Friday, February 28, 2014

Three Is Greater Than Two


"Three is greater than two," I say apologetically when people ask me about my writing.  In other words: I'm not writing.  I . . . underestimated . . . the difference it would make in my life to move to three children from two.  Misunderestimated.  I love being a mom and I am besotted with these unique, amazing little (not so little!) people I'm getting to raise.  But I've yet to find space for myself in all the physical, temporal, and mental chaos of my life, so I'm not writing.

That's true and also incomplete.  I can write anecdotes and passionate arguments on Facebook all day.  But I'm not writing creatively.  The difference between a Facebook post and a blog post highlights the other reason I'm not writing.  The Big reason.  The Real Reason.  A Facebook update can be quick, funny, incomplete, utterly lacking in context.  It can simply be a picture.  It can be a short conversation.  It's a snapshot of a moment.  The way I blog, on the other hand, tends to be to collect anecdotes for a few hours or days or weeks or years, then assemble them into something that makes a sort of narrative or point, even if it's a very short or simple one.  Blogging - let alone writing memoir or fiction - requires perspective for me.

Perspective and some sort of connection to emotion.  But emotion is painful, y'all.  I feel like I barely get through my days doing the things that I need to do.  Children dressed and off to their appropriate places with their appropriate things (snacks, water bottles, lunches, signed permission forms, money for this that and everything else, dance gear, gymnastics apparal, instruments, music, themed hats).  Weekly schedules created and maintained.  Meals planned, shopped for, and prepared.  I've given up on cleaning up altogether.  Committees worked.  Summers planned down to the minute.  These classes, these camps, these vacations, these meals, these structured free times.  We don't do so well with unstructured time.

And as for me, I find a sense of accomplishment in managing and balancing all of this.  I call it My Life.  I also have something to pour into the space where I used to keep writing and dealing with emotions and exercising and tidying my house and whatnot.  That something is food.  I look forward to what I get to eat next.  Predictable results, etc.  But doing My Life and then eating and reading or watching TV or playing Nintendo or whatever else I do after the children are in bed and before I turn into a pumpkin (more committees) - in the space I used to use for writing or running or both (in addition to reading - there's always reading, for better and for worse) all of that allows me to mute my feelings.

And muting my feelings is a relief.  As a teenager I felt so much, so acutely, it was unbearable.  I filled notebooks with scrawls of rage and pain, pages warped by tears.  Becoming an adult - and this happened gradually in my early-to-mid-twenties - was a relief.  I could feel it happening.  I sought it out.  I called it perspective, I called it a mature ability to organize my thoughts logically, to present arguments rationally, to exist in a world with lots of pointy edges.

When I'm feeling a lot of pain, I can distract myself with TV or books or games or busyness and try to think about the pain as little as possible until a skin forms over the gaping wound, until I can examine it from afar without pressing too hard on the tender spot.  This is a coping mechanism, and it works - to an extent - but it's not conducive to good writing because to write, I have to feel.  I'm not sure I even remember how to turn that back on, anymore.

It's not that anything so bad has ever happened to me.  I've lived a pretty charmed life.  But it's cumulative, you know?  I was a kid, and I was hurt by things I'd shrug off, now.  I've had friend drama (and loss), relationship drama (and loss), family drama (and loss).  I have a child with disabilities.  She's great, but it's a lot to manage, sometimes.  I have children, and that really is sort of like letting your heart walk around out in the world unprotected.  I lost my dad too soon.  It's easier to just . . . mute that a little.  Let the skin grow closed, just a thin layer, so that light gets through but not too much.  A manageable amount.  That's how I'm living my life these days: in manageable amounts.  Later, I'm sure, there will be more writing.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Slow Food

First let me say that I have a lot of sympathy with the Slow Food movement.  I make a weekly menu - and I print it out! It includes each day's weather forecast and scheduled activities.  Plus relevant clip art.  This week's menu depicts a runner because Ellie will be in the Girls on the Run 5K downtown on Saturday and a carnival because it's time for the girls' annual school PTO blast.  I buy organic when I can (when I can afford it, when I can find it, when I have time for it) and I shop around the outside of the grocery store before venturing into those processed food aisles.

But I read Emily Matchar's Salon article, "Is Michael Pollan a sexist pig" with great interest this week.  And while attempting to write a comment about it on a friend's Facebook page, I inadvertently wrote an essay.  So I decided to post it here, instead.

I'm a fan of much of what I know about Pollan's work, except where he falls into the occasional trap of romanticizing the past.  I was really disappointed to read what he said about, "genuine wisdom that some American feminists thoughtlessly trampled in their rush to get women out of the kitchen."

I find the whole feminism connection mystifying.  Have you checked out any 1950's cookbooks?  Long before women went to work in droves (middle class women, as working class women frequently lacked the opportunity to stay home) Food, Inc. existed.  Post-WWII American society embraced processed foods and the assumed superiority of modern food technologies.  I absolutely don't get all this discussion of the 1970's as the critical problem point when people were eating their Swanson's TV dinners in 1950's living rooms.  (Pollan discusses this in Cooked, yet still comes back to feminism.)

Pollan dismissed “The Feminine Mystique” as “the book that taught millions of American women to regard housework, cooking included, as drudgery, indeed as a form of oppression.”  It wasn't a book that taught that; it was the NECESSITY of the daily cooking.  The difference between a passion/hobby and a chore. 

I think the workforce/time argument is a bit of a red herring. A big difference between the 19th and 21st centuries, for the majority of Americans (not just the top 1%) is leisure time and the idea that we can/should get to choose the way we spend our time outside of work hours.  Herein lies the rub with Slow Food.  Pollan's work is full of the language of virtue when discussing slow food cooking (and dissing of cake mixes, etc.).  This is far from unique to Pollan, FWIW, and is endemic in foodie and slow food cultures.

One of my favorite bits from that Salon article: "The term “foodie” was originally invented to describe people who really enjoy eating and cooking, which suggests that others do not. Yet today everyone is meant to have a deep and abiding appreciation for and fascination with pure, wholesome, delicious, seasonal, regional food. The expectation that cooking should be fulfilling for everyone is insidious, especially for women. I happen to adore cooking and eating, and nothing is more fun for me than sharing a home-cooked bowl of pasta puttanesca and a loaf of crusty bread with friends. Yet, I know for a fact that others would much rather go kayaking or read magazines or write poems or play World of Warcraft or teach their dog sign language."

As for me, I enjoy doing a little of all of that.  I really enjoy cooking.  Sometimes.  But not everyday and not three times a day, everyday.  I prepare most meals by necessity rather than passion.  And I eat out when I can.  What I wish is that there were healthier "convenience food" options and that most restaurant meals were both healthier and fresher.  (It's hard to know what's prepared on-site vs. processed elsewhere and packed full of preservatives, for example.)

And I wish we could separate out the "health" bits from the heavy "virtue" language.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Gangnam Style

I am not out of touch with popular culture because I am old and sad.  I am out of touch with popular culture by choice.  More on that in a moment.  But in the meantime . . .

I chaperoned Ada's Kindergarten field trip to Purina Farms today.  Past the exhibits, petting zoo, tunnel maze, and cow milking demonstration, they put on a demonstration where energetic dogs do trick jumps for frisbees and race through agility courses.  A few minutes before the show started, they blasted some music to pump up the crowd.  And, boy, did it work!  All but about 3 of the kids from Ada's class jumped up and went to the top of the stands to do a line dance.  I was sort of familiar with the song - like I've heard it at malls or whatever - but I didn't know what it was until, suddenly, "Oppan Gangnam Style!"

"Oh, wow," Ada's teacher said.  "That's like my entire class."

"What are you teaching them?!" answered one of the other kindergarten teachers on the trip.

"Not that!"

Oh, so *that's* what that song is!  I've heard of "Gangnam Style," of course, but I didn't know the song, or the dance, or what Gangnam Style means.  Tonight, I suggested to Paul that we might not be fully human, or at least not exist in this century, if we don't know who PSY is and what the craze is all about.  So we set out to educate ourselves with the music video, then some related internet research.  While we were at it, I checked out "So Call Me Maybe" and "If you liked it you shoulda put a ring on it." (Apparently, the latter is from a Beyonce song from when Ada was a year old. Oops.)  So now I'm at least tangentially aware of some of the things in the zeitgeist. 

But I'm still not showing my kids that PSY video.  And I'm a little horrified that so many other little kids are intimately familiar with it.  If Ada gets curious about "Gangnam Style," I'll find a video of some kids doing the dance and let her watch it until we learn the moves.  It's a catchy tune and a funny dance.  But the actual PSY music video?  No thanks.



One of the parodies Paul found was a My Little Pony version of the song.  Ada loves My Little Pony and all things horse.  This video ends with one of the female Ponies presenting her backside to the singing Pony for mounting.  Pretty much exactly as the hot chicks in the real video do.

You know, I just haven't yet found the right moment to sit my girls down and have The Talk with them.  Not the sex talk or the bodies-change-as-we-grow-up talk, they get the basic gist of all that. I mean The Talk wherein I break the news to them that, as girls, their bodies are commodities and their value is weighed by how they look and how fuckable they are.  That talk.  Because that value system is clearly implicit in the "Gangnam Style" music video, and it's no shock to me that - while everyone watches the video - it's particularly popular with 13-17 year-old-boys.

Oh, the "Gangnam Style" video is not that bad.  It's probably tame, really, compared to other music videos.  But that's exactly why I've opted out of so much of popular culture, and why I'm very careful about how much and what sorts my girls are exposed to.  As much as I can be, anyway.

Some time in the late 1990's or early 2000's, I got depressed at how so much of the music I really, really enjoyed was blatantly, sometimes violently, misogynistic.  And, finally, I'd had enough.  I moved NPR to my first preset, and, eventually, my only local preset radio station.  (My other presets are mostly NPR stations in various places I visit regularly.)  I'm not up on every trend, but I don't think I'm missing anything important.  And I know I'm much happier.  I think my children are better off, too, listening to music and consuming media I find to be kid-appropriate.  They'll push back soon, I know.  But for now, we're all content. 

P.S. While Ada's classmates were dancing, she happily sat on my lap and watched (the cement stands were cold today!).  When the next song started, she wanted to go dance with them.  She had a wonderful time.  Then all the kids sat back down to watch the dogs, and that was the end of it.  Ada wasn't curious about the song or dance that got all the kids moving.  To her, the kids were just dancing and having fun.  She joined in when she felt like it.  A couple of years ago, I overheard Ellie discussing Justin Bieber with 1st grade classmates.  They were debating whether or not he was likable.  She had an opinion and fit right into the conversation, though I'm relatively certain she has no idea who Bieber is.  That seemed irrelevant to the conversation.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

2012 in Facebook Status Updates - January

In other words, where I was while I was neglecting this space and my daily discipline of writing my thoughts in way that attempts to make some sense out them rather than just jotting them down as isolated incidents.
I posted a funny link about "If Famous Writers Had Written Twilight" and a review of Beowulf on the Beach. I commented on Target using a child model with Down syndrome.  And, apparently, I was working a lot: Pandora, how did I ever work (freelance editorial gigs) in the middle of the night without you? It's all '90's-style alternative blasting in here! (Lit, Green Day, The Offspring, Blink 182, Jimmy Eat World, etc.) Happy.

Lunch conversation with my 4-1/2 year old: Mommy, what if I had a dream and inside the dream I had another dream, and inside the dream-within-a-dream I had another dream? 
  • She actually said "dream within a dream." I asked her how she thought of this mind-blowing idea, and she said, "It's just in my brain." Philosophy for preschoolers. 
  • My dad: And then again we might all be parts of her dream, and when she wakes up where will that leave us.
  • Dad, I'll pass along your suggestion in the morning. She'll either love it, or never sleep again. Time will tell!
  • She settled on ten levels of dreams and she found the idea that the rest of us could be figments of her dream that would disappear upon awakening hilarious. Not disturbing or terrifying, hilarious. (Of course she's also excited to go off to college. I guess she's just about ready. Once she learns to read.)  

I just rubbed my eyes very thoroughly. Took off my glasses and everything. Unfortunately, about 30 minutes ago I made a nice, spicy salsa. Alas. Poor eyes.
  • My dad: The club is large but the dues only need be paid once.
  • Me: Dad, on a related note, I am REALLY enjoying the new knife you got me for Christmas! We've had tons of fresh veg, salsa, salads, etc.
  • Me in 2013: Dad told me to bring my knife home every time I came up, and he'd get it sharpened.  It could really use a good sharpening now.  Boo.
I've got the ingredients for monkey bread ready and I know where all the snow suits are. Snow day? Bring it. (I've been waiting for winter for 2 months and I think it's finally here!)
  • Later: We did not get that snow day.  Or any other snow day!  
I reviewed Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I did not enjoy.  And you probably know this if you're on GoodReads. Aren't you on GoodReads?

Don't Carpe Diem! 
My response: I hear this every day at least once. I do try to live in the moments, and I do love what I do and I do feel very fortunate. But sometimes I'm also pretty tired. (Like now, when I can't go to sleep because I'm waiting for the baby to go to sleep and he might not evereverever go to sleep until he moves out into his own dorm room so that he can sleep through his noon Chemistry class.) I try not to feel judged by these comments, but I do occasionally wish that instead of an admonishment to do something more (enjoy every moment, even the stinky ones!) a housekeeper who loves scrubbing floors and swapping out size 4 clothes for size 5 clothes would show up.

"Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows does have one trick up its sleeve that makes it a worthy companion to its predecessor: the upgrading of the homo-erotic subtext to clear-as-day text." From Simon Miraudo at Quickflix. Also, really fun movie. :)

Next is an embarrassing video of me hosting a science/cooking birthday party for Ada (5). No need to revisit that!

I am making homemade salsa with ghost chili (Bhut Jolokia). I am concerned. I will be wearing gloves.  That's a mistake I don't need to make twice! (Or at least not twice this month...)
  • Result: I only used one pepper in the bowl of salsa (two tomatoes or one can of petite diced tomatoes, dried spices/seasonings/peppers, plus the ghost pepper). The pepper had a strongly smoky, chipotle-like taste and was hotter than when I usually add 3 jalapenos or serranos to the same amount of tomato. Not too bad, though. Not my favorite flavor (I prefer a "brighter" taste) but not painfully hot to eat, either. Paul Boal really liked it.
We went to the library and picked up 3 books and a CD. We got home and I can't find the books anywhere. This could be a metaphor for the chaos of my life. Or they could have fallen out of the stroller in the library parking lot.
  • My dad: Are you sure you went to the library?
  • Finding: We left the books at the library.

 A year later I'm thinking:
  • Hey, wow, I miss my dad.
  • I also miss having my Ada with me all day. But she's loving full day kindergarten!
  • Teddy is an awesome sleeper now. In fact, I almost forgot that he ever wasn't!
  • And I'm still working on the perfect salsa recipe.  
 Here's to writing more regularly in 2013.  Back soon.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Goodbye, Dad

For the past week on the phone, via email, in condolence cards, and in person at the memorial visitation and funeral service people have been telling me what an amazing man my dad was. He really, really was. I understand the tendency for girls to idolize their fathers, and of people to canonize the recently departed, but my eyes are at least partway open; I recognize at least some of my dad's flaws and shortcomings.

But he touched so many people so deeply in so many ways; he really was something very special. My dad was wise and compassionate and competent. He had a way of being that was just so . . . spirit-filled and mature and welcoming.

I will miss my father unbearably. I already do. But even worse, for me, is the knowledge that my young children and my nieces and nephew will have only vague (if any) memories of their grandfather. They all have wonderful fathers, but my dad was a unique model for a way to be a man. I wish they all had him around both personally and as a role model as they grow to adulthood and decide both who they want to be and the people with whom they choose to surround themselves.

Below are some thoughts I shared at the luncheon following the funeral, and following the break are his obituary and a bulletin insert that goes into a bit more detail about his life.

For a long ago funeral, my father wrote,We are created for life together and we know ourselves as we are known. It is in relationship that we become more than creature – where we become person.
A big part of the way I have always defined myself is as my father’s daughter: Ted’s daughter, the preacher’s daughter, the daughter of the man who meant so much to so many people.

I don’t know how to contain this. I don’t know how to process it. And it occurs to me that I’d like to call my dad to talk to him about this painful experience I’m going through.

My dad was a compassionate man. And he was so very wise. He was also competent and interesting and funny and sometimes painfully embarrassing.

When my sisters and I were teenagers and boys started calling, he’d sit in his recliner with the phone on his stomach, his finger on the “answer” button. He had incredibly fast reaction time. As soon as the phone started to ring he’d hit the button, whip the phone up to his ear, and bellow, “HELLO” in his preacher voice.  I can’t imagine having a better dad. In fact, I’ve never met anyone like my father.

If you’ve ever been to a wedding or a funeral at which my dad officiated, you know that he had the gift of making each ceremony special and unique. And whenever dad baptized a baby, the baby never cried. They just relaxed and stared up at him, mesmerized and comfortable.
Dad projected a sense that: No matter what you tell him, you will not shock him. No matter what you tell him, he will not judge you. No matter what you tell him, he will hold your problems in his heart. And you will not be alone.

Details:

My dad spent a week at a conference at Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian retreat center in New Mexico. We went to Ghost Ranch as a family when my sisters and I were young, and hoped to go back again one day as a family reunion. By all accounts, my dad had a wonderful week. 

Last Sunday, he boarded a plane for the return flight from Albuquerque to Chicago: headed home. He sat across the aisle from a minister friend and colleague, and they were laughing as chatting as the plane taxied to the runway. My dad's head tipped back and he began to snore. His friend hit him and called his name. He did not respond. 

The young woman sitting on the other side of my father asked if he suffered from a seizure disorder then unbuckled herself, jumped into his lap, felt for a pulse, and began chest compressions. (She was a medical resident.) There was a defibrillator on-board the aircraft. The plane returned to the gate, where it was met by medics who worked on my dad for 40 minutes. He never regained consciousness. It was fast, it was probably painless, and it will always be a mystery. (My dad was overweight and 68 but was otherwise in good health with no personal or family history of heart problems. It might very well have been a sudden, catastrophic heart attack that killed him, but we'll never know for sure.) The whole time the medics worked on him, my dad's friend held his hand. He was not alone.

Obituary:

Lester, Rev. Dr. Ted Allen 68, of Valparaiso, formerly of Kansas, passed away suddenly Sunday, April 22, 2012 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was born February 8, 1944 in Evansville, IN to Furman and Florice (Peyton) Lester. He received a B.A. from Hanover College in 1966, Master of Divinity from McCormick Divinity School in 1969, Doctor of Ministry from McCormick School of Divinity in 1986 and his Psychology Doctorate from Graduate Theological Foundation in 2001. 

Ted had served as a Presbyterian minister since 1969 which included churches in Kansas City, MO, Independence, MO, Indianapolis, IN, Albuquerque, NM, Junction City, KS, Valparaiso, IN and South Bend, IN. 

Since 1999 he also served as a Pastoral Psychotherapist with Counseling Ministries in Valparaiso and Chicago. Ted will be remembered by many in the communities he had served as an activist for social justice, advocating for those without a voice. Survivors include his wife, Carolynn, whom he married on August 9, 1969 in New Hampshire; daughters, Sarahlynn Lester (Paul Boal) of St. Louis, MO, Jessica (Ivan) Hay of Kalamazoo, MI, Grace Lester (Benjamin Jett) of Louisville, KY, brother, Harry N. (Sarah) Lester of Hot Springs Village, AR and grandchildren, Eleanor, Adelaide and Theodore Lester-Boal, Arria, Evelyn and Clara Hay and Lilith and Samuel Jett. Ted was preceded in death by his parents and one brother, William Lester. 

Following cremation a memorial visitation will be held Wednesday from 4:00 - 7:00 pm at Moeller Funeral Home, 104 Roosevelt Rd., Valparaiso. A memorial service will be held Thursday, 10:00 am at Trinity Lutheran Church, 201 Washington St., Valparaiso, The Rev. Dr. Frank Vardeman and The Rev. Dr. John J. Santoro officiating. In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to Church World Service or Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Pew bulletin insert from funeral:

By the time Ted A. Lester was 8 years old, in Evansville, Indiana, he knew he wanted to be a minister. He frequently accompanied his pastor, Charlie Zapp, on pastoral visits. This is not to suggest that Ted was a goody-two-shoes, mind you. He spent much of kindergarten in the corner, took a little too much initiative as a crossing guard, and was frequently sent to the library to read when his teachers didn’t know what to do with him.

Ted’s parents were both from Western Kentucky, and they sent him back to the family farm during the summers when he was young. He was very close to his cousins. Ted was active in scouting and indeed became an Eagle Scout.  He took groups of boy scouts spelunking, even once he’d gone away to Hanover College across the state. 

In 1967 Ted moved to his favorite city in the world, Chicago, Illinois. He worked as a community organizer and was particularly interested in the civil rights movement, marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Mississippi – twice.  After seminary, he even attended a year of law school to help further his interest in community action. And he spent a year as a director of a group home for boys who were wards of the court.

Ted was ordained a Cumberland Presbyterian minister in June of 1967, and he quickly became very active within the larger church. He worked on the merger joining together two different denominations within the Presbyterian family. He served on the Committee on Ministry for his Presbyteries, assisting churches and pastors in need. He Moderated the Synod of Mid-America, and wrote quite a bit of curriculum and other training materials. Every three years at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium he served in the background as the hospital dean, caring for participants with health crises. Throughout his career, Ted was very interested in ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue. Ted was also very active in the communities in which he served. In Junction City, Kansas, he helped found the Open Door Community House for homeless individuals. He also took groups of youth on summer work camps.

Later in his career, Ted completed a doctorate in psychology and began a full-time pastoral counseling practice. He worked in both Valparaiso, Indiana and Chicago and was very interested in brain research and neuro-feedback.

Last year, Ted Lester “retired,” although he maintained both of his counseling offices (and some clients) as well as a part-time church in South Bend, Indiana. In his “retirement,” Ted developed new passions for gardening and cooking elaborate and gourmet meals.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

If you won a lottery, would you quit your job?

That was a newspaper headline this morning, a variation on the other lottery-themed headlines I've been watching for the past couple of weeks. I don't gamble. The lottery is gambling. Therefore, no lottery for me. But I really love the If I Won the Lottery game and I'm not sure my principles are up for the challenge.

I already don't "work." But there's lots of other stuff I'd do if I won the lottery . . .
  1. Pay off everything. Loans, house, that pesky credit card, everything.
  2. Go see our finance guy and set up everything we need to set up (including revised budgets).
  3. Church (organ fund, mission fund, new parking lot, etc.).
  4. Donations to our college, NPR, PBS, and local places we love like The Magic House, St. Louis Science Center, etc.

    Here's where the list really gets fun. This is where I usually start fantasizing:
  5. Pay off this sibling's outstanding debts.
  6. Pay off this other sibling's mortgages/student loans
  7. Buy a new house for yet another sibling.
  8. Buy my mother-in-law a red Mustang convertible.
  9. Remodel my parents' house.
  10. Encourage Paul to go back to school.
  11. When the kids are all in school all day, go back to school, myself.

    And then there's the stuff for us that's fun to imagine:
  12. Remodel this house.
  13. Buy or build our dream house in our dream neighborhood (only about 3 miles from here).
  14. Dress my children in the sorts of clothing I imagined they'd wear, before I had children and experienced the allure of inexpensive sweat-shop produced cheap clothes. And additional pairs of good shoes.
  15. When I'm feeling decadent, I imagine all sorts of things for myself, too. A personal trainer. Babysitter. Hair cuts. Pedicures. Nice clothes. (I am very cheap when it comes to spending money on myself for anything other than food.)
  16. Thinking of food - a personal chef to make nutritious, delicious meals a few nights a week would be awesome! Or even just someone to do the grocery shopping from time to time. But all this other stuff is second tier. At this point, I usually reload the fantasy and start again with imagining making my siblings' lives easier or just saying "yes" the next time a worthy cause calls to ask for money.

This pastime is one of my guilty pleasures. I don't find the game particularly constructive. It's fun. It helps me identify my priorities. But eventually I just end up wanting. And I'm not sure that's such a good thing.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Gentleman's Agreement by Laura Zametkin Hobson

Have you read Gentleman's Agreement by Laura Zametkin Hobson No? Well, you should read it! Everyone should read it! Once upon a time, lots of people did - it spent five months at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List after it published in 1947 - but it has since fallen out of favor. I'd never heard of it until a friend picked it for our book club's February selection, spurring probably the best discussion we've ever had.

The novel's current lack of visibility might be due in part to its Amazon blurb: The plot of GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT concerns the experiences of a young Gentile writer who poses as a Jew in order to secure material on anti-Semitism for a series of magazine articles. A thesis novel concerning the social and economic aspects of anti-Semitism in American life.

No, really, it's good! I wrote all over my copy of the book, and then typed up my notes. And, yet, it was fun.

It's a quick read, easy, but not shallow (except a little right at the end). And it's non-threatening, too, for a book with such a point. The main character is an ally (not prone to some of the major prejudices of his day) which casts the reader into the same role and allows us to hear hard truths and appreciate them while thinking ourselves exempt or hidden.

This is one of those books that has stuck with me and I find myself using some of its figures of speech in my everyday life weeks after completing the read. Flick, tap.

The novel is about a California-based widower and writer who gets a job with a major weekly magazine in New York City and relocates his family. The first people he meets are his new editor - who gives him the assignment of writing a series on antisemitism - and the editor's niece - who inspired the idea for the assignment and becomes the love interest/second main character. The writer gets the idea that in order to write convincingly and interestingly about antisemitism, he must experience it first-hand. So he introduces himself to everyone he meets as a Jew and undergoes a rapid transformation.

The novel deals not only with antisemitism but also with other forms of prejudice, including racism and sexism. I especially enjoyed some of the nascent feminism, as the author gently drew us along with contemporary lines like, "I'm having people over tonight. A couple of girls and people." How great is that? The role of women's work in the running of a household provides an interesting background, as do the the characters' remarks about "womanish softness" of thought and "a vague resentment that it's a man's world."

But the parts that really stuck with me were about antisemitism and are equally relevant today, with our own various -isms. Prejudice comes in little "flicks" and "taps." “Rarely was the circumstance so arranged that you could fight back.” "They gave you at once the wound and the burden of proper behavior toward it.” There's a lot of discussion about “the complacence of essentially decent people about prejudice” and the question of whether it's gauche or required to make a scene and speak out against prejudice whenever you encounter it (even if it's at a formal dinner party with an important client).

All this unfolds as part of a love story between the writer and his editor's niece. She inspired the assignment and is passionately antisemitic . . . but perhaps she
has a different understanding of what antisemitism is and means and how best to respond. What brought the couple together eventually drives a wedge between them.

If you read - or have read - this one, please let me know; I'd love to discuss it with you! And if it doesn't sound like something you're willing to read, the novel inspired a movie by the same name, starring Gregory Peck.

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