more vintage video fun: "a date with your family"

Brought to you from mst3k, another educational short (about 10 minutes) demonstrating the proper attitude towards, and behavior at, nightly dinner with one's family.

My favorite sequence:

Narrator: "First of all, Daughter has changed from school clothes to something more festive.

I know I certainly put on my Sunday best before Hanna and I sit down to supper. Also, it's creepy that all the characters are referred to by their generic member-of-the-family label, not actual names.

"Dressing a little makes her feel -- and consequently look -- more charming."

because it's all about performance, girls! remember that!

"Mother too changes from her daytime clothes. The women of this family seem to feel that they owe it to the men of the family to look relaxed, rested, and attractive at dinner time."

In the words of Mike & Co: "So they're unsuspecting when they kill them!"

aside from the fact it's about women performing for men, I love the way the emphasis is on appearance: it's important to "look" relaxed, rested, and attractive . . . never mind that Mother and Daughter are the ones preparing and serving the entire meal!

The whole film, in fact, emphasized the performance of an ideal 1950s family, with the suppression of unpleasant news and discord in favor of harmony and surface-level conversation. The narrator's script keeps emphasizing this point, as if he's just begging for us to wonder what evils are lurking in the shadows, unspoken.

. . . "Everyone wants to flee this seething cauldron of angst!"


brown bear comes to stay

Yesterday, Hanna and I rented a zipcar and drove up to Freeport, Maine, to the L.L. Bean flagship store to purchase winter boots, long underwear, and a few other items to keep us toasty warm this winter. While we were there, Hanna found this little brown bear, made from recycled plastic bottles, who informed her he was tired of hanging around the store and wanted to come home with us. And so she bought him for me.

Here he is, sitting on the bed with Evangeline (the bunny rabbit) and Sebastian (the elder bear). They are getting him acquainted with the ways of our household. He has not yet been forthcoming on the matter of his name; if any of you feel inspired, feel free to chime in via comments!


On the Syllabus: Man For Himself

This week for my independent study, I finally sat down and finished Erich Fromm's 1947 treatise on humanistic ethics: Man For Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics. Erich Fromm, a prolific writer on psychology, philosophy, politics, and ethics, clearly can't be adequately represented by a small excerpt from one published work . . . but I thought I would, nevertheless, give you a flavor of his thinking by sharing a passage from Man for Himself in which he responds to one of the criticisms of his humanistic philosophy which foregrounds the capacity ("potentiality") of human beings: that is, "what about the problem of evil?"

"The opponents of humanistic ethics," he writes, "claim that man's [1] nature is such as to make him inclined to be hostile to his fellow man, to be envious and jealous, and to be lazy, unless he is curbed by fear. Many representatives of humanistic ethics [have] met this challenge by insisting that man is inherently good and that destructiveness is not an integral part of his nature" (213). As Fromm points out, this leaves us with the problem of what destructiveness and where it comes from, if we reject it as an inherent part of human nature (since, self-evidently, human beings demonstrate a capacity for violence).

Our first step in approaching the problem of destructiveness is to differentiate between two kinds of hate: rational, "reactive" and irrational "character-conditioned" hate [2]. Reactive, rational hate is a person's reaction to a threat to his own or another person's freedom, life, or ideas. Its premise is a respect for life . Rational hate has an important biological function: it is the affective equivalent of action serving the protection of life; it comes into existence as a reaction to vital threats, and it ceases to exist when the threat has been removed; it is not the opposite but the concomitant of the striving for life [which Fromm believes is the most fundamental human drive].

Character-conditioned hate is different in quality. It is a character trait, a continuous readiness to hate, lingering within the person who is hostile rather than reacting to a stimulus from without . . . [a phenomenon] of such magnitude that the dualistic theory of love and hate as the two fundamental forces [of human life] seems to fit the facts. (216-17, emphasis in the original).

Fromm asks then (somewhat rhetorically) whether, given the evidence, he is forced to concede that theories maintaining destructiveness is a fundamental part of human nature (he uses Freud's work as an example) are, indeed, correct. No, he responds to himself, he is not. He posits that both capacities (creativity and destruction) are present in human beings as potentialities which need certain conditions to manifest; furthermore, he argues that the capacity for productive, life-promoting creativity, is a primary capacity, whereas the capacity for destruction is secondary, realized only when the conditions for the primary are not met:

Both the primary and the secondary potentialities are part of the nature of an organism . . . the "secondary" potentiality comes into manifest existence only in the case of abnormal, pathogenic conditions. . . . man is not necessarily evil but becomes evil only if the proper conditions of his growth and development are lacking. The evil has no independent existence of its own, it is the absence of good, the result of the failure to realize life (219-20).

While I am skeptical about the division between rational/irrational used here, and find Fromm's reliance on psychoanalytic language frustrating at times, his basic concept of human beings has a lot of (ahem) potential for re-imagining our most basic assumptions concerning human nature.

In the wake of the Second World War, many people -- across diverse fields of inquiry -- were wrestling with the question of what "human nature" was -- and could be -- with a sense of great urgency. Fromm offers us one such example; I'll look forward to sharing more with you in the weeks to come.


[1] after my post on Goodman last week, it is worth noting that Fromm specifically, in the introduction to Man for Himself, defines his use of the word "man" as a universal pronoun for "human being."

[2] Fromm uses "character" in a very specific sense, elaborated on elsewhere in the book and in his other work, and here is indicating a basic orientation toward life versus a reaction to a specific incident.


video wednesday: the home economics story

Hanna introduced me to this timely 1951 promotional video from Iowa State College just as I was reading Paul Goodman's Growing Up Absurd last week. It is an incredible snapshot of the way college attendance was presented to young women in the postwar period; watch to be bitter end for the senior year requirement to play house in preparation for "real life" for the full creepy effect. Almost as good as the marriage preparedness video I posted back in March.

Running time: 25:02 minutes.

UPDATE: Hanna chastised me for not including the mystery science theater version of this short, which is available via YouTube, so here are the links (it comes in two parts): part one and part two. Better late than never?


from the neighborhood: graffiti fail?

I finally snapped a picture of this piece of graffiti in our neighborhood that makes me laugh every time I walk passed it.

I'm assuming the punctuation was meant to be an exclamation point emphasizing this (supposed) sexual activity of Lisa's; instead it came out as more of a query, giving the phrase a tentative aura: maybe this girl we know likes anal sex? we aren't sure? Well done y'all!


On the Syllabus: Growing Up Absurd

So I might not have a lot of time to post this year, but one thing it occured to me to do is post selections from some of my thesis-related reading for those of you who are interested in what I'm doing on the intellectual/history front. Since I'm enrolled in an independent study this semester, I have the luxury of designing my own schedule of reading in preparation for my oral history fieldwork. The reading I'll be doing this semester is in part theoretical/methodological (how I'll be doing my oral history collecting and thesis writing, and why I chose to do it that way) in part a review of the existing historical literature on the period and topics I am studying, and in part primary sources that help provide contemporary context for the beginnings of the Oregon Extension program.

One of the books I've been reading this week, Paul Goodman's Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in an Organized Society. The prolific Goodman wrote one of the earliest post-war critiques of 1950s American conformity, first published in 1957, which later became a "must read" for countercultural activists during the 1960s and 70s. The basic argument of Growing Up Absurd is that the post-war society is depriving youth (specifically boys, see below) of meaningful work opportunities -- leaving them with the option of unfullfilling factory of office jobs that do not contribute (in Goodman's view) to the betterment of society. While his argument has faults, he is also making key observations about the fault-lines in American society during the era of post-war conformity. The priceless bits, however, are the sections in which he defends his focus on "young men and boys" as a stand-in for "youth." When I began reading, I figured he was using masculine pronouns as a stand-in for humanity in general (it's the 1950s after all). Not so according to this parenthetical found at the end of his introduction:

(I say the "young men and boys" rather than "young people" because the problems I want to discuss in this book belong primarily, in our society, to the boys: how to be useful and make something of oneself. A girl does not have to, she is not expected to, "make something" of herself. Her career does not have to be self-justifying, for she will have children, which is absolutely self-justifying, like any other natural or creative act. With thie background, it is less important, for instance, what job an average young woman works at till she is married. The quest for the glamour job is given at least a little substance by its relation to a "better" marriage. Correspondingly, our "youth troubles" are boys' troubles -- female delinquency is sexual: "incorrigibility" and unmarried pregnancy. Yet as every woman knows, these problems [I am writing about] are intensely interesting to women, for if the boys do not grow to be men, where shall the women find men? If the husband is running the rat race of the organized system, there is not much father for the children.) [13]

I would love to write an entire essay at some point unpacking the layers of cultural "common sense" packed into this one single paragraph of Goodman's polemic. He continues this way of raising the question of women in a tangential, completely un-analyzed way. In the section where he discusses the Beats, he critiques their cultural dissent at length and then eventually gets around to the question of "What is in it for the women who accompany the Beats?" (185)

There are several possible sexual bonds . . . Her relation to him is maternal: she devotes herself to helping him find himself and become a man, presumably so that he can then marry her. . . Another possible relation is Muse or Model: her Beat is her poet and artist and makes her feel important. This is a satisfaction of her feminine narcissism or penis envy.

So mother or virgin/whore: those are our options girls. But wait! There's more (185-187).

One sometimes sees a pathetic scene in a bar. Some decent square young workingmen are there, lonely, looking for girls or even for a friendly word. They feel they are "nobodies"; they are not Beats, they are not artists. They have nothing to "contribute" to the conversation. The girls, meantime, give their attention only to the Beats, who are sounding off so interestingly. But these Beats will not make any life for the girls, whereas the others might make husbands and fathers.

Amazing what a long history the Nice Guy (tm) vesus Bad Boy (tm) mythology has, isn't it? One might, of course, ask if there are any female Beats -- in spirit if not in historic fact (there were very few women who were part of the core movement). Goodman does actually mention such women, at the tail end of his analysis:

Finally, of course, there are the young women who are themselves Beats, disaffected from status standards. Perhaps they have left an unlucky marriage, have had an illegitimate child, have fallen in love with a Negro, and found little support or charity "in" society. They then choose a life among those more tolerant, and find meaning in it by posing for them or typing their manuscripts.

So even the women "Beats," who fit his earlier definition of "incorrigibility," end up being not so much artist-activists themselves, but rather a sub-species of the Muse and Model he defines earlier. As women artists and activists pointed out at the time -- most loudly and concertedly during the 1960s and 1970s -- this was in fact far from the truth of their own lived experience.

That's it for this week's "on the syllabus" dispatch . . . look for more next weekend!


Quick Hit: "Riotous Flesh"

Last week I wrote up a brown bag lunch talk, "Riotous Flesh: Gender, Physiology, and the Solitary Vice, 1830-1860," given at the Massachusetts Historical Society by one of our research fellows, April Haynes. The talk was about nineteenth-century reformer Sylvester Graham and his campaign against the "solitary vice" of masturbation. April is particularly interested in how is lectures appealed to female activists, and how they used his ideas for their own purposes. Click through to The Beehive for more.


on my plate: year three

Today is the first official day of classes for me at Simmons, where I am entering my third year as a dual-degree student in the History and Archives Management Master's program. So what does that mean in terms of the shape of my daily life?

Well, for starters, I continue to work four days a week at the Massachusetts Historical Society, with a great team of librarians and archivists who have been unfailingly supportive of my studies and given me the chance to learn the (shall we say) trade secrets of providing archival reference service. If you're interested in the work that goes on at a place like the MHS (oldest historical society in the Western Hemisphere), check out my colleague & friend Jeremy Dibbell's blog, the Beehive, hosted by the MHS website. I will also put in another plug for following John Quincy Adams on twitter, where he is tweeting posthumously his line-a-day diary entries from an 1809 voyage to Russia.

In addition, I have a very part-time job at Northeastern's Archives and Special Collections, where I spend four hours a week slowly constructing a database of images from the scrapbooks of Marjorie Bouve, the founder of Northeastern's Bouve School of Physical Education. Nothing has gone live online yet, but I can promise links when (fingers crossed!) the images are web-published. Lots of great early-twentieth-century snapshots of young women (and occasionally men) engaged in such activities as cycling, sailing, sight-seeing, and amateur theatricals.

As a graduate student, my work this year turns decisively toward my thesis research on the creation of the Oregon Extension program during the mid-1970s. I will be exploring the various cultural and educational threads that came together to shape the way in which the OE was developed as an educational program and a particular communal space. To that end, one of my two classes this fall is an independent study, which provides me with dedicated time to prepare logistically and theoretically for my oral history field work. If I can find ways to share this on-going project on the blog without a lot of additional time and mental strain, I will . . . if not, you should be seeing the fruits of my labors sometime in December of 2010 (again, fingers crossed!).

I am also in Archives, History, and Collective Memory, the dual-degree capstone course, of sorts. Since it focuses on "the relationship between historical events, the creation and maintenance of archival records, and the construction of collective memory" I look forward to applying the concepts we discuss in class to my own research: what is oral history, after all, but the creation of archival records and a collective construction of historically-minded personal narratives?

And finally, of course, come all of the continued pleasures and duties of domestic life: the morning and evening commute, leisure reading, movie watching, shopping and meal preparation, laundry, cleaning, weekend outings, keeping up with far-flung family members, and (above all) regularly-scheduled time with Hanna.

Given all of this real-world activity, I'm sure how much I'll be blogging during the coming months. Obviously, home life, work, and school commitments come first. For those of you who follow my blog as a way of keeping up long-distance with what's going on in my life, I'll definitely try to post pictures and piffle as the opportunity arises. For those of you who check in from elsewhere in the blogosphere, I'm still reading your blogs, even if I lack the time to join in the conversation!

As always, shoot me an email or (gasp) put pen to paper and write me a letter and I will respond, later if not sooner (but hopefully sooner). You know where to find me! In the meantime, I do think of you all and hope your fall projects are getting underway with creativity, productivity, and pleasure. Don't forget to enjoy the autumn weather, wherever you may be.

*photograph of the T crossing the intersection of Harvard and Beacon at Coolidge Corner by scleroplex @ Flickr.


labor day puppy blogging

It's been a while since I posted any pictures from Michigan of Addie -- quite simply because there weren't any coming my way! But that has been remedied by the latest batch of pics from my father, circa August 15th, when Addie went to stay at the house of family friends while my uncle Tim and (now) aunt Linda held their wedding reception at my grandmother's house (congrats to both of you!). The older golden retriever in the pictures is our friends' dog, Josie.

Hope you're all enjoying the Labor Day weekend.


second anniversary: am I a bostonian yet?

I realized a couple of weeks ago that Labor Day weekend would mark the second-year anniversary of my arrival in Boston to begin graduate school. The moment (so often the case in these situations) feels both much more recent than two years ago and also as if it happened in some far distant past-life. Not that the experience has been radically different from what I expected in any way, but it has felt like a more decisive, and more permanent, break from previous my previous existence than other relocations have been. So now that I've reached the 24-month mark, I think it's appropriate to pause and reflect on whether or not I've made peace with my new place in the world.

I use the phrase "made peace with" deliberately, as I have never felt quite at home, full stop, in any one geographic place I've lived. I often react intensely to the landscape of a geographic place: the semester I lived in southern Oregon, for example, I fell in love with the contours of the Cascade mountains, but missed the vast openness of the great lakes acutely; during my year abroad at the University of Aberdeen, I chafed at the (to me) claustrophobia of big-city life, while I fell in love with the North Sea, just a stone's throw from my room. When I am away from West Michigan, I feel the temporal displacement in my bones even though when I am there for long periods of time I grow restless and increasingly ready to depart again on the next adventure.

I knew when I left Michigan for Massachusetts in 2007 that I would miss my family grievously. Yet returning home is no longer possible in the way it once was, as the people of my generation scatter across the country and (myself among them) set up new homes, in new spaces. In short, it is no longer so easy to identify one single place as "home.

After two years here in Boston, I still find it difficult to think of myself as a Bostonian-with-a-capital-B, yet I do feel I have made peace with the city and with my graduate program (perhaps to a lesser extent than Boston itself -- but then again, that's how I always feel about educational programs). I am embarking upon my self-directed thesis work about which I feel passionate and am content with my work daylighting as a library assistant. My neighborhood feels like my neighborhood, and I have tentatively started to imagine what it would be like to live here for more than my student years. I have the sense that, when or if we leave, I will only then realize how fond I have become of its particular shops, parks, sidewalks, trees, sights, sounds, and smells.

Above all, I am fiercely protective of this life Hanna and I have forged together; a life that I hope with my entire being we will take with us regardless of where in time or space we eventually wash ashore. Meanwhile, Boston has been a damn good place to live, all things considered. School and work -- along with the used bookstores and awesome coffee shops -- keep me here for the time being. But life with Hanna is what makes it home.

*photograph by Hanna Clutterbuck, March 2008, Salem, MA.


back to blogging: august notes

So what happened in August while I wasn't blogging? Lots of things here in the real world.

First, we have the personal beauty update: I got three new holes in my earlobes (first new piercings since I was thirteen and got dragged to the jewelery store by a friend for the original set). They're nearly healed now, and I'm ready to go shopping for some hoops . . . but in the meantime, here's the new look.

Hanna's lobbying for a nose stud or a belly ring next, but I remain unpersuaded. Ouch! But I do continue to ponder possibilities for a graduation tattoo . . .

Reading and film-watching are two time-honored ways of spending leisure time, and I did much of both this August. I read Melissa Marr's somewhat disappointing sequel to Wicked Lovely, Fragile Eternity, and Umberto Eco's confusing bibliographic thriller The Name of the Rose. At the Boston Public Library, I picked up Charles de Lint's low-key supernatural love story, The Mystery of Grace, and from Borders a copy of Furious Improvisation, a history of the WPA theatre project. For thesis background came Todd Gitlin's The Sixties and Stewart Burns' Social Movements of the 1960s.

When it came to film, we tilted toward the summery fluff, enjoying (to my surprise, at least) G.I. Joe in the theater, Sophia Myles in both Tristan & Isolde and Outlander, and many episodes of Bones. I also recently made up for the gaping hole in my Kevin Smith filmography by watching Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (and won bonus points by correctly identifying the moment at which Hanna began to applaud in the theater because, as she said, "There really was no other appropriate response.") And, between pledge breaking, came the British comedies on Tuesday and Saturday nights. We're looking forward this fall to welcoming the new kid on the block: My Family, starring (among others) "Colin the sex god" from Love Actually.

Hanna and I once again find ourselves running out of space for books (the everlasting logistical challenge of cohabiting bibliophiliacs -- and neither of us have the bulk of our libraries here in Boston yet!) and managed to forestall the inevitable by purchasing a little wooden bookcase at the Goodwill.

We have a dedicated shelf for library books, shelved by lending institution (three at my last count, not including inter-library loans!): yes, we really are that hopeless.

We've grown two new pots of inch plants to join our creeping greenery: the ood and heero & duo have joined jack, ianto, mona, an as-yet-to-be-named swedish ivy, and an african violet that prefers the solitude and shadow of my room to the sunshine and company of Hanna's windowsills (perhaps I should name it septimus hodge).

My mother also sent us a set of knitted vegetables made from recycled clothing, which Hanna and I improvised into a hanging mobile for the dining room, made from a set of chopsticks and box string left over from mike's pastry boxes. Hanna says if hunters have the heads of their kill hanging in trophy rooms, it makes a certain amount of sense for vegetarians to have the heads of dead vegetables instead.

Watch later this week for notes on the coming semester and meanwhile, I hope y'all are having a great Labor Day weekend. The weather in Boston (not to brag) is pretty much perfect.


friday fun: mhs mailbag edition

This piece of unsolicited mail arrived today at the Massachusetts Historical Society and was spotted by my friend and colleague Jeremy Dibbell.

(click on the image for larger view)

The address reads:

Jeremy Belknap
Massachusetts Historical Society
1154 Boylston St. Boston MA 02215

The only problem is that the MHS was founded in 1791 and our dear departed Reverend Belknap -- now being solicited by Google -- died shortly thereafter in 1798.


links list: stuff that made the cut

Welcome back to the Future Feminist Librarian-Activist, year three (dear gods and goddesses of all shapes and sizes, I can't believe it's true, but it is). More posts to come over the Labor Day weekend, catching y'all up on the state of my Future Feminist life, but meanwhile I'm taking the poor woman's route out of blogging silence and offering a links list of August internet reads. Because, predictably, while I took a break from blogging during the month of August, I didn't take a break from blog-reading. Lots of interesting stuff came across GoogleReader in the past four weeks, and I offer here a selection of those that I particularly enjoyed.

p.s. pirro composed a haiku poem about taking time off from blogging.

Simon Callow wrote a witty and surprisingly moving piece in the Guardian about the awkwardness of on-screen sex.

One of my favorite authors has a new biography out, and I'm itching to read it!

Guest-blogging at feministing, Jos wrote a piece about the folly of trying to make spaces 'safe'.

indexed provides a succinct diagram of the relationship between cultural standards of 'beauty' and the real world.

Which brings me to the next link: we are all 'plus-sized' now. As Hanna pointed out, this proves we aren't crazy when nothing in the clothing store seems made to fit real women's real bodies.

News flash from the UK: teenagers love sex. whodathunkit?

This has been out there for a while, but Bonk author Mary Roach gave a great talk at TED: ideas worth spreading called 10 things you didn't know about orgasm.

Thank you, Senator Barney Frank.

Via Adventures of a Young Feminist, I really like this post about the way the word 'privilege' has evolved into a cavalier way to shut down discussion about issues important to us all.

Via Amanda Marcotte's podcast at RhRealityCheck, I give you Deflowered Memoirs, an ongoing project collecting personal narratives of sexual awakening.

One of my alma maters, the University of Aberdeen, has just received £600,000 in donations toward the funding of a new university library. As a librarian-in-training, may I say there are few ways in which money can be better spent than on libraries.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville has a piece up at the Guardian about her experience dealing with misogyny in personal relationships.

via Amanda Marcotte (whose analysis of the original post is worth the read) comes a piece by Will Wilkinson on one common conservative gripe with the left: "liberal equality is just too confusing!"

And finally, second image, third definition down: an 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue finds it necessary to use no less than three foreign languages, two asterisks, and self-referentially vague phrases to define a certain word for female genitalia. The reader is left wondering whether the compiler of the dictionary knew what, in fact, the word meant! (thanks to Hanna for the link)

image above by dakokichidekalb @ Flickr.