Emails and Identity

As I have said in several earlier posts, I am trying to revise Dames, Dishes, and Degrees. Unfortunately, I have found it difficult to get into a consistent rhythm of working on the book.

The family members that I do a lot of caregiving for have taken up most of my time so that has been one limitation on how consistently I can work on the book. The other thing that happened more recently and pertains to my manuscript is that Hampshire College changed its email system. Essentially Hampshire email is now part of a college-based Google account.

Without getting too much in the weeds, I’ll just say that since I already had my own personal Gmail account, the first attempt at accessing the Hampshire Gmail did not go that well. Monday and Tuesday were involved with figuring out how I could make this new system work and occupied a lot of my time. Wednesday morning I finally figured it out and I think I have a workable process by which I can access all of my different emails in Thunderbird. At least I now have a working system.

The way this email trouble intersected with the topic of my book, faculty wives, and the fact that I am one, is that I have for many years had a Hampshire email account but the username indicates to anyone in the know that I am a guest and not a full functioning member of the Hampshire community. My actual Hampshire email address is amGU at hampshire dot edu. The GU stands for guest.

I’ve been aware of that classification for years, choosing to ignore how badly it made me feel. In this process of the transition from the old email system to the new Google based system I had to stare at amGU, my email address, repeatedly. Looking at it reminded me how precarious and constrained my position at Hampshire has been all these years. Most of the women I write about in my book were in a comparable situation. They were often part of elite families – being the wife of a Harvard college professor is nothing to sneeze about – yet their role, their identity, as a faculty wife mostly constrained them from having an independent autonomous life.

This week I realized, again, that my own life has consisted of constraints that I have endured for many years as a Hampshire faculty wife even though my husband’s position has allowed me to have a very comfortable lifestyle making me, as a white woman, among the more elite groups in American Society. Although triggering has become an overused word and the subject of ridicule by the American right by Republicans, having to stare at amGU at hampshire dot edu repeatedly this week was certainly triggering for me.

The net result of all of this is that I have decided to begin a process where I eventually will not have that Hampshire email address. My husband is retired. We don’t really have an active connection to Hampshire anymore although I did do over 20 oral histories for Hampshire and I’m still trying to get that to be an actual collection in the archives.

In general, we don’t really have anything to do with Hampshire, therefore I can be like everyone else, accept that Google now rules the world, and just have a Gmail account. Another possibility is to have two email address instead of three, keeping mail amymittelman dot com which is from my website where I post this blog. I think at this point in my life I can forget about existing within the constraints of being a faculty wife and try to have an identity that is just me,  Amy,  as I go through the world.

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.

 

Pregnancy and Academia

The March 16th edition of Inside Higher Ed’s Daily News Update contained a story with the headline, “A Win for Academic Mothers”. Evdokia Nikolova, an assistant professor at the University of Texas, Austin sued the school because the administration denied her tenure. Nikolova believes she didn’t receive tenure in the engineering school because she is a woman and was pregnant at the time of the decision.

A federal jury agreed with her and awarded her a million dollars for past pain and suffering, two million in further damages and another $50,000 for back pay and benefits. The four page article goes on to detail the points that both Nikolova and UT Austin made at the trial.

A few points that Nikolova’s legal team made stood out to me. An expert witness discussed the conflict between the ideal mother and the ideal academic scientist. A science professor must show complete devotion to their research, writing and teaching while a mother is supposed to do the same while caring for and raising her children. There are probably not enough hours in the day for the ideal women to do both jobs at the same time.

We often assume that misogyny and sexism are the most prevalent during the hiring phase. This usually means that white men are privileged over everyone else in getting higher. Nikolova’s case showed that such privilege becomes even more pronounced when colleges have to uh decide on promotions and other financial rewards for any given professor.

The most damning aspect of Nikolova’s case against UT Austin were the following statistics. In her engineering department there are 53 tenured faculty members but. only four are women. Since 2014 UT Austin began considering hiring Nikolova to the present, 9 male assistant professors got tenure while the two women who also went up for tenure did not receive it.

Nikolova’s case made me think about some of the women I discuss in my manuscript Dames, Dishes and Degrees. Arthur Schlesinger, a tenured professor at Harvard University, told Constance Green that she cannot pursue a graduate degree in history because she was a mother of three who lived in Holyoke. He didn’t think she would be able to make the trip and do the work. Green later went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for her pioneering urban history of Washington DC.

A generation, after Constance Green, Miriam Slater did manage to have a successful academic career at Hampshire college. At the beginning of her educational journey when she was an older student returning to school at Douglass College, she became pregnant. Her female professor and mentor assumed Miriam’s pregnancy was the end of her aspirations for an academic career. Miriam proved this professor and many misogynistic men wrong.

Nikolova story reminds me of an experience I had when I was attempting to gain academic employment. I went for an interview for an assistant professor tenure track position at Wesleyan University. It was going OK when the white male professor interviewing me asked if I thought I would be having any distractions in the coming year. I had no idea what he was talking about, and I tried to answer the best I could. After the interview ended, I realized he want to find out if he was pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Asking me this in a direct and easily understandable way would have been illegal.

I didn’t get the job. I don’t know if my failure to provide an answer to his ambiguous question made any difference in the decision. Years later the misogyny embedded in that interview is still stunning. In researching and writing Dames, Dishes and Degrees, I realized that I, as well as society, have many misplaced assumptions about how much things have changed for women since the 60s and 70s.While it is true that many women have made tremendous strides in in professional employment, Nikolova’s case indicates that misogyny and the patriarchy are still alive and well.

Gratitude

As some of my readers may already know, for a year and a half starting in July 2020 I used Noom to lose over 25 pounds. Noom is an artificial intelligence app that uses cognitive behavioral therapy ideas to help people change their eating habits and their relationship with food. I didn’t really consider it a diet. I feel that it taught me how to control cravings and modulate my food responses to stress. Before I started Noom, I was getting regular deliveries of an Insomnia chocolate chunk cookie. It is not that I stopped doing that entirely, but I am able to realize having a bad day doesn’t always mean I need a cookie.

I often have trouble sleeping, mostly due to anxiety and an overactive brain. Because I had such success with Noom, when I found out that the company had expanded and now had another app called Noom Mood, I decided to sign up. Cognitive behavioral therapy also informs the 16-week program of Noom Mood.

Every week you get a new daily activity. I have enjoyed some of them more than others. The first week the activity was to create some space for yourself by being quiet for 15 minutes and then writing for one minute about what came up while you were quiet. Since I already have a meditative practice, I used the 15 minutes to meditate and then wrote, often for more than a minute.

The second weeks’ activity involved grounding, focusing on your physical body and your environment. To complete this task, I either practiced my recorder or did some banging on a drum. The drum and why I have it is another story that I will save for another time.

I really enjoyed the first two weeks of activities but hit a bit of a roadblock last week. The activity involved freeing your emotions by thinking about where in your body you were feeling a particular emotion. To fully visualize where you were feeling stress, anger, or joy you were supposed to draw a stick figure and mark on it the places where you were having your somatic experience. I found this activity difficult and a bit overwhelming. It was hard to focus on one feeling at any given moment and then figure out where it was expressing itself in my body. Because the activity involved drawing, I now realize that my need to be perfect interfered with my ability to complete it.

This week the daily activity is gratitude. The exercise framed gratitude as a choice, a way to look at life and get something positive out of it. One suggestion was to see if you could be grateful for any privileges you are having on a particular day. The example they gave was time for yourself. Another suggestion was to find something in the present moment to be grateful for. Right now, I am grateful I have the means and ability to write this blog post.

During this past week while attempting to complete the daily activity I’ve tried to think about what I am grateful for and why. Monday, because the weather was so beautiful and warm, my husband and I took a nice long walk. I felt grateful for every part of the experience. The gratitude increased my happiness, which is the way it’s supposed to work.

I have 12 weeks left of Noom Mood. Although none of the lessons so far have pertained to insomnia, I am learning more about myself and am grateful for the insights I am gaining. Life is a process, and you can always learn something. You can always change and grow.

Conservatorship

In December I read an interesting essay about conservatorships and its intersection with disability rights from a newsletter I get every day, The Anti-Racism Daily (ARD). This held some interest for me, because two and a half years ago, I participated in a guardianship proceedings for a relative.

Shortly after that, I wrote a blog post that discussed in general terms some of the lessons I learned from my experience participating in the hearing. I don’t know if I want to reveal greater detail about that experience because I will be posting this online. I always post that there is something new in the blog every week on Facebook and Twitter. Potentially people who know the relative that was the subject of the guardianship hearing would find out more about it. I don’t want to invade my relative’s privacy.

Because of confidentiality and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, I will frame my discussion in a more neutral manner. According to ARD, 1.3 million people with psychiatric, developmental, intellectual, or age-related disabilities have some kind of conservatorship. Recently Brittany Spears’ successful fight to end her conservatorship shone a light on the need for reform. The ARD post makes the point that the courts most often establish conservatorships for the care of disabled people. Because of “ableist” views about the capabilities of many disabled people, often a conservatorship will take away almost all their rights. Brittany Spears claims that her conservator forced her to get an IUD.

Brittany Spears is a rich white woman. When conservatorships intersect with our racist society, the consequences can be devastating. “While shocking, reproductive coercion and forced sterilization have been used against disabled women, especially women of color, to prevent ‘undesirable’ traits and disabilities from spreading.”

After reading the ARD essay, I reflected, once again, on my experience participating in the guardianship proceeding. My relative resides in a nursing home and their account was in arrears. I can’t really explain why that happened. I just know that in June of 2019 I received a legal document indicating that the facility was seeking a financial guardianship to retrieve a large sum of money.

State law dictates the regulation of guardianships and conservatorships. The stringency of such measures varies. In New York, where the hearing took place, it seemed clear to me that the court saw a big difference between a financial guardianship and a personal one and was trying to put the least number of restrictions possible on my relative.

Currently my thinking about all this is in the middle. I know that I have always wanted my relative to be safe and if the only way to achieve that was by a guardianship or conservatorship, I would support that. I do realize that the relative could have different ideas about this. The rules for these kinds of controls should err on the side of being the least restrictive possible for the concerned individual. Although that is what I believe intellectually, I can’t help but wish that many years ago someone could have intervened and therefore my relative would have had a better outcome.

 

 

Beer Roundup

I haven’t written about beer or even the liquor industry in general in quite a while and today seemed like a good day to get back to what was the original theme of this blog. I’ve decided to highlight two articles I have recently received that touch on some of the themes that I have discussed in previous posts.

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, June 2020, an African American brewer Marcus Baskerville, co-founder and head brewer of San Antonio’s Weathered Souls Brewery created the Black is Beautiful campaign ”to bring awareness to the injustices that many people of color face daily”. Black is Beautiful is a collaborative effort among many brewers to raise funds to combat police violence against people of color. You can read my post about that here.

Recently, also in an attempt to increase diversity in the overwhelmingly white craft brewing industry, Haymarket Brewing in Chicago invited six black owned beer business to collaborate on a beer, Chicago Uncommon, which they will tap this Sunday, Super Bowl Sunday. You can read more about this here.

Not only is craft brewing a very white industry, 93 percent, but it is also mostly male, 75 percent. Julia Herz was, for many years, the craft beer program director at the Brewers Association, the trade association for craft and home brewers. Last year, because of budget cuts due to Covid, she lost her job.

Now she is returning to the association, and her goal is to expand the population that participates in craft beer and home brewing. “Beer has no gender and anyone who is a legal drinking adult who wants to brew is legally allowed to brew. I want to emphasize that the club of homebrewers is open to all walks of life.” You can read more about Julia Herz and her goals for increased diversity in brewing here.

Murder She Wrote

I recently finished watching all 264 episodes of Murder She Wrote. I started doing this because I often have insomnia and watch television to fall asleep. At 11 pm, after the prime-time programming of the Hallmark Movies and Mystery channel ends, they show several of the one-hour episodes of the show. Don’t judge me for my viewing habits but eventually I succumbed and started watching Murder She Wrote episodes to fall asleep. It often worked and then I got interested enough that using Peacock, which I get as part of my Xfinity account for the Internet, my landline phone and TV, I was able to watch all the episodes.

Murder She Wrote originally aired on broadcast TV from 1984 to 1996. In 1984 I was 30 years old and by 1996 I had a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old. I was busy and didn’t have time to watch that much TV. I did not watch Murder She Wrote during its original broadcast run. I’m pretty sure I thought she was an old lady and was not particularly interested.

Now of course I am an old lady myself and this is probably one reason why I find Murder She Wrote more appealing. Jessica Fletcher, the main character played by Angela Lansbury, is a widow and a very independent woman. She has begun a second career as a mystery writer following teaching high school English. The fact that she does this when the actress herself was 59 when the show started and 71when it ended is inspirational. It provides a role model for middle aged women beginning second or third acts.

Another aspect of Jessica Fletcher’s independence is that she solves the mysteries on her own with little or no help from anyone else especially men. Many of the Hallmark mysteries that currently air in prime time involve female amateur detectives, but they always have a male romantic interest who help them solve the crimes. Jessica Fletcher did not really have a romantic interest although William Windom played her best friend. Curious and inquisitive, if she gets herself into a jam while trying to solve a murder, she gets herself out of it, usually with no help from anyone. This independence solidifies her being a feminist role model.

I have also enjoyed watching the episodes because I got to see the technological changes that occurred during the twelve-year time span of the series. In the beginning she wrote everything on a typewriter. There were basically Rotary phones and a few wall phones. By the end there were computers and large cell phones. Seeing in real time the rapid technological changes that occurred from the 80s to the 90s is compelling.

This is not a technological change but the clothes that JB Fletcher wore evolved. In the beginning she presented as a pedestrian Maine native, flannels and jeans. Because Cabot Cove, Maine could not be the scene of weekly murders, the show took its’ heroine to many different domestic and international locales. Jessica Fletcher also lived in New York City for a while. Her clothes became increasingly sophisticated but were not high couture or sexy. No stiletto heels or low-cut gowns.

Despite the typewriters and Rotary phones most of the episodes do not seem dated. One area that does not reflect current sensibilities is the show’s treatment of Native Americans. For one thing the show calls this ethnic group Indians and for another it plays very stereotypical flute music anytime a Native American character appears. Once again viewing in real time we get a sense of how things have changed although of course we have so much more to do to redress the harms and mistreatment of Native Americans.

Because I can be compulsive, once I had seen a lot of the episodes I decided to see if there were any books that Angela Lansbury or her fictional character Jessica Fletcher had written. Angela Lansbury wrote a how to how to live your life better book, Angela Lansbury’s Positive Moves: My Personal Plan for Fitness and Well-Being (1990). I read and enjoyed it. The book contains mostly common-sense advice about staying active, doing things you enjoy and watching what you eat. Probably she has taken her own advice because she is still alive at the age of 96.

If you ever need to feel asleep or want to see an independent middle-aged woman doing exciting things, tune in to Murder She wrote.

 

 

 

Another Update

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. As I mentioned in previous posts, I am having trouble figuring out how to proceed with the revision process. Since NaNoWriMo worked so well for completing the draft, I thought I would try it for revision. I have now done almost two weeks, using the hack where one minute equals one word and have posted a total of 1,403 words. Although I have consistently spent at least an hour a day on the manuscript since January 1st, the structure of NaNoWriMo has become somewhat oppressive and I don’t think it would be productive to continue.

My new plan, which I’m willing to admit could also be a flop, is to read through the manuscript as if I were reading a published book. Hopefully this will give me a sense of how a reader might approach the book. This kind of reading should give me information about what is missing, where I need to strengthen the writing and where I need to cut.

I am also going to work on my query letter and a book proposal since if the University Press I sent chapters to says no, I will have to start sending these items out to other publishers and agents. I know I will get more rejections than acceptances, so I am steeling myself for that.

I don’t think I will be doing NaNoWriMo again, at least until next November but you never know. Hopefully I will resolve my confusion about revision and not need to post about that again. Next week’s post will be on one of my usual topics, either beer, brewing, women, or nursing. Have a good week.

NaNoWriMo Summary

I completed NaNoWriMo on Tuesday. I wrote every day in November, even on Thanksgiving. From Nov. 1 to Nov. 30, I wrote 20,998 words. I completed Chapter 8, writing 63 pages to add to the 15 I had before I started NaNoWriMo. After I finished the chapter, I wrote 19 pages of the Epilogue. The shitty first draft is now done.

Besides the over 20,000 words I wrote for my book, I also blogged every day, writing a total of 4,490 words or almost 18 more pages, for a total of 102 pages in a month. I have blogged every day for a month one other time. It was a good experience both times, but I did find writing daily both for the book and the posts a bit draining by the end. To say I was productive is an understatement.

I won ten badges from NaNoWriMo, and I used their counter to update my word count every day. The counter is one of the best features of NaNoWriMo. Doing NaNoWriMo was the final push I needed to complete the first draft. I am very glad I committed to doing it.

The other structures that helped me finish was the yearlong PVWW class and my fellow classmates. The structure of meeting monthly, having to give your work to other people and reading their work in turn all kept me focused on my goal for finishing. The twice a week writing groups I attend that Nerissa Nields runs were also a tremendous help in keeping my motivation strong.

I have been working on this version of the book since the summer of 2015 so it feels great to be done. Of course, there is still plenty of work to do – revising, reference, bibliography as well introduction d conclusion. I am giving myself some time off from the book to let everything I have accomplished settle in. Starting this week, I am going back to weekly, not daily blogging.

See you next Friday.

NaNoWriMo Day 30

It is the last day of NaNoWriMo and I have finished the first draft of my book. It is amazing to me that I did it.

Today I wrote 501 words and completed the epilogue. I plan to write a post which will go into much more detail about the NaNoWriMo experience and finishing the book. I will post that this Friday.

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