blog news, book reviews, celebrities, LDS, mental health

Then again, maybe I won’t… at least not today.

At the end of yesterday’s post, I shared two videos by Mr. Atheist. On those videos, Jimmy Snow, aka Mr. Atheist, reacted to videos put out by anti-abortion activist, Kristan Hawkins. I watched the videos and cringed pretty hard. I thought maybe I would offer my own thoughts on them today, but I think that maybe I’ll postpone that plan. I had written I would comment on them if people were interested. It seems that no one was… or, at least no one is at this point in time. And frankly, I just don’t feel like writing about Kristan Hawkins today. I don’t think I can stomach listening to her talk about why abortions should be outlawed in all cases. Besides, Jimmy already does a pretty good job of explaining why Kristan’s opinions are wrong.

Nope. Today, I think I’d rather write about the book I’m reading right now. I’m finding it much more compelling than I did my previous book, The Case for Heaven, which really didn’t interest me much at all. I was glad to finish Lee Strobel’s book about what comes after death. I moved on to my favorite type of book– a celebrity memoir. I’m currently reading Jennette McCurdy’s new book, I’m Glad My Mom Died. The title alone is very compelling, isn’t it? You just KNOW there’s gonna be a trainwreck.

Meet Jennette McCurdy… she is fascinating.

I’m not quite ready to review this book yet, as I’m only about halfway through it. What I will say for now is that Jennette McCurdy’s story reminds me a little of Melissa Francis’s book, Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter: A Memoir. Melissa Francis is, of course, much older than Jennette McCurdy is, but the two have a lot in common. They both suffered stage mothers from hell. Both were actresses, not necessarily because they wanted to be, but because their mothers wanted them to be. Both suffered extreme abuse on all levels. I think Melissa’s mom was more sadistic, while Jennette’s mom was more manipulative and emotionally abusive. Also, to my knowledge, Melissa’s mom is still living, while Jennette’s mom succumbed to breast cancer in 2013.

Before I bought her book, I didn’t even know who Jennette McCurdy is. I’m well beyond the years of watching new Nickelodeon shows– not that the show she was famous for is all that new anymore. Jennette was on iCarly, but she also did guest roles on other shows, commercials, and other stuff. McCurdy’s story is also interesting to me because, besides being raised LDS, she also had problems with eating disorders (which her mother enthusiastically encouraged), anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder. The chapters are very short, so even though I’m only halfway through the book, I’ve already gotten to chapter 44 or so. And each chapter is more shocking than the last, as McCurdy shares the sheer nuttiness of her mother, the craziness of being a child actress, her mental health issues, and the religion aspect that complicates everything. The crazy thing is, she NEVER even wanted to be an actress. She just happens to have a talent for acting, and her narcissistic mother exploited it to the hilt.

I have never been LDS myself, but Bill was LDS for awhile. His daughter is still a very active church member, and the LDS church– which was Ex’s idea– has had an impact on my life. I know a lot about the church, its practices, and what its members believe. However, I have never been a member, nor would I ever be one. McCurdy seems to have gotten a lot of comfort from church when she was growing up. I relate to that, because I know Bill’s daughter has also gotten comfort from the church when things were especially crazy as she was growing up. In some ways, I also see a lot of similarities between the way Ex behaves, and the way Jennette’s mother did. She is extremely manipulative, possessive, controlling, and just plain weird. But I’ll get more into that when I review the book, which at the rate I’m going, should be within the next few days. I’m finding the book a real page turner, but in kind of a trainwreck sort of way. I’m simultaneously fascinated by the story and horrified by what this poor young woman had to cope with when she was a child.

I know some people will take issue with the title… It sounds horrible. However, I can totally understand why she used that title. Her mother sounds like she was true nightmare to have to deal with. For just an example– imagine your mother sending you dozens of emails, text messages, and voice messages after she’s seen pictures of you on TMZ, taken by a paparazzo. You are an adult, in Hawaii with your boyfriend, but you feel you have to lie to your mother about where you are. You come up with a ruse to trick her, only to have it foiled by a photographer, hungry for a sale. Your mom sends you all manner of abuse, accusing you of giving her cancer, bringing her shame, and calling you things like “filthy whore” and “all used up”. Then, as she signs off with “love”, she adds a P.S.– “Please send money for a fridge. Ours broke, and the yogurt is going sour.”

Imagine your mother explaining how to engage in eating disordered behaviors when you’re still a child, in the midst of becoming a woman. Imagine being fourteen years old and still sitting in a booster seat in the car. Imagine your mother insisting on showering you when you’re sixteen, sometimes also with your brother; her excuse is that she’s a former beautician and wants to make sure you wash your hair “correctly”, so it will impress a casting director. Imagine your mom using your money to pay the mortgage, and being forced to sleep on a mat in the dining room, because the bed you purchased for yourself is covered in your mother’s miscellaneous crap.

I know that Melissa Francis and Jennette McCurdy aren’t the only ones with stage mothers from hell. Wil Wheaton has also spoken openly about his own abusive, money hungry, fame whoring parents, who forced him to act when he didn’t want to do it. I’ll probably read his book next, since it’s been in the queue for awhile, and it will probably dovetail nicely with I’m Glad My Mom Died. I love a good tell all memoir, especially when it involves questionable parenting. Shirley MacLaine’s daughter, Sachi Parker, wrote a pretty good one some years ago. It seems the kids who grew up in show business had it the worst, especially in the days before child welfare advocacy was less of a thing than it is today. If a parent was also a celebrity, then the chances for massive dysfunction go up exponentially. Christina Crawford started it when she wrote Mommie Dearest, but there have been some real whoppers since her book was published in 1978. Gary Crosby wrote a pretty shocking book, too.

Anyway… I am looking forward to finishing the book and writing a review of it. I think it will be interesting on many levels to several of my regular readers, as well as new ones who haven’t found my blog yet. So stay tuned. I’ll sign off now and get back to reading.

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communication, family, mental health, psychology

Once more with feeling…. “Get down off the cross, SMIL!”

I could certainly write more about my banking woes today, especially since I just read news that indicates that my misgivings with USAA are not unwarranted. They just got hit with huge fines “for failing to timely report thousands of suspicious transactions by its customers.” I don’t know that this incident has much to do with my current issues with USAA, which mainly have to do with them erroneously flagging my account for fraud, but then missing actual fraud… and then when I shifted payment methods because I don’t have access to the violated account, I got another false fraud alert. I called about that, and spoke to a very rude customer service guy who basically treated me like he wanted me to “keep sweet”. I had some fun tweeting at USAA last night, noting that I wasn’t the only one who is pissed off at them. Anyway, Bill and I are now hunting for a new place to do business. I think we found one, so today’s business will be to get the ball rolling with that, so at least I can start the process of divorcing USAA. I am done drinking the Kool-Aid.

Now… on to today’s topic. This one is about family, so if you find my “family” posts inappropriate, you best move on to the next Internet station. I’m in the mood to vent.

A few years ago, I blogged about how my husband’s stepmother has a habit of sending manipulative private messages as a means of getting people to pay attention to her. Her late husband, Bill’s dad, also used to lay guilt trips in a bid for attention. Since my father-in-law is now dead, I’m just going to focus this rant on SMIL.

SMIL used to send manipulative messages to Bill, mostly about how his dad was “getting old” and wanted to see Bill. Bill would get really upset about the PMs, which were loaded with fear, obligation, and guilt. She finally quit sending them when Bill had a rather direct discussion with her about her guilt mongering ploys. He told her that if his dad wanted to see or talk to him, all he had to do was place a phone call, send an email, and make a mature, direct request, instead of sending passive aggressive text messages and private messages on Facebook.

SMIL has apparently been hosting Bill’s ex wife all week. At one point, SMIL (or perhaps Ex using SMIL’s phone) tried to call younger daughter. She decided not to answer the call, because she’s busy. And she also didn’t answer because when she does call SMIL back, SMIL doesn’t bother to answer the phone and “ghosts” her. Younger daughter, thankfully, is pretty smart and resilient, and she realizes that she doesn’t have to drop everything to attend to her step grandmother’s “needs”. But because she’s a decent, basically caring person, these texts are still upsetting and troublesome.

Younger daughter is pregnant and has two young children. Her husband has a demanding job, and they don’t have tons of money. But SMIL apparently doesn’t care… or maybe she just hasn’t considered what’s going on in younger daughter’s life right now. She still sends those maudlin text messages that are all about her. I just want to tell her to get down off the cross!

We are preparing a box of gifts for younger daughter, which we picked up in France a couple of weeks ago. In the box, I have included a well worn copy of Dr. Susan Forward’s excellent book, Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You. I bought and read it years ago, when Bill and I were fairly newly married. It offered great insight into the emotional blackmail perpetrated by Ex, SMIL, and, on occasion, late FIL. I could just send younger daughter a new copy of that book, but I want to send her my copy because I see it as a sign of solidarity. Having watched Bill deal with these bullying tactics over the years, I have an idea of what she’s going through.

Last night, after I finished complaining about USAA, Bill and I talked about this situation. I suggested to Bill that maybe he should ask his daughter if she would be friends with someone who treated her in that way. Legally, SMIL is basically not much more than friend. Younger daughter doesn’t owe her anything. But because SMIL has known her for so long, she knows younger daughter cares about her and values their relationship. So SMIL uses that caring nature as a tool against younger daughter. SMIL is also the type to hold grudges and declare people “dead to her”. But honestly, who’s got the time for such nonsense? Especially when there’s so much else going on in the world?

I was prompted to write about this today because of an article I read in Carolyn Hax’s column in the Washington Post. A woman wrote in about how her sister-in-law loves ski trips and tries to guilt her and her husband into going on them with her. But, for many completely valid reasons, the letter writer doesn’t like ski trips. She writes that her sister-in-law is the type to get drunk and cry when people say no to her. She doesn’t want to be subjected to the guilt trip.

You know what my response is to that? “Just say no.” Seriously. That was Carolyn’s advice, too. If sister-in-law has a meltdown, that’s on her. Hang up the phone. Block her on social media. You don’t have to put up with that. It’s abuse. Or, if that seems much too harsh, just tell the sister-in-law, in a kind way, that you don’t like skiing. Then offer to participate in a different activity that you like better. If you know sister-in-law also enjoys it, so much the better.

Bill loved his father very much, but he didn’t enjoy calling him. Every time he did, his dad would lay tremendous guilt trips on him about not visiting more often or calling him. But then when Bill would call, his dad would be busy. Or he would lay a bunch of manipulative crap on him designed to make him feel bad. Who wants to be subjected to a bunch of guilt when they make a phone call? I know I don’t. Life is painful enough as it is. If a person’s aim is to get someone to call more often, shouldn’t they make the call a pleasant experience? Seems logical to me that that would be the goal.

I do understand that it’s hard not to be a victim of shaming. I’ve been there myself a lot of times. I have a sister who used to try to manipulate me in similar ways. It was uncomfortable and unpleasant to say no to her. But eventually, she came to realize that I make my own decisions. She finally quit with the emotional blackmail, and life has been relatively more peaceful ever since.

If you do give in to the shaming, chances are you’ll just feel resentment. If someone really loves and cares about you, they don’t want you to feel shame and resentment. A healthy relationship should be respectful, kind, and even loving. It shouldn’t be based on fear, obligation, and guilt. I know I can tell when someone resents me and is faking being nice. I’d rather be alone than be with someone who feels compelled to spend time with me.

Anyway… I know younger daughter does love SMIL. She cares very much about her. But these messages are not welcome or helpful in preserving the relationship. I also know that if younger daughter tells SMIL this, it probably won’t go over too well. But again… you can’t control how other people feel or react. If the relationship is really that important, SMIL can try to adapt. I doubt she’ll ever change, but she can certainly try… or suffer the consequences.

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book reviews, religion

A review of Sex Cult Nun, by Faith Jones…

Happy Saturday, everybody! I woke up early this morning, determined to finally finish my latest reading project. It’s not that the book I just finished, Sex Cult Nun (2021), by Faith Jones, wasn’t interesting. It definitely was. I just find it hard to read as fast as I used to. I tend to read when I’m lying in bed, and I drift off to sleep. I definitely need naps more than I used to. It’s probably because Bill wakes me up at 5:00am, most mornings.

I think I discovered Sex Cult Nun when I saw it recommended in the Duggar Family News group. I am fascinated by books about religious cults, so when someone recommends a new one– especially one that is highly regarded– I usually take notice. However, when I realized that Faith Jones was raised in The Family, which used to be known as the Children of God, and is now known as The Family International, I almost didn’t read the book. I’ve now read several books about the Children of God cult, and I always find it difficult to get through them because books about that particular cult are often rife with stories of child sexual abuse. I don’t enjoy reading about children being sexually violated.

As of this morning, I have already reviewed three other books about the Children of God/ The Family. Sex Cult Nun is number four. And although I do find The Family disturbing to read about, there are some aspects of that particular religious group that really are interesting. I’m glad that I did finish Faith Jones’ story, because ultimately, it ends with triumph. Also, although Jones endured a lot of abuse on all levels, her book doesn’t include graphic stories about children being horrifically abused. Make no mistake– Jones was abused and severely neglected when she was growing up, and she does share stories about that abuse. But she manages to share her story without causing the shock and horror I’ve encountered in other books about this particular cult.

Background about David Berg and his cult

Faith Jones comes from a long line of evangelists and proselytizers, which she details in the first chapter of Sex Cult Nun. But the most famous/infamous of her ancestors is her paternal grandfather, David Brandt Berg, founder of the Children of God. Jones explains that Berg’s religious convictions were cemented, in part, because he believed that he had experienced a miracle. Berg was drafted into the Army in 1941, when he was 22 years old. Berg’s mother, Virginia, was a famous preacher who had been miraculously healed, due to her religious convictions. She was a very charismatic traveling evangelist who held tent revivals. Virginia had three children, but only her son, David, was interested in pursuing a life in the ministry. She took him with her on her travels as her assistant and driver.

But then Berg was summoned to military service. Although he could have gotten out of being drafted because he was pursuing a life in the ministry, he decided not to try to get out of military service. He had gotten tired of working with his mother and craved adventure. But then when he was in boot camp, he contracted double pneumonia, and was not expected to recover. Berg prayed to God, promising that if was healed, he would devote his life to God’s service. And, just like that, he was “miraculously healed”, just like his mother was. Berg was medically discharged from the Army, and he went back to work with his mother. However, Berg was not happy with his modest role as his mother’s assistant. He wanted to preach, too. He would have to wait awhile before that would happen.

While he was working with his mother, David met a pretty brunette woman named Jane Miller. She was a devout Baptist from Kentucky who had moved to California. Jane worked as a secretary at The Little Church of Sherman Oaks. David and Jane eloped in 1944, and the couple had four children, including Faith Jones’s father, Jonathan “Hosea” Emmanuel. Berg became ordained as a minister of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. He began to preach about integration and sharing one’s wealth with the less fortunate. Jones writes that her grandfather was formulating his ideas about “Christian communism”, which is essentially what his cult, the Children of God, would become while he was still living. Berg was unhappy with his lot in life, and engaged in a number of “antics” that would infuriate local religious leaders, who would call law enforcement. The situation got so bad that Berg decided to go on the road. Faith Jones’s father was in the eighth grade at the time. He was pulled out of school, and that was the end of Hosea’s formal education.

In 1968, David Brandt Berg, finally started a religious movement in California. The group originally consisted of “hippie types”, young people and troubled teenagers– drifters attracted to the counterculture movements of the that era. He originally called his cult “Teens for Christ”, but later changed the name to Children of God.

David Berg was charismatic and enigmatic, and he brought together young, attractive, and talented people and convinced them that his brand of evangelical Christianity was the right way to live. In reality, the Children of God was historically a group with extremely abusive and misogynistic teachings. Young people were sent all over the world to beg on the street, sell religious reading materials, and “flirty fish” new converts, who would live in poverty in diverse locations. The children raised in that cult, at least when Berg was still living, were horrifically abused on all levels. Faith Jones, one of David Berg’s many grandchildren, was no exception.

Faith Jones never met her paternal grandfather, who went into hiding in 1971. David Berg divorced Jane Miller (known as Mother Eve) in 1970 and that same year, he married a cult follower named Karen Zerby, who had worked as his secretary. Karen Zerby now leads The Family, as the Children of God cult is now called. She is known as “Mother Maria”.

Karen had a son named Ricky Rodriguez in 1975, while she was living in Tenerife, Spain. Ricky was fathered by a “flirty fish”– a man Karen had been trying to lure into the cult by having sex with him. David Berg “adopted” Ricky, whose childhood was recorded in a book called The Story of Davidito. The book was supposed to be a guide to cult followers on how to raise their children. However, the book strongly encouraged child sexual abuse, which Karen Zerby allegedly participated in against her son.

Ricky Rodriguez endured horrific abuse, and in 2005, invited his mother and his former nanny to lunch. After lunch, he murdered his nanny by stabbing her to death. He had meant to murder his mother, too, but she hadn’t accepted his invitation to lunch. Rodriguez then committed suicide. It’s my understanding that a lot of the really abusive practices that took place while Berg was still alive no longer happen. “Flirty fishing”– using sex to lure new converts– went out in the 1980s, supposedly due to the AIDS epidemic.

Who is Faith Jones?

Jones was born to David Berg’s son, Hosea, around 1977. At the time of Faith’s birth, Hosea had two wives, Ruthie and Esther. Ruthie is Faith’s mother. Like many people who were born into the Children of God cult, Faith wasn’t always raised with her family of origin. She spent her growing up years living in different religious communes around the world, mostly in Asia. The communes, which were called “homes”, were led by shepherds– usually married couples– who kept the members accountable to the cult’s teachings and doled out punishments for infractions of the rules. Jones mostly grew up in Macau and Hong Kong, but she also spent time in Taiwan, mainland China, Thailand, and Russia.

Children were “homeschooled”. They were not allowed to read any books that weren’t approved by the cult’s leadership. They were forced to read “Mo Letters”– these were letters David Berg, who had taken to calling himself “Moses David” (hence the “Mo”), wrote to his followers. When members were punished, they were often required to read and reread the Mo Letters, over and over again, even if they had already memorized them. Jones did get a couple of tastes of formal education, and that ignited a thirst for knowledge within her. But children were severely punished for seeking information, reading unapproved books, or breaking other rules, such as eating sugar without permission. Children were also trained to “share” with other members. “Sharing” is a euphemism for having sex. The cult members were not to work with “Systemites”– normal people who weren’t in the cult.

Faith Jones was taught that she owned nothing. She had to share EVERYTHING with the group… and that included her body. She was told that her body didn’t belong to her; it belonged to God. God wanted her to share her body with anyone who wanted access to it. And using birth control was forbidden, as was refusing sex.

Faith breaks out at age 23

Eventually, Faith realized that she wanted a college education. But cult members were forbidden from studying at a university. They were also forbidden from working at jobs for money. They got all of their money by begging, performing in the street, or selling religious materials or music productions. Once she’d made up her mind, she told the leaders of the commune, who promptly did all they could to force her to stay. Jones was told that if she left the cult, she would end up on drugs or homeless. This is the same threat repeated by other cult leaders, who try to make their victims believe that they can’t make it through life on their own. It was a threat my husband heard, when he decided to quit Mormonism.

But Faith was determined, and fortunately, her mother’s parents were not in the cult. They were able to help her a little bit. Faith also had to rely on her own resources to raise enough money to buy a plane ticket to the United States from China. Living outside of the cult caused Faith Jones significant culture shocks at times. At one point, she lived with a Chinese woman who became enraged with her when she tried to borrow a fan without asking permission. Faith was raised in an environment where people lived communally. She didn’t have a concept of privacy or people not using things without permission.

When she moved to California and looked into attending college, she found that none of the big schools would accept her, because she didn’t have any credentials. Her solution was to attend community college, where she made excellent grades. But she couldn’t relate to other people, since she’d spent her life outside of the United States. She didn’t get pop culture references, and didn’t know how to be “normal” with “Systemites”.

Nevertheless, Faith Jones was an extraordinary student, and she eventually managed to win acceptance to Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. That would have been an exceptional feat regardless, but she made it in as a transfer student, which is a very rare achievement. She graduated Summa Cum Laude, having learned to speak Russian and Mandarin fluently. Then she went to law school at the University of California- Berkeley. Jones writes that she wasn’t particularly attracted to the law, but decided it was a profession in which she would always be able to make a good living. She would not be impoverished again, nor would she ever be beholden to other people. She is now a very successful attorney with her own practice. But she still has many hang ups and complexes that stem from her upbringing in a cult.

Faith Jones has a TED Talk. This is worth listening to, if you don’t want to read the book.

My thoughts

I didn’t really enjoy this book to its fullest until I got to the end. In fact, I really wish that Faith Jones had spent a little more time writing about her life outside of the cult. It was during that time that she “awakened”, and I found that part of the book fascinating and exciting. For instance, she writes about meeting a military officer who was also studying law when she was at Georgetown. He became her boyfriend for a time, and he helped her to overcome some falsehoods that she learned while she was in the cult.

Faith had never learned that sex is not supposed to be painful. When she was in the cult, she was forced to have sex with men she wasn’t attracted to, so she wasn’t prepared to have normal sex. Faith was also raped a couple of times. Her ex boyfriend taught her that sex shouldn’t hurt. He also defined rape to her, which caused Faith to realize that, actually, all of the sexual experiences she’d had before they dated were basically rapes. She hadn’t actually wanted to have sex with those men; she was pressured, coerced, and a couple of times, actually forced to have sex with them. I’m sure that realization was very traumatic for her, but I suspect that in a way, it was also liberating. She learned that she could and should say “no”, and that consent is necessary before sex.

Unfortunately, Faith’s relationship with her boyfriend ultimately couldn’t work out, as he and his parents were members of a different controlling religious cult–the Seventh Day Adventists. Their religion was not as toxic as Faith’s was, but there were too many dynamics within it that were like the Children of God/The Family. Moreover, because of the religion her boyfriend was in, she was asked to lie to his parents, who were not aware that their son had strayed somewhat from the religion’s teachings– no meat, no alcohol, and no sex before marriage.

I was a little surprised when Faith wrote that she hadn’t necessarily been attracted to studying law; she had just wanted to be able to get a good job and make plenty of money on her own. For one thing, I know that not everyone who goes to law school is successful in launching a legal career. For another thing, Faith Jones is obviously very intellectual and has a gift for making cases. She once got a professor at Georgetown to change an A- to an A, when he told her he’d never been convinced to do that before. She laboriously went through all of her work to make her case and managed to change his mind. And she’d done it because she had her heart set on graduating from Georgetown with straight As so she could get the distinction of Summa Cum Laude. I doubt many students are that single-minded and dedicated. To me, it seemed natural that she would become a lawyer. I thought that even before I knew that is, in fact, what she had done after she graduated from college.

I also liked that this book ends on a good note. While I’m not so naive to think that Faith is completely recovered from her traumatic childhood, I do think she’s made great strides toward overcoming some very significant challenges. She does point out that not everyone who was in the cult was that lucky. Her father, for instance, is still impoverished, although she has a good relationship with him and her mother. Her mother was able to pick up the pieces post cult life and start a career in her 50s. That gave me hope, as I will be 50 soon myself, and sometimes I worry about potentially having to support myself. 😉

Finally, I want to comment that this book reminded me a lot of Tara Westover’s book, Educated, which I have also read and reviewed. I think Jones and Westover have a lot in common, although Westover was raised as a fundie Mormon. Personally, I think Educated was a bit easier and more entertaining to read, but both books are worthwhile and gratifying reading. They’re both books about young women who overcome tremendous odds and severe handicaps to achieve great success and greatness in the world. Ultimately, both books are “feel good” stories when all is said and done, but readers have to wade through some disturbing and upsetting passages to get there. Likewise, Tara Westover’s book reminded me of The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls.

Anyway… I am amazed by Faith Jones’s determination, tenacity, resilience, and brilliance. She is a very unusual person and her story is worth reading, if you can stomach the parts about the abuse she and other members of The Family endured. I recommend Sex Cult Nun, but be prepared for some unpleasant shocks– though not as many as I’ve read in other books about the Children of God/The Family.

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book reviews, memories, nostalgia

Repost: Facts and Figures… a book I used to love!

I wrote this post on my original blog on March 18, 2017. I am sharing it again as I think about what to vent about today.

I am the youngest of four daughters.  There is an eight year gap between me and my next oldest sister.  Even though there is a large gap between my sisters and me, I inherited a lot of their stuff when I was growing up.  One of my favorite hand-me-downs was a book called The Golden Book of Facts and Figures.  Published in 1962 by The Golden Press, this book was loaded with information that was accurate circa 1962.  I was fascinated by it.

I don’t have that book anymore, but I did find a fun blog post about it yesterday.  Click here to see a picture of the book and its innards.  You will see that there were many colorful pictures on a huge array of topics.  I remember reading about everything from U.S. presidents (up until 1962, anyway), the five senses, zoology, astronomy, and anatomy. 

I’m pretty sure my favorite part of the book was the part about the planets.  The author, Bertha Morris Parker, had constructed a chart that offered a visual comparison about what the planets were like (as they understood them in 1962).  One of the columns in the chart was the question “Capable of sustaining human life?”  For each of the planets, there was the word “no”, except for Venus.  Apparently, in 1962, there was a belief that someday we might be able to live on Venus.  I find that hilarious now, but when I was a child, it opened up a whole realm of fantasies and possibilities.  I remember marveling at the idea that someday I could visit Venus. 

I also loved reading about carnivorous plants, which if I recall correctly, was a subject that was covered in this book.  I loved looking at the illustrations of Venus Fly Traps and Pitcher plants, plants that would trap and eat hapless bugs that got caught in them.  I remember having my curiosity piqued by the subjects within this book and wishing I had more information.  I guess, in a sense, that’s what made this book so good.  It whetted my appetite for learning and made me want to know more.  And that required looking for other sources of information, which is one of the best ways to learn something new.

At some point, my copy of this book disappeared.  I’m sorry it’s gone, because I distinctly remember drawing and writing all over the inside cover.  I remember drawing a crude picture of a naked woman and writing mild expletives.  It was very childlike and I’m not really sure what possessed me to defile that book in such a way.  I think one of my sisters might have drawn in it first and I just decided to follow suit with my own artistic and verbal renderings.  Even those crude drawings remind me of something else from the past, though.

In my grandmother’s house, there was a little closet under the stairs.  When my cousins and I were little kids, we used that closet as a fort/clubhouse of sorts.  I was usually on the fringes of the “cool clique” at Granny’s house and was relegated to playing with my younger cousins, who have since grown up to be very cool people, but back then were strictly B List.  I remember my cousins and I wrote on the walls of that closet, just as I wrote on the inside of my book.  Many years later, my uncle remodeled the closet and removed our childlike graffiti.  I wish he’d left the graffiti, since that house has been in our family for probably 70 years or more.  My dad was actually buried near the house for about a year until my mom moved him to the family church’s cemetery.  I guess she worried that someday, no one in the family would own the house anymore.

I’m not sure what made me think of Facts and Figures yesterday.  I guess the older you get, the more things like that pop into your head and you start feeling nostalgic.  I’m almost tempted to see if I can buy another copy of this book and relive the wonder.

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bad TV, fashion, good tv, memories, nostalgia

The “facts of life” one learns while watching The Facts of Life…

A few weeks ago, I got a wild hair up my ass and decided to buy a few box sets of favorite TV shows from the 70s and 80s. I bought The Bionic Woman, One Day at a Time, and The Facts of Life. I’ve actually only seen a few episodes of The Bionic Woman, since it aired when we lived in England, and I don’t remember it being aired in syndication much. I did used to watch One Day at a Time when I was a kid, but missed the earliest episodes because I was too young when the show started, and then it really jumped the shark. I was a BIG fan of The Facts of Life, which was a spinoff of Diff’rent Strokes.

Most every kid my age loved Diff’rent Strokes, but I guess the powers that be decided that Charlotte Rae should have her own show. So they had her get a job at Eastland School, Kimberly Drummond’s boarding school in Peekskill, New York. Boom… suddenly, we had a successful sitcom revolving around the lives of girls who went to boarding school and wore frumpy uniforms all the time. The Facts of Life started off with a large cast of beautiful young girls with flowing hair… except for Molly Ringwald, of course, and Kim Fields, who played Tootie Ramsey, the token Black cast member. After the first season, the size of the cast was slimmed down, as the girls progressed through puberty and gained weight.

I loved the first few seasons of The Facts of Life. I liked it less when the girls were moved out of the school to work at Edna’s Edibles. Also, as is so common on shows about school, the students didn’t graduate on time. It seemed like they were Eastland students forever. And then Charlotte Rae left the show, and they brought in Mackenzie Astin, George Clooney, and Cloris Leachman. The last couple of seasons were practically unwatchable! I didn’t like it when the plot moved away from the school, though, because the school was so central to the show. Also, I think they made boarding school look like a lot more fun than it probably is in reality.

I kind of find the theme song annoying, catchy as it is. Alan Thicke and his ex wife, Gloria Loring, helped compose it, and Loring belts it out in an over-the-top, obnoxious way… not unlike the characters’ personalities.

But there were a few really good years on that show, I’m in the thick of them right now. The writers took on a number of ambitious topics that were very important in the 1980s. Imagine my surprise this week, as I waded through the third and fourth seasons, realizing that subject matter that was timely in 1981 and 1982, is still timely and important today. In seasons 3 and 4, The Facts of Life tackled:

  • suicide
  • abortion
  • book banning
  • underage drinking
  • rape and sexual assault
  • teen pregnancy
  • breast cancer
  • mental retardation (this is what it was called on the show, rather than one of the more politically correct terms of today)
  • physical handicaps (again, how it was described on the show)
  • racism
  • fanaticism
  • crash dieting
  • religion
  • sexism
  • cross cultural issues
  • bullying
  • adoption
  • marital affairs
  • teenage prostitution

The list goes on, as I have only just started season 4, and there were a total of 9 seasons before NBC finally pulled the plug. But as I was wasting the late afternoon hours yesterday, watching the episode about book banning, it occurred to me that, in some ways, we haven’t really gotten anywhere in the last 40 years. The plot was about how a bunch of parents got upset that their daughters were able to check out books like Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, which they felt didn’t promote the right message or values. I was suddenly reminded of the recent controversy surrounding the book, Maus, by Art Spiegelman, which has had the effect of causing a bunch of people to buy and read the book in protest. I read Maus a few weeks ago, passed it to Bill, who finished it last weekend, and just today, he took it to work to lend to one of his co-workers.

If I recall correctly, I believe I decided to read Slaughterhouse Five when I was in high school, in part because it was mentioned on The Facts of Life as a banned book. I knew I liked Vonnegut’s writing, having read his short story, “Harrison Bergeron”, in the 9th grade. Sure enough, I enjoyed Slaughterhouse Five very much. Then later, I decided to read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, because it was a banned book. My love for reading continues today, although it’s not as easy as it used to be, as my eyes aren’t as young as they once were.

Ditto, the episode about abortion, which was about how the character Natalie, played by Mindy Cohn, made up a story about a girl at Eastland who had an abortion. The story had the whole school buzzing, and soon parents were calling, demanding to know who the girl was. Natalie was threatened with expulsion, until a girl told her that she’d had an abortion. Natalie could have told the headmaster the girl’s name and saved her job as editor of the school paper. But she came clean and admitted she’d made up the story, protecting the girl’s identity. As the credits were about to roll, the headmaster said that he was relieved to “know” that abortion wasn’t an issue at Eastland. Of course, the audience knows better. Forty years later, we’re still fighting over abortion.

I even learned something about capital punishment in France, watching The Facts of Life. The character Geri, played by Geri Jewell, is the cousin of snobby rich girl, Blair Warner. She has cerebral palsy, and works as a comedienne. In one episode, she develops a romance with the school’s French teacher. He asks out Geri, and she says something along the lines of, “I don’t want to get my head chopped off.” She was referencing France’s famous guillotine, which was used to execute people. The French teacher says that France did away with the guillotine in favor of hanging.

I was surprised to hear that the guillotine hadn’t been abolished many years ago, so I decided to look up the device’s history, as well as the general history of capital punishment in France. I was very surprised to learn that the last time France used the guillotine was in 1977! I was five years old! The man who was executed was 27 years old and was originally from Tunisia. He was also missing part of a leg, due to a tractor accident in 1971. He was put to death in Marseilles in September 1977 for torturing and murdering a young woman, and forcing a couple of other women into prostitution. Oddly enough, I actually visited Tunisia in 1977. We lived in England at the time, and went to Tunisia to celebrate New Year’s.

In 1981, then French president Francois Mitterrand declared capital punishment illegal in France. It was formally abolished on February 19, 2007. But, up until 1981, the French constitution actually dictated that anyone who was executed in France would be killed by decapitation, or barring that, firing squad. Never having studied French myself, I don’t know much about its history, other than what I’ve seen personally, heard about in the news, or heard from friends. I have had the opportunity and great fortune to visit France many times, which is something I never thought would have happened in 1982. It seems like France was especially popular in America in the 80s! Back in those days, people didn’t travel as much as they do now… or did before COVID-19, anyway.

Even Russia and Ukraine were subjects of The Facts of Life back in the 80s. During the third season, Natalie’s Russian Jewish grandmother, Mona, came to visit her at school. Mona said she was from Ukraine, even though the name of the episode was “From Russia with Love”. In 1982, Ukraine was still part of the former Soviet Union, which, in those days, seemed like it would exist forever. Natalie found Mona overbearing and annoying, but once she and the other girls got to know her, they found out that she was a fascinating woman with many stories to tell. Watching that episode, especially given what is happening in Ukraine right now, and after having read Maus, was surprisingly poignant. Mona references being confronted by a rapey soldier in a corn field in Ukraine, as the Bolsheviks invaded during the Soviet-Ukranian War from 1917-1921.

Seventy years later, Ukraine decided to leave the Soviet Union, and there’s been trouble ever since. I have never been to Ukraine myself, but I have a friend whose wife is from there, and still has a lot of family there. I know that he and his wife and children are terrified for them. It seems that history is repeating itself. At the same time, I have known some fabulous Russian people, thanks to my time in Armenia, which is also a former Soviet Republic. In fact, that’s where I met my friend, who was working there after having served in the Peace Corps in Russia, back when Russia was briefly less menacing.

I remember that The Facts of Life was controversial to some people, especially during its most popular years. My former best friend’s mother would not let her watch the show. I seem to remember her mom was against the show because she happened to see the episode during the first season that referenced marijuana use. The show certainly didn’t promote the use of marijuana, but my ex friend’s mom was very conservative. She didn’t want her kid exposed to anything she was personally against. I seem to remember my ex friend was often doing things behind her mother’s back, and she was a lot more “experienced” in things than I was. My parents, by contrast, pretty much let me raise myself. We used to talk about how different our parents’ styles were, and we agreed that it would have been nice if there could have been a happy medium. My parents didn’t pay enough attention to me. Her parents, especially her mother, were too strict and intrusive. On the other hand, I don’t think her parents used corporal punishment as much as my dad did.

One thing I have noticed about The Facts of Life is that the characters could be very annoying, as well as very funny. My favorite character was probably Natalie, who was quick witted. I used to not like Jo (Nancy McKeon) much, because she alternated between being angry and snide, and being “vulnerable”. Now that I’m older, I appreciate that character more. I used to like Blair (Lisa Whelchel) more, although I still like Whelchel did a good job with her caricature of a spoiled princess. Tootie (Kim Fields) was pretty much always annoying to me, although she was pretty cute in the first season. During the show’s third and fourth seasons, Tootie did a lot of shrieking and whining. Some of the clothes were pretty hideous, too. Especially the knickers and gauchos… they brought back sad memories of childhood fashions.

But mostly, I’ve just noticed that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I really have been surprised by how forty years after The Facts of Life was a hit show, we’re still talking about, and arguing about, the same things. But nowadays, we have many more than than three networks on TV, and audiences are more sophisticated. A show like The Facts of Life probably wouldn’t last today, even though the writers tackled some courageous plots back in the day. Maybe it would be a good thing for today’s youngsters to watch that show. Maybe they’ll learn its lessons better than we did. But really, the best seasons were the earliest ones… as is the case for most long running shows.

Well, I guess it’s time to wrap up this post and get on with my Friday. Last night, Bill made a “stuffed meatloaf”, which is a dish I cooked for him when we were dating. It was one of the many tricks I had up my sleeve that helped me win his heart. It came out of a great cookbook called Virginia Hospitality, which was a gift given to me when I graduated college in 1994. It was put out by the Junior League of Hampton Roads, and since I was born in Hampton, it really is a relic from my hometown.

My husband’s younger daughter is pregnant, and when Bill told her he was making a stuffed meatloaf, she said that sounded so delicious. She had questions about it. So I sent her a copy of the cookbook, which also has a great recipe for cheese souffles. Below is a link for those who are curious about it. It’s definitely my favorite way to make meatloaf. I’m glad Bill learned how to make it, too. I hope she enjoys the book. It’s a gift that is uniquely from her long, lost stepmother. She really doesn’t know me at all, but maybe a cookbook from my origins will be a place to start getting acquainted.

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