Thursday, June 24, 2010

...and I feel fine

The iTunes are on random--an anthem of summer--reminding me of songs I forget about.

I'm loading photos on facebook in an album I'm calling "and the livin' is easy" in celebration of summertime bliss.

Tomorrow I am done with this 2 week conference (that I won't--will NOT, I say--participate in next year--I refuse--and am making this promise to myself now so I stick to it!).

Tomorrow is also Alice's birthday.

Saturday I head for Capitol Reef National Park for some red rock-blue sky action, hiking, swimming, reading, laughing and relaxation to celebrate her day? our friendship? Summer.

I slipped on shoes that clash to go get the mail and laughed the whole time.

I'm debating between a movie and a hike tonight. Either will make me unutterably happy.

And everything is green, lovely, worth celebrating.

* image found here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Rookie Reviews: The Poisonwood Bible

"One has only a life of one's own."

Most I talk to tackled Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible long, long ago, but for those who haven't, and for my own need to process a novel I want only to discuss, a review:

I give Poisonwood an 8.5/10. As with most well-written novels, there are excerpts that reside within me still. Sentences that have woven themselves into the tapestry of my mind. Orleanna's narration at the onset of the section "Exodus" has a profound and moving insight into grief:

As long as I kept moving, my grief streamed out behind me like a swimmer's long hair in water. I knew the weight was there but it didn't touch me. Only when I stopped did the slick, dark stuff of it come floating around my face, catching my arms and throat till I began to drown. So I just didn't stop.

The substance of grief is not imaginary. it's as real as rope or the absence of air, and like both those things it can kill. My body understood there was no safe place for me to be.

As the last child my mother carried, the baby of the family delayed behind the others by four years, I found myself so tied to Orleanna's final lines about her own youngest daughter:

A mother's body remembers her babies--the folds of soft flesh, the softly furred scalp against her nose. Each child has its own entreaties to body and soul. It's the last one, though, that overtakes you. I can't dare say I loved the others less... She continues on to express the difficulties and frustrations of the first three, the mothering of them all simultaneously and the difference in mothering that last child:

But the last one: the baby who trails her scent like a flag of surrender through your life when there will be no more coming after--oh, that's love by a different name. She is the babe you hold in your arms for an hour after she's gone to sleep. If you put her down in the crib, she might wake up changed and fly away. So instead you rock by the window, drinking the light from her skin, breathing her exhaled dreams. Your heart bays to the double crescent moons of closed lashes on her cheeks. She's the one you can't put down.

But there were a few things that didn't work as well for me. For instance, I felt the book to be unbalanced in its pacing. The first year and a half of the narrative is covered in detail, the plot thorough and developed. In the latter half of the book covers a span of 30 plus years in a third of the prose space. It told the story, but I didn't love that aspect of the organization. I found something deeply satisfying in elements of Kinsolver's structuring of the book (i.e. a separation into sections/books--Genesis, Revelation, Exodus; the various narrators and their sequencing and so forth), but again I felt the pacing detracted from the experience.

I think where Kingsolver went wrong in pacing, and in the book, is in her blatant focus on agenda as opposed to the story, the characters in the last third of the book. Kingsolver was quoted in the New York Times as saying,

"If I were to write a nonfiction book about the brief blossoming and destruction of the independence of the Congo, and what the CIA had to do with it, then probably all 85 people who are interested in the subject would read it. Instead I can write a novel that's ostensibly about family and culture and an exotic locale. And it's entertaining, I hope."

Entertaining, it is. Mostly. But the agenda sucks something from the vividness of the book. The lack of subtlety detracts from those moments that really do change minds and educate in the novel. It fails to allow readers to come to their own conclusions. While the prose in the latter half has some of the most elegant of moments--lyrical, poetic loveliness--the agenda/education Kingsolver wants to provide acts to pale what is aesthetic and artistic. Imagine a great boulder in the middle of a canyon: Kingsolver had times when she allowed the flow of her prose to slowly erode that boulder as a stream of water and at others she plowed through it with dynamite. Her boulder is not what offended me. It was the abrupt nature of the explosions.

I still say read The Poisonwood Bible. It will change you. Upon finishing, I downloaded another book set in the Congo (for my heavenly new Kindle--which I'll also review ever so soon): Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

Up next:

Some good pool-side reads:
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

Some Russians:
Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky
Anna Karenina by Tolstoy

Some more of Africa:
Heart of Darkness by Conrad

And something for next school year:
Jane Eyre (again!) by Charlotte Bronte

Summer gives the gift of good books!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Conversations with My Mother

My mother and I went to a movie together last night. A lightning storm was starting and we both expressed a preference to stay outside and watch and listen to this shared pleasure. It felt good, this moment before entering the theater. Inside it was the usual chick flick fare. Predictable and silly, perfect for popcorn.

The movie featured two sets of lovers, one young, one old. As expected, the old lovers reunite. In that moment I looked to my right to see my mother crying--I knew instantly she was thinking of her first love. It is strange, this story she told me while I was a sophomore in college about that first, intense love she ever had. He left on a mission for our church and she, for all the reasons under the sun, married someone else while he was gone. I always felt saddened for her, for her regret of this first love who entered her dreams during her first marriage (my father is her second husband). When she told me about it, I remember thinking our relationship had changed, that I needed to start seeing my mother as a complete human being with a full story and not merely as my mother.

This is her reality, or what I perceive to be her reality: romance is real and a perfect ideal which we all should seek after. True, deep, sweep-you-off-your-feet kind of love exists for her. And when a love like this envelopes you, you never forget it.

When the young lovers confessed their love for one another at the end of the film, I felt nothing. To me, the woman of 29 who has never actually been in love, it all seemed forced and unrealistic. All flossy and insubstantial. It was, after all, a movie. My reality: I think it is just shy of miraculous that anyone finds themselves compatible enough to fall in love. I believe in finding your best friend with the added benefit of chemistry (whatever that may be) and making the best of things. I think being swept off your feet sounds like major head trauma waiting to happen. While my head is in the clouds about so many other things, when it comes to love, I've had a history of disappointment and reality checks. Romantic love is flimsy at best--brain chemistry gone awry which eventually corrects itself. (And, to be fair and honest, there is a small voice called hope or wishful thinking or what-have-you that is holding vigil for the chance I'll have to eat some of these words one day.)

We exited the theater to see the storm had moved on to the north. And we started talking about our notions on love. I asked her why she cried, only to have my suspicions confirmed. I then shared this hunch I have about myself: I'm too old or too smart or too hardened or self-protective to fall in love in the manner she did. She got tangled in it, still an adolescent. I didn't necessarily mean this to sound like a good thing. To me, it is a loss, knowing I can't throw myself into something with quite the same emotional, logic-be-damned vibrance that a teenager can. I never had that opportunity. The window for such irrational but glorious frivolity is over. I'm Elinor, not Marianne.

She, on the other hand, told me she's fallen in love numerous times. None so great as that first time. And then we each quieted into our own thoughts, looking west to the last flame of sunset. And I wondered which of us was worse off. I felt a pitied sadness for my mom, for this deep regret she still holds after 45 years. This kindling inside her for someone who, frankly, is now another being entirely as is she. And then there is me, knowing love only in theory.

The light disappeared slowly from the sky. My mother gave me a hug and said farewell. I came inside to an empty apartment, dark but for the deep grey of dusk seeping in through the windows. In the distance, I could hear the rippling of thunder.

* image found here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Thank you, President Hinckley. I always knew I liked you.

"To you women of today, who are old or young,
may I suggest that you write,
that you keep journals,
that you express your thoughts on paper.
Writing is a great discipline. It is a tremendous education effort. It will assist you in various ways,
and you will bless the lives of many--
now and in the years to come,
as you put on paper some of your experiences
and some of your musings."
- Gordon B. Hinckley

Thursday, June 3, 2010


There are exactly 3 days left of the school year--2 of which are filled with activities and yearbook signing. I love this time of year--the anticipation of a summer so close, the swimming pools opening their vibrant blue eyes, the book pile stacked beside my bed just waiting for me to dive in, emerging only for food and air. The instant knowledge that enters my mind as the alarm goes off: I only have X more times to consciously do this hour for a long while.

I also hate this time of year. It is all the bidding farewell business I loathe, the end of things. It is reading Oh, the Places You'll Go! with each class--telling them what a great year we've had together--even the nuisance-y kids will be missed. A little.

Even the books we finish in the final week feel Young Elie Wiesel losing his father in the last section of Night with my 10th graders. Finishing Cold Mountain, again. I "read" it each year with my AP students after their big exam. This year I read it again thoroughly. I've always felt slightly saddened after it is over. But long after I read the last chapters last night, it kept me awake, haunted me. I simply couldn't sleep. I don't know if it is Frazier's exquisite prose. That final scene (prior to the epilogue):

He drifted in and out and dreamed a bright dream of a home. It had a coldwater spring rising out of rock, black dirt fields, old trees. In his dream the year seemed to be happening all at one time, all the seasons blending together. Apple trees hanging heavy with fruit but yet unaccountably blossoming, ice rimming the spring, okra plants blooming yellow and maroon, maple leaves red as october, corn tops tasseling, a stuffed chair pulled up to the glowing parlor hearth, pumpkins shining in the fields, laurels blooming on the hillsides, ditch banks full of orange jewelweed, white blossoms on dogwood, purple on redbud. Everything coming around at once. And there were white oaks, and a great number of crows, or at least the spirits of crows, dancing and singing in the upper limbs. There was something he wanted to say.

An observer situated up on the brow of the ridge would have looked down on a still, distant tableau in the winter woods. A creek, remnant of snow. A wooded glade, secluded from the generality of mankind. A pair of lovers. The man reclined with his head in the woman's lap. She, looking down into his eyes, smoothing back the hair from his brow. He, reaching an arm awkwardly around to hold her at the soft part of her hip. Both touching each other with great intimacy. A scene of such quiet and peace that the observer on the ridge could avouch to it later in such a way as might lead those of glad temperaments to imagine some conceivable history where long decades of happy union stretched before the two on the ground.

It is perfect and amazing, isn't it?

But something about the end of the year gives me mixed feelings. Joy, celebration, and a slight bit of melancholia. Maybe it is the one time of year where I completely acknowledge to myself that yes, I do in fact like these kids, my job more than what I sometimes fear in the middle of the year.