From a note from one of my cousins, who’s home for the summer: “I’ve enjoyed going over to your mom’s and playing bridge with the three sisters lately. They are so kind and gentle, yet when they start playing bridge, they turn fierce and are quick to scold for sloppy play. Wild nights in Auburn, Indiana.”
(It’s like a fairy tale except instead of three Fates or three Furies or a Mrs. Whatsis, Mrs. Who, and a Mrs. Which, there are Three Very Particular Bridge Players.)
But what all these issues, no matter how gigantically separated an Esquire puff piece and a Tennessee mother’s jailing for meth may seem, reflect back at us: How, in this country, every barometer by which female worth is measured—from the superficial to the life-altering, the appreciative to the punitive—has long been calibrated to “dude,” whether or not those measurements are actually being taken by dudes. Men still run, or at bare minimum have shaped and codified the attitudes of, the churches, the courts, the universities, the police departments, the corporations that so freely determine women’s worth. As Beyoncé observed last year, “Money gives men power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what’s sexy. And men define what’s feminine. It’s ridiculous.”
It is ridiculous, and I wish we could all tell them how little it matters what they think. Except that of course most women, those who bear the brunt of these assessments, aren’t Beyoncé or Amy Poehler—who, not coincidentally, was on Junod’s list of newly un-tragic 42-year-olds. Instead, they are women who may not be able to pay for Pilates, let alone for day care or contraceptives, who may need but not be able to afford drug treatment, who Esquire would likely still rate as not-hot or more likely not rate at all, but whose fates nonetheless rest in the hands of empowered committees on the general value and status of womanhood in America.
I wish it were different. I wish that every woman whose actions and worth are parsed and restricted, congratulated and condemned in this country might just once get to wheel around—on the committee that doesn’t believe their medically corroborated story of assault, or on the protesters who tell them that termination is a sin they will regret, or on the boss who tells them he doesn’t believe in their sexual choices, or on the mid-fifties man who congratulates them, or himself, on finding them appealing deep into their dotage—and go black in the eyes and say, “I don’t fucking care if you like it.”
“Tampons were packed with their strings connecting them, like a strip of sausages, so they wouldn’t float away. Engineers asked Ride, “Is 100 the right number?” She would be in space for a week. “That would not be the right number,” she told them. At every turn, her difference was made clear to her. When it was announced Ride had been named to a space flight mission, her shuttle commander, Bob Crippen, who became a lifelong friend and colleague, introduced her as “undoubtedly the prettiest member of the crew.” At another press event, a reporter asked Ride how she would react to a problem on the shuttle: “Do you weep?””—
“Permit me to warn reckless young women: seeing the trap does not prevent you from getting caught in it - and that doubles the pleasure.”—Claude Cahun, Aveux non avenus (Disavowals), translation by Susan de Muth (via frenchtwist)
"In the absence of Galactic operations, the only passengers who have lifted off from Spaceport America are the cremated remains of people whose families have paid UP Aerospace to launch their dead loved ones on a final joyride.
"… UP Aerospace’s first operation, the first launch from Spaceport America in 2006, malfunctioned well before it got suborbital, crashed, and spilled the ashes of a veterinarian in the desert. Celestis is the company handling sales of space burials for clients like James Doohan (‘that old guy from Star Trek’) and Gordon Cooper (the last of America’s Right Stuff astronauts to orbit Earth in Project Mercury). About its burials the company says, "Celestis missions are environmentally friendly in that no cremated remains are released into space.’"
—A few months old, but this article on the Spaceport in New Mexico is fascinating. Also: Ashes of a Veterinarian would make a really stately novel title.
“My inability to express myself
is astounding. It is not curious or
even faintly interesting, but like
some fathomless sum, a number,
a number the sum of equally fathomless
numbers, each one the sole representative
of an ever-ripening infinity
that will never reach the weight
required by the sun to fall.”—Mary Ruefle, “Lullaby.” (via literarymiscellany)
I’m ecstatic to announce that Andrea Walker of Random House has acquired my forthcoming book on the science and superstition of ancestry, a subject that has obsessed me for years because of my own family and also because of the way it obsesses the culture at large. While writing my new story for Harper’s, “America’s Ancestry Craze,” I realized that it was mounting — and over the years had been mounting — into a much bigger project.
I know you’re all accustomed to my relentless negativity but here is a brief respite! I am OVERJOYED for Maud, who is one of my favorite people in the world and so deserving of this. YAY MAUD!
I wish Janet Malcolm would have to add an appendix to Silent Woman for every new installment of Hughes and Plath biography mess.* This latest bit reminded me that it is LESS THAN TEN YEARS until the trunk gets opened in Ted Hughes’ archive at Emory, the one that he packed himself that’s locked off until 2023, and how much I sincerely hope that I’m not struck down before that happens because I have SO MANY THEORIES about what is in there.** After that you can put me on an ice floe and send me off. (Also think one of the two lost Plath journal notebooks is going to show up some time in the next decade—either in that trunk or from some Assia Wevill relative or if the house in Devon is ever fully unpacked. And then everyone’s going to have to REWRITE everything.)
Related: Was thinking last night about biography and how brutal it can be in its assessments. Someone was described this way in the one I’m reading: “Often dressed in yellow, her favorite color, Rose was soon known as a passable if gloomy poet and indifferent author of short stories…” Her husband: “George, a conventional and reasonably prolific author, was known as a drunk.” It really makes you lie in bed and stare at the ceiling for a while.
* Anne Stevenson in her study, tapping out a long consoling email to Jonathan Bate.
** If it turns out to just be some elaborate astrological charts and Leonard Baskin doodles and Shakespeare genealogies, how disappointing—and funny.
I’m enjoying that phone conversations with my mom are my main conduit to what’s happening at the Olympics. “Both routines were beautiful. One was to the music from that ballet… you know the one with the evil swan. The other one was to ‘Scheherazade.”
Good news, forgetful witches! You might have spaced out on it yesterday and only remembered when you were falling asleep last night, but there are still TWO MORE DAYS to celebrate the Roman festival of Lupercalia.
Skipping this part this year.
Whenever I need to make myself laugh I think of the time my friend Ben got a slight concussion from falling off a car while playing ‘Starsky & Hutch grab-ass’ and the ER doctor, writing him a prescription later, asked him if he had any allergies and Ben said, “Yes, salmon.” I offer this on the off chance that you happen to be a young patrician Luperci who might later today, after being anointed with sacrificial blood “wiped off the bloody knife with wool soaked in milk,” be “expected to smile and laugh.” That can be awkward.
"Perhaps the greatest sea serpentologist of all times was Antoon Cornelis Oudemans, a Dutchman who was by training an entomologist, specializing in acarology, the study of mites and ticks."
— Aie, so much there there. But mostly I like the idea that if everyone were to rank their favorite sea serpentologists, Antoon Cornelis Oudemans would top most people’s lists but not EVERYONE’s and so “perhaps.”
“Being an idealist, I too wish that the world was better than I am. Like all the rest of my fellow men, I don’t want to live around people with no more principles than I have. My inner fineness is continually outraged at finding that the world is a whole family of Hurstons. Seeing these things, I have come to the point by trying to make the day at hand a positive thing, and realizing the uselessness of gloominess.”—Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on the Road, page 229. (via emilyhouk)
Drinking bear, eating pumpkin pie, reading Bring Up The Bodies. Mantel likes ‘sullen’ the way Tartt likes ‘scorched.’ So far have looked up ‘kine’ (cows!) and ‘corvine’ (crow-like!). Also: “If someone said to Lady Rochford, ‘It’s raining,’ she would turn it into a conspiracy; as she passed the news on, she would make it sound somehow indecent, unlikely, but sadly true.”
About 150 pages from the end of The Goldfinch. Really hoping the little dog makes it through okay.
(Was thinking this morning of Ann Friedmanish chart of What’s Making Us Anxious In The Goldfinch?, and how it’d be 40% Popchik dying because everyone is too drugged out and forgets him or he gets run over.)
Yesterday we went mattress shopping. A friend of ours works at a mattress store, and he offered Lowell a good deal on one, and so off we went. (The old mattress was an ancient futon one and has gradually been turning me into Rumpelstiltskin.) The store turned out to be a big warehouse-type space off a country highway. Inside, Lowell and I took off our shoes and lay down on a series of different mattresses side by side in our stocking feet while our friend, who is a poet and this tall genial kind of magical personage in our lives, explained memory foam to us. Then we’d blurt out weird domestic trivia (“He gets hot at night.” etc.). You’re supposed to take fifteen minutes to test a mattress but I kept popping up after five and our friend would say, “No, take your time! Take your time!”
The model we picked out is called Opulence. It came packed in a long rectangular brown box that looked too small to hold a mattress; our friend said when we got it home, we’d pop the bag the mattress was rolled in, hear a hiss, and then the mattress would begin expanding. “You can sleep on it tonight but it’ll continue to expand for the next 24 hours.” And it has! Every time I went into the bedroom today it looked taller and taller, like a giant mattress soufflé in the bed frame. Opulence!