Jul 022015
 

Teaching American Literature has, in some ways, shown me how deeply patriotic I can be. In years past, I’ve touched on some of the reasons why. There are moments, in teaching my class, that I have to pause because the utter beauty of our nation’s hopes and ideals is so touching. Yet my consistent, analytical look at the important writings of our country also deeply saddens me, as I watch the ways in which previous generations and my own generation use them to their/our own ends.

The reality in our country right now is that many, many people glance briefly at words that we’ve fought over since our country’s inception (see my friend Ryan’s great post at The Signal Watch for a great look) and use them to oppress others and to justify injustice.

This Independence Day, while I will of course still be floating in a pool and drinking various frozen drinks and taking breaks for all-American foods like barbecue and apple pie (I’m only human, and Texas is hot), I’m also conflicted. In recent years, after too many incidents to count, of injustice and hate against our African-American citizens, we take blatant racism and still try to turn it away. We perpetuate violence against this community and then expect them not to react or to react only in ways which we decree acceptable, when, as Anne Braden, activist, said, “The battle is and always has been a battle for the hearts and minds of White people in this country. The fight against racism is our issue. It’s not something that we’re called on to help People of Color with. We need to become involved with it as if our lives depended on it because really, in truth, they do.

On July 5, 1852, a man named Frederick Douglass stepped in front of an audience and spoke these words in his much-anthologized speech, later published in pamphlets as “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July”, and in doing so validated Braden’s idea nearly a century before by asking:

Fellow Citizens – Pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits, and express devout gratitude for the blessing, resulting from your independence to us?

and later:

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessing in which you this day rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not me…This Fourth of July is yours, not mine.

and last:

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

I love this country of mine dearly. I’m proud, for so many reasons, to be an American, but I’m not inured to the racial injustices either. In a year when race-based violence has exploded, when a man can walk into a church and tell men and women he is there to kill them based on their race, when black churches receive threats and then burn to the ground, and we still deny race as an issue, we are ensuring that a vast majority of our population is still excluded from our celebration of liberty. When we value and fight tooth and nail to fly a flag that flew in our nation’s darkest hours instead of mourning for lives lost? We guarantee that we will remain segregated and fearful of one another.

I say all of this, not knowing what the answer is, not knowing how to help. But I say it because it must be acknowledged. Because to not acknowledge it is to be a silent supporter of the institutionalized racism so many of us fail or refuse to see.

Happy Independence Day. My hope is that we can come to love America and its ideals enough to tear away that thin veil and recognize our crimes, to realize that no nation is perfect, that our forefathers were conflicted, imperfect men as well, and that each generation makes a choice to fully embrace the love of freedom our country has come to signify.

As Douglass also points out, “Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it.”


Further reading:

  • From 1995’s “America’s Long History of Black Churches Burning” – “It is worth observing that the absence of any organized conspiracy may make the phenomenon of church burning more, rather than less, disturbing. Far easier to abide the idea of a tight-knit group of racist fanatics than to accept the alternative that we live in a time when a substantial number of individuals, unconnected with one another or with organized white supremacist groups, regard burning black churches as a plausible act, worthy of emulation.”
  • From “Why Racists Target Black Churches”…during slavery, these churches provided more than just spiritual solace. They facilitated an explosion of black literacy in the South”
  • From “Why Racists Use Rape to Defend Racist Violence” - “It’s tempting to treat Dylann Storm Roof as a Southern problem, the violent collision of neo-Confederate ideology and a permissive gun culture. The truth, however, is that his fear – of black power and of black sexuality – belongs to America as much as it does the South.”
  • From “Thugs and Terrorists Have Attacked Black Churches for Generations” – “But today, as the nation mourns the victims of Charleston and awaits details about the perpetrator of the attack, black Americans will be most awake to the reality that there are bigots who want to see them dead. What they’re owed by their fellow Americans is vocal solidarity, so that they’re as awake to the depth and breadth of the belief that black lives matter.”
  • From “The Recent, Hateful History of Attacks on Black Churches” – “Churches have long been hubs of organizing and advocacy in the black community, which was one reason they were so often attacked during the civil rights movement. But the violence didn’t end there—attacks and threats against black churches and institutions still take place at a greater frequency than you might think.”
  • From “Black Churches Are Burning Again in America” – “Churches are burning again in the United States, and the symbolism of that is powerful. Even though many instances of arson have happened at white churches, the crime is often association with racial violence: a highly visible attack on a core institution of the black community, often done at night, and often motivated by hate.”

UPDATE: As I was searching for related articles, I see Slate’s James West Davidson had similar thoughts: “The Best Fourth of July Speech in American History”

Jun 172015
 

Growing up, I do remember watching cartoons, but more vividly, I remember watching American Movie Classics (back when they showed true classics and not this “modern classics” business). World War II films captivated me from an early age, but nearly all of them focused on the European war.

When Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand first came out, the blog world was saturated with reviews of it, and I steered clear. But in December when the film came out, I watched it and thought it was good but wondered how much better the book was. That night, I raced home from the theater, downloaded the book and stayed up all night reading it.

Since then, I’ve been on a steady diet of Pacific War nonfiction. I realized how little I knew of those battles and how many of them there were. I’m still cultivating a list of authors and books to give me a broader perspective, but I thought I’d share a little on the ones I’ve read so far (click on the title below the book to add it to your Goodreads shelf!).

pacificwar6Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

The book that started it all. No doubt about it, Zamperini’s story is incredible. A hardscrabble young man turned Olympic athlete turned soldier, Zamperini himself was a fascinating man to read about. Combined with Hillenbrand’s ability to shape his story and increase the tension as he crashes and finds himself in a Japanese POW camp, Zamperini’s story was an excellent introduction to the personal nature of war.

pacificwar5Rescue at Los Banos: The Most Daring Prison Camp Raid of World War II by Bruce Henderson

Rescue at Los Banos reinforced just how little I knew of the Pacific War. Mere days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they started in on the Philippines. Colin Powell teased the events in this book most enticingly, calling the raid at Los Baños “the textbook operation for all ages and all armies,” and Henderson does it justice, depicting the Pacific front of the war as well as the many American citizens whose lives were caught up in the fighting. The plans to liberate the internees were intricate and dependent on so many variables, and the tension Henderson creates in his narrative makes this an up-all-night read.

pacificwar4The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan

Though this book isn’t specifically about the Pacific War front, The Girls of Atomic City is an intriguing account of the women, many of whom were incredibly sheltered, picking up and leaving for Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a city so secret it wasn’t even on the map, and war work about which they knew nothing. The more technical sections are a bit daunting, but I loved reading about women who thought bobby socks were wild, trying to retain a semblance of society amid such a bizarre, manufactured atmosphere. When they realize what their work has done, many of them are unsure of how to feel, realizing what devastation they’ve enabled but also appreciating an end to the war.

pacificwar3Flyboys: A True Story of Courage by James Bradley

Of all of these books, James Bradley’s account probably spurred my reading on the most. Flyboys: A True Story of Courage is the story of nine men, one them George H.W. Bush, who were shot down in enemy waters and the story of what happened to them after. Eight of the men’s stories were classified for many decades, and Bradley’s meticulous research honors their lives. Yet what gripped me was Bradley’s discussion of the history of Japan and its codes, which gave me an insight into why and how the Japanese seemed (and were) such brutal opponents. He manages to do this while not downplaying the brutality of America’s own ways and means and had me searching for more in-depth looks at the history of the empire of the rising sun.

pacificwar2Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff

Why yes, Lost in Shangri-La also happens to claim the subtitle “the most incredible rescue mission of World War II,” but I’d argue that this and Rescue at Los Banos are completely different, worthy accounts. Stuck in New Guinea near the end of the war, Allied Forces were frustrated with the lack of action they were seeing. In order to boost morale, a superior officer decided to take a select group on a sightseeing trip over “Shangr-La,” the newly discovered, untouched civilization in a lush valley. The plane crashed, and the only survivors were face to face with natives who were rumored to be headhunters. Their survival and subsequent rescue are the stuff of legends.

pacific1Ghost Solders: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission by Hampton Sides

Survivors of the Bataan Death March lived only to suffer additional cruelty and deprivation at the hands of their Japanese captors. Near the end of the war, the Japanese massacred all prisoners of a nearby war camp in an effort to leave behind no witnesses to their treatment, as it was against the Geneva Convention (which the Japanese never signed), and American Forces realized they had no more time in which to plan a rescue for the Cabanatuan POW camp behind enemy lines. Just over 100 troops, along with Philippine guerilla forces and civilians, worked ceaselessly to execute a raid, and Sides dips into the lives of both the prisoners and the soldiers planning to save them, telling a story of incredible courage, strength, and will.

Next up, I’m reading James Hornfischer’s Ship of Ghosts, so I’ll have to check back later with an updated list. That said, I’d wholeheartedly recommend any of these, and I’m curious if you may have any recommendations as well.

Or have you ever been obsessed with reading books on a certain subject?

Jun 152015
 

So apparently this thing called the “capsule wardrobe” has been around for a long time. I read about it for the first time this past fall in a slightly altered capacity from a blog called Un-Fancy.

The original idea? To have versatile pieces in your wardrobe that don’t go out of style season to season and to minimize the moments of closet gazing. The capsule wardrobe making its way around the Internet, though, is different: You choose a number (most center in the mid 30s) and build your main wardrobe around that number, counting tops, bottoms, dresses, and shoes. Accessories and workout clothes don’t count. Then for a season, you wear nothing but those items. (Examples here and here.)

The main goal seems to be to simplify and minimize both daily choices and the amount of shopping/money necessary each season. In other words, no standing in the closet or in front of it despairing that there is nothing to wear, particularly as you build a wardrobe to mix and match intentionally. So most bloggers sell or donate their extra pieces if they don’t use them.

My problem? (And I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this…) Because of a strict budget (paid off my car and student loans last summer!), weight issues, and attitude – I tend to think of clothes as a luxury, and rightly so, in some instances – I don’t even have 20 pieces, much less 30. Or in other words, I’m cheap! Even though I budget each month for clothes, I never, never buy them. I went shopping in October to start replenishing my wardrobe, but here we are in June, and I had two short sleeve shirts. I am warm natured, and Texas is hot. Two tops will not exactly work.

Though I love shopping in general, clothes shopping is not my favorite. I get hot. I hate dressing room mirrors, and I tend not to have the same vision I do when I’m not in the moment, attempting to piece together a wardrobe. So online shopping makes sense to me, even with the hassle of returns.

Plus, there are some really great early summer sales going on online right now (I won’t link as they seem to change daily) on various sites I like. So I made a few purchases (and made sure the sites I shopped had free return shipping).

Summer Wardrobe

 

How I Did It:

1. I made a numbered list of my clothes that can work from season to season (jeans, crop pants, slacks).

2. I made a list of clothes that should be (a) retired – nothing overly nubby/worn will be kept. This is tough for me as I really stretch my clothes way past when I should. And because I don’t have a broad selection, my clothes get worn a lot. (b) repaired – I am tough on my shoes, and repairing them is not costly. The only way to extend the life of a pair of shoes is to take care of it.

3. I made another list (what can I say, I love lists) of pieces I needed: for instance, a light blazer is a must to make some of my outfits more work appropriate. I also knew I needed another pair of slacks, crop pants, and jeans. I always need tops. I included shoes as well.

4. Browsed sites for items I liked and added to my numbered list.

5. For each potential item, I cross referenced my list to see how many outfits I could make. If I could only make one or two, then I marked the item off. If the piece worked well in multiple pairings, I starred it to possibly buy. If it was a dress, I tried to make sure it wasn’t so flashy or patterned that I couldn’t wear it often or paired with a blue jean jacket. And I read reviews. Man, reviews are so helpful to be able to see how different items run, size wise. Reviews definitely had me reevaluating sizes for several selections I made.

6. I waited. Online sales change constantly, and I knew I would not buy until the site had at least 40%-60% off. Once it did, I pulled the trigger. I was pleased with what I spent and the value.

7. Next, I tried on…from the comfort of my own home. This is trial and error, but at least it’s conscious trial and error.

8. Filled in the gaps. For anything that I couldn’t find online, I headed to the mall. But with a short, targeted list, it was a much less painful experience. Plus, I felt focused and in control.

All in all, I spent less than $400 and now have (I counted) over 50 different combinations of outfits from less than 30 distinct pieces. That’s pretty incredible. And since summer in my area lasts well into September and sometimes October, that’s a good long time to get my money’s worth. With so many options, I shouldn’t need to dash out to the mall anytime soon, and I feel equipped to be able to dress for just about any event with my new wardrobe. Here’s just one example:

 

One Top Four Ways

 

As silly as it may sound, taking the daily decision of what to wear out of the equation has made my mornings much simpler, and I value simplicity.

Have you heard of the capsule wardrobe?

Apr 152015
 

For real. So the bff and I rarely get to spend any time together. She’s got three kids; they’re all uber involved in extra activities…yada yada yada. When I realized I’d have a Friday evening to myself, I figured I’d see if I could hang out with her and the kids, but she called and practically yelled in the phone, “It’s meant to be! I don’t have the kids tomorrow! Let’s go see The Longest Ride!”

She hung up about as quickly, leaving me to Google The Longest Ride and then groan. Because The Longest Ride is a Nicholas Sparks movie, based on his book. And I hate Nicholas Sparks films – though that isn’t quite fair, I’ve only watched one – The Notebook - under duress (same bff gave it to me and bugged me for six months until I watched).

Friday afternoon I girded my loins to go the theater to see a film about a cowboy and love. Yech.

At least, I thought I was going to see a mushy film about a cowboy and love. What I actually saw…was a mushy film about a cowboy, and a girl, and an old man thinking back on the love of his life. Cheesy as hell, but I actually liked it.

There was still the obligatory rain scene (I swear, someone could do an academic paper about Sparks’ use of rainy scenes. He must think there’s some real symbolism there or something. Yes! The rain washes away who I used to be and now I am clean and free to love you!). Anyway, there’s also not much in the way of character development: I know two things about Sophia, one of the main characters. She was raised by Polish immigrants. And she likes art.

Similarly, her paramour, Luke, rides bulls to keep his momma on the ranch because Daddy died of a heart attack. But momma doesn’t care about the ranch and wants Luke to stop bull riding because a bull nearly killed him. Motivation enough? I guess.

BUT. The real gem of the film is the relationship between Ruth and Ira, a Jewish couple who meet at the start of World War II, when Ruth’s family immigrates to the US from Vienna. Luke and Sophia save elderly Ira from a car crash, and he asks Sophia to go back for a box of letters that chronicle his relationship with his love. She develops a relationship with the old man, reading him the love letters he wrote and can no longer read and gaining insight into love, life, and relationships.

And I loved it.

Had the majority of the film focused on the contemporary couple, it would have been a snoozefest, but watching Ruth and Ira fall in love in flashbacks and navigate the problems couples encounter was really lovely. Their lifelong love affair was beautiful.

Even though I never thought I’d find myself saying this, I’d actually recommend The Longest Ride. It may be rental material, but if you want a love story that won’t make your eyes roll back in your head (I’m looking at you, every rom-com ever), try this one.

Apr 092015
 

Readers:

If you’ve been part of the book blogging community for any length of time, you have no doubt had a visit from Sheila of Book Journey. Sheila is such an active blogger and is one of the few who actively comments on posts as well. She is, and I will repeat myself across Facebook, Twitter, and this post, just incredibly supportive and enthusiastic within this community.

This weekend, Sheila’s son was killed in a car accident. Her blog was full of her adventures with her son Justin, and he had just graduated from college a year ago. The love, respect, and sense of joy these two shared is phenomenal.

Several other bloggers and I wanted to do something for the woman we count as friend, even though we’ve never met. Sheila is intimately involved in her library, and Jenn from Literate Housewife got in touch with Brainerd Public Library to see how we could donate. We determined we could raise money to fund a bench on the library property in Justin’s name, in the hopes that it will come to be a place of comfort and contemplation for Sheila in the days ahead.

If you’d like to join us, please check out our gofundme: gofundme.com/supportforsheila. Any funds we raise above our limit will go to Brainerd Public Library as a general donation in Justin DeChantal’s name.

Thank you.

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