Maya Angelou’s daring


“Angelou was little known outside the theatrical community until “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which might not have happened if writer James Baldwin hadn’t persuaded Angelou, still grieving over King’s death, to attend a party at the home of Jules Feiffer, a cartoonist and writer. Feiffer was so taken by Angelou that he mentioned her to Random House editor Bob Loomis, who persuaded her to write a book by daring her into it, saying that it was “nearly impossible to write autobiography as literature.”

“Well, maybe I will try it,” Angelou responded. “I don’t know how it will turn out. But I can try.”  (Excerpt from an A.P. article)

And the rest, as they say, is history. Aren’t we lucky that she dared to try?

What a book title, too.  “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Beautiful, powerful, resonant. As she was.

“She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace,” said her son, Guy Johnson.

She dared to sing her song, and out of the cage she flew.


From the Summit of Everest


Happy 2014! Here’s to new beginnings and daring adventures!

Our new DTBF story comes from Alison Levine, a history-making adventurer, explorer and mountaineer. Levine has climbed the highest peak on every continent, served as the team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition, and skied across the Arctic Circle to the geographic North Pole. This, and a lot more.

Read about what it was like to reach the Summit of Mount Everest in her DTBF story, “On the Edge with Alison.”




Then Again and Miss Representation

Don’t you love it when you read back-to-back great books?  I’ve been on a nice roll lately, and not just with books, but also with movies and documentaries. In this post, I offer two recommendations.  (I will share more in future posts, as well.)

Diane Keaton‘s memoir “Then Again” is beautifully written and very insightful, not to mention, poignant, funny, and entertaining.  Yes, you’ll read about her acting career and her relationships with Woody and Warren and Al, but more, you’ll read about her mother, Dorothy. Much of the book is comprised of journal entries and letters that her mother wrote over the years, so as Keaton explains it, this memoir is really written by both of them.  Keaton, like her mother, kept everything in the recording of her own personal history, stashing every letter and even keeping some of her phone messages. When her mother passed away and Keaton began to pore through her many journals, she decided to weave together a combined memoir, using much of this wonderful source material.  I, for one, am glad she did.

“A poem about women living in one another’s not uncomplicated memories. . . . Part of what makes Diane Keaton’s memoir, Then Again, truly amazing is that she does away with the star’s ‘me’ and replaces it with a daughter’s ‘I.’ ”—Hilton Als, The New Yorker

Miss Representation is a documentary by Jennifer Siebel-Newsom that explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence.  Among the people featured in this film are Condoleezza Rice, Katie Couric, Margaret Cho, Rachel Maddow, Jane Fonda, Gavin Newsom, Rosario Dawson, Cory Booker and others.  It premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and aired on OWN: Oprah Winfrey’s television network.  Since then, it has grown into a movement, with its own action oriented website and a list of educational resources, including the option of purchasing DVDs for K-12 and university audiences.

The term “media literacy” is unfamiliar to many people, which is a shame, given the amount of media saturating our daily existence. Even if we think we’re well aware of media bias and how the mainstream (or as some might call it, the “lame stream”) media works, there is much to learn from watching films like this one.  I particularly recommend it for girls in junior high school, when much of what the media depicts can become particularly impressionable.  You’ll be amazed by some of the statistics this film offers. (It also has a fabulous soundtrack, featuring songs from Metric.)

Click here to watch the trailer. 

To watch the film, you can add it to your Netflix queue, get it through iTunes, or purchase it from a film distributor. You can also look for a local public screening…or even host one of your own.

“A searing critique.” – Fortune Magazine

“Oprah stamp of approval could make Miss Representation the Roger & Me of media reform.”  – Bitch Magazine



DTBF contributors up for a Grammy

“…as cliché as it may sound, I am finally daring to be my fabulous self, however it may turn out.”

So writes Terri Lyne Carrington in her DTBF story, “Full Circle.” Well, she’s doing a great job at it!  Terri Lyne’s “The Mosaic Project” is up for Best Jazz Vocal album at the Grammy Awards this Sunday.  It’s an album she produced and which features the talents of other fabulous female jazz artists, including the ever lovely Dianne Reeves, another DTBF contributor (“Talking to the Devil.”)

We celebrated their album when it came out last July.  This Sunday, we’ll be applauding them again.


Renewable marriage contracts. Why not?

Mexico City legislators just proposed legislation requiring prenuptial agreements for all marriages  there. The agreements would not only cover child custody issues, but also the expected duration of the marriage. The reason for this proposed legislation? The huge number of nasty and costly divorce proceedings taking up room and time in the capital’s district courts. (There was an average of 40 divorces for every 100 marriages performed between 2009-2010.)

The Roman Catholic Church has reacted harshly to this proposed legislation, calling it “absurd.” The Rev. Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the Catholic archdiocese for the capital region said, “This is a proposal made by people who do not understand the nature of marriage.” I don’t know where he’s been lately, but anyone can attest to the fact that divorce has become an increasingly common occurrence. I can’t speak for Mexico City, as I don’t live there, but I’d say as many as 95% of the people I know who are fifty and over have experienced divorce. I’m sure none of them expected that going in, but it’s still a fact and I think it merits attention and discussion.

The proposed legislation in Mexico City suggests an estimate on the duration of a marriage contract that is no less than two years, and as long as “’til death do us part.”  Personally, I think this suggestion makes great sense. Marriage, by civic standards,  is a contract, despite what the Roman Church might state, and I think that having a discussion about the terms of this contract, prior to signing it, is a prudent and sensible thing to do. Isn’t that the understanding with any contractual agreement that we sign?

I’m not married now, but I’ve written here about almost doing so when I was 24 years old (see “I Canceled My Wedding.”) Fortunately, I opted out in time, rather than ignoring my second thoughts and going through all the paces, which would have led to watching the marriage sour and a likely, eventual divorce. That relationship lasted a total of seven years, so that’s a time marker that has stayed with me.

Since that experience, I have often opined that marriage contracts should be offered in definite year increments, with the option of renewal. Seven seems like a good number, due to the concept that our cells and our bodies completely change in seven year increments, and that we subsequently live our lives in seven year cycles. At least, that’s a known hypothesis. (Thus, the “seven year itch.”) Why not make marriage licenses into renewable seven year contracts?  Then, when the time is approaching for renewal, you can revisit what you have, discuss it with your partner, and decide if you’d like to renew.

This contractual arrangement is also likely to keep people from taking their marital relationships for granted. I’ve been with my love Henri for nearly ten years now. He agrees with my renewable contract concept and when we got to our own seven year mark, we happily agreed to a renewal. For us, it’s not a written contract that we share, but one of mutual understanding. We also don’t have children (not counting our kitties, of course.) If we did, I agree with one columnist who suggested twenty years as the possible minimal term for a couple who wants children.

People get married for many different reasons. Why not revisit our approach to marriage and treat it as the contract that it truly is? Discuss all the terms. Agree to them.  If “’til death do us part” is the way you want to go, then so be it, that can be the length you determine. Romance is wonderful, but at least honest communication and mutual understanding will be part of the deal before you both sign on the dotted line.

My guess is that couples will be happier and their relationships healthier by approaching marriage in this way. There will be a lot less divorce and a lot more happier marriages in the world.

A celebration of female jazz artists

We’re very pleased to feature DTBF stories from two renowned jazz artists, “Full Circle” by Terri Lyne Carrington and “Talking to the Devil” by Dianne Reeves.   Today, Terri Lyne has just announced a new musical collaboration with Dianne and many other notable female musicians, including Dee Dee Bridgewater, Sheila E., Cassandra Wilson and many more.  It is entitled “Mosaic Project” and is a celebration of female artists in jazz.

Here is an excerpt from her website:

“Terri Lyne has recorded an ensemble CD with some of the world’s top musicians, performing music that celebrates different aesthetics in music and in life.  “The Mosaic Project” is a celebration of female artists with Terri Lyne being joined by some of today’s most celebrated female instrumentalists and vocalists in the world, ‘women with voices,’ coming together to support and celebrate each other from a musical and social perspective.”

Check out “The Mosaic Project.” You can order it, watch a special behind the scenes video about it,  and download a free MP3 from the album.



For International Women’s Day

March 8 is International Women’s Day.

Cause to Pause.

Cause to Celebrate.

Let this day be a reminder to spread the love to your sisters far and wide.

And to take action to help the ones who need it.


Johanna  & Patti

Girlfriend Power

On The PBS Newshour last Thursday, the day after President Obama’s visit to Tucson, the top of the news was about his visit with Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other wounded victims in the hospital, and his remarkable speech that followed. Until that day, the specifics of Giffords’ physical abilities, responsiveness, or improvement were being carefully guarded by her surgeons, who wanted to wait until she was out of critical condition before making any statements to the public. This was based on the desire not to mislead or provoke the media with any information that was not yet absolute in its determination regarding her status or medical prognosis. Then, during his speech, Obama told us that Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time that very afternoon.

What prompted her to open her eyes that afternoon? In part: girlfriend power.

The Newshour’s Jeffrey Brown interviewed Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, a dear friend of Giffords who, along with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, was at Giffords’ bedside when the eye-opening incident occurred.  This is part of the transcript from that interview:

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, you described this as feeling like a—quote—“miracle.” Tell us what happened.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-Fla.): Well, I was—we all were so full of joy to be able to be by the bedside of our good friend Gabby, and never expected anything like what happened.

We were just talking to her like girlfriends talk to each other, and urging her on, and encouraging her recovery. And, at one point, Senator Gillibrand, Kirsten, was holding her hand, and rubbing her hand, and Gabby actually was rubbing back with her thumb.

And then Kirsten was talking about, “You know, Gabby, come on. You have got to get better quick, because we’re going to go back out for pizza like we did a couple weeks ago.”

Then I said—we have vacationed with them for the last couple summers. So, I said to her, “Gabby, you have got to get better as quick as you can, because we’re expecting you back in New Hampshire this summer.”

And then, right when I said that, she—her eyes started to open just a little bit with slits, but, definitely, you could see she was struggling to get them open. And Mark, her husband, said, “Oh, Gabby, you know, honey, if you can—if you can see me, give me the thumbs-up sign.”

And she didn’t—she didn’t respond with the thumbs-up sign. She—her eyes closed again. They opened. She kept trying a few more times, got them open a little bit more, a little bit more. Mark kept encouraging her on. We were talking, tears streaming down our face.

And Mark finally said, “Honey, if you can see me”—her eyes were open a little bit more—“then give me the thumbs-up.”

And, all of sudden, her arm flew up. She touched his arms. He said, “Honey, touch my ring if you can hear me.” She did.

We were just overcome with emotion. It was absolutely—the doctor—I’m sorry—the doctor got very animated, said this is incredible progress. He suddenly whips out his BlackBerry. He’s furiously typing on it. It was just an incredible moment. It really was.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, you said that the—yes, this took the doctors by surprise as well, right? I think you said last night that he—he referred…


JEFFREY BROWN: … to it as the power of friendship.


When we left the hospital room, when they kind of ushered us out and said, OK, enough excitement for—for one—for one period, we went out and talked to Dr. Lemole, the one who’s been so wonderful on TV explaining what’s going on.

And he said, “Look, I usually discount emotion and the impact of emotion or friendship, but,” he said, “we clearly witnessed the power of friendship here.”

And so we were very happy that our girlfriend power could make a little bit of a difference.

It warmed my heart to hear that story. Love can be so powerful.  It made sense to me that their voices, love, and collective and determined desire to connect with her, helped Giffords’ motivation and ability to open her eyes, and to respond.

I thought about my own dear girlfriends and about my Love, Henri.  How much I love them and how much love they’ve also given me. During difficult times, they’ve all been there, supporting me, cheering me on, and reminding me that everything will be okay. Staying patient through serious bouts of adversity was largely possible because of that love and support. And of course, they were right. I came through to the other side. As they knew I would.

All I can say is that I thank the Universe for the power of Girlfriends and the power of Love.