Posts Tagged ‘women’s employment’

January 2nd, 2017

… as to be hurt is petty, and to be hard
Stupidity; as the economists raise
Bafflement to a boast …
… the flat patience of England is a gaze
Over the drop …
There is not much else that we can praise.
— Wm Empson, from Courage Means Running (not!)

Dear friends and readers,

Given that I live in a country where those who have the power to stop this a fascist regime from taking over its central gov’t, at its headed a narcissistic sociopathic man whose public positions veer like some weathercock, it’s hard to look forward to kind any of certainty in the future, much less count on or plan for a good one. I’ve spent the time since I last wrote a diary entry (nearly two weeks ago) in the usual ways of reading, writing, watching movies at home, punctuated by going to the gym, or shopping, two times out to lunch, once with a real friend. It’s been cold, rained, snowed.

As ghosts obscurely trail the past
She is posthumous
She haunts the future.

Late in the night
The lit house she comes back to
Is empty, echoing
— “Widow,” Barbara Everett

What can I share? It’s that time that people assess where they’re at, and so here are a few areas of my continuing life I’ve thought about a bit.


A blogging cat …

Blogging itself.

The nature of blogging has changed over the 15 years or so since I began blogging and what’s called the blogosphere emerged. I find I blog less because more is expected: blogs like mine (literary, semi-political, life-writing) could be seen as a form of privately-run mostly unpaid journalism, especially if you write about books where your reader is probably literate and wants good information and insight. I try for four a week (one on each of my four blogs), and know I invent projects (women artists is my latest series)-— the way other bloggers join in web-ring marathons: a group of people who’ve met somehow or other all read but more importantly write about a specific author or books published in a specific year around a certain date; or they agree to blog about this kind of movie or by this director in for a given month. Then they comment on another’s blogs, link into one another’s blogs. These are planned and controlled performances where a social world you belong to is presented.

I’m not bored with what I do. I pick projects that I love to develop: read about, write about as I learn what I’m thinking, enrich my experience by writing, it’s almost as if I didn’t have the experience or make it real to myself unless I write. But it’s hard to balance this with say my teaching, or doing papers for conferences, or going out to do something. There is a conflict: I would read more if I wrote less, watch another movie. I find I also respond to the audience: so if a particular topic gets more clicks I develop it more: so for example, my Poldark blogs are responsible on some days for as much as 3000 clicks (hits!) — though I don’t read the books or watch the two mini-series to get an audience. I love them: last night I was much moved by the death of one of the heroes in Warleggan and its presentation in the new Poldark as well as Debbie Horsfield’s script.


Susan Herbert’s Taming of the Shrew — the key to all of these is they re-contextualize by replacing people with cats, and are done with a slightly parodic feel

Teaching and offering readings of books and films

Since we already are suffering from a surfeit of false news-stories and popular entertainment which is becoming more frankly racist, sexist, intolerant pro-violence every day another topic to think about at this point for me is teaching. I choose to carry on teaching, if not quite for free, for very small sums. In a way writing blogs on books and films and the kinds of topics I chose (or postings to listservs and face-book) are forms of teaching, sharing insights and knowledge. I teach to get out and write to be part of a social world, but if I didn’t think these activities valuable in some way or other I would stop.

What should one do in such eras as a teacher? or writer? I re-watched John Berger’s famous four-part 1970s mini-series Ways of Seeing (he died recently) the other night and remind us all of what he said. (You can find and watch all four on YouTube.) I found I had forgotten or never realized some aspects of it.

I did not realize how quietly feminist it was. I say quietly because at no point is Berger overt about feminism, never goes near any of the terms associated. The first half hour seems t be the most famous: like people starting a book. Here he argues how the context of a work enforces how we see it, how hard it is to ignore this: it’s not just an imaginative understanding of the time of the work (he hardly goes into this) but how the era the person lives in, where they see it, how it is framed there (as a precious object in a museum), where it’s discussed, if reproduced what surrounds the image in the book. He has a funny imitation of the usual hushed tones within which the pictures are discussed. They are fetishes because sold for such huge sums. This contextualization and re-contextualization is so important that one must stop and consider it a bit.

Berger teaches us why a text that in itself is an enlightened and good one (teaching say good values or meaning) can in a different context, different era, different audience, have a pernicious effect. That’s what happened to the class I tried to teach Huckleberry Finn to. No matter what I said, the way they saw it was racist: several of the whites triumphing, the black kids feeling pain and (the one who gave a talk) anguish.

Trump is said to have read All Quiet on the Western Front (he seems to be a functional illiterate). I went back to it: it is characterized by very easy language, simple sentences, a very easy reading book, one you could give to junior high school students (12 and up). I remember teaching it — like HF fruitlessly to even most in a sophomore level general education literature class, though not with the same evil effect. When we came to the end of AQWF, a number of the students raised their hands (a number) and said how disappointed, dismayed, angered (!) they felt at the hero dying — I added so meaninglessly, hopelessly. Today I’ll add the same is true of the death of Francis Poldark in Graham’s Warleggan which I watched last night. I tried to tell them the book is anti-war, anti-heroism, that it fits the meaning; if I wrote that in huge letters and talked with examples till i was blue in the face it would not matter. Many in the class had actually read it; it was seen as a man’s book. But they had read the book in the context of 2006, many of them having fought or having relatives who fought in of our colonialist wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. It must be for them something
that was pro-war and pro-fighting people. They were able to read it literally but not able to understand what was meant in 1929.

What they objected to (even vociferously was not having an ending where the hero was rewarded. Again it was useless to argue a book can have ambiguous endings. I have been told most in American audiences do not accept ambiguous endings and British movies are changed to have them or the larger numbers in US audiences object, won’t go. I remembered how Hitler hated the book, burned it, and to take revenge on the author had his sister beheaded (literally did this).

As I stopped teaching ghost stories after I realized so many in the class believed in ghosts and I was reinforcing atavistic ideas, never assigned HF again, so after that I knew it was useless to assign All Quiet on the Western Front to class of American college students of average intelligence. I brought up Graham because I discovered that for reasons I don’t quite understand they did respond in the way intended to Ross Poldark (the novel); hence I assigned it again and again. Also Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons. Why they understood this one or were capable of understanding (empathizing with) Bolt’s play as intended by the author I never figured out.

Re-contextualization is inescapable Berger says. Learned books surround pictures with abstract discussions that deflect the reader’s attention from the content of the pictures and what the viewer might intuitively see accurately if left out unintimidated. Berger says it is also the whole context in which the work of art is experienced, the photograph, the sounds. Many people don’t read literary criticism because it asserts things about texts they can’t see themselves and in classrooms there are students who don’t believe or don’t like when teachers present readings of books — it’s elitist. They can’t see what you are saying or react negatively from their culture.

I know my attitude is not common in the academy. I have no faith I’ve made any difference whatsoever (like Leonard Woolf) and when I see a person in pain in classroom (as in the HF experience) I know in my gut I’ve done wrong to that person. I can see that. As in the movie adapted from LeCarre’s The Constant Gardener, the heroine (tortured, raped, murdered for her pains) says we can do good for that one person if we act like our brother’s keeper and the hell with the law so I can refrain from doing harm. Maybe there were people in the classroom who learned from reading AQWF but no one said. It was me talking and I won’t do it again. It was feeding the beast. One can find books where there is no harm done and something good in it. I mentioned two, another was Jane Goodall’s books on chimps.

Edouard Manet, Dejeuner sur l’herbe

For the second segment Berger demonstrates and reiterates over and over how women are made to see themselves first and foremost as they assume (from this culture) how others see them which turns out to mean how men see them, and then a particular man. Their destiny is defined by how they look. The woman before the mirror is the truest way women see themselves. He shows so many pictures of women, how they do dominate advertising, how attention-grabbing they are made. Men he says are not self-conscious about their looks in the same way at all: they see themselves more generally in society as free agents. Naked women; he goes over Kenneth Clarke’s famous book filled with beautiful reproductions of naked women in European art where he said he was looking at nudes, not naked woman. The difference seems to be these are fine art, not coarse salacious calendars and presented as goddesses or Biblical figures in Bibles or high culture stories.

After this second half hour the third and fourth can be seen to have these images of women throughout, which I would not usually notice. He has made the point and now it lingers. And endlessly for four half hours the The pictures of women with unreal bodies (only gotten for a few short years after dieting, exercise, efforts of all sorts) to resemble a white European norm of sexual objectification (recently intense thinness is associated with youth) or nurturing women for strong agressive men.

Herbert’s Lady Anne (seduced, enthralled, abused, murdered by Richard III)

The third and fourth had a series of themes: how pictures are still and silent. He reads aloud typical academic style literary criticism which ignores the relationship of the author’s life at the time to the picture, and is general and abstract and often erases what people are seeing in the content. He has a group of youngsters and then women simply give their uneducated responses – in one we are show the famous Manet where men fully dressed sit on a blanket with a naked woman (Lunch on the Grass). One woman frankly says how she hates the Manet. It’s mortifying. This lead to the most refreshing discussion of his famous cool portrait of Olympia (a prostitute) I’ve ever heard. The last ten minutes allow us to see (or he interprets for us — for he’s not neutral nor can anyone be) how painting and today most photography are about presenting wealth, most often people but sometimes landscapes and rooms and the point is see all the objects this person has and what they mean symbolically about the person’s prestige, the room and landscape as a symbol of wealth, power, control.

The last segment ends on advertising and shows modern ads all around us are utterly ideological, teaching us that we will be happy if we have all these wonderful things. The thing sold often has nothing to do with the image attached to it for real.

Nowadays when I go to museums I am so alive to the third perspective — all this is the patron showing off — I am sickened and need to go to rooms of paintings of landscapes or mythical figures or simply pictures which don’t do this, but I equally find deeply distasteful deliberate ugliness, over the top preaching (so that I need to read the card next to the object to understand why it’s there), grotesqueries. If our large and sometimes local social political and economic world is vile, and so the psychological one underneath this, presenting vileness doesn’t help. This does come out in the fourth half hour of series where he juxtaposes photographs of the powerful, of displays of luxurious food,dresses and so on with photographs of refugees and the poor, miserable, and imprisoned and tortured. These latter are not vile and grotesque; they are simply photographs.

What Berger does enable, encourage me to do (paradoxically) is carry on. His idea is to encourage people on their own to discover what they think and feel by becoming aware of how they are manipulated. The idea is to help them free themselves to feel and think. To show also how to go about conventional close reading. The task though thorny and often vexed can do a little good if genuinely throughout with the underlying notion of do no harm. So my last are trying to enact something of what Berger encourages.


Two films: the HD Screening of Nabucco and Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 Much Ado About Nothing (on DVD)

Izzy and I went on that Saturday (January 7th) and left at the first intermission. I don’t say it wasn’t interesting — the opera is one of these museum pieces, and I felt watching it, How different from most previous operas, the music was different, and whole sense of some natonalistic seriousness. We probably listened to one of the best or famous arias. A soprano (Liudmyla Monastyrska) who has sung Santuzza (Cavaliera Rusticana) was Abigaile (she thought herself Nabucco’s daughter but has learned she is a slave) was powerful: seething, angry, and singing away. There was a man who was priest of some sort, Ismaele (Russell Thomas) with an aria like the one in Magic Flute — base voice. Very Verdi though. I noticed the parallel with Mozart’s Magic Flute: the women aria singers are all seething, spiteful, erotic, powerful; the men singing low base music, also powerful aria singers are singing of reason, enlightenment, and are commendable. The gender faultline never ceases.


I couldn’t stand the story matter: wikipedia quoted some contemporary critics who were candid enough to express loathing of its material: rage, bloodshed, murder. If in modern context (a la John Berger) it could be seen or felt as pro-Israel, all it did was make me remember a video online I saw briefly of a Palestinian man lying on the ground and then a Israeli officer comes over and shoots him point-blank in the head; a towel is fetched to cover the eye-sore, and when the officer is not indicted even a judge protests some Trump-tweeter in training tweets how the judge should be cut up into pieces and fed to dogs. There are Bible stories where this happens. Izzy said it was Christian opera because we are to rejoice at conversions. The set an imitation of the barbaric — and seemed thus to connect to our present political era.


Domingo sang the part of the aging Nabucco who has declared himself a God and is a murderous tyrant. He is now too old; his voice didn’t carry; he just doesn’t have the strength. I felt sad to remember another video (a feature in one of these HD operas where a young “Jimmy” Levine playing a piano and a young Placido singing next to him. Now we saw Levine already set up in that chair of his looking so weak. But I often do think such operas are better in concert form.

I felt sorry for Eric Owens who was host and trying so hard to be unnaturally ebullient and just going on about how ecstatic he found the whole thing; I know he’s paid very well so I must not be embarrassed for him. He repeated what one scholar has said is not true: that the audience was so deeply moved by an aria about freeing Israelis as a metaphor for themselves (“Va pensiero”), according to this scholar, it was another aria altogether, a hymn thanking God (for what I don’t know) TMI

Susan Herbert’s Shakespearean Cats — this is too charming not to offer an enlargement

I had brought in the New Year in typical evening fashion. A kind friend had sent me a DVD of the Kenneth Branagh film of Much Ado About Nothing. As a film or interpretation of the play it didn’t work: he did all he could to eliminate the Hero-Claudio plot, downplay it, and what we were left with was a brilliant performance by him and especially good Emma Thompson of Beatrice and Benedict but it was not rooted in anything, they were deeply emotional in fact, more than these characters usually are. But all around all the actors were grinning for nearly 20 hours, hectic dances, silly pictures of Italian rural life as a happy place. Early on it seems Branagh liked to have a whole concept within which he would pour Shakespeare …


My daughter, Isobel, with whom I am fortunate to live

The TLS carries on

I sometimes think that if I had to give up all my subscriptions and just keep one, it would be the Times Literary Supplement. When Murdock first took over, it took a bad dive: became 1/4 its size, the reviews began to be so reactionary that you could no longer trust the information. About three years ago, it changed back: never as long, but the reviews suddenly improved, went back to the previous mostly disinterested or at least seeming neutral point of view (literary) that had dominated. Recently the editor has begun to include more political reviews (with the excuse books on politics) but by no means do they overwhelm the issues. It’s not as good as being in London, but I do learn what has been on in all sorts of venues with a review that gives me a real sense of it. Where else can you learn the latest in academic politics about classics? Their bloggers are very good (include Mary Beard).

Last month they had a fine review of poetry published in pamphlets and by small presses: “Safe from Devaluation” by Paul Batchelor, two pages of four columns each: 12 books covered and much apt quotation. That was followed up by a “Seven Poems” by Barbara Everett. I know I must not quote the whole set but only a selection in good critic’s fashion. She was capturing the experiences of a day: who the poet might see (“Workmen”), what she might experience (“Storm”), a dog and his or her owner hard-put but happy because together). Here are three (the fourth is my preface): the first a tragic story, austerely told; the second reminds me of how I am now so close to my cats, we are one another’s company on and off all day, in communication, the boy daring now, he persists in keeping both Izzy and my doors open; the last how I feel when I come out in the morning to pick up my copy of the Washington Post:


Seeking answers, she
Plunged, and finding the water
Lethally cold, drowned.

Wiser, luckier,
He skated on thin ice, always
Upright, in motion


He walked the streets by
Night, and when retrieved, asked the
Way back to Warsaw

The loved dog saw no
Difference, or at least chose
Not to speak of it.


The world was sometimes
So empty the slow grace of
Snails stealing breadcrumbs

From the paving-stones
Outside in early morning
Was almost welcome

To conclude:

I have decided to hold off on enclosing my porch. Given the attitude of those in power to federal workers (Izzy’s job), to people on social security and medicare (me), the looting of the US treasury for corporations that is about to begin (justified as giving them tax breaks to hire people with no guarantee they will), it’s foolhardy. I have longed to do this for years. The porch floor is cement; it becomes filthy easily; the screens have again torn. Had Jim lived, even with my mother’s money, he might have said this is unnecessary: you don’t need the extra space for living. I know if I sold the house it would still be a “tear-down,” so I’d gain nothing there. I guess this was not in the card for the likes of me. I will still pay to have my fuse or “switch” box replaced later this spring as it is so old. I have been embarrassed for twenty years now about the blueness of my house. So I may yet pay to have it painted a decently unobtrusive cream color, but next year, and then I’ll put out for the first time a little sign with the house’s address (from Home Depot or some such place).

I am beginning to teach myself to accept my mostly solitary life. Sometimes I am quite cheerful. Almost at peace. Because of my real long-standing friends here, my cats, my reading presences, the Internet, my movies it doesn’t feel so solitary. Better than seeking elsewhere for what is not going to be there. I am trying harder to go to better plays, concerts, movies I might really enjoy, and if there is nothing out there I’m sure of, stay in.

New Year’s Eve night this year — looking out my window

Miss Drake

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It must’ve been in the mid-1990s that I came to the conclusion that Gwen Ifill would make a better US president than any candidate I had seen since I began to vote, and certainly better on what was on offer that year. The thought occurred to me regularly because at the time we regularly watched the PBS Newshour, with Jim Lehrer as the anchor and she as a chief correspondent (the titles they used). A memory comes back to me of Laura visiting a friend at this time, voicing shock that the family did not turn on this news program (these were arch-conservative people who I assume voted for Trump this time), and coming home to tell me they had laughed about this. “Not everyone watches PBS reports” they had said.

She died today of endometrial cancer, age 61. Apparently she had been sick for over a year.

As you can see I feel a kind of personal connection with Ifill (different from but analogous to my feeling about Jenny Diski, also destroyed by cancer), so choose to put this as part of my life-writing. It is, though, now also political, more in the vein of what I write on my first Sylvia blog nowadays. On such a bleak desolating day (where we can see how what we have is a hollow pretense of democracy), it seemed to me to keep spirits up not to be cowed and offer some effective force against the coming racist fierce militarist capitalism (a gov’t which will crush civil liberties even more than they have been!) now being put in place, let us remember her life and work.

I was reassured about the PBS Newshour tonight too because they devoted most of their hour to her. I have been disappointed and at times dismayed by the lack of rigorous questioning and truth-telling about Trump, the failure of Judy Woodruff as a woman to “call out” (as it’s articulated) Shields and Brooke for their equating Trump’s corruption and fascism with Hillary Clinton’s atttempt to keep her emails private, for their sexism; the worst moment was Paul Salmon’s shameful disrespectful tone towards David Kay Johnston while interviewing him on his thoroughly-researched exposure of Trump’s business practices, The Making of Donald Trump. Tonight for the first time I am aware how often Gwen Ifill was not there. In these last few years she had become more bland, more discreet, reined in the acute thinking mind of the earlier years: PBS is so dependent on corporate sponsors. So I didn’t miss her as much as I would have when she was merely a memorable part of a team questioning and talking or an on-the-spot reporter.

But I remembered and knew what she was capable of delivering and still did deliver in interviews from time to time. She projected and was a strong presence in her role of moderator, facilitator in recent years and I just enjoyed the line-up of segments she and Judy Woodruff produced together. It seemed to me a woman’s news hour of serious news, far better in scope, in what was understood and shown to be important than almost any other (a sole exception is another woman’s news program, Amy Goodman’s DemocracyNow.org). Precisely because it was a woman’s show they chose Malcolm Brabant on refugees, Fred de Sam Lazaro on the marginalized of the world, always showing how the intimate small experience is large political and affects us all.

with Judy Woodruff on their show together

Two panels, some tapes of reminiscent, and excerpts from an appreciation of Ifill comprised the beautiful tribute. I was much moved listening to those who had been helped in their careers, whom she worked with, whom she knew for many years in her private life. Charlene Hunter-Gault began to tear up more than once, Judy was unsteady and towards the end Hari Svrinavasin called her his mentor. It felt especially important to voice all this and present the worlds she came from, belonged to, and those she reported before because soon (before long now, January 20th to be precise), we seem headed to have media dominated by repression of all but fascistic points of view. That she lived and worked with the ideals she did should cheer us, even if her ending reveals much more emphatically than other parts of her existence, how we are are subject to the results of little ameliorated capitalism:

She was another victim to the cancer pandemic: and I feel a personal connection tonight because I can discern in the pattern of her behavior in this last year a paradigm like my husband’s: in summer she was off-the-air, said to have had a serious operation, after a considerable recovery period, she was back and looked strong, but only for one season, the she suddenly disappeared and in what felt like no time, was dead in a hospice. Like Jim, she had the show of force in a drastic operation, and then shortly after recovering, the cancer re-appeared in vital organ and devoured her.

With her sister, Sherrilyn, Ifill

Her book was The Break Through: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama


I was strengthened and consoled by the truth-telling of two more presences on the Internet. The first, a poem by Adrienne Rich, written

What Kind of Times Are These
By Adrienne Rich

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t
    be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.


The other the consolatory voice of retreat, Garrison Keillor’s “I’ll sit back and wait.”. What is most valuable in his words is his saying firmly Trump is the candidate of those who whooped it up for cruelty, ignorance and bald-faced stupidity. Especially cruelty (“by your 20s, you should be done with cruelty”): that was what was repeated across his most hooting jeering withering derision — of the disabled, of women, of people who grieving for the death of a son in a (colonialist) war, pensioned veterans (weak), the list is long and I need not take us through it. This was funny until he got to “deport the undocumented” (it is too much like Hitler that Trump’s first planned presidential order is to deport millions of hispanics):

Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids, and we Democrats can go for a long, brisk walk and smell the roses.

What we who have voted for this party have now to do is spend four years pressuring for a re-invention of this democratic party into a body of people who respond to what their constituency wants and needs. I agree with Glen Greenwald on the Democratic Party self-destructing itself. In one of his last speeches before conceding the nomination to Clinton, Sanders said this election was about an impoverished woman (maybe he said on food stamps) struggling to bring up her children.


On election day I was in my local supermarket and had had on a real line in front of me a latino woman with two young children. Her meat was in plastic bags. Huge bags of dried vegetables. Well it was time to pay and she pulled out food stamps. Alas, it appeared that she had pulled the wrong product from some shelf and taken a bigger of whatever than was coming to her — 3 such wrong-size bags. These food stamps are very tricky; you are allowed to buy only certain specified products. The manager had to come over to settle the dispute (as there was a sign and she had an ad saying this product was for sale for food stamps), and then Linda (the checker, a kind hearted long term employee) was helping her dismantle her cart. On the other side of me a tough-looking (in her face) woman with blonde hair (clearly dyed), in jeans, looked very mad. Need I say she had a Trump t-shirt? So I said, “I think we ought to have a National Holiday to vote. All states stay open until 9. Everyone then could do it easily.” I do think that. She glared at me and was about to erupt with angry comments, when the manager sent another checker to open another register and make the long line of people vanish. This young woman cannot access any money through the welfare system that she could then use for her family in the best ways possible for them.

That woman with her food stamps is but for Jim me. I will now return to support Bernie Sanders.

But for now, tonight, we can remember Gwen Ifill and think of the good she managed to do, embody, and encourage others to achieve. It is necessary to talk about trees, real as well as metaphoric.

David Lohenberg, Gwen Ifill

Miss Drake

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Is this not a fine Dr Seuss T-shirt? (thanks to Glenn Shipway)

Dear friends,

Time for a little prosaic cheer. So, as we all know, people like lists. Why we can’t say, but they do. A meme has been going round, and for once I joined in:

My first 7 jobs:

(Does Unpaid library assistant in Richmond Hill high school count?)
Then paid, often not much:
1. Legal Secretary, FAA, JFK Airport (got there by bus, long ride, followed Contracting officer about taking down every word that man said in Pitman sten notebooks, then typing his great words up — I did this for 2 years, I was very young);
2. Personal Secretary/Administrative Assistant, John Waddington, Ltd, Leeds (worked for very nice chief engineer, and a sales manager; the company made toys, cards, packaged chocolate);
3. Executive Secretary, Warehousing Company. NYC (good salary! fancy office, bad people, cheating others; so quit);
4. Research Assistant to Prof Coleman Parson, Graduate School, CUNY (I loved it);
5 and 6. Adjunct lecturer twice, second time called Graduate Fellow (Brooklyn, then Queens College, CUNY);
7 Again and forever an adjunct lecturer and reader for a time of post-secondary schools applications for grants for FIPSE: 3 jobs at the same time: at Northern Regional Center for University of Va; at The American University (“professorial” – -the place had this pomposity but they were okay people), DC

This covers years from age 15 to 39, from NYC to Leeds, England, back to NYC and then Alexandria, Va, where I still reside).

Does anyone remember typing pools?

What were your first seven jobs, gentle reader?


An Alphabet: Eden Rock does it, but not driving down to the core. This is a “One cannot have too many holds on happiness”[Henry Tilney, Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey] alphabet:

A is for the air when it is balmy yet dry and cool, sunny

B is for books, good ones and I own so many many.

C is for my cats, Clarycat and IanPussycat.

D is for my daughters, Laura Caroline and Isobel Alice

E is for Ellen Robillard O’Hara: the first heroine I wrote about; my earliest writing to show to others. The mother in Mitchell’s GWTW.

An exchange on face-book: “I do feel this odd frisson of identification when I read a novel where I see an important character named Ellen. Ellen is not a common name for heroines; in middle class fiction, she’s the Irish servant. But in GWTW there is Ellen Robillard O’Hara, Scarlett’s mother and I once wrote a fiction about her (I was age 14) where I characterized her with sympathy. Radcliffe’s Italian’s heroine is named Ellen. I felt peculiar because the character is so foreign from my ways of thinking — now would I have done that had she had another name? My middle name is Nancy so I used to like that the character Nancy Drew was a Nancy.

Jane Smiley: The main character of my new kids’ horse series is named Ellen. She is very determined and very outspoken.

Me: I’d better not read that one then (as Jane knows I’ve read several of hers, liked them immensely and blogged on a couple). I characrerized Ellen Robillard O’Hara as a woman cold on the outside, controlling herself, but near the edge of cracking, still in love with the man she was parted from. I rewrote the death scene. Came second in a contest but almost does not win the race. Maybe I was unconsciously attempting a woman’s historical romance in little? I worked quite on it; I no longer have it.

Glenn (who runs the Trollope face-book page where this occurred): What would it cost to have a “Glenn” in your next book; not as the hero, just as a harmless drudge?

Me: I’d worry about naming a child after a favorite character lest I burden them. So I called my cat Clarissa (from Richardson’s novel) which has become Clarycat.

Jane Smiley: I would prefer Shipway. Very memorable name, I think for a naughty boy in Ellen’s class.

F is for friends, local and Internet

G is for Winston Graham (author of Poldark novels) and the gothic (a favorite subgenre with me)

H is for my house, home, nest of comforts, where I dwell with Isobel

I is for the Internet

J is for Jim, all he has left me with, all my memories

K is for kindness which we need far more of.

L is for libraries

M is for good book film adaptation, BBC, good PBS, mini-series and good movies and museums filled with art

N is for NPR radio

O is for Opera, HD and the OLLIs (so teaching adults my favorite books and topics)

P is for plays, serious dramatic and funny plays in the theater, filmed or now on DVDs. Poetry

Q “Fair Quiet, have I found thee here … ” (a poem by Andrew Marvell)

R is for rain, when it’s soft, gentle, easy on a cool windy day

S is for Shakespeare

T is for Trollope

U is for YouTube technologies, and all video streaming which enables me to watch TV when I choose, to watch all sorts of movies, documentaries, as in my BBC iplayer and PBS online and Future Learn courses from Open University

V is for the Voting Rights Act as originally passed by Congress. We must all vote: it’s all the powerless have; you must vote to defeat the dangerous demogague bankrupt billionaire, Trump. Hillary Clinton will choose honorable decent people for judges and we can overturn Citizens United, Hobby Lobby and get rid of the gutting of the Voting Rights act.

W is for so many women writers whose books I love

X ah well. I says it’s for brilliant and good books read aloud beautifully in unabridged texts of CDs, MP3s

Y for Yahoo listservs; I will grieve deeply if they are shut down; debased as they have become, they are still a small lifeline for reading and talking about wonderful books with friends

Z is for New Zealand as a beautiful place, and New Zealand and Australian films like (just this past week, see below) The Hunt for the Wilderpeople (with one of my favorite actors, Sam Neil), The Piano (ditto), The Dish (ditto, how Izzy and I loved it years ago and came home and told Jim about it) and Last Orders (which I watched the night of Jim’s funeral).



I’ve paid two honest men to improve my house in the last few days. My gardening man removed two large trees, huge amounts of ivy, unkempt bushes from my back yard. So now all is neat. In the fall he’s sow grass on where there is just dirt for now. He doesn’t overcharge. He fixed my hose too, made an extension and set it up so it’s easy for me to use.

A man who does kitchens, inside work of all kinds will soon be renovating my kitchen — modestly. I was told about him by my neighbor-friend, Sybille. This week, four of the house doors were painted so they are no longer eyesores; two removed (remarkable amount of doors in houses built in 1947); a new front and back door for the first time since 1947. Smoke detectors. Come September he’ll paint the kitchen, put down new tiles, new cabinets (a soft bright cream), re-arranged to be more appropriate for Izzy and I, some kind of lighting system, new countertop. He is not super-expensive and a man I can get along with, so I’m thinking I will at long last enclose the porch. And then have the whole house painted a soft cream color. And with that the renovation, fixing, I started when I first retired (remember when I cleaned out and ordered the attic upstairs), will be done. It will be easier on my eyes and self-esteem.

From a medieval Books of Hours

The cats do not enjoy this though. On Tuesday I first had to keep them in the back room with one of those many doors shut. They are indoor cats, and I surmise if they (especially Ian) saw the men working out of terror of them they’d run out of the house, become confused and I’d never see them again. But they were very upset. Ian really wailed for quite a time. They were separated, one in each room for a time. Clarycat didn’t like that. When my younger daughter was sent to a pre-school at age 2 and 1/2 she was so terrified (we couldn’t explain what this was to her as she was not talking at the time) that after the hours gone (bus ride there and back, 5 hours there, 1 hour at a sitter), she literally pissed all over poor Jim when he picked her up. She had held herself in all that while and was so intensely relieved. Well I did put the cat litter in the room with them, but it was the next day I came to it and found it utterly soaked. They too must’ve held themselves in and only after much time had passed in the night, relaxed. Today after the contractor and his men had gone and I opened the door again, Clarycat was desperately affectionate.

They are my holds on happiness. During the interval before the contractor arrived and I put them each day in the room, I missed them. I am so used to their presence.


And a cheering mythic fable of a movie.


I hurried out to see Hunt for the Wilderpeople written and directed by Taiki Waititi after I read a couple of reviews (Manohla Dargis from the New Yorker from Rogerebert.com; Matt Goldberg); people whose columns I respect where they said, don’t miss it, it’s hilarious and makes for ethical thought too. “Oddball” they called it, that unexplained word. “Quirky.” What it is is original with genuine feeling. I managed it with a friend probably on the very last showing in my local theater.

It is one of the many that are advertised through trailers so off-putting that they misrepresent the movie. The trailer presented two conventionally unappetizing males, one of them a very chubby boy (Julian Dennison as Ricky), being made fun of, slapstick it seemed to me. I can’t think of what I would less like to see a movie making fun of someone’s body. It included the line where we learn that Hick or Uncle (played pitch perfect as he does all his roles, by Sam Neill) as someone who can’t read. har har. so until I read said reviews I wasn’t going. In fact it was in this art-movie theater for a number of weeks and it’s superb. It reminds me of The Dish, an Australian/New Zealand unusual sort of comedy too. Unexpected. We saw it years ago and brings tears to my eyes since I saw it with Izzy before she went to college and when we finished we came home to Jim to tell him of it. She remembers The Dish better than I.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a fable something in the spirit of Thelma and Louise, and it’s not the first of this type this summer. But it is also in the tradition of Rabbit Proof Fence and the grave Philomena: in the first aborigines are torn from their families and put in an institution to be turned into obedient workers for the society. Two of the girls run away and make this extraordinary trek back to their home, all the while hunted down by the whites. The bush as perspective is central to the movie: there is a long history in Australian and NZ legends and books regarding the bush as a vastly superior terrain to live in and off of than (mean, hypocritical, inhumane] society.

Well, Ricki, an unprepossessing looking boy with no people to support him, no to care for him, to provide money or status, is dumped off by Paula (Rachel House), a caricature of a fierce cold institutional guardian type who catalogues Ricki’s sins ceaselessly to others, bad-mouthing him before anyone can know him — on Bella (Rima Te Waiti), who at first seems just a very poor woman living near the bush, looking to make money as a foster parent. We quickly learn that Bella is deeply good-hearted, kind, generous in the way she behaves, and the boy begins to thrive. Her partner or husband, Hick, seems solitary, looking askance at the proceedings, but going along with her. When she dies, he cries hysterically, our first sign of his affectionate nature. A letter arrives from Paula: she must take the boy back. Well, to cut to the story, after some difficulties with one another (Hick does not want to take Ricki, Ricki sets fire to the barn to suggest he killed himself, the two men flee together. Soom they are being hunted down. The pair begin to be part of a sensationalized story (Hick a molester) that sells newspapers and is good for TV chatter. The posse grow bigger and bigger from an original group of down-beat men seekin a ransom until at last there are helicopters, tanks, armed militiamen. It’s a self-reflexive film: the landscape of steep green hills and then in winter snow is gorgeous, and there are allusions to Lord of the Rings: Ricky says this is not all that occurs in New Zealand.

Looking at Bushman

The film does not become too sentimental because it concentrates so on their improbable survival. As Bella did in the opening, so Hick kills with a knife an animal for them to eat. They are soon trapping animals, but Hick’s foot is broken (and improbably heals). Everyone seems to walk about with a rifle or some kind of weapon. One of the two dogs is attacked by a boar and has to be shot and hen buried. They both cherish Bella’s ashes in a box they carry with them, but at a beautiful waterfall Hick is induced to scatter them. There are extravagant bush people like Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby) who help our heroes along the way — reminding me of characters in Dickens, like Barnaby Rudge and his raven, especially one bushman who wraps a bush around him and lives in a trailer. We are really frightened for them as an all out war ensues: these hunters are willing to kill. There is much over the top exaggeration and wild fantasy and also much reality: they meet improbably isolated up-to-date teenagers deep in the bush; but there is real heart: they come across a man who has had a heart attack and try to bring him help.

As they are gradually cornered, grab a car and go on a wild drive (chased by all in your exhilarating car chase) I feared it would end like Thelma and Louise, them going over a cliff. It does not: a gradual contented ending — after montage of court-room scenes, Hick going to prison (he has been there before, one reason he fled so stubbornly), Hick leaves his home for old people to join Ricky with the bush teenagers. Touching dialogues. If you want to have some experience of standing up to mad injustice, some creditable humanity, and a fable mirroring some aspects of our world today, it’s a fine summer movie: re-creative. The equivalent of last summer’s Mr Holmes.

It may be too late to see it in the theaters, but soon there will be Amazon Prime, Netflix, DVDs.

Miss Drake

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Ian and Clarycat around 2 pm this afternoon in my workroom — they were glad I finished

Dear friends and readers,

How’s that for a header? If I take into account all that went into this paper, I began in 2004 shortly after I met an editor of an Australian literary periodical at a session about Victorian literature at an MLA conference. He recognized me (how I can’t say), told me he much admired the sections of my Trollope on the Net about Trollope and Ireland and urged me to try to write about Anthony Trollope and Australia from the same unconventional or at that point rarely done point of view. He would help navigate the paper for me if I could produce it within a year or so.

I even came up with a definition of post-modern and post-colonial and lest anyone ask me (I am very bad on my feet by which I mean miserable at spontaneous talk in such sessions) so I put it in the notes:

Post-modern may be defined as a set of ideas or practices that reject conventional mainstream values as having much effect on what happens in the world or what people do; that also eschew conventional means of presenting stories and films, any kind of art. An important facet is a questioning, sometimes disavowal of Enlightenment assertions about what is progress and the rightness of European ideas of civilization.

Post-colonial nowadays is used in a different sense from its original one: to identify a period where the colonialist powers were said to be divesting themselves of colonial state governments and looking out for the interests of the people in these previous colonies. Now that it is clear colonialism or imperialism are still dominating agendas across the globe, the term refers to an attitude of mind that analyzes and criticizes the way powerful imperialist gov’ts control and exploit countries they dominate through capitalist, militarist and nationalistic mechanisms (apparatuses?).

I mention post-feminist heroines towards paper’s end, but have no definition as yet.

Contemplating Susan LaMonte, Inside Out — if you want to parse this, don’t omit her pink umbrella and blonde ponytail


I worked for well over a year, and found while I loved the reading about travel and travel literature and colonialiast stories (“30 years in the Bush” anyone?) and Australia, I could come up with no thesis. “I hadn’t been to Australia,” I kept telling myself. “I probably ought to go to New Zealand too.” I broached this problem to Jim. Reminded him of a 4 part one hour each program on Australia hosted by Robert Hughes we both enjoyed. “13 hour flight!” said he. “Vast deserts. The price. Do you realize how far away from Australia New Zealand is? And upside down too,” and other cogent objections. I gave it up.

Years later (or “Fast forward to”), reading books in order to review a post-colonialist study I suddenly understood how I could write a paper on this topic without having traveled to the Antipodes: I learned about what post-colonialist studies were, read some and understood at last what was meant by the term. Also how women traveler writers and colonialists fit in.

So, still later (hit the arrow again), when it was suggested to me I come to the coming Trollope conference, I went right back to those folders thick with notes and worked up drafts on all sorts of topics, and postings with the people then on Trollope and his Contemporaries at Yahoo on Trollope’s Australian novels, travel books, John Caldigate, &c&c. I spent much of two months this summer reading again, finding new critical works (some too filled with jargon for me to profit much from) and rereading, watching films, looking at pictures too.

Photographed at the Torpedo Factory: Jacqueline Elwell, watercolor of Serengeti (South Africa — Trollope went there too and wrote an enormous book)

Then wrote and rewrote and rewrote and revised, and cut and now have a 19 minute readable talk. I write to record this.

Also (or as much) to say since Jim died how empty I feel each time I’ve finished a paper. I used to have a sense of accomplishment, as having done something worth while. Because he was here and regarded it so. Now I just feel sad that this is done, and I have to find something else to do.

He knew all about this one as of 2 summers ago. He wanted me to go to Belgium, wanted to come with me somehow. I remember him thinking, How can I do it? before he had that hideous operation which he did not realize would so demolish him. After it was over, before the cancer spread, he did not speak of traveling much any more.


I keep taking on papers (one I’ve promised on two women Scots poets, later 19th century, another proposal on film aaptations), reviews (book on Chardin) and going to conferences, but less and less as time goes on of the papers (as the old life and self wind down), but and conferences get no easier, yet can’t do without this kind of routine (teaching provides an illusion I can seen through but can’t not do), a few friends, writing on the Net, self-invented projects about films, women artists, mini-series and the like.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
paces from day to day,
as time takes us to dusty death
Jim’s candle is out,
he’s heard no more, and so now
for me it’s a tale told by me
signifying not very much

Miss Drake

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Dear friends and readers,

Hartnett says a strange thing: in the last part of my life, ghost accumulate. Since 1989, I have lived with one quiescent, and now I live with a second as part of my heart’s blood.

A poem by David Hartnett

In the Winter Valley

At dusk in the winter valley the train went slow;
The carriage felt empty enough for apparitions,
His parents’ perhaps who died a year ago-
    Nothing happened.
On either side of the railway, ranked and stiff,
Espaliered pears paraded, frozen snow
Clotting their tiered branches. Down a far cliff
    Cascades curtained.
In the second half of life there are no ghosts,
The world is vast and tired and someone else’s.
Coldly the pear trees bloomed on their black posts.
    The train quickened.

near Sian

These flowers for the nine African-American families and friends who lost a beloved — and who are not by any means all who have been affected forevermore by social murder this week.

Reddish Table and Window (1999) — (Gloria Munoz, b. 1949)

As I traveled to and fro I listened to Simon Slater’s wonderful reading of Wolf Hall (he goes tenaciously into the mind of anyone listening for real): as with Hilary Mantel’s other novels she presents centrally a character deeply grief-stricken at the death of someone cared for: Thomas Cromwell; he loses wife, daughters, Wolsey. Again and again the experience is presented as a ghost or ghostly presence come to be with Cromwell – in his dreams, as he stands in shadows and cries, passing memories other characters arouse. In her Black Book this is very strong, but it’s equally present in Thomas Cromwell’s mind: sometimes he’s comforted, sometimes the anguish is too sharp.

This is an aspect of her fiction which has been ignored in the talk about her books as well as the film adaptation; in her Black Book, in her memoir she fought to “give up her ghosts,” in her historical fiction she allows such memories to be guiding spirits of the central presence. She shows how the living left — her hero — becomes another person over time and experience as the dead intertwine inside, memories make them behave certain ways and they find solace, other people to connect to, be with all in this continuum.

Cat circa 1904-8 Gwen John 1876-1939 Purchased 1940 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05154
Gwen John (1876-1939), remembering her beloved cat-companion, Edgar Quintet

I am glad for GLBT people who can marry who they love now. See my The US Supreme Court did three good things this week!

Scotus blog: same-sex marriage

On preventing discrimination that is hard to prove: disparate impact;

On Obamacare: keeping the benefits available to millions of health care insurance (such as the system is, it’s the system we must change to a single payer like medicare)


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Some people say that life is the thing, but I much prefer reading. — Logan Pearsall Smith

Dear friends and readers,

The first good news we’ve had in a long while — if you except in December when Yvette was first hired as a librarian at the Pentagon. Yesterday she learned that as of April 6th, she has been in a permanent slot as librarian. She has longed for such a real job from the time she got her MLIS from Buffalo. She got an evaluation of superlative, that is why she became permanent so quickly. It has been a long journey to make this start — six years.

She begins as Junior Librarian, a position hard to find nowadays.

What is the Pentagon library like? A new small building of two rooms. The old space was badly damaged on 9/11. It’s a community library serving the neighborhood, the neighborhood being the Pentagon whose size no one underestimates. Everyone in this neighborhood is entitled (see entitlements) to a library card and can take books out. What kind of books does the library collect and maintain? not this week’s New York Times bestsellers, nor self-help books. Books and journals and publications concerning military history; as war is politics by another means, political books, histories of diplomacy and war, and everything having to do with war. The library hosts lectures, people come to do research. There is a quiet place where there are tables for reading. People don’t dress up much — generally the librarians are civilians.


Yvette loves it. She says she likes doing useful work — she has been involved with a couple of large and some small projects, from digitalizing collections, and re-organizing new and old periodical, to trying to ascertain if the books said to be missing on shelf are indeed missing. Most of the time the books are there.

As is Yvette.

She answers people’s questions, finds the sections of the library where they need to be, helps them with software. Does what librarians do.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
she chortled in her joy —

The Admiral would have been proud. When she began at the Pentagon library this December, she said she wished he could have been there, for he spent many years working at the Pentagon and his working life full-time culminated in his becoming Chief Engineer of the Defense Information Systems Agency where he was a program manager, inventor of software and for a few summers traveled to England as part of a NATO team linking the US, UK and five commonwealth countries. It is very sad he did not live to know this.

I should say she began as a Schedule A employee under the American with Disabilities Act, without which she could not be where she is now. And that our house is a kind of private library, over 9000 books, a sizable proportion in her room too — she has collections of Latin books, classical history (from high school and college), music (ditto), Harry Potter, Patrick O’Brien (many many), Jane Austen (a long goodly shelf), science fiction and fantasy of all sorts, Terry Pratchet, some realistic women’s novels (Young Adult mostly), her books from childhood. She even has a couple of Trollope books: at age 19 her favorite book was Ayala’s Angel; she took a copy of the Folio society edition with picturesque illustrations with her to Sweet Briar (also a copy of Persuasion, Signet ed by Margaret Drabble).

Here she is by her desk looking out her window — about 4 years ago

More recently, writing, but still well before the Admiral became ill


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Dear friends and readers,

We needed some. Yvette has been offered a position as a junior librarian in a place unlikely ever to go out of business, and has accepted it.


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