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Posts Tagged ‘Future Learn’

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Dear friends and readers,

I know I’ve mentioned before a Future Learn course I followed for some weeks, a sort of anthropological, sociological and psychological study of people’s behavior on the Internet, especially on mass social media. Its unusual candour, open-mindedness and insights into an ever increasingly part of our lives seems to be well worth sharing with others on the Net (as well illustrations from a book of poetry about cats, Fe-lines — we often use cats to stand in for us and reflect our relationships with others comically). A brief description.

I was chary when I “signed” up fearing I would hear the usual tirades against how everyone on the Net is missing out on social life, how trivial or overwrought what is put on the Net is. Jill Lepore actually blamed the Internet for the rise of Trump — if all of us couldn’t natter on, he would not have gone as far as he has. Or it has transformed human nature, is debasing us, making us lose essential humanness. As it was (according to the professor) once said of codexes (all these people burrowed in books), or the phone

But no. The professor doing it takes the Internet seriously and studies what is happening on it in terms of itself, in terms of the culture it has become part of, how individuals’ lives are now intersecting with this new form of communication. He has 9 students and they spend 2 years some 15 different places where they are studying the culture anthropologically (one in the UK). Much of the commentary and explanation is multifaceted and the conversations of professor and students feel real. One of the most startling findings was that in many traditional cultures, the first time someone felt free and able to have liberty to have a conversation with someone else in private was one-on-one emails on the Net. At long last they escaped surveillance, especially girls.

The central argument is the Internet is another new extension of life, a new form of attainment. It used to be interpersonal communication came in two basic forms: one-on-one conversations, on the phone, by letter; even in larger parties and groups the place people could talk of themselves was in small groups of two or three. Or the person was watching a mass media, TV, listening to radio, going to movies, and had no opportunity to talk back except on a phone where he or she could address a indeterminately large number of people unknown to him or her. Now we have scalable socialability and we can talk back, express ourselves. We can do this one-on-one on emails. In small groups address as many as a hundred or few hundred people (listservs, webrings, group blogs, closed face-book communities); we can address thousands (face-book, twitter). Or we can revert just to reading magazines, newspapers, and videos dished up to us in which we have no immediate say — though we may write of it later and groups of people doing so may influence the next video.

In the early days of the Internet, it used to be early on people met as strangers sharing intense interests and felt exhilaration to find like souls for the first time. Listservs, message boards, compuserv provided that. Some face-book pages still do but the problem there is the audience is too large and so you are in too impersonal a space. The etiquette of writing short messages (like post cards) is inhibiting. Also blogs — individual blogs are a godsend still as a form. There one can be brave — in some countries one may end up in prison; in Saudi Arabia a man has been flogged 59 times (he was sentenced to a 1000) and is in prison for a long time to come for disagreeing with the regime. In western democracies (if you post from such a place, as I do) ordinarily, nowadays what we increasingly see is people making visible their social groups on the Net (through say group blogs).

FelinesFront

Nowadays what we see on the web replicates social life off, more and more conformity. Selfies are ways of presenting the self as social, getting awards and so on — they suggested selfies are a form of social policing. It may be a blog is politically radical, and some do not socially conform (I do not altogether), but increasingly bloggers and people who post are integrated somehow into the physical communities of their lives.  Nowadays people are making visible their social connections in the outside world. I see that in the use of group blogs. They are also policing themselves as fewer and fewer use pseudonyms.

People who have been successful in social life who are what I call all about having careers and make that what shapes their life and decisions at first tried to downgrade the internet; in the book on the English, the Why We Post crew show how in England (not all cultures) every effort was made to keep the two aspects of life — let’s call it — separate and still pretend to.  To me or what I’ve observed is people who allow their career goals to control what they do or say have switched and don’t look at Internet as a different sort of space and communication anymore. They don’t profess to ignore it. But if such people come onto the Net and “establish a presence” on social media, they behave here the way they do in outside life — and they come here to network. Yes they perform. Advertise themselves or their books. That’s why having  an author in a group read is worse than useless for many — it’s counter-productive. Life on the Net is still freer in list-servs because the communities are small, few people, often closed — you can replicate that elsewhere (face book has a mechanism for making just such a community).

An interesting reality they said; what matters is the content we post. It does matter. The platform or venue is paid far too much attention to. They show that a group of people and individuals post the same content on different platforms. What we study and relate to is that content. Why We Post suggested it used to be we related to the outside world content as part of a mass audience reading the select elite in the media or one-on-one (phone, letter), now we can relate to different numbers of people and different ways and affect content. I’ve always thought this and it’s been true from the beginning. People from the beginning judged you by your content.

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A curious side effect of following this Future Learn is I for the first time figured out what the “like” button on face-book means. It does have a kinda precise meaning. It’s the existence of these other emoticons, which it seemed to me did not seem to add varieties of response somehow, that gave me my clue. Well “like” means I approve of this sort of message, or I approve this message. If to a person you know well enough “like” can mean: I approve of you making this message or this sort of message. Then all the other emoticons become versions of this — they are intensifiers. They are a form of announcing what is socially acceptable to the liker and all those liking this sort of message or this message or this person making it. Or they say I disapprove of the content of this message — that’s what the dislike message means. When it means I disapprove of the messenger for making this message or the content of the message, then one of the two people might “unfriend” one another. Gentle reader, you may say, well, duh? didn’t you know all this before? I didn’t.

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Susan Herbert’s Pre-Raphaelite cat

An interesting angle is gender. The researchers said that if you ask people what they post about beyond family, friends, books, they might say politics. But if you look at what they call politics, it’s often about gender: they are discussing what it is to be a man and defining it, or a woman and defining and trying to control that. I’ve long known from reseach I did a long while ago a website made by a man looks different from a website made by a woman. A man will use comic pictures of himself at the same time as he tells far less of his private life. A woman uses dignified pictures, pictures that cannot be laughed at, and at the same time tells about her private life far more: husband, children. Even on academic websites. See my paper on Women in Cyberspace.

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Now the course goes to the different regions to study social media, this time from an area with many Kurds in Turkey, and a place near Chennai in India. They said they were looking at gender roles and politics, but it was the same story: people on social media using their real names have a drive to social conformity. I did read of the ways girls are kept in and controlled in Turkey, and some of it reminded me of the way the girls were treated in the film Mustang. Another interesting passing comment was that many people in India work 10 hours a day, 5 days a week and how miserable this makes them. They have no time for a life. “Learners” were asked to monitor what they see on face-book according to a scheduled plan. One learner said that he saw little conversation on face-book or twitter, just assertions of points of view. They suggested fake identities in games give people a way of escaping social conformity.

I found that women far more post images of lovely paintings or flowers or pretty things in their houses. The purpose of these is to cheer themselves up and to cheer others. Both genders post equal amounts of postings where they are expressing some private troubles (not too private, things like coping with a new job, but I’ve also seen women post when a husband or partner leaves them or dies and their terrible struggles afterward, usually couched in an today’s achievement vein, but the reality is there). Men show themselves working in the world far more, and send URLs to discourses of interest in their profession. Women are shoring up their relationships; men are showing what they are doing, what opportunities and tasks however small they are coping with.

I critiqued the course too: I agree with the fundamental thrust of this course that cyberspace is replicating the realities of real space, I feel there ought to be more time given to people coming onto the Internet simply to express themselves. Not to triumph over someone else (when a statement not meant that way is taken that way and someone else triumphs, the person is hurt and reacts back), but to reach out to express thoughts that may not be common, deep feeling ones. These are found on blogs, sometimes listservs. Are not blogs social media? So I suggest the insistence on staying with places like face-book is producing a foregone conclusion for this course which does not reflect the whole reality of the Internet. The people described as escaping their communities by yourselves most of the time cannot act on their new relationships which are so far away, but it may be that’s not what’s envisaged (if longed for). Just to put out into the world another kind of self.

As to fake identities in games (as a way to escape social conformity) the identities are often stereotypes, the things done in the games fleeting competition. I don’t speak of the porn sites, sites for violence. No one of this high-minded group spoke of porn site or sites where people play out violence. They avoided the criminal, sexually exploitative and aggressively commercial aspects of the Net today.

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I was bothered by the narrow way the group limited the areas or venues on the Net they studied closely. At first I felt I was learning a lot when they demonstrated how important the Internet has become to literally millions of lives, intimately, for daily social functions the person chooses; and then when they showed the strong social conformity that goes on nonetheless. Fifteen different countries of participants were being studied. But what has happened is what is preferred is the lowest common denominator and so-called what “most” people do. Rousseau argued convincingly there is no such thing as a general will. So if most hardly write words at all, that’s what they are looking to – -though on their own accounting many post privately to friends or in closed groups they can’t look at. How about the millions who may not post little essays (as I and others here may do) but say a paragraph or two a day. They don’t look at list-servs, blogs, web-rings. It’s as if they don’t want to see the creation of new identities through writing and other selves in these different cyberspace places.

These cyberspace places that are new or different from old venues approximate genres outside the Net too. I’d say a posting to a listserv is like a letter to a group. A message to face-book is a postcard. The blog’s name comes from weblog, a daily log of actions on the web and in reaction to the web: all blogs are at some level diaries.

Since coming onto the Internet and adjusting and discovering — say later 1990s I have wondered how I existed before I had it — I feel through writing I exist in ways I cannot any other and I was never given a place to exist this way before. I was never given anywhere I could write. As a person who is socially awkward in the physical world and has had far more social experience on the Net than I ever did before, I’ve come to exist for the first time here. This may seem an extreme statement, but I’ve known women who told me they felt they didn’t exist during the time they had no outside paid job to go to and stayed home with their children. Their invisibility outside their home was to them a form of erasure; they weren’t achieving anything in the eyes of others, shopping, chatting outside was not enough. I’ve never felt quite that but I do know that I want to have contact with the world, be in the world in order to have a fully human life. Think of the people who told the students that the first time they felt or understood what it was to have a private experience was here on the Net.

Ellen

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Monday

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Wednesday

I think it was Rilke who so lamented the inadequacy of our symbolism — regretted so bitterly we cannot, unlike the (was it?) Ancient Greeks, find adequate external symbols for the life within us — yes, that’s the quotation … we must not blame our poor symbols if they forms that seem trivial to us, or absurd, for the symbols themselves have no control … the nature of our life has determined their forms. A critique of these symbols is a critique of our lives, Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve

Friends and readers,

Spring is here. Two of the patches I tried to start flowers are in are not flowering. Green stubs and stalks come up but no flowers. I’m told that the unusual warmth in November and December made them start to flower then, but in the intensely cold time of January and February, with a major snow storm (huge amounts of precipitation) these vulnerable patches (one gets less sun, the other too much water) were confused and now won’t flower. But I have a circle of flowers and crocuses and narcissus around the small maple tree I put Christmas lights on in December

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crocuses

Monday I was gone from home for a few hours in the afternoon teaching — the second week on “Making Barsetshire” at the OLLI at AU — and thought I had thoroughly looked at every crevice and corner of my study or workroom (where I keep my two computers, where my desk is, my library tables with different piles of books I mean to read, and in which spend much of my waking hours as I watch movies at night on my PC) to make sure no cat was left in the space on the other side of the door. I have a hook that is latched to close my study off from my cats when I am gone because I’ve seen Ian chewing the wires. When I came in, I said, as I usually do nowadays “Here I am, Clarycat!” for she often trots up to me once I’m in. Maybe a minute later (maybe more) I hear a repeated and intensely felt mewing,loud. I walked over to my study, undid the latch and there he was, waiting patiently. He appeared to have done nothing to anything but simply waited there at the door. The unappreciated patience of cats.

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Ian in the catbed on one of my desks about a month ago (Clary is lying doughnut style next to him)

I’ve seen this patience in Clarycat when she’s been inadvertently locked in or stuck somewhere she cannot get out of by herself. I am not sure what suddenly makes a cat mew to tell their “person,” for I’ve known Ian to be missing (in effect) for hours before he’ll mew or I’ll find him say on top of Izzy’s hutch (for keeping books) where there is suede grey cat (with black lines) whom he sits near (as a pillow probably). In the above case I think he worried because he realized I was out of the house, and my coming in, my voice produced in him intense relief. At least I know he’s not deaf. Izzy has said she has gotten in to the house when both of us have been gone for hours, come into her room, been there for a while, and then said something, or made a noise, and then heard the same repeated intense mewing and followed the sound to discover Ian towards the back of an almost closed drawer, stuck. He had done nothing, but waited until she got there, but not quite as immediately voiced his need. I wonder if this waiting had gone on for days, Would he have become frantic and tried to break out?

This behavior of cats is instructive. Human beings show similar patience, but in the very different situation of self-control and repression in order to fit in with a what is imagined the general tenor of a group of other human beings. for safety? Lacan says that in our minds is this mirror in which we envisage what we think or feel “most people” would say and we behave in ways that obey their norms, or justify ourselves for not so behaving in terms of these very norms.

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I’ve been to three enjoyable events in DC in the last three weeks. About eight times a year the Washington Area Print Group (WAPG as it calls itself), a local offshoot of Sharp (an international organization studying book history) organizes a lecture at the Library of Congress. Last Friday later afternoon Marija Dalbello spoke about “photoplay novels,” a hybrid popular form of novella which flourished in the earliest period of film-making to the coming of sound. Published by Grosart and Dunlap, they combined stills of the famous actors/actresses from what the public regarded as thrillingly erotic and violent movies embedded in narrative and discursive writing to fill out the story line, nuances and even depths silent films could not begin to satisfy. They are popular lurid material.

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A typical image found in these books

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No one bothers to photograph the facing texts

Prof Dalbello studied 465 novels of this type: she was herself mesmerized by and spoke of the “punctum” of these stills and/or photographs (intense engagement) rather than the drive to rationalize them. I found parallels in the use of stills in those publications of screenplays that appear. It seems the stilted intertitle and silent films so defended by film artists in the 1910s were early on recognized by the public as frustratingly inadequate. In watching the Outlander mini-series at night at home I was struck how Gabaldon’s books were used as scripts with invented voice-over providing this deepening of emotional affect and identification rationales.

I connect Dalbello’s emphasis on the sheer punctum, the image she wanted to stay with, to Stephen Poliakoff’s Shooting the Past (early 21st century!), which I also watched at home. Poliakoff’s argument (a movie with an argument!) is how necessary it is to keep a rare vast photo collection together, because without context their specific real meaning is lost. Memory calls out for words and other photos, for documents, and knowledge of precise events media put before people. The ultimate context is the BBC archives: they must be kept and made available, not just what’s left of old videos and films but the library of scripts, of documents. Pace Dalbello’s fascination with and idea that it was the images people bought these books for, the words mattered as long as there were none or they were inadequate in the silent film era.

Shooting the Past is superlatively well done — the topic or story is what makes it. An ancient library — huge old building, first castle, then country house, now library houses a remarkable collections of photographs from the 1880s to the present. A corporation has bought it, wants to sell the photos that will fetch a lot of money, get rid of the rest, and rebuild the building to be a business school. Liam Cunningham is the American businessman, who is presented as not ruthless. Lindsay Duncan the librarian who seeks to hold onto the collection; Timothy Spall her assistant who is to a man like the American business man a wreck, unemployable, nor tech-savvy at all. His vast information is all in his head. After he is interviewed, it’s declared he should not be let near office buildings.

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Timothy Spall (as Oswald Bates) shows the photos of the past to the American businessman determined to sell what fetches big prices, the rest ditch (Poliakoff, Shooting the Past) — it’s about how memory is put together

It’s about the photographs. At intervals someone brings out some of these on a particular theme and the movie then turns its attention to these — it’s they who have great power. It’s not about film as such except maybe a documentary: what holds you is these are photographs from the past recording what was really happening, even the set up ones are revealing when put into context. It’s about context, about not losing context. The super-expensive photos would lose their meaning or be switched and meaningless when plucked out of context. And it’s also about telling the truth of lives, how sad, how courageous, how at the end people are wrecks but have known some moments of compensation.

Poliakoff’s much praised Almost Strangers fills us with similar stories of hidden lives: I’ve started this mini-series at night too: it features an extraordinary — magnificent performance by Michael Gambon playing a man who tries to tell his in public, mortifies everyone and breaks down in the effort. Lindsay Duncan is there in a subtle performance of a widow. Also Timothy Spall and Stephen Frye as chorus. How could one go wrong? Well it’s too upbeat; Poliakoff too determined to give the stories from the photographs an inspiriting perspective.

Gentle reader, I have not begun to tell my hidden life here, nor my past. People manage it in published novels (autobiographies in disguise) and some life-writing in published books.

Last Saturday Izzy and I saw the latest production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream done with as much theatrical flair and emoting and fun as the actors could manage with Adam Posner directing. It received glowing local reviews ,and it was enjoyable if wholly unoriginal.

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Holly Twyford as Bottom and Monique Robinson as Snout

Tonight I went to a sort of pre-program or preface to the last night of the season for this Midsummer Night’s Dream which did have some original thought: four actors performed a dramatic reading of an original play by one of the actors in the production: Eric Hissom (who played Theseus and Oberon)’s The Tragical Comedy of Thyramus and Pisbee: he plays Philostrat, then Shakespeare then Elizabeth I as deux ex machina. It was not as funny as the determined laughter of the audience (over 1/4 members of the cast as well as several of the Folger new “outreach” programs were there) tried to project, but it was an insightful commentary on how we or at least Hissom thinks we are happy to see Shakespeare himself nowadays (as gay, promiscuous [!], not caring about conventions but about money, as on a genius-level absorbed in his poetic visions). The conceit is a nervous actor, Henry Crosbie (Adam Wesley Brown) is trying to rehearse the play within a play and is interrupted and thwarted by Philostrat (the master of ceremonies), a woman (Rachel Zampelli as Rosemary Bassanio) who has written a version of The Tempest, about to be plagiarized by Shakespeare, and another egotistic male actors, (Henry Worthy (Tom Story, an exlover of Shakespearel’s). Henry may be literally or biologically be a son of Richard Burbage, Shakespeare’s famous acting colleague; Rosemarie literally or biologically a daughter of Shakespeare’s. All are in their souls, minds, heart, history children of Shakespeare. It was most effective when it took Shakespeare’s own lines and re-contextualized them by the hidden lives of the Hissom’s invented players.

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Eric Hissom as Oberon/Theseus with Erin Weaver as his Puck

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I’m entering a new phase of widowhood. I have to try to appear cheerful because by the time one is a widow three years people really won’t tolerate anything else. I’m now following a Future Learn course on “Why we post,” and have been somewhat surprised to to be told that research shows (9 graduate students and 1 professor in 15 countries) that selfies and other photos of the self that people put online are not an expression of individuality or self, but almost consistently are embedded in socially approved forms of success, usually social, familial. It’s more than showing off. They say these photos function as a form of policing: as they lay out what those who don’t post pictures are supposed to be like and do. The majority of people on the Net hardly post words except to friends (their research suggests) and in the proliferating closed groups “memes” become another form of moral police that stands up for this value and disparages that.

A double life. There are phases of this experience of widowhood and as I’ve said the experience is individual, dependent on who you are, what age, importantly if there is any long-standing community you belonged to. More and more the Kubler-Ross and other formulaic models (used in the Mental Health and Literature course on Future Learn) turn out to be a form of moral, social and emotional policing of anyone who is bereaved: I come across references that are jeering to: someone whose point of view is mocked is called in Kubler-Ross’s first phase: “in denial.” I’ve never been in denial: I knew Jim no longer existed from 9:05 pm on October 9, 2013. And I went wilder because I knew he was better off, that he knew no more suffering and this ordeal of his body fighting annihilation. First I was in a lunatic phase, stunned, cannot take in the consequences of all that happened and shut out memories so devastating in all ways; then a long phase of sanity in contact with sheer emotional pain where I at least remembered much and managed to set up a daily life on the Net, as a teacher, working as an independent scholar, going to a Jewish Community Center for exercise. I was given advice to go out, build a new life, a social world. Right. Now I see this phase has been learning to keep up a public veneer. I now know the attractive idea I was still in the same play, but going on for a second act, is too neat, pat, and false. The condition of widow at my age, where I live, who I am and never having achieved place precludes local true companions (was not J.B. Priestley’s title to a book of yearning The Good Companions? I remember loving the book). I am in the same act only without him, which is all the difference in the world.

Maybe many people spend their lives making faces to meet faces that they meet as Eliot said (TS). Not all can manage. Some widows to avoid this making a false face, go into a partial retreat so that the double life becomes only a small part of her waking hours. Some every once in a while break out and write to newspapers. I’m teaching myself to stay in with my books, writing with friends on the Internet for company, blogging, watching movies at night. Somehow it’s not easy and that is a paradox as even now and all my earlier life I was and am happiest at home. A deep rootedness is my nature, and my home place has been my comfort. It’s only since Jim’ death I havee had this need to go out — and secondarily, be amongst people. I find myself remembering Julia from Brideshead Revisited, how she vows to keep what she feels strong so she can carry on feeling it (she will eat, devour, drink it down) and stay alive that way. I’m still going out but my expectations are now simply a hope I enjoy the lecture, the play, the movie, the exercise, no more, heeding Pascal’s reminder that “all humanity’s misery derives from not being able to sit alone in a quiet room.” Recognition is when you make yourself fully conscious of what you are doing. Trying to get used to this life — That’s what Fanny Price in Mansfield Park achieves as she grows up in the book’s first three chapters: she gets used to it without ever losing what she is, staying true to her self. She will not act because she will not let go, not be unguarded, not let herself be made a spectacle of (how I identity with that).

Part of this phase of recognition: I notice recently as I get used to fending for myself, doing things one step at a time, I feel more nervous because I’ve faced the insecurity and enforced autonomy as ongoing; at the same time I lose my fear of death; it becomes release. I won’t hasten it, but I accept it coming. All my regret would be for my beloved Yvette. I don’t want to leave her. I’ve been deep sleeping the last few days and known the peace of apparent oblivion and this enabled me to feel this new peace. I can wake up with spasms across my lower calves in the midst of such spells so I do dream. Each night I read in the Widows Handbook, ed Jacqueline Lapidus and Lise Menn, and find more and more of its poetry can now speak to me.

Old Woman Dreams

He came to her finally in his torn jeans and soft
tan jacket, came from feeding the horses,
their sweat still on his palms,
came redolent of hay, honey from his hives-
Solomon’s Song on his lips.
Came with the old scar on his cheek where
she left the chaste imprint of a kiss.
Younger, impossibly younger,
he told her what she wanted to hear.
But only in dream, night, the color of his black hair.

Around him, her arms wound like his branches,
his eyes were a garden she ached to lie down in.
They met in a wind-rush, and what she remembers
is a craving to follow where he was leading.
Also the impression of dissolving
against the astonishment of his chest.
Her desire seems to have its own life and will not be
expelled no matter how often she tries to banish it.

Somehow an old woman feels all this. Is it so odd?
She’s heard a dream embodies a message
from the totem spirit, like the fox
who emerges in flame from the forests
and goes to hide in the morning hours.
— Patricia Fargnoli

WithherCat
Gwen John (?), early 20th century

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Clarycat between Izzy’s window and computer, turning round to look at her

Dear friends and readers,

The week and a half since I last wrote has been one of seeming ceaseless activity as I for the first time tried to arrange for money, checked on needed papers, looked out for appropriate clothes, not to omit revised my paper a little and practiced reading it aloud. I wrote two syllabi, one for reading Tom Jones, and the other for reading the first two Poldark novels, in both showing and discussing two film adaptations. Amid the much else of everyday life: shopping, paying bills, blogging (women artists anyone?) even paying attention to the garden to the extent of watering my poor baby magnolia tree (if that’s what it is), here not to omit phone calls, cats, going out with a couple of friends for walks or coffee, even a visit to a friend for talk and wine.

I did want to record an excellent lecture given to the Washington Area Print Group this past Friday: Pamela Long who gave a talk on the politics and printed books swirling around, resulting from the building of architecturally beautiful places, increase of roads, public water works, spread of pavement all over Rome from in the later 16th to early 18th century. Her abstract may not convey amusing and entertaining as well as instructive about geography, geology, traveling about (how to), rival guide books, and kinds of mappings that resulted but here it is:

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A map of ancient Rome made in the 17th century — in Rome

    From mid- to late-sixteenth-century Rome, the capital city of Christianity was a booming construction site, a vibrant center for engineering projects involving aqueduct repair and flood control, a focus of intense investigation of ancient ruins and other antiquities, and a center for numerous print shops. The proprietors of these shops sold books, maps of Rome, and images of Roman monuments, while at the same time they engaged in intense and sometimes murderous rivalries.
    In this period Roman urban topography was altered by the construction and renovation of huge churches and palaces; by the repair and reconstruction of two ancient aqueducts, and the creation of numerous elegant new fountains; by the building of new streets and the widening and paving of existing streets; and by the transport of the great monolithic Egyptian obelisks from their ancient locations to new places that marked important basilicas and plazas. In addition, numerous efforts were made to control the flooding of the unruly Tiber River. At the same time, numerous individuals surveyed the city walls and other parts of the city and constructed maps—of ancient Rome as it was imagined and maps of the contemporary city.
    This talk is about how engineering, cartography, and antiquarianism were tied together and driven by the culture of print in late sixteenth-century Rome

Kircher's museum in Rome. 17th-century artwork of German Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher (circa 1601-1680, at right) showing visitors around the museum of curiosities he established in Rome. Kircher published in numerous different areas, including oriental studies, geology and medicine. His wide knowledge has led to him being described as 'the last Renaissance man'. The museum included Egyptian obelisks, animal specimens, celestial artworks, fountains, magic lanterns, talking statues, and optical and musical instruments. This artwork is a copy of an engraving from a 1678 catalogue of the museum by Giorgio de Sepibus.

Kircher’s museum in Rome. 17th-century artwork of German Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher (circa 1601-1680, at right) showing visitors around the museum of curiosities he established in Rome. Kircher published in numerous different areas, including oriental studies, geology and medicine. His wide knowledge has led to him being described as ‘the last Renaissance man’. The museum included Egyptian obelisks, animal specimens, celestial artworks, fountains, magic lanterns, talking statues, and optical and musical instruments. This artwork is a copy of an engraving from a 1678 catalogue of the museum by Giorgio de Sepibus.

It brought me back to more than the world of Vittoria Colonna and the hundred years after, for Ms Long brought in pictures and connections between what was done about flooding in Rome in 1557 and in 2007 (a bridge first built in 1598 destroyed by rotting). Patronage networks mix with trading and print shop rivalries; building and stocking museums; she talks of artisanal practices, translations of older Greek texts, new ways of measuring, new kinds of carpentry, naming names I’d heard of (I could try to cite people and texts and dates, but my notes are not precise enough any more), and showing pictures of painted facades. People fought over where ancient places had been located; found acquaducts and looked to see where they derived from. We heard about books about springs, waters, soil; where shall canals extend. Since there was as yet no degree in architecture or engineering, anyone could become involved merely by educating himself, and a culture of engineering blended with antiquarianism. Engineers were well paid once they were recognized as good. We don’t know what kind of math training they had, only that they did have a good deal and knew how to survey. This is the world Galileo grew up in. I asked how did people find their way to places; she said you asked others you met! For all that maps show a great deal of what was happening architecturally and about an imagined past could not be used to find you way: as today say MapQuestc can or google maps once could. GPS’s unimaginable. They were often not seeking literal accuracy, and only towards the end of the period did proportional representation begin to be used in maps.

Afterwards a group of us went out to dinner. The evening was pleasant, food and talk good. As luck would have it, this week’s TLS had a review by Nigel Spivey of a exhibit in several English museums and a couple of these great houses (Chatsworth, Derby Museum and Art Gallery) on the development of the Grand Tour in Italy — and England too as people visited great houses and looked at gardens and art; how did Inigo Jones learn his art (the vade mecum, Andrea Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture), what were his models, how write about it (from Italy) as he traveled about with say the Earl and Countess of Arundel. Now ordinary people can visit such places. I thought about Anne Radcliffe’s astonishing knowledge of such books and her visiting such places too.

More briefly, Izzy and I drove many miles (it felt like) into remote Maryland to see another of Michael Weiss’s ice-skating shows: these occur once a year to showcase new talent, build funds, bring together people in mid-career and those now at the peak — like Olympian champions Merrill Lynch and Charlie White who were there. They skate together with a smooth strength and grace that seems to capture lyrical energies within their bodies.

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Sally Hawkins as the mother who exists for her son, no matter what he does — try to kill her suitor, kill her fish, and he was partly responsible for her husband’s death which left her bereft

I got myself to the Folger to see an HD film from a live performance by the RSC of The Merchant of Venice, and managed two local movies with a friend, and went to the film club for a third. Two I have strong reservations about: A Brilliant Young Mind and A Walk in the Woods. The first about an autistic young man is a genuine attempt to present this condition sympathetically, and the portrait is closer to reality than I’ve seen, but it is still hostile and exaggerated. Its general theme is disability: Rafe Spall plays another person gifted in math, but he fails in life — as this is understood by which I mean to say it’s suggested it’s he who fails others not the whole social structure that couldn’t accommodate him. I found it deeply emotional painful because of the brilliant performance of the boy’s mother, early on in the film widowed because of the autistic boy. It’s his fault his father turns away from an on-coming car in the father’s efforts to lead the boy respond to him. I have not seen a widow’s continued grief so frankly shown — Sallie Hawkins should get an academy award.

But it bothered me too. She was all utter self-sacrifice. When the boy murders a fish she loved and tries to hurt Spall because she is developing a friendship, she forgives him. Never a moment of anger or selfhood at all, She is the side issue of the movie dismissed rather like Hermione’s 16 years in Winter’s Tale. A Walk in the Woods has Emma Thompson delivering the most moving performence of the film but she is functionally in the margins, the wife who waits, and if you die, lives with it. Again a passive role. She could be Hermione waiting for 16 years; the threat of his death has terrified her:

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When he comes home safe at last

Beyond that Hawkins is super thin in the way of Cate Blanchett, painfully so — in order to get any part, Jodhi May (Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl in 2003; in the 1999 Aristocrats, the most vulnerable sister) in 2015 no longer looks like Jodhi May she has become such a bag of bones. And Hawkins is too young still to be a near grandmother. Thompson is in her late fifties and is paired as of an age with Robert Redford who is 80 and in this film allowed to look it. Women are consistently made into passive pillows, all self-sacrifice, cast as women much older than themselves (so the public idea of how real women look at a given age is screwed). The movie had the sort of good moments one of these long walk movies do — but its kind of slapstick humor did not make me want to read any Bryson …

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Tomalin attempting to get her granddaughter the healthcare she needs

Grandma with Lily Tomlin though comes through. By contrast, it is a film attempting to present women’s lives more truthfully than usual — though contrived and flawed in the presentation. It’s an indie (Paul Weitz wrote, directed and produced it). Lily is Ellen, a woman in her later fifties, a poet, ex-professor, and in effect widow. Her lesbian partner of 38 years has died within the last year and one half and as the film opens (prologue) she is throwing out Olivia (Judy Greer), a 20-something young lover she has had with her for the last four months callously. This is a modern grandmother. Up to her door comes her granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner who is anything but sage) who it transpires needs an abortion and has not money. The young man she is involved with takes no responsibility and shows no affection, concern, and certainly won’t pay for Sage’s procedure, and since Grandma is now unemployed, cut up her credit cards (one of the contrivances) cannot supply the needed $600, the movie shows them on a kind of quest to friends to round up enough. Each of the stops brings us another of Elle’s friends and another part of her past is revealed: it’s not a pretty one as it includes a broken marriage, an abortion of her own, an artificially inseminated daughter, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden, Sage’s mother), and people she’s hurt and embittered along the way. Sam Elliot was Grandma’s ex-husband and as in I’ll Dream of You delivered a moving performance as an older man now alone (but for pictures and occasional visits of the people he’s met, dropped and kept up with along the way). She has a rough tongue and insists on commanding her own time and space unsentimentally.

When they finally got to the abortion clinic (with money provided by Judy out of her ATM), and Sage was invited to have a “serious” talk with a counselor before the procedure, I began to worry that we would after all have an anti-abortion film (with intense emotionalism about women and babies) and I think the film did tease for Garner came out (it was said) 20 minutes later and looked no different. But that was the point: abortions in the first trimester are minor procedures when done in well-run clinics; she would have cramps in an hour or so, but her nausea was gone. The girl had said she thought she might like to have a child someday, but not now: she is just in high school, utterly unprepared, without resources and has yet to begin to build her life.

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Betty Friedan

The film was also about the absence of feminism in life. Grandma has 1st editions of The Feminine Mystique, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and other classic feminist books in her library which she decides to sell to make money. No mention of Virginia Woolf; the choice is Germaine Greer — as more about practical life? Sage has never heard of these books. The word “mystique” she recognized from a trash action-adventure fantasy story she knew from junk movies. The book-dealer says they are worth $60 at most. Judy has a money-making career as a psychologist, but there is no sense she is doing what she does out of any idealism or compassion; she sneers at her clients at one point as “losers.” What was remarkable was how each of the characters were seen as having individual lives apart from family roles, aspirations, and emotional pain that just gets worse over time.

There were serious flaws paralleling those of A Walk in the Woods and A Beautiful Mind. We were expected to believe that Tomlin is 50; she looks so much older than Greer that the love affair not believable. Funny how we are used to seeing this kind of unreality with men. Probably the film-maker’s executive producer feared that giving Tomlin a lover that would be creditable (a woman in her fifties) would turn audiences off — two old women? The screenplay and dialogue lack nuance and is irredeemably vulgar throughout. Then at the end everyone apologizes and asks to be forgiven and is. Contrivances include a cab leaving Tomlin on the curb (improbable in context) so that in the last scene we can see her walking off alone, lonely, but shouldering her burden of life, back to her flat.

Still I recommend it in the same spirit I did I’ll Dream of You earlier this summer. It’s another movie with people living apart in a hard world. Emma Thompson enacted what the good characters in all the films I’ve seen this summer long for: a loving person to whom you mean everything and who waits for you and comforts, strengthens, consoles you.

I’m following a useful (thought-provoking) Future Learn course on Wordsworth, his poetry, people around him (Dorothy thus far) and places (especially the Lake District and Jerwood Center where the Wordsworth manuscripts and rare editions are kept), and find myself in the unusual position of being the one not to give details and to write briefly when it comes to explicating some of the passages and poems the professors have picked out so very well. There is revealing talk about the pragmatic making of the poems as they appear in the manuscript and rare editions of the poems; the reading aloud and explication of these poems is highly innocuous, uncontroversial, but you can think for yourself if you know more about Wordsworth’s life and intellectual and psychological context than the course is offering. But when it’s over (4 weeks), I will try to combine my notes on the franker and thus more excellent Richard III and His World course and make a blog recommending both.

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I can’t take with me on the plane the super-heavy Folio Society the complete and deeply felt The Duke’s Children with me — though I’ve begun comparing it with the (I now see) gouged out and abrupt stacco, abridged DC we’ve been reading all these years and some examples of the manuscript in Yale and getting closer to Trollope than I have before. I am taking a fat paperback of Tom Jones with me for the long airplane hours and trains. I’m learning to like it very much: what one has to do is read it as if it were a 10 line poem by Samuel Johnson: it’s the idiom of the language and continual ironies within ironies that prevent readers from seeing the depths of the characters felt by the narrator and profound pessimism and originality of the novel.

And I had a shock, another death. I received an email letter from the husband of a longtime old friend of mine to tell me she died 2 weeks ago. She was 69. She had deliberately attenuated the friendship in the last years, but still she and I went way back — we were close friends in graduate school. She had had a bad or serious heart attack last year. It was a heart disease and she didn’t survive. Her husband of 40 years was rare male to be a friend to Jim. Thus we once visited them as a pair of people at their beautiful Edwardian vacation home on Shelter Island. It just took my breathe away for some time, and I cried helplessly for a while. Gone. She won’t know tonight’s news. She liked Jim: she, he and I went to see Gone with the Wind one summer night in NYC in an old movie-house, sitting upstairs so he could smoke and then out to a good Deli- diner then on 57th street. The three of us had other evenings together. Now they are both gone and I’m here still. Her husband actually read my book, Trollope On the Net; he’s a marvelously intelligent kind man, did good work as a lawyer in his life I wrote him a letter this evening.

Ah me.

I regret leaving our pussycats as they will miss us badly, but Caroline will come once a day for an hour. I am keeping grief at bay, fear and sadness, loss of and with friends too, trying to live some kind of life.

Quilt
Idealized dream of a Quilt (found on face-book).

Miss Drake

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‘It is all very well planning what you will do in six months, what you will do in a year, but it’s no good at all if you don’t have a plan for tomorrow.’ Cromwell to his son Gregory as they leave the princess Mary in her cold room at Hatfield, Mantel, Wolf Hall


The piano guys at Wolf Trap

Dear friends and readers,

This is evolving into a weekly diary. I have three pleasant experiences to report, which you gentle reader might profit from knowing about, since you could equally go to a concert of the Piano Guys music (or watch any number of their YouTubes online), listen to the extraordinarily beautiful sounds the National Symphony Orchestra produces when they offer a concert (when I heard them it was with the Washington Choral Arts Society), or watch the DVD of what is the best production of John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera I’ve ever seen, a 1983 BBC production for TV adapted and directed by Jonathan Miller.

The first two I enjoyed at Wolf Trap: two nights out under the wide sky looking at the stars. My friend, Sybille, who came with me to John Foggerty came again on Thursday night, and I, Izzy and Vivian repeated our venture of last year when at Wolf Trap we heard the National Symphony Orchestra as backdrop (!) to Mary Chapin Carpenter.

My friend, Sophie, who takes so many photos as souvenirs, is returning to France for a month or so, and I invited her over to my house to watch The Beggar’s Opera with me. She has recently been reading some 18th century texts as preparation to take her subject GREs in order to try to gain entrance into a graduate school to do an advanced degree in English literature.

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There were a few mishaps. The week may be said to have begun with a crash on Tuesday. I heard it from my workroom and rushed into the front room to find my multi-purpose, multi-regional DVD player on the floor, with its accompany remotes scattered and not far away a cowering guilty-looking cat named Ian.

IanWalking

This winter he discovered that it’s warm on top of said DVD player; what led him to want warmth on that hot Tuesday I know nor, nor what upset his equilibrium. Certain it is however that when Sophie arrived late on Wednesday afternoon, I couldn’t get said DVD player to play on my large screen TV. All was not lost as we retired to my workroom and watched the movie on my PC computer which has a fairly large screen. I brought the wine and cheese I had intended for us to have into the room, I have two comfortable desk chairs (one was Jim’s). An advantage was she did not understand what was happening very well so I could press “stop” and “pause” and explain or rewind. I could not have done that with the TV.

This did lead to serious reflection after she had gone. The hook which keeps my workroom safe from both cats while I am gone has worn away its hole and comes out too easily. I determined to replace it to protect said room (with its connection to Comcast for both Yvette and wires set up just right for all equipment.

About this hour-long experience I quipped a little later on face-book:

I just installed a hook in my door. You may think this a trivial matter. You would be wrong. It is an accomplishment requiring much thought, planning ahead, and many steps.

and had fellow recognition. I did not conquer the worry over the DVD player until Friday night when Yvette came home from work. Wednesday she was out to midnight with Caroline (her sister, aka Anibundel) at the US open tennis championships — so she too had a needed long-hour time under the August hot skies of DC.

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If you click and read her wonderfully evocative blog, you will see that she and Caroline saw a remarkable number of women players. Thursday was my night out with Sybille listening to the Piano Guys. They are entertaining, both play miraculously well, Mormons from Utah, there was a surprising assertion of religiosity in how they described their making music out in the wilds of nature. But happily Friday the DVD had righted itself apparently, and simply worked, played both American (Region 1) and British (Region 2) DVDs with no hitch.

Technological troubles were not over. Yvette and I are going on a ten day trip to Belgium (3 and 1/2 days) and England (5 and 1/2 days) and we need to have working phones — not that we will use them much, but there were be important connections to friends to make as (probably) one another. Well this was not a trivial matter either.

I phone Sprint on Friday. I couldn’t get them to give me a straight answer: can I use the phone and what do I need to do? I got spoken boilerplate muttered low. It took pulling teeth to get someone to say “you need an upgrade” means you need a new model phone, yours is out of date. Then I was told I would buy a Sym card in ubiquitous stores in Europe to get minutes. Caroline to the rescue. She said the second advice was genuinely nonsense: one cannot put a Sym card into an Apple iphone. I thought I was supposed to go to an Apple store. No, we went to a sprint store and a very nice and polite young man said it was $199 for each new cell phone. (How much more polite people usually are face-to-face and of course he was paid per sale. He got the people in that store to turn down the wall of noise that was coming from various machines as we walked in during the time I was there.) I had been to an Apple Genius once more than a year ago and he set up my Macbook (apple) laptop so it would not be connected to my (apple) ipad or this (apple) iphone. This because no one has ever gone deep enough to discover some password Jim put in the laptop and Ipad systems. So I don’t want a icloud on my laptop and have a different username and password for the laptop. This caused some complication but it was overcome. It was complicated to reproduce some of the basic apps on the new phone but we (the young man, Caroline and I) did it. I signed for a new 2 year contract with Yvette as a family contract. Then we came home and Caroline had to get on a sprint website and do things, and then she phoned again; she had a long conversation over different options to which I sat and listened, but now I am assured I have the best deal available for service in Belgium for the 3 1/2 days and in England for the 5 and 1/2 days. More central: cell phone will work while abroad.

I cannot convey how tired I was after all this.

I looked on the bright side of Sophie and I watching Beggar’s Opera on my computer with my desk as a table. Well Caroline discovered why I was not getting the music on my cell phone I had downloaded to play (favorites from favorite musicals, movies, albums) is they went into that cell phone’s cloud when we had been forced to add more passwords when someone had hacked into the apple system. She downloaded that all back and now I also have an audiobooks app on the phone. I am going to try to learn to listen to audiobooks on my cellphone so I can listen to Demelza read aloud in my car. I do badly with these little visual symbols for doing things: I would do much better with words.

I also for the first time set up a box of 3 x 5 index cards with all my passwords and usernames thus far alphabetized.

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It was two hours after this I drove to Vivian’s apartment house and we three went to Wolf Trap. The Garmin then refused to behave, but Vivian remembered the way to the highway and once on 495 (beltway) and then 95 North I did. The Garmin did help us make turn the correct way upon leaving Wolf Trap after an unnecessary 40 minute wait on line because cops had set up barriers for the elite to leave easily before all others.

Emile de Cou was the conductor of the Orchestra and we did stay through the encore. Had we left upon the close we might have avoided the crowd but he had had the bright idea of hiring people to dress up in Stars Wars costume and enact famous archetypal moments in dumb shows. Darth Vader was there (likened to Trump) and won over Luke Skywalker (one of the cellists in the orchestra). I liked best John Williams’s slower music — from Lincoln, and other of his multitudinous scores.

The Wolf Trap experience reminds me a little of Shakespeare in the Park in NYC: everyone behaves in a civilized way. It’s not quite as deeply good because the NY Shakespeare festival still reserves half the seats of the audience for people on line coming in for free. Wolf Trap has “members” with exclusive tents, privileges in the parking lots getting in and out, high prices up front, and like the British Proms, the people not under the shelter of the building sitting on the lawn are clearly paying less, not quite part of it. (I don’t believe that this is an assertion they are as good as it’s said over the Proms and the last night objections from the people standing for hours in the center embarassed me.) But almost, especially while the experience is going on and from the behavior of everyone on the lawn, the cooperation:

ShakespeareinPark

I had a strange moment of feeling some fleeting joy or something like happiness over visual art. On Wednesday afternoon before going to my house for the movie, Sophie and I ate out at Il Porto Ristorante and then went to look at the latest art exhibit in the Torpedo Factory, now an art center. Since watching Danger UXB I am more aware the left over iron casements of the bombs made there in the 1940s are remnants of horrifying events. So there is hope in seeing the place transformed into a public art center, where artists exhibit, where classes are taught, dances are held at communal events (Jim and I once went to a Halloween ball there).

It was while I stood in front of some of the art. This watercolor for example:

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By the Sea by Sara Sittig

Or this small sculpture of a bunny rabbit cherishing a bird: Taking Shape by Trinka Roeckelein (high fire clay, glazed)

BunnyRabbitcaressingbird

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From the front, modeled on

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Snoopy and Woodstock

My spirit felt refreshed as it used to when standing in front of such pictures with Jim. We then walked out to the boardwalk and Sophie photographed me for a last time before she leaves:

MeonBoardwalkPotomac

So there you have the week’s outward good and most demanding moments.

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At home where most of my life occurs that matters: I finished my paper on Trollope from a post-colonial perspective finally — it takes 20 minutes to read! — “On Inventing a New Country: Trollope’s Depiction of Settler Colonialism” still the title. It will need revision so is put away to grow cold like a Christmas pudding. I am taking a week off and reading just for pleasure, no projects, not for teaching and find (as I have before that) in our ends are our beginnings.

The first adult books I ever read were thick tome-looking biographies of French Renaissance queens (Jeanne de Navarre, mother of Henry IV who thought Paris worth a mass and Marguerite de Navarre) so I’m treating myself with Eric Ives’ The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn. We’ve had good talk on Women Writers at Yahoo about Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall which at least three of us have now read this summer, several more her Bring Up the Bodies, an easier book to take in, less intricate and dense with layers of meaning, shorter too.

I have ever loved womens’ books, deeply true and sophisticated ones, subjective. If you have been following Jenny Diski’s “end notes,” you might find this dialogue about Diski’s treatment of her reluctant semi-adopted mother, Doris Lessing as she faces dying heself of interest.

I’m also following an educational Future Learn on the World of Richard III (which I’ll tell of next week when it’s over) the Spitalfields

Spitalfields
Given the dignity of a county map as it should …

and Persephone blogs I read and gaze at when they appear.

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I admit it does not speak to the spirit the way standing in front of the actual canvas does.

I end on a humane touching article by Jenny Uglow reviewing Mark Laird’s A Natural History of Gardening, Margaret Willes’s The Gardens of the British Working Class, and Lesley Acton’s Growing Space: A history of the allotment movement can round out this diary for now because the TLS editor put the text online. Don’t miss it. Uglow allows me to end on a lovely image garnered from the 18th century:

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I don’t say how much I missed Jim this week but I did tell Charlie, my Haven counselor, by email, how demanding the business of staying alive without him. I may not have a future, only be able to make plans for the day, carry on as Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell puts it, but the house provides the reality of our past together, it’s not erased, and my problem is trying to learn to be alone in it more — accept it. Next spring have the kitchen painted, new vinyl, new cabinets Yvette and I can reach, maybe (price will be prohibitive I fear) enclose that screened porch (make another big picture window) so maybe someday the room may be of use to my daughters.

Each day some small salvation takes me on to the next.

Miss Drake

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Clarycat last night — she stays with me, playing, sitting, resting …

Dear friends and readers,

This was to have been a week where I began teaching again, resumed the dance fusion and core classes at the Jewish community Center, and went to another of the Washington Area Print group’s lectures. Snow and ice have cancelled out the first two, my own lack of alertness led to my car’s battery dying so I ordered a tow truck which took my Prius to the Toyota dealership for fixing, and tonight it’s looking like there will be more ice, snow and cancellations on the way. I’ll be lucky if I can pick my car up before Saturday. I discover I have a high tax bill this year so going to an accountant is no panacea there.

Small beer I know, my deep deep loneliness, all that Jim lost in comparison to skies filled with helicopters and bombs elsewhere, paramilitary police and so on. In news affecting large numbers of people: Very bad things to many threatened: loss of health care through the supreme court, yet worse war with Iran: if the elected mass murderer Israeli Prime Minister has his way he’ll kill & destroy with impunity some more. Is there a word bad enough for this criminal type (More’s “pest” sounds too trivialzing) seeking an aggressive war against the Iranian people? Have they not suffered enough? They are trying to build their country again. Hilary Clinton a bad choice for the president; Jackson Lear on identity politics. The college which provided Yvette with the happiest four years of her adult life thus far, Sweet Briar, has announced it will shut down — heart-breaking that. It is said to be ceasing operations before it reaches a bankrupt crisis so it can provide pensions and severance pay for its teachers, help students find other places, be responsible. But does it have to close? It is such a rare fine school for anyone, not quite unique as yet (as there are still some others) as just for women. But important victories too: Net Neutrality was affirmed by the FCC so this vast communication network will be preserved for all of us to reach one another, to find out information, to enjoy communication across time and space, as a utility, a lifeline.

On that note I’ve almost finished another Future Learn Course: Film-making: from Script to Screen, from Exeter University, in the UK. It’s been highly uneven but enormously helpful to me as I write my paper.

The first week dismaying: the people in charge were showing off who they were, and what they were going to tell us. There was some discussion of writing scripts — how you have to visualize — and sound design, but nothing developed. The talk and questions in the “learners'” discussion spaces, made me think about how I came to want to study (or make) films and suddenly remembered years of watching Channel 9 in NYC and the old films endlessly replaying and how I was deeply moved by The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara — especially two haunting moments: her up on the scaffold about to be hung, ethereal, beautiful, and him siting on the cathedral next to a gargoyle as the movie ends, weeping weeping and asking why no one can love him.

The second week was all I had hoped for — explanatory and for me transformative talk about the process of film-making as one moves from script to filming, what does the director do, Tony Grisoni and David Peace’s and Destiny Ekaragha’s films (about English Nigerian people, the careless spiteful murder of a Kurdistan young man in London, Kingsland) — I felt ashamed I had not gone to see the film about the young nun, Ida and the mini-series about Yorkshire, Red Riding, which Jim downloaded for me.

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From Red Riding Trilogy — films by men are often about troubled young men

The third week the guide was Mike Figgis who talked about camera work in a concrete real way; he showed clips from one of his popular films, Leaving Las Vegas, and talked about what drove and shaped his decisions for where he filmed, how he visualized, when added sound; and then a powerful movie he had made: The Mass of Man. A man is 3 minutes late to his job center and is told by this merciless woman that he will be stopped from getting any money for a month unless he signs a form; if he signs it he will still be stopped for 2 weeks. He missed his bus. It is clear that the job center has no jobs to give out. This reminded me of what I saw in all the places said to be open to help disabled people find jobs. They are useless and the employees there punish the disabled people in order to shut them up and keep them cowed lest these employees lost their jobs. What happens is an infuriated person comes in and starts to shoot people with painful darts — we were meant to understand and feel for the infuriated man and see the cruelty of the whole arrangement, its hypocrisies. Figgis had his favorite producer there and we learned how a producer works with a film-director — funding his project. How to try to control what you write by asking yourself how much time each page will take to film. We were to try to see the distance from the script to visualizing the film

The fourth week was the worst Future Learn week I’ve experienced, the guide prurient without an ability to articulate anything about his (awful) film. There were two interviews worth watching: David Morrissey about his experience of acting in a film recently (in Georgia) and Martin Scorsese on the reaction to a film about a serial killer that offended people deeply in the 1950s (but today alas might pass without comment, much less anything adverse), Peeping Tom. Some film-makers have little intellectual understanding of what they are doing; they can understand how a camera works and what angles they could to produce certain effects. Often the actors understand more of their art as an art and its value than anyone else — I see this during interviews.

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Wright concentrated on scenes of Meryl Streep Margaret Thatcher neither all powerful nor in dementia, but inbetween

Week 5 the guide, Justine Wright, articulate and insightful. She began as a person editing commercials; went on to documentaries (where the script is minimal making them very arduous to do as the amount of material gathered is often enormous) and recently features. She showed the script is a central prescriptive text everyone follows, as they went might alter, but kept to more or less generally as the plan of the shoot. She talked a lot about time and space in a movie and how you must zero in on specifics to tell a story. She showed clips from a film she had edited about Thatcher, the Iron Lady, where the question was how to show her needing to shop for breakfast things, shopping, then coming home, then eating. Lewis Arnold was next with a short Caroline about a girl compulsively reliving her grief over her father’s death in a car accident — I would not have understood it without his explanations, sheer cutting and editing of images and sequences.

Week 6: sound and music, added on last. The last week was excellent and as there is still time to register and follow the six, I recommend this series to all. The guides were Danny Hambrook, a sound editor, and John Keane, a composer; the films includes Kureishi’s Le Weekend, the 1999 mini-series Wives and Daughters (scripted by Andrew Davies), and a remarkable cartoon, The Hill Farm (nominated for an Oscar). I did notice once again that men film-makers just love to make violent films and enjoy presenting violence in the guise of “action-adventure.” As in previous weeks one reason I enjoyed most of the videos, extra lectures (one at the BFI site) and talk by the two guides was I liked the movies. It seems odd but sound and music are attached last; that seems to be a practuical necessity. It’s after the film is laid out you can attach the sound. Hambrook discussed how he made the sounds of Paris in Le Weekend; how he developed a thematic motif for Cynthia in Wives and Daughters and how that worked; Keane talked of many experiences of creating different kinds of sounds, tracks, atmosphere — cartoons are a special case because the sounds are often far more artificial than we realize and yet have to move us as natural. The story of the film was touching.

Ellen

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PytorKonchalovskyRussia1876to956PoetsWindow
Idyllic drawing: The Poet’s Window by Pytor Konchalovsky (Russian, 1875-1956) – again from a Net-friend, Camille, on face-book, to cheer herself and others

I work away on my paper due for the coming ASECS conference at LA (Screenplays and Shooting Scripts into Films), genuinely begun and read with understanding some new or old books (Maria Edgeworth’s The Absentee, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Chapter I) and others I was kidding myself I was managing (Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground on Cornwall); I’ve been mesmerized by movies by Victor Nunez, the older Poldark Series (the last 4 powerful episodes of the first season, 1975-76), watched yet more Downton Abbey, most precious of all good letters from and to friends, talk about art and politics and just anything and everything (visiting Godolphin House in Cornwall, large topiary cats) with acquaintances too on the Net, even spent time with my daughters, ate, slept, sat by my real sweet Clarycat and played with nudging pressing Ian. They seek companionship too.

On Marsden: What he’s exploring is why some people become mythic – and Cornwall has been one of these, the capacity of a place to create mythologies about them too. I just loved Wilkie Collins’s book on his time in Cornwall. It has to do with topography, with the distinctive space of the area, what it looks like and has enabled its history to be — and he had just gotten to the neolithic objects and stones and King Arthur when I left off. Cornwall is a place with many neolithic stones, and like elsewhere they are found in formations which suggest people moved them. Marsden meditates this too. Marsden shows how Cornwall can depress some people – not him, a friend who came with him. David Craig’s review in the LRB emphasizes Marsden’s use of previous writers from and on Cornwall from the 17th century on. This is an 18th century topic — as modern archealogy takes off then. I’ve read a couple of excellent books on Stonehenge and this review fits in there too — about theorizing these stones. Political geography can explain something of what happens in areas so “gifted” and returned to and written about — books and people who were there count too I should think as well as some literal history. Another great travel book of this type is Orphan Pamuk’s Istanbul — I’ve longed to go there and see the great sea by it.

Estuary
View of Estuary from Fowey and Bodinnick — I dipped into DuMaurier’s Enchanted Cornwall too

On Nunez: A Flash of Green, which may be watched whole through 5 YouTube sites. The 1980s film is about reporter who is partly seduced into operating as a mole on behalf of his friend, a corrupt politician, and destroying the individuals part of a movement to stop a corporation from turning a lake, woodlands into a development of expensive housing and malls. It’s the lack of sensationalism that is so striking.

I can see how Ruby in Paradise is an Austen adaptation: in comparison while deeply and truthfully seen, it is a simple coming of age story about a decent young girl, surrounded by mostly well-meaning people — in a rotten society (not explained how it got that way).

Ulee’s Gold (I rented a DVD from Netflix) — powerful and real. There is uplift towards the end; I see Nunez practices this for all his films I’ve seen thus far (including Gal Young’un, where a young man deludes an older woman into marrying him, mortifies her [“slack face”], takes her money, brings home a stupid sexy woman but she wins through threatening to kill him with a rifle, and the poor girl chooses to stay with her) The endings arenot tacked on and is believable. In Ulee’s Gold, what’s startling is the frank portrayal without any holding back of family relationships and especially drug addiction – without overdoing it (what Breaking Bad does about addiction, it’s too melodramatic, too crass awful).. There is a violent subplot where two of the grandfather’s (Peter Fonda)’s son’s buddies in crime threaten to and then come back to wrest a huge amount of money hidden away — they threaten to kill him, his daughter-in-law and grandchildren and they are rescued by a nurse across the way (who is becoming the grandfather’s half girl-friend by the end, she’s been divorced twice, no children). I can see how the story could have been presented so melodramatically and it’s not. Things emerge naturally — as every day life. This is like his other films. Beautiful shots of northern Florida and beekeeping.

still-of-peter-fonda-and-vanessa-zima-in-ulees-gold-(1997)-large-picture
Peter Fonda and Vanessa Zima as grandfather and daughter from a typical scene in Ulee’s Gold

Miss Drake

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filmmaking

Dear friends and readers,

I ask your patience on this one: I’m going to make this a handy site in this blog for Future Learn courses. Thus far I’ve followed, Literature of the Country House and Shakespeare and His World (click here for summaries, scroll down for links); I’m in the middle of following World War 1: Trauma and Memory) and I’ve signed up for Explore Film-making; Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Much Ado about Nothing in Performance. I doubt I’ll follow all 3, but I’ll begin them all and this post makes it easy for me to reach them.

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Recreated Globe Theater in London

Brief explanation: while the Literature of the Country House was a disappointment, there were a couple of marvelous weeks and I did learn enough that was new to make the experience worthwhile, Jonathan Bate’s Shakespeare and His World has been remarkable as an experience; and I’ve learnt and been salutarily reminded and what I knew enrichened by WW1: Trauma and Memory. So I am going to try for three more. I don’t read the comments by others much (these exist in the hundreds) and have now only twice read the new texts, though I’ve re-skimmed many of the others (which I’ve read), but on my listserv about WomenWritersthroughtheAges @ Yahoo we had a reading and discussion of 3 18th century novels by women as a result of our shared experience. All that I can garner about film adaptation is central to my studies of all sorts, and I’ve long loved Shakespeare. What do I have to do with my late nights?

Big Sue and Now Voyager

Her face is a perfect miniature on wide, smooth flesh,
a tiny fossil in a slab of stone. Most evenings
Big Sue is Bette Davis. Alone. The curtains drawn.
The TV set an empty head which has the same
recurring dream. Mushrooms taste of kisses. Sherry trifle
is a honeymoon. Be honest. Who’d love me?
Paul Henreid. He lights two cigarettes and, gently,
puts one in her mouth. The little flat in Tooting
is a floating ship. Violins. Big Sue drawing deeply
on a chocolate stick. Now Voyager depart. Much,
much for thee is yet in store. Her eyes are wider,
bright. The previous video unspools the sea.

This is where she lives, the wrong side of the glass
in black-and-white. To press the rewind,
replay, is to know perfection. Certainty. The soundtrack
drowns out daytime echoes. Size of her. Great cow.
Love is never distanced into memory, persists
Unchanged. Oscar-winners looking at the sky.
Why wish for the moon? Outside the window night falls,
slender women rush to meet their dates. Men whistle
on the dark blue streets at shapes they want
or, in the pubs, light cigarettes for two. Big Sue
unwraps a Mars Bar, crying at her favourite scene.
The bit where Bette Davis says “We have the stars.”

— Carol Ann Duffy

RussianPark
A park in winter in Russia (sent by an Internet friend)

Miss Drake — aging scholarly woman, lives alone, ever wanting to improve herself (as you’ll instantly recall from Gaudy Night)

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