The Women’s History of the World

It was a great experience to read this book concurrent with taking a few online history classes, one on the ancient Greeks and one on history of the world from 1300 onward. History’s chronic overlooking of the ladies with valuable contributions becomes evident when you remind yourself to look for it.
Miles’ puts forth an interpretation of global history that includes voices from the invisible half of the population, women. Her preface invites other people to write women’s history because we simply need more of it, and reasons that if the book is too unfair to men she must be excused because conditions have been too heavily weighted in men’s favor previously. She begins with the earliest societies, where women were revered for their magical ability to bring life into the world, along with capacity to support the tribe through food gathering, providing 80% of their sustenance. In the beginning, God was a woman, worshipped for her rages and lifegiving power. Numerous examples of the Great Mother Goddess are given as examples of the prominence and prevalence of the female God. Her argument for how this inverted to male God goes along the lines of: Great Goddess was sexually insatiable, therefore craved the phallus, which in turn lead to worship of the male. “Once promoted from minor bit player to leading man in the primal drama, the penis proved hungry for the smell of greasepaint, the roar of the crowd..” But women’s control of nature continued for another 10,000 years, until we shifted from sympathetic horticulture to dominating and taming the land via agriculture. Religion as God the father sprang into being and the goddess was dead.
Miles uncovers threads of women’s stories throughout history by scouring official records and various sources, and manages to insert women into the historical record where they were previously missing. Detailing the tragedy of the last millennia, she wraps up on a more positive note, with progress made in the 20th century. She leaves us with a reminder that

…there is much to do, amounting in fact to a remaking of modern society. All democratic experiments, all revolutions, all demands for equality have so far, in every instance, stopped short of sexual equality. Every society has in its prestige structures a series of subtle, interacting codes of dominance which always, everywhere, finally rank men higher than women.

Your Money or Your Life

The author of How To Find Fulfilling Work, recommended YMOYL as a good companion book. It’s got a nine step program to breaking the shackles, with no huge surprises but some good mantras and quotable bits. Step 1 is figuring out how much you’ve ever made in your working life, and what do you have to show for it now (assets/liabilities). I like the framework of Step 2: Tracking your life energy (how much does your job really cost you if you include various things like commuting, the beer after work to wind down, etc.), which also advocates tracking every penny that enters/leaves your life. This leads to Step 3: Where does the money go, where you balance your income and outgoing totals then convert those dollars into hours of life energy. This leads to thinking twice about buying something you don’t need because it took you 20 hours of life energy to earn that money.
Step 4 requires you to look at your spending categories and ask if you got fulfillment, satisfaction, and value in proportion to how much life energy you expended. Step 5 makes visible your progress, in the form of a wall chart to see income/expense, to keep you mindful of the program. Step 6 is to minimize spending by practicing intelligent use of life energy (money). Step 7 is to maximize income and break the link between work and wages. How do you want to spend the remaining hours you have on the planet? Break the link between who you are and what you do for a living. Step 8 is about the crossover point where your expenses are covered by your monthly investment income. Step 9 is managing your finances long term.
My favorite bits along the theme of employement always center around the history of work, looking at this from an evolutionary perspective:

For most of human history, people only worked for two or three hours per day. As we moved from agriculture to industrialization, work hours increased, creating standards that label a person lazy if she doesn’t work a forty-hour week… The very notion that everyone should have a job only began with the Industrial Revolution.

“Money is something we choose to trade our life energy for.”

Eight Decades: Essays and Episodes

Agnes Repplier is yet another unsung writer and forgotten essayist; this is a collection of essays written mostly during the period between the wars and thus slightly fixated on international involvement, asking how the US can remain neutral if we know anything about history. I found the earlier essays quite lovely– her life recap (Eight Decades) and praise of Horace:

Under the protection of Maecenas, Horace lived his life serenely, and his talents ripened to perfection. His lovely odes gave the same delight then that they give now; his Roman soul venerated what was admirable, and strove for what was attainable. He spent the best months of the year in the country, where, unhurried by engagements and unharassed by acquaintances, he wrote with delight and deliberation. Like Marcus Aurelius, he was able to be alone; but he was far too wise to make himself that lopsided thing called a recluse. He felt with Montaigne the rare delight of dividing his life between the solace afforded him by nature and the stimulus afforded him by men.

(Horace) clung tenaciously to his liberty, and he achieved it because he stood ready to sacrifice, if need be, all luxuries, comforts, and pleasures for its sake. He would not write his verse and he would not live his life to order…. His soul requires the freedom to make its own choice. “Every man must measure himself by his own rule and standard.”

Repplier’s other essays cover Victorian squeamishness, the condescension of borrowers, praises of cats, living in town vs country. Very recommended, and I’m diving into her biography shortly.

How to Find Fulfilling Work

Before you sigh and despair over the review of a dusty tome with advice about chucking your job and following your heart, let me point out that the more you bolster up your confidence, the better suited you are for actually taking that leap. Nine months into my own leap, I’m still reading these “push” books, both as a reminder of why I’m doing it, and to scour for tips on surviving the jump.
The author begins by admitting that this dilemma of finding meaningful work is something the affluent West is grappling with, and has no bearing on people living on the margins who have no such luxury. We now have very easy lives and an abundance of career options (paradox of choice). The ideal job is one where you doing feel as if you are working, where you’re in a state of flow.
He quotes Chateaubriand:

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labour and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.

He suggests thinking about all our possible selves, imagining us down several career paths. Then he challenges you to test yourself in reality by taking a radical sabbatical, branching projects, and conversational research to learn more about the potential careers you can switch to. People are averse to change, evolutionarily we’re more sensitive to negative feedback than positive feedback, and so avoid risk.
He urges us to wean ourselves off the work ethic, to embrace Bertrand Russell’s ‘In Praise of Idleness’ where he argues there is too much work done in the world and it’s harmful to think that work is virtuous. And live more simply- if you don’t require a lot of money, there’s no need to earn a lot. Act now, reflect later.
This book sent me on a rabbit hole wherein I read Russell’s In Praise of Idleness (PDF link), of which many notes struck me, including:

In a world where no one is compelled to work more than four hours a day, every person possessed of scientific curiosity will be able to indulge it, and every painter will be able to paint without starving, however excellent his pictures may be. Young writers will not be obliged to draw attention to themselves by sensational pot-boilers, with a view to acquiring the economic independence needed for monumental works, for which, when the time at last comes, they will have lost the taste and capacity.

Correspondence Co-op

I stumbled onto the existence of the Correspondence Co-op via a flyer at the SF Zinefest a few weeks ago. Postal nerds sending art through the mail to each other, how did I miss this group for so long? Tonight, we hunkered down in the basement of the main branch library, our passports open to accept the monthly meeting stamp designed by a member to commemorate the September 12th elopement of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. A table in the back groaned under the weight of excess stamps, stickers, paper, cards and it was difficult to hold back from sweeping the whole collagers’ paradise into my bag. A few members did a Show-n-Tell of mail they’d received in the last weeks, showing off elaborate accordion books, origami letters from the Netherlands, handmade zines of Chinatown. Our fearless leader, Jennie, showed off some samples of art that have been arriving for the mail/art/book project she’s curating. Tales of postal mishaps were swapped, including the heroic efforts of one member to gather her building’s mail every few days from the postal Annex after the USPS drilled the lock off their building box then refused to deliver to the unsecured location. Jennie held up a letter triumphantly, excited to have received mail from one mail artist. Another member casually mentioned that she’d taken (“stolen”) a lot of the mail he sent to a local museum while she was working there because no one cared to read it. These are the people that will save the USPS, one postcard at a time. I’m looking forward to upping my mail-game with this creative crew. I especially need their infusion after this week’s pitiful haul at the PO Box– a thank you note, a collaborative art project, and a typed letter from my sister. Typed! Ack! (To her credit, she starts the letter with “Ick a typed letter.”

My Family and Other Animals

Fantastically written account of a childhood spent on the Greek island of Corfu, where the family moves for a few years when the author is 10. Older brother Larry, 23, an aspiring writer whose pomposity is perfectly captured as he spews advice to everyone but accepts no criticism and is constantly sparring with the ever-patient mother. Brother Leslie, 19, consumed with hunting and guns. Older sister Margo, 18, portrayed as a frivolous maiden obsessing over weight, her clothes, and tanning. The mother’s interests include gardening and cooking. Gerry, the author, scrambles around the island feeding his curiosity about everything in nature, assembling a wide menagerie of pets: turtle, 3 dogs, a huge gull, magpies, goldfish (stolen from the king’s pond by Spiro), snakes.
As an example of the hilarity, Larry invites several friends to visit and neglects to tell his mother until the last minute. She insists he let the hotel know they are coming, and he furiously insists that they all cram into the small villa. As a truce, they move to a larger villa to accommodate the friends. Then they receive notice that a detested aunt wants to come and stay, since they have such a large villa. They move villas again, to something that doesn’t have room.
Tremendous descriptions paired with mouthwatering scenery and wry wit makes this a serious gem.
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Rec’d by Jane

Confound The Wise

Unable to obtain a copy of this book via the library system, I hunkered down at a table in the basement of the UC Berkeley library where I retrieved this from the stacks. Calas was a poet and art critic who landed in NYC in 1940 as part of the first wave of emigrant surrealists. This book has been described as one that “unsettles the conscientious reader with a scattered, multidirectional, and off-centered vision.” A collection of essays about Time, Space, memory, it was a bit disjointed for me, and I jumped around a lot. I learned that André Breton nicknamed Salvador Dali “Avida Dollars” as a sneer. The below quotable bits were scribbled down by me and sometimes subtly altered, bits snipped for my convenience:
* Time and Money, combined in a dictum, expressed with fierce exactitude that conception of civilization which Protestantism has been leading us since the days of Cromwell. Inhuman morality of Benjamin Franklin.
* In a world that invents Daylight Savings Time, the sun ceases to be the measure of Time.
* The first task of the poet today is to remain lucid. (me: HELL YEAH!!)
* The addicts of novels belong mostly to that group of unfortunate people who devote themselves to fiction because they have nothing else to do at night. Bourgeois mentality as the byproduct of industrial civilization. (Note: “people” was actually “women” in his text, but this makes me puke with rage so I’ve edited the misogynist. Likely this was the cause for me changing his pronouns as I took notes; from his->her, he-> she in the following examples)
* It is because an artist refuses to submit to existing reality that she is a rebel. The poet fills the air with the breath of her revolt.
* Memory can only express regret. The function of poetry is to tempt us to love new things and lighten the burden of memory.
* Only those who have no time do not listen to the dreams of poets and pay no heed to their own.
* Without encounters, there would be no surprise and without surprise, poetry cannot be brought into the world. The poet is on the lookout for surprises, she then exceeds them by transforming them into drama.
* Publishers have become more interested in compiling information than in gathering knowledge.
* When will time cease to be money and become art?
* Will clocks exist in a better future?