mad in pursuit memoir notebook

DISPATCHED FROM THE intersection of yesterday and forever

1970 Origin of the "Dangling Woman"

attic: office & bedroom 1970The original "Dangling Woman" (see sidebar) began in an attic bedroom in Evanston, Illinois, summer of 1970.

I had graduated from college in three years but had no job prospects, much less career plans. At the last minute I had even petitioned to have my scholarship extended so I could stay in the academic womb for another year. They said yes, but I slapped myself in the face and went out into the world.

My parents expected me to come home but I couldn't go. I couldn't leave my Chicago friends. St. Louis didn't feel like retreating to an even earlier womb. No, it felt like the coldest reality.

But then again, I wasn't thinking straight. My friend Trish and I had lined up a cool deal for the summer. The Assistant Professor we were both infatuated with was going to finish up his PhD thesis as soon as school let out. Then he would be going off with his wife and 3 little kids for a summer of camping. Trish and I were invited to house-sit at no cost -- just a $5/wk contribution to the groceries while the family was still around. My grandmother was still sending me $25 a month, so I was all set.

It turned out to be a summer in hell. And yet, oddly, I still resisted my family's insistence that I come home. I had to persuade them that, no, I didn't mean to break their hearts -- I just needed to be independent. And independent I was, if independence means dangling in an existential vacuum.

I had spent college in a wonderful world of ideas and I was encouraged to explore on my own. I worked very hard, pulling the occasional all-nighter even when nothing was due.  "Getting a job" meant fitting yourself into someone else's very ordinary, very practical world. I was horrified.

I wanted to hide out from this degrading process in our little attic bedroom, but that was Assistant Professor's office too, where he was supposed to be spending the day finishing the dreaded dissertation.

June passed. July. He didn't finished his work. I didn't get a job.

I read a book that summer called "Dangling Man" by Saul Bellow. It's about a man who gets his draft notice, but gets no information about when his actual induction is. Since no one will hire him in that status, he figures he should take advantage of his "freedom." But he can't seem to pull anything off. The main character reflects:

Still no fruits and flowers. I have been too lazy to stir out. But I know I am not lazy. Here is an incalculable deception. Lazy we are not. When we seem so, our cyclonic wishes are baffled and pride requires us to be indifferent.

I wrote out the quotation. Liking it, Assistant Professor tacked it to the kitchen bulletin board.

I would be the Dangling Woman for months to come.


This piece was written after some commentary on my radio production "Dangling Woman" (2003). The radio piece referred more to a point in my career. But then I saw myself as "the dangling woman" in many moments of my life.