Macassar, Me and Emily Dickinson.
What is it? Well you might ask George. I’d never heard of it before today either. Apparently,
“Macassar oil was an unguent for the hair commonly used in the early 19th century. The poet Byron called it “thine incomparable oil, Macassar.” The fashion for oiled hair became so widespread in the Victorian and the Edwardian period that housewives began to cover the arms and backs of their chairs with washable cloths to preserve the fabric coverings from being soiled. Around 1850, these started to be known as antimacassars. They were also installed in theatres, from 1865.” (Sourcehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antimacassar)
An antimacassar (/ˌæntɪməˈkæsər/) is a small cloth placed over the backs or arms of chairs, or the head or cushions of a sofa, to prevent soiling of the permanent fabric. Also refers to the cloth flap on a sailor’s blouse, used to keep macassar oil off the uniform.
You know George this reminds me … And yes George this possibly is another of those peculiar connections that only I would make …
In any case, it reminds me of my personal experience as a member of Toastmasters International … Once long ago but not so far away … Before I was quite insulted by the president at the time … A man, yes .. some man George … Yes … Another story …
The man who insulted me also happened to be the district … Hmmm well I forget the exact term he used George but I recall him being quite puffed up with pride over being the district someone-or-other.
The point? The point of my story? Well yes George I am slowly making my way there. And really my connection is not all that far off. Macassars were made to keep men’s greasy hair oil off the furniture. As to how it relates to me … Well it really has to do with my love of poetry and my very special feeling of connection with Emily Dickinson.
No George I am not subtly suggesting that all those men who rejected Dickinson’s poetry were greasers … Well maybe one or two were a bit greasy in their attitude but I very much doubt that the term “greaser” had yet become was it was to be in the 1950s or maybe even the 1960s. Remember John Travolta and Olivia Newton. What year was that George? Hmmm I don’t remember either.
No George I am not off on a tangent … Not at all … Merely setting the table for the main dish so to speak.
So here we have these hairgrease prevention cloths called Antimacassars .
Yes George … Please be patient … As I was about to say … Somebody had to make them … The women did make them for their homes … My grandmother did George … Called them doilies … Much nicer … More feminine word … Don’t you think George?
What does all of this have to do with Emily Dickinson?
Look here George …
Have you ever heard of an American literary critic and poet named Richard Palmer Blackmur (January 21, 1904 – February 2, 1965)?
Well don’t fret George, I probably would not have heard of him either were it not for my love of poetry in general and Dickinson in particular.
” Blackmur in an attempt to focus and clarify the major claims for and against the poet’s greatness, wrote in a landmark 1937 critical essay: “… she was a private poet who wrote as indefatigably as some women cook or knit. Her gift for words and the cultural predicament of her time drove her to poetry instead of antimacassars ” ”
So what do you think about her choices George … Write poetry or make doilies …
And how does this relate to toastmasters? And where exactly do I fit into any of this George?
Well I was a painfully shy young woman who loved to write poetry and paint and draw. I joined Toastmasters hoping it would help me overcome my shyness and help me build the confidence and connections I needed to develop a career.
I was also a married stay-at-home wife-and-mother work-at-home-graphic-artist … The original attempt at being Super-Mom.
Which brings me closer to the point … Being insulted by the Toastmaster district someone-or- other.
No George I have absolutely nothing against Toastmasters. I would never have joined had I thought otherwise. Whether I personally received value for my money … Well … Something I’d need to really think about George … My dearly departed father used to tell me to say nothing if I had nothing good to say … Yes I must admit that my poor father despaired of ever having an obedient daughter.
Ok ok …. Here it is … What the Toasmaster said … Well … during coffee break we were having a friendly chat … He asked me about myself and when I told him I was a painter and draughtsman … As in being a graphic artist … Well George here it is … What he answered was,
“That is nice, something to do in your spare time, when you are not busy looking after your family.”
That was possibly the point when I realized that if ever I was to have a career it would certainly not be thanks to people like Mr. District someone-or-other and I might as well not have spent the hundred plus dollars I had scrimped together to join Toastmasters International.
Do you suppose … Would my life have taken a different turn if the group I joined had been named Toastmistresses International?