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Book Review: Wolfpack by Abby Wambach

13 May 2019

Book Review: Everything Grows by Aimee Herman

A lot of books show up at my home that go unread - to be given away or on the never-ending TBR pile. Thankfully something about Everything Grows urged me to read it and now. And that is exactly what this books does to your heart - it plants into your heart and tears it apart as it blossoms.

Aimee Herman gives us the tale of Eleanor, a teen in 1993 (This GenXer is still floored each time she reads a book that is nostalgic for her own high school days and LOVES it. Even if it is hard to read "historical fiction" for that time.) whose bully has recently taken his own life just months after her mom attempted to do the same. At the prompting for her English teacher, Eleanor journals her way through the months after the bully's death, exploring not just their relationship, but also her relationship with her mother, and most importantly herself.

There are definitely places in this book where I felt it was a bit unrealistic, but it works in the end. It all works. 1993 was a huge year for me. I am the same age as Eleanor's sister, who struggles through her first year of college. Every step along Eleanor's journey was deeply felt due to both superb writing, but also personal flashbacks.

I am not sure how this would go over with someone who has survived their own attempt to take their lives, so please consult someone. I do know that this book is full of hope as Eleanor wrestles with what suicide means - is it giving up? Is it giving in? Why? Why not? This book is also about queer youth, as signaled by the rainbow button on the cover. According to the Trevor Project "suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24 and LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth." From everything I know of LGB youth and young adults, I would like to think this book is a welcome addition to their lives as it is affirming not just for one's identity, but for the really fucked up ways we all stumble through figuring out that identity.

As a parent, I appreciated the insight into the teen mind. As I get older, I lose the finer touch of my memories. Aimee Herman reminded me of all the drama that happens in our minds and hearts. And why sometimes the best thing a parent can do it simply say, "I love you. I accept you." and the shut the fuck up.

I was going to give this to a parent who spotted me reading it at soccer, but I think I'm going to walk this over to our Gender and Sexuality Center over my lunch break.

Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

30 April 2019

Marvel-ing at Grief

Spoilers Ahead

Spoilers head for Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse and Avengers: Endgame.

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When Stan Lee died many fans were quick to point out that his legacy is much more than just comic book characters, but the messages that those characters endear to us. He spent years reinforcing those messages on his Soap Box. It is with his words about the power of love in mind that I outline that Avengers: Endgame is a film about grief masquerading as an action flick. Grief is everywhere in the film - appropriately since it takes place in a post-snap, post-apocalyptic universe. The grief of Thor is central to this lesson, but is the one most undercut by humor.

Avengers: Endgame begins with Hawkeye losing his family to Thanos' snap. And this snaps something in him causing him to become a vigilante. Rhodey reports to Nat of his slaughter of Mexican gang members. Nat finds him in Tokyo after his latest slaughter. We first see Thor upset because he did not go for Thanos' head, allowing Thanos to complete the snap. He makes sure not to repeat that mistake by beheading Thanos to stop his holier-than-thou speech about why the snap was good, blah, blah. After Tony is saved, he is so upset about the snap (most likely because of Peter Parker) that he collapses. Of course Tony is always upset about something, so grief or Tony? Your guess.

Five years after the snap, Steve Rogers runs a grief support program encouraging others to move on. Then he remarks to Nat that they can't move on. When it is time to get the band back together, Bruce/Hulk and Rocket find Thor in a deep depression - he is heavily drinking, staying in his home, and gaining weight, presumably due to over eating (the fact he is a god is to be ignored). Whereas Steve & Nat identify that they are stuck in grief and regret, Thor's grief is played off as a joke.

The first time I saw Avengers: Endgame the entire theater gasped at Thor's beer & pizza belly. I know I did. It was shocking especially compared to the scene in Infinity War where Thor's perfect body is compared to Peter Quill's non-Godlike body. And it should be noted that while his body was perfect, Mantis does say Thor is filled with grief. Back to Endgame...On my second watch, I paid attention to how Thor's belly is framed and lit to highlight it as a gag instead of a manifestation of his grief.

Later on when Thor is discussing the Reality stone and how he needs to time travel back to Asgard, he starts to mourn the loss of Jane as a girlfriend, his mother, and ends before getting to losing his father, brother, Loki, and Asgard itself. But when he gets to Asgard he is overcome with emotion at the sight of his mother on her deathday.

Rocket rightfully does some truth telling - how he is not the only one who lost something from The Snap. That they have a job to do and if they do it, they can put things right. I even accept the slap! But what I don't accept is how the slap played as humor. Rocket dug deep into his own trash-filled soul to give some tough love. Maybe the humor was there to take the edge off the heavy moment. We'll return to this idea later. 

As mothers are apt to do, Frigga can see his pain in his face. She counsels him that even he is like everyone else in terms of failing, but that doesn't mean he stops trying. Frigga even gives him direction by telling him to be who he is, not what he is expected to be. That's some real mom truth-telling there! To cap off the scene Thor summons Mjolnir and when it arrives he exclaims, "I'm still worthy!"

Thor's journey through grief and embodiment as a pot belly is played off as a joke. Compare this to how Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse handled Peter B. Parker's grief and depression. Yes, it was played off as a joke at first, but Peter B. offers up some hard truths to Miles about #ThatSuperheroLife, marriage, and how sometimes heroes don't get the happy ending we assume they do. His longing for a second or third chance with Mary Jane is palpable. Which is why I bawled when he showed up at her door at the end.

Given that the target audience for superhero movies is still young men and boys, Marvel has an enormous opportunity to normalize grief for a population that is obviously struggling with their emotions. When men experience mental health issues, including grief and depression, they are more apt to lash out than women. In fact they often lash out at the women in their lives.

Violence by men and boys is a national epidemic. Gun violence. Intimate partner violence. Sexual violence. All are disproportionately inflicted by boys and men. I for one do not believe that it is because men and boys are somehow inherently terrible human beings, but our society warps them into ignoring their feelings AND tells them that they way to get things out is to lash out at others. This is royally fucked up.

What if Rocket had hugged (I know, hard for our fave trash panda to hug our fave Norse god) instead of slapping him, or after slapping him, much like the hug that Tony gets to give to his father and Peter Parker? We get a taste of this empathy when Bruce/Hulk talks to Thor in New Asgard.

Can you imagine the impact on the young men and boys sitting in theaters around the country and the world if Thor's depression and grief had been given the same weight as Tony's death? Grief makes us all feel weird. We don't like to talk about grief. After my mom died, I had a few people in my life tell me to get over it so I could move on with my life. We don't know how to deal with grief, so we tell people to get over it or make awkward jokes. I don't think we needed Thor to end up with a grief counselor, but more acknowledgement of his losses and less jokes and body-shaming would had been awesome. Especially in light of the overwhelming sense of grief everyone was carrying throughout the movie.

If Stan Lee's legacy is a catalog of superheros that inspire us to be our best selves, why not include being inspired to talk about our grief and understanding that eating a salad will not resolve our depression-weight-gain.

20 April 2019

Book Review: Wolfpack by Abby Wambach

https://www.facebook.com/support.womens.sports/photos/rpp.138406009565377/2046455138760445/?type=3&theater

Less than a year ago, Abby Wambach took the stage at Barnard's commencement and gave a speech that shook many, including myself, to the core. Her speech went viral and I made the above image in order to share the highlights of her speech. Earlier this month Abby released the speech in book form.

Wolfpack: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game is short (less than 100 pages) but is much more than just her speech. You get a peek into how the speech came together and why she said everything. And because the book is short and is an expanded speech, it moves quickly. I feel that it moves with the same ferocity that Abby use to move down a soccer field. And you might find yourself cheering as she takes you through the story.

Abby has always been one of my favorite players. The way she ran amok on the pitch was exactly the way I felt I played sports. Never caring how you looked and giving it your all. Leaving it all on the field. When she retired from soccer, international and US soccer were looking for their next leaders. I was sure that the way Abby talked about gender issues that she would head off to an Ivy League school, get her MBA, and come back to run US Soccer. I'm still hoping that will happen one day. US Soccer needs her fire and someone to give attention to the girls program. But after retiring from soccer, Abby appeared to struggle with reentry into ordinary life. Her arrest for driving while under the influence was her public low-point. In her memoir, Forward, she is honest with her struggles with addiction and other ghosts in her life. Perhaps speaking her truth allowed her to exorcise the demons and restart her life. She has even started her own leadership training program, Wolfpack Endeavor.

I finished the book the same day I received it (Monday) and immediately assigned it to my 15-year-old-soccer-playing daughter.  Now I did this while she was on Spring Break and needed to finish a research paper. "It's less than a 100 pages, it reads quickly, and you will have it done by Friday." She had it done by Thursday.

If you are burned out on leadership or inspirational books, I strongly suggest you pick up "Wolfpack." Not only is it a quick read, but it distills so much of what great leadership looks like without fluff. Is that ain't quintessential Abby Wambach, I don't know what else it is. There are citations, there are studies quoted, but Abby gets right to the point and moves on. Us powerful majestic goddesses do not have time to read 300 pages of why we need to have demand the fucking ball. So get yourself a copy and maybe even one for your BFF, daughter, or goddess-in-training.

Please purchase your own copy of Wolfpack from Powells or Indiebound and support Viva la Feminista.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy from a publicist.  

19 January 2019

Review: The Folded Map Project on stage (Collaboraction)


Chicago is a segregated city. When Martin Luther King Jr brought his nonviolent work to Chicago he was struck by a rock and remarked, "I have seen many demonstrations in the south but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I’ve seen here today." The shorthand manner to discuss our segregation is to note that the Northside is where you find White Chicagoans and the Southside is where you find Black Chicagoans. The Northside is where you find all the resources whereas on the Southside you find vacant lots and high crimes.

There have been countless attempts to bridge this divide. One of the most recent and ingenious is the Folded Map project. Simply put, who lives at 6400 North and 6400 South and how are their lives different or similar.

Now comes a stage production of the project brought to us by Collaboraction. This production is part of a larger "Encounter" series that runs through January 27th. There are in fact only 2 more times to see this particular piece: Wednesday, January 23 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, January 26at 7 p.m.

The piece was moving, but also left me wanting more. Much more. "Folded Map" is far more an origin story of Tonika Johnson and the project itself. I really wanted to hear more about what Johnson had learned from the conversations and if those on the Northside had made changes in the way they go about their lives. 

In one sense it is easy to fold the map of Chicago from Englewood, the most dangerous neighborhood if all you know of it is from the evening news, to Rogers Park, home to aging hippies and the heart of Chicago's progressive community. It should make it easier for the project, especially the stage production to ask those with more money, influence, and privilege what they will do to ease the differences we see through the project. Because it left the "what next" conversation centered on sharing ones love of gardening I felt unfulfilled. 

That is not to say that the origin story is itself a bad story. In fact it is a fascinating story of one woman's family that started in Englewood, moved to Uptown, then back. It is a case study is why it is worth the two-hour commute for some students in order to have a high school experience that prepares you to be a UN ambassador. It is heartwarming, touching, and extols the power to art to not only be a medium for storytelling, but as community building.

In the end, I strongly encourage you to see the remaining two shows. I hope that Johnson and the rest of the crew continue to evolve this piece that can help cut through the divides, both physical and mental, that keep us apart and Chicago from being the city it can be It has a companion piece, A Great Day (in the Neighborhood), which is a fantastical romp through a creative mind. 

Catch "Folded Map" on Wednesday, January 23 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, January 26 at 7 p.m. 

Disclaimer: I saw "Folded Map" through a press pass. All opinions are my own.

07 January 2019

She'll do all of this....and She'll do none of this

I'll teach my daughter / To bang on anything that makes a beat / She'll shake-a-boom, she'll quake a room / She'll ... She'll do all of this. And she'll do none of this. And it's funny how we hide behind these daughters, Hide ahead of our own herstories. Scared of ourselves.

Today is my mom's 15th birthday since her death. It is the last of the 15-year milestones (15 years since her death, Ella's 15th birthday, 15th Christmas, 15th of my birthday). The woman who instilled in me how special I was, how important I am to the world, and who held me to high standards, should be indulging in a tiny slice of turtle cheesecake for her day. Instead a bit of her ashes sit in a tiny urn on my altar.  She hovers over my life as a sage and cautionary tale. 

Dear reader, you may be shocked at how I can hold anger in my heart over her death. Well, I do. I am mostly angry at all the wonderful things she has missed out on, including resolving our relationship. Before you stop reading, I should tell you that I am far more heartbroken than angry. At the start of my relationship with grief, I thought I needed to pass through phases, that you did not hold each at the same time. Thanks to the Refuge in Grief newsletter and splurging on the 30-Day writing group, I know that it is quite common to feel both. So much of the pain in the first few years of grief was actually pain caused by the world, including some close to me, telling me to "get over it," to push through the anger to heartbreak to acceptance. As if accepting the loss of someone who meant everything to you, who literally made you, would end the grief. 

Mom looms large in my life. She was the more vocal of my parents on how I should live my life. She prescribed a lot of my choices, sometimes not always in my best interest. I have reflected on her bad advice with my therapist. How life always seemed to bulldoze her and how that may have impacted how she guided me. She raised me to kick ass, but also to be cautious of deals that sounded too good to be true. I have come to the realization that she was so scared of me getting bulldozed by life that she steered me away from too big of risks least I fell on my face. 

I shared the gory details with my daughter on my mom's birthday last year (when I wrote the bulk of this post). Not to disparage her grandmother, but to share with her why I am so determined to support her dreams, no matter how large and out-of-reach they may seem to others. I try to be rational in my support, telling her that is she wants X, she better start doing Y to get there. It is hard not to want to live out my dreams in my daughter. She looks so much like me, she is very much like me. But she is not me. And I am not my mother. 

I am not my mother. 

That sounds awful to say on her birthday, but it is the truth. My dad and her worked hard so I could be offered opportunities they did not have. Now my daughter has opportunities I dared not to ask for growing up because I knew we could not afford them. I know the world is what it is. It can be cruel, but it can also be loving. Sometimes at the same time. I have had my share of joys and also life kicking me in the gut as I lay on the ground crying. I work hard to not let the challenges life presents instill fear in my daughter or to try to control her life so she easily overcomes them. And it is freaking hard. 

One day last year Alix Olson's Daughter came over my earbuds as I was at the climbing gym. I remember the first time I heard it thinking, "Yes! This is how my daughter will be!" Then getting to the end of the piece and thinking, "Shhiiiiit...." With Daughter raging in my ears as I willed myself up a wall, I flashed back to me explaining at Christmas 2017 that we are born with all the eggs we will produce. Meaning that as I floated in my mother's uterus I already had my daughter in me. Three generations together in a tiny moment of time. 

Life beat my mom into fearing my dreams. That has left me with the challenge to show my daughter that no matter how hard life punches me, to stand back up and punch back harder. That we will fail, but we don't stop dreaming. That is the fear Alix sings about. That is the fear I fight. 

My mom was and still is my everything. I am angry that she died before she could experience the joys of being a grandmother to the most amazing girl ever. I am crushed she missed me hitting my stride as the woman she raised me to be. Her memory is not just a blessing, but what keeps me moving.





Disclaimer

This blog is my personal blog and is not reflective of my employer or what I do for them.

What I'm Currently Reading

I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame
The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces


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