Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Media, Magazines, and Me

I have an on-again, off-again love affair with women's magazines. It's well-documented throughout this blog, if you care to take a look. For example, after swearing off the book as an overrated, grown-up version of Seventeen, I bought a copy of Cosmopolitan this weekend (for research, though) and actually enjoyed flipping through it. Yes, there are much better ways to feed my mind, but sometimes it feels good to get lost in a trashy romance novel (see Cosmo's red-hot read section) or take a silly quiz about your commitment style.

[This is the issue I bought, and it rocks]

I recently listened to an old episode of Fresh Air on NPR that featured Zadie Smith. Being a literary novelist, one wouldn't expect her to be all that keen on non-news magazines, and she wasn't. She said something that struck me and stayed with me:

[Zadie Smith, author of novels like White Teeth and On Beauty]

I was glad there were no magazines for black women when I was a kid because I didn't want to read that stuff. And when I do read a lot of magazines about women I just feel very depressed and very alienated and very sad...The idea of being publicly represented, even though it was a big idea in the 80s and 90s, I think every representation is a generalization. I'd rather be my particular weirdo self than have a magazine called, I don't know, Mixed-Race Girls. I'd just rather be my own mixed-race girl, I don't really want advice on how to be a mixed-race girl.

Keep in mind that she's British, so maybe she wasn't aware of magazines like Essence or Honey when she was a teen or young adult. But I've never really been able to sum up what bothers me about women's magazines until I heard her say "I don't really want advice on how to be a mixed-race girl." I've hinted that all the self-help tips annoy me, but that seems like a really succinct way to say that most lifestyle content is about being better in some way, which is always a disaster.

Also keep in mind that I pen lifestyle content for a living, so I may be biased.

-- Whitney

Monday, May 04, 2009

On Mother's Day

On Mother's Day, I have a whole lot to be thankful for, and a lot of that is wrapped up in Ronda, my mom.

I'm so thankful that she lived to raise me. I'm so thankful that she loved me, and nurtured me, and put up with my stubborness, and taught me any number of really cool things. Among them: how to make a Dairy Queen blizzard at home, how to hem my jeans, how to be a good Christian woman, how to fill out a job application and how to effectively complain about bad service at a a restaurant. I think that last one comes in handy the most.

Beyond childhood, I'm thankful that I can pick up the phone and call my mom whenever I want. My cousins, who lost their mom when they were 18 and 25 respectively, aren't that lucky.

I'm thankful that she taught me to be a good daughter and a good sister. Her and my granny were so close, they were like best friends. They called each other all day long and saw each other everyday. My mom was well into her 30s and my granny was still washing, drying and folding her clothes. And those of me and my sister, too. What can I say: the perks of being the baby of the family. My mom is also best friends with her older sisters (she has four of them). Two of them have passed away, but they were an extremely close unit of women. I learned by example that a sister is the very best thing in the world a girl can have, and nothing, not money or men, friendship or job, should weaken that bond.

I'm thankful that she loves me. Totally, unconditionally, fully and without preamble, in a way that I probably will never understand unless I have kids of my own. When I hurt, she hurts. When I'm glad, she's glad.

I'm thankful that she taught me to be my own woman. To not let others' opinions or wills dictate my life. When I was 16, she let me go off to a boarding school, even though she told me (years later) that she cried for days before I left. She knew it was a great opportunity and wasn't selfish with me. When I was 18, she put her foot down and said that I couldn't go all the way to Washington to attend Howard University. I went anyway, and I'm thankful that she challenged me. It let me realize how strong I was.

And, finally, I'm thankful that she is who she is, because it has allowed me to be who I am.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Animals: They're Just Like Us

I had the pleasure of seeing earth last week with two of my girls, and I loved it! Of course, halfway through the movie, Nicole leaned over to me and said, "This is amazing. Most of this footage was on the Discovery channel show 'Planet Earth.'" Damn! So I just paid $8 (I buy the children's tickets at the kiosk. Shh, don't tell) to see something that other folks saw for free?! Well, on the show they have Sigourney Weaver narrating while the movie featured James Earl Jones, but still.

This segment of the series (I believe it will be three parts; the next part is Ocean coming Earth Day 2010) focused on mommies and babies around the planet. There was a polar bear family, a herd of elephants and a humpback whale with her baby, along with some other interesting characters thrown in.

Even if you're not nature-y (I'm completely not), you'll appreciate the careful storytelling and magnificent score of the movie. I was glued to the screen, feeling nearly every emotion along with the on-screen families. I was heartbroken when a baby elephant lost his mother in a cloud of dessert sand. He managed to follow his mom's footprints and set off on a trail, only in the wrong direction. When the humpback and her calf literally crossed the world in search of delicious vittles, I was tense as they navigated treacherous waters and were forced to loudly flap their wings so that the other would know that they were present and safe. And the adorable polar bear cubs! Seeing their first, exciting adventure outside of the cave that they were born in, watch them learn to walk on the slippery snow and eventually leave mama bear's cave, was really really cute.

Something that I kept thinking is how fortunate we humans are to have hands. The elephant, the polar bear and the humpback could only will their babies to stay close to them, and were unable to scoop them up and carry them. My friend Latrice said that I was applying human emotions to animals, but I think that we're wrong to underestimate the complexity of non-human intellect and emotion. I'm certain that any mom, human or polar bear, wishes for more ways to keep their babies close and safe from danger.

I also couldn't help but make a couple of food chain comparisons. The elephants that were forced to make themselves vulnerable to hungry lions at the watering hole, the shark that came out of nowhere to take a bite out of some very large mammal. Even though there isn't another animal out there that naturally eats humans, people are pretty good at making themselves predatory. Credit card companies, mortgage lenders, slumlords and companies that feed on the poor (hey Wal-Mart!) all come to mind when I think of human predators.

earth is a freakishly enjoyable movie, full of brilliant images, haunting music and the gentle pride that is James Earl Jones' voice. Go see immediately!

-- Whitney