Here is my friend Jen Locke’s idea of hygge. Enjoy!
Here is my friend Jen Locke’s idea of hygge. Enjoy!
I think one of the first reasons why I became a feminist is because of Gloria Steinem. To be honest, it wasn’t due to her tireless work on behalf of women’s rights, committed activism towards other causes, and her exceptional writing. It was because I thought she was so pretty with her long streaked hair, her mini-skirts and her trendy aviator sunglasses.
You’ll have to forgive me…I was around seven years old at the time.
Of course, I’m now a grown woman and my love and admiration for Steinem goes beyond her looks. She is so much more than a fashionable feminist (yes, we do exist). So I was overjoyed when my friend Nora gave me a copy of Steinem’s latest book My Life on the Road. I thoroughly adore Steinem’s past books like Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions and Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem. And I’ve been reading Ms. Magazine since middle school. To this day my nickname for Steinem is “Cool Auntie.”
Living a life on the road as an activist, speaker and writer came naturally to Steinem. Her father was a traveling salesman so it’s in her DNA. As a young woman Steinem spent time studying in India. Her career as a journalist had her traveling all over interviewing and covering all kinds of topics whether it be going undercover as a Playboy Bunny or interviewing the likes of Cesar Chavez. Always an activist Steinem was drawn to feminism, acting tirelessly for the rights for women whether it be access to their reproductive rights or issues they may face in the workplace. She helped create Ms. Magazine and has been a dominating force of feminism for decades, not only inspiring women around her own age but also inspiring women young enough to be her daughters and granddaughters.
“Wandering Organizer” is just one way Steinem defines herself and to me this book proves just that. Her life on the road has influenced her in a multitude of ways, especially in the world of politics. She also admits how being a wandering organizer has influenced her physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. And her travels makes for one hell of a read.
Steinem was at the 1963 March on Washington when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.” She worked on the behalf of farm workers. She campaigned for Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.She was also a big supporter of Hillary Clinton in both 2008 and 2016.
She’s worked along with activists Florynce Kennedy, Dolores Heurta, and Wilma Mankiller. She admits her relationship with Betty Friedan was less than cordial. She joined forces with Generation X feminists like Amy Richards. And now millennial feminists are discovering Steinem and her work. Now in her 80s, Gloria is still traveling, writing and speaking.
Every essay is written in a down-to-earth, yet moving way. She is a powerful voice but one that never seems intimidating. She fully admits things weren’t always rosy on her travels. She dealt with a lot of backlash, especially from the radical right, but kept on fighting on the behalf of not just women, but society as a whole.
I found all her essays fascinating, turning each page as Steinem went on her amazing journey. Her life on the road would make for one hell of a movie. One chapter of My Life on The Road would make for one hell of the movie.
This novel is an impressive and mind blowing account of the people, places and things Steinem encountered on her travels. At times I felt like I needed an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of it all. I feel fortunate to have learned more about this brave and inspirational woman. As with Steinem’s other books My Life on the Road is a must-read for all feminists, one to be visited again and again.
Several days ago I asked for my readers’ definition of hygge the Danish concept of happiness, joy and contentment. Here are my friend Tari’s thoughts.
“My kids, while sometimes a source of worry and frustration, make me laugh harder than anyone else in my life. I love going to the movies, usually alone so I can really lose myself in the story (except superhero movies, we all go together for those). Singalongs, quotealongs, pub trivia. The symphony makes me cry every time, but in the best of ways. Looking at art, whether in a museum, gallery, or on the street. Really good, creative food. Clean sheets. My purring cat. Meeting people I respect, both in and out of the public eye. Writing, of course – something I can’t not do. Delicious wine. Having a car – something I did NOT have for 3 years. A beautiful fragrance. A flattering outfit. Having a good hair day. When I know the answer to something nobody else does. Someone noticing when I work hard on something. When it’s 70 degrees outside. A clean kitchen. Comfy shoes and fuzzy slippers. Yoga pants. My Xmas tree that I leave up all year.”
2016 was an immensely difficult year for me and so many others. And as 2017 rolls along I still feel a certain sadness personally, professionally and politically. And I’m not the only one. So it was truly a blessing to find Meik Wiking’s book The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living.
Hygge (pronounced “hue-guh”) is the concept of happiness, fulfillment, well-being, and contentment. Denmark is considered one of the happiest countries in the world, and Wiking is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen so needless to say, he knows what he is talking about.
And just what is hygge to Wiking and many of his fellow Danes? Well, a lot of it has to do with warmth and light, which is not surprising considering it can get pretty cold and dark in Denmark. Danes love their fireplaces and wearing comfy bulky sweaters. They also have a love of soft lighting from well-placed lamps and burning candles. Only the candles Danes prefer are unscented.
Danes also find hygge in togetherness, whether it’s with their families, friends or just their communities as a whole. Just connecting with a loving soul via actual human contact (not social media) can fill a Dane with contentment and joy.
One way Danes connect with through food and drink. Having tea or coffee with a cherished loved one is a great way to inspire hygge, and so is throwing a dinner party or having a potluck with friends. In The Little Book of Hygge Wiking generously shares some beloved recipes, which as a total foodie I can’t wait to try out. And I now for myself, one way I connect with others is through my love of baking (my sugar mint cookies should be declared a national treasure).
Here are few thing the Danes feel are hygge:
I must say I agree with a lot of things on that list. I love to listen to music, and I often use it as a healing balm when I’m feeling a bit down. It’s no secret I love books (or else I wouldn’t have this blog). I love Sundays. I start off my Sundays watching one of my favorite TV programs CBS Sunday Morning, and then I head off to my church First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, where I am not only treated to a wonderful service, I also connect with a like-minded community. I adore my fur baby, Pokey Jones whose purrs and unconditional love fill me with hygge.
Other countries have their own concepts and words for hygge. Canadians call it hominess. In Norway it is called koselig. German’s call their concept of hygge (yes, Germans want to be happy, too) gemutlichkeit. What would I call hygge as an American? Well, I call it niceties.
Hygge is practiced all year around and Wiking mentions hygge for each Month. January is a great month for having movie nights. In March, you can have theme nights; my theme for the month of March? My birthday, of course! May is a great time for a week-end getaway to a cabin or maybe a lovely bed and breakfast place. Summer picnics are ideal in the month of July. Wiking inspires us to have soup cook-offs in November.
Hygge doesn’t have to be costly. Often they are free or very inexpensive. Wiking suggests making your own “Hygge Emergency Kit.” His suggestions for such a kit include candles, chocolate, your favorite tea, books, a collection of treasured hand-written letters, warm woolen sweaters, a notebook and pen, and music.
In the past few days I have been feeling sad with the state of our world and some personal issues I’m dealing with. But reading about hygge reminded me to think of good things that filled me with happiness and joy. The eclipse filled me with hygge, reminding how inspiring the galaxy can be and how one moment can fill the world with joy and wonderment. This morning I woke up to find a text and an IM from two friends, which lifted my spirits. I’m currently reading some good books. I made a fabulous meal last night. Heck, even a decent night’s sleep helped me feel hygge.
I truly loved The little Book of Hygge and am so grateful for Meik Wiking. This book and its ideas will inspire me for quite a long time. We should all feel and practice hygge.
Anybody familiar with my little corner of the Internet, knows I am a liberal. And I don’t feel any shame in that title. I’m very proud of it and it is one that I hold close to my heart…however…
I have been troubled by the ideas, opinions and actions by some of my fellow liberals for a few years now but never could I quite voice it in an articulate, yet simple way.
So thank goodness for Thomas Frank and his latest book, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? In Listen, Liberal, Frank pretty much sums it up in a way I couldn’t without coming across like a blithering idiot.
Perhaps, you’re not familiar with the name Thomas Frank, but undoubtedly you’ve heard of his books. He wrote the classic What’s the Matter With Kansas, a book that should be on most political-minded folks reading list no matter what your views. I can also recommend two of his other books—The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, and Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right.
This time out, instead of focusing on conservatives and the current state of the GOP, Frank focuses on his fellow liberals and the Democratic party, and his summary is not pretty.
In my life, I’ve always felt I straddled two worlds, not feeling entirely comfortable in either one. I was raised in a middle class home by two college educated parents. I graduated from an excellent college with the highest of honors. I have worked in the professional realm of media, high tech, consulting, finance, law and various creative endeavors. I have eaten brie and drink wine. I enjoy my city’s cultural landscape whether it be our local art galleries or our wonderful film fest.
However, I also grew up in a rural area. My family history is mostly wooden spoons, not silver spoons (my maternal grandmother never attended high school). I drove to high school in a pick-up truck where guys wore John Deere hats and spit up their chewing tobacco into the drinking fountains. As an adult I lived in roach-infested apartments in really dodgy neighborhoods. My feet have walked on factory shop floors and the floors of several retail establishments. I have worked as a temp for longer than I care to admit. I’ve been poor, really poor, so poor I’ve eaten out of garbage cans and spent sleepless nights wondering if I’m going to end up homeless.
And in both of the worlds, I’ve felt marginalized and misunderstood. I am fully liberal, but today’s flavor of liberal (which favors the first world I noted) doesn’t quite understand the life I’ve lived in the second scenario I noted. And we’re worse off for not realizing this.
For the longest time, the Democratic base included many of those who work blue collar, pink collar and other assorted non-professional, managerial type of labor. Then something happened. This base of working class Jacks and Janes were cast aside for a more elitist class, which included those with college degrees (often post-undergrad) degrees, impressive job titles and even more impressive incomes. These elites are under the illusion that many of them earned their way to the top through mostly their merits. And though many of them had, a lot of them also had supportive families, good connections, went to the best schools, and were able to grab the brass ring of internships, and later great jobs. And a lot of their good fortune is due to just plain good luck.
Now many of these elitist liberals are socially liberal (which is wonderful). But they often ignore the plight of the working and service classes, the gulf between the haves and have nots, those living in rural areas, globalization, and the stagnation of wages (while CEO pay is through the roof).
As I mentioned, a lot of elitist liberals believe their success is due to merit, their talents, smarts, skills, and education. And sadly, many of these people look down at the “others.” Clearly they don’t have what it takes to succeed. It’s total snobbery.
What these liberals (and their “liberal gilt”) need to recognize is the great unwashed, the salt of the earth must be taken seriously. This includes their ideas, concerns, opinions, fears and aspirations. All of us have a stake in our country and its future. There is strength in numbers and those Democrats in power must listen to all of us (so far only Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and not to mention pundit Robert Reich seem to be open to doing this).
Sure, meritocracy is a nice concept. But so is a sense of empathy. Listen Liberal implores liberal elites to stop being such snobs, open their minds, hearts, and souls to those they think as “lesser” to make effective change that works for all of us.
Not too long ago, the lovely people from Eventbrite burned up some cyberspace and contacted me on writing about my ideal book panel discussion featuring my favorite authors and/or characters. I Googled Eventbrite to see if it was legit or not. Looking pretty darn legit, I quickly contacted them and said I’d love to do it, just give me some time to figure out what authors and/or characters I’d like to have on my panel.
Saying yes to this project was the easy part…coming up with authors and characters was quite another. There are so many authors and characters I adore and nearly worship. I would need a round table as large as Lambeau Field to house them all. What authors and characters do I pick? There are times when just picking out what earrings to wear on a particular day is a monumental task.
First I decided to pick authors only. And then I decided the authors would all be women. This is no slap at the male authors I adore or men in general. It’s just four authors popped into my lady brain and they just happened to be women.
What else does a panel discussion need? Well, moderators, of course! We can’t let this discussion run amok, right? Now who would I choose to moderate (well, besides me, of course). I immediately thought of my favorite journalist, Bill Moyers, a lovely gentleman whose curious, thoughtful and empathetic interviewing style would be perfect for this panel and our sure to be scintillating discussion.
Afterward the panel discussion I’d host a post-discussion casual meet and greet for the authors and the audience. I’ll even bring snacks.
Following are the principle players in the Book Self’s First Women of Words: A Celebration (and Potluck).
Moderators: Bill Moyers-see pic (and me, of course)
Audience: Men and women who love to read (and maybe even write). I’d pretty much invite fellow bookworms who have a mad love of the written word.
Special VIPs: My mom who got me to read in the first place and introduced me to the wonders of libraries and book stores. My friends, both in my off-line universe, and those I adore via the Internet. They include long-time friends Nora and Elaine Takagi, Jen Locke, Rosie Blythe, Cobalt Stargazer and Tari. I chose these ladies because they are talented writers who have written guest reviews at both my blogs, have blogs themselves and are just incredibly talented writers as a whole.
As for the potluck I’m providing post-discussion and during the meet and greet? Well, I’d offer various types of cookies and brownies, including my treasured sugar mint cookies and dark chocolate brownies with a sea salt caramel glaze, chocolate chip cake, zesty pretzels, various chips and dips including my goat cheese dip, veggie with dill dip, guacamole, hummus and salsa, fruit and veggie platters, a tasty cheese plate with homemade crackers, and various liquid refreshments including my mom’s Brandy Smash.
As I mentioned, I selected four distinct ladies of letters-Judy Blume, Dorothy Parker, Roxane Gay and Caitlin Moran. The following are reasons why I want them on my panel:
How could I not have my discussion and not feature Judy Blume? When I was a mere lass feeling like a 4th grade nothing, battered by bullying, confused by puberty, and vowing to never name my future male offspring Ralph, Judy was the Man…I mean Woman!!! Whereas other writers wrote about tweens and teens in a way that were both saccharine and unrealistic, Judy wrote about the adolescent experience in realistic ways, which never sugarcoated the issues we faced whether it was getting our periods, sex and masturbation, schoolyard bullying, family strife, religion and social issues. She knew these distinct moments in our lives were of monumental importance and treated the topics and her readers with so much respect.
No panel discussion of mine would be complete with the ghost of Dorothy Parker, whose poetry continues to inspire me. However, I must admit I was initially not a fan of Parker’s. I first heard of Parker when, as an insecure, bespectacled pre-teen, I read her line saying, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Stomping in my Nike sneakers, I thought to myself, “What a mean lady!” But it wasn’t long before I realized the Divine Dorothy was just being snarky and probably pitying those men who didn’t quite get the erotic allure of a girl in glasses. I’m now a huge fan of Parker’s and I consider her to be the patron saint of all witty women too smart for their damn good. How could I not invite her to Women of Words.? You know she’d have plenty to say, and she’d love the Brandy Smash!
Then there are two of my favorite writers I have recently grown to appreciate who are not only fabulous writers, but who are also very proud to claim the word feminist. These women are Roxane Gay and Caitlin Moran. Both of these women write about the female experience, with clarity, wisdom and richness fully capturing the beauty and ugliness of what it means to be a female in the 21st century. Both Bay and Caitlin have written non-fiction and fictional books that are near and dear to my heart. Both Gay’s collection of short stories in Difficult Women and Moran’s novel How to Build a Girl received rave reviews by the Book Self. And their individual collection of essays, Bad Feminist and Moranifesto are two feminist-minded must-reads.
This discussion could also be a way for Gay to promote her memoir Hunger, which chronicles her experience as a survivor of a gang rape and how it led her to using food as an escape, comfort and shield. Interestingly enough, in Moranifesto Moran tells men two things they need to know about women one is we fear them, that they will hurt us physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This topic alone could make for a very intriguing and mind-blowing discussion.
However, I want this to be so much more! So even though I want this to be a free floating discussion of writing, I also have some questions Moyers and I could throw out to the panel. They are as follows:
After the panel discussion we’d have a Q & A session where the audience gets to ask the panel their own questions.
Later, we’d sum up the occasion with a casual meet and greet/potluck. However, we’d have to tell Dorothy Parker she has to smoke outside and keep her from bogarting the Brandy Smash.
I must admit I had fun writing this and I’m so happy Eventbrite asked me to be a part of this. I also realized there is so much I want to discuss with these ladies that it might take up more than one session. We could make this a week-end event!
Eventbrite offers great book-related events all over. If you ‘d like to find a book event near you check out this registration online tool.
I became a fan of Roxane Gay when I first saw her speak at Boswell Book Company about her book, the part memoir/part assortment of essays, Bad Feminist. Bad Feminist blew me away so when I found her latest release, a collection of short stories called Difficult Women, I just knew I had to read it. I hoped Gay’s singular voice in writing non-fiction would translate into writing fiction.
I am glad to say I am not disappointed. Gay is a writer who fully recognizes the complex lives of women’s truth, from the most of grand experiences to the tiny minutiae that make of their daily lives (and ours). Some live in impressive privilege and others dreary lives of poverty.
Difficult Women is made of 21 stories, dissimilar yet fully connected. The opening chapter “I Will Follow” is about two sisters who were abducted as children and experienced deplorable acts. The sisters’ past makes them eerily, yet touching connected well into adulthood as they follow each other all over the country. Even though these sisters (by society’s standards) should have staked out their own separate lives, I understood how this might be nearly impossible for them.
The title story “Difficult Women” Gay defines “loose,” “frigid,” “crazy” women along with mothers and dead girls through vividly written definitions and descriptions:
Just what does a loose woman see when she sees herself in a mirror? “Nothing. She doesn’t look. She doesn’t need to. She knows exactly who she is.”
Where does a frigid women go at night? “There are places for people with secrets and she has secrets, so many of them that sometimes they threaten to choke her. She goes to the places for people with secrets for people with secrets and there she waits.”
What happens when crazy women snap? “She is sitting at her desk, working late, when her boss hulks his way into her office, sitting too close, on the edge of her desk, taking up space in the way men do. He stares down her blouse and it’s the presumption in the way he doesn’t hide his interest that makes her hold the sharp letter opener in the cool of her hand.”
As for mothers? Well, mothers can only be described in their roles as mothers on from what she sees in her child’s face to how she loves.
Dead girls, you are now wondering? What about them? Well, they are dead. How do you define them? Are they more interesting? Do you find them beautiful?
Another story I adored is Gay’s fable-like “Requiem for a Glass Heart.” In this story the wife is made entirely of glass, her husband is fully-human. The glass wife is smooth, hairless, and transparent. Day after day she takes care of child also made of glass. The husband has matted chest hair and calloused hands who earns his money as a stone thrower. He also has a mistress on the side, one made fully of flesh and blood. Does the glass wife know about the mistress? She just might. Perhaps being made of glass doesn’t quite this woman as transparent as she may initially seem….
Other stories are complete stand-outs—“North Country,” “Bad Priest,” and “Best Features” quickly come to mind. But to be honest, every single story in Difficult Women is so remarkable that choosing a favorite is quite, well, difficult.
As I came to Difficult Women’s close, I found myself not only thinking of Gay’s voice as a visionary writer, but how these stories played out like mini-movies in my mind’s eye. Difficult Women would make for a great TV series, perhaps all the stories adapted by female screenwriters and directed by female directors. Or maybe in an interesting twist, some stories adapted by male screen writers and directed by male directors.
But alas, Difficult Women is for now, is a book, one I implore difficult women everywhere (and the beguiled men who love them) to read.
Several weeks ago I came up with a new idea for this blog I call Book Club. Book Club is where I ask my readers and friends their opinions when it comes to books, writing, authors, and writing. Because April is National Poetry Month I asked a few of my friends to answer a few questions regarding poetry. Here are the initial questions I asked:
Poetry is very meaningful to me. It is where all the wordsmiths come together to shine. It is like the “Auto Show of Literature.” I call it the Auto Show because basically, you see cars every day, ordinary cars, rusty cars, different brands, these cars are not extraordinary, just useful and functional. Then you get invited to the “Auto Show”… and the cars there are shiny, luxurious, top- of- the-line in design and function, futuristic, out-of-worldly, gorgeous colors, every detail is amazing and breathtaking! That is how I view poetry … amazing and breathtaking.
What I like about most poetry and poets is that there is a very human and urgent need to use words to describe universal feelings and expressions. Poets are usually ordinary folks who take an extraordinary “look” at what everyone knows and wants. That’s why the meaning of most poems doesn’t feel dated.
Some of my favorite poets are:
Charles Bukowski: If you ever wanted to feel “cool” and bask in the sun of “loser-dom” without actually living the pain, Bukowski is your man. He puts you right there and you see the details of the life of the loner, the drunk, the misfit, the bored, the angry, the sad, and you love his poems for the accuracy and you kinda hate and despise him too. He’s disgusting to you, but you are grateful to him because you get to live through him without gettingyour hands dirty. He creates a small beauty in all of his muck.
Here is Bukowski’s poem about his daughter. It’s called, “Marina.”
my little girl is
on the carpet –
out the door
picking a flower, ha!,
an old man,
emerges from his
and she looks at me
but only sees
ha!, and I become
quick with the world
and love right back,
just like I was meant
Bobby Sands: (Irish Republican soldier who died in 1981 from hunger in jail after 66 days of starving. He was protesting against the oppressive British forces who refused to recognize him as a political prisoner, instead of a common criminal).
Bobby Sands is a total romantic character for me. I used to read his writing when I was a younger girl. I didn’t really know the particulars or could personally relate to the circumstances of his plight as an IRA soldier, but I could definitely relate to his feelings of being oppressed and confined and written off. Plus, his need to express himself forced him, in his prison cell, to write on little bits of toilet paper with a pen that he had to hide in one of his personal body cavities. That is a strong statement on the human need to be heard and what a person would do in order to be heard!
Here is one of my favorite poems of his called “Modern Times”:
It is said we live in modern times,
In the civilized year of ‘seventy-nine,
But when I look around, all I see,
Is modern torture, pain, and hypocrisy.
In modern times little children die,
They starve to death, but who dares ask why?
And little girls without attire,
Run screaming, napalmed, through the night alive.
And while fat dictators sit upon their thrones,
Young children bury their parents’ bones,
And secret police in the dead of night,
Electrocute the naked woman out of sight.
In the gutter lies the black man, dead,
And where the oil flows blackest, the street runs red,
And there was He who was born and came to be,
But lived and died without liberty.
As the bureaucrats, speculators and presidents alike,
Pin on their dirty, stinking, happy smiles tonight,
The lonely prisoner will cry out from within his tomb,
And tomorrow’s wretch will leave its mother’s womb!
Only recently have I tried to write poetry, so it is a brand new skill for me. I think it never occurred to me to write it before was because of the way it was taught to me as a young student. I got the impression that poetry could only be written by people who were real writers or English majors, people who were scholarly and knew all the meters and rules of poetry. And all the poems we read were about love and they rhymed and used Old English or vocabulary that I couldn’t relate to or wrap my mind around. Poetry felt like calligraphy to me, beautiful to look at, but not necessarily useful for us common folks. Poetry was for those who wanted to impress, not express.
The lack of connection to Poetry pushed me towards the “song.” Song lyrics became more interesting and relevant to me and they were easier to understand. But lately, since songs to me these days involve instrumentation, musical genres and styles, more about persona and marketing, all this complicates the direct communication of words to ears to meaning. So with the modern day love of rap music and rappers are becoming modern day wordsmiths, the poem is making a comeback. Today’s poems have to be impactful, though, pointed, and most of all, socially conscious and reflect part of their listeners’ lives. Today’s poetry readers have to feel like the poet existed in their minds and said it in the way that they would have said it.
1) Poetry doesn’t seem to have rules. A poet can evoke any emotion by the fewest words, or the most. Poems are valuable to us in that we don’t necessarily need to understand them to ‘get’ them. They are visceral. Poetry is deeply personal, and can be a full-on attack, or a salve, or anything in-between. Poetry speaks to our singular life experiences, and opens our eyes to other’s. It can be brutally soul-baring, and it can be beautiful, all in the same poem.
2) Charles Bukowski and Emily Dickinson. One is raw like an open wound, the other is genteel, cultured. Both are brilliant, both are honest.
3) I don’t have a favorite from Bukowski. I’m electrified, repulsed, enlightened in some way by most of his work. Emily D never really liked titles, so people gave her poems numbers and used the first line as the title. Poem 314: Hope is the Thing With Feathers is by far my favorite. It’s inspirational and full of that very thing. Hope.
4) I have. Let’s just say I won’t make the mistake of thinking I could maybe ever do that again. So bad.
5) I hold poets, I mean really good poets, in the highest esteem. I believe their ability to cast a naked, unjaded eye and lay bare artifice is unparalleled. I wish I had the ability to turn a phrase like they do, to bend words to their will. As a fiction writer, I use words… poets conduct them.Their social commentary can be, and often is, invaluable and necessary, and it is always deeply rooted in humanity and human emotion, from whatever side they approach. I envy them, even as I celebrate them. I wish I could be them.
In the mood to read a collection of short stories rather than read a full-length novel, book of essays or work of non-fiction, I chanced upon Kathleen Collins’ small volume of stories Whatever Happened to Interracial Love at my local library. The book I held my hand was small and I figured it wouldn’t take much time to read it and therefore, I could quickly churn out another review in a short amount of time.
And yes, it didn’t take me long to read Collins work, only a few days given my personal and professional schedule. However, it did take me time to digest each and every story, which is probably why it took me some time to write this review. I found each of the stories invading my bloodstream and taking up space in my brain, heart and soul. Whatever Happened to Interracial Love made me look at some very thorny topics regarding race, gender, class, education, sex, money, and artistic expression. Sometimes reading is there just as entertainment, nothing wrong at that. But often reading is about learning and questioning the very society and culture we live in.
While reading Whatever Happened to Interracial Love I asked myself, “Just who is this Kathleen Collins? How come I never heard of her until I picked up her book?”
Kathleen Collins was born in 1942. She was educated at Skidmore and worked as a film maker and artist. Her film “Losing Ground” came out in 1982 focusing on the life of a black female professor navigating the shifty waters of academia and her marriage to a volatile, passionate artist who has his own demons to contend with. This forces the female protagonist to question her own choices and inspires her go on a journey to find her own version of ecstasy. This sounds like my kind of film and I can probably find it via the Internet for a nominal price.
However, it is Whatever Happened to Interracial Love that I must concentrate on, a book that was discovered recently and published last year, nearly 30 years Collins died of cancer.
It is 1963 in the title story and about two roommates living in New York City, one black, one white. The white roommate is a Sarah Lawrence graduate and works as a community organizer in Harlem. Her lover is a black poet. The other roommate is black and madly in love with a white Freedom Rider. She also spent time in jail while protesting down south.
Both roommates have to deal with the backlash of not quite fitting into the firm ideals of how they should conduct themselves as women and how their behavior might be unbecoming towards their separate race, and much of this comes from family members. They also find themselves questioning their choices both personally and politically.
Interracial love is also beautifully conveyed in “The Happy Family.” In this story a white man becomes acquainted with a loving black family while attending a civil rights rally while attending a church. He can’t help but be drawn to this particular family. His own family was severely dysfunctional and his new friends are kind, warm and inviting, everything his family is not. Plus, he is drawn to their intellectual ways and their commitment to social justice. He ends up falling in love one of the daughters and romance blooms between the young lovers. You can only hope that this romance will deepen and grow during a time of racial injustice and intricate family dynamics.
Getting below the surface and finding out the uncomfortable truth is the narrative of “The Uncle.” In this story a young girl is absolutely besotted with her handsome uncle and beautiful aunt. They seem to have the perfect marriage, one this young girl hopes to have herself. But as she gets to know them more and more, she soon learns of something isn’t quite right about the marriage, which makes them teeter on the pedestal she placed them upon.
So many stories in Whatever Happened to Interracial Love are linked by the themes of love, learning, questioning one’s choices and the choices of others during the rich tapestry of the civil rights movement.
Collins stories are more character-driven than plot-driven, and each character is written so full of richness and depth that I felt I knew these characters. At times their experiences resonated with me and sometimes they were very foreign, but no matter what, they were always compelling. Often I wondered about them after I finished a chapter. What did the future hold for these people?
Whatever Happened to Interracial love shows rather than tells. Collins delivers these short stories in visual elements that are quite striking, which must be due to her experience as a film maker.
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love is another book that stayed with long after I finished it. And it saddens me Collins died long before her book was published and before she could bless us with more of her work both on celluloid and on the written page.
It’s probably not a secret that I’m a fan of British pop culture critic, author, feminist and all-around cool British bird Caitlin Moran. Ms. Moran began writing about pop music when she was still a teenager growing up in a struggling family that lived in a council house and later hosted a TV show. Later Moran proved her feminist street cred via her funny, soul-searching, thought-provoking columns on everything from her budding sexuality as a teenager to her challenges combing marriage, child rearing and writing. She also writes about serious issues that affect women (and the men who love them) with the same aplomb she writes about pop culture. I’ve been a fan of hers ever since I picked up to of her earlier books Moranthology and How to Be a Woman. And her novel How to Build a Girl is a must read if you’ve ever been a teen-age girl (or, just human).
So when I found out Moran had released another book of essays, Moranifesto, I did a little jig in my leopard-spot flats and got myself a copy, which I can safely say is another feather in marvelous Ms. Moran’s chapeau! And it’s the perfect feminist elixir in a time of the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief, #marketplacefeminism, Brexit, the sad loss of pop culture icons like Bowie, and a host of other issues that affect women across the big pond and women who live in your neighborhood.
Moranifesto is divided into four distinct parts:
In The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live, Moran examines why her utter disdain for the late Margaret Thatcher to her despair over the death of David Bowie. She muses the hatred of her printer (always a letdown for writers on a strict deadline), famous people she has annoyed and taking a rather unpleasant ride through the streets of New York City. Her chapter on her love of bacon will resonate with anyone who thinks bacon is the food of the Gods. And I adored her essay on smells that remind us of childhood—our mother’s perfume, pencil shavings, calamine lotion, puppies, lilac trees—scents that make us a wee bit nostalgic for perceived simpler times when anything and everything seemed possible.
In Feminisms Moran pokes fun at her face, which she describes part potato, part thumb and asks why we have to make everything “sexy?” She implores us to find another word for rape, her support of Hillary Clinton, giving up high heels, the most sexist TV show called “Blachman,” the type of show I hope never makes our shores, and speaking of TV, spends a day with Lena Dunham on the set of “Girls.”
And in part three, Moran looks into her crystal ball to figure out the future. In this batch of musings she claims reading is fierce yet she thinks it’s okay if her children aren’t big readers. She validates the importance of libraries. She also gets serious discussing Syria and refugees. And when she muses about women who mess things up things for the rest of us you might find yourself nodding your head in agreement.
The fourth part of Moranifesto, the epilogue, is brief, yet probably the most important part of the book. The epilogue is a letter to Moran’s daughter Lizzie. In this letter, Moran is dead (yes, a wee bit morbid). Lizzie is about the turn 13 and Moran want to share some advice Lizzie might find useful. Moran tells Lizzie “try to be nice.” Niceness will always shine and bring people to you. Also, keep in mind that when you think you are on the verge of a nervous breakdown have a cup of tea and a biscuit (British term for cookie).
Other sage wisdom, choose friends in which you can be your true self and avoid trying to fix someone or avoid someone who thinks you need fixing. Though it may difficult in our shallow culture with its fixation on women’s outer shell, make peace with your body. Make people think you are amazing conversationalist by asking them questions; what they say might prove useful one day.
And probably the most powerful piece of Moran’s letter to Lizzie can be summed up in the following sentence.
“…life divides into AMAZING ENJOYABLE TIMES and APPALLINGEXPERIENCES THAT WILL MAKE FUTURE AMAZING ANECDOTES.”
Throughout Moranifesto, there are essays that really got under my skin, but I can’t really share why because they are way too personal; and at times, I need to keep certain experiences close to my vest. But to give you a sneak peak, these chapters include:
And some other interesting chapters I think a lot of women will find fascinating include:
So my lads and lasses, grab a cuppa (cup of tea), enjoy some fish and chips (or as we call it here in Wisconsin a Friday night fish fry with French fries), ring up your mates (call your besties), and keep calm and carry on (Netflix and chill). Caitlin Moran is back and better than ever!
P.S. Moran’s sister works at a perfume shop and she let Moran smell the fragrance David Bowie wore and Moran claimed it smelled of pineapple and platinum. Well, I know what pineapple smells like, but what about platinum? What does platinum smell like? I suppose it smells cool and metallic. But this Bowie were talking about. I bet it smells warm and ever ch, ch, ch, changing to whatever we desire. For me this would smell of a special amber oil in my possession, vanilla as I pour it into some cookie batter, a match after I blow it out, the lavender growing in a mug on my window sill, freshly made bread, the pages within a book, my mother’s chicken soup, and yes, bacon.