More Austen Please

“Know your own happiness. Want for nothing but patience — or give it a more fascinating name: Call it hope.” ~Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility)

My son recently asked me, “Why do you take breaks from writing (work) to write more (for personal pleasure)?”

“Because I must and I love to.”

He looked strangely at me because the required realities of essays, papers (and such for school) etc. do not light him on fire. He is a great writer (he might disagree) but he doesn’t like to do so.

I remember (during the growing up years) dreading the 4-6 page plot level compositions (yawn) and (even recently in college) being overwhelmed by the challenges to compose lengthy papers which critique and analyze a few sentences. Overall, I love to write and have since I was a child.

Jane Austen has been an inspiration to me (and thousands of other female writers). She died on my birthdate and I have always felt a kind of kindred connection with her.  In more recent years, she has developed somewhat of a cult following to the degree that other writers compose novels in the Austen style. Not only do I enjoy her texts, I have watched probably every Austen film that has been created. The following are some of my favorites!

Emma

Sense and Sensibility

Pride and Prejudice

Becoming Jane

Bradbury’s Brainy Bites

Work is done for the day so time to ponder.  I was thinking about Ray Bradbury tonight.  He’s the author of two of my favorite texts: Fahrenheit 451 and Dandelion Wine.  He has penned so many inspiring words I have trouble choosing only some quotes (a few are taped to the shelf above my desk).  Long story shorter (I can never guarantee short), here’s a few of my faves:

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” ~Bradbury

“He glanced back at the wall. How like a mirror, too, her face. Impossible; for how many people did you know who reflected your own light to you? People were more often–he searched for a simile, found one in his work–torches, blazing away until they whiffed out. How rarely did other people’s faces take of you and throw back to you your own expression, your own innermost trembling thought?” ~ Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451)

“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.” ~ Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451)

“You’ll find out it’s little savors and little things that count more than big ones. A walk on a spring morning is better than an eighty-mile ride in a hopped-up car, you know why? Because it’s full of flavors, full of a lot of things growing. You’ve time to seek and find.”~Bradbury (Dandelion Wine)

“Are you happy?” she [Clarisse] said. “Am I what?” he [Montag] cried. But she was gone- running in the moonlight. Her front door shut gently.” ~ Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451)

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. “ ~ Bradbury

“If we listened to our intellect we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go in business because we’d be cynical: “It’s gonna go wrong.” Or “She’s going to hurt me.” Or,”I’ve had a couple of bad love affairs, so therefore . . .” Well, that’s nonsense. You’re going to miss life. You’ve got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down.” ~Bradbury
 
“You’re either in love with what you do, or you’re not in love.” ~Bradbury 
 

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” ~Bradbury

The Brownings

Okay, I know love letter fest is technically over.  HOWEVER, I could not resist posting two, short letters exchanged between one of the most romantic, literary couples  (Robert and Elizabeth Browning) ever  (in my book THE most romantic, literary couple).  Of course, Elizabeth wrote my favorite poetry collection, Sonnets from the Portuguese, for her husband Robert Browning and I believe them to be the most beautiful poems (especially numbers I, XIV, XX, and the best, XLIII).  So enjoy and keep that passion alive every day, not just on Valentine’s Day!!!!

To Elizabeth Barrett Browning:                                                       

…would I,  if I could,  supplant one of any of the affections that I know to have taken root in you – that great and solemn one, for instance.
I feel that if I could get myself remade,  as if turned to gold,
I WOULD not even then desire to become more than the mere setting to that diamond you must always wear.

The regard and esteem you now give me,  in this letter,  and which I press to my heart and bow my head upon,  is all I can take and all too embarrassing,  using all my gratitude.

- Robert Browning
(1812-1889)


To Robert Browning:

And now listen to me in turn.
You have touched me more profoundly than I thought even you could have touched me – my heart was full when you came here today.
Henceforward I am yours for everything.

- Elizabeth Barrett Browning
(1806-1861)

Can I get some cheese with my wine???

Bear with me.  I’m subjecting you to some of the same torture I have been compelled to study for my upcoming exam tomorrow.  I won’t bore you with trivial details but you must know that, while I love literature and analyzing literature and discussing literature, my brain consistently works against me when I must remember dates, times, etc. (just ask my mom, or my 7-year-old nephew). It’s not all bad.  Just when studying for huge exams where there is a section with three “date” questions so, if you miss one, you basically flunk that section.  No pressure. . .

Like I was saying, not remembering dates, times, and so on can be a good thing.  Just about every year on March 25th, I unwittingly blunder through the day not cognizant of the date until a well-meaning family member (ahem) inquires with a concerned look on her face, “Are you okay, honey?”  The blank stare she gets in response followed by, “Oh crap, did you have to remind me?” lets her know some things are better left unsaid.  There are days I have to remind myself how old I am.  Not that I don’t recall or care really.  After thirty, I simply stopped counting. Which brings me back to Huck Finn and Twain a.k.a. Samuel Clemens.

Here’s the deal.  Many people slap it with an iconic, American label.  I get that.  Huck Finn is as American as cherry pie, fireworks on July 4th, and the Mississippi River.  It is in The Cannon after all.  A canon of traditional literature left relatively unperturbed on its pedestal of superiority (until recently). Some critics have begun questioning these texts’ god-like statuses and have accordingly been perceived as sacrilegious (consequently, they should be burned at the literary stakes). Critics, like Julius Lester, question the use of the “n” word (mentioned over 213 times in the text) because it is not clear that the offensive, vulgar term is just that. . .offensive and vulgar.  Unlike, in Frederick Douglass‘ narrative, where the “n” word surfaces a few times but it is blatantly obvious that the word is vile.  Then there are critics that say the text remains true to the historical time period and the “n” word should be in there (213 times).

The critic Myra Jehlen argues that Huck Finn should be viewed through the lens of gender as social construction, nature vs. nuture, ideology vs. biology.  She gets hammered by Frederick Crews, a good ole boy, who states she is annoying, nagging, and making a fuss about nothing.  She, according to Crews, isn’t sticking to the empirical facts (what facts? he doesn’t say of course). Then, the good stuff.  Leslie Fiedler, in 1948, mentions homoerotic crush (gasp!) not as overt sexuality but instead chaste, innocent love between two men, or in this case a black man and a 14- year -old adolescent.  Kinda like the locker-room, butt slapping that goes on between males during games (you get the drift).  Christopher Looby jumps in and says that, when Huck dresses up as a girl to try and escape society, he is inverting gender and this action precludes homosexuality and heterosexuality being classified as two rigid categories.  Wow!  I dare anyone who says literature is boring to reread the texts and follow-up with some critics (remember, these conversations are taking place in college classrooms, NOT elementary schools).

My mom constantly asks, “Why do you study that stuff? Can’t you just read a book and put it down and be done with it?”  To which I reply with an emphatic, “No!”  She doesn’t get it and it’s all right.  While cramming for an exam in which I must remember dates (sigh), recall critics (ugh), connect the critics to the text (yikes), and keep track of which critic is lambasting which opposing critic, I am conscious of the reality that I love this stuff.  And these diverse ideologies, philosophies, and historical contexts are some of the good things in my life.  The good stuff that keeps my brain occupied from everyday stress.  So, while this post may come off as a bit whiny (which it is), and even though I’m overwhelmed because of this test (which I am), I can close with a nod to great literary authors who, as Walter Wellesley said, sat down at typewriters and opened up veins.  Thank-you Clemens (but, tomorrow night, you’re booted out of my bed).

Autumn’s Spell

Today is one of those beautiful, fall SoFlo days that causes me to spout poetry like October by Frost or To Autumn by Keats. Every since I was a small girl, I was enthralled by the autumn sea breezes turned windy that mussed my hair and toyed with my dress’s hem.

As an adult, when I see the wind blustering through the arecas, the first thought skipping through my mind is whether or not my allergies are going to attack my sinuses and mess with my lungs. But then, memory, that all important muse, prods me into romanticizing fall like I did when I was a child and I am under autumn’s spell once more (armed with Clarinex).

So I can relive those milkweed moments from years ago when I spotted the pods opening and the tiny seedlings with fluff rising like nature’s balloons into the air. I can celebrate the first periwinkle morning glory that graces the fence. I can feel connected to that little blonde haired girl obsessed with growing things, stooping down to get a closer view of the green acorns, rubbing sage between her fingers and smelling it’s savory perfume–I can just be.

“A”

I owe it all to my ex. I had no idea when he left that I would end up sharing my bed with so many men. Granted, it’s a king size bed (everyone should have a king size bed) so there’s plenty of room. Furthermore, it’s a cloud of pillow top softness so all the more comfy. Hence, numerous visitors, day and night.

The night-time visitors are usually the most memorable. Samuel Clemens has been camped out for weeks now and it’s been a struggle to make room for others. For the last three years or so, I’ve had a string of intimate affairs:  Langston Hughes, Bradbury (a frequent guest), Frost, Longfellow, Sherman Alexie, George Orwell, Browning, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hawthorne, Shakespeare, Frederick Douglass, Junot Diaz, Frank Abate, William Blake, M. L. King Jr., C. L. R. James, José Martí and, yes, even Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman. Some controversial characters have surfaced as well such as Karl Marx, Nietzsche, Freud and Rousseau.

I don’t discriminate much. In fact, I am passionately opposed to censorship. Therefore, I will continue to have an open door policy. If some people judge me because of my taste in men authors and slap a scarlet “A” on my forehead, so what.

Like Twain’s famous protagonist states, “You’ll say it’s dirty low-down business; but what if it is?” And I’ll continue to enjoy every second of it.