The Water Dancer

I have never met Ta-Nehisi Coates though he was living in Paris at the same time I was. He was a fellow at the American Library in Paris and wrote ‘Between Me and World’ while there. That book went on to win the National Book award and changed his life. In his words,” it was like being hit by a Mack truck.”

I was sent an advance copy of ‘We were Eight Years in Power’, his 2017 book of eight articles previously written for the Atlantic during the Obama Presidency. I reviewed that book as highly as I could. I then went backwards and read his earlier books. I watched many videos of him on You Tube and always felt sad that I hadn’t met him when he was here. I’ve come to like the man in the videos as much as the man who writes such articulate evocative essays. I have always been struck by his use of language, the elegant phrasing in his essays and his easy street vernacular when chatting away with an interviewer.

Now he has written a novel The Water Dancer, his first such book. He has adopted an almost mystical, mythical style of storytelling that, to me, is completely different than anything before. How does one write about something so heartbreaking as the treatment of slaves, the separation of families, of couples, the courage of so many people putting their lives on the line to rescue others from “the coffin” (slavery in the deep south), the life of Harriet Tubman and all the stolen moments, memories and stories of an entire race of people.

This is the story of Hiram Walker, born to a black mother whom he can’t remember and a white plantation owner. Hi narrates his unexpected life from five years old when he thinks he lost his mother to his late twenties. When he has flashes on his mother, it is of her dancing with her sister, Emily, feet pounding the floor, bodies bonelessly swaying without shame in complete abandon like the water dances in the river. Water is a character in this enthralling telling of a boy first just wanting to remember, then wanting to be free and then wanting to understand.

He lives his teenage years in his father’s house underneath in the Warrens, he tries to escape, is captured and emprisoned. In time, he makes it north and becomes part of the Underground railroad. As he works with the other dedicated members to free brothers and sisters, literally, family takes on a new meaning to him and drives him in ways he never could have conceived.

I don’t pretend to even begin to know what it is like to be Black in America, what the word Freedom means to a man enslaved for real or by what we white people put on them, what it must be like to watch the US going backwards in this Age of White Supremacy. This elegantly written book that seems more dreamlike than factual has brought me as close to “understanding”, to “feeling” the losses that never end, as anything I’ve ever read.

My admiration for Ta-Nehisi Coates and his many forms of language continues to grow. This is a book, I will read again.

The Water Dancer A Novel Historical Fiction Random House Publishing Group – Random House One World

A bientôt

Sara

David Milch

I think everyone in the world has seen David Milch’s name somewhere on TV. Maybe it’s never registered with you. I’ve been seeing it a lot lately because I’ve been watching reruns of NYPD Blue, in order, here in Paris. I never saw it when it first came out on TV in 1993. I was busy rebuilding my house that had burned down in the 1991 Oakland Firestorm, busy watching the Oakland A’s in the evening and just busy. Together with Steven Bochco, Milch created a new kind of prime-time police drama. It ran for 12 seasons. Here in Paris, there are two episodes every weekday night. We’re just starting Season 9.

I love NYPD Blue. I love the flawed characters, I love the characterisation of New York and I love the writing. Imagine my shock when I returned from vacation, picked up my New Yorker and learned that David Milch has Alzheimers. He is 74 years old and was diagnosed in early 2015. He knows he has Alzheimer’s and has a whole list of things he wants to do. The article “Hello Darkness” was written by Mark Singer, a long time contributor to The New Yorker. Singer first met Milch in 2004 when Milch was writing the second season of “Deadwood”–which I have not seen but intend to having read this New Yorker article.

Milch is a complicated man. He is very smart and educated. He is a surviver of many addictions and many relapses. He also has bipolarity. As Singer says, somehow through it all, “he remained in command of prodigious gifts.” He was a writing professor at Yale and Robert Penn Warren was his mentor when he was an undergraduate there. While I’m reading a long list of academic achievement, I’m picturing Sipowicz muttering obscenities under his breath just loud enough so that Danny and Diane can hear. They roll their eyes. Sipowicz is one of a kind. Wikipedia says that Milch was inspired by his relationship with Bill Clark, a former member of the New York City Police Department who eventually became one of the show’s producers. But still…..I know how academics talk, I was raised by two of them and my sister is one. They do not talk like Sipowicz.

Photograph by Ryan Pfluger for The New Yorker

The more I read (New Yorker May 27, 2019), the more admiration I felt for Milch, for his talent, for his journey, for surviving addictions (among other things he made a fortune and lost it all to a gambling habit), for his family that has stuck by him. When Singer quotes him, he sounds like a gentlemen’s gentlemen. And how unfair this diagnosis of Alzheimer’s seems. “More than anything else, one would like to think of oneself as being capable as a human being. The sad truth, imposed with increasing rigor, is you aren’t. You aren’t normal anymore. You’re not capable of thinking in the fashion you would hope to as an artist and as a person. Things as pedestrian as not being able to remember the day. Sometimes where you’ve been. There have been a couple of times when I haven’t been able to remember where I live. And then there are compensatory adjustments that you make in anticipation of those rigors, so that you can conceal the fact of what you can’t do. It’s a constriction that becomes increasingly vicious. And then you go on.” p. 28 New Yorker.

Here is France, the name of the Director is always put above the name of the stars on a movie advertisement. Sometimes the stars names aren’t there at all. But the director always is. He’s the smart one. If you ask a french person about a movie and now, more and more, a good TV show, s/he’ll tell you who the director is. I’ve always sat through all the credits at a movie. I sit through all the credits for TV shows. I like knowing who did what even though I don’t know any of these people. After a while, you start recognising names. Like Danny Elfman composes a lot of movie music. So I knew the name David Milch very well. To me it was always Milch and Bochco. Which isn’t correct. Milch has gone on to do a lot of excellent work without Bochco. Things I’ve seen and not seen. So strange as it seems, reading this article was almost like reading about a friend who had become very, very ill. Only I don’t know where to send flowers. So I’m writing this tribute to a man who has entertained me for years, who turns out to be a complex, brilliant, interesting man who has struggled with some of the same demons I have. I pray he gets everything done he wants to get done.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – FEBRUARY 15: Creator David Milch at the “Luck” Press Conference at Four Seasons Hotel on February 15, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage)

I’m told that the movie Deadwood will air on HBO this week. Having not seen the first two seasons, I’ll probably wait but if you are a fan and I hear there are many of them……

A bientôt,

Sara

Gloria in Paris

Fabienne Gondrand (translator), Gloria Steinem, Lauren Bastide (Interviewer)


In honour of Women’s History Month (is there a Men’s history month or is that just called history?), Gloria Steinem was invited to speak at the Mona Bismarck American Center for the Arts in Paris. I was one of the lucky few invited to hear her be interviewed. In spite of the fact that I wrote my dissertation on a particular organization in the Bay Area of women helping women, I realized on Tuesday night that I knew very little about her.

First of all, she is eighty-five years old! Or about to be the day after next. Yes, that woman you see in the photo is eighty-five years old. She doesn’t look it and her voice certainly doesn’t sound it. She has a strong voice, not a shake in it and she is just as clear a thinker as I remember her back in the 70s when she started MS magazine.

She wrote her book, My Life on the Road, in 2016. The french translation (Harper Collins) arrived in time to celebrate Women’s History Month. The book is riveting (I’m reading the English version) and centres around the fact that she is always traveling and cannot see her life any other way. She grew up on a farm in Michigan and her family would probably have been called gypsies if they had lived over here. Her father made his living by going to flea markets, trying to find good jewellery and then selling it to stores. They never had a dime to their name. Gloria didn’t go to school until her teens but instead wandered around with her father. She says her traveling to India, ending up as a journalist, much of her twenties were what she considered “things I was doing before I settled down, got married and had children” As she turned thirty, she began to realize that she was her father’s daughter. She liked life on the road. She wasn’t waiting to start her life. This was her life and she loved it. To this day, she spends more days each year traveling than she does in her apartment in New York.

Gloria Steinem and Lauren Bastide

So with traveling as the theme, she tells her story and what a story it is. How she became the symbol of feminism even though black women were far more active in the beginning of the feminist movement than white women. How she dealt with being “pretty”; how she learned to overcome her fear of public speaking and how the Lakota Indian women became so important to her.

English version

Towards the end of the interview, Lauren said she had to ask her a personal question. She had mentioned many times that Gloria was a heroine to her. She prefaced her question by saying her heart breaks when she sees the pain and cruelty in the word, she never sees her children because she works so much, she is getting a divorce and that she has only been a journalist for three years. With tears, she imploringly looked at Gloria “How did you do it, how do you still do it?” Many of us leaned forward to hear the answer. Gloria is the epitome of equanimity. There is a quietness and humility about her. I’m sure we were all wondering how she stays so calm when she deals with so much injustice every day. She shook off the question as unanswerable. She seemed to be saying “It’s just what I do, who I am.”

I left the evening having had my eyes prodded open one more time. Someone in the audience asked her about being a privileged white woman and yet she was the perceived head of the feminist cause. She took a breath and said “yes, privilege is an interesting concept. White women have the privilege to be dominated by men” which took me aback. And yet when I think about it, how many of my friends and I spent years and years of our lives looking for a man we could marry and who would take care of us.

A bientôt,

Sara

We are not alone

A new friend of mine, Janet Hulstrand, asked me if she could interview me about my downsizing efforts and my choice to donate all the money to Planned Parenthood and Immigration/Refugee services.  I was thrilled.  I was thrilled because she thought it was a great idea and wanted to know more about it.  Thrilled because maybe I can get the word out there to raise more money.  Tuesday morning, I donated $1100 to Planned Parenthood of Oakland.  Just from selling lots of my baseball memorabilia!!

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Janet does several blogs and she teaches a great writing course in France just an hour and a half south of Paris.  The one I was featured in is called Downsizing the Home: Lessons Learned:

https://downsizingthehome.wordpress.com/2017/02/10/creative-downsizing-selling-a-collection-for-a-cause/

I read quite a bit of the site and a number of blogs that Janet had written and relearned a lesson that I have to keep learning.  I am not alone.  There are many, many people out their with my problem, seeking help and doing something about it.  Everything is so much easier if we aren’t alone.  I got so much more done when another person just comes over to help me, it’s like borrowing energy!  Many, many books are being written about organizing, purging your house,  going thru everyone of your belongings and holding it.  Does this bring joy? Yes, it’s a keeper.  No, out it goes.  Not every book is for every person but I would bet that every person finds one of those books that speaks to him or her.

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Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand

Buy the e-book here:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Apple iBookstore
Kobo
(Important note: You don’t need a mobile device to read Moving On: you can download the book to your home computer or laptop by using a reader app, available free online.)

Please note that the authors wrote STUFF in capitol letters just as I do.  Go back to December and watch George Carlin riff about STUFF.  After you have a really good laugh, get your best friend and start looking at all the things you don’t really need.  I’ve come to the conclusion that when we have things we don’t need, it makes for a weight in our bodies, our brains get scattered and certainly we have less time.

This is a job/project worth doing.  Thank you Janet Hulstrand for making me Queen for a Day.  May we all have less THINGS when next we meet!!!

Learn more about Janet’s Writing from the Heart courses in beautiful Essoyes: https://wingedword.wordpress.com/the-essoyes-school/

http://www.theessoyesschool.com

A bientôt,

Sara