addicted.pregnant.poor

addicted.pregnant.poor (Critical Global Health: Evidence, Efficacy, Ethnography)

Kelly Ray Knight does a tremendous job in this ethnographic study of pregnant addicts working as sex workers in the Mission District of San Francisco. She spends four years working as a volunteer to bring condoms, injection supplies, bandages, and food to the women living in the daily-rent hotels that line Mission Street near 16th. Knight outlines the horror that is their lives, having to scrounge for the exorbitant $50/day fee to rent their rooms along with paying for their drug habit and wondering what to do about their pregnancies. She admits to feeling like a vulture, swooping in to study these sad cases, and examines the impact that the research system has on these women who show up multiple times (in wigs, disguised) to lie about their data in exchange for the research fee ($20-$50).

One compelling fact she exposes is that all these women are living in multiple “time zones” – there’s “addict time” where the main focus is on scoring the drug of choice, “pregnancy time” a ticking time bomb, and “hotel time” necessitating the daily grind of sex work to scrounge up money for the rent. Knight also shows us that these for-profit hotels shy away from accepting government subsidies since they can make a whole lot more money acting as a quasi-brothel, charging an additional $10 fee per visitor to each room.

It’s not a read for the faint of heart or for anyone unwilling to think hard about the serious problem of homeless, economically disadvantaged, poverty-trapped women who have the additional burden of child-bearing to keep them occupied. There’s plenty of open abscesses here, along with emergency room visits, domestic violence, police arrests, and crack smoking.

Knight notices an uptick in people self-diagnosing themselves as bi-polar and investigates. Turns out most psychiatrists blame this on an “all-out campaign by the pharmaceutical manufacturers to overemphasize bipolar disorder.” There’s also the normalization of trauma, described by one physician when detailing the abbreviated language physicians use to communicate, “When we give their history, we usually describe people using these one-liners: ‘forty-seven-year-old, male-to-female transgender, HIV-positive, CD4 count X, viral load X, on antiretrovirals, with a significant history of childhood sexual trauma, recent rape.’ It is all this comma, comma, comma.” Knight goes on to draw the conclusion that the “comma, comma, comma, reflective of cumulative vulnerabilities among the urban poor, is expected.” That’s pretty much where my heart has sunk to its lowest level when reading this.

Meticulously annotated, this is part of an ongoing series called Critical Global Health: Evidence, Efficacy, Ethnography. A fascinating look at a sub-culture that has existed for decades in the Mission and that’s now in danger of being displaced completely by the Google-fication of the neighborhood. Knight notes that gentrification is an ongoing phenomenon deserving of its own ethnographic treatment, and keeps her study firmly focused on these invisible, overlooked women.

To the American Indian: Reminiscences of a Yurok Woman

The reminiscences of Lucy Thompson (Che-na-wah Weitch-ah-wah) were originally published 100 years ago, in 1916 by a small print shop in Eureka, CA. Lucy married a white man, but was one of the respected members of her tribe, and saw fit to pass along a document of their dying customs. The Yurok lived in north west California (present-day Del Norte and Humbolt counties), beautiful land that I’ve spent a tiny bit of time camping and hiking through. Armed with this document of Indian life, I want to go back and find traces of the civilization that we wiped from the map with the influx of whites during the gold rush and beyond. She describes intricate details about their religious ceremonies and festivals, how houses and boats and tools were constructed, the birthing of babies, and even creation tales that mirror the Christian stories of Adam/Eve/the flood/Jesus. The daily life she outlines seems just as bound by patriarchal rules, with the men sleeping separately in their luxurious sweat lodges and talking big, dreaming big, playing sports, while the women focused on survival with food and shelter. One bright spot– if you were a girl, you could apparently say that you had a dream that you were a doctor, and the men must help you train to become one then.

Lucy gets understandably melancholic about her ancestors’ ways eroding to nothing. “It is sad for me to write of the inside working of the lodge, and who can blame me. My people are passing away, being absorbed by the white race.”

Already our great rulers are at rest, and forever; laureled with the glories of the primeval ages that have passed away in silence. As a nation, like the ancient Egyptians, we have grown old and passed away; we have seen a great civilization rise to the highest of its splendors and pass away to another land beyond recall. Today we see another civilization endowed with a splendor of its own, rising over the debris of the eternal years.

She mentions that there are various classes within the Indians, and some are wealthier than others. Women can hold their own property, as well. I wonder how much of this was infiltration of white settler values further contaminating the cooperative economics of the tribes.

Love in a Cold Climate

Love in a Cold Climate

The sequel to Nancy Mitford’s gem, The Pursuit of Love, we pick up Fanny’s story detailing life between the wars in upper-class England. This time the focus is on Polly, a more distant cousin to Fanny than Linda was in the previous book. Polly is the only child (and egad! a female, thus not eligible as an heir) of fabulously wealthy parents who own the estate of Hampton nearby to Fanny’s uncle’s Alconleigh. Polly’s mother, Lady Montdore, is nearly frantic trying to find someone to interest Polly as a suitor, but Polly turns a blind eye to everyone until her sudden declaration of love for her uncle Boy when her aunt dies. We get a bigger glimpse inside Fanny’s life as the wife of an Oxford don, still peppered with gossip from her “stepfather” Davey, and delicious visits from her younger Alconleigh cousins. Fanny confesses to “aching,” which she defines as “aching with boredom, a malaise from which girls, before national service came to their rescue, were apt to suffer considerably.” Act two brings Cedric onto the stage, the distant cousin who will inherit the large fortune and estate when Lord Montdore kicks the bucket. Turns out Cedric is a pansy, but he loves gadding about with Lady M and making her try a myriad of facial treatments, etc. Polly ends up back in England, bursting with child, only to deliver a stillborn which her mother doesn’t bemoan, saying that she hears children are too expensive nowadays anyway. Cedric looks to be the victor in the battle, his eye on Boy as the prize as he dashes petals off a daisy, “He love me, he loves me not…”

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age

Meh. I had higher hopes for this book, a bloated 360 page tome better suited as a few pithy articles. The premise is relevant and the subject of many of my rants–we’re damaging ourselves by hyper-reliance on technology to keep us from ever being alone with our thoughts, our out-of-whack panic at the thought of boredom brushing our arm for even the briefest of moments, the inability of friends to meet up without averting the gaze down to the phone not to miss the stream of communication nattering on as we attempt to have an IRL conversation.

So what, you ask? 40% decline in empathy over the last 20 years among college students.1 These are the people who will be caring for me/us/you in your waning years, but most likely they’ll yank you around and yell at you for interrupting their screen time.

Technology gives us the “illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship… [and] the illusion of progress without the demands of action.” All those online petitions making everyone feel good yet accomplishing nothing.

Sherry Turkle did years of research for this book, acting as a consultant for a middle school whose teachers were alarmed that their kids were unable to interact with each other, interviewing college students and teenagers about their digital habits. There’s a lot of scary quotes like “I ask Carmen, twenty, if she ever has time to just sit and think. Her answer: ‘I would never do that.’ If she has a quiet moment she goes to Facebook.” From these young folk, Turkle learns the “rule of three” that seems to dictate acceptable behavior in a group. As long as three people are talking, it’s ok for whomever else is at the table to be on their phones. But conversation is thus kept very light, and the most frequent comment is “Wait, what?” as the people tune in and out and try to catch the ripple of conversation. Teachers are now EXPLICITLY teaching empathy and turn-taking in conversations, because these kids are not getting it from any other example they see in daily life–mom&dad are just as nose-to-the-screen as they are, and their interactions with friends are just to talk about what they see happening on their phones.

Of course, Turkle doesn’t want to come off as a doom and gloom-er, so she peppers her book with cautious notes of optimism. Apparently all is not lost, we can simply put our devices down and start paying attention to each other again.

1 From Sara Konrath’s “Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students over Time: A Meta-Analysis,” Personality and Social Psychology Review 15, no 2 (May 2011)

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present

Gail Collins recaps the last fifty years, giving us the greatest hits of the Second Wave, like the Ladies Home Journal overtaken by one hundred women with Shulamith Firestone jumping on the editor’s desk to demand that the next issue be turned over to the women’s movement, up through the vague disinterest of my own generation and into a world where women are actively running for the highest political office. She begins her tale in the year 1960, with a story about Lois Rabinowitz, thrown out of traffic court for (GASP!) wearing pants… “it was pretty clear that the showdown was really about women’s place in the world…” We’re all familiar with the much-told-tale that women got accustomed to more rights and working outside the home during WW2, then slowly began to simmer with rage as they were pushed back into their tiny worlds of household chores. Collins spends a big chunk of time talking about the important (and forgotten) women of the Civil Rights movement: Ella Baker, Diane Nash, Fannie Lou Hamer, and even Viola Liuzzo.

We then dive into the heady days of Women’s Liberation, consciousness-raising groups that dredged up realizations that could not be ignored. She quotes Robin Morgan:

I couldn’t believe how angry I could become from deep down and way back, something like a five-thousand year buried anger. It makes you very sensitive–raw even– this consciousness. Everything from the verbal assault on the street, to a ‘well-meant’ sexist joke your husband tells, to the lower pay you get at work (for doing the same job a man would be paid more for), to television commercials, to rock song lyrics, to the pink or blue blanket they put on your infant in the hospital nursery… everything seems to barrage your aching brain, which was fewer and fewer protective defenses to screen such things out.

Women were finding their voices all around the country, and Collins notes a group of feminists at Iowa State who claimed to cast a spell on the university football stadium, to protest the amount of money spent on men’s sports. “The stadium which was under construction, did indeed collapse and had to be restarted. We just loved that, of course,” said Irene Talbott, past president of Des Moines NOW.

On the special circumstance of being a black woman, Shirley Chisholm (1st African-American woman elected to Congress in 1968) voiced her surprise that she was attacked more for being a woman than for being black:

As a black person I am no stranger to prejudice. But the truth is that in the political world I have been far more often discriminated against because I am a woman than because I am black. I knew I would encounter both anti-black and anti-feminist sentiments. What surprised me was the greater virulence of the sex discrimination.

Shamefully, my own generation grew up completely ignorant of the fight that had gone on before, luxuriating in the rights that the Second Wave had earned for us. It took me too many decades to shake the cobwebs off my eyes but I think I’m making up for lost time with my current deep dive.

Chelsea Girls

Chelsea Girls: A Novel

In my dream life, I meet up with Eileen Myles, Hito Steyerl, and Gail Scott for brunch once every few months to talk art, poetry, literature, life. In my real life, I simply clutch the pages that these women have bequeathed the world and give them free reign to romp in my mind, using their pitchforks to rouse my torpid thoughts. This 1994 gem from Myles shone some intellectual radiance my way on a rainy Sunday afternoon, making me wonder what percentage of strong women writing is done by ladies who love other ladies. Is it that straight women are usually caught up in domestic drudgery of raising a family or tamping down their own voice to please a dude? Evidence mounts and the mystery continues (see: Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Gail Scott, Eileen Myles, Gertrude Stein).
Myles’ prose can barely contain the poetry bursting out of it, making it a hugely enjoyable reading endeavor. The fragments, the forceful bits, swirled up a memory for me of Gail Scott’s My Paris which came a few years after Myles’ work, and both hat-tip Gertrude. This is Myles’ attempt at autobiography couched as fiction, dealing with her alcoholic father who dies when she’s a teenager, growing up in Boston, surviving as a lesbian poet in 1970s NYC. There’s a section in here about Marshfield, MA and Brant Rock, a few spots I know well from my childhood visits. Myles’ family stayed on Hancock Street, a few blocks from my grandma’s Lowell Ave. cottage. She mentions the old stone church, showering in the backyard, going to the beach every day. The world is truly a small place.

I Blame Dennis Hopper: And Other Stories from a Life Lived In and Out of the Movies

I Blame Dennis Hopper: And Other Stories from a Life Lived In and Out of the Movies

So much fun to read this– it feel like Illeana Douglas is simply speaking to you, her words tumbling directly out of mouth and into your ear. She writes like she talks, and gives you a glimpse behind some of the curtains of the projects she’s worked on over the years, all the while schooling you on film history and giving you a list of movies to track down and watch. From saving $0.99 by sneaking into drive-in movies in her friend’s car trunk to working as a cocktail waitress at age 14 at a musical dinner theater, from being poor and living with a bunch of hippies after her dad undergoes a “conversion” of sorts after watching Easy Rider (hence the blaming of Dennis Hopper) to learning by watching her grandfather on the set of Being There (specifically requested to be cast by Peter Sellers). The relationship with Marty Scorsese, the friendships with any number of dedicated artists, her whirlwind of survival and education behind and in front of the cameras. The epic lunch with Marlon Brando that turned into dinner, she/Brando/Marty all sitting on the floor of the hotel room telling stories. The halcyon days of being able to waltz into a studio with an independent project that had backing by Marty as an executive producer, and a name signed on like John Tuturro, and get funding. I had no idea she did the Supermarket series or four seasons of an IKEA-branded web series, and wonder if she felt pressure to include those projects in the book?

The Pursuit of Love

The Pursuit of Love

Terrific tale of a privileged upper-class family in England between the wars. Narrated by cousin Fanny with a lens on the boisterous Radlett family living in Alconleigh, their Gloucestershire estate. Fanny is abandoned by her own parents (mother nicknamed The Bolter, for her propensity for leaving her husbands) and raised by spinster Aunt Emily, who marries Davey in her 40s luckily to no ill-effect on Fanny. Most of the tale centers on Linda, the beautiful and energetic daughter of Aunt Sadie and Uncle Matthew. Linda marries disastrously, twice, but finds true love as she sits sobbing on her suitcase in Paris, having missed her train and out of funds for another. Linda has a daughter by her first husband, whom she hates and neglects, resulting in hilarious descriptions of the new mother rejecting her child, saying that the baby was crying because it caught sight of itself in the mirror. Her doctors warn her not to have another, that it will kill her, and she ignores this message when with her last lover, the French duke, Fabrice. This ultimately kills her, as expected, while the family is hunkered down avoiding the air raids in London.

Girl Waits With Gun

Girl Waits with Gun (A Kopp Sisters Novel)

The most delightful and entertaining fiction I’ve read in a while, with an ending that doesn’t drag and drag but that is ultimately perfect, you read to the last drop on the page. Constance Kopp is a thirty-something-year-old spinster living with her two sisters in the NJ countryside in 1914 when their lives are upended after a car crashes into their horse and buggy, shattering it. Henry Kauffman, nominally a silk manufacturer but mostly a hoodlum, is the driver of the reckless car and refuses the $50 invoice that Kopp sends to him to try and recoup her loses in the accident. Things only escalate from there, with bricks being thrown through the farmhouse windows tagged with threatening letters, and an attempt at burning down the house while they are away at the sea shore for one sister’s birthday.
Constance is a tall woman who stands up for herself, actually slamming Kaufmann into a wall at his dye factory when first delivering the invoice after being provoked. She arms herself with a handgun furnished by the sympathetic Sheriff Heath, and she and sister Norma take up target practice in their fields to improve their aim. Younger sister Fleurette (actually Constance’s daughter, but the unwed mother birthed her in secret and Fleurette was adopted by Constance’s mother and brought up among the family as such) is sixteen and a whiz at sewing up outfits and costumes for herself (a wink to her unknown father, the Singer salesman). Norma is older, focused on raising her carrier pigeons and working the farm. Brother Francis worries about his wayward sisters fending for themselves alone in the countryside.
I think I want to be Amy Stewart. She owns a bookstore in Eureka and pumps out historical fiction like this?
*****
Reco’d by The Maggie

Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life

What a relief it is to be able to pick up a book again after two days of being committed to activities that forbade it. I read Tomalin’s biography of Katherine Mansfield with my copy of Virginia Woolf’s Vol 1 Diary close at hand, to revel in Woolf’s dismissal of Mansfield’s hubby Murry and delight in Woolf’s enthusiasms about KM herself. (April 1919: “I had tea with Katherine yesterday & Murry sat there mud-colored & mute… The male atmosphere is disconcerting to me. Do they distrust one? despise one? & if so why do they sit on the whole length of one’s visit?” VW also includes an amusing anecdote about hearing Murry drone on and on about his own accomplishments but VW fearing she’d be late for dinner interjects a brief comment about her own novel, which sends Murry spiraling back to earth … “d’you know I must be going.”) VW and KM famously shared high opinions of each other’s work, and the biographer grants credit for VW’s shift away from the traditional novel structure to KM’s review of Night and Day, who called it “Jane Austen up-to-date.”
In the intro, Tomalin calls out

Her life was essentially a lonely one. She traveled too far outside the boundaries of accepted behavior for her family to feel she was one of them, but she did not find herself at home in any other group, nor did she make a family of her own. The particular stamp of her fiction is also the isolation in which each character dwells. Failure to understand or to be understood is endemic in Mansfield… Family life may have a complacent surface, but beneath it fear and cruelty stalk. In one of her most memorable images a good wife imagines giving her husband little packets with her feelings in them, and his surprise as he opens the last packet to find it full of hatred. Hatred was her favorite emotion.

Mansfield escaped her girlhood home of New Zealand and made her way bravely as a writer in London, although also supported by a modest allowance by her wealthy father. She lived large, free, and shacked up with various men. After becoming pregnant, she hastily married another man whom she then ignored and had an affair with another man who gave her gonorrhea, a disease that would eventually kill her through weakened immune system via tuberculosis. She inexplicably ends up with John Middleton Murry, a flop of a writer whom none of her talented friends ever really liked (including DH Lawrence). Upon the outbreak of war, Murry hurried to enlist, only to change his mind on the bus ride home, going then to his doctor to get an excuse about TB. All in all, this was a lovely biography of a writer whom we’ve all more or less turned our backs on this century.

Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond

Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond

Tipped off to this one by Graeber’s latest. Ames raises an interesting observation, connecting these one-off loner attacks on the workplace with the few slave revolts that occurred during America’s slavery heyday. So why didn’t more slaves rebel and why don’t more quiet downtrodden workers snap? We’re hardwired to adapt, and we get used to horrific conditions, preferring the devil we know to the one we don’t. Ames pinpoints the decline of the workplace to Reagan policies, people “crushed by the brutal new corporate culture that started to dominate under Reaganomics.”
These snapping loners are sometimes described by their peers as having had a great sense of humor and a cheerful attitude, both “tactics employed by all American at an unconscious even genetic level. Though many Americans privately know that one’s own smile is an attempt to put the other party at ease rather than a reflection of one’s own inner happiness, publicly, this is rarely admitted… These smiles are more like mammal calls used to identify the individual with the herd, to keep from being expelled. These calls that have to be repeated and repeated: you can’t just recite the backslapping platitudes once and you’re off the hook–as mammals, the office herd requires you to send out the correct marking signals every single day, every hour. It can be exhausting and humiliating… this cheerfulness, this desperate smile, is one of the most corrosive features to daily life in America, one of the great alienators–a key toxic ingredient in the cultural poison.” This reminds me of the Danforth comment about Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings, how he had the loudest laugh.
The book seems hastily cobbled together, in great need of a skilled editor to give it a more coherent shape, and the author admits that the project was shelved post 9/11 because no one wanted to read about work/school shootings (and they also declined somewhat). But a few years later, people were back to their old tricks, the bloody year of 2003 giving Ames impetus to finish this book and get it out in 2005. And so, 11 years later, in the midst of a presidential race gone bonkers, how fun to read:

What’s more appalling is that huge numbers of those left behind in the wealth transfer genuflected to the new plutocratic class, celebrating the most vicious of the über-CEOs. This craven CEO-worshiping is still going on today–middle Americans drag themselves home after work in order to gather around the television and watch billionaire asshole Donald Trump deliver his “you’re fired!” line to some desperate, stressed-out Smithers-abee. Entertainment is no longer about joy or escape. It’s about reliving life at the office, even if you just left the office fifteen minutes ago. It is about fetishizing the stress and creating and addiction to the stress, like a masochist to pain.

The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy

The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy

After multiple exposures to David Graeber’s writing, I now know what to expect-a long, meandering, somewhat in need of an editor diatribe on topics that I’m genuinely curious about. Thus I settled in to attack his latest, diving deeply into the interesting bits and floating through his frequent long-winded expositions that veer off course. I figure I should give this guy a break, him being hailed as the originator of the term “99%” and being one of the organizers of Occupy Wall Street and all. With the freedom to just ingest the parts that I was keen to devour, I enjoyed his exploration of bureaucracy in these three essays (with an “appendix” essay trashing Chris Nolan’s film, The Dark Knight Rises, which I didn’t realize was considered anti-Occupy propaganda).

He starts with charts on how often the words “bureaucracy”, “paperwork”, and “performance review” were used in English language books over the last 150 years, the kind of hockey stick charts that startups and businesses of all kinds drool over, but in this case shudderingly-so. We’ve just become accustomed to the morass of paperwork that is required for daily life now. Graeber starts the collection with a personal story about his encounter with the bureaucracy surrounding getting his mother onto Medicaid and gaining control of her bank account after she’d been debilitated by a series of strokes. “Is this what ordinary life, for most people, is really like? Running around feeling like an idiot all day? Being somehow put in a position where one actually does end up acting like an idiot?” He points out that Americans are really good at bureaucracy (but embarrassed to be so) while the British are proud not to be, tracing this back to the fact that the U.S. is really “a German country that, owing to an early twentieth century rivalry, refuses to recognize itself as such. Despite the use of the English language there are far more Americans of German descent than English. Germany in contrast is a country quite proud of its efficiency in matters bureaucratic…”

Continuing with the theme of Germany, Graeber explores the role that the post office played in creating bureaucracy, one of the “first attempts to apply top-down, military forms of organization to the public good.” I didn’t realize the “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” quote originated with Herodotus about the Persian imperial messengers (Histories, 8.98). Graeber then connects us to Mark Ames’ book, Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond (added to the queue!), where he makes the connection that these “acts of inexplicable individual rage and madness–severed from any consideration of the systematic humiliations that always seem to set them off–bears an uncanny resemblance to teh way the nineteenth-century press treated slave revolts.”

I appreciated his frequent hat-tipping to readings of feminist literature, admitting, “When I first framed this problem, I wasn’t even aware of this body of literature, though my argument had clearly been indirectly influenced by it– it was only the intervention of a feminist friend that put me on to where many of these ideas were actually coming from.” A lot of Graeber’s juicy bits are hidden away in the footnotes… 172 of them to be exact.

Another surprising insight– police are bureaucrats with guns. Essentially they’re there to enforce the rules, and whenever they’re involved, there’s a lot of paperwork to fill out.

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir

Fans of Sleater-Kinney will love this book. Carrie Brownstein details the pre-band days, growing up in Redmond Washington before it became synonymous with Microsoft, her early hijinx, headed to college but dreaming of Olympia where the SCENE was, dropping out and working a sandwich cart at an office park while she bided her time to transfer to Evergreen College in Oly. Excruciatingly detailed list of all the bands she loved and saw and wished she was, and then the emergence of Sleater-Kinney, its decade of rock, its demise and then after another ten years, its rising from the ashes for another tour. I suppose I mostly enjoyed this as a look inside someone else’s life that existed on roughly the same planes as mine did, although I was more clueless about everything (music, art, life) than Brownstein. It is heartening to read about the strained and distant relationship she has with her mother, but not letting that stop her own pursuit of happiness/dreams/goals. Her dad comes out as gay a few years after he reads about her relationship with her bandmate, echoes of Alison Bechdel’s family but minus the death. A thousand times better than Kim Gordon’s terrible book, on par with Patti Smith’s writing efforts.

Television

Television

This novel by Jean-Philippe has a stellar first sentence: “I quit watching television.” The rest of the book fluctuates to sometimes match this greatness, or to dip to lows of the narrator talking about his balls, “my hand cradling the family jewels, serenely eating a chicken leg with mayonnaise.” A sometimes interesting look at the procrastination of an author, working up the courage to write a few sentences for a project he’s gotten a grant to work on over the summer when his wife & kid are vacationing in Italy. The wife is preggers and he creepily insists on talking about his children, plural, as if the unborn is already flouncing around. He is a master time waster, getting sucked into weeks of watching tennis matches before deciding to quit watching TV, then finds other ways to meander away the days, getting sunburned in the park, swimming laps, sitting peacefully in museums, washing the glass on his French doors. Anything but work. His main struggle that he can’t get over is trying to decide what to call his main character, Titian (the painter).

Recently I’d even caught myself bringing up my project on my own initiative, at parties or dinners at home, sometimes with such enthusiasm that I had to wonder if in the end it wasn’t myself I was trying to convince of its interest, and not my unfortunate audience. Once again, it seemed, I was discovering the truth of the rule, a rule I’d never explicitly formulated to myself, but whose veracity I’d quite often sensed in a vague sort of way, which was that the chances of seeing an idea through to completion are inversely proportional to the time you’ve spent talking about it beforehand. For the simple reason, it seemed to me, that if you’ve already extracted all the pleasure from the potential joys of a project before you’ve begun it, there remain, by the time you get down to it, only the miseries of the act of creation, its burdens, its labors.

He sits in the park, naked, convinced that this too was ‘working’, “this gradual, progressive opening of the mind, this steady sharpening of the senses? And if not, wasn’t it at least every bit as gratifying?” “If your goal is to write, not writing is surely at least as important as writing.” Interspersed with the procrastination and justification for it, he pokes at the television addiction he’s conquered, noting that it continues unabated all around him… “out in the streets, in the cafes, in the buses and subways, on the radio, in the offices, in every conversation the subject was never anything other than television, as if the very basis of conversation, its single visceral material, had become television…” He also is recruited to water his neighbors’ extensive plant collection and promptly forgets for three weeks, then does a few last minute attempts to remedy, putting the fern in the refrigerator which later prompts a strange scene when he helps them return with their luggage, remembers the fern, and locks himself in the bathroom to climb out the window into their kitchen and remove the fern but leaving the bathroom locked from inside.

The Unfair Sex: The Expose of the Human Male for Young Women of All Ages

A quaint book from 1953 by (pseudonym for unknown writer), and the first edition copy I had included cutesy illustrations by Roy Doty. The author basically says Listen up ladies, here’s how guys are going to trick you to get into your pants, and here’s how to hold out for marriage. And in the 1950s, things were quite different– men were actually necessary appendages because women wouldn’t enter certain places without an escort, “either by edict of law or social precedent (bars, certain night clubs, burlesque shows, etc.)” There’s one semi-funny chapter in an otherwise outdated publication that simply is too strange to even be amusing 60 years later. Chapter 19: how to take the pleasure out of it for him details how to make men suffer as punishment when you find that you’ve been tricked. “A well-executed retaliation will serve to forestall or counteract the morning-after dejection, for you will wake up with the comforting knowledge that you have made him miserable, too.” So lull him into a false sense of security, then yawn, look at your watch, start to ignore him. “If you can manage it, the ultimate insult is to ridicule him. Laugh disparagingly at anything he does or says. Tell him with amused condescension that he needs a little more experience, or a little more talent, or a little more something–you know not what, but his embraces leave you cold. What more devastating accusation can be made against a man? And even if it is not true, you have planted in his mind the fear that perhaps it is. You have made him believe that in your eyes he looks ridiculous–and he will kick himself many times, which is a very nice substitute for kicking him yourself.” She then goes on to list a few ideas on how to make a man miserable, including my favorite: Give him gifts of things way too big (if he’s a small guy, then laugh and say you never realized he was so little) or way too small (if he’s pudgy).