Miss Jane: The Lost Years (an excerpt)

October 2, 2018

A photo of author Kat Meads juxtaposed with the cover to her book Miss Jane

In a novelistic take on #MeToo, Kat Meads’s “historically aware, pissed-off female chorus” narrates the story of undergraduate Miss Jane as she sinks into an entanglement with Prof P, the male teaching her women’s history course.

A devotee of outdoor instruction as fashionable alternative to walled-in dialectics, on clear and temperate Monday-Wednesday-Fridays, Prof P can be found declaiming on the quad’s lawn. If his “hip” and “witty” declamations draw a larger-than-class-size crowd, so much the better. Further evidence of what he incessantly reminds other faculty and twice (thus far) a community radio audience: “I’m a very popular teacher.” As appreciative as she is of outdoor versus indoor instruction, Miss Jane misses TA Alice. She misses her (previously assigned) study group. In the quad, per the syllabus, Prof P discourses on Chopin, Greer, Millet, Friedan and (bonus) Steinem as Miss Jane listens, taking careful notes before Prof P snatches her notebook and lobs it elsewhere, knuckle-grazing her crotch in the process.

“Don’t scribble. Think.”

Is Miss Jane incensed by the interruption? Flabbergasted by the temerity? Does the notebook-less Jane feel violated body and mind? None of the above. Miss Jane’s sole response is wild, breath-sucking, belly-shrinking panic. To remember anything Miss Jane must write that anything down—and now she can’t. Apart, offside, unclaimed, Miss Jane’s writing pad remains where any campus dog might sniff it, shit it or chew it to bits while our Miss Jane, every inch and atom of her jonesing for the tossed, moves not a muscle to retrieve it.

A foretaste of inactions to come? Sadly, yes.

* * *

As (near daily) confirmed by Prof P, Miss Jane is woefully under-read in every discipline. Any book she sits down with in the library stacks counts / should count as a blow against the chokehold of her cultural illiteracy. But where to enter a forest many thousand volumes wide and thick? Deprived of her Skinner, Miss Jane’s Dewey Decimal hot spot migrates. Turning her back on psych’s pseudo-science, she wanders toward the home of pseudonyms, existence explained / dramatized by professional liars. In the under-illuminated, non-fumigated lit-sy enclave she seeks out an empty carrel, resolves to ignore the odors of book mold, crusty socks and rodent poop. Some occupant before her has scratched “putrid,” “please” and “punt” on the carrel’s lone shelf—the sort of tantalizing riddle that makes our Miss Jane feel unbearably stupid, followed closely by unbearably adrift. As best she can she breathes through her mouth, ignores the slapping footfalls of who knows whom, sticks to her autodidact agenda. First up, other Janes: Austen, Bowles, Crazy J and Eyre. Skip the land of make-believe and there’d be the legacies of Addams, Seymour, Pierce and Goodall to peruse. But our Miss Jane is where she is. The 800s.

Because we see what Miss Jane can’t, we see the fellow, zipper down, skulking among the 830s—also the body part he’s fondling. As resident exhibitionist, he’s got a lot of territory to prowl but prefers a Teutonic launch pad. In the murkiness, Miss Jane at first fails to connect tumid pink with wanking equipment. When she does, she and her bundle of Janes beeline it to the brightly lit glass-domed reading room where no sickos (freelance or salaried) can sneak up and surprise her.

She reads: 

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

—a passage that causes our not rich / not handsome / Cracker-dispositioned striver to heave a sigh, gaze drifting.

No sense pretending.

No sense denying.

No sense pussyfooting around it.

The acquisition of knowledge presents—and shall present—a vexing challenge for our Miss Jane. (No fairy godmothers among cast and crew, remember?)

* * *

Broods, once begun, soak a being. Drippy, our Miss Jane. Drippy and drear. And thus we caution—no, implore!—that you bear in mind the drippy dreariness manifest in this college senior, the deep blue state of her heart / body / soul, as you judge the icky, tacky, cliché-ridden sequence that follows.

In prep, a recap. She: farm-bred Cracker chick, under-schooled in books and life, overly susceptible to ridicule. He: divorced father of two under ten, twelve years her senior, tenured, salaried, summers free to “perfect his photographic eye,” bald spot covered by Greek sherman’s cap, the remainder of him hiding in plain sight (i.e., teaching).

Once before Miss Jane entered Prof P’s bach pad. The occasion: an after-reading event. Inexplicably, the poet of vengeful poems dedicated to betrayer men “in hopes they fall off their motorcycles and break their necks” was not introduced to the campus audience by the magnificent Carolyn Z; rather, by Prof P. During Prof P’s stagey intro, the poet of vengeful motorcycle poems peered at her introducer as at a species extinct. At the podium herself, the poet kicked off her set with: stay silent / keep away from sharks. Did Miss Jane, eighth row, fourth seat in, decode the warning? Contractually obliged to party with students thereafter, the poet of vengeful motorcycle poems settled on Prof P’s dinette chair, drank tepid beer, signed books and wished (we surmise) she’d never left California. Pestered to sign her host’s copy of her book, she scribbled “No surprise” above her initials. Again, Miss Jane, again! Heed the poets!

A matter of pride, Prof P’s bach pad—first floor apartment, scuzzy side street. A matter of principle, Prof P’s residence “among the workers” (or the collegiate equivalent): busboys, office temps, library book shelvers. Inside décor: candle-dripped Chianti bottles, jazz LPs, perpetually unmade bed. It is to this cave our Miss Jane returns, semester winding down, to “discuss her final grade.” Optimal outcome(s): Miss Jane argues her (promised) self-grading rights; Miss Jane protests a broken contract; Miss Jane reports Prof P’s self-grading sham to his dean. (There are no optimal outcomes.) “Hanging out with me doesn’t mean you get a bye on assignments.” (When has Miss Jane assumed / presumed she got a “bye” on anything?) “You still owe me a paper.” (In fact, she doesn’t; she turned in the paper weeks ago.) Bamboozle the prey is a tactic that has worked before for Prof P and works now again. Confused, alarmed, disconsolate, mortified, our Miss Jane. “But I did turn it in!” Will she, because of the mysteriously missing, fail the course? Will Prof P allow her to “make up” the work? Does she have time to replicate what she’s already written? Will Prof P accept a make-up / replication / rewrite???

Cue the consoler.

For those still inclined to give Prof P the benefit of the doubt (e.g., He collects scads of papers! Miss Jane’s might have blown from his motor scooter sack!): SOD OFF. You’re of absolutely no use to our Miss Jane who, from here on out, needs all the (non-Prof P) help she can assemble.

In consoling mode, Prof P’s hands drift. “Wow,” exclaims Primo Bastard. “Huge ass.”

Last question, final exam. Miss Jane sleeps with her professor: a) because she’s down a paper; b) because she’s in the grip of a drippy / drear malaise; c) in apology for her ignorance; d) in apology for her broad Cracker ass; e) because she’s been played by a middle-aged hippie poseur who should be FUCKING ASHAMED of his FUCKING MANIPULATIVE SELF.

Correct answer: all of the above.

* * *

Because Miss Jane is and always shall be a team player, she gets along just dandy with her chambermaid comrades, both of whom are worked to a frazzle though less so once Miss Jane starts scrubbing / Hoovering alongside them. Because Miss Jane—without quarrel or being asked—pitches in to help scour fishy-fisherman rooms not assigned to her, those comrades tolerate— more than they otherwise might—moments when, like seaweed in the tides, our Miss Jane drifts, gazing at the blue Atlantic instead of tucking sheets. There’s a non-tourist bar off the beaten path (of course there is!) where Miss Jane and crew hoist a few, shift’s end. There’s the pleasure of returning barefoot in moonlight to Mildred E’s. There’s the pleasure of being snug in her attic bed, pleasurably weary, pleasurably buzzed, listening to waves roll in, roll out, roll in, roll out, sans the excruciating late-night histrionics of excruciating Prof P.

On her days off, Miss Jane patronizes Better Read Than Dead, a two-room bookstore with porch, deck chairs and owner who likes to see people reading books, whether or not those books are subsequently purchased. Free to make her own selections of reading material, Miss Jane, we notice, sticks to poetry by her kind. Exhibit A: Went into a shoe store to buy a pair of shoes / There was a shoe salesman humming the blues. Exhibit B: This Englishwoman is so refined / She has no bosom and no behind. Admit it! You’re amazed that the Island O bookstore stocks Josephine Miles and Stevie Smith. As are we. As are we. Lord love the indies. Afterward, Miss Jane lugs her guitar to a patch of shade near the marina and plunks away. Like a million other Judy / Joan / Joni afcionados, Miss Jane aspires to what she can’t achieve, her technique atrocious and unlikely to improve. Nonetheless, she’s enjoying herself until her plunking draws the interest of boys on the lookout for long-haired girls with requisite guitars. Do you imagine her audience to be long-haired as well? Recalibrate. The holiday boys who encircle Miss Jane are shaved and barbered frat-ers in white shorts and boater shoes. Surrounded, Miss Jane immediately shuts down her practice session. “No! Don’t stop! Keep playing!” “I’m just learning.” “You sound great!” (Memo to Lying Guys: clean / cute / privileged doesn’t automatically equal convincing.) “Excuse me,” says our Miss Jane, stepping over ankles, another girl interrupted from what she wants to be doing by interruptive guys.

Cinda G visits. That’s a treat. In and around Miss Jane’s Motel Pelican hours, the duo “lay out,” get sun-roasted, gorge on flounder, fry themselves up a batch of hush puppies. Taught to knit by her granny, Cinda G joins the Mildred E / Miss Jane knitting circle and finishes a pink-red-yellow scarf in rapid time. Whenever the house phone rings, Mildred E—and only Mildred E— answers. “Boy. Seth Something. For you.” The speed at which Miss Jane comes running? Mildred E notices. The tabby notices. Christ, even the window shades notice. But does our Miss Jane?

* * *

Another school year in swing, another wagonload of Miss Janes to plunder, you’d think Prof P would consider himself a man sittin’ pretty, ridin’ the wave, ball in his corner, ducks in a row. Instead Mr. Overindulged feels resentful, persecuted, his “giving nature” played upon by a Cracker hick / chick who with appalling deceit and knavish cunning (uh . . . hypocrisy, much?) separated him from his town, his friends, his precious, precious children, deliberately and with malice aforethought isolating him on this loathsome, hayfever-y acre of fleas and frogs and buzzards and by the accumulated aforesaid crimes and injustices even at this moment continues to gravely impede his “seminal, trail-blazing” study of “gender history.”

Nothing wrong with your eyes or brain or comprehension. You read what you read accurately. Prof P possesses a book contract to plumb “social and sexual interactions” between guys and gals Victorian era through “modern times.”

Are you astounded?

Are you confounded?

Are you crying / laughing / sick to your stomachs / stompin’ / spittin’ mad that this man is being paid good money to expound on a subject about which his head is / has been (for decades) stuck up his ass? Take a number—then take heart. For Her/Him/Them (working title) is indeed not going well despite its author enjoying the expansive advantages of two rooms of his own: campus office and Buckhorn Road study. The problem: prose that “refuses to flow.” Never before has Prof P’s prose “refused to flow.” Ergo: the cause / cock-up is not Prof P. The author wants his editor, his publisher, his department chair, A & E, Joan C, lovely Lynette, Aunt Dottie, Miss Jane, her cat and all of you out there to understand that any semantic clogs are not his fault or failure; he’s not to blame. He’s the victim here. He’s the one suffering. He’s the one prevented from thinking / writing / sleeping. He’s the one driven bonkers by cricket chatter and mosquito buzz. Word-blocked Prof P gnashing teeth, in the throes of book dementia, stewing in his own juice.

Nice.

Kat Meads is the author of six previous novels, two essay collections and several books of poetry and short fiction. Her plays have been produced in New York, Los Angeles and the Midwest. A native of North Carolina, she lives in California. She contributed to WLT’s “Writing the Great Recession” issue devoted to the global working class, guest-edited by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish (November 2013).

Editorial note: From Miss Jane: The Lost Years (Livingston Press, the University of West Alabama, 2018), copyright © 2018 by Kat Meads. Reprinted by permission of the author.

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