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Archive for the ‘US medicine’ Category


Helena Bonham Carter as Eleanor (55 Steps, 2017)

Friends,

Tonight I’ll concentrate on one kind of experience I’ve been having a lot of these last few weeks. I’ve been watching movies screened for me, and screening movies for others in my classes. I’ll save the Tudor Matter movies for Austen reveries (especially a great one I’d never seen before, Henry VIII, scripted Peter Martin, featuring Ray Winstone), and the film adaptations of Howards End (1992 Merchant-Ivory, 2018 Lonergan for HBo) and now Room with a View (1985 Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala, 2007 ITV Andrew Davies) for a blog on E.M. Forster, of The Nun  (1966 Jacques Rivette, 2013 Guillaume Nichols) for a blog on Diderot. What unites the rest of them?

That film has become the central medium of our time? Izzy and I also saw this past weekend a moving and creditable performance and film of Sanson et Dalila (music Camille Saint-Saens, with one exquistely beautiful song, “Responding to your tenderness” the refrain) at an HD Screening (Robert Alagna especially effective up close). Yes it has, but something else, which may be seen as a push-back against what is happening in the powerful US gov’t.

Daily the behavior of a large but countable number of groups of people who have power over the well-being, prosperity, liberty of millions of people literally around the globe grow more heinous, and what do I discover myself effortlessly watching: a series of movies exposing similar behavior of earlier groups of people. Just in the last three or four weeks or so: Battleship Potemkin, Journey’s End, Judgment at Nuremberg, A Dry White Season. As with the harassment, rape and humiliation of Christine Ford, film-makers can make these with impunity as it might seem to those countable groups of people. The Nazis at the of the Nuremberg trials were most of them set free within a short time; the situation in South Africa in 1989 was desperately grave as the South African courts would do nothing to stop mass murders and torturing of black people. One black man manages to take revenge on one chief torturer. All the men is the Journey’s End, and which generals were ever called to account for this mad slaughter. Potemkin escaped the ferocious wrath of the Czar because the Russian armed forces would not fire on them, but then no one would take these men in at any port. Story after story ends this truthful way. Last year I was stunned by Paths of Glory. Everyone in an army unit stood by while a single innocent low rank soldier was scapegoated in lieu of the general who knowingly through hundreds of lives away. Probably none of these could be made in most of the states controlled by the people I began with.

What I wonder is if telling a particular local story has more resonance. Half the population of Yemen is starving to death, and it’s hardly mentioned in mainstream or most media, but the murder by torture and dismemberment of Jamal Kashoggi is this week being heard all over public media as detail by detail is let out into the public. It is true that in the movies I’ve named our attention is called to particular protagonists, complicated victims and heroes and heroines alike. How do you sear the consciousness of someone? Diderot in his essay on slavery said it was so hard to eliminate as the world is filled with people who feel no guilt over using people as abject slaves. This to introduce yet another movie that will hit you hard based on a personal story and single performance. As 55 Steps (alternative title: Eleanor and Colette) begins we see Helena Bonham Carter being shoved, into a room where there is only one blanket; she is wearing white gown used as a strait jacket; she is shouting and protesting and begging the crowd of people not to imprison her in that room, not to inject her with the drugs and they throw her on the ground, hold her down and inject her. She goes silent and still and then begins to twitch. They walk out, shutting the door behind them. Only one high window. She soon has to go to the bathroom and no one will answer her calls for help, so she urinates and defecates in her gown and all over the floor.

It’s unforgettable. How it happens that when she is let out, cleaned, and put into a room with a bed, and given food, she has the ability to phone for a lawyer we are not told. But she does. Slowly the story emerges or evolves. she is told by Colette Hughes (Hilary Swank) that the lawyer can work to release her pretty quickly, but she can also agree to stay in the asylum longer in order to argue as representative of a class action suit. (By the way the present supreme court has done all it can to stop class action suits). Almost unbelievably Eleanor opts for the second choice. Had this not been based on a real story, I would have said here is where it is not believable.


In court with Jeffrey Tambour as Mort Cohen and Hilary Swank as Colette Hughes

This is another protest film, this time on behalf of mentally disabled or troubled patients. She seems originally to have been epileptic and still can have minor seizures. Mark Bruce Rosen Bille August, and Sarah Riser dramatize how the attorney, Colette Hughs (Hilary Swank), with the help of a professor of philosophy, Mort Cohen (Jeffry Tambor) over the course of many hearings and trials managed to persuade a judge and then a review board that patients have the right to refuse medication even when they are mentally disabled. Despite several other scenes that were for me deeply distressing to watch, and although this woman died fairly young because these drugs had so weakened her immune system, she succumbed to a kidney infection (age 47), this is an upbeat story. It’s not just that Eleanor’s case was won, but that we were shown her through a camera and script that respected her as a full human being. She was not made into a plaster saint. Her very experiences taught her to survive by being obnoxious, being difficult, telling uncomfortable truths to those trying to help her (like I embarrass you, don’t I?) or demanding they accede to her needs however inconvenient at a given moment. She needs time to find a dress or suit that looks decent on her awkward body. She needs time to be listened to. She intrudes herself, is a busy-body, she likes crass music. She is unembarrassed to ask about someone else’s religion or to impose hers on the shared space equally as more discreet ways of coping. In the story she is Catholic. She is determined to be who she is. One has to live with her not understanding everything and being loud.

Carter’s performance is the film. She makes her character so touching, brings out her tender heart — for she cares for the other mentally disabled people around her. She is not shy and gives a Christmas party for these people to which her lawyer, now become a friend too, comes. She gives advice to the lawyer about how to handle her boyfriend. We do like how the professor is won over to fight for a first amendment right to speech as part of an argument — he fears to bring this up will make the case harder to win. I have seen Carter get so many good roles and have wondered why she did, as I never was that impressed with her performance. I admit I thought she was given characters not that hard to portray. Well here she is given something precious to do, make us feel her character is precious and like any living creature as worthy of the life she can achieve as anyone else. The film makes the point because you are disabled one or more ways, that does not incapacitate you from other achievements or other talents. She can get home by herself on a bus with difficult suitcases. She can live alone, pay her bills, take complicated medicines, find places.


In some shots, Carter is meant to evoke the Bride of Frankenstein: Frankenstein we recall is a protest figure

As I was watching, I found myself very distressed; I could hardly keep my eyes on the screen, and it was only that this kind of cruelty was forced on Eleanor fully before our eyes the one time, and that tin the case of the others (we do glimpse a couple of others cases), we see in passing a girl chained to her bed, we hear crying, terrible crying, or begging not to do this to her, in the midst of a plot-design which is moving upwards. The lawyer comes. Despite the lawyer’s warning, she might not be able to get Eleanor released for quite some time (even years), she is released within months and that’s happens quickly in film time. So that made what we were seeing more emotionally endurable for me. The way the film “worked” was centered on Helena Bonham Carter and as we feel her helplessness and distress and see the faces and behavior of the perpetrators (called doctors, nurses, assistants), it is driven home into our bones or hearts or feelings, how profoundly wrong this is — if we have any decent mind (I realize that Trump and regime would laugh or despise the women or simply never go to a film like this).

Such a film is frightening for me to watch. As I watched I felt there but for Jim could have gone I. It’s seeing what one dreads most put up before you. I can speak with authority. I have spent a week in a ward in an English hospital, trying to recover from a breakdown where I had just sat and cried for days. In the US I could not have had the benefit of a hospital without spending thousands. No one forced any drugs on me. Again in my very late 20s, early 30s, my state of mind was intense and fragile because I was finishing my Ph.D and didn’t have the skills to pass an interview and so became inwardly distraught as I saw my opportunities lost. I was held up by Jim, and a year or so later by a proper psychiatrist in Virginia. The right help and the person stays in society; the wrong and the person is cast away and made much worse. This is one of many areas where US society is going all wrong. Individuals are not valued because money comes first, and you can only escape the vise if you have high status or rank.

Maybe others can imagine themselves so caught up and then victimized. In small compass this is what the new psychiatry (not worthy the name does): insists on conformity, makes psychology a mild boot camp (mild is there only for social reasons of writing this). You find yourself in a mild form of boot camp; you are not validated, not comforted. I was told by one person, Oh you’re afraid to swim (I wasn’t but used that as an example), the thing to do is throw you in the water where it’s deep. Oh you find yourself abroad and unhappy; just turn round and go home. As if by magic. Completely the wrong kind of personality is encouraged to become a psychologist or psychiatrist, and then they do the bidding of the drug industry. And I know from close association with disabled people that they are treated as morons and one disability is considered the whole of the personality — if say the person doesn’t dress fashionably. That’s why the film-makers dressed Carter the way they did.

So the film has accomplished its core business: make you identify so you will want to act on her behalf. At the same time by making her such a difficult personality (again she has not learned much about socializing and what socializing she did was meet by derision or incomprehension), we see that this is not a sentimental portrait, and then when she does accomplish a lot (as I’ve outlined). It’s one part of her mind though it affects her looks. I learned to be angry at myself for at first being embarrassed at how she dresses somehow wrongly. When at the end she dies, I did think to myself, it is going over the top, and perhaps the funeral oration by Colette was repeating what we had learned too explicitly. But then the credits inform us Eleanor Riese did die age 47 as a bye-blow of these drugs. My friend, Vivian, felt that her years on drugs left her debilitated, unable to sleep and who knows if these years were not unrelated to the cancer that killed her at age 62. Camera shots of the real Eleanor Riese and then we see how Carter was dressed and behaved to look like her and the real Colette Hughes and Hilary Swank ditto.

I had worried so for Eleanor. Even if the constitutional right was proved, would the doctors obey it? would another case take away that right? could she be hurt in her apartment. Now dead, she was safe from all these.


Now and again a nurse is decent: after she wins her case, a few step forward to tell her they had not wanted to behave the way they had (then why did they so? they could quit, refuse to go along)

I have read many times that autistic children such as Izzy once was (at age 2) are sometimes put in institutions and never have a chance to develop or fulfill themselves. I’ve been reading Louise De Salvo’s Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on her and her work. I am completely persuaded by De Salvo that not only was Woolf abused sexually and many times, so was her sisters Stella and Vanessa emotionally and intellectually abused, and her half-sister Laura institutionalized because she wouldn’t obey the conformist patterns demanded of the Victorian child in a strict patriarchy. I’ve mentioned I’ve been watching, reading, following a course on Violence Against Women on Future Learn. The later weeks are on the survivors of abuse, how they fare afterwards, how they are treated by society, what the trauma does to them. They make the point that trauma can cut deep and be caused by banal everyday behavior in life, if that includes the right of authority figures and men to harass, humiliate, rape, beat, silently enforce patterns of behavior. We are shown how case workers fail the victim because they stay at a high level of abstraction, turn away from the particular patterns of the perpetrator and demands that the perpetrator change his ways. Worse of all is the punishment for complaining and that is what that opening scene in 55 Steps records. So 55 Steps has general application. The underlying paradigm is the one Diderot uncovers in his La Religieuse, or Nun (which I’ll blog about separately under Austen reveries).

The film was first screened in a festival for prizes in August 2017, and it has taken all this time to reach a Virginia film club; it has yet to be distributed generally so I write to urge people to go see it if they have the slightest chance. As you can see over the past few weeks as a result of the courses I’m following, I had several others I could have chosen to write about. But somehow this common experience from the now abusive world of psychiatry and violence against women and non-conformist seems to me to reach more of us.


As friends, watching a wedding

55 Steps are the number of steps it takes to reach the courthouse room where Eleanor’s case is adjudicated. She counts the steps as they go up. They are the two lawyers who holds her hands and go up with her, steadying her. She counts the steps to get to her apartment too: 27. I remember Laura and I counting the steps up to the Milan apartment last spring after a few days and nights in Milan. The apartment on in effect the fourth floor, with its narrow stone stairwell and steep steps hurt one’s thighs after a long day. I had to pull myself up sometimes. As Eleanor was pulled and pulled herself up.

Ellen

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Van Gogh’s Red Vineyard was an important painting for Impressionist outside France, though Monet’s work was the most strongly influential

Dear friends,

Today was a strange day. I woke to hear a wuthering wind — appropriately enough I’ve begun to read Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (in a fine thorough Norton — editions matter), and while I had a little trouble getting into it again, with the help of one of the BBC’s marvelous 1970s serials, I’ve caught its peculiar visionary atmosphere now. Sometimes the wind became a kind of ceaseless roar as if one were in a hurricane with no storm in the center. At the same time all day and night freezing cold as if it were winter out there. Meanwhile the sun shines. Everything in the DC and Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland area has shut down, wide electrical outages (we have been lucky thus far and not lost power), because of the dangerous winds (so it’s said). Climate break-up. We have not begun to imagine the phenomena that lie ahead …


1977-78 BBC Wuthering Heights: the moment of Lockwood’s nightmare where a hand from outside the window grasps his

It takes me a very long time to do something I’ve never done before. I’m not much for change. So I wondered if I would ever sit in that front room I’d wanted for so long. About a week and a half ago, I suddenly began. I tried the experiment of sitting in it after I’ve had my morning bout of posting with friends and on what business I have. I’ve now spent successive afternoons there, quietly reading, away from distractions in cyberspace, with no TV nearby, no radio, no phone in sight. I’ve begun to look forward to my afternoons and (sometimes) early evenings there. I love it. The cats moved in with me (so to speak). They now have a cat bed there, water bowl, dish for treats. They prefer the soft chair: Snuffy turns himself into a doughnut sitting just atop my shoulders and Clary settles down on the thick rug by the oil-filled electric radiator. A drawback is I cannot take notes on what I read because my handwriting has fallen apart and I have not yet taught myself to use the “note” program on my ipad but perhaps it’s all the more rejuvenating for that. I write in the margins and on the blank back and front pages of my book. I began with two afternoons of Poldark reading.

I remembered Jim laughing at me when we got our first dishwasher. It came with the apartment in 1981. For a while I kept cardboard boxes in it as I felt I didn’t know how to use it. Quipped he: “give the poor bathtubs and they’ll keep coal in them.” That was a mocking saying the Tories used in the 1940s to try to stop Atlee’s gov’t from giving subsidies to those who could get up half the amount for renovating their bathrooms. Due to Atlee’s gov’t’s passage of that bill, when Jim was 8 or so, his parents had an extension built on their house with a bathtub and toilet inside the house (in an unheated room) for the first time.


One of the singers at the Folger: we took home all the lyrics

I did have two marvelous experiences last weekend. On Saturday afternoon with a friend I went to Folger to hear and see their spring concert, Il lauro verde. It was quieter than most of their concerts recently, less “flash:” nothing on screen at the back, a more limited set of instruments (though the recorder and tambourine and harpsichord were much in evidence), no “star:” there was a play within a play, and dramatized duets; two singers from Italy, and all was sung in Italian. Nothing amplified falsely, nothing computerized, people playing their instruments. I feared my friend would be bored and was so relieved when she was not. She seemed to love the experience. I said it was like Easter or spring celebrated through themes from nature. By the end my heart was easier than it had been all week, it did my heart and soul good to be there in this non-commercialized quiet place where people played musical instruments with little fanfare, and they sang beautifully to deeply humane touching very delicate songs. Some witty, some erotic, some religious, some this ironic menace. No one a star. When I’m at the Folger and they return to the Renaissance this way I remember why I wanted to major in this material so long ago. Not that the world of early modern Europe was not as treacherous and crazed in many ways as ours.


Roz White in a performance some years back ….

On Sunday Izzy and I returned to the Metrostage where we had participated in a Christmas pantomime and music hall on Boxing Day. The music could not have been more different: it was a one-woman performance, Roz White, an African-American singer doing “A revolutionary cabaret.” A man at the piano, and some minimal props and clothes (hat, shawl). Years ago Jim and I saw a show in a restaurant in Greenwich village with an 80+ year old Alberta Hunter. She was just marvelous. Well Roz White did a couple of hers, two by Nina Simone, Roberta Flack — I had album by her even more years ago that I used to listen to again and again. Each time she imitated the particular singer mildly. They were protest and angry songs, but also songs of hope, witty, wistful, very contemporary. She uplifted and cheered us, exhilarating at moments. I wished it had gone on for longer.


Anna Boch (1848-1936): Dutch impressionist, Cottage in Flanders

This Wednesday I went to the third four (what are turning out to be) informative, insightful lectures (sharp intelligent comments on the painters, paintings) on Wednesday evenings on “Impressionism outside France” by David Gariff, a curator at the National Gallery. Instead of ending early (as is alas typical) he’d go on to 9:30 and later. Who knew there were so many beautiful, interesting varied Impressionist pictures across western Europe. I now realize most people see only a few of what impressionist pictures there are, the same ones over and over by the same artists. We are French centered, and because Americans see some American impressionism, and because we speak English, a few English. This seems to add up to less than fifth of the beauty and interest available. It’s that museums won’t buy these other paintings from other countries (on the basis no one is interested — but then how can they be if they’ve never heard of them).


Vasily Polenov (1844-1927), Russian impressionist: Early Snow

To characterize each country (and say at least ten painters) in a sentence or so is so inadequate but with my stenography so bad nowadays, and his pace so quick (to include a lot), I can do no more. Basically the Russians one are apolitical (no wonder, under such terrorizing regimes) and paint heart-stoppingly beautiful landscapes, often around great houses; the Italians in reverse are highly political (regional, it’s the risorgimento period) and we see realistic urbane scenes where the interest is a real building, real looking people, the culture. Belgium, the Netherlands seemed more contemporary, continually moving beyond impressionism to break-ups of naturalism. Next week impressionism in the UK. He said there is no single book.


It’s been adapted for the stage

My life goes into a different rhythm starting next week. It will be the OLLI at AU Mondays for teaching (leading a study group) on “The Later Virginia Woolf” and Tuesdays attending (a study group) on “The Best of Bronte.” 8 sessions each. My afternoons in my room I’ve reread Woolf’s Flush, Three Guineas, and am now into Between the Acts. The first a brilliant modernist, genuine biography of a dog; the second as necessary to read as Primo Levi’s If this be man and The Truce. I hope I can lead people to like and understand them. I get so aroused inwardly I begin to think next fall I’ll try a course I’ll call The Enlightenment: at risk!, and assign Voltaire’s Candide, Diderot’s The Nun, Johnson’s Life of Savage, and because no woman at the time dared, fast forward to Sontag’s Volcano Lover with brief online texts like Kant’s defining the term “what is the Enlightenment?” Emily’s Wuthering Heights, Anne’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. A friend has added to the DVD collection of Bronte movies I gathered when I reviewed a book on “Nineteenth Century Women at the Movies,” two of whose essays were on the Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights films. A veritable feast of watching I’ve already begun.

Late March I’ll add the OLLI at Mason 8 Wednesdays for teaching Trollope’sHe Knew He Was Right and ‘Journey to Panama'” followed by 8 sessions on how WW1 transformed the world (a mix of unusual films and lectures) and 4 Thursdays the career and songs by Leonard Cohen (music not “to commit suicide by”); I’ve joined their Reston book club (3 sessions far apart) & first up Atwood’s Blind Assassins (I’ve longed to read since someone told me it’s about an older woman — like Drabble’s The Dark Flood Rises), second a favorite, Swift’s Last Orders, and an Americanization of the Booker Prize, Saunders’ Lincoln at the Bardo.

The real news — affecting my life daily — is with the help of a digital expert, I rescued my 3 yahoo lists and they are now at groups.io, and our early verdict is we love our new home. It’s so easy to find postings, photos, links. Everything so clear and works well. I may be loathe to endure change, but when I have to — as Verizon is slowly getting rid of its yahoo parts that don’t yield huge profits — I do. Over the three weeks it has sometimes been stressful, but the (bearded) man who helped me was wonderful. He wrote out instructions step-by-step, literally, only occasionally leaving a step out. I should add (as it’s relevant) in the last 2 weeks the Future Learn course in autism suddenly switched gears and began describing the characteristics of autism thoroughly, and although the woman running never ceased asking her inane, indeed neurotypical question (for she didn’t mean it literally, it was a ploy), by the end she was asking what are the drawbacks for “coming out,” what the advantages (as a group these outweigh silence and erasure, for only then can you hope for help and understanding). I did tell Shal (that is his name) that I think I have Aspergers Syndrome traits, and it was then, he told me his son is Autistic Level 2, and he began to help me in earnest.


This soft cat toy is something like the one I left with Vivian

Not all good. In most lives some Acid rain must fall. I saw my friend, Vivian, for the last time. I drove to Bethesda, Maryland, found the assisted living facility her sibling have placed her in where she is having excellent kind (it seems) hospice care. Her life is over, drugged, controlled by her sister, I can’t reach her where she used to live as the sister as deliberately put herself in the way (telling me what I could and could not say before I was allowed in) and I could see when Vivian began to talk of her “issues” (her cover-up term for Aspergers), the sister grew impatient and changed the subject. I left by Vivian’s side a small soft toy cat, grey, with blue eyes, I’ve had for ever so long. A token to remember me by. I admit I hope to retrieve it when I go to the funeral. For Izzy’s sake. I will send Vivian a Jacqui Lawson card tonight — with her sister’s help she can read the Internet still.

[I will ask Laura for a photo of the apartment she has rented for us — it’s on her email bnb site where she’s registered]

My, Izzy and Laura’s preparations for our Milan trip included a trip to a Apple store, a stressful place where everything is arranged to extort from the customer absurdly high rental costs monthly by leasing phones built to last less than 2 years. We went into an Evolution Home store which from the outside looked like some once bombed rotting building, but inside was filled with exquisitely chosen and set up second hand furniture at reasonable prices (sold by whom? I wondered, after how many forced moves). On Route 1 one can see the blight of spreading poverty in the appearance and growth of trailer camp sites. Some huge percentage of people in he US between ages 55 and 65 are now near homeless or homeless and soon will have no health care whatsoever unless they work 80 hours a month … But Izzy, Laura and I have an invitation to visit a long-time Net friend (who I met once in London, so many years ago, 1990s), who lives just outside Zurich. We’ll see the Alps from a train and also beautiful lakes.


Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo (1868-1807): Italian impressionist: La Fiumana

A pocket of hope: this is the first year since Jim’s death when I was not fleeced outrageously by someone claiming to do my tax returns — an expensive accountant hardly looked at mine individually (went there twice), a man in an H&R block store in a strip mall did not know what he was doing (there is a federal law forbidding states to require minimum education before you can put out a sign). And on top of that had to pay several hundred dollars in taxes! But two sessions of a truly expert AARP man at the OLLI at Mason where he taught us to understand the forms and then told us about AARP sites all over the US where people will make out your forms for free.


Sherwood Regional Library — it was a bit of a trip, but my garmin & mapquest got us there

So on two different nights around 5:10 Izzy and I set off for a library where we participated in filling out tax forms. The two women helping me paid attention, and I came back with papers showing my real estate and personal property taxes (deducible from the federal tax) and now I am getting a few hundred dollars back. The place is infected with the fundamental distrust across US society and only a social security card or number on a car would get you in; turned out this number is no where reprinted anywhere on any document but said card. At the same time not friendly people, not like British people in their daily impersonal relationships where there is a feeling of camaradarie. I told my name to both the women who did my taxes with me after we had finished and shook her hand and only then did we make eye contact: both turned, looked at me and smiled.

I have not been in a place like this since I went to Manhattan Eye Ear Nose and Throat (a hospital in Manhattan) regularly in the later 1970s. All services for free. The personnel could be blunt. I’d fill out the “need” form and someone would ask, “How do you live?” “With difficulty,” I’d reply. When Laura was born, we’d get money back from the tax system through Earned Income Tax Credit. (Jim did the tax returns all our lives). Like the people at OLLI all older people doing good deeds — one man became interested in a black young woman with a child who had been evicted some time this year (it’s recorded on tax forms!) and before you know it three people were attempting to navigate that horrible medical marketplace to help her find insurance that was better for her. Obama’s ACA stopped lousy insurance from being sold; it’s back. I know Virginia is one of the states that set up offices to help people. Another young white man was helped with something else not directly related to tax. A plain unadorned room in the back of a large public library.

So my fifth March without Jim begins:


(A Judith) Kliban cat

Miss Drake

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About 2/3s the way through Hungry, Part One of The Gabriels, the family begin to talk about the election campaign supposedly 8 months before election day, and when they come to talk of Hillary Clinton, and talk of how she is disliked, and women are not keen on her because of what seems to be her privileged background, they make this vague reference to Trump without using his name, too “unthinkable” and “dreadful” to contemplate. Then one character says: he feels “something very bad is just about to happen.” The audience as a group made this sound, not a laugh, but a real groan of what felt like semi-distress. The reference in immediate context is now Inauguration Day …

Dear friends and readers,

During this week seeing Richard Nelson’s The Gabriels has taken enough time from my wide awake hours to write about. I was more moved by Parts 3 (“Women of a Certain Age?”) and 2 (“What did you expect?”) than I’ve been at any movie, play or opera, for a very long time. Ben Brantley of the New York Times, comes closest to doing justice to the whole trilogy and making available what is so tremblingly relevant to us, two days before “a very bad thing is about to happen” (a line from Part 1 (“Hungry,” written and first produced months before Trump gained the nomination of the Republican Party).

10gabrielspublictheater
From The Gabriels… Part Three: Women of a Certain Age? (Maryann Plunkett is Mary leaning over the mother, Patricia played by Roberta Maxwell; George, her son is played by Jay O Sanders is comforting his mother who has lost her house; Hannah, his wife to the back, is played by Lynn Hawley; Joyce, Patricia’s daughter round the back (Amy Warren)

Let me begin with Part Three first, Women of a Certain Age, as I began there Saturday afternoon into early evening. Here is a brief synopsis (scroll down).

I loved it. The experience might be regarded as aesthetically old-fashioned, but the realism is done in such quietly rigorous naturalistic ways I’d call the technique innovative: how the talk was delivered, the gestures, the rooting in private realities brought forth indirectly was among the most naturalistic experiences on offer I’ve seen. The directors included Oskar Eustis and Patrick Willingham. It is about previously comfortable white middle class people who have lost out badly. The house owned by the mother, Patricia, is being foreclosed because she fell for a con-artist and went for a reverse mortgage and didn’t understand what this meant; she has been quickly fleeced at an assisted living facility and is now bankrupted by them. Mary, a widow, a doctor by profession, has not kept up her license to practice, as a result of four years of caring for a beloved husband who had Parkinson’s disease, intense grief. We gather over the play that his marriage to Thomas Gabriel, relatively late in life, was her second: she has a daughter from a previous husband (divorce ending it) and her one daughter feels so hostile she tells her mother not only can Mary not count on her for a place to stay however temporarily and to move near, but the daughter wants Mary to stay away from the whole city she lives in (Pittsburgh) or she’ll never even speak to her again. All three plays open with Mary (as the action takes place in what she discovers is nominally her house from her mother-in-law, now foreclosed). The relevance of details is obvious: the foreclosure king is now in charge of one of Trump’s departments of government, Treasury I believe and he was convicted (though had no money to pay or prison term) of foreclosing over thousands illegally to enrich his bank (himself and associates)

Hannah has taken a job as a maid in a hotel working with Hispanic people to try to get some money and keep her son by George (Gabriel), until late years a deeply proud carpenter — in college, which seems their own (however forlorn) hope. What George has had to endure in the last years is the very wealthy no longer think they need to pay him much (when they do pay him). The play has quiet tragedy beyond anguished humor — as the Gabriels are gifted people. Karin, Thomas’s first wife, now teaching play-writing, and come to live with the Gabriels (allowed out of Mary’s kindness) and trying to find a venue for her play on Hillary Clinton, can never tell if she has a date: she shows up for appointments to discover the man wants to exploit her monetarily, to learn about the house Mary has allowed her to rend a room in. The place is the Berkshires where there are many sites of memory, summer culture for the very wealthy. They are hard put to name Trump. At one point someone says what if “he” wins, and Mary replies, well, we’ll just all take a walk to a cliff and jump off.

Among other things, the play puts paid to the notion that it is declining standards of living, a feeling of being left out of globalization and technology led to voting for Trump. This group of people is not super-educated at all. But they are not racist, not bigoted, are mildly feminist (they would be with five women there), not into glamor– the audience for the New Yorker. It’s Edward Albee without the wrenching, Terence Rattigan in American mode.

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Hungry Public Theatre LuEster HUNGRY Written and Directed by Richard Nelson  Featuring Meg Gibson, Lynn Hawley, Roberta Maxwell, Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders, and Amy Warren Sets & Costumes  Susan Hilferty Lighting  Jennifer Tipton
From The Gabriels … Play One: Hungry: beyond Joyce (Amy Warren) leaning over on one side; next facing us to the left is Thomas’s first wife (Mary was his second wife), Karin (Meg Gibson) who was once Patricia’s daugher-in-law and Hannah’s sister in law (but divorce cancelled that); and then Hannah (Lynn Hawley), George’s wife so Patricia’s daughter-in-law & Mary’s sister-in-law; then facing Joyce on the other side, we see Mary (Maryann Plunkett), also Patricia’s daughter-in-law

Onto Part One, Hungry: there is this problem if you choose to see the plays separately. And I admit not everyone has the time, stamina, to say nothing (at the Kennedy Center where it’s $23 to park in the garage) of the price to see all three plays (nearly two hours each) in a row. Partly (for me and a woman I sat next to who was so un-entertained that she said she would not go on to see the other two when she had planned to with friends) Nelson is expecting too much of a theater experience, which is unique and cannot be replayed, rewound, fast forwarded.

So now seeing Part One I began to better understand Part Three. Bad events are about to happen in Part one (foreclosure on the mother’s property) I hadn’t understood everything in the third play, and upon seeing the first, much was explained. Even the names of the central characters and how they related as “long-time” family and friends. I now from seeing Hungry know a lot more: who the characters are, their relationships. Now I’d like to re-see Play 3 — which one reviewer whose reviews I trust said is the best. There was a standing ovation for Part 3. But understandably, not so Part 1. It was scene setting and character and situation explication. Since I had seen Part 3 I was more moved by Part 1 (relatively hopeful than people who’d seen none: a woman sitting next to me who said she was disappointed and would not come to see the others. I knew more of what these characters were hiding (Hanna about to go to work the next week as a “maid” in a vast luxurious hotel, the only white cleaning woman. Nelson’s problem is he is expecting too much for a theater goer who has literally to get him or herself there. The experience of The Gabriels (cooking and preparing food, political discussions reading aloud to one another taking 4 hours to develop his story to intense engagement.

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THE GABRIELS: Election Year in the Life of One Family Play Two: WHAT DID YOU EXPECT? September 10 - October 9 Meg Gibson Roberta Maxwell Jat O. Saunders Maryann Plunkett Amy Warren
From The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family, Play Two: What did you expect?: George and Hannah the married couple, son and daughter-in-law to Patricia (brother- and sister-in-law to Mary)

Part Two, What did you expect?, the last I saw: I felt unbearably moved tonight (Wednesday) at the close of Part Two. If anything Part 2 is the most moving of the three. Since we are not encouraged to weep, I cannot liken it to Chekhov but the experience is closely analogous.

In Part Two the hard economic conditions under which this group of people are living emerges. What is conveyed is the inexorable lack of any help for the average person from gov’t or any other entity, and how family groups as individuals with no group to belong to (no union comes to mind, but there could be other entities such as I remember in the UK: Friendly Societies for mortgages, Building Societies, school programs), they are fleeced and cheated so fundamentally that they cannot win to security, and in the present gov’t induced “austerity” are condemned to struggle which gets them nowhere. They have lost the family house they are now living in because the mother was preyed upon by mortgage in reverse people — she agreed to give her house away and get payments for it because her social security was so small. She did not understand what she needed to pay and now she has lost the house. She must leave her assisted living because the charges are way too high and she now owes them thousands she cannot pay. The charge is $4500 a month for living in a single room, for meals, and for the individual dinners she had with her son and daughters-in-law. The discussion over this that suddenly breaks out is painful in the extreme to watch because it is the kind of discussion families avoid and allow to come out only in parts.

The one saving that George, the son, and his wife, Hannah have done, has been for the boy’s college and they must use that just to get the mother debt-free; they will have to borrow to pay for the boy’s college. We the audience know he may not get a decent living from this degree. They live in a community where super-rich people come for the summer to their summer homes. George wants to go on a picnic with a rich friend he recently made because they will go on a literary walk, but it emerges he is hoping to be hired to build bookcases for this man all over the man’s house. The man’s wife has three times since buying the house renovated the walls. We have seen how easy it is to cheat him of his pay. Hanna says the man agreed to it because he’s hoping to hire George to carry things for him (be a handyman-drudge). She has been asked to provide the picnic because George told these people she caters sometimes, but it was put as a favor, and she is not to be paid. We see the whole family preparing this picnic in What Did You Expect?

It’s just endless. The election as backdrop is a show, there is no sense that this Hillary or Bill who come round will do anything in gov’t for them. Nelson seems to know that Trump will win. We see a hollow government order. There are hidden powers these people don’t come near that are keeping them this way. They live in a vacuum. These powerful people are what is putting Trump (or Hillary) in power and it is they who call the shots. Nothing will be done to help these people, and they sink more and more. George we are told is not well but does not go to the doctor. He is not an aggressive man and during the second play we see how easy it is for a woman to buy a precious piano for much less than she should pay. It’s an upright no prestige, has these scratches (just what the Toyota store used to give me much less money for the car I traded in); it breaks his heart to lose the piano and he gets so much less for it than he should. He is a kind good-hearted man. I thought to myself that now that Trump won he will take power not because the constitution is being obeyed: when Obama wa sin power the constitution was not obeyed over senate appointments and they congress stopped him from passing everything they could. Becaus of Citizens United (put in place by the courts and corporations who brought the case) huge sums have put Republicans in power in all states and in congress. Now these powers will back whatever Trump does to the to the hilt now no matter what he does or says as long as he gets rid of the New Deal, and runs a gov’t by billionaires for millionaires.

That is the larger political reality this play slowly conveys. Not through speeches and a strong allegorical mirroring situation but in bits and pieces through real talk. In this talk we see a group of people who are good to one another and supportive: these characters are luckier than many. They have known griefs. Thomas whom Mary so loved and who was her meaning and mainstay for the last ten years did divorce Karin who now has come to live with Mary. In the first act Karin comes for a visit to commemorate Thomas’s death (Mary’s birthday), by the second she is renting Thomas’s old office to live in; by the third she has to find herself a new place she can afford. Not easy. She is alone, and at first Patricia and Hannah are not sure Mary should even let Karin stay the night (which is how she begins to insinuate herself into the family group). Mary’s one daughter will have nothing to do with her and it breaks her heart. Joyce, the third child of Patricia’s family now grown has intense “issues” with her mother who favored her two sons, George and Thomas, heavily. She has come each time because of an important occasion: Mary’s birthday where they commemorated Thomas; the mother moving out of assisted living. She is an assistant dress designer and like George services the super-rich. Hanna clearly loves George for him, what he is. The desperation is Chekhovian, the delicacy of the talk that moves into anguish only at heights. It seems that both George and Joyce resented Thomas’s success and his search for an “identity,” which seems to have meant really him trying to break away from this group and be a successful playwright, which he didn’t manage.

Something is omitted: like other middle class vehicles which play to white audiences (all three audiences were mostly white people): the systemic racism that fuels the refusal of the average person to identify with social programs and want to end them. This is a group of people seemingly not bigoted, the only time ethnicity comes up is when Hannah says in play three she will be the only white woman on the staff. Rhinebeck where they live is apparently heavily white in the native as well as the summering rich groups of people. It does show that immiseration does not have to lead to voting for Trump. These people are for Hillary Clinton because they are not racist; they never bring up immigrants either. This is probably improbable. Never to mention these as issues. Only Bill Clinton’s sex life, the bill that let the bank loose on people. Never as women to mention the end of welfare — since they are women who might need to go to unemployment offices. So there’s the flaw if made acceptable by its placement.

There is self-reflexive talk by the playwright too as when Karin is going over Thomas’s plays to see if anything can be sold. Talk about playwriting, what people go to plays to see. Nelson justifies his technique and goals in some of this. When George is pretending the sole reason he is going on the picnic, he goes on with great warmth over Hawthorne, Melville and Emerson and other American writers who lived in the area once upon a time. They read from a novel at one point (a graphic charged description of a scene of sexual intercourse from a woman’s point of view). And how could it not be implicitly truly feminist with five women on stage, and it’s deeply humane social vision. As with Austen’s Emma, the play has other invisible presences or characters so intensely talked about they are there: Thomas, the dead man; Paul, George and Hannah’s son, someone George gives a piano lesson to, the cruel women who drives down the price of the piano and lies she has another she might buy, and plays games like going to leave; the two dates that Karin goes out on, only to return quickly as they wanted only to exploit her (she is too old to attract a man); others they describe in their stories.

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whatdidyouexpect
Women of a Certain Age as title fits this scene: going round the table left to right: animated Joyce, single (never married); Mary, widowed (previously married with one estranged daughter); Hannah, married but now must work as a maid in a hotel; Karin divorced and no where to go, a stray (in patriarchal arrangements that’s what women of a certain age frequently become … )

So I came near tears at the end of the third play, and my last night at the end of the second didn’t dare speak or look at anyone or I would have burst into crying. Each play opened and closed with Mary, and her grief and loss. Here I sit week after week writing what I do? why? it’s the only way I know how to communicate with people.

So many thousands years in solitary confinement in the US. The extreme symbol. It was the play’s human dimension that hit me hard. The acting is so persuasively real and not at all overdone. What a relief. I did recognize people in the audience from Part 1, there for Part 2, and a couple from Part 3 on both nights. So I was not mesmerized alone.

I get so involved with literature that allows me to be with others and talk to others (or write) because (from Virginia Woolf on novels) “they are about people, they excite in us [me] feelings that people excite in real life.” This play attaches itself to an idea of what life is about, what makes it valuable, beyond community people need self-esteem, they need to be comfortable and secure, they need to feel good about themselves, need to value their activities and think of them as worth while. The Gabriels are a form of angels because they do want the finer values, not sheer material wealth, though they need some of that too. It’s about America’s spiritual condition which is being torn down and torn apart. In my solitary life I am representative of a lot of people. Karen in the play is closest to me but I recognized myself in all the women and recognized men I’ve known in George and Thomas (including Jim, in his last years an adjunct dressing down the way George does).

As I looked at the audience last night I saw displeased faces. People there did not like what they were shown. All three times the audience auditorium was about half full at best. There was a standing ovation at the end of the third part, but only applause (and standing has become a new standard) at the end of the second. I almost did not stand at the end of the second, but I so respected these actors for conveying such a depth of intelligent understanding and Maryann Plunkett for what it is to be a widow, containing in herself such stifled emotion and loneliness even amid these family members that I stood. I caught the eye of one of the actresses, Lynn Hawley who played Hannah and saw she was grateful to me. My standing made her feel better. Another woman had stood up too.

E. M.

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John Nash (1893-1977), The Garden under Snow (1924)

“And what with the high price of coal … “

Friends,

My blog is morphing again. I began it as a more or less daily account of my and Jim’s life in our retirement. When he was diagnosed with cancer, it became a cancer blog where insofar as it was humanly possible for me I told the story of his suffering and death from cancer. It morphed again into a widow’s diary. Now I must change again. It would be in bad taste for me to write as if I am indifferent to the political destruction of the US republic and any security and prosperity for 95% of its population. That is how countless Trump supporters are behaving from Wall Street and the Republican leaders and elite to those who may not have voted for Trump but don’t mind now that he’s gotten into power. I must assume from Trump’s rhetoric and quoted statements by his supporters that others are gladdened by the appointments of racists, sexists, intolerant religious people (a supreme court decision made intolerance, a right to discriminate, a religious liberty), preferably inept people as long as they are fiercely personally loyal t him, and fearfully war-mongering inefficient people at the head of agencies, a Verizon lobbyist to head the FCC. The Washington Post reported yesterday his appointments were greeted by widespread applause by his supporters.

What unites all my Sylvia blogs is I tell what is on my mind, what I am feeling as my daily life unfolds. I’ll reserve the old Sylvia blog for political activity and political arguments and essays I’ve come across, as last week I went to a rally near the Senate building. This will be thoughts affecting my general behavior, from the conversations all around me, from what will be forced on me in non-political events and spaces after say January 20th. This Friday night I went to dinner with a group of friends and we discussed the election intensely, and most places I’ve gone (teaching for example), the unfolding fascism is the topic, what forms it will take, fear over how it will affect each and every person there.

So, a central new insight I’ve had (which startled me) has been how the American Constitution is susceptible to be taken over by a dictator. It’s an 18th century document with an elected king at the center. It depends on his decency and good will to elect expert and socially conscious people to the departments and many other agencies which control many aspects of our lives. In the Parliamentary system as evolved in the 19th century the PM has to be elected by people within the party who are independent entities and have some real knowledge of the person and how the gov’t works so a Trump could not take over there, and the outspoken Brexit people didn’t and couldn’t. Here’s a story (how true it is I don’t know) placed on an 18th century studies listserv: “Kurt Godel, perhaps the most important mathematical logician of the 20th century, settled at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in the 1930’s. When Godel went for his US citizenship oath, Einstein was sent to accompany Godel, as Godel was known to speak tactlessly. When the judge asked Godel to swear to uphold the Constitution, Godel rose and said that there was a logical path which allowed a dictator to emerge. Einstein quickly intervened and smoothed the process, so Godel got his oath … ”

This is partly the effect of citizens united. Quite a number of these republican wins were done by huge amounts of money. Then when they get in power they gerrymander the state so it becomes very hard to take it back. While in power they ruthlessly turn back the clock — as in North Carolina. I think the US system is now rotten because it is in effect obsolete: made for conditions that no longer obtain. Like the UK at the beginning of the 19th century, the American system is now a hollow pretense. It was never one-man one vote but now the popular vote is readily overturned and every effort being made to suppress the vote further. This fairly weak (as the writer admits) set of tactics show in just what desperate straits we are: how to resist Trump and his extreme agenda.

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Trump has used this development to pull off an extraordinary con trick. He’s is totally nerveless, daring and has instincts of social cunning that seem uncannily effective. Tolstoy would say he is being thrown up by forces of history much larger than himself which made his personality and now power grab possible. Yes he enacts racism, boasts of sexual assault, and so on — or he wouldn’t have been able to delude his constituency. But why this is not business as usual is all about is “the money, stupid.” Read his first 100 day plan. Trump is simply turning everything over, tax payers dollars, their internet, everything to corporations and the wealthy. That’s what he’s doing. And cutting their taxes too. All the talk about racism and yes horrible coming ruthless killings imprisonments wars even — are a distraction from what he is planning explicitly. Yet more massive tax breaks for the wealthy, the privatization of social security, abolition of medicare, repeal of Obamacare, destruction of federal jobs. I read his infrastructure plan: it’s a bonanza give away with no obligations on any corporate part to hire people even. He continues to engineer it as in the NYTimes and Post they are going on about the wrongness of identity politics – he is engineering this conversation with his appointees. Or on face-book people argue with tweets over the planting of Pence at Hamilton to engineer a provocative scene so he can hit out against Broadway, also Saturday Night Live (he holds a grudge against them for over 10 years when they dared to make fun of him) — militarized police were in the street nearby to intimate. He now plays these people on twitter and off. The ultimate aim is to repress freedom of the press and speech.

He holds no news conferences, no where he is questioned and must respond to give-and-take. I presume he will never hold a news conference with the press if he can avoid it. And there is nothing in the constitution which requires it (not that a requirement like this would necessarily bother him).

From the point of view of what vitally matters, multiculturalism (whether it can exist as a feeling which binds people together or not) is not just beside the point, but a distraction. I know (as I’ve said) how dire the situation is for the targeted people and that theoretically, ideologically (&c) whether identity politics works, is feasible, is possible (do people really identity outside their narrow cultural worlds?) but in the present time they don’t except as useless for deluding and distracting people, i.e.g, the Pence at Hamilton theater was a plant and there is a parallel in the history of Hitler’s regime. So an article like Lila’s in the New York Times saying political action dependent on group identities doesn’t work gets attention when such arguments are unimportant when it comes to what we are facing: this 18th century constitution allows for a dictatorship to emerge.

werefkinindustrialvilla
Marianne Von Werefkin (1860-1938)

The corporations of other countries, their thug dictators and the rest of the louts and globalized factories are watching to see Trump carry this out. The more decent leaders (Angela Merkel) are being pushed out by money, war, refugee crises; their whole agendas mocked and repealed (Obama); they themselves end up colluding and yet are thrown out (Dilma). Here and there a temporary win (as in Venezuela) but it’s holding actions. I understand the real terrors of US black people who face killing and imprisonment at will. I understand how crucial must be these issues to Muslims in the US who face registration, internment and deportation anywhere. People demonstrating for animal rights have long been considered eco-terrorists, and some thrown into prison and kept in solitary confinement too. How much worse each punishment will be — as the threat to resort to overt torture is realized. People disappearing. Giuliani Attorney General. Already with the high costs of lawyers, going to court, fearful demands the accused negotiate his or her way (plea bargaining) by threatening draconian sentences if you don’t give in and say you are guilty. But all these issues are secondary to stopping redistribution of income through taxes, ending all social programs and reinforcing the prison system to back it up.

What this means is the number 99% becomes irrelevant: the operative number is Romney’s 47%. He was seen shaking hands with Trump and photographed by the press (from afar). Romney said 47% of the US population are layabouts. What he meant is all these people (including me and probably some of my readers) are collecting “entitlements” (which word Romney would scoff at as a euphemisms). The plan is to cut all subsidies (as these might come to be called) from this 47%. To turn over their “entitlements” (as packages) to Wall Street to govern and use. The 47% can demonstrate, protest; the newspapers will tell the truth of what is being done to them, but can they stop it?

I read somewhere that five years ago someone predicted Trump could win the presidency. So I am behind-hand in this insight. Lots of people have had it well before me. Trump changed parties because he knew he could not take the Democratic constituency.

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A quite different insight and one not new, just reinforced: how men will not give up central power or authority to a woman. A woman can win a coterie vote of a group of politicians who she will be dependent upon (a Prime Minister) but not a vastly powerful presidency from millions of voters who cannot know her personally. All those men who refused to vote for her and professed themselves not to want Trump to win could live with him in power as a man. I don’t believe they didn’t want Trump; they are glad he has won rather than she and insist on how shaking things up will now produce a positive result. Delusionary and human life is short and what counts for us all is that short run, say 90 years. Reading and writing today on domestic abuse of women and children in 19th century fiction by women, I suddenly remembered how Hillary Clinton had worked hard for the rights of children and a recent case where a man brought to trial for beating a child defended himself he had the right to choose this punishment; it had been inflicted on him and so on. How sad that she couldn’t begin to convey this sort of thing at all. What was it? cowardice on presenting such a woman’s issue. Men didn’t vote for her anyway. She didn’t dare because it was controversial (how dare children have rights?!) and yet had she managed to think of some way to show it, how appealing she might have been to many. Would she have been too womanly on such an issue? She lacked the courage of who she is. No progress for children now. Oh no.

I will be giving another feminist course in 19th century novels, teach more women of letters: I was asked to at the OLLI at Mason this Wednesday. Be more outspoken in my women artist blogs. But now I see it was shooting themselves in the heart by the democrats to run a woman for president.

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Mark Gertler (191-1939), Merry-go-round (from the 1920s), he was a lover of Dora Carrington who tried to get her to devote her life to him

Miss Drake

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Wet Afternoon by Ethel Spowers (1890-1947) — it rained heavily this week, a tornado passed out, the sky went black. Very windy tonight as I write.

Friends and readers,

Perhaps I have too strong or idealistic a notion of what a friend is. In the 18th century a friend as defined throughout the 18th century was someone on your side, not necessarily anyone intimate with you, though as Samuel Johnson used the word late in the century it meant a deep soul mate. This former definition still obtains. When Jim and I had a court case, our lawyer told us to distrust someone as he would not “be a friend of yours.” So that’s a qualification of one aspect of what this blog is about. The lone widow. A familiar trope. At this point, you could save time and skip what I have to say telling yourself what is the use of going into what most skirt acknowledging as inevitable.

Widows are not all alike; there are widows under 50, and over 50; widows with young children and widows with grown children; there are widows embedded in their families, who lived a life with their husband among varied friends; widows like me who stayed with their husband and he with them. Widows without money and widows with; sick widows and widows in good health. Sometimes the husband or partner dies suddenly; sometimes after a long agony; sometimes quickly. This makes a difference. Then different widows live in different cultures, some with a strong sense of community to which individuals belong and some where there is no such thing, and variants in-between; widows who live in frighteningly misogynistic cultures (so they are made into abased servants of family members and physically and emotionally abused), and widows in cultures where even old women are valued (rare this); widows highly educated and widows not; widows with good jobs, and widows with no place to go to do anything that’s needed except maybe make a number in a group activity (for which the leader is paid). Does she live where there is public transportation? shopping? does she drive? have a car?

So I am learning what it is to be a widow like me, age 69, children grown up, one beloved daughter living with me, solvent, in this relatively anonymous area where people are continually moving in and out of neighborhoods (the average for owned house neighborhoods is about 7 years; where I live it’s more like 5 years), has decent (good to mediocre) cultural places to attend, who drives, with a car, with my education (Ph.D.), tastes. Retired. I did know by the end of six months that most of what’s said about grief is invented to make those not grieving feel better about this presence in their midst — if they recognize a widow. It’s falsifying. Aspects of my character are changing, or different parts of my character coming out, true. My feelings changing about a few things. I’m glad to have clocks and radios I can operate; to know about my taxes and hire someone who can cope (he is honest if not helpful beyond doing it, no small thing); to feel more in control (an illusion at the best of times but still): with the help of an IT guy remotely coming into my computer I manage it. I’m lucky my older daughter put me in contact with the company and IT young man. But I’m not unusual here: I’ve met others who have IT help remotely. I can try and do drive longer distances (garmin next to me). I’m ambivalent about the teaching: I love the reading, preparation, am glad to go out, enjoy myself somewhat while leading the class and am grateful when the class members say they are enjoying it, appreciate what I bring, and to talk to a few people after class sometimes, but it is also a strain for me. A lot of work to do two in order to be out enough, to have enough places to go to where I can have some kind of meeting of minds.

I mentioned I am following a Future Learn course in Mental Health and Literature and in the week on heartbreak read this: from Dr Andrew Schuman “– about ‘Broken Heart Syndrome’ or ‘Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy’. In response to extreme emotional stress, the left ventricle of the heart can become paralysed and swell up, mimicking the symptoms of a heart attack. Only medically recognised towards the end of the 20th century, this condition reminds us that the metaphors we use to describe disappointment in love – ‘lovesickness’, ‘heartbreak’ – are rooted in bodily experience.” I first had this experience this past May, and it comes and goes less intensely since.

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Gemma Jones as Mrs Dashwood in Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility: a widow thrown out of her house (1995 S&S, script Emma Thompson, dir. Ang Lee)

It has struck me now that one problem with this Mental Health course is all the terms are men’s — a male set of norms, deriving from Freud and Cognitive Behavior Therapy, is what Jonathan Bate thinks like (he has a poem that literally traces Kubler-Ross’s “five stages of grief”) and what Paula Byrne knows. There was a talk with a woman (Nancy Kelly) who has written a book on depression and runs groups might have been less pollyanna (she didn’t want to tell why she had trauma under the aegis of this program). She would not have been allowed to get away with what she said if the understanding of women’s psychology that Bonaparte uses (out of Gilligan and Lynne Brown) had drawn from that. Byrne provides no alternative to her husband’s point of view People do know that Byrne and Bate are married I assume. the experience of widowhood for a woman is quite different from that of a man (See my paper On the depiction of widows and widowers in the Austen canon.)

But now as the third year sets in I’ve learnt I must live without local companionship, be alone. Not quite since I’ve access to a very good computer and help with it, which I can operate sufficiently. So I have Net-friends, net-conversation, net news, wonderful sites I can reach, movies to watch, courses to join in on, blogs, list-servs, even face-book. Once in a long while meet a long-time friend. Two days ago I met an ex-student who is only 11 years younger than me — 58 — I had not seen him for 20 years. We caught up. He took the all three courses I used to teach at Mason in the 1990s (before most of what I taught was abolished — sophomore level literature): once he went on a trip to Europe and then came to my office with photos he had taken of the places he had gone to as a result of poems we read in class — he followed Byron’s route I recall. Now married, living in Maryland, owns a huge piece of property with small house upon it, has a cat too (!), works at a job that does come from his degree in geography. But long hours and in different shifts every three weeks. Not much time for life outside beyond what’s in his home. He had written to me. I don’t know when or if I’ll see him again. We said maybe summer.

I’ve read in newspapers every once in a while a older widow’s account of herself, writing which classes her sufficiently in my sub-category: I realize a typical kind of person (cold as most are) reading it blame and despise her (indeed one article pointed out to me was by someone who used the ugly word whine) if she complains, which she usually does — why else write? self-expression? about how she’s deserted, avoided by previous friends (especially couples), has made some very bad decisions (e.g., moved from her home to be near a child or just escape — she’s told to wait a year). She tells of really mean and hurtful things said to her, some quite early on. That has happened to me. Two weeks after Jim died I was told my situation was all my fault and if I was miserable for the rest of my life it was my fault. Some widows are told they will remarry within two weeks or so of the husband or partner’s death. I’ve been laughed at. Like How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, they write to break the taboos of silence, and try to get a little truth about widow’s lives out to others (maybe other widows will feel better). They teach me my case is a common one in modern societies.

I like these lines from a prose-poem as a letter to her deceased husband by Margaret Jordan. “Dear one … ” She says hours pass, and days when she does not think of him. That’s not true for me. I can pass a couple of hours and not think of Jim if I am utterly absorbed writing, reading, watching a movie, teaching, giving a paper. But otherwise he’s at the edge of consciousness. But these apply, especially the mood: I am dialoguing with her and Jim:

I stay up late most nights, and your side of the bed is piled with magazines, Half-read books, pens and paper. I sometimes eat dinner standing at the kitchen counter, or in front of the refrigerator, almost never at our old table. I eat meat …

Jim would not be surprised at my garden: that I now have three patches which just might grow daffodils, crocuses and other flowers. I tried before. I do live in the same house but differently.

I live at the foot of young mountains with deep roots. I live on rock, not along the tidal flux of bay and ocean, no longer in unstable earthquake country.

Now I pay the bills, wash the car, put on snow tires, have the oil changed, deal with a mouse in the pantry, the wasp’s nest under the eaves. I have an electric drill, a toolbox, new neighbors.

No one in my life here knew you

I don’t talk of you to students once in my class (as she does with hers), but I do with our daughters. We remember sometimes. I get the Washington Post — and even read some of it with interest.

I confess that the local library contains no book you would want to read, the paper contains no news, I no longer get the Times. Nothing happens here except small local sorrows and weather that would appall you — below zero sometimes, bitter wind blowing off the mountains.

The whirr and call of migrating geese, the shock of a star-heavy, moonless night sky, familiar scents carried by the wind. This is my life now, that I love, almost as much as I loved-and love-you, passionate, unknowable, and stil; as familiar and as present as my own breath.

What I am learning most now, though, is this: what it is to be a widow (like me in the area of the US where I live) who loved truly, deeply, been with a man closely for half a century who was taken in his mid-sixties by the spread of cancer everywhere. At long last our luck as people with no connections, not much money ran out. His brains couldn’t help him. The establishment and those living under its power do not as yet care enough, are not yet frightened enough to do anything about cancer for real. There is too much money at stake: in polluting the environment, our food and drink, and in these excruciating life-prolonging techniques and drastic surgeries.

So, there is no such thing as building another or new life. I will be alone for the rest of my life — except for the friends and true companionship through letters that happens on the Net. I am too unlike most others I meet locally. And there is no world for me to belong to: I don’t quite fit either OLLIs or academic conferences. I participate in further versions of this mis-fit now on the occasional MOOC. I had a world I made with Jim. We made one we shared together. He was my friend.

No, no second act. Carrying on with the first. Life as time gotten through and local space as having people in it whose whole ambiance I witness, experience (what’s meant by social life). Facing up to silence in my (quiet and comfortable) home, with my memories, books with their lives in them. My daughter in her part of the house. In the morning I do better, am able to cope with a life where I am absorbed by my studies, books, movies, writing; it’s late at night and in the early dawn I feel the desolation most.

Sometimes I think what hurts me worst of all is Jim is not here to see and to know how kind I’m to the cats, what a real relationship I’ve developed with them. The first years he insisted they stay out of my study after as a kitten, Ian destroyed some wires and it took Jim four hours to restore our connection to the Internet. When I retired, I did put a stop to that, but I remember when one day I came home from work and have to dart into the study, and close the door on poor Clarycat and she mewed. He reproached me on her behalf, she had been waiting in a way, she was glad to see me. After that I’ve never closed the door on her again. (Well, hardly ever.)

Clarywrigglingonchairseatheheadstickingout2016
Clarycat, wriggling on the side of my chair (this week)

Very windy outside my window tonight. I hear the trees bending, soughing air. Sometimes I wish I could sit and cry for hours and hours until I am drained of everything and have nothing left in me. But I don’t. This is how it is with me now.

Miss Drake

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DangerUXB
From Danger UXB (one of the great anti-war mini-series)

This is the anniversary of Jim’s dying two years ago. He has lost the ability to speak back as of October 7th and on October 8th he was beginning that terrible ordeal/agon of literally dying.

I feel I’m living through these days for a third time: the first two years ago, as he lay dying; the second last year when somehow I kept the sense of it all at a distance; and now:

On October 3rd this year when Jim would have been 67 I felt how uncanny it is that he is not here, how weird is death in comparison to how we feel about someone’s existence. We have to feel deeply that the person we are attached to has deep reality, and yet they are no more than 98?% water (as I’ve read in different places). I felt haunted the way I had for a time after my father died. Then it was the irretrievably of never being able to make contact again, and I felt such a strong desire to I projected psychologically a presence hiding somewhere, invisible, silent.

It’s not like that for Jim. I have this sense of the unbelievability of existence itself. I can hardly believe I am here concretely if he’s not. I don’t know why I don’t vanish away softly in the night — like one of Lewis Carroll’s mad figures — if he could so vanish.

I’d call such feelings are one of the origins of religious belief. Tonight we would have been married 46 years, met 47 years ago.

I remember Shakespeare’s lines as Prospero: we are such things as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded by a sleep.

And also that 90th sonnet: Do not drop in for an afterloss … in the onset come; so shall I know the very worst … which compared to loss of thee will not seem so

Jenny Diski’s latest entry as she moves into death is devastating. Her cancer is for now (what a sardonic joke in such words) in remission, for how long (ditto) the doctors can’t say (as they know nothing). Like the heroine in Wit, she is dying in immiseration because of the effect of the treatments on her, her lungs gone, she has (like Hilary Mantel) been made to look awful so that she is alienated from her body. at once feeble, unable to walk steadily and fat. Why should she care say the heartless neat doctors and nurses. She opens with talking of letters she has received; I was almost tempted to write. We learn in this one she has two grandchildren and we know the father of her daughter, once her partner-husband died a couple of years ago. So her daughter parentless.

People have asked me (well one person) what is gained by telling of Doris and me, well the same thing that is gained by her telling of these dreadful symptoms, her pain, her feebleness, how others will not help except for the Poet. Insofar as you can stop people from mouthing nonsense about triumphs, conquests, and bravery and instead tell what cancer is, you help a little in the pressure to do fundamental research. The research that is done is expensive surgery to prolong life and pills that cost huge sums — all garnering profit. What they discover fundamentally is a bye-product and not much sought. The TTP was signed yesterday: a key provision fought over was the US on behalf of the pharmaceuticals (like the fascist gov’t it is) to give them the right to charge outrageously for 5-8 years; 12 was what was wanted and the “balance” is it’s just 6-8 and uncountable thousands excluded because of the price at least until then.

I omit all the provisions which supercede workers’ rights and hand a good deal of the world over to corporations (with military backing) to exploit and immiserate everyone who is not in the elite genuinely rich and well connected.

Cancer is our great and ever spreading plague — like the engineered (in effect) famines and mass diseases of early times — India, Ireland. Settler colonialism now exterminating the Palestinians a little at a time — punctuated by the terror of lethal bombing.

Diski speaks for us all — she says don’t talk about bravery so instead I’ll say she writes what she does because she cannot help herself and thinks truth has a function in the world that helps others– if only by saying see here I am, is this the way you are? if so, we are not alone.

JennyDiski
Diski (before cancer)

She does say it’s hard not to feel what’s happening to her is a punishment — like it’s hard not to feel the death and disappearance of someone is uncanny. But what it’s vital to remember is not to take what happens ever as a punishment. That is your psyche doubling in on itself and wanting to find some reason, some ultimate meaning for what is happening. For me not comfort, but that way madness lies.

Miss Drake

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Dear friends and readers,

Hartnett says a strange thing: in the last part of my life, ghost accumulate. Since 1989, I have lived with one quiescent, and now I live with a second as part of my heart’s blood.

A poem by David Hartnett

In the Winter Valley

At dusk in the winter valley the train went slow;
The carriage felt empty enough for apparitions,
His parents’ perhaps who died a year ago-
    Nothing happened.
On either side of the railway, ranked and stiff,
Espaliered pears paraded, frozen snow
Clotting their tiered branches. Down a far cliff
    Cascades curtained.
In the second half of life there are no ghosts,
The world is vast and tired and someone else’s.
Coldly the pear trees bloomed on their black posts.
    The train quickened.

near Sian
DAVID HARTNETT

These flowers for the nine African-American families and friends who lost a beloved — and who are not by any means all who have been affected forevermore by social murder this week.

flowers
Reddish Table and Window (1999) — (Gloria Munoz, b. 1949)

As I traveled to and fro I listened to Simon Slater’s wonderful reading of Wolf Hall (he goes tenaciously into the mind of anyone listening for real): as with Hilary Mantel’s other novels she presents centrally a character deeply grief-stricken at the death of someone cared for: Thomas Cromwell; he loses wife, daughters, Wolsey. Again and again the experience is presented as a ghost or ghostly presence come to be with Cromwell – in his dreams, as he stands in shadows and cries, passing memories other characters arouse. In her Black Book this is very strong, but it’s equally present in Thomas Cromwell’s mind: sometimes he’s comforted, sometimes the anguish is too sharp.

This is an aspect of her fiction which has been ignored in the talk about her books as well as the film adaptation; in her Black Book, in her memoir she fought to “give up her ghosts,” in her historical fiction she allows such memories to be guiding spirits of the central presence. She shows how the living left — her hero — becomes another person over time and experience as the dead intertwine inside, memories make them behave certain ways and they find solace, other people to connect to, be with all in this continuum.

Cat circa 1904-8 Gwen John 1876-1939 Purchased 1940 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05154
Gwen John (1876-1939), remembering her beloved cat-companion, Edgar Quintet

I am glad for GLBT people who can marry who they love now. See my The US Supreme Court did three good things this week!

Scotus blog: same-sex marriage

On preventing discrimination that is hard to prove: disparate impact;

On Obamacare: keeping the benefits available to millions of health care insurance (such as the system is, it’s the system we must change to a single payer like medicare)

Sylvia

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