Song of the Day: Alicia Keys, Take Away Show

Worth the full time.


Of love and anniversaries 

Forty years ago today my parents got married in my grandparents’ living room. My aunt Stephanie was maid of honor. My dad’s siblings asked to come. My grandparents were bowling. 

So yeah, on one level it was your typical story of pregnancy before marriage at a young age. I’ve been told this story my whole life. I was that pregnancy. Yet that story was never presented to me as typical. Sometimes funny: the sponge is the worst method of contraception ever. Sometimes wry: my mom’s parents didn’t know how to express their disappointment except through anger at first, hence the bowling. But it’s a story that was never told to me without it being filled with love. My dad fell in love at first sight. And when he told his mom that I was on the way, her reaction was “good, more grand babies and I’ll take care of your father.” My dad’s mom ruled the world. 

Now my parents never advocated me getting pregnant at a young age. They wanted and got a different path for me. But they never once made me feel like I wasn’t fiercely wanted and loved. And that love smoothed things. It healed the space between my mom and her parents. The family lore has my mom’s father asking which end to pick me up because I would sleep in a tight ball. And I had my own special language with my grandmother, who couldn’t have loved me more if she tried. 

My dad has been gone these 7 years now, and my mom has a wonderful partner in Terry, who also loves fiercely and is deeply empathetic. I feel like celebrating all those loves, past, present, and future is important today. Happy anniversary. 

Commonplace: Roland Barthes, “Myth Today”

” ‘Myth’ takes hold of everything, all aspects of the law, of morality, of aesthetics, of diplomacy, of household equipment, of Literature, of entertainment. Its expansion has the very dimensions of bourgeois ex-nomination. The bourgeoisie wants to keep reality without keeping the appearances: it is therefore the very negativity of bourgeois appearance, infinite like every negativity, which solicits myth infinitely. The oppressed is nothing, he has only one language, that of his emancipation; the oppressor is everything, his language is rich, multiform, supple, with all the possible degrees of dignity at its disposal: he has an exclusive right to meta-language. The oppressed makes the world, he has only an active, transitive (political) language; the oppressor conserves it, his language plenary, intransitive, gestural, theatrical: it is Myth. The language of the former aims at transforming, of the latter at eternalizing.”

~ Roland Barthes, “Myth Today,” Mythologies.

Commonplace: W.H. Auden, “September 1, 1939”

"All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same"

~ W.H. Auden, "September 1, 1939"

Commonplace: Virginia Woolf, “Professions for Women”

“And while I was writing this review, I discovered that if I were going to review books I should need to do battle with a certain phantom. And the phantom was a woman, and when I came to know her better I called her after the heroine of a famous poem, The Angel in the House. It was she who used to come between me and my paper when I was writing reviews. It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her. You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her — you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it — in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all — I need not say it —-she was pure. Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty — her blushes, her great grace. In those days — the last of Queen Victoria — every house had its Angel. And when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in my hand to review that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered: “My dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure.” And she made as if to guide my pen. I now record the one act for which I take some credit to myself, though the credit rightly belongs to some excellent ancestors of mine who left me a certain sum of money — shall we say five hundred pounds a year? — so that it was not necessary for me to depend solely on charm for my living. I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing. For, as I found, directly I put pen to paper, you cannot review even a novel without having a mind of your own, without expressing what you think to be the truth about human relations, morality, sex. And all these questions, according to the Angel of the House, cannot be dealt with freely and openly by women; they must charm, they must conciliate, they must — to put it bluntly — tell lies if they are to succeed. Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. She was always creeping back when I thought I had despatched her. Though I flatter myself that I killed her in the end, the struggle was severe; it took much time that had better have been spent upon learning Greek grammar; or in roaming the world in search of adventures. But it was a real experience; it was an experience that was bound to befall all women writers at that time. Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.”

-Virginia Woolf, “Professions for Women”

Commonplace: Wilfred Owen, “Anthem for Doomed Youth”

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?       — Only the monstrous anger of the guns. 

      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle 

Can patter out their hasty orisons. 

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; 

      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,— 

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; 

      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all? 

      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes 

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. 

      The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall; 

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, 

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

-Wilfred Owen, “Anthem for Doomed Youth.” Owen was killed in action days before the Armistice in 1918. I’ve long thought we should mourn our dead along with England and Europe on this day that ended the Great War, the First World War. May and spring would be a better time to honor our veterans. 

Commonplace: Harvard’s women’s soccer team 

“We know what it’s like to get knocked down. To lose a few battles. To sweat, to cry, to bleed. To fight so hard, yet no matter what we do, the game is still out of our hands. And, even still, we keep fighting; for ourselves, yes, but above all for our teammates. This document might have stung any other group of women you chose to target, but not us. We know as teammates that we rise to the occasion, that we are stronger together, and that we will not tolerate anything less than respect for women that we care for more than ourselves.”

Letter by the women in the awful scouting report that got the Harvard men’s soccer team banned. Full statement here