“Lincoln was always scribbling notes and putting them into his hat.” – Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman – And the Pursuit of Happiness

* I can’t say the grammar in this is at its finest.  I am exhausted.  I had to let out some word beauty though, my sweet outlet.

It’s an election year. It’s a love letter to democracy (democrazy).  It’s a story about men and their hats, or the tallness that sits upon their heads.  It makes me feel dumb because I can’t speak 9 languages and don’t collect paintings, or keep charts about my farm.  I don’t even have a farm or a garden.  I can barely rake the leaves in my backyard and remember to feed the birds.

Maira Kalman’s And the Pursuit of Happiness is a graphic novel about the history of the US.  What men were important and what is more important than their wars and the parchment they signed in their thick oak chairs?   It is a love letter to freedom, liberty, constitutional declarations.  A sweet swirly handwriting, a drawing of Abraham Lincoln that isn’t a stick figure with a large hat and hair combed-over.  It’s a history class in a graphic novel.   I wish I could teach her in my classroom, let my students see that people wish they could sleep in history, rather than sleep through it.  Go back and sit in balconies, invent electricity, write love letters to their wives over gunshots and tent flaps.

Maira Kalman isn’t a historian, but she’s an American and at some point we all become tiny historians on our tiny piece of the world.  I am the historian of my mother’s spoon and bowl upbringing of my brother, my father’s bald spot, the short history of my cats as they scale curtains and scratch furniture.  I am the historian of this bedroom covered in flowers and robins egg blue.  The teacher, the historian of my classroom with its sit down, stand up rules, its copies of worksheets that kill forests, and the smart board that will forever be my mortal enemy.

Maira Kalman – And the Pursuit of Happiness

Think about it.  We’re all historians.  Our tweets will build history books for our children’s children.  People will ask what the War in Iraq was like and we will tell them dusty, too many bombs, too many lost limbs and young men left broken.  Too many things no one told us before this started.   What was 9/11 like? Terrifying.  What was that town like that you lived in when you were small, the neighborhood pool, the fence built by hand up the alley of the main street.  You are the historian, you are the story teller, you are the voice for this bit part.  

Maira Kalman – And the Pursuit of Happiness

“I would confess to him that I would love to live in the Lincoln Memorial.  Just a simple cot in the center of the space.  I would make my bed and sweep.  Drink tea.  My neatness and happy aspect would amuse him. In the evening I would embroider his words onto fabric.  Words that seem so apt today” (90). I would confess to Ben Franklin that I would love to own a pair of bifocals to make me look smarter in snob coffee houses, when I snap my fingers to the stanzas.  I would wear loafers, penny loafers, and float in on pear perfume and fancy.

I think this book reminded me how much I love the superstars of history and literature.  Aren’t we all obsessed with some bearded man, someone who sweat over notes of declarations, or two scores, or the figures for electricity?

I have a special place in my heart for George Washington and his wooden teeth.  In middle school, I was picked on for my buck teeth, my fingernail gap.  I look at people’s teeth when they smile in the street, as they shake my hand.  I prayed for braces into my pillow and then I grew up and my teeth got coffee stains and floss.  There’s something special about a man who just filled his teeth with ivory (or wood)  and went on conquering.

I also adore John Adams.  I’ve read the letters between his wife and him.  Their romance was one for the storybooks, literally.  When I picture widows standing guard on the railings of Antellbellum homes, I think of Abigal Adams.  Abigal must be a close relative to Alice with their names being so similar, and their dresses frilled with petticoat lace.

Maira Kalman – And the Pursuit of Happiness

“After the 1850’s, thanks in part to Franklin’s influence, America became the land of ingenuity.  Here, in 1898, is Nikola Tesla, who talked to pigeons and worked with electricity, while calmly reading a book. I wish I knew what he was reading” (237).

I’m such an angry feminist.  Sometimes I forget all the gifts that men gave our culture when they weren’t busy being barbarians.  I didn’t know who Nikola Tesla was before this book, but I do love a man who talks to the birds.  Then, there’s Thomas Edison who “invented naps” because he was inventing so many things he needed to get into bed every afternoon at approximately 3pm just after a late tea.

Maira Kalman – And the Pursuit of Happiness

“Everything is invented. Language. Childhood.  Careers.  Relationships.  Religion. Philosophy.  The Future.  They are not there for the plucking.  They don’t exist in some natural state.  They must be invented by people.  And that, of course, is a great thing.  Don’t mope in your room.  Go invent something.”

GO. INVENT. SOMETHING.

You have a blog, write it.  You have a voice, sing.  How do you carve a bird with two stones?  How do you wrap an adult hand around the small pinky of a newborn baby?

For that matter, how do you answer a student who tells you on college ruled paper that he didn’t read, and he didn’t understand any of the stories, that he’s lost hope in ever passing your class? You pinky promise.  You invent handshakes and lessons.  You invent hope where there isn’t any and you create this small flame in his eyes.  You rest everything in your life on that one short sentence, a sentence that means hope in every way you say it….a pinky wrapped around the pink middle of another pinky, the inside of a heart, hanging open.

Project 365 | Week 37

This week is still the story of cats.  I know you all don’t want to see anymore cats, you can practically smell the cats through my screen, but I can’t help it – they’ve literally started finding me.

Day 258:

Why is a Raven like a Writing Desk? Purchased from CandleBrightCreations

New Alice ring made out of an old silver spoon.  I can only hope someone it to spin sugar into tea.

Day 259:

Cask of Amontillado

I taught Cask of Amontillado for our short story unit and had a corny moment of showing this poster to my class.  POP CULTURE POE! I so wish I could share my class’ “Poe-esque raps” because they were unbelievable.

Day 260:

Yep, those are cat bookmarks.

I am teaching cliches/stereotypes.  What’s a bigger cliche than an English Teacher who collects hoards of cats.  Cat bookmarks were needed for this lesson.  Yes, they have different facial expressions; “I iz mad, I iz confused, I iz anxious, I iz giggling.”

Day 261:

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

My reading has severely dwindled since I started teaching, however, I did finish Persepolis this week.  This was one of my favorite images from the graphic novel.

Day 262:

24-0

I went to the 9th grade game because half of the team spends a period with me during the day studying the English Language.  They won 24-0.  My students are beast at their desks, and on the gridiron field.

Day 263:

It’s like they know I’m here.

I was spooked this week by two beady eyed creatures of the night.

I’m slowly building a colony.

Meet me on the next Animal Hoarders.

I could do this all day…

Day 264:

Yard Work

I didn’t realize when you buy a house, you buy the yard.  I have an acre and because of that, my family has blisters.

“I love to smell flowers in the dark,” she said. “You get hold of their soul then.” — L.M. Montgomery

Love Trees

There is an oak tree out my window with a knot the size of my head growing on its spine.  My father is too old to cut the branches and during thunderstorms they slightly tap against my bedroom window.  I imagine this is the sound a lighthouse would make if it spoke.  I can hear the bird that comes every spring and vacations through summer on its branch.   I’ve always been a tree hugger, whisperer, petter, climber.  I collected their leaves between petaled pages and felt their veins like I was feeling a lover’s hand.

This is all to say: I’ve never been a flower girl.

In fact, I’ve been the opposite of a flower girl (I may have performed the task in someones wedding before I had knew what choice meant).   I’ve been the girl who actively demanded not receiving flowers.  “They just crumple and die.”  “What do you do with roses who have been so inbred that they no longer smell.”  “There’s nothing better than a dandelion and after five seconds, you’ve blown it to bits and weeds.”  Yep, that’s me in my teenager years, and then my college dating life. Oh geez.

In Puerto Rico, teenage boys hand out flowers made of palm leaves. This was mine.

When you realize you’re wrong, you usually admit it right?  Instead of going against flowers now, I actively seek them out.  I refuse to step on the weeds growing along the bottoms of brick buildings (it’s like stepping on sidewalk cracks, my poor grandmother).  On walks, I steal and eat honeysuckle hanging by the neighborhood creek.  It’s a fashion statement to put azaleas behind the crook of my ear.

Due to my new flower-fashions, I’ve been reading flowery books, books with words that bloom.  I like to think of books as Morning Glories.  They bloom, and glow, and then they close back up and wait for the next person that whispers their name into the cover and fingers the binding.   You can imagine that I was greedy about getting my hands on The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  You can also imagine that I will be planning my wedding flowers according to Victoria’s flower box.  I’m also going to be diving into research about the Victorian idea of flower-courting, those petal-pushers! (Har Har).

An Alice for you.

The Language of Flowers

Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy getting this book.  I was number 78 on the waiting list at the library.  I even tried to get the large print version (it only had five people on the waiting list) but those five people were reading at a turtle pace, and not the kind of turtle that beats the hare.

Because I’m a hare type of person, I like a book with short chapters.  It helps me read because I can say, “oh, just one more,” when I should be under the covers and snoring.  I can read it and finish a chapter during a commercial break or at a stoplight.  Short chapters really get competitive (and a-personality) people like me to finish the book in a ridiculous pace.  Plus, the pacing of this book is magical anyway.  Every other chapter is told from a different period in Victoria’s life.  In one set she is a girl of the foster care system who after turning ten has been left to age-out in too many group homes to count.  The other set is told from the point when she ages out of the group home (evicted) and gets a job working with the only thing she knows, flowers.

New Yorker Cartoon

It’s really a brilliant story.  It’s not a mystery, or a thriller and I was hard-pressed to put the book down until I found out what happened between Victoria and Elizabeth. I don’t really want to go any further than that because some of you may not have read this book yet.  Part of what makes this book wonderful is that Diffenbaugh wrote what she knew.  She has a charity dedicated to children in the foster care system and has her own foster children as well.  She knew what and who she was writing for when she picked up that pen everyday.

Plus, this book hits home for me because I (only for one more week) work at a teen center.  After reading this – I am devastated and scared for my teens who are living in a group home, on the verge of aging out.   They’re all still so awkward, and not yet adult.  They still have pimples and unwashed hair.  I have one girl who is in foster care because she was a harm to her family and to herself living in her normal-family home.  However, this same girl is the one who braids my hair every Sunday and lets me keep the hair-tie until next time.   It’s a strange world.

And then, the flowers.  Of course I read this book for the flowers.

In Language of Flowers, I learned how to properly cut the thorns off of roses making them perfect for holding.  Victoria teaches people to believe in their own vision of love through the petals, and the smells, and the genus’ of flowers.  I wish we could bring back the flower courtships from the Victorian Era (not the corsets).  I would love to see girls in their bedroom windows scanning the pages of a flower dictionary holding a bouquet of acacia after their secret tryst in a barn last night.  I can imagine them still smelling of hay, still finding small sheds stiff as dried grass in their hair.  They’re licking their finger to turn the page and find the right flower, the right shape and petal size.  What does this mean about my love.  And then finding it, finding out through this plucked stem that someone loves them back.

He loves me.

He loves me not.

He loves me.

The Air We Breathe

Tea Art | Ginger Pear

I don’t know how I muscled through this, how my eyes in the dark continuously focused on these words that weren’t beautiful, or even at all interesting.  I managed to amuse myself with a series called “tea art.”  See my newest feature, “Ginger Pear” to your left.

This is the second book of boring that I’ve read by Andrea Barrett.  Her stories in Ship Fever (which contained the Mendel Pea Story which I was so fond of) won the National Book Award and prompted me to give her a second chance at wowing me with The Air We Breathe.  (Yes, I expect to be wowed, I’m a book snob).  I was especially interested on how she narrates with the group (first-person plural) “we.”  While I think this is an imaginative concept and really outlines the group thought that goes on and becomes extremely important by the end of the book, it didn’t make the read worth it.

This is my frustrated face.

I think where my problems lie with Barrett are in pacing, and detail.  Her pacing is unbelievable slow.  It took me a wild 5 days to get through this book.  I wasn’t inspired to continue picking it up and not interested in the main characters enough to keep striving.  I should have just flipped to the family history at the end of the book to discover that Leo and Eudora (fabulous name) do in fact marry and live endlessly in love and without tuberculosis for the rest of their days.  Instead, I read on like a girl floating on a chunk of wooden barge during calm sea times.

The book is set in 1916 at a Tuberculosis Sanatorium.  The threat of war is imminent and by the end is upon everyone in the town.  I think this is part of the problem why the collective “we” didn’t work.  I hardly got to know the voice of any characters even though a main part of the plot are these Wednesday meetings when someone from the local sick speaks about themselves and anything they’d like to educate others on.  I thought this was such an interesting way to get people connecting in a story, set them in a meeting.  It’s like going to an AA meeting – of course you’re going to find characters, or a Bible Study meeting.  You can’t tell me their aren’t bonneted Baptist women with gray comb overs that are shouting to you from the page.  Just imagine their red face upon the latest town marriage, or the shrill of their voices as they gossip.

A meeting is such a great setting for a fictional environment and yet the meetings were inherently boring.  One of the things Barrett has been praised for is her use of science and technology in fiction.  However, in these parts where I should be dying to understand fossils, or really feeling the radiation of x-rays before they were perfected, I was left dulled and sighing.  The only time the x-rays really made my heart twinge was when Eudora x-rayed Leo and through this the reader was able to see just how biological love can be, just how scientific.  Doesn’t the wife of a husband who’s had a heart attack think about that heart afterwards, think about the vessels and how that thick red mud is sloshing through them, where the nutrients are, what he should eat?  Love, as inherently biological is another great concept.

Unfortunately, this may be a case of a lack in beautiful writing.  Not once in 297 pages did I feel the need to scribble down a beautiful phrase.  In a story of love, sickness and war, there should be beauty.  There should be beauty and not boredom in that loneliness, and that excitement.  Instead, I was neither taken with the word choice (the details) or angry with them.  I felt that this was just a story told straight, nothing fancy.  And where’s the fun in that?  Did Barrett rely solely on the “we” to make this a book of genius?

The Air We Breathe | Andrea Barrett

There were moments in Ship Fever where I wanted to eat the page; rip-it-broken down the binding, crumple it into my fist and shove it into my soaked mouth.  I didn’t, of course because I’m not a Destructor, but those moments are important in any book. All books should be held to beauty.  I know that everyone’s idea of beauty is different, but books should move people.  Books should make you stay up past lights out, and hold a flashlight past when your arm is tired and those sleep pins are pricking because your blood has stopped flowing.  They should make you want to EAT PAPER, eat words, eat.  Then on the other hand they should starve you, they should make you bleed to find out what the character will do next, what way the writer will describe a wooden fence in the country.

I’m not saying don’t read Barrett, or don’t read The Air We Breathe, just be forewarned that it isn’t something you’ll hold in your hands like gold.  Hey, maybe it would make a great movie. This book will move you to create art out of a draining tea bag, let the tainted water puddle over the scrap paper.

When in Doubt. Be Bookish.

My Workspace | Infested

So, I had a bad night.  It may be due to the picture to your left where tissues are crowding my mug of raspberry tea and my Downy napkin poetry.  I’ve been sick with a cold for just two short days and yet, I’m a cosmic mess.  At least tissues and napkins are pulling double time: snot and words.  Hopefully the two are not blurring one another.  Due to my lack of composure during creative writing discussions (which was more so the reason for my no good, very bad day) I took a mild trip to the bookstore.  By mild I mean I only purchased one book.   Quailridge isn’t exactly the place to go when you only want to purchase one book, it’s the place to go when you want to become a serial book killer.  It’s an instant mood lifter, it’s like the mood ring of bookstores – you walk in and you’re instantly violet-blue.  See the mood ring manual here.

I did the usual: ran my fingertips along the hardcover spines, through F,G,H,I and then poetry, travel, literary journals.  I looked through the card section, found quotes for friends in other hemispheres.  I cheered myself right up from that crying jag.  I joke with my friends that when I’m pregnant my husband will have to run out and get books, not tacos, or pickles.  Maybe a book on pickles.  Do they have such a thing. Today, I bought a book on birds (typical).

Let me introduce to you, The Conference of the Birds (retold and re-illustrated) by Peter Sis. I have a thing about bird books, or the word bird in titles.  I also have two birdish tattoos, and a nickname of “little bird.  It’s kind of my thing; birds and books.  Any title with “birds” or “birdies” usually lends itself right to the register.  This book spoke to me from clear across the room.  It was face-up towards me, it’s printed on this unbelievable grid paper, and the whole back sleeve is birds.  It didn’t take me long to designate this book, “the one” and marry it right on the spot.  In this case, I’m polygamous. This book is amazing.

If you didn’t already know, I’m obsessed with Shaun Tan books.  If anyone in Australia wants to send me his new sketch journals, I will not be opposed.  I own every single one (The Red Tree is in my nephews room though because I gave it to him for a holiday not even thinking it wasn’t very childish. It’s actually quite depressing).  Since my love affair started with Tan in Australia, I have yet to find illustrations, or illustrated books for adults that measure up to Tan.  I think in color, and oddness, The Conference of Birds matches. Just check out some of the images that Penguin gave as an excerpt to NPR.

I was delighted to find this book.  It only takes one page of something delicious to perk a bookish girl up (boys take note.  Maybe read the little diddy “Date a Girl Who Reads” so you can know the truth about love and devotion). Once I did some research, I found that last year Sis was on NPR “All Things Considered” to introduce his dream world of birds to adults, not children. Anywho, that’s not really why I’m writing. I never wrote a blog about how wonderful my Month of Letters was in March and Claire reminded me to blog about it.  A month of letters was a really lovely way to get to know bloggers out there and realize how your brain works in the stream-of-concious.  I often stream-of-concious for fiction and poetry exercises during my daily writing, but I don’t often enough write about my own life this way.  It’s interesting to decide what you’re going to write to a stranger, or how you’re going to present yourself, or if you’re just going to write about the glass in front of you and the orange eye make-up you’re wearing that day.  I wrote a lot of letters about coffee and food.  I was almost always hungry when I started writing.  I filled every first letter with the same note as well:

It's in my notebook called, "Bad Experiments" based on a post-it note I found.

“For it is said, you know, that a letter will always seek a reader; that sooner or later, like it or not, words have a way of finding the light, of making their secrets known” (Kate Morton, The Distant Hours).

I think there’s something about the honesty in writing letters that you don’t get through an email.  How easy is it to just slide your pinky to the delete key and let everything go blank again, start fresh.  With a letter, unless you feel like digging and scraping your pen across a page (who writes in pencil other than Nikki Finney anymore), it’s a lot more work to delete ink than the georgia font on the screen. I like letters because I always feel like myself when I write them.  I’m never pretending to be someone else because I know if I do, then it’s all fake.  In letters I can scrawl my bad, loopy, half-trying-cursive handwriting, my unknown and aggressive commas.  (The page looks like people are on the comma egg hunt).  My bad spelling and lack of acceptance of the “i before e” rule.  I tend to be the mess that I am when it comes to letters.  Usually, the blog world doesn’t see that mess because I try to focus (sometimes it comes out though, like this blog, it can’t be restrained). It wasn’t just me who celebrated the art of hand-writing, but tons of ladies wrote me back.  Here is what came of that:

My best friend Sars sent a montage of birds, her wedding, and New Zealand. She’s the one doing 365NZ.
She also sent a cat card.
Katie sent me an ugly doll card (totally not knowing I had a keychain). Anna sent me a card on stationary I almost bought two days before I received her card. And Chris drew me a bouquet.

Muzette's Tiger and my favorite drawings by Claire's two children.

Emerson Graduate School - Red Letter from Katie B. that turns into an envelope. All stuck into my 2012 Book.

Whitney is not only a darling human-being with passion, she sent me a magazine creation. It was lovely.

These are assorted letters. One is my to-do list with letter writing on it. One post card of a famous tiger. One fashion card. Two child drawings that are both hilarious, and wonderful. Pink trees in the upper right. Thank you to Claire, Muzette, and Chris(tina) for these.

Two out of Three from Claire. We're going strong.

Thank you to Claire, Jen, Whit, Muzette, Lauren, MyMeanderingMind, Riki, TraceyChrissy, Ever, Kate, Katie, Kristine, Cindy, Chris, Sars and Anna.  I got more cards than this.  Haley sent me this rad owl card that I unfortunately have misplaced.  I think my dad moved it from the kitchen counter where I last saw it.  It was very hippie Harry Potter, as she is.  In fact, I think I just described her in three words.  Thank you to everyone who participated with me, or helped me to create a global community of letter writing/penpal-dom. It’s a revolution, get on the bus.

A Short History of Women | Rant

Sometimes you read books that don’t have a conclusion but they tell you something about the world. A lot of bloggers have said “this story has no point” and while it has no points plot-wise, or nothing to tell you in a sort of moral conclusion, it has a lot to say about women and womanhood.

A Short History of Women gives the story of four generations of women, some suffragists, some trying to find themselves, and some a hollow bone.  It’s painful, it’s a painful symbol for how the world sees womanhood, or how the world expects women to be.

I certainly do not have the strength of a few of these characters.  I could burn a bra against a metal barrel in the back woods of North Carolina, or a field grown over with weeds and clovers.  I could throw eggs at protestors and watch the clear jelly slide down their cheeks.  It’s yellow round – in a pan glowing white, rosing over, sunny side.  Enough of that though.  I’m saying I’ll hold a sign to get the vote, I’ll stand in the silent line to protest invasive sonograms.  But would I ever starve myself for the cause?

How far will I go for my own rights, if starvation…after passing – was the fact my ribs showed and my voice sunk to nothing even worth it?

These are the questions Kate Walbert asks.  How much is too much?  How far will we go and how will we do it?  And why?  When your son is buried in the desert mire during war, or the metal fence boasts “No Photographs after this Point” will you barge through, will you weep, will you seek arrest and council?  What do we do for the control of our bodies…

I think I liked this book so much, not for it’s story climax, or “point,” but because I was forced to ask myself these questions.  What morally is my duty to my body – this body filled with pores, causing hips to round in its shadows, asking for motherhood and spreading it’s legs against the ash of men (or women).  I’m not sure at this point what my duty is to my body.

I rise with the times, I suppose – I expect to be paid the same as a man in the same job, I expect to be judged on my hard work and not what my body was born into, and I believe in poetry and women’s place in literature, although articles are coming out announcing men’s publishing rates are rising higher than woman’s and this great article about chick lit @ Huffington Post. (Thank you Unputdownables).

I believe in Sylvia Plath’s words:

“Out of the ash I rise with my red hair
and I eat men like air.”
― Sylvia PlathAriel: The Restored Edition

If you need to ask yourself these questions – answer them with the literature, read this book.  Ask yourself what your mother, or grandmother has taught you about being a woman.  What did they instill in you – a sense of urgency, kindness, sexuality?  My grandmother instilled power, erratic driving, perseverance, self-teaching.  My mother instilled everything – the idea to be fierce, but soft.  I often think about what my daughters will think when they read my journals (if I have daughters) or what I will teach them in actions, and then later how they’ll discover my voice on paper.  I’m not sure what they’ll say about me – that I over-analyze, I scribble, I make lists.

At least though, I’m thinking about it, and thinking about it more after A Short History of Women.  Thinking about my contribution to not only my own line of females, but my voice in the public sphere (on women).

This brings me to: Samantha Brick, the woman too pretty and attractive to have any female friends.  If you haven’t read it, her article can be found here.   Here is the premise of the article: other women hate me because I’m beautiful and they treat me unfairly due to my stunningly good looks.  She’s a free lance journalist in France.  While I think her discussion is important, I don’t think she went at it the right way.  I believe pretty woman probably do struggle with making friends and it may be that other women are jealous, or it may just be that attractive women constantly discuss their looks, and their suitors and other women get bored with the conversation.  It’s strange how she writes this article with so many stories of hatred from other women who in secret praise her.  Last year, I wanted to watch the Victoria Secret Fashion Show for several reasons.

1. The women are absolutely stunning and they’re fun to look at, their hips ticking like a grandfather clock and those giant wings sparkling along the runway.

2. I like to know what bathing suits will look like next season.

3. I like to have inspiration to continue on my exercising journey.  My favorite model, Miranda Kerr, recently had a baby before the 2011 show and yet she looked flawless.  I did find myself saying, “I’d love to look like that,” but that doesn’t mean I’m jealous, it means I’m appreciative.  Sometimes, I bite down on the strong urge to yell at women running the neighborhood with me, to cheer them on.  It’s good when we can find something in common like loving ourselves instead of constantly putting one another down.   Have I been catty in my lifetime?  Sure.  Have I ever been cruel to someone because I thought they were prettier than me? No.  I don’t think that’s fair, when society is so much more cruel to those who don’t solidly fit its standards of beauty.  What we should be talking about is Bully, not some pretty Brit who’s having a hard time being pretty.

It’s a shame we can’t chalk all this up to: we can’t all be the same, we have different genes, different geographical locations, different unique and beautiful physical qualities.  When I read the article I kept thinking, “it’s not because you’re pretty, it’s because you’re rude about it.  You’re narcissistic.  You live in a house of mirrors and yet throw stones.”

I think this states to me that we’re living in a world where women think they can use their looks against each other.  I have news for people out there: you’re born with looks.  Very few women get nose jobs (unless they play Baby in Dirty Dancing), or liposuction  to suit themselves more firmly in the attractive.   Can you name one friend who’s had breast implants, I can’t.

Slam Poet Katie Makkai – “Pretty”

Why is it that we’re still talking about looks anyway?  Did you know that in England circa 1800 women being overweight and pale was popular?  In fact, if you were skinny or tan, it was considered that you were a maid, or a slave of some sort (often working in the sun, or not getting enough nourishment).

Obviously Samantha Brick has done well in her career with all of the possible promotions she mentions and yet we hear nothing about how she strives to pass the glass ceiling, or how she competed easily with others in her position (regardless of gender, or physical attraction).

It’s sad when high school girls are going through life considering eating disorders because their self-esteem isn’t concerned with how many poems they can quote, or how they understand the periodic elements and their functions, or how improved they are in a chosen sport, but instead how formed their abs are, or how straight their hair.

It worries me.   I was that girl who got up an hour earlier on non-swimming days to straighten my hair.  I had and have quite high self-esteem.  I swam year round all through high school, five hours a day and always had a boyfriend, so I wasn’t supremely concerned with my body but I did concern myself with these golden sea weed strands on my head and the acne forming on my chin.  I wanted straighter teeth, hair, legs.  I wanted less thigh, and didn’t laugh when my mother told me I had birthing thighs given from my grandmother.

So, this all comes back to our bodies.  How will we respect them and use them in the world.  How much do we fight with our minds and how much with our physical womanhood.  Earlier this week, I read a great nonfiction piece in Revolution House.  You can read it by Chelsey Clammer,  titled “Body Home” here.

I’d like to quote just a piece of it,

“I am on my way to work, getting on a train in Chicago. My commute has become a ritual of sitting in my body, mapping out the space she inhabits.   Each day I go through the obstacles of my mind as I judge the way my body moves. At the train stop, I go through the turnstile, and it rushes up behind me as I push it with my hand. The metal bar hits the back of my bag, an overstuffed messenger bag that bustles with snacks for the day, with notes for my job. The metal hitting my bag does not indicate to me that I am carrying a large amount of stuff to work, but it means I exist too much, that I take up too much space, that there is too much of me in the world” (Clammers, 48).

I think Clammers gives us a deep and revolving look at the female psyche.  I don’t want to feel like I am too much in the world because of how much seat I take up on a subway, or how deep a trampoline dips as I’m jumping into the blue air.  I want to feel too much in the world because I’ve written an overwhelming amount of words, because I’ve spoken loud enough for the world to hear, because my journal is so filled with scraps of lettering that it is bunching out, papers are crowding the spine.  I want my body to be my words, my hips small syllables, my eyes rhymes, and my fingers every sweet curve of my unsmooth handwriting.  This is how I will be too much in the world: too much voice. Too fierce.  Too alive with expression, with correspondence, with this, here.

Here is the main question though: What do these messages say about womanhood.  Ask yourselves.

*Next week I will be in Philly working at St. Francis Inn.  I may not be able to blog — head’s up.

Project 365 | Week 10 (Wow, Week 10)

My Mom, Brother and I.

This Project 365 is special because it’s my mother’s birthday today: March 10th.  I can’t say enough about what a wonder my mother is so I’ll say two things that really highlight it.  One: She’s taught me the most important thing that someone can be is kind.  Two:  I have this blog because my mother has given me the power, and the confidence to be who I want to be, no matter what.  Happy Birthday to the woman atop the pedestal, my mommy.

Onto the photos:

Day 63 | I love you bean.

I thought he would never grow, just another grocery store novelty like a broken chia pet.   This is my Valentine’s “I love you bean.”  It’s growing so strong that we had to move it to a bigger pot.  I won’t ever have to throw a tantrum like Kate over our love fern.  Our love lima is all flourish.

Day 64 | Another lazy day with Jas

You’ve probably seen enough of these.  If I don’t officially have the title of cat lady, then I’ll just have to put a beret or a cowboy hat on him…maybe a silver toy gun in a sling.

Day 65 | Unknown Suess Plant

All I’ve been thinking about lately is how well NCSU is doing in the ACC tournament and how much I want to see the Lorax.  It was one of my favorite books when I was little (thus why I take water bottles from people when they’re going to trash them rather than recycle them).  I thought this little budded and speckled flower was musing the Suess.

Day 66 | Wake-up Call

This is what I look like when I wake up; smeared eyeliner, wispy hair, cracked lips.  I could star in a lifetime movie as the “troubled” character.

Day 67 | Another Run, Another Cardinal

I can never get a clear cardinal picture.  They always suspiciously hide amongst the branches just in the perfect spot to avoid my zoom.  However, I got the petticoat of one on a run this week.  (By this time you have to realize I run with my Nikon).  These flowery trees only stay bloomed for about a week in North Carolina so I had to stand beneath them and let the petals dwindle in my hair while I could.  Perfect for picnicking and afternoon naps.

Day 68 | Thank you, WordPress

WordPress is mapping us out and I love it.  If I didn’t learn enough geography in seventh grade (believe me I didn’t), I will surely learn more by searching every country in google.  Yesterday, I learned a heck of a lot about Grenada and in turn how many celebrities vacation there a year.

Day 69 | How to make a car seat roof.

Step 1: Learn how to press the umbrella button.

Step 2: Smile for Grandma

Step 3: Hide and make Aunt Cassie peek below umbrella to get your actual smiling face.

Step 4: Lick the umbrella pole filled with finger germs and the residue of lost raindrops.

Step 5: Enjoy.

I hope you all spend the day outside picnicking, or making car seat umbrellas.  If not a car seat umbrella, why not a sheet tent?

Bone People – Keri Hulme

Bone People - Keri Hulme

Good LORD, this book was a long time comin’. 545 pages of a language I didn’t know, 545 pages of a culture I didn’t know, and 545 pages of good story, without a real plot.   That pretty much sums it up if you want the point-blank view of this book.  However, and you all know that there is always a “however…” I really fell in love with these characters.

The three main characters (very main, as in, you hardly get to know anyone else outside of them) are Simon P (also known as Clare, Haimonia, and Himi),  his dad, Joe, and a lonely woman that Simon finds living in a tower named Kerwin Holmes.  I like to think the name Kerwin Holmes is a play on the authors name, Keri Hulme, but I haven’t figured out just why at this point.  I want to read Keri’s biography, I realize now that the character is based on herself, but if she knows Simon, I really want to know he was based on someone real as well.  He feels real to me anyhow.

Kerwin is a lovely character because she’s the listening character.  She’s the one who somehow understands, who is stunted creatively, who is estranged from her family, and yet she gives so much to Joe and Sim without even knowing she’s giving it.  She claims that she has refused to let her guard down, but it’s pretty clear she has already fallen in love with Sim and treats him as her own child.  Joe is not his real father either, just a pseudo-foster-dad who found him in a shipwreck.  Joe does love Sim endlessly, but he also has a dark history.

Sim, is Sim. He is mute, he steals, he throws bricks through windows and yet, he sings, he kisses, he creeps his tiny little hand into yours while you’re sleeping on the bunk below.  The introduction of a character with so many issues, who you have absolutely no real back-story on, because he is found in a ship-wreck filled with bundles of heroin (there may be a connection in there somewhere, but I can’t spoil it for the reader).  Sim may very well be one of my favorite literary characters of all time, and based just on him – I want everyone to read this book.

The only real issue I had are that I had to constantly read the glossary of New Zealand terms to figure out key points of the story.  Which, honestly, doesn’t bother me that much because I use the dictionary quite often, with normal, American novels.  Another issue though is that this book really had no plot and somehow, Hulme managed to throw a bit of magical realism in there just for the sake of it.  I’m sure I would understand better, if I understood the Maori culture, or their myth stories, but because I’m coming from a completely Western World perspective it was hard for me to pick up what I’m to gather from this book, and that section of magical realism.  Is it about the trinity of the three main characters?  Is it a Christian story of love and abandonment?  I’m just not sure.  I do understand that idea of Maori displacement, and the changing of Maori to European, but otherwise they myth-story, the true-to-heart tale of these three characters is lost on me.  (Not that it wasn’t beautiful, gut-wrenching, and pulled me through the entirety of the book).

So, in an effort to discover what I’m missing, I’ve been reading other blog reviews, e-reviews, even (dare I say it) spark notes.  (Don’t judge me).  The Guardian wrote a bit of a harsh review of Bone People, which can be found here.  It’s true that the language, grammar, and just writing in general at times is quite hard to follow.  I do highly respect Hulme for never giving in to any publishers who wanted to change her writing, although it is a struggle to get through in the prologue among other small pieces.  The character speaking, or point-of-view often changes abruptly as well which can be difficult when you’re unsure who is speaking since the characters have such a strong connection.

As Guardian says, she did finally get it picked up by a small NZ Press and it eventually won the Man Booker Prize.  This all says something about an author who wouldn’t let a big-name publisher change her words to anything less Maori, less her-characters, or lessen the story she is trying to tell, which if I haven’t said it already, is brilliant.

Can you tell I’m having a really hard time placing my thoughts with this review?

So, let me start from the beginning.

The opening prologue is a poem, with three short snip-its on each character.  You won’t exactly get any of it until you finish the book in its entirety, but it will displace you within the first five minutes.  I was sitting in my bed, socks off, each being eaten by monstrous flowery covers and waiting for anything to make sense.  I felt like I was sucked into a New Zealand twilight zone where I wasn’t invited into the culture because I’m a western gal.  (Just as a side note: my best friend married a Kiwi and is happily living on the cliff side with her new, and perfect family, and yet, still couldn’t get through the Maori puzzle even with any of her help).  I mean I got the gist, I got the amazing and terrifying, unusual love story unfolding through its 545 pages.  But, the Maori I was lost on.  I want so badly to know the Maori myths, to understand the entrance of the old man protecting the God, and the canoe towards the end, to understand Kerwin’s stabbing pain in her stomach when the others in her trinity were having equivalent pain.  Is it like twinness?  When one feels something, does another as well?  When Joe feels pain, or Sim, does Kerwin feel it wherever she is, alone, as well?

I don’t know.

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions.

I loved this book.  I love these characters.  I am in love with Simon P. Gillayley and would follow his mute and singing skinny legs anywhere around the globe.  I believe in the persistence of Keri Hulme and her knowledge of her own writing being something that people NEED to have in their hands.

I even believe in the parts that I didn’t understand.  It’s a mystery, and it’s evocative.

Here is my favorite quote:

“But there’s no compass for my disorientated soul, only ever-beckoning ghost lights.”  (307), Bone People by Keri Hulme

Here are other reviews that you may be interested in:

I also just want to say that if you experienced the earthquakes throughout New Zealand (Christchurch), I am deeply sorry for the loss of your city.  Earthquakes happen in Bone People and it really struck me as coinciding with today’s Christchurch (among others) city of ruins.  I just kept picturing their bell tower.  My best friend Sarah Dion (now Drummond) is selling prints for Christchurch on sarahdionphotography.com.  If you haven’t yet seen the devastation from the earthquakes in NZ, please watch this video: