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Vince (Ray Winston) cradling Jack’s ashes in a jar, in a box, in a plastic shopping bag as if he had a baby in his arms, near the war monument at Wick Farm (Fred Shepisi’s Last Orders, 2001)

Dear friends and readers,

This week I began talking with my class where we are reading Booker Prize winners about Graham Swift’s Last Orders, at this point in my life one of my favorite books. I love the film adaptation too, and thought I’d start my diary entry with referring to the central climax in the film: Vince (Ray Winston) drives himself and his deceased yet still and ever felt-to-be-there father Jack’s three friends, Ray (Bob Hoskins), Vic (Tom Courtney), and Lenny (David Hemmings) to Wick Farm where decades ago, Jack (Michael Caine, then J.J. Fields) and Amy (Helen Mirren, then Kelly Reilly) made love in the fields and produced a severely mentally disabled daughter, June, and then ten years later or so, Jack and Amy drove Vince there once again and Jack told Vince of how he had a disabled sister living in a asylum and that he, Vince, was adopted.

The plot-design: a group of four men are taking the ashes of their friend Jack Dodds which are in a jar and going to scatter them on the pier/jetty at Margate. This is a place where people go for holiday, a kind of Coney Island amusement Park at the edge of the sea. Beach, gambling, boardwalk. As they get together at the bar and drive to Margate they take detours. The detours are stages in their life’s journeys which make them remember the past. Finally they get there and scatter the ashes. Meanwhile his wife, or widow, Amy, is traveling by bus for the last time to visit their mentally disabled daughter. We have her memories too; the stages of her journey in her mind.

Along the way all of them are back to his past. Some of the chapters are the characters other than Ray moving back into the past and we go to different levels of past. Some of the characters are the characters other than Ray in the present. Towards the end of the book we also get the thoughts and memories of Amy who is visiting a severely mentally retarded daughter in an institution. We also get the thoughts of Mandy, Jack’s adopted son, Vince’s wife. Once and once only Jack

Well, Vince wants to scatter some of his father’s ashes on this spot and attempts to explain to these men why. He stands there in the middle of the field paralyzed by traumatic emotions arising from the recesses of his being. He is accused of mindlessly throwing bits of his father away and yells frantically, Scatter! what does scatter mean? the text says

he sputters like he’s trying to announce something but he can’t get it out or he don’t know what it is. He delves in the jar and he throws quickly, sputtering, once, twice. It looks like white dust, like pepper, but the wind blows it into nothing. Then he screws the cap back on and turns, coming towards us.

This is where, he says, wiping his face, ‘This is where’

I find this almost unbearably moving. So many of us have these crucial moments in our lives where something happens that lives no visible trace but ever after changed our existence, or lead directly to something that changed our existence radically. For me these occurred when I was about 12 and lived in Kew Gardens one afternoon on May 26, 1959, but to this day I cannot tell anyone the details as they are still so searingly shaming; and again when I was 19 and sat on a bench and told the one friend I thought I had what I had decided would be my life’s goals, what I felt I had it in my character to do in order to live some kind of fulfilled life, probably somewhere in the Queens College grounds, and then crucial moments with Jim. Going back? well I could go back to Edinburgh and I did return to Scotland if it was the Highlands where I had yearned to go since that the two times in Edinburgh together and reading Samuel Johnson and James Boswell twin tours to the Hebrides.

“This is where” memories include than the socially acceptable the first time I went away with Jim and fucked all weekend together, or in summer had in effect a honeymoon for a marriage that had happened months ago.


Me in Edinburgh that summer (1968)


Jim in Leeds that summer after we returned (August 1968)

I can’t tell these other either, not because they are so humiliating or euphoric; rather they are so intimate, complex with also painful feeling, private, and tell of him what he might not want others to know.

I bring this up to introduce two kinds of happenings over the last 8 days or so. I’ve kept up my promise to myself to take myself out more, and this past Saturday afternoon experienced an astonishingly moving work, a sort of play, Wilderness, co-written by Anne Hamburger and Seth Bockley. The core is six supposedly disabled or mentally troubled teenagers, who are sent to a kind of camp for troubled youngsters in Utah. It is said to be based on real teenagers or 20+ year olds and their parents.

I believe it is so based since one of the girls tells a story that resembled my experience as a young adult, age 12-15 (which is where occurred at the beginning of a unspeakably miserable lonely time for me) from which I went into anorexia at age 16 and retreat the year before: this girl found herself trying to have friends and ending exploited sexually by boys, shunned by girls, and gaining a reputation as a slut — a slightly altered version of that happened to me only it was quickly over (by comparison), and crucially there was no internet at the time I was young, as there is in this girl’s experience so she became far more humiliated, mortified, far less able to shut down what had happened: I tried to kill myself only once; she kept at it, and did much worse self-harm. This is but one of five stories, another by a girl (believable as I saw versions of that from afar) and four by boys. The truth is only one was the story of a disabled young adult (perhaps autistic) and the others simply real stories of what it is like to grow up in the US in the last 70 years, about what is inflicted on young and older adults by US society, for which they are blamed, inner worlds we rarely see.

In each case the story as enacted and told to the audience split over to parents who tried to do something about what they saw. Mine did not. They ignored what was happening, and when confronted once or twice, my mother denied what she had seen, or castigated me, sneered at me, and my father exhibited compassion but nothing else, at a loss it seems since his values were of the society we were living in and he just didn’t know what to do about me — for example, as a lone reading girl. These parents discussed their lives — often shot through with divorce, drunkenness, economic dislocation, how they found these children too much to take (one tries to hang the child — my mother was jealous of my father’s affections for me and hated me), how they couldn’t bear and had to act against or do something about a child who didn’t conform (I am actually glad my parents didn’t try to force me into some kind of conformity as that might have ended me in an asylum).

It’s telling to read how the the first review in the New York Times misframes it as mental illness, and what occurs in the camp is called therapy and then clings to the semi-upbeat ending in order to normalize and not discuss any of the searing details of lives these stories expose. Christopher Isherwood does much much better. It’s not about the gulfs between parents from children, it’s about us, the underbelly of say this opiod epidemic, the alcoholism, drug-taking — our underbelly.

People in the audience were slightly shocked; I heard no talk at first, and then very gingerly about “how powerful” that was. Recently I mentioned to someone my suicide attempt; the reaction, I didn’t realize you were so “unstable.” The play was done in a newly re-vamped “family” theater at the Kennedy Center and two school groups filled out the audience, which might otherwise have been very small. I hope some of them felt less alone when it was over.

But otherwise the experience has been less than whatever I vaguely hoped. Including a week or so before we went to California. I’ve been to the Kennedy Center two other times, once to hear the National Symphony play Aaron Copeland (whose music I like so), a second time to be entertained and relieved (I hoped) by Whoopi Goldberg (in the event she was disappointingly cautious, timid about all references to Trump, taking that route that somehow we the audience were at fault or needed to do something not “bitch,” what she didn’t say). It is significant that Joan Rivers could “get away with” hard-hitting comments on gender and sex, and Goldberg does not dare do this on race relations.

Because we care more about race relations? because it’s more acceptable to ruin women than blacks? Or is it not okay to mention blacks because white people want to carry on destroying them to have someone to scapegoat? In Virginia nowadays all cars go slow on the streets. I said to a woman I was trying to become friends with for a bit, and her reply: oh yes people are finally obeying: this was to my remark the brutality of the police has made all races afraid and citing this. She didn’t register or didn’t care about the brutality. I’ve taken a principled stand against “joining in” and writing letter of so-called comfort to the victim young black men, often in solitary confinement that a group at the OLLI at AU calls “doing something useful,” and of course getting a social time together. When I questioned it, one woman answered quickly, they did commit crimes you know. Did they? what kind? why? This is a police state where in black neighborhood police incessantly invade the privacy of black people.

I’ve heard three lectures at the Smithsonian, all less than satisfying. Two weeks ago or so, by Bill Goldstein, on his book, The World Broke in Two, purporting to be about modernism and focusing on the work of Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and T.S. Eliot, was in effect gossipy biography, somewhat trivializing (he dissed Leonard Woolf in the usual ways, see how the man said nothing he had done had had any effect, see how the man obsessed over money) with grand generalizations, none of them about the literary movement these people participated in. The book I grant is chock-a-block with cruious information brought together (hard research) so I bought it (on the Net afterward).


A clip from a movie, Wilde, featuring Stephen Fry interestingly in the role (played by Griffith for 5 or so minutes)

Tonight an Irish Professor, Christopher Griffin, on the birthday of Oscar Wilde, whose writing Jim so loved (I have two shelves of Wilde’s complete works), a slightly incoherent lecture, thrown together, no deep insight, just asserting how profound or great this or that passage or text (often a quotation, aphorism) was, but with film clips (the very poor movie of Importance of Being Earnest with Colin Firth), and Robert Aubrey Davis (local semi-PBS celebrity) pretending to be Wilde, since Wilde is great, and there was so much material and the life so tragic in the end, I’m glad I went. Wilde was an anguished man who could find no place in his society for his deep gayness and when he tried to defend it, the society scapegoated, jailed and then destroyed him. Griffin never said anything close to that.

The last by Elizabeth Griffith on “American Women in Politics:” her theme, Did Suffrage Matter? (on September 27th, so quite a while back now). She’s written a biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and is in the throes of a huge volume on the history of women in politics. Perhaps a companion volume to Zinn’s People’s History of the US. A more ultimately demoralizing talk I can’t right now imagine — given her progessive stance. Her burden was why the vote has not helped more (though it’s made huge differences), why feminism has again been silenced or failed as a movement. The polite word is women are so diverse — like men, but men don’t need to make a single movement, they own the place. I had not realized how centrally race was used not just to divide women but how they were divided. I did not know there were women’s groups for lynching. There were women who fought against giving black people suffrage if it meant men only. I did not know how vile upper class white women could be and how hard they worked (as they do today) against poorer more vulnerable and non-white women. She was all friendliness and a kind of comfortable as she went fast-talking through her material. Names of women I’ve never heard of especially black women. Alice Paul I knew was so important. Came the questions though and the idiocy of some elicited from her raw dismissals and sarcasm…

I’ve been teaching and it’s going well. Beyond the Booker Prize, the 19th century women of letters course, who if there are some women who have been so inculcated that only action-thrust forward masculinist kinds of structures and upbeat material from me can hold them, there are others much interested. I’ve been to a few courses as someone in the class too: A History and Aesthetics of Film, today Shakespeare’s Last Romances. I’ll talk about these more after I’ve attended more than one class (which is all I’ve managed); for now in my film club and in this course not one film by a woman, not one film centered on woman’s issues, not one where women are treated with any full subjectivity and interest the men are. All our classics are masculinist. I used the word on Trollope19thCStudies and was told I am immature. Right. I’ll write more about this film club and class when I’ve more time and am further into the term; the latter started late.

I am trying to forge ahead on my projects and papers (Devoney Looser’s Making of JA is one, Gaskell and disability another, the Poldark novels, a third) and will be blogging separately on these, but for now I’ll end on two proposals for courses in the spring already accepted. Building on the Virginia Woolf course I took at OLLI at AU last spring (where we read [and I watched on my own films of] Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, The First Common Reader and A Room of One’s Own) and my own coming paper on Woolf and Johnson as biographers, for OLLI at AU:

The Later Woolf. We will read and discuss four of Woolf’s later books: two playful satires, Flush: A Biography [of a Dog], owned (so she thought) by the Victorian poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Orlando, a novel which is also a time-traveling tale through literature and culture and gender changes from the Renaissance to our own times; two books written during the crisis time of World War Two: Three Guineas, an essay analyzing the origins of war and suggesting how we may prevent future wars; and Between the Acts, a novella in which a group of characters put on a historical pageant. The contexts will be literary (about biography, fantasy, historical novels), political, and biographical. Our aim is to understand and enjoy these delightful and original books.

And returning to Trollope’s in-depth anguished psychology, mad and normalizing comedy: for the OLLI at Mason:

Sexual and Marital Politics in Anthony Trollope. In this course we will read Trollope’s most candid and contemporary analysis of sex and marriage, He Knew He Was Right: we have at least seven couples, with themes including sexual anxiety, possession, companionate and business transactions, custody and separation disputes, and insanity. It is a comedy which has been brilliantly filmed in a BBC mini-series. With this, “Journey to Panama,” one of his colonial short stories about a woman about to marry a man she doesn’t know in order to marry and the relationship she forms on board

We are having good time reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina on my Trollope19thCStudies listserv and I’ve proposed we watch all of the 1974 Palliser films, all 24, one every two weeks. I cannot seem to bring Women Writers through the Age alive again, alas. What I need to do is find the time to read more 19th century women writers: Caroline Norton’s Lost and Saved, Amy Levy’s Romance of the Shop, when instead I promised to read Julian Barnes’s The Noise of Time for a coming Reston Book club. Which good as Barnes’s book probably is (I’ve begun), honest I get more out of group reads from writing selves when people really do write about their experience reading. We need more people, more women readers. And I want to read more women writers, see more women’s films (generously interpreted to include Outlander). I’d settle for Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowlands, Marina Warner’s The Lost Father. I wish I had what I see on a Goodreads group where they are about to read Eliot’s Mill on the Floss after they’ve had a successful time with Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda. I’m going to follow two Future Learn courses, one on Opera, and the other a crucial era in Irish politics, 1916-23 (“this is where” for Ireland), late at night for a few weeks. So filling my life as best I can.

Robert Aubrey Davis did recite Wilde’s The Harlot’s House and left off jocularity: one of the themes I dealt with last week in Mary Barton was prostitution as dramatized by Gaskell in the tragic story of the backstory heroine of the novel, Esther, but it’s the last two lines that contain Wilde’s fin-de-siecle great twilight poetry

We caught the tread of dancing feet,
We loitered down the moonlit street,
And stopped beneath the harlot’s house.

Inside, above the din and fray,
We heard the loud musicians play
The ‘Treues Liebes Herz’ of Strauss.

Like strange mechanical grotesques,
Making fantastic arabesques,
The shadows raced across the blind.

We watched the ghostly dancers spin
To sound of horn and violin,
Like black leaves wheeling in the wind.

Like wire-pulled automatons,
Slim silhouetted skeletons
Went sidling through the slow quadrille,

Then took each other by the hand,
And danced a stately saraband;
Their laughter echoed thin and shrill.

Sometimes a clockwork puppet pressed
A phantom lover to her breast,
Sometimes they seemed to try to sing.

Sometimes a horrible marionette
Came out, and smoked its cigarette
Upon the steps like a live thing.

Then, turning to my love, I said,
‘The dead are dancing with the dead,
The dust is whirling with the dust.’

But she–she heard the violin,
And left my side, and entered in:
Love passed into the house of lust.

Then suddenly the tune went false,
The dancers wearied of the waltz,
The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl.

And down the long and silent street,
The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
Crept like a frightened girl.


A Scottish Impressionist painting

Miss Drake

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Aigas House, Inverness, Scotland

Dear friends,

I realized the other day that I had never linked in here my three travel blogs on my 8-9 days this summer at Aigas House, Inverness, Scotland, located at the southern faultline of the Scottish highlands. So here they are, together with yet another poem by a Scottish women writer.

Scottish Highlands Tour from Aigas House: the framework (1)

Scottish Highlands Tour from Aigas House: historical, archaeological, Caledonian Forest; town & country & women’s work (2)

Scottish Highlands Tour from Aigas House: the West Coast; Priories, Museums & Castles; Celtic folk music & women’s poetry


In Cawdor Castle Gardens

The Star-Reaper

In the city, it was cold, but dry,
Not wild and snow-laden like here.
Another world, of buses, noise,
Traffic-lights and passing people.
Grey skies and mists
But pavements dry,
And telling nothing of this world
Of snow, deep ice and freezing wind,
Waves of snow,
Drifting in the wind,
Across the roads;
Across the trees,
Deep, buried, sleeping trees,
Sleeping in the snow,
Their buried summer dreams.

I miss you now, wood-elf,
With your dreams of deer,
Your eyes of snow, and stars
And buried moonlight,
Leaping up the years and tears and fallen pines,
Star-leaping,
Buried in sky-forests,
Orion, sky-reaper,
Through the diamond fields, to meet me.
Your name sky-hunter
Echoes in the darkened side of Venus,
Through bright Saturn’s ring
And the scattered plains of Sirius,
The hunter’s friend.

Cold, the city,
With your sleeping sun bright in some other sky,
Your sun bright in a day of white earth, and white sky,
Tears from some ice-hearted god.
And you among the trees,
Deep in the frozen tracks of some elusive stag,
Heart of fire,
Spirit of earth,
It moves somewhere among the pines,
Somewhere in front of you,
Frozen footprints cast in the stone snow.
I see the star-reaper,
Moon-sister,
Sunfire in snow forest,
Earth-Iover and sun-born.
— Morelle Smith, Scottish, from The Star Reaper (1979)

Miss Drake

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St John the Divine, a vast beautiful church near Columbia University, NYC, photo taken from a bus by Izzy

From “To an old woman standing in the October light:” Better to just admit it, time has gotten away from you, and yet here you are again, out in your yard at sunset … You have been looking for a reason for your continued existence,/with faith so shaky it vibrates like a plucked wire … As you search them out again, again,/your disappearing holds off for a while. But see how, even in this present,/as you stand there, the past flies into the future,/the way, above you, the crows are winging home again, calling to each other,/vanishing above the trees into the night-gathering sky — a poem by Patricia Fargnoli (Hallowed: New and Selected Poems).

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve yet another time away to tell you about. Izzy’s trip to NYC last week, which she appears to have thorougly enjoyed. To know how to vacation is another of those skills gradually acquired. She has shown herself well on her way at last. She traveled to and fro on the comfortable Amtrak train. She has (using the Internet) gotten herself a good hotel room in midtown and for 2 days went by train to the US open in Queens (the borough); she became intensely involved each day, tweeted away with others on the Net, blogged and put pictures up when she got home. She emailed me going and coming (it’s a long trip from mid-town Manhattan), and roundly declared at the second afternoon’s closure (for her, she couldn’t stay until the sky went dark) she had “had a good day.” She ate there all meals both days. One evening she went to see Wicked at the Gershwin theater: she walked up from her hotel (28th Street), treated herself to an expensive Italian meal (at a trattoria) and was just charmed. She was once an avid reader of the Wizard of Oz books. That day she had explored Manhattan on foot, and especially Central Park.


Izzy remarks on twitter about this: even the ducks seemed unafraid in that area of Central Park

Early Friday morning she was up and out of the hotel because she bought on-line a ticket to ride an unlimited times a bus tour route going all around Manhattan. She meant to buy one which included an extension to Brooklyn and found she hadn’t nor would anyone cooperate to find her a replacement train ticket. She seems to have found this experience the most fun of all, quite exhilarating. She sat at the top of the bus, and enjoyed listening to two different truly knowledgeable African-American guides. Both had grown up in the area they now were a guide to and seemed to tell a bit of their childhoods (a white guide on a third bus was nowhere as communicative).


Schist: the embedded rock of the landscape, seen in Central Park, foundation for skyscrapers

She’d get off at points she wanted to walk in, take photos from and off the bus: she was just by the New York City museum where she saw the older subway trains had found a good home; she was sort of thrilled to stop and walk all around Columbia University because Jim went there. I told her that Jim was probably the only Ph.D. math student at Columbia in the last few years to take out books from the library which were mediocre romances printed first three centuries AD and then the long 18th century (1660-1815).


A wall mural Izzy’s bus passed by

And she’s been to NYC so many times now, much she passes is now familiar; she knows where what she wants is. She was delighted with new things: now the Strand bookstore has stands around the city for its books. You need not get down to 13th Street on Union Square. She came home to find the piano tuned and at first reacted strongly against the new sounds. It’s been more than 3 years since it was tuned.

For myself I’ve returned to being alone most of (for now just about all of) the time, for companionship dependent on Internet friends, interacting through conversations. ‘m not going to the gym regularly because I’ve taken on moe literary work, the two friends who would be there have stopped going (one is now unwell), and I’ve not seen the physical improvement I’d hoped for. Yoga doesn’t do for me what it does for others. The exercise is less and all the talk and gestures seem to me phony. Relationships are as shallow as any transient class. I haven’t a mystical bone in my body. I grant the music is quieting, low lights. I look forward to when fall events begin, aa tomorrow night, a HD Net live theater film of tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Part 1, at the Shakespeare Theater in DC (an Internet friend recommended it). I worked away on projects, read, wrote, watched mini-series late into the night (I’ll write separately about all three, Grantchester, Outlander, Poldark). My friend, Vivian, has gone for a week in Paris; Laura and I actually talked of doing a Road Scholar tour together in January or February 2018 to India, either 9 days of highlights or 16 (an extension, which would include a quieter stay at one place in Nepal)). India is one of the few places outside Europe I’ve dreamed of going to: again a result of reading, this time Anglo-Indian books.

Thus there was something appropriate in the one cinema movie I’ve been to see in the last month or so, Michael Winterbottom’s third “trip” movie, starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon: I could not get any friend to go with me, none found the idea compelling. None had seen the two previous. I had and did.


2007 — the Lake District

I saw the first, The Trip (to Yorkshire, the Lake District, and environs) as a 6 part BBC TV series on a DVD the first summer after Jim died. It was high-spirited humor, often centering on the gourmet dinners they were said to be eating on behalf of newspaper assignments, with them mimicking other stars, naturalistic conversation, and to me riveting because they went to precisely near and where Jim and I had lived two years together (including the West riding, York Minster Cathedral). The film presents exaggerated versions of themselves and there is some sense that they are choosing unconventional roles elsewhere too. There was real talk about the poets and the landscape; Coogan was the prickly one, dissatisfied with life, Brydon supposedly comfortable in his skin. The second, 3 summers later, The Trip to Italy, seemed to expand that into including wry satiric or melancholy-meditative conversations about the sites they were visiting, seemingly autobiographical events while on the trip (by phone, and from people turning up to accompany them). Stories of Byron and Shelley replace Wordsworth and Coleridge, a thoughtful conversation over tombs in Pompeiin the Lake District. Transient love or sexual encounters for both, grown children showing up for Coogan, their pregnant producer, and then their struggles with their own careers were now brought in. Still the overall impression was of high cheer.


2010, a cartoon

The third, and 4 years later, presumably the last, The Trip to Spain seemed sequel to the other two the way Before Midnight was a sequel to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise; and Before Sunset (all with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, each at least 5 years apart once again). The Linklater-Hawke, Delpy movies explored the nature and disillsionment of a romantic heterosexual encounter turned into a long-running marriage. Now we are exploring masculinity, middle age. (It is true that all three films marginalize women, they are treated as side objects at home in men’s lives, unless of course they are the producer of a film.) Steve and Rob tried for humor, gourmet dinners, people turning up — or not (Coogan is disappointed because this time his son via skype says he cannot come) — but it was not funny. No hiliarious routines. The audience around me grated on me as they persisted in got-up raucous laughter when the humor was obviously so thin. They had come to laugh; they had thought the two previous films were just laugh-ups, but neither had been, not even the first.


Beyond the pretend-story of Coogan writing restaurant reviews and Brydon coming along for the ride as a friend, the two are going to be on TV, dressed (pathetically) as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

This time the principals talked of Spain, the failure of the republicans during the civil war, Picasso, and now career dead-ends, projects that seem to bring them down. Surprisingly at first, the trip seemed to end early, before the film was over, when Rob goes back home, and we see him enmeshed in a family life which includes two small children, renovations of apartment, kindergarten. But the movie had not ended. Coogan stays on alone to try to write, and loses his perspective because now his girlfriend is pregnant by someone else doesn’t want to join him either. He is being undermined by a script writer, and his agent was changed from a more prestigious man in an agency to a lesser one (played to perfection by Kyle Soller). Steve is last seen in a desert having run out of gas and water, his cell phone not charged, having a hallucination of young men in republican outfits (whom he had talked about as crucial to his writer-hero, Orwell’s life); they are riding up in jeeps with rifles, waving gaily to him. Or perhaps this is real, a group of Muslim males. And Coogan is on his own.

One viewer apparently took great offense at this “twisted” ending. I thought it appropriate for the trilogy. Finally Steve is alone as (in effect) he was when with others too. During holidays, we find ourselves with others for a time; others we may never see again; that’s part of the pact; the gaiety is precisely that we are not rooted in ordinary time and can imagine for a while. Trollope has a story that plays on this, “A Journey to Panama,” where he says this kind of companionship is part of the pleasure. For me it can go on for too long as it is also carefully restricted. The problem that emerged in Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight is the two people wanted to extend the magic of a temporary deep congeniality to a life’s basis. They are still struggling with this when we last see them.

Izzy’s time away was short, she had no time to be strained; her company was the city, the guides, herself. I’ve concluded that the Road Scholar type tour, with its necessary conformities, to keep to togetherness should not last more than 9-10 days and nights. Winterbottom’s movies are fictions whose underlying themes this time emerged as about the limitations of what a holiday can do for you, about how you cannot escape your past, but bring your “baggage” and immediate present with you, especially once you are again alone — as is no longer uncommon. Bear up as best we can to enjoy what is left seems to be what Winterbottom concludes. In order to keep your sanity.

I have too many books to read all at once: right now, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Virginia Woolf’s Flush: A Biography (for a collaborative paper with a friend on Woolf and Samuel Johnson); Paul Scott’s Staying On, and Winston Graham’s Groves of Eagles (historical novel set in Cornwall in the 16th century). I had to give up on Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda and the group reading, discussion on the Goodreads page I joined.

I know I have to learn to walk alone at night in Old Towne. Drive there, park, get out, walk to the Potomac and then back again. As Jim and I used to do regularly. Vivian is not well enough to walk with me even as infrequently as she once did. Old Town is vibrant with street life, musicians, people eating ice cream, people in couples, threes, a crowd, and people alone, with dogs. I have to get myself to find pleasure outside alone too. I can never begin to replace the companionship and understanding I once had.

Perhaps human beings have it harder than other species in other ways too. This photo of a feral cat swimming for its life in the oceans of (often now stinking) water and (polluted) air around Houston (where there is no public transportation) went viral (as they say) on twitter.

There is something suspicious here: the cat has an elongated body. But much talk ensued on whether human beings should “risk” saving it. The next day a photograph said to be of the same determined cat is saidto have showed the animal emerging from the waters. I did not see that but close-ups showing the same face beaten up, scars from wounds, ears bitten off, mangy fur. But he or she does not need to re-create a life in the way the poor people of Houston (hardest hit on the flood plain) out of what probably will be nothing. Few will have adequate insurance; many companies will not pay (nor FEMA). Unlike Scotland in the US in most places there seems to be only the barest social contract for immediate help. Not enough will vote for stronger together.

Miss Drake

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Faye Vanderveer — an idealized Alexandria City street

Dear friends,

One should not be astonished either at what people are willing to do to one another nor what they will accept as living conditions. Only a realization that conveniency and self-interest when it comes to economic circumstances conquer all objections can explain how Washington, D.C. has grown to this large metropolis when every summer we have weeks & weeks of weather that is hard to breath in. I’m told not that it’s just as hot in New York City, but that you can be miserable there too — indeed 89 degree with lower 70s humidity is not fun, but it’s still not as deadly as temperatures in high 90s with 81% humidity. That’s what it’s been for over a week now and we are promised temperatures in the 100s this weekend.

I dream of Maine, and look forward to my 10 days in Inverness, Scotland in August. I tell myself if I find I like the Road Scholar program truly, next summer not only will I go to the Lake District in August but if I don’t go on a Jane Austen tour in June (that’s when most of them are), I will find something for a widow with no friends to travel with for June to New England — one of the packages which include many plays. That’s what Jim used to concoct for him and me — with Izzy sometimes. Rent a Landmark house from the 19th century in Vermont, go to a lake for swimming when not on the road to a good play in the Berkshires (including one summer Lillian Hellman’s Summer Garden, other years Stoppard, Turgenev, Shakespeare, Shaw …)

Road, a feminist blog I follow included one of more perceptive essays on “ages of grief” I’ve read. It seemed to be my case: once surrounded by parents, with husband, two daughters, now alone with memories

These days when I read or hear about the death of anyone at any age and think about those who loved them, I have more than a glimmer as to how those left behind might be feeling. One of the many wonders of old age is what happens when your mind encounters sad, perhaps devastating, events. It sweeps over your knowledge of such things, whether personal or through friendships, like a strong breeze passing over a variety of prairie grasses: Big bluestem, salt grass, bottlebrush, porcupine, rice grass, foxtail, timothy, cupgrass, tufted lovegrass, wild rye. You ask, Which one is this? And then comes a moment when a known grief springs up green and fresh. Oh yes, this kind again.

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Here are the two extraordinary experiences I hope you can reach:

I’m writing to recommend daring the heat — enduring it — and going to the Richmond Museum of Fine Arts or wherever the next place the exhibit of Yves St Laurent’s extraordinary art in dresses, costumes, jewelry, accessories, shoes, hats, headdresses, capes, cloaks, just about everything you can dress a woman in, which art includes the cloth he himself makes a first version of, the weave of each material, the designs and colors of the objects. I am naturally inclined to be sceptical and see “fashion” and “high couture” as commercial art (which it is) aimed at making huge amounts of money from the super-rich. That would take attracting the lowest common denominator in that class’s taste. But that’s not what this man did. Over the course of a long life-time he invented deeply appealing costumes for women. He begins as a homosexual boy making cut-outs (yes dressing paper dolls), which his parents don’t discourage him from.

Quickly he learns to sew, make patterns and his first fashion costumes. His parents were upper middle class people with good connections in Algeria, and before Yves was in his twenties he had a central position in Christian Dior’s firm. He lived a highly unconventional life in Paris, traveling, partying with all the important people in the arts, and so his artistry, talent, and by this time intuitive ability to make costumes that mirrored the spirit of each decade or helped create it brought him within a few years management of the firm when Dior died early unexpectedly. I’d say the exhibit has at least 8 rooms of mannequins which take you through the phases of his career, the different emphases of fashion.

Along the walls one sees his drawings and designs; the items are numbered so you can follow along with a free slender catalogue. There are on-going films of famous fashion shows here and there — like when Laurent broke with the constructed clothing of the 50s


Not that these are not fashioning the self

Or the costume-like fashions of more recent decades..

Within each staged presentation of a kind of fashion, the costumes are arranged to reinforce and contrast with one another. Two huge staged presentations of earring, necklaces, chokers, bracelet jewelry, from the beautifully tasteful to gorgeously bizarre. I was with a friend and we discussed and talked as we went through: we could see he didn’t lived a troubled life (he succumbed to drug addiction for periods).
It was the poetry of fashion. I kept coming across a dress, or full outfit, or cloak I could see myself not only wearing but quietly reveling in.

It was a 2 hour trip by car there — in the broiling heat — we got lost at one point. The museum does have a good cafe (and better restaurant but by the time we got to lunch, well after 3:30 it was closed). Then 2 hours back by car. This museum (like the Brooklyn Academy of Arts), specializes in the unusual so that it draws people to come from all over. A few years ago Jim drove us down to the museum to see a huge exhibit of Picasso’s art. The collection is not big but what they have is well-culled — and this time smaller exhibits (Tiffany art glass).

Then two nights ago I saw at the Folger the RSC Live production of Antony & Cleopatra, from Stratford-upon-Avon. It started slow and in the middle of the first act seemed to drag, but as it move on (it was three full hours, with one brief intermission) the actors playing Antony (Antony Byrne), Cleopatra (Josette Simon), their entourages, her women, his men, Enobarbus were viscerally deeply affecting, engaged. I had read the play as erotic, imagined aging wildly adoring and playful lovers, who cut down, rise to heights of ecstatic poetry. Also that it was a political parable about the effectiveness of cold ambition, hypocrisy, ruthlessness, heartlessness (Caesar). But I had not taken into account how it explores the lives of women (Octavia is not a small part), their relationships with one another. More important I didn’t know it dramatizes defeat at length. Yes it’s about characters who make bad self-sabotaging decisions. As if they wanted to blow away public life. I was so moved by Antony’s speeches berating himself, Cleopatra’s turn to suicide, and all the other characters’ failed attempts to rescue this pair or themselves. It explores the inner anguish of tragedy spread out before us. An black English actress played Cleopatra, and dressed exotically; the older great male actor (I’ve seen him many times before) was self-ripped up loss in dignity. Their costumes terrific; doubtless what would draw S Laurent to go.

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My class at the OLLI at George Mason this summer ended Tuesday around 1:30. All those who stayed the course, and that included nearly 25, said how much they enjoyed the two contrasting historical fictions, DuMaurier’s King’s General and Susan Sontag’s Volcano Lover. They said they loved how I choose books slightly off beaten path. I had found on the Internet a YoutTube of a remarkable lecture on why Sontag wrote and lived the life of a radically activist public intellectual as well as writer, poet, film-maker. I summarized for them the content of this remarkable lecture on Sontag’s work by Savanna Illinger which I here share with you:

Brief high points: Sontag felt literature should advance our understanding of the real, and denounce things which conceal human misery under the cover of sentimentalism. What Mary Wollstonecraft said was the justification for literature (poetry) to extend the sympathetic imagination in Sontag’s words is we have a duty to reveal other people’s true reality, warts and all, and suffering. Very hard because we have a hard time taking the sufferng of another as real. We cannot understand what war or battle is unless we have lived in a war zone. Photographs often constitute a barrier because while they acknowledge what is seen, they offer no understanding of what they picture, no admission of how photos are artificially framed; they promote emotional detachment and thus inauthenticity. For the imaginative contemplating the art work to be a fully ethical experience, you should be moved to translate your empathy into action. Early on, she thought essays, discourse, verse were much better at conveying reality, reason, against sentimentalism; but around time of Volcano Lover and In America, she saw in stories an ability to lead readers to enter into, ponder the lives of others. In the 18th century the significant moment pictured occurred just before or after the trauma; nowadays the deeply traumatic, wildly violent without dignity is what we show to disturb our readers. There is a superb essay on Sontag by A. S. Byatt.

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One good enough experience, and one thrown-away opportunity

With Izzy this past Sunday night I went again to the Kennedy Center. This time to see Cabaret, in the Eisenhower theater in the 2nd balcony where we remembered sitting with Jim for Sondheim many a time, and our last New Year’s Eve together — a group of actors/singers imitated the rock stars of the 1950s, with “Elvis” the chief personality. The terrace was again beautiful, but now too warm to walk much. We’d never seen this famous musical: it is very much mainstream Broadway (or at least this production was), all gussied up and partly disguised by the imitation of German Weimar culture of the 1920s. It was a very humdrum production and I could see through to where its numbers resembled all sorts of others in other mainstream sweet and sentimental musicals. For example, “Money makes the world go round” is the equivalent of “Money doesn’t grow on trees in Oliver Twist. Now I know the context for the different songs: so “What good is sitting alone in your room” is sardonically ironic in context. I knew it was based on stories by Christopher Isherwood with an invented Bohemian heroine, Sally Bowles, who becomes involved with one of your white, blond virtuous American males (as appeared in this production). I had not realized there is a poignant story of an aging German landlady who is frightened out of marrying a deeply tenderly kind aging Jewish tenant. I now know why the musical appeals.’

Tonight I betook myself to the Smithsonian for what looked like a good lecture on George Orwell in the 21st century but most unusually the speaker was dull: Andrew Rubin was very cautious and all qualification, so I wondered who he was worried he was offending. He read his paper without attempting to reach the audience; he was disdainful of said audience too — not that their questions did not show utter misapprehensions, likening ISIS for example to the Republicans in Spain who were for a decent humane secular life — showed real obtuseness. As Rubin said, ISIS is pathological destruction. Read The New Yorker on the destruction of the Mosul library, or irrelevant an about their own identity, such as was Orwell anti-semitic?).


What’s left of the millions of wonderful books, ms’s, art, several heritages found together — now a site filled with landmines

I thought of a question I didn’t get to ask: on surveillance. Winston Smith is famously being watched, monitored, is in danger of being destroyed. Ruben didn’t broach this topic. I wondered what specifically in Orwell’s era was he worried about, and was he ever threatened. He broadcast for the BBC, and perhaps had had his fill of timid and political censorship. Despite this disappointment, I saw in the catalogue the institution has some good lectures on literary (one on a Sylvia Plath exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in London) and film people coming up (Mingle with Marlene Dietrich), and I’ll try to go in the coming summer evenings.


Susan Herbert

And that’s the news from this Lake Woebegone, where my cats are my good companions and my younger daughter my beloved. Still listening to Gaskell’s Ruth read aloud: what a painful book. Next up: Woolf’s Night and Day.

Miss Drake

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Summer flowers — I’ve not got many this year as I had no help and after all don’t know much about flowers … this is my prettiest

All this does & will so derange the nerves — and so empty the pocketbook (partly from Austen’s Sanditon)

Friends,

A few summer pleasures amid this dark bleak (indeed hopeless) time. (After Trump and his rump re-invigorated the horrible puppy mills, they attacked long-distance trains: isolate and strand’em — all in each long day’s harm.) Read Tracy K Smith’s Watershed.

Each Saturday morning I go to Farmer’s Market. I’ve decided we will buy and eat less meat, and what I do buy will come from farms where the animals are given decent lives (before slaughtering). I will no longer participate in the horrific cruelties visited on farm animals in the US. I can’t do much but I can refrain from supporting evil in my eating habits. In our local marketplace, there are three different farm animal farms represented and I’m finding what kinds of cuts of chicken, pork, beef, they sell which Izzy and I can cook successfully and eat. I buy fresh vegetables I’m trying to get myself to learn to cook, and (soft) fruit. It’s a bright way to start each Saturday: the market goes on from 7-11 a.m. Farmer’s Market carries on all year long and if I can I will carry on buying meat this way, but much of the rest of the square become emptier. The crafts people I’m told remain, perhaps the breakfast people, but all others vanish by later November, to return in mid-April.

Two outings this past weekend: at the last minute, I bought tickets for my friend, Vivian, and me, to attend the Friday night Classics Album Live performance this year: their choice, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart club band. I was attracted partly because a couple of weeks before I had watched a sterling hour lecture/documentary on just this album on my BBC iplayer, revealing just how original and rooted in musical traditions from as far away as India, and as close as local folk songs in Liverpool, with lyrics autobiographical and contemporary was this music. Last year I attended a remarkable 6 hour set of lectures on the career, history, individuals (you name) and music of the Beatles. So we went. I bought a picnic supper for us, which I was not myself able to eat much of — I’ve lost three more teeth, gentle reader, and after another week’s misery, in two week I shall pay an outrageous sum for 4 implants and a semi-permanent denture in my lower gum. For now it’s deeply uncomfortable for me with an ill-fitting denture and aching, sore gums. We had decided to go to cheer ourselves. My friend has had cancer, and chemotherapy treatments for the past 6-7 months; she appears to be going into remission and will know for sure in about the same two weeks.


Wolf Trap stage — cell phone photo

I brought wine and a pretty new blanket which I’ve acquired as part of my “Yoga” apparatus (a lot of mystic silly language goes along with this form of exercise intended to relax and rejuvenate the body somehow or other). The evening was not too hot. We had good talk and the performance was rousing. About 16 young people on the stage, with all sorts of instruments, for the first hour did a straight imitation of the songs and comments in the order presented in the famous music-changing 1967 album. They were not as good as the original Beatles of course: mostly they couldn’t do the poignant, and stumbled on witticisms, but all those numbers rhythm, belting it out loud, and sheer energy could put across, with plenty of heart, they did superbly. The second hour was made up of various Beatle songs, from their earliest to latest recordings: I had forgotten how many really superb numbers they did and in such a relatively short. By the end much of the audience was standing, swaying, clapping. Many older people remembering. One must mourn their break-up.

Saturday the same kind of last minute deal. Different plans fell through. Vivian and I were to go to an Aspergers adult meeting, but she was not up to it after all. I decided it was far too hot to reach where I go to swim. I put off my plans for Maudie, and will go with another friend, a new one, Panorea, to see this film, this coming Saturday (Angelica Art Festival theater) with lunch before and a snack out afterwards. Izzy decided against her plan and came out with me for dinner and a walk in Old Town. Buggsby, a pizza place appeared to have several wedding parties reserving the place, and we were thrown back to the more expensive Il Porto. But how I love that place. Quiet, tasteful and I had a meal I could eat: Lasagna, with ricotta rice, and soft vegetables in a lovely tomato sauce, washed down by Riesling wine. It was sunny and we walked by the Potomac amind the crowd. Street musicians everywhere.


Over the years Jim and I have been there for celebrations (Laura and Izzy’s graduations from high school), taken special friends’ visits — rare treats — and just gone of an evening or for lunch — it’s been there for over 40 years now

The second of the monthly summer Cinema Arts film club: a very great movie: Afterimage, how to take away someone’s existence (so relevant to what is happening in US federal gov’t today).

This too is not only in summer, but rather this summer: Our book for this summer on Trollope19thCStudies is Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd (there are four film adaptations), for Wwtta by myself I’m reading Woolf’s Between the Acts and with a friend, Woolf’s Short Fiction. Well quite unexpected I’ve discovered that Woolf’s fiction also encompasses deep affection, empathy for animals. “The Shooting Party” is startling. It is a pro-animal story: we have the viewpoint of one of these stifled women, Miss Antonia, indeed several are in the squire’s household as outside he and others destroy birds. All the imagery of the story moves between poignant aware descriptions of the agonies of animals, including those about to be eaten Other women at the table include Miss Rashleigh (a name I’m familiar with from DuMaurier). A mare dies on the road — beaten too often doubtless. I wondered what Flush is like. Voyage Out is post-colonialism, this is aware animal rights. It does make an implicit parallel between the stifled lady sewing and then waiting for the squire who we hear outside howling, cursing, things are being destroyed by falling off shelves. Knick-knacks include mermaids. A whole lashed forest is there. Woolf’s strong gerund style serves her well. It puts unnamed suffering birds and animals at the center with the terrified nervous Miss Antonia and wry Miss Rashleigh. Gaskell also has a strong parallel between a subjugated woman and other helpless beings in the sense that she feels for both from their point of view (“Lizzie Leigh”,”The Well of Pen Morpha”).

Gentle reader, it is dreadfully hot in the Washington DC area and the truth is summer pleasures for most include long hours indoors where life is enabled by air-conditioning. I’m watching The Crown on Netflix: reactionary in the extreme, it’s well-done (the film-makers remind us continually how the rest of the UK or the world is living) and presents a characterization of the young Elizabeth I can identity with: it’s not her, but a female archetype found in these mini-series, the self-contained woman feeling deeply what she has to do that’s wrong carries on more alone and quiet (a la Anne Elliot) than is realized. Claire Foy manages to communicate intensities of nuance in a role where most of the time she behaves with exquisite self-control. She is seen again and again from a distance walking away on her own


Here she is separating her sister from Townsend after having promised she would not, about which no one but herself (and Margaret and Townsend) appears really to care (I stress this is an idealization, but an appealing one)

Miss Drake

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Friends,

Strong sun, warm air, warm breezes, cats sitting in sunpuddles around the house, neighhors sitting out-of-doors, heard talking and playing ball (with lovely night lights strung across a yard), going on their boats all-day, biking, off to a beach, to a cruise, to another country …

I thought having been inspirited by the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center tonight — Izzy and I went to hear them perform Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, “Resurrection” (the first half a magnificent dirge, a meditation on death) — that I could manage a brief blog to say I’m trying to survive. The performance was astonishingly beautiful, the evening on the terrace lovely.

It’s just become so hard to be alone most of the time, even if companioned to some extent by Net-friends. It’s should be unspeakable to describe my feelings as I watch others seeming good times, great travel experiences in these photos on face-book (well meant, celebratory for their friends doubtless): these fuel these sometimes unendurable tormented thoughts about my past decisions (so many, all in the same retreat direction, giving more firm thought and insight today to what was felt at the time than it had), which have landed me where I am today. So it’s become hard to blog, especially personally. True I had the 45 mostly happy years, and were Jim alive today, I would be carrying on with the same life, though I hope we would have started to do more for our retirement, but the 45 years is over, he’s dead, and I’m here without …

Not that I’ve not enough to do. I’ve had an almost permission and potential from the copyright holder and an editor to go forward with a literary biography of Winston Graham, now almost famous author of the Poldark novels whose matter is providing the material for a third season of the new Poldark. So I am reading far more of Graham, about Cornwall, and thinking of how I’m going to go to the UK and manage the negotiation and then research in three different libraries this coming fall and early winter. The expense is not nothing.


Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza, from the 2nd season

I’m sustained emotionally by my Gaskell project: I’ve been reading her late Cousin Phillis and am astonished at how differently I read it when I consider her depiction of animal, farm, and agricultural economy as well as the new technologies (which the hero-narrator of the tale is involved with), of engineering, railways, machinery. How could I have seen it so superficially as simply pastoral?


Cary Mulligan in the most recent film adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd — on Trollope19thCStudies this has turned out to be our summer novel

Sunday I must get serious about my Historical Fiction set in the 18th century course for the OLLI at Mason. Write a (mercifully) brief syllabus and start to put together cogent thoughts on Daphne DuMaurier (which means again Cornwall), historical fiction before the Great Divide of Post-modernism, as our first book of two is her King’s General, set in the mid-17th century during the civil war as experienced in Cornwall. The second will be Sontag’s “anti-foundational” (though if she had lived to see Trump she might not have been so determined to undermine the foundations of US society insofar as they are civilized) The Volcano Lover.

I’ve gone to the first of five sessions at the OLLI at AU (again being a student, member of the class) on Animals and American culture. Despite the best efforts of the head of the Humane Society of the US (who came to speak), eradicating pathological indifference, exploitation and cruelty to non-human animals has a long way to go.


Early illustration of Jane Eyre

Reviews to do (including Nick Holland’s In Search of Anne Bronte); today on Trollope19thCStudies, we begin Trollope’s Dr Wortle’s School –truly interesteing novella; we just finished his neglected Golden Lion of Granpere.

Mornings waking at 6 I read Claire Harman’s latest truly transformative biography, Charlotte Bronte: a Fiery Heart. the title gives no hint (doubtless due to the publisher or editor) what makes this book on the Brontes stand out. It’s much and rightly indebted to Gaskell’s magisterial, the first great biography of a woman writer (by a woman). Harman is one of our great biographers. Harman describes the inner heart of what sustained Charlotte while doing justice to Charlotte’s necessary (for self-preservation) social blindnesses. Harman quotes and understands Anne and Emily too to great effect, does not castigate Branwell as at fault for the family’s ethical (as they saw it) worldly failures. Anne was deeply engaged by a sensitive intelligent man, William Weightman, who came to be her father’s curate, but he is another person in the story who died so young. It was who they were and how their pride and lack of connections, money, lack of training in social experience, cut them off. Death stalked them too. Her kindly publisher (making a great deal of money on Jane Eyre especially), George Smith saw to it that Charlotte was wined, dined and befriended when she entered the small circles of middle-class people who read and were part of the vibrant world of London at the time. But when she turned back to Haworth, and her imagined world when she returned to the now empty (except for Patrick who needed continual placating) homeplace, Charlotte did not have enough in her to resist. She needed Ellen Nussey (one of her happiest trips was with Ellen) and Mary Taylor to have lived closer; her late blooming friendship with Elizabeth Gaskell more time. She did find peace with a male companion in Nicholls. Harman does not present her as finding fulfillment while writing enough.

I do look at the Road scholar tours but do not understand how to navigate the site and the one phone call I made I experienced a hard sell that was harrowing. I yearn to go on another small (or big) trip with a friend. If by next summer Micawber-like nothing turns I shall take one plunge and go on the Lake District tour (an old hard-to-kill dream). Today Izzy and I will go the National Gallery for their American collections show, many 18th century French paintings, some by women.

Jim had a dream of learning to sail, to sail around the world as a paid passenger on a commercial boat. Do they have these anymore? if I knew someone congenial to go with, I’d set off this morning for the next year …. In the meantime, swim every couple of days at the local Alexandria Community center and evenings I watch movies like Waterland listening to Jeremy Irons’s voice — thanks to the kindness of a Net-friend I shall soon have the first of the third season of Poldark.

Ellen

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Photo of my newly painted house — gentle reader imagine a much lighter, whiter cream color ….

Friends,

Eleven days since I last wrote, and I and Izzy and my older daughter, Laura, are off to Rehoboth Beach on Friday morning to stay in a hotel on the beach front, a suite of rooms where we hope to relax. Sun, wind, fresh air, sand, a boardwalk, I just hope it won’t be too hot — as it has been today.

I’ve had a new pleasant experience — I attended my first face-to-face book club where the people discussed the book for real, Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam, such that I wanted to go back and reread because I realized as we talked the book had more depth and varied rich passages and characters than I had given it credit for (Booker Prize winner or no). It’s organized by the OLLI at Mason: serious fiction, with a moderator, all in circle on plain chairs. It’s a bit far for me: Reston, but then I learned how to get there now and it felt worth it. I am listening to a reading of Winston Graham’s sixth Poldark novel, The Four Swans, a fully mature stage within this continuing cycle of novels, about to be dramatized this coming June on the BBC (the third season, which will begin with fifth, The Black Moon). So however tiring, the time in the car is not wasted at all. I look forward to going again; the club meets from September to May. I’m getting better at finding places by car (with my trusty garmin and printed out maps).

I’ve also — unhappy this one — been again astonished by the irresponsibility of doctors at Kaiser when it comes to prescribing drugs (pills). A doctor knowingly prescribed a sleeping pill he must’ve know was addictive and then showed no concern if I was addicted to it. Paid no mind to this aspect of what happened at all. And in true Trump-style manifested a shameless disregard, denial, of obvious truth. After three years and some months of taking a mild depressant each night to help me sleep sufficiently to be able to drive and live my days, I discovered the pill a doctor prescribed is no longer working. I’ve become inured; to make me sleep, I have to take say two pills and they don’t always do the trick — or as much heavier, addictive pill, Restoril, becomes necessary. As my widowhood and the contour of a life that will be mine (with my disabilities over travel, circumstances, placement &c), on my own (as they say) — a long, long road stretching out before me, years I must walk through, I was understanding Julian Barnes’s word for his wife’s “disappearance” as a death-time, since he didn’t and couldn’t forget her, shaping this aftermath; then growing so tired of coping with all sorts of things, deep angst.

So I tell a little of this to the psychiatrist and his reaction: prescribe a pill (new drug!) said to make the patient sleep and provide release from anxiety, Remeron it’s called. He seemed to care that I have a bleeding problem at first; was going to send me to hematology but when he contacted them, he recontacted asking me about bleeding episodes “so so we are on the same page.” Then behaved as if I had had no hemorrhages in my life (when I’ve probably had 4-5). In effect he refused to question an old diagnosis from the oncology and hematology people at Kaiser that I have no hemorrhage problem after I have experienced 4, twice coming near death. That’s not his area. I took one Remeron Tuesday night and found myself in the grip of a trauma, a kind of intense trance where my feelings were no different but at a distance, my body feeling sickened. It was harrowing. I came near a car accident! Not until Thursday noon, did it wear off. I tell this to the psychiatrist and what does he say, Oh, we’ll try another anti-depressant in a couple of days when this wears off. This should be astonishing. Is it? Well, in a mood of self-preservation (what happens when I grow old, I must maintain independence as long as I can), I instead for the next three nights I went “cold turkey,” and took no pills. I felt better physically, more alert than I had in a long time. But I am not sleeping enough — 2-3 hours is not enough.


Vanessa Bell (18791961), gorgeous (just look at that hat) Lady with a Book — from later in her career

I simply returned to segmented sleep, which is my natural pattern, sleep four hours (if I’m lucky), up for a couple where I read in bed, and then hope for another hour or so, from new tiredness. I won’t take any more of these drugs. So a new pattern of daily life is emerging. I’m reading good books at night, and then again just after the second awakening. I might not make it to the gym the way I had been this past winter.

I need a good doctor. Responsible. Looking after my health as an individual.

Leave Kaiser? If I did, I could never go back as I was not the federal employee, it would cost me so much more (I am grandmothered into an earlier deal), and I know from experience when I find myself facing lists of doctors from say an insurance hand-out I don’t know who to go and end up with no one. More than half the time before the HMO I had bad encounters, and no regular doctor. And was fleeced, often disrespected. I remember years ago being charged $37 for five minutes of man’s time – he laughed at me when I said I was suffering from headache. The American health care system is indeed a joke, even when they are not outright fleecing and bankrupting you. I did frighten the present Kaiser psychiatrist by my email to him on the Kaiser site; he phoned me (!) and talked of how he was so concerned, how much thought he had put into this, did I want to come and “chat” (that’s his word for what passes for serious talk with him), and I heard him typing, taking down every word I said lest I sue. That’s why he cares about: his career. (Addiction doesn’t concern him at all. Like some dentists’ attitude towards teeth: the real ones are not as good as the pretty crowns.)

Outside Kaiser I am told this prescribe-drugs and send the patient to a social-worker therapist is the protocol. I did have a good psychiatrist when I went to the Haven for a few months after Jim died — pure luck. She did talk of my past and deeply and helped me see things I had not before. But I lost her when the DMV removed my “driving privileges” and harassed me for months over it (invisible computer monitoring is the way they use the cops to stop people from driving — in the state of Virginia there is a class action suit against the DMV for egregious use of this technique, among other things impoverishing people who can’t get to their jobs) and I couldn’t reach her any more. American institutions, American lack of public transportation. Deep culture here? from many practices followed, isolation structured in.


An interesting mid-20th century painter, John Piper who I read about recently in the LRB: Chicester Cathedral from the Deanery

Just one small life — insignificant against the unfolding of the Trump regime (stop gentle reader and watch this two-part Dutch documentary). Today I spent some 5 hours altogether at the OLLI at AU anniversary party/luncheon (they have been going for 35 years) where Diane Reims spoke. While she is a decent woman I can see, intelligent I did discover why I never listened much: too schmaltzy, too mainstream, and they applauded her for her sentiments a couple of times. What a group these people are. Many went to private colleges, even Ivy League and this in the 1950s, or early 60s. Many of them slightly older than me, most just luckier than me. Many came from genuinely middle class families which led to their careers. So many were lawyers — the men of course. All with grown children, two to four, grandchildren, traveling as a pair to them in say Switzerland or Florida. Though I know there are some single women there (divorced, widowed).

I sat with the good intelligent woman who was the teacher of the Woolf class I attended, who herself used to teach at University of Maryland. It was good talk — of the Brontes, the neglected Anne, the greatness of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Emily Bronte’s poetry, DuMaurier’s powerful Branwell Bronte (a biography) and Gaskell’s Life of Bronte. She and her husband used to go sailing down from Cape May to Bermuda (never did get caught by pirates); she described wonderful evenings after a day’s sail, friends where their crew. She travels regularly; rents apartments in Italy, there for art biennales (the Venice one), goes on hiking trips to Maine with him (at 80); he was a tenured professor of chemistry, Emeritus. I was again berating myself for when Jim suggested we learn to sail decades ago, somehow we never did it — he had found a flyer about lessons; maybe it was my fault; my nervousness; there was the problem of having a boat — we couldn’t afford to own one and Linda and her husband did own a boat.

Through it all I felt how lucky this woman has been. She attributed to her husband the sailing expeditions. He knew how. (Jim could have learned; it would have been good for him.) I was wishing too how I had bought some summer house when he suggested that — somehow we’d go out and look and not do it, not buy — they were another mortgage. He did love boats — or the idea of boats from his growing up in Southampton. I remember one year he said let’s go to this Renaissance conference in Italy and I demurred. Why? shy? in Florence it was. Had we done that would we have begun to go to Italy regularly? with what money? well, he was making enough to go to England and Landmark Trust houses. My fault he and I didn’t live the life we could have?

Others at this table and elsewhere were talking of their Road Scholar vacations and casual holiday in historical places, and I can’t do this — to go on a tour by myself I will have to get up immense courage, to the Lake District and just beyond, it’s 14 days and $5,000. The places to look at sound alluring. Do I want to go to this schedule, I’d have to buy some clothes, sit down with others to 3 meals a day and so on. Would I enjoy this? strangers. What would they be like? I’m told by people that you make acquaintances, even can get sort of close, but then the trip is over, the relationship ends.

But I long for a good life: it’s like I died just as I retired. Jim had been retired for 8 years or so and then I retired, but my life depended on his and his ways, so his dying within a year of my retiring is in effect the death of the life I would have had — it might not have been like these people probably, but in that direction. I had a sort of revulsion or came home from it exhausted. Nervous. I left a little early, had endured enough I felt — everyone talking of the courses we teach or take. Meaning well. It was relief to leave. I said to myself I am over 70 and I don’t want to be pressured — felt so just intensely reluctant at what profession I had had (the offer of that adjunct at the Georgetown place in an innovative BA program for older returning students, the first year I was widowed which I flubbed, couldn’t seem to cope with the dean). I’d have to learn Blackboard, or some other latest technology and cope seriously with students. Eagerness comes from youth, from hope. And my learning curves in tech are so deep.

What life would I gain this way? Tired after a lifetime of in my way trying hard, repeated perhaps making bad and wrong decisions but not because I didn’t care and didn’t mean to end up well — because at the time they were what seemed best, what I could do, what I was led to do, yes by Jim’s advice too; he would say why beat your head against a wall driving two hours to get to this job? I hoped I would somehow know some fulfillment and I did for a time, after I came onto the Net and for say 15 years. I did fear so, that he would die youngish, but turned away from the possibility this disaster would happen. Dreaded it too much. He did leave me solvent, in this comfortable house, with 10,000 books …. our lives history.

Julian Barnes’s phrase is deathtime — a person has a lifetime and then afterward a deathtime in the memory of the life left behind … and in the memory of others (in say books).


A dream picture: put on face-book for another FB friend, Harold Knight (1874-1961), Morning Sun

I finished Oliphant’s Kirsteen this week, in the end a flawed satisfying book, like others of hers (deserves a separate blog). I tell myself I’m still working towards a possible book on “The Anomaly,” and serious reading there has shown me there were very few women living alone until 1850 (in any kind of comfort or safety). Not possible. Not allowed an income to do it on, not allowed the security of knowing no one can break in. And I’m reading a delightful Portrait of Cornwall by Claude Berry. Wonderful black-and-white, grey, photos from all over Cornwall.

Teaching has come to an end for now. I did have a wonderful findal session with the class group at the OLLI at Mason over the profoundly moving Last Orders by Graham Swift. They loved it too. Since then I returned to Waterland, the book and film. Soon I’ll start preparing for this summer’s course: historical fiction, old fashioned first, DuMaurier’s King’s General, which I remember as so erotic, lyrical, so melancholy (the heroine crippled in a wheelchair), and then the post-colonial, post-modern, anti-foundational type, Sontag’s immensely brilliant The Volcano Lover. My review work includes Nick Holland’s In Search of Anne Bronte.


One of Laura’s four cats, either they cooperate more or she is better at capturing them in a photo ….

Since Nine O’Clock

Half past twelve. The time has passed quickly
since I first lit the lamp at nine o’clock,
and sat down here. I’ve sat without reading,
without speaking. With whom could I speak,
all alone in this house?

Since nine o’clock when I lit the lamp
a ghostly image of my adolescent body
came to me, reminding me
of closed and scented chambers,
and past pleasures – what brazen pleasures!
It brought before my eyes
streets now unrecognizable,
bars once filled with movement, now closed,
cafes and theatres that once existed.

The vision of my body in its youth
brought sorrowful memories also:
the grieving of my family, separations,
the feelings I had for my own kin, feelings
for the dead, whom I little acknowledged.

Half past twelve; how the time has passed.
Half past twelve; how the years have passed

— C. P. Cavafy — one of Jim’s favored poets — I have the book of his poetry in my house

Too late, too late, too late, turning to see too late.

Probably I ought to start signing Ellen

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