Fall

Tomorrow  will be the first day of October. We have been living with the pandemic for almost seven months. Time is moving both slowly and quickly. Looking back at my post, Goals, from the beginning of this year, I want today’s post to reflect some updates and changes.

The biggest deviation from my stated plans in January is that I did not participate in the year long non- fiction writing group that the Pioneer Valley  Writers’ Workshop offers. I felt that I would be a fish out of water in a sea of memoirists with emotionally challenging life stories. My gut told me not to do it. I have not regretted my decision.

I did two rounds of Nerissa NIelds’ Writing It Up in the Garden. It was really helpful for finishing the fifth chapter of my book. The chapter focuses on the Angell family and its’ many academics. A particular focus is Constance McLaughlin Green, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian

In January, my goals included being part of an adult group number at the Skating Club of Amherst’s annual show. Of course Corona prevented the show from happening. I have only skated five times since March 11th and none of them were at the Mullins Ice Rink.

In January, I said finishing my book was imperative and would require keeping my schedule light. I have had mixed results with that endeavor. As October begins, I am still trying to finish the sixth chapter which deals with two  white middle class, middle aged women who were social justice activists in the 1950s and 60s.

Right now, I am writing about Sarah Patton Boyle, a faculty wife from Charlottesville Virginia who became an early white ally of Martin Luther King, Jr. Her attempts to dismantle  Jim Crow and help American society achieve racial equality have been  very inspiring to me as I have tried, since the murder of George Floyd, to become a more actively anti-racist person.

There are three months left to the year. I hope to finish this chapter, get my skating back to a pre-pandemic level and defeat Donald Trump. What are your plans and goals for the remainder of the year?

 

Visiting Brooklyn During the Pandemic

Last Friday, my son got married in Brooklyn. It was a beautiful wedding, but as Arlo Guthrie might say, that is not what I came here to talk about. Being in Brooklyn from Thursday afternoon until Friday afternoon was very unnerving, because of COVID-19.

We drove down on Thursday. It was the longest car ride we have taken since some time in February. We parked the car in a garage about three blocks away from our hotel. Walking on the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, we saw everything. There were a lot of people, many more than we have seen during the five months of the pandemic. Some were wearing masks, but some were not. It wasn’t very easy to keep six feet of social distance on city sidewalks.

The hotel, itself, felt safe; we didn’t really see many people. Thursday, we met my two sons and my daughter-in-law for dinner. Again, we had to walk on sidewalks with lots of people, masked and unmasked. We ate outside and tried to keep on our masks when we weren’t eating.

Friday morning, we walked toa bakery to get something to eat for breakfast. The store did have social distancing measures in place. Only one patron was allowed in at a time and the line outside was spaced six feet apart.

These experiences of the pandemic in a big city made me realize how fortunate I have been to sit out the pandemic in Western Massachusetts. We have not eaten at a restaurant at home; we have just gotten takeout. We can walk at home not wearing masks and often we don’t see anyone else.

Being in Brooklyn made me realize the enormity of COVID-19 and the fear and anxiety I have lived with for over five months. I do not want to get sick and I do not want anyone I love to get the virus either. I wish no one else would ever get sick from Corona. My heart goes out to anyone who has gotten the virus and all the families affected by the disease.

Skating Camp 2020

Last Friday through Sunday, I attended a virtual skating camp, hosted by Scott Hamilton and Kori Ade. I was a little apprehensive before it started since I didn’t know if I would be able to keep up with all the planned physical activity.

Several years ago, I attended a weekend skating camp in Cromwell CT. That camp mixed on-ice teaching with off-ice training. Last weekend’s camp was obviously all off-ice. The training sessions alternated with webinars on different topics.

Friday began with a welcome talk from Scott and Kori, mostly Scott. Scott Hamilton is a skating legend who has given so much to the sport. It was really thrilling and very entertaining to listen to his anecdotes.

Max Aaron gave the other standout talk. His topic was “Competitive Mindset”. He stressed having rituals to help you get through a competitive program. Max also talked about thinking through what your response to different situations that can occur at a competition will be. He said he even found out, through Google, what the event rink looked like a month ahead of time so he could familiarize himself with the setting.

I have only competed once. I essentially had a panic attack and didn’t really perform my program. It was definitely a learning experience. Reflecting on Max’s talk, I realize I can plan, ahead of  time, what I will say and do to calm my nerves and get oxygen to my jelly legs so I can really feel the ice. Hopefully my next competitive experience, if I ever have one, will  have a better outcome.

Every day at the camp we did between 2 and 3 hours of exercise. It was a lot and I was very sore. I haven’t skated since March 11th. It is possible that I could start skating September 8th, but I have to decide if I think it is safe, given COVID.  I was definitely out of my comfort zone during skating camp. My plan, going forward, is to do the camp exercises for the month I have until I start skating. I will let you know how it goes.

 

Retreat

Last week I attended a virtual four day Jewish Women’s silent retreat. It was sponsored by Awakened Heart Project and Or HaLev. The  leaders were Sheila Katz, Rebecca Schisler and Rabbi Batsheva Meiri. Paige Lincenberg was the retreat manager.

Because it was a mindfulness retreat, there were many opportunities for meditation throughout the day. You can do a formal mindful practice in a variety of postures including walking, sitting, lying down and standing. Yoga can also be a mindful activity. The last day of the retreat, Rebecca led us in a practice, The Five Rhythms, which is contemplative dance. I really enjoyed that.

During the retreat I mostly sat which I found difficult. When one of the leaders guided us and we were all sitting together (via Zoom), I could calm my mind for a more extended period of time. It was harder to sit by myself without any guidance. Now that I am “home”, I am trying to sit for thirty minutes, first thing in the morning.

Overall, the retreat made me want to be more mindful and less reactive in my relationships and in how I lead my life. One of the most liberating  and revelatory aspects of the retreat was how it felt to not look at my phone or anywhere on the Internet, except for Zoom for four full days. It was a tremendous relief to not have to deal with email for that period of time.

The sense of relief and ease I experienced not being connected to my phone, the Web or social media has made me rethink my relationship to those platforms. For the first time in over three years, this past month I did not tweet every day. You won’t be surprised to learn the world didn’t fall apart.

Connected to cutting the cord is another aspect of the retreat I am trying to bring into my daily life. A meal should just be a meal without any multitasking, looking up things  on the internet or reading  things on the phone. Eating silently is actually a lovely way to concentrate. I enjoyed the silence of the retreat and I hope to have more quiet, peaceful time in my day.

My favorite parts of the retreat were the ones with Jewish content. Every morning at 9:30, there was a chanting service which was a beautiful blend of traditional Jewish ritual and contemplative practice. Wednesday night into Thursday was the Jewish holiday Tisha B’Av, the low point of the Jewish year. It commemorates the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple. Over the years, the holiday has also become associated with other Jewish tragedies including the Holocaust.

To observe Tisha B’Av, we chant from Lamentations, one of the books of the Jewish bible. Rabbi Batsheva led the service and Paige, who is a rabbinical student, chanted. Her chanting was beautiful and deeply soulful. I had never really read Lamentations before. It is a raw expression of acute pain and sorrow. The complete bewilderment of the Jewish people about what would come next following the tragedy evoked in me the feeling I have about the pandemic and the situation our country is in.

Observing Jewish rituals throughout the retreat made me grateful that I am a Jew. I came away with a commitment to be more Jewish, which feels like a funny thing to say. The retreat ended on Thursday; I was really excited that the next evening was Shabbat. Built into the Jewish religion is a time every week to be more contemplative and peaceful. Attending a four day silent retreat was a very powerful experience; the power is actually increasing as I process and live with the experience.

Summer Vacation – Sort Of

I will not be posting next week. Unlike previous summer where we would probably be taking a summer vacation, I am staying home. I will be attending, virtually,  a Jewish women’s silent retreat.

I have always wanted to attend such a retreat but I have never had the chance. I am curious to see if I will be able to keep silent during most of the day, given that I live with someone.

I am going to be social media, email, and internet free for  at least the four days of the retreat. You are also supposed avoid reading materials, so no books. I might extend the device free time from the Friday evening before the retreat, which begins on a Monday, to the following Monday morning. That is the part that feels most like a vacation.

I  will let you know how it went when I resume posting on August 5th. Have a nice two weeks.

Maine, last summer.

Memories

A few weeks ago, in my writing group, Nerissa, the group leader, read, as a prompt, a portion of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, where she talked about the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, in 1953. Being a red diaper baby, I grew up believing that the couple killed could have just as easily been my parents. Of course, the Rosenbergs were innocent; for my parents and their friends there was no other truth.

March 6, 2020 was the fiftieth anniversary of a townhouse in Greenwich Village, New York City, blowing up, killing three members of the Weather Underground. I knew one of the people killed – Ted Gold. I grew up with him. He was the youngest son of one of my mother’s closest friends.

The chapter of my book on faculty wives that I am currently working is about activism in the 1950s and 60s. I focus on two women – Sarah Patton Boyle and Anne Bennett. Boyle was an early white supporter of civil rights in Virginia while Bennett worked to end the Vietnam War.

My mother was a part of this activist history. As a baby, I was wheeled to Ban the Bomb demonstrations. She was a member of Women Strike for Peace. In the chapter, I describe a demonstration in Washington, DC that WSP organized. It is very possible that my mother was there.

The arc of history from the Rosenbergs to the Weather Underground is, in a simple way, the story of the Old Left morphing into the New Left; a generational shift that I was a part of. I have often wondered what my politics would have been if I had grown up in a different household. In my house, noisy discussion about politics were an everyday occurrence. Most of my parent’s friends had also been in the Communist Party. Whenever they came over, it got even louder. Being on the left is probably in my DNA.

 

 

The Fierce Urgency of Now

Since the murder of George Floyd, I have been obsessed with exploring how I can more actively confront systemic racism. If you are not actively confronting racial injustice you become complicit.

Although I have been committed to civil rights all of my life, I have been questioning how strong that commitment is. In my comfortable life in Amherst, Massachusetts, how do I confront racism and combat it on a daily basis? The answer is I don’t.

On Sunday, I went to an inter-faith vigil on the Amherst common. Although it felt courageous; that was because of the pandemic and not because attending would threaten my physical safety.

The phrase, “the urgency of now,” which I knew was something Martin Luther King had said, has been rumbling around in my head this last week. Yesterday I googled it. Here is the full quote:

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

I can never know what it feels like to be a black person, but I can learn how to be a white ally in their struggle for equality and racial justice. It is imperative that I start the learning process immediately.

 

Living with Corona

I date my life under pandemic as beginning on March 13 which is the last time I skated. It has been over seven weeks and I can not say the end is in sight. Time seems to simultaneously being going very slowly and very quickly. There are some days when the montonoy is overwhelming.

I have been trying to get outside every day except of course when it is raining which has happened a lot this spring. I am also trying to do two to three days of strength training every week. Although it has been lovely to see spring unfolding with the beautiful pale yellow and greens of the season, I would like to find different places to walk which is not that easy.

Like many other people, we are cooking more  since we eat at home every day.  Sunday night I made swedish meatball with mashed potatoes and roasted fiddlehead ferns. I used considerably more butter than I usually do. It was a throwback to a time when I was less weight and health conscious. It tasted very good.

We try to have regular zoom “meetings’ with our family.  If I had gone these seven weeks without seeing the faces of my children that would have been very hard and caused me to have greater anxiety.

I realize that I am very privileged because I have a home to live in  and money to spend while  in quarantine. My heart goes out to people who do not have those resources during this difficult time.

I hope everyone stays safe and well.

 

 

Constance Green

Last week I finished the chapter of my book about faculty wives that I have been working on for over a year. The chapter, “Aristocracy” is about the gendered and hierarchical nature of academia. I wound up using one family, the Angells, as the framework for the chapter. One woman, Constance Green became the focus. Constance McLaughlin Green was an urban and technology historian who, in 1963, won a Pulitzer Prize for her book on Washington, D.C. She died in 1975.

On Dec. 5, 1975, I was living in my parent’s apartment following my college graduation. My boyfriend who I had lived with my senior year was now in England on a scholarship. A scholarship I had helped him get while not applying for anything myself.

I was depressed and in pain from sciatica that had developed after I got out of the backseat of a two-door car. As I read the New York Times that day, I came across Constance Green’s obituary. “That’s it”, I thought. “I’ll go to graduate school and be like her.” She had gotten her Ph.D. from Yale; a school I wanted to go to because I loved the architecture.

Forty-five years later I have written a mini biography of Constance Green. The more I found out about her, the more her life story resonated with me. Of course, I have not; and will never win a Pulitzer Prize. I am the descendant of immigrants not college presidents. What strikes a chord with me is her determination to pursue scholarship and writing history.

Stuck in Holyoke, she was determined to go to graduate school. Harvard’s dismissal of her as a woman with children who belonged at home did not deter her. Although I did not have children when I got my Ph.D. I was pregnant with my first child when I defended my thesis.

A few years earlier, I applied for a job at Wesleyan. The man interviewing me asked if I was planning on having any distractions. This was code for asking if I was pregnant. I doubt if a man would ever receive a question about possible parenthood. As for Western Massachusetts, as a native New Yorker who had never lived anywhere else, the first year I lived in Northampton I constantly felt that I was living deep into the country, far away from civilization.

Constance Green did not receive her PhD until she was forty and had three children at home. She never held a traditional full-time academic position. She had a prestigious career because she persisted in pursuing something that mattered deeply to her.

When I decided to switch careers, I did not know how or if I would keep doing historical scholarship. I had 2 small children. It turned out that, like Constance, I had to persist. The first year I worked as a nurse, I spent a week’s vacation going to Amherst College to research The Ladies of Amherst. Twenty-one years after I defended my dissertation, I published Brewing Battles.

Both Constance Green and I came from generations that feminism impacted but neither of us were able to fully realize the benefits. My book is bringing back into history woman like us.

 

 

 

 

Marie Kondo Revisited

A few years ago, I read  the Marie Kondo book and posted a review of it. At that time, I was not that impressed and had no plans to use the method in my home. This year, however, there were some areas of my house that really needing organizing so I gave Marie another look.

So far I have fixed up my sweaters that I have in an armoire.  I used the Kondo method for folding, but that actually works best in drawers where you will just have a single layer of clothes. I have more then one layer of sweaters and the space is much higher than a drawer. I had to pile sweaters on top of each other. When I finished it looked good, but the pyramid started to fall apart as soon as I took one sweater out. It isn’t perfect but it is better than how it was before I started.

Her folding and stacking method worked much better in my sock, bra, and underwear drawers. They have all stayed very neat and I love to look at them.  I also cleaned out my closet. I didn’t really use her “does this item bring me joy” shtick. I mostly kept or threw things out based on whether they ft or not. Some of clothing I got rid of I really loved. For sorting the closet I used the What Not to Wear mantra that you have to dress the body you have now. The closet also looks really nice and it is much easier to get my clothes out.

My new conclusion about Marie Kondo’s method for organizing is that it  works better for some things than for others. In my recent cleaning phase, I probably used the spirit of her approach more than hewing strictly to her rules.

I started  re-organizing before COVID-19, but, since I have been homebound, I have also worked on my linen closet and the junk drawer. What organizing projects have you done since the epidemic started? I hope every is safe and healthy.