After getting reamed via a late night email by a parent of a child enrolled in the free writing workshop I offer for children, I sighed. Clearly this person has forgotten the important rule of being sane: the separation of tasks. To enable us all to keep that important principle in mind, here are some choice passages from The Courage To Be Disliked:
Other people are not living to satisfy your expectations.
Intervening in other people’s tasks and taking on other people’s tasks turns one’s life into something heavy and full of hardships. Learn the boundary of ‘From here on, that is not my task.’ And discard other people’s tasks. That is the first step toward lightening the load and making life simpler.
All that you can do with regard to your own life is choose the best path that you believe in. On the other hand, what kind of judgment do other people pass on that choice? That is the task of other people, and it is not a matter you can do anything about.
It isn’t your job to be liked by people at the place you work.
Do not intervene in other people’s tasks, or even allow a single person to intervene in one’s own tasks. We are trying to talk about freedom.
–Quotes from The Courage To Be Disliked, by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013), pp. 129-132.
An exchange of letters between a CIO of a large agency and a lit professor, both recently retired, who are wondering what the world is becoming as their two worlds collide with consequences no one can predict.
I am reaching out to see if you might be willing to continue our brief conversation since some of what we discussed touched on a problem I have been trying to work through.
While serving as the information officer for an agency with about 1,500 employees, it was necessary to struggle with the introduction and then overwhelming increase in digital information assets.
I am using some of the time available with retirement to question the general presumption that information technology specialists are the sole authority for solving the mysteries of how best to adjust our information ecology – which was developed during what might be characterized as the age of written memory.
I have looked for clues in the transitions from mimetic communication to spoken language, and also from spoken to written language. Given the critical role of literature in all of them, it strikes me that specialists in literature (is the proper term philology?) need to be included in the conversation.
Would you have any interest in chatting with me about this?
Your email has stayed with me all night and generated the following thoughts which I am putting into writing so I can get on with my day! It is a fascinating inquiry and a question for which I have no big answer, only an extremely modest proposal for local action. Ideally, a local kind of action which would allow people like your former colleagues to interact with people like my former colleagues and students, and children everywhere, eventually!
Meetings—better yet, true communion enacted over time through lasting, deep friendships created during these meetings–between people engrossed in creating new technologies and people involved in sustaining the written word, or the spoken/written/taught universe of literature and language, seems increasingly crucial for the wellbeing of our planet.
The two books that have been swirling around in my mind are Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain and Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame de Paris (aka “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”), especially the chapter entitled “Ceci tuera cela” (This Will Kill That, in other words, the printed word—unleashed by the printing press which was newly invented in the fifteenth century, the world depicted in his novel–would kill the stained glass windows of Catholic cathedrals and their monopoly on public story-telling and provision of visible narratives that give meaning to human life).
Here are my morning thoughts:
Now that humankind has (or is in the process of) switched from reading paper to interacting with screens, what is lost? How to retain our humanity in this new environment? Of course, the issue is not identical to the one raised by Hugo in his 1831 book. Stained glass windows only represented the Christian perspective, one set of stories, and you could only see them in a church. The printing press unleashed all kinds of perspectives and a potentially infinite range of stories.
But the new printed world excluded the illiterate or made their lives worse, by magnifying the divide between written and oral information systems. At the same time, moveable print made possible the deep learning and idea generating that led to the enormous “progress” in technology, medicine, and the democratization of knowledge which describes the past few centuries since the Renaissance.
In one way, digital technologies return us to a preliterate age, via the growing use of images—emojis, symbols, cartoon faces—instead of words, and the appeal of photographs. Yet forgeries are harder to spot. Photos may be prettified or altered from the real sources. Computers can now generate texts that seem to born from a human imagination. Now it is not only one church whose influence is fading; we may be witnessing the rise of a new superpower that humans no longer control: computers. Especially since computer science is dominated (or seems to be) by a certain kind of people: the new priests of the 21st century, who dictate the inner workings of those vast circuits, and seem to ignore what the consequences may be. Well, we are all ignorant of that.
But so far, the signs are worrisome. Shorter attention spans. Increased forgetfulness. Indifference to other peoples’ feelings, or unawareness that they even exist. Atomization, loneliness, despair.
And at the same time, vast potential. Instant data retrieval, communication in real time with people far, far away. Alas, much of that communication is “spied on” (or could be) by humans with algorithms, so that predators can maximize details of their interest by selling analytics to advertisers, or compiling data banks to exploit for selling or influencing people. Still no one is “in charge.”
And we can all feel the burned-out sensation of too much screen exposure. Is it analogous to similar concerns over too much reading, from earlier times? Think of The Female Quixote or Don Quixote himself: those novels were meant to depict a danger arising from too much of one kind of reading (novels). Too much imagination can lead one to hold unreal views and harbor expectations ungrounded in reality: disappointment, social ridicule, ostracism may ensue. Love remains out of sight, sadness and loneliness may befall the uncritical novel reader.
Too much screen time, esp. with violent video games, may do a similar trick on the mind but with a difference: instead of seeking and not finding love, one may seek to annihilate people perceived as “enemies” to the self. Even without such violent exposure, one attuned to screens may reduce people to targets or transactions, so that the self continues to feel strong and powerful, as it does on screen.
Spatial relations fade when the experience of walking, doing sports, or navigating a new place with a map are no longer common. Our world becomes an image on a screen with a dot for “you are here” which may be magnetized 1,000% or minimized into insignificance, instantly, with a flick of the thumb.
Communion through idea sharing, mutual experiences, sharing reactions to powerful writing, music, or art—therein lies our humanity, our greatness and our joy. What is the point of thinking, if all your thoughts are private property to be shared inside your head alone? Or posted online and forgotten seconds later by you and never read by anybody during your life?
Writing is still the most profound way to communicate and focused reading remains the best mode of activating thought.
Events that are local, in real time, with small groups of highly literate people (or children/teens/adults who are open to becoming such): that is the kind of event that I have discovered as a college teacher and which I now seek to propagate around me in West Seattle. That kind of event works, is remembered, and is cherished by humans. It is in a way a medieval model, except with no Church to coerce us or for us to serve. It is not “scalable” except in multiplying the model in locales worldwide.
Therein lies the mystery.
Does it matter?
But I will seek ways to help create communion as long as I am here. Give hope, encourage, commiserate.
Thanks for asking!
p.s. Below I’ve pasted a flyer for one of my latest efforts. Pass the word to any kids you know!
“Write YOUR Story” now enrolling for Spring 2023!
Free Writing Workshop for people ages 8-12
Meets on Thursdays, February 2 – May 4, 2023*
4:30pm to 5:30pm,
High Point Community Center: 6920 34th Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98126
Taught by two West Seattle writer/professors
TO ENROLL: Contact the High Point Comm. Center (206) 684-7422
This morning my mind has been turning pleasantly over landscapes new and remembered, watching the sun push through the lid of clouds hanging over the snowy Cascades to the East, and wandering through picture postcards of my past, inspired by my recent discovery of James Joyce, Dubliners. “One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”
From the sublime to the pedestrian? In the shower a voice in my head began singing, “Shower the People You Love” by James Taylor. Who knows why? James to James?
Trivia Quiz for The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch (1978)
For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 10/30/22
With answers below
1. Why leave? Why go there? Many reasons lie behind the choice to leave London for a retreat, at the book’s beginning. Which one of the following is not cited by narrator Charles Arrowby?
a. “To repent a life of egoism”
b. “It is time to think about myself at last”
c. “It affords me a curious pleasure to … watch the violent forces which the churning waves, advancing or retreating, generate inside the confined space of the rocky hole.”
d. “I looked with timorous joy towards a stately house; I saw a blackened ruin.”
e. “(There is only one bed; I am not expecting visitors!)”
2. The Sea: a landscape of the mind. Charles reveals his changing feelings by reflecting on the sea. Which one of the following is not from Murdoch’s novel?
a. “Although the sea was fairly calm I had the same irritating difficulty getting out of it…. Swallowed a lot of water and cut my foot.”
b. “What is pertinent is the calmness… its sense of restraint.”
c. “The early dawn light hung over the rocks .. with an awful intent gripping silence, as if it had seized these faintly visible shapes and were very slowly drawing them out of a darkness in which they wanted to remain.”
d. “The sea was joyful and the taste of salt water was the taste of hope and joy. … Meeting my sea-dervish companion I shouted, ‘Now aren’t you glad you came to me?’”
3-6. Uneasy truths. The Sea, The Sea includes numerous lessons on life: some are of dubious value, others are heard then forgotten. Match the saying to the source. Characters include: a. Charles ; b. James; c. Rosina d. local folks at the Black Lion inn
3. “A man would drown there in a second.”
4. “Every meal should be a treat and one ought to bless every day which brings with it a good digestion and the precious gift of hunger.”
5. “It’s so easy to frighten people.”
6. “People lie so, even we old men do. Though in a way, if there is art enough it doesn’t matter, since there is another kind of truth in the art.”
7. Marriage and desire: painful illusions. Which of the following quips is not from The Sea, The Sea?
a. “Our marriages have become a mere farce.”
b. “One of the horrors of marriage is that the partners are supposed to tell each other everything.”
c. “A marriage is so hideously private. Whoever illicitly draws back that curtain may well be stricken … by an avenging deity.”
d. “A long marriage is very unifying, even if it’s not ideal, and those old structures must be respected.”
8. The wisdom and mystery of James. As Charles mulls over his past, the reader gleans curious insights into his relationship with his cousin James. Which one of the following does not apply to James?
a. After Charles plunges into the sea, James rescues him in a miraculous way.
b. His London home is full of gold Buddhas, fetishes, and other oddities from the Orient
c. He was a Nazi sympathizer whose secrets, when revealed, caused a public disgrace.
d. As a boy, he was fond of custard cream biscuits, and he offers some to Charles during a visit.
e. He warns Charles to avoid myth-making, and to stay away from Hartley.
f. When reminiscing with Charles, James says, “What larks we had.”
g. At the end, Charles inherits James’s London house and moves there.
9. Titus: a Long-lost family member? Or a weird coincidence? Which one of the following phrases is not spoken by Titus Fitch to the narrator Charles?
a. “Are you my father?”
b “I want to go home.”
c. “Oh, the sea, the sea—it’s so wonderful. … A swim? Oh—yes.”
d. “I’m against forcing people, I think they should be free.”
e. “We’ll get to know each other one day. There’s time.”
10. Happy ending? A chance encounter with some animals seems to put a happy ending on Charles’s retreat. What animals show up?
b. sea turtles
11. Yet one foe may persist: the mind. Which of the following is not a description of Charles’s thoughts toward the end of the book?
a. “My thoughts still had to be kept on a leash, and there were long dark passages down which they were straining to run.”
b. “My responsibility for Titus’s death, which now so largely occupied my mind, amounted to this: I had never warned him about the sea.”
c. “But suppose nothing happened .. and nothing happened…?”
d. “Time, like the sea, unties all knots.”
e. “Last night someone on a BBC quiz show did not know who I was.”
f. “I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest—blest beyond what language can express.”
1. d. (That quote is from Jane Eyre.)
2. b. (That quote is from The Remains of the Day.)
7. a. (That quote is from Père Goriot.)
8. c. (That reference applies to the employer of Stevens, in The Remains of the Day.)
11. f. (That is the ending of Jane Eyre.)
COME BACK NEXT MONTH, for our quiz on Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, The Discomfort of Evening (winner of the International Man Booker Prize, 2020).
Hi, Feeling a bit sad this morning, about the inevitability of decline. Three reasons why : 1)First there are the enormous vet bills that have been pouring in for our beloved Honey Girl who, at 13, is a less mobile, less aware dog whose ahem, unhygienic habits are starting to make my life exhausting as well as breaking the bank. 2) Then there’s husband about to turn 70. 3) Finally, there is all that mail I suddenly started receiving about Medicare. Wow, we must all three of us be getting old!
So this morning I turned to audiobooks for help, and I’m now listening to Helen Russell, How to Be Sad. It’s pretty good. (Despite the annoying subtitle: Everything I’ve Learned About Getting Happier by Being Sad, Better. Why can’t they just let the sadness be?)
Reading Seneca this morning, I had the feeling of being with a shrewd friend who was laughing at me! And I had to laugh along, because there was a lot of truth in what he said.
“We commonly give the impression that the reasons for our having gone into political retirement are our disgust with public life and our dissatisfaction with some uncongenial and unrewarding post. Yet every now and then ambition rears its head again in the retreat into which we were really driven by our apprehensions and our waning interest; for our ambition did not cease because it had been rooted out, but merely because it had tired–or become piqued, perhaps, at its lack of success.” Letter LVI, p. 111-112, in Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, ed. Robin Campbell (Penguin ed., 1969.
HA! just see all those books on my bibliography about Buddhism, alternative economies, compassion, and “letting go” etc., as contrasted with the exuberant posting when I made a sale on Etsy! We are all the same.
For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 8/28/22, with answers below
A. Connections to European Literature
1. On Names. Like many English novelists, Sōseki Natsume chose funny and sometimes allegorical names for his fiction. Which one of the following is not a character in I Am a Cat?
a. Mr. Sneaze
c. Daft Bamboo
d. Utter Aimlessness
e. Opula Goldfield
f. Lancelot Yore
2. Social Commentary. Similar to Jonathan Swift and other satirists, Sōseki’s feline narrator casts a sardonic eye on his world. Which one of the following is not a target?
d. academics (grad students and professors)
e. the queen
f. Zen Buddhists
g. baseball players
3. Genre and structure. Sōseki’s knowledge of the early English novel allowed him a wealth of options for form, even if his work does not correspond to what is now the dominant paradigm (i.e. nineteenth-century works by Dickens, Tolstoy or Balzac). Which one of the following literary devices is not adopted in I Am a Cat?
a. a tight, chronological sequence of events from birth to adulthood
b. a loose, meandering sequence of observations on topical issues
c. an ironic first-person narrator who recounts dialogues overheard, apparently verbatim
d. a voyeuristic narrator who sees (and tells) things that others overlook or ignore
e. All of the above are used in I Am a Cat.
4. Maxims. As in many other works we’ve read, I Am a Cat is peppered with pithy quotes on life. Which one of the following is not from Sōseki’s novel?
a. “By the infinite flexibility of interpretation one can get away with anything.”
b. “The sad fact is that long-continued, pleasant normality becomes a bore.”
c. “A child needs an English nurse more than a mother.”
d. “One tends only to discover at the very last moment hidden defects in unexpected places.”
B. Japanese Particulars in I Am a Cat
5. Architecture and space. One of the most interesting insights for Western readers is how the traditional Japanese home would have been like to live in. Which one of the following does not characterize the master’s home in I Am a Cat?
a. thin, even translucent rice-paper walls
b. close proximity to neighboring homes
c. elaborate carving in the stone masonry
d. sliding doors
e. includes a little garden
6. Lost in Translation? Some of the humor of I Am a Cat is due to the feline narrator’s mastery of language, but some bits may strike us as odd! Which one of the following is not in I Am a Cat?
a. hecklers insult a person by calling him a “terra cotta badger”
b. a teacher is ridiculed for calling a beverage “Savage Tea”
c. a man is criticized for being “as light and flossy as goldfish food floating around on a pond”
d. an author is praised because he “also wrote importantly upon the seasoning of turnips”
e. All of the above are in I Am a Cat.
7. Food. Which one of the following products or dishes is not mentioned as a delicious treat?
a. snake rice
b. dried bonito
d. vermicelli noodles
C. The Feline Perspective
8. What does purring really mean, according to I Am a Cat?
a. the cat is laughing
b. the cat is anxious
c. the cat is seeking warmth
9. Wisdom to ponder. That cat espouses a Zen attitude which feels refreshing, all the while dishing out acerbic criticisms of men. Which one of these two quotes is spoken by the cat?
a. “Just as cowards grow aggressive under the spur of grog, so may students emboldened by mere numbers into stirring up a riot be regarded as having lost their senses by becoming intoxicated with people.”
b. “Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally, but women feel just as men feel.”
10. What is the cat’s name?
d. He has no name.
1. d. (In the Buddhist tale of the big stone Jizō, pp. 505—510 in the Tuttle edition, the fool named Daft Bamboo walks with “utter aimlessness”—a manner, not a person!)
3. a. or e.
4. c. (That quote is from Karolina Pavlova, A Double Life.)
7. c. (Goulash is described as a culinary favorite in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.)
8. a. When he’s purring, the cat is laughing (possibly at us).
9. a. (That quote, dear reader, is from Jane Eyre.)
Come back next month for our quiz on The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989).
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!”
c. (That quote is from Bram Stoker, Dracula.)
a. (That quote is from The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford.)
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!
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?
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.”
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.
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!
It’s been pretty damp out here lately. It’s easy to let your spirits fall flat and feel dreary. Even the computer sends out small, slightly ominous messages of warning, in the right-hand corner of the screen.
Yet I take heart in Emerson’s words this morning: “I am thankful for small mercies.” The beauty of green lush scenery and the ever-changing skies, the humorous way my computer seems to be speaking, commiserating about the weather… it’s all so endearing, so regular, so northwestern. It’s life happening right before our eyes. The passage which follows in Emerson rings strangely familiar too, to readers of Michael Singer and other contemporary writers on consciousness:
“The new molecular philosophy shows astronomical interspaces betwixt atom and atom, shows that the world is all outside; it has no inside.”
Emerson also reminds us, like Singer in Living Untethered (just got my copy and loving it!) that:
“Life’s chief good is for well-mixed people who can enjoy what they find, without question. .. To fill the hour–that is happiness; to fill the hour and leave no crevice for a repentance or an approval. We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.”
“Life is a tempest of fancies, and the only ballast I know is a respect to the present hour. … we should not postpone and refer and wish, but do broad justice where we are.”
— from Emerson, “Experience” in Selected Writings, pp. 350-352.
And then there’s “All Star Seattle Quilt” No. 1, finished yesterday! It was fun to stitch in some of my favorite natural scenes and landmarks from this city I love so much… and to blend them with fabrics from the many cultures which make this such a quirky, lively place to be: African block prints, Vietnamese tigers, Japanese cranes in flight, Mexican flowers in bloom–we have so much to be grateful for, in this outpost on the far western side of the country.
Hint: those T-shirts and the tiny pin represent local landmarks which will be featured in “All Star Seattle Quilts” Nos. 2 and 3, coming for summer!