Genice needed a topic for her dissertation; she dumpster-dived archives, rummaged through used book stores, scoured estate sales, scrolled through digital libraries. But nothing stuck; nothing caught her restless intellect.
Despondent, frantic and melancholy, she unexpectedly found herself heading home for the break. “Maybe after a recharge at the family homestead,” she thought, “I’ll discover some clever, elegant slip-stream into academe.” And, if the weather was conducive, rambles along vacant stretches of wilderness beaches might uncramp her muscles made taut by her bent-over-her-laptop researching.
Thunder split the leaden sky; wind wrapped trees around themselves; hail clattered on the roof like fall acorns. Power lines crackled on the ground; cell phone reception spotty as a series of powerful nor’easters wracked the coast. It seemed all her plans were being thwarted by some displeasured muse or fate.
Genice amused herself by unpacking boxes and poking in trunks she found up in the cob-webbed attic crawl space. Sitting cross-legged on the dusty floor, head almost brushing the low ceiling beams, glow spilling out from a lantern, she marveled at the detritus her family collected over the generations. Albums of stilted sepia photographs, scrapbooks of drekky poetry and “man-pleasing” recipes cut from women’s magazines, advice books on etiquette, pamphlets warning about the dangers of “loose” living, delinquent youth, and sexual deviance.
Wedged into the back corner, a wonky bookshelf held a series of leather-bound ledgers. The faded labels read “Admissions. Angel House for Females.” The books spanned a period of 25 years: 1864 to 1889. Feeling contrarian, she pulled the last, rather than first, volume off the shelf. In cramped, spidery hand, some matron of the institution carefully recorded name, age, reason for admission and by whom, and initial observational notes.
The pages had that musty, empty house smell as she cautiously leafed through them. Running her finger down the columns, one particular name caught her attention. Pulling other volumes off the shelf randomly and perusing them, a smile formed on Genice’s face. She exhaled for the first time in months.
As soon as power was restored, and the long driveway to her family home cleared of debris, Genice packed up her laptop and headed to a café in the nearby village. Over her café americano with extra whipped cream, she began to compose an email to her thesis supervisor.
As a post script: Genice successfully defended her PhD thesis, “goin’ crazy, wanna come?”: Serial Self-Admission to Institutions for the Femininely Insane.” Her next project involved retitling her dissertation, and shopping it around for publication. As Angel Home for the Fem Deranged, it was an overnight best-seller. She was in demand for book signings, interviews and television appearances. An upcoming Netflix limited series is in the works.
Genice is considering offers of tenure track appointments from several universities, book series contracts from two prominent publishing houses and “first look” guarantees from Netflix, Paramount and HBO.
May is mental health awareness. I plan on using that plus other May health awareness topics as the themes to next month’s blog posts.
Scrawled/scrawling for mlmm Sunday writing prompt: define insanity. Oops, I didn’t define insanity – perhaps I am afflicted by “over action of the mind,” and “over taxing of mental powers” to say nothing of my “vicious vices.”