Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rita Lakin, mystery writer

I discovered Lakin's books at a book fair, and was intrigued by their fictional detective and location. Gladdy Gold is a 79-year-old retiree in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she lives in the Lanai Gardens senior apartments. She is so full of Yiddish sass that Lakin includes a glossary for those unfamiliar with the bits of that language that remain in some spoken vocabularies. Her crew of sleuths include her sister Evvie Markowitz and Ida Franz. These are not soft-spoken elderly ladies, which can be a problem when they encounter nearby residents like Hy Binder, "man of a thousand jokes, all of them tasteless" or his thought-deprived wife. The population also includes care takers, Holocaust survivors, leches, and Cubans in various roles. The humor is often Borscht belt as the ladies deal with finding killers. At the same time there is the underlying reality, the bittersweet reminders of daily troubles the elderly either triumph over or submit to in less satisfactory ways.

What is this series doing in this blog? Lakin is a longtime Californian who still resides here. She had a successful television career, both as a writer and eventually as a producer. She wrote many movies of the week, and has won a variety of awards, including the prestigious Edgar Allen Poe Award for mystery writers.

So you have a mother retired in Florida? Here's what to send as a mitzvah to give her a dose of the best medicine, lots of laughs. Ok, she may kvetch back, but just roll your eyes and keep quiet. Of course, read the book first for your own pleasure.

Rita Lakin also has a blog, and a new book about to come out, Growing Old is Tres Dangereux.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Barbara Rosenblum

A much-beloved woman in my music world is dying. We sang under her direction recently and she had difficulty completing the concert due to pain. Watching her these past weeks has brought in mind Barbara Rosenblum. She was the kind of friend I expected to grow old with. I imagined us, gray-haired, bad knees, laughing about the night she gave me some really bad-trip weed. Or how she would put on a Fats Waller record and we would dance around her Bush Street living room, the propeller on her beanie a-spin.

We met as novice sociologists at a woman's group. She had managed an unfortunately short-lived job at Stanford and lived in SF. Coming from the east, as I did, we were sympatico from the start. I was a single mom, and she lived with a sweet Japanese photographer, David, who taught me to surf fish. We both shared a fascination with photographs in sociology, and Barbara's first book was on professional photographers. Her home was a welcoming respite during some hard times for me, both for her intense intellectualism and her wild sense of fun.

We were less in touch when our personal lives shifted. She shifted into a gay life style, and I was unhappy with one of her choices for a partner. We had some fights, good ones, that we eventually got over. Then I remarried and she found Sandy, the kind of opposite that works so well in building a solid relationship. In her forties, Barbara was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer. She remarked that she guessed she would have to teach the rest of us about dying, which she did with abandon. She travelled, she continued her intellectual and teaching life. The last time I saw her, I took a portable microscope and tiny flowers for her to study. She was honest to the end, and kept all of her friends informed of her condition. I still miss her, over 25 years later, and regret we can't wonder over the latest political morass.

She and Sandy co-wrote one of the best books ever on intimates dealing with a fatal disease, Cancer in Two Voices. It won some awards, but I don't think it remains in print. Find a copy if you can.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Elinor Remick Warren, 1900-1991

Similar to the fine arts, music has been a field where women have not received the lasting notice deserved. On an impulse, I searched for a California woman composer and came up with this name. During infancy Warren's musical inclinations were evident, and she was composing by age five. Her musical parents nurtured her education in piano, voice, and composition. While still a high school student, Warren published her first work, "A Song of June," with noted publisher G. Schirmer. There followed one year at Mills College to study singing, but her teachers recognized her gifts in composition and convinced her parents to send her to New York. There she continued private studies in composing and accompaniment.

During the early 1920s she toured as an accompanist for the Metropolitan Opera, performed as a soloist with symphony orchestras, and published in her favorite format, the choral work. Moving to Los Angeles, she studied orchestration and wrote her first symphonic work, "The Harp Weaver," set to the poem of Edna Vincent Millay. Critics described the work as "melodious, picturesque, and imbued with appropriate feeling...effective tone-painting" and praised the composer's "genuine creative talent." The premiere of was conducted by Antonia Brico at Carnegie Hall in 1936. Warren found herself set among other neo-romanticists, such as Samuel Barber and Giancarlo Menotti.

Intensely private and comitted to her craft, she continued with numerous songs, choral pieces, and symphonic works, often referring to English poets for inspiration. This accompanied a full family life with a supportive husband, a professional singer, who kept the children away when she was working. Despite the rise of atonal music, she refused to shift her preferred style, and had the satisfaction of seeing her works performed throughout the country. Further evidence of her achievement was the commissioning of works, such as her "Symphony in One Movement."

To understand obstacles what she faced, consider this exchange, and note the recent date:

"I don't think compositions, whether they're large or small, have a gender, as far as the music goes, and I think it makes no difference to state `this is a woman composer,' `this is a man composer,'" Warren commented in a 1987 interview.

"I've had many people say to me `You play like a man,' or `Your music sounds as if it were written by a man.' I think they associate any kind of music that is rather strong or powerful with manliness."

When the interviewer observed, "Because the work is so big and we just don't expect that of a woman," Warren shot back, "I don't know why. Women have thoughts too!"

More than 200 of Warren's works remain available in publication form, and several major works in CD by leading artists. One of these was created when she was 86, when Cambria Records asked her to accompany singers on an album of her works. An organization

On a personal note, I wonder about my own stifled musical career. What if the orchestras I visited in my youth included women? What if my education had included the long line of noted women composers? And why did it require a web search to learn about Warren when I have been in choral groups all my life? After all, the repertoire of my current group includes Samuel Barber. I think I have some education to do with some local conductors....and send them to the Elinor Remick Warren Society.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Do Your Own History

The following comment is a reminder of how important it is for you to preserve information about women's groups in which you are active, whether political, civil rights, artistic, craft, domestic skills, and so forth. Don't toss. Donate to your local library if you can't write a history. What you do is worth saving.

I was particularly pleased to receive this information because I know the online collection mentioned in the previous blog does not cover fully the significance of lesbian women in Sonoma County's movement for rights.

Dear Eclectic Reader:
I read your notes with great interest.

I spent last Saturday at an event that was, indeed, as much a celebration of National Women's History Project as well as of the life of the late Mary Ruthsdotter. I had the pleasure of working with Mary on Jolly's project, one of the outgrowths of this is LASC - Lesbian Archives of Sonoma County. We are a small but active group who are recording, via video=taped interviews of groups which lesbians initiated or coordinated. We are working on a twenty five year period from 1965 to 1995 and have inventoried more than sixty organizations, founded or worked on in the lesbian community ranging from restaurants and music venues, to political action groups to a collective counseling center (still in operation). To date we have interviewed the following groups: Penngrove Women's Center ; LVAC (Lesbian Voters Action Caucus; Brown Bag Readers Theatre; Moonrise Cafe;
Chrysallis Counseling Center and Minerva Productions. In addition to social events, LSAC sponsored an afernoon's conversation with Sally Gearhart and Phyllis Lyon.

For further information or to be placed on LSAC's email events list, write to LASC(at)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sonoma County Women's History

Several years ago the late Mary Ruthsdotter, one of the founders of the National Women's History Project, conceived of a history of the feminist movement in Sonoma County, where it was very active from the first stirrings. Having been part of that history, I was interviewed by Professor Michelle Jolly of Sonoma State University. Ruthsdotter spurred Jolly to do oral histories as part of a class she was teaching. With the help of the California Humanities, Jolly was also able to post some of the findings on a website, Sonoma Womens HIstory

One unexpected source concerns an index of newspaper articles from the Press Democrat between 1969 and 1978. Clicking a box in the graphical display offers the headline and particular source information. The first two articles in 1969 exquisitely reflect the cusp of change. One concerns a Candlelight Ball, while the other announces a luncheon for war mothers, this being the era of Vietnam. Skimming over later titles, one is reminded of the enormous commitment of women then to establish support groups in various fields, to rally against discrimination, to pressure for new laws, and more. Those of us who lived through that time wonder why that history has been relatively forgotten. How often do my cohort members comment upon the set belief of so many young California women that equality is here, when that is not the case? We feel cranky, but when I survey what we attempted, perhaps we deserve to feel such annoyance.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ella Lefland, writer

(The writing muse seems to have struck again, following a long break. So entries will be arriving at shorter intervals.)

I read Leffland's 1970 novel Rumors of Peace several years ago, yet many of its scenes still resonate. The story takes place at the start of World War II in fictional Mendoza that resembles Martinez or Carquinez. Told through the viewpoint of young Susie Hansen, the war's approach takes on the particularity of its location. A tomboy when the bombers attack Pearl Harbor, she has learned to appreciate her burgeoning womanliness by the time of Hiroshima. Guiding her on this journey is the radical and brilliant older sister of her best friend. Susie's mentor helps her to navigate a self-acceptance that acknowledges her new sexuality without compromising and swallowing the standard female role of the time. So it is a path many, including myself, have followed.

This book works on so many levels, as coming-of-age, as the war's effect upon California, as a commentary on the difficulties of friendship, and more. I was dismayed to discover it is no longer in my library, though that absence means someone else is enjoying my copy, perhaps a purchase at a library sale. Highly recommended for all readers, and would serve a special gift to young adult readers and fans of California history.

Leffland's latest book, which I have yet to read, concerns a biography of Hermann Goering. One of these days...