Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What is the difference between memoir and autobiography? Take a look at Privilege and Prejudice: The Life of a Black Pioneer

An autobiography is different from a memoir, though the forms seem to have merged lately.  I think of a memoir as a public diary edited yet intimate. The thoughts of the writer about their experience are primary, while an autobiography seeks to know the person through their deeds. Reading about them, you learn how a life was lived, consciously and unconsciously. You gain insight into the roles of background and opportunity in shaping character and destiny.   

There are not many large full autobiographies and this one supplies the pleasure of the unexpected. It breaks the stereotypes about Black potential and advancement.  Privilege and Prejudice: The Life of a Black Pionee, the autobiography of Clifton R. Wharton Jr.,is about a Black man whose good fortune helped him to forge breakthroughs in four separate careers. It's an exceptional story, the release below explains more.

“While I did not select the career goal of being a black “pioneer” or integrating the American dream, it was not long before I found myself treading where few, if any, Blacks had stepped before.”
                                                            --Clifton R. Wharton Jr.

The Life of a Black Pioneer

by Clifton R. Wharton Jr.

In this extraordinary new book you will step into the shoes of Dr. Clifton Wharton Jr. and experience the life of a trailblazing Black man who shattered many glass ceilings in a journey through the worlds of higher education, business, government, and the nonprofit sector. PRIVILEGE AND PREJUDICE: The Life of a Black Pioneer (Michigan State University Press; Publication date: October 1, 2015; 614 pages, $34.95 hardcover; ISBN: 978-1-61186-171-6) is a stereotype-defying autobiography. It reveals a Black man whose good fortune in birth and heritage and opportunity of time and place helped him to forge breakthroughs in four separate careers.

Clifton R. Wharton Jr. entered Harvard at age sixteen. He was the first Black student accepted to the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins, and went on to receive a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago—another first. For twenty-two years he promoted agricultural development in Latin America and Southeast Asia, earning a post as chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation. He again pioneered higher education firsts as president of Michigan State University and chancellor of the sixty-four-campus State University of New York system. As chairman and CEO of TIAA-CREF, he was the first Black CEO of a Fortune 500 company. His commitment to excellence culminated in his appointment as deputy secretary of state during the Clinton administration.

In addition to learning Dr. Wharton’s fascinating life story, you will also meet, as Dr. Wharton met, national leaders in business, philanthropy, higher education, and government -- names like Nelson and John D. Rockefeller 3rd, Theodore Hesburgh, Paul Volcker, Bill and Judith Moyers, Henry Ford II, Cy Vance, Hugh Carey, Mario Cuomo, Hubert Humphrey, Theodore Schultz, Vernon Jordan, William Friday, Milton Friedman, Kenneth Clark, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Andrew Brimmer, John Whitehead, Sol Linowitz, and Presidents Carter, Ford, and Clinton.

A remarkable story of persistence and courage, PRIVILEGE AND PREJUDICE also documents the challenges of competing in a society where obstacles, negative expectations, and stereotypes remained stubbornly in place. An absorbing and candid narrative, it describes a most unusual childhood, a remarkable family, and a historic career.


Clifton R. Wharton Jr. has been a Black pioneer in numerous fields, serving as president of Michigan State University, chancellor of the State University of New York system, chairman and CEO of TIAA-CREF, and ultimately as deputy secretary of state.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

On Being One for Akashic Book's Terrible Twosdays. http://www.akashicbooks.com/on-being-one-by-susan-i-weinstein/

“On Being One” by Susan I. Weinstein

Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.
This week, Susan I. Weinstein describes life with a baby boy.
Susan I WeinsteinOne Being One
by Susan I. Weinstein
He looks at me with woebegone betrayal in his large baby eyes. My tyrannical one-year-old son is teething, recovering from roseola. How could you leave me? say his eyes so expressively. His tiny hands reach out, appealing to me: Pick me up now!
I’ve fallen for it all day, even when the dirty dishes disgustingly fill the sink. Bits of baby food merge with the smelly patina of old formula. The living room floor is a mass of kiddie toys. In the bathroom stands an infant bathtub full of water, and everywhere else is the debris field. Any step in the direction of cleaning up or putting away laundry elicits bloodcurdling cries—red-faced baby indignation. He’s in pain, and you, heartless creature, put him down! How could you refuse him entry into forbidden zones—bathroom and kitchen—with unchildproofable dangers?
He’s looking tragic. I pick him up to soothe his hurts. I exude calm. Once in my arms, the crying stops, and sunny smiles emerge. Faker, I think, as he demands to be set down. A minute later, it’s,Pick me up! He again wants to be set down every which way, but not the way I need to get on with anything. But this is bebe’s job description—aspiring terrible two.
The next shift is a tall thin blonde from Barnard’s babysitter service. She’s working a summer job with Disney, says she has lots of experience, but can she cut it? Will I return to find him cozily asleep in his bed, his arm around his beloved wild bear, or wailing at a panicked young woman? Will he extract from me an infantile revenge? Once, I left him for a weekend with his dad, while I went on a business trip. He cold-shouldered me for days. Yet I don’t kid myself that I’m indispensible. Just as he’s stricken at my daily departures, he’s equally glad to see his regular sitter or his father. “Fresh meat,” we say, with cynical affection for our savage.
We’re under no illusions, no pretend games of euphoria. We’re knee-deep in baby poop and can’t afford the dignity. We’ve gone psychotic from lack of sleep, fear of flu, and juggling those who know the reality of life with bebe and those who enviously say it must all be joy. The truth is that parental love is primal. You fall in love unalterably and exist in the Darwinian realm of a life for a life. It’s our lives we trade off so that existence with bebe can continue.
He eagerly plays with the pretty blonde student. I’ve ceased to exist for him. With stealth, I make my escape and actually eat dinner in a restaurant.
We are betrayed by our biology, or so it’s said—usually by childless people. You love your child as you love yourself, or parenting doesn’t work. How else would the narcissism of the species lead to child-rearing? Can we afford to be ourselves and still nurture a child? Will he ever sleep through the night; be weaned; be interested in stacking, sorting, words? Will I ever stop paying attention to such arbitrary gauges of progress and intelligence? Do I need them to justify our profound alteration of ourselves?
Maybe we needed alteration, yet there’s little comfort in the road not taken—exotic vacations, a meditative life—instead of frayed nerves seeking solace in stolen intervals. Still, bebe is a complete discovery. In him is the anthropological history of the human race. The first day in the hospital, he looked at us with unseeing eyes and clearly communicated, Get me out of here! I cannot project familial traits on him, extended or imagined. He has a muscular body; we’re flabby and bookish. He’s charming and eminently sociable; we’re nervous introverts. As my selected toys gather dust, I strive to know him. I feel wonder rolling on new grass with him. He points from a sun in a children’s book to one in the real sky. His face is ecstatic.
Did I enjoy the mini-tantrum when I put him back in his stroller? Luckily, any pretty girl is a foolproof way to stop my son crying. As a newborn, he had nurses fighting over his care. At age one, he’ll enter a coffee shop, see an attractive female, and turn on the cute baby act. He fixes the object of his desire with an intense stare. When noticed, he unfurls a dazzling smile, as though to say, Cute baby here! Don’t you like babies? Get to know me! 
SUSAN I. WEINSTEIN is the author of two novels, The Anarchist’s Girlfriend and Paradise Gardens (published by Eat Your Serial Press/Maglomaniac), and a story collection, Tales of the Mer Family Onyx. Her plays, Something About That FaceRabies, and White-Walled Babes, have been produced, as well as her adult adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. Recently, she finished The Strange Afterlife of Harry Houdini & Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and is writing The Selling of ADD/ADHD. Susan’s paintings have been shown at Gallery Brooklyn and Wildflowers Too in New Jersey. Currently making her living in book publicity, she lives in NYC with her husband and teenage son. You can check out her blog at notanotherbookreview.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter@swpubrel.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Kim Gordon's GIRL IN A BAND & Paula Hawkins' GIRL ON THE TRAIN. Rock memoir & thriller--exceptional women in post Feminist wastelands


plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The more things change, the more they are the same.  
This proverb is an ironic subtext for the two exceptional women in these otherwise dissimilar books. Rock memoir and thriller both have soulful narrators, searching for truth buried in the wreckage of their marriages. Blindsided at huge emotional cost, they need to figure out what really happened to become whole again. The answers have much to do with the status of women and the status quo of male expectations.

GIRL IN THE BAND, Kim Gordon's memoir is a history of punk, post punk, wave, no wave 1970-80's rock music and her roles as iconic rocker, visual artist, wife and mother. She adds writer, after this entertaining and philosophically rich look at the life of an original, who says she became so almost by default. Gordon writes that whatever she became was because of her crazy older brother, a paranoid schizophrenic. Charismatic, brilliant and sadistic, Keller created the "self-annihilating world" of her childhood. Her famed self-containment onstage was habitual, a way to survive his onslaught. She learned to hide her sensitivity and express nothing. This daughter of a sociologist has great analytical ability. She well understands how her background propelled her to find transforming experiences-- good and bad.

Gordon says performing gave her tremendous release. By allowing herself "to be at the extremes of emotional risk," she experienced a "spiritual transcendence. What LSD promised, my psyche delivered." Compared to her childhood, the "on the edge, insecure, hallucinogenic world of alt punk music was stable in the instability of unceasing change." She was also a California girl used to scary waves, who grew up with Charlie Manson wandering the neighborhood. Gordon's glad she never got into that family's car.

In GIRL IN A BAND Gordon is generous in how she assesses the men in her life. Despite Keller's tyranny, she credits his brilliance as the stimulus for her to probe the meanings of life and develop herself as an artist. As Keller spiraled further into illness, she came to believe what she accomplished was for both of them. Her parents,exhausted by Keller, offered no objections to art school. As long as she wasn't crazy, she could be whatever she wanted. At 19, she had a"lucky break," when she heard Dan Graham's extraordinary lecture on art and culture. Gordon began a lifelong friendship with him and Mike Kelley. Graham mentored her in the burgeoning rock music scene of the 70's--garage bands like The Ramones and art rock bands, like The Talking Heads from Rhode Island School of Design.

Though Gordon had no formal training in playing an instrument or singing, she played for ecstatic release. Not knowing musically what she wanted to do, she learned in baby bands. She met Thurston, when he was 21 and she was five years older. Together they evolved the songs and layered sound that became Sonic Youth. Originally, they worked as a No-Wave band with an egalitarian structure. Gordon was so used to being the only woman in male bands, she didn't think of being a stand-out, until they signed with Geffen. Though Sonic Youth had critical acclaim, they didn't have big audiences. She had to become the "girl," who could sell the band. If an audience was put-off by their discordant sound or scruffy appearance, the good-looking girl up front meant the band was all right. .

Gordon learned to stand front center, a place she was less than comfortable, and to dress for the band, as well as for herself. Her style, which she thought awkward, was widely imitated and eventually she became co-designer of a popular clothing line.  When the band ended, after the break up of her marriage, Gordon returned to her first love--visual art. She created performance pieces and showed art in major galleries and museums. She is currently very engaged with visual art but Sonic Youth is perhaps her best known creation.

As you might expect in a celeb memoir, she includes her meetings with other celebs. But Gordon's insight goes beyond name dropping. Kurt Cobain was a friend and her equal in sensitivity. She talks about both the violent death wish he enacted in performance and the tender yearning of his music.When she describes Courtney Love's unhinged but calculating performances onstage and off, it's the annoyance of a professional, as well as the concern of a mother. After Kurt died, Gordon, who visited with him and his daughter Bean, was concerned about the girl.

The major thread through Gordon's memoir is recounting the trajectory of her marriage. Though they made decisions about Sonic Youth jointly, Thurston, the business head for the band, had sure instincts. He was also her artistic complement. Sonic Youth's songs encompassed personal emotion, politics in the U.S.A. and life on the planet. They were played like a hurricane. The band was a shared entity filled with decades of personal history, love and trust. When she learned about the affair, it was almost less shocking than the facts of his having a secret life and lied to her about it.

Gordon wryly notes that considering they were sophisticated artists, the reasons for the break-up were ridiculously pedestrian, She lost him to a predatory younger woman, a groupie. Gordon writes the woman first tried for her but would have had anyone in the band. Somehow Thurston could not resist. Gordon says she always chose to "turn a blind eye" to his dark "fascination." She also knows he had a mid-life crisis. Sadly, a look at their history shows conditions familiar to telenovas, "Lifetime" plots,the old soaps.

When the family moved from New York City to suburban Massachusetts to raise their daughter, they gained physical space but felt dislocated. While their daughter adjusted easily and Gordon found friends and community, Thurston used the house as a way station between New York and other places he traveled to on the business of Sonic Youth. Though they continued their tour schedule and, in the early years traveled with their daughter, Gordan shifted her focus to staying home with their daughter. Increasingly, she left decision-making for the band to Thurston. When she learned of the affair, she had to help her daughter through senior year and the college application process. Thurston vowed to end the affair but secretly continued. The marriage was over.

Exceptionaly accomplished woman, beautiful and bold, yet Gordon was blindsided by her husband's infidelity. She wasn't paying attention to the fact that while she had changed, men's expectations were the same. There have always been breakthrough women who by sheer force of character push their talent and meet success. But many men still want to be the main star with a back up woman. Gordon writes of how she always loved how men play guitars onstage; competitively, sexually. In her memoir, she became first the "girl" with the band, then the front woman. While they had equal billing, Thurston had to share the spotlight.

Many women struggle to balance kids and career and many husbands find themselves at once a lesser priority and relied on more. The facts of Sonic Youth's break-up are domestic drama--a mid-life man with an accomplished spouse, strays to a younger woman who gives him the adulation he craves. But Thurston, seeking to recapture his youth, chose to be free and unmarried. Gordon  had little patience with him acting the "rock star" onstage on their last tour. She was smart enough to understand and be angry.

Gordon pushed the feminist edge in Sonic Youth, Deborah Harry did some of that in Blondie. But today that seems less common in bands than with lone artists, like St. Vincent. In our post-feminist era, male rock stars artists have the usual prerogatives, while their talented female equals trail in pay and suffer more scrutiny. Only recently did pop princesses Beyonce and Swift admit they are feminists--now that they know it's not an anti-male label.

In GIRL ON THE TRAIN, the fictional Rachel is also obsessed with her "dark side." She has drunks that cause black-outs, leaving her with no memory of what she's done--except for her ex-husband's awful reminders Because of her drinking, the reader, like the cops that question her in a murder investigation, find her an "unreliable narrator." Her self-pity and failure to "move on" at first seem aberrant; her estrangement from the community somewhat deserved. But in the alternating viewpoints of those involved in the events of the murder, you learn from her husband's present wife, that Rachel was once curvy and "striking", successful in her job in public relations. You begin to wonder, as Rachel does, what happened?  Why did her once happy marriage fail?  Yes there's her failure to conceive, her shame at being barren and her sorrow, but that's only part of the story.

An outcast, a suburban village "madwoman," Rachel travels her old daily commute to London, though she lost her job. She's doing it so her flat-mate thinks she's still employed but there's more to it. As she travels past her old town, where she shared a house with her husband, Rachel deeply mourns her marriage and blames herself for what she's become--a depressed, fat, unemployable drunk. Though, at her core, she doesn't quite believe it. Rachel's authentic, no matter who doesn't believe her or in her--including herself.

So back and forth Rachel travels and tries to understand her life. Out the window of the train, she sees a young couple on their patio and fantasizes about their happy marriage, as a loving relationship with humor and trust. Their lives are imbued with all Rachel's longings. Along with husband, home and job, she's lost friends, self-respect and maybe her sanity. She fears she may have done terrible things in a drunken state. Yet drinking is what she does, the reason she was fired from her job, But how could a person do awful things drunk, they would not do sober?

The suburbs she travels are full of pretty young women with baby carriages, like her ex-husband's wife who lives in the same house Rachel once shared. She started her affair, while her husband was married to Rachel. Now she has a baby to protect from this drunken wraith, mooning around the neighborhood. Rachel is disturbing, a menace to her world centered around babies, nannies, play dates, keeping in shape, buying clothes and making perfect dinners for her working husband. She has no conscience about having contributed to their break up and only wants Rachel, to disappear.

Among the alternating chapters are also those of the murder victim, a beautiful blonde, who once owned an art gallery, Uninterested in children, she's the secret subversive. But in this landscape of guarded complacency, Rachel's the unwilling standout. Unable to get over both her inadequacy to conceive a child and blaming herself that her sorrow cost her a marriage, she's a pariah in the suburban town. Yet that status makes her the truth-teller, an exceptional woman underestimated.

As the story develops, what's real in Rachel's life, what happened or didn't, becomes crucial. And, as you read the perceptions of the other characters, you get a sense they are only as reliable as their limited perceptions. The truth behind the events of the murder is more elusive than the stray facts. Suspense lies less with the unmasking of the murderer than the undoing of the women in this town. In different ways they are self-hypnotized by the mythology of unending love and happy families, and themselves as objects of desire. There is an infinite sadness about how the women experience the gap between their emotional needs as people, and fulfilling the sexual desires of their lovers.

The men in THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN seem less traditional entitled males, than paralyzed actors circumscribed by their emotional drives and lack of introspection. Even the refugee psychologist, skilled and sympathetic, is unwilling to control his sexual appetite. These are underlying tensions in a brilliant thriller about a woman going nowhere on a train. One of the pleasures of the novel is to see Rachel unravel both the murder and the secret behind her transformation from a "stunning," successful woman to "Poor Rachel."You cheer, as she scrupulously straightens out reality and herself.

Only gradually, reading this book, did I think of "Gaslight" or The Stepford Wives. Paula Hawkins' storytelling is more subtle, as is the calcification of feminism in this time and place. Rachel finds a real path to recovery but happiness is more morphous. The real life Kim Gordon seems is have reached much the same conclusion. But she's a creative woman. I imagine whatever happiness she's found is of her own making.


Friday, May 29, 2015

ARTIST SPACES: New Orleans, Tina Freeman's Bk & Exhibition. Studio as Oasis for Artistic Process

News- Foreword Reviews Award

This is the first study of artists in their working spaces with their work, as part of their process.  Katrina anniversary is 8/29, gives this story poignancy. Many of the artists recreated their studios with a new sense of the importance of place, 

The work is on view at THE OGDEN MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN ART. It's interesting to see the artists' work in their studios in the book and then to see it on the white walls of the Museum. It looks very different .

The book is published by University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press www.ULPRESS.org

Tina Freeman has been photographing artists and their interiors from the early years of her career in New York, when she photographed Diana Vreeland and Andy Warhol. Also an accomplished photographer of architecture, landscapes and portraits, her work has graced magazines, such as House and Garden, Connoisseur and The New York Times Magazine. Her fine art photographs have been exhibited in New Orleans, New York, Los Angeles and London.

For ARTIST SPACES NEW ORLEANS she joined co-author Morgan Molthrop, to show the diversity of art and artists that has exploded in New Orleans, since the devastation of Katrina. Freeman, says Molthrop, is enormously skilled at the use of natural light and demonstrates a rare sensitivity to both artists and their spaces. She was given unusual accessibility and the book grew from the collaborative nature of the project.

Tina and Morgan spent 2 and a half years choosing photos and laying out art, as Morgan conducted interviews  and the community grew with the book. It mirrors New Orleans natives and those new to town, environments that seem highly personal with totemic objects, others as controlled as industrial space. There's work that's fleeting, of the moment, or substantial as stone or metal.  Seen in its native environment it's revelatory.

What's universal is that these spaces are natural, part of  the personality of the artist  and  their intellectual  emotional process of their work. A studio is a safe oasis, says Malthrop, where artists can leave their bodies behind. What you see in ARTISTS SPACES is a profound sense of place. There are artists in this book who are going to the Venice Biennial, others  whose space no longer  exists. All are linked by community. The community of artists, who often live in their work spaces, are celebrated in this unusual book. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Editing the Human Genome? Welcome to PARADISE GARDENS, http://maglomaniac.com/editing-the-human-genome-welcome-to-paradise-gardens/

Humans now have the possibility of editing our genome (NY Times
 (3/20). Ethicists are discussing the implications of being able to 
not just produce physically beautiful and intellectually superior people, 
but to pass down those traits forever. Of course scientists have
already edited the genomes of mice and other lesser mammals, 
though how that might change the planet doesn’t seem to be 
a concern. Superior mice simply exist to show the procedure will 
work on humans, the leap from mice to men is a small step.

This procedure, considered relatively easy, is sure to catch on.
Manipulating gender by aborting females is already a norm in
 some countries, so look out for a world of smart pretty people. 
Will this boon, the most coveted of human fantasies, be widely
available? Or will the process quickly disappear from public view, 
controlled by a group of mega corporations?

In the 1980’s, when I began my novel PARADISE GARDENS, I was
 reading an economics history about the passage of society from 
medievalism to capitalism. I was wondering under what conditions it 
might reverse and, for this fiction, it was fait a accompli in the
 2050’s on the Earth’s surface. In 3011 those futuristic medieval 
estates would flee to an underground feudal world.

The basis of those corporate business estates was the production
 of employees, whose individual genomes were a matter of 
inheritance based on family performance. They were determined 
by destiny lines planned by the “Psychologicians”, the keepers of 
the database that governed the UBS, United Business Estates. 
Beauty is a given, at higher levels for “average” employees than 
“superiors” with more intellectual decision-making capacity.

Admittedly, this is what used to be called “paranoid,” speculative 
fiction, rather than science fiction. But now the possibility is 
science fact. I believe it was Freud, who once said “paranoia is a
 sign of health in an insane world.” Perhaps, rather than ethicists 
wringing their hands, while licensing is already in the hands of 
big Pharma or other nongovernmental hands, scientists might 
consider a unified revolt–bite the hands that feed their research.
I ponder whether allegedly non-conformist, original thinkers could 
actually become worldly enough to seize control of a product that
 may be the zeitgeist of our time. Consider Wikipedia’s definition:

The German word Zeitgeist is often attributed to the philosopher
Georg Hegel but he never actually used the word. In his work 
Lectures on the philosophy of History he uses the phrase der Geist 
seiner Zeit (the spirit of his time)—for example, “no man can surpass
his own time, for the spirit of his time is also his own spirit.”

Are we doomed to a world, where beauty is not just commonplace
 but mandated by business? Where plastic surgery to banish aging
 is a requirement for continued employment? Where intelligence is 
only valued, when used to create wealth for the UBS? Where 
employees happily accept the advantages they receive for
 productivity, as they reach levels of their career?

Welcome to PARADISE GARDENS. Cautionary tales are just that.
 And even in the UBE, rebellion could not be bred out of a 
genome, just muted by other characteristics. Where the wild human
 soul is concerned, even psychologicians could not predict al
 outcomes. But, Cassandra that I am, I can see this one coming. 
Step aside, I think. Are we mice or men?


Friday, March 20, 2015

In the Reluctant MidWife by Patricia Harmon,The Great Depression Meets a Plucky RN

In THE RELUCTANT MIDWIFE (William Morrow, March), Becky Myers takes on The Great Depression and is almost bested but she makes it through with more than a little help from her friends. As the story opens she and Dr.Isaac Blum, a once brilliant surgeon now catatonic, owe months of rent and must sneak out in the night and trust they have enough gas to make it to Hope River in rural Virginia.

Patricia Harman's heroine is actually short on hope, fighting the edge of despair. Becky's almost glad survival is occupying her mind. Though she's been a respected nurse in a woman's clinic and Dr.Blum's practice, hard times have made inroads into her cheerful middle class respectability. When she learns Blum's house in Hope River has been sold, along with his belongings and tools from his practice, she knows they are not just broke but homeless.

Though Becky tries to find any kind of employment, she's told there are "able-bodied men out of work," and offered a humiliating hand-out. Yet plucky Becky fights desperation, until Blum wanders off lured by the smell of a soup kitchen. She' runs, desperate to retrieve him. Though harmless, Blum's complete silence and vacant eyes scare people. Becky is loyal but Blum's a 24 hour job, so incapacitated he can't go to the bathroom alone or brush his teeth. When his wife drove into a river, she took his mind with her. Then Blum's own brother turned him out, Becky, without family, has made him her charge, though she thinks, ironically, how he's dependent as any child.

They need help but who? Unexpectedly, Blum says "patience," and she knows he means find Patience, her old friend, the midwife of Hope River. She has about enough gas to reach the cottage with the blue door, which turns out to be empty. Patience must have left the area, Becky thinks but soon learns she  only moved a short distance with her Veterinarian husband and son. The family
welcomes Becky and Blum, gives them the cottage and food. There's a sense of family after her alienation and fear. Yet, Becky must earn their living. When Patience reveals she's pregnant and shows Becky a list of local women in need of her services, Becky quakes. She owes a lot to Patience, but is reluctant to become her assistant.

While enormously competent and hardworking, Becky aided Blum in deliveries but midwifery was different. Blood and mess aren't fun,but it's the unpredictability, as well as her own ineptitude that fills her with dread. Still, she prods herself to help Patience. Worse are cases, when she finds herself alone with women in jeopardy, as they all seem to be. There are supposedly easy deliveries, where everything goes wrong, complex situations, such as a blind mother-to-be, where it goes easy. Becky finds the work frightening. But over time she accepts that in midwifery, like life, all you can do is prepare. Yet she's thrilled to trade it for a nursing job at the camp of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

There's great characters there, among the injured and maimed. The dashing captain, who recruits Becky, and takes her to a dinner, where she even meets Eleanor Roosevelt. Becky proves heroic during a horrendous forest fire and when it comes to Patience's delivery, But it's the day in, day out caring for the lost Blum that shows a quiet courage--to carry on while grieving the man he used to be,faith. Then, almost under her nose, Blum returns,

THE RELUCTANT MIDWIFE is both heart warming and authentic.. The feeling you get for these people is earned. The story is realistic, nothing feels contrived. The Depression meant the end of possibility for many people. Living close to the land, nature is both beautiful and malevolent. How these people managed to just continue and thrive is about the human capacity to change and adapt. Becky is resourceful. She holds onto the idea of happiness. In this very gray winter, I felt cheered by her pluck.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sam Shaw's Lens was True. 100 Photos of Sam Shaw for Press Freedom by Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders is a non-profit organization headquartered in France and they do 3 or 4 of these photographer portfolios every year to raise money for the organization. 

Sam Shaw Book

Sam Shaw (with Marilyn above) was a photographer of films known for his iconic Hollywood shots. Remember the one where the heating grate sends Marilyn's dress upward? He also shot documentary films and John Cassavetes' cinema verite. But what I found stunning in this book were not the star turns but character portraits behind star poses. You actually get a sense of who they were. There's Liz the beauty looking goofy, Marlon in an altered state. Real people. He shot meaning beyond pretty people in pretty photos. His lens was true.

And he went after meanings in other forms. Here from an online bio:
In the 1960s, Shaw branched out into producing. He made the film Paris Blues (1961) starring Paul Newman and Sydney Poitier as American jazz musicians in the French city. The score for the film was composed by Shaw's friend Duke Ellington. Shaw later teamed up with filmmaker and actor John Cassavetes to produce such films as Husbands (1970), A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Opening Night (1977) and Gloria (1980). Cassavetes called Shaw a "renaissance man"; his multi-talented friend Shaw was the production designer for A Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) and also photographed Cassavetes' films and designed their advertising campaigns.

Actress Gena Rowland

There is also a grey hardcover book with 200 images from the 1940's through the 1980's. It is the catalog to a retrospective exhibition tour launching this year in September. The book is here:

The Exhibition is opening on September 11th, 2015 at the Cultural Center of Caiscais, in Caiscais Portugal. The exhibition then continues to travel to various European countries through 2018.