About MichelleMichelle Brown is an author, activist & public speaker who believes in common ground for all people.
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Category Archives: Self imaage
A Review: Isabel Miller’s “Patience and Sarah” Audiobook narrated by Janis Ian and Jean Smart
I am a book nerd, a library card carrying, bibliophile. There is nothing more satisfying to me than curling up with a good book. A real book – hard cover, paper back – not an e-book but a book I can hold in my hands, turn a page and place a book mark.
My experience with audio books has been limited to road trips. The story broken up by conversations and sometimes left incomplete when the trip ended before the final CD. I found audio books entertaining, yes, but wondered if they could truly be engaging like a “real” book.
With no road trip on the horizon I settled down in my comfy chair, put on my head phones and popped in the first cd of Isabel Miller’s “Patience and Sarah” to see if this audio release of the 1971 historical fiction could meet my expectations.
Knowing the tale was narrated by legendary singer, songwriter Janis Ian and Emmy award winning actress/director Jean Smart heightened my expectations. My curiosity was also piqued by the strong lesbian theme of this historical fiction.
The familiarity of Jean Smart’s voice as Patience White immediately drew me into the story, welcoming me like an old friend into her parlor to tell me the story not only of these two incredible women but providing a window into a time when women’s lives were governed by a code defined by class and male privilege.
From the beginning Smart’s voice paints a picture of Patience not just her curiosity and her passion but how her beliefs are strongly influenced by the affluence she is born into. She has education and property which both inspires her possibilities but initially restricts her own belief that she can attain her dreams.
Smart so convincingly portrays Patience’s amusement, flirtation, seduction and manipulation of Sarah Dowling that I was at times infuriated by her games while at the same time titillated by Patience’s expression of love, growing passion and those kisses.
With the slightest inflection of her voice Smart is able to seamlessly portray all the characters in Patience’s world not only as an insider sharing religious beliefs, societal attitudes, and expected behaviors but also as an outsider straining at the bits to escape the boundaries of her lot in life.
As Patience’s world expands with Sarah, she continues to provide insight to that other world where even women of her background are seen but often not heard and those deemed of a lower class, male or female, are at risk and/or in peril simply because of their station in life.
Ian’s Sarah Dowling paints a picture of a different world – A harsher world of hard work, duty and resignation to place. Was Sarah’s love for women nature or nurture? The harshness of her world made her “a boy.” It’s just the way it was there was no son in the family, she was big and strong so she became the son – dressing, working being treated like the male child.
Ian’s raspy reading of Sarah helped you visualize this tall woman/boy walking the fine line between the masculine and the feminine. In the phrasing and use of words as Sarah, her family and the world through Sarah’s eyes, you saw a clearly different world.
Her gender, gender identity and class were like a chain holding Sarah down, denying her the possibility of hope for freedom let alone happiness. The times dictated “it was a man’s world” but even after mastering all manly affectations, Sarah Dowling still found herself the outsider ever fearful of discovery of her womanhood not only by the world but by her own heart as well. The only escape was to escape to a place where she could be free.
As I listened to Ian’s portrayal of Sarah Dowling I thought of her song “Society’s Child.” Sarah was not the person singing the song but the person being sung about. Sarah was called by so many names – an oddity, a runaway servant, an abomination, not welcome inside of respectable homes in 1816 society. She wasn’t Patience’s kind.
Did Ian feel the empathetic resonance between Sarah Dowling and the unnamed “other” in her song and see this as an opportunity to give voice to the person she had written/sang about in her 1965 hit?
Miller’s fiction took place in a world that was not fair to the uneducated, poor, women and those otherwise oppressed who historically searched for that Promised Land where they could begin again and find freedom.
“Patience and Sarah” is historic fiction but so much more. Through Patience and Sarah’s eyes we are able to see a world that once existed and, in some ways, offers insight into some evils we are still wrestling with today.
It is also a story of transformative love. Both women evolve over the course of the novel finding new strength because of their love. As much as they change they gain a greater understanding of and are able to adapt the very things that had, at one time, held them down to help them navigate the road blocks and achieve their goal of living free.
And yes, it is a love story that is tender, sensual and passionate with all the ups and downs of any relationship. It’s a story of women loving women in all its complexity, beauty and sweet kisses.
Kudos to Janis Ian and Jean Smart. They took Ms. Miller’s novel and, with their remarkable voices alone, brought not only the characters but their world to life.
I still love a good book but the audiobook of Isabel Miller’s “Patience and Sarah,” available September 15th, narrated by Janis Ian and Jean Smart gave me a literary eargasm of epic proportion. Don’t wait for a road trip to indulge yourself.
Printed 4/30/2015 in Between The Lines issue 2318
I’m always surprised by the reactions of people when I tell them I have been (more than once) to the Michigan Women’s Music Festival.
Most often the response is either, “You went?” “You camped?” or, after thinking about me/my life while shaking their head, “Of course, you would go!” Then the real questions begin – were there many black women there? You slept in a tent? Did you get naked? But most often, the question asked is why I, a self-proclaimed lover of all things urban who considers “roughing it” staying at a hotel without room service, would go the Michigan Women’s Music Festival. My response generally involves telling the story of my first MWMF!
I went primarily because Shea Howell was going. Everyone has one of those friends who they would follow anywhere, who strongly impacts their life and who they straight-up, unashamedly, unconditionally love. Shea is my person. The Meredith Grey to my Cristina Yang, you might say. We’ve worked on many things together. We marched together. We summered together. So when she said I needed to go to the festival, I was ready.
Shea and the rest of our group went up before I did earlier in the week. I was supposed to drive up with a mutual friend on the weekend who had attended before and knew the location of the spot Shea et al. camped at every year. The festival is on over 600 acres; I needed a guide.
That Friday, when we were supposed to leave, my guide was nowhere to be found. Made a few calls and discovered that she had left without me. Undaunted, I threw my gear into the car and headed toward Hart – a little cranky, but I had plenty of time to get there before dark.
When I arrived, culture shock kicked in. I was a “Festie Virgin.” I had no idea where Shea was camped, and I had all this junk to lug across a huge parking lot into the woods and I didn’t know where I was going!
I walked and as I walked, I got angry. Angry at my guide who had left me and angry at myself, but then the magic of “The Land” began. Women came up to see what was wrong. They took my bags. They set about finding my friends. They comforted me and made me feel welcome. I was part of the sisterhood.
We came from different socio-economic classes. I was African-American while most of them were white. We had each experienced patriarchy, but many of them had also experienced a privilege I never would because of their race. But on “the Land” it didn’t matter – we were all womyn/sisters.
They didn’t just drop me at the campsite and forget about me. They checked in on me, helped me navigate the showers, pathways and workshops. We danced naked under the moonlight.
That weekend and at the other festivals I attended in later years, I learned what it was like to be in a space created by, for and about women. It was empowering.
After I tell people about my first trip, I go on to tell them about the women who build everything! The women who not only make sure the land is handicap accessible but help women with disabilities experience the festival fully – pushing wheelchairs, getting meals, etc.
I tell them about the marvelous feeling of walking clothed or naked amongst your sisters, feeling truly beautiful just as you are with no “body shaming.” I tell them about the acceptance and respect for each other and different lifestyles. And how being in this space opened my eyes and helped me evolve as a person of color, a woman and a lesbian – to think differently, to challenge patriarchy and to, more than ever, stand in my truth.
I had experienced a freedom that every girl/woman should have the opportunity to experience in their life – a freedom that can gird us for the fight that continues for full equality. However, it was because of the lessons learned that I stopped attending.
The lessons you learn on “the Land” go home with you, some short-term while others for a life time. It was during these years that my LGBTQ family increased as I met and became friends with many transgender sisters and brothers. One day while having coffee with a friend, she said, “I just want to be accepted as me. You have no idea what it’s like to be judged by how you look.”
I thought back to that day wandering around in the woods. Someone could have looked and seen this angry black woman wandering about, turned and walked away. Instead, they saw our commonality, our womanhood, our humanity.
When I arrived on “the Land” I was welcomed as a woman with the understanding that my path to womanhood was unique, but we shared a humanity.
We were different, yes. My path had been different from my Trans Sister, but here we sat sisters in struggle. Here was a member of my community facing the challenges in our woods of oppression, trans-phobia and discrimination. Her safety, her protection, her equality was on the same path as mine. We — all of us in the LGBTQ community — are on that path.
The times they are a changing. We know that gender is more than chromosomes. More of our children are declaring that they are transgender at an earlier age. Too many of these children are dying often at their own hand because we are still defining masculine and feminine by what’s between their legs.
We are one community – LGBTQ – still discriminated against, still under attack. It’s time we have dialogue on the core values our community will embrace for ourselves, our children and generations to come that must include respect for our diversity and inclusiveness for all members of our community.
I was deeply saddened to hear this is the last Michigan Women’s Music Festival. It has changed hearts, minds and lives. It provided a transformative space for women to grow as women where we can find and live our truth. Strong, empowered women can not only change the world but also the boys/men who live in the world. The loss of this space and its potential for transformation, growth and change is a loss to our entire community.
By Michelle E. Brown
It is SPRING. Embracing the rituals – cleaning, recycling/discarding things I no longer use. Re-imaging my look. Recognizing that great looks never go out of style, they just need new accesories or to get passed on to someone else!!!
Ode to the Skinny Jeans
By Michelle E. Brown
Skinny jeans, I love you
And judging by the way you hug my curves
Accentuate my legs
Smile back at me in the mirror
You still love me too
But skinny jeans, I’ve change
I’ve grown up
I’ve learned to love me
Really love me
With all my curves
All my perfect imperfections
Even those extra few pounds
I’ve picked up along the way.
Skinny jeans I love the look
But you see, I’ve moved on
I no longer need those smiles
Those sighs, those looks
Seeing myself coming and going
In others wearing their skinny jeans
Skinny jeans, I’m loving me
Me in my bright colors
My one of a kind style
Exotic, wild and free
I’m loving my own crazy style
So skinny jeans