Sunday, January 31, 2010
1) What do you think Freud would say about a dream in which a woman tries repeatedly to fix her hair like Joan Harris (nee Holloway) on Mad Men, but is continually interrupted? I don't think it is anything sexual, but I'm positive it has something to do with vanity and with tyring not to think about something else.
2) Just from reading around, I think I may have been the only person who read Catcher in the Rye as an adult -- as in about 5 years ago -- just for the hell of it, to see what it was about, and because it was on sale -- and found it enormously funny precisely because the main character was such a whiny little brat with vague and unformed opinions about anything and everything. Salinger nailed that unearned disaffection and apathy, which he could have plopped down in pretty much any time since. I found it so hilarious, too, because I remember being that inarticulately pissed off, and am aware of just how annoying that state was -- even to myself at the time. Perhaps the book is only safe in the hands of adults, who can laugh at that period of life and be grateful that it has long passed, rather than think it is somehow cool or something to take too seriously.
3) Howard Zinn was just cool. I read A People's History right at the time that I finally seriously questioned the narrow parameters of all of the assumptions that had created the narrow and miserable me that I was. I thought he was a little weak on the women, but overall, I liked that he stated up front that this work was meant to be biased and to challenged the dominant narrative of history as taught. I used it as a text one or two times, too, but the students got too bogged down in "the details" (something that they could have learned more from, based on their own vague and unsupported essays). That was o.k., then I could rip off those "details" for my own lectures.
Still, every now and then, one got it. In fact, when I announced to one of my classes that Zinn had died, one young woman got a stricken look on her face and cried, "NO!" My students, who are perhaps not up to the skill level of reading A People's History, like to hear these challenging points of view like Zinn's. They already know something is up with American history, that is isn't what they remember from grade school. They want to know why. They want their own version of "truth."
4) The beginning of the semester and this procedure thing have knocked me out of my writing groove. I have to get back into it. These are the confines of my life: a 5/5 with online classes. I have to produce within them, even if the going is slow. The slow going can be overwhelming, leave me feeling exhausted and defeated, and that has been part of my problem.
5) Someone suggested that I apply for a faculty job at a school in Texas. Another someone suggested that I do the same for the same job about a year ago. Technically, it is a better job in the sense that it is tenure-track and at a university. I'd probably have to take a cut in rank and pay, however, even with a book and teaching experience. That's not the problem. The problem is Texas. I live in the suburbs of a major city. I'm a city girl at heart. I am physically and psychologically distant from my upbringing, and I like it that way. Sometimes, sanity take precedent over prestige. I have a job for now. That job belongs to someone else, some graduate student or adjuncting PhD who will love it. Whoever she is, I've got my fingers crossed for her!
6) You know, there aren't enough hours in the day, but I could probably make more if I didn't sleep so damn much!
7) I showed my students a 5" floppy disc this week. About 3/4 of them did not know what it was. They also have no idea what an 8-track tape was. They do, however, know about records. They call them "vinyl." They also thought that my cassette tape was funny and the fact that I have a player for it even funnier. One wanted to know if I had a "hi-fi" at home. I told him that he got a gold star for knowing enough to make that joke.
8) I watched this rather painful movie, in French, called Children of the Century. At the end, I nearly laughed because George Sand -- played by the always lovely Juliette Binoche -- stood over Alfred deMusset's grave, stared into the camera and waxed nauseatingly romantic about "one true love with all one's soul" blahblahblah. It was the sort of thing that Woody Allen made fun of in the 1970s -- you know, in his earlier, funny period. Also, didn't she have a long, passionate affair with Chopin BEFORE Musset died?
In movies and stories of free love affairs, no matter what their setting, I wonder what the women did for birth control. Wouldn't there have been more infections running around, too? I'm mean, after all, in this movie, they engage in this two year or so long love affair, and she never once mentions birth control or has a pregnancy scare or needs to "take care" of a "condition"? He galavants around any brothel in a 100 mile radius and he never gets syphilis or even crabs? I'm clearly post-AIDs in my understanding of sex and STDs, but you don't have to have grown up in the era of HIV to know that sex produces babies. I wondered that about Ottilia Assing and Frederick Douglass: what birth control was she using that she did not produce a junior?
9) By the way, I want to find a flash drive that looks similar to Joan Harris (nee Holloway)'s gold pen that she wears around her neck. The sexual politics of the character are not my style in the least, but damn! she knows how to dress some curves! Being on the curvy side myself, I like that. Plus, uber-competence is always attractive. I'm more of the absent-minded professor type myself, so anything that makes me seem otherwise helps my credibility.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
"Holy shit!" I said, getting the double As in backwards. "It's coming right at me!"
Actually, it was higher than the apartment building, so I laughed at my hyperbole. A guy on the 15th floor, five floors below me, swore to a reporter that it was headed straight for him. Yeah, lay it on thick for the press.
The helicopter, with a big ole state trooper insignia emblazoned on it's tail, turned to my right, and flew off in that direction. It circled around and came back, then began circling over this area, just below where it hovers in this picture:
You can't really see in that image, but a police car sits on the far side of the highway, on the shoulder of the exit ramp, next to that wooded area.
I found out later that two guys had been caught burglarizing two or three homes in that area. A kid -- they didn't explain why he was at home on a school day -- had heard the bad guys breaking into his house, so he grabbed his bb gun and headed for a nearby school. Seeing a kid approach the school with a gun, the administrators called the police. The police came, and the kid told his story. Meanwhile, the bad guys continued their deeds.
The police set the K-9 squad on the trail. They picked up one guy after pretending that they had called off the chase. That must have been when the helicopter left, only to return about a half an hour later. Then, they caught the other guy hiding in someone's basement. The police think that these suspects have burglarizing several in the neighborhood for some time.
That's just a story from last Friday. Yesterday was when I learned that the bathrooms on campus aren't even safe.
Yesterday, during our faculty council meeting, some sirens passed by the window. We thought nothing of it because there's a firehouse a few blocks away. I think nothing of sirens myself because I've always lived near firehouses. When I left the meeting, I saw an ambulance and some cars outside the building. I thought in passing that another mugging had taken place on the bridge that goes over the train tracks by our campus. There were two muggings there -- in broad daylight -- at the end of last semester.
"Crap," I thought. "Not again. I hope the ambulance was just a precaution."
Headed back to my office, which is in the next building over, I ran into the provost. He looked rattled, guarding the exits to the student center where we had our meeting. He wasn't letting anyone out, and anyone who came in had to stay in.
"There's been a crime," he told us. "The campus is locked down. If you leave, go straight to your car."
"Was it another mugging?" I asked. I don't think he appreciated me saying "another" in front of a group of students.
"Worse," he said.
"Rape," I thought. I didn't think a shooting because, given where the ambulance and police cars were gathered, we would have heard a gun shot. "Maybe a stabbing?" I thought.
One of my former students -- a really good one -- was taking notes and asking questions. She's a reporter for the school paper. "What happened?" she asked, not for the first time so it seemed.
"We're waiting for the police report," the provost said. He walks a fine line here. How much information do you let out only, as it turned out, an hour after the crime was reported, when you don't really know exactly what happened, and when you have hundreds of students clamoring to be let out and to know why they couldn't leave the building to get to their next class or pick up their kids from daycare or get to work on time.
"So, it wasn't a mugging, but it was worse," the student reporter repeated, writing down notes.
The provost asked me and another faculty member to guard the door so he could go look at the security tapes that the campus police were reviewing in their office. The student reporter followed right behind. "You go get that story!" I thought to her. "Good work!"
That was a fool's errand for the other professor and I. When you have a group of adults who have other places to be, those concerns are more immediate to them than their own safety. One young woman just defiantly pushed her way out the door and stalked off in the opposite direction from the police. Another started to argue with me that she had to "go pick up my little one." She went out and argued with the security officer, and he gave her an escort to the garage out of exasperation. Another student said, "my boss is NEVER going to believe the school was held up." The threat of a crime, especially one for which they had no details, and especially when their goal was to get away from the scene, was far too abstract.
The students gathered at the door also brought rumors of what they heard had happened. "A shooting," said one. "A rape," said another. "An assault," said a third. "Assault" has been used so many times between then and now that it ceases to have meaning.
"Listen to you guys!" I laughed. "The rumors begin! All we know is that is WASN'T a mugging." They laughed at themselves, too.
After about an hour, they let us go on our side of the campus. The campus on the far side of the train tracks, the campus next to a busy thoroughfare and an open park, they kept locked down. A few minutes later, a helicopter began to circle. It circled for a few hours, getting further and further away. The alert system kept us updated. Eventually, the other side of campus was released, but with warnings to steer clear of the police who were "doing their work" over there.
"So that's where the crime was," I thought. I was already a bit concerned having surmised that the crime had taken place indoors, because I caught a glimpse of the security tapes that the officers screened.
When I left the campus around 8, all of the women walked in clumps, and asked others to join them. We already have security between the garage and the campus because of the muggings last semester. We had more, although I would have liked to have seen someone actually IN the garage.
Last night, in the middle of Lost, the alert system sent a message saying that they had caught the suspect. Black man, about 5'8". That could describe over half of our student population. Heck, that could describe over half of the population in the surrounding area.
The news reported that the "assault" was sexual. They haven't said if it was a rape or not. The student -- a woman -- was attacked in the women's restroom on the second floor of one of the newest buildings on campus.
"The bathroom?" I said. "Is nothing sacred?" For some reason, that detail seemed the most shocking; and that pisses me off.
I walk around every day, aware that around every corner, behind every bush, on the elevator, in the parking garage, on the bridge between campuses, on dates, someone is waiting to rape a woman. That has been a lesson taught to girls from an early age. Not that they seriously taught us how to defend ourselves -- in fact, a cop once told my 6th grade class that we should just "let it happen" rather than get hurt. This was long before Clayton Williams ran for Texas governor. As if rape doesn't hurt.
I walk around constantly conscious of our rape culture. I realize that it is so normalized that, while I hate it, I fear it, I rage against it, I am not surprised by it. In fact, years ago, when I was assaulted -- on a date, for the second time in my life -- as I fought and kicked and scratched and negotiated (and finally wiggled my way free and into the bathroom) -- one of the several thoughts that ran through my brain was, "so, now it's my turn." If you look at the odds, that's not an entirely irrational concept. So many women get raped and so regularly, that the thought that my number had come up, perverse as it is, was not shocking.
In that case, I ran to the bathroom for safety. In all of the dark alley types of scenarios, even when those dark alleys are on dates, I never imagined the bathroom. The bathroom is a girl zone. A zone where your purse might get snatched but not one where you get raped. The doors lock for privacy, not security. It should be a safe place.
That is the irrational thought, that somewhere is safe. In a rape culture, nowhere is safe. Not even the women's room, in a shiny new building with security cameras.
I feel that there should be some sort of organized response. Not so much a protest, as an awareness or consciousness raising event, a discussion of how this is affecting the women on campus and how the women should respond. Also, something must be done on the guy side, too. I'm not sure what, but maybe I should bring the idea to the women's studies coordinator (from whom I'm taking over next fall -- maybe). It's not a solution; but, as Melissa McEwan says, it might be a teaspoon.
UPDATE: The guy "was charged with two counts of first-degree rape, first-degree sexual offense, and attempt to escape after arrest." He was waiting in the bathroom for the young woman when she walked in and told her he had a gun. He tried to escape when they transferred him from the police car to the station house.
Now, to look up what that charge means.
UPDATE #2 (5:30 pm): The charge means that he raped her twice. She was in the stall with the door locked. He crawled under the door, grabbed her and raped her. Then, he held her for an hour while he cried and apologized and talked about his ex-wife. (Yeah, it's always some woman's fault, isn't it?) There was something about how he was worried about going to hell. When the woman tried to leave, he grabbed her and raped her again.
Monday, January 25, 2010
I hadn't thought much about it because I didn't want to think about it; but today the outpatient surgery center called to take all of that information that you think they could keep in a damn database somewhere so you don't have to repeat it every time you go into a doctor's office. I know, privacy issues trump inconvenience; but, still, I sometimes think I should just have a printout that I can hand to any physician who needs the information.
Let me back up a minute to explain some of the scheduling issues here. First, they scheduled me for just after Christmas. It turned out Gentleman Caller, who was going to help me out, couldn't get down here then. So, I called to change the appointment. I called again. I called again. I called again. I called for a whole damn month before the person who answered the phone was, by pure chance, the person whom I needed to talk to. The person who hadn't returned my 5 gazillion messages.
"Oh, Ms. Bluestocking," she said. "We already changed your appointment." And did not call me. Of course, by this time, the window in which Gentleman Caller could come down to help me no longer had any appointments, which is why I am going in on Friday.
When the person from the surgery called, she said, "Oh, they changed your appointment." And did not call me. Fortunately, this change worked in my favor. Originally, they had me scheduled for a 6:30 AM procedure, which meant I had to arrive at 5:30 AM.
Yeah. I don't do that time of morning. In fact, I had planned to stay up all night to make sure I arrived on time because the odds of me arriving at all were better that way. Now, I'm scheduled at noon.
In the interest of maintaining my reputation as a gloom-and-doom, bitching-and-moaning pessimist, let me point out that I'm not supposed to drink or eat anything after midnight the night before. Not even gum! I also can't wear make-up, lotion, perfume, or jewelry. I probably would have worn all four.
Why? Because I'm going to have to find someone to pick me up, and it will probably be someone from work, and I will just DIE -- DIE, I tell you! -- if I'm seen out of uniform by someone at work.
I'm now also going to always be THAT woman, the one with the bladder problem, which I suppose beats being THAT woman, the one who is "angry," "destructive," and "creates a hostile environment." Or doesn't.
Anyway, the woman from the surgery took my information -- and I'm pretty freakin' healthy by the standards of that questionnaire, if you don't count the excessive use of happy pills and alcohol -- then asked if I have a living will or if I have given anyone power of attorney.
Oh, yeah. General anesthetic. Not exactly a natural state, and one in which nasty things could go wrong. I watch House. Metal pins could come shooting out of my brain or my heart could flip inside or something.
This did not worry me. I figure that I will be out of it and won't notice dying at all. Not a bad way to go, if you must (and, at some point, you must, just most of us hope it will be later). I'll be sad that I never finished my Douglass book. I'll be sad to leave Gentleman Caller, too; but, then, I'll be dead and won't care. In any case, the prospect of dying on the table doesn't worry me. In fact, it became a great prompt for planning my own funeral.*
I'm not afraid of dying on the table because the chances of that are insignificant. Instead, I found out what I am really afraid of when I did a Google search on "cystoscopy."
You see, I am rather curious as to what they are going to put up there. I mean this is a private part that was decidedly NOT meant for pushing out babies (not that I've ever seen a woman who thought labor was all fun and laughs). Since the urologist used words like "fiber optics," I decided to think of the machine as being a mere wire. Unpleasant, but bearable. Denial is such a wonderful thing!
This is what they will be shoving up my urethra:
Holy SHIT!! What sort of S&M, sci-fi porn prop is that? My parts will be damaged beyond repair or use! I'm hemorrhaging at the mere sight!
Sure, I'll be out cold; but the drugs wear off. I'll have to rely on the Vicodin from the wisdom teeth. I will then actually become House.
Now, I need to go assume the fetal position and whimper.
*I want someone to read a list of people to whom I say "fuck you! I'd haunt you if I thought there was an afterlife!" There will be instructions for how many birds to flip at the mention of their name, too. I also would like the Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" played -- like in The Big Chill, only not on an organ."**
**But, I don't have hostility issues. I also don't watch too much Six Feet Under.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
"I can't complain but sometimes I still do" seemed like a rational explanation for about 90% of my bitching and moaning since age 13.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
The subject of the article that I'm overhauling went by several names in her life: Ruth Cox, Harriet Bailey, Harriet Adams, and Ruth Adams. This made her a bit of a research mystery, but one that has to have been the most satisfying and exciting of my career thus far (I do hope many more are in the future because -- wow! -- that was fun!). In my post, I was frustrated over the practical issue of just how to refer to her without losing the reader.
Historiann responded: "On the name problem: I have the same problem with my subject. But, instead of seeing it as a problem, I've decided to see it as an opportunity. I'm experimenting with using the different names she used/used for her at different points in her life, as a signal of the many different identity changes she goes through in her life."
A name change can indicate a change of identity, either through imposition or self-definition. In my answer, I wrote that I hadn't tackled the concept of identity head-on in this overhaul of the article because the subject would have become too unwieldy what with all of the differentiations of abolitionist tactics, and attempts at easing in class identification, and so forth. There is, however, a section in which I discuss my subject's plans for her future versus Douglass's plans for her future (seriously, the man was a patriarch at home, which will fit into the bigger picture later on). Douglass sees her as fitting into his life as a confidante, a liaison to his wife, and another set of hands around the house. Naming her, or allowing her to name herself, as his sister -- this assumed identity of "sister" -- indicates her position in the Douglass household at that time.
Bailey -- for that is the name that she went by at this time -- had other ideas. She wanted to be wife and mother in her own home, helpmeet to her own husband and raising her own children, rather than ancillary to the Douglass home. In marrying, she took her husbands last name and became Harriet Adams. I seriously doubt that the act of taking the name itself was much of a choice in the way a woman taking her husband's name today indicates a particular choice. Women just did that in those days. Still, the new name indicated a choice that she had made about her life: to leave off the identity of spinster sister in the Douglass home and take on the identity of wife in her own.
Of course, you can go back further and see that she took the name Harriet Bailey after she ran away from slavery. The name change served the practical purpose of disguising her identity as a fugitive from slave catchers, but also to indicate a new identity as self-emancipated woman. Douglass went through the same process when he changed his name from Frederick Bailey to Frederick Johnson to Frederick Douglass.
Later in her life, she went back to Ruth, going by Ruth Adams. The return to Ruth came after emancipation. Ruth Adams, then, was a legally free woman in a nation without slavery and also a widow.
So, each name change, regardless of how conscious the motivations behind the change were, indicated a different status in her life: Ruth Cox was the enslaved woman, Harriet Bailey was the single woman and fugitive living in Frederick Douglass's house, Harriet Adams was the wife and mother, and Ruth Adams was the widowed and legally free woman.
Now, I have to go stick this into the article -- polished up a bit, of course!
Thank you so very much Historiann, for inspiring this passage!
Saturday, January 16, 2010
I've been reading these posts and their comments sections about the rotten job market in the humanities, the ways that universities and departments should respond to that predicament, the ways that universities and departments are responsible for that predicament, and the responses to some of the very wrong assumptions about what life as a professor is supposed to be like.
I have nothing of substance to add. Really. What the hell do I know about the systemic fuck-ups except what I see at my end? More to the point, what the hell do I know about how to fix it, either? I'm just trying to get me through my working day.
I have noticed one or two things that have struck a chord with me. Tenured Radical recommends programs in alternate career paths for historians. I whole heartedly agree. I'd probably have been on one of them if I had them or known about them or had the courage to pursue one of them back in my 20s. In my 30s, I had the chance to get a look at such programs and I did go on one of them. You can read about my conflicts with that in the first year or so of my blog, if you so care.
I'd just caution anyone thinking that one of those paths are guaranteed. I see what TR is saying, that, in the long run, this would spread around the people with degrees. That may perhaps be true. Except, as Sisyphus discusses, some of those fields are already being professionalized. By "professionalized" I mean that you have to have a master's degree in that particular field -- public history, library science -- in order to get a job; and, right now, those fields are experiencing the same crackdown as education.
In museums and archives for instance, in my limited experience I discovered that you have the entry-level jobs and the upper management level jobs and very little in between; and you have to have at least a masters to be competitive for those entry-level jobs.
If that is the situation, why are some of these programs master's programs? Given the quality of the education and my employment prospects upon graduation, my MLS program could have easily been a bachelor's program. Perhaps that fits in with the discussion of exactly what undergraduate degrees are supposed to be doing these days. I mean, if you can have education be an undergraduate major, but the majors also have to take a significant number of courses to specialize in a subject, couldn't the same be done for library science? Then, if you want more, after you start working, you go back for more, either in the professional field or in the specialized field.
I also wonder about entitlement to a job after graduation. Perhaps one of the better things that my pathetic doctoral program did for me was to impress upon me from the moment that I walked in to talk to an advisor just about the general idea of graduate studies was that "you're never going to get a job."
I swear, he said that, before even talking to me about anything having to do with the profession. I said, "hi, I'm considering graduate school." He said, "you're never going to get a job." I heard that refrain almost every single day for the rest of my time there. Sadly, it wasn't delivered to us so much as a dose of harsh reality about the state of the job market as it was an expression of the speaker's bitterness at being stuck employed at such an inferior school as my own with such dolts for students as myself, and not being able to find a better job elsewhere. Needless to say, most of the people I knew who spoke to that guy had the same reaction as I did, "what a bitter asshole! I'm going to do this anyway." Of course, now that I think about it, of those people, I'm the only one who finished the doctorate -- and spite had a little to do with that.
I think most people who go the whole PhD route do so because they can't not, for whatever reason, be it temprament, genius, talent, or desperation. I also think that the frustration of the job market is not limited to PhDs. To some extent, don't most Americans -- most people -- buy into the idea that, if you work hard enough, you will at least be able to survive -- at least survive -- somehow, even in the face of all evidence to the contrary? Or is that just an idea of the middle class and elite? I know I did, and I have always been decidedly middle class.
Every day the number of jobs goes down and down, in every type of work. The more that you invest in training or education for a job, the more upset you become -- at yourself, at people who lucked out in the system, at people who came before you in the system, at the system itself; and you lash out at everyone. I certainly did -- and still do. You feel helpless and you are terrified. If you worked this hard for this long and you are worse off than you began, what will happen if you invest in training for something else. Can debt, life, depression, get worse? You fear that it might, so you stay with the devil you know. You stay with that devil until any other devil actually becomes appealing. Or you luck into something else.
But, this is not my point in writing this post because, as I said, I have nothing to contribute to this discussion and it overwhelms me with powerlessness and panic. I began this post hopeing to try to understand that panic. Part of it is status-anxiety; but part of it also comes from the fact that I do actually have some status.
You see, I have this strange, freaked-out feeling when reading these posts. It's not really survivor's guilt, which I think that I am past (although I still live in a state of paranoia that I will be back on that adjunct track after budget cuts or some other twist of fate). The feeling is more like an anxiety attack with gratitude mixed in. What do you call that feeling when you realize, "holy shit! I was supposed to be on that plan that just went down in flames, but I missed my flight?" or "Dear god! I was supposed to be on the that train that wrecked but I was running late?"
You see, as I read all of these posts about the way things work and the way things are supposed to work and the way things do work, I realize that I have no business being where I am. Given my story and my credentials, if the world worked correctly, the way it is supposed to work as described in some of those posts and comments, well, I'd be in that cubicle life of deep misery that my parents so desperately wanted for me.
I'm not refuting what those posts are saying. I am saying: holy crap! I got here by completely blind and dumb luck, and some kind help at key points along the way. I got here in spite of myself, in spite of a crappy graduate education that I did not even make the most of, in spite of some really shitty -- I mean unethically shitty -- advice, and probably because I did one or two things that ran counter to that advice. In other words, I muddled my circuitous way toward an actual full-time job as a professor in a major city. It's not the ideal job, as I often bitch; but it is a damn good job. Hell, it's a job.
I know that I do my job well; but the thing about luck is that it can always turn for the worse no matter what you do -- although it is best not to work against it. I'm only on a one year contract, although, if renewed, it will be a three year contract. The most we get are 6 year contracts, and they are talking about talking about eliminating the 6 year ones. You can imagine what that means.
I just hope this dumb luck holds out.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
To get the full effect of how preoccupied I had been, my desk is under a large window. Sitting at my desk, looking out of my window, you see exactly that picture. I didn't notice the sirens. I didn't notice the lights. The place could have probably been an inferno and I'd have just gone right on with what I was doing.
What was I doing? This:
Too tired to write at the end of a long day, I was browsing through some books about the 19th century urban African Americans, the 19th century middle class, John Brown, and Frederick Douglass, hoping to jog some percolating ideas on the Frederick Douglass's sister article that I'm overhauling -- not at this moment, mind you, because I'm having that "write a blog post" problem, but in general.
In reading the chapter on women in John Stauffer's The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race, I came across a vicious quote from Frederick Douglass about Anna, his wife:
"I am sad to say that she is by no means well--and if I should write down all her complaints there could be no room to put my name at the bottom, although the world will have it that I am actually at the bottom of it all...She still seems able to use with great ease and fluency her powers of speech, and by the time I am at home a week or two longer, I shall have pretty fully learned how many points there is need of improvement in my temper and disposition as a husband and father, the head of a family!" [quoted on p. 229]
Whoa! I wonder what else is in that letter?
Stauffer comments, "Not only did Douglass feel estranged in his own house, but the woman who ran things was, in his eyes, something of a shrew as well as ignorant and degraded." [p. 229]
Now, I could go into the Anna part of this -- and I will, rest assured, because I'm sure that she had some pretty good reasons to be pissed off at Douglass. He was away all of the damn time and who, at the point that he wrote this in 1857, had made Anna put up with not one but two white women living under her roof, consorting with her husband, and, if not actually sleeping with her husband, generating some vicious rumors to that effect.
What kept me distracted last night was finding out who Douglass wrote this to. He didn't air his family's business like this to just anyone -- or anyone at all. I thought for sure that he wrote this to Ottilie Assing, whose translation of Douglass's second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, brought the two into very close company (and, boy!, did she hate Anna). Instead, a quick flip back to Stauffer's footnotes showed that Douglass had written this letter to one Lydia Dennett.
Who was Lydia Dennett? Did he write more to her?
Stauffer cites Philip Foner's Frederick Douglass and Women's Rights, an edited volume, as his source. Google Books has it online but, of course, they did not include the pages that I wanted. For once, my campus actually has a book that I need for research. I'll be running over there to pick it up before our big Day O' Meetings later this week.
Meanwhile, who was Lydia Dennett? I hadn't heard of her. I have at least heard of a goodly number of women whom Douglass hung out with, but I won't claim that I know of them all. The index of the new volume of his correspondence doesn't have a Lydia Dennett, but it does have a W. Oliver Dennett. Douglass wrote two letters to him in 1850 that were not even interesting enough to reproduce and are only listed in the calendar of unpublished correspondence at the end of the volume.
In the calendar, however, the editors listed the location of those letters in the Pickard-Whitter Papers at the Houghton Library at Harvard (I instinctively raise my little finger as if holding a cup of tea when I say or write "Hahvah"). Harvard (pinky!) has kindly put their finding aids online, and there, way down in Series IV, "Other Letters," I found letter #774, Paulina Wright Davis to Lydia Bennett, 1870; and letters #783, #784, and #785 from Douglass to Mrs. Dennett in 1857, W. Oliver Dennett in 1850, and to an unidentified person at an unidentified time. Letter #786 is from the second Mrs. Douglass, Helen Pitts, to Elizbeth Pickard in 1899. The letter to Oliver Dennett is the one in the correspondence calendar, and the one to Lydia Dennett is the one cited in Foner and Stauffer.
Now, to get copies of all of them!
Still, who the heck is Lydia Dennett?
I no longer have access to an Ancestry.com account at home -- I have to get up to the Maryland Historical Society for that -- but their previews helped me narrow down their location to Maine and New Hampshire. That helped me with that research tool of the gods, Google, and I discovered that Lydia's maiden name was Neal, that her father was Samuel Neal and a man of some property who died in 1836, that she and her husband belonged to the Maine Anti-Slavery Society, and that they hosted Douglass on one of his earliest lecture tours when he stopped in Portland, Maine.
When I get into an actual library, I can ferret out a lot more information about them -- I'm pretty good at that, if I must say so myself. That still doesn't answer the main question; or, rather, it answers the superficial part of the question. I know roughly who Lydia Dennett was, where she lived, who she was married to, her father, her interest in abolition (and perhaps women's rights, since she corresponded with Paulina Wright Davis), and that she met Douglass in the 1840s.
What I don't know is this: who was Lydia Dennett that Douglass would write such a scathing assessment of his wife and his perception of his marital woes to her? Who else did he bitch about his wife to?
And who did Anna bitch about her husband to?
Ambulances, fire truck, police, men with big hoses. I have no idea what was going on but it seems as if a fire alarm or something went off at the Sears Automotive there. I saw no smoke or flames, and the place is just fine and open for business today.
Remember that guy from Christmas morning, the one who threw the phone at his girlfriend and whom I should have called the cops on? On Sunday, he was in the lobby of the building cussing out some guy at the top of his lungs. The "concierge" service (don't get too impressed, they are there to take packages, make sure unaccompanied guests sign in, and pretend that they are actually "security" -- and this new contractor doesn't even to the second because they buzz in anyone) didn't even blink an eye at this very heated and very "fuck" filled exchange.
Then, when I got on the elevator, who should hop on with me? Yep. I eyed the emergecy call button, judging how quickly I could hit it if he did anything like throw a phone.
At which point, he took out his phone. Mercifully, he didn't throw it. He called someone and started to cuss them out, too. The whole gist of his complaints seemed to be that he asked these people to do something for him RIGHT NOW and they didn't hop up and do it for him RIGHT NOW.
"Jeez," I thought, "what a volatile jackass!"
When I got off of the elevator, another woman was unloading new furniture from IKEA from another elevator and setting it down in the hall near the volatile jackass's apartment. I couldn't determine if she was moving in to the apartment next to his or his apartment. I'm hoping that it was next door, because he didn't give her a second look nor offer to help. He just kept yelling "muthafucka do what I say" into his phone.
I could tell that a dog lives with him. Poor dog.
It's just all drama all the time at my place, isn't it? I'm hoping the woman from Christmas has left him for good.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
First, how do you consistently refer to a person who went by four different names over 80 years when you are writing about the things that she did during those 80 years? Fortunately, for a good chunk of that time she did have the same last name, so that allows me to default to that; but what about this crucial period of time that comprises the bulk of the article. She changes last names three times, and first names once, all in the space of four years. That's five different names to negotiate! Ack!
Second, I tangle myself up with my own varying use of verb tenses. I find that when I am talking through a narrative or problem, I speak in present tense, as if I'm walking through the events and processes with my subjects. Having started out my college education as an English major, I have a tendency to slip into present tense when writing about written documents, just as you write in present tense about characters and events in novel. Writing as a historian, I have to keep it all in past tense. This means that my drafts, even the good ones, have occasional slips into present tense. I don't notice because it all came out of my head, and if my head is reading it, then my head doesn't think there is a problem. The writer and the proofreader in my head are working by the mess of rules. This is where outside eyes are an enormous help!
Third, really, I need to unplug the internet connection. When I wrote my first book, I had to go into a room that did not have a connection. The internet calls me, and not just to goof off (like writing a blog post when I should be writing an article). I can go look something up, or let a tiny question take up too much time, or try to track down something that really will not alter what I'm saying but would be nice to have as a citation or an elaboration in a footnote, or get distracted by the teaching stuff. Books can sometimes do that, too. It is all Drift, and it can all wait until later, after the writing.
Fourth, I've noticed a tendency among people who do not write to assume that sitting down to write is not terribly different than sitting down to read. The only difference between the two is that you use your hands more when you write. Even if the people in question hate to write anything, and find writing tedious, they look at you, the writer, and assume that you don't have similar difficulties in writing. "Oh, it's easy for you," they say. Maybe, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't require effort and is sometimes very frustrating. The writer just finds it more satisfying than the non-writer.
Of course, perhaps this is just me because I catch myself making the same assumptions about other writers. "Oh novelists," I catch myself thinking, "they just make it up, so it's so much easier for them." Yeah. And then I try to write a novel and remember that the reason that I went into history was because the stories were already there. I also catch myself imagining some famous historian, some giant in the field, someone who regularly produced books and articles hailed as "brilliant," -- I catch myself imagining them sitting down to their computer to have the next great, paradigm-shifting book just pour out of them in one smooth and polished draft, footnotes and all. (Understand that this "famous historian" could be pretty much anyone, even a not-so-famous but published one.)
So, I'm finding that I am taking heart in the image of [name a writer you admire here] sitting at their desk, staring out the window, and thinking, "shit. I've got nothin' today," then spending the next six hours rewriting the same damn paragraph that just won't sort itself out.
Saturday, January 09, 2010
Perhaps you know of some of these silly things? Perhaps some are familiar to you? Things like idiots who comment on newspaper articles, particularly those in the Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Education. Some commenters prove the saying that you should never argue with a fool because people might not be able to tell the difference. I get so worked up reading those things, and that is just a waste of energy. Heck, sometimes the very articles themselves are wasted energy.
Things like the Center for Teaching and Learning courses. The ones that, if taken collectively seem to say, "whatever you are doing, it is wrong; and if you change it, you are still wrong; and if you do it the way that we are telling you to do it, we will tell you that you are wrong next week."
Things like dumbass t.v. commercials, and dumbass commentators, and dumbass columns in the New York Times or wherever else.
Things like idiot fellowship coordinators and their ilk who need to feel important by crushing down others, no matter how foolish or nasty they make themselves in the process.
I could go on and on. Indeed, often I do. I am easily irritated, especially if I haven't eaten in a while or had my coffee for the day. All of this irritation just saps my energy and my spirit.
My solution is to say, "Dumbass, be gone!" Or even "Jackass, be gone!" I'll have a little hand motion for it, too. I'll hold my hand up in the "talk to the hand" gesture to say "dumbass!" Then, I will make a whisking away motion that ends in a point or an indication toward elsewhere to say "be gone!" Of course I will say all of this in an imperious voice, like James Earl Jones, and with a slightly British accent, like a trained Shakespearean actor, and maybe the hint of an echo, just for effect.
"Dumbahss! Be gahwn!"
Friday, January 08, 2010
So many evenings like this have seemed depressing in the past. This one reminds me of my hopeless days in That Place, wanting only to get home at this time of day so that I could indulge in whatever chocolate I had scavenged and bask in the glow of my computer and t.v. screens. What was on did not matter, only that it distracted me from my life. I am also reminded of earlier times, facing a walk home in the dark, the only joyful part of my day, to a gray apartment and escape into hours of Law and Order reruns, and a night that would only lead to a trek back to who knew what disaster or harassment the next day. I grew to hate the concept of hope in those days. If hope was a thing with wings, I was Betty Draper and her BB gun in the back yard, minus the cigarette.
I don't feel that at this moment, in this week. I also don't feel the vestiges of guilt and grief from a trip to Texas, nor do I feel the dull echo of a feeling that I should be doing something more, but with no incentive to do that more -- whatever it was -- except to escape that dull echo. Escaping dull echoes can be done in so many unproductive ways. More accurately, dull echoes can be escaped in many seemingly productive ways, but not necessarily ways that are satisfying. I have learned there is a difference between "happy" and "satisfying." "Satisfying" feels so much better.
The television has been silent for the past week, as well. I watch a lot of t.v., or, rather, I frequently use the t.v. as background noise for such things as paying bills or cleaning house or the millions of other mundane tasks that only really require a fraction of your alert brain. The other fractions need distraction. Sometimes I sleep with it on so that I can get to sleep because the story of whatever is on will distract the part of my brain that just won't shut the hell up and allow me to relax. I tend to only stop and watch Mad Men, or whatever show I'm addicted to at that particular moment.
This week, the Gentleman Caller was my distraction for several days, which meant that the t.v. was off, which started a no-t.v. momentum. I'm finding that I like the silence for now. I finding that I like the way time moves with out a t.v. I'm finding that I like also not having anything from which to escape. I like the satisfaction of burrowing into my article and with purpose. I have forgotten some of these sensations because work -- the job work, not the real work work -- and its attendant silliness can distract me, exhaust me, and cause me to drift back to the t.v. and the dissatisfaction.
In the service of selling myself TALL I shall not let myself drift.
I can't promise no t.v. because -- for crying out loud! -- we have Lost and Project Runway coming up!
Thursday, January 07, 2010
We won't even get into all of the unturned stones that you feel along the edges. You have a pretty good idea that nothing will be under those stones, but you just have to turn them to make sure. I'm always certain that the big smoking gun or key to reshaping the historiography of the history of the world will be under that one little pebble in the back of the record garden.
My first version of the article was strong on narrative and the transparency of my research, but very weak on analysis. When Gentleman Caller read it, he said that it was more of an extended annotation -- which is what it started out as, anyway -- than a full-fledged, polished article. He was right. In fact, he named exactly what bothered me about it. Since most of the research had been geared toward writing an annotation, and since the longer version was initially a paper for an organization that cared deeply about annotations and the stories behind them, I remained stuck in the rut of that approach. Now, I'm attacking the material with the "so what?" question in mind.
You know what? It's a fan-effing-tastic revision, even as undone as it is. In fact, I'm starting to explore an idea about Douglass and class, and how his class and his status as a free man affects his abolition -- all in contrast to a close friend who approached abolition with an entirely different set of needs. This might play into what I end up writing about Anna, who I am starting to suspect identified herself with a different class than Douglass did.
Oh, and the League of Gileadites in which this "sister" was involved? Bad. Ass.
Saturday, January 02, 2010
This year, I think I just might make a resolution. It's one that I've been thinking about for a while and I suppose it, too, is tied to self-loathing.
Being in analysis for the past year has been fantastic. When I went in, I had this image of myself. I saw myself as this machine with lots of cogs and wheels. Along the way -- that is, throughout my life -- many of those cogs and wheels got broken or out of alignment. They were put back together or fixed, but not quite correctly, or with the wrong pieces, or without any oil, or became gunked up, or they just remained broken. The machine could still function, but not very well. It could move forward, but not very efficiently and not in a straight line. Maybe you've had an old clunker of a bike or a car that worked that way.
I went into analysis with the intention of taking apart the machine, cleaning off all of the pieces, replacing some of the bad pieces, and putting it back together so that it would whirr and spin and move forward better and faster.
Would you believe that I'm starting to see some of that happen?
Not that it is always the greatest thing to go through; but sometimes it is quite funny. For instance, I realized that I have an inner whiny baby. When I become too wound up or upset about something that I can't control, when I keep making excuses as to why solutions won't work, when I start to hear myself whine, I have to let myself go to the source of that whine.
The source is usually something very childish and comes out as something like, "make them stoooop, mooommmmyyyy!!!" "Make the students stop complaining about their grades, mommy!" "Make my daddy and mommy love me unconditionally, mommy!!" "Make people stop being mean, mommy!" "Make jobs appear, mommy!" Where's the magic fairy and her happy wand!
When I find that irrational baby whine, then I can see it for the infantile wish that it is and find some way to solve my problem or, more likely, cope with the situation that makes me whine. The sooner I find that inner whiny baby, the better. I become a better teacher, I accept that I don't still need my damn parents' approval, I stop trying to make mean people nice, I become grateful for my pretty good job. I accept that there is no magic fairy.
Most of you are probably thinking, "duh! That's what grown-ups do!" Well, I never really learned how to be a grown-up, and I've been in a series of abusive relationships both personal and professional, that have made the road to becoming a grown-up very difficult. After all, part of the abuse is the infatilizing of the abused.
I'm getting away from my point here, which is my New Year's resolution.
Another part of abusive relationships is that the abuser convinces the abused that they are not worth much. If you think you aren't worth much, then you don't trust people who do value you and you do trust people who don't. So, you keep entering into familiar relationships, the types in which the other person tells you that you are worthless or that there is something inherently wrong with you that, if you fix it, you will be worthy of whatever it is that you want. Of course, you won't ever fix that thing that is supposed to be wrong with you because the rules are set by the abuser and the abuser keeps changing the rules.
Again, I'm talking about both personal and professional relationships; and the thing that I'm thinking about now is mostly professional. In realizing that most of my professional relationships have been abusive -- full of bullies and people who exploited me for no apparent reason but that they could and people who lied and manipulated because they needed me to feed some deep personal flaw -- in realizing this, I realized that I became complicit in the abuse. The phrase that keeps coming to mind is that I sold myself short.
Even when I realized that these professional relationships were abusive, I stayed because I didn't think that I could do better or because I didn't think that I could be successful anywhere else. I sold myself short because a life of quiet desperation with a steady paycheck seemed more comforting than a life with satisfying work but a boss with no boundaries and no accountability. I sold myself short because I expected everything to end in disaster no matter what, so I just didn't try too hard to make anything better. I sold myself short because a future of trying felt less bad than a past of failure. I sold myself short because I didn't know any better, because I was filled with self-loathing and fear.
That isn't a life.
So my New Year's Resolution is to not sell myself short. I will sell myself TALL. Very tall. Taller every year from now on.
That sounds so easy, but it is rather like falling off of a log, or going skydiving or bungee jumping. You are asking yourself to do something completely contrary to your sense of survival. Every day now, I observe myself. What little things do I do to keep myself down? What choices do I make that keep me from being TALL? This is the difficult part; but to do otherwise has become unbearable.
Friday, January 01, 2010
In our social studies class, we had one role-playing exercise in which each day letters of the alphabet or important words had to be eliminated from our writing. So, on Monday, we could no longer use a, e, and i, and the words "the" and "and." On Tuesday, o and u were forbidden, as were capital letters and punctuation; and on Wednesday, we had to eliminate any form of the verb "to be" and the past tense of all verbs. "This can't possibly be the future," I thought. Now, I think of that every time I see a text message.
In our science class, we had to bring in current event articles on "the future." Someone had an article that predicted that people would all be wearing stretchy fabrics. At the time, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was on t.v., and Wilma Deering wore these shiny, skin-tight jumpsuits. I thought that would be what we wore. I hadn't yet developed body image issues (just wait a year or two), so I thought "cool." The shiny jumpsuits didn't materialize, but I now think of that article every time I see spandex on the label of a piece of clothing. I still think "cool" because you don't have to iron spandex.
One of the things that I really remember was the promise that, in the future, we would all be driving hovercrafts. You know, like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. In our gifted and talented class (how I got in, I'll never know), a group of guys even built one with some plywood and a vacuum cleaner. They got it to zoom down one of the hallways in our school. The look of glee on their faces!
Since all of this took place in 1979 and 1980, the "future" was usually implicitly or explicitly supposed to be 2000 and after. Well, we are a decade into the 21st century now and I have just one question.
Where the hell is my hovercraft?