Posts Tagged ‘jim’s illness’

Home again

Dear friends and readers,

The temperature going down to freezing here; I’ve flowers in all three patches, white tulips, soft lavender, clumps of different flowerets and buds.

For these weeks I’m feeling I am moving in and out of peopled worlds in Pittsburgh and here in DC and Alexandria, where I abide. Who knew there were so many constantly reforming clouds of people. And then Izzy finds herself over the moon after several 10 hour days watching ice-skating at Junior World Championship in Boston.

For myself: Around Thursday noon I started off. So many miles. Thanks to my “garmin,” which talks to me with a bland American women’s accent, I had little trouble driving from Alexandria, Va to the Omni William Penn Hotel. The voice is most important at these transition moments when the highway gives out, you have to come off and drive through some series of low-cost gas stations, “family” food restaurants, and motels that have grown up precisely because this the highway gives out here. She tells you a few minutes ahead to bear left or bear right, cites the sign accurately, and with ease you get back onto said highway going in the right direction.

The route in the city reminded me of old highways in Brooklyn, and then I had simply to drive up a wide street, turn left twice and there I was, in front of the hotel. Nearly 5 hours each way. Homeward I worried intensely at one point because my gas was low and I had to realize that there were no on-highway gas stations. I got off said highway and nearby filled “‘er up,” and back on I went. I began to feel dizzy once I was near home, so got off the highway and found myself in a traffic jam around an accident.

This led me to stop off at Noodles and Company for a pasta dish to bring home; I downed it with Shiraz wine while watching yet another episode of the very well-done 1972 War and Peace scripted by Jack Pulman and the 2nd episode (Of 3) of the utterly inadequately adapted Dr Thorne, scripted by Julian Fellowes: a friend has likened him to Popplecourt; it’s as if Popplecourt were explaining Trollope’s art to us. I’ll write about this film adaptation separately too: coming to and going from I had listened half-way through Trollope’s Dr Thorne as read dramatically well by Simon Vance. I collapsed into bed, by that time my pussycats staying close by.

I had a good time while there: it was rejuvenating to go to sessions filled with varied intelligent talk and papers on new aspects of a subject matter I’ve spent my life reading about, studying. I’ll write of these separately. I was at two nights of receptions. I renewed old friendships during the first night’s dinner and first day’s lunch


40 years on Robin Ellis returns as the deeply reaction Halse and Aidan Turner defies him (2015, scripted by Debbie Horsfield)

My paper, “Poldark Rebooted: 4 Years on” went over well; the three other papers were from different points of view and done differently yet all linked as about recent TV and movie films (Outlander among them). The audience was not too small and we got good questions. The second night I seemed to gravitate towards the Burney group, and spent the second night’s dinner time and the next day women’s caucus with them. I can’t say I participated in intellectual political talk (as I do regularly now at the OLLI at AU in DC), but I did hear about local politics in different places from friends as well as happenings among books and writers and coming conferences (at Chawton). What people were working on, their topics of special interest and told of mine. One woman on sabbatical reading Burney’s manuscripts in the NYPL, living in Brooklyn for the year.


The William Penn Omni hotel is a beautiful building: art deco central hall or lobby downstairs, and the grand ballroom beautifully carved. It was the second time I’d been there: before with Jim I arrived at 11 at night and remember we got a meal!

As a memento I found on sale Norma Clarke’s probably highly readable biographical Brothers of the Quill: Oliver Goldsmith in Grub Street — its cover takes the left-hand side of Hogarth’s picture, enrichens the browns and yellows, suggestive of Grub Street life.

William Hogarth, The Distressed Poet (1736)

The experience occurred in the context of the two OLLIs, going to the Jewish Community Center, Smithsonian, the Folger, so I felt how I enter into and float out of differently peopled worlds. How different this is from the way I lived by Jim’s side. It’s like a quiet merry-go-round or roundabout. You get off and find under this pavillon a set of numerous people having adventures, stay and talk in whatever form is appropriate, then you go back to the path towards the merry-go-round and get on and off at another place. Interesting and informative discussion over lunch at Temple Baptist Church (one of the AU OLLI locations) by a retired lawyer and an economist about the importance of the supreme court, how much of US civic life corporations through their control of media is being poisoned.

But how and why do all these people keep it up? Cheerfully too. I feel so aware of these worlds’ fragility. That’s the strange and built-in dangerous thing: the necessary disconnect between casual friends and other people all the while you renew what you can or just have fleeting good talk. Here’s a question: how do you define friends?

Outside Izzy’s window in Boston: celebratory and commentating snow ….

Izzy had taken a 10 hour train trip to Boston via Amtrak. She had a long trip there and back and there was an accident at Philadelphia the day before she came home. No money in the US for public transportation. Fortunately her trip back was only (only) 40 minutes longer, so it took 11 hours. But she was comfortable the whole time. A decent seat, decent enough food available (real sandwiches with people to serve it), free wi-fi. She was not continually photographed or scrutinized as in a airport. She did not have to sign up for “paid privileges” which allow a cell phone or ipad to work, and separately for any music or movies (as in abusive airplanes).

She stayed in a hotel in Boston, from the which there were trains each day going back and forth from hotel to convention center. She found herself coming back to the hotel with the same people each night. Her day sometimes started after 10 or 11 or once noon. She often returned at 11 at night, once much later.



She got herself to the Museum of Fine Arts twice (it was a stop on her train), and explored the first floor. She said it was huge:


She saw a sign outside “to the Isabella Gardner museum,” but did not have the time for it. She walked in the city commons, on three different mornings, and late in the evening ate in different places around her hotel room, mostly Italian restaurants. Those nights she did return early it was very cold out; her window high and the winds strong. So she stayed in with her ipad and books.


Since she had the same seat for all but one day (as did most others), she sat behind the same group most days: British women who talked to one another and briefly to her too. Her sense of ecstasy as she watched and watched and the experience mounts she captured in a phrase she used to my question, “How’s it going?” “I’m over the moon.”

Miss Drake


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Sophie and I at the National Gallery this week

Two years ago today, a Saturday, Jim and I were told that the cancer had metastasized into his liver. That was not the way it was said. In low tones, the doctor said “liver mets.” Jim had been feeling unwell for days; we had been to see the imbecilic Kaiser doctor on the Thursday who had been all cheer and declared he was doing very well. But that morning he got up in extreme pain and looked at me and said “something is dreadfully wrong.” So we went to the Tysons Medical Center which I myself visited about 3 weeks ago now. I did not know what the phrase meant until we got home and I looked it up on wikipedia, and did not realize it was a death sentence and soon until a few days later.

Yvette has finally uploaded her YouTube of herself singing an appropriate song, Snow Patrol’s Run. These are hard to do by oneself. Especially hard the videoing and sound parts. I am moved by her choice of song, its lyrics and music type. That’s our spinet piano you are hearing.

This past Friday night I went with a new friend, a woman I met at the OLLI at Mason (she was in my class, around my age, divorced), let us call her Phyllis, to listen to someone who had the professional accompaniment Yvette lacks: we went to a sort of nightclub, www.CreativeCauldron.org it’s called on-line, a room functioning as place for plays, music and cabaret in Fairfax, Virginia. Sandy Bainum has a throaty-pleasing voice, dresses in conventional sexiness (complete with piled blonde hair, sequins around her neck, tight black outfit, CHFM shoes), but the music chosen was tepid, her talk between songs puerile and tedious, and some of her numbers astonishingly embarrassing: at one point she came out in a apron with home-made cookies, declaring she was imitating a 1950s housewife such as one might see on TV at the time. We paid only $13 each,and there were three touching songs with some sincere emotion towards the end. The audience was mostly seniors; there were tables you could reserve by buying a bottle of (not very appetizing) wine in the lobby. I wondered what they thought. All polite, clapping at the end (as at the Barns theater in Wolf Trap).

Phyllis declared it was the worst thing she’d ever seen there, most of it is nowhere as bad, some even good. Still the last time I went to a cabaret was with Jim more than 25 years ago and it was somewhere in Northern Virginia — Alexandria. I don’t recall much except we never went again. After this, I have to admit to a non-enthusiasm for the next 25 years.

Sophie and I were luckier at the National Gallery on Thursday afternoon. We endured the dreadful heat to meet up. I watched the insanity of sweating tourists going in and out of the fierce air-conditioning in the museum; who would come to DC in August? can they not think of anything better than grinding through the Air and Space museum in the torturous glare? When I was in my thirties I used to marvel at bedraggled women who take their children (their work after all) with them and call this a vacation. Have they no brain, no individual response they are in touch with?

Well, beyond some paintings in their permanent collection I had not seen before, brought up from their capacious basement, and very worth the seeing (early 20th century American), and a few favorites:

Turner, Mort Lake Terrace (1827)

Three rooms of Joachim Wtewael (1566-1638) revealed that the Renaissance had its deeply vulgar stupid art too. The man could paint like a virtuoso when it comes to realistic depiction, but there was hardly a picture not directly or not-so-subtly pornographic. Much violence in evidence too. Prurient pin-ups for clerics and princes made respectable by classical stories. I wish I could have Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell’s sardonic reaction. As the curators had written such solemnly blind blurbs next to the pictures, I did wonder if others beyond me saw what was in front of them. As I tried to tell Sophie, I could see I grated upon people around me. But on Friday night one of my friend’s friends who came with us spoke of this exhibition in terms that made me realize she at least (and probably others) understood they were doing to see exercises in hypocrisy — and didn’t mind in the least. Had the pictures been more neutral in their depictions (fluid sexuality) it would have been easier to take, but there was too much anal intercourse of man upon woman, just women offering themselves salaciously to men. One depiction of a kitchen (not mythic) reminded me of a Millais and was the least absurd, but the brochure I picked up does not include the title, and Sophie was almost kicked out of the museum for attempting to use her cell phone to photograph it. I found this version on the Net:

Its busy overabundant disorder is representative — I do like the cat and fish

On the whole, Sophie and I decided we still had had a richer afternoon than most plays locally done, most movies on offer this summer could give us. She did say she went to a Millenium Stage piano concert of good music well done on that same Friday night.

I am enjoying watching a couple of superb BBC serial dramas: Danger UXB, about a unit of men whose dangerous job it is during WW2 to defuse bombs the Germans showered Britain with in WW2; stark, simple, truthful, it’s a powerful statement about war. The use of footage from the period reinforces the effectiveness. I’m re-watching the recent Upstairs Downstairs, also on WW2, but from the angle of an upper class family with Nazi infiltration and connections. Listening to a fine reading aloud of Graham’s Ross Poldark by Oliver Hembrough, and Yvette had downloaded for me another of Demelza read by Claire Corbet. I can no longer get myself to drive to the JCC (25 minutes by highway) to do water-aerobics as the exercise is non-existent; I swim every other day, 4-7 laps depending on when my chest gives out (I get breathless and have pain), every other afternoon. 6 minutes there and 6 back. Takes half an hour to swim as much as I manage. Water refreshing. I still go to Dance Fusion at the JCC for two early mornings. My favorite thing for exhilaration.

I am almost finished with my paper on Trollope’s colonialist writings, fiction and non-fiction and know that this one shows I have nothing new to say. What I write is accurate, but what Trollope scholars will want to hear that I feel that the way Trollope’s repugnant views are got round by themselves, doesn’t stand scrutiny?

Small things Charlie, my Haven counselor, would have told me to remember in comparison to the catastrophe Jim and I experienced in August 2013 and the hideous often cruelly administered treatment he was subjected to (the punning meanings of medicine come to mind) for the last two months of his life. As soon as I’ve finished this paper, I’m going to take off from all job-connected reading and writing. The first book on my pile is Julian Barnes’s Levels of Life. Jim read Barnes’s books as they came out and this morning I read his latest essay in the LRB (“Selfie with Sunflowers”) where he wrote poignantly and funnily on all that surrounds Van Gogh’s works, all that gets in the way of reaching them.

An early Van Gogh, Restaurant de la Sirene at Snieres, Summer 1887

The results of his death for me are inexorable. I’ve tried to build a new life but it’s hollow all that I do without him and I don’t enjoy much of it — what I enjoy are reading at home, writing, watching movies because these absorb my mind most fully. For me the teaching is a help because it gets me doing thoroughly books I love more; my old-time Florida friend is teaching again too, economics at a nearby university in Tampa. As she said to me (also a widow now) last week there is no replacing the companionship we had, no bringing back or recreating in any form a long life’s meaning each of us had with this man we loved and who each loved each. When widows stay sad, it’s the result of the present they have to endure. I understand that the way society is organized is natural and people who last as a couple remain in the pair and know happiness and all that do is arranged around that. All a widow like myself can do is find resources within herself and try for peace there, turn to old friends and to pass time sometimes find stray people like themselves sufficiently.

Paradoxically though I’ve said how I love my home I have to get used to being in it alone — with my cats as living-alongside companions.

Yesterday evening I cooked a meal for myself for the second time since Jim died. Yvette was out. Again it was pasta (farfalle) and I microwaved some sauce from Trader Joe’s and had left-over cold chicken on the side. Again, washed it down with Paisano wine. Watched PBS news while eating both times too.

Miss Drake

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People in a gallery

One must live with great seriousness like a cat — a play upon an utterance by Nazim Hekmat

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been meaning to tell of one last adventure Yvette and I had while in NYC: Friday morning until lunchtime we wandered all about the Metropolitan Museum of Art, exhausted ourselves there too, for me seeing paintings and art work I regard as old friends and with her looking at new art.

Well, we happened on an exhibition of photographs by Thomas Struth. The ones used to advertise his work are like the one above: people looking at vast art, people making things, not just beautiful art, but everything one might think of in an industrial building, wandering in and out of cities, esplanades, woods filled with twisted branches: ephemeral beings given some kind of larger meaning against the shape of seemingly permanent or continuing structures. I’m told that Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary where he filmed the worlds of people doing things, talking in the institution in the UK called the National Gallery is rapturous. By contrast, Struth shows a family of artists whose living is made by restoring pictures working in the basement of an old church thus:


So (or but) if you go to one of Struth’s actual exhibits (not spread across the globe on the Net), you find there is another sort of photograph among them:


People submitting to technology: the above is a surgery for hymenoplasty. I melted into quiet crying upon seeing one of a woman on a table covered by surgical lines, with IVs all over her, bags of liquids, long sharp instruments all around, of course sheeted: she was having an operation for some dire cancer. I cried because I wished I had seen that image before I agreed to agree with Jim he would have that esophagectomy that made his last 8 weeks of life a living hell of nausea, starvation, pain. On the wall was a little plaque assuring you the woman as still living as of some date. Right. I can’t find a replica on the Net of that photo or a couple others in the Met that day. I knew that the photo was invasive and voyeuristic, but I wish everyone could see that or the other photos before they agree to a surgery. Since the advent of anesthesia people submit to operations with their eyes closed — metaphorically as well as through drugs. We ought to imagine these; maybe we will agree less often.

This is prompted by my having overheard a man at the Toyota Dealer this morning on the phone for over half an hour scheduling a series of appointments for what was clearly a major surgery, which was to be proceeded by a visit to the famed Mayo clinic (for cancer), and a number of other visits to this or that doctor. The man was all eager docility, cooperation itself. He looked about 70, white, had a briefcase thick with papers (perhaps a college professor). I was there waiting for my PriusC to be inspected so I could get my yearly sticker attesting to the safety of my car: it’s put on one’s window shield in Virginia. I wished I had the nerve to ask him what kind of cancer it was.

Don’t misunderstand me. I felt jealous. I sat there remembering how I could not persuade Jim to try to go to Boston, Massachusetts, where we were told we might be able to see a super-famous, (probably) super-expensive oncologist who never did esophagectomies (as he thought them horribly maiming) but poured intense chemotherapies into people to try to subdue, diminish, put the cancer into remission.

I realized that I never saw Jim being active on behalf of his health that way. In life for other things he was often a person who made many phone calls, set up all sorts of schedules for us to travel, engineered itineraries. But when it came to his health he often just submitted to doctors, didn’t question them. He did read about his cancer when we were told, and early on told me what the Kaiser people were doing was common protocol. Was what doctors did when the case was esophageal cancer.

At Kaiser there was no need beyond minimum appointment making. They found for him a man trained at the Mayo clinic (a surgeon outside Kaiser), a radiation doctor, another to do chemotherapy (in the event we never had them because the cancer metastasized into his liver before the series could start). Jim was I know not just thinking of the price, but thinking it would take time to go to Boston, precious time to try to reach this doctor, have his advice, and then maybe go for Kaiser anyway. He didn’t want to stop what was set up already.

I wasn’t sure of myself so I was afraid to say no, let’s not do this operation, let’s go to Boston, let’s insist on chemotherapy first, lest I was wrong — and he suffer from it, he die.

I worried about the worried looks in the eyes of the non-surgical doctors: did they think this guy a jock eager to cut Jim up and that he’d be better off doing chemotherapy first? Maybe he would have lived had he had chemotherapy first and the cancer would not have metastasized? It was a judgement whether to do the operation first because chemotherapy could burn the tissues and then the operation afterwards might result in dangerous complications as parts of the organs would not heal readily at all. So he said.

I found myself wishing I had persisted and made some kind of intense effort to for once listen to me — would he be alive today?

I was like am now a person walking down a stairway where the handrails have been taken away

I asked myself, Is this man I am watching and listening to, going to be alive 10 years from now because he’s doing this? I envied him. I should not have. Sitting there doing that so politely was an ordeal he was controlling. We do not see the terror inside other people. He will be like the people in Stuth’s photographs. I do not know; maybe he’s having his pancreas removed. He was determined the operation should not be put off and all his appointments fit in. I will remember his aging face, short hair, thin body and briefcase.

My car passed inspection and the honest people at Toyota (I’ve been there before and the people there have been all courtesy to me too) charged me $16. I drove home listening to Simon Vance reading aloud Trollope’s Dr Thorne and all day and until now (many hours later) had this man’s image in my mind and knew I would write this blog about Struth’s photograph of a woman having a cancer operation at last.

Struth, Milan Cathedral, 1998


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Dear friends and readers,

I regret to report that the cancer epidemic has reached Jenny Diski. In a determinedly comic column Diski announced she had been diagnosed as having a form of inoperable cancer which features cancer traveling into your lypmph nodes and (“very bad” she writes) into the esophagus. Statistically she is told she has 2-3 years before she dies: in the case of cancer you ignore statistics at your peril: I ignored the 40% of all people diagnosed with esophageal cancer dead within a year, and we went ahead with a horribly mutilating operation (if in doubt remove it) for him, which when the cancer metastasized only made him die quicker and suffer much more. I hoped he’d be in the 60%.

She writes:

One thing I state as soon as we’re out of the door: ‘Under no circumstances is anyone to say that I lost a battle with cancer. Or that I bore it bravely. I am not fighting, losing, winning or bearing.’ I will not personify the cancer cells inside me in any form. I reject all metaphors of attack or enmity in the midst, and will have nothing whatever to do with any notion of desert, punishment, fairness or unfairness, or any kind of moral causality. But I sense that I can’t avoid the cancer clichés simply by rejecting them.

Jim too thought this kind of language ridiculous but eventually was driven to say the physicians had intended to battle the cancer in his body. All they did was ruin his body.

She jokes:

So – we’d better get cooking the meth,’ I said to the Poet, sitting to one side and slightly behind me. The Poet with an effort got his face to work and responded properly. ‘This time we quit while the going’s good.’ The doctor and nurse were blank. When we got home the Poet said he supposed they didn’t watch much US TV drama.

I hope she does keep a cancer diary in public; from my reading of so many of her essays (whenever I come across one, I read it, pronta), she will be perceptive and wise. Her book might tell of the hurt, the pain and lies, will be another voice calling attention to the crying need for fundamental research.

People in the world writing, reportage, and in colleges need to know that this epidemic is killing out of all proportion old, middle-aged and now young, rare cancers no longer rare.

Just now I’m reading Diski’s Skating to Antartica, which is lending me courage to go on the trips I’ve planned this fall. I realize I should read her Stranger on a Train. As a regular essayist she’s in a league with Hilary Mantel, Lorna Sage, Margaret Atwood, Diane Johnson, Anita Brookner; among men, Richard Holmes, Richard Davenport-Hines.

Poor woman. Cooking did distract Walter White and that “lost waif,” Jesse Pinkman.


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The piano a couple of weeks ago

Dear friends and readers,

I took that photo of my spinet piano a couple of weeks ago when Yvette had left a composition book on it. She had devised a song, sung it and somehow took a photo and recorded herself so as to put a video of herself singing on her blog. I wrote of this more than two weeks ago and how I was planning to begin piano lessons for myself. I finally did this week, one hour with a woman named Julie. We wrote out clefts, notes, begin playing on her Steinway grand piano. The sounds coming from the teacher’s piano were lovely — harmonious, bright like a bell. Full with an echo when you left your finger on a key. I like calm rhythms. As I said on facebook when I began to play I cried because I wished I could be happy while playing these. I felt I ought to be. I remember I wrote shortly after Jim’s death I felt I was living in a house which had lost one of its four walls. Now I understand the meaning of Haushofen’s Wall better: she said it was about how this transparent wall was between her and the rest of the world: Lessing said of the book it could have been written only by a woman. Maybe it’s good then that my spinet has a much tinnier, thinner sound. I don’t have to feel I’m can’t reach something I was surprised to feel I wanted.

I want the lessons for myself too: when I was 12 I asked for piano lessons, but my parents would not buy me a piano. My father insisted I learn guitar; he had some vicarious dream of me playing guitar to others at parties. How little he had to have imagined me for real to dream such a thing. But it was an old guitar; one he had picked up somewhere so I was ashamed of it. Nonetheless I took weekly lessons for three years. Looking back I realize that I was discouraged from the start, told I had no ear, or would not be very good at it by the teacher. Why I persisted I don’t know. I know why I quit but that belongs to a rape story. Suffice to say here I quit so as not to have to take a long walk past a big park by myself. Not that the teacher regretted my absence, though once I remember him worrying about me one day when I looked in some distress, and offering to phone my parents. Well now I’ve no one to tell me I will never play well. Not that I expect much more than simply learning to play songs and make music.

I looked diligently to see if I could find a photo of Jim playing, but I never seem to have taken one of him doing this. There’s only one of me one Christmas (2005) sitting next to the piano as it used to look with his books piled on the top for when he wanted to play anything. Why would I have taken such a photo? He didn’t play to show off to others; I didn’t expect I would have to remember him playing.

Julie’s a cancer widow too; she’s about 76 — 4 years ago her husband died age 72 of a horrible lung cancer metastasized: it had taken 2 years. The first time I met her (last week for an introductory brief time) she said by the end his death was a relief. She said she was “fine” now; this time she said as how when she used to look at a kind of flower he liked and they would drive by, she would cry but now when she drives by, she rejoices to remember he loved it. Her smile when she said this was slightly frozen; such a statement is of course a sign of madness.

This is a very sad weekend for me. Last year after several days of feeling bad (and going to one of several godawful oncologists at Kaiser who pronounced him as looking “really great,’ like all of them hardly paying any attention for real), and then telling me he could not drive to Caroline’s wedding, on August 3rd he awoke early and said in a kind of deep panicked voice, “something is very wrong.” A strange very bad pain; we rushed to the 24/7 Tysons Corner medical facility and by 12 the tests were done. It was some time after that a much better doctor sat down in that cubbyspace with us and pronounced two words quickly and softly, “liver mets.”

I had no idea what she meant. I felt bewildered. Later that afternoon when we were home and I looked about metastasis and then liver, did I realize the gravity of what had been said. Jim was not up to going to Caroline’s wedding that day; the reform rabbi who was performing the ceremony brought a computer person with her and they set up something which permitted Jim to watch the ceremony from home with Clarycat on his lap and to be seen by everyone at the wedding doing so. I think he heard it too. Still I did not understand this was a death sentence at first nor how soon death would come. I kept using the word probably for a week or so. Maybe it was when the doctor dismissed us to a hospice — how Jim hated them when he still had some strength, tried to throw them out, showed what scorn he could for the first woman’s phony spiel. He looked upon me as deluded by them; if I was at first (as I am a little slow this way), within 2 weeks I saw what most of them were.

I did eventually get a decent nurse (an ex-doctor from the Philippines who answered my questions instead of telling me what a good question that is and avoiding any answer lest they compromise their position with anyone, risk anything) twice a week, and it was due to him that the last four days we did have a round-the-clock second decent nurse. Once near the end they exasperated him to the point he removed a rubber sheet they had forced on him and he laughed to find this kind of emotion could still stir him.

It was a terrible two weeks last August, filled with pain for him: he was also pretending to be more delusional than he was to avoid talking to me. I just keened on and off. August 3rd is in some ways far worse for me than October 9th (the night he actually died). All hope died. Hope gone. It was the end of the life we had lived. He had used the metaphor of a wall too. When we still hoped he was going to recover for a while, live yet for a couple of or even few years, he’d say he was on the other side of a wall where cancer patients dwelt. That no one who had not had cancer could know what it was to experience it. No matter how I empathized I was on the other side — I felt that was not quite so, since the world had gone grey for me. I’d see as in a distance farmer’s markets with people buying food and crafts cheerfully. The brightness on the other side of a wall.

Polser’s film of The Wall

A musical weekend: Yvette plays and sings weekend mornings and I began practicing twice a day for 15 minutes. I bought a metronome. Furniture polish to make the instrument look better. We also ventured forth for the first time in two years to Wolf Trap: to hear a favorite folk-rock singer, Mary Chapin Carpenter, sing with the National Symphony Orchestra (and her own band intermingled with them). What a journey — and a hugely crowded set of parking lots. It’s not a trivial trip, and without Vivian it would have been much harder to get there and taken much longer getting home. The National Symphony Orchestra made such beautiful sounds — especially the exquisite opener, Yvette and I considered getting a subscription. Vivian said the first piece of music was the best. Yvette called it a wonderful night of music, only the orchestra out-performed her. We will keep an eye out for concerts we might like and go to the Kennedy Center on the occasional Sunday. Carpenter’s voice in real physical life is a deep harmonious melancholy mezzo soprano too — she was singing a new kind of song for her, more emotional, “Songs for a Movie” a new album. I did miss her rousing, raucous ones but they wouldn’t go with that orchestra. The evening was cool, the sky pretty — until it began to rain after we were driving home.

I like music. Thus far the class I genuinely enjoy at the JCCNV is the dance fusion workshop. This week I went once to waterarobics and the instructor had a tape of disco music. There is one jolly woman who doesn’t bother follow the instructor and she was water-dancing the whole hour.

A friend told me about Stephen Grosz’s Examined Lives, a book partly about grief. He writes about popular beliefs, saying that death and grief are quite distinct. (So Kubler-Ross is a codification of the social lies I outlined the other day. I remember when Jim was still thinking he might recover him ironically going over the stages, telling me where we were in this scheme of things.) She wrote: “With death there is closure – the person dies. Grief is different – there is no such closure, only a gradual lessening of the pain over time.” Perhaps accurate words wanted are bereft and gradual numbing. But I am not numb.


The man I hired to see my lawn mowed each week has obligingly grassed over both little plots I made for Jim and I to have flowers in for our retirement years together. All that is left is the circle around the maple tree. It’s so small even I can weed it, but if there are no daffodils after this year, that will be fine.

I thought of Emily Bronte’s Remembrance with its opener, “Cold in the earth,” and read it and it helped to reconcile myself to Jim’s having been cremated (though never fully) — at least I don’t have to dream of him cold in the earth. But Marina Tsvetaeva’s stanzas as translated by Elaine Feinstein are more appropriate to a world where missiles drop bombs on sleeping people who had the temerity to want to eat more:


Tonight — I am alone in the night,
a homeless and sleepless nun!
Tonight I hold all the keys to this
the only capital city
and lack of sleep guides me on my path.
You are so lovely, my dusky Kremlin!
Tonight I put my lips to the breast
of the whole round and warring earth.
Now I feel hair — like fur — standing on end:
the stifling wind blows straight into my soul.
Tonight I feel compassion for everyone,
those who are pitied, along with those who
    are kissed.


Who sleeps at night? no one is sleeping
In the cradle a child is screaming
An old man sits over his death, and anyone
young enough talks to his love, breathes
into her lips, looks into her eyes

Once asleep — who knows if we’ll wake again?
We have time, we have time, we have time
    to sleep!
From house to house the sharp-eyed
watchman goes with his pink lantern
and over the pillow scatters the rattle
of his loud clapper, rumbling.

Don’t sleep! Be firm! Listen, the alternative
is — everlasting sleep, Your — everlasting house!

Here’s another window
with more sleepless people!
Perhaps — drinking wine or
Perhaps only sitting,
or maybe two lovers are
unable to part hands,
Every house has
a window like this _
A window at night: cries
Who sleeps at night? No one is sleeping.
In the cradle a child is screaming.
An old man sits over his death, and anyone
of meeting or leaving.
Perhaps — there are many lights,
perhaps — only three candles.
But there is no peace in
my mind anywhere, for
in my house also, these
things are beginning:

Pray for the wakeful house,
friend, and the lit window.


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Daffodils ‘that take the winds of March with beauty … before the swallow dares ….’ Shakespeare

The crocuses and daffodils that we planted last year in early March have come out this morning; a photo he & I took together last year at this time.

Dear friends,

I had a notice from the Animal Hospital of Alexandria (the name the group veterinarian practice I take my cats to calls itself) that today is Ian’s birthday. This day He is 5 (or maybe 6). A favorite photo where his inward personality — playful, affectionate, so attached — comes forth:


Why I did not get one for Clarycat I don’t know as I was told they were born from the same mother cat and litter.

It is also the day that last year the Admiral drunk down his barium swallow at the Kaiser Springfield facility — it had become apparent that he was having trouble swallowing and this was the first thing he was asked to do. As yet at this time last year I had no idea he would not be here with me and our cats for years to come.

This year — last night — as I came home from the Kennedy Center it snowed, iced, sleeted and rained on me, and my next door neighbor’s tulip tree which I see out of my study windows is already drooping. It flowered too soon and will not bloom properly this year.

Susan Herbert, detail from Wild Poppies (after Monet)


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A solitary axe-blow that is the echo of a lost sound …

The blaze of death goes out, the mind leaps
for its salvation, is at once extinct … — Geoffrey Hill,
another poet the admiral liked to read when he was young

Dear friends and readers,

Yesterday a friend reminded me of a trip Jim and I took to Cleveland last March where I met her in a restaurant, and he didn’t come to dinner with us. That was not unusual, as he often avoided social occasions, but he had had the additional excuse of it being hard for him to swallow. She wrote she was “so clueless about the significance of this. It was indeed the calm before the storm; or did you have premonitions about what was to come … ”

In retrospect yes. People will say retrospect doesn’t count, but upon being told on April 28th, he had cancer, I remembered back to August 2012 when highly unusually before the set vacation time in Vermont (we were staying in a Landmark house, built first in the 18th century), Jim had turned round to me and said, “it’s time to go home.” And began making preparations. And so I did too.

I admit I didn’t mind, I never minded going home with or to him. He was the one who insisted on lengthening out the vacation time to say the afternoon of the last day so we would rush off to some museum or last experience in the morning (luggage stowed behind a stairway or inn counter) and have to wait for a plane in the evening. I admit we had lost electricity there and the house being so isolated and in the dark left us frightened. But the people taking care of the property had come by within a couple of hours and the power had come back by morning.

So it did strike me. Something about his tone felt ominous. The utterance bothered me. I thought I dismissed it from my mind, but I didn’t, couldn’t.

For some reason I find myself remembering Jim liked the poetry of Geoffrey Hill when we lived in Leeds together and Ji reading to me the text of The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Peguy by Geoffrey Hill:

Hill reading his poem upon the place a huge carnage took place

I told Cheryl that no one who had know Jim fully or for real was at the funeral — but me. “What a shame,” says she, I believe, seemingly blaming him, suggesting to me you don’t want to be that way. But few could have understood him. The selection from a poem sent by a friend who spent an afternoon with us and had a brief meal out, as appropriate for Jim, Kazantzakis, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, XXIII, 27-38), I read aloud, but no one but me understood it.

I must stop listening to people. He did manage to say “goodbye” to Yvette on that Monday, October 7th. She was off to work, and for once she came in to look and take his hand. He came out of consciousness and said to her, “Goodbye, Isobel,” smiled and fell back.

He told me not to care about what other people think (shades of Feynman) but try to follow my instincts, which are strong however hard it may be to come up to this.


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Lisa Bonchek Adams

Dear friends and readers,

About two weeks ago now the Times hosted one of the more egregious attempts to silence complaints about the ever widening and spreading cancer epidemic across the world. It was two-pronged approach: a supposed column by George Johnson in which the usual lie was repeated: the reason we seem (it’s not real you see), we seem to see cancer everywhere is we are not dying of other diseases. Not a single mention of the environment; of carcinogens added everywhere for profit (like in your cosmetics). The plausible nature of this is easily thwarted by statistics:

Not so. The numbers of people getting cancer have multiplied frighteningly since the beginning of the 20th century; as of the writing of his book 53 million people in the US will develop some form of cancer, 20% of the US population die from it, 5 times higher than the total US military deaths in all the Vietnam and Korean years combined (Politics of Cancer Revisited).

Beyond a huge increase in sheer numbers, the statistics show more and more people are developing cancer at a younger age than 50; more and more unusual forms of cancer are emerging. Little fundamental research is being done: on PBS on New Year’s Eve two minutes (two minutes) of Judy Woodruff’s round-up of the year’s sufferers from sequestration was some promising research on immunology related to cancer: as cancers develop individually one must begin with immunologies (which do have universal principles and general patterns or the HIV virus would be raging unchecked still), but some findings were stopped dead (literally) in their tracks when funding was cut off. Drug companies do not do research which might compromise their profits.

Why just two minutes: the medical establishment, pharmacies, and the corporations poisoning our environment are those who support news shows like the News Hour — and much more control over commercial news programs. The New York Times is funded by advertisements from such people too: the American Cancer society among them: doctors make huge sums treating cancer once it appears; drug companies with their hardly understood chemotherapies (which they cannot predict will kill or save or prolong your life or spead your cancer into another type of cancer). A friend who makes money as a consultant for coping with drug companies told me they are careful not to do research which might compromise the sales of their developed products.

Then they backed the Kellers; this married couple scorned a woman on the Net who blogged about her breast cancer, Lisa Adams. This second one comes out of another set of values and another well-known newspaper, The Guardian, which has the same set of advertisers: here the norms are those which shame people into silence: how impolite, gauche, self-centered, disgusting and cheerless (not to call it “whining”) not to hide your misery. Lisa ought to go quietly and gently; indeed it seemed to Bill Keller that those who opt not to have treatment sometimes live longer and are more comfortable. He’s never had cancer, has he? when my husband couldn’t stand the chemotherapy he let himself in for howling pain, his whole body twisted into helpless lack of muscles, becoming thinner than a wraith so he could not stand; he starved to death as do many cancer patients.

Such silencing enables domestic violence, rape, cruelties towards children, abuse of children in schools. Bill and Emma Keller object to Lisa Adams telling the world step-by-step of her miserable death from cancer. And just think of how self-indulgently money is being spent on this woman.

Daily I come across stories of this or that person cut off in his or her 40s, 50s, 60s, or older by cancers; of this or that community where cancer is raging after pesticides and other environmental poisoners have been spread about: how these companies then go to court and look upon the money spent as part of their over-head. If I told every story I heard over every couple of days, every story of a relatively young man or woman cut off 20 years early, of the pain, terror, complete lack of any ability to predict, the horrific costs, the emotional and physical humiliation, the maimed lives of those left behind, the continuing fear of anyone who seems to go into remission, I’d never cease blogging. West Virginia’s water supply is a latest instance of a community threatened.

From memory as these come to mind: a friend in her 40s Ovarian cancer, has a hysterectomy; this was half a year ago; her friend has had a return of breast cancer metatasizing and she prays to see her son graduate high school; a friend whose husband in his mid-sixties died of pancreatic cancer after having his pancreas removed and endured a year of agony; a friend whose husband died of a rare bone cancer; the treatments “mysteriously” made him worse, he endured many amputations and died unconscious; a friend whose friend died within 13 days of diagnosis; prostate cancer, a man in his later 80s doctors do not diagnose right for 10 months; a nurse whose husband died within 4 weeks of being told (in his 50s); a boy in Yvette’s class whose mother died in her 40s of ovarian cancer; a friend whose friend beat out breast cancer on the first round, it comes back and five years is no faultline, and when it comes back, as this did, it metatasizes into your brain, bones, liver; a friend’s young husband, in his 40s, has colon cancer (much of his lower organs removed, and endless chemo); a friend’s son had leukemia and he did survive; another friend’s niece has had a return of leukemia; next door to me esophageal cancer, the man lives in great distress from the esophagectomy (a high priced criminal procedure as it does nothing to prevent the spread); others have this operation as a precaution; another woman with esophageal cancer spent the rest of her longish life afterwards on smooth gruels; a friend whose father died miserably of cancer in late stages (one of these new rare ones); her mother too; the Admiral’s father of lung cancer; another friend whose husband never smoked of lung cancer at 59. A fellow widow whose husband died of cancer in his mid-50s; a neighbor across the street whose husband died at age 66 after a 10 month ordeal with pancreatic cancer; the neighbor who lived there before her lost her husband in his early sixties to cancer too: how miserable that man looked in his few last months. There are the many enduring endless chemo and returns, relapses, with chemo sometimes resulting in raging forms of other cancer. The doctors apparently have no way of predicting how the chemo will affect you. Older friends who keep getting skin cancers. Another friend, both her parents. (I am not alone in being left alone.) My aunt at 64, they cut her spinal chord to alleviate the pain, but that guaranteed death inside 4 months. A man’s wife I know in her fifties. A young (in her 30s) friend’s young husband who developed esophageal cancer at 38; 4 years of trials, of horrible pain, of misery, dead at 42. A friend on facebook: her two women friends dying in their fifties of cancer, one breast cancer. My friend’s son’s colleague, a man in his fifties, must quit work because the cancer has weakened him so.

Breast cancer: the emphasis here skews what we should keep our focus on: cancer. In the US women’s breasts are fetishicized. Dozens of stories of ovarian cancer (a killer, unless you get it early enough and have a hysterectomy and then it can return any time and spread); there is no five year mark with breast cancer. It can return anytime and it’s when it returns and metastasizes into the bones, liver, brain that the torture begins. A friend’s mother in her 50s cut off, a student whose mother was in her fifties died in agony; another friend beat out the first bout, 4 years later had bone transplants, liver, a continual horror story and dead at 49. Martha Mansoon (person on PBS reports with no insurance until Obamacare).

A whole generation — mine — is being cut off, made miserable, 20+ years earlier than they need be. And when they die of old age cancer makes the death much worse.

Well-known and less well-known people: Jonathan Schell (The Fate of the Earth), just 70; Sherwin Nuland of prostate cancer (83), his brother much younger of colon cancer; Richard Feynman (physicist, of lung and other cancers), Rachel Carson (irony here), Lynn Stewart (human rights lawyer, wrongly jailed for years), Amiri Baracka; Claudio Abbaddo, in his early 60s, orchestra leader and composer; Paul Newman at 83; John Letts, the chairman of the Trollope society, inventor of the Folio Society, of lung cancer in his early 70s (a terrible time). Farm workers get cancer in huge numbers; Cesar Chavez; Marlen Haushofen, bone cancer at age 50; anyone living near fracking. the woman lawyer who was a political prisoner; a man in solitary confinement for over 40 years just released, died two days later; Christopher Hitchens (the famous journalist, esophageal cancer, his mid-60s); Steve Jobs (the man who brought us Apple computers, iphones, ipads, Macbook Pros, ipods), Paul Newman. Irene Demchyshyn, editor, production chief at Workman publishing, Joanne Lipking, 18th century scholar; the golden voiced David Case (read for Books on Tape), ironically of throat cancer at the age of 60. Meral Okay, scriptwriter for a film mini-series, of lung cancer. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a widow; her husband, Martin, was cut off from his career as a lawyer (taught at Georgetown — she typed his work posthumously) by testicular cancer which metastasized; she writes the introduction to a book of poetry, an anthology I bought myself: The Widows’s Handbook: Poetic Reflections on Grief and Survival. She has had colon and pancreatic cancer, still with us … Andre Shriffin (writer) is now dead of pancreatic cancer, cut off in his later 50s. Hardy M. Cook, Shakespearean scholar keeping up Shaksper-l all these years has struggled against a cancer for a number of years. Jesse Winchester at 69.

Tom Brokaw has cancer.

Wait. I’ll come back with more as I remember them. I’ll just add that cats and dogs nowadays are know to develop cancer:. lymphosarcoma, squamous cell carcinoma, VAS Vaccine-Associated Sarcoma and others.

Closeup of a cat getting checked by doctor
Just diagnosed

The admiral and I had a dog, Llyr, who died of multiple cancers which kept coming back. Age 12. Gentle reader do you know how high are vets’ bills? People don’t pay these mostly and just have the animal killed.

Why is there no movement to do something the way there was against HIV virus? First there are so many kinds of cancers (as is said ad nauseam) and people don’t identify as a single group; the gay community mobilized as a people who were energized by the ostracism and hatred they had experienced for decades and used AIDs as part of a campaign to gain acceptance. Second, as a friend whose father was a doctor (died terribly of a so-called rare cancer), and consequently knows lots of medical people, suggested: what’s quietly said is as long as it’s felt most of those dying from cancer are old over say 65 (not 67, two years less are valued it seems), no outcry will come. It’s when the numbers of 40 to 50 years old starts to pick up you might see some effective political activity, talk. Even young children don’t hack it because they don’t get to vote, and one of their cancers, childhood leukemia is sometimes thought largely curable. I’ve now had anecdotes of children and adult leukemia to suggest otherwise.

It feels hopeless: we feel we can’t fight on all the fronts we would have to, and we are told how hellishly complicated cancer is. Political action is done when strategies are developed: and this one is obvious: an attack direct on the lack of fundamental research being done and a demand for it — a demand that money be poured in this direction the way it was done against the HIV virus. For centuries it was said illnesses were hellishly complicated, mysterious miasmas in the air and water, hard to know where to discover the salient factors: but Pascal discovers what is called the germ theory of disease and suddenly a simple underlying pattern is discerned repeating itself with variations.

People fall for the lies the Times tells because it seems to deny there is an epidemic. Nothing to be afraid of: after all death is natural for all of us — to which the response is, but cancer is not.


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‘If gratitude and esteem are good foundations of affection, Elizabeth’s change of sentiment will be neither improbable nor faulty — narrator, Austen, P&P

I do not attempt to deny that I think very highly of him — that I greatly esteem — that I like him’ — Emma Thompson as Elinor, S&S, screenplay

All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone — Pascal

Ian among Yvette’s new shoe organizer — one of his morning places for 2 hour hiding out

Dear friends and readers,

Tonight driving over to our “Chinese take-out,” as we call it (I’ve no idea precisely what Asian people run the place) I saw Christmas lights outlining many houses, the first of the modern outside Christmas tree decorations that have spread, the balloon figures. Thanksgiving over the license to “do” your house up for Christmas has been put in place.

But for me, for us (I dare say, including Yvette in this) of the many times I’ve found holidays, especially Christmas, a hard ordeal to get through, none has been as stressful and trying as this one. I have been desperately unhappy. I hardly know why since the Admiral and I never made much of a fuss about Thanksgiving. Partly because he was English and there is no Thanksgiving in England (nor when he lived there, any Valentine’s Day, nor when growing up any New Year’s Day), or maybe because neither of us have any religious belief (and I’m with Godwin and Malcolm X on gratitude), there were years we didn’t have a turkey, especially once my father died and my mother stopped coming over. While Yvette was away in college and graduate school and Caroline had married, we almost succeeded in ignoring it.

Not quite. It’s hard to ignore what others are so insistent on acknowledging, and since getting on the Net, social life is continually in front of you if you are on-line a good deal — and he and I as well as our two daughters were and are. The last two years he was alive I did buy a turkey, he some nice vegetable from Farmer’s Market, we cooked our bird & veg, had champagne, three of us went for a walk in a self-conscious kind of way, so may be said to have observed Thanksgiving Day. Two years ago Yvette wrote a sincere blog telling what she was newly thankful for (a job!, our reunited family, the cats …)


Hayfield, Moon-bird — photo from England, this November, sent by a friend

They do — this triple whammy of late November with the days growing short, cold, dark, bleak as to foliage, the Saturnalia of Christmas and New Year’s — mark another year as passing. This has been the worst year of my life at the same time as at this time last year although I realized the Admiral was ailing, had been suddenly getting older for about a year before, things in him breaking down, I had no idea something mortal has wounded him. Last year at this time we were looking forward to many happy years of retirement together. Although unlike him I would not say we had a good chance of say 20 together (he’d cite a larger number), I did not think less than 1 was already the reality.

I’ve also been having some new realizations. Insights which I were I the self-improving sort truly (I am not that) I’d allude to as there’s an ill wind which does nobody any good. I’m seeing 3 (!) “head shrink” people. A psychiatrist who I find a waste of time: I can recall only one comment he has made which not been a platitude: it’s okay to lean on your daughter. Sometimes he does not realize he’s insulting me: do I want to hurt anyone else? He is ever pressuring me to take continuous drugs and I’m not going to do it. I re-tried zoloft (it’s cheap for Kaiser as an older drug) and have tried the lexipro I(ditto) and within 2-3 days they made me head-achy, woozy; I know they are dangerous (from the point of view of hemmorage). A social-worker psychologist who is a very nice woman, “cognitive therapist” which means she has learned to inculcate “positive thinking,” she listens attentively and offers upbeat advice. Sometimes she comes up with a good nugget I find useful to hold onto as I leave. It’s a paid friendship, $20 a throw.

Unexpectedly the grief support person has come through. I hardly remember who told me about “The Haven,” probably Kaiser people, also the Hospice, and yes the Jewish Social Service Agency woman who wanted to get rid of me because Kaiser will punish them if they allow patients to pay out of pocket for services Kaiser refuses to pay for. I’ve had an astonishing experience — one I was reeling from when I left Cheryl — that’s her name. “The Haven” looks like one. A little house where people who are mourning come to. The services there are for free, so I find it all the more ironic that she is the first person I’ve come across since I was 21 (& went to Jewish Social Services of NYC) who instinctively leads me into the kind of analysis of my past associated psycholanalysis, the talk therapy vindicated for real.

By talking freely of my childhood and how my parents lived as I saw it — now I’ll put it behaved towards me — she led me to see one real explanation of my fear of getting lost and why I panic so (get into deep distress) when I think I am lost. My anxiety over it all and my drive to return home when I’m anywhere else. It’s complicated and painful to explain but it makes sense. Why my mother made some very bad decisions for me early in life — for which I never forgave her. Well, in short she was getting rid of me, acts in which my father acquiesced, equally relieved. I was dumped at 18 months (to an aunt, my earliest memory is from this period, living in a Quonset Hut with my cousins); again at 3 years (to my Jewish grandparents & young aunt when my parents rented an apartment where no children were allowed), twice more (never mind details); and at 16 my mother facilitated the early marriage, got me to promise to lie about her participation, but then my father acquiesced. People have asked me, Why did they not do anything? I never thought about their surprise before. My father told me early on he wanted no more children; one nail in his coffin was enough; she said she took pills to get rid of me before birth. Didn’t work.

How does this help with grief? Well my reaction to Jim’s terminal illness and death is also a function of this. He became father, mother, sister, brother, all I had never had when young. He was utterly reliable; showed up on time; he never wanted me to go away; would never desert me. Would be there when I returned from wherever I had been.

I clearly love Jane Austen’s six major texts, and if I want to justify this to others, often talk of how I first read her at age 12-13 (P&P and S&S) and again at 15 (MP), so she is interwoven with my earliest traumas and if it’s true Doris Lessing might have done me more good, I didn’t know about her. I knew about Austen. And how I don’t read her for the romance at all, but the sentiments, thoughts of the text, narrator’s presence. A favorite line from P&P (and picked up as emphatic in the 1995 S&S) is that a basis for marriage is esteem and gratitude. Well I esteemed the Admiral and was intensely grateful to him. I also cling to her reasonableness, her steadiness, her sense of order and control. That way lies what peace there can be when alone. But not safety. Alas, not safety.

She suggested to me I write a letter to my mother, then one to my father. Apparently this is a technique grief support people practice. I don’t think I can – or can as yet – or maybe ever. I would do it truthfully or want to and it would be unbearably painful or I fear I’d end up berating myself. She was bringing me to see a pattern that if I could break it or understand it might help me understand my relationship with my daughters (as an unmothered mother) and maybe retrieve that some more. I could have had an appointment with her next week but I put it off to the next; now I’m sorry for this is the kind of thing one must work at without too much break. I know I cannot free myself but I could maybe draw out some thing to help myself or come to some resolution about my feelings towards lots of things.

I was all settled I thought for life as of summer 2012; I looked out to a calm quiet future (many HD opera seasons ahead); my future is still going to be quiet — indeed outwardly over this past week I didn’t do much, but I’ve known such ripping searing upheavals over the course of his illness — since he was diagnosed — as I never expected to have again.

Fiber optic Christmas penguin I’ve named Colin: I won’t take him down from the attic this year

Holidays: what I like is quiet routine and low expectations. So now I shall admit to a problem in this my 2nd marriage. For many years was when I was a child I tried to be happy Christmas day; maybe when I was very young, say under 7, I was. But by 8 I knew my parents were very unhappily married and by 11 they stopped cooperating in the pretenses of Christmas. My father had let me know before that he wished I’d stop; my mother was Jewish and it was all a matter of indifference to her. Yet I kept up the effort.

Well, soon after marriage I discovered the Admiral strongly disliked Xmas. As a young child (2-4) he had lived in a condemned house: the UK local gov’t employees who harassed his family to leave produced the usual arguments: they must get out; no they have n where to help them to go to, and no money to facilitate this move; but they must get out. This came to a height one Xmas when there were no toys. There was no money for any. As a child he saw the hypocrisy of this: that everywhere it was asserted how wonderful this holiday was, presents galore, but no recognition of the actuality (that the poor got nothing). I know in that obituary I wrote for him I omitted how he hated his semi-public school for is analogous hypocrisies. How one Christmas in the freezing pouring rain and he and the other boys has to stand outside while a limousine passed by with some parliamentarians in it. He never forgot that.

For a number of years I contended with him to try to pretend for two daughters and way overbought for gifts. I spent ridiculously to see delighted faces the next morning. And yet I could not bear that the illusion really be believed in. Suffice to say in this public place when the girls entered adolescence and young teens I had to give it up; worse, with a sense of sneer and disruption I became distraught and suicidal.

So for two years he took me and Yvette out of the US to break this misery, to wipe away memories. We had a success in Paris — three weeks there. We went to theaters, we wandered about Paris, Versailles, took buses all sorts of places. I can half-speak certainly read French; if someone will speak slow I can understand. When we returned, we decided we’d make a new set of traditions and customs we’d hold to: Xmas day go to movie and have Chinese food. We called it an ironical Jewish observance — when I was young Jewish people did go out to movies and Chinese restaurants for Xmas Day. And Boxing Day we’d go to museum. No need to be happy, just pleasant, courteous, if possible seem cheerful. Caroline entered into the spirit of the endeavor. And we did keep this up more or less for about 12 years.

And we certainly had a successful way of getting through New Year’s. We’d buy tickets to a show at the Kennedy Center. Woolley Mammoth was there for a number of years and it was dead cheap, and we did spend too much for 3 years. But then we had the right to go into the great hall at 11 and dance the night away with a rock-and-roll or some modern band on one side and a small orchestra doing Strauss waltzes (alternatively) on the other. How I will get through that night and day this year I know not.


What we saw in on my computer google map — The PriusC one pictures a blue arrow and line telling you if you are on the road you ought to be to get where you’re going

I’ve said that my GPS system in my car no longer works right: there is no voice, no sound. A map and at the bottom a pictured silent direction. I went to the dealership and one guy claimed to have fixed it so the sound will come on. But there is no voice, and today Yvette and I spent over an hour and a half finding an ice-skating rink in DC where there was a worthwhile event to see: a competition among choreographers. She got her i-phone to produce directions; Caroline said mine had a voice GPS and herself produced it; but Yvette and I couldn’t manage to even bring up the GPS from google maps on our own, let alone make it speak. We returned to my house and I printed out a Google map from my computer at home. We managed to find it by leaving huge amounts of time, getting close and keeping our aim at DC. Without a voice to direct you at crucial points — like which pair of lanes on either side of a concrete divider where both are the same highway you should get into — you are soon far away from the exit the map tells you to get off at. When I saw Yvette would not try to go home, my aim became to avoid Maryland, and hers to follow the silent blue arrow on a blue line on our car google map silent at it was. At the bottom it also has the name of the next street to turn at and the name of the street you should be on with arrows to left and right (depending which turn you are to take). Finally we were in southeast DC. Then I stopped in gas stations and anywhere else there seemed to be reasonable people to ask local people where the Dupont Ice-Skating Rink is? And again a kindly black man took it upon himself to give me explicit pictured directions. I was to look for this store, for that sign, and so on. And so we got there.

So Izzy and I vowed to depend upon our will — we did get there, but only because she was determined. Lots of dangerous swerving and sitting on these islands of painted diagonals as the cars whizzed by us as we thought how to retrieve our position.

From the sublime to the ridiculous. How can I buy another GPS when the DVD I bought has caused me such trouble.

I did make the mistake of buying a multi-system multi-region DVD and it doesn’t work right — it plays European and British DVDS only (not multi-system) and to get one’s money back from Amazon is a trial. It works sort of. We (she and I) are again out of our depth. I did not get rid of my DVD player which plays American DVDs. So now I have both and I can unplug and replug each machine as needed. If my vlc viewer on my computer should become obsolete, I have an alternative — I own many British DVDs and without the Admiral if my vlc viewer becomes obsolete, I would simply lose all ability to play those. But our struggles with this machine became part of the endurance trials of existence without him.

I keep making these mistakes. My dishwasher has ceased to work right at all. It won’t even circulate the soap. When he was alive we tried to replace it but could not find anyone willing to install it for less than $1800. What to do?

Yvette called it a “rough week.” I have ever thought the public insistence on how happy all is a cruel enforcement of a mask. (See my blog on Philomena — an anti-thanksgiving movie?)

So that he’s not here has made even Thanksgiving important because we have such a struggle to get on without him and on top of that everywhere we look — on the Net is one — all these people are asserting how happy it is all, and you see these photos of groups of people smiling together. Had he been here and well, he’d have driven to the ice-skating rink and we’d have made our way back if we could — only I realize now he’d have probably had to pick us up. The way there by public transportation is two trains by metro and then a bus that runs once an hour.

Clary spends her days and nights near me: this is the library table in my work room

The cats miss the Admiral too. When she and I go for a week to be at an ice-skating event in Boston between January 5th and 13th, and they are left alone in the house with only visits from Caroline, Clary will have some sort of nervous collapse on and off.



We had been invited by a kind soul to join in their Thanksgiving: Carline’s mother-in-law whose husband is another of the millions of people victimized by the spread of cancer. We would become part of her family: Caroline, and Rob, and her daughter, and son-in-law and grandchildren. Her husband was having his chemotherapy two days before the Thursday and it was discovered his red blood cell count was frighteningly low. Chemotherapy kills red blood cells. He had to be hospitalized. I did have a beloved young friend Thao, and her partner come for dinner on Friday night (my birthday); Yvette and I decided we should not have so focused on that, though the good time was had.

Meanwhile we make these dream-travel plans. Fall 2014 Montreal for the JASNA. Next summer after this go to England and scatter his ashes. In 2016 Australia and New Zealand (a Trollopian trip). Is it realistic to think of NYC for her and Caroline for a US open? for me to go with a friend to country music weekends? more academic conferences? Hard to say. Will we have the money? There I go, not content to stay within my strength and ability. I must learn to do so and remember the old fideist maxim of Pascal.


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I found myself listening to “This is my beloved” by Andrew Borodin on NPR:

I thought of New Year’s Eve and what that will feel like and knew such crushing unhappiness as I’ve never known before.

I have known terrific physical pain: once someone was trying to figure out where I was having this vast hemmorhage from, and wound this “line” into my nose. Oh wow. Eyes large, nostril flares, I move back and forth with it. Then: “Nope not from there.” And she pulled it out swift and hard. You haven’t known what a violent sensation is until you’ve experienced that.

So too is the loss, grief, sorrow

I am this day 67.


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