Lesbian Nation, R.I.P

September 20th, 2010 | Uncategorized

Just heard that Jill Johnston died two days ago. There’s a very respectful piece on the HuffPo.

I recently organized my whole library. Fiction was easy, just putting stuff in alphabetical order. But when I got to my huge stash of books on gay and lesbian topics, I was confused about how to arrange them. Finally it became clear that the only meaningful order was chronological. So I put them all on the shelf by publication date. And quite accidentally the first one was Lesbian Nation, and eight feet further down the shelf was my latest acquisition, When Gay People Get Married. A fitting summation, I felt, of the past 40 years.

RIP, Jill Johnston.

61 Responses to “Lesbian Nation, R.I.P”

  1. Kate L says:

    So sad about Jill Johnston. I feel like I heard the news here in my own little corner of the community, though.

  2. Ellen Orleans says:

    Wow. I was just thinking how different my life would have been if the lesbian social change movement had remained in the hands of women who thought and fought and envisioned a world as Jill Johnson, Judy Freespirit or Audre Lorde did. If our politics hadn’t turned into a fight for gays in the military and gay marriage.

    Thanks to all the mothers, sisters, aunts and ancestors who went before us.

    Meanwhile, I love the idea of chronological non-fiction. Perhaps I’ll try that.

  3. C. says:

    Would the Dewey or LoC systems be too unwieldy?

  4. NLC says:

    “…the only meaningful order was chronological.”

    Hmmm…. this is an interesting notion. Above, AB describes putting the volumes in order by “publication date”.

    However, I was thinking another meaningful sense of “chronological” –especially for a topic that I personally find meaningful– is “read order”.

    For example –to pick some names out of the air–, a shelf that contains, in order, Homer, Jane Austen, James Joyce, JRR Tolkien, Robert Heinlein, Green Lantern, and Nicholson Baker might be correct in terms of history.

    But that shelf ordered as Green Lantern, Tolkien, Heinlein, Joyce, Austen, Homer, and Baker –although meaningless to anyone else– much more accurately maps my experience with, and through, those authors.

  5. Robin B. says:

    I order my books chronologically, too–as did Susan Sontag, I recently learned (although she had separate runs in each language she read–makes the rest of us look like a bunch of slackers).

    Alison, are you going to the Lesbians in the 70s conference at CUNY?


    I’ll be there. Can’t wait!

  6. drawmedy says:

    Sad news, indeed. I love the idea of your bookshelf as a summation and tribute to voices that have passed, and those that still remain. Any chance of posting a pick w/ titles visible?

  7. drawmedy says:

    *er…pic… picture… you don’t have to “pick” just one!

  8. Dr. Empirical says:

    My shelving system is a mystery to everyone but me. When it comes to comic books, my girlfriend is allowed to pull out and read anything she wants, but she’s not allowed to re-file. My intricate system of categories and subcategories, rules and exceptions, makes perfect sense to me, but her eyes glaze over when I try to explain it. Since I occasionally get paid to write about comics, it’s important that I’m able to find my reference material.

    As for the far mor important topic of this post, I’m afraid it’s outside my area of expertise. Symathies to the friends, family and admirers of Jill Johnston.

  9. hairball_of_hope says:

    Interesting question on how to order one’s books on the shelves (assuming, of course, that the books levitate themselves off of the various piles on the floor and other horizontal surfaces to the shelves).

    Most of my books that are in the upright-spine position are loosely grouped by subject matter. Fiction are all together, alphabetical by author. Biography and history are smushed together, no particular order within the group, maybe there’s a bit of chronological reading order in there somewhere. Language reference books are grouped together, the dictionaries and thesauri arranged by frequency of use, I keep the most-used ones on the left. The dozen or so college textbooks and notebooks are grouped together, more or less by subject. Computer and engineering books tend to flock together, either by subject matter or project. Poetry lives together.

    For this part of my collection, I could say the book organization is perhaps inspired by the Dewey Decimal System.

    Then there are the piles. Horizontal stacks of books in front of the upright spines. These started out in chronological order of reading, but then they got pseudo-random as over time I grabbed books from the piles and plopped them in other piles. Then there are the really random piles, formed when either I got tired of books underfoot and stacked them on shelves, or picked them up from when the cat slung books off the shelves to make a nice place to sleep. I never did cure him of that habit, I learned to keep empty places on shelves for him so he wouldn’t toss books at my head while I slept.

    This part of my collection is ordered by inertia and entropy. How else to explain why “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” is in the same pile as Molly Ivins, David Sedaris, and “Chess for Dummies?” Or why Stan Mack’s “Story of the Jews” lives in the same pile as “Dr. Susan Love’s Hormone Book,” a stack of Audre Lorde’s poetry, “Final Exit,” and “The Only Tax Audit Guide You’ll Ever Need?” Uh, perhaps the last two are related?

    Lastly, there are the pragmatic placements of books. Big fat tomes that anchor smaller books so they won’t fall over, e.g. “Maynard’s Industrial Engineering Handbook,” “Introduction to Organic Chemistry,” “The New York Public Library Desk Reference,” “Universal Command Guide for Operating Systems.”

    Actually, I had fun looking at the titles of these books and their juxapositions to one another, usually they just blend into the background. It never occurred to me that I have a lot of books on baseball. Or that it might seem odd that a Dilbert collection is atop Marge Piercy atop “OpenVMS Performance Management” atop Paul Monette atop Diane Ackerman atop Abraham Verghese.

    I really do need to do something about the mess of books around here. Perhaps I can pretend someone is going to photograph my shelves and publish the photos. What an awful idea.

    (… goes back to wondering how she would organize her books if she ever got started …)

  10. Aunt Soozie says:

    about eight feet down… that’s a lotta books…
    and Dr E….
    you must to be able to locate the reference material quickly…
    way to justify your OCD… : )
    Maybe she could put a post it note or three by five card in the spot where she removed the one she is reading??

  11. […] Lesbian Nation, R.I.P (dykestowatchoutfor.com) […]

  12. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Aunt Soozie (#10)

    I wondered about Dr. E’s concerns about finding the right comic, but then I thought about the format. Comics are usually saddle-stapled, which means there’s no spine with identification info.

    If GF misfiles a comic, Dr. E would have to go through all of them, looking at each cover, to find the one he wanted.

    Only books (and comics with a perfect binding) can be easily identified without looking at the covers.

    No wonder he’s obsessive about refiling the comics. It seems like a valid concern to me.

    That said, I think the “bookmark” approach, leaving a 3×5 (or larger) index card in the place where the comic belongs, is a a good one. I’d suggest putting the name of the comic on the card, in case there are multiple comics on loan. Post-Its might not be compatible long-term with comics, I don’t know how the adhesive reacts over time with comic ink and paper. But I’ll bet Dr. E keeps his comics in those special bags with the cardboard backers.

    Thinking about book organization reminded me of a friend who kept her spice rack alphabetized. She wasn’t much of a cook, and when she followed a recipe, she wanted to find the spices without hassle. She also had no idea about which flavors went with what, so alphabetical seemed as good a system as any to her. Her system baffled me.

    Me, I keep the ones I use most frequently in front (salt, pepper, basil, oregano, thyme, bay leaves, cayenne, cinnamon), similarly-used herbs and spices together (cumin, madras curry, cardamom, all the dried hot peppers), and the oddball stuff in back (wasabi, shichimi togarashi).

    I remember a post a while back where we discussed what the shy among us do at parties – some look at the books, some look at the spice rack, etc. Now that there are two books with photos of famous folks’ bookshelves, perhaps there will be companion volumes with photos of their spice racks. Vicarious thrills for the really shy among us, too shy to attend the parties in the first place.

    (… goes back to perusing the takeout menus …)

  13. Ian says:

    Aunt Soozie, I know there’s a technical name used by librarians and archivists for a card put in place of a removed document or book, but for the life of me I can’t remember it. It’s a dim memory from when I did a secretarial course and had to research filing systems.

    I also feel slightly ashamed because I studied postmodern dance in the USA – the Judson Church group et al – as part of my Performing Arts degree and I really ought to have come across Jill Johnston as a dance critic if nothing else. Sadly I haven’t read her feminist work. So my sympathies go to her family and friends.

  14. Anna in Albuquerque says:

    When Jill Johnston came out in her dance column in the Village Voice, it was the first ray of hope for me that I wasn’t the only lesbian in the world. I must have been 14 or 15 and I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Thanks, Jill.

  15. freyakat says:

    Jill Johnston R.I.P. I have my 1973 edition of
    “Lesbian Nation” right here. I think I heard about Jill Johnston in Majority Report or perhaps from frequenting Labyris Books. I LOVED the sassiness and exuberance and intensity of Jill Johnston and Flo Kennedy and the other dykes of that time period.

    In connection with that, thank you Robin B. for alerting me (us here at the blog) to the CUNY
    Graduate Center conference on lesbians in the
    1970’s. I don’t know how much I will be able to go to, but I will find a way to go to some of the panels.

  16. Duncan says:

    Jill Johnston’s “Lois Lane Is a Lesbian” essay in the Village Voice had a big influence on my coming out. About a month after it appeared, I went to a meeting of Chicago Gay Alliance. I haven’t paid enough attention to her writings after she left the Voice; I think I’d better start.

  17. j.b.t. says:

    Dr. E. – my husband has the same rule about not re-filing any of his million records. We have to have separate record collections (he originally wanted separate turn tables, even, but that didn’t happen) lest mine contaminate his, too.

    He files his records alphabetically by genre. I file mine by mood. If I’m in a nostalgic mood I can look at the section of records I got in college… if I’m crabby and depressed I can look at the ones in that section. It works for me.


  18. Here’s a good obit for Jill in the NY Times:

    (Thanks to Martha Nell Smith and Julie Enszer both for the link.)

    As I wrote on FB the day she died, the first book I checked out of any library which had lesbian on the cover was Lesbian Nation. I sandwiched it between a stack of other innocuous times — I was 18 and a freshman at a conservative college — but I was still pouring sweat at the checkout counter. The librarian who checked it out, Julie something, two years later at a party remembered me for how terrified I was, and when she saw the title, she said she understood why. She was a dyke (I had no idea and it probably wouldn’t have helped), but after I returned the book, she said she read it, too. I stayed up all night that night finishing it, and while my own separatism was four years in the future, Jill planted so many eggs in me that would slowly ripen and flow.

    Here’s the quote her obituary ends with: “The centrality of the lesbian position to feminist revolution — wildly unrealistic or downright mad, as it still seems to most women everywhere — continues to ring true and right.”

  19. Diamond says:

    Not wanting to sound obsessive, but a brightly coloured A4 card with a little tab was my preferred method for this sort of loan system when I was a technical librarian. Printed with blank spaces for the person’s name, date and phone number as well as details of the item.

    On a personal level, I know it can be very hard for some people to let go of books and other materials that have been very important and influential, but it can be very liberating to donate some of them to libraries, archives, individuals or charities . . .

  20. Kate L says:

    Maggie, I went to a conservative college, too! Heck, I’m still there teaching right now!!!! What I can’t figure out is how our two alternative timelines can communicate with one another. Quantum mechanics is supposed to inhibit that sort of thing! I remember seeing the lesbian writings on the wall of the science elevator, thinking to myself that some righteous wimmin had been standing right where I was, not too long before! Recently, a student wanted a teacher here fired because the student suspected her of being lesbian.

  21. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    I have lately been stacking books on the floor according to when I bought them, so that all the books I bought and read in 2010 are three six foot stacks in front of another bookcase built five years ago and filled with the books I bought that year. Yes, bought. I don’t trust our former librarian and have stayed out of her library stocked with Danielle Steele. The problem with my nonsystem is that when I can’t find a book I need, I buy another copy. I have two copies of the Kobbe opera book and three copies of the Norton Anthology of English Poetry. Anybody who wants to come visit and help me organixe my fiction alphabetically and my nonfiction by topic is so welcome and will be well fed and you can come to yoga with me!

  22. ksbel6 says:

    I organize very similarly to hoh, except I do not have nearly as many books. I took have several stacks of books horizontally placed in front of the correctly ordered vertical stacks.

    Now comic books are a different deal for me. I really like you, but I would just prefer for you to go ahead and not read any of my comic books. Maybe after we’ve had the proper commitment ceremony and then the wedding and then several children. Maybe then. Until then, you can just admire them from afar, and glance at the pages over my shoulder as I turn them for you. But you really shouldn’t be interested in Batman from 1982 anyway.

  23. Acilius says:

    Reading and chronology- lately I’ve been looking through some old popular science books about cosmology, starting with Fred Hoyle’s The Nature of the Universe from 1955, going through them chronologically as a buildup to the new Stephen Hawking book. It’s kind of neat, reenacting the development of physics these last 60 years.

  24. Kate L says:

    1984 came early this year. During the recent attempt by a majority of the United States Senate to overturn the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy towards gays in the U.S. military (it failed because the Republicans in the Senate threatened to stop passage of this year’s defense authorization bill if it included language removing Don’t Ask, Don’ Tell), a threatening statement against gays was e-mailed from the office of Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia. Chambliss is the same man who first won office by comparing his democratic opponent, a man who had his legs and an arm blown off in Viet Nam, as soft on terrorisim.

  25. Jain says:

    Most of my books are alphabetical by author–fiction in the living room, history, poetry, drama, wimmin’s & Jewish lit in the bedroom, biography by subject in the bedroom, but there are 4 shelves (in the bedroom) of books I’m going to read “next”, filed with the the ones acquired (bought or borrowed) most recently on the end of the last shelf, the oldest in a pile on the nightstand next to the bed, interspersed every other one with library books. Sometimes the library books need to go back and forth a few times until it’s their turn, but they’re better off than the others, which are now in about a year and a half arc from acquisition to perusal. Borrowed books whose loaners nag can get accelerated a little.

  26. Jessica Bessica says:

    Hi all, I haven’t been around much–how’s the bacon discourse?–but I wanted to link to this project.

    Folks are posting videos to queer teens who need to hear that life after high school gets better. It’s touching and beautiful and so, so important. I wish I had had these videos when I was a kid–it would have made the waiting easier:


  27. Kate L says:

    I report to you from the Moo U bagelry. The lox has arrived! How was it?
    Oh, baby!
    OH, BABY!
    OH, BABY!

  28. sparks says:

    In an unrelated note, has anyone seen the video of Dan Savage and Terry Miller going around? I wish I’d had this when I was running queer youth groups in the 90s. I’d have shown it every single week.

    (hope I did the html tag right…)

  29. Pam I. says:

    How about organising by colour?

  30. freyakat says:

    @Pam I. — beautiful photo(s), and what a fun and whimsical schema for arrangement of books! Organize by colour by all means.

  31. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Jessica Bessica (#26)

    Smoked fish, lox in particular, appears to be the recent food lust object around here. Case in point, Kate L’s post #27 immediately after yours. Somewhere amidst the fishy charms* of lox, bagel, and cream cheese, I sense an orgasm or two.

    Orgasm in a restaurant isn’t unprecedented, of course. Real or fake, the best example is the scene in When Harry Met Sally at Katz’s Delicatessen.


    * Fishy charms (of lox) is bean’s term for the smoked ichthyphile’s attraction to the products at Zabar’s smoked fish counter. Take a number and wait.

    (… goes back to performing the Estelle Reiner role… “I’ll have what she’s having” …)

  32. ksbel6 says:

    @32: That scene kind of made Meg Ryan, and then she never really had any hits after that. Oh, wait, when was Sleepless in Seattle?

  33. Andrew B says:

    Orgasm in a restaurant: remember Samia and Ginger sharing the ginger pot de crème?

  34. hairball_of_hope says:

    @ksbel6 (#33)

    According to Ryan’s Wiki, Sleepless In Seattle was released in 1993, and You’ve Got Mail in 1998. I think “Mail” was her last real hit.

    @Andrew B (#34)

    Ah yes, that scene in Lentille D’Or. Alas, it’s one of the episodes in PlanetOut’s MIA archive, or I’d post the link here.

    I like flan. Also crème brûlée. But I could go for ginger pot de crème. Just make sure the tablecloth drapes down to the floor.

    (… goes back to munching on ginger snap cookies with her tea; right flavor, wrong texture …)

  35. Dr. Empirical says:

    Aunt Soozie (10): I just scored a paying gig to cover New York Comic Con next month. OCD may be a factor, but it’s not the ONLY factor.

    HoH (12) I do put my comics in bags, but the only ones that have cardboard backings had them when I bought them.

    Ksbelg (22) If she doesn’t read my comics, how will she ever get any of my jokes?

  36. jaydee says:

    Pam I. I was embarrassed to admit it, but that is how I organize my books. By color from dark to light.

  37. jaydee says:

    I’ll just add that I don’t keep all my books I tend to give them away. So I don’t have a lot to organize. The only regret I have about that is not having my feminist books from the 70’s anymore. Wish I still had those.

  38. Kate L says:

    A federal judge in Tacoma, Washington, has ordered that Major Margaret Witt, a decorated Air Force nurse discharged for BOOU (Being One of Us), is to be reinstated. The judge called DADO (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) unconstitutional. Oh, baby, oh baby indeed!!!! And, she is kind of cute. Too bad she’s already taken!

  39. Kate L says:

    I guess that last acronym should have been DADT acronym. Historical footnote to today’s ruling.

  40. Acilius says:

    @jaydee #38: I bet you do wish you still had your feminist books from the 70s. It’s amazing how hard so many of those are to find now.

  41. Andrew B says:

    Acilius, 41, yes. When Alison first posted this, I searched my local public library and the local state college library for books by Johnston. The only book either of them has is the one on Jasper Johns. Nobody’s about to mistake either library for the Widener or the NY Public, but the public library is pretty good for a city our size (very small), and the college is a four-year, bachelor’s-level institution. I was pretty surprised not to find Lesbian Nation or anything else by Johnston.

  42. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Andrew B (@42)

    That’s why there’s interlibrary loan. Not sure where you’re located, but most public libraries can tap into a state-wide interlibrary loan system, and there’s something along those lines among academic institutions as well.

    Of course, interlibrary loan only works if there’s a copy in another library’s collection.

    As for the NY Public Library, I checked the online catalog and apparently the NYPL is limited as well.

    Lots of books by Jill Johnston, mostly on dance, only one copy of Lesbian Nation, and it’s restricted to the main reading room at 42nd and 5th. They do have non-dance works of hers – her autobiography, a collection of her Village Voice essays (great title – Marmalade Me), manuscripts, and several copies of Admission Accomplished – the Lesbian Nation Years, 1970-1975.

    I wonder if there’s a library which has an LGBT collection. I’m sure there’s at least one librarian on this blog who would know, or would know how to find this info.

    I also wonder if those of us with decent collections of LGBT books and materials have thought about the disposition of them when we die or downsize our collections. Maybe we should be looking to preserve these materials for posterity in libraries.

    (… goes back to thinking about marmalade… oh nevermind …)

  43. Ellen Orleans says:

    HoH [43]– I’ve been thinning my collection of books over the last decade and have given many to our local queer center. I don’t know if the 20-year-olds there find lesbian fiction from the 198s and 90s outdated and irrelevant or historic and riveting, but it reaches a larger audience that it does gathering dust on my shelves. I’ve kept my favorites, but as time moves on and my taste moves on, it’s nice that many of the books can move on too.

  44. Andi says:

    Hi All,

    I read Alison’s post with wistful sadness… I just lost my home and all its contents in the Four Mile Canyon fire here in Colorado. Everything, and I mean everything, is gone. It is the most surreal experience of my life. Where there was a house and hundreds of books, there is now rubble and dust and toxic ash, black sticks where trees used to stand, and miles of charcoal instead of meadow.

    I picture the rows of books that used to be all over the house- and realize that they have turned to dust. I donated my extensive LGBT library to the local university last summer, so it has survived. But everything else? Gone.

    Each day since the fire (two weeks now) I remember something else that is lost. The letter JFK wrote to my grandparents. My mother’s wedding silver. And on and on.

    When Alison wrote, so casually, “eight feet further down the shelf…,” I thought, “Wow, eight feet of books. What would that be like?” To still have your house, and your books… I’m still stunned from the experience of losing everything – it is like the earth has shifted on its axis, and I’m not sure it will ever shift back.

    So gals — everyone — before you go to bed tonight, go kiss your books and tell them you love them. Run your hand across the bindings, relish the colors and textures and feel of the pages, and all the memories they contain. Do it for me, okay? It’s nice to know that somewhere, books are intact, safe, and gracefully gathering dust.

    Such precious friends; they will be missed.

    Wishing you a Good Night,


  45. Andi, I simply cannot imagine what you are having to deal with. My heart goes out to you.

    And in hopes of maybe replacing (in cyber-form) one or two of your lost beloved volumes —

    For all of you who were part of the counterculture during the 1960s/1970s, here is a website that Liza Cowan has accurately called a treasure trove.


    Let’s Make has converted into downloadable PDF files many of the most significant book from that era (especially some almost impossible to find feminist volumes) and more are forthcoming. Here’s what they have to say about their unique “Book Of The Month” club:

    “The Library of Radiant Optimism for Let’s Re-Make the World began with a mutual fascination for books from the late 1960s and early 1970s that shared the aesthetic and ethics of self-publication and self-education. These how-to books document cultural practices from the founding and maintence of communal living spaces and growing your own organic garden, to early sustainable design initiatives and home-birthing. The people and projects represented in the books selected for inclusion in the Library paved the way for today’s environmental movement and sustainable design culture. The counterculture of this time took seriously the task of building the world they wanted to see.

    “The Book of the Month Club is an opportunity for us to share some newly selected titles with you. Each month during 2010, we will be scanning and uploading a new book to our website. Books that are hard to find, or particularly capture the spirit of the Library, will be selected to share with you during the Book of the Month Club project.”

    Below is their list of titles (check it out, The Cunt Coloring Book, the ORIGINAL New Woman’s Survival Catalog, and Getting Clear which we used constantly for giving each other massages as well as, uh, other body work:

    The Book of the New Alchemists
    A Bucket of Oil
    Charas, the Improbable Dome Builders
    Culture Breakers: Alternatives & Other Numbers
    The Cunt Coloring Book
    Domebook 2
    Earthworm II: Community Directory
    Environmental Design Primer
    Garbage Housing
    Getting Clear: Body Work for Women
    Guerilla Television
    Handbuch Für Lebenskünstler
    Hey Beatnik! This Is The Farm Book
    How to Build Your Own Living Structures
    The Journal of the New Alchemists #4
    Modern Utopian
    New Woman’s Survival Catalog
    Nomadic Furniture
    Nomadic Furniture 2
    A Pattern Language – Towns • Buildings • Construction
    Pedal Power in Work, Leisure, Transportation
    Radical Software
    Radical Technology
    The San Francisco People’s Yellow Pages
    (the women who compiled this were feminist/lesbian)
    Space City!
    Spaghetti City Video Manual
    Spiritual Midwifery
    We Are Everywhere

    Let us all go download now.

  46. Kate L says:

    Maggie (#46) Oh, my alter ego, what a wonderful time and place the Bay area in the 70’s must have been! But the timelines do have to split with every decision that is made, with all possible outcomes being realized in their own particular alternate reality*. One of us had to stay behind and not move to San Francisco, and it was me.

    Btw, this “multiverse” is one version of our physical reality that some physicists believe is quite real. The tmelines don’t usually mix, although there is a spooky experiment anyone can do with an old-fashioned slide projector and a piece of cardboard with a narrow slit cut into it. The projected mage seems to include interference from multiple versions of the slide projector, coming from… somewhere else. Find a way to punch a wifi signal through that, and here I am!

  47. Kate L says:

    Andi (#45) I know the feeling, although in my case it was not a house fire that caused it. During the week of my father’s funeral, one of my brothers (the rest of us believe) made off with all the family photos. Somewhere, if it still exists at all, is a 1960 photo of my mother at a picnic at the zoo, looking like I first recall her. I don’t have many photos of her, or of anything else related to my childhood. It’s like there is a hole in my mind.

  48. Kate L, you know, on the drive cross country to SF in 1978, I remember passing through a shimmery vortex on I-40 where I experienced some “lost time”. My cat and dog acted weird for days afterward. Could it be I hijacked your reality at that point? If so, I apologize but I am not actually sorry, I had SUCH a good time.

  49. Kate L says:

    Say, hairball, is there a web site about the recent NYC tornado? I’ll be talking about severe storms in my natural disasters class later this semester, and I like to mention that tornadoes can happen outside of Tornado Alley where we live (Auntie M! Auntie M!). I currently use a New Hampshire tornado from a few years ago as my only example.

  50. Marj says:

    Oh, Andi. So sory for your loss.

  51. Ian says:

    @Andi: Isn’t it strange? Lots of philosophies teach us that the trappings of the world are purely material things, but that can’t apply to books. Anything that causes our imaginations to take flight and inspires us, terrifies or delights us, engages our emotions has a connection with us.

    I have long thought that people can leave impressions of their energies on objects, particularly cherished objects. I don’t know where that belief came from, I’ve always had it. It may be that it comes from my spiritualist grandmother, although I don’t ever remember her telling me that.

    To lose the things that you had such a connection with must be so terrible. I can’t imagine going through something like that where you lose your home and your precious books and the things that people always say have ‘sentimental value’.

    I hope you can at least rebuild some of your collection in time.

  52. Acilius says:

    @Andi #45: So sorry for your loss. I’m haunted by the fear of losing my books in a fire, it’s terrible to hear that it happened to you.

  53. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Andi (#45)

    My heart goes out to you. I imagine it’s akin to the death of a loved one; you think you’ll just go home and then you remember, home is gone. You think you’ll wear some favorite article of clothing, and then you realize it was lost in the fire. You wake up and it takes you a few seconds to realize that your surroundings are different, and will always be different. The familiar is now a memory.

    Then there’s all the logistical stuff to deal with – the insurance company, replacing documents, where will you live, etc. That would be a massive headache even if your home was only damaged, but it’s gone, and the lack of grounding that home and familiar surroundings provide must make it all the more unsettling.

    I’m sure people will tell you how lucky you are that you “only lost things.” On an intellectual level, there’s no argument. But on the emotional level, “things” provide connections to our memories and our past, and when they are gone, it feels a bit like death.

    I appreciate your reaching out across the ether to remind us to cherish our books and photos. I’m sure I’m not the only one in this bookish crowd who literally ran her fingers down the spines on the shelves, flipped through photos, and looked at the music collection in earnest.

    Hang in there.

  54. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Kate L (#50)

    There are lots of photos and videos on the web, try Googling “Brooklyn tornado” or “NYC tornado” (no quotes). I don’t know if anyone captured photo or video of the funnel clouds, but there are still a lot of trees down in Brooklyn and Queens.

    Tornadoes do happen here, but they are small change (and rare) compared to the Midwest. There was a small twister in Nassau County (Long Island) a year or two ago, messed up Jericho Turnpike during rush hour.

    Years ago, I saw a waterspout over NY Harbor, it was pretty unnerving. Didn’t have a camera with me at the time. There was another waterspout more recently (2008) over Long Island Sound, it screwed up all the flight patterns at LaGuardia.

    (… goes back to riding her broom and drinking Maxwell House coffee… oh wait, that was Margaret Hamilton …)

  55. Andrew B says:

    Kate, 50, try googling “Worcester Tornado” — ignore the first couple of hits, which refer to a minor league baseball team. The rest refer to the Worcester, Massachusetts tornado of June 1953, the only F5 tornado to have hit New England in recorded times.

    Andi, 45, I’m sorry, inadequate as that is. I don’t know if the earth will shift back onto its former axis for you, but it will keep turning. That can be comforting or it can be infuriating. I hope it will be increasingly comforting for you as the days pass. I’m reminded of a couple of poems:

    W.H. Auden, “Musée des Beaux Arts”.

    Robert Frost, “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things”. I’ll put a link in a subsequent comment. I don’t want to get caught in the spam trap.

  56. Andrew B says:

    Here’s the Frost poem.

    With your story in mind, I’m going to go dust my books. Dust may be slower than fire, but in the end it’s not much kinder to books.

  57. Andi says:

    Thank you all, for your kind comments and wise words. I love the poems, Andrew, and HOH, you hit it right on the head!

    Today someone gave me a cookbook, and I thought, “Oh that’s right – the COOKBOOKS!” Amidst the chaos of insurance, being displaced, etc., I had forgotten those. My mom’s copy of The Joy of Cooking. The original Moosewood Cookbook. And all of the recipes I had collected over the years, clipped from newspapers and magazines, just as my mother did.

    I told my friend Matthew that I had kept every list of the dishes I served at every party I held for the last ten years, because when I wanted to give a dinner party, I could just pull out an old menu for inspiration. His eyes widened and I said, “I told you I was Neurotically Organized.”

    This personal penchant will help with insurance claims, I’m told.

    Well, I’m going to go use my Trauma Insomnia to get some actual work done.

    Good night all, and once again, thanks for your words of support and good wishes.

    Sleep Well,


  58. Amy says:

    Wow. Jill Johnston. What a dame. My copy of Gullible’s Travels is somewhere and should be read aloud in part by a bonfire this fall. Happy trails, in your heavenly dykemobile, Ms. J.

  59. Kate L says:

    Word reaches me of this morning’s county commission meeting, where opponents of the city’s proposed includion of LGBT folk in the local human rights ordinance were out in force. They apparently have given up on blocking the ordinance in the city commission itself, and want the county to block the ordinance’s implementation. Here is part of what I was just e-mailed:

    At today’s County Commission meeting, (a local homophobic minister) et al were out in force repeating some of the usual dis-information and encouraging the County Commissioners to block the implementation of the proposed new anti-discrimination ordinance. The county’s attorney gave a very broad stroke summary of the ordinance and brought up issues about how the draft allows people to file claims if “they think they might be discriminated against in the FUTURE.” This caused a good deal of discussion as state law does not include this option. One has to show that discrimination did in fact occur, not that it might occur.It was obvious that (former police chief and now country commissioner) had been briefed by (homophobic minister) before hand. He made statements such as “gender disorder,” “criminal sodomy,” and forcing churches to hire homosexuals.

    The most vocal opponent on the city commission was one of the homophobes carrying figurative pitchforks and torches in the county commission audience this morning. The 1950’s came early this year!

  60. Rosa says:

    Andi, I’m so sorry.

    @Ellen Orleans – I bet there are 20 year olds at the Center reading your books. When I was 20, in the ’90s, I was finding all sorts of books – lots of them on the list from Remake, plus others (Sweeping the Cobwebs I think is the name of the one I’ve been looking for lately, with Wages for Mothers essays in it) and all sorts of back-to-the-land books…they kept showing up at garage sales when I was living in Iowa City.