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Posts Tagged ‘grief’


I photographed “Grey malkin” from the other side of my glass porch door

the day’s shadow is gone in the moment
it was here with all that went before
gone the same way into the one night
where time means nothing that is visible
— W. S Merwin

Friends,

I thought I might be in the process of adopting a small grey cat about half-a-week ago. I first saw him or her (after this to be denominated her because she reminds me of Clarycat in size) under a bush near my door; I heard loud mewing and there she was. She looked combed recently, brushed, not starving, and had a black soft collar. I put out a bowl of dry food and she rushed there and ate a great deal, and then stopped. A neighbor on a local listserv said she had lost a grey cat but when the neighbor finally showed up (it took all day), in a tennis outfit and gargantuan SUV, and took a look at this grey cat, she said it was not hers. Hers had a micro-chip. I did see the cat was not keen to come to her.

Since then I’ve tried several times to get the cat to come into my house, but she eludes or fiercely resists. I become nervous and drop her as she hisses and squalls, but I have now noticed she has no claws. De-clawed, poor creature. Soon she may be torn to bits by a raccoon. At first I thought if I could get hold of her and find a phone number of name on the collar, I’d phone the owner. But when the woman who denied it was her cat, got onto the listserv and in these pious tones told of how the next day the cat was found dead under a bush, I began to suspect this woman just wanted to get rid of her cat. Someone had a photo of this woman’s cat, a close-up and this woman’s cat looks like “my” Greymalkin. Greymalkin from Macbeth would do for a male or female.


This is probably the cat now sticking desperately around my house when she was in her home; her face has become pinched and her fur color darker (dirtier) than in this close-up

Meanwhile I put food & water out for 2 nights; for 2 nights the next morning the food is mostly eaten, the bowl drunk from. If this proceeds and there is no name or phone number and she comes in, I thought I’ll take her to a vet first thing.

My cousin on face-book pointed out she was bluish, a Russian blue. She had such a female cat and called it Shadow.

For a few days she showed up the same time in the afternoon, mewed loudly. But then stopped coming out. She began to look much worse for the wear. I put out a cat bed and toys and the first morning after I found the toys had been played with ferociously. Since then the play is milder. She comes at night when she feels safest — invisibly visiting me for food. Today I thought to myself when I took the photo (around 5 in the afternoon that she is so frightened she might stay under the branches most of the day — not go very far. though this afternoon when I passed by — having gotten out of my car and going to my door I heard her mewing under the branches. I couldn’t find her though.

The question is, how do I lure her to show herself to me and then inside. I put out tuna and the bowl was licked clean. A third bowl was almost emptied this afternoon. I don’t want to leave the door open and that’s dangerous for us and will let my other cats out. I could call a pet rescue place for advice. I’ve queried this neighborhood list if another person in the neighborhood is missing a cat or has this kind of cat. No answer.

This morning the bowl was 2/3s empty again. Someone on this neighbor list has emailed me to say she would bring it to a shelter where they’d check for a chip (it has a collar) but she in the same sentence talked of having a “foster” for “end of life” if that’s necessary so I don’t think so. If I can catch it, I’ll take it to the vet myself; if not, just wait until it stops coming. If I took it to a vet or the Humane Society and they discovered it was sick and they wanted to euthanize it, I would have deprived it of life. Not doing it a favor then. Maybe I should just let it be a perpetual guest, and become a feral cat.

I decided to phone the Humane Society for advice. I disbelieve that woman’s story about a chip now. There is a collar on that cat and it has a tag only it’s locked. Typical of the exclusive American upper middle class. For my part when the vet proposed to me to put chips in my cats, I thought to myself what a money-maker for you .Not as life-threatening as the way I was told she would clean my cat’s teeth, not as cruel as de-clawing, but the same drive towards expensive tech. She used it to pretend the cat wasn’t hers after all. She didn’t show up for a time when I announced it on the listserv.

But when I phoned two Humane Societies, I got advice but no direct help. Not until I have the cat in hand or in the house will some be sent. Then I’m warned if I let it in or capture it, it could be angry or get under a bureau and then I have a problem. Yesterday afternoon it was in the garden meowing loudly. I see it’s now drinking the water. The toys (I put out another) were mildly played with. She had come over to me on the sidewalk, let me pet her. She has stopped that. I have a perpetual guest until such time as she gets friendlier again and can get herself to come in. If she lives, perhaps when it goes very cold. My two cats have watched her from the window of my workroom.

Laura has said that she has a friend with three indoor cats and three visitors. I admit I don’t want to pay for a third cat when I have to board them when I go away. I worry lest the other two attack her or the three not get along. Would she chew on wires? do her natural business in the litter box? OTOH, it seems to me she’ll die if she doesn’t come in.

Many years ago, in 1970 to be precise, I took in a stray feral cat. A large male black cat. Jim and I were living in Leeds 7, a small flat and one day a black tom cat just walked in. I fed him and he rubbed against me. He didn’t stay but he returned the next day, came in and this time I had cat food for him. It took a little while but eventually he would stay in the flat with me for hours. He sat near the fire. He began to sleep next to me — on my side of the bed. Jim said, fine, as long as he stays on my side of the bed. Sometimes he would go out and not come back for a day or so. One night he was bleeding from a paw. He had been in a fight and when I was all poignant affecion, he looked at me as if to say you should see my opponent. I cleaned his paw.

What I didn’t realize was an illness I had, which I thought flu because I ran a high temperature and was in bed for a few days, was connected to Tom. I called him Tom. In 1984 when I gave birth to Izzy, she was pre-mature but she had anti-bodies to a dangerous illness that was only known about publicly after AIDS began to spread. Before AIDS, it was hardly ever seen because the average person’s immune system fought it successfully. As in most hospitals, the staff had a very ambivalent attitude towards me, the patient. They suspected I had AIDS! but if I had, I would have died. Anyway they asked and then insisted on taking blood and lo and behold found the anti-bodies to this disease in me. They then asked me, had I ever owned a cat. Cats were one way it was transmitted to people. I thought back to Tom.

Yes. I was young then, never thought of trying to take Tom to a vet to see if he was well. Now I would think of it even if I hadn’t this experience. I tell about it partly to show my character: I have taken a stray in.


Jim and Llyr, 1973 in an apartment near Central Park, NYC

I had dog for 12 years and I loved her — though did not treat her as well as I should have, and cannot retrieve that time. Part German shepherd, part beagle, a mutt. Big paws, floppy ears, mostly brown and black. I was too young and didn’t credit my dog with the true feelings she had. She was my companion when I stayed home all summer and studied Latin until I could pass a test reading medieval Latin. She walked in the park with me. She saved Laura and my life once. A man came to the door, knocked hard and when I opened it, demanded to be let in as the electrician. But there was Llyr, three times her size, growling terrifying. The man demanded I put the dog away. Some instinct told me not to. I shut the door. The next day I learned he was a rapist and had attacked another woman. Another time she saved me in the park, scenting danger and become three times her size again.

Jim and I were on the edge of having no money at all; we were in a desperate way because neither had a decent job. Laura had been born. His dissertation was declared wrong. None of us ate right for two years. The dog grew thin and she wasn’t loved enough. My father saw something was wrong. He should have intervened, I would have listened.

We had had years of happiness with this dog. We’d take Llyr to the beach in summer: Tuesday and Thursday mornings at Jones beach and she’d go into the water and play. We’d walk with her by the Hudson River. Shes slept with me on my side of the bed but when we ran out of money she was hungry with us and I had little energy to play any more; I had a young baby and then she was 2. What I had in me to give went to the child. Then Llyr got sick: she began to have growths. I realized how she was suffering and improved my behavior, began to walk with her again, try to sleep with her, show affection, but it was too late. My father paid for one operation, but then the vet said the cancers were spreading.

Great grief when she died. I cried hysterically. I had not thought how a dog or cat must predecease us. I had not realized how much I was attached. I felt forever after I had not been affectionate enough. I know I was not in that last two years. Once when we first had her, Jim and I tied her to a radiator by a leash. She began to cry and we pulled it right off. But that we could think of doing that to go out. Shame on us. When I get much older and can’t travel, maybe I’ll adopt a dog too. Make it up. A rescue one from an agency — he or she can be older, that’s fine. I wouldn’t want the animal to outlive me now.

How naive I was, not responsible enough. I now am open to an animal’s love as I need love so too now. So now I would take this cat to a vet and care for her, give her a good home if she’d let me. I love the affection my cats give me, physical as well as emotional, their presence, their company. They have individual personalities. But perhaps the situation could stay as it is. The problem would be when I go away. Izzy and I are supposed to go away for 5 nights, 6 days the first week of October to a JASNA AGM. I won’t be able to put food out then. What will happen then? As usual I wish I were not going. There will be large stretches of time when I have nothing to do and plan to go to my room and read. If the cat were to come near I would try again. I have so much of physical comfort, I could be of help to her. I would be affectionate too. Two stray souls. I am unmoored and with all my activity don’t have a meaningful center.

On Saturday Laura has helped me buy a new ipad, learn how to use Notes and Pages, put all my apples (cell phone, ipad, and laptop) in sync and made me an icloud! So when I finally take the plunge and try to reach libraries to do research I will actually have equipment to do this with. I am planning to take this ipad with me so I can reach the Internet and won’t feel so much alone far from home and the comfort of Internet companionship and friends. I went to an excellent exhibit on Sylvia Plath at the National Portrait Gallery and heard a pair of intelligent lectures by Dorothy Moss and Karen Kukil on Plath last week. This made me return to her poetry and I found these lines on the word and reality of a

Widow (re-arranged … )

Widow, the compassionate trees bend in,
The trees of loneliness, the trees of mourning.
They stand like shadows about the green landscape­
Or even like black holes cut out of it …

A paper image to lay against her heart
The way she laid his letters, till they grew warm
And seemed to give her warmth, like a live skin.
But it is she who is paper now, warmed by no one …

That is the fear she has — the fear
His soul may beat and be beating at her dull sense
Like blue Mary’s angel, dovelike against a pane
Blinded to all but the gray, spiritless room
It looks in on, and must go on looking in on.


Another of Greymalkin on the sidewalk

Miss Drake

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It is an odd feeling, writing against the current: difficult to entirely disregard the current — Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas

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Maple tree on front lawn — end of summer colors

Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonise. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one’s very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! — George Eliot in her letters

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been puzzling over the term “friendship” more than usual for the last couple of weeks, and this morning thought I’d help myself by reading what Samuel Johnson has to say in two of his journalistic essays memories of which have stayed with me down the years (Idler No 23; Rambler 99). In my mid-twenties studied Johnson for my orals for my Ph.D, and again in my mid-forties I used to teach at George Mason university a volume of his writing (in the Penguin series, edited by Patrick Cruttwell): we’d read his Journey to the Western Islands,” his literary biographies (especially the life of Savage), his journalism, letters, poetry

The one I recalled better starts with the sentence (now I’ve found it) “Life has no pleasure higher or nobler than friendship,” only to devolve into how fragile are such relationships: how frighteningly easy (“very slender differences”) can “part” people after “long reciprocation of” courtesy or generosity. Sometimes people long to meet after years of being apart (or let’s say Internet friends) to find there is no similitude where it counts such as had been imagined. He talks of more than “opposition of interest:” his focus are “a thousand secret and slight competitions, scarcely known to the mind upon which they operate,” and how “minute ambition” once found out (and “vulnerable” to the other) will be become a sort of fear, and resentment and the shame felt will not be explained as the last thing the person wants is discovery. This “slow malignity” can be obviated if you know your friend (frenemy?) well enough.

But then there is “a dispute begun in jest” becomes a desire to triumph, then vanity takes over as anger grows, and before you know it you are in the midst of strong “enmity:” “Against this hasty mischief I know now what security can be obtained: men will be sometimes surprized into quarrels.” Friendship appears to have so many “enemies:” caution becomes suspicion; delicacy becomes and repels disgust; people grow angry that compliance with another’s taste is “exacted.” The most “fatal disease” is “gradual decay:” when gradually people just don’t want to or are “unwilling to be pleased.” He regards this situation as “hopeless.”

To become friends in the first place requires “mutual pleasure” in one another’s company. This is not always in our power to feel. To be “fond and long-last” it seems there must be “conformity of inclination.” People must share tastes; I’d put it have a closely similar sensibility. Appreciate how the friend spends his or her days (and/or nights). People practicing the same profession can understand and respect one another. They must enjoy one another’s conversation is another area I’d bring in. Contradictorily, Johnson does say (just briefly) people who are (as we might say) stuck together (families, in his era that would include coerced marriage) should try to “approach towards the inclination of each other,” see if you can conform in things that don’t carry a weight of need, show curiosity. By his own admission this is hard. Jane Austen would have us consider Mrs Smith:

“Even the smooth surface of family-union seems worth preserving though there may be nothing durable underneath” — Persuasion

I am now touched (as I probably was not when young) by how he says we all “require” acts of “tenderness” because we have “grievances which only the solicitude of friendship will discover and remedy.” (The need for and offering of tenderness is seen in grandparents.) Johnson says people have to care about you beyond the usual need, have bothered to know, recognize, try to “remedy” miseries usually “unheeded in the mighty heap of human calamity.” Again, hard.

My reader will scarcely believe that I used to read disquisitions like these I’ve paraphrased and quoted from to find some comfort and strength. But I did.

latonnellehenrimartin
Henri-Jean Martin (1860-1943), La Tonnelle (an imaginary gazebo)

It happened that later in the day a kind friend here on the Net pointed me to an essay by Audrey Lorde in which she suggests that we wrongly avoid the erotic in life; the emotions that comprise eroticism can provide power for creative and good change (“The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” Sexualities and Communication”). My first reaction was to remember Carol Gilligan’s In a Different voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development and Lyn Mikel Brown’s Meeting at the Crossroads: Women’s Psychology and Girl’s Development, two of many books on female psychology where the authors argue women have and further develop out of their innate nature and the experiences of life our social organization imposes on them an “ethic of care,” of concern for one another; instead of interacting through competition, as individuals vying to be superior to others, to wrest the necessities and luxuries of life by purchase (after doing what one must to get money), act as one in a community looking out for one another to enjoy in companionship without regard to status. This could be norm encouraged which Gilligan and Browne feel would give the deepest pleasure and gradual security were it central to structured experiences in life.

But then I thought it’s not “care” and “love” but “erotic,” and the use of the term erotic changes the idea. Lorde wants us to enjoy sex with one another, or sensual experience and says if we do so, we will open up to one another, feel good and then be powerful to do something. Tonight I find myself worrying over that second word, “power.” After all the context seems to have something to do with competition, and control over someone else, getting them to do something out of the sensual and sexual. She is trying to get power out of nature and to manipulate. In my experience opening up to most people, and especially sexually has ended in their trying to take something, and a feeling of self-directed self-felt triumph is central to the erotic. The sexual postures and things we do are or can be humiliating when I’ve felt the other person feeling this triumph. Can we ever rid ourselves of our position literally as well as figuratively to one another.

In classic characters from Don Juan to Lovelace to Austen’s Lady Susan, what is actuating the character when they proceed to move through erotic experience is a desire to triumph and use. My experience has taught me there is yet worse: the person takes over your character as your self-control may dissolve away, as you start to trust; and what they call cooperation with them becomes form of submission. The next step is bullying.

This relates to my theme of friendship tonight as my experience since becoming a widow is people do their best to avoid getting deep with one another to be safe, not to be obliged, not to get into troubles and ignite all those enemies to friendship Johnson surveys (I particularized only a few of these, admittedly the ones that have causes me most hurt). Lorde seems to suggest people are refusing to be loving; refusing what comes natural. Does it? The world is filled with people completely oblivious to other people’s actual minds, who cannot participate in another’s experience unless they have known it in a literally similar way. They begin with a fierce egoism. They hear and interpret what you say in terms of their particular attitudes of mind. They enjoy aggression and threatening hurt and get a kick out of avoiding someone aggressing at them. People who go out hunting to kill animals are not doing that to protect themselves.

There are dozens of great stories about this — from the old movie, The Servant (if you’ve ever seen that one with Dirk Bogarde and James Fox where the servant becomes the master) to the Lord of the Flies — the person who ends up the scapegoat and whipping bag for others. People go so far to justify these happenings by claiming the hurt person is masochistic; they want to be hurt, they enjoy it. I am here to say they do not. The woman who does not try to escape her abusive husband fears if she does she will suffer more from it; she will not be rescued; if she is freed of him, the authorities will see her weakness and take her children from her.

My friend said Audrey Lorde used the term “erotic” instead of “care” because she feared her reader could ridicule the term and vision. To use use the word “erotic” is sexier, more provocative (ah! so now we are provoking some one) and would gain attention (as sex usually does). This reminded me of why George McGovern was quickly labelled as “out of the question” someone no one could vote in for president the way Jeremy Corbyn is described in the British press. No one will go for such a person because they are too nice. My father said most people in their minds are mean, small, operate out of what they see as justifiable mistrust, expecting others to try to take all they can. If someone behaves better than this, they resent this as an indictment of their own nature, as “hypocritical.” That’s not fair. I have seen groups of people work together for the common good in narrow causes, and they are helped along enormously if values like care and concern as in our mutual interest and leading to good things coming, and not promoting hardness, competition and especially any kind of violence. Here you need to be in a middle status group that does this.

So to return to Johnson who is trying to explain friendship so we may by lower expectations have what our natures will allow of it, although repression of an instinct to have and find and share love is impoverishing the best we can know, cuts us off from the best and deepest fulfillment people can have in one part of their natures, leaves us so alone, more at risk, it is also a necessary guard. Gilligan and Browne believe (or affect to) that the “masculine” psychology that has been allowed to rule the world and have full play into the very privatest of our moments together (as in relationships set up on the basis of what each gets out of it materially) can be offset, modified, qualified by the feminine, even overturned — as it is for some when they are bringing up their children. They feel we can extend what can happen in mother-child, parent-child, friend-friend, lover-lover relationships beyond these. That we should try.

jeanluceyprattandhercats
Jean Lucy Pratt and her cats (see “Blunted Joy” by Catherine Morris, TLS, Sept 7, 2016)

Mac is one of the men Jean loves and loses (later, she records that he has been killed in a car crash). Her loneliness is oppressive, at times – almost crushing; but as the years go by, her yearning starts to dissipate, or evolve. “Why does anyone worry about ‘love’,” she writes in 1958, “about being loved and finding the Right Person, and about missed opportunities and ‘I’ve never had a chance?’ and ‘It isn’t fair!’? There is no need to let these moods ­colour your life. Love can illumine every moment of it, whether you are ‘loved’ or not. But let us not nail that poor butterfly. Make your own discoveries and keep them secret” — Jean Pratt

All very solemn you may think or say — if you have got this far. But I have been very hurt this past month, a kind of culmination, or hammering blow, after much less stunning events and trivial ones too over the past three years, and as the third anniversary of Jim’s death draws near, I want to understand what has happened since my world fell apart and I tried to build a new one for myself, and gain strength to pull back. i said the fourth wall of my house had vanished; well now I have to rebuild that wall.

Two long-time friends, mostly known by years of letters here on the Net, told me when I told them I had been accused of being a “false friend,” offering “false friendship” for years, and offered a clause the person refused to explain (“you threw my friendship back in my face”) that this was senseless, not using words meaningfully. By going over what Johnson wrote I feel I have been enabled to understand what happened recently and over the course of all the cases I’ve been brooding about, and this helps because I feel what happened was not my unique doing or fault. In these various instances I see a general version of what has happened to me, what I’ve seen and been told happens to others. So myu case is that of many others. I feel like Austen heroines who will sometimes say they have looked and looked and find nothing crucial to reproach themselves with, and that helps. Sometimes eighteenth century texts really do help against large and petty pain too.

harden
An later 18th into 19th century (?) illustration

I nowadays divide my days into three types (most of the time): quiet reading days, days where I am writing either on and for people on the Internet, or for teaching, or for papers and reviews. And days where I go out somewhere to something social (teaching), sort of (a lecture) or a movie, play, concert, HD opera, a reading of poetry. Here is something hopeful: for nearly three years now I’ve also been taking a pill to help me sleep at night and in the last year I think I now get deep sleep (REM sleep) each night: I’ve not experienced such a period like this since maybe before I was 12. And I find I can read at night, understand what I am reading and even more wonderful, remember what I read the next day. Gentle reader, that is why I am blogging less. Tonight I was reading Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina’s biography of Dora Carrington, about whom I hope (that word) to write my next “woman artist” blog.

To show affection is to comfort oneself — From Kobayashi, Bonsai Miniature Potted Trees

Miss Drake

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TheMillatTidmarshDCarrington
Carrington, The Mill at Tidmarsh — I watched the very great film, Carrington last night (written and directed by Christopher Hampton, featuring Emma Thompson, Jonathan Pryce, with a moving performance by Samuel West)

In the morning when I wake up and go to the computer, put it on, it reaches the Internet and I have letters from friends.

When I read my gmail and find evidence that other people are carrying on cheerfully, doing different things in their lives and finding it worth while.

When in the blogs I read I see a like spirit has read a good book and is talking about it with real interest, has deeply felt thoughts about it, cares about the book or author, and clearly has spent at minimum an hour writing this and many hours, more, in preparation (in effect).

When on face-book I see friends telling some truths about their lives (not just presenting themselves as having achieved this, or see me in this group or that, happy), involved in various political and work-related causes, sending a note to me or someone else, offering up good-natured jokes, or interesting videos, or some political view that is humane. I feel I watch other people’s lives who I know and how they get through. Over the years I’ve watched lived change and evolve, some suffering a good deal (other widows, people deserted, cut off from a job, getting sick, losing connectivity) and others going on trips

When I go to my listservs (I read three at this point and have a fourth I wish I had time for) and find email about the topics under discussion, and people communicating. Just now on Trollope19thCStudies we are having such a good time with Tolstoy’s War and Peace and many threads connected. We are trying to stay together, 3 of us reading about Virginia Woolf (Hermione Lee) on Wwtta. Earlier this summer we read and discussed a good book written by one of us, published.

My daughter who lives with me. My cats. Izzy had on a video by Simon about cats as I woke this morning. One cat was laying next to me, and the other came over to nudge me and show affecion as I woke.

Clarycatonmylap
Clarycat on my lap while I read Oliphant’s powerfully truthful Hester

If I have someplace pleasant to go to, either the JCC gym classes, or during the term times go to teach, or go to a movie by myself or with a friend, a play (Shakespeare), an HD opera. The good lecture at the Smithsonian. The wonderful concert. These things cannot happen every day but when they do, they help.

Later in the day the superb book that keeps me sustaining company and validates my experience or extends it; in the evening, the great movie where I am led to feel I am not alone and I’m watching an intelligent group of people acting out important issues in life, or wonderful versions of this in love and adventure tales of the type the BBC does, and PBS used to play a lot of. Images Beautiful paintings, illustrations, drawings

The very occasional visit to a friend. I’ve had one friend visit me who lives in another state: four days. Once I’m at the friend’s and spending time with them in a beautiful or interesting place. This is necessarily rare.

My house. Sine qua non.

Routine, to keep me stable, a sane kind of motion over the day through time. Listening to good books read aloud beautifully, with full tones of all the characters so I am not out there forging ahead on the road alone. I feel I’m with someone. Comfort. My mind’s eye sees the characters in a kind of inward stage of my mind.

Solvency so I feel safe. Sine qua non.

Some food and wine so I don’t feel weak.

I think watching other people go through their days enduring it, carrying on, seeming cheerful, saying hello, those who know my name and smile seems to me a reminder life’s okay, doable without Jim, a kind of relief comes over me. I don’t want to die. As Hamlet says, once you are led somehow to decide to be, so much kicks in. So when I am reminded life is a form of enjoyment for these people, of all kinds,it helps.

These are the things that help, that enable me to live on, from one day to the next. That give me strength to do the things that are so hard for me to do. To cope with the outward world when it demands practical things I must satisfy — bills, making things work.

And above all, writing itself. Just what I’m doing now. For its own sake. And then the reaching those parts of people who can respond to where they live within, the self that matters, bringing it out. When they write back. This is life itself as I do it with others.

Which is what I began with on this blog …

Instead of an alphabet,

Miss Drake

JMWTurnerJunctionofGretnaandTeesatRokeby1816to18
J. W. Turner, Junction of Gretna and Tess at Rokeby (1816-18)

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This (“Ugly Princess”) is the image wanted for George Eliot’s Romola (by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, 1902)

The face of all the world is changed, I think
since I first heard the footsteps of your soul.
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Dear friends and readers,

This past week I returned to my project of writing blogs on women artists: their lives and work (Joanna Boyce Wells to be specific), and came across this line of poetry, which made me remember Jim in the later phases of our marriage, when we ended up in Virginia and were thrown back on one another; and a picture new to me from one of two new books, Jan Marsh and Pamela Gerrish Nunn’s Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists, both filled with strangely beautiful images and women artist’s names and something of their lives and art. I will be writing from these two books on Austen Reveries for a long time to come. One image from them lit up my mind, of Spillman’s of Dante looking to Virgil to lead him through hell, made me remember how Jim and I used to read Allen Mandelbaum’s translation of the Commedia together now and again: I began to read Dante because Jim loved the Commedia and eventually I taught myself to read Italian so I could read, study and translate women poets of the Italian Renaissance.

DanteVirgilSpillman
Marie Spartalli Spillman (1844-1927, Dante and Virgil in the Dark Wood — Dante to my eyes last night looking like a young woman

I am almost to the end of listening to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as read aloud magnficently mesmerizingly by Gildart Jackson: Shelley’s is an astonishingly original book, with extraordinary for its time new ways of thinking, talking, writing, feeling about death. She was someone deeply griefstruck by loss and life. While indirect (made explicit in Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein film) Frankenstein’s urge to create life comes out of his creator’s urge to bring back those death has destroyed:in the film, his mother, in Mary’s life her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, her babies all but one by Shelley and probably others I don’t know of. Passages like this:

I need not describe the feelings of those whose dearest ties are rent by that most irreparable evil, the void that presents itself to the soul, and the despair that is exhibited on the countenance. It is so long before the mind can persuade itself that she whom we saw every day and whose very existence appeared a part of our own can have departed forever—that the brightness of a beloved eye can have been extinguished and the sound of a voice so familiar and dear to the ear can be hushed, never more to be heard. These are the reflections of the first days; but when the lapse of time proves the reality of the evil, then the actual bitterness of grief commences. Yet from whom has not that rude hand rent away some dear connection? And why should I describe a sorrow which all have felt, and must feel? The time at length arrives when grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity; and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed a sacrilege, is not banished. My mother was dead, but we had still duties which we ought to perform; we must continue our course with the rest and learn to think ourselves fortunate whilst one remains whom the spoiler has not seized (Chapter 3, 2nd paragraph).

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Lucy Madox Brown, Margaret Roper rescuing the head of her father, Thomas More (1873) — only a mad picture can capture the truth of women’s experience as told to us by Mary Shelley

The monster grieves because he can’t share the burden of his existence with another, he can neither lean on someone or be leant on.

For the course in 19th Century Women of Letters I hope to teach this fall at the OLLI at AU (if they can find parking for participants) I’ll be “doing” Frankenstein with a class, and hope this week to try and then read through Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws on the mother and daughter. I daren’t do Romola as it’s too long and erudite: I conquered it, by listening to Nadia May read it ever so dramatically, touchingly on books-on-tape one summer so I’ve chosen a short story, “Janet’s Repentance” and we’ll read on-line if I can find it, and Eliot’s review of Madame de Sable, a 17th century woman of letters on how “the mind of woman has passed like an electric current through the language of French at the time, and began feminism in books.

When did I begin my feminism? what led to my seeing the world anew and comfortingly, strengtheningly, in which I could see a meaningful purpose for me to work through out of which I started to work on women novelists, women poets, and now women artists.

I was talking with two friends, one in her sixties and the other 72 (I am 69) yesterday over lunch about our “feminism” and I said I did not “convert” until the early 1990s because locally the only feminists I ever saw or knew were to me snobbish, exclusive upper middle girls/women. all white, who I saw as ambitious careerists (a no no for me, especially as seen in these girls) who cared nothing for anyone but wanted power and to show off, girls part of exclusive coteries (meaning from which I was excluded), the AP types who went to name colleges. It was not until I came onto the Net (1992) and met other women and came into contact with books that could speak to me that I began to see the good purpose of the movement. Woolf and highly literary women did not speak frankly and directly enough in ways I could recognize my experiences: A Room of One’s Own mattered but only theoretically and about older literary studies. An unearned income of £500 could mean nothing to me.

Then it happened: crucially for me I saw that for the first time I was given a language in which I could talk about what I had experienced sexually starting around age 12; I found other girls had had the same experiences as I (once I tried to tell a girl and after another girl came over the told me, why did you tell her that, now she is telling everyone, and I was shamed, and never told anyone again for years and years); for the first time I didn’t blame or berate myself but saw a system set up to crush me. The book that made the difference was Mary Pipher Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls; also important were Promiscuities by Naomi Wolf and (covering other areas of de-construction written in a language that I could understand) Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today: A User-friendly Guide. I used the last again and again in teaching after that (not assigning it as I never taught any upper level feminist or theoretical courses), as a help with my own lectures about books. See Signs, Short takes.

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Lucy Madox Brown, Duet (1870)

This is the hardest summer yet. My third without my beloved, the admiral as I used to call him. Summer is hard in ways the other seasons aren’t except at ritual holidays marking passing of time and evoking memory. It seems everyone is having a good time. They go to the beach, take lovely trips, and these sorts of things are not done to see historical or other sites but to be together and happy. I felt left out as do I find many widows. The beach too: I had a strong fit of deep grief when I went to the beach with my friend last January in Florida. I just went to pieces because it is such an emblem of life too. There’s even a term for it: STUG (sudden tremendous upsurge of grief). I watched The City of Your Final Destination this week again for the sake of one line: uttered Laura Linney as the dead man’s widow, though it could have been Anthony Hopkins as the dead man’s gay brother.

How could any outsider
understand this place
or what it was like
to all live here together
or what it’s like now
without him?
— Ruth Jhabvala Prawer, the script outof Peter Cameron’s novel

So for the sake of my heart (literally) I am only going to those few Fringe Festival events that are close by, easy to get to, and classical and good plays I recognize.

Shall I end on an absurd or comic note: I’ve said I stubbed my big toe badly trying to reach Clarycat who appeared to be munching away on one of the computer wires: was in a stinging agony that night, had to take extra strength sleeping pill, lots of spurted blood and what I thought was dry blood sticking out. It wasn’t: it was a broken off big of a piece of wood under my toenail. I had not realized that I’ve been in a dull pain since that Sunday night. The white at the top of the nail was spreading, it was white around the nail (like pus) and it was going a dark dark and shiny red. I thought, maybe I have made it worse by bandaging it to protect it. Made the pressure worse. So I cut a slipper and tried to walk with that. No go.

So I phoned Kaiser for the second time, and it emerged from talk with an advice nurse, I may have an infection. I needed to come in that day. So after teaching, after the above, lunch, garmin plugged in, I drive from lunch place to the offices in less than 20 minutes. Dr Wiltz had actually phoned me and suggested I got to a podiatrist. When I arrive, she takes a look at it and pronounces “you have a piece of wood, a splinter there, no wonder the pressure hurt.” It took only years of study and a specialist to understand what we were looking at. She numbs the big toe thoroughly (more needles) and then clips half the nail off. Blessed relief: pain, pressure gone. For my bleeding disorder she had a new thing: a local coagulant. So now I should get better.

Who would have cats? it’s not their fault. They were being cats. My desk is old – Jim bought it as a present for me in 1970 when I started graduate school and I have lived sitting by and writing on it and now on this computer for half a century. When I stubbed the toe I drove a splinter from one of its drawers into it.

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Ing Look (supplied by my kind Net-friend, Sixtine)

My friend, Phyllis, said I had accepted all this pain because I expect to be miserable. That’s funny too. That’s what Austen’s Mrs Dashwood says about Elinor, my favorite character in all literature.

Miss Drake

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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

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Gwen John (?), early 20th century

Miss Drake

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Samba and Alice (Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourgh– at one point in an all night cafe he asks her how she comes to be with a guy like him at this cafe at 3 in the morning (Samba, 2015, directors Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledono, from the novel by Delphin Coulin scripted Muriel Coulin)

Dear friends and readers,

It takes awhile for experiences to sink in, at least for me. And awhile to cope. After I had the mortification at the Mason library (this many years ago) of having some bully librarian take away books I had carefully culled and tell me I had no right to take books out (my adjunct card was not good enough in those days because you had to be teaching a course at the time you took books out or have a salary stub, and adjuncts got paid so rarely) I didn’t return for 2 years and then only with a letter from the composition chief.

I saw the film Samba yesterday afternoon and it’s taken until this morning and much thought and revision of this blog for me to see that Samba and Alice are very touching figures telling more truths about human relationships in romance than is usually told. Samba’s uncle who has a rough tongue says to him suddenly, “Why are you going out with that depressive,” and Samba does not reply but we know that precisely because she has this open wound and depths, Samba finds comfort with her. And the story line gradually shows us why she is understandably right to feel the way she does — and we see other stories of other characters similarly emerge.

Julian Barnes in his Levels of Self does omit this deep aspect of bonding, though he comes to the source of the grief of loss of a beloved, a partner, a friend, even a pet. It’s loss of depth, a deep relationship of confiding and giving and taking, that’s what is sought, and not found. Reading Eric Ives’s biography of Anne Boleyn (about which I’ll blog eventually) and re-watching Wolf Hall this week (after finishing the book), I realize that there is a hole at the center of that movie and the book too: we are not told enough about Henry and Anne’s relationship; they are kept from us, especially as the marriage deteriorated and how he came to loathe her so; we extrapolate, but do not see. Samba and Alice may be new icons of romantic relationships …

This blog explores some of these ideas and these two texts: Samba and Levels of Life.

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Today I found myself in yet another recent movie where the whole ambiance of the story and setting is that of a vast world where all individuals we see at least are living desperately unattached lives, whose jobs are either to make others go away (with no job, no prospects, and complete indifference as to how these others are to survive) or are themselves taking any employment that comes their way, no matter how menial, dangerous, absurd, imprisoning:

Samba, billed as a French comedy and it did have some comic moments, and at the conclusion, Samba, our hero decides to stay in France illegally (as he cannot get a legal status), cadging what kitchen jobs in super-expensive restaurants he can manage; and Alice, our heroine, a deeply and understandably depressed young woman, looks cheerful as she faces a group of guarded-faced men in an interview across a characterless table. It is understood they are living together now (he having miraculously escaped drowning fleeing from brutal police) in her tiny flat, and he having put his uncle whose drek-laden of living quarters the old man had been generously sharing with his nephew (despite his corrosive berating of his nephew), having put his uncle, I say, on a bus bound for an airplane back to Senegal (not a safe or prosperous place it is understood). The film has the extraordinarily visceral quality recent French films achieve. When our hero and his friend are washing windows from a great height on a scaffold I felt my stomach turn and my legs weaken the way they do when I am at a great height.

L’Intrepido, I’ll Dream of You, Manglehorn; the “other” choice is of biopics where a celebrity of some sort (or his or her estate) is making oodles of money exposing a drug addiction where moralizing voyeurism is the expected common reaction. No wonder Mr Holmes is a relief and remains in movie theaters doing very well.

Gainsbourg wears her hair and holds her face and chooses clothes so reminiscent of Jane Birkin her mother, for a moment I thought it was Birkin again — Jim loved her music and did find her attractive too, so many years ago. As a pair, she and Sy gave me some insight into the 2015 Poldark: Horsfield writes other contemporary mini-series and she has created a couple analogous to this one, he wild, she abject, clinging to one another against the indifference and disconnection.

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The Maypole — Phiz’s first illustration for Barnaby Rudge, the ancient mansion-tavern it begins with (click to enlarge and you will see how beautiful this illustration is)

Beyond Ives’s Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, I’ve embarked on Katharine Shevelow’s For the Love of Animals: The Rise of the Animal Proection Industry — her thesis is that it was when animals became companions to people, used and seen that way, the protection organizations became effective; and two more books for sheer pleasure and/or curiosity and because my two beloved companions read and liked them. Both were read by the two men who used to provide understanding, validation, fun, support in my life and have died. Both are by authors these men really liked. I’ve started my father’s copy of Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens: I want to know more about the riots of the 1780s in England and how Dickens saw them, how he represented them. It’s a historical fiction too; an interest of mine. The other is Julian Barnes’s Something to Declare: Essays on France, and first up was an essay on Richard Cobb as a person, scholar of French culture and the revolution, writer, also someone Jim liked to read enormously. I have not been able to talk to my father weekly for some 26 years now, but I will read a text he liked so in the copy he owned; and ditto for Essays on France.

D 90582-01  Julian Patrick Barnes and Pat Kavanagh. Obligatory Credit - CAMERA PRESS /  Jillian Edelstein. SPECIAL PRICE APPLIES - CONSULT CAMERA PRESS OR ITS LOCAL AGENT. Writer Julian Patrick Barnes and his wife, literary agent Pat Kavanagh, who died on 20/10/2008. They are pictured here in 1991.  Use of this image is subject to legal restrictions. Please refer to picturelibrary@npg.org.uk  www.npg.org.uk/picturelibrary picturelibrary@npg.org.uk  www.npg.org.uk/picturelibrary Picture Library National Portrait Gallery St Martin's Place London WC2H 0HE +44 (0)20 7312 2473/4/5/6 MW18180

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I’ve come to Barnes through another book, his Levels of Life, whose last third not about the death and dying of Kavanagh, not about cancer, not much about their lives together for 29 years (some of which will doubtless be part of Something to Declare) is one of the finest statements about what is lost to the person whose beloved partner of many years has died, the grating nature of the refusal to comprehend and recognize the validity of such grief remaining, the inexorable reality. The first two thirds are relevant: they prepare for the last third. Ballooning: it’s life seen from the risk of death from the heights and how people behave so oddly over it (making it an upper class picnic as long as they can); and then “On the level,” how people can’t level with on another; and finally “loss of depth.” Yes that’s it. When I lost (that verb drives one wild) my father I lost one part of my depth forever. When I lost Jim, I lost all the rest. When I came across that subheading I knew Barnes had landed on the upheaval’s crack. Deep self.

Julian Barnes knows how to write in simple declarative sentences using the old nouns and verbs.

He begins (much paraphrase and quotation intermingled with my POV): “you put together two people who have not been put together before, and they become and experience something greater than each or the sum of both together.” “The world divides into those who have known love and those who haven’t; those who have endured grief and those who haven’t”. How bad we are at dealing with death; you may think you are prepared, but you are not, and do not know what it is “until the moment” of dying comes. “Only the old words will do: sorrow, sadness, heartbreak …” How a widowed poet friend described “the denial by the living of whose who have died.” The dead do not exist, did not exist, taboos and silences imposed. “Grief sorts out and realigns those around the griefstruck: friends are tested, pass and fail.” “How naive to assume those closest” in age or circumstances to understand. Some of the griefstruck are angry, even with the person who died; it feels like a betrayal, abandonment, with others for letting it happen. Who cares about anything in the world anymore if “the world wouldn’t, couldn’t save him?”

The “bright voice” asking you ‘what have you been up to?’,” proposing the sorts of things you used to do with your husband/wife. “Grief-trudges.” They tell you to get a dog, a cat. You don’t know how you appear to others.

He writes:

I do not believe I shall ever see her again. Never see, hear, touch, embrace, listen to, laugh with, never again wait for her footstep, smile at the sound of an opening door, fit her body into mine, mine into hers. Nor do I believe we shall meet in some de-materialized form … dead is dead … Some of this self-directed: look what I have lost, how my life has been diminished but it is more, much more, and has been from the beginning about her: look what she has lost, how that she has lost life.

Yes for me all STUGs have come when I’ve stood in front of some splendor and realized he cannot know this ever again, or now.

“The question of suicide, I love how he puts it: I will give it x months, or x years (up to a maximum of two) and then if I cannot live without her … ,” then the preferred methods gone over.

I experience all this:

I wanted very strongly and exactly, the opposite: to stay at home, in the spaces she had created and where she still, in my imagination, moved …

You have to prepare yourself for returning home and him not there. “On the scale of loss, this is nothing” doesn’t work. I too remember the first and few times I was away for a few days, or he. I too “read obituaries and check how long the subject was married, how old when died, envy those who had more time.”

“Many things fail to kill us but weaken us forever. Ask anyone who deals with the victims of torture.” “Grief reconfigures time, its length, its texture, its function.” How one day means no more than the next. For me one task completed yields no satisfaction or sense of accomplishment that matters. A new carte de tendre. “Grief is vertical, mourning horizontal.”

New one-off pain to come, unexpected. Braving going to a place. Escaping to your seat. He felt opera’s heartbreak exhilaratingly; Orfeo ed Eurydice — ah yes, for me that line, what shall I do without my beloved?

Then there are the funny things people say without realizing how funny. The use of the verb loss. I’m sorry you lost your husband. Mislaid him, did I?

Remembering sharply the last things he or she did, this and that. The last meal. Jim starved himself to death because life had become unendurable and no one would help him to die but himself. No one would release him. So his last meal was as the liver cancer set in.

Barnes says he knows Pat once existed and so talks to her continually. I cannot — no, that would break me. I cannot look at Jim’s letters because the tone of them used to send such joy to my heart, make me feel it was good to be alive when a voice like his spoke that to me.

The memoir weakens when he brings in the concept of “grief-work” and (oh dear) success in mourning; though mercifully he never uses the word “process”; nonetheless, when he goes to the trouble of denying getting over it, and then says one cannot hurry grief, he has given in.

He does keep questioning this:

Dr Johnson well understood the ‘tormenting and harassing want’ of grief … An attempt to preserve life in a state of neutrality and indifference is unreasonable and vain. If by excluding joy we could shut out grief, the scheme would deserve very serious attention.’ But it doesn’t.’ Work and time mitigate grief: “Sorrow is a kind of rust of the soul, which every new idea contributes in its passage to scour away.'”

He goes down in dreams, goes down in memories. I cannot. It does hurt as much as it is worth but somehow this doesn’t come; I cannot bear it. I would crack. “If it didn’t matter it wouldn’t matter.” He dreams of her. I don’t that I know of (dream of him) or rarely, and then I feel so anxious.

He ends on loneliness: there’s not having found someone to love, and that of having been deprived of the one you did love. He tries for German words, quotes C.S. Lewis for “‘inconsolable longing’ in the human heart for ‘we know not what.'” In grief for a beloved, it’s not loneliness but “the absence of a very specific person.” Now unbidden: “If I cannot hack it without her, I will hack at myself instead.” He says suicide is out because only through him does her existence have reach and feltness. It’s telling that for some of his books he used a pseudonym which included her last name as his.

Crabbe’s great line as Peter Grimes: “I live alone. The habit grows.” But marked for life, after madness, not spectacular solitude, not martyrdom, just loneliness.

I must forgive him for closing with the beat up: “an unexpected breeze has sprung and we are in movement again. But where are we being taken? … Or, if the wind is northerly, then, perhaps, with luck, to France.”

I feel moment of cheerfulness, even buoyancy where I say to myself, now if he were alive, all this we are doing, I am feeling, would be good. Now I’m seeing Barnes understands it takes a while to sink in. It took him a number of years to get to the point of writing this book.

And thus I turn to Barnes’s Something to Declare, which my beloved read. Or so I think. Jim did like some travel books very much. Patrick Leigh-Fermor a great favorite. He talked of Mani, how I should read it.

greece-footstepsofHomer
From Mani

There is a real self apart from social life. Deep self is what is released when I dance. Proust has some very good words on this “private self” (as opposed to the “drawing room self”). From the point of view of Jungian/Freudian. whatever label you want to call innate qualities, passions, ways of reacting and responding universal, below manners, codes what’s allowed, what’s encouraged, discouraged, what developed, what forbidden. People use these to manipulate one another. Deep self is Leigh-Fermor’s traveling self; so too Jenny Diski’s whose agon has been before us since September 2014. This is where the grieving self resides. As I think about grief and how people respond to loss, yes there may be many people who seem not to have depths of thought or feeling and they think, act, even feel cant, who obey conventions unexaminedly but my view is they are out of touch with this deeper self though because they are out of touch they may not be less able to cope with how this deep private self actuates them.

Sylvia

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CezanneTreebytheBend1881
Early Cezanne, Tree by the Bend (1881)

Mid-summer. Daily dreadful heat in Virginia, heat indexes at over 100 degrees fahrenheit

A paraphrase from Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby: ‘Look here, old man [old sport] what are we going to do with all these corpses?’

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I managed to find a small hotel outside Dulles Airport where my Florida friend was staying for the night, as a stop-over on her trip to South Africa (2 and 1/2 weeks) and then on to Frankfurt, Germany (4 days) for a 3 week tour this summer. She’s using one of these tour groups, in the first case with a nearby neighbor, in the second to visit an old friend.

We enjoyed a long dinner together and then shared a chocolate ice cream dessert. We had a kind of talk that I’ve not experienced for a long while and had hoped we would reach last January when I visited her. After all our life stories have such curious parallels: utterly working class backgrounds, became stenographers upon finishing high school very young, went back to college, and then onto to do a Ph.D., married men of sensitive disposition, had a period of going out as a couples, visited, she eventually when retiring from her high income job (there not alike, her degree being in economics with a mathematical emphasis, finance), turning to teaching in colleges. We did for one day when we went to the beach for a second time together and stood by the shore with our legs wet up to near the knees and walked along. We had done that 50 years ago when we were 18 and 19 at Rockaway. Somehow the memory of that old time, previous moment came back. Austen says in Mansfield Park that siblings can mean so much more to one another than spouses because the time known between the two, the shared life, experience rooted, past goes much deeper and somehow that counts. It is one of her usual ironic moments, because the meaning or thrust is about how such bonds can be broken and even so easily: as is so common it’s misquoted here on the Net and in scholarly works too, to omit the full bleakness it ends on:

Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connections can supply, and it must be by a long and unnatural estrangement, by a divorce which no subsequent connection can justify, if such precious remains of the earliest attachments are ever entirely outlived. Too often alas, it is so. Fraternal love, sometimes almost everything, is at others worse than nothing (Mansfield Park, Chapter 24)

My friend and I were not siblings and had a long parting on and off, but we were able to talk and reach down to say things about being a widow in ways that resonated and how we are coping (similarly) that was again rejuvenating. She even half-remembered a line from Mansfield Park (“a hole in the heart” forever there)

***********************
Personal loss. How it occurs and what it means in the US today. Last week mass graves of dead immigrants, corpses, found in Texas. This is the anniversary of several black men killed last summer by police. All gone, close relatives and friends’ lives ruined, desolated

For two days Amy Goodman has conducted meaningful, splendid interviews on her DemocracyNow.org. Two days ago it was Ta Nehisi-Coates on being black, on having to live with fear all the time, in the violent US, from his new book, Between the World and Me. Yesterday she interviewed the actor, Theodore Bikel, which one of the members of Wompo (a woman poets’ listserv) paraphrases as “On being an ‘artist’ (yes, a poet…) in our world… yes, it needs saying, and saying, and doing…with care as ever”

‘I am an artist, but I do not stand apart from the world. I am a part of the world. And I keep on insisting, when I speak to students, for example, always, always, always be part of your surroundings. I do not trust theater students who only read the theater pages. I do not trust the financial people who read only financial pages. A financial wizard needs to read the arts pages, and an artist needs to read the political pages, in order to live in the world in which he or she functions. And that’s an adage that has not changed. I am an activist because I’m a human being. And I am, as the Greeks have said, a political animal. I live in the fabric of a society that forces me to partake in whatever it is that the society presents me with. And I cannot divorce myself from it. I am not—I cannot say to myself I’m a lofty person engaged in some mythical remove, and I’m not, because I’m part and parcel of everything that there is.’

” And there were some who did not participate in any of this, but they also did not open their doors and windows, either, to call a halt. And today, neither I nor you nor history itself can absolve these nice people next door of guilt and complicity, because silence speaks very loudly, and non-action is also an act.”

Sandra Bland, a black woman, was murdered because she recognized that a policeman had no right to pull her car over; because she protested when he demands that she come out of the car, one of the fundamental liberties (protest) the US constitution is said to afford every US citizen. Here is the mainstream news report, calling what happened “a mystery:” notice what she was indited for, notice the police officer(s) have not even been taken into custody. US citizens are also said to have the right to life and liberty, to exercise a right to protect themselves (see my paper on Liberty in Winston Graham’s Poldark Novels).

This summer in my class on Trollope’s Framley Parsonage (just concluded), we went over one of the political passages in the novel which drills down to the level of understanding where a character recognizes he has or has not the right to exercise a right supposedly given him, that liberty and power is contingent on who you are in a group, and what powers the others in the group are allowed to exercise over you.

Each of us should understand that such incidents corrode all our safety. This police officer and those who work with him in Texas have been trained to act on the assumption that US citizens may be subject to the total annihilation of life and liberty on his impulse — with impunity. That they will NOT be prosecuted or punished for such crimes in any meaningful way or at all. Each time such an act is not indited we are all more deeply at risk. Each of us should speak out in whatever way available to us.

Imagine Sandra Bland’s mother — how she feels. I saw her the other night on a podcast — she was half-apologizing for her daughter’s conduct in a church (!), the agony of this woman. In Texas mass graves of murdered and dead immigrants have been found. This is all beyond monstrous: the killing fields are now in the US. I lost but one man to the cancer epidemic which no group of people with power, money, expertise to work out fundamental causes is doing anything fundamental about (only money-making techniques to prolong life, the agony), my friend another man to years of Parkinson’s Disease (the last four very bad while she took him where she could and nursed him herself).

Yvette is working on a new arrangement out of Snow Patrol’s contemporary Run which she will produce a video of and put here on the Net:

Singing, making music are Yvette’s way of speaking out herself.

Miss Drake

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