Italics mine

I don’t think there’s anyone on this planet whose life hasn’t been changed and/or affected by the recent course of events,” said Nina Tassler, the president of CBS Entertainment. But, she argued, “nothing that is on the air is inappropriate.”

(via The New York Times)

Really? Did you really just say that, person who is obviously not in touch with reality?? Not to harsh your mellow or anything, but I, for one, remain unaffected by “the recent course of events” and that’s not even bringing into consideration the majority of the world’s human population who don’t give one flying fuck about anything that happens in the United States, for good or ill. What a great use of hyperbole you have there; too bad it was unintentional.

The Sound of Red Returning

The Sound of Red Returning coverThe Sound of Red Returning
By Sue Duffy
Kregel Publications
09 December 2011

I was really excited to read The Sound of Red Returning because… well, MUSIC. Liesel Bower is a famed pianist who’s mentor was murdered for being a Russian spy. Fifteen years after the fact, she’s targeted for allegedly having an important piece of information that her deceased mentor may’ve accidentally left in her care—but she doesn’t know what it is, no one is telling her, and now she’s caught up in the international political intrigue between the United States and Russia. Where can she turn, except to her music?

I didn’t realize until after I’d requested this book that it’s the first in a trilogy. Well, at least it’s the first and not the second or third, right? I honestly don’t know how I feel about books that are first in a series when they don’t stand alone well, as I don’t think this one does. That is to say, it’s clear there’s something coming—the other two books in the trilogy, obviously—but I really want the first book to be the opening into a brand new world (like walking into a secret garden) and simultaneously a world in itself (like, you know, walking into a secret garden).

That aside, let’s talk about the story. I liked it. There are more than fifty chapters (not kidding!), but they’re short (usually no more than three pages), so it evens out. I like Duffy’s writing style. I wasn’t confused by the beginning as some other reviewers have been, so maybe that’s where I should shrug and say YMMV. I have some background-by-osmosis in classical music, so I didn’t have much trouble with that part of the story, either.

I was, of course, not surprised (and not really impressed) by the god stuff. I’m not going to lie, here: I’m not a Christian, and I sometimes feel like a spy myself while reading “Christian fiction”… I guess I’m always hoping that someone somewhere will write the gods the way I see them, but I’m obviously looking in the wrong places—not least because most/all Christians deny the existence of other gods besides theirs. That’s their prerogative, I guess, but I have yet to read any version of the Christian god that impressed upon me the need/desire to convert or even think about it more seriously than “What? Again?” Another reviewer wrote that (italics in the original)

The Sound of Red Returning made me meditate on my prayer life. It is not easy to grab for Jesus while running from danger. It is so much easier to learn about His character while life is quiet and simple.

I have actually found the opposite to be true in practice. It’s easy for my friends and loved ones to call upon Jesus or the Holy Spirit or their god (etc.) in times of great need—like when Liesl is running for her life—and then forget everything they said once they’re safe again, and it’s quiet and calm. I’m not saying I don’t do this, too, but I don’t claim to have the same relationship with Jesus as most people in the United States do, so. My relationships with my deities are more complicated than simply worship and loyal devotion. Not that that’s a bad thing, if that’s what you’re looking for, I guess, but the gods I follow would rather I have a brain than simply sit in the pew on Sunday mornings.

But I’ve gotten off-topic. Where was I? The Sound of Red Returning, right. Besides the god thing, I didn’t like the insertion of the romantic love interest—who doesn’t even show up until chapter nine (page 58, to be precise). It seemed… contrived, I guess. And I don’t think that the CIA and other official authorities would’ve allowed Cade and his grandfather—decent characters though they may have been—anywhere near Liesl until after the spy thing had been resolved. I’m just sayin’. And speaking of the CIA; I don’t work for the government in any capacity, but someone else mentioned that the agents were portrayed as bumbling… I, sadly, have no problem imagining the actual, real-life CIA being so unorganized and ill-fitted for their work. I mean, the phrase “It’s good enough for government work” exists for a reason.

Overall, I think this book was okay. The writing was the high point for me, and the music. The story? Eh. It wasn’t terrible, but it’s not the best thing I’ve ever read, either.

DISCLAIMER: I received The Sound of Red Returning free from LitFuse Publicity in return for a review of the book. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Read other reviews and learn more about the book on the blog tour’s main page.

My name is Eve… sometimes

My name is Eve.

My name is Eve. I believe in the right to privacy and in voluntary information disclosure, and that’s not a contradiction.

My name is Eve… sometimes. When I was young, my parents made clear to me that I had to use a fake name online so that I would be protected from predators. I chose the name Gabrielle, and it’s still one of my favorites. My online persona grew up with me, and eventually I took the name Eve, which is the name I most often use today.

And yet my parents (and others) are surprised when people call me Eve in real life (that is: not only online), and then tell me that my “real friends” would know my “real name” if they were truly friends. But do they not realize that some of my friends have never known me by any other name? To some people, my name is Eve, and that’s fine with me. I am Eve. I am Gabrielle, too.

Maymay’s name has been with him since he was nine. “Maymay” is just as much his real name as his legal name is. He writes, “Young people are routinely admonished for giving out personal information online, but the services they use increasingly demand that very data.” I’m looking at you, Facebook. I’m looking at you, Google+.

The networks and services online that require legal names are trapping us into the use of those names, whether we like or want that or not. Imagine a school teacher who goes by her maiden name in her class but her email provider forces her to sign her emails—even the ones to her students’ parents—with her married name. Nobody wants that (or needs it) and that’s only considering that person’s legal name, not her chosen one!

I don’t understand why (mostly) older people seem to want to protect young people online while at the same time discouraging them from using chosen names in any sphere besides the internet. If a young person uses his or her legal name online, he or she is reckless and unsafe. If they use their chosen name in real life, they’re dealing in fantasies. Kinda makes for a no-win situation, don’t you think?

My name is Eve. And Gabrielle. And V. My name is me. Respect my privacy and I might just be more willing to give you my information freely.

“Mugabe and the White African”

Mugabe and the White African coverMugabe and the White African
By Ben Freeth
Lion UK
26 July 2011

All right, so here’s the thing with Mugabe and the White African for me. It’s a really difficult story to tell; Ben Freeth and his wife and family and friends have been terrorized by their own government in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe, according to the author, has never acted in the interest of the people. The more of the book I read, the more I was reminded of the last king of Scotland. Whatever I think of the book, if the story is true (which I believe it is), it’s tragic.

That said, Freeth point of view skews toward colonialism. And the comparisons he employs are… well, they’re lacking. Take, for example, this paragraph of his:

Other members of the government joined in the war of words. Joice Mujuru, who was later to become Mugabe’s Vice President, said, “They (the white farmers) call themselves Zimbabweans. They are not. I am a Zimbabwean. When will you learn? Africa is for black Africans.” This was racist talk. If a senior politician in the UK had said that black people could not be British and that Britain was only for white people, he would have been relieved of his post immediately. But among black nationalist states in Africa such racist talk brings promotion.

I agree that Mujuru’s statement was racist, but it’s not the same as a Caucasian person saying the reverse while leading a historically white-dominated country. That is to say: Britain is and has been ruled by white people as far back as written records allow. So, for the ruling class to say “no blacks allowed” is totally out of line and inappropriate. And racist. In Zimbabwe, the native peoples are still recovering from European colonialism, so—while I wouldn’t want anyone to say to me, “Get out, you don’t belong”—Mujuru’s statement, taken in context, seems more defensive than offensive.

The cultural history in the USA, where I live, has always been severely skewed against people of color, especially people of African descent. This memoir is set in modern Zimbabwe, which has its own traumatic history involving extreme oppression of native peoples by colonizing groups of Caucasian/European heritage.

Race relations are almost always tense, at least for people who are self-aware—which, in itself, is much more likely if you’re not Caucasian—and I don’t feel qualified to do anything except defer to someone who has actually experienced racism personally. Reviewing Mugabe and the White African feels too much like reviewing, you know, the entire sociocultural history of racism, but I picked up the book anyway because Desmond Tutu wrote its forward. I may not tend to respect a white family who claims to have been oppressed by a black dictator, but I do respect Tutu. Maybe his forward makes the book more legitimate to me? I don’t know. Even thinking about it makes me uncomfortable, and that’s probably a good thing. Without even cracking the cover, this book had made me think, so there’s that, for what it’s worth.

Freeth frames the story not as white against black but instead as a legitimate, pro-worker farming business against a corrupt government led by a corrupt dictator. And… maybe it is? I don’t know enough about the entire situation to really make a claim one way or the other about it. I’m going to be completely honest here and admit that I didn’t even know where Zimbabwe was on a map of Africa before reading this book (yes, I am that ignorant about global politics). Mugabe and the White African is and interesting, heartbreaking story, but I don’t think it’s the entire story.

DISCLAIMER: I received Mugabe and the White African free from LitFuse Publicity in return for a review of the book. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Read other reviews and learn more about the book on the blog tour’s main page.

A matter of legacies

EDIT 17:03 PDT: Yes, I did actually (for reals!) send this letter to KD National and to the editor of The Angelos.

a matter of legacies
article referenced in my letter. click for larger.

Dear Kappa Delta,

I read your note about legacies (see above) in the most recent issue of The Angelos (vol. 89 no.3, Spring 2011, pg. 49, “a matter of legacies”) and am disturbed by its implications and assumptions. You mention—correctly—that it’s impossible to accept every legacy into KD. (I’m sure it’s a relief in the most impacted chapters not to be under pressure to accept them, if, indeed, they remain not pressured.) What troubles me isn’t that KD selects “the best and most harmonious women” or that some legacies choose a different sorority (or—gasp! shock and awe—choose to remain GDI). That’s to be expected.

What bothers me, instead, is this. First, you write that some legacies may “feel more at home with another National Panhellenic Conference sorority”—the implication being that there are only NPC sororities in existence at all. As I’m sure you’re aware, NPC sororities actually make up only a part of the sororities and women’s fraternities available to potential new member candidates. Other councils and associations include the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations, the National APIA Panhellenic Association, and the National Multicultural Greek Council, not to mention all the unaffiliated national sororities and local sororities that exist in the United States.

Second, you write that “[t]he important thing for KDs to remember is that NPC sororities are more alike than different.” That’s sadly true and, combined with my first complaint, makes it seem like every young woman who wants to go Greek is going to end up coming out of a cookie cutter mold by the end of college. The reason most KDs want their legacies to join Kappa Delta is for the reasons it’s different from all those other sororities and because they want to share the KD bond with their loved ones, not because the sororities are all so similar that they’re basically interchangeable.

Third, you make a point of saying that Kappa Delta can honestly hardly accept all legacies on one page (pg. 49) and then ask us to register legacies on the next (pg. 50, “Register Your College-Bound Legacy with KD“)! That’s very frustrating and seems futile after having just read your note about legacies in general. (Also, would it kill you guys to show pictures more inclusive of this country’s diversity? Seriously, I counted just one KD of color in the entire magazine [at the top of page 9], and page 50 is representative of that. Or are these pictures representative of a sorority that has done little—if anything—to curb the racism by omission that’s present in these photos?)

Kappa Delta does many good things, but I was sorely disappointed in your comment about legacies. I hope the sorority’s official stance will continue to evolve into something even greater, as I know it can.

Sincerely,
V.E.
Eta Lambda, 2008 alumnae class

On changing the surname upon marriage

This feels like one of those things, a “as soon as I buy a purple Toyota, I start seeing purple Toyotas everywhere” type thing. People my age seem to be tying the knot as fast as they can get their hands on rope. The more weddings I attend, the more I can tell it’s not my thing. But weddings aren’t really what I’m going to write about in this entry, though they could surely take up one if I wanted to write about that.

I am strictly against changing one’s surname upon marriage. Actually, I’m not sure I’m for marriage generally speaking—that’s an entirely different discussion—but let’s assume for the sake of argument that we’ve already had the marriage talk and the consensus is that we’ll go with it for now.

For the women I’ve dated, marriage was never really a serious option because it wasn’t/isn’t a serious legal option, so it was sort of a non-issue. Of the men I’ve dated, one said he was fine with my not changing my name if we ever married, and one was against it from the start. That is, he was of the opinion that a woman should change her name to her husband’s upon marriage and any subsequent children would have the husband’s surname. For him, it was a matter of collective identity—“A family should be united,” he said once, “and a single last name for everyone in the family shows that unity.”—something that, I admit, is hard to argue with. Except to say, “Well, why can’t you change your name to mine, then, if that’s the big deal?” He, of course, didn’t like that idea at all.

That said, and as many people have noted (see my “Further Reading” section below), if you present yourself as a family, people will assume you are one, regardless of your surname(s). This phenomenon has also been noted in unmarried couples who present themselves as married. It’s not that hard to correct someone who thinks you’re Mrs. Smith when you’re actually Ms. Jones who’s married to Mr. Smith.

For me, a woman who changes her name to her husband’s is contributing to patriarchy, and that’s not a good thing. Changing the surname upon marriage is based in the same sexist traditions that have a man walk his daughter down the aisle and “give” her to her future husband, as if she were a man’s property (which, at the time, women were). Some people might argue that, well, a woman has her father‘s surname (probably), so that‘s contributing to sexism, and honestly, that’s true. But in that case, the woman in question hasn’t actively supported a patriarchal tradition because that was the name she was given at birth; she had no choice in the matter. And anyway, the name is hers now, not her father’s anymore.

By the way, I’m also against a man taking his wife’s last name. While a man taking his wife’s surname (a’la Jack White from the band The White Stripes) seems to be much more feminist, the result is actually much the same: people assume that the woman changed her name and it was the man’s all along. The same goes for couples who decide to forgo both surnames all together and create a new one. While it’s actually a subversion of patriarchy, it’s hard to tell on the surface, which may undermine the whole point in the end.

Some people have pointed out that they don’t like their family/ies and don’t want to be associated with an abusive father in any way, name included. Well, my answer to that is: you don’t have to get married to change your name. If you don’t like your family that much (which happens; I’m not saying you should just “tough it out” or something), then change your name now; don’t wait until you get married. That way, the name you choose is yours completely and you’ll be able to carry it with pride without having to connect it to another person.

But I want to connect it to another person! you say. Yes, well, I’m happy you’ve decided to take the plunge and tie the knot. But your name is your identity; especially in today’s world, it holds a lot of weight professionally, and name searches on Google (for example) would be split. But it’s a woman’s choice! you say. Well, yes, it is. And it’s a man’s, too. And if all else were equal, I probably wouldn’t care about it one way or the other. But we do not live on equal terms, here. Women are oppressed. If you don’t believe me, you need to take a class or two in gender studies.

As for children’s surnames, I don’t have a really good answer for that one. (What? I don’t know everything.) My gut reaction is let the child decide for him or herself, but even if a couple did that—at least the way the system is currently set up—they’d still have to give the child some surname in the meantime while the child grew up enough to be self aware enough to decide. Maybe you could mix it up a little and give daughters the man’s surname and sons the woman’s surname. Or hyphenate (ugh; don’t do that). Or choose a completely new name for the children that’s a combination of the parents’ surnames.

The only argument for giving the children the father’s surname exclusively that I’ve ever heard that makes any real sense to me was this. Leaving aside surrogate pregnancies, weird science, orphans, and adoptions for a moment, people know who the (biological) mother is. She’s required by biology to be at the birth. It’s easy to connect her to the child and visa versa. Not necessarily so with the (biological) father, who doesn’t need to do anything more than donate his sperm to the cause. Giving the child the father’s surname is a way of forcing the father to take responsibility for his offspring. Or at least calling attention to the fact that he’s not taking care of said offspring. But that argument presents a sad view of the state of fatherhood; what kind of world do we live in where the only way a man will acknowledge his children is if they have his surname and are therefore connected to him?

As I mentioned above, it’s not that hard to correct someone who thinks the child isn’t yours just because you have different names. (Though I imagine it would get hella tiring eventually, at least as tiring as correcting the pronunciation of a given name, as I have had to do my entire life.) Also, let me state for the record that people, generally speaking, are idiots; sometimes they’ll assume things about you that just aren’t true—like that you aren’t your daughter’s mother just because you have different skin tones—but that’s another journal entry in itself.

I want to live in a world where people who change their name do it for a real, true reason, not just because they’re getting married and it’s what you do. I want to live in a world where the people who change their names because of married are scoffed at, not the reverse, like it is now. “Oh, are you a feminist?” people ask women who haven’t changed their surnames upon marriage. (You know, as though being a feminist is a bad thing.) Really, I want to live in a world where a woman isn’t subsumed into her husband’s identity upon her marriage to him. And for that to happen, we have a long way to go.

You’ll notice I haven’t really mentioned women marrying other women or men marrying other men (or anything else that makes real romantic relationships interesting). That’s because the very act of changing one’s surname upon marriage is a form oppression that’s tied up in gender identity, gender essentialism, and completely erases gay and lesbian relationships (to say nothing of transgender people, bisexuals, and people in polyamorous relationships) because it assumes that one party (the woman) is “obviously” or “naturally” subservient to the other (the man). When two women or two men marry, that “natural” and “obvious” dynamic is necessarily thrown out. It may actually be a form of rebellion (as opposed to an adherence to patriarchy) for two men or two women who are not related by blood to share a surname, and it helps them convince other people that they are family in a world where two men or two women living together aren’t already assumed to be a couple.

Further Reading:
Why Brides Change Last Names
Keeping Your Maiden Name After Marriage
Against the Name Change: A Polemic
Things We Do for Love: Will You Change Your Last Name?
Women, Work and a Name Change
The Cost of a Name Change
Concerning Marriage and Changing Names
Lucy Stone League

Mockingbird

I didn’t so much choose Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee as it chose me. Last November, I visited family in Texas and my grandmother gave me the hardcover to borrow. In late March, she started making noises about wanting it back, so I figured I had to read it (or give it back without reading it and disappoint her). What follows is my letter to her, not exactly a review as it is a collection of thoughts.
————

08 April 2011, late evening

Dear Grandma,

I haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird in a long time, probably since high school, when it was assigned reading in English class. I don’t think I realized then—or if I did, I don’t remember now—that Harper Lee is a woman. (I don’t think it mattered one way or the other back then, either; it was required reading, which automatically made it evil no matter its content.) I don’t even remember what we were talking about when you pulled Mockingbird, by Charles J. Shields, off the shelf to have me read a few pages. I was interested (I always am, with interesting characters), and you graciously let me borrow it. Well, I admit: I took it home where it was promptly buried under other books, to do lists, and life. Then, Dad told me recently that you’d made noises about getting it back, so I endeavored to read it before Bunny came out to visit everyone in Texas so that when she did, she could bring it to you. I still had life going on, of course, but I managed to read the entire thing during lunch breaks at work and while waiting for classes to begin or for the bus to arrive.

Some thoughts. I read Mom, Dad, and Bunny sections of the book—the parts I liked, of course—beginning with the questions Shields was often asked while he was researching his reclusive subject. These are, in order: “Is Harper Lee still alive?” (yes), Mockingbird cover“Is she married?” (no), which is shortly followed by “Is she gay?” (“not married” should not be equated with “being gay”), and finally “Why didn’t she write another novel?” (it’s complicated). When I read that section in the Introduction to Dad, he said with surprise, “My first thought after ‘Is she married?’ was more like, ‘Has she ever been married?'” (The answer to that question is also no, though it says something about Dad’s frame of reference as opposed to other questioners’. It’s like saying “What’s the opposite of man?” wherein the answer could be both woman and boy, among other things. How a person thinks is, of course, always interesting.)

I also read aloud the section about Nelle hunting for whitetail deer one Christmas (p. 188-189) because the tribal name part reminded me of the “Indian names” we’ve given each other here in my house. (I, for example, am Sleeping Bear; Johnny is Little Bro; and Bunny is She Who Would Argue With a Rock—all fitting names among us. Bunny likes hers the least, of course, but she usually takes our teasing with good humor.) The name Sleeps Late for Nelle, given what I’d learned of her up to that point, seemed appropriate, but after having finished the book, I’d say Refuses Every Interview (which I just made up) is more lasting.

I read both Mom and Dad sections of the part about Gregory Peck, namely the beginning of that chapter (p. 203-204) and the part about his needing money (because he didn’t have any cash with him) to buy a Dr. Pepper and then being carded when he tried to withdraw money from the bank (p. 207). I learned more about the movie than I knew before (something else I haven’t seen in a long time), and was please by how well the producer and director treated Nelle’s story—they actually seemed to respect it rather than just try to make money from it, which was a pleasant surprise compared to what I’m used to when it comes to Hollywood adaptations of great novels.

I wanted to really know why Nelle never wrote another book (or rather, why she never had another published, since it’s clear she was writing one and began another), but since she’s so reclusive and her family also declines to give interviews, it’s apparent that we’ll have to wait until she’s passed on to see any of her further work, if she saves any of it at all. I feel like Shields implied in the Introduction that he was going to explain why, and I’m not sure he exactly lived up to that goal in “The Second Novel” (ch. 9). It seems to boil down to Nelle saying, “I don’t have enough peace and quiet” and/or “Too much time has passed” and/or “I did it right the first time” and/or some combination thereof… I guess all those reasons are true, and we may never know one way or the other. And the novel is still in print, more than fifty years later, so it’s not like she needs to write another book to get paid to put food on the table or something.

When you flip through, you’ll notice I wrote minimal notes in the margins and underlined some passages that stood out to me, since I remember your saying it was all right to do so. (If it wasn’t, I’m very sorry! I’ll make sure in the future.) Maybe the next time I visit we can crack open Mockingbird and have a miniature book club!

Thanks for letting me borrow it (and sorry for returning it so slowly).

Love from,
V.E.
————

I identify with Shields’s portrait of Nelle Lee in that I am also a writer, and I can see a lot of myself in the young woman struggling to write in New York and when she told one reporter, “I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement” I underlined it and said to myself, “Yes; this!”

I also agree with this review.