Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Notes on a Tuesday Afternoon

"...things have always hit me very hard. I suppose that is why i never run out of material to write about. The inside of me is so full of dents and scars, where pleasant and unpleasant things have hit me in the past.... Faces, situations, things people said long ago simply come up from my mind as if they were written down. They would not be there if they hadn't hit me so hard."--Willa Cather

Its been raining in Oaxaca, a good season for napping and reading. This afternoon I was curled up with "Death Comes for the Archbishop" and that led to some internet research on Willa Cather's life, and the recently published (2013) "Selected Letters of Willa Cather."

The kindle edition is (choke!) $14.99, while it does come in a bit over 700 pages. But digital is digital, right? How much do a few extra digits cost? 

What I usually do in these situations is run over to Abe Books where yes, I see a copy for $4.31. I just hope the print isn't too small for my weak glasses.

I always think that books of letters, where they exist, are the best way to get to know a writer. It's rather sad to consider that as soon as fifty years from now, it may be nigh on impossible for young writers to find actual books of letters from admired authors, people who are writing now. Maybe they'll find a book of collected tweets? Facebook posts?

Willa did have a problem with spelling that was finally corrected when she started studying at the University of Nebraska. I found this quote from an early letter, age 14...

"I am deep in "Caesar"--poor vetren, who are we that we should censure Brutus when in youth we do the dread dead dayly,--murder Caesar. Also reading Gorge Sand."


I am told that these letters reveal and emotional and enthusiastic spirit whose curiosity and kindness lit the lives of those around her.

As far as her writing, there were at least two schools of thought; those who said she was writing behind her times (she read, admired, and emulated writers from bygone eras) and those who thought she was a moving and brilliant writer who created her own niche, in her own way.

Some critics of her own time urged her to be more like au courant James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. They had no interest in a woman of the plains, who was writing about a life closer to nature and its challenges. 

Some thought she was a lesbian.

Others insisted she was not.

I'm not convinced it matters, except when she wrote a few gender-bending pieces about energetic little girls who cut their hair short and were determined to live life their way. 

We used to call that being a tomboy. 

But there are the times to consider, and in those days, in America, I am not sure women knew what a lesbian was, even if they might have been one, had they known! Nebraska wasn't Paris, let's put it that way.

Nothing I have read ABOUT Willa Cather's writing so far, matches my EXPERIENCE of reading her. And that piques my interest.

On another subject, last night I finished binge-watching "The Keepers," the Netflix series about the sadistic, child-raping priest who is suspected of murdering a nun in 1969. He has been protected all these years, not only by the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Maryland, but the city government and police. Somebody should do something about this horrifying collusion. Not being a Catholic, that somebody is not me, except as far as I can spread awareness.

"The Keepers" series is really about a group of middle-aged women who slowly found each other when their repressed memories overtook their lifelong determination to forget, and forced them to reach out. For some, the past flooded back when they learned about the murder of one of their teachers, a young nun who was determined to stop the priest from devouring the girls of the school. It's about the women's fundamental decency, patience, coming of age and consciousness, and yes, finally, anger. I can't recommend it highly enough. What an amazing collection of women! 

The series is one of those "things" that Willa Cather talked about, things that hit very hard, that are life changing.

It's one of the reasons we never run out of things to write about.

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