Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

In this book, Amy Chua details how she raised her two daughters Sophia and Louisa, using methods that might be considered unconventional by today’s standards. When I read about it in The New Yorker in January, a lot of people were blogging about it, and there were quite a few harsh comments on her methods. Someone even suggested she be arrested for child abuse. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to reading the book, it’s my turn. I’m not a parent so far be it for me to tell her how she should have raised her children, but I will say this. Looking back on how my younger brother Andy and I were raised compared to the upbringing of Sophia and Louisa, Amy Chua didn’t hold a candle to our mother.

After reading the book, I can understand why Amy raised her children the way she did. It’s no different from the pattern of the abused child who grows up to abuse her own children. Amy was the daughter of Chinese immigrants, and she and her siblings were raised in a strict environment. They were required to speak only Chinese at home and whacked with chopsticks for every English word accidentally uttered. They were expected to get straight A’s in school, and heaven help them if they came home with a B on a report card. When Amy won only second place in a school contest, her father said she had disgraced him. Amy’s husband isn’t Chinese, but Amy decided to raise their children in what she calls the Chinese way as opposed to the Western way which I’m assuming means the American way. Her husband went along with it, although he tried unsuccessfully to intervene when she was especially harsh with the girls. Sophia and Louisa were forbidden to participate in sleepovers, play dates, and school plays. They also were not allowed to watch TV or play computer games. All their free time was taken up with practicing the piano and violin. They were expected to receive no less than an A in most school subjects.

On the other hand, Andy and I were raised in a less restrictive environment. We could have sleepovers and play dates and do a lot of other things that kids did. I took piano lessons and  tried the violin. Andy learned to play the drums. We were never forced to play any musical instruments like Sophia or Louisa. Our parents were proud of us even when we got B’s.

Sophia and Louisa were born three years apart with Sophia being the older. When both girls were five, they started formal musical training. Amy was present during all their lessons which was actually required by the Suzuki teachers. At home, she sat next to them when they practiced and gave pointers. At times, she told them they were getting worse and threatened to burn or give away their toys and deprive them of food if they didn’t play a piece correctly. The girls were forced to practice five or six hours a day and sometimes not allowed to leave the piano to get a drink of water or go to the bathroom. When they were teen-agers, Amy left strict instructions on how to practice certain pieces in the event she couldn’t be home to supervise them.

Andy and I are seven years apart. I started lessons when I was five. Andy started taking drum lessons when he was about eight. Mother rarely stayed with us during our lessons. At home, she showed me how to play the pieces because I couldn’t see well enough to read the music, and I never learned Braille music. Andy could figure out drumming on  his own without help from Mother. We were never threatened with serious consequences if we didn’t play correctly, but  Mother lost patience with me from time to time when I didn’t get the pieces right the first or second time. Once I got the hang of the pieces, I was left to  my own devices, but Mother was always nearby since the piano was in a central location. There was no set amount of time for us to practice. Once we had gone through our assigned practicing, we could do what we  wanted.

Sometimes, I stayed at the piano and made up songs. When I was older, I sang popular songs I heard on the radio or records and accompanied myself on the piano. Andy often played the drums with me. I’m glad Amy wasn’t our mother because she would have frowned on this. Although she encouraged her daughters to play together, she insisted they play strictly classical music.

When Sophia and Louisa were seven and four, they gave her birthday cards they’d drawn on construction paper with crayons. She rejected them, telling her daughters she wanted something better. She claimed that since she went all out for their birthdays, buying fancy cakes and party favors, she expected the same in return.

My mother never reacted in such a way to any gifts we gave her. Dad often took Andy and me shopping for Mother’s birthday and helped us pick out stuff he thought she would like: shampoo, lotion, and other cosmetics. Mother always expressed appreciation for the things we gave her, and I think she tried to instill in us the idea that it’s the thought that counts.

As a result of Amy’s rigorous schedule of practice and lessons, Sophia played at Carnegie Hall when she was thirteen, and Louisa became concert master for a youth orchestra and recorded a CD when she was the same age. I never made it to Carnegie Hall, and Andy never recorded a CD, but I won second place in a talent contest when I was in high school with my piano and vocal rendition of “You Light Up My Life,” and of course, my parents were proud. I had hoped to be the next Debbie Boon or Olivia-Newton-John, but that didn’t happen, either. It doesn’t matter. I’m happy with my life, and I’m glad that when I was growing up, my mother taught me to enjoy it. I hope that when Sophia and Louisa grow up, they will learn to enjoy life as well, and when they have children, perhaps they will break the vicious mother daughter cycle and raise them in the Western way.

Amy Chua tells a compelling story, weaving incidents of the girls’ musical exploits with other family events: the acquisition of two dogs, the loss of Amy’s mother-in-law, and her sister’s bout with leukemia. In the end, she describes how Louisa rebeled against the strict regimen and her decision to retreat from Chinese parenting tactics. I purchased the book in recorded format from audible.com and was lucky to hear the author read it. She did a terrific job. This book is available in print anywhere Penguin books are sold. I recommend it to anyone who likes  a heartwarming family story. For more information, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_Hymn_of_the_Tiger_Mother#Summary

Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

Friday, March 18, 2011

Three Weeks in Paris

No, I’m not planning to take a vacation in France. That’s too expensive. It would be nice to go there. A few years ago, I read an article about a restaurant in Paris where patrons dine in the dark to get a feel for what it’s like to eat when you’re blind. Although I have some vision, I would fit right in. I wouldn’t have to worry if I dropped food in my lap while cutting it or knocked over my water glass because everyone else would be doing the same thing.

Anyway, I just finished reading Three Weeks in Paris by Barbara Taylor Bradford. This has nothing to do with dining in the dark, although a few of the characters have romantic candlelit dinners in Paris restaurants. Alex, Kay, Jessica, and Maria are four friends who attend a design school in Paris. Right before their graduation, they have a falling out, and after they graduate, they go their separate ways. Seven years later, they are reunited and  make up when they return to Paris to attend their teacher’s eighty-fifth birthday party and deal with other unfinished business. I like the way the author leaves the question of why the friends quarreled until close to the end of the book.

Barbara  Taylor Bradford grew up in Yorkshire, England. Her mother, a children’s nurse and nanny, introduced her to books when she was four, and by the time she was twelve, she had read all the books by Charles Dickens and the Brontes. When she was fifteen and a half, she started working as a typist for The Yorkshire Evening Post. Within six months, she was promoted to cub reporter. According to her official Web site, she joked that this was because she was such a lousy typist. At the age of eighteen, she became the newspaper’s women’s page editor. When she was twenty, she moved to London where she worked as fashion editor for Woman’s Own. She wrote for other magazines and newspapers on a variety of topics from crime to show business. In 1961, she met film producer Robert Bradford on a blind date, and in 1963, they were married and moved to the U.S. After years of writing children’s books and a  column on fashion and interior design that was published in newspapers across America, she realized her dream of publishing adult fiction when in 1976, she sold her first novel, A Woman of Substance, to a publisher on the strength of a ten-page outline and a hundred and ninety-two pages. Today, she is published in over ninety countries and forty languages with a sales figure in excess of eighty-two million dollars. To learn more, go to http://www.barbarataylorbradford.com/

Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Social Media in the Workplace

Today, I heard on public radio that people are losing their jobs because of what they’re saying about their bosses on their blogs, Facebook, and other social media. I can understand businesses wanting to preserve their images, but in two cases that were reported on, both women did not divulge their places of employment, and they still lost their jobs. One was a teacher and one a paramedic. A lawyer interviewed during the report said that companies are developing policies to regulate their employees’ use of social media and that during a job interview, you could legally be asked to open your Ffacebook page under the pretense of your prospective employer wanting to see if you are engaged in illegal activity.

Here’s my opinion. What you say and do outside of work is nobody else’s business as long as it doesn’t affect your work performance, and as long as you’re not threatening to plant a stink bomb in your boss’s chair that will detonate when he sits down, you should be able to say anything you want on Facebook, your blob, or in a bar. What happened to the First Amendment, anyway?

Fortunately, I’m my own boss. I can say anything I want on my blog without repercussion. Abbie Johnson Taylor is a fat bitch, and her writing’s not worth the paper it’s printed on or the computer and software used to generate it. Okay, Abbie, you’re fired! Oh, shoot, I guess I won’t be able to plant that stink bomb now.

Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

Monday, March 14, 2011

Breaking Up

I read a poem by Dorianne Laux called “The Beatles.” You can read it at http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2011/03/13 The poet asks why The Beatles broke up since they had families, and their music was bringing in a lot of money. I don’t know the answer, but I can understand that sometimes, musicians feel they need to separate and move on. I recently left a singing group[ because I discovered that my philosophy on performing is different from theirs. Since I joined them over fifteen years ago, members and directors have come and gone. The group’s dynamics changed as a result.

As for The Beatles, I’m sorry they broke up, too. Although some of their songs leave a bit to be desired, there are other priceless hits such as “Here Comes the Sun” and “When I’m Sixty-Four.” I’ll leave you now with another one of their songs, “In My Life.” Click on the link below to hear a recording of me  singing it, accompanying myself on the piano. It’s not one of their more popular songs, but I like it. I used to have a recording of  Judy Collins singing it, and it was used as the theme song for “Providence,” a TV show about a big city doctor who returns to her home town in Rhode Island to work at a clinic for low income patients. Enjoy!

Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Pinch

I submitted a story to a contest sponsored by a magazine by this name. According to the fall 2009 issue, the publication is named after a district in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. In the early days, the district was inhabited by Irish immigrants and  Jewish merchants. It was called Pinchgut after the malnourished appearance of Irish railroad workers. For most of the twentieth century, it was run-down and neglected, but it was recently re-vitalized and is now a historic landmark and cultural hub.

The magazine publishes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry by diverse voices. I sent them a story called “Heaven” about a pregnant teen-ager who is forced to give birth in a barn on Christmas Eve like the Virgin Mary. For more information about The Pinch, go to http://thepinchjournal.com If you want to enter the contest, hurry! The deadline is March 15th.

Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Bride Quartet

I just finished reading Savor the Moment, the third in the series of four books in the bride quartet series by New York Times Number One best selling author Nora Roberts. Mac, Emma, Laurel, and Parker have been best friends since childhood and run an event business called Vows that specializes in weddings. Mac handles the photography, Emma the flowers, Laurel the cakes, and Parker the details. In each book, one of the four women falls in love and becomes engaged. In the first two books, Mac and Emma meet their matches. In Savor the Moment, Laurel falls in love and becomes engaged to Parker’s brother, a lawyer who handles the legal end of the business. Also, Parker starts a relationship with the mechanic who fixes her car and happens to be  a friend of her brother’s. I imagine in the fourth book which I haven’t read yet, that relationship will blossom into love.

Now, here’s the question. How will four people who run a wedding business manage their own weddings? It’s not too hard to plan and run your own wedding. I did it myself five years ago. Of course, I didn’t do the photography, flowers, or cake. I just did Parker’s job with a little financial and other help from my dad and my sister-in-law who served as matron of honor. Several people handled the photography. My cousins did the decorating, and Marla’s Cakes here in Sheridan, Wyoming,  did the rest. But I digress. Will the bride quartet have a quadruple wedding, the event to end all events at Vows? I guess I’ll have to find out when I read the next book in the series. For more information about Nora Roberts and her books, visit http://www.noraroberts.com/

Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome