Monday Morning: Edith Wharton, By Way of Jonathan Franzen

It is early on Monday morning, the next to the last Monday of May 2012.

Self has decided that she will stay home most of the day —  until, that is, her appointment with her dentist.

A tooth fell out on Friday —  can you imagine?  She wasn’t even chewing.

She’s making great inroads in her pile of stuff, though!  At least, the New Yorkers she’s reading now are only three months old!

In the New Yorker double issue of February 13 & 20, she finds an essay by Jonathan Franzen on the subject of Edith Wharton.  This is a matter of no small interest.  Last July, when self was cooling her heels in Bacolod, she had the House of Mirth with her.  Self doesn’t ever remember reading Wharton before (There are huge gaps in her knowledge:  For instance, it wasn’t until she was 25 and enrolled at Stanford University that she read Moby Dick)

Anyhoo, reading Wharton in Bacolod was an experience like no other (the way reading Saramago’s The Cave in December in Bacolod was like no other.  The way reading Tom McCarthy’s Remainder in March in Bacolod was like no other.  The way —  Eeeeek!  Self, get a grip!!)

Self had insomnia, Lily Bart in the House of Mirth had insomnia, it was the insomnia pity party all around! (In the meantime, there was the pretty laundry lady at L’Fisher Chalet who kept visiting self in her room every three days, to tell self she was so fat)

So, FINALLY, here we are at Jonathan Franzen’s essay.  The title of the essay is “A Rooting Interest:  Edith Wharton and the Problems of Sympathy.”

The purport of the article seems to be that Edith Wharton was a snob.  Not only that, she was a rich snob.  Here’s Franzen:

To be rich like Wharton may be what all of us secretly or not so secretly want, but privilege like hers isn’t easy to like; it puts her at a moral disadvantage.

Wharton lived in a “rich-person” precinct, indulged “her passion for gardens and interior decoration,” toured “Europe endlessly in hired yachts or chauffered cars,” and hobnobbed “with the powerful and the famous.” Her one irredeemable disadvantage was the fact that “she wasn’t pretty.”

So she settled down to 28 years of a sex-less marriage to Teddy Wharton.

Her only sexual relationship was with a “bisexual journalist and serial two-timer,” when she was “in her late forties.”

Enough, Mr. Franzen, enough!  Self thinks that none of these salient facts have anything to do with the way reading House of Mirth would reduce self to a pile of quivering jello, all the while she was imbibing Bacolod rum at the Negros Museum Café!  At the end of every day, self would imagine that she was Gillian Anderson, who played Lily Bart in the movie, wandering the back streets of Bacolod (standing in for New York:  self knows that is quite a stretch), heading for her demeaning job at a hat factory.

Self will proceed:

“In her forties,” Wharton “finally battled free of the deadness of her marriage and became a bestselling author; Teddy responded by spirallling into mental illness and embezzling a good part of her inheritance.”

Ugh.  Ugh.  Ugh.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Self’s Enduring Fascination with Windows, II

Dawn Breaks Beneath the Window Curtains (After a Sleepless Night in Bacolod)

Margaret, Are You Grieving?

The only poem self remembers from high school days in Manila is this one by Gerard Manley Hopkins. She doesn’t know why, but the voice has stayed with her for ages and ages. She can recite the first four lines from memory.

Today, self decided to get out her camera and photograph the maple leaves in her front yard (They’ve been brilliant red all week — beautiful!).  She found herself saying —

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving
Leaves, like the things of man you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

When she was done with taking pictures, she came back inside and found the rest of the poem on

Ah, as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Maple leaves and variegated hydrangea by front steps

Same maple tree, but from a different angle

This one’s of a tree in self’s backyard.

Two rejections this week, but self was up for it: She had five straight acceptances — five new pieces, all to be published 2012, including a novella.  The latest acceptance was from Wigleaf.  You try for years and years, and sometimes years go by and you don’t get anything.  And then, a miracle like the Fall happens.  It just happens.

One of the rejections was from a journal in New York, signed by both editors. And saying, in handwritten blue ink: Promise you WILL try us again.

She knew something was up because it had been months and months.  Self started thinking: they either mis-placed it, or it made it past at least one round. And she thought: No, they’ve misplaced it. Because the story was “Crackers,” and it was 20 pages of wild. One of those stories she stayed up all night writing, because it came in such a rush.

Eyebags have been tremendous for weeks.  She wrote another story last night:  “The Not Particularly Likable Woman” — BWAH HA HA HA

That one’s done.  It was just hilarious.  Self wrote about standing in post office lines and what not.  What great fun.  To write about Pie in the Sky and the post office, in the same piece.  Imagine laughing and writing, simultaneously.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Today, the Day Before Skyline College Reading

Just restored a post (“Memories of Adderall Addicts”)  No one looked at it for days, which was why she deleted it.  Suddenly, today, everyone’s asking:  What happened to that review, the one about Adderall addicts?  (Oh, self wants to say, you mean the one about kids in Stanford’s Meyer lounge at midnight???  Kidding, kidding, of course self is kidding!!!)

*     *     *

The house is freakishly cold.  Hubby says not to turn up the heat.  Wear more sweaters.

*     *     *

The Ancient One pants and pants.

*     *     *

Thank God it didn’t rain.

*     *     *

Still have no Thanksgiving Holiday Menu.

*     *     *

A cousin who self hasn’t spoken to in perhaps 20 years left a message on self’s cell phone, inviting her to Glendale for Thanksgiving.

*     *     *

Last night, self had insomnia.  When she has insomnia, she ends up doing the strangest things.  Like submit, for the nth time, to One Story.  Like self can ever write a story as good as Karl Taro Greenfeld’s.

*     *     *

Well, at least self managed to get an essay off to the Asian American Literary Review.

*     *     *

Prism International is still waiting for the signed contract for “Flight.” (Tomorrow, promise!)

*     *     *

Phoebe says “All the Missing” is going to be in the next issue.  She friend-ed them on FB.

*     *     *

No word yet on edits for novella Marife (supposed to be coming out next year)

*     *     *

Drew says hello, he has a new boss.  We have to Skype!  We tried a few times in Bacolod.  What self hates about Skype is this:  the whole world can see your eyebags.

*     *     *

Self loves her pig story.  She just loves, loves, loves.  She keeps adding to it:  pages of utter mayhem.  Stomping.  And the like.  (Self, you have a sick mind.  A really really really sick mind).  She called the story “Pig Babies” until last week, when she decided to call it “Thing.”

*     *     *

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Looking Back: The American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore

Self once served on a selection panel for an artists grant.  The granting organization was in Baltimore, and they flew her over for one night.  Self supposes there must be crazier things than that, but she is still amazed every time she thinks of herself flying clear across the country, staying one night, attending a day-long meeting, and then taking a late flight back to California.  And teaching a full load, the very next day.

In Baltimore, she was put up in a Hilton which was close to the seaport.  Her shoulders and neck flared with accumulated tension but she was determined to see as much of the city as she could.  As soon as she was done with her committee duties, and in the few hours of daylight left before she had to head to the airport, she decided to visit the American Visionary Art Museum.  The museum was the brainchild of a man named James Rouse, who happens to be the grandfather of the actor Edward Norton.

The museum is a commemmoration of “outsider art,” art created by people who have no artistic training, who created out of a deep need to express themselves (Just so you know how committed the museum’s curators are to its vision, there is a whole gallery devoted to finger paintings made by one Betsy the Chimp, whose dates of birth and death are very carefully recorded:  1951- 1960)

She remembers another artwork, a sculpture of a gigantic man, caught in mid-stride.  The image seems to radiate vitality and power.  You have to go close to see:  the figure was constructed entirely out of matchsticks.

In another gallery, she saw a series of intensely colorful paintings, all the work of a woman who was a maid for a rich family somewhere in the south.  All the paintings were done in her spare time.

The main exhibit, at the time self visited, was called “Home & Beast”  and featured the paintings of Christine Sefolosha, born 1955 in the Swiss town of Montreux.  Her father was a fruit and vegetable merchant.  From the museum catalogue:  “During a period of her childhood when she experienced unusual insomnia, her mother took some of her drawings to a psychologist.  One of these depicted a huge crocodile devouring a dark-skinned man.”

After reading that, self looked at the paintings, and all of them depicted a dark-skinned man being devoured by a crocodile.  Clearly this image was an obsession for Ms. Sefolosha.  It turns out that she did marry a “dark-skinned man” from Africa (self forgets which country), followed him back to his home country and bore him two children.  Then, the man left her.  Sometime afterwards, Sefolosha began “painting and drawing again, working mostly on the floor with new pigments and watercolors and often with such materials as dripped tar and earth.”  And all she could paint were images of a dark-skinned man being devoured by a crocodile.  Holy Eerie Coincidence!

At the time, self had just finished writing a story called “Dumpster,” which she chose to set in Baltimore.  The story made one of her brothers want to puke.  Its central image was a severed hand.

Why did self choose Baltimore?  As Negrenses might say, “Ambot!”  (“I forget!” or “I don’t know!”)  At the time that she finished the story, she’d never even been to Baltimore.

After seeing the American Visionary Art Museum, however, self could never forget Baltimore.  And, eventually, after not too long, “Dumpster” was picked up by Mark Fitten, then-editor of The Chattahoochee Review.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Sleepwalker Retires (Self Hopes)

Self was really so glad that during her most recent Bacolod adventure (September), she did very little sleepwalking.  December and January trips were the worst:  Self would wake up and see a huge tureen on the table next to the bed, completely empty.  And she had no memory of ordering anything from room service.

OK, but what she did order a lot of (from room service:  After a while, self got tired of eating dinner by herself in restaurants) during her September Bacolod sojourn was lengua with mushrooms.  The third time the waiter brought self her lengua dinner, he remarked:  “Ma’am, you really like lengua!”  At which point, self began to force herself to eat out again.

Anyhoo, self is remembering all this because, it being Sunday, she has to cook Sunday dinner.  She always gets going by picking up something or other written by Dear Doreen (The Adobo Festival in Silay is coming up very very soon!  First week of November!  Oh, be still, self’s beating heart!  You know you can only partake of the adobo delectables by mental telepathy!).  And today, what she reads is an entry on a town in the Philippines called San Francisco.

Imagine that!  There is a town in the Philippines with the same name as self’s very own adopted abode (which she always tells people is the “San Francisco Bay Area,” not “Redwood City,” because when she says “Redwood City,” people always ask her about her proximity to the Avenue of the Giants).

This Philippine town of San Francisco is in Agusan del Sur, and people also refer to it as “San Fran.” (And self knows that she makes frequent mention, in her Bacolod sojourns, of a nearby town called Murcia, and there is also a Murcia in Spain, with a magnificent cathedral, and though the Philippine Murcia is much smaller, she thinks these two cities should get together and host a joint festival.  Or something along that line.  As should San Francisco, Agusan del Sur, Philippines, and the California San Francisco.  Once again, self, you digress!)

Okey dokey, back to San Francisco, Agusan del Sur.  Of course, Dear Doreen, with her unerring nose for all that is local, decides to partake of the delicacies in the San Francisco bus terminal.  Which, as it happens, is exactly the right place, for here, the adventurous traveler can find:

  • Pork, cooked in the following ways:  apritada, adobo, paklay, la-uya, and lechon kawali
  • Fish, cooked the following ways:  prito, escabeche, kinilaw, or tinowa/tinola
  • Beef, cooked either apritada or mechado (Rather skimpy choices here, for beef!)
  • Chicken, cooked either apritada or tinola (See comment on Beef, above)

The most popular vegetable dish, according to Doreen, is ginataang nangka.  There is also mongo and pakbet.  There is also dinuguan, referred to there as “blad-blad” (Filipinized way of saying “blood-blood” —  Hey, this is a perfect dish for Halloween!)

Oh Dearest Doreen, where are you?  Self misses you so, so, so, so much.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Things Read, Wee Hours of July 10, 2011

Finished The House of Mirth.  The writing became refreshingly clean.  Self found herself crying unexpectedly.  Not as hard as she did when she read Janet Lewis’ remarkable The Wife of Martin Guerre (standing in her kitchen in Fremont, CA:  a sob-fest to end all sob-fests, while her not-even-three-year-old son played unconcernedly at her feet), but nevertheless it was the first time in years that self had ever cried while reading a book.

Began Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader.  She does not know how Schlink pulled it off, writing about this extremely difficult subject.  But oh, how powerfully he inhabits the point of view of the narrator, who at the beginning of the novel is 15.

She’s been re-reading the pieces of a student in a recently concluded UCLA Extension writing class, who has decided to apply to a Creative Writing Program, and for whom self has agreed to write a letter of recommendation.

She continued reading the signed copy of Rosebud and Other Stories by Wakako Yamauchi, edited by Lillian Howan and published by the University of Hawaii.

She has so many stories saved up for dear blog readers!  But now is not yet the time.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Lily Bart, Insomniac

Almost to the end of The House of Mirth.  What a novel it has turned out to be!  If only Wharton’s writing hadn’t been so florid.  In certain passages, the sentences are as full of cornucopia as a baroque cathedral.

Still, self loves the characters.  And Lily Bart’s gradual degradation is very moving.

Towards the end, Lily’s love for Selden has such clarity.  It is the only clear thing in a life filled with confusing messages and rationalizations.

That a beautiful woman should be forced to earn her own keep is a travesty (or, it was in Wharton’s time.  No, perhaps in an earlier generation’s time as well.  Self remembers Dearest Mum saying, more than once, that self’s grandmother didn’t think Dearest Mum’s younger sister needed to go to college because she was so beautiful, she was sure to marry well.  That it turned out all tragically wrong for self’s aunt is further proof that Wharton’s steely unsentimentality about a woman’s place in society is still resonant today).

Here is poor Lily Bart, forced to make a living by working at a hat-making factory:

She began to rip the spangles from the frame, listening absently to the buzz of talk which rose and fell with the coming and going of Miss Haines’ active figure.  The air was closer than usual, because Miss Haines, who had a cold, had not allowed a window to be opened even during the noon recess; and Lily’s head was so heavy with the weight of a sleepless night that the chatter of her companions had the incoherence of a dream.

Self, searching around for a suitable image to illustrate Ms. Bart’s deepening insomnia, found this photograph of window shades:

Window Shades, Bacolod, One Afternoon in July

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Dear Eileen

Dear Eileen,

Thank you for allowing self to write reviews on poetry collections for you (even though she is not a poet)

Self thinks writing the review of Camille Martin’s Sonnets was the most “fun” thing she’s done this week.

The reason self didn’t get to bed until 3:30 a.m. this morning was because Ms. Martin’s words kept knocking around in self’s head, just kept knocking around in self’s head, and at 1:30 a.m. self returned to her computer and wrote a passage on novel-in-progress The War (Pace, Sebastian Junger:  This is only a working title)

Thank you again.

So much.

From the bottom of self’s heart.

(Also, in particular, for extending the deadline for the review, twice)

Dear blog readers, please check out Galatea Resurrects, where Eileen Tabios does yeo-man’s duty getting poetry collections viewed, reviewed, and appreciated.

Peace/Love/Air Kisses/Best of best wishes


Gratitude/ Silence

This is new, the silence.  New, that is, when compared to the at-least-three-calls-a-day she used to get from Dearest Mum when she was in L’Fisher in Bacolod.

Out of sight, out of . . .

Self, what are you going on about?  The sun is shining!  Buck up!

A lump has been discovered in her aunt’s lung.  This aunt is already suffering from emphysema.

Self still coughs her lungs out, so she is not fit to be paying visits.

By her bed this morning, two empty wrappers of Virgie’s Mango Tarts.

Yesterday morning, guava jelly from Salcedo Market left lying open on the counter, next to an opened box of crackers.

Oh, insomnia.  Oh, sleepwalking.  Oh, thoughts so dark and deep.

Yesterday evening, hubby took self to the San Carlos Pet Hospital, to which self owes undying gratitude for saving Gracie’s life.  On the bulletin board, a display:  PET OF THE MONTH.  And three pictures of Gracie.  With, shock of self’s life, a letter from Gracie’s “Dad,” printed on bright fuschia paper, extolling the virtues of the li’l crit.

Will wonders never cease?

A nurse recognizes self and stops to chat.  It’s the tall, pretty one, with the reddish hair and the trés-chic eyeliner.  Self can only stammer her inadequate thank-yous.

Actually, she had tried to call from Bacolod, several times.  But it was always night-time in California, and the nurse on duty did not pick up.

So lame, self.  So lame.

Thanks are in order.  Gratitude is in order.

Two days ago, self caught Episode 1 of Season 2 of “Justified” (Oh TO, oh white Stetson, but why oh why did they bring ex-wife aka the bitch Winona back to warm Raylan’s bed —  ?  Though self did take note of the fact that actress Natalie Zea has an extremely attractive back —  that is, tapered and not too bony.  Perhaps there is even a bit more chemistry between her and TO than there was between TO and Joelle Carter.  But, this is heresy.  Self will always prefer Ava to Winona!)

Stay tuned.

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