When I was going through my diaries of the last presidential administration, one of the first clippings that caught my eye was this one from when Serena Williams beat her older sister, Venus in January 2017. I knew next to nothing about the sisters at the time, but the power of this image and caption was was so strong, and in such opposition to the “winners and losers” worldview of the new president, that I had to clip and save it.
Only now do I realize that this clipping is even deeper with meaning, for it’s the result of “this African-American family organizing itself, as a unit, in order to lay siege to perhaps the whitest sport in the world and pulling it off somehow.”
And I’ve since learned that while the sisters may be rivals on the court, they’re extremely close and supportive of each other in their personal life. “She is the only person I will talk to after I lose,” Serena has said. “Serena still copies everything that I do,” Venus has said, “but I also copy everything that she does. It’s a codependency.”
I am raising two brothers, so I am obsessed with sibling relationships, especially creative ones. (For example, how many filmmaking teams are made of brothers: The Coens, The Maysles, The Quays, The Rosses, etc.) I loved the recent Bee Gees documentary for its portrayal of the way siblings can blend together into a special entity, but how they can also tear each other apart. Noel Gallagher, who knows something about the subject, has a great line: “When you’ve got brothers singing, it’s like an instrument that nobody else can buy. You can’t go buy that sound in a shop.”
There seems to be a tension between mutual love and support and a bit of rivalry and competition that encourages the development of each sibling, and the trick of the dynamic, as with so many other things in life, is to keep the tension right: too slack and everything falls apart, too tight, and everything snaps.
The title of this post is a riff on the book by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.