Reading Michelle Obama’s memoir

Since she became a public figure during the first presidential campaign of her husband, I have felt an affinity with Michelle Robinson Obama. While on the surface it would seem that an African-American woman from the South Side of Chicago couldn’t have much in common with a European-American from a tiny New England town, there are a number of similarities. We are close in age, having been born in the last few years of the Baby Boom. I have long felt that we youngest of the Boomers, who were young adults during the Reagan recession when unemployment was high and mortgage rates even higher, are fundamentally different from the elder members of our cohort. Michelle and I are both mothers of two daughters and women who have been blessed with a close and long relationship with our own mothers. We have close women friends and mentors. We are both community-minded, and also recognize the importance of educational opportunity for ourselves and others. We each have a long, loving, and intact marriage. And we are both women of our time, which means we have experienced sexism and the challenge of tending to both our private and public lives.

Becoming, Michelle Obama’s memoir published late last year, reinforces my sense of her on all these points. She writes honestly and beautifully; I was especially impressed with the way she wrote about her feelings about what was happening and not just the events themselves. She also frequently gives context of what happens either before or later with a particular place or event, such as the changes over time in her South Side neighborhood.

I particularly enjoyed reading about Michelle’s childhood, teen, and college years, as the stories from that time before she was a public figure were mostly new to me. I also appreciated knowing how she felt about many events and causes during the campaigns and her eight years in the White House, as well as her take on the current president.

What was most enlightening to me was hearing how being a black female impacted her life at every stage and added to the pressure to excel and to be an exemplary person at all times. As the first African-American first family, it seemed that every move the Obamas made was scrutinized. I admire that Michelle and her mom, who was also in residence at the White House, were able to protect First Daughters Malia and Sasha from most of the intrusiveness of the press corps so that they could grow up (mostly) out of the public eye.

Many people share my admiration for Michelle Obama and her accomplishments. Her book tour includes venues that seat thousands of people and her book has sold over three million copies, making it the bestseller of 2018.

She can definitely add best-selling author to her already impressive resume.

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Incredibles 2

B and I finally carved out time to see Incredibles 2, the long-awaited sequel to one of our favorite Pixar movies. I’ll try not to have spoilers in this piece, although, with world-wide box office receipts around a billion dollars, there are probably not many people left to spoil.

Like all Pixar features, Incredible 2 is preceded by a short; Bao, written and directed by Domee Shi, is the first Pixar short to be directed by a woman. It covers decades of family life in a few short minutes in a rich, culturally significant context. I would not have imagined an animated dumpling could be so adorable!

Incredibles 2, like the original film, is also built around family life. Superheroes with special powers still have to deal with adolescent angst, homework help, division of paid and unpaid work, and child care and rearing. Because we have had grandbaby ABC living with us for most of her almost fourteen months, I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Incredible baby Jack-Jack, who is still very much a baby in his behavior, movements, and reactions, superpowered or not.

I also appreciated the themes of the use/misuse of media and celebrity. Although the script must have been written years ago, these issues are especially salient right now.

As always, I recommend staying for the credits. While there is no bonus scene, there is a great medley of superhero theme songs. I especially enjoyed Elastigirl’s.

 

A Wrinkle in Time

T and I finally got to see the new movie version of A Wrinkle in Time this week. Bonus: we were the only two in the theater for a Tuesday morning showing.

I appreciated the way the film updated the Madeleine L’Engle classic, setting it in the present day. I also appreciated the diversity of the casting among the leading roles and the smaller roles/extras. Many of the themes in L’Engle’s book – bullying, the role of science, love of family and friends, the strength of community in overcoming evil – feel fresh and pertinent in contemporary America. Though the story had to be condensed to fit into a movie-length timeframe, the core of L’Engle’s message remained strong.

I loved the vibrancy of the film and the richness of the color palette, especially when visiting other worlds. I also enjoyed the performances, bringing to life L’Engle’s sometimes enigmatic characters. I especially enjoyed Storm Reid’s portrayal of Meg.

I hope that the film will inspire a new generation of young people to read L’Engle’s novel and the rest of the Time Quintet.

Review: “The Post”

Most of the plot of “The Post” takes place over a few days in 1971 when the Washington Post released parts of the  Pentagon Papers, detailing what was going on behind the scenes in the government and military before and during the Vietnam War.

Meryl Streep plays Katharine Graham, the paper’s publisher, with great sensitivity and nuance. She conveys so much with a slight raising of an eyebrow or trembling of fingers. Tom Hanks plays the hard-driving Post editor Ben Bradlee with appropriate business-like bluster, although letting his personal feelings show in some scenes when he is alone with Graham or his wife.

I was a child living in rural New England when the Pentagon papers were released. We were somewhat sheltered from the protests and intrigues about the war, but there were certain things about that time that I remember and that resonated for me while watching the film.

First was how much I admire Katharine Graham, who was a woman in a position of power in a field dominated by men and also dealing with the overwhelmingly male realms of finance and government. There are several scenes in the film that accentuate the uniqueness of her position in that timeframe. After the death of her father and her husband, she inherited the job of publisher of the Post and succeeded in bringing the paper from being a local Washington one to national prominence.  The Pentagon Papers story was a major part of that rise in stature, which continues to this day. The Washington Post has been breaking major stories on the inner workings of the current White House and on the Russian influence investigation.

Second was where my brain jumps every time I hear the name Daniel Ellsberg – to the phrase “Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.” I remember news coverage after the Papers came out about efforts to discredit Daniel Ellsberg, who had been the source of the secret study to both the New York Times and the Washington Post. The office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist had been broken into by an FBI and a CIA agent to try to find materials with which to blackmail Ellsberg and this was covered in the news media.

I hope that no one is breaking into offices in the present day, but it is a stark reminder of how chilling it is to have the government try to interfere with the freedom of the press. Toward the end of the film, there is a quote from the 6-3 majority Supreme Court decision that allowed the Times and the Post and other papers to continue to publish stories from the Pentagon Papers. [What follows is probably not the exact quote from the movie, but it is taken from the concurrence of Justice Black. The Supreme Court document can be found here.]

In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.

I hope people will think of this every time the President denigrates the press or says that a member of the press is lying when they are actually reporting or says that the press is the enemy.

The United States needs a free press today as much as it always has. It is an absolute necessity for the health of our nation and our democracy. I thank director Stephen Spielberg and everyone involved in “The Post” for the timely reminder.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out how here:
https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/12/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-12th-2018/

 

 

New Fitbit bracelets

For Christmas, daughter T gave me two new bands for my Fitbit Flex from a shop called 
Fun and Funky Fitness on Etsy
.

I liked them so much I ordered some more!

The rubbery plastic band that comes with the Flex doesn’t agree with my skin, so I had started using fabric bands with a sewn pocket inside, but the bands were too big and stretchy and sometimes the Flex would slip out.

The bands for Fun and Funky Fitness use a stronger elastic and the pocket for the Flex is very secure. Beth, the shop owner, also makes them in sizes to order. Just measure where on your wrist or ankle you want to wear your Fitbit and she will make the bands to just the right size for you.

There are lots of colors and patterns, including seasonal and sports themes.

If you are in the market, I recommend you check out Fun and Funky Fitness on Etsy.

Note:  Top of JC’s Mind is not a monetized blog. I just wanted to spread the word on a product that I appreciate and that can be hard to find. This is not a paid endorsement.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:
https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/09/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-9th-2018/

 

Star Wars history

aka a way to write about my spouse and me going to see Star Wars without there being spoilers in the post…

When we were in our mid-teens, B and I saw the first Star Wars movie at the Mohawk in North Adams, the last remaining downtown theater surviving from the age of weekend double features with newsreels.  We both loved the characters, the story, the larger-than-life look with the special effects, the music, and the humor mixed in with the old-style good-versus-evil dichotomy.

It was puzzling that the opening sequence announced it as Episode Four, but it was understood as a nod to the serials that would use that technique to update viewers who may have missed an episode on the backstory of what they were about to see.

We never imagined that, forty years later, we would be seeing Episode Eight with some of those same actors reprising their roles.

Earlier this week, we saw the latest Star Wars movie at the Regal multiplex in Binghamton, New York, although our showing was delayed for a few minutes due to technical difficulties. All the things we loved about the original are still there, albeit with more advanced sound and effects than in 1977. It was poignant to see Carrie Fisher in her last performance as Leia, especially knowing that Episode Nine had been planned to center on her.

B and I still tend to call each movie “Star Wars” with an episode number if needed for clarity, but, technically, I should refer to this film as The Last Jedi. 

The Last Jedi was not shown at the Mohawk. The building is still there on Main Street with a restored marquee. The building has been stabilized and is under the ownership of the City of North Adams, but plans for a full restoration have yet to be realized.

Maybe sometime in the 2020s…

 

The Big Sick

Back when it was in theaters this summer, B and I went to see The Big Sick. It was written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, based on their real-life courtship – which involved Emily being in a coma. This is not a spoiler; it was well known before the movie came out, so I thought I would be able to handle it.

I was looking forward to going to the theater with B because we hadn’t gotten out much on our own, as we are in a major sandwich generation phase. It seemed like a good choice because the movie is a romantic comedy. Not only do we know that the couple get together in the end but it is also about a comedian (Nanjiani plays himself in the film) with lots of jokes in the show.

I did like the movie and think that it was well done. It was hard for me to write about it at that time, but it is now coming out on DVD, so this seemed a good time to revisit it and put out a post.

As I said, I knew the basic storyline, but there were things that were jarring to me. The first time we saw Emily on a ventilator reminded me of the last time I saw a family member with a tube.

Seeing Emily’s parents dealing with the doctors and trying to find the best care for their daughter brought back memories of dealing with past medical problems with my daughters. Emily’s parents are told that the doctors know what is going on and the treatment will work – and then it doesn’t. I know what that feels like. I know how desperately you want to protect your child and find the right person to help them get better. I know how little power you have in that situation.

Although the details are very different, I could also relate to the themes of family tensions around the experience of being an immigrant or the child of immigrants, religious differences between generations and spouses, and bi/multiracial families.

Erma Bombeck wrote, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” The Big Sick walks that line in a very human and meaningful way.