Hey all! I’m kind of wiped out from all the physical activity the rest of the Voxxies participated in. (I’m actually fending off an allergy-cold thingie, so more prone to fatigue than normal). Please meditate on this sad story of what happens when a woman efficiently and expertly does a whole bunch of unpaid and unappreciated labor for her husband yet fails to worship his masculinity properly. I’ll be back after my nap to continue my commentary!
tag urself: I am #12
Hey there reader(s), a few words of warning: a.) I am writing this on a blue tooth keyboard and my phone. I’m going to not worry about typos. b.) Seattle weather seems to have migrated south and it is starting to drizzle. So maybe I’ll be blogging this from the car. A little about this book. It was published in 1963, written by a woman who had a degree in Home Economics from BYU. Look, there’s nothign wrong with a home ec degree – in fact, I think those with home ec degrees should have W2 /401k type jobs. It seems to be a reaction to the 60’s feminist movement, and boy is it reactionary. Further notes will be added to the comments section. please feel free to add your oen comments if the spirit moves you!
I’m just practicing writing this on my phone with my bluetooth keyboard. It looks like it works (huzzah!) so I should be able to leave appalled comments tomorrow. Here is a preview of the kind of wonderful advice proffered by Fascinating Womanhood:
“WHEN WOMAN RULES”
When woman rules, it robs her of presence of mind to do her homemaking tasks well. Generally speaking it is trying on a woman’s emotions to assume the leadership role. But if she develops capabilities which make these masculine duties easy for her – she tends to los some of her essential feminine charm.
(OK, so I can’t seem to highlight that last sentence after the hyphen so that I can italicize like the book does, but otherwise, it’s just a good reminder that trying to take charge means our tiny ladybrains can’t remember how to clean a toilet!)
I don’t remember learning to read music. I don’t remember learning to read either. This is more an admission of my poor memory than it is of my precocity. By my best guess, I most likely learned to read music sitting with my family in a church pew. Growing up in a church with no paid clergy or musicians, the congregation was expected to have a certain level of musical competence – at least enough to recognize that when the little back dots went up, so did your voice. Mom, a trained mezzo-soprano and pianist, exceeded the minimal musical competence required of her, and would often change parts at the verses, raising the bass an octave, singing most of the tenor line, throwing in with the sopranos if necessary (it was no fun to sing the melody when all that harmony was just there for the taking). I learned to hear the “inside” voices of a chorale in church too, which was good because as I became school age, I found sometimes I couldn’t hit the high notes in some of the Primary songs and I could find a third or a fifth that worked in the song. Some of the kids gave me funny looks, but it was OK; the church taught me that Jesus wanted to hear all of us sing with whatever voice God gave us. If someone was singing the “wrong” note, someone else could always sing the right one louder.
As a kid I also learned to play the cello. I was at home in an ensemble with an “inside” part, and was well served by my ability to listen to where I fit in, adjusting dynamics and attack based on how others were playing. I also got fewer funny looks for my vibrato. When I came back to singing, I relished my time in the alto section of choirs (provided I wasn’t just singing a D or an F# for measures at a time; composers of intermediate level chorus pieces, we need to talk) and I loved being one voice in the midst of a big group, even while singing solos. That time learning music in church by singing with hundreds of other people of one heart and mind, if only for the space of a few hymns, had inextricably linked music with the numinous for me. I was incapable of making music without also connecting to something else. Something Big.
The spiritual and philosophical path my life has taken has not been without its twists and turns. The church of my youth didn’t have a place for the adult I became. I explored paganism, atheism, other forms of Christianity. It’s hard for me to describe myself, but maybe an agnostic with Christian leanings would be accurate. A few years ago I sang in a wonderful church choir where the desired sound was that of a boy choir. We were able to sing some inspiring music and that bundle of neurons responsible for my confusing music with God got a great work-out, but the biggest challenge for me was subconscious: if the “proper” sound for this choir was the hollow, cool treble tone of a pre-pubescent boy, the dark, warm alto instrument I had been blessed with never quite fit. Did God really want me to use a practice mute?
Vox Femina wanted my voice as a woman. As a community, Vox commissions new works, often from women, paying living composers to create new music. We do outreach in the community, sharing the joy we have in performing with kids who may not have the opportunity to hear or sing this kind of music. We sing songs about women’s experiences, about love, freedom, protest, kindness, hope, anger, and yes, even God. Every time the forty of us get together, we are united, making music with one heart and mind. Singing in Vox is prayer. It’s meditation. As a chorus, we breathe together – unless it’s staggered breathing, where we listen to our fellow singers and breathe when others are singing to ensure that every singer gets to catch her breath while the choir continues to make music. Listening, supporting, sharing. Vox Femina is a microcosm of the kind of society I would like to live in.
Well folks, I’ve got some good news and bad news for you…
First the Bad:
I had planned to read and review five books before Song Cycle, but now it looks like it’s only going to be four. Since that fifth book is something I’m excited about reading, I’ll still read and post a review but it won’t be before May 6.
And now, the Good!
Thanks to many generous donations, I was the first singer in Vox to reach my fundraising goal – which meant to me I probably should have set a higher goal. So last week I raised the goal by about 40% – which I am now only $20 away from reaching! If this happens, SWEAR WORDS FOR EVERYONE!!!
But this leads into more Bad:
So this arrived…
While the rest of my Vox sisters are biking, running and walking, I will be reading and typing about this ladycentric self-help guide. Here is an infographic that shows you (a lady) everything you need to catch and keep a man:
Hope this helps!
Wow! Kindred was great! I give it all the stars!!!
This is so much closer to what I wanted to be reading for my Song Cycle Read-a-thon. When I made my initial list, I had a lot of Important works on there. One of the things I love about SF is that it is firmly rooted in the time it is written; it extrapolates from contemporary technology and culture and asks “what if?” At its best, it shows me other ways to look at things, gives me a road map of what I might do in a given situation, places me gently in the shoes of the “other”. Because Important SF books are often only permitted into the canon once they are old enough to be respectable, the starting point of the extrapolation may be woefully behind our current mores. Look at the central thesis of “Herland”, which seemed to be arguing against the prevailing culture which worshipped women as mothers in lip service only, by saying “what if we truly worshipped Motherhood?” instead of “what if women’s contributions to family, society, art and commerce were acknowledged and respected?”. Of course, I am looking at this through the lens of someone who learned to love reading at the opposite end of the 20th century in which “Herland” was written, but I think whether a text holds up in the canon of Important Feminist Literature or should be included as contextual reading for Women’s History is a debate we might wish to have.
So onward to Kindred, with a little background on the author. Octavia Butler was an African-American author born in 1947, and raised in Pasadena. She came from a working-class background and worked to put herself through community college with an Associate of Arts with a concentration on History. While she took some writing classes through UCLA extension courses, she was largely a self-taught writer, working temp jobs and attending writing workshops while continuously writing. She sold short fiction as well as novels, and her prose is transparent and lovely. Her works all fall under “Speculative Fiction”, but rather than concentrating on technology and science, they often focus on what makes us human – both good and bad – what makes us form communities, how we organize ourselves in hierarchies, and how science might change the way we already relate as a society. In 1995, she was the first Science Fiction writer to win a Macarthur Foundation “genius” grant. Butler described herself as “…a pessimist if I’m not careful, a feminist always, a Black, a quiet egoist, a former Baptist, and an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.” Sadly, Ms. Butler passed away in 2006, but she left us lots of wonderful books and stories.
“Kindred” is a story of time-travel, but it’s also a story of American history. Edana Franklin and Kevin Franklin have just moved into their first home together in Southern California. In the midst of loading up the new bookshelves, Edana (or Dana, as she prefers) becomes dizzy, falls to the floor and finds herself transported to a rural area where a red-headed boy, Rufus Weylind, is drowning in a river. Dana resuscitates the boy, and is met with immediate suspicion from two white adults, one of whom aims a gun at her. She reappears in her new home, to a shocked Kevin. These episodes continue, each time the child is in mortal danger, and Dana quickly realizes that she is being transported back to a Maryland of the early 1800’s, and Rufus is a distant ancestor.
I don’t want to spoil the plot, because this is a great book that is also highly thought-provoking as well as entertaining. While there are no other similarities, I found myself feeling the same way I did when I first read “To Kill A Mockingbird” last year; why did no one who told me this was an Important book also tell me it was a wonderful book? But while TKAM was a meditation on race relations through White memoir, “Kindred” is an undeniably African-American perspective. A story can have many inspirations, and Butler herself cites a few. In an interview with the New York Times, Butler referred to her mother’s work as a maid, “…I didn’t like seeing her go through back doors. If my mother hadn’t put up with all those humiliations, I wouldn’t have eaten very well or lived very comfortably.” Additionally, the seed of Kindred may have been a discussion she heard when attending Pasadena City College in the mid-sixties, when she heard a male classmate criticize previous Black generations of “subservience” to whites. She didn’t see it that way – “They were fighting, they just weren’t fighting with fists, which is sometimes easy and pointless. The quick and dirty solution is often the one that’s most admired until you have to live with the results. I wanted to write a novel that would make others feel the history: the pain and fear that black people have had to live through in order to endure.”
Kindred delves into all layers of ante-bellum society; Dana and Kevin are an inter-racial couple in late 70’s California. Rufus Weylind, who inadvertently summons Dana each time he is near death, is the child of a plantation owner. He is also one of Dana’s ancestors. Dana gets to know many members of slave society but is always held slightly apart due to her tenuous position in the Weylind household. We see all the compromises people without power are forced to make, and how even some of the relatively weak people like Rufus’ mother, do not hesitate to “punch down” and hurt those with even less power.
But I’m making this sound like an Important book – a virtuous plate of steamed broccoli when you’d rather add some more cheese to the mashed potatoes – but I promise it’s also a great read. Lots of suspense, etc. But I will spoil one thing – Dana and Kevin survive. You learn this in the first chapter, so it’s not too much of a spoiler. I know it is often difficult for me to read a book if I know it will be incredibly depressing (see, Steinbeck’s “The Pearl”) so knowing that our protagonists at least survive was enough to take the edge off of some of the suspense.
So in conclusion, I highly, highly recommend this book. It will make you think (here – start with this one: “A Handmaid’s Tale” is not a future dystopia – for Black women, it is part of their history.) You’ll end it smarter than you started it. And once you’re done, you can go visit an exhibition of her papers at the Huntington Library.