Entries in Michael Van Doren (4)
At sunset a few drops of rain began falling on my brother Steve’s face as he napped in the hammock, in two blankets.
Inside, my sister Emily, here from Indiana, told everyone about 350.org.
We called our brother Mike, camping with his family and his father-in-law in Seminole Canyon, in Texas, and left him a raucous Thanksgiving voicemail.
Laura called her sister Mary Scott, who was in Lynchburg, Virginia, with the rest of their family.
My niece Jody missed her fiance, Jason.
My niece Ashley and her husband, Erik, were texting with their friend Dan, anchor on a local newscast, while he was trying to cope with a program cut ever shorter by the Cowboys-Raiders game.
Sandy, my sister-in-law, had just come through a grueling several weeks of medical tests, results of which she and Steve got just yesterday. Thanksgiving was thanksgiving. Sandy did an impersonation of the turkey that gets saved by the White House.
My brother Michael Addison Van Doren, of Austin, Texas, the most astronomically inclined of all our fanatically meteorologically inclined clan, advises us to check out the Perseids in that “universal palette,” the sky, and make our own “attestation to the heavens.” (Yes, he’s even worse than I am, I believe.) He quotes his fellow University of Virginia–based dreamer and wanderer, Poe, from “Evening Star”:
’Twas noontime of summer,
And mid-time of night ...
My excuse for forgetting the Perseids has been clouds, clouds, clouds. In the woods today with Flint there was full cloud cover and a little rain, so I was surprised for an instant by sunlight over the ground – didn’t make sense. There was the thick brown-gray dead-leaf layer, then green running cedar all over the place. Everywhere in the cedar, little dogwood seedlings had popped up, two or three leaves each, and less than a foot high. Those that probably won’t make it had turned yellow – little groups of dying dogwoods. Pale yellow dogwood sunlight.
So, my brother Michael, in Texas, and I had this little e-mail exchange today that gave me a chance to rail curmudgeon-like against two of my favorite bugaboos, Thomas Jefferson, and his town, my town (more or less), Charlottesville, Virginia, and environs.
And there already I’ve overstated or misstated things, since, for example, I also greatly admire Thomas Jefferson, read Dumas Malone’s monumental biography, still for example get a kick out of discovering that Jefferson and I share a habit of washing our feet in cold water, in all weathers – but, in any case, it’s great fun to overstate views that aren’t popular.
Mike sent me, without comment, a link to a Maira Kalman illustrated commentary on Jefferson in The New York Times, titled “And the Pursuit of Happiness: Time Wastes Too Fast,” published on the 25th of June.
So I said to Mike:
You know, I had read this when it came out and kinda semi-hated it!
I think it’s partly a thing I had been starting to feel about Kalman as much as anything else.
And I should say here that I also admire and like Maira Kalman specifically – and the ‘graphic novel’ style of writing in general – people like Kalman, Marjane Satrapi, Art Spiegelman, et al. It’s just that this particular post of Kalman’s, along with another I’d read about Barack Obama’s inauguration day, had struck me as veering at times into some sort of ‘cute’ or even ‘lite’ awestruck worship of her subjects. It can be vaguely cloying, but I’m also probably being too critical.
Here in Charlottesville/Albemarle, ‘Mr. Jefferson’ is everywhere. (He has to be referred to as ‘Mr. Jefferson’ – a practice that bugs me and I believe would have to bug him.) We are reminded daily, most often but not always in various commercial slogans, that we live in ‘Jefferson’s Country.’
Kalman’s homage to TJ gave me the chance to sound off to Michael.
Living in ‘Jefferson’s Country’ at some point you want to say “Wake up, people! Is this JEFFERSON’s country or is it OURS?”
Anyway, even though she does mention it, I don’t think she says enough about how he did all these things as part of a system of daily living in which he was a superior being, both in the sense of being born into a landed gentry – this she does NOT mention – and because he had one billion slaves.
One of Kalman’s key Jefferson quotes:
“It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.”
I think it’s mostly the slave support system that really bothered me about this, but:
That line about ‘doing’ is something you hear grandmothers say who never did anything much, so I’m not sure how useful it is.
I love to try to scandalize my brother. He’s a graduate of Thomas Jefferson’s beloved creation, the University of Virginia. Mike allowed as to how he was fine with my comments but that, “For most UVa grads, brother, you’re talking trash.” Then he said:
The admiration for TJ runs so thick that people even admire him for his faults.
Sure enough, Kalman:
The monumental man had monumental flaws.
Rephrase that as “The monumental man had awful flaws.” Not quite the same, is it?
We love you, TJ. You deserve better from us.