Cheshire Grange Fair

Did you know that the Grange has been a part of Cheshire since 1885? 

Did you know that the Grange system was founded by agricultural families in 1867, to help both the North and South recover from the terrible destruction of the Civil War? There are more than 240,000 members across the US, with more than 60 chapters in Connecticut alone.

So, outside of owning the building on Wallingford Road (where, last century, I used to take dance lessons), what exactly does the Grange do?  While there’s still some focus on agriculture, the modern Grange performs charitable community services for rural, suburban, and urban localities, and is open to everyone. Among the many community programs they run and support are Red Cross Blood Drives, quilts for AIDS babies, supporting Heifer International, gift baskets for the needy and elderly, school supplies, camperships, scholarships, equipment for police and fire departments, community education programs, and so much more. And of course, the annual Grange Fair – this year on August 21. 

See, the more people who enter – anything! – the more interesting your Grange Fair is. This is your community fair – and the more we support it, the better it is! (I’m tired of being the only entry in some categories. That’s just no fun.)

So dig through your treasures. Print that photo. Iron that placemat you made. Tuck the threads on that needlepoint you did during shutdown. Pick those tomatoes carefully. No effort is too “amateur,” so get moving and get your entry form in! 

There are a limited number of entry booklets available at the library and around town, or you can download them yourself from their website. 

Best of luck!

http://www.cheshiregrange.org/grangeagfair.asp

Darkly Dahl

Roald Dahl is an author of controversy. He’s lauded for being a brilliant writer; he’s shunned because of his 1920’s upbringing and racist and antisemitic writings and comments. His children’s books are considered classics of literature; his children’s books are ignored by some who complain they are too dark for children’s literature.

Too dark? Let’s look at this.

Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother was eaten by a predatory wolf, Cinderella’s stepmother made her into a slave, Hansel and Gretl were abandoned (twice!) by their parents and taken in by a cannibalistic hag; the Little Match Girl freezes to death all alone. Is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Matilda darker than that? Not quite.  

There is some truth to it – in many of Dahl’s stories, parents, if not most adults, are seen as evil, or cruel, or incompetent providers – mean teachers, poor and ever-working parents, buffoonish adults who cannot see the plight of the child (Wonka is most definitely – well, Wonky). There are elements of racial bigotry (the tiny black (yes, they were black in the book) oompa loompas living on grubs; Germans always being fat gluttons, etc). But is this so far from other children’s stories? Not so much. Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events is also darkly humorous, and few are crying foul. Dr. Doolittle bleaches a man’s skin, rather than let a black man marry a white woman. Peter Pan’s stereotypical depiction of Native Americans is downright painful and offensive on many levels. Bigotry and stereotyping is nothing new, only that fact that we now call it what it is. 

One point to remember is that parents, quite frankly, are a pain in the neck to children. They love them, while at the same time resent them for setting limits, saying no, and dragging children kicking and screaming through the process of growing up. For Dahl – and millions of others – who grew up in British boarding schools, at the mercy of bullies they couldn’t escape and teachers who were allowed to whip children, the experience left a more lasting impression (Pink Floyd, anyone?). For those in Britain who grew up in World War II, who as children hid during the Blitz or were shipped out to board with strangers, it lends another level of abandonment and trust issues to children’s literature. There’s a reason behind a lot of the dark – and for British children, it’s a shared cultural memory. Is Fantastic Mr. Fox an allegory for the war? Possibly. 

Another point to consider is children are the hero of their own story. It’s fine if Daddy vanquishes the dragon, but children would much rather be the ones doing it. Tween and Pre-tween children desperately want to be seen as competent, able to impress grown ups with their abilities. Children want to be the hero, and they can’t do that if Mummy and Daddy are with them telling them no – hence the number of orphan stories, or children alone. They can’t rely on the adults with them, or the story won’t work. A story about a child who tried and failed, who gave up and lived with their perceived oppression, isn’t a story a child wants to read about. There’s no role model there, no hero, no inspiration, no one to pretend to be. So of course Matilda has to shine, and the Peach must kill James’s wicked aunts, even if he has to find kinship with a bunch of insects, and even wacky Mr. Wonka can’t miss the good that dwells in Charlie. 

Darkness, shmarkness. The world is a dark place, and childhood a relatively new invention. In too many places, children are still locked in war-torn places, famines, camps, drug violence, and abusive situations. Our lauded fairy tales of yore – right down to Mother Goose and Aesop’s Fables – hark back to far darker times.

 Let them read. If nothing else, darker literature provides the perfect chance to discuss empathy, fantasy vs. reality, and handling tough situations – including some of the tough times we’ve been through in the past year.

The Magic Finger

Danny the Champion of the World

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

The Witches

The BFG

Matilda

James and the Giant Peach

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Twilight of the Gods, Ian Toll

Media has changed warfare. Thanks to Matthew Brady, photos of the brutality and hopelessness of war affected people in an entirely new way. At the time, the Civil War was the most documented war in history - yet it had nothing on World War II, just 75 years later. Movie film captured every last horror of that war, by both those who wanted to document the atrocities and those who wanted to bask in what they saw as glory. By Viet Nam, with Kodak Instamatics fitting in a soldier’s pocket, the grit was documented by everyone, not just official sources. In today’s internet era, conflicts are documented and uploaded to the world live, before officials even know they’ve happened. It will take decades to sort through available data and make viable conclusions on modern conflicts.

Media has changed warfare. Thanks to Matthew Brady, early photographer, photos of the brutality and hopelessness of war affected people in an entirely new way. At the time, the Civil War was the most documented war in history – yet it had nothing on World War II, just 75 years later. Now movie film captured every last horror of that war, by both those who wanted to document the atrocities and those who wanted to bask in what they saw as glory. By Viet Nam, with Kodak Instamatics fitting in a soldier’s pocket, the grit was documented by everyone, not just official sources. In today’s internet era, conflicts are documented and uploaded to the world live, before officials even know they’ve happened. It will take decades to sort through available data and make viable conclusions on modern conflicts.

German Sub U-755 is sunk by an RAF rocket, 1943

But World War II was no slouch. In doing a bit of research the other month on my grandmother’s little-known younger brother (they were 16 years apart), within 10 minutes, my sister and I were able to pull up information that stunned us. All anyone knew had been “Uncle Laurie was on a Coast Guard ship that was presumed lost at sea, possibly due to a German Sub, during World War II.”  Well, thanks to unfailing documentation, we found out that Laurie had been a radioman on the USS Muskeget, a weather ship, which was shot at 3 times by the German sub U-755 at 3:15 in the afternoon of September 9, 1942. Two torpedoes hit, killing all aboard. They even had the coordinates off Greenland. Not only that, but there’s a photo of U-755 being sunk by an RAF plane several months later!  No one in the family had ever known any of those facts.

With that type of minutiae now available, Ian Toll brings together his final tome on the history of the Asian Theater in WWII, Twilight of the Gods (I know, I just switched from the European front to the Asian one, but our family knows less about the Asian front: Uncle Art was a Marine at Iwo Jima, but not the famous flag raising, and my psychiatrist grandfather was stationed in California as a Navy Captain treating shell-shocked soldiers returning from the lines). In his third installment of the war, Toll covers the months between  June of 1944 and the Peace Treaty in 1945, after the dropping of the bomb. 

The Asian theater is an anomaly: this is the part of the war that actually attacked US territory, the act of aggression that finally drew us into the war despite the incomprehensible acts going on in Europe, and yet, we tend to teach only the European aspect of the war, beyond the two facts of 1) Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, and 2) we dropped the first (and only) nukes on them in retaliation. Is it because of the difference of a Navy war vs. an Army land war? It’s easy to follow Maginot lines on a map, but ships bouncing from island to island around a massive ocean isn’t as visual: We can understand where France is, but where exactly is 7.1315° N, 171.1845° E? (It’s the Marshall Islands. Can you picture them? Neither can I.) How can people fight over water, which has no country? Far more people had relatives affected somewhere in Europe, vs no one was taking up collections to send to Vanuatu. Yet the battles were the largest naval battles in history, and the cruelty and aspirations no less than that of Hitler. 

Toll spares no fact from his relentless research, and the brutality and heartbreak can inure the reader – much as it did those who lived through it. He covers the infighting among leaders – no one thought highly of Admiral Halsey – and the waste of young men literally being thrown at ships as kamikaze pilots – a tactic that eventually wore thin even among the Japanese. Good or bad, Toll covers it in a narrative style that will give you a far greater appreciation for the lesser-known side of a war that literally covered the world.  Whew.

If you don’t have time to sit and read a thousand pages, Twilight of the Gods is now available at CPL on audiobook, to make that commute just a little more interesting!

Twilight of the Gods

Audio book Print

The Conquering Tide

Audio book Print

Pacific Crucible

Passing the Bechdel Test

Have you given anything a Bechdel test? Have you ever heard of the Bechdel Test?
I’d never heard of it either (and I went to a women’s college!) until it popped up on an internet group I belong to, and I had to look it up.

The Bechdel test (or Bechdel-Wallace test) is a measure of representation of women in fiction. It first appeared in Allison Bechdel’s 1985 cartoon strip, Dykes to Watch Out For (I didn’t name it) commenting on films, brought on by a quote from Virginia Woolf, in that women in fiction might sometimes be mother and daughter, but rarely are two women friends in literature. Almost always, women were viewed by their relationship to men – wanting a man, chasing a man, depending on a man, chasing off a man, etc. (Hence Jane Austen, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”). Real women in real life talk to other women about more than just men (even if it’s only about their cat or dog).

Therefore, Bechdel gave three commandments for films to be considered women-friendly (and by default, TV and books):

  1. It must have at least two women in it (preferably with names)
  2. Who talk to each other (preferably for at least 60 seconds)
  3. About something besides a man

And the off-hand comment in a sarcastic lesbian cartoon strip surged until it’s become an almost a standard metric for the industry.

Seems pretty simple, right?

Various groups have researched more than 8000 films, and concluded that 42-50% of films cannot pass the test, and half of those that do pass do so only because two women are discussing marriage or babies. Being a female-oriented show about women does not mean the film or program can pass the test. Even female-cast TV shows such as Sex in the City don’t pass, because almost all the discussion is about men. Big-budget female-lead action films such as Lucy or Atomic Blonde or Salt fail, because the secondary characters are almost always men – there are no other women. Star Trek, which broke many TV taboos, can’t pass the test – there are many women, and they talk quite a bit, but almost never to each other. Lost in Space had three women trapped in a tin can together, and they almost never spoke to each other for more than one or two lines, occasionally. Firefly, for its very brief run, hits the mark more often than not. Okay, I Love Lucy wins for most realistic female friends ever, as does Gone With the Wind, thanks to Miss Melly, so time period is not a decisive factor. We haven’t necessarily gotten better with age, despite feminism.

Various groups have researched more than 8000 films, and concluded that 42-50% of films cannot pass the test, and half of those that do pass do so only because two women are discussing marriage or babies. Being a female-oriented show about women does not mean the film or program can pass the test. Even female-cast TV shows such as Sex in the City don’t pass, because almost all the discussion is about men. Big-budget female-lead action films such as Lucy or Atomic Blonde or Salt fail, because the secondary characters are almost always men – there are no other women. Star Trek, which broke many TV taboos, can’t pass the test – there are many women, and they talk quite a bit, but almost never to each other. Lost in Space had three women trapped in a tin can together, and they almost never spoke to each other for more than one or two lines, occasionally. Firefly, for its very brief run, hits the mark more often than not. Okay, I Love Lucy wins for most realistic female friends ever, as does Gone With the Wind, thanks to Miss Melly, so time period is not a decisive factor. We haven’t necessarily gotten better with age, despite feminism.

Not passing the Bechdel test does NOT make a film bad, nor does it make it not worth watching. Not every movie is going to center around women – Dunkirk, for example, a splendid movie about a specific battle in World War II. Women were just not involved in that. Stand By Me – a magnificent story of four young boys on a quest. Girls aren’t in the story, and if you skip this movie because of that, then you’re missing one of the best American movies. Nor is every film required to pass the Bechdel test. Casino passes two of the three qualifications, but women are mistreated throughout the film. Inclusion is just that – inclusion, not a judgment of how women are treated by the story, not a judgment of female competence, not a judgment of feminism (Gravity, with a female astronaut who saves the day, can’t pass the test, though The Martian, with a male lead, does). A woman may love a movie that can’t pass the test, and a man can certainly love a film that does. Movies of every genre pass or fail; there is no specific type of film to look for.

All the Bechdel test does, really, is point out films in which women – a full 50% of the population – are a larger focus of the story, and even if they aren’t, they’re portrayed as real, well-rounded people who speak to each other about real subjects, even if it’s about burning a roast, not just love-starved buttercups who are nothing without a man. So, if you’re on the lookout for films that show women – important or background characters – in a more realistic light, here are 15 various films that do pass the Bechdel test:

The Finest Hours

Little Miss Sunshine

Wonder Woman

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Last Jedi

Girl, Interrupted

Hidden Figures

Kill Bill

Thelma and Louise

The Exorcist

Chicago

Frozen

Birds of Prey

Bill and Ted Face the Music

Knives Out

May is Mental Health Month

One in every five people in the US carry some sort of “mental Illness” diagnosis – 20% – making it almost twice as common as killer heart disease, yet people hear the term “mental illness” and pictures of unshaven, alcohol-soaked homeless men and babbling old women with uncombed hair and too many cats come to mind (Don’t judge me!).

In reality, that’s far from the common truth. The umbrella term of “mental illness” includes everyone from your depressed cousin, your churning anxiety over political situations, and Uncle Louie, who served in Iraq and spends most days with his friend Jack Daniels. It includes the teen with autism who works down at the laundromat (don’t jump on me; a strong majority of autism includes OCD and anxiety, with phobias topping the list at 30%), the hoarder you drive past on your way to work, that girl on the cheerleading team who wears a baggy size 0, and that guy at work who stays four hours later than anyone else and talks so fast you can’t follow him. It includes celebrities, like Robin Williams, Margot Kidder, Robert Downey Jr, Brittney Spears, Carrie Fisher, Brooke Shields, and so many more.

“Mental Illness” is more common than COVID.

While some introverts have fared well through the pandemic and quarantines, many people have not. Rates of depression in adults went from 8% pre-pandemic to 28% – almost one in three – after. For those who lived alone, the rates approach 40%. Isolation, job loss, poverty, loss of loved ones, anxiety, and long-haul COVID symptoms all play their part in feeling crushed by a microbe. Among children, who can’t always understand the details of what’s going on, rates of depression and anxiety straddled 40%.

Unfortunately, our image of “mental illness” is tainted by historic images of schizophrenia, the king of all mental illnesses, and often the most resistant to treatment. We watch movies such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, while not remembering that these movies depict mental illness treatment from as much as 70 years ago, when diagnoses were vague, medications were ineffective and dangerous, people believed in insulin comas and the disaster of lobotomies, and there were no PET or MRI scans to show exactly what the problem was. There was a time not very long ago when the number one treatment for syphilis was mercury. Times have changed, and chances are there’s actual help for that now.

How can something affecting 30% of the population be abnormal? Here’s a fact: it’s not, but our refusal to admit it keeps people feeling ashamed and afraid to seek treatment. If you feel down, if the social distancing and anxieties are getting to you, if your child is fearful and withdrawn and having trouble sleeping, reach out! Help is just a phone call away. No insurance? No worries. There are places to help you get medical coverage, and places that work on a sliding scale. There IS help, for everyone. Don’t be afraid to ask.

If you feel like life is overwhelming you, if you are worried about a loved one, if you are struggling with just getting through your day, CALL the CT ACTION line (Adult Crisis Telephone Intervention and Options Network). It’s available 24 hours a day, because the worst thoughts usually happen during the night.  1-800-467-3135,  or just call 211, which is the general help line for state services.

Don’t want to feel like you’re the only one on the planet feeling down? Check out these popular books and films on people having difficulties. Chances are, yours aren’t that bad.