The Once and Future Temp

From Public Books:

In the 1980s, Arlene Kaplan Daniels coined the term “invisible work” to describe unpaid labor, traditionally undertaken by women, in the household. Over time, feminist scholars—from anthropologists to economists—adopted and broadened the term to refer to any work that is physically hidden, culturally overlooked, socially marginalized, economically devalued, or legally unprotected. This is to say, invisibility is a rather amorphous characteristic that results when the work, worker, or workplace is obscured, often leading to a combination of economic, cultural, and social devaluation.

In Hilary Leichter’s first novel, Temporary, this invisible work makes the world turn. Following the incredibly odd temp positions of a young woman navigating the workplace, the reader quickly realizes that Temporary is a surreal and speculative novel set outside this universe. In each chapter, the unnamed narrator fills in for a different person or thing, taking on wacky placements as an assassin, a pirate, and a sea barnacle.

In Leichter’s novel, the protagonist is born a temporary, living in the space “between who she was and whom she was meant to replace.” While Leichter’s temporaries were originally created “to fill any gaps the gods had forgotten,” over time they have become a class of people with no choice but to embrace their transient occupational status and its affective demands. In Leichter’s world, the “temp” has grown from a temporary occupation into a permanent fixture of the universe. In one sense, then, Leichter forces readers to ask what it means for temps to be anything but provisional.

Leichter dreams up a colorful and kooky world of work in Temporary, which asks the question, What can fiction, specifically the surreal and bemusing kind, teach us about modern working life? With a matter-of-fact tone and tongue-in-cheek language, Leichter crafts a world in which work-life balance is as elusive as celebrity status. While Temporary’s story world is purposefully impressionistic, its portrayal of temporary work draws very real connections between the history of the “temp” industry in the US and newer forms of contingent labor that demand workers sacrifice not just their time—and now, potentially, their health—but also crucial facets of their identities.

For Leichter’s mythical temps, their purpose is not merely to stand in for other workers (the assassin, the pirate) but also to embody them, to become them. The central journey occurs in this in-between of internal and external selves, for it is through these portraits of exaggerated embodiment that Leichter captures the gendered and affective aspects of work. Leichter places these traditionally invisible and feminized practices in the foreground, constructing a campy story of work and identity that reveals just how closely the two are connected and how this proximity can invite exploitation.

Link to the rest at Public Books

PG notes that every job he held in college was temporary.

He’ll further note that any job he held after graduating from college and law school was temporary.

The legal term is generally At Will Employee. Here’s a definition:

At-will employment refers to an employment agreement stating that employment is for an indefinite period of time and may be terminated either by employer or employee. If an employment is at-will, such an agreement would typically be expressly included in the relevant employment contract.

Although PG has held some executive positions, none ever came with an employment contract. He liked that because he could always move to a better job for more pay. He always felt the best employment security was his ability to do useful things.

Additionally, but definition, all attorneys, doctors, dentists, etc., provide services only if and when clients or patients ask them to do so.

Silicon Valley has a hipper term for Temp – Gig Work.

Fyodor Dostoevsky: philosopher of freedom

From The New Criterion:

On December 22, 1849, a group of political radicals were taken from their prison cells in Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Fortress, where they had been interrogated for eight months. Led to the Semenovsky Square, they heard a sentence of death by firing squad. They were given long white peasant blouses and nightcaps—their funeral shrouds—and offered last rites. The first three prisoners were seized by the arms and tied to the stake. One prisoner refused a blindfold and stared defiantly into the guns trained on them. At the last possible moment, the guns were lowered as a courier galloped up with an imperial decree reducing death sentences to imprisonment in a Siberian prison camp followed by service as a private in the army. The last-minute rescue was in fact planned in advance as part of the punishment, an aspect of social life that Russians understand especially well.

Accounts affirm: of the young men who endured this terrible ordeal, one had his hair turn white; a second went mad and never recovered his sanity; a third, whose two-hundredth birthday we celebrate in 2021, went on to write Crime and Punishment.

The mock-execution and the years in Siberian prison—thinly fictionalized in his novel Notes from the House of the Dead (1860)—changed Dostoevsky forever. His naive, hopeful romanticism disappeared. His religious faith deepened. The sadism of both prisoners and guards taught him that the sunny view of human nature presumed by utilitarianism, liberalism, and socialism were preposterous. Real human beings differed fundamentally from what these philosophies presumed.

. . . .

Dostoevsky’s characters astonish by their complexity. Their unpredictable but believable behavior reminds us of experiences beyond the reach of “scientific” theories. We appreciate that people, far from maximizing their own advantage, sometimes deliberately make victims of themselves in order, for example, to feel morally superior. In The Brothers Karamazov (1880), Father Zosima observes that it can be very pleasant to take offense, and Fyodor Pavlovich replies that it can even be positively distinguished.

In fact, people harm themselves for many reasons. They tear at their own wounds and derive a peculiar pleasure from doing so. They deliberately humiliate themselves. To their own surprise, they experience impulses stemming from resentments long suppressed and, as a result, create scandalous scenes or commit horrible crimes. Freud particularly appreciated Dostoevsky’s exploration of the dynamics of guilt. But neither Freud nor most Western readers have grasped that Dostoevsky intended his descriptions of human complexity to convey political lessons. If people are so surprising, so “undefined and mysterious,” then social engineers are bound to cause more harm than good.

The narrator of The House of the Dead describes how prisoners sometimes, for no apparent reason, suddenly do something highly self-destructive. They may attack a guard, even though the punishment—running a gauntlet of thousands of blows—usually proves fatal. Why? The answer is that the essence of humanness lies in the possibility of surprise. The behavior of material objects can be fully explained by natural laws, and for materialists the same is true of people, if not yet, then in the near future. But people are not just material objects, and will do anything, no matter how self-destructive, to prove they are not.

The whole point of prison, as Dostoevsky experienced it, is to restrict people’s ability to make their own choices. But choice is what makes us human. Those prisoners lash out because of their ineradicable craving to have a will of their own, and that craving is ultimately more important than their own well-being and, indeed, than life itself.

The nameless narrator of Dostoevsky’s 1864 novella Notes from Underground (usually called “the underground man”) insists that the aspiration of social sciences to discover the iron laws of human behavior threatens to reduce people to “piano keys or organ stops.” If such laws exist, if “some day they truly discover a formula for all our desires and caprices,” he reasons, then each person will realize that “everything is done by itself according to the laws of nature.” As soon as those laws are discovered, people will no longer be responsible for their actions. What’s more,

All human actions will then, of course, be tabulated according to these laws, mathematically, like tables of logarithms up to 108,000. . . . there would be published certain edifying works like the present encyclopedia lexicons, in which everything will be so clearly calculated and designated that there will be no more . . . adventures in the world. . . . Then the crystal palace [utopia] will be built.

Link to the rest at The New Criterion

Here She Comes Again: Reading Dolly Parton

From The Wall Street Journal:

In the late 1960s, Dolly Parton got her big break as the “girl singer” on “The Porter Wagoner Show,” a syndicated television program that brought hard-core honky-tonk and down-home humor into the living rooms of America. It may be hard to believe now, but back then Ms. Parton was only the second most flamboyant performer onstage. One of country music’s most magnetic stars, Wagoner had a peroxide pompadour and eye-popping, rhinestone-studded Nudie suits that defined Nashville glitz. Meanwhile, “Miss Dolly,” as he called her, was kept buttoned up in demure outfits despite her natural radiance and zest.

Underpaid and underappreciated, Ms. Parton would later compare her seven-year stint with Wagoner to the time that indentured servants were required to work in order to earn their freedom. It was indeed a raw deal, but it was worth it. It gave her national exposure and performing experience with a peerless entertainer twice her age. It also allowed her to hone her songwriting talent, which had brought her to Nashville in 1964 as an 18-year-old from the Smoky Mountains.

One day, as the Wagoner tour bus headed to the next town, something caught Ms. Parton’s fancy. “We rode past Dover, Tennessee, and my mind started going,” she recalls in “Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics” (Chronicle, 376 pages, $50). “There was this field of clover waving in the wind. So there we were, Dover-clover, and that started me off: ‘The sun behind a cloud just cast a crawling shadow o’er the fields of clover. And time is running out for me. I wish that he would hurry down from Dover.’ ”

The verses that flowed from this roadside epiphany told a story from the point of view of a pregnant girl deserted by her lover and abandoned by her scandalized parents. Alone but still hoping for her lover’s return, she decides to have the baby, which is stillborn. With its Southern Gothic overtones, “Down From Dover” evokes the dark fatalism of the mountain ballads that Ms. Parton heard as a child. Its subject matter was taboo for country radio when it appeared on a 1970 album, so “Dover” was never the hit that she thought it could be. But it remains a favorite of Ms. Parton and many of her fans, and it has enjoyed an afterlife as one of her most covered songs, not only by country singers (Skeeter Davis) but also by campy pop sirens (Nancy Sinatra) and New Wave chanteuses (Marianne Faithfull).

“Down From Dover” is one of 175 Parton compositions over a six-decade career featured in “Songteller,” a lavishly illustrated compendium of annotated lyrics and back-story anecdotes. The songs range freely across genres, from classic country weepers to proto-feminist hits like “Just Because I’m a Woman” to frothy upbeat pop crossovers; from stark acoustic bluegrass and movie-soundtrack blockbusters like “9 to 5” and “I Will Always Love You” to Broadway show tunes. It is only a portion of Dolly Parton’s staggering output of 450 recorded songs.

A pair of timely new studies, by a journalist and a musicologist, both unabashed Dolly fans, trace the thematic threads that run through this canon. Both offer reappraisals of Ms. Parton as a complex and often contradictory artist overshadowed by her larger-than-life image as an entertainer and the proprietor of a multi-media empire. Sarah Smarsh’s “She Come by It Natural” (Scribner, 187 pages, $22) is a bracing personal account that celebrates how Ms. Parton has given a liberating voice to an often ignored segment of the American working class—resilient and independent-minded blue-collar women. Lydia R. Hamessley’s “Unlikely Angel” (Illinois, 286 pages, $19.95) offers a scholarly analysis of representative songs, as text and in performance, to explore Ms. Parton’s creative process.

. . . .

From self-described “Backwoods Barbie” to American Bard may seem a stretch, but there is merit in the argument that, for too long now, Ms. Parton’s formidable body of work has been overlooked for the sake of her relentlessly scrutinized body. As Ms. Smarsh puts it, Dolly Parton has had to “answer more questions about her measurements than her songwriting.”

. . . .

In fact, the lyrical content at the heart of “Songteller” shows the wide sweep of her oeuvre, a blend of darkness and light with natural affinities for the scorned and the misunderstood. There are outcasts and misfits of all sorts: hermits, prostitutes, winos, orphans, clairvoyants, gamblers and, not least, resourceful women of all stripes, but mostly poor and rural, in every conceivable predicament. Wordplay and O. Henry-like plot twists abound. No subject is off-limits: suicide, insanity, lust, faith and doubt, adultery, depression, illegitimacy; there is even a song called “PMS Blues.”

. . . .

Some of Ms. Parton’s best-known tear-jerkers, such as “Me and Little Andy,” about an abandoned girl and her puppy seeking refuge in a storm, have been savaged by critics through the years. (“As heinous as any of her past offenses against good taste,” wrote one.) In fact, these songs, concert staples still beloved by fans, reveal Ms. Parton working in the tradition of the sentimental Victorian-era parlor tunes with which, we learn, her mother serenaded her.

Ms. Hamessley supplements her close readings (and close listenings) with incisive comments from Ms. Parton, who sent responses via cassette to the author’s inquiries, mostly about her native Appalachia’s folk roots. When asked about the early 19th-century hymn “Wayfaring Stranger,” whose stark melody re-appears in a number of her compositions, the now 74-year-old Ms. Parton dredged up a childhood memory of an old man at a local church in faded overalls who stood up mid-service and sang it impromptu: “It was the saddest, most beautiful, most lonesome thing I’d ever heard,” she tells Ms. Hamessley.

. . . .

By the time of her 1973 nostalgia-drenched album “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” her boss Wagoner had had enough. As her producer, he controlled much of what she recorded, often in slick arrangements that went against her wishes. For him, the money was in love songs. “Dolly, nobody gives a shit about ‘Mama’s Old Black Kettle,’ or ‘Daddy’s Working Boots,’ ” he told her. “Who cares?” Her response was “Jolene,” her biggest hit yet, garnering her new fans outside country music, and it wasn’t long before she broke free from Wagoner and went solo.

For Ms. Smarsh, a Kansas-based freelance journalist and author, Ms. Parton’s tumultuous relationship with Wagoner is only too familiar for the women Ms. Smarsh herself grew up with on the Kansas plains. Through the years, and even after Wagoner’s death in 2007, Ms. Parton has played down and publicly forgiven the abusive treatment at his hands. Ms. Smarsh puts back the hurt and sting.

“Parton had left home for the lights of Nashville and found success,” she writes. “But, in some ways, she was just as trapped as she would have been as a knocked-up kid in a shack in Sevier County. . . . She wound up professionally and contractually bound to a man who fancied himself her husband, her father, her owner. . . . What she’d stepped into was the wealthier, show business parallel of a life she’d meant to escape.”

Bristling with sharp insights and righteous anger, “She Come by It Natural” is a moving account of how Ms. Parton’s music has helped “hard-luck women” make their own escapes from deadbeat men and dead-end lives. Women like Ms. Smarsh’s Grandma Betty, who survived a string of abusive husbands and helped raise Ms. Smarsh even as she juggled low-paying jobs. “When I was a kid, Betty would put one of Dolly’s tapes in the deck of her old car while we rolled down some highway,” she writes. “It’s the only music I remember her singing and crying to in that emotionally repressed Midwestern culture and class.”

. . . .

That mountain girl had left on a bus with her guitar and three paper bags full of dirty clothes, the hooting laughter of her high-school classmates ringing in her ears after she had announced on Graduation Day that she was headed to Music City to make it big. 

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG is a sucker for stories about people who started with nothing and worked their way up. Dolly Parton certainly qualifies for that category.

Here’s a copy of an album cover from Ms. Parton’s “My Tennessee Mountain Home” album, released in 1973. Ms. Parton was born in a one-room cabin. The photo on the album cover is of a later family home, presumably a better one, where she spent much of her time growing up. She was the fourth of twelve children in her family. The last two children, twins, were born when Ms. Parton’s mother was 35. Ms. Parton’s father was illiterate.

She finished her education at Sevier County High School, graduating in 1964. Within a week she was in Nashville, trying to earn a living from her musical talent. Here’s a copy of her graduation photo.

Name Generator

From Name-Generator:

Are you about to create the best character ever? Have you already created one? Now, they need an epic name.

Our name generator allows you to create a name with up to five components, so a name can be short and sweet or double-barrelled and swanky.

With over 220,000 names in our database, you can also specify language, nationality and other factors to give your character the perfect name.

Link to the rest at Name-Generator

PG asked the Name Generator to provide names for females | born in 1812 | evil | Cornish / English / Irish / Scottish / Welsh

Here are some of the results:

Lady Rhodes Yates

WHY?
Rhodes: tagged as English, begins with R, ends in S
Yates: tagged as serial killer, tagged as English, in use in United Kingdom, in use in United Kingdom

Lady Regan Dennis

WHY?
Regan: tagged as serial killer, tagged as English, begins with R
Dennis: tagged as serial killer, tagged as English, in use in United Kingdom, in use in United Kingdom

Character Names Create Great Stories

From Nameberry:

I may be the world’s only novelist who’s also a name expert, which makes it doubly ironic that I was compelled to change my own character names.

But when Darren Star, creator of Sex & the City, made a television show based on my novel Younger, he changed the name of my heroine Alice to Liza and that of her young colleague Lindsay to Kelsey. Alice’s daughter’s name Diana was given to Alice’s boss, whereupon the daughter became the generationally-appropriate Caitlin.

My new novel Older, the sequel to Younger published today, uses the character names from the TV show rather than from my original book. At this point, it would be confusing any other way.

. . . .

I originally named the heroine of Younger Alice because of her Alice in Wonderland experience of living in the upside-down world of the younger generation. But Alice is an overused name both in literature and on the screen. There were notable characters with the name both in the movie Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and its TV adaptation Alice, and Alice Kramden was Ralph’s wisecracking wife in the classic Jackie Gleason Show.

The name Liza, on the other hand, is free of other strong character associations. It’s generationally ambiguous, reaching its apex in the mid-1970s, around the time my heroine would have been born. All in all, I have to confess, Liza is a more original and better character name than Alice.

Kelsey and Lindsay, meanwhile, are basically the same name. As a name for Hilary Duff’s character, Kelsey has the advantage, though, in peaking a bit later than Lindsay, in the early 1990s, perfect for someone who’s supposed to be in her late 20s. And Lindsay is perhaps too reminiscent of the actress Lindsay Lohan.

The best character names in realistic, contemporary works of fiction support the character’s background and personality rather than dominate it. If you’re writing a broader work – a fantasy book or period piece or graphic novel – you can have a lot more fun with character names. Albus Dumbledore and Daenerys Targaryen, Ebenezer Scrooge and Lyra Silvertongue are amazing character names created by J.K. Rowling and George R. R. Martin, Charles Dickens and Philip Pullman. Those names raise the bar even higher for authors looking to compete with Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.

. . . .

When you begin a novel, it’s a good idea to create a timeline that shows when your characters were born, graduated, hit certain milestone ages compared with notable world and cultural events over the same time period. What names were most popular the year your character was born, what names were used more quietly, which might have been associated with major figures of the day, and which weren’t used at all?

. . . .

Names like Jennifer, Michael, John, and Sarah convey an Everyman or Girl Next Door feeling. If that’s what you’re going for, fine, but that puts more pressure on the characters to prove themselves individuals deserving of our attention.

Link to the rest at Nameberry