Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Today many of us work outside of the home. And one of us is going to be President.
But in Eva's time, working outside the home was especially difficult, as daycare was virtually unknown. Women had to rely on arrangements with friends and relatives that often broke down.
At the Swan Island Shipyard, however, there was an innovation: The Kaiser organization understood that the women workers, upon whom the shipyards relied, needed safe, reliable care for their children. And the women wanted their children to be nearby.
At first the centers that were open in the shipyard itself were viewed with skepticism by mothers; they were quite sure they would never leave their children full-time with strangers. Soon, however, the bright clean centers, where children played, learned, napped and ate nutritious meals, were a huge hit. Soon, the Kaiser day care plan was held up as a national model. You would think this idea would have been taken up nationwide.
But when the War ended and the shipyards closed, the day care centers closed too and it would be decades before most women who wanted to work outside the home had the option of safe reliable care.
Moral: Let's not take our gains for granted. And if  a corporation could do this then, why not more widespread now?  Why not have a national system?  What's the value of women's work to a nation? WW2 it was critical.

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Finally, Events for author Diane Simmons in Manhattan, Brooklyn.
[Words] Bookstore Maplewood, NJ - September 16, 7:30 - wine and discussion - Diane interviewed by Meredith Sue Willis, author of In the Mountains of America and Meli's Way.
Cornelia Street Cafe -- 29 Cornelia Street, NYC - October 18, 6 p.m. - Hidden Histories Women and War - Diane with Rachel Hall, author of Heirlooms, discuss stories based on re-discovered World War II letters Details
The Shed Space - 366 6th Street, Park Slope, Brooklyn --November 12 @ 8. Diane in discussion with spoken-word artist Chris Vinsonhaler. Wine, snacks and the great tunes of the Forties and Fifties.

FDR visiting Shipyard women at Eva's Portland shipyard.

FDR  visiting one of the Kaiser shipyards in the Portland area where Eva worked.   Roosevelt has come to see the christening of the SS Joseph Teal, a Liberty Ship built at the shipyard in a record-breaking 10 days.  Industrialist Henry Kaiser arranged for one of the shipyard women to meet the President.  

FEMALE WW2 PILOT FINALLY LAID TO REST IN ARLINGTON…/family-prevails-fight-bury-f…/story…

Why did this woman’s family have to fight so hard for an honor she had earned? See
This is a nonfiction based on 800 letters of another female half of “The Greatest Generation” which explains how these women were not exactly honored for their war contributions,

Eva's life showed what happened to women during and after the War. The book by University of Iowa Press, is an Amazon hot release in hoaxes and deceptions. Here are some links:

Marriage obsession and Bigamy in the 1950's, the atmosphere in which Eva married Vic in THE COURTSHIP OF EVA ELDRIDGE, a true story.


As this cover of Cosmo from the Fifties shows, marriage--and how to survive the perfect suburban life--was a national obsession. Eva had loved her independence; but, single in 1957, she understood how dangerously out of the mainstream she had become. Vick understood it too.
Anybody who watched movies in the Fifties could see the desperation of single women's lives. In The Blue Gardenia --just one example of this-- a young woman is dumped by her fiance. Without that invisible shield of protection, she becomes vulnerable to a dangerous womanizer, and ends up on trial for murder.
The 1953 film, "The Bigamist," came out just as Vick's own career was moving into high gear. Maybe Vick, who actually looked a lot like Edmund O'Brien, picked up on what seems to be the movie's main message: Women desperately need to be married. Somebody's got to do it


Passport to Independence
 At the beginning of the war, the need to get women into the workplace was so intense, that the incentives offered were not just patriotism.  It was also suggested that women could learn to do good jobs and make good money that would be all theirs.  It must have been hard for young women like Eva to grasp how radically these attitudes would change as the war came to an end. 


A lot changed for women when they went into war plants. As this poster showed, women had to change how they dressed; instead of dressing to be attractive, they needed to dress to be safe. This was more of a problem that we might realize as work clothes and heavy shoes were not, at first, made in women's sizes. And too, everyone was worried if women would lose their femininity if they dressed for safety rather than looks. One solution: the daily shipyard newspaper often ran with a bathing beauty on the cover. 

FDR's car was rolled right into the shipyard so that he could watch one of the huge ships launch from the Swan Island where Eva worked. Behind the president is industrialist Henry Kaiser whose innovative methods--simpler assembly line work, faster training--meant that the yards could take on unskilled workers, many of them women. One women who was there that day remembered that FDR looked thrilled and that he called out to one of the women workers, "Hey Blondie!"

Men were few, many ships were built by women

Most workers in West Coast shipyards--whether male or female-- had never built or even seen a ship before coming here. But using the Kaiser assembly line techniques, they repeatedly broke their own records fo rproduction time. At the start of the war it took 355 days to deliver a ship like this. By1942 the average delivery time was just 60 days. Later Winston Churchill would remember, "The foundation of all our hopes and schemes was the immense ship building program in the United States." (Photo Courtesy Vancouver Columbian.)

More untold history of the female half of "the greatest generation"

At the beginning of World War II, women like Eva were not all sure they should take up war jobs. During the Thirties, women were criticized for working outside the home, taking jobs from men. And too, factories were considered too "rough" for a nice woman. But a huge government campaign with posters like these convinced women that they were both needed and wanted in wartime production.

Though women like Eva were frantically recruited for war work, many--like this man--weren't sure they were up to the job. As the war went on, it was recognized--sometimes a little grudgingly--that women could do a lot more than keep house. It was, though, a short-lived recognition. Even before the war ended, the message switched: now homemaking was a woman's only true calling.

Today is pub date of The Courtship of Eva Eldridge. Here’s a birthday photo that captures marriage fantasy that became mania in the 1950’s. Women had few career options and bigamy was not uncommon. 
“The writing is vivid and tight, with a touch of American noir reminiscent of Raymond Chandler and Joan Didion. Simmons’s writing brings to life the dark side of a country trying to move on in the wake of war. She blends history and her own detective work to tell a story of betrayal and shattered dreams.”
– Peter Chilson, author, Disturbance-Loving Species: A Novella and Stories. Winner AWP award for non-fiction.


Here also interview with Diane Simmons on her new nonfiction and two new reviews

 "The writing is vivid and tight, with a touch of American noir reminiscent of Raymond Chandler and Joan Didion. Simmons's writing brings to life the dark side of a country trying t omove on in the wake of war.  She blends history and her own detective work to tell a story of betrayal and shattered dreams." -- Peter Chilson, author,Disturbance-LovingSpecies: A Novella and Stories.   Winner AWP award for non-fiction.  


"We Can Do it," Women and the War-- More Lost Women's History
            We all know the poster: the clenched fist and fierce gaze. What most people don't know is that it was not seen by the public during World War II. It was not even about women's efforts. Rather,it was used for a week by Westinghouse to discourage labor unrest. We only know the poster because it was taken up by the feminist movement of the seventies;it is far more representative of their aspirations than of attitudes toward woman workers during the War.

            The career of Rosie the Riveter--and her treatment by American government and society--is more cautionary than the poster suggests and than most of u sunderstand. What happened to women in the Forties should be properly understood by those who support women's rights now. 

            It is true that women were key in building the ships, planes and tanks that turned World War II around. Surely if there was ever a moment to acknowledge women's strength and ability, that time had come. No wonder we assume the "We Can Do It" poster is symbolic of World War II attitudes. 

            Butit isn't. Women had been the object of an immense propaganda blitz in 1942,urging them to go to work and shaming them if they didn't. Then they were dumped in 1946--even though 80 percent told pollsters they wanted to keep working

            Wven before the War ended, the contribution of women was derided in Time Magazine and elsewhere. As Margaret Hickey, head of the Women's Advisory Committee of the War Manpower Commission, said in a speech: The courtship of women was intense, but it appears that "intentions were not honorable." 
            The real story of Rosie the Riveter--and the fact that most of us don't know it--should make us stop and think. As a woman appears poised for the presidency, we should not be complacent. We need to understand how rapidly attitudes can shift despite apparent gains. 
            I learned the deeper story of women in World War II,while researching my non-fiction book. Eva  was one of the women who came of age in a wa rplant, fell in love with independence, then emerged into the Fifties with a bleak set of options.
   Diane Simmons, author of The Courtship of Eva Eldridge (University of Iowa Press)

            Lost Women's History.
Diane Simmons on Bigamy in the 50's.

Love and Marriage:  We're Really a Lot Better Off Than in the Good Old Days

            As we struggle to find our way in today's complicated landscape of love and marriage, perhaps it is comforting to know that--in many ways--things have gotten a lot better.  Though they faced a different set of problems, our mothers and grandmothers, those who came of age in the 1950s, had to navigate a profound nuttyness about marriage that we wouldn't dream of putting up with today.

            Looking back, we can understand how it happened.  The whole marriage mania began right after World War II as people tried to recover from the greatest upheaval the country had ever seen. At the same time Americans were terrified of the new  A-bomb; nobody knew when it might wreak instant nuclear Armageddon.

             In the face of all this, many Americans yearned for the safety of home, the security of marriage.   And  those who didn't: well, society made them get married anyway.  As anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote in Life magazine, "Marriage is the only truly acceptable pattern in American life. No normal man or woman will willingly remain single."

            Naturally nobody wanted to be abnormal, so everybody rushed to marry.   By the early Fifties, with half of women marrying at nineteen, twenty-five-year-olds were considered hopeless old maids.  To make them even more nervous, the movies were full of desperate single women.  In Picnic, for example, a tearful, thirty-ish Rosalind Russell goes down on her knees to beg her reluctant beau to marry her.

            And men were not excused from this national frenzy. The average age of marriage for them was twenty-three, and those who failed to marry were not considered fully adult or full masculine.

            For bachelors over thirty, psychotherapy was recommended, a nod toward fears of homosexuality, though the subject was seldom publicly mentioned.  Though society demanded that everyone mate up, gay marriage was not even dreamed of, even by gay people.

            The Fifties had its playboys, of course, like the one portrayed by Frank Sinatra in The Tender Trap. But, as the movie's title suggests, there is never much doubt about Frank's ultimate fate.

            With marriage such an obsession, it is not surprising that some people went overboard, producing a phenomenon that we don't see so much of these days: bigamy.

            As a 1960 Cosmopolitan article reported, bigamy was on the rise along with a booming economy. Men could afford more than one family. And perhaps--given the truly desperate need to be married--women weren't asking as many questions as they should have.
            Bigamy, by the way, is where a married person marries again without getting a divorce or informing his partner that their union will not be legal.  Big Love fans please note:  bigamy is not the same as polygamy, where those involved know of and approve the practice of multiple wives and families, sometimes within the same home.

            The bigamists of the Sixties were usually travelling men commuting back and forth between two wives and two families.  A cinematic version of this is the 1953 movie, Captain’s Paradise, in which a ship’s captain, played by Alec Guinness, has one wife in Morocco, another in Gibraltar.  On the wheelhouse wall is a reversible portrait with a wife on either side. Midway between ports, the captain flips wives.

A less light-hearted but still sympathetic portrait is found in the movie, The Bigamist, in which a married businessman has an affair with a lonely waitress.  When she becomes pregnant, he does the right thing and marries her.  When the bigamy is revealed and the man is taken to court, even the judge is sympathetic.  As everyone knows, these women have to get married somehow.  

            The very fact that the case came to trial was highly unusual.  In 1960, district attorneys across the country reported that bigamy was one of the easiest crimes in the world to get away with.  Only a tiny percentage of bigamists were ever found out and of these only a very few were every punished. Of those punished, it was again only a slim percentage who ever served as much as year in jail.

            And, as I learned in researching my non-fiction book, The Courtship of Eva Eldridge: A Story of Bigamy in the Marriage-Mad Fifties, in a time before internet searches and online records, it was virtually impossible to find out whether the person you were planning to walk down the aisle with was in fact married to someone else.  When Eva married handsome and loving Vick, she had no way of knowing that he had four previous wives and would go on to marry five more after her.
             Besides, single at thirty-five, Eva really needed a husband.

             Certainly, the desperation of single woman was something that Vick took advantage of again and again. He wasn't really a mean guy: he just loved weddings and honeymoons.  Just like everybody else!  Afterward, though, he tended to get a bit bored and would soon disappear, moving on--often within months--to the next loving, grateful single woman.

             Unlike most bigamists, Vick did end up in jail for a couple of months.  But it took ten wives to bring him to the attention of the authorities

Today, to be sure, we have our own problems that were not known in the Fifties.  Social media, for example, has revolutionized dating, making it easy to strike up relationships. But some argue that it's also making us more fickle, always moving on to the next cute picture.  And the economy has made it harder to marry and raise a family: not too many couples today can make it on one salary, a given in the Fifties.

But one way in which we've made progress is in marriage.  Now, at least, society lets us wait to tie the knot until our brains are fully formed and until we have a fighting chance of knowing who we are. And of figuring out who that adorable other person might really be.

 And if you don't feel like getting married: well, that's OK too.  Fifty percent of Americans are right there with you.
              Diane Simmons, author of THE COURTSHIP OF EVA ELDRIDGE

Another five star Goodreads Review: 
I was so excited to get this book. . . . Finally a different take on the home front during World War II. It follows the story of Eva and her short marriage that leads her on a journey of discovery. It explores the consequences for some after returning home. The author works in the letters and background information about the era and a woman's role. It touches on all the ways that war changed a woman's role in society.

Rosie the Riveter was everywhere, yet how she was pictured shifted w/thinking about women.

Diane Simmons' THE COURTSHIP OF EVA ELDRIDGE: a Story of Bigamy in the Marriage Mad Fifties (August, University of Iowa Press), tells the true story of one woman, whose life was transformed by World War 2 and its aftermath. Here is the rarely told female side of  the "Greatest Generation,"her war work, the shifting government propaganda about women's roles, and the charming man she loved, married, and strangely lost.

Eva Eldridge was an Oregon farm girl, who looked forward to marrying her high school beau and when he went to war, Eva knew her duty was to wait patiently for his return. Despite the recruiter, who tried to convince Eva and her mother (as did articles and broadcasts) that it was Eva's patriotic duty to work, she resisted. Besides, Eva had been raised in the 30's, when no decent girl took a job from a man.

In 1943, when Eva finally went to Portland's Swan Island, she was caught up in the excitement of a shipbuilding community. For the first time, she earned good money. She had a dorm-style room, friends, and an endless flood of invitations from servicemen. She was also promoted for doing a good job. Even so, propaganda that lauded women also cautioned them to retain their "femininity." In 1946, "femininity" meant they had to give up their jobs.

Suddenly Eva's world vanished. With few skills, she was desperate to join the marrying throngs. When hers didn't work out, she still chose a tiny apartment and a hostess job at a hotel over the farm. There she met Vick, a handsome chef. When they married, in 1957, the author was the flower girl. Diane knew Eva, the pretty high-spirited young woman, who lived in her own apartment. Now Eva was in love and had respectability. She was happy, until the day she came home and found Vick's belongings gone with their car. Was the dream over, after only a year?

Award-winning journalist and fiction writer, Diane Simmons, unearthed this story in hundreds of letters. She traces Eva's efforts to regain the man she believed damaged by the War, only to find a string of women like herself--attractive, hard-working independent wives! The mystery of Vick's bigamy is revealed piece by piece. In the end, you appreciate the tenacity of Eva, who reinvents herself yet again. She gets the life she chooses, though her courtships, by her government and her lover, were somehow less than honorable.

Margaret Hickey of the Women's War Bureau wrote it was wrong for democracy to use women's talents in an emergency and then kick them out. She said the courtship of women by the government may not have been honorable.

This book explained gaps in women's history that made no sense. The fact was 80% of women wanted to keep their jobs. They had no choice, but didn't want to lose their independence, the money and respect. (in 1946, media said they didn't do such a good job after all. And now their job was to go home and create happy families--make America strong and safe) Of course some women suddenly without jobs, like Eva, no longer had fiances to marry and genuinely liked living on their own.

Much was made in the late 50's and 60's about the dissatisfaction of women but never why they couldn't just go back to the farm after experiencing achievement in the world, the ability to make their own decisions, and live as they liked.  Betty Friedan's pivotal book came late, decades after women were displaced. Many buried wartime experience and ambition to create homes, caring for men, who were shell-shocked and needed support.

By writing Eva's story, Simmons makes sense of why in the "marriage mad fifties," every one had to get married (according to Margaret Mead) and most did in their twenties. Eva at 35 and Vick at 43 were odd ducks. Eva was ready to marry, but who can explain Vick's marriage obsession? Read the book and find out. Truth, in this nonfiction, is more revealing than a fictional miniseries.


“Diane Simmons hasbrilliantly used a collection of never-before-seen World War II letters to tella story that has all the twists of a true crime novel. At its heart, this is apoignant, extraordinary tale of a woman who married a man with a secret and troublingpast.”
--Andrew Carroll,editor of the New York Times bestseller WAR LETTERS

The Courtship of Eva Eldridge is both a riveting narrative ofdetection and a moving story about individual lives caught up in the changinggender roles generated by World War II. Diane Simmons employs doggedresearch, smart analysis, existing scholarship, and lively prose to create ahistory that is hard to put down.”—Susan Hartmann, author, The Home Front and Beyond: American Womenin the 1940s

Monday, June 20, 2016

Codex Ocularis by Ian Pyper (Pelekinesis), Artist's exploration of a distant planet & and the essence of life, biological, human or not


Imagine a lone astronaut on a large aqueous planet, where earth's verities do not apply. The astronaut has no way to tell where he is in time and space, except a glance at himself. He can go mad or stop trying to use human criteria to understand this large planet in a distant galaxy. 

His log-book is filled with the glory of Ocularis' creatures, which may have spontaneous evolution backward and forward. Eventually the astronaut stops trying to figure it out and, instead is immersed in a bubbling froth of creation. 

In this artist's book about a strange science, you begin seeing the creatures of this planet as living incessantly in the process of being. The observer becomes enmeshed in this continuation. Part of the conceit of this Holographic exploration is the eye of the Oculus. Is it a fluid organism, an eye, the breathing planet itself or all of the above? I found the creatures akin to the mysterious microscopic organisms, who outnumber humans on our planet.

The book's a visual meditation on the beginnings/end/beginnings of life without humanity's fixed points. At a time, when our Earth seems on the brink of extinction or a long downhill slide, this book is refreshing in its purity. Humans are at the beginnings of space exploration. Ian Pyper's imagination precedes us. This book has an original form; thought-feeling. It's in an illustrated journey that gets to the essence of life, biological, human or not.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Heiberg's Twitch by Robert Wexelblatt, story collection. Are you a strange human in an unknowable world? Read these stories.

Robert Wexelblatt's HEIBERG'S TWITCH (Pelekinesis Books) is a totally unexpected collection of short stories. You could compare him to Borges for his enigmatic intricacy or Andreyev for emotional resonance, but what of a wit that's at once playful and tragic? These stories skewer expectations in a variety of forms; police detective, Chinese parable, art world deconstruction or South American creation myth. 

What's common in these tales is the struggle of Wexelblatt's characters, often at war with destiny. They have free will within a specific context but that world is too narrow to allow them redemption, freedom, or happiness. Oddly, whether they achieve their desire can be relevant or not. The stories are about the process of life and they are sad, funny and somehow fitting. A few examples:

In the title story, a famous scientist with his final illness, retires to his boyhood home on an island. Strangely, he develops an embarrassing tic. Also unexpected is the lovely young woman he finds for a housekeeper. Her care touches him but its her unconscious beauty that brings him to life. When a strange creature washes up on the beach and authorities ask him to identify it, he has the girl make drawings. When her talent proves impressive, he sends her work to colleagues so she might attend university. Knowing she will be gone, he asks her for a curative only she can deliver.  

In another story, a police lieutenant at the scene of a robbery meets an eleven year old Sherlock and is taken by the boy's astute intelligence and humor. Though outrageously persistent in trying to get the detective's attention, the boy finally gains his admiration--for the fact that he loves his widowed mother. While the detective sees through the boy, it's a vice versa situation. Both may get their unspoken desires. 

There is the curious tale about the origins of two Indian tribes, whose rituals of warfare, abduction, marriage and martyrdom seem wildly barbaric. Yet that perception shifts and you see how the tribes create a kind of paradise, a psychic balance. It's threatened by the "demons," the outsiders. Whether the Garden falls permanently or not, it's the tragedy of civilization. 

Kolwitzer's father is one of my favorites. Kolwitzer, an artist. receives a prestigious grant and, to him absurdly, mainstream recognition. His friend is piecing together the mystery of the artist's vision. He visits the father, a classics professor, who says all his son's art was rebellion against him. It was a primal struggle; the son who cannot become man, lover, father without killing his father. But Oedipus died at a crossroads, and the friend is meeting with the father who survives. 

Beauty and the Beast, Oedipus, are stories evoked by HEIBERG'S TWITCH. What's brilliant about this collection of stories is how, conscious or not, the stories reverberate with myths we know in our bones-- and then reinvents them. You feel the pathos of being a strange human in an unknowable world. Yet the emotional logic is irrefutable. You have to read it to believe it.