Sunday, December 30, 2007

"Running fast needs my crying breath."

and everyone always dies

I don’t know whether it was the title or the name Ursula Hegi that reminded me there was some book she wrote that i always thought i should read (tho i couldn’t remember which one) that made me want to read The Worst Thing I’ve Done but something did. And i’m glad i did. It is a story of childhood best friends who become lovers, spouses, adulterers, and betrayers. Daughters who are also sisters and mothers. It is the story of the enmeshed families we create (but aren’t all true families entangled and enmeshed?) I found myself inhabiting this book in a way that i live so few, i found my mind wandering sometimes and that i would have to go back to read pages again, flip back to the beginning; not for lack of interest but because the novel would recall so many things in my own life (or at least make me think of them~because i’ve never lived a life like this).

  • Things like:when my best friend attempted suicide in high school and i was so angry at her

  • didn't remind me of, but made me think of, again, how and why, i don't seem to keep any of my friends from childhood, or highschool, only my best friend from college, and only a few from previous jobs. Do we just drift apart? Am i so unlikable? So unimportant? Or are friendships not that important to me?

  • the two times in my life when men have stood in front of me and forced me to choose, then and there, between them and someone else. Both times it seemed so surreal (one time i was on ecstasy, one time i was on mushrooms~that might have made a difference…) The first time i was twenty-one and i choose my boyfriend over my friends simply because i knew they would forgive me and he never would (which was proven to be true.) The second time was out in the desert where a bunch of bands were playing and my some guy from my past (the guy who had given me the mushrooms which i had decided to take when i was to drunk to make such a decision) had a brother from out of state who had a grudge with the first-date i was with (how they knew each other~i have no idea). GuyFromPast made me decide between him and FirstDate to drive me home and it all reminded me of the first time.

  • It reminded me of digging for clams on the beaches of Alaska (and having~and eat~clam chowder later)

  • of the pain, the realness, the seriousness, the trauma, and the life of childhood. People always talk about the carefreeness and innocence of childhood but those people must forget what childhood really is.

  • of the Take Back the Night rallies i would go to in Ann Arbor when i would feel such a feeling of power and solidarity

  • or peace rallies i would attend at the beginning of the war when we all felt so alone in our cause

  • or of the times i say (usually in my head~but sometimes not, when i’m drunk~”hey listen, chickie”

  • and all the warring voices i hear in my head (just kidding on that one~sort of…)

Not that any of that matters or makes any sense to you but this is for me, right (and no, as semi-anonymous as this may be, i'm not yet ready to share the worst thing i've done~or even figure out what that is)? I want to remember what i thought of the book when I write about it here. But isn’t that what books are supposed to do~draw you in so completely you forget where they end and you begin. At least certain books?

Annie listens to two talk radio psychologists with conflicting views on life and relationships even when the radio is off (and talks back to them, saying “hey listen, chickie…”) She and her husband Mason constantly bet on everything as well as one up each other on the worst thing they’ve done for the day, or the week. They are raising Opal, the daughter of Annie’s parents who were killed on their wedding day in a car accident in which Opal was born by caesarian section, as their own. The novel is told in the different voices of Annie; Mason; Opal; Jake, their best friend from childhood; and Stormy, a friend Annie’s mother called sister when they immigrated from Germany (the narrative switches often between first person and omniscient.) The book is also interwoven with what amounts to what would be a long suicide note from Mason who has hung himself shortly before the novel begins (though the action switches back and forth between past and present.)

All the voices of this novel ring so true. I love when an author is able to write the feel child’s thoughts feelings and without falling prey to writing in a childish voice. I think Hegi is able to get into the mind of each character without being overly sensitive or cold to any (except maybe Mason but perhaps that is appropriate with his death…) I felt a great understanding of relationships here.

Perhaps somewhat depressing to some, but well worth it. Maybe i'll have to go check out some more Hegi novels now. Just ever increasing my pile...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

"From a distance it would have looked like violence."

eskimo poetry

Here I stand,

Humble, with outstretched arms.

For the spirit of the air

Lets glorious food sink down to me.

Here I stand

Surrounded with great joy.

And this time it was an old dog seal

Starting to blow through his blowing hole.

I, little man,

Stood upright above it,

And with excitement became

Quite long of body,

Until I drove my harpoon in the beast

And tethered it to

My harpoon line!

Recorded and translated from the Inuktitut by the Danish ethnographer and explorer Knud Rasmussen in Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition, 1921-24.

Here i go again, trudging through more arctic tundra cold...what can i say? It's a bit of an addiction. I'm not sure what it is about these books that draws me in so thoroughly, other than an evocation of my childhood, and a connection with my lost eskimo foster sister. There is also something about the epic nature of cold, and for that matter many kinds of endurance books (but cold especially~and have i ever told you with my obsessive reading of mountain climbing account books?) This time it's Consumption by Kevin Patterson (his first novel, or so i'm told.) This is really not cheery stuff, but i still found it a good read. The action itself covers about a generation of life in the Canadian Yukon starting when industrial western world truly began its encroachment on that land and its peoples in the early sixties and ending a little after the turn of the century.

The focus constantly shifts between a number of main characters, mainly centering around Native American Victoria and her family: her white husband Robertson; their children, Emo, Marie, and Justine; her parents; the village doctor Keith Balthazar; two village teachers; as well as the rest of the eskimo village in Rankin Inlet. Amanda, Balthazar's niece in New Jersey is included, although i often had to wonder why~maybe to show his connection (or lost connections to the white world). Maybe to show the disconnectedness in families? She did allow a shoutout for one of my favorite bands (and one that is quite nostalgic for me) The Monks and their album Bad Habits so that's always a plus. I did like her story i just sometimes wondered what it was doing there.

Victoria is sent away as a child to a Montreal sanatorium for because she is consumptive. When the pills don’t work she must have surgery then she is sent to a foster family. When she finally returns to her village she is almost a stranger to her family and has nearly lost her language. She feels more comfortable with the white men than with her own people.

eskimo poetry

I will walk with leg muscles

Which are strong

As the sinews of the shins of the little caribou calf.

I will walk with leg muscles

Which are strong

As the sinews of the shins of the little hare.

I will take care not to go towards the dark.

I will go towards the day.

Recorded and translated from the Inuktitut by the Danish ethnographer and explorer Knud Rasmussen in Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition, 1921-24.

This book is interspersed throughout with Dr. Balthazar’s medical notes which provide a fascinating picture of epidemiology among other medical topics if you’re into that sort of thing, with i am (by the by, consumption~so called because of the way it seems to consume its victims from the inside, is what we now call tuberculosis~just in case you didn't know.)

Although Robertson is at first somewhat tolerated for his attempt at learning the people’s ways when he is part of the South African conglomerate wishing to (and eventually succeeding in) bring a diamond mine to town things come to a head. Most of the characters in this book are quite tragic and most come to a tragic end (not to give it away or anything) The reading can get a little dense at times (and i wish some of the Inuit terms had received a little more gloss than they did~though a bit of contextual intuition can go a long way) but i found it well worth the time i put into it.

eskimo poetry

Hard times, dearth times

Plague us every one,

Stomachs are shrunken,

Dishes are empty . . .

Mark you there yonder?

There come the men

Dragging beautiful seals

To our homes.

Now is the abundance

With us once more

Days of feasting

To hold us together.

Know you the smell

Of pots on the boil?

And lumps of blubber

Slapped down by the side bench?


Greet we those

Who brought us plenty!

Recorded and translated from the Inuktitut by the Danish ethnographer and explorer Knud Rasmussen in Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition, 1921-24.

Friday, December 28, 2007

really makes me wonder what my kitties are up to while i'm toiling away...

although i’ve often wondered some of what they’re up to when i am at home like:

  • when i hear big crashes coming from some other room and when i go to investigate can find no evidence of what has happened (nor any cats in sight)

  • or the time i found a dollar hidden under one of the rugs they often sleep under in the back bedroom (a place i never carry money to); as if they were saving up for some grand escape

  • or the time i was doing dishes and i kept hearing a cat zooming by behind me to head down into the basement~times about seven~i ventured down the stairs a couple of times and didn’t see where they had gotten themselves off to (and i had never heard the corresponding bells on their collars indicating they had come back upstairs). It was if they were having a little feline bash in some secret corner of the basement and had invited all their pals (just run by real fast and she’ll never know the difference…)

  • when i went into the back room and stumbled on the rug where i found a couple of dollars hidden underneath it, as if they were plotting their escape.

  • the time Katushka managed to sneak out of the house and i didn’t notice until a cat that “looked exactly like her” came up to the window

  • similar to the time i came home and the two stray cats who “looked exactly like” Katushka and Dixie were loitering on my porch with the door wide open

  • or when i ignored Katushka when she was begging for her supper and so she decided to open the front door and go out and find her own

  • the times they hide my car keys from me just to make me think i’m losing my mind (is it possible i’m giving them to much credit?)

  • and the eternal question: do cats purr if there is no one around to hear them?

and if they can do all this why can’t I train them to do housework???

Anyway, back to the book…

most of these are taken from the website of the same name and include all sorts of pets

for the animal lover (perhaps even animal hater) in all of us… Always good for a laugh, or two…

Monday, December 17, 2007

where have all the redshirts gone?

It used to be you could tell who was going to die on any one episode (or continuing episode, or crossover, or whatever) if indeed anyone were to die by their guest-starring status (or, as observed by oh-so-many in the original Star Trek, by the wearing of the red shirt.)
It seems things are no longer so predictable.
It seems to me that Joss Whedon was one of the pioneers of this phenomena (tho, admittedly, i wasn't exactly tracking it), ultimately with the death of Buffy (tho he had started it much earlier~notably with the first episode and Jesse). Now it seems no show is immune.
I kinda like it.
It definitely makes things more interesting.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"Some families, I have learned, are stranger than others."

Gina B. Nahai finally seems to be finding an American audience for her work; perhaps our esteemed president's war on terrorism (or his seeming declaration of war on most of the rest of the world which doesn't appreciate his cowboy politics) has awakened us to what was a number of years ago "of little interest." Caspian Rain provides us with a portrait of Yaas's parents' rather unhappy marriage and her own upbringing within it.

Yaas's mother, Bahar, grew up with her seamstress-wannabe-mother; cantor-wannabe-father; opera-singer-wannabe; Islamic convert brother; younger brother (who happens to be a ghost); unmarried older sister; and her other older sister who is married to an abusive psychoanalyst in the poor Jewish section of Tehran. Bahar knows she is always destined for something greater than her circumstance and she finds it when she literally stumbles into the path of Omid Arbab's limousine, recently broken up with his fiance and looking for someone a little more mailable.

Although it is told in the third person, Caspian Rain, often switches points of view between her parents' to Yaas's. Although never quite reaching the level of melancholy or high tragedy, it is not very light or entirely uplifting reading (though it is highly readable and very beautiful. Somewhat bittersweet.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

"A stranger might have mistaken him for a dedicated Information Sciences professional getting an early start on some important research,

but Ruth knew that he was actually scouring eBay for vintage Hasbro action figures, a task he preformed several times a day."

(wilely creatures, those (or should i say, we?) Information Sciences professionals.)
The Abstinence Teacher is the first Tom Perrotta novel i have read (though i loved the movie Election) and i quite enjoyed the experience (but then, i am a sucker for a well-done satire)~one of those books i read (almost) straight through. Ruth Ramsey teaches high school Health & Family Life in the lovely suburb of Stonewood Heights, and during the Human Sexuality unit she makes the rather fatal error of observing that she has heard that some people actually enjoy oral sex (oh, my). When one student reports this to her parents it sets off a maelstrom resulting in a pilot Abstinence only program taught at her school, she being required to attend "remedial" sexuality teachers' training, and having a companion "teacher" (a blonde and sexy virgin who is an expert in abstinence, natch).
Stonewood Heights has recently seen the addition of The Tabernacle of the Gospel Truth a "diverse" evangelic church rapidly gaining in popularity and influence. Tim Mason is a recovering drug addict who has found his recovery in God and and The Tabernacle. His pastor has talked him into a second marriage with a sweet girl who he is not sure he is happy with. Ruth, divorced, unwillingly practicing an abstinence of her own feels a certain attraction to this unlikely man who insists on closing prayer at her daughter's soccer games. Will these these attracted opposites connect? Can Ruth's tolerance extend to her daughters' desire to attend to church? Will Tim relapse? These and many more exciting questions May be answered in the first installment of The Abstinence Teacher...
Sometimes i have to ask myself if i am a shallow reader (person) for not getting (much) more than sheer pleasure out of certain reading experiences (or is it that i am just SO deep and SO clever that i have already thought out all those thoughts? hmmm...)
(and i absolutely loved the ending...)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"No longer did they take each day for granted."

What is fable? Legend? Must it have a moral?

Do we complain because we have the time to do so?

I'm not sure that the women of this title don't learn as much from themselves and each other as they have to teach to their own people. This book was recommended to me by someone i work with, and you know i had to read it as soon as i read the cover as it is a tale of my homeland and the people of the foster-sister i spent much of my childhood with.

It is a nice little tale that can be read of an evening, and it does have the nice, somewhat moralistic tone to it that many fables/legends do, but it isn't really spoonfed to one.

When i go in and read all the reviews on amazon i feel like i maybe i missed something though. Perhaps it just goes to show that different people find different things in what they read (and see, and hear). I know that i have gotten different things from books i read at different times. I think i also believe that some of those reviewers might have missed out on something as well. My answers weren't quite as pat, or even as heart-warming.

Obviously old-people, learned people, wise people do have something to offer, this legend is about how they came to be revered in some Eskimo cultures (though, of necessity, for most of the history of that culture they needed to be abandoned~also a part of the story). But the more intrinsic part of the tale for me was that people need to discover their own worth before they can share it with others. I wrote i poem once, when i was in ninth grade, about some old people who had never really learned how to live, and why they were afraid to die in such a case. I don't know that i could possibly have known at so young, and maybe i didnt, maybe really, but i think maybe really can't be afraid to die until you know how to live (or shouldn't be, at least.)

This is indeed a story that needs to be shared with others~for so many reasons~so that everyone can come up with their own interpretation, and so that we may keep the old stories and traditions alive.