I discovered this book when Nadia Bolz-Weber (author of Pastrix) recommended it on her Facebook page. It's a collection of essays by female Christian leaders under the age of 40 (it's part of a series by young female spiritual leaders). The title immediately caught my attention. These women, many pastors and teachers, share their thoughts on a variety of topics that have been off limits in Christianity.
Some of the essays by more conservative women wrestle with the teachings of men as the head of the household, women speaking in church or preaching, women as professionals, the decision to live with a partner before marriage, leaving an abusive marriage and being cast out by her church, choosing not to follow in parents' footsteps as a Christian missionary caring for the poor, choosing celibacy, being called to work with refugees, tattoos, freedom without makeup, recovery, dealing with dissatisfaction in one’s marriage, etc. Many of these are even greater taboo topics in conservative Christian circles. We all have our own taboos.
The following essays struck particular notes with me:
"The Gatherer-God: On Motherhood and Prayer," by Micha Boyett…who struggled to find time to pray with young children. She has found that her most contemplative time is when her mind is fuzzy and she has no book before her…when she was breastfeeding, for example. She takes her cue from Christ’s own mother, who twice is described as “pondering” at the work of God in her son. “Why else would such a prayer be mentioned in the Gospels unless to call us to such deep work?”
"Naughty by Nature, Hopeful by Grace," by Enuma Okoro, who confesses that she develops a crush on a close male friend, but through talking to her friends and wrestling with the issue, she comes to peace with it and finds a way to move on without disrupting their friendship (or his marriage). “I am beginning to realize how little the churches of which I have been a part have taught me about the beauty of boundaries and the reality of fine lines.” I admired Okoro's honesty on such a difficult topic.
"Married by Children," by Erin Lane. The author grapples with the decision not to have children, and how unusual that is in the church. We tend to be heavily focused on family and children in our churches.
"High Stakes Whack-a-Mole: Noticing and Naming Sexism in the Church," by Lara Blackwood Pickrel. Pickrel writes about being treated as “less than” as a woman, having comments directed about her appearance because she’s a woman, and being told she’s too sensitive when she notices sexism. That last one is a particularly strong pet peeve of mine!
"Crafting Bonds of Blood," by Patience Perry. The author writes about reclaiming the menstrual and labor rituals and our sensuality. Perry writes, "Imagine if ALL women were validated for their potential to create life as evident in their monthly cycle…I am seeking ways that we can strengthen and reinvigorate women through the common bonds of blood…I’d like to see our society embrace women’s rituals and reconcile our disconnection with creation.” Have you ever heard menstruation or women's reproductive organs mentioned in church?
"The God of Shit Times," by Rachel Marie Stone. This was definitely my favorite title. Stone reclaims the power of profanity after being raised in a family where Christian "ladies" don't swear. When Stone's friend was in cancer treatment, she acknowledged that profanity had a purpose: “In the midst of my frigid and tedious winter, I needed some good profanity to adequately describe how much it all sucked. Sometimes an f-bomb is the exact, right word.” After seeing several close friends through deep, dark times and experiencing them myself, I can relate. Our God is a God of shit times.
"Naming God for Ourselves Amidst Pain and Patriarchy," by Rahiel Tesfamarian. The author changed her imagery of God through her divinity studies. Tesfamarian writes, "The image of my Maker as a ‘soft, still voice’ or ‘gentle whisper’ found in 1 Kings 19 was comforting and reassuring…I have done the hard work of unpacking God for myself. But that responsibility should not fall solely on me as an individual. The church also has a lot of work to do. Will more churches rise to this occasion, commit to being cutting-edge on matters of gender equality, and go where women of faith dare to take them? IS the church ready for a generation of women who are determined to define God on their own terms?” I went through a similar journey myself when I studied feminist theology in college and discovered that God was so much bigger than one gender alone.
“The Silence Behind the Din: Domestic Violence and Homosexuality," by Rev. Sarah C. Jobe. As a chaplain who works with victims of sexual abuse, Jobe reflects that the church does not address sexual assault or domestic violence, even though 30 percent of women are victims. Instead the church condemns homosexuality while ignoring sexual assault and domestic violence. She raises the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the fact that instead of addressing the issue of rape in the story, this story is used as a weapon against homosexuality. “Will we continue to read the Scriptures according to our taboos around homosexuality and domestic violence, accepting interpretations that maximize violence?”
"No Women Need Apply," by Gina Messina-Dysert. This essay is about the war on women being waged by the Catholic church. Messina-Dysert finds a way to identify as Catholic by realizing she is her own agent and will not allow anyone to tell her what her religious status is based on her refusal to accept discrimination. She is also raising a daughter who will fight for women’s ordination in the Catholic church. This essay is important to me because I am married to a Catholic and belong to a Lutheran-Catholic community.
"The Pastor Has Breasts," by Rebecca Clark. Clark writes about pregnancy, body awareness, sexuality, and breastfeeding in a highly public environment that is church. This essay made me think about what the unique journey female pastors must take and how the standards can be very different for them. When I was breastfeeding my children, I did so in church during worship. I'm grateful no one ever questioned this. As a pastor, I no doubt would have been under a microscope and judged for doing this.
"Created for Pleasure," by Kate Ott. Ott became aware of masturbation as a blessing from God. She notes her "aha moment" of learning in a seminary sexual ethics class that the clitoris is the only body part created solely through pleasure. She asks, ”What would the world look like if every girl and woman knew exactly how her body worked? If it was respected and her enjoyment of sexual behaviors was as important as that of her partner…that would be the world God intended…God created us to experience pleasure for the sake of knowing and loving ourselves better, so that we can know and love others better, including God.” What a wonderful way to look at our bodies and sexuality...and a wake-up call for the church.
"Flesh and Blood," by Ashley-Anne Masters. As a chaplain caring for women who have experienced pregnancy loss, Masters writes about pregnancy loss not being openly addressed in the church. She also writes about her own loss conducting a baptism right after experiencing her own miscarriage and how she shared her own grief with strangers. I received some support from church friends when I experienced several miscarriages, but it wasn't something I felt comfortable talking about.
"What Do Cinderella, Lilies, and the Cross Have in Common," by Carol Howard Merritt. Merritt had to ask for a salary raise at her first church and experienced condescension from church members about her husband being the stay-at-home dad. Money, especially needing to ask for it, is a huge taboo topic for pastors...especially female ones.
"My Secret Buddhist Life," by Mary Allison Cates. After Cates was told she didn't look like a minister, she rediscovered her body through yoga and nose piercing. She also wrote about how she is feeling more comfortable with her female pastor body now that she is older and her body attracts less attention.
I liked the wide variety of perspectives in this collection, and this book made me long to sit around a dinner table with all these women and get to hear their stories personally.(less)
Sarah Thebarge survived grueling breast cancer, and a recurrence within a year, before moving west to Portland, Oregon, my hometown. While on the MAX light rail train, she meets a Somali immigrant and her five young daughters, and a friendship begins.
Thebarge alternates her story between getting to know and helping Hadhi and the girls and her travails enduring breast cancer treatment. She was raised in a strict evangelical religion, but went onto earn a degree at Yale and was in the middle of earning a journalism degree at Columbia when cancer struck. She also had a serious boyfriend and was close to becoming engaged. Ian, the boyfriend, was too weak to stick it out and abandoned her. Her church community apparently also abandoned her. She felt alone and bereft, her faith severely tested, when she picked up stakes to move to the west coast. Given the fact that I've had several friends endure and survive Stage 3 breast cancer similar to Thebarge's, I most appreciated reading about her experience and her feelings about having cancer. I also always like reading books set in my hometown!
When she got to know and began to help Hadhi, who didn't speak much English, she seemed to relate to the "invisible girls" because of what she had endured. She too felt like a stranger in a strange land.
This book has been accused of the "white savior complex." At times I wondered whether she could teach Hadhi how to fend for herself and survive rather than just rescuing her (do they have a sustainable life in the U.S.?). I was touched that Thebarge went out of her way to make this family feel welcome in the United States...a feeling they had not experienced before they met her. So much of their lives was difficult, but Thebarge brought joy to their poor, struggling family.
I felt that she could have delved a bit more into how she broke away from her traditional religious upbringing, and her feelings of betrayal when very few were there for her through cancer. And during one of the last chapters of the book she mentions some kind of identity theft or fraud but never explains what happened. (It felt like a big loose end was not tied up...perhaps an editorial oversight?)
The final chapter made me squirm a bit, as Thebarge and her friend reach out to a prostitute and do some proselytizing...mostly because, as a Christian, I'd rather that people learn about Christianity through the way we live our lives and not because we hit them over their heads with it. So even though she felt completely oppressed growing up in such a strict Christian denomination--in which women were not allowed to hold any leadership roles in the church whatsoever--she seems to move back to it at the end. That was a bit confusing.
But Thebarge did help this family in dire straits. She brought delight into their lives and she helped them muddle through, and she too was enriched by the experience. She decided to write this book so she could raise money for the girls to go to college. I hope she is successful in her goal.
I love this tidbit I found on Thebarge's blog, which is the ultimate takeaway from this book:
"And I realized this morning that solving the problem of invisibility doesn’t require legislation or institutional intervention. It’s simple, and it’s easy, and it’s free. It just takes all of us walking through life with open eyes and softened hearts, taking the risk and the time to tell someone else, 'You’re not invisible any more. I care that you exist. I see that you’re suffering. It matters that you’re here.'
How would our world change if every day, each of us told one person — just one —'I see you. So you’re not invisible any more.'”(less)
Wow. This book brought me to tears so many times. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a recovering alcoholic and fundamentalist (she was raised in the ultraconservative Church of Christ), and she is now an ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) pastor, wife, and mother. She founded and leads a church called the House for All Sinners and Saints, or HFASS (pronounced Half-Ass) for short. In this book, Bolz-Weber shares deeply and honestly about her own personal trials and how she found her way to the Lutheran church: in one word, grace.
I had forgotten this, but when we were at Holden Village several years ago, Bolz-Weber was also there. A few in our group found her to be standoffish and not very warm. She admits this herself and calls herself a "misanthrope." Her grumpiness comes out full bore in her memoir, but that's what I like so much about it: her deep honesty. She's like Anne Lamott as an ELCA pastor.
I heavily dog-eared my copy of this book, and this is what spoke most clearly to me:
--God's aunt: When she spent some time with Wiccan friends (before finding a home in the ELCA), she said "the goddess we spoke of never felt to me like a substitute for God, but simply another aspect of the divine. Just like God's aunt." She goes on..."I can't imagine that the God of the universe is limited to our ideas of God. I can't imagine that God doesn't reveal God's self in countless ways outside of the symbol system of Christianity. In a way, I need a God who is bigger and more nimble and mysterious than what I could understand and contrive. Otherwise it can feel like I am worshipping nothing more than my own ability to understand the divine."
--What you were called to be: When she hesitantly shared with her pastor dad and mom about her decision to become a pastor (after being raised in a church where women could not even teach Sunday school to boys over 12, much less preach), her father responded in a way she didn't expect: "At that moment, my father silently stood up, walked to the bookshelf and took down his worn, leather-bound Bible. Here we go, I thought, he's going to beat me with the scripture stick...He opened it up and read. I could tell from where he was turning that it wasn't one of Paul's letters at the end of the book, but something closer to the middle. My father did not read the 1st Timothy passage about women being silent in church. He read from Esther.
From my father I heard only these words: "But you were born for such a day as this." He closed the book and my mother joined him in embracing me. They prayed over me and they gave me a blessing. And some blessings, like the one my conservative Christian parents gave to their soon-to-be Lutheran pastor daughter who had put them through hell, are the kind of blessings that stay with you for the rest of your life. The kind you can't speak of without crying all over again." Oh, did I ever cry when I read this story!
--I am baptized, so fuck off: Apparently Martin Luther had a bit of an anger issue. "Luther was known to not only throw the occasional inkpot at whatever was tormenting him and causing him to doubt God's promises, but also while doing so he could be heard throughout the castle grounds shouting, 'I am baptized!'" And this is what baptism means to a Lutheran--to be claimed by God and touched by God's grace, no matter what we do or who we are. It's not up to us; it's up to God. This is what she shared with a young transgender man named Asher, who was also raised in a conservative Christian church and who she blessed in a name changing ceremony. She met him a few years later after he returned home from seminary. He said, "I never told you about the dream I had the night after my naming rite"..."It was like so many other nights--a voice accusing me, damning me, scaring me. But this time I talked back," he said proudly. "I said, 'I am baptized, so fuck off,' and when I woke up I was giddy. I called a friend, and we went to City Park and made snow angels." I plan to use this next time my own personal demons threaten my spirit.
--No fakery: Bolz-Weber is not a fan of praise music or liturgical dance and can barely keep herself of showing her dislike on her face. "Pretending to feel a way other than how I actually feel is not a gift God gave me. I can pull it off for short periods of time when needed, but the effort is exhausting." I can relate! This is why it would be very difficult for me to be a pastor!
--Radical hospitality does not sell: She addresses the fact that "churches that try to live into the beauty of radical hospitality and the destabilizing idea that Jesus is experienced in welcoming strangers don't tend to be described as 'sprawling.' Jesus wants you to be rich and beautiful is doing great as a message, though. There are shiny millionaire preachers and full attended parking lots every Sunday morning in America to prove it."
--Strangers sometimes look like our parents: But she also struggled big time with the growing attention her church has received. When they started attracting a lot of white, middle-class suburbanites, she didn't like it. "I wanted the 'us' to be bigger. What I wasn't prepared for was the 'us' to be different." She found it increasingly difficult, as the numbers grew, to maintain a welcoming attitude to some of these newcomers...those who didn't fit her definition of "all sinners and saints" (alcoholics, tattoo-wearers, drug addicts, hippies). "My precious little indie boutique of a church was being treated like a 7-Eleven, and I was terrified that the edgy, marginalized people whom we had always attracted would now come and see a bunch of people who looked like their parents and think, 'This isn't for me.' And if that started to happen, I would basically lose my shit." Then a friend of hers pointed out that her church was really good at welcoming young transgendered people..."but sometimes the stranger looks like your mom and dad." And then young Asher, the transgendered young person, expressed gratitude for those who didn't look like him. "I just want to say that I'm really glad there are people at church now who look like my mom and dad. Because I have a relationship with them that I just can't with my own mom and dad." More tears.
--What would Jesus do? When a con man becomes a member of her church, her first instinct was to "try to get rid of him. You know, like Jesus would do...Ugh, Jesus. He always seems to be showing up when I want him to politely just keep out of my business." And when this con man, Rick, becomes part of her community and works at a food distribution center at the Occupy Denver outpost, he enthusiastically shares, "Distributing food at Occupy Denver is awesome!"..."Everyone is fed. It doesn't matter if you are a homeless guy who is scamming and doesn't even care about Occupy or a lawyer on a lunch break."..."The only place I've ever really seen that is at communion." Then she hangs up, trying to pretend she wasn't crying. And again, I dropped tears. That's what communion means to me as a Lutheran--everyone is welcome and everyone gets fed.
This book, while it might not appeal to everyone (especially if you are sensitive to salty language), made me glad to be an ELCA Lutheran. I'm so glad that we have tattooed, alcoholic pastors like Bolz-Weber, and that she is spreading the word about God's grace to everyone. I encourage you to watch this long interview with Bolz-Weber by Krista Tippett: http://vimeo.com/73913123 It's worth it.(less)
My first memory of Cyndi Lauper was when I was a junior in college, and "Money Changes Everything" was a big hit. In the video, Cyndi Lauper kicks a g...moreMy first memory of Cyndi Lauper was when I was a junior in college, and "Money Changes Everything" was a big hit. In the video, Cyndi Lauper kicks a garbage can...and my roommate and I would blast the music and pretend to kick things. You know...the silly things one does in college!
Then when I was in Japan in the late 1980s, both Cyndi Lauper and Madonna were all the rage. I bought her "True Colors" cassette tape (yes, that's right--that's how old I am) and I loved her unique sense of style, which was appealing to this woman whose mom once told her, "Marie--you have a style all your own!" In that era I had short, spiky hair with a tail (wish I had a photo) and I've always been drawn to colorful clothing. Lauper was a true pioneer in the 1980s, inspiring many of today's edgy artists such as Lady Gaga, Nikki Minaj, and Pink.
Then a few summers ago we went to see Cyndi Lauper perform at the Oregon Zoo after she'd made her blues album, "Memphis Blues." She was a dynamic, compelling, and talented performer, who had essentially reinvented herself as a blues singer. She even had blues legend Charlie Musselwhite on tour with her. When she sang "True Colors," I cried along with most of the audience.
Cyndi Lauper's memoir is very much like her personality--all over the place. Writer Jancee Dunn manages to capture Lauper's voice and style in her writing. The narrative jumps around a bit, and she digresses, just as Lauper does...you can practically hear her distinctive voice jumping off the page.
She seemed to have a reasonably happy childhood and she was loved by her mom and siblings, but she never really fit in. She ran away when she was in high school because of a lecherous stepfather. What I admire the most about her is her crazy sense of self-confidence and self-assurance, even at a young age. She took herself off camping in Canada completely alone as a young woman--the only companion she had was her dog Sparkles. She has always been passionately committed to her ideals of justice, and she's also been committed to making great art--both musically and visually.
When she started to get successful and make records (after some awful experiences with some of her initial bands, including once when she was raped by her former bandmates), she was screwed over by record company executives, who wanted to make her into someone else--more marketable and less assertive.
At times, the book digressed into the details of each record production, and I began scanning...but I enjoyed reading about how she met her husband David and had her son, Declyn, after struggling with bad endiometriosis.
She has become a passionate advocate for LGBT justice, beginning with her friendship with Gregory, or "Boy Blue," who died of AIDS in the 1980s. Her beloved sister Elen also is a lesbian. I also learned that she has a strong connection to Japan, and she landed in Japan right after the big earthquake and tsunami and stayed there to give back to the Japanese people, who were mourning the devastation in their country.
I have a much bigger appreciation for Cyndi Lauper's music now...and I'm glad I read this book. Steer clear if you don't like salty language!(less)
This is a devastating, heart-breaking memoir about grief. If you can't handle this kind of story, stop right here.
Sonali Deraniyagala opens up the boo...moreThis is a devastating, heart-breaking memoir about grief. If you can't handle this kind of story, stop right here.
Sonali Deraniyagala opens up the book in Yala, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, where she was vacationing with her husband, two sons, and parents over the Christmas holidays of 2004. Within a few moments, the massive tsunami took away the lives of everyone she loved most dearly, and she nearly died herself. Can you imagine what this would be like? Savoring the post-holiday pleasures with your children, who were playing with their Christmas gifts, and your husband is sitting on the toilet reading? Suddenly you see a wave rising up way too high and approaching your hotel and you tell everyone to run. They ran so fast that they didn't even have time to warn her parents, whose room was next door. Not that it would have mattered.
Sri Lankan-born Deraniyagala lost her beloved sons Vik and Malli and her English husband Steve. And parents who she loved dearly. Of course she wished she were dead too.
Over the next several years, she passes through the many stages of grief...total depression and devastation, anger, bitterness, alcoholism, you name it. She seemed well cared for by her friends and family, but we don't really get to know any of them well in this book.
It's clear that she had money, as the family did not sell her parents' home in Colombo (where she grew up). After initially renting it out to a Dutch family (who Deraniyagala tormented during one of her manic phases of grief), they left it standing empty so they could return to it. She did the same with their house in London--it was kept as a sort of monument to her family, with the boys' things untouched as they left them. In fact, she didn't even return to the London house until nearly 4 years after they had died. Not everyone would have the resources to do this. Most people would have their grief compounded by having to give up those memories far more quickly than they were ready to.
I remember when my friend Laurie lost her son Zacary at age four, devastating enough as it is, but then she and her husband had to sell the house where Zacary lived (because of money problems) ...shedding those precious memories of him in that house. That is what Deraniyagala clings to, still.
At first she doesn't want to face her memories, but gradually she starts recollecting the wonderful details of her children...athletic, intelligent Vikram who was interested in the natural world, and the younger son, Malli, who was expressive, sensitive, and liked to dress up in a tutu. She looks back on her husband's childhood in inner-city London, growing up in a council flat, and how she met him at Cambridge. I loved how Steve would drive through Europe with his father on his lorry runs, sampling the cuisine along the way...and later he would become the chef in their family. They loved to go to the London fish markets early in the morning to purchase the freshest catch. He adopted Sri Lanka as his own, and they spent as much time there as possible.
My only quibble with this book is that she sometimes uses run-on sentences divided only by commas. I'm not sure if this was a deliberate stylistic choice but I'm guessing it must have been, I found that to be distracting. (See what I mean??)
Deraniyagala doesn't address the rest of the 230,000 people who died in that tsunami. As she returns to Yala over and over again, she paces the destruction left behind...but she doesn't talk about the way the wave affected the community. She doesn't talk about all the people whose loved ones died and who didn't have the resources or support she did.
That's not what this book was about. It's about grief, pure and simple, and how one woman finds her way through it. It's searingly honest and candid...and brave.
A few days after the tsunami hit in Japan, Deraniyagala took a trip out deep into the Indian Ocean, south of the southern tip of Sri Lanka...the sea that divides Sri Lanka from Antarctica. She went on a whale-watching trip and saw great blue whales breaching. Her son Vikram had always wanted to see a blue whale, and at first she felt that it was unfair that she should be able to do so without him...but then she let herself savor the magical moment on his behalf.
Some reviewers have wanted more hope or resolution in this book, but that was not the purpose. Grief never resolves. It can fade away gradually, but it endures.(less)
I feel ambivalent about this book, which I finished several days ago. Lauren Drain's family moved to Kansas to join the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC)...moreI feel ambivalent about this book, which I finished several days ago. Lauren Drain's family moved to Kansas to join the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) after her father, an atheist libertarian, was making a documentary about the group. He soon become absorbed and went full bore. They were one of the few families who were not part of the Fred Phelps dynasty.
Lauren became an enthusiastic picketer, truly believing that WBC had a straight line to heaven...even though they apparently believe in predestination. A couple of things about the WBC surprised me: they highly value education and encourage all members to pursue careers...even women, although in many other ways, women are treated as second-class citizens. Conversely, the second in command at WBC is Shirley Phelps-Roper, one of Fred Phelps' daughters. Another thing I learned is that WBC pickets and protests not to convert or save people from hell, but only to proclaim what they believe.
Some reviewers have commented that Lauren should have waited a few more years to write her memoir--she comes across as a teenager, even though she's now a young woman. I don't think she would have left the church on her own volition--she seemed to love it too much, even though she was beginning to chafe against the favoritism shown to the Phelps family. She did not leave because she disagreed with the church's teachings. Essentially, she was kicked out because she was asking lots of challenging questions and she was drawn to have relationships with men. The WBC rules forbid any contact with people outside the church, and Drain had only one marital prospect within the church. She says now that she stayed in the church because she couldn't bear to leave her family.
In the epilogue, Drain apologizes to gay people for being so hateful, saying the classic "some of my friends are gay" (can't believe her cowriter actually included this staple of prejudice!). But it didn't feel completely genuine to me...I think I might have felt more convinced had the writing been stronger. When I finished the book, I had the impression that if Lauren's family wanted her back in the church...and she could still have freedom to have a relationship with a man outside the WBC...she would be back in a heartbeat. It just didn't ring true to me. She seemed to get such a high level of enjoyment out of the picketing and didn't seem to realize, even later, the depth of hatred she espoused.
However, when I watched an interview with her, I felt more convinced that she was glad she was out. Drain describes the WBC as like a gang. When you are part of it, you feel a sense of belonging. But if you leave, they pray for your doom and destruction.
Drain was treated horribly by her family and the rest of the church...and she is still scarred from that treatment. She hasn't seen her parents or siblings for 5 years.
I did find it interesting to get inside of the WBC and try to understand their hate and evil...but the book itself could have been better.(less)
Somehow, I'm not sure why, I was late to the Bruce Springsteen train. I knew his more popular songs and liked them, but it wasn't until I went to my first Springsteen concert with my teenage son last November that I became a convert.
Peter Ames Carlin, a writer for the Oregonian and author of several musician bios, interviewed Bruce and his colleagues and pored over the albums, articles, and interviews to create this exhaustive (and some say, exhausting) biography. At times Carlin uses sentence fragments, which I'm not crazy about, and he does tend to go on at times...perhaps a more diehard Springsteen fan would have gotten more out of the long stories about various concert tours and people who helped him along the way. It was interesting to read about how Bruce made it big, gradually and with a lot of hard work and a loyal fan base in New Jersey.
One reviewer (and local New Jerseyite) wrote about how this book was book-ended by death...starting out with the childhood death of Bruce's aunt, which affected his whole family forevermore, and ending with the death of his beloved friends and bandmates Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons. Reading about Clarence's death (and Bruce bringing his guitar into the hospital room to sing Clarence out during the last 3 hours of his life) brought me to tears, as did the poignant description of how Bruce's dad asked him to sit on his lap one night (as an adult) after a lifetime of conflict and tense silence between the two of them.
I'm still amazed that I'm a Springsteen newbie. He stands for so much of what I believe in. From representing the common American working person to singing a song for the movie "Philadelphia," before most of Hollywood became gay friendly, from engaging with and advocating for Vietnam vets and Amnesty International, to continuing to sing about the underprivileged even after he hit it big, and for showcasing a local charity at each of his concerts...he is a strong voice of social justice.
Carlin's book does not paint him as a perfect man...he can be narcissistic, demanding and selfish. He hurt the members of his band when he cut them off for several years to pursue his solo work. He has exacting standards for everyone who works with him.
But he is clearly a musical genius, prolific in his song writing and creative in his musical arrangements, and a true poet of the people.
The one thing the book was lacking was more about his family. Carlin writes about the birth of Bruce and Patti's first son, but doesn't go beyond that. I'm guessing that Bruce asked Carlin to keep his family out of the book...but it would have made this bio much more comprehensive. We hear about his initial relationship with Patti, but in later years not much.
Now I'm going to go listen to the albums painstakingly described in the book, and they will mean much more to me.(less)
This is the first book I've read since I had surgery in December that has really compelled me. Any story about or by sisters always interests me, and this one--about Asia--did in particular.
As you might recall, Laura Ling was captured with her colleague, Euna Lee, and imprisoned in North Korea from March to August 2009. They worked for Current TV (cofounded by Al Gore) and were making a documentary about North Korean defectors who escaped into China, some of whom ended up in forced marriages or sex trafficking. They traveled into China on tourist visas instead of admitting they were journalists because they were not going to be portraying either China or North Korea in glowing terms. They hired a guide to take them to the Chinese-North Korean border, and one morning the guide encouraged them to go onto the frozen river that serves as the boundary between the countries. They followed him, and they came to regret it. Although they went back into China, guards from North Korea pursued them and captured them.
For five months, they were interrogated about their intentions and actions and kept isolated from one another. At the same time, Laura's sister Lisa (who works for Oprah and used to appear on "The View") took advantage of her media and government connections and did everything she could to get her sister out of North Korea. She was in contact with Al Gore, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Oprah Winfrey, the U.S. State Department, and media and entertainment celebrities. At one point, Michael Jackson even offered to perform for Kim Jong Il (if it would help), right before he died so suddenly.
It's clear that Laura Ling had powerful people working for her, trying to get her out. If her sister hadn't used all her connections and if she hadn't been working for Al Gore's company, who knows whether they would have been able get former president Bill Clinton to make a visit to Pyongyang to retrieve her and Euna Lee (who had left a 5-year-old daughter at home in the U.S.).
Clearly, they made an error in judgment by taking the risk to cross into North Korea...whether they were persuaded to take the risk by their guide or not. But that doesn't detract from this story.
I was touched by the very close relationship between the sisters, who are best friends. I cried several times, as I did again when watching the video of Laura Ling's speech as she got off the airplane in Burbank, California. I'm always deeply affected by stories of sisters being separated or reunited.
I also found it touching to read about the relationships she developed with some of her guards, translators, and even her primary interrogator. Even though she was being held in captivity, she was treated well for the most part. Even though the North Koreans felt angry at the United States, most of them did not treat her unkindly.
It's clear, as is mentioned in the epilogue, that many political prisoners do not have the resources Laura Ling and Euna Lee had...working incessantly to free them. But evident in the book, too, is Laura Ling's keen intelligence and political and media savvy. She handled the imprisonment professionally, wisely, and diplomatically, in spite of her own health problems and severe stress.
Check out my blog (at the top of this review) for links to a book trailer and interviews.(less)
I picked this one up at random at the library...I had never heard of Stacy Pershall...little did I know she was an Internet sensation (and not necessa...moreI picked this one up at random at the library...I had never heard of Stacy Pershall...little did I know she was an Internet sensation (and not necessarily in a good way).
Pershall grew up in the small town of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, and she never really fit in there. Pershall's mom pours all of her attention on her brother. She refers to her father's anger, but we don't get much detail on that.
Fast forward to adolescence, when she develops anorexia and bulimia, followed by (or concurrent with) bipolar and borderline personality disorder. She becomes highly self-destructive and somehow, amazingly successful given the self-destructive behavior (she lands a job as adjunct professor at the School of Visual Arts after earning her M.A., somehow!).
Each time she seemed to pull her life together, her mental illness struck again. (She even got married for awhile.) As one of the Internet's first "camgirls," Pershall broadcast one of the first online suicide attempts (and only one of many of hers) before shutting down her site. She found comfort by making tattoos of the things that scared or saddened her.
This book shed a lot of light for me on mental illness, particularly bipolar and borderline diseases. I would have liked to have learned more about her childhood and any thoughts she had about what led her to these illnesses. (Was it genetic? Environment?) She seems to have a tenuous relationship with her parents now, but what happened to her brother?
This was a raw, terribly honest memoir about all the mistakes Pershall has made in her life. I'd expect nothing less from someone who bared her soul (and clothing) for the Internet.
Most of the book is about her illness, and only an epilogue provides some closure. She seems to have it together now...but I felt that we were missing something in the journey to success. Maybe there's a Part 2 in progress?
As I joke in my house, I'm not easily amused. My nine-year-old son rented "The Three Stooges" recently, and I knew that I would not find it funny in the least. Even when watch something I do find funny (like "Downton Abbey" or "Lost in Austen"), my husband is rolling on the floor laughing while I might just smile to myself.
About the only people who regularly make me laugh are Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Ellen Degeneres, and Jane Lynch. When I've read humorous memoirs, I often start out thinking they are light and interesting, and then they grow tiresome.
That's Ali in Wonderland for me. My husband had checked it out of the library for humor research (for his writing). I picked it up because it looked interesting--Wentworth is married to George Stephanopolous. She's exactly my age, so many of her childhood and teenage memories rang true for me (like when her sister who had just had scoliosis surgery and ran away in a full body cast because she was fed up, and Ali had to follow her, but the only thing she cared about was getting home for The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and Love American Style, and her sister said she would only return home if Ali could make her laugh, so Ali took off her clothes and rubbed mud all over herself and did some weird kind of dance, only to be seen by people driving by). Some of the anecotes were indeed funny.
But midway through I started to get bored. I think the last straw was the chapter talking about how her mother believed that the cure for anything was to go to the Four Seasons. Wentworth was raised in privilege and lives in privilege now. Another chapter was about family-friendly resorts and how inconvenient it can be to slip on a dirty diaper by the poolside. Although I assume she's a good liberal in the Kennedy style, I just couldn't relate to her problems and complaints. She also jumped around tons in her storytelling, so it was hard to keep track of which part of her life she was describing.
I ended up scanning the second half of the book to the end when she talked about meeting and marrying George. The descriptions of her big fat Greek wedding and family were funny...but I found myself ready to move onto something else.(less)
-You are easily offended by foul language. -You are an ardent animal lover. -You are a literalist. (Did it bother you that Dan Brown took liberties with history in The DaVinci Code?) -You take things or life too seriously.
Jenny Lawson, otherwise know as The Bloggess, has written a hilarious memoir about what it's like to:
-Grow up in the wilds of Texas, with a father who is a taxidermist -Be so poor she wore bread sack shoes (still trying to picture those) -Become completely accustomed to running into the interior of a deer carcass, acquiring pet raccoons, having a just-killed squirrel turned into a puppet named Stanley, and having your dad throw a baby bobcat at your prospective husband on his first visit -Be spoiled rotten by her grandma -Feel socially awkward and like an outcast throughout school -Be loved intensely by her parents and have a happy, although extremely crazy, childhood -Try to rescue her just-died dog from swarming vultures -Lock her husband out of the car while he battles a supposedly dead but very alive rattlesnake--and then get mad at him! -Battle an anxiety disorder -Try to convince her husband to pee around the house to keep out the snakes -Set her oven on fire at least twice -Keep her beloved dead dog from being devoured by hungry, aggressive vultures -Buy a huge metal chicken because she's so annoyed with her husband who didn't want her to buy more towels -Be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and struggle with treatment -Suffer from three miscarriages before carrying a baby to term -Have silly, nonsensical fights with her husband via post-it notes
As Lawson describes herself in her author bio, "Author Jenny Larson relaxes at home. Her husband glares off camera and asks whether that's his toothbrush. Her husband should probably get his priorities straight. And go get her a margarita. Even if it's three a.m. Seriously, Victor, go get me a margarita. Also, the people who published this book probably shouldn't have let the author write her own biography. Poor planning on their part, I'd say."
If she's to be believed (which is questionable), she and Victor treat each other horribly, frequently with foul language. But I don't really believe much of that. After telling many a wild story, she confesses that only one tiny piece of the story is true. I tried this exaggeration-of-the-truth tactic recently myself, and it's not easy! It seems to come fairly easily to Lawson, though. She's a master!
The writing style is very casual (ADD-like, really), with frequent parenthetical phrases, postscripts, and notes from "the editor." She talks about her vagina fairly frequently and has a sentimental yearning for tacky taxidermy such as dead Cuban baby alligators and mice in Shakespeare outfits (see cover). She also has a tendency to tell wild, inappropriate stories at dinner parties, especially those involving her husband's employer or colleagues.
I really enjoyed this book, but it's not for everyone! Check out her blog if you're curious. If it makes you laugh, you'll like the book.(less)
I loved Peggy Orenstein's Waiting for Daisy: A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, an Oscar, an Atomic Bomb, a Romantic Night, and One Woman's Quest to Become a Mother, so as soon as I heard about this book, I knew I would read it. Even though I do not have daughters, I am greatly concerned about the heightened stereotypes both genders face while they are growing up.
I must admit that I enjoyed playing dress-up with my sister and friends when I was a child. We had a dress-up trunk with cast-off long dresses with full skirts, and we made up a game where we imagined we were princesses with the power to do magic when we waved our antique hankerchiefs. But nowadays girls do not need to improvise: with the accessibility of inexpensive toys, most young girls have far more pink princess items than anyone would have dreamed of when I was a girl. In fact, anyone with a girl must feel like pink princesses are exploding all over. I actually have an active dislike of the color pink for this reason.
Orenstein, whose writing style reminds me a bit of Anne Lamott, begins by telling us how she really did not expect or want a daughter...she wanted a son. I could relate in a way, because in my case, I always thought I would have a daughter. Of course, my husband often teased me that if I were to have a daughter, I'd be force-feeding her copies of Ms. while she hid her Seventeen and Glamour mags under her mattress. He's probably right. I'd probably have had a prissy princess and would have been dumbstruck.
Orenstein decided to write this book when, to her horror, her own daughter became princess obsessed. What harm does a little pink princess love do? Well, "according to the American Psychological Association, the girlie-girl culture's emphasis on beauty and play-sexiness can increase girls' vulnerability to the pitfalls that most concern parents: depression, eating disorders, distorted body image, risky sexual behavior." We've all read the studies showing how many young girls are overly concerned with their weight and their appearance and how that affects their self-esteem. Orenstein struggled to see these risks in her own capable, self-confident daughter, but study after study show that "girls can be derailed by stereotypes."
I learned why it seemed that Disney princesses began popping up everywhere I looked: they were created by a Disney executive who attended a "Disney on Ice" show and saw all the little girls in their cheap, handmade Disney princess costume. Eureka: a marketing extravaganza is born!
She looks at the transformation of Barbie, who in the beginning not only had unrealistic proportions but also was a career woman, into the cute, princess Barbie she has become today.
"The astronauts, surgeons, and presidents of her glory days have been largely replaced by fairies, butterflies, ballerinas, mermaids, and princesses whose wardrobes are almost exclusively pink and lavender...Original Barbie would have been appalled: her palette was never so narrow--even her tutu was silver lame."
Now girls can choose from pink ouija boards, pink cell phones, pink laptops, Monopoly Pink Boutique edition, Pink Yahtzee, and ad nauseum. When Orenstein visits a toy fair, she is told that pink is the way to sell toys. How many girls do you know who do not profess to have pink as their favorite color (and are brave enough to admit it)?
Orenstein shares many of her internal battles, such as how to handle her daughter Daisy's request for a blue Fairytopia Barbie or a pink gun. She is noncommittal about the gun (leaning toward purchasing it) until discussing it with her husband, who reminds her, "No war toys." She visits the American Girl palace, but sans Daisy, trying to postpone her daughter's immersion in the need for expensive, unnecessary doll toys that are completely inaccessible to anyone without scads of money.
She explores the history of fairy tales (actually reading the original ones unedited to her daughter) and decides she doesn't like the modern version of some of those fairy tales much better. For example, she doesn't like The Paper Bag Princess (a story I rather like) because the prince rejects the princess for wearing a paper bag. She doesn't like the end (in fact compares it to "Thelma & Louise"), in which the princess dumps the prince and skips off into the sunset. Is that such a bad thing, teaching our daughters that they don't have to have a man to be happy? Sometimes I think she's being a bit too picky. She realizes, when she shares some stories from Free to Be You and Me that she's actually introducing some stereotypes to her daughter rather than teaching her lessons (for example, her daughter asks her what the word "sissy" means). I think it's good for children to be aware of how people do have the tendency to stereotype, but I understand her concern.
Then she takes on Twilight, and you all know what I think about Twilight (http://mariesbookgarden.blogspot.com/...). "Compared with Stephenie Meyer, the Grimms come off like Andrea Dworkin." Good line. "It is Bella, not the supernaturals she falls in love with, who is the true horror show here, at least as a female role model. She lives solely for her man; when he leaves her in New Moon...she is willing to die for him as well...Oh yeah, I want my daughter to be that girl." And that, my friends, is also why you will not find this voracious reader diving into 50 Shades of Grey, which started out as Twilight fan fiction! No thank you.
Orenstein also explores the trajectories of various girl celebrities--Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, etc.--and their bizarre virgin/whore dances. Later she discusses the Scholastic Publishers' tendency to publish books full of sexist stereotypes, which I recently wrote about in my other blog: http://marie-everydaymiracle.blogspot....
Similar to The Mama Boy's Myth (http://mariesbookgarden.blogspot.com/...), this is an important book about what we are exposing our girls to and the risks they face by being pressured to be princesses instead of heroes. Yes, they all grow out of the princess phase, but what fallout remains as they move into adolescence?(less)
I discovered this book when I read a review for one of Denise Roy's more recent books (Momfulness)...and being a chronological-type reader, I decided to start with this one. Plus as a new (initially reluctant) minivan parent, I liked the title, which comes from Roy's childhood desire to become a nun.
As you might guess, she didn't become a nun--instead she became a mom to three sons and one daughter. She also has an M.Div. and is a psychotherapist and spiritual director. This book is all about finding the divine in our everyday lives.
Roy begins her series of essays with a quote from Frederick Buechner, "There is no telling where God may turn up next--around what sudden bend of the path if you happen to have your eyes and ears open, your wits about you, in what odd, small moments almost too foolish to tell."
Each short essay in this collection is a gem and makes me think more mindfully about my own life and family. She uses wonderful quotes and poems to enhance her points, such as this one by Margaret L. Mitchell:
"Sometimes When it is all, finally, Too much, I climb into my car, Roll the windows up, And somewhere between backing out the driveway And rounding the first corner I let out a yell That would topple Manhattan How do you pray?"
Or this one, another by Frederick Buechner:
"The sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often the everyday moments."
And this one by Bapuji:
"Those who do not know how to sing and dance will never reach God."
In one of my favorite essays, "Potato Stories," Roy shares four stories about potatoes...one was about the Korean custom for washing potatoes. When they want to wash a lot of dirty potatoes, they don't wash them one by one...instead they put them all in a tub of water, put a stick in the water, and move it up and down, and the potatoes bump into each other, helping to clean them. She compares this potato bumping/cleaning exercise to being in a community of faith, "When we join hands, our prayers and our lives bump up against one another, and something holy is made in the process."
One of the other potato stories can be found all over the Internet:
"One of my teachers had each one of us bring a clear plastic bag and a sack of potatoes. For every person we’d refuse to forgive in our life, we were told to choose a potato, write on it the name and date, and put it in the plastic bag. Some of our bags, as you can imagine, were quite heavy.
We were then told to carry this bag with us everywhere for one week, putting it beside our bed at night, on the car seat when driving, next to our desk at work.
The hassle of lugging this around with us made it clear what a weight we were carrying spiritually, and how we had to pay attention to it all the time to not forget, and keep leaving it in embarrassing places.
Naturally, the condition of the potatoes deteriorated to a nasty slime. This was a great metaphor for the price we pay for keeping our pain and heavy negativity!
Too often we think of forgiveness as a gift to the other person, and while that’s true, it clearly is also a gift for ourselves!
So the next time you decide you can’t forgive someone, ask yourself… Isn’t MY bag heavy enough?"
In "Night," she writes about her neighbor Debbie, whose aging mother has become very ill. She asked her neighbor about the hardest part, and she said, "The middle of the night. Getting up at three in the morning to change Mom's diapers and having her look me in the eyes and ask "Where's Debbie?'" This resonated for me, as I was thinking about my cousin who has been caring for her ill mother (my aunt, who recently died of cancer) and father with Alzheimer's. I remember those night times when my sons would wake me up to nurse, and he and I were the only ones awake in the house. Roy shares this passage from Jane Ellen Mauldin, which I love:
"As I trudged alone through the night hallways, I staggered to a call as old as humankind. That night and every night, mothers and fathers around the world awaken to reassure restless children. That night and every night, grown children arise to calm fitful, aging parents. Those night hours are long and lonely. Our burdens and tired bones are ours alone to bear. There are, however, other people out there who are waking even as we are. There are other people who bear similar burdens--whether it is simply to reassure a child for one night, or to help a dying loved one be at peace, week after week, until the end.
We who rise do so because we choose to do it. It is an intense, physical demand; it is also an honor as ancient as human love. We are part of the circle of families and friends who nurture Life from its earthly beginning until its earthly conclusion."
In "Blessing One Another," she shares a story about shopping with her daughter and observing a horrible interaction between an assistant manager and a delightful young child, who had been twirling around and dancing with a butterfly on a stick, much to the assistant manager's horror. Roy is able to intervene on the mother's behalf (the mother is Hispanic, didn't see what happened, and is cowed by the situation) and share the story with the manager, since she observed the interaction. She starts out this chapter with this poem by Galway Kinnell:
"The bud stands for all things, even for those things that don't flower, for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing; though sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness, to put a hand on its brow of the flower and retell it in words and in touch it is lovely until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing.
She knows with certainty that the same incident would not have occurred with her own daughter because of the color of her skin. She discusses the effect of prejudice on a small child's ego, and how the mother was "saying words of kindness in the hopes of restoring to the child a sense of her goodness. But I also thought of how different it would be if she had help. What if she had all of us doing this with her, reminding her daughter of her beauty? How different this girl's life would be." She concludes the story by saying that this is how we help God out: "by telling one another in words and in touch that we are lovely and whole and worthy of blessing."
In "Hiding Places," Roy writes about the pain of miscarriage, and her own experiences of having three miscarriages...of which the cause was never determined. Then after letting go of their dream of having another child, suddenly she became pregnant again. In our case, my four miscarriages occurred between our oldest and middle child, and as much as we wanted another child, it was so heart-achingly painful to keep trying. Then finally, it worked--and I had Kieran, my middle son. Roy talks about people's tendency to hide away their pain and grief, deepening their sense of isolation, but "It is only when we have the courage to open the door to the hidden parts of our lives that our suffering can be transformed into wisdom and compassion." This I know is true. Without grieving for each baby I had lost, I never would have been able to be happy in the world.
Another gem I found in this book is a ritual that Denise Roy has in her family. When a boy reaches the age of 13, he goes on a camping trip with other men in the family as a rite of passage. In her appendix, Roy shares some of the questions they discuss:
"Who are my heroes? What is my philosophy of life? What do I feel about work? What gives meaning to my life? What are the qualities of my mother I admire? Of my father? What qualities do I value in a relationship? What does intimacy mean? What are my dreams for myself? What does success mean for me? What brings me joy? For what, or whom, would I sacrifice my time, energy, health, or life? What is my idea of power? What is the source of my power? What are my gifts? What do I fear? What is sacred? Who are my people? How do I most enjoy life?"
This is the best thing I got out of this book: as a family full of male children, I want to start this ritual in my family. My oldest son (and the oldest grandson) turns 16 this summer, and I've asked my husband, dad, and brother-in-law if they would be willing to take him on such a trip. I love the idea of rites of passage, and this could be a truly meaningful one. They might even take some drums! :)
I really enjoyed this book and it gave me a lot to think about...good reminders of finding the sacred in everyday life, not taking things for granted, and remembering that prayer and meditation comes in many forms. (less)
Oh my...what a wonderful book! I first heard about Wild when I was at Holden Village this summer, when two friends were reading it at the same time. I remember April telling me about how crazily misinformed and naive Strayed was about backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail...she didn't even test out the weight of her backpack until the morning she set out. She packed such strange choices as a full-size camera and fancy lens, even though she's not a photographer. She included items like a foldable saw, just in case she needed to cut wood. The only thing she included for protection from predators (man or beast) was a loud whistle. And she set off completely alone.
In the beginning, Strayed (a name she chose for herself) was not a particularly likable character. After her beloved mother dies suddenly of cancer (described in a completely heart-wrenching, daringly vulnerable chapter), she went off the rails. Married way too soon at 19, she began having irrational flings, cuckolding her wonderful husband and best friend, feeling guilty but unable to keep herself from doing it. She started shooting heroin with a guy she hooked up with in Portland while visiting a friend. Her siblings and stepfather, to whom she previously felt close, scattered and grieved in their own ways. In another heart-wrenching chapter, Strayed and her brother had to shoot their mother's neglected horse because she was too old and sick and they couldn't afford to hire a vet. She was a complete mess.
But something about the Pacific Crest Trail called to her. At the age of 22, wracked by grief, Strayed set out on a 1,100-mile hike all by herself...woefully unprepared for what she would face. Beginning in the Mojave Desert, she hiked up through California and Oregon, concluding at the Bridge of the Gods on the Oregon-Washington border. She hiked through blazing heat, record snow levels (when she couldn't find the trail), and drenching rain...and faced down severe dehydration, treacherous conditions, bears, rattlesnakes, coyotes, and a predatory hunter.
Strayed lives in Portland now and has become a local celebrity writer. She's moved beyond the devastating grief and wretched self-destruction of her early 20s and now has a husband and two school-age daughters. In this interview with Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin, Strayed talks about how happy she is now and challenges anyone who is feeling unhappy to get out and walk for 20 minutes:
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Cheryl: Walking. Doesn’t it make everyone happier? I challenge you to walk for twenty minutes and not feel better by the end of it. It’s the cheapest, healthiest cure on earth.
Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Cheryl: That we can survive anything, even if we don’t want to. Even in the face of great suffering, there is joy.
Masterfully and honestly told, Wild is a story I will remember for a long time. Check out this book trailer with photos and Strayed's description of the book:
This is SUCH an important and desperately needed book.
New York Times contributor Kate Stone Lombardi makes the fascinating point that of all the possible parent-child relationships (e.g., father-son, father-daughter, mother-daughter), the most circumspect and maligned is that of the mother and son. This was an illuminating beginning to this book.
Close mother-son relationships are abundant, but they are kept in the closet. While fathers are lauded for teaching their daughters traditionally masculine tasks or skills, mothers are shamed for doing the same thing (for example, teaching a son to knit or just talk more openly about his feelings).
Lombardi interviewed over 1,000 moms online and in person. She found that nearly nine in ten moms described themselves as "extremely close" or "very close" to their sons. And the result of these close relationships is that we are creating a generation of boys who will become strong, loving spouses and partners, with a higher level of sensitivity and emotional intelligence. As Lombardi notes, "A new and growing body of scientific literature shows that sons who are close to their mothers are emotionally and physically healthier than those who are not."
She writes of stereotypes about boys and girls and how some mothers long for daughters so they can develop close relationships with them. In some cases (like mine), feminists look forward to raising strong women who have opportunities they or their mothers did not have. As one mom said, "When it came time to have children, what I had in mind were daughters. All of my feminist friends laughed, 'Look at the hand you were dealt.' I had to process that loss. I had daughter envy." Why do women assume that girls will be more emotionally available than boys? We make assumptions that boys will grow apart from their mothers, based on culturally acceptable mother-son norms.
Mothers battle not only cultural expectations of how they relate to their sons, but also sometimes their own husbands or family members. Some women shared examples of their husbands accusing them of babying their sons if they showed any affection, even at very young ages, and one woman told a story about a power struggle with her husband about her nearly-two-year-old son's curly hair. She told him she'd cut his curls when he turned two, but a month before he turned two, her husband cut off all the boy's curls while he was taking a bath. "He thought I was turning his boy into a girl." Mothers are criticized for hugging their teen sons or touching them at all. Then there's the nosy strangers who think they know best and think that mothers are scarring their boys for life if they allow them to wear a "girl's" Halloween costume. She cites the work of artist JeongMee Yoon, who has a project with side-by-side images of actual girls' and boys' rooms, entirely in pink and blue. It's incredibly sad (and also another good example of why it's good I have boys--I am no fan of pink!).
Lombardi delves into the origin of Freud's Oedipal theories and the hidden fears of homophobia inherent in this bullying of moms and sons. Mothers involved in their sons' lives are made into the villains in popular culture, at best (think "Psycho"!), and at worst are thought to create "sissys," "Mama's boys," or overly dependent and feminine. She talks about the "boy crisis" and some prominent authors' views that boys need to disconnect from their mothers and instead form stronger relationships with their fathers, instead of recognizing the need for both father and mother bonds. Well-known author Michael Gurian "argues that mothers' apron strings are strangling the manhood out of boys." It's all the mother's fault, of course!
In a fairly well-known parenting book, Get Out of My Life, but Please Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? by Anthony E. Wolf, the author talks about the "problem of mommy," which he defines as the theory that adolescent boys' strong feelings for their mother might be "tinged with sexuality and might therefore become really unacceptable." Why is that mothers' close relationships with their sons are often described as sexual? Thank you, Mr. Freud!
Since when do people say that teen girls have crushes on their fathers if they feel close to them? Lombardi points out that we never see "mother-son dances," but only "father-daughter" ones...because no one ascribes anything sinister to that relationship. However, as a brochure for a North Carolina father-daughter dance said, "Every father needs to 'date' their daughter, and every daughter needs an example of how a young lady is to be treated by a man." This dating analogy is creepy because sexual abuse in families is much more likely to occur between a father and a daughter. Incest between mother and son is exceedingly rare (female perpetrators are between 1 and 4 percent of all sex abuse cases). So why is that relationship such taboo?
When boys reach a certain age, they are often embarassed to be seen alone in public with their mom or to talk about close relationships with their mothers. It's really only the big, tough football players or otherwise macho men who are allowed to get away with close relationships with their mothers.
Then there are the men and women who play into the idea that feminism or stronger women's roles are creating weak men. Lombardi mentions the book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys. Although author Kay Hymowitz notes that it's important for young men to have strong relationships with both their moms and dads, the title makes it sound like weak men are all the women's fault. Lombardi notes that she agrees that this can be a confusing time to be a young man, but "mothers play an important role in helping their sons through this transition by giving them the skills they need to help them mature and succeed in school and in the workplace." As she concludes, "Why on earth would (women) want to do anything to harm men? We are the mothers of sons."
Gradually, our culture will find mother-son relationships more acceptable. The younger generation will see that this changes. In 2011, many of the Academy award nominated films featured difficult mothers (The Fighter, Black Swan, and The King's Speech). In the acceptance speeches, however, many of the winners thanked and paid tribute to their moms. Tom Hooper, who won best director for "The King's Speech," thanked his mother for giving him the idea for the movie. "The moral of the story is," he said, "Listen to your mother."
I confess that I always imagined having a daughter, but I am so thankful to have sons. Although many women idealize mother-daughter relationships, I've observed that in many cases, these relationships can be strained or not meet expectations. Daughters can be very hard on their mothers.
This book affirms that I can have truly deep relationships with my sons, and they will be better prepared for adulthood because of our strong mother-son relationships. It also made me feel incredibly grateful to be a parenting partner with a man who affirms my close relationships with my sons and (1) is not afraid to share his sensitive, emotional side, and is just as likely as I am to be brought to tears during a touching moment, and (2) never tells me I need to toughen the boys up or worries about them not acting manly enough! It also made me feel thankful for all the wonderful men I know, including my dad, brother, brother-in-law, and many male friends, who build strong relationships with boys and support women in doing the same.
I strongly recommend this book for anyone who has a son or works with boys. (less)
My husband picked this up at the library, as we are both Downton Abbey fans. Jessica Fellowes is the niece of the series' creator, Julian Fellowes.
Although this book is ripe with rich photos of the beautiful costumes and characters, what I valued most about it was reading the history behind the series. In particular, my favorite part was reading about American heiresses like Cora, or "Buccaneers," who saved many of the British aristocrats with their fortunes...while having to adjust to the uptight society and cultural mores of their new home. I'm always interested in the British-American matches, because I'm an American married to a Brit.
It didn't take me long to get through this photo-rich book, but I greatly enjoyed it!(less)
As I wrote about on Every Day Is a Miracle, I read this book as an encouragement to give up complaining during Lent (easier said than done!). It's a quick little read, and it gave me the structure and impetus I needed to give it a try.
Will Bowen is a minister at Christ Church Unity in Kansas City, Missouri. He started the complaint-free movement in his church by giving away purple bracelets (shown wrapped around the globe, on the book cover) and developing a technique to reduce or eliminate complaining. The idea is that you wear the bracelet on one wrist, and when you complain, criticize, or gossip, you switch the bracelet to the other wrist. The goal is to try to go 21 consecutive days without complaining, criticizing, or gossipping out loud. (It doesn't count if it happens only in your head.) Bowen says that most people have to move their bracelet 15 to 20 times in the first few days, and soon it gets easier and easier. If you complain after 10 complaint-free days, you start all over again to aim for the 21 consecutive days.
The book is quick and easy to read, and gives plenty of testimonials from others who have gone complaint free. When people have challenged Bowen by saying, "But every great thing in our country began with people complaining...think about Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King!" he points out that actually, those leaders have inspired millions because they had a positive vision for the future.
"On August 8, 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., did not stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and say, 'Isn't it terrible how we're being treated?' No. He spoke words that struck a chord with our nation and still bring tears to the eyes of those hearing them nearly a half-century later. He did not focus on the problem; he focused beyond the problem...In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson did clearly state the challenges the colonies were having under the governance of the British Empires. However, his document, signed July 4, 1775, was not a litany of gripes."
Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks were all dreamers and visionaries, not complainers, although they certainly recognized and fought against the injustices in their times. But they focused beyond the problems, onto the solutions.
I do agree, in part, with Bowen that when you think things will go your way, they are more likely to do so. As he writes, "Our words are powerful. And when we change what we say, we begin to change our lives." I'm as much of a rose-colored glasses person as the next optimist, but I do have a small skeptical side in me that also believes that no matter how much positive thinking (or lack of complaining) you do, it does not exempt you from experiencing sadness or tragedy at times in your life. I remember reading Dr. Christiane Northrup's Women's Bodies Women's Wisdom, in which she theorizes that women's infertility or miscarriage could be caused by ambivalence about being pregnant or negative thinking. This concept upset me greatly as I experienced miscarriage after miscarriage. Although I do believe in a mind-body connection, I do not believe that it's absolute. If that were the case, our friends who have lost babies or children far too early would still have their children with them. So yes, avoiding complaining, worrying, and negative thinking can definitely contribute to a healthier, happier life. But sometimes...shit happens. And it's perfectly appropriate and healthy to complain about it, to a certain extent.
On the other hand, Bowen differentiates complaining from expressing one's feelings. Yesterday, I switched my bracelet to my other wrist after expressing that I was disappointed in someone not returning my calls at work. From what I understand, this is not a complaint...it was an expression of my feelings. So if shit happens, yes you should talk about how it makes you feel. But wallowing in self-pity only hurts you in the long run.
Bowen also indicates that no complaining does not mean accepting things that are wrong. But it means asking for what you need in lieu of complaining or being critical. Understanding the difference is helpful. He suggests these alternate words and ways of thinking:
Instead of... Try... Problem Opportunity Have to Get to Setback Challenge Enemy Friend Tormentor Teacher Pain Signal I demand I would appreciate Complaint Request Struggle Journey You did this I created this
As a wise teacher (and my high school speech team coach) once told me, "you don't get to complain unless you're prepared to do something about it," when I complained about another high school's overly loud music across the university center (where we were camped out for the day). I've never forgotten her advice. Now it's time to apply it.
I did better than I thought yesterday (I moved my bracelet three times, including when I was trying to help Kieran choose a birthday present for a friend and he didn't like any of my suggestions...and I finally threw up my hands and said "I give up!"). Today I haven't had to move my bracelet at all. But just wait until something crummy happens (or the kids aggravate me)...that will be the real test!
So far, even thinking about not complaining has improved my mood overall!(less)
This is an astonishing, ground-breaking book. Katherine Boo, an award-winning American writer/reporter who has earned accolades for reporting on the p...moreThis is an astonishing, ground-breaking book. Katherine Boo, an award-winning American writer/reporter who has earned accolades for reporting on the poor, married an Indian man, Sunil Khilnani. They spend half of their time in the U.S. and half in India.
Over three years, she spent countless hours shadowing the residents of Annawadi, a slum near the Mumbai airport filled with people without permanent work...each one of them struggling to make a living, mostly through garbage picking and recycling, temporary jobs, and theft. With the help of translators, she gradually got to know Annawadi's residents, and they finally got used to having the strange white woman around.
As she grew to learn their stories, a few stood out. Central to the book is the story of Abdul, a young Muslim who buys and recycles the garbage that others collect, whose family is accused of a crime by their angry neighbor. Manju hopes to become Annawadi's first college grad, but she's disturbed by her mother's constant conniving and corruption (which actually assist in paying her college bills). Kalu, a young thief, entertains the other boys by acting out scenes from Bollywood movies. A young woman commits suicide with poison to avoid the arranged marriage her family has made for her. As a Dalit, she knows that her life in a small village away from relatively progressive Mumbai will be miserable.
What struck me most about this book, more than the extreme poverty, lack of sanitation, and struggling for subsistence on the edge of the sewage lake, was the horrible corruption rife in Indian politics, law enforcement, business, and civil service. This, even more than the poverty, oppresses the disadvantaged and prevents them from advancing out of the slums. It made me think of the anti-corruption policies my company has in writing, and ponder how it does business in India or the Middle East without resorting to bribes. According to this book, when you give money to charities such as World Vision or Christian orphanages, you're lucky if the donation actually reaches the needy. Schools employ teachers without college educations (or even high school degrees), and the only way to get a government teaching job is to pay huge bribes. Boo writes about a nun who runs an orphanage and resells many of the clothes, food, and toys she receives for the children.
When Abdul and his father and sister are accused of inciting a spiteful neighbor woman to set herself aflame, everyone crowds in to make some money. They are tortured in jail and told, by many, that if they pay money, the problem will go away. Abdul's mother even goes directly to the other family to negotiate, but they believe they'll be able to extort more money through the courts.
This book is written like a novel even though it's hard-core, investigative reporting. Boo and her translators are completely invisible narrators. She took meticulous notes and recordings and documented her research thoroughly--important in the age of Greg Mortensons and the accusations thrown around about the "white savior complex." Boo's purpose was to shine the light on the Annawadians themselves and their environment instead of the white writer. Boo was threatened by the police and often felt insecure or threatened as she did her research. This book does not make the Indian government smell good.
And beyond that is an examination of the modernization and regentrification of India. Annawadi is located within sight of the huge, fancy Mumbai airport hotels, behind walls plastered with ads for ceramic tile that say "Beautiful Forever." As young Mirchi (Abdul's younger brother) is quoted in this review from The Times of India, "Everything around us is roses, and we are the shit between." Hovering over Annawadi and its residents is the constant fear that the slum--and their homes--will be leveled and destroyed.
This book has made me look at India and my own existence in a new way. It begs the question of what can be done to eradicate such corruption and extreme poverty in the world. It also makes one think about the price of affluence. When the economy began suffering, the Annawadians suffered as well. Yet on the other hand, what is the price of progress as the gap between rich and poor grows and grows?
For more information about Katherine Boo and this book, I encourage you to visit her web site, listen to the interview on NPR, or watch the video about the book on youtube. This book and its stories of these desperately hard-working people will stick with me for a very long time. (less)
Little did I know that I was about to dive into a scandalous book! Feldman must have predicted the type of reaction she would receive when she published her memoir. The Hasidic community has mounted a campaign to discredit her.
Feldman was born into an extremely strict sect of Hasidic Judaism, the Satmar sect, founded on the belief that the Holocaust was God's punishment for the Jews because they had forsaken their strict religious laws. Her father was mentally disabled or retarded (hard to say, because he was never diagnosed for fear of affecting his marriageability), and her mother, who had traveled from England to marry her father sight unseen, escaped the sect when Feldman was a girl. Consequently, Feldman was sent to live with her grandparents, who she is fond of, but she never really felt truly loved and accepted. She constantly chafed against the extremely rigid rules, unfair treatment of women, and rejection of secularism.
Strongly discouraged from reading or speaking English, she delighted in discovering Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, and JK Rowling. Hasidic schools for girls emphasize religious instruction over academics, so she felt grossly inadequately educated. When she finally met a teacher who will challenge her (even though she also sounds bordering on verbally abusive!), she was thrilled.
When she was married off at 18 to a man chosen for her by her grandparents, her body completely shut down. After receiving messages all her life that her body was a den of iniquity and temptation to men, she could not have a healthy sexual relationship with her husband. After much therapy (and the entire community knowing intimate details of their sex life), they finally consummated their marriage. When her son Yitzak was born, she knew that she had to get out. She enrolled in a course for adult learners at Sarah Lawrence and her world cracked open.
I really enjoyed this book, and Feldman is an inspiration. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to be trapped in a religion that believes that you are dirty for half of the month...and that you cannot partake in the same religious studies and community as men. (I loved the movie "Yentl" for similar reasons.) Or one in which your worth is determined by the age at which you get married, who you marry, if you secretly attend the mikvah (women do not discuss the mikvah with their husbands), and whether you wear a wig instead of your natural hair.
As I mentioned, the Satmar and other ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects are waging war on this book and Feldman herself (a pro-Orthodox Facebook group has been urging people to write one-star reviews). Just read the reviews or google the book and you'll see what I mean. What is most fascinating about this campaign are the petty accusations they are leveling at her:
•They claim she didn't accurately describe her mother's life and when she got divorced. •They point out the existence of Feldman's younger sister and claim the whole book is a lie because she left her out. (Feldman says she chose to leave her out because she is a minor.) •Clearly without reading the book, they say that she fabricated a story about a woman's murder (??) and that she said her mother abused her. There's nothing like this in the book. •Feldman attended a strict Satmar school, but they say that she didn't admit it was not her first school. This is not true. She did say that she moved to a new school, but she doesn't say a lot about her former school. How is this important?? •Feldman tells a story about a Hasidic man who cuts off his son's penis after he saw him masturbating. She acknowledges that she doesn't know this for a fact, but it is what she hears (through her husband and his brother). The crime is not reported. This enrages the haters, because they say it's blood libel. Feldman admits that she was reporting the facts third hand. Still, it's concerning...that as well as another rumor she heard about a man who sexually abused minors, and the crime was covered up and not reported to the authorities! •Some Hasidic women say she doesn't portray the life of Hasids accurately...and "I'm a Chassidic woman who runs her business and employs 30 people" or they say that she is attacking a religion that treats women with respect. Hmm... •They claim that she has attacked her grandparents and has been ungrateful. (I did not see any of this. She writes fondly of her grandparents.) •They say that all of her problems were due to growing up in a dysfunctional family. These are just a few of the examples I've seen as "evidence" that Feldman fabricated the whole book. As Jesse Kornbluth writes in The Huffington Post, the haters are completely missing the point of the book.
What's fascinating to me in all this is that the Satmars only want to engage on the smallest points:, like where Feldman went to school and the technicalities of her mother's divorce, I've received not a word of protest about the conclusion of my review, which was, I thought, the most damning:
"The real issue is sex. Not the act, but what it signifies --- male control of women. That old story. We see it in far too many places; dehumanizing women is a key component of fundamentalist cults, from hardcore Muslims to certain Republicans.
Men who oppress women --- they say they love them, but it seems more like they fear and hate them --- haven't been taught that sex is our reward for making it through the day. Like their women, these men have been sold the idea that sex is just for procreation. No wonder they feel like they're the ones who are oppressed.
There are claims in this book that Hasids have disputed. I can't tell what's true. But I'm sure of one thing: Men who can't live equally with women aren't worth living with. Why didn't the Satmars take me on about the blatant sexism that oppresses both women and men in their community? I can only conclude this: It's a problem for Deborah Feldman --- not for them."
Feldman also spoke of her disenchantment with the Satmars, not just for the way they treat women, but also the way they fight for power. Her grandfather told her that in Europe, no one would have dreamed of fighting to be called a rabbi. (They actually turned down the position because of their humility.) But Feldman's Satmar community was divided in half--each half supported one of the Satmar rebbe's sons for succession. And it was a bitter battle. When she first met her prospective husband, she's unsure of whether she can even consider the match because she's concerned his family supports the other son.
When it's discovered that the wigs worn by the Hasidic women have actually been made with human hair from India (from women who worship other gods), the rabbis claimed that it's the work of the devil, a punishment for the "promiscuity of their women." (Yes, it's all the women's fault. Always. See above...a religion that treats women with respect?)
Feldman wrote of her harrowing and humiliating first exposure to the Mikvah, the ritual bath house every woman must visit (and be inspected) before her husband can touch her. For 14 days after her period, she had to touch herself with white cloths twice a day to make sure she was not bleeding, for fear of "contaminating" her holy husband. That's right, women are filthy dirty. She also had a very difficult time bonding with her family members and her son because of the rigid rules and her anxiety about breaking them. It was only when she finally left with her son that she was able to develop a close relationship with him.
I remember learning about the ultra-Orthodox morning prayer men say, "Thank God I was not born a woman." Well, it's easy to understand why Feldman left such a stifling, misogynistic community.
Although Feldman's memoir is not perfect (many characters and events seem to be given short shrift), it's her story...and it's told from her perspective. She writes about the things that mattered most to her. Her mother and father were not significant influences in her life, so they are largely absent. Now that she's left, she has a relationship with her mother. I found this book to be very inspirational, and one that I will hold in my heart for a long time.
Judaism, as with many religions, can be beautiful. But when religion is taken to its extreme (in Christianity, Islam, or Judaism), it perverts it to a love of the law over a love and compassion for others and for God.
I don't easily give five stars, but I am giving them to this book, in honor of Feldman's courage, and because of all the stupid one-star reviews from people who haven't even read the book.(less)
I am a polar opposite of Storm Large. I had a happy childhood with two stable, loving parents who were always there for me. I am happily married with three children and have never been promiscous or used drugs. Yet I love Storm Large, as you can see by the multiple posts about her on my main blog.
After seeing Storm's show, "Crazy Enough," twice at Portland Center Stage and purchasing the show CD, as soon as I read she was writing a book I put it on hold at the library. I've been waiting for several months to get my hands on it.
As I expected, the book delivered. Storm was able to go into deeper detail about her crazy childhood and young adulthood. Raw, honest, and full of profanity and crazy-making shit, she lays it all bare for her readers. Sex addict, drug addict, and now a performing addict, she knows all too well how larger than life and wild she is. It's part of her act. The world is a better place because she can use her wildness as art and be addicted to music and performing instead of the unhealthier habits. Much of the content was covered in her one-woman show, but she's able to go into more detail here.
If you have a strong stomach and are not easily offended, read this book. (less)
I've long been a Jane Lynch fan, since I first saw her in "Best in Show," and of course who doesn't love Sue Sylvester on "Glee"?
Lynch talks about her growing-up years in a happy suburban Illinois family. She had a reasonably happy childhood, although she never really felt like she fit in with her Catholic, traditional family. She also started drinking at a very early age, with her parents' knowledge. One of the places she felt she really fit in was in choir class, similar to the kids on "Glee."
She didn't start feeling comfortable in her own skin until she was in her 40s...between being a fledgling actor (flitting from commercials to bit parts in movies and TV series for years), an alcoholic, and gay in a straight world...but everything in her life seemed to come together as a series of happy accidents. Just as she began filming "Glee," which shot her career up to fame, she met the love of her life, her now-wife Lara Embry, and became a mom after she never thought she would have children (and in fact, she hadn't had any interest in having children).
Some have criticized Lynch's memoir for not being more revealing or dishing gossip on her costars. It strikes me that Lynch is not that kind of person. It sounds like she might have been at an earlier age--she admits that she had a big dose of Sue Sylvester in herself in her 20s and 30s--when she came down on other actors when she felt they weren't pulling their weight--but now she's happy with her life, and the fact that all of her dreams have come true. Not only is she in a fun TV series with a positive message about diversity and self-acceptance and she is happily married, but she also got to share the screen with her idols Carol Burnett and Olivia Newton John.
This was a fun read--absorbing and interesting. Lynch seems like she would be a fascinating person to have to dinner. (less)
After delivering a commencement address, Katie Couric got the idea to gather commencement addresses and other advice from various celebrities, politicians, athletes, military commanders, philanthropists, and businesspeople. She opens each section with an anecdote from her own life...about her own childhood, how she got into television, losing her husband to cancer, raising her daughters, and being criticized for her work on the CBS Evening News.
I have always liked Couric, even though others have criticized her "perkiness." But I like perky. She's upbeat, energetic, friendly, and dynamic...the kind of person I'm naturally drawn to. She might be perky, but she's got guts, ambition, persistence, and drive!
I enjoyed it, and found some of the essays to be more powerful than others. A few I scanned over (such as the ones from some of the athletes and comedians). I read about the founding of the Blue Man Group and how the guys have used their fame for philanthropic purposes. I found myself nodding with Meryl Streep on the challenges female actors face and how females are conditioned to accept male protagonists but not so much the other way around. I was inspired by personal accounts of what prompted people to found charities that now help thousands or millions of people. I found myself dog-earing the pages to jot down fragments or quotes, including some that Couric used to open each section. Here are some the ones I liked:
"One person with passion is better than 40 people merely interested." --E.M. Forster
"Despite the obvious fault in the universe, it cannot be used as an excuse for not trying to be your best self. Instead, use unfairness as a starting point to be sure that your actions are the best you can muster, and find peace in navigating your time here with grace and humor whenever possible." --Valerie Plame
"Live is not so much what you accomplish as what you overcome." --Robin Roberts
"Acts of bravery don't always take place on battlefields. They can take place in your heart, when you have the courage to honor your character, your intellect, your inclinations, and yes, your soul by listening to its clean, clear voice of direction instead of following the muddied messages of a timid world." --Anna Quindlen
"Write down five things you love to do. Next, write down five things that you're really good at. Then just try to match them up! Revisit your list once a year to make sure you're on the right track." --Hugh Jackman
"Greatness is not found in possessions, power, position, or prestige. It is discovered in goodness, humility, service, and character." --William Arthur Ward
"Nobody ever erected a statue in honor of a critic." --John Wood
"You are carrying the future of America in your heart and your mind. So live your dreams and remember, whatever you choose to do with your life, you must also be a citizen of your country, your n ation, and our interdependent world. Because while our differences make life more fascinating, our common humanity matters more." --William J. Clinton
Fareed Zakaria, international affairs journalist and bestselling author, talked about how much fear and blame there is in the U.S. today, while people do not appreciate how lucky we are. "If you listen to the political discourse in America today, you would think that all our problems have been caused by the Mexicans of the Chinese or the Muslims. The reality is that we have caused our own problems. Whatever has happened has been caused by isolating ourselves or blaming others."
"Find a way to say yes to things. Say yes to invitations to a new country, say yes to meet new friends, say yes to learn something new. Yes is how you get your first job, and your next job, and your spouse, and even your kids. Even if it's a bit edgy, a bit out of your comfort zone, saying yes means that you will do something new, meet someone new, and make a difference. Yes lets you stand out in a crowd, be the optimist, see the glass full, be the one everyone comes to. Yes is what keeps us all young." --Eric Schmidt, Executive Chair of Google (less)
I first heard of Lisa Bloom when I read a fantastic article she wrote for the Huffington Post: "How to Talk to Little Girls." I knew I needed to read her book.
Bloom is the feisty, bright daughter of a feisty, bright mother, pioneering and well-known lawyer Gloria Allred. Allred trained her daughter well--to be an advocate for equality and to stand up for herself and the downtrodden.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part, "The Problem," delves into the question of why we are all so dumbed down nowadays, especially women. She talks about the U.S. chest beating that we are "number one," when in fact we are not...in so many areas. One of those areas is the status of women and the numbers of women who represent us in the political arena. Although conditions are better here for women than in many other countries, we are far from number one. The World Economic Forum's 2009 Global Gender Gap Reports puts us at #31 because of our women's "stagnation in the political empowerment index." And 80 nations surpass the U.S. in the percentage of women holding elective office. You read that right: instead of being Number One, we lag behind 80 nations!
Why are we not up in arms about this? We're too busy spending a fortune on cosmetics and plastic surgery, reading about celebrity gossip, and watching reality TV shows. Wasting our lives away. (When I say "we," I'm referring to Americans in general and women in particular.)
As Bloom discusses, we devalue education, proudly read books that proclaim "Cooking for Dummies," and are more likely to know who Katy Perry is than who is the prime minister of Canada.
For example, take U.S. Weekly or Yahoo's web site, OMG! Bloom reports that U.S. Weekly had 800,000 subscribers in 2003, and now has nearly 2 million. Yet they estimate about 10 readers per subscriber, as many offices, nail salons, and gyms carry the magazine.
According to Bloom's statistics, in 2007 American women averaged $12,000 per year on cosmetics and salon purchases (and 42 percent of the worldwide total). I find that number to be truly staggering! We should be socking that money away for our retirement, or traveling around the world. Now that is really showing how dumb we are.
Bloom is a passionate vegetarian, and she makes an excellent case for us all to go meatless. I knew that raising livestock contributed to climate change, but she quotes a 2006 report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that concluded that worldwide livestock farming is the #1 cause of climate change...more than all the cars, trains, planes, and boats in the world. The more meat we eat, the more we are degrading our planet.
As a legal analyst and reporter, Bloom talks about how much time she has been forced to cover missing stories of "pretty white girls," and if a missing child is not white or pretty, or even male, the media will not cover the story. This was not true in Oregon when Kyron Horman went missing over a year ago...but many made the excellent case that his story got way more attention than those of missing children of color. Not that we shouldn't care about Kyron Horman, but shouldn't we also care about all the children who go missing? Why don't we care as equally passionately about all the children sold into prostitution around the world? The U.S. media only wants to cover the "pretty white girls," and the American population are drawn to those stories, in a horrific Catch-22.
In another absurd example of our bizarre focus on the celebrity culture, Bloom discusses all the amazing humanitarian and philanthropic work Angelina Jolie has done throughout her career. But what makes the news? Her relationship with Brad Pitt and her supposed fights with Jennifer Aniston. Or Jolie's former nanny who says she's a neglectful mother. Or what she wore yesterday or where she vacationed. That's all people seem to care about...not the fact that she started working on behalf of refugees in 2000...has visited countries ravaged by poverty such as Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Cambodia, Pakistan, Namibia, and Kenya. She's even visited asylum seekers here in the U.S.
I'm sure that Jolie realizes that she can attract more attention to her cause by giving the public what it wants. Just a few days ago she got the media all excited by saying that what she was most excited about that evening (after the Golden Globes) was to go home to bed with Brad. Celebrities are narcissistic. Yes. But in the case of Angelina Jolie, there's more to her than meets the eye. But does the American public care? No, it doesn't seem to.
Jumping in to Part 2, Bloom gives us her recommendations for reclaiming our brains...such as carving out time in our lives to think, make simple food for your family and don't kill yourself by slaving over meals for hours, and hire someone else to do your housework (even if you have to cut corners elsewhere) so you can reserve time for yourself. She's very adamant on the housecleaner front, and of course I ask myself, what about the option to just not live in a perfectly clean house all the time?
She seems to have a very relaxed, funny parenting style...for example, interpreting "I'm bored!" as "How may I be of assistance?"
"Oh great!" I said, eagerly. "Here's a list of things for you to do. Start with cleaning your room. Next, wash the windows. There's some crud baked on to this pan that really needs a good scrubbing to get it off. Did you rewrite that homework assignment to bring up your grade? How's that thank you to Grandma coming along? Honey? Where'd you go?" I've already begun applying this technique. Yesterday when my 15-year-old complained about loading the dishwasher, I began to give him a list of all the things I planned to get done that evening, and I told him he could help me with those if he wanted to. Worked like a charm.
She's adamant about not allowing kids into your bed. Well, it's a good thing I'm confident in my own parenting philosophy to know what to ignore and what to take in. I still have a five-year-old who crawls into bed with me around 6:15 a.m., and he usually comes downstairs and sleeps on our floor until then (but not in our bed). It won't last forever, and I do love my morning cuddles. I suppose Bloom wouldn't have approved of my nursing through the night when my babies were little, but I don't care. I was a working mom, and it helped me bond with my kids.
Bloom exhorts women to READ constantly, and the good stuff. Clearly, I agree with that advice, although it also shocks me to read that 80 percent of Americans did not read a book last year. She has tons of reading recommendations, many of which (but not all) I've already read. She's a big fan of Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl DuWunn, as am I, and has a reading list in the appendix.
She tells us to use our newfound time and knowledge to take care of our lives. Look things up if you're curious. Exercise. Have more sex! Hang out with girlfriends--they are great for your health (as is the sex!). Volunteer in your community and take a stand.
Finally, Bloom talks about how lucky we are to live in the good ol' US of A, with the freedoms we have and the privilege. We need to take advantage of these things and BACK AWAY from the cotton candy nutritionless junk food media. I certainly have been more careful not to click on the tabloid-style internet news since reading this book. What a waste of time it all is. Think! (less)
A few weeks ago I heard Barbara Roberts on Oregon Public Broadcasting's morning show, Think Out Loud, talking about her new memoir. In her lively, genuine way, she spoke about the highlights of her time as governor and also discussed her upbringing. I knew I wanted to read her book, so I put it on hold at the library.
Roberts is a fascinating woman. Raised primarily in a small Oregon town (Sheridan), she grew up in a blue collar family filled with love and respect. Unlike many women of her generation, she never received the message that she was anything "less than" as a woman. However, even though she was very successful in high school, it never occurred to her (and no one encouraged her) to go on to college. She got married before she graduated from high school, and soon she found herself living and lonely in Texas (married to a soldier) and pregnant.
When her older son Mike was five or six, she began to realize something was wrong...she took him to a specialist, who pronounced him to be "extremely emotionally disturbed" and recommended that he be institutionalized (he is autistic). She refused to accept this label, but because no services were offered (much less required) for these types of kids, she ended up admitting him to a residential school, the Parry Center, where he stayed for three years. When they brought him home, she was able to get him into a special ed program in the Parkrose School District (which was being offered via a three-year grant). When the grant was going to expire, Roberts became a lobbyist to fight for the program to be extended. Oregon was the first state in the country to offer special ed services to kids who need them. A federal law was not passed until four years later. After achieving success, she joined the Parkrose School Board and eventually the Multnomah Community College Board. At the same time as her political ambitions began to grow, her young marriage began falling apart.
Soon she was a single mother raising two sons and working full-time as a bookkeeper, and working on the school boards at the same time. She got to know Oregon state senator Frank Roberts and soon married him, even though he was 21 years her senior.
She was elected as state representative, then secretary of state, and then finally governor; she was the first democratic secretary of state Oregon had seen in 100 years, and she was the first woman governor in Oregon ever. She came from behind to defeat well-known and popular candidate, Dave Frohnmayer.
What amazed me the most about this book was how much tragedy and angst was behind Roberts' cheerful exterior. Her sister lost a 2-month baby in a car accident. When Roberts became secretary of state, her husband was healthy. By the time she ended her term, he had survived two bouts with cancer and a heart attack and lost use of both legs (because of the chemo damaging a nerve in his spine). Her beloved father died just scant months before she was elected governor. Two and a half years into her governorship, her husband's cancer returned and he was given 1 year to live. He wanted to keep it a secret so he could finish out the legislative session, so they carried on as best as they could without people knowing. He died in the last year of her term. At the same time, her sister was diagnosed with cancer. Later her mother died, her son nearly died in a motorcycle accident, and her beloved best friend died of a brain tumor. Throughout it all, Roberts worked hard and showed a cheerful face to Oregonians. I don't know how she did it.
I couldn't help but think of Barack Obama while reading this book. Like Obama who has been saddled with a failing economy, Roberts was handed two huge burdens on the day she was elected: Ballot Measure 5, which was the first property tax measure to gut Oregon's economy and services, and a split legislature. As she tried to cut spending so that they could pass a budget, she took crap on every side. People blamed her for not getting more done, but she was fighting uphill battles, just like Obama. I won't go into the details of what she accomplished in office, but given the hand she was dealt with, she did many great things as governor.
Current governor John Kitzhaber does not come out very well. Kitzhaber, then the head of the Oregon senate, announced he was challenging Roberts for governor while her husband--and his colleague--was dying of cancer. In his characteristically "icy" way, he announced his decision and didn't stay to discuss it or ask how her husband was doing. He just walked off.
Two other things struck me about this book:
•Barbara Roberts is unfailingly honest, direct, and ethical. She does not shy away from admitting her mistakes or fighting for a controversial issue...whether if be the Spotted Owl, gay rights, feminism, abortion rights, AIDS, social justice, the death penalty, or any other topic. I admire her honesty and courage in standing up for what she believes in.
•She did it all without a college degree. After she retires from politics (again)--right now she's serving on the Metro council--she plans to finish her education. Clearly, she is extremely bright, articulate, and a natural leader to accomplish everything she has without a degree. I was tempted to give the book four stars, because as a woman and a leader, Roberts is inspirational and amazing. But as a book, it is not the highest-quality memoir. Roberts' writing is a bit pedantic, and she uses the passive voice a lot. She also seemed to want to document every detail of her political life, and at times she should have left some of the details (and names) out for the sake of her (non-political junkie) readers.
But I'm glad I read this book. Roberts was a trailblazer in so many ways...from advocating for her special needs son when no one else would...to believing she could be governor and making it happen. (less)
I adore John Lithgow. My husband and I saw him perform in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" on Broadway a few years ago, and we both laughed out loud during every episode of "Third Rock from the Sun."
Lithgow had me tearing up during the introduction to his memoir, when he shared a poignant tale about taking care of his elderly father during an illness. His love and admiration for his father, who was a Shakespearean director and teacher, created the impetus for this book and Lithgow's one-man show, Stories by Heart.
He takes us through his actor's life, starting with childhood and up through his recent experiences. Much of the book centered on his formative years as he was just starting out as an actor in plays directed by his father. Articulate and funny, Lithgow is a wonderful storyteller. I could not put this book down.
I found this book especially fascinating given the period of my life, as my 8-year-old is rehearsing for his first professional theater performance. One evening I read the book while waiting in the theater lobby for Kieran while listening to the shouting and singing overhead.
Lithgow actually wanted to be an artist, but acting chose him. This line particularly resonated with me during this time in my family's life: "If you hear enough applause and laughter at a young enough age, you are doomed to become an actor. After my performance as the young damsel-in-distress, my fate was probably sealed."
Even though Kieran's worn out at the moment from play rehearsals five days a week, I have a feeling that his fate will be sealed, too, once he starts performing five shows a weekend beginning next Friday. That applause and laughter will seal his fate.
Another time I cried while reading Lithgow's book was when he shared that he and his first wife had a premature baby who died shortly after birth. I am deeply touched each time I read about someone who has had a preemie or a medically fragile child. "I experienced the first genuine tragedy in my life. Jean gave birth to a son nine weeks early. For a few hours the little boy struggled for life and then gave up the ghost. It was a devastating loss for both of us."
Lithgow wrote about how his father found it too difficult to comfort him. "My mother was deeply comforting. My little sister wept compassionate tears. Actors in the company clasped me in long, heartfelt embraces. I honestly cannot remember my father registering the slightest reaction." I remember people in my own life who could not fathom what to say to us while we endured our own premature baby crisis (even though in our case our baby lived)...or later lived through repeated miscarriages. As our dear friend Doug says, "Grief reorders your address book."
Another thing I admired about this book was that Lithgow did not use names when he had less-than-pleasant reports about any of his theater colleagues. Gracefully, he used pseudonyms to protect people's reputations.
He writes about the mistakes he made...for example, getting married too early and suffering through adolescence in his 30s, leading to the death of his first marriage...and starting up a theater company without knowing what he was doing...and throughout it all, he weaves through the themes of family and lifelong learning and growth.
I would dearly love to see Lithgow on stage again someday. In the meantime, I'll have to satisfy myself with rewatching some of his old movies, and perhaps some of his new roles as well. (less)
Firoozeh Dumas is an Iranian-American married to a Frenchman, and now a writer, speaker, and mom of three. A few years ago, I enjoyed reading her first book, Funny in Farsi, a collection of stories about moving to the U.S. as a child and viewing life through an immigrant family's eyes. Laughing Without an Accent is more focused on Dumas' recent years in the U.S.
Dumas shares stories about the difficulties of getting her first book translated into Persian (in Iran, the author has no quality control over translations of their work; her courtship with her husband, who she met in college; a Tina Fey moment, when she berated a woman for allowing her dog to poop in her front yard, only to find out later that she was her children's new school principal; the stories of mother guilt (not confined to Jewish mothers) and the difficulty of turning down a parental present, even if it's awful; her decision to get rid of her family's TV (and her son's ignorance about Toys 'R Us--not a bad thing!); a funny Christmas when her husband tried valiantly to please her parents with a gourmet Christmas meal; and her view of farmers markets as near-religious experiences.
I enjoyed reading about attending an office clearance sale with her resourceful-to-a-fault, thrifty dad, who insisted on buying a few enormous desks without regard to how they were going to get the desks home, much less into the house.
As an avid library lover, I adored the story about how Dumas grew up in a family without books and only got to visit the library when a teacher advised it (her parents always obeyed teachers!). She could not believe that she would be able to take out books for free, so she took her purse with her, ready to pay for the book. “Ever since we had arrived in the United States, my classmates kept asking me about magic carpets. They don't exist, I always said. I was wrong. Magic carpets do exist. But they are called library cards.”
Some reviewers have criticized Dumas for lumping all Americans together. I say hogwash and they need to lighten up. She writes about the independent, outspoken Iranian women she knows who are hidden under hijab, contrasted with the over-the-top skimpy attire in American culture: "I wish to see the day when no woman is forced to wear a hijab, chador, or burqa, but let us not discount the women underneath those mandatory coverings. If empowerment were as simple as being able to show skin, Paris Hilton would be the most enlightened woman in the United States. Having freedom does not automatically mean we all make good choices. Freedom is a rope; some make a ladder out of it and climb out of the box they're put in; some make a noose; and others make a stripper's pole." Yes, she's opinionated about the likes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, but she's not saying all Americans are like them.
At times she does contradict herself a bit, such as when she talks about how great Iranian schools are (were), yet how the first time she ever had a nurturing teacher was in the U.S. I would have liked to have read more about her relationship with her husband: how do they merge their French and Iranian cultures, traditions, and religions?
Most touching were stories about how tough it was to be an Iranian-American in 1979 during the hostage crisis, constantly hearing the "Bomb Iran" parody on the radio, and how recently she got to know Kathryn Koob, one of the female hostages. She ends with a story about how Koob took her all over her Iowa hometown, embracing her as a friend. And she ends with these thoughts, on the subject of reconcilation (one of my favorite topics):
"The bible is foreign to me, but its concepts are not. My father always said that hatred is a waste and never an option. He learned this growing up in Ahwaz, Iran, in a Muslim household. I have tried my best to pass the same message to my children, born and raised in the United States. Ultimately, it doesn't matter where we learn that lesson. It's just important that we do." Amen. (less)