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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Freight Trains & Dreams

We are binge-watching “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” I started last week; Len ambled through the living room at the beginning of Season 2, stood a moment to watch, sat down, and last night we finished season 2 together. Stories are good.

As you know, the show is set in the 1950’s and 60’s. Many of us actual Mid-Centurions remember the actual mid-century. Ladies in hats. Pink and white kitchens. Salmon and aqua living rooms. The total culturally approved subjection of all women to all men.

Oh yeah.

"Mistrust Your Sense of Urgency"

Like many of you, I am emerging from my den of “Wow, that was Sure a Full Couple of Months!” I have been either chased by or chasing my calendar since the middle of October. We’ve had a plethora of family get-togethers (we all have birthdays at the end of the year), plus somehow all my dental/medical checkups/appointments ended up around now. Most things we did or attended over the holidays were rich and good, but it still filled days and kept me feeling a little spinny. (Or was that the cough syrup?)

A Public Service Announcement for Sick Season

I started having a big cold on November 12th and I’m not done with it yet. The nasty contagious sneezing and runny nose part was over weeks ago, but I’m still coughing.  Went to walk-in clinic yesterday and now I have an inhaler which seems help my excitable bronchial tubes settle down. I think (knock on wood) this might work.

Kids & Books & Boxes & Paper Towels Tubes

Two things today – both related to schools.

1. I’ve volunteered for three years at Whittier Elementary School in Waukesha.  Once a week I walk out of my world into 3rd grade world and while I am there, my world simply disappears!

If you are the kind of person who is fond of kids who have ordinary and extraordinary challenges with reading and learning and doing kid-math – please consider being a volunteer, too.  You can call up schools near you. 

Location, location, location...

Here is another short MB take on the impeachment hearings.

Why Ukraine?  

Location, location, location.

Trump wanted the Ukrainians to turn the Biden name into a scandal. Trump is obviously in the thrall of Putin; whether this is criminal or simply his dangerous fascination with strongmen is the questions du jour. In any case, it seems likely that Trump Whisperer Putin suggested, “All you need to do is connect Biden to graft and you can win this election. Worked the last time, didn’t it…”?

Because Putin wants to run Ukraine.  

Why?

Follow the money.

When they tell you who they are...

I have a very big cold.  Not all that relevant to you but aggravating to me. Anyway, last night I coughed and woke myself up a lot; I had time in which to to think about the impeachment hearing drama in Washington.  I don’t have that much to say all at once. But I am noting particular things as this goes along and I am going to say them

On Friday Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee harangued about the “the unfairness” of impeachment hearing’s rules.

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