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Posts Tagged ‘animal companions’


Myself and my cousin, Pat, both age 8, Crotona Park, the Bronx


Me at a waterfall park in Maryland, age 72

Gentle readers and friends,

Above you see a photo of me from long ago, one I think I dimly remembered when my cousin, Pat sent it to me last week: I am 8 years old and so is Pat, we are in Crotona Park, in the Southeast Bronx, at a point where it intersects with Charlotte Street, on which I lived some 3 blocks down. My aunt, her mother, took the photo, behind us is her older brother (by one year), teasing us. The other is of me, age 72, spring, Maryland, at a waterfalls in a park.  What is remarkable to me is not only has my facial structure remained the same (allowing for my present fallen cheekbones, toothless state, wrinkled skin), the angle at which I hold my head when faced by a camera, my resort to nervous hand gestures has changed little. I couldn’t skate for the same reasons I was not able to bike ride about 20 years ago, and I now can’t do power point or share screens (or do any more beyond be there and talk) on zooms — too nervous, can’t let go, too unsure of myself, nowadays fear of embarrassment and making people impatient, allowing them to see (while I feel can be seen) aspects of my personality that make me very vulnerable. By contrast, there is Pat, looking out confident, smiling, the only barrier before her, the sun in her eyes, which she fends off.

This evening I sat mesmerized as I watched the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala adaptation (with a little help from Harold Pinter, i.e., most of the script) of The Remains of the Day for an umpteenth time. Ishiguro says he means us to take the butler as standing in for all of us: he gets to do a small job, but cannot control how his labor is used. He has little individual say in many major social and political and economic decisions affecting his life. He is also a man afraid of emotions, a man who failed to let his emotional life have any fulfillment. I do identify — and also with Miss Kenton — I’m a profound failure. It’s not that I threw it away, wasted it with no emotional satisfactions (I had my 45 years with Jim, have two daughters, have had a few friends, and continue to make one or two now and again, but barely sustain them), not that I didn’t get to make my own mistakes (which Mr Stevens laments he did not), enacted my own bad judgements. It’s that the disabilities which manifest themselves so clearly to my eyes so in the old photo have prevented me from doing the writing, achieving the book(s), having a social life that I have longed for, never had, never will. Why I am here all alone this evening and will be so for most until I die. Why I go few places.

The first time I watched this I burst into hysterical crying and it took something like 10 minutes for me to calm down. Jim was sleeping so I went into the bathroom in order to muffle the sounds.

I’ve been watching it again as part of re-teaching this course I called Two Novels of Longing etc. , and it is going very well for a second time. I love the books, and the second time through I am handling what I did well the first time even better.

I’ve thought over these couple of weeks since I last wrote how I have still not learned how to refer to saying something without saying it, still often cannot tell what is hinted at in general terms unless someone drops down a notch into something more concrete, that this middle class or level way of talking is beyond me. Each time I bump up against these ever-so-tactful ways of talk, I ask myself, now is this as Aspergers trait or is it rather than I’m not middle class, and a foundational (so to speak) working class identity that I have fled from in numerous ways (and am sitting her at peace because that I did succeed in with Jim’s help) cannot be eradicated. The pain this lack causes me, the mortification I know I’d feel if I had to watch myself teach on a video (my classes are now recorded), I have to hold in check. When I told someone I have not watched myself teaching, she sent me a written description.  I thanked her. Sometimes I think to myself so much has to be held in check. To get along with others pleasantly.

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Summer is definitely here, and in some ways we are post-pandemic, Izzy and I. We went out to a movie the other day, and I discovered that people are behaving very badly on the highways. At high speeds (65-70 mph) they dart in an out of the traffic lanes, move in front, around, speeding up to the side of other people in cars. I came home exhausted that day and another when I visited a friend. Calmed myself down, pulled my emotional temperature, excitement down by a glass of wine, but taking it too quickly, I found after supper I had to go to bed and sleep — for several in one case for a couple of hours in the other. So another response to the dissolution of quarantine, is collapsing, twice, from the effort I have not been called upon to give for quite some time. My first time out I got lost.  In some ways the pandemic is not gone. Both of us still working remotely from home, me still on zooms for teaching, courses, lectures, friends’ sessions. Still over 50% of Americans not vaccinated (what great fools), across the world in poor countries, only a tiny number of people vaccinated and this Delta variant (high contagious and the vaccines are not a total barrier against it) spreading across the globe.

Five of the nine shops that used to be next to the movie-house are now emptied of their businesses. Vanished. Went bankrupt. Who says we don’t need another giant stimulus bill?

The cleaning ladies have now been here three times and done a marvelous job each time – the first for well over 2 hours, which included washing from the inside all 14 windows. (One of them, a Black woman in her later 30s looks very well, all of her four children survived without getting sick.)

Ian the ginger tabby reacted with strong upset. He stayed in hiding under Izzy’s bed from 10:30 when he seemed to vanish until 8 or 9 pm. Then he came out steathily, standing there so still. Since then he has kept making these poignant dismal sounds, wandering about. Last night he wanted to go back under Izzy’s bed but she wanted to go to sleep and she doesn’t like to have the cats in the room with her when sleeping. She does let them in the times I’ve been away, but she prefers strongly to sleep alone. He sat at her door and kept up that mewing sound for quite a while, scratching on the door, and the next morning he was back to that mewing again. Not so frequent. It’s this insistent demanding sound or weak and so desolate And wandering about. I gave him tuna the day after. Two days and nights have gone by and he is now returned to his quiet routine patterns.

So cats have to re-adjust too. Clarycat has spent 15 months as my nearly perpetual companion and I find she does not like when I go out for a whole afternoon.


Clary my perpetual companion

I spent far too much money to have my front patches of flowers and yard once again weeded, mulched, cleaned up, new flower bed put in — I can’t keep this up I think to myself. The man a mean ignorant Trumpite not vaccinated at all, but his wife I’m discovering is a decent person.


Roses and daisies

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I have a book to tell you of, A. N. Wilson’s Stray; a new serial, Us, a four part BBC serial, based on a book by David Nicholls, which reviewers denigrated as a comfort book about divorce; a couple more thoughts on listening (once again) to a four book roman fleuve in translation: Elena Ferrante’s L’amica geniale (aka My Brilliant Friend, translated by Ann Goldstein who I’ve now seen often enough to know she is dumb when it comes to having ideas about literature) — and the opening spiel for the the course I’ll be teaching the next five weeks, now called more adequately called Writings about Colonial Experiences.

A.N. Wilson’s Stray is a gem in the animal story for adult kind, one which deserves a blog in its own right, together with another moving animal study I read before the pandemic, as thorough in the prose way, as sensitive, Roger A Caras, A Cat is Watching: how cats see us. But I’ve not the ambition so you’ll have to settle for this:

Pufftail has an outlook an outlook and experiences matched by Paul Auster in his book on Timbuktoo, a dog we first meet as “owned” by a mentally ill homeless man in Baltimore. The frame is this is a tale told by our narrator late in life to a grandkitten. This helps me as I know our narrator survived until old age Timbuktoo did not or several times it would have been too painful. The novel proper begins with this novel Puftail as a kitten with his brother taken far far too young from their mother –- the first tragic wrench. The animal store manager is a man interested in animals only insofar as he can make money. They soon are fed as minimally as possible and left in a cage. They realize – because he says so (how they understand English is not explained) – he will drown them. An elderly woman, Granny Harris, comes by and tries to negotiate for one by lying; offers too little, lies about why, and almost takes just one — the brother says goodbye to our hero so plaintively, but the owner throws in the other kitten for a pound. We see the old lady knows almost nothing of kittens for real.

They become indoor-outdoor cats – he and his brother who are named by her Fluffie (that’s our narrator because he has a very fluffy tail – -maybe he’s a middle haired cat) and his brother, Bootsie because his feet and ears are white. He dislikes these names. What is riveting is he tells of how he and his brother kill birds. In a very violent scene we see them stalk and kill a thrush, but not before they “tease” the poor bird a bit, and then we get a description of how they devour the bird. It’s upsetting yet we are distanced because our narrator stops to argue with us — why should we be put off when we eat animals every night. We have someone else do the killing for us. He said he thought Granny would be pleased if they presented the thrush to her. She was horrified – that’s when we get this argument about the hypocrisy of people. She even buried the bird – – and scolded both cats.

What happens is the kind of old lady dies and the cats have to learn about, confront death but the two younger adults are nowhere as responsible and they don’t remember to do things for the cats, yet lock them in. Her adult children come to visit and our narrator and his brother learn to stay away. They are not kind people, have no feel for animals for real, no imagination. Then a truly terrifying moment. I know from all previous cat literature of all kinds I’ve read it’s okay among human beings to kill cats for fun; they were persecuted for some centuries; in the 18th century there is recorded a great cat massacre; torture for entertainment of all sorts was common. Well, the male of the younger couple wants to get rid of these cats as a nuisance — outright kill them. We get this whole sequence as Bootsie, our narrator’s unfortunately named brother, dithers over plans to leave and then it’s too late; they are caught after a fierce struggle and put in bags and throw out of a moving car crazily. Bootsie is almost killed instantly and then run over by a bus.

It is at the same time intermittently very funny. Wilson keeps up a satire on human beings: he describes us as ridiculous from the POV of a cat: how we dress, our sports, out TVs, radios, cars (engines of murder); this undercuts the central story. We are only one-third through. For the rest see the comments. I’ll reread it and perhaps write another blog on compassionate animal books soon.


Douglas (Tom Hollander) and Connie (Saskia Reeves)

Us is not really serious work as Wilson’s is (it’s made for money, finally all about celebrity, success, and glamour somehow), but it is interesting to watch. What resonated with me was the POV of the husband, Douglas Peterson. He has spent more than 20 years of love and marriage working as a serious scientist and has meant very well by his family. Connie offers no reason to leave him but that now the son is leaving home, she feels she need no longer stay — no other reason is cited (Saskia Reeves as an actress is given the most superficial of roles): it appears she is bored; he irritates her with his earnestness and conventional morality when for example (she says) he should be siding with his son (it seems no matter what, how badly behaved he is to an admittedly thuggish bunch.  He should, do more than tolerate the son’s equally outrageous sudden girlfriend (openly indifferent to everything but what suits her today), even like her because the son is attracted to her. So I don’t see the interesting element in the story as about how a man tries to win his wife back (with the implication he deserves to lose her, though I realize many a cold-hearted neurotypical coarse person would respond this way), but (as The Guardian reviewer says)

Us worked best as a study of a middle-aged man who has the rug of familiarity pulled out from underneath him … Hollander is superb as a man baffled by the need for change. His family want to eat adventurous meals, while he would like to stick with steak. He sees great works of art and can’t help but say that they’d be “a nightmare to frame”. He is everydad, just trying to get by. For all the joviality, though, it makes serious points about the damage that an inability to communicate can cause …

And the indifference of his family (how tiresome he is) to such a person. They wish they could drop him, but are conscious of how bad they look, and they do feel guilty.

It is curious how the focus is on the older husband and then the husband and son, and how thin the depiction of the husband when younger is (a different actor); all three actresses (wife and mother when old; Connie played by a different actress when she is young, and the obnoxious son’s girlfriend) are really dismissed or treated as so many troubles or soothing machines in life. I do wonder if the book is much better ….

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Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) (as to a third season?)

I’m more than half-way through Ferrante’s third book (Those who Leave and Those who Stay) for a second time. I find I underestimated the deep bonding of Elena and Lila – because Elena destroyed Lila’s notebooks and herself literally moved to live elsewhere, but Elena is repeatedly going back; she’s there at crucial moments for Lila and they are a doppelganger of sorts with Elena the Elinor Dashwood and Lila the Marianne. Both are sensibility figures. I feel Ferrante saw this — as she suggested in her introduction to an edition of Austen’s S&S. Sometimes I stop to compare the Italian to the English and often the Italian is not only much better but gives different slant, more political, more socialist, more desperate against the fascism and patronage society of Italy in the later 1960s.


Gilbert (David Oyelowo) and Queenie (Ruth Wilson) — from Small Island (which I’m not doing as too long but hope some to) — they cannot escape their identities

And as for the Literature of Colonialism, from my lecture notes:

But until a couple of months ago my reading was very narrowly focused. I did not realize what a large and varied picture if you start to read stories and essays about colonialism comprises. Hitherto I defined colonialism as usually one group of people traveling to a country say owned or lived on by another group to take over their land, control where they live, live upon it – settler colonialism. Or one group of people traveling to another country and taking over, controlling the reigns of government, and setting up let’s call a layer of powerful functionaries with armies to back them – often using a minority population in the country as their front, with the aim of extracting natural resources and selling them elsewhere or forcing the people there to form a marketplace to buy their goods, also trading with them.

It’s must much wider and concerns many kinds of experiences for many different reasons. I added to our blurb on the syllabus: What is it like to invent a new country? to live in a country that is being invented and excluding or exploiting you? Or a curiously isolated upper class who don’t belong to the country and yet are supposed to be in governing positions? Or to live in an old country where you are not allowed to belong?

But that just covers our books & movies. I will also try to bring out over the next sessions these other characteristics which are so important – repeating characteristics

migrancy (people moving about, and changing their home to another world, refugees, war) – the dangers of this as you don’t know the people you are landing among at all, unless you’re coming to a relative,

liminality (crossing all sorts of crucial and trivial thresholds from going on a trip to getting married to someone or going to live with someone or along) – opening new opportunities you couldn’t have where you were – what does this mean? How does it affect people

hybridity (several cultures and sometimes a new emerging one)

and last, multiculturalism (different groups of people originally separated geographically and now also by ethnicity, race, religion &c)

People do go for all sorts of reasons and a major one is simply war – to escape violence and death and poverty.

And last prejudice, this somehow deeply seated fear of the other – now you are the other or those coming in are the other. There’s an argument we should be doing as we did until 1900 – just let people come in – it would expand our economy, make for new kinds of businesses, new ideas – only controlling for the criminal types who I fear we now let in because they know how to appear rich

The literature also includes this intense yearning for something other, for landscape – yet roots are tremendously important – Simon Weil’s Needs for Roots, existentialism says a lot of what is at the heart of a modern malaise is a lack of meaning from a lack of belonging – but who do you want to belong to? Capitalism recognizes no obligation to anyone but the contract.

Later in the afternoon I was exhausted in the good way, not a collapse. The odd thing is that with all the intense anti-immigrant (because racist) talk, the way I’ve presented the material elicited lots of friendly responses. Of the 30 or so people there I’d say VERY FEW had ancestors who went back beyond their grandparents. Now they are grandparents (many) but their grandparents would be say 120 years old or so – and like me many came from places in Europe, but there were two hispanic people. Also the US has 800 bases around the world (Russia has 4); a huge diplomatic core and is incessantly itself imperialist whether aggressive and nasty and lying like Trump or friendly and let’s cooperate like Biden. All the reading I’ve done has made me expand my understanding and if I were to name the course today it’d be Writing about Colonialist Experiences and the literature since the 1970s is continually pouring out. I’ll include my lecture notes — look at the first three pages and you’ll see what I said — I left out religious persecution as a reason for migrancy, professional reasons (that’s someone else’s words — I’d call it your job). Not in there are spontaneous comments — I told of myself in the south east Bronx for example, Jim from England.

The real paradox is the US is still a nation of immigrants and the people among the US population who go back in time with the families the longest are Black people and a core of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Biden is Irish, Trump Scottish — Clinton represented a family here longer. If I had it to do all over again I might choose different books; but I’ll manage. I do think though a true present-day GOP person might well hate it — they don’t want the truth discussed at all, and the site assistant I know does not like me; she smiles at me with narrow eyes and a hard face — she was offended by me in one of the two previous courses I did where she was site assistant — maybe the Trollope but she could have been there for Bloomsbury. This is my fourth zoom at OLLI at Mason. But if there are (and there are) Republicans in the group they are of the old style “liberal” “moderate” type and no longer represented by the present GOP. Here and there a justification kind of comment or someone saying why this topic …


On my appts book calendar for July: Prendergast’s watercolor, Excursionists (1896)

To conclude: even if through the Internet I have a good deal of companionship when I think of the years ahead w/o Jim, all the daily happinesses I would have, the things we would do together, and now how empty in comparison — also that he’s gone (his own loss) – I’m very saddened. Life was actually easier for me as a widow, staying in. (Among the many comments I have to hear are tactless remarks about how it was our fault he died … ) And the reverse idea were he here I’d have far more to want to go out for, know the surprise joys again.

Ellen

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This is Labor Day and I hope for many a day off. Since increasing numbers of us work at home …

Thanks to Anibundel.

Miss Darke

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