Thursday, January 29, 2009

Where Men are Men and Women Hold Public Office

There was a column by Marcy Meffert in our local paper today that I thought contained an interesting quote (emphasis mine):

For example, my Lower East Side Milwaukee ward’s alderman lived across the street from our brownstone apartment. I often wondered if I could be an alderman one day, but since only men held the job, I assumed that I could not. Fortunately, when I was grown up, and in Texas, where it’s been said that men are men and women hold public office, I became a council member, a mayor and chairman of a regional council, three of the most rewarding endeavors of my life, other than rearing five children.

When I was a child, most people I knew were second-generation Americans who still identified with their European origins and lived with their own kind. My grandmother never learned to speak English. She lived in a Polish city and a Polish neighborhood; there was no need. Although my Lower East Side neighborhood was predominately Roman Catholic, the Catholics were of Irish, Polish and Italian origins.

I found Meffert's comments particularly interesting because Auntie and I have been working on a project that involves scanning a lot of old family photos. Seeing them en masse, and in approximate time order, gives me a much better appreciation for my own family's culture, than did randomly paging through multiple photos. I also found it interesting that, in direct opposition to the anti-feminist stereotypes, Meffert appears to perceive the culture of Texas as allowing more freedom for women, a view that I happen to share with her for the most part. In the past, Texas and the South were culturally very similar, and indeed, my own ancestors frequently moved between Texas and Arkansas, although they tended to retain Arkansas as their home base.

The thing that is most striking to me, looking over more than 100 years of sequential photos of my family, is that stereotypes don't apply. There are stories of a jerk or two, a frail person here, a mistake there, but there are no rules about "little women" and "men ruling the roost" and "dinner on the table at 5:00." Oh, there were some little women, and dinner probably was on the table at the proper time most of the time, but there is a big difference between having to do it, and wanting to do it -- because you love someone and you want to take care of your family.

It's easy to look at law books and decide that women couldn't do this or they had to do that, but the reality on the ground may have been entirely different than what the books say. In the U.S., for example, there are a multitude of seatbelt laws. It would be easy to look at the existence of those laws and conclude that everyone in the U.S. wears a seatbelt whenever they get into a car. If you look at the accident statistics, however, you'll see just how wrong that conclusion is. People not wearing seatbelts are in accidents every day. And the statistics only show the people who are in accidents; there is no way of knowing how many people get into a car without a seatbelt in general because most of them are not in an accident. By the same token, we have no idea how many women in earlier times were able to do exactly as they wished because they were unremarked and left no record. i.e., They caused no trouble because no one minded.

This photo, taken in 1950, shows my great-grandmother, Mai Smith Beasley, with her son and her four daughters. My grandmother is in the polka-dot dress on the right.

My grandmother and her sisters went to college, and they worked, and in various combinations, they married, and had children, and lived their lives. They are remarked mainly for being kind, loving, intelligent women; they didn't cause trouble. None of them held public office, but had any of them wanted to, I doubt very seriously that anyone would have been able to stop them!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Conduits and Time Passages

When I was twelve, I read a book called Green Darkness by Anya Seton. It was a romantic melodramatic novel in which the modern-day (1960s) heroine relives a troubled past life in Elizabethan England as a kind of requirement for setting things right in her present life. I adored that book and I have very specific memories of reading it because it was during a period in which I was horribly ill and home from school for several days.

I also have specific memories of it because … well … because … it's difficult to explain. You see, DH went to Delaware week before last and caught the flu while he was there. He'd had a flu shot, but it didn't work, and by the time he got home, two weeks ago, he was feverish and miserable and he stayed that way for over a week, essentially until he went to the doctor and got antibiotics for the infection that had settled in his chest. In the meantime, I stayed well until this past Sunday, when I succumbed to his noxious plague and had to cancel the cool trip I'd planned to Arkansas this week. While none of this appears to have anything whatsoever to do with my memories of reading Green Darkness, it does – because I got a fever.

I don't have fevers all that often, but when I do, I've discovered a funny thing about them. They seem to be a kind of conduit, for lack of a better word, to other times in my life in which I've also had fevers. When I'm really sick and I have a fever, I can sort of close my eyes and BE myself at another point in my life. I know that sounds crazy, but it's true!

So on Wednesday, when I was feeling just dreadful, I visited my 12-year-old self reading Green Darkness, which is why I have such a specific memory of it. Until now, I hadn't really considered what a nifty piece of life-magic this conduit thing is. I never thought it would be of more than passing interest to see my clarinet case parked under the windowsill, or to feel that slight drift of guilt for not practicing, or even to know that my dad was coming home early with pizza to cheer me up. (Alas, other people never make through the conduit; it's always just me.) But in that moment, he was alive, and bringing me pizza. And I was going to be in trouble with my clarinet teacher when I got back to school. And Oh! Green Darkness was SO romantic; it made my heart ache. And my head ached. And my nose was running like a river. And I was utterly miserable in both 1975 and in 2009.

I made a few other brief visits. My 15-year-old self lying on the sofa, reading R.F. Delderfield's Diana. My 9-year-old self in bed with Gone With the Wind. My 14-year-old self draped over a beanbag chair watching a Beatles movie marathon (wishing I could put a clothespin on my nose to stop it from dripping!).

When I was done with all my time travels, I still felt like utter shit, but for the first time ever, I realized what a wonderful consolation prize this conduit thing is, no matter how crazy it sounds. Because I have always been able to do it, for as long as I can remember, and yet I've never noticed before, that in that brief moment, it's not like a memory, it's like being there. The experience of it, including the feelings, like guilt, or the expectation of seeing someone with pizza. Which means it's a brief respite from the feeling that I'll never see that person again. It's definitely like a conduit through which something can pass. It only works when I am truly ill and it only takes me to other times when I've been truly ill in the past, but if its purpose is comfort, then it works.

Here's a video from a guy who seems like he might have a few experiences of his own with conduits. Oh yeah; and I was listening to this song when I was reading Diana.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stupid Gits and Free Stuff

I posted a question about e-books to a mailing list I belong to because I wanted to get opinions about the possibility of releasing the books my company publishes in e-book form. I got a few responses – all interesting – and a couple of the responders mentioned free e-books.


I like free stuff and I've downloaded a few free e-books myself. There are tons of classics available. There certainly lots of other things available as well, although I'm not as keen to bother myself with them unless they're part of a promotion by a well-known publisher. That's not me being a snob; that's just me being practical. I get submissions all the time, most of which haven't seen the pen of an editor, and the hours of my life simply aren't worth the time it takes to wade through unedited books. And that's the reality of e-books: anyone can make a PDF file and call it an e-book. No editor required.

It's fine if the crappy stuff is free, but everyone seems to want the good stuff to be free too. I understand the desire; I think it would be great. But how do we reconcile the fact that without payment there is no incentive, and no mechanism to produce the good stuff? It won't be there if people don't pay at least a small amount for it.

Just this morning I was telling someone about my favorite tee-shirt. It's this hideous ratty old thing that's more than twenty years old. I treat it with only the kindest of handling, however, to preserve its life because it is one of the most valuable things in my closet. If forced to choose, I would sacrifice my St. John suit, or a Marc Jacobs dress before I would give up my old grey tee-shirt. Not because it has fond memories attached (although it does) or anything so sentimental, but because it's supremely wonderful to wear. Why? Because it was manufactured in an American factory using American grown cotton. My love for it isn't from national pride; it's because the quality doesn't exist any more. I would be willing to pay 10 times the price of a normal tee-shirt to get one like it, but they're not to be had (and I've looked). We don't make tee-shirts like that any more.

Every time I hear about new ways to nickel and dime publishers and authors (and any other producers of a product I value), I think about that tee-shirt and how I would feel if the thing that I cared about were no longer available. Sure; there would be other things that were almost as good, and there would be huge numbers of people ready to insist these new things were improvements over the old ones. But I'm pretty sure that I would be able to tell the difference.

When I first became aware that excellent tee-shirts had gone the way of the dinosaur, I began to search for them, thinking maybe I could find a remaining source and buy up enough to last for a while (like, the rest of my life?), but alas, I was a stupid git; I had left it too late. I simply cannot bear to do that with books – if I had to give up everything else, I would still need books.

There has to be a way to reconcile this. I don't know what it is, but there has to be a way.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Dog in the Manger

I've been to the doctor today, for the first time since the follow-ups with my surgeon. Aside from the fact that it was really annoying to have to sit there and wait for an hour and a half for a 9:00 am appointment because their electronic records system was down and there were, like, 10 people ahead of me (at 9:00 am???), it was also annoying because he didn't tell me anything that I didn't already know. I'm not really over my surgery yet. Dammit.

It's not as if the external stuff hasn't mostly healed. Well, except for the ugly scars, which I'll probably have for the rest of my life. But the other stuff; the pain and stiffness, and that kind of thing, has definitely receded. It's not a problem. But eating? I have a such a long way to go with that. And for some reason, even though I quite liked the doctor, when he said the words "low residue diet" I felt like bitch-slapping the guy.

Of course, it's not his fault. And of course it isn't news that I still need to follow a low residue diet because every time I put a piece of fruit in my mouth I get violently ill, but it's driving me batty! What makes it worse is that just about every person on the planet seems to be on some kind of health kick now, and they seem to delight in misunderstanding that what's healthy for them is noxious for me.

Seriously. A low residue diet is a low fiber diet. I cannot have fiber, which means I cannot have fresh fruits or vegetables. I cannot have a lot of cooked vegetables either, like broccoli, or beans. The ones I can have must be peeled. I cannot have whole grains. I cannot have nuts, seeds, or berries. I know it sounds counterintuitive. In fact, it sounds utterly bizarre. My surgeon said it, and now, my new doctor has confirmed it. He said it's probably not forever, but it can take up to a year to adapt and I'm barely into the first stage. i.e., 9 months to go. And even after a year, I may always have some limitations about what I can handle.

However upsetting it is to not be able to have what I want to eat, it's far more upsetting to have people who don't understand lecture me on my "unhealthy" diet! I experienced this firsthand a couple of times over the holidays, and I also got the feeling of it from magazine and news articles recently as well. One size does NOT fit all.

My mother in law had beef and pork tenderloins and a huge selection of beautiful roasted vegetables for Christmas dinner. But she, in particular, seemed to have a hard time understanding that I could not eat the vegetables. At all. She asked me about them repeatedly. There were so many different kinds, and I wanted some, but she had roasted every single one in its skin, and there wasn't a single one that I could eat. She kept saying, "But they're so good for you." I had a piece of meat and a piece of bread on my plate. How embarrassing. Sigh.

Until I had to deal with these things, I had no idea what a pain it could be. Those yummy little sesame seeds on your bun? Nope. Can't have that. The raspberries in your yogurt? Out of the question. Toffee or peanut brittle? Forget it. Don't even think about that salad. The almonds in the biscotti? No way. Whole wheat bread? Absolutely not.

One of these days, someone is going to give me a health lecture at the wrong time, and I fear that they may regret it. I'm just sayin'.

I'm Somehow Not Surprised By This

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm

You're probably in the final stages of a Ph.D. or otherwise finding a way to make your living out of reading. You are one of the literati. Other people's grammatical mistakes make you insane.

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Book Snob
Literate Good Citizen
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What Kind of Reader Are You?
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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Gone With the Wind? Not Me!

DH is in Delaware, freezing. The drywall guy is in my bedroom, building me a new wall. The sky, according to CNN, is falling again. (When is it not?) Gillian and I had a nice chat this morning. All is right with the world.

I think that's why I amuse Gillian so much – I am perverse. My husband is away, and miserable; the economy is in the toilet; my bedroom looks like a war zone (although I admit that the drywall guy is a positive addition … Niiiicccceee) and I, in all my glory, have decided that all is right with the world! I feel almost compelled to try to explain – this is the upside of the anti-Pollyanna!

See? Back when everyone was dissing me for being a pessimist, I was quietly biding my time. And I was planning. If they had asked me, I'd have been happy to tell them how stupid they were to think they were going to get rich flipping condos, or whatever other dumb-ass idea they had, but they didn't ask me cause they think I am ~shudder~ a pessimist. DH wishes he'd listened to me about buying commodities (nota bene: if you're going to buy cotton, pay attention to the weather), but he's happy enough that he listened in time to save a big chunk of our retirement account – a little late, but soon enough. Oh yeah. I don't pick individual stocks (although now is a good time for oil stocks :-)) and I don't try to time the market, but I know how the hell to pay attention to conditions; my dad taught me to do it in high school and you'd better believe that I listened.

So the crisis comes and I'm ready for the long haul. And I'm calm. That's one of my strong points. I'm calm in a crisis. I don't always feel calm, but I'm going to act that way. I'm like Scarlet O'Hara when she made that dress out of her old curtains. When things get bad, and my life has certainly not been a bed of roses, I've made them work out of sheer will -- and planning. And so, I have confidence that I can do it this time too. I'm not going to freak out and cancel the books I'm set to publish. I'm going to do them any way. Of course I'm going to be careful with expenses, but I won't panic. Good things are worth doing. Good things are still worth buying. Good things last. And I do good things.

Over the holidays, I took DH to see the Old Mill, which appears in the opening credits of Gone With the Wind. It's just down the road from Auntie's house. It'll be there for a long time, and so will we!

I would have posted some photos of it, and also of my righteous snowman, but blogger is having problems. Maybe later on that.

Friday, January 2, 2009


We made it through the holidays -- a funeral, driving through the worst ice storm of the century, Christmas Eve & Christmas Day with the in-laws, nephew's christening, driving back through the worst traffic jam we've ever seen -- and the new year has begun. All in all, it was a pretty good trip. We got to see lots of friends and family including our new nephew and my new baby cousin Tory (both adorable); we got to build a righteous snowman; and we got to absorb a lot of goodwill toward men. Thank heavens it's all over!

I suppose my boycott against Amazon is also over because I got a Kindle for Christmas -- and I really like it. One of my uncles, who also has a Kindle, gave me a hard time about sacrificing my principles, and, of course, he was right. Auntie also has a Kindle, so in some kind of sick way, my family is, apparently, providing ample support for the Great Evil of the book world. I would hang my head in shame, but I've noticed that, so far, I haven't got any new e-books in place of the ones I'd buy in hardcopy. I still want the same old fashioned paper books, and I've added a whole new source of books I wouldn't have otherwise read. Reading (and buying) more books, can't be all bad, can it?

I'm actually going to have a post soon on my two best books of 2008: The Devil's Brood by Sharon K. Penman, and The Time of Singing by Elizabeth Chadwick. It will be a little while on that, however, because I have to think more on what I plan to write. I don't know why, since I love to read and to write, but I suck at reviewing books -- it always takes me forever to do it -- yet, I always try to note my best-of-the-best since I'm afraid someone might miss them.

On an entirely different note, the painter and dry-waller for my bedroom repairs came today, which means we're going to get the repairs started soon (no more exposed concrete subfloor -- Yay!). My cousin Sherry turned in the paperwork for her Chinese adoption (Good Luck Sherry & Aaron!). My pets are only moderately traumatised by their week-long stay in the kennel, well, except for kitty who hasn't stopped howling since we got home. DH is planning a business trip to Aruba (companion ticket, anyone???). I've already knocked a bunch of things off my to-do list, which now contains mostly things for my publishing company (Finally I can focus). I just fetched the mail and found that in my absence I received a priceless gift: candy from VM in Idaho (her candy is to-die-for). I lived through the second worst year of my life (the year my dad died was the worst) -- and I'm still here.

I think this is going to be a good year.