It's 8:32am on a Tuesday morning. I've just burned a once-gorgeous tomato/Parmesan/onoin/kale frittata and spilled coffee all over my kitchen, but still I'm smiling. I'm smiling because last night was nothing short of incredible.
Last night, I co-hosted a Happier Hour Literary Salon with the New York Foundling, an amazing, huge, impactful New York-based charity that empowers thousands of children and families to live independent, stable and fulfilling lives. The Foundling's COO, Bethany Lampland, is a dear friend from my short-lived law firm days. Many of you might not even know that I am (was?) a lawyer because I don't talk about it much anymore, but I did a stint as a litigation associate at a big Manhattan firm and during that stint, I met Bethany. She and I grew close, supported each other through our newbie days, and she was one of the first people I went to when I decided to quit law to write. Years later, she too left the firm to pursue work that was more meaningful to her. Fast forward to this past summer. We had a girls' lunch. We talked life and love. We laughed a lot. I walked her to the subway and as we said goodbye, I looked at her and said, You know what? We should find a way to collaborate.
And that's just what we have done. Last night was the first in what will be a series of Happier Hours that we will co-host. I feel so good about this, guys. For a while now, I've felt that there was something missing from these brilliant Happier Hour evenings and that something was a charitable, philanthropic gloss. What's better than gathering a group of bright, interesting and interested women to support authors and books? Gathering a group of bright, interesting and interested women to support authors and books and give back. My guests last night had the privilege of hearing about the Foundling's work and also made donations to support the organizations wonderful work. This new iteration of Happier Hours felt right. I'm so very excited.
And our authors? My goodness.
Jo Piazza talked about her recent book If Nuns Ruled the World. She told us that the book was originally titled Badass Nuns and that's just what she described - ten amazing, powerful, independent nuns who are making a true difference in the world (read: running ironmans, building safe houses for victims of human trafficking, breaking into nuclear plants.) All preconceived notions of who nuns are went out the window last night as Jo told her eye-opening and often humorous stories. From her site, a bit more flavor:
From an eighty-three-year-old Ironman champion to a passionate activist for LGBT rights, veteran reporter Jo Piazza profiles ten extraordinary nuns and the vital causes to which they have dedicated their lives.
If Nuns Ruled the World showcases these women as vigorous catalysts in an otherwise constricting patriarchy. These sisters offer powerful, provocative stories of hope that are sure to inspire and spark debate.
Jenny Nordberg talked about her recent The Underground Girls of Kabul, a book borne from an investigative story she originally penned for the New York Times about the until now secret phenomenon of Bacha Posh - or girls dressed up, and disguised as, a boys. From her site:
These children are part of a hidden practice in which parents disguise daughters as sons. Instead of wearing a headscarf, and a skirt or a dress, a little girl will get a short haircut and a pair of pants, and she’ll be sent off into the world as one of the boys. The bacha posh look like boys, they learn to behave like boys, and to those around them who don’t know, they are Afghan boys.
It is a creative, some would say desperate, way to buck the system in a suppressive, gender-segregated society. In Afghanistan, men make most of the decisions and women and girls hold very little value. From the moment she is born, an Afghan girl has very few rights and little control over her own life. She often cannot leave the house without an escort. She must guard her behavior and appear modest at all times.
For Afghan girls, posing as a boy opens up a whole new world. It affords a girl freedom of movement; for some that means a chance to go to school, for others the ability to work and support their families. In every case, it allows her to see and experience things most girls and young women in Afghanistan never do.
With enviable poise and humility, Jenny talked about her mission to uncover the truth about this practice in Afghanistan and her discovery that this has happened, and is happening, elsewhere. She has set up a site bachaposh.com that I encourage you all to check out. Her hope is that women from all over who have had this experience will be able to find each other in the ether.
I cannot recommend these books enough. To be frank, both fell outside the scope of what I typically read, and maybe that's why I loved them so much. The stories contained in these two books woke me up in a way that was nothing short of profound. They shifted my perspective about what it means to be a modern woman, what it means to have freedom, what it means to be raising young girls.
Truth be told, I could go on and on and I'm tempted to, but I'd rather send you off with the instructions to get your hands on these fine books, to devour them and talk about them, and to learn more about the wildly important work the Foundling is doing.
To all of you who were here at my home last night and to all of you who are here reading along, following from afar: Thank you. I can't properly articulate how much these evenings have come to mean to me as a woman and a writer and a thinker and a dreamer. Long live the lost arts of eye contact and hugs, words and stories and questions, big ideas and big actions too. It's particularly on these mornings-after when I sit squarely in the frame of my burnt-frittata, spilled-coffee very real life that I feel most humbled and grateful for all of you, and this. This.