It was the best of times as the library finished its most successful Fall Festival on Sept. 29. With generous donations from 39 merchants and five hotels and homemade crafts and baked goods from 52 library members and volunteers, this fundraiser added $4,600 for library acquisitions and other expenses.

Cannon Beach certainly supports our private, nonprofit community library. Through several annual fundraisers, a small subsidy from the city and help from 90 volunteers, the library opens six days a week with the support of one part-time paid employee, office manager Kim Catton who started Oct. 1. Meet Kim at the library between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., any day except Thursday and Sunday. Kim brings office, library and archival experience from working at the Seaside Library and Clatsop County Historical Society.

It is also the best of times to experience the calm and reflective words of Kim Stafford, newly appointed for a two-year term as Oregon’s poet laureate. Stafford — a poet, folklorist, performing musician, personal essayist, filmmaker, photographer and printer has taught writing at Lewis and Clark College in Portland since 1979. Stafford will be reading and discussing recent writings at the library, Sunday, Oct. 21, at 2 p.m. Part of the library’s Northwest Authors Series, Stafford’s reading is free, open to the public and refreshments will be served.

It’s been the best of times this past month reading Stafford’s essays in “Entering the Grove” in praise of the lives of trees and “Having Everything Right: Essays of Place” containing essays based in folklore, family and personal experiences mostly in the West. His mid-career poems in “A Thousand Friends of Rain: New and Selected Poems, 1976-1998,” demonstrate his folklorist’s interest in the lives of ordinary people who live passionately but simply.

Such a poem as “Louise” reminds me of William Wordsworth’s glorification of rural life and commoners in “Resolution and Independence” focusing on a lowly leech gatherer who attracts bloodsuckers for medicinal use. Like Wordsworth finding a lesson of charity from the leach gatherer, Stafford learns from Louise, an aging beader: “It is hard when you sew one bead at a time./My Hands are shaking, my eyes have grown dim./But are you too lazy, or are you too rich/to sew one bead at a time?”

Similarly, the opening lines of “A Manifesto on Weakness” marks Stafford as a poet of the simple, natural life: “I have a weakness for the little towns, especially in the early morning / when the first gold light touches sidewalk and storefront in Bucoda, / Coulee Dam, Washougal, Forks, Gray’s River, Twisp./In some sagging trailer on the mountain, where the family left her, / I have a weakness for an old woman trying to tell me secrets/simply because I am younger, and I am listening.”

Among his most recent poems in “The Flower of Unity: Post-Election Poems,” Stafford maintains the common voice and reliance on his father as muse, while waxing political: “Thoughts, words, actions will be / the history we make in spite of any / swagger at the wheel. ‘Tyrants,’/my father said,‘depend on followers.’”

Come hear this people’s poet. He will ensure you the best of times.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for Cannon Beach Reads participants to experience the dystopian world Margaret Atwood creates in “The Handmaid’s Tale” as preparation for their October meeting. But first a dose of American history.

It was the worst of times for American women, though, between 1878 when Republican Senator Arlan A. Sargent first introduced and the Senate rejected words that would finally be ratified as the 19th Amendment in 1920 with the support of Tennessee’s House of Representatives: “The right of citizens to vote shall not be abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.” The Senate refused to pass the amendment each year for 41 years.

Betty Friedan’s 1963 publication of “The Feminine Mystique,” which addressed “the problem that has no name” or why life as a housewife with children in the suburbs left so many well-educated women dissatisfied, jump-started a second feminist movement in the late sixties.

In 1972 Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment, (“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”) which Alice Paul and others had lobbied unsuccessfully since 1921. Immediately 22 states ratified the ERA in 1972, but ratification ended at 35 states in 1977, three states short of passage. Ratification remained at 35 for another 40 years until 2017 when Nevada and 2018 when Illinois ratified the ERA. Passage requires approval by one more state.

That so few states ratified the ERA after 1972, may have influenced Atwood’s to write a feminist dystopia when she did, but she also was entering a year that George Orwell had made significant. Moreover, 1984 offered another reminder of how long it has taken for women to obtain full citizenship.

Mississippi, the last state to ratify the 19th Amendment, did so in 1984, the year in which Atwood began writing “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a dystopian novel that—taking a feminist standpoint—still echoes themes found in George Orwell’s “1984”: depersonalization, repression, surveillance, inequality and continuous wars.

Atwood’s themes particularly focus on the abuse of women as breeders in a world so polluted that most humans are infertile. Only the “commanders” have an opportunity to foster children by fortunate fertile wives or surrogate “handmaids,” who copulate monthly wrapped by sacred ritual in which wives participate.

Always monitored by “aunts” and “guardians,” handmaids in Gilead (the United States of the future) — while considered privileged and protected as essential to Gilead’s continued existence— may not have careers, read, receive professional education, communicate with others or leave commanders’ homes except to shop for groceries and other domestic products. Their every action literally risks a death sentence.

It was the best of times and the worst of times to read “The Handmaid’s Tale” as our nation focused on 11 white male senators ignoring and refusing to investigate accusations from at least three women that a privileged supreme court nominee with a reputation for heavy drinking and aggressive behavior had sexually abused them. What better time to be reading a dystopian novel centered on systemic, legal sexual abuse?

But it was the worst of times, as well, to read what initially seemed an overly harsh critique of the treatment women. Has Atwood overreacted? Remember that a major concern about the Kavanaugh nomination was the belief that he would undo Roe v. Wade, a 1973 decision during the rise of second-wave feminism.

Remember that Atwood predicts legal suppression of the rights of women to own property, to work, to hold assets, to control what happens to their own bodies. Remember how many state legislatures have passed laws that restrict women’s access to abortion, birth control, clinics and family planning — to limit or repeal Roe v. Wade.

Yes, it is the best of times; it is the worst of times to experience the world Margaret Atwood crafts in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” now available at the Cannon Beach Library.


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