I recently moved from Brooklyn to Warren, Michigan, located in the county where I first started my journalism career as a reporter at the Macomb Daily newspaper. Because Warren is just several miles from my childhood home, my new neighborhood really feels like coming full circle in my life. I eagerly left the area in my 20s for the bright lights of New York City to pursue my career, leaving two brothers and their families behind, as well as two sets of beloved grandparents .
My father’s parents were retired Canadian farmers, and had moved to a rustic resort community called Colchester on Lake Erie, where I learned to swim in the summer and ice skate in the cold winters. My mother’s parents had a dairy farm near Vassar, Michigan and had emigrated from Czechoslovakia. I had lots of fresh milk, home-cooked Slovak recipes and learned how to plant and harvest potatoes, their main crop. When you pick potatoes with your mischievous cousins, it’s actually fun! By the time I left the area, my parents had already retired to Florida.
Now that I’ve returned, I’m looking forward to finding lots of inspiration for my blog, while chronicling the changes in my hometown community, one of the areas hardest hit by the recession, despite the revival of the auto industry. I grew up near 6 Mile and Gratiot in Detroit, my working class neighborhood sadly replaced by a vast, empty field. The Vassar family farm is now parceled out among the surviving grandchildren. I plan to extend a long goodbye to friends and colleagues in New York as I return over the next months by Greyhound bus – more on that soon! Stay tuned.
I was a child of the 60s, ready for the winds of change, but I found the road to women’s liberation was not an easy one. It would remain for another generation of girls to readily find the strong female role models who could show them how to fully express themselves. A new book, Madonna and Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop, edited by Laura Barcella (http://www.madonnaandmebook.com/index.html) is a powerful collection of stories that made me rethink this Diva’s power as an enduring feminist icon.
I learned about the book when my friend economist Mary Barcella alerted me months ago that it was coming out in March. Her daughter Laura had convinced a number of other successful writers to join her in a collection of stories about Madonna’s influence on their lives. I’ve met Laura and I knew this would be no star-struck ode. She’s a strong-minded freelance writer based in San Francisco who specializes in pop culture, lifestyles, feminism, and music. I sensed this collection would offer a great insight into the mindset of today’s serious young women.
It also challenged my own ambivalence about Madonna. By the time the Material Girl appeared on the pop music scene in the early ’80s, I was a young professional in the New York book publishing world, excited by all the possibilities unfolding for women. I was intrigued by Madonna, especially since she came from my home state of Michigan, but the feminist, trailblazing women I most admired then were more likely to be novelists, journalists and business or political leaders, rather than rock stars. Just a month ago, I admit I didn’t know what to expect from Madonna’s half-time performance at the Super Bowl, which proved her lasting star power by drawing almost as much attention as the upset by the New York Giants. Madonna is clearly an on-going cultural force to be reckoned with — on an international level, no less. She wears her 50s well.
This collection reveals the impact Madonna had on so many young girls, showing how her bold music and “life without regrets” helped them escape what is often an agonizingly painful trip through their school years and even beyond. You can read an excerpt written by Laura Barcella on “How the Queen of Pop Saved Me from Choosing the Wrong Guy” on the Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-barcella/madonna-and-me-queen-of-pop_b_1323630.html
It is wonderful to witness the blossoming of a remarkable career and I had the good fortune in California of watching a friend’s passion turn into award-winning acclamation. Marnie Leslie Davis was a talented young lawyer and legal journalist in Los Angeles, whose fascination with LA history turned into a series of remarkable biographies, starting with Rivers in the Desert: William Mulholland and the Inventing of Los Angeles, which won the Golden Spur Award for Best Non-Fiction Book by the Western Writers of America (www.margaretlesliedavis.com). Marnie went on to write Dark Side of Fortune, a Los Angeles Times bestseller about the triumph and scandal in the life of oil tycoon Edward Doheny and a third acclaimed biography on The Culture Broker: Franklin Murphy and the Transformation of Los Angeles (University of California Press).
Her attention then was drawn to Washington DC and the little-known drama behind the Mona Lisa’s tumultuous voyage to this country in 1963. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy played a critical role in the painting’s successful debut at the National Gallery and the Met — an 88-day visit that forever changed America’s relationship with high art. The publication of Mona Lisa in Camelot brought Marnie into the national spotlight a few years ago when it was featured in Vanity Fair and on “Good Morning America.”
Marnie has now been invited to speak at the New York Public Library on how the unprecedented, perilous loan of da Vinci’s masterpiece turned was turned by the First Lady into a powerful Cold War symbol of Western ideals . Now that Jacqueline Kennedy is in the headlines again with the release of her historic conversations with Arthur Schlesinger, don’t miss this chance to hear first-hand a riveting account about this First Lady’s diplomatic genius.
New York Public Library: An Art Book: First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and the 1963 Exhibition of Mona Lisa. Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Margaret Liebman Berger Forum, Fifth Ave. at 42nd St.Wednesday, October 19, 2011, 6 – 8 p.m. FREE – doors open at 5:30pm. First come, first served.
The world is focused on Japan this month, following the devastating earthquake, tsunami and on-going nuclear crisis. My friend Hiroko Tatebe, the founder of an international non-profit, was in a hotel in Tokyo when the earthquake hit, causing damage to a hall in the same building that resulted in injuries and two deaths. Hiroko is now back in Los Angeles, but she told me in an e-mail that her heart is breaking for the victims and survivors in her homeland.
I met Hiroko when we served on a Board together for the Los Angeles chapter of a state-wide organization called Women in Business. At the time, she was an executive in the LA office of Dai-Ichi Kangyo, a Japanese Bank, and I was a partner in a woman-owned business that specialized in public relations for community based businesses and non-profits. Hiroko was a very dedicated volunteer. We enjoyed sharing storiesabout our families. She was the youngest of six daughters. I was also the youngest, with two older brothers – while my parents were from large farm families where my mother was one of six children and my father one offifteen. I know what it is like to have a large extended family.
Hiroko was eventually promoted to her bank’s Board of Directors, becoming the first woman to attain that level at a Japanese Bank. Yet Hiroko was very self-effacing about her achievements. Above all, she wanted to encourage more of her countrywomen to aspire to leadership roles. She eventually left the bank to start a pan-Pacific non-profit called GOLD –Global Organization for Leadership and Diversity (http://www.goldleaders.org/). GOLD is an organization dedicated to developing global women leaders and building bridges across the Pacific. She has received many honors for her international efforts.
As the world’s eyes focus on Japan in its hour of tragedy, I hope we will remember our commonalities and use this time to strengthen our bonds of friendship. Hiroko is leading the way.
As we continue through the painfully slow economic recovery with escalating anger and impatience, it is time to remember the importance of laughter and hope. As a communications consultant, I know that if you can make someone laugh during your day, you earn their gratitude.
I’ve been through enough bad economies on both coasts to know the experts don’t have crystal balls. How many predicted accurately in the boom times that the excesses of the market would lead to such worldwide havoc? And if we look back a year from now, how many would have been accurate on the rate of recovery?
The answer is that it is the strength and optimism of the American culture that keeps pulling us out of the latest disaster. For me, the secret to that optimism has been involvement in my Brooklyn community and in organizations like NAWBO-NYC, Team Women and Connecting to Greatness, whose leaders are forging ahead with entrepreneurial zeal. Their energy keeps refueling my own enthusiasm.
For more inspiration, I suggest reading a few books to keep your eye on the future, not riveted on the current headlines.
Black and White Strike Gold by Sandi Webster and Peggy McHale is “the essential manual for creating and running a successful business,” and includes a brutally honest look at the daily trials, tribulations and–oh yes, the joys–of being a small business owner. The Fearless Factor: Overcome the Fears, Doubts, and Anxieties that Stop you from being your Best Self Now by Jacqueline Wales, shows you how to turn off your fear and turn on the confidence. Laughter, Tears, Silence: Expressive Meditations to Calm Your Mind and Open Your Heart by Pragito Dove is “full of rich lessons in the nature of living a great life.”