disrespected. I remember years ago being charged $37 for five minutes of man’s time – he laughed at me when I said I was suffering from headache. The American health care system is indeed a joke, even when they are not outright fleecing and bankrupting you. I did frighten the present Kaiser psychiatrist by my email to him on the Kaiser site; he phoned me (!) and talked of how he was so concerned, how much thought he had put into this, did I want to come and “chat” (that’s his word for what passes for serious talk with him), and I heard him typing, taking down every word I said lest I sue. That’s why he cares about: his career. (Addiction doesn’t concern him at all. Like some dentists’ attitude towards teeth: the real ones are not as good as the pretty crowns.)

Outside Kaiser I am told this prescribe-drugs and send the patient to a social-worker therapist is the protocol. I did have a good psychiatrist when I went to the Haven for a few months after Jim died — pure luck. She did talk of my past and deeply and helped me see things I had not before. But I lost her when the DMV removed my “driving privileges” and harassed me for months over it (invisible computer monitoring is the way they use the cops to stop people from driving — in the state of Virginia there is a class action suit against the DMV for egregious use of this technique, among other things impoverishing people who can’t get to their jobs) and I couldn’t reach her any more. American institutions, American lack of public transportation. Deep culture here? from many practices followed, isolation structured in.


An interesting mid-20th century painter, John Piper who I read about recently in the LRB: Chicester Cathedral from the Deanery

Just one small life — insignificant against the unfolding of the Trump regime (stop gentle reader and watch this two-part Dutch documentary). Today I spent some 5 hours altogether at the OLLI at AU anniversary party/luncheon (they have been going for 35 years) where Diane Reims spoke. While she is a decent woman I can see, intelligent I did discover why I never listened much: too schmaltzy, too mainstream, and they applauded her for her sentiments a couple of times. What a group these people are. Many went to private colleges, even Ivy League and this in the 1950s, or early 60s. Many of them slightly older than me, most just luckier than me. Many came from genuinely middle class families which led to their careers. So many were lawyers — the men of course. All with grown children, two to four, grandchildren, traveling as a pair to them in say Switzerland or Florida. Though I know there are some single women there (divorced, widowed).

I sat with the good intelligent woman who was the teacher of the Woolf class I attended, who herself used to teach at University of Maryland. It was good talk — of the Brontes, the neglected Anne, the greatness of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Emily Bronte’s poetry, DuMaurier’s powerful Branwell Bronte (a biography) and Gaskell’s Life of Bronte. She and her husband used to go sailing down from Cape May to Bermuda (never did get caught by pirates); she described wonderful evenings after a day’s sail, friends where their crew. She travels regularly; rents apartments in Italy, there for art biennales (the Venice one), goes on hiking trips to Maine with him (at 80); he was a tenured professor of chemistry, Emeritus. I was again berating myself for when Jim suggested we learn to sail decades ago, somehow we never did it — he had found a flyer about lessons; maybe it was my fault; my nervousness; there was the problem of having a boat — we couldn’t afford to own one and Linda and her husband did own a boat.

Through it all I felt how lucky this woman has been. She attributed to her husband the sailing expeditions. He knew how. (Jim could have learned; it would have been good for him.) I was wishing too how I had bought some summer house when he suggested that — somehow we’d go out and look and not do it, not buy — they were another mortgage. He did love boats — or the idea of boats from his growing up in Southampton. I remember one year he said let’s go to this Renaissance conference in Italy and I demurred. Why? shy? in Florence it was. Had we done that would we have begun to go to Italy regularly? with what money? well, he was making enough to go to England and Landmark Trust houses. My fault he and I didn’t live the life we could have?

Others at this table and elsewhere were talking of their Road Scholar vacations and casual holiday in historical places, and I can’t do this — to go on a tour by myself I will have to get up immense courage, to the Lake District and just beyond, it’s 14 days and $5,000. The places to look at sound alluring. Do I want to go to this schedule, I’d have to buy some clothes, sit down with others to 3 meals a day and so on. Would I enjoy this? strangers. What would they be like? I’m told by people that you make acquaintances, even can get sort of close, but then the trip is over, the relationship ends.

But I long for a good life: it’s like I died just as I retired. Jim had been retired for 8 years or so and then I retired, but my life depended on his and his ways, so his dying within a year of my retiring is in effect the death of the life I would have had — it might not have been like these people probably, but in that direction. I had a sort of revulsion or came home from it exhausted. Nervous. I left a little early, had endured enough I felt — everyone talking of the courses we teach or take. Meaning well. It was relief to leave. I said to myself I am over 70 and I don’t want to be pressured — felt so just intensely reluctant at what profession I had had (the offer of that adjunct at the Georgetown place in an innovative BA program for older returning students, the first year I was widowed which I flubbed, couldn’t seem to cope with the dean). I’d have to learn Blackboard, or some other latest technology and cope seriously with students. Eagerness comes from youth, from hope. And my learning curves in tech are so deep.

What life would I gain this way? Tired after a lifetime of in my way trying hard, repeated perhaps making bad and wrong decisions but not because I didn’t care and didn’t mean to end up well — because at the time they were what seemed best, what I could do, what I was led to do, yes by Jim’s advice too; he would say why beat your head against a wall driving two hours to get to this job? I hoped I would somehow know some fulfillment and I did for a time, after I came onto the Net and for say 15 years. I did fear so, that he would die youngish, but turned away from the possibility this disaster would happen. Dreaded it too much. He did leave me solvent, in this comfortable house, with 10,000 books …. our lives history.

Julian Barnes’s phrase is deathtime — a person has a lifetime and then afterward a deathtime in the memory of the life left behind … and in the memory of others (in say books).


A dream picture: put on face-book for another FB friend, Harold Knight (1874-1961), Morning Sun

I finished Oliphant’s Kirsteen this week, in the end a flawed satisfying book, like others of hers (deserves a separate blog). I tell myself I’m still working towards a possible book on “The Anomaly,” and serious reading there has shown me there were very few women living alone until 1850 (in any kind of comfort or safety). Not possible. Not allowed an income to do it on, not allowed the security of knowing no one can break in. And I’m reading a delightful Portrait of Cornwall by Claude Berry. Wonderful black-and-white, grey, photos from all over Cornwall.

Teaching has come to an end for now. I did have a wonderful findal session with the class group at the OLLI at Mason over the profoundly moving Last Orders by Graham Swift. They loved it too. Since then I returned to Waterland, the book and film. Soon I’ll start preparing for this summer’s course: historical fiction, old fashioned first, DuMaurier’s King’s General, which I remember as so erotic, lyrical, so melancholy (the heroine crippled in a wheelchair), and then the post-colonial, post-modern, anti-foundational type, Sontag’s immensely brilliant The Volcano Lover. My review work includes Nick Holland’s In Search of Anne Bronte.


One of Laura’s four cats, either they cooperate more or she is better at capturing them in a photo ….

Since Nine O’Clock

Half past twelve. The time has passed quickly
since I first lit the lamp at nine o’clock,
and sat down here. I’ve sat without reading,
without speaking. With whom could I speak,
all alone in this house?

Since nine o’clock when I lit the lamp
a ghostly image of my adolescent body
came to me, reminding me
of closed and scented chambers,
and past pleasures – what brazen pleasures!
It brought before my eyes
streets now unrecognizable,
bars once filled with movement, now closed,
cafes and theatres that once existed.

The vision of my body in its youth
brought sorrowful memories also:
the grieving of my family, separations,
the feelings I had for my own kin, feelings
for the dead, whom I little acknowledged.

Half past twelve; how the time has passed.
Half past twelve; how the years have passed

— C. P. Cavafy — one of Jim’s favored poets — I have the book of his poetry in my house

Too late, too late, too late, turning to see too late.

Probably I ought to start signing 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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