Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘woman’

Nothing But the Best

SecondBestSecond Best by Charmaine Pauls
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

The story is a beautiful work of art that alternates between the first person account of Molly von Aswegen as a teen, and her later life in Johannesburg, South Africa, as told in the third person. The tale takes place between 1981 and 1984 with 17-year-old Molly fighting for her life in an industrial school (similar to reform school), and the foster homes, jobs, and people she encounters once she gets out. The pacing, and timing, between her past, and present, are done seamlessly and to great effect.

Having most every horrible thing possible happen to her before she turns twenty-one, it is not surprising that Molly has little trust in others, and no self regard for herself. There are only two people that stay with her, and whom she trusts. Malcolm (Mal) meets her at school just before he goes off into the army and to fight in Angola. Neill Mckenzie, who owns the Opera Bakery, is the second person who sees something more in Molly than her life circumstances and reputation. Neill sees potential and a passion for baking. The story is reminiscent of the 2015 film Dough (without the comedic elements), which has an old Jewish baker struggling to keep his business alive in London, and the teenage Muslim boy he hires, who is “nothing but trouble”.

All of the character’s in Second Best are played well. Molly and Neill’s families are from different sides of town, and each member comes to life. Molly’s friend and foes at school, Berta, Mr. de Jonge, and Jessica, are like people you may know, or have known. The Opera Bakery’s obnoxious and self-centered patron, Judge William Brooks, who has power, prestige, and a sense of entitlement, can also be found in cities across the world. Realism, with dialogue, character, and action, run rampant throughout the story.

Second Best is a well crafted, insightful, and entertaining story, that takes you into the heart and soul of a young woman finding her way through a hellish childhood, and discovering if anything reminiscent of self-love, respect, and love, is remotely possible.

Romantic Comedy at It’s Best

Tales From A Broad by Jeannine Henvey
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

TFABIf you like Jane Austin you’ll love Tales From A Broad. If you enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love, and Under the Tucson Sun, you’ll want to languish in Tales From A Broad. If you liked Sex In the City, Pretty Woman, An Affair to Remember, and any of a hundred other romantic books and movies, you will find great pleasure in reading Tales From A Broad. If, on the other hand, you don’t like comedy, romance, “chick lit”, “women’s fiction”, or anything remotely similar, you’ll still fall in love with Tales From A Broad.

Lucy Banks is jilted by her fiancé, Cooper, days before there New York City wedding. Wallowing in self-pity, regret, dismay, and righteous anger, 42-year-old Lucy is given a ray of hope and possibility with a surprise visit from her concerned sister, Morgan, and 24-year-old niece, Tess. They have brought plane tickets to Europe for Tess and Lucy to travel together, in hopes they will each find a fresh start, perhaps some personal insight, and if nothing else, a little fun.

At first reading, I mistakingly thought this was a personal journal of the authors, but soon discovered that it was written so well that it just seemed personal. Everyone is flawed, complicated, and unique. Lucy is funny as hell, and delightfully snarky. Each experience, including chance encounters with a young man, Mark, and his older brother, Simon, bring new revelations to Lucy and Tess, pushing their boundaries and how they see themselves and others.

One of my favorite movies I saw last year was a 2014 Indian film called Queen, about a young woman who is dumped days before her marriage, and then decides to go on her honeymoon by herself to Europe. She stays at a youth hostile and meets a wonderfully eclectic and odd collection of new friends. She also comes into her own, and becomes clear about who she is and what she wants. Tales From A Broad follows a similar plot, but with an older woman and more mature perspective.

Tales From A Broad is not contrived, or trite, and will have you laughing, crying and rooting for Lucy’s happiness, whether you are an avid fan of romantic comedies and women’s literature, or not.

Bell Hooks and Love

searchCommunion: The Female Search for Love by Bell Hooks (Harper Collins Publishers, 2002)

Excerpt from Chapter One – Aging to Love, Loving to Age.

Women are often more interested in being loved than in the act of loving. All too often the female search for love is epitomized by this desire, not by a desire to know how to love. Until we are able to acknowledge that women fail at loving because we are no more schooled in the art of loving than are our male counterparts, we will not find love. If the female obsession with love in patriarchal culture were linked from birth on to the practice of love, then women would be experts in the art of loving. And as a consequence, since women do most of the parenting in our nation, children would be more loving. If women excelled in the art of loving, these skills would be imparted to male and female children alike.

As long as our culture devalues love, women will remain no more able to love than our male counterparts are. In patriarchal culture, giving care continues to be seen as primarily a female task. The feminist movement did not change this perception. And while women more than men are often great caregivers, this does not translate into knowing how to be loving. Love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust. Socialized in the art of caring, it is easier for women who desire to love to learn the necessary skills to practice love. And yet women have not chosen to give themselves whole-heartedly over to the art of loving. As long as being loved is seen as a gesture of weakness, one that dis-empowers, women will remain afraid to love fully, deeply, completely. Women will continue to fail at love, because this failure places females on an equal footing with males who turn away from love. Women who fail at loving need not be disappointed that the men in their lives – fathers, siblings, friends, or lovers – do not give love. Women who learn to love represent the greatest threat to the patriarchal status quo. By failing to love, women make it clear that it is more vital to their existence to have the approval and support of men than it is to love.

Teen Romance

imagesCindy was a mature woman of sixteen. I was an immature man of eighteen. We met in the afternoon at a teen drop-in center, gazed hopelessly into one another’s eyes, like puppy dogs, and within hours were talking about hooking up. That night we slept together for the first time and I was in heaven. I’d had several previous relationships, but none had ever been this intense or instantaneous.

Within a week Cindy had her mother’s permission to live with me and my grandmother said we could rent her trailer. Everything was set. Life was good. Cindy taught me the joy of sexual freedom and living in the moment and I obediently followed her every wish and whim to “make her happy”. I was so enmeshed in the sensations of the relationship that I failed to recognize my co-dependent and needy behavior. In my mind sex and love were one and the same.

I continued working at a counseling center and Cindy finished up her last year of high school. I studied Eastern religions on the side and she enjoyed drawing and working part-time at a florist shop. The only “minor” issue was that I couldn’t “make her happy” or give her the answers she was seeking. We were two young teenagers growing up together who had no idea what we were doing, what we wanted or where we were going.

After two tumultuous years we figured the answer to our dilemma was to get married. Why not? Wasn’t that what you were supposed to do? And even though it didn’t mean much to us at the time, we figured the worst that could happen is that we’d receive a lot of cool presents! Getting married was “just a piece of paper” we reasoned. Both of our parents had divorced and we knew we’d “always be together” regardless of any societal contract we may sign.

The wedding turned out as planned. All of our friends and relatives showed up at the reception, we got plastered and received a lot of money and presents. But after the money was spent and the wedding hangover wore off, the realities of what we had done creeped into our daily lives. We didn’t know what being married meant. I thought it implied getting a “steady job” and having children. So, I obtained a nine to fiver at the local phone company and we talked about having kids and buying a house. Lukily, neither the house nor the kids worked out because a year later it was splits-ville, as in divorce, finale, kaput, the end.

Screaming was the only thing that finally got my attention. Slamming the door shut behind her, Cindy entered the living room late one evening and yelled at the top of her lungs, “I can’t live with you anymore. I want a divorce!”

“Why,” I pleaded. “What do you want me to do?”

“Nothing,” she said. “Why don’t you stand up for yourself? Will you be real with me just once?”

“OK,” I replied, “What do you want me to say?”

“You don’t understand do you?” she replied. I sat silently with my head in my hands. After a deathly silence she quietly said, “I just need some space to be by myself. I moved in with you right from home. I’ve never been on my own.”

“So it’s nothing I’ve done or said?” I asked, my lip quivering.

“No, its not you,” she said.

In fact, it had a lot to do with me. She moved out a few days later and in a month was living with another guy.

Her decision to leave was not entirely out of the blue. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, she had been trying to separate for months. Other than running away, she had given me every clue possible, but I was blind. Her anger and judgments were an attempt to alienate me. She had thrown every name in the book my direction, at one time or another, assuming I’d leave. But like a faithful lap dog I had kept coming back for more.

At one point she insisted I sleep with her friend Lewellen and that we have an “open relationship”. I tried to do as she wished and acted like it was all cool, but it wasn’t. It turns out that the reason she had wanted me to be with other women was because she had already been having affairs with some of my best friends and I assume would have felt less guilty about her own behavior if I’d done the same.

When she left my bubble burst. I thought it was the end of the world. My dependence on her “being happy” as an indicator of my well-being had been total and complete. In the process of making her “OK”, I’d forgotten about myself; my wishes, desires, joys, ambitions and dreams. I had no sense of who “I” was or what made me happy.

Time didn’t heal anything, but it did give me some perspective. Clearly, I had sacrificed what little sense of my self I had ever had for Cindy. As long as I left all decisions to her it would be “her fault” whenever something didn’t work out. I was absolved from all wrong doing. I could blame her for everything. I could wallow in my self-pity and externalize all my troubles. “She did it, not me. She lied to me. She left me. She hurt me.”

I slowly recognized that I had made decisions by not deciding. I had lied to myself. I was equally responsible for our breakup. She tried to force me to be honest and state my needs, but I had cowered from the task. Shock tactics and reasoning never worked. Getting a divorce was what it finally took for me to wake up. It was the brick wall I needed to run into. If Cindy had not had the courage to leave I may have been lingering in a false identity for eons.

Like a snake that sheds it’s skin but still longs for its security, I kept aching for Cindys return. Even though I learned many things about myself since the divorce, images of us getting back together still lingered with sweet agony. Intellectually, I understood such images were fantasy, but my dependence on her for my well-being had been so complete that it took constant reality bites to loosen my grasp and let go of her as my emotional crutch.

Attachment is a strange thing; it can cause bliss and joy or pain and sorrow and you can’t have one without the other. When I grasped for love with Cindy I actually pushed it away with my wanting and neediness. She lost respect for me. The thing I wanted most didn’t want me. There was no substance or core to who I was. I decided to never put all my cookies in one jar. Until I knew who I was and what I wanted, I would not become involved with another woman. I silently swore that I’d never become so dependent on another for my happiness and well-being.

Such self-promises proved to be fruitless. Three more women entered my front door over the next three years and sooner or later left out the back porch. Each time I “knew” it was different than before. But sure enough, as each relationship ended and I had some perspective, it become clear that I couldn’t hide a wolf in sheep’s clothing. No matter how much I wanted to think I had changed, my basic behavior in response to each situation had been the same. They decided when to do what and when the relationship was over; not I. It wasn’t until a conflicted eight-year marriage ended, that I took responsibility and made a painful choice to leave.

After many years I believe I’ve finally figured out how to love and be loved, but I know that isn’t the most original idea that’s ever been planted in my head. I’ve been known to tell myself the most wonderful stories; and they always have happy endings. Every woman I met was the girl of my dreams. It wasn’t until I became more of who it was I was looking for, that I woke up and found the partner I’d been seeking in all my fantasies.

Love and Feminism

imagesUntil I read Bell Hooks books on feminism and love – Communion: The female search for love and All About Love – I would have sworn that I supported women (and men’s) liberation in every aspect of my life. But after the first few chapters I became painfully aware of the fact that I haven’t applied the same understanding and equality I try to faithfully practice at work, with friends, raising children and doing household chores to my intimate romantic life.

In Communion, Ms. Hooks says, “Some men cared enough to consent to feminist thinking and to change, but only a very, very few loved us – loved us all the way. And that meant respecting our sexual rights.”

I always think of my partners pleasure and satisfaction during sex and am turned on by her joy as much or more than my own sensations, but I also see how I have used coercion, control, emotional distancing and blame in the past to get what I wanted. I continually gave her the message (unconsciously and nonverbal) that she was never “good enough”. I always wanted her to be more sexual more often with greater variety and be different than she was or is, in order to fulfill my desires, perceived needs and fantasies. The underlying implications were “if you don’t change or be more like I want you to be, I’ll have to leave and find someone else.” It created a sense of fear and rejection.

Seeing this reality shattered my self-image of always being a loving, caring man and helped me acknowledge how often I and the continually reinforced messages from society, have caused such intense and long lasting loneliness for those women seeking loving, shared partnerships with men. Hooks states, “Feminist silence about love reflects a collective sorrow about our powerlessness to free all men from the hold patriarchy has on their minds and hearts. Our heartache came from facing the reality that if men were not willing to holistically embrace feminist revolution, then they would not be in an emotional place where they could offer us love.”

I began to realize that it is love and connection that I desire most, not sex. I no longer need sex to reassure me that I am loved or wanted. In the past, having someone desire and want me sexually meant that they loved me. If they didn’t have sex as often as I wanted I reacted out of fear and sadness believing it meant they didn’t love me completely. Out of this sadness I would react with frustration and anger by trying to get them to “prove” their love for me with sex or by emotionally distancing myself and not talking in order to “protect” myself from having expectations or “being hurt”.

These reactions and I believe that of most men, are not realities I have totally ignored, but until reading hooks words I hadn’t really taken them to heart and honestly confronted my own patriarchal fears and thinking in the matter of love and relationships. It felt like Bell had me in her sights when she said, “Feminist women stopped talking about love because we found that love was harder to get than power. Men, and patriarchal females, were more willing to give us jobs, power, or money than they were to give us love. Women who learn to love represent the greatest threat to the patriarchal status quo.”

While reading Communion some kind of switch went on in my head. At first it opened the floodgates of grief over my part in perpetuating such alienation and pain. Then a kind of peace engulfed me – a new found love and acceptance of myself and my partner. I am less stressed and anxious about the future and don’t try to make people be different than who they are. Is it any surprise that my partner has also experienced more peace with herself and in bed? She no longer has to worry or wonder if she will ever “be enough” or meet my suffocating patriarchal images of how she “should” be.

As I learn to love, without depending on her to fulfill or “make” that love, she to is finding that our mutual appreciation and respect for what is present, rather than what is absent, has deepened every aspect of our lives. Neither of us need the other person’s “approval” to love or be loved.

Ms. Hooks insightfully reminds her readers that, “Knowing that both women and men are socialized to accept patriarchal thinking should make it clear to everyone that men are not the problem. The problem is patriarchy.” The problem is our refusal to acknowledge our own behavior in the most intimate moments of our lives and the fear of real connection and closeness that keeps us perpetuating the myths and lies about the minor differences of genes, gender and genetics.

My Mother Was Murdered

Excerpt featuring Lee Mun Wah. From Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

lee-mun-wah“Your mother’s been murdered!” The woman who gave you birth is dead. Her life intentionally ended by another man. This was the cold reality Mr. Lee had to face in 1985. Feelings of fear, anger, rage and revenge soon replaced the numbed existence of shock. Instead of letting these intense, understandable reactions control his life, Mr. Lee searched for answers. He began to reach out, to confront and explore the ingrained, unconscious attitudes that lead to hate and violence, and discovered a way to shift the imbalances of power, heal the wounds and open our hearts.

As a seminar leader, speaker and filmmaker, Mr. Lee’s work has been highly visible, effective and utilized throughout the nation. His first film Stolen Ground, about racism towards Asian-Americans, won special merit at the San Francisco International Film Festival. His second video, of a weekend encounter group for men, The Color of Fear, won the 1995 National Education Media Award for best social studies documentary and has been used in thousands of organizations and businesses to deal with and discuss prejudice, bias and race. 

LEE MUN WAH:

I was born in Oakland, California at a time when people were living in mixed neighborhoods. I had a real glimpse of what a community could look like with all different ethnicities. My parents were very poor, though as a child I didn’t know that. Some of the distinct things I remember were that there were very few Asians in my classes and very few or almost no Asian-American or African-American teachers. When I noticed this consciously it became a real loss.

I was born into a very alive, dynamic family. I always thought that all Chinese families were like this. It wasn’t until later that I realized my father was a very unique man who really believed in going out in the world and creating what you wanted. He influenced me greatly in that way. My mother was very warm and personable; very intimate and in that way created my sense of family, of being close to people.

A lot of these life experiences prepared me, without my knowing, for the type of work I do now, when I talk about the country having a national relationship. It’s about how a family treats each other. I don’t think it’s just a sense of family, it’s also part of our Asian, Chinese culture . . . that we’re there for one other . . . that we respect and honor each others needs . . . the warmth, security and safety of a family . . . being up front and honest . . . trying to be a good person in the world and with those you meet. A number of people have that in there culture as well, but I don’t think many have made the connection of family into a larger community, in a global or workplace perspective and I think that is the missing link.

The American thing is often, “Me, me, me!” Business is first and task oriented and not loyal to workers. When business is down or they’re “restructuring” and they lay you off, they’re actually saying, “You are no longer needed, the company is more important.” It isn’t about taking care of the people who work for you but about having them compete with each other. I don’t run my family or workplace that way. And when I go out into the world that’s something I work for, to change that paradigm.

I don’t think you can legislate an end to racism. You have to have a change of heart. That’s why I talk about a relationship. It’s the only real connection we have. Often, we don’t act until there’s a crisis. What we need to realize is that the crisis is happening every single day and there’s always something you can do to address it.

We’ve never understood culture in this country. We think it’s the food, the costume or the holiday, but we don’t touch what it really means to us on a spiritual, emotional, ancestral way. When the American Indian tells us that it’s not enough to pass the sage around the room but to really understand where that comes from. To understand the relationships and the way we treat each other; that it’s really expressed in our movements, in what we don’t say, the way we hold each other, the way we wait for and acknowledge one other. We don’t take the time to really look, to really experience. Americans want everything fast . . tangible. The American Indian is right when they say, “You want my customs, my rituals and my land, but you don’t want me.” What we do is we use people and cultures. We use them when it’s convenient, for a service, for artifacts. Rarely do we take the time to understand how we relate to each other.

We don’t look into the realm of what we don’t know. I think that’s the part I’m talking about. When I do workshops I have people look around the room, listen to silence; listen to what’s not being said, to bodies that are talking all the time. We usually don’t listen to the nonverbal, to the energy in a room, to the impact of our ancestors that have brought us to this place. We are very present and future oriented but don’t pay enough homage or respect to the past. When are we open to learn from other cultures . . . to integrate values from other cultures? When companies say they’re multi-cultural or multi-racial I ask them to name one cultural factor they’ve integrated, that they see as practical, as useful, that they use every single day.

The turning point for me (after my mother was murdered) was when I wrote a play in which I acted out facing my Mom’s murderer. It also helped to look at the context from where it came. I tried to find and talk to the man who killed my mother, to no avail. On the day we finished The Color of Fear he was sentenced to life in prison. He’d killed four or five other women in addition to my Mom. Before that I had continued trying to contact his family. It turns out that some of his relatives lived in a home we’d been renting. It was really shocking. I talked to the woman who lived there and she said a cousin of hers had killed someone as well. When she went to his trial she had to leave because all she could see was “The little boy I’d grown up with”. She told me, “You may never know why he did it.”

Had my mother not been murdered, I’d never had made the film (The Color of Fear). I began to really see and sense that perhaps there was a meaning to this. It serves my healing and in many ways it’s healing for this country as well, because surely if I can go through this then others can open their hearts and have compassion as well. I’m not so sure hatred or guns or bars do any good . . . it only makes fear larger. Fear is not something you can protect yourself from, you have to walk through it.

More inspiring stories at Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call

Teacher Warrior Mother Friend

imgresWhen I was a young man (about two hundred years ago), I was lucky enough to discover a martial arts school in my hometown that taught Judo and Jiu-Jitsu. The head teacher (Sensei) was a woman named Professor Jane Carr. The reason I say “lucky” is because I could have innocently become involved with a so-called teacher who had not been well trained, whose only concern was fighting or winning competitions and/or making money. A teacher, who cared more about power, control and prestige then self-control, honor and respect.

Professor Carr was different. She was a teacher, warrior, mother, counselor, non-violent activist and friend all rolled up into one. She expected all her students to work hard to improve themselves in all aspects of their lives, in and out of the dojo (practice hall). She commanded respect, not because of her fighting skills (which are formidable), but because she showed respect for others and would settle for nothing less in herself. Her presence demonstrated and invited those around her to discover their own inner strengths and character. Professor Carr is still teaching (after 55 years), and her daughter is head instructor at the academy. Sensei Carr was recently awarded her 10th degree black belt, making her one of only three people in the American Judo & Jiu-Jitsu Federation to have this degree, and the only woman.

Tag Cloud