Wretched Women

“That Spanish woman who lived three hundred years ago, was certainly not

the last of her kind.  Many Theresas have been born who found for

themselves no epic life wherein there was a constant unfolding of

far-resonant action; perhaps only a life of mistakes, the offspring of

a certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness of

opportunity; perhaps a tragic failure which found no sacred poet and

sank unwept into oblivion.  With dim lights and tangled circumstance

they tried to shape their thought and deed in noble agreement; but

after all, to common eyes their struggles seemed mere inconsistency and

formlessness; for these later-born Theresas were helped by no coherent

social faith and order which could perform the function of knowledge

for the ardently willing soul.  Their ardor alternated between a vague

ideal and the common yearning of womanhood; so that the one was

disapproved as extravagance, and the other condemned as a lapse.”

Thus begins Middlemarch, George Eliot’s magnus opus about, among other things, a woman looking for spiritual heroism within the straitened confines of provincial 19th century feminine life. The “Spanish woman” is Teresa of Avila, a 16th century nun possessed of both a great soul and a great mission on which to exercise its powers. Dorothea, Eliot’s heroine, has similar interior stirrings : the novel chronicles her struggles to find a work that is broad in scope and significant in import, and above all, her own—one to which she is suited and to which she can commit herself wholly.

Taking a cue from Eliot, a recent New York times opinion column by Jessa Crispin also uses Teresa as the keystone on which to build a meditation on female life. But while Middlemarch deals with the difficulty of emulating the nun’s religious zeal, the essay approaches Teresa mostly as a kind of mascot for certain choices regarding private personal relationships.

Crispin opens by explaining that she has never been “wife material.” In this, she suggests, she is like the female saints to whom she is drawn. Including Teresa:

“She did not have to remove any body parts to stay unmarried, nor murder scores of men. She did have to defy her family, though….Teresa did not want to be reduced to merely a body, bred and sacrificed for the sake of her husband and children. If she had to choose between being a body and a brain, she would choose to be a brain. So she entered the church — the only way a woman could become a philosopher.”

The presentation of Teresa’s conventual renunciation as a bloodless retreat from the degrading messiness of embodiment is very strange for a woman who described the highest form of contemplation as a primarily physical experience in which bodily control dissolves into faintness, rapture, and tears.

The physicality  of Teresa’s concept of union with God is apparent in her description of one of her mystical experiences:

“I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.”

Whatever else the Carmelite renounced when she left the world, she did not give up, as Crispin puts it “…what she thought she wanted out of life, which was love.”

By Teresa’s own account, quite the opposite.

That a woman might find transcendent love in a life of labor, privation, self-accusation, and abstinence, that she might seek it out for its own sake, rather than merely as a retreat from conventional social pressures, is strange and alienating. Certainly her own contemporaries found her unsettling; so much so that, as Crispin points out, they hauled her before the inquisition.

“Many of her writings were radical, but she used charm to convince her inquisitors that she was harmless. ‘But what do I know, I am just a wretched woman,” Crispin writes.

An inquisition by admiring elision may be more pleasant for all parties involved; but to reduce Teresa’s fears of hell, commitment to communal life, and absolute obedience to God’s will to a fear of losing herself in pregnancy and relationships is to psychologize her out of existence. In this reading, the rough edges of a visionary, with all the attendant outlandishness, complexity, and off-putting commitments, have been sanded off.  She is something both more generic and more relatable: an icon of femininity in revolt, trying to negotiate the choices offered by a female body and social role. Interest or accuracy regarding her actual beliefs is, in the final analysis, unnecessary—she is just a wretched woman.

Framing Teresa’ story as the struggle to be brain rather than a body, as a life lived outside a man, is a way to claim her as a patron saint; but it is also an enforcement of what it ostensibly decries. Whatever women think or do, their proximity to or rejection of male desire must be the avenue from which we approach them. Whatever their actual testimony and commitments, their relevance will lie in their relationship to the private, the personal, and above all, the experience of being female. Women of genius still occupy the same cultural position as Dr. Johnson’s bipedal  dog–while we may now admit that it is done well, our primary interest lies in the fact that it is done at all.

None of this is to say that the intimate, the personal, or the gendered are uninteresting or unworthy concerns. George Eliot, certainly a genius, was acutely interested in them. But by creating a fictional heroine through which to explore her questions, Eliot avoids the trap of reducing Teresa to a mirror for her own preoccupations.  Teresa is invoked as a soul who found her great work; the question is whether Dorothea will find hers. Whether and how she will marry, how she will manage her relationships and the social norms they impose on her, are secondary questions vital to answering the primary one; nevertheless, they remain Dorothea’s, not Teresa’s.

It is unfortunate that Crispin’s visit to Avila did not spark an essay on Dorothea, rather than the woman Eliot saw as her predecessor. Her reflection on singlehood and sacrifice is moving; how much more so had it been cast in dialogue with a writer whose thought she could approach on its own terms.

The third or fourth episode of Jessica Jones contains a scene of reconciliation between a woman and the man who has recently attempted to throttle her to death. He wasn’t acting of his own knowledge or volition, but bruises ring her neck nonetheless. He’s heartbroken; she’s panicked and hostile.

First, he sits outside her door while she talks to him through the intercom. Then, she lets him in, and as the meeting moves from reconciliation to the beginnings of intimacy, they sit for hours talking across the table, her hand on a loaded gun between them. “I might shoot you by mistake” she says. “I’ll take that risk,” he replies.

Patricia’s character has a raw need to know that she’s in control, that she can kill the man who tried to kill her, but there’s something else in the loaded gun on the table: a confrontation with what has already happened, and with the worst that might happen. The stark physical reminder of violent death between them is a line in the sand, an acknowledgement of how high the stakes are; it makes each shared childhood secret a trembling decision to step over the line by two people amazed at their own boldness. The nakedness of fear becomes itself an intimacy.

The scene works on the level of Patricia and Simpson, who begin their affair through a steel-enforced door and dogged by the very literal threat that the person for whom you’ve just opened it might not be who you, or they, think they are. But it also works as a dramatization of the painful process of opening oneself to love and intimacy: calculating, teetering on the edge of risk, asking “Can I let you in? Can I trust you? What would happen?” And finally, the moment of catastrophe when the questions cease to be hypothetical, when you are sitting face to face with someone, and cannot ignore how high the stakes are. The acceptance of intimacy becomes a shared moment of joy at having faced the unthinkable and survived.

This moment of potentially catastrophic commitment is a feature of “big love,” as Cynthia Lewis calls it, the pivot on which many of Shakespeare’s plays turn.

“Most of Shakespeare’s comedies center on the tension between a willingness to trust and a fear of taking that risk, whether so-called ‘golden comedies,’ like As You Like It, in which a disguised Rosalind coaches her beloved, benighted Orlando to keep his word, or ‘problem comedies,’ like All’s Well That Ends Well, where Helena inexplicably reposes faith in Bertram, who seems incapable of telling the truth about anything except his scorn for her. As Shakespeare moves from one play to another, he explores the limits of the comic formula. How can characters who represent real people, barely beyond adolescence, be left credibly at a comedy’s end to live happily ever after before they’ve encountered more of the disappointment, heartache, and loss that await all human beings? Can a comic resolution hope to imitate and anticipate audience members’ lived experi­ences? Probing the sustainability of drama under the weight of such questions, each comedy offers resolution, such as it is, that hovers over at least one protagonist’s unwavering commitment to another person.”

There is often something jarring in the sheer amount of violence and horror that Shakespeare’s heroes and heroines must endure to reach their happy endings. As I once heard a professor point out, many of his comedies, with very little besides the ending tweaked, could be exchanged with his tragedies. But there’s also something about the bombast and bedlam that fits the big loves his characters stake their lives on. If his plays dramatize the problem of profound, unconditional love and commitment in a world that is both untrusting and untrustworthy, it is fitting that that climaxes and codas often takes the form of utter ruin, narrowly averted.

Gaudy Night is a detective novel rather than a play, but it is both preoccupied by the dangers of love and haunted by the possibility of ruin. At Open Letters Monthly, Rohan Maitzan offers thoughtful responses to common criticisms of the book. One in particular, dealing with the dog collar Peter gives Harriet to wear, caught my attention.

“4. Peter buys Harriet a dog collar to wear. He even wants to put his name on it! Clearly that’s a sign that their relationship is about her submission and his control.

When I brought this up on Twitter, other readers promptly chimed in to say that, like me, they had never been perturbed by this–one noted that the dog collar is a handy solution to a pragmatic problem (what else could she wear as protection against strangulation?), while another remarked that her sense of the Harriet-Peter relationship was already strong enough at that point that there didn’t seem to be a problem. All three of us are resisting reading the dog collar symbolically, or at least as a symbol of ownership or control. In any other book, I don’t think I would resist this reading. Am I being disingenuous in arguing that I think it’s crucial to put the incident and the gift in context?”

Whether or not all readers are perturbed by the dog collar, it is I think, perturbing. Such an outré gift for the woman who has thus far refused even the most conventional, such on-the-nose relevance to the central problem of their relationship. Bringing up the collar’s pragmatic use complicates the issue of symbolism without resolving it. And rejecting a symbolic dimension outright leaves the episode with an artificial flatness.

I agree though, that putting the gift in context is necessary.

Gaudy Night has been an extended dialogue about how to be in an equal and mutual relationship, how to avoid being the consumed or the consumer, how to continue to be in the world and in one’s work when bound to another person. The talk goes back and forth and round and round in hypotheticals. Could there be such a thing? What would it look like? What would happen? Relationships are more than a happy ending, and these discussions, among other things, lay the theoretical groundwork for a potential happiness. But it has remained theoretical and potential.

in this context, the dog collar is indeed weighted with the symbolism of control, submission, subordination. It is the embodiment of everything Harriet fears most, everything she knows to be possible in relationships; the jarring, ugly, reminder of the ruin she risks. It functions as the loaded gun on the table between them—an acknowledgement of the stakes for which they are playing, both in their duel with a potentially murderous enemy, and in their long and private battle. The questions Harriet has been asking throughout the novel are now much less hypothetical: Peter must be trustworthy if she is to accept the yoke of his care for her in a manner whose theatricality tiptoes so close to the abyss of prostration.

Sayers seems to point out the tension in the gesture when she draws attention to the sexual gloss that could be given to a different, but closely related incident. After spending the afternoon wrestling with Peter in order to learn self defense, Harriet muses scornfully on the characters (“cheap skates!” she calls them) in her detective novel, in whose hands the sparring would be “worked into a nice piece of exhibition for the male and provocation for the female concerned.” By offering such an uncharitable reading so easily transposed onto her own characters, Sayers appears to taunt them and us: be very sure you are who you think you are.

What can it mean then, for Peter to direct such a gesture at Harriet? As it turns out, it means that Harriet survives an attempt on her life. The collar is not an asymbolic practicality, but neither is its use in the plot thin veneer covering some sort of crude exposure therapy for the prickly and independent. Rather, It’s the fact that Peter can buckle it around Harriet’s neck for the sake of her investigation, and that she can accept it without fear, that is the revelation. They can approach the worst thing together, face the unthinkable possibility, only to find that its significance pales and shrinks in the context of their mutual trust and care. Fear is transformed into intimacy, and the dramatization of their peril into a mundane tool of safety. They are both who they think they are.

It is a mistake, I think, to downplay the significance of the collar scene to defend Gaudy Night from claims of salaciousness or anti-feminism. There’s a risk, of course, for Harriet and the reader, that the gesture might be a sexual power play, an attempt to dominate her legitimized through concern about her safety. Such interpretations often have the painful weight of experience behind them. But the concept of risk is central to the novel’s exploration of love: not only its bare possibility and relation to vocation, but the thorny problem of how to accept and return it. How could there ever be reason or strength enough to make an irrevocable leap into the dark world of dependence and responsibility?

“She stood still; and he stopped perforce and turned towards her. She laid both hands upon the fronts of his gown, looking into his face while she searched for the word that should carry her over the last difficult breach.”

It is yet another gesture of submission that carries her.

“Placetne, magistra?” he asks, baring his head and addressing her by a term of authority.


How To Clean A Bathroom, by A Disorganized Person

There are, in my opinion, four types of cleaning: seasonal, deep, maintenance, and help-help-help-I-forgot-people-are-coming-over-in-an-hour-and-my-house-is-disgusting.

Seasonal: seasonal, as the name suggests, takes place only a few times a year. It’s when you freshen up that paint, fix the loose door-knob, do something about the grout, clean out the black hole of beauty products, install that clever and attractive new shelving system you saw, and consider switching shampoo.

Deep: The more regularly you deep clean, the less time it takes. Do it but when the grossness becomes overwhelming, and you might spend hours poking out fresh horrors from behind the bathtub. Do it weekly, and it eventually becomes smooth if annoying sailing.

The organizing principle here is four-fold:

a) don’t clean at whim, divide the room into discrete chunks.

b) go from less gross to more gross

c) go from more laborious to less laborious

d) do floors last.

Get a bucket of hot soapy water and a rag. Clean the notable slime off the walls, and wipe down baseboards, moulding, and any and all other features that do not involve plumbing. Then clean mirrors and other glass surfaces with a spray bottle of Windex, or seltzer and vinegar. Next, the tub. The outside of a tub is usually the less messy part, so wipe that down first. Get a scrub brush and a scrubbing agent, like comet, borax, or baking soda. Sprinkle, add a little hot water, and scrub away. When it’s all finished and rinsed away, I like to wipe the tub down with a rag dipped in bleach. Do the same thing for your sinks: wipe down the entire apparatus, then scrub the porcelain, wipe with bleach, and if you are extremely fancy, wipe down all your stainless steel fixtures with a little oil (jojoba, baby, coconut, any kind works.)

Now, the toilet. The toilet is the worst! Nevertheless, you shall survive. Start by wiping down the entire outside of your toilet, top to bottom, with hot soapy water. Then, lift the lid. Wipe and scrub the underside of the lid, as needed. Lift and wipe/scrub both sides of the seat, then get the area usually covered by the seat. Finally, you’re ready for the dreaded bowl. Don’t worry about it–almost everyone comes in close contact with human waste at some point in their lives, often someone else’s, for extended periods, and the ones who don’t are generally complete bums. Pour the remainder of your (now) tepid soapy water into the toilet bowl, and scrub everything that is not white. Flush, pour a little bleach into the bowl, and let it sit.

Now you’re almost done. Discard your old rags, thoroughly rinse out your scrub brush in the hottest water possible, wash your hands, and fetch a broom, two new rags, and new hot soapy water. Sweep the floor thoroughly, then, starting from one end of the room and working in sections the size of your reach, methodically slosh hot soapy water over the floor and scrub away. Let it sit for a few minutes, then mop of the slosh with your clean rag or towel. Congrats, you’re finished!

Tools: -spray bottle of Windex or seltzer and vinegar

-bucket of hot water and all purpose soap

-scrub brush

-scouring agent like Comet, Borax, or baking soda.



-four rags

Maintenance: The purpose of maintenance cleaning is to make the bathroom pleasant to be in beyond the day you deep clean it. It can also make deep cleaning easier–either way it should take no more than ten minutes.

Put away everything that doesn’t belong: towels on hooks or in the laundry, toothbrushes in the cabinet, shampoo in the shower. Wipe down with a damp rag anything visible on the sink, then toilet seat. Sweep, empty trash. Done.

Tools: -damp rag


Help-help-help-I-forgot-people-are-coming-over-in-an-hour-and-my-house-is-disgusting: The first point here is to jettison any concerns about your guests healthy. The microbes may do what they will; at this point your goal is not to make the bathroom clean, but not-gross-looking. All but your most germaphobic guests will thank you.

To that end, and in order of priorities: tidy up anything that doesn’t along. A neat bathroom looks cleaner than it is. Remove hair from the tub and drains. Wipe down the sink, getting rid of toothpaste stains, etc. If the baseboards are visibly dusty, swipe a rag along those. Clean visible stains off the surface and the seat of the toilet, leaving everything else. Sweep and empty trash, and, if there is still time, give a bleach wipe to the tub, which will then smell clean. Ta da!

Tools: whatever it takes, it’s the Wild West over here.

Beany Malone

Lenora Mattingly Weber published Beany Malone, her sequel to Meet the Malones, in 1948, two years after the end of the Second World War. Still, it feels like a wartime book. There’s an earnestness, a sober cheer and valorization of spunk and capability, both moral and pragmatic, that feels more of a piece with the war effort than the sunny 50s.

The book, which details the adventures of the four Malone children while their father convalesces in Arizona, is part of a trend in sentimental realist children’s books, the most well-known of which is probably the beloved Betsy-Tacy series. The two series share many similarities: both have multiple installments, (14 in the Malone case), both feature ordinary but vivacious heroines from loving and tight-knit families, both are set (at first) in Mid-Western towns, and both feature a cast of characters who, muddle as they might, desire both to do and be good. It’s hard to think of a current analogue, given that children’s and young adult literature is currently dominated by fantasy and dystopian adventure, respectively. The closest correspondent might be the stories published by the American Girl Doll company.

Beany Malone feels strange in some ways. Mattingly Weber (herself a papist) obviously set out to portray a big, warm, Irish American Catholic family, but the lack of influence religion and extraction exercise over social circle, preferred venues of civic participation, and general milieu is puzzling at first to someone used to East Coast clichès.

That’s a matter of adjustment. So too are the 40s idioms, and more importantly, 40s norms. High school graduates get jobs at the local newspaper after they graduate, or attend college in their hometown; older sisters go to college for one year and drop out to get married, then live at home with their newborns while their husbands are at war. The strangeness of such a recent world is part of the book’s charm, but it makes entering into the heroine’s concerns largely a matter of guesswork.

What is really at stake when “the Delts” might drop Mary Fred for standing by her returning GI sweetheart, who has disgruntled upperclassmen by refusing to take part in gentle and innocuous hazing traditions? What did it mean to be “in the swim,” or, alternatively, to be ignored by the “frat fellows” at a small mid-western college in the 1940s? Is the emotional weight these questions are given an attempt to keep on privileged and trivial ground, and thus render the moral conclusions pleasant? Or am I dealing with social structures and ways of making one’s place in a community that I don’t understand?

Certainly there’s some attempt to tame a persistent melancholy in the book’s malt-shop problems. There’s something tremendously sad and a little threatening in the figure of the returning soldier, fresh from the horrors of the concentration camps and the destruction of Europe, who no longer has time to waste on wholesome small-town frolics. But all this is addressed only indirectly, through the dilemma it presents his popular girlfriend, and so the sadness and the threat are present, but kept at bay.

The book tames smaller-scale harshness in the same way. The mother of one of Beany’s classmates provides a quite clear eyed look at the ugly, and sometimes abusive, results of refusing maturity and clinging to youth; but the climax provides revelation, reconciliation, and the resolve to be a better mother. It’s odd, and jarring, to have the stakes of the novels’ moral arc presented so clearly, then so tidily whisked away.

Still, the moral arc is real one, depicted with feeling–the dangers and rewards of responsibility, the necessity of facing pain in order to grow and to love. It’s a bigger and more honest and more challenging set of concerns than adolescents are usually offered, even though their theater is much safer and more inconsequential than in an apocalyptic adventure story. Perhaps that’s the appeal of the malt-shop plot, though–that one might cut one’s moral teeth in safety, and on problems small enough to chew.

Sympto-Thermal Manual, Part 1

Sympto-thermal manual here. The manual recommends learning with the assistance of a qualified sympto-thermal instructor, but we are not losers and weenies, we are pirates and renegades, and we shall go it alone.

website here.

The first two pages are just charts, and while they are very colorful their presence makes me want to throw in the towel and drown my sorrows in rum.

Now it’s going into how to read the cycle chart, but except for the little emoji symbols it remains hateful in my sight. There are emojis for vaginal wetness and a little heart one for sex, which, ok, weirdos.

Also: “Here you find classifications of your cervical fluid, called elixir (necessary for the survival of sperm.”

*raspy witch voice* “the elixir of liiiiiiiiife, my chiiiiiild.”

If I ever become a saint I want to be one of those weird popular cult medieval saints with freaky miracles, whose incorrupt body perpetually dispenses cervical fluid with healing powers. (From across the water I can hear Italian cardinals drawing up papers for a new canon enabling the Vatican to preemptively bar certain people from canonization. Suppressing the sacred feminine, AS IS THEIR WONT.)

Nice inter-NFP burn here: “Some programs pretend to indicate your next period. This is impossible.”

Seriously though, I hope this all goes on an app or something, or for what else do we march ceaselessly towards the singularity and the rise of the machines? Although in that case I should probably get a smartphone.

Ah ok, yes, this manual is definitely referring to online charts found on sympto.org, which is kind of nice. I’m not going to start actually filling in charts till the start of my next cycle, but this seems like it might be a good place to do it.

I like the fact that they have both a temperature curve and a place to record cervical mucus–also a space to make note of possible disturbing factors.

Ok, that was the introduction, now we’re in the manual proper.

“In this entirely new presentation of the STM based on sympto, our Foundation has taken much care to integrate many educational tools and technological innovations made possible by the Internet as well as by the app industry. With the instructions given in this manual, any web developer would be able to reproduce our system.” Yes, yes, servile machines to do my work for me, this is all I want from NFP.

But apparently we’re still going to do manual charting.

Also “The general overview was also especially written for men who should at least be aware of the STM.” Speaking of which, my parents always advised against long engagements (+9 months), and the thought of them generally gives me stress hives, but that is an argument for them: intentions declared to point where having your man help chart your fertility is appropriate, but time to actually get good at it without…uh, newlywed pressures. Or maybe we need to bring back niceties of pre-marital commitments and stages of publicity, like “having an understanding.”

“The old age of ‘cycle computer’ (e.g. Persona, Clearblue, LadyComp, Petite Sophia, etc.) still continues, even though they do more harm than good. They pretend that they can “learn” from your individual cycle observations and establish “true stats” in order to interpret the data in the most optimal way. This is preposterous.”


It continues:

“Any temperature taking can be disturbed by an interfering incident, for instance insufficient sleep, and any interference has to be corrected retrospectively as soon as it shows up in an aberration of the temperature curve: the compromised temperature value has to be put “into brackets”. No engine can recognize such an event. The STM is in any case the ultimate negation of any kind of ‘forecasting’ cycle theories. It is the only correct answer to all the failing rhythm theories.”

So if I am understanding correctly, the claim here is that ClearBlue etc tries to establish an average or normal pattern of fertility for you, of which you can then predict the onset. STM relies on in-the-moment symptomatic data? This makes sense, although it still looks like sympto.org expects you chart your temperature in a pre, post, or peak fertility window, which presumes you know which one you are in beforehand? I have not, however yet fooled around with the charts, and may be misinterpreting one or more statements, or otherwise just being dense.

I suppose the only thing to do is try both, and see which, or both in conjunction, works best for me.

Ah, ok, I think this answers one of my questions:

“When it comes to effectiveness it suffices that you can say “today I am fertile”, or “today I am not fertile”, as opposed to when you will possibly ovulate in x number of days.” So you can tell based on your symptoms where in the pre-peak-post section you fall on that particular day, and chart accordingly.

“The day of ovulation can only be identified by ultrasound but never by external symptoms nor by any kind of forecasting algorithm. The reason is easy to grasp: The first part of the cycle, dominated by estrogen, is easily influenced not only by external events, but also by internal, emotional pressure.”


This manual is talking a lot of smack about other methods, which makes me slightly suspicious of too hard a sell. But on the other hand registering for sympto.org was free.

“On sympto.org you can learn to master independently what no computer can do for a woman:”

Haha, know what else no computer can do for a woman?

Moving on,

“a) Enter correct observations,

b) Use the icon language appropriately,

c) Identify past temperature interferences in your cycle due to unforeseen events,

d) Decide if these compromised temperature values must be placed in brackets and adjusted retrospectively.”

The first two make sense to me, the last two are confusing. What is this retrospective adjustment? It sounds extremely tricky.

“Cycle theory, even though proven, and its best interpretation tool are only prerequisites for STM success: The deciding factor is your willingness to integrate these elements into your life and apply them correctly. ”

I don’t know what this means but it makes me

They say to start by entering every possible observation while still learning, and then, when one has grown in confidence and competence, to pare down to the strict number of symptoms necessary. I hope they differentiate more clearly what qualify as pertinent observations, else I suspect I shall end up writing a short novel every morning for quite some time.

In a plug for sympto, which refers not to the method but either to the website or the app, I can’t tell which:

“sympto will motivate you with educational messages, or correct you with error prompts”

I like the sound of that last part.

Next we go through arguments for STM in what is apparently a deep and contentious divide between methods structured around predictive cycles and methods structured around in the moment assessment of fertility. Not particularly useful to those of us watching at home. They make reference to the Döring-Rötzer day, which sounds like the name of an X-Files episode. Apparently it is the name of the day “which under normal circumstances opens the fertile window.”

Oh, this sounds good:

“For a breastfeeding mother, a message will notify her in time when she has to switch from the breastfeeding program to the default Companion mode.” I had wondered about that, what happens when you’ve just had a baby and either your cycles are going berserk or you don’t have a period at all. Do you have to learn a whole new method in a few months?

“Lastly, a crucial element of the STM is your dedication to observing your fertility signs: Regrettably, this useful body literacy is not taught in schools.”

I know, I’d be so much more on top of this had I nuns grading me on it.

Now it goes through all the factors which can, if too severe, render symptoms impossible to read. Also stressed is the need to use STM competently for effectiveness, which, well, baby steps.

Then more about unhealthy habits or relationship stresses that charting can expose.

“It is paramount to discuss your love relationship monthly, openly and thoroughly with your partner.” The SymptoTherm organization, if the phrase “love relationship” did not clue you in, is based in Switzerland

“A man displaying a lack of solidarity in following the STM indicates a relationship in need of improvement.”


“A better couple relationship and better health are the main objectives of the Symptothermal Method, which is really a lifestyle.” Oh, please don’t, “really a lifestyle” is the single biggest possible bummer phrase for any given health/wellness practice.

“You can achieve true autonomy beyond completing cycle charts: After some years of regular, systematic charting, you can learn to sense the rise and fall of your fertility. You may stop taking your waking temperature and use a special setting on sympto, called Billings Mode Program. Eventually you may not even need to enter any cervical fluid observations or to keep record at all.”

Is this one of those things where if you eat right and exercise two hours a day MAYBE you’ll end up looking like Kate Middleton?

sympto guarantees effectiveness, sympto provides certainty.” Sympto will carry us from a past of cringing humiliation at the hands of foreign powers into a glorious national future of magnificence and strength!

“This lack of enlightenment reminds us that we are still waiting for the liberation of the female.” Preach and testify, sympto.

Oh, and apparently they compare apps on their website, which is very helpful!

This manual’s sections are marked with stars and daisies and bubbles in psychedelic colors, it’s kind of great.

Now we’re in an overview of the sympto-thermal method. Sympto’s the mucus, thermal’s the temperature change in conjunction with which it’s interpreted. In unclear situations you can check the cervix, which sounds terrifying to me, and breast tenderness, PMS, etc can also be helpful.

Then illustrated cervices at various degrees of fertility, complete with dying sperm.

“or you can use the app. sympto processes all your data and calculates your fertile and infertile days with Swiss precision.”

I guess it is probably right and just that the Swiss are the ones developing NFP methods.

Then it explains that the app displays four fertility ratings, pre-fertile, fertile, highly fertile, and post post fertile. Of that last:

“The sun icon with the yellow and pink background represents dryness: nothing can grow in a desert.”

This manual is amazing.

So apparently you only have to take your waking temperature during the 7-11 blue fertile days?

Then more stuff about counselors, sharing your charts with other health-conscious women, and some stuff about men’s participation, mostly gentle side-eye at and random assertions about them.

sympto is very attractive to men” know what else is very attractive to men?

Ah, I slay myself.

Then some appreciation/consternation re the Vatican, coupled with more random statements that sound a bit…lost in translation, or something.

“Men do not like the condom. Why forbid something you don’t like? From an anthropological and pastoral point of view this prohibition is self-defeating.” What are you even talking aboutyou goony Swiss cheeses.

Ok, now we’re into the good stuff, waking temperature.

In the sample chart, there are six days of low temperatures, followed by a high temperature spike. The app draws a green cover line over the low phase. 4-6 temperatures are required to interpret.

Taking your temperature between waking up and getting up, within a span of 1 – 4 hours is sufficient. Thus you can enjoy petting with your partner before or while you measure your temperature.” Apparently your partner is a 50s teenager or a dog.

also: Adequate temperature recording is the most important thing to do when starting the STM and using the sympto app.

“Consider the printed records of your charts to be as valuable as bonds… ” I get it, I get it, you’re Swiss, but not all of hail from the country of Bankers to the World.

Skipping the part about getting pregnant for the moment.

We can also skip a lot of stuff about hormones and how they work, because it was covered in the Marquette manual.

“You do not need to buy LH sticks.” They really hate that ClearBlue.

“When choosing manual (pencil and paper) charting, you have to write down your PD sign on a paper chart. Cycle charting is the most effective way to know everything about your cycle at a glance. These charts, like real bonds, should be kept in a safe place.”

Again with the bonds! Also, I am confused–if paper charts are so valuable and irreplaceable, why am I having the app do my charting for me? What are you not telling me, sympto? Regardless, I suspect the app would far surpass me in both clerical consistency and interpretive competence–I guess paper charts are useful too in developing some of that competence with the safety of a backup.

It seems that recording vaginal sensation is pretty important, which depresses me, as I always second guess myself on that kind of stuff. The relevant sensations here are dry (D), humid (H), moist (moist apparently does not get a letter, only a water drop emoji), and lubricative (L), not, as you might have guessed, choleric, sanguine, melancholic, and phlegmatic.

“As soon as these crypts start producing life elixir, you will feel moist or a sensation of humidity, charted as H (humid) and your fertile window opens. This sensation is inside your vagina. Nothing is seen; nothing can be touched. It is entirely a bodily sensation. The H duration can last for hours or more than a day. It is usually followed by the sensation of lubrication (L), a very distinctly runny-wet feeling inside the vagina. When you have this sensation, cervical mucus will be identifiable outside the vagina as well: a feeling of slipperiness on the labia can thus be confirmed by the tissue-paper exam.”

Luckily, you can also use external observation.” You want to be sure whether you can really see your life elixir. Examine whether or not the tissue glides over your labia.”

“Learn at this sacred place of your womanhood to feel the quality of your elixir.”


The categorization of mucus elixir and how to test it doesn’t really differ from Marquette’s.

E=opaque, lotiony or creamy

sE=stretchy, transparent, egg white

yE=crumbly, sticky mostly yellowish

Ok, I am editing what seem the pertinent points of the next section into a quote..

Your fertile window already opens with the first sensation of H, sensation of humidity, and not only with “E” observation. Some women however never have this sensation and their fertility thus starts with E observation. PD (peak day) is the last day with external sE or E discharge. The internal sensation of H or L is not vital for determining PD. The internal feeling is important to determine the beginning of fertility, and for indicating highly fertile days.” You become infertile 2-3 days after PD.

Also pictures demonstrating types of mucus, probably a useful cross-reference when testing.

“After a few cycles of observing your life elixir, you will learn to identify your PD: The essential differentiation you have to learn is between sticky and creamy . The correct PD identification belongs to the more demanding aspects of the STM and is a major learning curve.”

Reminder that PD can only be identified retroactively. The day after, you mark a “1” on your chart and note that the day before was peak day. If you are using the app, you just mark elixir quality and note change to dryness and the app will mark PD for you. After PD, 1, 2, and 3, you are probably no longer fertile on the evening of day 4. However, you need temperatures to confirm. With temperatures, the end of fertility can sometimes be identified on day 3.

Then some sample charts, which have to be seen to be helpful.

Apparently the Döring-Rötzer day takes its name from a German researcher who discovered that ovulation is always preceded by at least 5-6 fertile days, no matter how short the cycle. There is both a small Döring-Rötzer day and a big Döring-Rötzer day. The way they are describing it is very confusing, but it seems as though the big DRD is the opening of your fertile window, and during your first learning year of 12 cycles, is automatically assumed to be at the 6th day of your cycle, for safety. The small DRD during this learning period falls between day 7 and 11. What the small DRD signifies exactly I cannot yet discover.The formula for determining DRD here is: day of first temperature rise minus 7.

In rare cases, temperature may spike extremely early during the first 12 cycles. In this case, the big DRD will shift to day 5 or earlier. The fertile window will be correspondingly longer, and the small DRD will occur before the big, rather than after. If your first 12 cycles show an extremely early rise, this rule for setting the DRD will apply indefinitely, leaving you with as few as 3 pink infertile days.

However, in most cases, after the first 12 cycles you will end up with more than five pink infertile days.

I am not sure how much I need to know about any of this, and the app is looking better and better, but I am enjoying references to “the big D.”

Because this manual is over 100 pages long, I’m going to break off here and pick up again tomorrow.

New Hampshire

After a late May storm, the New Hampshire Sky becomes glassy. The pre-storm heaviness will linger for days, clogging the air and dulling the colors of evening.  Then it breaks into gusts little and big, that whip the pines into a frenzy and send hard arrows of water slantwise in through windows.

It’s over quickly, and the air outside smells clean and sweet, something thick and sticky having been wrung and beaten out of it. The sky is not bright, but clear and steel blue. Shafts of sunlight break through in pieces and, refracted through the water that still hangs in the air, clinging to the stalks of plants and dripping slowly off the boles of trees, flash out in brilliance here and there. But the light remains for the most part diffuse, which perhaps accounts for the sharpness everything seems to have acquired. The greens are stronger and brighter, and the edges of objects stand out against the edges of what they abut.

The trees are always noticeable, huge straight pines and elms and firs, but now each line and rutted irregularity of the bark is defined, as well as the tangles of minor vines and stunted hedges that make covert for rabbits and little hollow rooms of greenery. The scent in the air is apple blossom and lilac: now is when they smell the strongest. Now too is when the wildflowers become noticeable. They always seem to grow alone, or in groups of no more than three, and usually in the cover of some ugly and sensible household item of industrial plastic. This violet, soft, purple, and no bigger than a thumb, looks like it sidled up to the green garbage bin an act of cockamamie bravado.

Little wildflowers, violet and buttercup and mountain phlox, grow all over the woods  as well, but even there they are not easy to find. They peep out from behind larger and more solid trees, as if anything too gaudy, profuse, anything less than humble, might tempt winter back again. But peep they do, and bravely. The apple blossom and its smell are lovely, but it’s these little solitaries, always coquetting around with frost, that seem indispensable to spring.

Of course, spring does not arrive in any dependable way until the sky stays blue not just in the heat of the day, but right up until dusk before sunset. All through the winter it’s a soft gray that blends into the snowbanks piled on the streets, and is almost indistinguishable from the feathery flakes with which it covers the crowns of the white mountains. In fact, the only objects that do not participate in or surrender to the soft grayness are the mountain pines. In the winter especially, the straight, dark, green forms dominate the horizon. Under their snowcaps they are the only persistent spots of color, jutting up from the face. Wherever you stand, your gaze goes towards them.

My walk home from work faces the mountain directly; my house is nestled at its foot. In January and February, the moment of leaving the office or classroom is especially vivid. You step out from electric lights and faded carpets and indeterminate smells into air so cold the lungs take a gasping moment to adjust. Once they have adjusted the gasping continues, because the cleanness is intoxicating. The sky’s pink glow and the clean air and the challenge of the mountain in the horizon induce an almost giddy feeling, a temptation to simply walk up into its woods and never return again to office or or rented room.

This being inadvisable and the prospect of ending my walk intolerable, I usually turn around and walk back a mile back into town to the pub. It’s a hard walk, uphill, my back to the tempting woods, and by the time I deposit myself in a bar stool I can no longer feel hands or nose: I am once again in a position to do justice to the merits of civilization.

It’s in the surrounding towns’ bars and pubs that the two New Hampshires become most evident to a stranger. Well, three New Hampshires, really. The first one, the flimsiest and most forgettable, is the slap-up gentility of charming college towns. The eateries here mostly serve undergraduates out for a beer on their parents’ credit cards, or said parents and alumni passing through town for a visit. The food and liquor and atmosphere thus have almost no identifying characteristics beyond inoffensive and (in varying degrees) luxurious; you can choose between extravagantly and only mildly overpriced pleasant mediocrity.

Because of New Hampshire and Vermont’s abundance of breweries, the beer is almost always excellent. However, if you sit down to enjoy it at one of the college-town bars, an aging executive visiting his daughter will almost certainly try to pick you (though only rarely the tab) up.

To get to to the the first of the two New Hampshires, you have to walk a mile or so over the river to one of the small hamlets nearby. The town will usually have at least one inn, and often a general store that retains the exposed timbers of its construction a hundred, two hundred years ago. The inns, which often date from colonial times, have wood burning fires, papered walls, and antique furniture. Iron farm implements hang on the walls of backyard barns, now converted into garages.

The indoor effect is chintzy, but in a cozy, cluttered way, as you might expect a retired and prosperous forest witch’s cottage to be. And though the atmosphere is rustic, the patrons coming for weekends and wine tastings are no yokels. They’re tall and silver-haired, clad in loose fitting but expensive outdoor clothing: goosedown vests and and hiking boots. Or sometimes in hand-knitted scarves, and artfully witchy wool dresses. The wealthy of rural New Hampshire are strange birds if you have only seen the wealthy of New York or Connecticut. They are as likely to run a small farm as a financial planning firm. Some have had families in the state for three hundred years. Others are aging hippies, having sold out and served the man in their youth, now enjoying the fruits of their betrayal in the form of skiiing, rustic inns, and a tolerant local attitude to marijuana.

The other New Hampshire is on display at this bar, part of a local chain of Irish pubs, which at 5 pm on a weekday, is almost entirely populated with locals. The bar’s wall sport the typical decor: the regalia of Irish sports teams, framed Gaelic platitudes, red signs reading “50 Miles to Dublin,” frequent references to the craic. It’s cozy and supremely corny, and the beer, as usual, is very good.

Many of the men and women around the bar have lived in this town as long as the silver haired aristocrats, but their accents are broader, rounder, with an almost an English inflection, often spoken through missing teeth. The men are dressed in solid, serious, un-picturesque work jeans and boots; many work have snow-plowing businesses, and some work on farms. The women are for the most part also in jeans and boots, cheaper and  slightly fussier; but in this winter no one without either substantial means or commitment to dress is prioritizing chic. Some work at the hospital, others in various service jobs in town. Most of the patrons are regulars, and Jim, the bartender, knows what they like. Jim has an earring and a motorcycle; he’s been divorced once and has a girlfriend of ten years. The other bartender, Dan, is an imposing family man with a shiny head, square jaw, son in the Marines, and Irish accent.

Everyone is intent on their beer, their hockey game, their plans for the weekend (which, in the summer, often involve the river) and local gossip. Occasionally someone talks to me, but most evenings, like this one, I finish my beer quietly and go home.

On winter nights I finish the last leg of my commute home quickly, but once the weather warms up, I linger.

There are no wild profusions of any flower in this neighborhood, which is a long, green, lane, with roomy clapboard houses and wide yards, in which, on a Sunday morning, you can hear parents telling their children in affectionate, modulated voices, how to hold their tiny trowels as they help in the yard.

In the winter the contrasting green shutters and blanketing snow make the lane picturesque. Now it is merely wealthy, fragrant, and peaceful.

At night, though, it is something else. Everyone retreats into their houses at night. There are no children lying out on the lawns, or parents lingering over a shared gin and tonic on their porches. At night the lane is given over entirely to me, and to the animals that come from the woods. There is a fox that creeps out regularly, and we barely mind each other anymore. The deer come more rarely, and in groups. I have never seen the flash of antlers, but I have seen a knock-kneed fawn.

It is hard to tell what they are at first, as you enter the lane. Shapes move in the darkness further down, shapes that could be human, but moving in too strange a way. It has none of the deliberation, the subtle deference to potential onlookers, that human shapes should have, and you grip the keys tightly between your fingers, fearing either and equally monsters or drunks.

Their eyes shine out of the gloom as you approach, and as their forms come into focus, the initial impression that they are human remains: for a moment everything seems broken, and visions of men forced to run on all fours flash through your mind. Then in a flash of moonlight you see what they are. There are often five or six of them, standing in the middle of the street, the most mundane garden pests of country and suburb, the deer.

I’m always sad to see them run away, but sometimes they tolerate me, nosing the ground quietly as I walk by. I have a one-sided comradely feeling for the deer and foxes as co-possessors of the lane at night, and miss them when they stay in the black silent woods. Without them other other night tenants are more obvious: the shadows of trees that ripple across the ground, and the little wind that seems to mutter spite under its breath.

A few of the houses have fashionable little rock piles for a garden sculpture, zen, and a little ridiculous by day, naked and alone on the lawn.  At night, though, they lose their polished triviality. Their stone contours become faces and hunched, still shoulders; they grow in size and age. To reach the warm, well-appointed interiors you have to pass under their watchful eye, aware that you are a guest. The inky black hulk of the mountain looms ahead, the stone trolls behind, and you know that the green shutters and prosperous silver-haired hippies are no more than a film, easily scraped off, and underneath the place is the granite kingdom, hard and older than memory.

At the other end of the lane, past my house, the twisted tree by the stop sign–charming in the sunlight–has taken on a shape halfway between a man and an enormous crow. In between these two poles is the house in which I rent rooms, and at this moment it seems a world away.

However, singing and walking are a match for most fears. They prove so here, especially with my face tilted back to catch as much starlight as possible. If the garden crawls with the old stony life of the mountains, the stars are the other half. They are alive and present, the most real thing in the lane: shining out of a blue-black sky, depthless and blank, stretching and curving farther than my sightline goes. Their light is clear, and as hard as the granite beneath my feet, and so bright that if you turn up your head to face them,  everything else seems to have dissolved into shadow.

When I wake up in the middle of the night, the room is never quite pitch-black. Through the window next to my bed, the stars cast shadows. The room is silver grey, with one square, framed by a cross of white wood next to my head, of deep blue sky and light. It’s easy to drift peacefully back into sleep, waiting for the clamor of birds to crack open another day.

Only A Factory Girl, Chapter 2

In Which Our Heroine Prepares to Receive the Nobility.

(Previous installment here.)

The chilly morning fogs had not yet dissipated when Mary and Kate arrived at the great factory doors, still deep in trivial and happy bickering over which of the two was as a rule more punctual. They were still bickering when the melee of the cloakroom rush broke up chit-chat until they took their places.

The noise of the factory made conversation difficult at the best of times, but Mary and Kate had settled into a customary place across from two other veterans of the floor; their ears had grown accustomed, and their eyes could all but read each other’s lips. And if the general hubbub discouraged communication, it also precluded easy eavesdropping.

Sarah Connolly was there before them–she had a husband who worked on the docks, and three children who left her with perpetual dark circles under her eyes. Hepzibah Habergram came stumping in after. Her hair was red and she was inclined, as Mary put it, “to notions.” Mary always mentioned the two facts in conjunction, though the relationship between them is yet unverified. Hepzibah’s last notion had involved taming a city pigeon to eat out of her hand and and be her boon companion. The pigeon, having notions of its own, had fluttered out a window and perched on a chimney, forcing Hepzibah, like the good shepherd, to follow.

The sprain was mostly healed.

“Hepzibah,” called Sarah as they settled into their work, “Hepzibah, I’ve found just the man for you. My Tim’s second cousin, just come down from Liverpool, so tall, and handsome, and no objections to birds whatsoever.”

Sarah was forever finding Hepzibah eligible young men, in blithe denial of her loud and repeated insistence that she would die a happy old maid.

The object of Sarah’s matrimonial schemes fixed her with a gimlet glare.

“Connelly. What have I told you, Connelly, about collecting men for me?”

“That you’d rather die alone than live a slave, that your heart is made of ice, we know, we know.” This was Mary, who had just cut her finger and was sucking on it in great disgruntle.

“Exactly,” said Hepzibah, unruffled.

“I work sun-up to sundown to make a living for myself in this half-penny Gehenna, and now I’m to come home to some great lump demanding his supper and putting up his feet on my granny’s ottoman and asking if my cousin Edwina couldn’t come some other week?”

Sarah could not restrain a laugh at this picture of conjugal felicity.

“Well, you know, he would have things of his own, and work of his own.”

“Yes, worse and worse. To be the little woman to his great man of the house, knowing his wages are twice mine.”

“Tim’s very grateful for what I bring home.”

“That’s no way to work on Hepzibah, Sarah dear,” Kate jumped in. “Next you’ll be saying he’s proud of you and lets you buy whatever you choose and she’ll be straight off to make a bonfire of marriage licenses and we’ll have to finish her work for her.”

“But tell me it doesn’t drive you mad,” said Hepzibah, “knowing the night shift men come in and do shoddy work and half the time leave everything out of order for us to scramble at in the morning, and for a day of their wages any of us would count ourselves rich!”

Two pink spots appeared in Sarah’s cheeks.

“I won’t say it doesn’t,” she said slowly, “but that’s not Tim’s fault, and the pennies he makes aren’t so grand for the grind of it, either.”

“And after, all, the men have families to provide for. It’s fair enough that their pay should take that into account.”

At this Sarah turned on Kate, her quiet voice breaking. “How can you, Kate Barrett, of all people, say that? You with a mother and sister depending on you for everything. And I’m not so badly off, but I break my back here before I go home and care for my babies, and I’m supposed to be earning a little pin-money to buy myself hat trimmings? Hepzibah’s right, it does drive me mad.” She finished, a little out breath.

“All right Sarah,” said Mary, more gently than usual, “Mind your work or you’ll cut yourself like I did.”

Kate was silent. She could not see herself as the family provider, entitled to the corresponding prerogatives without, she felt, somehow accusing her father of having left her in a lurch by dying, and this was impossible.

Mary gave her hand a squeeze under the worktable.

“All right, Heps, tell us what kind of man you might deign to consider,” Kate said. She had habituated herself to shaking off painful moods, and it was easy when Mary was on hand. “Set us a challenge and we shall endeavor to rise to it.”

“You might as well give up now, because there’s nothing you could possibly tempt me with.”

“Not if he offered you a whole menagerie of pigeons and peacocks?” said Mary.

“Shut up.”

“Not if he thought your hair was made fire and your eyes were made of stars?” said Sarah.

“Not if he were handsome as a prince and could make them double your wages with a snap of his fingers?” said Kate.

“Not for any of those things plus all the tea in China thrown in.”

The other three refused to leave her alone until she provided what they considered a fair answer.

“All right, perhaps if he had a house of his own and I had one of mine, and he liked all my hats, and took me out to tea and never asked me to cook for him and never fussed or bothered, and had dark eyes and waving hair and a cleft chin and a beautiful singing voice, then I might consider it–no guarantees and I should probably refuse anyway. ” She glowered around the table like a lioness made self-conscious and unaccustomed to the feeling.

“What about you, Katie?” said Sarah. “What would it take to make you think about a man?” Kate had admirers every now and then, but she never took them seriously. She was too busy, she always said, between work and and and mother and sister to go gadding. Besides, she always walked home with Mary.

“Nothing much, nothing extravagant, just a castle, a fortune, a villa abroad, a stallion to ride, and a rope of pearls as long as I am tall to wear on my wedding day.”

Sarah and Mary laughed, but Hepzibah was a lover of justice.

“That’s not fair; I had to answer straight, and so do you.”

“All right, don’t bite me, give me a minute to think.”

She lowered her head as she thought, looking at her work.

“You know, I really can’t say,” she finally answered, a little surprised at herself. “He’d have to be kind, I suppose, and someone who could go halves with me in life. But really, I can’t imagine anyone. Perhaps I will join Hepzibah’s legion.”

Mary giggled.  “Not when I’ve already got your dream husband picked out and waiting for you. Look me in the eye and tell me that you could refuse Mr. Bartholomew Mortimer once he starts twirling that moustache in your direction. Oh crumbs, speak of the devil.”

Bartholomew Mortimer was the floor manager, a hard, squeezing, cruel, grasping man with a sweet, unctuous, ingratiating voice. He cheated the women of their wages, turned a deaf ear to their complaints, punished without discretion or mercy, and engaged in long-running campaigns of spite against any worker unfortunate enough to offend him. If he had a virtue, it was honesty; the long, greasy moustache he was perpetually twirling instantly announced him as a villain. This was, all things considered, rather sporting of him: no shy newcomer could be taken in by him, or fail to mark him instantly as an unregenerate scoundrel prone to nefarious schemes.

In Kate’s first years at the factory, the sweetness and docility with which she would make an excuse for a late comrade, or distract him from one of his vindictive outbursts had charmed him and won his approval. But eventually it had begun to occur to him, at some level below explicit articulation, that for every sunny smile and humble “Yes Mr. Mortimer, of course Mr. Mortimer, how shocking Mr. Mortimer! Have you trimmed your moustache, Mr. Mortimer?” some rightful exercise of his powers slipped through his fingers. He began to suspect he was being laughed at.

Like many men of few qualities and a love of dominion, the desire to punish a woman and the desire to woo her were easily confused, then entangled, in his mind. He noticed that she was impertinent and that she had grown pretty almost at the same moment. However, he could not check the vaguely suspected impertinence because he enjoyed the smiles, and he found courting the smiler equally difficult. Somehow, with Mary standing by, clear-eyed and impassive, it was impossible to say what he had planned. This in turn increased his frustration and stung his vanity, and the upshot of the cycle was a half-cringing, half sneering attitude to Kate, and the tendency to torment her and seek her favor by regular turns. It made Sarah uneasy, but Mary was not inclined to take him seriously or disturb Kate unnecessarily; she treated the whole thing as a joke, and teased her friend about him at every possible opportunity.

Now he was calling for silence and mounting the makeshift podium from which he always made announcements.

“Your attention, please, girls.” He always called them girls, which had on more than one occasion made Hepzibah threaten to blind him with her hatpin.

“As I think I reminded you last week, today you are to be the recipients of a very high and unmerited honor. Lady Elinor Montmorency, the Lady Elinor Montmorency, will be visiting the factory on behalf of the Women’s League For the Moral Uplift of the Masses, this very afternoon. I have since been informed that we will be so favored as to also receive Lord Claude Bletchmore, ninth earl of Twichester and a particular friend of Lady Elinor’s.  Now, I believe I told you to dress with care and to please ensure that you are scrubbed, clean, and fit to meet so high a station.”

Kate glanced at Sarah, who, like her, had forgotten. Kate had run out the door late with her curls swept unbrushed into a ribbon and looked slightly shabby, but Sarah was truly bedraggled. Her youngest had the colic, and Sarah bore the marks of it.

“I feel I need not remind you of the weightiness of this event and the expectation that you all display only your best behavior. Had I, in fact, any reason to remind any of you, the consequences would be….unfortunate,” he said, twirling his moustache with more than usual gusto.

“However, I have no doubt that your deportment will reflect the best of your abilities. Try,” he said, with an affected titter, “to imagine you are ladies. You will assemble in line after lunch in the front of the floor to greet Lady Elinor. That is all, return to your work.”

“Crumbs,” repeated Mary, as he finished his speech. “What an awful load of malarkey. Standing half the day in front of two posh idiots telling us how to do our work, or whatever it is they plan to drone on about.”

“At least we shan’t be working,” said Hepzibah.

Sarah was in a quiet panic. “I do wish I had remembered,” she whispered, looking down at her worn-out shoes in misery. Kate reached over and patted her hand.

“Whatever will Mr. Mortimer say when he sees me? It’s the sort of thing he’d like to make an example over.”

“Don’t worry, dear, we’ll get you wedged into the back behind Hepzibah’s head of hair and my patchy dress and no one will think to look at you or be any the wiser.”

“It’s not your fault,” said Mary “imagine asking us to primp for a couple of toffs, as if we’d nothing better to do or think about.”

To turn her thoughts Kate launched into an impression of the imagined Lord Claude; he was in her rendering both extremely effeminate and incapable determining how to remove his gloves without the advice of several servants. Sarah brightened a little, and the workday wound on towards noon.


“But Elinor, my dear, are you sure I won’t rather be a hindrance to you than not?” asked Lord Claude, trying to keep the hope out of his voice. He was lunching in a West End restaurant, pushing the paupiettes de sole au vin blanc around his plate. It was too fashionable a place for the food to be very good, but the wine, he had noted with relief, was excellent.

Lady Elinor smiled an indulgent smile. She was tall, slender, and of a commanding mien, with, as one unsuccessful admirer had put it, “nobility arched in each brow and flared in each nostril.” She also possessed the combination of beauty, charm, and force of personality that overcomes most obstacles, and her engrossing, glacial-blue eyes were said to rival the city’s most prominent barristers in argumentative power. Claude wished she would fix them on something else, though under an ostrich-plume hat and neat mass of golden hair their effect was lovely.

“A perfect angel” was the generally accepted epithet for society’s most proficient philanthropist, and she did indeed look like an angel of of biblical lore: radiant, bent on the Lord’s work and not about to stand any nonsense in its commission. She lacked only a flaming sword, and doubtless could have produced one had it become really necessary.

“Darling, I’ve told you time and again, you mustn’t underestimate yourself so. Besides, it’s so important that you become acquainted with my work, not just through what I tell you, but really involved in it, don’t you feel that?”

Lord Claude did not feel that, but having spent his breakfast disdaining the idleness of most debutantes, realized he was in a moral corner. He knew he was being a silly ass; he only wished that awareness alone would dissolve his asinine inclinations.

“Of course, you’re right.”

“Oh Claude, I’m sure it will do you good. We fortunate know so little of the working class–the degradations, the shocking habits that reproduce themselves from generation to generation. It is our duty to be aware of them, to be their guardians and good angels, to help them better themselves.”

“Yes, yes, you’re absolutely correct. I really am grateful, you know, to be included.”

“Just let’s settle up the bill then, or we’ll be late.”
Converting mutiny to gratitude was a talent of Lady Elinor’s, and one she exercised across all areas of her life.

Charting, and Other Horrors

I just made a private blog for women who are learning to chart and want an online support group. To request access, go here.

If you are an experienced genius charter or something you and your benevolent guidance are of course also welcome.

For fun and profit, here is the first post, in which I read the Marquette user manual.


Ok, this is helpful:

“There are four basic methods of natural family planning:

• The Calendar Method or (rhythm) – relies on counting cycle length and a simple formula to determine the beginning and end of fertility.

• Basal Body Temperature (BBT) – recording of the woman’s daily waking temperature and observing the changing patterns

• The Ovulation Method (OM) – observing and recording the patterns and changes of cervical fluids

• The Sympto-thermal (ST) Method – combining daily waking temperature, changes in cervical fluid, cycle length and other minor signs of fertility”

but then

“The Marquette Model of NFP applies these devices in helping the new learner of NFP to gain confidence in the selfinterpretation of the woman’s natural signs of fertility. All methods of NFP in some way help a man and women to get a better picture of their fertility. Learning about one’s fertility aids in 4 understanding, appreciating and holistically living with this precious gift” OK BUT WHICH OF THE 4 TYPES MENTIONED IS MARQUETTE, THIS IS THE KIND OF INFORMATION I AM HERE FOR. LESS PRECIOUS GIFT MORE BRASS TACKS PLZ.

Anyway, I think Marquette is sympto-thermal? That’s what I want to learn, because it seems to encompass the most information, and thus will hopefully make switching/dealing with irregularities easier.

2. “Philosophy of Natural Family Planning” skip skip skip.

3. “Anatomy and Physiology” this seems basically like high school bio, ok if I skip this? Ok.

Oh wait

“However, at certain times of a woman’s monthly cycle a woman produces a fluid (called cervical mucus) that is optimal for sperm survival. When sperm are in this special woman’s fluid they can live from 3 to 5 days. If no cervical mucus is present in the woman’s vagina, sperm will die within minutes.”

Yet another example of men’s dependency on women.

also helpful

“Therefore, in order for a woman to become pregnant and for a couple to conceive a baby, three factors need to be present; good sperm from the man, a good egg from the woman; and good cervical mucus for sperm survival.”

Ok, now we’re going through three phases of ovulation. Tl;dr version, apologies to the biologically literate:

Pre-ovulation: hormone FSG makes an egg develop, developing egg gives off estrogen, which makes inside of uterus develop and produce cervical mucus, which is an indicator of fertility and thus IMPORTANT TO US HERE IN THE COVEN.

Other info: women can ovulate on different days in her cycle, duh. Stress illness weight etc affect when. Biological markers can tell us when YES YES SAY MORE THIS IS THE INFO I COVET.

Ovulation: Luteinizing hormone, LH signals ovary to release the egg, which in my mind plays out like this . Some women experience breast tenderness or swelling, (which is why I once thought I had breast cancer), abdominal pain or cramping, and vulvar swelling, wtf.

Cervical opening widens and fills with clear-slippery and thus sperm friendly mucus.

Post Ovulation: Begins day after ovulation, ends day before period. Called luteal phase, averages about 10-16 days in all women. I would suspect, Watson, that it is in this phase that the baby-making happens.

Then comes a chart, I hate charts, and furthermore this one is not telling me the good stuff about when babby is formed but just general stuff about hormone levels. Nevertheless, should probably not skip because the wonders of understanding your fertility etc, ugh.

“After ovulation, the body increases the release of another female chemical, a hormone called progesterone (See figure 3). Progesterone has a number of important functions. It elevates the woman’s body temperature about 4-6 tenths of a degree Fahrenheit. This heating up of the woman’s body can be detected by taking daily waking temperatures. Progesterone also prepares the lining of the uterus, for possible implantation of a new human being. Finally, progesterone stimulates cervical cells to produce thick mucus that closes off the opening of the cervix and thus serves as a barrier to sperm and bacteria.”

So it sounds like….progesterone is friendly to already made babby, not friendly to sperm and other microscopic supplicants for sanctuary within our glorious cathedrals.

Ok, more about what happens when you conceive.

“The new person will travel down the fallopian tube in a 6-9 day journey.”

Surely I cannot be the only woman who will spend this journey screaming GET OUT OF MY FALLOPIANS at her abdomen. After all, they say the fetus can recognize the sound of its mother’s voice!

So, it looks like there are two paths:

Ovulation happens.

Luteal phase happens, in which progesterone makes sperm entry and thus pregnancy less likely. If your man’s seed has found joyous congress with yours, baby. If its suit has proved unsuccessful, this.

Right now it looks to me like pregnancy is most likely at ovulation, in post ovulation before the progesterone has kicked in, and in pre-ovulation once the cervical mucus is present.

Hopefully as we progress we will see this confirmed or denied–also get a better sense of how long each phase is, though I suspect it varies. And what parts of each phase are fertile for you is probably the stuff you learn by actually charting.

Also, this may be a dumb question, but is there ever a part of any given month where you are neither pre-ovulating, ovulating, or post-ovulating, but just, you know…….hanging out?

Summary, in which my tl;dr is rendered gratuitous:

“Summary of Female Hormones and their functions:


Secreted by follicle: •Stimulates cervical mucus production • Stimulates lining of uterus to grow

FSH and LH • Stimulates ovulation

Progesterone • Heats up female body temperature • Dries cervical mucus • Supports and nourishes lining of uterus

Summary Facts on Fertility:

There are a number of biological facts that have been discovered in the past century that are necessary to understand how NFP works. They are as follows: • A woman only ovulates one day in each cycleAn egg lives only 12 to 24 hours • Sperm need good mucus to survive • Sperm will live 3-5 days in good mucus • Sperm will die within hours or minutes when not in good mucus • A man and woman together are only fertile for 6 days.

Factors necessary for pregnancy:

1. Satisfactory ovulation

2. Healthy and open fallopian tubes

3. Healthy endometrium for implantation

4. Healthy cervix with adequate cervical mucus

5. Healthy and adequate sperm

6. Mutual and supportive relationship between the husband and wife is helpful. HELPFUL BUT NOT, ALAS, NECESSARY, LET US BE VERY CLEAR ON THIS POINT.

Ah, ok, now they answer my questions!

“A man and woman together are only fertile for six days during a women’s menstrual cycle. These 6 days include the day of ovulation and the 5 days before.”

Apparently the timing of the actual window is variable. They illustrate this with a chart, but seriously, I don’t do charts, so you’re on your own there.


For reference: in the sample cycles offered, the post ovulatory phase ranges from 12-14 days, while the pre-ovulatory phase ranges from 11-23 days. Lot more variability before than and after.

Ok, now we’re getting into the nitty gritty.

Fertility monitors: 

-urinary LH test kits (ovulation test kits)

ClearBlue fertility monitor

Oh, I want to get me one of these. I like when machines do my work for me. Will see if my insurance covers it and report back. Will be extremely pissed if not.

You start the monitoring by pushing a button on the morning of the first day of your cycle, which is the first day of your period. What if you get your period at 5pm the day before? Do you wait till next morning to start the monitor?

Every morning you press a button to record a new day in your cycle. It then tells you when you need to take a test (10-20 times a cycle), the mechanics of which I shall skip until I actually have one. Basically, it seems to involve taking a pregnancy test, but for fertility. You’ve got three hours from waking to take the test.

The monitor tells you if you have high, low, or peak fertility.

Here are its disadvantages:

“The disadvantage of the monitor, if using to avoid pregnancy, is that the 2-5 day warning period it provides is not long enough to avoid pregnancy and it does not tell anything about the status of cervical mucus. Furthermore the monitor itself costs about $175 and the test strips cost about $18 – 20 dollars per month.”

So, uh, finances aside, it looks like you might want to supplement it with something.

“TO AVOID PREGNANCY: Do not have intercourse, genital contact or practice withdrawal during the fertile window – i.e., from the first day of fertility through the last day of fertility. The length and time of the fertile window will vary from cycle to cycle. Couples who are using the Clearblue fertility monitor as an aid to avoid pregnancy will be asked to avoid intercourse on all “high” and “peak” days and to use the following instructions for determining the fertile window:”

Ok but wait, I thought the whole problem is that it can tell you HOW fertile you are but doesn’t give you enough warning about when fertility starts? What is the backup here?


1. Fertility BEGINS on day 6 of the first 6 cycles;

After 6 cycles,  2. Fertility BEGINS on the earliest day of “peak” during the last 6 cycles minus 6 days or the first “high” reading on the monitor – whatever comes first.


3. Fertility ENDS 3 full (i.e., 24 hour) days after the last “peak” day on the monitor;

After 6 cycles,  4. Fertility ENDS 3 full days after the last “peak” day of the last 6 cycles, or the last “peak” day of the current cycle plus a count of 3 full days – whatever comes first. These instructions are only to be used for those women who have cycles between 22 and 42 days in length and between the ages of 20-42.”

This does not answer my question. I am very confused.

“Those women who are coming off of hormonal contraception, recently were pregnant, or recently stopped breastfeeding should wait until they have at least 2 natural menstrual cycles in a row before using the monitor and following these instructions. There is a separate protocol being developed for women who are breastfeeding and not in cycles. Women who have polycystic ovaries need to have their cycles regulated before using this protocol. The monitor will not be accurate for women who are on fertility drugs. Tetracycline antibiotics may also affect accuracy of the monitor.”

Good to know, also wtf is a polycystic ovary, I feel like I need a professional gynecologist involved at this juncture.

Ok, now we’re getting into the actual charts, which you kind of have to see for yourself. There is a lot of stuff to chart though, fertility levels and heaviness of menstrual bleeding and when you have sex. Which means I, for one, will be marrying Liz Lemon.

And do we, what, download these charts as an image and print them? Is there a chart store? Where do I get my charts.

“The chart in figure 5 shows that fertility begins on day 6 for the first 6 cycles. The earliest Peak day on the monitor for the first 6 cycles was on day 14 in cycle #5. The latest Peak day for the first 6 cycles was on day 17 in cycles #2,3,and 6. Therefore, for the next cycle, fertility will begin on day (14 – 6 ) 8 . Fertility will end on day (17 + 3) 20 or the last Peak day of that cycle plus 3 full days – whatever comes first.”

This is worse than SAT word problems, I hate this I hate this I hate this, help.

I keep trying to make more sense of it but I’m just not, so moving on.

Cervical mucus! Ah, ok I spoke to soon, we’re not stuck with just the ClearBlue and all its empty promises.

Thick, sticky, holds its shape: beginning.

Cloudy, thinner, slightly stretchy: fertility high.

Clear, stretchy, slippery: Peak fertility! The cervix is open! 

Three full days after peak fertility: Progesterone raises your temperature and dries up the once-flowing mucus, your cervix closes up, it’s all over, your body is a barren desert.

“She will only know the Peak day of cervical mucus retrospectively.” Very helpful, very helpful.

Then its just a bunch of pictures of mucus and more detailed descriptions. You test it with your finger apparently, and although magnifying glass and deerstalker cap are never explicitly mentioned, they seem optimal.

It also tells you to mentally note the sensation of your mucus a couple times a day–which idk, I only notice anything if I am actually ovulating or am sexually aroused, so.

“1. Begin observing for and sensing the cervical fluid as soon as your bleeding (i.e., period) becomes light or spotty or no later than the first day after menstruation has ended.

2. Focus on the sensation that is felt at the vulva (vaginal lips) during the day and make a mental note while wiping with the tissue. The sensation of lubrication or slipperiness should be an obvious sensation.

3. If you wish, collect a sample of the cervical fluid (mucus) with toilet tissue and observe the mucus between your finger and thumb.

4. If you have difficulty differentiating between cervical fluid and vaginal secretions, dip the sample in a glass of water. If the sample is cervical fluid it will form a blob and sink. If it is vaginal secretions it will dissolve. Slippery cervical fluid should feel slippery even when held under water – like a FISH” [why did you capitalize this word you weirdos]

A helpful tip:

“However, in the pre-ovulatory infertile phase (also called the relative infertile phase) you should limit intercourse and genital contact to the end of the day only.The reason that it is limited to end of the day only is because the daily activity of the woman observer is what helps to bring down cervical mucus to the opening of the vagina. Thus, it is at the end of the day that the woman/couple user can be sure of her cervical mucus indicator. Another reason is that the pre-ovulatory phase of the cycle is the phase that varies the most. Using greater caution in this phase is common sense.”

“The following algorithm for determining the fertile phase with the cervical mucus sign is for women who have cycles between 22 and 42 days in length. ”

Wait I have no idea how long my cycle is, do I just measure between periods?

Then follows the algorithm for avoiding pregnancy, the specifics of which are not super important to me at this time.

Then a bit about arousal fluids vs. cervical: one is stretchier and doesn’t dissolve in water, so either test it or see if it just goes away eventually.

Then, how to rid yourself of semen after intercourse so as not to confuse the auguries: also categorized as not super important to me at this juncture.

Ok now charts–looks like you’ve got separate mucus chart and the ClearBlue charts. Is there anyway to combine them for easy comparison? You enter the same data on the same days, shouldn’t be that hard.



-I need to get some charts. Possibly I will try to make my own for the sake of easy data comparison.

-Need to see if insurance covers a ClearBlue. I want that ClearBlue.

-So I guess that was not actually sympto-thermal given that there was no thermal? I shall familiarize myself with the basics of that method next, that I might combine them.

-I don’t have an iphone, but if anyone uses the, I’m sure, many apps for this, please tell.

There’s been a spate of articles recently on the sufferings of female prisoners unable to access sanitary napkins.

Philadelphia’s Riverside Correctional Facility, one of the prisons featured in the Ms. Magazine post, also had one of the highest sexual assault rates in country as of 2013.

I would like to, eventually, ensure that the inmates of Riverside can access tampons safely and regularly, and am currently in touch with the prison about the best way to set up a commissary fund or alternative method of distribution.

To that end, I’ve set up a GoFundMe campaign here.

This is not the abolition of prison or a reform of prison conditions needed; but the humiliation of being unable to provide oneself with intimate and basic hygiene supplies is very thorough and cruel, and worth mitigating if only a little.

According to the city of Philadelphia’s daily census, there are 728 inmates currently housed at riverside. Ideally, the fund would provide each one with one (approximately) $4 box of tampons a month.

If you are a woman, consider donating the cost of an extra box of tampons next time you stock up on period supplies.

If you are a man, consider donating two.

I’m in my grandparents house after everyone has gone to sleep, drinking their armagnac and sifting through a box of pictures, some close to a hundred years old. My maternal family keeps much better records of its march through time and space than my paternal. The pictures are all black and white, and faded around the edges. They have the ghostly feel of being untethered to any reality that such pictures often do–the round faced girl in the short white dress, scowling at the camera outside a stone house, has no name and belongs to everyone. She lives in the picture.

Some pictures, though, do have names. Gertrude Mundy, then her daughter, Mary Gertrude Mundy, show up again and again. They have the same hard, dark face and soft, gauded eyes.

Midway through the pile I come upon a photo that can only be my grandmother. She’s staring at something, her lips pursed just a little, the same way mine get when I’m thinking. I have no idea what she’s thinking about.

I’ve come to know, as I reached adulthood myself, more about my parents and grandparents. Their accomplishments are for the most part a matter of public record, and I’ve become privy to their hardships and sins bit by bit. They slip out in pieces, my mother remembering hers (“I think she was lonely, then…”) or remembering her mother’s memories of her grandmother (“She said George was never the same afterwards.”) But it’s such a tease, opening up the door to a tantalizing, terrifying world in which dead ancestors and living caregivers are people apart –and then closing it with a bang. They lived and suffered, what more can you want to know?

But how, and why, and what they felt, and the changes, slow and imperceptible except in hindsight, to the character: this is what you want to know, and to which you have no access. You know your forbears like the sailor knows the iceberg. Like the black-and-white girl, frozen in a perpetual scowl, they exist apart, behind a barrier you cannot pass.

It would be easier if you could see some of their youthful follies, crises, repentances; but even the elders still alive have lost all these identifying extravagances without quite leaving them behind. They’ve become absorbed into the character, inextricably tangled in its other matter, leaving the surface bare.

It would perhaps also be easier if their lives had contained more action. Had my grandmother divorced my grandfather I would still know as little about her, but I could fool myself into thinking I did. Outward action is at least definite–it’s disruptions give form to a life, the illusion that you are seeing the shape of it, real, and full. If you can’t dismiss a ghost, you can at least put it on a stage and clothe it in a costume, and turn a haunting into a drama.

This is partially the appeal of Mad Man, Daniel Mendelssohn argued: to bridge the lonely distance between generations with the whispered invitation to come view their dirty laundry; an intimacy manufactured in voyeurism.

As for the appeal: Who, after all, can resist the fantasy of seeing what your parents were like before you were born, or when you were still little—too little to understand what the deal was with them, something we can only do now, in hindsight? And who, after having that privileged view, would want to dismiss the lives they led and world they inhabited as trivial—as passing fads, moments of madness?”

But I’ve never watched Mad Men, and though in the picture my grandmother’s haircut and bold-patterned shift dress costume her as a 60’s housewife, she lived her life in patterns of ordinary staidness.

None of that, however, makes her sorrows and sins and private joys any less real. Nor can I give up asking who she is, and why, trying to force a portrait in profile to turn and face me. After all, my mouth purses in the same way.

In the morning I’ll ask her what she’s thinking. Nighttime, though, is for armagnac and ghosts.

Things Better Than Other Things, A Partial List

Quilts, Duvets

Lipstick, Lip-gloss

Coupes, Mason jars

Gazpacho, Smoothies

Silk robes, Yoga pants

Stacked heels, Ballet flats

Cookbooks, Self-help books

Sun hats, Sunglasses

Crop tops, Culottes

Kitchen tables, Kitchen islands

Leggings, Pants

Bars, Coffee-shops

Shelves, Cabinets

Pie, Cake

Shoulder Pads, Infinity Scarves

Thick writing paper, Monogrammed towels

Berets, Knitted caps,

Skirt-suits, Suitors

Bocce, Croquet

Antipasti, crudites

No tops, Bikini tops

Only A Factory Girl, Chapter One: Introductions

Dear Reader,

By a strange chain of circumstances involving an unexpected legacy, a secret cupboard, and the lost continent of Lemuria, I came into possession of an early manuscript edition of Only A Factory Girl, one of the late, great, Rosie M. Bank’s early romance novels. There being little market for these things nowadays, and summer being the appropriate season to read sentimental fiction, I thought I might as well publish it here in serial form. Without further ado:

Only A Factory Girl

Chapter One: Introductions

To many men, a clamorous superabundance of marriage-minded society beauties might seem quite a pleasant little problem with which to beguile the leisure hours; but Lord Claude Bletchmore, Earl of Twichester, was fed to the teeth. As the sun’s first rays slipped into the bedroom of his spacious flat, furnished at great expense and to questionable effect, he cast his mind over the scene from the night before. Here he was certainly in the minority; most attendees of the annual Gala for The Royal School of Deaf Harpsichordists were still too deeply dreaming off their hangovers for reflection. But Lord Claude had always felt that sleeping past the sunrise was somehow a cowardly retreat from life, no matter how demoralizing the previous night had been.

And this had been one for the ages. The endless array of girls, women, their grande dame chaperones, swimming up to him like so many tropical fish: shimmering in jewels, laughing over champagne–not a one distinguishable from the others in features or address, except, occasionally, the the more interestingly hideous chaperones.

Perhaps he would marry Mrs. Booth out of spite.

Mrs. Booth was a recently widowed American steel baroness, ugly as sin, enormously fat, and with an undiminished appetite for life. He would enjoy seeing their faces as he led her to the altar.

It wasn’t, he thought, the girls themselves. It was not their fault if they were young, or silly, or if they failed to stir any tender passion in his breast (he could hardly blame them for his good taste). Were they not so obvious and fawning in their intent, he imagined many of them might be quite pleasant. Really, it was the mothers to blame. It was perhaps excusable, if rather vulgar, to set portionless daughters with fortunes to make husband hunting. But it seemed that no one, however comfortably settled in their own right, could abstain from the season’s blood sport. And Lord Claude was their quarry.

Donning his favorite silk dressing gown (purple, embroidered with little gold kimodo dragons), he wondered if perhaps he weren’t being a tad unfair. This was, after all, what they were bred for. To spend a few seasons at the same round of parties, murmuring through the same conversations, moulding themselves into identical paragons of refined and unserious correctness; to be rewarded for these efforts by the name and children of a suitably wealthy and prominent man.

And who could be more suitable, wealthy, and prominent than the ninth Earl of Twichester, hero of the polo-field, occasional lecturer on ancient Cypriot weaponry, mountain climber, philanthropist, and heir to Thwistlesham Halll.

Really, he had no one but himself to blame. He should never have let Great Uncle Reginald buy him that polo pony. How often, he reflected, with a groan, do we in our youth sow the seeds of our own destruction. He was beginning to feel the pangs of a slight headache.

As if in answer to a distress signal, Phipps entered, bearing the silver tray, the steaming teapot, in fact, the whole apparatus of a bearable morning.

“Good morning, sir.”

“Good morning, Phipps. I’ll take it out on the balcony.”

“Very good, sir.”

Lord Claude had never once been able to conceal an incipient hangover from Phipps’ eye, by turns judgemental and sympathetic. His valet coughed.

“A trying night sir?”

As  Lord Claude had surmised early in their relationship, “a trying night” was Phipps’ preferred euphemism for “blotto carousing.”

“Indeed it was, Phipps, in more ways than you ken.”

“The ladies, sir?”

Phipps was far too chivalrous a soul to elaborate further.

“The ladies, Phipps.”

“If your Lordship will forgive me, this is precisely why I suggested that your Lordship appear with Lady Elinor.”

Lady Elinor Montmorencey  was not exactly Lord Claude’s betrothed, but as they had known each other since childhood, were regularly seen together, and enjoyed a pleasant similarity of fortune and birth, it came to the same thing. Lord Claude dimly felt that in the end he would delight their respective parents and take her to wife–if he had reasons for postponing the tender proposal, for dallying and tarrying in the comfortable shallows of informal expectation, as had been his policy thus far, they were even more obscure, and nothing he cared to probe. In the meantime, he generally squired her about when he came to town, and she had provided an armor against the most explicit and determined attacks on his bachelorhood.

“Believe me, Phipps, no one could regret her Ladyship’s absence last night more. But you know how she is with her Women’s Union for the Moral Uplift of the Masses. Wouldn’t desert her  bally masses and their squalorous vices were I pleading on my deathbed for one last kiss to my alabaster brow. I suppose,” he said, flicking a jammy crumb to an inquisitive pigeon that had alighted on the balcony’s railing, “I should not object.”

Phipps, forbearing comment, retired to draw the bath.

Certain factions of Lord Claude’s family regularly begged him to trim his mane of chestnut curls into a less eccentric style.  And certain men, jealous, lesser men, doubtless, men who hung around the edges of dances, unsought by Claude’s throng of damsels, had been known to mutter under their breaths, “Curse Bletchmore, that blasted dandy. Can’t imagine what they see in him,” when he waltzed by; but if Claude could not in good conscience claim that his leonine profusion was his only vanity, it was the one he had decided to live with openly, and the flowing locks remained. He shook them out now. They were indeed striking above his blue eyes and broad shoulders, giving him the air of an Apollo Belvedere statue suddenly come to life and not quite certain what to about it.

He lowered his body into the steaming tub. No one, at least, could accuse him of maintaining a foppishly boyish softness. The polo field, tennis court, fox hunt, and mountain cliff had all lent him a powerful musculature coupled with an unexpected bodily grace. This did not endear him to his detractors. But it probably attracted more admirers than Lord Claude, who rarely bothered attributing more than one dimension to young women’s motivations, might have guessed.

Claude splashed about the bath like a destructive island god, creating tsunamis for his unfortunate rubber duck, ruminating as he did. He still felt dissatisfied and out of sorts with the memory of last night. Was it, as Phipps thought, because he had not brought Lady Elinor with him? He thought not. Besides, he could not cling to her skirts and otherwise refuse to face the world; though it was a tempting option: Elinor had a way of managing so that everything seemed natural and settled and there was very little for you to do.

The truth was, he was bored and tired, and wanted a change. But what, and where? He cast his mind over the usual spots:  Capri, Cyprus, Prague, the Alps. None of them appealed to him. Perhaps he should take up that offer of a guest lectureship at Oxford. Oxford would be pleasant, and removed enough, and there would at least be a different sort of party. But Lord Claude was honest enough to foresee for himself the same restlessness and rebellion, this time against quiet and seclusion. He knew he was not really a scholar at heart, only a connoisseur,  and would soon grow tired of courteous dons and frolicsome undergraduates.

Reviewing possible avenues of refreshment and variety, he remembered with a jolt that he’d promised to accompany Elinor to the factory she was visiting this afternoon. Well, he reflected, he had wanted to see a different slice of life. His conscience pricking him for it, he groaned, and disappeared beneath the bubbles.


On the other side of London, Kate Barrett was also making a sunrise breakfast. She had not risen from silken sheets, nor was her family crest carved into the handsome oak headboard above her. Indeed, her blankets were moth-eaten and threadbare, and the mattress of her narrow, rickety brass bed sagged. But she tucked into her tea and toast with at least as much gusto as Claude did his silver breakfast tray. The tenement kitchen in which she ate was tiny, with stubborn yellow grease stains left behind from previous tenants; but it bore the signs of care. The table and floor was worn from scrubbing, and the copper kettle shone bright and sang out a tune of good cheer. In the center of the table, on the window sills, and corners, stood tiny nosegays of the humble and unregarded flowers that grow in cracks and corners of cities. They stood in chipped mugs, cracked glasses, and other ad-hoc vases, and their yellows and purples lent a dauntless charm to the room.

The small, smooth head so lustily tearing into buttered toast possessed the same dauntless charm. This was unsurprising, as the flowers, like the scrubbing, were her doing. One could not say that Kate Barrett was beautiful. True, her dark shining hair lay around her face like the tendrils of a blooming vine, and the line of her jaw somehow managed to suggest both strength and delicacy, but these alone are not beauty. Her lips, parted in eagerness as they were now, held a suggestion of devilish mischief in their upturned corners; perhaps, had they not been disfigured by a freckle, they might have have called pretty. But her large eyes, full of waifish poignancy and latent fire–these were certainly compelling rather than lovely. No, Kate Barrett  was not a beautiful girl.

From around the kitchen doorpost peeped another head, an almost exact replica of Kate’s on a much smaller scale. A tiny girl, clad in a nightgown much too large for her, was rubbing sleep from her eyes.

“Come and have some breakfast, Jo, It’s butter day!” Kate waved her bread about like a flag of victory, careful not to lose any fat from the melting pools. Last night Kate had parted with a portion of her wages to purchase such luxuries as butter and beer. Josephine climbed on Kate’s lap and began munching on her toast, and Kate, as was her custom, made no protest against these gross liberties with her person and property. Instead, she began braiding her sister’s hair with nimble, work-worn fingers, pausing every now and then to look down into the girl’s face as if memorizing it. This was the part of her day that she lived for: when London roused itself from slumber, between the first gray hints of dawn and the sounding of the factory whistle; when, having both family and hot buttered toast within reach, she lacked for nothing.

“Is mother up yet?”

“No, she’s fast asleep still. More toast please.”

Kate put more bread on the rack, and broke the remaining slice into pieces, which she shared one by one with her sister.

“Let’s let her sleep, her cough’s been getting worse all week. You can get yourself ready for school, can’t you?”

Jospehine nodded, mutiny in her eye.

“Why can’t come I come to the factory with you? I hate school. I’d much rather be with you.”

This was a familiar argument.

“You’re going to school, ragamuffin, and that’s that. Now go wash up.”

Kate glanced at the clock. Late to meet Mary–just time to snatch up hat and coat and apron and race out the the door and down the lane. Breathless, she pulled up at their daily meeting place.

Mary had one arm around the lamppost, and was grinning her broad Cheshire cat’s grin.

“You’re late.”

“Shut up.”

They ran, arms around each other at a lopsided galloping gait.

As long as she’d worked at the factory they’d walked there together in the mornings like this, sometimes half running, depending how much time they had to spare. Kate was almost always punctual.

They’d met ten years ago, on the factory floor, when Kate had been nothing more than a wretched little sparrow, large-eyed, shivering, still in shock from the death of her father.

It had been a fire in one of the tenements next door. They’d all been able to get clear, but he’d heard Mrs. Malone’s stifled cries–she was too old to move quickly–and gone in after her. Granny Malone had survived. Joe Barrett had not.

Kate knew she ought to remember him away from all that horror: smoke, heat, everything collapsing into rubble and all the rotting corners of the tenement exposed by the flaming light. She ought, she knew, embalm him in some peaceful memory of home life. Slurping one of her mother’s stews, waggling his eyebrows to show that he knew she disapproved such breaches of table etiquette, and wanted to simultaneously goad and compliment her, like a schoolboy; or the schoolboy lovelight in his eye whenever he put his arm around his wife; or perhaps tucking Kate in at night, telling her about the palace in the moon they’d have one day. But somehow she could only remember him as she’d last seen him, blue eyes brightened by the flames reflected in them, his jaw set, his shoulders squared against–what? She had never been able to guess. She did not think it was the fire, exactly. He looked so strong, so dauntless, she would have bet that nothing on earth could ever beat him. But the smoke had.

Kate had not quite been able to believe it, but Kate’s mother, who had then been pregnant, took it quietly. When Kate’s father talked about her mother, she was like a princess in a fairy tale: lovely, laughing Annie, and himself the rascal who’d run off with the pride of three counties. Kate was lucky she took after her mother, he’d said, and Kate believed him, though time and pain had changed the woman in Joe’s stories. Annie Barrett was, in her own way, as dauntless as her husband; her infirmity made her more quiet, smiling, gentle refusal of defeat all the more gallant; but she was weak, and the shock of her husband’s death on top of a difficult pregnancy made her weaker. When she’d suggested taking a post herself in one of the factories, on top of her sewing, Kate, eleven though she was, had shaken her head, and her mother had not disputed. She knew it was against all their interests for her to die too.

Little Josephine had been born prematurely nonetheless. And in the aftermath Annie had contracted a pneumonia that exacerbated her frailty and permanently weakened her lungs, and which put into Kate a constant terror that her mother would fall victim to that curse of poor districts, tuberculosis. Nowadays Annie still plied her needle, but most evenings saw her younger daughter take over its passage through the yards of fabric as her mother’s fingers grew heavy with fatigue.

Kate and Annie Barrett had both insisted Josephine attend school during the day. Every so often her younger sister would urge Kate, now de facto head of the family, to reconsider the question, and Kate would think back to her first days on the factory floor before returning the invariable verdict: Josephine was to continue her education.

The recollection was both dim in places, and, as childhood memories are wont to be, sharp in others. The noise and movement, new and jarring, rendered her insensible of almost everything but a few instructions and the hum and clack and whirr of work all about her. It was hot, and she could not breathe, and the too-quickly barked directions bounced off the surface of her attention, and she did not know where she was to go or what she was to do, and this elicited sneering, humiliating, somehow distinct and audible snarls from her supervisor. For a child just plucked from the protection of her father and the safety of home this was was beyond endurance, and hot tears filled her eyes and obscured her vision before rolling down her cheeks. Then, like a ministering angel, a face appeared close to hers. The face was older, already fifteen, but it was full of kindness.

“Here, hold your thread like this.”


“Like this,” and Mary took the clumsy little hands in her own to show her, at risk of her own scathing rebuke from the floor manager. But Mary Rodd, Kate was soon to think, was not afraid of anything.

She helped Kate all through her shift, and at the end waited by the big double to doors to catch Kate by the braids as as she skiddered past–all the energy of childhood had momentarily returned to Kate’s exhausted body when the whistle blew.

“Hey, going to run by your old friend without so much as a ‘good evening?’”

Kate blushed, conscious of and mortified by her lapse, but she saw that Mary’s eyes twinkled, and walked home with her.

The next morning, her second shift at the factory, Kate found Mary waiting for her by the lamp post. At first the older girl patronized the younger out of a concerned pity expressed in jocular gruffness. But she soon found that Kate, with those she trusted (she had trusted and shly adored Mary from the moment she saw her), Kate could repay gruffness with cheek, and could offer a perceptive and piquant commentary on the street, the factory, the cafe where Mary took her for a cup of tea at the end of her first week. As she found her bearings, she helped Mary once or twice, with a boldness that surprised the older girl, by coming forward with a quick excuse delivered in a pretty manner. Indeed, she soon learned to exercise her wits on behalf of any worker she saw in a jam, and for this soon became known and loved. Still, she clung to Mary, took Mary’s opinion as the final arbiter of any question, and loyalty to Mary as the unspoken anchor of all her daily dealings. And over time Mary came to regard her less and less as a rescue and more and more as an equal.

Fresh sardines are a special kind of delight, firm and briny and with all their little silvery scales, but the tinned kind are still cheap and good and lightening fast to prepare, and, in my opinion, sadly neglected in favor of the decent but inferior canned tuna. Two to three dollars will get you enough, packed in olive oil, for two meals. Here are three things to do with the little suckers once you’ve got them.

1. Sardines and pasta.

I don’t know how to scale down meals or cook for fewer than five people (hello, seven small siblings!) so I make a huge batch and eat it till it’s gone. If you’re someone who understands portions et al, work your wizardry.

Chop up two red peppers, throw a little olive oil on them, and roast them in the oven. While they’re roasting, put your pasta water on to boil, then saute several cups of spinach with the sardines in their packing oil. You can add a little garlic here too, if you feel like it. Drain the pasta, take out the roast peppers, and toss them all with the spinach and sardines. Squeeze some lemon over the whole mess, and add salt, pepper, and more olive oil to taste.

2. Fake salade nicoise.

Defrost, rinse, and drain a pack or two of frozen green beans. Throw together with with half a can of black olives, a quartered tomato or two, a tin of sardines, separated into fillets. If you’re really swinging for the fences you can add more nicoise-ish things: a few anchovies, a hard boiled egg, sliced cucumber. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, some minced or powdered garlic and drizzle over. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Sardines on toast.

I have saved the best for last. This is one of the my favorite snacky dinners: cozy, crunchy, nourishing, and simple. Because I’m a reckless fool who burns money like kindling I like to buy good, thick, whole grain bread that will hold its own in flavor and texture; sardines on toast should be an indulgence.

Toast two pieces of bread, and while it is toasting, open up the sardine tin and pour out the oil into a pan. Sautee some spinach in this oil–I like the spinach layer thick, and it cooks down, so I’ll sautee half a bag or more. Put the spinach on the toast, separate the sardines into fillets, and warm them up in the pan for just a minute. Arrange the Sardines on the spinach, top with coarse salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, maybe another drizzle of olive oil if you’re so inclined. Pour yourself a glass of wine and munch.

Game of Thrones, thinning, and primitive accumulation

paragraph five is where it starts to get good.

I feel like I have already read what happens here in some short story or other; what author I can’t quite pin down.

message from a Palestinian Christian


Hilary Mantel sees the Devil

The Van Man

on the lam

fairy tale photography


dunno, computers still seem like magic