Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez
Outlaw Marriages by Rodger Streitmatter
c.2012, Beacon Press $26.95, 224 pages
The groom looks nervous. Maybe because he never thought this day would come. He never believed that he’d ever fall in love and because of that, he couldn’t imagine this day.
The other groom looks nervous, too. He knows how much work goes into a wedding, and that’s doubly true for a wedding like this. He never thought this day would come either. He didn’t think the law would ever allow it.
Something old, something new? More of the first, as you’ll see in the new book Outlaw Marriages by Rodger Streitmatter.
For more years than you care to count, you’ve been fighting for the right to marry the one you love. It seems lately though, that the only progress you’re making is backwards, and that’s disheartening. But years ago, gay men and lesbian women didn’t let a little discouragement stop them from enjoying “sub-rosa marriages.” Instead, they boldly “flouted convention.”
In 1865, for instance, 45-year-old Walt Whitman fell in love with a handsome 21-year-old streetcar conductor. Until that time, Whitman had a hard time getting his poetry noticed, but falling in love had a “powerful impact” on his work. Peter Doyle became the older man’s muse and was devoted to Whitman until the poet died.
Ned Warren and John Marshall were kindred spirits, too. Both were obsessed with antiquities and had a passion for procuring them for U.S. museums. Though Warren loved Marshall, he didn’t want to be monogamous and Marshall was forced to marry a woman. Mary Bliss-Marshall knew the score, though, and was happy to let her husband share his bed with Ned Warren. She was also happy to join the two men in procuring more antiques.
But, as with any modern union, things didn’t always go well in an outlaw marriage. Sometimes, break-ups were inevitable…
Greta Garbo was a diamond-in-the-rough when Mercedes de Acosta met the new starlet, but under de Acosta’s tutelage, Garbo learned manners and poise, flourished and succeeded. As a screenwriter, de Acosta did everything to ensure that her lover got good roles and major accolades.
The problem was that de Acosta couldn’t keep anything to herself, and she blabbed their secrets in a tell-all book. That was when Garbo coldly told de Acosta to get lost.
Let’s start with the bad news: at just over 200 pages, Outlaw Marriages is barely longer than a Kardashian wedding. The good news is that it’s just as rich.
Mixing history, some old-fashioned scandal and plenty of star-power, author Rodger Streitmatter not only gives readers a sense of the times in which these “outlaws” lived, but also—and this is pretty amazing—an idea of the tolerance that they enjoyed.
In some cases, the media kept mum about the marriage (which, technically, in all cases in this book, were not strictly “marriages”) and in other cases, the situation was public knowledge but few seemed to care.
Outlaw Marriages is the kind of book you’ll be disappointed to see end because it’s so much fun. And do I recommend it?
The Thing You Think You Cannot Do by Gordon Livingston, M.D.,
c.2012, DaCapo Lifelong $19.99, 199 pages
The weather might be nice. The sun’s shining and people are walking around outside, the temperature’s comfortable but you’re completely frozen.
Once upon a time, you were able to take risks. Then, you seized opportunity. Now, though you know things could be better, something’s holding you back. You’re stuck, but you don’t know why.
The reason is fear, says Gordon Livingston, M.D., and it’s affecting your ability to think clearly. In his new book The Thing You Think You Cannot Do, he tells you how to overcome your situation.
Fear was once a good thing. It saved our ancestors from being eaten, but now, it’s “corrosive” and exploited. The fear we feel today, says Livingston , only makes us preoccupied with safety, but total safety is impossible because life “is intrinsically unsafe.”
It’s so unsafe, in fact, that we’re all going to die. We can exercise, eat all the “right” foods, give up our vices, follow doctor’s orders to the letter, withdraw completely from society to avoid contagion and we’ll still die. It’s inevitable.
The best we can do, Livingston says, is to find “the courage required to confront adversity of all sorts.” Courageous behavior involves a combination of choice, risk and willingness to benefit others, and it ultimately gives life meaning. It also allows us to conquer fear, which we must do because fearful people “do not make good decisions” and “fear is the death of reason.”
It’s easy to think, in this search, that we have courage because we’ve been through extreme travails and survived. The problem, Livingston says, is that we are not “heroes” for doing something we have no choice in completing, and we have never “suffered enough.” Likewise, we won’t find courage in belying our age or staying “stupid,” and we don’t get credit for effort.
In life, things are going to go wrong, Livingston says, and we may as well face the fact because the “only way to overcome fear is to confront it.” Meanwhile, keep a sense of humor, nurture hope in your life and learn to treat others well because we’re “all in this together.”
Feeling a little bit of inertia in this time of uncertainty? The Thing You Think You Cannot Do will help you get off your fanny, but be ready for some controversy.
Author Gordon Livingston, M.D., writes with conviction and a no-nonsense manner. His thoughts are well-conceived, they make sense and they’re empowering. His words offer the hope about which he writes, and that’s very comforting.
But beware, because Livingston has some blunt things to say about religion, military service and our definition of “heroes.” He isn’t very complimentary about many aspects of today’s society, either, but his opinions are backed by his experiences in war and in his practice, which gives this book a certain solidness.
The Thing You Think You Cannot Do takes no prisoners, accepts no whining and it won’t make friends. But if you’re stuck in life and need a nudge, reading it may be the best thing you can do.