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Victoria Crowe (b. 1945), November Windows, Reflecting

“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

Friends and readers

As many know who might be reading this blog, this third Thursday of November brings the annual US Thanksgiving day. Like Christmas is a Winter Solstice festival, so this is an autumnal day for memories. We are urged to get together with other people to remember what happened this year that was good, something that meant a lot to us. I can’t meet either demand tonight for myself. The bar is too high. Some good things happened, nothing spectacularly bad.


Laura at a press conference for a Downton Abbey exhibit in New York City, with Joanne Froggartf (Anna Bates)

I can say that my older daughter had become a paid freelance entertainer blogger last year here on the Net where she created and made a great success out of an entertainment blog, Fan-Sided, and is very pleased this year to be regular (in effect staff) writer for WETA, specialty British mini-series. You see her above with a central actress in the once stupendously popular Downton Abbey; Laura had told Froggartt that her mother especially bonded with the character of Anna, and Froggartt was generous enough to insist on sending a photograph of herself with my daughter. Izzy carried on being a successful librarian. They are now blogging together (Ani & Izzy). Those who read this blog regularly know how I spent the year.

I’m in contact with a friend I made at Road Scholar in the Highlands this summer; if I can get up the courage (I know how to do this one), I may go to NYC for three days during December through February (that’s the window of opportunity) to see said exhibit on Downton Abbey, go to a Trollope lecture, play on or off Broadway and then home. Two more photos Laura took:


Leslie Nicol (Mrs Patmore) and Sophia McShera (Daisy) with on-site actors as cooks


The set for the bedroom

Happily this week our local quasi-art movie-house has three (!) decent movies so tomorrow I’ll go with my friend, Vivian to see a film by a film-maker whose work I enjoy very much, Agnes Vara’s Faces Places, on Thursday Izzy and I will make a roast chicken (more than the two of us can eat) and go again to see the latest Jane Goodall documentary, Jane. I used to show these to my writing class in Natural science and tech, and Saturday night, weather permitting or not, Vivian and I bought tickets to go to our first ghost tour in Alexandria. Neither of us have ever done one before. The third is Abdul and Victoria, which I hope will be there next week as I shall go with another friend, Panorea, after which we’ll do lunch. I’ve bought the book.

I am somewhat relieved that teaching is coming to an end for this semester next week, and I’ve just about finished two Austen papers for publication, one (seasonally enough) “For there is nothing lost, that may be found, Charlotte Smith in Jane Austen’s [autumnal] Persuasion” (to be linked in when it appears), in which I quote from Smith’s

Sonnet 32: To Melancholy

Written on the banks of the Arun, October 1785
When latest Autumn spreads her evening veil,
And the grey mists from these dim waves arise,
I love to listen to the hollow sighs,
Thro’ the half-leafless wood that breathes the gale:
For at such hours the shadowy phantom pale,
Oft seems to fleet before the poet’s eye;
Strange sounds are heard, and mournful melodies,
As of night-wanderers, who their woes bewail!
Here, by his native stream, at such an hour,
Pity’s own Otway I methinks could meet,
And hear his deep sighs swell the sadden’d wind!
O Melancholy! — such thy magic power,
That to the soul these dreams are often sweet,
And soothe the pensive visionary mind!
— by Charlotte Smith


The beach at Lyme (1995 BBC Persuasion, Roger Michell)


Anne is “minded” to accept Wentworth — Sally Hawkins — how I loved her Maudie, near my favorite actress at this point (2007 ITV Persuasion Simon Burke)

Three reports from the recent AGM: Post-Austen matters (Gillian Dow, Whit Stillman); Fervency (Devoney Looser, Sanditon, Susan Allen Ford); Among Janeites (Sandy Lerner et aliae)

I can look forward now to throwing myself into my part of a paper on Virginia Woolf and Samuel Johnson as biographers, and at long last moving again on my book project on Winston Graham, author of the Poldark novels (in case you forgot). I like autumn; after all, autumn is the (as it were) continual season in Leeds, England, where Jim and I met, married and lived the first two very happy years of our lives together, a place and atmosphere idealized repeatedly by Alan Bennet’s favorite painter, John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-93)

A November afternoon in Leeds (1881?).

My cats will be more talkative than in the next couple of months than me (they talk a lot nowadays), at any rate make more sound — my talk being of the writing kind. And I thought I’d begin this time with a second poem, this anticipating the season to come, by Patricia Fargnoli (from her volume Harrowed, which I’ve been reading nightly)

Winter Grace

If you have seen the snow
under the lamppost
piled up like a white beaver hat on the picnic table
or somewhere slowly falling
into the brook
to be swallowed by water,
then you have seen beauty
and know it for its transience.
And if you have gone out in the snow
for only the pleasure
of walking barely protected
from the galaxies,
the flakes settling on your parka
like the dust from just-born stars,
the cold waking you
as if from long sleeping,
then you can understand
how, more often than not,
truth is found in silence,
how the natural world comes to you
if you go out to meet it,
its icy ditches filled with dead weeds,
its vacant birdhouses, and dens
full of the sleeping.
But this is the slowed down season
held fast by darkness
and if no one comes to keep you company
then keep watch over your own solitude.
In that stillness, you will learn
with your whole body
the significance of cold
and the night,
which is otherwise always eluding you.


Duncan Grant (1885-1978), Angelica Garnett (his daughter)

I’ve been reading a marvelous biography by Frances Spalding, Roger Fry: Art and Life, alongside Virginia Woolf’s equally (but differently) profound Roger Fry, a biography. I like his landscapes very much, but also his thoughts on art as explicated by both women. Orlando is (I think) more profound, as (dare I say it), Richard Holmes’s book on Samuel Johnson’s Life of Savage, Dr Johnson and Mr Savage, if not as passionately alive with a life, more profound with true insight. I will end on a few of these:

For once the disease of reading has laid hold upon the system it weakens it so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing … Memory is her seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one …

Your only safety, your salvation is

Obscurity … dark, ample and free; obscurity lets the mind take its way unimpeded. Over the obscure man is poured the merciful suffussion of darkness. None knows where he goes or comes. He may seek the truth and speak it; he alone is free; he alone is truthful … being like a wave which returns to the deep body of the sea; thinking how obscurity rids the mind of the irk of envy and spite … allowing the giving and taking without thanks … (Orlando, Chapter 2, pp 56-77)

From Spalding’s Fry: “each of those things is accepted as a symbol of a particular social status. [Most people like art which bestows status on them, will go only to art and lectures where someone’s prestige is asserted.] I say their contemplation can give no one pleasure …” In contrast: “Here nothing is for effect, no heightening of emotion, no underlining .. an even, impartial, contemplation of what is essential — of the meaning which lies quite apart from the associated ideas and the use and wont of the things of life” (209, 175)


David Tutwiler, American Railroad Art

In Johnson’s hands, biography became a rival to the novel. It began to pose the largest, imaginative questions. How well can we learn from someone else’s struggles about the conditions of our own; what do the intimate circumstances of one particular life tell us about about human nature in general … the long journey of research and writing, somewhere behind them walk the companionable figures of these two eighteenth century presences, talking and arguing through a labyrinth of dark night streets, trying to find a recognisable human truth together … if my book’s title strikes some curious chord in the reader’s mind, it came to me on such a night in the small, deserted public garden that now stands behind St John’s Gate in the City, when a light winter rain was falling like a mist round the lamps. The echo you hear, of course, is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Richard Holmes, the final page).

Perhaps the problem with Woolf’s biography of Fry is he’s not an alter ego (why it feels so distant), while Vita Sackville-West, about whom and whose house Orlando swirls, could be, or is. Virginia is Orlando too. Latest book: Vita & Virginia: the work and friendship of V. Sackville West & Virginia Woolf. I have now joined the Virginia Woolf Listserv attached to the International Virginia Woolf Society. I’ve belonged since 2003, and when I went to MLA meetings, went to every one of their sessions, and once to one of their parties.


Tilda Swinton as Orlando in just one of many incarnations

One coming loss: my Women Writers through the Ages @ Yahoo keeps going awry so no messages may sent or received. There is no one and no where to ask for help. The sites offered take me round and round or offer only boilerplate explanations. I need to move or invite to move the few people still there elsewhere. If not, and this software equipment continues to function badly, I’ll lose some friendships. I hope it does not come to this. I know I’ll return to reading more book of Renaissance women as that is one area few people seem to want to join in on that I know. The very first adult books I ever read were dark brown tomes of the lives of Margaret of Navarre and Jeanne d’Albret. A book on one of TBR piles is Francoise Kermina’s life of her, La Mere passionee d’Henri IV — Kermina wrote the best life I ever read of Madame Roland. Another is Enzo Striano’s Il Resto de Niente, a life of Eleonora Pimental de Fonseca, hung during a revolution in Naples, 1798 (her death concludes Sontag’s Volcano Lover. And study my French and Italian. Nothing is more deeply engaging than going back and forth with women’s poetry. I try hard not to be isolated but if I find I am, I’ll turn back to where I began. I don’t want to kill myself.

My Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall lectures/discussions with my OLLI class at American University are going very well and they make me want to return to good biographies and literary studies of such women and the Renaissance too.

This comment by MacFarquhar on why Mantel is drawn to historical fiction might interest some

MacFarquhar on Hilary Mantel and historical fiction: What sort of person writes fiction about the past? It is helpful to be acquainted with violence, because the past is violent. It is necessary to know that the people who live there are not the same as people now. It is necessary to understand that the dead are real, and have power over the living. It is helpful to have encountered the dead firsthand, in the form of ghosts … The writer’s relationship with a historical character is in some ways less intimate than with a fictional one: the historical character is elusive and far away, so there is more distance between them. But there is also more equality between them, and more longing; when he dies, real mourning is possible.

I cannot bring Jim back, I cannot reach him. Perhaps through writing fiction, biography one does. A ghostliness; there is a real feeling of the author and heroine beating death in Outlander when she returns to Scotland; and, while there, when the novel switches to the present and characters go look at the graves of those the heroine is with in the 18th century; it has this eerie feel.. Other titles by Mantel are Beyond Black (“Black Book” a subtitle for one of Gabaldon’s chapters) and Giving up the Ghost and I’ve learned Mantel’s first popular books were macabre gothics. Winston Graham’s short stories are ghostly chilling gothics.


Dead Nettle Fairies of Winter by Ciceley Mary Barker — thanks to Camille-Sixtine who has again vanished from face-book

I need to read, to listen to Gaskell’s Life of Bronte. When I’m with aka reading Gaskell, I feel I’m with a friend.

Miss Drake

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MissBaxterMrMoseley
Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) and Mr Molseley (Bernard Gallagher) walking in the snow

Dear friends and readers,

I hope I will not appear ridiculous by yoking together Bach’s extraordinary suite, which Yvette and I heard so harmoniously perfectly done at the Kennedy Center by the National Symphony Orchestra (as well as much more Bach music), with the Downton Abbey Christmas album, which I splurged on and discover features Elizabeth McGovern (Cora, Lady Grantham) and Julian Overden (Charles Blake, one of Lady Mary’s suitors), as well many choral renditions of traditional carols. I’m listening to the 2 CDs just now, having first found and listened to the central Bach air of the Suite on the Internet.

As I listened at the Kennedy Center and just before typing this, the music entered the rhythms of my pulse through my body. I used to say Jim was the blood that flowed through my heart. He’s gone now and I’ve nothing to flow through, so desperately seek what’s not there. I find some prose rhythms help (Austen I can hold onto), but it’s more music that is deeply harmonious, orderly so that the beat of my body can find something calming so I can remain sane as I go about my days without him there.

(Thoughts: It’s a kind of madness living without him. I don’t know what to do with my life now that he’s not here. Do I really want to write for traditional publication? Do I want to teach? (Not to those who don’t want to learn the chosen texts about which I can impart some insight and information.) If I don’t aim at those things (and I am very bad at the kinds of negotiations that go into publishing I’ve re-discovered), what then? I use routines under the pretense I want to do these things since I can think of no other I can do and need some order in the sense of when I get up, what shall I do now, and what next, and what after that?)

Music helps. Dancing at the Dance Fusion Workshop. The teacher this week encouraged us to get on the stage with her as it was the last week of the routine (3 weeks per routine). I came on to the stage for the last, the slow expressive number, and saw that she is chary around me. No high five hitting of palms. Intuitively she understood I would not react in the way desired to that. The number was Adele, Someone like you:

Now take your body and dance to this in a controlled way.

For me it isn’t over, it will never be over, never mind I might find someone like you — a dream, a dream. Sometimes it lasts love, but sometime it hurts instead. And it’s now hurting bad, real bad. Our glory days. The night we married, we went to a pub and got so drunk and just danced that night away. Broke, we had but ten shillings between us and had to part, get on buses to our jobs that first day of our marriage.

(Thoughts: I blame myself for his death: I was so angry at Skylar in Breaking Bad because she got her husband to go outside the HMO and try the outrageously expensive treatments, and I couldn’t make a dent in Jim to do this. If I had been able to get him to try, maybe he would be alive today. Was it that lethal? that hopeless?)

Yvette and I had quite a time getting to and from the Kennedy Center. It was dark out, cold, raining, and we decided that we should drive there: a ten minute drive if we could find the right roads instead of an hour and a half back and forth by public transportation with walking. In the event we managed it in 20 minutes with our google maps, Garmin (Ariadne came though for one of the turns), and remembering how Jim did it.

Coming back was not as easy as we did not go out of the garage using the exit Jim used to. It took time for the Garmin to react as in that garage under that massive building, it had lost contact with the satellite. I had to do a couple of wild turns (half-mad U-turns swinging round to another loop) but finally we were on the highway road home. 30 minutes to get home. As Yvette found herself falling asleep again while at the concert, we decided going out at night is not for us, and I hope that next week when we try the Nutcracker this year at the Kennedy Center in the afternoon, in the light I’ll find the right exit out and be able to take the route I remember Jim doing. Very easy, ten minutes, straightforward back.

So now I’m listening to my new Downton Abbey Christmas Album. I am hearing Julian Ovenden sing just now — he was a choir boy when young. McGovern has a group of women singers and does her “It came upon a midnight clear” playfully, half tongue-in-cheek . I like it. Both singing an arrangement for two together “12 Days of Christmas.”

I have nothing snobbish in my tastes for food or music. I have seen on the Downton Abbey Face-book page the usual sneers (so paradoxical — but so many people love to sneer) at this Christmas Album, but probably because somewhere in my heart there is still that young child’s longing for Christmas to be like what was promised in Dickens’s Dingley Dell, which, together with my deep engagement with these characters, is enough to make this music touch me.

Here is a good example of what Overden can do — I’m a lover of Carousel’s music (of musicals as well as country music) — with Sierra Borgess who seems to be his singing partner:

I’ve also splurged on purchasing the scripts for the third season (released on December 4th) and the British DVD version of this coming 5th season and await them.

Season3

Yvette and I talked about whether to try a tree, but agreed it’d be more depressing than cheering because we were not sure the Ian and Clarycat would not attack the tree. She said putting in the porch where they can’t get it at is silly, as we can’t see it either. Several years ago when they were kittens, the appearance of the tree by the end of the 1st week was dismaying. We have no electrical outlets outside the house so no lights out there.

So this Downton Abbey grand tree photo is all I’ve have — note the touch of the upright piano nearby.

DowntonAbbeyXmastree

I don’t know that the woman seen from the back is “poor-Edith” (as my other daughter remarked, the full name for the second daughter of the house) with her daughter, but very much like the pose and that of the weary sagging woman next to her (probably not Miss Baxter). I remember among Yvette’s first phrases when she began to speak again (she had a hiatus of over a year and a half from age 2 1/2 when she would no speak after an operation on her hand), “pitty tree” as she looked up at a tree.

I’m told that Maggie Smith was in this fifth season allowed to bring to the surface her gifts for poignant held-onto dignity:

MaggieSmithXmasphoto

I look forward to whatever it is that evoked this moment in her.

Sylvia

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She had no faith in her ability to produce anything else without recreating as best she could, that sense of connectedness and interdependency.

Having endless hours in which to create is hardly useful if most of those hours are spent in a paralyzing [half]-torpor of loneliness, overwhelmed by anxieties about that loneliness lasting forever … Rebecca Mead, My Life in Middlemarch

Friends,

When I am immersed at night in Downton Abbey in my room, I forget that Jim is dead; I half-believe he’s sleeping back there in the bed and when I finish it’ll be time to return to him. I know I love these films because the characters are presented all together in such real feelingful ways. Sometimes the feeling he’s there or the forgeting at least happens when I watch an Austen film too. So for a little time I know some sense of a comfortable existence, one not so filled with so much that is barely endurable and or beyond me and I shrink from …

vlcsnap-2014-02-16-21h36m26s238
Mr Mason advising Daisy (everyone has someone good to turn to)

It is many months since I lost the comfort of his real talk — perhaps last June for a short while when he seemed to be recovering from both operation and the cancer seemed not to be spreading. Eight months. Yes we would talk at 5 in the morning to 6, but it was far more me talking and he uttering only in response. Already he had erected a kind of barrier as he never did express to me his agon in dying. I wish he had. I would rather have had his inner life ravaged than withheld — but he did often withhold over the years so this privacy was in character.

Friends who are widows tell me they imagine the husband talking to them and this imagined conversation helps, but I cannot be sure what Jim would have said and don’t like to invent words — often he surprised me slightly even to the end by the full throttle of his witty dismissal of all the world would say and respect about whatever and he seemed to validate my deepest impulses. Trouble is he could do that for he would do for me what I hate and now cannot escape. As to the DMB I’ve fallen into the dragon’s teeth but outside is a only slightly flexible vise

Sylvia

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photo
Yvette took this lovely photo about 4 pm

Friends,

Upon waking this morning grief I found has exhausted me. It is so tiring remembering, often such painful things. I find myself admiring Penelope Wilton’s performance as the doubly widowed Mrs Isobel Crawley (her beloved husband cut off early on, now her son killed suddenly when he has barely begun his adult life): it’s the silent moments, how Wilton appears exhausted whenever we see her, tired. She has thought about what grief and sorrow does to someone, how it affects them inwardly. I see the same wisdom in Joanna David’s performance of the long-widowed Duchess of Yeovil and Allen Leech as Tom Branson. Again what is lacking except in the case of Tom is the intensification of grief as the widow or widower confronts the way others treat him or her now — with indifference, hostility even. But that is what keeps such a drama a comforting experience.

This morning letters to and from friends by email, breakfast, and then posting to listservs and talking with friends there about books and films. Letter from board of Oscher Institute about strong possibility for me of teaching retired people at GMU too, starting next fall.

**********
Now it’s afternoon and I have come across this promotional comical shot:

allen leech-lily-james-hugh-bon-joanna-david
I do enjoy looking at it for its sense of kind good nature — that’s David on the left and Leech on the right — later this evening I’ll be working out some modus vivendi for re-beginning my film study book.

It’s snowing now and very very cold out. Yvette gone out for a walk and measuring spoons. Campbell’s Mushroom soup for lunch for me. And salty crackers. I talked with my portfolio consultant’s assistant (in Florida) to try to understand my money. A little of that goes a long way.

Now I have my girl pussycat on my map as I read the first of several books I’ve promised reviews for: Simon Heffer’s High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain. As a check I am reading alongside A.N. Wilson’s The Victorians and Susie L Steinbach’s Understanding the Victorians (the best of the three, but clearly written for students not the general public).

photo copy
Clarycat nearby

Late afternoon Marlen Haushofer’s distopian ironic Robinson Crusoe fiction, The Wall, as translated by Saune Whiteside. Soon I’ll turn to a few letters by Jane Austen for my Austen reveries blog.

I’ve been listening to classical NPR music all day, just heard a Brahms. I love flowing piano music: Mendelsohn, Songs without Words.

For supper we did pork chops, pomi chopped tomatoes and rice. I drank wine, Yvette orange juice. I read some of Lawson’s life of PL Travers, but then too tired to go on so I watched the exquisitely touching Ladies in Lavender — with a stellar cast, not just Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, but fine actors given small parts, Miriam Margoyles, Toby Jones.

lavender

The basic materials of the original text must be something like A.E. Coppard or H. E. Bates (remember Love for Lydia?) at their best, a Cornwall story, but this one goes beyond those to offer a universal story of generosity, love, sex, loss, and yes grief in the context of polite daily life of two loving aging sisters, one (Maggie Smith, Janet) a widow (or near widow if she never married her Peter who died in WW1) and the other (Judi Dench, Ursula) never married.

Pussycat near me and now it’s time to go to bed and I shall take a film study of some sort, a script for a half hour more.

Lonely oh so lonely. But quiet, no anxiety after the mail came and I saw nothing from the DMV. Tomorrow driving Yvette to the doctor and the computer ordeal. Huge amounts of snow in the freezing cold to be shoveled away too.

A day in the life of a widow.

Sylvia

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Last night I dreamt that while in the Boston convention center watching the US Nationals Ice-skaters, Yvette and I turned around because I heard a familiar voice. It was a male friend I did not at first recognize. I felt happy to see a friend here. So aware that when planned last June the Admiral was to be home, perhaps very sick, perhaps doing chemotherapy, but there to be emailed to, and with pussycats.

He would have planned things for us, taken us to airport, been there to pick us up, or at least home waiting for us. Not dead.

Just now: braved fierce cold and winds and subway to lunch in older part of Boston Avery UnNewyoyk like pub which seemed to care about privacy and quiet. Now watching spectacular junior ice-skating ballroom like dancing of couples. And at long last to Night and Day You are the One … only you and me beneath the moon and the sun …

——–

I have been reading jthe comments on Michelle Dockery as the widowed Lady Mary Crawley. At long last no performing, no calculation. Why should she go through some process out of which she gets over it? Penelope Wilton in her finest moments since she was in Falling (film adaptation of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s novel). And to bring in Joanna David as a congenial third, stroke of emotional rightness; Tom, our widower, cannot see what she means to share because of class barrier, but we can. What distinguishes these two episodes is the respect given, (however qualified) to the experience of ravaging. As Joanne Froggart will show us next week when she is raped, these things alter you forever.

Missing my pussycats who are kindly visited and played with by Caroline, but are missing us.

Why must we have just Lord Grantham’s dog, and repeatedly from the back? As some publicly unadmitted tensions (probably much worse) keeps decimating the staff (not just the actors for Sybil, Matthew, Miss Obrien, but threats from Maggie Smith each year, a new producer and Daisy’s father-in-law, Mr Mason gone missing), perhaps bring in a pet cat who are famously (but not truly) seen as oblivious to nuances of hurt?

Sylvia

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‘Do what you are comfortable with’ (corollary: don’t strain for what you are not comfortable doing) — my father in one of our last conversations (1989 a visit here in summer)

‘Don’t go beyond your strength; if that means staying home quietly most of the time, sobeit’ — the Admiral in one of our last 5 am conversations (not necessary to return to teaching or anything else)

LadyMaryGeorgeblog
Michelle Dockery as widowed grieving Lady Mary Crawley with baby as the 4th season opens

Dear friends and readers,

Yvette and I just come back from the Olive Garden; we had a nice meal of Italian food together — mine a bit too peppered and not enough eggplant, but Riesling wine and coffee sweet; she liked the breadsticks and place prettily got up. I’m now listening to a suite of violin music the Admiral loved and will soon go watch PBS; later I’ll watch mini-series (1972 War and Peace) that he downloaded for me, and try to stay up to midnight. It was her second day on a full-time well-paid job as an entry level Librarian in a fine library. She catalogued! She does not know how she’ll pass tonight just now. The cats are miaouing at us. It’s cold out. Dark. Christmas lights on all the houses.

As I look back on the last 10 months experience, and especially these first two of widowhood, I want again to tell the truth, what is it to be widowed from a beloved husban after I’ve done my level best to speak truthfully of cancer, its treatments, how people cope and don’t cope. I’m now at that point of widowhood where I have to bear with the cliche of “I am sorry for your loss.” Why not “the death of your husband,” I am sorry for the death of your husband.” Loss makes it sound like a lost a handbag or some financial deal.

I told Cheryl, my grief support person (at the Haven) what it felt like these few weeks: a continual harrowing, either I was being harrowed, was potentially about to be, or trying to recover. I never said how a few days after my car was totaled I locked myself out of my Macbook Pro and some expert on the phone decided to have a little fun by pretending it was super-difficult to get back, and hung up after he had managed to lock me out yet more thoroughly so all I saw was a grey screen and white apple, with a black-and-white egg like object with my name on it. He said he’d call back in 10 to 20 minutes. An hour’s harrowing wait and I realized he’d been having some fun. I managed without benefit of computer to reach someone else (one Ben) and he got me back in, reset my password, discovered my old Apple ID (which Caroline and I had failed to) and within 15 minutes my machine was up and running again, with my iphone in sync.

How did I feel during that hour’s wait. It came home to me how a number of things that had become essential to my existence as I feel it still depend on his know-how. Until 1995 most of my existence was spent a lot alone; I had few friends except when in graduate school and that lasted very briefly. So when I came onto the Net and discovered this world I make contact with, thrive, enjoy onself, no automatic thresholds, could write and reach people with the website about issues. But how I’m in over my head. So good as his and my father’s advice is, I can’t quite follow it.

Also that I have been doing just the opposite.

What is falling away. It seems to me step-by-step each thing I valued so. I sometimes think the world or some force means to ask me, how far does it take to make death more attractive than enduring this.

This is what it is for me to be alive in the world without him alive. I have to open the mail and dread what will be there. I get a letter from a subsidiary from GEICO threatening me if I don’t turn in this form in 10 days, who knows what will happen? The form is utterly irrelevant to my case and I can’t make it out, so I have to phone them.

When I have told people of the bits of wisdom to try to avoid all this, keep at somewhat at bay, slow it down, especially the one about staying inside your comfort zone, I’ve been told (frankly) “how bizarre” and “ridiculous,” with the implication my father’s advice was somehow unAmerican. When I once repeated the Admiral’s words, the response was to be stunned. Another person told me if I was miserable, it was my own fault. Right. I gave him cancer.

Well I told Cheryl and she thought the first sound and in my case the second good for now. Her words when I left her were “recognize and stay within your limits,” for what happened that day was me trying to push myself well outside my limits.

I am deeply uncomfortable, stressed when I drive in unfamiliar areas, GPS or no GPS. I have no Admiral to practice with me going first any more. So skip it. “Tell the person, no.” On that day my GPS wouldn’t recognize “North Pershing Street:” what I finally realized getting near the place is it’s Pershing Street (with an N on one side) and I needed to type that in. It would’ve helped me not get so exhausted from enduring the long drive in up unfamiliar places and winding ways.

On another level, more concrete she noticed something in my story I had not emphasized and neither of the two hostile male doctors I’ve seen bothered to comment on: I had not eaten or drunk anything all day since breakfast. I got lost trying to get Yvette to work and then I was told I had to get the doll in by 5 o’clock. So both times I had planned to go home I couldn’t. She suggested beyond tiredness I had low blood sugar. I have not mentioned that I’ve lost 20 pounds since the Admiral died. I do eat but nowhere near as much. No one to make delicous sauces and all kinds of starchy-yummy kinds of vegetables; no cookies, fancy liqueurs after dinner. No treats for lunch from a recipe he made or found.

And she utterly concurred on what would happen to us were we to lose our ability to drive anywhere: for Yvette is involved too. No social club for her. Immobilized. She thought it wouldn’t happen.

My problem is getting the form filled out from them before I have to go away. That long-planned trip to Boston with Izzy from Jan 5-13; I must go, the tickets and reservations were paid (by Her) long ago; Jim did it with us, and although he had been diagnosed we were still believing he would live … So now I have to get all the papers in I hope before Jan 5th; as of the 13th the post office could fail me and not get the stuff in by the 19th. Wiltz has off today — another problem is these holidays — so that means the record office must copy them on Thursday after he sends them to this office. Kaiser demands copies. I fear I won’t get them before the Friday and the office is closed on Saturday. I dislike leaving them there until the 14th when I could — as Cheryl said — Fed Ex it. She said it’s not hard to do, just pay the people.

So now added to my fierce regimen (which is working) of sleeping every night at least 6 hours in a row or 4 and then 2 up and then at least 2 again: I must eat. Cheryl emphasized drink — drink something. So I’ve returned to my 11 am snack of coffee (lots of sugar and milk) and graham crackers, and at 4 ginger ale (which I like) and very salty chips.

The two male doctors treated me like some criminal: if I didn’t know what the medical profession is from the admiral’s cancer, I might have been surprised. It seems Vriginia makes them liable if they sign anything I’m okay to drive and then get into an accident. How nice. I did give the neurologist pause when I remarked “I’m not the enemy,” because of course to him I am. Maybe all patients are by the this time. By the end they both saw what had happened and one was willing to make out the form and the other to submit the neurological reports (which show me to be fine). I do wish there had been no video: it would have been dismissed as a hit and run by a white car; no one can say why the back of my car is smashed. Maybe the car wasn’t caught in the video. I do know I blanked out.

Not the female eye doctor. She couldn’t have been more helpful. Made out all forms; if I need more, tell her. Gender faultline clear.

Without him I am in danger; he would have spelled me. It just would not have happened. Life without him harrowing, harrowed. I have felt worst about losing the computer because the website is his legacy, the car his generous gift to me, meant to spare me 20 years of headache.

Not that this gets near the fundamental mood. Yes I get to do some nice things, have sometimes a cheerful time, but return home and he’s not here, not here to advise with, turn to, tell me not to worry about this, take care of that. No sense of peace. Pussycats, especially Clarycat have transferred to me: she is next to me all day long, one inch away her breath. My sweetheart. Innocent.

I see widows who come up to me to tell me they are widows and they have this washed out quiet face. I recognize it. The loneliness. Quiet despair.

I find the intelligent ads for the coming Sherlock season 3 again help me to express what I am feeling vis-a-vis, say the expectation that it’s time to stop mourning just when it gets hard and will get harder. Or cliched condolences uttered perfunctorily. (I don’t mention the first episode of Downton Abbey where I’m going to watch Michelle Dockery as a widow of six months.) What the makers of this new series are doing is taking seriously how a real Watson might have felt if a couple of years later his friend suddenly returned and said, oh yeah, I didn’t die, sorry not to have told you earlier. In the 1980s one they elided this by having it occur off-stage for the most part; in the Sherlock Holmes story where he comes back, “The Adventure of the Empty House,” the text is all about long explanations of how Sherlock managed not to die when he was so clearly seen hurtling down. (My view of many of the Sherlock stories are shallow and fodder for a cult precisely from this hollowness.)

Well Moffatt and Gatiss asked themselves, what would such a meeting between two such erstwhile friends be like.

Here’s the meditation:

The death of a beloved person makes all fall apart, much meaningless. I think of Last Orders again, and how just before he died, Jack proposed to Amy that they sell out (house and butcher shop) and go and live in Brighton. They’d be “new people,” and Helen Mirren (as Amy) wonderfully rightly incredulous wry “New people.” I have to keep her tone in mind. A New life.

No you come with 45 years baggage, experience, memory, stuff.

So now to turn to a few friend’s letters this evening too.

Sylvia

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Sorrow is a kind of rust of the soul, which every new idea contributes in its passage to scour away. It is the putrefaction of stagnant life, and is remedied by exercise and motion — Samuel Johnson

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Dear friends and readers,

Yvette and I had parallel activities these past couple of days. Both of us were interviewed for jobs, she for a junior librarian at the Pentagon, and me for teaching position at the Georgetown Continuing School of Education where I can fit into their BA program. We both came out feeling good so felt we did well. She prepared as if for some hazing game where there’d be several people confronting her and it would be her business to showcase herself and outwit any traps; instead she found a friendly lady librarian type who seemed worse than she in achieving that great desideratum, eye contact, and she felt she showed her qualifications and eagerness for the position in a way that found acceptance.

I prepared more casually but also with an eye to showing how well qualified as a teacher I am, thoroughly published (so to speak), prepared to say why I wanted to teach in this place, with these people, and also found someone who seemed friendly, open, with whose values underlying this program, sympathies I connected. He smiled when he saw me and I must’ve been there quite a while. At any rate I left with a sheaf of xeroxes explaining the humanities core curriculum, his card, knowledge of where the website for syllabi is, and an invitation to write up two syllabi before New Year’s Eve, and do a demonstration of my teaching before February. So I may just start teaching again, this time to my real strengths, humanities courses, survey-historical types, my choices probably the Enlightenment or the 19th century. And I bought an Enlightenment Reader (anthology), a slender single volume over-view of the 18th century Enlightenment from Amazon and when these arrive will proceed to syllabus-making. Tomorrow I’ll give some analogous thought to a 19th century course and buy two more similar type books.

I call this un-retiring except I have to admit that I haven’t felt retired this past year. I was in the early part of what is turning out to be a year and one half off cleaning out and re-arranging the attic to make it a usable space, then with the Admiral and Patty, “our project manager,” renovating — rebuilding really — our two bathrooms, making little garden plots. We did go to NYC a couple of times and our usual round of plays, HD operas, concerts, but (as you know if you have been reading this blog) he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer on April 28th, and all things people associate with retirement (except my pension for me), renewal, rejuvenation, retreat, reappraisal, were over.

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I also began to go to a gym, “La Fitness” it’s called and is part of a chain of such places. I surveyed it two days ago and agreed to 7 free days. For that I had to give information — but not yet my credit card. I think I shall pay by check as I don’t like the pre-paid plan. It’s supposed to be $100 to join, $24 a month, first 2 months ahead, but after that if I want to opt out I can. A big big room filled with a variety of exercise machines and equipment. I find the bikes I can afford at home I am now too old for; I need more support. There is a room where classes are held; you just join in as you can. There is a room where people go for scheduled classes. It was the pool that looked so good. Warmish water, it has lanes but you need not do laps back and forth incessantly. I did notice older women there. I was worried it’d be all young people – the ads mislead you into thinking it fancy, with mostly adults in their thirties, very middle class looking. Not at all, it’s all sorts of people, all ages and the ceilings need a paint job. There is only one water fountain in the whole place. They also don’t supply towels. But TVs galore, all playing Fox TV, CNN, ABC or CBS.

My real problem in going to a gym is, When? I don’t have it in me to go out at 5:30 am. I want to read in the wee hours nowadays snuggled up with cats and blankets; but even if I didn’t, I still would not rush out. And then I like writing to friends or on the list-servs with those I’m reading or share interests with in early morning. I have no ambition at night, am tired, and my eyes are bad. I made my first attempt today: I went at an “off-hour” of the day, around 2:30 pm when there is least traffic. It took me 10 minutes to get there and 20 to get home. It’s next to a Shoppers Warehouse but I find I don’t have the energy to shop afterwards; just (as ever) long to get home again. I did the routine I used to do with the admiral: 15 minutes elliptical, 15 minutes treadmill, 15 minutes biking, and 15 minutes swim. I was shaking by the end as I had not done it in a long time, my poor feet clenched up. Next time I’ll be sure and take two towels (one for gym, one for pool), and slippers to come home with. I have to buy myself another bathing suit.

I’ve now got 4 books to review from academic journals/websites, so take all this with what I’ve begun on Austen (reading Emma) and my typing of Smith’s Ethelinde towards an edition for Valancourt, I’m scouring away. I do sleep little, at most 3 hours a night. I’m losing weight. Some of my pants are now too big around my waist and hips and fall off, others fit me much better. My skirts look full around me.

I spent tonight first reading the latest of the three sumptuous Downton Abbey books: Scenes from is not sheer hype (which I feared): its content is made of up discussions of real technical and practical problems of making that program — time, space, cost, where to film, how to build sets so rooms look like they are in the same house when they are not. Then I watched Anthony Harvey and James Goldman’s (on the face of it absurd) Lion in Winter, famously featuring Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, Timothy Dalton, James Castle — the only essay on this film I could find is about its costume & setting anachronisms: Charles Tashiro’s Passing for the Past: Production Design and the Historical Film, Cinéaste, 29:2 (Spring 2004):40-44.

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Lion in Winter family — mostly males

What both are about is family pathologies: insanities dressed up in costumes which allow for the pretense they are about historical periods and themes. No one mentions this in the books or essays on them; Downton Abbey is tiresomely supposed about hierarchy and great houses; Lion in Winter about kings and queens fighting over land which the film fails to show does them any good at all – or they have any connection to. Downton Abbey has a big family, 16 people and a group of them are kept downstairs serving the group upstairs, but they are one family continually in internecine parallel battles. Sometimes they eject one of themselves — as Henry and Eleanor reject one another, play strategic games with their sons, and behave as destructively as the characters in Miller’s Death of a Salesman. What happens has nothing to do with the real historical people whose names they are given.

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Season 4 is going to center on Lady Mary as depressed widow

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Season 3 — Ethel not permitted to keep her child

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Edith wants mothering from widowed Lady Rosamund

Family life in the US in the twentieth and twenty-first century. I am persuaded my experience of family life is not all that uncommon. So since all has been done to destroy public space, set up all experience in exclusionary patterns (“the melting pot” is a myth – people in the US do not identify with one another), give people little time off from work, make that work people’s identity and center of self-worth, and then eliminate as many jobs as technology can (employers save money that way); is it any wonder that the matter of popular art is the intense strain of family life? The greatness of Trollope’s books is he shows us the family pathologies and admits this as central to his terrain in the books themselves. That people rarely discuss this content is not his fault. But we respond to it and his great calm in the face of it.

For those who keep up with my adventures, such as they are, I couldn’t get anyone in any company to agree to both provide and install a dishwasher so I hired someone to come and fix this one. For the last two days before he came, mine also decided almost to work. The soap went round and there was enough water to wash them as long as I put them having washed them individually myself.

Guess what? the man said the round turntable in the center was the obstacle. First of all it was loose. He pulled it apart and all its under tables and in them found years of disgusting filth, clumps of it. He washed all the parts, put them back, tightened the whole, and voila the dishwasher was working again. Perhaps the admiral had given up on it too soon. Any now if I renovate my kitchen, I need only have someone replace linoleum (Vinyl), paint the walls and maybe I should buy new cabinets because I hate the white of those I have.

And the kind gentleman-friend who originally advised me to buy a multi-system, multi-purpose DVD (brand: pioneer) told me to send mine back from Amazon; he’d send me a working one. So I pulled mine out (by myself, only dislodging a button the radio for a time), and when his present arrived, we plugged it in precisely as we had the previous model.

Guess what? it works perfectly. Indeed you need not do anything but press a button that functions as “on” and it plays both American (Before Sunrise) and British (Downton Abbey, the first series, episode 1) DVDS perfectly. I had the idea of giving my old one which plays American DVDs to Yvette and Caroline was here and installed it. So we now both have wide-screen flat TVs, cable and DVDs.

We don’t see the strangeness of US life, do we? Their gyms are strange places. People are there in droves and most of them utterly solitary as they go about their body fitness alongside one another. The way to find company is not even a job, it’s congenial work with others and what do they do, so those who are powerful throw wrenches in the way of landing well, which Yvette and I escaped as ours were not “personnel-dept-driven” interviews.

Sylvia

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