Restless

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

This weekend I had planned to hunker down and to read my new book before sending it off to the graphic artist. The book has been read for narrative structure and content by a journalist, read again by me applying the suggested corrections, and then turned over to a copy editor, whose ideas I incorporated into my book, and then I read it again. Today I had earmarked for another read-through.

Yet I find myself unable to focus. I have read comments regarding my blog post, Backlash, and I am trying to respond to those who commented on the various social media outlets. I thank you all, for as a writer laboring alone over her work, I often wonder if anyone cares. Over the past few days, the answer echoed a resounding “Yes”! I am grateful.

Last night on Saturday Night Live, affectionately called SNL, I listened to Kate McKinnon sing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, and I watched Dave Chappelle’s monologue. The song that has reverberated in my head throughout the past week is David Bowie’s “Heroes”, a triumphant call to overcoming adversity. Bowie composed the song as he looked out from his recording studio at the Berlin Wall.

I Love Lucy, Leave It To Beaver, The Donna Reed Show, Father Knows Best, and Make Room For Daddy/The Danny Thomas Show (It changed names in 1961), to name a few, all constructed worlds where problems could be solved through family in a heart-warming manner. That’s what the Post-World War II and Korean War world wanted. After all, Americans had weathered the Stock Market Crash of 1929, The Great Depression of the 1930’s, followed by World War II in the 1940’s. People were exhausted, and their choice of television programs reflected the longed for tranquility. Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnez) in I Love Lucy. Desi Arnez was born and raised in Cuba. The character of Danny Thomas’ Uncle Tonoose (Hans Conried) in Make Room For Daddy/The Danny Thomas Show, was supposed to be Lebanese. In reality, Danny Thomas himself was Lebanese, not Hans Conried. I related to the language and cultural situations that arose throughout these programs due to the immigrants on both sides of my family.

During the Vietnam War, the Feminist Movement, and Civil Rights era, the 1970’s grew edgier, along with its television shows: MASH, Maude, All In The Family, and Sanford and Son, comedies tinged with pathos. Characters were vocal about their differences, and the humor could be biting in nature, but those reflected the zeitgeist of the times.

While I know full-well no candidate is perfect, and that, yes, there were missteps in Hillary Clinton’s campaign, I honestly thought voters would not cast their votes for a really big lying, pussy-grabbing lout, tax-avoiding sloth, xenophobic wretch, inarticulate bottom-feeder who even cheated students out of his failed university (for which he is soon to be prosecuted, unless he settles with the students for big bucks). Now his voters are demanding he save their jobs, note Carrier employees in Indianapolis, IN, and bring back companies that now are overseas. I wouldn’t count on his own tie company and his daughter’s clothing/shoe business returning Stateside anytime soon. How naïve can people be? Pretty damn naïve, I surmised.

Yes, I have been restless this week. I listened to California Senator-Elect Kamala Harris, who is both an African-American and an Indian-American. With her six years of experience as California’s Attorney General, she will be a force in the U.S. Senate. For now, I have sought comfort in her speech.

Ciao for now.

 

Backlash

 

 

Long may she wave over us.-www.tangledpasta.net
Long may she wave over us.-www.tangledpasta.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

            It has been a rough week. After a contentious 18-month presidential campaign, we now have protests, both peaceful and not, that have swept across the country. The Electoral College choice and his followers have unleashed the beasts of hatred, racism, and misogyny against minorities and against women. Several of them have told me, “It will be all right” and “Life goes on”. Really? It is amazing how vacuous these people can be.

After fitful nights of sleep this past week, it finally occurred to me when I last experienced this nationwide tumult, this level of dissatisfaction, and this anger: the Vietnam War.

It was during the Vietnam War years that the nation raged and protested its intense displeasure. The press and the media churned out grisly images of our youthful military twisted into misshapen forms, as well as the expressions of numbing shock on the faces of children. Those images have stayed with me, serving as terrifying reminders of war. During my undergraduate years at Indiana University Bloomington, other images were burned into my mind: protests, not all of them peaceful. The vestiges of The Age of Aquarius gave way to increased use of drugs as students sought to dull the pain of a war many did not support, yet in which a large number of them were forced to fight due to the draft.

Complacency also factored into those Vietnam War years. The attempts of the “We’ll be all right” and “The war can’t last forever” mantras, followed by the nationalistic “We’re fighting for democracy” chants morphed into meaningless twaddle as the war dragged on. Fighting for democracy in a country that didn’t appear to support democracy in the first place, having been a French colony for years in a part of the world most Americans couldn’t locate on a map, failed in the end to equate with victory. What democracy is there under a dictatorship? The answer is: none.

After the Vietnam Veterans returned to an America that had tuned them out, failed even to throw them a ticker-tape parade for heroism, nay for their very survival, Americans longed for peace and for stability. Now, as military veterans return from deployment in Iraq and in Afghanistan, minus limbs, and with copious amounts of PTSD, there are still no parades to acknowledge their service. That is not to say parades ease their pain, but at least we would be thanking them with brass bands for laying their lives on the line, like we could do, but don’t, for our uniformed blue.

Now, a white supremacist group in North Carolina has organized a parade for the “president-elect”. This past week, Black students at the University of Pennsylvania received messages with gruesome images from a group the Feds and the university have yet to identify. In addition, school personnel tell me that bullying has increased in the past year. Small wonder: the “president-elect” is a bully. Thus, a pattern has begun to emerge, and it’s not pretty.

My father and my maternal great-grandfather were immigrants. The only natives in the U.S. are the Native Americans, the rest of us are descended from immigrants, voluntary or forced, all of us are, except for the aforementioned Native Americans, which our government marginalized, but that is a topic unto itself. My family likely would not have been admitted to the U.S. in the current climate since the very fascism my father sought to escape in Italy seems to have reared its head here, in America, in the land of democracy, here in the purported land of the free. Woody Guthrie sang, “This land is your land/This land is my land”. Guthrie’s song lauded the expansiveness of America, of her “anything is possible” sensibility, of her humanity. Those traits, which are remarkably absent now, but one hopes will rise again.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights - tangledpasta.net
Friday Night Lights – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

One of the few television programs I watched was Friday Night Lights.  Now I am able to relive the excitement of the show through Netflix.  In as much as I relish Friday Night Lights, it tugs at my heartstrings.  This has much to do with hearkening back to those Friday night football games of my small Catholic high school and the rush of adrenaline in cheering on a winning football team.

And win we did.  As the Vietnam War raged on, filling the newspapers and nightly news programs with gory scenes of war in a far off country, high school football permitted our minds to drift elsewhere, at least on Friday nights.  While race riots and urban terrorist networks burned our major cities, wreaking death and havoc nationwide, we screamed and yelled for our high school football team.  It made the chaos beyond our turf’s realm disappear, at least on Friday nights.

Years later, we reside near the local public high school that my daughter attended.  Daylight grows shorter, and dusk casts its shadows earlier than I like, yet the roar of the crowd in the high school stadium, the queues of cars up and down our residential streets, the jubilant shouts of spectators, the blasting echo of the sports announcers combine to remind me of the joy of watching a football team’s win on the field.  My high school alma mater’s team went downstate for championship games throughout my four years at the school.  To this day, photographs of those championship seasons line the walls of the school.

I played in the band for those football games of yore.  We had to have been the smallest of the area’s high school bands, but we had a young, dynamic bandleader, and our hearts were strong because we got to play our school’s fight song repeatedly throughout those four years.  Kyle Chandler, who plays Coach Eric Taylor in Friday Night Lights, has that same square-jawed look of determination that my high school’s Head Coach had.  The Assistant Coaches on Friday Night Lights remind me of the handsome ones at my alma mater during those four championship seasons.  The electric charge that runs through the Texas-based football show’s student body, boosters, team, and coaching staff, never fails to rekindle the passion of my adolescent self in the bleachers of those Friday Night Lights of yore.

Ciao for now.

My Alma Mater, Part III

The Bell Tower on the IU Bloomington campus, steps away from my old graduate school apartment - tangledpasta.net
The Bell Tower on the IU Bloomington campus, steps away from my old graduate school apartment – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@Mary Anna Violi

Next month heralds once more my return to my alma mater, Indiana University Bloomington, for an event that merits pride and happiness:  My daughter’s graduation. She  will be awarded her B.A. degrees in Journalism and Classical Studies, and her minor in Art History.  She will walk Commencement that morning, as will my darling nephew Daniel that afternoon on the same campus.  Our family joins them for receptions for at their respective schools the night before. The next day they will don their cap and gown, crimson stole, and fasten the tassels of their schools to their mortar boards.

No doubt I shall shed tears of joy at their academic achievements.

When I graduated in 1976 from the aforementioned university, I didn’t walk Commencement.  Having officially graduated in August, I would have had to wait until either December or the following May for Commencement.  The wait, coupled with  graduating with 4,0000 other soon-to-be-former students, held little charm for me.  My parents were not college graduates, yet three of my mother’s brothers obtained their M.D. degrees from the IU School of Medicine, another brother had a degree in Business from IU, and still another was a Purdue Engineering graduate.  It wasn’t that Mama refused to go to college; it was simply that her family with nine children was cash poor.

In short, my parents didn’t push me to attend my Commencement.  My brother, however, had other ideas.  Five years younger than I, when the time came for his IU graduation, we witnessed his Commencement and celebrated with him.  In those years, it was I who colored outside the lines, and my brother who very much colored within those lines.  I was the risk-taker; he followed a more conservative path.  Perhaps it reflected my writing, literary, and musical pursuits that contrasted with his economics and business ones.  Whatever it was in the ‘70’s, the fact remains that I elected not to walk Commencement, he did.

Having grown up in the 1960’s and having come of age in the 1970’s, our culture was different:  The racial riots burned metropolises nationwide, urban terrorism terrorized city-dwellers, the women’s movement left gender roles confused, the Sexual Revolution condoned random sex, and the Vietnam War broke everyone’s heart.  My daughter has come of age in a 21st century cultural landscape of economic chaos, crippling college debt, a declining job market for college graduates, and gratuitous violence.  She stands as my hope for a better future.  You bet I will be there to cheer her on as she graduates in May.  I applaud her pending law school endeavors, passion, fervor, intellect, and compassion.  Not only is she is the light of my life, her luminous vision wants to make this a better world.  I remember the feel of that inner fire, that smoldering passion of those undergraduate and graduate years at my alma mater.  I know that my daughter will shine her light too, with her IU degrees in hand.

Ciao for now.

My Alma Mater

 

 

The Old Well House, IU Bloomington - tangledpasta.net
The Old Well House, IU Bloomington – tangledpasta.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

This weekend I’m back at my old stomping ground, IU Bloomington, where I spent my undergrad and grad school years.  This is Mom’s Weekend at my daughter’s sorority house.  Blowing in to town around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, I met my daughter at her house, handed her the cooler filled with Italian Easter bread, Italian lamb cake, Belgian bunny cookies, and homemade tortellini.  After checking into our hotel, we sped off for a late dinner at The Uptown Cafe.

This particular Mom’s Weekend is a milestone of sorts:  After her May graduation,  no more Mom’s Weekends, no more Little 500 weekends.  Nostalgia washes over me.  While she’s working at the School of Journalism, I’m imbibing a Venti Zen tea at  Starbucks in the IU Memorial Union, a sprawling Indiana limestone structure with gothic windows reminiscent of medieval England.   The cacophony of students and faculty seated at the morass of tables in this large Starbucks is upbeat.  It’s Friday; today’s sunshine promises a sun-drenched weekend.  Classes end later this month, so soon, so sadly, but not for the students, I’m certain.  The rapid passage of these four years takes my breath away.

She chose IU Bloomington over Loyola-Chicago.  Not that I don IU spirit wear on game weekends, although Hoosier Fever was endemic during the legendary Bobby Knight years.  With Bobby at the epicenter of IU basketball, we students circled in his orb.  We spilled out on to Kirkwood Avenue, celebrating wildly after the NCAA Championship wins.  Good times.  Anjelica has had classes in Ballantine, where I savored almost every English class during my undergrad years.  She has walked much the same routes that I did on her daily campus treks.  She is fortunate that the School of Journalism stands on the original, the prettiest part of the campus.  IU is a limestone wonder, but the older buildings remind one of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.  During her first two years, Anjelica was ensconced in Collins Living and Learning Center, located a block from the “J-School”.  Collins played up its kinship to the Harry Potter books and movies.  After she pledged the sorority, she initially missed Collins’ Disco Calzone Nights.

I remember the raging intellectual curiosity of the 1970’s on the campus:  The anti-Vietnam War protests; the combative Feminist Movement; civil disobedience; the fall-out from 1964’s Civil Rights Act; and Watergate.  While protests still occur on the campus, they lack the mammoth national proportions of protests of yore.  Yet as I gaze around me, a surge of hope washes over me.  This generation may lack the passion we had of the ‘70’s, but students are poised to explore the depths of commitments, no less intellectually challenged in this 21st century. I remain hopeful for the future through the leadership of students like my daughter.

My alma mater, flawed though she may be, nonetheless stands tall.  Big Red Rules!

Ciao for now.

Veteran’s Day, With a Dash of Panache

When my father was drafted into the U.S Army in during World War II, he posted a sign in his shoe shop window announcing that the business would be closed until he returned from the war.  Papa had been in the United States for ten years, having arrived on Ellis Island in 1933 from Southern Italy.

Ellis Island
Ellis Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Why did you come here during the Depression?” I used to ask him.

“It was-a still-a okay to work in-a the United-a-States-a.  Italy no gotta nothin’ in-a 19-a-33.  It was-a hell-a,” he told me.

Papa was first sent to Texas for basic training.

“It was-a hell-a in-a that heat,” he observed.

Farm land in Texas panhandle near Amarillo, Te...
Farm land in Texas panhandle near Amarillo, Texas. Santa Fe R.R. trip (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

He was then transferred to Louisiana.

“Oh, my achin’-a back,” he lamented.  “It was a swamp-a and-a humidity to kill-a horse-a,” he remarked.

Louisiana Swamp
Louisiana Swamp (Photo credit: MSMcCarthy Photography)

“Why did you have to go in the Army?  You served in the Italian Army,” I argued.

“Listen-a to me-a, Honey.  It’s a honor to serve-a you country.  America is-a my-a country.  My-a country-a need-a me.  I go-a to-a the Army, ” Papa solemnly said.

Patriotism was a duty as he saw it.

During the Vietnam War, I attended a Big 10 college where anti-war demonstrations were common.  When I locked horns with Papa over the Vietnam draft dodgers, he was unmoved.

“I no-a say this-a war is-a right.  Soldiers-a die, and that’s-a bad.  But we-a in it and that’s-a that.”

I loved my father dearly, even when we differed in our attitudes about U.S. foreign policy.  He had an unshakable faith in the country that allowed him to realize his dreams of work, family, and college-educated children.  He proudly voted, he loyally served his city, his adopted country, his church, and his family.

U.S. Flag
U.S. Flag (Photo credit: vmf-214)

Papa was a true patriot.  He was a hero who never let me or anyone else down.  On this Veteran’s Day, Papa, I can still hear your voice ringing in my ears:

“God-a Bless America!

And all of Her Veterans.

Ciao for now.

A Professor Most Honorable

Jane Austen
Jane Austen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was but a sprig of an undergraduate student at Indiana University Bloomington, I had the incredible good fortune to take a literature course with a professor named Susan Gubar.  As one from a small town in northern Indiana, and one who had attended Catholic parochial elementary and high school to boot, I was still somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of IU Bloomington.  These were the Vietnam War years, and the campus was bursting at the seams with students, protests, the women’s movement, and the sexual revolution.  I dyed my long hair black, ceased wearing a bra, wore big wire-rimmed glasses [very John Lennon], donned tie-dyed clothing, and shlepped around the campus in bell-bottom jeans.  My Italian father thought I had gone to hell; my mother prayed that I would return to more flattering attire and my natural hair color.

Susan Gubar and her co-author Susan Gilbert had just finished what was to be a landmark book:  Madwomen in the Attic.  The minute I stepped into Professor Gubar’s classroom, my world tilted.  She encouraged us to voice our ideas about the literature – George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, Charlotte Bronte’s Villette,

Portrait of Charlotte Brontë
Portrait of Charlotte Brontë (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Jane Austin’s Emma and Persuasion to name a few.  Coming from straight lecture courses on literature where I found myself falling asleep while another professor waxed poetic on Keat’s Ode on a Grecian Urn for a week, I had little hope of Susan’s course being any different.  How wrong I was.

Often as the years pass, the memories of which professor one had for what course dim.  Not so my memories Susan Gubar and of intellectual engagement in the three literature courses I took with her.  Her insatiable pursuit of the exploration of literature, particularly Victorian literature at that time, made an indelible impression upon me.  If ever I were to teach, I told myself, I want to create a dynamic environment that fosters literary discussion.  Susan Gubar remains for me, even after my thirty-two years of teaching in higher education, the yardstick against which I measure myself.  Prizes and accolades Susan has received in spades.  However, I think one of her greatest achievements is inspiring those of us fortunate enough to have studied literature with her.

Now, in Susan Gubar’s Well Blog in The New York Times, she teaches us about coping with cancer, in Susan’s case, ovarian cancer.  Through her powerful voice, I find myself inspired all over again.

Ciao for now.