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Ann Patchett was sitting right in front of me last night at Parnassus Bookstore. We were listening to Meg Wolitzer read from her new book, “The Female Persuasion,” when Ann (I hope I can call her Ann since I see her so much around town) asked if the sum of a writer’s work isn’t simply an aria – one voice:

“aria, an elaborate accompanied song for solo voice from a cantata, opera, or oratorio.”

In other words, every book you write is saying something about you, about what’s really important to you. Your subjects may change, your place in time or your landscape may change, but your unique Voice, your Point of View comes through consistently, almost unwillingly.

And Wolitzer has written plenty of books, in fact this is her tenth novel. She notes that she actually started writing “The Female Persuasion” a few years before the #MeToo movement, but she has always been interested in female friendships, and the power dynamics in relationships. This book pivots around a college campus where a young female student, Greer with a streak of “electric blue hair,” is mentored by an older feminist writer, Faith Frank.

The audience last night was a mix of ages, young feminists with severely short hair, mixed in with my aging variety and a few men. One shop dog named Bear strolled around the room, while the smaller variety, Mary Todd Lincoln was cradled in a baby wrap on a bookseller’s hip. Wolitzer read from her opening chapter, where Greer is groped by an entitled frat boy at a party her freshman year. I wondered how many of us could relate to that!

I thought about a friend’s son, a quiet innocent boy, who went off to college only to be expelled after an episode with a girlfriend he dared to break up with – he was an unsuspecting sheep while she turned into a wolf. I thought about the UVA Lacrosse player who was killed in her dorm room by her off/and/on boyfriend. And that girl who was raped and left outside a garbage can at Stanford.

“Novels can be a snapshot of a moment in time, or several moments in time, and as a reader that’s what I really like, and as a writer, it’s what I’m drawn to also. It can’t be a polemic. I’m always saying, What is it like? That’s one of the mantras of writing novels for me. And then, in the game of musical chairs, the book is coming out now.”  

http://www.vulture.com/2018/04/meg-wolitzer-doesnt-want-to-be-tied-to-a-moment.html

Wolitzer would call her publisher and ask her assistant first, a millennial, “Before you put me through, tell me, what was it like being a feminist at your college?” 

And that was my question. At my Boston college in 1966 we didn’t have the word “feminism” yet. We couldn’t wear pants outside our dorm, we had to wear a dress or a skirt once we left the brownstone. We didn’t have birth control pills or roofies or mind-altering drugs, yet. There was obviously no social media, if a girl dropped out, you assumed she got pregnant. We didn’t wear bobby socks, we wore knee socks. We had no recourse, no defense; we huddled together and traded tricks sneaking into the Beacon Street residence after curfew.

We had a phone booth in the downstairs lobby!

Strangely enough, Wolitzer hits her mark writing about today’s college culture, about those times in our lives when we meet someone who will change our trajectory. Her generation is just behind mine, a decade younger – the second (or is it third) wave of feminism. And she mentioned that another Nashvillian, Nicole Kidman, has optioned the rights to play her character Faith in the movie.

My first thought was, so Kidman is playing a mid-60 year old woman? And I immediately slapped that thought away as too judgmental, the opposite of feminist, after all maybe Helen Mirren is unavailable!

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Gone are the days when a Hollywood studio could basically “own” its talent. But we’ve all heard of actors having to sign away their lives for a certain number of pictures over a period of years. Now with the #metoo movement, more than a few casting couches have been exposed. Once you achieved “star” status, the pressure might ease up a little; but did you know that over one hundred years ago at Universal Studios women were writing and directing many of the early silent films?

As director Ida May Park, another of the Universal Women, remarked in 1920, “Films are made for women, [who] compose the large majority of our fans.” That’s true today, when females make up 52% of the moviegoing audience. Yet filmmaking is top-heavy with male-driven stories, written, directed and produced primarily by men. Surely the mismatch has a role in the drop in box office receipts at movie theaters.  http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-sharp-universal-studios-women-20171112-story.html

Last night, I understand Frances McDormand made an impassioned plea at the Oscars. Still haven’t seen “Three Billboards” but it’s on my list! Calling attention to an “inclusion rider” was her way of telling her peers that they can take back their power in numbers if everyone adds this rider to their contract. Simply put, you are calling for diversity of your cast and crew – you’d like the movie you are about to shoot represent all of the varied shades of the American people. All ages and sexes would be nice as well. And, I would add, maybe even women screenwriters?

With the exception of Star Wars, I’ve often felt that studios are so worried about box office numbers, they have lately been putting out any and all iterations of comic/book/super/action/heroes. Adolescent boy material can be good for awhile, but as a culture we’ve come close to overdosing. Women like a movie with a good storyline, that’s all. We don’t want gratuitous scenes of random violence and torture, we don’t need loud car chases and crashes.

Although, I must admit “Wonder Woman” was a long time coming.

Let’s take a look at that fish story. That’s what I call “The Shape of Water.” Bob loved it and I came away with a mawah feeling. I’m not sure why, maybe I’m just too practical to think a woman might fall for a fish. It had periods of light for sure, but best movie Oscar?  I told Bob I can’t wait to see one of my favorite actors, Jennifer Lawrence, in Red Sparrow. It’s only topping out at about 45M in the US, hmmm, then I read a Jezebel review and thought, WHY? Rape, sexual humiliation and torture, when Lawrence’s character is not walking aimlessly around a street…I feel like Nancy Kerrigan all the darn time.

When the Bride and I were driving home from our family forum on healthy sex, she happened to mention that unlike her peers, she remembers that as a teen we would allow her to see films with sex scenes in them, but not violent films filled with guns. I of course remember taking her to see an “Alien” movie because I’d read that Sigourney Weaver was the first female action star – and ended up covering her eyes for most of it! Sometimes you wonder what sticks during those parenting years.

I cannot wait to see “A Wrinkle in Time,” written, directed and starring women of all possible shapes, sizes and colors and ages. I wonder if Oprah, Reese and Mindy had inclusion riders in their contracts? Here is my favorite local historic home, hey Hollywood scouts, let’s see what goes on behind that door!    IMG_2373 2

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I was just reading “Bono: The Rolling Stone Interview,” about the U2 front man’s latest brush with death. It seems he is reluctant to tell us the details, only that it was a physical “extinction event” – meaning that we may also suffer a mental crisis or two in our lives. We may get stuck in the pain and anguish of losing a loved one, for example, and never recover. We could find ourselves on the endangered species list one day, and extinct the next, like a Dodo bird. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/bono-u2-state-of-the-world-what-he-learned-from-almost-dying-w514442

I mean really, a bird that couldn’t fly?

Let’s say you let a divorce define you, or an illness, or maybe a car accident your family had in 1949. You nearly died. You might have died, were it not for the loving arms of your Nana. Who will build up their resilient muscles to grow and recover, and who will crawl into their childhood room and wither?

Bob told me he’s had several physical extinction events, (and he was only semi-joking) the last one being two years ago on an operating table. You can imagine the rest; as a curious kid, he once set off an explosive that ripped the eyebrows off a playmate. Of course I can’t remember my Year of Living Dangerously, I was just a baby. I do remember at sixteen being side-swiped by a taxi in NYC, the skyscrapers swinging strangely around our car. My step-father, Judge B was driving and I was in the back seat, covered in broken, pebbled glass.

The doctor said his old Caddy saved my life, since it had a steel bar between the front and back seats.

I also hit a deer at full speed head-on one night in my first car, a VW bug. Not sure why the animal didn’t come through my windshield, but I must have been going so fast the deer was thrown away from the car. I remember being afraid to drive at night for a year after that.

And I have a vivid memory of stopping at a red light after playing tennis. I was in my thirties, the kiddos were little. Dopamine must have been flowing full blast since when the light turned green I hesitated for a moment. Just then a car sped by right in front of me, blasting through a red light. I realized that if I had not waited half a minute, I would have been broad-sided. It gave me pause…

Then I read this morning that today is the 20th anniversary of Monica Lewinsky’s little kerfluffle with President Bill Clinton. Monica really turned her life around; she was a young intern who made a few mistakes in judgement, notably talking with the wrong woman about her Oval Office encounters, consensual mind you, and was humiliated, in public. I would call this a mental extinction event that she managed to overcome. She Tweeted this:

“for 20 years, i’ve marked 16 jan as the day i survived another year from 1998. on this 20th (!!!) anniversary, thinkin’ maybe we could try a survivor’s chain. whaddya think? (too corny?) RETWEET if you survived the unimaginable in your life”

And today Scope will publish a well known report about Mr T’s encounters with a porn star just one year after marrying Melania. Granted, he wasn’t a president yet. Still, I wonder how the Religious Right feel about Hillary’s emails now? We have a Groper-in Chief who is ostensibly a racist and probably demented, since I don’t believe he drinks or does drugs of any kind which would explain his behavior.

Is our democracy heading toward the cliff of extinction? IF Bill Clinton or Barack Obama said or did any of the things Mr T has been guilty of doing lately, you betcha the government would come to a standstill. It’s too late for Mr T to learn how to fly, how to lead, how to govern. But we, the people, must #persist and #resist.

And a very big shout out to all those families in Nashville who are experiencing the FIFTH day of a combo snow/MLK holiday weekend at home with the kids! It will stop snowing, eventually!

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#OPRAH2020

I grew up on Phil Donohue, watching my foster mom, Nell, hang on every word that came out of his mouth. She was a first generation American, who never learned how to drive and didn’t work outside the home because her husband asked her not to, politely. I would come home from school, tear off my Catholic school uniform and put on “play clothes” to join her on the couch, before tearing off into the neighborhood on my bike.

Yes, I was a tomboy, and proud of it!

We had a linoleum kitchen floor in our four room (not bedroom mind you), four room house in Victory Gardens. There’s a black and white picture of toddler me in a droopy diaper hiding in a space between the stove and the refrigerator, presumably during hide ‘n seek. We came from humble roots, coal mining families on Daddy Jim’s side and Slovakian dissidents from Nell’s; I knew they passed money to the mailman to fund the IRA.

My kids grew up on Oprah! So when I listened to her speech at the Golden Globes the other night, I knew something was afoot. She started off with a memory – sitting on her linoleum floor… “In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee, watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope and said five words that literally made history: ‘The winner is Sidney Poitier.”

This is known as the Hook, the catch phrase memory of “humble roots” for every stump speech of every candidate running for any political office in our great land. See, I’m just like you, even though they’ve amassed tons of wealth, they started out with nothing, less than nothing…

I was recently talking with my sister Kay and our brother Dr Jim on a conference call, and listened as Jim recounted how he would go out with our late brother Mike on Christmas Eve to pick the prettiest Christmas tree. Because they were almost giving them away for a nickle. Because the Flapper was so poor.

“Did you also have to dumpster dive for food?” I asked him.

They laughed and said no, we hadn’t been that poor. The Flapper made it through the Great Depression and taught us never to leave a light on in a room. And after four years in the darkness (if he lasts that long), with this semi-literate, entitled, bone-headed purported billionaire in the People’s House, I’m willing to bet the pendulum just might swing back – way back toward the sunshine. With enough luck and organizing, we “might could” nominate a black woman, one who shines from within, for the White House! Yes Oprah, preach Oprah PREACH!!

And in the midst of a sea of black designer gowns that nobody wanted to talk about, she said this:

“Recy Taylor died 10 days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday. She lived, as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. And for too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.”

Oprah brought this sad, compelling story about a gang rape of an innocent black woman in the Jim Crow South of 1944 to light. I felt my eyes filling with tears even as I registered that this sounds like a woman ready to run for office. She brought us the personal story, the anecdote about injustice, that made me remember why I was a Democrat in the first place. All the while we know that Oprah had been raped as a child, we know her story, and we know all those #MeToo stories that have been circulating about the abuse of power by powerful men.

And all I can think is that their Time is UP! They are fired! We have our very own reality TV star in the wings and she is fired up and ready to go. It’s as if a storm has swept through our country and we can now smell the beginning of new air. It’s the sun after a hurricane. We must fight against voter suppression, we must fight for basic human rights and one-payer healthcare. This is the time to take our country back! Please Oprah, I hope you will run. There’s “A new day on the horizon.”

Here is Bob with Berdelle, our 91 year old neighbor, at the TN State House today because you’re never too old to be a revolutionary!

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History is always written by the victors. Except in the South…

where Confederate memorials sprouted during the Jim Crow era, and the narrative changed to more “states’ rights” and less “slavery.” I remember being surprised when we first moved to Cville at all the plaques on the side of roads commemorating some minor insurrection or another during the Civil War. That, and the graphic “No guns allowed” outside some stores – which I correctly assumed to mean all other stores were fair game.

Still, I had never heard of a white woman named, Viola Liuzzo. She was a lapsed Catholic who grew up dirt poor in Chattanooga, Tennessee and noticed that her young black neighbors, also living in one room shacks, were treated much worse than her family. Later, she would ask her daughter in a department store how she would feel if all the Santas she ever saw were black? Married, and living a middle-class life in Detroit, she defied her husband to heed MLK Jr’s call to come to Alabama after “Bloody Sunday.”

Last month Viola “…was awarded the Fred L. Shuttlesworth award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on its 25th anniversary – the only white woman killed in the Civil Rights movement.” She believed Civil Rights was everybody’s fight.

She was only 39, the mother of five, when in March of 1965 she was gunned down by the Klan; ambushed driving black voters to register to vote because she was sitting beside a 19 year old African American in her car; a “Negro man” named Leroy Moton who survived the ambush by playing dead. He later sent three of the killers to prison.

Where are her statues? Why have we heard about so many other martyrs to the cause, but not Viola? In the 1960s, there were no women’s studies, and a housewife who left her husband and children on such a dangerous quest was deemed suspect. In fact, Herbert Hoover tried to discredit her reputation by suggesting there was some “necking” going on in that car!

The fate of women authors is worse, at least film and music have left us some evidence. But publishers would discontinue certain works in the pre-internet age, and so second-hand bookstores are your last best hope of survival. For instance, before John Grisham, there was Mary Elizabeth Braddon! Nope, I never heard of her either, but she was trending in Victorian times. Obscure pioneers in literature can now be found in “The Book of Forgotten Authors,” by Christopher Fowler:

Fowler devotes an entire chapter to the women who introduced readers to psychological suspense long before it conquered the bestseller lists. These “forgotten queens of suspense”, he writes, were “ignored, underrated, overlooked or taken for granted, the women who wrote popular fiction for a living were often simply grateful to be published at all.”

One of Aunt Kiki and the Rocker’s friends will soon be teaching a course on song writing. She is a musician and a feminist and I would love to take her course at UCLA. One of the songs her students will investigate is Shania Twain’s, “Who’s Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” Now Shania has her very own room in the Country Music Hall of Fame here in Nashville, and since Bob and I gave the Love Bug a small CD player for her room, along with Shania’s latest album, I’d love to hear her take on the evolution of country music to include more of the female voice, including women of color who were rarely recognized.

Because the #MeToo movement has started something that all my marches on Washington, all my work for Planned Parenthood, could never have imagined. Women’s stories are valued, but if we are not sitting up in the board rooms and back rooms of power, if we are not equally represented in the legislature, our work can still be marginalized, forgotten in the ebb and flow of history.

Her tee shirt says, “I will write my own story.”

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What the heck is happening? First, Clarence Thomas, then Donald Trump, and now Garrison Keillor; right after our Minnesota Nice Guy published a piece supporting Al Franken? And really, Charlie Rose…

It’s getting hard to keep track of all the sexual misconduct allegations swirling about, let alone the height of a North Korean missile launch, and where it might land in the continental United States. To be fair, we were in LaLa Land all last week, blissfully unaware of “Breaking News.”

Except for the Little Pumpkin, pulling up a chair to help me chop vegetables, and looking into the mirrored backsplash at himself. “Nana,” he said, “I almost lost my eyebrows!”

“Join the club!” I said, while everyone burst out laughing. Ah the joys of being a redhead.

My beautiful and amazing SIL Jorja (also a redhead) hosted over 20 people for Thanksgiving. The childrens’ table on the patio was so adorable, I actually wanted to sit there. The last time she cooked a bird was in 1998 – since she and my brother Mike opened The University Club in Oxford there’s always been a professional chef at the helm. But California got sunnier once Jorja moved West, and the feast she prepared (with some pies and lasagne thrown in for good measure) was delicious!

From 7 months to 70, we all had a jolly good time. Especially all of our little cousins!

We stayed with the Bride and Groom in Venice Beach. We rented bikes and tooled down to the Santa Monica Pier with the kiddos in a trailer. Bob successfully tried out a Segway. We walked along the Boardwalk, and one day we strolled along the canals. The Love Bug got to play with the Rocker and Aunt Kiki’s new kitten. We all tried some Poke, which is Hawaiian, a bowl of delicious sushi-like yumminess.

I discovered yet again that I love the Golden State, and it’s been good to my son. The Rocker just won a Clio for his work on Dunkirk. Chances are you’ve seen a new Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer that he composed.

I wish I could find the old elementary school tape that he and his buddy Alex filmed in our garage. They made a meticulous stop-action cartoon using little Star Wars action figures. How could I explain to his teachers that in fact, he was able to concentrate When He Wanted To Create Something.

Now that we’ve returned to Nashville, I worry about this next generation of young boys. I taught my son to respect women, but my generation was so busy making feminism work, passing Title IX, telling our little girls that one day they too could be President, that we may have forgotten a few simple rules.

No means NO. Asking permission is not the same as getting permission. And it’s never OK to run around in your skivvies in a workplace. Unless you’re three years old and fully potty trained, then the whole Nature Boy look is appropriate. Now, it’s time for action and adventure! And while we’re at it, let’s go look for those missing eyebrows.

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When the Rocker was in high school, he’d often say goodbye like this, “Peace out.” With his heavy/metal/grunge band in our garage, it really was peaceful when he left for school. And I’d remember the Flapper telling me that I will miss all that commotion when I’m old and grey. She was right.

Another catch phrase of the turn of the last century was, “Keeping it real.” It seemed to be the motto of his generation: be true to yourself, don’t be a poser, do the right thing. My son was voted the “Most Changed” in high school, probably because he started out looking like the rest of his class (beach/boy/prep) and ended up with dreads, on his way to rock stardom imho.

He was keeping it real, he was growing and changing. Some people I’ve found, never quite climb out of high school. Others learn to transcend its harrowing halls.

I listened to the podcast This American Life on the car ride to Nashville yesterday, titled “To Be Real.” It spanned a few topics, but the one I found most interesting was about North Korea – how we don’t seem to take Kim Jong-un seriously with his photoshopped ears and Russian hats. It links you to an informative podcast about nuclear proliferation  http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/podcast/ A nuclear physicist wants us to pay attention!

So what is real and what is superficial? Ira Glass explored magic and the bespoke porn business next. Yes, you heard me right, it seems that with all the free porn online, the film industry has adapted itself to create custom videos for its customers. Who knew?https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/620/to-be-real

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide
No escape from reality
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies and see

Tomorrow Queen, or whatever is left of the original band, will be playing in Nashville at the Bridgestone arena. American Idol alum Adam Lambert has replaced Freddie Mercury but nothing can replace his lyrics. He was an original.

And today is the Rocker’s birthday! Thank you for being in this world, for bringing us love and laughter, and music only you could see and play. For being a tolerant little brother and exceptional son. We hit a few speed bumps along the way to maturity, but you handled them with grace. I had an abiding trust in your character and your talent.

Marrying your beautiful bride this year was the icing on your birthday cake! You have always made me proud, and scoring the Dunkirk trailer, working for Christopher Nolan, made my heart explode exponentially. http://www.dunkirkmovie.com

Happy Birthday DJR, and thank you for always being real.  DAVECAITLY-056 2

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