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MarkRylanceasThomasCromwell
Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell (2015 Wolf Hall, scripted Peter Straughan)

‘Fortitude. … It means fixity of purpose. It means endurance. It means having the strength to live with what constrains you.’ — Mantel, Wolf Hall (a common theme in women’s novels since the 18th century)

Dear friends and readers,

I have ever found solace, comfort, models to channel in my reading. I am listening to a brilliant reading of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall by Simon Slater (CDs in my car), and find I am perpetually enriched by new thoughts, insights, reminders of what I know to be importantly true put in new ways. One character whose thoughts and behavior out of grief I find myself remembering, is Thomas Cromwell’s.

Early in the novel his wife, Liz, dies suddenly, swiftly of the sweating or sleeping sickness (as it was called in the 1520s). Albeit quietly, he is intensely grief-stricken, misses her. While he has an affair with Liz’s sister, Joanne, because Joanne resembles her sister and is there, and does not remarry for more and far different kinds of reasons than that he finds her as an individual who provided support, comfort, a kind of meaning and stable sane mood to his life irreplaceable, nonetheless he dreams of Liz, finds himself trying to grasp her ghostly presence in his thoughts, his environment, he re-enacts talk with her.

Joanne
POV Cromwell, coming up to Johann (Saskia Reeves), his sister-in-law, now loved

Liz
POV Cromwell, a moment later seeing Joanne as Liz (Natasha Little)

He compares what he sees other women doing to what she did. I am nearing the end of the novel where he acknowledges in passing thoughts his relationship to Liz has changed now, his feelings altered. The first year of her death his household did almost nothing to observe Christmas, more than four years later all holiday and other customs are encouraged.

Two or three days ago Slater read the passage where Cromwell at home, once again picks up Liz’s prayer book.

prayerbook
Early in first episode we glimpse Liz’s prayer book, as Cromwell talks of the Tyndale that has come by mail (steathily) and Liz turns away …

She had refused to read the Bible in English, would not listen to the liberating theology of Tyndale. There had been this uncrossable space between them, and yet he cherished the book. We see him muse over it at his desk, take it down from what seems to be a shelf (presumably in his bedroom); next to her name is the name of her first husband, and then below his own. This has hurt him out of jealousy — as also the names of their children together, two daughters because they died of the same sickness not long after, so out of grief and loss, and a son, now living still whom he does all he can for. The moment that means much to me is when he finds himself looking at the entry and crossing out her other husband’s name. He finds he can; he finds he feels better for this, looking about him. The whole thing no longer means as much or means differently. Beautifully authentically caught.

In the book, in the film adaptation, Mantel as Cromwell, Rylance as Cromwell mourn for many others beyond Liz, and mourn for themselves too.

Steady now, steady on.

This morning I found myself remembering a passage from Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (no need for me to have it read aloud to me, much less read it myself) where after she has the searing relevation that he has been engaged for four years to another woman, she reflects that no matter how busy she keeps herself, how much she refuses to indulge herself by remembering in solitude, there is still time enough for thoughts of him and what had been to rise to consciousness. But she holds firm, writes on at her desk (Sense and Sensibility was originally an epistolary novel).

FavoriteStill
The 1995 S&S film, scripted by Emma Thompson realizes just this moment (Thompson as Elinor)

Steady now, steady on.

I had been overbusy for many days and yesterday gave in to myself or could not get myself to take a long trip in the deadly heat (officially it felt like 107 fahrenheit) so did not go to the adaptation of a play by Thomas Middleton playing at the Gallaudet College: car, train, then try to find it for at least a 20 minute walk, and after a possible hour or so of play, reverse the experience. I preferred to stay in, read an essay on Fielding which helps me see his true integrity, fineness of feeling,

Rawson

go swimming nearby, a six minute trip by car each way while listening to Wolf Hall, and then home to watch a beloved mini-series. But I felt terrible too. My unwillingness to go was a sign Jim was dead: with him there it would have been no trouble to go (he would have driven us, and had no trouble finding the place, and little trouble parking), I’d not have given it any thought; without him, watching these plays can be desolating as I’ve no one to talk to about them afterward. I cannot yet cross this out and yet I’m beginning to have no need to re-enact.

This morning like Elinor I found the thoughts about this would rise to the surface. I made my routine up for the day, and determined that the way I am living is not done simply because I can’t break the yoke of what I used to do. These things before me — my writing, reading, task routine, my breaks (today again swimming nearby) however meaningless now or to others are what I am, what I enjoy doing, what I understand, get fulfillment from.

Steady now, steady on.

photo
Pussycats (my household) this morning

Miss Drake

Who we are determines what we notice and what we regard as worthy of notice, what we find significant…
—Robert Coles, Doing Documentary Work

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SophieandMe
My friend, Sophie and I last week at Cinema Art Theater where we saw Gemma Bovery

Dear friends and readers,

Stumbling along is an accurate characterization of my life this summer in my 2nd year as a widow. In the UK people used to say they were “muddling through,” but that implied a goal to somewhere, which I’ve not got. My attachment to all but a very few things I do and few friends is artificially sustained so I may remain absorbed (reading, writing, watching movies) or active (out to see and participate in events, with friends and acquaintances, mostly the latter) simply because if I let go, I fear I will not know what to hold onto, and what then? If anyone objects to my frank characterization of myself as a widow, which is what I am seen as well as relate as, I ask them why: it’s no longer acceptable to object to people characterizing themselves as GLBT, or disabled, or depressed, or simply on their own in whatever way. So why is the designation widow kept so sotto voce?

A high point, a good evening out with a friend, Sybilla, my neighbor across the street who is a widow of four years, her husband died at age 67 of pancreatic cancer. I got the tickets, she drove us to Wolf Trap. Both brought picnic baskets to share with one another. We were too late to have our picnic in the first area beyond the roofed theater, but we managed to see and hear directly and intimately enough by walking into the area just after the theater and sitting on the stone quarter-size wall. John Fogerty had been Sybilla’s choice but I immediately recognized, the songs, the voice. He’s extraordinary; he gave enormously. He had with him a remarkable band of musicians. He told of his family, had his grown son wit him; the son also plays the guitar very well. His wife in the audience. What a light show, videos, fires …. sparkling balls. The crowd became alive with the music, people standing, swaying, dancing in their seats.

Many years ago:

It was not just nostalgia, but there were new numbers, contemporary ones. I haven’t been to anything like this in years or even before. He just never stopped singing and playing with and without his band. He did not stop for an intermission and was still going apparently strong as most people began to leave. He meant to do that, to make us remember him playing his heart out and entertaining us with all his might and soul and body …

Had also enjoyed a lunch date with a scholar friend (decent meal at Darlington House in DC) and planned for a coming panel at EC/ASECS: Forging Connections among Women. I’m loving Anne Grant’s Letters from the Mountain, Essays on Superstitions and Memoirs of an American Lady. Like me she reaches out to friends by her writing.

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jacoblawrencemigration
Jacob Lawrence, from his Migration of the Negro (at the Museum of Modern Art, NYC)

I probably ought to write separate blogs about two museum exhibits I saw, except that while recommending them if they come near you, I found them disappointing so I cannot say that you should go out of your way for these. At the Philips, with another friend, Vivian, I saw a room full of small abstract-kind of paintings by Jacob Lawrence called “The Struggle.” These were a pendant to his Migration series: the pictures show the inception, origination of the US was in violence, and it specifically used and excluded from citizen rights to right, slaves, women, non-property owners.

Struggle Series No. 1

There are too few was the problem. Lawrence’s unforgettable Migration series makes the effect it does because of the plenitude of pictures. For all the efforts of local Washingtonian media to speak well of the Philips (and they do host remarkable lectures and readings of plays and poetry), their permanent collection is singularly uninspiring and small. Their cafe remains awful because they are perpetually understaffed — I feel for the staff working there who look so nervous.

With Sophie, Yvette and Sophie’s partner, I went to the Caillebotte exhibition at the National Gallery. It was oddly disappointing. Not because there were too few (5 rooms of paintings from a scarcely believable number of places disparate geographically so this was a major effort of cooperation and curator negotiation) but that they were not accounted for in an insightful way by the curator. The obvious was said (that we look at from a rich person’s window, that he painted family and friends, still lifes meant to make us think about how we treat animals, and landscapes very much in the mode of Monet). They were generally thematically group (as here are river landscapes, here the city seen from this window, here ordinary people going about their business). The exhibit led with “scrapers:”

GustaveCaillebotte

It included superbly beautiful design work:

Boulevard Des Italiens Painting by Gustave Caillebotte; Boulevard Des Italiens Art Print for sale
Boulevard Des Italiens

There was nothing on the technique, on how Caillbebott differed from other impressionists — considerably. He uses lines heavily, and is impressionist rather with water and rain. Sometimes Caillebotte seemed to anticipate pointillism; there were Manet-like street scenes. I was impressed by how expressionless his people were. He does include animals in a sad state on the street — so perhaps someone should write about his capturing the vulnerable stray again and again:

LePontdeLEurope
On Le Pont de l’Europe long since gone to his or her grave

For the first time Yvette and I ate at the elegant 2nd floor cafe — we’ve been going to this museum for 30 years and never tried it before. My friend’s partner apparently would have hated the “plebian” cafe downstairs. The food was dolled up bits of meat, potatoes and vegetables, almost unrecognizable, overdone salad dressing on wilted stuff, undrinkable tea (with no milk) — at probably a horrendous price. This is to tell you if you go there, don’t be fooled. Get yourself something edible downstairs at 1/4 the price in 1/10th the time.

I’ve bought myself 5 tickets to plays at the Capitol Fringe Festival and hope to find the places and see some Shakespeare (A Winter’s Tale), his contemporary Middleton, and a drama about women’s roles working during WW1. I had my worst experiences of STUGs (sudden tremendous upsurge of grief) last summer as I realized the joy of going to these events was with Jim. Sophie is coming to one of them with me and three are easy to get to this time. So it’ll just be one that might be hard — at Gallaudet College (perhaps a long walk from the Metro), a Thomas Middleton play somewhat abridged and adapted. I’ll tell about these plays here.

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Italianedition
Ippolito Nievo, The Confessions of an Italian (Italian text).

Framley Parsonage is doing well at the OLLI at Mason (I’ll blog separately on some Australian books and films my post-colonial project have led me to): I work away at my projects. I read and post with and to others on my listservs (Ippolito Nievo’s Confesssions of an Italian as translated by Fredericka Randall on which I will write when we’ve done), not to omit blogging on the new Poldark mini-series, women artists, and Bernie Sanders.

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I’m beginning to see my way in teaching Fielding’s Tom Jones, starting to reread it slowly once again (there I had a recording I realize was appalling as the reader worked hard to make the text into a comic romp which it is anything but) and see the usefulness and depths of perspective and information in approaching it the way I did the Poldark books, by going into the real history of injustice, law, custom, the era’s revolutions. I still love the 1997 Tom Jones mini-series movie though I now know it utterly misrepresents the tone and attitude of Fielding who remains behind a mask of double-turned intricate ironies.

Low points include the Dance Fusion Workshop becoming hard to get into. The instructor has decreed only 15 since we have to go down to the Dance Studio (more fun if you are there, immersion with a mirror) and there are about 40 women who came regularly. I find I have to phone on Sunday morning around 8 am at the latest to be included in the Tuesday session at 8:30 am. A small thing it will be said, but I need to get out each day and be among people. So I re-joined the Chinquapin Alexandria Community Center about 6 minutes away from me where there’s a pool and I’ve begun swimming 5-6 laps (very slowly and I’m collapsing by the end of the 6th) to swim a few later afternoons each week. In this 90+ degree heat (I don’t look at the humidity) the water is refreshing and between 4 and 5 there are no camps, no people home from work.

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So it’s not that the old pleasures aren’t still strong for me: I’m just revelling in listening as I drive in my car to a brilliantly alive reading of Mantel’s Wolf Hall by Simon Slater (unabridged). The text is extraordinary. But all around me so hollow feeling, my existence so impoverished, hopes I once entertained for the future for both of us gone. The worded-truth is:

I can no longer convey how not okay it is that my beloved friend and companion and lover of a lifetime died so young, in such an agony and I have to carry on without any meaning, any deep companionship or understanding, any validation of how I see the world and relate to it. Yes time and new experiences change the nature of people’s grief and sense of loss, the meaning of what happened: the acute anxiety has subsided; but my sense of justifable anger at how he was treated, at how I now realize cancer is not discussed has hardened as I see more from my new knowledge. I’ll never forget what I witness and it will shape my conduct towards doctors and the medical establishment — all those cold hard people taking our, his money — ever after. My feelings are now turned into more clear awareness he’ll never be back. I can’t conjure up a ghostly presence (I’m not the type, the sky is the sky, nothing on another side of silence) and my memories are not pictorial or very physical. there are physical remnants in my arms, hands, central body. If I had been younger and could build a new or other life, it might have been different, but I cannot. I would not want to have been younger for that would have destroyed him earlier. Now the feelings as transformed and by new realizations become unspeakable as they go deeper and deeper, seep into my veins.

AdmiralandClary2
Clarycat stayed snuggled up to him until very near his death — late September 2013

Miss Drake

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Madeline.jpp
Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline — the flowers are lovely, colors all alive, when the image is much bigger

Dear friends and readers,

It’s near mid-August. I’ve kept busy this sad week — sad because last year my beloved, my friend, my companion was still alive and now he’s dead, sad because last year we were not able to go to Glimmerglass just at this time: the Admiral had bought tickets for an opera, a musical, two concerts, we were to stay at a lodging house off the water (if only I had listened to him when he first was diagnosed and agreed to do nothing so he would not have had that criminal operation), sad remembering his agony. For quite a number of years these were the weeks we went away: to England several times, to Italy for 5 weeks once, to Paris for 1 week, often to Glimmerglass, or Vermont (a Landmark house).

LandsEnd
Where we would swim in Vermont — with Yvette

It is quiet here now, Yvette asleep, the cats on their grey pillows, I’ve just been reading an excellent book on Breaking Bad (Wanna Cook?, the complete unofficial companion, only it’s not got season 6), and re-watched the extraordinary first pilot episode. What did I do this week? Well, I read my New Yorker, turning all the pages, reading some of it (since I can’t get to these plays, or concerts, or events any more I can join in by reading about it), looking at pictures: whence the Madeline picture; there’s an exhibit at the NY Historical Society for the 75th anniversary of the birth of Madeline (in New York City). I loved reading the books as a girl, and Caroline loved listening to me read them when she was a girl. A number of other books too, essays in periodicals, and this poem which I liked as it put me in mind of how I feel about my hairdresser who has been a sort of friend to me since Jim died. She is not young but the rest sort of applies:

My hairdresser

My hairdresser is young
and she tells me things
no one else can:
about the different kinds of straightening tongs;
about the war in Afghanistan.

I sit with my hands in my lap,
in the ridiculous cape that she fastens for me
at the back. She stands at the nape of my neck

and I concentrate.

She tells me about her nan’s hair —
which is coarse (“like yours”) —
she tells me about colour, and tone;
she tells me about her boyfriend, the soldier,
who covered his ears at the party,
and begged her to take him home.

I watch her in the mirror,
as she cheerfully takes hold of my hair,
and pulls it high up into the air;

I sit completely still in the swivel-chair,
and listen with great care
to all the things she has to tell me.

— Tara Bergin

and watched movies, swam twice, went to Dance Fusion once, an evening’s brief walk and sitting by a bunch of ducks in the Potomac in Old Towne. They kept turning upside down to fish. Some more remarkable summer poetry: I recommend Ellen Bass, Barbara Cook, Christina Pacosz.

No piano lesson though. The piano teacher cancelled again, said she had a meeting and then a week’s vacation time away: I’m thinking she lacks enthusiasm and may not want to do this with a 67 year old woman. I’ve been told that the JCCNV offers piano lessons at a much cheaper rate, so if she cancels again I may have to do that. I stopped practising because I felt silly. But Yvette carries on playing and singing on Saturday and Sunday morning. So the piano is used.

As I wrote on facebook, over Thursday and Friday I was feeling quite the grown up. Thursday morning around 8:00 am on the way to the JCCNV my car started to make frightening racket-like & sluice noises. Five minutes further down 236, I gave up going to Dance Fusion for a 2nd time, drove back home again (listening to the dreadful noise as I went), phoned Toyota; at first panicked and got myself lost but then retrieved myself by realizing I was going in a wrong direction; when I finally got there, the kind head mechanic (he had the work done on the car after it sat for 4 months) took me right away. What happened was I hit a pot hole. Rim of tire came away, slight bend in fender which they knocked back (like Dickens’s Mrs Joe) by hand. Friday morning got to JCCNV to swim class just fine.

That was the second day of house-fixing — with a decent handyman type — he did all I wanted, fasciaboard scraped, screwed in, painted; gutters cleaned; more small paint jobs (including of a birds nest on the side of the house). He and his helper rebuilt an old porch (that should have been done in 1987 when we bought the house), and beyond that put in handle on screen door, calked several leaks in the walls and by the kitchen; rebuilt the top part of the chimney. I did not overpay at all. He showed me where a part of my kitchen floor has a continual wet floor from leaks so my plan to fix the kitchen by replacing vinyl and painting the walls and ceiling, and buying new dark-colored and far fewer cabinets that are easy to clean will be more expensive than I thought. Still he was honest and if I pay for the slight flood to be dried up and the earth on the other side of the wall built up so that the water can run off the house will be sounder. The Admiral took the long view: our lives were short and frail; until the August before he died, we had not much money and the house would outlast us as is. I understood it, and were he here would be doing whatever he wanted or not, but as I now live here alone and cannot see that I will be spending the money to travel as he was hoping (now I think he thought to begin at 70 when he had been told we needed to spend some of the money from the Thrifty Account each year), I might as well make it a good place for Yvette to have after me. I know were I to sell it no matter what I did it would be a tear-down: as that would break my heart, I won’t sell. (I should say I’ve had several letters, phone calls, post cards by now, offering to come and talk about buying the place — widows are targets for predators — I hang up after saying “this is my home,” and citing “5 million please.”)

I also saw my financial advisor and talked with the financial consultant on Tuesday for about 2 and 1/2 hours. They said my life expectancy was 84. 17 years. My advisor tried to help me learn to read the monthly reports and use the website to understand what’s happening and what’s being done. I bought myself Investing for Dummies (used copy so am waiting for it to arrive). I renewed my old Sylvia blog: How I wish he were here; August.

I had trouble sleeping for a few nights — too much excitement. When Jim and I were in our thirties, our joke was we didn’t know as yet what we wanted to be when we grew up. Now I think alone we none of us know what we will end up with. A sad story of a friend, now still just 68. Her husband died this past Thursday. She and her husband and Jim and I were friends, a foursome when we were in our twenties in NYC. She is my oldest friend, though now become a distant memory-acquaintance. We met at age 16 when we both graduated high school and were hired as secretaries at the FAA; we both left after two years to go to college, and we both went on for Ph.Ds, she in Economics (and made a lot of money, justifying pay increases for the phone company) and me in English. Her husband was a gregarious man, a state gov’t bank examiner (when there were regulations that mattered); they were another couple who bought a dream house for their retirement. That was 10 years ago; she was 58 and he retired then. Two years later he came down with Parkinson’s Disease and my understanding was it was a bad case. So that was his last 8 years. Sometimes she traveled with her sister-in-law (a divorced woman), once to India I was told, to Istanbul too; she could afford round-the-clock nurses towards the end. Both of us widows now.

Again there was a weekend treat. Two weeks ago Yvette and I went to Hamlet on Friday, Antigone Saturday, and me to my film club alone on Sunday; last week we enjoyed the splendor of Wolf Trap, Mary Chapin Carpenter and the NSO; last night with a group of friends I went on a boat ride up and down the Potomac alongside D.C. — about an hour’s worth of touring. Very pleasant as the weather was breezy, balmy, and the blues and wide sky so refreshing. We had dinner in an Asian restaurant in Georgetown, some 16 people. Good talk too some of it. Someone told me of a movie I might enjoy: 84 Charing Cross Road with Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft and Judi Dench. Bus, Metro and car home.

Yvette tells me that when I am gone for several hours (as I was last night), the cats curl up on my chair or on my part of the bed and wait for me to return. Right now Clarycat is on my lap; a little while ago Ian had his paws around my neck, was rubbing my face with his face; now he half-sleeps nearby on a pillow. In the car together Yvette read to me a funny wikipedia article on Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (which we are listening to right now) — about this dude who takes 800 pages to discover he’s Jewish. She and I are agreed we like the Daniel part of the novel best. I told her about the book of Spanish Jewish poetry (Hebrew translated) I have in the house as a result of reading this book.

What am I to do without him? So empty. All grown up now. I move through time trying to get through, pleasantly when I can by distraction, company, absorption. 17 years they said.

I understand how widows and widowers feel as they try to assuage the bereftness, to find some warmth in imagining the beloved person’s spirit is there with them conscious somewhere.

Sylvia

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IanJuly2014
Ian this morning

Dear friends and readers,

Some time in the early dawn hours of this morning I dreamed of Jim and woke to remember that I had done so. I dreamed he had come with me to the film club this Sunday; he hadn’t wanted to, but found he liked it after all, and when we were driving back — me next to him, me driving — I asked him if he would like to come and see another film for next time and he said yes. I felt glad he was going to come. This is the first time this has happened since he died.

This morning Ian too cuddled himself up against two pillows catty-cornered amid the quilt which I bought for him last year around this time — thinking he would use it for his separate bed. I imagines what Jim would have said had he seen that cat there like that — in an affectionate teasing voice, “You look very comfortable there, don’t you … ” — a kind of stance and comic-affectionate tone he took in part from his mother.

I did drive to the NVJCC this morning and discovered I find Tai Chi stressful: not relaxing. I gather this is unusual — except that maybe those who do react the way I do don’t tell. I could see the gestures we were practicing, learning, imitating, came from aggressive-protective fighting, the names gave this away, and the teacher enacted a sudden aggressive gesture at someone who had taken the course before and she countered with a protective one. I wouldn’t have liked that. While there didn’t seem to be much exercise, yet from the way we were asked to turn and our legs and bodies and put weight down, my left knee began to hurt (I have arthritis in both knees probably) and my back felt stiff and tight. I just can’t swing it about; I don’t loosen upon command. I realize I don’t move it much and am subject to low back pain. The teacher offered an exercise but like the other things he did, there was not much explanation, or I didn’t understand it very well. I found myself holding my hands as I stood there inbetween. So although Tai Chi looks so beautiful, uplifting, relaxing in Calendar Girls, after all there is Patrick Doyle’s score, the place high on a sunny hill (we were in an over-air-conditioned auditorium), the wonderful women actresses. I did like the waterarobics and found the 3 minute relaxation exercise afterward was relaxing; and there is another kind of swimming class and two different exercise ones to choose from too. So I have other choices. There’s Yoga too, but it’s at night.

I am just now listening on my Macbook Pro to the beautiful score that is found on the CD of Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice, music by Dario Marianelli, piano played by Jean-Yves Thibaudet. I have played the Patrick Doyle score of Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility today too.

Most of the rest is much like the opening; Marianelli lacks the deep feel of order I take from Doyle’s music, that rhythm, but he fills the silence with flowing beauty:

From the opening in the film; “Dawn” is its raison d’etre:

Dawn

Opening
Keira Knightley is seen in an (improbably) plain brown dress reading a copy of an old book whose running headers seem to read First Impressions

Sylvia

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