Let's the get the basics out of the way: these are both Indian films dealing with the very familiar theme of how two people are surprised by love. It's a popular theme in literature dating back to antiquity, probably because Cupid does have a way of sneaking up on you -- I know he sandbagged me back in 1968. Tonight I decided to start working my way through the current Netflix catalog of Indian films, relying on Kathy Gibson's list augmented by Margaret Redlich's minireviews. (Both highly recommended!!)
I decided on "Love Breakups Zindagi", based on Margaret's review and the promised cameo by Shah Rukh Khan, my very favorite actor, and I was not disappointed. Sweet story, great music, and even a small but important role by my age-mate Farida Jalal, playing an elderly grandmother when she was barely in her sixties. (Ageism is global...)
Having just watched "Jab Harry Met Sejal" (also on Netflix!!) for about the fifteenth time last week, I was struck by the similarities between the two films, and one huge difference that really confirmed for me why LBZ was a very good example of the genre, but JHMS is brilliant. And by "brilliant", I mean a movie I will watch another fifteen times because it speaks to my very core. YMMV. Like nearly all Indian romantic films, LBZ is not only about two people who eventually fall in love, but also about their friends and family. This is one of the things I love about Indian movies -- the rich, complicated relationships among all the characters. Imtiaz Ali, who directed JHMS, followed this pattern in his hit "Jab We Met", but then created a film that stripped the story down to the two main characters, spectacularly played by Anushka Sharma and Shah Rukh Khan. The family members appear only on the phone or on Facetime; only one friend has more than a few lines. This may have not have worked for some viewers, but it worked perfectly for me. It reminded me of the first few weeks of being in love, when no one else exists. It also eliminated the clutter (sorry!!) of each person's backstory; we were left to imagine who they were before they met, and concentrate on the transformation.
And yes, I am well aware that not everyone felt the same about these two movies, or is looking for similar treatments of romantic themes. I would happily watch "Love Breakups Zindagi" again; just probably not fifteen times.
I am in Williamsburg, Virginia, attending what will probably be my last Costume Society of America national symposium, at least for a while. (It’s a wonderful group of colleagues, and always an interesting conference, but also very expensive.) My husband is attending with me for the first time ever. We were delighted to discover a familiar name on the program: Susan Hilferty, who is being honored for her costume designs for Salome at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. We knew her as Sue Hilferty, a fellow “stitchkin” in the Syracuse drama department costume shop back in 1970-1971. We were both work-study employees; I was completing my degree in apparel design in the college of Home Economics; she was beginning the fashion design program in the Art School. Neither of us had any idea where our paths would lead us once we left that windowless basement workshop.
Susan followed her heart into theater design — not just costume, but entire productions — winning awards for her creative vision, including a Tony for “Wicked”. I started off doing some theater work, but found my calling in cultural history. We still speak the same language, with our own distinctive accents and dialects.
I often meet young people who adore historic costume or fashion design, but they aren’t sure how to apply that passion. Here’s the thing. The only way to figure it out is the same way you find the perfect pair of jeans. Try them on. Keep trying until you find the one that fits.
Can you imagine how the world would be different today if the people who have been climbed over, stepped on, and silenced had been able to tell their own stories, play their own music, create their own art? Can you imagine how the world could be different without fame and success being the reward for oppression, cultural theft, and abuse? I wonder about this all the time, more and more thanks to #BlackLivesMatter #MeToo and #TimesUp.
Was "Annie Hall" brilliant because of Woody Allen's appalling sexual behavior, or in spite of if? Does the beauty of the blues justify 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow?
It's one thing to know that terrible circumstances can result in amazing works of expression. It's another to believe they are necessary, and accept crimes against humanity as the price to be paid for those works. And it is still another to admire or even protect people who use other people as objects or chattel because we like their music/art/athletic ability/writing/politics/comedy.
That's where I am this morning.
In the last six months, three of my closest friends have moved away. Carol and Sara moved in July; one went north (State College, PA) and one went south, to Raleigh, NC, each about five hours away. The final blow was Katie's slo-mo move to northern California, which commenced last Friday. She's visiting family and friends along the way (she's retired, too) and as soon as I heard her plans, I said "ROAD TRIP"!! The general idea was that I 'd ride along until I needed to head home, and Katie would plan an itinerary that would intersect with an Amtrak route.
Everything depended on weather, of course -- winter road trips are like that -- so it turned out that I could only manage the first leg, from Maryland to Raleigh, North Carolina. TO SEE SARA!!! Katie and I had a great day: light traffic, gorgeous weather, and lunch at a brewpub in Richmond where we practiced our posing skills.
Arriving at Sara's ****awesome**** coworking space in late afternoon, we enjoyed a tour of the "neighborhood" (a huge warehouse), which included a brewpub and a neon glass studio.
The glass studio is inhabited by some of the most interesting human beings I have met in a long time, but I am giving a special shoutout to DJ, a recent MFA in jewelry design, who is apprenticing with Nate Sheaffer, the owner of Glas, learning glass blowing and incorporating their new skills into all sorts of art. Take a look at the jewelry! And the glass! Stop by when you are in Raleigh, visit the Loading Dock (pat the dogs, take the tour), enjoy the beer, and BE SURE to look at all the amazing neon/glass work.
Katie left the next morning after breakfast (snif), leaving Sara and me to gad about Raleigh and environs sampling beer, eating great food, and going to dog adoption events. Her parents were looking for a pooch to fill out their cat-heavy menagerie. Success was achieved with the arrival of Winston, a lively Pekinese mix. Meeting families of friends/students/colleagues is always interesting; it adds another dimension to the person you think you already know. In Sara's case, it was easy to see where she got her love of animals, sense of humor, and sweet hospitable nature.
I also got some good work done with my brain, but it is still cooking and not ready to serve yet.
I had an interesting conversation with a visiting journalist from India not long ago, in which she asked about how I had organized my research career. The short answer is that it was not exactly organized; in retrospect, it seems more orderly than it was. Here is how I see it now:
What was particularly helpful for me personally was realizing about forty years ago, as I was starting my PhD, that my goal was not to understand fashion, but to use fashion as a lens to understand gender. That freed me to use other lenses as well, while building my specialized expertise in fashion. So while my research and writing focused on clothing, I read far beyond clothing, and read less of the fashion literature that did not incorporate gender. What I have learned about toys, food, film, and other cultural products that also reveal gender has helped me understand fashion/gender better. Within the last twenty years or so, I have expanded this frame of reference to reflect my realization that gender is itself a lens through which I study culture. I wonder how my work would have been different if I started out forty years ago focusing on culture, then narrowing to gender and then to fashion. But evidently that is not how my brain works.
Made you look! And here’s the thing: quizzes are pretty irresistible. Websites looking for clicks know this, so if you are on Facebook, chances are you have seen a quiz or two (or ten) every day, and probably taken a few, too.
This week, I saw a new kind of quiz that strikes me as the wave of the future. The title was “Are you a food asshole?”, and it consisted of a list of foods you could check off if you had ever eaten them. Most were currently trendy (kale, salad in a jar, quinoa). If you got a low score, you were not a “food asshole”; a high score and you were. I was intrigued by this new variation on the popular format.
I took the quiz and shared the results with my friends (not a food asshole! Yay, me!) Within a day, nearly 100 people had also taken he quiz and/or commented about it. Tempers flared; some of the things on the list are trendy among white people, but staples among Latino or Filipino populations.
Here’s what I think. Quizzes are great click bait, but offensive quizzes are a gold mine. We’re going to see more of them. In my opinion, this is not a good thing. They are mean and divisive; the very last thing we need right now.
It is through the similarities and contrasts between the US and India that I am learning the most. We are both democracies, both former colonies, both religiously and culturally diverse. We have been a nation longer, but India is the cradle of much of what we think of as "western" civilization. Pajamas? Dungarees? Shampoo? Bungalow? Just a few of the common words of Indian origin that made their way into everyday English. in fact, we share much more a few recently adopted terms; Engllsh is part of the Indo-European linguistic family, and owes as much to Sanskrit as to Greek and Latin.
The most interesting films for me are the ones that open my eyes to my own culture and my own assumptions and beliefs -- most recently the romantic film Jab Harry Met Sejal, which is appealing to this American not only because the music is glorious and the acting superb, but also because while love may be universal, the lovers' expectations and boundaries are bound up in their identities as Indians. The more I understand Harry and Sejal, the deeper my understanding of their world and my own.
Thanks, India, for over 100 years of films to explore!
Although my last official day at work was June 30, my emotional last day was over a month earlier, when I attended my last graduation ceremony as a participant. Since then, I have been on a sort of pilgrimage, traveling to various places and gathering bits of my past, present and future to craft into my next life chapter. The word "retirement" holds no meaning at all; For the foreseeable future, I plan to read, think, and write even more than I used to. It's likely I will also be talking, listening, and discussing more than I was able to -- at least, I hope that's the case. Some of it will happen on social media, some of it over coffee, beer, or a meal, some of here. This is a catch-up post that also serves as a preview of some future entries. An appetizer, I hope.
Since late May, I have traveled to Portland, Maine, New York City, Baltimore (close, but it counts), Star Island (twice), and San Francisco by way of a shirt stop in Chicago. I have read more books in eight weeks than I had time to read in my last entire school year. I have sewn -- a little, not enough. I have watched dozens of movies (most of them Indian). I've played with my 4-year-old grandson and learned of the death of my youngest aunt, who was barely in high school when I was born. I have said goodbye to close friends moving away and hello to new people in my life. I have done much, much more than that, and promise to fill in some of the blanks later. Mostly, I have been filling myself up, refueling for the next leg of the journey.
Friends have warned me about the dangers of overcommitment in retirement. Frankly, I'm not worried; my secret superpower has been the ability to say "no" for some time now. (If anything, it's my reluctance to say "yes" that can get me in trouble.) For now, my plan is to mostly think and make things while I think -- my favorite form of meditation. I will share sometimes, but not everything. Every draft does not need a reader, and not every sketch wants a critic (even a friendly one).
This blog will continue to live up to its name -- everything else -- I have posts cooking away in my brain on my cross country train trip, the latest Shah Rukh Khan film, reading and "real books", beer culture, and other random topics. Watch this space. My more focused work on gender and clothing will be posted on Gender Mystique. (Yes, I am still working on that third book!) Local friends, feel free to pull me away for a chat; but no meetings, please!
My Gender Mystique blog focuses on my work on clothing, sex, and gender. That's not all I do, so this blog is about everything else.