This Isn’t “Chick Lit” Because “Chick Lit” Shouldn’t Be a Thing….Ever.

The Shore by Sara Taylor (Bailey Prize Winner)

Today, I will ask you to preorder The Shore by Sara Taylor (Bailey Award Winner 2015).

In three days, you will have a sea scape of time in your hands in the form of a book.

It will take you across generations, through twisted murders, plots of revenge by medicine woman, how women are courted two-hundred years from now after a sexually transmitted disease will act as population control, beg questions to women raised on the dotted line between high society and marshland due to their coloring, and ask the reader to fill in how a game of poker that becomes a dual rape and then becomes a marriage can produce children that are capable of knocking on the doors of strangers and explaining themselves.

“Plot Twist” Image (Creative Commons)

Plot Twist Image (Creative Commons)This book is incredible. And although all the strings are not tied neatly with a bow by the end, just the act of having to answer the questions posed for myself was a book on its own.   By the first chapter, I was hooked.  The plot twist at the end of chapter one was enough to have me begging the universe for a chance to read before falling asleep flatly in bed.  There’s so many strong women in this book, and not just strong because of their own intuition, but strong in the face of dirty hands.  One of my students wrote an excellent slam poem this week, I wish I could share it all, but in it she says the following, “I was in the tenth grade when I realized I was a little too sensitive.  That I didn’t need to cover my mouth when I laugh. Or agree with people who throw dirt on my name, because I now understand that those are the people with dirty hands and it will take more than just soap and water to fix the mess they have now made of themselves.”

Photo by Micah Taylor, Creative Commons

There are people who will always be against women.  They are the ones who only find strength in those who can lift cars, and not those who can lift hearts.  This book is an argument against those people.  It is words in a fictional universe that can debate those who don’t believe in equality among sexes.

“Chick Lit” (Creative Commons) Found @ chacha.com

“Chick Lit” (Creative Commons) Found @ chacha.comSometimes, as women, we get stuck between the place called “women’s fiction” and that place called “chick lit.”  I really believe that the Bailey Prize (once the Orange Prize) is trying to adjust this slim shadow area where women are allowed to reside in fiction.  There is just no place to rest in that crack on the shelf.  Most people who read this blog do so because they have read a book that has changed them, made them view the other in new light, made them remove themselves from the shadows and step into their own golden flare, or read just simply to exist in a place that goes beyond their reality, I believe that women’s fiction deserves this sort of place.  I believe it can fit on any shelf.  I believe women have gone voiceless for many centuries and their time is just now beginning to sprout in fiction.  I even believe, the blasphemous heathen that I am, that some famous “anonymous” writers or even writers that we praise for being so unadulteratedly manly, owned a coin purse (if you know what I mean by that).

Finished this morning

Finished this morning

The fact is, that women’s history hasn’t yet been fully told. It has not reached the deep cave of the mouth to be heard beyond a few whispered shuffles of polite feet behind armed men.

But this book.  This book will break barriers and do so with small chunks of women’s lives.  A moment, a pill of memoir (although fiction, but feels true in the carat that I keep my own womanhood) for each generation in a family that went silent to men until the last possible second.  Even in the end, there is a character named Sally.  In the beginning of the book, her grandfather gives the ultimatum to her and her brother, that one must stay on the island and take care of the shore house, one must remain distant from the mainland and focus their goals on maintaining a house that was never theres to begin with.  Who must that be? The girl of course.  The woman shoved on a shelf between pink covers and Water for Elephants.  This book says girls have been stuck for too long.

Window Seat Reading

Window Seat Reading

Girls can render guns.
Girls can steal the things that build their father’s up.
Girls can fiercely protect.
Girls can stay behind and build bigger.
Girls can leave the island.
Girls can choose not to marry.
Girls can use herbs to preserve the original foundations of their bodies until a time when they want to use them as vessels.
Girls can learn a history of the other powerful girls behind them.
Girls can be leaders, not led.

I have no other real way to proceed with this review.  This book is so hard to tie down like the women within it.  There are so many stories and they have all stuck, or pieces of them, and organizing them into some logical progression is beyond my ability.  I will warn you that for the first four or five chapters you will be trying to place the women on where they fall in the genealogical line. But don’t. It will come out in the wash.  The blues of it will run clear.

 

 


A Come Of Age Time Capsule

“I want to catch words one day. I want to hold them/
then blow gently,
watch them float
right out of my hands.”

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is an oration to the art of writing, the idea that writing is something inherent and must be done because stories will not just tighten around us like a belt, they will nag until they are told.  Brown Girl Dreaming is a seance to the old south, the South that had rules and regulations that were never discussed over polite dinner conversation, but posted like shouts over bathrooms, water fountains, bus seats left written-wordless.  And it is original in that it is a voice to the old (south) house through the eyes of a child that is now old enough to understand her childish notions.

“I do not know yet
how sometimes the earth makes a promise
it can never keep.  Tobacco fields
lay fallow, crops picked clean.
My grandfather coughs again
and the earth waits

for what and who it will get in return.”

southadamstreet1900.wordpress.com by image July, 1914 case against the Forum Theater owner AM Renne’s segregated seating. (Creative Commons)

I just don’t know what to say about this book.  It’s a perfect time capsule of childhood seeded in history.  We are living in history every moment of our life, even if it’s not necessarily happening to us personally (or it doesn’t feel that way).  Right now, I feel like I’m living the debate for marriage equality (which I believe in all equality in all ways), but I’m watching the treatment of LGBTQ people be questioned, be acknowledged, and be studied for understanding.

teflequityadvocates.com Search by image Photo under Creative Commons from: https://flic.kr/p/

In Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson shows the juxtaposition between Greenville, South Carolina, living with her grandparents who had a heavy hand in raising her, and New York where her mother kept her and her siblings until summer time.  She not only captures my current south extraordinarily; honeysuckles for taste, door-to-door ‘good news’, people who are the salt of the earth, and dusk porch talk, but she also credits the south with deep racism that remained long after the law accepted equality.  For instance, she tells stories about riding in the back of the bus with her mother, and only riding at night, swiftly through the expanse of crops to the city of “looking up.”

Jacqueline Woodson Jacqueline Woodson was born on February 12, 1963 in Columbus, Ohio. She was raised and educated in Greenville, South Carolina and Brooklyn, New York.

Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson was born on February 12, 1963 in Columbus, Ohio. She was raised and educated in Greenville, South Carolina and Brooklyn, New York.

At one point in the story, she captures my childhood of lying and storytelling so well that I stopped reading and tapped my boyfriend, “This, this here, this captures how I felt as a child, this is it. This book, it has me.”

“I am not smart like Dell so I watch her press
the silver moons into her ears
I say, I know a girl ten times as smarter than her.  She gets diamonds every time she gets a hundred on a test.
And Robert looks at me, his dark eyes smiling, asks
Is that something you made up? Or something real?
In my own head,
it’s real as anything.

In my head
all kinds of people are doing all kinds of things.
I want to tell him this, that
the world we’re living in right here in Bushwick isn’t
the only place.”

Lie Creative Commons

My mom tells stories about my childhood lies.  I lied compulsively until seventh grade when I learned that you can’t lie or you get kicked out of the lunch table with all the popular girls, and their blonde highlights, and cheerleading pleats.  Until then, I made up all kinds of things – where my siblings were going to college (had they even?), why I needed a little bit more money, where Toe Jam comes from, I probably could have catfished on Myspace before cat fishing was even an MTV thing.  I was intense. It’s because I had stories, and they wounded me from living in a reality where regular everyday just didn’t seem as wonderful as the things I could make seem true.  This is the same for Woodson.  She spoke untruths because she wanted to write the truths for characters.

And she did.

Creative Commons National Book Award

She wrote the truth of the South in a middle grades, National Award Winner.  I would pay to have this book printed for every single student I’ve taught the last three years.  It’s pure magic in that it tells a story that is so electrifying, but in the voice of a child, and in the form of poetry.  It takes all the scare out of poetry.  It has meaning, it has rhythm, it has purpose, but it doesn’t cause fear over whether or not the reader will be able to understand.

Woodson’s poetics work so well.  There are clear shifts in most of the poem sequences, and there are repetitive smaller poems (How to Listen series) throughout the book that remind the reader of Woodson’s lessons for herself, and her reader, and the future.  I’m amazed at what she was able to do in this book and I’m so excited about the future of young adult publishing after reading this.  Sometimes I don’t pursue young adult literature because I feel that it can be “dumbed down” when it shouldn’t be.  It should be just as well-written and meaningful as adult fiction is, but that’s not always the case.  With Woodson’s collection of moment-poems in her childhood, I am confident that young adults can attach to this narrator, her story, and the story of their history through her child’s eyes.

One of my favorite resources for teaching. And such a great message.

This is a beautiful, and fresh, telling of the Southern register in history, as well as the classic tale of coming of age for a girl who isn’t sure who or what she wants to, or should be.  I know that that is a concept that crosses all races, all genders, all sexualities, and all cultures.  Who will we be? And when will we get there? This story answers that question in one of the best ways that I’ve seen.  Be you, and arrest any idea that goes against that.


The BEST Best New Poets

I’m bias.

Best New Poets 2014

Best New Poets 2014

Dorianne Laux was my professor for advanced poetry (3 times because I’m an overachiever) in college and so any poems that she chooses, I will probably prefer as well.

Even so, I found that this poetry collection was a really wonderful “sign of the times.” Cue Ace of Base here for the beats.  There are poems about the future, NASA, the metric system, first person confessional via metaphor, black girls, black girls who riot, guns, gun rights, holiday season (late fall edition), the words of grandparents, reasons why we can’t sleep at night, orgasms (female form), the blood vessels of a mother doing the exact opposite of developing cancer, the nature vs. nurture of marriage, burial rights, rights of passage, writes of passage, a girl in the middle of a night viewfinder on a sniper, the idea that fields grow up, whispers from the earth’s heart.

Estetinė visuomenės saviraiška chorinio meno procese: ANKSTYVASIS CHORINIS SINKRETIZMAS (Creative Commons)

Estetinė visuomenės saviraiška chorinio meno procese: ANKSTYVASIS CHORINIS SINKRETIZMAS (Creative Commons)

If I haven’t exhausted a list on the life that we lead (as a collective American whole) then I’m not sure what else would need to be added.  This just proves that poetry really is the chorus of the human world.  In Greek and Roman dramas, the chorus might seem to a modern reader like a break to the play’s action, but truly the chorus is the mirror of the play.  The chorus is the way that we look at the characters through the lens of a collective whole, a society, a viewpoint that’s beyond just being an audience member, but instead a participant.  That is poetry.

Coin Vortex Funnel Spiral Wishing Well-Great For Charities & Fundraiser

Coin Vortex Funnel Spiral Wishing Well-Great For Charities & Fundraiser

Poetry is a place where the voice can circle like a penny in a whirlpool wishing well (at the children’s museum of my childhood).  It causes vibrations, but rises only to the sound of a whisper, or the thwack of a fist against wood.  There is a voice through poetry that can’t be told through fiction, or any other source.  It must be stated with fewer, but more specific words, and the author must hold several cold glasses at once, a juggler of words and sounds.  Poets are beautiful, and broken, and the sounds they make seem like a thimble, but work like a thunder streak.

And this is why I so loved this collection.  It was such a story of our world in 2014.  I had many favorite poems.

Nightstick (Creative Commons)

Nightstick (Creative Commons)

One of my favorite in the news poems was “Nightstick” by Joy Priest (8).  In this poem a nightstick becomes a character and in the life of the young Kentucky girl who is “a Black girl, but don’t know.” I found this poem impossible to not ingest with the rebellions (some say riots) happening all over cities that are facing both class system stereotypes and race stereotypes.  Right now, the hot news is Baltimore, a city where years of pent up anger (in my opinion) has been unleashed on a CVS.  I’m a little bias to the side of the Baltimoreans because I teach those children in my classrooms everyday.   In fact, I’m going to be using this poem with my students to analyze the use of the nightstick as a tool to get at that voice that has been perpetually silenced in history.  This is a poem of protest.  A poem of emotional carry-ons.  A poem for my students who have never once used “your” and almost always use “you.”

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 7.37.33 PMAnother poem I starred was “Anaphora as Coping Mechanism” by Ocean Vuong.  I’m not sure why.  It’s a sort of prosy structure and I think Vuong gets the closest that I’ve seen (after Larry Levis) to the reaction of death.  There’s the psychologists seven steps of grief, and then there’s Vuong’s “Your tongue is a lit match.” The even though and the afterwards.  The continuous, sometimes monotonous circle of death, as if the person keeps dying in every place that they are not.  This is captured elegantly, but with a certain rawness that I just loved.

“In Allepo” by Daniel Bohnhorst gains honorable mention for giving the side of Syrians through the eyes of a little girl nightmaring through hope.  I could feel her search in my chest.  It’s a really strong glimpse into “the other,” and I appreciate that in my poetry.

Dorianne Laux, Guest Editor

Dorianne Laux, Guest Editor

My most favorite poem in the collection was “Life on Earth” by Amanda Jane McConnon. It made me feel like I wasn’t just a speck in the grand history of things, which isn’t a feeling I usually feel because us humans we always think we’re leading some very important life filled with very important things and our religious values (majority of the party) tell us that we are so loved, so vital. Really, we’re sand (with brains).  This poem though, makes me remember I’m something, a fleck of gold, but something.

This is just a highlight of the goodness in this hot pink poetry collection. If I haven’t yet sold you, here are a few of my favorite lines from a randomly selected group of poems:

Our guns softly touch their bark, / barrels quiet white with failure. It was morning. – “My Father Named the Trees” by C.L. O’Dell

Night stains the bookshelves. The moon, / white and swallowed. – “Peter” by Peter LaBerge

They knew routine and pattern; they did what they were told by instinct / what to do, / just like the sheets that have always made certain shapes when hit by / the wind, / a series of wings naming the thing that unfolds inside me. – “Leavings That Change the Future” by Erin J. Mullikin

Or maybe it’s the taboo allure of the island women, / of the luxury of fooling them / into thinking his body, / even after a decade of fighting, / is still as whole as it was in Ithaca. – “Erasures” by Rosanna Oh


“A Pretty Stem Bowed Down from Neck to Bloom”

– A line from a poem I wrote when challenged by my creative writing students to participate in writing a ghazal with them.

“It couldn’t be fair to punish people for trying to get by, people who were good by their own lights, when it took all the courage they had to be good” (259, Robinson).

Sometimes it’s really hard to love my students.  Sometimes I need a constant reminder to be their champion.  It was especially hard last week after having a conversation with a child so bright that the earth could tilt the other way if she just knew how to get it spinning on her fingertip.

The day before we had been having a conversation about her goals and about how she couldn’t write essays on things that bored her (i.e. The characters in A Raisin in the Sun).  She had told me that her future job would “be fun” because she “got to work with bodies and such.”  We talked about what it meant to be a doctor and what a proud profession it would be. The next day, she refused to do ten vocabulary in context questions.  I immediately rode in with “You know to be a doctor, you’re going to have to determine, figure out, and use in real-life situations, thousands of words that you never even knew existed, with roots that span centuries of language.”  (It was probably less eloquent than that).  I was not a knight that day, I was letting the knife shave at my thread of hope.

She said, “I don’t want to be a doctor,” immediately, with head shaking and an imagined finger snap.

“A nurse then?”

“No, neither. I don’t want either of those things.  I could just as easily live off of the government.”

I didn’t have the right words to respond to this so I moved on to the next child with their hand up and watched as she worked out the meanings of the words based on the synonyms or antonyms or just clues in the sentence and life moved on, as it does.

But it frightens me.  Because there are days where my sympathy is worn out for their ideas about the world.  It’s not fair to judge them for this as they’ve only seen a small kernel of yellow daisies along a highway, and watched as the kids who can afford polos can afford college, and the kids who don’t get to choose a latchkey become Carolina red dust before someone can even sigh at their poorness.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

And then I came to Lila by Marilynne Robinson.  And for some reason every time I open a Marilynne Robinson book I immediately want to hate it, but I also know that I must finish it because the answers won’t come unless it is done.  I read somewhere that it was a like a triple crown winner of the publishing world, critics hoped it would win both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize (it didn’t, but it was expected).  The last thing I read by her was Housekeeping and I wasn’t the same after coming around it.  Robinson writes books that must be chewed on slowly, and then stewed about for a few days until the full expanse of what just happened to you can come alive and you can feel something.

This was not the case with Lila, I felt it precisely.

Lila is the story of Lila Dahl and her upbringing as a traveling (maybe migrant worker) in a group of lost causes after she is stolen from her family by a woman named Doll. Doll does her best to take care of Lila and throughout the book, Lila is eternally grateful (if she believed in eternity) towards Doll although the reader finds that Doll has pockmarks on her character, as does Lila.

That’s actually not even right.

Lila is the tramp of society, always on the fringes, the person you see in church but whisper about their ripped jeans at a Sunday service.  She is always coming out of the rain.  She is never accepted, or rarely.  And the people she travels with will have dirt under their nails, and a hunger that goes beyond bellies.  My grandmother would call them “unsavory.”  But she’s beautiful, and worldly, and conscious of the way her words work so she listens rather than speaks.  She’s curious and smart, and a bulb of good fortune to the people that meet her even though in her growing she knows nothing about the expectations of the Christian God.  She’s just genuinely good, and it isn’t often that this character pages up in literature, but I’m thankful I was able to read her grace on the page in this moment of my life.

I talk a lot about the way books come to me and about the way that I believe timing in books, like love, is everything.  Sometimes they come like a tiny children’s chime in a large choir, and sometimes they come like an old cartoon anvil.  I’m not sure how Lila came to me, but I needed her.

Allsbrook, W. (2014). Lila (New York Times)  [Drawing]. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/05/books/review/lila-by-marilynne-robinson.html?_r=0

Allsbrook, W. (2014). Lila (New York Times) [Drawing].
Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/05/books/review/lila-by-marilynne-robinson.html?_r=0

This book is also a love story between an old preacher and a lost girl.  It’s an adult Peter Pan story almost.  Reverend Ames makes eye contact with Lila in the last pew, and although it seems unlikely, their love is nestled between the hair of a gap where her head nuzzles his shoulder.  The entire story the reader wonders if Lila will do as she daydreams and leave the Reverend, go back to the shack in the woods where she’s left a sharpened knife and a few half eaten dandelions.  I think the reader knows the whole time that with this kind of love story, there is almost nothing to wonder about.

“And her life was just written all over her, she knew it without looking, because that’s how it was with all the women she used to know.  And somehow she found her way to the one man on earth who didn’t see it or maybe he saw it the way he did because she had read that parable, or poem, or whatever it was” (223, Robinson).

I am amazed at how Marilynne Robinson can make a story in the mind of just two or three characters, with barely any plot in the present tense and it move me the way pine needles bustle in heavy wind.  Lila is my students, Lila is anyone who has ever felt in just one instance that their whole life has just been one big kitchen sweep, Lila is me.

“I got feelings I don’t know the names for.  There probly ain’t any names.  Probly nobody else ever had ’em” (183, Robinson).

Rich fictional technique: Marilynne Robinson  Photo: Ulf Andersen @ Telegraph

Rich fictional technique: Marilynne Robinson Photo: Ulf Andersen @ Telegraph

And the Reverend is every man a woman might want to fall in love with.  He comforts in times of comforting.  He takes a few days after listening to Lila’s curiosities to think them over and then deliberately makes time to talk through them, without answering outright, but actually whispering his truths and attending to hers.  If there was ever a book that taught feminist theory in the way that I believe it to be, it would be this one.  Lila is herself.  She is strong and brilliant, but she has “shame like a habit,” and she never wants for a man, but when she meets the reverend it is like a letter written as an answer.

“She thought it was nothing she had known to hope for and something she had wanted too much all the same” (257, Robinson).

The first book set in Gilead (one of three)

And this brings me back to my student.  My student who is seventeen and unsure of the world, but has to act sure or else it will make her kneel to its wants and needs.  I think today, even more so than usual, we live in a society that looks down on the poor like they’re lepers.  The divide is growing between the super rich and the poverty poor and I’m not sure at this point what is being done to stop it.  And it’s easy to write them off, I know that.  It’s easy to say that they won’t amount to anything and not champion for them.

But then who would?

I think sometimes it’s hard to realize what a poor child begins with at eighteen.  One of my most cherished students has his name on most bills in his house because his mother’s credit is so bad that she has had to use her children’s names.  He said “Ms. M, I have to call and put my best man voice on this afternoon so the cable company will come out and install our cable.”  When his mother doesn’t pay the bill in a few months because she couldn’t get enough hours, his credit too, like hers, will be ruined.

The second book set in Gilead

And explain then how he will get loans for college and he’s supposed to push through when he’s taking care of his mother rather than doing your homework.  He, too, is Lila. We are all a bit Lila, but I look at my kids like soldiers, and then I look at them like slowly beating hearts.  They don’t know what way they’re going because everyday is a new day.  Sometimes they’re just bodies that think and talk and “seems to want its life one more day of it, you don’t have to know why” (179, Robinson).

And I needed that reminder, of the single human battle.  The battle to rise and be greater than you were yesterday even if you have all those yesterdays that say that you can’t do that, and you won’t amount to anything more than yesterday on yesterday.

Well, Lila argues that and values that and uses that.  So read her, like she’s writing you a love letter about how change doesn’t have to come from one decision, but a bunch of small experiences that don’t pile up, but are each presented, each their own small golden token.


Newsday Tuesday

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Favorite Tweets:

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Favorite Search Terms:

  • scary old man aladdin: SOMEONE ELSE WAS SCARED OF HIM TOO.
  • bitchy ecards: I see you trying to be passive aggressive
  • jealousy quotes for lesbians on instagram: This is SO specific.
  • fahrenheit 451 worksheet imagery: You need to get your teacher game up. Just sayin’.
  • roald dahl unpublished manuscript: I’ll be googling this as soon as I post this blog.

Book News:


The (Not So Brief) History of My Reading Slump

Some people say not to force books on yourself. Some people say just to switch books like you switch jeans and keep it up until you can’t unbutton it. Occasionally, one must get flippant with a book and pursue the book like an already broken-hearted woman.  A book must be wooed they say, it must be picked specifically off the shelf and breathed-in.

But some books don’t want to be chosen.

Tinder Meme @ Quick Meme

Tinder Meme @ Quick Meme

Some books just want to sit upright on the shelf, hugged-up between others of their kind like hallway high school kids. Some books come at the wrong time and expect the relationship to work.  But the characters, the characters are drowning in the reader’s boredom.  Or the book is just too long and it seems endless.  Or it’s being read on one of those new-fangled electronic books and the readers finger is tired of swiping left after all that time on Tinder and only a few stolen night minutes on the Kindle App.  Those readers argue “at least Tinder peaks,” when it takes this book I’ve been scanning a solid thirty pages just to set-up the character’s useless boyfriend.

I’ve read recommendations from bookists at Book Riot.  The problem is that I just can’t read the same book twice.  There are too many books in the world for me to eat the same salad everyday.  I’ve tried the library because at least then I have a time limit.  Last night, instead of reading my Joyce Carol Oates book, I looked at random readers on Instagram and fantasized about eating a donut.

Maybe I can’t read because I’ve been eating sugar snap peas for days.

I doubt it.

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

In my last reading funk, finally, I read The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht and pushed through it like I was in combat.   That book was all folktale and family ties.  It was an adult fairytale of fiction, and I read it because frankly, I was confused. I wanted to know what the heck was happening in the multiple story lines so I read on until the myth became realized and I was stuck between adoration and jealousy that I hadn’t written the book and Tea Obreht is so young with a work of miracle under her belt.  (If anyone has any really confusing but worthwhile recommendations in the literary genre, maybe I could try those)

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 4.24.23 PMThis one is less combat and more just sadness.  I’m cramming books into my mouth like they’re chocolate chip cookies.  And I read hard for a few days, I rise and shine to the words, but seven chapters in, I’m leaving it under the bed or moving it back to the TBR shelf  because there’s another option just three down in the pile, and surely it will make me finish.  Someone needs to hold me accountable.  I need a reading coach.  And I need that coach to act like the man on Maury who takes children to jail and “scares them straight.”  Instead of push-ups, pages.  Instead of muscles, mounted plot diagrams.  Instead of squats, sentences.

Me distracting my boyfriend.

Me distracting my boyfriend.

Usually I’m up for a challenge, I work better under pressure.  This, though, this, slump of all slumps has been a few months long.  I even spent a day at a coffee shop with my boyfriend where he obsessively read Lord of the Rings to the point of laughing out loud and I sat there listening to the circle of old men across the walk from us.  It got so bad at one point that I was writing a blog of his Lord of the Rings translations (they are pretty funny so I will probably post it when he reads me more of them).  The group of grays were discussing war and women, the building blocks of old man-ness.  Instead of just letting Beej read, I interrupted him to tell him their stories.  I poked and prodded.  I interrupted his reading to force the slump his way.  Maybe it’s like a horror movie demon, you can force it off onto someone else.  (This is just pure lazy).

I hoped maybe it would rub off, but the stuckness of it is strong.

Swamplandia by Karen Russel

Swamplandia by Karen Russell

I can’t even ask for recommendations because they would just end up on the TBR under the 217 pages read of Swamplandia and the first two essays in Love and Other Ways of Dying.  I’ve been with four Cormac McCarthy books in seven days.  I’ve even highlighted lines and let them shift just under the pillow so that I don’t have to look at them anymore.

One can’t just look a book in the cover when she’s about to throw it away on some new release.

Those books left willy nilly in piles around the house.  Those books that are slightly crooked from their recent placement on the shelf.  Don’t even get started with the TBR pile that has become a Walmart bookshelf.  I keep it close to the bed just so I can grab the next, but lately, it’s just been a bite of each.

Image from HYPERBOLE AND A HALF which is AWESOME

Image from HYPERBOLE AND A HALF which is AWESOME

I can’t have my cake and eat it too.  I can’t even get to the icing.

All these left out characters.  All these unread words.

I’m beginning to think it won’t ever end.  It’s a Stephen King novel of slumpness.  A Moby Dick of slacking.  A Canterbury Tales of excuses.  A Wuthering Heights of book break-ups.  It’s a Hemingway ending. A Les Mis of cold hard truths.

I’ll try anything. I need saving.  This is my SOS.

SAVE OUR SOULS (Mine and all those characters that are only getting a short flirt and not a full on fling).


You Have Two Options: Bake a Pie or Watch Beauty and the Beast

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

….instead of reading this book.

Let me preface this two different ways:

  1. I will read any book with the word bird in the title (because I’m a word bird).
  2. I don’t often read middle grade recommendations.  The last middle grades category book that I read was Wildwood by Colin Meloy.

I should probably also preface with:  I’m a jaded reader.  This is just to say (William Carlos Williams) that I don’t like the predictable, the old worn fable that’s not told in a new way, the “everything falls into place” (ex: The Kite Runner), and I definitely don’t like kitschy magic (See: The Ocean at the End of the Lane).

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

I’ve gushed over Alice Hoffman before.  Normally, her magic is just that, pure magic.  The kind you can hold in your palm and it mutters into the air and before you know it, you’ve followed the unlit candle into the dark and someone is a witch, and another woman has unearthed her dead husband, or called to her side a forgotten mother.  She’s more of a quilt maker than an author. This, Nightbird, was not that.

Twig in my yard (TWIG)

Twig in my yard (TWIG)

Nightbird is the story of Twig (fabulous character names) who has a strange and lonely family and is not allowed to hang out with other people in town because her mother has a secret hidden in the attic.  Throughout the first few chapters, the reader learns the family secret as it relates to the witch’s cottage at the edge of the orchard.  Coincidentally, the family that is a descendent of the beginning witch moves into the cottage and the whole secret becomes anew (with pie, young best friends, and an herb garden). Twig runs into a lot of members of Sidwell (the small town on the fringe of a great wood).  Authors seem to believe these people actually live in small towns (librarians, town historians, men who study owls of the woods, sisters of the witch, community theater directors that direct plays involving a small town history).  I’ll have you know though, since I live in a small town with a Main St. and a Church St. (and all the churches are on Church Street), our town librarian does not know the history of every child born in the town.  While this is quaint, this isn’t (Wyoming). Is Wyoming like that? I’ve probably read too many novels.

Alice Hoffman @ Wikispaces (Creative Commons)

Anyway, Twig is the loner that becomes the example.  This is the moral of the fable.  (Well, she doesn’t become the example, but her family does, as they change the tune of a town that believes in tragedy and stereotyping).  I will say that this book was tenderly written.  I could tell that Alice Hoffman wanted to reach a nine-year-old girl that searched the landscape of paned windows for enchantment.  I think between eighth grade and thirty years, a girl would struggle not to feel like this was a corny version of an adult Alice Hoffman novel.  (Corny was the best word I had there).

What is especially corny is the town’s simple acceptance of the hidden fantasy secret.  I really don’t want to ruin this for anyone, but in small town, American, cultural history even when people have seen “the other” do something wonderful, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to change their preconceived ideas about this “other,” ESPECIALLY when they haven’t known this “other” their whole life.  Small towns are notorious for gossip, judgment, and stereotypes, especially when very few people have left the town for most of their life (making the town the majority of their world view).  I’m sorry if I’m offending anyone from a small town, I do adore my small town of cotton fields and broken-hearted barns, but I can say with all honesty that I’ve never seen more of the listed.  The people of Sidwell just accept this mystery straight-off.  And even when the mystery changes towards the end, there is no response to the newness from the townspeople.

Beauty and the Beast (Creative Commons) @ Arts Journal

If you need a good monster hunt (like the town claims they will have one night due to some deviant’s unfortunate graffiti art), just watch Beauty and the Beast.  It will take you just as long as it would to read this novel, and at least you’ll get a musical.   The townspeople in Nightbird will be toting knives and bats, but with Beauty and the Beast you have clubs and pitchforks, so that’s just … much more exciting.

My biggest problems will come in the form of a list so I can try not to give things away:

  1. Very little character development of the pivotal climactic character.
  2. The mother in the book is significantly agoraphobic, but gives out pies like friendship bracelets.
  3. Small Town America (Photo by Pierre Metivier via Creative Commons)

    The morning men (aka the older men who sit around the diner table discussing town news) have a chorus of opinions that are never heard but from Twig’s mouth.

  4. The characters leave and return with little information about what they were doing or why they returned, or why they even went in the first place.
  5. The fire department at one point refuses to put out a fire.
  6. The townspeople know each other, but since Twig has returned little to no one has tried to be her friend, so much so that she walks around practically unnoticeable until Julia moves to town and refuses to do anything BUT hang out with Twig.
  7. The descendants of the witch aren’t witchy at all.
  8. Julia explains to her sister that there’s a secret, and that she’s the direct descendent of the cause of this secret and so she has to turn back the secret.  The older sister just naturally accepts and creates an outfit based on all of this for funsies (I mean WHAT THE HECK is happening here).
  9. Pacing was slow and incredibly boring for so much “magic.”
  10. By “magic,” she means one character who is bound to a spell and has a quirky body issue.

As per usual, I’m one of the only people on Goodreads that feels this way.  I’m a Grinch.

Abby and I: Post-Turnover

Abby and I: Post-Turnover

If you’re like me, and you’re jaded, the best part of this story is the descriptions of the pie.  Mmmm, I can almost taste the pink apple.  Reminds me of the hilled orchards where Abby and I enjoyed baked apple turnovers from a barn warehouse in Tennessee.  I would eat my own hand to get at one of those turnovers. In fact, I’d rather use this book as a recipe collection than I would an actual novel.

Really, just “Control F” and find the secret ingredient of the pie and make a few rather than spending that two hours to read this book.

 

 

 


How I Came to Poetry | Volume One

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I came to poetry by accident.  I went to college as a religious studies major, hoping to be a youth minister, and wound up with a degree in English-creative writing which was dominated by poetry classes.  I came to poems unwillingly and then all at once.  I wanted to write fiction, but poetry kept coming out.  In notebooks, in the margins, in the top three-inch white space that readers always put titles, I wrote less-than-expendable words.  I wrote everything down.  I described the scars on a thigh of an ex-boyfriend, the way a Weeping Willow looks at dusk against the industrial nationality of a brick building, and I studied the way girls opened doors for a month, just trying to put into words the steps of their movements and what they mirrored in a metaphor.

Thug Notes: The host of the series is Sparky Sweets, Ph.D., portrayed by actor and comedian Greg Edwards.

I’ve been through this before, but I hated reading in high school.  I was queen of Spark Notes and a good listener.  I could figure out from the class discussion both what the teacher wanted to hear, and what the book was about.  If there had been Thug Notes, I would have watched that too, just to be positively clear.  My students now ask me what “Masque of Red Death” is about and I can’t tell them, even if it was required reading.

Zora Neale Hurston @ Creative Commons

There’s something just inherently wrong with the phrase “required reading.” And as a high school teacher I still struggle with the idea that I have to force my students into pages that they may not want to delve, places in themselves, that they are not yet ready to open.  I do it because I am passionate about words, a logophile, and if I just find the right piece, the perfect passage, it will be like a skeleton key in a leftover desk.  On Friday, I got the closest I’ve ever gotten to that passage when they read “How It Feels to be Colored Me” by Zora Neale Hurston. I would imagine though that very few people would not be moved by that passage.  We are all paper bags, after all.

Thankfully, The Atlantic, recently thought that we should all know how writers come to their writing.  What poem volted their spirit.  What story pressed the page to their ear.  Their By Heart series tells the stories behind our favorite’s favorites.  The whole story, not some little interview clip on what EL James had to read in order to become a writer of the “sexually deviant.” (I do say that mildly).  There’s a story behind the story behind the story.  My favorite so far has been Sherman Alexie’s ‘Drop Everything and Be a Poet,’ where he discusses the poem “Elegy For The Forgotten Oldsmobile.”

Carolyn Forche @ Poetry Foundation

My creative writing students have read pieces of the series, and now they are beginning to write and find their own words behind their story.  What pieces they connect to, how they found them, what piece of broken glass the writing moved within them. I wrote with them, as I always do while they’re independently writing.  It took me back to a poem by Carolyn Forche that almost always winks out of my system until something pushes it, rushing like a hurricane, back to me.  This poem, “As Children Together” is the first time when I thought a poet was writing just to me.  I didn’t brush it off with the high school mantra, “poems are confusing and so I don’t read them.”

The poem “As Children Together” by Carolyn Forche:

AS CHILDREN TOGETHER

Carolyn Forche

Under the sloped snow
pinned all winter with Christmas
lights, we waited for your father
to whittle his soap cakes
away, finish the whisky,
your mother to carry her coffee
from room to room closing lights
cubed in the snow at our feet.
Holding each other’s
coat sleeves we slid down
the roads in our tight
black dresses, past
crystal swamps and the death
face of each dark house,
over the golden ice
of tobacco spit, the blue
quiet of ponds, with town
glowing behind the blind
white hills and a scant
snow ticking in the stars.
You hummed blanche comme 
la neige and spoke of Montreal
where a que becoise could sing,
take any man’s face
to her unfastened blouse
and wake to wine
on the bedside table.
I always believed this,
Victoria, that there might
be a way to get out.

You were ashamed of that house,
its round tins of surplus flour,
chipped beef and white beans,
relief checks and winter trips
that always ended in deer
tied stiff to the car rack,
the accordion breath of your uncles
down from the north, and what
you called the stupidity
of the Michigan French.

Your mirror grew ringed
with photos of servicemen
who had taken your breasts
in their hands, the buttons
of your blouses in their teeth,
who had given you the silk
tassles of their graduation,
jackets embroidered with dragons
from the Far East. You kept
the corks that had fired
from bottles over their beds,
their letters with each city
blackened, envelopes of hair
from their shaved heads.

I am going to have it, you said.
Flowers wrapped in paper from carts
in Montreal, a plane lifting out
of Detroit, a satin bed, a table
cluttered with bottles of scent.

So standing in a Platter of ice
outside a Catholic dance hall
you took their collars
in your fine chilled hands
and lied your age to adulthood.

I did not then have breasts of my own,
nor any letters from bootcamp
and when one of the men who had
gathered around you took my mouth
to his own there was nothing
other than the dance hall music
rising to the arms of iced trees.

I don’t know where you are now, Victoria.
They say you have children, a trailer
in the snow near our town,
and the husband you found as a girl
returned from the Far East broken
cursing holy blood at the table
where nightly a pile of white shavings
is paid from the edge of his knife.

If you read this poem, write to me.
I have been to Paris since we parted.
In fact, I went into a well.

The poem made me sit with it. I read it again and again against a dorm desk, under a bed.  I thought, surely not, surely not, this isn’t to me.

But Victoria is so my best friend in high school, or maybe she’s a little of me.  I don’t know. Here’s what I wrote in that initial twenty minutes of independent writing time that I gave my students:

I love this poem because it’s a love letter to a lost friend. I was once that girl who was trying to find myself only in the hearts of boys, the buttons of a letterman jacket, the desperation in a fist against a face to protect me, whatever could be found by climbing out my bedroom window until my father painted it shut.

I love it because it describes this small town that they’re from in a way that you can actually see them walking to the dance hall.  Once we get to the dance hall, it reminds me of the movie Grease which I watched so often when I was little that I would mouth each part along with the actors.  I so desperately wanted to be Rizzo until I realized that in the scene at the drive-in she has to take a pregnancy test because of Kinnicky and she may not even graduate high school.  I realized early in my teenage years that her life was not going to have the same outcome as my own and I needed to put my focus on being a girl like Sandy.

Which I was anyway because I had good parents. “A good foundation” is what my Mom calls it.

Being like Sandy though, it wasn’t everything either.  Anytime you’re trying to be someone else, like when Forche talks about the size of her breasts not being enough to woo soldiers, it breaks my heart because you can never win being someone else.  There is always going to a better and a lesser because in our world we categorize everything.

In this poem, Victoria hoards dating memorabilia.  Her breakup box lines the rearview of her bedroom mirror.  She so badly wants to imagine herself as someone else, someone attached, someone from the Far East, a girl that moves a smooth lock of hair between her fingers in hopes that the man will return to her.  She wanted to be wanted, and it wasn’t with quality, it was with quantity. When you feel like nothing, it doesn’t matter how large the amount of people who tell you otherwise grows, it just means you’re nothing.

This poem is an elegy to self-esteem.  There are so many wishes of escape locked in Victoria’s small dream whisperings that she wishes for, “I am going to have it, you said.”  Like any girl dreams, of things that probably won’t ever happen.  The question in the poem though is, does she know it’s not going to happen already or is she still actually believing it?  At one point in a girl’s girlhood does she realize what’s reality and what’s floating hopes?  Is there a trigger moment, or is it a series of life moments, or is it just years and years of those wishes not coming true until BAM you’re an adult and you barely graduate high school, and it takes the love of a good man to make you stay in one place, and you watch those dreams evaporate to pavement, or the American Dream, or the same thing your neighbor’s did that you swore you wouldn’t do.

And why at the end. Why do girls always marry a piece of their father?

Through all this history, the reader can see the love, and the love lost, between Victoria and Carolyn and between Victoria and life.  That’s what I love.  Never once does she have to say they were best friends, or they loved each other, she just shows it on the page in this list of childhood memories, and comparisons, and a bit of real life thrown in, down to the possible rusting trailer on a hinge.

And now, I have so much more to say.  Like how this poem feeds into my obsession with the Civil War and my relations who fought on the side of the confederacy, and one great-great-great-great who died from a gun wound to the arm.  Yet, it never mentions the Civil War, and with “Far East,” we can assume Korea or Vietnam. It goes with how I imagine war widows on their porches.  Their _________ stare at open fields for the man they love has been a reoccurring image in my own writing. (As you can see I haven’t figured out just how it looks yet).  How women either brush obscurity or virginity, sometimes both.  There are so many more words I could say about this poem, but the words you say first are almost always the clearest, aren’t they?

My favorite past time, Chapstick. @ Wikipedia Commons

In an effort to share my writing and reading journey on my blog, I’m going to make this sort of reflection a regular post so that I can map how I came to this late-twenties-book-against-heart-girlhood.  It wasn’t wearing Keds and pretending to smoke chapstick containers in the car that led me to a poem.  It was the feeling of words as closure.  Carolyn Forche will always be the one that peeled back the petals I was hidden beneath, and made sure I grew. Again.


To Celebrate International Women’s Day | Read Body Home

Image @ Texas Tech (Celebrate Women – International Woman’s Day 2012)

Sunday: a day of rest, a day of fried chicken according to a handful of country songs (and sometimes for cutting coupons if you’re my father), and this Sunday – March 8th – is International Woman’s Day.

Without going on a #feministing rant about the subject, because I’m fully capable of doing so, let’s just say this day is more than a hash tag.  It’s a  collection of women’s voices that were seen as property even after slavery was nullified in America.  It’s a collection of women’s voices from depths that we don’t even yet understand about each other (what could I possibly know of the woman’s trials in a crowded India or tribal Africa other than the power of love, the power of strength, and the power of innovation in a woman’s burning soul).

In case you forgot…

 

This is the importance of this day, if just to get us talking about what it means to be a woman (in all the glorious forms). And I have a new book for this. It’s a collection of essays from one woman’s experience, but one thousand women’s voices.

Body Home by Chelsey Clammer on preorder now - link in the blog. March 31, 2015

Body Home by Chelsey Clammer on preorder now – link in the blog. March 31, 2015

Body Home is a collection of essays by Chelsey Clammer (OUT NOW HERE) really about the toll we take on our own bodies, and how that toll becomes how we view these bodies that we are housed in.  Some of the essays focus on the hurt that we display through our body, others focus on how we cause hurt to ourselves through our body, and others show the power of just having a body that can overcome.  We don’t usually thank this vessel, but we really should take a moment of silence for the form of ourselves at least once a week.

What I liked most about these essays is that they felt very real to me and by real I mean “organic” (because I’m a basic white girl), but no, something like visceral.  It was like I knew her skin while I was reading because she does such a great job of describing the body and how it moves, rattles, scrapes, and even just the smells associated with a used body that we don’t normally think about.  A few of the essays moved me more than others, a few I thought were just fillers (but rarely).  The ones that I found turned me were “Diving In,” “Objects of Desire,” “Linda,” “Seven,” and “Hands.”

“Linda” is the only story on that list that doesn’t show the author as the starring role.  Instead, the author works in an institution (I don’t know the politically correct term for this) and is the only health worker that has not been screamed at by a patient named Linda who is schizophrenic, but worldly.  Through Linda, the reader gets a sense that the things that happen to our body (rape, assault, self-harm) can have an affect on our mind and our presence.  It takes the amount of this story for Clammer to find the right words to understand Linda, but I was thankful to know Linda on the page.  I feel like Clammer never “got” Linda per say, but she had an empathy for Linda that could only be learned through the story.

I straight stole this picture from Chelsey's website of her AWESOME dreads. www.chelseyclammer.com

I straight stole this picture from Chelsey’s website of her AWESOME dreads. http://www.chelseyclammer.com

“Diving In” is my most favorite story in the entire collection. AND every reader girl should read it.  Fan girls, secret readers, romance ravens, mystery gals, need to read this brilliant story.  It was like she was speaking to me on the page.  Honestly, I feel like it was stolen right from my own mouth, or it escaped somehow and ended up in the luminous hands of Chelsey Clammer where it became its own body entirely.  Just read a few of these lines and tell me you don’t want to immediately a. be the girl in this story and b. go immediately to the nearest book, open it to page 77 and inhale.

“Smoking isn’t a normal part of my life, but when I read delicious words of a woman having a 4am cigarette, instantly it integrates itself into my morning ritual.  Because it feels right.  Because it pulls my flesh closer to the words.  Puffing into the shivering air and grabbing hold of the wispy thoughts that swirl like smoke up to the black sky, I sink my body into the memories of words, those elements of this world that keep me cozy, keep me breathing.  Alive. (Clammers, 12).

“The effects of a reading obsession would probably be eased if books were not a hoarded thing.  But they are not eased.  And while the compulsion to share beloved texts with the beloved people in my life is always present, lending a treasured text, relinquishing what’s cherished from its home on dependable shelves is not something one should do, because once released, the book might never come back. Just expect this.  And please, learn from my mistakes and never do this.  Too many books that formed my identity have been lost to ex-lovers” (Clammers, 18).

Anais Nin // Creative Commons

Anais Nin // Creative Commons

“There is reading, and then there is experiencing.  There is understanding a story, and then there are the ways in which words can hold up a mirror. Letters create a reflection” (Clammers, 19).

“Diving In” is like a reader’s instruction manual, a how-to on putting together a body of words.  I read that story (it’s the second story in the collection) and just knew that I was going to love this book.  And now you get what I’m saying about the visceral.  The reader can feel the words tighten and balloon inside your body as she forms them on the page.  It is true, what she says, authors have said it, always.  Anais Nin said words are meant to be tasted and that’s why we write (direct quote here) and her journals read like an awakening.

Reading // I have no idea where this image comes from so if anyone claims it, please let me know so I can cite you.

Authors who write so that the readers can feel the movement of the words like wind on their skin, are authors to be treasured.  Because only if a book makes you cringe, weep, turn, think, just respond, is when it’s a true story.  Those are the books that should be passed down, those are the books that come from a deep stone of oral tradition.  Those are the tasted.

Also in this story is a really well-developed double action plot.  Chelsey is simultaneously smoking a cigarette to emulate an author that smokes a cigarette at 4am and talking about how words impact a reader.  It’s such a wonderful and true double meaning making the essay that much richer.

“Woman Catcalled More Than 100 Times in Single Day in NYC” NBC News. Oct 28. Web.

In “Hands” the reader gets a walkthrough of an everyday sexual assault.  I don’t mean to say that to belittle it, I mean to say that this happens to women every.single.day and I don’t think these assaults that don’t end in rape are given enough notice by society.  I think the phrase “boys will be boys” is the most infuriating thing on the planet when it comes to assaults like the one written about in “Hands.”  Unless I invite you to touch me WITH MY WORDS, you’re not invited.  Men are like vampires, they need to understand that they can’t come in unless they’re invited.  That’s why “Hands” is such an important story because it details this common experience for women everywhere and the emotional aftermath of this avalanche in Clammer’s life.

Bowling Pin // Hammer Bowling Pin // Creative Commons // An object Clammer finds in her backyard when she’s seven.

I loved the story “Seven” because it connects girlhood to adult womanhood.  If I made a timeline of my life I’m sure I could explain away some of my feelings, and my actions, based on things that I did or almost did when I was younger.  It’s a “what you’ve done has taught you” type thing.  I found this to be true for Clammer’s essay “Seven” but also that the connections are actually deeper, and shallower than we make them.  She never actually connects the two things – walking in the woods behind her house when she’s seven and running long distance marathons as an adult woman – but the reader can infer all kinds of things by how the story is told.  I love a little mystery in anything I’m reading, so finding the connections on the page was both exciting for me, but also enlightening because it made me look at the connections in my own life.

With “Objects of Desire,” it just has to be read.  As a woman, I felt like this was one of the most important essays in the collection because it outlined my inner feelings -that are supposed to be shut out, locked away, dust in a corner – loudly on the page. I was so glad with this essay that Chelsey told it like it is, with little shaming.  She wasn’t hiding things from the reader, she wasn’t half-discussing the sexuality, she was putting it all out there and as a reader and a want-to-be writer, I can really appreciate that.  Someone who’s blunt and honest on the page, is someone you should want to know in real life, I believe.

March is Self-Injury Awareness Month

Side Note: A lot of these essays contain the outcomes of, behaviors associated with, and the feelings that are purged based on self-harm.  And by self-harm I mean eating disorders, cutting, and other forms of body harm.  If that is something you experienced, I think that you would really appreciate Chelsey’s honesty AND her outlook of hope, but I wanted to give a cautionary note just in case I have squeamish blog readers.

I recommend this collection of essays not only because they’re true to Chelsey, but because they’re true to the lives of so many women that may not have an avenue to share these stories or their experience with these same topics.  Chelsey doesn’t lay low and expect you to find the blaze, she strikes the match and blows on it a little to grow the burn.  I am so appreciative of her writing, and her honesty for women, because the more we can get books like this out there, where the truth might hurt but it’s true, the more power we will gain.

 

 


” * Unbeknownst to Everyone “

Ursula, Disney Villain, Wikipedia Creative Commons

Things Disney taught me important to this post:

1. Never trust an Ursula, they are typically irrational, sticky squid-like women, who cling to misfortune, and the bitterness of salted sea.

Good thing, the “ * unbeknownst to everyone” in the book Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon is named Ursie, so she’s only half the rare breed Ursula.  I was so intrigued by the blurb of this book online, “A Dickens meets Lolita meets Girl Interrupted.” What sort of sick, child labor (of the sexual kind), coal-ash-burnt-face novel set in an asylum was Gordon running here?  That was my first thought, my second thought was “Buy now with one click.”

Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon

Bogeywoman is the story of Ursie, known as Bogeywoman, and to herself a “ * unbeknownst to everyone.”  When we meet her, she’s a loner with caveman hair, a camp tan, and a pond scum tent smell.  She’s currently residing at “Camp Chunkagunk: A Tough Paradise for Girls” where her puppeteer father sends her every summer for “fresh air” aka, he’s rich and believes in sending his children off to believe touching the bottom of a moss eaten lake is a thrill. Bogeywoman is a tough almost-teenager who finds home in this camp and more importantly in the wilderness expert she follows around.   She also finds her first real #wcw at Camp Chunkagunk and the verbal assault of Gordon starts there:

“And since I was literally wincing, my lips curling back in animal dread from my teeth, in went her tongue as smooth as a letter opener. O my oasis — silk crossed the boarder, pepper oil, dried apricots, olives, tokay, how long we went on trading like this at the water hole I don’t know, not long when …” [Gordon, 72].

For those suffering with self-injury, here is the nonprofit foundation to help.

For those suffering with self-injury, here is the nonprofit foundation to help.

In a camp tragedy, as there is one every summer when you’re a summer camp native, Bogeywoman carves a map into her arm and is sent away to live in a high class asylum or “bug house” just outside of Baltimore called Rohring Rohring.  I know, it sounds like a plane jet setting, which is exactly the steam of this novel.  At Rohring Rohring, we greet the land of misfit toys that is the younger ward and the Sesame Street gang of “Sigmund Foods” that watch over their cares through psychoanalysis.  There’s also “the Regicide” who is there to hold the cigarette lighter, and the ass of some of the more cat eye patients – Ursie not included because everyone knows her as a “he/she.”

At Rohring Rohring, Ursie gets into all sorts of trouble from laundry chutes, to Bug House bands, to naked quiet rooms, and she falls in love with Dr. Zuk, a woman of tough accent and spider veins.  It’s complicated by other female companionship – of the cat eye and anorexic kind – and eventually, doesn’t blossom, but stampedes into something more illegal and swampy.

Iconic Makeup Trends: The Cat Eye – Bella Terra Cosmetics http://www.bellaterracosmeticsblog.com Brigitte Bardot workin’ the cat eyes. Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons User erjkprunczyk

“…and again I thought of the elegant and voracious lines of a winter weasel or a mink that for the sheer fun of it kills ten times as much as it eats.  You might suppose I would take this as a caution, but I felt only hungry wonder at sumpm new in the usually boring line of grownups — to be exact, a grown-up woman who had none of the martyred flab and grizzle about her of somebody’s wife, somebody’s ninth-grade teacher, or somebody’s mother” [Gordon, 75]

“You’d think I wouldn’t be able to see beauty so close up, just hair roots and blackheads and tiny red threads in the eyeballs, but tears webbed her gunky eyelashes like dew in the grass at night and even her sweat was flowers.  When the kiss came it was hot and dry, then hot and wet, it sucked in all bodily terrains, a southwestern national park of a kiss and I forget to notice if it was any different because of the other one kissing had just called me a dirty jew” [Gordon, 106]

The fire swamp, Princess Bride, The Byronic Man - Creative Commons

The fire swamp, Princess Bride, The Byronic Man – Creative Commons

The plot isn’t what strikes me about this book. Honestly, it’s filled with made-up places and people who almost couldn’t be real. I say this because at the end one of the mainest of main characters jumps into a Princess Bride fire swamp hole but somehow reappears to get shoes?  The whole plot thing is pretty secondary to the damn near perfect voices of the novel.

See Ursie’s description of O’s vagina:

“It  looks like a perfect little keyhole — sumpm from a lady’s wiring desk.”

Gordon can turn something so biological into something so necessary in a matter of a capital letter and a period. (Not that the big V isn’t necessary, duh, we bleed and don’t die every month so we’re SUPER necessary).  And I realize author’s have been trying to describe this thing better than movie hustlers, and Planned Parenthoods for decades, but Gordon does it every time.  Every time the description is meaningful, thoughtful, beneficial, and a hazard type.

There is no point in triumphing over this language, because it was created with a hand of ease, disaster, and foolishness.  It’s beautiful in all the wrong ways. I am obsessed with it.

Bogeywoman @ Amazon

Ursie is coming-of-age, coming-out, and coming-to-oblivion in Bogeywoman and her voice is so spot on that it’s actually creepy.  She has her own language which the reader sucks into to almost become one of the Bug House residents.  Every girl at Target today became a “girlgoyle” and the macho army men in the army town near my home were “fuddies.”  Ursie, only in the middle of her teenage years, is one of the strongest voices I have ever read.  She resonates not because she’s so full of the unknown, but because she’s so damn clear on who she is, it’s the hiding it from everyone else that becomes a safe trap she’s placed in.  She is a “ * Unbeknownst to everyone,” except most of the people know, who truly “get” it.

“But come to think of it Emily could sing, I suddenly recalled, sing, yes, like a little girl, but not just any little girl, the little girl, the fabulous girlgoyle of myth and legend, that is, a high voice straight as a pencil that doesn’t quite land on the blue rule it’s aiming for but pierces to the numbest cochlea…” [Gordon, 191]

Sigmund Freud, Wikipedia LIFE Creative Commons

She hangs out with a hodgepodge of characters known as the “Bug Motels” who eventually start a band using hospital tools as instruments.  She talks endlessly about hating her “Signmund Food Dreambox Mechanic” and yearns for a chance to speak to foreign, stoned-face, Dr. Zuk from a country that ends in -stan.  There is a camaraderie in the friendships that instead of being born of sanity, are born from knowledge of how to work a system in order to stay in it.  I was in the novel for the vulnerable maturity of these beings, and not for the plot.  It was in seeing these people (not succeed as the rest of the world would deem what normal people should do) gain stillness that I was hoping came to them.  Even in a quiet room, Ursie roams the halls, pacing away her thought box.

“She turned back around and she was a puzzle piece of sad lumps around her face, like all Bug Motels when they wonder how they fit in. But the thing about puzzle pieces is, you can turn them” [Gordon, 194].

“Dreambox Mechanic” At Telegraph The scientists said their findings indicate that patterns of activity in certain visual areas of the brain are the same whether we are awake or dreaming Photo: ALAMY

The best way to proceed with this book is not with caution, but with a bullwhip.  Yes, I wanted a quiet stillness to blanket those character’s orphaned of the heart, but I never got it. Instead, I got a bubbling cauldron of daring prose and a language so evocative and fresh that it still feels new even after this book was published in ’99.  I have never read a novel with language this captivating and from the mind of a teenager so gummed up in her own “dream box” that she can’t even see her own personhood staring her in the face. I was moved.  It’s fucking weird, but also fucking worth it.  (My dad hates when I cuss in these reviews, but this one deserves a few f*cks).

This novel is one of communication mayhem, oral combustion, energetic brilliance.  I would read Ursie inside and out, I would read the carved passages of her arms if it meant another novel with her.  Sane or not, knowledgable or not, fifteen or adult, Bug House or Camp Chunkagunk, I would travel the snowed roads to read more of this voice that has my nerves surging.  Jaimy Gordon is a master of the English tongue and that is the sole (soul) reason that this book should be not read, but devoured.

*Footnote: I’ve always wanted to tag something “planned parenthood” and now’s my chance.


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