Book: Rosanne’s Reasons Why “Eat, Pray, Love” Ought to be in the Parenting Section

I’m going to begin by honestly confessing that I read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert this week on the excuse that I needed to in order to discuss adaptations in my writing classes. Then I have to confess that I loved it. Sure, the author wallows a bit much in her lousy divorce during the Italy section rather than giving me more Italy, and yes the ending is a bit fairytale princess-y for me. But it also stayed true to a theme I first read in the 1970s in a piece of teen girl lit that had been published back in 1946 – Going on Sixteen by Betty Cavanna. The theme of both pieces is: You have to be yourself before anyone else can love you. ‘Cause if you perfect the art of being someone else and then someone falls in love with that fabrication, it will end badly for both of you.

That’s a long lead in to this week’s guest posting for Dawn while she’s enjoying a couple weeks on what I like to teasingly call her ‘Family Estate’ on Martha’s Vineyard. I’m pleased to be asked to fill in for her as we so enjoy working together (though, of course, this doesn’t involve us even being in the same room, which is the only bummer).

So what does Eat, Pray, Love have to do with parenting? That question takes us right back to my love of the theme. It’s my sincere belief that this may be the greatest lesson we teach our children in their time with us – to love who they are and not try to be anything else, certainly not merely to attract someone to them. Funny how humans need to keep being told the same thing over and over again before it finally sinks in. But it is not funny to realize how many adults I’ve met over my career who were never taught this. And ya’ know what that means? Massive amounts of insecure grown-ups leading lives of not-so-quiet desperation as our trouble-making, diva-bad-behaving bosses, neighbors and friends. Who wants to raise their kid to be those people? And yet, somehow, so many people do. I imagine it’s not the kind of thing we often realize, especially if we had no self-esteem given to us in our own childhoods. But that means we have to work on our own security issues so we don’t pass that on down to our kids, which in the end is true to our entire career as parents – it’s our job not to continue negative cycles.

What is does NOT mean is that we compliment them every time they do something as basic as taking dishes to the kitchen or emptying the dishwasher. Or that we give them participation ribbons for merely being on a team or taking part in some practically mandatory event such as a school fundraising Jogathon. That kind of behavior creates the silliness we read about now where the current generation of overly-complimented kids need to be thanked for showing up to work on time in the ‘real’ world. I fervently doubt it teaches them they are special as it is clear everyone is getting the same participation ribbon, trophy or medal.

Face it folks, we’ve raised a particularly smart bunch of kids in the last generation or so and they catch on quick when an award means nothing. My favorite story on that count comes from the First Grade Science Fair my son’s school ran to give them a taste for choosing a topic, doing age-appropriate research and filling out those 3-part foam core boards. Our school even had judges come in and interview all the children about their projects. Because one of the parents before the event vociferously insisted that awarding place ribbons (first, second and third) would cause crying among the children who didn’t win, the whole class full of parents decided not to award any place ribbons. When the judges were through and the students all streamed back into the auditorium I watched my son grab the ribbon off his project and shout to the kid next to him, “I won a ribbon!” But then that other kid said, “So did I.” They proceeded to compare their ribbons and found that they were identical participation ribbons. Then they proceeded to toss the ribbons on the ground and go back to checking out each other’s displays, wondering who received the ‘real’ ribbons.

I take that lesson into the orientation classes I teach at local colleges. In the last class it is recommended that we get the students in groups and have them come up with award titles for the kids in the other groups so that everyone is acknowledged for having taken part in the class. You already know how I feel about that philosophy so what do you think I do? I explain that idea to the students, then I tell them the story about the First Grade Science Fair ribbons, and then I hand out large chocolate bars to the top 5 or 7 or 9 kids (no need to round out to an even 10 if an even 10 didn’t stand out in my mind) with silly awards written on the wrapper such as “Contributing in Class King” or “Most Attentive” or “Best Reader”. Heck, I even do “Most Likely to Succeed in College” ‘cause it’s such an American icon.

Anyway, I highly recommend Eat, Pray, Love (and Going on Sixteen) and any other reading that reminds us of this all important lesson that we must love ourselves as we are.

AND if any of you are writers out there and need my adaptation-studying excuse for reading Gilbert’s book, then I also recommend the Written By Magazine article about adapting Eat, Pray, Love into a movie which you can read online. See Page 27 for the article.

Book Review: Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid by Nikki Giovanni

Book Review: Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid by Nikki Giovanni

In a recent Facebook post I mentioned reading more poetry recently (as a preface to quoting Rudyard Kipling’s If).  I’m not sure how Kipling brought me to finally reading some of the work of Nikki Giovanni, but I’ve just finished two of her poetry books back to back and enjoyed each immensely.  First I tasted her newest, Chasing Utopia:  A Hybrid, and then went back to her earlier book, Bicycles, which ends with the poem “We Are Virginia Tech”, a poem she delivered at the memorial for the students who died during the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 where she taught poetry.

I hated to realize that’s the event that brought her work to my attention, but it is, and if poetry is about truth then so, too, should a review of a poet be about truth. Truth is what I found in her work as well as a truly original and inclusive voice.  I say both original and inclusive because she spoke from her own reality – that of being an African American female who grew up in Ohio, studied history in college and works as a college professor and professional writer – but inclusive because if you take the “African” away from “African American” then every thing I used to describe her, describes me, and her work reminded me so much more of our similarities than of our perceived-by-society differences.  True, her frequent references to African American leaders and culture would catch me off – I knew to whom she referenced (I spent my college years wrapped up in Prince mania) but kept realizing she is one of the few poets I’ve read who uses such references primarily and I knew that some people would find that exclusive.  Yet all her poems about love and loss were universal, especially “Love (And the Meaning of Love)” from Bicycles, which called up memories of teenage angst over the one great question we all had:

I wanted to
But you couldn’t

I hoped 
But you wouldn’t

I understood 
Why we shouldn’t

So you declined
And we didn’t 

But it would
Have been fun

If we would’ve.

What I most like about this poem is her ability to sketch out such deep emotion through the efficient use of such simple wording.  She does that again and again.  I a poem also in Bicycles called “I Provide” she lists all the things one lover provides to the other and ends with:

Everything you need
I provide 

Now tell me
You’re not happy

Giovanni uses word layout similarly to one of my favorite poets – e.e. cummings – without employing his love for radical spelling and grammar.  Her poem “Everything Good is Simple” seems to sum up her writing right there in the title.

In Utopia I found more evidence of her earlier, more political writings, the ones that brought her originally to the public’s attention.   Poems like “Note to the South:  You Lost” (which I intend to send to all my Civil War historian friends as a fun thing to let their students ponder:  why if they lost – and after fighting for such a horrendous cause — do we still admire them so?  

Giovanni also considers her poetry – and by extension all writing – political in her piece “The Significance of Poetry”.  In Utopia she writes about jazz as political fodder and about the blues and even the act of loving as a political choice (who, when, how).  I found her work wonderful to ponder and her words wonderful to wander, probably due to the truth behind the lines in “Werewolf Avoidance”:  

Poets should be strong
In our emotions
And our words that might make us 
difficult to live with but I do believe
easier to love
Poet it garlic
Not for everyone
But those who take it
Never get caught
By werewolves

Hear more on Nikki Giovanni in her NPRinterview on Tell Me More (from Tuesday July 29, 1014)

More books by Nikki Giovanni

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Summer Reading: My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor My Beloved World

Summer is my reading time, always has been. Whole books get swallowed in a day or two only to be followed by other whole books. Sometimes they are classics I’ve always meant to get to but most often they are books that I find mentioned in articles I read and the mention makes me realize I missed the book the first go round. So I trot on over to my library’s website and put the book on hold. The most current literary gem I’ve discovered is My Beloved World by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She says she wrote it with the help of a poet friend and the lushness of the language attests to that truth. But what I liked best about the book was her relentless positivity in the face of some sad things that happened to her. Rather than wallow in the sadness, as some memoirs do (Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes comes to mind here) Sotomayor uses every sad experience to highlight a lesson she learned and almost immediately put into practice with positive results. The poet’s assistance also shines through on the narrative structure of the individual chapters – they often start with the most interesting piece of dialogue en media res – and then backtrack to explain how she found herself in that moment, making us active participants in the teachable moment.

“What I liked best about the book was her relentless positivity in the face of some sad things that happened to her.”

The other thing I loved about the book is the fact that she vividly recalls the moment she discovered the career she ultimately created – and she credits television for bringing it to her. I’ve often cringed when people told me that old saw about how TV rots our brains. Yeah, sure, I usually say. If you watch a dizzying dose of reality nonsense from capitalistic Kardashians to racist roommates on Big Brother, it rots your brain and wastes hours of your life better spent loving other people (in all ways that word can be understood). But if you actively watch decent stuff studies show you can learn empathy for others as you worry about your favorite characters and wonder how you would behave in similarly difficult situations. But in Sotomayor’s case TV did the other thing it deserves credit for doing. It introduced an impoverished child to the larger world that existed and gave her the goal of achieving entrance into that world through the only doorway offered her – education. Sotomayor discusses watching Perry Mason and realizing that, though the brilliant lawyer was the star of the show, the real power in the courtroom was held in the hands of the judge who told that brilliant lawyer whether or not he won.

The other things Sotomayor does that are refreshing and eye-opening is she frankly discusses the fact that being a single, career-minded, successful woman in the world today can be enough if you nurture a set of deep friends supporting them in their endeavors. Her discussion of how much fun it is to be an aunt brought a smile to my face for all the single women I know. Secondly, she mentioned an assignment given to her in one of her early history classes at Princeton – to do a family history – and how finally asking her mother how she and her father met taught her to see that everyone has difficulties and those should not define a person. Rather, one should be defined by the way they face those difficulties.

Finally, Sotomayor’s memoir puts a face on an experience I read more deeply about in another book I always recommend to my first year college students – Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar World – the experience of being the first in your family to attend college. The idea that she didn’t know the Ivy League was any more difficult to get into than other colleges so she submitted applications to Harvard and Yale and Princeton, was accepted by all and finally settled on Princeton. Then that her first generation naivete made her originally toss out an invite into Phi Beta Kappa because it sounded like an excuse to sell her a pin for precious money she wasn’t in the habit of wasting. Those are still real experiences for many first generation students and worth seeing come to life in her life.

In many ways her look at the childhood of a Puerto Rican immigrant family in the 1960s was eerily familiar with the Irish immigrant stories from the 1900s from one of my favorite childhood classics – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I can’t say when I’ve enjoyed a memoir more.

“There seemed to be wagons as far as Mary could see.” from The Promise Chapter 4

“Everything from the giant piano to the tiniest box was being loaded onto the two wagons Master Holmes had purchased for the trip. They were parked at the edge of town, already lined up among 150 other wagons. There seemed to be wagons as far as Mary could see. Cattle were tied to the back of many of them, placidly chewing their cud. Dogs ran freely around their owners, including Master Holmes’ two ugly bloodhounds.

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Watch a reading of Chapter 1 by co-author, Dawn Comer Jefferson

Watch a school presentation on The Promise and Slavery

“Mary slept on a rug at the foot of Miss Dorthea’s bed” from The Promise Chapter 4

“That night, Mary slept on a rug at the foot of Miss Dorthea’s bed. It was Mary’s first time in a hotel and she marveled at how large the building was. It was bigger than the Holmes’ house, even bigger than the barn where Mary and Buddy used to visit the horses. Her mind was so full of new sights she barely slept.

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Watch a reading of Chapter 1 by co-author, Dawn Comer Jefferson

Watch a school presentation on The Promise and Slavery

Reading Tim Conway’s autobiography made me smile…

Spent the first day of my summer vacation (which didn’t start until all grades everywhere were calculated and posted) in my most favorite way to spend a day – reading an entire book in my garden in a series of sittings (interrupted by tea and lunch and hanging laundry and dinner, etc).    What book you ask?  Something deep and dark like War and Peace or Dr. Zhivago?  Nope.  I opted to open my summer with the autobiography of an old friend, though we’ve never met (though why he never appeared as a guest on Touched by an Angel is a mystery to me).  Tim Conway, aka Ensign Parker on McHale’s Navy; aka Barnacleboy on Spongebob Squarepants aka a dozen crazy characters on The Carol Burnett Show

Why did I choose that to begin my summer reading?  Partly because he was raised in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, where my Mom used to take me for ice cream treats during the summer; partly because he graduated from Bowling Green State University (as Doug and I did); and partly because I knew it would be full of fun tidbits about the early days of radio and television both in Cleveland (where he worked with Ernie Anderson before he became Ghoulardi) and in Los Angeles.  Just about as funny as the book Jim Backus (Thurston Howell III) wrote with his wife, Henny, in the 1980s.

Conway’s book is full of funny stories about scrambling to fill time on early radio and television shows and honest discussions of being happy in life even if you’re always the second banana, never the star.  He talks about being raised by his immigrant parents – Dad Daniel from Ireland and Mom Sophia from Romania — and then raising his own 6 kids with their lessons in his mind all the time.  He talks about being bilingual (English and Romanian) and losing that second language as he grew up.  He talks about the joy and honor of meeting and working with the great stars of his childhood movie-viewing including Cary Grant and Ernest Borgnine and his enthusiasm for all the blessings in his life is catchy.

I smiled often until page 70 when I fell on the floor laughing (much as I did while watching all those Carol Burnett shows in elementary school) and pretty much never got back in my chair.  It was too precarious to ponder.  I found myself regaling Doug with several of the stories even as he tried to read something else.  If you’d like to spend some time in happy company I highly recommend What’s so Funny?

See all my favorite book and DVD picks in the WelchWrite Bookstore

“The Slave Auction” from The Promise Chapter 3

“When the day of the auction arrived, the plantation was filled with men inspecting the slaves who were for sale. Mary walked among them, keeping their lemonade glasses filled and listening to Bostwick describe her friends. “This boy can tote two bails at a time. And Carrie over here’s got ten good years of birthing left in her.”

Download a sample and buy The Promise today!

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Watch a reading of Chapter 1 by co-author, Dawn Comer Jefferson

Watch a school presentation on The Promise and Slavery

“The Master promised he would free us” from “The Promise” Chapter 2

“All these dresses got to be folded and packed. The master and mistress are taking a train to somewhere called Oregon and we are going with them.” Mary quickly followed her mother’s orders. Her mother stopped folding for a moment and sat down on the wooden stepstool beside the bed. “Your Pa says when we get to this Oregon, the Master promised he would free us,” her mother nearly whispered. “Free us?” Mary repeated. “How?

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Photos: Literacy Day Event at California African-American Museum

Rosanne was out of town at another event, but co-author, Dawn Comer Jefferson and her daughter, Natalie (the model from the cover of “The Promise“) attended the Literacy Day Event at the California African-American Museum on Saturday. They sold and signed copies of “The Promise” and shared the story of the book in 2 readings from the book.

These photos give an overview of their day at the event, including photos of the attendees and fellow, local authors who attended. A few photos are included below along with a complete slide show of all the photos from the event. Click for larger images. 

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(L-R) Natalie Jefferson, and local authors, Dawn Comer Jefferson, Valerie Wicks,  Yasmeen Z Christian and Valerie Woods

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See the complete album of photos on Flickr

“God ain’t no slave” from “The Promise” Chapter 1

“Then she read, “I will make man in my own im-age.” Mary wrinkled her brow and wondered. “Does that mean God looks like us?” She asked Buddy. “Naw, God ain’t no slave,” Buddy said. “Bible say he’s owner of heaven and earth.

Download a sample and buy The Promise today!

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