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Lurch was the first time I ever heard of a harpsichord, too, but the instrument on the old Addams Family television show always sounded more like an organ to me than a harpsichord.

And I don’t much like organs or organ music.

If you put Gustav Leonhardt into the search at YouTube, I think there are a couple of clips of him playing. 

It’s an eighteenth century keyboard instrument–maybe seventeenth for the first examples of it–one in the line from virginals to clavicord to harpsichords to pianos.

But, unlike the piano, it’s a string instrument, not a percussion.

And I’ve never particularly liked the sound of the piano. 

Oh, there are particular people I like who play it–Thelonius Monk being the biggie. 

But I find it nearly impossible to listen to Chopin because so much of what he wrote he wrote for the piano. 

For me, anyway, music is a far more idiosyncrantic and random thing than painting or literature.   I can give you good reasons why I think a work of fiction or poetry is good, and fair reasons for why I like what I like in painting.

But with music, I’m all over the map. 

I like a lot of jazz, and I like a lot of what I later was informed was “progressive” jazz.  I just picked up CDs when I liked what I heard–lots of Charles Mingus, including the Town Hall concert, lots of Coltrane and late Miles Davis, anything by Charlie Parker, the aforementioned Mr. Monk.

I like a lot of Baroque chamber music.  That’s where the harpsichords come in.   I tend to go for strings and horns, although I kind of like the sound of the oboe. 


So there’s Bach and Domenico Scarlatti and Telemann and Pachebel and Handel and I’m now walking around Frescobaldi.

I don’t like a lot of symphonic stuff.  I do like Mozart’s Jupiter symphony, and Beethoven’s third (the Eroica).   Most of Brahms bores me. 

Then there gets to be this big gap, and everything goes to hell. 

The Rolling Stones.  Trace Adkins.  Jesse Winchester.  Joni Mitchell.  The Gaitlin brothers.  George Gershwin.  Koko Taylor.  Dave Van Ronk.

One of the reasons I don’t write about music much is that I can’t see any rationale for the way I respond to it.

Maybe Plato was right, and music responds to something nonrational in us.  Or at least in me.

I wrote a book once called Somebody Else’s Music.  It’s my favorite out of every book I’ve written, but it’s the title that matters here. 

The title comes from the fact that I tend to use music as sort of a sound track to whatever else is going on in my head.  I use it to disappear into the emotional a lot.

The title came from the fact that every once in a while mylife has seemed to run on somebody else’s sound track than my own.

Plato thought that music and poetry would be banned in a well ordered society, because they tended to jump the barrier of the mind and appeal directly to the passions.

I can’t say that poetry does that to me–unless you count lyrics as poetry–but music definitely does. 

I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing, in my case.  I tend to be a very controlled person, in many ways.  Maybe it’s a good one.

But it does get me back to what the Humanities are for, which is a harder question to answer than I used to think.

The Humanities humanize us, Matthew Arnold said–he meant not that the Humanities would make us good people, but that they would make us better people than we would have been without them. 

This is, as somebody said, probably impossible to test, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be true.

I do think, though, that we do lots of art not to make ourselves more “humanized”–what Arnold actually meant was civilized–but to tap into all kinds of emotional things, some of which are civilized and some of which are not.


The term is starting, and I’m plotting a mystery set on the campus of a small town university…

Written by janeh

August 30th, 2010 at 7:18 am

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By The Way…

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Go here


and my harpsichord, the one I want–is the 5th one down, the one based on the 1770 Shudi and Broadwood.

And, yes.  Those things are not exactl

Written by janeh

August 29th, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Living With Art

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So, it’s some ridiculous hour of the morning, and I’m a complete mess, having been woken up at two–again–and unable to go back to sleep.

But let me make a few notes here. First, there’s this link


which, with any luck, will work.  It’s of the Piccolomini Library in Siena. 

And no, I don’t know if I’ve spelled that right.

But you’ll note–there is art on all the walls and the ceiling, highly detailed and demanding art.

It’s demanding on several levels, not the least of which is the amount of erudition expected of anybody looking at it–the knowledge of Christian and old Testament stories, plus the knowledge of classical ones. 

But the other point is this:  although this is “representational”–well, it isn’t really. 

The forms are certainly recognizable as forms from the real world–women look like women, trees look like trees.

But they are not in fact figures of the real world.  They’re figures from scripture, myth and history that require the viewer to know a great deal in order to understand them, and they’re presented in a way that no such figures could look in the real world. 

Okay, I’m sorry.  I really am blithering here.  I really am tired.

Painting like this was meant to present an ideal of humanity for the viewer to aspire to, as well as presenting stories from the viewer’s history and religion (also meant to inspire him (or her) or to serve as cautionary tales).

And it was High Art in its time as well as hours–it was recognized as the best of what was possible, even if no overblown mythology of The Artist existed.

(And, as a side note–The Sorrows of Young Werther was published in 1776, one of those coincidences that make the date easy to remember.  And it did, indeed, introduce the idea of the suffering genius into Western narrative.  It’s also considered the forerunner of and the intellectual foundations of all forms of the Romantic movement, even though the Romantic movement proper didn’t get underway for another fifty years.)

Anyway,  peasants then as now had access to a wide variety of popular art forms, but they also had access to high art.

And not just access.  Going to the town hall to do business meant being surrounded, on the walls and celing and often also the floors, by the very highest forms of contemporary art, to get your divorce or sell your property or celebrate your marriage in the presence of da Vinci or Michaelangelo or Raphael.

If anything, most of us have less access to such art now than we would have had then. The art in question from the period of mostly safely sequestered in musems, which most people never see.

And the contemporary version of high art is also highly museum-oriented.  Even what private collections exist exist as private museums.  Some rich guy will start collecting and have  a gallery built at his home.   He won’t go to sleep with a ceiling painted by Chris Orfili or eat his breakfast surrounded by the latest installation of dead sharks and saran wrap.

And maybe just as well.

Although, could I please say something about that “dung Madonna?”

There was a lot that religious people might legitimately find offensive about that piece, but the dung shouldn’t have been one of them.

The elephant dung on the painting was the use of an African painting technique widely used across the continent in native folk art.  There are long of Madonnas out there painted with elephant dung. 

If you’re going to get mad at Chris Orfili, get mad at the pornographic collage that made up the painting’s background.  Photographs of gaping vaginas seem to me to be more worth complaining about than a folk art technique African churches have no problem with most of the time.

Bleh.  I’m really a mess here.  And I don’t know if I spelled Orfili’s name right.

Probably not.

But when I say we don’t live with painting any more, I was specifically talking about the high art tradition–and today’s high art tradition in painting isn’t worth living with, most of the time.

The folk arts are with us always, but that’s not what I was getting at.

I’m going to go have some serious caffeine.

Written by janeh

August 29th, 2010 at 5:24 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Mathematics of Art

with 5 comments

Well, not exactly.

The book I’m working my way through may be a slog, but it’s in the same general area as the books I’ve been reading most of the summer, and all of those book center around painting.

Don’t ask me why.  I’ve always liked looking at certain kinds of painting, and at Vassar I took one of those introduction to art history courses that lasts a year and makes you look at forty million slides and identify them.

For whatever reason, I never could quite get interesting in painting the way I was interesting in fiction and poetry.  And it’s not entirely because of the narrative aspects of writing, either. 

Medieval painting is a narrative form.  Its purpose is nearly always to tell a story, and specifically to tell a Christian story.  The elaborate formalism of Byzantine icons–which are still being painted, today, the way they were in the twelfth century; there are actually training schools for people wanting to be icon painters that teach them to do this–

Anyway, that formalism is all in aid of story, of making sure that you get the Christian story right.   The icon of a saint will include (around the central figure of the head) symbols of the saint’s life and the aspects of Christian worship with which he was most identified.

But narrative or no narrative, painting just didn’t get my attention the way writing did.   Maybe that was just a reflection of the fact that I can write (at least a little), but I can’t paint worth a damn.  I was an adult when I learned to color consistently within lines, and once, in a high school sophomore year biology class, a nun name Sister Jacob let me use the outline of a frog body to draw the internal organs in, because MY frog body was…a tree.

Okay, I have no talent at that sort of thing.

I’m also aware that I don’t so much have taste in painting as a mishmash of enthusiams that aren’t really anchored to any standard, even an individual, personal one.

I’ve posted links to some of the paintings I love on this blog.  They tend to run to the Renaissance with an emphasis in hyperrealism and lots of symbolic bits and pieces, as if I were looking for the visual equivalent of crossword puzzles.

And painting has, pretty much, fallen out of favor in the world today.  The people of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance lived with their art.  It was on the walls of their churches and their public buildings and their homes, often in such profusion it would give any modern person a headache. 

Art was not “Art,” but a natural part of life.  There were no museums, not only because there was no use for them–the stuff was everywhere–but because it wouldn’t occur to anybody to think of art as anything special and set-aside. 

The fourteenth century Sienese and the fifteenth century Florentines weren’t interested in bringing culture to the masses, or even to each other.  They bought painting the way they bought furniture–in fact, exactly the way they bought furniture.  If you wanted a chair, you went to a chairmaker. If you wanted a painting, you went to an artist’s workshop.  The master painter would do the central figure, his workers would do the rest, and the whole thing would have the emotional and intellectual force of any other kind of trade.

You first start to get artists with a capital A in the Renaissance, and then you only get them in very individual instances–and, possibly, simply because Michaelangelo was both a great artist and something of a nutcase. 

That’s the beginning, though, of thinking of artists as something special with special emotions and qualities, different from people than you and me. 

But you don’t get that full blown, and you don’t get the idea of Art as something separate and distinct, something bigger and greater than the rest of us, until the Romantic movement.  And now we’re talking the nineteenth century.

In a way, you only get the idea of art as A after painters start doing less well at painting.  There are isolated pockets of movements that produce really beautiful things–the Impressionists, for instance–but about the same time you get the idea of Art as something that belongs in a museum and the artists as the exalted connection to the True Meaning of the Universe, you also get all not only the different kinds of abstractions but “found art” and what’s his name’s urinal. 

And, at the same time, you get the idea of Art–not only painting, but also music and poetry–as completely divorced from everything else that is.  We don’t live with art any more. We go to visit it in museums, where it has nothing like the same effect it had when it was sitting in somebody’s ballroom, or up on the walls of a church where people went to learn the particulars of their religion.

We also have C.P. Snow’s “two cultures,” so that there are the Sciences and mathematics over here, and the arts over there, and the two things are thought to be entirely opposed to each other.  We think that one kind of mind can’t do both.

And yet sitting over on the loveseat in the living room right under this book I’m slogging through is another book, a very small thin book, called On Painting, by Leon Battista Alberti.

Alberti was a Renaissance artist and a writer on the arts.  He is often credited with having invented the profession of architect.  Before Alberti, there were builders, period.  The idea of somebody whose job was to design the building and give the designs to workmen to execute was alien to the Middle Ages.

Which may explain how we ended up with flying buttresses.

But Alberti’s little book on painting in dotted with…geometrical diagrams. 

Not only does Alberti not think of art as entirely separate from, and different than, the sciences–he thinks of it as largely a form of applied mathematics. 

And maybe Renaissance men were Renaissance men not because there was less to know then, or something, but because they expected all branches of knowledge to be connected at a very fundamental level, and went looking for that, instead of for signs that those other people there were space aliens.

Okay.  And it’s only Saturday.

I’m usually not this incoherent until Sunday.

Written by janeh

August 28th, 2010 at 7:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Ahem, Part 2

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It’s part 2 because I’m prettysure there’s an Ahem back there somewhere.  But I don’t want to look, so here we are.

Let me frame this a bit. I’m in the middle of reading a book called Painting in Late Medieval and Fenaissance Siena, by Diana Norman.

It is not a good book–if, by good, you mean interesting to read, or well written, or any of that kind of thing.  Norman drones on giving the paragraphed equivalent of lists, while reporting on late Medieval Italy as if it were a remote jungle whose culture none of her readers would ever have heard of.

Periodically, we get statements about how most art in Italy of this time would have been religious in nature–and every time we do, I want to say, “well, yes, and the sun rises in the East, too, and there is grass.”

What keeps me going withthis thing–aside from my already noted inability to not finish things–is that the plates are truly marvelous and the book itself is of a sane size and shape to carry around with me.  When Norman’s writing and cultural tone deafness get to me, I can just look at the pictures.

Yesterday, however, I had what I thought might be an interesting alternative, because so many of you were going on and on about “The Cold Equations.” 

I started out looking for this thing on the Internet, but Amazon listed not a single book that was available in print and from Amazon itself that reprinted it.  There was the usual third party seller stuff, but I’ve found over the years that shipping and delivery dates on those are at best uncertain.

So I got in the car and went off to Barnes and Noble.  I spent about an hour there, going through every science fiction collection they had.  I found out that way too many people seem to want to read vampire erotica.  I went through at least a dozen books promising to give me ‘the best science fiction” ever.  I did not find this story.

If any of you know where I could get this thing, I’d appreciate it.  It has to be better than listening to Norman report one more time on how the altarpiece advanced the religious interests of its church.

But the time at Barnes and Noble did not go to waste, because after I knew I wasn’t going to find this thing, I sat down on a bench and read through a bunch of magazines.

Okay, skimmed them.

But the skimming bore fruit.  I came across an issue of the National Review that included a short sidebar article on the efforts of a man–can’t remember his name, a conservative/libertarian radio guy, I think–who wants to open a gay bar, to be called Outfidels, directly across the street from the proposed “ground zero mosque.”

Outfidels would be deliberately targetted at gay Muslim men.  It would include a room that served no alcohol, for instance.  It would also hold “fatwa Tuesdays,” when the first 72 virgins to walk through the door would get the night for free.

And yes, okay, it’s obviously offensive, and obviously meant to be so, but…

I think it may be the right approach.  I’m pretty sure there are Constitutional reasons why we cannot forbid any religion building a church/synagogue/mosque/temple, and there are court cases about zoning boards that try to do that nearly every month. 

Most of the houses of worship being rejected by zoning boards are Christian churches–which makes sense, since Christian churches make up the vast majority of houses of worship in the country–but when those Church groups challenge those zoning decisions, freedom of religion is usually the grounds for the challenge.

But saying that I think there are Constitutional reasons why the mosque must be allowed to go up is not the same thing as saying that I think all criticism of the placement is unwarranted.  I think that the people who suspect that the point of this building is a victory lap–look! we won on 9/11!–have a point.

So the requirement is to negate the point.  And a gay bar of any kind–never mind one aimed at gay Muslim men–right across the street, would be a very telling way to do that.

And the guy seems to be serious, and says he has backers.

So I just hope he doesn’t have any trouble with the zoning board.

Written by janeh

August 27th, 2010 at 4:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized


with 7 comments

I was looking at Mike Fisher’s comment this morning, and thinking that it fit in so well with what I’ve been messing with lately, I ought to use it.

So I will, but it’s going to have to be in layers.

The first layer is in the obvious and the straightforward.

My memories are, obviously, different in a lot of ways than Mike’s, but in some ways less different than you’d think.

First, that picture of Vassar was in the Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia, which were the only books in our house available to me except for the Little Golden Books my Aunt Mary sometimes sent me.

There were other books, in my father’s “den,” behind the hinged glass doors of ancient bookcases in the classic sense of the word, but they weren’t the kind of thing I was likely to get at, or be interested in getting at, at that stage.

My father was one of those people who knew the blood type of every soldier who fought at Gettysburg, and the books were all Civil War histories, incredibly academic and professional biographies of Civil War figures, and books on Civil War military tactics.

My mother didn’t read.  At all.  In fact, she hated it when other people read, including my father.  Later, when I started reading everything in sight, she really hated it when I read. 

I did know about Vassar and Yale and Harvard, because grow up in Fairfield County and you will.  Even the kids whose parents seemed to spend all their time drinking beer knew that.

In my case, my mother had grown up in and around New Haven, and we went to New Haven to visit her side of the family, so Yale was in my face all the time.

But nobody mentored me or told me what to read.  The one person in the family who really liked to read (my father) wasn’t home much, and my mother and my brother were sort of anti-help. 

I had a crossed eye and my mother took me to a doctor in New Haven to deal with it–eventually, I had surgery–and as a treat she would take me to the old Malley’s department store and let me pick out anything I wanted.

From the first, I infuriated her by bypassing the dolls and going for the children’s books.  I can even remember the very first one I got.  It was Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew number 25:  The Ghost of Blackwood Hall.

After that, I just took out everything I could find for the library.  At some point, somebody must have told the librarian it was okay for me to use the adult section, because by the time I was in third grade or so I was reading my way through this little room that had only classic novels in it:  Dickens, Dostoyevski, Austen, Brontes of both varieties. 

My father owned a property in the center of town with a barn on it, and he rented the barn to this guy who was a book distributor for paperbacks on their way to train stations and drug stores.  The guy would give my father big boxes of books that weren’t moving, so after a while I read some of those.

There were a lot of murder mysteries.  That was good.  There was some stuff that blew the top off my mother’s head.  Understanding Human Sexual Response was one of those.  She took that away from me, so I complained to my father when he came home.

He got the book, brought it back to me, and said to her–in front of me–“You never take away books.”

Eventually, one of the books in those boxes was Atlas Shrugged.  It was Atlas Shrugged that told me there was such a thing as philosophy in the world, and then once I got started, I couldn’t stop.

But I had no more mentoring than Mike did (well, unless you count Ayn Rand), and since my father was nearly never home, the atmosphere around our place about books was relentlessly negative most of the time I was growing up.  I tended to respond to this by hiding in my room.

When we went to visit my mother’s people, I would lie down on the floor of the back seat of my father’s car to get away from the cousins and read until I froze, which wasn’t difficult in February.

 Conversation at home tended to run with what was wrong with me.  When my father was home for dinner, he and my mother ate separately.   So there was no conversation about political affairs or books.

I found all of that kind of thing–the possibility of that kind of thing–in my reading.  And when I got older and was allowed to eat with the adults, we managed some of it then, although it always annoyed my mother.

Of course, my grandmother, my father’s mother, was tell me I had to go to college by the time I was three.  So there was that.

I’ve always said, on this blog and elsewhere, that what goes on in a family makes an enormous difference.  It’s what always bothers me about talk of “leveling the playing field” in education.  I’m all for spending tons of money to ensure good teachers and first rate facilities for everybody, but in the end the parents are going to matter.

And some parents are a bigger hindrance to their children than any school is going to be able to help.

But–and this but is important–although growing up in the place I did probably increases your chances of going on to a “good” college and getting an education, it doesn’t guarantee it. 

A larger percentage of the kids in Fairfield County may go on to college, and a larger percentage of those may go on to a name college, but most of them don’t make that second category and only about half of them made that first.

If the parents are wealthy enough, they can always force the kid into some college somewhere.  When I was growing up, we all knew which colleges those were, “junior colleges” meant for girls who just wanted to go to parties four-year places with no entry requirements to speak of but lots of shiny new graduation gift cars in the parking lots.

Directionlessness–is that a word?–occurs across the classes. 

What I deal with with my kids, though, is not directionlessness. 

Well, there may be some of it, but it’s not likely.

When all I’ve got to contend with is a kid who wants something but thinks there’s  no way to get it–well, there I can help.  I know where the financial aid is, I know what recruiters want, I’ve got a good idea of what needs to happen in interviews, I know the internship programs. 

If all that’s missing is the knowledge that something they want is possible and a few pointers on how to go after it–hell, with that, we can do a whole lot.

What bothers me about the kids who scare me is something much worse, and something I don’t understand how to reach.

And, you’ve got to remember, the kids who make it into my program is as good as it gets. Back home, there are hundreds more kids who don’t go into a program, who don’t do much of anything.  If they’re girls, they have a baby and go on welfare for the five years it’s allowed in this state.  Then the state places them in “jobs” that are often make-work because the kids won’t work up the energy to be competent as a convenience store clerk.

And it does feel like energy is what is lacking. 

But one of the things they can do to get themselves out of this mess they’re in is to come into a program like mine–so I’ve got a fair number of kids who, in order to go on receiving benefits, have to be in school.

So they’re in school.  They don’t do the work.  They come to class only sometimes.  They resent the whole thing like hell and in the end, they rely on passive resistance.

If you ask them to get their essay in, they tell you yes, yes, it’s on its way, and then they just don’t do anything.

What keeps hammering at me, lately, is that I’m not sure it is possibly to run a program like mine successfully if the kids in it are forced to be there.  If they don’t want to be there.  If they resent having to be there. 

I’m not sure it’s possible to make this work by sheer force of will.

And, trust me, I have a significant sheer force of will.  And I do use it.

The other thing I’m not sure of is that there’s a one-to-one relationship between bad experiences and this particular attitude.  Some of the best kids I’ve got have come through hell and back again, seen their entire families slaughtered in wars and revolutions, grown up in totalitarian countries–and, wham, give them the chance and they’re off.

There was a point when I thought there must be something in the water in the Ivory Coast, because every kid I got from there was nearly crazy-ambitious, and this in spite of the fact that their families had lost everything and come to the US by raft, as far as I could figure out.  One of those kids is now at Mount Holyoke and another is at Cornell.

But there is one thing I’ve settled on–we’ve really got to stop that thing where we allow inner city schools to give dumbed-down versions of everything to most of their students. 

If you’ve got a bunch of kids who think that everything comes down to fate, never letting them know that there’s an actual reason why the kids from across town are doing better than they are–that there’s real work that those kids are doing but you’re not–is not going to help.

I think I may have put that badly.

Ack.  Yesterday, I was putting my stuff together to get ready for the fall, and maybe I’m just in a bad mood.

Written by janeh

August 25th, 2010 at 8:07 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Undiminished Expectations

with 4 comments

So, I’ve been sitting around thinking about the whole diminished expectations thing, and this is what I’ve come up with.

I think the reason it doesn’t resonate for me is that I don’t really have any use for it.

I started out with a set of things I wanted to accomplish, and I have by and large accomplished them.

Some of those things were worthwhile goals and some of them were trivial, but if I’d written a list out when I was twelve, I would by now have pretty much crossed off the whole thing.

I was about three when I saw a picture of girls parking bikes outside of the library at Vassar and decided I wanted to go there–and I did.

I wouldn’t mind being on the NYT best seller list one of these days, but that was never the point.

I wanted to be able to write what I wanted to write the way I wanted to write it and have it published by a major house, and I’ve done that now for years.  Thank you–on the write what I wanted to write the way I wanted to write it front–St. Martin’s.

I had one book I plotted from the time I was in junior high and finally managed to write with Somebody Else’s Music, and I think I did it right and I think it’s probably the best I’ve ever done.

I even seem to have turned into something of a “name.”  I wouldn’t have said that a year ago, but I’ve been asked to speak at various places half a dozen times this year, and every one of them made the approach by starting, “we ask one name writer a year, and this year we thought we’d ask you.”

I find this very odd, but rather a kick. 

I wanted to live in Europe and I have.  I wanted to marry and have children and I have. 

I wanted to jump out of an airplane and I’ve done that, too.   LONG story.

But I guess what I’m trying to say is that, in spite of the fact that we’ve been hit by some doozies here over the years, on balance I don’t think I have much to complain about. 

I got  lucky in more ways than I can count–lucky in Bill, lucky in my father, lucky in actually having the ability to do what I fell in love with when I was six. 

I’d change one thing if I had the chance–I’d have Bill live longer.  A lot longer.  Maybe longer than me.

But I’m not looking at a situation where I have to scale back my dreams because there’s no time left.

What I look at instead is the possibility that there might be quite a bit of time left.  My father died at eighty-six.  My mother is ninety-two.  The genetics are there that, if I’m careful, could take me a long way.

Of course, my brother died young.  So there are other genetics.

On the other hand, I don’t smoke.


I do think I’m trying to get a sense of what it looks like in a territory that hasn’t really been explored yet. 

But I like Miss Marple in more ways than one.

Written by janeh

August 23rd, 2010 at 9:49 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Thunder Only Happens When It’s Raining

with 3 comments

Or, you know, something.

Or maybe not.

I’ve got to say that the range of comments interested me yesterday.

I’m not much interested in plastic surgery or in crones, to tell you the truth.  I’ve been in and out of academia long enough to have encountered the whole academic feminist crone thing, and the word always sounds to me not just like a term of “old woman,” but as a term for “really ugly old woman who doesn’t know how to buy wart remover at CVS.”

One of the interesting things about Marple is that she gives a whole new dimension to the idea of the “little old lady.”  She’s certainly little, and she’s certainly old, but she’s not halt and shaky, she’s got a good mind and she has…ah…interests.

Okay, in real life, if you have those interests, you tend to get arrested for interfering with a police investigation.  But you know what I mean.

As for the plastic surgery–I’m from the Connecticut Gold Coast.  We’ve got plenty of victims of plastic surgery out here.  It’s not as high a percentage as they have in LA, I’m sure, but high-level bankers and partners in Goldman, Sachs also feel they have something to lose if they don’t look young.  If they’re women, they may be right.  I have a cousin who will not let her hair go grey until after she retires, because she’s sure grey hair would compromise her at work.

And she’s an engineer.

But I do the two things you can do these days that are neither simple shift work–as Kenny Chesney put it–nor crazy about keeping you young.  It almost helps for writers of traditional mysteries to be little old ladies.

Or at least it helps with some kind of audiences.

So I do have some examples of how to be as I get older.  Unfortunately, none of them are personal.  I know/knew lots of older men whom I admired (or admire, if they’re still with us).  The women around me were mostly cautionary tales of one sort or another.

Either that, or they rejected some part of what I consider important.

So, I’ve got Marple–and Gertrude Stein is good, I think.  She was vigorous to the end.  She had a good mind and good friends and work. 

Goldman, though–really no.  A few years ago, I read her autobiography, both volumes, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so appalled in my life.  The woman was a sociopath on more levels than one.  And if there’s one thing I hope I’ve learned before I get to be sixty, it’s that it’s really not morally okay to assassinate people for the cause. 

And that, if your assassination doesn’t take, it’s really not oppression when they put you in jail for several years for attempted murder.

Okay, that was her lover, Alexander what’s his name, but it was her defense of him that bothered me. 

P.D. James is a good example, I think.  She’s got to be eighty, put out a very good novel ( The Private Patient) just a little while ago, seems to have people around her.

Hell, I thought she was a role model all the way along.  She didn’t have her first novel published until she was forty and didn’t have her first best seller until she was sixty. 

As for diminished expectations–eh.  I don’t think I want my expectations to diminish so much as I want them to change.  I don’t know if that makes very much sense. 

In a way, it goes back to the plastic surgery.  The problem with that, for me, is the spectacle of women who want to chase boys and orgasms well past the time when chasing either makes any sense. 

There isn’t anything wrong with orgasms, of course, and really good looking young men are always fun no matter what age you’re ate–but these days I want to feed them, not go to bed with them, and both the boys and the orgasms seem to me to be largely peripheral to the central issues of my life.

And that is, I think, the way it should be.  For at least some of the time between fifteen and fifty, sex is the most important thing in our lives because, biologically, it’s the most important thing in our lives.  The biological imperative is there to make sure the species carries on.

But I’ve had my last child, and I wouldn’t opt for one of those implant things if you paid me.  Sex is nice, on occassion, but it’s definitely a side issue.  There are other things to do in the world.

And I’ve got some idea of what those things are.

I’d like to start another series–not to give up Gregor, but to do another one.  It’s been over twenty years since I wrote anything else, at least in book length, but Cavanaugh Street.

I’d like to have the guts to actually learn to play the harpsichord, instead of just sitting around being afraid to try to learn to play the harpsichord, since I’m not exactly talented musically. 

I’d like to figure out how I feel about teaching.  Or, specifically, the kind of teaching I’ve been doing in the program I sometimes talk about here.

When I went into it–and it’s been over ten years now–I thought I knew what was going on in the populations my program serves.  I thought the people in those populations were largely without opportunities (true), that they’d gone to schools where the teachers were bad (true) and the curricula limited (true).

I thought it was just a matter of presenting them with a good teacher with first-class credentials and they’d get right down to it, because the only issue was giving them a chance.

It’s been a decade and I do know, now, that that last thing is not true. 

And some of what I’m seeing is definitely a matter of people not being given opportunities, or, worse, being abused and neglected as children.  I’ve had students who were abandoned in the street and students who were turned out at the age of eleven by crack-addicted mothers.  I know Fagin and Sikes were not characters Charles Dickens just made up.

But there’s something else going on here, and that I don’t entirely understand.  And I have a feeling that until we do understand it, and until we report it honestly and then face it, we’re never really going to improve the possibilities for kids who are born into this sort of thing.

And the answer may be that we can’t improve the possibilities, no matter what we do, except for the isolated kid here and there. 

That’s a long and philosophical discussion that I should take on sometime, except that I haven’t really straightened out what I think of it.  So one of the things I would like to do, getting older, is to figure all that out.

But I don’t want to do it on Barsoom.

I’m not much interested in cocktail parties, either, but I don’t see what point the characteries in fantasy or the other-world kind of science fiction would have for me, in this particular case.

I’m not going to live in Barsoom (on Barsoom?  I don’t actually know what that is) any more than I’m going to go to cocktail parties.

Do people still give them?

I’m going to go put on some Gustav Leonhardt.

Written by janeh

August 22nd, 2010 at 7:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Taking the Week End

with 6 comments

How do you spell that, anyway–weekend?  week-end?  week end?  I have no idea.

Anyway, it’s Saturday, and I’m taking the week-end, meaning doing nothing serious–not even thinking about anything serious–until Monday.  Every once in a while, I have to do that, or I go crazy. 

Well, okay.  I will still think about my mother and call the nursing home twice a day, just to make sure.  Nobody calls me when anything goes wrong.

But otherwise, what I’m going to do is to watch a whole bunch of David Suchet Hercule Poirot DVDs and eat leftovers, so that I don’t even have to cook.

I wonder what it is about Miss Marple, though, that makes it so much harder to cast her than it is–or at least than it has been–to cast Poirot.

Albert Finney did a marvelous Poirot, and so does David Suchet. 

But I think Joan Hickson is the only Miss Marple who really fits the character as written in the books.  Margaret Rutherford was, of course, not even an attempt to be faithful.  But there have been other attempts–Angela Lansberry and Helen Hayes in the past, and now these two (whose names I can’t remember) for the A&E Masterpiece Mystery things.

Hickson died soon after A Carribean Mystery, which was definitely too bad–but she had everything Marple gave Christie.  And I’d like to be still working at eight-nine or whatever it was she was.  If you’re going to live a long time, that’s the way to do it.

Geraldine McEwan–there, I found one–was apparently chosen to “evolve the character” and give her a more modern feel.  I don’t want and evolved and modern Miss Marple.  I like Miss Marple.

And as for Julia McKenzie, she’s so bright eyed and bushy tailed and chipper–and she looks like she wears so much make-up–that I go nuts every time I try to pay attention to those.

Like I said, I wonder why it’s so hard for production companies to find the right kind of actress.  Maybe actresses are naturally more “highly colored” that Miss Marple should be.  Maybe production companies just don’t believe that somebody who is like Miss Marple–and Hickson really was–will hold an audience’s attention.

But Hickson held it very well.  And I think I own most of the full length ones of those.

I also wonder if I haven’t started doing what I did as a child, and what I think I may have done throughout my life–if I haven’t started looking for a literary model for the next stage.

I don’t think I ever gave much thought to what I would be like as an old woman.  And I’ll admit that I’m not one yet.

But that kind of thing is coming, if I’m lucky. And I’d very much like to know what it looks like.

I tried to explain this to Bill once before he died.  There are forms of fiction that exist to tell us what something looks like–a period in history, a particular way of  communal life, a time of life.

A Moveable Feast is supposed to be a memoir.  What it really is is a wonderful picture of a certain population of Paris in the 1920s. so wonderful that it’s possible to just live there while you’re reading the thing.

And I know, for those of you for whom story is everything, that some people find this annoying–but it’s one of those things fiction is able to do, and I do sometimes go to books to find it.

So I wonder if I’m not going to book now to figure out how to be in the world when I pass whatever line  it is that will start making me lie about my age to appear younger.

When, when I was younger, I lied about it all the time, to appear older.

Today, though, I think I’ll just stick to Poirot.

And point out that I think what Cheryl went through sounds more like an alien invasion than a thunderstorm.

Written by janeh

August 21st, 2010 at 8:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

How Do YOU Pronounce “Frappe?”

with 6 comments

I ask, because if you’re from McDonald’s, you pronounce it “frap-pay.”

But I’m from New England, it’s pronounced “frap” and it’s basically a milkshake.

I bring this up because I picked up a McD’s frappe on the way in to teach tonight.  Now I’m sitting here watching it get dark, not because it’s late but because there’s a thunderstorm coming, and that’s never good news.

But, this is the last of the summer classes.  Real term starts in a couple of weeks, and I haven’t quit yet.  The simple fact is that my life out here is just too boring without somewhere to go and something to complain about.

Students are always good to complain about, because they almost always deserve it.

That said, somebody asked a while back why I was talking about giving presentations in international settings.  My place has recently launched a brand new course, required for freshmen, the stated purpose of which is teach students how to really listen (and therefore understand what they’re hearing), really read (and therefore understand what they’re reading), and “communicate effectively” on a number of other levels.

And it’s a great idea.  And if this template works, they should copyright it and sell it, because they’ll make a mint.  This is, after all, the holy grail of teaching in the 21st century.

My guess is that it’s going to meet with “uneven” success, and that for two reasons.

For one thing, we don’t really know how to teach that stuff, which is mostly a matter of getting the kid to actually pay attention.  And here’s nothing new here in terms of an understanding of attention spans or the way the brain works.  There are a lot of new exercises, and I’m willing to try–at this point, I’m willing to do nearly anything if it will only help–but I have my doubts.

The other thing, of course, is that like all new programs here, the approach is to write a centralized curriculum that everybody has to follow.  I understand the rationale behind something like that, but in my experience it works out very badly in practice.  For one thing, it tends to make teachers very off-balance–since you can’t react with the instincts you’ve developed, you come off as unsure of what you’re doing, and that’s the death of a class.  The first issue in any class is the authority of the teacher.  If you lose it, nothing ever gets done.

But there’s no reason why I should go with the doom and gloom.  The week-end is almost here.  So…

Try out


I want the t-shirt that says “Toyota–Once You Drive One, You’ll Never Stop.”  There are lots of others. 

They’re not perfect.  There’s one that seems to indicate they’ve fallen in with the “the moon landing was faked” people, but most of it is a very good time.

I also like “Sometimes, a journey that starts with a single step ends very badly.”

And on Arts and Letters Daily today, there’s some news about a new book just published in China in Chinese (with links to an online pirated translation), that makes it pretty clear that the official take of the Chinese government is that the whole global warming thing is a plot invented by Western government to keep emerging nations from expanding and taking over the world economy.

And that’s been my day, and in another few minutes, I have students.

Written by janeh

August 19th, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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