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A photo I took of one of the small bushes in my front garden still flowering this summer

Friends,

Today has been a usual fourth of July for me for the past 20 years or so:

Memories of long and not so long ago: when Jim and I were much younger, say 50 years ago, we would as a couple go out in the heat to a concert in Central Park; for a couple of those early years we were away from home and at a beach. After we had children and I felt we were supposed to be doing something, because for a few years we belonged to a military Officers Club (by right of his job working for the Defense Department), which enabled me to take my children to a nice pool and send them to day camp cheaply, we were able to go to a barbecue held by the people running the club. I remember three picnics in the evening with them. Jim did not care for fireworks, and the one time we took the children aged 7 and 1, to the center of DC both became hysterical at the noise. Sensible he said.

So he and I and Izzy began staying home together, keeping cool, me reading and writing or watching a movie and he on the Net, Izzy watching sports on TV and reading or writing on the computer, sometimes sending what she wrote as a blog to the world. Laura usually contrived to find friends to go out with.

I think fireworks have a certain beauty against the sky, and since the world beyond the earth is so meaningless and blank, dark, there is a certain pathos in throwing up these mechanically induced showers of color. So after hJim said or let me know he was tired of trying to do something special, and wanted to stay at home at peace in he quiet cool,

I would in the evening try to take Izzy to where we could hope to see the fireworks from Alexandria Park. Both times failed. We could see nothing. We discovered up on top of a high hill in Alexandria on the 14th when the city had its celebration, we could watch them. Other than that unless there was a good film on at the local cinema, I began to ignore the day too. One year Laura took Izzy to a party and I remember how Izzy came home having enjoyed herself, and her standing at the window waving goodbye looking so wistful at the good time over. Laura said the kind of people there were good kind liberal types, talkative and so Izzy could be comfortable with them. How I wish for her she could have had this more often.

Then Jim died and I became friendly with Vivian. She said, why didn’t I and Izzy and she go to the Alexandria city birthday party on July 14th, and we did that for three years. On a huge meadow, the city sets aside an arena for picnics; it’s by the Potomac. Ringed round are vendors selling snacks and drinks from carts. At 8 o’clock a free concert starts; usually well-known movie music and at 9 fireworks. We did that together, we three, three times. Below you will find a video of the fireworks from 2013, we were there that evening

Now Vivian is gone and so Izzy and I are back to staying home together. She watched tennis mostly, wrote fiction, a blog. So hers was the usual day. Morning I read Trollope’s Ayala’s Angel, Kamilla Shamsie’s Home Fire, finished reading Voltaire’s Candide in translation, wrote to friends, posted to my three listservs, and to face-book chat and about books. But then I had a treat. At the OLLI at Mason on Tuesday after I finished teaching or talking with the people in the class of Virginia Woolf and her Orlando, my new friend, Panorea and I, were told by another friend in the class of a movie, Xavier Beauvois’sThe Guardians, a literally beautiful film, filled with Cezanne like shots of the French countryside. we had told her we enjoyed so a local exhibit of Cezanne’s portraits. See Marion Sauvebois’s review:

“I can’t find him,” cries Solange, staring at an atlas trying to locate the German town where her husband is being held prisoner. Her mother Hortense picks up a magnifying glass and points to a dot on the map. “There,” she says sullenly, turning away arms protectively clasped against her chest. At least, she consoles her daughter, they can find solace in the knowledge he is alive, unlike her two sons languishing in the trenches somewhere in northern France. This all-in-all restrained scene truly captures the essence of The Guardians.

Far from playing up the inherent pathos of their situation, Xavier Beauvois’s matter-of-fact and subdued storytelling is as unnerving as it is affecting. We’re lightyears away from Hollywood’s maudlin war-time epics: these dauntless women have neither the luxury of grief nor time.

I met Panorea at 1 as afterwards she was to go to a barbecue with relatives. The Guardians is about characters like those in a Hardy novel: farming class. It takes place during WW1 when the men have to go away to war; we watch the women perform very hard work, grieve when a male relative is killed or taken prisoner. Our heroine is a Tess figure who works very hard, and is a very decent person. She is taken in by a family and thinks she is beloved and becomes the lover of the son, but the mother then betrays her by suggesting to the son she is having sex with the American soldiers and he immediately rejects her and tells his mother to get rid of her. She finds another yet harder job with a kinder poorer woman. She is discovered pregnant but not thrown out. She has great reserves of strength and after returning to a near relative, she cuts her hair to look better, gives birth to her baby, christens it properly and keeps it to love and be loved. In the last scene she has become a singer (she sang beautifully to the people at these farms at intervals) in small nightclubs in the area. She kept her child, survived and still knows some joy from daily life. it was a French film, and I could understand much of what was said, because these were not articulate peasants. Feeling and thought was conveyed by facial and body expression and what they did. What I loved best was how the film-makers respected the characters for themselves, valued them for themselves, especially the heroine. You didn’t need to be rich or high status or supposedly admirably successful in some way. You were valued for your nature and goodness and cooperation and the meaning you made out of your life by making some order and beauty and helping others and yourself to survive

Home again by car in the searing heat: a couple of hours later Izzy and I had good meal together. I drank too much wine for myself as usual and then found I kept falling asleep so for the third night gave into myself and took a couple of hours nap so here am I writing and reading what I had longed to read earlier: friends’ letters, more on Candide. I am listening to a beautiful moving reading aloud of Graham’s 7th Poldark book, The Angry Tide, and was almost unbearably moved by the story of Drake and Morwenna. These two characters are among my favorites in the Poldark books.

The vicious corrupt vicar, Whitworth is killed and one of our heroes, Drake breaks off what could have been a good marriage with the disabled Rosina (who I like so much too) because he finds irresistible his original devotion to Morwenna, a frail sensitive good young woman: he cannot desert her in her dire need, and risks everything to reach her, to pull her out of her deep depression and despair and away from the cold cruel people she has been forced to live among, and renew his life by renewing hers. The first time I read this part of the book I could hardly bear the suspense I was so anxious for him lest he be blamed for the murder of Whitworth and in her case lest she not get to live her life by Drake’s side after all. I am Morwenna (as I am Demelza and in some phases Elizabeth in these books)


Morwenna (Jane Wymark) finally reaching


Drake (Kevin McNally) — from the 1977 iteration

I wish Graham had not dropped them (basically) after this novel but that we had been permitted to have a full story about them afterwards. It’s as if he is so tender towards them, he leaves them in privacy. I like that she never really recovers — at a party years later the very sight of her son by Whitworth is enough to shatter her again: it’s true to human nature and helps us as readers remember that such cruelty that she knew is not to be trivialized by the idea the person will heal. She never fully does. I regret other characters I like so who are dropped eventually: Verity is not important in the later novels for example.

On the novels in general: What I have noticed that WG loves non-human animals and has his favored characters love them too. Like dogs, cats are mentioned over and over where other authors wouldn’t, and kindly interesting central characters are kind to their cats. Demelza will be my example of disliking all cruelty to animals and picking up on language which shows that the human being has not thought out how he or she is not attributing to animals a real consciousness of pain or attachment, which WG repeatedly shows they have. The culmination in the Poldark novels is the orangutan Valentine adopts. This deep empathy across species is part of why I like the suspense novels too. I just finished a rare early suspense book, Strangers Meeting, it ends with one of the heroines freeing a rabbit from one of these cruel traps and trying with the help of one of the heroes to mend the poor creature

It’s at such moments, with a friend who values a movie that has beauty, peace, decent values, or reading a book that conveys such experiences, that I know some happiness.


After my coming trip to the Lake District (UK) this August I shall not leave them for more than a few days at a time again


This year upon her reaching 40 Laura posted a photo of herself with one of her beloved cats

I called this for July 4th since I wanted to register some kind of decent values today — and I hope I have now done that — against what I realize the USA has again become under the gerrymandered corrupt regime of Republicans upholding a harsh corporate state: a society whose people are limited by deeply unjust unfair cruel laws, customs, who are perpetually overworked, underpaid, cheated of their labor’s value, hurt by shame, and except the lucky (by birth to people who can help them, in a place where there is some opportunity for all for a modicum of comfort) kept impoverished. It is as I type being turned back to a racist disguised dictatorship of a few powerful groups of whites, and gains that everyone had benefited from between the 1930s and 60s eviscerated utterly. Frederick Douglass’s famous speech applies to far more than black people now. Here is the whole speech introduced by David Zirkin:

It speaks to our every frustration spurred by the gap between the ideals of the United States and the reality we witness every day; between the Bill of Rights and our decaying civil liberties; between the USA’s international declarations of human rights and the ordered drone attacks backed by presidential “kill lists”; between the words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and a nation that leads the world in jailing its own citizens

“What to the slave is the fourth of July?”. Here is part of it read aloud by James Earl Jones:

Izzy and I were not able to go to the demonstrations all over the US this past Saturday, because we had already bought tickets for an opera at the Barns Theater at Wolf Trap. We go but twice this summer to this place because my eyes are grown too poor to drive that far at night. We saw Mozart’s Idomeneo: Kim Pensinger readily turned this opera with its beautiful music into a play about a tyrant doing all he could to destroy refugees, whose cruel state he was partly responsible for. The staging was minimal, she allowed the figures of the fleeing, the victims, the war scenes their full plain predominance.


From Mozart’s Idomeneo, sung and staged at Wolf Trap this past Saturday, June 30th

Ellen

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Ian McKellan Mr Holmes in the movie; yes, that’s the great actress Hattie Morahan in the back. The film also had Laura Linney in it. What more could you ask?

Sexual intercourse began
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.

Up to then there’d only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.

Then all at once the quarrel sank:
Everyone felt the same,
And every life became
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.

So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-three
(Though just too late for me) –
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.
Annus Mirabilis by Philip Larkin (1922-1985) — Larkin was one of Jim’s favorite poets; the poem is meant ironically; fucking is not all, you must also do it from the heart

Friends,

That’s the latest advice I’ve had, and it was well meant. Do I want to do this Winston Graham/Poldark book? The difficulty in following it is not that the “sign” is too ambiguous, as in “follow nature” in the 18th century and ever since; but what is meant clearly to me carved out by the heart’s longings are in still desperate need of such different, contradictory and ceaselessly self-precluding food. Self-precluding. I don’t travel from home because I want to. I go out to teach and I post and blog because I need to.

This was in regards to my Winston Graham project, which I proceed at with such a snail’s pace (since I do much else in order to be with people and to feel I am useful in the world) I may not be ready to write until I’m dead. I have to make up my mind what I want. My sincere answer to that is it’s not what I want to do, but what I can. To sustain the will to live on actively (in the face of what is emerging as a fascist racist dictatorship funded by very sophisticated groups of super-rich people, enforced by a ferocious criminalizing police and court system, voted in by groups of people whose impoverished miserable lives fill them with hate and fear) I need the larger calm perspective provided by participating in socializing at whatever cost of time. And there is what I believe I will be able to publish after I’ve written it. I’ve learned to publish something takes social skills and vital permissions; to disseminate it, active connections.

I have begun listening to Oliver Hembraugh reading aloud Graham’s Angry Tide. Graham’s tone is what draws me in. So quietly intelligent and insightful, thoroughly realistic truthful as he can be about the era from the point of view of vulnerable, fringe people, those with hearts. I find the book has a quiet charm similar to what I found in the non-Poldark Dangerous Pawn and is found now and again when a book is set in Cornwall the tone is sustained.

I have managed to store up (like some squirrel) a couple of publicly shared experiences in the past couple of weeks, which it’s possible may come your way. During the time I am at these functions or places I forget what is happening in the public sphere, though I fear eventually the “mowing the lawn” will get to me and mine.


Theo and Kevin in the play

Last Sunday I went to Ken Urban’s The Remains as acted at the Studio Theater in DC (directed by David Muse). reminds me I had planned to buy a copy of The Gabriels, another play set in a family group over dinner or an occasion; The Remains reminds me of Nelson’s The Gabriels which I saw 2 years ago now and Karam’s The Humans which I saw last year. Nelson’s Gabriels is three plays — like Stoppard’s Norman Conquests, the same storyline and characters gone over from three different perspectives and time of day or night. Karam’s Humans is one night and not as good, but the family has gone over the edge economically

Ken Urban’s The Remains was astonishingly openly acted, with all emotional life on display. The story is of a pair of gay men whose marriage/partnership has failed or broken up. They have filed for divorce. They have invited the parents of one of them, Theo (Glenn Fitzgerald), American, Jewish, over for dinner, and Andrea (Danielle Skraastad) the sister of the other, Kevin (Maulik Pancholy), to tell them. The action consists of the reactions of these people, the revelations of their lives and a slow exposure to the final climax of the two men opening up before the audience what has happened within their private relationship.

One of the origins of their estrangement is Kevin is Indian, and so non-white, and after his degree from Harvard (! — much admired that he went there), and dissertation (also admired), he could not get any job above adjunct in Boston; to obtain these signs of respect and money (for comfort, a life in dignity and security for the rest of his life), he had to move to Oregon where he dislikes the school and culture. Kevin became very embittered and could not help taking this out on Theo (or so Theo felt it). They seem to have enough money because Theo has given up his humanities career in university (we are not told much about this) to become a lawyer.

Another source is their sex life has not gone well, and Theo seems to have broken their agreement not to have other lovers and to tell the truth about any other sexual encounter or partner. The assumption not gone into is that it is somehow more “natural” or part of their gay orientation to have more than one partner, and that is why they vowed not to do it because they wanted a total commitment.

Their different races have also been part of what caused the estrangement: Kevin feels Theo is turned off because he’s not white. Theo is the more vulnerable personality, he has had much more support from his parents; Kevin is adopted and the white parents keep their distance from Kevin and his sister.

Odd thing about the reviews of this one: one emphasized how well off this gay couple is, what a fancy kitchen. It’s not — they are okay — is being okay nowadays rare?

I mentioned in my previous blog that I saw Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach last Thursday or Friday (as is common with movies from his books, he did the screenplay). Dominic Cooke, the director of the TV films from Shakespeare, The Wars of the Roses 1 & 2 (from the 7 play Hollow Crown series). Chesil Beach is about a young heterosexual couple who cannot consummate on their wedding night: quite explicitly about the ravages of repressed sexuality (and fear and condemnation from the usual religious angles) and class differences. Their relationship is destroyed because he is very angry over the way he has been treated.

The two come together in my mind as exploring similar things. Both spoke home to me. Both are retrospective. The Remains is also about how lonely the two men are now; there is this moving epilogue of the character coming out to tell the audience in a singsong fashion about what life is like for them now. How Theo has not gotten over the loss of Kevin is made plain, but indirectly we see Kevin just has disintegrated too. On Chesil Beach is a series of flashbacks from the the wedding night but it then fast forwards too to show the two now. At one point the movie manages to allude to Philip Larkin’s famous poem where he says sexual intercourse began in 1963 and came with the Beatles. I know what he means, and this is an experience akin to what I knew in my teens and attitudes of mind almost impossible to shake. The movie is more upbeat because it’s a movie intended for general audiences and has this emotional bath at the conclusion where while the girl obviously got over her paralysis, married, had children and a wonderful career while the young man just became the owner of a very shabby music store (he had gotten his degree but it was clear without the girl’s father he had no chance for a middle class job). We see him weeping at a concert where her group of musicians is honored. She weeps too. I began reading the book, what a felicitiously unobtrusive simple style, I’m told it ends quietly and bleakly — as this core would probably from such a situation.

Although all four by men the males in his case do go into women’s true point of view: Kevin’s sister for example has lived through the hell of two broken marriages. Nelson’s characters are centrally women, all but one is a woman.
One troubling aspect to not lose sight of: at each step there is less larger political perspective. The Remains never touched upon our present economic situation as what has destroyed Kevin’s chances and made his race an over-the-top liability; The Humans showed such desperation no one could get him or herself to discuss the political situation.

This evening Izzy and I saw a HD screening documentary, biography style film, Ian McKellen: Playing the Part where he is the central continuing speaker — about him, his life, his career. Don’t miss this one either. Yes there is hype, yes he promotes himself but the film functions as a history of 20th century theater too since McKellan was so much a part of the evolution from actors who were part of the theater but not film before the spread of TV, demonstrating how important and often better or more genuine authentic were small and provincial theaters beyond London (McKellan was the moving force in the Actors Company — I didn’t know that). It was about gay history in the 20th century: before this century there could be no history since anyone who came out was subject to terrifying humiliating fatal punishments. I remember seeing him live with Jim at the Kennedy Center as Richard III. McKellen said that was a turning point in his life, when he turned that into film as a director. Jim got a kick out of how he handled a cigarette. I remember the large facsimile of a train on stage. For McKellen it opened the film industry to him finally.


Milo Parker

How I enjoyed two summers ago now Mr Holmes. Milo Parker who played the boy who loves Mr Holmes in that played the young McKellen in this documentary. I hope I put the book away in a place I can find it. If I should give up Graham, that would be one I’d try. Alas he’s won no Oscars thus far. The academy fears a homophobic part of the public.

Follow your heart: Ian McKellan was worth listening to for himself, for how he sees his life: he made it plain that he feels the driving force inside that made him an actor who could open up his intelligent passionate emotional life to others was his homosexuality. He was cut off from others; he had to hide himself. In order to reach others, he had to do it through this disguise, and so he did out — of a need for other human beings. He also regards himself as someone whose task it is to help others get through life by offering himself in the persons of these characters. Other people spend long hours at work, long hours of frustration and then they come to the theater and during the time they are there, you as actor are affecting them. Perhaps you can help them improve themselves or feel better by the emotional catharsis you offer, or the humor you enact. When a cruel law was promulgated by Thatcher over and above the anti-homosexual laws of the UK, he came out and worked hard to defeat it. It was passed, but no other was and it was then nullified by the change in attitudes towards gay people he and others in permanent institutions they set up continue to create. The AIDS crisis was another transformation: as an actor he went about extending the campaign to save as many people as he could.


When young as David Copperfield

Now he goes into schools and tries to help others by telling of his life as a gay man. He said they teach him, young people. They don’t want to be seen as categories — he has the generosity of heart to break out of his way of thinking and say, well yes. Why should he see himself as a gay man. He is a man, a human being first. His homosexuality does not define him, though his society tried to repress him wholly because of it. We see him living with the absurd roles he is now given in film: cartoon figures. He tries to give them depth.

But finally it is the theater that is his love. We see him with Patrick Stewart on stage doing Waiting For Godot. There was one at the Shakespeare theater this summer and I didn’t go — I should have. He said while the production is on, the rehearsals, the acting, the aftermath he becomes part of this group as a family. He knows so many actors like himself for years. He is alone now, no family, and he lives his life in effect among strangers. But he is buoyed by the sharing of this great talent and his gifts. We see his long-standing relationships in private: the men who were his partners are glimpsed. He singles out Judy Dench and a few others who live a life of meaning with him. He thinks of death frequently, has planned his funeral, is sad because he wont be able to be there.

I am writing from the heart; when I write even academic papers I write them from the heart; that’s why I can’t pretend them or make them come unless I believe in them. I try to teach from the heart. Post to the Internet, blog from the heart. Those texts written from the heart are the ones I look for and nourish myself on. There are people, as Shakespeare says, who seem to have no heart or only hard and selfish ones. How I love the actress Hattie Morahan in Davies’s 2008 Sense and Sensibility: like Holmes, she puts her inside self before us and reaches us fully.


Hattie Morahan as my favorite character, Elinor Dashwood


The local arts celebrity; Aubrey Davies was there to commemorate his mother.

I attended the abbreviated Bloomsbury day reading held at the OLLI at AU (1:30 to nearly 6:00 reading and talking of the Ithaca chapter, second to the last in Joyce’s Ulysses: it did teach me that chapter has alive vitality and the book may be readable — its outpouring of brilliant beautiful language reminded me of how I lost a female Telemachus (a young woman actually tried to chat me up at a function for Columbia grad students Jim and I went to. So after a six-year hiatus (Jim read one year and remarkably well) I returned to Jim’s worn and falling apart copy of Joyce’s book.


A married couple at OLLI reading together.

Both of my classes going splendidly — the Woolf too, and tomorrow is my film club. This coming week I go to another HD screening at the Folger: a DC original production of a re-write, modernization of Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream. The coming Saturday another mass demonstration across the US — what else do we have? Wall-to-wall people in the Metro paralyzes it so I may phone the Smithsonian to ask if they might re-schedule a Gilbert and Sullivan program they had scheduled for that morning. Real acting and singing from the musicals. Izzy and I were looking forward to it. How will anyone get there? Be sensible I’ll say. Very unlucky for that later afternoon (by mistake) I bought tickets for us to go to Wolf Trap Barns theater to see Mozart’s Idomeneo. Our first opera this year. We can still go as it will be in Fairfax but if we want to the demonstration we’d never be back in time.

A bad time over my boy pussycat, Ian aka Snuffy cat. About a week ago Ian had a crying jag around dawn, and it was not that Izzy would not let him into her room. He had at the time also developed a sore by his eye. I took him to the vet and she said his heart rate was worrying high: blood pressure 240. The bill for an “emergency” visit and tests was a whopping $455. She gave me pills to give him but he fought me so and then hid from me for a full day and one half (something he has not done for over a year and more now), that I gave it up. I was able to put the eye salve on and his eye is better. No crying jags.

Well I went again for a follow-up and the tests I paid for apparently say together (with her listening) that the cat has a heart murmur. It would cost me $1100 to have the blood, cardiac and other tests for a diagnosis and then I’d have to give him medicine the rest of his life if the diagnosis showed there is a medicine he could take. It could be three a day. But I was unable to get him to take medicine this week at all so I decided not to do it.

I do love this cat now — if you could see how most of the time he is a transformed personality and no longer hides most of the time but is affectionate to me and Izzy, playful, remembering what we do over the day and joining in. Right now he is on my map rubbing his face against mine. He now sticks by me most of the day. We shall have an appt every six months to see how he’s doing.


What we are reading together on WomenWriters@groups.io – thus far arresting, persuasive story about Muslim young woman who grew up in Pakistan come to do graduate work in Boston, Mass

Ellen

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Vanessa Bell, Interior with the artist’s daughter (1935-36)

Friends,

You see before you an image I’ve just scanned in using my new computer to test whether the computer’s imagery making gadgetry is working. It is. So too its print making capacity. Yes, I’ve acquired a new Dell PC Desktop Computer, and am almost “back in business.” Not all my files have been transferred (precious ones not here here include the Charlotte Smith files) and a few other glitches and helps in installing, and I’ll be back where I was on May 18th when my previous computer gave up its inner ghost. These two weeks I’ve again learned what a remarkably able computer is my laptop in the corner, a Macbook Pro (apple).

I’ve two themes tonight: library memories and recognition of some contrasting aspects of human experience. The first is a result of coming across an article in the Times Literary Supplement (probably my favorite periodical) for May 25, 2018, “Speaking Out of the Silence;” at the Hay Festival this year (I’ve no idea what that is or where it’s held), speakers were asked to share “significant memories and thoughts relating to libraries.” I notice it because I would and this past week I renewed my Reader Identification card at the Library of Congress for the first time since around 2003. I was required to sit up close face-front to a camera:


A bit blurred because it’s a cell phone photo of the card’s photo of me (this past Tuesday)

I had come to read a rare book by Winston Graham, one of his pre-Poldark novels, The Dangerous Pawn (rather good, promising, containing many of the Cornish elements, melancholy, quietude, and early sketches of interesting characters later found in Poldark country) and the next day spent as much time as my strength allowed reading it in the main reading room. Upon first coming in and settling down, I thought to myself, how glad I am “I made Izzy a librarian.” Of course I didn’t make her a librarian, but it was my idea for a profession for her. I wondered why my parents never thought of it for me. How lucky to sit in the silence surrounded by learning. At the Pentagon where she is, and here in this library, the books are open to all.

Tonight these memories leap to mind for me. (I have many others.) The first at age 10 or so this momentous moment of being taken by my father to the “adult” part of an enormous library” — so it seemed to me — on Sutphin Boulevard in the Bronx. It was a walk and bus ride away from our apartment house. We climbed up a back stairway, and I was allowed out to take out books with his card and then given one of my own. I have to have been 10 because we moved from the Bronx to Kew Gardens, Queens, by the time I was 11.

Age 19 or so being let into an art library on 52nd street in Manhattan to study Delacroix’s illustrations for a stage production of Hamlet in Paris – it was part of my term project for an art history course art Queens College. I had to have a letter of introduction from the professor. I was not prepossessing looking I could see from the librarian’s response to me, but after a few days of quiet toil on my part, studying sketches, the librarian realized I was harmless and hardly paid attention to me at all. I didn’t have to take the final after writing that paper.

A whole slew of Saturdays (literally years) spent in the Folger Library reading poetry by women whose first editions and manuscripts the Folger had: Anne Finch (18th century English), Vittoria Colonna, Veronica Gambara (Renaissance Italian). That was the later 1980s to early 1990s; more recently in the Library of Congress around 1999-2000 I examined the first illustrations to some of Anthony Trollope’s novels by looking at periodical issues, and then around 2004 reading Anne Murray Halkett’s fragments of autobiography and a broken-off journal back in the Folger again (she was a 17th century Scots woman active in the 1640s and 50s civil war)

What unites these is how happy I was to be there, how much I enjoyed such moments. I did like research at the New York Public Library in the 1970s but it never had this cut-off idyllic sense of quietude. It was there I first became acquainted (so to speak) with Charlotte Smith (all but two of her novels were still rare). And once at the Morgan Library while I was writing my dissertation on Samuel Richardson seeing the one page fragment in his own handwriting towards a fourth novel: to be called Mrs Harriet Beaumont. Now she exists only a widow glimpsed in his Sir Charles Grandison. I remember this because the librarian hovered over me.

I asked on TrollopeAndHisContemporaries@groups.io, if anyone there had any memories to share and two generous people told of precious moments and a history of the self through such memories.


Another Vanessa Bell, A Bird Cage (yes I’m reading a good biography of her and another study of her work and that of Duncan Grant and Roger Fry)

The other is a theme or variation on related topics suggested to me by a social experience I missed out on last Saturday (the day after my computer failed). I had planned to go to monthly meeting of Aspergers adults in Washington, D.C, but in the mid-afternoon I had been further demoralized by an encounter related to my attempt to re-learn to use my Macbook pro, and its updated Word writing program experience and so gave it up when I saw rain. Or so I told myself. I had been in two minds about going, and know now I should have gone since I regretted missing it.

Among other things, they have a monthly topic, which they discuss, and it turned out to have been a significant one for me: learning to recognize significant issues and how to we can choose to deal with them. Well, I thought immediately that I have a hard time sustaining friendships. I probably recognize this one so I’m not sure it fits what was asked for, but I would have liked to talk with others about this since recognition hasn’t helped me much. Some of what happens I can recognize a bit and try to counter it: that is, I seem to become too emotionally dependent or just too close, often times when I’m really not. This is apparently how I can be perceived and I can’t always realize this is a response on the part of others or there in my behaviors. When I can recognize this is happening, I do curb it. But beyond that there are other things that happen, so multiple or various because human relationships are, and what can happen I recognize I have done something which irritates the other person only as or after I’ve done it. Usually after I’ve done it and later so it is harder to apologize. Sometimes I don’t know what it was and long experience has taught me the other person won’t tell me.

Specifically, I was widowed 5 years ago and have made continual active attempts to form friendships and have failed to sustain any for any length of time. Partly it’s that I’m old and by my age most people are utterly embedded in their ways, their relationships, their families. Just about every woman I’ve become close to is divorced, separated, never married. I’ve been unlucky: of 8, the closest a dear friend, also autistic, died of cancer this past spring. I am missing her badly. Two were intolerant, would not make the effort I was making, made fun of me when I tried. Another moved back to Paris. A last grew distant: she lives across the street, also a widow whose husband died of cancer in his mid-sixties and with a grown adult child who lives with her who is also autistic — she does have to stay with him and she has said to me that she cannot have people over too often as her son becomes uncomfortable. She is not lonely as she still have a full time job and she just does not yearn for close relationships after her husband is gone. She has told me it’s like her past has been erased. Finally one person I visited for too long: I realized there were tensions but thought we remained good friends when I left, only to find castigating emails that shocked me when I got home. She had not at all said she was displeased and I know she tried to bully me and I resisted. I’m left with one, many acquaintances and a number of long-time friends who are friends at a distance, though email. NT people think you are posing: surely this technical intuition is not hard. You cannot always be getting lost. Many cannot bear any sign of vulnerability or if you do something different than other people.

I become friends with stray women — people also at liminal points of their lives. So the friend is here temporarily. He is a man in his late-50s, a lost a long-time good job and is trying for a new one here and then doesn’t succeed so has to return home. These have been two lonely weekends without my regular computer and also from teeth pain (a part of one of my dentures broke off — ouch for my tongue; I was two hours at the dentist this week and now am very uncomfortable until the new perment denture comes in). I’d love to hear from others — is there any technique you use to try to recognize if things are going badly; anything you do regularly. I try to be patient, but silent and smiling doesn’t always work either.

I told this to other women on a (closed group) at face-book, and was so relieved to read of similar experiences and trouble where the attitude of mind was that these kinds of estrangements are even common and in their judgement just as much the result of the NT or other person’s failure of understanding. Women will decide to end a friendship suddenly and not explain why. To a person they all repeated in different forms what I gathered from a summary on-line was the considered response at the meeting I missed: one has only so much energy and time in life and it’s actually best to turn away (as it were reciprocally) and cease self-reproach. If it takes you a long time to see this decision on the part of the person, or if they shock you with sudden castigation, doesn’t matter. It is useless and worse (exhausting, leaving no time to do what we enjoy or find real profit in — I’m not talking money or some unreal prestige) to beat at walls of indifference, self-reproach.

The most common response I’ve had to such utterances is blame, or useless unrealizable advice — one is not asking for anyone to tell you what to do. Several expressed surprise at what surprises me (e.g., how so many people feel no need to reply when you write them), how it can be said that autistic and Aspergers people are insensitive! Be glad of the one or two truly meaningful relationships you have, better to stay at peace with yourself and enjoy what is in you to enjoy. People told of how much online relationships can mean.

They also talked of how it’s said or been theorized (demonstration is hard) that Aspergers & autistic people tend to have more early childhood memories, and some they had. I confided (in turn) that I remember some significant events — probably because I went to stay with relatives and this sort of disruption and separation from parents stays with a child. I remember an event when I was around 18 months old, two from when I was 3. In one left with my grandmother, she left the hot apartment to sit up on the roof because she thought I was asleep, I woke to find no one and thought I was deserted forever. In another my mother forced to do something that was deeply humiliating: I made the mistake of telling her I had to go to the bathroom (the way we put it then). In public, by the side of a car she forced me to urinate. I begged her not to do this to me. I never forgot it. And I vowed never to tell her anything again that evidenced need, and I believe I never did. She was not to be trusted to respect me. When I’ve told people this (especially NTs I think) they tell me this didn’t matter, I was only 3 so therefore it didn’t matter (what she did was humiliating for an older kid but not for a 3 year old?) nor should I remember it. My mother also tried to force me to do things I didn’t want to because she thought it was “normal” to want to do x or y. I learned to be so glad she went out to work from the time I was around 10 months old on and off all my life when I lived with her. I think all my pre 5-6 year old memories come from when I was distressed. Missing my father because I was sent to live with other relatives when they lived in an apartment where no children were allowed. Then there are a couple of this lit-up moments from when I was around 4. My continuous memory begins in kindergarten — I was 5-6. I have been told of other events that happened and ways I behaved before 6 but I don’t remember them on my own.

A self-conscious caring what other people think, including those one will probably never see again, ended our thread. The story of how I didn’t learn to ice-skate came to mind. My parents bought a pair of skates for me, and I couldn’t drive so I went with my first husband as my boyfriend. What happened what I was so nervous, anxious I went very slowly and he kept getting behind me and pushing to go faster and wouldn’t leave me be so I fell badly. Later he said “everyone was looking at us” so we can’t do that again and refused to drive me there. Why not? I asked. He just wouldn’t go with me unless I went faster. I used to assume that people would most of them automatically sympathize with me; instead I’ve had two say of course he was mortified. How terrible of you (meaning me) to behave that way. Why should I or he or she care about people we know nothing of? I remain astonished. it’s not like someone driving on the road at 3 miles an hour where others in cars begin to behave dangerously because they have to go slower. But human feeling and need must be crushed under fear of what other people think. Who cares that people might look down on you skating slowly? find you ridiculous. Anyway I never learned to ice-skate and those pretty & expensive skates went into an attic.


Paul Gaugin, Mimi and Her Cat (1890)

The above picture is the first by Gaugin I’ve ever liked. It’s found in one of my late night-time reading books: Desmond Morris’s humane Cats in Art. Morris critiques and presents attitudes towards the cat and what we can know of the lives of domestic cats since we have first proof of their existence, and how differently they have been presented in art. The key to understanding and right treatment of non-human animals (I have been reading in yet another TLS article, Barbara J. King, “Our family and other animals,” May 25 2018) is first to regard them as individuals with complex psychologies in the way initiated by Jane Goodall. Why were cats in particular persecuted for a few hundred years in Europe (partly because they were companions to women?). I will be blogging on this book soon.

Ellen

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Dear friends and readers,

Yes on Friday night while I was watching a movie on it, the movie froze as did everything on the screen. My mouse wouldn’t work. A couple of times I was able to reach the starter menu but I would lose contact. I was afraid to press control-alt-delete (foolish cowardly) and instead just shut the machine down, hoping it would reboot.

It never did. No matter what I did — pull all six plugs, shut the very electricity down, press F8, or F11 or whatever tricks the IT guy said to do on the phone, it would not go past a black screen with the four colored balls turning into a four flags going dim and brighter.

It has thousands and thousands of precious files on it. Well an IT guy (one of the team) came Monday afternoon and said while they could (he could) try to fix the hard drive (where the problem lay) since the computer was now 4 years old, and had been manifesting problems like this for months, what could happen was in a few weeks or less another hard glitch happen. The wise efficient thing to do was buy a new one. He (as other experts can nowadays) retrieved all the files apparently and put a few on this Macbook Pro or apple I am typing on now so I can do my teaching work, my Graham project, my continuing study of Woolf and Samuel Johnson and biography. The movies Jim downloaded are in a separate hard drive which can be attached to the coming new computer. So too can the monitor, my printer/scanner, and loud speakers. He promised to have ordered a new PC desktop Dell computer, which would have a new CD or DVD drive. It will take a little time. I heard nothing today and if I hear nothing by tomorrow afternoon, I’ll starting phoning and emailing to get them started.

I did have several bad periods; first the first two nights before I made contact with the IT people; then last night when I faced I would have to learn to use Windows 10 (though I am promised a Windows 7 menu starter) and a new Word program when I’ve barely begun to use an older one. My Aspergers traits include great difficulty with new technologies. I have no intuition by analogy when it comes to software. I am calmer tonight. You see I can write about this.

This morning when I sat down to do my lecture/discussion notes I perked up. First of all some of it was typed already since I usually over prepare and have more than I can use and thus use it for the first part of the next period. I thought to myself, for the first time in a long time my desk has no machine on it! I sat down and began to write out my notes for tomorrow’s teaching by hand out of my head as I had done from 1972 to 1997. Yes my Mac is on the library table (underneath the other window where Jim’s computer once sat) and I have access to enormous amounts of material on the Net and am surrounded by years of riches in the form of xeroxed articles and books, and that’s a terrific advantage. I remembered Izzy works using Windows 10 all the live long day and she won’t refuse to explain and Laura promised to come over and explain for me the latest Word program. I even used the new Word program just a bit successfully. So I am feeling less panicked over a updated Windows and Word program. Tim (the IT guy) said he would download the latest OpenOffice.org on the new computer too, replace the icons I had on the now defunct desktop.

Now I worry about when the new computer will come as teaching starts June 6th. The last two days I’ve been reading Trollope’s short stories and am near to picking out the eight we will read over a month. I thought back to when my computer died last time: it was a month after Jim died, and in a way it was no surprised. It was he who kept that old machine and its software going; without him it couldn’t last. I can;t remember what I did that first couple of months I had not started teaching, was in effect doing nothing and couldn’t even drive. Perhaps I was so upset this time because I do things now. Instead of berating myself for all my failures over 60 years let’s say (since I was 9 when I in effect “woke up” to realize my parents hated each other and we were very poor) I should look at how far I came from that.

A few days ago on a face-book page for autistic-Aspergers women I tried to comfort another autistic person on that face-book page who had been saying that at 51 she sometimes feels so bad because she can’t hold up the achievements others can. Yes she is happily enough married and her husband is her friend. She has children, but like most non-NT people few friends, is lonely: someone was making the mistake of urging the very values and standards on her of the NT world that injure so, only modifying that she should take her time getting to these. Like a 5 foot person should take her time becoming 5 feet five.

I wrote: I’m 71 and have recently experienced another of my worldly failures [I have, gentle reader, I don’t tell you everything]: I and the person who knows about this will be the only ones probably, but these happen periodically. I had a long happy marriage (45 years) and now am a widow with two grown daughters, one lives with me and we do get along, even love one another. I’ve a Ph.D and a long (honorable) history of teaching in colleges, have published & so on. But when I compare myself with what my peers have done, I don’t belong to their club: I never got tenure, or any full time position (for example). I am very lonely; I have a hard time making any close friends so his death leaves a huge emptiness every day and night too. I made a local friend in the last five years where we became close and she died of cancer a few months ago.

I’d say this: don’t measure your success by imposed standards others take on because their genes and chance permitted it, whether the NT world many of which depend on social manipulation, tactful lying, understanding countless ever permutating unwritten codes. Look where you came from, and and measure your achievement by that, by your real gifts and satisfactions, which you probably had to work much harder for than a non-disabled person. Autism is not a character trait; it’s a group of disabling traits and or not having traits. If you’ve done what was in you to do then you have fulfilled your talents. Don’t berate yourself for what chance gave others’ genes and circumstances: they were born to wealth, or to a family where they didn’t need to socialize as they were so well connected; or in culture where people don’t move all the time. You’ve had your enjoyments from your character which they probably don’t want, don’t understand, don’t appreciate. They won’t congratulate you on your hard work and successes or these experiences which you preferred because they don’t prefer them and they are in the majority. But you don’t need to be on their platform. For myself when I’m feeling stronger, I know I haven’t wanted some of these because of the price I would have had to pay for them. Beating out another person, giving up a personal relationship that doesn’t fit, maybe not having another child, whatever. Writing the essay you want. Singing the song you want to sing in the way you want to sing it. Think of the price of their ticket. Then that you had to (because your genes are different) and wanted to chose a different ticket.

I don’t say that works every day nor the nights; it’s hard to shut out the superficial chatter and boasting and shallow admiration of the world and it dominates in public social life (especially so on face-book).

Virginia Woolf was so lucky to have been born to those she was born to. I think many intelligent people are similarly isolated — that’s why they enjoy conferences in the areas they study or work in. It’s only the very few who are born to intellectual families who have money and rank to pull other families into a circle because how the house looks, how you make dinner all count so even for the intelligent.

Ellen (time to drop the pseudonym at long last)

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Moth orchid?

Friends,

This is my fifth summer without Jim and I find myself remembering the final sentence of Henry James’s Washington Square:  “Catherine, meanwhile, in the parlour, picking up her morsel of fancy-work, had seated herself with it again, as it were, for life.”   I don’t sew, nor garden, nor cook but pick up my books, turn movies, writing, and reading and writing with  friends on the Net (Ayala’s Angel and then Howard’s End on one list, Sybille Bedford’s Jigsaw for now on another). She did not have my options: I’ll be teaching “Trollope’s Traveler, Colonialist, Editor and Rural Tales” at OLLI at AU for four weeks, and “Woolf’s Flush, Orlando, and Three Guineas” for six. Just once a week. I have a new course to prepare for in the fall at AU:

The Enlightenment: at Risk?

It’s been suggested the ideas associated with the European Enlightenment, a belief in people’s ability to act rationally, ideals of social justice, human rights, toleration, education for all, in scientific method, are more at risk than any time since the 1930s. In this course we’ll ask what was & is meant by the term, how & why did this movement spread, against what obstacles, what were the realities of the era and what were the new genres & forms of art that emerged. We’ll read Voltaire’s Candide, Diderot’s The Nun, Samuel Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands, and excerpts from Madame Roland’s Memoirs.

And over at Mason in fall, I’ll repeat Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall as Tudor matter, using the great film. August for under two weeks I’ll go with Road Scholar to the Lake District and Scottish borders.

So no fear of nothing to do this summer — with memories of him and my cats by my side. Nevertheless, I find if I am home alone all day by 4 in the afternoon I become desperate; I can take a couple of days of it no more. So I teach and nowadays go to classes too.

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Paths of Glory (Kubrick 1957, starring George C. Scott; reviewed in Guardian)

Since I last wrote on Milan, I have written about the films, plays, concerts Izzy and I have been to together and me alone on Jim and Ellen have a blog, two. There is a remarkable black Hamlet from the RSC touring about; not to be missed. And a Future Learn course on Jane Austen on Austen Reveries. There’s still 8 days to join in.

As an end-of-term thank you gift, my Later Virginia Woolf spring class at OLLI at AU gave me the above lovely flowering plant you see above. I don’t know if the person who chose it had in mind Woolf’s “Death of the Moth,” but the other gift a DVD of Elizabeth Bowen’s Last September (with Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Fiona Shaw, Keeley Hawes, Lambert Wilson, Jane Birkin, David Tennant, script: John Banville) did emerge from my having said that Elizabeth is a daughter of Woolf. I watched it with Izzy a few years ago (Jim was still alive and he half-watched, coming in and out of the room) when she took a post-graduate course (for her) in Irish literature and “did” Bowen’s novel for her term project (a paper and talk). A superb film. Can I fit in re-reading that? blogging on the comparison? I’ll see.

The spring courses at OLLI at Mason are just coming to an end: my He Knew He Was Right, sexual and marital conflicts in Trollope and the 19th century is going astonishingly well. I hardly have to prompt discussion. I am attending a four week course where we hear about the life of and listen to and watch Leonard Cohen performing his extraordinary masterpieces of poetry and music. A little from this:

Of course this was not written recently — the year of Tiananem Square. He meant to be ironic.

A brilliantly accurate course on the aftermath of World War One has included stunning discussions on the part of the lecturer of the real behavior of the colonializers and a further three anti-war masterpieces of film: Renoir’s La Grande Illusion, Kubrick’s uncompromisingly truthful Paths of Glory, featuring George C. Scott; and this week a 1995 BBC and PBS film named All the King’s Men (a more precise clearer name is Gallipoli).

The last less well-known than the other two merits a little attention: it tells the larger story of the catastrophic slaughter of thousands and thousands of men at Gallipolli

It uses an incident where all the men from a single country house — the king’s Sandringham — went as a battalion to Gallipolli and only one returned. No one has ever offered an official explanation, much less any kind of apology. Basically they were thrown away: these young men went with foolish naive ideas about glory and honor, seeming almost not to consider they are invading a country, sent there to kill, and so of course the people there will try to kill you. No provision made for them of any long term supplies, no study of the terrain, they were told to take a hill (rather like Paths of Glory) only there were no trenches to hide in. it’s too sentimental about the country house and much compromise of nostalgia for this “earlier innocent world” (I thought of Gosford Park) but the effect was as strong as Paths of Glory and it by telling this incident in such detail taught me what happened at Gallipolli. I heard one watcher say as if this is adequate: Churchill stubbed his toe. Another woman moaned about the bad Turks but most people could see what was put before us.

So house improvements:  Izzy and I dared to build a cat tree. It was harder than building a large Edwardian dollhouse (came up to my waist) that she, I and Laura built years ago. But no one was burnt as there was no need for a hot melt glue gun. We had a faded complex diagram, everything lettered and many screws and parts.

It’s in my bedroom. Those are the books against one of the windowless walls in my bedroom. (All the rooms in house have large windows on two of the walls.) Last night they climbed on it, They sat up high and surveyed their world; they fought (playfully) on different parts; it’s a scratching post and then went into and out of one of the stacks. Our pussycats have begun to use climb in and around it. The soft bowl sticking out I turned round to be inside the cat tree space and they sniff about it. I had a small or low tree, which I have now moved to my sunroom. It’s just the height of the window sills, which are very narrow and hard to sit on. Now they can sit on that cat tree and look out.

It’s all a pretty beige or cream colored tight fur or hard carpet and wickerwork. This morning I discovered that when Ian, the ginger tabby male sits behind the soft bowl pushed in and a thick string and the stack, he cannot see me very well. This is the sort of thing that makes him think I cannot see him at all. So he is happy there. The low slung sort of awning has a sort of cat purpose too. Ian falls into it because he puts his paw into a made round hole in the same flat; he then scrambles. It’s not just to amuse me but also puzzle him as he goes round and round pawing at it, trying to work out what it is. Clarycat has never been as playful a cat, though she can get possessive over specific toys (like her small grey mouse). But she leaps from platform to platform all the way to top and is mistress of all she surveys. $70, prime amazon so no shipping cost.

On face-book people did something I didn’t expect (they often do). Tried to work out what were the books behind the cat tree. I was asked about alphabetizing and if items were out of place near Devendra P. Varma’s Gothic Flame. So answer here: behind the cat tree lower down is my film books section, my gothic books section, and my translation books section; further up language books and it’s mostly books in Italian. The acqua book to the left high up is an Elsa Morante novel. Bookcase one over (or next): all books in French. If you see two crimson colored books that’s George Sand’s Consuelo, a row of books by George Sand who I used to love to read. Still do but am onto other things now. More individual: close to Varma on one side Tyler Tichelaar’s Gothic Wanderer and next to that Tzetan Todorov’s The Fantastic: A structural approach to a literary genre. On the other side of xeroxes of Varma’s other essays in a red folder, two anthologies (out of order, lots of my books are out of order) and then a favore, Anne Williams’s wonderful Art of Darkness: a Poetics of Gothic, about female gothic books.

It does look like I will not be able to have a garden this year: to do it with a plan, and hiring a landscape/gardening place is outrageously expensive.  So I don’t know what to do about my five flower plots as yet.  For now I’m just leaving them there.

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Image online from Archives at the British Library

And I’m at long last reading away for my Winston Graham-Poldark modernist biography. I’m re-watching the old Poldarks serial and falling in love with them all over again. I listen to Davina Porter read aloud Gabaldon’s Voyager (Outlander 3), and watch the seasons, one hour at a time, obsessively after midnight. I rejoined the once-a-month-film-club and have a new friend to go with, and for Izzy and I have bought a few tickets to see Shakespeare, two operas and Gilbert and Sullivan this summer.

The worst thing about the area I live in is we are land-locked so one cannot get in one’s car and drive to the beach for the day and then home again. In NYC Jim and I used to do that in the 1970s: on Tuesday and Thursday early in the morning with our dog Llyr we’d set out for Jones Beach, close by we’d buy coffee and croissants and then go to an area where dogs were allowed. She liked going in the water and playing on the sand. We’d be home by 2.

Foolishly perhaps discussing what is real life with a friend. People keep excluding life on the Internet from “real life,” or reading, or writing, and watching movies seems not to count either. Or what do we mean by “building a life?” In the US today I’d offer this doubt as a note of reassurance: there is no building a life that one can rely on except for the few lucky who 1) above all hold onto the same middle class job that is respected for a long time and provides enough income to do what’s called entertain; 2) thus live more or less in the same vicinity for a long time; and 3) often as important stay in one relationship, again for a long time. The deprivation of ordinary daily happinesses and loneliness we are told so many Americans live with is from the insecurity of jobs, the destroying of social places open to all.

Gentle reader, do you know this poem by Leonie Adams:

The Horn

While coming to the feast I found
A venerable silver-throated horn,
Which were I brave enough to sound,
Then all, as from that moment born,
Would breathe the honey of this clime,
And three times merry in their time
Would praise the virtue of the horn.

The mist is risen like thin breath;
The young leaves of the ground smell chill,
So faintly are they strewn on death,
The road I came down a west hill;
But none can name as I can name
A little golden-bright thing, flame,
Since bones have caught their marrow chill.

And in a thicket passed me by,
In the black brush, a running hare,
Having a spectre in his eye,
That sped in darkness to the snare;
And who but I can know in pride
The heart, set beating in the side,
Has but the wisdom of a hare?

People are trying to revive foremother poetry for Fridays on Wom-po.

This what it is for me. I’ve tried to express something of my life by telling these activities and also provide context for the rest of the summer’s blogs.

Miss Drake

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Izzy on the train

All the time they seemed to be skating in fathomless depths of air, so blue the ice had become; and so glassy smooth was it that they sped quicker and quicker to the city with the white gulls circling about them, and cutting in the air with their wings the very same sweeps that they cut on the ice with their skates — a dream of ice-skating during a hard frost, the Thames, Virginia Woolf, Orlando


Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding

Friends,

While last week’s account was the last about Milan and nearby environs, I have yet to speak of why we came when we did: the World’s Championship Ice-Skating contest was held from March 21st to 25th at a nearby (just outside the city proper) forum. My daughter Isobel is a devoted expert, blogger, fiction writer, evaluative fan of ice-skating. There are people who know as much as she does of the recent history of ice-skating, but I doubt you’d find anyone who knows more.

Starting Wednesday mid-morning when the tickets were handed out (no, you could not print out the tickets on any website, though you were advised to buy them well ahead), until late at night for the next four nights, and Sunday 2 to 5 for a gala performance (aired on TV), she absorbed herself in the ice-skating. She also went to a couple of early morning practices:

Laura and I joined her for three afternoons and the gala.

I could wish you had her to blog here as I’m sure she could and would describe all that happened and the many technical and other contexts with a knowledgeable critical eye. Here you may read her many blogs since Izzy gave up on her own Miss Izzy and stopped blogging there for Fan-Sided for several months, and now to where Laura moved her website from “I should have been a blogger” to Miss Izzy Ani & Izzy. I can’t.

There is also an underside, the realities of the life, the pressures, and the politics of ice-skating. What happens to ice-skaters mirrors what happens to ambition in sports in American and global life (as seen in media too) today.  I review a movie, which, if you at all interested in ice-skating as presently experienced in the US, you ought to see: I, Tonya: Tonya Harding, an ambitious working class girl (and many of those who go in for the championship and those who go are working to lower middle people) driven by the lack of wins because she was not playing the role of a sweet gentile middle class girl, either herself encouraged or was instigated by her violent desperate husband, Jeff Gilloly (Sebastian Stan) into directly attacking her rival, Nancy Kerrigan. The husband and a thug friend tried to destroy one of Kerrigan’s knees. It was quickly found out who had done and became the scandal not only of the decade but perpetually of ice-skating itself.


A photograph Laura snapped of one (athletic) pair

I can tell you something of the experience of watching ice-skating in the Milan stadium. We took a train from where we were staying some 8 stops to just outside the city. About half an hour’s journey after a 5-7 minute walk both ways. Here is what the place looks like from the outside:


Daytime from the side


Nightime from within looking out.

It looks innocuous enough but as one reporter who regularly goes to these mass events, the least of the stadium’s concerns were the human needs of the customers. There two toilets for thousands of women. Two. The lines were not as horrendous as you might imagine because I suppose most women did like me: held themselves in until they got home. Long lines were the order of the day and night. It took hours to collect our tickets. Huge crowds forced to move into five crowd and then thin lines, and all you needed was one person to have troubles on any given line.

Inside the forum you had to wait on three lines to get any food. A line to pay and get your tickets. A line to put in a ticket for whatever food or drink was available. Another line to collect your purchase. I was told this was because very few people were empowered to sell tickets because few were trusted with money. Why two lines and not one were then called for I know not. Maybe because food was so minimal, unvaried, and poor by the time you got it your spirit was cowed. You were not allowed to bring in food or drink. Three years ago I went with Izzy to a stadium in Boston also set up to prevent people bringing food: prices were exhorbitant and I didn’t recognize as food most of what was sold, but there was just one line and there was a large variety of food and drink. Most of the customers in Milan stadium played safe and bought water & simple chip snacks.

Inside the forum the seats were small, the steep incline of the stairs painful if you went up and down more than say twice. The ushers appeared not to know their own stadium and misdirected Izzy, Laura and I at least three times. It was not freezing cold as other ice-skating stadiums I’ve been to are, but it seemed to me the noisiest of all the stadiums I’ve ever been to. Constant loud music inbetween events, flashing commercials from a central turning box, strobe lights when a new turn in events was about to proceed. As if this wasn’t enough, they had hired a bellowing clown to demand of individuals in the crowd that they make spectacles of themselves, of groups to wave flags and clap and hammer the floor with their feet.

More than a decade ago, the first time I went to an ice-skating event at a stadium in DC, I was enchanted. It was not a competition, but a show, not televised. Each of the pairs or individuals performed as personalities; there were shared group sequences. There was no excess noise in the one intermission. Since then in DC no shows come anymore, and it is all fierce competition for places in line-ups for the next contest.

Our prize-obsessed culture has won out. Just about every event is a competition or contest, and the whole atmosphere of the event is intermixed with that of an ordeal. Each of the skaters has thrown their lives into this sport, and they have spent hugely (or their parents have) and it is crucial to win. Some of them fall away quickly; those who stay the course can become anorexic (if girls) or otherwise suffer the various ills that come from such a lifestyle. Their sexual orientation becomes a matter of speculation, and until recently gay men had to hide their sexuality. A figure like Michael Weiss did very well because he is so obviously stereotypically heterosexual white male.

In Milan stadium, after a given contestant’s routine was over, the contestant was led to sit before a replica of the Milan Cathedral waiting for their score: scores in ice-skating are subjective when it comes to decimal differences. most of them are trained not to show deep disappointment but now and then you would see it.

Do most of the people sitting there “tune out” what is going on about them? or does it excite them to feel they are in some celebrity aura? I know this celebrity aura is hard to resist, and when you are near someone thought so famous, and feel the way others about them, you yourself (I myself) act oddly. I once met a Prime Minister of the UK at a Trollope dinner: John Major. I found it hard not to try to impress him somehow in our talk and afterwards felt ashamed of myself.

In watching these young people, I found the earlier dancers (who were the less competent or less be-prized) sometimes more interesting. I wish some overt attention were paid to grace and lyrical beauty, but the way the scores are talked about are in terms of feats of physical derring-do or if the person defied physics in this or that way in how many times they twirled or jumped or in a pair stayed in dazzling sync while risking falling. Many hurt themselves on the ice.

During the Sunday gala I was impressed how a ballerina who was hired to do highjinks on a wire, was carried from the ice. I’ve seen announcers carried too. It’s hard to walk, and hard simply to skate, much less do the kinds of things these young people do. I keep saying young people because their career is usually over by their early 30s.

At Milan I found three hours my limit. The shows I’ve gone to with Izzy usually last two and one half hours with half an hour intermission. I went to one championship with her in Boston five years ago now and found I couldn’t last more than three hours either though the place was more comfortable. I couldn’t endure the noise, the flashing lights, and in the one case where we found ourselves the audience in a show that was televised — asked to sit utterly still, to clap here, to endure boredom there, to not mind all the cameras, I felt we were badly exploited.

People endure this because they have been taught that they don’t count, that it’s some how bad sportsmanship to complain of bad treatment. Attitudes like these are fostered by the celebrity culture and regarding some people as superior to others.

Most of the time I find individuals skating not as varied as the couple dancers and the athletic pairs, and enjoy the couples much more. Best of all are in shows when long-time trained performers know how to keep their individuality and yet be part of a group configuration. But if you watch carefully or take a photo and look later, you can appreciate individual feats & grace — though it’s hard to feel in the atmosphere of intense competition and in this particular case the discomfort of the Milan stadium.

Here is someone gliding:

Sometimes the camera captures gestures in dancers that in motion would be prettier:

Each set begins with the contestants lining up:


Men

When they won, they were put into ritualized tableaux in princess or prince costumes:

One the elements of the experience that interested me was the difference between what we in the forum were experiencing and seeing, and what those watching broadcasts saw and experienced. It seems somehow to prefer the false to say ice-skating is more pleasurable (and much less expensive) in the comfort of your home watching TV or a digital computer screen, but I like to remember how thrilled I was in the early years as dancing, skating, athletics on the ice is hard. You won’t experience the same thrill that you do when you are there near the body that can fall or mess up and then doesn’t. Izzy is so invested in a number of individual skaters for her to see them is a kind of validation of herself, her dreams.

This gets me to the movie, I, Tonya. The actress who played the harridan mother of Tonya, La Vonya Fay Golden (Allison Janney) won a Golden Globe. I wish I could think the this prize did not reflect the misogynist pleasure of our world where people get a kick out of seeing a mother figure made into a cruel bitch. The mother is presented as the one who originally drove Tonya into becoming a competitive ice-skater. She is presented as deeply bitter because her husband (rightly) left her her; no berating is too far for this woman as she “coaches” her daughter; she also will do anything for money. At the close of the movie she accepts money from court authorities as she tries to trick her daughter into confessing she was the instigator of the crime while she has a tape going around her body.

The movie is darkly funny: part of the way it’s done is that the actors play the people being interviewed by a unseen reporter and there are continual flashbacks as the story in chronological order unfolds before us. This allows for many occasions for irony. We identify with the downtrodden working class Tonya, and she is not caricatured or condescended to nor the mother. But her husband is: he is presented as most Americans’ idea of someone trying hard to be a macho male and not quite succeeding because among other things he hasn’t got the competence to make enough money to support the role with the necessary paraphernalia: fine house, fancy car, “in” clothes. He has an idiotic sidekick who reminded me of Trump: continually lying, ceaselessly boasting, profoundly ignorant, he has the foggiest idea of how to to a deed and cover it up. It was apparently the sidekick’s continual re-parking of a car outside the event where the attack took place that provided the police with their first clues.


The scene where the police confront Tonya and her husband and coach

The value of the money is to expose the hidden injuries of class and the impoverishment of the American working and middle class. We see that in the mother’s life especially, in the dives these people eat in. As Helen O’Hara says, it was a trial by media, the very media which builds up celebrity. This is brought out. The acceptance of violence of American life is seen in Tonya’s relationship with her mother and then husband: they both beat her. The one half-humane relationship in the film is between Tonya and her trainer Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson), but from what I have been told by college students in colleges where I’ve taught, these people are bullies too.

By the end of the film you feel for Tonya while at the same time are left unsure how complicit she was in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. She is presented as someone with decent impulses whose life and surroundings teach her to make bad choices (in her husband and leaving school) and drive her to rages like the others around her. The jury decision suggests that the jury was undecided how guilty she was but convinced her husband and the friend who literally attacked Kerrigan were criminal. Harding did not lose her ambition or her turning to physical competition for prize money: later in life she tried professional wrestling, and even became a celebrity boxer. She was made part of the sordid underbelly of movies: for example,a video of her having sex with her husband was released. She used this notoriety to keep afloat.

I suppose what makes the film a story for 2017 is she is not a victim heroine but someone part of a system that is fosters internal war in people’s psyches, which they then bring to their social experience. I recommend reading Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas for the full context for all this.


Fixing her shoes — she is crying from dismay and hurt

It can all begin with innocent enough dreams of accomplishment, of pride, of achievement in the world’s eyes. I’ve been asked more than once if Izzy skates. She has, mostly for fun, and except for the one time I tried to skate with her by herself. I can think of five sequences in books and films where ice-skating is presented — H. E. Bates’s Love for Lydia, the opening; Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, the opening; John Gay’s early 18th century poem; Trivia, or the Art of Walking in London, where a central sequence is devoted to showing life on the ice in the midst of one of the intense frosts of the 18th century in England , and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina where Levin and Kitty as ideal sweet lovers yearning for one another ice-skate together. In all these the moments are idyllic, a halycon hiatus, physically beautiful too. The fifth is in It’s a Wonderful Life where George’s brother falls on thin ice, and George risks his own life to rescue him. Deep heroism, self-sacrifice. It is somehow indicative of the human psyche that this sport is rarely presented with any reality to our eyes.

About two weeks before we went, Izzy took herself ice-skating (partly looking forward to our trip) and fell. When much younger, she did ice-skate regularly by herself. But I had to drive her and it was not that much fun by herself. Now she was kindly taken care of while there and came home limping. It was only a twisted ankle, and within a couple of days she had no pain. A couple of weeks after we came home, she went with her JCC social club ice-skating. She didn’t fall.

For her I believe the time was very good and she is planning to go to Nationals (as she calls them) the next time they come to Boston or perhaps the World’s at Montreal. She loves to blog about ice-skating, participates intensely in this world of ice-skating, knows the politics which she reports on too. The sport and her participation in it help give her life meaning. There are thousands of people like her; each time I’ve gone to an event I’ve been impressed by the variety of types of people who are there fully absorbed. I think they were not well treated in by the Milan stadium owners. Izzy used to put up lovely YouTubes on her old blog, and I would share some too — where she shows her gift for elegant concise writing and carrying much knowledge lightly — but the commercialization of YouTube has taken most of her hard-worked efforts down.


The famous Nathan Chen whom Izzy and I first saw as a 12 year old seeking a scholarship at a Michael Weiss run skating event in (remote) Maryland — what has his life been.

I liked how he made a point of dressing simply. I wondered if that was part of his way of dealing with the stress.

Miss Drake

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Vivian and me, July 14, 2015, taken by Izzy: Alexandria’s yearly birthday party, a large park area by the Potomac, a concert and fireworks for all for free; we had a picnic

Dear friends and readers,

We are near setting off on our journey to Milan, Italy — Laura, Izzy, and I — where among other things (a visit to a friend who lives near Zurick which will necessitate a train-ride through the Alps and beautiful lakes; a visit to a fellow biographer of Veronica Gambara, in Reggio Emilia) we plan to attend the World Figure-Skating Championships, and find and look into what fashion museums and exhibits there are in this famous world city.

The last time the three of us were in Italy was 1994, 5 weeks with Jim in an apartment in Rome, from the which we took 4 trips: to Pompei, to Naples, to the island of Ischia for 3 days (where there is a beautiful beach and Vittoria Colonna lived for a number of years it’s thought), to Marino (where Colonna was born). We all three have many memories of that time. Upon coming into the flat, Laura, then 15, declared Italy had not invented air conditioning yet. Izzy said to another child at the beach: “mi chiamo Isabella.” A high point for Jim and I was a fresco we saw in a fourteenth century church one morning. We all wandered in the heat over the forum, the Colosseum, saw an opera amid some ancient Roman stones.

And early yesterday evening my good friend, Vivian, died: she went quickly, three weeks after the cancer resumed. I wrote about my visit to her in a hospice place in my last blog. I have learned as she died she was quiet (perhaps sleeping?), appeared to be at peace, kept out of consciousness of pain by drugs. Did she go gentle into that good night? I was not there and in her two earlier phone calls she expressed anguish.

What is it Macbeth says upon being told: “She should have dy’de hereafter;/There would have been time for such a word.” I will not be here when the memorial service is held. I grieve for her and will miss her.

Every moment I’ve been able to I’ve been either reading, writing, thinking for the courses I’m teaching (The Later Virginia Woolf; Sexual & Marital Conflicts in Anthony Trollope: HKHWR), or taking (The Brontes, a book club whose first item is Atwood’s The Blind Assassin), or still at that paper (Woolf & Johnson, biographers), or online with friends, blogging, nurturing (so so speak) my 3 groups.io (the book, the extraordinary American Senator) — not to omit getting through all things needful for the trip. Some of them arduous, time-consuming, confusing — like airline reservations supposed to be on a website which are not there. Not to worry: Laura made a phone call in her firm determined voice and our tickets & we now exist again. “Able to” is the operative phrase: many a later afternoon or evening I give out and succumb to a movie that can keep me up; this weekend I reached the fifth episode of Alias Grace (another Atwood adapted).

I’m more awake tonight than I have been for several, enough to tell of how this past Wednesday I went to the last of the four lectures on Impressionism outside France: so to my last blog on Russia, the low countries and Italy, I add the UK, and I was not surprised it was the most interesting because he had the most paintings to show. Gariff went on for nearly 3 hours. This time I had heard of most of the painters, but had not realized that the work of many of the painters I had “placed” in separate schools when regarded as impressionist made a different kind of sense. Elizabeth Forbes (1859-1912), who I’ve written about as an Edwardian woman painter in the Newlyn School, links to Laura Knight (1877-1970), who I wrote more briefly about as a Cornish artist. Victorian artists familiar to me as recording the abysmal poverty of the countryside and cities, i.e., George Clausen (1852-1944) belong here; and some I’d never heard of, Spencer Frederick Gore (1878-1914):


The Icknield Way (1912) — a road in Surrey since Roman times

Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops, and his fostering of post-impressionism, his pictures belong here too. A Scottish woman artist, Ethel Walker (1861-1951) now fits. She painted Vanessa Bell, the first image I’ve seen that enables me to begin to understand why Bell was so liked:


Vanessa 1937

Two American artists this time were very influential: Whistler and John Singer Sargent. I learned that the next time I go to London I should go the London Imperial War Museum. Its name (because of the militarist connotations) is misleading: it is a leading place for artist painting during WW1, which most of these people did. Sidney Starr (1857-1925) has such a poor wikipedia page, I have to link in a sales one (he was an important art critic):


Starr’s City Atlas (1889-90) was part of an exhibit or talk about how difficult to get to know London

Philip Wilson Steer (1860-1942) ended up an important teacher (teachers matter), he was influenced by Monet and this is his most famous painting.


Children Paddling, Walberswick (1894)


But perhaps this curiosity, of an over-dressed woman with a cat called Hydrangeas is more characteristic

Vivian’s favorite painter was Monet, and during the visit her brother and sister took her on to Paris this summer they took her to Giverny. She also had a cat called Sammy (Samantha) for seven years.

Izzy and I almost didn’t go to a performance by Catherine Flye accompanied by Michael Tolaydo as narrator at the Metrostage of a revue of the life and songs of Joan Grenfell. We had tickets for Saturday, and were so preoccupied we forgot to go. The woman who basically runs the Metrostage single-handed phoned us 5 minutes before, and offered to let us come Sunday instead. This remarkable pair of actors presented a later afternoon of witty cheer with an undercurrent of desperate acceptance; there were some twee moments but also direct hits at frustrated longing hearts. My favorite was a piece called “The Telephone Call” (a woman spending her life caring for an aged parent). A couple very funny: one of a woman on her first airplane flight when people were still treated with respect and given comfort as human beings. The pianist played wonderful older melodies I recognized, one famous from WW2, The Warsaw Concert by Richard Addinsell (who wrote most of the music performed).


Michael Tolaydo and Catherine Flye, 2002 (Gardener McKay’s Sea Marks)

We had both wanted to go because we both remembered the moving play Sea Marks, with Tolaydo and Flye, which we saw with Jim in 2002 at this Metrostage. I’ve had that black-and-white newsprint picture on the wall of my study all this time

I return to Vivian. One of the class members of my Later Woolf came for the first class and for the rest I’ll keep him in the email list as I send comments and readings out, and lectures too. He can’t come regularly as he’s taking chemotherapy and radiation for cancer. Vivian was killed by lymphoma (as was Jenny Diski) combined with brain cancer. She was no reader: odd for a best friend for me, but there are other things that matter. She was a kind person, sensitive. Charitable and forbearing at others’ flaws. She shared my politics, my lack of religion. While she didn’t read books, she always seemed to know the latest US political development; she’d take the progressive side most of the time, and post about it on face-book. We went to Bernie Sanders rallies. We also took wandering walks in Old Town. We’d go to some movies together (we didn’t quite have the same tastes): I went twice to Kedi (the movie set in Isanbul about feral cats and their caretakers in that city) so she could see it, and she cried. She stayed up (she had problems sleeping so would often fall asleep at movies) for and was moved by Still Alice.

Here is one of the poems Flye recited, movingly:

If I should die before the rest of you,
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone.
Nor, when I’m gone, speak in a Sunday voice,
But be the usual selves that I have known.
Weep if you must,
Parting is hell.
But life goes on …

That doesn’t mean one forgets however little one is given chance to mourn with any ceremony. I feel bad because Vivian had emailed the suggestion when she still thought she would live (some 5 weeks ago) that she and I go to the Grand Canyon this coming May. I had balked at the idea of the plane and asked if there was a way to go by train. No. It would take some absurd amount of time. A drive was ridiculous. I was adjusting to the idea of taking yet another plane (how I hate them all) and was beginning to propose we look into a package tour. I told her I imagined us on donkeys going up and down vast cliffs, which probably showed how little I know about modern tourism in the Grand Canyon. It was still in the realm of half-joke when she phoned to say the cancer had returned and she was in hospital. We had some good walks in Old Towne this summer: a ghost tour, one night along the water eating ice-cream listening to street musicians in the mild crowd.

We all come from the past … life is a braided cord of humanity stretching from time long gone … it cannot be defined by a single journey from diaper to shroud … (Russell Baker, Growing Up, an autobiography I read with freshman composition students decades ago, which I remembered tonight)

Ellen

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