Category Archives: Authors

page 168 of 330 of The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

She also shows the ugly side of Vietnamese independence and how 200,000 were killed in the Land Reforms and that nobody was really free and the police made sure you clapped during the propaganda films. Not much of a life, especially if you’ve enjoyed the material luxuries of the French. Hard to go back home again (which he literally is doing but is struggling with seeing the upside to).

page 158 of 330 of The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

It’s interesting how even though the French brought so many luxuries to Vietnam, which her father enjoyed, especially since he had been so poor initially before attending French school, so many people were willing to give it up to claim an independent identity, even if it meant sacrificing family. Speaks to the power that blood has over material things, and how much freedom is more valued than being ruled.

page 150 of 330 of The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

I don’t know if I should admit this, but I agree with her mother about how “Marriage = trap” and “Education = freedom”. I know it’s possible to balance the two, but I know it’s also a struggle and when you have to decide between the two you’re almost always going to side with family rather than freedom – and not that it’s a negative thing to do so, but balancing self vs others is always a conflict and tension.

page 143 of 330 of The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

Her mother grew up VERY privileged when the French were the colonizers in Vietnam. She was very rich, had servants, and her mother was sure proud of her lifestyle – meanwhile so many people were living in poverty and were arming themselves to fight the French, and people like her mother = class war. How many times in history has a country been ripped apart by class tensions?

page 136 of 330 of The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

I think I can understand why her mother was more comfortable talking to her daughter’s husband about her past than to her own daughter since it creates a sort of buffer by talking to someone you share no blood and past with and so it doesn’t get all mixed up and confused or misinterpreted or interrupted, though it does suck that the communication can’t be more connected between mother and daughter.

page 133 of 330 of The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

Interesting how her opinion of her mother is tied up with the opinion of herself, as if they are sort of one person while also being two different people, which is sort of the way kids work, I suppose in that we’re a lot like our parents while also our own people.

She draws her mother (as she knows her) as being sort of stiff and like her mind is somewhere else, though she was a lot different before having kids

page 54 of 160 of My Emily Dickinson

I see the point Howe is making regarding Jonathan Edwards’ isolation from his congregation with ED’s isolation from the rest of society when she remained skeptical of the revivalist movement. She’s aware of a greater truth, something beautiful and virtuous, but its not something that is easily seen, it has to be squinted at is even harder to explain. Revival is easy, staying revived is a lot harder.

page 51 of 160 of My Emily Dickinson

This is what I find most interesting about ED, “the immanent consciousness of Separation”, where “each word is a cipher, through its sensible sign another sign hidden” – “Subject and object were fused at that moment, into the immediate feeling of understanding”. Her words live like electrons that can’t be directly observed, but we infer multiple meanings through the matter (and form) of the poem.

page 50 of 160 of My Emily Dickinson

Edwards’ sermon with all its hellfire is fascinating, not least of all because of how un-God like he makes God seem (at least by modern standards; if anyone even thinks of God anymore). God here is vengeful and itching to throw everyone’s soul into the hottest of hells, but is held back only because he has to. These days God apparently wants you to be rich and vote for CEO’s.

page 49 of 160 of My Emily Dickinson

I disagree that ED’s decision not to publish – and the shun fame- grew out of a Calvinist theology (even if it’s by the barest of threads). I think she was simply suspicious of fame and of society and mostly she might have worried that being in the world (so to speak) would dilute her poetry. Howe is correct that “Emily Dickinson’s religion was Poetry”, but that means it wasn’t anything else. ED was a social skeptic

I disagree that ED shunned fame because of a Calvinist strain, no matter how threadbare it might be. In saying this it takes away her decision by letting religion be the vehicle, but I don’t think this was her reason to reject fame. I think she saw fame as a road that would dilute her poetry, that being famous was not very original and that she was eternally skeptical of society,

page 47 of 160 of My Emily Dickinson

“Grace and Predestination are another contradiction” – I wonder if ED had thought much about this since this is exactly the sort of split / fragmented / contradictory language she loved. If God both offers Grace AND Predestination is real, then how can they co-exist? Perhaps this is a glimmer of insight into her not trusting any of it? ED’s God is above contradiction at the very least.

page 46 of 160 of My Emily Dickinson

Howe makes an interesting observation in how ED retained strains of Puritanism in that she describes “Puritan theology at its best would tirelessly search God’s secrecy, explore Nature’s hidden meaning,” and though ED wasn’t going as far as to say it was a Christian God running everything, she does see Something in Everything; no acre of creation is devoid of intention of some sort.

page 42 of 160 of My Emily Dickinson

I like the breakdown of the trope of the captivity narrative, especially how the perseverance does not change the “victim” but brings them back closer to God which, ironically, is no longer found in nature, but in Christian civilization which is at war with nature, as well as the people who live in nature. In other words, it’s all cliche propaganda and people will always be susceptible to this shit.

page 40 of 160 of My Emily Dickinson

It’s interesting that ED was living at a time not only when America was split politically (civil war), but also geographically in that still large swaths of the landscape were unexplored and virgin and people like Cotton Mather were saying that wilderness is a sword (presumably attacking the good Christian). America was still new and unknown and struggling to find an identity – just like ED’s poetry.

page 39 of 160 of My Emily Dickinson

I assume Howe is suggesting that ED is reacting to “the idea that our visible world is a whim and might be dissolved at any time” and that people of her day were willing to show “obedience to a stern and sovereign Absence” which “forged a fanatical energy necessary for survival”. The “obedience to a higher purpose” is plain and simple; ED disagrees, though she does still seem to believe in some sort of spirit.

page 130 of 330 of The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

I’m glad she explored her father’s past since it informs so much of the man he became, why he didn’t want to coddle the children because he knew how cruel the world could be and it’s probably better to prepare the kids then tell them it will be alright. Besides, he wouldn’t have known any better since his own childhood was terrible – how would he know how to raise kids?

page 23 of 160 of My Emily Dickinson

“Perception of an object means loosing and losing it” as in Plato, but also at the quantum level of observation effecting the outcomes, the dual nature of reality at the fundamental level and the impossible divide between the thing and the form of the thing.

How much her dashes are like a woman trying to speak around a man who is trying to interrupt her. How often have we heard a woman speak only to have to pause, then go again, then pause again while she is interrupted? It’s like she’s having to fit her poetry around the voice of men, yet be continuing to write, even when she hesitates (Latin = to stick, stammer), she still perseveres and does not stop.

page 22 of 160 of My Emily Dickinson

“Is this world of the imagination the same for men and women?” is a good question. Is it? What exactly IS our imagination? What are the waters of that sea made of? Are they the same temperature? Our our islands at different latitudes (or longitudes)? How much of what we are makes up what we want to be? Or is there a common imagination? That which makes us want to be part of everything else human?

page 21 of 160 of My Emily Dickinson

“She built a new poetic form from her fractured sense of being eternally on intellectual borders, where confident masculine voices buzzed an alluring and inaccessible discourse, backward through history into aboriginal anagogy” (which I read as agony, but anagogy means spiritual elevation / passion = might be related, eg. Christ’s passion).

In other words, she invented a “new grammar”.

page 12 of 160 of My Emily Dickinson

And now she’s onto Joyce, specifically Ulysses and Molly’s section ending with the affirmative, “yes”. Which itself is odd because it is written by a man, yet he was more recognized as an innovator than G. Stein was at the time even though she was pushing even harder than he was.

I wonder if it’s still worth making the distinction between Joyce saying “I hate intellectual women,” with the fact he didn’t say he didn’t need them? Sometimes I feel that the best writers sort of have a difficult relationship with people (in reality) and use writing to connect instead (though maybe that’s just me).

page 7 of 160 of My Emily Dickinson

The preface is interesting in how it shows how derided ED was for so long, even up into 1980. Howe also uses the WCW quote about ED as her jumping off point to deal with how ED is seen, though she is quite fair to WCW in saying what he meant was that poets aren’t men or women, they are poets first “salted with fire”.

She talks about Thoreau wanting to get in a boat and see where the river takes him. I did that too.

page 84 of 330 of The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

A lot of her anxieties as a kid are about not being able to find her way home, like the story her father told her about the guy who could astral project but his friends dressed his sleeping body up and his spirit couldn’t find it’s way back and he went insane (great story). Perhaps this is what the experience of the immigrant is, coupled with a sort of Exorcist possession where one culture invades the immigrant.

page 75 of 330 of The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

Maybe it isn’t that her father didn’t answer her questions because he wasn’t interested in making her feel safe, but that he wanted her to understand how the world can be scary and it’s good to learn how to deal with that rather than only be reassured all the time. Not that you can go all in one way or the other, but there should be a balance. So is she being unfair to her father?