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.


Newsday Tuesday

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Favorite Tweets:

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Favorite Search Terms:

  • what to write in valentine’s card when dealing with infidelity: SHIT JUST GOT REAL. (And I almost want to write a whole blog on this, if you would like to see that, write it in the comments).
  • funny figurative language memes: Some teacher, somewhere, I love you.
  • butt:crak:books: Just not sure about this one. It’s almost like a dirty library’s calling card.
  • emily croy barker sequel: I’ve been worrying about this too.
  • a paragraph about a crazy girl: Basically every paragraph in this whole blog.

Book News:


The Strange Eccentrics of Kelly Link’s New Novel | A List

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

1. So, I always wondered why they never created a “Life Size Ken” when they made “Life Size Barbie” a thing, and Kelly Link has answered that question.

2. When you get a divorce, it’s best not to feed the iguanas.

3. “Summer People” make intricate do-it-yourself gifts, but they can’t be trusted with moonshine.

4. If a “Summer Person” gives you a handkerchief, assume that when you open it, it will be a flap tent full of delicate figurines.

5. Don’t meet men in online fantasy games.

6. Don’t meet what you think is a grown women in online fantasy games that could just be posing. AKA catfish.

Kelly Link, Author of Get in Trouble

7. Try not to schedule a dental convention and a superhero convention in the same hotel at the same time.

8. Butter makes a great sculptural tool.

9. You’ll never get over your ex-boyfriend if he’s a demon.

10. It’s best not to funk with ghosts. Especially when they take over inanimate objects. Particularly dolls.

11. Don’t take “Rich Girl” by Hall & Oates literally and ask your daddy to build you a full-functioning pyramid in case this life isn’t as good as the afterlife.

12. If your brother slept with your husband, he’ll probably sleep with the guy who tries to commit suicide in your tub.

13. Kelly Link makes less sense than Neil Gaiman, but her worlds would probably produce better novels if she pushed them that far.

14. Battery-operated boyfriends are boring.

15. Don’t get on any spaceship where a robot controls the scenery around you.

16. Don’t tell ghost stories on said spaceship.

17. You shouldn’t trust banjos on the river, or whittlers on the porch. It’s just, a fact of life.

18. In a Hurricane, you can either bury yourself under a mattress in the tub, or walk outside and find a new pocket world with sunflowers, and shine.

Fabrege Egg, Imgkid.com

If you still don’t want to read this book, then you should feel very ashamed at this moment.  In fact, so ashamed, that your palms are clammy, your lip is twitching, and you want to look anywhere, but at this screen.

19. Kelly Link proves in Get in Trouble that fantasy doesn’t have to be full of green science fiction globules and alien heads, and technological wizardry.  Instead, it can be a simple unknowing, a slight twist on the real to become something fantastic, a Faberge egg that moves when touched by the right hands.


You’re my boo (radley): Thoughts on Go Set a Watchman.

Mayella Ewell from Salon Magazine (2012)

Based on initial excitement levels, I was off the richter scale.  I got an all caps text from my best friend aying, “HARPER LEE IS GOING ROUND TWO” and I ran to the other classrooms in order to tell everyone that Scout would be grown soon and we should have a teacher book club.  Forget about what Mayella might be like as an adult.  I always imagine her adulthood in one of two ways, she’s a white trash Sula character that is both mysterious and sultry, but hog tied to her hometown (a la Toni Morrison), or she’s the opposite of her Daddy, she seeks to reconcile her wrongs rather than seek revenge for them. The question is: will she be a flower or a weed?

Image @ Pinterest

I really would like to go with flower as Mayella grew those beautiful red geraniums which remind me so much of the story  “Marigolds.”

“Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson, had Miss Maudie deigned to permit a geranium on her premises. People said they were Mayella Ewell’s.” (17.64)

Mayella could be one of two characters in the story “Marigolds.” She could be Miss Lottie who grows beautiful marigolds in a poverty neighborhood, or she can be Lizbeth, who in a fit of teen angst rips up the marigolds for herself.

1. Will Mayella be a flower or a weed?

Law and Order SVU

This if my first question because it’s the one that most bothers me.  Here we have Atticus Finch, this supreme man in literature, who could father all my babies if he wanted to, but his moral high ground doesn’t really extend beyond Tom Robinson, his family, and the old women who live down the street.  He fights for Tom in an argument against a girl that has been raped and abused by her father for her entire life.  If Mayella were a Law and Order episode, she would have countless visits with Dr. Wong, an empathetic shoulder in Benson, and her father would certainly get the shakedown from Elliot.  Mayella would be a sympathetic aggravator because she’s a product of her environment, a child of trash who was shunned by her town and left.

Atticus fights as Tom’s lawyer and says things like, “Before I can live with other folks, I’ve got to live with myself” to his daughter, but this isn’t a novel that fights for women.  He’s a great father, but the women in the neighborhood are either, old, dead, or liars.

Atticus Meme on Tumblr

Mayella could take this one of two ways.  She could do the opposite of her father and seek to reconcile his wrongs instead of avenge him, or she could become something else entirely.  A fighter, or a whiner.  A flower or a weed. I’m hoping that with her father dead she found some kind of peace in those red geraniums and bloomed into a new women, but that would be like living in a world where Harry Potter doesn’t die (oh wait, that happened).  I’m interested to see how she does in a real world, if she escapes, or if she tells them to tighten the rope.

Sarah Churchwell says it better than me in her article “Why To Kill a Mockingbird is overrated.”

2. How will Scout be a feminist in a new world?

Scout’s ham costume in the movie of To Kill a Mockingbird

Since Go Set a Watchman is based on Scout as a grown woman, I’m trying to wrap my mind around how this is going to work.  In 1930s TKAM, Scout is a bit of a mini-feminist, a child who can break up a tunnel of men holding weapons outside of a jail. There isn’t a word for what she is, but instead of putting on dresses, she puts on ham costumes and suspenders, and there’s nothing more manly than bacon, am I right?  However, if she’s a middle aged woman in this new book, I’m assuming it’s set around the 1960s/70s.

Martin Luther King Jr. with daughter Yolanda

Will Lee allude to the anti-violence campaigns of King, the fists of Malcolm X, the propaganda of Hitler? Scout will have lived through WWI, WWII and be going into Vietnam.  Is Scout a woman who protests parades for drafted soldiers, or is she the woman that kisses her soldier slowly under dimmed kitchen lights? Is there even a soldier at all, because if you’re raised by a man like Atticus, who else can compete.  Scout will have experienced hatred across a full globe; blacks who are told to act less than in America, European people who are told what is human and what is animal, and for Vietnam she will have to decide whether she believes in the men, or the fight.

1950s vacuum advertisement

This is a world of the 1950s where vacuum advertisements have women wearing aprons and sparkling white teeth.  How will Scout be able to maintain her values in a world where the word feminist hasn’t even really been tapped yet.  Today, girls believe being a feminist means having an alarm set at 8:30am everyday that says, “Be a bad bitch,” and climbing over their male counterparts in heels to get to the next higher paying job – glass slipper, more like glass ceiling – but in a world where everything is strained and chaotic, what will Scout’s voice be? Will she just follow the voice of Atticus and try still to treat everyone equally or is the world truly more complicated than that.

How will her ideals and values stand up to such world hate and how will Lee justify her behaviors in a world that held women down? In childhood Scout, we can justify it by childhood whimsy, grown women don’t get the same niceties.

These are things I need answered in this book.

3. How the hell is the narrative voice going to work?

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

TKAM stars an elderly woman who is looking back on her childhood and retelling the tale.  Some of my students love the book, and others think it’s just another grandmother telling about “the struggle.”  And I’m confused about how this is all going to work because if it’s old Scout telling her childhood story in TKAM, how is this going to work for Go Set a Watchman?

In this book, will it be a first person narrative voice in the same time of the telling, but then won’t that be confusing for readers of TKAM or are we just going to ignore this small detail and keep on reading? Because if it’s the same old Scout telling a new story, will it really be as meaningful the second time around when she’s no longer wistful on childhood fancy, but instead wistful on middle aged womanhood in a time when your only option was femininity.

I’m struggling with this juxtaposition even more because sources have claimed that this book was written before To Kill a Mockingbird and therefore the voice could either be the same or completely different, but it will still be wholly amateur.  Lee was a complete amateur when TKAM and while she claims writing was a struggle, I’m not sure it had a very heavy editing hand.

4. Didn’t we think this manuscript was destroyed in a house fire?

Harper Lee’s Sister, Alice, Practicing Law @ Daily Mail

Or it was flung out a window on a cold winter’s night? This is the question with all the conspiracy theories.  I grew up thinking that Harper Lee was such a badass because through all the pressure and the requests, she stayed in her hobbit hole small town and refused to write anything else.  I never thought I would see the day where she published something, especially because her sister Alice claimed that there was nothing else, the manuscript had been destroyed.

That’s why I find it really strange that all of a sudden Alice has passed away and Lee’s lawyer has found this manuscript (was it buried under hoarding tendencies, or placed in an unnamed folder, or locked in a safe this whole time, the one remaining thing that they can claim from a house fire). Just exactly, how did this come about.  Some sources claim that Lee is so old that she would sign rights to anything at this point, the woman is 88 so we have to give her a break. Other sources claim that she’s “happier than hell” that the novel is finally getting published.

Nelle Harper Lee @ Wikipedia, looking like a straight boxing b in this photo.

Nelle Harper Lee @ Wikipedia, looking like a straight boxing b in this photo.

My concern is the general well-being of an author that has ALWAYS refused to sell the text, and the fact that she wrote this before TKAM (1960s) and in today’s editing world, the publisher might take some liberties.  Now, you all know that I love Harper Collins (they’re my favorite publisher), but I also have a strong belief that writing is based on revision.  In fact, writing is revision (I say this standing on my soap box).  It’s one thing to be able to write some magnificent plot on a page, but it’s a whole other donkey to be able to take it apart, piecemeal it back together, cut and paste, organize, and create a story. Plot v. story. I’m worried that Harper Lee will have very little stake in this process and it will be in someone else’s hands in the revision.

If it is revised, edited, changed by the editors or the inner circle of Lee, how will the reader’s react, or find her within? And for Lee is this the copout that she’s looking for – if it sucks, she can claim they changed it – if it’s wonderful, then it’s hers and hers alone. I’m sure an 88 year old isn’t looking for a copout, but you get what I’m saying.

Paste Magazine wrote my favorite article on this topic.

5. What ever happens to Boo Radley?

Boo Radley Meme – SO MANY QUESTIONS

I know for a fact that we call our significant other’s “boo” because of Boo Radley.  There is no other possible explanation for this.  Boo was a shut-in with allegations of knife-weilding against him, and I think we’re all pretty sure that he murdered Bob Ewell after stalking (yes, in a sweet way with gum, pennies, and wax figurines) those children for most of a year.  He’s a side character, but in my eyes, he is the book.

Without Boo Radley, there wouldn’t be the same suspense, we wouldn’t be comforted with his presence when Scout sneaks out, or she and Jem are traveling unaccompanied through dark woods.  I wonder how Harper Lee is going to include him in this novel. Could he fall madly in love with Scout and we have this strange fan fiction moment where everyone’s dreams come true (I guess she would have to love him too then).  Or will he still be a shut-in in a town that doesn’t understand him.  Sources claim this book is a moment when Scout returns to her hometown (Macon) to visit her aging father.  If Boo still lives next door, will she see him too or will Lee just gloss over his move to somewhere else and we never get Boo back.  We never really got the after-effect of that death on his hands in TKAM. Scout, childish, grabs his hand and walks him home and that’s it. Well, what happened?  Go Set a Watchman better figure this out.

6. I worry about the impact on future readers. 

I know we won’t go out and order a class set for every school in America because it sounds like this isn’t going to be another coming-of-age story, the woman is already of-age (we read a lot of this stereotype…er…genre in high school literature), but I wonder how this will impact future readers.  Will they feel compelled to push through Go Set a Watchman or even read it before the emotional impact that is To Kill a Mockingbird.  Will this be like that time that JK Rowling tried to publish something else and no one liked it.  I’m worried that this second book could ruin the ideal of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Although it has problems, it is the pedestal of Great American Novel.  Like Harry Potter is the middle grades fantasy equivalent to a greek god.

Harper Lee, 88. Lovely. @ Huffington Post

Harper Lee was going out on a legacy that is still founded today – we still teach TKAM to 9th graders – but with this new book, I worry about the possibility that that legacy could be tainted.  I probably shouldn’t worry though, because she’s not worried with her adorably huge smile.

I can’t say for sure how I feel about this book until I’ve turned over the front cover and begun.  I must remain gracious with my expectations, but they are numbered and many.  I know Harper Lee is a bad mamba-jamba so I will live in hopes that she wouldn’t produce two million copies of something that she didn’t completely believe in.


YOLO: “You Oughta Look Out”

“…the idea of dragging souls across the landscape like cans of string” (309).

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

When my newspaper students set out to choose the top news stories of 2014 this week (as an assignment on newsworthiness and the eight factors involved) most every single pair chose the “Ebola Outbreak” as a top news story.  Without sounding painfully unsentimental, ebola has killed 4,887 approximately, and four million civilian casualties happened in the Vietnam War.  It’s all how you look at numbers, and I’m not saying that those lives didn’t matter (Ebola lives), but I am saying that it’s a wonder to me sometimes how America does math.

Part of the conversation that I believe in having is one about poverty, and the major differences and obstacles between first world countries and third world countries.  As an American teacher, I can’t really speak of the experience in the third world, but as an American teacher teaching in the highest poverty county in North Carolina, I can speak to the conditions of life for people who get very few glances of empathy and instead are pushed down by excuses.

I was thinking about these ideas (epidemics, poverty, childhood) while reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, the National Book Award winning story of a post-apocalyptic world where a variation of the swine flu kills 99% of the population and leaves a band of hopeful Shakespearian symphony members, an old man in an airport running a Museum of Civilization, a young boy from Jerusalem who becomes a prophet following the light he read about as a child in a comic book, and the wifely remnants of a dead actor, hoping for some sort of epiphany that will break back a world that only returns in glimpses.

Ebola, the shoe string of death @ CDC.Gov

Nathan Burton’s design for the Dr. Eleven comic in Station Eleven is part of the Picador marketing program. @ Thought Catalog

Each main character of the story holds on to artifacts left in their hands from a life before where running water was a given not an opportunity, or finding books of poetry would send someone on a search through a used bookstore shelf rather than shuffling behind someone’s locked and empty shell of a home.  In the story, the founder of The Museum of Civilization displays things as simple as credit cards, iPhones, and passport photos – things that in the first world, we take for granted.  He puts his wishes on the idea that a man can just leave his credit card near a register if the world just happens to start up again. Kristen, who is a member of the traveling symphony, performs as Titania to relive a few moments of fallen snow on a stage in her childhood.  The only real difference now is her obsession with a dead actor and the two knives permanently drawn into her wrist.

Side note:  how perfect is Emily St. John Mandel’s name as the author of this book.  It’s almost soul-clenchingly creepy with the “Saint John” part of her name in full force between two seemingly usual names – Emily and Mandel.  I just found that a strange coincidence.

Station Eleven is brilliantly written and I’m sure no one would disagree with me, but I did have to plough through it and convince myself to pick it up again.  I do believe that it burns the stick at both ends.  This book is hoping to achieve a life-after-earth-as-we-know-it quality which can be steeped in coincidences that leave the reader feeling squeamish about how easy the stone age might be, but it also relies on the story of one man who connects four very different people at different parts of their lives.

YOLO @ brighterlife.com.pg (Creative Commons)

The book opens with this man who is playing King Lear in the stage play of Shakespeare.  I think Mandel’s use of Shakespeare is beautiful, but boarders on obsession.  Must Shakespeare be the King of Pop in literature, still? I know, I know, he created a whole language that we still use today, but I am just SO OVER that man’s wit.  I do understand the need to hold on to the old world, and what’s more old than Shakespearian ideals. Am I right? (I think Chaucer or the author of Beowulf would have some problems with this blog post. I would pay to see them battle it out).

Each character in the novel; old wives, airport survivors, Kristen, and a son, all represent this living flame in Arthur Leander.  Using Arthur, the novel is willing to do so many things to almost poke fun at our current American attitudes.  Arthur’s wives must escape paparazzi, one even that claims to have a soul for most of the story.  Authur’s friends must deal with his considerable drop in empathy once he “makes it big” as a stage actor.  And his death … all the cliches that can come from “dying too soon,” and “YOLO” come into play when the actor that everyone else on the apocalypse map stems from, dies suddenly before the flu even hits on a stage of plastic snow, under the cupped hands of the lonely.

Shakespeare @ Creative Commons Wiki

I think this is a story that won’t grow old for a really long time.  It has definite staying power with its use of famous ideals of literature, and this idea that is as old as time that the earth will one day end (or at the very least the sun will dry up – probably not the correct scientific theory language) and we will all be forced to rethink our entire use of civilization.

Jeevan is the most endearing character for this aspect of the novel.  He is the almost-savior of Arthur Leander, pumping his chapped winter hands against the famous man’s chest in an effort to find breath.  It is through this initial death that violence whispers down the novel. And Jeevan is the first: the first to push seven grocery carts through the snow to his brother’s apartment, the first to call his girlfriend to warn her, and the first (for the reader) to know how important a life in someone’s ribs stays, he is my first character of this book.  The one I most long to tell the rest of the story.  He gets misplaced in the middle, but I would like to see what he makes of the flicker of light at the end.  What regrets does that soul sing?

Station Eleven Image @ Liz & Gianna’s Blog

Finally, this book commanders the idea that people aren’t infinite, and even though my students yelled, “EBOLLAAAAAA” like they were singing about a cough drop most days last semester, it still begs the question, what really are we laughing at? Because I tell you, Flu’s are nothing to f*** with.

PS.  I thought this book was “just okay,” because as a ginger, I have no soul.


White Space Needed

As a general rule on this blog, I don’t really review self-help books, recipe collections, and now I will no longer review Do-It-Yourself books.  (I will, however, continue to follow excellent Do-It-Yourself blogs).  What this book should really be called is Zines for Dummies, (but only if you want to zine mostly like the author of the book).   It’s called Stolen Sharpie Revolution and this might not be a fair review because I’ve never before reviewed an instruction manual, but because I have an obligation to keep my word, I’m going to do my best here.

Stolen Sharpie Revolution by Alex Wrekk

Stolen Sharpie Revolution is “A DIY resource for zines and zine culture,” and I think that short summary on the front gives the reader the exact truth of what’s in the book.  Stolen Sharpie Revolution is a factual based “zine-like” do it yourself manual on how to build a zine, where to find a zine (distros), binding ideas, the zine community, how to manage the USPS, zines and incarceration, zine events, and templates.   With all this information, this book would be a great resource for someone who wanted immediate involvement in zine culture or just wanted a wiki-page of stratagem to create zines or find them if interested.

Juniper Girls Zine @ Etsy (from AnkeWeckmann). Click the photo for details.

I really enjoyed Alex Wrekk’s take on why she began creating zines and what their function is in society.  I don’t know much about the creation of zines, and I think a lot of people believe zines died when the blogging world came along, but I think zines are the perfect private space between blogging, and art journaling.  Except, Wrekk brought to my attention that zines are not just private things, they are made within a community of people that are cutting and pasting, creating, innovating, and using resources and recyclables to tell others their thoughts and beliefs.  I love the cut and paste aspect of zine culture, the tangible way someone can tell their feelings through artistic means even if they aren’t a superb painter, or a poetic writer, or a person who can draw more than a stick figure.  It’s a form of expression, a form of resistance, and a form of rebellion. My favorite line, “It is about taking control back from the corporate consumer influences, telling your own story, and creating things on your own terms.”

Recycled Air Zine on Etsy @ Lucky Scissors (Click picture for link).

In this way, I would love to see people use this book as the beginning to some free expression that they can’t spray paint into a tunnel, write into a private journal, or just a trickle of something they want to convey in a community of people.  The problems I had with this book go beyond the influences it has, but instead deals with the things it could have done (or my expectations for what it could have been).

This book was remarkably wordy for a DIY book, and with very few example pages of actual zines.  Instead, the writer stuck to stark black and white, copy and paste, zine design.  I realize that zines are not a lucrative project and that this may be the case with the creation of this book, but in an undertaking of writing about zine culture, one way to get people interested (in more than just blogging) might be to include zine pages that are particularly moving or inventive, and show evidence of more zines, and zine creators.  It might be nice to show more voices from the community or get other perspectives.  This book is past its fourth edition (which is the last I could see on Goodreads) and if this is the case, why does it not have the perspectives and pages of other zine authors who want to share their art in a book that actually reaches out to potential future zine creators? I’m not sure.

Obsessed with this zine “The Elder” by Esther McManus. This is more the zine that I would want to buy because it’s just freaking beautiful. On sale, if you click the photo.

I think this book is perfect for a teenager who needs an outlet and that’s the reason that I will put it in my classroom for my students to use in imagining their next creative pursuit that doesn’t need to necessarily have a technological spin, they can use good ol’ glue and scissors to create magic.  I was a little surprised at how copy machine heavy this book is (Wrekk seems to rely on the copy machine for a lot of her zine creation) because copy machines are curmudgeons, they only sometimes work, they have to be constantly unjammed, and they have all these secret compartments that cannot be discovered unless you’ve worked in a public school for 47 years and it’s time for you to retire, but no young teachers will let you because you know all the nooks and crannies of a copy machine.  Having to rely on a copy machine is not something I want to experience.  Pages 31 to 42 in the book are dedicated to solely the use of a copy machine and the next chapter after that, how to afford one.  I hated both of these chapters. I think my loathing of the copy machine is a little bit impartial in this review.

Mini Zine on Etsy @ Thimblewinder. Click the picture for details.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t necessarily love this book.  I thought it was good for the goal (of creating zines in the same stream of Wrekk’s zines — which from Goodreads reviews are zines that started becoming popular in the late 1990s), but I think it lacks a lot of other perspectives, and just general aspects of other styles in zine culture.  Wrekk is very bias towards her own style and that kind of turned me off from her perspective because I wanted more than a literal how-to (down to how to mail and produce zines) and more of an inspiration booklet that made me want to join in on zine culture.

This book doesn’t do much inspiring, it imagines that the reader is already leaning towards zine culture, rather than beginning in the culture without any real idea of what a zine looks like (like me).  I was also displeased aesthetically because the book is all black and white, way too many small words on a small page (on most pages) and the patterns on the back of the pages can sometimes seem overwhelming.  I once had a Barnes and Noble employee tell me the best sellers are the books with a lot of white space, I believe Wrekk could take a hint from this customer service representative.

Plant Feelings Zine @ Etsy by Sarah Mcneil. Click Picture for details.

All in all, it wasn’t that I hated this book, or really loved this book, it’s just that I don’t think it did justice to its mighty goal – to get other people to join the zine community.  I read instruction manuals if I want to know how to put together my television, not to get inspiration on how to build one.


Girlhood is a glass vase.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

It’s probably sad how attached I am to this book.  I wanted to simultaneously fall down a rabbit hole and climb into a dark hole while reading it.  Lena Dunham in Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells What She’s “Learned” is so spot on with her pseudo-memoir that I was practically highlighting the entire book.  I thought that she found the voice between psycho-tire-stabber and romantically-involved-with-herself girlhood.  I used to think Taylor Swift was my ultimate girl crush, but Lena Dunham has now taken the number one spot.  If I could have a moment with Dunham like she had with Nellie sans-vomit, I would drink the red wine, and curl up on a vintage french rug and tell her all my secrets with our bodies, knees together, and spines curved, into a heart shape (totally platonic).

Joana Avillez’ Art for Lena Dunham’s book @ SVA.Edu

At some point during my reading, I started coloring all the tiny pictures.  I think this was in an effort for the book not to end, but that makes me even more of a guppy so pretend I didn’t admit this.   Like Dunham’s memoir, it’s clear that I can’t go linear through it. I will do my best though.

Dunham starts with relationships.  I needed to read this so I could not choose the devil on my shoulder that said I could just artificially inseminate myself at 37 and choose the man on paper who would father that child.  (It’s still a serious thought though.  I talk about it over Mexican food to my best friends).  I’ve never written “Amen” in the sidelines of a book, but in this relationships section, I did too many times.  My personal favorite “Here’s who it’s not okay to share a bed with: Anyone who makes you feel like you’re invading their space.  Anyone who tells you that they ‘just can’t be alone right now.’ Anyone who doesn’t make you feel like sharing a bed is the coziest and most sensual activity they could possibly be undertaking (unless of course, it is one of the aforementioned relatives; in that case, they should act lovingly but also reserved/slightly annoyed) Now, look over at the person beside you. Do they meet these criteria? If not, remove them or remove yourself. You’re better off alone.”

Still of Lena Dunham’s Vimeo Video with illustrations by Joana Avillez

Art by Joana Avillez for Lena Dunham’s book.

I think that quote highlights the very essence of this book.  Everything she was saying I had either experienced, or knew was inherently bad/good for me, but sometimes, I need to be told literally in print to stop dating jerks because “When someone shows you how little you mean to them, and you keep coming back for more, before you know it you start to mean less to yourself.”

This rang so true for my high school first boyfriend (who was a total douchebag who I thought was so hot because he would start fights with boys that just looked at me over their shoulder) and rang true for a few boyfriends after that who treated me like I was good enough as their back-up dancer.  In this relationship section, I learned how okay I really am.  I highlighted many parts on self-respect, and continuing on your personal journey regardless of the man who either thinks he is on rungs higher than you, or doesn’t appreciate your oddness.

The amazing inside of Lena Dunham’s book by Joana Avillez.

The body section was a little weird, but still important to the general idea of being a woman and being told you’re not good enough in any shape unless you’re a Victoria Secret model (and even they’re told they’re too skinny).  We apply creams, sprays, dyes, lenses, glosses, surgeries to ourselves to look like someone we don’t even know, or someone’s ideal that we haven’t even really thought out for its purpose (Hello, obese women were the most popular in England for hundred of years before any Barbie ever came out — not that I recommend obesity for it’s general health problems, but still, the point).  This is the section people really have problems with on Goodreads. One girl actually counted the calories Dunham put for each item to find the errors.  I wasn’t looking for problems with Dunham while I was reading, I was just enjoying the kindred spirit affect of this book.

Maybe this makes me narcissistic.

Selfies-Fo-Days

Selfies-Fo-Days

I am, probably.  I enjoy a selfie-a-day.  I pout my lips in the mirror after I pop my lips together just following glossing them.  My Mom told me I was pretty (probably more than the average girl, but I wouldn’t know if this is true or not) and honestly, I believe it. And I think that’s important.  I feel pretty and I feel happy and I wear purple lipstick when I want and I still think I’m chic. So, BAM.

This was the other negative about Dunham’s book.  People thought like Joan Didion (pressing her riches into her memoir), Dunham is only famous due to her acclaimed parents and her “rich-girl” upbringing.  I beg to differ.  The girl who wrote this book is sensual, worldly, expecting, honest, experienced, and still learning.  I don’t care what the “haters” say at this point, this is someone’s life and it’s a story that’s worth telling like every life story is worth telling.  She even outlines her troubles in the industry and how she was treated not as a threat to her male counterparts, but as a sponge for ideas to steal.  She went to college and earned a degree in creative writing (even if she was the girl that everyone hates in workshop who tears their pieces apart and then has no merit in their own writing).  Girl got goods, she’s doing big things and I think at some point people need to learn to not be jealous of the way someone got to their light, but that they got there and they’re spreading it.

Image @ Blissfullvida@wordpress.com

Let the girl shine.

Dunham even writes about this jealousy, “And I decided then that I will never be jealous.  I will never be vengeful.  I won’t be threatened by the old, or by the new.  I’ll open wide like a daisy every morning.  I will make my work.”  If nothing else, this is advice to live by.  If everyone just tried to “do them” and better themselves and encourage others to continue to raise the tide, we would all be creating waves together.

Lena Dunham at the Globes 2010 (I think).

I think the biggest problem I have with people who hate this book is that they obviously were oblivious to the feelings of those around them in childhood and college.  Dunham opens doors to our most secret selves that we hide behind masked personalities.  She talks about her college sexual encounters and drug use (that ring true for so many college woman), and discusses her constant need for a therapist due to her anxiety about life’s bigger problems.  So many of the truly wonderful women, one of my very best friends especially, have trouble with anxiety and paranoia.  This is a true account of a society that either shuts its doors to people like this or just chooses not to recognize their struggle.  Regardless of how much money your parents make, your inner self can still struggle with so many things that are beyond financial.

Overall, this book gave me so many feelings.  I dried out a pen underlining and I couldn’t stop reading.  I wanted to keep knowing Dunham.  She had something to teach me even when she sounded just like me, because sometimes you need to hold up a mirror to yourself in order to understand.  Don’t believe the haters.  I know the girl can’t pick a Globes dress … ever, but she can write a damn memoir, and every girl should read it.

*I’ve never watched Girls so this review is totally based on Dunham’s memoir and short interviews at award’s shows (and the fact she’s best friends with Taylor Swift).


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