Donald's Blog

  This old house was only a few blocks from the state Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. All the neighborhood cats lived in the basement during the winter. The house has long since been torn down, but in 1972 there were AR2ax speakers in the front room, and a lot of good music was heard there.

«Mar 2018»

In the 21st century I am just as opinionated as ever, and I now have an outlet. I shall pontificate here about anything that catches my fancy; I hope I will not make too great a fool of myself. You may comment yea or nay about anything on the site; I may quote you here, or I may not. Send brickbats etc. to:


March 7, 2018

Yet another first-world problem

I subscribed to all those mail-order budget classical record clubs back in the 1950s: The Musical Masterpiece Society, Music Treasures of the World, there was no end of them. Some of the MMS tracks are still favorites, European recordings that could be leased at the time for very little. Now I am trying to buy a Music Treasures number just to find out if it's the one that still intrigues me. These came in a polythene sleeve, no jacket, no notes except perhaps an insert on a sheet of paper; a recording of Bizet's L'Arlésienne Suite no. 2 was not only a fun performance, but in the Farandole used a tambourine-like instrument, allegedly the French folk instrument that Bizet wanted, instead of the usual little drum. Hard to believe that everyone else has got it wrong all these decades, but I'd like to hear it again.

So I ordered the record from Discogs (where you can find some pretty weird old stuff) and was supposed to hear from the seller about how to pay, but did not; next got a note from Discogs to say that the order was about to be cancelled because I hadn't paid; went to Paypal and paid and the payment seemed to be going to the wrong place, because the seller apparently has three different names: Atomic-Age, Vixen Vinyl LLC, and Now the record is supposed to be on the way. Such a lot of rigmarole just to gamble a couple of bucks.

addenda: The record arrived and the performance of the Farandole is not the one I was hoping for. In fact I had to put on headphones and turn up the volume just to hear the percussionist; he must have been using brushes. I lost the gamble.


March 7, 2018

Good reading discovered

Last week Billy Graham was on the news every night for several nights running; now I guess he is safely under the grass. Coincidentally, I saw an abridged version of an essay by Marilynne Robinson in the Times Literary Supplement that I enjoyed so much that I purchased a download of her new collection, What Are We Doing Here?

Robinson is a Pulitzer-prize winning novelist, who is now retired from teaching at the Iowa Writers Workshop in Iowa City, the most highly regarded such department in the USA. I read one of her novels years ago, because it was remaindered and I bought it very cheap; the rest of them are on my bucket list, which is already impossibly long. I did not know until now that she is also a lecturer and an essayist of the very first order, and takes no prisoners:

I mentioned how aware I am that I bear the stigma of living in Iowa and of teaching in a public university. This country grossly impoverishes itself with this condescending or contemptuous dismissal of vast reaches of its terrain and the multitudes who live and die there. I have been asked a hundred times why I teach at Iowa, by people sophisticated enough to know that in my field anywhere else on earth would be a step down. So perhaps I teach at a public school in the Midwest because I am an elitist.

She studies history, and takes nothing for granted. (We think of the Puritans as cruel and intolerant; in fact they were a vast improvement on what had come before: they did not believe in torture or burning people.) She is a religious person, regarding theology, history and science as equally important and indispensible, on top of which she is a spellbinding writer. Her stuff is absolutely thrilling, and makes the likes of Billy Graham sound like children ranting in their playpens.


March 7, 2018

The past isn't dead. It isn't even past.

I left my wife and children 53 years ago. We had two beautiful little girls; compared to all our working-class friends, our kids were better behaved, we had a nicer home, and fewer debts… But dear old Sandy, my high-school sweetheart, was unhappy. She complained constantly about everything, and about nothing. I could not seem to please her, and I finally decided that there was no point in both of us being unhappy, so I left.

I was young and dumb, and did not realize how hard this would be on the girls. Soon I found myself living overseas; they have each had somewhat rackety lives, and while somehow I stayed close to the oldest, the younger one was understandably resentful, and we were more or less on the outs for a while. She may have been too strict on her own children, but she has mellowed. I don't know what happened. The important thing is that we get along now.

Meanwhile, I had finally found my life partner, and for nearly forty years I have watched her make friends around the world. I'll never forget the first time I saw Ethne lecture, on the subject of some flower or other; in a round barn in the middle of Texas a large audience was bored almost to sleep by people attempting murder by power point, but as soon as Ethne opened her mouth people sat up and started having a good time. That was nearly 20 years ago, and last month it happened for the Nth time: she didn't want to go to Palm Springs; she had concerns at home, she thought there wouldn't be much of an audience and the trip would be a waste of time, but of course she went and lectured about mid-century modern and was a smash hit: the room was packed; some had come just to see her, no matter what she was talking about, and they didn't want to let her off the stage.

At her last job she had been head-hunted to revive a 70-year-old magazine. She won awards from the magazine industry, including Best Relaunch; but the atmosphere at that company was poisonous (nobody can know what passive-aggressive is until they've worked in the media). Even there she tried to mentor younger people, helping them along with their editorial skills, as she herself was mentored decades ago in London. She is a much nicer person than I am, or at least a lot more gregarious; people on almost every continent want us to come visit; if we were younger and had more money we would be travelling constantly.

But we have had some concerns recently; I have been in pain for several months thanks to osteoporosis, and Ethne has been heartbroken by something that has been going on close to home: there are always travails. And then along comes the eldest grandchild with a sledgehammer of imagined nonsense about Ethne picking on her about her weight. We have had trouble with this kid before; she apparently needs to be the center of attention. We were happy because she seemed to be looking happier lately; she used to look skinny and haggard. She and her second husband and her three beautiful and talented daughters came here last summer for a visit and we all had a wonderful time. Or so we thought. We were wrong: the eldest grandchild is not happy at all. It seems she thinks she is overweight: we did not know that, and we don't give a damn. But she thinks that Ethne has been fat-shaming her, which is a social media phenomenon of her generation, not ours.

She says that our relationship, hers and mine, has always been "fragile"; well, I was living overseas until she was a teenager, and I had not seen her since she was a toddler. And when it came time, who did her best to do something about that fragility? Ethne, that's who. She engineered a visit to the eldest grandchild when she was in college in New Jersey, and I remember being disappointed that her boyfriend couldn't be there: I guess that was the first husband. And there was a meeting in Philadelphia, where the eldest couldn't make it, but where I met a grandson for the first time. (He called me Grandpa, which I liked; at least we are friends on Facebook.) At some point, when we were living in Iowa, the phone rang, Ethne answered it, and a tiny voice asked "Ethne?" She was stuck alone with one or two babies in some godforsaken military town in Kentucky or wherever, and she needed to reach out, and we were pleased and deeply touched that she reached out to us. Again, on a visit to New York, Ethne brought the two grandaughters and the two oldest great-grandchildren to our hotel room as a surprise for me, and we all had a nice time going to the zoo. There have been other meetings: we went to visit her and the kids in Germany when the first husband was stationed there.

And most recently, when the eldest was living in a broken-down house trailer after a divorce, our son rented a trailer and hauled her car all way from Georgia to Pennsylvania; and when she decided to go back to college, we invited her to come and live with us, where she would be safer and closer to school: Ethne and I both had that idea, but Ethne suggested it first, so she gets the credit. And the eldest did her best to screw that up with her self-centeredness. And now when I remind her what a good person Ethne is and how hard she has tried to reach out to my earlier family, she says she is "flummoxed".

Okay, she doesn't like Ethne, she distrusts her, she's afraid of her, whatever. I don't care. Some women have to be suspicious of other women, perhaps especially older, stronger women; that's not our problem. Ethne isn't taking any more insults, and I find this mindlessness disgusting, so here I am on the outs again with a loved one. The eldest grandchild says, "This is high school nonsense. I wash my hands of it." She should have done that before she started. Somebody said that she'll probably turn into a nice person in 25 years, but I won't care. I'll be dead.

Here is the eldest grandchild, in February 2018:
"something incorrect…unacceptable behavior…rude, unbecoming, and an insult…passive-aggressive...cutting nasty comments with sharp teeth…disgraceful…in poor taste…foolish idiocy…vicious note…bitter woman…"

And here is Oliver Cromwell in August 1650:
"I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

Aftr 53 years, the moral of the story hasn't changed. One can choose to be happy, or one can choose to be unhappy. Maybe it's something genetic.