The Two-Legged Ones

Walter Kirn, who writes the “Easy Chair” column in Harper’s, reported on his August visit to Standing Rock  in the December 2016 issue.

In August Standiing Rock was

“a spectacular sight: thousands of Indians camped on the banks of the Cannonball River, on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. . . awaiting a federal court decision on whether construction of a $3.7 billion oil pipeline from the Bakken region to Southern Illinois will be halted.”  — New York Times

On the fourth of December, with thousands still standing ground but now in freezing cold

“the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not be granting the easement to cross Lake Oahe for the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. Instead, the Corps will be undertaking an environmental impact statement to look at possible alternative routes.” — standwithstandingrock.net

Now on March tenth thousands marched at the White House, for as we know, President Trump with a quick flick of his pen, signed

“an executive order that reversed a decision by the previous administration of Democratic President Barack Obama to delay approval of the Dakota pipeline, a $3.8 billion project by Energy Transfer Partners LP.” — New York Times

Tribes gathered in D.C. for several days ahead of the protest.
Paul J. Richards/AFT/Getty. Huffington Post

It was a very personal article, quite thoughtful and revealing both about the happenings at Standing Rock and about Kirn himself.  But the highlight in it for me, and the reason I sought out his website which has led me to add his books to my reading list, was the next to last paragraph.  A little mistake caused me to chuckle.  It wasn’t the error that the editor appended to the Letters section in January 2017’s edition, so I know they check for errors.

“Because of an editing error, “Standing Rock Speaks” [Easy Chair, December], by Walter Kirn, misstated the year of the American Indian Movement’s occupation of Wounded Knee. This event occurred in 1973, not 1972. We regret the error.”

Here’s what made me smile.  Kirn wrote:

Photo: Joe McKenna/Flickr Creative Commons

On my way to the camp, I parked along the river’s banks and watched it drag last spring’s Montana snowmelt slowly south across the prairies. There was a crow, of course, yakking on a tree branch, grouchy, ornery. Crows are often considered tricksters, and in some legends crows created the world. But now it is all ours, not theirs. It belongs to us, the two-legged ones.

Crows have two legs, the right one is peaking out from behind the left, believe me.

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Pop, Jennie and Brino

CCI10042016Bard Conservatory Graduate Vocal Arts Program and the Conservatory Orchestra treated us very lucky people at the Fisher Center on March 4th to a glorious evening of talent, beauty, cleverness, and adorableness.  An evening to lift one’s spirits. One month later I am still bubbling with broad spectrum happiness, awe for the cast, the crew, the musicians, the set and costume designers, and Nicholas Muni, stage director and production designer. Every time Jennie, the Sealyham terrier, shook her little tail, I got goosebumps and giddy and the next day watching my own silly little stiff-legged, ragamuffin Brino who barks too much, the two became as one. Brino, just like Jennie, believes that there must be more to life than everything.

You must wonder what am I talking about.

I am talking about a night of two extremely different operas: Higglety Pigglety Pop with music by Oliver Knussen and story by Maurice Sendak, and The Magic Flute Redux by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder, sort of. Muni, in the Director’s Note asks us to “embrace the redux on its own terms. . . as a second presentation in the World Mother Goose Theatre”. After her own starring role in Higglety Pigglety Pop, Jennie and her new friends at the Theater perform, attend and comment delightfully on the condensed Flute.  Dawn Upshaw, Director of of the Vocal Arts Program, helps us understand the link between the two operas.  “They both reflect upon an essential need among all humanity — a yearning for meaning and understanding of things outside our own experience.”

You still might be wondering what am I talking about.

coverHave you read Higglety Pigglety Pop by Maurice Sendak? If not, I suggest you get a copy and read it once, read it twice, and then read it to every little boy or girl you might know and to grownups you love who still have a spark of childhood in them. Sendak is an award winning children’s book author and illustrator, one of my favorites, and this small square picture book with line drawings has now become one of my favorites too.

Sendak is a master at pictures books and productions “for” children, some of which are “not so much for children as about children – in other words, an attempt from an adult perspective to recapture and explore lost innocence,” if I may borrow from a not so positive review by the English opera critic Rupert Christiansen of a double Sendak production at the Aldeburgh Music Festival in 2012.

CCI15032016Sendak produced an animated Really Rosie for television, featuring the voice of Carole King, he collaborated with others several times staging and filming Where the Wild Things Are,  his book Bumble Ardy was an outgrowth of his Sesame Street segment of the same name, and he designed sets for operas and ballets, including The Magic Flute and the Nutcracker. He collaborated on more than one operatic production of Higglety-Pigglety Pop.

The set of Bard’s production was true to Sendak.  As we sat waiting for the show to start we viewed the street above, without Cat the Milkman and his truck, who arrived later.  I  had never seen a LED screen set before and found it fascinating to watch as the movement of the backdrops focused my attention on Plant in her window, or Jennie in the milk truck.  It was as if someone were reading the story to me pointing out the characters and actions in the pictures as she read.  Wish I could show it to you.

CCI11042016 (1)I watched the animated/costumed version of Pop online before going to the theater — eh, so/so: I liked Bard’s production so much more— and reread the book to refresh my memory of the story. The Bard production was in the original English but still the words were often impossible to decipher. The text was streamed, but barely legible, and a bit awkward across the top of the stage. I was glad I did my homework. The book was available at the local library the day before the performance which amazed me actually, because I would have thought other opera goers would have taken it home to read.

CCI11042016_5It’s a pity that there were no reviews in the press. The cast, musicians and crew were wonderful. Kelly Newberry performed the role of Jennie and stole my heart.  The amount of time and energy that went into these two-nights of performance must have been enormous. The credits are copied here from the program so that the participants will go down in history, although just today I found a promotional article which lists the singers.  Someone told me that the operas were professionally filmed. Hope so.

Meeting Jennie has brought new life to my relationship with my little Brino and my love of him is mingled with my fascination for that brave little white dog who sang so beautifully. His fur has now reached the shaggy stage and he 2016-04-10 02.04.43 copysoon will be ready for his summer puppy cut. The way he is now tho, he would look good on the end of long stick wiping the cobwebs from the corners of the rooms in my house. That sounds like something Jennie would have been game to do before she became a star.

Perhaps you had to be there.

One summer’s reading group: Postscript

This is the third part of a three part post.
Click for the first — One summer’s reading group:  Preface
Click for the second — One summer’s reading group

The memories in part two of One Summer’s Reading Group came back to haunt me about a year ago while reading Letter from Germany — The Last Trial: A Great-grandmother, Auschwitz, and the Arc of Justice by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker. It was very difficult to read, as were the articles researched for this post, and that dreadful feeling of not being able to pull myself away came over me.

Kolbert’s Letter begins with the trial of Oskar Groning, whose assignment in the S.S. was to collect, sort and count the money taken from people sent to Auschwitz. Groning lived freely but discreetly in Germany after the war. In 1985, nazi-oskar-groenin_3274160bhowever, he came forward with details of his work  and observations at Auschwitz in an effort to deflate the lies of Holocaust deniers.  In 2014 at the age of 93 and was convicted as an accessory to murder in 300,000 cases.

Forty years after the war, Groning did not fear or anticipate arrest. There were many attempts to define crimes against humanity, murder and genocide, and  how far down the ladder of responsibility did guilt creep.  Kolbert leads us through three stages of trials in which the line between “guilty” and “innocent” was continualy moving.

She quotes a chilling statement of Germany’s first postwar Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer,

‘You don’t toss away dirty water when you don’t have any that’s clean.’

* * * * * * * * * *

In the attic of the home of Kolbert’s grandparents in New York state, were boxes of the papers of her great-grandmother, Franziska Maass.. Kolbert and her mother went through them in 2009 after both grandparents had died.  Among them were her great-grandmother’s letters written between March and October 1942 to her son who, like so many others, had moved to the Americas during the war.

‘With great longing I am thinking of you,’ one read, in part. ‘I pray to God that I will see you again.’

‘Beloved Children!  I think a lot about you. I am very lonely.’

08_its_impressions_3Franziska’s son had tried with out success to learn what had happened to his mother.  Kolbert and her mother were able to put together a sketchy picture of her life from these papers and from information found in the records kept by the Third Reich stored now in the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen.  On December 14, 1942

. . . she, along with eight hundred and ten others from Berlin and surrounding towns, was put on a transport train to Auschwitz. On the record of the transport, she was listed as arbeitsfähig, or able to work. She was sixty-two years old.

Several years ago friends of Kolbert who lived in Germany told her of the German artist Gunter Demnig, whose Stolpersteine, “stumbling stones,” are found embedded in the streets of Berlin where victims of the Nazi barbarity lived before they were sent to concentration camps.  Kolbert writes:

placing stoneIn contrast to most memorials, which aim to command attention, Stolpersteine are understated—literally underfoot. Each one consists of a block of concrete onto which a plain brass plaque has been affixed. The block, which is about the size of a Rubik’s Cube, is embedded in the sidewalk, or inserted among the cobblestones, so that the plaque’s surface lies flush with the ground. Every plaque is stamped by hand, as a gesture, according to Demnig, of opposition to the mechanized killing of the camps.

. . . The project has been called the ‘largest decentralized memorial in the world.’ Demnig installs most of the stones himself, and the project has more or less taken over his life. Demnig himself has placed most of the more than fifty thousand stones now in the streets of Europe. In Berlin, where there are over six thousand of them, “residents formed groups to find out who had been deported from their neighborhood.”

one line of stones

Kolbert contacted Demnig to place a plaque in memory of her great-grandmother. About a year after she filled out the forms a date was set. She and her parents and a few friends attended the “laying of the stone.”

Kolbert’s Letter holds out a light. It is not a beacon of hope for a more tolerant and peaceful future, or for understanding the horrors of that time so we will do better in the future. It is a small spotlight on a man and his quiet, solemn, dignified memorial to those who suffered and died, including those whose stories still have not been discovered and therefore have no stone.  These stones are a path for all who bemoan the senseless loss of loved ones and the unnamed.

* * * * * * * * * *

There is so much more to Kolbert’s Letter that I strongly suggest you click on the link at the beginning of my post and read it for yourself.  Some interesting additional material is available at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/22/world/europe/oskar-groning-auschwitz-birkenau-guard-trial.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oskar_Gr%C3%B6ning

http://www.stolpersteine.eu/en/home/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolperstein

One summer’s reading group

 

This is the second part of a three part post.
Click for the first — One summer’s reading group:  Preface
Click for the third — One summer’s reading group: Postscript

CCI15022016

Every summer a group of about twenty high school students, mostly Jewish, from Bayonne, Jersey City and Hoboken met every day on the beach at Tenth Avenue in Belmar. One year, 1966?, someone started reading holocaust stories out loud.  I took the photo above.  That’s not me front and center.

Dad (Grandpa), Uncles Eddie & Elliot 2I knew about the Holocaust. I had read Anne Frank and had seen the movie. My father, he’s on the left, and uncles had fought in the war, although none in Europe. Family of friends had numbers on their arms.

Tamara & Shulamith Minz, Tel Aviv 1954Distant cousins would write to us periodically telling us about their lives and asking us for financial support. They had escaped from Hitler — I do not know if they were in the camps or not — but they had made their way to Israel. There were two girls, Tamara and Shulamith, about my sister’s and my age. That is them to the right in Tel Aviv 1954.  My mother always got upset when these letters came, and there would be whispered conversations between my mom and dad.

My mother always made me feel as though it could happen again — Jews being rounded up and imprisoned or killed, anytime, anywhere. It is true that one morning we woke up to a swastika drawn with snow on the gate to our backyard. We believed but never were certain that the children who lived on the corner and who attended St. Andrew’s did it. After all, the nuns at St. Andrew’s used to walk their students to the corner after school to make sure they didn’t stop at “the Jew” Lennie’s candy store.

CCI15022016_2Mom distrusted anyone who was not a member of the tribe. She spoke of Jews not being served in restaurants, not getting jobs. We knew of families who had changed their names. I’d come home from school during the McCarthy era to find her glued to the television set, and many evenings I would hear her talking to my father, who was the token Jew in his department in the Civil Service Commission. She feared he and some of their friends would be called up before the committee. Who knew what to think? I was young.

I was sucked into the Holocaust readings with fascination and horror, and felt we were doing something that our parents — at least mine — would not approve. Even many years after that summer, my imagination was filled with images of blond, blue-eyed men and women with thick accents opening up my stomach to see if the monkey sperm with which they had tried to impregnate me had created a monster. Or they would take away my glasses and since I was minus 16 in one eye and minus 18 in the other I would be useless and they would send me to the showers.

CCI15022016As my life became more my own these nightmares disappeared. My mom relaxed too. She welcomed into the family a “very nice” Protestant son-in-law with parents who, she was surprised but relieved to discover, had similar values and life-style to hers. There she is with my husband’s mom at the our wedding.  She lived in senior communities with few Jewish neighbors and fewer if any Jewish staff on which she grew to depend. She sang the Jewish holiday songs and relished the holiday meals and lit the Sabbath candles. She sang Christmas carols and enjoyed the lights on the Christmas trees. I hope her heart softened and she was less afraid.

But now I think mother might have been right, and I was naive.

It would do us all good to spend a summer reading about the Holocaust and the millions killed in genocidal wars in Korea, Rwanda, India, the Ukraine, Algeria, the Congo, and, and, and. We might read about how self-righteous white men in our own country treated the Native Americans, and how they pulled Africans from their homes and made them slaves, and how they now, every day during this tedious primary season, spew hate and bigotry as a mainstay of America’s exceptionalism.

Oh dear, I’m ranting.  Forgive me.

Our world is diverse. Let us one day rejoice in these differences and recognize the infinite possibilities they offer. Let us one day work together for the benefit of all mankind and this remarkable, beautiful, rich world we live in.

Sisterhood is Powerful

Kathie Sarachild -- credited with the the words Sisterhood is Powerful

Kathie Sarachild — the woman behind the title — google her name

My after college friends, the two women I hung out with in Boston from 1969 until 1975 when I finally moved out, having had it with doggie poo on the streets, a discouraging proportion of gay to straight men on Beacon Hill, and a neighbor across the alley who hosted orgies with the windows wide open, were okay attractive, intelligent, liberal thinking, book-reading, professionals with masters degrees making decent salaries.

MARRIAGE AND WORK

We weren’t girls who went to college only looking for a husband, but I am sure none of us would have turned the right one away had he come along.  I, for one, was engaged to a college sweetheart before coming to my senses.  Actually I was out of my senses when I dramatically, hysterical and in tears, in the presence of quite a few people, most of whom I didn’t know, at some gathering in a now-forgotten city in New Jersey, declared that our engagement was a huge mistake.  I had been building up to it.  Once said, I wondered why it took me so long to admit.

Marriage was important to us, and so were children.  And certainly, what was wrong with having someone it would be so nice to come home to.  

We were living the life of independent women, meeting for lunch at Grendel’s Den, and later for drinks and steamers at the bar in The Half Shell.  We devoured Anais Nin, Doris Lessing, and Simone de Beauvoir, but we weren’t exactly all on the same page.  They were getting fired up and fortifying their stance with Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer while I was fueling my angst and imagination with Violet Leduc and Caitlin Thomas.  

L. gave herself a birthday party with girlfriends every year.  We were all at her mother’s house celebrating.  I must have stepped out of the room, probably to attend to an uncomfortable contact lens, which was a constant source of squinchiness during my twenties.  I vividly remember returning to the kitchen where the talk was about discrimination against women in the work force:  less salary, no respect, limited prospects.  Women could be librarians, sales clerks, secretaries, and beauticians:  cooks but not chefs, teachers but not principals, nurses but not doctors.

They talked of how women need financial independence to be in control of their own destinies.  Not all women chose to marry, or were chosen to be married, and many who married found themselves trapped in uncomfortable if not intolerable situations.  If they married, they wanted the right to work even though they knew it still meant that hubby expected his working wife to be at home, relaxed and lovely, with drink in hand and dinner on the table, and children clean and done with homework every night when he returned from the job.  And so forth. 

Everyone stared at me when I walked into the room and said something like:  “It’s ugly in the work environment.  It’s stifling, stressful, competitive, demeaning, nasty.  How many men enjoy their work, or get to choose?  No man should have to wake each morning, rush off to the office or factory, squelching his spirit to make the boss happy.  Men are suffocating in mines and in bureaucracies acting out scenarios that make them cringe.  Women don’t have many choices, but if my only choices were entering the so-called man’s duplicitous work world or staying at home in the woman’s realm, well I’d rather be barefoot and pregnant.”  Or something like that. 

From then on I was Aunt Tom.

ABORTION AND BIRTH CONTROL    

In my senior year at high school I dated an older boy who adored me because of my innocence, and would have been very happy to take it away.  He thought fear of pregnancy kept me a virgin.  But my fears went deeper than that.  He gave me a book to read about abortion, illegal at the time.  It spoke to the different options available to women of different economic and social classes, and of the many reasons women chose to terminate a pregnancy, and of the disastrous outcomes of back alley botches.  It all made sense to me, but it did not have the desired effect – or perhaps he was just interested in my education?

A few years later, in a conversation about the pill and abortion, a college roommate told me her mother had had an abortion.  My ambivalence showed, and so did my roommate’s annoyance.  By the end of the conversation, however, I knew if an untimely or inappropriate pregnancy should occur, I would opt for abortion – even an illegal one.  I was still lily white at this time.

I did go on the pill almost immediately when I met that college sweetheart.  The local doctor in my college town refused to give me a prescription and shooed me out with a moral berating.  My beau’s sister lent me her wedding band and sent me to her own ob-gyn and all was well – for me, and for her family who really didn’t care very much for me. 

No one in my circle of friends, acquaintances, family, favorite authors, or historical heroes truly believed that the decision of whether a woman got pregnant or ended one had anything to do with the law.  The law was just something to work around – an outdated nuisance.  And this law was based on religion beliefs.  Everyone knew from seventh grade American history class that there was a separation between church and state.  We read The Scarlet Letter, a tale of adultery taking place in a Puritan colony in 1642, before our enlightened founding fathers wrote the Constitution setting the separation of church and state in stone!  

Curious about when the pill was first available to women in the United States I asked the computer.  The FDA approved it for contraceptive use in 1960.   I also learned that Eisenhower thought that birth control was not in the government’s purview.  At least that’s how I interpreted his words the first time I saw them out of context on The Pill.  He was quoted:

I cannot imagine anything more emphatically a subject that is not a
proper political or governmental activity or function or responsibility.

Miraculously discovered  in Mom & Dad's matchbook collection two days ago.

A timely discovery in Mom & Dad’s matchbook collection

Wow!  Eisenhower was once more on my side.  Birth control was not a government issue. 

When I went back online to do some research, I found more.  The sound bite was taken from Eisenhower’s response to a question at a press conference in 1959.  He was asked for his reaction to the recommendation that the United States provide information on birth control to countries asking for help to alleviate crippling overpopulation.  The rest of his answer:

This thing has for very great denominations a religious meaning, definite religious tenet in their own doctrine. I have no quarrel with them; as a matter of fact this being largely the Catholic Church, they are one of the groups that I admire and respect. But this has nothing to do with governmental contact  with other governments.  We do not intend to interfere with the internal affairs of any other government, and if they want to do something about what is admittedly a very difficult question, almost an explosive question that is their business.  If they want to go to someone for help, they will go unquestionably to professional groups not to governments. This Government has no, and will not  as long as I am here have a positive political doctrine in its program that has to do with this problem of birth control. That’s not our business.

Margaret Sanger, at the age of 80, challenged Eisenhower to a debate “to put him straight on the question of planned parenthood.” 

Googling on, I found that Eisenhower’s words have been used to back up both pro and anti-birth control constituencies throughout the years.   

What did he actually believe?  More than that, what did he actually say?  I see the words, but what is a “positive political doctrine?”  What about a “negative political doctrine?” Did he choose his words carefully or was this an Obama “You didn’t build that” moment. 

As a former archivist and one who loves finding the answer, I know this topic requires more in-depth original document research.  What I’m finding online are various bits and pieces of history strung together to promote opposing agendas.  It is hard enough to approximate the truth in news and history when it is written by journalists and scholars with high standards for their work.  It’s impossible when writers and news commentators and our politicians lie outright, and twist and contort words and make up facts to promote themselves or promote fear.  Eisenhower is merely an interesting aside here.  This is not a dissertation, just my silly blog post, and I can’t devote weeks to find the answers. I’m clearly pointing out that I know not of what I write.  And neither do a lot of  “experts.” 

Eisenhower Birth-CurbWhatever his personal opinion on birth control – his official answer to the US getting involved in population control overseas was “no.” 

A few years later however, Former President Eisenhower, along with Harry S. Truman, “agreed to serve as co-chairman of the honorary sponsors council of Planned Parenthood-World Population,”  co-chair of Planned Parenthood, or co-chair of a financial campaign for Planned Parenthood – take your pick.  It depends upon where you look.

He did say, however, in a message to Planned Parenthood in 1968:

“Millions of parents in our country — hundreds of millions abroad — are still denied the clear human right of choosing the number of children they will have. Government must act, and private citizens must cooperate urgently through voluntary means to secure this right for all peoples. Failure would limit the expectations of future generations to abject poverty and suffering, and bring down upon us history’s condemnation.”

Planned Parenthood’s Fact Sheet on Republicans on Choice, Family Planning, and Privacy, a teacher’s aid, interprets Eisenhower’s words as his seeing “reproductive rights for what they are — basic human rights.”

Yes!

But according to Donald T. Critchlow in The Politics of Abortion and Birth Control in Historical Perspective (1996) Eisenhower agreed “after some hesitation” which is interpreted in wiki.answers that he agreed “albeit reluctantly.”

It is outrageous that abortion and birth control are still controversial political issues.   The people who vote for political leaders who hold women in such contempt that they deny them safe and simple health care and control of their own bodies are living in a fantasy.  It may be a religious fantasy.  It may be some sick sexual fantasy.  Or it may be something as simple as the fact that their parents voted Republican, and so then do they.

However, the stupidity and the level of hate and fear shown by today’s outspoken anti-women’s leaders in the Republican Party and the church do not reflect the opinions of the majority of voting Republicans or churchgoers, and certainly not the opinions of most Americans.  The leaders of Republican Party in past decades were more realistic and compassionate (before George the 2nd changed the meaning of the word) in their approach to women’s health, family planning, unwanted pregnancy, and unwanted children.   Check Planned Parenthood’s Fact Sheet again.   Of course, PP also knows how to cut and paste to their benefit.

AND SO?

I was about thirty years old and sitting at my aunt and uncle’s kitchen table.  Two of their sons were my age and married.  They were curious why I wasn’t.  I said because I have everything I need – money, a job, a home, friends.  I’ll marry if and when I find the right someone or the right man with whom to have a child.  I wasn’t big on single motherhood. I’m not sure what they thought of my answer or of me.  It was spontaneous but it still seems right.

Who knows why I married?

Reading about the life of the late Shulamith Firestone I was struck by all that the feminists of my day accomplished and how doggedly our government is nibbling away at women’s rights — basic human rights.   I was also struck by how so many of those activist women’s lives turned tragic.

No, I was not a feminist.  But because of the feminists I am the woman I am now, and I am fed up.

Process #3: I never had a conversation about sex with my sons — Reposted

The following is my post from May 22nd.  It was going to be my last because I       was on my way to finding my voice.  Yeah!  My confidence and purpose would keep me writing without the “views” and “likes” of  wordpress.  After having it up for several days though, being embarrassed by revealing secrets, I took it down in order to censor it.  I also wanted to rewrite it in four separate pieces, as there was much to add to make the story complete.  So far I’ve done nothing, and am putting the post back up just as it was.  

As I push the publish button tonight there are 713 comments on the Times article.

*

AshleyB/BrooklynPaperCo

AshleyB/BrooklynPaperCo

Today’s Times article Unexcited?  There May Be a Pill for That by Daniel Bergner about the research to find a “desire” pill for the many, many women who are unable for whatever reason to enjoy lovemaking although they so badly want to, has me laughing.  Do not quote me out of context.

Laughing because just recently I read another article that hopefully has put an end to my pain as I tried to understand, appreciate and accept my own struggle with my sexuality, and if I had written this last week, perhaps my article would be on the first page of www.nytimes.com.  Probably not!

Laughing because women have been saying “please no, I have a headache” for a very long time.  Others try, others pretend.  What has sparked this current research?  Is there a woman behind it?  We know money is behind it.

Laughing because this article does not mention marijuana, the natural wonder drug, an herb, if that makes any difference.  Marijuana happily is not yet, and hopefully never will be in the hands of big pharma.  One of the more unusual messages to pass through my inbox recently was a proposal that the post office become the sole distributor of marijuana.  Could that be possible?  Just keep it simple, keep it home-grown, keep its quality and diversity, add a tax but keep the price low, and keep it organic and away from agri-business.  No one needs to inhale Monsanto’s poisons.  

Laughing because I wonder if this pill will be available only to women who are married and of childbearing age, do not work for religious organizations, and have sworn to their congressmen that they will only use it if they are trying desperately to have a child.  Making it necessary for husbands to sign these agreements would help keep us women in line.  Filthy rich men could also have signing privileges and receive tax breaks for their purchases. Women who use the pill illegally would be reviled on national television and would be sent to private prisons where they would be sexually harassed and humiliated as part of their rehabilitation. 

Laughing because all we women need is another runaround with religion, superstition, Republicans, the men and unbelievably even some women who think of us as “s—ts” (gosh, I can’t even write the word without shuddering) if we should equate any sort of feminine pleasure with sex.  

Laughing because if there really is an interest in finding a way for women to enjoy lovemaking or just plain sex, why has no drug company jumped on the manufacture of a generic Estring, which makes sex so much more pleasant for post-menopausal women and their partner/s.

Laughing because so many of us women have come to believe through experience and indoctrination that men think sex is dirty, a means of subjugation, a boy’s club prerogative, and then, so do we – think it is dirty, a means of subjugation — and therefore are conflicted about it.

We’ve been brought up to believe some things are good or bad, natural or abhorrent, blessings or sins.  Some of us have had good experiences, good touches, and seen loving relationships to emulate.  Others of us haven’t.  Our introductions and experiences with our sexuality vary immensely.  Our minds and bodies very often don’t work in unison.

I was very happily married for twenty-five years to a man who shared a similar mindset about love and lovemaking.  It was not very liberated.  I was never unfaithful, never even thought about it.  Life was good.  Know though, that I married in my late thirties and didn’t believe in waiting.

Eventually, some time after my husband passed away, I started to think about how nice it would be to be with another good man.   

My first date told me over coffee that he didn’t like women to arch.  It took me a little longer to realize he did not like women at all.  I’m not exactly sure what he liked, except perhaps himself.  That’s not right.  He may have thought himself more important, smarter and better than any one else, and that the world revolved around him, but I can’t believe he actually liked himself.  He also asked me repeatedly what I meant by “a good man.”

Another told me that he did not want to be part of my research — crazy experimentation was what he called it.  He thought everybody else was crazy.  Trying to get along with him could drive anyone to that point.  He taught me not to share all of my ideas about life and to run at the first sign of inconsistency.

And a third wanted me to be a cure for his sexual dysfunction.  No legal or illegal drug helped him, and I wasn’t going to try.

Interesting facts:  all three of these men were divorced at least twice.  None of them could remember marriage ever being happy.  And all three are still looking for the perfect woman, the figment of their imaginations who speak and act on cue to their needs and wishes.

Out of respect for my constant companion (& friend in old age) and my sons and his, I don’t want to comment on our more private moments.  He does however make me smile and giggle.

And how did I finally come to get my head around my struggles with my sexuality?  A great part of my success is due to my cc&fioa.  The ah hah moment however came just a week or two ago when reading The Desires of Margaret Fuller by Judith Thurman in The New Yorker on the publication of Margaret Fuller:  A New American Life, by Megan Marshall:

Her inchoate feelings for [James] Nathan were not merely virginal.  As she herself acknowledged, in forgiving him, they were ‘childish.’  But perhaps they suggest why her writing was never as great as her ambitions for it.  She could love and desire intensely, but rarely at the same moment, and she could think and feel deeply, but not often in the same sentence. . . 

Fuller inevitably fell in love with [Adam] Mickiewicz, and it seems, for once, to have been mutual.  ‘He affected me like music,’ she told Rebecca Spring.  But it also appears, from their letters, that he had recognized what vital element – not only sex but honesty about desire – was missing from Margaret’s life.  ‘The first step in your deliverance,’ he told her,’ ‘is to know if it is permitted to you to remain a virgin.’

Reading more about Margaret Fuller I discovered that in 1845 she wrote in her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century:

There exists in the mind of men a tone of feeling towards women as slaves.

I must read more.

When I first read this morning Times article there were no comments.  As I push the publish button there are 279.  I’m not reading them.

Longfellow, for instance

There’s a pile of books by my bedside.  Usually I’m reading one, sometimes two, and then there are a few books of essays, or short stories for a quick fix.  American Writers at Home by J. D. McClatchy with photographs by Erica Lennard has been on my table for a year or two.   It was a gift from my son Alex, who worked at the Metropolitan Museum for several years, and made good use of his access to the museum’s bookstore.

At first the book frustrated me.  The images of the twenty-one homes featured are moody and often more shadowy than light.  The photographer writes in the forward that she “tried to breathe some soul and life” into the houses and to “capture with my camera fragments of what they might have seen or felt.”  My take is she put too much of her heart and soul in these photos – they are artistic, but the reader can’t see the rooms. The text often speaks of interesting details that are not in the photos.

For instance, let’s hop right to the section of Longfellow, which I read for the first time a few nights ago.  The author mentions a chair that was made from the wood of the village blacksmith’s famous chestnut tree and given as a gift to Longfellow by the children of Cambridge on his seventy-second birthday.  The caption written about the three images of his study also mentions the chair but does not point it out to the reader, and that is quite disappointing.

One of the photos of the study however, shows the desk where Longfellow stood when he wrote.  That interested me, as Hemingway (whose life filled up twelve of my working years)  also wrote standing up, and similarities between the two started popping to mind.  In fact so much in the section on Longfellow intrigued me that my excitement about discovering the man behind the poems has blotted out all the book’s annoyances.

The website of the National Museum of Horse Shoeing Tools and Hall of Honor has a page devoted to the village smithy’s chair.  It states that the tree in front of the blacksmith’s shop down the street from Longfellow’s home “fell victim to progress” when Brattle Street was widened in 1876.  The chair was made by H. Edgar Hartwell of Boston and lines from The Village Blacksmith were etched in around the seat rails.  Longfellow wrote a poem of thanks to the children of Boston and it is published on their page — wish I could show the chair to you, but click here to see.

Opening lines of Longfellow’s poems came swiftly to mind while reading about him and his home.    By the shores . . .   Listen my children . . .  This is the forest primeval. . .   Between the dark and the daylight . . .

But outside of the fact that he stayed at the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts, where my wedding took place, I knew nothing of his life.

From the few pages of text on Longfellow in American Writers  I learned he was brilliant.  Upon graduation from Bowdoin, he accepted the position of the college’s Professor of Languages.  He went off to Europe and learned eleven to be prepared for the position.  He read profusely and he converted the ballroom of his home into his library of over fourteen thousand books.  He translated Dante’s Inferno. He incorporated his knowledge of language, history, mythology, biography, geography into poetry that was read and equally enjoyed by scholars and the servants at Queen Victoria’s castle.

He was a professional poet who knew how to promote his work.  His poetry offered a young nation a literary definition and a unifying culture.  Longfellow insisted his works be published as broadsides and in inexpensive editions as well as in leather bound volumes, so that all levels of society could have access to them.  If he lived in our day, he would most likely have been one of the first to have his works out on the internet and on ebooks.

Longfellow was an inspiration to his children.  They went on to be writers, educators, artists, travelers. He was a devoted husband, and outlived two wives.  His first wife, Mary, died during childbirth, his second, Fanny, was the first recipient of ether during childbirth in the United States.  Fanny, died tragically from burns suffered from a dropped match which lit her skirt.  She and her daughters, age five and seven, were applying sealing wax to a gift package of clipped locks of their hair.  Longfellow wrapped her in a rug, to try and save her from the flames, but she died a few days after.  Longfellow grew his beard to hide the scars left by the burns to his face.

In addition this was a poet who had fun.  Longfellow’s home hosted many a social gathering, watered by good wines from his well-stocked cellar.

Googling for some fact that has slipped my mind completely, I found this interesting item that shed an entirely new light on The Song of Hiawatha.  I quote from the Digital History website:

The HUAC [House Un-American Activities Committee] hearings and blacklistings discouraged Hollywood from producing politically controversial films. Fear that a motion picture dealing with the life of Hiawatha might be regarded as communist propaganda led Monogram Studio to shelve the project. As The New York Times explained: “It was Hiawatha’s efforts as a peacemaker among warring Indian tribes that gave Monogram particular concern. These it was decided might cause the picture to be regarded as a message for peace and therefore helpful to present communist designs.”

There’s so much more.  Check the Longfellow Society and the National Park Service websites for bits and pieces, and if you are like me you will be soon looking for more to read.  Mr. McClatchy tells us that Longfellow wrote letters at the large table in his study.  I thought it a good place to start, learning about him in his own words, until I discovered that there are five volumes of these letters.  I’ll have to look for something a bit more realistic.

*****

I have a memory of having a meal at Longfellow’s home in 1969.  The head of the children’s department at the Boston Public Library treated the new hires, including me, to lunch or tea after a meeting of some sort back in 1969.  But this may be something I’ve made up.

That memory reminded me of another meal — a dinner of “book” women at Dandelion in Burlington, Massachusetts.  We met a few times at different places, and once a colleague from the Kennedy Library was there.  The group didn’t gel. I was disappointed, but also relieved, when the gatherings stopped – or perhaps they went on without me.   I look back now and wonder about their purpose.  Was the initiator, whose name is a blank, hoping to start a bluestocking society?  That would have been fun if I were the person I am today back then.  But at the time, I wasn’t comfortable enough with myself to feel anything but awkward at both of these two experiences, and that has been making me feel awkward even now.

It’s a long way from Longfellow to self-doubt but somehow I made the leap.  Strange how the mind works.