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Robbie Williams’s Eternity

Dear friends,

Izzy took a week off work this past week, and seems to have enjoyed herself relaxing, reading (a book on the Louvre, a book on feminist films), going out to a movie (Dr Strange), once to the National Gallery where she saw the same Afro-Atlantic Histories exhibit I saw about a month ago, and once, this Friday, to the Washington D.C. zoo. She photographed a number of the animals


A mother and child


A noisy sea-lion


Two pandas


and a lion (among others)

She also wrote and posted one of her fictions: these are novellas which often take the form of sequels (fan-fiction), but some are original. I know she watched Eurovision, some ice-skating contests, and stayed in contact with people through groups she’s joined on discord. She drew too, and put a lovely picture of a bird on her wall. You will see it behind her in the above video.


A beautiful poster-like picture of a deer

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For myself, I conquered (wrote) that paper I’ve been reading for on and off for about three weeks: “Barsetshire in Pictures.” I covered the original illustrations for Framley Parsonage, The Small House at Allington and The Last Chronicle of Barset, as well as the film adaptations of The Warden and Barchester Towers in the 1983 Barchester Chronicles and the 2015 (ITV type production) Doctor Thorne (scripted by Jerome Fellowes). I tried to show through these pictures what makes the unity of Barsetshire. I am much relieved tonight for I was worrying I had taken on too much, and no more than anyone else do I like to be endlessly working, much less to deadlines. It has been very enjoyable and after I’ve given the talk, I’ll put the text online and write a blog about all I did for it.


Here is a still from Doctor Thorne: Stefanie Martini as Mary Thorne, doing good deeds in the village even as she is ostracized, humiliated — I found watching the film through the lens of how far did it convey the spirit of Trollope’s Barsetshire enabled me to enjoy it far more.

How did I manage this?

In my sudden nervous anxiety (for I have yet to write that Anne Finch review, and I’ve now promised a paper on the manuscript books of Finch and Jane Austen for the October ED/ASECS meeting), I this morning realized that I kept thinking today was 5/23, the day for registering for OLLI at Mason and a day I told myself I’d send in the proposal for the 4 week next (!) winter OLLI at Mason (The Heroine’s Journey, which I described here already but here it is again), but I find it’s only 5/16. Maybe I fooled myself to get myself to do this more than a week ahead of time.

The Heroines’ Journey

Many courses in myth take as Bible, Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces (pop movies use an 11 page abridgement) so for this one we’ll take Maureen Murdoch’s The Heroine’s Journey (distillation of many books on “Archetypal Patterns in women’s fiction“) and read two mythic short novels from an alternative POV, Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad (no she did not sit for 20 years knitting and unknitting the same shawl), and Christa Wolf’s Medea (no she did not hack her brother’s skeleton to piece, nor kill those children); then two ordinary realistic ironic short novels, Elena Ferrante’s Lost Daughter (Leda is the lost daughter) and Austen’s Northanger Abbey (Catherine had it right). We’ll see Outlander, S1E1 (Claire transported) & Prime Suspect S1E1 (Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison).

So at 4 this morning then I read the openings of three books which just rejuvenated me: literary feminism, wonderful warm hearts (I loved the tone of all three): Heroine with 1001 Faces by Maria Tartar, The Heroine’s Journey by Maurren Murdock, Archetypal Patterns in Women’s Fiction by Annis Pratt — filled with wonderful poetry too. They are the background for the course I mean to do next winter: The Heroine’s Journey. They are not just about books but about the cruelty and suppression of women in our society which as we know has stepped up in the US recently. I am rejuvenated and re-galvanized, refreshed.

1970s feminism is not dead, but, as you know there is a large body of people in the US out to re-bondage women, to renew and enforce more subjection of women.

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On 18-l someone told of her struggles to reach J. Cameron’s great unpublished dissertation on Anne Finch (Australian university sometimes willing to share and then not again), and O’Neil’s banned to all eyes for huge numbers of years Oxford dissertation. She called this a copyright problem. She is an obnoxious woman who approves of the establishment, but her email (as well as my proposal for a paper on her and Finch’s manuscripts) reminded me of what research was like before the Internet, especially for someone like me: a nobody, with no professional title from an institution beyond my doctorate, having no connections, and finding travel such an ordeal. So I told of myself on this listserv:

I have a complicated xerox of Cameron’s great book on Anne Finch. I got it years ago when I was teaching at American University. The research and inter-loan librarian got it for me — all the way from Australia in a big box. I know about O’Neile’s Oxford University dissertation. I tried to get hold of it many years ago, and found that it was made totally unavailable — in no way could I reach it or any part. Then several years ago because of the presence of the Internet and having far more sources available, and librarians to consult I was told the man had banned use of it, and even looking at it for a long number of years — probably beyond my lifetime. This seemed very strange to me: why write a book and then ban anyone from seeing any part. But I have come across this in other studies (a similar case, funnily enough), in my Vittoria Colonna researches, where also, a coincidental parallel I was able to get a copy of the important 1840 edition of her poems, the first nearly complete ones as a xerox which also came to AU in a big box.

I still have both xeroxes and I still use both — having made them much more usable for myself (using stapler, scissors, folders &c&c)

There’s a kick to my story – -a true one. The same librarian got me both books. In some spate of firing during the 1990s she was let go as useless, unimportant, not needed. What a waste of money you see.

Thinking about Austen too and the pattern of Tuesdays across her novels (except in the cases of Northanger Abbey and Sanditon, early and very late novels) and drawing of the timelines from of her novel:

Every single Tuesday I’ve found – and I’ve found them in all but one of the 6 famous ones, in The Watsons (the first sentence), and (more vaguely) in Lady Susan are connected to a disappointment, humiliation or mortification. She is exorcising (or was the first time she did it) some hurtful grief; after a while, it became a code known to her family probably. I’ve never tried to publish a paper when I was trying because I didn’t want to be laughed at. I think it’s not a known truth because those who have seen it dismiss it. Janeites and many mainstream people don’t want to know of trauma dealt with in this way in Austen.

The way to figure out what year a novel is set in — or what possible/probable years is to work out where Easter is in the novel. Novels which don’t let you work this out — well for those looking up Easter won’t work. But Austen does notice Easter in her books. Another way is two dates where you are given day, date, month — there are nowadays calendars on the Net to use. One used to have to buy them. Fanny Price’s stay in Portsmouth is at first prolonged because (we are told) Easter came late that year. And then Austen mentions days of the week and also how many days go by for a trip say. She had an almanac on her desk — to her I think it was a way of establishing probability through having events take place in probable amounts of time. We do not in her 6 books and older fragments suddenly leap many years or even months. A couple of or few weeks, yes.

Where there is no mortifying Tuesday: the juvenilia, scraps, and Northanger Abbey and Sanditon. NA too early, first draft before the event that gave rise to these occurred; Sanditon a tremendously rushed draft, she is very sick, dying, and has no time for working out such (haunted) in-jokes.

I don’t try to publish this because I don’t want it to be rejected and I don’t want to be laughed it if it were to published in some toned down form.

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My two classes on Anglo-Indian novels went so well this term. The OLLI at AU people even loved Shakespeare Wallah! I shall do the topic again in two years with a different set of books – and having read more on the history, more memoirs and novels in the meantime. I’m still reading the Raj Quartet, into the fourth volume and last night was so moved by the last episode of 1984 Jewel in the Crown.


Geoffrey Kendall, the great disillusioned actor — like the poor monkeys on the road no longer wanted as once he was (from Shakespeare Wallah)

The Rosemont Garden people came up with a new plan for my garden, for re-planting and weekly care: $800 less than I paid the couple I was not comfortable about. I’m signing and look forward to a normative business relationship.

A gratified evening’s note — I feel so good for Izzy that she had a good week and that I am wanted too — as long as I come for free– I am glad to fit in.  Relieved I was able to do what I promised.


A beautiful depiction of a cozy bed — seen on twitter

Ellen

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Perhaps Peder Mork Monsted’s Evening Glow, 1920 (Danish painter) captures this

Friends and readers,

Let me begin with how I was struck one later afternoon with the winter light. I think winter light can be beautiful. Today is as yet very cold, 27F feels like 13F, late afternoon, near 4 pm (EST). The snow is now scarce but enough to make the landscape picturesque, ground frozen. It’s the whiteness of the light I like so much. I used to have as a motto on my Sylvia I blog (LiveJournal) Emily Dickinson’s famous lines, “There is a certain slant of light/Winter Afternoons … ,” “oppresses, but I do not find it so. It’s no use taking a photo (with my cell phone as that’s all I have for photo-taking) as the camera will never capture the sharp white intensity or glow in which all is seen so clearly. The sky cloudless, in Virginia (maybe not Denmark) ever so light blue.

Some time after New Years’ Eve, I believe I felt something more of a change than I have in a long time, that sometimes I find myself not as afraid as I was to be alive in this world without Jim. I’ve shown myself I am competent enough to do what I need to, what I enjoy, and find I am not in any danger from anyone — as long as I remain solvent. Nine years ago, August 2013 I had such a panic attack as I’ve never felt before I lost my breathe when I began to realize soon Jim would be gone. I am not over nervousness and worry, but the primal fear has receded. I try not to be distressed by remembering basic failures across my life. Unkind caricatures. The best thing is avoid where these have walled me off. When I come up against obtuseness, aggressive impositions and exclusions (especially this stubborn look or a preference for the contentless in some one’s face inferred or seen), just push back gently and turn away. I can live quietly on myself — I admit it would be harder without Izzy’s daily company.

News from Thao: she told me she was pregnant around then, and this past week it was 20 weeks, and she had an ultra-sound (I think it was) and was told it will be a boy. She wants to call him William.

A month has slipt away since then, as time slips away since nearly two years ago, this life avoiding a serious illness from Covid-19 began. Izzy is again working from home, and I am again teaching remotely, and do not intend to go to classes in person until June. I have been out beyond shopping for food and other necessaries twice, with the same friend, to lunch and then a movie. Laura and Rob were here once, briefly, to help me re-plug in my DVD player (luckily all that was wrong was two loose plugs) and Mr Christbel, the handyman-contractor who renovated my porch into a lovely sunroom, will be here on Monday to replace the two toilet seats. And yes I’ve had my hair dyed and cut by Sheila. Two phone calls with my aunt Barbara. But all other socializing has been on the Net (email, FB, twitter, zooms, here on this or other blogs).

I am sometimes very sad as I waken, and only absorbed reading in deeply felt congenial books, reading and writing an email letter to and from my friend each morning, then communication with others, (not always light) chat on FB, twitter, lists, can slowly pulls me out to cheer. Keeping busy with projects, and now again zoom, chores, one must dress, eat, play with cats. The I turn round and it’s later in the afternoon, weather permitting, I walk, and then back to late at night when I block the loss of Jim with movies. Just now immersion, in Foyle’s War and tonight that beautiful first episode of the fourth season of Outlander (from Drums in Autumn), where Jamie and Claire’s love-making reminds me of what we had.


Camping out (sleeping outside the tent!) in North Carolina (Outlander S3, E1)

I am especially fond of chrysanthemums because Jim’s first present to me were 22 yellow chrysanthemums — as I was 22. The first time in years anyone had remembered my birthday. I was especially touched because I knew he had spent money he should not have. These are violet purple and deep dark red. For me there is as much bitterness as gratitude in this memory of this strange person who I let stay with me on the first night we met and then the whole week as my flat mate had not yet arrived, and who in turn suddenly treated me with respect and affection as anything else. He didn’t despise me for generosity. I became aware he had more genuine feeling for another whom he as yet did not know very well than most of the people I’d ever met who might have been said to have known me for a while.


Dark red and violet purple instead of yellow

I don’t think I could survive without this house, our home with all our memories, as my shelter, and the library we created to occupy me. So here are more of the usual things you hear from me:  the end of last month (December into January) immersed in Anne Finch’s worlds and poetry; January, this month it has been first Jane Austen and women’s lack of control over their personal much less real estate property; then continuously for the rest Iris Origo’s deeply intelligent, restrained depths in her books, Christa Wolf’s complexities in hers, Christine Donougher’s chrystal clear easy-to-read translation-edition of Les Miserables, the astonishingly alive profoundly knowledgeable about life and all it takes to survive masterpiece (including retreat) that is Orley Farm yet once again, and I’m seeing so much more this time than last.


The kindly judge and his daughter

Damon Galgut’s Arctic Summer, a moving wonderfully frank and tasteful fictionalized biography of E.M. Forster’s homosexual life, from his time in India (a continuation of a fragment of a novel Forster never got very far with).

When I find myself learning new things (an excellent course in early Black history in the USA – devastating), I think how useless that a 75 year old woman should at long last understand what Black people have gone through and still do (in 1672 a law was passed in Virginia making “casual killing” of a “negro” legal if he or she is enslaved and resists any command; and two days ago several police thugs broke into someone’s flat in Minnesota and murdered a Black man under a blanket who sought to protect himself). What can I do to help but in my teaching do books that teach what life is for real, and compassion.

I don’t remember if I told you that I invented a course for the 6 week summer session of OLLI at Mason, which I am scheduled to do in person, and it was okayed yesterday. I will not forget to dwell on what husbands were allowed to do wives — incarcerate them — until the mid-20th century.

Sensation and Gothic Novels, Then and Now

In this course we will read Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White (4 weeks) and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly, a post-text gothic novel for RLStevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the novella retells story from a POV of the housemaid (2). We will discuss what is a sensation, what a gothic novel, and how both evolved out of the Victorian era: what are their characteristics? how do these overlap & contrast; how do the genres differ. Many movies and plays have been adapted from Collins’s and Stevenson’s novels; we’ll discuss some of these, and I’ll ask the class to see the latest (I think brilliant) BBC 2018 Woman in White serial, featuring Jessie Buckley, scriptwriter Fiona Seres; and Stephen Frear’s 1996 film of the same title, featuring John Malkovich, Julia Roberts, scriptwriter Christopher Hampton

More abilities are falling from me. I go slower, I can’t exercise as well as I used to — while I do these calisthenics (sit-ups, pull-ups, stretches, bike-ride in place) each morning, I listen to Pandora, the channels are Nancy Griffith, Joan Baez. EmmyLou Harris and Willie Nelson. James Taylor. A new favorite are the songs of John Prine (who died of covid). , I must drive with real care, my chest hurts now and again. I do want to study Virginia Woolf far more — every few weeks or so I join in on a two hour sessions on a novel by Virginia Woolf. There I have to remember not to talk unless I’ve recently read the book that is under discussion — or I make a fool out of myself, just a bit. That book I’ve wanted to write has its piles of books on 20th century women writers and readers waiting for me. I’ll see how many years I have. I’ve no notion of having to publish it. I could be content with blogs too.

Better political news than usual: the Bidens have adopted a cat, lucky creature, a girl, called Willow


Here she is, getting used to the place

She is two and said to be a farm working cat — this makes her more able to adjust to new and changing surroundings. She has been around other kinds of animals for a start. Why she would fit right in with the animals in All Creatures Great and Small. The charming story as told to and reported on Yahoo.

So, having provided just a few links, and offered no particular analysis of book or movie in itself, instead I go full circle from where I began the blog: with two passages of winter’s light and snow’s beauty as it first comes down. First, from Trollope, Can You Forgive Her?, “Among the Fells,” rapt mood capturing his heroines’ walk through Swindale Fell in Westmoreland:

It was a delicious afternoon for a winter’s walk. The air was clear and cold, but not actually frosty. The ground beneath their feet was dry, and the sky, though not bright, had that appearance of enduring weather which gives no foreboding of rain. There is a special winter’s light, which is very clear though devoid of all brilliancy,—through which every object strikes upon the eye with well-marked lines, and under which almost all forms of nature seem graceful to the sight if not actually beautiful. But there is a certain melancholy which ever accompanies it. It is the light of the afternoon, and gives token of the speedy coming of the early twilight. It tells of the shortness of the day, and contains even in its clearness a promise of the gloom of night. It is absolute light, but it seems to contain the darkness which is to follow it. I do not know that it is ever to be seen and felt so plainly as on the wide moorland, where the eye stretches away over miles, and sees at the world’s end the faint low lines of distant clouds settling themselves upon the horizon. Such was the light of this Christmas afternoon

Then, Virginia Woolf, The Years, 1913:

It was January. Snow was falling; snow had fallen all day. The sky spread like a grey goose’s wing from which feathers were falling all over England. The sky was nothing but a flurry of falling flakes. Lanes were levelled; hollows filled; the snow clogged the streams; obscured windows, and lay wedged against doors. There was a faint murmur in the air, a slight crepitation, as if the air itself were turning to snow; otherwise all was silent, save when a sheep coughed, snow flopped from a branch, or slipped in an avalanche down some roof in London. Now and again a shaft of light spread slowly across the sky as a car drove through the muffled roads. But as the night wore on, snow covered the wheel ruts; softened to nothingness the marks of the traffic, and coated monuments, palaces and statues with a thick vestment of snow.


Izzy took this photo of our neighborhood this January during one snow day


Now here’s our house right around Christmas, early one morning, before dawn has broken

Ellen

A PS: movie review of Deux or Two of Us

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Roubaix, Northern France (2008)

“I enjoyed the hard black Frosts of last week very much, & one day while they lasted walked to Deane by myself.” — Jane Austen, Christmas, 1798 (for other simple accurate perceptions)

For my part, since when I was very young, in my earliest years (before 6 or so) encouraged to believe, or not discouraged from believing in, a magical being who brought presents, and a little later had the reinforcement of the Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and the idea of a special day of good will towards all (until say 11 or so), I have never been able to drive out of my head the sense of something special about this day somehow, a time, desire for, acts and words of good will and hope. Decorate somehow or other, eat together if possible, drink, maybe exchange gifts (?).  Before Covid and my loss of my ability to drive at night, go to the theater.  What else can a fervent atheist do? …

Dear friends,

First, reassurance: we didn’t do too badly … but the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglay …

Morning we were very pleasant — what we as a pair always are on Christmas morning. Wished one another happy Christmas, I hugged her thoroughly. Had solemn and older folk celtic Christmas music on radios and/or panora ipad.  Our plan was out to peking duck (for me eggplant dish on side) and then maybe to Cinema art, but already we were weakening, as we agreed the reviews said this iteration of West Side Story was tedious  (see my retraction). I had yet more personal mail from sending cards and my own Christmas letters to others; then I was reading Henry James’s Spoils of Poynton – a work of genius, yes, and about possessions, Possessions, with brilliant depths of varieties of painful feeling circulating in those byzantine sentences, not actually obscure as in a novella.

We finally agreed to set forth by car (PriusC) at 1:15 lest the restaurant be socially distanced and w/o reservations not be able to get in. It’s a small not-glamorous place but does serve peking duck, is real and good Chinese food insofar as you can get it in N.Va. Well, traffic rather light. We get there and place closed, Owner Himself standing in front with a table with white cloth and flowers, a line of people who has ordered fine meals the last 3 days. Hmmn. I had made one worrying mistake driving even though in the light — drove over curb. I did not see it.

So we went back home and look on computer. Most Asian restaurants doing take-out, or delivery, the very few open demand reservations. Our usual take-out locally, Ho’s, declared open and serving early, take-out and delivery.


Classical pastoral in Fantasia (1940s)

We ate usual lunches, and sat down together to watch Fantasia. Very creative and beautifully played, but somehow obsolete a bit. Disney’s conductor worried lest we not be comprehending.  The imagery too innocent, too limited.  Especially little Cupids overdone. Best parts the unicorns and centaurs, flowers, abstractions. Famous: Mickey Mouse as Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Very curious antepenultimate ballet of hypopotamuses, tigers, and elephants: somehow a gay aesthetic running through this queasy comedy.  I understand this film (like It’s a Wonderful Life) a commercial flop at first. Maybe still?

Well, worried lest Ho’s super-busy, we order by 5 — I’d had enough of Spoils and began one of my favorite re-watches, Huston’s The Dead. Seen many times. Read, taught to several classes

But by 6 he’s not here; suddenly a phone call, he’s phoning us, and are we 303? no, 308. We go outside and see man wandering about our block, having knocked on 310 — he was getting close. That’s our gay neighbors. He was hired just for the day.

So we do have a jolly meal, and I opened a wine bottle. We talked and ate for nearly an hour. Then said Merry Christmas and she went to nap.


Huston’s The Dead — one of three dancing sequences; we get poetry, piano, the feast …. & aging & vexation

I turned back to Donal McCann’s great peroration at the close of The Dead.

A few light raps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right. Snow was general over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead — James Joyce


In A Christmas Tale, the two young children put on a play, parents help, grandfather watches ….

Then, what the hell, I put on Arnaud’s Desplechin’s nearly 3 hour A Christmas Tale — it’s a wonderful ever so complicated movie of a large in name and reality of culture contemporary Catholic family. Autobiographical. I still haven’t gotten all that happened — my third time through at least. Cats settle down too. I enjoyed it very much — you are intended to enter into it fully — four or five phases of ritual activity held together by family traumas acted out, get togethers. Several moving and believable stories, including hard estrangement in which you see both siblings are to blame. I was utterly immersed, involved. Characters take time out to go walking in snow, and there are flashbacks. Camera takes us to all sorts of places in the real Roubaix — beautiful photographs of center of Northern French once industrial town with decorated lit tree.

Chief story the mother (Catherine de Neuve) has terrible leukemia, fatal, and needs bone marrow transplants, a grandson (had been put in a child’s special school but will not go back by the end — breakdown) and the wayward son are compatible (the one rejected from the family for 6 years because of the older sister’s dislike of him); and he takes on the dangerous painful position.

End of movie, operation is as far as can be told success. In some form or other all are united variously and separately and all together too. Each person has behaved naturally in and enjoyed what he or she could. (See my blog and wikipedia linked into comments.)


Abel (benign and intellectual paternal presence) and Junon (Mother of all)

Then I watched PBS’s Dec 24th half show, back to bed and books, fell asleep. By that time Izzy up for a number of hours and watching her favorites.

Today Laura comes at 11:30 and we do this again with her. She does have tickets in hand for the Macbeth — Rob will drive us to DC and pick us, we eat chicken at their house and they don’t want to risk inside a restaurant. They are back to being careful; she tells me she now has a stash of tests in her house. Big pile.

12/26, around 9 pm I also watched “In the Bleak Mid-Winter, a Foyle’s War episode taking place over Christmas 1943 — for another blog.  I’m noticing how the sets are marking time and this one is 1943: the kinds of murders that take place are involved in what were the criminal and anguished activities emerging from the phases of the war.

As you can see, gentle reader, this year I have let go and simply done what is available to me to immerse myself.

Ellen

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From the mantelpiece in our front room

While writing what I did below, I did not forget what is happening to the Palestinians: Dahlia Ravikovitch

A Baby Can’t Be Killed Twice

On the sewage puddles of Sabra and Shatila
there you transferred masses of human beings
worthy of respect
from the world of the living to the world of the dead.
Night after night …

Dear friends and readers,

How can you tell when the pandemic is coming to an end? For us it has not been Biden and his CDC’s sudden switch in attitude: all the Fully Vaccinated can go without masks when they are outside, inside most places when not too crowded. To mask or not to mask? The point seems to be to make it clear that the vaccines work, and those who are not vaccinated are depriving themselves … keeping themselves at risk!  It’s for free, people, and available everywhere. Don’t you want to unmask thyself with a certainty you are safe from hard illness and/or death or maiming in some way?

So, no, the sense of release, of relief, has come from the stepping out. The last week or so we have gone out almost everyday and a couple of times out for a couple of hours! This past Friday evening we celebrated Izzy’s birthday (and mother’s day too) with Laura and Rob by going out together and eating a scrumptious meal in a nearby fine Italian restaurant (not that expensive but good food) where we ate outside. Happy talk and Saturday Laura returned to give Izzy her present, which is also for me: a funko pop Jane Austen doll. Izzy and I put it on our mantelpiece where we have other meaningful objects (some treasured). The Jane Austen doll does not wiggle and she is reading a tiny copy of Pride and Prejudice, wearing a long blue dress. Across the way (inbetween a Native American doll I bought in the American Indian museum 2 summers ago, Jim’s reading glasses, and a DVD picturing his life, and an issue of an 18th century newsletter, the Intelligencer where there appeared a lovely obituary for Jim; and a seashell Izzy picked up on some family vacation we had at a beach) an action figure I was given by a class of people at OLLI at AU: the notorious RBG, alas without her tiny gavel (which fell out of her hand).

Saturday all day the two girls went together to a mall (sans masks), buying sandal shoes for summer and had a lunch in cosy place. Mother sat home reading Howards End once again (how can one tire of such a book) so as not to intrude on sister time togetherness. It is spring and on the awning over my study room window, two sparrows, grey breasted (mother) and red (father) have built a nest and the mother bird now sits patiently for the eggs to hatch. We (the cats are part of this) hear them twittering (w/o being on twitter) and chirping. I wish I could take a photo of the two birds moving about, flying in and out, the cats trying to get at them but the screen in the way so settling down in the cat-bed to watch. At the moment I come to the awning, both birds fly away.


Laura and Izzy two years ago and many years ago

Win some, lose some though. I had one of my nervous failures yesterday. It was probably that I was ambiguous about going to the memorial service as after all Phyllis Furdell (a once friend from OLLI at Mason after Jim died) had dropped me, and when a couple of times I tried to make contact again she had spoken to me in ways that were mildly contemptuous. It was her ex-husband who found my name and called and asked me to come, so I felt I was letting him down — but I have never met him nor spoken to him before. Still it was the right thing to do even if I had been treated unkindly.

I realized as I got into my car it was the first time in a long time I was trying to find a new place. Mapquest said it was 15-20 minutes away and I left 40 minutes but the whole incident ended up that it was 10 to 2 and I was at least still 12 minutes away when I turned to go back home and the thing was to start at 2.

I had printed out street directions (Mapquest), determined to take the streets but then I put on the Waze too as back-up (but had had trouble doing that, I was sticking it the cord from the cellphone into the wrong place and Izzy had to come out to show me where was the right slot). Then I discovered I made a wrong turn (I don’t know my left from my right) by both the Waze and the paper so had to go all the way home again (lost well over 10 minutes) and tried again.

Now I encountered in the streets a horrendous accident — no one can get through. A mad house with trucks everywhere — crazy lights. Traffic piling up. The Waze is repeating I should get on the highway — I make a difficult UTurn to get to the other side of the street. I know if I follow the Waze directions, I’ll be going in the wrong direction on the nearby highway because I can’t get to the right direction but I don’t have a back up paper for the highway (remember what happened to me trying to get to Politics and Prose from OLLI at AU without the backup print-out). What if I do something wrong again?

I am so nervous by this time and I’ve now only 10 minutes to get there. I felt bad because I promised the ex-husband and also I know a couple of people from OllI at Mason might be there but I remember her sour sharp tongue to make me feel bad. I was going also to prove to myself I could do this — this has often been a motive in the last 8 years for going places — to prove to myself I can as much as anything. But as I drove towards the highway my nervousness increased — there was not enough time to return and get a Mapquest print-out for the highway. So I returned and now am home and went back to my usual quiet literary work — this time my last set of lecture notes for this spring.

This is me — why travel is an ordeal so I can’t do research in libraries around the world literally except someone comes with me — and Jim never really did. It’s a lot to ask and it costs money to do these things.

I did have to get one place by myself I didn’t know how to and had to use the Waze w/o a paper Mapquest and made a wrong turn at least twice but I truly needed to get there: Izzy was there waiting and it was to do our taxes with AARP. I did manage that though came later for the appt.

An image of the cover of the book I ended up reading after I finished my lecture notes and became calm. I do like Hattie MacDonald and Kenneth Lonergan’s film adaptation and am re-watching it too. Roslyn Sulcas’s take on book and film seems to me to be spot on insofar as it’s social POV about capitalism and hard-nosed realities — there are other emphases one could take (like on a home to live in).

Today though success. Izzy and I went to Sheila, my hairdresser who works in a salon about 7 minutes away by car. I’ve been there so many times before; even so, for a minute now and again I felt I could not imagine the next street. You see I know the way supposedly by heart, hardly know the names of the streets. Again I wish I could take photos, for Sheila has made my hair pretty again. After a several months the color of the Overtone on my hair had turned sour (orangey, brass). Sheila preferred not to peroxide (strip or bleach it) and instead cut it a bit shorter with her dye making the grey parts the lovely silver blonde again, and those parts with the dye still there are now a silver mahogany. I shall go back in 6 weeks (rather than nearly 3 months) to have it dyed and cut again. Izzy’s is lovely bowl of hair around her shoulders.

Then later in the afternoon I took myself to Dr Wiltz at Falls Church. I’ve had more deterioration. My arches have fallen (flat feet) and I am wearing bands around my feet with a flat cushion underneath, my legs are weaker I find, and the chest pains sometimes very strong. So I returned to Wiltz and he tested and found nothing awry — just being 74. That’s good news. I went home with a muscle relaxant pill. On the way back many more cars than I’ve seen in a long time, more people out and about, many without masks … all signs we are getting past this pandemic.

And late in the afternoon I was re-reading The Remains of the Day again. I seem to be getting so much more out of both books since I taught it so hard last winter; I sure hope this will shine out in close reading with the class at OLLI at AU I mean to do both with next month. How I love it, & Ishiguro’s early novels (including now the terrifying Never Let Me Go)

But it is not easy to step out again, out to work (Izzy loves going in once a week now), and many hesitate, not only worried at lingering mutant viruses, but that they’ve gotten used to being home, and are re-thinking how they’d like to spend their working lives.

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Still some more staying in pandemic experiences — the silver lining of watching productions from home, joining in on virtual lectures, book groups, theater. Two Friday nights ago, a magnificent Uncle Vanya on PBS “great performances” — they have too few of these. Don’t miss it. I was reminded of how I love theater and wish I could go to live performances regularly once again. (I cannot as I can no longer drive at night.) Cast outstanding: I re-watched the next night when I realized my friend, Rory, had sent it as a DVD. I’m beginning to have a better understanding of it than ever before: I have always bonded with Vanya: he is the man who cannot negotiate from the world what his talents and deep sense of responsibility procure and create; he asks only to be appreciated — and finds that’s too much. But some of his close associates love him.

This time I found myself also loving Sonya’s last words: they help me find the strength to get through life calmly: to bear it all patiently and while patient and thoughtful you find your peace. Two more reviews: Arifa Akbar from The Guardian; Demetrios Matheou in The Hollywood Reporter. If there had been no pandemic, it’s possible this production would not have been videoed, or the video would not have been made so generally available (in order to pressure people to come to the theaters).


Toby Jones as Uncle Vanya, and Richard Armitage as Dr Astrov


Again Armitage and as Yelena Rosalind Eleazar

The way we have been going to the theater just now (soon ending). Jonson’s Sejanus at the Red Bull (NYC, perhaps on 10th Avenue). I thought it was not as effective as Hannah Cowley’s Belle’s Strategem (sometime in February, this later 18th century play turned out to be picturesque and intensely passionate underneath the seemingly conventional wit) because Cowley’s play demanded so much stage business, the company had to come up with equivalents: they somehow manage to suggest dancing through the manipulation of the zoom images; they used heightened gestures, flamboyant costumes. That made the production livelier than this Sejanus — it must be admitted I once saw it as a Play of the Week on Channel 13 (pre-PBS, a year of magnificent plays on Friday evenings), with a young Patrick Stewart as Sejanus. I did find the use of imaged different and famous ancient backgrounds still extant around Rome and elsewhere (Mary Beard stuff) changing from time to time alluring and since the play is about something that occurred in the 1st century, written in the first year of the 17th and now played 2021, it added significance. And the second half held my attention more forcefully because of what had been built up and what was happening.

Yes to their assertion that it’s relevant. I found myself wondering what happens in the GOP as everyone stands around fawning over Trump. What are the secret cabals and thoughts people might have. They can’t go so far as to murder one another the way Tiberius can exile and/or murder his family members, and then Sejanus and his — but they can destroy one another’s careers or do some equivalent. Also how and why the individuals form groups or are seen to adhere to someone. The acting was good and the language strong and interesting — superb Renaissance verse. It’s been there for 4 days and still one to go, and you can watch for free — though I did pay the suggested amount ($44). The actors and company need the money. Next month: Jonson’s Volpone. Now how would I see this otherwise?


The use of just a mask sometimes for one of the heroines in Belle’s Strategem was effective


The Sejanus cast

And I must not forget the delightful every-other-week zoom meeting of the London Trollope Society. Right now we are reading The Way We Live Now — a truly powerful and great book. Dominic Edwards has asked me to do a talk on Trollope’s gem, the story Malachi’s Cove, whose film adaptation is suddenly once again (with the pandemic channels are seeking previous films) online. I’m to take it from my blog.


Mally and Barty gathering seaweed in competition

Late addition: the Great Performance Romeo and Juliet from the London National Theater via WETA Great Performances


Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor as our thwarted and destroyed lovers

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Sheila did tell me a couple of scarifying stories of people getting sick from Covid and almost dying. It last February seems her niece worked in an office where the boss was saying all had to come in — this was when Trump was still claiming the pandemic was a “Democrat hoax,” “just” a flu. Well, “everyone in the office caught it,” says Sheila, and her niece became very ill, began to have blood clots one day and phoned Sheila’s sister, who rushed over, and taking a look at her daughter, rushed her to the hospital. Saved her daughter’s life. This does give insight into what lies behind the statistic of over 550,000 dead. I don’t know enough people who had to go to work daily. Have I told you that I have been going to Sheila for my hairdos for 20 years, and that she and I first met when she was 53 and I 54? I came to her for Laura’s wedding. This year and one half is the longest I’ve never seen her. I know a lot about her life and she knows something about mine.


Laura’s Charlotte now near one year old — I have never seen them physically and they are (Laura says) singularly unused to being alone, and show it

So we slowly come back out, step out and begin life as traveling about to get together physically once again. I do hope that many of these zooms will stay. A zoom from OLLI at AU of the owners of Politics and Prose telling the history of their buying the store, what such a business is like, how they survived during this quarantine, and how successful the classes were even in a classroom that was small and how much more successful now spread beyond space and time. I just finished a satisfying course reading and discussing three novels by Edith Wharton and for the summer I’ve signed up for 7 or 8 weeks of Middlemarch and for two weeks of Jhumpa Lahiri. They will be given at night so there is no way I could take them unless they come via zoom on the computer.

From thinking about and rereading Lahiri, I have added to my summer course at OLLI at Mason on “Post-Colonialism and the Novel,” Mira Nair’s Namesake, a movie I love still (nowadays especially for Irffan Khan, who died so young, only 53 this year): Nair says in its feature she was actuated to adapt the book in order to realize a story of people living in two different worlds, two different cultures at once, and the difficult of this blending/coping. As her hero, Gogol wants to escape the identities imposed on him (American or Indian) and her heroine does through becoming French out of her studies, so Lahiri is trying to make herself into an Italian – she speaks of it as if her parents imposed on her the culture they were when she was born. How to hold onto an identity, how to make a new one for yourself the way I have tried to do also — I believe I have partly succeeded in escaping my white working class US identity — and that I could only do not only by stepping out of my house but going to live in another country, England and marrying a person of another culture I so longed to be part of — out of or as I understood it from my books of course but then living there too.

My life is a now slow journey, inward with and by books (and good movies), for me to find my paths (several at a time), coping with, enduring, enjoying life. But it has been such a help to have supportive friends and most of them who have meant most (after Jim) have been made on the Internet. I teach so frequently at the two OLLIs because they give me a place to belong in the world and (I hope) a function useful to others as well as myself.

Ellen

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Monet’s Path Through Forest, Snow Effect (1870) — what lovely shades of red against whites, greys, blues, black lines can do …


Paul Gauguin, Mimi and her Cat (1890)

Gentle reader,

Monet’s winter scene, is very pretty, no? A friend on face-book said to see it lightened his morning, another described it with delight in her tone: “And it looks just like someone would today, with a backpack & bag & maybe carrying a chainsaw to cut wood.” I have made it my header picture for my face-book time-line for winter. The second, Gauguin’s, I put on face-book the day after I was 73 (Nov 30th) to thank the whopping 40 Internet, FB and other friends (people I have met in the flesh too, and also on listservs) who wished me a good day. I’m not above feeling better for such support. I was alone most of the day — as I am them majority of most days since Jim died — and I believe that some of the people (however prompted by automatic software from FB) meant well: several added a thoughtful line to me. I wrote:

I want to thank everyone who yesterday made my day easier to get through. It was a peaceful, more or less a repeat of Thursday, which was more or less a repeat of Wednesday … once term is over (and they are shorter at these Oscher Institutes) I become a homebody again. You all really helped me stay cheerful. I felt surrounded by friends.

I will say this, despite the merits of good (recognizable) food, I have found that rest (sleeping the night for a minimum of 5-6 hours in a row) is more important in maintaining sane life — I should have said staying alive, having the will and strength to carry on, than food.

I got perceptive comments from others on Mimi and Her Cat:

I love the way he shows how a cat may lift as it is petted … Thanks, a new one for me. Lovely painting which was new to me as well … An unusual posture between child and cat. The animal seems so content. I could not imagine life without our cats.

I replied: I usually dislike Gauguin’s paintings: “native” women naked to their waists, with dull looks in their eyes. This is a rare one that for me shows he had genius: it’s reproduced in Desmond Morris’s Cats in Art, a book which combines a history of human attitudes towards cats with what we find in pictures of them.

Then another friend (also from a time long ago when I was on Arthurnet) said: “It reminds me of Vuillard in spirit.” and my liking of this image (I haven’t forgotten it since I saw it in Desmond Morris’s Cats in Art, and wrote: “Yes — I agree. Very good. Look at the arched feet. You’ve helped me understand why I liked this picture. I like Vuillard – I have a book filled with images of his pictures — from an exhibit I went to at the National Gallery, here in DC. I used to have one of Vuillard’s murals for one of my blogs — suitably cropped and lengthened out. Here that is before re-fitted:


Place Vintimille

People have asked me why I sometimes reprint utterances people write to me on these blogs: because I value them, think them worth saving, am grateful to people who speak to me as friends and want to remember what they said so I can re-find and re-live them. One of the purposes of a diary, is to live more intensely, with more awareness, adequately through writing, not to forget what has been.

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This is another of those hard times for me as a widow. The first week of October each year (which contain the day Jim and I met, the days and nights we first made love (no we did not buy it ready made), the day we married, the day he lost consciousness forever and the day he died). Christmas day a third — I have never been able to rid myself, expunge, gauge out this yearning for happiness and belief in it as occurring on Christmas day I was somehow inspired to feel as a child, despite some 65 years of disillusion and even wretched bitterness. New Year’s, the fourth. All in later autumn, early winter.

All these promote retrospective, memories, some good, happy now and again, most mixed with and a few almost all pain. I remember the year 2000 when Jim took Izzy and I to Paris during Christmas week and New Year’s. What a relief, to escape what I used to feel than as this imposition on us, an implicit demand we do likewise. On Christmas day many stores, restaurants, theaters are opened in Paris, the general atmosphere lively, gay, usual, light, none of this intensity the American holidays conjure up. Recently I quoted to someone, Johnson’s saying of “Nothing so hopeless as a scheme of merriment,” and to my astonishment, the person looked puzzled. “What could that mean? why?” she asked. Could she be that naive? That inattentive to all that is going round her on occasions made fraught by such expectations that cannot be met because of the baggage, history or past, and connections we all carry round with those we have known long and been involved with.

From this Thanksgiving morning:

I am driven from my study today. Izzy listening to the commercial-laden (imbricated?) Thanksgiving Day parade on TV (it started at 9 am!) in the next room: it is so noisy, made so deliberately continually loud, with continual accompanying high and low grade noise, shouting presented as singing (can you imagine “Jingle Bells” made rapid fire, speeded up?), with rhythmic accompaniments, I cannot shut it out. So must read in sun-room this morning — all the way in the front of the house. Nothing can be heard but a cat’s yowl from the back. The room faces east so what there is of sun streams in. One of my companions (advised by a friend) is John Mullan’s What matters in Jane Austen? and it’s not bad. An essay, “Why is it Risky to go to the Seaside” relevant to her and Andrew Davies’s Sanditon. Turns out it is risky in Austen, but also exhilarating. Mullan has the trick of continually interweaving, quoting Austen … (Later in the day)

I am finding myself not sadder than I was, but more aware of how nothing can replace Jim. Yes the grief of loss fades, we (or I) see we can survive without our best friend, life companion; we grow calm, and gradually get used to absence, to (in my case) being alone most of the time. This week two fine spirits died, both of whom Jim respected, enjoyed their work: Clive James and Jonathan Miller: I commemorated them, their lives, their work on my Sylvia I blog, to which I add James’s Poetry Notebook: Reflections on the Intensity of Language.

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So what can I record happened over the last two weeks or that I am looking forward to or doing differently.

The look of my face has changed. My new denture fits me (as my previous one did not) and narrowly holds tight (with the help of a little denture glue) on what’s left of my narrow upper gum. I can eat more things now as the upper denture slams down on the lower (teeth!). But what has also happened (and has been mentioned by others to me who get up close) is “You [I] look different.” They decline to say if I look better. Probably I look worse by conventional standards. My face falls in more, my once high cheekbones now utterly vanished, my face just narrower from where cheekbones once were downward. But I notice too that I no longer look like my mother. Since I rather disliked her (to put this mildly) and when I had to look at her face in mine it could be demoralizing, not to say corrosively ironic (to me). It’s not too much to say I’d be filled with helpless anger, frustration. I was stamped with what I wanted to forget. My mother was responsible for my first marriage. I’ve not told you that as yet. Yes, she engineered it and then hid what happened from my father who went mad with fear, anguish, grief for that week. She meant to estrange us permanently; she didn’t succeed in that but she did part us as I never returned to live with them again.

Well now for the first time ever I see I do like like my father too — or did. People used to say when I would say I look like my mother, there is your father too, your eyes are his, and especially the expression. Well now that my forehead comes out and the upper face, yes, I see him there. I see a family resemblance with one of my male cousins (whom Jim used to say from a photo Jim saw of this cousin looked like my father). What a relief …

So there is a qualification to be made to Johnson’s:

Year chases Year, Decay pursues Decay,
Still drops some Joy from with’ring Life away…

For one of the Caturdays that passed:

This week I’ve been reading 18th century plays, about the astonishing but unenviable lives of Catherine Clive and Susannah Arne Cibber, and came upon Fielding’s Author’s Farce (mocking other productions, genres, authors &c) which concludes with an epilogue spoken by the actress as a cat. Luckless, our author in the farce, to show he does not value aid offered him by 4 different volunteering poets says “I’ll have the epilogue spoken by a cat.” The text suggests there was a real cat on stage. She or he came on and said “mew, mew.” Luckless is all encouragement but then a female player comes on and chases poor puss off: “Fie, Mr Luckless, what/Can you be doing with that filthy cat?” Upon which the cat exits. The actress (addressed as madam) and Luckless proceed to argue over whether a cat can “Speak an epilogue!” It can be only a “dumb show.” In the midst of this onto the stage “Enter Cat as a woman.” I have now been told in the revision of 1734 the epilogue by a cat was removed. So it’s the first one by an actress other than Clive who turns to the audience more or less in defense of cats, with some demurs, comparisons of wives with cats, and funny rhymes:

Puss would be seen where madam lately sat
And every Lady Townley be a cat.

She ends by suggesting many a husband would prefer to find a cat “purring by your side” in bed than a wife.


Clarycat watching me make our bed


Ian keeping warm on the DVD multi-region player where he can look out the window too

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I’m looking forward to the winter term at OLLI at Mason: I signed up for a movie course – this one will include going to art movies in this area, and meeting four times to discuss the movie together. Rather like the Cinemart summer film club — no surprise as this theater is going to cooperate for the month and try for better movies. At Politics & Prose I did sign up for a course meeting over 5 months, once a month, with two good teachers, where we’ll read and discuss the first two volumes of Olivia Manning‘s Balkan Trilogy (WW2 English people in Greece, adapted into a fine series, Fortunes of War with a young Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson), Sarah Waters’s Night Watch (profound gothic), and Ian McEwan’s Atonement. I’ve read them all but a long while ago. One I’m not sure of, Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life (a character is ceaselessly reincarnated — the writer is fashionable among P&P people, and she is Scottish), and then the cringeworthy All the Light You Cannot See.

I dreamed up two courses for P&P I’ll never teach: First three weeks on Germaine de Stael’s Corinne, ou L’Italie (in Sylvia Raphael’s wonderful translation), two week break, then a week each George Sand’s idyllic anguish of an Indiana (Raphael’s translation, an updating of Paul et Virginie), Marguerite Duras’s La Guerre (her diary-journal of the occupation in France), ending on the magical prose of Chantal Thomas in her lesbian inflected Farewell, My Queen. Or WII through Italian texts: Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli (unforgettable bleak sojourn), Iris Origo’s War in Val D’Orcia and A Chill in the Air (marvelous review in NY Review of books by Adrian Lyttelton this week), ending on one of the best books in Italian of the 20th century, Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo (The Leopard). All literary masterpieces.  But I have no idea how to sell anything to anyone.

Izzy and I will see Amadeus at the Folger this Saturday (rave reviews), the Christmas Italianate concert at the nearby church, with Laura and Izzy, Come from There (a remarkable musical play about all the people landing in northern Canada where their planes were diverted on 9/11 and how the Canadians welcomed them …. January a HD screening at the Folger of Winter’s Tale with Branagh (now old) and Judi Dench as Paulina.

List life: I’ve started Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (I find I can read the French alongside the English translaton), and it’s just so compelling, I love her deep earnest tone, serious grave, intense — and read into one-third of a fine literary biography of Beauvoir by Carol Ascher. And am reveling in E.M. Forster’s Maurice, Aspects of the Novel and Abinger Harvest.

For my projects I will soon be writing an omnibus blog on my reading of Winston Graham’s mid-career suspense books, and have found the Durrells: Larry’s island books, Gerald’s memoir, and Michael Haag’s Alexandria: City of Memory (my latest mid-night reading), which brings together Larry Durrell, Constantine Cavafy and Forster in non-genteel roles, working during the war to help others. i wrote up Oliphant’s Agnes.

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These costume drama people sink into my consciousness, I dream of them, am attached to many. I mean to watch movies differently — more candidly before myself. Or just am. Last week one night after weeping (yes I cried, and by the way so did Elizabeth [referring to this third season of The Crown] at Aberfan — that she couldn’t and didn’t cry is completely false) over the moving death of John Hollingworth as Henshawe in the fifth episode of the third season of Poldark, I was rejuvenated to see him brought back in the fifth episode of the third season of said Crown as Porchey (Lord Porchester) next to the queen, both of them so enjoying one another’s company and a life at the races, at stables, at dinners, that she (Olivia Coleman) is led to lament her unlived life (with him, horses and dogs, in her headscarf) … Such such are the pleasures of costume drama watching …

On just one, but best of the episodes from the third season of The Crown, “Moonstruck,” featuring the astonishingly powerful actor, Tobias Menzies, now Philip, Duke of Edinburgh:

The Crown

I use the term “moving” too lightly sometimes, so when I want the word to be taken more seriously, I am without a fresh adjective except if I add very or a string of verys. So imagine a string of verys and the word moving on this seventh episode. At last they gave Tobias Menzies something adequate to his talents: this is another learning a lesson story. To say it’s about Philip’s mid-life crisis where he is feeling the frustrations of existing in a fish bowl and spending his “job” time as a symbol at occasions, giving speeches for worth causes, is inadequate.

The hour opens with his irritation at having to go to church by 9 am and listen to a doddering old fool because Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) expects this. It is the time of the moon landing and Philip then gets so caught up with watching intensely; the whole family gathers around the TV for hours, but they leave after a while and Philip is there for days. He is identifying, bonding and thinking a an “airman” himself is their equivalent and to prove it endangers himself and a courtier with him flying the machine way too high.

The queen (and she is again the quiet improver) then hired a new man she thinks Philip might like: Robin Woods (Tim McMullan), but Philip is not going to church any more. This new man asks if he can have the use of one of the unused buildings on the property as a center for spiritual renewing; Philip finds himself asked to go and when he has to sit there listening to these depressed men, he bursts out in cruel excoriation of them, ridiculing them. Telling them they will feel valued and part of the world if they were active. How about cleaning up this floor and out he rushes. The camera on the face of the actor enacting Wood, pained blankness, patience. When the astronauts come for a visit, Philip insists on 15 minutes alone with them, we see him writing questions, and when finally most reluctant they come in, he finds hi questions cannot be asked — they are young, inarticulate, hardly gave deep thought to what they were doing –too busy. They have silly questions about life in the palace for him.

Then cut to Philip walking away from them through Buckingham Palace, and then unexplained there he is close up he sitting and talking very gravely, and we realize at he is back to Wood and his clergymen needing spiritual renewal — Menzies delivers an extraordinary speech baring his soul insofar as such a man could, apologizes to them, asks them for help.

There wasn’t a specific moment, uh, when it started.
It’s been more of a gradual thing.
A drip, drip, drip of of doubt disaffection, disease, dis discomfort.
People around me have noticed my general uh, irritability.
Um Now, of course, that’s that’s nothing new.
I’m generally a cantankerous sort, but even I would have to admit that there has been more of it lately.
Not to mention, uh, an almost jealous fascination with the achievements of these young astronauts.
Compulsive overexercising.
An inability to find calm or satisfaction or fulfillment.
And when you look at all these symptoms, of course it doesn’t take a genius to tell you that they all suggest I’m slap bang in the middle of a [CHUCKLES.]
I can’t even say what kind of crisis.
[CHUCKLING.]
That that crisis.
And Of course one’s read or heard about other people hitting that crisis, and, you know, just like them, you look in all the usual places, resort to all the usual things to try and make yourself feel better.
Uh Some of which I can admit to in this room, and some of which I probably shouldn’t.
My mother died recently.
[CLEARS THROAT.]
She she saw that something was amiss.
It’s a good word, that.
A-Amiss.
She saw that something was missing in her youngest child.
Her only son.
Faith.
“How’s your faith?” she asked me.
I’m here to admit to you that I’ve lost it.
And without it, what is there? The The loneliness and emptiness and anticlimax of going all that way to the moon to find nothing, but haunting desolation ghostly silence gloom.
That is what faithlessness is.
As opposed to finding wonder, ecstasy, the miracle of divine creation, God’s design and purpose.
What am I trying to say? I’m trying to say that the solution to our problems, I think, is not in the in the ingenuity of the rocket, or the science or the technology or even the bravery.
No, the answer is in here.
Or here, or wherever it is that that faith resides.
And so Dean Woods having ridiculed you for what you and these poor, blocked, lost souls [CHUCKLING.]
were were trying to achieve here in St.
George’s House I now find myself full of respect and admiration and not a small part of desperation as I come to say help.
Help me.
And to admit [CHUCKLES.]
that while those three astronauts deserve all our praise and respect for their undoubted heroism, I was more scared coming here to see you today than I would have been going up in any bloody rocket! [CHUCKLING

Then we see them walking out and Philip looking more cheerful and an inter-title tells us the real Duke formed a close friendship with Wood and in later years this organization became one Philip was very proud of. Then the queen is seen in the distance walking her dogs, looking on. Her face lightens with relief and cheer. Doesn’t sound like much? Watch and listen to Menzies.

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Oh my friends, what else is there to say. I spoke once again to my 83 year old aunt Barbara who sent me the only birthday card I got – she said as she heard my voice, she sends the card so that I should call her once a year. We caught up: I told her about my, Izzy and Laura’s Calais trip: on Thanksgiving day over our roast chicken, Izzy and I toasted the 12 days as the best moments, of our year, the one we wanted most to cherish.

Surely with all the deep poetical spirits I commune with in books and through movies, surely surely there is a poem for me to end my recording of this interval on. Well Clive James’s essay on an Australian poet I’d never heard of before, Stephen Edgar’s two stanzas:

How pitiful and inveterate the way
We view the paths by which our lives descended
From the far past down to the present day
And fancy those contingencies intended,

A secret destiny planned in advance
Where what is done is as it must be done
For us alone. When really it’s all chance
And the special one might have been anyone.

But you see he wasn’t just anyone. My Jim was a prince. And I am 73 and without him. I thought of titling this blog the 74th year except that’s not what matters. I have not been alone for 74 years. For 45 I had a friend. The 8th year of remembering begins. The play has ended, one of the two principle characters left the stage, and I am left to create an after-piece.


Gorey’s haunted Wintertime Dancing Cat ….

Ellen

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Not many days now ….

This past spring a particularly obtuse woman asked me “how long ago [I should have guessed what was coming from that phrase] had Jim died.” I said “five years.” She: “A long time.” I wish I had had the courage to say to her (another person was listening), “it’s not even yesterday.”

In 14 days Jim will have died 5 years ago:

Not a day goes by.

He loved Sondheim and said this was his favorite tune and song:

Both singers are somewhat overdoing the performance but that is to be expected when a general audience must be entertained.

ClaryCat taken two mornings ago — she was very attached to him, grieved for a couple of days trotting up and down the halls, with a sort of wail, and then silent for quite a time sitting daily in his chair:


I had my arms around him as he died, I felt his heart stop, and the searing worst was I was glad for him he had no longer do endure what he had so (most of the time) unflinchingly. October 9, 2013, 9:05 pm.

Ellen

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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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Remembering New Year’s Eve, 2013, our last:

Snow day by Chaise Lounge

Sylvia

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On this snowed-, and iced-in morning Yvette (Izzy) singing and playing on the piano.

We Need More Fruit

I look kind of silly, I suppose, but I still like how the song came out.

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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.

http://www.everlywheatley.com/obituaries/James-Moody-40882/#!/PhotosVideos/36a2aced-7ff7-4cab-a8d7-126ecb21405e/986da3c2-462e-4514-8f97-894a42c93c65

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
Marge Piercy

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.

Another friend whose blog I read regularly recently lost her cat to death and has been writing about her grief (the story begins here) and a new kitten she bought

 

VanGoghFieldwithPoppies

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.

Miss Drake

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