I like the play on language here with the word ‘Me’, which in (northern) Vietnam is a formal way of referring to a mother, but in English refers to one’s own self. So she’s both “Me (her mom)” and “me (herself, a mother)”.
She’s now experiencing the same desire to keep her kids safe and alive that her parents went through. And though what her parents endured was far more dramatic, the drive to protect one’s kids comes from the same place.
Well if my neighbor’s O2 tank exploded and stated an apartment fire I would probably not be so aware as to gather all my stuff the way they did – so in a way that refugee reflex is a pretty good and practical skill, even if it’s genesis comes from a place of fear.
It’s like the family couldn’t wait to put the past behind them so much that they got rid of nearly everything that reminded them of the past.
I like how she describes what the intended lessons were (do well in school, be nice to others), as well as the unintended lesson (always worrying about safety).
She describes it as her parents building their bubble around them – a place separate and safe but also the words denotes an isolation too.
Interesting how they are used to the government taking care of everything but when they get to America they have to take care of themselves. I can see how that would be a culture shock, but my goodness we Americans take the self-reliance thing way too far to the point where it just isolates everyone.
Poor Bo, he gets left behind and then when he does get to leave it’s a disaster trying to get to America. I wonder how much it is his bad luck, or just lack of planning since Ma seems to be the one who has her head screwed on tighter?
I love that he thinks Chicago is ugly.
Different times in the late 70’s when it was relatively easy to get into the US and stat a new life. Sad how in my lifetime the US has slowly been closing itself off more and more from the rest of the world.
The refugee camp where people remake their lives. I suppose on one hand that terrible experience because you have no home and no real identity, but also an exciting possibility since you can forge a new one, at least a new professional identity, even if you can’t really change who you are; what you do can change.
Good ‘ol Ma, when she’s in the hospital everyone just sits around eating rice and butter, then when she gets out, even with no shoes, she gets a better tent, food, supplies, and everyone’s paperwork put in order.
And I was wondering if we’d ever get a real photograph, and she has one here of her family right after they escaped in ’78.
Imagine being a pastor of a church and you attempt to do the right thing, but because it goes against the economic interests of your congregation they kick you out so they can go on … sinning. Times never do change, do they. People hear what they want and will make sure even God gives them the permission they want to not have to change.
“Good intentions prove nothing,” true; “Faith proves nothing,” and I disagree with this because faith proves faith, Faith is its own proof. And not just in something religious, but even of oneself – faith in oneself proves faith in oneself, to be daring, to be rebellious, to listen and have faith.
Never have a found a book so profoundly brilliant and infuriating at the same damn time.
Again these statements she makes are odd: “War is the father of us all” seems far to general and sweeping and, honestly, a little insipid. What does this even mean? I mean, what does it really mean … is she saying that strife and murder conjoin with nurture to produce? what, exactly? I see war as something that happens to us, not as something that gives us half of our DNA.
Odd how Keates wrote about reading King Lear, an old man at the end of his life when Keates is eternally young. Is it the same as when I, nearing 50, read Keats to prime the pump of his youthful well hoping to find youth there, just as he thought about nature and age and wandering through the barren landscape of … what, exactly? Was he mapping the topography of aging? of time?
“To be rebellious and to distrust rebellion is the plight of the tragic artist. Daring is dangerous.” True. I wonder how much ED thought she was being daring? Maybe in the sense that she wrote what was in her heart and mind – because to reveal oneself is an act of daring – but did she think of herself as rebellious? I imagine her as someone who questions – is asking questions a form of daring rebellion? Probably.
Did Shakespeare have a “volcanic loathing for women?” He was equally able to peel back anyone’s skin to find their soul – I’d argue he didn’t much care for anyone, man or woman, which made him able to see them for all their good and evil. You sort of have to hate humanity to find a way to actually love it and know why you love it and express why you love it. If you always love, you never question it.
For in truth art lies hidden with nature, he who can wrest it from her, has it,” Albrecht Durur.
OK, now THIS I can totally get behind in that she’s naming the gun (is the gun) in the way of myth where swords had names, “Beowulf had Naegling, Sigmund owned Gram, Roland – Durandel, Hauteclere belonged to Oliver, and the Lady of the Lake lent Excalibur to Arthur”. But here she is not only gun / sword, but giver and wielder. She’s all three and thus encompasses myth.
“And what is genius but finer love?” – Emerson
“In myth at any time, a woman may suddenly change form. Ariadne became a spider, Alcyone, a bird, Niobe, a stone”, thus like ED who, in poetry, also shape-shifts.
“A poem is an invocation, rebellious return to the blessedness of beginning again, wandering free in pure process of forgetting and finding.”
A frontier, a new beginning, but what comes after the beginning of even a poem? Is a poem always a beginning? What happens after a poem?
Minor quibble: it annoys me when people pass off their own failings as being something they are not in control of. When ED loses her temper and blames it on Gunn (her grandmother) it’s funny, yes, but childish too because all of us are n control of ourselves – nobody else is pulling the strings.
I like the comparison to Daniel Boone in that they are both hunters forging a new frontier.
I feel like I’ve lost some of the thread here. She’s pulling for a lot of sources and quoting them at length, but if she wants us to see what she sees she needs to maybe be a bit more clear? Trying to write the way ED thinks is bold, but I’m sot sure she’s pulling it off well here. Fascinating nevertheless, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m probably not smart enough for this book.
I feel she’s getting a little too lost in the weeds of Shakespeare here.
“Time’s dominion embraces each poem”.
Not that I am for how women were treated during ED’s time, but to say women were “psychologically mutilated” is going too far. All people are forced to work within a system they have no control over so to suggest that a male dominated society only has a negative influence on women suggests that there in no effect on men, which isn’t true either. We’re all in this together; troubling to see these divisions.
Is she making reference to Indo European myth where the world had once been female?
“At the blind point between what is said and meant, who is sounding herself?”
Interesting playing with ‘sovereign’ in regard to Elizabeth Tudor as being so many things to the poets of her time, from pagan to the sublime, not to mention a representative of God.
I think being anxious if a writer has the same permission to enter the ‘sovereign’ woods that Shakespeare hunted in is a common anxiety for any writer.
She equates ‘loaded gun’ with hunting down Higginson and, thus, hunting down approval, help, appreciation, validation … and everything a writer hopes to find in the eyes of a fellow creative. To hunt with a gun, however, in terms of creativity, is interesting in that she’s a loaded figure full of dangerous potential. And she’s a gun he can never figure out how to shoot.
“Lear’s world of monstrous necessity where union with Nature means living outside comfort with the forces of destruction”. This feels right regrading ED who didn’t see nature as something innocent, but she had a more Herzog practicality to nature in that it can be a force, an indifferent, but also beautiful force.
I like how she says that both Emily’s “felt God and Nature separating fro each other”. Though did ED really see a split, or are they two sides to the same coin?
“God is hidden”, but neoplatonic is also everywhere, the invisible (but certain) center of the circle which we diameter and radius endlessly.
Here we see the numerous (and not exhaustive) variations of what “My Life” might refer to. Maybe the trick is that even ED didn’t know, but she was fine with that because then she could be all or nothing or some when she wanted (at least in her poetry).
Lear [as] dark pastoral, Browning’s Childe Roland to the Dark Tower, My life has stood – a loaded gun, all go back to Shakespeare as their wellspring.
I like the letter where Browning says “I am perfectly indifferent whether my name is remembered or not. The reward would be that the ideas which were mine, should live and benefit the race!” I can see how ED might appreciate this too. Shakespeare probably would care, being the practical businessman / showman that he was, so I think that analogy falls apart, but the point is still taken.
The two Emily’s. This is an interesting comparison and contrast. EB writes, “I threw the flower on the ground; at that moment the universe appeared to me a vast machine constructed only to bring forth evil”. How does this square with ED’s philosophy? I doubt she saw this much evil in a flower, but she is skeptical of everything, and like Blake, I doubt she’s seeing a (just and goodly) universe in a grain of sand.
“the inhumane legalism of Calvinism warred with the intellectual beauty of Neoplatonism”.
“If God created Man and Woman to damn them, Emily Bronte sided with the sinners and was recalcitrant”.
Howe compares Dickinson’s upbringing with the Bronte sisters in that neither had much in the way of maternal influence and brother’s who did not live up to expectations, which is too bad since the women were far more reliable but society didn’t care about the women (outside of igniting a scandal).
Being captain of a ship with a bunch of starving people and kids would be a nightmare – nobody would know what to do (and what not to do) and everybody would think they have a right to the ship’s operation (like the engine or the water supply). Having been in the Navy, reading this section makes me laugh, cringe, and stressed out all at the same time – and yet I’m not the one fleeing for my life.
That’s funny: one guy wants to put a sail up on a boat with no keep (which would cause the whole thing to tip over). But then how many people would know this that didn’t have any knowledge of boats? And it’s ironic because a lot of the people on the boat are the educated fleeing from the communists but they have no good knowledge which can help them easily escape.
Crazy how they used shots of Valium on some of the kids to keep them quiet as they navigated the river past the patrols. It’s also crazy how while people are trying to save their kids, it’s their kids (being kids) who can so easily get them caught.
That’s heartbreaking how her great grandmother knew the family was never coming back and they had to lie to her.
Everyone spying on each other, class disparity, government control – it’s like these things just keep happening over and over again no matter what country you live in – now it’s becoming America’s turn to dive head first into this insanity because if anyone thinks the artifice of society and government and safety are permanent has not opened the books those in power want to burn.
Interesting how the people who the Americans say were cowardly for surrendering were the same people who survived because they surrendered and then had to flee and become Americans who then raised their kids in America who were inundated with the American side of the story of Vietnam. It’s a lot of mixed stories and points of view making up the “truth”.
At the same time, spring 1975, while Vietnam was (either won or lost, depending on who you asked and which side you were one), Cambodia was also being taken over by communist forces, the Khmer Rouge, and that would lead to the killing fields and the horrific genocide in that country. It feels like Cambodia has yet to recover from those events, while Vietnam currently seems like it stands on its own now.
I like how she shows how complicated the situation was for her parents. Her father talks about the general who killed the Viet Cong in the head (the famous photo) and about how he hated that the military treated the people like criminals, but then also talks about how that Viet Cong had murdered his family a few hours earlier. There aren’t really sides here, it’s more complexities of nuance and gray and surviving.
War turns citizens into enemies of the state, relatives into black market profiteers. Nobody really changed, just their function and how they’re perceived.
Must be interesting to see what her parent’s reaction is to this book considering they’re telling her how they really felt about each other – one wonders if they ever said any of this – such as her thinking her mother thinking Bo probably wouldn’t live long anyway – to each other? Maybe it’s through the kids that the parents can finally communicate?