The Underwhelming World of Florence Gordon

When I heard a glowing review on NPR about Brian Morton’s new novel, Florence Gordon, I thought I’d give it a try. If NPR says it’s good, then it probably is. I was wrong. It was surprisingly bad, but at least I was surprised.

The book’s description goes something like this: “A wise and entertaining novel about a woman who has lived life on her own terms for seventy-five defiant and determined years, only to find herself suddenly thrust to the center of her family’s various catastrophes.”

florence gordon book

On the one hand, I had the delightful image of Florence Henderson (the bubbly blonde mom from The Brady Bunch) barking orders at Duane Reade and coldly dismissing her adoring fans. But—spoiler alert—it was otherwise lacking in entertainment value, wisdom, and family catastrophes. There wasn’t a single catastrophe in the book, so I’ll call that false advertising.

Morton is obviously well-versed with feminist literature, but something rings so untrue about the way his female characters think about it. They say it’s complex without actually having complex feelings. They all seem to come from the same mind without any significant difference of thought.

In Chapter 44, Florence’s granddaughter reflects on her own views after doing an extensive amount of research on feminist icons for her grandmother’s memoir. “Emily wasn’t particularly political, and she had no idea if she was a feminist.” The fracture of inauthenticity cracks wide open here. If Emily is a precocious 19-year-old who’s read up on feminist literature, then how can she have no idea if she’s a feminist or not? She might have questions, she may even have a complex relationship with the ideas of feminism vs. the label of being one (!), but I seriously doubt she would have no idea. It’s as though Morton overheard one or two 19-year-old girls and assumed they all must be the same. As a young woman myself, it’s not so troubling that this character can’t commit to being a feminist as much as it doesn’t seem to fit her character.

In a similar vein, the relationship between Emily and her father, Daniel (Florence’s son), comes off as cloyingly annoying. There’s nothing witty about their banter or inside jokes. If anything, every conversation they have reads like a dad’s fantasy of what his relationship with his daughter could be like, and that makes me sad. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on this guy…

Except that it’s so cheesy because it’s trying so hard not to be. Taking pride in New York isn’t a bad thing until you try to turn it into another “character” or include something as cliché as “even walking was different in New York.” We get it. New York is the only place to be, who cares, etc.

The onslaught of references do less to make the characters sound intellectual and more like the author’s pitiful attempt at reminding everyone that he, the author, is really the intellectual. I guess you mention n+1 and Raymond Williams enough times and the reader thinks, “Wow, what an impressive intellect!” Except it doesn’t actually work that way. Needless references only shine a light on the author when the author should get out of the way and disappear behind the mind of the character.

Which reminds me—where’s Florence Gordon in all of this? She stands out decisively as the most enjoyable character in this book, and yet, the other characters have the maddening habit of bogging down her voice. Between the short, choppy chapters and flitting from character to character, it reads as though Morton can’t sit down with one voice and delve into something deeper.

As Maureen Corrigan points out in her review for NPR, this book “shoves the ‘likeability’ issue into the dustbin of beside-the-point literary debates where it belongs.” While the question remains whether a main character has to be likeable to be worth reading, I found the opposite to be true of these characters. The ones you’re supposed to like I despised and the clear villain was the only one with whom I could empathize. If only he’d explored that space and played with those expectations, I think Morton could have scrounged together some amount of emotional depth to make this novel worthy of the paper it’s printed on.


Emma Watson, U.N. Ambassador & All-Around Badass

Emma Watson, who first gained global recognition as Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” movies, has gone on to champion gender equality as a Goodwill Ambassador for U.N. Women. On Saturday, she gave a passionate speech before the United Nations, introducing HeForShe, a campaign meant to engage men in actively stopping violence against women. Since then, hackers have threatened to release nude photos of Watson in a disgusting attempt to silence her. It seems this has only made her voice louder, making her an all-around badass.

Watson’s speech is a thoughtful, comprehensive invitation for both sexes to dismantle gender stereotypes. She emphasizes that dismissing feminist concerns as “aggressive, isolating, anti-men, and unattractive” has negatively affected both men and women. Watson states her case plainly. In effect, she diminishes the remarkably silly debate over the “real definition” of feminism. She puts it simply and powerfully:

I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me… I am from Britain and think it is right that as a woman I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decision-making of my country. I think it is right that socially I am afforded the same respect as men. But sadly I can say that there is no one country in the world where all women can expect to receive these rights.

Watson hasn’t shied away from labeling herself a feminist, unlike so many other actresses with social influence. With a broad appeal to young men and women alike, I think she has a legitimate chance at initiating change. However, she also faces the risk of not being taken seriously. She addresses this in her speech, saying:

You might be thinking who is this Harry Potter girl? And what is she doing up on stage at the UN? It’s a good question and trust me I have been asking myself the same thing. I don’t know if I am qualified to be here. All I know is that I care about this problem. And I want to make it better. And having seen what I’ve seen—and given the chance—I feel it is my duty to say something.

Her obvious passion and personal experience with sexism certainly qualify her to be an advocate for gender equality. But her message goes beyond equal rights; it’s about the way we perceive gender and perpetuate limitations for both sexes by reinforcing an unjustified dichotomy. I mean, how powerful is this:

We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes, but I can see that they are—and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.

If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. … It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, not as two opposing sets of ideals. If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are — we can all be freer. And this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom.

If that isn’t motivation enough to start speaking up about gender equality, then I don’t know what is. And for all the haters out there, launching insults at Watson only bolsters the necessity of this movement. Threatening to post nude photos of someone campaigning for equal rights seems so stupid, so insane, so laughably pathetic to me that I have no doubt the power behind her words will eclipse any wormlike attempt to bring her down. Alternatively, you could take the more innocuous approach and pick apart the pieces of her argument that are less than perfect, but I don’t see how that would be constructive. Emma Watson is not the only advocate for gender equality, but her speech is one of many that at least deserve our respect if not wholehearted support.

My #FashionTruth

Hang on because ModCloth is currently transforming fashion as we know it. With a powerful message that goes beyond vintage pieces and retro designs, the brand embodies our cultural need for transparency in fashion. Co-founder Susan Gregg Koger emphasizes body positivity, self-expression, and diversity in a business model that puts the consumer above all else. ModCloth packages garments with meaning, transcending short-lived trends like crop tops and harem pants (which you should totally wear everyday forever if that’s your thing).

The fashion industry’s flaws wouldn’t matter if they didn’t have such a pervasive influence on the way we perceive ourselves. Stick-thin, six-foot-tall white teenagers, as beautiful as they are, represent only a tiny fraction of a very diverse market. And when you, equally beautiful and real, see images of that standard constantly, feelings of inadequacy can’t help but creep in. As consumers, we have a responsibility to demand what we want to see. I think that ultimately means a more diverse, confident reflection of ourselves.

As for me, being broke means I can’t afford to buy into the ever-changing fashion game right now (and I’m not the kind of girl to forgo lunch for an infinity scarf). I mainly dig through my mother’s closet for wide-legged pants and padded blouses from the 80s and 90s. I’m lucky the nineties now qualify as vintage because “vintage” sounds cooler than “old bike shorts.”

high waisted vintage pants

$5 H&M crop top, $7 Payless shoes, pulled together by high-waisted burlap slacks from 1980-something

There’s something timeless about falling in love with vintage. If you glance through fashion history, you’ll find clothing that reflects the social climate of the time as well as aspirations for the future. With the first inklings of the feminist movement, corsets gave way to shift and drop waist dresses. Hemlines have soared and plummeted in unison with stock prices. As much as avant-garde has its place, current fashion has always drawn from classic ideas to inspire something new.

This is where it gets exciting. What will the fashion of the future look like? I imagine all of us gliding around in sleek, metallic gowns, flower crowns of tiny succulents adorning our heads. Or maybe we’ll draw from the Dust Bowl and restyle burlap sacks into edgy moto jackets and cigarette pants. Maybe textiles as we currently imagine them will fizzle out altogether, to be replaced by sprayed-on second skins in various animal prints and colors.

high waisted vintage pants

I like the idea that you can transform yourself through fashion. You can dabble with different identities or define your personality with the clothes you wear. Fashion allows you to be a preppy, bohemian, cowgirl, princess, punk rock chick all in the same week. I also love the idea of self-imposing a personal uniform, freeing up more mind space when you just don’t have the energy to pick a different outfit everyday.

My fashion truth is all of the above. I believe in wearing what you want when you want, stepping into character, revealing the inner you and reinventing the inner you. It’s make-believe, magic, living art, breathing in patterns, prints, textures, and lines. Operating as armor or filling in for comfort, evoking nostalgia or peeking into the future, democratized or specialized, fashion brings imagination into the everyday. That kind of power should belong to everyone.

vintage blouse

Be yourself. You know you want to.

Pontoon to Infinity

Last week, while visiting Montana, I sat on the edge of a massage pontoon reading an essay about infinity. I found it in a book I borrowed from my grandmother’s husband, who described the pontoon as a cross between a funeral barge and a traveling whorehouse. The essay was called “Next Step: Infinity,” by Anthony Aguirre; the book was called Future Science: Essays from the Cutting Edge. It was published in 2011, so I assume the cutting edge hasn’t inched too far forward since then.

future science book

As I dipped my toes in the cool water, my neck burning under the high noon sun, I couldn’t help but fear lake monsters were dwelling deep below. Maybe it was the heat, the murky water, or the smell of peppermint fuming from my boyfriend’s body as he got massaged that sent my imagination into overdrive. But why shouldn’t they be hovering down there? If you believe in infinity, anything could be possible—if not in this universe, then at least in the one next door.

Let me back up a bit. There are few things as mind-boggling as the space outside of our own planet. Within each of our minds exists an equally complex reflection of the universe, which should be enough to make your brain explode. Then I imagine the possibility of multiverses and realize the infinite space we can barely imagine is only one of an infinite number of different, infinite spaces, some varying slightly with others varying drastically. Think of our entire universe as one bubble in a bottle of champagne. Make that an infinite vat of champagne.

nasa pictures of stars

“Dark Murky Clouds in the Bright Milky Way” — thank you, NASA

I should start over. To give an idea of what I’m trying to wrap my head around, here are some of the most mind-blowing quotes I pulled from “Next Step: Infinity.”

Lesson 1: “A fundamental lesson of relativity theory is that there is no single objective definition of what events are happening ‘now’ across a large region” (43). You tell me this now? When this whole time I’ve been trying to “live in the now”?! I give up.

Lesson 2: “In relativity, then, space and time are interconvertible and should really be combined into ‘space-time.’ To ask what ‘space’ is like is really to ask what space-time looks like at a particular time” (45). Time is a social construct. Okay, I can jive with that.

Lesson 3: “The creation of an infinite space probably actually happens—in fact, an infinite number of times… The Big Bang is not the ‘beginning of the universe,’ just the end of our particular universe’s inflation” (47). We’re really small, aren’t we…

Lesson 4: “There are infinitely many identical copies of you, as well as infinitely many of every possible small or large variations of you, some more common than others… If these other people are identical to you, are they you?” (54). I have enough insecurities of my own to deal with. I don’t think I can handle the infinite other psycho me’s out there.

Lesson 5: “In comparison to the universe, we would not be just small but strictly zero. Yet here we are, contemplating—if not quite understanding—it all” (55). Going from small to zero does not help my ego.

massage pontoon

Just barely skimming the surface.

As you can see, that’s a lot of crazy shit to absorb. At the same time, the theory of infinity is so beautiful, so imaginative, it sounds like something a poet dreamed up rather than an astronomer toiling with numbers. At the same moment I sat reading Future Science on the edge of the pontoon, another, similar me could have been reading Pride and Prejudice. Or she could be diving for abalone in her universe, spared from my fear of the ocean in this universe. Or it’s possible I’m repeating a life I’ve lived a billion times before. Free will, time, space, infinity, pontoons—all things I could spend the rest of my days trying to figure out. At least some comfort exists in the possibility we’ll have more space-time than this one life to do it.

Best Pesto Ever

This recipe came together somewhat by accident. I bought a basil plant that I felt could die at any moment, and I wanted to whip up something basil-y that required a good handful of leaves. What could be better than pesto? I didn’t have pine nuts or parmesan on hand, but I did have raw cashews and nutritional yeast. This is how a delicious vegan pesto is born.

I realize now that most of the recipes I’ve posted have been vegan. While I’m not a strict vegan, I do make mostly vegan dishes in an attempt to live forever. I’m also hoping it’ll offset some of the radioactive sushi I can’t live without. I figure if you’re going to pick your poison, then at least pick one with Omega-3 fatty acids–but you do you. That’s probably the most you’ll ever hear me say about diets/lifestyles/eating plans.

pesto avocado toast

On Pinterest, you’ll find approximately 1 billion similar recipes for vegan pesto. While you can swap out some ingredients for others—a different nut or broth in place of oil—one thing you most definitely need is lemon juice. It really seals the deal on that classic pesto taste.

You’ll Need:

½ cup raw cashews

½ cup fresh basil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

juice from ½ lemon

¼ cup olive oil

½ cup water

pinch of salt

a few grinds of lemon pepper

vegan cashew basil pesto

To Make:

Dump it all in a blender and grind. Taste and adjust the ingredients to your liking. Most recipes suggest you let the raw cashews soak in water for a few hours or overnight, but ain’t nobody got time for that. The pesto will taste amazing when you first blend it, and it’ll just get better after sitting a few hours in the fridge. It will also thicken up a bit.

avocado pesto toast

Drizzle it on the most incredible avocado toast you’ll ever have, drench penne with it, dress a salad with it, or eat it with a spoon. You really can’t go wrong with this pesto.