What I’m Consuming: The Liar’s Wife by Mary Gordon

In the first of what I hope to make a series of posts, I’d like to talk about The Liar’s Wife: Four Novellas by Mary Gordon (Pantheon Books, 2014).

I’m calling the series “What I’m Consuming.” I’m going to write about things I’ve watched, read, or heard (and maybe even eaten) that I liked and would recommend.

What it is and why it’s here

The Liar’s Wife is a collection of an odd genre. I’ve never seen more than one of these long stories/short novels together before. The quartet comes to 288 pages in all, and comes together well. Three of the protagonists are women — two very young and the third just past retirement age. Only one of the main characters is male — an elderly man looking back on his teenaged years.

Two of the novellas plop real historical figures Simone Weil and Thomas Mann into plausible but completely fictional settings.  Gordon then imagines a central character to put in his or her path and a series of events steeped in the figure’s heyday.

I’m writing about this here — with a heading that pledges I would recommend it — because of the characters, especially the female protagonists Jocelyn, Genevieve, and Theresa. Here are brilliant women, one of them fortunate in life (financially, family-wise, professionally) on top of that. The other two are survivors of World War II Europe and an affair with a pretentious professor, respectively. These women bask in and benefit from their enviable luck and talents, but also question their worth. It takes a great writer to create a woman who has a comfortable retirement, a loving husband, and thriving children, but wonders if she might be better off roaming the country in a Frito Lay truck and singing in dives — and Gordon makes the reader wonder, too.

How I came upon it

I read this book because Gordon’s daughter was a childhood friend. No joke! I didn’t realize at the time that Anna’s mother was a famous writer. But by this past fall, I knew it well enough to hightail it to Politics and Prose to see the mom from the stone house on North Oakwood Street.

Gordon is a fantastic reader. She read from the title work, performing the parts of the Irish truth twister, his Southern-born companion, and the Italian pizzeria owner as easily as the protagonist with a familiar northeastern American voice. I dug into the book a few months later, during what I’ll call a “working staycation” between semesters.

The upshot

I could have binge-watched yet more Scandal over those cold, laid-back weeks, but the characters and stories in The Liar’s Wife kept pulling me back to the printed page. They kept me reading and made me think.

 

Until next time, happy consuming!

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Top 10 places to give and make change

Participants in the Jews and Muslims DC event prepare to leave the DC Jewish Community Center with food and gifts for homeless people on Christmas Day.

Participants in the Jews and Muslims DC event prepare to leave the DC Jewish Community Center with food and gifts for homeless people on Christmas Day. Photo by Rhea.

I started off Christmas Day by returning a lost wallet. Then I headed to a volunteer event at the DC Jewish Community Center, where I gave blood and joined a project of Jews and Muslims DC that distributed food, holiday cards, and toiletries to poor and homeless people. The Washington Post and local news station WJLA covered efforts that day.

Yep, it all looked pretty virtuous. But it takes more than a day of service to bring about change.

That afternoon, just outside a Metro entrance that provided some warmth, we met a man who had a job as a bike mechanic but was living in a tent because rent is so high. For the Post article, reporter Michelle Boorstein spoke to a father and his adult son who had both been struggling for years. These are ongoing and systemic problems.

Edward Johnson, Sr., says it best in Boorstein’s article:

“I’d like to be the one here giving things out to them, but now I’m the one on this side. I want to be an overcomer,” said Johnson. “I’m grateful for the thought, but it would do more to take one person in this park and say: ‘I want to help you do better, I’m going to help you do better.’ ”

Here are 10 organizations I see helping people to overcome and do better, both on an individual and systemic level. With efficient use of funds, these nonprofits bolster access to good food, health, faith, community, and overall human well being. Continue reading

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Ferguson and shining a light

woman standing in front of bas relief sculptures with protest signs

A woman stands in Judiciary Square at the endpoint of the Justice for All March in Washington, DC.

 

Police-involved shooting.

That’s the term I see often now. It attempts an objective tone, a tone I tried to evoke with my classes following our first discussions of Ferguson and my recent post. I wanted to shine a light on this issue dwelling in our minds.

As I light the Hanukkah candles this week, I’m reminded how every light casts shadows. I have opinions and bias. And more observations. I want to follow up on those now.

Talking in class

In the week following the grand jury decision not to indict then-police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Ferguson resident Michael Brown, I talked to my students and tried to listen. I was impressed with their knowledge of the case. They had been following the news, not just Facebook rantings or snippets on CNN. Continue reading

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Conflicting sources in Ferguson

Venn diagram with good source criteria

A diagram by the author, created for first-year courses. Click image for a link to the PDF version.

I tell my college students to evaluate a source before they use it in a paper. Before they trust it to tell them the truth.

Around Ferguson, Mo., trust and truth evade me.

Questions on page 196 of the textbook in my critical reading and writing class suggest a formula to determine reliability. It’s a blue box with a list of questions, the kind savvy media consumers ask, like How did you find it? Who authored it?  Where was it published? Subsequent pages offer a chart to help crunch your answers (if you found it in a peer-reviewed journal or government website, that’s a good sign; if a retail website published it, that’s not so good).

I often distribute my own condensed guide, shown above. I sometimes talk about my experiences as a white, hearing, Jewish woman and how this relates to how I see, react to, and generate rhetoric.

What the public accepts about what happened in Ferguson: On August 9, a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager.

Some sources the public has about the event:

-A transcript of a detective’s interview with police officer Darren Wilson, who shot Michael Brown

-An interview with Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown that day, in an MSNBC video

-Accounts from other eyewitnesses–who saw it from cars, a balcony, the street–used in Wilson’s grand jury hearing.

I found these online, from media outlets I trust, mediated only by those asking the questions.

Other considerations include:
-American history

-Power

-Law enforcement trends and protocols

-Racism

-Prejudice

-Politics

-Psychology

-Communities

Continue reading

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Here Come the Videofreex has arrived!

Rhea:

An update on a film close to my heart…

Originally posted on The Videofreex:

It’s official: Here Come the Videofreex! has arrived.

Before I explain exactly what I mean, I want to go back four years. Attending a screening of Videofreex work at the Light Industry in Brooklyn, I met a guy named Jon Nealon who said he was interested in making a documentary about the group. I was impressed and flattered on behalf of my late dad and the rest of the crew, but wasn’t sure exactly how this film and funding would materialize.

After an energetic Kickstarter campaign, hours of interviews, scores of tapes restored, and months of editing, it’s safe to say he meant it.

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One writer’s experience at Binder Con

Check out my experience at Out of the Binders, aka #BinderCon, on Storify: https://storify.com/RheaYK/out-of-the-binders.

I was inspired by the Storify version of the Google For Media Summit, I decided to make one myself for this conference for women and gender non-conforming writers. Thanks for reading!

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Converging new years: Baja and Rosh Hashanah

Norton grapes growing in Missouri.jpg

Grapes serve as a symbol for the new year in Baja. They parallel the round challah and apples I eat during the Jewish new year. Photo credit: “Norton grapes growing in Missouri” by Don Kasak – Flickr: Chaumette Winery. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

This week, I’ve had much to celebrate. And contemplate. I can thank two converging new years for the opportunity. The evening of September 24 marked the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. Then on the 25th, The Washington Post published a story of how I spent the Gregorian Calendar new year in Baja California, Mexico.

I see Rosh Hashanah as a time to consider the previous year and the coming year. As one tashlich service leader put it, it’s a good time to contemplate how we balance power with kindness, emotions with principles, and intelligence with wisdom.

And as for the publication process?  That was a chance, as always, to take stock of my own writing — what inspires me, how I approach the craft, what I aspire to do with it, and how I take feedback along the way (especially when the editor has plenty).

Shanah tovah to all celebrating, and may everyone have a sweet weekend.

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