Growing Up

I came to the big city. I had a job. My father got it for me, and I was just married. You might say that I had my husband to comfort me and stuff, but in truth, he really didn’t. He was away, and then he came back, then he went away, then he went to India, which he loved. I probably would have loved it too, but I didn’t have the option. So anyway, I got married, and I left for my honeymoon as it were, and I could see that my father, who was sort of seeing me off, was terribly worried, but I didn’t realize that Peattie hadn’t made any provision for me really. He got me the key to this apartment, which it so happened that there was probably some difficulty about that too.

All this time we were living in this odd arrangement where we had the use of an apartment that didn’t have much in it, and I used to get up every day and climb down a ladder to get the breakfast. Anyway, there we were

I took the coach [train] down to Washington. It was pretty jumbly because it was wartime [WWII]. I slept curled up on a folding table, a card table, in the coach, and the guy on the next table was stroking my ankle the whole way. That was quite pleasing. It was just one of the peculiarities of train travel in those days. Those were the days it was.

So I got to this apartment, and I had a key! I don’t remember how I got the key, if Peattie had mailed it to me or what, but in some manner he had gotten me the key and so I let myself in, and there I was. And it was an actual apartment. We’d been living in the peculiar way in Cabin John.

But it wasn’t even an anonymous apartment. It was the apartment, actually, of this couple Peattie knew who worked at the Map Service. They had gone off, they’d departed. That was a whole set of complications. There were no apartments because of the war. Nobody could get anything. It was absolutely a triumph to have an apartment. Although it didn’t trickle down too well, I had the apartment, I had the key.

Peattie had been getting ready to paint the apartment, but he didn’t get so far as to paint it. He enrolled in this thing [AFS] and he was gone off, and I had the apartment, which I must say was quite pleasing after the peculiarities of life in Cabin John, and it turned out that Peattie had left a gallon of paint, and he had pulled everything out of the kitchen to be ready to paint, but that was as far as he’d gone.

It was the saddest I’d ever been. I was terribly lonesome. I wanted somebody to greet me, to give me a big hug. If I had known anybody at all, I would certainly have rung them up and said “Let’s go have coffee” but I didn’t. So I just stood there for a while sort of with my finger in my mouth, and then I pulled myself together and got ready to paint, and I guess I began painting.

I was like a newborn babe. I didn’t have ambitions, I didn’t have plans, I didn’t have experiences you could replicate…. I was just a beginning person.

It was a moment of growing up. It was just me, and there wasn’t going to be anybody else. I wasn’t mad at Peattie, either. I just felt like there wasn’t anybody in the world I could reach out to, and there wasn’t.

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Memory

Well, Roaring Brook:

The main thing you have to understand, and it’s hard to understand in the present circumstances, is that there was a Roaring Brook. There was this summer resort, and the same set of families went there every summer, and they lived in a very repetitive way. There was a dock from which you could swim, but that was at the end of a long boardwalk.  So if you wanted to swim, you went and peddled along, boom bam boom bum down the boardwalk, and when you got down there, if you still had the courage you could swim. [in lake Michigan]

So it was not a sort of an intimate affair in any case, but it was sort of repetitive. In that sense it was traditional. You couldn’t just have people popping in and out.

There were beach picnics, and then, if you weren’t on the beach, you could take sandwiches in your pocket, and the picnic was wherever you wanted to be. They developed a very different format. The beach picnic was dominated by family leaders who declared the menu and who made the sandwiches, but it wasn’t just sandwiches, it was all kinds of stuff.  It was big baskets, lots of stuff that you got to eat at the beach picnic. But of course there were splinter groups to which naturally I belonged, which would forgo the pleasures of these massive collectivist things, and take their sandwiches to wherever. You went along the railroad track with your sandwiches in your pocket or wherever you cared to carry them, and there you got into the back country, which was berry bushes and weeds and it was sort of scruffuly.

But if you were in the collectivist picnic you went with a party of people and big picnic baskets. Those were adult picnics. Where actual kids fit in there I haven’t the least idea.

[You remembered the prickliness] I remember it very well, and I liked that it had this prickly backcountry. In fact, there were people living in a very backcountry way there. They didn’t enter into the Roaring Brook culture. The Roaring Brook culture was represented in large houses.

There weren’t that many, but there were a certain number. They were people who weren’t necessarily farming a lot. They were backwoodsy types. I met them, but I didn’t really interact with them a lot.

I’m trying to bring back a memory which I don’t have, but it’s there somewhere, of a time when I got stranded or was in need for some reason and was rescued by one of these lower-grade families and remembering what it was like to be in their house – and they had a house- but it was so bare, so deficient, and I remember being in their house, but I can’t bring up more than that. I don’t remember the circumstances or what they did, but I do remember the experience of being taken care of by this family which had no reason to owe us a nickel.

So they weren’t opposing groups, but on the other hand we didn’t belong to that group either.  You could always go pick berries and hang out there in this scruffy backcountry terrain.  On one of these occasions grandpa got lost out there berry-picking; there was no grand plan that encompassed him. There were these different groups that to some extent overlapped, but not too godamn much.

[why do you think that you remember this so well?]  It’s so physical: the berry bushes, the grass, the thin soil…. Even the recollection of those people is very physical.  There was some occasion on which, I don’t remember why, I needed to be rescued, or I called out to rescuers, but in any case what I remember about it is the very thin place they lived. The house was very thin, the paint was very thin; it was a whole different physical universe. I didn’t make me change my allegiance or anything like that. Maybe if I’d had Bernie Sanders around explaining the whole thing, but as it was……

[but you still remember it] Yes, I remember it very much! The sandy soil, the berry bushes, the boardwalk going down to the shore, which was a very physical experience too, clonk, clonk all the way…The sound was important. The boardwalk certainly was the access to the whole experience.

The worlds were very different from each other, but they were both there. They were there in their physical presence, and the boardwalk world had its physical presence – the boardwalk banged your foot when you walked on there, but it didn’t just disappear because it was a different world, it had its own being.

We didn’t interact that much, because what did we have to interact about? And the worlds were discontinuous. On Memorial Day, as they say, the music stopped. We of the boardwalk world just adored this because the other world became available to us. We could go up and down picking the flowers and so on. After the owners had gone, the summer people decamped. Once they had decamped, it became our terrain, we could take it over.  And we did.

It’s a memory of youth. “divino tesoro ya te vas!”

It was Summer. That was one of the beauties of it, was the seasonality of it. It was summer. It’s sensual, it’s warm, it’s physically warm, and prickly.  I remember the berry bushes as prickly. Picking berries, getting pricked, losing grandpa, these are all not particularly exciting intense memories; they are just what comes up, and it comes up en masse, with the heat and the scratches, and all the physical details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Public Garden

1

I’ve never in my life before gone to a park that much, and I do, and it’s not just an ordinary park.
The Public Garden is an antique in the middle of Boston. Why do I like it so much? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.

I’m interested in the Public Garden because in the first place it’s very nice, and in the second place I think it’s maintained by the fact that it’s so unmodern. It’s not the sort of garden I would design myself, but on the other hand, going around today, for instance, I realized what a gift to me it is to have this thing in place, and it’s self-maintaining in large part because of its design, because of its very assertive old-fashioned design, and nobody would interfere with that.

3

I went through myself an epoch of madness for design, for a different kind of design, the modern thing, I never saw that as an attractive movement, but at any rate it had its oomph, it was part of the modern thing, but it didn’t self-maintain, because in fact nobody loved it. Except architects. Isn’t that true? I just know it. Architects liked it because it was anti-antique. It was modern. It was all the things that people aren’t. People didn’t rush to its defense, only other architects.

I was never mad for modern buildings. But I entered all that as a form of political struggle. I thought that the whole modern building was just a way of capturing land at the expense of people who were using it and didn’t have the money or the chutzpah to grab the land themselves.

I wasn’t interested in architecture, and my lack of interest in architecture was abetted by the fact that architecture that was in at the period was aggressively unattractive. It wasn’t something you would grow to love. It was a movement in favor of.. what was it in favor of? I don’t know.

The Public Gardens provides for me what I really like which is a verdant place.

2

The reason I feel it’s not like an ordinary park is because it has its own agenda which is very established. You’re not invited to partake of it; you’re not encouraged to play volleyball on the grass and things like that, which sensible democratic American parks do. That way they become spaces in which volleyball and other activities can take place. And that’s a noble idea. I mean, it’s not just a childish idea that people should have a chance to do things they really want to do. It goes very much into ideas of democratic government and so on, but this particular park has never, I believe, taken any notice of that sort of thing.

witch hazel They just continue to maintain it, and they don’t just maintain it, they add to it by those marvelous trees that I was so carried away by that I was thrilled when I saw where you could buy one. Then I thought “This is ridiculous, the Public Garden has a perfectly wonderful Witch Hazel, and they take care of it! Why should I even pay any attention. Let them do it! And I’ll come and admire it”

Well, this must not be the whole story, because after all The Public Garden is a big chunk of real estate in the middle of Boston, it does have tax money going into it.

It’s got its own agenda, and I think that part of that is wrapped up in its being a period agenda. It’s a park not like you would design today; it’s a park like you would design a century ago. That’s what they did, and that’s what they keep doing. And the real miracle is that they haven’t been assaulted and defeated by a demand for volleyball courts.

4

 

Relocation

 

I have two topics: one topic is what I was learning being a ghostwriter in the War Relocation Authority. In the other I’ll give you the outlines of the Japanese story.

The Japanese were a not very huge minority and they were not dispersed around, they were located on the West coast. Thus came about that General DeWitt, who was the head of the western Defense Command, he asked that all Japanese should be gotten off the West Coast, because no doubt they would be signaling to their cohorts, and Japanese invaders and stuff, and would be definitely a peril to have around. He didn’t provide what they should do with them in the meantime, which did sort of make a problem, if you took it as a problem, which he didn’t, he just said they should go. Most of the people who had the job were not that keen on the Jap Menace. General DeWitt was maybe not unique, but not common in this respect.

Before General DeWitt hit his stride they had already picked up all the people that the FBI had a book on. They had some certain number of Japanese who they already were watching. They were interned.  They picked them up right away.                                                                                                                                      
So meanwhile they have General DeWitt saying “they all have to get off the West Coast” and they’ve had the FBI picking up all the people on their list, and they have all these people that, well, they couldn’t be on the West Coast, because General DeWitt says no.

There must have been all kinds of fancy footwork there in the government agencies.

How they decided what to do about it I don’t know, but what they did do, was to get a nice liberal administrator type to be in charge of doing something about them. And so they set up a War Relocation Authority which was an entity which was set up to do something about these Japanese, and it was run by this guy named Dillon Myer who was a very nice administrator, respected by all, probably even by general DeWitt, who knows? Nobody interviewed him. He was left behind on the West Coast gnashing his teeth. Meanwhile, in a manner which I don’t know how he did it, Dillon Myer managed to get hold of various military installations and stuff, which weren’t being occupied. So he got this set of camps which were all sort of isolated in the desert hither and yon and he took them over and made them into these relocation centers; and trying not to send numbers more than they could get into these barracks, they shipped these Japanese off to these relocation centers.

I don’t think that most people saw the point; I don’t think it even came to their attention. They had these little farms out there in the northwest.  It wasn’t pressure from the neighbors; it was General DeWitt.  He was just a crank, and being a General, he could just crank away.

The Japanese were not Americanized enough to make a real fuss when they should have.

That was all before I got on the scene.  Meanwhile, in a terribly sub-story, I am there, in Washington, looking for a job. So my father, who was always good for this sort of thing, went to Dillon Myer, and said “Have you got any kind of job for my daughter Lisa?”  And Dillon Myer, who always appeared as a good fellow, said “Oh, sure, sure, sure” and so he gave me a job, but nobody was very clear what it was going to be.  But anyway, I had a job, and what it turned out to be was to clip the news and keep track of what the newspapers were saying about the Japanese, and all that.  You’ll think this is not a job, and it wasn’t much of a job, but that’s what it was, and actually I sort of enjoyed it. I wrote every day, and culled the newspapers, and wrote a summary what was being said about the Japanese.  Not the Relocation Authority, but the Japanese-Americans – something like that. I don’t know what my mandate was, it wasn’t very clear, but anyhow, it was pretty simpleminded, and I had fun. Everyday I would go through the papers and clip the relevant things and write a little summary of what the news of the day was on the Japanese-American front. This is not either the FBI or General DeWitt or other people; it was just all going on there in Washington.

The guy that they fingered to do something about the Japanese-Americans was a very nice guy, and so he found some very nice person who was trying to make something good happen out of all this, only now he had not just a bunch of Japanese of all ages who were precluded from being on the West Coast, now he had these people deployed in I think it was eight or ten military bases of maximum unattractiveness – they had running water, but you couldn’t say much more for them. He wanted to do something nice for them. The best account of that is the report on community government in the War Relocation Authority by a man named Solon Kimball, in which he pointed out that no matter the best will in the world and no matter how much experience you had, teaching square dancing really wouldn’t work as long as people were locked up; they weren’t going to feel happy and convivial. And they wanted to have fun too, but on the other hand they weren’t having too much fun fighting the administration.  They tried to be convivial, and to a certain degree they were convivial, because there they were, and they needed to do something.

At first the agency was really stymied as to what to do with these folks, besides square dancing, but as I say, that didn’t seem to fill the bill. And then it dawned on them….. no, it didn’t just dawn on them, the sugar-beet growers were crazy for labor, they had no one to do their sugar-beet stuff, and so they realized here were all these guys locked up, and with nothing better to do than square dancing, so they demanded that these guys be turned loose to work in the sugar beets and they did that, and it was really a revelation, because once the got out there in the sugar beets, they realized there was a labor shortage in general, it was wartime and they were running out of people to all kinds of things, and here were these people who were neat, clean, and well-behaved, for the most part.

And so as the sugar-beet growers made their wishes known, the agency realized that was the secret, there was a labor shortage, let’s get these guys out and get them jobs. And so the War Relocation Authority began acting as a labor placement thing. They would get requests from hither and yon, (and many of them were from good-willy agencies, Quaker types, who were wanting to do something for the poor Japanese) and anyhow, you could find jobs all over the place.  And so it became a job placement agency and it began placing people around. They couldn’t place everybody, because some were old and infirm and some were infants in arms, but basically being as the times were as they were, you could pretty much place most people.

It was pointed out afterwards in various reports (it might have been in Solon Kimball’s report) on the whole experience that although they had suffered a no doubt a maximal violation of all their civil rights and everything there was some sunny side to the whole thing, which was that they were now able to lead their own adult lives without dragging their parents around. The parents were being cared for by the WRA.  I don’t think it was planned like that, but it worked out like that. It was a very aged, decorous culture, but they could be decorous as you like but nothing said they had to have their parents with them. In fact they were getting jobs all over the place, and they didn’t have to drag their parents with them, and the parents were not mad to be dragged with them either, I don’t think.

But this was all taking place outside of Washington.

I had absolutely nothing to do with the Japanese, but I began writing speeches and ghost-writing articles and letters.  Writing letters you wouldn’t think would be much of a gig, but I was very good at it. My favorite was Harold Ickes – he wouldn’t sign anything that was more than a page and he had notably terse diction. They were all on the WRA and mostly to do with the Japanese and I got used to quoting the same shit all the time, you know: there’s this unit in the 44nd combat battalion (they came from Hawaii, where things were rather different, they were much more open-minded) and they are doing very, very well, and I would write this hortatory stuff. I had fun. And I was learning to be a ghostwriter, but learning to be a ghostwriter, you learn to get some notion of what has to be said by somebody. You get a feeling for the world of policy which is extremely murky.

One thing you have to say for a bureaucracy: it has to bake itself down into skills, so you portion the things to be done into skills, and my specific skill turned out to be writing. In that, it succeeded marvelously; it gave me a post. That was a good period in my life, and one of the main things was discovering that I could do something extremely well. That’s a very wonderful feeling, and particularly for a young person. It doesn’t have to be a terribly important thing.

Anyway, that’s what I did. I was a ghostwriter. I went around doing it, and I was extremely good at it. Even Harold Ickes thought I was fabulous.

There it was – I was in the war, but I had nothing to do with the war in a real sense, I was doing all this stuff on the margins.

At the end of the war, the Japanese-Americans were able to go back to the West Coast, but most of them didn’t. They had found better jobs. [And the neighbors had taken their stuff, you said] I think so. No, they didn’t reinstate their former lives, they didn’t own that land, and the stuff had sort of disappeared. By this time they had moved on to sort of members of the middle class of America. They were doing all kinds of things. The whole episode was very peculiar.

 

Carnival in Trinidad

[my comments are in brackets – Sara] {and mine are in curly brackets – Miranda}

It seemed obvious that I would go by the ordinary, the smugglers’ route, because I was right there. I was looking at the [Orinoco] river every day, and at boats going up and down it and stuff, so I would have felt like a fool to go and get in a plane, which was the alternative, it would have seemed totally stupid. Then there was the common-placeness of the whole operation; they had intercepted a shipment of yoyos that was being transported by this watery system. It just went to show that there was nothing special about it, it was common-place. I wish I could remember who identified the pension to me. They probably made the contact and all that. [It had to have been arranged by somebody who knew about it; you couldn’t call around, as there was no phone, and naturally no internet.] But I don’t. One of the charms of the whole experience is that I had a contact that that others didn’t have. It made my separation from the rest of the crew, the members of the Loyd Rodwin team, clear because the other consultants were a mass who defined themselves as consultants, outsiders, whereas I had my house, I knew the river; it gave me a special feeling. So I arranged the launcha, and as I remember, when Miranda saw this boat, she said “No! No!” She rejected it as inadequate. But she got on.{It was a dugout canoe with an outboard motor on it} [There was this Trinidadian woman] She was in the boat too. I don’t remember if she was Trinidadian or what, but she was not one of us, but she already had a place in the boat. A good thing, too, because it rained, and all that, and she was very friendly and nice. [she held a machete in her lap] Yes, she was afraid of us. They stopped a few places. They weren’t terrified. They were aware that they were illegal. [We stopped at an Indian village to drop off a gas barrel. They gave us a look] I don’t remember that. That should get into the story, but I don’t remember enough to do anything with it. We went down to the delta. It did take quite a while. The guy was footling around in the delta. He didn’t know his way around there very much. {I remember passing some people on the riverbank who had spears. That impressed me very much – I knew we were in a very wild place – M} So when we got down there, we were sort of wandering around there in a not very efficient way, because he didn’t know where to go. {We were lost! It was obvious but none of the grownups wanted to admit it. And we kept getting stuck on sandbanks and people would have to get out and push off, you could hear the caimans in the water. Finally we tied up to a tree to wait for the moon to rise and Julia got bitten by an army ant, they were all over the tree – M} [eventually, after dark, we came to a bay] And that’s where I don’t remember the details. [The bay was phosphorescent, all glittering! We were trailing our hands in the water, and the guy, I think the only time he spoke to us, told us to put our hands back in the boat, and we said “why?” and he said “because of the poisonous snakes.” And we put our hands back in the boat.] They were just trying to terrorize you. Anyway, he finally let us off, he got located at an interim place which was a structure on poles, it was out in the water on poles. We were waiting for the next ride to come, and it took a while. And I remember it as quite romantic. There were all these heaps of stuff. It was a working place, it was not a house, it was a waystation. It had piles of stuff. I don’t think that I had provided very well for you kids [Sara, 11-12, Miranda, 6? Julia 4?] {It was after Daddy died so it would have been end of 1963 I think. I would have been 8, Julia 6, Sara 12 –  M}. But they had something. They had water, and you weren’t totally stranded, but in fact if I had been a sensible mother, I would have packed picnic lunches for everybody, but I didn’t. {We did get sandwiches somewhere along the way though, at some little store – M} Anyway, I took a little nap on a pile of dried fish, I do remember that, the dried fish is what was on offer for something to sleep on. And so then we got in this other boat, and went to Trinidad. [It was some sort of dory, like a rowboat, but with a motor.] It had a motor, but it wasn’t a very big boat, it wasn’t a very impressive boat, but it was just… [the waves were big] They were horrendous, terrifying! [The Mouth of the Dragon] That’s where we were going, where we were crossing to Trinidad. [the waves come around both sides of the island and meet the orinoco river flow together] The waves were right over your head, they were horrible. [Julia got very cold] It was horrendous, and I wasn’t providing for people properly at all. “This person shouldn’t be allowed to have children; These children should be taken away by the State!” I just thought that! I was not being a responsible parent. [were the waves really that big?] I have this picture, too, of these curling waves, way up there….yes, they really were tall curling waves like in a cartoon. It was so cold. Being there in the tropics, you wouldn’t think you’d be cold, but I remember that was the leading thing, was that you kids were dying with the cold, and it was wet, there was a piece of plastic to put over you, or something like that, but it wasn’t nearly sufficient. That, I remember, was what sort of defined the experience. So we finally arrived in Trinidad. But we didn’t arrive right in Trinidad as I had thought. When we got to the beach it was not like that. First of all, they wouldn’t come on shore, they were smugglers, and they didn’t feel set up to come on shore, they didn’t have a dock or anything, so what they did was to hover slightly off-shore so that we could wade in. Well, it was easier the taller you were, but I don’t think for the kids it was optimum. You kids, I don’t know how you managed; if you swam, or just clung on… it must have been really up on you! So you’re off shore, you’re sort of wading around there, the water is up to your neck, that was the situation. And then when you got on shore, floundering through the water, there were all these reefs and so on under the water, there was not salvation, When we got onto shore, and the road and so on was right up there, but right up there was up a very high hill. You could walk up it, but it wasn’t easy. There were some kinds of sand flies. You guys ended up slogging up the beach being bitten by sand flies. It was not an auspicious arrival. I don’t know how you stood it. But this woman who shared the boat with us continued to be extremely helpful. For one thing, she went and got a cab. So she continued to be an abettor. I suppose eventually I would somehow have hailed a cab, but I certainly wasn’t as good at all this stuff as she was. She just was used to making this trip, she’d done it lots of times before. However, I had this lodging lined up, and the cab took us to the place, and there I remember dusting ourselves off, and everybody in the pension was quite clear how we had come, because of, I don’t know, all the sand and bruises. We went to the pension and I don’t remember anything after that, except following the bands, and how gorgeous it was, and how happy I was, and how everyone seemed to be perfectly happy. Carnival was going on. What Carnival consisted of [in 1961?], was bands. And the bands were wonderful, and there was a general atmosphere of festivity. And the activity consisted of following the bands around, and you couldn’t ask for more, I mean it was simply wonderful. I don’t know what you kids thought of the bands, but I think you fell into the mood. It was simply a wonder. [and when we went back it was fine] Yes, we realized what it was, I got everybody cheap plastic raincoats, and sandwiches. I could have done that before, but I didn’t know to do it. [when we got back, Chris was there] Yes, his school had refused to set him loose to go with us. He had just walked away. [He had heard that they often killed people and threw them in the river] Anyway, it was a most marvelous occasion. It was wonderful being there, in Trinidad, but the trip was wonderful, going down the river. The river is a whole world, things fly along in it, there are trees and birds, I mean the whole time was mysterious and wonderful. I don’t know if I knew it then, but I found out later that was the old terrain of Sir Walter Raleigh. Let’s not forget that Sir Walter Raleigh was carried away by the same river, by this place, by the whole thing, and after all, he was used to sophisticated activities in the city and all that.

Mary Lou

marylou

It’s all more complicated than people think.

It’s a long story, but then all stories about people are long, because they keep getting retold. If I told this story ten years from now (well, I won’t be around, but had it been the case that I were) I’d tell it differently.  I don’t know how differently I would have told it ten years ago.  I didn’t have the sexualized political categories we have now. So the question of whether she was or wasn’t or whether I was or wasn’t wouldn’t have arisen because we wouldn’t have been able to say whether we were or not.

Sexual categorization seems to have swept the field. People are either this, that or the other, and if they won’t admit what they are, they’re just not admitting it. So I just want to present my relationship with Mary Lou as an example in point

I don’t know exactly how old I was when we met, but I think I was still in primary school, the Lab School, or walking home. Anyway; we lived in the same neighborhood.  We went to college together, so to speak.  We had already been close friends for years.  When we went to Swarthmore, we went together, and they roomed us together, so we were definitely a couple. But in those days we thought of ourselves and were thought of by Swarthmore College and other bodies, as a couple of friends, and we were a couple of friends, but nowadays we would have been slotted into a totally different category.

I really think that it’s a quite different system of categorization, now.  Maybe it’s not totally different, but it’s different enough to make a difference. For one thing, it never occurred to me, or, I think, to Marylou, to see ourselves as part of some lesbian category. We thought of ourselves as long-term, very deeply bonded, friends. Friendship was a known, and it was a category you could use. I don’t know what we would have done now, but I think the experience would have been quite different.

I was trying to think about how the modern system, which is very sexualized, would have treated it, and here is the only example I can think of:  I can remember somebody telling me, because I wasn’t there, that when they were going to elect somebody to be the head of the student union, while Mary Lou was out of the room, and they made that point, because it made a difference, this person, whoever it was, I don’t know who or what gender it was, said “Do we really want one of those to be representing us?” But they voted her the job.

It’s certainly true that I had general principles or preferences which we would now describe as lesbian.  That is, mostly I thought that women, not women but girls, were the people who were frilly.  I had no respect for them! I thought of my opinions not so much as preferences as judgments. I liked intellectual people who weren’t into all that frilly stuff, and I think that was different then than it is now.

I’m trying to think what other people I cared about when I was a kid.  I did have a male friend I valued a lot. His family, who also were in the university circle, had a house out on the dunes, and he was fascinated by mosses and bryophytes, and liked to photograph them. It was his sort of intellectual drive that I found attractive. He was the only male that I remember from that period, and I was very close to him, too.

But Mary Lou, as I say, I had known her the longest, but also, I just really did love her. I don’t know whether she loved me, but it didn’t matter, we had all this history. It was like a sister. It was a long-term, deep intellectually-based relationship. It was a marvelous friendship.

I think that now we would have had to redefine it.  I don’t know what it would have been like. The only experience I have that comes to mind in trying to answer that question is that when feminists really hit their stride, there was a big push to have the university recognize feminist roles. And the feminists, who of course were all women, (there may have been a man in there, but I never noticed one) they became very urgent that I should go for their goals, and respect women’s claims to get better promotion, and stuff like that. I was very irked by this, because my feeling was that here I’d been slogging along doing my thing all these years, and all of a sudden these people much younger than I was, and without half the experience, were coming around and telling me how I should feel about things. It irked the hell out of me.

It didn’t hold us up in any way, we both got married, and it didn’t appear to be a problem, I just don’t know what difference it makes to have the modern nomenclature, which sounds much more physical.  The “Boston marriage” was not a physical category It was exactly like those ladies that I never gave any term to, that I lived in the same building with. I don’t know what their feelings were about each other – no way to ask now. I know that nobody ever pointed them out, nobody described them as being lesbians. No, in fact I know that there was a term in use: “a Boston marriage”, which was a long-term relationship of two women. It seemed particularly Bostonian, sort of stiff and upright.

You might say that it’s a gain in freedom, that sexuality becomes a matter of choice, and so on and so on, but also it means that all kinds of relationships, all of which were in some way sexualized no doubt, the human being being what it is, they all become re-slotted into that set of categories.

If I was a biological lesbian, it would have been built around the notion of intellect as the central defining thing, and of women being continually frittering their time away doing their hair, and things like that, I don’t want to be one of them.

It wasn’t women in general, it was Mary Lou, but hey, she was my best friend, she was my best friend from sixth grade, or whenever it was. Of the people I’ve known in my life, she’s still one I have enormous respect for. Smart, workmanlike, ……. When she went into politics, people said that they couldn’t get anyone to run against her – it would be death to run against Mary Lou. So what she did was to expand and go into environmental issues.  She became the point person for environmental stuff. I followed the point of view, but I didn’t work with her or anything. I had kids to look after – she had kids too.  It was just a very solid friendship.  It lasted for years, and it was so clear that when we went to Swarthmore, they didn’t even ask if we should room together, they just sort of assumed we would.

I think that we also benefited by the primitive nature of political thinking in those days, that nobody ever imagined that marriage would be competitive. Her marrying Ray wasn’t competitive, it was just a very special relationship which was very intellectual. I wasn’t competitive with Ray, or vice versa.

Friendship! Who thinks about friendship any more – it’s out of style.

There is not a good science of human sentiment in any case; we say it’s not about sex, it’s about sentiment, but what is sentiment? Who knows where they come from?

Anyway, I get along perfectly well without Mary Lou, but I could say I miss her to this day.

Pets in the City

One of the main reasons that people have dogs in the city is as a companion animal, but it also makes it possible to start up conversations with your neighbors.  They are all walking their dogs.

The dog I saw today was an extremely fluffy white dog.  It had this fresh-from-the-woolite look. This dog looked like an extremely pricy white dog.  They must wash it every day.

I guess that’s sort of the first scene you would want to establish if you were thinking about pets in the city.  You don’t want to think of it as just an owner and pet relationship.  It’s an owner and pet and a social world in which the pet is a point.

At certain hours there are large numbers of dogs being walked and then it’s not quite so good for conversation, but when there are just a few, it gives them a way to start a conversation. You can do it with a baby, too, but a baby is quite a bit more work. Obviously dogs and cats are very different in this respect, because the dog is always typecast as the faithful companion.  Cats are not the faithful companion, that’s not them. Cats are just a quiet and manageable animal you can have, and have it sit in your lap, but the dog is quite a social animal for you, and it becomes part of your general social pattern.

I think there is a whole world of pets that I haven’t really thought about.  We know that the place is overrun with ferrets, [there are always many in the shelters] because ferrets appear to be and easy-to-manage pet, and so people get them, and then they don’t stick somehow.  You would think that it’s probably somewhat self-curing, that is that if enough people get ferrets, then ferrets will be a neighborhood topic of conversation, but you would have to have a lot of ferrets for that.

People also have pigeons, carrier pigeons, at least they used to.  I remember when Peattie was living on the Lower East Side, he said that all the little gangsters had pigeons, and they were very competitive about them.  They were fancy pigeons. It wasn’t just that they could manage them, they had their cages on the roof and all, but it was a topic to discuss, like gunnery, it was something you had, it was competitive. They fit handily on the roof, and they also played handily into the competitive masculine culture.

That was a whole different dimension.  They bred them, they traded them, they admired them, they denigrated other people’s carrier pigeons,    It was quite competitive, I think.

Peattie thought these little gangsters were particularly touching.  They put endless thought into their birds, and they could send messages with their birds, but they were mainly just to show off.

It establishes the point that pets are not purely personal, but have to do with your relation to other people just as furniture is something that you get not just because you want to sit down, but because you want to look nifty in the eyes of the others, pets have the same quality.

 

[the raccoons, the armadillo, the heron, the parrot, the macaw, the monkeys, etc?]

But then I was living not in the city, well, in a so-called city, but it had a lot of open space. It was partly just the exoticism of it all.  As for the sloth, somebody gave it to us. I wouldn’t have selected it, I think! Once we did have it, I was brought up to be sort of responsible to animals.  It came to my attention the it required Yagrumao leaves, and then there was this whole new dimension about getting Yagrumao leaves for the sloth.

I had a crane, too and I had to feed it fish; I had to stuff fish down its throat. It was not a particularly attractive bird, even less so when it had lumps of fish going down its scrawny neck.

The Kinkajou we had was a wonderful pet. We got it when we were in Guatemala. It actually was a dreadful animal, because it was very strong, very intelligent, and very enterprising. I got along well with it, but it really was a drag, because as I say, it was ingenious, and inventive, and busy as busy could be – Tearing things apart, mainly.

Flying squirrels I don’t remember well, but they were very sweet and small.  They were very traditional in rural areas, because they do fit in a shirt pocket.  You can take them to school and your teacher won’t notice. They don’t really fly, but they glide, they have loose skin front to back. Their modus operandi is to glide, and they’re very attractive. But I don’t think that anybody has taken them to school for years.  Education has gotten too professionalized.

I think that the real point to make is that as far as kids and pets are concerned, it’s a big advantage to live in a semi-rural area because you can get a lot of free range to try them. It’s important to them to try everything. Kids are small and dependant and for starters it’s advantageous to have something small and dependant on them.  But they don’t do it for their good, they do it because it’s something that you haven’t vetted, that you aren’t passing on.

My favorite pet?  I guess Nicky the Kinkajou. He was a terrible nuisance, but he had endless energy.

 

The Bees

 

They alone hold children in common: own the roofs

of their city as one: and pass their life under the might of the law.

 -Virgil

 

People always ask about the bees, and it’s partly that they have an interest in being connected to the bees, but they also just want to know how they are doing. Why? That’s the question, and I don’t know the answer to it. I guess you’d have to study it by asking people “what do you think about bees”, etc.

Well, I think the interesting thing for people is the relationship between people and bees.

In the early days, it was about the honey. People have a sweet tooth. But I don’t think that it’s just that.  If so you wouldn’t have Virgil going on about their holding things in common.

It’s interesting to study bees because you’re trying to impute motive, but you can’t ask them what they’re doing. You can disregard what people say, but at least you’ve got their interpretation. In the case of the bees, you don’t.

[they do have this dance language] You can’t understand it, but on the other hand you can watch it, you can situate it, you can see what its context is.

Well, that’s why I like this book “Honeybee Democracy” so much, because it’s written in the context of modern science; it’s not trying to impute, but at the same time it’s trying to understand the things a human being is curious about. With human beings, the desire to make sense of things is so strong!  That’s why it’s so impressive, The Gettysburg Address, and that was spoken while the war was still going on, on the battlefield of that war, and what the war called forth was a very analytic address. It’s the nature of human beings to try to theorize, or make sense, what we call making sense, which is theorizing. Of course, [bees] are very accessible. Well, they’re tantalizing.  There they are, you can see they’ve got their thing going. How do they know?

What interested Virgil, and probably other people, was the idea of a self-managing society, a society without tyranny. The managed societies that were then known all had tyrannies at the center of them, but not the bees. It’s very clear he saw them as a political inspiration..

I remember Peattie was very interested in utopian communities, and he did a sort of roster of what the various utopian communities were, and in a sense the bees sort of fell into that strain.

[and why do you think that you had to tell them things?] It was just that you had to inform them.  You had to keep them in touch. That was clear.  It was just a question of not keeping them out of the loop.

I think that [colony collapse disorder] taps a deep anxiety about the state of our tenure on the planet. The bees and colony collapse disorder become the dramatic example or enactment of what is a not unrealistic anxiety.  The current and heretofore successful capitalist system was built around tremendous optimism about technology –none of this tilling the soil and so on.

Anyway, that was the way bees entered the front-page scene. People are terrified that with the loss of the ancient skills the whole system is going to pot, and we won’t be able to survive, which may or may not be an appropriate response.

“This is the little box the queen came in.”
by Julia Peattie
Mom and bees

 

Greenham Common

[Greenham Common]

There were benders, and people living in the benders, and you just walked in, and they gave you a bender. They were very generous. You could just go there and join in, no problem, they didn’t ask for your credentials or anything like that, they gave you tea, naturally tea, whatever you need, they’d look after you. And then from time to time, the Authorities, known as the Authorities, although of course the whole point was not to accept their Authority, every so often the Authority came in with large wheeled vehicles, knocked down all the benders, ground up the remains so that they were left sitting in the mud, and went away. And then the protesters, shall we call them? They didn’t call themselves protesters. But anyway, they had great equanimity (and of course many of them had children at home, and so on, so from time to time they’d go, you weren’t required to stay there all the time) They’d go back and make dinner for the kids, so it was sort of a continuing… It was totally ridiculous, but no more ridiculous than the Cruise missiles, when you come down to it.

I think that the symbolic charm of Greenham Common (and it was sort of charming, women camping out in these little benders, these little shelters that they put up), was that symbolically it was the counterpoint of these fragile benders and the women, who were considered more fragile than men, who were out there in the mud, and the alternative which was these cruise missiles; and they were of course extremely powerful and devastating, and they were put up by men, basically, and furthermore, by invasive men, because they were American men. It was part of the whole powerful American power, or something like that. So there was this contrast, and the women kept continually exaggerating it by ornamenting the fence with bits of yarn, which naturally drove the enforcing men mad. It would have driven me mad too, it was so foolish, but that’s what they did, they kept putting these bits of ornamental yarn and stuff on the fence. And then they were camping out there. I think that there was actually a baby born there at Greenham. It was born in a truck or something, it wasn’t just on the ground, but it was their weakness, their lack of power, that they were playing off of. It was quite sweet.

That’s what it was. I loved the fact that you could just go there. You knew where it was, you could read about it in the paper, you could go around, and they just pointed you to a bender you might care to occupy, and there you are! It was easy approach.

`I loved being there in the mud because it was so foolish, and they were so foolish, and the whole thing of course was totally foolish, and the idea of nuclear missiles in Europe was totally foolish, but they were capable of rising above it, or not rising above it, just running along with it, putting yarn in the fence, why not?

[On 11 September 1992, the USAF returned Greenham Common airbase to the Ministry of Defence. On 9 February 1993 the Greenham Common airbase was declared surplus to requirements by the Secretary of State for Defence and the facility was closed and put up for sale.]
 

The Blue Guitar, the book: The Peace Movement

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Digging Up The Ground We Stand On: Politics And Anti-Politics In The Peace Movement

Digging Up The Ground We Stand On: Politics And Anti-Politics In The Peace Movement

From “Playing the Blue Guitar” 1994

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Introduction:

We didn’t achieve very much! The idea of speaking and talking to the Russians is not quite what it used to be. We still have these nuclear arms which are very large. If they went off you would destroy the civilized world, and they’re still out there, and every year they have a checkup to make sure they’re in good order. What are they supposed to do?

In those days we were trying to be ready to annihilate the Russians. It isn’t the Russians now, it seems to be unruly souls known as terrorists. If you read the New York Times, every day there is some account of inter-tribal politics in some God-forsaken place, and we’re supposed to be keeping track of it. For what purpose? And we still have the goddamn arms.