Monday, December 30, 2013

A Year in Books

Thinking back over 2013, I remember events leading to books—and books leading to events—and books leading to other books. By year’s end my choice of books has changed my course entirely, at least for the coming year.

I read a playful book (The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum), a laughable book (Bad Monkey, by Carl Hiaasen), and an entertaining book (Unsinkable, a memoir by Debbie Reynolds and Dorian Hannaway). I read several biographies, one or two political books, and some of historical impact. I read The Scarlet Letter, a woman’s emancipation book by Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was the Hemingway of his day.

My regular reading was varied, prompted mostly by a desire for fun, but as I found the year moving forward, a strong direction became clear. It started with a presentation I wrote about on this blog, about two women’s suffragists in upstate New York in the 19th century. I had heard, of course, of Susan B. Anthony, but this presentation included Matilda Joslyn Gage, who was totally unknown to me. Gage caught my interest, and I started reading her book Women, Church, and State, and made a trip to her museum in Fayetteville, NY.

There I learned, among other things, that Gage was the mother-in-law of L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, and she had some influence on him personally and on his writing. This led me to read L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz, by Katherine M. Rogers. I put both of Gage’s books on my kindle and began to read. She was indeed a passionate and well-informed writer, and, having been a Feminist since the early days of Friedan and Steinem, I read her call to arms—a shot from the bow from the 19th century—and was ready to arm the troops again.

Women who devoted their lives to the cause of enlightening others and were forgotten soon after their deaths have long touched my heart. Such a woman was Marietta Johnson, a progressive educator whose name is all but lost to history, whose work I have studied and written about. Now Matilda Joslyn Gage is on my radar, and I hope to write about her as I research more about the women in the early days of the women’s suffrage movement in this country.

I went on to read In Her Own Right/the Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, by Elizabeth Griffin, and Marmee and Louisa, by Eve La Plante. I’m beginning Margaret Fuller, by Megan Marshall. All of these have the backdrop of the 19th century, and involve women who were well aware of their lack of rights and determined to see that condition change. The eye-opener to me about this period of time was that the suffrage issue was closely tied to the Abolition movement. The women who were working to free the slaves, whatever it took, found was that they had much in common with the Negroes of their day—women not only didn’t have the legal right to vote, they could not own property, and in actuality they too were property. Of their husbands. From this awakening came another, equally great movement, and it is not yet finished. The brave women who took a stand for themselves were pushed aside when freedom was established for slaves, on the grounds that the “woman question” was insignificant in comparison to rights for black men.

I have started reading about this period. I must learn more about Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalists, and read about Susan B. Anthony, Carry Nation, Frances Willard, and Lucy Stone. I want to read what they wrote, and learn what their lives were like.

It’s going to be a busy year. I am looking forward to another year of reading, and being surprised.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Geriatric Dating

I’m beginning to think that dating is for kids. A friend once pointed out that at a certain time of life—youth, I believe it’s called—everybody loves pairing off with a member of the opposite sex. Hormones and energy are rampant, and hope abounds on all sides that there is one right person for everybody, and that the particular person I’m going to the movies with tonight just may be the one for me.

In my own salad days, we heterosexuals didn’t even know that gays dated. We also didn’t think old people of 30 or more could, would, or would want to date. That would be silly. What were they going to do? Hold hands in the back row of the movie? Kiss each other? Eww.

As time went by and Mr. Right came and went, and another Mr. Right did the same, I for one began to feel differently about dating. I’m talking about the Dark Ages here, before it was okay to live together without being married. The specter of sex hung over us all, unspoken and undefined, as terribly powerful as it was just about unattainable. Years erased some of the fears, changed some of the mores, and before I knew it I was old, widowed, and just a shade lonely. There was this new thing called a laptop, with treasures of all kinds locked inside. I started blogs, put up a website, played with Facebook, wrote pithy comments on twitter, and signed up for a senior dating service.

I made contact with some interesting men by writing a snappy profile and getting as good a picture as possible to identify myself. We started by emailing, but more often than not, I lived in too remote a location, no matter where I happened to be living, for an elderly man to consider trying to get to me. It seems older men don’t drive an hour to have lunch or see a movie with a woman, even if they think they might like her. Something must happen as the testosterone abates and a man is looking back at his life instead looking forward to slaying dragons and conquering worlds. The drive toward a woman is replaced with lethargy and a desire to be accommodated by her.

I did meet one really swell guy on the service, but he lived over an hour’s drive from me. This was when I was living in Hoboken, which has a tremendous parking problem. But he made that drive often, and we had some good times together. Sometimes I took the train to his little New Jersey town, sometimes we went on trips (even an Elder Hostel); and became fast friends until he actually met a lady who swept him off his feet. I was disappointed, but happy for him as we both had come to accept that the lightning was not going to strike either one of us, much less both. I got back on the dating service and tried again. I met one guy I really liked, but he was less interested than I (and the last lady he had met on the service wanted not only marriage, but demanded that he sell the house he loved and buy the condo in NYC adjacent to hers, so that they, as a happily married couple, would have the two apartments remodeled into one. He loved her, but not THAT much.)

I had been in New Paltz eight months before I re-enrolled on the service. I set up discussions with one man who called himself something like “Hilltop Hideaway” and described his home as far from town, in the woods, with a couple of big dogs. Hilltop had a lot of energy, wit, and we got along fine on paper, until he sent me a hate screed about how all Muslims are war-mongers who should be annihilated and asked me what I thought of it. Thinking it was a joke I told him just what I thought—it was ignorant, racist, degrading and dangerous. Then he wrote back that he agreed with it. All at once I could picture that hilltop abode (now a shack as I envisioned it) with its arsenal of weapons of mass and minor destruction. His friendly dogs became in my mind mastiffs and pit bulls trained to kill. He said politically we were too far apart. I agreed.

Then I met a sweet retired professor who suggested books for me to read, and he wrote emails back and forth before we actually did meet in person. He was good-looking and smart, a good conversationalist, and I thought we might become close friends at least. But he emailed me that there was no “future” for us, unless I just wanted to continue as a pen pal. After some reflection, I didn’t.

Yesterday I drove an hour and a half in heavy snow to meet a man who had ignited my interest. He lives near Albany. He seemed bright, dynamic, and multifaceted. My fantasy grew about our meeting as I barreled through snow and slush. My GPS wasn’t working and I took a wrong turn, pulling off the thruway to look for signs toward the town where I was to meet him. I called him to explain where I was, and ask for directions, and without any sympathy or emotion I could discern on the telephone he told me I had gone too far and instructed me to turn around and drive back onto the interstate about ten miles. I’m a bit of a nervous driver in strange surroundings and I couldn’t figure out how to get to the thruway going in the right direction, but I saw a couple of signs and was following them as best I could when my car hit an icy patch. I was fishtailing back and forth, couldn’t stop the car, but that was all right because it hit a wall and stopped itself. This was on one of those exits ramps to the interstate. I was really jumpy now. Two cars pulled over to help, and one of the helpful drivers called the police so a report could be filed. The two men waited with me a while, and finally I told them I could wait by myself, so I dismissed them. I called my date who seemed only inconvenienced, and his apparent lack of empathy, plus the time that had passed while he waited for me to join him for lunch made me realize this was not going to go the way I’d been imagining. I was not going to meet him at all. All I wanted was the comfort of my own cozy condo in New Paltz.

My car is in the body shop today. It drove fine until about halfway home when the light said COOLANT on the dashboard. I made it home and took it to the shop, hoping repairs would be minor and I might not even file an insurance claim. No such luck. The radiator has to be replaced (explaining the need for coolant), the hood has to be replaced, and who knows what else they’ll find when they look it all over. I am driving a rental car until the damage is assessed and repaired.

But I know this: I’m not going back to check my daily so-called matches on the dating website again. I gave it what we used to call the old college try. And I know if I happen to meet a man who appeals to me, and vice versa, it will probably be the old-fashioned way, by chance, through mutual friends or mutually satisfying activities. I’m not going to force the issue. There is a time for dating and a time when the game is not worth the candle.