Posts Tagged ‘a police state’

An old woman reading — a magnificent painting done in the 17th century Netherlands

There is indeed one element in human destiny
that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever
else we are intended to do, we are not intended
to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business
is to continue to fail in good spirits. — Robert Louis Stevenson


Accept what you are.
Do what you can.
Be glad you can do that.

These are lines I tell myself or some version of them. They help me carry on. I then try to follow them doing what’s in front of me to do that day, and doing what I tell myself I want to and shall do for the sake of events coming up that I can participate in. Participate to the best of my ability and if I can’t do what others do, live with it.

Very sad today because dear close friend for the past 4 years now has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. It has been so hard to live since Jim is gone. One can say live in and on yourself but to do this in my state of several dysfunctions takes strength, courage, cheer and yes friendships.

This one is hard. I have a new understanding — much better, much more accurate — of friendship, its limits as well as its gifts, can picture how many people live on themselves and with others. It’s probably salutary for me to see better, more clearly (like Lear is told to) but honestly I would have preferred to go to the end of my chapter without seeing. In reason or logically it should make me stronger to be able to see clearly, but like when I’ve done something that’s hard for me to do and then people tell me, each time it will get easier (say traveling or some technology), and the act(s) don’t at all get easier (but come accompanied by the same anxiety, intense reluctance, and when they are over the same intense relief). Perhaps seeing makes things more doable because I realize how others are what’s called striving or struggling to do them too. (Of course for some these acts come easy; such people are not admirable, just lucky in their genes, or circumstances.) I’m not sure seeing where others experience similar emotions and where they don’t, makes things more doable.

Roger Fry, self-portrait

“Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.” — Virginia Woolf

I’ve been immersed in one of Virginia Woolf’s it seems to me now hundreds of masterpieces of writing, this one a full length biography of Roger Fry. She grasps that powerful turning points for him later in life were when he faced defeat, recognized what he could do and then flourished within his limitations so as to live out his extraordinary gifts. He was tremendously lucky in who he was born to: he automatically went to the best schools, had connections to get to places where he could meet minds equivalent in finest and insight to his own, and he was born sociable: could make and knew how to sustain friendships. I am so moved by his life style: he was partly homosexual and bisexual and sustained deep relationships among men and women that were unconventional. His rooms were beautifully decorated by true art (not what would fetch money or give prestige necessarily at all) and filled every where what he was doing: books, papers, easels, paint, his food on plates because he was too taken up with what he was doing to keep up with tidyness. A man after my own heart. Fry’s art was one she understood, his principles those she lived by as Fry had understood hers: she reveled in his life, wished she could have lived it.

I’m comparing Woolf’s book to Samuel Johnson’s life of Richard Savage, considered his masterpiece in biography. What a contrast from the point of view of failure. Savage a self-deluded wildly behaved “genius,” born with no advantages but that of “intellectual greatness” (Johnson’s phrase) whose “eminence” because of such gifts just made him a better known instance of of how such things contribute very little to worldly success, happiness, or fulfillment — all of which Roger Fry knew, partly the result of his having been born with the extrinsic advantages Savage lacked and didn’t know how to or in his world could not acquire. It was not just bad luck as Savage also had some innate awful traits of vanity, luxury, scorn for those beneath him (as he saw this), and he could not control ill-advised responses, like anger (when he desperately needed to). His sexuality is not clear; at the time (not in Johnson’s biography) he was linked to at least two women, one Eliza Haywood supposedly had a child by him, but I wonder if he was homosexual or bisexual. It is as extraordinary a story as Fry’s is, only far more flagrantly breaking all taboos. The man may have been in effect homeless, living on the streets, in taverns, for some 28 years; at 46 he died in debtor’s prison, surely from exhaustion and the terrible wear and tear of his body and mind as much as anything else. Johnson was 35 at the time he wrote the biography, living on little bits of money, and saw a possible fate for himself in Savage.

“They are surely happy,” said the prince, “who have all these conveniencies, of which I envy none so much as the facility with which separated friends interchange their thoughts.” — Samuel Johnson, Rasselas

Van Gogh, A Field with Poppies — Woolf begins and ends her biography of Fry with his utterances about poppies

I’ve been following a Future Learn course on autism for three weeks now and have some thoughts about it. It’s done by a group of people running a center in a British university (Kent) for people on the autism spectrum. They have a variety of degrees and positions that legitimate them — and give them salaries. What are they doing with this precious four weeks in public on the Internet they are given?

They persist in asking, Does Autism Exist? & seem to doubt there is such a condition. They know better. They present evidence it does, two of them are clearly autistic themselves — or Aspergers Syndrome as the high end of the condition, where people come closest to non-disabled functioning and are highly intellingent in reasoning, writing, reading, understanding, used to be distinguished. Logically from what they show, if it’s amorphous, cannot be confirmed by scientific method that is unassailable, and manifests differently, there is a (laughably) strong base of similarity. Like cancer, the basic disability or problem comes in different manifestations, but we don’t doubt cancer exists.

I’ve decided that they mean to counter intense hostility by the neurotypical world: my experience is the hostility only goes away when a NT has an autistic person in their family or as a friend. Even then, not all the time, and many inside a family especially (where they cannot get rid of the tie) want to doubt the person is autistic. How painful this is. How painful this Future Learn course. It means such people don’t want to recognize the autistic and refuse to acknowledge they exist. I know this is what people without disabling conditions do with disabilities (I’ve reviewed & read enough books on disability to know this), and with this one mental they can deny even more readily.

So I don’t exist. One of my daughters doesn’t exist. Aspergers Syndrome which describes the part of the spectrum she is on and I’m almost does not exist in the book any more.

The Future Learn course is doing little good to the Aspergers or autistic person: by spending so much time doubting autism, the speakers don’t have the time to go into individual characteristics. Or they don’t want to — two of the three weeks have been unusually short (less videos, less essays than most such courses). I suspect they fear evoking ridicule and hostility. Open objections that could become obnoxious. So they don’t talk about specifics autistic people can’t do, only try to assert through photos how autistic people are social, are made happy by having friends, just don’t know the unwritten codes and social behavior that gains and sustains them.

What they have been willing to discuss (again in general terms) are depression & anxiety as “co-existing morbid conditions.” The language chosen is, shall we say, unfortunate?

Then they show reluctance to say these two linked conditions result from autism & are a response to the way society treats the autistic and how society is organized along neurotypical lines w/neurotypical expectations. So I must spend 4 traumatic hours trying to upgrade a computer with someone’s help so I can even have an app for a power-point presentation; today four more for installation; and now my older daughter may help me learn to use this software and I know that still I might not be able to do such a thing in public. Too nervous. Or I can’t travel alone without it becoming an intense ordeal because I know I get lost. These are crippling conditions and it’s natural to be depressed, would be unlikely not to produce anxiety.

I’m sure they recognize the worst problems of the disabled are mostly the result of the way the larger society refuses to recognize and help them. Books on disability begin with this insight (see, for example, Fictions of Affliction). Deaf people have gone furthest with this, declaring themselves a simply culture, which is not quite so. Not to hear is to live in danger. The alphabet is based on oral sounds

You are given room to comment as “a learner” in these Future Learn courses and I watch people dialoging or commenting alongside one another. So I told the people who invented and have enacted this course they are not helping the autistic by this approach and they are not countering the hostility of the non-autistic by their innocent films (showing autistic and non-autistic babies interacting and then supposedly disproving stereotypical pictures of how autistic people look).

It’s them being timid and is, unfortunately, matched by timidity I’ve seen in other of these Future Learn courses: say on colonialism. The people there were afraid to offend (I now realize from having taught two courses in the Booker Prize book formula and discovered that people drop the course because they identify with the settler colonialists, the imperialists) and spoke in jargon-filled words (like marbles in their mouths) lest they be understood too readily.

Katy Murphy as Jenny Wren from the 1998 Our Mutual Friend by Sandy Welch

From Charlotte Mew’s The Changeling

Sometimes I wouldn’t speak, you see,
Or answer when you spoke to me,
Because in the long, still dusks of Spring
You can hear the whole world whispering;
The shy green grasses making love,
The feathers grow on the dear grey dove,
The tiny heart of the redstart beat,
The patter of the squirrel’s feet,
The pebbles pushing in the silver streams,
The rushes talking in their dreams,
The swish-swish of the bat’s black wings,
The wild-wood bluebell’s sweet ting-tings,
Humming and hammering at your ear,
Everything there is to hear
In the heart of hidden things.
But not in the midst of the nursery riot,
That’s why I wanted to be quiet,
Couldn’t do my sums, or sing,
Or settle down to anything …

I’ve finally taken to sitting in my sunroom, only this week through the windows I saw much rain. It is very quiet there, no TV, no computer, no radio, just a silent clock. A comfortable chair, tables, lamps, some of my books, two smaller bookcases of DVDs, a thick cream-beige rug, the walls a soft light green. I read more this way. Settle down to my book friends.

My room of my own in the evening: during the day imagine Snuffy cat sitting along the top and Clarycat by the radiator, me in the chair …

I know some peace here,
for peace comes dropping slow

Miss Drake


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More than two weeks since the festivities were over, and more than a week since I turned into a class member at the Oscher Institutes of Lifelong Learning for 4 weeks at Mason (and soon, very briefly, but 3 mornings worth) at AU. The above tree has been taken away, and bitterly cold spells keeping us in so that after weeks of pushing myself reading as much Virginia Woolf, Samuel Johnson and on biography as I could take I achieved the proposal and an outline and plan for the paper I’m working on: “Presences Among Us Imagining People: Modernism in [Samuel] Johnson and [Virginia] Woolf’s Biographical Art” — too long to quote here – and send it to the editor of the volume it’s intended for, whereupon it was approved. And there’ve been balmy afternoons, permitting a museum visit and afternoon walks,

Me at the National Gallery with

my friend, Panorea,

much reading, as in Roger Fry, whose Vision and Design taught me what was wrong with the Vermeer and His Contemporaries exhibit we saw on that day in the museum (when we also had that hellish experience of parking in today’s world):

I liked the paintings, and of course, especially Vermeer, who of course stood out, but of course one knew that would be so already. I saw two new Vermeers I’d seen before and some of his contemporaries’ paintings I’d only seen in reproductions were made far truer for me. But it was a disappointment. Why? it was organized by motifs, by what was shown, the literal content (musicians with women of dubious reputations, women writing letters &c) and I learned nothing new. It should and could have been organized by painter. I did see that several had one or two paintings as good as Vermeer and there were two Vermeer duds. I could get no sense of the vision or development or uniqueness of these others.

I’d been reading Roger Fry and while looking at these persuaded me his total dismissal of content, of imitation of reality, as unimportant won’t do, his insistence this is a medium that the artist expresses emotion through and we contemplate and enjoy from aesthetic criteria is accurate. I couldn’t do that because the exhibit was arranged only with literal content in mind. Outside the exhibit there were two expensive books filled with artistry of one or another of these people separately ; that means they could have organized the exhibit that way. Surely they know better too.

Amelie Beaury-Saurel, Dans Le Bleu (1895?) — one of the many artists and pictures I’ve never seen before

I did buy a book, an equally expensive one — under $40 — Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900, once I stop this doing of papers for others and get to my own projects I will return to blogging for women artists among other things.

Also in no particular order a few marvels of novels, literary criticism, and biography, and movies, of which I’ll describe just one: Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent:

On her own at last (Wendy Hiller as Deborah, Lady Slane)

Deborah, Lady Slane, is an 88 (!) year old heroine. At long last she is standing up — well sitting down mostly — for what she would like to do with her life, where she would like to live. Her husband dies — shall I say at long last again?– and she refuses to live with her children, or to travel from one to another but instead sets up her own apartment in Hampstead in a place she saw 30 years ago. I couldn’t quite believe that not only does no one want to cheat her but she comes across two elderly men who do all they can to cater to her — she meets these gentle non-materialistic noncompetitive people, giving her book a long central space for a long soliloquy in the middle of the book (very like Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse) that just riveted me. How she was deprived of her deepest desire to paint; how no one of course wanted to deprive her, but neither could anyone take such a desire seriously. She must (they all thought) value her work as a mother (and especially of sons) infinitely more. She thinks about the anti-feminist point of view, and asks herself why is life as a mother not as valuable? why is producing a fine human being not as valuable as a work of art. The answer is the other person is apart from us and it’s us we want to embody in something beautiful or truthful or relevant that speaks to others.

It has funny passages such that I laughed aloud. Not a very common occurrence with me. Jokes in the dialogues between Deborah, our 88 year old heroine, and her beloved maid, Genou (played by Eileen Way, barely recognizable from her part as Aunt Agatha in the 1970s Poldark). As novel began, it resembled the humor of Patricia Duncker’s Miss Webster and Cherif, about an aging spinster to whose door comes a young African or black English young man and she takes him in as a handyman about the house. Very dangerous and Andrew Davies picked that up in his film adaptation of Barbara Howard’s Falling with Penelope Wilton as the older woman living alone who takes Michael Kitchen, as the seeming kindly alone older man, who becomes terrifyingly abusive. It’s probably skirting that which makes the delight of such books. The origins are ultimately the kind of thing we find in Mrs Miniver, or The Egg and I — or they participate in this fantasy.

Her unkempt garden

When Mr FitzGeorge, an equally elderly man who has kept an image of our heroine somewhere in his mind for many decades since the time when he saw her in India (despite hemmed in by family and children) and recognized a kindred spirit, when he I say comes to visit, and then he leaves her his vast collection of art objects, what does she do? Not leave it in legacies to her children (most of whom she dislikes — her spinster daughter so happy on her own at long last and unmarried son not so much), but give it to the state and charities. Everyone thinks this is throwing it away as the worst people may get their hands on it and what will they do with it.

The meaning the heroine’s mind wants is a final gesture contra mundi. She refuses to acknowledge that all this is valued for the money it will fetch, its status (who did it), its prestige – what Roger Fry said was true of why people valued what art they paid for. Then a visit from a great-granddaughter shows her that this one girl despite the photos which made her out to be an utter sell-out don’t represent her for real. Soothed by this thought but not regretting she didn’t leave this granddaughter anything she dies.

I love the way S-W’s mind just leaps on to the telling descriptive detail that so convinces and amuses — suddenly she lifts, John, her cat, John off the magazine she is pretending to read. Of course John was there, and of course he struggles when she attempts to make him look at something.

Ah me

Also the depth of feeling between a woman and her “maid” found in Jenny Diski’s Apology for the Woman Writing (a historical novel centering on Marie le Jars de Gournay, her maid and Montaigne), for the two live meaningfully because they are together, one serving the other, with the tragic close of the death of the rich one with the poor thrown out. Poor Genou. She will be kicked out and only if there is some kind of tiny legacy will she know any comfort after this. We get a quick picture of what her life was before becoming this 24 hour servant – one where she was 12th child, utterly mistreated. More than merely bitter-sweet.

With her faithful Genou (Eileen Way)

And I watched a deeply satisfying dream-like realization of it in a film with Wendy Hiller (1986, TV film) at the center this.

What does a diary do but mark time? I’m not the only one in this house who has changed in the last four years. I newly appreciated Rudyard Kipling’s “The Cat That Walked By Himself” (a story that in another life Jim read aloud to me and Laura when Laura was around 9, sitting in front of a winter fire in the front room fireplace).

Snuffy in the morning near his cat tree and water bowl

My cat, Ian, now Snuffy has undergone a profound change. Four years ago when Jim died, Snuffy spent most days under the bed or hiding somewhere. He’d come out to sit on the top of chairs and watch us, seemingly for hours never moving. Each night after dinner when Jim and I would sit by the table drinking wine or coffee, he’d come onto Jim’s lap. Once in a long while, he’d come over to be petted by me. After much effort, when Laura spent four days and nights he, he began to play with her, follow her about and open up his body to her, sitting up straight, putting out paws, and looking at her longingly. But he remained wary and played from a corner of the room. He never asserted himself that I could see. Jim had forbidden him and Clarycat to come into my study during the day because once long ago Snuffy had eaten the wires to the computer and messed them all up. It took Jim hours to repair and replace.

Shortly before Jim grew sick, shortly after I retired, I rebelled against this regime and said they come into my room with me because they are old enough to know not to gnaw on wires when bored, lonely, tired, frustrated. (I am not sure of this and would not want to leave them in this house alone for days to try this out.) Gradually I was making better friends with them.


Well now four years have gone by, and I have let them become part of all my daily rhythms; they have their place in all that happens. He still hides out for a couple of hours a day, but when he’s finished this calming stint, he comes over to me, puts his paw out and nudges me gently and gets onto my lap. We have lap time. We also have chest and head time; he pushes his body against my chest, his head against mine, his tail waving away, and lets me hug him tight. We do this a couple of times a day. He follows me from room to room, sometimes getting out in front of me and then moving on in the expectation I will follow him, but turning to make sure and then alter his path if I do. He spends most of the rest of the day quite visible — running about, sitting in front of windows, hanging around me or ClaryCat — often making a nuisance of himself as he tries to mount her (she will spat at him after a while), wrestle with her, or lick her thoroughly all around. She cannot bully him the way she once did as she held fiercely in her mouth a toy. He remains wholly unimpressed nowadays. Night time he takes his place curled into my legs; Clarycat has lain nestled by the side of my body most nights for years. (This is how I slept with my dog, Llyr, and 40 years ago, with another cat, Tom I called him, the stray-feral I had to leave behind in Leeds.)

Clary waking one morning

Izzy’s door. This is a bone of contention and he is winning. He stands by her closed door for hours mewing. He used to make half-hearted attempts to get her to open it, but now he is persistent. We open it, and he goes in, but he wants out. He stands before the closed door on the other side. Goes over to Izzy, paw on her arm. He then stands in front of the door after she opens it. What he wants is a door ajar. And he is winning. I threatened to strangle him one day if she didn’t leave that door ajar. He will trot over to my chair and mew at me, and put his paw on me to get my attention. If I talk at him, it doesn’t help. Another day she threatened to go mad if he didn’t leave the room so she could write in peace. She says the room gets cold if it’s ajar, since he opens it farther to come in and farther to come out. I don’t like hearing her music. But he is winning. He wants access to us both at once. He feels securer. Access to her room where there are places he hides. As I type this this morning the door is ajar, he has pushed it and trotted into her room. Clarycat in front of my computer looking out the window with alertness.

Most striking of all is how he treats others coming to the house. Yes he will still run and hide when people come into the house. And most of the time not come out until they leave. He does not chase or pursue insects the way he once did, keeping at them and then somehow killing the poor things as they become exhausted or crippled, and then pushing them with his paw. He grows older I expect. Maybe wiser in the sense that there’s nothing practical here for him. He was never one for toys the way Clary is. Yet once in a while he will venture to show himself to people and have a look. But often time nowadays as someone comes down the path, he growls and loud. He shows his displeasure by going to the door and growling. Sometimes he prowls about guarding the space. We have never had a guest who brought in a pet.

Startlingly he solved the problem of Greymalkin. You may remember Greymalkin as this peremptory grey cat I thought was a feral or stray and was putting food out for when I discovered that she or he had an owner, a neglectful one who had left her or him there for two weeks with only a brief visit a day from his daughter to replenish food. I can do nothing for him or her because he or she is defined as property, “owned” by this man. That cat is still neglected and still comes round and meows quite loudly on my stoop for food and water — and attention. He or she wants to be petted, and I can see wants to come out of the cold and wet by immediate feeling; if I thought it wouldn’t cause trouble, and I’d let him or her come in. It’s been very cold, sometimes pouring ice when I see this poor cat come round. It would cause trouble for me, for what would happen if this cat ran under a chair or hid, as it has no bell as part of its collar the way mine do and it is “owned” by someone else. (Thus I experience how someone living near an enslaved person could be helpless to protect him or her).

Well, Snuffy does not feel this way. He apparently resents the cat coming to the stoop and eating food I gave him or he. Some “smart aleck” type person would say Snuffy is wise to this cat. When Snuffy sees this cat coming down the path, he leaps off my desk (he might be sitting between the back of my computer and the window over my desk), growling and spatting and runs to the door and makes loud noises. Poor Greymalkin flees in fright, leaping away like a kangaroo.

Snuffy’s basic wary nature is still there. I mention he needs hiding time. He will spend time opening drawers and then getting in and staying there. It is important that I don’t let him know I see him, which I do (he thinks if he cannot see me easily I cannot see him), for when he sees that I know where the place is, he finds a new place. Were he a human being would he be the less intelligent seeming, less senstive type, and (forbid the thought) vote conservatively. I feel sorry for Greymalkin, who is a neglected cat. He or she is a hard fat sturdy cat, but I feel the hard behavior is in imitation of his or her owner and if he or she had a kinder environment a nicer personality would develop eventually. Greymalkin does not expect to be treated with affection.

Clarycat is not quite the same as she was when Jim lived either. She was deeply attached to Jim, and grieved for days after his death. She knew he was dying and was distraught the two days he died. Caw-cawed and walked back and fourth in the corridor between the front part of the house and the bedroom where he lay. Then she sat squat down in his chair tight for days on end. Now she is attached to me. But not quite the way she was to Jim because he was a different personality.

She is my perpetual pal, murmurs and talks to me all the live-long day, my companion, ever there. She was attached to Jim, but not in this way. Snuffy is nowadays around my computer much of the time, but he does not make little murmurs in reply to my speech the way she does. He is not Loving or dependent in the way Clary is. He is a cat who walks by himself, she is not. She is also much more alert, picks up what’s happening around her, eager to join in once she deems it safe, pro-active, open to experience: as to Greymalkin, Clary was terribly curious but would just watch from the window. Jim would not permit the endless interventions she imposes. He would have her in his lap and engage in eye-contact time for a while; he’d play with her, letting her cat-bite him gently; then that would be that. I don’t play; I’m not playful with people either; most games bore me. She has just now lost her little grey mouse toy; it’s disappeared. She probably took it somewhere I can’see and for a time, it’s gone. She does walk by herself in the manner that Kipling suggests: she negotiates. In return (she is aware) for good treatment, she sits by my radiator, drinks what I give her, but as for killing (another aspect of the negotiations in Kipling’s story; the cat agrees to seek out and kill certain yet smaller animals) that’s out in this house.

What is the refrain of Kipling’s story: “I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me. I will not come …. And he went back through the Wet Wild Woods, waving his wild tail and walking by his wild lone. And he never told anybody” (This is much resented by the Man and the Dog.)

Emma Lowstadt-Chadwick, Beach Parasol (portrait of Amanda Sidwall, 1880) — another from Women Artists of Paris

Miss Drake

Mary Poppins’ Cat: and some considerable sorrow for Garrison Keillor, with troubles over taxes, Yahoo groups, and (sigh) once again travel in the NB and PS comments

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A New Yorker cartoon from the 1930s (subject: skyscrapers)

Usually I tell of what I did once I succeed in parking. Now my subject is Parking itself


On Wednesday I went with my friend, Panorea, to the National Gallery in DC to see the Christmas blockbuster show, Vermeer and his Contemporaries. I will write about that separately. I thought this time instead of telling about the show or lecture or whatever event it is I went to upon succeeding in getting there and/or parking, I would tell the framing that characterizes almost all I do: parking the car. Yes, I hardly ever go anywhere without having to park my car near where I am going to be or near the Metro. Surely, you will say you sometimes take a bus or a cab. Rarely. I drive mostly and alone most of the time — listening to unabridged texts of books read aloud to me on CDs or MP3s.

A typical choice for me

Wednesday was not exception — though I had a friend next to me.

Lately I’ve been taking a chance and parking my car on a block where after 3 hours I could be ticketed knowing that I will not be back within the three hour limit. But I had noticed directly across the street from the King Street Metro stop a garage entrance over which there was a new sign: Public Parking. I had just read a story in The Post where we are told the flagrantly injust justice department is now allowing police and DMVs and local authorities to hike up parking fines, and then if they are not paid promptly enough, add fines. I determined I would not scoff-law the way I often succeed but park in that new parking garage.

Little did I know the sign was a lie. Why I never thought before about the large number of people who must work in the enormous building across the street from said Metro station I know not. Nor the altogether hundreds of people who work in the many other similar huge tall (prison-like) cement buildings (with rows of windows) near by. There used to be a huge railway yard on the other side of Duke Street and it is now filled with soulless apartment houses nearby further on. What was there in the 19th century?

Parking for the 90%

Well where do these people park? in labyrinthine caverns everywhich way under roofs in danger of collapsing. That’s where. As I drove in, I saw signs saying one or other of the vast areas were pre-assigned to people in the building. I saw signs for prices for monthly, weekly, all day parking. I felt something was awry and wished I could get out. But I had promised my friend and worried she would think me mad if I said “I do not like this (Sam I am).” So I said to the attendant, “Is this a public parking place or do you have to work here to park here?” Somewhat to my dismay he could not speak English very well, but grinned and seemed to indicate, yes you can park here, and waved me on. I got out of my car to ask again, and someone came over and said I had to go down to the fourth level and then someone would show me where.

I should say that for 3 years now I have parked in one of these caverns under a tall building but as a “Schwabb private client.” Ahem. As I drove in, an attendant would come right over, take my key and near the entrance in group of designated spaces park my car. The ticket I had punched for coming in, would be validated by a stamp and I could punch it in going out and pay nothing. I had never looked about me. Now I had to.

What more characteristic of modern life — this one offers automated parking!

Everywhere cars parked every which way. The lanes weaving in and out. Pillars which from my parking in a not such a bad garage under the OLLI at AU building in DC I knew endangered the side of my car as the spaces are hardly big enough. Worst of all I saw spots where several pillars were put up all together with what looked like maskin (spelling?) tape. Panorea wondered if they were to to prevent the ceiling from one level from caving to the next. She was joking, she said. Of course it’d hold. Ha! Criss-cross I went until an attendant came over and indicated (none of them spoke English well) he would show me where to park. I asked, “Was there any room?” “Of course,” he grinned. I didn’t like it. The sign lied; only a tiny proportion was public parking at the deepest level – some concession to the city? I had to give a man I somehow didn’t trust to be there when I got back my car key to leave the car there. Car keys nowadays are these tiny computers which cost $400 to replace. I hate them — as what if I lose it, and then have to get a new one. Why consumers put up with this I know not. I was told when I bought my first Prius in 2013 this was the kind of key used for years. I realized that was and my old key (made at a key maker) was old-fashioned but I did not know one had no choice.

Had I been alone I would have driven out and gone home or gone to the blocks where I usually park and take a chance. I hesitated looking at him. He asked me if we would be back before 7. Before 7! we’d be back before 4. (It was 11 o’clock.) Well I managed to park the poor car without bruising it. Then we had to walk up. No elevators until one floor before ground. Lanes going everywhich way. Panorea was watching so as to find our way back.

I tried to dismiss my worry from my mind and probably did, mostly.

But when we got back 5 hours later, I felt anxiety as we approached that garage door with its lie about Public Parking. The garage was much emptier. Panorea did guide us back, except forgetting one of the stairways which I found. Whew. Once we were on the fourth floor in the correct area, I saw the same man and he called out to me from across the cavern and waved. I should have trusted him. He remembered me as I had made such a fuss, been so reluctant to leave my key with him. Then he had trouble finding it in the box nearby. Luckily the car was near the box. I began my NYC persona: “Are you going to have to tell me you have lost my key? is this what is happening here?” He took each key out on his board and began trying it on the car. I asked, “What would I have to pay?” he looked upset. Finally one lit up the car doors and so it was the right one in his hand. Panorea said he was a Muslim man and scared of losing his job from the way I was behaving. So I felt bad. He was in charge of the whole of the fourth level. Poor man. There all day and maybe other nights. Sitting on a metal folding chair.

Many scenes in that remarkable serial drama, Breaking Bad, occur in space just like this

Well, we slowly drove up from the fourth to the ground floor. It was not easy finding exit signs and sometimes we were going down or across, but finally it seemed to me, we were at the same entrance we had come in. “How much?” I said, glaring but relieved. $18.00! For 6 hours. Not so bad, but had it been $40 I would have paid to get out of there. Then I drive up and over a kind of mount and find I am not where I had been, but two blocks down from where we had come in. Under these huge buildings are vast connected garages.

Next time when I know there is no place to park (no garage, no grounds) and I have to take the Metro I’ll take my chance and street-park it.

Welcome to the world of the 21st century. When Jim and I took Izzy with us to London when she was about 9, she was far more impressed with the London underground, all the escalators, elevators, corridors, trains, than any tower of “crown jewels” or museum. I thought she was correct. Far more impressive and important. I did remember coming out how the last number of times Jim and I came to NYC by car we had to give the car over to valet parking and I was aware the attendants were doing it because only they could stack the cars efficiently enough. I saw elevators moving stacked cars up and down.

Another New Yorker cartoon — recent

So on that Wednesday the important lesson I learned was to wake up to the vast undergrounds of parking all over Northern Virginia and all vast cities with tall and big buildings. And I want to say I’ve been leaving this aspect of all these trips of mine out. The problem of where to park my car? I’m much better at parking against sidewalks between cars than I am in these lanes. The OLLI at Mason has a large enough parking lot on the grounds for everyone there at any given time to park. But at AU, Kennedy Center and other places I’m confronted with these many leveled garages. Wolf Trap is out-of-doors but immense and it can take over an hour to get out to the highway. And it’s dark and I can’t see well. This is not a small thing and figures in on my thinking when I decide to go anywhere.

Context, said John Berger.

Miss Drake

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Susan Herbert, After Pissarro, Girl with a Stick

Dear friends and readers,

It’s time for end of year blogs. What else is the function of birthdays, anniversaries, each Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s — but to prompt us, will we nill we, to look back, to this time last year, and tonight I’m wondering why I have cried so little since Jim died. Such moments — and usually I’ve not gone on to keen — have occurred surprisingly rarely for me. Yes I know it’s the sensible thing. “Would it help?” asked Mark Rylance inimitably, stealing the whole movie, last January. But we act irrationally a good deal, and this week events piled up to the point I began to wonder why I cry so little. Perhaps I exhausted myself at age 14 to 15, my time of enduring traumatic sexual harassment and humiliation I’ve never gotten over. I’d sit or lie down and cry for hours, whole afternoons; one day in the high school I couldn’t cease crying so was taken to the student infirmary where the kindly nurse said, “go ahead, dear.” Better than the English nurses when I was 27 and had a spectacular miscarriage in a Keswick hospital: they looked at me with intense disapproval. I was upsetting the other patients who “could hear.” My recollection is that since those 2 years I’ve been more or less dry-eyed. I did keen on and off for a few days when I first realize Jim was really dying and soon, of liver cancer, but slow motion, low-grade tearing distress, and (to be candid) finding this was openly not appreciated, stopped.

So what happened this week? I’m not referring to Trump’s crowning success of a tax bill the other night — though it will hurt me and mine at first in small ways and gradually a lot, like most others in this now wretched society. (Tonight McMasters declared we were even in danger of war with North Korea, quite seriously — will Trump and his military agents start dropping nuclear bombs, do you think? he and his republican rump have shown no conscience; he regards the death of millions as nothing important to him, or he doesn’t regard this possibility at all.) Closer to me personally is the newly public admission that sexual harassment is pervasive in all aspects of US life; there I might take that as a relief. For decades I thought I was unusual; either super-sensitive or socially incompetent or somehow attracting abrasive male bullies who smelt victim. Would that I could believe this “outing” of well-known men was going to change the behavior of men. But these are topics on my intendedly political Sylvia blog.

No this week I should have cried because hostway.com, the people Jim set up an account in cyberspace for the website he built for me so painstakingly, will do nothing to help me scan and get rid of “five unwanted files” in the file zilla space discovered by a google sweep last week; these may be a virus though they are not spreading, and google now attaches warnings to my site. They were willing to restore earlier versions of the site, and it may be that in a few days the warnings will go off because the “unwanted files” are no longer there. I can’t tell. The technicians were able to tell me there were these files, and they seem to know where they are, and doubtless could get rid of them, but they won’t. This is for the original web developed. I tell he is dead, and they say “I’m sorry for your loss,” and repeat their mantra. My IT guys are finally failing me. They did check my computer and found no virus but again only these “five unwanted files” (which may come from malware) and quarantined and deleted them from everywhere — the file zilla represents cyberspace on hostway. But they refused to do a scan and get rid of the five in the file zilla. They know nothing about web development. I don’t believe that for a moment. So it may be in five or six days if the warning doesn’t go away I have to 1) hire a web-developer whose competence and trustworthiness I cannot judge (I have ascertained there are such people I can hire even to do a small website); or 2) take down the website, unpublish all I put there, back to Emily Dickinson style, and this will hurt Izzy too as she has put much on the website from her URL (fiction, poetry); 3) leave it as it is. Probably in 4-5 days I will take step 1. I’ve been surprisingly cheerful and only lost 3 nights sleep. I began sleeping 3 hours again 2 nights ago.

The IT guys also don’t answer me quickly any more. I have asked them to explain another nagging kind of warning and 24 hours have gone by and no answer. Since there are three people I must assume they didn’t all die. This message said “consult the computer manufacturer” and these IT guys are part of the computer package I bought when I bought this professional computer in February 2014.

The Yahoo listserv are acting erratically and one I moderate (Women Writer through the Ages) stopped working altogether for about 4-5 days. A week before all images across the system vanished; a few days later they came back. The group site page itself disappeared on and off for 3 days. The Yahoo management takes its cue from Trump and Company behavior: utter indifference to anyone hurt in any way or using their software. Not once was there the least notification or explanation. You have not been able to get an individual to help you on Yahoo for months now. I did stumble on groups.io; this is a new site run by Mark Fletcher who invented the original ONElist, turned it into egroups and then sold it to yahoo. He’s had a change of heart and has opened a new groups forum, which he and others claim will replicate all one has on a yahoo site, and work in closely similar ways. I just have to jump ship as moderator to save and take our communities to this other space: I took the first step (somehow or other) and now I just have to give up being moderator and put in my place transfer@groups.io. If I could convey to you, how scary this to me. I don’t understand technology or cyberspace but I must do it soon. Two of my yahoo groups have real friends on them, they are real communities, one of readers (Trollope is the focus for every other book or movie), and one of progressive feminist friends who are genuine readers too.

Charlotte Smith, drawing by George Romney (1792)

As if that’s not enough, my Charlotte Smith paper (“The Global Charlotte Smith: women and migrancy in Ethelinde and The Emigrants) was rejected absurdly thoroughly by the editors of the volume, leaders of that Charlotte Smith conference I went to in fall 2016. I had an idea they’d dislike my politics and the paper — but it is dispiriting and discouraging because I spent 3 months on it better given over to William Graham or something genuinely fulfilling and productive. What they wanted was half of the paper theoretical disquisition on some aspect of post-colonialism and the other half close reading of tiny passages to ferret out a demonstration of this disquisition. I am putting the paper on academia.edu and leave it to my reader to see if it is a good paper showing that Charlotte Smith wrote from an original post-colonial point of view, with a feminist slant from early on in her career to the close of it. See also (if you are interested) the wider paper: A peculiar kind of women’s text: Ethelinde and The Emigrants as Post-colonial texts” The experience is salutary and sobering. I’m now 71 (see below) tired of banging my head against such walls and took the opportunity to bow out of promises to do two other similar papers on women’s whose work I do love. I can’t write to the fashion. Maybe I don’t cry because I feel relieved of three headaches — especially in the Smith case a demand I use a particular edition or version of the Chicago Manual of Style, together with embedded footnotes. Beyond me.


From 1995 BBC Persuasion (scripted Nick Dear); the characters on the beach at Lyme, November

By no means all rejection. I’m delighted my essay, “For there is nothing lost, that may be found:” Charlotte Smith in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, will be put up on Sarah Emsley’s lovely blog in another week. Autumnal. Just about finished my review of Devoney Looser’s The Making of JA, and will see the last of it by Monday until it’s published. The second class I was teaching (“Booker Prize Marketplace Niche”) came to an end this week, and I was applauded, and got a lovely card, present and I know succeeded with them. I will be teaching two courses in the spring, “The Later [Virginia] Woolf” and “Sexual and Marital Politics in Trollope” (He Knew He Was Right, together with “Journey to Panama”). I’ve returned to Winston Graham and finished at long last The Stranger from the Sea and began The Miller’s Dance (the 8th and 9th Poldark novels) and find them to be truly interesting, quietly appealing historical fiction, and carry on with my third of a paper (so I don’t do 2/3s, and I don’t worry myself about Chicago Manuals) on Woolf and Samuel Johnson as biographers. I will write separate blogs on this soon, but I have loved Frances Spalding’s biography of Roger Fry — the man’s pictures and aesthetic ideals do my heart good. I actually registered for a coming NeMLA conference in Pittsburgh, reserved a hotel room for 3 nights in April 2018, and have someone to drive to Pittsburgh with! I’ll give a paper on close reading a few of Virginia Woolf’s highly original short biographical essays (just 10-12 minutes). Laura came over here last Saturday and with her help, she, Izzy and I rented an apartment in Milan for 10 days and nights in March 2015 in Milan (it looks very comfortable and is not far from the Ice-skating World Championship venue) and bought a flight using Air France. So we three will try Italy again — we went with Jim in 1994 to Rome for 4 weeks.

Interior Autumn, The artist’s wife (Albert Andre)

No reason to cry there. Nor over my birthday. This week another birthday rolled around: my 71st. Knowing how lonely I have felt during these holiday times, I made provision, and I went with a good kind friend to see a film, Victoria and Abdul, a strange if beautifully acted and filmed movie of Queen Victoria’s infatuation in her old age with a young Muslim man, and we had tea and good talk together in the afternoon. Hardly time to come home and I went out with Izzy and Laura to the Olive Garden (once again) for dinner and drinks. On face-book many kind people, many of whom I actually know and/or have met off-FB wished me a good birthday; cards and a phone call with my aunt. I was drained by the end and collapsed into two episodes of Outlander (shoverdosing is the fancy word) where I was lured by the loving of Claire and Jamie, which, along with another poem by Patricia Fargnoli, soothed me into the oblivion of 4 hours sleep. I am also listening to Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, and while it tries my patience and is occasionally ugly in its political-social prejudices (especially against homosexuality), there are passages of love-talk and love-making between the hero and heroine (with whom I have now thoroughly bonded) that make my soul soar with memories. This from Woolf’s Orlando on sleep and dreams:

happiness … dreams which splinter the whole and tear us asunder and wound us and split us apart in the night when we would sleep; but sleep, sleep so deep that all shapes are ground to dust of infinite softness water of dimness inscrutable, and there, folded, shrouded … like a moth, prone let us lie on the sand at the bottom of sleep … (Chapter Six, p 216,
ed, Maria DiBattista, Harvest book)

A wonderful luncheon on Friday with the other OLLI teachers at AU. I mention this because one of us is apparently a composer of Broadway type music and expert on Broadway musicals. He gave a lecture on songs for older characters in American musicals, which while usually not paid attention to in advertisements or the storytelling are often central to the meaning of the musical — as in “You’ll never walk alone” from Carousel. The older character (in their fifites at least) gives supportive advise, talks wisdom,shares the grief he or she has known. Then he played some marvelous clips. This after another of 10 film classes altogether over the term (the 8th), on Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. A significant moving (angering — I was angry with him) film, and fascinating talk and context offered. I came home aroused and saddened. It seemed to me most people there had partners and someone to come home to. Yet I would not be participating in this place had I not been widowed and in such need.


Clarycat and her toy grey mouse ….

The photo (just above) shows my beloved Clarycat’s face lit by a flashlight; it was only way I could get enough into her catbed in my room so you could see how she was sleeping on top of her small toy grey mouse. A true tale I’ve been recording over on face-book for a couple of weeks now. I will spare you the diary and just offer the evidence-based deduction: my Clarycat not only remembers and plans, she behaves symbolically. So too probably Ian or SnuffyCat but I have seen only the memory and planning and action, but not the use of a symbol. Clarycat has a favorite toy if keeping it by her side is any measure: a small grey mouse, a stuff toy. I’ve mentioned this before. What happens is when I am not in an area I usually am in, she keeps taking it out of her catbed and putting it there. Say I come home after being out for some 5-6 hours, I will the mouse under my desk, or by my chair in front of my computer, or at the threshold of the our workroom (where my cats reside a great deal of the time too). I put it back in the cat bed lest it get lost. I wake in the morning and it’s again near my bed or by the threshold of the bedroom. I put it back. During the day if I go into another room or am not paying attention to her, Clarycat puts the mouse in these three places or by the front door. Sometimes I’ve thought she behaves in cat bed as if it were her doll, other times she is reminding me of her existence. Putting a charm near me. She wants to remind me of her. Or maybe it stands for me when I am not there.

This is so persistent that I asked people on face-book what they thought she was about. People offered the idea that cats bring their kill to you to show off, but she knows it’s not a kill, and she doesn’t bring it to me, but puts it where I was when I am not there or absorbed in reading or writing or eating or watching TV or reading in another room. One person said “it’s her baby and she wants you to keep a watch over it. My girlfriend had a dog that when it came in heat it would take a certain toy and snuggle it to her breast and carry it around in her mouth. Only did this when in heat.” Diana: “Marshy carefully guards a little hoard of old catnip mice. They’re very important to her.” Patricia: “Rusty-Griffin hides her stuffed mice under the couch, … all in a little nest of them.” Miranda: “Our little neutered female cat used to steal black woolly socks and mother them … husband felt cruel repossessing them for work.” Was it a substitute for when I got back? Pat asked. I’ve concluded that’s closest.

Ian or Snuffy plays with this toy mouse too

Why this is symbolic: cats do hide in catbeds, and other places, but these are real literal places, and do not stand for anything beyond what they are literally. Clarycat is treating an object in ways that she is not reacting to it literally but as a symbol for something. The way we use objects or sounds/letters to speak. The closest I’ve seen Ian aka Snuffy cat (as in Snuffle-up-a-gus)come to this use of something as a symbol is when he fishes in my handbags to find and pull out my gloves and then try to trot away with them. I need my gloves when the air is chilly outside … To him my glove stands for me. It literally smells from me. I’ve seen him leave a glove in my shoe. He shows affection by nudging his head against mine; he comes into my lap and presses his whole body against my chest, his head against mine. He meows a lot nowadays. So does Clarycat. When she awakens suddenly and I’m not there, she wails. He continues to detest and protest against all closed doors. Like him with my blove, Clarycat will put her little grey mouse in my shoe. What she doesn’t do is bring it back to the catbed. I do that so that she doesn’t displace it or put it somewhere where it gets kicked behind or under something and become lost.

Two more November species interaction: It’s autumn and until today when the “lawn” crew came by and vaccumed up the leaves, my lawn was covered in them, and they made their way by wind to the stoop and by the front door. Clarycat goes after these, haunts them. When they come in through the front door, she puts them into her mouth and chews them. I remembered how when she first manifested this behavior as a young kitten, Jim said we should re-name her Marianne. Those who live through Austen’s novels will instantly recall Elinor’s acid remark to Marianne that it is “not every one who has your passion for dead leaves.” So Clarycat is a Percy Bysshe Shelley romantic? Jim would try to take these leaves from her lest she barf. After a while she realized he was the enemy of her chewing dead leaves and would run off with them if he happened to come near when she was mouthing one, and she’d secret them somewhere. Tonight she and I have played this comic act. I told Izzy just about the leaves and she smiled. She didn’t need the explanation of the quotation at all. Just now Clary is moving the grey mouse toy to under my desk, near my feet. Sometimes I find it on my desk.

On the morning we turned back the clocks: we people adjust to what we see symbolically. So the clocks are turned back and I got up in the light. 6:30 in the morning the sky was a light grey blue. And I had an extra hour. Meanwhile my sleep patterns were disturbed for a few days until I re-adjusted. Now the cats do not seem to grasp this symbolism, so they are not cheered by the light as I have been.

John Atkinson Grimshaw (once again), of Yorshire: Ghyllbeck in autumn-winter

It’s now early December, 2018. I may lose that website. I do have backup files in my computer which should stay there. I was in over my head. Jim meant well; he didn’t want me to leave my writing in notebooks and shoeboxes. But he made no provision for death, especially early quick death (he died 6 months after diagnosis). He was ever determined to do things his way on his own; had he hired a web developer to do what was wanted, then needed and kept paying, I could have carried on. But at the time he started (1998), there was very little on the Internet of this individual type ….

So I’m again facing a second great loss. I almost lost all my data when my old computer died suddenly a week after I totaled my car in December 2013. Laura helped me out of that by enlisting a friend who saved the data, and then by introducing me to EJO solutions who have until now enabled me to function on the computer for listservs, blogs, emails, browsers. With the coming loss of Net Neutrality who knows what may ensue. It is a war of the few deeply wealthy and powerful in the US against 90% of the people.

I’ve return to Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States to better understand how this comes about. I’m up to Chapter Six how an elite conservative group enlisted enough white males against the British to win a war against the elites of Britain and write a constitution on their own behalf that functioned with a veneer of democracy and was underwritten paternalism to select loyal groups of white men. In my next blog I’ll tell about my reading this year and in yet a third on the end of a another year without Jim about some significant moviesI’ve re-seen and seen for the first time.

Miss Drake

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I planted chrysanthemums this week

I woke three time in the dark predawn. First in sorrow, then in joy, and at the last, in solitude. The tears of a bone-deep loss work me slowly, bathing my face like the comforting touch of a damp cloth in soothing hands. I turned my face to the wet pillow and sailed a salty river into the salty taverns of grief remembered, into the subterranean depths of sleep.

I came awake then in fierce joy, body arched bow-like in the throes of physical joining, the touch of him fresh on my skin, dying along the paths of my nerves as the ripples of consciousness spread from my center. I repelled consciousness — turning again, seeking the sharp, warm smell of a man’s desire, in the reassuring arms of my lover, sleep.

The third time I woke alone, beyond the touch of love or grief. The sight of the stones was fresh in my mind. A small circle standing stones on the crest of a steep green I hill. The name of the hill is Craigh na Dun; the fairies’ hill. Some say the hill is enchanted, others say it is cursed. But no one knows the function or the purpose of the stones.

Except me –Claire, Prologue to Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber.


Lately this past week or so. I am lying in bed and have half-woken, and I remember something it seems to me that Jim and I did during the day just gone. I feel intensely happy again, so comfortable. It’s something Jim and I used to do as a matter of course, go somewhere together, buy something together, maybe seen a play — walked in Old Town together down to and along the Potomac together. I think to myself, well we’ll continue it when the morning comes. And I fall back to sleep (or worse) I find I cannot fall fully to sleep and lie there with the cats snuggled in tight. Sometimes bad thoughts come; sometimes I feel so tired, look at the clock and discover it is but 3 am, and I’ve been sleeping at most an hour and a half and know this is not enough. So one night-before dawn I took a temazepam and had three drugged hours. As with other times this sort of thing has happened by the third time I realize this is a dream. These events are not happening. He’s not here any more — And last night as I again half-woke, this time four hours after sleep had begun, if I had had such a dream, I couldn’t remember it.

And as with my dream life before, now that I sit down to the computer to try to describe the experience, it fades from me, and nearly vanishes. I wish I could remember the details but they are now beyond my conscious mind, hidden, obscured beyond in that realm my mind when awake and rational or feeling-clear-lucid can’t reach. Did I dream he was alive again? I don’t know.

As you might remember (I mentioned this last week), I didn’t participate in the “#metoo” meme. It went too deep, the results of that wretched and fearful three years in my early teenagehood. It was responsible for a pattern of behavior to protect myself I can’t throw off — because it has protected me, from much hurt and the kind of pain we feel in the marrow of our bones. I know it has to do with why I married Jim, why I behaved with him the way I did, and my inalienable, unalterable love. There is no time long enough because it has become so part of me. It’s what I meant when I’d say he was the blood that flowed through my heart, outside he and I lay the junkyard of what did not matter. But it was also pain-filled this and a reaction-formation to cruel misogynistic social life and the women (or at the time, girls mostly, but my mother too with her corrosive “nasty” [another ruined word now] tongue) that supported it.

Some of this — these dreams, these half-sleepless nights — brought on by doing too much. This coming week starts a ten-week photography course for 2 hours at a Smithsonian site. I signed up because it is for utter amateurs and I’d like to learn practical realities about photography, since I love art so and am so interested in film, which is finally moving photography, moving pictures. I worry it will be too much. Yesterday I was out between 10:40 am and around 5 pm, and came home so depleted I craved specific things to eat, salty pita chips, wine. I am glad fall is here, and soon this hectic schedule will be over — by mid-November I’ll be teaching in just one place, and all conferences will be over.

I miss my one good friend who enabled me to do many things badly. I can never replace him. The organization or structure of society as I have found it is not one which I am able to thrive in so as to publish conventionally or even at my age anymore achieve what people admire. So I lose myself in activities, passing friendships, reading and writing here on the Net about movies too. As ever in my life, I am doing what it is in me to do, what I can. I am learning a new mode too: being alone, that much of social life is performative in the sense of in any deep way insincere, a matter of forms, and having to teach myself to do without support companionship.

So I turned tonight to read some women’s poetry volumes that have been mounting up, the kind that don’t lie (the other meaning for that word now) and are not there to soften the blows. All four of these books and authors write greatly at moments; all four volumes have powerful great women’s texts. Two are as volumes masterpieces: Patricia Fargnoli’s Harrowed and Margo Berdeshevsky’s Before the Drought. Millicent Borges Accardi is near that; she is still maturing. I’m not sure about Maggie Smith; the verse pieces are much weaker; what she might want to say originally not as clear. Ferrante is baring her soul’s nightmares to us once again, this time as a pretend child’s picture book; she must’ve had a terrible relationship with her mother. Hers is a graphic novel. I quote or describe them here in order of the age of the putative narrator or subject.

Perhaps had I gone out at night two weeks ago at Huntingdon beach, and stood there when the bonfires are on in winter, I might have thought of a book of poetry in disguise, that I read some months ago now, Elena Ferrante’s The Beach at Night.

Since what I have read about this book doesn’t make sense, is essentially contentless, or misleading. It’s a truly terrifying book. Masquerading as a children’s story, it is a kind of prose poem where a doll is left behind on a beach in favor of a kitten the girl child has been given a present of. The doll gets covered with sand, is treated badly by a Mean Beach Attendant, ends up laying next to a dead beetle with his feet up (shades of Kafka’s metamorphosis), is set on fire at one point, then doused with water, come near drowning. She is abandoned, deserted, motherless. I cannot imagine anyone giving this book to a child, European or not. I remember when by mistake (or not knowing) I bought the first Barbar book for Laura; she was traumatized by the sudden death of the mother elephant, shot wantonly and without warning by a hunter. It took hours for her to calm down.

It’s not a novella. It looks like a child’s picture book. It’s not quite though because it has full paragraphs and will suddenly swerve into lines of verse and then back again. I suppose the full paragraphs are a give away that this is not a child’s picture book. It’s pretending to be that. It’s an art book, not a graphic comic but an art book because the art work — nightmare pictures with horrible things coming out of terrifying creatures’ mouths: this looks like some kind of twisty corkscrew the monster is eating — reminding me of illustrations I’ve seen of Dante’s hell where in one of the deep circles there are three creatures being munched for all eternity by Satan. It now strikes me as disingenuous the people who say in passing this is a children’s story book and then that European children can take this kind of thing more than Americans: no child could find it appealing.

It’s a distillation of Ferrante’s deeply powerful novellas before her Quartet. It’s like Rachel Cusk in two life-writing books, with full attitudes to motherhood, how she was treated by her husband, what marriage is about. Here we have the anguished nightmare core of Ferrante’s fiction. The doll is saved, just, lest you worry, not by the child, but the kitten who spots it, curious and trots off with it and is noticed finally by the child. The art work is gothic, all colors, reminding me of Audrey Niffenegger; the illustrator is Mara Cerri. I should say the cover is more reasonable — the doll sits up, there is a watering can, a piece of wood which is whole.

Then the student, younger woman.

Millicent Borges Accardi’s Only More So, autumnal, is on the surface more prosaic than the others (mostly narratives like Fargnoli’s), stories of her life and those around her, and equally about women’s bodies, in Accardi’s much younger case, being fixed, having cancer, the world we live in being taken from us, or left to rot (as unsellable). I offer this as characteristic:

Portuguese Bend

Every semester, Doc would take
His geology students from Long Beach City
to Mojave, the painted desert
Anza Borrego for unapproved field trips.
But his great delight was predicting
What would happen next at Portuguese
Bend, the last and largest area
of natural vegetation on the Peninsula.
Doc would look Sideways at the road,
Following the black ribbon of ever-changing
reality, about how the tarmac had jumped
three feet since last semester.
The shaky red cliffs, that once held the future
N ow left to wild, the opposite of development.
But that which was and is now unsuitable
for building also holds our planet’s future.
He smiles in morbid glee, about his
Game of predicting the next house to
Fall. We crouched under stilts, walked gently
Across dried out lawns, examining the movement
Of the earth, the landslides, the slow slippage
Of time back into the sea. The Orange-crowned
Warblers, the coastal sage brush and the Pacific-Slope
Flycatcher our arms entangled with a species of
Love-forever Dudleya virens on the Peninsula headland.
Long before our field trips, this was the homeland of the
Tongva, for thousands of years before Portuguese explorer
Joao Cabrilho wrote of Chowigna and Suangna settlements
And of how Native Americans blessed Palos Verdes
I stoop to look under a house,
half fallen into the sea, leaning against itself
as if it were terminally ill. Soft. Weak.
Yellow caution tapes drawn around its waist.
Portuguese Bend, named after Captain Jose Machado
Who, sailing past Deadman’s Island,
brought a crew of Azorean whalemen in 1864.
Taking barrels of oil from the blubber £lenses
of gay whales off the coast of California.
The ground slips beneath my feet,
a slight landslide of broken rubble,
rock fragments, shale, sand and silt, basalt.
Hollow channels cut beneath the earth
form channels for soft zones to settle …

Then the middle years. Maggie Smith’s Good Bones, about mother-and-child, to me mother-and-daughter relationships, conceived in bone and blood and flesh, a water world

Jane Goldman, Tidal Pool (2001)

And last night Margo Berdeshevsyky’s spectacular Before the Drought about this world of death for “the other” immediately, and the rest of us not-so-long range begun when, well before last November. It’s hard to choose which part of a poem to quote (for these are long and odd shaped so I cannot reprint them properly).

Smith’s book is said to have re-told fairy tales, which it does, and very well done too, its eponymous poem, “Good bones” is said (albeit in the book’s blurb) to be well-known. I like these lines:

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine …

…………………….The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,

but even more the bitter ending about the jackass realtor:

…………………….Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

I also like from “Transparent”

Once the girl
was part of the woman, tethered,

inside her, transparent herself
until the winter she writhed into air …

If she held a lantern
before the woman, would she see

what became of the unfinished child
bled away on the far field. She wonders

if it’s ghost is still on the mountains,
hovering birdlike ….

Dark birds hover over Margo’s volume, natural beauty haunting by the killing going on everywhere. Carolyn Forché crowds the imagery into a splendid paragraph:

Before the Drought is a lyric meditation on corporeal existence, suffused with atavistic spirit and set in historical as well as cosmic time, a work of radical suffering and human indifference but also sensual transport. The tutelary spirits of these poems are the feminine principle, and a flock of messengers that include blue heron, ibis, phoenix, egret, and blood’s hummingbird. In the surround we find ourselves in the magical world of a floating balcony, and a field of cellos, but it is a world in peril, now and in the time to come, on the night of the Paris massacres and in a poisoned future. In the City of Light, Berdeshevsky writes poems commensurate with her vision, poems that know to ask How close is death, how near is God? Hers is a book to read at the precipice on which we stand.

From “Whose Sky, Between”

This day, how many white cranes remember all the bombs we’ve made to make the ‘other’
dead. Said: so we may never die. Said: hang a thousand small wings from our branches.

May one crane fly, one jasmine open, one thrush sing — all fragile night. One bloom of
a peace that cannot die.

Margo’s volume is probably the greatest of all four, set in Paris, the one that comes closest to Sylvia Plath’s vatic, only more soaring.

The way I like the 18th century poet Cowper for his quiet calm sense of keeping order, his winter poetry, I will return to the poems in Fargnoli’s volume.

Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes

Soothing consolation steady-now, keep your sanity type, woman aging, Patricia Fargnoli’s Winter and Harrowed. I can’t resist her “To an Old Woman Standing in October Light.” I can go back to Hallowed (a compilation) again and again. It’s not that she’s forgotten what’s happening outside the place she’s lucky to live in. I see the same desperation in a neighborhood feral cat, the saddest one I’ve seen, calico, so thin, so scared. I’ve tried to give her food, but am not sure she came near enough long enough:

The Undeniable Pressure of Existence

I saw the fox running by the side of the road
past the turned away brick faces of the condominiums
past the Citco gas station with its line of cars and trucks
and he ran, limping, gaunt, matted, dull-haired
pastJim’s Pizza, past the Wash-O-Mat,
past the Thai Garden, his sides heaving like bellows
and he kept running to where the interstate
crossed the state road and he reached it and ran on
under the underpass and beyond it past the perfect
rows of split-levels, their identical driveways,
their brookless and forestless yards,
and from my moving car, I watched him,
helpless to do anything to help him, certain he was beyond
any aid, any desire to save him, and he ran loping on,
far out of his element, sick, panting, starving,
his eyes fixed on some point ahead of him, some fierce
invisible voice, some possible salvation
in all this hopelessness, that only he could see.

The above is probably not characteristic. How the composer says this is how we should live our lives; leave-taking, how to live without companions, arguing for life, watching the light, the hours (as in “Compline:” “I have done only a little … forgive”).

How can other women readers I come across on the Net make do with men’s books (which is what they cite they reading, especially novels), men’s films, which either excludes or re-frames them for men’s use. All these women poets write women’s lives, out of a woman’s body.

From Elena Ferrante and Mara Cerri

I miss Jenny Diski, because there will be no more new great books from her — as there have been several, Skating to Antartica, What I don’t Know About Animals, Apology for the Woman Writer. I need to read much more by her — the way I am reading Woolf nowadays. I have become deeply engaged, now reading Orlando. I must make the next blog for Austen reveries after I finish the JASNAs one on Ferrante, wade into this controversy about her attempt to remain anonymous.

Miss Sylvia Drake

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Tired of sleeping alone, Ian began regularly to invade Izzy’s room

Dear friends and readers,

Another three weeks have passed, and while I’ve seen and experienced so much that I can’t begin to encompass it all, at the same time I ask myself, what is hitting home most strongly: Paul Scott’s Staying On, which this time round and for the first time I can see my way into teaching. I began it in Scotland. I haven’t got time for the rich biography by Hilary Spurling, much less even on CDs read aloud the Raj Quartet (no such thing, only available as a download), but can’t resist this searing political writer (a son of Trollope).

Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in the poignant Staying On film adaptation (the Smalleys)

I’m going to write about my time in and around Inverness, Scotland, on my central blog as a travel and cultural history story,

My brief weekend with a friend in Pennsylvania (which followed, and I’ve just returned from), was a personal and social (and academic talk) experience. I stayed in Lewisburg, where Bucknell University is located, and experienced small town life, where everyone or many people know many, and all become intertwined as this criss-crosses groups. Where else can you eat in an Italian restaurant where on the menu is cannoli cake, and when the delicious object is brought to the table and finds favor, one of the people says it must have been made by the owner’s wife (whom she knows) and the other three agree. They do seem to know one another’s intimate lives, and I’ve an idea to live there means to try to hide a lot.

It was not quite simply a small town as the university’s presence brings into the town much aesthetic and intellectual experience the local people would not have: concerts, plays, lectures, events of all sorts, conferences, among which NET Live theater by HD screening so I again saw Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead as performed this year in the Old Vic — with outstanding performances by David Craig as the player, and appropriate ones by Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (respectively). I say appropriately because they were not funny, the link with Waiting for Godot was de-emphasized as the mood of the piece was tragic anguish as found in the words of the player king and all the many dialogues exploring death. I enjoyed conversations with three different groups of people, some of whom recurred in the other group: often presents or retired academics from Bucknell.

I saw the Amish — and learned not to idealize or sentimentalize. The immediate area my friend is in is middling middle class, and nearby palatial residences (not just McMansions) for the local superrich, but this is ringed about by another part of Trump’s base: the desperately poor, nearly jobless (certainly futureless) whites whose world is one of broken down houses, miserable-looking yards filled with cars, “adult” entertainment (two “massage” parlours per small area). I saw them with their baseball caps and pseudo-sexy jeans, T-shirts, on motorcycles. I say another for the people in the palatial residences are even more necessary to Trump and a base he is pleasing mightily by transferring as much money and exploitative opportunity to as a lawless US president can (that’s a lot). On the divides here:

Bucknell may be taken as a microcosm of what’s happening. Beautiful impressive place with ancient and modern buildings all harmonized. One conversation at one of the tables was all about the horrendous price and debts these people are taking on — or their children. This was a group who go to Ivy League schools (whence you might see how my story of going to Queens College by 2 buses, at $25 a term might startle — I told only Nancy that one) and so they pay big sums. Bucknell struck me as such a privileged place — campus on which the students must live. At Mason nowadays, which used to be a primarily commuter school, those not living on campus are made to feel they are second class citizens; they get parking after the live-in people, and yet they come by car. Bucknell is now some $60,000 for the year (not including everything) — so that’s $30,000 per term. It is a racket.

When Jim’s dissertation was rejected, all financial aid was cut off. One reason he didn’t write a dissertation that passed muster was it had to be in by the end of the fourth year. You see he did go for free (no payment for 4 years, but tiny sums like I paid years ago at Queens above), but the bargain was he would be done in 4 years and he would have a job waiting. He couldn’t pull that off at all — he had had to take an adjunct job the two last years too, and while I don’t remember (or maybe was not told) how much they wanted per semester, it was way above us. Then when several terms went by and Jim was working and inquired into doing the dissertation (he did), we discovered we would be asked for a large sum (not as big but sizable) to “cover” all these terms. To show himself matriculated. I wouldn’t know know how to fight them.

Anna Karenina coming up

We on Trollope19thcstudies also tell about the movies and there are so many (as well as translations):

FYI: don’t say you don’t learn anything reading my life-writing blog …

* 1935: Anna Karenina (1935 film), the most famous and critically acclaimed version, starring Greta Garbo and Fredric March and directed by Clarence Brown.
* 1948: Anna Karenina (1948 film) starring Vivien Leigh, Ralph Richardson and directed by Julien Duvivier.
1953: Anna Karenina (1953 film), a Russian version directed by Tatyana Lukashevich.
1954: Panakkaari, a Tamil language adaptation directed by K. S. Gopalakrishnan
1960: Nahr al-Hob (River of Love), an Egyptian movie directed by Ezzel Dine Zulficar
1961: Anna Karenina, a BBC Television adaptation directed by Rudolph Cartier, starring Claire Bloom and Sean Connery.[2][3]
1967: Anna Karenina (1967 film), a Russian version directed by Alexander Zarkhi.
1970s: A Cuban television series starring Margarita Balboa as Anna,[4] Miguel Navarro as Vronsky, and Angel Toraño as Karenin.
1976: Anna Karenina, a Russian ballet version directed by Margarita Pilikhina.
* 1977: Anna Karenina, a 1977 ten-episode BBC series, directed by Basil Coleman and starred Nicola Pagett, Eric Porter and Stuart Wilson.[5][6] — my favorite of all I’ve seen, worthy the 1970s age of fine adaptations from the BBC
* 1985: Anna Karenina (1985 film), a U.S. TV movie starring Jacqueline Bisset and Christopher Reeve, directed by Simon Langton.
* 1997: Anna Karenina (1997 film), the first American version to be filmed on location in Russia, directed by Bernard Rose and starring Sophie Marceau and Sean Bean.
2000: Anna Karenina, a four-part British TV adaptation made in 2000 directed by David Blair. Aired in America on PBS Masterpiece Theatre in 2001.[7]
2009: Anna Karenina, a Russian mini-series directed by Sergei Solovyov.
* 2012: Anna Karenina (2012 film), a British version directed by Joe Wright, starring Keira Knightley.
2013: Anna Karenina, a Filipino drama series directed by Gina Alajar
2013: Anna Karenina, an English-language Italian/French/Spanish/German/Lithuanian TV co-production by Christian Duguay and starring Vittoria Puccini, Benjamin Sadler and Santiago Cabrera. Alternatively presented as a two-part mini-series or a single 3 hours and 15 minutes film.

In the four days I was home, I managed to buy subscriptions to the coming Folger Shakespeare season; to buy for a concert, a play, and a stand-up comic event at the Kennedy Center; three HD screenings at my local art movie-house and the 14th Street Shakespeare Theater (Kushner’s Angels in America, Part 1); to register for 3 lectures (literary, Wilde is one, the Bloomsbury group focusing on Woolf another, the last Gilbert and Sullivan) and a series of Sunday afternoons on photography (across the fall into the winter and two occur after the fall semester at the OLLIs ware over. Then to register for 4 courses at these OLLIs beyond the two I’m teaching. Three will not require any reading, and three (a different set) meet only 3 times or 4 times in the semester: Shakespeare’s late romances (with Rick Davis as lecturer — wow): a history and the aesthetics of film (with a film scholar from AU), a book club, and last a history of unions in the US (a man who worked in various positions of unions all his life plus is now a college teacher): I was told hardly anyone will sign for that of course — why? it seems to me the most important of all I signed up for and more important than either of mine. I began reading at night 20 minutes each night Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of America. It is still genuinely shocking how Columbus and the Spaniards literally enslaved and worked to death, beat or slaughtered literally several million Indians in the first 30 years of their ruthless brutal take-over.

So I should be busy because I’ve not given up my Poldark book project (though in the next week or so plan to find some much narrower focus so it becomes doable by me — the stress on the 12 Poldark novels, Cornwall and the 2 mini-series); we are about to read Anna Karenina (starting Sept 4th) on Trollope19thCStudies (16 week schedule); and of course there’s my teaching. I am going to give up the gym because one must cut out something and much as I enjoy the hour, it takes 2 and 1/2 hours out of my day, and worse, my arm is not getting better, nor my legs. The truth is it’s a mild distraction and amusement, and to me at least Yoga similar. I tell myself I will get back to women artists and foremother poets and also write my reviews on the recent resurgence of Anne Bronte studies (centering on Holland’s In Search of Anne Bronte), Devoney Looser’s The Making of Jane Austen (a new book sent me by a generous editor as it’s such a beautiful volume, apart from anything else). When I finish my Bronte review in two days (fingers crossed), I will proceed to the Charlotte Smith paper: now called “Exile, alienation, and radical critique: Smith’s depiction of colonialism in Ethelinde and the Emigrants. While in central Pennsylvania, I read a new good book on Gaskell: Adapting Gaskell: Stage and Screen Versions of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Fiction, ed Loredanna Salis: it has marvelously concise essays on her publishing history, the changes in criticism, not to omit I didn’t know that there was a 1972 Cranford, which is available. More importantly I learned that in fact numbers of 1960s and 70s films said to be wiped out, are not. It’s that the BBC doesn’t want to release earlier versions of the books they are re-filming (far more commercially), and there are far more scripts too. So there is hope for me to see the adaptation of Graham’s The Forgotten Story (1983) that stared Angharad Rees. My friend is a Gaskell scholar and I saw her library and wrote down the titles of some 11 books that looked so good: several had titles that didn’t tell you they were about Gaskell, one on her and Tolstoy’s realism compared.


Many people do drive 10-12 trips (usually with someone) rather than take a plane

I will conclude on travel as such. All will remember how I didn’t manage to go to Jane Austen and the Arts because I didn’t realize there were no good train to Plattsburgh, couldn’t face two airplanes and having to be picked up at the airport, with extra days & nights on either side of a 3 day conference in order to achieve this, or risk a 10-11 car trip, a good third of which would be at night in a state and places I’ve never seen.

On my first return home — from the Highlands by Icelandic airplane. I just returned from a 10 day trip and on the way back had the unpleasant experience of being “singled out” at random (it was said) for “special security” scrutiny at Reykjavik. Supposed (frozen) smiles on the people doing this but without this happening to anyone in particular we are all surely aware that once entering certain large areas of a US airport nowadays one gives up most civil rights — or we appear to as most of us are not lawyers and so we don’t know what are our civil rights and are not told them in these situations. I almost missed my plane and if I hadn’t become very upset would have.

I don’t think we are chosen at random as Izzy and I were clearly not chosen at random when we almost didn’t get our seats on British Air back from the Charlotte Smith conference: the woman in charge came up all too quickly with the same seats we had on the flight coming over: human beings don’t work that way. As a white person, I would never say that TSA or the US especially but also other nations’ airlines or airports don’t profile people.  We don’t know. I’ve noticed that disabled people where the disability is the invisible kind (autism) get picked on. A friend told me she has been selected three times; her husband interviewed. An interview makes him sound important? maybe it was the beard?

It’s more than bad luck. They did it at the last moment, and I didn’t take too well to it after being forced to wait in a hanger that had no chairs, was overcrowded. The line went slowly as they scrutinized people to decide who to harass. Indeed, so badly did I read that I gave the Icelanders doing it a wee pause. The plane I was supposed to get on waited until I and (as well they might) 4 other specially scrutinized people from my plane were waited for (a 5th never made).

I am such a home-body (in that we are utterly alike) and I think it was my deep longing to get home that made me refuse to accept the treatment. Some of my readers and friends will reco gnize this line from Mansfield Park: it’s Fanny Price channellng Wm Cowper: with what intense longing she wants her home — though I am very glad I went and had a very dulce et utile time. (I did discover I can’t take more than 10 days with a group of acquaintances where we are herded together each day to travel miles and see three different places, attend lectures and have meals together.)

I was not staying at that airport overnight. I wish I could say my fellow passengers waiting on that plane were on my side, but they seem not to have wanted this wait. I did not play the let’s shrug and accept game, I didn’t smile — they really wanted that and when I refused I got grim glares. A small win — when I sat down I was brought a cup of water. The poor man next to me was way to big for his seat. This is the second time. I doubt they made the plane wait for me because I’m a US citizen, white, older, (harmless) female, but decided they would rather not have to cope with me in that airport that night — I was decidedly unenthusiastic about a hotel. I have to fly if I want to go the UK or other far experiences (say in Europe or Italy), trains and Queen Mary very expensive & time-consuming. But I will not fly Icelandic air again. I suppose my reaction was risky; I could have been maybe arrested. That in itself is telling what I mean to infer now.

Narrow immediate lessons to be learned:

someone or group of people have to work once more to break up monopolies and equally organized people have to go to court and defend our civil rights once again. We need a different group in power. A person should not have to become genuinely deeply upset in order to board a plane that she paid good money for well in advance, unless there is a genuine reason to believe this particular individual poses a threat to the other people on the flight.

Wider or longer views:

it seems to me most gov’ts with the power to do it have always tried to control the movement of people living in their purview — if they can.  Local, national, international.

I am thinking of early modern period or Renaissance as it was once called (and which I once studied diligentlY). When people who had money and could travel did, and this is especially true of those close to a king or powerful leader, aristocrats, those part s of the gov’t, they very often are described as obtaining permission. Philip Sidney would check with Elizabeth before he’d go off. They write of taking letters of introduction, but they also are described as having documents to show who they are, what is their purpose. Nancy mentioned how local county groups did their best to keep poorer people from moving into their area (they couldn’t stop them if they could prove they had been born there).  You see this kind of checking out inside Italy during the early modern period when people travel from one city to another. All these papers people carried about  identified them.

During periods of high immigration, those countries who open their borders do it for a reason: they want cheap labor but they too attempt to keep tabs on those coming in. Trollope (Anthony) talks about specifics on this in his account of Australian labor contracts and practices during the later 19th century. 

And one can see there are changes in attitudes during different eras, some freer and some restrictive. We are suddenly in an era of ‘strict’ attempts at control and keeping people out partly because the numbers of refugees, of immigrants/emigrants has suddenly mounted very high because of these ferocious wars. The 19th century British “poor laws” were an attempt to stop and control movement under the pressure or impetus of industrialization, zooming numbers in cities — that’s what workhouses were about.

Other eras show gov’ts or local powerful groups forcing people to leave. Take the highland clearances during our era. Read John Prebble’s powerful books on Culloden and then The Highland Clearances for an accurate account of this. The later part of the 18th and early 19th century in Scotland. As we know in the 1790s how emigrants into the UK were treated became a subject of controversy which was debated strongly.

To me it is astonishing that people will put up with in airports and airlines today.  When preparing for my second trip, 1 evening, 2 full days, and one brief morning to visit a friend I’m packing a case and feel so cheerful I can put all my stuff in it — not in carry-ons, stuffed in my purse lest I lose the bag.  I think by this point if you or someone who are traveling with has not had a bag lost temporarily or permanently you are very lucky. Or pay first class.  They are beginning to give out water for free in economy I noticed this time round — maybe because the incident made so public about a man dragged and beaten on a plane to the point he was hospitalized and successfully sued.


Trump has put in bill to decimate Amtrak further

On this second trip: driving home from Central Pennsylvania, an at least 5 hour trip if you don’t come up against any obstacles. Which I did. as in previous trip; while getting there was merely tedious, not an ordeal; coming home was another kind of battle. Just outside Baltimore, my garmin froze! Before I realized this I was in Baltimore. I tried to use my cell phone Waze but could not figure out how to make the voice louder than a light whisper, and so couldn’t quite understand instructions. At each turning point in highway I seem to have guessed wrong. Had it not been for three different kindly black men maybe I’d still be going in circles on Washington/Baltimore Parkway, or DC, or (agonizingly close) the highway just off Alexandria — where I had the bright idea to get the hell off the puzzling labyrinth look-alike highway and get onto a street. I immediately half-recognized buildings, roads, street names and made my way home at last. I’m no traveler. So what does one do with a frozen garmin to un-freeze it?
I did get an answer I could re-set it by a paper clip into what is claimed is a tiny hole in the garmin. I will look tomorrow when I get into my car.

A friend meaning kindly called me “Traveler Extraordinaire. You did what you had to do to figure things out, and didn’t panic. Now that the garmin wobbled, you can think of a backup plan if it happens again. One thing you can always do is pull over and find a map on your cell phone. Or carry a (gasp!) paper map in the car! You’re ahead of me on this one, I have never used a garmin at all, but would like to learn.

This is not exactly how I see what I’ve written or what I meant. Far from a traveler extraordinaire, I have had confirmed on how a trip is an ordeal and how it need not be one. It reminds me of how there’s no need on earth for US people to find health care out of their reach. It is not true that it’s anxiety that drives me not to take trips but dislike of the choices on offer. We should have trains, good trains running frequently. Cars are dangerous, long trips arduous. I discovered quite a while ago that rest areas were far fewer than than had been, and that no longer can you get gas and good on the road, but must exit first. I have read that upon inventing his car and making the mass assembly line Ford went around the US buying up local railroads and shutting them down. Imagination based on the obvious idea this need not be is the inference I probably meant. When I lived in Leeds next to all train stations were buses that went everywhere. Why have we not a national bus service?

A person should not have to be a heroine, nor do I want to be, nor was I, to get home. She was right to suggest I am getting more used to doing these things and perhaps travel more confidently. But even there I don’t know. I couldn’t figure out how to make my Waze program on my cell phone louder. Izzy has made the ringer louder but I took the cell phone into the car and still the Waze program is soft;. I think I got home finally because I asked three decent people and they gave me good directions plus one drove a bit with me following. Before I used maps, before these gadgets that’s what I used to do: ask local people continually. So my behavior is the same.

I did work at not getting freaked out lest I got into an accident, but I came near twice as I tried to follow the man in the van who helped me and as I made a U turn on the directions of the second man.

I agree the thought that crossed my mind was it’s not a matter of anxiety after all; it’s a matter of dislike. What a scene. Thousands of cars at top speed on a 4 track highway — one should protest against the capitalism vise that have led to this madness.


I will write on my Sylvia political blog (if I can find the time about the allowed racist Ku Klux Klan demonstration in Charlottesville and Trump’s pardon of the lawless criminal Arpaio), for here I ought to fend myself from solipsism: yes the strongest hurricane to hit Texas in 50 years continues to wreak devastation. Amy Goodman shows the scope of this and its true dimensions. Nowhere is anyone reporting that Houston is the gas and oil capital of the country; huge refinerys right by the Bayous and no regulation whatsoever. One area is called Cancer Row. Just read the transcript:


All CNN and MSNBC tell these heroic moving stories of good people saving one another. They leave out thousands of Spanish and immigrants are terrified of looking for help as then they’ll be deported. And how they have been dumped at bus stations and herded into other detention centers:


Just one of many oil and gas refineries in Texas

The weather is not a trivial subject any more (if it ever was); it matters.

Miss Drake

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Photo taken by Izzy at the Tidal Basin in Washington DC this week

She who sups with the devil should have a long spoon

Dear friends,

I’ve not been writing here because I’ve been so busy with trying to keep up with my teaching, reading with friends on a listserv, on good reads, and seeing if I can develop a project on a literary biography of Winston Graham, author of the Poldark novels — I’m listening to a good reading on CDs of Warleggan.

If this were all.

I’ve also been involved with enclosing my porch, again trying to renovate or improve or alter parts of my house (the doors once again, electricity): among other things, a deeply spiteful neighbor apparently researched records available to discover I and the contractor had not taken out a permit to enclose said porch and registered a complaint with “code administration.” Or so I think — this man has done similar things to others, and once before said something to me which suggested he had been researching my title to my house! I am told he is an ex-FBI agent, retired; he was urging me to move. Maybe my house was bringing down property value — especially the kind of modest renovation we are doing. So today the contractor and I spent a long day at City Hall “pulling a permit” by proving to the city what the contractor was doing was adequate work, although it does need to be upgraded to prevent damp from destroying the room. Sigh. The truth is I’m not sure that this man will do the job and I don’t know how to get back to the screened porch. Jim was against enclosing the porch because it would cost far too much for the small room we would get out of it. The plain truth is also I have not that much use for it: yes another bookcase, a comfortable chair, lamp, table, maybe an exercise machine. I was trying no longer to be the neighborhood eyesore. I may (as last year over Expedia) have lost a lot of money. It won’t result in anyone wanting to buy the house for a larger sum; whoever buys it will regard the house as a tear-down.

So who has the heart to write?

The question that emerges in this newly rotten environment — that humanity, decency, privacy, reciprocal loyalty, obedience to human, civil, legal rights are ignored are nothing to the renewed resurgence of murder of hundreds of people and more to come in the middle east — so what’s a little local tyranny — is, how do I — how do you, gentle reader — avoid the rot.

The rot seeps in
The rot seeps in everywhere

Nowadays the best, maybe the only way to reach my friends as a group is through my own timeline on face-book. It’s time-consuming to click on one at a time and I’ve over 250 friends — all of whom I know in some way, many well. My general “feed” is filled with ads. I read the Republicans and Trump are signing away our privacy: if you use any large company for your email, they have the right to sell your data. Who would have their soul sold? My gmail is filled with junk in two categories. Commercial values, commodification shapes all experiences and people rightly flee back to exclusive pre-set-up groups. Face-book pages on topics seek to belong to institutions and rules are set up to control interchanges which put a damper on what can be said, what can be shared: rules make sure only what’s socially acceptable to belong to the agency or institution, or “on topic” is allowed and that is hemmed in. Only the NSA can read our private emails (we hope)– only! People I meet and talk to live these apart single lives as they obey the demands of capitalism today — for a job, a scholarship, as a groundwork for belonging. Adorno was accurate, prophetic is Patrick Wright on Journey through London’s Ruins. Time is money is no innocent utterance.


This past week I shut this out by the classes I was teaching in and the class I am now attending: in Virginia Woolf, with a professor who is a better teacher than I am. She has strong self-confidence and doesn’t need to have extensive notes to talk from and is able to coax gently and create an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect whereby a lot of the people in the room exchange views, high-minded on a great fiction, Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway.

Rupert Graves as the rightly suicidal Septimus, Amelia Bullmore, Rezia

Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs Dalloway who says it was the only way to protect one’s soul …

I’ve seen three great films: (on a DVD on my computer) Ashgar Farhadi’s The Past (the film is searingly honest about people’s utter selfishness, sudden turns of intensely hot temper and resentment, spite without being judgemental); (on another DVD) the extraordinarily subtle Merchant-Ivory Mrs Dalloway, screenplay Eileen Atkins, where the filmic art captures the verbal art and meaning of the novel exquisitely; at my local Cinema Art with a friend, the moving film adaptation by Ritesh Batra and Nick Payne of Julian Barnes’s latest great novel, Man Booker winner for 2011, The Sense of an Ending.

I’ve kept up my friendships on-line.

This was Izzy’s week home: she’s started a new (if brief) touching song; as I watched her watch the World Championship Ice-skating contests at Helsinki, I suddenly asked, where is the next one: why in March 2018 it’s in Milan, Italy we learned. So she and I are going together next year: we’ll take two full weekends on either side and I can take buses and trains to nearby Italian towns and cities I’ve wanted to go to for years: like Brescia, Veronica Gambara’s home. Laura “signed” on and said she’d come and go to the fashion shows going on at that time. Milan —

Galileo as painted by Giusto Sustermans — but see Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel (better yet, read it)

Tonight I spent 3 hours traveling by public transportation (and on foot) to go to the Folger to see an hour and one half staged reading of excerpts James Reston and Bonnie Nelson Schwartz’s Galileo’s Torch: a series of scenes showing Galileo joyous with discovery with his aristocratic friend-supporter in Venice, gradually driven when he leaves for Rome and Florence (why we are not told) by the power of the relentless church authorities to recant publicly (the threat is torture). The great actors (Edward Gero as Galileo, Michael Toylaydo as the Grand Inquisitor), the accompanying Renaissance music by the Folger Concert, a soprano singing two early 17th century songs, with a screen showing drawings and passages from Galileo’s Starry Messenger as well as beautiful shots of our universe (prettied up of course) — it was worth the travel, gentle reader. This was my second of three times this week at the Folger. The first was to see the HD screening of The Tempest from Stratford-upon-Avon. Sunday matinee Izzy and I go to the Folger for the full concert called Starry Messenger.


Those are canines, people: as men legislate women’s health care and don’t want to pay for pregnancy …

Shutting the rot out: well here’s a meditation on where we see it continually and how to walk around it.

I admit for the ironic semi-amusement as well as edification of the people in the second course I’m giving (the first is on City and County Victorian novels, plus one Victorian Gothic) here is part of my opening gambit on the Booker Prize niche:

In the last 30 or more years ours has become a prize obsessed culture. Not everybody has won and not everybody’s prize is as good as others, but many win and they are advertised. It’s not just books: I asked Izzy if there are any ice-skating shows any more not connected to prizes? She replied: hardly any. From films, to sports, to classical music, to tattoo art; a concept of art as everything a contest. It does debase the art or sport or whatever: it’s about the relationship of any art to money first and foremost: prizes equate art with money and they enable art and artists to make more money. Then politics of all sorts, power, social and cultural agendas, power, prestige. Ironic that as inequality is still growing apace – or maybe to be expected that an art work is valued by its social capital – that’s a Bourdieu phrase. You can trade in the world with money as capital, but trading cards and chits also include your rank, status, institution, the red carpet extravaganzas are just an obscenely obvious edge of it. BAFTAs, Oscars, Emmy, Grammies, as each one is co-opted the prize is less given for the quality of whatever it was but who the artist is, who connected to. So once upon a time a Golden Globe may have meant a good movie, now it’s just like the Oscars.

It might seem and is a natural human activity but not to the extent it’s taken over. How this has come about and why tells us about our communications industry I suppose, but it’s more than that. Any comments or suggestions. There’s no correct answer. We could give Hitler a great fascist dictator. No one has come near him as yet. As our esteemed tweeter would say “tremendous.” Now in each profession probably a different set of circumstances could and would be produced to explain why.

In the case of books, in mid-century there was this problem distinguishing “serious fiction” from genre and junk fiction as TV and other medias spread and as paperbacks spread. Yes one explanation for the booker is the invention and spread of paperbacks which put books in the hands of people who could not afford hardbacks. The marketplace was flooded with low and middle brow paperback books. There suddenly was a collapse of a number of understood agreements where people didn’t undercut one another. Some of these protections still hold in Germany plus German federal policy works to protect bookstores among other businesses in Germany and not reward them for destroying themselves. – NBA the Net Book agreement – these are policies and practices of major chains of bookstores.

All winners must stand holding their book with the words Booker Prize winner prominently displayed

Short-listed do very well too

What happens is people stumble into things – they also conspire but sometimes they stumble; or one person has the idea and has no sense how workable and efficient it will be if done right. Todd’s Consuming Fictions gives the extraordinary figures as the early success of the Booker was felt. It was a coterie: an in-group of linked people living in and attached to London. It was the brainchild of Tom Maschler, a “rising” young celebrity editor at Jonathan Cape. Booker Brothers were a post-colonial agrobusiness company seeking to diversify and improve their public image with the collapse of colonialism as acceptable. I’m not saying colonialism collapsed; far from it, but it was no longer openly praised to steal another country’s natural resources and put the people into forms of servitude. A couple of other prizes from the 1960s: America Hawthorden and James Tait, Guardian fiction prize 1955.

Nothing remarkable about the Booker in its first couple of years; nothing unusual about their books, venture close to collapse. It’s said in-house correspondence of 1970s reads like a Black Box from a crashed airplane. 1970S a turning years: some extraordinary post-colonial books very like English Patient: V. S. Naipaul. In a Free State. JG. Farrell The Seige of Krisnapur. Books like The Bookshop: Susan Hill, the Bird of Night. Doris Lessing. Briefing for Descent into Hell. Movies helped: ruth Prawer Jhabvala: Heat and Dust is wedded to Merchant-Ivory type films (ah). They included books like Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor – imagine Lady Edith grown old and poor and living in a hotel. Iris Murdoch. The Sea the Sea. Kingsley Amis: Jake’s Thing (just what you think. Barbara Pym with her church jumble sale fiction: Quartet in Autumn – profoundly movingly sad. They cottoned onto the importance of planting stories, of announcing long list, short list, glittering prize ceremony. Series of scandals. J. G. Berger Ways of Seeing accepts his prize by insulting everyone as elite, corrupt, useless. The person who refuses to come pick up his prize – Dylan Thomas who sends the inimitable, unforgettable Patti Smith in his place. . This person gets a prize and that one not and it seems that the one who didn’t wrote the better. Who did she know? Then things like the Ayatollah Khomenai puts out a fatwa on Salmon Rushdie who won for Midnight’s children and has been long and short listed again and again.

All the talk buzzing around the Oscars is just a repeat of this early innovative group. The year of English Patient there were in the end two prize winners; Barry Unsworth no where near as dazzling and about slavery in a intense way ought to have won: Sacred Hunger. English Patient is more fun. Wolf Hall is set off by cult of Anne Boleyn and the marvelous acting talent of Mark Rylance (who can make a whole film come alive with the quiet question when you say shall I do this, “would it help?” So they gave her the prize for Bring up the Bodies. It’s not that good a book at all.

Possession in 1990 was a tremendous moment. It made Byatt’s career and made the prize. The movie wasn’t the center even though Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle were paired again. I find I’m not as enamoured of it as I once was. I prefer Atwood’s Alias Grace – a Jane Eyre immigration story: governess type goes to Canada, based on real woman and murder – Grace Marks accused — in a household of servants. Behind it a classic Canadian memoir: Susannah Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush and Moodie’s career as journalist where she interviews Marks –- and of course the Brontes’ art.


What are some of the characteristics the Bookers share which do set them off. I suppose that’s the work of this term. What qualities are found in “serious” fiction that set it off from (sorry for the “terribly snobbish term”) middle brow books? I thought I’d call attention to just a couple in the hope of startling or creating interest or maybe opposition.

Luke Strongman: Booker Prize and the Legacy of Empire: nostalgia, he says, the “clue” theme

After reading through our four and reading desultorily and listening to some of them read aloud on tape: beyond the historical turn accompanied by a deep questioning of what passes for history and why we want these stories told:

The central figure in The English Patient and a number of the events swirling round him: the deeply reactionary erudite adventurer, a Hungarian count Laslo Almasy: Ondaatje may have written an anti-colonialist, anti-war book but his hero is something out of The Prisoner of Zenda, related to royals in middle Europe: born 1896, he was a member of the Zerzura Club, desert explorers and adventurers, outlier types, presented themselves as explorers, lovers of fancy cars and women, looking for ancient cities in the desert, loses oases, but like communist spies inside M16 and Oxford in the 1940s and 50s, the Zerzura club were mapping the desert as spies for the fascists and Nazis, as military people in WW2, traitors some would say, Almazy died of dystentery in 1951 in Austria – never would take care of himself – he was awarded the Iron Cross by German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. People might remember the romantic film Out of Africa based on Isak Dinesen’s book with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford (now married in earnest): the hero there was Anglo and part of a group from Kenya. Dinesen wrote great tales, gothics, but was as reactionary (crazy) as Ayn Rand. We have just two of this type but often when you dig a little in the background of a Booker Prize you find really interesting history, characters, authors events.

To continue: stream of consciousness as a central immediate confrontation of imagined mind with imagined reader; anti-colonialist (the legacies of empire) and anti-war: at some deep level –- and not so there is this perception of life, existence at terrifying. You never know what is going to happen next and you often can’t explain why so as to prevent next time. The Judgement scene in A Month in the Country. In the old English of Moon, a dreamer-archeaologist digging up the savage Saxons

And he shal com with woundes rede
To deme [judge]the quicke and the dede … (p. 34).

But as Amy Dodds puts it on the upper level of her twice weekly bus ride to her profoundly mentally disabled daughter, The thing is not to take it as a punishment.

If you are not terrified by the torture and landmines of Michael Ondaatje’s English Patient, you are not reading what’s in front of you. Water and sand as killers. Deep melancholy. But they are also for lack of a better term “quirky” – Mrs Palfrey at her Claremont is quirky, odd, unexpected. All these people living on houseboats, the book that won Fitzgerald her one Booker (all the others were short lists), Offshore seems to be about eccentric people. Fitzgerald’s point is they are not. But they seem to be. She was shortlisted a remarkable number of times: Human Voices about the power of radio really; In the spring time of the year, a kind of condensed Tolstoy. The Blue Flower.

I asked myself why did these two books by Swift win or were shortlisted and not these others. This works better with authors who keep getting short listed but don’t win a lot – egregiously given the number of authors there are some who win twice. So Ian McEwan is short listed frequently, winning for Amsterdam, but what is different about the books that don’t win. To ask such a question is to be non-cynical and say something in the quality of the book counts.

Last: the embedded narrative, the use of a central picture often one that really existed or exists: as in Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier which won other prizes. They are haunted fictions, sometimes by real banging ghosts as in the Poltergeist in The Bookshop or psychological projection. Memories. In The Sense of an Ending, a repeating motif: as you peel the onion, at the center is a mentally disabled person whose existence offers enigmatic explanations for the world of some key characters in the book.

And they are often turned into spectacularly good movies, commercial successes with screenplays occasionally vying in quality, adding to, enrichening the novels.

So the Booker Prize books reach us via people who know how to manipulate the rot use a long spoon.

And Izzy and I may make it to Milan ….

Miss Drake

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