Joan Angela Blewitt Peterson

September 27, 2017 @ 7:53 pm | Filed under: Family


Sept. 5, 1935-Sept. 25, 2017

What I’m reading: Helene Hanff

September 16, 2017 @ 1:22 pm | Filed under: Books

Yes, again.

As I head into the home stretch of radiation (only three treatments to go!!), I’m feeling pretty wiped. I’m like a phone that won’t hold a charge for long anymore. But I know the end is in sight and I’m trying to be good and take it easy. Still working, because I gotta. But the rest of the day is for rest and reading.

Earlier this week I was chatting with Naomi Bulger about our shared love of Helene Hanff. 84 Charing Cross Road is one of my favorite books of all time, and Hanff’s other books are way up there too. Of course the conversation made me want to reread everything, and that’s how I spent yesterday afternoon.

I’ve blogged a lot about why I love Helene Hanff’s books so much. The first one I encountered was her Letter from New York, which I read just before I moved to NYC. I carried it all over the city, seeking out the places Helene described. (Here’s a post all about it: How Radio Helped a Garden Grow.)

She really shaped my understanding and experience of Manhattan, and I was stunned to realize, many years later, that at that very time in the mid-90s, Helene was still living in the 72nd St apartment she moved to during 84 Charing Cross Road—just a block from Scott’s first NYC studio! I could have visited her!

I often wonder what happened to her personal book collection, and to the NY Public Library books she (according to her letters) filled with margin notes. Oh to stumble upon one of those!

“I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to ‘I hate to read new books, and I hollered ‘Comrade!’ to whoever owned it before me.”

84 Charing Cross Road

“It’s against my principles to buy a book I haven’t read, it’s like buying a dress you haven’t tried on.”

84 Charing Cross Road

Q (Quiller-Couch) was all by himself my college education. I went down to the public library one day when I was 17 looking for books on the art of writing, and found five books of lectures which Q had delivered to his students of writing at Cambridge.

“Just what I need!” I congratulated myself. I hurried home with the first volume and started reading and got to page 3 and hit a snag:

Q was lecturing to young men educated at Eton and Harrow. He therefore assumed that his students—including me—had read Paradise Lost as a matter of course and would understand his analysis of the “Invocation to Light” in book 9. So I said, “Wait here,” and went down to the library and got Paradise Lost and took it home and started reading it and got to page 3 when I hit a snag:

Milton assumed I’d read the Christian version of Isaiah and the New Testament and had learned all about Lucifer and the War in Heaven, and since I’d been reared in Judaism I hadn’t. So I said, “Wait here,” and borrowed a Christian Bible and read about Lucifer and so forth, and then went back to Milton and read Paradise Lost, and then finally got back to Q, page 3. On page 4 or 5, I discovered that the point of the sentence at the top of the page was in Latin and the long quotation at the bottom of the page was in Greek. So I advertised in the Saturday Review for somebody to teach me Latin and Greek, and went back to Q meanwhile, and discovered he assumed I not only knew all the plays of Shakespeare, and Boswell’s Johnson, but also the Second Book of Esdras, which is not in the Old Testament and is not in the New Testament, it’s in the Apocrypha, which is a set of books nobody had ever thought to tell me existed.

So what with one thing and another and an average of three “Wait here’s” a week, it took me eleven years to get through Q’s five books of lectures.

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

“My problem is that while other people are reading fifty books I’m reading one book fifty times. I only stop when at the bottom of page 20, say, I realize I can recite pages 21 and 22 from memory. Then I put the book away for a few years.”

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

“I tell you, life is extraordinary. A few years ago I couldn’t write anything or sell anything, I’d passed the age where you know all the returns are in, I’d had my chance and done my best and failed. And how was I to know the miracle waiting to happen round the corner in late middle age? 84, Charing Cross Road was no best seller, you understand; it didn’t make me rich or famous. It just got me hundreds of letters and phone calls from people I never knew existed; it got me wonderful reviews; it restored a self-confidence and self-esteem I’d lost somewhere along the way, God knows how many years ago. It brought me to England. It changed my life.”

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

“Somewhere along the way I came upon a mews with a small sign on the entrance gate addressed to the passing world. The sign orders flatly:

COMMIT NO NUISANCE

The more you stare at that, the more territory it covers. From dirtying the streets to housebreaking to invading Viet Nam, that covers all the territory there is.”

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

 

Related posts:

Books That Make Me Want to Write Letters (84 Charing Cross Road)

“Wait here.” (The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street)

How Radio Helped a Garden Grow (Letter from New York)

***

My 2014 booknotes on Underfoot in Show Business:
Am now bereft: it was the last (well, the first for her, but the last for me) of Helene’s memoirs. I wish she’d written five more. The tales in this one: so rich! That first summer she spends at the artist’s colony—sitting down at the desk in her quiet studio and seeing Thornton Wilder’s name written on the plaque listing all the previous occupants of this cabin. He’d stayed there in 1937; she realizes he’d written Our Town in this very spot. For a moment it throws her—I completely understood that wave of comparative despair—until she registers that in the long list of writers under Wilder, there’s no one she ever heard of. This makes her feel better, and then she’s able to work.

And the early story about how she gets to NYC in the first place—winning a fellowship for promising young playwrights. Late 30s, the second year of the award. In the first year, the two winners were given $1500 apiece and sent out to make their way in the world. In Helene’s year, the TheatreGuild decides to bring the three fellowship winners (Helene is the youngest, and the only female) to New York to attend a year-long seminar along with some other hopeful playwrights. The $1500 prize pays her expenses during this year of what sounded very similar to a modern MFA program, minus the university affiliation: classes with big-name producers, directors, and playwrights. Lee Strasberg! An unprecedented opportunity for these twelve young seminar attendees. And the fruit of this careful nurturing? Helene, chronicling the story decades later, rattles off the eventual career paths of the students: there’s a doctor, a short-story writer, a TV critic, a couple of English professors, a handful of screenwriters.

“The Theatre Guild, convinced that fledgling playwrights need training as well as money, exhausted itself training twelve of us—and not one of the twelve ever became a Broadway playwright.

“The two fellowship winners who, the previous year, had been given $1500 and sent wandering off on their own were Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller.”

I laughed my head off when I read that.

When they want to know about Venn diagrams…

September 8, 2017 @ 8:57 am | Filed under: Fun Learning Stuff

you go to the experts, of course.

He holds him with his glittering eye

September 7, 2017 @ 5:55 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, Poetry

HMMM, I just realized my Diigo sidebar feed hasn’t been updating. If you like to check in on my Caught My Eye section, I’ve fixed the problem now. You especially shouldn’t miss Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s gorgeous and devastating poem, “The Sun Got All Over Everything.”

“…which seems like something I’d make up in a poem
except this time I actually did it.
I wrote: Grieve. Because we’re all so busy
aren’t we? And so broke.”

Lately it seems like poetry is the one constant in my day. (Well, and nail-biting.) We slid back into high tide about a week ago—albeit a choppy one, since I have to slip away for an hour in the middle of every morning to lie on a table that looks like something out of the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey—and what fits best into the allotted space are poems. Giddy over the thought of a Real Autumn, I turned to the “almanac” section of Favorite Poems Old and New and am working my way through all the seasonally appropriate verses. And then I’m reading “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” a section at a time—I can’t remember what prompted me to reach for it last week, but I’m glad I did because it’s been a big hit. You know it warms the cockles of this mama’s heart to hear her young children actually pleading for me to keep going, just a little more. I mean, of course they love it, it’s a good old-fashioned ghost story. Huck has joined the ranks of those tormented by the question of why the Old Mariner shot the Albatross. Why?

Side note: I had to chuckle over this stanza:

He holds him with his glittering eye— 
The Wedding-Guest stood still, 
And listens like a three years’ child: 
The Mariner hath his will. 

I know Coleridge had a pretty good handle on childhood—“Frost at Midnight” is in my top five favorite poems—but “listens like a three years’ child”? You mean the Wedding-Guest is wiggling and thumping his heels on the floor and interjecting questions into the tale every four seconds?

I remember reading to this three-year-old. It most certainly did not involve any ‘standing still.’

***

Thank so you much to all of you who have subscribed to my Patreon! I’m two people shy of 50 patrons, which is pretty darned exciting. I’m starting slowly with the special subscriber-only posts (trying to be sensible until radiation fatigue is over), but a new dispatch went out this afternoon. A monthly contribution of $1 or more gets you access to the private patron feed.

You had me at ‘Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens’

September 7, 2017 @ 4:27 pm | Filed under: Chesterton & Dickens

Have you seen the trailer for The Man Who Invented Christmas yet?

Dan Stevens (aka Matthew Crawley) as struggling writer, Charles Dickens. HELLO. Also Miriam Margolyes, Jonathan Pryce, and Christopher Plummer. Best of all, characters who “won’t do what I want.” Oh Charles. I get you.

And for the record, he really IS working when he’s in there playing around with that accordion thingie.

Related, my favorite Dickens story. I mean, my favorite story about Dickens, not by him. “I distinctly want to learn more about those very dull parts.”

Radiation in progress

August 30, 2017 @ 6:40 am | Filed under: Homeschooling, Tidal Homeschooling

The sign that greets me outside the treatment room is ominous, and in context the words are sobering. But as I lie there on the table—for only a few minutes; the procedure is beautifully streamlined—I think about the words on the sign and realize the core message is one worth embracing. Radiation in progress…in philosophical terms, it’s really only a stone’s throw from Education is an atmosphere, isn’t it?

***

I just went on a little stroll through my archives, looking for an atmosphere post to link to. I didn’t find the one I wanted, but this one popped up and gave me a few happy pangs: This First Day, about Rilla’s first day of High Tide back in (gulp) 2012. The timing pierces, because today is S’s first day of school and that means the tide is shifting for the rest of us, too. This was a good passage for me to revisit this morning.

I used to waffle about methodologies: was I a Charlotte Mason homeschooler? An unschooler? Something in between—eclectic, perhaps? But it was all just groping for a label—and not even a label for my kids; it was about how to characterize myself in conversations with other homeschoolers, so that we might better understand one another. All the while, my kids and I went on simply doing what worked for us. If something stopped working, we did something else for a while—usually this has meant facilitating a child’s need to immerse deeply into a single passion or pursuit. I grok that; it’s how I love to learn, too. This blog is a chronicle of my own sudden immersions, some of them finite, some recurring at intervals: breadbakinggardeningsewingIrish pennywhistleBritish period drama…it’s a long list. My kids have lists of their own, each one different, some interests overlapping.

Always, always, after one of these immersions, the diver comes up for air eventually. And there’s a restlessness, a pacing at loose ends, that has, for us, always been cured by a return to morning lesson time. Rose has told me she likes having the structure there to push against: knowing there are things she is expected to do fills her with ideas for things she longs to do. One of my jobs is to keep ears open for the longings, and drop resources and opportunities in her path to help her realize them. I love that part of the job.

After this summer’s upheaval, I’m ready for a return to some of the old rhythms that have served us well for so long. Of course, everything is constantly remaking itself, and the ‘old rhythms’ are overlain with new melodies.

***

Addendum: here’s another 2012 post that turned up and gave me a smile (and a pang) this morning.
This one’s for the curriculum-junkie homeschooling mothers of 2002. I’m going to try not to think about the boatload of books and things we left behind in San Diego—it’s time to go shop my shelves and rediscover the treasures we did bring with us. We made a lot of packing decisions in a tearing hurry and I’ve had moments of wishing I hadn’t been quite so ruthless in the purge. But we still have shelves bursting with literary riches, and my job this morning is to stock the living-room shelves with a few dozen gems. And where’s the giant world map, Huck wants to know?

Big day

August 23, 2017 @ 5:50 am | Filed under: Patreon

Today’s my first radiation treatment—but that’s not what I’m talking about. After much urging from friends and readers, I’ve decided to launch a Patreon.

It’s a way for readers, if they are so inclined, to support my creative pursuits such as this blog and my fiction. In return, I’ll be sharing weekly behind-the-scenes posts with subscribers ($1/month or more)—peeks at my work-in-progress, my planner pages, my sketchbook, my studio. At the $3+ level, you get access to a live monthly chat. You can read all about it here.

Since my diagnosis, so many of you have asked how you could help. This is a means I’m comfortable with, because it lets me give something back. And it will allow me to put more time into Bonny Glen as well, which will make me really happy. I’ve hated having to neglect this poor old blog in favor of time-devouring grantwriting projects. 😉

Become a Patron!

august 21: eclipsed

August 22, 2017 @ 7:23 am | Filed under: Family, Photos

Shortly before maximum eclipse (which was 99% for us in Portland):

And moments after:

I was captivated by these shadows during the whole event. Loved watching them change direction.

We had a magical day. A feast prepared by friends (including homemade pecan sticky buns, oh my!), gorgeous weather, music, laughter.

Photo by Larry Deal

Then home for a long nap (well, for me, at least) and late in the day, a visit with a longtime online friend—one of the first people I connected with on AOL homeschooling boards back in the day. We had 22 years of conversations to revisit. So good.

Removing Confederate monuments doesn’t “erase” history. It reveals it.

August 19, 2017 @ 7:39 am | Filed under: Alabama, Current Affairs, History

My roots are Southern. There are both Confederates and Unionists on my family tree. The Unionists are the ones I’ve spent five years trying to write a book about—complicated in more ways than I can express. They were a bunch of Northern Alabamans who wanted no part of Secession. Their county delegate to the January 1861 Alabama Secession Convention, a schoolteacher named Christopher Sheats, was beaten and jailed for refusing to sign the ordinance of secession.

These Winston County folks—led by my direct ancestors, the Curtis brothers—passed a resolution saying that if Alabama could secede from the Union, Winston County could secede from Alabama. Many Winston County men joined the Union army, including my 4th-great-grandfather, John Curtis. Others were killed in various gruesome ways by members of the Confederate Home Guard—their own neighbors. Another of my 4th-greats, one Wiley Tyler, died of starvation and infection in a Confederate prison camp. He’s where my pen name comes from.

I wish I could say that these devoted Unionist ancestors of mine—who fought and died because they refused to be traitors to their nation—had been passionate abolitionists. They weren’t. But they did know that the reason behind the War was slavery. Frank discussion of that reality is everywhere in their letters—just as it is in the letters written by the leaders of the Secession movement. In 1860 and early 1861, a number of men were appointed by various Southern states to be secession commissioners. These men traveled far and wide, speaking and writing in favor of Secession. You can read their letters. I have. They don’t beat around the bush. They believed that Lincoln was going to destroy the institution of slavery. You can read these letters—this primary source material—in a book called Apostles of Disunion.

When we get our information second-, third-, tenth-hand—when it comes to us filtered and packaged by people with something to sell—it can be difficult to get at the truth. The myth of the Lost Cause is one of those packages. The Confederate monuments, most of which were put up in the 20th century, long after the War—including many that were built in the 60s during the Civil Rights movement—are part of that mythology, that package. And it’s a package that was designed for and marketed explicitly to white people.

Those monuments celebrate men who went to war against the United States of America. Men who went to war because the Republic was finally moving to end the practice of enslaving other human beings.

Enslaving. Other. Human. Beings.

My friend Lydia Netzer wrote,

A statue of General Lee is NOT the same thing as a concentration camp turned into a museum.

A concentration camp turned into a museum would be like a slave market turned into a museum, or a slave plantation turned into a museum.

A statue of General Lee would be like if you tore down a concentration camp and left up a statue of Hermann Göring on a pedestal.

Removing these statues—moving them, perhaps, to a museum where these men’s own words could provide context on their intentions in declaring war against their own country—is in no way “erasing history.” We must not let pat phrases like that cheapen the way we talk about and think about these grave matters.

We must go deeper than the talking points. If you are bothered by the idea of history being “erased,” then READ that history—the primary source materials that clearly, directly, unequivocally laid out the reasons for the war in the first place.

Such as this address made by William Harris, a sitting Mississippi Supreme Court justice, to the Georgia state legislature, in his role as a secession commissioner:

“They [Lincoln’s Republicans and the North] have demanded, and now demand, equality between the white and negro races…equality in representation, equality in the right of suffrage, equality in the honors and emoluments of office, equality in the social circle, equality in the rights of matrimony…

“Our fathers made this a government for the white man, rejecting the negro, as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race, incapable of self-government, and not, therefore, entitled to be associated with the white man upon terms of civil, political, or social equality…[Mississippi] had rather see the last of her race, men, women, and children, immolated in one common funeral pile [pyre], than see them subjected to the degradation of civil, political, and social equality with the negro race.”

The push to remove Confederate monuments isn’t an attempt to “erase” history. Quite the opposite. It’s an effort to expose the truth that has been papered over for far too long.