100 Days; 100 Words: Renee

Dear President Obama;

Thank you for 100 good days. I mean genuinely good days, they’d hold up as such even if they hadn’t followed 2,922 really horrible days. I believe again. You’ve signed orders to close Gitmo, and to expand medical research, and a law supporting equal wages for women. And that was just January. I believe your economic plan is sound and compassionate. Now please help me believe that there will be justice for our war criminals. I believe in the possibility of America again. I don’t believe I can thank you enough for that. To believe – how joyous.


100 Days; 100 Words: Leonie

One hundred may be just a number
But our country was in a slumber

Until the president with a heart of gold
Got into the seat and went on a roll

He lifted the ban on a bill or two
Plants to close Gitmo, which is long overdue

Encouraged women by signing a bill
For equal pay, which gave them a thrill

Warned the scums that they’d better fly right
But told the rest of the nation that he is on our side

Thrilled ALL of Europe with his brains and charm
With lovely Michelle by his side

Go, President…

The Jane Smith of Guantanomo

On the Brian Lehrer show this morning, a former Guantanamo Bay guard gave an interview that made me want to pull my (own) hair out. I feel I should start with laying out my pro-military credentials. My dad is a retired Vietnam Vet, my favorite ex-boyfriend (I was THRILLED when he found a nice woman to marry) was an Air Force pilot, and I have a deep respect for those who commit their lives to serve their country in this most dangerous way. Having said that, Jane Smith could be a poster child for all that is wrong with the modern military. It’s not just that she’s not terribly bright, though that was particularly depressing, it was the Fox-news lingo she used when talking about her time as a military guard. Judge for yourself:

The documentary that features her airs on Sunday

I’m just sayin’

I have wanted to write about Michelle Obama since the Democratic primaries death march, but I find that I have more feelings than thoughts about her. I feel a lot of things, but my thoughts are all garbled. I’ve suspected I’m not alone in this, suspected that my friend Johnny is right when he says the real shock is not that America elected a black man as president but that they elected a black woman to be its first lady and that because of this no one knows what the hell to do with her. Oh sure, she’s all over the news and blogs, but these are reactions to her rather than reflections on what she means to this country–all parts of it.

My suspicions about this curious silence were confirmed when I attended a conference at CUNY Graduate Center today. The conference, “Black Women and the Radical Tradition,” was a day-long series of talks, presentations, and lectures about, well… the title is pretty obvious. It was flawed in certain ways, but I did learn interesting things about black women’s history in different political struggles, made a few new friends, and had a perfectly lovely visit with a friend over tea and scones at Alice’s Tea Cup. What I did not hear from anyone, all day, was any word or observation about Michelle Obama. I heard a lot about her husband but not a thing about her. It was like she didn’t exist. I was sitting half a row away from Angela Davis and wanted to say, “pssst; what did you think of that New Yorker Cover? That’s your afro, right?” But I didn’t. I did ask her, during the Q&A after one of her talks, about Proposition 8 but not about Michelle.

Could it be because she’s not radical in the way these women might recognize? Looking at all the different ways that hair can be “natural” at the conference, I couldn’t quite imagine Michelle Obama there (my favorite hairdo was the huge afro on a super skinny young woman; she looked like a black q-tip…adorable!). But she is a revolutionary figure and her ability to walk the fine line of being first-mom without turning into first-mammy is pretty impressive. I think it’s because she’s a woman. Davis made an interesting observation. When Condoleeza Rice was named secretary of state, there was no breathless moment for the “black community.”* Now this might be because of her politics, but Davis didn’t seem to think so, and I don’t either.

I’m sure in the years ahead people will have much to say about Michelle Obama’s true radicalness (not the racist crap the right is calling radical), but the silence about her today was very loud. I’m just sayin’…

*I know the black community is a construct that lets certain parts of the country think we’re more alike than different, but it’s useful shorthand from time to time.

A bit of poetry

I’ve started working on two big projects that I’ve been circling for way too long, a book about the academy and a study of the nineteenth-century novel and its connection to disease and healing. Every fear of writing I have hovers below the surface, causing (sometimes literally) my hands to shake as I take hold of pen and paper. The only thing for the fear of writing is to face it, so face it I do–mostly by fooling myself into the myth that I’m not actually writing. I tell myself that I’m just “jotting down” a few sentences. At other times, my friend Karen infuses me with her own intellectual fearlessness, and I find I’m drawn, almost against my will, to my desk.

When I get too scared, Lucille Clifton’s poetry pops into my head as an invitation and a scolding that if she, who had so much less than I do now, could find the courage to write (and to write poetry!) I can too. Here is the poem that came to me during one of my writing sessions today:

won’t you celebrate with me
by Lucille Clifton

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

When I can see my writing as a celebration of the writers who live on the edge of Jane Austen’s shadow or the academy’s struggle with what is written and unwritten, then it’s not so scary…and is even a little exciting.

Rocking out of a Rut

There is a fine line between a ritual and a rut, and I’m not sure I know the difference. The thing is, I like rituals. I like knowing that if it’s Wednesday at 10:00 pm, I’m watching “Damages” and that if it’s Saturday afternoon, I’m walking in the park. Tuesday afternoons are for trying on clothes. Having half an English muffin with peanut butter and honey while watching an episode and a half of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” helps me sleep, though lately I’ve been wondering if reading would be more relaxing. But the time I clock on my sofa sometimes feel less like a ritual and more like a rut—write a little, check my favorite websites, send an e-mail, play Super Text Twist. “Barefoot Contessa,” evening news, evening shows. Ritual or rut?

Late Friday afternoon when I got a message from my new friend J while I was on the phone with my oldest (in longevity not years) friend Nish, I decided that getting off the couch and accepting J’s last minute invitation to a play was the right thing to do. Saying no seemed like staying in a rut.

It’s not like I didn’t have plans for the evening. After all, it’s Friday. Friday means “BSG” while IMing with two long-distance friends. Fond as I am of them, I’ve spent too much time at home with long-distance friends, so, with 16 minutes notice, I went from yoga pants to the only outfit that currently fits (everything else is too big) to the train across the street from my apartment and to New York City to see “Rooms: A Rock Romance. “ Now, I love musicals. LOVE them, but I’m not so into the so-called “rock musical.” And the idea of “Rent” meets “Spring Awakening” was not as appealing as my sofa. J is cool and fun, though, and the tickets were free, and I didn’t realize how cold it was outside, so off I went.

Get this: the show was fantastic! It was so great that even though I had to pee rather desperately through more than half of it, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The story feels a bit predictable, but Leslie Kritzer as Monica is irresistible. Think early Barbara Streisand but cuter. As a “Scottish Jewish Princess” determined to make her mark as a rock star, I had no problem believing how effortlessly she seduces Ian (Doug Kreeger) out of one room into another, in London and then in New York, but I hope in future shows that Kreeger can find another note to play—not musically as he has a lovely voice but in his character. Nuance matters as much as a Scottish accent, and I left the show wondering why this charming, ambitious woman could get so attached to a man who is so obviously not what she deser….oh, never mind. I get it. Art imitates life.

The “rock” part of the romance was perfect. I suspect that a lot of hip, young New Yorkers will be singing those songs in the future. I’m happy to have them lingering in my head, even the morning after the show.

The show was in previews (thus the free tickets), but it opens on March 16. If I see it a few more times while it be a new ritual or a musical rut?