Because Everyone is Reading Rebecca Solnit.

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This is totes me on a day when I just couldn’t take anymore news.

I’ve crowned this year, “Year of Essays.”  And while I’d also really like to dedicate some time to the Outlander series and the free audiobooks I got when I cheated the system and got Audible for only as long as it took me to choose four free books — I may have stolen BJ’s too — approximately four minutes and thirty-seven seconds, I still want to read more nonfiction in the form of the essay.  I want to finally unpack Annie Dillard, Virginia Woolf, and Annie Proulx from my shelf. Basically, I want to read more women who fought back.  I’ve read A LOT of memoir and can swallow a short story in a sitting, but the form that always eludes me is the essay.  Maybe because I’ve tried to write several about the same ex-boyfriend? And maybe because I’m not sure how to know when to stop writing an essay?

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-9-24-29-pmI think it’s only fair then that I start with Rebecca Solnit.  She is the new age queen of the nonfiction essay. You may have seen her book Men Explain Things to Me all over Subways and feminist Instagram posts.  Her latest Hope in the Dark is on my reading list for this year so that I can try to make it through a Washington Post Twitter feed without crying in the morning before I’ve even had coffee.  However, I started with A Field Guide to Getting Lost. If you follow me on Instagram (@bookishcassie, shameless plug) then you know that I’ve felt very lost lately.

I actually think I’m losing brain matter, teaching kept me sharp. And I’ve always loved the poem by Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art.”  During my worst year in college, the frustration came out in the form of locking my keys in my car.  Even once overnight, while running in the rain, I lost my keys to a dead engine. I cried to the last triple A guy, on the twelfth time.  You read that right, 12 incidents in a year of losing my mind long enough to leave my keys enclosed somewhere I wasn’t. In the beginning of our relationship, BJ was constantly losing things, or leaving them somewhere and forgetting them until just the right moment of overtime when we were walking out the door.  He doesn’t do this anymore, but I remember it being a test for me, I thought.  The little things we can handle due to love.

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Reading last week. It took me 10 days to read this book which is long for me. 

And I imagine these scenes of oddly connected things is what leads an essay.  At the deconstruction of an essay, if demolished, it would be these strange miscellaneous tools and objects that we’ve weaved together, not like a loom, but like shaking-hand crochet, to make meaning.  I think, at least, this is what Rebecca Solnit is doing in A Field Guide to Getting Lost.  There were moments where it worked for me so hard that I was furiously underlining passages and moments where this read more like a text book than a thoughtful process of braiding moments.

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Saturday trying to finish it, not even close. 

In the beginning she loiters over the idea of distance and the color of distance, blue.  We walk through mountains, towards an island on a dry lake, and through paintings — the amusement of painters in flight. This idea that distance and going towards it is a way of getting lost guides the reader through Solnit’s dreams from her childhood home.  Memories from this place haunt her dreams although she left the place in her late teens. There’s the distance between men and gold, the distance of extinct animals who both come back and remain undone.  This long-form essay is both a love letter to the distance of the desert and to a home that we can’t go back to.  All of these geographically lost things given new homes on the page. What we can know, what we pretend to know, and how our previous knowledge fills in gaps that we shouldn’t fill in is all also a part of this.  It’s our minds mixed with our place if I could describe it in the weakest terms.

“I survived not the outside world, but the inside one” (90).

I know this just sounds like some weird gak of nonsense, but it was beautiful at times.  There were moments where I could have licked the words to hold them in and moments where I was falling asleep reading.  I didn’t understand the ending on the Gold Rush trails, it all felt very boring-Oregan-Trail to me, but I think the message stands firm.  One must get lost to know oneself.  I’m sure some philosopher has said that well before me and in better form. We all do have something to find after all, right?

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Image from the Women’s March Raleigh, the rest of my images are on AlmostanIndependentClause.com

There were moments too when I was like “YAS, GIRL” because what she was saying was so true to what we’re currently living.  If you wake up devastated to the news you read, then you are feeling somewhat lost in a place that no longer looks like the home we’ve built as a nation.

“In these terms, even nostalgia and homesickness are privileges not granted to everyone” (123).

If you don’t read that quote thinking about refugees that have been further displaced by new “Executive Orders,” then you need to pick up a newspaper, or phone a friend.

“Such moments seem to mean that you have surrendered to the story being told and are following the story line rather than trying to tell it yourself, your puny voice interrupting and arguing with fate, nature, the gods” (134).

This, the time we finally decide to stand, against any odd.

“Between words is silence, around ink whiteness, behind every map’s information is what’s left out, the unmapped and unmappable. One of those in-depth local or state atlases that map ethnicity and education and principal crops and percentage foreign-born makes it clear that any place can be mapped infinite ways, that maps are deeply selective” (160).

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Today when Fro and I finally finished this one. 

I’d be lying if I believed that where you were born didn’t immediately dictate about fifty-percent of your life choices.  As a privileged American woman, I face the idea of sliding into complacency and believing I’m owed what I’m given.  The other option is realizing my own privilege and trying to narrow those gaps by fighting side by side, and listening to those who are faced with far less than I. I think Solnit finds that deep connection to geography, to home, to the memories that we apply to every landscape we press feet to. I think Dr. Seuss and the mantra “Oh the Places You Go” would be the child version of this idea.

I can’t argue that this is a perfect book by any means.  But the ideas in it, the way they’re imperfectly balanced against and for one another made this such a meaningful read.  I will read the rest of Solnit this year and I will eat each word like a delicacy because I know not everyone, and especially not all girls are given that right.

And words are everyone’s right.

 

Some Commentary + Ocean Vuong

Any review I generate here is not going to do this book justice. At all. Ever. If you can stand that idea, then keep reading.

23841432I know that Copper Canyon Press produces again and again significant and deeply meaningful poetry collections, but Ocean Vuong’s poetry in Night Sky With Exit Wounds is like nothing I’ve read before.  I went through some Goodreads reviews to see if everyone else thought this was fatal magic like I did, but there are some pretty critical men reviewers.  I found that kind of interesting because, like I’ve talked about in other blogs, I always wonder how much who we are when we come to a book impacts our feelings about said book.  Obviously, I have only ever read this book as a late-twenties-white-female-fan-of-beautiful-words.  No, seriously, when the guy at the desk next to me asked me what kind of books I read last week I said, “the ones with pretty words.”  I think I lost all credibility in that moment, but there’s really no other definition.  I could try to be more thoughtful with it, but what’s the use when I could be spending that time reading poetry like Ocean Vuong’s.

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This one, up here, was my favorite review.

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Notes on Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds

That’s the funny thing about reviews.  I loved this book, I wanted to eat it and share it with everyone I knew who would just “get it.”  I underlined hundreds of lines, wrote six pages of notes, was inspired to write poems about my grandfather on my mother’s side, and have post-its galore sticking neon from the pages.  I have a tender spot for poetry about heritage because in my long list of “writing territories” I write a lot, and I mean A LOT about womanhood, generations, passing down, and my grandmother.  Lately, I’ve been writing about my Dad, but my grandmother, the place that she’s buried, and what I can remember of her in the hospital after her stroke come up often on the page.

But reviews are sometimes more about the person who read the book than the actual book.  If you read them seriously, if you devolve into a book blog spiral the same way you can rabbit hole on X-factor videos, you can learn about a lot about people, specifically bookish people.  Sure, we have things in common like a lot of us prefer cats, or we drink enough coffee to not mind it black, or when we get overwhelmed we are in desperate need of pockets of quiet, but in reviewing books we are wholly ourselves.

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I also love this review…

I’ve never read a book review that didn’t have the voice of the person who wrote it.  Whether that be scene child, literature critic, NY shower curtain separated apartment dweller, or me, that girl who goes on tangents that I find a little funny, like quips.

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I thought this Google example was particularly funny.

Lately, on Twitter, I’ve been seeing people attacked for their reviews.  For all kinds of things about books, but most recently, for not liking the voice of a novel.  The reviewer used some choice language and called the book’s language “slang.”  Someone with a follower count above 500 read it and a bunch of people decided they would “educate” the blogger through harassment about their knowledge of AAVE.  (I’m really not sure AAVE is even the correct term for the colloquialism in this book because I have no idea what the book was). Whether the reviewer was correct or not, their opinion is now only solidified by the swarm of others who join in on the bullying.

When someone calls them out on it (which wasn’t me by the way, but should have been), they passive aggressively discuss how there’s a difference between being “critical” and “harassing.”  (I know, I realize by talking around it I’m being passive aggressive right now too).  The thing that bothers me the most about this is that when confronted, the Twitter mob will say things like, “I’m uncomfortable and I’m hurting by what was said so if she feels just an ounce of the my hurt as a POC, then I’m sorry, but I don’t regret it.”

previewI get that. But I also get that my Mom always told me “two wrongs don’t make a right.”  I get that literature needs diverse books (DUH).  I get that readers want books to be both mirrors and windows and that the amount of white authors, and white people on covers far out number that of any other race.  It’s actually pretty disgusting.  This makes me desperately sad. As a reader, I try to support publishers that support diversity.  I buy books about the experiences our world is facing so I can better understand how to help and when to stay quiet (shut up and listen).  I read, more than anything else, to be culturally responsible.

Thus, Ocean Vuong.  Thus, Night Sky with Exit Wounds. Thus, the other side of the face of the Vietnam War.  Because war always has a face and it’s always bleeding no matter what side you’re on.  And those that win, they pronounce that win in the books of history and own not just the “win,” but the content, the stories, the shape of the culture behind that win.  This has led us to where we are today.  I don’t believe that by capturing a snip-it of a review and calling someone a racist on Twitter, and encouraging others to do the same helps people heal or understand.  I also don’t believe most people go into the world hoping that they can expose their own ignorance, their own racism, their own blatant disrespect for other human beans.  I believe people, at their core, understand like a solid 3% of what other people, like them or not, go through on a daily basis.

douchecanoeWe were all brought up to believe something. Given a life, we are able to either uphold or upend those beliefs. It is our choice whether that comes from books, or experiences, or understanding a counter culture, or holding tight to a historical wrong, or writing our way out of all of it. I think we have to remember that people aren’t choosing to be assholes (most of the time).  Now, some people, yep, full throttle douche canoes, but most people just have no understanding of your uncomfortable, your misunderstanding, your belittlement, your poor treatment.  So, to educate, recommend them a book.  Recommend them a song or its lyrics.  Point them towards the most truthful perspective of the history they don’t understand.

Hate that authors who write bisexual characters always use “likes girls and guys?” Then email them, email the publisher, write a letter, talk more openly so that people hear the right thing more often.  Hate that a chick says there could be no characters with disabilities in Lord of the Flies because that wouldn’t work? Write a new chapter on Scribd, on Live Journal, on your blog.  Make the case that Piggy wasn’t able-bodied.  Write a book with characters who live in the real world and not a bubble of it.  Talk to someone at school, at lunch, at work, in the street that isn’t able-bodied and learn their perspective.

wenger-howapoetnamedoceanmeanstofixtheenglishlanguage-1200So, here. Here is Ocean Vuong’s poetry collection.  Here is a collection of poems dedicated to a heritage, a gene pool, and a man who loves other men, and his life shone back to him in a notebook. Here is a life on a page, like every life, that’s worth reading.  And it’s beautiful.  The repetition, the word play, the imagery, I couldn’t even breathe sometimes while I was reading.

I didn’t even realize that I was holding my breath.

I’m going to link to some of his poems down here. And then I’m going to expect you to buy this book from Copper Canyon.  Once you’ve read through every page like its a track slick with grease, I want you to read each one slowly.  Then, I want to talk to you about it in the comments because I just don’t have the “stuff” to even review this one.

Because the middle-aged white guys didn’t love this book, I went through the recommendations they made in their reviews.  And I will read them (Sarah Howe and Andrew McMillian).  Because maybe it’s me that’s missing something about Vuong and in order to justify that it’s not, I’m going to read their recommendations.  At the end of the day, my life is about how well I understood, cared for, and tended to other people.  So, I’m going to do that with as much respect as I can muster.

I also have A LOT of feelings about this article, but they’re probably for a whole other blog. If in our need to rectify histories, we discount other histories that impact the histories we’re trying to protect, then what the hell?

 

Winter is Coming | Iceland Part 1

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Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Currently, Christine and I are blogging from the car (we got 4g wifi like ballers and didn’t realize until day 2 that we could actually remove the device from the car and get a hotspot).  We’re trying to decipher the difference between hairy rocks, horses, and sheep out here in the darkness, but mostly it’s just snow, black lava rock and geyser fog. When we googled what word to use after geyser there (smoke, steam, fog, the works) we found out you could order Geyser fog machines for parties and relive the Iceland experience.

image2-1-2Any who, I thought this was the perfect time to capsule our first two days in Iceland.  We’ve hit up all the tourist attractions pretty much these last two days.  The Blue Lagoon turned our hair to straw, and there ain’t no magic conditioner that’s going to turn it back to gold.  Not that this is the only thing we remember from the Blue Lagoon.

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The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal heated hot spring that appears suddenly on the horizon about twenty minutes from the airport.  A few roundabouts later (literally) and you can be out of those cabin air clothes and into a giant salty hot tub.  The silica is a bit overpowering, but they serve drinks at a swim up bar which makes it “hella” worth it.  Plus, drinks everywhere else in Iceland will break the bank, so you might as well choose at least the “comfort” level at The Blue Lagoon because with that level you get a free drink, algae mask, and a towel.  Probably the towel is the most important part of that combination because in winter, Iceland is like a frozen tundra.

image10Plus, trust me, you need the algae mask after a girl in a 1950s flowered bathing cap offers you a silica mud mask and your face dries up like a porous rock. Not saying it wasn’t worth it because it felt great, but I’ve been a piece of sawdust for the last two days.  The cold doesn’t help.  We floated like ghosts through the steam for about three hours, or until pruned, and headed out to forcibly not nap.

The force was with us though because we found our way to the city and had a nice lunch at Glo with liquid nitrogen salted caramel ice cream afterwards at Joyland.

image4What I love about Iceland so far is that there’s so much rich history.  Almost everything is sustainable or made from Green Energy.  It looks like the moon (or what I would imagine that the moon looks like).  You never know when a mountain will just pop up on the side of your car.  We’ve been driving this little roadster called the Suzuki Jimmy and Christine WHIPS it around roundabouts like a bumper car.  And this country is just MAJESTIC.

Tomorrow I’ll write about our hike through the National Park (in which I thought I was cast into Game of Thrones), our first (and probably last) taste of tectonic plate glacial water, the TOMATO FARM, the lies behind Instagram’s Iceland bloggers aka the Northern Lights, and our Suzuki Jimmy. Plus, the discovery made that sunsets and sunrises probably take the same particle amount of beautiful to make you miss home anywhere in the world.

Mudbound: In a Genre I Like to call “Grandma Literature”

This whole section is my story of coming to this book:

I was recommended this read by Sunday night #APLitchat teachers so it’s fitting that I finished this book over the weekend and have a keen need to address it.  Plus, big news, I’m officially out of a book slump.  I can’t say I was in a reading slump because I was constantly reading the news, articles, short stories, and anthologies, but I haven’t read a book all summer.  This, from the girl with the blog about books.

I wasn’t aware when I started the story, because who reads the author discussion at the beginning, that Hillary Jordan’s grandmother, and real life farm, Mudbound was what inspired the novel.  Everyone here today knows that I’m a sucker for grandmother literature.  Lucy Calkins advises her writers to keep a running list called “Writing Territories.” I think Ms. McClure outlines what these look like the best.  When I was still teaching at Scotland, I wrote my own writing territories to introduce the concept to my creative writing class.  This was probably two years ago, but I think they still ring true today.  I love using my grandmother’s stroke tone, the virginity of southern girls and its harness, clotheslines and Carolina red mud, widows on grand second floor terraces with handkerchiefs, and rain, too much rain, rain so caked with mud, it can no longer be known as two separate things.

This whole section is the story of this book coming to me (and hopefully you):

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Which is why I wish I wrote Mudbound.  Mudbound is the story of land and the people that reside on that land, both owned and unowned.  It is the story of a full crop season, a pair of families deeply interwoven with poisonous roots and it’s told from the multiple perspectives of the farm. I love a book where narration changes every chapter, but it’s not often that those books turn out so well, when every character given the opportunity to speak bends the influence of the one that came before.

I think the best way to describe it is by using my favorite idea from the book.  The voiced men are full of “bone-sense,” something that comes from an “older, darker place.”  They move, make decisions, and crack white like scars all in the physical sense.  They drink to soothe their mind.  They take from the body what they believe is taken from the town’s moral conscience.  They think with the turning of the land, the seeding of the crop, and the thrust of rain.  The women, however, are “head-sense,” moving with passion built on daily wear and tear desire.  Florence, my favorite character, is described as all body – a rough, tall woman, with the force of a “Delta Storm.  However, she handles the inequities with her mind and then uses those churned thoughts for the utility of her body.  She is a character that women can be proud of.

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 7.10.07 PMThis book is also one of those books that leaves the cliffhanger on the tip of every chapter.  The “if I just would have known then…” or “that’s the last time I heard his voice..” takes the reader through a slow burn.  When the great moment comes, and even when it has left the land, the anticipation of hearing the angle of every character still heightens the book through its end. Ronsel, my second favorite character gets the last word (which is significant due to the big scene. He ends with what I believe is Jordan’s great social commentary of the book:

“But to make the story come out differently I’d have to overcome so much: birth and education and oppression, fear and deformity and shame, anyone of which is enough to defeat a man” (322).

“Coal-Is-Dirty.com”

And isn’t this true when a system is built to keep the land in the hands of the generation before.  An ownership passed down like a belief.  A tenure of laws built on the justice of making a profit.  A claim and a title that cant be read.   But those other hands, calloused and bruised, glued together so they can’t sign a name, hold another, or shake on it – we’ve used those to defeat a man before he can even grip that system to tear it down.

And this is what I like best about this book.  It’s set in WWII, two of the male characters face different life circumstances at the hands of the war, but it is not a book about WWII.  It’s a book about raising an unsettled loss into a belief system that rides one side at the helplessness of another.  I think sometimes it’s hard to see that timeline and be able to look in the mirror.  While men, good and bad, were fighting Nazis, we had laws that pursued the disregard of human beings that I would argue still dilute our waters today.  Our hands weren’t clean either.

Art by Darling Christie @Deviant Art

This book is not only brilliant because of the many voices that ring true and relentless, but because of the deep history that our society tends to neglect until it’s a major motion picture that’s not nominated for any awards.  Or until a young and powerful gymnast chooses to honor her country with her hands behind her back instead of on her heart.  Or when the media feeds 24 hour news of shootings until the cases no longer affect the populace and we just call it “another one…” Maybe this book will remind us of who belong to, each other.

(Thanks, Mother Teresa).

This Blog is My Composition Book.

Syllabus by Lynda Berry

Confession: I hate composition books.  I find them hard to keep open unless you lean your elbow on them just the right way which seems incredibly awkward. The lines are almost never college rule, but wide, and it makes me feel like my handwriting is some behemoth come to mammoth the page with its dense, dark script. RAWR!  In high school, my Mom bought me the “special” comp books that had a more rad design, but the still hard cardboard front with the scientific table in the beginning.  I always wanted to be “unique,” which really just meant against everything else that was boxed.  If she did buy the marble cover, because it was ten cents at Target, and “what a deal,” I would color weird designs into the marble until they all just blended to black together.  Hey, maybe I do like a composition book.  Maybe what ruined it was that Target started carrying Green Room notebooks and I was hooked by the subtle dotted lines.

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Breakfast with Lynda Berry

Now, everyone keeps a bullet journal.

Or a planner.

Enters a challenge on Instagram.

Takes up calligraphy.

Never doodles in the margins.

Only around the top of the page or just enough next to the amount of water you drank that day.

Copies doodles from pages of Pinterest flower doodles.

Fro, Age four, sleeping on my (note)book.

Fro, Age four, sleeping on my (note)book.

I’m not making fun of these people because I am one.  I totally google font alphabets and try to write like those talented enough to create them.  I practice fonts and get disappointed when the pen smudges, or I mess up the a in the second word, three letters in and I have to turn the page and start over.

My small human heart is full of unfinished notebooks.

And then I read Lynda Berry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor.

Image from Open Culture (on Lynda Berry’s book)

In the way that I’m constantly trying to get my students to view the world in a thousand different ways, letting go of their bias (and mine) and being thoughtful global citizens, so is Lynda Berry in syllabus.  It is kind of a working syllabus for her art class that blends memory, drawing, and writing as one immovable force and that we use all three when dealing with any creative juncture.  She teaches students to to go back to childhood before our inner egos took over the page.  She draws robots, Star Wars characters, monkeys with bandanas, smoking skulls, miniatures who talk, shouting angels, all over the pages of these notes in a composition book that she then leads and leaves with her students.  She taught me that we draw the best, and the most clear, and we write the best, and the most clear, when we are forgetting completely that we are drawing or writing.  She has students draw spirals while they think about something the need to remember or watch a film.

Image from chapmancommunityoutreach.wordpress.com

Truly, she is my bow-down queen of doodling. Doodle without thinking about it.  If it ends up as a toucan in a dress with flower petal hands, let her grow.  She says we don’t know what’s there until it appears fully on the page. And that the art doesn’t care whether we’ve assigned it a title like “ugly” because it doesn’t know, it just keeps on flexing. (I wish humans could take a notion from art, brush it off, literally and figuratively).

I love how she seamlessly blends the mind with the art. She has students memorize Emily Dickinson poems, watch films on the sides of the brain, draw people using only simple shapes.  I think this is a great book on philosophy, on art, and it’s a fabulous book to use in the Language Arts classroom.  That is the debate though, isn’t it, what part of English (study) is language and what part art? Are they equal? What would that pie chart look like?

My favorite image because I feel like Lynda Berry and I are two of a kind.

My favorite image because I feel like Lynda Berry and I are two of a kind.

Lynda Berry also has a quirky little Tumblr for this class (that she currently still teachers) called The Near Sighted Monkey.  I love all the exercises for writing and drawing on here.  I plan to doodle my syllabus this year for my class.  Anyone truly interested in their own art should read this book.  It’s a book on quieting that inner critic, and returning to childhood where everything you drew, that mass of green circles, turned magically into a spinning bird before the eyes of the beholder.

Ps. the pages are chaotic and the might make you near-sighted, but it’s worth reading every little smidgen of the page.

Refurb |

As most of you know, I haven’t blogged in almost two months.  I’ve been overwhelmed with work, moving, feeding the animals that we hoard in our home (3), and keeping up with day-to-day life.  So, I’ve given myself a challenge.  To blog at least every three days for the month of June.  Even when I’m too tired, even when I’ve worked a full day and there are no words in my brain to communicate anything to the world.  Even when all I can do is review the four reality television shows I just watched on Bravo because I couldn’t do anything that contained more thought.  Teaching will be over by the tenth and I will be dedicating myself to my small nook of internet.  Looking forward to reintroducing myself to you, guys.  I hope you like the new look.

-POP

Spring | Letter A Day

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A few years ago I wrote a “Letter a Day in May” to followers and readers of the blog.  It led me to some wonderful penpals like Claire (@ Word by Word) and Muzette, who I still write to this day and she knows some of the most important thoughts in my head.  I love a good penpal and I love good gossip (the good kind as in, “tell me a good thing.”  If you want to participate in “Spring Letter A Day” starting March 1st and until I run out of people to write, fill out this simple Google Form.

In fifth grade, I was given a penpal that lived in another country.  My mother kept those crayon-written letters.  The lines were tipped downwards and the letters got bigger and then smaller like they appeared under a microscope, but I thought it was magic that I could communicate with someone so far away.  I didn’t know what longitude and latitude were but I could feel miles on the drives back and forth to Florida.  This was my first experience with a penpal.  Since, I’ve written my best friend Seth for all the years he lived in South Korea (we even have a symbol that we both own to commemorate those funky posts).  My dear, Sarah, who moved to New Zealand after her whirlwind marriage, wrote me back and forth for ages.  Bri, who follows this blog, and has one of her own, has written me from Nevada for most of last year.

So, if you think handwritten is a thing of the past, or you just wish something other than bills came out of your mailbox, sign on up.  I can’t wait to write you.

Again, Google Form here.

I look forward to single-handedly keeping the US Post Office open. (Because come on, those uniform britches have to stay on the waists of middle-aged men and out of museums for things of the past).

Salt Water and Leftovers

It took me almost a month to read this book. The odd part, for me as a reader at least, was that I didn’t pick up other books during my breaks on this one.  Island of a Thousand Mirrors is exceptionally hard to read.  Lovers are separated and have to watch the other turn to dust while a child stumbles in the belly of another.  Families are held together by a piece of yarn wrapped in tradition and expectations.  Culture, to the extent of the Parsley Massacre, is questioned in the burn of tires around ribs. The writing is so heartfelt, that the reader must handle each word one by one.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 5.09.40 PMIsland of a Thousand Mirrors is the story of the Sri Lankan Civil War.  I knew absolutely nothing about this when I began reading this book.  I even looked at the map and had no idea that Sri Lanka had ancient civilization ruins.  While my closest relationship to anything Sri Lankan was Nicki Minaj, reading this story made me want to hoard books on the island, and devour Nayomi Munaweera’s perfectly timed new novel.

So, of course, when you’re useless for knowledge, you Wikipedia (like it’s a verb).  I learned a lot of statistics about the war, but this book gave the stories of the people and one of the most eye opening moments in literature for me, when I read the inner voice of a Tamil suicide bomber.  Civil War short: the island had two deep-seeded cultures Sinhala and Tamil.  From what I’ve gathered from reading the book and doing a tidbit of research, the Tamil wanted to create an independent Tamil state (based possibly on Sinhala prejudice) and the leader of this revolution called the fighters, the Tigers.  Eventually, after twenty-five years and countless deaths, the Tamil Tigers were defeated by the Sinhala.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 5.15.36 PMI really liked Munaweera’s historical fiction of the Sri Lankan Civil War because it gave me both sides of the argument.  I wasn’t tied to either side of the fight because in her painful and deliberate words, I saw the desperate frustration from both cultures.  While there are two different family lines portrayed in the novel; one Sinhalese and one Tamil, both families suffered equally.  I was drawn more to the Sinhalese because the amount of story behind that family really spoke to me.  The Tamil family gave sons and daughters to the war effort and unspeakable atrocities happened to the female members of the family.  The Sinhalese family also suffered the loss of family members, and from neighborhood vigilanties no less.

I really, really, really, loved the beginning of this book.  The grandmother, who is clearly prejudice, on the Sinhalese size, fiercely protects the Tamil tenants living upstairs that have become almost inner circle to the Sinhalese.  She handles threats from the outside world.  Not only that, but the family house woman, although she never really speaks, is such a strong character. I find the most poignant writers can make characters that may not have a voice literally on the page, but have such a strong voice in the undoing of the novel.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 5.17.59 PMThis particularly grandmother is reminiscint of all strong grandmother figures in the lives of women outside of the US.  There’s something uniquely me about attaching to a grandmother figure.  I lost my grandmother when I was nineteen, and when I was eleven, she had a stroke that left her a ship anchored at sea with only the sound of “doe” in her mouth.  I have spent years trying to write her strength, her southern, her brick shit house onto the page, but it’s proven difficult.  My grandmother is almost too much woman for the page and Sylvia Sunethra is that dominant on a page as well.  These entire novel is built on female characters made of withered stone.  It is demandingly female, but that’s not to say that it is specific to that gender as a reader.  This book is true to the spirit of womanhood, no matter the culture, but readable.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 5.21.28 PMI feel like I’m almost doing this novel a disservice because it has been my favorite book in a very long time.  I recommend setting a month or two aside to take patience with this book, and kind of pull it apart at both ends.  It’s a difficult read and every few pages I had to stop and remind myself to take a breath.  The pain on the page can be overwhelming, but the story is worth being pigeonholed into sadness. I found so much mercy for these characters that are from such a different postal code than I am.  It’s such an important experience to read books about cultures that remove all of our pretenses and just give us hope and satisfaction.  I am emotionally drawn to Sri Lanka now and will forever scour the used bookstore for stories of this island built on history and salt water.

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THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER

Guys, I realize I only read to book four before we went to THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER in Universal Studios so everything I’m about to say may be null and void to you.  However, I promise you that I will read all seven books when I get them from my house next weekend. BECAUSE, THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER is the most epic experience.

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Hogwarts Express

Seriously…we couldn’t even find Diagon Alley until we watched some people sneak behind a wall.  The first day, we rode the Hogwarts Express and saw Hogwarts and did a walk through.  We obviously also drank butter beer (IN EVERY FORM BECAUSE IT’S DELICIOUS). And we were talking about how much the other part of it sucks (Universal) and this part of it was so great (Islands of Adventure).  Little did we know that the next day we would find Diagon Alley and Knockturn alley and literally stand there like doofs in awe when we came through the little passage.

We. nerded. out.

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Diagon Alley Dippage

There are interactive wands. You can turn in your muggle money for goblin gallions.  There’s a dragon that breathes fire (although we could never actually catch him doing it, we just had to look at other people’s shots from Instagram). There’s butter beer which you will see mentioned about fourteen more times in this blog post.  All the buildings are so accurate.  JK Rowling had to come down to look at the plans and choose all the most precise colors and design everything exactly how she had imaged it in her mind.

We bought beanies, the boyfriend is obviously a Gryffindor and I am clearly a Slytherin.  So, naturally, the whole time all the Wizarding World Staff said, “It’s always sad when a Weasley goes bad.”  We got a (he who shall not be named) wand for my nephews birthday and the wands are so well made.  They are study and fascinating.  Truly, the Sirius wand spoke to me with all its symbols and strategy, but wands are expensive and so are real lambs wool sweaters, and Hogwarts notebooks that were made by the same people who made them for the movie and especially robes.

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“It’s always sad when a Weasley goes bad.”

All I can say is that I came home with a whole lot of magic and a new found love for the series.  The fact that one woman’s mind created that much quirk is beyond me.  Here are a few of my favorite pictures from the Wizarding World.

PS. I still think Harry Potter should have died totally in the last book.

 

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Notable Quotables | From the Moleskine

I’m still reading Half of a Yellow Sun because I’ve been tacking off to-do lists instead of actually reading.  I plan on finishing it today, or AT MAX tomorrow.  However, it’s so beautiful, that it’s just dragging me down in its pretty.  Thanks, Narcissuses, let me fall into the mirror, anytime.

We Were on a break! Gif @ Creative Commons

At one point, the main couple in the book has a relationship break.  Now, this isn’t like the break in F.R.I.E.N.D.S, “WE WERE ON A BREAK,” it’s a break driven by trauma and the effects of trauma on the human spirit, particularly in a love relationship.  On the break, Olanna gets a lot of advice from the women around her, and I love every bit of their advice.  So, today’s quotes come from wise women.  May every woman have one and may every woman be one – eventually or all at once, however wisdom comes, in clumps or trinkets, take it and run.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 5.20.46 PMFrom her Aunt: “You must never behave as if your life belongs to a man.  Do you hear me? Aunty Ifeka said, ‘You’re life belongs to you and you alone.”

Olanna to her neighbor’s question on why she loves Odenigbo: “I don’t think love has a reason,’ Olanna said.  ‘Sure it does.’ ‘I think love comes first and then the reasons follow.  When I am with him, I feel I don’t need anything else.”

Olanna’s Neighbor: “Don’t think of it as forgiving him.  See it as allowing yourself to be happy.  What will you do with the misery you have chosen? Will you eat misery?”

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 5.20.53 PMOlanna: “…and she felt as if she had been gumming back the pieces of broken chinaware only to have them shatter all over again; the pain was not in the second shattering but in the realization that trying to put them back together had been of no consequence from the beginning.”

Olanna’s Neighbor: “Look at you.  You’re the kindest person I know.  Look how beautiful you are.  Why do you need so much outside of yourself?  Why isn’t what you are enough? You’re so damned weak.”

Olanna: “…and sat thinking about how a single act could reverberate over time and space and leave stains that could never be washed off.”

Army Advertisement for Women (Creative Commons)

I think so much of this advice could be given to any woman at any point in her life.  Except maybe for the woman who wrote Lean In, because she’s snap, snap, snapping her womanhood, honey.  The best part of this advice is that it’s woman to woman, and most of these woman are of the same age group.  It’s not a mother to a daughter, although my mother has often given me this advice, or a mentor to a mentee, it’s true peer advice.  I think sometimes if women could just take advice from one another, the world would be run by women, and women who aren’t emotionally drained, damaged, dragged down, or devastated.

We Should All Be Feminists

Women to women, we can make each other strong – an army of one, if you will. That’s probably also why Adiche won The Orange Prize for this book in 2007.  The Orange Prize is a prize given to a women who writes in English, and her first book Purple Hibiscus was also shortlisted for the award.  I plan to read this book as well this year because I think Adichie is a premier writer of this generation.  Honestly, if you haven’t gotten enough empowerment from this post, just watch her Ted Talk: “We Should All Be Feminists” or buy the book that was printed shortly afterwards.  I reviewed this book in 2014 here.