Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Day

Dear Jean Rhys,

I picked up your book at the library the other day. I was looking for a book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, but found that I needed to march to the children's section for Le Petit Prince. I did not pick up a book by Salmon Rushdie that I have been wanting to read. Too long. But when the corner of my eye caught sight of your name it turned my head and ordered my steps to the left, "Ah," I said, "I can read Jean Rhys in a single bite."

Surely, I should have read something by you before, but I have not. Do not feel slighted, alone, or offended. I read my first Vonnegut last week. I read my first Joyce this year. I am as old as your descriptions in Close Season for the Old? and I am still just scratching the surface of literature. Sure, it's my own fault. I will never catch up.

I loved My Day and was shocked to find a note at the back saying that you had published only 750 hardcover copies, 26 specially bound copies signed by the author, you. If that is true and there has not been a publishing correction of that decision, the Knoxville Library may never get this book back! It may become, it may already be, lost in the depths of the brd family library somewhere hidden from the road in Loudon County.

When I was young we would go to skating parties where Looby Lou, Looby Li was a feature. In an unsteady circle, youth, supported by eight wheels would skitter around to the music of a children's ditty. Looby Li on a Saturday night. No one ever called a halt to our fun, probably because the presence of wheels limited the potential of our antics. Perhaps your gang from Invitation to the Dance should have worn skates.

Now that I am old, yes, that I am old, I understand your thoughts, and the character of a good day. I am not alone, as you describe yourself, and so I am not as free. Just last night as I left work full of thoughts about a difficult rewrite for a story about research for a research magazine, (how hard could that be?), I thought, "Gee, it would be good if I could just be alone this evening, free to write, instead of waiting for family and family and family to come from three points of the compass." Then I thought of my husband and how I would be so alone without him and how grateful I am that he is my constant companion.

My husband talks alot. Two nights ago, I fell into bed beside him. I sleep well and could have drifted off quickly. But my husband was in a talking, almost a chattering mood. He was telling me about when he was young. He had asked a coach, "What can I do to run faster." My husband had been on a team. He wanted to do better. The coach pulled upon his bravado resources and said, "Run. If you want to run faster, run," and paced away. So, forty years later, my husband lies in bed, feeling hurt that a crotchety coach didn't have time to look a young man in the eyes and say, "What are your goals? How often are you sprinting? Run for me, let me see your gait."

Is that what old age is about, I wonder, pulling ourselves into a cave at the back of our minds where we can retire and think about 18 or 36 and what "they" said, what "we" said, or how we should have done it? Do we need a dog to guard us while we are in that cave? Or do we need a dog to guard the cave so we don't go in?

A couple weeks ago, I sat with my father. He is like Mrs. Pearce, the woman you described who had been taken to the "Old Persons Home." My father is in his own home with my mother. They are glad to be in their own home. The rest of the family is trying to make accommodations. That day, the day I sat talking with my father, I had attached toilet support rails to the commode. With these supports my father can maintain a modicum of privacy and dignity. I asked Dad, "Would you like to move to Tennessee, to live with us?" "No," he said without hesitation as he stretched back in his special lounge chair with a motor and mechanism that lifts the cushion whenever he wishes to arise. "No, I am comfortable here."

That was that. I understand that. I think you would too.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Survey: What is the Condition of Racism in America?

The United States has elected a person of color as President of the United States.

Police in Cambridge are profiling to the extent that they enter the home of one of the most prominent black educators in the United States, Henry Louis Gates, and arrest him.

Cornel West and Carl Dix comment on this subject in the show Democracy Now.

What is your experience? Good, bad? Give examples.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Great Chicago Novel

Dear Julia Keller,

I just read your article about the Great Chicago Novel. I loved your thoughts. My friend and co-blogger, Ukie Villain, lives in your neck of the woods and he pointed the article out to me.

I particularly like your comments that address the time warp that happens in our minds when we try to choose which novel we think is the greatest of them all, for Chicago, for America (is that North or South America?), or for everywhere.

A couple years ago I started to ask people, when I found myself in a situation where I was groping for subject matter, "What, do you think, is the great American novel?" I then got a bit obsessed with the subject and began asking everyone, co-workers, waitresses, and family until my husband said, "Enough, already!" I did collect 'comment' responses, surreptitiously, for a while on my blog site:

At any rate, back to the point, I did find that people looked back. Twain and Melville and Steinbeck were mentioned far more frequently than, say, DeLillo or Morrison. Perhaps, we must look back. We are trying to find the novel that will stand the test of time, and so we look for something that has stood the test already. But, looking back isn't enough to satisfy that longing for the great novel of our own time period and locale: 2009, Chicago. And it seems you've identified a great one, in Elizabeth Berg's new novel Home Safe, capturing the spirit of the day and place. But isn't it curious, that the great ones, the novels that make us breathe deeply, the ones that make us need the novel form, circle back around to the great themes, such as "loss and change"?

If we looked for that theme, we would find it, over and over and over and over, in the novels that are great, no matter when, no matter where.

Thanks for the great review.

Betsy DeGeorge

P.S. What is it like to be the Cultural Critic for the Chicago Tribune?