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Archive for the ‘women’s poetry’ Category


One morning over the past two weeks, photo taken from sun-porch/room window

A poem I came across, which I like:

Reading Greeting Cards Before and After

His photo in the hallway greets me each day
Being in my life was an extraordinary gift
He left my world leaving a huge vacuum

Still I feel his ever presence in my life
Triggering a burst of smiles and tears
Looking at the gardens he built for me
Coming across a book we read together
Hearing the evening news and imagining his comments
Knowing he would re-load the dishwasher if he were around

An accomplished writer of research papers but not love letters
He’d spend hours searching for my perfect greeting card
Now assembled in a large basket I select one daily
Before I used to read them quickly and thank him with a kiss

Now I read them slowly, sometimes over and over again
Savoring each written word and signed “Love, Charles”
Yet to me his actions spoke more softly
Than the words on any card

—- By Ruth Perry

Dear friends and readers,

This winter I have become more intently aware than I’d been in a few years (since Jim died) of the fragile fleeting character of social life as I experience it. How easily people drop you, are glad of an excuse to ostracize or exclude someone.

One dark morning as I lay in bed waiting for the sunlight to come into my room (with my two cats beside me), I tried to think of all the places or organizations I belong to that now provide me with what social experience I have: above and beyond all in frequency, intimacy (yes) and closeness as well as a spectrum of socializing from acquaintance-polite to friendly to friends where I know something of the person for real and the person me, plus experiences of exclusion, discomfort, hurt, on the Internet as much face-book nowadays as list-servs, blogs, websites, Future Learn courses, twitter.

But after that, what physically in the face-to-face bodies and places-in-the-world included? the two Oscher Institutes of Life-long Learning (at AU and at Mason), classes at Politics and Prose (Northwest Washington Bookstore-as-community center), the Smithsonian (more impersonal) lectures, twice a year conferences (ASECS), the WAPG, an Aspergers group in Washington DC (I rarely go but I keep in touch by email), a summer film club at Cinema Art theater (once a month for 5 months). I live with one daughter, Izzy, and occasionally the other, Laura, visits or we go out with her. I’ve joined on three and this summer I’m going on a fourth Road Scholar trip. That’s it. I’ve counted 22.

Two of the experiences over the last two weeks have been especially fun — or felicitous.


Covers of audio recordings

In a dramatic reading class I listened to people read aloud passages from Dickens and we discussed Dickens, reading aloud, listening to another read, in a group, by a CD audio in a car, or reading silently (how they differ) and one I read aloud (very well if I do say so myself), the opening chapter from Pride and Prejudice (“It is a truth universally acknowledged” — with that bitter caustic yet very amusing dialogue of Mr and Mrs Bennet), the closing dialogue in Volume I where Mr Bennet tells Mrs Bennet she should not worry about Charlotte Lucas replacing her in Longbourne for perhaps she will predecease him (she finds little consolation there), and then the explosive proposal of Darcy to Elizabeth where he unknowingly insults her deeply and she refuses him. On another I read the scene from Emma where Emma deeply hurts Miss Bates in front of a group of people (Box Hill), Frank wounds Jane by in front of others saying how easy it is to make a mistake at a watering place and engage oneself to someone you don’t want, and Mr Knightley lights into Emma so damningly — all the while we hear the pain of Miss Bates, of Jane, the swelled complaints of the obtuse Mrs Elton. The others read from Dickens and I was astonished to realize that Dickens wrote a near-rape scene at the end of Dombey and Son, where a much abused wife excoriates marriage as then practised — who knew Dickens could be so subversive? Now I wish we had talked more about the spreading popularity of dramatic readings in audoibooks


Just Mercy: Bryan Stevenson (Michael Jordan) and Walter MacMillan (Jamie Foxx)

On two Thursdays at the Mason OLLI I participated in class discussions of movies where the teacher is very good at teaching (he spent decades doing it before retirement) — they were lively, intelligent, fun, one on Just Mercy and the other The Parasite (see further down below).

On Just Mercy: a powerful film done in direct simply ways. I was struck after a while at how little filmic “tricks” of the trade; no flashbacks, not subtle in juxtaposition or dialogue at all. It moves forward,and the language is direct, simple. The movie is nerve-wracking to watch because I didn’t know it ended. The young African American lawyer, Bryan Stevenson (played by Michael Jordan) is almost throughout the film at risk for his life — he patiently endures set-back after set-back and finally gets the case on Frontline from which he gets to go to the Alabama supreme court to ask that the charges against his client, Johnny McMillan (James Foxx), simply be dropped immediately as the original trial was gross miscarriage of justice. It is an anti-capital punishment film. We see a black man who should have been put in a hospital for PTSD and was left to stew and put off a bomb in front of a house and killed a woman, now lamenting and so sorry, a one incident actually killed by an electric chair. They were still killing people that way in Alabama in the 1980s and early 90s? we the full barbarism of it — how there is this pretense of humanity on the day the man is murdered.

As with When They See Us, Dark Waters, and Chernobyl, at the end of the film we see photographs of the real people the actors played. It is very effective to do this. The African-American actor, Michael Jordan, playing the lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, has been snubbed: his performance is as good as James Foxx (nominated for best supporting actor, partly because played Ray Charles in another film)

A third was enjoyable in the class (at Politics and Prose) but it was the books we read and movie I watched that mattered: Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy and Alan Pater and Cellan Jones’s 1987 Fortunes of War. There is so much time to be alone.

***********************


Sometimes it is so hard to get to and from these places. This to introduce a distressing — frightening in implications — experience I had this past Friday early afternoon.

As I was driving from Northwest Washington DC to get to Northern Virginia and took my usual turn to get onto some feeder road which takes me to South 110 and that to South 395, I found the whole roadway blocked. There was no way I could get onto that feeder road. I was quickly hopelessly lost. I became bewildered as I usually do in streets I am not accustomed to even if some of them were familiar to me from previous excursions. My garmin showed itself to be dead and I couldn’t get the cell phone even to connect to the network. I kept making wrong turns and feared in my bewildered state I would get into an accident. Finally I remembered I had put the phone on airplane mode so that it would not disturb a class I had been in. Luckily I was able to find a sidewalk I could park by. I put the setting back and voila the Waze program began to work.

But alas I have never been able to make the Waze program or app talk — or to be truthfully only intermittently. In fact what has happened is once it starts talking and I get home I can’t figure out how to shut it up. I don’t always get an “exit” box.

Another problem I have is I never knew where I want to go west or east — say on 66. I can’t tell what is north, south, east or west. I can with thought say to myself this is left and this right. Is there a long word for this for an autistic person? So that’s my first question. I would feel better if my condition — this has happened before – had a name. Getting lost. Not being able to tell where I am — have a big picture of coordinates unless I’ve lived in an area for a very long. A good pictorial memory but it has to be real buildings or streets I recognize.

So what I had was a map with lines and arrows. I managed to put it on the seat next to me and very slowly attempted to follow all the turns and arrows. It was difficult because Arlington around Rosslyn (I live in Alexandria) is no fun. The ironic paradox is what I knew to be true; I was at most 5 minutes away from some highway if I could figure out how to get to it. What happens is the lines and arrows began to show this way to South 110. I recognized that was one of the highways and going in the right direction. I drove very slow and kept adjusting the cell phone to face me.

Anyway I swung onto the highway from another exit but I could recognize pictorially where I was, and could calm down and saw this way to Exit 27, South 395 and knew where I was and then got home. Whew!

I am like a blind person when it comes to understanding directions or what I am on a map. Utter bewilderment is awful. I have tried buying a new garmin twice. But I cannot program it. All of them require some programming and I have no one to do that for me. Everyone says it’s so easy, nothing to do. I have no idea what to do and twice I have had to take back an expensive Garmin or GPS. The one I have now was programmed for me by a kind IT guy who was in my house shortly after my husband died — and helped me install a computer.

Intensely relieved to be back home. My younger daughter, Isobel, cannot help me because she is autistic and asking her to help, this kind of experience makes her intensely nervous.

My older daughter came the next day and — what happened? — within no time she had no problem.

At first the Waze was silent. Her response was to say “Waze stinks” and download google maps. She tried to look at the settings and could find nothing wrong. She did fiddle with them. Then she tried both Waze and google maps and both talked! We get in the car and both talk. But the problem is she never figured out what I had been doing wrong or what I needed to do to make the thing talk because it was talking. I did see that I often put my own address into location and she said don’t do that, just type where you want to go in the next rectangle below.

The problem is Laura (her name) really had no problem. She clicks away and after a while the Waze program talked. She finishes, somehow an exit box is there, and she clicks on it. Calm as the proverbial cucumber. I did sit with her in my car and I clicked and it talked. She could not fix for me what was working.

So a week and a half from now I have two new places to go. I worry the thing won’t talk for me. Has anyone had this problem of the cell phone Waze not talking — My cell phone is an Apple iphone 8 — I think.

To me it’s a wonder I go anywhere at all. If I were black, I would fear a cop might kill me. Laura installed for me Uber — I have Lyft. This is for my coming trip to St Louis. If I want to find a restaurant I am to go to on Friday night, and then a play on Saturday the only way is to hail one of these cab services there and back.

**********************************


The destitute-desperate family in The Parasite

Bong Jong-ho’s Parasite is part of my theme tonight: it seems to be a study of social modes of interaction exposing gross class inequities among three families. I’ve now watched it twice and people you should not miss it. It will absorb and entertain and then maybe horrify you. I am still not sure what I think about it.

First thing to be said about the film is how hard it is to talk about it, part of this Is the story line is unpredictable – that’s why you keep watching (even if it’s not assigned). You get drawn in because you are not sure what is going to happen next at all

Second it seems to me most of the thematic descriptions don’t apply generally. It’s not a thriller. We see a class war only at the very end when the destitute family driven to desperation because there’s another desperate destitute pair of people hidden deep in a many level basement of the super-rich people’s many layered – crack up and out comes from them terror, hatred, an urge to destroy these people who are exploiting them utterly – smiling all the while as if it’s perfectly okay to the destitute to be so exploited. The super-rich husband-father drops his mask for a moment when the destitute father playing a chauffeur for the first balks at an order – and threatens to fire him.

For a horror film (another designation) it’s constantly witty and funny – we laugh very uncomfortably at these desperate people – up to their chins in sewer water when it rains – yet they are endlessly ingenious, crackerjack it seems at surviving – they are all kept at a social and psychological distance from one another.

Realism is besides the point: the mother-wife is unbelievably naïve, believes anything – I saw misogyny in the way she was treated as someone who has nothing to do with her life but make expensive parties – we are better not knowing what happened to the employees the destitute family replaces – the housekeeper come back is living nightmare with her husband fleeing creditors

So I looked up Korean films and could find only a history which offered no interpretation, but I did find an essay on films called “periphery” films. Idea is developed countries, run by white people are at the center, and countries like Korea, Palestinine, Saudi Arabia – countries colonized – Australian are periphery. So I’ll conclude on 4 characteristics such films are said to have and this one has these:

1) An intense focus on place and setting. You never forget this is Korea and the two different houses are centrally photographed to stay in your mind as character in the drama – the people in the semi-basement stealing wifi in such appalling conditions – and the rich with all space hardly enough furniture, gadgets everywhere – I suppose it’s order if order is soulless.

2) A use of folk or story telling traditions – at the beginning of the film a brief fairy tale looking picture seems to suggest that the family is going to get their dearest wish using some stone – and this stone appears in the opening and closing sequences of the film. The son carries it around – it is dangerous and bad things happen around this stone. The talk is in European tradition — the fisherman and his wife, with its moral of watch out what you wish for ….

3) Looking at everything from the point of view of the excluded – no matter what it is or how – you might say those colonized whose everything is taken from them or are not allowed anything – cannot accumulate – so destitute cannot go to college — along with this these excluded people feel they can’t belong anywhere. They don’t fit in. The son says this at one point. It ends on the father in the deep basement obviously doesn’t belong anywhere. Even the super-rich don’t belong anywhere – their home is not a home, it’s an place for the real estate sellers furniture makers gadget makers, party makers to supply and sell stuff to — to make money on

4) Money and bullying. Any time a rich or powerful person is denied anything he or she resorts to bullying. But the predators all of them prey on other predators – -like the destitute family on the original employees – everyone searching for an identity – I saw an Israeli film (art film) where the characters are all seeking an identity – queasy comedy and sudden stark tragedy happen over money and bullying ow or what – at any moment a mask drops and you are facing the faceless

At any time the mask drops and you are facing the faceless

So I thought about movies made from the center as a control mechanism –- say The Durrells of Corfu, which I wrote about in my previous diary entry.

The exact place does not at all matter – they can make a home of anything.
No one bullies others and minimal money does – you need some but not a helluva lot.
The know who they are – they really do.
Point of view is that of the privileged those who assume courts are on their side – no masks – and those who have to wear masks very poignant, like Sven the homosexual man – everyone feels for him.

Last night I re-watched The Parasite, having read about cinema at the periphery (movies made by film-makers who don’t come from powerful countries run by white people, countries not colonized i recent history) and it struck me the destitute desperate family’s behavior is like that of us — when it comes to airplane travel. That is one place middle and upper middle white people come across the treatment poorer people across the globe do all the time. Similarly it appears on the surface and maybe is true that these white people accept this treatment from the airlines. They don’t go to war or paroxyms of rage, the candidates for office don’t use as one of their promises to regulate the airlines and stop their outrageous behavior to everyone but those who can afford to be deeply gouged.

OTOH, the movie makes this analogy hard to see because it calls itself Parasite and in Korean parasitic worm and seems to refer the to the destitute desperate family – a squalid word, and it also means blotches on your skin from such worms. I am not sure that the film is not problematic — partly because in the class I was in many of the people in the room defended the super-rich family: they were paying the others, they were “decent to them;” okay they were tactless and unaware of the horrible conditions of life of the others. But that’s not their fault.

If you can reach it, Michael Wood of the London Review of Books for January 2020 is very worth reading

*******************************

How to end this entry? We are today surrounded by creeping and overwhelming fascism in our public media and art — that is the mindset actuating not only the Trump administration. Every day another evil deed, yet more ugly hateful ideas and feelings spewed out. Yesterday the Trump regime rescinded decades of work to change attitudes to protect birds from wanton killing — now you may kill them as you please (and you can have as many and what kinds of guns you want. Public schools? why these are low-class government schools which debased people attend — a sign of their inferiority is no one is excluded.

Human beings need to think more about the nature of our social lives today in the year 2020. What are we seeking? What do these activities of ours depend upon? how or on what basis are we setting up our relationships with one another? Is it to escape from a default setting (to use the ubiquitous Internet jargon) of alienation, a world of cruelty and indifference as seen in Parasite and Last Chronicle of Barset and Curate in Charge? (David Copperfield ends in a wish fulfillment fantasy and the emphasis is — to be fair to the book — more about the richness of a life of solitude, of inner development of self and strength and also about death and sheer vulnerability.) These questions are urgent as we find ourselves more and more without the solid social support systems our daily lives and attitudes (beliefs in our togetherness) used to provide, more and more turning to the Internet worlds, to voluntary organizations unsupported by anything but human need.

Ellen

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The World at Evening — Summer

As this suburban summer wanders toward dark
cats watch from their driveways —

The color of the sky makes brilliant reflection
in the water

There is a time, seconds between the last light
and the dark stretch ahead …

— Rachel Sherwood

A little more than a year ago, I made a summer interlude for my Sylvia I blog; now I’m content with a few words. Then I was gone for 16 days, now it’ll be 10. Then I went with a Road Scholar group to the lake district and borders of Scotland and England in the UK; now we go (me, my two daughters) to Calais, northern France.Why? well I said I wanted to go to the beach, Laura said she wanted to go to France, and Izzy was not going to be left behind.

This sculpture commemorates an eleven month siege on Calais by the British during the hundred years war …

The town or small city has a long history, it’s one of the channel ports between England and France and was owned by England for a very long time. Lots to see beyond the beaches. Castles, prisons, towers, a cathedral, museum. I looked it up on Amazon and bookfinder.com and found many books: on the recent history of immigration to the place and the development of what was known as The Jungle; as a place of war, from 14th century to WW2; where peace treaties and the like were signed; fishing and trading, commerce; a place to set mysteries. Today there are beaches, hotels, shopping, roads to drive, walks to do, markets to buy food and all sorts of goods. There are even ferries.

Laura rented a bnb for us that looks lovely in the picture: it has air-conditioning and wifi. We’ve bought to go to London at least once (see Kensington Garden exhibit), to Paris more than that (we signed up for a food fest). So we’ll use cabs and trains — spend money. The hard question for me is which books to take — to guess which ones will hold you when traveling and away is not easy, but I know Trollope may be relied upon, and so one will be Phineas Finn (as I will teach it this coming fall). I should probably take a good book on or by Austen too. They usually “work.” A small French dictionary — though for a long time it was an English city in France.

Google produces many pictures. Painters like to paint fantasies and semi-realistic images.

I love the art of Eduard Vuillard; many years ago with a visiting friend, I saw a gigantic exhibit (rooms upon rooms tracing his career) of Vuillard’s paintings, murals, drawings at the National Gallery: Dinner with Two Lamps: rue de Calais:

Chez nous, here in Alexandria, Laura’s friend, Marni, will come every day and has promised to stay 45 minutes with the two pussycats, provide food, water &c. Clarycat already made friends with her, and I hope before the end of the time, Ian will come out of hiding and join them in play.


An archetypal harbour scene by Nell Blaine (1986) — Banner Hills, 1986

From Three Poems at the End of Summer by Jane Kenyon

I stood by the side of the road,
It was the only life I had.

Miss Drake

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Friends,

Izzy has worked up another new version of a brilliant rock song: U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name:

I love her rendition of the music. Here are the lyrics:

I want to run, I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside
I wanna reach out and touch the flame
Where the streets have no name

I want to feel sunlight on my face
I see that dust cloud disappear without a trace
I wanna take shelter from the poison rain
Where the streets have no name, oh oh

Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
We’re still building then burning down love
Burning down love
And when I go there, I go there with you
It’s all I can do

The city’s a flood
And our love turns to rust
We’re beaten and blown by the wind
Trampled into dust

I’ll show you a place
High on the desert plain
Where the streets have no name, oh oh

Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
We’re still building then burning down love
Burning down love
And when I go there, I go there with you
It’s all I can do

Our love turns to rust
We’re beaten and blown by the wind
Blown by the wind
Oh and I see love
See our love turn to rust
We’re beaten and blown by the wind
Blown by the wind
Oh when I go there
I go there with you
It’s all I can do

Songwriters: Adam Clayton / Dave Evans / Larry Mullen / Paul Hewson

E.M.

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She bought a new keyboard about three weeks ago now, and I hope you can hear the difference:

The song comes from a movie called Once, made a couple of musicians who made a movie about how they met and fell in love. John Carney, the film’s director built the movie around this song provided for him by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The song won an Oscar the year of the movie. They made a second album about dealing with fame. The third is about how they broke up.

Here are the words of the lyrics for “Falling Slowly:”

I don’t know you
but I want you
All the more for that
Words fall through me and always fool me
And I can’t react
And games that never amount
To more than they’re meant
Will play themselves out

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You’ll make it now

Falling slowly, eyes that know me
And I can’t go back
Moods that take me and erase me
And I’m painted black
You have suffered enough
And warred with yourself
It’s time that you won

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You’ll make it now

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You’ll make it now

Falling slowly sing your melody
I’ll sing along

***************************

This morning I was thinking about earlier stretches of my life. The phrase “long ago” is so common to my imagined conversation in my mind. So long ago Jim and I did this, Izzy would do that. I saw a child walk by from my window, on his back a carry-pack, shouldering a musical instrument. That once was Izzy going to junior high, to high school.

Last night (not atypical day and evening), alerted to it by a book on British TV costume drama I’d been reading, Conflicting Masculinities (one I sent a proposal for on Wolf Hall but was rejected, because I’m not a Brit, have no title or position in a university and my thesis was too much about deeper humanity and attributing the way men are presented in costume drama to an era), I watched Banished, a serial drama which was cancelled but is powerfully about one group of men destroying the manliness and humanity of another group, treating them like enslaved beasts; also showing how one group of people can be so cruel to another when no wider public eyes are upon them. Banished is a parable about how people in our modern societies are now pulverizing the poorer, vulnerable, ethnicities that are not in the majority among them, and refugees from countries these same groups of people are busy destroying so they can steal their natural resources. Unlike Poldark there is no fundamental place, home, knowledge of one another and known community whose interest it is to support one another they can turn to.

Yesterday during the day I read one third of an immensely sad novel, Crossing the River, nominated for the Booker (when it still didn’t accept imitative crap, hadn’t become a sheer advertisement mechanism), by Caryl Phillips. Crossing the River a related book about a white man sending a beloved black man who was enslaved in the US to Liberia (both die of grief as the people they are surrounded by live these punitive lives) made me realize what a fantasy of escape Outlander becomes in this story of Jamie and Claire and Ian making a secure home so readily (he is a wanted ex-convict). I also thought of how I cling to this house as giving me some meaning and safety, not naked in the world among all these indifferent people. Phillips’s message is do anything but separate yourself from a beloved and send them somewhere where life is said to be better — all you are doing is breaking your two hearts. I’m drawn to Phillips: born in St Kitts, yet British, he grew up in Leeds, a place I did love.

Both together — serial drama and book — made me think of how I cling to this house as giving me some meaning and safety, not naked in the world among all these indifferent people, and a book about the Acadia diaspora when threatened by “ethic cleansing,”

“Falling slowly” is a song that cries out for help (as some tweets really do). In retrospect, its framing is a young couple who broke up.

It is March now, signs of spring — such a sweet moment from Emily Dickinson: No 1320, just the first stanza:

Dear March – Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell —

How I wish I could find a choir for Izzy to belong to. The only ones in my area are part of churches Izzy won’t go near — and she’s probably right not to, reactionary Catholicism she would be a very much outsider in all ways in. With that man I went out briefly with I saw an episcopal church, almost non-denominational, eucumenical, which had a poster looking for people to join their choir. A modern building, maybe enlightened people running the place. But it’s a 45 minute drive and would be at night so I can’t provide a way for her to get there, if I could get her to go. She did say yes when I showed her the place. Too far. But this is her home too.


Writing Last lines ….

Miss Drake

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Richard Hunt’s Swing Low — a bronze sculpture in the front hall of the African-American Museum, alluding to the song, which carries on “sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry me home … ”

I love this song, and sing it to myself sometimes thinking of Jim, changing it slightly: “if you get there before I do/Coming for to carry me home/tell yourself I’m coming too; bands of angels coming after …


Cosette finds Jean Valjean working as a peasant again, his death by her side — Andrew Davies’s Les Miserables, 2018, one of the finest film adaptations I’ve seen since his War and Peace and before that Peter Straughn’s Wolf Hall — the scenes of the revolt at the barricades are astonishingly grim, true, ferocious; he shows Hugo’s book centers on “the wretched of this earth” —

I thought of Hamlet; who would keep him in this harsh world to draw his breathe in pain …

Friends,

Another 10 days of winter passed, & few things maybe worth recording happened — living from the shelter of my mind.

A friend’s cat died, Andre by name, he was a rescue cat, now 20, and her grief and my memories aroused in me thoughts of what matters in life: the strength to be kind, to give of oneself and see the other and love and be loved; our non-human (non-talking, without hands) animal friends are so helpless against our convenience. I’ll ever regret I didn’t do by my actually beloved Llyr as I should have: my excuse Jim and my dire desperation at the time, but this will not do. She was able to bury her cat companion in her back yard so she can see his grave from her window and remember what was good. I realize why people when they lose beloved people want the bodies back, if only to protect them. I read to Laura when little Judith Viorst’s The Tenth Good Thing about Barney, where he lays under the flowers at book’s end; my favorite passage was the dream image of him in heaven with the other cats eating cans of tuna.


Clarycat this week; and Ian pussycat too

Email letters from a few friends, a long phone call from Panorea, whom I am relieved to say is doing well after the operation on her spine and we may yet go to Philadelphia Museums together this August as we dreamed of in December; Farideh found an old blog of mine, Sylvia I, 2002, which shows that after all I’ve not changed much.

On the blog I found this poem “from Desk,”by Marina Tsvetaeva, as translated by Elaine Feinstein:

(In a letter she wrote to Pasternak :my desk is kitchen table)

My desk , most loyal friend
thank you. You’ve been with me on
every road I’ve taken.
My scar and my protection.

My loaded writing mule.
Your tough legs have endured
the weight of all my dreams, and
burdens of piled-up thoughts.

Thank you for toughening me.
no worldly joy could pass
your severe looking-glass
you blocked the first temptation,

and every base desire
your heavy oak outweighed
lions of hate, elephants
of spite you intercepted.

Thank you for growing with me
as my need grew in size
I’ve been laid out across you
so many years alive

While you’ve grown broad and wide
and overcome me. Yes,
however my mouth opens
You stretch out limitless.

You are a pillar
of light. My source of Power!
You lead me as the Hebrews once
were led forward by fire.

******************************

One of my holds on happiness this week was about 45 minutes of a class at OLLI at Mason where our subject was the texts of TS Eliot, read aloud by members of the group, by himself very ritualistically in a video from PBS (Visions), “The Hollow Men:” it’s a kind of modernization of Dante’s Inferno: favorite lines:

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
….

I had forgotten a line I often recited to my daughters upon leaving the house comes from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (“Oh do not ask what is it?/Let us go and make our visit … “) but my favorite remains: The Coming of the Magi:

That the high school teacher who was leading the class read accurate interpretations from slides, set forth like test answers (desperation, the aftermath of WW2), which she appeared to treat with a kind of philistine mainstream scepticism, drove made me pay attention to the poetry which did speak for itself.  How beautiful and haunting are his lines, the rhythms of them stay in the mind, on the pulses. Other people in the class made intelligent sympathetic observations too.

For the OLLI at AU, I read (skimmed) with a class who met 5 times (I came four) the whole of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. I have little explanation for why this un-reconstructed misogynistic violent, atavistic romance material so attracts me, but it did again. I found myself making parallels with so much romance I see today (Outlander has the paradigms), remembering back to other Arthurian books and films I’ve read or experienced. Again a fellow class member seemed to have more true depths in his reading than the person serving as teacher, and allegorized the as “Civilization and Its Discontents:” we are watching so-called civilized (at least controlled ritualized) behavior fall apart into chaos as human nature moves into sheer self-destruction, perversions of natural feeling, or cruelty, obtuseness, ending in wild despair. Consider this engraving of “The Passing of Arthur by Frank Dicksee (1889):

Read with insight and truth to our real emotions, Tennyson can be said to anticipate T.S. Eliot (much influenced by him).

At OLLI at Mason, more brilliant moving sessions on Joyce’s Dubliners from Prof Michael Maloof, whose modernism puts stories of ordinary people into Eliot’s frame; a films about Vivian Maier, more poetry, Elizabeth Bishop.

Only connect ….

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Today the last day, 75 minutes at OLLI at Mason on the African-American Museum, which I know must go to. The docent described what is there, just remarkable, sobering, true, with the a better if neither fair nor good time in general in history, with a few genuine gains since Africans were no longer enslaved; the museum showcases culture too –so modern art, music, film, sport, and African-American 20th century culture. It took from 1915 when it was first audaciously proposed to 2015 to achieve this astonishing place; congress people were most of the time willing to approve, but not fund or do anything constructive: two of the movers were John Lewis and Oprah Winfrey. What a day that must have been on opening with the President himself and his wife, African-American. Not enough such good moments. I am half-planning to go all day Tuesday: it’s a trek, bus, train then walk. But February you can just walk in without pre-buying a timed ticket.

At home, I got back to my projects, the book on Winston Graham and the anomaly: I”m reading a very good historical fiction set in the 19th century by Graham, Cordelia (to be written about separately); and a moving account of Liberty: “A better husband,” single women in the US from 1780-1830 by Chambers-Schiller: inspiring she is, telling of the vocational life of women in the era, their valuing themselves gradually, their lives count, their gifts found fulfillment in reading, writing and also finding places in society where their desire to do good work was not just tolerated but allowed to do actual good, as in Emily Howland.

I watched Davies’s Les Miserables, all six parts, and will watch again in March — from DVDs made from the BBC airing while the PBS versions play on Sunday nights, how they rise up and are murdered for their efforts (as in Chile in the 1970s, as Trump and his vile mignons are readying to do in Venezuela, and he’s doing now on the borders of the US. I proposed to Trollope&Peers that in two summers we try Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris: I read it in French in my twenties and think we as a group have learned how to do long books that take effort and patience together. I’m half tempted to propose Les Miserables, but our list had a hard time with it years ago and gave it up; I know David Bellos’s book, Les Miserables: The Novel of the Century (he wrote an exciting book, truly, on translation I reviewed — Is that a fish in your ear?).  Bellos’s one of these autobiographical meditative reads of wonderful novels might get us through — after or together with Davies.

And I continue with Outlander nightly, solacing myself among its ghosts of devoted fierce love, deep congeniality, Jamie & Claire; they’d give up all in a split second to be together again and they do, repeatedly. And I exercise, listen to folk and country music, traditional (Pete Seeger) and contemporary (Nanci Griffiths) from Pandora; the header line comes from a folk song.

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Personally significant — now I may not die from liver disease or a fatal operation in 15 years:

I was successful in wrenching needed treatment from Kaiser; finally a clinical pharmacist called this Friday and I have begun my pills as of Monday, and my schedule of blood work, restricted diet for now. I discovered Kaiser was indeed stalling and trying to put me off: the pill have a ticket price (wait for it) of $36,000 for three bottles, enough pills in each for three months. My widow’s annuity and social security come to $47,000 for the whole year. Now embedded as I am in “protections,” I can afford these bottles this way: I pay $150 a bottle to Kaiser; now in reality US society is being gouged by the drug companies (read Marcia Angell, “Opioid Nation,” from the NYRB) for these pills through Kaiser, medicare and a web of “financial assistance” it’s called. When I told friends the sum, there was hardly a gasp; instead of got stories of their analogous experiences. Everyone keeps silent, especially when they have not been able to buy or afford the needed medical treatments (opioid victims, people with diabetes, cancer&c): they grow much sicker and die early. I am feeling tired, head-achy and (surprising this!) sleep 6 hours each night, sometimes a light doze but that long …

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And I went out again (probably the last time, as we are fundamentally incompatible in attitudes towards life) with that gentle older man, a concert at his church by a “famous” (a word he kept repeating) group of singers from Yale, called the Whiffenpoofs. I have very mixed feelings about this elite group of 20 year olds.

They were presented to a mostly white, upper to middle middle class audience, many older as somehow not elite and “working hard” earning all their keep. The group was formed in 1909 and following tradition, the young adults take a year off from their Yale studies and are supported wholly by ticket sales. Wait a minute: who is paying the Yale fees? how much are they? The humor and much be-praised group spirit are sophomoric and this time all but one a woman, she has to sing counter-tenor (a falsetto). This was the first year women were let in — Yale did not accept women at all until 1969. They were all in very fancy tuxedos — they did sing beautifully in some style where their distinctly different voices came out as crooning. Nostalgic repertoire with some contemporary music and songs re-vamped interestingly thrown in.

Well, for the first time I had some insight into blackface. Until recently it would appear the all-male chorus would dress up in ballet skirts, absurd wigs, wear make-up as women and have their photo taken, and spend an afternoon “doing lunch.” What is this but unacknowledged cruel ridicule: the group pretends innocence but utter disdain for women (as in blackface lynching for blacks), and as we saw in Kavanaugh, central fraternities’s right to harassment and rape women is part of their obduracy. Scroll down, and see the meaning of blackface.

This new young woman as reported in the Washington Post, is ever so grateful for being let in to these Whiffenpoofs, to Yale, though recognizes “they have a long way to go,” for example, they must change the voices allowed in to include women’s ranges. Sofia Campoamor cannot be as “ordinary” as pretended since she attended the elite Sidwell Friends school in DC. Julie Zauzmor of the Post article, to her credit kept in focus the elitism, asked questions of the religious aspects of this Ivy League college, this 1920s “fun” group.

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Political coda: AOC is now in congress and making beautiful waves for a “green New Deal:” I like her smile, don’t you?

So that’s the news from my desk and the shelter of my mind (a line from Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song”) in Alexandria, Va,

Ellen

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The vignette for February in my Edward Gorey calendar

Friends,

I spent a lot of today seated reading in a comfortable chair. I was immersed in a remarkably fine Poldark novel, No 11, The Twisted Sword. Unfortunately there are no good illustrations or stills for it. I was so moved at the death of the young hero, Jeremy, at the accurate depiction (based on minute research) of the senseless horror of the battle of Waterloo, of the intense grief of Ross and Demelza, his father and mother, and h how death is deeply felt by all those he lived among. There’s also a profound depiction of the cruelty of society to disability showing how society makes the disabled far more unable, and the exposure of a  lying, murdering socially liked cad to beat all cads (a fugitive from Graham’s suspense novels) married to Clowance, our heroine .


Hougomont Farmhouse where thousands lost their lives at Waterloo: today and as imagined June 18, 1815

My cats were nearby most of the time, sleeping, resting or playing, trotting about, looking out a window. It was a bright very cold day, and will be colder yet tomorrow. A good deal of rain on and off.

From what happened today I’ve a poem to share too, by Adrienne Rich:

Storm Warnings

The glass has been falling all the afternoon,
And knowing better than the instrument
What winds are walking overhead, what zone
Of gray unrest is moving across the land,
I leave the book upon a pillowed chair
And walk from window to closed window, watching
Boughs strain against the sky.

And think again, as often when the air
Moves inward toward a silent core of waiting,
How with a single purpose time has traveled
By secret currents of the undiscerned
Into this polar realm. Weather abroad
And weather in the heart alike come on
Regardless of prediction.

Between foreseeing and averting change
Lies all the mastery of elements
Which clocks and weatherglasses cannot alter.
Time in the hand is not control of time,
Nor shattered fragments of an instrument
A roof against the wind; the wind will rise
We can only close the shutters.

I draw the curtains as the sky goes black
And set a match to candles sheathed in glass
Against the keyhole draught, the insistent whine
Of weather through the unsealed aperture.
This is our sole defense against the season;
These are the things that we have learned to do
Who live in troubled regions.

Part of the power of the poem is it’s not free verse: these are 7 line stanzas, each with a refrain of the same number of syllables. She uses syllabic verse to control the rhythms, and off-rhyme. It makes me remember the frequent Gorey illustration of someone coming to a window, looking out, and closing the curtains, turning away. This is how Ruth Prawer Jhabvala pictured her response to life ….

This evening I watched the third part of an extraordinary film adaptation for the BBC of Les Miserables, by Andrew Davies, whose lack of distribution on American TV strikes me as a deep betrayal of Davies’ humane critique of our crazed society then and now. I become breathless with stirred emotion as I watch. Davies has distilled the essential vision of Hugo — a 1000 page novel — into 6 hours: low budget sets, make-up that is a cross between Dickens and behavior out of the trauma of Marot/Sade; not heroic individualism, but society itself, the worst of human beings as at fault, reinforced by meanness, coldness of heart, a punitive persecution mentality as reigning. I thought of Hugo’s slender anti-capital punishment (the phrase seems inadequate), The last Day of a Condemned Man. Original too: the ferocity of Oyelowo seems so overwrought, and his horror at Jean Valjean’s goodness is a function (it feels like) homoerotic passion. I must write a blog-essay on this one after I’ve watched all six, comparing it to the recent 4 part Woman in White scripted by Fiona Seres. Davies’s movie does not supersede the now famous musical but might be regarded as what can frame it with understanding.


Jean Valjean (Dominic West), Fantine (Lily Collins) with Cosette, Javert (David Oyelowo)

How I get through life: When a day goes by and I realize I forgot to do this (say some specific book I was to be reading), or should have done that (blogged), or was too tired to do something else and I must to bed, and find I cannot read, I tell myself as I turn the light out, and put my small mask over my eyes, tomorrow I’ll do better, tomorrow is another day. When I wake the next morning, and feel so intensely sad, I tell myself, I’ll do what I can. This cannot be helped (the being alone), that I cannot get over (difficulties in traveling), the other thing I must accept (when I write to someone say about my project whose help I could use, or an official where I need something and no one responds — very common, gentle reader). What is the use of being angry? why blame or take it out on others? no. Try to get along, be kind, remember others suffer a lot and more than I do too. When I write postings that are misunderstood or not accepted by a majority of people, turn away from the hostile and belligerent, block insults. This doesn’t happen too often as I usually stay away from a group of people when I discover they are an unpleasant fan group but have become fascinated by Outlander and post there far too much (I must and will stop soon.) When I’ve tried to be social in non-virtual places and somehow have not managed it, when the classes I teach shrink in numbers, when I’ve decided after all not to go to this or that meeting, accept. When I see I will not able to do this paper or that review, live with it.  Do not berate self.  Remember the good blogs I’ve done, the passing pleasant conversations I have had that day at the OLLIs at Mason or AU. That we had some good conversation on my listservs and face-book pages, are reading good books, that this or that chat has been comforting.

I also go to and teach at these two OLLIs, and the winter term has started at Mason’s: two good sessions, one on American poetry, What Whitman, was at least suggestive with excerpts from a fine film Voices and visions, once shown on PBS:

Speakers include Allen Ginsburg, Justin Kaplan (Whitman’s biographer). Of course in the high school teacher running it, there was this insistence on his optimism, but part of session was devoted to Whitman’s war poetry, his homosexuality was just mentioned (it’s central), but one learned how difficult it was at first for him to gain any traction for a readership. His harsh childhood, working from a young age as a journalist, his travels all around the US, refusal to imitate older genres. I found his poetry to be more about solitude than I thought as his “I” is the only presence in the poems beyond gestures to and endless general images suffused with love for all the occupations of people.  Robinson Jeffers owes a lot to him I realized. The other on women photographers, which I have started to blog on, first up, Dorothea Lange.

I’ve had a bit of bad news: I agreed to have a general health assessment for the first time in years, including renewal of shots for things, and lo and behold was diagnosed as having the virus Hepatitis C: if you are not treated, the results can be scary. I’ve done the required “bloodwork” at a lab now, next week a scan, then see a doctor. So I’ve had to quit drinking, no more wine. Tonight was my third night: perhaps I’ll lose weight I tell myself. I feel hungrier. As someone basically toothless, I usually have sops with wine in the early evening. Now I can’t. I’ll save money. And of course perhaps my liver, if I’ve got any left. This is a big change in a long life of drinking (kept just under control). My taste buds have gotten to the point wine often doesn’t taste any good any way. Still what will I do to calm down, relax when I’ve been over-excited or come home all tense? In the later evening, alas, I’m not more wide awake and as true night comes on, I find I still can’t work or read seriously. Maybe I am more alert watching movies? I slept less the last three nights. I’m also told not to take over-the-counter sleeping pills (well I don’t, I have a prescription but …. ). However, still unsteady on my pins when I first rise from bed.

I am much relieved the senseless maniac’s partial gov’t shutdown was brought to an end, and my heroine for tonight is Nancy Pelosi:

She didn’t gloat; she remained calm, quietly reiterating all her and Chuck Schumer and the democrats’ positions. My favorite moment was when she dis-invited Trump from doing his SOTU in the Congressional assembly room and made it stick.

Ellen

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Photo taken by Izzy, December 31st, 2018, around 9pm, Kennedy Center Terrace, during the intermission of a two act new play, a parody of Love, Actually, performed by Second City in the Theater Lab:

Friends and readers,

We begin this imagined new time frame (if you pay attention to the calender) with Izzy’s truly remarkable rendition of David Grey’s Babylon. I’ve not got the words to capture the effect of this hoarse sweetness echoing out inward endurance:

Friday night I’m going nowhere
All the lights are changing green to red
Turning over TV stations
Situations running through my head
Looking back through time
You know it’s clear that I’ve been blind, I’ve been a fool
To open up my heart to all that jealousy
That bitterness, that ridicule

Saturday I’m running wild
And all the lights are changing red to green
Moving through the crowds I’m pushing
Chemicals are rushing in my bloodstream

Only wish that you were here
You know I’m seeing it so clear
I’ve been afraid
To show you how I really feel
Admit to some of those bad mistakes I’ve made

And if you want it
Come and get it
Crying out loud
The love that I was
Giving you was
Never in doubt
Let go of your heart
Let go of your head
And feel it now
Let go of your heart
Let go of your head
And feel it now

Babylon, Babylon, Babylon

Sunday all the lights of London shining
Sky is fading red to blue
Kicking through the autumn leaves
And wondering where it is you might be going to

Turning back for home
You know I’m feeling so alone
I can’t believe
Climbing on the stair
I turn around to see you smiling there
In front of me

And if you want it
Come and get it
Crying out loud
The love that I was
Giving you was
Never in doubt

Let go of your heart
Let go of your head
And feel it now
Let go of your heart
Let go of your head
And feel it now

Let go of your heart
Let go of your head
And feel it now
Let go of your heart
Let go of your head
And feel it now

Babylon, Babylon, Babylon, Babylon, ah

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I’ve reported on Mary Poppins Returns and our Christmas day meal at our usual local Chinese restaurant where we again shared a Peking Duke. A whole one this time, as the restaurant would not sell a half. We ate it all up with no trouble.

But said nothing of Boxing Day, where for a second year we went to the National Portrait Gallery. It was still open – tomorrow or the next day it will shut down — for how long no one knows and those with power to stop this are doing nothing.

From last years’ trip to this place and now this I have discovered it’s a schizophrenic museum. It does not advertise its good shows but only the reactionary or mainstream crap. Last year we came upon a remarkable exhibit, huge, intelligent of Marlene Dietrich’s life and art: just one poster downstairs;.

This time there were three different good exhibits — one of women’s art; one of fascinating worthwhile people across history:  “selfies” this was stupidly called, self portraits not idealized, remarkable artists, radical political people, interesting lives. Then a “The Struggle for Justice” — astonishing artifacts and pictures of and about slavery, mostly African American. A separate small exhibit: silhouettes of ordinary people — Russian art, 3 D silhouettes.

What was advertised was a massively ludicrous idealization of Bush I among troops; the usual presidents, Obama and his wife’s portrait. 80% of the people there were in this past of the museum.

Much of the place is empty of people — 19th century American art, mostly not masterpieces, of interest for culture – but the four were superb if not great art something else just as important. Half the people in the museum who work there appear not to know what’s there — like last year but some of them do know.

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During for the rest of the week I fell in love with Graham’s Ross Poldark all over again — not quite for the umpteenth time. As I reread it slowly, properly, that original surprising experience I had in about 1994 or so re-emerges. This is not exactly the same text as the one I read (and most people read) is cut version Graham (unfortunately) made in 1951; this original version is about 1/4 or more as long. What I did was go through the 1945 and 1951 making note of everything cut, and now this past week I read the 1945 version for the first time slowly with all my annotations on what was cut. In the margins and in a long file. I find a great loss in most of the material cut: Jinny and Jim’s story, Elizabeth and Francis scenes, here and there a surprising revelation of intensity in Ross about his love for Elizabeth, long depictions of Cornwall, weather, sudden axioms.

The experience was clinched for me with Verity’s story, the climax where she is apparently partly for life from Blamey and the chapter where she retires to her room (14 in the 1951 version, 19 in the 1945), as it were for life. I am equally moved by the depiction of Demelza growing up, the assault on Ginny (I had not realized Graham has some pity for the crazed moronic male monster who first stalks, then harasses and finally assaults her). I know the pilchards scene in the last third is visionary — they tried to capture it in the new version but didn’t come near. In the new version there is more attempt to show Demelza growing up, not much though, and somehow Angharad Rees seems to fit the part in ways Eleanor Tomlinson cannot.

Verity was a favorite character for me and I regretted how she was mostly dropped once she marries Blamey and moves away — she doesn’t appear at all in the trilogy (BM, FS, AT). In the 1970s the BBC seemed to have an uncanny ability to pick actors who fit the parts as imagined by the authors and original readership and decade the serial drama was done: Norma Streader is perfection — a wide strength and generosity of tone the new actress doesn’t have. (Actually since the 1990s the BBC will sometimes pick an actor or actress against the grain of the part deliberately — Mark Strong for Mr Knightley, Billie Pipe for Fanny Price).

Graham may have written as well in other of these Poldark books but he never wrote better than the central sequence of RP.


A Poldark Christmas card @Rosalynde Lemarchand

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On Love, Factually:


A senior couple: Mary Catherine Curran and Martin Garcia

Last year for the weeks preceding and New Year’s Eve Second City did a brilliant Twist your Dickens (complete with parody of It’s a Wonderful Life). This year their Love, Factually had the paradoxical quality that when it just imitated the movie, which is not easy to do (a number of the stories on stage would be impossible because of the nudity and invasions of bodies, a couple deep in anguish, e.g., over a young man in an asylum), then it was at its best. It vindicated the movie when it meant to critique it. It was at its best using stage props, improvisation, and its own ironic moments (mild). But one phrase that rang throughout as the “writer” (our narrator in effect, holding the thing together) “we are embracing the clichéd.” The performers were stunning: they seemed to become another character in such a way that you couldn’t recognize who they had been before.


A good review of this production

We then peeked in at the ball in the great hall — decorated in rich reds — and then home again, she to sleep, me to sit with the pussycats watching yet another Christmas movie (somehow flat, The Man Who Invented Christmas). For a second time this holiday I’ve been driving late at night on the highways and again we came near an accident, teaching me I must not drive at night. Year after year, decay follows decay …

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There are so many moments that photos can’t capture or trying to ruins the experience, cuts it short. The morning of New Year’s Eve day (December 31st around 11 am) when Izzy and I came home from shopping, we found both cats sat like breadloaves on the pillows on my bed. All still. A few minutes later I saw Izzy laying on the bed in front of one of them making eye contract. I can’t capture that; it would not last long enough, especially if I got my cell phone camera 🙂 The night we realized Trump had won the presidency around 10 she went out on the path in front of the house and grieved. She understood fully how horrible this was. Standing there, in her eyes one saw it. But one cannot get that picture. I suppose that’s what actors and actresses are for: all is set up for them, cameras at the ready, scripts in mind.

This morning, New Year’s Day morning, January 1st. 2019, as I came into the kitchen I looked at the sky, a dark pink, purplish against streaks of acqua blue in the sky, a patch of it. A winter dawn. It lasted but a few minutes and had I rushed to get a camera I’d have missed some of it.

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We have now completed this holiday time. For many like me it must be a strain to get through. Now the familial hegemonic order (with men in charge or having to be there finally) imposes itself.  And this is unreal when it comes to individual human needs. I hope all found something to enjoy — at least it’s a rest, a time out, away for us who don’t fit in.

I close by thanking all my friends here who have responded with comments or postings at the end of this fifth year without Jim for making my days more cheerful and therefore endurable by extending to me moments in your lives and your thoughts and support. No matter how hard I’ve tried, I realize sometimes that I am at least concretely literally alone most of the time and that for me it cannot be otherwise after the lifetime I had with Jim. So it is so good to be in contact with you all and have our various relationships here. It is this communication that I sustain this blog for.

Izzy too is in need of recognition, community support as she sings out her heart to the cyberspace world. I wish I could find a secular choir for her to join as a non-professional.

Ellen

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