Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Gender Politics

Geraldine Ferraro (1935-2011)

Dear George,

We were saddened last week when we learned that Geraldine Ferraro had died at age 75. For many of my students she was probably a footnote in history, but for our generation she was a living, breathing vital figure in late twentieth century American politics. She ran, of course, as the vice-presidential nominee with Walter Mondale in the 1984 election against incumbents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Ferraro’s V.P. nomination, the first for a woman in U.S. history, represented the culmination of two decades of work by the Women’s Liberation Movement, and Katja and I saw her as an outstanding politician: bright, articulate, assertive, knowledgeable.

We were in our forties in 1984 and had seen monumental changes in American society during our lifetimes. Menominee in the 1940’s and 50’s, when I was growing up, was a small town in a conservative, isolated region. While my parents and their friends were undoubtedly enlightened compared to the community at large, traditional gender stereotypes and discrimination were the rule of the day. My paternal grandmother had been state chairperson of the Wisconsin Republican Party, and my dad and mom were staunch conservatives. In our North Woods world, men were “manly men”, women their helpmates, and there were no questions about who was head of the household. Few women in my parents’ friendship group worked outside the home; families were larger than nowadays; and the sexes had a traditional division of labor. I do believe that the adult women and men that I knew as a kid respected and delighted in one another, but males and masculine values clearly enjoyed higher esteem by all concerned.

While I don’t really know for sure, I’d bet that I was the only high school student from the U.P. to ever attend Antioch College. I discovered from the first day of freshman orientation that I was na├»ve and backwards politically and culturally compared to my more cosmopolitan classmates, many of whom came from left-wing families in East coast metro areas. I recall listening to some of my new classmates discussing the pros and cons of socialism. I had heard vaguely of socialism, but I had it confused with “social diseases”, and I couldn’t imagine what some of my peers found so appealing about syphilis and gonorrhea.

Racial issues were beginning to come to the forefront of societal debate in the late 1950’s, and some of the first civil rights picketing in the nation was done at Yellow Springs’ segregated barber shop. My hallmates and I patronized the black barber shop at the edge of the town’s business district as our mild form of protest. Katja was a member of the local NAACP and more sophisticated about political matters than I. When we talked about gender roles, she argued vehemently for women having lifelong careers, while I tended to dwell on the supposed rewards of motherhood. Katja’s opinions, of course, eventually held sway.

We married in 1960 and went off to graduate school at Michigan. Pharmaceutical companies had just completed their trial tests in Puerto Rico of birth control pills, a revolutionary new breakthrough, and Ann Arbor had been selected as the first site in the U.S. for testing on the mainland. Katja was in the initial group of enlistees, and I used to accompany her to her monthly exams at a second floor office suite on a darkened block of Liberty St. between campus and downtown. She joined Planned Parenthood and then became a charter member of N.O.W. when it was launched in 1966.

Katja L. (1972)

By the time we were living in Cincinnati in the early 1970’s, the Women’s Liberation Movement had gained substantial momentum. Katja was a T.A. in the French department at the University, and she formed a women’s consciousness-raising group composed of friends and colleagues. Soon afterwards she began to notice that whenever she called her friend Ellin both of them would hear a strange clicking sound on the telephone when they first connected. Katja called Bell Telephone to complain about wiretapping, but Bell claimed they would never do that without informing their customers. It was the midst of the Nixon years, and we both felt that wiretapping of a feminist group leader was a distinct possibility. Our phone conversations became less spontaneous.

Katja’s women’s group rotated among the members’ homes, and, over time, I got to know each of the participants, at least superficially. After a few months I got the distinct sense that people were giving me unpleasant looks when I passed in the hallway. I asked Katja what their consciousness-raising discussions were about, and she said they were about individuals’ personal lives. I wondered whether this might include their husbands, but I didn’t pursue the question. The only thing I know for sure is that every group member got divorced in the next two to three years except Katja. She claimed it was because we had the most solid marriage, but I think it was mostly luck.

I wish Geraldine Ferraro or her surrogates were still around today. Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann seem to be sharing the limelight as women politicians, and, despite Palin giving public credit to Ferraro for paving the way, they are fraudulent imitations. Gender politics, of course, have come a long way since 1950. But they seem to still have a long way to go.



G-Mail Comments

Jennifer M (3-30): This is great. I didn't know about Katja's and your roles in the "rights" movements. Thinking back on the goals of the women's movement, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman are put in new light.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring Sprang Sprung

Menominee’s North Pier Lighthouse is framed by a 40-foot ice shove on Tourist Beach on Thursday [, 3-25-11]

Dear George,

The onset of spring was more dramatic in the U.P. than in Cincinnati because of the longer, harsher winters. I saw on Facebook the other day that the U.P. was buried by a huge blizzard this past Wednesday. Menominee and Marinette got 13 inches of snow, the heaviest one-day March storm in recorded history. With 32 m.p.h. winds blowing in from from Green Bay, First Street was completely shut down by snowdrifts for 24 hours, all the local schools and businesses closed, and 3500 families lost their electricity. Hopefully that’s winter’s last hurrah for 2011.

The most joyous marker of spring in our family was Chinese Bells Day which occurred annually around late March or early April. It’s the day the ice in the Menominee River goes out. Our father gave it its name because the tinkling from the flowing ice sounded like tiny bells. We carved the date each year in the wall separating our living room and dining room, and, by the time our house was sold in the 1970’s, the list of dates spanned half the distance between floor and ceiling. Chinese Bells Day was exciting in part because of all the bric-a-brac which got swept along in the river’s current – tin cans, bottles, flowerpots, children’s toys. Sometimes you would see somebody’s wooden dock or even a rowboat or a canoe. We would put on my grandpa Guy’s hip-waders and venture out from the riverbank in the freezing water with a bamboo fishing pole, trying to retrieve objects that came within a 10-foot reach. We never caught a boat or probably anything else of much value, but we did corral some minor objects of interest.

Spring was exciting for numerous reasons, a main one being that we could count off on our fingers the weeks remaining before summer vacation. During the first few years that we lived on Riverside Boulevard, before the dirt and gravel road got paved with blacktop, car traffic after the ground thawed and the ice and snow melted created foot-deep ruts in the mud and made the road impassable till a dry spell occurred. That, of course, meant extra vacation days from school. As soon as the trillium bloomed in the woods at Brewery Park, my mother would send us to pick a bouquet to bring to our Washington School principal, Miss Guimond.

Though not as dramatic, the start of spring in Cincinnati is still exciting. We’ve had a cold snowy winter, and we’re ready for a more benign environment where it’s less easy to get knocked over by rambunctious sheepdogs. The season for flea markets, outdoor antique shows, and yard sales starts revving up in a week or two. We look forward to April’s flower festival at the zoo, and Katja’s hinting about an early trip to Kings Island. We’ll make more use of our patio, grilling hot dogs on our fancy new propane stove. I’m eager too to take Mike and Duffy camping as soon as we get some 45 degree weather at night. Best of all, nature shifts from months of death and dormancy to a season of rebirth and rejuvenation, something which can’t help but lift our soggy spirits.

I took the dogs to Parker Woods on Thursday afternoon for a spring photo shoot. The forest has been transforming itself in recent days. Though wildflowers are still scarce, the parts of the forest floor exposed to sun are becoming covered with a luscious green carpet, and buds are turning into pale green leaves on the shrubs. We’d walked pretty far into Parker Woods when raindrops started coming down, so we turned around. When we were about halfway back, the skies grew darker, and the tornado sirens started going off in the distance. The wind had picked up quite a lot, making it a little difficult to walk standing straight up. I put the dogs back on their leashes and started moving more quickly. The rain picked up more, but we were back at the car soon and then glad to be home. I decided I’d been overly nervous until I heard on the news that night that a woman had been killed in another area park by a healthy red oak tree felled by the 70-hour winds. Spring is our favorite time around here, but I always forget that it’s tornado season as well. Here are a few pics from our outings, including visits this week to Burnet Woods, Buttercup Valley, and Mt. Airy as well. It’s looking pretty springy out there.



Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Just a Shadow of Oneself

Dear George,

Freud described regression as a neurotic mechanism through which one psychologically reverts to infantile stages and uses primitive responses to satisfy one’s needs. Psychoanalysts nowadays have incorporated Ernst Kris’ concept of “regression in the service of the ego,” which posits that regressive mental states can also foster creativity and self insight. I’m not sure if it’s neurotic or healthy, but I do seem to be engaging in more regressive activity these days. It’s partly because childhood was filled with such wonderment. Snowflakes, raindrops, stars, fireflies, etc. Shadows are just about the best example. Though they hibernated on cloudy days, they’d pop up everywhere as soon as the sun came out. They would change shapes -- sometimes tall and long; other times, short and squat. They could walk ahead of you, follow behind, or be at your side. But, even when out of sight, every time you looked around, your shadow would be right there. And if you did they hokey-pokey, they’d duplicate your every move. Years later, when you found a girlfriend, the combined shadow of the two of you, holding hands and walking together, was pure romance. So, in the interest of regression, I thought I should check out my shadow. Here’s are some images of that crafty fellow.



G-Mail Comments

-Phyllis S-S (3-23): Dave, I prefer to think of what you describe as creativity and NOT regression. Phyllis

-Vicki L (3-22): Hi D, Wow you are one awesome and somewhat scary dude. Love, Sis

-Jennifer M (3-22): "like" :-)

-Donna D (3-22): david, this is the BEST yet! i just love this… where's katja? maybe you should think about making more shadow pics with the two of you. then, maybe you could add the dogs, thus the four of you. then, maybe you could add justin, kiersta and the babies,even the dog! many shadows from the one shadow. i just loved this!!!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Good Grief, I Have Only One Life Left!

Dear George,

I can’t believe this is my 223rd blog posting. I worry about running out of ideas. I’ve touched on nearly all the disturbing topics: atheism, cocaine experimentation, sexual fetishes, the Tea party, incest, abortion, fratricide, insanity, self-flagellation, etc. Just about the only

taboo topic left is Death. Death has been on my mind a lot after reading about the terrible catastrophes in Japan. Among other things, I started obsessing about various times that I might have died but didn’t. Then I remembered what a relief it was when we learned as children that cats have nine lives. My friends and I always believed that that’s probably true for human beings as well. Why should cats be the only ones to deserve such a break? So I made up a list how many of my lives I’ve gone through so far. I was pretty shocked when I realized that I’ve actually used up eight of my nine lives. I can’t believe it -- that leaves only one to go! Here are the grisly details:

(1) Death by Drowning (1943): When I was six my dad, my brother Steve, and I were walking across the frozen Green Bay ice to the end of the Menominee breakwater when I suddenly fell through soft ice into the eight foot deep freezing water. My dad couldn’t get to me, and I was on my own. Despite my snowsuit being water-soaked, I was able to drag my way through the ice chunks and freezing water, pull myself up onto the breakwater, and run back to my grandfather’s drugstore before I turned into an ice statue.

(2) Death by Hanging (1945): My neighborhood friends and I were playing cowboys in the back yard, and I was picked to be the cattle rustler who the posse was lynching. I climbed up on a tree branch, and my playmates made a noose from a thin metal chain and tightened it around my neck. I started clowning around and leaning over as if I were falling to my death, but then I actually did slip and fall out of the tree. The noose pulled tight around my neck, but, to my luck, the knot slipped out. Rather than being strangled to death, I simply fell on my butt.

(3) Death by Wild Buffalo Goring (1950): On a very dark night on our westward bus trip to Philmont Boy Scout Ranch in New Mexico, Frankie S. and I followed a long metal fence, trying to get to the brightly lit carnival we could see in the distance. Despite a warning sign, we finally climbed over the fence, walked eighty or so feet through some large black mounds, then climbed another high fence to get where we were going. In the morning we discovered that the large black mounds between the two fences were 27 wild buffalos into whose pen we had climbed and any one of which could have gored us to death.

(4) Death by Oil Tanker Explosion (1954): Driving across the Interstate Bridge in Menominee, I showed Frankie how I could lock our Lincoln V-12’s steering wheel in place by turning the ignition key off. I didn’t realize, however, that I wouldn’t be able to unlock the steering wheel as long as the car was in motion. An oil tanker was right behind us. My unsteerable car, moving straight ahead, finally bounced onto the bridge’s sidewalk. The oil tanker scooted around us, avoiding a rear-end collision and fiery explosion.

(5) Death on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (1957): I was driving a group of college friends to New York on a rainy night. When I found myself behind a large semi, I decided to pass him in what I thought to be a one-way tunnel through Blue Mountain. I’d gotten two-thirds of the way past the semi when I suddenly saw two headlights coming straight at me. I’d had no idea it was a two-way tunnel and that I was on the wrong side of the road. I hit the brakes as hard as I could, waited for what seemed like eternity, then whipped my car at the righthand wall the moment I cleared the semi I’d been passing. I felt my car being blown to the side by the oncoming truck as it whizzed by us, missing our car by about a tenth of a second.

(6) Eaten by Bears (1961). On our camping road trip to the west Katja and I pulled into a campground late at night in New Mexico. Not finding an available campsite and too tired to pitch our tent, we just put our sleeping bags down in an isolated area. In the morning a man from Texas walked by and asked if we’d seen the “bahhrs”. We finally figured out he meant “bears”. It turned out that we’d been sleeping on top of the covered garbage pits where a herd of black bears visited every night to scavage for their evening meal.

(7) Death by Immolation (1995): Katja was driving as we returned on I-75 from an airport trip and entered a construction zone. Traffic had come to a complete stop, so Katja did too. When I heard tires squealing, I looked at the lane next to us in order to watch somebody’s spectacular crash. The squealing car, however, was directly behind us in our lane and crashed right into our trunk at full speed, demolishing the rear end and totaling our car. Katja was taken by ambulance to the hospital. She had bent the steering wheel in two with her bare hands. The sheriff’s deputy said that it was a miracle that our gas tank didn’t explode and burn us to death.

(8) Death by Hurricane (1998): Katja and I were winding up our weeklong vacation in Destin FL when we received media reports of a pending hurricane. Despite dark skies and heavy winds, I decided to take one more swim. No one was on the beach, and the waves were high. After I’d body-surfed for five minutes or so, a huge twenty-foot wave came hurtling in. I dove into its base, but the water was so turbulent that I was slammed into the sandy ocean bottom, then tumbled around in a series of somersaults. Banged up, I paddled my way through the chest-high blustering waves to the beach, thanking my lucky stars.

Hmm, so that adds up to eight lives gone. Nearly all of these potential catastrophes were a product of my own stupidity or recklessness. I guess the implication is that it would be good to cut down on stupid, reckless things. That’s not always as easy as it sounds, although I’m trying my best. I did read this week on the Internet that Moses lived to age 150, and that was before they even had Medicare. So I’m going to make that my new safe-living goal. It will be one heck of a birthday party.



G-Mail Comments

-Gayle C (3-19): David.....I didn't know you came so close to death so many times....u do have 9 lives. I am soooo glad you have surpassed it all.... Yes Japan is a tragedy beyond belief....Makes u want to cherish every waking moment we have in this life. L O L. G

-Jennifer M (3-18): Funny idea, nicely done.

-David W (3-18): what a great posting-your memory constantly surprises me-good lord i feel i've had the most boring life compared to these near death experiences-by the way where did you find the graphic-i want to send it to jonny-he still does that kind of stuff with a slight pornographic bend perhaps-hmmm

-JML (3-18): It truly is a miracle that you're still with us. I don't have nearly as many harrowing stories. I'm going to read this to V and L and use you as a negative role model of things not to do.

Monday, March 14, 2011

From the Tsunami [A Letter from my Family]

Hi David...

Today, I was awakened by two phone calls around 7 a.m. about the expected tsunami aimed toward the Santa Cruz harbor at 8 am. I'd forgotten I was scheduled to be at the office at 8:30....scrambled to dress, took a last peek at my house and went off to work.

While events on the ocean front were uncertain for some time - what with irregular swells, roads blocked off, etc., it seemed that once again we'd been spared a natural disaster.

I remember back in the early 80's with 3 young children, our family received news of a coming tsunami due to a massive earthquake in Alaska (?). George was doing a headstand in the living room, he eventually rolled into a sitting position and suggested we all head down to the beach to see the wave action. I was aghast. I marched the children into the car (it was evening and dark out) and headed for the mountains. Sensible I thought.

George was somehow always full of surprises although his behavior and belief systems were consistent throughout his lifetime. I have no memory of the rest of that night.

As you may recall, George was in Japan during the '89 earthquake and was very pleased to have been interviewed on the major news channels there as a Santa Cruzan. Arriving home, he'd no idea what had really gone on for everybody and was most eager to tell of his adventures in the East. The funny thing is that I suspect if he'd been here, the whole event would scarcely have phased him in any case.

Two nights ago I had a major nightmare about being in a small boat on the crest of a tsunami wave. Peter would've appreciated this synchronicity. You'll probably be amused by the fact that my friend Mandy and I had just signed up for a 3-day $300 workshop on the Lexington Reservoir starting this very afternoon to learn the art of ocean rowing. What I especially appreciated was that the name of the workshop was "Calm Waters". We had a great afternoon on the reservoir. Meanwhile, the SC harbor suffered at least $17 million in damages. Our boating dock washed away, several skulls were smashed, UCSC lost all of its little sailboats and well.....who has time for depression and anxiety when life is so full of adventure?

Love, V

G-Mail Comments

-Kiera O (3-14): Hello--it's Kiera here. Thanks, Terry. I'm glad and very relieve that no major destruction came to Santa Cruz. I continue to be sorely sad for the people in Japan who took the big hit. Especially I'm worried about the nuclear situation. It seems like the cruelest of ironies that once again Japan finds itself in danger of contamination. Interesting what V wrote about George's visit to Japan, (and, wow, about the dreams.)

love, Kiera

Friday, March 11, 2011

Mysterious Fernbank World

Dear George,

Kids in our family were lucky to grow up in Water Wonderland. Though nobody stuck around, nowadays most of our family members are located near other significant bodies of water, e.g., Puget Sound, the Pacific Ocean, Lake Placid, the Jersey Shore, the mighty Mississippi, the Gulf of Mexico. We Cincinnatians, by comparison, are relatively landlocked. However, we are situated on the Ohio River, the third longest in the Midwest (1290 miles), and Cincinnati has been shaped by its being a river town.

My most frequent and pleasant experiences of the Ohio come from hiking at Fernbank Park about twelve miles west of the city. Fernbank is a 65-acre park which extends about a mile and a quarter along the Ohio River at the village of Sayler Park. It’s the site of the former Fernbank Dam and Lock, built in 1911. Fernbank was the largest movable wicket dam in the world and allowed for control of the Ohio’s water depth to sustain barge traffic. Dismantled in 1963, you can still see some remnants of the lock along the shore.

The western side of Fernbank Park is a relatively open space with massive hardwood trees and a long walking path which sports an endless parade of dog owners and their pets. The eastern half offers a hiking trail through a thick woods. The woods are strange and eerie. They’re made up of trees and shrubs that I never seen elsewhere and that must thrive only on a river’s spongy shoreline. They remind me of the frightening forest scenes in Disney’s classic movie Snow White, where the gnarled, distorted branches seem to come alive and grab at you. They’re also sort of picturesque. Here are some photos from Fernbank in early March, starting with more open vistas of the Ohio River and the Kentucky hills on the opposite side, then moving into the mysterious forest. The river had nearly reached flood stage when these pics were taken.



G-Mail Comments

-Vicki L (3-11): Hi David... What a lovely river! Your father would be so proud of your exquisite photography -- you have quite an eye. Love, Vicki

-Donna D (3-11): David these are beautiful they make fernbank look so mysterious!! Donna