The Meaning of Michelle
Hey there, reader. I have a question for you. Do you miss Michelle Obama?
Do you find yourself wondering where she is at this very second? What color nail polish she may be currently sporting? What her Netflix picks of the moment might be? If she’s planted anything nice in the family garden this Spring? Or maybe you’d like to know how she feels about Brexit, the U.S. travel ban snafu, or the ideas and policies now being discussed by the presidential administration. She’s been very outspoken about President Trump’s recent reversal of regulations for children’s school lunches.
I know I want more Michelle.
And I can’t fix our collective cravings, but I can help. Veronica Chambers’ (The Go-Between) nonfiction anthology The Meaning of Michelle brings you a palpable dose of Michelle for your reading pleasure. But it does more than that. A collection of essays by writers of all stripes, this is an insightful and uplifting look at our former first lady throughout her term.
Now, I’ll be honest. I’m not a big fan of Ava DuVernay’s (I Will Follow, Queen Sugar) preface, although I get it. I started reading this book in order to understand First Lady Michelle Obama and her role in our society, but DuVernay gushes superfluously over Michelle, or, ‘Chelle.’ There are whole sections devoted to her biceps. It was a little overkill for me. And this is coming from a writer who actively sings and talks to her cat like an absolute fool. I understand the impulse to gush. I’m a gusher! Still, I contemplated putting the book away due simply to the preface.
That said, I’m glad that I continued reading.
The rest of this book contains beautifully sincere essays on sixteen different writers’ experiences of Michelle Obama, from people who have spent time with her to people who can only admire her from afar.
I learned some things, to be sure. In Cooking With a Narrative, I got a peek at the development of Michelle’s health initiative Let’s Move! thanks to storyteller Marcus Samuelsson, who happened to be the White House chef at the time. He describes the types of dishes the Obamas would regularly ask for on menus for both state dinners and Tuesday night suppers.
Hamilton Broadway star Phillipa Soo talks about her experience during her show run and what happened when Michelle Obama visited the cast backstage in her piece The Best of Wives and Best of Women. Her essay has the same title as one of the songs in Hamilton, which I think was kind of sneaky because that’s largely what comes up online if you try to search for the essay.
In my favorite piece of the bunch, The Freedom to Be Yourself, Karen Hill Anton gives us a rare glimpse of Michelle’s life from her perch as an ex-pat living in Japan. Hill Anton seems to know that we want to hear more about her own life and then acquiesces, briefly describing what it was like to live in a country home with no running water. Her musings on everything from packing her childrens’ bento boxes to the high gun violence rate in America are a bit stream-of-consciousnessy, but I like it. She calls out similarities; both she and Michelle are mothers, wives, leaders in their communities. She writes as though in a letter to the First Lady, offering solidarity, admiration, and, incredibly: advice.
There are a couple of misses in the bunch; mostly because not every storyteller is a trained writer – so if you’re a literary stickler, look out.
As I see it, events can prompt collective conversations, even among strangers. They cause us to clump together in glee and share our wonder. For hundreds of years, citizens of the United States have asked each other, “What do you think of our First Lady?”
Recollections like the ones found in The Meaning of Michelle cause us to think harder on the subject and mine for our true ideas, endowing us with the intense desire to discuss them.
I was a sophomore in college when Barack took the Oval Office. I thought myself too busy to follow politics and trusted that our nation would be well cared for. Oh, the luxury!
When watching the Obamas together, I was deeply conscious of the obvious love and friendship the pair exhibited for one another, and how important their daughters were to them. Every time Michelle speaks publicly, steps out, runs a campaign or an initiative, she does it with absolute grace and poise. Michelle is fierce. She is educated. She is kind. She feels deeply and always holds to her convictions.
At the end of the day, most of us want a FLOTUS that we can universally look up to. It seems that in Michelle, we’ve found something even better; someone we kind of want to be.