Stone and Stanton and Bloomer

While acting as co-author on my late mother’s book, I got interested in Amelia Bloomer. I had not entirely realized who she was, or that she grew up thirty minutes from my house. And the more I read about her, the more interested I got. So I’m researching her now, and may write about her, that is, write more than the essay on early Muslim influence in “Western” feminism (ideas and trousers) that I’m trying to place right now.

My current reading is a biography of Lucy Stone, published in 1930 by her daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell. I bought it in part because it had a damn index, a pretty good one, which has two entries for Bloomer–one for her, one for the “Bloomer dress” she did promoted and wore, but did not invent.

Stone is mostly remembered for not taking her husband’s name. But she had a very significant career as an activist, was a brilliant charismatic orator, and was friends with Bloomer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, among many others in the suffrage and abolition and temperance movements.

She also wore the Bloomer costume for a few years, and a letter from her to Anthony is quoted in this book, scoffing at the idea that the main problem with it was that it detracted from their credibility.  “No, no, Susan, it is all a pretense that the cause will suffer. I wish that the dress gave me no other troubles; but I am annoyed to death by people who recognize me by my clothes, and when I get a seat in the cars, they will get a seat by me and bore me for a whole day with the stupidest stuff in the world. Much of that I should escape if I dressed like others.” And being pursued by hordes of boys in the cities, and the embarrassment when the wind blows up the short skirt–they all gave it up in time, once the hoopskirts came in. Funny to think that hoopskirts were liberating, but they were.

I also loved the story in this of the first, illicit, women’s debate society at Oberlin. They met in secret, out in the woods, with “posted sentinels” and then–well, I put that page on my Instagram if you want to read it.

I did not expect this to be an enjoyable read, but the prose is clear and she seamlessly combines family memories, letters and documents, and interviews. Of course it’s hard to know how much could be corroborated by other sources, but she is a lively writer, is not flowery, and does not romanticize.


Last weekend, I  participated in a little group tour of Seneca Falls led by Laura Free, a Hobart and William Smith historian. She wrote Suffrage Reconstructed: Gender, Race, and Voting Rights in the Civil War Era, coming out in paperback next year, or so the marketing team tells her.

I hadn’t been up there since 1994, and wow, it so much more rewarding now.  I did a drive by of Bloomer’s house afterwards–it does not belong to the National Park Service as Stanton’s does, but there’s a craft shop across the road so I was able to pull over in their parking lot and stare from a moderately discreet distance.

The ranger sitting on Stanton’s porch told us that this horse chestnut tree was alive when she was. I love old buildings. but I love old trees more.


American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

It is wise for readers to be skeptical of the hype machine that drives so much of the book world. American Dirt is due out next January, but is already on “most anticipated” lists. It sold for seven figures, comes with glowing recommendations from Julia Alvarez, Rumaan Alam, and Stephen King, and the movie adaptation is underway.

I found out about it on my weekly volunteer shift at Buffalo Street Books. The manager pressed an ARC on me after reading it herself. This is the author’s fourth book, but I had never read any of the others. In total ignorance, with no special anticipation, I took it on vacation. And then it took over my life for three days, with regular breaks to let my heart rate drop.

Cummins opens with a devastating massacre that could be the climax of another novel. It ignites an inferno of grief and terror that sends bookstore owner Lydia and her eight year old son Luca fleeing their home town of Acapulco north to the USA, through one lion’s den after another, with little time to reflect, let alone bury their dead.

They begin this journey wanted by the head of a drug cartel, but with the advantages of education, Mexican citizenship, and significant cash in hand and in a bank. Other migrants they encounter are from other nations, underage, penniless, illiterate, chronically ill. Two are middle class deportees with their lives and families established in the USA.  All of them are interesting and vivid individuals, and all are hounded by constant threats of murder, torture, rape, dismemberment, capture by traffickers and death by constant physical risks and deprivations. Sometimes they escape, sometimes they do not.

It feels heartless to call this novel a road trip thriller, based as it is on journalistic research and the real lives of so many people. But that is part of what raises the stakes so high: the knowledge of just how bad the reality can be. That one of the protagonists is an eight year old child raises them even higher. If she has to jump onto a moving train, so does he. If they are traveling with a group of migrants that runs into the “police,” there is no way for her to control what Luca sees, or suffers. He knows it, and for her sake, as children do, he tries to pretend he is just fine. Meanwhile they have not begun to absorb their extraordinary initial losses.

Cummins writes the effects of traumatic shock like someone with personal experience of it. Her prose is clean and effective, and when her research pokes through here and there, it gives only a faint pause as the story charges forward.  This is not one of those books that opens with a bang and then sags in the middle, or transforms into a disappointment by the end. It is a wild ride straight through, with genuine emotional depth, and new characters and fresh concerns introduced well past the halfway mark. It is crowded with tragedies, but it does not end with one. However, Cummins makes it clear that she is letting the reader off easy.  Early on, Lydia remembers how she loved the Choose Your Own Adventure books as a child. “At the end of each chapter you’d have to decide what to do next…When Lydia didn’t like the outcome of her plot, or sometimes even when she did, she would backtrack and make a different choice.”  Like a good coyote, Cummins guides the reader along one of the safest possible versions of this terrifying story, but wrong turns loom on every side, and not everyone makes it through.

This book may not be a good choice for anyone who is has experienced comparable traumas, or is close to others who have. For everyone else, it is not to be missed. And if an epic social novel can help attract public sympathy to the millions of undocumented immigrants who have too often been vilified and dismissed as subhuman, this could be the one.


Drag Story Hour

The Drag Story Hour at my bookstore certainly isn’t getting 200 protestors. Has there been one?
But I’ve been amazed watching the backlash to these programs, and the resistance to the backlash, develop across the country.
I’ve been through so many conversations in my life about how theater can have significant social and political influence. Here’s an example of that discussion. Relevance! So often only the mind of the producer, preaching to the choir.
I’ve seen an awful lot of art that tried for it, and failed. But this–I think this is brilliant.

M.A.P.s (Multi-Animator Projects)

My teenage daughter is an artist. For a while I thought it was a phase, and at this point I am resigned. She’s deep into animation, puts in long hours, and wants to get a day job as a storyboard artist when she grows up.

A couple of years ago we got her a decent tablet and basic (but still expensive) professional software. She has been teaching herself to use them, and learning all kinds of animation tricks (smearing, for example), by hanging out with other animators online, mostly on Youtube and Discord.

The gateway to this world for her was a love of the Warriors book series by “Erin Hunter.”  There is an intense and prolific international YouTube scene creating Multi-Animator Projects based on Warriors characters and story lines. They’re about cats, but cats put through operatic plots, suffering all kinds of pain and loss. There can be a lot of blood. Here’s one of the prettier examples she sent me this week.

 Other M.A.P. themes exists now, but Warriors is where they started, with this video, in 2012, by an artist who is still at it, and draws with a mouse.

MAPs are a little like music videos made by 20 to 40 animators, each taking a part assigned by the project editor. There are a variety of styles (scrolling is one). Some projects have strict requirements, including short deadlines and assigned color palettes. Some are first come first serve, some are very competitive–you apply and hope to be selected. An animator on one project may be the editor of another.

Animators build reputations and relationships and fan bases through these projects, and success is, as in the real world, based on both skills and professionalism. There is a crazy amount of talent involved, and professional animators have launched careers from this scene. So many articles about YouTube, and I’ve never seen one on this community.

My home animator says this is the king of them all: a MAP that was selective but not extremely restrictive, took as much as three years, runs over nine minutes, and has over 2 million views.

The internet can still be a creative and generous place, off the beaten track.



Let Your Freak Flag Fly

An iconic old childhood song played in my head all morning. I finally slowed down, listened to the lyrics and realized what it was saying to me, from the culture of a certain subset of my elders that I am so sad to lose.
One morning I woke up and I knew
you were really gone
A new day, a new way, and new eyes
to see the dawn.
Go your way, I’ll go mine
and carry on
The sky is clearing, and the night
has cried enough
The sun, he come, the world
to soften up
Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice
but to carry on

I was in Minneapolis for a memorial service this weekend. Goodbye to a beautiful firey Swedish-American working class beatnik/hippie freak/back to the lander who was my late mother’s best friend of 50 years. A genius gardener who even gardened the woods, a mother whose youngest son (age ~50) compared her loss to that recent photo of a black hole at the center of the galaxy. Only, I think he said “universe,” because he meant his.

Grief is love with nowhere to go, someone recently said to me. Have to find fresh outlets and exercise for that love, and one good and tested path is to emulate the things you most miss about the dead.

Déjà Vuthat whole gorgeous moody country hippie 1970 period piece, will always remind me of my Free To Be, You And Me childhood ideals. The third track , “Almost Cut My Hair” was the first place I ever heard the phrase “letting my freak flag fly.” In the 70s, that song just sounded like a stack of wink-wink parental inside jokes. It opened to me through the years, along with the understanding of why everyone passed around a single hand-rolled cigarette at my uncle’s house, instead of smoking a normal one apiece.

Decades later I finally noticed the similar lyric in the earlier song “If 6 Was 9” on Jimi Hendrix’s 1967 Axis, Bold as Love, which was also in my mom’s enormous record collection. Before I tuned into that, I’d heard the same phrase referenced in “How Can I Sing Like A Girl,” by TMBG (Factory Showroom, 1996) which goes for pure metaphor, no mention of a hippie haircut.

I am deeply fond of “Almost Cut My Hair.” Sometimes you feel tired and scared and have second thoughts about how you’re sticking out from the norm, you think you should tone it down, straighten out, get with the program…

But I’m not giving in an inch to fear,
Cause I promised myself this year,
I feel, like I owe it, to someone.

When people die, it’s an opportunity to be kind to their memories, forgive their worst, and love them for their best. Thank you dear women who broke so radically from how you were raised, and paid dearly for that break sometimes. Flew your freak flags high, danced all night, read stacks of library books, created beauty all your own, raised food and flowers and most of the kids within reach, swore without shame, protested evils at every opportunity even though you never got the fucking ERA, kept learning and arguing and changing your minds, stuck to your unfashionable beer, and always had some love and an open fridge for a guest or six. I’ll have to carry on. “Love is coming to us all.”



Spring Cleaning

2018-04-08 18.00.10

Filed under things I need to remember every day, and not just in spring.

Two Sundays ago, my UU minister read this poem by Sarah Getty to us. This morning I finally looked it up so I could read it before I started work.


Spring Cleaning

Open the house.
Let the sun roar in and corner
the huddling dust.
Let the March wind tear down cobwebs,
sweep out crayon-and cookie-crumbs,
Christmas needles,
smells of Vapo-rub and smoke.
In the brisk new daylight
get things straight.
Clean the hall closet. Organize your desk.
Go through your wardrobe, your game-plan, your old loves.
Sort. Evaluate.
Throw things away.

Remove the victims of winter’s grudge,
littering the yard like a battlefield.
Haul away the big black branch that’s lurked there,
like a beached squid, since January.
Lop off its limbs and stack them.
Rake slimy leaf-rot off the tulip beds.
Let clean heat reach the bulbs.

Root out the old hurts,
the cozy unsuccesses.
Forget that your sister wasn’t at your wedding,
that your father didn’t seem to like you much.
Get rid of the birthday party no one came to
and the men who never asked you out again.
Bundle the demeaning medical procedures
and leave them at the curb.

Pile up the lost job, the student evaluations,
the ideas of what your in-laws should be like.
Burn them.
Burn the time your six-year-old came home from
and you weren’t there.
Burn the anniversary evening that wasn’t fun.
Burn the bad poems and the rejection slips.

Be ruthless as March.
Be a lion.
Under the clean-limbed trees be fierce and neat.
Hunt out the beasties that fatten in the dark.
Let the sun scour.
Let the wind prowl and pounce.

—Sarah Getty

Blogging, newsletters, bad books

A few years ago, I took a class on how to review books from Mark Athitakis. I was thrilled to get the opportunity, since I’d was a fan of his book blog, American Fiction Notes. He’s moved on from that to more paid work, and this newsletter.  His tastes don’t always overlap with mine, but his approach to thinking about books and criticism is still a model for me.

After I took that class, I spent five years working for a book recommending site. That drew more on my perspective as an ex-librarian: thinking about what a general audience likes and wants, more than what I like, and want, and think. Though if I really didn’t like a hyped book, I would set it aside, rather than lie. It was a good education in self-editing, and certain angles of the book market, and it’s run by lovely people, but I agree with Mark that bad books, and criticism of bad books, have value too.

After he stopped blogging, I followed his writing by following him on social media, but I missed a lot that way, and was relieved to see him start a newsletter that put it all in one easily accessible location again.

It may be an illusion, I may be looking for it now, but in 2019, I’ve seen more people on Twitter express nostalgia for blogs.

I first got online in 1993, when hitting refresh on Usenet with my dial-up modem connection often meant finding something else to do for a few minutes. I loved the blogosphere, the sense of discovery, of friendly community. There were trolls, but it was not hard to find interesting places where they were outnumbered and starved. And it wasn’t making fortunes for massive social media platforms.

I started this blog in part because the social media platforms have disgraced themselves so much, so often, and I remembered how I enjoyed having my own personal perch. And I’d been thinking about a John Scalzi post on “How Blogs Work Today.” Newsletters are good, but I’m not sure why they’re better than an email subscription button on a blog. Unless you want to make people pay for them. But I think that’s what edited publications are for.