Remembering New Year’s Eve, 2013, our last:
Snow day by Chaise Lounge
September has come. Ah me.
I begin a day early with A Whiter Shade of Pale: my beloved companion and husband used to say this was an important piece of music at the time; a wall of sound he said, a new idea for rock-and-rock at the time in a song that became widely popular:
Dear friends and readers,
The Everyly Wheatley home had taken down the video of Jim’s life they said would be up on their site “forever.” I went looking for it the other week and couldn’t find it again. I had not been able to find it for a couple of weeks. This time I determined to ask where it was. It took several days for a response. They put it back up and apologized.
As I watch it nowadays I shake with desolation. My beloved seems to me to have died many times. The whole month of September last year and part of October. Tomorrow is September 1st. April 28th he was diagnosed and I saw the photo of this very ugly set of three lumps I was told were at the bottom of his esophagus and were very bad looking. Then home to read on the Net that 40% of people thus diagnosed were dead within a year and to my horror I saw the the same confirming photo on the Net. “Oh it cannot be” I thought. Then Aug 3rd when we were told “liver mets,” Aug 4th I realized this was probably a death sentence, that Thursday that it was, sometime after that soon began to keen. September he stopped drinking milk, one of his few forms of nourishment for a previous 2 weeks. Then stopped eating just about altogether with drinking only water. A cracker, a biscuit, a cup of tea, barely. His urine began to go brown as October arrived. He lost consciousness on Oct 7th.
It’s apparent to me the original was taken down as the new video has a different set of background pictures. My theory is they take down all such videos within a few months on the expectation the family doesn’t care. For the few who do enough to complain, they reassemble and put it up again. I expect if I wait a couple of years I’ll find it down again and if I demand to see it up, they will reassemble again (probably taking more time). But when I die, then they’ll save whatever money they do by keeping the semi-permanent stock of videos to a minimum.
A propos, a friend sent me this poem the other day — her beloved cat of many years died recently — and I held it over for Sunday:
END OF DAYS
Almost always with cats, the end
comes creeping over the two of you –
she stops eating, his back legs
no longer support him, she leans
to your hand and purrs but cannot
rise – sometimes a whimper of pain
although they are stoic. They see
death clearly through hooded eyes.
Then there is the long weepy
trip to the vets, the carrier no
longer necessary, the last time
in your lap. The injection is quick.
Simply they stop breathing
in your arms. You bring them
home to bury in the flower garden,
planting a bush over a deep grave.
That is how I would like to cease,
held in a lover’s arms and quickly
fading to black like an old fashioned
movie embrace. I hate the white
silent scream of hospitals, the whine
of pain like air conditioning’s hum.
I want to click the off switch.
And if I can no longer choose
I want someone who loves me
there, not a doctor with forty patients
and his morality to keep me sort
of, kind of alive or sort of undead.
Why are we more rational and kinder
to our pets than with ourselves or our
parents? Death is not the worst
thing; denying it can be.
Published in Rattle, Vol. # 14, Issue 2, 2008,
forthcoming in The Hunger Moon: Selected Poems, 1980 – 2010.
Vincent Van Gogh: “Field with Poppies” — Jim liked the poetry of Rupert Brooke and he paraphrased some lines from one of Brooke’s best known poems for his urn.
Friends (I hope) and readers (few but valued),
We do quite a dance to this. 18 bodies moving in stretches and waves … Mirrors all around. Keri said all we needed was strobe lights; since these are not in the budget we contented ourselves with simply shutting the bright light down …
They say that ‘time assuages,’–
Time never did assuage;
An actual suffering strengthens,
As sinews do, with age.
Time is a test of trouble,
But not a remedy.
If such it prove, it proves too
There was no malady.
— Emily Dickinson
Dear friends and readers,
I had another lesson in how hard it is for me to find myself anywhere without remembering Jim, without an enveloping sense of lacking him. I went for a third time to the Sunday morning film club at the Cinemart Theater in Fairfax in the hope of enjoying an intelligent absorbing and possibly unusual film and hearing informative and insightful talk. I did all that, but how much more meaningful it would have been had Jim been there. It was a 1984 documentary about Casa Verdi. I first heard of this place when Jim was an undergraduate and took a course in musicology, and wrote a paper on Verdi’s last operas. I remember him reading Verdi’s letters, talking about Verdi’s relationship with his librettist, his long-time partnership with a woman he finally married, and his endowing a mansion in Milan for aging musicians, composers, singers. I cannot have dreamed up that he mentioned this place, and now I’m thinking maybe it was when two Februaries ago now (three months before he was diagnosed) I went with Izzy to see Quartet, and naturally wrote a blog.
As I watched, I realized how idealized Quartet had been about aging. While this film is as upbeat, because these are not actors but real people at ages 75 to 95, we see frail people hanging on. Some of them were living in bare rooms. Many looked not well at all. One woman talked of her loneliness — her sons promise to visit but do not. Not all of them can still sing — though all have opinions, memories, and love music still. Gary Arnold, the Washington Post film critic who chooses the films, and leads the discussion, talked of how the film was restored, and how he wished that the weekly watching of operas on Italian TV at the house had been included since the people are (comically) hypercritical. The other people in the audience talked of how they were aware how lucky these musicians are — for old age for most people in a retirement home is often a bleak and lonely affair, often the person is impoverished too. They talk and can enact and are respected for their old memories. A woman whose career came to a height in the 1930s, Sara Scuderi, was seen singing alone and with others most often:
Some of the best moments: a tenor takes us (the film-maker and his camera are part of the film as the people are very aware of them) to an attic room and his trunk filled with his old costumes. He puts on a Rigoletto outfit and begins to sing and enact the role. At the close he takes off his costume, closes his trunk, puts out the light and walks back downstairs. Memories is a central theme of the film. In another sequence a composer shows us his two pianos, plays for us, and shows us his awards and prizes. A woman who taught the harp tells us of her brief career on the stage and her long career as a teacher. We see a photo of her young and beautiful in a ball gown playing her harp. A 90 year old woman in the cafeteria eating soup complains that the chorus (she was in a chorus) is the center of the opera and they are insufficiently appreciated and underpaid. One man singing a Verdi tenor with Sara Scuderi uses a phone booth inside Casa Verdi to die in. (This was a little too close to his reality for comfort for me.) As with Quartet we see gatherings where groups of people sing and play instruments. See slideshow.
The film lacked a focus; it seemed simply to end. Schmid did not give the kind of on-going sense of life the way Frederick Wiseman can. It was more like home-movies snatched here and there and then put togeher. There were many poignant songs of loss from Verdi, but this may just be central to Verdi’s oeuvre, so one cannot say this was a theme; but one sequence where a man played a violin brought tears to my eyes as the song was about the irretrievable past and how painful it is to remember happy times. (A Dante thought.) Someone else in the audience was struck by that and suggested it could have provided a satisfactory ending. Jim would have recognized and appreciated so much more than I was able to do. Perhaps he would have commented as he read about the place. He said more than once that Verdi was a secular person and maybe would have said Verdi wanted to memorialize himself outside religious norms. (The irony here would be the place was filled with Catholic icons and pictures.)
A salutary thought was I could not get Jim to join the film club with me, so he and I would not have gone to it together. I would not have known about it, since it’s the policy of the theater owner not to tell the film until 10 am that Sunday morning and many of the films do not become a commercially scheduled film. I’ve missed what was probably some early extraordinary years of these. The club is in its 7th year and goes on between May and October. I am told it was better in the first three because there was a second owner more interested in art films and another critic who would “close read” films. Arnold provides very interesting thoughtful background but only when prompted does he produce a critical evaluative comment. He is often apt but he can be dismissive and is clearly not interested in women’s issues — as one woman has told me the previous critic was. Since Jim wouldn’t go I was loathe to leave him and go off by myself. I was already “not paying attention to him” with my teaching, scholarship, the Net, writing. Most of the time too Jim walked out immediately after a cultural event; he didn’t like most popular conversation. Often it is jejeune, but not always and for three times I’ve heard sensitive thoughtful comments on the films. It was though another moment where I find I can’t escape him — I wondered how many people in the audience knew about music and operas and recognized the songs or history spoken of.
As last month I talked to someone afterward. This time I didn’t spill my coffee all over the floor (as I did last month). I had the presence of mind to buy a bottle of Minute Maid Orange juice. I did lose my car for a while. I had parked in close to the theater for the first time — usually when I’ve come (after 4 in the afternoon), it’s too crowded to get near. Well I couldn’t remember where I put it. Like Hansel without his bread crumbs. But I walked up and down the lines of cars and finally spotted it.
I find myself especially lonely in the car going along the highway coming home. I’m listening to Nadia May reading aloud the magnificent Daniel Deronda — which has a subplot about musicians and music.
Jodhi May as Mirah singing (Andrew Davies’s Daniel Deronda)
I thought I’d mention how strongly feminist it is: this time through I am so aware of the parallels between Mirah’s escape from her father’s attempt to sell her and Lucy Snowe’s anxious terror when she hits Bruges. I’ve listened to both in the car, once with Izzy in the car with me. Often people say there is little parallel between the Deronda and Grandcourt stories (named after the males) but in fact the women are utterly parallel: in the next scene Gwendolen comes home to learn how difficult it is for her to make real money, how she has not been trained to do anything but be a lady and teach others this — so the deadening mortification of governessing in a household where the mother strictly controls all her daughters’ education (thoughts as far as she can) is her fate unless she takes Grandcourt – and she has seen Lydia Glasher and her four children by Grandcourt.
Eliot (it seems to me) cannot but have a exemplary couple and fate and the beauty of Klessner and Miss Arrowcourt’s words as they come together to realize they want to marry are just splendid. There is no more beautiful sentence in all Eliot than these
Miss Arrowpoint (the arrows of her mind point unerringly to the heart of things)
“I am afraid of nothing but that we should miss the passing of our lives together (Bk 3, Ch 23)
I wish Elizabeth Bennet had said this to Lady Catherine de Bourgh:
“I will not give up the happiness of m life to ideas that I don’t believe in and customs I have no respect for.”
I am able to maintain your daugher, and I ask for no change in my life but her companionship.”
It’s this sort of thing in both Middlemarch and Deronda that make for the steadying influence on a soul hearkening to Eliot.
I’ll end with a photo taken of me about two weeks ago: those reading this blog may recall I took a boat ride up and down the Potomac with a few friends one Saturday evening. One person took photos with her cell phone and that’s see me between two people, one of whom with another friend I now plan to go to the 2014 Library of Congress National Book Festival with next Saturday. I hope to hear Alice Ostriker read her poetry, Clare Messud talk about her novels, Jules Ffeiffer discuss his cartoon art (among many others).
I’ve just got back from doing something that without a car would have presented me with enough obstacles to prevent me: a walk in the evening in Old Town with my friend, Vivian. Once I could drive us there, we wandered about. We came upon an art and crafts fair and spent an hour or more going through the booths, listening to music, snacking. I bought an elegant pair of black earrings. We heard street performers, lots of people in the streets passing the time, eating ice-cream, tables from restaurants on the sidewalks. It was a lovely evening — cool, balmy, a breeze and we got as far as the Potomac before my feet (bunions among other things) and leg (arthritis) gave out and she tired too (she is 59 and not in the best of health) so we took the free shuttle (a gayly decorated Trolley car-bus that goes up and down King Street from Metro to Potomac most of the day and until about 11) back near to where I had left my car.
The needed letter arrived Wednesday around 11; it took me literally hours to calm down and take stock, make some appts (with the vet for the cats, with financial advisors), write some emails. The past three days have been so much easier than they would have been, from shopping for food, to taking Yvette to the doctors and then a pharmacy; tomorrow I look forward to going to a movie at an semi-art house and joining a film club which meets once a month (Sundays) to watch a fine new movie, hear a discussion and have coffee and snacks. I did pay for a Uber cab to take me to the Haven last Monday (there and back) and had a good session with a new person (Charlie she calls herself), but now I will get there on time easily and afterwards visit the Jewish Community Center nearby to see if they have yoga classes or anything like that I could join for the summer. I’ll look into joining their gym; I know they have a swimming pool. I mean to get myself to the GMU library on another day — I’ve not been for over 5 months now.
It’s not all liberation: I spent four and a half hours at a garage the day after the freeing letter arrived from the DMV and Tuesday I’ve got to go back for another 3 and 1/2 hours. Toyota has declared two recalls on the Prius and the work takes time, plus it’s not good for a car to sit and go nowhere for four month and 3 days (the time of my invisible detention) even if you go into it regularly to start it up, run it a bit, and put it in gear.
Funnily (why funny I don’t know but there is a kind of good-natured irony here) just about all my neighbors who have pretended not to notice, in the last three days have given me victory signs with their arms or hands as I drove by. What a world they tolerate.
And I’m not home free. This astonishingly unquestioned and powerful institution has ignored the doctor’s explicit advice that I didn’t need any monitoring or tests and the new tests which confirmed there is no medical condition whatsoever, and ask that I actually do the set of tests I did last December and January. They are expensive but I do have Kaiser and my co-pay while high for a co-pay (over $100) is not near the couple of thousand these tests cost. And I know I would not have managed this without the lawyer I hired. It was she who wrote the letters which got the doctor to fill out the form exquisitely perfectly and sent everything off, and phone someone to remind this person my forms were on the way and could she send an email saying they had arrived. I have my early October appointment with her set up so that she can help me again when the time comes. How many times I shall have to repeat this I don’t know – surely not every six months for years on end.
Reading Hannah Arendt on the totalitarian state and also a powerful book (horrifying in what it has to tell) about the Lodz Ghetto: Inside a Community Under Seige, compiled, edited, translated by Adlan Adelson and Robert Lapides, I’ve become aware of how central to liberty is communication (the first thing the Nazis did when they turned Jewish people into slaves was deprive them of all radios, all information outside their prison-city) and mobility (the Nazis would not allow even animals to pull carts inside the city, only people could do this), I’ve become aware of why the DMV is allowed to ride roughshod over powerless individuals. The other day I read where Republicans call public transportation socialism, in Tennessee have made further creation of more public transportation illegal; I know how in the south especially but many places in the US cities are set up as spokes on wheel, with poorer and lower middle communities out on an edge wheel with the center reachable only through infrequent public transportation or a car.
So I was not surprised last week when the Virginia DMV ordered Uber Cab (a reliable and quick service outside the inadequate public transportation) to cease and desist operations. What the Va DMV wants is $500 per driver: each driver is to be required to buy a taxi license although all have passed cab tests and the company has paid largely for a license. From using the service I know most drivers are originally foreign nationals, many women (! — to use a Uber cab, you have to own a cell or i-phone, be able to use an app, set up an account with a credit card so you are automatically vetted and accountable); they don’t have the odd $500 laying around. DC’s DMV has come to a compromise solution, not Virginia. Apparently the DMV has no way of identifying the individual license plates of the Uber drivers (who own their own cars separately which do not at all look like cabs) so they cannot use computer technology to have the police enforce such an order. Thus Uber cabs keep going. It’s also an anti-immigrant move as well as one that makes Red Top, Yellow and other cab services happy since they find Uber cabs tough competition. I will still use Uber to go to the Shirlington movie-house where parking is barely available and what is there parlous (too crowded tiny spaces with too many cars seeking parking spaces).
Who would not shudder? When I went to vote on Tuesday (alas Patrick Hope lost, he came in second but a trailing second to a businessman type, there to make money and contacts) and asked to present some identification, I pulled out said drivers’ license (not taken away literally) and the woman leapt on it with her hands. She said oh yes, that’s best and somehow swiped it into the computer and a load of information went with it. I was told as of next month all Virginia residents will have to present 1 of 5 different kinds of photo identification to vote. If you don’t have these, there’s an address to go to (one) in Alexandria to get yourself a substitute. It sounds easy but it’s not and there ought to be nothing but the simplest identification asked of you. Is voting no longer a right? teh ability to vote is at any rate threatened in Virginia (and many other states).
But life is short and people frail: rejoice for Yvette too, who was much relieved. Beyond doctors, jobs, the Metro (tomorrow she has a date and it will be hot and Sunday the buses come once an hour), she can now get to her monthly social club. This month they go to an Italian restaurant. Last month they went to a play in DC so she was able to join in but she has missed several good times now.
I have not written about what’s up with me since May 7th — Sunday poetry, memories of my Admiral, a time at the Washington Area Print Group, a set of verses now and again. (I discover that Frances Burney D’Arblay often has month-long hiatuses too.) It’s difficult to tell the truth that it gets harder not easier, that time brings home reality more strongly and inexorably, and all the ways this happens. Last night I began watching one of the greatest mini-series ever made for TV, Brideshead Revisited, one Jim liked so very much and watched twice through with me: at one point Sebastian gives Charles Ryder bunches of yellow flowers: for my 23rd birthday Jim bought me 23 yellow flowers, spending nearly his last money to give me a present when I said I had not celebrated my birthday in years, certainly not received any presents since I was about 15. Their love — Sebastian’s and Charles’s — reminded me of mine and Jim’s in its earliest years and I worried to myself how we had lost that thread in our last years; it was as poignant as Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawkes in Before Sunrise (which was a parallel experience to Jim and mine that first night).
Just a moment late at night, alone in my workroom, one cat on my lap and the other sprawled nearby.
Another night I went back further in time to when I discovered A.O.E. Coppard and H.E. Bates and read Love for Lydia, found it mediocre sub-Lawrentian, sub-gothic, — except for the ice-skating sequences — but rightly loved the mini-series. I listened again to that flute that did Rachmanikov’s piano concerto 2 so hauntingly, warmed to Beatrice Lehman as Lydia’s aunt, watched Mel Martin in her one great role, Lydia herself, a heroine. At the time I could not identify with her as she behaved so meanly and coldly, but whose anger and frustration I now recognize if I still can’t like her for hurting others who hadn’t hurt her:
And I remembered how Jim and I had found those books in the many used bookstores then in Alexandria and DC (huge cavernous places in broken down areas, not yet gentrified at all), read some of the stories together, one visit, those early years here in Virginia all alone for me but for my one daughter, aged 2-5 and the first big growth of our book collection.
You don’t want to know about my successful struggle to bypass Kaiser’s insurance drug limitation to get enough sleeping pills so as no longer to be sleep deprived. Suffice to say with the help of a website, a fax machine that miracle-performing pharmacist did her ouida with at a CVS I managed it.
Readers tire of this — so here are some cheering things — I assure you equally felt even if on another a plane.
I now have set up, confirmed for the fall teaching “The Gothic” at GMU’s OLLI program on Tuesday afternoons (and can get there!), and Beyond Barsetshire: Trollope, Irish, European & Political Novelist (its latest title) on at AU’s OLLI program on Wednesday afternoons. Both venues right next to the main campus. Yvette and I managed to make the sharp-scissors cut into the Montreal JASNA, so we’ll be going even if I won’t be giving any papers. We do look forward to seeing friends, participating in the various workshops (especially for me the dance), I’ll like the sessions and papers, Juliet McMaster’s “Afternoon Tea,” and I’ll go a little to the Burney sessions. I’ve yet to decide on a tour: Yvette prefers to go on her own into the city one afternoon. We have our dresses for the ball too.
My panel for EC/ASECS at Delaware, The Anomaly (the single unmarried adult woman living alone, spinsters, divorced and widowed women) has attracted four papers! Now I have too many because I want to write on Widows in Austen, but better too many than too few.
I work away at my projects, far more slowly than I once did, since my mind gets distracted with memories and I have more to do of a practical nature, some of which puzzles me, some of which I have to take immediate chances on — like hiring a man with workers to paint and fix much that needs to be fixed on the outside of the house (rotting faciaboards started this), others long-range and to me inexplicable (investment). I have yet to put a paper onto my website which was published in the Burney Letter on Frances Burney D’Arblay’s life-writing, am behind on blogs, I cannot get myself to give up my daily one hour and a half (and more) posting to listservs and writing to friends — true lifelines for me.
I’ve looked into Road Scholar as a possibility for the future for summer times away for myself. I ordered a North American catalogue which I was able to read and understand (the website is too much for me when it comes to reading about the experiences), and I do think I would enjoy some of them very much but as yet don’t think I’m strong or steady enough to endure the anxiety of getting to the place and back alone, not quite sure what I would like (though maybe the Dickens week will have a novel by him more to my liking and I’ll try that), not being athletic and having such bad feet, but I am looking at it. Yvette appeared interested and said let’s look at a European catalogue (the idea of England again, and she mentioned Paris specifically): more expensive but I’ve sent away for it. Next year is a 40th anniversary and they have what’s called specials (super-expensive, well beyond us) — month long trips to Australia and New Zealand, extraordinary learning as well as luxurious enjoyment. The world is an oyster for some.
So a few realities, some dreams I’m not sure about, ceaseless regret for his not being here (asking myself why I permitted the mutilation of him by that doctor when in my gut I knew it was wrong) edging near consciousness. You see I am weak and do this language softening too. It’s not that he’s not here, it’s that he does not exist any more. I can’t reach what is no more. My way is still to try to shut my grasp of this out by activities and absorption of my mind into books, art, movies, writing (also rocking in my chair with my hand on my face). I find great solace in watching and rewatching Downton Abbey, probably reading far more into it than is there. I found myself bonding the other night with Samantha Bond as Lady Rosemary Painswick (I had not tried to think why she had the “pain” in her name) as she tried to help her niece, Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley, now pregnant by the vanished Michael Grigson (into a Germany going Nazi) and vacillating between an abortion and a hidden childbirth where she gives up the baby for adoption). It seemed to me it was hinted that Lady Rosemary had had an illegitimate child many years ago and given it up for adoption, and managed to live an apparently fulfilled, at least self-respecting if lonely life afterwards and a promotional photo appealed deeply. You see it at the head of this blog, gentle reader.
I’ve tried to keep my spirits up by listening to the T’ai chi song at the close of Juliette Towhidi’s Calendar Girls. I regret that I can’t produce the moving shots that in the film accompany the music and must reproduce the unfortunate cover to the DVD but I can at least provide a few stills as you listen:
Do listen to the music, taken the time out to breathe
Calendar Girls by Patrick Doyle — T’ai chi
Cheryl has advised me to write to my mother, my father but I’ve not got the strength for that kind of exercise: the person I want to write to is you. I miss you so. I want to tell you what happened going to, at, and after American University yesterday and I want to tell you what happened at the lawyer’s office to which I must go today. I want to imagine your reply and try to think about what you’d say ….
I cannot write to you in the way I wish right now. It will have to wait until my mind is less distraught or I will put it on Under the sign of Sylvia I at livejournal.