Wednesday, June 14, 2017

half a maudlin god

I've just finished Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option, and I have Thoughts, but I also needed a break from typing them up. Since I'm giving a little speech tomorrow about Edna St. Vincent Millay, I went digging through my computer for a quotation of hers that I'd copied out of her selected letters, which I read last summer, and I've been immersed afresh in how much I love her. Have a few, along with me, to cleanse your hump-day palate:
“I learned no end of disgusting French expletives that Pete will not let me use—he said: ‘How would you like to have me going around saying “--------” and “--------” and “------------” etc.’—the dashes indicating atrocious English expressions which every nice girl would pretend she had never even overheard,--whereupon I swooned , saying, ‘Oh, damitall, have it your own way, camel!’”
-- Letter to W. Adolphe Roberts, 7/12/1919

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“Bunny, I adored your drunken letter. Never be sober again, oh, lofty one, O Centaur with song in his heart and burrs in his tail, O half a maudlin god!”
-- Letter to Edmund Wilson, 7/20/1922

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“Of course I knew you would not like my preface to the Baudelaire translations. Sometimes when I was working on it (and I never worked so hard on anything in my life) I thought, with a wry and sad smile, ‘Lulu will be pained by this.’ I knew that you would consider flippant and in bad taste many things which were not flippantly conceived or written, and which, if I had considered them in bad taste, I should not have printed. It is our old quarrel. It is not that you would like me to write ponderously because the subject is a weighty one, but that, naturally, you wish me to be lighthearted and human in your way, not in mine. I wonder how you can stand Shakespeare, (perhaps you can’t; I never asked you) Shakespeare, who permitted Mercutio to die as Mercutio would have died, did not force upon him in the end the extreme unction of traditional solemnity, permitted him to die cracking jokes, and with a pun on his lips,--and this, mind you, not in The Merry Wives of Windsor, or any other rollicking piece of horseplay, but in a proper tragedy. I suppose you agree with the French that the “Knock, knock” scene from Macbeth is most regrettable; unless perhaps the archaic flavor of the words and illusions makes it acceptable to you. If you had been present on the opening night of ‘Macbeth’, and had yourself been wearing a pair of the fashionable and very tight and scanty ‘French hose’ for stealing from which the English tailor was sent to hell, you would have been shocked, I think, by the guffaws of your elegant neighbors. Not that there is anything Shakespearean about my writing—would God there were!—but that in temperament I am rather closer to him. And it is my guess that you would much prefer Racine to Shakespeare, supposing that they both were bringing out plays today.” 
-- Letter to Llewyn Powys, 4/24/1936

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 “Having answered your questions, I come now to that aspect of your Commencement activities regarding which, I said, I felt compelled to speak.
“I received from Mr. Chase, your Chancellor, in a letter dated April 26th, the information that New York University wished to confer upon me on the occasion of its Commencement on the ninth of June, the honourary degree of Doctor of Human Letters. In the same letter Mr. Chase informed me that Mrs. Chase would be pleased to receive me as guest of honour at a dinner given for a small group of ladies at the Chancellor’s house on the evening before Commencement.
“I answered at once, accepting the award of the degree with happiness and pride, and the invitation to dinner with pleasure.
“In your letter, dated May 4th, I was told for the first time that on the evening of the dinner given in honour of me by the Chancellor’s wife, a quite separate dinner is to be given at the Waldorf-Astoria in honour of the other recipients of honourary degrees, that is, the male recipients.
“On an occasion, then, on which I shall be present solely for reasons of scholarship, I am, solely for reasons of sex, to be excluded from the company and the conversation of my fellow-doctors.
“Had I known this in time, I should have declined not only Mrs. Chase’s invitation to dinner, but also, had it appeared that my declining this invitation might cause Mrs. Chase embarrassment, the honour of receiving the degree as well.
“It is too late to do either now, without making myself troublesome to everybody concerned, which I do not wish to do. I shall attend Mrs. Chase’s dinner with pleasure; and I shall receive the degree the following morning with satisfaction only slightly tempered by the consciousness of the discrimination against me of the night before.
“Mrs. Chase should be the last, I think, to be offended by my attitude. I register this objection not for myself personally, but for all women.
“I hope that in future years many women may know the pride, as I shall know it on the ninth of June, of receiving an honourary degree from your distinguished university.
“I beg of you, and of the eminent Council whose representative you are, that I may be the last woman so honoured, to be required to swallow from the very cup of this honour, the gall of this humiliation.”
-- Letter to the Secretary of New York University, 5/22/1937,
regarding aspects of her coming up to receive an honorary degree 

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And this last one, which just guts me, to the local postmistress, Mary V. Herron, who helped answer letters of condolence after her husband Eugen's death:
“Thank you for all your kindness. I don’t know how I should have managed, without your help.“Yes, it must indeed seem impossible to you that he will not be coming down the hill to fetch the mail, this lovely autumn day.“He never comes up the hill, either, any more.”



Tuesday, June 13, 2017

remnants

I bought a new address book a few weeks ago. I know. I'm a Millennial; I shouldn't want to function apart from my phone, much less rely on something as archaic as the United States Postal Service, but I do. Plus, I bought this original address book back in my dumbphone days, as I was heading off to a college that didn't believe in internet access outside of a hardwire connection in the mailroom.

Surprisingly enough (that is, not at all), I couldn't find any address books in my favorite aisle of Target, aka the notebook aisle. I settled for a pocket-sized notebook and pulled it out over a lunch break to transfer information in what I figured would be a ten-minute task at most.

I'd forgotten that my grandmother's name and address still shows up here, four years after she died, as does a listing for Bob and Joan, although my grandfather's been buried for nearly three years.

I wasn't expecting the surge of emotion that froze me then. It's a battered gray book, "smoke pebble" to be precise; I bought it from a pretentious store, thrilled at the prospect of having something so adult as an address book, although I wouldn't have admitted it for the world. The binding split months ago, and it's been shedding flakes of its slate gray surface more and more rapidly over the past year, rubbed bare by floating around the bottom of my big-enough-to-fit-War-and-Peace-and-a-small-water-bottle purse.

I remember how very full of possibility that summer after college seemed, at first. I haven't written extensively about my undergrad experience, but it was decidedly Mixed. Some things I appreciated intensely and still remember fondly now, others left an ashy taste in my mouth at the time and bring out my most biting contempt now. So I looked with bitter envy on all my classmates who loved their undergrad life enough to mourn its passing at the various end-of-senior-year parties and rituals. For me, I was so goddamn excited to move on to the Next Thing, no matter what it was (it was probably grad school) because it wasn't Thomas Aquinas College and all the neuroses I'd developed around it.

Two months after graduation, still in the throws of job-hunting for a Career-Type Job while I detoxed between undergrad and grad school, my mom picked me up from my summers-during-college-job that had taken me back full-time in the interim. She told me that my grandmother -- her mom -- had had irregular results on a routine checkup that had sent her an hour and a half away from her tiny rural town to Sioux Falls to a Real Hospital. How my uncle had showed up while she was waiting for the ambulance to transport her and she had scolded him for leaving work to take care of her. How my other grandparents had noticed that summer she hadn't been around as much, as involved in the town's social life.

My grandmother got her first e-mail account around the same time those initial scans showed stage IV lung cancer. The only e-mail I ever sent her was comprised entirely of a few crappy pictures of the 1998 station wagon I'd bought for $500 that summer, my first car. I still have her one-sentence reply, typed out by my mom because my grandmother wasn't up for tackling new technology at that point. It's squirreled away on a dying laptop because I really can't delete it.

I can remember the day before she died early that September (four weeks? Six weeks? from diagnosis to death), standing in the frozen food aisle at the grocery store clutching a package of shrimp while on the phone with my mother, asking her when she'd be coming home because, although I didn't say it at the time, I was tired of being the responsible adult grocery shopping and cooking over the past few weeks for the five of us, four kids -- ranging from 13 to 23 -- and a dad, who were still at home living normalish lives while my mom cared for my grandmother as she died and I really, really wanted her to come back because if she came home that meant everything -- including my grandmother's normal existence -- resumed just as it had been before. The way my throat clenched at the weariness and resignation and grief in her voice when she told me it wouldn't be long now and how immediately I realized the stupidity and selfishness of my question.

And then two months after that funeral, my parents called us all into the living room to tell us that my grandfather's cancer was back terminally this time, and how I curled up on my bedroom floor after that, and brushed my hair out over and over again, fanning it around in a halo because I couldn't, couldn't, couldn't do this all again, and how very much I hated God all throughout that winter and spring and the first half of the summer, until he, too, died, almost a year exactly after my grandmother.

I wrote letters (notes, really) to my grandparents throughout my college life, copying their addresses out of that stupid gray book onto crisp white envelopes every month or so, thanking them for the $5 at Halloween and the little note for St. Patrick's Day, assuring them that college was hard but worthwhile and that I'd splurged the money on mental-health-preserving chocolate.

More than three years later, I still catch myself doing this: seeing a garage sale sign while driving, eating fudge or chocolate chip cookie bars, and I'm crying again. It happens less now, but the intensity of the emotion still surprises me. I assumed when I bought my $3 notebook at Target that I'd copy out a handful of still relevant addresses and pitch my smoke pebble relic. I don't think I can now.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

bananas for the lord

The latest things to have caught my eye...

I haven't gotten a chance to watch American Gods yet because someONE (my sister) used her Amazon Prime STARZ trial to watch Outlander, so I've consoled myself with this ranking of Bryan Fuller female characters from Tor (I love Tor).

As someone raised in a very prolife household in the late 90s and early aughts, I have a strong internal mandate now to develop far more understanding and empathy for the flip side, and this piece in The New Yorker is the latest episode of that.

This NYT piece on a Focus on the Family magazine for young women was fascinating. It wasn't actually part of that upbringing, although I've read a couple Catholic fantasias on the theme. I also recently finished Dianna E. Anderson's Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity, which is related. I may blog about that later this summer because I have THOUGHTS of all stripes.

Not to keep hammering away at this my-religious-childhood theme, but I find Patricia Lockwood an intriguing figure, even though I've not read either her poetry or her memoir. The Millions (my second favorite online literary journal, after Open Letters Monthly) had this lovely piece on Lockwood's memoir Priestdaddy and The Toast's Mallory Ortberg interviewed her for LitHub recently as well (oh but this one in particular hit a lot of my 'growing up uber conservative christian' buttons).

This one isn't about religion; it's about 3D-printed mouse penis models!

I'm torn about Netflix's new Anne of Green Gables series because I love the books for exactly what they are: a not especially-super-realistic story of pluck and everyday mishaps/adventures and, above all, sweetness that only occasionally skews into cloying. Anne with an E sounds grim and gritty and like it's made changes to the story that only occasionally add and mostly undermine some of the original feminist aspects (how dare they eliminate Miss Stacy!). I...don't know if I can watch it. I'm all for realism and not painting overly optimistic pictures of anything, but it sounds like this adaptation is stripping out everything I love for...not much in the way of things I want to watch:
Anne With an E is great, but it isn’t Anne of Green Gables. To so many of us, Anne of Green Gables stands for childhood afternoons spent reading about a fierce young girl who faces the world and charms everyone around her with her positivity and imaginative spirit. The novels (and yes, the 1980s films) are about optimism, faith in humanity, and quite simply, joy. Darkness is there, lurking beneath the surface, yes, but it never defines the action. Anne never lets difficulty dampen her spirit. The emotion of Anne of Green Gables is beautifully hopeful. Young or old, Anne taught us to look at the world in a different, more cheerful way, even when reread by adults in the darkness of the 2016 world. All of that disappears in Anne With an E.

Roger Moore died recently, and although I've never seen any of his Bond movies, he sounds like he had exactly the right attitude toward them.

I resent the ubiquity of sports and the way it's assumed that everyone is into them (did you see that Disney sent out a press release announcing the teaser trailer for Black Panther "during game 4" and didn't even bother to identify what the game was 4 of?) I don't resent the people who enjoy playing or watching sports -- you do you, I'm glad you've found an activity that makes you happy that you can bond over with other people. What I resent is the way it's assumed that e*v*e*r*y*b*o*d*y has that same interest and desire to watch/discuss/use sports images as the lingua franca of metaphor, especially in business settings. So I maybe enjoyed reading this (pretty long) older piece about the corruption of college sports more than I ought to have if I had a purely neutral viewpoint?

And finally, I've gotten really into Lana del Rey, and "Body Electric" has been my jam at work for the past couple weeks.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

the frugal vanderbilt

I recently returned from a trip out East, the centerpiece of which was Steepletop, Edna St. Vincent Millay's longtime home outside Austerlitz, NY, with my friend the Inimitable Kate. That in and of itself was marvelous -- the house is almost exactly as Millay left it when she died in 1950, in both lovely and worrying ways (Kate and I shared a moment of distress over the condition of Millay's glorious library, which isn't really preserved as nearly century-old books -- including what must be a significant number of first editions of Joyce, Steinbeck, Barnes, etc. -- ought to be). We noodled around the grounds, taking in Millay's writing shed (she hung a handkerchief from the window to alert her husband, Eugen Boissevain, if she was in need of anything) as well as the pool (no swimsuits allowed) and its protective barrier of arbor vidae (now reduced to stumps, alas). Kate and I grinned to each like fools over our picnic lunch, held just across the road from Millay's house.

I've read quite a few of Millay's poems, and some of her sonnets in particular gut me in the best of all possible ways. I really want to dive into her poetry now that I've seen the house; I also have two biographies that I really, really should read sooner rather than later.

We also made a pit-stop at the Vanderbilt mansion in Hyde Park, just down the Hudson from Austerlitz. Built by William Vanderbilt in the late 1890s, the house only cost $660,000 to build at the time (the first inflation calculator Google brought me says this is just over $18 million today) -- this compares favorably to some of William's siblings, who spent $9 million (~$250 million) and $11 million (~$300 million) on their houses (again, this is just construction costs -- the furnishing/upkeep/household expenses are a c*o*m*p*l*e*t*e*l*y separate consideration). Rich people are the worst, don't @ me.

The house is currently in a state of pretty severe dishabille, due to a renovation project to redo the UV protection on all the windows, keeping the original glass. It's taking them longer than anticipated because the frames are made out of MAHOGANY rather than something plebeian, and they're thus a deal HEAVIER than expected. Rich people really, really are the worst.

(aside because these numbers are burning a hole in my poor brain: the family fortune was started by the ur-Vanderbilt, Cornelius, in the early 1800s, mainly from shipping and railroads. He passed along the bulk of his $100 MILLION to his eldest son, William Henry [one of 13, my god, poor Mrs. V {except not really, because, as I said above, rich people are the WORST, even when they're disenfranchised 19th century women}]. William Henry improved upon his father's largesse (amazing what you can do when you've been handed $100 mil by virtue of being born and not predeceasing your papa), and passed along to his eight children about $195 million (~$5.4 billion today). In 1885. Including our Hyde Park boy William here. [this is all pre-corporate-tax, pre-income-tax, pre-estate-tax, which explains a LOT] There's a bio of Cornelius called The First Tycoon that I am now dying to get my hands on so I can hate-read it, but also read-read it because I'm sure it's fascinating.)

The grounds, just up the bluffs from the Hudson (and William's private railroad to NYC), are as gorgeous as you'd expect that much money to make them. It's a lot harder for your tacky nouveau riche tastes to blind visitors when you're working in plants rather than, say, Medici tapestries that you've paid somebody to pick up for you on the cheap in Europe because you want something with a coat of arms on it (Kate totally recognized the arms before the guide pointed them out, and I was very proud of her.).

We washed the disgust from our mouths after the tour at Plan Bee Farm Brewery in Poughkeepsie. I highly, highly recommend it if you are at all a fan of sour beers, as I am.

Also included on this tour: Gettysburg, Washington's headquarters in Newburgh, Capitol Hill Books in DC (I only bought four things there!), the Folger and boozy brunch with old friends (plus a pit stop at a library book sale). It was a pretty good start to the summer.

Me, a smug descendant of dirty immigrants, rubbing my fat sweaty thighs all over a bench in William's fancy Italian gardens. (photo courtesy of the Inimitable Kate)
P.S. Curl your lip with me at the uber-rich of today and how they wed in this piece at Racked, if you will.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

one-star parishes

While looking for confession times at a nearby parish, I stumbled across a review of the church left by a Google user going by the nom de plume Bill Musician. The church was a "terrible neighbor," he groused, because it had installed an electric carillon that blared tacky renditions of hymns around various holidays, making outdoor conversation difficult and rousing sleeping children on the weekends.

Despite numerous complaints, the intransigent parish has not responded to his or others' prodding.

I wonder what response Bill hoped to get from his internet review, other than venting his spleen. If this parish is anything like other Catholic churches, it's an absurd mix of tech-illiteracy simple devotion (I highly doubt more than a handful of people involved in running it are aware of or care about Google reviews), and the installation itself is such a stereotypically blessed mix of Catholic piety and kitsch that it honestly does delight me. It's so emblematic of a strain of American Catholicism, the people who buy glow-in-the-dark Madonnas with "Made in China" stamped on their bases and gather every single day after the 9:15 Mass for a rosary said with a speed that blisters unaccustomed lips.

I can't say I blame our friend Bill M. for his proclamation of hatred for the parish's cheesy choice, though, because I've heard  these electronic approximations of bells: they are very tacky, no matter what weight we give the motivation of good intentions.

I was bemused by the idea of reviewing churches on Google, like so many restaurants. (The reduction of the sacred to the level of other places of business leaves me ambivalent, even though I can see the value of having insider knowledge when considering an unfamiliar parish.)

What really made it stick in my mind was the context. I ran across it on a dreary Saturday, and shortly afterward, I stumbled across a glorious tumblr run by an architectural grad student dedicated to reviewing/skewering the McMansions of these United States constructed since the 1980s. It's terribly informative, and I walked away with a dozen or so books to add to my ever-growing tbr list on Goodreads.

Besides laying out the basics of good design and righteously mocking the corner-chopping of McMansions, author Kate Wagner talks about the suitability of materials and design, the necessity of high quality materials coming together with a coherent design to form a balanced, comprehensive whole. You cannot, she insists, wed disparate elements of Italian, Prairie, Craftsmen and modern architecture blithely and unintentionally, then execute the resulting Frankensteinian creation in shoddy materials with cheap workmanship with any hope of creating anything other than a steaming pile of shit.

She's right, and me being me, it reminded me of certain uber-Orthodox/conservative Catholic circles (pick your preferred descriptor of choice, idc) in which I moved and breathed as a high schooler/dewy-eyed college ingenue. These Catholics (who almost all have a nauseating fondness for the monarchy and English literature as epitomized by J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton) have a similar obsession with authenticity and things being "real" in order to be beautiful. They place an extraordinary (disproportionate?) emphasis on hand-made things, old things. Words like 'handcrafted' and 'patina' and 'passed down' can send them into ecstasy.

Wagner parts ways with this tack (she likes modernism and brutalism, which I also have an inexplicable fondness for, two things the Type of Catholic I'm Thinking Of would have conniptions over), but the similarity of emphases struck me. She's no conservative; she talks -- at length! -- about why large houses with too much space for the amount of people living in it are bad, both aesthetically and environmentally, besides, you know, being just plain wasteful. She talks about racism and climate change and other bogeymen of the McMansion demographic as though they actually -- shocker -- exist and affect the world we live in.

That is however, one other aspect on which That Certain Type of Catholic and Wagner brush...ethoses? (Google says the plural of the Greek word ethos is ethe, but that's a little too academic for me on a Saturday night): the necessity of things being done intentionally in dialogue with the history of things, whether that's architecture or music. But then their ethoses (go with it) diverge again. Wagner doesn't outright condemn mixing styles, for example; she doesn't advocate building only houses that hew to one set of design principles, but doing so with thought for how the parts fit together and are in dialogue with one another.

That last bit seems to be where That Type of Catholic stops too soon. They can fixate on the elements of the past and get mired merely in reproducing what's gone before. I found a post on the internet listing a bunch of very beautiful (and expensive, lol, building nice things that last is not for the faint of heart/poor*) churches being built or planned for as I type. They're also all completely based off of architectural styles that have been around for hundreds of years. What I really want to see is some forward movement, not a hard break with the past, but some kind of growth and change. Art, including architecture, didn't stop in the 1500s, even if (some of) Those Catholics seem to think so. No idea what that looks like, because I'm clueless about architecture, especially Catholic churchy architecture, but the stagnation grates.

And all this because I couldn't be arsed to stand in line at my (uberconservative) parish but wanted the quickie confession at the in-and-done-in-2-minutes parish.

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*My ranty post about the experience of stepping into a ginormous basilica in Rome for the first time and sympathizing so hard with Martin Luther is for another day.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

ecclesiastical snuggeries

Looks like my New Year's resolutions have performed about par for the course, so I'm going to chuck all this up before the threads get away from me yet again.

I'm starting grad school in the fall -- taking a few classes anyway -- and trying to sort out living situations and jobs and paying for things. It's largely exciting, a little terrifying and I'm still reading in the midst of it all.

I picked up Anthony Trollope for the first time (after checking out The Warden no fewer than three times in college), from whence the lovely phrase I've used as a title. I've moved on to Barchester Towers, and I've fallen in love with Trollope. His characters are so real, full of human foibles and small virtues and the quirks of humanity. I'm completely smitten.

I binged Big Little Lies (the ending, so satisfying), which has amazing performances, and its music use is A+. It's got such a lot of delightfully meaty roles for women, even if it is very white and v. v. upperclass. It's so soapy, and I love it, and the only thing keeping me from devouring Liane Moriarty's backlist is the that other people are already doing that exact thing with all the library copies. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I tried to binge Buffy the Vampire Slayer before it left Netflix at the beginning of April, but only made it a little into the fourth season. I like it, mostly, especially the verbal wordplay and cleverness (once I got past Sarah Michelle Gellar's voice, which was oddly grating to my ears). The 90s fashions are DIVINE and I'm feeling oddly nostalgic for the technology, given the fact that I was only nine when the decade ended. Besides the 90s nostalgia, I got a little (and oddly) nostalgic (right word?) for the "typical" high school experience I missed out on (I was homeschooled all the way through). I know there's not really anything to be nostalgic over, but...I am.

The jump in production values in the third season was made me chuckle a little, in a not very nice way. Willow and/or Giles are probably my favorite, but I'm pretty much exactly Xander.

It's a little weird coming to something that has such a cult following so far after the fact -- you get an idea in your head of what the show will be like, then discover that entire characters or plot points have been glossed over (something similar happened when I started watching Gilmore Girls -- I had no idea Lane was even a character!).

Another facet not exactly aided by coming to it 20 years after it first aired (!) is its feminist credentials. I'm sure some plots and characters were revolutionary for their time, but some of them are glaringly unnuanced and non-intersectional today. Take, for example, the Halloween episode of season 2. Buffy's been turned into an 18th century aristocrat for reasons and spends a large chunk of the episode almost literally pearl-clutching and waiting for a strong man to rescue her while bewailing how weak women are. It's...painfully (and badly) stereotypical in a way that left me rolling my eyes. Maybe that's because all the writers (as credited on IMDb) are men, maybe it was just the cultural atmosphere in the late 90s. Either way, I'd love to see a really well-considered and well-written exploration of it, as it was then and as it stands now.

Besides that, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 over this past weekend, which is going to send me on a binge of Kurt Russell movies (I also now really, really want him and Jeff Bridges to play brothers in something). I watched an oddly large amount of his Disney output growing up, but never made it to The Thing, Escape From New York, etc.

Actually, I watched a lot of mediocre to mildly entertaining live-action Disney movies of the 60s and 70s growing up that I am terribly fond of -- Bed Knobs & Broomsticks! Pete's Dragon! The Love Bug! Like, my grandmother videtaped (#90s) The Shaggy Dog off the TV for us (she had cable; we didn't) and we wore that thing into the ground. Like, I've literally just opened about 20 tabs of Wikipedia summaries for these things -- No Deposit, No Return! The Happiest Millionaire! The Apple Dumpling Gang! Man oh man, now I might rewatch some of these...

Anyway, Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China are on Netflix, and I'm heading to DC and the East Coast next week to see friends and roadtrip to Edna St. Vincent Millay's house. Hopefully now that things have calmed down at work a bit, I'll have more time to write some coherent, in-depth blog posts rather than stringing together the same ol' stream-of-consciousness potpourri messes.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

marvelous emotional equipment

I started this post yonks ago (shortly after I finished it in March), and didn't get much further than copying out a few of my favorite quotations, but in the interest of getting it out of my drafts folder...

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“When should we start allowing what those people think to guide our publishing, or the tempo of our publishing? We certainly have to have a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, as the document [the Declaration of Independence] said, but we certainly can’t start now to let them tell us what to do and what not to do, or give us guidance as to what we publish and when….I don’t expect creative artists who do books for children to think about children all the time. They never do—the really great ones—because they do what they do for themselves. (I am certainly at my most banal this morning, I’m sorry.) But have to worry about the children. I mean, we, here in the department. And the fact that we have published children’s books for children (not other adults) and that we have NEVER NEVER NEVER been inhibited by ‘will this bore adults, will this expose us to cynical criticism’ makes it impossible for me not to go on like this to you.”
-- Letter to Maurice Sendak, 1/31/1963

Ursula Nordstrom worked with some of the best children's authors in the mid-twentieth century and was responsible for bringing so freaking many classics into the world. Stuart Little? Check. Where the Wild Things Are? Check. Danny and the Dinosaur? Check. Frances? Check.

Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom was such a delightful glimpse into the publishing world, especially the publishing world of children's books in the mid-1900s. She never condescended to her audience, and she fought the disapproving pearl-clutchers of her day. She led the push in children's publishing away from simplistic morality tales toward genuinely great story-telling.

Nordstrom is the most delightful blend of crochety and tender in her letters -- willing to overlook the quirks of authors so long as they continued to produce, no matter how slowly. She coaxes and scolds in equal measure. She herself wrote what would now be called a young adult novel, so she knew their pain personally.
“I know darn well some of the authors will think it very unattractive for their editor to have written anything. But as a matter of fact trying to do it has made me a slightly better and enormously more sympathetic editor!”
-- Letter to Bettina Ehrlich, 2/11/1960

Nordstrom was the first female vice president AND female director that Harper's had, and she fought the typically sexist views you'd expect from the male-dominated publishing world of the time.
“I phoned Morely Safer’s office and asked when the segment with you would be telecast on 60 Minutes. I am tired of having to watch the whole program every minute every week! The young woman who answered said the interview was still being edited and thus had not been scheduled, but she took my name and phone number and said she would let me know when it was definitely scheduled. ‘Now whose secretary are you?’ she asked pleasantly—female chauvinistic sow. ‘I am Mr. Sendak’s editor,’ I said with simple dignity. I don’t plan to be buried but it would be nice on my tombstone…. ‘She was Mr. Sendak’s editor.’”
-- Letter to Maurice Sendak, 2/16/1973

 She was relentless and unstoppable, and I really want a poster of her to put on my wall now.