Sep. 29, 2010

Clara: In the Post Office

by Linda Hasselstrom

I keep telling you, I'm not a feminist.
I grew up an only child on a ranch,
so I drove tractors, learned to ride.
When the truck wouldn't start, I went to town
for parts. The man behind the counter
told me I couldn't rebuild a carburetor.
I could: every carburetor on the place. That's
necessity, not feminism.
I learned to do the books
after my husband left me and the debts
and the children. I shoveled snow and pitched hay
when the hired man didn't come to work.
I learned how to pull a calf
when the vet was too busy. As I thought,
the cow did most of it herself; they've been
birthing alone for ten thousand years. Does
that make them feminists?
It's not
that I don't like men; I love them - when I can.
But I've stopped counting on them
to change my flats or open my doors.
That's not feminism; that's just good sense.

"Clara: In the Post Office" by Linda Hasselstrom from, Roadkill. © Spoon River Publishing, 1987. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1650 — that's 360 years ago — that the first documented dating service began. It was announced in a pamphlet by a man named Henry Robinson who advertised what he called his "Office of Addresses" over on Threadneedle Street in London. The pamphlet was essentially a directory of contact information — a sort of precursor to a Yellow Pages or People Pages, back before there were phones, or before houses or businesses were regularly given numbered street addresses. With this valuable resource he compiled, Robinson could answer clients' questions on things like what jobs or real estate or trade opportunities might be available.

One of the services he provided was "marriage brokerage." Using his directory of addresses to determine who was single and marriageable and where he or she lived and worked, he would set people up to go on dates. His service cost sixpence — but if you were poor, then it was free.

The evolution of dating systems has been closely linked to technology. There was video dating in the 1980s, where suitors made VHS tapes of themselves at a video-dating facility and others could come in and view the videos of potential dates from the singles video library. Around the same time, "phone dating" took off. It relied on then-new voice mail technology.

Americans spent more than $500 million on online dating in 2005, and this year that figure is closer to $900 million. Some researchers have predicted that "virtual dating" is the next big thing. In virtual dating, singles use avatars — from a Sanskrit word related to incarnation, and now also defined by Merriam-Webster as "an electronic image that represents and is manipulated by a computer user" — to interact and chat with another single on a virtual date.

That virtual date may take place in an intimate restaurant in Rome, or an art museum in New York, or as a stroll through a South American rainforest — but the suitors are still sitting at their computers at home the whole time. A 2007 Scientific American article reported that Harvard and MIT researchers found that "people who had a chance to interact with each other (by computer only) on a virtual tour of a museum subsequently had more successful face-to-face meetings than people who had viewed only profiles."

In 2002, Rufus Griscom wrote in Wired magazine: "Twenty years from now, the idea that someone looking for love without looking for it online will be silly, akin to skipping the card catalog to instead wander the stacks because 'the right books are found only by accident.' … Serendipity is the hallmark of inefficient markets, and the marketplace of love, like it or not, is becoming more efficient."

It's what's believed to be the birthday of Miguel de Cervantes, (books by this author) born near Madrid, Spain (1547). He's the author of Don Quixote, written four centuries ago and now considered to be the first modern novel. It's about a middle-aged landowner named Alonso Quijano who stays awake at night reading books about chivalry. He becomes obsessed with tales, neglects to eat and sleep, and goes mad believing the stories to be true. He laments the demise of chivalry in the modern world and is determined to resurrect chivalry by going on a heroic quest. He sets off on his skinny horse to begin performing heroic and gentlemanly feats. His plans often go awry. He is noble but foolish. He's quixotic, an adjective — in many languages — to which his character gave rise.

Edith Grossman's translation of Don Quixote begins:
''Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing."

It's the birthday of children's book writer and illustrator Stanley Berenstain, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia (1923). He and his wife, Jan, created the Berenstain Bears, a series that now has more than 200 books. They wrote the first, called The Big Honey Hunt, in 1962.

Over the past half century, the Berenstain Bears have had storybooks devoted to their adventures visiting the dentist, going to camp, getting in fights, counting their blessings, getting lost in cyberspace, going to Hollywood, interacting with a giddy grandma, and dealing with terrible talking termites. An animated version of the Berenstain Bears now runs on PBS.

Stan Berenstain also wrote a series of parenting books in the early 1970s, including How to Teach Your Children About Sex without Making a Complete Fool of Yourself (1970), Never Trust Anyone Over 13 (1970), How to Teach Your Children About God Without Actually Scaring Them Out of Their Wits (1971), and Are Parents for Real? (1972).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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