Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Truth Universally Acknowledged

A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen -- edited by Susannah Carson

If you hate Jane Austen, this book will do little to change your mind. If you are indifferent to her, you may not be tempted further by these essays. If you love and admire her, this book will possibly bore you or irritate you after different writers either repeat what you already know or dislike what you like and like what you dislike.

However, if you are unsure about Austen or if you are curious to know what the fuss is all about, this book isn't a bad place to start.

This collection of essays that explain, praise, examine, accuse and otherwise give some kind of answer to the question implied in the title covers her 6 novels, her fragments, and her juvenilia do cover a range of opinion. Yes, most of it is positive and some of it feels a bit silly. Many of the essays were written long before the idea of the book came into being. Some are very scholarly and some are quite chatty. Some few are downright picky. Still, it does dig up quite a lot of thought about those 6 books as various authors talk about their favorite characters or novels, defend what they love most and excoriate what they despise. The novels are considered as single topics, as a group, and occasionally in comparison with more modern works.

My reaction to it was occasional surprise as someone pointed out an idea new to me, or bristly irritation as yet another author could not resist the lure to stick "It is a truth universally acknowledged" into the piece he or she wrote. On a few, I wondered why they bothered to write at all. Of course, I am an admirer of Jane Austen, so this book would do that.

But if you have read only a few of the novels, or perhaps only seen some movies based on the novels, this book could prove much more interesting and educational. It might well draw you deeper into the oddity. It might introduce you to the cult and offer you the Kool-aid. It will certainly open your eyes to, not only the novels and the woman we barely know who wrote them, but to the audience of Jane Austen and how she is regarded and has influenced our world. It could push you away or pull you in.

I already know I want to purchase a copy so I can go through with a highlighter and pen, to argue, to underline, and to explore, so that when I reread the books I can look for what these assorted authors claim is there.

I seriously doubt it will change my mind about Mansfield Park, however, but I'm going to give it a try.

I'll give this some sort of title later

Ophelia seems recovered. We are still figuring out the insulin thing, which means a morning trip to the vet for a glucose test. She's not thrilled about this, but she likes the ride in the car and the treat when she gets home. She's pretty much like she was before Saturday. She has not pooped yet, though. I am waiting in a small ball of terror for the horror she will deposit soon. I just hope I notice her waddling toward the bathroom so I can shove her into the litter box. Otherwise, I'll be scraping it off the floor and, really, I don't want to do that.

It's stormy here! It's stormy everywhere, according to the news. Last night we had several tornado warnings and watches, one after another, as squall lines marched through from the west. Once again I thought how fragile this little townhome is. I grew up in cinder block homes. It's standard construction in Florida, what with termites and hurricanes and carpenter ants. Concrete fares better. This place is stick construction, and not that good in any case (There are some distinctly curvy walls around here and we've seen how many bad nailing jobs, wrong screws, and other scary construction stuff was going on when it was built.) There is no real "safe room" except the downstairs powder room, and that's not really "safe". A tornado would rip this place up, chew it like gum, and leave a small smoking pile. This isn't a thought I much enjoy on stormy nights.

In fact, I don't feel particularly secure in this house under most circumstances. If someone wanted to break in, there's not much to stop them except, perhaps, the threat of being seen or heard (as everyone is packed in fairly tight). Because the place is so dark and we have the front screened in, I leave the front door open, depending on the screen door to disguise that fact, so as to allow light and air into the house. The lock on the screen door would take all of 30 seconds to break. Of course, both the downstairs windows could be broken with ease, and the sliding glass door does not have a lock bar (why? I don't know. I wanted one. We never got it. I should get one.)

Of course, security is something of an illusion in any house. A determined person can break in to most places. Neighbors in places like this -- transient, everyone a stranger -- tend to ignore any odd goings on. No one wants to get involved or possibly make a mistake. Still, I'd like a little more illusion. Perhaps we will put in an alarm system -- we've discussed it before.

Oh, it's autumn here. We drove up to the mountains in NC and I took pictures. Have a look.





Monday, October 25, 2010

A Weekend in Horror

Well, ok, not the WHOLE weekend. Saturday was pretty good until about 6 pm.

We spent the day driving up to NC to look at changing leaves, visit a little boutique town we like, and drive up to a mountain retreat area we'd heard about. The town was fun, the retreat was beautiful, we took many pictures and came home happy.

Upon opening the door, we saw a long trail of poop and vomit going around the living room and into the kitchen. Also, we could not find Ophelia. That's because she was laying between the wall and the refrigerator, limp, cold, and unresponsive. At first we thought she had died, but no, she was having a severe hypoglycemic seizure. We got a little Kayro syrup into her mouth, wrapped her up in some towels, and headed to the emergency vet -- a half hour drive. 10 minutes into the trip, she woke up and started screaming. She screamed with some small breaks until we got her to the vet.

Driving with a screaming cat is hard on the nerves.

So, they got her warmed and stabilized. $400 later, we do not know why her sugars bottomed out. She was fine when we left. She'd obviously eaten (judging by the food she vomited up, she'd eaten plenty). She got her normal dose of insulin. We have no idea. So, we have her home again and will be trekking to our local vet for glucose levels each day this week. She's on a super low dose of insulin.

She's eating, she's drinking, she uses the litter box. She's unstable on her paws but that's coming back (she's quite exhausted). She's also a 17 year old diabetic cat. We just want her to be comfortable for however long we have left with her. I don't want to put her to sleep. I want her to go to sleep on her own and pass that way. I don't ever want her to scream like that again.

It's been emotionally difficult, as you might guess. Nothing like contemplating life and death and losing a creature you love so much to put a sour twist on the weekend.

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We watched the new BBC Sherlock Holmes "A Study in Pink" and were impressed. I really liked the way the characters were interpreted through our current modes of understanding people who are "different". Watson's "moving wound" is explained as a psychosomatic injury (he has a lame leg although shot in the shoulder, and there's the hand tremor) and Holmes describes himself as a high functioning sociopath. Also, the hilarity of the constant comments that they might be gay lovers (including Holmes himself trying to be nice while completely misunderstanding Watson's comments) really added a lot -- good use of consciousness of other modern interpretations and literary speculation.

It doesn't hurt at all that Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Holmes, is delicious enough to spread on toast.

I see touches of both the recent Robert Downey Jr. version and my much beloved Granada Television series with Jeremy Brett, which are all used to great advantage. Really, it was a lot of fun. I can't wait to see the rest of the series. The Husband and I already agree the DVD set, when available, will be OURS.

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While typing all this, Ophelia waddled her way over to the window seat, clambered up with nary a scrabble, and has settled down on her cushion there. All seems right in her little world.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Accomplishments

I made two variations on Bourbon Walnut Apple Pie today. Totally winged it in the old fashioned, "Recipe? I don't need no stinkin' recipe!" way -- poured Jim Beam into a pot with melted butter and brown sugar, cooked that, added walnuts and home made applesauce/pie fill, cut up more apples, put it all between Pilsbury's best pie crusts, and there was pie.

And it is good.

Still knitting. Finished a big project, now working my way through smaller ones. Spent the day sorting audio books onto various mini SD cards because my MP3 player has teeny storage and also I'm OCD like that. Life is pretty good. Weather is nice.

I'm now singing in 2 groups at the UU, which is kinda cool. I feel better for having the music. Telling myself I had to give that up because (because, because, BECAUSE...) it wasn't possible for all kinds of reasons was a big mistake. Apparently, I do better when there is music. I feel better. Life is a touch easier.

It's also better that I'm supposed to be somewhere at a certain time every week. It's finally becoming clear to me. I have to have a state of dynamic tension to be creative. That is, I have to have some things I must do, things that pull me in a particular direction, in order to pull out time to write or make things or anything else creative. If I don't have the tension (not too much, just a little) then there's no energy for being creative. No energy for much of anything. Having all the time I want and nothing in particular I have to do seems a recipe to be able to do nothing. Doesn't work. Don't like it.

Which leads me up to NaNoWriMo. Yeah, it's coming up again, just a couple of weeks away. The Husband asked me (in front of someone else, the sneak) if I was going to do it. No, no, he didn't ask. He SAID I was going to do it, and after a split second of being pissed and all "Who are you to tell me what I am doing blah blah blah!" I realized, "Oh, yeah, I AM doing it."

Oh, I have some excuses piling up. I don't have a good place to sit and write (sitting for a few hours typing does require a good place to sit and a proper desk at the right height and all. Otherwise, it hurts, and if it hurts I tend to stop doing it.). The couch isn't reasonable. I've tried it, and it is just not cooperative. Theoretically we will be painting my room upstairs very soon and moving stuff around to make me some kind of writing area. I keep trying to picture it and nothing happens, but there's still time (there is also a lot of crap that needs to be sorted only it isn't MY crap, so I ain't doin' it.)

Anyway, there's that.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Silences

Once upon a time, sadness meant -- for me -- talking. Writing. Singing. I felt sad and I had to make it known. The deeper the sadness, the more I had to get it out.

Gradually, that has changed. Developing the illness of depression marks the distinct beginning of that change. The first time, right after the surgery, I stopped talking. Not completely, of course -- I kept up an earlier version of this weblog and I wrote a lot -- but I tended to not talk to people. I didn't notice this myself. It was pointed out to me by The Husband, who said people were asking him what was wrong with me, as I'd stopped talking. In social situations, others found me reserved. One friend even thought The Husband was dominating, possibly abusing, me, because he was always the one to speak while I rarely did unless he was not around.

Talking to other people became a performance. It exhausted me. I could rise to it from time to time, but afterwards I had to retreat to some quiet corner.

As the depression waxed and waned, my communication did also. Eventually I stopped writing, siting any number of reasons, but finding the words harder and harder to find. Online communication became one of the few ways I spoke to anyone, and rather than being silent around others, I simply avoided people (no reason to draw attention to myself by being the Sphinx in the room). Even making comment on web posts became difficult. I'd start to type something and the thought would come "Why say this? What good will it do? No one is going to pay attention anyway." and I would delete. This weblog also fell silent. Why post the same thing again and again? Who wanted to listen to my whining? I didn't even want to listen to it. If I was tired of it, the world had to be. Why bother?

I'm working on that.

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Lately I've had moments of missing my mother, missing her in that deep down from the gut way that brings tears to my eyes. It's been a very, very long time. In a handful of years or so, I will be the same age she was when she died. I thought I'd dealt with all this -- really, her death controlled my life for such a long time that I had to work hard to put it in perspective and make it just a part of my life and not the great, central, overbearing tragedy that ruined everything. It's a common event -- many people lose one or both parents while they are young. Some lose their parents as infants, and some lose a father even before their own birth. I'm no different from all of them. I can't elevate my particular loss to some high, important point and expect the world to stare in pity and awe.

I get tired of it, too. I get tired of the ache. I get tired of this old wound trying to reopen on me.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Book Review -- Jane's Fame by Claire Harman

Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harman

This isn't a biography, at least not in the traditional sense -- it's the history of her fame, really. It's about how her audience(s) has thought about, reacted to, derived from, understood and misunderstood both her and her writing.

That's quite an unusual subject for a book.

What made me give it four stars? I wish I could write an intelligent, well thought out explanation for that, discussing the various strengths and weaknesses of the books, the accuracy of the research, the validity of the arguments and conclusions, but I admit I cannot. I have no idea how accurate the research is, although it is copious and well documented (at least, the last 50 or so pages of the book are endnotes, bibliography, acknowledgments, and index). I'm not sure what the stated argument was -- that Jane Austen is now known far beyond what she would or could have ever expected when she was alive? That she would be confused and amused, shocked and delighted by the forms her fame has taken? That she is rarely -- if ever -- portrayed as she was, but more often as various people wanted her to be? That the reactions to her life and her writings are a unique phenomenon? That her place in the Western Literary Canon is deserved because the surface simplicity (that, apparently, disgusts, disarms, misleads, and outright blinds many readers and critics) is a shell over depth and breadth? That she really was a writer of small things? That it is impossible for a reading audience to ever really know an author, and all readers create for themselves a Jane Austen of their own?

Those are just a few of the questions pinning down the pages of this book. Answers are less prevalent although, from the tenor of the questions, it isn't hard to imagine what Harman's opinion is.

This is, of course, a book intended for those already positively disposed, in some degree, toward the works of Jane Austen, or any of the works derived from those original novels. In fact, in some ways it is more about those derivative works and the feelings, responses, and opinions that lead to those secondary works. Why is it that Jane Austen is so important that, although there are only the 6 complete novels and some fragments, we continue to create more in the way of movies and books attempting to continue, copy, or imitate her work?

Jane's Fame really doesn't dig in to that particular question, although it certainly works hard to state it clearly and at length. Perhaps there isn't a single answer, or Harman is not willing or feels it worthwhile to proclaim a single answer. This is a book to prompt more discussion. It brings together many opinion (quoted excerpts range from those of her own siblings to somewhat snarky discussions on current Internet forums). As a collection of the varying opinions and an assessment of the current state of the "Janeites" or "Austenarians", it's very engaging, interesting, and slightly provoking. It's also worth, I think, purchasing for myself (this is a library loan) and examining more closely at some point hence.

Update again

I should have gone to visit someone this weekend. I didn't go. Between money, commitments, and an assortment of other things, it just didn't feel possible. I also have some guilt about it, because I wanted to go and said I would, and here I didn't.

I'm now almost a month into using Nutrasystem to lose weight. It's mediocre food in careful portions along with an eating guide. It makes the whole thing very brainless, which is about the level I need. I do get mad craves for real food from time to time. I've lost about 10 lbs. I've also realized just how easy it would be for me to become anorexic. Seriously, I noticed the mental process last week when I looked at my calorie count for the day, realized I was really low, and heard in my head "But when I don't eat, I'm good. It's good when I don't eat." That's kinda crazy. No, that's a LOT crazy. I'm allowed 2000 calories a day (way normal average adult level). If I eat 1500 a day, I will lose weight, and I really need to lose weight to take the pressure off my knees and hips and to lower my blood pressure. Most days I manage about 1200 calories, some days less. There's no real hunger going on, but I do lack energy. Still, I'm hauling a lot of extra 'me' around, and getting rid of some of that would be all to the good. The Husband is also doing Nutrasystem, and we are trying to be really good about the whole "portion control" part of it. Honestly, I eat pretty much what I want. I just try to eat very small amounts of it.

One side effect has been I am very self conscious eating around other people away from my house. Another is I tend to get dizzy and light headed at the drop of a hat, which is annoying. Balance. I need to work on balance. Also must start monitoring the blood pressure again, as that's a hunky part of the whole mess.

On the good side, I have eaten more vegies in the last three weeks than in the prior three months. I figure it will be about 3 months before eating smaller portions will be natural, when my eyes and stomach will "recalibrate". It takes, what, 30 days to establish a new habit, and 3 months to make it really stick? We plan to do the Nutrasystem food as the central part of our eating for 6 months, with the last 2 months being a shift to cooking and portioning food for ourselves. I might keep up the food bars a bit longer, since they make easy (and actually tasty) quick meals for breakfast or lunch.

My big goal is 100 lbs, which would put me back at the weight I was when I graduated highschool -- which is not, technically, "thin" (Disney would not hire me then for a front line position because I was too fat), but, damn, I look at pictures of me from then and wonder why all these assholes kept telling me I was too fat (along with everything else that goes with it). I will happily be that fat again. I will also ride my bicycle. However, I am staging it out -- 25 lbs first, which will be the weight I've gained since moving to SC. Then, another 40 lbs, which will be the weight I've gained since my miscarriages and assorted injuries. Everything after that will be just that much better.

The Husband and I joined a Unitarian Universalist church back in July. Since then, I've joined the chorus and started a yoga class there, and we are both getting a little more involved in regular activities there. It's actually nice. I have reasons to leave the house during the week. I'm starting to resemble a normal person. It's good to be singing again. I'm debating getting a small keyboard, since the piano simply will not fit in the house. Have to look.

I'm also knitting constantly. I really am enjoying it. I've made a ton of scarves, two hats, one shawl (and working on another), and I'm working on my first sweater. I'm surprised how much I really get into it. Each finished project is a little step up, even if it doesn't come out exactly right. I feel like I'm learning, and I'm making something.

Writing is standing still, but now I'm not so negative about it. I think that might come back, too.

Anyway, that's my life at this point. How're you guys doing?