Ducks, Newburyport - first discussion

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Ducks, Newburyport - first discussion

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Edited: Mar 7, 2020, 4:39pm

Mar 7, 2020, 12:22pm

Some quotes I noted:

the fact that I dreamt I flew all the way to India to get a teaspoon of cinnamon but when I got home I realized I needed flaked almonds too

the fact that {pigs are} cleaner and smarter than anyone realizes, and don’t deserve to be made into bacon, but everyone likes bacon so much, so it’s a conundrum

The fact that I have to guess at everything, bluff my way through life

the fact that on some level I still think I’m dying all the time

the fact that what is with this constant monologue in my head, the fact that why am I telling myself all this stuff, since I know it already, the fact that I knew it all before I said it to myself, because I’M ME,

the fact that maybe I’m highly strung, whatever that means, the fact that maybe I’m high maintenance, the fact that how do you find out

the fact that I waver between wanting to be a reliable, traditional, “natural”, instinctive cook, who just has an eye for what will work, and worrying if I need to get more serious around here, more professional, and start measuring everything and knowing how every single thing’ll come out every time

Edited: Mar 7, 2020, 4:35pm

Official Discussion Plan for Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman

US Biblioasis and UK Galley Beggar Press page numbers. All occur at a break of some sort, as noted.

today: US 1-189 : UK 1-199 ending at the PTA sign: LET THEM EAT CAKE, ~19%

March 14. US 189-397 : UK 199-406 - 4-dot break begins: “Puddles favored by crows have a sweet, earthy taste.”, ~39%

March 21. US 397-581 : UK 406-591 - 4-dot break begins: “The shock of losing her cubs reverberated like rain on water.”, ~57%

March 28. US 582-777 : UK 591-786 - 4-dot break begins: “A lot of wilderness exists between the cracks,”, ~76%

April 4. US 777-988 : UK 786-998 and appendix

alternate plan - comment if this interests you
As above, but two weeks for each section: So, discussions would be March 21, April 4, April 18, May 2

Mar 7, 2020, 12:45pm

It's not so easy to summarize this first section. Roughly, an Ohio mother of four makes her way through the morning as kids get got on their way, and she begins baking for her personal business. Also, a mountain lion mother of four young cubs wakes up at night and looks for food. And both have some other thoughts. The mountain lion doesn’t like to eat merganser and thinks about teaching her cubs. Our unnamed mother thinks about everything in a free-association kind of way. There are longer thought patterns, but they’re constantly interfered with by associations to random stuff, or other stuff she thought about earlier. And, nothing she is actually doing or actually saying makes it into the text at that time.

Some questions : Feel free to answer

1. What are your thoughts so far?

2. japaul22 commented : "I've actually been wondering to myself how she has such a long stretch of time to think with 4 kids." So, what do you think? How is this actually happening?

3. How would you describe her thought patterns? Is this really conscious thought in a normal way, as in consciously directed?

4. How is your reading going? Are you in, or on the fence….or out(!)?

5. It seems this is a book where everyone has to just find their own way, their pace, their own purpose for reading it. Have you figured out Ellmann's point, or direction or purpose? Do we need to?

6. What's with the focus on domestic tradition? She keeps coming back to traditional domestic stuff in literature, tv or movies, like Jane Austen, Little Women, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Julia Child. Seems she is thinking about the American domestic mythology, and dealing with it's contradictions with real contemporary life, although I'm not sure it's expressed so clearly (but see quote above from US page 182)

7. Why the mountain lion?

8. Do you think she has a good marriage?

Edited: Mar 7, 2020, 12:54pm

Copying my thoughts from the other thread:

I reached the week 1 target yesterday, so here are my brief thoughts (+ and -) so far:

+ Now that I'm in the groove of the prose style and it flows nicely in my head, I'm enjoying the narrator's thoughts. She covers a lot of different random topics, but there's more depth to it than I expected. I'm identifying with the random worrying.
+ I think it's pretty smart how her narrative approach makes you think about how we think, not just what we think. In that way it's different from stream of consciousness, as we don't think in nicely formed sentences - we jump around topics, not finishing one thought before we get distracted with something else. It seems so obvious now Ellmann has done it, but I think she's the first person to portray the reality of the thought process so well.

- She brushed past her older kids coming into the kitchen before they went out to school. I would have liked that interaction to have evolved, especially with the older daughter, which would have built up the story a little more. Maybe that's still to come.
- If it continues as I expect with more of the same for the next 800 pages, I think I'm going to be frustrated that she didn't call it time at 300 pages or so.

Re. the mountain lion, my take on it that she's taken a wild, ferocious animal to illustrate that at a base level us human mothers are not so different from the rest of the animal kingdom, with similar concerns, priorities and activities - how good a job are we doing with raising our children, the non-stop busyness of attending to that, and how our own health needs and worries so often have to take a back seat.

Mar 7, 2020, 1:14pm

On the reading plan, personally I'm going to stick to the original plan of 5 weeks. I think I'll eventually just want to be done with it and move on to the next book.

Mar 7, 2020, 1:24pm

I've finished our first section and I'm liking it. I love all the literary references, especially to Jane Austen. I'm also enjoying trying to piece together her life outside of her head (her childhood, her motherhood, her pie-making business). And then the random commentary on politics and current events is also entertaining.

I do agree with Alison that I'm not sure I need 1000 pages of this, but so far I'm enjoying it.

question 7 I think I said on the other thread somewhere that I'm enjoying the mountain lion parts. I think it's a compare/contrast to human motherhood. Additionally, I see it as a contrast between our narrator's busy and stressful inner life and her relatively comfortable physical surroundings vs. the lion's lack of a stressful inner dialogue but real danger in her physical surroundings.

question 2 I am still perplexed by this. I feel like there should be more breaks where she's dealing with "real life". Or that her thoughts should be more directed by real life. Did she have no conversation as her kids went off to school? She has Jake with her, is she really never being interrupted by him? Or are we to assume that this is all happening on top of whatever real-life interactions she is having? I'm hoping that reading further will address some of this.

question 3 I'm also thinking a lot about my own thought patterns and I have to say they are nothing like this. I do not have a constant stream of words or thoughts running through my head. I have practiced yoga and meditation since I was about 18, maybe I'm abnormal! But I would find it sad to think people really experience this sort of constant chatter in their minds all day long. There are moments when I'm stressed or have more than normal going on that I can have periods of this kind of brain chatter, but certainly not to this extent. Do you all feel this is a normal amount of inner dialogue? I wonder if Ellmann things it's normal.

question 6 I need to see how this develops, but right now I feel like she's drawn to ideas about domestic tradition because she's part of it right now. Seems to be how she sees herself at the moment. A mother, a small business owner, a baker, a wife, a daughter.

Mar 7, 2020, 1:56pm

>7 japaul22: Do you all feel this is a normal amount of inner dialogue?

In terms of the breadth of different subjects she gets through in a short space of time, no, but in terms of the constant chatter of some sort, I'm afraid for me it's a yes. I'm an over-thinker who really should have been given a PhD in worrying / stressing by now, so sadly I do have this level of brain chatter for much of the day. And yes - it's exhausting.

Mar 7, 2020, 2:02pm

>4 dchaikin: Dan - I'm interested in your experience of reading this as a man / father rather than a woman / mother. Does it still resonate with you as a parent, or does it feel like a uniquely female way of thinking?

Mar 7, 2020, 2:47pm

>9 AlisonY: huh. I need to think about that one a bit.

Edited: Mar 7, 2020, 4:09pm

>9 AlisonY: It definitely resonates with me, but it's interesting when I start to think that through. It is me, precisely, or is all the moms I recognize in her? I think her thought process is unique to her and not like any other typical person, but there are many common elements. And I don't think there was any point where I felt, you know, too non-female to follow.

But there are...quirks to this. Her focus on Austen, Louisa May Alcott, L. M Montgomery (I forgot to add Anne of Green Gables above!!), Wilder and Childs is, well, a series of authors I have only read one book by. My childhood was not shaped by these stories, whereas my wife read through most of this as child. I think there is a male/female aspects in what we read as kids and how that shapes our perception of the world.

And I can't see myself baking unless absolutely necessary.

But I can easily relate to how she has all these real life things to deal with - kids, money, business planning, cancer, grief, worry, the limitations imposed by parenthood and by her finances, and she how tries to balance, emotionally, dealing with them all. And I can relate to the friction between the ideal mom-of-four housewife and her reality and her mindset, which is naturally not in line with this unrealistic ideal. That is, I can relate to all these small persistent feelings of failures.

Edited: Mar 7, 2020, 4:09pm

I made it to cake! And then I needed a nap.

1) Its unique. Alison's comment about this being closer to true stream-of-conscious is well-said. In the past, I've puzzled over other stream-of-conscious books, not understanding the association of ideas and finding the thought process portrayed odd and then tried to consciously observe my stream-of-conscious (maybe while I was reading Proust or Kieron Smith, Boy?). Like Alison said, the inner monologue (in my head) is a lot more fragmentary. So Ducks feels true. In fact I am struggling with not wandering off as one of the narrator's phrases sends my mind off on its own path....

2) My impression was that the narrator was up a t 4 am (or whenever) to start baking, so the long stretch without kids was because they were asleep. But now that it's been mentioned, it is odd that the inner monologue just skips or smooths over the real life interactions with the kids -- finding the bird's nest, dressing Jake, etc. I was actually trying to figure out how she was baking with this level of chatter going on -- baking is how I calm my inner monologue because it forces me to focus.

4) The reading goes better when I am not dead tired and reading right before bed. I am still in, but my pace will be whatever it will be

5) Nope. But I'm a reader that prefers to be fully immersed in the book and doesn't consciously think about it or analyze as I go along. I did enjoy the metaphysical quote on p125 Dan quoted above -- it's the only thing I've marked in the book so far.

6) Like Jennifer, I think the narrator is dwelling on domestic imagery because she is free associating based on what she is actually doing - baking, getting the kids off to school.

7) I have no idea and was hoping y'all could tell me. I must say, I was briefly vexed that this infamous 1000-page sentence book actually started with a quite well-punctuated snapshot.

8) I have no idea, but her faith in Leo's love for her is rather touching. And to answer Alison's question to Dan -- I am single, with no children and to be immersed in the narrator's thoughts so bound up with motherhood and frequently touching on her marriage is an odd experience. I find myself trying to personalize the experience by relating it to my mom -- wondering if that is how my mom experienced raising us. And those moments are the most likely to pop me out of the story, because I can't relate.

Mar 7, 2020, 4:24pm

>7 japaul22: >8 AlisonY: >11 dchaikin: (re question 3) I'm really struck by our different relationships between her thought process and ours - the different ways we perceive our thinking...and, perhaps, the different ways we actually think.

My latest take is that this is what is going on the background of my mind - as not the consciously self-propelled thoughts - but the ones that are just there all time and that I listen to whenever I'm not distracted, that I reach into...and they kind make me nervous because they're dealing with a lot of things I'm not dealing with.

But, see that quote I posted from page 125. She says "I knew it all before I said it to myself". You can't say it yourself without some more conscious intent, well maybe there is some leeway there, but still it undermines my theory.

My conscious thought, by the way, is really sluggish and difficult for me to construct. Most of my brains activity is working underneath that.

Mar 7, 2020, 4:59pm

These first impressions are so interesting - I'm getting something new from each of your thoughts.

>11 dchaikin:, >12 ELiz_M: I feel like so far her motherhood thoughts have made up a relatively minor percentage of her thoughts. Although she acknowledges the family pressures and difficulties with her daughter in particular, for the time being it seems to be the pressure of the baking business that is occupying most of her thoughts, therefore perhaps now I've thought about it some more you don't need to be female or a mother to resonate with it (although I do get Dan's point about the references to Little House on the Prairie, etc. being more female orientated).

I'm interested in the financial strain resulting from her cancer medical bills. Is this a class divide issue, or is it something that affects people right across the social spectrum, where you're at the mercy of your employer's generosity in terms of the company health plan regardless of your social standing?

Mar 7, 2020, 5:19pm

>12 ELiz_M: I'm reading the next section and was thinking about your comment that baking is how you calm your inner dialogue. She just thought "baking really requires peace and quiet" on pg 198.

>13 dchaikin: This comment of yours is interesting to think about, Dan
"My conscious thought, by the way, is really sluggish and difficult for me to construct. Most of my brains activity is working underneath that."
I'm thinking alot about what is going on in my brain and honestly having a hard time figuring it out!

Mar 7, 2020, 10:43pm

>5 AlisonY: I loved this post because you captured so many aspects of the book i’m also thinking about, independently. We have different takes, maybe, but similar questions and thought processes. As for the mountain lion - I like Jennifer’s comment in >7 japaul22:

Mar 7, 2020, 10:44pm

>6 AlisonY: seems we’ll stick to the 5 week plan. I’m giving myself permission to fall behind, though.

Mar 7, 2020, 10:48pm

>14 AlisonY: The medical bills are sort of a class divide. Yes, most people are at the mercy of their employer's health insurance, but if you are making a 7-figure salary, youhave resources to draw on to pay for what your health insurance doesn't cover. But anyone making less than 6-figures, even with excellent health insurance, can still be bankrupted by surprise bills for emergency medical care (if your have some sort of emergency procedures at a hospital or by a doctor that is does not accept your particular health insurance plan). And of course, those that are better educated are more able to navigate the bureaucracy and get a better deal for procedures that are not covered.

Mar 7, 2020, 10:51pm

>7 japaul22: I like your thoughts on the mountain lion. I think they’re there to compare and contrast with our narrator. Interesting what you note about the home. The lions life is simpler and more dangerous, forcing her mindset. Our narrator is safe, but aware of dangers (money, especially), so she has the space to freak out. Interesting

Until I read your post I hadn’t thought about how much questions 2 and 3 tie together. The time and the way she thinks relate. (And Alison notes we don’t see her real time interactions. That seems noteworthy and related to what’s going on.). I think this all has value and is not just a distraction from the book. I hope so.

Mar 7, 2020, 11:01pm

>12 ELiz_M: I’m impressed you caught up. 🙂 (i was getting jealous of your style of pace. )

The stream of conscious comparison is really interesting. Most books of that sort will leave behind in a blur of incomprehensible prose. But here is all makes sense. It doesn’t take long to see the basic sense of her language.

For the mountain lion - see Jennifer’s comment in >5 AlisonY:

I think that’s awesome that you thought of your mom. I did NOT. (And now I feel bad for not - because she lived this all too) I thought of my wife and all the neighborhood moms, especially the ones who bake and whatnot, and my coworkers. (I admit, it was always women I thought about. Just realizing that.)

Mar 7, 2020, 11:07pm

>14 AlisonY: >18 ELiz_M: Screw the disadvantaged aspect of the US. UK and Canadians and others don’t have this medical problem with finances. (UK, at least for now). Enough neighbors and acquaintances (and their kids) have had a cancer, I get a sense of the financial drain. It’s hard - on top of trying to survive.

>14 AlisonY: interesting about the limited text on domestic parenting. I hadn’t thought of that. Her kids are the main thing on my mind as I read her thoughts. (Her relationship with Stacy - phew!) So maybe they loom larger to me.

Mar 7, 2020, 11:11pm

>15 japaul22: my thoughts on our unconscious started with Incognito : The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman. And the there’s Jung (but I haven’t read Jung)

Mar 7, 2020, 11:14pm

Enjoying everyone’s post in both threads. Thanks for making this book fun and motivating us for the next 200 pages. Much more to think about now.

That comment sounds too much like a closure. Sorry. Keep posting, especially if haven’t chimed in yet.

Mar 8, 2020, 5:46am

>18 ELiz_M:, >21 dchaikin: We definitely have a better deal in theory in the UK with the NHS, but these days it's under so much pressure, and waiting lists can be ridiculous. It's a post cost lottery - some areas are better than others. We use the NHS to see our GP, but if we need onward referral to a specialist we usually use our private health insurance to get up the queue.

BTW, a few days ago I happened to flick to the back of Ducks and discovered a glossary of acronyms I hadn't known were there. Just in case anyone else also hasn't discovered this - it's very helpful.

Mar 8, 2020, 8:13am

Enjoying all the comments! One more about reading experience - I notice that if I read this book too long (like more than 20-30 minutes) I start reading way too fast, as though my brain is racing as fast her her thoughts would likely be. So I am needing pretty frequent breaks or I know I'll miss something important.

Mar 8, 2020, 8:53am

Do we know the significance of the title yet? I have seen the phrase at least three times in the word salad inner monologue, but wasn't astute enough to mark it so I could go back and look at the context that triggered it.

Mar 8, 2020, 9:15am

>25 japaul22: me too. sometimes I have to stop, go back and read slower, find the right pace again, or one that works.

>26 ELiz_M: I didn’t note them down, but I noticed them and thought it was random. I’m guessing she’ll tell us...but actually great idea to note them. I’ll do that the future ones so I can go back and maybe see the associations once I get the reference.

Mar 8, 2020, 2:09pm

>26 ELiz_M: I've also marked the places where I've noticed the title mentioned but I haven't figured out any significance yet.

Edited: Mar 10, 2020, 7:38am

Well, this next section changes the sense of the inner monologue.

>24 AlisonY: thanks for the note about the abbreviation glossary. Now i’ve begun using it. (There are a LOT of different abbreviations!)

Edited: Jun 8, 2020, 1:27pm

This message has been deleted by its author.

Mar 12, 2020, 8:59am

I'm still reading and at about page 300. I'm not sure I'll be on track for our Saturday discussion, but it's possible especially since a lot of my work commitments (I'm a musician) are getting cancelled because of coronavirus.

Mar 12, 2020, 11:06am

I've been thinking about the narrator's thought patterns. And I get that there is a rhythm to them, I am wishing for a little more experimental form and formatting. For me there are moments when i am focus on an action and there are no conscious thoughts (which i would love to see represented as a blank page with dots of something). I also compose emails and think through conversations in my head and would love a break from the pitter-patter of the narrator to intersperse her trying out different conversations with Stacy or the woman who buys the pies or.....

Mar 12, 2020, 12:19pm

>32 ELiz_M: I made a note about the exact same thing regarding "conversations in the mind". I've realized that practicing conversations is a huge part of my mental chatter and I'm surprised none are included.

Mar 12, 2020, 2:33pm

I'm at about page 300 too. I'm getting distracted this week with Corona craziness.

Here in Northern Ireland our supermarkets have emptied in the last 24 hours - good luck finding rice, bread, pasta, soap, nappies... Our local Assembly held an emergency meeting this afternoon about whether to close the schools as Ireland are closing theirs. Thankfully they're staying open for now, but I think it's a case of when they close, not if.

Scary times. Wishing I hadn't read Saramago's Blindness last month as reality is starting to feel rather dystopian just now...

Edited: Mar 12, 2020, 6:32pm

what a strange couple days. I'm having focus trouble too. Spring break has been extended a week. I'm worried my office will shut down, and I can't work from home. Also, I've been averaging 35 pages a day, but over the last two I've only ready about 40 pages. It's not that I don't have time, just missing structure. (I took today and tomorrow off, taking care of kids...not that they need much, other than rides.)

Mar 12, 2020, 6:30pm

>30 tungsten_peerts: no worries, threads will wait. Hope your cat is ok and work-life resolves

>31 japaul22: I think I'll sneak in to p389, but no worries. This is supposed to be fun, not work. Read at your own pace.

Mar 12, 2020, 6:32pm

>32 ELiz_M:, >33 japaul22:, >34 AlisonY: I have thoughts on this too. Holding off a few days, because my thoughts are based on this next section.

Edited: Mar 12, 2020, 8:34pm

>34 AlisonY: >35 dchaikin: Yes. In theory I will have much more time to read soon, as my workplace (a non-profit arts organization in NYC) will be shut down through the end of March. So, I will be working from home starting next week.

I am hoping all the people that did their panic shopping two weeks ago are set and today's bump of panic shopping will be over by mid-next week so I can buy a 1/2 cup of rice and canned tomatoes.

Back on topic, I'm only at page 221 so I will read the threads later as I get through each section. :)

Mar 13, 2020, 7:43am

Our school district had a press conference at 5 pm yesterday where they said they were going to only close individual schools on a case by case basis. Then at midnight last night they closed schools for today. So, yes, things are changing by the minute. I'm trying to take things as they come and not let it affect my stress level but it's difficult and my reading will likely suffer a bit. Luckily my mom lives in our town and is willing to help with the kids because my husband and I both work and can't telework. We aren't expecting our work hours to change.

Mar 14, 2020, 12:39pm

Discussion thread 2 coming a little later today. I’m chauffeuring kids around a while today.

Mar 14, 2020, 1:51pm

I've got 50 pages to go. Will try and get through that today / tomorrow.

Mar 14, 2020, 3:35pm

>41 AlisonY: no worries. Once I get the thread up, it will wait for you.

Mar 14, 2020, 4:12pm