Book Spotlight: Lucky by Alice Sebold

TRIGGER WARNING: Lucky by Alice Sebold deals with the issues of rape, sexual assault, battery, trials, violence, sexual oppression, abandonment, and PTSD.

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How Bubble Tea Leads to Love

In Argo Tea on the first floor near the back of the Flatiron Building. Its nose points towards Madison Square Park near the intersection of West 23rd Street, 5th Avenue, and Broadway. The first full day of Autumn is clear, warm, and breezy. Sweetened coconut milk bubble tea chills in a domed plastic cup.

Had to troubleshoot a non-working power strip strapped in under the table. Three outlets in a row were cold. I looked underneath the other end of the table. The power button was off. Click. Power button now red. I now have juice flowing into my computer.

Ten years in IT troubleshooting pay off in real life with one, simple question: “Is this thing on?” Kind of like when you learn calculus in high school, but real world problems boil down to, “Does this add up? What can you take away – How much – and still be left with enough to give you what you need?”

Questions like these lead to interesting stories, unexpected results, and memorable experiences. A lot flows from them. Sagas. Adventures. The search for riches, whether material or spiritual. All, like those in the Hellboy series by Mike Mignola, willing to sell their souls to find their purpose in life and to play a powerful, decisive role.

Yet in their desires to destroy others, they can only destroy themselves. Unable to control or contain the raw power. The bigger the seekers become, the harder and wider they self-destruct. Only in romance stories do protagonists become larger than themselves and life all because of love.

Hate falls in upon itself utterly. Not a trace remains visible. Hate may rise again and powerfully so, only to devour itself again in the  process of its Becoming. Not so with Love.

Love inspires. Love grows. When one wants Love returned and it is not, then the Soul withers itself unto its Death. A truly Loving Soul fades away, the daisy blossoms remain white and the grassy fields, untouched.

Bumps in the Road to Writing

On March 15, I began writing every day. Some days I blogged. Some, I wrote in my novels. Others, just a page. I marked every day off on a calendar to see the X’s growing across the months. I felt really good. I managed not to procrastinate into the next day. I kept my promises to myself.

August 31, I was in the midst of a dental crisis with my mom. I completely forgot. Five and half months of an unbroken chain of writing something, anything every single day. Gone in a flash. Whatever, I started again. And then missed another day. And started again. And missed another day. I figured I must be needing a break and should just start again.

In the middle of this forgetting and restarting, my old friends Procrastination and Dread came back on the scene. I started to feel like I was dragging my heart through mud. I wanted to move forward so I pulled myself. But I resented and felt hopeless. I started feeling like I wanted to give it all up. This working on your passion thing takes forever. I’ll never get there. What’s the point?

So, yesterday, I started over. I had given up marking the calendar in the last couple of weeks. I drew lines through them like I did when I started mid-March. I began the marking again. Getting back on the wagon. Not giving up because of hopelessness. I have dealt with it in all my artistic endeavors. I don’t see it as a sign I should stop what I’m doing. I like writing. I have stories in me that I want to tell. I will tell. Am telling.

I know I am not alone in this despairing. Ask Polly recently had a column wherein the writer asks her, “Should I Just Give Up On My Writing?” Polly goes on at length as to why writer should not give up. The answer is that it is for the writer to do, not achieve.

I have been an achievement-oriented obsessed person. Everything I did was for the reward. School makes this an especially easy trap to fall into. Grades, awards, scholarships, and honor rolls. Whatever is at the end is what I usually strived for.

When it’s an art that your heart desires, things are different. Oh, maybe you want to hang your art in MoMA. How do you get there? Nothing you choose will get you in a direct path to the museum. You have to work on your art. Make mistakes. Try new things. Adapt. Change. Grow.

Changing my focus from achievement-oriented to process-oriented is the hardest thing I have ever done. My struggles to reestablish my schedule are part of that. It’s as if I cannot be proud of myself unless I achieve anything less than a perfect score, an unbroken chain. My achievements can never permanently buoy my self-esteem. Esteem must stand on its own, regardless of life’s turbulence. Any break in the chain results in an utter collapse of my inner sanctum. It’s not just a bump in the road. It’s an entire bridge swept away in the storm.

What can I do but get back up in the midst of this internal shit storm? I know no other way. I can only pick myself again. Stop listening to the internal smack down. And write.

My 5 Fave Kitty Videos of the Week

In honor of some very much needed fun time, I am sharing some of my favorite kitty videos. Some of them were not from this week, but I’m including them any way. Nothing like a smile on your face to make you feel better.

  1. A kitty and his deer friend. Or two.
  2. The kitty kat dance.
  3. Cat saves boy from dog.
  4. Two babies waking up from a nap.
  5. A baby very excited to see her kitty cat.

I especiallly love #5. And #2.

If you have some videos that you’d like to share, please post them in the comments! I’m an animal lover all around, so you don’t have to limit it to kitty videos!

Old Haunts, Great Friends, and New Faces

I am sitting at the Crema Cafe bar in Harvard Square while I await tonight’s book reading. Mary Karr, author of The Liars Club, will be signing and talking about her recent book The Art of Memoir. The Liars Club is a memoir; The Art of Memoir discusses Ms. Karr’s process for writing one. I’ve read memoir, but not hers. Not yet.

I recently devoured a piece of bread pudding made with cherries and bourbon. An iced chai latte keeps me company at the bar. A couple stands chatting next to their food at the bar on the other side of their chairs. Her voice comes directly at my ears, an unwelcome distraction.

I drove to Massachusetts yesterday for this event. My friends – The Bs – graciously offered to host me for two nights and a gathering of friends so I could see a whole bunch of mutual friends at once. Some friends I last saw at our own going away party; others, much longer than that. I love it when you haven’t seen friends in a while. Then you meet up. It’s like you never left. I had that last night. Thank you, dear friends!!

After breakfast, I took a leisurely half-milk walk down a shady street to Fawn Lake. I took the walking path strewn with pine needles and gnarly tree roots. The path wound near and away from the edge of the lake. Some lily pads already turned peaches and browns. One lily made its way back and forth away from the pad depending on the strength of the wind. I crouched down near the water, peering into murky depths. I thought I saw vermicelli down there.

On one side of the lake stood a small island. Mallards looped their heads under water and back again before diving up and down. After soaking their wings, they beat the surface of the water to shake them out. Tufts of feathers stretched out from them as if chicken had just been roused from their coup. A section of elm tree trunk was set up as a natural bench to rest on.

As I came around the bend, the shore came close to the geese. They stared at me like a bull in a ring. A triangle of them floated toward the shore at me in case I decided to make any sudden moves. I realized that I still held a fear of geese. I imagined myself racing away in terror as they beat at me with their wings and bit my hands. Wherever I saw a clearing, I stood and took in the sights – the tree line, the lily pads, the rippling water, and the partially cloudy skies.

Near the end of my path, I saw on a bench in the shade and closed my eyes. I let myself be lulled by the rustling of the leaves by the wind all around me. Sitting, I almost fell asleep. After I returned, I lay down for a nap before lunch. I accompanied my friend on an errand before driving myself into Cambridge MA for the book talk and singing. Tomorrow, I return home. On my way, I’ll take my 93 year old aunt out to lunch first. Who knows when I’ll get to see her again?

Book Spotlight: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Here there be spoilers.

When I told the librarian who was checking the book To Kill A Mockingbird (TKAMB) by Harper Lee out to me, I told him I was doing so in prelude to reading Go Set A Watchman (GSAW). The man begged me not to read it. He said that Atticus wsa made out to be a racist. Since he’d read TKAMB as a child who idolized Atticus, he refused to believe that his hero would end up racist. I don’t think I even read TKAMB in high school. I might have seen the movie. So his spiritied dissuasion did not affect me. I wanted to read TKAMB, and I was going to read GSAW. I figured that I could read it with less dislike for it since none of my heros were being dismantled. This time.

Harper Lee is a good writer. She really is. I like the way the story unfolds in GSAW just as I did with TKAMB. Unlike with TKAMB, I had no idea of the actual plot of the book. After a while, I wondered to myself where Harper Lee was going to this story. When Zeebo’s grandson gets into trouble while driving, I thought another court case was going to be central to the story. Turns out that it doesn’t really go anywhere. The plot was an excuse for Scout to visit Calpurnia who, by this time, is old and broken at her grandson’s troubles.

In this story, Scout returns to Maycomb for two weeks to visit her now aged father, Atticus. He’s crippled by rheumatoid arthritis. His sister Zandra takes care of him. Older brother Jem long since died from the same kind of heart troubles that killed their mother. Scout goes on some dates with Hank, but she’s really not too into him. But it’s when Scout reminisces about games that she, Jem, and Dill played when they were young that I feel it.

I felt the magic in Lee’s writing. That’s when I knew exactly why the publisher, who read GSAW first because it was written first, told Lee to go back and write about Scout’s young life. All the magic in her writing is there. Lee wrapped up all the loose ends in TKAMB, like she didn’t in GSAW. That’s what makes TKAMB such a darling book. It’s about Scout’s life as a child as seen through her eyes, allowing for more innocent and open-eyed approach to the topic of racism in the South. GSAW did not have the same magic throughout. Still a good read.

And it’s really not clear to me that Atticus is racist until the end when Scout confronts him about his participation at a men’s meeting with Hank, Scout’s Maycomb boyfriend. A speaker rails against the Negroes (the word in the book and not my nomenclature). By association, Scout assumes Atticus holds those same extreme views until we get to hear from Atticus what it is he exactly believes.

Yes, Atticus is racist, but in more of a paternalistic way than in an “I hate them” kind of way. According to Atticus’ explanation, the relationship between the whites and Negroes in Maycomb County changed after the NAACP came in to try and get judges to start getting Negros on juries. Negroes started (shock! horror! dismay!) having an attitude and getting uppity. Well, hell no! That was not gonna fly with those Southern whites. They thought the right and proper place for Negroes was in obeisance to whites. Since Negroes weren’t gonna stay in their place, the whites were not gonna have that. Hence, the whites were organizing.

Worse, Atticus goes on to explain that the Negroes are like children. If the NAACP was going to come to Maycomb County to rile up all the Negroes to vote, then they were gonna vote in themselves all in a bloc (just like whites already do, Atticus, hello!!), and they had no business in goverment cuz they didn’t know anything.

Well, Atticus, now who the hell’s fault do you think that is? You enslave a people for centuries. Then you only begrudgingly free them. You try to keep them separate so you don’t have to deal with them or work with them. You don’t educate them the way you educate your own children. You keep them in grinding poverty and beat them down and kill them for the slightest social infractions. You use the power of the state, the courts, and the cops to injure and maim and kill and keep them down with impunity.

I only have one question:

WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?

If Atticus thought Negroes needed to be educated before they could run for government, then EDUCATE THEM!! TAKE SOME DAMN RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE SITUATION YOU CREATED, WHITE MAN! THAT’S what you do. You do NOT do whatever you can to keep the status quo. That’s not a real solution. And look at us! It’s decades later and not much has changed. Some, yes. But not enough. Oh, not nearly enough!

In any case, I think Atticus racism is besides the point of the book. The point of Atticus being racist is so that Scout can have a major blowout with her father who she has idolized. Scout learns that even her father, her idol, is a human being who is flawed with flawed views. They had it out. Now they can move on together as two adults instead of father and daughter. Sometimes, we have to accept that someone we love has a view that we hold anathema. If we do not idolize them, then we are more likely to do that.

And here we are back at my librarian friend who did not like that Atticus, his self-professed idol, ended up having some views that flew in the face of his prior knowledge of him. I find it interesting that he and Scout were in the same position. Yet only one of them was able to change, accept Atticus as a flawed figure, and move on.

Why I Hate Facebook Memes

I have a confession: I haven’t always hated Facebook memes. In fact, I have been an inveterate Facebook meme sharer, mostly cats and inspirational quotes. And I have enjoyed the memes of others. I have learned new things. I have seen opposing political and cultural views that made me stop and think, even if for a moment to consider my position. I have learned which of my friends share my views and which do not. Largely, memes have been a positive vehicle.

Then I saw a Facebook friend, who I have also hung out with in real life, write a status update about disliking memes and encouraging her friends to start and have conversations. I didn’t dislike memes, but I liked her appeal. I began commenting on as many of her posts and the posts of all my friends where possible instead of simply clicking on ‘Like’. I wanted to contribute to the conversation with my friends, and I wanted the reverse to happen as well.

And then it began to happen. I began to notice just how many times, instead of sharing a Status Update, my friends posted picture memes without adding a single word. I noticed people sharing articles with opposing views that I disliked seeing, usually because they were racist, bigoted, or religious (although sharing a religious meme did not automatically earn my disapproval or cause me to hide a page).

I noticed when a single person posted eight times in a row, all memes, all without comment. And I really noticed that my entire News Feed seemed to comprise of memes, links, to articles, and happy pictures of celebrations. I don’t mind happy celebrations or pictures. However, I do mind an entire News Feed of pictures in various forms.

Suddenly, I found myself both angry and bored. I started hiding a lot of pages that my friends with extreme and opposing views share. I started skimming and skimming and skimming. I wanted to get to the ones where the posts of my friends who talk about something real actually share it. They really are too few and far between.

I don’t really care if you share your anti-welfare views or your anti-gun views, but put it in your own words for once. I want to hear what YOU think. I don’t want to hear what conservative groups think. I don’t care about them. I care about you. I want to talk to you. I want to learn from you. But if pictures with other people’s words on them are all you are going to share, then I’m going to hide them. Because, at that point, we’re all just talking at each other instead of with each other.

I’d rather talk with you. What do you prefer?

I have been putting in a concerted effort to reduce the number of memes that I share around. I want to try and keep a more conversational flavor in Facebook, but it’s quite hard to resist from sharing those kitten and puppy memes from flying around. I mean, who doesn’t like a cute kitten or puppy? I ask you!