multimedia monday: "automobile row"

Hanna and I live in the Allston neighborhood of Boston, just west of Boston University's main campus. Commonwealth Avenue stretches from Kenmore Square (near Fenway Park) to Boston College out in Newton. We live in an apartment building sandwiched between Comm Ave to the north and the town line of Brookline to the south, and the neighborhood in this little documentary is one through which we walk and ride the "T" on a regular basis:
The Kenmore Square building that now houses Barnes & Noble at BU was home to a dealer of Peerless automobiles. The Star Market by Packard’s Corner was once a Chevrolet dealership. And in between lay more than a mile of storefronts selling cars, parts, and accessories or repairing cars. In the 1920s there were more than 100 such businesses on and near that strip of Comm Ave. Downtown Boston had its “Piano Row” and its “Newspaper Row.” This was Boston’s “Automobile Row.”

The article which accompanies this video is quite interesting in its own right. I'm really impressed by the research that went into making the video -- obviously a few people spent some time in the BU college archives! -- and the way in which the historical images were edited into the present-day footage.


first thoughts: being interviewed about sexuality + society

On Wednesday evening I sat down for two hours to speak with Holly Donovan, a PhD candidate in Sociology at Boston University. Holly is conducting interviews with LGBTQ-identified folks in the Boston area as part of her research on sexuality, religion, and community. If you identify as queer and live in the Boston area, check out her call for participants, which she asked me to pass along. For me, it was a unique opportunity to be on the opposite side of the microphone: usually I'm the one asking the life history questions!
tea is essential for good conversations
For the next three weeks, I'll be completing phase two of the project -- keeping a journal of observations and thoughts about my experience of being queer in Boston -- but for now, I thought I'd share some initial reflections about our conversation.

Life narratives are inherently chaotic on the first go-around. Unless you're focused on a very specific aspect of your life (and even then, as my OE oral history project shows, things can get out of hand very quickly) it's fairly impossible to tell a linear story that encompasses all of the salient details of what goes into making a person. Even with the keywords "sexual orientation," "religion," and "social interactions" that's a hell of a lot of territory to cover! I found myself skipping around a lot in time and missing stuff that was probably important. I woke up around 3am on Thursday morning and was mentally adding things to the "remember to tell her next time ..." list.

My sexual orientation isn't a primary identity category for me; being in a sexual relationship was much more of a turning point. This might seem weird, given the amount of time I spend thinking and writing about human sexuality -- but I think that's kinda the point. In my own personal life, there's feminist politics (of which rights for non-straight folks were long a part of my political interests), there's queer and sexual history (which I'm engaged in as a scholar), and then there's the whole my-life-as-a-sexual-being thing. Which is awesome. But doesn't really have so much to do with orientation as it does with physical experience, with relationships, with how I understand my sexuality as it relates to my ethics, my body, my interactions. In that space, I don't think of myself as someone with a sexual orientation or identity -- I just think of myself as (enthusiastically!!) sexual.

I don't socialize in primarily queer spaces. Since one of Holly's questions is about the interactions of queer-identified folks with straight-identified folks, I thought a bit before we sat down about my circles of friendship and the primary spaces where I socialize -- both in person and online. Online more than in-person spaces are, I would say, "queer" (inasmuch as "queer" overlaps with "feminist," which it sometimes does and sometimes doesn't). But my circle of friends is pretty sexually and gender diverse, and they often overlap. That is, when Hanna and I get together with friends we don't have our "gay" friends and then our "straight" friends. We have friends. We don't socialize in spaces that are organized around sexual identity (i.e. gay bars or lesbian book clubs). Possibly because neither Hanna nor I were ever in search of an active dating scene? And I don't think either of us has ever particularly yearned for the type of social solidarity of "safe" space that gay neighborhoods or social clubs might provide. The one exception to this is our health center, which we picked in part because of its history in LGBT health activism.

This isn't exactly news, but opposition makes me feel defiant and irritable, rather than judged and cowed. When people are cranky about lesbian PDA, I have the urge to be more publicaly affectionate, not less. I'd argue that both my family background and my long-time singleness both contribute to this. By the time I entered into a relationship, I was much more confident about my presence in the world than I would have been in my teens. You don't like what you see? Suck it up and deal.

I also don't have reflexive fear about my physical safety, which is probably a whole tangle of social privileges I've experienced throughout my life: class, race, gender presentation, and so forth. Which ties into the idea of straight privilege that I've been turning over in my mind for a while now:

"Straight" privilege. I've put "straight" in quotation marks 'cause I don't think it's a function of being straight so much as being read as straight. Regardless of my own actual sexual desires, about which I didn't speak about much growing up (except to very close family and friends) I was read as straight, as a single straight woman. I grew up assuming I had just as much right to be in public spaces, to be open about my relationships (sexual or otherwise), to speak up for my politics, as the next person. I think this is a function of race and class too. I've heard bi and fluid women talk about this in terms of their relative comfort level at being visibly queer in public relative to a partner who's been in lesbian relationships longer -- that a woman who's moved through the world in straight relationships for a number of years has come to expect the right to openly acknowledge her partner, the right to kiss him or hold hands or cuddle in public and not only receive little negative feedback but actually get positive social responses. And therefore there's less reflexive reserve, because they haven't had to build up that mechanism for self-protection.

My family is awesome. Holly kept asking about negative social aspects of being out, and I couldn't think of any. Yes, the obvious political/legal discrimination. But in terms of my family accepting my chosen partner on equal terms with my siblings' partners -- that was never a question. The fact she wondered if we were treated differently in my family actually took my by surprise. I mean, I got why she asked (I probably would have, being in her shoes), but that sort of behavior is so out of the realm of the way my family operates that I felt at a loss to explain why that just was never an issue.

My co-workers are awesome. I knew that already, but hadn't really articulated it before talking with Holly. I've never felt unsafe about being openly in a lesbian relationship at work, either with my immediate colleagues or with the higher-ups in the organization. Hanna is my emergency contact, the secondary beneficiary in all my benefits paperwork, if we were married she'd be able to sign on under my health insurance plan, and so forth. People ask after Hanna and there's no indication that they think of our relationship as any more or less significant in terms of workplace socialization than any of the straight partnerships that come up in daily conversation.

Choosing Hanna changed my relationship to West Michigan. Before Hanna and I got together, I could picture moving back to Michigan if the right job came open ... I know how to survive as a political and social minority there (that was the story of my daily life as a child and young adult) but I wouldn't ask someone else to live with that sort of hostility on a daily basis.  Well, that's everything from my notes thus far. Now I have three weeks of journaling and a follow-up interview. I'll be back mid-November with "second thoughts" and possibly "third thoughts" as well!


from the archives: historical games of telephone

I don't have the mental oomph this week for a thirty at thirty post, so I thought instead I'd offer you a little anecdote from the Reading Room of the Massachusetts Historical Society. It's a fascinating example of how historical sources can be unreliable, and knowledge with think we all know turns out to be factually far more complicated than it appeared at first glance.
Yesterday afternoon I took a call from a researcher who was looking to source a quotation about Horace Mann. The researcher gave the quote to me over the telephone as follows
Education really consists of a student on one end of a log and Horace Mann on the other end of the log.
The researcher wanted to find out who had said this. I took their contact information and this morning when I was in the Reading Room I spent some time digging around to see what I could find.

My first stop was the online version of Bartlett's Quotations, to look up any familiar quotations with "Horace Mann" in or associated with them, since this was my one concrete lead. (The MHS does, in fact, hold a large collection of Horace Mann papers, but since this was a quotation ostensibly about Mann rather than by Mann, I set aside the possibility of wading into those waters until later. Turns out this was a good call!). Bartlett's didn't yield anything. So I decided to begin by verifying the wording of the quotation via that wonderfully inexact crowd-sourcing tool known as The Internet.

I navigated to Google.com and typed in "education really consists of a student on one end of a log" and hit search.

Yes, Librarians do it too, and yes sometimes it can actually be an incredibly powerful entry-point for research of this kind.

What I discovered from scanning the first page of results for this phrase was that it wasn't Horace Mann whose name was most frequently associated with phrases along these lines, but a man named Mark Hopkins, who was the president of Williams College (Williamstown, Mass.) from 1836-1872.

Re-running my search with the "education..." phrase and "Mark Hopkins" took me to a Wikiquotes article on education, where the quotation is given as: "My definition of a University is Mark Hopkins at one end of a log and a student on the other," and the attribution is described thus:
Tradition well established that James A. Garfield used the phrase at a New York Alumni Dinner in 1872. No such words are found, however. A letter of his, Jan., 1872, contains the same line of thought.
I now had a tentative identification for the individual named in the quotation as well as a possible identification for the individual who had spoken the words.

A search in Google Books and the Internet Archive for various combinations of keywords from the above yielded some fascinating permutations of the elusive quote on education:

The January 1902 issue of the Western Journal of Education contains an address by one E.F. Adams in which he claims, “When President Garfield said that when Horace Mann was on one end of a log and himself on the other there was a university he expressed the spirit of the old education” (p. 18).

In a 1966 issue of the education magazine Phi Delta Kappan, Arthur H. Glogau again attributed the quotation to President Garfield and writes “Garfield once said that a rotten log, with Mark Hopkins on one end of it, and himself on the other, would be a university” (Vol 48, p. 404). The date for the quotation is given in this instance as 1885.

Mark Hopkins was one-time president of Williams College and apparently a former professor of Garfield’s. In a footnote concerning Hopkins in The Collected Prose of Robert Frost, the editor formulates the quote as: “The ideal college is Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student at the other” (p. 266).

Since none of these sources either quote Garfield directly or provide a citation to his own writing or speeches, I turned to our own catalog, ABIGAIL, and called for a biography of Garfield from our reference collection.

Unfortunately, this didn't exactly clear up the mystery.

Robert Granfield Caldwell’s James A Garfield: A Party Chieftain (1931), attributes the quote to another secondary source, B.A. Hinsdale’s President Garfield and Education (1882), and phrases it: “Give me a log hut, with only a simple bench, Mark Hopkins on one end and I on the other, and you may have all the buildings, apparatus and libraries without him” (p. 185). 

This citation appears to lead us back to a 4 February 1879 speech by Garfield before the National Education Association, the full text of which is reproduced in the Hinsdale publication. You can read it online at the Internet ArchiveIn his NEA address, Garfield articulated the idea in this way:
If I could be taken back into boyhood to-day, and had all the libraries and apparatus of a university, with ordinary routine professors, offered me on the one hand, and on the other a great, luminous, rich-souled man, such as Dr. Hopkins was twenty years ago, in a tent in the woods alone, I should say, ‘Give me Dr. Hopkins for my college course, rather than any university with only routine professors’ (338).
So now I have four dates upon which this sentiment was supposedly expressed (1871, 1872, 1879, and 1885) and as many venues (New York Alumni dinner, private correspondence, NEA address, and an unknown context for the 1885 attribution). 

What I find fascinating about all of these "quotations" is the aspects of the story that remain roughly constant: the presence of Hopkins, the image of one mentor and one student in dialogue, the language of wood: a log, a log bench, a rotten log, a tent in the woods. My speculative guess, based on the information I have in front of me, is that this was a well-worn anecdote that James Garfield told about his former professor in a number of settings, and that the image was such a striking one to his contemporaries that it was picked up and repeated over time with slight variation, like that game of telephone you're forced to play as a child at birthday parties where you whisper a message from ear to ear around the circle and see whether the end result bears any resemblance to the original phrase.

So there you have it: an hour or two in the life of a reference librarian. 


four years ago today: "something like the five stages of grief"

Part of an ongoing series of posts highlighting primary source material from my first semester at Simmons during the fall of 2007.

From: Anna
To: Janet
Date: Wed, Oct 24, 2007 at 2:51 PM
Subject: Mid-week touchstone 

Dear Mum, 

I'm sitting at the Mass Historical Society desk for the afternoon. Being here reminds me of all those hours I spent in middle school doing "homework" in the Holland Museum lobby, waiting for tourists to appear :).

This is my second full day at the MHS. This morning, I was photocopying papers, I turn to the next paper, and what do I see? A letter from M. Cary Thomas -- turn of the century woman scholar, educated at Johns Hopkins, founder of Bryn Mawr college -- written in her own hand when she was president of Bryn Mawr! Oh. My. God. It's so surreal just to find something like that, and know once she was holding it, and then find myself putting it on the photocopier!

at the front desk of the MHS (October 2008)
It's strange and not at all comfortable (given my personality) to be a novice at this job. I have certain skills to draw on, of course, but there is so much to learn in terms of the conventions of an archives versus a bookstore or library or museum. Particularly, there is so much more need to monitor the documents, since they are moving around the building -- rather than in stable exhibits -- and are one-of-a-kind, extremely rare items. So I am learning new procedures as well as the usual learning of everyone's names, and where the bathrooms are located, and how to use the email system, etc.

I am enjoying it, although it's been a rough few days physically, which puts a damper on my mood. While usually my cycle isn't particularly taxing, it can be a bad combination if I'm already weary (which is just the general state of things this fall . . . I know it will be got through, but annoying while it lasts). Headaches, which lead to Excedrin which leads to insomnia, etc. Yesterday, I intentionally drank coffee like a fiend in the afternoon to keep myself going through my book review assignment (more below), so today I'm feeling rather hung over (and it's a long day, with class this evening from 6-9). Whine whine whine. 

I wrote this book review, which for some unknown reason (or reasons) I've been dragging my heels about for three weeks and absolutely panicked about finishing. I think it became a convenient locus for my anxieties. For a few days, I couldn't even think about the project without panicking and/or falling asleep (which is my physical defense mechanism--I literally can't stay awake). And then, it came down to last night, when I was pretty willing to just blurt on paper and print it out to turn in. I didn't even really proof it. Oh, well. Not my finest scholarly hour, but I sort of feel like I can afford to have an off-semester as I'm getting adjusted. I can't imagine (my own hubris, I know) that an "off" semester will be anything worse than "B" work. And I know my history class -- where I put my best energy -- will be a clear "A" (again, hubris) so I'm not too anxious in terms of keeping my scholarships. 

I was thinking last night (haha) that my approach to academic projects is something like the five stages of grief: (1) I have totally unrealistic self-expectations about what I can get done and what I want to get done (denial); (2) when it becomes clear that I'm not going to get my ideal project done, I start resenting the project and the professor, and castigating myself for the unrealistic expectations (anger); (3) I debate internally with myself over what sort of project that's less-than-ideal I can get done, and maybe argue with the professor about altering the assignment (bargaining); (4) if none of these approaches work, it's time to start despairing about the entire educational system and wondering what I'm doing there, and imagining I will never complete the assignment and probably drop out of school (depression); (5) finally, when I get tired of feeling crummy and/or it gets down to the wire, I finally give up on the ideal project altogether and just patch something together (acceptance). 

The book I had to review was actually quite interesting, so I'm not entirely clear why I got hung up about it. It was on the history of passports, and there's lots to say about the history of identity papers, and how they relate to actual persons, and how they connect persons to governments. Part of my problem was no doubt lack of FOCUS, which is usually provided for smaller assignments by class discussion and course readings--but in this case the assignment was poorly written and I just got off on a muddled foot.

I think, in general, it's been like pulling teeth intellectually to focus on abstract intellectual ideas right now, with so many external changes going on. I've never been good at focusing in the best circumstances, which for me means an utterly non-distracting environment (why I can't study in libraries, ironically enough, since they're not spaces I can take for granted and ignore). Well, right now, my whole world is a distracting environment! So I feel lucky when I manage to have a more or less coherent thought that's defined enough to put into a short response paper :).

I had coffee with Hanna Monday night -- her initiative!! -- which was really good, I think, and have "dates" scheduled with both her and G for next week. I realized that, even though I treasure the alone-time, I can get too wrapped up in my own self-critical monologues re: my graduate work, etc., when I spend every moment I'm not in class or at work by myself. It's easy for me to forget that fellow students can actually bolster my mood and energize me (as well as reminding me how unrealistic my expectations for my own work might be :)!) since 90% of the time, they aren't very helpful. But a few well-chosen comrades can make a difference. 

Happily, my own well-chosen comrades (H and G) are going to be in the same history class next semester, and have convinced me to be in it as well . . . so hopefully the collaborative energy will be exponentially enhanced :). G is also taking oral history, which I will be doing as well, so I'm looking forward very much to the spring. I'll probably panic when the time comes, and go through the predictable cycle (see above) anyway, but right now I can idealize things to my hearts content! 

I really hope you and Dad are able to make a trip to Boston in the spring. I'm already haphazardly collecting little things to do . . . eg the Wednesday morning art tour at the MHS, which I was given privately today, and very much enjoyed; and a visit to the Brookline Booksmith, my favorite independent bookstore so far . . . apart of course, from showing you my own spaces, and the museums and lovely parks that abound. Hm, and places to eat! I walked past a pub this afternoon called "The Foggy Goggle" which I think is just begging to be tried! 

I was asking Dad about filling my levothyroxin prescription online; I may at some point soon ask if you could pick up a refill at Model Drug (where my current prescription is), unless it seems easy to get a new prescription from Krayshak's office. Dad says it shouldn't be difficult to send it out here. And I'd reimburse you, of course. 

North Hall, Simmons Residential Campus
Tonight is the first game of the world series, so the neighborhood is going to be bustling! Since I'm on foot, I don't anticipate much trouble, and I live just far enough away that the noise doesn't wake me up (living on the res campus, I think, insulates me from the street just enough).

That's about all the news around here . . . I'm going to sign off and see if I can catch up on a couple of other emails before the end of my shift, 



booknotes: october round-up

I've been reading lots lately, without a lot of time to write substantial review posts. So here's another one of those massive "stuff I've been reading" posts that I find myself obliged to write several times a year. Alpha by author because I'm organizational that way at times. It's the librarian thing.

Eagleton, Terry. Why Marx Was Right (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011). So I've read a bit of Marx and generally think of myself as a socialist-minded leftist -- when I think of myself in those types of political terms at all. But I'm not really all that clear about what makes Marxism unique among all of the other theories and practices of socialism and communism that exist in the world. Which is where Eagleton's theory-heavy but still readable primer on Marxism was worth the read. Also he works in the phrase "a pathological obsession with penguins" and explains why this is perhaps not relevant to the class struggle. Mr. Eagleton, sir, I'd say you win all the things if this turn of phrase didn't seem ill-conceived given the subject at hand.

Hale, Grace Elizabeth. A Nation of Outsiders: How the White Middle Class Fell in Love With Rebellion in Postwar America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). Hale's history explores the different conduits by which white middle class Americans came to identify with "outsiders" between the 1950s and the 1980s, beginning with the publication of Catcher in the Rye and ending with an examination of Randall Terry's anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue.  I found a lot of interesting stuff here, particularly Hale's inclusion of conservative as well as liberal sources -- white Civil Rights activists and folk musicians are well-trod ground, but the Jesus freaks are an under-explored phenomenon.  My one frustration with Hale's treatment is that she tends to talk in broad general categories -- i.e. "white middle class Americans" and "outsiders" without acknowledging that despite economic and racial privileges, not all white, middle-class folks were appropriating outsider identity -- there were a lot of ways to experience marginalization in postwar America, and I feel those complications get short-shift. I would also have been pleased to see more in-depth discussion of the process by which flirtation with outsider identity prompted many white and middle-class people to actually become marginal outsiders in deed as well as word. Still -- a truly thought-provoking recent read.

Maguire, Seanan. Rosemary and Rue (New York: Daw, 2009) and A Local Habitation (2010). Rosemary and Habitation are the first two volumes in a series of novels about changeling October "Toby" Daye, San Francisco-based private investigator and knight pledged to Daoine Sidhe Duke Sylvester Torquill of the Summerlands. You can tick off a lot of urban fantasy boxes for this series, and in addition to the satisfaction of the familiar Maguire consistently digs a little deeper into her stories and characters than strictly demanded in one's popcorn fiction. There are no easy answers few heroes or villains without a whiff of moral dubiousness. I already have the third installment on order at the Brookline Public Library!

Moreno, Jonathan D. The Body Politic: The Battle Over Science in America (New York: Bellevue Literary Press, 2011). This was an advance review book I snagged via Early Reviewers on Library Thing. Moreno is a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, and I suspect this primer was meant to serve as a classroom text, introducing students to key controversies at the intersection of biology (particularly human biology) and politics. It suffers from many of the shortcomings that other such introductory texts suffer from: summary treatment of thorny questions due to space limitations, a limited number of citations, and strongly-worded assertions meant (I assume) to provoke discussion for which scant evidence is given. I felt like the book suffered from poor organization -- the text seemed to jump back and forth between historical narrative and issue-based sections, with little transition. The brevity of the text itself might be offset to great effect by the inclusion of a narrative bibliography or "further reading" section, neither of which were in evidence in the uncorrected proof. I'd argue that more valuable contributions to the field have been made by such authors as Michelle Goldberg (The Means of Reproduction) and Debora L. Spar (The Baby Business) -- though granted, my knowledge in this area leans heavily toward reproductive technologies as well as the broader the right to bodily autonomy and health decision-making.

Priest, Cherie. Hellbent (New York: Spectra, 2011). I reviewed Bloodshot earlier in the year and was excited when the second installment of the Cheshire Red Reports so close on the heels of volume one. Hopefully there will be many more to come! Hellbent follows the continuing adventures of vampire and thief-for-hire Raylene as she and her chosen family of misfits hustle to keep themselves safe and financially stable in the midst of growing tensions in the vampire community and the appearance of a mentally unstable witch. Totally anticipating volume the third.

Smith, Christian. Christian America? What Evangelicals Really Want (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000). Now over a decade old, this book contains an analysis of over 100 lengthy interviews with self-identified evangelicals from across the nation in which the interviewees were asked to articulate their beliefs about Christian faith and practice as it relates to American political life and culture. Smith's analysis of the data feels slightly heavy-handed in the "Evangelicals are not all close-minded bigots!" direction, but the data and first-person narratives will still be useful to people seeking to understand the worldviews of American evangelical Christians in the mid-1990s.

Sonnie, Amy and James Tracy. Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times (New York: Mellville House, 2011). Sonnie and Tracy have taken on the ambitious project of documenting the experiences of a number of white working class community organizers in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City during the 1960s and 70s. They set out to challenge the common assumption that poor and working-class whites of the era were knee-jerk racists who felt efforts to end racial discrimination translated into loss of (white) jobs in already-struggling urban areas. “These men and women understood that ending racism was not a threat or an act of charity,” they argue, “but a part of gaining their own freedom” (5). The extensive research represented in this book is a valuable contribution to the scholarship in this area, and I found it particularly interesting to read in tandem with A Nation of Outsiders, since Sonnie and Tracy chronicle many of the same events, but from the perspective of the outsiders themselves -- rather than those who sought to romanticize them.

Taormino, Tristan (ed.). Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica (New York: Cleis Press, 2011). I wrote a review of Take Me There over at Harpyness; you can also read an interview with Tristan Taormino at Lamda Literary. Erotica anthologies are always particularly tricky to review given that the unevenness of any anthology is compounded by the very personal nature of ones likes and dislikes when it comes to sexually explicit material. Suffice to say, there were some stories I liked, some I didn't, and I'm looking forward to further expansion of the subgenre. In the meantime, may I recommend Julia Serano's "Small Blue Thing," "Now, Voyager" by Rahne Alexander, "The Visible Woman" by Rachel K. Zall, and Patrick Califia's "Big Gifts in Small Boxes" -- all of which can be found in Take Me There.


30 @ 30: on vacation [#11]

So last week Hanna and I took a few days vacation around the long Columbus Day weekend. Back when I asked for the time off from work -- I think sometime in mid-June -- I had the vague idea we might have the energy and disposable income to spend a few days in Vermont, just the two of us. We like Vermont. But hotels are expensive, and car rentals are expensive, and someone has to look after the cat, and even if none of that had been an obstacle what it turned out we both kinda sorta really wanted to do with our five days of not working was stay at home and do nothing.

Breakfast at Crema Cafe (Harvard Square, Cambride, Mass.), July 2011,
photo by Anna.
Well, not nothing. We spent a lot of time being cosmopolitan and sitting in coffee shops reading and drinking espresso and cafe au lait and eating brioche.

We were brave and tried walking somewhere new -- out to Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge -- which is the first landscaped cemetery in America, consecrated 1831, and had fun taking pictures of headstones.

Anna checks the map in Mt. Auburn Cemetery, October 2011,
photo by Hanna.
We read about Charles Darwin and Hillbilly Patriots and biopolitics.

We applied (and were accepted!) to become reviewers for Library Journal.

We wrote fan fiction about Dean Winchester and Castiel and about Sybil Crawley and Gwen.

We had a friend over to watch (a disappointing installment of) Inspector Lewis and baked a pumpkin pie.

Apple pie and beer, October 2011,
photo by Anna
We stayed up until midnight and slept in until quarter of nine in the morning.

We took afternoon naps on the living room couch.

When I returned to work on Thursday my colleagues asked how the vacation was and did we go to Maine. "Actually," I confessed, "We stayed at home and made no plans and that was exactly what we needed." My co-workers were totally on board with this idea.

What struck me last week as I was thinking about our approach to this latest vacation is how it is the complete opposite of how I understood vacations as a child. When I was young, the above activities (except for naps, since I was not a nap-taker) would basically have described my everyday life. Stay up late reading, wake up to muffins or pancakes around ten, do more reading, maybe go for a walk or a bike ride, ram around outside with siblings or friends for a few hours, go back to reading, maybe some food at some point, a trip to the library.

Pippi Longstocking and Mister Nielsen
There's a great story in one of the Pippi Longstocking collections in which Pippi (in my child's mind possibly the ur-homeschooler) becomes jealous of her friends Tommy and Annika because they get summer holidays and Christmas vacation at school. She figures if she attends school then she, too, will get the holidays that her friends seem to enjoy. Obviously her attempt to become a "normal" child is short-lived and the moral of the story is that she's really better off living her own kind of life and doing what she wants to do rather than trying to be someone she's not. As a kid, I thought this story was hilarious because it was obvious (to me) that not going to school meant that you could have "vacation" (that is, school-free days) all the time.

Storm clouds over the horizon (Bend, Oregon), March 2007
Photo by Anna
As a child, vacation-vacation meant travel. We went on vacation every spring to a tiny cinder block cottage on the shore of Lake Michigan, where we got to sleep in bunkbeds (!), toast marshmallows over the bonfire (!!), spend all day wet and sandy on the beach, and poke at antlion sand traps with twigs.

As a child, vacation-vacation meant flying to Bend, Oregon, for a month to stay with my grandparents and explore the high desert. It meant taking the overnight train from Bend to San Francisco to visit our aunt and ride the trolley cars. It meant my first solo trip by airplane to spend a month of summer with a friend of mine who grew up on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

As a child, vacation meant, in the immortal words of Toad, "The open road, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rolling downs! Camps, villages, towns, cities! Here to-day, up and off to somewhere else to-morrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement!"

Vacation sometimes still means travel, now that I'm an adult, but of course travel now requires effort in a way that it didn't when I was small. As a child, I remember being responsible for, you know, creating a travel journal and some sort of packing list. Preparation for trips meant reading novels set in the locations where we'd be traveling, and saving up spending money for souvenirs. I didn't have to worry about such pesky details as driving routes, airplane tickets, hotel reservations, and train schedules.

Drover's Inn, West Highlands, Scotland, May 2004
Photo by Mark Cook
Not that trip planning can't be fun -- sometimes planning travel (as Alain de Botton once observed) is more than half the fun. I remember the thrill of being in my teens and developing enough independence that I could plan and execute solo vacations (perhaps the topic of another "thirty at thirty" post). But I find, as an adult, that travel is no longer synonymous with vacation the way it once was. Instead, the two have developed along often-overlapping yet distinct pathways in the geography of my (our) life.

Travel usually must take place during vacation, but is not the whole of it.

I think in my thirties I would like to develop more fully the art of non-travel vacation time. I don't want to be one of those people who needs to go off to the White Mountains with no laptop or cell phone in order to stop checking my work email. And I don't want to fight the persistent, nagging feeling that I had during graduate school that time spent not working should translate into time spent doing other "productive" activities, the sort of activities that "count" in whatever complex internal matrices of value I have constructed for myself.

I think my parents, what with the home education and through continuous personal example, have given me some good tools for this. The experience of home education really blew open the myth that unstructured time isn't worthwhile, and similarly gave me the distance from mainstream expectations needed to respond to all assertions of value or non-value with an interrogative "why?" So doing nothing in lazy? Why? So in order to be a valuable citizen you need to be "productive"? Why? What is productive? Who says? Why should I believe them? Convince me.

Take your time off from the "have tos" of daily adult life seriously, people. I know some of us have more luxury to do this than others -- believe me, I never realized how amazing paid vacation  can be until I started earning it -- but I hope that everyone in our productivity-obsessed culture can learn to appreciate the art of down time a little bit more. In ourselves, and in others.


multimedia monday: "but mary his mother she nurses him / and baby jesus fell back to sleep"

When we were small, my mother sang us an alternate version of the Christmas carol "Away in a Manger" because we were upset by the factual error of a baby who supposedly didn't cry (being the eldest of three, I knew what a lie this was). In our version, Away in a Manger went like this:

Away in a manger,
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Laid down His sweet head

The stars in the bright sky
Looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay

The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes
And little Lord Jesus
What crying he makes

But Mary his mother
She nurses him
And baby Jesus
Falls back to sleep

Needless to say when I joined the Holland Area Youth Chorale as a teenager and tried to insist on singing the song my way it didn't go over so well. Not just because it was "non-traditional" but because there was nursing! And probably some blasphemous implications that baby Jesus wasn't a perfectly angelic being.  But also nursing! (This was the same youth chorale that had issues with the word "breast" in a song about a robin. As in the bird.)

Our contemporary, American culture is so freaked by breastfeeding and I don't really get it. I've known enough folks for whom nursing didn't work that I know better than to be all "breastfeeding is the only responsible way to feed your infant" about it. But I also don't understand the politics of disgust and outage that surround nursing in public places.  What is particularly fascinating is to realize how recent a development this is (or rather, how recently the pendulum has swung back from the free-to-be-you-and-me 1970s). Gwen Sharp @ Sociological Images posted clips from Seseme Street recently that depicted women matter-of-factly nursing infants on screen. Here's one of them:


hip hip hooray for the birthday girl!

Coming out of self-imposed radio silence to wish my kid sister a Happy 24th Birthday today! I have it on good authority (er, her own) that she will be celebrating at one of these three tasty-sounding restaurants down in Austin, Texas.

Maggie (November 2008)
Many happy returns of the day and, yes, your birthday present is, actually, on its way through by pony express. You should see it out there on the frontier sometime before Christmas.

Love, your sister,


on vacation [back next week]

Hanna and I are taking some time off this week to enjoy autumn and make space for a stay-at-home vacation for just the two of us. So I won't be posting my regular round of posts this week, but never fear! I'll be back on the 17th and up to my usual shenanigans.

Middlesex Fells Reservation (October 2007)
 I'll be back with news of this year's NaNoWriMo, book reviews, more installments of thirty at thirty and silly cat pictures per the usual. Until then, hope you all have a lovely Columbus Day weekend and week ahead.


happy adoption day!

One year ago today, Geraldine came to stay with us. This was the first thing she did after recovering from the car ride by peeing under the bed:

It's still one of my favorite kitty photographs, and one of Geraldine's favorite lookout spots.

Over the passed year Gerry has gone from being a cranky and standoffish cat to being a cranky and invasive-of-personal-space cat. She's still only grudgingly a lap cat -- and even then only for very short periods of time -- but nevertheless manages to be very present in our lives whether it's underfoot while we're making human food in the kitchen (you never know when kitty food might fall from the sky!) or hogging half the couch (it might be a three-cushion couch, but is clearly only made for one human + cat) or announcing her desire for breakfast at two in the morning by climbing onto my chest and delicately pressing her claws into the hollow between my breasts.

sleepy kitty (photo by Hanna)
 There are times -- usually during said 2am "feed me! play with me!" sessions -- that I feel having a three-year-old cat is much closer to having a human three-year-old than Hanna ever thought we'd be. Albeit a three-year-old that doesn't need us to be able to afford childcare or a stay-at-home parent! But (much like, I imagine, like parenting ... though obviously to a lesser degree) she's become an integral part of the family. We're ever so glad she came to stay.


ficnotes: in the beginning there was the word [massive fic round-up]

I started this post a few weeks ago, when Hanna found a Mycroft/Lestrade fic written entirely in fictional texts. One word: Adorable. This got me thinking about a number of other fics ("Mystrade" and otherwise) that have used love letters, texts, electronic communications, poetry, and the old-fashioned love-letter as means for their characters to finally, finally connect the dots.

So as my gift to you for this three-day weekend, here's my round-up of fic that uses text-based communication as the wooing-method-of-choice. I threw in a few biblio-centric fics because, well, how could I not?

Title: Told In Texts
Author: et_cetera55
Pairing: Mycroft/Lestrade
Rating: PG-13
Why should you bother?: This is the fic Hanna found -- the rare story told entirely in dialog (er, text messages).

Title: TBA
Author: blooms84
Pairing: Mycroft/Lestrade
Rating: Gen
Why should you bother?: Notebook!porn is all I'm sayin'.

Title: In which Anthea is helpful and Sherlock discovers the truth
Author: blooms84
Pairing: Mycroft/Lestrade
Rating: Gen
Why should you bother?: Part of the "Anthea Takes Control" series, which is enjoyable in its own right. I'm growing to enjoy the subgenre of "Sherlock reaction" fics that belong to the Mycroft/Lestrade fandom. Plus Anthea-is-a-ninja is always a joy to behold.

Title: Please Confirm You Are a Human Below
Author: mesmiranda
Pairing: Mycroft/Lestrade
Rating: PG
Why should you bother?: Mycroft courts Lestrade by taking control of various technological interfaces and also competes for attention from the DI with Lestrade's cat.

Title: and stand there at the edge of my affection
Author: coloredink
Pairing: Sherlock/John
Rating: Gen
Why should you bother?: Sherlock thinks asking John to help him write a love letter is the logical solution.

Title: Pieces of Eight
Author: sheffiesharpe
Pairing: Sherlock/John
Rating: Explicit
Why should you bother?: Sherlock doesn't understand why John enjoys re-reading Treasure Island and tries to get John to explain. Things take a turn for the decidedly-less-literary. It's still bibliophile porn, though.

Title: Doing Things the Old Fashioned Way
Author: Sarren
Pairing: Lewis/Hathaway
Rating: Mature
Why should you bother?: Hathaway helps Lewis set up an online dating profile which leads to questions of sexual orientation and, well, other things. "Well, I guess they could fill out two profiles," Hathaway said, his voice oddly neutral. "Is that what they want me to do for them?"

Title: Punctuation Series
Author: dogpoet
Pairing: Lewis/Hathaway
Rating: Gen, Explicit (six parts)
Why should you bother?: The summary for the first fic reads, "He’d never even noticed apostrophes before he met Hathaway."

Title: Texts From Last Night: A Ridiculous SPN Text Comedy
Author: Xela
Pairing: Dean/Cas
Rating: Mature
Why should you bother?: A series of drunk texts from Dean leads Sam on a morning-after hunt for his brother and Castiel ...

Title: Comment Fics: "Untitled Dean/Cas" and "Wrong Number"
Author: twfftw
Pairing: Dean/Castiel
Rating: PG-13
Why should you bother?: twfftw's fics are hilarious, usually Dean/Castiel relationship fics from the point of view of a long-suffering Sam. In "Untitled Dean/Cas" Sam and Gabriel text back and forth about how clueless Dean and Cas are about their desire for one another. In "Wrong Number," Dean sends a text to Sam that seems meant for someone else ...

Title: Things Dean Winchester Loves
Author: everysecondtuesday
Pairing: Dean/Castiel
Rating: R
What should you bother?: Because of Castiel's indecision re: whether Dean loves the Impala or pie more, and how Dean answers the question when he finally finds the list and adds his own commentary.

Title: Four Things Not to Do With a Cell Phone
Author: the_trepverter
Pairing: Dean/Castiel
Rating: PG
Why should you bother?: "Technology is so very frustrating to Cas."

Title: Bible Study
Author: Misachan
Pairing: Dean/Castiel
Rating: Explicit
Why should you bother?: Um ... it's Castiel seducing Dean over the phone using the Song of Songs. What's not to like?

Title: The (Mostly) Accidental Courtship of Dean Winchester
Author: everysecondtuesday
Pairing: Dean/Castiel
Rating: R
Why should you bother?: Okay, so I cheated a little with this one in that it's not exactly text-based communication. But Cas tries to communicate with Dean via translating angel texts for him. It's not his fault that Dean doesn't get the hint, is it?

Title: Paper Monsters [work-in-progress]
Author: Clocks
Pairing: Charles Xavier/Erik Lehnsherr
Rating: Explicit
Why should you bother?: Because Charles gets fucked in the library up against the selected works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Title: Perfection
Author: orange-crushed
Pairing: Charles Xavier/Erik Lehnsherr
Rating: PG
Why should you bother?: When Erik struggles with nightmares, Charles reads him Origin of Species to soothe the night terrors away.

there is no femslash on this list (argh!)
but I promise to write some about these two soon!
And if fic is your thing, a reminder that Hanna and I -- along with our other fic-loving friends -- have our fanfic tumblr everything is gay and nothing hurts up and running. This week's theme was kittens! So if you want regular fanfic recommendations, please stroll on over and join the party.


our bodies, ourselves @ forty (+ me!)

(photo by Hanna)
The feminist classic, Our Bodies, Ourselves, turns forty this year and has just been issued in a revised edition that was multiple years in the making. How do I know this? Because I got to be a part of the process! Long-time readers might remember when I posted a call for participants in the revision process back in January 2010. Well, in addition to broadcasting the call I also submitted my own name to the editors and was invited to join them in a virtual focus group discussion on intimate relationships. This conversation eventually turned into the "Relationships" chapter in the new edition, and many of the passages that didn't make it into that chapter have been used in other sections -- I found bits and pieces from my contributions in the chapters on sexual orientation and on sexuality, for example.*

my contributor's copy, signed by the editorial team!
(photo by Hanna)
I don't think I can adequately convey to you how proud I am to be a part of the OBOS project. My mother's battered copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves was my constant companion through adolescence and, among other things, was my first exposure to explicitly feminist analysis, my first exposure to the idea of same-sex relationships, and my introduction to masturbation and how to do it. One of the first things I did when I moved out to Boston in 2007 was to visit the Schlesinger library at Radcliffe and browse the records of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective -- the group that put together the first mimeographed edition of OBOS back in 1970. It's an incredible honor to have had the opportunity to add my perspective to the myriad other voices that have been part of this international endeavor throughout the past forty years.

It's so strange to see your own words on the printed page...
This past Saturday, women from around the globe gathered here at Boston University for a symposium in honor of the new edition. I wasn't able to make the gathering because of a scheduling conflict (and, frankly, because it sounded like a long day with too many new people to make small talk with!) ... but I'm looking forward to checking out the web video of the talks once those go up online. If/when they become available, I'll be sure to post a link here!

Here's hoping that OBOS (and I!) will be around in another forty years to celebrate eighty incredible years of women teaching and learning one another about their bodies, their sexuality, their relationships, their values, and their lives.

Update: Thanks to OBOS for mentioning this post in their introduction to the Relationships chapter online! Welcome to anyone who's come to visit the feminist librarian via their link. You are most welcome.

*It's standard OBOS practice to keep all of the in-text quotations anonymous in order to protect contributors' privacy. For the "Relationships" chapter we all chose pseudonyms; if you know me and you care to figure it out you'll be able to identify me through my bio at the beginning of the chapter.


from the neighborhood: shirley moves to maine

This passed Saturday, Hanna and I drove up to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens to visit with her mom and dad. Linda was exhibiting at the Maine Fiber Arts Showcase. It was a rainy afternoon, but luckily the fiber arts event was inside the visitor's center.

As usually happens when we visit with Hanna's parents, we drove north with things to give/return to them and they met us with more things for us to take south again ... a new sweater for Hanna, the tam that Linda knit me for Christmas and finally blocked, and what Hanna has termed "the rudest thing ever":

Kevin with the rude squash (photo by Linda)
In exchange, we finally allowed Shirley -- the stuffed sheep from Michigan that we gave Linda for her birthday in July -- to move to her forever home in Maine.

Shirley and Linda at Linda's display booth (photo by Anna)
The garden is impressive in size and scope, although we didn't get a chance to see much of it in the rain. One section is the fairy house village. I think this is where these magical creations were headed:

fairy houses in the garden library (photo by Anna)
a fairy castle? tree house? (photo by Anna)
Shirley got a bit chilled (photo by Anna)
When we got home, Geraldine was pissy because we had left her alone all Saturday -- but she was somewhat mollified by the four new rag rugs we brought home, courtesy of Linda. Rag rugs are clearly for kitties to sleep on, not for humans to place their feet.

enigmatic cat is enigmatic (photo by Hanna)
Cross-posted at ...fly over me, evil angel....


harpy fortnight: not-back-to-school edition

steampunk wings by lachwen
Anyone else psyched it's October? Autumn leaves! Apple sauce! Hot cocoa! Acorn squash!


In any event, here's what we were up to during September over at The Pursuit of Harpyness.

I continued my series on Jessica Yee's Feminism For Real which several folks have encouragingly told me is thought-provoking and useful to them. This month we covered:
I also wrote, as usual, on other related and not-so-related topics:
Other Harpies have written about the abortion story arc in Grey's Anatomy, the anxieties of self-promotion (or self-advocacy), reflections on the Racialicious roundtables on interracial dating, and an ode to a CEO who understands the delicate balancing act of work and family life.

As always, hop on over to Harpyness to join us in the conversation(s).