Argumentation of Historians

The collective noun for a group of historians is an “argumentation.”  No kidding!  So, what could be more fun than hanging out with a bunch of doctors?   That’s right, hanging out with an argumentation of historians.  And there are an awful lot of very smart people doing seriously good work — as historian Hugh Trevor-Roper once said, “. . . history that is not controversial is dead history.”  And he of course was no stranger to controversy.

The 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association is in Denver, and I (via public transportation no less!) managed to attend a few sessions.  No question medical conferences are better managed, and the really good ones are quite efficient at getting the latest information out to the maximum number of people in well-organized chunks. History conferences, on the other hand, are somewhat nebulous.  The AHA does its best, but when 25 sessions are running concurrently in each time slot, it is difficult not to feel that you are missing out.  Because of course you are missing out, probably on a brilliant talk in the next meeting room.

At the presentation level, I would argue that doctors in general make better speakers.  Different material, certainly, but some skills are universal:  speak clearly, and please emphasize your key points.  I sat in on a session titled “Doing Indigenous History,” and I am sure I would have learned more had I been able to understand the speakers better:  (1) slow down and enunciate (preferably into the mic); (2) do not speak as though everything were an aside; (3) do not slide into vocal fry or inflect your sentences into questions unless you really are from Down Under (Angel Hinzo, you are doing important research, but you sounded like a teenage girl and not a serious scholar when you phrase your findings as questions, because that unconscious upward inflection undermines your academic authority); (4) and please please please observe the niceties and remove your hat (Jordan Lee Craddick, the hat may be your “thing,” but seriously, at a conference presentation?)

I pick on Craddick and Hinzo because I have high hopes for them.  Both of them are at the beginning of their career, and I think they can learn a thing or two from their panel moderator Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, a historian who has been around for awhile and who knows a thing or two about being authoritative.  In the meantime, I think Craddick and Hinzo are both going to do interesting things, and I look forward to them making controversy and keeping American history challenging.

On a different subject:

aha

I wonder if anyone else (that would be any other historian) were bothered by the apostrophe abuse.  Clearly whoever authorized the signs at the Colorado Convention Center never bothered to learn the rules.  As DH would say, my personal windmills . . .

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November 8, 2016

. . . . was a truly awful day.

One of my favorite people told me that each person in her three-person family voted for a different candidate.  Her husband voted for the Human Stain.  She excused him by telling me that he did so because  he was hoping for a better future for small businesses, and that while it is true the Human Stain denigrated various segments of the population, he personally was voting for the economy and not for anything else the Human Stain may represent.

Jamelle Bouie, political reporter at Slate:  There is No Such Thing as a Good Trump Voter.”  His point:

Whether Trump’s election reveals an “inherent malice” in his voters is irrelevant.  What is relevant are the practical outcomes of a Trump presidency.  Trump campaigned on state repression of disfavored minorities . . . .  If you voted for Trump, you voted for this, regardless of what you believe about the groups in question.  That you have black friends or Latino colleagues, that you think yourself to be tolerant and decent, doesn’t change the fact that you voted for racist policy that may affect, change, or harm their lives.  And on that score, your frustration at being labeled a racist doesn’t justify or mitigate the moral weight of your political choice . . . .  To insist Trump’s backers are good people is to treat their inner lives with more weight than the actual lives on the line under a Trump administration.  At best, it’s myopic and solipsistic.  At worst, it’s morally grotesque.

Well, I guess I don’t have anything else to add to this.  Thank you, Mr. Bouie, for your superbly intelligent and sharp articulation of how I feel about those 59 million people.

More Things I Forgot to Remember

During my medical training, attendings reminded us again and again to treat patients with dignity:  simple things, such as addressing them by title and last name, keeping them properly draped during physical examinations, sitting down at eye level when possible. The physical nature of the relationship between doctors and patients does not always bode well for that injunction:  there is no dignity in the rectal exam, or in dropping an NG tube, or in any of the many invasive things we do to patients during the acts of healing.  Nevertheless, there are certain things we can do that serve as reminders that our patients are adults, and that their bodies and minds deserve care with compassion and dignity.

So I had forgotten with my father.

“Dad, please eat the last few bites.”  I feed him.

“Dad, you need to take a shower.”  I undress him, I put him in the shower, I soap, I wipe, I dry, I redress him.

“Dad, time to brush your teeth.”  I put toothpaste on toothbrush, fill the cup, watch him brush.

“Dad, wash your hands.”  I give him soap, or hand sanitizer, and I watch to make sure he cleans his hands.

“Dad, please don’t use the stairs by yourself.”  I sleep on a makeshift bed, a human barricade on the staircase landing so that he cannot go downstairs in the middle of the night.

All these things that I think my father need to do, but that he refuses to do on a regular basis.  They are for his own good, right?  Why would he refuse to take care of personal hygiene, or to eat, or to get out of bed, or to do any number of other things that any reasonable human being does, as he did do for most of his life, but has stopped doing since Mom died?

My father is his own person, with his own reasons, making his own choices.  Who am I to try to force him on a course he doesn’t want to take? He wants to be with Mom, and as a thinking being, he is doing something about it.  And it’s about time I remembered the lessons of compassion and dignity.  No question it is a hard thing to watch my father dying, and to let him go on his own terms.  I choose to believe that is his gift to us:  that we are not his parents.

Conversation of the Month:

Me:  “Could you make sure after guests leave Mom and Dad’s house that you clean the                     toilets?  They were filthy after _____ stayed for 8 days back in May, and I had to                     clean them when I got here, 5 months after the fact.  Not fun.”

Brother:  “I did check the toilets, they were fine!”

Me:  “Did you flip the seats up and look underneath?”

Brother (in bewilderment):  “Why would I want to do that?”

In the Autumn of My Life

When white American men get angry and scared, they elect someone who is all they think they want to be.  He is white, he has gobs of money, he is a taker of women, money, property.  He is a racist, he is anti-intellectual, he is apparently amazingly potent — look at the much-younger beautiful-but-thick-as-a-brick wife, the many kids!  He would turn back the clock for all these angry and scared white men to a time when everyone knew where people of color belonged, where women belonged, where there were no such things as LGBT people (let alone rights for them), where Americans were home-grown and had a special relationship with God, where American military-industrial complex governed the world.

As a citizen, an immigrant, a woman, an intellectual, a believer in the rationality of science, a basically ethical human being, I am saddened by the election.  As a historian, I will take the long view, and I know America will survive this.  I don’t believe in American exceptionalism, but I do believe in American resilience.  I am happy to live in a state that did NOT vote him in, and I will do something I never really did before: pay attention to state’s rights.  As a doctor, I am glad that Colorado has become the 6th state to allow right-to-die measures for the terminally ill.  It was a sad election day, but with bright spots and hope intact for the future, for the next four years I will do my best to take care of my little corner of America.

In that little corner, I have other things to think about:

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It’s not just any old knife:  I coveted this knife for the last two decades, and almost two years after Mom died, I brought her knife home.  Today I took it to Jim, my favorite knife sharpener.  He has been retired for years, but he sets up his tools every year during the summer outside one of our local grocery stores, and the rest of the year he sharpens knives and tools out of his garage.  Every time I bring in my other Mac knife (swiped from Mom years ago), he tells me how much he loves these Japanese knives.  Dad took care of Mom’s knives the old-fashioned way, with a whetstone.  This knife was Mom’s everyday/everything knife, and in the last few years, Dad stopped sharpening it for her, much the same way he stopped doing various things around the house for her.  Since her death, he has also stopped doing things for himself.

Dad is down to skin-and-bones now; he can barely get himself out of bed, he needs help bathing, he has a walker he hates to use but has to because he fell and broke his wrist.  Dad was a skinny kid and a skinny young man.  After he came to America, he finally developed a belly.  That belly would go up and down a bit and up again, and when it got too Pooh-like, Mom would put him on a diet.  For 50-something years, he had that belly, and he lost it all in the last year.  I help him bathe, and I am shocked by all he is now.  No fat, no muscle, just skin and bones.  He is so brittle.

I wait for Mom to take him home.

Knitting: Dresses for the Winter

Wisteria2.2
Wisteria dress

Years ago, I knitted the Wisteria in its original sweater form: https://opiegp.wordpress.com/2009/05/31/wisteria/

It was beautiful, but the yarn I used was wrong for the project.  It was too soft, the sweater grew, and I never wore it.  I finally frogged it this past spring, and a couple of weeks ago I decided to reknit Wisteria as a dress.

Pattern:  Wisteria, by Kate Gilbert, from Twist Collective Fall 2008.

Yarn:  A DK weight merino/cashmere/silk yarn from Lambspun of Colorado.  This yarn has been a few projects and has held up beautifully over the years.

Modifications:  The pattern converts into a dress without fuss.  I added some bodice darts at the back to prevent “poofing” under the yoke, added darts in front and back (along with those at the sides) for smoother skirt increases, and shortened the sleeves to 3/4 length.

Thoughts:  The yarn was perfect for this project; it is light, and the dress conforms without clinging.

Bryn Mawr2.1
Bryn Mawr dress, version 2

I knitted my first Bryn Mawr dress also with the wrong sort of yarn: https://opiegp.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/knitting-for-the-fall-vortex-street-pullover-bryn-mawr-dress-halliard/

Again, the yarn was too soft, and the dress was incredibly clingy and picked up static like crazy.  But I loved the pattern, so I reknitted the sweater this past spring.

Pattern:  Bryn Mawr dress, by Alex Capshaw-Taylor, from Interweave Knits Fall 2013

Yarn:  Sport weight mule-spun Elsawool in undyed medium grey.  This is a cormo wool, and I love it as much (if not more) than merino wool.

Modifications:  I opened up the neckline, and did not bother with the skirt hem.  I knitted the sleeves on from the top using short rows to shape the caps.

Thoughts:  The pattern was as fun to knit this time around as last time.  More important, the dress fits well without cling, and the cables still show up even with the darker yarn.

Henry James: The Awkward Age

One of my rituals when visiting Santa Fe was stopping off at Nicholas Potter Books; unfortunately, he had to close his bookstore a couple of years ago.  There are a few used bookstores scattered around Santa Fe, but I have not found one quite like the old Nicholas Potter Books.  I mention this bookstore because while I have the complete Henry James on Kindle, tablet, and iPhone, I still like to read him in book form.  About 5 years ago, I found a Pantheon’s The Novel Library edition (1949) of The Awkward Age.  It has teeny-tiny print on very thin paper, and is just a tad too big to fit in my pocket.  When I started to read the book, I did not need glasses . . . .  I finally finished the book last week, and am currently on my second prescription for reading glasses.

Henry_James
Henry James, 1910. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, George Grantham Bain Collection, Digital ID ggbain.04703

My favorite Henry James novel is The Ambassadors: it is his most approachable late work, the least elliptical, and with the most sympathetic lead character.  The Awkward Age is not in that league, but I can see the progression from that book to his final works.  The short version of the story is that of two girls, Nanda and Aggie, the former too much exposed to a corrupting society, the latter cossetted to the point of imbecility, and how each breaks out of her awkward age.  Surrounding them are mothers and guardians and friends, each with his/her own set of beliefs on the role of society and the moral code, and each acting ultimately not for the girls’ good, but for his/her own benefit.  The tale is told almost entirely in dialogue, and that made it a difficult slog.  Without a lot of clues about the people populating the play, I was left to my own devices about how to feel about the whole arc of the story.  All the characters talk … and talk … and talk … and it is never clear exactly what they are talking about and how they actually feel about anything, or anybody, in their lives.

I think I tried too hard the first few years to read every word, mull over every sentence, with the result that I would put the book down for a while, then have to reread from the beginning.  The trick to reading this particular book is to pretend you really are in the drawing room with the characters, and just “listen” semi-attentively as you would at a cocktail party populated by people you don’t particularly like.  You know you are going to miss some things along the way, but really, does it matter if at the end of the night, you do in fact get the gist of it all?

A random conversation between Mrs. Brook and Vanderbank:

“I called Nanda in because I wanted to.”

“Precisely; but what I don’t make out, you see, is what you’ve since gained by it.”  

“You mean she only hates me the more?”

Van’s impatience, in the movement with which he turned from her, had a flare still sharper.  “You know I’m incapable of meaning anything of the sort.”  

She waited a minute while his back was presented.  “I sometimes think, in effect, that you’re incapable of anything straightforward.”  

Indeed.

A Maker

Just recently, a couple of weeks in fact, I became aware of the term “maker” as applied to crafters/artisans/diyers . . . .  I like it.  I am a maker of things useful and otherwise, interesting and otherwise, beautiful and otherwise.  I make.

Cavy On
A Floor Mat for the Guinea Pigs!

Pattern:  The letters are from the Moda “Spell it with Fabric” blog hop, reduced to 3/4 size.

Fabric:  The blue background fabrics are from Amy Butler’s “Daisy Chain” collection; other fabrics are stash scraps.

The Cavies (aka guinea pigs Tula and Chia) live in the basement in the summer; their house is at the bottom of the staircase.  I made this floor quilt for the landing in front of the cage, partly for The College Kid’s amusement, but mostly because I have never made fabric letters.  The backing fabrics are Joel Dewberry home decor weight scraps, the batting is also made up of scraps from other projects, and the binding is made from one of Mom’s nightgowns.  This was a fun project, and the letters were addictive to make.  I also sewed a whole set of letters at full size for one of Emily Dickinson’s pithy poems . . . .  that one is a “someday” quilt.