Me and Emily: Getting to know you

Today I packed my trunks with borrowed books and made my way through the gray and thoughtful day to fulfill my duty returning my overdue books to the library.

The library is my main charity because I am almost always late returning books and consequently pay nice fat fines. We have a very good deal worked out between us: I check out books whose yellowed pages crack with unused age; and in exchange give them money they can use to buy bright, eye-catching masterpieces of the moment, such as Who Moved my Cheese.

Still, my room has taken on a slightly acidic smell from failing books and my cat can’t lie in the sun on my desk, and it’s time to return my library and begin anew.

Among the books I returned today were Emily Dickinson books: the spine stretched Complete Poems of Emily DickinsonEmily Dickinson: Woman Poet, the book that roared; Portrait of Emily Dickinson by Higgens with is mention of Emily like bits of candied pineapple among the cake of others faces.

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant –
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind –

There was the enigmatic Open me Carefully with letters from Emily to her sister-in-law with little interpretation, which was remarkably refreshing. Fisher’s We Dickinsons was an easy read, a fanciful tale of Emily told from the perspective of her brother and geared for young high school eyes and ears — all goodness and humor with nary a dark spot to spoil the white pages. It’s badly out of print, having scrubbed all the parts suited to the macabre nature of youth.

There was Habegger’s My Wars are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickson, with a minimum of all that sentimental rubbish about the poet. There was another book, and now I can’t even remember the name but it had a green cover, an author whose name began with ‘H’ and repeated bits and pieces from most of what the other books said, which is probably why I can’t remember it and didn’t bother to write down the title. I am not a biographer or responsible historian. I am only a curious person.

If you search for books on Emily Dickinson at Amazon or some other online books store you’ll literally find thousands about her, covering every aspect of her life from sex to prayer:

Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief, by Roger Lundin

My Emily Dickinson by Susan Howe

The Life and Mind of Emily Dickinson, by Genevieve Taggard

Emily Dickinson and her Culture: The Soul’s Society, by Barton Levi St. Armand

Emily Dickinson’s Gothic: Goblin with a Gauge, by Daneen Wardrop

Feminists Critics read Emily Dickinson, by Suzanne Juhasz (ed)

Visiting Emily, The Diary of Emily Dickinson, Taking off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes, A Vice for Voices, Emily Dickinson the Metaphysical Tradition…

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After a while, though, the books begin to blur together, differing only in their amazing variation of interpretation of a single word or simple act.

There are online sources devoted to Emily, too. One only has to search on Emily Dickinson to return hundreds of thousands of pages, including complete collections of her poems — in two different spots. Considering the number of poems in question, that’s a lot of poetry. Emily Dickinson wrote close to 2000 poems, and over 1000 of her letters to friends and family have survived, though not always unedited.

And the conjecture about her life! There is much fascination with the fact that she only wore white later in life, but if she had just chosen to wear black, nothing would have been said about the sameness of her dress. Her letters and poems are pulled and used as proof of her erotic love for both man and woman, so much so that it began to irritate me greatly, the historians can become so self-sure about their interpretations. I have to think that if she had truly loved as many people as has been claimed, there would have been no room left for writing — all her time would have been spent in a tizzy of frustrated longing with swirls of faces floating about.

Then there are the bees. She wrote passionately several times about the bees. I am sure there was something kinky about that.

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

We hear stories about her reclusiveness, but facts surface and we find out that she actually attended church from time to time, or would visit a friend, and see people who visited. In truth, if she weren’t Emily Dickinson we would look at her life and not see anything more than an affluent, educated woman with a small circle of friends and family who liked to write a lot, was generous with those in need, but reserved and even shy around strangers and larger crowds, liked to cook and garden, didn’t like to travel, and didn’t go out very much.

There are facts we know: Emily Dickinson was the middle child of three children, born to affluent parents in a town, Amherst, Massachusetts, steeped in family history. An Older brother named William Austen, a younger sister named Lavinia. Mother ill much of her life, father domineering, but not punitive, and brother leading an interesting but not outstanding life. She and her sister were educated, and were encouraged in their education but not to the point of independence; neither married, both lived at home, took care of their mother, and then their father and then each other.

They had a considerable number of friends who held them in respect and affection, and both were regular correspondents, even with those who lived in town. Both did travel some, but not much and primarily to visit family, or in Emily’s case, to get care for her eyes, which troubled her most of her life.

Emily was interested in books and magazines and journals and was very well read; she loved her dictionary and liked to spend time just reading its pages, discovering new words. To some extent she was interested in the politics of the time, being for the freeing of slaves, but resisting the popular call to join the Christian revolution sweeping New England when she was younger. In fact, if she stood out for any one thing more than another, it was her ambivalent feelings about religion.

“Heavenly Father” — take to thee
The supreme iniquity
Fashioned by thy candid Hand
In a moment contraband –
Though to trust us — seems to us
More respectful — “We are Dust” –
We apologize to thee
For thine own Duplicity –

Emily was a good cook and had a passion for gardening but was indifferent to most other housework. She would make care baskets for those ill, worry about those in trouble, mourn, greatly, friends and family who died, and liked to tease those she cherished. She was friendly with neighborhood children, but didn’t attend many functions, nor did she see many people. One can sense in her letters and in letters about her, that she lived the life she wanted, not one forced on her, by either family or circumstances. In my favorite letter to her sister-in-law Sue, Emily wrote:

We go out very little – once in a month or two, we both set sail in silks – touch at the principal points, and then put into port again – Vinnie cruises about some to transact the commerce, but coming to anchor is most that I can do. Mr. and Mrs. Dwight are a sunlight to me, which no night can shade, and I shall perform weekly journeys there, much to Austin’s dudgeon and my sister’s rage.

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I could go on and doing so repeat other facts easily found online (thus forcing that student coming here to seek answers for their paper, “Who is Emily Dickinson” to give up in frustration at this point and move on…). I think the important thing to remember, though, is that Emily Dickinson wasn’t that different from many unmarried, affluent, strong-minded, white women of the time except for two important things: she loved to write, and she could write. Whether you like her writing or not, it was and is powerful and complex, and I think that’s why so much conjecture happens — how could someone who writes like this lead such a simple life?

The answer is in her work. Emily saw the richness, the nuances in everyday life — of simple likes and dislikes, bees in the spring, autumn leaves, books, family and friends, dictionaries and words, questions of God, slavery, and dying.

How happy is the little Stone
That rambles in the Road alone,
And doesn’t care about Careers
And Exigencies never fears –
Whose Coat of elemental Brown
A passing Universe put on,
And independent as the Sun
Associates or glows alone,
Fulfilling absolute Decree
In casual simplicity –

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I started this quest trying to better understand Emily Dickinson but after reading page after page about her life, I find myself no closer to understanding what she was like, fully, as a person. All we know about her is through her writing: her poetry and her letters. Unfortunately, writing allows the writer to hide in plain view.

The funny thing about this research is that I am not, or was not, a fan of Dickinson poetry. Oh, there were some poems that I liked, but for the most part, I found her work to be cryptic: too verbally rich with too many impressions compressed into too few words. I could not find the key that would open her poetry to me and allow to read poem after poem without feeling an ache in my neck, product of restlessness that lets me know that no matter how much I try to discipline my mind, what I am reading is not connecting with me.

It was a chance remark that sent me on this quest: about Emily Dickinson being unpublished except for a few friends and family while she was alive. I had not studied about Emily Dickinson in school and didn’t know about her obscurity in her lifetime. It amazed me that she wrote thousands and thousands of words that went unpublished during a time when all intellectuals — male and female — aspired to appear in print in one way or another.

I wondered, did she mind?

He scanned it-staggered-
Dropped the Loop
To Past or Period-
Caught helpless at a sense as if
His Mind were going blind-

Groped up, to see if God was there-
Groped backward at Himself
Caressed a Trigger absently
And wandered out of Life.

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Did she mind that she was unknown? Did she mind that her works weren’t being read by many others? We talk about the writer who loves to write regardless of the audience but scratch this insouciance ever so slightly, and you’ll find that there is a drive within most of us to be read. I am not so ‘pure’ as a writer as to be indifferent whether my writing is read or not.

Was Emily indifferent? This sent me to the library and the Internet, and eventually, to a deeper look at her work. In them, over time, I found a connection to Emily Dickinson and her work, and I wonder if that is the strength of her longevity and the root of her popularity — she articulates our formless thoughts and that’s why her writing is so unique, and sometimes so difficult.

Before my readings, I found Emily’s poems difficult to read, and could count on two hands ones that I liked; now, I find I can read all of her work and it means something to me and I can’t bear to choose between the writings to find favorites.

I found the key to Emily Dickinson’s poems — it was within me all along. But it was in her letters and in the words of those who discussed her after death that I found the answer to the question, “Did she mind?”

You cannot make Remembrance grow
When it has lost its Root –
The tightening the Soil around
And setting it upright
Deceives perhaps the Universe
But not retrieves the Plant –
Real Memory, like Cedar Feet
Is shod with Adamant –
Nor can you cut Remembrance down
When it shall once have grown –
Its Iron Buds will sprout anew
However overthrown –

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Slay the Dreamer

On the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr and the National Civil Rights Museum:

Visitors pass through displays depicting African-American life in the Jim Crow South, honoring early civil rights pioneers like Ida B. Wells and describing seminal events like the 1955-56 bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala.

Finally they come to the room in which King spent his final minutes and look onto the balcony where he was standing when Ray’s bullet hit him. Some find this place as evocative an American shrine as Independence Hall or the battlefields at Gettysburg and Antietam.

Thanks to wood s lot.

As I stated earlier, I would never join a protest based on a ‘celebration’ of an assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, I am aware that, in some ways, marching against war on the anniversay of King’s death is a vindication of the last few years of his life, spent fighting the Vietnam war. In an excellent perspective article on King’s death, On anniversary of assassination, some want King remembered as more than ‘dreamer’, the author, Gregory Lewis, writes:

As far as Julian Bond is concerned, the day King was shot to death is “the beginning of the reshaping of King’s legacy by erasing the last five years of his life, freezing him in August 1963.” Since his death at the age of 39, King’s image as a dreamer has supplanted King the radical opponent of the Vietnam War and economic exploitation of the poor.

Yet it’s King’s fight for economic equality for blacks, and his fight against the Vietnam war in addition to his eloquent and powerful influence for civil rights that made him, truly, the great man for all times. In one of his speeches, he said:

“Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.”

“Beyond Vietnam,” April 4, 1967

How uncanny that King would use the same words then, in a different war, that are so appropriate today: about securing liberties several thousand miles away when we’re being denied liberty here in this country, now. If anything marching against war would seem the perfect memorial for King.

But I think that Martin Luther King, Jr would disagree. He wasn’t a man who be comfortable with shrines, and wreaths, and glass cases containing memorabilia. I think he would say that the perfect memorial for him would be a living one, reflected in people fighting for freedom and against injustice and inequality every day of the year.

Curves and Blogs

Clay Shirky has updated his article to incorporate new data. He pointed to a new list over at Technorati created in response to his article:

Top 100 Interesting New Comers

I’m on the list. But then, I’m also on Technorati’s Top 100 as well as Technorati’s 100 Interesting Recent blogs.

What can I say, I’m a Technorati Blog Magnet.

Clay and I are continuing our chat in the comments attached to the previous post. However, in looking at the new power law distribution graph, and looking at the data that generated the graph, I found that it would be quite simple to get rid of the curve: DaveCory, shut up. You’re skewing the curve.

Sam Ruby wrote about the best summary of this whole thing:

Here’s the way I look at it. I’m listed in the Technorati top 100. By looking at the statistics there, 98.93% of the weblogs it tracks do NOT link to mine. 99.90% of the weblogs tracked have less inbound links than me.

I see no mountains here, only molehills.

Squeak.

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We just hate being contacted

The discussion about copyright, generally, and Creative Commons, specifically is continuing elsewhere, and I’m extremely pleased to see others speak out with their concerns, opinions, and questions.

In particular, I loved what Phil Ringnalda wrote today:

What strikes me as uproariously funny about the rush to CC license weblogs, though, is that probably the most useful feature of licensing something that you don’t mind having people use is the way that they don’t have to ask your permission before they use it. And you know how we all hate having people contact us, with our dozens of comment links and TrackBack URLS and semi-obfuscated email addresses and we-hope-it’s-spam-proof contact forms. I can’t think of anything more horrifying to a weblogger than to have someone contact them out of the blue and say “I liked something you did so well that I would like to use it myself, may I?” Why, I myself have twice had people ask if they could borrow a couple of sentences I wrote, and both times I found it a horrible imposition to have to reply, since I was entirely too busy dancing around the room shouting “someone actually asked to use those two sentences.

At this stage in the Practical RDF book, I needed the laugh this gave me. More importantly though, is that Phil made some excellent points in this posting and in the next one he wrote, where he commented on the confusing and conflicting copyright notices currently on Donna Wentworth’s Corante weblog, Copyfight.

It’s interesting but in regards to this issue, each of seems to have a different focus. Jonathon’s focus in his last posting related to this topic was about his proprietary view of his creative works. AKMA’s is on the length of copyright terms; while my focus, at this time, (and it looks as if Phil’s focus is the same as mine) tends to be on Creative Commons and my concern about people not fully understanding what this means to ‘give away’ what you write in your weblog.

It’s true that no one is forcing any of us to waive all or part of our copyright. But it does seem as if there is a great rush to plunk that CC graphic on one’s weblog, without a clear understanding of the effect of doing so. Unfortunately, there’s been less discussion about the negative impacts of a CC license than there are the glorious positive impacts. This is going to bite some weblogger in the butt someday.

For instance, did you know that you can copy a weblog that’s been donated to the public domain in its entirety, including look and feel, and all content, without having to give attribution? And that you can even charge for this writing?

Quick! Guess who wrote the following:

Bin Laden’s genius is inventing a new form of chess, one where countries are not sides in the contest but squares on the board. As in the game of chess, one must be willing to make unexpected sacrifices, and to know the opponent’s possible moves at least as well as you know your own. As for the rest of the rules, we can only guess. Obviously Muslim countries are all over the board, with Saudi Arabia, home of Mecca, at the center.

It is also obvious that bin Laden knows how to play our side at least as well as he plays his own. Why else would his pawns have been able to hijack four large passenger aircraft in one day and turn them into enormous missle bombs against American landmarks — all with horrifying efficiency?

It is finally safe to assume that right now he has a good idea what we’ll do next. And even if he doesn’t know what his side will do, he does know we won’t expect it.

So: if we kill him, will we have checkmate? Or will his side merely have sacrificed its queen?

Perhaps it will help if we give this game a more appropriate and realistic name — one closer to what bin Laden has in mind.

Let’s call it World War III.

To all intents and purposes, I don’t have to tell you who wrote this. So I won’t. Guess.

Legally I can put this into my weblog, take credit for the words by not attributing the words to another, plunk my own copyright on it, and I can freeze the use of these words where the original author can’t. All I have to do is change a few of the words, just enough to make it a derivation of the original, and therefore an ‘original’ creative work by me.

Is this legal? How do I know, I’m not a lawyer, but we’re being asked to assume some of the responsibilities of being lawyers in order to understand the impacts of the Creative Commons licenses on our weblogs, and other creative works.

Now you tell me that this isn’t a concept and a license and a movement that doesn’t have potential problems. And if you don’t see it then you go right ahead, put that weblog of yours into the public domain. And if you do, then can you send me a link to your weblog? I might need material for my own weblog in the future.

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