My Evolving Identity

 

10901090303_16118622bb_zI’ve just read a thirty-page article called “Whitman Music: The Problem of Adaptation.” A critical analysis of musical settings of Whitman’s poetry, the article was published in the 1965 issue of Books at Brown, a journal devoted to materials in the Special Collections of Brown University’s library. The author is Peggy Z. Rosenthal.

I turn to the contributors list at the back of the journal to learn more about this author. I see that her article is “based on the honor thesis which Mrs. Rosenthal [this is so long ago that "Ms." hadn't yet been born] contributed to The American Civilization program. Mrs. Rosenthal graduated magna cum laude from Pembroke College in June 1964.”

What the contributors’ bio omits is that Mrs. Rosenthal, as Peggy Zierler, studied music composition all through elementary and high school, while writing poetry for the high school literary magazine. Hence her interest, for her college honors thesis, in musical settings of poetry. (It was her thesis advisor who suggested basing her thesis on the Brown library’s unusual collection of musical settings of Whitman.)

Nor does the bio mention that Peggy Zierler married Mr. Rosenthal just before her senior year of college, commuting to Brown from their apartment at MIT, where he was doing graduate work. In order to get married as a Pembroke student, she needed a permission letter from the Pembroke Dean. The letter also stipulated that Mrs. Rosenthal would not be allowed to spend the night in the Pembroke dorms; her experience as a married woman would not be a good influence on her (supposedly) virginal peers.

After Brown, Mrs. Rosenthal went on for a doctorate in literature, where parts of her dissertation on Whitman’s poetry were published in scholarly journals in the early 1970s, under the name of P. Z. Rosenthal. She chose the initialed name in order to disguise her gender. Women in academia were still few, and considered intellectually inferior by the male majority, so she strategized that a non-gendered name would be more likely to gain acceptance by journal editors. [Read more...]

Self-Hating Jew: A Love Story, Part 1

Untitled-1In response to “Never Again: Netanyahu’s Holocaust Cliché,” a recent post of mine on Good Letters, an old girlfriend messaged me on Facebook.  “It was the first time in a while,” she wrote, “I felt proud to be an American…I wonder why the writers of our times don’t instead write about the speeches of some of the truly worrisome leaders of Iran, ISIS, Hamas, North Korea, etc.”

Then, this: “Self-hatred is so destructive.”

Am I self-hating Jew? [Read more...]

For the Love of Money

untitledMy husband and I took a spring break trip to the central coast of California, and we included a stop at the Hearst Castle—William Randolph Hearst’s 90,000 square foot, 61-bathroom home on 127 acres at the top of a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Hearst was still expanding it when he died in 1951. It was never enough.

We bought a tour called “Upper Rooms and Suites” (since the size of the building makes it viewable only in chunks) and got to see, among other things, Hearst’s bedroom, boardroom, and library. As you might imagine, I got to thinking about money. Not in the context of Hearst being greedy or wasteful or ridiculous. More in the context of how much I’d love the chance to be rich myself.

I love money. Or, I love the idea of having lots and lots of it. As anyone who grew up in church (and most everyone else) has heard, the love of money is the root of all evil—or the root of “all kinds” of evil, depending on what version of I Timothy 6 you’re reading and what you’re trying to rationalize. [Read more...]

Monasticism In Lockdown America, Part 5: Holy Elders

blackwell'sjailportraitWith their white beards and deep lines in their faces, the older men stand out in our jail Bible study’s circle of usually-young men with either tattoos on the outsides of their arms or track marks on the insides. I’m always struck by the old men’s humility, how they don’t tell the whippersnappers to shut up. They listen. There is a sorrow about them.

Take Merle. He’s only in his late fifties, but his questions speak to this sorrow. Someone had prayed for his left leg’s chronic pain in our group Bible study, and not only did the pain go away and stay away, but the healing grew deeper into his heart. Two weeks later he glowed in his red scrubs, trying to describe to us in the circle how he’d begun praying in his cell, how he felt different.

[Read more...]

The Power of Twelve

taniarunyanYou won’t want to do it, but I’ll ask just the same: imagine being twelve again.

I was a mess: glasses, braces, and a wardrobe straight out of Little House on the Prairie. At five-foot-eight or so, I was not as skinny as a string bean but as a bean’s string.

Worse, I had just one friend that year, Rachel, so if she missed school, I had to eat lunch alone. On one of these occasions, a boy sauntered by, pointed at me, and sang, “Tania Po-o-o-ol-ner’s a lo-o-o-o-ner!”

I want to disappear, I thought. Also, that rhyme is a stretch.

[Read more...]


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