Seven years ago, I interviewed architects Robert Venturi and his wife and partner, Denise Scott Brown, for the Drexel InterView. The show, produced out of this University, showcases individuals in all walks of life who have contributed in important ways to our society. Venturi and Brown, who had done some of their major work in Philadelphia and whose practice was located in the city, had long been people I wanted to interview. Venturi had written the groundbreaking Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture in 1966 and, with Brown (and Steven Izenour), the perhaps even more influential Learning from Las Vegas in 1972. They were giants of modern architecture who had managed to oppose both modernism and postmodernism with a singular vision of their own.

Bob and Denise at their home in Philadelphia.

The interview did not disappoint. Venturi was the consummate gentleman; Brown was his feisty complement. Interviewing them together, I had a taste of how they must have worked together. He, more deliberate and placating; she more spontaneous and disruptive. I understood that she was also battling a life-long tendency on the part of employers and society in general to put her second, as a woman and as the less prominent figure of the duo (whether the latter was a function of the former or simply a function of their differing architectural roles is hard to say). In any case, I remember that interview as being delightful. His sweetness and her savory were a sublime compound. That compound is now dissolved. A giant in architecture is gone and will be missed. You can watch their dynamic here in the two-part episodes from 2011.


 

Images courtesy of Pink Iguana and Peter Miller via Flickr and Elekhh via WikiCommons (Creative Commons). Feature image by Melinda Lewis.

Within the past few years I have succumbed to a period of feminist ennui. It’s not that I no longer think the principles of equality are no longer important, but it seems as if the word and movement, “feminism,” has lost meaning. It has been co-opted, lazily applied, and devalued. I’ve become frustrated by so-called feminists whose actions betray their rhetoric and popular culture texts and figures who think just saying words like “feminist” and “intersectional” is enough. Just the idea that there is such an idea of bare minimum – that feminism is as simple as wearing a t-shirt, watching the female reboot of Ghostbusters, or reposting a quote from Gloria Steinem on her birthday. This is not to say that those things are not important, but that there is a sense that these instances have become more like rituals – they are to be done to reassert a sense of identity, but have lost meaning.

The new essay collection, Can We All Be Feminists? addresses the complications and hardwork of being a feminist who is intersectional, meaning understanding the ways in which feminism can and does intersect with race, disability, immigration, labor, and sexuality (to name a handful). The range of essays, edited by June Eric-Udorie, covers a lot of ground and at times seems like nothing holds them together, until you come back to the anchoring point that feminism and feminists have to diversify their portfolios. To end sexism, examining immigration policies, as Wei Ming Kam does in “The Machinery of Disbelief,” is as necessary as Hollywood’s recent interest in wage equality. And within the rhetoric of equal pay activism, the continued reiteration that “women get paid less” must further be broken down by these other intersecting points: white women are typically paid less than their male counterparts, women of color are often paid less than that, and women with disabilities even less. “Women” cannot be an umbrella term and nor can “feminist.” We have to become more discerning. More… “At the Crossroads”

October 15th, 2017 12:50 a.m.

During the dark morning hours, the time when my eyes are cloudy and my muscles ache, I worry about losing you in space. My gut lurches with that feeling people get when they’re holding a helium balloon and lose their grip — there’s no more control of that umbilical string, and what was once an extension of them drifts into the atmosphere. In the glow of street light coming through my blinds, I imagine you floating toward the stars. It’s a slow ascension, yet you’re just out of reach. Your crown catches moonlight and shines like the long hairs I pull from my clothes, the ones that clog our bathtub and live in between the fibers of everything.

After I turned off your brain for the first time, I noticed how the buzzing of electricity that’s normally in the room ceased to insense me. I felt stillness. It was like the green desolation that lingers after heavy rain, when the quiet is fragrant. You had pleaded in the way you always do before bedtime. But the back of my eyes felt like fire. I was close to chewing through my tongue. More… “Our Sleep at the Onset”

I grew up in the 1950s and ’60s, and my mother was a working woman who didn’t like to cook. Although she dutifully made dinner for us every night, these were perfunctory and repetitive meals: meatloaf made with Catalina salad dressing, spaghetti with tomato sauce and occasional meatballs (also made with Catalina salad dressing), roast chicken (overcooked), and instant chocolate pudding or Jello for dessert. I looked with envy at my friends whose stay-at-home moms prepared things like veal parmigiana and shrimp scampi, baked alaska and pineapple upside-down cake.

At the time, convenience foods were sparse, limited mostly to canned foods. For many years, my idea of vegetables were greenish things floating in yellowish liquid that were dumped in a saucepan for 30 minutes so whatever taste and nutrition they contained had been boiled away. Another familiar adjunct to our meals was cream of mushroom soup — flavored lard to be added to casseroles, dips, or anything that needed a fat and sodium boost. Also, pork and beans: snippets of fat drowning in a salty mush and introduced alongside the occasional boiled hot dog (my mother saw hot dogs as low class but made an exception by serving them under the name of frankfurters). Finally, there was the much-loved macaroni and cheese — elbow macaroni and Velveeta — served to us when our parents went out for dinner. More… “Dinnertime and its Discontents”

If you ask me, there were quite a few cringe-worthy moments in the movie La La Land but one moment especially hit home. Early in the story, Emma Stone’s character, Mia, apprehensively confesses to Ryan Gosling’s idealistic jazz pianist that she “hates” jazz. It’s probably intended to show Mia’s relatability for the audience, but this viewer at least winced with recognition. The fact that Mia eventually discovers that she likes jazz after all is less about digging the music than about giving the viewer the Hollywood ending they want. She’s not alone in her defensiveness when it comes to America’s music — believe me, plenty of people tend to give us jazz fans the side-eye whenever the topic comes up.

The sad truth is that all too often jazz suffers the same kind of casual dismissal that hip-hop, country, and EDM used to get before they took over the mainstream. Granted, this might be something only a jazz lover would notice but since at least the ’70s, jazz has become something of a niche market, to put it mildly. In terms of yearly record sales, jazz usually sells as much as classical music does, one of the many things the two genres have in common. Far too often jazz comes off as dated or quaint; it’s your granddad’s make out music. Worse, there’s an implied snobbishness often projected onto loving jazz — it’s a little like explaining that you prefer to spend your Saturday nights translating Hegel or making artisanal cheese. More… “Giant Steps”

There is nothing that pleases me more, nature-wise, than walking through a forest and coming to find sand displaced from a beach underfoot.

You smell the brine, you feel the wind going through your hair, the same wind that brought the sand there. The faint crash — a thudding diffusion — of the surf follows in your ears, and you know that if you proceed through the next copse, you’ll be at the edge of one thing and the start of something else.

I do not make my living from it. I don’t own a boat. I know no one who does, but the ocean has played a central role in my life. Little, really, has informed my life more. The music of the Beatles, probably. My quest with what I try to do as a writer. A handful of intense emotional experiences that I suspect might even be viewable upon my soul, with the right equipment, much like an EKG reveals an earlier heart attack. More… “Wishing Oceans”

About an hour west of my house is the Carlisle Barracks, where, from about 1879 to 1910 there existed something called the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. A boarding school designed to educate Native Americans, the school’s goal was to immerse its students in Western European culture, so they could fully integrate into American society.

To that end, its founder, Richard Henry Pratt, espoused a philosophy of “kill the Indian . . . and save the man.” Those enrolled in the school had to renounce their name, religion, and culture for the sake of integration. More than 10,000 American Indians were educated at the school from 50 different tribes and nations. Some were forced to attend. Others were sent by their families, hoping for a better life for their children. Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe, who was famously stripped of his medals, was a graduate of the school. More… “Socially Conscious Sci-Fi”

I hoped my daughter wouldn’t be detained by the immigration officials. I hadn’t seen her in a long time and I wasn’t sure what was happening. Finally, she emerged in her tattered jeans and sweatshirt and called to me from down the hall, “Hey Mom, I made it through.” I felt myself exhale deeply, physically relieved.

Earlier that morning, my daughter and I arrived at the front of the middle school, the middle school named Haven, no less, to find the Statue of Liberty — a teacher in a green painted gown, with a crown and torch — reading those immortal words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses . . . ” Classical music, swelling with emotion, played from the boom box at her feet.

The other moms and I smiled at one another. This was going to be fun. The eighth-grade social studies department was hosting a historical reenactment of Ellis Island during the Gilded Age. We’d be playing the guards tasked with guiding our children – just arrived refugees who understood no English — through the large school turned processing center. Before entering “the country,” these immigrants would have to negotiate check-in stations where they had to pass tests of medical wellness, physical rigor, cognitive acumen, and vocational potential. More… “Popsicles and Dreamers”

I think about shame a lot. I wonder when and why I began to care so much about stuff — my body, my face, my intellectual ability. Did it start when I was bullied on the bus in kindergarten? Was it some sort of pseudo-consciousness mind trick passed down from my parents? Was it because I picked up a Seventeen magazine when I was 11? For whatever reason, I remember a lot of low and high-key shame moments from my younger years. I didn’t want to wear shorts as a preteen, because I was starting to sprout leg hair and was too embarrassed I hadn’t started to shave. Clothes shopping in high school was never fun because I couldn’t find anything to adequately fit my body. I’d enter a dressing room with a pile and leave with nothing, because (what I imagined to be) my grotesque body wouldn’t cooperate. And while I was feeling so dejected and ashamed, I rarely vocalized. For years, I assumed everybody else had figured the body out. More… “For Shame”

In “I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It),” Randy Newman takes some potshots at rock stars continuing to grind it out long past their prime. The joke, of course, is that the chief target of the satire is he himself. Although the cleverness and self-awareness of the song belie the indictment, “I’m Dead” invites the suspicion that in recent years each Newman album (to paraphrase the lyric) has tended to sound like the one before – just not as good. But Randy Newman peaked much later than many of his peers from the Woodstock Nation. Never having been a hippie, he could embrace middle age without embarrassment, and in 1988, at the age of 45, he brought out his best collection of songs ever, the rueful, sardonic, and teasingly autobiographical Land of Dreams. More… “Randy Newman’s Land of Dreams