See “The Cotton Club” Encore Edition!

I don’t know how I missed it, but this old movie from 1984 is fabulous, especially if you love 1930s music and watching Gregory Hines dance! Come to think of it, I didn’t even have a TV or go see films much in the 1980s. I was busy learning Chinese and getting degrees I would never use… But this film was so much fun for me yesterday!

For me, the most interesting aspect of this movie was the way it called attention to extreme early racism in Harlem and how those with power drew the line between black and white. Opened in 1923, the Cotton Club on 142nd St & Lenox Ave in the heart of Harlem, was operated by white gangster Owney Madden. Madden used the Cotton Club as an outlet to sell his “#1 Beer” to the prohibition crowd.

The Club was decorated with the idea of creating a “stylish plantation environment” for its entirely white clientele. As with many New York City clubs of the time period, that meant the upper class of the city. The Cotton Club at first excluded all but white patrons although the entertainers and most of staff were African American. Dancers at the Cotton Club were held to strict standards; they had to be at least 5’6” tall, light skinned with only a slight tan, and under twenty-one years of age.

The oppressive segregation of the Cotton Club was reinforced by its depiction of the African American employees as exotic savages or plantation residents and the music was often orchestrated to bring to mind a jungle atmosphere. By transforming the club into this plantation atmosphere and bringing in celebrities, Owney Madden created a demand for the Cotton Club while also helping to perpetuate widely held negative stereotypes about African Americans.

This film also got a lot of relatively new actors noticed like Bob Hoskins, Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, Diane Lane, Nicholas Cage, Laurence Fishburne, and Tom Waits(!) to name a few. I loved the music, the dancing, and the story, plus I learned quite a bit about how racism worked in Harlem in the 1930s!

A personal note: I have been noticing the age difference between the romantic lead actors in older movies lately. In this case the age difference between Richard Gere and Diane Lane is 16 years! Talk about robbing the cradle…

Do you ever write anything personal any more?

I was astounded by this statistic on CBS Sunday Morning today:

22% of Americans under age 45 have never written a personal letter

When I think back to the many personal, intimate exchanges I had with past friends and lovers, I simply cannot believe that we no longer communicate on that level and in that way. I still have and treasure letters from old boyfriends in my twenties and thirties. It makes me sad, but also amazes me that this no longer happens.

“In the future old ‘love letters’ may not be found in boxes in the attic but rather circulating through the Internet, if people care to look for them,” said Webster Newbold, a professor of English at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

Consider this, we are experiencing a loss in what people in the future will know about us. The loss is incalculable. In earlier times the “art” of letter writing was formally taught, explained Newbold. In fact, in old China a person’s character was judged by the strength of their letter writing abilities.

“Letters were the prime medium of communication among individuals and even important in communities as letters were shared, read aloud and published,” he said. “Letters did the cultural work that academic journals, book reviews, magazines, legal documents, business memos, diplomatic cables, etc. do now. They were also obviously important in more intimate senses, among family, close friends, lovers, and suitors in initiating and preserving personal relationships and holding things together when distance was a real and unsurmountable obstacle.”

Aaron Sachs, a professor of American Studies and History at Cornell University, said, “One of the ironies for me is that everyone talks about electronic media bringing people closer together, and I think this is a way we wind up more separate. We don’t have the intimacy that we have when we go to the attic and read grandma’s letters.”

I have found through the years that writing helps me realize more clearly how I feel, and what I really need to say to those I love. The process allows me to crystallize my thoughts, and then tell the other my most intimate feelings. Is that practice also gone? Will there be no physical record of any of this in our future? This more than most changes to our culture makes me glad that my days on earth are minimal.

The sunrise west of Walsenburg CO this morning!

I could tell when I first looked east around 6AM this morning that it was going to be a good one! The clouds were lovely…

First I saw the very beginnings of the sunrise…

Then a bit more with sunrays just beginning to show…

Next the early sunrays began to light up the sky!

Spreading colorful light over the Spanish Peaks to the south…

and then BAM, the full light of the sun appeared over the horizon!

Now do you see why I love living here? Magical surprises almost every day!

Imagine magically walking into your own future…

Last night I had a strange thought: What if we had been able to magically walk into our present home and living situation without having to create it from scratch? I’m certain now I wouldn’t have believed it, but it would have been so reassuring to see our success! I see now I had far too little faith in my husband’s power to create what we have created here, out of one big dusty lot. Talk about a difference in visualizing and believing in our power to manifest it!

As I meet others who move down here to create new lives for themselves, I am constantly reminded of my own trials and tribulations when we first decided to move here to build our passive solar home over seven years ago.

Our sad little rental in Walsenburg for one year…

When we first moved into a rented dirty, dumpy 100-year-old miner’s home in Walsenburg in 2014, I was simply depressed. All I could think about was:

“How long was this going to take? Would it be as nice as we hoped? Was this a good idea or not?

First we had the slab, which took months to get approved and created properly for passive solar…

I had no idea how much work it is to create a home from scratch, even if you don’t actually build it… A million trips to Pueblo’s Home Depot and Lowe’s, 5 million decisions just about every day for a year or so, not to mention arguments with the builder about so many things, especially when is this house going to be done? I learned that the builders own your home until they leave!

But we kept at it through just about every obstacle imaginable until one day we had this…

When we finally moved in on the 1st of August 2015 we were practically paralyzed with the feat we had just completed! Did that really happen? Is this really where we live now? There were still a million little details to work out, like the smoke detector that went off at 4 in the morning soon after we moved in, but we were home at last!

I couldn’t wait to get started on my new foothills garden, which also took a few years to developJune 2019

  • Want to learn more about this kind of experience? I kept a journal leading up to our move from the suburbs of Fort Collins, to a three acre lot west of Walsenburg Colorado. Our new home is passive solar and this journal covers the full construction process as well as our thoughts after we moved in. My memoir is available on Amazon or just contact me directly if you wish to buy a signed copy from the author herself! — MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com

Is our life better than previous generations?

I suppose the thought that stays with me after reading about my ancestors’ journey through life, is how difficult their lives were compared to ours, and yet so many of us struggle with our own challenges today. What has changed between previous generations and ourselves?

‘… and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’ (Leviathan, i. xiii. 9) — Thomas Hobbes, 1651

I am certain that our lives today are so much easier in so many ways compared to my great grandmother and grandmother. In fact, let’s face it, most of us are living much better than most in human history.

I feel so lucky to be alive today! How do we appreciate these differences without undervaluing our own daily challenges?

Mom and I at my wedding in 2005

For example, I know there were members of my mother’s family who suffered from mental illness and dementia in their later years. So much was not known about these illnesses fifty or one hundred years ago, and with misunderstanding came criticism, stigma and heavy judgment. My Mom’s first cousin was sent to the Kansas Mental Hospital where he killed himself by consuming pesticide!

Dementia sent my Great Grandfather McGrew to the Kansas mental hospital at the end of his life…

Today there is counseling and many new drugs to ease our physical and mental pain. There are people like Stephen Levine to help us accept ourselves more fully instead of torturing ourselves with harsh self-judgment. I know I would not be half as healthy and happy as I am today, if I had not had some excellent counseling in my thirties. Since I suffer from a shortness of breath, I wonder what happened to others back then with lung disease. And what about head injuries?

Do you see how lucky we are to have a better education, better science education and many more options because we were born in this age? Have you seen that new TV commercial that says:

Do you know anyone with polio or smallpox? Vaccines work.

It is so hard to watch so many suffer because they refuse to believe that we HAVE MADE PROGRESS! Our lives can be better through education, science and yes, even chemistry. That some refuse to use these tools to better their lives is a travesty and a human tragedy of personal choice…

Why am I here now? Family History!

Somehow, all of the happenings in my family right now are stirring up many questions for me about my family background. The death of my father in 2020, the dementia of my Mom now and the birth of the first member of the next generation of our family has me wondering how all of this came about.

Why am I here? What and who participated in the creation of our family and why?

Top: Photo of my parents’ wedding in 1951 in Kansas City, Kansas

Luckily, my Mom spent a few years searching for the answers to these exact questions back in the early 2000s and produced a detailed family history called: Generations: Our Grandmothers for all of us to learn from. So this week I decided to sit down and read it cover to cover. It also included many family photos I had never seen before. What a gold mine of genetics and social history from a family whose roots go back to farming in eastern Kansas in the 1800s and railroad development in the Kansas City Kansas area.

Top: Great-Grandma McGrew on her wedding day in 1907

What struck me first was how large families were back then, and how “romances” developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the case of all of my great grandparents, they met because so many lived in boarding houses where family members mixed. In the case of my Great-Grandma McGrew, she was sent to live with a different farm family to help out, because her own family had too many mouths to feed. She ended up marrying the only son in her adopted family. The McGrews greatly valued education, so even though the closest high school was ten miles away, they made certain that their only daughter, my grandmother, finished high school. She taught elementary school for two years and then ventured out to the big city to expand her horizons in business school. She then secured a job as a secretary in Kansas City where she soon met my grandfather.

My Mom describes our Carter background this way: “If there is a unifying “track” to the story of the Carter family, it would be the Santa Fe Railroad and its development over time as the history of railroads was unfolding in the West.” My Grandpa Carter, his father, and most of his brothers worked on the railroad their whole life, but Grandpa was determined that his two sons would not. He also believed strongly in education as the primary path to a better life, and my Dad and uncle’s lives certainly proved that point. My dad and Uncle Bob were the first Carters to not only finish high school, but also finish college and graduate school. My dad swore by the advantages of a good education and it worked out great for him and his kids.

Developing your mind and allowing it to go wherever it wishes, opens up so many doors and windows on life! It also allows for so much freedom in determining where we go next. I cannot even imagine how different I would have been without my love of learning…