Friday, April 17, 2020

East Side Sushi and Mrs. America

I am grateful for streaming services during this coronavirus isolation. We have never had cable, and I rarely watch regular TV. Most of my viewing is online via Netflix or Hulu, and recently I discovered Kanopy, a free streaming service available to anyone with a library card. It has mostly documentaries and independent films, and it's fast becoming my favorite!

East Side Sushi

This week I watched "East Side Sushi" on Kanopy, a movie about Juana, a young Mexican single mom who lives with her dad and young daughter. She is trying to make a living in Oakland, California, operating a streetside fruit cart. She has bigger dreams, though, and finds a job working in a Japanese restaurant, Osaka.

The head sushi chef, Aki, soon discovers that Juana has a real talent in the kitchen. She wants to become a sushi chef, but the owner of the restaurant, Mr. Yoshida, is a traditional Japanese man and refuses to consider it. Juana has two strikes against her as a Mexican woman.

One scene in the movie, when Juana gets into a big argument with Mr. Yoshida, reminded me of when I was 22, living in Japan, and my Japanese boss forbid me from visiting my sister in Chengdu, China, over the Christmas holidays. I had already bought my ferry ticket. The teachers in the junior college where we taught had said they'd cover me for the few days I'd need to take off. It was all about power to him--I hadn't asked his permission. Those first few months in Japan were hard on me, and I was desperate to see my sister.

This man who had recruited me to work as a teacher, Hiroshi, was a rarity in Japan: a dishonest businessman, but that's another story. I told him I was going to go to China anyway. Voices were raised. I'm sure I was the talk of the school office for some time after that!

He didn't fire me. He couldn't risk that. But he never spoke to me again for the rest of the year, which was just fine with me! He had a "kohai" (junior), Robert, who was much more likable...and he dealt with me from there on out.

But back to the movie. I loved Juana's energy and feisty spirit, determined to make a better life for herself, her daughter, and her father. And unwilling to let a traditional, sexist man get in her way!

Mrs. America

Newly on Hulu, Mrs. America is about the fight to pass the ERA in the early 1970s. With an exemplary cast of Cate Blanchett, Uzo Aduba, Tracy Ullman, Elizabeth Banks, Sarah Paulson, Rose Byrne, Jeanne Tripplehorn, John Slattery, Margo Martindale, and more, the movie presents the backdrop of the feminist movement and the rise of the Stop ERA resistance led by Phyllis Schlafly, played wonderfully by Cate Blanchett.

My Schlafly moment was when she came to Pacific Lutheran University in 1983 to debate Eleanor Smeal, then president of the National Organization for Women. I wrote about this experience in 2008, when her supporters descended on me after they saw me cheering for Smeal. They tried to convince this 19-year-old that feminists were all lesbians, "promoted" abortion, and hated men. As you might have guessed, they didn't convince me.

I find it scandalous that we still don't have an Equal Rights Amendment, thanks to Schlafly and her desperate housewives. I find it especially interesting that Schlafly herself was highly educated with a master's degree and law degree, and she ran for office a few times as well. She didn't seem to think her traditional views should apply to her own life. She was an extremely bright and capable woman, and Mrs. America seems to suggest that she decided to make opposing the ERA her cause because she wasn't getting enough traction for her hawkish views.

Each episode centers on a different far Schlafly, Gloria Steinem, and Shirley Chisholm. Uzo Aduba is one of the best things about this show, as is her portrayal of Chisholm. Of course I knew that Shirley Chisholm was the first woman--AND Black--presidential candidate, but rarely have we seen her portrayed on film. Many young people don't even know who this trailblazer was, so I'm glad to see her story told. Seeing Bella Abzug and others try to convince her to step down and make way for George McGovern reminded me of the pressures Elizabeth Warren faced to stop her own campaign. When will women no longer be asked to step aside for men, I wonder? I hope in my lifetime!

The first three episodes are available on Hulu for now, with the next ones available on the next six Wednesdays. Watch it!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

My rainbow baby turned 17!

Seventeen years ago today, we heard a loud healthy squall in the delivery room as Kieran, our rainbow baby, entered the world. A rainbow baby is a healthy baby born after a miscarriage or infant death.

I miscarried four babies before Kieran. One evening over dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant, Mike even suggested that we stop trying to have a second child because of the pain and anguish. But we both come from families of three children, and I wanted Chris to have a sibling. We kept trying, in spite of the losses, and I began seeing a reproductive endocrinologist. He could never figure out why I was miscarrying, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was connected to the difficulty of getting pregnant and birthing my first baby at 24 weeks. When I got pregnant with Kieran, I held my breath.

As many of you know, I've always been drawn to rainbows as a symbol of hope and this term is perfect for this boy child of mine...wildly creative, fiercely independent, funny, bright, tough but tender, and loving.

Always dramatic and drawn to expressing himself through artistic and creative play, he spent most of his childhood in costume. Here are just a few examples of the costumes over the first several years!

When I look back through his childhood photos, I realize that much of what our family does has been led by Kieran. He's a born leader and he dreams big. As a preschooler, he had a mad crush on a classmate and wanted to build a "love machine" in the backyard...later it turned into a restaurant in the backyard, and nowadays he's desperate for a sauna. At one point, he loved to go to a park and collect branches to make Harry Potter brooms. If we were ever near a body of water, Kieran would end up in it. One night we had a seance, completely orchestrated by him. Then there were the elaborate birthday parties, complete with costumes and dramatic play. And he's been directing plays with his friends from a very young age.
Directing plays at Holden Village

Kieran became a big brother at age three, just as he was starting preschool. One of our close friends observes that he immediately grew up when Nicholas arrived. From the very beginning, he's been an amazing big brother, leading Nick into all sorts of adventures through the years. As the most independent of our three, he also helps Chris out with driving and other support.

We took him to theater from an early age, starting with the preschool-age Ladybug Theater. By the time he was eight years old, Kieran felt a huge pull to the stage and we did everything we could to nurture it. By the end of that year, after some theater camps, he had landed his first professional role, the child lead in Jane Theater Company's pantomime, "Frankenstein: The Little Monster." Twenty-five shows in five weeks...I still can't believe he survived that. He proved himself to be an exceptionally hard worker and committed to his craft. He does not do things by half.

He's taught himself how to play the ukulele and guitar, completely on his own, by watching YouTube...and he's also got a natural gift for cooking. I've learned many things from him in the kitchen. He's a seeker of knowledge and a multi-passionate renaissance man. He loves Bob Dylan and John Steinbeck.

Soon after enduring and recovering from mono last December (and somehow keeping his grades up), earlier this year he directed his first play..."Gruesome Playground Injuries" with Enso Theater Company, as their student director of the year. He crowdfunded the money needed to produce it, cast the actors and found the crew, and directed the entire heartfelt, emotionally complex production. He tells me that he actually enjoys the process of directing more than acting, which comes as no surprise to me.

I'm sure it was a shock to his system to be so completely independent and directive for several months, and then suddenly (literally a few weeks later) be shut completely down and confined to his house, not able to go off and see his friends and do outside activities. What a horrible shock to the system for a teenage boy.

I'm so proud of the man he is becoming. Tonight we are celebrating with takeout Indian food and watching his choice of movie..."The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"!

Here are some glimpses of Kieran's theater highlights through the years...I can't wait to see what he does next...but we will all be terribly sad, and our house will be so quiet, when he leaves for college next year. Love this 17-year-old!

Top row: theater camp at Maplewood, "Frankenstein: The Little Monster," theater camps
Middle row: head shot, "London is London" (NWCT), theater camp, NWCT show, "Sentimental Season"
Bottom row: Kids Company, Mary Poppins, Shrek (NWCT)

Top row: "Sound of Music," "Godspell," "Annie," "Wizard of Oz" (NWCT)
Middle row: "Robin Hood," "Annie," "Children of Eden"; meeting up with Mary Poppins again
Bottom row: "Leaving Manzanita," "A Short in the Wire," "Mr. Burns" (SW Stageworks); "DNA" (OCT), "Gruesome Playground Injuries"

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Inspiration for resilience during physical isolation

This shit is hard on an extrovert who wears
her heart on her sleeves. 

Either I'm having FOMO (fear of missing out), thinking about all the fun activities and events that have been cancelled...or I'm up in the middle of the night worried about my parents, my immunocompromised loved ones, or my oldest son who is working at a grocery store. 

I fret about how the coronavirus will be stopped while the United States has such a haphazard approach to curbing it, state by state. Some states (like Oregon) are being far more aggressive with stay-at-home orders, and that's paid off.

I worry about what will happen in developing countries, where people live in close quarters with poor sanitation and lack of access to clean water much less soap.

I worry about women or children who are domestic violence victims, forced to self-isolate with their abusers.

I worry about the economy and jobless, and I worry about how we will recover from this months-long closure.

And I struggle with the uncertainty of how long it will last. This was not the 2020 I was hoping for.

But RESILIENCE is the theme of my life. 

I find Maya Angelou's words comforting during this time of fear and unknown. At some point, this will end.

Always drawn to stories about people who have overcome great obstacles and emerged stronger than imagined, that's also been the theme of my pandemic viewing and reading. (Well, I must confess that I have also watched that waste of time "The Tiger King" and other light shows!)

I wanted to share with you three highlights of the last two weeks:

Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam CJ Walker

I wrote about Madam CJ Walker three years ago, during my "I Was a Stranger" Lenten series.

Madam CJ was the wealthiest African-American woman of her time, one of the most successful African-American business owners ever, among the greatest African-American philanthropists in history, and (arguably) the first female self-made millionaire in the United States.

I read this Netflix series was coming when I looked up director Kasi Emmons after I watched the amazing biopic Harriet, which she also directed. ("Harriet" didn't receive rave reviews, but I found it to be immensely moving.)

Octavia Spencer plays Madam CJ, and although they took liberties with some of the history, the result is a compelling historical series about race, resilience, and gumption! Sarah Breedlove (her real name) had a feisty independence and self-awareness that was ahead of her time, and she overcame obstacle after obstacle. As a new entrepreneur, I especially found it to be inspiring. Check it out!


Another Netflix gem, "Unorthodox" is based on the memoir by Deborah Feldman, a woman who grew up in the Hasidic Satmar sect in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Deeply unhappily married and feeling stifled, she escaped her community to become an independent woman. I read Feldman's gripping memoir back in 2012 and my blog review attracted a number of angry Hasidic Jews, who set out to discredit Feldman. Fortunately, I actually had a respectful conversation with one Hasidic woman who had actually read the book. 
In the Netflix show, much of which is in Yiddish, the main character, Esty, escapes to Berlin because her mother had fled there. Her husband and his slightly wild and off-kilter cousin Moishe come to Berlin to try to convince her to return to the fold. The character of Esty is a compilation of many people who have left the Hasidic community. It's a new story all its own, but inspired by Feldman's book. 

The Hasidic community might not agree, but I felt that the show conveyed deep respect for the Jewish faith as well as the Satmar sect. 

I was reminded that as a young woman, I loved the movie "Yentl" (based on "Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy" by Isaac Bashevis Singer) because the main character was another woman trapped inside an orthodox Jewish community, unable to study theology like she wanted. She pretended to be a man so she could follow her heart and become educated. 

Both the real Deborah Feldman and Esty in the Netflix series are strong, resilient women who have to go to great lengths to escape every sort of normalcy they knew, leaving behind their whole communities so they could express themselves freely and become the women they were meant to be.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

You might have seen the movie "Just Mercy," released last year. I have been waiting to read Bryan
Stevenson's book before watching the movie. I just finished it this weekend, and it was hard to put down.

Just Mercy will infuriate you when you learn about the scores of black and brown people imprisoned for life or on death row for seemingly insignificant crimes...or children sent to adult prison for life for making stupid decisions. So many of them receive pathetic or no legal advice or support. Many of them already victims of abuse, they continued to be raped and assaulted in prison. 

And Walter McMillian, like so many Black and brown people, ended up on death row because of the racist structures and white supremacy in our society, convicted and sentenced to death as innocent victims.

As a young, idealist attorney, Bryan Stevenson met McMillian on death row early in his career. He soon uncovered the facts: the prosecution had no real case to convict McMillian on murder charges. So they fabricated the evidence and pressured a few men to accuse him.

McMillian lived in Monroeville, home of Harper Lee and setting of To Kill a Mockingbird...but the townspeople cared more about their reputation than the truth of what still happens to Black people, so many years after Scout and Atticus...they could not see they had tried and convicted their own Tom Robinson. Over the years, Stevenson tirelessly worked to overturn the conviction and restore McMillian to freedom.

Stevenson has been likened to the United States' Nelson Mandela. His Equal Justice Initiative (founded over 30 years ago, and now with 150 people on staff) provides legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced, or abused in state jails and prisons. 

Walter McMillian with Bryan Stevenson
Many of the people Stevenson works with have never been listened to, respected, or given a chance to make better choices. And this is where the resilience comes in. In spite of being treated so horribly, and in some cases being on death row and terrified their lives will be ending, so many of them still find hope and the joy in little chocolate milkshakes, or a vist from their kind lawyer. 

Stevenson shares a powerful anecdote, about a Black woman who was waiting for him after one of his trials...because she was called to provide support to others:
“All these young children being sent to prison forever, all this grief and violence. Those judges throwing people away like they're not even human, people shooting each other, hurting each other like they don't care. I don't know, it's a lot of pain. I decided that I was supposed to be here [at the court] to catch some of the stones people cast at each other.'
I chuckled when she said it. During the McMillian hearings, a local minister had held a regional church meeting about the case and had asked me to come speak. There were a few people in the African American community whose support of Walter was muted, not because they thought he was guilty but because he had had an extramarital affair and wasn't active in the church. At the church meeting, I spoke mostly about Walter's case, but I also reminded people that when the woman accused of adultery was brought to Jesus, he told the accusers who wanted to stone her to death, 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.' The woman's accusers retreated, and Jesus forgave her and urged her to sin no more. But today, our self-righteousness, our fear, and our anger have caused even the Christians to hurl stones at the people who fall down, even when we know we should forgive or show compassion. I told the congregation that we can't simply watch that happen. I told them we have to be stonecatchers.
When I chuckled at the older woman's invocation of the parable, she laughed, too. 'I heard you in that courtroom today. I've even seen you hear a couple of times before. I know you's a stonecatcher, too.”
I am grateful for people like Bryan Stevenson, the "stone catchers" in our society...who catch the stones aimed at the most vulnerable in our society instead of throwing them. Because “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

I am listening to Glennon Doyle's latest book, Untamed, right now, and I am finding myself inspired to tears. More on that book to come!

I just created a new Facebook group, Shine and Inspire, to share inspiration and resources on how to express ourselves untamed and to be who we are meant to be. We'll talk about feminism, politics, arts and culture, books, and music...and the purpose will be to inspire and motivate each other. Support, love, and friendship for all! Join us!

For now, I will leave you with this candle, which I made several years I prayed for a close friend facing breast cancer. "All will be well, and all will be well, and all matter of things will be well." (Julian of Norwich) And "While there is tea, there is hope" (thanks to my mum-in-law Olga for the coaster!).

Stay well. Love to all!