‘Honoring Miss Pietsch’ or how a composer helped me get my house in order, featuring 1886 wallpaper

 

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Composer Edna Frida Pietsch stands in front of her house in 1904, insert is Pietsch at 8, in 1902. The awnings are in the attic, although they’re pretty worn out. (Photo from Wisconsin Women: a gifted heritage©1982, a project of the Wisconsin State Division AAUW

If anyone with a social media presence wants to see their blog stats tank, here’s my advice:

  1. Quit Facebook.

Even though my blog is my gift to me, a place where I write what I want to in order to loosen myself up to write better and more freely and not about how many readers and followers I have, I will freely cop to being a little sad at how dramatically my readership disappeared when I parted ways with Zuckerberg & Co.

But, I’m over it now. (Okay, maybe I am. Or maybe I’m just lying to myself.)

In the meantime, I have made excellent use of the time between blog posts to do something I have not been able to do since moving into my current house. With a little push from the house’s longest resident, Edna Frida Pietsch, and a lot of help from a couple of neighbors, my house has turned into a place I want to hang out in instead of run away from.

Well, the first floor, at least. Which is a lot, given that the first floor includes a kitchen, living room, parlor, dining room and a couple of porches. All presentable, all beautiful.

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The parlor – and music room

What brought on this miracle?

Two things, actually. One was our neighborhood’s annual home tour. Sweetheart and I live just outside a historic district that has hosted a home tour for the past 28 years. When he lived here with Then-wife, they were asked multiple times to open the house up for the tour, but didn’t.

I’d done the tour before. My previous house was inside the neighborhood boundaries, and there was nothing  wrong with it that a cash infusion of roughly $250,000 wouldn’t have addressed nicely. It was 2005’s “house-in-progress.”

The tour prep process resulted in a lovely, tranquil and neat first floor that stayed lovely, tranquil and neat for six months. Then, a car accident rendered me unable to do much of anything involving cleaning up after people who messed up faster behind me.

Still, it was a valuable lesson. I learned I could create and maintain order – something I had not had the chance to know about myself prior.

In the ensuing years, my decision to live in what could diplomatically be described as a pigsty was informed by my priority list.

When Sweetheart bought his house back after By-Then-Ex-wife put it up for sale, I was working full-time and in graduate school. That overlapped with helping Mom move across six states into an assisted living high-rise and then to a nursing home. Good grades, keeping my job and caring for my mother took precedence over housekeeping.

Still, the process of organizing Mom’s house while she was still there to ensure maximum safety and efficiency while she lived independently, then breaking it apart twice more for her moves showed me I had somehow mastered the art of hanging on to the right stuff without hanging on to all of it – or even too much.

There are people for whom housekeeping and clutter-repelling comes naturally. Sweetheart and I are not among them.

So, for almost 10 years, I lived in this house and whenever I had the time to look around, mostly wanted to cry and run away because there seemed no way to get it under control.

Graduating from library school in 2014 freed up time, but by then Mom was in the nursing home. My free time went there until she died.

Then, it was March of 2018, and all I had was a job. No Mom. No school. Just an upcoming neighborhood home tour focused on the arts.

And Edna Frida Pietsch, the neo-classical composer whose father and grandfather built our house. Pietsch spent either all of her life here or lived here from the time she was five – in 1899 – until she died in 1982.  She taught theory and composition at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music for 35 years and composed solo, chamber and symphonic works.

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A cassette recording of Edna Frida Pietch’s “String Quartet in D Major”

Given that, there was no question that her house had to be on the tour. So, thanks to a pair of Sallys – the tour chair and the volunteer chair – we cleaned, and scrubbed, and excavated. (Good people going through rough times –intimate partner violence survivors and people living with brain disorders – will make good use of what we don’t need and won’t miss.)

I took a trip to Madison’s Mills Music Library at the University of Wisconsin, where Pietch’s manuscripts and recordings are housed. Library Director Jeanette Casey and her staff were wonderfully helpful. After I left, they digitized some of her music so I’d have recordings to play on Tour Day.

 

 

 

Pietsch’s portrait hangs in the Art, Music and Recreation room of The Milwaukee Public Library. Librarians there let me scan reference copies of her music. And an anthology of Wisconsin women published by the American Association of University Women featured a section on Pietsch and photo of the house from 1904.

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Edna Frida Pietsch, painted by Joan Beringer Pripps

Hands in Harmony, a local piano studio, provided three hours of live music from teachers and students, including some works by Pietsch. The house looked fabulous.

The morning of the tour, I was putting the finishing touches on a display board. An empty board was laying on the dining room table.

“Can I use this?”

Sweetheart was cocking his head at the display board, his arms wrapped around a worn-looking cardboard box he’d brought from some cluttery corner of the attic or basement.

He began laying chunks of dusty plaster on the cardboard, arranging them in lines. Some broke apart as he lifted them from the box.

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Chunks of dusty plaster

“Um….what are these?”

Which is how I found out about the second chimney sprouting a leak, causing a dining room wall to buckle. Sweetheart and Then-wife had to remove the plaster and replace it. Underneath the molding, they found the 1886 wallpaper. He’d boxed and kept it, along with a sample of the old-school jute-lined linoleum that had been under the carpet when they’d redone the floors.

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The 1886 wallpaper

We gently wiped the wallpaper with damp cloths. The plaster dust vanished, revealing a floral pattern in deep burgundy, with various shades of pink, almost silver, and gold. I thought – not for the first time – of how lucky I am to have a life partner like Sweetheart.

Hitting the ‘delete’ button on Facebook: a Dispatch from the quiet zone

 

On April 10th, I posted this on my Facebook feed:

I was going to just leave quietly, but it feels disrespectful to so many of you who I care about. I joined Facebook quietly in December of 2006 as a puckish joke on one of my kids, and it quickly became a mechanism for staying in touch far-flung friends. It also helped me make new friends, and valuable connections. But for a lot of reasons, it’s time to go. I’m reassessing a lot of things in light of Mom’s death, and the way I engage with social media platforms is on that list.

 Regarding Facebook, I know enough about what privacy means in an electronic environment to have kept my settings set at maximum privacy, not take any of those damn quizzes or list my forty favorite songs, colors or facts about myself I wasn’t willing to share. But the way Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg made it okay for anyone who let the vampires in to also let them in to their friends’ houses was not okay.

Two days later, I clicked “Delete my account.” I was informed that if I logged in within two weeks, all would be forgiven and my account restored.

Now, that’s a non-option.

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And then, with a single keystroke, I flushed Facebook.

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over Facebook’s lack of respect for user privacy, but knowing what I knew about the ways in which data gets collected, mined and used, I was less surprised about the outrage than I was at the constant (see blog archives for the paper I wrote about it in 2008) insistence by Zuckerberg & co. that they had no idea that FB data could be used for anything other than good. If I, a nobody sitting at my kitchen table in 2008 could identify multiple ways personal data could be used for less-than-savory purposes,  there’s no excuse for those two to turn into a pair of outraged Victorian ladies, all atwitter at this assault on their delicate constitutions.

Still, a lot of people, whether or not their data was scooped up by Cambridge Analytica (mine was, unsurprisingly), are sticking with Facebook.

I’m not one of them. When I left, Sumner & Jessica were about to become first-time parents. I wonder how my fellow librarian pal Keith in Syracuse is faring, whether Celia got to the beach for the annual sea turtle rescue and how many impromptu house concerts and other adventures Marge has had in the last week (probably about 20, knowing her as I do).

But the truth is, Facebook had become an avoidance strategy. In the time Mom was declining, it was a way to decompress and run away from thinking about what was going on in my life. The energy it took me to do what I needed to for her left me with little time to address my house, which was becoming more cluttered, and the long-form project I’ve been working on – mostly in my head – for decades.

So really, Cambridge Analytica was just the final push forward on a journey that I’d been trying to summon up the will to start taking for awhile.

Since leaving Facebook, I can’t say I’ve made major strides on any of these things. But I have made strides.

As I write this, the radio is on and I’m half-listening to an episode of Hidden Brain in which a young mom talks about how reluctant she was to portray anything but the perfect life and compare hers to other peoples’ perfect lives.

The dog is begging for a bite of the waffle I’m eating, Sweetheart broke a dessert dish in the microwave warming syrup; there’s a load of laundry in the wash and the litterbox needs changing.

I was actually on national television and in the New York Times for being one of the first “old” people on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg may have kind of needed me then, but he sure doesn’t now. At the time I quit, I had more than 1,500 contacts. All of them were there for a reason, whether or not we’d met in person.

I used Facebook to connect people with each other, to stay in touch with far-flung friends and to stay current in my job. There are times when I miss the ease of being able to manage those connections.  But I managed just fine before Mark Zuckerberg.

I’ll be fine without him.

‘Big Brother meets the digital Third World’ or ‘I wrote a paper in 2008. Check it out.’

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I don’t have any pictures of myself writing papers, so this graduation morning photo will have to do.

In summer of 2008, I took an Ethics of Information class. Our final project was a paper on the topic of our choice.

I wanted to look at what I saw as the New Third World – the way on-line information about us could and was possibly already being used to exploit us, make our lives worse, keep us from getting jobs, bank loans and or other essential and quality-of-life goods. The haves got the good stuff, the rest of us would unknowingly become citizens of a borderless Third World nation.

Sunday’s New York Times featured an editorial entitled “The Secret Agenda of a Facebook Quiz.”

I just finished reading it.

My response is to post my paper here for anyone to read, learn from and possibly follow up on and extend. It’s long, but it may be one of the most important things I’ve written. I haven’t updated it, but would be interested in feedback from anyone brave enough to get through it. (It’s not written in academ-ese; my prof said she wanted my own voice.)

Click on the link below.

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