FLORENCE HOWE

activist, writer, and founder of the Feminist Press




Florence in Words

Ease and Unreliability of Memory

August 16, 2016

Tags: memory

Yes, I was tired as I kept my acupuncture appointment, and I knew I was going to lunch afterward instead of going home and resting. Linda picked me up in a taxi and then told me we were going to Atlantic Grill on Third Avenue. The name meant nothing to me but as soon as we were inside, I knew where I was, but not Atlantic Grill. Up front, I remembered Mariam Chamberlain’s enjoying the young people at the bar, beginning conversations with them, as we stood for a half hour sipping chardonnay and waiting for a table. And I always admired the L-shaped restaurant itself, its distinctive and beautiful brick wall that ended in a glass wall open on a beautiful garden. The restaurant was one of my favorite places, and I spent much of the lunch trying to remember its name.

I was also thinking about an important lunch there with a female member of the City University of New York’s Executive Board whose job it would be to recommend that The Feminist Press become resident at the Graduate Center and I become a full professor. And I could not remember her name, though I could see her face and even the toque-like hat she wore. I remember her first name now—Blanche.

Yes, I was extraordinarily quiet through lunch, did not talk about what I was trying to remember. On the way out, I asked several waiters, including the man seemingly in charge, if he remembered what this restaurant was called before it was bought by Atlantic Grill. No one responded.

At the front desk of my building, I was handed a huge bag of manuscripts I had agreed to review, and as I headed to pick up mail, the postman handed me a few letters, and I walked to the elevator, rooting around in my capacious handbag for my house keys in their usual spot.

By the time I reached my door, I had found no keys. No keys? No keys! No keys? How could that be? I am disciplined about where the keys rest when they are at home, on the end of a small bookcase near the door, from where they go into my handbag. And of course I use them to lock the door behind me.

I rang my neighbor’s bell, and to my relief Renee was at home and she invited me to come in and go through my bag systematically, saying that this happens to her once or twice a year at least. I felt frantic, breathless, anxious. I could not calm down, but I did say that it had never happened to me. As my heart continued to pound, I emptied my handbag onto Renee’s beautiful embroidered tablecloth, dropping cookie crumbs, but finding no keys. Renee urged me to call security, which I did.

Even then, I had no memory of leaving my apartment while my housekeeper was still in the apartment. And so I had left without picking up my keys, since Lucy was there. It’s days later and I still can’t understand not only how I could have left the keys, but as frightening, how could I have not remembered Lucy’s presence?

Health and Writing Again

August 1, 2016

Tags: health, writing

Midsummer has come around quickly, and I’m still optimistic, though I have not had another diagnosis beyond A-Fib, and though I now own two “walkers”—machines on which I can lean as I walk. One of them, a three-wheeler with a bag for some carrying, Elyse Hilton found on Amazon, and set up for me when it arrived. The other was a surprise from my darling and intrepid daughter-in-law, AnnJ, who found a small, two-wheel walker that folds into a small unit that could fit beneath a theater seat. I was set to surprise her with the three-wheeler, but she really knocked me over with the one she had shipped to cousin Lori here in New York to present to me.

My friends know that I’ve been staunchly opposed to moving beyond the cane, seeing walkers as a negative signal one step from a wheelchair. But I was wrong, and now I know it. It was all probably vanity. I want my health (and even my youth)—who doesn’t? And I must learn to deal with reality. Aging is tough, on bodies and minds. It’s not for the faint of heart; it’s not for those who prefer living in delusions.

So, yes, I am grateful for work that interests me: for the volume to be called What I Left Out, I’m making progress on the difficult essay about my brother who committed suicide in 1985, and about whom I had little to say in my memoir. It’s always been difficult even to talk about him, and it’s one of the areas of my life I can honesty claim not to “know” or “understand.” I say that also about a number of things in my life. But of all of them, this is an old and life-long puzzle—and perhaps you have one in your life: How could two children, brother and sister, three years apart, be so different, never become friends, never share any of life’s views or values? I’ve assumed for years—yes, I’ve been trying to write about this for years—that I was probably guilty for not doing something to change the way we grew up and became adults. Hubris? Probably. Not for the first time in my writing life, I am discovering that writing helps to unlock mysteries in one’s own life. I’m discovering once more that writing stirs my memory. August 1 was my brother’s birthday. He would have been 85. He killed himself in 1985, when he was 53.

Select Works

"Everyone concerned about global feminism, women’s contributions, and humanity’s future will be enhanced and enchanted by A Life in Motion.”—Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume I and Volume II
Lecture delivered by Florence Howe on January 8, 2011, at the Modern Language Association Annual Convention
“It is impossible to imagine women’s studies without Florence Howe. Myths of Coeducation shows her vision and courage, insight and dauntlessness.”–Catharine R. Stimpson, Rutgers University
A revised and expanded edition of the classic groundbreaking anthology of 20th-century American women's poetry, representing more than 100 poets from Amy Lowell to Anne Sexton to Rita Dove.

Quick Links