Meaning Beyond Question

All I know is, my soul is a pest. Or whatever is that internal thing that has kept yammering away, lo these many decades. Always with a very clear idea of what is right. Not what was easy, at the time, or even possible. Certainly not taking my children into consideration, when I was young and most wretchedly married. Just, Move on, move on. You’re going to leave here, sooner or later. One of the leavings was without my children—and I have never been able to explain why that was something I had to do. Granted, I thought it would be a separation of months—but back then, and perhaps still, a girl who would do such a thing was a slut. Beyond slut: inexplicable. I simply knew that if I had to move to Iowa and live in married-graduate student housing, I would kill myself. Having seen the sad and depressed women who lived in the same at Princeton, which I figured to be a fucking palace compared to Iowa.

Women then had nothing to do but childcare, which is a really boring thing, as occupations go. And the grad student housing itself had wallboard that picked apart in shreds, the rooms were tiny, it was terribly hot. I saw enough. We lived in a cottage, as my then-husband’s family knew someone, a family so extended it was hard to go anywhere in America and not know someone. In truth, for a while I wanted to fit in with them, it was ever so much better than my family, which had no influence at all–except for my father’s fellow physicists, scattered along the Eastern seaboard at just enough removal so that every night, when we travelled north or south, there was always someone from whom to cadge dinner. For all six of us. Something I did not know was strange until I studied the whole autistic-spectrum thing and began to see my parents for who they were. People hugely without a social clue, which is where shades of autism show up. Who saw nothing wrong with arriving, four children in tow, just in time for dinner. I remember clear as day my father checking his watch, noting that it was ten to six, and, getting out his address book, punching into a pay phone the number of tonight’s potential suckers. And the worried look on the wife’s face of the wife, trying to make her bean casserole stretch.  Wondering, I realized later, how to feed another six people, while my mother sat silent, mortified—but then, she was always mortified—as the husbands talked physics or whatever the hell it was they talked.

The soul so intimately tied up with memory. When everything fell into place later, in adulthood, I realized most of what my soul had nattered on about was the normal. Healthful. Not a massively distorted life. It definitely wanted and still wants for me to live amongst people who love me, and whom I love. Something I’ve had very brief experience of. And trying to stay sane in the midst of thought-disordered people is the biggest damn energy-suck. The point always was, I coulda been a contender. Instead of a bum. Which is of course what I turned out to be.

Words to that effect.


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Who’s Sorry Now

Of all the scenes in the book, the one most resembling the later life of the Tolstoys is not a Levin-Kitty scene, but the final row between Vronsky and Anna just before she goes out to throw herself under a train. Tolstoy’s mastery of the feat of simultaneously putting the reader inside the heads of both characters as well as his own, as if the ball is being tossed from Anna to Vronsky to the narrator at high speed without ever being dropped, is one of the supreme moments of craft in all fiction … James Meek, LRB

A statement so disarming, I had to go find it.

In rereading even this small part of the novel, I was struck that Tolstoy turned Anna into someone who had to destroy. Was this supposed to be her guilt, then? Her self-punishment? The nagging, clinging woman she seemed to will herself to become was nothing like the Anna we first met. I suppose we all do this. Historically. Take great leaps of faith and then, as day follows night, render upon ourselves in spades precisely what society thinks of us, the society whose norms we have so dashingly ignored. The moral? Well, for one thing — when it pays off — this is probably how women have always gotten ahead, gotten a leg up in a world made by men. You have to defy.

The second part, the tearing it all down—perhaps it comes of not really knowing what love is. What it’s for. Romantic love is simply not transformative. Did Anna think so? I expect she simply struggled with and failed, as we so often do, at the more difficult task of finding meaning for herself. And it drove her mad.

What I found was a perfect bit of modernity …

“Oh, by the way,” he said at the very moment she was in the doorway, “we’re going tomorrow for certain, aren’t we?”
“You, but not I,” she said, turning round to him.
“Anna, we can’t go on like this…”
“You, but not I,” she repeated.
“This is getting unbearable!”
“You … you will be sorry for this,” she said, and went out.

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Burning the Hajib

hajibBurning down the cloth house. Have you a shred of a chance of realizing all that you know in your heart are your dreams withheld, stifled, lost? And does this loss, what you have already lost and what will come, does it resonate anywhere? Or do your struggles as women rise and disappear like waves in the ocean, what does one woman matter, in a world you know is Wrong. Misguided, stupid to the core. Could you do better with one little finger than the men you refuse to call, anymore, leaders. And don’t you have to live with the terrible obviousness. Your perfect skill to find the moral balance midst conflict. Isn’t it all a big pissing contest, no more than gang behavior … and aren’t you, as a woman, with your maternal, familial skills, aren’t you the hope of the world?

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Bad For Mommies Too


If only it weren’t now necessary for most women to work to provide basic support to their families, Nance writes in her comment yesterday.

And of course I had told only part of it, the overall story is one of sadness and powerlessness—make no mistake, on the part of all of us, and ironically, that much harder to tell. For is there ever a single pointedness to history. Chomsky, Lowe and others tell us, No.
Continue reading “Bad For Mommies Too”

Bad For Babies?


Day care may prevent certain children from establishing a healthy relationship with their parents, a new study suggests.

The results show the more time fussy, irritable infants spend in day care, the less likely they are to develop a so-called secure attachment with their mothers. A secure attachment means babies are at ease exploring their surroundings, but can still seek comfort from their mom when they need to—they are not clingy or aloof.

From a glass half-full perspective, the findings also mean irritable infants do better when they’re mostly cared for by their parents or other family members.

Continue reading “Bad For Babies?”

Like Minds

through the mirrorThis morning the first issue of my new subscription to the London Review of Books arrived; I have some dim memory of subscribing to the site … but this appearance of the thing in print, in the mail of all things, felt rather odd,  as I’ve read the site for years. Mostly to read up every bit of Jenny Diski, a writer with whom I used to exchange links and the occasional email, but then when I read that the woman who brought her up, in her teenage years, happened to be, of all people, Doris Lessing—perhaps it was then I fell silent. Continue reading “Like Minds”

Lady Chatterley

Lady Chatterley

I’ve been watching old movies late at night, bits of which come up again and again, as I flip channels and the movies are repeated. In this way, eventually I piece together a whole. Or actually look at the listings and, quelle horror, watch the thing from beginning to end. Which is not remotely as interesting, especially if you’ve gotten good chunks of the film under your belt. Continue reading “Lady Chatterley”