Bicycle Burnout & Discrimination against Bicyclists

Locked to a bench!

We locked our bikes to a bench.

I love bicycling in the fall.  The sky is low and dazzlingly blue.

When you bicycle, you really look around.  You are not in a car.  You see the land, hear it, feel it all around you.

In July, however, I burned out on a 40-mile ride on the Root River Trail in Minnesota.

How does a bicyclist burn out? you may ask.

Lanesboro, Minnesota

Lanesboro, Minnesota

The Root River is an easy trail, but the farther you go, the tireder you get. We stopped for pie at World Famous Pies in Whalen. We rode a little farther, and when we turned around, we agreed to meet in Lanesboro, a lovely tourist town at the halfway point.  It is an easy trail, I told myself.  But it wasn’t.  I didn’t know how far we were biking.  I only knew it seemed long.

Then I couldn’t find my husband.  I rode past the deli where we sat on the veranda last year.  I rode past all the benches twice.  I finally found him sitting on a rock at the Visitors Center.

And it made me rethink our riding. I was exhausted. I am much slower than he is.  It seems unfair to slow him down.

Since then I have been city-biking.  There are amazing trails here, part of a 65-mile loop.

Bicycling is practical.  It is wonderful exercise, good for the environment, and an efficient means of transportation.  (In rush hour I can beat cars.)  But there is some discrimination against bicyclists.  This summer three trails are under construction and  there are no detour signs. No directions.  You turn back and guess.

And there are few bike racks.  Well, there are some downtown.

But at the mall, at Barnes and Noble, at Starbucks, at Target, there are no bike racks.

I often find a railing and lock my bike to it.

But today…

I went to the Hy-Vee to grab lunch.  There is a bike rack there.

Chrysanthemums and other fall flowers for sale blocked the bike rack (see picture above).

I couldn’t believe it.

Other bicyclists were locking bikes to the bench, so I did it, too.

Locking our bikes to the bench and Hy-Vee.

Locking our bikes to the bench at Hy-Vee.

That was like blocking the parking lot for cars.

DETOUR.  I rode to Barnes and Noble and the trail was closed.



There was a serious fence so I couldn’t go through.  Plus there were guys in hard hats.

Would they let someone with gray hair through?  I wondered.

I decided not to try.  There was a bulldozer.

So I rode on the sidewalk beside the strip malls and it was unpleasant.

On the way back I rode down a hill and tried the trail at a different point.  I didn’t expect construction for three miles. The workers might have knocked off for the day, I thought.  Then I could walk my bicycle through it.

A serious fence.

A serious fence.

I was wrong.  The trail was blocked after a quarter of a mile with another serious fence.  And no detour signs.

So I backtracked on a busy road and found a sidewalk.  Then I had to walk my bike part of the way.

Finally I found the trail.  It took an hour longer than it normally takes me.

At least I got some exercise.

Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes

A Fan's Notes by Frederick ExleyIn Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes, a fictional memoir published in 1968,  the hero, also called Frederick Exley, cannot hold a job.  Exley, an alcoholic, is in and out of mental hospitals, sponges off his parents, or lives at a bachelor friend’s apartment where flamboyant, sad characters drop in all day, including an Italian who sometimes believes he is a hit man.

A Fan’s Notes should have been Top of the List for our Mental Health  Christmas.  One year my cousin became manic from a steroid prescribed for an ear infection (a side effect). At the hospital she was not herself:  she wore a bra over her sweater, sang Van Morrison’s “Days Like This” at the top of her lungs, and demanded that we bring presents for her “new friends.” And so we rather lamely distributed McDonald’s milkshakes and old books in the common room.

If only we’d had A Fan’s Notes.

Exley wittily delineates and skewers the customs and hypocrisy of the American middle class in a brilliant narrative akin to Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road and Sue Kaufman’s Diary of a Mad Housewife.  Depressed Exley turns down advertising jobs before he gets them, teaches off and on at a high school, and drives from Glacial Falls to Watertown every weekend to get drunk and watch Giants games.

He is amazed by the limitations of the English department chairman and teachers.  (Note:  Many teachers are required to take more easy-A education classes than classes in their subject). One teacher informs Exley that he should not talk at meetings because “talking took time.”

As the year progressed I learned that due to this conspiracy of silence the department chairman was forced to carry single-handedly what were supposed to be give-and-take discussions.  Knowing he was no more ignorant than those boobs seated around me patronizing him, I felt sorry for him. … Unsure of our ability to read (our ability to talk hadn’t encouraged him), he read each and every item [on a mimeographed sheet] to us….  Matchlessly vapid, the items were such that I remember only one of them, and that only because to this day I have no notion what he meant by it:  The best place to make out your lesson plans is at your desk.

Frederick Exley

Frederick Exley

It’s not just teaching.  It’s everything that happens to Exley.  He is obsessed with football.  He is the son of a local high-school and college football star.  And he went to USC with Frank Gifford, though he did not know him.  Exley partly identifies with him, but also hates him.

Frederick is much smarter than most of his friends.  In one hilarious scene, when he visits his brother-in-law, the likable Bumpy, he notices that the photograph in the basement of James Mason as Brutus in Julius Caesar is incorrectly labeled Et tu, Brute?

“So?” Bumpy said.  “Well,” I explained, “Mason played Brutus, not Caesar.  That caption belongs back there under the one of Louis Calhern with his toga all bloodied and his right arm extended.  Obviously at Brutus.”  “Aw, what’s the diff?” Bumpy said, stuffing half a grilled-cheese into his mouth and, after a barely perceptible mastication, beginning to wash it down with a long swallow of beer.  Then he looked petulantly at me, as though I were an old spoilsport; then he belched.

Bumpy is wild about a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald which Frederick recites on the site of the mental hospital where Zelda lived.  “I left my capacity for hoping on the little roads that led to Zelda’s sanitarium.”  Bumpy asks him to repeat it in bars.

This novel is unflaggingly male, teeming with beer, gin, football, TV, depression, hospitalizations, bachelor’s pads, and his friend’s gross-out talk about of cunnilingus (“How do you get past the smell?” asks  Mr. Blue, a siding salesman who lives with a woman Exley refers to as “the USS Deborah.” ).

I tried to read it once before.  I thought parts too sexist, but nowadays I feel more sympathetic to the plights of men (and it isn’t that sexist, anyway).  I know how men’s minds work.  Well, sometimes I do.

The writing is superb.  That’s  all I care about.

This is a classic.

Exley  won the William Faulkner Award and the Arts and Letters Rosenthal Award.

His other novels are Pages from a Cold Island and Last Notes from Home.


Ms. Mirabile: "I am Kale." (snap courtesy of family member,  c. 2000)

Ms. Mirabile: “I AM kale.” (kitchen snap courtesy of family member, c. 2001)

Here is why I want to be a women’s columnist.

Because I eat kale.  I love kale.  I can introduce women to kale.

I am kale.

No, I don’t mean that last.  It turns out Kale is a character in a Y.A. romance, Touch by Jus Accardo, though.  (I tried to find quotes about kale and was sent to the Goodreads page.)

Here is the quote:

As long as I know this” – he lifted our joined hands – “is mine to hold, I’ll wait for you forever.”

Kale, kale, kale.  (But I mean the vegetable.)  I can’t quite get into the “romance” style.

I also discovered that Alanis Morissette loves kale.  “Kale is my best friend,” she told Runner’s World.

I biked to Whole Foods earlier this week and had a pleasurable experience examining vegetables.  Kale was the only local item, from a farm in Grinnell, so I made a point of buying it. I filled a huge knapsack and a bike pannier with vegetables and other items, and worried that my half gallon of soy milk might explode in the pannier on the way home.  (They didn’t sell quarts.)   Fortunately I got home, the milk unexploded.

Kale salad

Kale salad

But what does one do with kale? Do people in your family like kale?

They should eat kale.  According to WebMD, kale “is the queen of greens.”  One cup of kale has  9% of the daily value of calcium, 206% of vitamin A, 134% of vitamin C, and 684% of vitamin K, and is a source of minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus.

It tastes good, too.

I’ve had a long, good relationship with a recipe for a kale sandwich on a baguette  (Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites: Flavorful Recipes for Healthful Meals by the Moosewood Collective).

Everyone, given the opportunity, will eat this sandwich every night.  You can serve it while they’re watching football.  You know those guys who live for football?  They won’t bat an eye at this sandwich with kale, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, onion, and more.  It’s better than corned beef.

But I needed a new kale recipe.

And so I found an easy kale salad at

It is a delicious salad, with kale, tomatoes, dried cranberries, and roasted sunflower seeds, but be sure to add the dressing after you mix the other ingredients.  I dumped the kale, etc., in the dressing, according to the directions, and there was way too much dressing.

So next time I’ll know.

Here’s the recipe:

1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 bunch kale, cut into bite-size pieces
1 large tomato, seeded and diced
1/2 cup roasted sunflower seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries

1.    Whisk lemon juice, canola oil, olive oil, sugar, salt, and black pepper in a large bowl. Add kale, tomato, sunflower seeds, and cranberries; toss to combine.

That’s it!

Mirabile Does Middlebrow: The Fabulousness of Mrs. Humphrey Ward

She could see no good reason to act her ageI read the classics.

I read Ovid, Balzac, and Doris Lessing.

But for years I have read mostly books by women, many of whom are considered second-rate.

I conceived of “Mirabile Does Middlebrow” as a monthly “column” on middlebrow women’s novels.

I have written my share of “women’s columns” this year on subjects like bicycling, cooking, and shopping,  but I haven’t written a “Mirabile Does Middlebrow” since July.

Perhaps it is because middlebrow women’s books are passed around by word of mouth, not the written word.

I think of many women writers I have discovered in bookstores:  Mrs. Gaskell, Mrs. Oliphant, Ellen Glasgow, Bess Streeter Aldrich, Pamela Hansford Johnson, Dodie Smith, Rose Macaulay, Dorothy Baker, Martha Gellhorn, and Sue Kaufman.  Each has written at least one classic. Surely their exclusion from the canon is partly a gender thing.  Just as women themselves are pruned  from the culture when their fertile years are over (and men enter their prime), women’s books are severely weeded.  Many books simply disappear, to be replaced by books by younger writers.   (And this happens to men, too, to be fair.)

Women writers wonderfully convey the invisibility of older women.  In Emma Tennant’s hilarious Confessions of a Sugar Mummy, a sixtyish woman falls passionately in love with a younger man.  She tells us that Freud discovered the Oedipus complex, but failed to invent the Jocasta complex, “to look at the situation from the point of view of…his mother.”  In her work as an interior decorator, she meets the gorgeous French tile maker, Alain, and considers Botox and selling her flat to buy a house so she could live with Alain and his wife.  She’s out of control, but very, very funny.

in The Summer Before the Dark, Doris Lessing wrote about the marginalization of middle-aged women.  Kate, in her mid-forties, spends the summer on her own while her husband is in the U.S.:  he is having an affair with a younger woman.  Kate works as a translator at a conference and has an affair herself.   But afterwards she has a breakdown.  She walks back and forth in front of a construction site, dressed first in nondescript clothes, then wearing more fashionable clothes.  She is invisible one way, whistled at another.  She gradually realizes what middle age is.

Mrs. Humphry Ward

Mrs. Humphry Ward

Mrs. Humphry Ward (Mary Augusta Ward, 1851-1920), is my new idol:  she was very productive in middle age.   A niece of Matthew Arnold, she began writing  compulsively after her marriage to Thomas Humphry Ward, a tutor and fellow at Brasenose College, and after she had three children.  Fortunately she had hired help:  she spent her mornings at the Bodleian library and wrote three hours every night.

She was at the height of her powers at 43 when she wrote Marcella, a stunning political novel, an almost-classic, in 1894.  It is comparable to George Meredith’s Beauchamp’s Career, with the difference that Ward sympathizes with the conservatives while Meredith favors the radicals.

Now I am a radical type, and Ward was founding president of the National Anti-Suffrage League, which does not go down well with me.

But Marcella is so engrossing I dismissed Ward’s politics. Like Mrs. Gaskell (North and South, Mary Barton) and Charlotte Bronte (Shirley), she is passionately interested in social justice. The spirited, beautiful heroine,  Marcella, becomes an adamant socialist while studying art in London, and when her father inherits Mellor Park, she is both happy to have status and determined to help the poor.  She loves being bowed to as lady of the manor, but also formulates a sensible scheme to teach the women a straw braiding method that will help them earn more money (this is never carried out, though). She wants her father to improve the cottages; and she opposes gamekeeping laws. She is horrified when Hurd, the husband and father of a poor family she has visited often, is condemned to death for killing a gamekeeper during a poaching confrontation.

Aldous Raeburn, a Conservative landowner running for a seat in Parliament, falls madly in love with Marcella.  Yes, we also fall for the sensible, strong, handsome, thoughtful 30ish hero, to the extent that who cares he’s a conservative?  But Marcella is strong-minded, and doesn’t quite love him:  she feels she cannot go on with him when he will not sign a petition to help Hurd.   And handsome Wharton, a Radical running for Parliament, who plays with his cooperative farm and radical newspaper, charms her.  He defends Hurd, though it costs him very little.  He knows Hurd is doomed.

Marcella is very naive politically.  She makes statements like:

Property!” said Marcella, scornfully.  “You can’t settle everything nowadays by that big word.  We are coming to put the public good before property.  If the nation should decide to curtain your ‘right,’ as you call it, in the general interest, it will do it, and you will be left to scream.

After the hanging of Hurd, she is depressed.  She goes to London and works as a nurse.  This is by far the most fascinating part of the book.  Marcella ceases to romanticize the poor and regrets her breaking of her engagement with Aldous.  She dramatically dislocates her arm when she intervenes in a man’s beating of his wife. She also transports Mrs. Hurd and her family to live with her in London.  And she sees her Socialist friends.

Parts of the novel focus on Wharton, the radical, who has won men’s hearts, but owes a lot of  money and is willing to do almost anything to pay his debts and keep his seat in Parliament.  Ward also documents  the complexity of class differences (which I probably don’t understand properaly since I’m not English, so I’ll let someone else analyze that).  Marcella’s father, though he is of good family ,is a social outcast due to a long-ago scandal; her mother hates the life at Mellor Park and longs to go to London and read novels; and Marcella increasingly sees Aldous’ side, though she herself remains more radical than he.

Not beautiful writing, but good enough.  I can’t wait to read more Mrs Humphry Ward.  How I love these Victorian women writers.

The Mother-Daughter Connection


My mother, age 30.

My mother scrunched up her face when anyone said she was beautiful.

“Oh, no, I’ve always been plain.”

She spent a lot of time curling her hair.  She didn’t like straight hair.

Isn’t she lovely in this picture?

Her looks were variable.  When she was happy, she was pretty; when not, plain.  She conducted many arcane staring rituals in the mirror. She did her hair at the mirror on the chest of drawers.  In the living room she glanced at herself in the mirror above the fireplace.  She took the hand mirror to the picture window so she could see what her face looked like in natural light.

Me biking:  the blond years.

Me biking: the blond years.

Some of these rituals are now familiar to me. I comb my hair in front of the mirror on the medicine cabinet and then dash into the living room with a compact to “do” my makeup, which takes 5 seconds.  Yes, I’m an out-of-the-shower-into-the-streets person.

If only I looked like my mother!

There is no resemblance.

She was a housewife, much more fastidious about her house than I. She cleaned every bit of the house every day.  She loved shopping, loved TV, saw her mother every day, never took walks or exercised, took me to every movie that came to town (except “Darling,” much to my disappointment), read women’s magazines, made sure I read Little Women, and spent hours on the phone (which was a problem when I was an adolescent and we competed for the phone).

Mom, graduatingHere she is, a young graduate in political science. She rarely referred to her university experience. Rarely talked about politics.  Rarely read a book.

She disliked talking about the past.

“I like the present,” she told me over and over.

After I left my hometown, I seldom saw her.

I was busy. I taught, I wrote, I worked for abortion rights, I bicycled, I gave parties, I chatted, and I cooked vegetables.

In my 20s, after a run.

In my 20s, after a run.

I began to know her better in the last 10 years.

She was a little odd, an old woman from Dickens. So many knickknacks in her house.  Everywhere you looked.  She said she liked to eat food kids liked: hamburgers, fried shrimp, chicken patties…and she still lived to be a thousand or something.

Time together often seemed very long.  We would go to the mall and she would buy me a bewildering number of garments on sale:  a black-and-white-checkered sweater, a polyester Liz Claiborne vest, a Peruvian sweater at Ben Franklin…I haven’t worn most of these, I confess.

I would gamely put on lipstick in front of the mirror with her and pretend to be girls-all-together, but I wasn’t really like that.

My life has been about reading; hers about shopping and being a housewife.

She never remarried after her divorce.  What I hope most for her–but I don’t really believe in the afterlife–is that she finds a good husband in “Heaven.”

Quite seriously.

I know it’s not supposed to happen in the afterlife, but…

Think of all the Meg Ryan movies and Sandra Bullock movies she used to love.

Isn’t it time for her to have what she would most have liked?

I hope no theologists are reading this!

But it was very sad that she had to be alone.

I miss you, Mom!  And I hope you’re not scandalized by this.

Book Groups, Best 100 Novels, GoodReads, & Yahoo Groups

In “Parks and Recreation,” a man chains himself to a pipe in Leslie’s office. After he lends “Twilight” to Tom, they (with Donna) form an impromptu book group.

BOOK GROUPS.  My cousin the librarian and I sit in the back yard.

We had Creamsicles for lunch.

She would prefer one of my tomatoes-on-pasta dishes.

I wasn’t up for it.

She is supposed to be in an office (with the cataloguers) reading Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue. She is reading it on her iPad here.

Telegraph Avenue Michael ChabonShe found out at 9 a.m. that she must substitute for the woman who leads the book group tonight.

She doesn’t have time to read the book.

It was my favorite book last year, but it is long.

“You could lead it,” she says.

I read it last December and don’t have time to prepare.

“But you could come to the group with me!”

I know that they would love it.  It would be very cute.  The librarian and her cousin!  She could be charming and chat (she is charming and  loquacious) and I could do all the work.

I am actually feeling sick today.

So, instead, I am researching Chabon for her and taking notes on reviews of Telegraph Avenue.

“What page are you on?” I ask.

“50.  Can I have another Creamsicle?”

So here’s my plan for the book group (and God help me, I might have to go along, though I’m unwell):

  • Offer everyone Darjeeling tea (which I will provide for her in a big thermos, because I have much Darjeeling).
  • Briefly introduce the book and summarize a couple of reviews.  (I will write the introduction.)
  • Show pictures of Michael Chabon on the iPad.  Pass it around.  According to Wikipedia, he turned down an opportunity to be named one of People’s 50 Most Beautiful People after The Mysteries of Pittsburgh was published.  He is indeed good-looking.
  • Mention his wife, who is also a writer, Ayelet Waldman.

That will take 10 minutes, what with the chat of the group members.


  • Explain that your style of leading a book group is to remain neutral.  You will ask questions and they will answer.
  • Read questions from the back of paperback.

Tada!  What could be easier?

100 Best Novels.  In 2003, Robert McCrum of The Observer made a list of The Greatest Novels of All Time.  It is still popular, he says.   Now he is making another list, only with novels in English, in collaboration with The Guardian.  One book will be introduced at a time over 100 weeks.

He is starting with Pilgrim’s Progress, which Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth in Little Women liked.  (I couldn’t care less about it, though.)

But I very much like his selection of Jane Austen:  Emma, my favorite book.

He writes:

Inevitably, this list reflects educational, national and social influences. Some Scottish readers may say that we have not given enough space to the great northern tradition.Irish readers will argue about Flann O’Brien (aka Myles na gCopaleen). In or out? Wait and see. Further afield, in the English-speaking world,some Australian readers may feel short-changed. All we can say in response is that this list was compiled for a British newspaper, based in London, in 2013.

There will be debate.

Goodreads’ New Standards for Posts.  I have joined a group at Goodreads, which is good for discussions (though I haven’t had time). One problem:  first-time authors leave posts promoting their books rather than chatting about the assigned book.

As far as I know, Goodreads does not delete these posts.

Kara Erickson, Director of Customer Care, announced that they will delete reviews about author behavior at readings or elsewhere.

We have had a policy of removing reviews that were created primarily to talk about author behavior from the community book page. Once removed, these reviews would remain on the member’s profile. Starting today, we will now delete these entirely from the site. We will also delete shelves and lists of books on Goodreads that are focused on author behavior.

Is this censorship?

I once helped run a book group at Book Central (now defunct) on AOL.  It was a wonderful place to post about books, but we deleted attacks on fellow members (usually from strangers), racial slurs, gender slurs, and general hate talk.

I don’t remember deleting posts about authors, though some were negative.

Should such posts be deleted?

What do you think?

Yahoo Groups changes.  At Under the Sign of Sylvia 2, Ellen Moody has posted a fascinating piece, “The Debasement of Yahoo Groups.”

The Barbara Pym Centenary & An Academic Question

Barbara Pym at the International African Institute

Barbara Pym working at the International African Institute

It is the centenary of Barbara Pym’s birth.

I devoured Pym’s books in graduate school. In 1977  in the TLS she was named by Philip Larkin and Lord David Cecil “the most underrated novelist of the century.” Then she was “rediscovered” in the UK and published in the U.S.  I picked up a copy of Excellent Women at a used bookstore and was hooked.  I wasn’t the only one who liked Pym:  a comp lit professor and I chatted about her on smoking breaks.  The library was so dreary–no windows above the second floor–that I frequently bounded down to the smoking lounge (though I didn’t smoke), which was all windows, for a chat or a good read of a new novel.

One cannot read too much Pym.  Her writing is charming, humorous, and wry.  I read An Academic Question this week, but it’s not the only Pym I’ve read this year.

On Feb. 11, I wrote about her witty, beautifully-crafted first novel, Some Tame Gazelle. The fiftysomething heroine, Belinda Bede, muses endlessly about clothes, to my delight:  I muse more than I buy.  Though she wears “suitable” dresses and sensible shoes, her younger sister Harriet reads Vogue and insists that Miss Prior, the village seamstress, make her fashionable dresses with the latest sleeves.  They live next door to the vicarage and are constantly planning what to wear to church functions.  And, yes, their names are puns:  Bede and Prior.

On Feb. 13 I wrote about her 1978 novel, The Sweet Dove Died.  The heroine, Lenora Eyre, becomes involved with two antique dealers, an uncle and nephew, when she faints at an auction after buying a book about the language of flowers. The one is perhaps too old, the other too young:  whom should she love?

An Academic Question PymAn Academic Question, published posthumously, was edited by Hazel Holt from two drafts.  It is not quite as elegant as her other books, but it is very funny.   It was, according to a letter Pym wrote to Philip Larkin, “supposed to be a sort of Margaret Drabble effort but of course it hasn’t turned out like that at all.”

IPym’s tone is more whimsical and wry than Drabble’s, though this book is a bit like Drabble’s early comedies:  Pym, too, is writing about a woman’s facing the widespread changes of the 1960s. The narrator, Caroline Grimstone, a  28-year-old housewife married to a university lecturer, is very bored.  She knows she should get a job, but work strikes her as meaningless.  Her husband, Alan, suggests she work at the library, but she would prefer to assist her her friend Dolly at her second-hand book and junk shop.  Alan masterfully tells her that’s impossible with her education.

Caroline’s best friend, Coco, Dolly’s brother, a handsome 42-year-old man with a research fellowship in Caribbean Studies and an interest in fashion, is closer to Caroline than her sister. He has his own idea about what bored Caroline should do.  He suggests that she take a lover.

The dialogue between them is hilarious.

That’s what people do,” he said, as if I had no knowledge of the world.

“Yes, of course,” I agreed.  “But who, or whom, come to that–who is there in a place like this?”

Coco became vague.  He had nobody definite in mind and I certainly wouldn’t be satisfied with just anybody.  A distinguished writer or artist, even a member of a noble family or an exiled royal–perhaps there was no one such living in the town…

“But an exiled royal would probably be decayed and moth-eaten,” I protested, “and I want better than that.”

She takes Dolly’s more practical suggestion to volunteer to read aloud at an old people’s home.

This becomes a hilarious opportunity for her husband to steal papers from the distinguished scholar Caroline reads to.  He writes an article that becomes an object of contention between him and another scholar.

It is such a funny, funny book:  I did laugh aloud.  But it also touches on issues of the ’60s and ’70s:  the students at the university protest, and Caroline’s sister has an abortion.

By the way, if you are in Manchester in the UK, October 7, 7:30 p.m., you can attend “An Excellent Woman: A Celebration of Barbara Pym” with Louis de Bernieres, Paul Binding and Donna Coonan at The Manchester Literature Festival

Alas, I won’t be there.

Mirabile Does Fashion: Eyeliner & Ovid on Makeup

The other day I found an eyeliner pencil in my bathroom.

Who would bother to use eyeliner at my house?

I take pride in the “Latin-teacher-cum-freelancer” plain Jane style.  Although my mother and I put on lipstick before going to the mall, feminists didn’t wear makeup in my youth, except Gloria Steinem, who dated Henry Kissinger.  Since I freelance out of my home, I don’t wear eyeliner.  As for Latin teachers, they’re not glamorous.  I fondly remember being interviewed by a very plain Latin teacher who wore a wrinkly cotton dress and flat sandals from an Indian-clothing and-incense shop.  Her colleagues wore full makeup, Pappagallo dresses, and espadrilles or pumps.

Well, I had a Pappagallo suit…but I quite liked the cotton dress and sandal look.

As soon as I got the job, I wore slacks.

First I posted a picture of myself as a schoolmarm, but then I realized we'd all rather see Maggie Smith in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"

Maggie Smith on a bike in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”

Does Pappagallo still exist?

Anyway, I picked up the eyeliner yesterday.  And–this is so weird–I took off the cap and applied the eyeliner.  I accidentally made that weird  curl in the line beside the eye.  When I did the water line under my eye, it really hurt.

I immediately washed it off.

I liked the smudge under my eye look.

I washed that off, too.

I have to read.  The eyeliner hurt my eyes.

Though I could definitely use some makeup.  Something human-friendly.

But there are toxic metals in makeup that can be absorbed through the skin.

In a recent article at the New York Times Well blog, “Is There Danger Lurking in Your Lipstick?”, Deborah Blum reported that the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (2007) and The Food and Drug Administration (2011) found lead contamination and other metals in lipstick.  A new study in May in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives reported traces of cadmium, cobalt, aluminum, titanium, manganese, chromium, copper and nickel in 24 lip glosses and eight lipstick brands.

Loreal has five  lipsticks in the ten most lead-tainted brands.

And it’s not just lipstick.

According to an article, “Beauty Secrets Mean Lead in Lipstick, Arsenic in Eyeliner,” at EMax, Environmental Defence in Canada studied 49 makeup brands.  Among the highest in metals:

Clinique Stay True makeup (Stay Ivory), found to contain arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, nickel, lead, and thallium

Cover Girl Perfect Point Plus (eye liner), found to contain beryllium, cadmium, nickel, and lead

L’Oreal Bare Naturale (mascara), found to contain arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, nickel, lead, and thallium

The metals can cause hormone disruption,cancer, neurological problems, memory loss, mood swings, reproductive and developmental disorders, kidney problems, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, lung damage, dermatitis, and hair loss.

The "Cosmetics" poem in Ovid's "The Erotic Poems"

The “Cosmetics” poem is in Ovid’s “The Erotic Poems”

And now for something lighter.  Ovid, the brilliant Roman poet who wrote Metamorphoses, also wrote a didactic poem about makeup, Medicamina Faciei Femineae (Cosmetics for the Female Face), with some makeup recipes.  100 lines survive.

Peter Green translates the beginning thus:

Girls, learn from me what treatment will embellish
   Your complexions, how beauty is best preserved.

Please, Ovid, I want to know.

Some of them have white lead.  But this “face pack” (or mask) recipe does not.

Take imported Libyan barley, strip off its outer
Husk and chaff, measure two
Pounds of stripped grain, and add an equal measure
Of vetch steeped in ten raw eggs.
Let this mixture dry in the air, then have your donkey grind it
Slowly, taking the rough quern round; prepare
Two ounces of powdered hartshorn, taken from a vigorous
Stag’s first-fallen antlers; stir this well
Into the powdery meal, then sift the mixture.
At once through fine-meshed sieves.
Take twelve narcissus bulbs, skin them and pound them
(Use a marble block);  add them in,
With two ounces of gum and Tuscan spelt-seeds,
And a pound and a half of honey.  Any girl
Who uses a face pack according to the prescription
Will shine brighter than her own

Frankly, where can we get hartshorn?

Tell me of any eco-friendly, human-friendly makeup you know.

Diary of a Mad Housewife, The Adorableness of Online Life, & An Imaginary Latin-thon

Diary of a Mad Housewife by Sue KaufmanI learned about Sue Kaufman’s Diary of a Mad Housewife from Public Radio.

“The Bookshelf,” a local program on NPR, was a favorite at our house.  At 6:30 (when I was making dinner), the classical music hosts took turns reading aloud their favorite books.  Sometimes it would take two weeks, sometimes a month. It was often touching:   I will never forget listening to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.

The show was canceled.  Budget cuts.

After seeing the movie, I read Diary of a Mad Housewife, published in 1967.  But it made little impression.  Thanks to NPR for helping me rediscover it.

It is a small masterpiece, a kind of female odyssey of the ’60s that ranks with early Philip Roth.  Like so many American women’s books of the ’60s, it literally is small:  306 pages, as opposed to the baggy monsters.

Tina, the narrator, a Smith graduate, housewife, and former aspiring artist, keeps a diary.  Her status-conscious husband, a partner at a law firm, drags her to parties where he is obsequious to  famous artists and theater people who despise him.  Tina stands in the corner, not bothering to talk.  Once she retires to the bathroom for 15 minutes.

The marriage is ghastly, the product of her psychoanalyis.  After a small breakdown, she entered analysis with Dr. Popkin, who taught her that women want marriage and a happy home, not art.  She works as a secretary at a hospital, but does not, alas, meet any eligible men.

…I never met any of the Nice Young Doctor types Popkin had hinted I might.  I met only married or unmarried doctors who wanted just one thing and wanted it fast–a thing I wasn’t supposed to give to anyone, fast or slow, what with my brand-new Insights:  Femininity = Discretion = No Jumping Into Bed.  I was all for Femininity, but my social life got pretty drab.

Popkin suggests she join the local Democratic Club to meet men; she meets Jonathan and falls in love with his ideals, but mostly with his red suspenders, she is embarrassed to remember.

Carrie Snodgrass in "Diary of a Mad Housewife"

Carrie Snodgrass in “Diary of a Mad Housewife”

Tina is privileged.  I won’t pretend she isn’t.  She has a gem of a hired woman who comes in several days a week.

But after Jonathan complains about her neglect of the house, she hires a laundress and window washer for the day.  The laundress washes only one load of clothes and spends the rest of time eating, smoking, and attempting to steal Jonathan’s gourmet food.  (The daily woman stops her.)  The window washer is great with squeegees, but steals a few valuable items from her husband’s study.

Tina can’t cope–and who can blame her?

I’d planned to spend the day at home, doing some work myself–cleaning closets, drawers–while those major chores were getting done, but I suddenly knew I had to get out of that nuthouse, even if it was for just an hour.

She flees to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It’s the first time in 14 years she’s been there without the children, and it helps her to remember who she is.

The scene reminds me of my own inability to cope with “maids.”  The one time I had a maid service in, when I was getting ready to sell a house, I cleaned it thoroughly first.  I fled while they cleaned, and when I came back they had done very little.  At least I got them to dust the ceiling fans.

More on The Diary of a Mad Housewife later.

THE ADORABLENESS OF ONLINE LIFE.  The online literary life can be adorable.  I’m sure you know that.

Take Dovegreyreader’s hosting of a monthly discussion of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy.  Why not read along? I thought.   Perhaps it will be interesting.

So I ordered a hardcover copy for a penny.

I came home from a bike ride to find a gigantic box on my porch.

What on earth?  I wondered

Good God, it couldn’t be a book.

It was a brick!

I opened it and…. it is a brick, with 1,349 pages of small print.

A Suitable Boy is almost as big as my big Lewis and Short Latin dictionary.  It is bigger than my copy of War and Peace.

I like to sprawl with a book.  I like to read in the supine position.

I will have to sit up.

Perhaps I’ll get the e-book.

There isn’t an e-book.

I’ll read it though.

Luv ya, Dovegreyreader, but gosh!!!???????

The next item is adorable.   It’s the 24-Hour Readathon at Dewey’s Read-a-thon.  A favorite blogger linked me there, and, though the Readathon is cute, it is insane.  On Saturday,  October 12, a group of energetic bloggers, tweeters, and Facebook-ers plan to read for 24 hours and post about it throughout the day.

I plan to spend at least eight hours on Oct. 12 knocked out on Sominex, Valerian, or  Ambien (it’s the weekend!).  And then off to the Iowa City Book Festival.  It’s the weekend!  We go outside!

This does, however, inspire me to create an Imaginary Latin-Read-a-Thon.  Yes, on Saturday, Oct. 19, we can PRETEND to read Latin poetry and post, tweet, whatever.  Only for two hours though:  I’m not insane. I mean, I might read Latin for two hours, but I won’t post about it.

Perhaps I can hunt down my old classics cronies.  One of my (former) adult ed students could translate a little Wheelock.

Now what famous classicists can I invite?  And let me just say there will be wine.

As Horace says in Latin,

Vile potabis modicis Sabinum

Or, as we say in English,

“You will drink cheap Sabine wine in plain/cups..,”

I’m sure the five famous classicists I plan to invite have nothing better to do on Saturday morning than hang out online.  It is their dream.  But it’s only an IMAGINARY invitation, okay?

I will invite:

1.  Sir Peter Stothard, editor of TLS, a classicist, and author of Alexandria:  The Last Nights of Cleopatra, a memoir of his fascination with Cleopatra.

2.  Chris Martin of Coldplay, who graduated with first-class honors in classics at London College University.

3.  Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, the author of many books, among them Who Killed Homer?: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom, with John Heath; Fields Without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea; The End of Sparta: A Novel; and The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern”.

4.  David Meadows, a Latin teacher and ABD in Roman Studies at McMaster University who runs the great Rogueclassicism website.

5.  J. K. Rowling:  she minored in classics, and I very much liked her book, The Casual Vacancy.

So see ya on Oct. 19!  But remember, it’s imaginary.:)  So I won’t be here!

The Last Day of Summer & Viola Di Grado’s 70% Acrylic 30% Wool

Our back yard, Spring 2013.

Our back yard, Spring 2013.

Picture a woman in an Adirondack chair next to a pear tree.

I have just washed the kitchen floor.  I am taking a reading break.

I wave.

it is colder today.  I’m in jeans and a hoodie.

housewife-no-means-of-escapeMy hands are crepey from the sun and Pine-Sol.

I am careless about the sun and Pine-Sol.

I love the summer, but this is the last day of summer.

I understand perfectly what Elizabeth, the narrator of Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Solitary Summer, the sequel to Elizabeth and Her German Garden, means when she says to her husband, the “Man of Wrath,”

I want to be alone for a whole summer, and get to the very dregs of life. I want to be as idle as I can, so that my soul may have time to grow. Nobody shall be invited to stay with me, and if any one calls they will be told that I am out, or away, or sick.  I shall spend the months in the garden, and on the plain, and in the forests. I shall watch the things that happen in my garden, and see where I have made mistakes. On wet days I will go into the thickest parts of the forests, where the pine needles are everlastingly dry, and when the sun shines I’ll lie on the heath and see how the broom flares against the clouds. I shall be perpetually happy, because there will be no one to worry me.  Out there on the plain there is silence, and where there is silence I have discovered there is peace.”

We live on the plains, actually the prairie, so there is silence.  Next summer I want more silence.

This summer I’ve been sociable.  I’ve chatted endlessly, cooked 80 vegetarian meals, and biked with the “Man of Wrath” more miles than I like to count.

I am still grieving over my mother’s death.  I think about the funeral when the priest swung the censer and it broke.  A sign, don’t you agree?  That the family was broken… that the behavior needed to change… that she wasn’t at peace.

I wish I had been a pall bearer. Why didn’t I think of it?

My “Man of Wrath” is in perpetual motion, exercising mostly. His disbelief in organic food is a problem for me, a 90% vegetarian cook. He scorns my favorite cooking show,  Christina Cooks.  He muttered to Christina the other night, “Shut up about organic!”

Though our garden is organic, he refuses to buy organic vegetables.  He buys what’s cheap.  I picture the cheapest of cheap vegetables sucking up the pesticides.

And so I am plotting new ways to bring organic vegetables into our home. I’ve decided to put my book money back into my housekeeping fund.  I’ll make trips to Whole Foods and bring in a few organic greens at a time.

If only we had a co-op…

Can you believe there’s not a co-op here?

I’m even worried about the vegetables we grow.  Does the poison from our neighbor’s lawn blow/run off into our yard?

70-Acrylic-30-Wool viola di gradoMY READING LIFE I finished Viola Di Grado’s 70% Acrylic 30% Wool, translated by Michael Reynolds.

In this short, surreal novel, winter has taken over the city of Leeds. Di Grado’s hyperbolic description of winter is very funny.

It snowed all day, except for a brief autumnal parenthesis in August that stirred the leaves a little and then went back to whence it had come, like a warm-up band before a headliner.

Since her father’s death with his lover in an accident, the Italian narrator, Camelia, and her mother, a flautist, have ceased talking and developed a silent language of looks.  Camelia has dropped out of the university; her mother has ceased to work.  When Camelia occasionally goes out for supplies, “an icy muzzle immobilized my jaw and the wind whipped my umbrella inside out.”

Much of the novel is a deconstruction of emotional emptiness.  Her mother begins to take photographs of holes.  Camelia finds discarded clothing in a dumpster with sleeves on the seats of pants and shirts with underarm buttons.  She cuts holes in it.

I picked up the scissors and sent the blue sweater to 70% acrylic 30% wool hell.  I amputated cleanly the whole part that hid the breasts that Wen will never want to see.  What is there to see anyway, my bosom is an A at the most.

The relationship of language and symbols is also explored.   Studying Chinese briefly makes Camelia bloom : Wen, the store owner whose ruined clothes have been discarded in the dumpster, teaches her Chinese.   She writes ideograms on thin paper and covers the walls with them.  She is in love with Wen.

But when Wen rejects her, she has an affair with his “retarded” brother Jimmy.  She begins to fear death, because Lily, another woman rejected by Wen, apparently died.

The language is stunning, even in translation, and the comical, angry tone is inimitable.  The novel ends with a twist, and honestly I thought it too abrupt, but the language is brilliant and bold throughout.

This won the Campiello Prize for First Novel in 2011.