Wednesday, January 16, 2013

the old regime

So when I got up this time -- I like interrupting the sleep hours with an intermission, and it seems to give you a whole other time, not a whole day, maybe, but some time -- I had (I am having now) a piece of ginger, a bordeaux cookie (you know, pepperidge farm --crunchy always) and a glass of milk with a splash of the lesast expensive rum in it -- it was with a feeling of relief. Sure, the world news is always depressing beyond belief, and my beloved son-in-law married to my truly truly brilliant daughter Hilary, doesn't watch or read the news, and that's probably a not-bad idea, but here's the thing of it right now.

I am writing about my grandmother the painter, my iconic ideal of a person who knew how to live, and it turns out that her great-grandmother was a slaveholder in the old south. WHAT? yes, and she wrote a book called white and black under the old regime, yes, with pictures of herself and her husband: the first confederate colonel and then a major general (this is in the wrong army, from most of us's point of view), then a judge, then the president of the University of Alabama.

Now when, years ago, I wanted to find somewhere to publish my then memoir (To the Boathouse, it was called, and, as I just love to tell people, when they sent the proofs to me, saying "we have sent you the proofs of To the Lighthouse, I could only reply, well, I thought it was perfect already-- it wasn't to test their ironic sense, they are a great publishing venture), I suspected that they would HAVE to publish it because of Henry Clayton, my great=great=grandfather having been their president in years, many years, gone by. They did. I still like that book: Yves Bonnefoy said last year it was my best book, well, maybe. Maybe the rest are parasitic on someone else's life and creations: this one surely isn't. But it caused havoc in my personal then-life. Well, some things do that with and to some people. I suppose we just move on.

Anyway, now I am reading this, by Henry Clayton, Colonel  Judge President Henry Clayton's loyal writing wife,  Victoria Virginia Clayton, and thinking how to include some of it in what I am writing about my grandmother, the painter Margaret Walthour Lippitt. (Ah, will I find a publisher for this book about her, with her life from Alabama to Washington to Wilmington, North Carolina, to Paris, to Bremen and the Worpswede painters, to New York and the artistic group at des Artistes on 67th street, and in Lyme, connecticut -- now called "Old Lyme" -- and Linville, North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge Mountains,  which shingled house and her studio I loved beyond all belief, to  a plantation called Clarendon? some day, I will ask my agent, but I have to write it first, perhaps) , anyway  I HAVE to talk about it a little, and the other night I was having dinner with two friend historians, Meg Crahan and Dorothy O. Helly, and was expostulating about all this. I mean, she kept slaves, and what do I do about this, just not discuss her heritage in Alabama? They were -- as all the women in my women writing women's lives seminar (we meet once a month) have always been -- supportive in every way.
Yes, I have to deal with it.

This reminds me of all those things we go through and watch out children go through: just deal with it, I can hear people say, just deal with it.

Ok, in the daytime, I have to write this chapter today, or it will linger and linger -- I loved reading about the joys of procrastination today in the New York Time when I was waiting for my flu and penumonia shots... But I will have to write it today, or else, why did I get up to write this?

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