Gumption: Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow was panned by the media a few years ago when she started up her blog GOOP, a website that addresses fashion, entertainment and culinary issues.  People were in an uproar over the flaunting of her privileged lifestyle and the pretentious entries.  For example, a few posts strongly hinted that you were just not civilized if you didn’t have a certain thread count to your sheets or owned a certain purse.  I’m determined to believe that she is just misunderstood.  Gwyneth Paltrow is friends with Madonna, is married to the front-man of a successful rock band and was raised in Manhattan by hollywood royalty.  Her 68-year-old mother, Blythe Danner is a respected actress and is still working.  For her social position and the peers she draws from, the advice is probably pretty sound.  It’s of my opinion that, if you don’t like, don’t read it.  Since her lifestyle choices do not match my own, I don’t read it but I’m also not going to diminish her efforts because I’m somehow above it.  There’s a certain priggishness to that too no?

What I do love is her new cookbook “My father’s daughter.”  Her producer/director father Bruce Paltrow passed away a few years ago and in this book she has gathered some of her parents’ recipes, shares current dishes that she makes for her family and memories of cooking with her father.  Food is the foundation of showing your love to someone and when I look through this cookbook it’s clear, through family photos and memories, that it is a way for her to pay tribute to a man who had such a positive influence in her life.  I don’t believe that a pretentious snob could create such a piece of work and maybe all Gwyneth Paltrow can be faulted for is wanting to share a part of herself with the world.

Gumption: Lauryn Hill

The artist who composed the few sentences that all women should recite to themselves:

“Girlfriend, let me break it down for you again
You know I only say it ’cause I’m truly genuine
Don’t be a hardrock when you’re really a gem
Babygirl, respect is just a minimum”
-Lauryn Hill in “Doo Wop, that thing”

Nuff said.

Gumption: Rivers Cuomo

To be completely honest, I don’t know very much about Rivers Cuomo.  Rather than reword facts from Wikipedia I’ll just list off the general info I know.  As the front-man of Weezer (which was a staple for me during my angst-ridden teen grunge days), Cuomo is a vegetarian who was raised on an ashram by liberal parents.  He also attended Harvard.  And…that’s basically about it.  He came to mind for this post because I saw him perform at a Canada Day concert where he belted out hit after hit (Say it ain’t so, Undone…the sweater song, My name is Jonas, Island in the sun etc), sounded great and danced around the stage like a rock star.  Now, for a shorter man with thick-rimmed glasses, there was something so “cool” about his presence and energy.  He really is the forefather of “geek chic” and maybe I like him because he seems genuine, not arrogant in spite of his Ivy League degree, and he is not “too cool for school.”

“I took you to Best Buy, you took me home to meet your Mom and Dad
Your Mom cooked meatloaf even though I don’t eat meat
I dug you so much, I took some for the team”

-Weezer from “If you’re wondering if I want you, (I want you to) “

Gumption: Sookie Stackhouse

“True blood” premiered its 4th Season on Sunday so this week’s gumption post is about Anna Paquin as Sookie Stackhouse, the telepathic waitress and vampire lover in Bon Temps, Louisiana.  Trust me, I question why I like Sookie’s character so much when she is pretty much the opposite of who I am.  Am I fetishizing the fact that she lives in the south, loves to clean and goes each day to the same job she’s had forever? Having worked in the service industry during university I understand how hard she works and the annoying customers she puts up with–this is in no way devaluing her reality and situation.

I like Sookie because she is different (maybe that’s what puts us in the same position?) and I enjoy True Blood in general because it pushes the boundaries of normative judgements about what is civilized, what love looks like and what is acceptable.  If you have not seen the show, it is set in a small Louisiana town called Bon Temps when vampires have “come out” and are now living within society along side civilians.  They even have a synthetic blood drink called “True Blood” where they no longer have to kill humans (though some still choose to) and are trying to integrate into communities.  Although it is against the law to discriminate against vampires, the policies don’t necessarily reflect the realities that they live through.  The vampire represents the “other” who has historically and are currently still being judged for their race, sex, creed, sexual orientation and religion.

As I have said, the show is made to test your boundaries which means that there’s often nudity, love between same-sex and heterosexual partners, gore and violence.  Lets just say that there’s a sexy-times scene at a graveyard when vampire Bill Compton has risen from the grave which is literally and figuratively dirty, or another scene involving a meat pie (I still say yuck).  It sure does “hurt so good.”  True Blood makes us observe how socially constructed norms structure our lives and how we can always work to break them down if we choose to.

Getting back to Sookie Stackhouse I admire that she thinks quick on her feet, is sassy like nobody’s business and makes the very best of what she’s got.  She couldn’t attend college because her telepathy made class very distracting but she still has her “word of the day” calendar to improve her vocabulary.  The fact that she’s being fought over by two vampires doesn’t hurt either.  By the way, I’m team Eric.

Gumption: Amanda Foreman

I was not familiar with Amanda Foreman or her work till last week and I certainly never expected to write about public figures I have only admired for a few days but here it is.  She wrote the best-selling biography “Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire” (2008) which was made into a movie starring Keira Knightley and is currently working on a book about the American civil war.  I’ve seen the film “The Duchess” and am currently making my way through Foreman’s book, which grew out of her dissertation.

With a history degree from Sarah Lawrence and a Masters and PhD from Oxford, she is also a mother of five children (four daughters and a son).  She is a woman who takes pride in being a mother and describes the day that she could no longer safely carry a child as one of the saddest of her life.  There is a stillness that she embodies because of the experience of being raised by rootless and cosmopolitan parents: “My father had been uprooted.  And my mother, being English, was completely uprooted  when we moved to L.A.  For a long time, I felt incredibly lonely.  It’s just part of who I am anyway.” This upbringing in turn, influenced her desire for a large family: “I felt a need like my head was going to fall off if I couldn’t have more, perhaps from feeling isolated and lonely inside.  So I created an island, a peninsula.”  Along with her love of motherhood, she is still a woman who takes the time to work and write.  When she isn’t working she spends time with her partner and kids in the city or for weekends away since she believes that “you have make choices.  So our choices are that our family are going to be our social life.”

Tina Barney of Vogue describes her as “A spirited blonde, still girlish in her early 40s, Foreman does indeed have a musical voice and an animated delivery as she discusses her convictions, her quick brown eyes and ready smile signaling an enjoyable bracing mix of sunshine and gravitas.”  As a younger woman, it’s always good to have another example of a woman who negotiates her life with grace and dignity.

Gumption: Guillaume Canet

My gumption post this week is about Guillaume Canet.  A French actor, he has mostly been writing and directing films for the past few years.  In his 2006 thriller “Tell no one” he maintains the taunt nature of the narrative through the masterful use of pacing, dialogue, music and a strong performance by Francois Cluzet.  Although it is an engrossing murder mystery, he also draws on issues of loss, guilt and memory.  I am also seeing his latest film called “Little white lies” (2010) tomorrow which gives the impression of being a light comedy but seems to address the larger issues of the nature and limits of friendship.

He also still occasionally stars in films and I recently saw “Last night” (2011) a review of which I will save for a later time.

All in all, Canet has a reputation for putting a great deal of time and effort into his endeavors with an intense need for perfection.  I enjoy that he seems to be very passionate about his work and from observing some of his performances and media interviews, he gives off the aura of an engaging and intelligent person.  Really, who stands a chance against his cheeky little grin?

Gumption: Judi Dench

I thought I would start a weekly post on public figures I admire.  I’m a true believer that our identities are continually shaped by those around us and there are an endless number of peers and loved ones I draw inspiration from.  That’s probably one of the most exciting things about being here–that our characters are very relational and fluid.

I also want to call this weekly post “Gumption” because it refers to courage, resourcefulness and spunk.  In my opinion it’s one of the most important traits to continually develop in ourselves because the most important thing we can do is put ourselves out there.

So, the first person I admire is Dame Judi Dench.  Not only is she a talented actress in both dramatic and comedic roles, but she brings a strength to all of her performances that is so inspiring.