Victoria Jelinek


XXI: Book Club

“My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.” Jane Austen

Geen-Tea-2I went to ‘Book Club’ this evening. Was loath to go after last night out at two bars with all the drinking, smoking and haphazard talk. Have been ‘twitchy’ and irritable all day as a result. My poor family. Self-recrimination ‘cause I’d had one drink more than my ration. Which was already really hard, given that we were out for hours. Self-recrimination ‘cause I’d been visibly irritated and uncomfortable with the drinking and smoking around me, and that’s not nice for those out to have a good time. Self-recrimination because I should know better than to put myself in the line of temptation. And yet. I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. I’ve been near-to-tears all day. And, well, ‘Book Club’ is normally a large group of women in what is essentially a ‘book swap,’* drinking a lot of wine and chattering.

So I went late. And, I went only ‘cause it was a bonafide friend hosting it at her house and I wanted to support her. I brought a thermos of green tea and ginger to drink and in order to keep my hands busy and to keep me drinking SOMETHING while, ostensibly, everyone else drank copious amounts of wine. But it wasn’t like it usually is. For one thing, it was just our host, a dear friend of hers, another American who, while I may not agree with her politics, is an avid reader and I trust her judgment on books, as well as our host’s twelve-year-old daughter who is also a reader, and who makes short stop-action films. They were finishing dinner when I arrived, and the daughter had made a peach cobbler. They also weren’t drinking alcohol, just Perrier, and later, tea, so I didn’t feel tempted or preoccupied with others drinking. Best of all? The conversations were dynamic and interesting. We talked about films, and books we’d recently read, and television programs – both in French and English – and we talked about curricula – both French and American – and we talked about travel, and we talked about exercise ‘fads’ sweeping the globe. It was a good evening. Nothing was discussed in too much depth, as I would generally like to do, but, I am, arguably, too serious.  Ultimately, it was an entertaining evening.

What a happy surprise! There’s a moral here I’m sure. Perhaps it’s that I need to only hang out with people who enjoy talking about subjects I also enjoy talking about? Even if that means I am not as social as I generally like to be. There are several people in the valley whose company I find engaging. Perhaps it’s that I can’t be in bars? I suppose it’s like a junkie going to a shooting gallery. Certainly, I can’t be in them for too long. In my previous homes – Portland, New York, Los Angeles, London – I would have discussed the subjects we discussed this eve, such as literature, film, culture, education (and, ideally, some politics!) every time I met up with friends. However, perhaps in those cities it’s more obvious to find more people and situations in which to do so. I mean, my coterie of friends in each of the aforementioned places were filmmakers, writers, painters, musicians, artists, and conversational skill is highly valued as a source of creativity and collaboration. Moreover, these types of people are generally more expressive. Whereas where I live now, people are outdoorsmen. Mountain people. They like to climb, hike, ski, and maintain their fitness in the outdoors, preferably at altitude. That’s their passion and their focus. Not ‘wrong,’ just not me. While I appreciate the mountains, I am claustrophobic in them, preferring the sea always (“Homme libre, toujours tu chériras la mer”). As a result of both the environment and the community’s subsequent interests in general, I’m often self-conscious, frustrated, and isolated here.

More so now that I’m trying to substantially reduce my drinking, smoking, and drug-taking after 33 years of ‘caning’ it. Additionally, the social life I’ve primarily known here is centered on boozy lunches, afternoons, and dinners…at restaurants and bars…with those that flock to and spend a lot of time in them. However, for whatever reason, tonight I made the happy discovery that while the people and opportunities like this evening might be few-and-far between, there ARE, indeed, situations like tonight. I’ve experienced them here before. Evenings in which I will not spend the entire time ‘clock watching,’ leaning on, or ‘clucking’ for my ‘crutches,’ and can, instead, enjoy what I perceive to be good company. Is this a new direction? It could be. It should be. Is it evidence of a whole new me? Perhaps not. But, perhaps, it is a peek at what the future could be like here, for the remaining years I am here, and that’s a relief from the bleak perspective I’ve been viscerally feeling for the last couple of weeks.

*We don’t read the same book and then talk about it like a traditional “Book Club” does. It’s for Anglophone women to have a supply of reading material without having to buy books, which is a great idea in theory.



December 19, 2018 VII – Baby It Does Seem Cold Outside

Baby Its Cold Outside cover

“Leaving sex to the feminists is like letting your dog vacation at the taxidermist.” Camille Paglia

Something I always stress with my students when we begin studying a book in class is the context in which it was created. The context (time period, locale, gender and socio economic status of the writer, historical and cultural events during the period in which it’s written) informs why and how the text is written. It is the seeming inability or unwillingness for many to consider the context in which songs, films, theater, photography, painting, art in general, is created, that gives me the impetus to write today. Specifically, I address the once-again attempt to ‘ban’ the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which is frequently played during the holidays.

In 1944, Frank Loesser wrote “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in order to perform it with his wife at their housewarming party as they said ‘goodnight’ to their guests. It was written by Loesser as a playful call-and-response duet in order to amuse its listeners. A few years later, the song was used for the musical “Neptune’s Daughter,” in which the male and female parts are identified as “The Wolf” and “the Mouse,” respectively. In the musical, the Wolf and the Mouse have been out on a date and after having a nightcap at the Wolf’s house, the Mouse is making her excuses to go home while he’s trying to persuade her to stay. In this back-and-forth between them, “I really can’t stay…” the Mouse sings, “But, baby, it’s cold outside…” those wishing to ban the song argue that he’s trying to ply the female with alcohol against her wishes and then take advantage of her – certainly many of we women have experienced this attempt and it’s what is, essentially, “date rape” the reasoning goes. Is she succumbing to his unflagging persistence against her wishes? Or, does she really want to stay, but is playing hard to get?

I believe she does want to stay but is playing coy because “good girls” in the 1940’s didn’t have sexual desires outside of marriage (or, arguably, within marriage, but that’s another post). At the time in which the song was created, women – or the Mouse in this case – understood that there were distinctly “acceptable” behaviors for women that were in direct contrast with what was deemed “acceptable” behavior for a man. It was beyond the confines of social “acceptability” for a woman to succumb to her sexual desires and stay the night with a man she had just been on a date with. Giving in to one’s desires could invariably prevent a “good girl” from having a “good marriage” later, which was at the time the raison d’etre for women. Realizing the boundaries of social expectations, the Wolf, through his repeated refrain, is offering her the excuses she needs in order to stay the night without any guilt. Moreover, at the time in which the song was written, “What’s in this drink?” was a stock joke because claiming to drink too much could ostensibly be used as an excuse for bowing to one’s ‘hidden’ wishes – behaving as one wouldn’t normally according to the social expectations at the time. Additionally, if one listens to the song, there are no predatory elements in the tone and style of the music. The female singer is not anxious or afraid – she’s playful, sexy, and desires the male. The song is, indeed, suggestive of light, flirtatious banter, just as the author Loesser intended when he wrote it to sing with his wife after their party.

I include the link (below) to a cover of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” performed by Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In this version, the roles have been reversed – Lady Gaga is the “Wolf” and Gordon-Levitt is the “Mouse.” I think it’s a wonderful rendition that captures the essential spirit of the original song.