Wednesday, August 31, 2005

It's All Good

I do guilt really well. If I could get paid for feeling guilty I would not need any other income stream. Subtle guilt? I got it. Huge, overwhelming paralyzing guilt? If you must, yeah, I can do that. One of the things I feel often feel guilty about is doing things that are non-productive. I do a lot of them, from watching House reruns (because I really adore Hugh Laurie and I love medical drama, and it doesn't matter that I outguess the diagnosis half the time) to eating chocolate instead of lettuce (I love lettuce too, just not as much). When it comes to reading, I often feel a twinge of guilt that I'm re-reading a book rather than reading something new; or, as this morning, reading the paper on the BART instead of reading the research book I had with me.

Today I had the Times Book Review, left over from Sunday (guilt! guilt!). Sometimes the Book Review has nothing much I want to read; other times I read it pretty much cover-to-cover, even the essay (which I generally tend to skip). This week's Book Review was one of the all-good issues--even the cover piece, a review by Jay McInerny (who irritates me) of a book called Indecision, from which I garnered the lovely word abulia--the inability to make decisions. There were also reviews of The First Poets (about Greek poets); Room Full of Mirrors, a biography of Jimi Hendrix; 100 People Who are Screwing Up America (I didn't make the list, darn it); When Affirmative Action was White (about all the New Deal reforms and other social programs that were engineered not to help blacks); and The Pope's Daughter, a biography of Felice della Rovere, the daughter of Pope Alexander VI. Am I going to read all those books? Probably not (though the one on della Rovere sounds fascinating; I may have to hunt it out). But just reading the reviews I now know some things I didn't know yesterday, and have some questions I wouldn't have thought to ask. The essay was good too: about the rise to the status of folk heroine of a Cambodian woman, Hout Bophana, who was tortured and murdered by Khmer Rouge because she wrote a series of passionate love letters to her husband (it's also about how the essayist's book, in which Bophana was profiled, brought her to public attention, but it wasn't her story I was interested in).

As I got off BART in Daly City and folded up the Book Review, having wrung pretty much everything out of it I could, I had a twinge of that guilt thing. What am I going to do with all this data I've imbibed? It has nothing to do with the current project, God knows. It's possible that The Pope's Daughter might be related to a project I've been contemplating, but that may just be my rationalizing getting a book that sounds interesting. The guilt thing chitters away (bad girl! reading for pleasure, when there's research to be done?) and yet, I know things now that I didn't know this morning. I'm a writer, and collecting magpie bits of information for later use is what I do. It's all good. Thank God for that.


Blogger Jonquil said...

I can feel guiltier than you *any* day. I'm still feeling guilty about stupid things I did in college.

10:10 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

I'd be willing to call it a draw, Jonquil. But in a real contest I'd win. I still feel guilty about things I did when I was five. Yeah, psychopathology R me.

10:19 AM  
Blogger C. F. Blog said...

Poor thing don't feel guilty you'll use the information I'm sure.

Maybe this will help you stay in Sarah's world...I always wondered what type of women were these Patriarchs that kept a large part of society capering to their rules. And why and how these women were allowed so much power (it’s like a black market monarchy).

1:29 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

There is a long history--in Europe and America, at least--of "women's economy"--a sort of service/goods or service/service trade off. There is a fabulous book, The Midwife's Tale, which was published in the mid 90s. An historian came upon the diaries--really, work records--of a midwife working in New England in the years before and after the revolution. It was pretty clear that many women had "businesses" but were rarely paid money. Instead they traded for goods or services. And they were often at least as powerful as the men in their own fields.

2:32 PM  
Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

It's funny how being paid "in kind" seems to have incurred social obloquy. I am reading a biography of Patrick O'Brian, whose physician father was occasionally paid, like Atticus Finch, in produce and other goods by his more impoverished patients. This seems to have been considered ignominious by the family, for reasons I cannot figure out. (Is it mortifying that the people you help are poor?)

But yes, compensation in kind was evidently regarded as much less respectable than payment in cash.

7:25 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

I have the impression being paid in money was probably the exception rather than the rule in the earliest days of the American colonies--whatever your gender. In a frontier economy payment in specie was sort of Sunday-best; but as the society gets more complex it moves away from payment-in-kind and toward standardization of currency. As for respectability: I suppose if you're longing for upward mobility it's not so much a problem if you take in a bushel of beans in payment, but trying to make a payment at Macy's with the beans is going to be hard.

7:56 AM  

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