Category Archives: Heroines

You want it darker

I felt a blast of irrational fury towards Leonard Cohen on Friday when I heard that he had died. Christ, Leonard, did you have to go and die on us in such a week? When so many Americans chose the candidate who promotes hatred and fear? When the Klan announced a victory parade for Trump and the hate crimes began? When those of us in the UK who voted for humanity last June are getting flashbacks to the trauma of the referendum result to add to our sense of horror for the US?

Leonard, I loved you my entire life, but this was bloody bad timing mate: how to cope with the grief of this loss as well?

Of course I rallied, and I said my tender goodbyes to the great poet.

What next?

So there’s the question of how to go on from here in this screwed up world. What the hell to do next.

I was privileged to be invited to join the “secret” Facebook group Pantsuit Nation, now 3,500,000 strong and climbing. A group of both women and men, a space where people could share their stories and write of their admiration for Hillary Clinton without fear of vilification and attack. It includes many thoughtful Republicans voting the Democrat ticket for the first time in their lives.

That group has been inspirational, a leaping wild river of a timeline as hope turned gradually to disbelief and grief that long election night. And the stories keep pouring in, of hope and ideas for the future, of fractured families, of people being assaulted and others jumping in to protect them, of both hate and reconciliation. People are organising, they are not giving up.

On not being a good girl

There are a lot of ideas floating around for moving on. But a friend of mine said:

Be a good girl. Be nice. Mind your manners. Stay quiet. Do as you’re told. Speak when you are spoken to. Gotta say… all the “let’s move on” and “work together” chatter sounds a lot like this old shit.

I agree, this is a time for grief and for rage. For me, it’s reawakened all those post-Brexit feelings of fear (despite my white privilege) and unreality. Of discovering that the country I’ve lived in for over sixty years is not what I thought it was. It’s underlined this dark tide of racism, misogyny and homophobia that’s sweeping not only the US but the UK and most of Europe. Marine Le Pen, the French far right leader was one of the first politicians to congratulate Trump. Nigel Farage is in New York with him as I type this. (I can’t reflect on Farage and his smug grin for long without being in danger of an aneurysm.)  If you want to know who someone is, look at their allies.

Working together?

And yet… clearly we do have to work together. And to understand what’s happening and talk about it with those with whom we disagree. There’s a difference between people whose political views are different from ours and the haters. I will not engage with haters. Being a thoughtful Conservative here in the UK is not an oxymoron, any more than being a thoughtful Republican is in the US (heaven knows we need more of both).

In fact one of the things that’s shocked me most this year is how a few people I know and love and whose political views are liberal or left-wing have gone out of their way to taunt and insult right-wingers on social media. Trolling is trolling regardless of who does it. One thing I would love to see in the weeks ahead is for people on social media to stop calling each other stupid. It doesn’t help anyone. We go high.

I’m also not sure that white liberal guilt and hand-wringing does much good either. Yes we need to recognise that those of us in this category can be arrogant and inward-looking, that minorities of all stripes have been experiencing this hate for longer than we have. We need to understand that we don’t see life in the same way as the majority of people on the planet, and that we are considered effete and out of touch by people whose jobs in manufacturing have disappeared and who are living in poverty.

In a stroke of good timing, while writing this I got an email from a good friend forwarding a satirical piece about liberals fleeing the US for Canada. I particularly enjoyed this extract:

“A lot of these people are not prepared for our rugged conditions,” an Alberta border patrolman said. “I found one carload without a single bottle of Perrier water, or any gemelli with shrimp and arugula. All they had was a nice little Napa Valley cabernet and some kale chips.

But if you’re a white liberal suffering from guilt, let’s quit with the hand-wringing, enjoy the Napa and do what we can to build bridges.

Next steps

As an older woman who remembers the excitement of the feminist movement in the 1970s, I wanted desperately to see Hillary Clinton elected as the first woman President of the United States. Not only for the symbolism although that would have brought me such joy, but because I believed she was a great person for the job. How that woman has remained standing after everything that’s been thrown at her over the past decades is extraordinary. (Of course our two female Prime Ministers so far here in the UK have been extraordinarily divisive, so this isn’t to say that women are automatically the best for the job.)

So what I would love to see is a resurgence of the energy of those early days of feminism, converted into a world-wide progressive movement for everyone who is being beaten down by this new fascist threat around the world.

I’m going to be thinking hard over the next couple of weeks about what I can specifically do, and would love to hear ideas from you in the comments.

Meanwhile…

Adam Cohen posted this on Facebook today:

My sister and I just buried my father in Montreal. With only immediate family and a few lifelong friends present, he was lowered into the ground in an unadorned pine box, next to his mother and father. Exactly as he’d asked. As I write this I’m thinking of my father’s unique blend of self-deprecation and dignity, his approachable elegance, his charisma without audacity, his old-world gentlemanliness and the hand-forged tower of his work. There’s so much I wish I could thank him for, just one last time. I’d thank him for the comfort he always provided, for the wisdom he dispensed, for the marathon conversations, for his dazzling wit and humor. I’d thank him for giving me, and teaching me to love Montreal and Greece. And I’d thank him for music; first for his music which seduced me as a boy, then for his encouragement of my own music, and finally for the privilege of being able to make music with him. Thank you for your kind messages, for the outpouring of sympathy and for your love of my father.

Goodbye Leonard, I love you, and thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rising

Maya Angelou

I wept today when I heard of Maya Angelou’s death. This surprised me: I’m not much given to mawkish sentimentality. I knew Dr Angelou only through her words (but oh, such words); there was no warmly remembered shaken hand at a poetry reading, no brief word of encouragement at a political meeting, no flourish of her pen at a book signing. And yet I felt NOT as if I knew her, but as if she knew me. I’ve revered her work my entire adult life. It feels almost like a personal loss.

In the UK (and across much of Europe) we’re experiencing a political shift to the right, a shift to the politics of fear, due at least in part to a monumental apathy combined with a distrust of the political system and its acolytes. As I looked again at the news site where I had just learned of Dr Angelou’s death, her picture and story were well below the endless discussions of the latest political goings-on. Almost ‘below the fold’. But in the news of her death, she had the presence of a giant, towering over the empty suits, showing them a real-ness that they cannot touch. She was a courageous leader where they are not.

And that’s what makes her such an important figure, that authenticity and that strength. She led an extraordinary life. She was  a renaissance woman of prodigal giftedness. Her combination of sharp intellect and huge heart is something we see only rarely.

She was 86. Few of us who reach that age will reach it with such a body of work behind us, but as we grow older, perhaps we can all emulate at least something of her discipline, her activism, her creative expression, wisdom and joy.

Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God

Maya Angelou

 

 

Who are your fictional heroines?

image by angst

I love Miss Marple. She’s sharp, intuitive, and observant. She’s like a polite terrier, never letting go until she unravels the mystery and apprehends the suspect.  And she knits well, enjoys a nice cup of tea and keeps her cottage and garden tidy.

I love the underlying premise that because she’s an elderly spinster living in a pretty village, her intelligence is consistently overlooked until eventually everyone involved realises she’s run rings around them. I love her genteel ruthlessness.

A recent representation of her on British TV tried to update her by calling the series “Marple”.  They completely missed the point that the old-fashioned formality of “Miss” is key to her identity.

Every time I read one of Christie’s books about her or watch an actress portraying her, I’m overcome by a desire to go out and buy a tweed skirt. Miss Marple is a subtly subversive heroine.

Of course I do have many other fictional heroines from perhaps more serious genres, but I know who I’d want on my side if I was wrongly accused of murder.

What about you?

That’s quite enough from me! Over to you, who are your fictional heroines?

I’ll be away for a long weekend by the time this post magically publishes itself, leaving my house-sitter in charge. So talk among yourselves and I’ll catch up with you on Sunday.

 

 

Heroines: Granny D

First, a warm welcome to those of you newly gathering at this site having been kindly sent here from one of my favourite places, The Hermitage.

Granny D

Second, this is one of an occasional series celebrating the lives of inspiring women.

Doris “Granny D” Haddock (she actually changed her middle name legally to Granny D!) was a liberal political activist from New Hampshire, USA, who cared passionately about her country. She believed true democracy is a rare animal these days. (Ya think?) She considered campaign finance reform key to the restoration of democracy, and in 1999 she started on a walk through America to publicise the issue. But not just any old walk: she walked 3200 miles along the highways. It took her a year. Oh, and she celebrated her 90th birthday a month after she started walking! Here’s a description from her website:

…in 1995, Doris became interested in campaign reform and led a petition movement. On January 1, 1999–at the age of 89–she began a 3,200–mile walk across the country to demonstrate her concern for the issue, walking ten miles each day for fourteen months. Doris traveled as a pilgrim, walking until given shelter, fasting until given food. With the unflagging generosity of strangers she met along the way, Doris never went without a meal or a bed. She trekked through over 1,000 miles of desert, climbed the Appalachian Range in blizzard conditions and even skied 100 miles after a historic snowfall made roadside walking impossible. When she arrived in Washington D.C., Granny D was met by 2,200 supporters representing a wide variety of reform groups. Several dozen members of Congress walked the final miles with her.

Of course 90 is really quite young. A few years later, at 94, she ran for the Senate. Didn’t get in, but what an inspiration.

Granny D died aged 100 early last year, having shifted her campaigning focus to the environment. What a shining example she was.

Who are your heroines?

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