Another Mother Tongue by Judy Grahn

I must have read Another Mother Tongue shortly after it was published in 1984. If I am writing about it now in 2012, some 28 years later, you KNOW it is an important and powerful book in my life. 

Another Mother Tongue is categorized as history and gay & lesbian studies. It is that, but it reads like a poetic novel. It certainly relates the history of lesbians and gay men across history, as much as that history – so doggedly and diligently erased and denied – can be pieced together from shards, fragments, fables and myths. The book is also Grahn’s coming out story, her life, her loves, her struggles and triumphs. For a young lesbian in the 80’s – before Ellen Degeneres, before K.D. Lang, before the Indigo Girls and Melissa Etheridge, before the L Word, roll models were few and far between.  There were Gertrude stein and Billy Jean King (well, maybe there was Billy Jean) and Martina Navratalova. This was the era when asking someone if they liked Holly Near music was code for asking if that person was a lesbian – but you had to know someone to tell you the password! Judy did that for us in this book. That and so much more! Grahn found our history and our culture and she celebrated it with joy and angst and passion and flair. She invites us to sashay down the lavender trail as we come out of the closet. She celebrates fairies, fags, butches, dykes and amazons. This may not be a book for everyone, but if you are feeling sad and alone, pick it up, give it a read. You will be neither as sad nor as lonely by the time you put it down.

 The author, Judy Rae Grahn was born in 1940, in Chicago, Illinois. She is a pioneering lesbian feminist poet, writer, and social theorist. Her bio (http://www.judygrahn.org/) notes that she currently serves as Associate Core Faculty for the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, California, in their Women’s Spirituality Master’s Program.  She is former director of Women’s Spirituality MA and Creative Inquiry MFA programs at New College of California, from which she resigned in July of 2007. She holds an earned Ph.D. in Integral Studies with an Emphasis in Women’s Spirituality from California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.

So, give Grahn a read, check out Another Mother Tongue for sure, and check out her poetry as well. “The Psychoanalysis of Edward the Dyke” in Edward the Dyke and Other Poems, will break your heart even as you laugh till you cry – it is an evocative rejection of the detritus of ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ even demands respect for the dignity of the most basic human right to love.

I think it was June Jordan who once said that Judy Grahn’s poetry and writing saved lives. I surely agree! What about you?

Judy Grahn 1984  Another Mother Tongue. Beacon Press: Boston, MA

Advertisements

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sarah’s Key solidly qualifies as one of those books that will haunt you. I finished reading it a day or so ago, and I find that I keep wondering, keep thinking about Sarah, her choices, her decisions, her acts, what was done to her, what she survived, and what she did not survive.

At the beginning of the book Sarah Starzynski is 10 years old. Her parents migrated from Poland to France before Sarah was born. She and her brother Michel were born in Paris. The Starzynski family is Jewish in 1942, all of this is a very dangerous combination.

In July 1942 all of the Jewish people in Paris and in much of France were arrested by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv rounded up. The Jewish families in Paris knew that something was coming, but didn’t know what. They believed that the men were going to be taken to work camps, so the many of the men were in hiding. When the police came to the Starzynski’s door, that night Sara believed that it was just some trouble that would soon be over. The police told them to pack a bag and prepare to go, her brother who was 4 years old and still deeply asleep, refused to go.  The police had not yet seen him – he was still in bed. Sarah hid him in their secret hiding place – a hidden closet in their bedroom – and locked him in. She and her mother were then taken away by the police. In the court yard, at the sound of the mother’s screams, the father came out from hiding and joined his wife and daughter. Sarah quietly told her father about Michel’s hiding place, but they could not get back to the apartment. And Sarah and her parents are taken away first to holding areas and then to the camps, even while Michel remained locked in his hiding place.

In 2002 as the 60th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv round up approaches Julia Jarmond, an American expat journalist living in Paris with her French husband and their daughter, is assigned the writing of a story on the Vel’ d’Hiv, an assignment that draws her into the life of Sarah and the discovery that her husband’s family moved into Sarah’s family’s apartment just after the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup. Julia eventually uncovers the great secret of her in-law’s family. Young Sarah did escape from the one of the holding camps and with the help of a farm family who hid and adopted her, made her way back to Paris and the apartment. By that time the Tezacs family has already moved into the apartment. Young Eduard, Julia’s father-in-law to be, opened the door to Sarah after her escape from the camp as she tried to return to Michel. He witnessed her efforts to open the hiding place and the aftermath. The story follows Julia as she searches to discover and understand the truths of Sarah’s life.

None of this convey’s the richness, the engaging telling of the stories of the lives of Sarah and Julia. It is an engaging book. It will make you think. It will make you feel. You should read it!

If you have read it, what parts of the book stayed with you the most?

If you have not yet read it, what seems the most intriguing to you?

Tatiana de Rosnay 2007 Sarah’s Key. St. Martin’s Press: New York.

The language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers is an engaging, haunting book. Be forewarned, once you pick it up, you will NOT want to put it down. The book is about Victoria Jones, who is just 18 when we meet her. She is aging out of the foster care system, a system that has not cared well for her. (The book carries a powerful, evocative message for social workers, and all who would do good, about the unintended consequences of well meaning but misplaced help.)

Victoria is clearly a wounded and angry child/young woman.  If the right to love is a basic human right, Victoria’s right has been egregiously violated, her dignity as a human being has been ignored. Or has it?  The story follows Victoria as an 18 year old struggling to make a life, struggling to deal with a powerfully painful secret, even as Victoria remembers her days as a young child. The child Victoria hid in silence, and communicated with the world through the Victorian era language of flowers.  The young adult Victoria struggles to find her voice, even as she hides in the back of a florist shop arranging flowers.

Within  the book we meet Renata who owns a florist shop and hires the 18 year old Victoria to help in arranging flowers. Renata sees the pain and the potential in Victoria. It is in Renata’s shop that Victoria’s gift in using flowers to help others realize their dreams comes to full bloom.  We also meet Elizabeth and Grant, each of whom plays a significant role in Victoria’s past and future – but I will not write spoilers here.  Each of these characters plays a transformative role in Victoria’s life.

This is a book about the search for forgiveness, about the yearning for happiness and love.  It is sad and lovely and quite wonderful as it hints at the possibilities and the limitations of hope.

The author, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, was born in 1978. She was a writing teacher, and with her husband was, and is a foster parent.  I have read that she was inspired to write “The language of Flowers” as she witnessed the struggles of youth who are transitioning out of foster care.  She is the founder of the Camellia Network, whose mission is to create a nationwide movement to support youth transitioning from foster care. The Camellia network emphasizes a belief in the interconnectedness of humanity (not unlike the African principle of ubutu, which can be translated as ‘I am because you are’). The Camellia network reminds us that our destiny is in the hands of our youngest citizens.  You can read more about the network at www.camellianetwork.org

Do you know anyone who reminds you of Victoria? or who Victoria reminds you of?

Do you have any ideas on how the child welfare system could be more respectful of the dignity of the children it was created to protect? (there’s a small question!)

Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  2011. The Language of Flowers. Ballantine books: New York.

Hotel on The Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

I just finished listening to the audio book of Hotel on The Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. What a great book!  It is set in Seattle, and told in the voice of Henry, a Chinese American man. The book moves back and forth between 1942 and 1986.

In 1942 Henry was 12 years old, and his father, a very conservative and traditional immigrant from China, had just sent Henry to an all white prep school. Life is not sweet for Henry when we first meet him in the book. He is taunted by the other Chinese kids for being too white, and bullied by the white kids for being Chinese. And then another Asian student is enrolled in the prep school. Keiko is Japanese American. She and Henry are both ‘scholarshiping’ at the prep school, and so they meet in the cafeteria where they work serving lunches and doing clean up. They bond as they clean erasers and put classrooms back in order after school. And then in another part of the world there is the attack on Pearl Harbor, and President Roosevelt issues Executive Order 9066 authorizing the relocation of persons of Japanese ancestry.  We witness the effects of the relocation through Henry’s eyes as he loses his best friend who he comes to realize is so much more than his best friend.

In 1986 Henry is in his 50’s and his wife, Ethel, has just died. Henry is grieving, and trying to find balance and the path for his life as a widower. He is trying to deepen his relationship with his son who is about to graduate from college. And, he keeps remembering and thinking about Keiko. Early in the book, the Panama Hotel, a hotel in the Japanese area of Seattle, has been purchased after being boarded up since the war years. In the process of renovation, boxes that had been stored in the basement of the Hotel by Japanese American who were being relocated are discovered, evoking even stronger memories for Henry. The opening of the hotel opens Henry’s heart, opens his relationship with his son, and …. well, I’m not going to give the rest away.

This is a GREAT read. Not a perfect read, but who cares. Nothing is perfect. It is a book that will keep you engaged. It will teach you a bit about the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II. And it will warm the cockles of your heart. That’s quite a lot for a book!

When did you first learn about the Japanese internment? What did you know about it?

How close do you think we have come at other moments to similar actions against other groups within the United State?

Jamie Ford. 2009. Hotel on The Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Ballantine  Books: New York.

Sheila’s Trifecta by Dorothy Van Soest

When I first started to read Sheila’s Trifecta  I couldn’t put it down. I found myself completely engaged with the characters in the book and I couldn’t wait to learn about their ongoing self discoveries. The book is not new, but I wanted it to be my second blog post because it everyone should know about it! Everyone should give it a read!

The author, Dorothy Van Soest is a political activist, social worker, professor and former dean of the school of social work at the University of Washington. She is deeply committed to working for social justice, peace and the celebration of cultural diversity. Her author’s bio notes that she maintains that personal and spiritual growth are essential for anyone engaged in social change efforts and that belief is clearly reflected in ‘Sheila’s Trifecta’ her first novel.

The novel’s opening epigraph is a quote from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (of death and dying fame): everything in life has purpose. There are not mistakes, no coincidences; all events are blessings give to us to learn from. This is the perfect opening, as the book begins with Sheila’s dying.  In death, Sheila is reunited with Sky and Gritty who call Sheila Spring. The three have been friend across multiple lives as together they are led in their spiritual progress and growth by their guide Suma. Suma helps them all, helps them each to ever deeper realizations that there indeed are no mistakes, no coincidences. As they review the events of each of their lives together they discover the blessings that were woven throughout their actions and experiences.

Dorothy describes the book as a self help novel, and it is. She concludes her introduction to the book with the hope that readers will find the book to be a damn good read, and it is.  The book is self published, but you can find it online in many of the major booksellers, it is even available as a kindle ebook.

It’s a fun, thought provoking, heartwarming read. I heartily recommend it to one and all!

Life after death? Reincarnation? what do you think!?

Dorothy Van  Soest.  2006. Sheila’s Trifecta. iUniverse, Inc.