Mary Beth Writes

I'm working on some big projects lately, so here are some small thoughts along the way. 

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Mansfield Park is Jane Austen’s weirdest novel. Jane-Readers love Jane because her best characters are bright women stuck in situations too small for them. Their observations are bitingly perceptive; you see their inner spirit and you identify, identify, identify.

I’m amazed at critics who think that those of us who love Jane Austen are not-quite-evolved humans; how can we love a book about a girl in a big dress catching her man?

Duh, it’s not about the man.  It’s about what happens to a women who wants to become herself.  There’s a Quaker saying I’m admiring a lot lately. “Proceed as the Way Opens.” Austin characters are awake, even when they don’t know where they are going or how they are going to get there.  It’s that awake and paying attention spirit that is so appealing.  

We root for Jane’s girls because being a big spirit locked in a cramped situation is pretty much half the human experience.  Wittiness, meeting new people, and making-do – these are the reward of being too bright for your pants.

And yet … Mansfield Park! Our girl Fanny is an obedient, small, anxious, risk-averse wimp.  Where did she come from?  What’s the deal? Where is bright-eyed, knife-tongued Lizzie or determined Eleanor or “I’m seventeen and I live for Art!” Marianne?

We’ve got Fanny who demurs. Who says, “Oh no, I couldn’t do that!” and “Sir Thomas wouldn’t like us to do that!” and “Oh please let me just cater to lazy, possibly opium addicted Lady Bertram all day and all night. I’m so grateful to be Mansfield Park’s resident mensch.”

If you want to know the plot, read the book - or read this plot summary: https://www.litcharts.com/lit/mansfield-park/summary

So here’s my take.  Jane Austen uses men as plot devices. Some of her male characters are awesome guys, some are pathetic, and some are cads, rogues, and roués. (I need to write a country western song with the line 'cads, rogues, and roués')  But they are always pitfalls to be avoided or goals towards which to go. They are NOT the action and the plot.

The cool dynamic in an Austen novel is women who talk to each other, need each other, lean on each other, and find a path ahead together. 

Fanny is stuck in anxiety the six years she lives with the Bertram family at Mansfield Park. She experiences a lot, she receives the same education as her rich cousins, she discovers that poetry exists in the world and it moves her heart. She sees art, eats delicious food, figures out which people around her she can trust and which ones to stay clear of. 

And then she gets sent back to her poor, chaotic family in Portsmouth. It’s not an easy transition. Days and weeks go by. She becomes close with her younger sister Susan. She tells Susan about Mansfield Park. Fanny misses books so she uses her own modest money to join a lending library; now she reads some of her favorite poetry and stories to her sister. Susan askes questions about the people Fanny met and how they acted.

For months Fanny and Susan do chores and talk.

At which point Mansfield Park has a bunch of privilege-related crises. They call for Fanny. Fanny returns to them with her sister. They all live happily ever after.

Because a woman’s life doesn’t really start until she has another respectful and empathetic woman who listens to her, asks questions, and together they talk about their lives. 

That’s my take, anyway.

'Homecoming'

Len and I watched ‘Homecoming’ (streaming). Julia Roberts in dull brown wigs, stars in this drama about returning soldiers at a debriefing center.

The best line in the show was not in the show. Len described the mystery of the story this way.

“It’s not the killer around the corner; it’s what the hell is going on.”

I love shows where one doesn’t know what’s happening. In my personal life I seldom have to chase a specific bad guy with a gun. 

But this?  There’s an effort going on, there are a bunch of people, there’s money, unexpected closeness to some characters, and unexpected aversion to others. What do you think they are doing and how am I supposed to be involved?  

Oh yeah.

Last year I made a resolution to be more stubborn. This made a difference to me. I’d bump into a situation where I didn’t know exactly how to proceed; where it would be pretty easy to turn around and give up – and I went ahead because I knew that was the deal I made with myself.  I had given myself permission to try instead of to succeed. There’s a difference there.

This year I don’t have a resolution. I have a refrain.   

It’s simple.

“Morning is my friend.”

Being a logical person, I find the world intimidating in the morning.

I don’t mind waking up. I just don’t like the part where one has to get up and take a shower and eat breakfast and shove off the shore into the Sea of This Day with all the things in it that are in it.

So I decided a few weeks ago that I would remind myself that Morning is My Friend.  It is not a dare to accomplish. It isn’t a list of things to get done.  It’s just morning.  Morning is our friend.

2019 is going to be a challenging year.

“Proceed as the Way Opens.”

Good Luck in your New Year, too. 

Comments

Mornings are my friend. I love them. I often just have to get up because the day is waiting for me and I’m ready for it to begin. Now evenings - maybe I should make evenings my friend, cause by the time I get there - I’m done for. Proceed as the way Opens. I’m ready, I think

MB, love, love, love what you wrote here about Jane's message. You are right on point! It is our fellowship that makes us aware and stronger. We ask the important questions, we share, & we learn from each other. I read many of the books written by Jane at a "feminist" reading group...go figure!!! Best to you & yes, "Proceed as the Way Opens".

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Let's go to Canada. It will be beautiful and convenient and nothing will get too crazy.

Hi! Len and I returned home at 1:30AM from our 15-day road trip through eastern Canada and Maine and more.  

In case you ever wondered, you CAN go to the “Glazed and Confused” donut shop in Syracuse, NY at 9 in the morning, peruse the  Erie Canal museum https://eriecanalmuseum.org/ and then drive back in Waukesha - all in one 16-hour day. We are generally closer to interesting places than we know.

But I get ahead of myself.

An afternoon in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

Sault is a French word that mean topsy-turvy as in the rapids on the St. Mary river that tumbles between the US and Canada. Or summersaults. Isn’t that cute?

We walked a lot that first day. We thought the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site; which is two old houses that we wanted to see, were just around the corner from where we parked. Nope; more like two miles there and two miles back.  But it was a brisk day and after our hot, humid Wisconsin summer it was delicious to wear a jacket and not sweat.

Mountain Top Toddler

We drove to Chicago to help care for our 2-year old granddaughter. There is a lot going on in their family as is true of any family with a toddler, a new infant, and two working parents. Such as; my daughter went back to work the same week their daycare center closed for a 10-day break. A perfect storm of domestic hoopla. 

We only watched her from 7:30AM until 4PM on Monday and Tuesday. When our son-in-law came home from work, he took over. Other relatives are watching her the next few days. 

Here are three things I noticed about taking care of a toddler.

"Death Comes for the Archbishop" and How to drive to the Y without a map.

I read Willa Cather’s “Death Comes for the Archbishop” when I was in high school. I heard it was an important book which made me curious (still does), so I borrowed it from the library and read the whole thing.

It was mud. I didn’t care about the characters; two middle-aged priests who go to the American southwest to build and strengthen the Catholic church. Snooze. Nothing cohesive happens. They do a bunch of walking around in the desert followed by episodes of trying to be helpful a few days here, a few years there. Yawn.

When Weaving is NOT a Metaphor

I wrote this 12 years ago.  It's long and even I get confused as to what I wrote when one gets about half way through this  - and I was there!   But some of you will be interested to read how those "ethnic weavings" from Guatemala begin.  Next time you buy something hand woven, for less than $20, you will understand that price is not right.

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