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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Quarantine Diary #15 3/28/2020

The Long-Awaited Groceries (The hymn “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” is in my brain right now) came last night at 9PM – when it was raining. A woman named Sarah, late 30’s, brown ponytail, not-posh sweatpants and hoodie – carried ALL our groceries across the street from her car to our porch. This included 8-packs of Gatorade plus boxes of seltzer water, plus lots of other heavy stuff. Did I mention it was raining?

Quarantine #14 3/27/2020

Last night we did another wild and crazy thing. We got in our car and went for a drive! The first thing we remarked to each other was that we had not been in the car together in weeks.  It felt a little odd to be in there, next to each other, about to GO SOMEPLACE! Maybe this is the way it feels to be the family dog when they let you sit in the front seat and EVERYTHING IS SO AMAZING!

We drove west into the rosy sunset, filled with excitement to, um, see the sky.  Quarantines are easiest on people who have a low bar for excitement.

Quarantine Diary #13 3/26/2020

What do you miss?  What, in our new pandemical world do you miss most from our pre-pandemical world?You know, the one we lived in till two weeks ago?

I don’t mean the heartbreaking realities such as safe medical care providers and enough places to go should one become ill and the loved ones that we are losing.

I just mean, what are we getting used to? Or trying to get used to. What might we never go back to?

Quarantine Diary #12 3/25/2020

Right now it is 11:00AM.  Got up this morning at the regular time. Did regular things. Came to the office to write. Worked (hardly at all) on a project, wrapped an item for eBay. Announced to Len at 10:30 that I was sleepy and going to take a nap.

You know what he said?  He said, “Me, too.”

The following half hour he took the sofa and I took our bed and both of us slept like toddlers on cots.

Quarantine Diary #11 3/24/2020

Most mornings we wake up, get coffee, then sit in bed to read news websites and Twitter on our phones. This isn’t the most spiritually centering way to begin a day but IMHO any morning one can actually rouse oneself at all is good enough.

Except this. Remember when Len and I went to Kearny, Nebraska last spring to see the migrating Sandhill Cranes? (Right here.) 

When I have freaked out enough about the news, I go to this crane cam. 

Quarantine Diary #10 3/23/2020

This was a really good part of today. When my daughter was putting the baby down for his nap, Len and I read storybooks to our 3-year old granddaughter before her nap. Literally, she was sitting on her little bed in Chicagoland while holding mommy’s phone.  I read; Len moved the phone around carefully to show the illustrations. 

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