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Archive for the ‘women’s poetry’ Category


Seascapes — Sara Sitting (I am not sure about this title or artist but very much like the image)

On morning early this week (Sunday) I remembered when in the mid-1970s Jim and I lived on Seaman Avenue in Manhattan (200th street, below the Cloisters hill) we would summer time on Tuesday and Thursday take our dog, Llyr, and drive to Jones Beach in the morning. There was a beach where dogs were allowed. We’d bring coffee & croissants for ourselves, water and biscuits for Llyr. We’d go in the water, stay close to shore (no life guards). Those were happy mornings long ago … I thought of this as I saw my neighbors, two married gay guys taking their dog to a nearby private pool …. the difference between now and then — includes then it was public beach, now it’s an expensive private pool. I did long to get out of the house, go to where the horizon stretches out and stand by the world’s waters — thus the above image by Sitting

On another I woke remembering a dream Laura outlined at the end of our time with Izzy in Calais last summer: upon retirement, she’d buy a second house for her and Izzy in Florida or some warm place, & they’d live there winters; and the present house I occupy summers — though now I’m thinking it’d be a bit hot here. They could sell my library and go to Vermont. I ahd found the idea of them together when I am gone comforting. I would not worry so about Izzy and feel better about Laura having a good companion

My image for this was Beatrice Potter’s Two Rabbits because Jim as a boy read the Potter books and even into his old age would suddenly quote from a scene or refer to Jemima Puddleduck or wry Potter characters

Last The comet. I am told there is a comet in the sky just now. One night around 10 pm Izzy and I took our binoculars and went for a walk around — that’s when the sky is dark where I live. We didn’t spot the comet — I don’t know what to look for. But we did see a sky filled with stars. Not strong as light pollution is too pervasive but we did see a sky just twinkling with many little lights. And a couple of stronger ones too. A comet apparently looks like a moving star ….

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been almost three weeks now and I’ve made no entry because during mid-day I’ve been busy (driving myself to work on my Anne Finch review, immersed in the true wonders, good values and texts by and about the Bloomsbury group), and at night so tired, watching A French Village (up to season 6 now — what an education about real life politics during war), and as usual often melancholy, depressed, so worried about this endlessly spinning out calamity (COVID19, the devastation of unemployment deliberately spread by Republican-Trump policies) and how it might affect Izzy and I. But I do have a topic to share and performers to recommend: my education in the context of the US educational system generally speaking, and (among others) the comedienne Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette and Douglas.

Last week was the time OLLI at AU runs its “July Shorts:” these are courses which last just one week, and take place anywhere from 3 to all 5 days, about 90+ minutes each meeting. (They do the same kind of thing in February each year.) I could not myself teach such a course, and even going to them when it means driving there can be too much of a burden. Last week it was just sitting in front of my computer three times to participate in a four time course on the American education system (or some such title) so I registered and zoomed in. The two men leading the discussions, lecturing presented excellent material: good information, thoughtful commentary, genuine explanations for phenomena. I had to miss the fourth, because it took place in precisely the same time as each week I once a week give a course at OLLI at Mason on the Bloomsbury group: 90 minutes on the status of teachers K-12 (low, 80% female and white still) and the history and developments in chartered schools. While I trust my every instinct to distrust privately funded (you must pay as a parent to some extent) this is a means to destroy public education, to turn desperately needed good education into profit-making ventures (like medicine), and to pull in taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars to support turning schools into places with a false appeal of supposed choice and exclusionary policies — while I am distrustful I would have liked to hear an unbiased account.


A Community high school

Their over-riding theme was the need to make the system far more equal for everyone; as presently conducted the way US education works, its effect, is to increase the inequalities or (to be more frank) set up inequalities among children from day one, reinforce class, money and other social disadvantages. To produce badly or uneducated children whose whole outlook is shaped by narrow ill-informed prejudices. This is achieved (it’s wanted) by a mechanism or reality which lies at the core of all US inequality and social ignorance: residential localism. All education in the US is controlled locally, by localities; the schools are funded locally (by a town or at most city), with some controls placed on what they can and should teach and how they must behave by state laws. The state provides funds too, as does the federal gov’t (8 to 15% depending on how poor the district is, so the poorer get 15% or close to that, and the richer 8% or close to that). Any change in this is fiercely fought. As with the delivery of medical services in the US, the whole thing is endlessly fragmented, done differently in different states, with endless pockets of people in effect isolated from others — even nearby. This is exacerbated by he complete divorce between K-12 and post-secondary or higher education. The two groups run on different tracks, and both are (as a result) somewhat hostile to one another due to caricatures.

The public picture of schools in the US is distorted and falsifying — especially in the post-secondary area where education is suddenly expected (by many Americans) to directly lead to or produce jobs. It does not. Parents and students are paying for a certificate in an area of knowledge; nothing more is (literally) contracted for. The picture the public has as de rigueur or common is a four year college aspiring to at least look like Harvard, small private campus college, or state-supported be-prized institution measured by the US News and World Report. Only 17-18% of young US adults go to a four year college. 80% of young adults are enrolled in some form of publicly-funded post-secondary education, many of which are community colleges, which are weak on needed vocational training and apprenticeships. The fancy internships for upper middle professions are found in the 4 year institutions (and pay nothing). The average student is 27 and the majority are female, perhaps married, with one child. She is looking to “better herself” in the commercial marketplace. As to elite schools that are written about so much (this is the public media pretending that the small middle class is pervasive) less than 2% go to colleges like Harvard, Stanford — and where my younger daughter went, Sweet Briar (she had what was called a complete scholarship so it cost each term about what George Mason did for my younger daughter six years before).


This is a private and charter school — all white

K-12: 11% of children to teenagers are in private schools, of which 9-10% are religious schools, aka schools run by overtly religious groups (or in the south where there is more than a pretense a Christian academy for whites — these sprung up after Brown v Board of Education). The children of upper class and middling parents are taught self-esteem, self-assertiveness, how to cope with others and negotiate your way through life, to be pro-active for individual initiative at home; they have books at home to read; by keeping them away from the rest of the population, you leave that rest to become unexamined obedient instruments of capitalist enterprises — with the emphasis on obedience to group norms and acceptance of punitive measures to keep them that way. They are not to expect “perks” like art classes, music, shop, Advanced Placement (with better paid teachers) where they might learn what are their particular gifts.

The way the game is kept this way is fragmentation — the same thing is done in the area of US medicine (and now we see how US medicine is delivered is horrifyingly inadequate if there is any question of truly serious illness in the population). Those in the richer districts do not want to share their money with others. Most married Americans with children chose where they live in accordance with the schools available in the area. There is a tremendous gap between governance (those who govern, school boards) and anything to transform achievement gaps. No comprehensive school services across many districts (like social workers, nurses)

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Duncan Grant, The Stove, Fitzroy Street

All this for four days and watching what the 40 or so people in the class looked like as they listen, what they said made me remember my own experience. In fact my education enabled me to escape a stultifying working class background, and today still (even after Jim’s death 8 years now) live a life of the mind immersed in high culture in a comfortable house with books and nowadays computers. I am not altogether an anomaly because between the years 1946 and 1970 other trends and left-overs from the FDR era mitigated some inequalities, plus the way to be promoted and thought well of is through academic style tests where your ability to cope with language and math (symbols) are tested, your ability to memorize and what you have read and studied made the groundwork of the tests. On all these I did spectacularly well — as did Jim. Jim got 800 on both GREs to enter graduate school; I got 800 on the English and 798 on the math, at which he quipped: “Ellen was always weak in math.”

I know one of my prides is this education of mine: that I have a Ph.D. is central to my ability to hold up my head. I know how I was relieved to go to grade school to escape my parents’ house with their continual fierce fighting and the tensions and miseries of poverty and anger and frustration. It was a mecca. I know that once I got into my senior year in high school and throughout high school, college, even graduate school, I loved going to classes. In talking on FB of what colleges cannot do to set themselves up to teach students kept socially distant I remembered how for a year at Leeds University (for which I won a scholarship, my year of study abroad where I met Jim) I was given a tutor one-on-one. We met once a week to talk and together study Chaucer and medieval English and French romance. How scared I was at first of the professor; how young she was with a silver urn. I read so carefully each week. I also had wider tutorials with 4 students to a lecturer. Then Izzy at Sweet Briar had similar experiences.

But I also know what I didn’t learn. As I sat in a public school in the southeast Bronx where the majority of students were African-American or hispanic, I was put into a tiny group with “real books” to read – sometimes I was a group of one. The others were reading workbooks, Dick and Jane; I was reading books like Mary Poppins. I spent some of the day making posters. But I learned no manners, my accent stayed thoroughly southeast Bronx, I never took in groups of attitudes I encountered for the first time at age 10/11 when my parents moved to Kew Gardens. Ever after I was something of an outsider. There I was in groups of children with abilities like myself only I was behind in math and science — and no one took the time to teach me fractions, long division, how to do percentages. I still stumble and only my test taking ability, memorization, and ability to work out what a paragraph wanted got me though the Regents. We did have Regents in NY state so the high schools were forced to have teachers who did spend each year covering the curriculum for say chemistry or European (called World) history.


Another Duncan Grant — this time of Vanessa Bell painting, David (Bunny) Garnett reading, studying

Jim went to a “public school” in the UK — these are private schools for the elite — as a day boy in a different colored shirt (to show he was there without paying) because he did so well on the 11 plus, it was called. But he was merged with upper class boys from age 11 to 18 and that enabled him to know how to negotiate and cope in a managerial position, at conferences, he understood expectations. He had a silvery pure prose — from years of learning Latin and translating back and forth from Latin to English. He hated his school at times – he was caned five times and still had the welts on his hands when he was in his 50s. Like me in a different way an outsider, his politics he said were philosophical anarchy. He was deeply sceptical of all professions of ideology.

College came to me because I was living in NYC where it was basically for free. I had to come up with $25 a term. I got in through the night school. Never took an SAT exam, but within the first term, got all As and so switched to daytime college. Jim’s fees were paid for by the state — the Clement Atlee reforms were still in place. I know now how odd it is for me to be proud since I never went to a name school, cannot tell of knowing this or that person, but my expectations were so low to start with, and it’s what your expectations are as you start out that you measure yourself.

I did hold out. I refused to sell myself – I would not spend my life in a 8 hour a day 5 day a week job to make a higher salary. I was able to do that by being married to Jim and accepting that we would live on less, have less things people admire in our house, or clothes, prestige house. And it is chancy but then had I spent my life working at what bored or irritated or embarrassed or was trouble for me I would not be any safer as to money. To be truly safe you must be very rich in ways Jim and I (he with his gov’t job where he was promoted based on his intellectual abilities) never came near. And we spent what we had, I still do what is coming in, to enjoy life as we went along. We did do traveling as I have done since without him. I shall miss going to the UK if this pandemic makes it impossible for me to return to Europe safely. I was comfortable in the Scottish culture and norms; each time I returned to England I felt such cheer to think this is where he was born, where he became what he was. He valued me for what my education had made of me or what I had done with it to make myself what I was and am when we met at Leeds and throughout our lives together.

I did grow irritated at the course because when I would speak I could see that what I had to say was not wanted. Many of the people wanted to pretend they were for equality more than they were and they wanted to remain upbeat and talk of hopeful changes. One of the two leaders twice told a story of a teacher making a home visit and how the hispanic family all came out dressed just for her. I had a home visit when I was putting Izzy in the pre-school: the two women I learned later wrote up a very hostile description of me and my house (all the books offended). It seems Jim and I were at fault for my daughter’s disability. Others kept talking of how important success outside school, in businesses, was — in ways that showed they had no idea this is the kind of thing that cannot be taught. It is social cunning imbibed from your family habitat. I told a little of my experience in a southeast Bronx public school – it was not appreciated because it was downbeat. One was to be constructive. Large abstract pessimism is good, not local true-to-life anedote which exemplifies stubborn real obstacles.

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So this piece of genuine autobiography in the context of a course I just took has taken me time to write and space to do it in. So I shall save for next time some of the wonderful books I’ve read these past 3 weeks, movies, art works looked at, music listened to, Laura’s kittens, and end on music and comedy. Now just onto experiences I’ve had I would not ever have been able to without so much coming online — ingenious people determined to reach everyone at home, to socialize, to make money in their professions.

This past Saturday I took a chance and paid $20 to listen to Jonas Kauffman in concert from the Met. At first I shuddered at the hype introduction, over-dressed woman, and began to fear this would be glittering commercial phony-ness, but bear with the opening 8 minutes, and they leave you alone to listen and watch. An hour and 20 minutes of moving magnificient songs from this handsome and extraordinarily talented actor-singer. Sometimes he was in an old (Baroque?) Bavarian church, and sometimes it was clips from him in costume in a opera. I just love his “Pourquoi me reveiller?” I learned to like and to appreciate and love opera through my 45 years with Jim. The songs sung made me remember our relationship

And then Hannah Gadsby. I have joined online an aspergers group I could never have reached, am attending regularly and making a few acquaintance friends I look forward to seeing again. We talk about things I have trouble with and am given good advice. How to stop interrupting people at the wrong time when I am just trying to join in. What I’m doing wrong? — I am not recognizing their flow of talk and its origins and understanding where it will subside. They meet once a month to discuss a book or movie or person who is known to be autistic or writes about the condition.

It was 10 at night and I had been thinking somehow that I had not laughed in a long time. This is probably untrue. Only I couldn’t remember any true exhilaration either — well only inward exhilaration. I had promised for a coming Zoom session to watch Hannah Gadsby, an Australian comedienne “out”as autistic and lesbian. I did laugh and she made me feel better. On Netflix: I’d say I laughed more during Nanette because she did startle me, but the second,Douglas, with her dog as its center, was brilliant. I gathered from both “autism is seeing what no one else has noticed” and autistic people because we are different and vulnerable are more patient, tolerant, accepting of other people in all their variety Here is a clip from Douglas:

What awoke me to a certain cheer was my thought a way to understand her is: :if I can stand life on these terms, amid these cruel and inane absurdities, so can you.” Douglas contains one of the most brilliant exposures of quite what we are looking out in some of these fossilized religious devotional pictures. Hardly anyone really looks at them.

Then I read into a new humane Guide to Aspergers Syndrome by Tony Attwood arguing strongly the label should not be dropped. It is a different quality of disability but nonetheless disability. Nanette closes with her re-telling how she was attacked at a bus station.


Izzy’s new chair

While we are on this subject: this past Sunday Izzy and I managed to find a store Jim used to take me to to buy decent well made furniture — wood mostly. Izzy badly needs a new chair and I could use a small table in the kitchen. What a time we had! Very nervous trying to remember the name of the place and then the street. All I could think was chair store and Edsall Avenue. Well google and mapquest finally turned up a photo of the place that I recognized. I find things out by pictures. So, armed with 2 printed out mapquests, and Izzy programming Waze (then plugged into i-something or other, after which we turn off Godsford Park music and voila there is that lady’s voice), we made it. We have figured out how to put Waze to sleep (not to quit it, that’s not possible apparently)

I did get confused coming back and was nervous the whole time. My mind continually slightly flustered. I had not been out in the car to a new place in quite a while — I cannot find the category for this in Attwood’s book — it is probably under movement in space but there is nothing specific. I have hunted in the book. But Izzy bought a pretty ivory colored wood chair. She looks so comfortable in it. Here is her latest song:

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I never was able to find the place near us where there is testing for COVID19. I did discover that in the Alexandria there are places where you can be tested nearly for free, several cost starting $50, and many many more $150 – $300. Nuts. Why do some cost $300 — luxurious surroundings? But why try for anything labelled $150-$300? I have to find the place too. Of course Kaiser will test us but we must have symptoms to be eligible. She is to go into to work at the library this coming Thursday and may start going in once a week. She has fashion masks, santizer, and I have ordered a face shield for her.

Have I mentioned this time yet that I believe unqualified uncontrolled predatory capitalism everywhere in our lives in the US is at the core of the failed society of the US we are now experiencing — one result of this is thousands and thousands of deaths because we have no central govt that wants to do anything but exploit and abuse us. So another result of the miserable state of education across the US today and I end where I began this diary entry blog.

Ellen

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A cat face-mask made for me by a person in one of my classes

Friends and readers,

Before telling you of a small achievement I managed week ago, and about our lives over the last half-month, I had a question for all who come to this blog — it was not rhetorical. I wanted an answer:

In the US we are now into well over a hundred thousands deaths in the US from COVID19 and each day the numbers of infected, very sick, and dying or maimed people increase. We don’t have to live with this — sickening & dying by the thousands? Going in and out of lock-down, so people lose their jobs once again, with far less savings to carry them through. There is a way to contain and to suppress the coronavirus. Everyone across the US who is willing be, can be tested and then if positive, all contacts traced, and everyone testing positive put in quarantine. Keep doing that for 2-3 months and the virus is contained and suppressed. The US has the billions to spend. Even if some people refused, or some communities refused to test and trace and quarantine, enough would and could be argued into this, to make a big difference. It would be enough to start to contain even if not suppress the virus. Why does no one propose this? why do reporters not ask any of the people they interview this, including Trump — and repeatedly.

Gentle reader, this was answered for me on FB, look on my timeline for the conversation: in brief, too many people & whole groups of delusional ignorant people in the US would refuse; these are joined by large enough groups of people who will not pay any iota of tax for anyone that they don’t have to, and finally an insufficient identification of many groups of people in the US with differently ethnic and racial groups as a community. The leadership we have reflects and exploits this dire situation. So, having let the first lock-down go by with doing nothing, and now this open up and acceleration, we would have to lock-down first and then begin the testing, tracing &c. It is possible that Biden could get a majority of people in some areas of the country to cooperate and we could try to control and suppress the virus in those areas of the US. 39% of US people voted for McGovern, for Mondale, it’s a stable size body of people but scattered and rendered powerless in comparison to their numbers when it comes to any general scheme. Greed, hatred & fear, ignorance encouraged, gentle reader, at the heart of it all: the exploiters and exploited may outnumber and certainly outvote and nullify the 39% I speak of.

I have told you the main news and the response of many local, state, and federal gov’t — inertia because even if some places are closing down bars, restaurants and other large gathering places, the rest of the public world remains open. And testing is not general and continual. Here in Virgina Izzy & I looked into testing, & we discovered Kaiser will not do unless we are having symptoms, and that even if they did (or other public places offering this), they are not tracing our contacts and not attempting to quarantine. So it’s useless except that we know we are not infected and can with more confidence see other people who might have been tested and know they are not infected.

This is so important that (as in my last diary entry) I must lead with it, and make it the context, the framework, the insistent atmosphere of all we do in life — wherever we go (few places) and whoever we see (hardly anyone and from far away). We do make contact online – I through email, FB, twitter, lists, zoom session; Izzy has had two phone conversations, one with a young man she met online and the other with Thao


Statue of Samuel Johnson’s cat, Hodge, in Gough Square in London

Another insistent context is the exposure of the constant killing of black people by whites and by police in the US, and one specific reaction as a way of making visible that black people are demanding that they be treated as equal human beings the taking down of racist symbols, of statues put there to intimidate, and the removal of names meant to insult them. Statues are emotional sites and we do pay attention to them; they have an importance as do names. They are asking at a minimum, that the police be reined in so they can live, and also hoping to gain more traction to live better with more progressive policies that include or are aimed at their well being. So Johnson’s cat is a symbol of kindness and loving companionship between a man and his pet cat From Boswell’s Life of Johnson:

Nor would it be just, under this head, to omit the fondness which he showed for animals which he had taken under his protection. I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature … I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, “Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;” and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, “but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed [admittedly selective quotation.

So I want here to say how I see we are doing & why we are doing it when we take down statues, for as I was with all the people who demonstrated, protested, and yes those who were violent and screamed and raged, so I am with them in taking down these statues of military men especially everywhere: we are doing this as I understand this by taking into consider what specifically the statue is of (who depicted), how it is functioning in the communities it is set among, and of course if it is intended to cause or to threaten harm to people around them, which includes an understanding of who put the statue up, when, for what purpose, what it is supposed to signify. Is it intended as an insult, racial trolling (as when in Alexandria, Va, where I live once segregated wretched looking schools where only African-Americans went were named after ferocious killing Confederate generals), to intimidate. Lee in Virginia. To celebrate enslaving, killing, turning a people into suppliants. Theodore Roosevelt in front of the Museum of Natural History, NYC.

We need to notice to how many statues are militarist, pro-war, “great” men on horses with guns high up on pedestals. I’m for taking all such statues down wherever they have occurred and stopping all manufacture of any more.

I looked to see if I could find a good depiction (clear, accurate, appealing) of a cat by Hogarth (Johnson’s friend, also 18th century) but alas I could find none: he did draw, engrave, print, & sell a 4 part narrative series called The Four Stages of Cruelty where he showed tormenting, torturing being cruel to animals functions as a prelude, replacement or as part of cruelty by those people who are cruel to other people. I cannot bear to look.

I do feel for Hodge as a statue out in all kinds of weathers. I imagine him sometimes holding himself together when he is cold or wet. Nearby him is a bench. Many people do not appear to notice he is sitting on one of Johnson’s books; this one probably intended to be one volume of Johnson’s dictionary. My cat sits on my books, my computer, sits by me in and around my chair, lays all over me when I am in bed. You can see a depiction of the oysters Johnson would go out early in the morning to buy for Hodge.

So there is the world this unhappy fourth of July

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Izzy on Father’s Day

To ourselves (Izzy and I), the London Society Trollope zoom group I was participating in finished Framley Parsonage and started The Last Chronicle of Barset, and I was asked to give a thirty–minute talk on the Last Chronicle out of the blog I had written on the novel when I finished it with my groups.io friends. Well, the talk (a thirty minute paper) I gave seemed to go over very well. Here is what you need to know and here the YouTube video (yes I am too low, but for next time I have bought a bolster cushion and will be seated a bit further off):

Further to this, I started the second round of teaching my course The Bloomsbury novel, and am having a bit of trouble because the etiquette over on the OLLI at Mason online has encouraged an attitude towards the experience which assumes that most people will appear as black boxes with their names, that the way to be together is for all to be muted except the one person who is talking (and when he or she stops, they re-mute themselves. I find this so counterproductive, if the goal really is to have a classroom experience online. I today wrote the class the first of the two weekly letters I usually write my classes, and in it urged them to behave otherwise.

I’d like to ask all the people in the class who are able to (have some form of webcam), to make yourself visible. I think one thing that gets in the way of discussion in a zoom setting, are black boxes with people’s names (or some other label) in the middle on them. I can’t get to know or remember people this way. If I am differing from what you’ve heard or been told, well I think and feel differently about this. I asked for a meeting style, and kept the numbers down so that we could have a version of a class meeting online and people participate actively. I admit I probably let too many people in as there are two screens of people, but I’ll struggle to look at both if in general people are visible and respond by raising hands.

Don’t forget to use the chat, which we have in this meeting version of zoom. I go a bit further and say when we come to discussion parts of the time together, after you’ve unmuted yourself, it’s fine to stay un-muted. I do. If you have a problem with noise, that’s another thing but if you have no such problems, it will enable a flow of conversation instead of long pauses while someone finds or makes their un-mute mechanism work.


ClaryCat on Father’s Day

Some funny experiences: my cats and I have grown very close and we reciprocate now through talk and just realized mutual feelings, gestures, sounds.

So what happens now is when I have to keep Clarycat out for the 80-90 minutes when I’m teacher online. ClaryCat the girl does not like this one little bit. As the 85-90 minutes wear on, she becomes more insistently vocal, and begins to scratch and push at the door. She is unaware of how fragilely the latch is nailed into the door-frame, and if she did thrust, she might pull the latch out. I open my door upon clicking “leave meeting,” and in she rushes. And then she proceeds to scold me. She circles me and comes in front of and squats down and meows very insistently. If I walk around and keep going she follows, circles and squats again. Meow meow meow! Or she stays by me, meowing. She is just not having any of this. After a while, she calms down. And now we are back in my room together, she in her very comfortable (soft round knobby surface) cat-bed near my desk. I am paying the bills so she & I can stay in this space together (most of the time) for (I hope) a long time to come.

Most of the time when I go out I put my cats outside my workroom lest they get entangled in wires or bored and do something untoward. And they know the signs for this. I get up, take my handbag, the phone, sweater on my shoulder, somehow look “getting ready.” Turning off my computer is an especially grievous (to both cats) sign. My violent-purple LLBean suitcase in my room leads to all sorts of behaviors showing their anxiety.
Well today I noticed a new signal alerts them. I put on my face mask. Toute de suite ClaryCat was rising, murmuring against this, but, knowing what was about to happen inevitable, jumping down from my desk and trotting to the door. I find this so sweet. When I return most of the time she comes to the door and turns with me towards the door of my workroom expecting me to open it, which I do. Then in we go.

Izzy is all set up with her new PC, wifi, webcam, mic, speakers, the lot. She carries on teleworking from home, and has been told she need not start coming in because she hasn’t a car, and perhaps someone has a conscience about the Metro as a petri dish. She says she also told them she has a 73 year old mother. She reads and watches all sorts of programs — TV and Internet series (many seem to be on-line conversations between people); she practices singing.

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For Father’s Day — when these commemorations began I don’t know. I hope they are not an invention of holiday card companies. Still my awareness made me remember my father who was born 1921 (July) and died 1989 (December) and my husband born 1948 (October) and died 2013 (October). My father would instantly have recognized the profound danger Trump represents, the evil he is, and predicted he would win. When he died, we were no longer living on the terms of understanding we once had, and that gets in the way of my saying I miss him. I miss what we once had. For Jim it’s not even yesterday. He would have wanted to return to the UK, but Teresa May had put paid to my having any change for permanent residency as his wife.

I took a photo of three of my flowering bushes in commemoration. The dark pink re-flowered, the yellow and white are new ones my mowing-gardening man planted for me (I forgot to tell him to plant perennials so I’m not sure they have any chance of coming up next year). I put them here in remembrance. My father did not at first have sympathy with Jim and I buying this house (“what a shithouse!” — we were at first renters and it was in bad condition, or we could not have afforded it), but he had begun to see why we liked the house, and a couple of years later during the day on a couple-of-days visit with us, he said, “It’s beginning to look like Seaman Avenue [our long-time apartment in NYC up under the Cloisters[, to which Jim replied, “These things take time, Willie.” Jim would not have been surprised to see what I’ve made of my sun-room [the enclosed porch he could never make up his mind to agree to, lest it cost too much — without him there, I was able to hire a man who did not have a license and he built it much less expensively than the building industry’s codes would have allowed]. But he would have liked its comfort, sunshine, and lack of any pretensions.

Jim was born in Hampshire, grew up in Southampton, I met him in Leeds when I was there for a year as a transfer student from Queens College, CUNY, NYC. When he died, I wrote this obituary for him. Clarycat was much attached to him, grieved for him for days, she sat in his chair for over a month …


Jim with our dog Llyr, 1972, in an apartment on 76th Street

I am at the same time reading on, more books, looking at more art, thinking more and just loving the thought, art, world of these circles of people. Just now finally coming to the end of Francesca Wade’s Square Haunting and feeling so sad it’s coming to an end. Since I have so much to read, that is not a common feeling with me. I am, for example, moving at a snail’s pace, in order to be able to critique the new standard edition of Anne Finch, to expose its narrow-minded careerist (morally and aesthetically dumb) agenda. I join in on zooms among small groups of friends, or for a particular topic (Jane Austen). And watch movies, among which the most important and best is the 7 season series, A French Village. I’ve mentioned this one before and will end on it tonight.

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The Parade through Villeneuve November 11th

It is important: here’s why. And I’ve written about the first two seasons. I’m now nearing the end of the fourth.

Season 3: The Gestapo has entered the village, and Jews are being rounded up and they are told they are to be put on a train for Paris. Then rumor has it they will be taken to Poland. They are being treated horribly, cruelly, starved, humiliated, three have now killed themselves.

What is extraordinary is that the film-maker has set up the situation based on the idea that nearly all the Jews and all the French, collaborators and not, have no idea these people are going to be sent to their death. I’m not sure all the Germans know, some do. What is being conveyed is that the idea they are being sent to be killed never enters the minds of most of them – because it is so extraordinary. It is such an outrageous horrific unthinkable thing to do – until we are after it’s done — in 1946 and all see what happened. By showing how such wretched treatment of them still does not evoke in most minds what could be the aim here. they are told they can take only one small suitcase. It’s strange but they don’t think about this beyond that maybe there is no room or the suitcase inconveniences their masters.

Caroline Moorehead’s Village of Secrets. The point of her books (including A Train in Winter) is to vindicate the Resistance from 70 years of denial from the right, trivializing them and turning them into “thugs” or naive simpletons. A French Village party keeps that perspective up, and partly vindicates or explains how decent people came to collaborate. By the end of season 3, Judith de Morhange emerges as a woman collaborator: she just can’t conceive that what is about to happen is extermination. Dr Larcher, on the other hand, is beginning to see that there is no compromising with these people, alas only beginning.

The slow creep still goes on. I was struck by one moment where Marchetti (whose conscience bothers him) asks Servier if he can get a letter to his wife’s mother. Servier looks astonished and puts him off. Marchetti asks for an address. Servier’s face turns to stone. In that moment my guess is we are supposed to see that Servier knows these people have been sent to their death or are dead and had not realized Marchetti didn’t know. Or if he knows Marchetti didn’t know, did not realize how such a question would be “natural.” Marchetti says he doesn’t why a natural letter and address is not available. He seems not to guess – the truth and horror of this is as yet so unthinkable.

It is not unthinkable today. Were trains to come in and take black people, we would all immediately think extermination.OTOH, the US population has not risen against Trump when he broke all laws and intentions of immigration and separated parents from children and began to throw all the people in privately run prisons. Trump’s new rule for hospitals tells all medical people you need not treat LGTBQ people.

I wonder if in 1942-43 there were the same kinds of murders of Jews everywhere — they are profoundly unsafe wherever they are in the world of the series. The point is made that gradually the very worst people are rising to key positions (as with Trump) and now the mayor is someone prepared to slaughter anyone he doesn’t like — anyone called a Resistance person, communist, whatever.

No Jew is safe anywhere from anyone. This reminds me of what black people repeatedly said during the protests, demonstrations & riots: they can’t leave their houses without being afraid some small incident will cost them their lives. Indeed Taylor was murdered in her house – not the first. I keep my eye on how many disabled people police murder with impunity.


A brilliant actor plays the sadistic Nazi officer, Muller

Great ironies at the end. Marie’s photo in the paper and Schwartz runs over it with his latest girlfriend. It is beginning to penetrate though except in the scene where Muller gloats over how he kills groups of Jews and can get individuals about to be killed to dig the mass graves to Hortense Larcher, it is not explicit – -to penetrate individuals the people sent away on the train “will never come back” i.e., are being killed somehow. But that this is a strategy, a plan for all Jews is beyond comprehension

Some very ugly portraits of women. Much to my astonishment Hortense, Dr Larcher’s wife, prefers the sadistic Nazi Muller to her husband — this after he was prepared to torture her and wounded her arm. Schwartz’s wife tells him she loves savagery — I take this to be a slur on all woman’s sexuality and something brutal men want to believe, but the program has Hortense as another prime example. So too Marie with her affection for Schwartz: while he is not altogether devoid of any principle, he is profoundly untrustworthy and un-principled as a principle.


A Jewish young woman, Rita, refuses to accept Marchetti’s deportation of her mother (some might), flees him but is (we learn) re-captured

Women are presented as irrational: Beriot’s wife, Lucienne, loves him now because he has learned some physical technique and we watch her pray; she is against the Resistance. Marie is the most competent of the resisters — and a prostitute whose name I didn’t catch (what an old myth here). The two Larchers are now our emerging our heroes, together with DeKevern and Beriot.

The old lie about the Nazi-Soviet pact is worked tirelessly to condemn communists as if every minute of their conduct is controlled by it. There are superb books about occupied France reviewed in the New York Review of Books: it was the communists and socials who resisted the Nazis and fascists, and who the allies were determined to throw off once their use was over — for they had supported fascism itself as a bulwark against socialism and communism for years. The article does ample justice to twists and turns and details. Who Resisted the Nazis.


Three in the Resistance group

As I come near the end of the fourth season I was moved to compare A French Village to Renoir’s famed Grand Illusion (as I saw that for another course where the sentimental teacher conceded how Renoir idealized and mourned the death of an older aristocratic world — where aristocrats transcend mere local wars …..

Not only is Grand Illusion too kind, and too idealistic (especially about individuals confronting one another), with the women and captors sentimentalized (like when food is offered to prisoners so politely), but Renoir believes in this film that people in general will hold out, be brave against the threat of death, he does not begin to comprehend what people in general will accept, do without thinking of cruel consequences, how communities will dissolve. A French Village is sincere in its depiction of the hardness of people and how they seek first to protect and second to place themselves. He does not come near to understanding or dramatizing how weak bodies are.

I do think the depiction of some of the women in A French Village is unfair: two especially who are shown to be drawn to cruel men they know will turn on them and do. Two of them do push back: one flees her lover once she discovers he deported her mother (and everyone now knows to death), and the other tries to kill herself by hanging. The third is kicked out by her sadistic Nazi officer lover. I did wonder to what extent women collaborated with Nazi men, collaborators and police and military for protection. They are show as active in the Resistance the way the men are (in Grand Illusion they are only sentimental lovers or prostitute-like)

Grand Illusion is itself filled with naive illusion.


Beating, hideous food, torture a matter of course in A French Village (not seen anywhere in Grand Illusion)

This may be too much of a detail for anyone who has seen the series to remember. The fourth season culminates in Antoine pulling off a spectacular stunt, which both unnerves the Nazi-Vichy regime and inspirits the townspeople — & the Resistance fighters who pull it of: Antoine and his training soldiers. The Nazi attempt to force young men into enslaved labor in Germany has backfired for a number of local village young men have fled to the wood to join the Resistance under an emerging new leader, Antoine. They stage a parade across the village bridge (see above still), hold a ritual ceremony for (and on) November 11th for WW1, where the French (let’s recall) were on the winning side, play La Marseillaise, sing & dance. For not very long. To do it at all is astonishing — which to me at first seemed a senseless stunt but which when it succeeded did have meaning and added strength to the Resistance when the Nazi regime was unable to hunt the men out. Perhaps this is improbable, but I suspect some real incident lies behind this story

They had to have trucks, guns to some extent, but most of all cut off communications — cut off phone lines, radios, telegraph and get the occupying force out of the village. They do this – our focus is the two women who disable the radio – Lucienne and the new singing teacher, a Resistance person and it turns out lesbian. But quickly Muller (no fool) realizes a phone call which directed the occupying force to hurry to the next village was a key moment. I cannot remember who made the call. Was it dramatized? Or was this the sort of thing mystery-detective stories often do – I am to infer from what people said who did it? This is so frustrating. I will give this series that I feel I should have been able to infer (or saw ti) because generally speaking they do not go at lightening speed and everything is developed coherently with explanations emerging as we go along. I asked but no one remembered who made the phone call? I suppose I could re-watch the two (or maybe three) episodes to try to catch it … I do have the time ….


At the Window, an early 20th century painting whose title and painter I do not know

Ellen

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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.

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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.

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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

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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 ….

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

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.

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

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 …

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

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.

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

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

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

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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My miniature maple tree is now a uniform lovely dark red — I took this photo in the pouring rain

This is the November time of year in Virginia when it rains hard and steadily for several days in a row, taking away the colored leaves. That has not changed over the years. It happens in NYC in later October …

Dear friends,

My mother told me early that whatever happens to you, however unhappy you may be, you can escape into a book — Claire Tomalin

I’m in the awkward situation of having too many books and too many movies and too much activity to tell of since I last posted here. I lack a single overriding focus except to say that the fall term is starting to wind down. I write because I do not want to lose contact with my real friends who read me here. You owe this to Amazon Prime fooling me into thinking they were streaming Sally Fields’s Norma Rae, only to discover all that is on offer is a trailer so I had to send away to Netflix for a DVD and am too daunted by MacCulloch’s Thomas Cromwell (extraordinary as his recreation of the early Tudor world is) to inch further along this evening.

Both courses that I taught (Wolf Hall: A Fresh Angle on the Tudor Matter; and The Enlightenment at Risk, see Candide and La Religieuse) have gone splendidly. They and reading with others on-line, going to a conference where I gave a paper on Austen’s Persuasion and attended two plays, a guest visitor staying with me, who took this photo in front of Blackfriars’ theater in Staunton, Virginia, — all have left little time to blog:

I did have my paper proposal accepted for a coming ASECS meeting in Denver in March on Winston Graham’s historical fiction (with the much more original proposal on Henry Fielding as a feminist turned down). I read late at night and in the early mornings in bed — much to my cats’ impatience.

This week is the last of my Wolf Hall and the Tudor matter lectures, and after we finish Samuel Johnson on Scotland and watching the BBC classic documentary Culloden next week I’ve got but two sessions on Madame Roland’s memoir and the early phases of the French revolution to go. Near the end I want to do nothing so much as read Hilary Mantel and Samuel Johnson’s prose and about him by John Wain (who captures his tone and the best parts of his mind) endlessly.

Probably what has eaten into my time most is watching truly great (often classic) movies for three different courses I attended this term: I do most of this watching at night, and I’ve watched film adaptations of the books I’ve taught so as to be able to show clips in the classes of effective meaningful central scenes, and now this week I’ve added to re-watching the fourth season of Poldark, the stunningly brilliantly done film adaptation of Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White (scripted by Fiona Seres), and the fourth season of Outlander (Drums in Autumn), where I just find irresistible Jamie and Claire. My favorite actress just this day is Jessie Buckley, my favorite actor Zakes Mokae. All I have had time for is to keep a list simply not to forget what I’ve seen and what’s left to see! the outstanding best of those I’ve not blogged about (I managed only women’s films) have been Paths of Glory, Judgment at Nuremberg, A Dry White Season (this last by a woman, 1989 Euzhan Palcy), and the early classic, Battleship Potemkin.


Jessie Buckley as Marion Halcombe in Fiona Seres’s 2018 Woman in White: what is distinctive is Collins’s novel is filmed so as to realize strongly its tale of a society organized on subduing and exploiting women through silent and overt violence; technically the most expert and marvelously (colored and film noir gothic) serial drama I’ve seen in a while. The use of juxtaposition, flashback, rearranged time is astonishing; all that is left out is voice-over for perfection

The unexpected: I listened in my car to a true masterpiece, E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. I became immersed (insofar as time permitted) in E.M. Forster: he is a deeply morally good and astonishingly multi-perspective genius at novel-writing. On Trollope&Peers, we read and saw Howards End, A Room with a View, and I read a good deal of Beauman’s biography, Morgan & Charles Summer’s close reading of Forster’s writing. Thinking of Forster’s character Cyril Fielding helps me see my continual moral flaws and stupidities and agree with Forster about the sad futility of longing for “the Friend who never comes.”


E. M. Forster by Dora Carrington; a blog essay on his work by Tyler Tichelaar

And who would have thought Barbara Pym’d be a revelation: I was startled into contentment for two of her four characters in the faery tale ending of Quartet in Autumn, and strongly upset for her by her courting public sexual humiliation after she finished at Oxford (no wonder she wrote about 50 year old spinsters when she was in her mid-20s).

An HD opera was unexpectedly very good: Sanson and Dalila by Saint-Saens,and coming up is the new opera Marnie, based on Winston Graham’s novel.

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Longoni, Un gatto per Amicor

So what can I tell of out of all this that you cannot read elsewhere? Something non-famous? I’ve followed an excellent 6 week Future Learn course on Understanding Violence against Women and learnt much (what they do in their program is hold the particulars of the perpetrator in mind and work to stop or eject him). I spoke of the 1st & 2nd week here (scroll down). Now I’ll tell of the fifth week:

The course suddenly dramatically improved: now they were going to talk of survivors, how they are treated by society, what happens to them if they go for help, how they themselves feel inside as people ever after. And lo and behold there was a filmed interview of Judith Herman, and two women running rescue clinics, and shelters and in Scotland groups funded to help survivors of abuse. (I”ll lay a bet there is nothing like this in the US, and that whatever rescue shelters and clinics we’ve had are quickly going badly or being shut down since Trump&Co.)

What had been missing was the larger trajectory of the society that let this abuse inside a marriage happen (as yet there is no idea that marriage itself, compulsory marriage is at the core of all this violence permitted, even encouraged implicitly when you teach men how entitled they are and to be macho, and violence as a solution). They even critiqued themselves in that they said 25 years ago when police or social workers first really didn’t ignore calls to homes where violence had happened, the so-called investigation produced these general abstractions about what had happened instead of the particular case and what was the particular paradigms of behavior that abused the women and children, nor was the perpetrator paid attention to. All that was really written down was any physical injuries. Well no more. Now they try to pay attention to the perpetrator and look at the peculiar patterns and try to get the family members become aware and address the problem so the violence and coercion and cruelty and abuse stops.

We need to look at wider causes of this violence against women and in Judith Herman’s talk that is brought out: compulsory heterosexuality inside a family and society structure that makes women subject to other people’s exploitative uses of them with nowhere to turn. I realize she had outlined places to go, but the interview also talked about how such places don’t always address the problems, can deprive the victim of autonomy (she’s not in control), further punish her, put her further at risk

It was very hard for me to pay attention up front to some of this because I had some horrible experiences age 12-15 and probably no one ever helped me. Over the years and a lifetime I’ve somewhat recovered, but never wholly. I would hope other girls today get help; the situation is not improving in the US right now because of the Trump regime: we are going backwards as women are mocked, ridiculed and once again silenced, and social services cut

Anna Mitchell was superb. Yes we must not be content with general talk and general assessment or just pay attention to obvious physical abuse. You must look at all forms of abuse and abjection (the victim becomes abject) and hold the abuser accountable to stop the patterns of behavior that are harmful.

A movie, The Hunting Ground: It’s a powerful film, with Lady Gaga’s song (this brand name feels like an embarrassment to me — she is Stefanie Joanne Angelina Germanotta) and here it is — I hope my code stuff comes through: of many thoughts I had as I watched, I found that I became directly distressed as I watched and listened to the girl speak of the aftermath, of how they felt and were treated afterward. It was then I began to shake and couldn’t look. I’d say that just about no girl in that film ever had the slightest true justice, and every single young man who raped, gang-raped, assaulted and otherwise maimed these girls got away with it. Here and there in the film a young man is ejected from a university after he has won for them all the games he can, or is thrown out after he graduated. By contrast, a number of the girls whose story is followed through on has suffered massive insult and has been punished by her society in one way or another. I also found on line a video made by the American Enterprise Institute cleverly accusing this film of being “sensationalism.” Towards the end you see Obama and Biden get up and profess satisfaction that these brave girls have come forward and promise to help them; since DeVos has been put at the head of the education department she has turned back the rules that provided even the minimum assistance that Obama and Biden’s administration offered.

I would like to add this: thus far all the cases reported have one of the parents backing the girl, with the implication or assumption the other parent did too. When I tried to tell my mother she first scoffed, when I persisted, she called me a tramp and made derisive remarks, and finally told me she didn’t want hear about this. I am now 71 and have never forgotten those 3 years; they shaped my existence ever after. Since I believe there is nothing exceptional about me, and far from supporting me, I feel that the evidence you have produced should cases where other girls are not supported by one or the other parent. I didn’t tell my father because I was too ashamed, and also worried he too would blame me or tell me to forget about this.

In the US violence is mostly defined as physical violence of some sort. While there are laws in place, a few agencies and local assistance, it seems to me little true help is available. I know from experience that the psychiatric and psychological professions have gone over to CBT, which in my view is worthless: they are basically telling you to have good thoughts and conform, or they offer you a drug. Since the election of Trump, for women in the US life has deteriorated in public.

Probably all three stages are equally important, but it may be that the first two are easier to effect than the last. You need agencies and gov’t to come in and provide safety (put the man or men away in prison) and help the women and if she has children, the children involved find a good place to live, help her pay the rent as she begins to live there separately — or help her get a job. The third one involves personal relationships and this requires social skills on the part of the woman, things in the family that the community around identified with and respects, and the willingness of the people around her to become her and her children’s friends and associates. All this is hard, takes time, may not happen.

Obviously getting the community around women in different localities in the US to support the woman and/or her children. It’s clear from statistics that at this point it is the male assaulter who is supported and protected, and often goes unpunished. The challenge is to get the society as a whole and individual families and if there are institutions involved to value women as people. But the US has elected a man to be president who boasts of his sexual predation and mocks and derides women who are assaulted and come forward to protest. I see very good comments below by other people here.

I found Ann Hayne’s attitude one which would lead to genuine helping of another individual. She behaves and tells others how to behave with the needs of the traumatized individual in mind. It is the particulars that she singles out that struck me as exactly right. I have seen psychologists where the person supposed to help me makes me feel much worse by making demands I can’t meet, or in effect dismissing my fears by advising me to do things that would further terrify me. I thought the video cartoon comforting, and especially like how three very different types of trauma were included. In the talk and video were taken into account the kind of person (me) who becomes attached to someone dominating and then stays with a person because he’s kind, enables some of the things I’ve wanted to do and couldn’t on my own, and it’s so much easier. I suggest though something is left out: what about the person (me) first abused who then gets into another different kind of relationship where the abuse is not obvious, & the second relationship disguises that the first was never dealt with.

Claire Tomalin, London, 1989

The one review of Claire Tomalin’s for me utterly readable and riveting A Life of My Own that I have come across,  Stacy Schiff’s “Making Herself the Subject,” in the New York Review of Books is remarkable for the reviewer’s ability to quote some of the many perceptive memorably put assessments from a few of Tomalin’s great biographies and to squeeze into a clear outline of the most significant & moving of Tomalin’s details about her ultra-busy successful life, but Schiff does omit herself, what we might surmise would be another woman writer’s reaction to Tomalin’s cool candor (shared in the comments).

Sometimes as I’d fall asleep (especially when hers was the last book of the late night) I’d find myself crying. I cried for her because she didn’t cry and I cried for myself because I never had a chance to experience, to be trained, to achieve all she has. I found I didn’t begrudge her because she eschews the self-congratulatory, she blames no one, not a whiff of boasting (and she was a literary editor of the New Statesman and Sunday Times), there is something beautiful in the way she regards herself as neither punished or rewarded, “as powerless to resist as a migrating bird or salmon swimming upstream.” I love her for her empathy in her biographies of others (and I have loved her Dora Jordan, Ellen Ternan, Mary Wollstonecraft, more or less agreed with her Jane Austen) and here for herself for not evading literal truth even when she doesn’t open up her grief or reveal her understanding of what happened, like when one of her daughters killed herself, when her husband, Nick, beat her up, even when she wrongs someone else, marrying the playwright Michael Frayn. I just felt so sad at these friendships I have missed, at the evidence of a courage and know-how that can never be mine. Maybe because she is a biographer, doing what I’d love to do in archives around the Eurocentric world. I have put her Katherine Mansfield on my night table.

Louise de Salvo’s life of Virginia Woolf; she died this week. You won’t hear her important persuasive argument and solid evidence that Woolf’s half-sisters, Laura and Stella, and her whole sister, Vanessa, were all physically as well as emotionally abused from earliest to teen years in that Victorian household, and the mother, Julia, was complicit: they put Laura away for not fitting in; they let Stella die; Vanessa survived by pretending what was in front of her was not; only Virginia reacted with full truth to what they had all experienced, so of course what she had to say was not acceptable and must be over-sensitive, diverted, re-channeled and controlled. De Salvo praised but her insights never mentioned and forgotten by others when they write, so Virginia’s experience erased, misunderstood, quite deliberately.

Still the famous are so sometimes for good reasons: Adrienne Rich touches deepest and widest, and I returned to her essays and poetry on and off, especially “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience.” I don’t cry when I read Rich, I want to return to my project The Anomaly. I will also never love or be loved by a man again. I have to be content to dream what can never be again. I have been reading tonight her book

The Fact of a Doorframe

means there is something to hold
onto with both hands
while slowly thrusting my forehead against the wood
and taking it away
one of the oldest motions of suffering

One of my favorite poems by Rich is too long to share in a blog: Transcendental Etude (this is but one stanza, gentle reader: she begins “This August evening I’ve been driving” and she ends “now the stone foundation, rockshield further/forming underneath everything that grows”). Do you know it?

How about just this to end on:

The longer I live the more I mistrust
theatricality, the false glamor cast
by performance, the more I know its poverty beside
the truths we are salvaging from
the splitting-open of our lives.
The woman who sits watching, listening,
eyes moving in the darkness
is rehearsing in her body, hearing out in her blood
a score touched off in her perhaps
by some words, a few chords, from the stage:
a tale only she can tell …

No one who survives to speak
new language has avoided this:
the cutting away of an old force that held her
rooted to an old ground
the pitch of utter loneliness
where she herself and all creation
seem equally dispersed, weightless, her being a cry
to which no echo comes or can ever come …

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Camille Pissarro, Autumn at Eragny

To conclude, I’ve a new writing project: every couple of months I am to write a review of a historical fiction set in the 18th century, preferably recent, but they can go back a bit into the mid- to later 20th century. It will be for the Intelligencer, a kind of three paragraph column. I’ve a site to start looking for prospective new books (Historical Novel Society) and my own lists of Booker Prize, Whitbread and other powerful historical fiction to work from. I will once again try to subscribe to History Today, but this time through a letter and just for the paper copies. I cannot navigate their site.

It is harder to stay sane than people admit. I couldn’t do it without these routes.  I wake in the morning longing for companionship, the ache in my heart so hard. I grow weary with too much life-learning and find a very few of my computer friends fulfill my heart’s needs more than most people I seem to have to work so hard to spend time with and have what’s called friendship. Claire Tomalin says the writing life is “silence, hard slog, loneliness, and old clothes:” she has omitted deep peacefulness when you are engaged, absorption so as to forget all else. Books are my best friends and I want to spend more time with her, and her characters.

Ellen

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