Misled Again!

Before last week I had never been on a walking tour of my hometown of twenty years, and I probably would not have signed up for the Cambridge Historical Society’s recent outing had it not been titled “Misled.” You see, the word “misled” has long been a running joke in my family, ever since I realized that, in my mind, I had been mispronouncing it myz-əld, despite knowing perfectly well how the past participle of the verb “mislead” should be pronounced. For years – well past college – I persisted in this private malapropism, until the time I read it aloud using my invented pronunciation, provoking howls of laughter from my husband. He’s my ex-husband now, but this is one of the enduring catchphrases from the happier years of our marriage. “Myz-əld again!” one of us will say, and the other is guaranteed to laugh.

Elmwood c. 1920-39 (CHS archives)

Elmwood c. 1920-39 (CHS archives)

“History with an asterisk” is how our guide, CHS Executive Director Gavin Kleespies, framed the Misled tour’s organizing principle to the forty-odd folks who turned out for a two-hour stroll in the Brattle Street area on August 14. One of our first stops was the buttercup yellow Georgian-style mansion at 33 Elmwood Street. Built in 1767 as the then-100-acre country estate of the Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver, a Tory whose wealth came from a slave plantation in Antigua, Elmwood was later the lifelong home of the poet and abolitionist James Russell Lowell (1819-91). Since 1962 it has served as Harvard’s own White House, but it would be 45 years before a female president took residence. I think Lowell would be pleased that Civil War historian Drew Gilpin Faust now presides over Elmwood, succeeding economist Larry Summers, whose foot was in his mouth for a good deal of his tenure. Continue reading ‘Misled Again!’

Top Secret: Selling Weapons of Mass Protection

I’m delighted to have a piece published on Work Stew about my first job after business school.

Work Stew

By Jan Devereux

JanDevereuxTwenty-five years ago I had what I jokingly referred to as “a very absorbing job” working as an associate brand manager for a market-leading consumer product sold in grocery and drug stores in over 100 countries. My brand’s name, like “Kleenex” (but not), had become synonymous with the product itself, so much so that our corporate legal department dictated that every single use of the brand name, from print ads to packaging to coupons, be followed by the registered trademark symbol. Headquartered just outside New York City, the Fortune 500 company, long ranked in the top five for its return on equity, was spending about $12 million annually in the U.S. alone to advertise a product that was already a household name in several languages, albeit one that proved a conversation stopper every time someone asked me where I worked.

By all rights, I had every reason…

View original post 1,622 more words

Thank You, Mrs. Konigsburg (and Ross)

E.L. Konigsburg with son Ross and me, 1967

E.L. Konigsburg with son Ross and me, Oct. 1967

I never thought of it before today but, as a child, my two favorite authors both published under their initials: E.B. White (whose spider’s woven vocabulary lesson inspired this blog’s name) and E.L. Konigsburg, who died on Friday at age 83. I never met the creator of Charlotte, Wilbur, and Stuart, but I did have good fortune to meet Elaine Lobl Konigsburg, in 1967, because her son, Ross, was one of my grade school classmates. Her first two books were published the same year, and she came to our school library for a special reading and book-signing event.

I remember vividly the confusing mix of embarrassment and pride I felt when I was pulled off the afternoon school bus to pose for a photo with Ross and his mother. The bus driver had to wait for a good ten minutes while the photographer fiddled with his flash and repositioned us around a table stacked with books to get the shot just right. I knew, and the other kids waiting on the bus to go home surely suspected, that we had all been delayed because Ross had a crush on me. My embarrassment and confusion were compounded the next day when the photo appeared in the local newspaper, and my mother wondered aloud why the photographer hadn’t directed me to tuck the stray lock of hair behind my ear. There I was, hair astray, pictured with shy, nerdy Ross, when, like every girl in our class, I had fallen hard for Dick Still, whose All-American good looks and athleticism crowned him our golden prince right through our 6th grade graduation. (Forgive me, Ross, if you ever stumble across this post. I’m sure we’ve both come a long way since 3rd grade!) Continue reading ‘Thank You, Mrs. Konigsburg (and Ross)’

Gimme Shelter, in Place

I will never complain about crowds or traffic in Harvard Square again

I swear, I’ll never complain about the traffic in Harvard Square again.

Yesterday, pre-lockdown, I was drafting a reflection on why I’ve always resisted self-identifying as a Bostonian. This is where I left off:

I wasn’t anywhere near the finish line of this year’s Boston Marathon, and even if I hadn’t been out of town, I never would have braved the crowds in Copley Square to be there. Nothing against the runners, I steer clear of Boston’s other signature events, too. I don’t have the slightest interest in attending First Night, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, or the July 4th Pops concert and fireworks on the Esplanade. I just can’t stand large crowds.

So, where was I on Marathon Monday? In tranquil midtown Manhattan, at Museum of Modern Art, along with throngs of others taking in the “Inventing Abstraction” exhibit. Critically acclaimed and set to close the next day, the show documented the explosion in the art world that began 100 years ago and radically changed how we see the world. Nothing would be the same after 1913, in art or geo-politics. Continue reading ‘Gimme Shelter, in Place’

Leaning In with the Women of Mad Men

mm31Like many rabid Mad Men fans, I’ve been pre-gaming for the April 7 kickoff of Season 6 by re-watching Season 5. And, like many of my girlfriends, I’ve also been reading and thinking about Lean In, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s new playbook for professional women. In Sandberg’s view, the office playing field hasn’t leveled off nearly enough for women in the 40-plus years since Mad Men heroines Peggy Olson and Joan Harris were the female standard bearers at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce – and, Sandberg asserts, instead of whining that the game is (still) rigged, today’s women simply need to “lean in” harder. Watching Mad Men has given me a new appreciation for how hard Peggy and Joan had to lean in back in their day, and reading Sandberg’s book has given me a new lens through which to view their actions.

So, let’s listen in on a “Lean In Circle” facilitated by author Sheryl Sandberg, as Peggy and Joan relate their progress moving the ball down the career field. The circle’s meeting takes place immediately following Episode 11 of Season 5 (“The Other Woman”). Continue reading ‘Leaning In with the Women of Mad Men’

March Madness & Sadness 2020

img_0029March 2020 is a month none of us will soon forget. Yet I feel compelled to document how the COVID-19 crisis unfolded to help myself grasp how much our lives can change in the space of 31 days. As the month started there were no confirmed cases of the virus in Cambridge; when it ended there were (at least) 93 cases, and one resident had died. I have a sinking feeling that April may bear out T.S. Eliot’s description as the “cruelest month,” and that March will come to seem like a warm-up lap in a grim race that’s been called both a sprint and a marathon.

Here’s my March 2020 recap in rough chronological order interspersed with the cumulative number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Cambridge and the US. We are all learning a great deal about epidemiology and the characteristics of this “novel” strain of the coronavirus. These numbers undercount the actual totals because testing has been so difficult to get, and people with mild or no symptoms may never be tested, yet can still spread the virus to others. What follows reflects my personal perspective and memory and is by no means a comprehensive accounting of the month’s events or an attempt to describe every impact. 

March 1: 0 cases (Cambridge), 89 cases (US)

The first day of March was a Sunday, the last weekend before the Super Tuesday primary. I made GOTV (get out the vote) calls for Elizabeth Warren from her campaign outpost in Alewife. Phone banking is always a hit or miss exercise, and so close to Election Day most voters seemed to have made up their minds. You get lots of hang-ups. When someone is actually willing to engage, it usually means they have been alone all day and are craving human interaction; ironically that would come to describe pretty much all of us by the end of the month. Only in retrospect do I marvel that I did hesitate to use a campaign laptop that countless other volunteers had touched when making their calls. My longest conversation, if you can call it that, was with a man who took advantage of my good nature by striking a bargain: if I would listen to him rehearse his audition for American Idol, he would tell me who he planned to vote for. I indulged him as he sang wildly off-key, and before I could figure out a polite way to break the news that he wouldn’t be going to Hollywood, he hung up on me. Continue reading ‘March Madness & Sadness 2020’

Peter Singer on Effective Altruism

Peter Singer (by Derek Goodwin for the New York Times)

Peter Singer (by Derek Goodwin for the New York Times)

With the humanities under assault from those who confuse the higher purpose of higher ed with vocational training for a high-paying career, philosophy majors need to be especially thick-skinned these days. Or maybe deep pocketed, since the market value of deep thinking is deeply discounted in today’s economy. Only a philosopher could construct a logical argument for why an undergraduate degree in philosophy might be worth as much as one in, say, economics or engineering. After all, if colleges are to be evaluated and ranked, and their endowments plumped up, by the earning power of their alumni, they can hardly fault their debt-saddled students for choosing majors with the maximum income potential. These days, studying philosophy amounts to taking a vow of poverty, unless you plan to go to law school, but the job prospects for young lawyers are much diminished, too. Continue reading ‘Peter Singer on Effective Altruism’

Real Cowgirls Wear Vegan Boots

Ingrid Newkirk won't have blood on her hands

Ingrid Newkirk won’t have blood on her hands

I went to hear Ingrid Newkirk, the president and founder of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), speak in Cambridge recently. I went because I was curious to learn about the animal rights movement from Newkirk herself, the organization’s star spokeswoman whose media stunts dramatizing animal abuse and suffering at the hands of humans have been enormously effective – and highly polarizing. I was surprised that the audience wasn’t younger or larger, given Newkirk’s celebrity and the growing awareness (at least here in the People’s Republic) that animal rights activists can no longer be dismissed as a bunch of cranks who throw red paint at women in fur coats. Continue reading ‘Real Cowgirls Wear Vegan Boots’

Snapshots of a Summer

Edinburgh Fountain and Castle

Edinburgh Fountain and Castle

Someone, probably my mother, once told me, “When you’re traveling, remember to take photos with people you know in them. In a few years you won’t be interested in looking at pictures of buildings or landscapes, and no one else will either.” Great advice. I wish I’d listened.

Now, sifting through a long-lost shoebox of snapshots from my first trip to Europe, I hear those words echo, as I realize how many photos I have of buildings and landscapes, and how few I took of the two college friends I traveled with the summer after we graduated, in 1981. Continue reading ‘Snapshots of a Summer’

Missed Connections, Manhattan, 1981-2011

"Don't even *try* to compete with these boots of mine, 'cause there's nothing else like them."    Photo:Ed Yourdan, Aug. 2011)

"Don't even *try* to compete with these boots of mine, 'cause there's nothing else like them." Photo: Ed Yourdon, Aug. 2011

Fast Walker with Nice Eyes – w4m – 22 (Upper East Side)
Date: 1981-11-22, 8:45AM EST

We’ve seen each other nearly every morning this fall, walking down Lexington Avenue to work. We both walk faster than everyone else. This morning, as you peeled off east down 47th Street, you glanced over your shoulder. Our eyes met, briefly. I wonder if you could tell I was blushing as I mouthed, “Bye.”

If Craigslist had existed thirty years ago, I might have posted this chance encounter under “Missed Connections.” Instead, I dutifully recorded it in my diary. These days, a missed connection is a solvable problem (post it on Craigslist!), but back then missed connections were the norm. Continue reading ‘Missed Connections, Manhattan, 1981-2011’

Tweets (@jandev)

Recent Tweets