Monday, July 25, 2016

THE LYNCHING: The Epic Courtroom Battle that Brought Down the Klan, explains the link between hate rhetoric and violence

THE LYNCHING: The Epic Courtroom Battle that Brought Down the Klan (William Morrow Hardcover) is an exciting and impressive read, a page turner that is also a history of a pivotal event in the Civil Rights struggle. As a Northerner, the Southern attachment to slavery and later segregation, as part of "traditional values" has always been a personal disconnect. I once publicized Klan-Destine Relationships: A Black Man's Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan by Daryl Davis, a Grammy award winning musician, who risked his life on a mission to understand hate. Were these people monsters or would he find a common humanity? Davis found shared ground but didn't address the origins of hate crimes.

In Laurence Leamer's THE LYNCHING, racial hatred is explained in the context of the personal histories of those involved in a horrific hate crime in 1981, when Jim Crow was a fading memory. The incident was sparked by a trial of a black man accused of murdering a white Police Sergeant from Birmingham, Alabama. An almost all black jury (1 white) could not reach a verdict, the match that set off  Alabama's (UKA), United Klans of America, retribution. Two small-time Klansman Henry Hays and James Knowles, set out to find a black man to kill. Lynching often went unpunished in the South, where police were often Klan sympathetizers. The Klansmen cruised around before deciding on 19 year old Michael Donald. He was tortured and hung from a tree on the residential street where Henry's father, Benny, head of the local Klan, owned a house.

The photos of the corpse are shocking. A chance photo also captured Hays and Knowles in a group lounging on a car. From this beginning, Leamer explains the cultural roots of hate crimes, through the histories of these men and their Klan. Hate didn't take much to provoke, when being white or well born, didn't mean you had a viable future. And "uppity" northern blacks in the struggle for Civil Rights, were making their way south. Soon blacks wouldn't sit in the back of the bus, eat at colored lunch counters or use separate restrooms. There was fear and resentment at blacks taking white jobs and places in public universities. Segregation was equated with "traditional Southern values," a righteous cause for Shelton, head of the United Klans of America and Congressional up and comer, George Wallace. Crowds of Shelton's supporters were mesmerized by Wallace's honed hate rhetoric, which sent him to the Governor's mansion. Never would a black enter Univ. of Alabama. He would physically block that doorway! And the first one to try to enter that University, was confronted by such hatred, she had to withdraw.

Morris Dees, a poor sharecroppers son, grew up with a sense of injustice that propelled him to law school. He started out a segregationist, like most southerners, even briefly worked for Wallace. But as he was jostled from the sidelines to center of a Civil Rights Demonstration, he had to become involved. A mail-order millionaire by the time he graduated college, Dees used his money to found The Southern Poverty Law Center. Though he became a Pariah in his town and family, Dees continued to take on Civil Rights cases at no charge.

After the criminal trial that sentenced Hays and Knowles for Donald's murder, Dees filed a civil suit on the behalf of Donald's mother. His objective was to charge those responsible for giving the order, as well as creating an environment where hate speech encouraged violence. Dees sued Benny Hays, the local Klan authority, and Shelton, the national leader and was told he could not win by colleagues, a skeptical judge. Even his staff thought he had overreached. Before it was over, he narrowly escaped with his life. What happened in this case, was a major breakthrough for Civil Rights.

The scope of the U.K.A.'s activities under the Imperial Wizard, included the infamous bombing of a Birmingham Church and the death of four black girls. The story of how the evidence and intelligence was gathered reflects the tenacious work and intuitive genius of Dee and his staff. In the end, he got his Klan crippling $7 million judgment from a jury who had moved into a desegregated future. The most crucial element was a legal precedent that organizations that promote hatred and violence can be held responsible for the criminal actions of their members.

The SPLC lawyers were able to use this to cripple racist organizations from the White Ayran Resistance in 1990 to the Imperial Klans of America in 2008. Read this book in our time,when hate's got big audiences again and Black Lives Matter are on the march. Those who don't know history may be doomed to repeat it, but it never appears in the same form. This book gives a start of recognition. The attractions of hate rhetoric today follow very similar patterns.


Monday, July 18, 2016

Sing along with IRON HEEL! Down w/Capitalism in Jack London's Socialist Dystopia, adapted by Edward Einhorn, JULY-AUGUST NYC

Edward Einhorn has adapted London's novel. New Play Network's synopsis: 
An adaptation of Jack London's 1908 novel, the first-ever dystopia, written as a socialist propaganda piece. It tell the story of Avis and Ernest Everhard, two leaders of an envisioned socialist revolution in the 1920's, when the oligarchy has taken on a totalitarian edge (The Iron Heel). Praised by Leon Trotsky and George Orwell. Set as a "reenactment drama", being told 600 years in the future, in a world that has become a socialist utopia. Using folksongs from the early 20th century throughout, some with altered lyrics.


Jack London's socialist dystopia, IRON HEEL, is rarely read in schools.  Somehow I missed it, thought a student of both utopias and dystopias. I did read Einhorn's adaptation and found it both rousing and quaintly pertinent to today's politics. But the "today" in this play is a socialist dominated future, whose leaders are recounting the revolutionary struggle against the Capitalists in an alternative 20th century. The story within a story is about Ernest and Avis, he the Socialist rebel, she the lovely daughter of a capitalist, a professor and stockholder in the mill.

When Ernest crashes a party at Avis's father's stately house in Berkeley, California, it's the instant attraction of opposites. He's a "trouble maker" dismissed from the mill for "impudence," She's the lovely dutiful daughter. But as his world and hers join, love and politics become a violent clash with the ruling Oligarchy, His Socialist ideals, which have the majority of support by Americans, are focused on ending Capitalism. But it's a nasty fight. Capitalists of the Oligarchy have no mercy.

The righteous heroic struggle leads to martyrdom. This is not Shaw's Socialism, witty and satirical. But there is are folk songs Woody Guthrie might enjoy and stories as true as Erin Brockovich, Sanders' supporters may enjoy this unusual taste of early Socialist ideals. London thought Socialism was a logical progression and perhaps Anarchy. My question for London, if he were around, is his assumption that Socialism was an end result. What would he think about Socialism becoming Communism's "Worker's Paradise?" But in London's story the struggle is enough. The tellers of his story are the present day victors.

I can see how this story may have inspired Sinclair Lewis' IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE, as well as Orwell. In Lewis' dystopia, the U.S. devolves from capitalism to fascism with a glib Ad-Man president. Obviously, this character is far too on target for election 2016.

 My own dystopia, "Paradise Gardens," reverses the passage of Feudal society to Capitalism with corporate business estates underground. It's looking at the corporate exodus in 2050 of the earth's inhabitable surface for the underground (after the dissolution of the Old Fed),  and life on the estates in 3011. More's Utopia is with me yet...

IRON HEEL the production has "People's Rates," even free nights. The play is a must see for idealists, lovers of political philosophy, agit prop theater, folk music or anyone pondering late stage Capitalism. Join the rabble!  This is the good fight!



Many of our shows are limited seating, and for those we ask for advance reservations.  But in the socialist spirit, we provide discounts.  Tickets are normally $20, but can't afford that--pay $15!  Can't afford that--pay $10. Or even just $5 or $1.  The one thing we ask is that you reserve sooner rather than later.  The venues are small, and the reserved seats available even smaller--we need to accommodate press, grant givers, and our own staff.   So reserve your seat now by clicking here.  Audiences of the world, unite!  And buy our tickets while you can.  As you will see on our ticket page, we currently have all payment options.

From the book by Jack London

Adapted & directed by Edward Einhorn

The first modern dystopian novel, written as a socialist
propaganda piece in 1908. An election between a socialist candidate and an oligarch.  What happens if the oligarch wins?  Presented on the 100th anniversary of Jack London's death.

Join us as we gather for light snacks, folk songs, and performance.
Craig Anderson, Kevin Argus, Fred Backus (on Governor's Island only), Charles Ouda, Yvonne Roen, Victoria Rulle, and Trav SD

Costume/prop design: Ramona Ponce
Sound design: Chris Chappell
Stage manager: Blake Kile
Assistant director: Rebecca Silbert
Production assistants: Deonna Dolac, Yael Haskal, and Mark Hunstein

"Audacious...genuinely prophetic"

To buy tickets for pay what you can shows (suggested price $20)
Call 212-352-3101 or  click here
Free performances can be attended without reservation

Sat July 23 1pm (Governor's Island, FREE)
Sun July 30 1pm (Governor's Island, FREE)

Thu July 28 7:30pm (South Oxford, Pay What You Can)
Fri July 29 7:30pm (South Oxford, Pay What You Can)
Sun July 31 5pm (South Oxford, Pay What You Can)
Fri August 5 8pm (Freedom Hall, Pay What You Can)
Sun August 7 3pm (South Oxford, Pay What You Can)
Mon August 8 7:30pm (South Oxford, Pay What You Can
Thu August 18 7:30pm (South Oxford, Pay What You Can)
Fri August 19 7:30pm (South Oxford, Pay What You Can)
Wed August 24, 7pm (Judson Church, FREE)
Fri August 26, 6pm (Jackie Robinson Park, FREE)
Sat August 27 7:30pm (South Oxford, Pay What You Can)
Mon Sep 5 5pm (West Side Community Garden, FREE) 

South Oxford Space, The Great Room, 138 South Oxford Space, Brooklyn
Freedom Socialist Party, Freedom Hall, 113 W. 128th St., Manhattan
Governors Island, House 8B in Nolan Park (part of the Dysfunctional Collective)
Jackie Robinson Park, bandshell, 85 Bradhurst Ave, at 145th St, Manhattan
Judson Memorial Church, Assembly Hall, 239 Thompson Street, Manhattan
West Side Community Garden, 142 W 89th St, Manhattan

Thursday, July 7, 2016

150 YEARS OF OBAMACARE by Daniel Dawes looks at the long history of health care reform in the U.S.

"Everyone has had at least some experience with the health care system, and advocates on either side of the debate are passionate and vocal about their cause. For more than a century and a half there have been bitter struggles over advancing health care access and improving delivery of care in this country. So how did advocates of health reform and health equity in 2010 achieve the most significant milestone in United States health law and policy?"

So writes Daniel Dawes in his preface to his new classic, 150 YEARS OF OBAMACARE, the only book to explain the huge achievement of the Affordable Care Act. While the public may think health care reform is a new concern of one president, it's actually a the culmination of an effort toward health equity that began in 1792, when President John Adams signed into law the Act for Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen.

Dawes, a health care attorney and advocate for health equity, says that like most advocates, his "Aha" moment came while working in a S.Florida emergency room. A Haitian immigrant, obviously in a good deal of pain, tried to tell the staff about her problem and was met with blank stares. She only spoke Haitian Creole, and as he saw her try to make herself understood, he thought, what if her condition is life-threatening? Every second would be critical. He saw how vulnerable patients are and how complicated health care delivery could be in the U.S.

From there in this very comprehensive text, he explains the history of advocacy for health care reform and  health equity, reform in mental health. He also discusses the role of the 2008 elections, where reform was a major issue. It was a breakthrough later, when the Tri-Caucus, the CBC and National Working Group health equity advocates were invited to the White House for a stakeholder meeting. Health disparities and health reform was being taken seriously,

Understanding the policy that developed, the fight to get it made into law, the role of legislature and the judiciary give insight into a rare instance of common purpose accomplishing what must happen. But it was touch and go throughout. Would the new law stand or be found unconstitutional? On the way to a flight, Dawes thought all the work had been for nothing, Then, in a reversal, he learned it had been reported incorrectly.

The book's mission is well summed up by David Satcher, 16th US Surgeon General, "150 Years of Obamacare provides an honest assessment of the health care law and an unparalleled explanation of
 its provisions, especially those impacting vulnerable populations. It depicts the persistence, passion and patience required to inform health policy in the United States with the goal of eliminating health disparities and promoting global health equity."

Interestingly, Dawes intends this book for those who will build on the law and improve it. History shows it's far more difficult to build a foundation for change than stymie it. Reform, like the new law, is a work in progress. The next generation can make it their own.

Though obviously no page turner, this lucid, thoughtful book is essential reading for anyone in the field. It is also useful for nonprofessionals, who want to understand the history  and possible future of our health care system. This is an instance, where the adage, "If it's not broke don't fix it," couldn't be more wrong.


  afterand the roles of legislators

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

THE COURTSHIP OF EVA ELDRIDGE, FDR at shipyards and women built ships--female half of :The Greatest Generation"

FDR's car was rolled right into the shipyard so that he could watch one of the huge ships launch from the Swan Island where Eva worked. Behind the president is industrialist Henry Kaiser whose innovative methods--simpler assembly line work, faster training--meant that the yards could take on unskilled workers, many of them women. One women who was there that day remembered that FDR looked thrilled and that he called out to one of the women workers, "Hey Blondie!"

Men were few, many ships were built by women

Most workers in West Coast shipyards--whether male or female-- had never built or even seen a ship before coming here. But using the Kaiser assembly line techniques, they repeatedly broke their own records fo rproduction time. At the start of the war it took 355 days to deliver a ship like this. By1942 the average delivery time was just 60 days. Later Winston Churchill would remember, "The foundation of all our hopes and schemes was the immense ship building program in the United States." (Photo Courtesy Vancouver Columbian.)

More untold history of the female half of "the greatest generation"

At the beginning of World War II, women like Eva were not all sure they should take up war jobs. During the Thirties, women were criticized for working outside the home, taking jobs from men. And too, factories were considered too "rough" for a nice woman. But a huge government campaign with posters like these convinced women that they were both needed and wanted in wartime production.

Though women like Eva were frantically recruited for war work, many--like this man--weren't sure they were up to the job. As the war went on, it was recognized--sometimes a little grudgingly--that women could do a lot more than keep house. It was, though, a short-lived recognition. Even before the war ended, the message switched: now homemaking was a woman's only true calling.

Today is pub date of The Courtship of Eva Eldridge. Here’s a birthday photo that captures marriage fantasy that became mania in the 1950’s. Women had few career options and bigamy was not uncommon. 
“The writing is vivid and tight, with a touch of American noir reminiscent of Raymond Chandler and Joan Didion. Simmons’s writing brings to life the dark side of a country trying to move on in the wake of war. She blends history and her own detective work to tell a story of betrayal and shattered dreams.”
– Peter Chilson, author, Disturbance-Loving Species: A Novella and Stories. Winner AWP award for non-fiction.


Here also interview with Diane Simmons on her new nonfiction and two new reviews

 "The writing is vivid and tight, with a touch of American noir reminiscent of Raymond Chandler and Joan Didion. Simmons's writing brings to life the dark side of a country trying t omove on in the wake of war.  She blends history and her own detective work to tell a story of betrayal and shattered dreams." -- Peter Chilson, author,Disturbance-LovingSpecies: A Novella and Stories.   Winner AWP award for non-fiction.  


"We Can Do it," Women and the War-- More Lost Women's History
            We all know the poster: the clenched fist and fierce gaze. What most people don't know is that it was not seen by the public during World War II. It was not even about women's efforts. Rather,it was used for a week by Westinghouse to discourage labor unrest. We only know the poster because it was taken up by the feminist movement of the seventies;it is far more representative of their aspirations than of attitudes toward woman workers during the War.

            The career of Rosie the Riveter--and her treatment by American government and society--is more cautionary than the poster suggests and than most of u sunderstand. What happened to women in the Forties should be properly understood by those who support women's rights now. 

            It is true that women were key in building the ships, planes and tanks that turned World War II around. Surely if there was ever a moment to acknowledge women's strength and ability, that time had come. No wonder we assume the "We Can Do It" poster is symbolic of World War II attitudes. 

            Butit isn't. Women had been the object of an immense propaganda blitz in 1942,urging them to go to work and shaming them if they didn't. Then they were dumped in 1946--even though 80 percent told pollsters they wanted to keep working

            Wven before the War ended, the contribution of women was derided in Time Magazine and elsewhere. As Margaret Hickey, head of the Women's Advisory Committee of the War Manpower Commission, said in a speech: The courtship of women was intense, but it appears that "intentions were not honorable." 
            The real story of Rosie the Riveter--and the fact that most of us don't know it--should make us stop and think. As a woman appears poised for the presidency, we should not be complacent. We need to understand how rapidly attitudes can shift despite apparent gains. 
            I learned the deeper story of women in World War II,while researching my non-fiction book. Eva  was one of the women who came of age in a wa rplant, fell in love with independence, then emerged into the Fifties with a bleak set of options.
   Diane Simmons, author of The Courtship of Eva Eldridge (University of Iowa Press)

            Lost Women's History.
Diane Simmons on Bigamy in the 50's.

Love and Marriage:  We're Really a Lot Better Off Than in the Good Old Days

            As we struggle to find our way in today's complicated landscape of love and marriage, perhaps it is comforting to know that--in many ways--things have gotten a lot better.  Though they faced a different set of problems, our mothers and grandmothers, those who came of age in the 1950s, had to navigate a profound nuttyness about marriage that we wouldn't dream of putting up with today.

            Looking back, we can understand how it happened.  The whole marriage mania began right after World War II as people tried to recover from the greatest upheaval the country had ever seen. At the same time Americans were terrified of the new  A-bomb; nobody knew when it might wreak instant nuclear Armageddon.

             In the face of all this, many Americans yearned for the safety of home, the security of marriage.   And  those who didn't: well, society made them get married anyway.  As anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote in Life magazine, "Marriage is the only truly acceptable pattern in American life. No normal man or woman will willingly remain single."

            Naturally nobody wanted to be abnormal, so everybody rushed to marry.   By the early Fifties, with half of women marrying at nineteen, twenty-five-year-olds were considered hopeless old maids.  To make them even more nervous, the movies were full of desperate single women.  In Picnic, for example, a tearful, thirty-ish Rosalind Russell goes down on her knees to beg her reluctant beau to marry her.

            And men were not excused from this national frenzy. The average age of marriage for them was twenty-three, and those who failed to marry were not considered fully adult or full masculine.

            For bachelors over thirty, psychotherapy was recommended, a nod toward fears of homosexuality, though the subject was seldom publicly mentioned.  Though society demanded that everyone mate up, gay marriage was not even dreamed of, even by gay people.

            The Fifties had its playboys, of course, like the one portrayed by Frank Sinatra in The Tender Trap. But, as the movie's title suggests, there is never much doubt about Frank's ultimate fate.

            With marriage such an obsession, it is not surprising that some people went overboard, producing a phenomenon that we don't see so much of these days: bigamy.

            As a 1960 Cosmopolitan article reported, bigamy was on the rise along with a booming economy. Men could afford more than one family. And perhaps--given the truly desperate need to be married--women weren't asking as many questions as they should have.
            Bigamy, by the way, is where a married person marries again without getting a divorce or informing his partner that their union will not be legal.  Big Love fans please note:  bigamy is not the same as polygamy, where those involved know of and approve the practice of multiple wives and families, sometimes within the same home.

            The bigamists of the Sixties were usually travelling men commuting back and forth between two wives and two families.  A cinematic version of this is the 1953 movie, Captain’s Paradise, in which a ship’s captain, played by Alec Guinness, has one wife in Morocco, another in Gibraltar.  On the wheelhouse wall is a reversible portrait with a wife on either side. Midway between ports, the captain flips wives.

A less light-hearted but still sympathetic portrait is found in the movie, The Bigamist, in which a married businessman has an affair with a lonely waitress.  When she becomes pregnant, he does the right thing and marries her.  When the bigamy is revealed and the man is taken to court, even the judge is sympathetic.  As everyone knows, these women have to get married somehow.  

            The very fact that the case came to trial was highly unusual.  In 1960, district attorneys across the country reported that bigamy was one of the easiest crimes in the world to get away with.  Only a tiny percentage of bigamists were ever found out and of these only a very few were every punished. Of those punished, it was again only a slim percentage who ever served as much as year in jail.

            And, as I learned in researching my non-fiction book, The Courtship of Eva Eldridge: A Story of Bigamy in the Marriage-Mad Fifties, in a time before internet searches and online records, it was virtually impossible to find out whether the person you were planning to walk down the aisle with was in fact married to someone else.  When Eva married handsome and loving Vick, she had no way of knowing that he had four previous wives and would go on to marry five more after her.
             Besides, single at thirty-five, Eva really needed a husband.

             Certainly, the desperation of single woman was something that Vick took advantage of again and again. He wasn't really a mean guy: he just loved weddings and honeymoons.  Just like everybody else!  Afterward, though, he tended to get a bit bored and would soon disappear, moving on--often within months--to the next loving, grateful single woman.

             Unlike most bigamists, Vick did end up in jail for a couple of months.  But it took ten wives to bring him to the attention of the authorities

Today, to be sure, we have our own problems that were not known in the Fifties.  Social media, for example, has revolutionized dating, making it easy to strike up relationships. But some argue that it's also making us more fickle, always moving on to the next cute picture.  And the economy has made it harder to marry and raise a family: not too many couples today can make it on one salary, a given in the Fifties.

But one way in which we've made progress is in marriage.  Now, at least, society lets us wait to tie the knot until our brains are fully formed and until we have a fighting chance of knowing who we are. And of figuring out who that adorable other person might really be.

 And if you don't feel like getting married: well, that's OK too.  Fifty percent of Americans are right there with you.
              Diane Simmons, author of THE COURTSHIP OF EVA ELDRIDGE

Another five star Goodreads Review: 
I was so excited to get this book. . . . Finally a different take on the home front during World War II. It follows the story of Eva and her short marriage that leads her on a journey of discovery. It explores the consequences for some after returning home. The author works in the letters and background information about the era and a woman's role. It touches on all the ways that war changed a woman's role in society.

Rosie the Riveter was everywhere, yet how she was pictured shifted w/thinking about women.

Diane Simmons' THE COURTSHIP OF EVA ELDRIDGE: a Story of Bigamy in the Marriage Mad Fifties (August, University of Iowa Press), tells the true story of one woman, whose life was transformed by World War 2 and its aftermath. Here is the rarely told female side of  the "Greatest Generation,"her war work, the shifting government propaganda about women's roles, and the charming man she loved, married, and strangely lost.

Eva Eldridge was an Oregon farm girl, who looked forward to marrying her high school beau and when he went to war, Eva knew her duty was to wait patiently for his return. Despite the recruiter, who tried to convince Eva and her mother (as did articles and broadcasts) that it was Eva's patriotic duty to work, she resisted. Besides, Eva had been raised in the 30's, when no decent girl took a job from a man.

In 1943, when Eva finally went to Portland's Swan Island, she was caught up in the excitement of a shipbuilding community. For the first time, she earned good money. She had a dorm-style room, friends, and an endless flood of invitations from servicemen. She was also promoted for doing a good job. Even so, propaganda that lauded women also cautioned them to retain their "femininity." In 1946, "femininity" meant they had to give up their jobs.

Suddenly Eva's world vanished. With few skills, she was desperate to join the marrying throngs. When hers didn't work out, she still chose a tiny apartment and a hostess job at a hotel over the farm. There she met Vick, a handsome chef. When they married, in 1957, the author was the flower girl. Diane knew Eva, the pretty high-spirited young woman, who lived in her own apartment. Now Eva was in love and had respectability. She was happy, until the day she came home and found Vick's belongings gone with their car. Was the dream over, after only a year?

Award-winning journalist and fiction writer, Diane Simmons, unearthed this story in hundreds of letters. She traces Eva's efforts to regain the man she believed damaged by the War, only to find a string of women like herself--attractive, hard-working independent wives! The mystery of Vick's bigamy is revealed piece by piece. In the end, you appreciate the tenacity of Eva, who reinvents herself yet again. She gets the life she chooses, though her courtships, by her government and her lover, were somehow less than honorable.

Margaret Hickey of the Women's War Bureau wrote it was wrong for democracy to use women's talents in an emergency and then kick them out. She said the courtship of women by the government may not have been honorable.

This book explained gaps in women's history that made no sense. The fact was 80% of women wanted to keep their jobs. They had no choice, but didn't want to lose their independence, the money and respect. (in 1946, media said they didn't do such a good job after all. And now their job was to go home and create happy families--make America strong and safe) Of course some women suddenly without jobs, like Eva, no longer had fiances to marry and genuinely liked living on their own.

Much was made in the late 50's and 60's about the dissatisfaction of women but never why they couldn't just go back to the farm after experiencing achievement in the world, the ability to make their own decisions, and live as they liked.  Betty Friedan's pivotal book came late, decades after women were displaced. Many buried wartime experience and ambition to create homes, caring for men, who were shell-shocked and needed support.

By writing Eva's story, Simmons makes sense of why in the "marriage mad fifties," every one had to get married (according to Margaret Mead) and most did in their twenties. Eva at 35 and Vick at 43 were odd ducks. Eva was ready to marry, but who can explain Vick's marriage obsession? Read the book and find out. Truth, in this nonfiction, is more revealing than a fictional miniseries.


“Diane Simmons hasbrilliantly used a collection of never-before-seen World War II letters to tella story that has all the twists of a true crime novel. At its heart, this is apoignant, extraordinary tale of a woman who married a man with a secret and troublingpast.”
--Andrew Carroll,editor of the New York Times bestseller WAR LETTERS

The Courtship of Eva Eldridge is both a riveting narrative ofdetection and a moving story about individual lives caught up in the changinggender roles generated by World War II. Diane Simmons employs doggedresearch, smart analysis, existing scholarship, and lively prose to create ahistory that is hard to put down.”—Susan Hartmann, author, The Home Front and Beyond: American Womenin the 1940s

Monday, June 20, 2016

Codex Ocularis by Ian Pyper (Pelekinesis), Artist's exploration of a distant planet & and the essence of life, biological, human or not


Imagine a lone astronaut on a large aqueous planet, where earth's verities do not apply. The astronaut has no way to tell where he is in time and space, except a glance at himself. He can go mad or stop trying to use human criteria to understand this large planet in a distant galaxy. 

His log-book is filled with the glory of Ocularis' creatures, which may have spontaneous evolution backward and forward. Eventually the astronaut stops trying to figure it out and, instead is immersed in a bubbling froth of creation. 

In this artist's book about a strange science, you begin seeing the creatures of this planet as living incessantly in the process of being. The observer becomes enmeshed in this continuation. Part of the conceit of this Holographic exploration is the eye of the Oculus. Is it a fluid organism, an eye, the breathing planet itself or all of the above? I found the creatures akin to the mysterious microscopic organisms, who outnumber humans on our planet.

The book's a visual meditation on the beginnings/end/beginnings of life without humanity's fixed points. At a time, when our Earth seems on the brink of extinction or a long downhill slide, this book is refreshing in its purity. Humans are at the beginnings of space exploration. Ian Pyper's imagination precedes us. This book has an original form; thought-feeling. It's in an illustrated journey that gets to the essence of life, biological, human or not.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Heiberg's Twitch by Robert Wexelblatt, story collection. Are you a strange human in an unknowable world? Read these stories.

Robert Wexelblatt's HEIBERG'S TWITCH (Pelekinesis Books) is a totally unexpected collection of short stories. You could compare him to Borges for his enigmatic intricacy or Andreyev for emotional resonance, but what of a wit that's at once playful and tragic? These stories skewer expectations in a variety of forms; police detective, Chinese parable, art world deconstruction or South American creation myth. 

What's common in these tales is the struggle of Wexelblatt's characters, often at war with destiny. They have free will within a specific context but that world is too narrow to allow them redemption, freedom, or happiness. Oddly, whether they achieve their desire can be relevant or not. The stories are about the process of life and they are sad, funny and somehow fitting. A few examples:

In the title story, a famous scientist with his final illness, retires to his boyhood home on an island. Strangely, he develops an embarrassing tic. Also unexpected is the lovely young woman he finds for a housekeeper. Her care touches him but its her unconscious beauty that brings him to life. When a strange creature washes up on the beach and authorities ask him to identify it, he has the girl make drawings. When her talent proves impressive, he sends her work to colleagues so she might attend university. Knowing she will be gone, he asks her for a curative only she can deliver.  

In another story, a police lieutenant at the scene of a robbery meets an eleven year old Sherlock and is taken by the boy's astute intelligence and humor. Though outrageously persistent in trying to get the detective's attention, the boy finally gains his admiration--for the fact that he loves his widowed mother. While the detective sees through the boy, it's a vice versa situation. Both may get their unspoken desires. 

There is the curious tale about the origins of two Indian tribes, whose rituals of warfare, abduction, marriage and martyrdom seem wildly barbaric. Yet that perception shifts and you see how the tribes create a kind of paradise, a psychic balance. It's threatened by the "demons," the outsiders. Whether the Garden falls permanently or not, it's the tragedy of civilization. 

Kolwitzer's father is one of my favorites. Kolwitzer, an artist. receives a prestigious grant and, to him absurdly, mainstream recognition. His friend is piecing together the mystery of the artist's vision. He visits the father, a classics professor, who says all his son's art was rebellion against him. It was a primal struggle; the son who cannot become man, lover, father without killing his father. But Oedipus died at a crossroads, and the friend is meeting with the father who survives. 

Beauty and the Beast, Oedipus, are stories evoked by HEIBERG'S TWITCH. What's brilliant about this collection of stories is how, conscious or not, the stories reverberate with myths we know in our bones-- and then reinvents them. You feel the pathos of being a strange human in an unknowable world. Yet the emotional logic is irrefutable. You have to read it to believe it.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

WARRIOR, LOVE OF THE GAME, THE GODDESS POSE--Fitness & Spirituality, discipline & self-undoing. Post-feminist Zeitgeist or Campbell's Journey of the Hero(ine)?

WARRIOR (Harper One) is a compelling memoir by Theresa Larson (w/Alan Eisenstock) former Marine platoon commander in Iraq and fitness model. LOVE OF THE GAME (Avon),is a contemporary genre romance by Lori Wilde, whose protagonist is a PT yoga practitioner. THE GODDESS POSE (Knopf): The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the Westis an astounding biography

These very different books appear remarkably similar in story and theme. Each woman suffered a childhood upheaval/trauma and undergoes a journey for self-enlightenment. Each is grounded by discipline that might also be a psychological addiction. Each is confronted by a life-changing challenge she felt unprepared for, despite intensive training. Their quests include men but relationships pose more questions than answers. Alone they faced personal "demons." Whether that led to success or loss, at the end their lives are transformed. 

Are these classic Journeys of the Hero(ines) to update Campbell's quest or products of our post feminist zeitgeist? Culture is full of conflicts about gender, body image, perfectionism, relationships. Add career and family to the brew and you get raw material for a contemporary woman's spiritual search. A high-minded quest in these books, it's also a schizzy celeb archtype in gushing features about female celebrities as paragons of altruism or snarky condemnations as self-indulgent/sluts. Yet the paragons must avoid "unhealthy" self-sacrifice or "masochistic/victim" mentality. So the perfectly groomed deservedly moneyed pop cultural heroine is "spiritual" in her balanced awareness. She does charity, while pursuing lavish recreation--all chronicled by media outlets.

Yet the complexity of female identity doesn't reduce to Instagram. Take WARRIOR, Theresa Larson's gut honest story of a grief-stricken young girl, who remakes herself as a competitor. After her mother's death at age 10, she's raised in an all-male sports oriented household with her father as coach and her two older brothers as competitors. As a gawky teen, preoccupied with performance, rather than clothes and boys, she gladly wore her brothers' cast-offs, knowing she had their respect and was singular in her dad's esteem. 

Toned and muscled from habitual physical discipline, Theresa, who was previously ignored by high school peers, found herself envied. She became an adolescent all star baseball player and a semi-pro pitcher. But when she embraced FIT FOR LIFE and won a photo spread, she unknowingly entered a Faustian bargain. Theresa wanted to always look that good. Too well she learned the winning secret of a Bulimic beauty queen--control your food. 

After college, Theresa entered the Marines, where her incredible strength, A-status, and sense of responsibility made her a leader. But after Basic, she began her engineer training, isolated in a sea of men. Women were few and none to equal her lieutenant's rank. But Theresa's commitment to her marines was total. Despite feeling inadequate, she was a model marine. Deployed to Iraq with the pressure of managing a platoon, she found herself respected as a Warrior. 

In Fallujah, sleep was scarce, while she worked both all night cargos and day duty.  Every day brought fear for the men in her charge. She "sucked it up," until she throwing up made her so weak, she had to recognize the chance of killing herself and endangering her men. The challenge of the war she had beat, but not the war inside. Staying was unsafe for others but admitting her problem meant humiliation. Quitting with an invisible wound, she incurred the contempt of her brother and the perplexity of the Marines. Getting help was Theresa's next fight. 

Fallujah was a challenge she prepared for, yet lost with her identity as a warrior and competitor. Her quest to recover meant unearthing herself. Eventually, she finds a new identity as a healer. Using PT, she enabled other warriors to recover, if not their limbs, their strength. When she marries a good man, it's a chance bonus for her hard-won identity. Few women are raised in a man's world and serve in war not just as physical equals but superiors in prowess and rank. Surprisingly, there are guffaws in the absurdity of gender assumptions and military hierarchies. While Theresa "gets" men, a strength of this memoir is how clearly she understands what women uniquely bring to both the armed services and the planet. 

The fictional Keisha Carlyle, also a PT, lives the dogma of fitness, diet and serious yoga. Constantly in LOVE OF THE GAME, she uses her breath to calm her emotions. Such discipline makes her feel safe and she's both strong and gorgeous, an exotic African American beauty in her small Texas town of Stardust. Yet she has a hard time managing the uncomfortable passions  aroused by her patient, Axel, a famous pitcher with the Dallas Gunslingers. She has to resist, because it could cost her a new job. The larger pay-check will allow her to take over the care of a newly discovered disabled half-sister. This is her challenge, as well as the obvious set-up for a contemporary romance, an innovative "bodice-ripper." There are a lot of fantastic aspects to please Wilde's readers.

Consider Keisha's family values. Raised by a loving white family with adopted sisters (one Asian), she was nurtured through the childhood trauma that led to her adoption. They respect that she's healed herself with yoga and fitness and used it to become an exceptionally effective therapist. This gifted career woman  is a "Superwoman" able to see just by watching Axel that his personal issues have interfered with his recovery from a damaged shoulder. When an operation is put forward as a solution by his manager, Keisha, who's not even his PT, says she can heal him. 

Axel and readers are impressed, though expressing her opinion angered her superiors, who let her know failure means she's fired. The set-up is high stakes but not just for Keisha. Axel, who's aware many women find him irresistible, is unsure of his beautiful therapist. He also realizes her program is working. He can't afford to jeopardize his recovery, but oh, how he burns! Keisha's challenge, and she's unprepared for her own reactions, is to heal him and keep her professional integrity. 

There are many contrived yet funny situations, where they cross professional lines. She gets clues to the underlying reason he can't rest. He ponders why losing emotional control is dangerous to her. For readers of this genre, at last the moment comes! The look but don't touch set-up breaks down. Keisha loses her challenge with the realization winning would not bring happiness. Her family helps her see she would not be doing her half-sister any favors to live with her. With that goal gone, Keisha discovers hot sex and true love. Forget Eastern discipline, as pop psychology saves the day. Her transformation is to become a sexual being on the road to marriage, while retaining her professional status. Better yet, the union ensures she is more connected to her family and her special black half sister. 

The erotic build-up was fun. My problem was descriptive cliches, like "perky breasts." I wanted more women's erotica in the clinch, though it was life-changing for Keisha. I can see why this series will sell in the millions. Keisha is a superwoman you want to succeed in ways she can't imagine. 

Michelle Goldberg's acclaimed biography THE GODDESS POSE: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West, tells the life story of Indra Devi, who grew up Eugenia Peterson, daughter of minor nobility in St. Petersberg, Russia. Devi reinvented herself as an evangelist for yoga, when the practice was largely unknown out of India. Her life was the great adventure of a woman in pursuit of her soul. Jung has said transcendence is the primary drive of human endeavor and she makes the argument convincing. Yet the shadow is her philosophy of emotional "non-attachment" which probably began in childhood. 

Her teenage mother, separated from her husband, scandalized her parents by leaving them her baby so she could go on the stage. Devi always yearned for her elusive mother, who throughout her childhood would bring glamour and beauty and then leave. With the Russian Revolution, Devi's comfortable life was replaced with breadlines. Money and property confiscated, she  fled to Berlin, where in the 1920's she acted in a famous cabaret, met the spiritualist and founder of theosophy, Madame Blavatsky and Theosophist Jiddu Krishnamurti, who she followed to India. 

But it was a later trip in the 1930's, as a diplomat's wife, visiting the palace of the Maharaja of Mysore, in the 1930's, where she became acquainted with the discipline of yoga. Krishnamacharya, the in-residence yoga, at first refused to instruct a woman and a Westerner. It took weeks of patient waiting before he agreed. What she learned was a fluid system he had devised based on classical Indian asanas, western gymnastics and military exercises. When he knew she was soon leaving, he told her she was destined to bring this system to the West. He no doubt knew a white woman with access to influential people would be better able to introduce yoga than a Maharaja's retainer. 

Stateless, Devi entered Shanghai in WWII with the passport of a diplomatic wife. She took her Indian name to shield her husband's career and taught popular classes. These ended after the Japanese took over the city but her students taught yogi in detainment camps full of American, British, and Dutch citizens. Toward the end of the war, when her husband lost his country, she was strangely indifferent to his suffering. She had other options, as a yoga celebrity. Devi decided to go to America, where she taught Garbo and other stars in her Hollywood studio.

Like a Zelig character, Devi was everywhere geographically and in history. She meets lots of famous people, such as Nehru In India, Noriega in Panama, counterculturefigures in Mexico in the 1960's.Yet for all her renown, she remains a seeker. Devi became transfixed by the guru Sai Baba, a "miracle worker" she believed touched by the divine. As she got more involved with promoting him and his organization, she left California, taking with her, far from his family and friends, another husband. Then she left him, seriously ailing, with caretakers in India and then Thailand.

Devi's challenge was perhaps to integrate her "detached" emotions and spiritual disciplines and become the "saint" she longed to follow. Instead, her fervor to believe in Baba's transcendence meant she ignored her saint's "feet of clay." The emotional detachment she treasured, as a "discipline," was her undoing. She turned a blind eye to sexual abuse she knew was happening, until she could not. Accusations against Sai Baba and then another of her saints were excused by their followers. Avoiding confrontation when evidence became irrefutable, she  "detached" again, disappointed but with her spirit intact. 

Yet this time the cost of her emotional distancing was significant. Devi who worked years to promote her beloved guru lost money and friendships invested in building a primary place in his organization and a home among his flock--the security of a lifetime. She failed in her challenge by not confronting herself. Instead, she just moved on, in her 80's accepting an invitation to Buenos Aires from an infatuated rock star. 

Michelle Goldberg wisely doesn't spend much time on psychology in this biography, since the point of it is what Devi actually did. Her actions and movement were who she was. Psychology can fail to see how the ineffable force of time and destiny can mix or mature a personality. The flowering of a soul can take a lifetime. Devi, who died at 102, was radiant and charismatic in her 90's. Her story provides a bridge between the fit mostly upper class female followers of yoga in the U.S. and the wild male yogis in the streets of India.