icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

From Phyllida's Desk

Why I Write

Will, Intellect, Sensation, Emotion, by John Covert. (Oil on wood)

A few years ago, when I still had a job, there was another part-timer, a woman I'll call Kerri, whom I only saw occasionally when our schedules overlapped. We always enjoyed talking, and when I discovered that the retina of my left eye had torn, the result of my severe nearsightedness, Kerri began to tell me about her husband (I'll call him Ben), whose eye problems were similar to mine, but about ten times worse.

Jim was losing his sight. And he was, understandably, frightened and depressed.

At this point, as Kerri and I started discussing, for the first time, the fraught topic of "disability," she revealed herself to be one of those, what I think of as disapproving doubters. Her first anecdote was about a friend or relative, someone only seen at Thanksgiving, who exhibited "learned helplessness." Always asking for ("demanding"?) help. Always claiming to need more help than Kerri judged was warranted.

If we're being urged nowadays not to be afraid to ask for help, it's people like Kerri who force us back into cautious silence, people whose first reaction to a claim of disability or difficulty is: Are you sure? (Are you really disabled? Do you really need help? Do you really know your own body and abilities?) People who think first of the scammers and the malingerers, the fraudsters and the grifters.

It's the culture, how most of us are raised. Don't burden others. Manage on your own. And never, ever, complain.

Perhaps the last conversation I had with Kerri occurred shortly before the Covid layoffs, as Ben was heading into blindness. (And yes, I know that the visually challenged themselves are the first to say it's not a tragedy.) But the transition from sighted, to impaired, to loss–especially in middle age–can be a terrifying journey. It's not only the problem of accomplishing daily tasks, great as that is, but the loss of pleasures, of reading, and seeing–art and nature and movies and television; the faces of one's family.

Kerri compared Ben's situation to mine, with my deformed hands (and wrists and arms, although people rarely "see" those). "You just do what you can," she said, admiring, since I had rarely spoken of my feelings about it, what appeared to be uncomplaining competence. "You manage, you do the tasks you have to. If things are difficult, you find a way."

Her last comment, as I was throwing out my lunch trash to head back to work: And if you can't play the piano, so what?

And that's why I write.

 Read More 

Be the first to comment

Two Best Books I Read This Year--or Ever!

I'm a reluctant member of Goodreads and other amateur book reviewing and rating sites, including Amazon. Maybe it's my age, although I think it's more about temperament. One of the best things about graduating from college (English major) was never having to write a research paper again, or a "book report." And that's what these sites feel like to me: a class assignment.  Read More 
Be the first to comment

Furies on the Shuttle

In Greek mythology, the Erinyes (Furies) are "the angry ones." They are chthonic (underworld) deities whose purpose is to punish crimes against the ancient "natural order": young against old; child against parent; host against guest. The furies are so terrifying that they are seldom called by name. The title of Euripides' play The Eumenides is a euphemism: "the kindly ones."

In my Christmas letter, I included a link to a video of me performing my latest work, "What is the Matter?" Apart from any question of poor judgment (guilty!) what has troubled me in some peoples' responses is what I would call a one- dimensional way of thinking about the subject of the piece: two points (terminals) linked by a shuttle. There is no place in the middle, much less a second or third dimension.
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

In Praise of Boredom

A friend, one of those rare, almost mythical beings who reads fiction but has no desire to write it, once asked me if was true that a writer needs to have a boring life.

I said yes.

In the past couple of days there have been several articles in the NY Times that reminded  Read More 
Be the first to comment

An Earl Like I

(with apologies to Grace Burrowes and Anita Loos)

"Good morning, brother! ... Dare I hope that you, like I, are coming home from a night on the town?" (The Heir, by Grace Burrowes. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, c2010, p. 85)

"Are you talking to me?" the earl of Westhaven said.

"I don't see anyone else in the road," said his brother, Valentine.  Read More 
Be the first to comment

Author's Note from Phyllida

Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander began life as a Regency romance novel. The first regencies, written by Georgette Heyer in the 1930s and 40s, are comedies of manners that take place in Great Britain between 1811 and 1820, when the future King George IV acted as Prince Regent because his father, George III, had become incapacitated. Heyer’s prototypes established a popular subgenre of the historical romance: witty, lighthearted love stories among members of the wealthy and leisured upper classes, while the darkness of world conflict occurs mostly offstage in the final years and aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.  Read More 
Be the first to comment

My Tudor Binge

I finished reading Bring Up the Bodies, the second book in Hilary Mantel's planned trilogy about Henry VIII and his crew as seen through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, two days after our book club's discussion. Now I'm reeling from self-imposed Tudor overload. Wanting to know more about the standard interpretation of Cromwell and his character (as opposed to Mantel's partisan approach), I started with Wikipedia. But I also needed my regular nightly fix of TV, and what more logical than The Tudors, the over-the-top (and I don't just mean breasts spilling out of tight bodices) cable series starring the acting world's physical antithesis of Henry, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, four seasons ready for binge-streaming on Netflix. And to put the cherry on this sex-and-violence sundae,  Read More 
Be the first to comment

Natural Bisexuality

As regular readers and viewers of my Facebook author "fan page" have probably noticed, most of my posts are about writing, usually links to articles in publications like the New York Times. But what generate the most interest are photos (Facebook is a visual medium) and posts that in some way address the substance or theme of my own writing: male bisexuality, and the m/m/f ménage.  Read More 
Be the first to comment

To Anachronism in Heaven

For my last blog meditation of the year, I want to revisit a favorite topic: the use of language in fiction, especially historical fiction. Yes, I've written about this a lot, but the issue keeps sitting up and jumping off the slab each time I think my last autopsy has established a cause of death.  Read More 
Be the first to comment

Fay Weldon's Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen

Letters to Alice on first reading Jane AustenLetters to Alice on first reading Jane Austen by Fay Weldon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Alice" is a fictional character, the author, Fay Weldon, signs her letters to this nonexistent niece "your aunt Fay" and most of the book reads more like essays than a novel. Sounds ghastly, right? It probably is if you read it at the wrong moment.

 Read More 
Post a comment