Posts Tagged ‘Edward Gorey’

From Edward Gorey’s The Bug Book


It’s been nearly 2 weeks since I last wrote. Although, as I reported, in the snowy ice cross-hairs of Snowzilla 2016, social life had not come to a standstill, Edward Gorey’s memorable tale where this dire reality had indeed come to pass has been much on my mind. You see I had a partial renovation done for one part of my kitchen which occasioned other gaps and slips of my mind. I had some computer renovation too. It was all very stressful for me to do this without Jim. Comically my Ian cat during the whole thing looked like I felt. Nervous wreck, his body somehow tight and his tail never up it seemed for days on end.

IanNov2015 (2)

I may not have reported that some 3 weeks ago my 23 year old dishwasher died, that I attempted to pay for a new one to be brought to my house and installed by Home Depot, but that just as had happened some 10 years ago when Jim tried this, the delivery and installation men said they could not install it. Last time the machine was bought from a fairly small store and Jim was convinced we had been over-charged and lied to, and had a helluva time getting our money back.

This time the workman explained to me what Jim and I knew to be true: that our somewhat renovated 1947 pipes in the kitchen were not up to code and needed to be rebuilt first. He did take the new machine away. The good news was that the third of the kitchen next to the outside grounds had not been flooded because water was seeping in from outside, but because the old dishwasher was leaking. This means that I do not have to pay to have an outside wall and new disposition of the grounds outside done to stop flooding when I come to fix the rest of the kitchen.

Then Caroline gave me the name of a reliable plumber and I bought another dishwasher from Home Depot for this plumber to install; the blizzard got in the way but this past week 2 and 1/2 days saw two men in my house for hours rebuilding pipes and installing this dishwasher, re-attaching the washing machine, putting good pipes under the sink. They did it all at long last. The dishwasher fitted in. The washing machine works right now. Separate pipes for all three, proper ones under the sink, and then all linked together. They also saw that a pipe for heating was not right and fixed it so no carbon monoxide can came out — it hadn’t but the way it was set up it could.

It was all uncertain if this could be done. I felt such anxiety over the sums paid, sums refunded, paid again, the size of the new dishwasher (would it fit? in the house? in the space?) and then rescheduling that can only be gauged by revealing how my male cat, Ian (Cookie) outwardly suffered. He hates strangers walking up our path, and having them in the house making huge noises is excruciating. He no longer spends his existence hiding out under beds and in drawers, he is used to enjoying his cat life, and did not retreat. Instead he spent the days with his tail down or tucked under his legs; he sat with his body in a kind of pyramid, rocking slightly near my chair, he seemed to shrink to 2/3s his size. He had a plaintive look on his face.

In some moods he seemed to me a comical image of myself while the stress was very real too.

I have never wanted a room that looked like a magazine but did want something sound. And now I had this soundness in the kitchen. What need more? Sometime during all this I remembered Gorey’s The Bug Book and the unfortunate black bug who I had felt sorry for. I realized I had missed the point, been misinterpreting it all these years.

This neurotic tragedy all began when a group of red, blue and yellow bugs, who were all related biologically, genetically and by temperament formed a community whose most salient characteristics were that they were house-proud (and polished the blue bottle in which they lived on both sides), spent most of their time together, pensively on leaves, were (as it were) invaded by a black bug who attempted to make friends:


When Jim and I read this aloud to our older daughter, Caroline, when she was around 9 we left her to work out that the moral of the story was not attack your fellow creatures publicly with personal remarks:


But upon returning to said story and rereading, I began to feel the mischief lay in the house-proud and consequently exclusive nature of the differently colored bugs, which the poor black bug was unable to articulate since all the bugs thought these behaviors unquestionable. Had he been able to say, No, I will not spend thousands and thousands renovating my bottle, or painting its outside in an exquisitely fashionable shade, perhaps they would simply have scorned him, turned away, and he would not have been smashed to smithereens but rather living today.

I likened the story for the first time to how way back in 1993 when the dishwasher which died had been purchased when we renovated out kitchen, put in heat insulation in our attic, pulled out all the casement windows and replace them, a new heating system, central air conditioning, re-landscape the outside so it was no longer a swamp with 7 trees, each the contractors had wanted me (and Jim) to do far more. Their mantra had been, this is not quite the fashion. People coming to buy the house, will not like this or that; they will prefer — and we’d be shown some magazine alternative. Mostly my choice in 1993 was too plain. Then I had tried to explain that I was not interested in the taste of some future possible people unknown to me. Had I meant to sell, I would not renovate. I was making the house the way I would be comfortable in.

The analogy in my mind up to this point that was more vivid was that in Jim’s last year of life we renovated our two bathrooms and it cost us 1/3 of the price we paid for this house originally. The rooms were gutted from cement slab to attic, new walls built, but as I’ve discovered since still there is a fundamental plumbing problem in a closet that links these rooms. It was more cosmetic than we were given to understand.

We had been offered a renovation price for the kitchen too. We did not do it because I was so put off by Patty, our project manager’s norms. Her plans were for replacing our washing machine and dryer with much smaller ones inside cabinets so that no one would be able to tell these were machines. Her aesthetic assumptions about the kitchen were if in doubt hide what a kitchen is for. If a machine was still working (my 1960 dryer still works perfectly well), that did not matter. Did it fit a modern color scheme? she and I had never gotten along, and Jim was so relieved when we saw the back of her. $600 for an ever-so-cute wooden medicine cabinet was what he succumbed to. Recently someone looked at my bathroom and disapproved: it seemed the two different levels of tiles and wall was not “the thing” this year. I said I took a long view.



To be accurate, my cats were not suffering just from workman, and machines moved about, doors removed and put back, attics gone into, ladders, noise. Early in the week during one of my trips (with Yvette) back and forth from Home Depot, I thought I had lost my checkbooks or they had been stolen (say when we were at the HD-opera on Saturday), he did one of his deep retreats into the tangle of Yvette’s shoes in the back of her closet. I had to call three banks to stop payment on three sets of checks, get online and cope with websites. I must’ve lost 5 pounds and for part of the time could scarcely breathe, my mouth all parched. I faced the reality that I hardly ever write a check: I either charge or pay cash. I learned a lesson: I will no longer carry checks with me.

Worse yet in terms of being able to breathe. One of my email addresses from when Jim was alive was being bounced by several listservs and this meant I had now myself to phone the people he bought our website space from and explain to a “mail administrator” my problem and ask for help. Anything having to do with that website now causes near heart attacks because I can’t understand what this is all about. Suffice to say that I did find myself on the phone with a courteous and knowledgeable young man who walked me through the steps of eliminating some thousands and thousands of emails over the years and renewed my old address, updated the website, gave me new passwords and a set of instructions I can actually follow. This website has been much improved, made user-friendly to even the digitally-challenged. I did have to resist various sales-pitches and blandishments. Did I not want to reconceive my whole website? have the “challenge” of re-making it to look professional, snazzy, all pictures to be clicked on for the various sections. He would help me. And send me the prices. No thank you. I had already lost two nights of sleep. Looking at Ian nervously peering into the hallway from near my chair I decided he had had enough too.

All’s well that ends well. Six days later I have resubscribed to the listservs I’d been bounced off. I have today found my checkbooks stuck in the back of a drawer where I keep stamps — probably put there when I last wrote out bills. Even better, now that I have conquered the machine problem in my kitchen I will not have to renovate the place the way I had dreaded. I felt such relief to think I would not be bothered beyond, paint, tiles, cabinets. Everything else stay put as is. I now need only have the room painted, new vinyl for the floor and yes (outrageously expensive as it will be) new cabinets, not white (as I dislike white intensely because it brings hospitals to mind) and fewer of them as I don’t need so many. With the enormous difference I will not have to spend maybe at long last I will have the house repainted whose blue color I was driven to accept by a contractor (who was suddenly going to charge twice as much for a blended color). I want a quiet cream color just like in my old screened porch.

I admit I do not remember what exactly was the behavior of the cats during the weeks of renovation over those bathrooms, only that both stayed in Yvette’s room with the door firmly closed. In those days Ian did spend much of his time under beds so he was probably under Yvette’s bed, with Clarycat sat like a loaf on top of her baby blanket, weathering this stressful time.

The Onedin theme, the adagio from the ballet Spartacus:

For the rest this week I carried on my film study project. I watched four mini-series back-to-back, as I studied the old (1975) and new (2015) Poldark films against closely similar films of their eras: The Onedin Line (1971-80) and Outlander. The real difficulty in writing about films, in doing a film study is it takes such time to watch them. I also made progress on the 20 hour 1972 War and Peace, scripted by Jack Pulman, featuring (he is remembered for this) Anthony Hopkins as Pierre as against the 8 hour 2016 War and Peace, scripted by Andrew Davies, with Paul Dano in the same central role.

Caitriona Balfe as Claire Beauchamp Randall, heroine of Outlander

The mini-series intersects among texts & films, from Dorothy in the Land of Oz wanting so to go home yet being allured by this fantasy world; time-traveling, harking back to Daphne DuMaurier, the central character an experienced nurse from WW@, with some knowledge of 18th century Scottish highlands thrown in .. an extraordinary concoction of historical romance …

I have come up with a thesis or explanation for one of the central differences between these historical film adapations 40 years on: nowadays such films are done with an eye to responding to what is perceived as the popular audience’s use of them to construct some ideal ethnic, national or local, religious or racial identity, often asserted as essentialist, half-mystically apprehended (complete with megalithic stones, eternal landscapes, seascapes, “natural” industries). I do love the thematic music in all of them, used to frame them as apart from your “usual” TV fare. I will write about The Onedin Line, Outlander, and the re-booting of War and Peace in a separate blog soon — the 1972 is the finer, just magnificent, but both the 1972 and 2016 brilliantly ironic in their differing depictions of the slaughter of 1812. I did say in my last entry a group of us on Trollope19thCStudies have now elected to read Tolstoy’s book (in English translation of course) this summer.

I also read Gaskell’s extraordinary story of “Lois the Witch” (about fanatical religious hatreds, hysteria, bigotry destroying all outsiders — outlanders) and read about her more. More work and blogs on women artists.

And so closed another week in the life of a widow and her cats and younger daughter (for Yvette was involved in some of this), a ridiculously stressful series of days — considering that like physically speaking I was indoors and quiet most of the time like most Washingtonians who stayed in their respective bottles.

Sometimes I think I’m changing so within somehow. Like the Outlander Claire, I want to return to my husband, want him back again so intensely

Outlander 2014 Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall and Tobias Menzies as Frank Randall in Starz’s Outlander
with Tobias Menzies as her husband, Frank Randall, professor-scholar of history

and yet time pushes me inexorably forward now that he has disappeared, never to return. I don’t know if I’ve conveyed what a hard week it was: I count three panic attacks, all favorably resolved but all very wearing. I feel worn while I change into someone somewhat different in behavior than I was and so difference in desires too.

Yet I stay the same too. I have not yet used my new dishwasher (!). I discovered that with two of us it is often easier to wash our few dishes right away. Then I don’t have to wait two to three days before enough pile up to do a wash and have the task of unloading said dishwasher. Nor do I run out of glasses. It cheers me to realize that I remain the same. Like Dorothy and Claire, I would be happy to go back to Auntie Em or Frank but unlike her I would stay there. There is an allusion in Outlander to Frank Baum’s books: Claire is told she can cast a spell by clicking her heels three times together and say There is no place like Love. She need only reach Craig Na Dune.

One last story: when I first had a dishwasher in an apartment complex called the Hamlets in the 1980s my luddite, anti-technology, anti-new machine attitude was to the fore. I decided the cavity was a good place to store cardboard boxes for the garbage. Jim laughed at this and quoted what he said was a campaign slogan of the Tories in later 19th century, perhaps repeated in the 1960s when the British gov’t offered to pay half the price of a kitchen renovation for anyone who wanted a working toilet and bathtub in the house. “Give the poor bathtubs and they’ll keep coals in them.” I feel the same kind of satisfaction when I’ve washed my dishes that I used to feel when I hung out clothes on the clothes line in summer to dry.

Miss Drake

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