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.

 

Bee Season – Myla Goldberg (And Her Tights)

I think Myla Goldberg is one of the cutest authors I’ve ever set eyes on.  Her tights are right out of Sweeney Todd Halloween dress-up on the back cover of Bee Season, and so, when I saw it on the dollar shelf (how unfortunate) of Edward McKay’s I had to scoop it up.

Plus, the cover has that human skin feel to it, which I really think is sexy on a book (if you think I’m totally creepy please pick up this book and feel it in bookstores or pick up a copy of the Raleigh Review and give it a handle).

Another wonderful thing about Myla Goldberg is her name.  It rolls of the tongue with it’s ‘lalalalalala’ nature.  Last good thing (I’m sure there are more, but just the ones I want to share) is that she has a totally rad website which can be found here.  Okay last thing, I promise…she also did a Q&A with Powell books (which includes a question about a fictional character she’d most like to date) and that can be found here.  She’s hilarious, in probably a disturbing way because after reading Bee Season I couldn’t help but try and decipher who this woman was, who wrote this book.  I was fascinated by the kaleidoscopic of stolen property, and the wrecked-by-religion family.  Not to mention, a dad who is basically living inside of a study that should have been placed on another planet where everyone transcends their body and does yoga.  (I threw the yoga part in just for good mental images and for brain exercise/meditation).

After reading a few goodreads.com reviews that weren’t very flattering, I felt, as usual, that I need to throw my two cents in.  Now, I’m not the kind of reader that really likes best sellers.  I don’t pride myself on this, but usually if it makes the NY Times list, or if people around the world are raving about it, I can’t seem to get into it.  ESPECIALLY, if Oprah liked it.  (See:  The Help, Hector and the Search for Happiness, Harry Potter – post book four…hmmm all H titles).  So, I usually read strange books that everyone else has no interest in.  (See: How to Kill a Rockstar, Everything is Illuminated, Eating Animals, God-Shaped Hole).  Thus, Myla Goldberg is right up my alley.

I’d like to also take a moment to mention that she is a  Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers Award Winner, and I have never once gone wrong reading one of these hot off the shelf.  There was one that was a little so-so, but it was still a helluva read.  So, I definitely recommend seeking out your nearest B&N, getting a membership to save an extra ten percent and buying one of these books on a thirty percent price reduction.  They’re always good.  (See: The Adults – Alison Espach).

  Anyway, Bee Season is about a young girl,      Elly, who is average and not “academically    gifted” until she wins her school spelling bee,      and then continues to spell atrociously hard    words until she makes it to even higher  bee’s,  succeeding majority of the way.  I hope  that  wasn’t a spoiler…I tried to keep it light.  Anyway, her family is both very involved and  then dramatically uninvolved in her bee  winning.  Her mother is a total space cadet  because she is focusing on her life’s mission of  reaching what she calls “perfectimundo” and  her brother is dabbling in new religions that  may or may not turn into cult activity.  Her  father however, is obnoxious in his pursuit to  not only train Eliza (Elly) to win the National  Bee, but he is in hot pursuit of her reaching a  religious transcendence written about in ancient books (very focused on Kabbalah, ya know..that religion Madonna is really into, even though she isn’t Jewish).  While these characters sound blatantly ridiculous, and at points unbelievable, they also have stock character qualities.  The brother who never fits in, in any circle, even that of his own family.  A father who is living vicariously through his children.  And of course, the absent mother, who cleans well into the night because she is either nocturnal, or an insomniac.  I’d go with the latter if I were you.

A lot of people have reviewed this book saying it is utterly disturbing, and damaging.  However, I thought it was brilliant.  I read it in two days, got sucked into the religious aspect that somehow blends every family member together, and then sucked up into the voracious studying for the bee.  I’m not a stud of a speller, nor am I a great grammarian so it was definitely interesting.  Plus, I just recently watched the National Spelling Bee on ESPN (of all the channels they could put this on…really?) and that made me even more interested in this odd and forlorn family.

I don’t really even understand how people are so disturbed by this book.  We all have crazy family members (usually aunts or uncles that are wackadoodle) and we all have somehow dysfunctional families.  I know that no one out there has had a lifetime of just pure bliss.  Even though in one of my education classes a girl told me that the first time her mother ever raised her voice with her was her senior in high school, which sounds like an awfully boring house to me.  So, maybe there are some “good” families out there.  I think my family is dysfunctional, we have a lot of conversations about using the toilet (hence the blog title) but we are good to one another.  While this family isn’t a “Model American Family” straight out of a 1950’s Time Magazine, it was still really interesting to see a darkness that can envelope a semi-happy family.  It’s like watching Snapped on Investigation Discovery, or something.

I definitely plan on reading Myla Goldberg’s other ventures in writing and reviewing them as well.  I just wanted to let people know that they shouldn’t always look at how a book scored on goodreads.com or any other website, or under any other review before trying it out themselves.  Don’t judge a book by its dysfunctional family dynamics is all I’m sayin’.

Here are a few other reviews that you may find different &/or helpful to help make a decision if this book is worth your penny (plus shipping & handling) on Amazon.com:

Review #1

Review #2

Review #3

Review #4

Review # 5 (my personal favorite)

Also, there is a movie based on this book.  It stars Richard Gere. even though I felt the father was a much older man.  It didn’t get the best reviews, but if you’re not a reader, there are other options.

And just for the record:

Bee Season was a New York Times Notable Book for 2000, winner of the Borders New Voices Prize, and a finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award, the NYPL Young Lions award, and the Barnes & Noble Discover award.

I guess sometimes I do like best-ish-sellers.   Or, then again, maybe it just won awards…

Also (again) I think the people who write reviews only of “happy books” do not realize that every book must have a dark side.  While every cloud has a silver lining, it also has a lining of ugly mold from all the perspiration and condensation it holds in its clouded armpits.  I remember back in ’09 when I was taking a fiction workshop with Jill McCorkle at NCSU, and a girl in my class got really upset when she couldn’t write something happy, where everyone in the story was enjoying their life.  McCorkle ended up giving a whole discussion on how even our favorite characters must have unlovable qualities and our least favorite characters must have loving qualities (even the rotten Disney villains).   Personally, happy stories bore me to death.  Bring on the “depressionland” as this reviewer said on goodreads.com.

Hope you like this book as much as I do, or you just trust me enough to try it out.

Here’s to Being Set on Buying Other People’s Junk

And fixating on my abundant armpit sweat (via twitter) on Rapture Day!

Edit: For some reason I’ve been really uncomfortable about posting this blog ever since I posted it about twenty minutes ago.  I was sitting there reading this really dense book called, Stones from the River and all I could think about was how I compared the leaving home, and quitting your job for The Rapture experience to the devastation of a natural disaster.  I think this is wrong.  Leaving your home and quitting your job for a calculated rapture that you truly believe in is based solely on religious choice is not the same as living through a natural disaster that has left your house in crumbles, and only left you with a few forks and one intact photograph.  If you and your family agree that the Rapture is coming on May 21st and you leave your house in hopes of returning to a home in Heaven then that is nothing like having a tornado sweep through the wooden beams filled with all of your memories in an instant.  It’s nothing like being buried under your own furniture, your own roof tiles, your own un-lit and broken chimney.  That is a devastation.  And as much as this Rapture not happening and choirs of angels not singing  karaoke and floating you to heaven on their unicorn shaped clouds is nothing like the toll that tornado’s have taken on North Carolinians (and others) or the toll that tsunami’s have taken on the Japanese.  I just feel bad about that.  

I also feel like maybe I shouldn’t have picked on this Rapture belief.  I feel like if I may have been born two-hundred years ago and raised as a quaker, or a protestant, or I lived through the Salem Witch Trials where women had to protect themselves by accusing the widows, and down-trodden of their “neighborhoods” maybe I really would have believed in the impulse of witches, or believed the soap-box preachers telling me doom was coming on a certain date if I didn’t get on my knees and repent.  I mean you never know.  We all have different belief systems and different ways of interpreting the religious texts and different ways of practicing how we interpret those texts. 

So, here is the prologue to this blog.  Please take what I say with a grain of salt. 

Today with all my Rapture Day garage sale-stalking, and my cleaning out my car with its’ ferocious amount of hair (that I should probably sell for a wig or something, my golden strands of curls…obviously worth money right…you should definitely be able to pawn hair) I didn’t get around to creating anything exciting/elaborate/misleading/upsetting/tormenting or erotic for 30 Days of Public Poetry.  But, I figure I can start whenever I want, right?  I just have to stay committed once I pass go.

Commence commitment problems.

Today, the first Rapture Day I’ve been alive to experience and understand that a very rich man is somehow deciphering the Bible.   Even though all of my college professors didn’t know the first place to start and had traveled all over God’s green earth to find Monastery libraries for their Biblical research, but this man believed (not once, but twice) that the world was ending according to his Biblical calculations.  I do love a man with that much … umph.  That much tenacity. That much creative imagination to actually get through the entire Bible like it’s a soap-opera of murder mysteries that at the end gives you quick enlightenment and a date of imposing death.

I think my favorite part of the entire thing is the full page advertisement in USA Today, we all know you have money now, along with your radio station, and your anti-gay propaganda pamphlets stating:  “Gay Pride: Planned by God as a Sign of the End.”  (Maybe now the Camping Believers will become truly enlightened and realize God created ALL CREATURES EQUAL including the gay, bisexual, and transgender ones – yes this is my political opinion, roaring it’s pretty little head).

And the fact that a facebook group has dedicated its’ time to  post-rapture-strategic-looting, I would like to know the guy that created that one.  He’s right, the people left in purgatory do need some sweet stereo equipment to pass time.  We all know Nicki Minaj, Eminem, and of course, Kanye West will still be with us on earth after the Rapture…Kanye trying to figure out how he isn’t God.

My rapture day was all too exciting with the full fledge savaging of garage sales with my mother, and her little bag of goodies.   I was wearing sweat pants in the Carolina’s 90 degree weather and saw a few old teachers with their children, a few too many cats with collars on (cats choke ya know, if they get attached to things…), and got a free fortune cookie out of the whole experience that told me, “tomorrow when you wake up, all your problems with have solutions.”  Along with the fortune, I found two pennies in the street, so it’s safe to say I should buy a powerball ticket and play the odds.  My horse “astrology” (I picked this one because I thought with all my universal luck lately, I should test the stars, I also picked “sway away” and “concealed identity” – I choose based on sad, back stories and those two got me), oh yea, this sentence was going somewhere…he came in 3rd at the Preakness (sp?).  I could google it, but like all else today, I’m just too lazy and busy waiting on God and his army of angels that I can’t possibly google in this sort of state.

Otherwise, the Rapture didn’t come.  God has left me here to rot inside my parent’s house, doing my own laundry, wearing my WWJD bracelet and still trying to look fabulous in parachute pants, which went out decades ago.

Don’t worry, I’m not completely senseless.  I know a lot of people believed Harold Camping and have given up their homes and quit their jobs to follow his word and belief that the Rapture is upon us.  I feel for these people.  It’s almost like a natural disaster except the natural disaster is from another human being, which makes it maybe more wicked than them all.

What are all those people doing outside of Camping’s offices now?  Are they just going to huddle into their tents, breathing together all of the oxygen of that field, and raising their hands in prayer, kneeling, dirtying their knees with the soft soil, yelling, “why, why, God, why?”  I guess we don’t know.  I almost wish they’d create another Woodstock  or realize not to put all their beliefs in the power of one man instead of the power of one God.

This is the sadness of religion.

And the sadness of trust.

I guess with all my commitment and trust talk up there, and my blabbing, I just wanted to share this picture that I found on tumblr, of all places.  That takes Brave New World which is one of the few books I dedicated a few hours in the dining room rocking chair too in high school, and blanks out most of the page to make it have a whole new meaning.  I’m kind of obsessed with this marker on the page thing, I’m actually surprised I haven’t shared it before.

The truth about human relationships, maybe? Who knows? I'm no Kanye West, or God.

Here's to Being Set on Buying Other People's Junk

And fixating on my abundant armpit sweat (via twitter) on Rapture Day!

Edit: For some reason I’ve been really uncomfortable about posting this blog ever since I posted it about twenty minutes ago.  I was sitting there reading this really dense book called, Stones from the River and all I could think about was how I compared the leaving home, and quitting your job for The Rapture experience to the devastation of a natural disaster.  I think this is wrong.  Leaving your home and quitting your job for a calculated rapture that you truly believe in is based solely on religious choice is not the same as living through a natural disaster that has left your house in crumbles, and only left you with a few forks and one intact photograph.  If you and your family agree that the Rapture is coming on May 21st and you leave your house in hopes of returning to a home in Heaven then that is nothing like having a tornado sweep through the wooden beams filled with all of your memories in an instant.  It’s nothing like being buried under your own furniture, your own roof tiles, your own un-lit and broken chimney.  That is a devastation.  And as much as this Rapture not happening and choirs of angels not singing  karaoke and floating you to heaven on their unicorn shaped clouds is nothing like the toll that tornado’s have taken on North Carolinians (and others) or the toll that tsunami’s have taken on the Japanese.  I just feel bad about that.  

I also feel like maybe I shouldn’t have picked on this Rapture belief.  I feel like if I may have been born two-hundred years ago and raised as a quaker, or a protestant, or I lived through the Salem Witch Trials where women had to protect themselves by accusing the widows, and down-trodden of their “neighborhoods” maybe I really would have believed in the impulse of witches, or believed the soap-box preachers telling me doom was coming on a certain date if I didn’t get on my knees and repent.  I mean you never know.  We all have different belief systems and different ways of interpreting the religious texts and different ways of practicing how we interpret those texts. 

So, here is the prologue to this blog.  Please take what I say with a grain of salt. 

Today with all my Rapture Day garage sale-stalking, and my cleaning out my car with its’ ferocious amount of hair (that I should probably sell for a wig or something, my golden strands of curls…obviously worth money right…you should definitely be able to pawn hair) I didn’t get around to creating anything exciting/elaborate/misleading/upsetting/tormenting or erotic for 30 Days of Public Poetry.  But, I figure I can start whenever I want, right?  I just have to stay committed once I pass go.

Commence commitment problems.

Today, the first Rapture Day I’ve been alive to experience and understand that a very rich man is somehow deciphering the Bible.   Even though all of my college professors didn’t know the first place to start and had traveled all over God’s green earth to find Monastery libraries for their Biblical research, but this man believed (not once, but twice) that the world was ending according to his Biblical calculations.  I do love a man with that much … umph.  That much tenacity. That much creative imagination to actually get through the entire Bible like it’s a soap-opera of murder mysteries that at the end gives you quick enlightenment and a date of imposing death.

I think my favorite part of the entire thing is the full page advertisement in USA Today, we all know you have money now, along with your radio station, and your anti-gay propaganda pamphlets stating:  “Gay Pride: Planned by God as a Sign of the End.”  (Maybe now the Camping Believers will become truly enlightened and realize God created ALL CREATURES EQUAL including the gay, bisexual, and transgender ones – yes this is my political opinion, roaring it’s pretty little head).

And the fact that a facebook group has dedicated its’ time to  post-rapture-strategic-looting, I would like to know the guy that created that one.  He’s right, the people left in purgatory do need some sweet stereo equipment to pass time.  We all know Nicki Minaj, Eminem, and of course, Kanye West will still be with us on earth after the Rapture…Kanye trying to figure out how he isn’t God.

My rapture day was all too exciting with the full fledge savaging of garage sales with my mother, and her little bag of goodies.   I was wearing sweat pants in the Carolina’s 90 degree weather and saw a few old teachers with their children, a few too many cats with collars on (cats choke ya know, if they get attached to things…), and got a free fortune cookie out of the whole experience that told me, “tomorrow when you wake up, all your problems with have solutions.”  Along with the fortune, I found two pennies in the street, so it’s safe to say I should buy a powerball ticket and play the odds.  My horse “astrology” (I picked this one because I thought with all my universal luck lately, I should test the stars, I also picked “sway away” and “concealed identity” – I choose based on sad, back stories and those two got me), oh yea, this sentence was going somewhere…he came in 3rd at the Preakness (sp?).  I could google it, but like all else today, I’m just too lazy and busy waiting on God and his army of angels that I can’t possibly google in this sort of state.

Otherwise, the Rapture didn’t come.  God has left me here to rot inside my parent’s house, doing my own laundry, wearing my WWJD bracelet and still trying to look fabulous in parachute pants, which went out decades ago.

Don’t worry, I’m not completely senseless.  I know a lot of people believed Harold Camping and have given up their homes and quit their jobs to follow his word and belief that the Rapture is upon us.  I feel for these people.  It’s almost like a natural disaster except the natural disaster is from another human being, which makes it maybe more wicked than them all.

What are all those people doing outside of Camping’s offices now?  Are they just going to huddle into their tents, breathing together all of the oxygen of that field, and raising their hands in prayer, kneeling, dirtying their knees with the soft soil, yelling, “why, why, God, why?”  I guess we don’t know.  I almost wish they’d create another Woodstock  or realize not to put all their beliefs in the power of one man instead of the power of one God.

This is the sadness of religion.

And the sadness of trust.

I guess with all my commitment and trust talk up there, and my blabbing, I just wanted to share this picture that I found on tumblr, of all places.  That takes Brave New World which is one of the few books I dedicated a few hours in the dining room rocking chair too in high school, and blanks out most of the page to make it have a whole new meaning.  I’m kind of obsessed with this marker on the page thing, I’m actually surprised I haven’t shared it before.

The truth about human relationships, maybe? Who knows? I'm no Kanye West, or God.