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On the lecture circuit following publication of her 1988 book, Fasting Girls: A History of Anorexia Nervosa, Joan Jacobs Brumberg '65 began to notice what she considers a peculiar pattern.

After each of her lectures, in cities across the country, at least one woman in the crowd waiting to talk to her would do the same thing: "She would giggle a little, or give an embarrassed laugh, and then say to me, 'I wish I had just a little anorexia nervosa, just for a short time,'" It seems that even educated adult women could see an advantage in having such a devastating disease--the "blessing" of weight loss.

Body image, or living up to the culture's emaciated ideal, appears to be on the minds of all women, regardless of the kinds of lives they lead. "Women everywhere have bad body fever," the Cornell historian says. "What makes having a body such a problem?"

Tracing the history of this "bad body fever" through 150 years' worth of young women's diaries led Brumberg to her most recent book, The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls. This one, published by Random House, is not primarily a scholarly work as her others have been. "I wanted to address the people who parent girls today," Brumberg says. And apparently she has reached that audience. The Body Project has been the subject of articles and reviews in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. (Brumberg also appeared on Oprah, telling an anxious young woman: "I'm not a psychologist. But I am a historian--and a grandmother.")

"Diary writing became popular for girls in the 1830s and 1840s," Brumberg says. "Before then, it was a male thing." As women's general level of literacy rose, so did the use of personal diaries. "Evangelical religion helped spur personal writing as a way for girls to chart their spiritual progress," she says. Diaries became "a spiritual autobiography for young women."

Have women always had the "bad body fever?" Brumberg says No. "Before the 20th century, girls simply did not organize their thinking about themselves around their bodies. Today, they believe that the body is the ultimate expression of the self."

Compare two diary entries, the first from a young woman in 1892 wanting to better herself:

"Resolved, not to talk about myself or feelings. To work seriously. To be dignified. Interest myself more in others." A teenager in 1982 takes an entirely different tack in her quest for self improvement: "I will lose weight, get new lenses, already got new haircut, good makeup, new clothes and accessories."

The change can be ascribed to the waxing power of pop culture and the waning power of evangelical religion, Brumberg says. In this century, as advances in nutrition and health care have helped young women reach puberty at ever earlier ages, commerce has been increasingly marketing to women in that stage of life. Television, magazines, and radio tout makeup, clothing, hair design, diet books, training bras, and other goodies for youngsters from age eight and up. Girls absorb the images of the physically flawless woman before they are old enough to fight its absurdity. "Bad body fever" is the result, Brumberg says.

"We read each other's bodies. If I come to a University of Rochester reunion, chances are I'll be greeted by 'You look great,' rather than 'You're doing well.' We need to consider what our bodies can do rather than what they look like.

"I'm not a conservative," declares the woman who has directed the women's studies program at Cornell, held a fellowship at the Mayo Clinic, and earned research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "I'm not in favor of abstinence. We have to be realistic about sex. This is the last half of the century, after all.

"But we need to talk more honestly with girls about our bodies and our sexuality. We need to help girls develop a vocabulary for asking for what is comfortable for them. They need to be able to say, 'No, I don't want to do it for the first time on a dirty mattress at a fraternity party. I want something better for myself.'"

Brumberg hopes that the fever will begin to abate soon. "I have two granddaughters," the mother of one son says proudly. "I want things to be better for them."


When George Ward '65 is no longer U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Namibia, he shouldn't have a problem finding another job. For one thing, he could easily become a travel promoter for the new nation. During a brief phone exchange on a gray January day, he handily talked this writer into saving up for a visit. (January means summer in Namibia; of course, we know what January means in Rochester.)

"Beautiful, it's beautiful here," he says, as phone reception clicks in and out. Namibia, in southwest Africa, won its independence from South Africa in 1990 and is fast becoming the preferred destination for ecotourists everywhere, Ward explains. "It's twice the size of California, with a population of less than two million," he says. "We have space, plenty of space."

That space is filled with topography that includes high-altitude savanna, and two--count 'em, two--deserts. The savanna attracts all manner of wildlife--antelope, wildebeest, lions, giraffes, rhinos, and zebras. Parks and game preserves, he says, frame the wildlife in stunning scenery. Desert sand dunes back right up to the ocean, where seals nestle. "And," he adds, with diplomatically concealed complacency, "we have 340 days of sunshine per year."

No stranger to the world of international affairs, George Ward has been in one form or another of government service since entering the Marine Corps upon his college graduation. In 1969, he joined the foreign service, acting as vice consul in Hamburg for two years.

Between Hamburg and Namibia, Ward has been a junior staff officer, traveled with Henry Kissinger, held a diplomatic post in Rome, and served in the State Department in Washington.

In 1990, just as Namibia was given its independence, Ward was deputy chief of mission in the U.S. Embassy in West Germany. He was sworn in as ambassador to Namibia in July 1996 and has been living since then in the city of Windhoek.

What is an ambassador's working day like? Shuffling through his calendar, Ward replies, "Well, take next Monday, for example.

"I have an 8 a.m. breakfast meeting with a foreign minister--there's a lot of tension over border issues between Namibia and Botswana. Then I'll meet with the vice president of an American airline to talk about possibly leasing some planes to the airline here.

"Later in the afternoon, there's an inauguration ceremony for a program to train educators. At the end of the day, there's a reception here. But that's just Monday. Every day is different.

"Although this isn't Paris, our embassy is still very busy," he concludes, explaining that a great deal of home entertaining is required in a household that is at its heart a symbol of the United States: "It's a little bit of America in Africa," he says.


Musical history has its high notes and its low notes.

One of the lowest, says Robert Palmieri '54E (MM), came in 1903, when "several members of the Society of American Piano Manufacturers constructed a 50-foot pile of square pianos and subsequently set them ablaze."

Why? "They wanted to protest falling sales and the financial problems of the industry." Oh.

If anyone knows the footnotes to the piano's 300-year history, fiery and otherwise, it is Palmieri. The editor of the Encyclopedia of the Piano (Garland, 1996) has held a torch for the romantic instrument for most of his life, ever since he first started playing as a teenager.

"I was 13 then, and I became fascinated by it. Little did I know that the piano would eventually become a lifelong commitment."

Today Palmieri is a professor emeritus at Kent State, where he was chairman of its keyboard division, and is also a research associate at Western Washington University. During his long career, he has performed at home and abroad, been an adjudicator, published scholarly books and articles, and lectured on Russian musical studies (his specialty is Russian piano literature, particularly Sergei Rachmaninoff).

Along the way, he has also learned a lot about the piano's evolution, which led to his popular encyclopedia, very possibly the authority on the subject. None other than Billy Joel and André Watts have sung its praises, and for good reason: The volume contains more than 600 articles on everything having to do with the instrument, from piano-makers, players, and composers to major events in pianistic history to research discoveries and speculations on its future.

The first pianoforte, the author tells us, was built between 1698 and 1700 by the Italian instrument-maker Bartolomeo Cristofori, whose compatriots generally remained indifferent to the new instrument, preferring vocal music. But the Germans, Palmieri notes, quickly embraced it and dominated its development as alliances sprang up between manufacturers and artists.

Beethoven, for instance, favored the pianos of Johann Andreas Stein and his heirs, the Streichers. The instrument went through a dynamic period of improvements and refinements during the composer's day, particularly between 1783 and 1825--and his piano compositions reflect this change, Palmieri says: Beethoven's early works were noticeably lighter in tonal density than the less transparent later pieces.

One is somehow not surprised to hear that Beethoven was not a gentle pianist. He pounded on the keys so much, Palmieri declares, that a piano given him in 1818 was, by 1824, "virtually unplayable--its upper registers mute and its broken strings in a tangle."

Today's performers, he says, generally prefer a piano with a bright, clear sound and loud tone that "barks out" when played with orchestras. The author's own tastes run toward a softer, mellower sound (at home he plays a 1974 Baldwin 7-foot grand).

Growing interest in other instruments threaten the piano's future, Palmieri says. Sales of conventional pianos continue to fall, while electronic piano sales surge, thanks to their compact size, increasingly sophisticated sound, and lower cost.

Palmieri is philosophical, however, preferring to view the trend as part of the natural evolution of things.

"The piano will always remain the piano," he says. "The electronic one can't match the tone or the action of the conventional piano. Each piano's particular tone is dependent on the energy developed by its total mass--that is, the interaction of felt, steel, various woods, and glue, as well as the size of the instrument.

"We've seen that, as time rolled on, the clavichord faded away, and then the harpsichord. Perhaps in the future, we will attend piano concerts in the same way we attend harpsichord concerts today. Who knows where the piano will be relegated when there's another keyboard instrument to supplant it?"

That thought, he adds, will make celebrating the venerable pianoforte's 300th birthday, just two years from now, all the more poignant.


Remember the New Year's resolution that topped your list back in January, the one that included regular exercise? Not only would it have helped you shape up for the coming bathing-suit season, but, Robert Thayer '59 (PhD) says, exercise is also the human body's number one mood manager.

"There are hundreds of ways to change your bad mood," says the author of the Origin of Everyday Moods: Managing Energy, Tension, and Stress, "but, by far, the healthiest and most effective way is exercise."

Thayer, a professor of psychology at California State University, Long Beach, studies the ways healthy humans attempt to regulate their moods.

Moods, Thayer argues, are reflections of the workings of the body, and not, as we might think, reactions to outside events. Anger at the state of the family toothpaste tube may have more to do with the rhythm of your body than it does with the way the tube has been handled.

Energy levels vary throughout the day, on a personal schedule that is fairly consistent, Thayer says. By and large, most of us hit our energy peak and feel our best somewhere between mid-morning and early afternoon. During our low-energy times, we are vulnerable to feeling tension.

A good mood rests on the equilibrium of energy and tension, he says. When the two are out of balance, we try various means of bringing it back.

"It is clear that many of our habits, including bad ones such as sugar-snacking, smoking, and drinking, are efforts to self-medicate," he says. "Once we understand that these substances and behaviors really represent attempts to self-regulate our moods, and particularly our energy and tension levels, a certain degree of control becomes possible."

The most commonly reported ways people try to change a bad mood, Thayer says, are seeking social interaction (or, alternatively, solitude), listening to music, or attempting "mind over matter"--thinking positively, concentrating on something else, giving oneself a pep talk.

Exercise though, works best, Thayer says, because it actually helps the body achieve the balance between energy and tension that it needs. "I believe that exercise enhances mood in large part through changes in energy and tension levels," he says.

He advocates a one-two punch as a mood-enhancement strategy, combining exercise and some cognitive control with relaxation techniques and stress management.

Which brings us back to the New Year's resolution. Why didn't we keep that darn resolution, if it can make us feel so good?

Good question, says Thayer. "Right now, we're looking at why, if exercise is such a mood enhancer, more people don't do it. Why is it that some people exercise and others don't? We hope our findings will help people motivate themselves to 'just do it.'"


Doug Abeles '81 swears he can't tell a joke to save his life.

"I was not the class clown," he recalls of his days as a psychology major, though he does admit to a stint as "the class Mick Jagger." As he remembers it, "I couldn't sing, but whenever we played a Stones song at a cross-country team party, I'd do this really ridiculous Mick Jagger imitation."

Abeles, a New York City resident who went to work on Wall Street as a futures trader ("I was the only guy in the history of the New York Futures Exchange to make what amounted to minimum wage") and a telemarketer for the Journal of Commerce ("a temporary job that lasted eight years"), had always fantasized about doing something in comedy. So he did.

It all started after he read a New York Times article on an improvisational-acting class offered by Chicago City Limits, a comedy theater, which led to his taking a comedy-sketch writing class in 1993.

"From the very first class, I knew this was what I wanted to do," he recalls. "I've always been a later bloomer; I felt like the grandfather of the class. But my teacher was incredibly encouraging and that gave me confidence, which is so important in comedy."

One of his classmates, who went on to become a senior writer for "The Late Show with David Letterman," opened doors for Abeles at the long-running "Saturday Night Live."

He started submitting jokes for the show's nightly news spoof, "Weekend Update," and watched the show faithfully to see if any of them got used. Then one night in February 1997, it happened.

"I was sitting at home with my wife, Lori--who, by the way, is way funnier than I am--when a picture of Tonya Harding flashed on the screen." As "Update" anchor Norm MacDonald started to deliver the joke, Abeles says, "I screamed, 'That's it! That's it! That's mine!' I was absolutely ecstatic."

Since then the show has used over a dozen more of his jokes, which has led to other comedy-writing jobs. Last summer Abeles was a staff writer on "This Is Not a Test," the first cybercast talk show, produced by Microsoft and Broadway Video and hosted by comedian Marc Maron. That in turn led to work writing the pilot episode of a comedic talk show for CNBC. Most recently, Abeles wrote for the "ESPY Awards," the annual ESPN sports award special.

Abeles isn't sure what his next gig will be, but he tries to write something funny every day.

"Writing is its own reward," he says. "Coming up with a funny sketch or joke is incredibly satisfying. Getting paid for it is just icing on the cake.

"Though let's not forget," he adds, "the icing is the best part of the cake."


Jana Levinson Llynn '81--a former child actor who thought she'd had enough of stage life--came to Rochester determined to outgrow her preoccupation with theater.

But roots are roots, and it didn't work out that way: After trying a few other things, she's now a Broadway stage manager, the person at the nerve center of theatrical productions. In that role, Llynn and her counterparts toil in relative obscurity to bring together the collective efforts of actors, directors, choreographers, music directors, sound and light technicians, costume and scenery designers--to name but a few of those involved in building a successful production.

"It's like international diplomacy sometimes," Llynn says. "You have a lot of warring nations, and you wonder, 'Why can't I just be Switzerland?'"

Llynn's job certainly has her hopping. She's in charge of keeping meticulously detailed records of the music, movement, and timing of her shows--"in case someone's hit by a bus," she says. She schedules rehearsals and fittings. Once a play opens and the director splits, Llynn is the one who keeps the show going, coordinating every detail of every performance via a network of up to 40 headsets worn by fellow crew members.

All that juggling takes a lot of time and effort. And hair pigment: "I have four gray hairs," she says, "and I know exactly which four shows they came from." Llynn routinely works 10- to 12-hour days, and even on days off usually spends several hours on the job. She's on call at all times.

"I get to breathe some rarefied air," says Llynn, who's worked with people like Faye Dunaway, Sidney Lumet, George Carlin, Sarah Jessica Parker, B. B. King, Diahann Carroll, and Jean Stapleton. "But the price I've paid to get to this point is high."

Still, Llynn has no regrets. "It's so worth it, dealing with such brilliant people," she says. Even after years as a stage manager, she still marvels at her brushes with celebrity. "I go home at night and think, 'My God, I'm working with Edith Bunker.'"

Or, during a workshop directed by Laurence Olivier's son Richard and starring Dunaway: "Faye Dunaway exclaims to me, 'Oh my God, that's Laurence Olivier's son!' And I think to myself, 'Oh my God, this is Faye Dunaway saying to me that this is Laurence Olivier's son!'"

Llynn also belongs to a Broadway bowling league, where she carries a 160 average against the likes of Martin Short, Bernadette Peters, and Rosie O'Donnell. (She reports that O'Donnell is a "very competitive" bowler.)

Llynn has been more or less continuously involved with theater since age 10, when she became a child actor in a professional troupe. But by 18, turned off by her perception of actors as crazy people who were having a lot of fun, but weren't making much money at it, she turned down offers from strong theater schools like NYU, Juilliard, and Yale in favor of "the best academic school I could find that didn't have a huge, theater program."

The English and art-history major later dabbled in a little bit of everything--and eventually realized that the best way to pull her diverse interests together was as a stage manager, a personage she'd been familiar with (and envious of) as a curious child actor. "The stage manager always seemed to be where the action was," she recalls.

Of course, "where the action is" isn't always the best place to be. Llynn has suffered a few goof-ups over the years. Take, for instance, the case of the inopportune doorbell: In the last act of Beau Jest, a long-running comedy she oversaw in Boston, the six characters in the play successively show up at an apartment, the arrival of each announced by the ringing of a doorbell controlled by Llynn. One night, though, with all six already onstage, Llynn's wristwatch accidentally hit the doorbell button. The unexpected seventh arrival momentarily caused quite a stir in the audience, most of whom were well aware that the play was supposed to involve only six characters.

"I get through 741 performances without a flaw, and on the 742nd I have a seventh doorbell," she laments. Fortunately, the actors responded with aplomb: One of them got up, answered the door, and finding nobody there, shook her head in what passed for mock annoyance.

In another case of backstage mayhem, Llynn once flicked a glob of (ouch!) detergent-based stage blood into her eye as she applied the concoction to an actor waiting in the wings. Trying not to scream while she could be heard out front, she bolted out of earshot, startling cast and crew as she streaked by with "blood" streaming down her face.

(Mishap to one side, Llynn's work on that play received an unusual accolade in the form of a New York Daily News review that, taking a dim view of the play itself, singled out Llynn and her backstage cohorts as "more important than any of the actors.")

Despite the vagaries of live performances--and the perennial uncertainty of her largely freelance work--Llynn finds it hard to imagine herself working in any other arena. "The response of the audience--the sobbing, the bravos, the laughter--is an aphrodisiac," she says. "We've moved so much into virtual reality and videophones and the rest, that we've lost human contact in everyday life. But that magic is still all around us in the theater."

Contributed by Kathy Quinn Thomas, Sally Parker, and Steve Bradt

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Rochester Review--Volume 60 Number 3--Spring-Summer 1998
Copyright 1998, University of Rochester
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