“Excellence in any field is admirable. A performance that approaches perfection, whether by a violinist, a poet, or a pitcher, reminds us of the stunning alternative to days that too often feel shapeless, cluttered, and unfinished.”
When Rachel Freierman was 15 years old, she went on a 10-day backpacking trip with AMC’s Teen Wilderness Adventures (TWA) program. She already felt fairly comfortable in the outdoors. Her family went car camping. They backcountry skied. Still, Freierman had never backpacked before. “I was excited to push myself,” she recalls.
Every outdoor adventure has challenges, and every kid arrives at those challenges with different levels of experience. Mix in unpredictable group dynamics and fickle Northeastern weather, and leading a group of kids into the backcountry becomes pretty daunting. We asked some of AMC’s youth programs staff for advice.
In section 18 of the White Oak Plot of the Bronx’s Woodlawn Cemetery, there lies a grave site that was once unmarked.
Dug in 1951, the burial site was originally left anonymous despite the fact that its occupant achieved a tremendous amount of success during his lifetime. The interred inhabitant drew over 300 covers for the Saturday Evening Post, created one of the most notable advertising images of all time in the Arrow Collar Man, was inducted into the Society of Illustrator’s Hall of Fame, and was idolized by Norman Rockwell, who served as pallbearer at his funeral.
Even more astounding, however, is that the grave’s occupant achieved all of this success despite living under the societal taboo of being a gay man, who made a significant portion of his living from drawing portraits of his closeted lifelong lover, for all the world to see.
The grave has since been properly memorialized. Yet, perhaps it was more fitting when it was anonymous. Because today, sixty years and several cultural ages later, few recognize the name of the site’s formerly famed occupant: J.C. Leyendecker.
How is it that such a significant contributor to American culture could be so thoroughly forgotten? What might the Americana of yesteryear tell us about our culture today? And in our forgetting about this man, what have we forgotten about ourselves?
One day last summer, I journeyed to New Rochelle, just north of New York City, in Westchester County, hoping not only to find Leyendecker’s former home, but to better understand his legacy as well.
Togiak whined excitedly as we fishtailed into the parking lot. The snow was falling heavier than before. As she anxiously offered her best “malamute howl,” we trudged through the perfectly light Rocky Mountain powder, arriving at the snowmobile that would (we hoped) carry us the remainder of the journey home: two miles up a snowed-in road that wouldn’t be passable again until the mountain flowers were in bloom, sometime in July.
Fortunately, the snowmobile started right up. Unfortunately, the trail had become nearly impossible to see. Sighing with uncertainty, I was distracted by Togiak, who happily stuck her head in the snow, smelling for, looking at … who knows.
I called for her and gunned the heavy Polaris sled forward. She sprinted behind me as usual.
Fifty feet later I stopped, grabbed my goggles out of my backpack, placed them in the more useful location over my previously blinded eyes, and started the sled forward again.
Fifty feet later, I stopped again. The snowmobile, having no regular headlight setting, was always set on high beams. The combination of bright lights and the now-heavy snow made the trail virtually impossible to distinguish from the ravine that led so suddenly, and so definitively, down to the frozen stream below.
Still warm from the heat of the car, the pulls of the snowmobile cord, and the eagerness to get home, I wondered for a moment what to do. I tried to imagine the trail in my mind’s eye. How many turns were there? How many steep inclines up a hill? Togiak caught up to the stationary sled, leaning in to sniff my leg, making sure everything was all right. Was everything all right? A cold wind slapped at my face. Time to get going.
“I can’t go away with you on a rock climbing weekend / What if something’s on TV and it’s never shown again?”
– The Lemonheads, Outdoor Type, Car Button Cloth
“In matters of truth, much has been said of the memoirist’s responsibility in wielding accuracy; much less has been said of the reader’s responsibility in wielding belief. Belief is a form of reverence; disbelief, a form of rejection. Both can be destructive when unexamined: blind faith might give power where it’s not due while blind doubt might strip away power where it’s needed most. Whether we stick out our tongues to deny or savor another person’s claims, the revelation is about ourselves …
“Belief and doubt are inevitably selfish things. But beyond our dubious ability to judge a story is something transcendent: our ability to receive it. Memoirists aren’t making an argument. They’re making an offering.”
— Sarah Smarsh, “Believe It,” Creative Nonfiction #55
“Nothing is less real than realism … It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.”
“Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.”
– Edward Abbey, Prelude, Beyond The Wall
In her recently published book, Amherst psychologist Lisa Aronson Fontes writes of a couple, Mandy and Tom, who were married after a whirlwind courtship featuring gifts of flowers and cards. But following their wedding Tom began complaining about Mandy talking with her sister and mother on the telephone, and obsessing about how she spent her time away from him. Later, he grew angry when she cut her hair without consulting him. Loving moments were replaced by anxiety. Mandy felt trapped.
The story of this couple, whose names have been changed by Fontes, is among several stories the author presents in “Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship.” The testimonials are meant to shine a light on emotional control, which, Fontes says, occurs in personal relationships more commonly than people realize.
“Coercive control is a problem that is hard to define,” Fontes said. “But the anguish women feel because of their lack of freedom is very real.”
Though more difficult to see than physical violence, it ruins lives, too.
“Coercive control strips away victims’ independence, sense of self and basic rights,” Fontes writes in her book. It robs victims of the ability to make decisions about their own time, friends and appearance through combinations of degradation, isolation, micromanagment, manipulation, physical violence, sexual coercion, threats or punishment on the part of the controller.
“Victims feel anxious, dependent and afraid.”
Fontes is a counseling psychologist who has worked in the areas of violence against women and child abuse for 25 years. She now teaches at the University of Massachusetts’ University Without Walls in Amherst. She also has been a victim of some of what she writes about.
Fontes drew on that as well as her work as a researcher, activist and psychotherapist in writing “Invisible Chains.” In the book she explores the questions: What is coercive control? Why does it happen? How can victims overcome it?
Like you, I was unbelievably excited to hear that Billy Wimsatt was coming out with a new book.
Like you, reading his other books were life-changing experiences. No More Prisons and Bomb the Suburbs helped define and encase my self-education and overall thinking throughout my twenties. Their topics, their tone, their vision, their possibility, their informality.
And like you, I balked when I heard the new book’s title: Please Don’t Bomb The Suburbs. The air out of my excited, inflated balloon. Please don’t bomb the suburbs? What the? Please. don’t. bomb. the. suburbs. Each word seemed to stand on its own, a monument of disappointment to my expectations. Please? Who says please in a book title?! And then continues to put a big Don’t in front of the title of his original book, which was an outright underground classic? It even looks that way on the book cover. His breakthrough graffiti-style Bomb The Suburbs stamped out with a huge PLEASE DON’T. Like he’s reforming himself. The middle-aging bureaucrat censoring the youth activist he once was. Who is this guy? This joker? This poser? What a dork. Sell-out! The usual affronts to my overly sensitive sensibility rattled themselves off in my brain. Sometimes, most of the time, it’s all too easy to be critical, judgmental, self-important, delusional.
I journeyed to my local bookstore armed with a very comfortable amount of skepticism and picked up Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs, ready to be disappointed, let down. Another cult hero turns mainstream. Another shining example of intentionality negated by reality’s circumstance.
But upon reading Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs, I couldn’t help but be impressed by its voice, its content, and its vision, just as much as I had hoped I would be (though I still disdain the book’s title). If Bomb the Suburbs and No More Prisons were books about youth activism, and fighting the power to achieve a revolutionary new society, then Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs is a book for middle-aging youth activists who are still passionate about fighting for a revolutionary new society, but recognize the importance of a visionary long-term, sustained movement in achieving change.