Monday, February 20, 2017

The letdown in "The Dream" by Winston Churchill

When I chose “The Dream” for Deal Me In 2017, I assumed from the title that Winston Churchill would be discussing some vision of the future. Instead, he describes an incident in November 1947, where he was painting in a cottage and imagined a visit from his dead father.

They have a conversation. Much of it is Winston filling his father in on some of the developments in politics and world affairs since the late 1800s. And war - with more said of the Boer War than either World War I or II, until Churchill offers a brief, blunt assessment of the costs of both wars towards the end of “The Dream.”

What does this piece say of Churchill? In some ways, it comes across as impersonal. The conversation might as well not take place between a father and son; the father is a prop. At various points Churchill seems to elbow his readers in the ribs or shooting them a meaningful glance, intending that they note his opinions on various political figures and subjects.

But there are also moments where the father-son connection (or the absence of one) comes into focus. The distance between them, the fact that his father may not have thought much of him. And at the end, Churchill’s disappointment in himself and what he’s perhaps failed to achieve or live up to. Turbulent personal feelings emerge now and then, sometimes shadowing the casual, more amiable parts of the conversation. Mostly, they’re held in restraint.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Week in Seven Words #330

clarification
What at first sounds like the wind crying resolves into choir music broadcast on a radio in a waiting room down the hall.

hamming
She makes short videos of evil twins leaping out of mirrors and people finding an intruder in the closet as they tour their new home. I'm cast in several roles. My favorite is the one where I get stabbed with a plastic pineapple and deliver a monologue for the ages.

meaty
All of the commuters packed, flesh to flesh, turn the subway car into a sausage link.

median
He continues to be fanatic about how normal he is. His way is the one true way of normality.

reactiveness
Waiting for the elevator, stone-faced as a Buckingham Palace guard, while a neighbor and her child scream at each other a few feet away.

spud
Pleasure from a potato's crinkly gold skin.

sway
In her marriage, she's a courtier. Dressed in elegant fabrics that pool on the floor as she bows and scrapes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Agnes Grey - Revenge of the Governess!

I didn't know anything about Anne Bronte before reading Agnes Grey, except that she's the overlooked Bronte sister. But by the end of the book I figured she'd worked as a governess and that it had not gone well. This book might have given her a little power. On paper, she could enjoy some mastery - trotting them out, all the wealthy vulgar fools who spoil their children and mistreat their governess (a governess who, in the book at least, earns a happy ending to make up for all the unappreciated labor and neglect).

Agnes is a clergyman's younger daughter, and when her family falls into financial straits, she offers to work as a governess. Her older sister and parents doubt her and try to discourage her. She's the baby of the family and has led a sheltered life. She romanticizes the job, imagining that it involves a lot of gentle teaching and chiding and comforting.

In the first family she works for, she gets a bunch of unmanageable brats dumped on her. The parents offer her no support and blame her for the children's faults, so she's helpless in dealing with them. The second family that hires her gives her teenaged daughters to work with. There's little she can do to teach them. Outside the schoolroom, they sometimes spend time with her when they're out of other options. Otherwise, they ignore her. Neglect, loneliness, invisibility - Bronte writes these feelings confidently. The only upside to Agnes being ignored is that she enjoys a few opportunities to spend time with a local curate. She falls in love with him, and he's actually a decent man. (No Heathcliff here.)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Week in Seven Words #329

apiary
I don't know about the beekeeping on the premises until suddenly there are clouds of them around box hives on each side of the path. The part of my brain that isn't screaming reminds me that conserving bees is important, so isn't this wonderful? So wonderful.

cames
Petals lit up like stained glass in the low-slanting afternoon light.

ossicones
A man and child dressed as giraffes are reading by a pond. They could be characters from the picture book spread out between them.

parried
The ambulance circles through the cemetery's front drive, to where an old woman sits with her head in her hands on a bench. The EMTs kneel beside her for awhile. Eventually, she waves them off and leaves under her own power.

picking
On a search for a subway platform that isn't blocked by construction, I walk through a part of the city new to me. The buildings are indistinct in afternoon haze. A man on a stoop toys with a guitar.

rooted
Leaves and blossoms draped over weathered stone. Small American flags on a bright yellow lawn.

vexation
He's at my elbow, telling me I'm taking photos of the wrong things. "What's so interesting about that? Take a picture of this! See?"

Friday, February 10, 2017

Who are you? (Anyone) - For My Brothers and Sisters in the Failure Business

Seymour Krim's essay, "For My Brothers and Sisters in the Failure Business," was a Deal Me In read, a gripping one that explores a way of being I recognize.

I like the essay's intensity, its frankness and the way Krim gives it a thick texture. It feels like dough to knead and pound on.
Our secret is that we still have an epic longing to be more than what we are, to multiply ourselves, to integrate all the identities and action-fantasies we have experienced, above all to keep experimenting with our lives…
The ‘failure business’ he writes about is the life of imagining yourself as different personae and trying to act them all out, rather than dedicating yourself to any one thing. The failure he describes comes from trying to be too many things, in a society (specifically, the US) that seems to make that possible and offer endless choices (though for many people, this isn't the case, and the US he describes here is largely a dream itself).
When do you stop fantasizing an endless you and try to make it with what you’ve got?
It becomes addictive. It leads anywhere and nowhere. I like that he explores how self-defeating it can be, but at the same time not without its rewards. Sometimes it even pays off for people in practical terms. But the risks are steep. What happens when you realize you have little to show for the passing years? (Though you can also ask what "little to show" means. People can change profoundly and enrich themselves in ways that aren't obvious if you don't know them intimately.)
But if you are a proud, searching ‘failure’ in this society… then it is smart and honorable to know what you attempted and why you are now vulnerable to the body blows of those who once saw you robed in the glow of your vision and now only see an unmade bed and a few unwashed cups on the bare wooden table of a gray day.
I like how this essay is a wry celebration and a lament. Krim writes with bitterness, but not without passion. He embraces disillusionment without sounding broken.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Week in Seven Words #328

chainsaws
I hear the anger behind their words more than the words themselves. It's a smug, desperate, vindictive anger that rips through their speech.

clustering
Men in black coats gather at a bus shelter by an abandoned lot. Rain dribbles off their hats.

ferociously
Rounds of Monopoly Deal, with groans, squeals, and eyes narrowed over fanned cards.

furtively
Tables pushed together in a U-formation soon bear a load of beer, soda, and nachos with melted cheese. Between the chairs, a cockroach creeps, tasting possibilities.

innocently
When he finds out I'm Jewish, he asks why people hate Jews. The Jews are in danger, he says. He's a third grader who has never, to his knowledge, met a Jew before.

tide
Returning from a weekend away to an ocean of laundry.

transcendently
As an adult, she finds coloring books relaxing. Some of the pages she's working on show mythic creatures. Using colored pencils, she makes a phoenix shimmer with fire.