Discussing women who inspire us at dinnertime


Joan Didion

Like many families, I suppose, we are discussing the #MeToo movement in our household, including during our wide-ranging dinner time discussions.

For us, it includes parenting our teenage son to grow up to respect women — tackling the recent onslaught of #MeToo headlines. One way is to point to women who have inspired us.

During the discussion, I recounted to our son that I was lucky to hear from two inspiring women at college graduations: Author Joan Didion, now 83, spoke to the arts and humanities class of 1981 at UC Berkeley, and foreign correspondent Georgie Anne Geyer, now 82, addressed the graduate journalism class of 1982 at Northwestern University.

It was an honor and a privilege to hear from both, I told him, and I recounted their career accomplishments. Mom added her thoughts.

One of the first books I was assigned as a freshman at Cal Berkeley was Didion’s “Slouching Toward Bethlehem,” a collection of essays that described her experience in California in the ’60s. I became hooked on her writing.

We have most of Didion’s books on our bookshelves. “The Year of Magical Thinking” helped my wife and I confront the deaths of our parents, which seemed to occur all of a sudden and all at once, around a decade ago. We knew we had reached middle age.

Our family recently watched a documentary on Didion on Netflix called “The Center Will Not Hold.” In it, the literary icon reflects on her remarkable career and struggles in a documentary directed by her nephew, Griffin Dunne.

I don’t have the text of Didion’s commencement address to our class at Cal in ’81, but it was similar to one she delivered at UC Riverside in the ’70s:

“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it.”


Georgie Anne Geyer

Georgie Anne Geyer is a legendary foreign correspondent. She is a longtime syndicated columnist (yes, conservative), and wrote eight books, including a well-regarded biography of Fidel Castro.

Geyer was the first Western reporter to interview  Saddam Hussein, and also interviewed Yasser Arafat, Anwar Sadat, King Hussein of Jordan, Muammar al-Gaddafi, and the Ayatollah Khomeini.

“Few people have seen as much of the world as Georgie Anne Geyer has,” the Chicago Tribune wrote in a feature last year titled: “The trailblazing of Georgie Anne Geyer, a journalist ahead of her time.”

Her message at our graduation was summed up in a quote: “Follow what you love! Don’t deign to ask what ‘they’ are looking for out there. Ask what you have inside. Follow not your interests, which change, but what you are and what you love, which will and should not change.”

I took that advice to heart. I loved journalism. Our son, who loves STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) classes but is taking a high-school class in journalism and yearbook, summed up journalism this afternoon on a car ride: “You get to research what you enjoy, you get to meet and form relationships with people you normally would never get to know, and you get paid for it.”

(Photo of Joan Didion via Flickr user Tradlands, and photo of Georgie Anne Geyer from SouthernMinn.com)

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

8 thoughts on “Discussing women who inspire us at dinnertime”

  1. I knew Geyer when I was at Northwestern. I worked on the switchboard in Willard Hall in my senior year when she was a freshman there. I also read her book about Fidel Castro.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. When my boy was 12, I took him to a lecture by Shirley Chisholm. To this day he remembers how elegantly she spoke. She said that in her life being a woman held her back more than being black. That was quite the revelation and those kinds of experiences leave a lasting impression.

  3. George Boardman is making fun of this column. Among other things, he claims the quote from our son is made up by me. He’s sicker than I thought. I recall George saying he had a daughter who lived in China — 6,500 miles away from Lake of the Pines. Go figure!

    1. Of course there’s a reason Boardman jumped to Crabb’s defense:
      A note to readers
      Posted on October 25, 2013, by George Boardman

      “Connoisseurs of fine cartooning have probably figured out by now that the new header at the top of this blog was created by the inimitable RL Crabb, part of a redesign of the blog. I would like to state for the record that Mr. Crabb was compensated for his work, and that I am not now, and never have been, a member of the Shifters. Shifty? Possibly. Shiftless? You bet. But never a Shifter.”

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