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American literature children creativity design dogs English literature French literature friendship generosity happiness Honey Girl Books and Gifts

what success looks like

to me

with enthusiasm,

J

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American literature art children creativity French literature humor music nature quilts

Only a real idiot can have this much fun! (homage to Julio Cortázar)

Reading Julio Cortázar’s essay, “Only a Real Idiot” yesterday, I felt such a joyfully liberating surge of life energy, for he captured how I feel, on seeing a hummingbird scratch his neck with his tiny foot like a dog, or a cornflower in glorious blue abandon alongside gritty Rainier Avenue, or José González in concert. Or my classmates doing Aikido at sunset, a Chinese busker twanging strange melodies at Hing Hay Park, or Toots and the Maytalls when they were here, so long ago in the pre-pandemic past…

“I am entertained, deeply moved; the dialogues or the dancers’ motions seem like supernatural visions to me. I applaud wildly, and sometimes the tears well up in my eyes or I laugh until I have to pee; in any event, I am glad to be alive and to have had this opportunity to go to the theater or to the movies or to an exhibition, anywhere extraordinary people make or show things never before imagined, where they invent a place of revelation or communication, something that washes away the moments when nothing is happening, nothing but what always happens.” (“Only a Real Idiot” in Around the Day in Eighty Worlds, p. 62)

It’s all about enthusiasm.

My latest creation–to be unveiled next week at West Seattle’s Summerfest!–is the Luxury Troll Boudoir. (If ever there were a folly, this is it!)

Luxury Troll Boudoirs in progress, HGBG workshop, West Seattle (7/5/22)

— Set in a picturesque cigar box, each features a troll doll with its own quilt, snuggled into a little bed made of vintage satin
— Comes with a booklet, Beautiful Thoughts for the Boudoir, with quotes and portraits by five inspiring French and American women writers
— Suitable for children or nostalgia lovers of any age

Coming soon to the HGBG shop on etsy!

Author portrait courtesy of https://aldianews.com/en/culture/books-and-authors/cortazar-movies

Categories
French literature humor wisdom

Trivia Quiz for “Père Goriot” (1835) by Honoré de Balzac

For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 6/26/22

With answers below

A. The Complicated Unfolding: Characters and Relationships.

1. Secrets revealed. People’s secrets come to light in many ways—gradual and abrupt—in the pages of Père Goriot. Which of the following is not a secret revealed?

a. Anastasie, Comtesse de Restaud, is actually Goriot’s eldest daughter.

b. Delphine, Baronne de Nucingen, is actually Goriot’s second daughter.

c. Monsieur Vautrin is actually a famous criminal nicknamed Trompe-la-mort or Death Dodger.

d. Mme Vauquer’s generosity actually does help the people of Borrioboola-Gha.

2. Mysteries remain. Despite the many dénouements in the second half, significant doubts nag at the reader. Which of the following enigmas is resolved?

a. Will Eugène de Rastignac remain loyal to his lady-love, Delphine de Nucingen?

b. Will Mme Vauquer find new boarders for her rooming house?

c. Will Vautrin escape from prison with the help of his confederates?

d. Will the Vicomtesse de Beauséant ever be seen in Paris again?

e. All of the above remain tinged by mystery, in one way or another.

B. Irony, heavy at times.  The Balzacian narrator, and the novel’s characters, do not hesitate to pass judgment on people, often with funny/cringe-inducing results. Match the comment to the person being described. The characters:  a. Père Goriot; b. Eugène de Rastignac ; c. Mme Vauquer ; d. Mlle Victorine Taillefer  

3. “As happens with great souls, he wanted nothing he had not deserved.”

4.  “Like all narrow-minded people, X habitually looked no farther than the sequence taken by events, without analyzing their causes. She liked to blame others for her own mistakes.”

5. “X blended in with the general atmosphere of wretchedness… She resembled a shrub whose leaves have yellowed from being freshly planted in the wrong sort of soil.”

6. “There was no more room for doubt. X was an old rake … the disgusting color of his hair was the result of his excesses and the drugs he took in order to continue them.”

C. 7. Education. Père Goriot, like David Copperfield, is considered a Bildungsroman or novel of education. Which one of the following precepts does the hero Eugène not learn in the course of his time in Paris?

a. “Believe me, young man, practice shooting. … It’s no good being honest.”

b. “Strike without pity and people will fear you.”

c. “Take care how you cut yourself. It is more dangerous than you think in this country.”

d. “If you want to succeed, start by not showing your feelings so plainly.”

e. “There are only two options open: dumb obedience or revolt.”

8. Which one of the following attributes is not mentioned to explain Eugène’s popularity among ladies?

a. his expressions of undying loyalty

b. his studiousness and work ethic

c. his southern impetuosity

d. his good looks

9. Marriage in Paris: a special kind of hell. Circle the quote that is not by Balzac.

a. “Poor old thing, I suppose she likes him, but, I must say, if he was one’s dog one would have him put down.”

b. “Young men from the provinces know nothing of the pleasures of a triangular relationship.”

c. “Our marriages have become a mere farce.”

d. “Chains of gold are the heaviest to bear.”

10. Money worries. There is one place in Père Goriot where several people go in secret, to solve worries about money. What place is called “that depressing and discreet friend of the young”?

a. a gambling den

b. a pawn shop

c. a brothel

11. Although Père Goriot seems to act in mysterious ways to his fellow boarders, Vautrin is the ultimate mystery in their midst. Which of the following does not designate his character?

a. “Let me tell you a secret: he doesn’t like women.”

b. “The very fact of his conviction brought him the most enormous honor among his own sort.”

c. “He has been fortunate enough to escape with his life from all the extremely risky exploits he has carried out.”

d. “that great lump of an Alsatian? / He is quite capable of absconding with all the capital and leaving us behind, the scoundrel!”

ANSWERS

  1. d.
  2. e.
  3. b.
  4. c.
  5. d.
  6. a.
  7. c. (That quote is from Bram Stoker, Dracula.)
  8. b.
  9. a. (That quote is from The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford.)
  10. b.
  11. d. (That quote describes the Baron de Nucingen, Delphine’s husband.)

Fantastic movie poster; love the symbols of greed and sorrow, rage and lust. That about sums up this cynical masterpiece… which can evoke tears or great merriment, depending on your mood when you read it.

P.S. For our next meeting, July 31, we’re going to read Jane Eyre!

Categories
American literature art creativity English literature French literature wisdom

Trivia quiz on Virginia Woolf, “To the Lighthouse” and “A Room of One’s Own”

Trivia Quiz for To the Lighthouse (1927) and A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf

with the answers below

For WSEA “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 5/22/22

I. To the Lighthouse

A. On Frustrated Yearning     

1. The book begins with a scene of a young boy’s yearning, which opens the reader’s horizon to a long-awaited sea voyage. In a few lines, however, the dream of travel is dashed. Who is the first person to announce the trip’s impossibility, and why?

a. the protagonist’s nurse, because the boy is sickly and too weak for travel at present.

b. the child’s mother, who reminds him that he has schoolwork to do.

c. the child’s father, who announces that the weather “won’t be fine.”

d. a houseguest, who feels a west wind blowing.

2. On Comfort.

Among other things, words provide comfort to the child and it is usually his mother who speaks comforting words. Which of the following refrains is not spoken by the mother, Mrs. Ramsey?

a. “But it may be fine—I expect it will be fine.”          

b. “Let’s find another picture to cut out.”                   

c. “Oh, how beautiful!”

d. “Well then, we will cover it up.”                 

e. “Think of a kitchen table, when you’re not there.”

3. Ordinary Misogyny. Quotes that we may find objectionable run through the narrative. Which is not from To the Lighthouse?

a. “They did nothing but talk, talk, talk, eat, eat, eat. It was the women’s fault. Women made civilisation impossible with all their ‘charm,’ all their silliness.”

b. “Treat ‘em like chickens, son. Throw ‘em a little corn and they’ll run after you, but don’t give ‘em too much. If you do, they’ll stop layin’ and expect you to wait on ‘em.”

c. “She was not good enough to tie his shoe strings.”

d. “There was Mr. X whispering in her ear, ‘Women can’t paint, women can’t write…’”

e. “She guessed what he was thinking—he would have written better books if he had not married.”

4. Extraordinary Restraint. Women react to men’s comments in ways that feel uncomfortably familiar—with silence, resentment, and smoldering rage. Which is not in To the Lighthouse?

a. “She had done the usual trick—been nice.”  

b. “’Odious little man,’ thought Mrs. Ramsey, ‘why go on saying that?’”

c. “She would never for a single second regret her decision, evade difficulties or slur over duties.”

d. “She bent her head as if to let the pelt of jagged hail, the drench of dirty water, bespatter her unrebuked. There was nothing to be said.”

e. “If she had said half of what he said, she would have blown her brains out by now.”

f. All are in To the Lighthouse.

5. How long does it take before the Ramseys take the trip mentioned on page one?

a. two months             

b. ten years                 

c. twenty years            

d. one week

II. A Room of One’s Own and themes found in both books

6. Why does Woolf declare that “the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction” must remain unsolved in her work?  Which reason is not in the book?

a. because there are too many great women novelists to synthesize into one conclusion

b. because until the 17th century, most women were too poor and uneducated to write anything

c. because throughout history, women have lacked the time, money and solitude necessary to discover their genius

7. Acc. to Woolf, what emotion dominates the books (by men) explaining women and their works?

a. delight                     

b. anger                       

c. awe              

d. jealousy  

8. Creativity: How to explain it? Woolf attempts variously to describe what it feels like to conceive ideas and create things. Which quote is not by Virginia Woolf in these two books?

a. “It is fatal for anyone who writes to ignore their sex. The mind must be focused on one’s sexual identity, for its limitations and biological demands matter more than anything.”

b. “She could see it all so clearly, so commandingly, when she looked: it was when she took her brush in hand that the whole thing changed. It was in that moment’s flight … that made this passage from conception to work as dreadful as down a dark passage for a child.”

c. “Thought … had let its line down into the stream. It swayed, minute by minute, hither and thither among the reflections and the weeds, letting the water lift it and sink it, until—you know the little tug—the sudden conglomeration of an idea at the end of one’s line: and then the cautious hauling of it in, and careful laying of it out? Alas, laid on the grass how small, how insignificant this thought of mine looked.”

d. “The androgynous mind is resonant and porous … it transmits emotion without impediment … it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided.”

9. Woolf’s reality. Which of the following is not in A Room?

a. “If she begins to tell the truth, the [man’s] figure in the looking-glass shrinks; his fitness for life is diminished.”

b. “It is remarkable … what a change of temper a fixed income will bring about. I need not hate any man; he cannot hurt me. I need not flatter any man; he has nothing to give me.”

c. “The Suffrage campaign has done the unthinkable! Finally, it has roused in men an extraordinary desire to help women achieve their potential.”

d.  “Imaginatively, she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history.”

e. “Any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at.”

10. What’s wrong with women’s writing of the nineteenth century? Which reason is not cited?

a. Ignorance and emotion. “Anger was tampering with the integrity of Charlotte Brontë the novelist. … Her imagination swerved from indignation and we feel it swerve.”

b. Lack of natural ability. “No woman has ever written as well as Dickens or Proust.”

c.  Pressure of convention. “She was thinking of something other than the thing itself. … She had altered her values in deference to the opinion of others.”

d. Lack of female community and heritage. “They had no tradition behind them, or one so short and partial that it was of little help. For we think back through our mothers … it is useless to go to the great men writers for help.”

11. What advice does Woolf not proffer to young women? 

a. “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

b. There must be a lock on that door, the door to your room.

c.  “Adopt the name of a man for your writing; anonymity runs in our blood.”

d. “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn.”

ANSWERS

1. c.

2. e. (Son Andrew makes that observation, describing his father’s philosophical writings.)

3. b.  That quote is from Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes.

4. f. All are in To the Lighthouse.

5. b.

6. a.

7. b.

8. a.

9. c.

10. b.

11. c.

To all women: please write! write simply, write sadly, write with your heart or your anger…

Write about your lives, about your thoughts, about your past, present, or future, but write, and let the world know you were here!

For what it is worth, I’ve pasted below a photo of the books I’ve created during my time on this earth, inspired partly at least by my reading of Woolf’s essay during my time as an undergraduate….

Woolf makes me proud to be a writer. To exist. To forgive us all, and to hope… for more great writers will come! Please write!

And, of course, thank you for reading.

Categories
American literature French literature nature

day 77, just getting by, with Mallarmé

Hi anybody,

So much turmoil and fear everywhere. Anxiety courses through my veins and it is only 9:02 am. No wisdom to share today.  Just “same as day 73, and every day since.” If I can help you, please contact me. If not, know I’m feeling the pain too. It’s a mute solidarity of misery and fear. But we can still hope for a better tomorrow. Or even a better 9:15am!  On that note, I’m going to go for a walk.  Here is a bit of poetry from Mallarmé–an excellent companion for bleak moments–to capture the angst and desire to flee from one’s own mind:

La chair est triste, hélas ! et j’ai lu tous les livres.
Fuir ! là-bas fuir! Je sens que des oiseaux sont ivres
D’être parmi l’écume inconnue et les cieux !

“Brise marine” by Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898)

And the gorgeous translation by my friend Henry Weinfield:

Sea Breeze

The flesh is sad, alas, and there’s nothing but words!

To take flight, far off! I sense that somewhere the birds

Are drunk to be amid strange spray and skies.

— Stéphane Mallarmé, Collected Poems, trans. by Henry Weinfield (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1994, 2011), p. 21.

Yesterday’s production of face masks:

Face masks made on June 3 2020

Categories
art creativity death dogs French literature nature storms wisdom

Day 72: ignite the finite (homage to Diderot)

Our lives are finite. We can only stand so much. Honey Girl’s actions during today’s thunderstorm prove it.

First, she was hiding in the bathroom because the lightning and thunder scare her. During a lull in the storm, I opened the door and she came out. A little. Then the thunder boomed and she went back in to the smallest place in the house: a tiny bathroom under the stairs. Her world is as small as she can make it. We can’t help it that sounds scare us, but being of a philosophical mind, we can find interest in the concept of being “finite.” And happily, it doesn’t have to scare us.

“Our lives are finite” feels grim; a death sentence. But if you examine the actual word and concept, it feels different. It feels a lot like peace.

finite, adjective and noun (from Latin finitus, pa pple of finire FINISH verb)

a. adjective. 1. Having bounds, ends, or limits; not infinite or infinitesimal.

b. Having an existence subject to limitations and conditions.

2. Fixed, determined, definite.

[Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, vol. 1, p. 962. Three other definitions follow, in math, grammar, and music.]

What I love about this definition is the concept of: “Not infinite or infinitesimal.” In other words, we do exist, we have the ability to act, we are not insignificant. Instead of despairing about our lives’ limitations, why not turn it around? Why not think of our bodies and minds as conduits through which we can make things happen. It’s the real potential at hand. Ignite the finite!

(For my part, I’ve already launched one long-term collaborative project with a distant friend today and I’ve got dozens of masks to sew, so my time feel’s short. I like it that way.)

As Denis Diderot once said, « J’aime mieux une belle chimère qui fait tenter de grandes choses qu’une réalité stérile, une prétendue sagesse qui jette et retient l’homme rare dans une stupide inertie. »

–Lettre à Falconet, in Esprit de Diderot : choix de citations, p. 61.

« I prefer beautiful fantasies that inspire men of genius to grandiose actions, rather than a sterile reality, supposedly the seat of wisdom, which enslaves their spirits to inertia.”

***

 

Yesterday’s face mask production, fyi

Face masks made on May 29 2020

 

*with thanks to Laurent Loty’s beautiful book (with Éric Vanzieleghem), Esprit de Diderot: choix de citations (Paris: Hermann, 2013) and the bookmarks commemorating events at Université Paris Diderot, in honor of French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713-1784), editor of the Encyclopédie and many other works of Enlightenment genius.

Categories
art creativity French literature memory

day 57, how a mysterious necklace led to Baudelaire

Hello!

My morning walk took me on an unexpectedly southeastern route today, when I arrived at a corner, saw the sun, and turned abruptly to follow it. The warmth felt so good! That led across a bridge where I glimpsed this metaphor of change—a boat passing by—then to a park, site of the street art I captured a while back. It’s gone! All that is left are a few scraps of black paper. (We’ll have to just keep trusting the flux by ourselves, I guess.)

 

Shortly afterwards, it was while passing by a grocery store that I saw it: a mysterious black velvet necklace, elaborately jeweled in gold beads and embroidery.

mysterious necklace May 15 2020

Like a sunglass-wearing magpie, I stood transfixed, walked all around it, and poked it with my toe. In any other time, I would have picked it up, at least. (I might even have taken it home, washed it, taken out the seams, and stitched it into a new wall-hanging!) The temptation was great.

But no…

Instead I took a picture, and left it behind. But my mind took flight… into memories of Baudelaire. For you and me both, here are a few lines to share the pleasure, from “La Chevelure.” They show how an ordinary thing—hair—inspired the poet to conjure up the mysterious beauties of womanhood …  (English translation below)

“La Chevelure”

O toison, moutonnant jusque sur l’encolure !

O boucles ! O parfum chargé de nonchaloir !

Extase ! Pour peupler ce soir l’alcôve obscure

Des souvenirs dormant dans cette chevelure,

Je la veux agiter dans l’air comme un mouchoir !

 

La langoureuse Asie et la brûlante Afrique,

Tout un monde lointain, absent, presque défunt,

Vit dans tes profondeurs, forêt aromatique !

Comme d’autres esprits voguent sur la musique,

Le mien, ô mon amour ! nage sur ton parfum.

 

…  Fortes tresses, soyez la houle qui m’enlève !

 

“The Head of Hair”

 

Ecstatic fleece that ripples to your nape

And reeks of negligence in every curl!

To people my dim cubicle tonight

With memories shrouded in that head of hair,

I’d have it flutter like a handkerchief!

 

For torpid Asia, torrid Africa

–the wilderness I thought a world away—

Survive at the heart of this dark continent…

As other souls set sail to music, mine,

O my love! Embarks on your redolent hair.

 

Take me, tousled current…

Charles Baudelaire, The Flowers of Evil / Les Fleurs du mal, trans. Richard Howard, (Boston: David R. Godine, 1982), 30, 208.

from the sublime to the banal, here is yesterday’s mask production:

Face masks made on May 14 2020

Categories
art creativity design English literature French literature nature work

day 44: just a bird?

This morning as I was getting ready to step into the shower, I looked through the skylight and saw a most amazing big yellow bird with a red head! It seemed to be calm and powerful, as it gazed through the thick boughs of cedar and hopped from branch to branch. I watched for a while (wishing I had my phone), and he remained present during my shower and afterwards. But when I was dressed and dashed downstairs to get my phone and came back upstairs again, he was gone.

Looking out from the shower at the cedar tree May 2 2020

Now I did take a minute to search “yellow bird with red head” and quickly got the answer: it was a Western Tanager, not uncommon in these parts, apparently.

But more importantly, I now think about him still and the vision makes me feel like something just happened. The dazzling vision—of bright yellow with black and white wings, flashing a red head with black eyes, looking through the graceful green boughs—seems like a sign. It is a sign that a bird feels safe in my cedar tree—the tree of wisdom, according to the native peoples of this region—which means to me that this place is sacred. From there it is but a hop to conclude that my work–in a room looking over this tree–could be sacred too. As a lovely poem by Pascale Petit goes:

“They say we are just embroiderers

but when we are working well, our tower turns

into burnished fire and the mantle flows

from our fingers, tumbling through the air

in loops of delight.”*

 

So this message goes out to my brothers and sisters, the seamstresses, tailors, sewers, stitchers of all ages and nations: take heart! Your work matters, and you matter too. What we are sewing now will become part of this time’s collective memory, so make it beautiful! Or, as my motto goes:

La vie est trop courte pour se protéger tristement.

(Life is too short to wear a sad mask.)

 

Also, alongside yesterday’s face mask production, is a picture of our new T-Shirt!

Exclusive!  Honey Girl t-shirts, now available for just $10 each (cash or check)  in West Seattle (on my porch) or by mail order (w/SASE upon request).

Sizes:  Youth Medium; Adult Small; Adult Medium; Adult Large; Adult Extra-Large.  Email quickly to reserve yours, juliawsea@gmail.com !

(While my face masks take lots of time, these t-shirts are already done, and allow you to spread the good feelings with our winsome puppy logo.)

 

* from Pascale Petit, “Creation of the Himalayas,” cited in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted, p. 180. Poem inspired by painting Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle by Remedios Varo (1961, featured below, with thanks to https://www.wikiart.org/en/remedios-varo/embroidering-the-earth-s-mantle-1961

embroidering-the-earth-s-mantle-1961.jpg!Large

 

Categories
American literature death French literature humor wisdom

day 9, on “killing” time. Please don’t!

Good morning!

Well, after an hour or so spent poring over the New York Times, and yesterday’s Seattle Times (which is silently delivered to our doorstep by a neighbor for recycling), I feel quite lucky and rather guilty for having the luxury to stay home instead of going to work at a hospital, grocery store, or Amazon warehouse. I’d readily volunteer to go out there and help in some way, but then again, the Governor wants us to stay home. Round and round we go….

Nevertheless, I am not the only “lucky” one who is stuck at home with time, lots and lots of “free time,” to fill. So, with a hearty “THANK YOU” to all the service workers, medical personnel, and other essential people who are going to work, we non-essential folks turn to the elephant in our rooms: how to pass all this time?  And why do we speak of “killing” such an intangible, fleeting entity?  For answers, I turn first  to the dictionary and then to a great novel.

A. The dictionary.    Kill, verb. (Prob. from Germanic word rel. to QUELL verb).*

Definitions nos. 1-3 pertain to ME [Middle English], so I’ll skip directly to more modern meanings. Confused about transitive & intransitive verbs? see below **

4. verb trans. Deprive (an organism, a substance, a process, etc.) of vitality, activity, effect, etc. Now also, destroy, break, or ruin (a thing).

5. verb trans.  a. Cause severe pain or suffering to; overexert (esp. oneself, doing). b. Overwhelm (a person) by a strong impression, as of admiration, anger, delight, grief, etc.; impress, thrill; convulse with laughter, refl laugh heartily.

6. verb trans.  Prevent the passing of (a bill) in Parliament.

7. verb trans. Spend (time) engaged in some activity, esp. while waiting for a specific event.

8. verb trans. Consume; eat or drink; spec. consume the entire contents of (a bottle of liquor). colloq.

9. verb trans. Cancel or delete (text etc.) from a book, journal, etc. before publication, or from a computer file. In Journalism, suppress or deny (a story etc.)

10. verb trans. Extinguish, turn off (a light, an engine, etc.), put out (a cigarette etc.) colloq.

From these definitions, one gathers the following analogies: killing is involved in depriving, destroying, preventing progress, waiting for an unspecified event, consuming (too much of something), cancelling, suppressing, or extinguishing things. It is altogether a bad bunch of thoughts.  So why do we persist in wanting to kill something as precious as time, that is, our already short lives?

Interesting, in French, they speak not of killing time but of losing time (perdre le temps): this points to all kinds of fascinating cultural differences…  Can you imagine a book called In Search of Killed Time?!  Haha, couldn’t resist  🙂

B. The Novel.  Since I have no answer to those questions, I offer a funny passage  instead. From Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence: the passage concerns the rather dull, yet respectable Welland family, whose daughter May has just married the hero, Newland Archer. Much to his chagrin, he is now realizing not only what a bore she is, but that his whole life is turning into a yawn:

“It was a principle in the Welland family that people’s days and hours should be what Mrs. Welland called ‘provided for.’ The melancholy possibility of having to ‘kill time’ (especially for those who did not care for whist or solitaire) was a vision that haunted her …

It was a cause of constant distress to Mrs. Welland that her son-in-law showed so little foresight in planning his days. Often already, during the fortnight that he had passed under her roof, when she inquired how he meant to spend his afternoon, he had answered paradoxically: ‘Oh, I think for a change I’ll just save it instead of spending it—‘ and once, when she and May had had to go on a long-postponed round of afternoon calls, he had confessed to having lain all the afternoon under a rock on the beach below the house.

‘Newland never seems to look ahead,’ Mrs. Welland once ventured to complain to her daughter; and May answered serenely: ‘No; but you see it doesn’t matter, because when there’s nothing particular to do he reads a book.’

‘Ah, yes–like his father!’ Mrs. Welland agreed, as if allowing for an inherited oddity; and after that the question of Newland’s unemployment was tacitly dropped.”***

 

The conclusion:  Stop the kill! Back to pleasure!  Embrace your oddities!  No ideas? See post no. 6, on the many ways to spend and even enjoy rather than kill your precious days.

Bye for now. I’ll be back tomorrow.

 

*The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 5th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), Vol. 1, p. 1495.

** What is the difference between a transitive verb and an intransitive verb?
A transitive verb (verb trans.) is a verb that requires a direct object, which is a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that follows the verb and completes the sentence’s meaning by indicating the person or thing that receives the action of the verb. The direct object typically answers the question what? or whom?  as in “The kids like pickles.”

An intransitive verb is not used with a direct object. If something comes after an intransitive verb, that is, in the position usually inhabited by the direct object, it doesn’t answer what? or whom?; instead it answers a question like where?, when?, how?, or how long?, as in “Her car died suddenly last week.”

With thanks to https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transitive

*** Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence, 1st ed. 1920, ed. Maureen Howard (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2004), pp. 188-189.

 

 

Categories
American literature creativity death French literature wisdom work

day eight: let us make things happen

Richard Wright

“Anything seemed possible, likely, feasible, because I wanted everything to be possible… Because I had no power to make things happen outside of me in the objective world, I made things happen within. Because my environment was bare and bleak, I endowed it with unlimited potentialities, redeemed it for the sake of my own hungry and cloudy yearning.”  –Richard Wright*

In our current bleak environment, let us make things happen.

Volition, William James tells us, the power to will ourselves to act toward some future purpose, is what makes humans unique among the animals. As he writes, “the deepest question that is ever asked admits of no reply but the dumb turning of the will and tightening of our heart-strings as we say, “Yes, I will even have it so!”** We are arguably the only sentient creatures on earth who make plans that will not come to fruition until some unspecified time in the future, possibly beyond our life span. (This is a gift and a curse, possibly our greatest folly, as philosophers from the East and the West have rightly noted.)

Now, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, it is hard to know what do to. How and where should one will one’s will to act? As a skilled seamstress, should I rush down to the JoAnn’s store and pick up a mask-making kit for medical personnel?  Should I take my car, even if I thereby contribute to the traffic jams already happening, due to the abrupt West Seattle Bridge closure earlier this week? Or should I stay home as Governor Inslee has ordered? I am frozen.  So I stay home. And I look for a transfusion of hope from beloved books. That in itself is an act of will, and it reinforces the promise I made to you last week.

And that is how I landed on today’s quote by a great American writer (and Francophile), Richard Wright, pictured above, from his powerful and heartbreaking book, Black Boy. His words remind us that today’s struggle, for the millions of people who are healthy, remains primarily a mental battle. If we are lucky enough to have housing, food, and good health, yet we are unable to go out or work in the world, how can we continue to feel purpose?  We have to will it into being.

Some years ago, while I was writing a book on literature about the French Revolution, I wondered about the pre-conditions for artistic genius. Would France have seen the great novels of megalomania and disillusion written by Stendhal (b. 1783), Honoré de Balzac (b. 1799) or Victor Hugo (b. 1802) without the Revolution of 1789-93 and the memory of its trauma on their lives? Is there a cause-effect relationship between one’s generation–the time and place where you live, your country’s wars and prosperity– and one’s genius?  I was quite taken by the following quote by Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot, about the conditions necessary for an artistic renaissance:

“Poetry requires something enormous, barbaric, and savage.  …  When shall we see the birth of poets?  It will be after a time of disaster and great misfortune, when the beleaguered people will draw a breath.  Then the imagination, shaken by those terrible spectacles, will depict things unknown to those who have not seen them.”***

Could the present crisis give birth to a renaissance in the 2020s?  Let it be so, and let it begin with us.

P.S. In case you think I’m shirking my civic responsibility by not going down to JoAnns’ in Southcenter to get a mask-sewing kit, please know I have signed up to sew masks (Phase 3) for Sew Loved, in South Bend, IN. (and you can too, by clicking here!)  People with pets in their homes are ineligible for making medically-approved masks for Sew Loved (Phase 1 & 2), alas.

* Richard Wright, Black Boy (American Hunger): A Record of Childhood and Youth, 1st ed. 1944, (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), pp. 72-73.

** William James, Psychology: The Briefer Course, ed. Gordon Allport (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985), 326.

***Denis Diderot, « De la poésie dramatique », 1st ed. 1758 in Œuvres esthétiques, éd. Paul Vernière, Paris, Garnier, 1968, vol. 2, p. 2.  With thanks to Elena Russo for this translation, from her book Styles of Enlightenment, p. 200.