Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Weird Habit No. 5: Violent Movies? I Can't Even Handle Sitcoms.

I didn't realize I was a Highly Sensitive Person until my daughter Anne was diagnosed with the condition. In fact, I had no idea it was a recognized condition. But, after Anne got the label, I took the HSP self-test. I answered yes to all but four of the questions. One of the questions was: I make a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows. That I do. In fact, I even try to avoid situation comedies in which people are embarrassed or are put in emotionally painful situations. Recently, I started watching The Terminal. It was just too upsetting to watch the Tom Hanks character's ordeal. Being of a practical bent, Kathleen asked me if I'd rather wash the kitchen floor. I washed it.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Weird Habit No. 4: I'm Oppositionally Defiant

It's one of those psychobabble terms, but I'm afraid it applies to me. When I hear something, I automatically think of objections to it. It can be maddening for a spouse, for instance, but on the whole, it's served me well. Both my parents were smokers. I never even tried a cigarette. I didn't try the other kind of smoke that some of my friends were doing. Or those other drugs that were supposed to expand the mind. When I lived in Iowa City, one of those places the right-wingers call a "people's republic," a lot of people thought I was a conservative. In Elkhart, Indiana, I seemed to be a radical. (Actually, in both places, I was a liberal Democrat, so maybe oppositional defiance didn't have anything to do with it.)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Weird Habit No. 3: Lost in a Fog

"Like a ship at sea, I'm just lost in a fog," begins that beautiful song by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh. I remember listening to a recording of it with Kathleen. (I think it was sung by Connee Boswell.) Whether she pointed at me, or just gave me a knowing look, it was obvious that the song applied to me. Too often I'm just oblivious to my surroundings. In the early 1980s, I worked for CIT Tours, (Compagnia Italiana Turismo) in its Bensenville, Illinois office, as the Rail Coordinator. I finally got to go over to Italy for a familiarization trip, and finagled a way to take Kathleen with me. We were in the Sforza Castle in Milan, when we walked through a room which seemed to be completely empty. I said something to that effect, and Kathleen (probably with a roll of her lovely brown eyes), told me to look up. Of course she, as an art student, knew exactly what was there. Leonardo da Vinci had painted an incredible fresco on the ceiling. I, being lost in a fog, just thought it was an empty room.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Betty Friedan and McCarthyism--What if?

I've become a regular listener to courses on tape and CD. Last week, Kathleen, who works at the library, saw a course she knew I'd love and checked it out for me. It was "American Inquisition: The Era of McCarthyism," presented by Professor Ellen Schrecker of Yeshiva University. It's part of Recorded Books' "The Modern Scholar" series.

It was one of those odd coincideces that I was listening to Schrecker's final lecture on the legacy of McCarthyism just after the death of Betty Friedan. Schrecker talks about the era's influence on the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the American Left, and feminism. And while she emphasizes that McCarthyism wasn't the only factor in changing these institutions, she makes a persuasive case that was an important one.

During the 1940s, Friedan worked for the United Electrical Workers, writing pamphlets--at least one of which dealt with the double burden of working women who had to work a full day and handle most of the household chores. The Electrical Workers were a left-wing union and a target of the anti-Communist crusade. The union, weakened by the attacks, had to lay off a number of people, including Friedan.

Schrecker points out that when Friedan emerged as the "mother of the second wave of feminism," she was writing and speaking primarily about middle-class housewives and professional women.

It's one of those perplexing "what if" questions. Had there been no McCarthyism, would the second wave of feminism have been more inclusive of working-class women? Too many of America's blue-collar workers have been seduced by the Right, religious and otherwise. Yet there was a time when progressive causes, such as feminism, civil rights, universal health insurance--the list goes on and on--were workers' causes.

It's been a long time since I read The Feminine Mystique, but I remember being impressed with her arguments--especially her comparison of popular women's literature of the 1930s versus that of the 1950s. She certainly left a strong legacy. But still, what if...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Weird Habit No.2: I'm still a hopeless romantic.

A recent post in simply wait shows an Indian wedding with the caption, "come live with me and be my love." Of course, that's the first line of Christopher Marlowe's poem, "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love." I've always loved that poem. And even though I usually read the parody first, and often appreciate it more than the original, I've never much liked Walter Raleigh's "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd," which is sort of a parody. Raleigh's heavy dose of stark realism gives me the feeling that he knows it's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and he wouldn't have it any other way. The ballad "The Golden Vanity" is based on a broadside naming Walter Raleigh as the heartless captain. Somehow, I have an easy time believing it.

While I grew up reading Bierce, I don't see his cynicism in the same way as I do Raleigh's. While Bierce's Civil War stories are often gruesome and seem to celebrate death, they often show his passion for the beautiful countryside of western Virginia. "A Horseman in the Sky," is a good example. In his later years, Bierce fought the barons of the Southern Pacific, who were trying to get out of repaying a loan to the U.S. Treasury--a noble campaign if there ever was one.

My causes often seem hopeless ones--what Howard Dean called the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," railroad passenger service, and the Episcopal Church (particularly struggling urban parishes like the Memorial Church of St. Luke in Philadelphia and St. Martin's in Chicago). And I've been married to the same woman for 32 years--and I still think she's amazing. I may often sound cynical, but underneath I'm a hopeless romantic.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Weird Habit No.1--I Read the Parody First

Patry Francis, of simply wait, tagged me with the five "weird habits" meme. I pretty much asked for it. I'll start with the one I mentioned in my earlier post--I tend to read the parody before the real thing. This probably comes from finding a copy of Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary as a child. I now appreciate Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," but I got Bierce's version first:

The cur foretells the knell of parting day;
The loafing herd winds slowly o'er the lea;
The wise man homewards plods; I only stay
To fiddle-faddle in a minor key.

And like a lot of baby-boomer kids, I subscribed to MAD. Rarely did I see any of the movies it parodied, but in most cases, the parody not only pointed out the flaws, but pretty much explained the film.

Jay Ward and Bill Scott gave me Bullwinkle, Fractured Fairy Tales, Tom Slick, and Super Chicken. I'm afraid I saw a lot of the fractured tales before knowing the originals. The same people (I think) produced a show called "Fractured Flickers," which took old silent films, cut them up, and added narration. Hans Conreid was host. Before I saw the classic Lon Chaney "Hunchback of Notre Dame," I saw the fractured version, in which Chaney is the head cheerleader for Stanford University. (At the end, he transfers to Notre Dame).

In 1969, while staying in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while my mother did research for Paul Engle, who was writing a book on American women, I discovered the Harvard Lampoon. The issue that summer was a parody of LIFE Magazine, which proclaimed "The End of the World." And there were advertisements for the next issue: "Tolkien Will Never Be the Same." Of course, I had to get Bored of the Rings. The book is as much a satire of America in the late 1960s as it is a parody of Tolkien's trilogy. I finally did read Lord of the Rings--some 30 years after reading the adventures of Frito Bugger, Goodgulf the Wizard, and Stomper (later known as Arrowshirt of Arrowroot).

And I have yet to see "Shakespeare in Love." "George Lucas in Love," I've seen.