Trees

A few weeks ago, in Nerissa’s writing group, she read a prompt about trees from a book by Richard Powers, Overstory. One of the participants then drafted a beautiful essay about her relationship to trees, both in her yard and in the world. J’s essay made me think about a song I have been trying to learn on the recorder.

Playing the recorder is one of my pandemic endeavors. I am not a musical person. I really didn’t even know how to read music before I started taking lessons. Studying a musical instrument has been a stretch for me. The song I have been trying to learn, “Where have all the green trees gone”  is Swedish with very evocative lyrics.

The essay made me ponder the wetness of our own yard. As I sit here writing, I am looking out at a wide swath of partly dry, partly wet, partly hardened clay in my backyard. This area has spread into an ever-larger mass over the 30 years that we have owned the house. As you might remember we had two floods in our basement within a six-week period. The floods made me acutely aware of climate change and its personal impact. I hope to plant some of the trees J mentioned including the American hornbeam and a river birch.

The lyrics of “Where Have All The Green Trees Gone” are as follows:

Where have all the green trees gone?

Why have they spoiled rivers?

Why do people do these things?

Takers, yes-not givers.

Each of us must do his share,

So our children know we care;

Will you help us save the earth?

Won’t you please be givers?

These lyrics sum up for me climate change in a way many other things have not. When I think about the meaning of the words, takers and givers, and the contrast the song illustrates, they evoke the responsibility we all have for helping other people. Because the song puts children front and center, it reinforces the imperative that we must avert climate change so that our children and grandchildren have an earth to inherit.

Why Meths Drinkers?

For a long time now, my most widely viewed post has been the one I wrote almost 10 years ago about methylated spirits. I had heard a paper at an Alcohol and Drug History Society conference about people in Britain in the 1950s and 60s who became addicted to methylated spirits.

About two years, I had a sudden and brief uptick in views, and they were all of that original post. You can read about that here. On April 3 of this month, I had 1,151 views of which 1,120 were of the original post on methylated spirits. I believe this huge increase was due to a Call The Midwife episode which aired that Sunday and was about a meths drinker who was nearing the end of his life.

The episode described the symptoms of prolonged drinking of methylated spirits. They include rotting flesh, ulcers, gastritis, and gangrene. The show was preaching tolerance and understanding, even love, for the homeless, many of whom were meths drinkers.

For a few days following the episode, I had many more than usual views and visitors. By this week it is settling down, but I still am having slightly increased viewership. I really don’t understand why this is my most popular post, but I guess it is a topic that interests a lot of people.

Many years ago, prior to writing the post on methylated spirits, my most popular post was one I did on seeing a production of Mary Poppins in Israel. I also never understood why that was so popular. There is no accounting for what people will be interested in and try to seek more information about on the Internet.

Of course, posting this will probably lead to another temporary uptick in views. Maybe I should  find a way to stick the term “methylated spirits” in all my posts.

 

https://www.pbs.org/show/call-midwife/

 

See google console for past 28 days

Women and the State Department

Madeleine Albright died March 23rd of this year.[1] She was the first of only three women to serve as Secretary of State, which is the senior most cabinet position. Prior to Albright achieving that rank, Lucy Wilson Benson, who served as Under Secretary from 1977 to 1980, was the most prominent woman in the state department.

For my book Dames, Dishes, and Degrees I researched Benson’s life. Lucy Wilson Benson was born in New York City and graduated from Smith College in 1949; she also received a Master’s of Arts in history from the school. The same year she graduated, she married Bruce Benson, an Amherst College physics professor.[2] While in college she participated in state politics, working for the election of Representative Edward Boland (Dem.). In 1951, living in Amherst, Massachusetts, she went to register as a Democrat. A perplexed town official informed her that was illegal, and that no Amherst college professor had ever been a Democrat.[3]

Despite such discouragement, Lucy did register as Democrat, becoming involved in her local League of Women Voters.[4] In the post-World War II period, many women in a similar position to Lucy joined the League. League memebrship increased forty-four percent from 1950 to 1957, when it stood at 128,000.[5]

A sizable portion of the local membership came from University of Massachusetts faculty wives.[6] Some joined the League in opposition, consciously or not, to the faculty wives clubs  on their campuses while other women participated in both organizations. Lucy Benson recalled that in the 1950s women, most probably members of the Ladies of Amherst, that school’s faculty wives club, went grocery shopping adorned with hat and gloves. She did not.

Lucy Wilson Benson, Amherst College faculty wife, was the president of the National League of Women Voters from 1968 to 1974. She commuted to Washington and spent three days there every week. After serving as national president, she was Governor Michael Dukakis’ Secretary of Human Services. She then served as Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology in the Jimmy Carter administration. At that time, she was the highest-ranking female to serve in the State Department.[7] Asked about her position, Lucy said, “Don’t ask what it feels like to be a woman under secretary of state, because I don’t know. I do know what it is like to be an under secretary of state, however.”[8]

Despite her prominence, when Lucy Wilson Benson died last year, The New York Times did not publish her obituary. Her husband Bruce, who spent his whole career at Amherst College predeceased her. Despite never having held a national position, the paper, in 1990, recognized his demise.[9]

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/23/us/madeleine-albright-dead.html

[2] Jonathan Thrope, “Benson Paves the Way for Working Women”, Amherst Student, Issue no. 7, October, 19, 2007.

[3] “Amherst Women on the move, 1959-2000”, panel discussion, East Lecture Hall, Hampshire College, March 6, 2009.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Eugenia Kaledin, Kaledin, Mothers and more, American women in the 1950s. Boston:1984, passim.

[6] Personal communication with Georgiana Foster, undated.

[7] Jonathan Thorpe, “Benson Paves.”

[8] “WASHINGTON TALK: WOMEN IN GOVERNMENT; Tales of the Pioneers,” New York Times, November 13, 1987.

[9] “Bruce B. Benson, 68, A Professor of Physics,” The New York Times, March 10, 1990.

 

Ice Show

Last Sunday I skated in an adult group number, the chimney sweep song, Chim Chim Cher-ee, from Mary Poppins.

The number was part of the annual show of the Skating Club of Amherst. The club had planned to have a Disney themed show, Be Our Guest in 2020 but had had to cancel two weeks before the performance because of COVID. When that happened, I wrote this post.

My regular readers may remember that in October 2019 I competed in an ISI event, the 33rd Halloween Classic, Winterland Skating School, Rockland, Massachusetts. You can read more about that here and here.

When I was competing, I was extraordinarily nervous and didn’t perform the way I had expected to. My hope for the show was that I would be less nervous this time. I practiced extensively both with the eight other people in the number and on my own. I also tried to be mindful around the event including repeating a mantra that went something like:

I know how to do it.

I can do it.

I will do it.

I believe in myself.

Saturday was the dress rehearsal and as soon as I stepped on the ice once again my legs were like jelly. One of the coaches, perhaps concerned that I might hyperventilate, said I could take my mask off while we were practicing. Another one of the coaches, Kyla, said that I could skate with her and that really made all the difference.

Saturday, we ran through the program about four times and by the last time my legs felt a lot better, and my nervousness had decreased. The problem with the actual event on Sunday was that I didn’t think I would have any practice time. I did try to walk around the rink wearing my skating guards to warm up my muscles a bit. Since all the mindfulness that I did on Saturday hadn’t made any difference I didn’t do any on Sunday. I was able to do  warmup skating for a couple of minutes in an alley behind the curtain.

Once the music started, I was nervous but because I was holding on to Kyla, I was able to perform all the steps. A lot of people told me to try and have fun. I can’t say that I did. Mostly what I felt when the one minute of performing was over was significant relief. A deep sense of accomplishment came next.

Now that I have skated two separate times, in front of an audience, and had intense stage fright, I realize that stage fright is a physiological reaction and there isn’t that much you can do to control it. Given that, I am proud of myself that this time I did all the steps and did not let my fellow performers down.

I am not sure I will ever compete or perform again in front of a crowd but that is something I don’t have to decide at this moment. I can just revel in the fact that I did it on Sunday.

Sorry that I am late with this post. Yesterday just got away from me.

 

 

 

First Quarter Report, 2022

In the post I wrote saying goodbye to 2021 I wished for a more even keeled year with less difficulties. Now that three months of 2022 are gone, I’m not sure I can say that has happened. Several members of my extended family have been ill and that has consumed some of my time as well as the fact that our house renovations continued into the new year.

Most of the work for our new mud room and laundry room finished in February and we have now been spending time filling the new space and reorganizing the old spaces. Because I am a neat freak and more than a bit compulsive, this work has elated me.

When the new year started my plan was to begin revising the first draft of my manuscript, Dames, Dishes and Degrees, which I completed in November. I have had a couple of false starts and will honestly admit I haven’t gotten that much done yet. The university press that I had sent a couple of chapters to in the fall eventually said revise it and then send it back to us again without providing any concrete advice about how to do that. It felt like a less than completely enthusiastic response.

This was a little discouraging, but I rallied and then sent off the whole manuscript including a book proposal for a writing contest that an affiliate of Writer’s Digest is sponsoring. You can read more about the contest here.

I also sent a query letter to an agent who then asked to see my book proposal. Other than that, I haven’t really done much work on the manuscript itself. I did sign up for a revision class that Pioneer Valley Writers’ Workshop is offering, beginning in May, which will hopefully  jumpstart my revision process.

I have managed to continue to post every week even though sometimes it is hard to figure out what to write about. As far as tweeting goes, Wordle has transformed that process. I jumped on the Wordle bandwagon a few months ago before the New York Times bought it. Doing the game every day and then sharing it on Twitter has increased my tweeting output considerably. On the other hand, I am not sure figuring out the word every day is so great for my overall productivity and focus.

This is how the year has been going so far. I will keep you posted on any new developments in my revision and publishing endeavors.

 

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