Culture & Criticism Since 2003
Fine study of the American woman through her own words. The project took shape after over 500 women were invited to record their activities in journal form on the same day; 35 of the best entries are collected in their entirety in this volume (with another 100 excerpts taken from other contributors). Above all else, This Day tells us what women think about themselves and their place in the world: revealing themselves through the blood of deep confession, this is a book of immediate perception written by different women as they walked through the same day in so many different places:
“But I think I’m tired of always being away. Of missing Old Californian school friends while on tour, of losing friends while growing apart….and the worst part of this kind of lonely is: I’m also missing. Not too sure I can explain that, but I’m constantly away, which means I’m not essential to anybody – all the people who I’m close to are used to life without me!”
(Page 19, Shankar entry)
And leaping further into the devilish canyons of the half-human subconscious:
“…I truly understand what Poe meant when he talked about sleep being ‘little slices of death.’ After I do fall asleep, and before I am drawn into my dream life, I am sometimes startled awake by what seems to be a dark presence over or around me. I feel so vulnerable. My mother says she would like to die peacefully in her sleep one day. I’m afraid I might die every night…”
(Page 139, Kendig entry)
Many different faces. Many different jobs. Many different stations in life. And many different stories. What these women actually “do” for a living is of little import, for the true meat of the book is in the ordinary revelations of these separate and random voices now dissolving into pages – a perfect description of the road of the American woman now snaking her way through the new century. Honest and candid, This Day tells of the things that drive our wives and lovers and sisters in their silent journeys through life. Fine cast of contributors high-lighted by Marisa Bono, Anoushka Shankar, Judith Kendig and Debi Davis. Appropriate for the general reader and as a undergraduate teaching text at the college and university level. Could also be useful as an undergraduate text in English composition classrooms to demonstrate the ‘form’ of journal writing (a wonderful and powerful way to familiarize the young student with the practice of writing and to encourage open expression).
COLE: Given my natural curiosity about other women, This Day was my dream job. Consider the fact I got to invite hundreds of women across the country and from all walks of life to create a diary on a single day…and send it to me. Now that’s a pretty good gig! But curiosity wasn’t the only thing that motivated me to create This Day. When I thought up the concept for the book, I was feeling really blue. My dad was sick. My freelance writing business was in the pits. Even the weather was lousy. Working on the book helped me feel better and connected; it helped me see beyond my own, narrow perspective.
RAKHRA: I’m a writer and an observer by nature and I’ve always been drawn to the strange, random details and little twists of fate that make up our lives. When Joni told me about her idea for THIS DAY, I immediately signed on. There was no way I could say no to a project that would let me ask anyone – anyone! – what their day was like. Not only was I able to satisfy my curiosity, but it was a also an absolute gift to be able to immerse myself in these women’s lives and to share their day with them.
JOFFREY: Joni, Bindi and I had been good friends for several years. So part of the motivation for me was the opportunity to work with both of them. Also, when Joni came to me with the idea for the book, it really hit a hot button of mine. I had founded a mentoring business a few years earlier and one of the programs I ran was for women college grads, matching them with mentors in their field of career interest. I feel like you gain such important perspective on the lives and paths available when you connect in a meaningful way with other women. This Day has that same vision of personal connection.
COLE: THIS DAY shows its audience that women are so much more than their outward labels suggest. You may have some preconceived notion about the retired church administrator or Miss America or an inmate, but you don’t really have a clue about who she really is until you look beyond those labels or stereotypes. The common thread among these diverse diarists is that each of these women is truly interesting, not by virtue of her job title or what she does during the day necessarily, but because her perspective is uniquely hers.
RAKHRA: THIS DAY says that every woman’s voice is important. That every woman’s perspective is of value because it is unique and because it is hers. When you read a day diary, you meet the woman behind the stereotype, you see beyond the labels. Your life becomes that much richer simply by having walked in another woman’s shoes, if only for a single day.
COLE: [Initially] I thought men might dismiss the book as some “women’s thing”. [But] that kind of thinking was wrong-minded. It did a disservice to the book, and to male readers. Men not only like the book; they also see the value in it. I’ve had lots of great discussions with our male readers–from your basic book buyer to reviewers to the Washington Bureau Chief for Fox Network News. These men articulate the merits of THIS DAY in a way that gives me a new appreciation for the book.
RAKHRA: I’ve been surprised by the response from men. I wasn’t sure they’d get it. But they do! And I think that’s very cool. We’ve received wonderful feedback – not only do men understand the value of THIS DAY, but they find it just as entertaining and as addictive as the women readers.
JOFFREY: Our first book event was in Santa Monica, CA. Joni, Bindi and I were waiting patiently for people to show up. A man walked into the room, followed by another man, followed by about 10 more men. Thinking, of course, that this book would be more appealing to women, we were a bit surprised. It turns out one of our day diarists had invited a number of her old high school friends to the reading. Not one to miss an opportunity for societal insight, I did ask several of them what they thought of the book. They wanted to know if we would write a This Day: Diaries from American Men book. One man wanted to know what inspired women to be so open about such personal topics (I think he was embarrassed by an excerpt about ‘boobs’). Most of them bought a copy for their mother.
COLE: Networking, emailing, cold calling. One typical example: I was curious about a day in the life of a funeral director. So I called the National Funeral Director’s Association, which offered me the names of directors and embalmers from around the country. Our goal was to include a diversity of women across experiential, cultural, socio-economic, and geographic boundaries. We achieved this in large part because our day diarists themselves spread the word among their own networks or cultural communities or contacts in remote places! We didn’t try to convince women to share their private thoughts, for fear of pushing someone to do something she would later regret. We simply communicated what the book project was all about and, thankfully, hundreds of women signed on.
RAKHRA: We started by asking, “who’s day diary would I like to read?” And the answer was simple, “who’s day diary wouldn’t I want to read?!” We emailed, we cold called, we networked with friends and family and day diarists. We knew we wanted a diversity of women, so we worked to expand our reach beyond our own personal networks to achieve this. We knew that the day diary format would allow women to capture what they did during the course of a day as well as what was in their heads and hearts. I was blown away by – and so grateful for – the generosity and honesty of the day diarists.
COLE: I don’t. [The practice of] journalling has always terrified me–I think I have to be so profound on demand, day after day. But I love creating a day diary when I want to take stock, or capture moments I know will be lost if I don’t record them. One weekend last month I visited my dad, who lives in a nursing home, while my mom took her first trip away from him since he got sick a few years ago. I kept a day diary that weekend of all the things we did together. I decided to do the diary because I knew my mom would like it; but it ended up being really meaningful for me, and something fun for my dad and I to do together.
RAKHRA: No, I’ve never kept a journal. I’d be forever torn between being totally intimidated – a blank page! with only my thoughts to fill it! – and wanting to embellish. Which reminds me of a scene in “The Importance of Being Earnest” where Gwendolen says, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” (Perhaps that’s why I stick to fiction when I write?). I have to confess, I found it hard to keep a day diary. I kept wanting to be clever and witty and I was very aware of the act of writing and that my thoughts and deeds would be down on paper for others to read.
JOFFREY: I do. But I only write in it when I’m upset or angry. I fear if anyone ever read that diary they’d be pulling out the straight jacket. Keeping a “day diary” is much more about paying attention to what you are really doing and thinking and feeling–and seeing the patterns and attitudes that emerge by taking stock of your day. And a day diary is meant to be shared so not only do you gain perspective on your own life, you learn about the lives of other women.
COLE: I love the book. I think it achieves exactly what we set out to do. We wanted to show all the ways women are unique, interesting, quirky, funny. When I read the book I feel connected and more enlightened. I also think the book is a great read–the day diaries are “addictive,” that’s a word we hear over and over. I really don’t think I’d change anything about the book. I just wish we could have included more voices, experiences, and perspectives. Three hundred pages was not nearly enough room!
RAKHRA: We started with the premise that women are interesting and that they have something to say – even if they didn’t believe it themselves. So many of the day diarists wondered why we would ask them to participate, claiming that their lives were too boring or not important enough to share. And I love the final result. I wouldn’t change a thing about the book. It’s a great read, it’s entertaining, it’s totally addictive. It would have been wonderful, though, to include more voices.
JOFFREY: I admire how effectively the day diary format captures a person’s voice. These day diaries are well-written, entertaining, fresh and insightful. Joni, because she is a writing coach, knew from the beginning that the day diary format would allow people, even non-writers, to tell their stories effectively. In the end, what makes this book so special is that it lets a diversity of women tell their stories in a voice that is 100% their own. I don’t believe any other book does that.
COLE: We wanted the diarists to be really candid (and they are!) but only to the degree they felt comfortable. Since they wrote their own diaries, I felt reassured this would be the case. And to make doubly sure no woman felt too exposed, or wrote something she later regretted, we offered every featured day diarist the opportunity to withdraw her diary from the book. No one did.
RAKHRA: We made sure that every participant in the book project understood that her day diary could possibly end up being read by her in-laws, her boss, and the world in general. We took care to emphasize this point so that contributors wouldn’t feel exposed in any way that exceeded their comfort level. Every featured diarist was given the opportunity to review her diary and withdraw from the book, and not one of them did. One of our participants sums it up beautifully [saying]: “I like writing in my journal but this feels different…This is meant to [be] shared with others, so there’s a sense of vulnerability, as well as openness…[but it’s] also a very powerful feeling.”
JOFFREY: I am sure that my curiosity outweighed any apprehension. If we sensed apprehension on the part of any individual, we didn’t push her to participate. The book wasn’t about exposing someone. In the end, the honesty of the diaries — the good and the bad — is what helps women connect. There is such a need to know that you’re “normal” and that when you lose it with your kids or cheat on your diet or have an unreasonable moment — that you’re not alone. October 15 was the one year anniversary of the day diary date. One of our participants who just finished the book wrote to me and said this: “… [This Day] has been strangely comforting to me. Not to get too personal, but I have been in a funk since my child was born and I think it may be postpartum depression. I have made an appointment to get help, but THIS BOOK was such a help. There were women doing exactly what I was doing, feeling exactly what I was feeling. I AM NOT ALONE!”
SOMETHING MIGHT HAPPEN. Julie Myerson. Little Brown. Julie Myerson’s fifth novel, Something Might Happen, is a story about small town streets suddenly overcome with intrigue — a book that delves to the deepest cores of our hidden psyches, drunk on the secret memory of ghosts. Above all else, this is a story about darkness and the darkness that lives at the inside edges of the mind — isolated moments when we sit strangled, talking about ourselves to shadows:
“But I am rushing down Bank Alley having cut through Tibby’s Green, late for my first appointment, my mind so filled up with him that when he materializes right bang there in front of me, I am for a second or two stunned.”
Something tells us of Tess, whose best friend Lennie has been killed. When Ted Lacey arrives to assist the police in the investigation, Tess is overtaken — haunted by Lacey’s sexy presence, the half tangled waves of emotion in her belly now ripening grief into the bittersweet nectar of passion. More than a murder mystery, more than a story of illicit lust, this novel is about these hidden rooms of the self. And there: we are lost in the distance within the spirit; and there: beckoning that invisible and unknown flame at the edge of the storm — just like Tess, looking for that which gives us life and makes us sing out. A remarkable and mysterious book that plummets into the forbidden and the understated, telling the tale of every man.
MOUNT SHASTA REFLECTIONS. Renee Casterline and Jane English. With John Jackson and Larry Turner. Amber Lotus Publishing. Reflections is an interesting compendium of memories and stories recounted by the people who reside in Mount Shasta, a tiny town 200 miles north of Sacramento near the edge of the Oregon border. The book is a blended photo journal of sorts, telling the story of the mountain and its town through the eyes and voices of the very people who make the place their home:
“I don’t know what attracted me. I came through here and it was like, ‘this is it.’ I think with the mountain there was something. I had been in Nepal by then and mountains were very attractive to me, and this was just so beautiful.”
Chantal McDermott (Page 40)
“For a lot of the tribes, Mount Shasta is a focal point, a place of power. It’s a place they would like to stay natural, with as few people as possible. It’s a place that helps their culture continue.”
Julie Cassidy (Page 26)
“Mount Shasta is considered sacred by many groups for many different reasons. Stories of mysterious beings, mystical visions and miraculous cures attributed to the mountain are common. Native Americans call it their creator. Ufologists believe it is a place where their space brothers land on a regular basis…”
Dawn Fezende (Page 86)
“I got this idea that if we put a labyrinth out there we could have this place for healing.”
Calvin Vanderhoof (Page 96)
“[This mountain] to me represents the elder brother, reminding me always to get up above the din and look around.”
John McDermott (Page 41)
In her first book, Renne Casterline has done a fine job in editing and expanding on the profiles, creating a seamless narrative that tells the story of this little city. English’s photos of the mountain and the surrounding area — over-flowing in the color and beauty and natural splendor of the foothills that wall in the town — bring the book perfectly to life: suddenly we as solitary reader understand why the area has been celebrated for centuries for its majesty — a true, holy and electric resource of the spirit.
In the end, Reflections of Mount Shasta represents all that’s good about Shasta – the mountain and the smallness of community enshrined in nature. Those individuals and entities who are developing this town and permanently destroying its face and its personality should take particular note: for these pictures by English together with Casterline’s narration tell us what the area means to countless generations.
GIRLS. Nic Kelman. Little Brown. Girls is about modern America, a novel about Yuppie businessmen who’ve sacrificed their souls for dollars, for the illusion of power that money brings. Now, having given up their identities, these men can only find themselves through the taste for sex and women:
“…we know it’s our job to teach them. So they can never give us what those young girls we fuck do. Because they are our daughters, not someone else’s. It’s not enough that they are beautiful. It’s not enough that they like to have fun. It’s not enough that they are alive, but that they survive.”
Their lives are false creations: their safe wives, and their new cars, and their pressed slacks with matching designer ties. Their lives are lies. And sex is their sole salvation, their only release from a prison cell of their own device. How many of us are like them? Kelman poses interesting questions.
THE AMERICAN DREAM (An Immigrant’s True Life Story Against All Odds). Geela. Global Vision Media. The title’s kind of corny, first appearing just a bit too naive for 2003; but then again, that’s the charming thing about Geela and this book. Above everything else, Geela is honest and direct — a woman and writer who doesn’t hide who she is or what she believes, refusing to conceal the things she wants to say. To the contrary, Geela writes it all down — melodically and eloquently, revealing her very special vision and belief in the world:
“But, as it’s been shown to me time and again, lessons for the benefit of personal growth come in different ways. I refused to believe that I was being punished for a crime I never committed. This experience no matter how negative and painful just had to be a tool, a messenger if you will, to stimulate new personal growth…”
Geela, who was born in Iran, is a singer and songwriter devoted to spiritual awareness. Together with her husband, she formed Global Vision Records and One Spirit, One World: entities that seek to promote “global peace.” On this subject Geela has stated: “The main purpose of this book is to share my life story with others and to inspire, empower, enlighten and entertain with a powerful message both timely and timeless. I am simply relating my personal experience for anyone who wants to understand the meaning of life beyond the conventional pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.”
A unique vision indeed. Especially for an entertainer. And that’s the real message behind Geela’s writings and her ideals: It’s all about arriving at spiritual awareness, balancing the needs of the world with the needs of the self in this cut-throat world of materialism and madness.
At first glance these ideas strike us as “crazy.” And that’s the first revelation: we’re so spiritually exhausted and numb that anything that speaks of recapturing a connection with the ‘self’ appears “weird.” “New Age.” “On The Edge.” But in truth, it’s we as collective society that is on the edge. Geela seemingly wrote The American Dream to help pull us from the precipice.
THE FARMER’S ALMANAC. 2004 edition. Almanac Publishing. The Almanac has been around for nearly two centuries, and in keeping with tradition, this edition features bold weather predictions and interesting asides that will keep the reader occupied for hours. Many generations out there grew up on the Almanac — farmers and house wives alike once depended on these detailed weather predictions as a means of planning their days and organizing their lives: “While some people may not take stock in our Farmer’s Almanac long-range weather predictions,” muses editor Peter Geiger, “we are very proud of our accuracy and our ability to give people an idea of what’s in store for the year ahead. One of our young readers wrote to me to say that ‘the Farmer’s Almanac predictions are so accurate they’re almost freaky.’” Sadly, in the last 25 years, the advent of the home computer has erased the importance of some of this — now instant information is never more than a finger’s tip away. However, the Almanac is more than information — this is a personalized “family” periodical meant to educate and entertain over the course of the year. Best segments include the recipe, astronomy and gardening sections. Nice stocking stuffer for the “book worm” on your gift list.
“The Old Farmer’s — like the other almanacs, but better…”
Unidentified woman at a Northern California news stand
Originally founded in 1792 by Robert B. Thomas, The Old Farmer’s Almanac serves as the model for all the other almanacs on news stands throughout the country. The Old Farmer’s is a well-conceived compendium of articles, recipes and weather forecasts aimed at the older reader — for this little magazine will be best appreciated by those who are less accustomed to reading the news on-line and more used to ruminating over the mysteries of life in the quiet of the evening parlor. The Old Farmer’s is a thicker and denser version of the other almanacs (it’s closest competition is The Farmer’s Almanac reviewed above), and the 2004 edition has some wonderful features to offer. Best among them include the 32 page gardening section, chock full of expert advice for the at home gardener. Also of note are the stories on George Washington and the history of ice cream. Long range weather predictions for 2004 include detailed analysis of each region of the United States. If you have an uncle or grand parent on your gift list, throw this under the tree. Chances are you will bring back some warm memories.
In 1999, the San Francisco 49ers were one of the worst teams in the league. The looming end of the Young-to-Rice era saw the team finish the year at 4-12, and the 49er faithful had little reason to be optimistic – the five-time Super Bowl winners were facing a salary cap mess and its core unit (aside from Terrell Owens, Jeff Garcia and Fred Beasley) was gimpy and old. It was going to take a solid draft and a little luck to turn this train around again.
In early 2000, with Jeff Garcia firmly in place as Steve Young’s replacement, former General Manager Bill Walsh and present GM Terry Donahue agreed that the defense was the place to start rebuilding the 49er dynasty. To this end, they decided to take Michigan State linebacker Julian Peterson in the first round of the 2000 NFL draft with the number 16 overall pick.
It was a decision that would pay immediate dividends — beginning the process of change that turned a stumbling franchise into a legitimate playoff contender in only one short season.
Peterson came into the NFL amid high expectations. As a collegiate player for Michigan State, he amassed 140 tackles and 25 sacks in only 23 games, and the Niners quickly made him a starter and gave him free rein, hoping that his speed might breathe life into their then morbid pass rush. Peterson– fast, agile and athletic– became the foundation Defensive Coordinator Jim Mora would pin the vision of his defense to: Peterson’s ball-hawking tenacity and natural ability to stop the run upset the balance of rival offenses, giving teammates like Derek Smith and Zack Bronson the opportunity to roam unchecked and force turnovers. Suddenly, the 49er defense went from transparent to tenacious — a true and pure reflection of the young linebacker with the number 98 stamped on his back.
In just three seasons, Peterson has become one of the most versatile defenders in the NFC, a fact evidenced by his Pro Bowl birth in 2002. Last year, in a late season game against the Cowboys in Dallas, he became the first player in over 30 years to play 4 different defensive positions in one game (linebacker, cornerback, defensive end and strong safety). In 47 games with the 49ers, Peterson has registered 200 tackles and nine sacks; he has also knocked down 12 passes and routinely neutralized the opposing tight end. This ability to defend one-on-one has allowed Mora the flexibility to alter schemes and thus better utilize the strengths of the corners and safeties.
Since Peterson joined the 49ers in 2000, the team has posted a 29 and 22 won-lost record and has rekindled its hopes of capturing a record sixth Super Bowl trophy. Above all else, Julian Peterson has become the defense’s Terrell Owens — a fast and explosive player capable of instantly changing the complexion of a football game. Moreover, in Owens and Peterson, the team has renewed its identity: riding the wave of these two young fleet-footed stars who lead by example, the franchise’s sole focus now is to bring the championship back to San Francisco.
I actually grew up in Washington, D.C. My mother and father were athletes as well. I also have two half sisters who did well in basketball and track. My father excelled in every sport — basketball, track, baseball. Mom was a pretty good softball player. My parents are both athletically built; they’re both tall — mom is 5-11 and dad is 6-6. My dad actually coached my mom in softball and he coached me in both baseball and basketball when I was a kid growing up. I learned alot of things about competing from him.
After growing up in D.C. I imagine California must have been a culture shock in the beginning…
It wasn’t that bad actually. I first went away to a military school in Pennsylvania and saw alot of diversity — different people from broad ethnic backgrounds. After that, I went to college at Michigan State, and found diversity there as well. With all of this, I was able to adapt pretty fast, so San Francisco wasn’t that big of a change at all.
I wanted to make an immediate impact, but I didn’t think it was going to be possible during my first year [in 2000]. I didn’t think it was going to be possible to have a great defense right off the bat with 7 rookies starting. But I thought we’d be great that second year, after we learned to play with each other. Now [that] we’re in our fourth year together, we have that chemistry you develop after you play together for a long time. We know each others’ strengths and weaknesses, and we know how to play as a ‘team.’ We’re just fundamentally better now, and it shows in what we’re doing.
That was a tough loss, but I believe it will bring this team together. We know what we’re capable of doing, now it’s time to go out and do it. We went into the second playoff game last year pretty banged up. But now we’re healthy. We have talent on both sides of the ball, and as long as we make our plays and improve on special teams, the sky’s the limit.
I think so. I really do. That’s why we play week-to-week. We have good competition coming up on the road. We play Philadelphia this year over there, and the Packers are coming up on the road as well. These games are tune ups for us. They are meant to prepare us and get us ready to make that playoff push, the push to overcome the defeats of the past few years [playoff losses at the hands of Green Bay and Tampa Bay]. But, as a player, you can’t look ahead. You take a game at a time.
Well, I just try to pick up parts of the game by watching different players. I grew up watching and admiring Dexter Manley. He was unstoppable, just unstoppable as a pass rusher. And Taylor coming off the end, he had such intensity. I watch the players who can take their man out of the game, [like those] cornerbacks who are taking their receivers out of the game all by themselves. And that’s how I do it: I keep my eyes straight and play the techniques the coaches teach.
I wasn’t super tight with ‘Mooch.’ I don’t ever get too close with coaches, because you never know if you’re going to be here. You could go. Or they could go. Things change in the NFL. That’s the nature of this business.[pauses] As far as the team, we’re attacking on both sides of the ball now. We’re attacking down field on [offensive] passing plays, using these receivers we have — Owens and Lloyd and Streets and Cedric Wilson. Plus Garcia and the backs we have are unbelievable talents. The other plus is [that] our defense is finally healthy and we’re able to use our speed, using different looks to confuse the [opposing] offense. The biggest difference is that Erickson allows us to play with our emotions and compete. That’s made it fun.
[Laughing]. I have been blessed. My father is the same way: He’s not a big guy, and he ate down everything while he [his weight] stayed the same. I guess I have his genes in me. I must say I do enjoy snack foods –sodas and chips and stuff — but I do eat good food too [laughing]. I don’t put on fat because I burn off 5-8 pounds a day during practice and in games. It comes off fast.
Well, don’t forget — Tampa has to get ‘there’ too. A season in this league can go a lot of different ways. But if the back ups play well and support the starters, we can do it. We have the players and the coaches and we’re prepared. During the last few years, we’ve been through the highs and lows, so we know what to expect in the playoffs now. I feel we’re ready to make the move to the next level.
No, no, I wouldn’t say that. I expect any team I’m on to make the playoffs. If a team as a whole works hard it can excel. When I entered college Michigan State wasn’t known as a powerhouse, but I wanted to go there. I wanted to play the Ohio States and the Michigans to prove we could compete on their level. I personally expect to win. That’s why you go out on the field. That’s the whole point of it.