FLORENCE HOWE

activist, writer, and founder of the Feminist Press




Florence in Words

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.

Serendipity, Shock

July 7, 2014

Tags: writing

Me in 1950
In a messy closet, I was searching for my British travel materials, maps, guides to various sights in and out of London. I thought I had done a clean-up of such materials in 2009, when I went to London after a Women Writing Africa conference in Morocco. Perhaps I had, but why, then, did I now find —in the midst of maps of Britain and guides to monuments—two tiny notebooks, one 2 ½ x 5 ½ inches (green leather) marked “1949 Diary”; the other 2 ½ x 4 inches marked “1950.” The dates represent my last year at Hunter, and the eight months between leaving Hunter and entering Smith College. The entries cease on September 28, 1950. I am at Smith College.

When asked when I first began to keep a journal, I usually say that I began to type pages of journal after returning from Mississippi’s Freedom Summer at the end of August, 1964. Since that time, I have kept a journal, typed when I was at home and when traveling, written in notebooks. But until this moment, I thought that the only early journal I had kept depicted my first, unfortunate, and quickly aborted marriage. This is what I say about those pages in my memoir:

The diary pages, at some point torn out of their original binding, record the surface of my short life as a married woman from June 20 to September 2. I describe…in minute detail…even the hours we rose and retired…. But I never say a word about sex…. I was Samuel Pepys, though I didn’t know it. I write not a word about my feelings; not a syllable of an idea. Once I returned to Hunter in the fall of 1948, apparently I no longer kept a diary. (p. 137, A Life in Motion)

My mother often scorned my memory, saying I was the “elephant” in the family. But in this case, I’ve lost it. I don’t remember these two little newly-found diaries, and I had to have written in them every day. As I read them now, their contents could not have been made up. Discovering them today, 64 years after they were written, I have two reactions: first, I am disappointed to find so little about how I was feeling or what I was thinking; but then I am also amazed by the record of myriad activities, people visited, homework done, papers written, meetings, work, dates with the man who was to become my second husband in 1951 (and who was, like me still a college senior during that time and heading off to graduate school). The detail includes the names of plays seen, restaurants eaten in, and people visited, and illness noted, mostly unexplained, occasionally defined as “a cold.”

The journalsInside the journal


I’ll quote from several exceptional entries, these from 1950:

March 2, Thursday: Stayed in bed—reading more Huxley
March 3, Friday, Eve- “Saint Joan” w H. up in Bx. Actors Equity
So-so performance—I was horribly depressed--
March 4, Saturday. More depression—home all day & eve--blues
[days that follow have events listed, no mention of feelings]
March 9, Thursday. Home—in bed all day—feeling blue again. Herb
came at 4:30. Blowup with FRsr [my mother?] Dentist 7 p.m.

The dentist is there quite a lot. But there are no other mentions of moods of any sort. I remember that when I was “ill,” it was an aftermath of having stayed up two or three nights without sleep to write papers or study for exams, I then was “ill” for several days, staying in bed reading novels, usually Aldous Huxley and Evelyn Waugh (always the British). Were the novels the cause of my depression? Or was it having to stay in bed to recover? Did it remind me of the childhood hospital days?

Have you had an experience like this one—finding your young self but unable to recognize her clearly. I long to visit that young person, at twenty. I long to know what was inside her head. And the journals, therefore, tease me. I will ponder them again.

A Brief Visit to Taiwan

July 31, 2012

Tags: speaking, traveling, women's studies, writing, Feminist Press, Taiwan

Misnamed: I didn’t “visit.” I attended and spoke at three-day conference in Taipei, joined a one-day bus tour, and went to a museum, the morning of my last day. Still, I learned two lessons. First, and something I really knew but ignored: never travel half-way around the world, where the time difference is 12 or 13 hours, for less than two weeks. (more…)

Adrienne Rich and Amy Swerdlow: Two Deaths in One Week

April 4, 2012

Tags: Adrienne Rich, Amy Swerdlow, Feminist Press, writing

Adrienne Rich
Adrienne Rich
I know precisely how I first met Adrienne Rich. It was 1963, and I had invited Robert Lowell to read at Goucher College, where I ran a poetry series. He arrived with a small woman in tow, and announced to me and the audience that Adrienne Rich would share his platform. I can even remember the outrage I felt at that moment, though most of it dissipated once she began to read from Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, her about-to-be published book. The next day I learned that Adrienne had been at Harvard when Elaine Hedges had been there and that they were “friends.” A few days later the Baltimore Sun asked me to review Adrienne’s new book. (more…)

Depression

March 5, 2012

Tags: depression, writing

I thought it had gone, and last week I had said so to Dr. D. I felt good, had written several new blogs, was reading again—whole issues of NYRB and the New Yorker, as well as the NYT daily, and novels, of course. I’ve begun Lessing’s four novellas called The Grandmothers. I had even begun on the income tax, spent two nights sorting, and knew I would need only three or four nights more. (All best done while watching television.) I had also taken some initiatives: had made one appointment with a friend coming to town from Maine, and another with a young colleague to begin work at the New York Public Library on a book together. I had also gone to my first appointment with the “balance doctor,” who had assured me that I did not need a cane. I needed to work on some exercises he was giving me.

And after my appointment with Dr. Jamey, I went for a walk on Third Avenue and bumped into the Mephisto shop. I was, I thought, feeling great. So I went in and bought three pairs of shoes. This is the first time I’ve done anything like that since returning from Vietnam. Yes, I was feeling good. So what happened?

Sunday afternoon, when I had planned to do grocery shopping, I sat down at the computer instead, answered a couple of emails, and then, perhaps a fatal move, went on to my Scorpion game. Why? I don’t know. I thought I’d play for ten minutes, but I should have known better. I played for two hours, occasionally asking why, but not stopping. I even broke the rules I had long since made for stopping. What was going on? And then it came to me and I thought, “It was back.”

The next thought was that it had slipped in, the depression had slipped in. “Slipped in?” I said aloud, with a question mark at the end of it. “How could it slip in? Had it been out having a good time and had come home too late to announce its return?”

Well, I was still waiting for Marietta, my god-daughter, who had come up from Washington on her own two-day agenda, but was spending her only evening having dinner with me. I would quit Scorpion and write a blog. Maybe writing blogs sends the depression away. Maybe it would have to back off again and get lost.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt the depression before as a “presence.” As a quilt, yes, a heavy blanket, yes. But not a presence. But this afternoon, I felt it as a presence and an enemy, something that is both inside me and outside, something that does not wish me well, that scares me, that itself is scared of something, and of course the first thing that always comes to my mind when I think of fear is not my father’s suicide, but my mother’s Alzheimer’s.

Perhaps it is my birthday coming up very soon now. Perhaps that frightens me, the idea that I am getting closer to the losing of faculties. But why do I continue to fear when so many doctors have said I have nothing to worry about—a neurologist, an ear/nose/throat doctor, and my dear therapist. But how could they know? I ask myself. Aren’t they simply being kind?

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.

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