Readin’, Writin’ and Rantin’

To my readers, I know a majority of you are fully woke (or whatever the vernacular is called these days) and keep abreast of social issues. And in the age of #Metoo, #Timesup or as I like to call it The Days of Weinstein and Roses, you probably heard of a less than pleasant date and sexual encounter a young woman named “Grace” had with actor, stand-up comic and author Aziz Ansari (more on Mr. Ansari later).

This incident was first reported by Katie Way for the website Babe.net. Babe.net, a website whose existence I was not aware of until several days ago. You can read Way’s article here.

But to sum it up, Grace and Asiz went on a date. Later they went back to his place where they proceeded to have sex. Grace wasn’t exactly too enthused to have sex and expressed herself using both verbal and non-verbal cues. Aziz would stop and then proceeded in ways that are both awkward and icky.

Not surprisingly Way’s article, not to mention Babe’s existence, became the ultimate clickbait and was fodder for all kinds of media, including Jezebel.com, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Samantha Bee from “Full Frontal,” and TMZ.

One person who made her opinion on this article and the murky world of dating and sex, included legal analyst Ashleigh Banfield who made her opinion known, not just on the situation but on Babe.net and Katie Way.

With her feelings hurt, Way stomped her little feet and sent a childish, snot-nosed email, which insulted the color of Banfield’s hair and her burgundy lipstick. Way also insulted Banfield’s place in journalism. Banfield wasted no time responding to Way’s hissy fit in a way that made me cheer. Here it is:

Hey, Ms. Way, when you were eating paste, Banfield was proving her journalistic mettle from ground zero at the ruins of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Okay, Katie I’ll let you off easy for insulting Banfield’s looks and age. I’m not exactly fond of your some your generation’s use of vocal fry, up speak and thinking a quick tweet is the same of doing the hard work of fighting for women’s rights.

However, I must instruct you on Banfield being a product of second wave feminism. Banfield was a child during the heady days of second wave feminism. She came of age of the third wave a feminism, which included books like Susan Faludi’s Backlash and Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth. It was a time of Sassy magazine and when both Bust and Bitch were being launched by Generation X feminists. It was also a time of Riot Grrrl. It was a time when Generation X women were doing everything from starting their own bands to fighting for their reproductive rights. Such notable names when it comes to third wave feminism include Kathleen Hanna, Carrie Brownstein, Amy Richards, Jennifer Baumgardner, Liz Phair, Ani Di Franco, Margaret Cho, Janeane Garofalo, Jessica Valenti, Inga Muscio, Queen Latifah and Salma Hayek. It was a time of Lilith Fair, the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, movies like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and books like Cunt: A Declaration of Independence. And it pretty much kicked ass with a well-worn Doc Martin.

Furthermore, Katie. What is up with your solipsistic view that nobody under the age of 45 has heard of Ashleigh Banfield? Girl child learn your herstory. If I had told the advisor of my college newspaper I had never heard of women like Barbara Walters, Katherine Graham, Jane Pauley, Eleanor Clift, Nellie Bly, Linda Ellerbee, or Martha Gellhorn not only would I have been stripped of my title of editor I would have been kicked off the staff.

Now as for Aziz. As a fan of his, I must admit I am disappointed in his behavior if Grace’s story is true. He’s always come across as a male ally and totally feminist. But I find his behavior with Grace disturbing. It isn’t exactly rape or sexual assault, but it isn’t exactly the kind of behavior I would want from a man during sexy time. At best, he seems to a be a man in a state of arrested development who hasn’t built up the skills to decipher a woman’s words and gestures properly, which perhaps is something he should have a bit of handle on at 34 years old. At worst, he is rude and not respectful of a much younger woman with not as much life experience including when it comes to dating and sex. Aziz needs to keep that in mind.

As for Grace, part of me wants tell her to put on her big girl panties and tell her what she had was a bad date and regrettable sex. Next time be more assertive in her words and actions. Then I remind myself I’ve been in her situation and I forgot all about putting on my big girl panties and being assertive, too.

Relationships, even in our more enlightened times are still blurred. There is black and white, and murky shades of gray. Sexual situations often resemble a pot of noodles in various curlicues of confusion. And I hope as time goes on men and women will open up and discuss our individual experiences situations with compassion, mutual respect, open-mindedness, and a willingness to listen fully. I truly want all of us to get along.

 

Book Report: We Were Witches by Ariel Gore

It’s no secret I’m a fan of writer, author, teacher, activist and creator of the alternative parenting magazine Hip Mama Ariel Gore. Her memoir Atlas of the Human Heart is a favorite of mine. And I also love the non-fiction Bluebird and Gore’s primer on writing How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead.

Now Gore is back with another tremendous book, a novel called We Were Witches.

“My body is a curio shop.” – Ariel Gore from We Were Witches

We Were Witches is a creative blend of memoir and fiction. We Were Witches is about a struggling single mom named Ariel and her beloved daughter Maia.

Ariel is determined to better her life by getting a college education and working less than desirable work/study jobs in a post-Reagan world of “family values,” skimpy child support checks, a shitty ex, less than ideal parents and a safety net made of spider webs.

But Ariel does have a lot of things going for you including an excellent education, an oddball assortment of loving friends, her own creativity, resourcefulness and writing talent. Ariel also has a street smart wisdom, her feminist spirit animals and Maia’s unconditional love.

As We Were Witches unspools Ariel learns to embrace being a square peg and refuses to whittle herself into a round one.

Vividly written with passages I saw in mind’s eye (especially the one on Maia’s birth, which chilled me) We Were Witches is simply one of my favorite novels of the year!

Book Review: Perfect From Now On-How Indie Music Saved My Life’ by John Sellers

I have to admit I held a few reservations when I picked up music journalist John Sellers’ musical memoir Perfect From Now On: How Indie Music Saved My Life. I was afraid Sellers would be one of those hipster douchebro types bragging about eschewing mainstream pop for bands so obscure that even they don’t realize they exist. I was afraid Sellers would be a dry, humorless music fan who looks down his nose at people who watch The Voice or own a Madonna CD. But after reading Perfect From Now On, I realize that I had nothing to fear.

Sellers, a card carrying member of Generation X, chronicles his musical fandom from being forced to listen to Bob Dylan by his father to his almost religious following of the indie band Guided by Voices. And he does this with some good-natured humor, a conversational tone and exhausting lists on his musical musings.

By the time Sellers is a young teen, he is obsessed with music. And he’s not too cool to share some of the more embarrassing musical choices he made as a kid coming of age in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The first album he bought was by Sammy Hagar. He made up some dance moves to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration.” And he admits to scissor-kicking to Duran Duran’s “The Reflex.” I can relate to these embarrassing moments only too well. You think scissor-kicking to a Duran Duran song is bad? I once wrote a very long and tedious letter to Duran Duran bassist John Taylor where I told him my deepest secrets and feelings. Fortunately, I had enough sense never to send Mr. Taylor my teenage angst in written form.

By the time Sellers gets to the University of Michigan his musical tastes have evolved. He becomes a huge Smiths fan. And he also worships the short-lived band Joy Division and the band New Order, which formed in the wake of the suicide death of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis. Sellers is such a fan of New Order that he travels to England to see them in concert. And on the 25th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ death, he pays homage by getting really drunk and listening to Joy Division all day. For anyone who views music as something more than an enjoyable time-waster these moments will be a very relatable.

However, it is the Ohio band Guided by Voices that Sellers gets freakishly obsessed with. Sellers describes how casual fandom of Guided by Voices grew into a near addiction, and then actually being invited into the band’s inner circle. Sellers’ neurotic worry over what he was going to say and do when he finally met Guided by Voices front man Mark Pollard really made me nod my head. Yep, I’ve worried about those things too when confronted with meeting some of my favorites.

Sellers expands certain points of Perfect From Now On with footnotes that almost make up another book, and with a trio of appendices featuring exhaustive musical lists. I had to giggle when I read these because I’ve also made musical lists. However, I doubt Sellers ever wrote a list of rock and roll boys he would totally have sex with.

Reading Perfect From Now On is like sitting down with a fellow music fan and discussing the good, bad and ugly of being a fan. Sellers is both self-aware and self-deprecating, and truly hilarious. A casual music fan will gain insight into indie bands that don’t get the recognition they deserve, and music obsessives will be able to tell themselves, “I am not alone.”

Book Review: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

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.

Book Review: Love is a Mix Tape-Life and Loss, One Song at a Time

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Just what is love? Philosophers, poets and song writers have been asking that question since the beginning of time. To music journalist Rob Sheffield, love is a mix tape. The author has chronicled the cross section of music and love in debut book called Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time.

Long before people downloaded music into their smart phones or other hand-held listening devices with their favorite music, they made mix tapes. Mix tapes were very personal. Not only did they reveal some of our favorite songs, they also revealed our hopes, desires and thoughts. Mix tapes were therapy on a magnetic strip.

Rob Sheffield is no different from every music obsessed Generation X-er. A total music geek, he found solace and a reason for being through his love of music. Starting as a young child, he DJ-ed at school dances, collected albums and tapes like baseball cards and debated the merits of different bands with his friends.

In the late 1980s, Sheffield met Renee. Renee couldn’t have been more different from Rob. He was tall; she was short. He was a shy geek from Boston. Renee was an extroverted Southerner. The only thing these two seemed to have in common was an intense love of music, and it seemed music was all they needed. The two soon fell in love and were married until Renee’s untimely death from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 31.

Sheffield deftly writes about his all too brief marriage to Renee and he does this with a catalog of different mix tapes he made. Each chapter starts with a different mix tape, complete with the names of songs and artists. Some tapes are for making out, some for dancing and some for falling asleep. Sheffield proves to be no music snob, mixing top-40 guilty pleasure pop with the alternative music of the 1980s and 1990s. Each lovingly crafted mix tape conveys an intricate detail of the sometimes loving, sometimes rocky, and all-too-human relationship between two very interesting and complex souls.

Love is a Mix Tape had me riveted. Sheffield is an amazing writer, handling his love of music and his love of Renee with tender loving care. He gives an intimate glimpse into his marriage without revealing too many intimate details. The marriage of Rob and Renee is never conveyed in a way that is too saccharine or maudlin. These are two very real people who seemed to leap off the page. Often when men write about the women in their lives they do it more as a reflection of their own egos rather than writing about these women as three-dimensional human beings. Sheffield does not fall into this trap. I really felt I knew Renee. In fact, I wish I knew Renee. She was an Appalachian Auntie Mame who told her husband to “Live, live, live!” and tells the reader to do the same.

And even though I began reading Love is a Mix Tape knowing of Renee’s death, I was still very shocked when it happened. How could this ebullient soul not be cavorting somewhere on the planet? And Sheffield’s grief was so palpable I felt a dull ache in my heart as he described existing as a young widower.

I highly recommend Love is Mix Tape to anyone who considers music as vital as breathing and knows only too well the ecstasy and heartbreak true love can bring. Rob Sheffield has written an amazing book. I hope he has more books in him.

To learn more about Rob’s affiliation to write about love and music please check out my review of his book Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love and Karaoke.

Book Review: Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants? The Tale of a Teen Rock Wannabe Who Almost Was by Craig A. Williams

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Many a teen boy has dreamed of strapping on an electric guitar, joining a band, playing to cheering crowds, getting it on with groupies and achieving both fame and fortune. For most of them, this is just a dream. But for Craig A. Williams, this dream was nearly a reality, and he documents his experiences in his book, Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants?

While still in his teens, Williams played lead guitar in an LA-based heavy metal band, Onyxx (later, Onyxxx). Originally called Onyx, the band added the extra xx-s to avoid copyright infringement due to a hip-hop group also named Onyx. And perhaps because their band was just too much rock for one measly X. Managed by a Loni Anderson look-alike, Onyxxx journeyed from small school gigs to the hottest clubs on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip.

Williams first embraced his musical dreams when he wrote a song using his Casio keyboard. The seeds of musical greatness were sown, but Williams knew making music on a Casio keyboard was too dorky for words, so he picked up an electric guitar. Soon he joined forces with some high school chums — lead singer Tyler, bassist Sunil and drummer Kyle — and formed Onyxxx.

Laying the groundwork for rock and roll stardom, Onyxxx went from playing for their classmates in suburban LA to less than enthusiastic audiences at seedy dives. Despite these humble beginnings, Onyxxx’s manager believed they could make it big, and be the New Kids on the Block of glam heavy metal. It was the pre-grunge days where Guns ‘n Roses, Poison and Motley Crue were MTV staples. Before long Onyxxx were playing shows at such notable venues like the Troubadour and the Roxy. Their shows garnered them a sizable fan-base, including some very willing groupies. Williams thought he had reached the pinnacle of rock and roll paradise when he autographed a girl’s breast for the very first time.

But like lots of other rock bands on the verge of fame, Onyxxx had to deal with their share of problems. Tyler, though a charismatic frontman, was often a total jerk to those who crossed his path. Sunil was frequently bullied due to his East Indian heritage. And despite being a drummer, Kyle didn’t have the best sense of rhythm. Onyxxx also dealt with trials familiar to anyone who has seen at least one episode of VH-1′s “Behind the Music,” including rampant drug use, unsavory club managers, psycho fans and fighting among band members.

But Williams had other issues that probably weren’t bothering Axl Rose or Tommy Lee at the time: the life of a teenaged boy. When he wasn’t rockin’ out on-stage, Williams argued with his parents about doing his chores and his homework, studied for exams, and tried to maneuver the halls of his high school. Williams lived in two very different worlds, which kind of made him the Hannah Montana of glam heavy metal (egad, remember a time when Miley Cyrus was known as Hannah Montana and not a girl who uses a foam finger the way the inventor never intended?).

Sadly, Onyxxx was not meant to be. Even without the drug use, mismanagement and squabbles among the band members, glam heavy metal was about to be toppled by flannel-clad grunge bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots. By their senior year, Onyxxx was on the verge of breaking up. They were also on the verge of adulthood, which included college, jobs and other not exactly glamorous responsibilities.

Onyxxx’s loss is our gain. Williams proves himself to be an entertaining writer. He is able to look at his rock and roll past with both insight and humor. He’s self-deprecating and at the same time he is truly proud of almost grabbing the brass ring of stardom. Any rock fan who treasures his or her copy of Appetite for Destruction will get misty-eyed over days gone by. And kids who think of Bret Michaels as a reality TV star, not the lead singer of Poison, will be able to relate to a teenage Williams’ desire for freedom and fun. Williams is a fresh new voice, and has written a very honest book about the music industry. Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants? is a head bangin’ good time.

Book Review: A Boy Named Shel by Lisa Rogak

As a child I adored Shel Silverstein’s books, The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends, among others having a special place in my heart. In fact, I think I treasure them now more than I did when I was a little girl. I always had an inkling Silverstein did more than write children’s books and my inkling proved true when I read Lisa Rogak’s biography A Boy Named Shel.

To call Silverstein a Renaissance man is putting it mildly. Not only was he a prolific children’s author, he was also a cartoonist, singer/songwriter, screenwriter and playwright. He also led a rather interesting personal life.

Born to a Jewish family and raised in Chicago, Silverstein attended Chicago School of the Fine Arts but was soon drafted into the Army. While in the Army Silverstein began to draw cartoons and later, once he returned to Chicago, he drew and published cartoons for several magazines.

But it is after he began to get his cartoons in Playboy when Silverstein’s multi-layered career really began to shine and lead to greater success. He also began to write songs, mostly of a folk variety and formed his own folk group. But one of his most famous songs is the country/novelty song “A Boy Named Sue,” which became a huge hit for the late Johnny Cash. Silverstein’s songs were also sung by Judy Collins, Dr. Hook, Marianne Faithfull and Emmylou Harris. Silverstein co-wrote many songs with Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings, both remained lifelong friends with Silverstein.

Silverstein also wrote a great deal of scripts for the stage, film and television at times co-writing scripts with others, including David Mamet. One of the most popular television programs Silverstein wrote for is the Generation X classic “Free to Be…You and Me.”

Professional success led to personal success, especially when it came to the ladies. To put it bluntly, Silverstein was a playa, and many of his experiences as a playa were due not only to his success, but to him hanging out a great deal at the Playboy Mansion. Despite being a bit of a man ho, many of his carnal conquests remember him fondly for when he was with a woman he really made her feel special and he was often honest with them, claiming he was not the type to settle down.

Still, Silverstein did have children, a daughter and a son, and though he loved them he wasn’t exactly the ideal father. And as I read A Boy Named Shel, I learned as much as Silverstein was revered by the children who read his books, his relationship with children (both is own and those of his friends) could be described as complicated.

In fact, complicated pretty much sums up Silverstein as a human being and a creative individual. At times he was a total bon vivant, the life of the party. At times, he was very reticent and private. He was meticulous when it came to his writing and drawing, but often dressed like a homeless person. When it came to his children he experienced both tragedy and triumph. He could be both kind and cruel.

And other tidbits I learned about Silverstein included eschewing driving after being in a bad car accident. He was nominated for an Oscar. He wrote travelogues and was quite the globetrotter. And he lived all over the country.

All of this living in one life should have made A Boy Named Shel a scintillating read; but as I kept reading this book, especially as I neared the end, I found myself bored. Rogak writing style is dull and lacks a certain punch that keeps you wanting to learn more and more. She is way too repetitive and dry, which I soon found rather insulting to Silverstein’s legendary legacy and his output as a truly original artist that entertained audiences for decades and continues to entertain nearly twenty years after Silverstein’s death. Perhaps, this book would have served better as an article. In the end I just mourned that Silverstein never wrote his own memoir.  Now that would have been a book.

Still, I am grateful I learned more about Shel Silverstein. I will never stop loving those children’s books that delighted me as a bookish little girl, and am now inspired by Silverstein’s creative output to sharpen myself as a Renaissance woman. Perhaps, if you read A Boy Named Shel and connect with his work
, you, too will feel inspired.