The Gods Laughed

Last week was spring break, but it wasn’t much of a vacation. In fact, I spent the second weekend of the break commuting, somewhat frantically, to the ACLA (the American Comparative Literature Association) meeting at NYU. I was frantic because my seminar met at 8:30 AM Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and, those first two days, my husband was out of town at another meeting.

But, I got a ride into the city on Saturday and Sunday and, though I lay awake worrying about logistics, I comforted myself with the thought that I’m not as nuts as Robin Schulte describes herself as being in Overwhelmed, a book I’m reading since I complained of it (being overwhelmed) on facebook. I was even beginning to think that I was doing it. I am scholar-mom, hear me roar!

Then came the seminar. Organized by two of my graduate students—one of whom has moved on to greener pastures—it was a delight. There were twelve papers on neglected women writers and the twelve of us sat there, for two hours every morning, talking about our specific writers and the theory and practice of recovering women. I gave a paper on Gertrude Stein (not forgotten) and Goodnight Moon (also not forgotten), talking about how few people think of Margaret Wise Brown as a writer because she wrote for people who can’t read. Virginia Woolf was hardly mentioned at all. That, in itself was a stunning, magical delight for me.

And, by the end of the conference I felt like I can do this! I can move forward with my writing! My ideas are good! I even let myself think these kind thoughts about myself for a while, let myself feel the possibility and the power.

Then, came Monday. The gods must have heard my burp of confidence, because I had a 2-hour conversation with my general editor at Cambridge about all the things I need to do still before Mrs. Dalloway can move forward. All correct; all good ideas; all smart; all do-able in the next two or three weeks. Not one of them do I want to do; though I will do them all.

That was just the amuse-bouche. On Tuesday, my slow Mac at work became my inaccessible Mac. Instead of checking my email, I was reformatting an external hard drive to make it mac-compatible so I could back up my files so IT could reformat the whole machine. I met with two plagiarists. I got a text from the cleaning lady to say “I”m at your house. Where is the key?” I got a call from my daughter to say that her braces had come loose and there was a wire hanging loose in her mouth. Could I come home and take her to the orthodontist?

I do not, at the moment, feel like I can do it all.

I can’t go on. I’ll go on.

 

The Gods Laughed

Last week was spring break, but it wasn’t much of a vacation. In fact, I spent the second weekend of the break commuting, somewhat frantically, to the ACLA (the American Comparative Literature Association) meeting at NYU. I was frantic because my seminar met at 8:30 AM Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and, those first two days, my husband was out of town at another meeting.

But, I got a ride into the city on Saturday and Sunday and, though I lay awake worrying about logistics, I comforted myself with the thought that I’m not as nuts as Robin Schulte describes herself as being in Overwhelmed, a book I’m reading since I complained of it (being overwhelmed) on facebook. I was even beginning to think that I was doing it. I am scholar-mom, hear me roar!

Then came the seminar. Organized by two of my graduate students—one of whom has moved on to greener pastures—it was a delight. There were twelve papers on neglected women writers and the twelve of us sat there, for two hours every morning, talking about our specific writers and the theory and practice of recovering women. I gave a paper on Gertrude Stein (not forgotten) and Goodnight Moon (also not forgotten), talking about how few people think of Margaret Wise Brown as a writer because she wrote for people who can’t read. Virginia Woolf was hardly mentioned at all. That, in itself was a stunning, magical delight for me.

And, by the end of the conference I felt like I can do this! I can move forward with my writing! My ideas are good! I even let myself think these kind thoughts about myself for a while, let myself feel the possibility and the power.

Then, came Monday. The gods must have heard my burp of confidence, because I had a 2-hour conversation with my general editor at Cambridge about all the things I need to do still before Mrs. Dalloway can move forward. All correct; all good ideas; all smart; all do-able in the next two or three weeks. Not one of them do I want to do; though I will do them all.

That was just the amuse-bouche. On Tuesday, my slow Mac at work became my inaccessible Mac. Instead of checking my email, I was reformatting an external hard drive to make it mac-compatible so I could back up my files so I could reformat I met with two plagiarists. I got a text from the cleaning lady to say “I”m at your house. Where is the key?” I got a call from my daughter to say that her braces had come loose and there was a wire hanging loose in her mouth. Could I come home and take her to the orthodontist?

I do not, at the moment, feel like I can do it all.

I can’t go on. I’ll go on.

 

He was meagre and modest and clear-browed, and his eyes, if they wandered without fear, yet stayed without defiance; his shoulders were not broad, his chest was not high, his complexion was not fresh, and the crown of his head was not covered; in spite of all of which he looked, at the top of his table, so nearly like a little boy shyly entertaining in virtue of some imposed rank, that he could only be one of the powers, the representative of a force—quite as an infant king is the representative of a dynasty. —Henry James, The Golden Bowl

“That fall (of 1934), Margaret [Wise Brown] had taken an apartment in Manhattan, which her father had agreed to finance. With the help of a new city friend, Inez Camprubi, she found a small place on MacDougal Street…Inez, a painter, lived in the apartment across the hall. She and Margaret began to spend a good deal of time together, talking about art, Gertrude Stein, and their personal crises and passions of the moment.” (39)
Leonard Marcus, Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon.
these things, with an added amplitude of person on which middle age had set its seal, seemed to present her insistently as a daughter of the south, or still more of the east, a creature formed by hammocks and divans, fed upon sherbets and waited upon by slaves. She looked as if her most active effort might be to take up, as she lay back, her mandolin, or to share a sugared fruit with a pet gazelle

A Great List from Sylvia Townsend Warner

When I was a graduate student, twice I TA’d for John Hollander’s “Daily Themes” class, a creative course in rhetoric. Every Monday, he would lecture on a rhetorical technique, distribute a packet of great examples, and send the students off to try the technique themselves.

The week on lists was one of my favorites.

When I came upon this list, in Sylvia Townsend Warner’s novella, The Salutation, my first impulse was to email Professor Hollander and share it with him for the packet. Alas, he died in August, so I share it with you.

The Salutation (1932) is a kind of sequel to Mr. Fortune (1927) (They’re printed together in the NYRB edition). At the end of the first book, the missionary Timothy Fortune is leaving the island and his beloved behind. In The Salutation, the heartbroken failed missionary is walking across South America, walking through the pampas grass, walking himself to death. He collapses and is taken in by the Spanish widow of an Englishman. In their tumbledown estate, he finds a lot of stuff:

The remains of two races and two civilizations were mingled here, lying pell-mell. Lacquer fans, stirrup irons, baby-clothes, spice-boxes filled with scentless shreds and dusts, old books of devotion, advertisements from hardware manufacturers, swords, sewing machines, flintlocks, rosaries, dog-collars, quilted petticoats, charms, and a model steam-engine were packed away with spirit-lamps, mandolines, and mouldy furs. Stuffed into the crannies of the great chests and domed travelling-trunks were packets of old letters, deeds, invoices, crumpled fiddle-music, daguerrotypes, astronomical charts, pedigrees of horses and dogs. Into this humus Angustias would dive in unflustered search bringing to the surface whatever she felt whim to unearth. Her memory never failed her. She would pick up a nut and say from what machine it was lacking. The recognition sufficed her, she felt no need to rescue or restore. Everything was there and everything was in her memory; as she had said, she lost nothing, she put things away. ‘Look,’ she exclaimed, extricating a crumpled platter of green chiffon and rusty wires from a wicker bassinet filled with spurs and medicine bottles. ‘This is the hat I wore on my honeymoon. It looks old now, doesn’t it.’ And balancing it upon her damasked hair she looked at him serenely.